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'The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky' by Stephen Crane: Part One

From VOA Learning English, this is American Stories!

Our story is called "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky." It was written by Stephen Crane. We will listen to the story in two parts. Today we will hear the first part of the story.

"The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky"

The great train was rushing forward such steady dignity of motion that a glance from the window seemed simply to prove that the flatlands of Texas were pouring toward the east.

A newly married pair had come on this train at San Antonio. The man’s face was reddened from many days in the wind and sun. His roughened hands were continually moving over his new black clothes in a most nervous manner.

From time to time he looked down respectfully at his suit. He sat with a hand on each knee, like a man waiting in a shop for a haircut. The glances he gave to other passengers were few and quick.

The bride was not pretty, nor was she very young. She wore a dress of blue with many buttons. She continually turned her head to regard some part or other of her dress. It made her feel strange.

One could tell that she had cooked and that she expected to cook, dutifully.

The searching glances of some of the passengers as she had entered the car had brought the blood rushing to her face. Her uncomfortable expression was strange to see upon this plain face, which was usually calm and almost emotionless.

They were evidently very happy.

“Ever been in a train like this before?” he asked, smiling with delight.

“No,” she answered, “I never was. It’s fine, isn’t it?”

“Great! After a while we’ll go forward to the dining car and get a big dinner. Finest meal in the world. Costs a dollar.”

“Oh, it does?” cried the bride. “A dollar? Oh, that’s too much for us, isn’t it, Jack?”

“Not on this trip, at least,” he answered bravely. “We’re going to enjoy ourselves.”

Later he explained to her about the trains.

“You see, it’s a thousand miles from one end of Texas to the other. The train runs straight across it, and only stops four times.”

He had the pride of an owner. He pointed out to her the beauty of the car they were riding in. And in truth her eyes opened wider as she observed the rich, sea-green cloth covering the seats, the shining silver and glass, the wood that shone darkly like the surface of a pool of oil.

To the minds of the pair, their surroundings repeated the glory of their wedding that morning in San Antonio. This was the spirit of their new life, and the man’s face in particular shone with a joy that made him appear foolish to certain passengers. In the minds of some, there was supposed to be something hugely funny in the pair’s situation.

“We are due in Yellow Sky at 3:42,” he said, looking tenderly into her eyes.

“Oh, are we?” she said, as if she had not been aware of it. To show surprise at her husband’s remark was part of her wifely duty.

She took from a pocket a little silver watch. As she held it before her, and stared at it with a look of attention, the new husband’s face shone.

“I bought it in San Antonio from a friend of mine,” he told her proudly.

“It’s 17 minutes past 12,” she said, looking up at him with a happy expression which, nevertheless, showed a lack of experience in conversing with men. A passenger, observing her small nervousness, laughed to himself.

At last they went to the dining car. The man serving their table happened to take pleasure in directing them through their meal. He viewed them with the manner of a fatherly guide, his face shining with kindness. But they did not understand his attentions. As they returned to their seats, they showed in their faces a sense of escape.

It was evident that, as the distance from Yellow Sky grew shorter, the husband became more nervous. His red hands were even more noticeable. He was rather absent-minded and faraway when the bride leaned forward and spoke to him.

As a matter of truth, Jack Potter was beginning to find his deed weighing upon him like a great stone. He, the town policeman of Yellow Sky, was a man known, liked, and feared in his community. He, an important person, had gone to San Antonio to meet a girl he believed he loved. And there he had actually married her without discussing any part of the matter with Yellow Sky. He was now bringing his bride to a sure-to-be-surprised town.

Of course, people in Yellow Sky married as it pleased them. But Potter’s thoughts of his duty to his friends, or of their idea of his duty, made him feel he was sinful. He was guilty of a great and unusual crime.

Face to face with this girl in San Antonio, he had leaped over all the social fences. At San Antonio he was like a man hidden in the dark. A knife to cut any friendly duty was easy to take in his hand in that distant city. But the hour of Yellow Sky, the hour of daylight, was approaching.

He knew very well that his wedding was an important thing to the town. It could only be equaled by the burning of the new hotel. His friends could not forgive him, he felt. And now the train was hurrying him toward a scene of surprise, merriment, and blame. He glanced out of the window again.

Yellow Sky had a kind of band, which played its horns and drums painfully, to the delight of the people. He laughed without heart as he thought of it. If the citizens could dream of his arrival with his bride, they would march the band at the station and accompany them, among cheers and laughter, to his house.

He decided that he would use all methods of speed and cleverness in making the journey from the station to his house. Once safely at home, he would announce the news. Then he would not go among the citizens until they’d had time to master their emotions.

The bride looked anxiously at him. “What’s worrying you, Jack?”

He laughed. “I’m not worrying, girl. I’m only thinking of Yellow Sky.”

She understood, and her face turned red again.

They shared a sense of slight guilt that developed a finer tenderness. They looked at each other with eyes softly glowing. But Potter often laughed the same nervous laugh. The deep red color upon the bride’s face did not lessen.

“We’re nearly there,” he said.

As the train began to slow, they moved forward in the car. The long line of cars moved into the station of Yellow Sky.

“The train has to get water here,” said Potter, from a tight throat and face, as one announcing death. Before the train stopped, his eye had searched the station, and he was glad and surprised to see there was no one there except the station master.

“Come on, girl,” said Potter with a thick voice. As he helped her down, they each laughed in a strained manner. He took her bag and told his wife to hold his arm.

As they hurried away he saw that the station master had turned and was running toward them, waving his arms. Potter laughed, and sighed as he laughed, when he realized the first effect of his wedding upon Yellow Sky. He grasped his wife’s arm firmly to his side and they hurried away.

The California train was due at Yellow Sky in 21 minutes. There were six men in the Weary Gentleman Saloon. One was a salesman who talked a great deal and rapidly; three were Texans who did not care to talk at that time; and two were Mexican sheep farmers who did not usually talk in the saloon.

The saloon-keeper’s dog lay in front of the door. His head was resting on his feet, and he glanced sleepily here and there with the ready watchfulness of a dog that is sometimes kicked.

Across the sandy street were some bright green, grass spots, so wonderful in appearance next to burning sands in the hot sun. At the cooler side of the railroad station, a man without a coat sat in a chair leaned back against the building. He smoked his pipe. The waters of the Rio Grande river circled near the town, and beyond it could be seen great flatlands.

Except for the busy salesman and his companions in the saloon, Yellow Sky was sleeping. The salesman leaned easily upon a table and told many tales with the confidence of a story teller who has found new listeners.

He was interrupted by a young man who suddenly appeared in the open door. He cried, “Scratchy Wilson’s drunk, and has started to make trouble.”

The two Mexicans at once put down their glasses and disappeared through the rear door of the saloon. The salesman, not understanding the importance of the warning, jokingly answered, “All right, old man. Suppose he has? Come in and have a drink anyhow.”

But the information had made such an apparent impression upon everyone in the room that the salesman was forced to see its importance. All had become instantly serious.

“Well,” he said, filled with mystery, “what is this?” His three companions started to tell him, but the young man at the door stopped them.”

“It means, my friend,” he answered as he came into the saloon, “that for the next two hours this town won’t be very healthy.”

The saloon-keeper went to the door and locked it. Reaching out of the window, he pulled in heavy wooden boards, which covered the windows and locked there. The salesman was looking from one to another.

“What is this, anyhow?” he cried. “You don’t mean there is going to be a gun-fight?”

Come back to American Stories next week for the second half of "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky" by Stephen Crane.

Now it's your turn to use the words in this story. Do you enjoy movies about cowboys? Can you imagine a town like Yellow Sky? How do you think the people in Yellow Sky feel about Jack Potter? Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.

Teachers, view the lesson plan here.

Try the listening quiz to see how well you understand Part One of the story.


Words in This Story

aware - adj. knowing that something (such as a situation, condition, or problem) exists

bride - n. a woman who has just married or is about to be married

dignity - n. the quality of being worthy of honor or respect

grasp - v. to take and hold (something) with your fingers, hands, etc.

merriment - n. laughter and enjoyment

saloon - n. a business where alcoholic drinks are served

Teachers, here is a lesson plan for Part One of this story.

Lesson Plan - Bride Comes to Yellow Sky

Lesson Plan - Bride Comes to Yellow Sky

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