was in the parlor when the little whirlwind known as Woody
Featherstone came rushing in with news of the discovery.
slender white hand was on a vase Gerald had purchased for
her. All the way from Europe it had come to San Francisco,
then Grass Valley, then finally to their booming but small
mountain community of Sierra City. Transportation costs made
such objects rare and extremely valuable in 1878 California,
but Gerald was always most generous with his wife, seeing
not only to her every need but also to her every luxury and
to her desire for beauty, as well. The vase was made of
exquisite crystal from
and it gathered the California sun to its heart, then
released it with a burst, flashing splinters of light and
shards of rainbows. California and the pure air of the
Sierra were made for crystal, Stella thought.
was arranging some roses in the vase—yellow roses with
throats of a faint pink blush. In the heat of the summer she
had worked hard to preserve their fragility, insuring they
had plenty of water early in the morning. She was arranging
the last rose in the vase when she heard Woody’s hobnailed
footsteps on the porch.
Wellington! Mrs. Wellington!”
Woody,” she called out the open window, smiling at his
Breathless, he flung open the door and tore down the hall,
scattering a rug under his feet. But as soon as he entered
the cool, darkly paneled parlor, he slid to a stop, pulling
his cap from his tousled wheat-blond hair.
it, Woody?” Stella asked, lifting a finely sculpted eyebrow
something down in the lake. Well, not exactly in the lake,
not any more. It’s coming out of the lake, like a big old
black monster, and—.”
“Something? Can you be a bit more specific, Woody?”
huge, enormous, gigantic,” he said, holding apart his thin,
small arms as far as he could.
shook his head emphatically. “Not this, no.”
else can you tell me about it?”
It’s horrible ugly, dripping black, with eyes so black you
can’t even see where the eyes end and the head begins. You
can’t even tell if it is looking at you or not. But I was
sure, positive sure, it was glaring at me the whole time I
was down there. And hairy, it’s hairy, too. Don’t rightly
know what it is myself. I’m thinking a dragon, though of
course it could be something else—treasure, maybe. I’ve been
reading a lot about treasure lately.”
laughed, holding out a slim ivory hand to the boy. “Let’s go
take a look at it,” she said, “you and me, shall we?”
blushed, his freckles seeming to take on a darker hue, and
he smiled, revealing two missing teeth. “Sure thing, Mrs.
Wellington,” he enthused, slapping his cap back on.
use an outing; I haven’t been down to the lake in weeks.”
grinned brightly. “Yes, Ma’am!”
been little rain during the winter of 1877 and ’78. Spring
had been unusually warm and had slipped into high summer
before anyone realized it. As a result, drought gripped the
and Woody walked toward the lake, the hillsides presented a
golden sea; puffs of dust, gauzy and cinnamon-colored,
blossomed at their feet; and even the call of the hawk
sounded dry as dust, harsh, and strident. Stella held a
parasol over her head to protect her unblemished skin from
the blazing bronze sun. But the heat, creeping under the
listless fringe of the parasol, suffocated her. She waved a
hand in front of her face in a futile attempt to stir the
the maps of
of the time, the lake toward which they trudged was
officially named Lake Sutter, after the fountainhead of
California’s Gold Rush nearly twenty years before. But
thereabouts the lake was called Stella’s Lake. Eventually,
many years later, long after the discovery, the lake was
officially named Stella’s Lake. Even today, as government
agencies lag woefully behind reality, the name is gradually
evolving, in the way of all languages, into something
else—Stellar Lake—but perhaps that isn’t all that far
removed from Stella herself, since she was noted far and
wide for her celestial beauty.
puppy bursting with vitality, ten-year-old Woody
Featherstone bounded ahead of Stella, jabbering about the
treasure he had found, or maybe it was a dragon—
“If it is
treasure, do you think the sheriff will let me keep it? Do
“If it is
treasure, we’ll have to see, Woody.”
let me keep a dragon?”
Stella’s house on the hill far behind, they made their way
into the meadow. The tawny grass crackled under their
footsteps. Stepping carefully, Stella shifted her long,
sky-blue dress, fringed with darker blue velvet, to avoid an
occasional bramble. The thirty-year old, dark-haired woman
caught the faint fetid odor of the lake before she saw
it—the smell of the reeds, decaying vegetation, and the mud
drying in the early August afternoon. But there was a
suggestion of vigor about it. In a few minutes they came
upon the lake. The hum of dragonflies, iridescent in the
sun, trimmed the silence. An egret, seeing the human
intruders, took to the air, landing farther down the
lakeshore, amid some reeds.
Woody would have been fascinated by the large white bird but
this time his attention was riveted elsewhere. “See?” He
pointed to the edge of the dark water. “What did I tell
you—a monster, a dragon, or a treasure.”
not been out there in some time, Stella surveyed the lake.
The drought and the wilting heat had taken its toll. Where
Stella stood had once been the edge of the lake. Now, the
lakebed went out several hundred feet. The gray intervening
ground, which the water had once covered, was caked and
splitting, looking like the web of a crazed spider. The
surface of the lake had dropped so low that much of what had
once been covered by the water was now revealed in sharp
relief. There were pieces of driftwood, white as bone,
exposed to the sun and air. Large boulders stood forlornly
here and there, and Stella could see a drop off of about
five or six feet perhaps fifty feet out from where she
stood. Farther down the slope a rusty bucket and a miner’s
pan were lying in the muck. But her gaze was drawn toward a
spot some hundred yards from where she stood. “What on earth
is it?” she wondered aloud.
long time she gazed at the huge black… thing that lurked in
the mud. Weeds and mud dripped from its motionless frame.
Normally, she would have thought of it as nothing more than
a massive boulder, except for one thing: In one area, for
whatever reason, the clay, the mud, and rotting vegetation
had dropped away and something white glistened in the sun.
Whatever it was, it most definitely was not a boulder. For
all the world, its shape reminded her of an elephant—an
oddity she had seen in Wesley’s Weekly Rotogravure
Summary of World Events, a set of periodicals she
received every three months from
New York City.
Stella furrowed her smooth and snowy forehead. An elephant
in California? Once, she had read an account of a monster in
Loch Ness Monster, she remembered it was called. She could
recall the artist’s conception. Could this be something like
that? Could there be monsters in the depths of Sierra lakes
that no one had seen? At any moment Stella expected it to
lift a giant snout and turn toward her.
dragon—I told you so, Ma’am, or worse,” Woody whispered.
dragon and certainly not worse,” Stella said.
exactly sure . . .” she hesitated, “but whatever it is,
we’re not afraid of it, are we?” she went on firmly.
not, Ma’am.” Woody sounded uncertain.
For a few
minutes they stood staring at the glistening black thing in
the lake, then Stella said decisively, “We may not know what
it is, but we’re going to find out.” She held out her hand.
“Come, Woody, you can help me compose a letter, then deliver
it for me.”
letter!” Woody’s face was a delightful mixture of pleasure
and anxiety. “I’ve never written a letter before.”
all right. We can do it together.”
Stella’s cool parlor, squirming in a chair, Woody wanted to
write of dragons, and would they send a dragon slayer, but
Stella said, “When you write a letter, Woody, you want to be
straightforward and factual. Otherwise, your reader, if he
doesn’t know you, will set your letter aside as so much
should we say?” asked the boy.
considering for several moments, Stella began, “How about:
the recent drought that has gripped our land many of the
lakes, rivers, and streams in this area have dried up or
fallen to the lowest levels anyone can recall. As a result,
objects have come to be exposed that have been covered for
who knows how long. In our own Stella’s Lake, there is something , which is very mysterious. Mineral, vegetable, or
animal? I cannot identify it. It is possible that it may
prove to be of interest not only to the scientific community
but also to the world at large. Would you wish to dispatch a
member of your staff to investigate?
what do you think of that?” Stella laid down the pen with
beamed at a job well done. It was straightforward and
factual; and even if it didn’t once mention dragons or
treasure, he thought it still had an air of mystery about
it. Facts, he decided, could be enchanting things.
flourish, Stella addressed the envelope and gave it to
Woody. “Will you take it to the post office and mail it off
will, Mrs. Wellington. But what about postage?”
Benton that Mr. Wellington will be by to take care of it
thing,” Woody yelled, taking the envelope in his brown hand.
Like the whirlwind he was when he entered the house, he
departed the same way, flying out the front door and letting
it stand open behind him. Stella smiled after him, her slim
hand on the door’s frame. The oversized door had a lovely
glass window that Gerald had ordered from Germany for their
wedding anniversary; etched into the glass were a shepherd
and shepherdess holding hands. And even if there was an air
of unreality about it, it was rendered with breathtaking
precision and virtuosity.
closed the door, Stella, wasn’t thinking of the bucolic
picture etched in her window; she was wondering about the
black and gooey thing in her lake.
being quick to mail the letter for Stella, Woody was just as
quick to inform the townsfolk of the mysterious creature
emerging from the surface of Stella’s Lake, and with each
telling the “dragon” became larger, bolder, blacker and more
fearsome. Before long, curiosity-seekers were flocking to
the lake. All hovered near the distant shore, hands in
pockets, studying the thing and speculating what it might
be. None dared venture close to it. Maybe it really was a
slumbering dragon, as Woody insisted.
it was not the mysterious creature in the lake that occupied
Stella’s thoughts. She was concerned with her husband’s
outlook on the matter.
the day after Woody’s find, Gerald told her, “Really,
Stella, I wish you would have consulted me before you sent a
letter off to a complete stranger.”
was a massive man, in whose presence Stella had always felt
secure. He was large of voice, chest and hands, if not of
spirit. He had a broad florid face, a ready smile, and a
large ginger-colored mustache. There was a confidence about
him that Stella admired. He was comfortable in his
assuredness, even if it was a bit tight in the collar.
isn’t a complete stranger, dear. He’s with the university,
our very own California University,” Stella explained.
could at least have waited to discuss the matter with me,
rather than sending it without forethought.”
did give it a great deal of forethought, and I concluded
it would be a fine idea to notify someone very official,
someone with mountain peaks of learning behind him, someone
very scholarly.” Stella laughed and, lowering the pitch of
her voice and pushing out pushed out her small stomach in a
mock imitation of a fat professor, continued, “I’m sure they
will dispatch someone with a worldwide reputation. A
grandfatherly figure will come, who is very ancient with
thick eyeglasses and a cane on which he totters. And I will
have to push him down to the lake in a wheelchair, and it
will take hours to walk that far.”
this is not a laughing matter.”
right, Gerald, it isn’t. But I’m quite sure they will send
someone important. After all, it may be an important
Don’t you think I would have notified someone if I
considered it important?”
course, Gerald, of course. I was just so excited by the find
that I took action without consulting you first. Can you
forgive your wife?”
sighed, and his vast vest moved like the swell of the ocean.
He patted her hand affectionately.
understand, my little partridge. You did it without
without thinking,” she replied, somewhat puzzled, “without
considering how you might view the matter in a light
other than mine.”
lifted a magnanimous palm: “Let us consider the matter
it is, as you say, Gerald.” Stella lowered her eyes to her
delicate Dresden teacup. And in her mind the matter was
closed. She turned her attention to the daily domestic
chores that routinely occupied her time.
matter wasn’t closed. Not by a slingshot, as Woody
Featherstone would say. In the following weeks, the story of
the dragon spread far and wide. A steady stream of the idle
and the inquisitive walked past the house, through the
golden meadow and down to the lake. This infuriated Gerald.
they think this is public property?” he demanded.
harm can they do, Gerald? They’re merely curious.”
a question of harm, my dove. It is a question of permission,
of ownership,” Gerald lectured his wife.
it is,” Stella agreed quietly.
stalked onto the porch, his ginger-colored mustache
bristling. “And just where do you think you’re going?” he
shouted at a passerby.
stranger was young and slim with a roughhewn square jaw. His
hair was the color of the rust-red earth around Sierra City,
and his eyes had a depth to them—like a garnet into which
you could gaze without touching bottom. There was an
alertness there, too, in the form of a relaxed poise.
escapes his notice, Stella thought. He might be a reporter,
she conjectured, from the Grass Valley Gazette or
maybe even the faraway Sacramento Bee.
stranger opened his mouth to answer, apparently not
intimidated by her husband’s gruff confrontation, but Gerald
immediately interrupted him.
no dragon around here. Shoo! Begone. Go away.”
stranger grinned and glanced at Stella. “I can’t say I’m
looking for a dragon, unless Mrs. G. A. Wellington is one.”
may you be?” Gerald inquired coldly.
Kendle. From the University.”
stepped out from behind her husband’s broad back. “From the
California.” Kendle reached into his pocket and pulled out
an envelope. Stella immediately recognized her own sweeping
handwriting. “This was forwarded to our department. Since I
was taking a summer excursion in this area, the head of the
department asked me to look into it.”
“Wonderful!” Stella exclaimed. “I am Mrs. Wellington.” She
beamed, holding out her hand, “but everyone calls me
bowed over her hand and then gazed up into her lilac-colored
Jeffery Kendle,” he introduced himself.
lifted her hand out of his and brushed back her gleaming
chocolate-brown hair from her forehead.
department?” Gerald asked.
Philosophy,” Kendle answered, “which is another way of
saying science. My specialty is paleontology.”
need, do you think, we have here of
None, I suppose—not like we need air to breathe or food to
eat or light to see. Do we need knowledge, science or
scientists? I don’t suppose we actually need the steamboat
or the railroad or doctors or inventors. I imagine when the
first caveman used fire or built a wheel someone argued with
him that it wasn’t needed. After all, they had gotten on
just fine before then. But we find all of these things
useful, even valuable in extending our lives, increasing our
knowledge, and expanding our joy and pleasure. No, we don’t
need paleontology, but life would be, I assure you, a much
less enjoyable and more brutish existence without it and a
hundred other sciences.” He seemed taller, suddenly. “That
is why paleontology is needed here.”
humphed, but at the same time, the sound of such modern
inventions as steamboats and railroads filled his eyes with
a hearty respect. If Gerald admired anything at all, it was
all the newfangled inventions that were cascading out of the
you please, sir, may we view this curiosity your wife has
written about, this monster that has terrified half the
town?” asked Kendle.
course!” Stella exclaimed. “Right this way.”
you think it unseemly that you go down to the lake with a
complete stranger unescorted?”
excellent point, Gerald. I’ll get my parasol. Why don’t you
take Mr. Kendle down to the lake, and I will walk with
Gerald sighed, seeing no way out. “All right,” he rumbled,
mumbled, and grumbled, his voice sounding like a distant
storm brewing on the horizon.
Stella in the middle, the three of them made their way down
to the lake.
remarked, “In town they told me the dragon was in Stella’s
Lake and your letter also refers to Stella’s Lake, but my
maps of the area do not show such a lake.”
nodded. “True enough. It was willed to me. My father didn’t
believe in the get-rich-quick schemes of the 49ers, so he
wasn’t interested in prospecting for gold when he came to
Instead, he opened a general store and sold goods to the
49ers. In those days, miners often didn’t pay with money for
the goods they wanted, but rather offered claims or land for
collateral. Father drowned in the floods of ’69, leaving
everything to me. None of the claims made me wealthy, but my
father did leave me several pieces of property, which
included the lake as well as the land surrounding it. As a
result, everyone has always called it Stella’s Lake. My
husband and I had been married nearly a year when Father
died. Gerald had already been working with my father, so it
was natural for him to take over the running of the store.
We decided to build our home near the lake. Since then we’ve
been gathering treasures from all over the world to furnish
the house—paintings from Italy and France, furniture from
Germany and England, mirrors and chandeliers, walnut
bookcases, dishes, a marble fireplace, and…”
strolled through the meadow, Stella continued to chatter
gaily, occasionally forgetting to keep the parasol between
herself and the sun.
been having a terrible drought for better than a year now.
There is a dam farther upstream where water was used for
mining, so the brook that usually feeds the lake has dried
up to little more than a rocky trickle. Stella’s Lake itself
used to be much much larger before they built the dam. Now
with the drought—”
is down perhaps thirty or more feet,” Gerald announced.
few weeks ago, Woody Featherstone, a youngster whose parents
have a neighboring farm, came rushing in, exclaiming he had
found a dragon,” Stella continued.
that’s how the rumor of a dragon got started.”
nodded. “When I saw it in the lake—whatever it is—I didn’t
know what to make of it. That was when I had the idea to
write to our brand new University in Berkeley. Gerald was
terribly upset with me—don’t pretend you weren’t, you ogre,”
Stella laughed gaily, holding Gerald’s arm. “But I thought
it would be such a good idea, and anyhow,” she shrugged
prettily, “I had already done it.”
blazing sun they fell silent as they approached the lake.
Fish were rising to the surface of the water, softly dotting
the dark expanse with tiny rippling rings. The lake did not
have much shade. A giant oak tree stood nearby in a draw,
and a copse of cottonwood grew along the trickling stream
that fed the lake, but that was all. Out farther, where the
sluggish dull gray waters lapped against a new shoreline,
the mud was darker and wet. In the reeds along the shore a
bird flapped away as they approached.
thing—dragon, elephant, monster, whatever it was—stood still
and mud-caked, a silent, slightly sinister sentry at the
edge of the lake. Kendle shaded his eyes, gazing intently at
the object. A trickle of perspiration glided from his temple
down the side of his jaw, but he was so intent on the thing
in the lake that he didn’t seem to notice.
I’ll be,” he breathed softly.
it?” asked Stella.
bad, I trust.” Gerald looked worried. “I wouldn’t want
anything to adversely affect the value of the property.”
land is safe,” Kendle said dryly. “This is much more
important. I can’t be certain yet, but it appears to be a
Mammuthus primigenius—a prehistoric creature commonly
called the ‘woolly mammoth’, an extinct ancestor of today’s
elephant. Of course there is the Parelephas, also
called the ‘Columbian Mammoth’ and—”
earth would such a creature be doing here?” asked Gerald.
say. They have been found in many parts of the Northern
Hemisphere, in Europe as well as the U. S. and Canada. The
earth was considerably different hundreds of thousands of
years ago, you know. This may once have been a bog or a
swamp. Or perhaps it was a lake even then, and the creature
stopped to drink and became stuck in the mud and couldn’t
get out, much as it appears now. Or perhaps there was a
drought, then, too, and it walked far out into the water to
never heard of such a thing—a mammoth!” Gerald exclaimed.
existed, I can assure you, whether you’ve heard of it or
not. I’ve seen exhibitions of the creatures’ skeletons in
Baltimore and Philadelphia. If it is all right with you I
would like to take a closer look.”
waiting for an answer, the scientist plunged down the slope.
Gerald cringed, watching Kendle in his hound’s-tooth suit
slip and slide down the steep embankment, before striding
toward the black mass far out in the lakebed. At first,
since the mud had been exposed to sun and air for some time,
Kendle was able to walk on the surface of the muck. But as
he made his way closer to the mammoth, the mud became
stickier and his boots started to sink in. Soon he was
struggling with each step, but eventually, sweat pouring
from his brow, he reached the object and began scraping
muddy debris away. In a few moments, some white of bone
began to appear, then a distinct long, curved tusk began to
take shape—that and a part of a skull.
rinsed his hands as best he could in the muddy water before
slogging his way back to the couple. His trousers were
covered with muck, his hands were stained, and he had mud on
his forehead and a bit of leaf in his hair where he had
thoughtlessly brushed at sweat as he worked on the creature.
Stella was struck by how focused he was, so that the
trivialities of mud became insignificant to him.
a major scientific discovery!” he exulted. “Not only is this
the first time we’ve found a mammoth in
but the skeleton—at least what I can see of it—looks nearly
you be interested in helping us extricate it from the lake?”
be delighted, Mrs. Wellington.” He had a boyish grin
on his face that reminded Stella of Woody Featherstone at
Christmas time. “When can I get started?”
looked pointedly at his mud-streaked city outfit and mused,
“It looks to me as if you already have.”
glanced down at his attire and grinned. “Tomorrow morning I
will start officially.” He paused, then asked, “What do you
plan on doing with the bones?”
put them on display at the general store,” Gerald suggested.
“And charge admission.”
the University want to put them on display?” Stella ignored
Gerald’s look of surprise at her contradiction to his idea.
University would be honored! We could even give it a special
name—how about ‘The Wellington Discovery’?”
clasped her hands in delight. “You see, Gerald. It will be
wonderful publicity. People will come from all parts of the
world to the University to see the bones, and the name
will be on their lips! I’ll bet newspapermen will report the
event with gigantic headlines.”
possible,” said Kendle.
right, have it your way,” muttered Gerald.
sunset poured molten gold over the horizon as they walked
back to the house. Kendle spoke animatedly now—plans and
ideas and notions about the excavation spilled from his lips
in an excited flow.
he’d left and they were alone, Gerald spoke candidly to his
wife for the first time. “Oh, what have you gotten us into,
my dear, dear pet?” he moaned.
stopped and thought about it a moment. Looking inside
herself, she was surprised to find that she could hardly
contain the feeling of joy within. She realized that she
wasn’t at all sure what she had gotten them into, but
whatever it was, she was absolutely sure it was exciting.
morning, after Gerald had left for the store, Stella was
sipping a cup of coffee when she looked out the window of
her breakfast nook and saw Kendle striding toward the lake.
wore khaki-colored work clothes and had a shovel slung over
his shoulder, which he carried as if it were a rifle,
causing Stella to admire his broad shoulders. He had his
sleeves already rolled up for the job ahead, causing her to
notice his muscular bronzed forearms.
like a 49er searching for treasure,” she called gaily out
the open window.
lifted a hand in recognition. “I am looking for
treasure,” he replied good-naturedly, “the treasure of
touched a napkin to the corners of her mouth. Curious, she
decided to see what the scientist would do out at her lake.
Hurriedly putting the dishes in the sink, she grabbed a
parasol and followed him. By the time she got down to the
lake, Kendle was standing beneath the big oak, surveying the
expanse of water and the mammoth. He had taken a notepad
from his pocket, and he was busily sketching on it.
He was so
absorbed in his work he didn’t notice her at first.
to you, Mr. Kendle,” Stella called.
you, Mrs. Wellington.”
you think me too forward if I were to ask you what you are
all! I wish some of my students were as curious about my
activities as you are.” He held the notepad out for her to
see. “I keep a record of every site I work at,” he
explained. “Where I excavate, how deep—a record of
everything from climactic conditions to geological
information, soil conditions, everything that could have any
possible bearing on the dig. Right now, I’m outlining the
lake and the mammoth’s location in it. Later, I will draw
the fellow himself, taking notes as I bring the bones up. It
will all become part of the report I make to the scientific
community when my work here is completed.”
is all very scientific, isn’t it?”
emitted a short laugh of pleasure. “That is my fervent
hope,” he said. “I look forward to the day when paleontology
is as scientific as, say, astronomy or medicine. However,
for that to happen requires that we apply the same rigorous
techniques to our research that are applied to any other
branch of science.”
listened carefully, her eyes shining, as she watched this
man of science go about his painstaking work, his mind as
focused, sharp as a blade. Stella glowed, not because he had
actually paid attention to her comments without finding them
frivolous or childish, although both were indeed new
sensations for her—no, a gentle radiance flowed from
Stella’s mind because she felt she was a participant in a
great undertaking—an active participant, not some passive
child who simply had things done to her. The intensity of
the emotion erupting within her was so strong that for a
moment Stella was startled by joy, and she lifted her
slender hand to the high collar around her throat.
before she could ask any more questions, Woody Featherstone
interrupted them, leading four men to the edge of the lake.
“For a quarter,” he told her later, with a proud look on his
face, “a whole quarter each.” And since Stella was happy to
see such an entrepreneurial spirit, she left the site to the
beginning, as Kendle worked, there was always some sort of
crowd milling about on the bank of the lake, waiting
expectantly for some great discovery to be announced. The
visitors speculated among themselves, offering unsolicited
advice and unrequested help, and usually inaccurate
information. Kendle just grinned and answered their
questions, if they had any good ones, or ignored their
comments and advice when appropriate. After a week under the
merciless sun, the townspeople began to
disappear—“evaporate” was the way Kendle described it. As
Jody Culbertson put it, “watching him work is about as
exciting as a watching a snail race. I think I’ll take a
closer look when he nears the finish line.”
initial excitement had dissipated among the locals and they
drifted away, Stella returned to the site. Kendle cleared a
path down to the excavation, scraping away the mud until he
was down to hard dirt. As a result Stella was able to
approach the skeleton. Kendle put up four poles to which he
tied a large square of canvas obtained from Gerald’s store,
which gave them protection from the blazing sun. Much of the
mammoth was below the surface of the lakebed, so Kendle had
to dig down around the hulk until he had made something of a
crater. In the tan shade of the canvas, Kendle measured and
cleaned the skeleton, meticulously piecing the ancient
puzzle together. While he worked, pouring water over the
muddy objects as he uncovered them, Kendle explained to
Stella what he was doing. He talked, enthusiastically and
knowledgeably, about prehistoric creatures that roamed the
earth before humans arrived, about the research he was
doing. He communicated these images so vividly to Stella
that she could picture in her mind the great battles for
survival between the animals.
“Breathtaking!” she thought. “Magnificent!”
began to frequent the lake so often that it aroused talk in
town. Mrs. Tiddle visited Stella twice only to find the
house on the hill vacant both times, and Mrs. Tiddle,
jealous guardian of the town’s moral fabric, was not used to
being stood up, even when she hadn’t announced her intention
of paying a visit. Mrs. Tiddle “just happened” to mention
the empty house to Gerald at his general store that very
“Nor am I
alone in my observations,” Mrs. Tiddle snorted. But then
Mrs. Tiddle was never alone in anything she did.
“Honestly, Stella,” Gerald cautioned his wife later, “you
should be more circumspect.”
shook her head in bewilderment. “About?”
hesitated. “About all the time you are spending at the
laughed—A sound of naivete was in that silvery, cascading
laughter. Like any innocent, Stella was nonchalant about
public opinion. “In broad and blistering daylight!?” she
exclaimed. “My, my! They really must lead boring lives if
that gives them something to gossip about. Let them
talk,” she declared with an airy wave of her delicate hand.
as simple as that,” Gerald said.
see why not.”
“I have a
position to maintain in the community. I have a store that
relies on the goodwill of the town, and I have a real estate
business that I want to prosper.”
understand all that, Gerald, but we can’t run our personal
lives based on other people’s perceptions, can we?”
put it to you this way, my pet: imagine that you are a
beautiful piece of porcelain. Although lovely, you are
delicate, and like anything fragile, you must be protected
from the rocks that the real world tosses in your direction.
Like anything beautiful, you must be protected from the mud
that the world can fling your way. I don’t want to see your
reputation sullied or your good name splattered with mud.”
now, Gerald. I know you mean well, but I am not as fragile
and delicate as all that.”
patted her hand. “You don’t know the real world, my dear,
not the way I do.”
sure I want to,” Stella mused.
course, you don’t, my precious piece of porcelain,” Gerald
soothed, putting his arm around his wife.
Gerald’s warnings, Stella found she was irresistibly drawn
to the excavation. What was it about the site? she wondered
to herself. What pleasure did she derive in watching Kendle
as he worked in her lake, in the fierce sun, sweat
glistening on his forehead and shoulders, the ropes of
muscles in his forearms flexing as he ever so gently
released a bone from the mud? There was something hypnotic
in the smooth, precise and efficient movements of his arms.
also found herself identifying in some elemental way with
the prehistoric creature. It was as if the essence of her
being was becoming exposed, rising to the surface of the
lake of her life. It was as if she were inhaling the
sweet air of freedom, released from the dross of mud. One
time Kendle handed her part of the skeleton for her
scrutiny, and it seemed strangely and intoxicatingly as if
it were her very own self that she examined. Although she
was excited by the find, at the same time Stella felt
strangely disquieted, too. The discovery, instead of
satisfying her curiosity, merely whetted her appetite for—?
What? How she longed to be in that crater with him, pulling
the bones from the jealous earth! Finding herself wishing
for that complicity one day, the desire washed over her in a
powerful wave that left her short of breath and feeling
all right?” With concern, Kendle moved to her side, touching
her elbow to steady her.
just the heat,” she replied, weakly, leaning against him for
a moment. “I’ll be fine.”
Kendle do that served as a catalyst for Stella’s budding
metamorphosis? Gradually, it began to dawn on Stella. The
scientist quite simply treated her with respect. He looked
at her as an equal. When she asked a question—and she seemed
to have an endless flow of questions—Kendle paid attention
and replied thoughtfully and thoroughly. Sometimes their
discussions became quite lengthy and far ranging, and while
Stella didn’t challenge him, she often asked a second,
third, or fourth question that compelled him to modify or
qualify his initial statement.
relished the role of a teacher, as he did at the University.
He enjoyed the give and take of intellectual discussions,
delighted in the ebb and flow of questions and answers. He
often compared their conversations to those of the Greeks in
Athens’s gymnasium two thousand years before. Occasionally, when
he commented on the perceptiveness of one of her questions,
Stella found herself basking in the glow of the implied
once, she actually did leap agilely into the excavation site
to help him tug at a recalcitrant bone, only to discover her
Parisian dress caked with mud afterward and herself laughing
as happily as a child over the mess. That was how she
happened to be close beside Kendle one golden afternoon in
spent the last hour or so digging out what he surmised was
the last of the mammoth. Reaching into the mud where a bit
of white was showing, he felt around, yanked, pulled, and
tugged. “What—?” He grabbed the shovel and dug quickly but
carefully around the spot, scraping away the moist earth.
it?” Stella asked excitedly.
reached down into the mud and pulled harder, but fell back,
the bone in his powerful grip. Quickly, he washed the bone
and examined it carefully. Then turning it over and over in
his hand, he inspected it, letting his fingers glide
sensuously over the surface of the ancient bone with two
long, large teeth near the front of the jaw.
is it?” Stella repeated.
not mistaken, it’s the upper jawbone of a Smilodon, a
earth does it mean?”
means, my dear Stella—” His voice picked up speed as
implications raced through his mind. “It means that what we
have here is more—perhaps much more—than just a mammoth. We
might have a whole mother lode of prehistoric animals!”
broadly, Kendle let out a whoop. “Wahooo!!” And still
clutching the jawbone, he twirled Stella round and round, so
that muddy water splashed and splattered everywhere. Caught
up in the excitement, Stella shouted with him and allowed
herself to be flung about as Kendle sang and danced and
tromped in the mud.
Stella halted, breathless. Her breasts were heaving—as much
from the joy she was sharing with Kendle as from the
exertion. She felt as if she were no longer a passive
spectator but taking an active part, joining the scientist
in his discovery…
on the bank of the lake at an angle above them, elbows bent,
fists at his hips. Stella was suddenly aware—acutely
aware—of the mud on her peach-pink silk dress, the mud on
her hands and forehead, even in her hair. Gerald’s face was
mottled a dark red, his mouth a thin slit.
you in the parlor.” It was not a question.
all he said, but in Stella’s mind it echoed and reechoed.
Because he was right. One simply did not fling another man’s
wife around in 1870s California, regardless of how
progressive one was. She glanced at Kendle, who returned it
with concern. Neither of them said anything. Gerald stalked
ahead, while Stella quietly followed. Arms crossed over his
chest, he was waiting in the dim parlor when she walked in.
The light did not flow so much as it unfold sluggishly
through the window. The vase holding unattended roses
appeared dull in the half-light of the parlor, the fragrance
of the flowers slightly stale. Stella looked down at her
hands, clutching the lace of her bodice.
that I will never see a spectacle like that again,” Gerald
cheeks flamed. “It wasn’t a spectacle,” she said, “unless
you call being happy a spectacle.”
I don’t know what has come over you lately.”
it isn’t a matter of something coming over me, Gerald, so
much as it is something being removed—something that has
long been suffocating me.”
as if I am trembling on the brink of some mysterious cliff.”
answer was his usual humph, but his reddish mustache
quivered with fury. “There is no need to be melodramatic.”
trying to be. I’m trying to use common words to express very
common needs and desires. Am I so obscure? If I am, let me
put it this way: for the first time I feel a new kind of
happiness, a happiness deep within myself. I’m no longer
content with just existing.”
brushed his hand across the empty air. “Why can’t you be
content with your lot in life? Most women would be overjoyed
to have a loving husband who has given them all I have given
think things can go back to the way they used to be. I keep
thinking of that mammoth out in the lake.”
creature dead ten thousand years.”
don’t see it as a symbol of death, don’t you understand? It
surely wanted nothing more than to live. In a way it was
more clever than I, for it knew that it had to take its joy
as best it could, when it could.”
it you want?” Gerald demanded.
than what I’ve had in the past. I thought I was happy
Gerald, but I wasn’t, not completely. I thought I had a
life, but I realize now it was just half a life; I realize
now how much I’ve been missing, the sheer exhilaration of
think I understand you, Stella.”
scarcely think I understand myself. But in another way I
know that I do, for the first time.”
breathed a long sigh, throwing up his hands. “I really don’t
see any purpose in discussing this any further. I have never
seen much value in discussing abstract concepts.”
wish, Gerald.” Stella nodded. “But it won’t go away—my
thoughts about this abstract concept called joy.”
something to tell you that is important.”
tell me,” Stella invited.
been discussing an issue at the city council.”
issue?” Stella clutched his arm. There’s no need for
uneasiness, she told herself. Gerald had said not a word
that was threatening. Yet there was something in the
seemingly innocent way he brought up a vague issue with the
city council that made her apprehensive. There was a deeper
purpose to his statement, and the fact that she couldn’t
grasp it alarmed her.
know,” Gerald went on, “we have been debating for a long
time the question of our water supply. Right now, the city
relies on the old Jenkins well.”
filled our needs in the past.”
but if we had a new major source of fresh water, the city
could grow and expand, become more prosperous. Real estate
values would climb. The store would be more successful. The
drought has shown us that we need to have more water
available, a ready supply, or our town’s growth is limited.
As a result, the council has reached a decision.”
the only way we can do it, but even if it weren’t, I would
still vote the way I did. I will be happy to be rid of the
nuisance I take it you mean Professor Kendle.”
glared at her.
decision, this vote you are talking about—” Stella probed.
selling the lake.”
Stella’s lake? My lake? To whom?”
what I have been explaining to you. The city council has
decided to buy the lake for the city.”
this very sudden?”
all. Negotiations have been going on for quite some time. It
is just that it wasn’t the sort of thing to trouble you
about. Commercial transactions of this kind are so complex
and boring. You have enough to concern you, what with the
house and the kitchen and all,” he added, patting her
have decided to sell my property without so much as
informing, let alone asking, me.”
good price too, I might add—a good price to us, that is.
Upstream, they are going to dynamite the dam that once was
used to divert the water for mining and allow the water to
flow into the lake. With no natural outlet the lake will
rise. We have consulted several experts and they recommend
doing it immediately. Construction can begin right away on a
pipeline to town and—”
how self-evident must it be?”
think you understand, Stella.”
understand too well!”
for the good of the entire community.”
the lake rises, we will not be able to finish our work.”
Gerald arched his eyebrows a second time.
explained, “The work on the mammoth is incomplete. Today, we
found another creature, entirely different from the mammoth.
This could now become a discovery of historic proportions,
right, ‘we’. For I, too, am a part of it now—we won’t be
able to finish the project.”
sighed. “Alas. The price of progress.”
agree to it,” Stella exclaimed.
Sweetheart, this isn’t your decision to make.”
not, I’d like to know?”
the lake is not yours.”
mine? But Father gave it to me. Everyone in town knows that.
That is why it’s called ‘Stella’s
courtesy—I assure you, dearest.”
sure I am anybody’s dearest any longer.”
shrugged. “A courtesy,” he repeated.
courtesy?! What does courtesy have to do with it?”
according to law everything a wife obtains after being
married devolves to her husband. That includes
sighed. “As you wish. Everything you have received since we
were married—and that includes what your father left
you—technically became mine. That’s the law.”
“’Stella’s Lake’ isn’t Stella’s?”
Speechless, Stella walked to the window and rested her
fingertips on the white sill as if she needed to confirm the
existence of some concrete reality beyond her spinning
that’s the way it is,” she murmured.
that perhaps he had gone too far, Gerald went over to her.
Standing close behind her, he put his hands on her shoulders
and spoke softly. “But I wouldn’t think of selling it
without your permission.”
wouldn’t?” She turned, hope in her eyes.
course not. But I know when you have a chance to think it
over you will come to see that my way is best.”
darling,” he said, putting a gentle finger to her lips.
“Think it over. We can discuss it later. Tomorrow, if you
like. Or the next day.”
don’t have to think it over. I have already reached a
as the research is done—”
afraid that isn’t good enough, my dear. The council wants
to—must!—begin work immediately in order to finish the
project before winter arrives. It will create jobs, bring
stability to the area, raise our standard of living.”
clutched at her dress, crushing the lace at her throat with
a small fist. “Please, Gerald, don’t force me to do this.”
me, my darling,” Gerald cooed.
you look upon the dig as a nuisance and you have humored me.
But for me it’s much more important. I realize now how much
there is to know in the world, how little I know, and how
exciting it is to make such discoveries. It’s as if I’ve
been buried my whole life and now I’m emerging into the
sunlight, along with the mammoth. Do you have any idea how
crucial this is to me?”
that some idealist from the University has filled your head
with all sorts of starry-eyed nonsense. Why, you’re no
different than Woody with his dragon.”
some credit, please. Professor Kendle has not filled
my head with anything. But he has shown me things I have
never seen before.”
stared at his wife for a long time. “I see how it is now.”
it? Tell me. I truly want to hear what you think.”
you are in love with him.”
absurd. If I am in love with anybody, it is me. For the
first time. Do you understand—me!”
“If it is
such a high-flown abstract concept as self-love that
concerns you, then by all means focus on it. Do not let a
shopkeeper like me stand in the way of your contemplation.
But for heaven sakes, leave the real world to men. Why be so
stubborn about an insignificant piece of property—a piece of
property that you don’t even own, that I give you as a
you see: that is exactly my point. Everything I have is a
result of your largess, a result of your good will, your
kindness. What am I? A charity case?”
I don’t understand you at all. What is this talk of charity?
You have a beautiful home. I have bought you beautiful
objects from all over the world. I love you devotedly. I
have given you everything. You have an idyllic life. What
more could any woman want?”
I need to achieve something that is my own without anyone’s
be, Stella, but is this the way?”
of no other.”
you, the decision you make is about more than just the
that, Gerald. Do you?”
sending me a very clear message.”
wonder—will you interpret it correctly?”
want to be independent,” Stella murmured, “then let it begin
here… this moment.”
not sell my lake.”
large mustache twitched once, then twice—the only outward
sign of the maelstrom churning inside him.
wish, Stella. You force me into an untenable position.”
remained silent, gazing at her husband.
and deliberately Gerald walked over to the inlaid mahogany
table and picked up his hat. Only his hand trembled. His
voice remained firm. “I will send a boy for my things later.
If you wish to speak with me, I will be staying at The Gold
really necessary, Gerald?” Stella asked, gently.
lifted a slender hand, as if anguish could be communicated
through a gesture. She sighed softly. “Not even a good-bye?”
was gone. His heavy tread on the porch outside echoed and
reechoed in the silence of the house. Stella pushed aside
the gauze curtain at the window, and her eyes followed the
departure of her husband.
as Gerald took the path that led into town, he met Kendle.
Stella cringed while the two men talked. What could her
husband possibly be saying to the scientist? She turned away
from the window.
moments later Kendle’s shadow fell across the etched glass
of the front door, and she heard a knock. She didn’t answer
it. The knock came again, insistently. Reluctantly, Stella
opened the door.
was etched into Kendle’s brow. “May I come in?”
husband told me what happened.”
the two of you talking.”
you to know…” He hesitated.
what?” Stella asked, puzzled.
have chosen me.”
earth are you talking about—chosen?”
husband told me everything. How you have made a decision—me,
rather than him.”
what he and you take my decision about the lake to mean?”
hardly be more clear, could it? You’re spending so much time
at the lake, your decision to let the excavation be
what you think?”
not until your husband spoke to me. But I have to admit it
carefully to what I have to say.” Stella chose her words
carefully. “It seems I am destined to be misunderstood
regardless of what I do. Now listen. Before I met you,
before the discovery, I was a pampered little child—naïve.
My whole world changed when you came here. You opened up new
vistas for me, a world of knowledge, a horizon of discovery,
of achievement and goals—things I’d never known before. I
saw how exciting knowledge could be, how thrilling it was to
make discoveries. But don’t mistake it: It is that that I
fell in love with, that idea, that concept. Not with you. If
you have misunderstood that, or my husband misled you, then
I am sorry, but that is the truth of the matter.”
what you mean,” he said, lowering his eyes. “Silly of me,
touched his arm gently. “I am grateful to you for what you
have taught me, what you have shown me, but that is the
extent of it: gratitude.”
bowed. “As you say—gratitude. Well, perhaps you will become
one of my students someday.”
thought of that, but yes, what an idea. I’m not too old.”
as I know, there is no age limit for students,”
possible, Professor Kendle, very possible.”
meantime I understand that we will be able to continue our
continue our work in the lake until it is finished.”
“Wonderful,” he enthused. Kendle held out a hand, which
Stella took in both of hers. “Who knows what discoveries are
left to be made,” he said.
the door behind him, Stella leaned against the sturdy dark
oak, her back to the etched glass with its shepherd and
shepherdess holding hands. Silence spread through the empty
house. For the first time ever she realized that she was
truly alone. Although the solitude was new, it did not
frighten her. It settled like a dove on her mind.
up to her dressing room to change. As her skirt dropped to
the floor, she noticed once again the mud on it. From the
upstairs window, Stella was able to see her lake in the
distance. Despite the drought there was some water left in
the deepest portion. Might there not be discoveries to be
made there, too, in the deeper water? The lake glowed like a
molten gold disk in the sunset, shimmering, beckoning to
Gerald return someday? Would he ever understand? she
wondered. “Who knows,” she whispered to the silence, “what
discoveries are left to be made?”
Jesse F. Knight has had fiction, articles,
essays and plays published in a variety of national and
international magazines. He frequently travels to European
destinations where he gathers information for travel
© Jesse F. Knight, all rights reserved.