Twombley’s Tale by Edgar Wilson Nye

Story type: Essay

My name is Twombley, G.O.P. Twombley is my full name and I have had a checkered career. I thought it would be best to have my career checked right through, so I did so.

My home is in the Wasatch Mountains. Far up, where I can see the long, green, winding valley of the Jordan, like a glorious panorama below me, I dwell. I keep a large herd of Angora goats. That is my business. The Angora goat is a beautiful animal–in a picture. But out of a picture he has a style of perspiration that invites adverse criticism.

Still, it is an independent life, and one that has its advantages, too.

When I first came to Utah, I saw one day, in Salt Lake City, a young girl arrive. She was in the heyday of life, but she couldn’t talk our language. Her face was oval; rather longer than it was wide, I noticed, and, though she was still young, there were traces of care and other foreign substances plainly written there.

She was an emigrant, about seventeen years of age, and, though she had been in Salt Lake City an hour and a half, she was still unmarried.

She was about the medium height, with blue eyes, that somehow, as you examined them carefully in the full, ruddy light of a glorious September afternoon, seemed to resemble each other. Both of them were that way,

I know not what gave me the courage, but I stepped to her side, and in a low voice told her of my love and asked her to be mine.

She looked askance at me. Nobody ever did that to me before and lived to tell the tale. But her sex made me overlook it. Had she been any other sex that I can think of, I would have resented it. But I would not strike a woman, especially when I had not been married to her and had no right to do so.

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I turned on my heel and I went away. I most always turn on my heel when I go away. If I did not turn on my own heel when I went away, whose heel would a lonely man like me turn upon?

Years rolled by. I did nothing to prevent it. Still that face came to me in my lonely hut far up in the mountains. That look still rankled in my memory. Before that my memory had been all right. Nothing had ever rankled in it very much. Let the careless reader who never had his memory rankle in hot weather, pass this by. This story is not for him.

After our first conversation we did not meet again for three years, and then by the merest accident. I had been out for a whole afternoon, hunting an elderly goat that had grown childish and irresponsible. He had wandered away, and for several days I had been unable to find him. So I sought for him till darkness found me several miles from my cabin. I realized at once that I must hurry back, or lose my way and spend the night in the mountains. The darkness became more rapidly obvious. My way became more and more uncertain.

Finally I fell down an old prospect shaft. I then resolved to remain where I was until I could decide what was best to be done. If I had known that the prospect shaft was there, I would have gone another way. There was another way that I could have gone, but it did not occur to me until too late.

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I hated to spend the next few weeks in the shaft, for I had not locked up my cabin when I left it, and I feared that someone might get in while I was absent and play on the piano. I had also set a batch of bread and two hens that morning, and all of these would be in sad knead of me before I could get my business into such shape that I could return.

I could not tell accurately how long I had been in the shaft, for I had no matches by which to see my watch. I also had no watch.

All at once, someone fell down the shaft. I knew that it was a woman, because she did not swear when she landed at the bottom. Still, this could be accounted for in another way. She was unconscious when I picked her up.

I did not know what to do, I was perfectly beside myself, and so was she. I had read in novels that when a woman became unconscious people generally chafed her hands, but I did not know whether I ought to chafe the hands of a person to whom I had never been introduced.

I could have administered alcoholic stimulants to her but I had neglected to provide myself with them when I fell down the shaft. This should be a warning to people who habitually go around the country without alcoholic stimulants.

Finally she breathed a long sigh and murmured, “where am I?” I told her that I did not know, but wherever it might be, we were safe, and that whatever she might say to me, I would promise her, should go no farther.

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Then there was a long pause.

To encourage further conversation I asked her if she did not think we had been having a rather backward spring. She said we had, but she prophesied a long, open fall.

Then there was another pause, after which I offered her a seat on an old red empty powder can. Still, she seemed shy and reserved. I would make a remark to which she would reply briefly, and then there would be a pause of a little over an hour. Still it seemed longer.

Suddenly the idea of marriage presented itself to my mind. If we never got out of the shaft, of course an engagement need not be announced. No one had ever plighted his or her troth at the bottom of a prospect shaft before. It was certainly unique, to say the least. I suggested it to her.

She demurred to this on the ground that our acquaintance had been so brief, and that we had never been thrown together before. I told her that this would be no objection, and that my parents were so far away that I did not think they would make any trouble about it.

She said that she did not mind her parents so much as she did the violent temper of her husband.

I asked her if her husband had ever indulged in polygamy. She replied that he had, frequently. He had several previous wives. I convinced her that in the eyes of the law, and under the Edmunds bill, she was not bound to him. Still she feared the consequences of his wrath.

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Then I suggested a desperate plan. We would elope!

I was now thirty-seven years old, and yet had never eloped. Neither had she. So, when the first streaks of rosy dawn crept across the soft, autumnal sky and touched the rich and royal coloring on the rugged sides of the grim old mountains, we got out of the shaft and eloped.

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