Main-Travelled Roads by Hamlin Garland
A BRANCH ROAD
UP THE COULEE
AMONG THE CORN ROWS
THE RETURN OF A PRIVATE
UNDER THE LION'S PAW
THE CREAMERY MAN
A DAY'S PLEASURE
MRS. RIPLEY'S TRIP
UNCLE ETHAN RIPLEY
A "GOOD FELLOW'S" WIFE
My Father And Mother Whose Half-Century Pilgrimage on the
Main-Travelled Road of Life Has Brought Them Only Toil and
Deprivation, This Book of Stories Is Dedicated By a Son to Whom
Every Day Brings a Deepening Sense of His Parents' Silent Heroism
In the summer of 1887, after having been three years in Boston and
six years absent from my old home in northern Iowa, I found myself
with money enough to pay my railway fare to Ordway, South Dakota,
where my father and mother were living, and as it cost very little
extra to go by way of Dubuque and Charles City, I planned to visit
Osage, Iowa, and the farm we had opened on Dry Run prairie in 1871.
Up to this time I had written only a few poems and some articles
descriptive of boy life on the prairie, although I was doing a good
deal of thinking and lecturing on land reform, and was regarded as a
very intense -disciple of Herbert Spencer and Henry George a singular
combination, as I see it now. On my way westward, that summer day in
1887, rural life presented itself from an entirely new angle. The
ugliness, the endless drudgery, and the loneliness of the farmer's lot
smote me with stern insistence. I was the militant reformer.
The farther I got from Chicago the more depressing the landscape
became. It was bad enough in our former home in Mitchell County, but
my pity grew more intense as I passed from northwest Iowa into
southern Dakota. The houses, bare as boxes, dropped on the treeless
plains, the barbed-wire fences running at right angles, and the towns
mere assemblages of flimsy wooden sheds with painted-pine battlement,
produced on me the effect of an almost helpless and sterile poverty.
My dark mood was deepened into bitterness by my father's farm,
where I found my mother imprisoned in a small cabin on the enormous
sunburned, treeless plain, with no expectation of ever living anywhere
else. Deserted by her sons and failing in health, she endured the
discomforts of her life uncomplainingly-but my resentment of "things
as they are" deepened during my talks with her neighbors, who were all
housed in the same unshaded cabins in equal poverty and loneliness.
The fact that at twenty-seven I was without power to aid my mother in
any substantial way added to my despairing mood.
My savings for the two years of my teaching in Boston were not
sufficient to enable me to purchase my return ticket, and when my
father offered me a stacker's wages in the harvest field I accepted
and for two weeks or more proved my worth with the fork, which was
still mightier-with me-than the pen.
However, I did not entirely neglect the pen. In spite of the dust
and heat of the wheat rieks I dreamed of poems and stories. My mind
teemed with subjects for fiction, and one Sunday morning I set to
work on a story which had been suggested to me by a talk with my
mother, and a few hours later I read to her (seated on the low sill
of that treeless cottage) the first two thousand words of "Mrs.
Ripley's Trip," the first of the series of sketches which became
I did not succeed in finishing it, however, till after my return to
Boston in September. During the fall and winter of '87 and the winter
and spring of '88, I wrote the most of the stories in Main-Travelled
Roads, a novelette for the Century Magazine, and a play called "Under
the Wheel." The actual work of the composition was carried on m the
south attic room of Doctor Cross's house at 21 Seaverns Avenue,
The mood of bitterness in which these books were written was
renewed and augmented by a second visit to my parents in 1889, for
during my stay my mother suffered a stroke of paralysis due to
overwork and the dreadful heat of the summer. She grew better before
the time came for me to return to my teaching in Boston, but I felt
like a sneak as I took my way to the train, leaving my mother and
sister on that bleak and sun-baked plain.
"Old Paps Flaxen," "Jason Edwards," "A Spoil of Office," and most
of the stories gathered into the second volume of Main-Travelled Roads
were written in the shadow of these defeats. If they seem unduly
austere, let the reader remember the times in which they were
composed. That they were true of the farms of that day no one can know
better than I, for I was there-a farmer.
Life on the farms of Iowa and Wisconsin-even on the farms of
Dakota-has gained in beauty and security, I will admit, but there are
still wide stretches of territory in Kansas and Nebraska where the
farmhouse is a lonely shelter. Groves and lawns, better roads, the
rural free delivery, the telephone, and the motorcar have done much to
bring the farmer into a frame of mind where he is contented with his
lot, but much remains to be done before the stream of young life from
the country to the city can be checked.
The two volumes of Main-Travelled Roads can now be taken to be
what William Dean Howells called them, "historical fiction," for they
form a record of the farmer's life as I lived it and studied it. In
these two books is a record of the privations and hardships of the
men and women who subdued the midland wilderness and prepared the way
for the present golden age of agriculture.
HG. March 1, 1922
The main-travelled road in the West (as everywhere) is hot and
dusty in summer, and desolate and drear with mud in fall and spring,
and in winter the winds sweep the snow across it; but it does
sometimes cross a rich meadow where the songs of the larks and
bobolinks and blackbirds are tangled. Follow it far enough, it may
lead past a bend in the river where the water laughs eternally over
Mainly it is long and wearyful and has a dull little town at one
end, and a home of toil at the other. Like the main-travelled road of
life, it is traversed by many classes of people, but the poor and the
A BRANCH ROAD
"Keep the main-travelled road till you come to a branch leading
off-keep to the right."
IN the windless September dawn a voice went singing, a man's
voice, singing a cheap and common air. Yet something in the elan of
it all told he was young, jubilant, and a happy lover.
Above the level belt of timber to the east a vast dome of pale
undazzling gold was rising, silently and swiftly. Jays called in the
thickets where the maples flamed amid the green oaks, with irregular
splashes of red and orange. The grass was crisp with frost under the
feet, the road smooth and gray-white in color, the air was
indescribably sweet, resonant, and stimulating. No wonder the man
He came Into view around the curve in the lane. He had a fork on
his shoulder, a graceful and polished tool. His straw hat was tilted
on the back of his head, his rough, faded coat was buttoned close to
the chin, and he wore thin buckskin gloves on his hands. He looked
muscular and intelligent, and was evidently about twenty-two or -three
years of age.
As he walked on, and the sunrise came nearer to him, he stopped
his song. The broadening heavens had a majesty and sweetness that
made him forget the physical joy of happy youth. He grew almost sad
with the great vague thoughts and emotions which rolled in his brain
as the wonder of the morning grew.
He walked more slowly, mechanically following the road, his eyes
on the ever-shifting streaming banners of rose and pale green, which
made the east too glorious for any words to tell. The air was so still
it seemed to await expectantly the coming of the sun.
Then his mind flew back to Agnes. Would she see it? She was at
work, getting breakfast, but he hoped she had time to see it. He was
in that mood so common to him now, when he could not fully enjoy any
sight or sound unless he could share it with her. Far down the road he
heard the sharp clatter of a wagon. The roosters were calling near and
far, in many keys and tunes. The dogs were barking, cattle bells
jangling in the wooded pastures, and as the youth passed farmhouses,
lights in the kitchen windows showed that the women were astir about
breakfast, and the sound of voices and curry-combs at the barn told
that the men were at their daily chores.
And the east bloomed broader. The dome of gold grew brighter, the
faint clouds here and there flamed with a flush of red. The frost
began to glisten with a reflected color. The youth dreamed as he
walked; his broad face and deep earnest eyes caught and reflected
some of the beauty and majesty of the sky.
But as he passed a farm gate and a young man of about his own age
joined him, his brow darkened. The other man was equipped for work
"Going down to help Dingman thrash?"
"Yes," replied Will shortly. It was easy to see he didn't welcome
"So'm I. Who's goin' to do your thrashin-Dave McTurg?"
"Yes., I guess so. Haven't spoken to anybody yet."
They walked on side by side. Will didn't feel like being rudely
broken in on in this way. The two men were rivals, but Will, being
the victor, would have been magnanimous, only he wanted to be alone
with his lover's dream.
"When do you go back to the sem'?" Ed asked after a little.
"Term begins next week. I'll make a break about second week."
"Le's see: you graduate next year, don't yeh?"
"I expect to, if I don't slip up on it."
They walked on side by side, both handsome fellows; Ed a little
more showy in his face, which had a certain clean-cut precision of
line and a peculiar clear pallor that never browned under the sun. He
chewed vigorously on a quid of tobacco, one of his most noticeable bad
Teams could be heard clattering along on several roads now, and
jovial voices singing. One team coming along behind the two men, the
driver sung out in good-natured warning, "Get out o' the way, there."
And with a laugh and a chirp spurred his horses to pass them.
Ed, with a swift understanding of the driver's trick, flung out his
left hand and caught the end-gate, threw his fork in, and leaped
after it. Will walked on, disdaining attempt to catch the wagon. On
all sides now the wagons of the plowmen or threshers were getting out
into the fields, with a pounding, rumbling sound.
The pale red sun was shooting light through the leaves, and
warming the boles of the great oaks that stood in the yard, and
melting the frost off the great gaudy threshing machine that stood
between the stacks. The interest, picturesqueness of it all got hold
of Will Hannan, accustomed to it as he was. The homes stood about in
a circle, hitched to the ends of the six sweeps, all shining with
The driver was oiling the great tarry cogwheels underneath.
Laughing fellows were wrestling about the yard. Ed Kinney had scaled
the highest stack, and stood ready to throw the first sheaf. The sun,
lighting him where he stood, made his fork handle gleam like dull
gold. Cheery words, jests, and snatches of song everywhere. Dingman
bustled about giving his orders and placing his men, and the voice of
big Dave McTurg was heard calling to the men as they raised the long
stacker into place:
"Heave-ho, there! Up she rises!"
And, best of all, Will caught a glirnpse of a smiling girl face at
the kitchen window that made the blood beat m his throat.
"Hello, Will!" was the general greeting, given with some constraint
by most of the young fellows, for Will had been going to Rock River
to school for some years, and there was a little feeling of jealousy
on the part of those who pretended to sneer at the "seminary chaps
like Will Hannan and Milton Jennings."
Dingrnan came up. "Will, I guess you'd better go on the stack with
"All ready. Hurrah, there!" said David in his soft but resonant
bass voice that always had a laugh in it. "Come, come, every sucker of
yeh git hold o' something. All ready!" He waved his hand at the
driver, who climbed upon his platform. Everybody scrambled into
"Chk, chk! All ready, boys! Stiddy there, Dan! Chk, chkl All ready,
boys! Stiddy there, boys! All ready now!" The horses began to strain
at the sweeps. The cylinder began to hum.
"Grab a root there! Where's my band cutter? Here, you, climb on
here!" And David reached down and pulled Shep Watson up by the
shoulder with his gigantic hand.
Boo-oo-oom, Boo-woo-woo-oom-oom-ow-owm, yarryarr! The whirling
cylinder boomed, roared, and snarled as it rose in speed. At last,
when its tone became a rattling yell, David nodded to the pitchers,
rasped his hands together, the sheaves began to fall from the stack,
the band cutter, knife in hand, slashed the bands in twain, and the
feeder with easy majestic motion gathered them under his arm, rolled
them out into an even belt of entering wheat, on which the cylinder
tore with its frightful, ferocious snarl.
Will was very happy in Its quiet way. He enjoyed the smooth roll
of his great muscles, the sense of power he felt in his hands as he
lifted, turned, and swung the heavy sheaves two by two down upon the
table, where the band cutter madly slashed away. His frame, sturdy
rather than tall, was nevertheless lithe, and he made a fine figure to
look at, so Agnes thought, as she came out a moment and bowed and
smiled to both the young men.
This scene, one of the jolliest and most sociable of the western
farm, had a charm quite aside from human companionship. The beautiful
yellow straw entering the cylinder; the clear yellow-brown wheat
pulsing out at the side; the broken straw, chaff, and dust puffing out
on the great stacker; the cheery whistling and calling of the driver;
the keen, crisp air, and the bright sun somehow weirdly suggestive of
the passage of time.
Will and Agnes had arrived at a tacit understanding of mutual love
only the night before, and Will was power-fully moved to glance often
toward the house, but feared somehow the jokes of his companions. He
worked on, therefore, methodically, eagerly; but his thoughts were on
the future-the rustle of the oak tree nearby, the noise of whose sere
leaves he could distinguish beneath the booming snarl of the machine;
on the sky, where great fleets of clouds were sailing on the rising
wind, like merchantmen bound to some land of love and plenty.
When the Dingmans first came in, only a couple of years before,
Agnes had been at once surrounded by a swarm of suitors. Her pleasant
face and her abounding good nature made her an instant favorite with
all. Will, however, had disdained to become one of the crowd, and held
himself aloof, as he could easily do, being away at school most of the
The second winter, however, Agnes also attended the seminary, and
Will saw her daily and grew to love her. He had been just a bit
jealous of Ed Kinney all the time, for Ed had a certain rakish grace
in dancing and a dashing skill in handling a team which made him a
But, as Will worked beside him all this Monday, he felt so secure
in his knowledge of the caress Agnes had given him at parting the
night before that he was perfectly happy-so happy that he didn't care
to talk, only to work on and dream as he worked.
Shrewd David McTurg had his joke when the machine stopped for a
few minutes. "Well, you fellers do better'n I expected yeh to, after
bein' out so late last night. The first feller I find gappin' has got
to treat to the apples."
"Keep your eye on me," said Shep.
"You?" laughed one of the others. "Anybody knows if a girl so much
as looked crossways at you, you'd fall in a fit."
"Another thing," said David. "I can't have you fellers carryin'
grain, going to the house too often for fried cakes or cookies."
"Now you git out," said Bill Young from the straw pile. "You ain't
goin' to have all the fun to yerself."
Will's blood began to grow hot in his face. If Bill had said much
more, or mentioned her name, he would have silenced him. To have this
rough joking come so close upon the holiest and most exquisite evening
of his life was horrible. It was not the words they said, but the
tones they used, that vulgarized it all. He breathed a sigh of relief
when the sound of the machine began again.
This jesting made him more wary, and when the call for dinner
sounded and he knew he was going in to see her, he shrank from it. He
took no part in the race of the dust-blackened, half-famished men to
get at the washing place first. He took no part in the scurry to get
seats at the first table.
Threshing time was always a season of great trial to - the
housewife. To have a dozen men with the appetites of dragons to cook
for was no small task for a couple of women, in addition to their
other everyday duties. Preparations usually began the night before
with a raid on a hen roost, for "biled chickun" formed the piece de
resistance of the dinner. The table, enlarged by boards, filled the
sitting room. Extra seats were made out of planks placed on chairs,
and dishes were borrowed of neighbors who came for such aid, in their
Sometimes the neighboring women came in to help; but Agnes and her
mother were determined to manage the job alone this year, and so the
girl, with a neat dark dress, her eyes shining, her cheeks flushed
with the work, received the men as they came in dusty, coatless, with
grime - behind their ears, but a jolly good smile on every face.
Most of them were farmers of the neighborhood and schoolmates. The
only one she shrank from was Young, with his hard, glittering eyes and
red, sordid face. She received their jokes, their noise, with a silent
smile which showed her even teeth and dimpled her round cheek.- "She
was good for sore eyes," as one of the fellows said to Shep. She
seemed deliciously sweet and dainty to these roughly dressed fellows.
They ranged along the table with a great deal of noise, boots
thumping, squeaking, knives and forks rattling, voices bellowing out.
"Now hold on, Steve! Can't have yeh so near that chickun!"
"Move along, Shep! I want to be next to the kitchen door! I won't
get nothin' with you on that side o' me."
"Oh, that's too thin! I see what you're-"
"No, I won't need any sugar, if you just smile into it." This from
gallant David, greeted with roars of laughter.
"Now, Dave, s'pose your wife 'ud hear o' that?"
"She'd snatch 'im bald-headed, that's what she'd do."
"Say, somebody drive that ceow down this way," said Bill.
"Don't get off that drive! It's too old," criticised Shep, passing
the milk jug.
Potatoes were seized, cut in halves, sopped in gravy, and taken
one, two! Corn cakes went into great jaws like coal into a steam
engine. Knives in the right hand cut and scooped gravy up. Great,
muscular, grimy, but wholesome fellows they were, feeding like
ancient Norse, and capable of working like demons. They were deep in
the process; half-hidden by steam from the potatoes and stew, in less
than sixty seconds from their entrance.
With a shrinking from the comments of the others upon his regard
for Agnes, Will assumed a reserved and almost haughty air toward his
fellow workmen, and a curious coldness toward her. As he went in, she
came forward smiling brightly.
"There's one more place, Will." A tender, involuntary droop in her
voice betrayed her, and Will felt a wave of hot blood surge over him
as the rest roared.
"Ha, ha! Oh, there'd be a place for him!"
"Don't worry, Will! Always room for you here!"
Will took his seat with a sudden angry flame. "Why can't she keep
it from these fools?" was his thought. He didn't even thank her for
showing him the chair.
She flushed vividly, but smiled back. She was so proud and happy,
she didn't care very much if they did know it. But as Will looked at
her with that quick angry glance, and took his seat with scowling
brow, she was hurt and puzzled. She redoubled her exertions to please
him, and by so doing added to the amusement of the crowd that gnawed
chicken bones, rattled cups, knives and forks, and joked as they ate
with small grace and no material loss of time.
Will remained silent through it all, eating in marked contrast to
the others, using his fork instead of his knife in eating his
potato,'and drinking his tea from his cup rather than from his saucer-
"finickies" which did not escape the notice of the girl nor the.
sharp eyes of the other workmen.
"See that? That's the way we do down to the sem! See? Fork for pie
in yer right hand! Hey? I can't do it. Watch me."
When Agnes leaned over to say, "Won't you have some more tea,
Will?" they nudged each other and grinned. "Aha! What did I tell
Agnes saw at last that for some reason Will didn't want her to
show her regard for him, that be was ashamed of it in some way, and
she was wounded. To cover it up, she resorted to the feminine device
of smiling and chatting with the others. She asked Ed if he wouldn't
have another piece of pie.
"I will-with a fork, please."
"This is 'bout the only place you can use a fork," said Bill Young,
anticipating a laugh by his own broad grin.
"Oh, that's too old," said Shep Watson. "Don't drag that out agin.
A man that'll eat seven taters-"
"Shows who docs the work."
"Yes, with his jaws," put in Jim Wheelock, the driver. "If you'd
put in a little more work with soap 'n' water before comin' in to
dinner, it 'ud be a religious idee," said David.
"It ain't healthy to wash."
"Well, you'll live forever, then."
"He ain't washed his face sence I knew 'im."
"Oh, that's a little too tought! He washes once a week," said Ed
"Back of his ears?" inquired David, who was munching a doughnut,
his black eyes twinkling with fun.
"What's the cause of it?"
"Dade says she won't kiss 'im if he don't." Everybody roared.
"Good fer Dade! I wouldn't if I was in her place."
Wheelock gripped a chicken leg imperturbably, and left it bare as a
toothpick with one or two bites at it. His face shone in two clean
sections around his nose and mouth. Behind his ears the dirt lay
undisturbed. The grease on his hands could not be washed off.
Will began to suffer now because Agnes treated the other fellows
too well. With a lover's exacting jealousy, he wanted her in some way
to hide their tenderness from the rest, but to show her indifference
to men like Young and Kinney. He didn't stop to inquire of himself the
justice of such a demand, nor just how it was to be done. He only
insisted she ought to do it.
He rose and left the table at the end of his dinner, without having
spoken to her, without even a tender, significant glance, and he
knew, too, that she was troubled and hurt. But he was suffering. It
seemed as if he had lost something sweet, lost it irrecoverably.
He noticed Ed Kinney and Bill Young were the last to come out,
just before the machine started up again after dinner, and he saw
them pause outside the threshold and laugh back at Agnes standing in
the doorway. Why couldn't she keep those fellows at a distance, not go
out of her way to bandy jokes with them?
Some way the elation of the morning was gone. He worked on
doggedly now, without looking up, without listening to the leaves,
without seeing the sunlighted clouds. Of course he didn't think that
she meant anything by it, but it irritated him and made him unhappy.
She gave herself too freely.
Toward the middle of the afternoon the machine stopped for a time
for some repairing; and while Will lay on his stack in the bright
yellow sunshine, shelling wheat in his hands and listening to the wind
in the oaks, he heard his name and her name mentioned on the other
side of the machine, where the measuring box stood. He listened.
"She's pretty sweet on him, ain't she? Did yeh notus how she stood
around over him?"
"Yes; an' did yeh see him when she passed the cup o' tea down over
Will got up, white with wrath as they laughed.
"Some way he didn't seem to enjoy it as I would. I wish she'd reach
her arm over my neck that way."
Will walked around the machine, and came on the group lying on the
chaff near the straw pile.
"Say, I want you fellers to understand that I won't have any more
of this talk. I won't have it."
There was a dead silence. Then Bill Young rose up.
"What yeh goen' to do about Ut?" be sneered.
"I'm going to stop it."
The wolf rose in Young. He moved forward, his ferocious soul
flaming from his eyes.
"W'y, you damned seminary dude, I can break you in two!"
An answering glare came into Will's eyes. He grasped and slightly
shook his fork, which he had brought with him unconsciously.
"If you make one motion at me, I'll smash your head like an
eggshell!" His voice was low but terrific. There was a tone m it that
made his own blood stop in his veins. "If you think I'm going to roll
around on this ground with a hyena like you, you've mistaken your man.
I'll kill you, but I won't fight with such men as you are."
Bill quailed and slunk away, muttering some epithet like "coward."
"I don't care what you call me, but just remember what I say: you
keep your tongue off that girl's affairs."
"That's the talk!" said David. "Stand up for your girl always, but
don't use a fork. You can handle him without that:'
"I don't propose to try," said Will, as he turned away. As be did
so, he caught a glimpse of Ed Kinney at the well, pumping a pail of
water for Agnes, who stood beside him, the sun on her beautiful
yellow hair. She was laughing at something Ed was saying as he slowly
moved the handle up and down.
Instantly, like a foaming, turbid flood, his rage swept out toward
her. "It's all her fault," he thought, grinding his teeth. "She's a
fool. If she'd hold herself in like other girls! But no; she must
smile and smile at everybody." It was a beautiful picture, but it sent
a shiver through him.
He worked on with teeth set, white with rage. He had an impulse
that would ?have made him assault her with words as with a knife. He
was possessed with a terrible passion which was hitherto latent in
him, and which he now felt to be his worst self. But he was powerless
to exorcise it. His set teeth ached with the stress of his muscular
tension, and his eyes smarted with the strain.
He had always prided himself on being cool, calm, above these
absurd quarrels that his companions had so often indulged in. He
didn't suppose he could be so moved. As he worked on, his rage
settled down into a sort of stubborn bitterness-stubborn bitterness
of conflict between this evil nature and his usual self. It was the
instinct of possession, the organic feeling of proprietor-ship of a
woman, which rose to the surface and mastered him. He was not a
self-analyst, of course, being young, though he was more
introspective than the ordinary farmer.
He had a great deal of time to think it over as he worked on there,
pitching the heavy bundles, but still he did not get rid of the
miserable desire to punish Agnes; and when she came out, looking very
pretty in her straw hat, and came around near his stack, he knew she
came to see him, to have an explanation, a smile; and yet he worked
away with his hat pulled over his eyes, hardly noticing her.
Ed went over to the edge of the stack and chatted with her; and
she-poor girl!-feeling Will's neglect, could only put a good face on
the matter, and show that she didn't mind it, by laughing back at Ed.
All this Will saw, though he didn't appear to be looking. And when
Jim Wheelock-Dirty Jim-with his whip in his hand, came up and
playfully pretended to pour oil on her hair, and she laughingly
struck at him with a handful of straw, Will wouldn't have looked at
her if she had called him by name.
She looked so bright and charming in her snowy apron and her boy's
straw hat tipped jauntily over one pink ear that David and Steve and
Bill, and even Shep, found a way to get a word with her, and the poor
fellows in the high straw pile looked their disappoimment and shook
their forks in mock rage at the lucky dogs on the ground. But Will
worked on like a fiend, while the dapples of light and shade fell on
the bright face of the merry girl.
To save his soul from hell flames he couldn't have gone over there
and smiled at her. It was impossible. A wall of bronze seemed to have
arisen between them. Yesterday, last night, seemed a dream. The clasp
of her hands at his neck, the touch of her lips, were like the
caresses of an ideal in some dim reverie.
As night drew on, the men worked with a steadier, more mechanical
action. No one spoke now. Each man was intent on his work. No one had
any strength or breath to waste. The driver on his power changed his
weight on weary feet, and whistled and sang at the tired horses. The
feeder, his face gray with dust, rolled the grain into the cylinder so
even, so steady, so swift that it ran on with a sullen, booming roar.
Far up on the straw pile the stackers worked with the steady, rhythmic
action of men rowing a boat, their figures looming vague and dim in
the flying dust and chaff, outlined against the glorious yellow and
"Phe-e-eew-ee," whistled the driver with the sweet, cheery, rising
notes of a bird. "Chk, chk, chk! Phe-e-eewee. Go on there, boys! Chk,
chk, chk! Step up, there Dan, step up! (Snap!) Phe-e-eew-ee!
G'-wan-g'-wan, g'-wan! Chk, clik, chk! Wheest, wheest, wheest! Clik,
In the house the women were setting the table for supper. The sun
had gone down behind the oaks, flinging glorious rose color and
orange shadows along the edges of the slate-blue clouds. Agnes
stopped her work at the kitchen window to look up at the sky and cry
silently. "What was the matter with Will?" She felt a sort of distrust
of him now. She thought she knew him so well, but now he was so
"Come, Aggie," said Mrs. Dingman, "they're gettin' most down to
the bottom of the stack. They'll be pilin' in here soon."
"Phe-e-eew-ee! G'-wan, Doll! G'-wan, boys! Chk, chk, chk!
Phe-e-eew-ee!" called the driver out in the dusk, cheerily swinging
the whip over the horses' backs. Boomoo-oo-oom! roared the machine,
with a muffled, monotonous, solemn tone. "G'-wan, boys! G'-wan,
Will had worked unceasingly all day. His muscles ached with
fatigue. His hands trembled. He clenched his teeth, however, and
worked on, determined not to yield. He wanted them to understand that
he could do as much pitching as any of them and read Caesar's
Commentaries besides. It seemed as if each bundle were the last he
could raise. The sinews of his wrist pained him so, they seemed
swollen to twice their natural size. But still he worked on grimly,
while the dusk fell and the air grew chill.
At last the bottom bundle was pitched up, and he got down on his
knees to help scrape the loose wheat into baskets. What a sweet
relief it was to kneel down, to release the fork and let the worn and
cramping muscles settle into rest! A new note came into the driver's
voice, a soothing tone, full of kindness and admiration for the work
his team had done.
"Wo-o-o, lads! Stiddy-y-y, boys! Wo-o-o, there, Dan. Stiddy,
stiddy, old man! Ho, there!" The cylinder took on a lower key, with
short rising yells, as it ran empty for a moment. The horses had been
going so long that they came to a stop reluctantly. At last David
called, "Turn out!" The men seized the ends of the sweep, David
uncoupled the tumbling rods, and Shep threw a sheaf of grain into the
cylinder, choking it into silence.
The stillness and the dusk were very impressive. So long had the
bell-metal cogwheel sung its deafening song into Will's ear that, as
he walked away into the dusk, he had a weird feeling of being
suddenly deaf, and his legs were so numb that he could hardly feel
the earth. He stumbled away like a man paralyzed.
He took out his handkerchief, wiped the dust from his face as best
he could, shook his coat, dusted his shoulders with a grain sack, and
was starting away, when Mr. Dingman, a rather feeble elderly man, came
"Come, Will, supper's all ready. Go in and eat."
"I guess I'll go home to supper."
"Oh, no, that won't do. The women'll be expecting yeh to stay."
The men were laughing at the well, the warm yellow light shone
from the kitchen, the chill air making it seem very inviting, and she
was there, waiting! But the demon rose in him. He knew Agnes would
expect him, that she would cry that night with disappointment, but his
face hardened. "I guess I'll go home," he said, and his tone was
relentless. He turned and walked away, hungry, tired -so tired he
stumbled, and so unhappy he could have wept.
ON Thursday the county fair was to be held. The fair is one of the
gala days of the year in the country districts of the West, and one
of the times when the country lover rises above expense to the
extravagance of hiring a top buggy in which to take his sweetheart to
the neighboring town.
It was customary to prepare for this long beforehand, for the
demand for top buggies was so great the livery-men grew dictatorial
and took no chances. Slowly but surely the country beaux began to
compete with the clerks, and in many cases actually outbid them, as
they furnished their own horses and could bid higher, in consequence,
on the carriages.
Will had secured his brother's "rig," and early on Thursday
morning he was at work, busily washing the mud from the carriage,
dusting the cushions, and polishing up the buckles and rosettes on his
horses' harnesses. It was a beautiful, crisp, clear dawn-the ideal day
for a ride; and Will was singing as he worked. He had regained his
real sell, and, having passed through a bitter period of shame, was
now joyous with anticipation of forgiveness. He looked forward to the
day with its chances of doing a thousand little things to show his
regret and his love.
He had not seen Agnes since Monday, because Tuesday he did not go
back to help thresh, and Wednesday he had been obliged to go to town
to see about board for the coming term; but he felt sure of her. It
had all been arranged the Sunday before; she'd expect him, and he was
to call at eight o'clock.
He polished up the colts with merry tick-tack of the brush and
comb, and after the last stroke on their shining limbs, threw his
tools in the box and went to the house.
"Pretty sharp last night," said his brother John, who was scrubbing
his face at the cistern.
"Should say so by that rim of ice," Will replied, dipping his hands
into the icy water.
"I ought'o stay home today an' dig tates," continued the older man
thoughtfully as they went into the wood-shed and wiped consecutively
on the long roller towel. "Some o' them Early Rose lay right on top o'
the ground. They'll get nipped sure."
"Oh, I guess not. You'd better go, Jack; you don't get away very
often. And then it would disappoint Nettie and the children so. Their
little hearts are overflowing," he ended as the door opened and two
sturdy little boys rushed out.
"B'ekfuss, Poppa; all yeady!"
The kitchen table was set near the stove; the room was full of sun,
and the smell of sizzling sausages and the aroma of coffee filled the
room. The kettle was doing its duty cheerily, and the wife with
flushed face and smiling eyes was hurrying to and fro, her heart full
of anticipation of the day's outing.
There was a hilarity almost like some strange intoxication on the
part of the two children. They danced, and chattered, and clapped
their chubby brown hands, and ran to the windows ceaselessly.
"Is yuncle Will goin' yide flour buggy?"
"Yus; the buggy and the colts."
"Is he goin' to take his girl?"
Will blushed a little, and John roared.
"Yes, I'm goin'-"
"Is Aggie your girl?"
"H'yer! h'yer! young man," called John, "you're gettin' personal."
"Well, set up," said Nettie, and with a good deal of clatter they
drew around the cheerful table.
Will had already begun to see the pathos, the pitiful significance
of this great joy over a day's outing, and he took himself a little to
task at his own selfish freedom. He resolved to stay at home some
time and let Nettie go in his place. A few hours in the middle of the
day on Sunday, three or four holidays in summer; the rest for this
cheerful little wife and her patient husband was work-work that some
way accomplished so little and left no trace on their souls that was
While they were eating breakfast, teams began to clatter by, huge
lumber wagons with three seats across, and a boy or two jouncing up
and down with the dinner baskets near the end-gate. The children
rushed to the window each time to announce who it was, and how many
there were in.
But as Johnny said "firteen" each time, and Ned wavered between
"seven" and "sixteen," it was doubtful if they could be relied upon.
They had very little appetite, so keen was their anticipation of the
ride and the wonderful sights before them. Their little hearts
shuddered with joy at every fresh token of preparation-a joy that
made Will say, "Poor little men!"
They vibrated between the house and the barn while the chores were
being finished, and their happy cries started the young roosters into
a renewed season of crowing. And when at last the wagon was brought
out and the horses hitched to it, they danced like mad sprites.
After they had driven away, Will brought out the colts, hitched
them in, and drove them to the hitching post. Then he leisurely
dressed himself in his best suit, blacked his boots with considerable
exertion, and at about 7:3o o'clock climbed into his carriage and
gathered up the reins.
He was quite happy again. The crisp, bracing air, the strong pull
of the spirited young team put all thought of sorrow behind him. He
had planned it all out. He would first put his arm around her and
kiss her-there would not need to be any words to tell her how sorry
and ashamed he was. She would know!
Now, when he was alone and going toward her on a beautiful
morning, the anger and bitterness of Monday fled away, became unreal,
and the sweet dream of the Sunday parting grew the reality. She was
waiting for him now. She had on her pretty blue dress and the wide hat
that always made her look so arch. He had said about eight o'clock.
The swift team was carrying him along the crossroad, which was
little travelled, and he was alone with his thoughts. He fell again
upon his plans. Another year at school for them both, and then he'd
go into a law office. Judge Brown had told him he'd give him-"Whoa!
There was a swift lurch that sent him flying over the dasher. A
confused vision of a roadside ditch full of weeds and bushes, and
then he felt the reins in his hands and heard the snorting horses
trample on the hard road.
He rose dizzy, bruised, and covered with dust. The team he held
securely and soon quieted. He saw the cause of it all: the right
forewheel had come off, letting the front of the buggy drop. He
unhitched the excited team from the carriage, drove them to the fence
and tied them securely, then went back to find the wheel and the "nut"
whose failure to hold its place had done all the mischief. He soon had
the wheel on, but to find the burr was a harder task. Back and forth
he ranged, looking, scraping in the dust, searching the weeds.
He knew that sometimes a wheel will run without the burr for many
rods before corning off, and so each time he extended his search. He
traversed the entire half-mile several times, each time his rage and
disappointment getting more bitter. He ground his teeth in a fever of
vexation and dismay.
He had a vision of Agnes waiting, wondering why he did not come.
It was this vision that kept him from seeing the burr in the
wheel-track, partly covered by a clod.
Once he passed it looking wildly at his watch, which was showing
nine o'clock. Another time he passed it with eyes dimmed with a mist
that was almost tears of anger.
There is no contrivance that will replace an axle burr, and
farmyards have no unused axle burrs, and so Will searched. Each
moment he said: "I'll give it up, get onto one of the horses, and go
down and tell her." But searching for a lost axle burr is like
fishing: the searcher expects each moment to find it. And so he
groped, and ran breathlessly, furiously, back and forth, and at last
kicked away the clod that covered it, and hurried, hot and dusty,
cursing his stupidity, back to the team.
It was ten o'clock as he climbed again into the buggy and started
his team on a swift trot down the road. What would she think? He saw
her now with tearful eyes and pouting lips. She was sitting at the
window, with hat and gloves on; the rest had gone, and she was waiting
But she'd know something had happened, because he had promised to
be there at eight. He had told her what team he'd have. (He had
forgotten at this moment the doubt and distrust he had given her on
Monday.) She'd know he'd surely come.
But there was no smiling or tearful face watching at the window as
he came down the lane at a tearing pace and turned into the yard. The
house was silent and the curtains down. The silence sent a chill to
his heart. Something rose up in his throat to choke him.
"Agnes!" he called. "Hello! I'm here at last!"
There was no reply. As he sat there, the part he had played on
Monday came back to him. She may be sick! he thought with a cold
thrill of fear.
An old man came around the corner of the house with a potato fork
in his hands, his teeth displayed in a grin.
"She ain't here. She's gone."
"Yes-more'n an hour ago."
"Who'd she go with?"
"Ed Kinney," said the old fellow with a malicious grin. "I guess
your goose is cooked."
Will lashed the horses into a run and swung round the yard and out
of the gate. His face was white as a dead man's, and his teeth were
set like a vise. He glared straight ahead. The team ran wildly,
steadily homeward, while their driver guided them unconsciously. He
did not see them. His mind was filled with a tempest of rages,
despairs, and shames.
That ride he will never forget. In it he threw away all his plans.
He gave up his year's schooling. He gave up his law aspirations. He
deserted his brother and his friends. In the dizzying whirl of
passions he had only one clear idea-to get away, to go West, to get
away from the sneers and laughter of his neighbors, and to make her
suffer by it all.
He drove into the yard, did not stop to unharness the team, but
rushed into the house and began packing his trunk. His plan was
formed, which was to drive to Cedarville and hire someone to bring
the team back. He had no thought of anything but the shame, the insult
she had put upon him. Her action on Monday took on the same levity it
wore then, and excited him in the same way. He saw her laughing with
Ed over his dismay. He sat down and wrote a letter to her at last-a
letter that came from the ferocity of the medieval savage in him:
"It you want to go to hell with Ed Kinney, you can. I won't say a
word. That's where he'll take you. You won't see me again."
This he signed and sealed, and then he bowed his head and wept
like a girl. But his tears did not soften the effect of the letter. It
went as straight to its mark as he meant it should. It tore a seared
and ragged path to an innocent, happy heart, and be took a savage
pleasure in the thought of it as he rode away on the cars toward the
The seven years lying between 188o and 1887 made a great change in
Rock River and in The adjacent farming land. Signs changed and firms
went out of business with characteristic Western ease of shift. The
trees grew rapidly, dwarfing The houses beneath them, and contrasts of
newness and decay thickened.
Will found The country changed, as he walked along The dusty road
from Rock River toward "The Comers." The landscape was at its fairest
and liberalest, with its seas of corn deep green and moving with a
mournful rustle, in sharp contrast to its flashing blades; its
gleaming fields of barley, and its wheat already mottled with soft
gold in The midst of its pea-green.
The changes were in The hedges, grown higher, In The greater
predominance of cornfields and cattle pastures, but especially in The
destruction of homes. As he passed on Will saw The grass growing and
cattle feeding on a dozen places where homes had once stood. They had
given place to The large farm and The stock raiser. Still The whole
scene was bountiful and very beautiful to The eye.
It was especially grateful to Will, for he had spent nearly all his
years of absence among The rocks, treeless swells, and bleak cliffs
of The Southwest. The crickets rising before his dusty feet appeared
to him something sweet and suggestive and The cattle feeding in The
clover moved him to deep thought-they were so peaceful and
As he reached a little popple tree by The roadside, he stopped,
removed his broad-brimmed hat, put his elbows on The fence, and
looked hungrily upon The scene. The sky was deeply blue, with only
here and there a huge, heavy, slow-moving, massive, sharply outlined
cloud sailing like a berg of ice in a shoreless sea of azure.
In the fields the men were harvesting the ripened oats and barley,
and The sound of their machines clattering, now low, now loud, came
to his ears. Flies buzzed near him, and a king bird clattered
overhead. He noticed again, as he had many a time when a boy, that
The softened sound of The far-off reaper was at times exactly like The
hum of a bluebottle fly buzzing heedlessly about his ears.
A slender and very handsome young man was shocking grain near The
fence, working so desperately he did not see Will until greeted by
him. He looked up, replied to The greeting, but kept on till he had
finished his last stook, then he came to the shade of the tree and
took off his hat
"Nice day to sit under a tree and fish."
Will smiled. "I ought to know you, I suppose; I used to live here
"Guess not; we came in three years ago."
The young man was quick-spoken and very pleasant to look at. Will
felt freer with him.
"Are The Kinneys still living over there?" He nodded at a group of
"Tom lives there. Old man lives with Ed. Tom ousted The old man
some way, nobody seems to know how, and so he lives with Ed."
Will wanted to ask after Agnes, but hardly felt able. "I s'pose
John Hannan is on his old farm?"
"Yes. Got a good crop this year."
Will looked again at The fields of rustling wheat over which The
clouds rippled, and said with an air of conviction: "This lays over
Arizona, dead sure."
"You're from Arizona, then?"
"Yes-a good ways from it"' Will replied in a way that stopped
further question. "Good luck!" he added as he walked on down The road
toward The creek, musing. "And the spring-I wonder if that's there
yet. I'd like a drink." The sun seemed hotter than at noon, and he
walked slowly. At the bridge that spanned the meadow brook, just where
it widened over a sandy ford, he paused again. He hung over the rail
and looked at the minnows swimming there.
"I wonder if they're The same identical chaps that used to boil and
glitter there when I was a boy-looks so. Men change from one
generation to another, but The fish remain The same. The same eternal
procession of types. I suppose Darwin 'ud say their environment
remains The same."
He hung for a long time over The railing, thinking of a vast
number of things, mostly vague, flitting things, looking into the
clear depths of the brook, and listening to the delicious liquid note
of a blackbird swinging on the willow. Red lilies starred the grass
with fire, and goldenrod and chicory grew everywhere; purple and
orange and yellow-green the prevailing tints.
Suddenly a water snake wriggled across the dark pool above the
ford, and the minnows disappeared under the shadow of the bridge.
Then Will sighed, lifted his head, and walked on. There seemed to be
something prophetic in it, and he drew a long breath. That's the way
his plans broke and faded away.
Human life does not move with the regularity of a clock. In living
there are gaps and silences when the soul stands still in its flight
through abysses-and then there come times of trial and times of
struggle when we grow old without knowing it. Body and soul change
Seven years of hard, busy life had made changes in Will.
His face had grown bold, resolute, and rugged, some of its delicacy
and all of its boyish quality gone. His figure was stouter, erect as
of old, but less graceful. He bore himself like a man accustomed to
look out for himself in all kinds of places. It was only at times that
there came into his deep eyes a preoccupied, almost sad look that
showed kinship with his old self.
This look was on his face as he walked toward the clump of trees
on the right of the road.
He reached the grove of popple trees and made his way at once to
the spring. When he saw it, it gave him a shock. They had let it fill
up with leaves and dirt.
Overcome by the memories of the past, he flung him-sell down on
the cool and shadowy bank, and gave him-sell up to the bittersweet
reveries of a man returning to his boyhood's home. He was filled
somehow with a strange and powerful feeling of the passage of time;
with a vague feeling of the mystery and elusiveness of human life. The
leaves whispered it overhead, the birds sang it in chorus with the
insects, and far above, in the measureless spaces of sky, the hawk
told it in the silence and majesty of his flight from cloud to cloud.
It was a feeling hardly to be expressed in word~ one of those
emotions whose springs lie far back in the brain. He lay so still, the
chipmunks came curiously up to
A Branch Road
his very feet, only to scurry away when he stirred like a sleeper
He had cut himself off entirely from the life at The Corners. He
had sent money home to John, but had concealed his own address
carefully. The enormity of this folly now came back to him, racking
him till he groaned.
He heard the patter of feet and the half-mumbled monologue of a
running child. He roused up and faced a small boy, who started back
in terror like a wild fawn. He was deeply surprised to find a man
there where only boys and squirrels now came. He stuck his fist in his
eye, and was backing away when Will spoke.
"Hold on, sonny! Nobody's hit you. Come, I ain't goin' to eat yeh."
He took a bit of money from his pocket. "Come here and tell me your
name. I want to talk with you."
The boy crept upon the dime.
Will smiled. "You ought to be a Kinney. What is your name?"
"Tomath Dickinthon Kinney. I'm thix and a half. I've got a colt,"
lisped the youngster breathlessly as he crept toward the money.
"Oh, you are, eh? Well, now, are you Tom's boy or Ed's?"
"Tomth's boy. Uncle Ed hith gal-"
"Ed got a boy?"
"Yeth, thir- lii baby. Aunt Agg letth me hold 'im"
"Agg! Is that her name?"
"That's what Uncle Ed callth her."
The man's head fell, and it was a long time before he asked his
"How is she, anyhow?"
"Purty well," piped the boy with a prolongation of the last words
into a kind of chirp. "She'th been thick, though," he added.
"Been sick? How long?"
"Oh, a long time. But she ain't thick abed; she'th awuul poor,
though. Gran'pa thayth she'th poor ath a rake."
"Oh, he does, eh?"
"Yeth, thir. Uncle Ed he jawth her, then she crieth."
Will's anger and remorse broke out in a groaning curse. "O my God!
I see it all. That great lunkin' houn' has made life a hell fer her."
Then that letter came back to his mind; he had never been able to put
it out of his mind-he never would till he saw her and asked her
"Here, my boy, I want you to tell me some more. Where does your
Aunt Agnes live?"
"At gran'pa'th. You know where my gran'pa livth?"
"Well, you do. Now I want you to take this letter to her. Give it
to her." He wrote a little note and folded it. "Now dust out o' here."
The boy slipped away through the trees like a rabbit; his little
brown feet hardly rustled. He was like some little wood animal. Left
alone, the man went back into a reverie that lasted till the shadows
fell on the thick little grove around the spring. He rose ~ last and,
taking his stick in hand, walked out to the wood again and stood
there, gazing at the sky. He seemed loath to go farther. The sky was
full of flame-colored clouds floating in a yellow-green sea, where
bars of faint pink streamed broadly away.
As he stood there, feeling the wind lift his hair, listening to the
crickets' ever-present crying, and facing the majesty of space, a
strange sadness and despair came into his eyes.
Drawing a quick breath, he leaped the fence and was about going on
up the road, when he heard, at a little distance, the sound of a drove
of cattle approaching, and he stood aside to allow them to pass. They
snuffed and shied at the silent figure by the fence, and hurried by
with snappug heels-a peculiar sound that made the man smile with
An old man was driving the cows, crying out:
"St, boy, there! Go on, there. Whay, boss!"
Will knew that hard-featured, wiry old man, now entering his
second childhood and beginning to limp painfully. He had his hands
full of hard clods which he threw impatiently at the lumbering
"Good evening, uncle!"
"I ain't y'r uncle, young man."
His dim eyes did not recognize the boy he had chased out of his
plum patch years before.
"I don't know yeh, neither."
"Oh, you will, later on. I'm from the East. I'm a sort of a
relative to John Hannan."
"I wanto know if y' be!" the old man exclaimed, peering closer.
"Yes. I'm just up from Rock River. John's harvesting, I s'pose?"
"Where's the youngest one-Will?"
"William? Oh! he's a bad aig-he lit out fr the West somewhere. He
was a hard boy. He stole a hatful o' my plums once. He left home kind
o' sudden. He! he! I s'pose he was purty well cut up jest about them
The old man chuckled.
"Well, y' see, they was both courtin' Agnes then, an' my son cut
William out. Then William he lit out f'r the West, Arizony 'r
California 'r somewhere out West. Never been back sence."
"No. But they say he's makin' a terrible lot o' money," the old man
said in a hushed voice. "But the way he makes it is awful scaly. I
tell my wife if I had a son like that an' he'd send me home a bushel
basket o' money, earnt like that, I wouldn't touch finger to it-no,
"You wouldn't? Why?"
"'Cause it ain't right. It ain't made right no way, you-"
"But how is it made? What's the feller's trade?"
"He's a gambler-that's his trade! He plays cards, and every cent is
bloody. I wouldn't touch such money no how you could fix it~"
"Wouldn't, hay?" The young man straightened up. "Well,
look-a-here, old man: did you ever hear of a man foreclosing a
mortgage on a widow and two boys, getting a farm f'r one quarter what
it was really worth? You damned old hypocrite! I know all about you
and your whole tribe-you old bloodsucker!"
The old man's jaw fell; he began to back away.
"Your neighbors tell some good stories about you. Now skip along
after those cows or I'll tickle your old legs for you!"
The old man, appalled and dazed at this sudden change of manner,
backed away, and at last turned and racked off up the road, looking
back with a wild face at which the young man laughed remorselessly.
"The doggoned old skeesucks!" Will soliloquized as he walked up
the road. "So that's the kind of a character he's been givin' me!"
"Hullo! A whippoorwrn. Takes a man back into childhood-No, don't
'whip poor Will'; he's got all he can bear now."
He came at last to the little farm Dingman had owned, and he
stopped in sorrowful surprise. The barn had been moved away, the
garden plowed up, and the house, turned into a granary, stood with
boards nailed across its dusty cobwebbed windows. The tears started
into the man's eyes; he stood staring at it silently.
In the face of this house the seven years that he had last lived
stretched away into a wild waste of time. It stood as a symbol of his
wasted, ruined life. It was personal, intimately personal, this decay
of her home.
All that last scene came back to him: the booming roar of the
threshing machine, the cheery whistle of the driver, the loud, merry
shouts of the men. He remembered how warmly the lamplight streamed out
of that door as he turned away tired, hungry, sullen with rage and
jealousy. Oh, if he had only had the courage of a man!
Then he thought of the boy's words. She was sick. Ed abused her.
She had met her punishment. A hundred times he had been over the
whole scene. A thousand times he had seen her at the pump smiling at
Ed Kinney, the sun lighting her bare head; and he never thought of it
At this very gate he had driven up that last forenoon, to find that
she had gone with Ed. He had lived that sickening, depressing moment
over many times, but not times enough to keep down the bitter passion
he had felt then, and felt now as he went over it in detail.
He was so happy and confident that morning, so perfectly certain
that all would be made right by a kiss and a cheery jest. And now!
Here he stood sick with despair and doubt of all the world. He turned
away from the desolate homestead and walked on.
"But I'll see her-just once more. And then-" And again the mighty
significance, responsibility of life fell upon him. He felt as young
people seldom do the irrevocableness of living, the determinate,
unalterable character of living. He determined to begin to live in
some new way-just how he could not say.
OLD man Kinney and his wife were getting their Sunday school
lessons with much bickering, when Will drove up the next day to the
dilapidated gate and hitched his team to a leaning post under the
oaks. Will saw the old man's head at the open window, but no one else,
though he looked eagerly for Agnes as he walked up the familiar path.
There stood the great oak under whose shade he had grown to be a man.
How close the great tree seemed to stand to his heart, some way! As
the wind stirred in the leaves, it was like a rustle of greeting.
In that low old house they had all lived, and his mother had toiled
for thirty years. A sort of prison after all. There they were all
born, and there his father and his little sister had died. And then it
had passed into old Kinney's hands.
Walking along up the path he felt a serious weakness in his limbs,
and he made a pretense of stopping to look at a flowerbed containing
nothing but weeds. After seven years of separation he was about to
face once more the woman whose life came so near being a part of his-
Agnes, now a wife and a mother.
How would she look? Would her face have that oldtime peachy bloom,
her mouth that peculiar beautiful curve? She was large and fair, he
recalled, hair yellow and shining, eyes blue-He roused himself. This
was nonsense! He was trembling. He composed himself by looking around
"The old scoundrel has let the weeds choke out the flowers and
surround the beehives. Old man Kinney neverbelieved in anything but a
Will set his teeth, and marched up to the door and struck it like a
man delivering a challenge. Kinney opened the door, and started back
in fear when he saw who it was.
"How de do? How de do?" said Will, walking in' his eyes fixed on a
woman seated beyond, a child in her lap.
Agnes rose, without a word; a fawnlike, startled widening of the
eyes, her breath coming quick, and her face flushing. They couldn't
speak; they only looked at each other an instant, then Will shivered,
passed his hand over his eyes, and sat down.
There was no one there but the old people, who were looking at him
in bewilderment. They did not notice any confusion in Agnes's face.
She recovered first.
"I'm glad to see you back, Will," she said, rising and putting the
sleeping child down in a neighboring room. As she gave him her hand,
"I'm glad to get back, Agnes. I hadn't ought to have gone." Then he
turned to the old people: "I'm Will Hannan. You needn't be scared,
daddy; I was jokin' last night."
"Dew tell! I wanto know!" exclaimed granny. "Wal I never! An,
you're my little Willy boy who ust 'o he in my class. Well! well!
W'y, Pa, ain't he growed tall! Growed handsome tew. I ust 'o think he
was a drelful humly boy; but my sakes, that mustache-"
"Wal, he give me a tumble scare last night. My land! scared me out
of a year's growth," cackled the old man.
This gave them all a chance to laugh and the air was cleared. It
gave Agnes time to recover herself and to be able to meet Will's
eyes. Will himself was powerfully moved; his throat swelled and tears
came to his eyes everytime he looked at her.
$he was worn and wasted incredibly. The blue of her eyes seemed
dimmed and faded by weeping, and the oldtime scariet of her lips had
been washed away. The sinews of her neck showed painfully when she
turned her head, and her trembling hands were worn, discolored, and
lumpy at the joints.
Poor girl! She felt that she was under scrutiny, and her eyes felt
hot and restless. She wished to run away and cry, but she dared not.
She stayed, while Will began to tell her of his life and to ask
questions about old friends.
The old people took it up and relieved her of any share in it; and
Will, seeing that she was suffering, told some funny stories which
made the old people cackle in spite of themselves.
But it was forced merriment on Will's part. Once in a while Agnes
smiled with just a little flash of the old-time sunny temper. But
there was no dimple in the cheek now, and the smile had more
suggestion of an invalid~r even a skeleton. He was almost ready to
take her in his arms and weep, her face appealed so pitifully to him.
"It's most time f'r Ed to be gittin' back, ain't it' Pa?"
"Sh'd say 'twas! He jist went over to Hobkirk's to trade horses.
It's dretful tryin' to me to have him go off tradin' horses on Sunday.
Seems if he might wait till a rainy day, 'r do it evenin's. I never
did believe in horse tradin' anyhow."
"Have y' come back to stay, Willie?" asked the old lady.
"Well-it's hard-tellin'," answered Will, looking at Agnes.
"Well, Agnes, ain't you goin' to get no dinner? I'm 'bout ready fr
dinner. We must git to church eariy today. Elder Wheat is goin' to
preach an' they'll be a crowd. He's goin' to hold communion."
"You'll stay to dinner, Will?" asked Agnes.
"Yes-if you wish it."
"I do wish it."
"Thank you; I want to have a good visit with you. I don't know
when I'll see you again."
As she moved about, getting dinner on the table, Will sat with
gloomy face, listening to the "clack" of the old man. The room was a
poor little sitting room, with furniture worn and shapeless; hardly a
touch of pleasant color, save here and there a little bit of Agnes's
handiwork. The lounge, covered with calico, was rickety; the rocking
chair matched it, and the carpet of rags was patched and darned with
twine in twenty places. Everywhere was the influence of the Kinneys.
The furniture looked like them, in fact.
Agnes was outwardly calm, but her real distraction did not escape
Mrs. Kinney's hawklike eyes.
"Well, I declare if you hain't put the butter on in one o' my blue
chainy saucers! Now you know I don't allow that saucer to be took
down by nobody. I don't see what's got into yeh. Anybody'd s'pose you
never see any comp'ny b'fore-wouldn't they, Pa?"
"Sh'd say th' would," said Pa, stopping short in a long story about
Ed. "Seems if we couldn't keep anything in this' house sep'rit from
the rest. Ed he uses my currycomb-"
He launched out a long list of grievances, which Will shut his ears
to as completely as possible, and was thinking how to stop him, when
there was a sudden crash. Agnes had dropped a plate.
"Good land o' Goshen!" screamed Granny. "If you ain't the worst I
ever see. I'll bet that's my grapevine plate. If it is-well, of all
the mercies, it ain't! But it naight 'a' ben. I never see your
beat-never! That's the third plate since I came to live here."
"Oh, look-a-here, Granny," said Will desperately. "Don't make so
much fuss about the plate. What's it worth, anyway? Here's a dollar."
Agnes cried quickly:
"Oh, don't do that, Will! It ain't her pate. It's my plate, and I
can break every plate in the house if I want'o," she cried defiantly.
"'Course you can," Will agreed.
"Well, she can't! Not while I'm around," put in Daddy. "I've helped
to pay f'r them plates, if she does call 'em hern-"
"What the devul is all this row about? Agg, can't you get along
without stirring up the old folks everytime I'm out o' the house?"
The speaker was Ed, now a tail and slouchily dressed man of
thirty-two or -three; his face still handsome in a certain dark,
cleanly cut style, but he wore a surly loo'k and lounged along in a
sort of hangdog style, in greasy overalls and vest unbuttoned.
"Hello, Will! I heard you'd got home. John told me as I came
They shook bands, and Ed slouched down on the lounge. Will could
have kicked him for laying the blame of the dispute upon Agnes; it
showed him in a flash just how he treated her. He disdained to
quarrel; he simply silenced and dominated her.
Will asked a few questions about crops, with such grace as he
could show, and Ed, with keen eyes in his face, talked easily and
"Dinner ready?" he asked of Agnes. "Where's Pete?"
"All right. Let 'im sleep. Well, let's go out an' set 'up. Come,
Dad, sling away that Bible and come to grub. Mother, what the devul
are you sniffling at? Say, now, look here. If I hear any more about
this row, I'll simply let you walk down to meeting. Come, Will, set
He led the way out into the little kitchen where the dinner was
"What was the row about? Hain't been breakin' some dish, Agg?"
"Yes, she has."
"One o' the blue ones?" winked Ed.
"No, thank goodness, it was a white one."
"Well, now, I'll git into that dod-gasted cubberd some day an'
break the whole eternal outfit. I ain't goin' to have this damned
jawin' goin' on," he ended, brutally unconscious of his own "jawin'."
After this the dinner proceeded in comparative silence, Agnes
sobbing under breath. The room was small and very hot; the table was
warped so badly that the dishes had a tendency to slide to the center;
the walls were bare plaster grayed with time; the food was poor and
scant, and the flies absolutely swarmed upon everything, like bees.
Otherwise the room was clean and orderly.
"They say you've made a pile o' money out West, Bill. I'm glad of
it. We fellers back here don't make anything. It's a dam tight
squeeze. Agg, it seems to me the flies are devilish thick today.
Can't you drive 'em out?" Agnes felt that she must vindicate herself
a little. "I do drive 'em out, but they come right in again. The
screen door is broken, and they come right in."
"I told Dad to fix that door."
"But he won't do it for me."
Ed rested his elbows on the table and fixed his bright black eyes
on his father.
"Say, what d'you mean by actin' like a mule? I swear I'll trade you
off f'r a yaller dog. What do I keep you round here. for anyway-to
"I guess I've as good a right here as you have, Ed Kinney."
"Oh, go soak y'r head, old man. If you don't tend out here a little
better, down goes your meat house! I won't drive you down to meetin'
till you promise to fix that door. Hear me!"
Daddy began to snivel. Agnes could not look up for shame. Will
felt sick. Ed laughed.
"I kin bring the old man to terms that way; he can't walk very well
late years, an' he can't drive my colt. You know what a cuss I used
to be about fast nags? Well, I'm just the same. Hobkirk's got a colt
I want. Say, that re-minds me: your team's out there by the fence. I
forgot. I'll go and put 'em up."
"No, never mind; I can't stay but a few minutes."
"Goin' to be round the country long?"
Agnes looked up a moment and then let her eyes fall.
"Goin' back West, I s'pose?"
"No. May go East, to Europe mebbe."
"The devul y' say! You must 'a' made a ten-strike out West."
"They say it didn't come lawful," piped Daddy over his
blackberries and milk.
"Oh, you shet up. Who wants your put-in? Don't work in any o' your
Bible on us."
Daddy rose to go into the other room.
"Hold on, old man. You goin' to fix that door?"
"'Course I be," quavered he.
"Well see't y' do, that's all. Now git on y'r duds, an'
I'll go an' hitch up." He rose from the table. "Don't keep me
He went out unceremoniously, and Agnes was alone with Will.
"Do you go to church? "he asked. She shook her head. "No, I don't
go anywhere now. I have too much to do; I haven't strength left. And
I'm not fit anyway."
"Agnes, I want to say something to you; not now-after they're
gone." He went into the other room, leaving her to wash the dinner
things. She worked on in a curious, almost dazed way, a dream of
something sweet and irrevocable in her eyes. He represented so much
to her. His voice brought up times and places that thrilled her like
song. He was associated with all that was sweetest and most carefree
and most girlish in her life.
Ever since the boy had handed her that note she had been reliving
those days. In the midst of her drudgery she stopped to dream-to let
some picture come back into her mind. She was a student again at the
seminary, and stood in the recitation room with suffocating beat of
the heart. Will was waiting outside-waiting in a tremor like her own,
to walk home with her under the maples.
Then she remembered the painfully sweet mixture of pride and fear
with which she walked up the aisle of the little church behind him.
Her pretty new gown rustled, the dim light of the church had something
like romance in it, and he was so strong and handsome. Her heart went
out in a great silent cry to God-"Oh, let me be a girl again!"
She did not look forward to happiness. She hadn't power to look
forward at all.
As she worked, she heard the high, shrill voices of the old people
as they bustled about and nagged at each other.
"Ma, where's my specticles?"
"I ain't seen y'r specticles."
"You have, too."
"I ain't neither."
"You had 'em this forenoon."
"Didn't no such thing. Them was my own brass-bowed ones. You had
yourn jest 'fore goin' to dinner. If you'd put 'em into a proper place
you'd find 'em again."
"I want'o know if I would," the old man snorted'.
"Wal, you'd orter know."
"Oh, you're awful smart, ain't yeh? You never have no trouble, and
use mine-do yeh?-an' lose 'em so't I can't
"And if this is the thing that goes on when I'm here, it must be
hell when visitors are gone," thought Will.
"Willy, ain't you goin' to meetin'?"
"No, not today. I want to visit a little with Agnes, then I've got
to drive back to John's."
"Wal, we must be goin'. Don't you leave them dishes f't me to
wash," she screamed at Agnes as she went out the door. "An' if we
don't get home by five, them caaves orter be fed."
As Agnes stood at the door to watch them drive away, Will studied
her, a smothering ache in his heart as he saw how thin and bent and
weary she was. In his soul he felt that she was a dying woman unless
she had rest and tender care.
As she turned, she saw something in his face-a pity and an agony
of self-accusation-that made her weak and white. She sank into a
chair, putting her hand on her chest, as if she felt a failing of
breath. Then the blood came back to her face, and her eyes filled
"Don't-don't look at me like that," she said in a whisper. His pity
At sight of her sitting there pathetic, abashed, bewildered, like
some gentle animal, Will's throat contracted so that he could not
speak. His voice came at last in one terrible cry-"Oh, Agnes! for
God's sake forgive me!" He knelt by her side and put his arm about
her shoulders and kissed her bowed head. A curious numbness involved
his whole body; his voice was husky, the tears burned in his eyes. His
whole soul and body ached with his pity and remorseful, self-accusing
"It was all my fault. Lay it all to me. .. I am the one to bear it.
. . . Oh, I've dreamed a thousand times of sayin' this to you, Aggie!
I thought if I could only see you again and ask your forgiveness,
I'd-" He ground his teeth together in his assault upon himself. "I
threw my life away an' killed you-that's what I did!"
He rose and raged up and down the room till he had mastered
"What did you think I meant that day of the thrashing?" he said,
turning suddenly. He spoke of it as if it were but a month or two
She lifted her head and looked at him in a slow way. She seemed to
be remembering. The tears lay on her hollow cheeks.
"I thought you was ashamed of me. I didn't know-why-"
He uttered a snarl of sell-disgust.
"You couldn't know. Nobody could tell what I meant. But why didn't
you write? I was ready to come back. I only wanted an excuse-only a
"How could I, Will-after your letter?"
He groaned and turned away.
"And Will, I-I got mad too. I couldn't write."
"Oh, that letter-I can see every line of it! F'r God's sake, don't
think of it again! But I didn't think, even when I wrote that letter,
that I'd find you where you are. I didn't think, I hoped anyhow, Ed
She stopped him with a startled look in her great eyes. "Don't talk
about him-it ain't right. I mean it don't do any good. What could I
do, after Father died? Mother and I. Besides, I waited three years to
hear from you, Will."
He gave a strange, choking cry. It burst from his throat -that
terrible thing, a man's sob of agony. She went on, curiously calm now.
"Ed was good to me; and he offered a home, anyway, for Mother-"
"And all the time I was waiting for some line to break down my
cussed pride, so I could write to you and explain. But you did go
with Ed to the fair," he ended suddenly, seeking a morsel of
justification for himself.
"Yes. But I waited an' waited; and I thought you was mad at me,
and so when they came I-no, I didn't really go with Ed. There was a
wagonload of them."
"But I started," he explained, "but the wheel came off. I didn't
send word because I thought you'd feel sure I'd come. If you'd only
trusted me a little more- No! it was all my fault. I acted like a
crazy fool. I didn't stop to reason about anything."
They sat in silence alter these explanations. The sound of the
snapping wings of the grasshoppers came through the~windows, and a
locust high in a poplar sent down his ringing whir.
"It can't be helped now, Will," Agnes said at last, her voice full
of the woman's resignation. "We've got to bear it."
Will straightened up. "Bear it?" He paused. "Yes, I s'pose so. If
you hadn't married Ed Kinney! Anybody but him. How did you do it?"
"Oh' I don't know," she answered, wearily brushing her hair back
from her eyes. "It seemed best when I did it-and it can't be helped
now." There was infinite, dull despair and resignation in her voice.
Will went over to the window. He thought how bright and handsome
Ed used to be, and he felt after all that it was no wonder that she
married him. Life pushes us into such things. Suddenly he turned,
something resolute and imperious in his eyes and voice.
"It can be helped, Aggie," he said. "Now just listen to me. We've
made an awful mistake. We've lost seven years o' life, but that's no
reason why we should waste the rest of it. Now hold on; don't
interrupt me just yet. I come back thinking just as much of you as
ever. I ain't going to say a word more about Ed; let the past stay
past. I'm going to talk about the future."
She looked at him in a daze of wonder as he went on. "Now I've got
some money, I've got a third interest in a ranch, and I've got a
standing offer to go back on the Sante Fee road as conductor. There
is a team standing out there. I'd like to make another trip to
"Oh, Will, don't!" she cried; "for pity's sake don't talk-"
"Wait!" he said imperiously. "Now look at it Here you are in hell!
Caged up with two old crows picking the life out of you. They'll kill
you-I can see it; you're being killed by inches. You can't go
anywhere, you can't have anything. Life is just torture for you-"
She gave a little moan of anguish and despair and turned her face
to her chairback. Her shoulders shook with weeping, but she listened.
He went to her and stood with his hand on the chairback.
His voice trembled and broke. "There's just one way to get out of
this, Agnes. Come with me. He don't care for you; his whole idea of
women is that they are created for his pleasure and to keep house.
Your whole life is agony. Come! Don't cry. There's a chance for life
She didn't speak, but her sobs were less violent; his voice growing
stronger reassured her.
"I'm going East, maybe to Europe; and the woman who goes with me
will have nothing to do but get strong and well again. I've made you
suffer so, I ought to spend the rest of my life making you happy.
Come! My wife will sit with me on the deck of the steamer and see the
moon rise, and walk with me by the sea, till she gets strong and happy
again-till the dimples get back into her cheeks. I never will rest
till I see her eyes laugh again.
She rose flushed, wide-eyed, breathing hard with the emotion his
vibrant voice called up, but she could not speak. He put his hand
gently upon her shoulder, and she sank down again. And he went on
with hi~s appeal. There was something hypnotic, dominating in his
voice and eyes.
On his part there was no passion of an ignoble sort, only a passion
of pity and remorse, and a sweet, tender, reminiscent love. He did
not love the woman before him so much as the girl whose ghost she
was-the woman whose promise she was. He held himself responsible for
it all, and he throbbed with desire to repair the ravage he had
indirectly caused. There was nothing equivocal in his position-nothing
to disown. How others might look at it he did not consider and did not
care. His impetuous soul was carried to a point where nothing came in
to mar or divert.
"And then after you're well, after our trip, we'll come back to
Houston, and I'll build my wife a house that'Il make her eyes shine.
My cattle and my salary will give us a good living, and she can have
a piano and books, and go to the theater and concerts. Come, what do
you think of that?"
Then she heard his words beneath his voice Somehow, and they
produced pictures that dazzled her. Luminous shadows moved before her
eyes, drifting across the gray background of her poor, starved,
As his voice ceased the rosy clouds faded, and she realized again
the faded, musty little room, the calico~ covered furniture, and
looking down at her own cheap and ill-fitting dress, she saw her ugly
hands lying there. Then she cried out with a gush of tears:
"Oh, Will, I'm so old and homely now, I ain't fit to go with you
now! Oh, why couldn't we have married then?"
She was seeing herself as she was then, and so was he; but it
deepened his resolution. How beautiful she used to be! He seemed to
see her there as if she stood in perpetual sunlight, with a w~arm
sheen in her hair and dimples in her cheeks.
She saw her thin red wrists, her gaunt and knotted hands. There
was a pitiful droop in the thin pale lips, and the tears fell slowly
from her drooping lashes. He went on:
"Well, it's no use to cry over what was. We must think of what
we're going to do. Don't worry about your looks; you'll be the
prettiest woman in the country when we get back. Don't wait, Aggie;
make up your mind."
She hesitated, and was lost.
"What will people say?"
"I don't care what they say," he flamed out. "They'd say, stay here
and be killed by inches. I say you've had your share of suffering.
They'd say-the liberal ones-stay and get a divorce; but how do we
know we can get one after you've been dragged through the mud of a
trial? We can get one just as well in some other state. Why should you
be worn out at thirty? What right or justice is there in making you
bear all your life the consequences of our-my schoolboy folly?"
As he went on, his argument rose to the level of Browning's
"We can make this experience count for us yet. But we mustn't let
a mistake ruin us-it should teach us. What right has anyone to keep
you in a hole? God don't expect a toad to stay in a stump and starve
if it can get out. He don't ask the snakes to suffer as you do."
She had lost the threads of right and wrong out of her hands. She
was lost in a maze. She was not moved by passion. Flesh had ceased to
stir her; but there was vast power in the new and thrilling words her
deliverer spoke. He seemed to open a door for her, and through it
turrets shone and great ships crossed on dim blue seas.
"You can't live here, Aggie. You'll die in less than five years. It
would kill me to see you die here. Come! It's suicide."
She did not move, save the convulsive motion of her breath and the
nervous action of her fingers. She stared down at a spot in the
carpet; she couldn't face him.
He grew insistent, a sterner note creeping into his voice.
"If I leave this time, of course you know I never come back."
Her hoarse breathing, growing quicker each moment, was her only
"I'm done," he said with a note of angry disappointment. He did
not give her up, however. "I've told you what I'd do for you. Now if
"Oh, give me time to think, Will!" she cried out, lifting her face.
He shook his head. "No. You might as well decide now. It won't be
any easier tomorrow. Come, one minute more and I go out o' that
door-unless-" He crossed the room slowly, doubtful himself of his
desperate last measure. "My hand is on the knob. Shall I open it?"
She stopped breathing; her fingers closed convulsively on the
chair. As he opened the door she sprang up.
"Don't go, Will! Don't go, please don't! I need you here-I-"
"That ain't the question. Are you going with me, Agnes?"
"Yes, yes! I tried to speak before. I trust you, Will; you'r-"
He flung the door open wide. "See the sunlight out there shining
on that field o' wheat? That's where I'll take you-out into the
sunshine. You shall see it shining on the Bay of Naples. Come, get on
your hat; don't take anything more'n you actually need. Leave the past
The woman turned wildly and darted into the little bedroom. The
man listened. He whistled in surprise almost comical. He had
forgotten the baby. He could hear the mother talking, cooing.
"Mommie's 'ittle pet. She wasn't goin' to leave her 'ittle man-no,
she wasn't! There, there, don't 'e cry. Mommie ain't goin' away and
leave him-wicked Mommie ain't-'ittle treasure!"
She was confused again; and when she reappeared at the door, with
the child in her arms, there was a wandering look on her face pititul
to see. She tried to speak, tried to say, ''Please go, Will,"
He designedly failed to understand her whisper. He stepped
forward. "The baby! Sure enough. Why, certainly! to the mother
belongs the child. Blue eyes, thank heaven!"
He put his arm about them both. She obeyed silently. There was
something irresistible in his frank, clear eyes, his sunny smile, his
strong brown hand. He slammed the door behind them.
"That closes the door on your sufferings," he said' smiling down at
her. "Goodbye to it all."
The baby laughed and stretched out its hands toward the light.
"Boo, boo!" he cried.
"What's he talking about?"
She smiled in perfect trust and fearlessness, seeing her child's
face beside his own. "He says it's beautiful."
"Oh, he does? I can't follow his French accent."
She smiled again, in spite of herself. Will shuddered with a thrill
of fear, she was so weak and worn. But the sun shone on the dazzling,
rustling wheat, the fathomless sky blue, as a sea, bent above them-and
the world lay before them.
UP THE COULEE
A STORY OF WISCONSIN
"Keep the main-travelled road up the coulee-it's the second house
after crossin' the crick."
THE ride from Milwaukee to the Mississippi is a fine ride at any
time, superb in summer. To lean back in a reclining chair and whirl
away in a breezy July day, past lakes, groves of oak, past fields of
barley being reaped, past hayfields, where the heavy grass is toppling
before the swift sickle, is a panorama of delight, a road full of
delicious surprises, where down a sudden vista lakes open, or a
distant wooded hill looms darkly blue, or swift streams, foaming deep
down the solid rock, send whiffs of cool breezes in at the window.
It has majesty, breadth. The farming has nothing apparently petty
about it. All seems vigorous, youthful, and prosperous. Mr. Howard
McLane in his chair let his newspaper fall on his lap and gazed out
upon it with dreaming eyes. It had a certain mysterious glamour to
him; the lakes were cooler and brighter to his eye, the greens
fresher, and the grain more golden than to anyone else, for he was
coming back to it all after an absence of ten years. It was, besides,
his West. He still took pride in being a Western man.
His mind all day flew ahead of the train to the little town far on
toward the Mississippi, where he had spent his boyhood and youth. As
the train passed the Wisconsin River, with its curiously carved
cliffs, its cold, dark, swift-swirling water eating slowly under
cedar-clothed banks, Howard began to feel curious little movements of
the heart, like a lover as he nears his sweetheart.
The hills changed in character, growing more intimately
recognizable. They rose higher as the train left the ridge and passed
down into the Black River valley, and specifically into the La Crosse
valley. They ceased to have any hint of upheavals of rock, and became
simply parts of the ancient level left standing after the water had
practically given up its postglacial, scooping action.
It was about six o'clock as he caught sight of the dear broken line
of hills on which his baby eyes had looked thirty-five years ago. A
few minutes later and the train drew up at the grimy little station
set in at the hillside, and, giving him just time to leap off, plunged
on again toward the West. Howard felt a ridiculous weakness in his
legs as he stepped out upon the broiling hot splintery planks of the
station and faced the few idlers lounging about. He simply stood and
gazed with the same intensity and absorption one of the idlers might
show standing before the Brooklyn Bridge.
The town caught and held his eyes first. How poor and dull and
sleepy and squalid it seemed! The one main street ended at the
hillside at his left and stretched away to the north, between two
rows of the usual village stores, unrelieved by a tree or a touch of
beauty. An unpaved street, drab-colored, miserable, rotting wooden
buildings, with the inevitable battlements-the same, only worse, was
The same, only more beautiful still, was the majestic amphitheater
of green wooded hills that circled the horizon, and toward which he
lifted his eyes. He thrilled at the sight.
"Glorious!" he cried involuntarily.
Accustomed to the White Mountains, to the Allghenies, he had
wondered if these hills would retain their old-time charm. They did.
He took off his hat to them as he stood there. Richly wooded, with
gently sloping green sides, rising to massive square or rounded tops
with dim vistas, they glowed down upon the squalid town, gracious,
lofty in their greeting, immortal in their vivid and delicate beauty.
He was a goodly figure of a man as he stood there beside his
valise. Portly, erect, handsomely dressed, and with something
unusually winning in his brown mustache and blue eyes, something
scholarly suggested by the pinch-nose glasses, something strong in the
repose of the head. He smiled as he saw how unchanged was the grouping
of the old loafers on the salt barrels and nail kegs. He recognized
most of them-a little dirtier, a little more bent, and a little
They sat in the same attitudes, spat tobacco with the same calm
delight, and joked each other, breaking into short and sudden fits of
laughter, and pounded each other on the back, just as when he was a
student at the La Crosse Seminary and going to and fro daily on the
They ruminated on him as he passed, speculating in a perfectly
audible way upon his business.
"Looks like a drummer."
"No, he ain't no drummer. See them Boston glasses?"
"That's so. Guess he's a teacher."
"Looks like a moneyed cuss."
"Bos'n, I guess."
He knew the one who spoke last-Freeme Cole, a man who was the
fighting wonder of Howard's boyhood, now degenerated into a
stoop-shouldered, faded, garrulous, and quarrelsome old man. Yet
there was something epic in the old man's stories, something
enthralling in the dramatic power of recital.
Over by the blacksmith shop the usual game of quaits" was in
progress, and the drug clerk on the corner was chasing a crony with
the squirt pump, with which he was about to wash the windows. A few
teams stood ankle-deep in the mud, tied to the fantastically gnawed
pine pillars of the wooden awnings. A man on a load of hay was
"jawing" with the attendant of the platform scales, who stood below,
pad and pencil in hand.
"Hit 'im! hit 'im! Jump off and knock 'im!" suggested a bystander,
Howard knew the voice.
"Talk's cheap. Takes money t' buy whiskey," he said when the man
on the load repeated his threat of getting off and whipping the
"You're William McTurg," Howard said, coming up to him.
"I am, sir," replied the soft-voiced giant turning and looking down
on the stranger with an amused twinkle in his deep brown eyes. He
stood as erect as an Indian, though his hair and beard were white.
"I'm Howard McLane."
"Ye begin t' look it," said McTurg, removing his right hand from
his pocket. "How are yeh?"
"I'm first-rate. How's Mother and Grant?"
"Saw 'im plowing corn as I came down. Guess he's all right. Want a
"Well, yes. Are you down with a team?"
"Yep. 'Bout goin' home. Climb right in. That's my rig, right
there," nodding at a sleek bay colt hitched in a covered buggy. "Heave
y'r grip under the seat."
They climbed into the seat after William had lowered the buggy top
and unhitched the horse from the post. The loafers were mildly
curious. Guessed Bill had got hooked onto by a lightnin'-rod peddler,
or somethin' o' that kind.
"Want to go by river, or 'round by the hills?"
"Hills, I guess."
The whole matter began to seem trivial, as if he had only been
away for a month or two.
William McTurg was a man little given to talk. Even the coming
back of a nephew did not cause any flow of questions or
reminiscences. They rode in silence. He sat a little bent forward,
the lines held carelessly in his hands, his great leonine head
swaying to and fro with the movement of the buggy.
As they passed familiar spots, the younger man broke the silence
with a question.
"That's old man McElvaine's place, ain't it?"
"Old man living?"
"I guess he is. Husk more corn 'n any man he c'n hire."
On the edge of the village they passed an open lot on the left,
marked with circus rings of different eras.
"There's the old ball ground. Do they have circuses on it just the
same as ever?"
"Just the same."
"What fun that field calls up! The games of ball we used to have!
Do you play yet?"
"Sometimes. Can't stoop so well as I used to." He smiled a little.
"Too much fat."
It all swept back upon Howard in a flood of names and faces and
sights and sounds; something sweet and stirring somehow, though it
had little of esthetic charm at the time. They were passing along
lanes now, between superb fields of corn, wherein plowmen were at
work. Kingbirds flew from post to post ahead of them; the insects
called from the grass. The valley slowly outspread below them. The
workmen in the fields were "turning out" for the night; they all had a
word of chaff with McTurg.
Over the western wall of the circling amphitheater the sun was
setting. A few scattering clouds were drifting on the west wind,
their shadows sliding down the green and purple slopes. The dazzling
sunlight flamed along the luscious velvety grass, and shot amid the
rounded, distant purple peaks, and streamed in bars of gold and
crimson across the blue mist of the narrower upper coulee.
The heart of the young man swelled' with pleasure almost like
pain, and the eyes of the silent older man took on a far-off,
dreaming look, as he gazed at the scene which had repeated itself a
thousand times in his life, but of whose beauty he never spoke.
Far down to the left was the break in the wall through which the
river ran on its way to join the Mississippi. As they climbed slowly
among the hills, the valley they had left grew still more beautiful,
as the squalor of the little town was hid by the dusk of distance.
Both men were silent for a long time. Howard knew the peculiarities
of his companion too well to make any remarks or ask any questions,
and besides it was a genuine pleasure to ride with one who could feel
that silence was the only speech amid such splendors.
Once they passed a little brook singing in a mourn-fully sweet way
its eternal song over its pebbles. It called back to Howard the days
when he and Grant, his younger brother, had fished in this little
brook for trout, with trousers rolled above the knee and wrecks of
hats upon their heads.
"Any trout left?" he asked.
"Not many. Little fellers." Finding the silence broken, William
asked the first question since he met Howard. "Le's see: you're a
show feller now? B'long to a troupe?"
"Yes, yes; I'm an actor."
That seemed to end William's curiosity about the matter.
"Ah, there's our old house, ain't it?" Howard broke out, pointing
to one of the houses farther up the coulee. "It'll be a surprise to
them, won't it?"
"Yep; only they don't live there."
"What! They don't!"
Howard was silent for some moments. "Who lives on the Dunlap
"Where's Grant living, anyhow?"
"Farther up the conlee."
"Well, then I'd better get out here, hadn't I?"
"Oh, I'll drive yeh up."
"No, I'd rather walk."
The sun had set, and the coulee was getting dusk when Howard got
out of McTurg's carriage and set off up the winding lane toward his
brother's house. He walked slowly to absorb the coolness and fragrance
and color of the hour. The katydids sang a rhythmic song of welcome to
him. Fireflies were in the grass. A whippoorwill in the deep of the
wood was calling weirdly, and an occasional night hawk, flying high,
gave his grating shriek, or hollow boom, suggestive and resounding.
He had been wonderfully successful, and yet had carried into his
success as a dramatic author as well as actor a certain puritanism
that made him a paradox to his fellows. He was one of those actors
who are always in luck, and the best of it was he kept and made use
of his luck. Jovial as he appeared, he was inflexible as granite
against drink and tobacco. He retained through it all a certain
freshness of enjoyment that made him one of the best companions in
the profession; and now as he walked on, the hour and the place
appealed to him with great power. It seemed to sweep away the life
that came between.
How close it all was to him, after all! In his restless life,
surrounded by the giare of electric lights, painted canvas, hot
colors, creak of machinery, mock trees, stones, and brooks, he had
not lost but gained appreciation for the coolness, quiet and low
tones, the shyness of the wood and field.
In the farmhouse ahead of him a light was shining as he peered
ahead, and his heart gave another painful movement. His brother was
awaiting him there, and his mother, whom he had not seen for ten years
and who had grown unable to write. And when Grant wrote, which had
been more and more seldom of late, his letters had been cold and curt.
He began to feel that in the pleasure and excitement of his life he
had grown away from his mother and brother. Each summer he had said,
"Well, now I'll go home this year sure." But a new play to be
produced, or a yachting trip, or a tour of Europe, had put the
homecoming off; and now it was with a distinct consciousness of
neglect of duty that he walked up to the fence and looked into the
yard, where William had told him his brother lived.
It was humble enough-a small white house, story-and-a-half
structure, with a wing, set in the midst of a few locust trees; a
small drab-colored barn, with a sagging ridge pole; a barnyard full
of mud, in which a few cows were standing, fighting the flies and
waiting to be milked. An old man was pumping water at the well; the
pigs were squealing from a pen nearby; a child was crying.
Instantly the beautiful, peaceful valley was forgotten. A sickening
chill struck into Howard's soul as he looked at it all. In the dim
light he could see a figure milking a cow. Leaving his valise at the
gate, he entered and walked up to the old man, who had finished
pumping and was about to go to feed the hogs.
"Good evening," Howard began. "Does Mr. Grant McLane live here?"
"Yes, sir, he does. He's right over there milkin'."
"I'll go over there an-"
"Don't b'lieve I would. It's darn muddy over there. It's been
turrible rainy. He'll be done in a minute, any-way."
"Very well; I'll wait."
As he waited, he could hear a woman's fretful voice, and the
impatient jerk and jar of kitchen things, indicative of ill temper or
worry. The longer he stood absorbing this farm scene, with all its
sordidness, dullness, triviality, and its endless drudgeries, the
lower his heart sank. All the joy of the homecoming was gone, when
the figure arose from the cow and approached the gate, and put the
pail of milk down on the platform by the pump.
"Good evening," said Howard out of the dusk.
Grant stared a moment. "Good. evening."
Howard knew the voice, though it was older and deeper and more
sullen. "Don't you know me, Grant? I am Howard.
The man approached him, gazing intently at his face. "You are?"
after a pause. "Well, I'm glad to see yeh, but I can't shake hands.
That damned cow had laid down in the mud."
They stood and looked at each other. Howard's cuffs, collar, and
shirt, alien in their elegance, showed through the dusk, and a glint
of light shot out from the jewel of his necktie, as the light from the
house caught it at the right angle. As they gazed in silence at each
other, Howard divined something of the hard, bitter feeling which
came into Grant's heart as he stood there, ragged, ankle-deep in
muck, his sleeves rolled up, a shapeless old straw hat on his head.
The gleam of Howard's white hands angered him. When he spoke, it
was in a hard, gruff tone, full of rebellion.
"Well, go in the house and set down. I'll be in soon's I strain the
milk and wash the dirt off my hands."
"She's 'round somewhere. Just knock on the door under the porch
Howard went slowly around the corner of the house, past a vilely
smelling rain barrel, toward the west. A gray-haired woman was
sitting in a rocking chair on the porch, her hands in her lap, her
eyes fixed on the faintly yellow sky, against which the hills stood
dim purple silhouettes and the locust trees were etched as fine as
lace. There was sorrow, resignation, and a sort of dumb despair in
Howard stood, his throat swelling till it seemed as if he would
suffocate. This was his mother-the woman who bore him, the being who
had taken her life in her hand for him; and he, in his excited and
pleasurable life, had neglected her!
He stepped into the faint light before her. She turned and looked
at him without fear. "Mother!" he said. She uttered one little,
breathing, gasping cry, called his name, rose, and stood still. He
bounded up the steps and took her in his arms.
"Mother! Dear old Mother!"
In the silence, almost painful, which followed, an angry woman's
voice could be heard inside: "I don't care. I am't goin' to wear
myself out fer him. He c'n eat out here with us, or else-"
Mrs. McLane began speaking. "Oh, I've longed to see yeh, Howard. I
was afraid you wouldn't come till-too late."
"What do you mean, Mother? Ain't you well?"
"I don't seem to be able to do much now 'cept sit around and knit a
little. I tried to pick some berries the other day, and I got so dizzy
I had to give it up."
"You mustn't work. You needn't work. Why didn't you write to me
how you were?" Howard asked in an agony of remorse.
"Well, we felt as if you probably had all you could do to take care
"Are you married, Howard?"
"No, Mother; and there ain't any excuse for me-not a bit," he said,
dropping back into her colloquialisms."I'm ashamed when I think of
how long it's been since I saw you. I could have come."
"It don't matter now," she interrupted gently. "It's the way things
go. Our boys grow up and leave us."
"Well, come in to supper," said Grant's ungracious voice from the
doorway. "Come, Mother."
Mrs. McLane moved with difficulty. Howard sprang to her aid, and
leaning on his arm she went through the little sitting room, which
was unlighted, out into the kitchen, where the supper table stood
near the cookstove.
"How, this is my wife," said Grant in a cold, peculiar tone.
Howard bowed toward a remarkably handsome young woman, on whose
forehead was a scowl, which did not change as she looked at him and
the old lady.
"Set down, anywhere," was the young woman's cordial invitation.
Howard sat down next to his mother, and facing the wife, who had a
small, fretful child in her arms. At Howard's left was the old man,
Lewis. The supper was spread upon a gay-colored oilcloth, and
consisted of a pan of milk, set in the midst, with bowls at each
plate. Beside the pan was a dipper and a large plate of bread, and at
one end of the table was a dish of fine honey.
A boy of about fourteen leaned upon the table, his bent shoulders
making him look like an old man. His hickory shirt, like that of
Grant, was still wet with sweat, and discolored here and there with
grease, or green from grass. His hair, freshly wet and combed, was
smoothed away from his face, and shone in the light of the kerosene
lamp. As he ate, he stared at Howard, as if he would make an inventory
of each thread of the visitor's clothing.
"Did I look like that at his age?" thought Howard.
"You see we live jest about the same's ever," said Grant as they
began eating, speaking with a grim, almost challenging inflection.
The two brothers studied each other curiously, as they talked of
neighborhood scenes. Howard seemed incredibly elegant and handsome to
them all, with his rich, soft clothing, his spotless linen, and his
exquisite enunciation and ease of speech. He had always been
"smooth-spoken," and he had become "elegantly persuasive," as his
friends said of him, and it was a large factor in his success.
Every detail of the kitchen, the heat, the flies buzzing aloft, the
poor furniture, the dress of the people-all smote him like the lash
of a wire whip. His brother was a man of great character. He could
see that now. His deep-set, gray eyes and rugged face showed at
thirty a man of great natural ability. He had more of the Scotch in
his face than Howard, and he looked much older.
He was dressed, like the old man and the boy, in a checked shirt
without vest. His suspenders, once gay-colored, had given most of
their color to his shirt, and had marked irregular broad bands of
pink and brown and green over his shoulders. His hair was uncombed,
merely pushed away from his face. He wore a mustache only, though his
face was covered with a week's growth of beard. His face was rather
gaunt and was brown as leather.
Howard could not eat much. He was disturbed by his mother's
strange silence and oppression, and sickened by the long-drawn gasps
with. which the old man ate his bread and milk, and by the way the boy
ate. He had his knife gripped tightly in his fist, knuckles up, and
was scooping honey upon his bread.
The baby, having ceased to be afraid, was curious, gazing silently
at the stranger.
"Hello, little one! Come and see your uncle. Eh? 'Course 'e will,"
cooed Howard in the attempt to escape the depressing atmosphere. The
little one listened to his inflections as a kitten does, and at last
lifted its arms in sign of surrender.
The mother's face cleared up a little. "I declare, she wants to go
"'Course she does. Dogs and kittens always come to me when I call
'em. Why shouldn't my own niece come?"
He took the little one and began walking up and down the kitchen
with her, while she pulled at his beard and nose. "I ought to have
you, my lady, in my new comedy. You'd bring down the house."
"You don't mean to say you put babies on the stage, Howard," said
his mother in surprise.
"Oh, yes. Domestic comedy must have a baby these days."
"Well, that's another way of makin' a livin', sure," said Grant.
The baby had cleared the atmosphere a little. "I s'pose you fellers
make a pile of money."
"Sometimes we make a thousand a week; oftener we don't."
"A thousand dollars!" They all stared.
"A thousand dollars sometimes, and then lose it all the next week
in another town. The dramatic business is a good deal like
gambling-you take your chances."
"I wish you weren't in it, Howard. I don't like to have my son-"
"I wish I was in somethin' that paid better'n farmin'. Anything
under God's heavens is better'n farmin'," said Grant.
"No, I ain't laid up much," Howard went on, as if explaining why
he hadn't helped them. "Costs me a good deal to live, and I need
about ten thousand dollars lee-way to work on. I've made a good
living, but I-I ain't made any money."
Grant looked at him, darkly meditative.
Howard went on:
"How'd ye come to sell the old farm? I was in hopes-"
"How'd we come to sell it?" said Grant with terrible bitterness.
"We had something on it that didn't leave anything to sell. You
probably don't remember anything about it, but there was a mortgage
on it that eat us up in just four years by the almanac. 'Most killed
Mother to leave it. We wrote to you for money, but I don't s'pose you
"No, you didn't."
"Yes, I did."
"When was it? I don't-why, it's-I never received it. It must have
been that summer I went with Rob Mannmg to Europe." Howard put the
baby down and faced his brother. "Why, Grant, you didn't think I
refused to help?"
"Well, it locked that way. We never heard a word from yeh all
summer, and when y' did write, it was all about yerself 'n plays 'n
things we didn't know anything about. I swore to God I'd never write
to you again, and I won't."
"But, good heavens! I never got it."
"Suppose you didn't. You might of known we were poor as Job's
off-ox. Everybody is that earns a living. We fellers on the farm have
to earn a livin' for ourselves and you fellers that don't work. I
don't blame yeh. I'd do it if I could."
"Grant, don't talk so! Howard didn't realize-"
"I tell yeh I don't blame 'im. Only I don't want him to come the
brotherly business over me, after livin' as he has-that's all." There
was a bitter accusation in the man's voice.
Howard leaped to his feet, his face twitching. "By God, I'll go
back tomorrow morning!" he threatened.
"Go, an' be damned! I don't care what yeh do," Grant growled,
rising and going out.
"Boys," called the mother, piteously, "it's terrible to see you
"But I'm not to blame, Mother," cried Howard in a sickness that
made him white as chalk. "The man is a savage. I came home to help
you all, not to quarrel."
"Grant's got one o' his fits on," said the young wife, speaking for
the first time. "Don't pay any attention to him. He'll be all right in
"If it wasn't for you, Mother, I'd leave now and never see that
He lashed himself up and down in the room, in horrible disgust and
hate of his brother and of this home in his heart. He remembered his
tender anticipations of the homecoming with a kind of self-pity and
disgust. This was his greeting!
He went to bed, to toss about on the hard, straw-filled mattress in
the stuffy little best room. Tossing, writhing under the bludgeoning
of his brother's accusing inflections, a dozen times he said, with a
"He can go to hell! I'll not try to do anything more for him. I
don't care if he is my brother; he has no right to jump on me like
that. On the night of my return, too. My God! he is a brute, a
He thought of the presents in his trunk and valise which he
couldn't show to him that night, after what had been said. He had
intended to have such a happy evening of it, such a tender reunion! It
was to be so bright and cheery!
In the midst of his cursings, his hot indignation, would come
visions of himself in his own modest rooms. He seemed to be yawning
and stretching in his beautiful bed, the sun shining in, his books,
foils, pictures around him, to say good morning and tempt him to rise,
while the squat little clock on the mantel struck eleven warningly.
He could see the olive walls, the unique copper-and-crimson
arabesque frieze (his own selection), and the delicate draperies; an
open grate full of glowing coals, to temper the sea winds; and in the
midst of it, between a landscape by Enneking and an Indian in a canoe
in a canyon, by Brush, he saw a somber landscape by a master greater
than Millet, a melancholy subject, treated with pitiless fidelity.
A farm in the valley! Over the mountains swept jagged, gray,
angry, sprawling clouds, sending a freezing, thin drizzle of rain, as
they passed, upon a man following a plow. The horses had a sullen and
weary look, and their manes and tails streamed sidewise in the blast.
The plowman clad in a ragged gray coat, with uncouth, muddy boots upon
his feet, walked with his head inclined t~ ward the sleet, to shield
his face from the cold and sting of it. The soil rolled away, black
and sticky and with a dull sheen upon it. Nearby, a boy with tears on
his cheeks was watching cattle, a dog seated near, his back to the
As he looked at this picture, his heart softened. He looked down at
the sleeve of his soft and fleecy nightshirt, at his white, rounded
arm, muscular yet fine as a woman's, and when he looked for the
picture it was gone. Then came again the assertive odor of stagnant
air, laden with camphor; he felt the springless bed under him, and
caught dimly a few soap-advertising lithographs on the walls. He
thought of his brother, in his still more in-hospitable bedroom,
disturbed by the child, condemned to rise at five o'clock and begin
another day's pitiless labor. His heart shrank and quivered, and the
tears started to his eyes.
"I forgive him, poor fellow! He's not to blame."
HE woke, however, with a dull, languid pulse and an oppressive
melancholy on his heart. He looked around the little room, clean
enough, but oh, how poor! how barren! Cold plaster walls, a cheap
washstand, a wash set of three pieces, with a blue band around each;
the windows, rectangular, and fitted with fantastic green shades.
Outside he could hear the bees humming. Chickens were merrily
moving about. Cowbells far up the road were sounding irregularly. A
jay came by and yelled an insolent reveille, and Howard sat up. He
could hear nothing in the house but the rattle of pans on the back
side of the kitchen. He looked at his watch and saw it was half-past
seven. His brother was in the field by this time, after milking,
currying the horses, and eating breakfast -had been at work two hours
and a half.
He dressed himself hurriedly in a neglige shirt with a windsor
scad, light-colored, serviceable trousers with a belt, russet shoes,
and a tennis hat-a knockabout costume, he considered. His mother,
good soul, thought it a special suit put on for her benefit and
admired it through her glasses.
He kissed her with a bright smile, nodded at Laura the young wife,
and tossed the baby, all in a breath, and with the manner, as he
himself saw, of the returned captain in the war dramas of the day.
"Been to breakfast?" He frowned reproachfully. "Why didn't you
call me? I wanted to get up, just as I used to, at sunrise."
"We thought you was tired, and so we didn't-"
"Tired! Just wait till you see me help Grant pitch hay or
something. Hasn't finished his haying, has he?"
'No, I guess not. He will today if it don't rain again."
"Well, breakfast is all ready-Howard," said Laura, hesitating a
little on his name. -
"Good! I am ready for it. Bacon and eggs, as I'm a jay! Just what I
was wanting. I was saying to myself. 'Now if they'll only get bacon
and eggs and hot biscuits and honey-' Oh, say, mother, I heard the
bees humming this morning; same noise they used to make when I was a
boy, exactly. must be the same bees. Hey, you young rascal! come here
and have some breakfast with your uncle."
"I never saw her take to anyone so quick," Laura smiled. Howard
noticed her in particular for the first time. She had on a clean
calico dress and a gingham apron, and she looked strong and fresh and
handsome. Her head was intellectual, her eyes full of power. She
seemed anxious to remove the impression of her unpleasant looks and
words the night before. Indeed, it would have been hard to resist
Howard's sunny good nature.
The baby laughed and crowed. The old mother could not take her dim
eyes off the face of her son, but sat smiling at him as he ate and
rattled on. When he rose from the table at last, after eating heartily
and praising it all, he said with a smile:
"Well, now I'll just telephone down to the express and have my
trunk brought up. I've got a few little things in there you'll enjoy
seeing. But this fellow," indicating the baby, "I didn't take into
account. But never mind; Uncle Howard make that all right."
"You ain't goin' to lay it up agin Grant, be you, my son?" Mrs.
McLane faltered as they went out into the best room.
"Of course not! He didn't mean it. Now, can't you send word down
and have my trunk brought up? Or shall I have to walk down?"
"I guess I'll see somebody goin' down," said Laura.
"All right. Now for the hayfield," he smiled and went out into the
The circling hills the same, yet not the same as at night. A
cooler, tenderer, more subdued cloak of color u~ on them. Far down the
valley a cool, deep, impalpable, blue mist lay, under which one
divined the river Ian, under its elms and basswoods and wild
grapevines. On the shaven slopes of the hills cattle and sheep were
feeding, their cries and bells coming to the ear with a sweet
suggestiveness. There was something immemorial in the sunny slopes
dotted with red and brown and gray cattle.
Walking toward the haymakers, Howard felt a twinge of pain and
distrust. Would he ignore it all and smile-
He stopped short. He had not seen Grant smile in so long-he
couldn't quite see him smiling. He had been cold and bitter for
years. When he came up to them, Grant was pitching on; the old man
was loading, and the boy was raking after.
"Good morning," Howard cried cheerily. The old man nodded, the boy
stared. Grant growled something, with-out looking up. These "finical"
things of saying good morning and good night are not much practiced in
such homes as Grant McLane's.
"Need some help? I'm ready to take a hand. Got on my regimentals
Grant looked at him a moment.
"You look like it."
"Gimme a hold on that fork, and I'll show you. I'm not so soft as I
look, now you bet."
He laid hold upon the fork in Grant's hands, who r~ leased it
sullenly and stood back sneering. Howard struck the fork into the
pile in the old way, threw his left hand to the end of the polished
handle, brought it down into the hollow of his thigh, and laid out
his strength till the handle bent like a bow. "Oop she rises!" he
called laughingly, as the whole pile began slowly to rise, and
finally rolled upon the high load.
"Oh, I ain't forgot how to do it," he laughed as he looked around
at the boy, who was studying the jacket and hat with a devouring
Grant was studying him too, but not in admiration.
"I shouldn't say you had," said the old man, tugging at the
'Mighty funny to come out here and do a little of this. But if you
had to come here and do it all the while, you wouldn't look so white
and soft in the hands," Grant said as they moved on to another pile.
"Give me that fork. You'll be spoiling your fine clothes."
"Oh, these don't matter. They're made for this kind of thing."
"Oh, are they? I guess I'll dress in that kind of a rig. What did
that shirt cost? I need one."
"Six dollars a pair; but then it's old."
"And them pants," he pursued; "they cost six dollars, too, didn't
Howard's face darkened. He saw his brother's purpose. He resented
it. "They cost fifteen dollars, if you want to know, and the shoes
cost six-fifty. This ring on my cravat cost sixty dollars, and the
suit I had on last night cost eighty-five. My suits are made by
Breckstein, on Fifth Avenue and Twentieth Street, if you want to
patronize him," he ended brutally, spurred on by the sneer in his
brother's eyes. "I'll introduce you."
"Good idea," said Grant with a forced, mocking smile. "I need just
such a get up for haying and corn plowing. Singular I never thought
of it. Now my pants cost eighty-five cents, s'penders fifteen, hat
twenty, shoes one-fifty; stockin's I don't bother about."
He had his brother at a disadvantage, and he grew fluent and
caustic as he went on, almost changing places with Howard, who took
the rake out of the boy's hands and followed, raking up the
"Singular we fellers here are discontented and mulish, am't it?
Singular we don't believe your letters when you write, sayin', 'I just
about make a live of it'? Singular we think the country's goin' to
hell, we fellers, in a two dollar suit, wadin' around in the mud or
sweatin' around in the hayfield, while you fellers lay around New
York and smoke and wear good clothes and toady to millionaires?"
Howard threw down the rake and folded his arms. 'My God! you're
enough to make a man forget the same mother bore us!"
"I guess it wouldn't take much to make you forget that. You ain't
put much thought on me nor her for ten years."
The old man cackled, the boy grinned, and Howard, sick and weak
with anger and sorrow, turned away and walked down toward the brook.
He had tried once more to get near his brother and had failed. O God!
how miserably, pitiably! The hot blood gushed all over him as he
thought of the shame and disgrace of it.
He, a man associating with poets, artists, sought after by
brilliant women, accustomed to deference even from such people, to be
sneered at, outfaced, shamed, shoved aside, by a man in a stained
hickory shirt and patched overalls, and that man his brother! He lay
down on the bright grass, with the sheep all around him, and writhed
and groaned with the agony and despair of it.
And worst of all, underneath it was a consciousness that Grant was
right in distrusting him. He had neglected him; he had said, "I guess
they're getting along all right." He had put them behind him when the
invitation to spend summer on the Mediterranean or in the Adirondacks
"What can I do? What can I do?" he groaned.
The sheep nibbled the grass near him, the jays called pertly,
"Shame, shame," a quail piped somewhere on the hillside, and the
brook sung a soft, soothing melody that took away at last the sharp
edge of his pain, and he sat up and gazed down the valley, bright
with the sun and apparently filled with happy and prosperous people.
Suddenly a thought seized him. He stood up so suddenly the sheep
fled in affright. He leaped the brook, crossed the flat, and began
searching in the bushes on the hillside. "Hurrah!" he said with a
He had found an old road which he used to travel when a boy-a road
that skirted the edge of the valley, now grown up to brush, but still
passable for footmen. As he ran lightly along down the beautiful
path, under oaks and hickories, past masses of poison ivy, under
hanging grapevines, through clumps of splendid hazelnut bushes loaded
with great sticky, rough, green burrs, his heart threw off part of its
How it all came back to him! How many days, when
Up The Coulee
the autumn sun burned the frost off the bushes, had he gathered
hazelnuts here with his boy and girl friends-Hugh and Shelley McTurg,
Rome Sawyer, Orrin McIlvaine, and the rest! What had become of them
all? How he had forgotten them!
This thought stopped him again, and he fell into a deep muse,
leaning against an oak tree and gazing into the vast fleckless space
above. The thrilling, inscrutable mystery of life fell upon him like
a blinding light. Why was he living in the crush and thunder and
mental unrest of a great city, while his companions, seemingly his
equal, in powers, were milking cows, making butter, and growing corn
and wheat in the silence and drear monotony of the farm?
His boyish sweethearts! Their names came back to his ear now with
a dull, sweet sound as of faint bells. He saw their faces, their pink
sunbonnets tipped back upon their necks, their brown ankles flying
with the swift action of the scurrying partridge. His eyes softened;
he took off his hat. The sound of the wind and the leaves moved him
almost to tears.
A woodpecker gave a shrill, high-keyed, sustained cry, "Ki, ki,
ki!" and he started from his reverie, the dapples of sun and shade
falling upon his lithe figure as he hurried on down the path.
He came at last to a field of corn that tan to the very wall of a
large weather-beaten house, the sight of which made his breathing
quicker. It was the place where he was born. The mystery of his life
began there. In the branches of those poplar and hickory trees he had
swung and sung in the rushing breeze, fearless as a squirrel Here was
the brook where, like a larger Kildee, he with Grant had waded after
crawfish, or had stolen upon some wary trout, rough-cut pole in hand.
Seeing someone in the garden, he went down along the corn row
through the rustling ranks of green leaves. An old woman was picking
berries, a squat and shapeless figure.
"Good morning," he called cheerily.
"Morgen," she said, looklng up at him with a startled and very red
face. She was German in every line of her body.
"Ich bin Herr McLane," he said after a pause.
"So?" she replied with a questioning inflection.
"Yah; ich bin Herr Grant's bruder."
"Ach, So!" she said with a downward inflection. "Ich no spick
Inglish. No spick Inglis."
"Ich bin durstig," he said. Leaving her pans, she went with him to
the house, which was what he wanted to see.
"Ich bin hier geboren."
"Ach, so!" She recognized the little bit of sentiment, and said
some sentences m German whose general meaning was sympathy. She took
him to the cool cellar where the spring had been trained to run into'
a tank containing pans of cream and milk, she gave him a cool draught
from a large tin cup, and then at his request they went upstairs. The
house was the same, but somehow seemed cold and empty. It was clean
and sweet, but it had so little evidence of being lived in. The old
part, which was built of logs, was used as best room, and modeled
after the best rooms of the neighboring Yankee homes, only it was
emptier, without the cabinet organ and the rag carpet and the
The old fireplace was bricked up and plastered-the fireplace beside
which in the far-off days he had lain on winter nights, to hear his
uncles tell tales of hunting, or to hear them play the violin, great
dreaming giants that they were.
The old woman went out and left him sitting there, the center of a
swarm of memories coming and going like so many ghostly birds and
A curious heartache and listlessness, a nerveless mood came on
him. What was it worth, anyhow-success? Struggle, strife, trampling
on someone else. His play crowding out some other poor fellow's hope.
The hawk eats the partridge, the partridge eats the flies and bugs,
the bugs eat each other, and the hawk, when he in his turn is shot by
man. So, in the world of business, the life of one man seemed to him
to be drawn from the life of another man, each success to spring from
He was like a man from whom all motives had been withdrawn. He was
sick, sick to the heart. Oh, to be a boy again! An ignorant baby,
pleased with a block and string, with no knowledge and no care of the
great un-known! To lay his head again on his mother's bosom and rest!
To watch the flames on the hearth!
Why not? Was not that the very thing to do? To buy back the old
farm? It would cripple him a little for the next season, but he could
do it. Think of it! To see his mother back in the old home, with the
fireplace restored, the old furniture in the sitting room around her,
and fine new things in the parlor!
His spirits rose again. Grant couldn't stand out when he brought to
him a deed of the farm. Surely his debt would be canceled when he had
seen them all back in the wide old kitchen. He began to plan and to
dream. He went to the windows and looked out on the yard to see how
much it had changed.
He'd build a new barn and buy them a new carriage. His heart
glowed again, and his lips softened into their usual feminine
grace-lips a little full and falling easily into curves.
The old German woman came in at length, bringing some cakes and a
bowl of milk, smiling broadly and hospitably as she waddled forward.
"Ach! Goot!" he said, smacking his lips over the pleasant draught.
"Wo ist ihre goot mann?" he inquired, ready for business.
WHEN Grant came in at noon, Mrs. McLane met him at the door with a
tender smile on her face.
"Where's Howard, Grant?"
"I don't know," he replied in a tone that implied "I don't care."
The dim eyes clouded with quick tears.
"Ain't you seen him?"
"Not since nine o'clock."
"Where d'you think he is?"
"I tell yeh I don't know. He'll take care of himself; don't worry."
He flung off his hat and plunged into the wash basin. His shirt was
wet with sweat and covered with dust of the hay and fragments of
leaves. He splashed his burning face with the water, paying no
further attention to his mother. She spoke again, very gently, in
"Grant, why do you stand out against Howard so?"
"I don't stand out against him," he replied harshly, pausing with
the towel in his hands. His eyes were hard and piercing. "But if he
expects me to gush over his coming back, he's fooled, that's all.
He's left us to paddle our own canoe all this while, and, so far as
I'm concerned, he can leave us alone hereafter. He looked out for his
precious hide mighty well, and now he comes back here to play big gun
and pat us on the head. I don't propose to let him come that over me."
Mrs. McLane knew too well the temper of her son to say any more,
but she inquired about Howard of the old hired man.
"He went off down the valley. He 'n' Grant had s'm words, and he
pulled out down toward the old farm. That's the last I see of 'im."
Laura took Howard's part at the table. "Pity you can't be decent,"
she said, brutally direct as usuaL "You treat Howard as if he was
a-a-I do' know what."
"wrn you let me alone?"
"No, I won't. If you think I'm going to set by an' agree to your
bullyraggin' him, you're mistaken. It's a shame! You're mad 'cause
he's succeeded and you ain't. He ain't to blame for his brains. If you
and I'd had any, we'd 'a' succeeded, too. It ain't our fault and it
ain't his; so what's the use?"
There was a look came into Grant's face that the wife knew. It
meant bitter and terrible silence. He ate his dinner without another
It was beginning to cloud up. A thin, whitish, 'all-pervasive vapor
which meant rain was dimming the sky, and be forced his hands to
their utmost during the afternoon in order to get most of the down
hay in before the rain came. He was pitching hay up into the barn
when Howard came by just before one o'clock.
It was windless there. The sun fell through the white mist with
undiminished fury, and the fragrant hay sent up a breath that was hot
as an oven draught. Grant was a powerful man, and there was something
majestic in his action as he rolled the huge flakes of hay through the
door. The sweat poured from his face like rain, and he was forced to
draw his dripping sleeve across his face to clear away the blinding
sweat that poured into his eyes.
Howard stood and looked at him in silence, remembering how often
he had worked there in that furnace heat, his muscles quivering, cold
chills running over his flesh, red shadows dancing before his eyes.
His mother met him at the door anxiously, but smiled as she saw
his pleasant face and cheerful eyes.
"You're a little late, m' son."
Howard spent most of the afternoon sitting with his mother on the
porch, or under the trees, lying sprawled out like a boy, resting at
times with sweet forgetfulness of the whole world, but feeling a dull
pain whenever he remembered the stern, silent man pitching hay in the
hot sun on the torrid side of the barn.
His mother did not say anything about the quarrel; she feared to
reopen it. She talked mainly of old times in a gentle monotone of
reminiscence, while he listened, looking up into her patient face.
The heat slowly lessened as the sun sank down toward the dun
clouds rising like a more distant and majestic line of mountains
beyond the western hills. The sound of cowbells came irregularly to
the ear, and the voices and sounds of the haying fields had a jocund,
thrilling effect on the ear of the city dweller.
He was very tender. Everything conspired to make him simple,
direct, and honest.
"Mother, if you'll only forgive me for staying away so long, I'll
surely come to see you every summer."
She had nothing to forgive. She was so glad to have him there at
her feet-her great, handsome, successful boy! She could only love him
and enjoy him every moment of the precious days. If Grant would only
reconcile himself to Howard! That was the great thorn in her flesh.
Howard told her how he had succeeded.
"It was luck, Mother. First I met Cooke, and he introduced me to
Jake Saulsman of Chicago. Jake asked me to go to New York with him,
and-I don't know why-took a fancy to me some way. He introduced me to
a lot of the fellows in New York, and they all helped me along. I did
nothing to merit it. Everybody helps me. Anybody can succeed in that
The doting mother thought it not at all strange that they all
At the supper table Grant was gloomily silent, ignoring Howard
completely. Mrs. McLane sat and grieved silently, not daring to say
a word in protest. Laura and the baby tried to amuse Howard, and
under cover of their talk the meal was eaten.
The boy fascinated Howard. He "sawed wood" with a rapidity and
uninterruptedness which gave alarm. He had the air of coaling up for
a long voyage.
"At that age," Howard thought, "I must have gripped my knife in my
right hand so, and poured my tea into my saucer so. I must have
buttered and bit into a huge slice of bread just so, and chewed at it
with a smacking sound in just that way. I must have gone to the length
of scooping up honey with my knife blade."
It was magically, mystically beautiful over all this squalor and
toil and bitterness, from five till seven-a moving hour. Again the
falling sun streamed in broad banners across the valleys; again the
blue mist lay far down the coulee over the river; the cattle called
from the hills in the moistening, sonorous air; the bells came in a
pleasant tangle of sound; the air pulsed with the deepening chorus of
katydids and other nocturnal singers.
Sweet and deep as the very springs of his life was all this to the
soul of the elder brother; but in the midst of it, the younger man, in
ill-smelling clothes and great boots that chafed his feet, went out
to milk the. cows-on whose legs the flies and mosquitoes swarmed,
bloated with blood-to sit by the hot side of the cow and be lashed
with her tall as she tried frantically to keep the savage insects from
eating her raw.
"The poet who writes of milking the cows does it from the hammock,
looking on," Howard soliloquized as he watched the old man Lewis
racing around the filthy yard after one of the young heifers that had
kicked over the pail in her agony with the flies and was unwilling to
stand still and be eaten alive.
"So, so! you beast!" roared the old man as he finally cornered the
shrinking, nearly frantic creature.
"Don't you want to look at the garden?" asked Mrs. McLane of
Howard; and they went out among the vegetables and berries.
The bees were coming home heavily laden and crawling slowly into
the hives. The level, red light streamed through the trees, blazed
along the grass, and lighted a few old-fashioned flowers into red
ai~d gold flame. It was beautiful, and Howard looked at it through his
half-shut eyes as the painters do, and turned away with a sigh at the
sound of blows where the wet and grimy men were assailing the frantic
"There's Wesley with your trunk," Mrs. McLane said, recalling him
Wesley helped him carry the trunk in and waved off thanks.
"Oh, that's all right," he said; and Howard knew the Western man
too well to press the matter of pay.
As he went in an hour later and stood by the trunk, the dull ache
came back into his heart. How he had failed! It seemed like a bitter
mockery now to show his gifts.
Grant had come in from his work, and with his feet released from
his chafing boots, in his wet shirt and milk-splashed overalls, sat at
the kitchen table reading a newspaper which he held close to a small
kerosene lamp. He paid no attention to anyone. His attitude, Curiously
like his father's, was perfectly definite to Howard. It meant that
from that time forward there were to be no words of any sort between
them. It meant that they were no longer brothers, not even
acquaintances. "How inexorable that face!" thought Howard.
He turned sick with disgust and despair, and would have closed his
trunk without showing any of the presents, only for the childish
expectancy of his mother and Laura.
"Here's something for you, Mother," he said, assuming a cheerful
voice as he took a fold of fine silk from the trunk and held it up.
"All the way from Paris."
He laid it on his mother's lap and stooped and kissed her, and then
turned hastily away to hide the tears that came to his own eyes as he
saw her keen pleasure.
"And here's a parasol for Laura. I don't know how I came to have
that in here. And here's General Grant's autobiography for his
namesake," he said with an effort at carelessness, and waited to hear
"Grant, won't you come in?" asked his mother quiveringly.
Grant did not reply nor move. Laura took the handsome volumes out
and laid them beside him on the table. He simply pushed them to one
side and went on with his reading.
Again that horrible anger swept hot as flame over Howard. He could
have cursed him. His hands shook as he handed out other presents to
his mother and Laura and the baby. He tried to joke.
"I didn't know how old the baby was, so she'll have to grow to
some of these things."
But the pleasure was all gone for him and for the rest. His heart
swelled almost to a feeling of pain as he looked at his mother. There
she sat with the presents in her lap. The shining silk came too late
for her. It threw into appalling relief her age, her poverty, her
work-weary frame. "My God!" he almost cried aloud, "how little it
would have taken to lighten her life!"
Upon this moment, when it seemed as if he could endure no more,
came the smooth voice of William McTurg:
"Hello, Uncle Bill! Come in."
"That's what we came for," laughed a woman's voice.
"Is that you, Rose?" asked Laura.
"It's me-Rose," replied the laughing girl as she bounced into the
room and greeted everybody in a breathless sort of way.
"You don't mean little Rosy?"
"Big Rosy now," said William.
Howard looked at the handsome girl and smiled, saying in a nasal
sort of tone, "Wal, wal! Rosy, how you've growed since I saw yeh!"
"Oh, look at all this purple and fine linen! Am I left out?"
Rose was a large girl of twenty-five or thereabouts, and was called
an old maid. She radiated good nature from every line of her buxom
self. Her black eyes were full of drollery, and she was on the best of
terms with Howard at once. She had been a teacher, but that did not
prevent her from assuming a peculiar directness of speech. Of course
they talked about old friends.
"Where's Rachel?" Howard inquired. Her smile faded away.
"Shellie married Orrin Mcllvaine. They're way out in Dakota.
Shellie's havin' a hard row of stumps."
There was a little silence.
"Gone West. Most all the boys have gone West. That's the reason
there's so many old maids."
"You don't mean to say-"
"I don't need to say-I'm an old maid. Lots of the girls are."
"It don't pay to marry these days."
"Are you married?"
"Not yet." His eyes lighted up again in a humorous way.
"Not yet! That's good! That's the way old maids all talk."
"You don't mean to tell me that no young fellow comes prowling
"Oh, a young Dutchrnan or Norwegian once in a while. Nobody that
counts. Fact is, we're getting like Boston-four women to one man; and
when you consider that we're getting more particular each year, the
outlook is-well, it's dreadful!"
"It certainly is."
"Marriage is a failure these days for most of us. We can't live on
the farm, and can't get a living in the city, and there we are." She
laid her hand on his arm. "I declare, Howard, you're the same boy you
used to be. I ain't a bit afraid of you, for all your success."
"And you're the same girl? No, I can't say that. It seems to me
you've grown more than I have-I don't mean physically, I mean
mentally," he explained as he saw her smile in the defensive way a
fleshy girl has, alert to ward off a joke.
They were in the midst of talk, Howard telling one of his funny
stories, when a wagon clattered up to the door and merry voices
"Whoa, there, Sampson!"
"Hullo, the house!"
Rose looked at her father with a smile in her black eyes exactly
like his. They went to the door.
"Hullo! What's wanted?"
"Grant McLane live here?"
"Yup. Right here."
A moment later there came a laughing, chatting squad of women to
the door. Mrs. McLane and Laura stared at each other in amazement.
Grant went outdoors.
Rose stood at the door as if she were hostess.
"Come in, Nettie. Glad to see yeh-glad to see yeh! Mrs. Mcllvaine,
come right in! Take a seat. Make yerself to home, do! And Mrs.
Peavey! Wal, I never! This must be a surprise party. Well, I swan!
How many more o' ye air they?"
All was confusion, merriment, handshakings as Rose introduced them
in her roguish way.
"Folks, this is Mr. Howard McLane of New York. He's an actor, but
it hain't spoiled him a bit as I can see. How, this is Nettie
Mcllvaine-Wilson that was."
Howard shook hands with Nettie, a tall, plain girl with prominent
"This is Ma Mcllvaine."
"She looks just the same," said. Howard, shaking her hand and
feeling how hard and work-worn it was.
And so amid bustle, chatter, and invitations "to lay off y'r things
an' stay awhile," the women got disposed about the room at last Those
that had rocking chairs rocked vigorously to and fro to hide their
embarrassment. They all talked in loud voices.
Howard felt nervous under this furtive scrutiny. He wished his
clothes didn't look so confoundedly dressy. Why didn't he have sense
enough to go and buy a fifteen-dollar suit of diagonals for everyday
Rose was the life of the party. Her tongue rattled on m the most
"It's all Rose an' Bill's doin's," Mrs. Mcllvaine explained. "They
told us to come over an' pick up anybody we see on the road. So we
Howard winced a little at her familiarity of tone. He couldn't help
it for the life of him.
"Well, I wanted to come tonight because I'm going away next week,
and I wanted to see how he'd act at a surprise party again," Rose
"Married, I s'pose," said Mrs. Mcllvaine abruptly.
"No, not yet."
"Good land! Why, y' Inns' be thirty-five, How. Must a dis'p'inted
y'r mam not to have a young 'un to call 'er granny."
The men came clumping in, talking about haying and horses. Some of
the older ones Howard knew and greeted, but the younger ones were
mainly too much changed. They were all very ill at ease. Most of them
were in compromise dress-something lying between working "rig" and
Sunday dress. Most of them had on clean shirts and paper collars, and
wore their Sunday coats (thick woolen garments) over rough trousers.
All of them crossed their legs at once, and most of them sought the
wall and leaned back perilously~upon the hind legs of their chairs,
eyeing Howard slowly.
For the first few minutes the presents were the subjects of
conversation. The women especially spent a good deal of talk upon
Howard found himself forced to taking the initiative, so he
inquired about the crops and about the farms.
"I see you don't plow the hills as we used to. And reap'. What a
job it ust to be. It makes the hills more beautiful to have them
covered with smooth grass and cattle."
There was only dead silence to this touching upon the idea of
"I s'pose it pays reasonably."
"Not enough to kill," said one of the younger men. "You c'n see
that by the houses we live in-that is, most of us. A few that came in
early an' got land cheap, like Mcllvaine, here-he got a lift that the
rest of us can't get."
"I'm a free trader, myself," said one young fellow, blushing and
looking away as Howard turned and said cheerily:
The rest semed to feel that this was a tabooed subject -a subject
to be talked out of doors, where one could prance about and yell and
do justice to it.
Grant sat silently in the kitchen doorway, not saying a word, not
looking at his. brother.
"Well, I don't never use hot vinegar for mine," Mrs. Mcllvaine was
heard to say. "I jest use hot water, an' I rinse 'em out good, and set
'em bottom-side up in the sun. I do' know but what hot vinegar would
be more cleansin'."
Rose had the younger folks in a giggle with a droll telling of a
joke on herself.
"How'd y' stop 'em from laffin'?"
"I let 'em laugh. Oh, my school is a disgrace-so one director says.
But I like to see children laugh. It broadens their cheeks."
"Yes, that's all handwork." Laura was showing the baby's Sunday
"Goodness Peter! How do you find time to do so much?"
"I take time."
Howard, being the lion of the evening, tried his best to be
agreeable. He kept near his mother, because it afforded her so much
pride and satisfaction, and because he was obliged to keep away from
Grant, who had begun to talk to the men. Howard tall~ed mainly about
their affairs, but still was forced more and more into talking of life
in the city. As he told of the theater and the concerts, a sudden
change fell upon them; they grew sober, and he felt deep down in the
hearts of these people a melancholy which was expressed only elusively
with little tones or sighs. Their gaiety was fitful.
They were hungry for the world, for art-these young people.
Discontented and yet hardly daring to acknowledge it; indeed, few of
them could have made definite statement of their dissatisfaction. The
older people felt it less. They practically said, with a sigh of
"Well, I don't expect ever to see these things now.."
A casual observer would have said, "What a pleasant bucolic-this
little surprise party of welcome!" But Howard with his native ear and
eye had no such pleasing illusion. He knew too well these suggestions
of despair and bitterness. He knew that, like the smile of the slave,
this cheerfulness was self-defense; deep down was another self.
Seeing Grant talking with a group of men over by the kitchen door,
he crossed over slowly and stood listening. Wesley Cosgrove-a tall,
rawboned young fellow with a grave, almost tragic face-was saying:
"Of course I ain't. Who is? A man that's satisfied to live as we do
is a fool."
"The worst of it is," said Grant without seeing Howard, a man can't
get out of it during his lifetime, and l don't know that he'll have
any chance in the next-the speculator'll be there ahead of us."
The rest laughed, but Grant went on grily:
"Ten years ago Wes, here, could have got land in Dakota pretty
easy, but now it's about all a feller's life's worth to try it. I tell
you things seem shuttin' down on us fellers."
"Plenty o' land to rent?" suggested someone.
"Yes, in terms that skin a man alive. More than that, farmin' ain't
so free a life as it used to be. This cattle-raisin' and butter-makin'
makes a nigger of a man. Binds him right down to the grindstone, and
he gets nothin' out of it-that's what rubs it in. He simply wallers
around in the manure for somebody else. I'd like to know what a man's
life is worth who lives as we do? How much higher is it than the lives
the niggers used to live?"
These brutally bald words made Howard thrill witb emotion like
some great tragic poem. A silence fell on the group.
"That's the God's truth, Grant," said young Cosgrove after a pause.
"A man like me is helpless," Grant was saying. "Just like a fly in
a pan of molasses. There ain't any escape for him. The more he tears
around, the more liable he is to rip his legs off."
"What can he do?"
The men listened in silence.
"Oh, come, don't talk politics all night!" cried Rose, breaking in.
"Come, let's have a dance. Where's that fiddle?"
"Fiddle!" cried Howard, glad of a chance to laugh. "Well, now!
Bring out that fiddle. Is it William's?"
"Yes, Pap's old fiddle."
"Oh, gosh! he don't want to hear me play," pr~ tested William.
"He's heard s' many fiddlers."
"Fiddlers! I've heard a thousand violinists, but not fiddlers.
Come, give us 'Honest John.'"
William took the fiddle in his work-calloused and crooked hands
and began tuning it. The group at the kitchen door turned to listen,
their faces lighting up a little. Rose tried to get a set on the
"Oh, good land!" said some. "We're all tuckered out. What makes
you so anxious?"
"She wants a chance to dance with the New Yorker."
"That's it exactly," Rose admitted.
"Wal, if you'd churned and mopped and cooked for hayin' hands as I
have today, you wouldn't be so full o' nonsense."
"Oh, bother! Life's short. Come quick, get Bettie out. Come, Wes,
never mind your hobbyhorse."
By incredible exertion she got a set on the floor, and William got
the fiddle in tune. Howard looked across at Wesley, and thought the
change in him splendidly dramatic. His face had lighted up into a kind
of deprecating, boyish smile. Rose could do anything with him.
William played some of the old tunes that had a thou-sand
associated memories in Howard's brain, memories of harvest moons, of
melon feasts, and of clear, cold winter nights. As he danced, his eyes
filled with a tender, luminous light. He came closer to them all than
he had been able to do before. Grant had gone out into the kitchen.
After two or three sets had been danced, the company took seats
and could not be stirred again. So Laura and Rose disappeared for a
few moments, and returning, served strawberries and cream, which she
"just happened to have in the house."
And then William played again. His fingers, now grown more supple,
brought out clearer, firmer tones. As he played, silence fell on these
people. The magic of music sobered every face; the women looked older
and more careworn, the men slouched sullenly in their chairs or leaned
back against the wall.
It seemed to Howard as if the spirit of tragedy had entered this
house. Music had always been William's unconscious expression of his
unsatisfied desires. He was never melancholy except when he played.
Then his eyes grew somber, his drooping face full of shadows.
He played on slowly, softly, wailing Scotch tunes and mournful
Irish songs. He seemed to find in the songs of these people, and
especially in a wild, sweet, low-keyed Negro song, some expression
for his indefinable inner melancholy.
He played on, forgetful of everybody, his long beard sweeping the
violin, his toilworn hands marvelously obedient to his will.
At last he stopped, looked up with a faint, deprecating smile, and
said with a sigh:
"Well, folkses, time to go home."
The going was quiet. Not much laughing. Howard stood at the door
and said good night to them all, his heart very tender.
"Come and see us," they said.
"I will," he replied cordially. "I'll try and get around to see
everybody, and talk over old times, before I go back."
After the wagons had driven out of the yard, Howard turned and put
his arm about his mother's neck.
"Well, now, good night. I'm going for a little stroll." His brain
was too active to sleep. He kissed his mother good night and went out
into the road, his hat in his hand, the cool, moist wind on his hair.
It was very dark, the stars being partly hidden by a thin vapor. On
each side the hills rose, every line familiar as the face of an old
friend. A whippoorwill called occasionally from the hillside, and the
spasmodic jangle of a bell now and then told of some cow's battle with
As he walked, he pondered upon the tragedy he had rediscovered in
these people's lives. Out here under the inexorable spaces of the sky,
a deep distaste of his own life took possession of him. He felt like
giving it all up. He thought of the infinite tragedy of these lives
which the world loves to call "peaceful and pastoral." HIS mind went
out in the aim to help them. What could he do to make life better
worth living? Nothing. They must live and die practically as he saw
And yet he knew this was a mood, and that in a few hours the love
and the habit of life would come back upon him and upon them; that he
would go back to the city in a few days; that these people would live
on and make the best of it.
"I'll make the best of it," he said at last, and his thought came
back to his mother and Grant.
The next day was a rainy day; not a shower, but a steady rain-an
unusual thing in midsummer in the West. A cold, dismal day in the
fireless, colorless farmhouses. It came to Howard in that peculiar
reaction which surely comes during a visit of this character, when
thought is a weariness, when the visitor longs for his own familiar
walls and pictures and books, and longs to meet his friends, feeling
at the same time the tragedy of life which makes friends nearer and
more congenial than blood relations.
Howard ate his breakfast alone, save Baby and Laura, its mother,
going about the room. Baby and mother alike insisted on feeding him
to death. Already dyspeptic pangs were setting in.
"Now ain't there something more I can-"
"Good heavens! No!" he cried in dismay. "I'm likely to die of
dyspepsia now. This honey and milk, and these delicious hot
"I'm afraid it ain't much like the breakfasts you have in the
"Well, no, it ain't," he confessed. "But this is the kind a man
needs when he lives in the open air."
She sat down opposite him, with her elbows on the table, her chin
in her palm, her eyes full of shadows.
"I'd like to go to a city once. I never saw a town bigger'n
Lumberville. I've never seen a play, but I've read of 'em in the
magazines. It must be wonderful; they say they have wharves and real
ships coming up to the wharf, and people getting off and on. How do
they do it?"
"Oh, that's too long a story to tell. It's a lot of machinery and
paint and canvas. If I told you how it was done, you wouldn't enjoy it
so well when you come on and see it."
"Do you ever expect to see me in New York?"
"Why, yes. Why not? I expect Grant to come On and bring you all
some day, especially Tonikins here. Tonikins, you hear, sir? I expect
you to come on you' for birfday, sure." He tried thus to stop the
woman's gloomy confidence.
'I hate farm life," she went on with a bitter inflection. "It's
nothing but fret, fret and work the whole time, never going any place,
never seeing anybody but a lot of neighbors just as big fools as you
are. I spend my time fighting flies and washing dishes and churning.
I'm sick of it all."
Howard was silent. What could he say to such an indictment? The
ceiling swarmed with flies which the cold rain had driven to seek the
warmth of the kitchen. The gray rain was falling with a dreary sound
outside, and down the kitchen stovepipe an occasional drop fell on the
stove with a hissing, angry sound.
The young wife went on with a deeper note:
"I lived in Lumberville two years, going to school, and I know a
little something of what city life is. If I was a man, I bet I
wouldn't wear my life out on a farm, as Grant does. I'd get away and
I'd do something. I wouldn't care what, but I'd get away."
There was a certain volcanic energy back of all the woman said
that made Howard feel she'd make the attempt. She didn't know that
the struggle for a. place to stand on this planet was eating the heart
and soul out of men and women in the city, just as in the country. But
he could say nothing. If be had said in conventional phrase, sitting
there in his soft clothing, "We must make the best of it all," the
woman could justly have thrown the dishcloth in his face. He could say
"I was a fool for ever marrying," she went on, while the baby
pushed a chair across the room. "I made a decent living teaching, I
was free to come and go, my money was my own. Now I'm fled right down
to a churn or a dishpan, I never have a cent of my own. He's growlin'
round half the time, and there's no chance of his ever being
She stopped with a bitter sob in her throat. She forgot she was
talking to her husband's brother. She was conscious only of his
As if a great black cloud had settled down upon him, Howard felt
it all-the horror, hopelessness, immanent tragedy of it all. The
glory of nature, the bounty and splendor of the sky, only made it the
more benumbing. He thought of a sentence Millet once wrote:
I see very well the aureole of the dandelions, and the sun also,
far down there behind the hills, flinging his glory upon the clouds.
But not alone that-I see in the
plains the smoke of the tired horses at the plough, or, on a
stony-hearted spot of ground, a back-broken man trying to raise
himself upright for a moment to breathe.
The tragedy is surrounded by glories-that is no invention of mine.
Howard arose abruptly and went back to his little bedroom, where
he walked up and down the floor till he was calm enough to write, and
then he sat down and poured it all out to "Dearest Margaret," and his
first sentence was this:
"If it were not for you (just to let you know the mood I'm in)-if
it were not for you, and I had the world in my hands, I'd crush it
like a puffball; evil so predominates, suffering is so universal and
persistent, happiness so fleeting and so infrequent."
He wrote on for two hours, and by the time he had sealed and
directed several letters he felt calmer, but still terribly depressed.
The rain was still falling, sweeping down from the half-seen hills,
wreathing the wooded peaks with a gray garment of mist and filling
the valley with a whitish cloud.
It fell around the house drearily. It ran down into the tubs placed
to catch it, dripped from the mossy pump, and drummed on the upturned
milk pails, and upon the brown and yellow beehives under the maple
trees. The chickens seemed depressed, but the irrepressible bluejay
screamed amid it all, with the same insolent spirit, his plumage
untarnished by the wet. The barnyard showed a horrible mixture of mud
and mire, through which Howard caught glimpses of the men, slumping to
and fro without more additional protection than a ragged coat and a
shapeless felt hat.
In the sitting room where his mother sat sewing there was not an
ornament, save the etching he had brought. The clock stood on a small
shell, its dial so much defaced that one could not tell the time of
day; and when it struck, it was with noticeably disproportionate
deliberation, as if it wished to correct any mistake into which the
family might have fallen by reason of its illegible dial.
The paper on the walls showed the first concession of the Puritans
to the Spirit of Beauty, and was made up of a heterogeneous mixture
of flowers of unheard-of shapes and colors, arranged in four different
ways along the wall. There were no books, no music, and only a few
newspapers in sight-a bare, blank, cold, drab- colored shelter from
the rain, not a home. Nothing cozy, nothing heartwarming; a grim and
"What are they doing? It can't be they're at work such a day as
this," Howard said, standing at the window.
"They find plenty to do, even on rainy days," answered his mother.
"Grant always has some job to set the men at. It's the only way to
"I'll go out and see them." He turned suddenly. "Mother, why
should Grant treat me so? Have I deserved it?"
Mrs. McLane sighed in pathetic hopelessness. "I don't know,
Howard. I'm worried about Grant. He gets more an' more downhearted
an' gloomy every day. Seem's if he'd go crazy. He don't care how he
looks any more, won't dress up on Sunday. Days an' days he'll go
aroun' not sayin' a word. I was in hopes you could help him, Howard."
"My coming seems to have had an opposite effect. He hasn't spoken
a word to me, except when he had to, since I came. Mother, what do you
say to going home with me to New York?"
"Oh, I couldn't do that!" she cried in terror. "I couldn't live in
a big city-never!"
"There speaks the truly rural mind," smiled Howard at his mother,
who was looking up at him through her glasses with a pathetic
forlornness which sobered him again. "Why, Mother, you could live in
Orange, New Jersey, or out in Connecticut, and be just as lonesome as
you are here. You wouldn't need to live in the city. I could see you
then every day or two."
"Well, I couldn't leave Grant an' the baby, anyway," she replied,
not realizing how one could live in New Jersey and do business daily
in New York.
"Well, then, how would you like to go back into the old house?" he
said, facing her.
The patient hands fell to the lap, the dim eyes fixed in searching
glance on his face. There was a wistful cry in the voice.
"Oh, Howard! Do you mean-"
Up The Coulee
He came and sat down by her, and put his arm about her and hugged
her hard. "I mean, you dear, good, patient, work-wear~ old Mother, I'm
going to buy back the old farm and put you in it."
There was no refuge for her now except in tears, and she put up
her thin, trembling old hands about his neck and cried in that easy,
placid, restful way age has.
Howard could not speak. His throat ached with remorse and pity. He
saw his forgetfulness of them all once more without relief-the black
thing it was!
"There, there, Mother, don't cry!" he said, torn with anguish by
her tears. Measured by man's tearlessness, her weeping seemed terrible
to him. "I didn't realize how things were going here. It was all my
fault-or, at least, most of it. Grant's letter didn't reach me. I
thought you were still on the old farm. But no matter; it's all over
now. Come, don't cry any more, Mother dear. I'm going to take care of
It had been years since the poor, lonely woman had felt such
warmth of love. Her sons had been like her husband, chary of
expressing their affection; and like most Puritan families, there was
little of caressing among them. Sitting there with the rain on the
roof and driving through the trees, they planned getting back into the
old house. Howard's plan seemed to her full of splendor and audacity.
She began to understand his power and wealth now, as he put it into
concrete form before her.
"I wish I could eat Thanksgiving dinner there with you," he said at
last, "but it can't be thought of. However, I'll have you all in there
before I go home. I'm going out now and tell Grant. Now don't worry
any more; I'm going to fix it all up with him, sure." He gave her a
Laura advised him not to attempt to get to the barn; but as he
persisted in going, she hunted up an old rubber coat for him. "You'll
mire down and spoil your shoes," she said, glancing at his neat calf
"Darn the difference!" he laughed in his old way. "Besides, I've
"Better go round by the fence," she advised as he stepped out into
the pouring rain.
How wretchedly familiar it all was! The miry cow yard, with the
hollow trampled out around the horse trough, the disconsolate hens
standing under the wagons and sheds, a pig wallowing across its sty,
and for atmosphere the desolate, falling rain. It was so familiar he
felt a pang of the old rebellious despair which seized him on such
days in his boyhood.
Catching up courage, he stepped out on the grass, opened the gate,
and entered the barnyard. A narrow ribbon of turf ran around the
fence, on which he could walk by clinging with one hand to the rough
boards. In this way he slowly made his way around the periphery, and
came at last to the open barn door without much harm.
It was a desolate interior. In the open floorway Grant, seated upon
a half-bushel, was mending a harness. The old man was holding the
trace in his hard brown hands; the boy was lying on a wisp of hay. It
was a small barn, and poor at that. There was a bad smell, as of dead
rats, about it, and the rain fell through the shingles here and there.
To the right, and below, the horses stood, looking up with their calm
and beautiful eyes, in which the whole scene was idealized.
Grant looked up an instant and then went on with his work.
"Did yeh wade through?" grinned Lewis, exposing his broken teeth.
"No, I kinder circumambiated the pond." He sat down on the little
toolbox near Grant. "Your barn is good deal like that in 'The
Arkansas Traveller.' Needs a new roof, Grant." His voice had a
pleasant sound, full of the tenderness of the scene through which he
had just been. "In fact, you need a new barn."
"I need a good many things more'n I'll ever get," Grant replied
"How long did you say you'd been on this farm?"
"Three years this fall."
"I don't s'pose you've been able to think of buying-Now hold on,
Grant," he cried, as Grant threw his head back. "For God's sake,
don't get mad again! Wait till you see what I'm driving at."
"I don't see what you're drivin' at, and I don't care.
All I want you to do is to let us alone. That ought to be easy
enough for you."
"I tell you, I didn't get your letter. I didn't know you'd lost the
old farm." Howard was determined not to quarrel. "I didn't suppose-"
"You might 'a' come to see."
"Well, I'll admit that. All I can say in excuse is that since I got
to managing plays I've kept looking ahead to making a big hit and
getting a barrel of money-just as the old miners used to hope and
watch. Besides, you don't understand how much pressure there is on
me. A hundred different people pulling and hauling to have me go here
or go there, or do this or do that. When it isn't yachting, it's
He stopped. His heart gave a painful throb, and a shiver ran
through him. Again he saw his life, so rich, so bright, so free, set
over against the routine life in the little low kitchen, the barren
sitting room, and this still more horrible barn. Why should his
brother sit there in wet and grimy clothing mending a broken trace,
while he enjoyed all the light and civilization of the age?
He looked at Grant's fine figure, his great strong face; recalled
his deep, stern, masterful voice. "Am I so much superior to him? Have
not circumstances made me and destroyed him?"
"Grant, for God's sake, don't sit there like that! I'll admit I've
been negligent and careless. I can't understand it all myself. But let
me do something for you now. I've sent to New York for five thousand
dollars. I've got terms on the old farm. Let me see you all back
there once more before I return."
"I don't want any of your charity."
"It ain't charity. It's only justice to you." He rose. "Come now,
let's get at an understanding, Grant. I can't go on this way. I can't
go back to New York and leave you here like this."
Grant rose, too. "I tell you, I don't ask your help. You can't fix
this thing up with money. If you've got more brains 'n I have, why
it's all right. I ain't got any right to take anything that I don't
"But you don't get what you do earn. It ain't your fault. I begin
te see it now. Being the oldest, I had the best chance. I was going to
town to school while you were plowing and husking corn. Of course I
thought you'd be going soon, yourself. I had three years the start of
you. If you'd been in my place, you might have met a man like Cooke,
you might have gone to New York and have been where I am'.
"Well, it can't be helped now. So drop it."
"But it must be!" Howard said, pacing about, his hands in his coat
pockets. Grant had stopped work, and was gloomily looking out of the
door at a pig nosing in the mud for stray grains of wheat at the
"Good God! I see it all now," Howard burst out in an impassioned
tone. "I went ahead with my education, got my start in life, then
Father died, and you took up his burdens. Circumstances made me and
crushed you. That's all there is about that. Luck made me and cheated
you. It ain't right."
His voice faltered. Both men were now oblivious of their
companions and of the scene. Both were thinking of the days when they
both planned great things in the way of an education, two ambitious,
"I used to think of you, Grant, when I pulled out Monday morning
in my best suit-cost fifteen dollars in those days." He smiled a
little at the recollection. "While you in overalls and an old 'wammus'
was going out into the field to plow, or husk corn in the mud. It
made me feel uneasy, but, as I said, I kept saying to myself, 'His
turn'll come in a year or two.' But it didn't."
His voice choked. He walked to the door, stood a moment, came
back. His eyes were full of tears.
"I tell you, old man, many a time in my boardinghouse down to the
city, when I thought of the jolly times I was having, my heart hurt
me. But I said: 'It's no use to cry. Better go on and do the best you
can, and then help them afterward. There'll only be one more miserable
member of the family if you stay at home.' Besides, it seemed right to
me to have first chance. But I never thought you'd be shut off, Grant.
If I had, I never would have gone on. Come, old man, I want you to
believe that." His voice was very tender now and almost humble.
"I don't know as I blame yeh for that, How," said Grant slowly. It
was the first time he had called Howard by his boyish nickname. His
voice was softer, too, and higher in key. But he looked steadily away.
"I went to New York. People liked my work. I was very successful,
Grant; more successful than you realize. I could have helped you at
any time. There's no use lying about it. And I ought to have done it;
but some way-it's no excuse, I don't mean it for an excuse, only an
explanation-some way I got in with the boys. I don't mean I was a
drinker and all that. But I bought pictures and kept a horse and a
yacht, and of course I had to pay my share of all expeditions,
and~oh, what's the use!"
He broke off, turned, and threw his open palms out toward his
brother, as if throwing aside the last attempt at an excuse.
"I did neglect you, and it's a damned shame! and I ask your
forgiveness. Come, old man!"
He held out his hand, and Grant slowly approached and took it.
There was a little silence. Then Howard went on, his voice trembling,
the tears on his face.
"I want you to let me help you, old man. That's the way to forgive
me. Will you?"
"Yes, if you can help me."
Howard squeezed his hand. "That's right, old man. Now you make me
a boy again. Course I can help you. I've got ten-"
"I don't mean that, How." Grant's voice was very grave. "Money
can't give me a chance now."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean life ain't worth very much to me. I'm too old to take a new
start. I'm a dead failure. I've come to the conclusion that life's a
failure for ninety-nine per cent of us. You can't help me now. It's
The two men stood there, face to face, hands clasped, the one
fair-skinned, full-lipped, handsome in his neat sult; the other
tragic, somber in his softened mood, his large, long, rugged Scotch
face bronzed with sun and scarred with wrinkles that had histories,
like saber cuts on a veteran, the record of his battles.
AMONG THE CORN ROWS
"But the road sometimes passes a rich meadow, where the songs o/
larks and bobolinks and blackbirds are tangled."
ROB held up his hands, from which the dough depended in ragged
"Biscuits," he said with an elaborate working of his jaws, intended
to convey the idea that they were going to be specially delicious.
Seagraves laughed, but did not enter the shanty door. "How do you
like baching it?"
"Oh, don't mention it!" entreated Rob, mauling the dough again.
"Come in an' sit down. Why in thunder y' standin' out there for?"
"Oh, I'd rather be where I can see the prairie. Great weather!"
"How goes breaking?"
"Tip-top! A leette dry now; but the bulls pull the plow through two
acres a day. How's things in Boomtown?"
"Oh, same old grind."
"Judge still lyin'?"
"Still at it."
"Major Mullens still swearin' to it?"
"You hit it like a mallet. Railroad schemes are thicker'n prairie
chickens. You've got grit, Rob. I don't have anything but crackers
and sardines over to my shanty, and here you are making soda
"I have t' do it. Couldn't break if I didn't. You editors c'n take
things easy, lay around on the prairie, and watch the plovers and
medderlarks; but we settlers have got to work."
Leaving Rob to sputter over his cooking, Seagraves took his slow
way off down toward the oxen grazing in a little hollow. The scene
was characteristically, wonderfully beautiful. It was about five
o'clock in a day in late June, and the level plain was green and
yellow, and infinite in reach as a sea; the lowering sun was casting
over its distant swells a faint impalpable mist, through which the
breaking teams on the neighboring claims plowed noiselessly, as
figures in a dream. The whistle of gophers, the faint, wailing,
fluttering cry of the falling plover, the whir of the swift-winged
prairie pigeon, or the quack of a lonely duck, came through the
shimmering air. The lark's infrequent whistle, piercingly sweet,
broke from the longer grass m the swales nearby. No other climate,
sky, plain, could produce the same unnamable weird charm. No tree to
wave, no grass to rustle; scarcely a sound of domestic life; only the
faint melancholy soughing of the wind in the short grass, and the
voices of the wild things of the prairie.
Seagraves, an impressionable young man (junior editor of the
Boomtown Spike), threw himself down on the sod, pulled his hat rim
down over his eyes, and looked away over the plain. It was the second
year of Boom-town's existence, and Seagraves had not yet grown
restless under its monotony. Around him the gophers played saucily.
Teams were moving here and there across the sod, with a peculiar
noiseless, effortless motion that made them seem as calm, lazy, and
unsubstantial as the mist through which they made their way; even the
sound of passing wagons was a sort of low, well-fed, self-satisfied
Seagraves, "holding down a claim" near Rob, had come to see his
neighboring "bach" because of feeling the need of company; but now
that he was near enough to hear him prancing about getting supper, he
was content to lie alone on a slope of the green sod.
The silence of the prairie at night was well-nigh terrible. Many a
night, as Seagraves lay in his bunk against the side of his cabin, he
would strain his ear to hear the slightest sound, and he listening
thus sometimes for minutes before the squeak of a mouse or the step
of a passing fox came as a relief to the aching sense. In the daytime,
however, and especially on a morning, the prairie was another thing.
The pigeons, the larks; the cranes, the multitudinous voices of the
ground birds and snipes and insects, made the air pulsate with sound-a
chorus that died away into an infinite murmur of music.
"Hello, Seagraves!" yelled Rob from the door. "The biscuit are
Seagraves did not speak, only nodded his head and slowly rose. The
faint clouds in the west were getting a superb flame color above and a
misty purple below, and the sun had shot them with lances of yellow
light. As the air grew denser with moisture, the sounds of neighboring
life began to reach the ear. Children screamed and laughed, and afar
off a woman was singing a lullaby. The rattle of wagons and voices of
men speaking to their teams multiplied. Ducks in a neighboring lowland
were quacking. The whole scene took hold upon Seagraves with
"It is American," he exclaimed. 'No other land or time can match
this mellow air, this wealth of color, much less the strange social
conditions of life on this sunlit Dakota prairie."
Rob, though visibly affected by the scene also, couldn't let his
biscuit spoil or go without proper attention.
"Say, ain't y' comin' t' grub?" he asked impatiently.
"Th a minute," replied his friend, taking a last wistful look at
the scene. "I want one more look at the landscape."
"Landscape be blessed! If you'd been breakin' all day-Come, take
that stool an' draw up."
"No; I'll take the candle box."
"Not much. I know what manners are, if I am a bull driver."
Seagraves took the three-legged and rather precarious-looking
stool and drew up to the table, which was a flat broad box nailed up
against the side of the wall, with two strips of board nailed at the
outer corners for legs.
"How's that f'r a layout?" Rob inquired proudly.
"Well, you have spread yourself! Biscuit and canned peaches and
sardines and cheese. why, this is-is- prodigal."
"It ain't nothin' else."
Rob was from one of the finest counties of Wisconsin, over toward
Milwaukee. He was of German parentage, a middle-sized, cheery,
wide-awake, good-looking young fellow-a typical claimholder. He was
always confident, jovial, and full of plans for the future. He had dug
his own well, built his own shanty, washed and mended his own
clothing. He could do anything, and do it well. He had a fine field of
wheat, and was finishing the plowing of his entire quarter section.
"This is what I call settin' under a feller's own vine an' fig
tree"-after Seagraves's compliments-"an' I like it. I'm my own boss.
No man can say 'come here' 'n' 'go there' to me. I get up when I'm a
min' to, an' go t' bed when I'm a min' t'."
"Some drawbacks, I s'pose?"
"Yes. Mice, f'r instance, give me a devilish lot o' trouble. They
get into my flour barrel, eat up my cheese, an' fall into my well. But
it ain't no use t' swear."
"The rats and the mlce they made such a strife He had to go to
London to buy him a wife,"
quoted Seagraves. "Don't blush. I've probed your secret thought."
"Well, to tell the honest truth," said Rob a little sheepishly,
leaning across the table, "I ain't satisfied with my style o' cookin'.
It's good, but a little too plain, y' know. I'd like a change. It
ain't much fun to break all day and then go to work an' cook y'r own
"No, I should say not."
"This fall I'm going back to Wisconsin. Girls are thick as
huckleberries back there, and I'm goin' t' bring one back, now you
"Good! That's the plan," laughed Seagraves, amused at a certain
timid and apprehensive look in his companion's eye. "Just think what
a woman 'd do to put this shanty in shape; and think how nice it would
be to take her arm and saunter out after supper, and look at the farm,
and plan and lay out gardens and paths, and tend the chickens!"
Rob's manly and self-reliant nature had the settler's typical
buoyancy and hopefulness, as well as a certain power of analysis,
which enabled him now to say: "The fact is, we fellers holdin' down
claims out here ain't fools clear to the rine. We know a couple o'
things. Now I didn't leave Waupac County f'r fun. Did y' ever see
Wanpac? Well, it's one o' the handsomest counties the sun ever shone
on, full o' lakes and rivers and groves of timber. I miss 'em all out
here, and I miss the boys an' girls; but they wa'n't no chance there
f'r a feller. Land that was good was so blamed high you couldn't touch
it with a ten-foot pole from a balloon. Rent was high, if you wanted
t' rent, an' so a feller like me had t' get out, an' now I'm out here,
I'm goin' f make the most of it. An other thing," he went on, after a
pause-"we fellers work-in' out back there got more 'n' more like
hands, an' less like human beings. Y'know, Waupac is a kind of a
summer resort, and the people that use' t' come in summers looked down
on us cusses in the fields an' shops. I couldn't stand it. By God!" he
said with a sudden im pulse of rage quite unlike him, "I'd rather live
on an ice-berg and claw crabs f'r a livin' than have some feller
passin' me on the road an' callin' me fellah!'"
Seagraves knew what he meant and listened in astonishment at this
"I consider myself a sight better 'n any man who lives on somebody
else's hard work. I've never had a cent I didn't earn with them
hands." He held them up and broke into a grin. "Beauties, ain't they?
But they never wore gloves that some other poor cuss earned."
Seagraves thought them grand hands, worthy to grasp the hand of
any man or woman living.
"Well, so I come West, just like a thousand other fellers, to get a
start where the cussed European aristocracy hadn't got a holt on the
people. I like it here-course I'd like the lakes an' meadows of
Waupac better-but I'm my own boss, as I say, an' I'm goin' to stay my
own boss if I haf to live on crackers an' wheat coffee to do it;
that's the kind of a hairpin I am."
In the pause which followed, Seagraves, plunged deep into thought
by Rob's words, leaned his head on his hand. This working farmer had
voiced the modem idea. It was an absolute overturn of all the ideas of
nobility and special privilege born of the feudal past. Rob had spoken
upon impulse, but that impulse appeared to Sea-graves to be right.
"I'd like to use your idea for an editorial, Rob," he said.
"My ideas!" exclaimed the astounded host, pausing in the act of
filling his pipe. "My ideas! why, I didn't know I had any."
"Well, you've given me some, anyhow."
Seagraves felt that it was a wild, grand upstirring of the modem
democrat against the aristocratic, against the idea of caste and the
privilege of living on the labor of others. This atom of humanity
(how infinitesimal this drop in the ocean of humanity!) was feeling
the name-less longing of expanding personality, and had already
pierced the conventions of society and declared as nil the laws of
the land-laws that were survivals of hate and prejudice. He had
exposed also the native spring of the emigrant by uttering the
feeling that it is better to be an equal among peasants than a
servant before nobles.
"So I have good reasons f'r liking the country," Rob resumed in a
quiet way. "The soil is rich, the climate good so far, an' if I have a
couple o' decent crops you'll see a neat upright goin' up here, with
a porch and a bay winder."
"And you'll still be livin' here alone, frying leathery slapjacks
an' choppin' taters and bacon."
"I think I see myself," drawled Rob, "goin' around all summer
wearin' the same shirt without washin', an' wipin' on the same towel
four straight weeks, an' wearin' holes in my socks, an' eatin' musty
gingersnaps, moldy bacon, an' canned Boston beans f'r the rest o' my
endurin' days! Oh, yes; I guess not! Well, see y' later. Must go water
As he went off down the slope, Seagraves smiled to hear him sing:
"I wish that some kindhearted girl Would pity on me take, And
extricate me from the mess I'm in. The angel-how I'd bless her, li
this her home she'd make, In my little old sod shanty on the plain!"
The boys nearly fell off their chairs in the Western House dining
room, a few days later, at seeing Rob come into supper with a collar
and necktie as the finishing touch of a remarkable outfit.
"Hit him, somebody!"
"It's a clean collar!"
"He's started f'r Congress!"
"He's going to get married," put in Seagraves in a tone that
"What!" screamed Jack Adams, O'Neill, and Wilson in one breath.
"That man," replied Seagraves, amazed at Rob, who coolly took his
seat, squared his elbows, pressed his collar down at the back, and
called for the bacon and eggs.
The crowd stared at him in a dead silence.
"Where's he going to do it?" asked Jack Adarns. "where's he going
to find a girl?"
"Ask him," said Seagraves.
"I ain't tellin'," put in Rob, with his mouth full of potato.
"You're afraid of our competition."
"That's right; our competition, Jack; not your competition. Come,
now, Rob, tell us where you found her."
"I ain't found her."
"What! And yet you're goin' away t' get married!"
"I'm goin' t' bring a wife back with me ten days fr'm date."
"I see his scheme," put in Jim Rivers. "He's goin' back East
somewhere, an' he's goin' to propose to every girl he meets."
"Hold on!" interrupted Rob, holding up his fork. "Ain't quite
right. Every good-lookin' girl I meet."
"Well, I'll be blanked!" exclaimed Jack impatientiy; "that simply
lets me out. Any man with such a cheek ought to-"
"Succeed," interrupted Seagraves.
"That's what I say," bawled Hank whiting, the proprietor of the
house. "You fellers ain't got any enterprise to yeh. Why don't you go
to work an' help settle the country like men? 'Cause y' ain't got no
sand. Girls are thicker'n huckleberries back East. I say it's a dum
"Easy, Henry," said the elegant bank clerk, Wilson, looking
gravely about through his spectacles. "I commend the courage and the
resolution of Mr. Rodemaker. I pray the lady may not
"Mislike him for his complexion, The shadowed livery of the
"Shakespeare," said Adams at a venture.
"Brother in adversity, when do you embark? Another 3ason on an
"Hay!" said Rob, winking at Seagraves. "Oh, I go tonight-night
"Ten days from date."
"I'll wager a wedding supper he brings a blonde," said Wilson in
his clean-cut, languid speech.
"Oh, come now, Wilson; that's too thin! We all know that rule
about dark marryin' light."
"I'll wager she'll be tall," continued Wilson. "I'll wager you,
friend Rodemaker, she'll be blonde and tall."
The rest roared at Rob's astonishment and contusion. The absurdity
of it grew, and they went into spasms of laughter. But Wilson
remained impassive, not the twitching of a muscle betraying that he
saw anything to laugh at in the proposition.
Mrs. Whiting and the kitchen girls came in, wondering at the
merriment. Rob began to get uneasy.
"What is it? What is it?" said Mrs. Whiting, a jolly little matron.
Rivers put the case. "Rob's on his way back to Wisconsin t' get
married, and Wilson has offered to bet him that his wife will be a
blonde and tall, and Rob dassent bet!" And they roared again.
"Why, the idea! The man's crazy!" said Mrs. Whiting. The crowd
looked at each other. This was hint enough; they sobered, nodding at
"Aha! I see; I understand."
"It's the heat."
"And the Boston beans."
"Let up on him, Wilson. Don't badger a poor irresponsible fellow. I
thought something was wrong when I saw the collar."
"Oh, keep it up!" said Rob, a little nettled by their evident
intention to "have fun" with him.
"Soothe him-soo-o-o-o-the him!" said Wilson. "Don't be harsh."
Rob rose from the table. "Go to thunder! You make me tired."
"The fit is on him again!"
He rose disgustedly and went out. They followed him in singie file.
The rest of the town "caught on." Frank Graham heaved an apple at him
and joined the procession. Rob went into the store to buy some
tobacco. They followed and perched like crows on the counters till he
went out; then they followed him, as before. They watched him check
his trunk; they witnessed the purchase of the ticket. The town had
turned out by this time.
"Waupac!" announced the one nearest the victim.
"Waupac!" said the next man, and the word was passed along the
street up town.
"Make a note of it," said Wilson: "Waupa-a county where a man's
proposal for marriage is honored upon presentation. Sight drafts."
Rivers struck up a song, while Rob stood around, patientiy bearing
the jokes of the crowd:
"We're lookin' rather seedy now, While holdin' down our claims,
And our vittles are not always of the best, And the mice play slyly
round us As we lay down to sleep In our little old tarred shanties on
"Yet we rather like the novelty Of livin' in this way, Though the
bill of fare is often rather tame; An' we're happy as a clam On the
land of Uncle Sam In our little old tarred shanty on the claim."
The train drew up at length, to the immense relief of Rob, whose
stoical resiguation was beginning to weaken.
"Don't y' wish y' had sand?" he yelled to the crowd as he plunged
into the car, thinking he was rid of them.
But no; their last stroke was to follow him into the car, nodding,
pointing to their heads, and whispering, managing in the half-minute
the train stood at the platform to set every person in the car staring
at the crazy man. Rob groaned and pulled his hat down over his eyes-an
action which confirmed his tormentors' words and made several ladies
click their tongues in sympathy-"Tick! tick! poor fellow!"
"All abo-o-o-a-rd!' said the conductor, grinning his appreciation
at the crowd, and the train was off.
"Oh, won't we make him groan when he gets back!" said Barney, the
young lawyer who sang the shouting tenor.
"We'll meet him with the timbrel and the harp. Anybody want to
wager? I've got two to one on a short brunette," said Wilson.
"Follow it far enough and it may pass the bend in the river where
the water laughs eternally over its shallows."
A CORNFIELD in July is a hot place. The soil is hot and dry; the
wind comes across the lazily murmuring leaves laden with a warm
sickening smell drawn from the rapidly growing, broad-flung banners
of the corn. The sun, nearly vertical, drops a flood of dazzing light
and heat upon the field over which the cool shadows run, only to make
the heat seem the more intense.
Julia Peterson, faint with fatigue, was tolling back and forth
between the corn rows, holding the handles of the double-shovel corn
plow while her little brother Otto rode the steaming horse. Her heart
was full of bitterness, and her face flushed with heat, and her
muscles aching with fatigue. The heat grew terrible. The corn came to
her shoulders, and not a breath seemed to reach her, while the sun,
nearing the noon mark, lay pitilessly upon her shoulders, protected
only by a calico dress. The dust rose under her feet, and as she was
wet with perspiration it soiled her till, with a woman's instinctive
cleanliness, she shuddered. Her head throbbed dangerously. what matter
to her that the king bird pitched jovially from the maples to catch a
wandering bluebottle fly, that the robin was feeding its young, that
the bobolink was singing? All these things, if she saw them, only
threw her bondage to labor into greater relief.
Across the field, in another patch of corn, she could see her
father-a big, gruff-voiced, wide-bearded Norwegian-at work also with
a plow. The corn must be plowed, and so she toiled on, the tears
dropping from the shadow of the ugly sunbonnet she wore. Her shoes,
coarse and square-toed, chafed her feet; her hands, large and strong,
were browned, or more properly burned, on the backs by the sun. The
horse's harness "creak-cracked" as he swung steadily and patientiy
forward, the moisture pouring from his sides, his nostrils distended.
The field ran down to a road, and on the other side of the road ran
a river-a broad, clear, shallow expanse at that point, and the eyes
of the boy gazed longingly at the pond and the cool shadow each time
that he turned at the fence.
"Say, Jule, I'm goin' in! Come, can't I? Come-say!" he pleaded as
they stopped at the fence to let the horse breathe.
"I've let you go wade twice."
"But that don't do any good. My legs is all smarty, 'cause ol' Jack
sweats so." The boy turned around on the horse's back and slid back
to his rump. "I can't stand it!" he burst out, sliding off and darting
under the fence. "Father can't see."
The girl put her elbows on the fence and watched her little brother
as be sped away to the pool, throwing off his clothes as he ran,
whooping with uncontrollable delight. Soon she could hear him
splashing about in the water a short distance up the stream, and
caught glimpses of his little shiny body and happy face. How cool
that water looked! And the shadows there by the big basswood! How
that water would cool her blistered feet! An impulse seized her, and
she squeezed between the rails of the fence and stood in the road
looking up and down to see that the way was clear. It was not a
main-travelled road; no one was likely to come; why not?
She hurriedly took off her shoes and stockings-how delicious the
cool, soft velvet of the grass!-and sitting down on the bank under
the great basswood, whose roots formed an abrupt bank, she slid her
poor blistered, chafed feet into the water, her bare head leaned
against the huge tree trunk.
And now as she rested, the beauty of the scene came to her. Over
her the wind moved the leaves. A jay screamed far off, as if
answering the cries of the boy. A kingfisher crossed and recrossed
the stream with dipping sweep of his wings. The river sang with its
lips to the pebbles. The vast clouds went by majestically, far above
the treetops, and the snap and buzzing and ringing whir of July
insects made a ceaseless, slumberous undertone of song solvent of all
else. The tired girl forgot her work. She began to dream. This would
not last always. Some one would come to release her from such
drudgery. This was her constant, tenderest, and most secret dream. He
would be a Yankee, not a Norwegian; the Yankees didn't ask their wives
to work in the field. He would have a home. Perhaps he'd live in
town-perhaps a merchant! And then she thought of the drug clerk in
Rock River who had looked at her- A voice broke in on her dream, a
fresh, manly voice.
"Well, by jinks! if it ain't Julia! Just the one I wanted to see!"
The girl turned, saw a pleasant-faced young fellow in a derby hat
and a fifteen-dollar suit of diagonals.
"Rod Rodemaker! How come-"
She remembered her situation, and flushed, looked down at the
water, and remained perfectly still.
"Ain't ye goin' to shake hands? Y' don't seem very glad t' see me."
She began to grow angry. "If you had any eyes you'd see!"
Rob looked over the edge of the bank, whistled, turned away. "Oh,
I see! Excuse me! Don't blame yeh a bit, though. Good weather f'r
corn," he went on' looking up at the trees. 'Corn seems to be pretty
well for-ward," he continued in a louder voice as he walked away,
still gazing into the air. "Crops is looking first-class in Boomtown.
Hello! This Otto? H'yare y' little scamp! Get onto that horse agin.
Quick, 'r I'll take y'r skin off an, hang it on the fence. what y'
"Ben in swimmm'. Jimminy, ain't it fun! when 'd y' get back?" said
the boy, grinning.
"Never you mind," replied Rob, leaping the fence by laying his left
hand on the top rail. "Get onto that horse." He tossed the boy up on
the horse, hung his coat on the fence. "I s'pose the ol' man makes
her plow same as usual?"
"Yup," said Otto.
"Dod ding a man that'll do that! I don't mind if it's necessary,
but it ain't necessary m his case." He continued to mutter in this way
as he went across to the other side of the field. As they turned to
come back, Rob went up and looked at the horse's mouth. "Gettin'
purty near of age. Say, who's sparkin' Julia now-anybody?"
"Nobody 'cept some ol' Norwegians. She won't have them. Por wants
her to, but she won't."
"Good f'r her. Nobody comes t' see her Sunday nights, eh?"
"Nope, only 'Tias Anderson an' Ole Hoover; but she goes off an'
"Chk!" said Rob, starting old Jack across the field.
It was almost noon, and Jack moved reluctantly. He knew the time
of day as well as the boy. He made this round after distinct protest.
In the meantime Julia, putting on her shoes and stockings, went to
the fence and watched the man's shining white shirt as he moved
across the cornfield. There had never been any special tenderness
between them, but she had always liked him. They had been at school
together. She wondered why he had come back at this time of the year,
and wondered how long he would stay. How long had he stood looking at
her? She flushed again at the thought of it. But he wasn't to blame;
it was a public road. She might have known better.
She stood under a little popple tree, whose leaves shook musically
at every zephyr, and her eyes through half-shut lids roved over the
sea of deep-green glossy leaves, dappled here and there by
cloud-shadows, stirred here and there like water by the wind, and out
of it all a longing to be free from such toil rose like a breath,
filling her throat, and quickening the motion of her heart. Must this
go on forever, this life of heat and dust and labor? what did it all
The girl laid her chin on her strong red wrists, and looked up into
the blue spaces between the vast clouds -aerial mountains dissolving
in a shoreless azure sea. How cool and sweet and restful they looked!
li she might only lie out on the billowy, snow-white, sunlit edge! The
voices of the driver and the plowman recalled her, and she fixed her
eyes again upon the slowly nodding head of the patient horse, on the
boy turned half about on the horse, talking to the white-sleeved man,
whose derby hat bobbed up and down quite curiously, like the horse's
head. Would she ask him to dinner? what would her people say?
"Phew! it's hot!" was the greeting the young fellow gave as he
came up. He smiled in a frank, boyish way as he hung his hat on the
top of a stake and looked up at her. "D' y' know, I kind o' enjoy
getting at it again. Fact. It ain't no work for a girl, though," he
"When 'd you get back?" she asked, the flush not yet out of her
face. Rob was looking at her thick, fine hair and full Scandinavian
face, rich as a rose in color, and did not reply for a few seconds.
She stood with her hideous sun bonnet pushed back on her shoulders. A
kingbird was chattering overhead.
"Oh' a few days ago."
"How long y' goin' t' stay?"
"Oh, I d' know. A week, mebbe."
A far-off halloo came pulsing across the shimmering air. The boy
screamed "Dinner!" and waved his hat with an answering whoop, then
flopped off the horse like a turtle off a stone into water. He had the
horse unhooked in an instant, and had flung his toes up over the
horse's back, in act to climb on, when Rob said:
"H'yare, young feller! wa!t a minute. Tired?" he asked the girl
with a tone that was more than kindly; it was almost tender.
"Yes," she replied in a low voice. "My shoes hurt me."
"Well, here y' go," he replied, taking his stand by the horse and
holding out his hand like a step. She colored and smiled a little as
she lifted her foot into his huge, hard, sunburned hand.
"Oop-a-daisy!" he called. She gave a spring and sat the horse like
one at home there.
Rob had a deliciously unconscious, abstracted, businesslike air. He
really left her nothing to do but enjoy his company, while he went
ahead and did precisely as he pleased.
"We don't raise much corn out there, an' so I kind o' like to see
it once more."
"I wish I didn't have to see another hill of corn as long as I
live!" replied the girl bitterly.
"Don't know as I blame yeh a bit. But, all the same, I'm glad you
was working in it today," he thought to hiniseif as he walked beside
her horse toward the house.
"Will you stop to dinner?" she inquired bluntly, almost surmy. It
was evident that there were reasons why she didn't mean to press.
hirn to'. do so.
"You bet I will," he replied; "that is, if you want I should."
"You know how we live," she replied evasively. "I' you c'n stand
it, why-" She broke off abruptly.
Yes, he remembered how they lived in that big, square, dirty,
white frame house. It had been- three or four years since he had been
ill it, but the smell of the cabbage and onions, the penetrating,
peculiar mixture of odors, assailed his memory as something
"I guess I'll stop," he said as she hesitated. She said no more,
but tried to act as if she were not in any way responsible for what
"I guess I c'n stand fr one meal what you stand all the while," he
As she left them at the well and went to the house, he saw her limp
painfully, and the memory of her face so close to his 1ips as he
helped her down from the horse gave him pleasure, at the same time
that he was touched by its tired and gloomy look. Mrs. Peterson came
to the door of the kitchen, looking just the same as ever. Broadfaced,
unwieldly, flabby, apparently wearing the same dress he remembered to
have seen her in years before a dirty drab-colored thing-she looked as
shapeless as a sack of wool. Her English was limited to "How de do,
He washed at the pump, while the girl, in the attempt to be
hospitable, held the clean towel for him.
"You're purty well used up, eh?" he said to her.
"Yes; it's awful hot out there."
"Can't you lay off this afternoon? It ain't right"
"No. He won't listen to that."
"Well, let me take your place."
"No; there ain't any use o' that."
Peterson, a brawny wide-bearded Norwegian, came up at this moment
and spoke to Rob in a sullen, gruff way
"He ain't very glad to see me," said Rob, winking at Julia. "He
ain't b'ilin' over with enthusiasm; but I c'n stand it, for your
sake," he added with amazing assurance; but the girl had turned away,
and it was wasted.
At the table he ate heartily of the "bean swaagen," which filled a
large wooden bowl in the center of the table, and which was ladled
into smaller wooden bowls at each plate. Julia had tried hard to
convert her mother to Yankee ways, and had at last given it up in
despair. Rob kept on safe subjects, mainly asking questions about the
it comes t' workin' outdoors in the dirt an' hot sun, gettin' all
sunburned and chapped up, it's another thing. An' then it seems as if
he gets stingier 'n' stingier every year. I ain't had a new dress in-I
d'-know-how-long. He says it's all nonsense, an' Mother's just about
as bad. She don't want a new dress, an' so she thinks I don't." The
girl was feeling the influence of a sympathetic listener and was
making up for her long silence. "I've tried t' go out t' work, but
they won't let me. They'd have t' pay a hand twenty dollars a month
f'r the work I do, an' they like cheap help; but I'm not goin' t'
stand it much longer, I can tell you that."
Rob thought she was yery handsome as she sat there with her eyes
fixed on the horizon, while these rebellious thoughts found utterance
in her quivering, passionate voice.
"Yulie! Kom heat!" roared the old man from the well. A frown of
anger and pain came into her face. She looked at Rob. "That means
"Say! let me go out in your place. Come, now; what's the use-"
"No; it wouldn't do no good. It ain't t'day s' much; it's every
"Yulie!" called Peterson again with a string of impatient
"Well, all right, only I'd like to"
"Well, goodbye," she said, with a little touch of feeling. "When
d'ye go back?"
"I don't know. I'll see y' again before I go. Goodbye." He stood
watching her slow, painful pace till she reached the well, where Otto
was standing with the horse. He stood watching them as they moved out
into the road and turned down toward the field. He felt that she had
sent him away; but still there was a look in her eyes which was not
He gave it up in despair at last. He was not good at analyses of
this nature; he was used to plain, blunt expressions. There was a
woman's subtlety here quite beyond his reach.
He sauntered slowly off up the road after his talk with Julia. His
head was low on his breast; he was thinking as one who is about to
take a decided and important step.
He stopped at length, and turning, watched the girl moving along
in the deeps of the corn. Hardly a leaf was stirring; the untempered
sunlight fell in a burning flood upon the field; the grasshoppers
rose, snapped, buzzed, and fell; the locust uttered its dry,
heat-intensifving cry. The man lifted his head.
"It's a d-n shame!" he said, beginning rapidly to retrace his
steps. He stood leaning on the fence, awaiting the girl's coming very
much as she had waited his on the round he had made before dinner. He
grew impatient at the slow gait of the horse and drummed on their rail
while he whistled. Then he took off his hat and dusted it nervously.
As the horse got a little nearer he wiped his face carefully, pushed
his hat back on his head, and climbed over the fence, where he stood
with elbows on the middle rail as the girl and boy and horse came to
the end of the furrow.
"Hot, ain't it?" he said as she looked up.
"Jimminy Peters, it's awful!" puffed the boy. The girl did not
reply trn she swung the plow about after the horse, and set it upright
into the next row. Her powerful body had a superb swaying motion at
the waist as she did this-a motion which affected Rob vaguely but
"I thought you'd gone," she said gravely, pushing hack her bonnet
trn he could see her face dewed with sweat and pink as a rose. She
had the high cheekbones of her race, but she had also their exquisite
fairess of color.
"Say, Otto," asked Rob alluringiy, "wan' to go swimming?"
"You bet!" replied Otto.
"Well, I'll go a round if-"
The boy dropped off the horse, not waiting to hear any more. Rob
grinned; but the girl dropped her eyes, then looked away.
"Got rid o' him mighty quick. Say, Julyie, I hate like thunder t'
see you out here; it ain't right. I wish you'd -I wish-"
She could not look at him now, and her bosom rose and fell with a
motion that was not due to fatigue. Her moist hair matted around her
forehead gave her a boyish look.
Rob nervously tried again, tearing splinters from the fence. "Say,
now, I'll tell yeh what I came back here fer -t' git married; and if
you're willin', I'll do it tonight. Come, now, whaddy y' say?"
"What 've I got t' do 'bout it?" she finally asked, the color
flooding her face and a faint smile coming to her lips. "Go ahead. I
ain't got anything-"
Rob put a splinter in his mouth and faced her. "Oh, looky here,
now, Julyie! you know what I mean. I've got a good claim out near
Boomtown-a rattlin' good claim; a shanty on it fourteen by sixteen-no
tarred paper about it; and a suller to keep butter in; and a hundred
acres wheat just about ready to turn now. I need a wife."
Here he straightened up, threw away the splinter, and took off his
hat. He was a very pleasant figure as the girl stole a look at him.
His black laughing eyes were especially earnest just now. His voice
had a touch of pleading. The popple tree over their heads murmured
applause at his eloquence, then hushed to listen. A cloud dropped a
silent shadow down upon them, and it sent a little thrill of fear
through Rob, as if it were an omen of failure. As the girl remained
silent, looking away, he began, man-fashion, to desire her more and
more as he feared to lose her. He put his hat on the post again and
took out his jackknife. Her calico dress draped her supple and
powerful figure simply but naturally. The stoop in her shoulders,
given by labor, disappeared as she partly leaned upon the fence. The
curves of her muscular arms showed through her sleeve.
"It's all-fired lonesome fr me out there on that claim, and it
ain't no picnic f'r you here. Now, if you'll come out there with me,
you needn't do anything but cook f'r me, and after harvest we can git
a good layout o' furniture, an' I'll lath and plaster the house, an'
put a little hell [ell] in the rear." He smiled, and so did she. He
felt encouraged to say: "An' there we be, as snug as y' please. We're
close t' Boomtown, an' we can go down there to church sociables an'
things, and they're a jolly lot there."
The girl was still silent, but the man's simple enthusiasm came to
her charged with passion and a sort of romance such as her hard life
had known little of. There was something enticing about this trip to
"What 'li my folks say?" she said at last.
A virtual surrender, but Rob was not acute enough to see it. He
pressed on eagerly:
"I don't care. Do you? They'll jest keep y' plowin' corn and
milkin' cows till the day of judgment. Come, Julyie, I ain't got no
time to fool away. I've got t' get back t' that grain. It's a whoopin'
old crop, sure's y'r born, an' that means som'pin' purty scrumptious
in furniture this fall. Come, now." He approached her and laid his
hand on her shoulder very much as he would have touched Albert
Seagraves or any other comrade. "Whady y' say?"
She neither started, nor shrunk, nor looked at him. She simply
moved a step away. "They'd never let me ge," she replied bitterly.
"I'm too cheap a hand. I do a man's work an' get no pay at all."
"You'll have half o' all I c'n make," he put in.
"How long c'n you wait?" she asked, looking down at her dress.
"Just two minutes," he said, pulling out his watch. "It ain't no
use t' wait. The old man 'li be jest as mad a week from now as he is
today. why not go now?"
"I'm of age day after tomorrow," she mused, wavering, calculating.
"You c'n be of age tonight if you'll jest call on old Square
Hatfield with me."
"All right, Rob," the girl said, turning and holding out her hand.
"That's the talk!" he exclaimed, seizing it. "An' now a kiss, to
bind the bargain, as the fellah says."
"I guess we c'n get along without that."
"No, we can't. It won't seem like an engagement without it."
"It ain't goin' to seem much like one anyway," she answered with a
sudden realization of how far from her dreams of courtship this
"Say, now, Julyie, that ain't fair; it ain't treatin' me right. You
don't seem to understand that I like you, but I do."
Rob was carried quite out of himself by the time, the place, and
the girl. He had said a very moving thing.
The tears sprang involuntarily to the girl's eyes. "Do you mean it?
If y' do, you may."
She was trembling with emotion for the first time. The sincerity of
the man's voice had gone deep.
He put his arm around her almost timidly and kissed her on the
cheek, a great love for her springing up in his heart. "That setties
it," he said. "Don't cry, Jalyie. You'll never be sorry for it. Don't
cry. It kind o' hurts me to see it."
He didn't understand her feelings. He was only aware that she was
crying, and tried in a bungling way to soothe her. But now that she
had given way, she sat down in the grass and wept bitterly.
"Yulyie!" yelled the old Norwegian, like a distant fog-horn.
The girl sprang up; the habit of obedience was strong.
"No; you set right there, and I'll go round," he said. "Otto!"
The boy came scrambling out of the wood half dressed. Rob tossed
him upon the horse, snatched Julia's sun-bonnet, put his own hat on
her head, and moved off down the corn rows, leaving the girl smiling
throgh her tears as he whistled and chirped to the horse. Farmer
Peterson, seeing the familiar sunbonnet above the corn rows, went back
to his work, with a sentence of Norwegian trailing after him like the
tail of a kite-something about lazy girls who didn't earn the crust of
their bread, etc.
Rob was wild with delight. "Git up there Jack! Hay, you old
corncrib! Say, Otto, can you keep your mouth shet if it puts money in
"Jest try me 'n' see," said the keen-eyed little scamp. "Well, you
keep quiet about my being here this alter-noon, and I'll put a dollar
on y'r tongue-hay?-what? -understand?"
"Show me y'r dollar," said the boy, turning about and showing his
"All right. Begin to practice now by not talkin' to me."
Rob went over the whole situation on his way back, and when he got
in sight of the girl his plan was made. She stood waiting for him with
a new look on her face. Her sullenness had given way to a peculiar
eagerness and anxiety to believe in him. She was already living that
free life in a far-off wonderful country. No more would her stern
father and sullen mother force her to tasks which she hated. She'd be
a member of a new firm. She'd work, of course, but it would be because
she wanted to, and not because she was forced to. The independence and
the love promised grew more and more attractive. She laughed back with
a softer light in her eyes when she saw the smiling face of Rob
looking at her from her sun-bonnet
"Now you mustn't do any more o' this," he said. "You go back to
the house an' tell y'r mother you're too lame to plow any more today,
and it's too late, anyhow. To-night!" he whispered quickiy. "Eleven!
The girl's heart leaped with fear. "I'm afraid."
"Not of me, are yeh?"
"No, I'm not afraid of you, Rob."
"I'm glad o' that. I-I want you to-to like me, Julyie; won't you?"
"I'll try," she answered with a smile.
"Tonight, then," he said as she moved away.
He stood and watched her till her tall figure was lost among the
drooping corn leaves. There was a singular choking feeling in his
throat. The girl's voice and face had brought up so many memories of
parties and picnics and excursions on far-off holidays, and at the
same time such suggestions of the future. He already felt that it was
going to be an unconscionably long time before eleven o'clock.
He saw her go to the house, and then he turned and walked slowly
up the dusty road. Out of the May weed the grasshoppers sprang,
buzzing and snapping their dull red wings. Butterflies, yellow and
white, fluttered around moist places in the ditch, and slender
striped water snakes glided across the stagnant pools at sound o~
But the mind of the man was far away on his claim, building a new
house, with a woman's advice and presence.
* * * * * *
It was a windless night. The katydids and an occasional cricket
were the only sounds Rob could hear as he stood beside his team and
strained his ear to listen. At long intervals a little breeze ran
through the corn like a swift serpent, bringing to the nostrils the
sappy smell of the growing corn. The horses stamped uneasily as the
mosquitoes settled on their shining limbs. The sky was full of stars,
but there was no moon.
"What if she don't come?" he thought. "Or can't come? I can't stand
that. I'll go to the old man an' say, 'Looky here-' Sh!"
He listened again. There was a rustling in the corn. It was not
like the fitful movement of the wind; it was steady, slower, and
approaching. It ceased. He whistled the wailing, sweet cry of the
prairie chicken. Then a figure came out into the road-a woman- Julia!
He took her in his arms as she came panting up to him.
* * * * * *
A few words, the dull tread of swift horses, the rising of a silent
train of dust, and then the wind wandered in the growing corn. The
dust fell, a dog barked down the road and the katydids sang to the
liquid contralto of the river in its shallows.
THE RETURN OF A PRIVATE
On the road leading "back to God's country" and wile and babies.
The nearer the train drew toward La Crosse, the soberer the little
group of "vets" became. On the long way from New Orleans they had
beguiled tedium with jokes and friendly chaff; or with planning with
elaborate detail what they were going to do now, after the war. A long
journey, slowly, irregularly, yet persistently pushing northward. when
they entered on Wisconsin Territory they gave a cheer, and another
when they reached Madison, but after that they sank into a dumb
expectancy. Comrades dropped off at one or two points beyond, until
there were only four or five left who were bound for La Crosse County
Three of them were gaunt and brown, the fourth was gaunt and pale,
with signs of fever and ague upon him. One had a great scar down his
temple; one limped; and they all had unnaturally large bright eyes,
showing emaciation. There were no bands greeting them at the stations,
no banks of gaily dressed ladies waving hand-kerchiefs and shouting
"Bravo!" as they came in on the caboose of a freight tram into the
towns that had cheered and blared at them on their way to war. As they
looked out or stepped upon the platform for a moment, as the train
stood at the station, the loafers looked at them indifferenfly. Their
blue coats, dusty and grimy, were too familiar now to excite notice,
much less a friendly word. They were the last of the army to return,
and the loafers were surfeited with such sights.
The train jogged forward so slowly that it seemed likely to be
midnight before they should reach La Crosse. The little squad of
"vets" grumbled and swore, but it was no use, the train would not
hurry; and as a matter of fact, rt was nearly two o'clock when the
engine whistled "down brakes."
Most of the group were farmers, living in districts several miles
out of the town, and all were poor.
"Now, boys," said Private Smith, he of the fever and ague, "we are
landed in La Crosse in the night. We've got to stay somewhere till
mornin'. Now, I ain't got no two dollars to waste on a hotel. I've got
a wife and children, so I'm goin' to roost on a bench and take the
cost of a bed out of my hide."
"Same here," put in one of the other men. "Hide'll grow on again,
dollars come hard. It's goin' to be mighty hot skirmishin' to find a
dollar these days."
"Don't think they'll be a deputation of citizens waitin' to 'scort
us to a hotel, eh?" said another. His sarcasm was too obvious to
require an answer.
Smith went on: "Then at daybreak we'll start f'r home; at least I
"Well, I'll be dummed if I'll take two dollars out o' my hide," one
of the younger men said. "I'm goin' to a hotel, ef I don't never lay
up a cent."
"That'll do f'r you," said Smith; "but if you had a wife an' three
young 'uns dependin' on yeh-"
"Which I ain't, thank the Lord! and don't intend havin' while the
court knows itself."
The station was deserted, chill, and dark, as they came into it at
exactly a quarter to two in the morning. Lit by the oil lamps that
flared a dull red light over the dingy benches, the waiting room was
not an inviting place. The younger man went off to look up a hotel,
while the rest remained and prepared to camp down on the floor and
benches. Smith was attended to tenderly by the other men, who spread
their blankets on the bench for him, and by robbing themselves made
quite a comfortable bed, though the narrowness of the bench made his
It was chill, though August, and the two men sitting with bowed
heads grew stiff with cold and weariness, and were forced to rise now
and again, and walk about to warm their stiffened limbs It didn't
occur to them, probably, to contrast their coming home with their
going forth, or with the coming home of the generals, colonels, or
even captains-but to Private Smith, at any rate, there came a sickness
at heart almost deadly, as he lay there on his hard bed and went over
In the deep of the night, lying on a board in the town where he had
enlisted three years ago, all elation and enthusiasm gone out of him,
he faced the fact that with the joy of homecoming was mingled the
bitter juice of care. He saw himself sick, worn out, taking up the
work on his half-cleared farm, the inevitable mortgage standing ready
with open jaw to swallow half his earnings. He had given three years
of his life for a mere pittance of pay, and now-
Morning dawned at last, slowly, with a pale yellow dome of light
rising silently above the bluffs which stand like some huge
battlemented castle, just east of the city. Out to the left the great
river swept on its massive yet silent way to the south. Jays called
across the river from hillside to hillside, through the clear,
beautiful air, and hawks began to skim the tops of the hills. The two
vets were astir early, but Private Smith had fallen at last into a
sleep, and they went out without waking him. He lay on his knapsack,
his gaunt face turned toward the ceiling, his hands clasped on his
breast, with a curious pathetic effect of weakness and appeal.
An engine switching near woke him at last, and he slowly sat up
and stared about. He looked out of the window and saw that the sun
was lightening the hills across the river. He rose and brushed his
hair as well as he could, folded his blankets up, and went out to find
his companions. They stood gazing silently at the river and at the
"Looks nat'cherl, don't it?" they said as he came out.
"That's what it does," he replied. "An' it looks good. D'yeh see
that peak?" He pointed at a beautiful symmetrical peak, rising like a
slightly truncated cone, so high that it seemed the very highest of
them all. It was lighted by the morning sun till it glowed like a
beacon, and a light scarf of gray morning fog was rolling up its
"My farm's just beyond that. Now, ef I can only ketch a ride, we'll
be home by dinnertime."
"I'm talkin' about breakfast," said one of the others.
"I guess it's one more meal o' hardtack f'r me," said Smith.
They foraged around, and finally found a restaurant with a sleepy
old German behind the counter, and procured some coffee, which they
drank to wash down their hardtack.
"Time'll come," said Smith, holding up a piece by the corner,
"when this'll be a curiosity."
"I hope to God it will! I bet I've chawed hardtack enough to
shingle every house in the coulee. I've chawed it when my lampers was
down, and when they wasn't. I've took it dry, soaked, and mashed. I've
had it wormy, musty, sour, and blue-moldy. I've had it in little bits
and big bits; 'fore coffee an' after coffee. I'm ready f'r a change.
I'd like t' git hol't jest about now o' some of the hot biscuits my
wife c'n make when she lays herself out f'r company."
"Well, if you set there gablin', you'll never see yer wife."
"Come on," said Private Smith. "Wait a moment, boys; less take
suthin'. It's on me." He led them to the rusty tin dipper which hung
on a nail beside the wooden water pail, and they grinned and drank.
(Things were primitive in La Crosse then.) Then, shouldering their
blankets and muskets, which they were "taking home to the boys," they
struck out on their last march.
"They called that coffee 'Jayvy," grumbled one of them, "but it
never went by the road where government Jayvy resides. I reckon I
know coffee from peas."
They kept together on the road along the turnpike, and up the
winding road by the river, which they followed for some miles. The
river was very lovely, curving down along its sandy beds, pausing now
and then under broad basswood trees, or running in dark, swift, silent
currents under tangles of wild grapevines, and drooping alders, and
haw trees. At one of these lovely spots the three vets sat down on the
thick green sward to rest, "on Smith's account." The leaves of the
trees were as fresh and green as in June, the jays called cheery
greetings to them, and kingflshers darted to and fro, with swooping,
"I tell yeh, boys, this knocks the swamps of Loueesiana into
"You bet. All they c'n raise down there is snakes, niggers, and
"An' fightin' men," put in the older man.
"An' fightin' men. If I had a good hook an' line I'd sneak a
pick'rel out o' that pond. Say, remember that time I shot that
"I guess we'd better be crawlin' along," interrupted Smith, rising
and shouldering his knapsack, with considerable effort, which he
tried to hide.
"Say, Smith, lemme give you a lift on that."
"I guess I c'n manage," said Smith grimly.
"'Course. But, yeh see, I may not have a chance right off to pay
yeh back for the times ye've carried my gun and hull caboodie. Say,
now, girne that gun, any-way."
"All right, if yeh feel like it, Jim," Smith replied, and they
trudged along doggedly in the sun, which was getting higher and hotter
each half mile.
"Ain't it queer there ain't no teams cornin' along."
"Well, no, seem's it's Sunday."
"By jinks, that's a fact! It is Sunday. I'll git home in time fr
dinner, sure. She don't hev dinner usually till-about one on Sundays."
And he fell into a muse, in which he smiled.
"Well, I'll git home jest about six o'clock, jest about when the
boys are milkin' the cows," said old Jim Cranby. "I'll step into the
barn an' then I'll say, 'Heah! why ain't this milkin' done before this
time o' day? An' then won't they yell!" he added, slapping his thigh
in great glee.
Smith went on. "I'll jest go up the path. Old Rover'll come down
the road to meet me. He won't bark; he'll know me, an' he'll come
down waggin' his tail an' shonin' his teeth. That's his way of
laughin'. An' so I'll walk up to the kitchen door, an' I'll say
'Dinner f'r a hungry man!' An' then she'll jump up, an'-"
He couldn't go on. His voice choked at the thought of it. Saunders,
the third man, hardly uttered a word. He walked silently behind the
others. He had lost his wife the first year he was in the army. She
died of pneumonia caught in the autumn rains, while working in the
fields in his place.
They plodded along till at last they came to a parting of the ways.
To the right the road continued up the main valley; to the left it
went over the ridge.
"Well, boys," began Smith as they grounded their muskets and
looked away up the valley, "here's where we shake hands. We've
marched together a good many miles, an' now I s'pose we're done."
"Yes, I don't think we'll do any more of it f'r a while. I don't
want to, I know."
"I hope I'll see yeh once in a while, boys, to taik over old
"Of course," said Saunders, whose voice trembled a little, too. "It
ain't exactly like dyin'."
"But we'd ought'r go home with you," said the younger man. "You
never'll climb that ridge with all them things on yer back."
"Oh, I'm all right! Don't worry about me. Every step takes me
nearer home, yeh see. Well, goodbye, boys."
They shook hands. "Goodbye. Good luck!"
"Same to you. Lemme know how you find things at home."
He turned once before they passed out of sight and waved his cap,
and they did the same, and all yelled. Then all marched away with
their long, steady, loping, veteran step. The solitary climber in blue
walked on for a time, with his mind filled with the kindness of his
comrades, and musing upon the many jolly days they had had together
in camp and field.
He thought of his chum, Billy Tripp. Poor Billy! A "mime" ball fell
into his breast one day, fell wailing like a cat, and tore a great
ragged hole in his heart. He looked forward to a sad scene with
Billy's mother and sweet-heart. They would want to know all about it.
He tried to recall all that Billy had said, and the particulars of it,
but there was little to remember, just that wild wailing sound high
in the air, a dull slap, a short, quick, expulsive groan, and the boy
lay with his face in the dirt in the plowed field they were marching
That was all. But all the scenes he had since been through had not
dimmed the horror, the terror of that moment, when his boy comrade
fell, with only a breath between a laugh and a death groan. Poor
handsome Billy! Worth millions of dollars was his young wife.
These somber recollections gave way at length to more cheerful
feelings as he began to approach his home coulee. The fields and
houses grew familiar, and in one or two he was greeted by people
seated in the doorway. But he was in no mood to talk, and pushed on
steadily, though he stopped and accepted a drink of milk once at the
well-side of a neighbor.
The sun was getting hot on that slope, and his step grew slower, in
spite of his iron resolution. He sat down several times to rest.
Slowly he crawled up the rough, reddish-brown road, which wound along
the hillside, under great trees, through dense groves of jack oaks,
with treetops' far below him on his left hand, and the hills far above
him on his right. He crawled along like some minute wingless variety
He ate some hardtack, sauced with wild berries, when he reached
the summit of the ridge, and sat there for some time, looking down
into his home coulee.
Somber, pathetic figure! His wide, round, gray eyes gazing down
into the beautiful valley, seeing and not seeing, the splendid
cloud-shadows sweeping over the western hills and across the green
and yellow wheat far below. His head drooped forward on his palm, his
shoulders took on a tired stoop, his cheekbones showed painfully. An
observer might have said, "He is looking down upon his own grave."
Sunday comes in a Western wheat harvest with such sweet and sudden
relaxation to man and beast that it would be holy for that reason, if
for no other. And Sundays are usually fair in harvest time. As one
goes out into the field in the hot morning sunshine, with no sound
abroad save the crickets and the indescribably pleasant, silken
rustling of the ripened grain, the reaper and the very sheaves in the
stubble seem to be resting, dreaming.
Around the house, in the shade of the trees, the men sit, smoking,
dozing, or reading the papers, while the women, never resting, move
about at the housework. The men eat on Sundays about the same as on
other days; and breakfast is no sooner over and out of the way than
But at the Smith farm there were no men dozing or reading. Mrs.
Smith was alone with her three children, Mary, nine, Tommy, six, and
littie Ted, just past four. Her farm, rented to a neighbor, lay at the
head of a coulee or narrow galley, made at some far-off postglacial
period by the vast and angry floods of water which gullied these
trememdous furrows in the level prairie-furrows so deep that
undisturbed portions of the original level rose like hills on either
sid~rose to quite considerable mountains.
The chickens wakened her as usual that Sabbath morning from dreams
of her absent husband, from whom she had not heard for weeks. The
shadows drifted over the hills, down the slopes, across the wheat, and
up the opposite wall in leisurely way, as if, being Sunday, they could
"take it easy," also. The fowls clustered about the housewife as she
went out into the yard. Fuzzy little chickens swarmed out from the
coops where their clucking and perpetually disgruntled mothers tramped
about, petulantly thrusting their heads through the spaces between the
A cow called in a deep, musical bass, and a call answered from a
little pen nearby, and a pig scurried guiltily out of the cabbages.
Seeing all this, seeing the pig in the cabbages, the tangle of grass
in the garden, the broken fence which she had mended again and again
-the little woman, hardly more than a girl, sat down and cried. The
bright Sabbath morning was only a mockery without him!
A few years ago they had bought this farm, paying part, mortgaging
the rest in the usual way. Edward Smith was a man of terrible energy.
He worked "nights and Sundays," as the saying goes, to clear the farm
of its brush and of its insatiate mortgage. In the midst of his
Herculean struggle came the call for volunteers, and with the grirn
and unselfish devotion to his country which made the Eagle Brigade
able to "whip its weight in wildcats," he threw down his scythe and
his grub ax, turned his cattle loose, and became a blue-coated cog in
a vast machine for killing men, and not thistles. While the
millionnaire sent his money to England for safekeeping, this man, with
his girl-wife and three babies, left them on a mortgaged farm and went
away to fight for an idea. It was foolish, but it was sublime for all
That was three years before, and the young wife, sitting on the
well curb on this bright Sabbath harvest morning, was righteously
rebellious. It seemed to her that she had borne her share of the
country's sorrow. Two brothers had been killed, the renter in whose
hands her husband had left the farm had proved a villain, one year the
farm was without crops, and now the overripe grain was waiting the
tardy hand of the neighbor who had rented it, and who was cutting his
own grain first.
About six weeks before, she had received a letter saying, "We'll be
discharged in a little while." But no other word had come from him.
She had seen by the papers that his army was being discharged, and
from day to day other soldiers slowly percolated in blue streams back
into the state and county, but still her private did not return.
Each week she had told the children that he was coming' and she
had watched the road so long that it had become unconscious, and as
she stood at the well, or by the kitchen door, her eyes were fixed
unthinkingly on the road that wound down the coulee. Nothing wears on
the human soul like waiting. If the stranded mariner, 'searching the
sun-bright seas, could once give up hope of a ship, that horrible
grinding on his brain would cease. It was this waiting, hoping, on the
edge of despair, that gave Emma Smith no rest.
Neighbors said, with kind intentions, "He's sick, maybe, an' can't
start North just yet. He'll come along one o' these days."
"Why don't he write?" was her question, which silenced them all.
This Sunday morning it seemed to her as if she couldn't stand it any
longer. The house seemed intolerably lonely. So she dressed the little
ones in their best calico dresses and homemade jackets, and closing up
the house, set off down the coulee to old Mother Gray's.
"Old Widder Gray" lived at the "mouth of the coulee." She was a
widow woman with a large family of stalwart boys and laughing girls.
She was the visible incarnation of hospitality and optimistic poverty.
With Western open-heartedness she fed every mouth that asked food of
her, and worked herself to death as cheerfully as her girls danced in
the neighborhood harvest dances.
She waddled down the path to meet Mrs. Smith with a smile on her
face that would have made the countenance of a convict expand.
"Oh, you little dears! Come right to yer granny. Gimme a kiss!
Come right in, Mis' Smith. How are yeh, anyway? Nice mornin', ain't
it? Come in an' set down. Every-thing's in a clutter, but that won't
scare you any."
She led the way into the "best room," a sunny, square room,
carpeted with a faded and patched rag carpet, and papered with a
horrible white-and-green-striped wallpaper, where a few ghastly
effigies of dead members of the family hung in variously sized oval
walnut frames. The house resounded with singing, laughter, whistling,
tramping of boots, and scufflings. Half-grown boys came to the door
and crooked their fingers at the children, who ran out, and were soon
heard in the midst of the fun.
"Don't s'pose you've heard from Ed?" Mrs. Smith shook her head.
"He'll turn up some day, when you ain't look-in' for 'm." The good
old soul had said that so many times that poor Mrs. Smith derived no
comfort from it any longer.
"Liz heard from Al the other day. He's comin' some, day this week.
Anyhow, they expect him."
"Did he say anything of-"
"No, he didn't," Mrs. Gray admitted. "But then it was only a short
letter, anyhow. Al ain't much for ritin', anyhow. But come out and
see my new cheese. I tell yeh, I don't believe I ever had hetter luck
in my life. If Ed should come, I want you should take him up a piece
of this cheese."
It was beyond human nature to resist the influence of that noisy,
hearty, loving household, and in the midst of the singing and
laughing the wife forgot her anxiety, for the time at least, and
laughed and sang with the rest.
About eleven o'clock a wagonload more drove up to the door, and
Bill Gray, the widow's oldest son, and his whole family from Sand
Lake Coulee piled out amid a good-natured uproar, as characteristic
as it was ludicrous. Everyone talked. at once, except Bill, who sat in
the wagon with his wrists on his knees, a straw in his mouth, and an
amused twinkle in his blue eyes.
"Ain't heard nothin' o' Ed, I s'pose?" he asked in a kind of
bellow. Mrs. Smith shook her head. Bill, with a delicacy very striking
in such a great giant, rolled his quid in his mouth and said:
"Didn't know but you had. I hear two or three of the Sand Lake
boys are comm'. Left New Orleenes some time this week. Didn't write
nothin' about Ed, but no news is good news in such cases, Mother
"Well, go put out yer team," said Mrs. Gray, "an' go'n bring me in
some taters, an', Sim, you go see if you c'n find some corn. Sadie,
you put on the water to b'ile. Come now, hustle yer boots., all o'
yeh. If I feed this yer crowd, we've got to have some raw materials.
If y' think.I'm goin' to feed yeh on pie-"
The children went off into the fields, the girls put dinner on to
"b'ile," and then went to change their dresses and fix their hair.
"Somebody might come," they said.
"Land sakes, l hope not! I don't know where in time I'd set 'em,
'less they'd eat at the secont table," Mrs. Gray laughed in pretended
The two older boys, who had served their time in the army, lay out
on the grass before the house, and whittied and talked desultorily
about the war and the crops, and planned buying a threshing machine.
The older girls and Mrs. Smith helped enlarge the table and put on the
dishes, talking all the time in that cheery, incoherent, and
meaningful way a group of such women have-a conversation to be taken
for its spirit rather than for its letter, though Mrs. Gray at last
got the ear of them all and dissertated at length on girls.
"Girls in love ain't no use in the whole blessed week," she said.
"Sundays they're a-lookin' down the road, expectin' he'll come.
Sunday afternoons they can't think o' nothin' else, 'cause he's here.
Monday mornin's they're sleepy and kind o' dreamy and slimpsy, and
good fr nothin' on Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday they git
absent-minded, an' begin to look off toward Sunday agin, an' mope
aroun' and let the dishwater git cold, rtght under their noses. Friday
they break dishes, and go off in the best room an' snivel, an' look
out o' the winder. Saturdays they have queer spurts o' workin' like
all p'ssessed, an spurts o' frizzin' their hair. An' Sunday they begin
it all over agin."
The girls giggled and blushed all through this tirade from their
mother, their broad faces and powerful frames anything but suggestive
of lackadaisical sentiment. But Mrs. Smith said:
"Now, Mrs. Gray, I hadn't ought to stay to dianer. You've got-"
"Now you set right down! If any of them girls' beaus comes, they'll
have to take what's left, that's all. They ain't s'posed to have much
appetite, nohow. No, you're goin' to stay if they starve, an' they
ain't no danger o' that."
At one o'clock the long table was piled with boiled potatoes, cords
of boiled corn on the cob, squash and pumpkin pies, hot biscuit,
sweet pickles, bread and butter, and honey. Then one of the girls
took down a conch shell from a nail and, going to the door, blew a
long, fine, free blast, that showed there was no weakness of lungs in
her ample chest.
Then the children came out of the forest of corn, out of the crick,
out of the loft of the barn, and out of the garden. The men shut up
their jackknives, and surrounded the horse trough to souse their
faces in the cold, hard water, and in a few moments the table was
filled with a merry crowd, and a row of wistful-eyed youngsters
circled the kitchen wail, where they stood first on one leg and then
on the other, in impatient hunger.
"They come to their feed f'r all the world jest like the pigs when
y' hoilder 'poo-ee!' See 'em scoot!" laughed Mrs. Gray, every wrinkle
on her face shining with delight. "Now pitch in, Mrs. Smith," she
said, presiding over the table. "You know these men critters. They'll
eat every grain of it, if yeh give 'em a chance. I swan, they're made
o' Indian rubber, their stomachs is, I know it."
"Haft to eat to work," said Bill, gnawing a cob with a swift,
circular motion that rivaled a corn sheller in results.
"More like workin' to eat," put in one of the girls with a giggle.
"More eat 'n' work with you."
"You needn't say anything, Net. Anyone that'll eat seven ears-"
"I didn't, no such thing. You piled your cobs on my plate."
"That'll do to tell Ed Varney. It won't go down here, where we
"Good land! Eat all yeh want! They's plenty more in the fiel's, but
I can't afford to give you young 'uns tea. The tea is for us
womenfolks, and 'specially fr Mis' Smith an' Bill's wife. We're
agoin' to tell fortunes by it."
One by one the men filled up and shoved back, and one by one the
children slipped into their places, and by two o'clock the women
alone remained around the debris-covered table, sipping their tea and
As they got well down to the grounds in the cup, they shook them
with a circular motion in the hand, and then turned them
bottom-side-up quickly in the saucer, then twirled them three or four
times one way, and three or four times the other, during a breathless
pause. Then Mrs. Gray lifted the cup and, gazing into it with profound
gravity, pronounced the impending fate.
It must be admitted that, to a critical observer, she had abundant
preparation for hitting close to the mark; as when she told the girls
that "somebody was coming." "It is a man," she went on gravely. "He
"Oh, you hush!"
"He has red hair, and is death on b'iled corn and hot biscuit."
The others shrieked with delight.
"But he's goin' to get the mitten, that redheaded feller is, for I
see a feller comin' up behind him."
"Oh, lemme see, lemme see!" cried Nettle.
"Keep off," said the priestess with a lofty gesture. "His hair is
black. He don't eat so much, and he works more."
The girls exploded in a shriek of laughter and pounded their sister
on the back.
At last came Mrs. Smith's turn, and she was trembling with
excitement as Mrs. Gray again composed her jolly face to what she
considered a proper solemnity of expression.
"Somebody is comin' to you," she said after a long pause. "He's got
a musket on his back. He's a soldier. He's almost here. See?"
She pointed at two little tea stems, which formed a faint
suggestion of a man with a musket on his back. He had climbed nearly
to the edge of the cup. Mrs. Smith grew pale with excitement. She
trembled so she could hardly hold the cup in her hand as she gazed
"It's Ed," cried the old woman. "He's on the way home. Heavens an'
earth! There he is now!" She turned and waved her hand out toward the
road. They rushed to the door and looked where she pointed.
A man in a blue coat, with a musket on his back, was toiling
slowly up the hill, on the sun-bright, dusty road, toiling slowly,
with bent head half-hidden by a heavy knapsack. So tired it seemed
that walking was indeed a process of falling. So eager to get home he
would not stop, would not look aside, but plodded on, amid the cries
of the locusts, the welcome of the crickets, and the rustle of the
yellow wheat. Getting back to God's country, and his wife and babies!
Laughing, crying, trying to call him and the children at the same
time, the little wife, almost hysterical, snatched her hat and ran out
into the yard. But the soldier had disappeared over the hill into the
hollowy beyond, and, by the time she had found the children, he was
too far away for her voice to reach him. And besides, she was not sure
it was her husband, for he had not turned his head at their shouts.
This seemed so strange. Why didn't he stop to rest at his old
neighbor's house? Tortured by hope and doubt, she hurried up the
coulee as fast as she could push the baby wagon, the blue coated
figure just ahead pushing steadily, silently forward up the coulee.
When the excited, panting little group came in sight of the gate,
they saw the blue-coated figure standing, leaning upon the rough rail
fence, his chin on his palms, gazing at the empty house. His knapsack,
canteen, blankets, and musket lay upon the dusty grass at his feet.
He was like a man lost in a dream. His wide, hungry eyes devoured
the scene. The rough lawn, the little unpainted house, the field of
clear yellow wheat behind it, down across which streamed the sun, now
almost ready to touch the high hill to the west, the crickets crying
merrily, a cat on the fence nearby, dreaming, unmmdful of the stranger
How peaceful it all was. O God! How far removed from all camps,
hospitals, battlelines. A little cabin in a Wisconsin coulee, but it
was majestic in its peace. How did he ever leave it for those years
of tramping, thirsting, killing?
Trembling, weak with emotion, her eyes on the silent figure, Mrs.
Smith hurried up to the fence. Her feet made no noise in the dust and
grass, and they were close upon him before he knew of them. The oldest
boy ran a little ahead. He will never forget that figure, that face.
It will always remain as something epic, that return of the private.
He fixed his eyes on the pale face, covered with a ragged beard.
"Who are you, sir?" asked the wife, or, rather, started to ask, for
he turned, stood a moment, and then cried:
The children stood in a curious row to see their mother kiss this
bearded, strange man, the elder girl sobbing sympathetically with her
mother. Illness had left the soldier partly deaf, and this added to
the strangeness of his manner.
But the boy of six years stood away, even after the girl had
recognized her father and kissed him. The man turned then to the baby
and said in a curiously unpaternal tone:
"Come here, my little man; don't you know me?" But the baby backed
away under the fence and stood peering at him critically.
"My little man!" What meaning in those words! This baby seemed
like some other woman's child, and not the infant he had left in his
wife's arms. The war had come between him and his baby-he was only "a
strange man, with big eyes, dressed in blue, with Mother hanging to
his arm, and talking in a loud voice.
"And this is Tom," he said, drawing the oldest boy to him. "He'll
come and see me. He knows his poor old pap when he comes home from
The mother heard the pain and reproach in his voice and hastened
"You've changed so, Ed. He can't know yeh. This is Papa, Teddy;
come and kiss him-Tom and Mary do, Come, won't you?" But Teddy still
peered through the fence with solemn eyes, well out of reach. He
resembled a half-wild kitten that hesitates, studying the tones of
"I'll fix him," said the soldier, and sat down to undo his
knapsack, out of which he drew three enormous and very red apples.
After giving one to each of the older children, he said:
"Now I guess he'll come. Eh, my little man? Now come see your
Teddy crept slowly under the fence, assisted by the overzealous
Tommy, and a moment later was kick-ing and squalling in his father's
arms. Then they entered the house, into the sitting room, poor, bare,
art-forsaken little room, too, with its rag carpet, its square clock,
and its two or three chromos and pictures from Harper's Weekly pinned
"Emma, I'm all tired out," said Private Smith as he flung himself
down on the carpet as he used to do, while his wife brought a pillow
to put under his head, and the children stood about, munching their
"Tommy, you run and get me a pan of chips; and Mary, you get the
teakettle on, and I'll go and make some biscuit."
And the soldier talked. Question after question he poured forth
about the crops, the cattle, the renter, the neighbors. He slipped his
heavy government brogan shoes off his poor, tired, blistered feet,
and lay out with utter, sweet relaxation. He was a free man again, no
longer a soldier under command. At supper he stopped once, listened,
and smiled. "That's old Spot. I know her voice. I s'pose that's her
calf out there in the pen. I can't milk her tonight, though, I'm too
tired; but I tell you, I'd like a drink o' her milk. What's become of
"He died last winter. Poisoned, I guess." There was a moment of
sadness for them all. It was some time before the husband spoke
again, in a voice that trembled a little.
"Poor old feller! He'd a known me a half a mile away. I expected
him to come down the hill to meet me. It 'ud 'a' been more like
comin' home if I could 'a' seen him comm' down the road an' waggin'
his tail, an' laugh-in' that way he has. I tell yeh, it kin' o' took
hold o' me to see the blinds down an' the house shut up."
"But, yeh see, we-we expected you'd write again 'fore you started.
And then we thought we'd see you if you did come," she hastened to
"Well, I ain't worth a cent on writin'. Besides, it's just as well
yeh didn't know when I was comm'. I tell yeh, it sounds good to hear
them chickens out there, an' turkeys, an' the crickets. Do you know
they don't have just the same kind o' crickets down South. Who's Sam
hired t' help cut yer grain?"
"The Ramsey boys."
"Looks like a good crop; but I'm afraid I won't do much gettin' it
cut. This cussed fever an' ague has got me down pretty low. I don't
know when I'll get red of it. I'll bet I've took twenty-five pounds of
quinine, if I've taken a bit. Gimme another biscuit. I tell yeh, they
taste good, Emma. I ain't had anything like it- Say, if you'd a heard
me braggin' to th' boys about your butter 'n' biscuits, I'll bet your
ears 'ud 'a' burnt."
The private's wife colored with pleasure. "Oh, you're always
a-braggin' about your things. Everybody makes good butter."
"Yes; old lady Snyder, for instance."
"Oh, well, she ain't to be mentioned. She's Dutch."
"Or old Mis' Snively. One more cup o' tea, Mary. That's my girl!
I'm feeling better already. I just b'lieve the matter with me is, I'm
This was a delicious hour, one long to be remembered. They were
like lovers again. But their tenderness, like that of a typical
American, found utterance in tones, rather than in words. He was
praising her when praising her biscuit, and she knew it. They grew
soberer when he showed where he had been struck, one ball burning the
back of his hand, one cutting away a lock of hair from his temple, and
one passing through the calf of his leg. The wife shuddered to think
how near she had come to being a soldier's widow. Her waiting no
longer seemed hard. This sweet, glorious hour effaced it all.
Then they rose and all went out into the garden and down to the
barn. He stood beside her while she milked old Spot. They began to
plan fields and crops for next year. Here was the epic figure which
Whitman has in mind, and which he calls the "common American soldier."
With the livery of war on his limbs, this man was facing his future,
his thoughts holding no scent of battle. Clean, clear-headed, in spite
of physical weakness, Edward Smith, private, turned future-ward with a
His farm was mortgaged, a rascally renter had run away with his
machinery, "departing between two days," his children needed
clothing, the years were coming upon him, he was sick and emaciated,
but his heroic soul did not quail. With the same courage with which he
faced his southern march, be entered upon a still more hazardous
Oh, that mystic hour! The pale man with big eyes standing there by
the well, with his young wife by his side. The vast moon swinging
above the eastern peaks; the cattle winding down the pasture slopes
with jangling bells; the crickets singing; the stars blooming out
sweet and far and serene; the katydids rhythmically calling; the
little turkeys crying querulously as they settled to roost in the
poplar tree near the open gate. The voices at the well drop lower,
the little ones nestle in their father's arms at last, and Teddy falls
The common soldier of the American volunteer army had returned.
His war with the South was over, and his fight, his daily running
fight, with nature and against the injustice of his fellow men was
begun again. In tlie dusk of that far-off valley his figure looms
vast, his personal peculiarities fade away, he rises into a
He is a gray-haired man of sixty now, and on the brown hair of his
wife the white is also showing. They are fighting a hopeless battle,
and must fight till God gives them furlough.
UNDER THE LION'S PAW
"Along the main-travelled road trailed an endless line of prairie
schooners. Coming into sight at the east, and passing out of sight
over the swell to the west. We children used to wonder where they
were going and why they went."
IT was the last of autumn and first day of winter coming together.
All day long the ploughmen on their prairie farms had moved to and
fro in their wide level fields through the falling snow, which melted
as it fell, wetting them to the skin all day, notwithstanding the
frequent squalls of snow, the dripping, desolate clouds, and the muck
of the furrows, black and tenacious as tar.
Under their dripping harness the horses swung to and fro silently
with that marvellous uncomplaining patience which marks the horse.
All day the wild geese, honking wildly, as they sprawled sidewise down
the wind, seemed to be fleeing from an enemy behind, and with neck
outthrust and wings extended, sailed down the wind, soon lost to
Yet the ploughman behind his plough, though the snow lay on his
ragged great-coat, and the cold clinging mud rose on his heavy boots,
fettering him like gyves, whistled in the very beard of the gale. As
day passed, the snow, ceasing to melt, lay along the ploughed land,
and lodged in the depth of the stubble, till on each slow round the
last furrow stood out black and shining as jet between the ploughed
land and the gray stubble.
When night began to fall, and the geese, flying low, began to
alight invisibly in the near corn-field, Stephen Council was still at
work "finishing a land." He rode on his sulky plough when going with
the wind, but walked when facing it. Sitting bent and cold but cheery
under his slouch hat, he talked encouragingly to his four-in-hand.
"Come round there, boys! Round agin! We got t' finish this land.
Come in there, Dan! Stiddy, Kate, stiddy! None o' y'r tantrums,
Kittie. It's purty tuff, but got a be did. Tchk! tchk! Step along,
Pete! Don't let Kate git y'r single-tree on the wheel. Once more!"
They seemed to know what he meant, and that this was the last round,
for they worked with greater vigor than before. "Once more, boys, an'
then, sez I, oats an' a nice warm stall, an' sleep f'r all."
By the time the last furrow was turned on the land it was too dark
to see the house, and the snow was changing to rain again. The tired
and hungry man could see the light from the kitchen shining through
the leafless hedge, and he lifted a great shout, "Supper f'r a half a
It was nearly eight o'clock by the time he had finished his chores
and started for supper. He was picking his way carefully through the
mud, when the tall form of a man loomed up before him with a
"Waddy ye want ?" was the rather startled question of the farmer.
"Well, ye see," began the stranger, in a deprecating tone, "we'd
like t' git in f'r the night. We've tried every house f'r the last two
miles, but they hadn't any room f'r us. My wife's jest about sick,
'n' the children are cold and hungry " "Oh, y' want 'o stay all
night, eh, ?"
"Yes, sir; it 'ud be a great accom "
"Waal, I don't make it a practice t' turn anybuddy way hungry, not
on sech nights as this. Drive right in. We ain't got much, but sech
as it is"
But the stranger had disappeared. And soon his steaming, weary
team, with drooping heads and swinging single-trees, moved past the
well to the block beside the path. Council stood at the side of the
"schooner" and helped the children out two little half- sleeping
children and then a small woman with a babe in her arms.
"There ye go!" he shouted jovially, to the children. "Now we're
all right! Run right along to the house there, an' tell Mam' Council
you wants sumpthin' t' eat. Right this way, Mis' keep right off t'
the right there. I'll go an' git a lantern. Come," he said to the
dazed and silent group at his side.
"Mother'" he shouted, as he neared the fragrant and warmly lighted
kitchen, "here are some wayfarers an' folks who need sumpthin' t' eat
an' a place t' snoot." He ended by pushing them all in.
Mrs. Council, a large, jolly, rather coarse-looking woman, too the
children in her arms. "Come right in, you little rabbits. 'Mos
asleep, hey? Now here's a drink o' milk f'r each o' ye. I'll have sam
tea in a minute. Take off y'r things and set up t' the fire."
While she set the children to drinking milk, Council got out his
lantern and went out to the barn to help the stranger about his team,
where his loud, hearty voice could be heard as it came and went
between the haymow and the stalls.
The woman came to light as a small, timid, and discouraged looking
woman, but still pretty, in a thin and sorrowful way.
"Land sakes! An' you've travelled all the way from Clear Lake'
t'-day in this mud! Waal! Waal! No wonder you're all tired out Don't
wait f'r the men, Mis' " She hesitated, waiting for the name.
"Mis' Haskins, set right up to the table an' take a good swig o tea
whilst I make y' s'm toast. It's green tea, an' it's good. I tell
Council as I git older I don't seem to enjoy Young Hyson n'r
Gunpowder. I want the reel green tea, jest as it comes off'n the
vines. Seems t' have more heart in it, some way. Don't s'pose it has.
Council says it's all in m' eye."
Going on in this easy way, she soon had the children filled with
bread and milk and the woman thoroughly at home, eating some toast
and sweet-melon pickles, and sipping the tea.
"See the little rats!" she laughed at the children. "They're full
as they can stick now, and they want to go to bed. Now, don't git up,
Mis' Haskins; set right where you are an' let me look after 'em. I
know all about young ones, though I'm all alone now. Jane went an'
married last fall. But, as I tell Council, it's lucky we keep our
health. Set right there, Mis' Haskins; I won't have you stir a
It was an unmeasured pleasure to sit there in the warm, homely
kitchen. the jovial chatter of the housewife driving out and holding
at bay the growl of the impotent, cheated wind.
The little woman's eyes filled with tears which fell down upon the
sleeping baby in her arms. The world was not so desolate and cold
and hopeless, after all.
"Now I hope. Council won't stop out there and talk politics all
night. He's the greatest man to talk politics an' read the Tribune
How old is it?"
She broke off and peered down at the face of the babe.
"Two months 'n' five days," said the mother, with a mother's
"Ye don't say! I want 'o know! The dear little pudzy-wudzy!" she
went on, stirring it up in the neighborhood of the ribs with her fat
"Pooty tough on 'oo to go gallivant'n' 'cross lots this way"
"Yes, that's so; a man can't lift a mountain," said Council,
entering the door. "Mother, this is Mr. Haskins, from Kansas. He's
been eat up 'n' drove out by grasshoppers."
"Glad t' see yeh! Pa, empty that wash-basin 'n' give him a chance
t' wash." Haskins was a tall man, with a thin, gloomy face. His hair
was a reddish brown, like his coat, and seemed equally faded by the
wind and sun, and his sallow face, though hard and set, was pathetic
somehow. You would have felt that he had suffered much by the line
of his mouth showing under his thin, yellow mustache.
"Hadn't Ike got home yet, Sairy?"
"Hadn't seen 'im."
"W-a-a-l, set right up, Mr. Haskins; wade right into what we've
got; 'taint much, but we manage to live on it she gits fat on it,"
laughed Council, pointing his thumb at his wife.
After supper, while the women put the children to bed, Haskins and
Council talked on, seated near the huge cooking-stove, the steam
rising from their wet clothing. In the Western fashion Council told as
much of his own life as he drew from his guest. He asked but few
questions, but by and by the story of Haskins' struggles and defeat
came out. The story was a terrible one, but he told it quietly,
seated with his elbows on his knees, gazing most of the time at the
"I didn't like the looks of the country, anyhow," Haskins said,
partly rising and glancing at his wife. "I was ust t' northern
Ingyannie, where we have lots o' timber 'n' lots o' rain, 'n' I didn't
like the looks o' that dry prairie. What galled me the worst was
goin' s' far away acrosst so much fine land layin' all through here
"And the 'hoppers eat ye four years, hand runnin', did they?"
"Eat! They wiped us out. They chawed everything that was green. They
jest set around waitin' f'r us to die t' eat us, too. My God! I ust t'
dream of 'em sittin' 'round on the bedpost, six feet long, workin'
their jaws. They eet the fork-handles. They got worse 'n' worse till
they jest rolled on one another, piled up like snow in winter Well,
it ain't no use. If I was t' talk all winter I couldn't tell nawthin'.
But all the while I couldn't help thinkin' of all that land back here
that nobuddy was usin' that I ought 'o had 'stead o' bein' out there
in that cussed country."
"Waal, why didn't ye stop an' settle here ?" asked Ike, who had
come in and was eating his supper.
"Fer the simple reason that you fellers wantid ten 'r fifteen
dollars an acre fer the bare land, and I hadn't no money fer that kind
"Yes, I do my own work," Mrs. Council was heard to say in the
pause which followed. "I'm a gettin' purty heavy t' be on m'laigs all
day, but we can't afford t' hire, so I keep rackin' around somehow,
like a foundered horse. S' lame I tell Council he can t tell how lame
I am, f'r I'm jest as lame in one laig as t' other." And the good soul
laughed at the joke on herself as she took a handful of flour and
dusted the biscuit-board to keep the dough from sticking.
"Well, I hadn't never been very strong," said Mrs. Haskins. "Our
folks was Canadians an' small-boned, and then since my last child I
hadn't got up again fairly. I don't like t' complain. Tim has about
all he can bear now but they was days this week when I jest wanted to
lay right down an' die."
"Waal, now, I'll tell ye," said Council, from his side of the stove
silencing everybody with his good-natured roar, "I'd go down and see
Butler, anyway, if I was you. I guess he'd let you have his place
purty cheap; the farm's all run down. He's teen anxious t' let t'
somebuddy next year. It 'ud be a good chance fer you. Anyhow, you go
to bed and sleep like a babe. I've got some ploughing t' do, anyhow,
an' we'll see if somethin' can't be done about your case. Ike, you go
out an' see if the horses is all right, an' I'll show the folks t'
When the tired husband and wife were lying under the generous
quilts of the spare bed, Haskins listened a moment to the wind in the
eaves, and then said, with a slow and solemn tone,
"There are people in this world who are good enough t' be angels,
an' only haff t' die to be angels."
Jim Butler was one of those men called in the West "land poor. "
Early in the history of Rock River he had come into the town and
started in the grocery business in a small way, occupying a small
building in a mean part of the town. At this period of his life he
earned all he got, and was up early and late sorting beans, working
over butter, and carting his goods to and from the station. But a
change came over him at the end of the second year, when he sold a
lot of land for four times what he paid for it. From that time forward
he believed in land speculation as the surest way of getting rich.
Every cent he could save or spare from his trade he put into land at
forced sale, or mortgages on land, which were "just as good as the
wheat," he was accustomed to say.
Farm after farm fell into his hands, until he was recognized as one
of the leading landowners of the county. His mortgages were scattered
all over Cedar County, and as they slowly but surely fell in he sought
usually to retain the former owner as tenant.
He was not ready to foreclose; indeed, he had the name of being
one of the "easiest" men in the town. He let the debtor off again and
again, extending the time whenever possible.
"I don't want y'r land," he said. "All I'm after is the int'rest on
my money that's all. Now, if y' want 'o stay on the farm, why, I'll
give y' a good chance. I can't have the land layin' vacant. " And in
many cases the owner remained as tenant.
In the meantime he had sold his store; he couldn't spend time in it
- he was mainly occupied now with sitting around town on rainy days
smoking and "gassin' with the boys," or in riding to and from his
farms. In fishing-time he fished a good deal. Doc Grimes, Ben Ashley,
and Cal Cheatham were his cronies on these fishing excursions or
hunting trips in the time of chickens or partridges. In winter they
went to Northern Wisconsin to shoot deer.
In spite of all these signs of easy life Butler persisted in saying
he "hadn't enough money to pay taxes on his land," and was careful to
convey the impression that he was poor in spite of his twenty farms.
At one time he was said to be worth fifty thousand dollars, but land
had been a little slow of sale of late, so that he was not worth so
A fine farm, known as the Higley place, had fallen into his hands
in the usual way the previous year, and he had not been able to find
a tenant for it. Poor Higley, after working himself nearly to death on
it in the attempt to lift the mortgage, had gone off to Dakota,
leaving the farm and his curse to Butler.
This was the farm which Council advised Haskins to apply for; and
the next day Council hitched up his team and drove down to see Butler.
"You jest let me do the talkin'," he said. "We'll find him wearin'
out his pants on some salt barrel somew'ers; and if he thought you
wanted a place he'd sock it to you hot and heavy. You jest keep
quiet, I'll fix 'im."
Butler was seated in Ben Ashley's store telling fish yarns when
Council sauntered in casually.
"Hello, But; lyin' agin, hey?"
"Hello, Steve! How goes it?"
"Oh, so-so. Too clang much rain these days. I thought it was goin'
t freeze up f'r good last night. Tight squeak if I get m' ploughin'
done. How's farmin' with you these days?"
"Bad. Ploughin' ain't half done."
"It 'ud be a religious idee f'r you t' go out an' take a hand
"I don't haff to," said Butler, with a wink.
"Got anybody on the Higley place?"
"No. Know of anybody?"
"Waal, no; not eggsackly. I've got a relation back t' Michigan
who's ben hot an' cold on the idea o' comin' West f'r some time. Might
come if he could get a good lay-out. What do you talk on the farm?"
"Well, I d' know. I'll rent it on shares or I'll rent it money
"Waal, how much money, say?"
"Well, say ten per cent, on the price two-fifty."
"Wall, that ain't bad. Wait on 'im till 'e thrashes?"
Haskins listened eagerly to this important question, but Council
was coolly eating a dried apple which he had speared out of a barrel
with his knife. Butler studied him carefully.
"Well, knocks me out of twenty-five dollars interest."
"My relation'll need all he's got t' git his crops in," said
Council, in the same, indifferent way.
"Well, all right; say wait," concluded Butler.
"All right; this is the man. Haskins, this is Mr. Butler no
relation to Ben the hardest-working man in Cedar County."
On the way home Haskins said: "I ain't much better off. I'd like
that farm; it's a good farm, but it's all run down, an' so 'm I. I
could make a good farm of it if I had half a show. But I can't stock
it n'r seed it."
"Waal, now, don't you worry," roared Council in his ear. "We'll
pull y' through somehow till next harvest. He's agreed t' hire it
ploughed, an' you can earn a hundred dollars ploughin' an' y' c'n git
the seed o' me, an' pay me back when y' can."
Haskins was silent with emotion, but at last he said, "I ain't got
nothin' t' live on."
"Now, don't you worry 'bout that. You jest make your headquarters
at ol' Steve Council's. Mother'll take a pile o' comfort in havin' y'r
wife an' children 'round.
Y' see, Jane's married off lately, an' Ike's away a good 'eal, so
we'll be darn glad t' have y' stop with us this winter. Nex' spring
we'll see if y' can't git a start agin." And he chirruped to the team,
which sprang forward with the rumbling, clattering wagon. "Say, looky
here, Council, you can't do this. I never saw " shouted Haskins in his
Council moved about uneasily in his seat and stopped his
stammering gratitude by saying: "Hold on, now; don't make such a fuss
over a little thing. When I see a man down, an' things all on top of
'm, I jest like t' kick 'em off an' help 'm up. That's the kind of
religion I got, an' it's about the only kind."
They rode the rest of the way home in silence. And when the red
light of the lamp shone out into the darkness of the cold and windy
night, and he thought of this refuge for his children and wife,
Haskins could have put his arm around the neck of his burly companion
and squeezed him like a lover. But he contented himself with saying,
"Steve Council, you'll git y'r pay f'r this some day."
"Don't want any pay. My religion ain't run on such business
The wind was growing colder, and the ground was covered with a
white frost, as they turned into the gate of the Council farm, and
the children came rushing out, shouting, "Papa's come!" They hardly
looked like the same children who had sat at the table the night
before. Their torpidity, under the influence of sunshine and Mother
Council, had given way to a sort of spasmodic cheerfulness, as insects
in winter revive when laid on the hearth.
Haskins worked like a fiend, and his wife, like the heroic woman
that she was, bore also uncomplainingly the most terrible burdens.
They rose early and toiled without intermission till the darkness
fell on the plain, then tumbled into bed, every bone and muscle
aching with fatigue, to rise with the sun next morning to the same
round of the same ferocity of labor.
The eldest boy drove a team all through the spring, ploughing and
seeding, milked the cows, and did chores innumerable, in most ways
taking the place of a man.
An infinitely pathetic but common figure this boy on the American
farm, where there is no law against child labor. To see him in his
coarse clothing, his huge boots, and his ragged cap, as he staggered
with a pail of water from the well, or trudged in the cold and
cheerless dawn out into the frosty field behind his team, gave the
city-bred visitor a sharp pang of sympathetic pain. Yet Haskins loved
his boy, and would have saved him from this if he could, but he could
By June the first year the result of such Herculean toil began to
show on the farm. The yard was cleaned up and sown to grass, the
garden ploughed and planted, and the house mended.
Council had given them four of his cows.
"Take 'em an' run 'em on shares. I don't want 'o milk s' many.
Ike's away s' much now, Sat'd'ys an' Sund'ys, I can't stand the bother
Other men, seeing the confidence of Council in the newcomer, had
sold him tools on time; and as he was really an able farmer, he soon
had round him many evidences of his care and thrift. At the advice of
Council he had taken the farm for three years, with the privilege of
re-renting or buying at the end of the term.
"It's a good bargain, an' y' want 'o nail it," said Council. "If
you have any kind ov a crop, you c'n pay y'r debts, an' keep seed an'
The new hope which now sprang up in the heart of Haskins and his
wife grew almost as a pain by the time the wide field of wheat began
to wave and rustle and swirl in the winds of July. Day after day he
would snatch a few moments after supper to go and look at it.
"'Have ye seen the wheat t'-day, Nettie?" he asked one night as he
rose from supper.
"No, Tim, I ain't had time."
"Well, take time now. Le's go look at it."
She threw an old hat on her head Tommy's hat and looking almost
pretty in her thin, sad way, went out with her husband to the hedge.
"Ain't it grand, Nettie ? Just look at it."
It was grand. Level, russet here and there, heavy-headed, wide as a
lake, and full of multitudinous whispers and gleams of wealth, it
stretched away before the gazers like the fabled field of the cloth
"Oh, I think I hope we'll have a good crop, Tim; and oh, how good
the people have been to us!"
"Yes; I don't know where we'd be t'-day if it hadn't teen f'r
Council and his wife."
"They're the best people in the world," said the little woman, with
a great sob of gratitude.
"We'll be in the field on Monday sure," said Haskins, gripping the
rail on the fences as if already at the work of the harvest.
The harvest came, bounteous, glorious, but the winds came and blew
it into tangles, and the rain matted it here and there close to the
ground, increasing the work of gathering it threefold.
Oh, how they toiled in those glorious days! Clothing dripping with
sweat, arms aching, filled with briers, fingers raw and bleeding,
backs broken with the weight of heavy bundles, Haskins and his man
toiled on. Tummy drove the harvester, while his father and a hired man
bound on the machine. In this way they cut ten acres every day, and
almost every night after supper, when the hand went to bed, Haskins
returned to the field shocking the bound grain in the light of the
moon. Many a night he worked till his anxious wife came out at ten
o'clock to call him in to rest and lunch. At the same time she cooked
for the men, took care of the children, washed and ironed, milked the
cows at night, made the butter, and sometimes fed the horses and
watered them while her husband kept at the shocking.
No slave in the Roman galleys could have toiled so frightfully and
lived, for this man thought himself a free man, and that he was
working for his wife and babes.
When he sank into his bed with a deep groan of relief, too tired to
change his grimy, dripping clothing, he felt that he was getting
nearer and nearer to a home of his own, and pushing the wolf of want
a little farther from his door.
There is no despair so deep as the despair of a homeless man or
woman. To roam the roads of the country or the streets of the city,
to feel there is no rood of ground on which the feet can rest, to halt
weary and hungry outside lighted windows and hear laughter and song
within, these are the hungers and rebellions that drive men to crime
and women to shame.
It was the memory of this homelessness, and the fear of its coming
again, that spurred Timothy Haskins and Nettie, his wife, to such
ferocious labor during that first year. "'M, yes; 'm, yes;
first-rate," said Butler, as his eye took in the neat garden, the
pig-pen, and the well-filled barnyard. "You're gitt'n' quite a stock
around yeh. Done well, eh?" Haskins was showing Butler around the
place. He had not seen it for a year, having spent the year in
Washington and Boston with Ashley, his brother-in-law, who had been
elected to Congress.
"Yes, I've laid out a good deal of money durin' the last three
years. I've paid out three hundred dollars f'r fencin'."
"Um h'm! I see, I see," said Butler, while Haskins went on:
"The kitchen there cost two hundred; the barn ain't cost much in
money, but I've put a lot o' time on it. I've dug a new well, and I
"Yes, yes, I see. You've done well. Stock worth a thousand dollars,
" said Butler, picking his teeth with a straw.
"About that," said Haskins, modestly. "We begin to feel's if we was
gitt'n' a home f'r ourselves; but we've worked hard. I tell you we
begin to feel it, Mr. Butler, and we're goin' t' begin to ease up
purty soon. We've been kind o' plannin' a trip back t' her folks after
the fall ploughin's done."
"Eggs-actly!" said Butler, who was evidently thinking of something
else. "I suppose you've kind o' calc'lated on stayin' here three years
"Well, yes. Fact is, I think I c'n buy the farm this fall, if
you'll give me a reasonable show."
"Um m! What do you call a reasonable show?"
"Well, say a quarter down and three years' time."
Butler looked at the huge stacks of wheat, which filled the yard,
over which the chickens were fluttering and crawling, catching
grasshoppers, and out of which the crickets were singing innumerably.
He smiled in a peculiar way as he said, "Oh, I won't be hard on yeh.
But what did you expect to pay f'r the place?"
"Why, about what you offered it for before, two thousand five
hundred, or possibly three thousand dollars," he added quickly, as he
saw the owner shake his head.
"This farm is worth five thousand and five hundred dollars," said
Butler, in a careless and decided voice.
"What!" almost shrieked the astounded Haskins. "What's that? Five
thousand ? Why, that's double what you offered it for three years
"Of course, and it's worth it. It was all run down then - now it's
in good shape. You've laid out fifteen hundred dollars in
improvements, according to your own story."
"But you had nothin' t' do about that. It's my work an' my money. "
"You bet it was; but it's my land."
"But what's to pay me for all my "
"Ain't you had the use of 'em?" replied Butler, smiling calmly into
Haskins was like a man struck on the head with a sandbag; he
couldn't think; he stammered as he tried to say: "But I never'd git
the use You'd rob me! More'n that: you agreed you promised that I
could buy or rent at the end of three years at "
"That's all right. But I didn't say I'd let you carry off the
improvements, nor that I'd go on renting the farm at two-fifty. The
land is doubled in value, it don't matter how; it don't enter into the
question; an' now you can pay me five hundred dollars a year rent, or
take it on your own terms at fifty-five hundred, or git out."
He was turning away when Haskins, the sweat pouring from his face,
fronted him, saying again:
"But you've done nothing to make it so. You hadn't added a cent. I
put it all there myself, expectin' to buy. I worked an' sweat to
improve it. I was workin' for myself an' babes "
"Well, why didn't you buy when I offered to sell? What y' kickin'
"I'm kickin' about payin' you twice f'r my own things, my own
fences, my own kitchen, my own garden."
Butler laughed. "You're too green t' eat, young feller. Your
improvements! The law will sing another tune."
"But I trusted your word."
"Never trust anybody, my friend. Besides, I didn't promise not to
do this thing. Why, man, don't look at me like that. Don't take me
for a thief. It's the law. The reg'lar thing. Everybody does it."
"I don't care if they do. It's stealin' jest the same. You take
three thousand dollars of my money the work o' my hands and my
wife's." He broke down at this point. He was not a strong man
mentally. He could face hardship, ceaseless toil, but he could not
face the cold and sneering face of Butler.
"But I don't take it," said Butler, coolly "All you've got to do is
to go on jest as you've been a-coin', or give me a thousand dollars
down, and a mortgage at ten per cent on the rest."
Haskins sat down blindly on a bundle of oats near by, and with
staring eyes and drooping head went over the situation. He was under
the lion's paw. He felt a horrible numbness in his heart and limbs. He
was hid in a mist, and there was no path out.
Butler walked about, looking at the huge stacks of grain, and
pulling now and again a few handfuls out, shelling the heads in his
hands and blowing the chaff away. He hummed a little tune as he did
so. He had an accommodating air of waiting.
Haskins was in the midst of the terrible toil of the last year. He
was walking again in the rain and the mud behind his plough - he felt
the dust and dirt of the threshing. The ferocious husking- time, with
its cutting wind and biting, clinging snows, lay hard upon him. Then
he thought of his wife, how she had cheerfully cooked and baked,
without holiday and without rest.
"Well, what do you think of it?" inquired the cool, mocking,
insinuating voice of Butler.
"I think you're a thief and a liar!" shouted Haskins, leaping up.
"A black-hearted houn'!" Butler's smile maddened him; with a sudden
leap he caught a fork in his hands, and whirled it in the air. "You'll
never rob another man, damn ye!" he grated through his teeth, a look
of pitiless ferocity in his accusing eyes.
Butler shrank and quivered, expecting the blow; stood, held
hypnotized by the eyes of the man he had a moment before despised a
man transformed into an avenging demon. But in the deadly hush between
the lift of the weapon and its fall there came a gush of faint,
childish laughter and then across the range of his vision, far away
and dim, he saw the sun-bright head of his baby girl, as, with the
pretty, tottering run of a two-year-old, she moved across the grass of
the dooryard. His hands relaxed: the fork fell to the ground; his head
"Make out y'r deed an' mor'gage, an' git off'n my land, an' don't
ye never cross my line agin; if y' do, I'll kill ye."
Butler backed away from the man in wild haste, and climbing into
his buggy with trembling limbs drove off down the road, leaving
Haskins seated dumbly on the sunny pile of sheaves, his head sunk
into his hands.
THE CREAMERY MAN
"Along these woods in storm and sun the busy people go."
THE tin-peddler has gone out of the West. Amiable gossip and sharp
trader that he was, his visits once brought a sharp business grapple
to the farmer's wife and daughters, after which, as the man of trade
was repacking his unsold wares, a moment of cheerful talk often took
place. It was his cue, if he chanced to be a tactful peddler, to drop
all attempts at sale and become distinctly human and neighborly.
His calls were not always well received, but they were at their
best pleasant breaks of a monotonous round of duties. But he is no
longer a familiar spot on the landscape. He has passed into the limbo
of the things no longer necessary. His red wagon may be rumbling and
rattling through some newer region, but the "coulee country" knows him
'The creamery man" has taken his place. Every afternoon, rain or
shine, the wagons of the North Star Creamery in "Dutcher's Coulee"
stop at the farmers' windmills to skim the cream from the "submerged
cans." His wagon is not gay; it is generally battered and covered with
mud and filled with tall cans; but the driver himself is generally
young and sometimes attractive. The driver in Molasses Gap, which is a
small coulee leading into Dutcher's Coulee was particularly
good-looking and amusing.
He was aware of his good looks, and his dress not only showed that
he was single, but that he hoped to be married soon. He wore brown
trousers, which fitted him very well, and a dark-blue shirt, which had
a gay lacing of red cord in front, and a pair of suspenders that were
a vivid green. On his head he wore a Chinese straw helmet; which was
as ugly as anything could conceivably be, but he was as proud of it as
he was of his green suspenders. In summer he wore no coat at all, and
even in pretty cold weather he left his vest on his wagon seat, not
being able to bring himself to the point of covering up the red and
green of his attire.
It was noticeable that the women of the neighborhood always came
out, even on washday, to see that Claude (his name was Claude
Willlams) measured the cream properly. There was much banter about
this. Mrs. Kennedy always said she wouldn't trust him "fur's you can
fling a yearlin' bull by the tail."
"Now that's the difference between us," he would reply. "I'd trust
you anywhere. Anybody with such a daughter as your'n"
He seldom got further, for Lucindy always said (in substance),
"Oh, you go 'long."
There need be no mystery in the matter. 'Cindy was the girl for
whose delight he wore the green and red. He made no secret of his
love, and she made no secret of her scorn. She laughed at his green
'spenders and the "red shoestring" in his shirt; but Claude
considered himself very learned in women's ways, by reason of two
years' driving the creamery wagon, and be merely winked at Mrs.
Kennedy when the girl was looking, and kissed his hand at 'Cindy when
her mother was not looking.
He looked forward every afternoon to these little exchanges of wit,
and was depressed when for any reason the womenfolks were away. There
were other places pleasanter than the Kennedy farm-some of "the
Dutchmen" had fine big brick houses and finer and bigger barns, but
their women were mostly homely and went around barefooted and
barelegged, with ugly blue dresses hanging frayed and greasy round
their lank ribs and big joints.
"Some way their big houses have a look like a stable when you get
close to 'em," Claude said to 'Cindy once. "Their women work so much
in the field they don't have any time to fix up-the way you do. I
don't believe in women workin' in the fields." He said this looking
'Cindy in the face. "My wife needn't set her foot outdoors 'less she's
a mind to."
"Oh, you can talk," replied the girl scornfully, "but you'd be like
the rest of 'em." But she was glad that she had on a clean collar and
apron-if it was ironing day.
What Claude would have said further 'Cindy could not divine, for
her mother called her away, as she generally did when she saw her
daughter lingering too long with the creamery man. Claude was not
considered a suitable match for Lucindy Kennedy, whose father owned
one of the finest farms in the coulee. Worldly considerations hold in
Molasses Gap as well as in Bluff Siding and Tyre.
But Claude gave little heed to these moods in Mrs. Kennedy. If
'Cindy sputtered, he laughed; and if she smiled, he rode on whistling
till he came to old man Haldeman's, who owned the whole lower half of
Molasses Gap, and had one ummarried daughter, who thought Claude one
of the handsomest men in the world. She was always at the gate to
greet him as he drove up, and forced sections of cake and pieces of
gooseberry pie upon him each day.
"She's good enough-for a Dutchman," Claude said of her, "but I
hate to see a woman go around looking as if her clothes would drop
off if it rained on her. And on Sundays, when she dresses up, she
looks like a boy rigged out in some girl's cast-off duds."
This was pretty hard on Nina. She was tall and lank and sandy,
with small blue eyes, her limbs were heavy, and she did wear her
Sunday clothes badly, but she was a good, generous soul and very much
in love with the creamery man. She was not very clean, but then she
could not help that; the dust of the field is no respecter of sex. No,
she was not lovely, but she was the only daughter of old Ernest
Haldeman, and the old man was not very strong.
Claude was the daily bulletin of the Gap. He knew whose cow died
the night before, who was at the strawberry dance, and all about Abe
Anderson's night in jail up at the Siding. If his coming was welcome
to the Kennedy's, who took the Bluff Siding Gimlet and the county
paper, how much the more cordial ought his greeting to be at
Haldeman's, where they only took the Milwaukee Weekly Freiheit.
Nina in her poor way had longings and aspirations. She wanted to
marry "a Yankee," and not one of her own kind. She had a little
schooling obtained at the small brick shed under the towering
cottonwood tree at the corner of her father's farm; but her life had
been one of hard work and mighty little play. Her parents spoke in
German about the farm, and could speak English only very brokenly.
Her only brother had adventured into the foreign parts of Pine County
and had been killed in a sawmill. Her life was lonely and hard.
She had suitors among the Germans, plenty of them, but she had a
disgust of them-considered as possible husbands-and though she went
to their beery dances occasionally, she had always in her mind the
ease, lightness, and color of Claude. She knew that the Yankee girls
did not work in the fields-even the Norwegian girls seldom did so now,
they worked out in town-but she had been brought up to hoe and pull
weeds from her childhood, and her father and mother considered it good
for her, and being a gentle and obedient child, she still continued to
do as she was told. Claude pitied the girl, and used to talk with her,
during his short stay, in his cheeriest manner.
"Hello, Nina! How you vass, ain't it? How much cream already you
got this morning? Did you hear the news, not?"
"No, vot hass happened?"
"Everything. Frank Mcvey's horse stepped through the bridge and
broke his leg, and he's going to sue the county-mean Frank is, not
"Iss dot so?"
"Sure! and Bill Hetner had a fight, and Julia Dooriliager's got
"Vot wass Bill fightding apoudt?"
"Oh, drunk-fighting for exercise. Hain't got a fresh pie cut?"
Her face lighted up, and she turned so suddenly to go that her bare
leg showed below her dress. Her unstockinged feet were thrust into
coarse working shoes. Claude wrinkled his nose in disgust, but he took
the piece of green currant pie on the palm of his hand and bit the
acute angle from it.
"First-rate. You do make lickin' good pies," he said Out of pure
kindness of heart, and Nina was radiant.
"She wouldn't be so bad-lookin' if they didn't work her in the
fields like a horse," he said to himself as he drove away.
The neighbors were well aware of Nina's devotion, and Mrs. Smith,
who lived two or three houses down the road, said, "Good evening,
Claude. Seen Nina today?"
"Sure! and she gave me a piece of currant pie-her own make."
"Did you eat it?"
"Did I? I guess yes. I ain't refusin' pie from Nina-not while her
pa has five hundred acres of the best land in Molasses Gap."
Now, it was this innocent joking on his part that started all
Claude's trouble. Mrs. Smith called a couple of days later and had
her joke with 'Cindy.
"'Cindy, your cake's all dough."
"Why, what's the matter now?"
"Claude come along t'other day grinnin' from ear to ear, and some
currant pie in his musstache. He had jest fixed it up with Nina. He
jest as much as said he was after the old man's acres."
"Well, let him have 'em. I don't know as it interests me," replied
'Cindy, waving her head like a banner. "If he wants to sell himself
to that greasy Dutchwoman why, let him, that's all! I don't care."
Her heated manner betrayed her to Mrs. Smith, who laughed with
"Well, you better watch out!"
The next day was very warm, and when Claude drove up under the
shade of the big maples he was ready for a chat while his horses
rested, but 'Cindy was nowhere to be seen. Mrs. Kennedy came out to
get the amount of the skimming and started to re-enter the house
"Where's the young folks?" asked Claude carelessly.
"If you mean Lucindy, she's in the house."
"Ain't sick or nothin', is she?"
"Not that anybody knows of. Don't expect her to be here to gass
with you every time, do ye?"
"Well, I wouldn't mind"' replied Claude. He was too keen not to
see his chance. "In fact, I'd like to have her with me all the time,
Mrs. Kennedy," he said with engaging frankness.
"Well, you can't have her," the mother replied ungraciously.
"What's the matter with me?"
"Oh, I like you well enough, but 'Cindy'd be a big fool to marry a
man without a roof to cover his head."
"That's where you take your inning, sure," Claude replied. "I'm not
much better than a hired hand. Well, now, see here, I'm going to make
a strike one of these days, and then-look out for me! You don't know
but what I've invested in a gold mine. I may be a Dutch lord in
disguise. Better not be brash."
Mrs. Kennedy's sourness could not stand against sueb sweetness and
drollery. She smiled in wry fashion. "You'd better be moving, or
you'll be late."
"Sure enough. If I only had you for a mother-in-law-that's why I'm
so poor. Nobody to keep me moving. If I had someone to do the talking
for me, I'd work." He grinned broadly and drove out.
His irritation led him to say some things to Nina which he would
not have thought of saying the day before. She had been working in
the field and had dropped her hoe to see him.
"Say, Nina, I wouldn't work outdoors such a day as this if I was
you. I'd tell the old man to go to thunder, and I'd go in and wash up
and look decent Yankee women don't do that kind of work, and your old
dad's rich; no use of your sweatin' around a cornfield with a hoe in
your hands. I don't like to see a woman goin' round without stockin's
and her hands all chapped and calloused. It ain't accordin' to Hoyle.
No, sir! I wouldn't stand it. I'd serve an injunction on the old man
A dull, slow flush crept into the girl's face, and she put one hand
over the other as they rested on the fence. One looked so much less
monstrous than two.
Claude went on, "Yes, sir! I'd brace up and go to Yankee meeting
instead of Dutch; you'd pick up a Yankee beau like as not."
He gathered his cream while she stood silently by, and when he
looked at her again she was in deep thought.
"Good day," he said cheerily.
"Goodbye," she replied, and her face flushed again.
It rained that night, and the roads were very bad, and he was late
the next time he arrived at Haldeman's. Nina came out in her best
dress, but he said nothing about it, supposing she was going to town
or something Like that, and he hurried through with his task and had
mounted his seat before he realized that anything was wrong.
Then Mrs. Haldeman appeared at the kitchen door and hurled a lot
of unintelligible German at him. He knew she was mad, and mad at him,
and also' at Nina, for she shook her fist at them alternately.
Singular to tell, Nina paid no attention to her mother's sputter.
She looked at Claude with a certain timid audacity.
"How you like me today?"
"That's better," he said as he eyed her critically. "Now you're
talkin'! I'd do a little reading of the newspaper myself, if I was.
you. A woman's business ain't to work out in the hot sun-it's to cook
and fix up things round the house, and then put on her clean dress and
set in the shade and read or sew on something. Stand up to 'em!
Doggone me if I'd paddle round that hot cornfield with a mess o'
Dutchmen-it ain't decent!"
He drove off with a chuckle at the old man, who was seated at the
back of the house with a newspaper in his hand. He was lame, or
pretended he was, and made his wife and daughter wait upon him.
Claude had no conception of what was working in Nina's mind, but he
could not help observing the changes for the better in her appearance.
Each day he called she was neatly dressed and wore her shoes laced up
to the very top hook.
She was passing through tribulation on his account, but she sald
nothing about it. The old man, her father, no longer spoke to her,
and the mother sputtered continually, but the girl seemed sustained
by some inner power. She calmly went about doing as she pleased, and
no fury of words could check her or turn her aside.
Her hands grew smooth and supple once more, and her face lost the
parboiled look it once had.
Claude noticed all these gains and commented on them with the
freedom of a man who had established friendly relations with a child.
"I tell you what, Nina, you're coming along, sure. Next ground hop
you'll be wearin' silk stockin's and high-heeled shoes. How's the old
man? Still mad?"
"He don't speak to me no more. My mudder says I am a big fool."
"She does? Well, you tell her I think you're just getting
She smiled again, and there was a subtle quality in the mixture of
boldness and timidity of her manner. His praise was so sweet and
"I sold my pigs," she said. "The old man, he wass madt, but I
didn't mind. I pought me a new dress with the money."
"That's right! I like to see a woman have plenty Of new dresses,"
Claude replied. He was really enjoying the girl's rebellion and
Meanwhile his own affairs with Lucindy were in a bad way. He
seldom saw her now. Mrs. Smith was careful to convey to her that
Claude stopped longer than was necessary at Haldeman's, and so Mrs.
Kennedy attended to the matter of recording the cream. Kennedy hersell
was always in the field, and Claude had no opportunity for a
conversation with him, as he very much wished to have. Once, when he
saw 'Cindy in the kitchen at work, he left his team to rest in the
shade and sauntered to the door and looked in.
She was kneading out cake dough, and she looked the loveliest
thing he had ever seen. Her sleeves were rolled up. Her neat brown
dress was covered with a big apron, and her collar was open a liffle
at the throat, for it was warm in the kitchen. She frowned when she
He began jocularly. "Oh, thank you, I can wait till it bakes. No
trouble at all."
"Well, it's a good deal of trouble to me to have you standin' there
gappin' at me!"
"Ain't gappin' at you. I'm waitin' for the pie."
"'Tain't pie; it's cake."
"Oh, well, cake'll do for a change. Say, 'Cindy-"
"Don't call me 'Cindy!"
"Well, Lucindy. It's mighty lonesome when I don't see you on my
"Oh, I guess you can stand it with Nina to talk to."
"Aha! jealous, are you?"
"Jealous of that Dutchwoman! I don't care who you talk to, and you
needn't think it."
Claude was learned in woman's ways, and this pleased him mightily.
"Well, when shall I speak to your daddy?"
"I don't know what you mean, and I don't care."
"Oh, yes, you do. I'm going to come up here next Sunday in my best
bib and tucker, and I'm going to say, 'Mr. Kennedy'-'~
The sound of Mrs. Kennedy's voice and footsteps approaching made
Claude suddenly remember his duties.
"See ye later," he said with a grin. "I'll call for the cake next
"Call till you split your throat, if you want to," said 'Cindy.
Apparently this could have gone on indefinitely, but it didn't.
Lucindy went to Minneapolis for a few weeks to stay with her brother,
and that threw Claude deeper into despair than anything Mrs. Kennedy
might do or any word Lucindy might say. It was a dreadful blow to him
to have her pack up and go so suddenly and without one backward look
at him, and, besides, he had planned taking her to Tyre on the Fourth
Mr. Kennedy, much better-natured than the mother, told Claude
where she had gone.
"By mighty! That's a knock on the nose for me. When did she go?"
"Yistady. I took her down to the Siding."
"When's she coming back?"
"Oh, after the hot weather is over; four or five weeks."
"I hope I'll be alive when she returns," said Claude gloomily.
Naturally he had a little more time to give to Nina and her
remarkable doings, which had set the whole neighborhood to wondering
"what had come over the girl."
She no longer worked in the field. She dressed better, and had
taken to going to the most fashionable church in town. She was a
woman transformed. Nothing was able to prevent her steady progression
and bloom. She grew plumper and fairer and became so much more
attractive that the young Germans thickened round her, and one or two
Yankee boys looked her way. Through it all Claude kept up his
half-humorous banter and altogether serious daily advice, without once
realizing that any-thing sentimental connected him with it all. He
knew she liked him, and sometimes he felt a little annoyed by her
attempts to please him, but that she was doing all that she did and
ordering her whole life to please him never entered his
There wasn't much room left in that head for anyone else except
Lucindy, and his plans for wining her. Plan as he might, he saw no
way of making more than the two dollars a day he was earning as a
Things ran along thus from week to week till it was nearly time for
Lucindy to return. Claude was having his top buggy repainted and was
preparing for a vigorous campaign when Lucindy should be at home
again. He owned his team and wagon and the buggy-nothing more.
One Saturday Mr. Kennedy said, "Lucindy's coming home. I'm going
down after her tonight."
"Let me bring her up," said Claude with suspicious eagerness.
Mr. Kennedy hesitated. "No, I guess I'll go myself. I want to go to
Claude was in high spirits as he drove into Haldeman's yard that
Nina was leaning over the fence singing softly to herself, but a
fierce altercation was going on inside the house. The walls
resounded. It was all Dutch to Claude, but he knew the old people
Nina smiled and colored as Claude drew up at the side gate. She
seemed not to hear the eloquent discussion inside.
"What's going on?" asked Claude.
"Dey tink I am in house."
"My mudder she lock me up."
Claude stared. "Locked you up? What for?"
"She tondt like it dot I come out to see you."
"Oh, she don't?" said Claude. "What's the matter o' me? I ain't a
dangerous chap. I ain't eatin' up little. girls."
Nina went on placidly. "She saidt dot you was goin' to marry me
undt' get the farm."
Claude grinned, then chuckied, and at last roared and whooped with
the delight of it. He took off his hat and said:
"She said that, did she? Why, bless her old cabbage head-"
The opening of the door and the sudden irruption of Frau Haldeman
interrupted him. She came rushing toward him like a she grizzly bear,
uttering a torrent of German expletives, and hurled herself upon him,
clutching at his hair and throat. He leaped aside and struck down her
hands with a sweep of his hard right arm. As she turned to come again
"Keep off! or I'll knock you down!"
But before the blow came Nina seized the infuriated woman from
behind and threw her down, and held her till the old man came
hobbling to the rescue. He seemed a little dazed by it all and made
no effort to assault Claude.
The old woman, who was already black in the face with rage,
suddenly fell limp, and Nina, kneeling beside her, grew white with
"Oh, vat is the matter! I hat kildt her!"
Claude rushed for a bucket of water and dashed it in the old
woman's œace. He flooded her with slashings of it, especially after
he saw her open her eyes, ending by emptying the bucket in her face.
He was a little malicious about that.
The mother sat up soon, wet, scared, bewildered, gasping.
"Mein Gott! Mein Gotd Ich bin ertrinken!"
"What does she say-she's been drinkin'? Well, that looks
"No, no-she thinks she is trouned."
"Oh, drowned!" Claude roared again. "Not much she ain't. She's
only just getting cooled off."
He helped the girl get her mother to the house and stretch her out
on a bed. The old woman seemed to have completely exhausted herself
with her effort and submitted like a child to be waited upon. Her
sudden fainting had subdued her.
Claude had never penetrated so far into the house before, and was
much pleased with the neatness and good order of the rooms, though
they were bare of furniture and carpets.
As the girl came out with him to the gate he uttered the most
serious word he had ever had with her
"Now, I want you to notice," he said, "that I did nothing to call
out the old lady's rush at me. I'd 'a' hit her, sure, if she'd 'a'
clinched me again. I don't believe in striking a woman, but she was
after my hide for the time bein', and I can't stand two such clutches
in the same place. You don't blame me, I hope."
"No. You done choost ride."
"What do you suppose the old woman went for me for?"
Nina looked down uneasily.
"She know you an' me lige one anudder, an' she is afrait you marry
me, an' den ven she tie you get the farm a-ready."
Claude whisfied. "Great Jehosaphat! She really thinks that, does
she? Well, dog my cats! What put that idea into her head?"
"I told her," said Nina calmly.
"You told her?" Claude turned and stared at her. She looked down,
and her face slowly grew to a deep red. She moved uneasily from one
foot to the' other, like an awkward, embarrassed child. As he looked
at her standing like a culprit before him, his first impulse was to
laugh. He was not specially refined, but he was a kindly man, and it
suddenly occurred to 'him that the girl was suffering.
"Well, you were mistaken," he said at last, gently enough. "I don't
know why you should think so, but I never thought of marrying
you-never thought of it."
The flush faded from her face, and she stopped swaying. She lifted
her eyes to his in a tearful, appealing stare.
"I t'ought so-you made me t'ink so."
"I did? How? I never said a word to you about-liking you
or-marrying-or anything like that. I-" He was going to tell her he
intended to marry Lucindy, but he checked himself.
Her lashes fell again, and the tears began to stream down her
cheeks. She knew the worst now. His face had convinced her. She could
not tell him the grounds of her belief-that every time he had said, "I
don't like to see a woman do -this or that," or, "I like to see a
woman fix up around the house," she had considered his words in the
light of courtship, believing that in such ways the Yankees made love.
So she stood suffering dumbly while he loaded his cream can and stood
by the wheel ready to mount his wagon.
He turned. "I'm mighty sorry about it," he said. "Mebbe I was to
blame. I didn't mean nothing by it-not a thing. It was all a mistake.
Let's shake hands over it and call the whole business off."
He held his hand out to her, and with a low cry she seized it and
laid her cheek upon it. He started back in amazement and drew his
hand away. She fell upon her knees in the path and covered her face
with her apron, while he hastily mounted his seat and drove away.
Nothing so profoundly moving had come into his life since the
death of his mother, and as he rode on down the road he did a great
deal of thinking. First it gave him a pleasant sensation to think a
woman should care so much for him. He had lived a homeless life for
years and had come into intimate relations with few women, good or
bad. They had always laughed with him (not at him, for Claude was able
to take care of himself), and no woman before had taken him seriously,
and there was a certain charm about the realization.
Then he fell to wondering what he had said or done to give the girl
such a notion of his purposes. Perhaps he had been too free with his
talk. He was so troubled that he hardly smiled once during the rest of
his circuit, and at night he refrained from going up town, and sat
under the trees back of the creamery and smoked and pondered on the
He came at last to the resolution that it was his duty to declare
himself to Lucindy and end all uncertainty, so that no other woman
would fall into Nina's error. He was as good as an engaged man, and
the world should know it.
The next day, with his newly painted buggy flashing in the sun,
and the extra dozen ivory rings he had purchased for his harnesses
clashing together, he drove up the road as a man of leisure and a
resolved lover. It was a beautiful day in August.
Lucindy was getting a light tea for some friends up from the
Siding, when she saw Claude drive up.
"Well, for the land sake!" she broke out, using one of her mother's
phrases, "if here isn't that creamery man!" In that phrase lay the
answer to Claude's question-if he had heard it. He drove in, and Mr.
Kennedy, with impartial hospitality, went out and asked hiin to 'light
and put his team in the barn.
He did so, feeling very much exhilarated. He never before had gone
courting in this direct and aboveboard fashion. He mistook the
father's hospitality for compliance in his designs. He followed his
host into the house and faced, with very fair composure, two girls who
smiled broadly as they shook hands with him. Mrs. Kennedy gave him a
lax hand and a curt how-de-do, and Lucindy fairly scowled in answer to
his radiant smile.
She was much changed, he could see. She wore a dress with puffed
sleeves, and her hair was dressed differently. She seemed strange and
distant, but he thought she was "putting that on" for the benefit of
others. At the table the three girls talked of things at the Siding
and ignored him so that he was obliged to turn to Farmer Kennedy for
refuge. He kept his courage up by thinking, "Wait till we are alone."
After supper, when Lucindy explained that the dishes would have to
be washed, he offered to help her in his best manner.
"Thank you, I don't need any help," was Lucindy's curt reply.
Ordinarily he was a man of much facility and ease in addressing
women, but be was vastly disconcerted by her manner. He sat rather
silently waiting for the room to clear. When the visitors intimated
that they must go, he rose with cheerful alacrity.
"I'll get your horse for you."
He helped hitch the horse into the buggy, and helped the girls in
with a return of easy gallantry, and watched them drive off with joy.
At last the field was clear.
They returned to the sitting room, where the old folks remained for
a decent interval, and then left the young people alone. His courage
returned then, and he turned toward her with resolution in his voice
"Lucindy," he began.
"Miss Kennedy, please," interrupted Lucindy with cutting emphasis.
"I'll be darned if I do," he replied hotly. "What's the matter with
you? Since going to Minneapolis you put on a lot of city airs, it
seems to me."
"If you don't like my airs, you know what you can do!"
He saw his mistake.
"Now see here, Lucindy, there's no sense in our quarreling."
"I don't want to quarrel; I don't want anything to do with you. I
wish I'd never seen you."
"Oh, you don't mean that! After all the good talks we've had."
She flushed red. "I never had any such talks with you."
He pursued his advantage.
"Oh, yes, you did, and you took pains that I should see you."
"I didn't; no such thing. You came poking into the kitchen where
you'd no business to be."
"Say, now, stop fooling. You like me and-"
"I don't. I hate you, and if you don't clear out I'll call father.
You're one o' these kind o' men that think if a girl looks at 'em that
they want to marry 'em. I tell you I don't want anything more to do
with you, and I'm engaged to another man, and I wish you'd attend to
your own business. So there! I hope you're satisfied."
Claude sat for nearly a minute in silence, then he rose. "I guess
you're right. I've made a mistake. I've made a mistake in the girl."
He spoke with a curious hardness in his voice. "Good evening, Miss
He went out with dignity and in good order. His retreat was not
ludicrous. He left the girl with the feeling that she had lost her
temper and with the knowledge that she had uttered a lie.
He put his horses to the buggy with a mournful self-pity as he saw
the wheels glisten. He had done all this for a scornful girl who
could not treat him decently. 'As he drove slowly down the road he
mused deeply. It was a knock-down blow, surely. He was a just man, so
far as he knew, and as he studied the situation over he could not
blame the girl. In the light of her convincing wrath he comprehended
that the sharp things she had said to him in the past were not
make-believe-not love taps, but real blows. She had not been
coquetting. with him; she had tried to keep him away. She considered
herself too good for a hired man. Well, maybe she' was. Anyhow, she
had gone out of his reach, hopelessly.
As he came past the Haldemans' he saw Nina sitting out under the
trees in the twifight. On the impulse he pulled in. His mind took
another turn. Here was a woman who was open and aboveboard in her
affection. Her words meant what they stood for. He remembered how she
had bloomed out the last few months. She has the making of a handsome
woman in her, he thought.
She saw him and came out to the gate, and while he leaned out of
his carriage she rested her arms on the gate and looked up at him.
She looked pale and sad, and he was touched.
"How's the old lady?" he asked.
"Oh, she's up! She is much change-ed. She is veak and quiet"
"Quiet, is she? Well, that's good."
"She t'inks God strike her fer her vickedness. Never before did she
fainted like dot."
"Well, don't spoil that notion in her. It may do her a world of
"Der priest come. He saidt it wass a punishment. She saidt I should
marry who I like."
Claude looked at her searchingly. She was certainly much improved.
All she needed was a little encouragement and advice, and she would
make a handsome wife. If the old lady had softened down, her
son-in-law could safely throw up the creamery job and become the boss
of the farm. The old man was used up, and the farm needed someone
He straightened up suddenly. "Get your hat," he sald, "and we'll
take a ride."
She started erect, and he could see her pale face glow with joy.
"With me. Get your best hat. We may turn up at the minister's and
get married-if a Sunday marriage is legal."
As she hurried up the walk he said to himself, "I'll bet it gives
Lucindy a shock!"
And the thought pleased him mightily.
A DAY'S PLEASURE
"Mainly it is long and weariful, and has a home o' toil at one end
and a dull little town at the other."
WHEN Markham came in from shoveling his last wagon-load of corn
into the crib, he found that his wife had put the children to bed, and
was kneading a batch of dough with the dogged action of a tired and
He slipped his soggy boots off his feet and, having laid a piece of
wood on top of the stove, put his heels on it comfortably. His chair
squeaked as he leaned back on its hind legs, but he paid no
attention; he was used to it, exactly as he was used to his wife's
lameness and ceaseless toil.
"That closes up my corn," he said after a silence. "I guess I'll go
to town tomorrow to git my horses shod."
"I guess I'll git ready and go along," said his wife in a sorry
attempt to be firm and confident of tone.
"What do you want to go to town fer?" he grumbled. "What does
anybody want to go to town fer?" she burst out, facing him. "I ain't
been out o' this house fer six months, while you go an' go!"
"Oh, it ain't six months. You went down that day I got the mower."
"When was that? The tenth of July, and you know it."
"Well, mebbe 'twas. I didn't think it was so long ago. I ain't no
objection to your goin', only I'm goin' to take a load of wheat."
"Well, jest leave off a sack, an' that'll balance me an' the baby,"
she said spiritedly.
"All right," he replied good-naturedly, seeing she was roused.
"Only that wheat ought to be put up tonight if you're goin'. You
won't have any time to hold sacks for me in the morning with them
young ones to get off to school."
"Well, let's go do it then," she said, sullenly resolute.
"I hate to go out agin; but I s'pose we'd better."
He yawned dismally and began pulling his boots on again, stamping
his swollen feet into them with grunts of pain. She put on his coat
and one of the boy's caps, and they went out to the granary. The night
was cold and clear.
"Don't look so much like snow as it did last night," said Sam. "It
may turn warm."
Laying out the sacks in the light of the lantern, they sorted out
those which were whole, and Sam climbed into the bin with a tin pail
in his hand, and the work began.
He was a sturdy fellow, and he worked desperately fast; the
shining tin pail dived deep into the cold wheat and dragged heavily
on the woman's tired hands as it came to the mouth of the sack, and
she trembled with fatigue, but held on and dragged the sacks away when
filled, and brought others, till at last Sam climbed out, puffing and
wheezing, to tie them up.
"I guess I'll load 'em in the morning," he said. "You needn't wait
fer me. I'll tie 'em up alone."
"Oh, I don't mind," she replied, feeling a little touched by his
unexpectedly easy acquiescence to her request. When they went back to
the house the moon had risen.
It had scarcely set when they were wakened by the crowing
roosters. The man rolled stiffly out of bed and began rattling at the
stove in the dark, cold kitchen.
His wife arose lamer and stiffer than usual and began twisting her
thin hair into a knot.
Sam did not stop to wash, but went out to the barn. The woman,
however, hastily soused her face into the hard limestone water at the
sink and put the kettle on. Then she called the children. She knew it
was early, and they would need several callings. She pushed breakfast
forward, running over in her mind the things she must have: two spools
of thread, six yards of cotton flannel, a can of coffee, and mittens
for Kitty. These she must have-there were oceans of things she needed.
The children soon came scudding down out of the darkness of the
upstairs to dress tumultuously at the kitchen stove. They humped and
shivered, holding up their bare feet from the cold floor, like
chickens in new fallen snow. They were irritable, and snarled and
snapped and struck like cats and dogs. Mrs. Markham stood it for a
while with mere commands to "hush up," but at last her patience gave
out, and she charged down on the struggling mob and cuffed them right
They ate their breakfast by lamplight, and when Sam went back to
his work around the barnyard it was scarcely dawn. The children, left
alone with their mother, began to tease her to let them go to town
"No, sir-nobody goes but baby. Your father's goin' to take a load
She was weak with the worry of it all when she had sent the older
children away to school, and the kitchen work was finished. She went
into the cold bedroom off the little sitting room and put on her best
dress. It had never been a good fit, and now she was getting so thin
it hung in wrinkled folds everywhere about the shoulders and waist.
She lay down on the bed a moment to ease that dull pam in her back.
She had a moment's distaste for going out at all. The thought of sleep
was more alluring. Then the thought of the long, long day, and the
sickening sameness of her life, swept over her again, and she rose.
and prepared the baby for the journey.
It was but little after sunrise when Sam drove out into the road
and started for Belleplain. His wife sat perched upon the wheat sacks
behind him, holding the baby in her lap, a cotton quilt under her,
and a cotton horse blanket over her knees.
Sam was disposed to be very good-natured, and he talked back at
her occasionally, though she could only under-stand him when he
turned his face toward her. The baby stared out at the passing fence
posts and wiggled his hands out of his mittens at every opportunity.
He was merry, at least.
It grew warmer as they went on, and a strong south wind arose. The
dust settled upon the woman's shawl and hat. Her hair loosened and
blew unkemptly about her face. The road which led across the high,
level prairie was quite smooth and dry, but still it jolted her, and
the pam in her back increased. She had nothing to lean against, and
the weight of the child grew greater, till she was forced to place him
on the sacks beside her, though she could not loose her hold for a
The town drew in sight-a cluster of small frame houses and stores
on the dry prairie beside a railway station. There were no trees yet
which could be called shade trees. The pitilessly severe light of the
sun flooded everything. A few teams were hitched about, and in the
lee of the stores a few men could be seen seated comfortably, their
broad hat rims flopping up and down, their faces brown as leather.
Markham put his wife out at one of the grocery stores and drove
off down toward the elevators to sell his wheat.
The grocer greeted Mrs. Markham in. a perfunctorily kind manner
and offered her a chair, which she took gratefully. She sat for a
quarter of an hour almost without moving, leaning against the back of
the high chair. At last the child began to get restless and
troublesome, and she spent half an hour helping him amuse himself
around the nail kegs.
At length she rose and went out on the walk, carrying the baby.
She went into the dry-goods store and took a seat on one of the
little revolving stools. A woman was buying some woolen goods for a
dress. It was worth twenty-seven cents a yard, the clerk said, but he
would knock off two cents if she took ten yards. It looked warm, and
Mrs. Markham wished she could afford it for Mary.
A pretty young girl came in, and laughed and chatted with the
clerk, and bought a pair of gloves. She was the daughter of the
grocer. Her happiness made the wife and mother sad. When Sam came
back she asked him for some money.
"Want you want to do with it?" he asked.
"I want to spend it," she said.
She was not to be trifled with, so he gave her a dollar.
"I need a dollar more."
"Well, I've got to go take up that note at the bank."
"Well, the children's got to have some new underclo'es," she said.
He handed her a two-dollar bill and then went out to pay his note.
She bought her cotton flannel and mittens and thread, and then sat
leaning against the counter. It was noon, and she was hungry. She
went out to the wagon, got the lunch she had brought, and took it
into the grocery to eat it-where she could get a drink of water.
The grocer gave the baby a stick of candy and handed the mother an
"It'll kind o' go down with your doughnuts," he said. After eating
her lunch she got up and went out. She felt ashamed to sit there any
longer. She entered another dry-goods store, but when the clerk came
toward her saying, "Anything today, Mrs.-?" she answered, "No, I guess
not," and turned away with foolish face.
She walked up and down the street, desolately home-less. She did
not know what to do with herself. She knew no one except the grocer.
She grew bitter as she saw a couple of ladies pass, holding their
demitrains in the latest city fashion. Another woman went by pushing a
baby carriage, in which sat a child just about as big as her own. It
was bouncing itself up and down on the long slender springs and
laughing and shouting. Its clean round face glowed from its pretty
fringed hood. She looked down at the dusty clothes and grimy face of
her own little one and walked on savagely.
She went into the drugstore where the soda fountain was, but it
made her thirsty to sit there, and she went out on the street again.
She heard Sam laugh and saw him in a group of men over by the
blacksmith shop. He was having a good time and had forgotten her.
Her back ached so intolerably that she concluded to go in and rest
once more in the grocer's chair. The baby was growing cross and
fretful. She bought five cents' worth of candy to take home to the
children and gave baby a little piece to keep him quiet. She wished
Sam would come. It must be getting late. The grocer said it was not
much after one. Time seemed terribly long. She felt that she ought to
do something while she was in town. She ran over her purchases-yes,
that was all she had planned to buy. She fell to figuring on the
things she needed. It was terrible. It ran away up into twenty or
thirty dollars at the least. Sam, as well as she, needed underwear for
the cold winter, but they would have to wear the old ones, even if
they were thin and ragged. She would not need a dress, she thought
bitterly, because she never went anywhere. She rose, and went out on
the street once more, and wandered up and down, looking at everything
in the hope of enjoying something.
A man from Boon Creek backed a load of apples up to the sidewalk,
and as he stood waiting for the grocer he noticed Mrs. Markham and the
baby, and gave the baby an apple. This was a pleasure. He had such a
hearty way about him. He on his part saw an ordinary farmer's wife
with dusty dress, unkempt hair, and tired face. He did not know
exactly whey she appealed to him, but he tried to cheer her up.
The grocer was familiar with these bedraggled and weary wives. He
was accustomed to see them sit for hours in his big wooden chair and
nurse tired and fretful children. Their forlorn, aimless, pathetic
wandering up and down the street was a daily occurrence, and had never
possessed any special meaning to him.
In a cottage around the corner from the grocery store two men and
a woman were finishing a dainty luncheon. The woman was dressed in
cool, white garments, and she seemed to make the day one of perfect
The home of the Honorable Mr. Hall was by no means the costliest
in the town, but his wife made it the most attractive. He was one of
the leading lawyers of the county and a man of culture and
progressive views. He was entertaining a friend who had lectured the
night before in the Congregational church.
They were by no means in serious discussion. The talk was rather
frivolous. Hall had the ability to caricature men with a few gestures
and attitudes, and was giving to his Eastern friend some descriptions
of the old-fashioned Western lawyers he had met in his practice. He
was very amusing, and his guest laughed heartily for a time.
But suddenly Hall became aware that Otis was not listening. Then
he perceived that he was peering out of the window at someone, and
that on his face a look of bitter sadness was falling.
Hall stopped. "What do you see, Otis?"
Otis replied, "I see a forlorn, weary woman."
Mrs. Hall rose and went to the window. Mrs. Markham was walking by
the house, her baby in her arms. Savage anger and weeping were in her
eyes and on her lips, and there was hopeless tragedy in her shambling
walk and weak back.
In the silence Otis went on: "I saw the poor, dejected creature
twice this morning. I couldn't forget her."
"Who is she?" asked Mrs. Hall very softly.
"Her name is Markham; she's Sam Markham's wife," said Hall.
The young wife led the way into the sitting room, and the men took
seats and lit their cigars. Hall was meditating a diversion when Otis
"That woman came to town today to get a change, to have a little
play spell, and she's wandering around like a starved and weary cat.
I wonder if there is a woman in this town with sympathy enough and
courage enough to go out and help that woman? The saloonkeepers, the
politicians, and the grocers make it pleasant for the man-so pleasant
that he forgets his wife. But the wife is left without a word."
Mrs. Hall's work dropped, and on her pretty face was a look of
pain. The man's harsh words had wounded her-and wakened her. She took
up her hat and hurried out on the walk. The men looked at each other,
and then the husband said:
"It's going to be a little sultry for the men around these
diggings. Suppose we go out for a walk."
Delia felt a hand on her arm as she stood at the corner. "You look
tired, Mrs. Markham; won't you come in a little while? I'm Mrs.
Mrs. Markham turned with a scowl on her face and a biting word on
her tongue, but something in the sweet, round little face of the other
woman silenced her, and her brow smoothed out.
"Thank you kindly, but it's most time to go home. I'm looking fer
Mr. Markham now."
"Oh, come in a little while; the baby is cross and tried out;
Mrs. Markham yielded to the friendly voice, and t~ gether the two
women reached the gate just as two men hurriedly turned the other
"Let me relieve you," said Mrs. Hall.
The mother hesitated: "He's so dusty."
"Oh, that won't matter. Oh, what a big fellow he is! I haven't any
of my own," said Mrs. Hall, and a look passed like an electric spark
between the two women, and Delia was her willing guest from that
They went into the little sitting room, so dainty and lovely to the
farmer's wife, and as she sank into an easy-chair she was faint and
drowsy with the pleasure of it. She submitted to being brushed. She
gave the baby into the hands of the Swedish girl, who washed its face
and hands and sang it to sleep, while its mother sipped some tea.
Through it all she lay back in her easychair, not speaking a word,
while the ache passed out of her back, and her hot, swollen head
ceased to throb.
But she saw everything-the piano, the pictures, the curtains, the
wallpaper, the little tea stand. They were almost as grateful to her
as the food and fragrant tea. Such housekeeping as this she had never
seen. Her mother had worn her kitchen floor thin as brown paper in
keeping a speckless house, and she had been in houses that were larger
and costlier, but something of the charm of her hostess was in the
arrangement of vases, chairs, or pictures. It was tasteful.
Mrs. Hall did not ask about her affairs. She talked to her about
the sturdy little baby and about the things upon which Delia's eyes
dwelt. If she seemed interested in a vase she was told what it was
and where it was made. She was shown all the pictures and books. Mrs.
Hall seemed to read her visitor's mind. She kept as far from the farm
and her guest's affairs as possible, and at last she opened the piano
and sang to her-not slow-moving hymns, but catchy love songs full of
sentiment, and then played some simple melodies, knowing that Mrs.
Markham's eyes were studying her hands, her rings, and the flash of
her fingers on the keys-seeing more than she heard-and through it all
Mrs. Hall conveyed the impression that she, too, was having a good
The rattle of the wagon outside roused them both. Sam was at the
gate for her. Mrs. Markham rose hastily. "Oh, it's almost sundown!"
she gasped in astonishment as she looked out of the window.
"Oh, that won't kill anybody," replied her hostess. "Don't hurry.
Carrie, take the baby out to the wagon for Mrs. Markham while I help
her with her things."
"Oh, I've had such a good time," Mrs. Markham said as they went
down the little walk.
"So have I," replied Mrs. Hall. She took the baby a moment as her
guest climbed in. "Oh, you big, fat fellow!" she cried as she gave
him a squeeze. "You must bring your wife in oftener, Mr. Markham,"
she said as she handed the baby up.
Sam was staring with amazement
"Thank you, I will," he finally managed to say.
"Good night," said Mrs. Markham.
"Good night, dear," called Mrs. Hall, and the wagon began to rattle
The tenderness and sympathy in her voice brought the tears to
Delia's eyes not hot nor bitter tears, but tears that cooled her eyes
and cleared her mind.
The wind had gone down, and the red sunlight fell mistily over the
world of corn and stubble. The crickets were strn chirping, and the
feeding cattle were drifting toward the farmyards. The day had been
made beautiful by human sympathy.
MRS. RIPLEY'S TRIP
"And in winter the winds sweep the snows across it."
Thn night was in windy November, and the blast, threatening rain,
roared around the poor little shanty of "Uncle Ripley," set like a
chicken trap on the vast Iowa prairie. Uncle Ethan was mending his
old violin, with many York State "dums!" and "I gal darns!" totally
oblivious of his tireless old wife, who, having "finished the supper
dishes," sat knitting a stocking, evidently for the little grandson
who lay before the stove like a cat. Neither of the old people wore
glasses, and their light was a tallow candle; they couldn't afford
"none o' them newfangled lamps." The room was small, the chairs
wooden, and the walls bare-a home where poverty was a never-absent
guest. The old lady looked pathetically little, wizened, and hopeless
in her ill-fitting garments (whose original color had long since
vanished), intent as she was on the stocking in her knotted, stiffened
fingers, but there was a peculiar sparkle in her little black eyes,
and an unusual resolution in the straight line of her withered and
shapeless lips. Suddenly she paused, stuck a needle in the spare knob
of hair at the back of her head, and looking at Ripley, said
decisively: "Ethan Ripley, you'll haff to do your own cooking from now
on to New Year's; I'm goin' back to Yaark State."
The old man's leather-brown face stiffened into a look of quizzical
surprise for a moment; then he cackled in-credulously: "Ho! Ho! har!
Sho! be y', now? I want to know if y' be."
"Well, you'll find out."
"Goin' to start tomorrow, Mother?"
"No, sir, I ain't; but I am on Thursday. I want to get to Sally's
by Sunday, sure, an' to Silas's on Thanksgivin'."
There was a note in the old woman's voice that brought genuine
stupefaction into the face of Uncle Ripley. Of course, in this case,
as in all others, the money consideration was uppermost.
"Howgy 'xpect to get the money, Mother? Anybody died an' left yeh
"Never you mind where I get the mony so 's 't tiy don't haff to
bear it. The land knows, if I'd a-waited for you to pay my way-"
"You needn't twit me of bein' poor, old woman," said Ripley,
flaming up after the manner of many old people. "I've done my part t'
get along. I've worked day in and day out-"
"Oh! I ain't done no work, have I?" snapped she, laying down the
stocking and leveling a needle at him, and putting a frightful
emphasis on "I."
"I didn't say you hadn't done no work."
"Yes, you did!"
"I didn't, neither. I said
"I know what you said."
"I said I'd done my part!" roared the husband, dominating her as
usual by superior lung power. "I didn't say you hadn't done your
part," he added with an unfortunate touch of emphasis on "say."
"I know y' didn't say it, but y' meant it. I don't know what y'
call doin' my part, Ethan Ripley; but if cookin' for a drove of
harvest hands and thrashin' hands, takin' care o' the eggs and butter,
'n' diggin' taters an' milkin' ain't my part, I don't never expect to
do my part, 'n' you might as well know it fust 's last. I'm sixty
years old," she went on with a little break in her harsh voice,
dominating him now by woman's logic, "an' I've never had a day to
my-self, not even Fourth o' July. If I've went a-visitin' 'r to a
picnic, I've had to come home an' milk 'n' get supper for you
menfolks. I ain't been away t' stay overnight for thirteen years in
this house, 'n' it was just so in Davis County for ten more. For
twenty-three years, Ethan Ripley, I've stuck right to the stove an'
churn without a day or a night off." Her voice choked again, but she
rarned and continued impressively, "And now I'm a-goin' back to Yaark
Ethan was vanquished. He stared at her in speechless surprise, his
jaw hanging. It was incredible.
"For twenty-three years," she went on musingly, "I've just about
promised myself every year I'd go back an' see my folks." She was
distinctly talking to herself now, and her voice had a touching,
wistful cadence. "I've wanted to go back an' see the old folks, an'
the hills where we played, an' eat apples off the old tree down by
the old well. I've had them trees an' hills in my mind days and
days-nights, too-an' the girls I used to know, an' my own folks-"
She fell into a silent muse, which lasted so long that the ticking
of the clock grew loud as the gong in the man's ears, and the wind
outside seemed to sound drearier than usual. He returned to the money
problem, kindly, though.
"But how y' goin' t' raise the money? I ain't got no extra cash
this time. Agin Roach is paid an' the mortgage interest paid we ain't
got no hundred dollars to spare, Jane, not by a jugful."
"Waal, don't you lay awake nights studyin' on where I'm a-goin' to
get the money," said the old woman, taking delight in mystifying him.
She had him now, and he couldn't escape. He strove to show his
indifference, however, by playing a tune or two on the violin.
"Come, Tukey, you better climb the wooden hill," Mrs. Ripley said
a half hour later to the little chap on the floor, who was beginning
to get drowsy under the influence of his grandpa's fiddling. "Pa, you
had orta 'a put that string in the clock today-on the 'larm side the
string is broke," she said upon returning from the boy's bedroom. "I
orta get up extry early tomorrow to get some sewin' done. Land knows,
I can't fix up much, but they is a leetle I c'n do. I want to look
They were alone now, and they both sat expectantly. "You 'pear to
think, Mother, that I'm agin yer goin'." "Waal, it would kinder seem
as if y' hadn't hustled yerself any t' help me git off."
He was smarting under the sense of being wronged. "Waal, I'm jest
as willin' you should go as I am for myself; but if I ain't got no
money, I don't see how I'm goin' to send-"
"I don't want ye to send; nobody ast ye to, Ethan Ripley. I guess
if I had what I've earnt since we came on this farm, I'd have enough
to go to Jericho with."
"You've got as much out of it as I have. You talk about your gom'
back. Ain't I been wantin' to go back myself? And ain't I kep' still
'cause I see it wa'n't no use? I guess I've worked jest as long and as
hard as you, an' in storms an' mud an' heat, ef it comes t' that."
The woman was staggered, but she wouldn't give up; she must get m
one more thrust.
"Waal, if you'd 'a managed as well as I have, you'd have some
money to go with." And she rose, and went to mix her bread, and set
it "raisin'." He sat by the fire twanging his fiddle softly. He was
plainly thrown into gloomy retrospectlon, something quite unusual for
him. But his fingers picking out the bars of a familiar tune set him
to smiling, and, whipping his bow across the strings, he forgot all
about his wife's resolutions and his own hardships. Trouble always
slid off his back like "punkins off a haystack" anyway.
The old man still sat fiddling softly after his wife disappeared in
the hot and stuffy little bedroom off the kitchen. His shaggy head
bent lower over his violin. He heard her shoes drop-one, two. Pretty
soon she called:
"Come, put up that squeakin' old fiddle and go to bed. Seems as if
you orta have sense enough not to set there keepin' everybody in the
"You hush up," retorted he. "I'll come when I git ready, not till.
I'll be glad when you're gone-"
"Yes, I warrant that."
With which arniable good nlght they went off to sleep, or at least
she did, while he lay awake, pondering on "where under the sun she
was goin' t' raise that money."
The next day she was up bright and early, working away on her own
affairs, ignoring Ripley totally, the fixed look of resolutlon still
on her little old wrinkled face. She killed a hen and dressed and
baked it She fried up a pan of doughnuts and made a cake. She was
engaged on the doughnuts when a neighbor came in, one of those women
who take it as a personal affront when anyone in the neighborhood does
anything without asking their advice. She was fat, and could talk a
man blind in three minutes by the watch.
"What's this I hear, Mis' Ripley?"
"I dun know. I expect you hear about all they is goin' on in this
neighborhood," replied Mrs. Ripley with crushing bluntness; but the
gossip did not flinch.
"Well, Sett Turner told me that her husband told her that Ripley
told him that you was goin' back East on a visit."
"Waal, what of it?"
"Well, air yeh?"
"The Lord willin' an' the weather permitin', I expect to be."
"Good land, I want to know! Well, well! I never was so astonished
in my life. I said, says I, 'It can't be.' 'Well,' ses 'e, 'tha's what
she told me,' ses 'e. 'But,' ses I, 'she is the last woman in the
world to go gallivantin' off East,' ses I. An' ses he, 'But it comes
from good authority,' ses he. 'Well, then, it must be so,' ses I. But,
land sakes! do tell me all about it. How come you to make up y'r mind?
Ail these years you've been kind a-talkin' it over, an' now y'r
actshelly goin'-Waal, I never! 'I s'pose Ripley furnishes the money,'
ses I to him. 'Well, no,' ses 'e. 'Ripley says he'll be blowed if he
sees where the money's comin' from,' ses 'e; and ses I, 'But maybe
she's jest jokin',' ses I. 'Not much,' he says. S' 'e: 'Ripley
believes she's goin' fast enough. He's jest as anxious to find out as
Here Mrs. Doudney paused for breath; she had walked so fast and
had rested so little that her interminable flow of "ses I's" and "ses
he's" ceased necessarily. She had reached, moreover, the point of
most vital interest-the money.
"An' you'll find out jest 'bout as soon as he does," was the dry
response from the figure hovering over the stove, and with all her
maneuvering that was all she got.
All day Ripley went about his work exceedingly thoughtful for him.
It was cold, blustering weather. The wind rustled among the cornstalks
with a wild and mournful sound, the geese and ducks went sprawling
down the wind, and horses' coats were ruffled and backs raised.
The old man was husking corn alone in the field, his spare form
rigged out in two or three ragged coats, his hands inserted in a pair
of gloves minus nearly all the fingers, his thumbs done up in
"stalls," and his feet thrust into huge coarse boots. During the
middle of the day the frozen ground thawed, and the mud stuck to his
boots, and the "down ears" wet and chapped his hands, already worn to
the quick. Toward night it grew colder and threatened snow. In spite
of all these attacks he kept his cheerfulness, and though he was very
tired, he was softened in temper.
Having plenty of time to think matters over, he had come to the
conclusion "that the old woman needed a play spell. I ain't likely to
be no richer next year than I am this one; if I wait till I'm able to
send her she won't never go. I calc'late I c'n git enough out o' them
shoats to send her. I'd kind a 'lotted on eat'n' them pigs done up mto
sassengers, but if the ol' woman goes East, Tukey an' me'll kind a
haff to pull through without 'em. We'll. have a turkey f'r
Thanksgivin', an' a chicken once 'n a while. Lord! But we'll miss the
gravy on the flapjacks. Amen!" (He smacked his lips over the thought
of the lost dainty.) "But let 'er rip! We can stand it. Then there is
my buffalo overcoat. I'd kind a calc'lated on havin' a buffalo-but
that's gone up the spout along with them sassengers."
These heroic sacrifices having been determined upon, he put them
into effect at once.
This he was able to do, for his corn rows ran alongside the road
leading to Cedarville, and his neighbors were passing almost all
hours of the day.
It would have softened Jane Ripley's heart could she have seen his
bent and stiffened form amid the corn rows, the cold wind piercing to
the bone through his threadbare and insufficient clothing. The rising
wind sent the snow rattling among the moaning stalks at intervals. The
cold made his poor dim eyes water, and he had to stop now and then to
swing his arms about his chest to warm them. His voice was hoarse with
shouting at the shivering team.
That night, as Mrs. Ripley was clearing the dishes away, she got to
thinking about the departure of the next day, and she began to
soften. She gave way to a few tears when little Tewksbury Gilchrist,
her grandson, came up and stood beside her.
"Gran'ma, you ain't goin' to stay away always, are yeh?"
"Why, course not, Tukey. What made y' think that?"
"Well, y' ain't told us nawfliln' 'tall about it. An' yeb kind o'
look 'sif yeh was mad."
"Well, Lain't mad; I'm jest a-thinkin', Tukey. Y'see, I come away
from them hills when I was a little glrl a'most; before I married y'r
grandad. And I ain't never been back. 'Most all my folks is there,
souny, an' we've been s' poor all these years I couldn't seem t' never
get started. Now, when I'm 'most ready t' go, I feel kind a queer-'sif
And cry she did, while little Tewksbury stood patting her
trembling hands. Hearing Ripley's step on the porch, she rose hastily
and, drying her eyes, plunged at the work again. Ripley came in with a
big armful of wood, which he rolled into the woodbox with a thundering
crash. Then he pulled off his mittens, slapped them together to knock
off the ice and snow, and laid them side by side under the stove. He
then removed cap, coat, blouse, and boots, which last he laid upon the
woodbox, the soles turned toward the stovepipe.
As he sat down without speaking, he opened the front doors of the
stove and held the palms of his stiffened hands to the blaze. The
light brought out a thoughtful look on his large, uncouth, yet kindly
visage. Life had laid hard lines on his brown skin, but it had not
entirely soured a naturally kind and simple nature. It had made him
penurious and dull and iron-muscled; had stifled all the slender
flowers of his nature; yet there was warm soil somewhere hid in his
"It's snowin' like all p'sessed," he remarked finally. "I guess
we'll have a sleigh ride tomorrow. I calc'late t' drive y' daown in
scrumptious style. If yeh must leave, why, we'll give yeh a whoopin'
old send-off-won't we, Tukey?
"I've ben a4hinkin' things over kind o' t'day, Mother, an' I've
come t' the conclusion that we have been kind a hard on yeh, without
knowin' it, y' see. Y' see, I'm kind a easygoin, 'an' little Tuke he's
only a child, an' we ain't c'nsidered how you felt."
She didn't appear to be listening, but she was, and he didn't
appear, on his part, to be talking to her, and he kept his voice as
hard and dry as he could.
"An' I was tellin' Tukey t'day that it was a dum shame our crops
hadn't, turned out better. An' when I saw ol' Hatfield go by, I hailed
him an' asked him what he'd gimme for two o' m' shoats. Waal, the
upshot is, I sent t' town for some things I calc'lated ye'd heed. An'
here's a tlcket to Georgetown, and ten dollars. Why, Ma, what's up?"
Mrs. Ripley broke down, and with her hands all wet with dishwater,
as they were, covered her face and sobbed. She felt like kissing him,
but she didn't. Tewksbury began to whimper, too; but the old man was
astonished. His wife had not wept for years (before him). He rose and
walked clumsily up to her and timidly touching her hair-
"Why, Mother! What's the matter? What 'v' I done now? I was
calc'latln' to sell them pigs anyway. Hatfield jest advanced the
money on' em."
She hopped up and dashed into the bedroom,and in a few minutes
returned with a yarn mitten, tied around the wrist, which she laid on
the table with a thump, saying:
"I don't want yer money. There's money enough to take me where I
want to go."
"Whee-w! Thunder and jimson root! Wher'd ye git that? Didn't dig
it out of a hole?"
"No. I jest saved it-a dime at a time-see?"
Here she turned it out on the table-some bills, but mostly silver
dimes and quarters.
"Thunder and scissors! Must be two er three hundred dollars
there," stared he.
"They's jest seventy-five dollars and thirty cents; jest about
enough to go back on. Tickets is fifty-five dollars, goin' an' comin'.
That leaves twenty dollars for other expenses, not countin' what I've
already spent, which is six-fifty," said she, recovering her
self-possession. "It's plenty."
"But y' ain't calc'lated on no sleepers nor hotel bills."
"I ain't goin' on no sleeper. Mis' Doudney says it's jest
scandalous the way things is managed on them cars. I'm goin' on the
old-fashioned cars, where they ain't no half-dressed men runain'
"But you needn't be afraid of them, Mother; at your age-"
"There! you needn't throw my age an' homeliness into my face,
Ethan Ripley. If I hadn't waited an' tended on you so long, I'd look
a little more's I did when I married yeh."
Ripley gave it up in despair. He didn't realize fully enough how
the proposed trip had unsettled his wife's nerves. She didn't realize
"As for the hotel bills, they won't be none. I a-goin' to pay them
pirates as much for a day's board as we'd charge for a week's, an'
have nawthin' to eat but dishes. I'm goin' to take a chicken an' some
hard-boiled eggs, an' I'm goin' right through to Georgetown."
"Well, all right; but here's the ticket I got."
"I don't want yer ticket."
"But you've got to take it."
"Wall, I hain't."
"Why, yes, ye have. It's bought, an' they won't take it back."
"Won't they?" She was staggered again.
"Not much they won't. I ast 'em. A ticket sold is sold."
"Waal, if they won't-"
"You bet they won't."
"I s'pose I'll haff to use it"; and that ended iti -They were a
familiar sight as they rode down the road toward town next day. As
usual, Mrs. Ripley sat up straight and stiff as "a half-drove wedge in
a white-oak log." The day was cold and raw. There was some snow on
the ground, but not enough to warrant the use of sleighs. It was
"neither sleddin' nor wheelin'." The old people sat on a board laid
across the box, and had an old quilt or two drawn up over their
knees. Tewksbury lay in the back part of the box (which was filled
with hay), where he jounced up and down, in company with a queer old
trunk and a brand-new imitation-leather handbag, There is no ride
quite so desolate and uncomfortable as a ride in a lumber wagon on a
cold day in autumn, when the ground is frozen and the wind is strong
and raw with threatening snow. The wagon wheels grind along in the
snow, the cold gets in under the seat at the calves of one's legs, and
the ceaseless bumping of the bottom of the box on the feet is
There was not much talk on the way down, and what little there was
related mainly to certain domestic regulations to be strictly followed
regarding churning, pickles, pancakes, etc. Mrs. Ripley wore a shawl
over her head and carried her queer little black bonnet in her hand.
Tewksbury was also wrapped in a shawl. The boy's teeth were pounding
together like castanets by the time they reached Cedarville, and every
muscle ached with the fatigue of shaking. After a few purchases they
drove down to the railway station, a frightful little den (common in
the West) which was always too hot or too cold. It happened to be hot
just now-a fact which rejoiced little Tewksbury.
"Now git my trunk stamped 'r fixed, 'r whatever they call it," she
said to Ripley in a commanding tone, which gave great delight to the
inevitable crowd of loafers begliming to assemble. "Now remember,
Tukey, have Granddad kill that biggest turkey night before
Thanksgiving, an' then you run right over to Mis' Doudney's-she's got
a nawful tongue, but she can bake a turkey first-rate-an' she'll fix
up some squash pies for yeh. You can warm up one s' them mince pies. I
wish ye could be with me, but ye can't, so do the best ye can."
Ripley returning now, she said: "Waal, now, I've fixed things up
the best I could. I've baked bread enough to last a week, an' Mis'
Doudney has promised to bake for yeh."
"I don't like her bakin'."
"Waal, you'll haff to stand it till I get back, 'n' you'll find a
jar o' sweet pickles an' some crabapple sauce down suller, 'n' you'd
better melt up brown sugar for 'lasses, 'n' for goodness' sake don't
eat all them mince pies up the fust week, 'n' see that Tukey ain't
froze goin' to school. An' now you'd better get out for home.
Good-bye, an' remember them pies.
As they were riding home, Ripley roused up after a long silence.
"Did she-a-kiss you goodbye, Tukey?"
"No, sir," piped Tewksbury.
"Thunder! didn't she?" After a silence. "She didn't me, neither. I
guess she kind of sort a forgot it, bein' so frustrated, y' know."
One cold, windy, intensely bright day, Mrs. Stacey, who lives
about two miles from Cedarville, looking out of the window, saw a
queer little figure struggling along the road, which was blocked here
and there with drifts. It was an old woman laden with a good
half-dozen parcels, any one of which was a load, which the wind
seemed determined to wrench from her. She was dressed in black, with
a full skirt, and her cloak being short, the wind had excellent
opportunity. to inflate her garments ind sail her off occasionally
into the deep snow outside the track, but she held on bravely till
she reached the gate. As she turned in, Mrs. Stacey cried:
"Why! it's Gran'ma Ripley, just getting back from her trip. Why!
how do you do? Come in. Why! you must be nearly frozen. Let me take
off your hat and veil."
"No, thank ye kindly, but I can't stop. I must be glttin' back to
Ripley. I expec' that man has jest let ev'rything go six ways f'r
"Oh, you must sit down just a minute and warm."
"Waal, I will, but I've got to git home by sundown. Sure I don't
s'pose they's a thing in the house to eat."
"Oh dear! I wish Stacey was here, so he could take you home. An'
the boys at school."
"Don't need any help, if 'twa'n't for these bundles an' things. I
guess I'll jest leave some of 'em here an'- Here! take one of these
apples. I brought 'em from Lizy Jane's suller, back to Yaark State."
"Oh! they're delicious! You must have had a lovely time."
"Pretty good. But I kep' thinkin' o' Ripley an' Tukey all the time.
I s'pose they have had a gay time of it" (she meant the opposite of
gay). "Waal, as I told Lizy Jane, I've had my spree, an' now I've got
to git back to work. They ain't no rest for such as we are. As I told
Lizy Jane, them folks in the big houses have Thanksgivin' dinners
every day uv their lives, and men an' women in splendid do's to wait
on 'em, so't Thanksgivin' don't mean anything to 'em; but we poor
critters, we make a great to-do if we have a good dinner oncet a year.
I've saw a pile o' this world, Mrs. Stacey-a pile of it! I didn't
think they was so many big houses in the world as I saw b'tween here
an' Chicago. Waal, I can't set here gabbin'; I must get home to
Ripley. Jest kinder stow them bags away. I'll take two an' leave them
three others. Goodbye. I must be gittin' home to Ripley. He'll want
his supper on time." And off up the road the indomitable little figure
trudged, head held down to the cutting blast. Little snow fly, a speck
on a measureless expanse, crawling along with painful breathing and
slipping, sliding steps- "Gittin' home to Ripley an' the boy."
Ripley was out to the barn when she entered, but Tewksbury was
building a fire in the old cookstove. He sprang up with a cry of joy
and ran to her. She seized him and kissed him, and it did her so much
good she hugged him close and kissed him again and again, crying
"Oh, gran'ma, I'm so glad to see you! We've had an awful time
since you've been gone."
She released him and looked around. A lot of dirty dishes were on
the table, the tablecloth was a "sight to behold," and so was the
stove-kettle marks all over the tablecloth, splotches of pancake
batter all over the stove.
"Waal, I sh'd say as much," she dryly vouchsafed, untying her
When Ripley came in she had on her regimentals, the stove was
brushed, the room swept, and she was elbow-deep in the dishpan.
"Hullo, Mother! Got back, hev yeh?"
"I sh'd say it was about time," she replied briefly with-out
looking up or ceasing work. "Has ol' 'Cruuipy' dried up yit?" This was
Her trip was a fact now; no chance could rob her of it. She had
looked forward twenty-three years toward it, and now she could look
back at it accomplished. She took up her burden again, never more
thinking to lay it down.
UNCLE ETHAN RIPLEY
"Like the Main-Travelled Road of Life, it is traversed by many
classes of people."
UNCLE ETHAN had a theory that a man's character could be told by
the way he sat in a wagon seat.
"A mean man sets right plumb in the middle o' the seat, as much as
to say, 'Walk, goldarn yeh, who cares!' But a man that sets in the
corner o' the seat, much as to say, 'Jump in-cheaper t' ride 'n to
walk,' you can jest tie to."
Uncle Ripley was prejudiced in favor of the stranger, therefore,
before he came opposite the potato patch, where the old man was
"bugging his vines." The stranger drove a jaded-looking pair of
calico ponies, hitched to a clattering democrat wagon, and he sat on
the extreme end of the seat, with the lines in his right hand, while
his left rested on his thigh, with his little finger gracefully
crooked and his elbows akimbo. He wore a blue shirt, with gay-colored
armlets just above the elbows, and his vest hung unbuttoned down his
lank ribs. It was plain he was well pleased with himself.
As he pulled up and threw one leg over the end of the seat, Uncle
Ethan observed that the left spring was much more worn than the
other, which proved that it was not accidental, but that it was the
driver's habit to sit on that end of the seat.
"Good afternoon," said the stranger pleasantly.
"Good afternoon, sir."
"Bugs purty plenty?"
"Plenty enough, I gol! I don't see where they all come fum."
"Early Rose?" inquired the man, as if referring to the bugs.
"No; Peachblows an' Carter Reds. My Early Rose is over near the
house. The old woman wants 'em near. See the darned things!" he
pursued, rapping savagely on the edge of the pan to rattle the bugs
"How do yeh kill 'em-scald 'em?"
"Mostly. Sornetimcs I
"Good piece of oats," yawned the stranger listessly.
"So 'tis. Didn't notice."
Uncle Ethan was wondering who the man was. He had some pots of
black paint in the wagon and two or three square boxes.
"What do yeh think o' Cleveland's chances for a second term?"
continued the man, as if they had been talking politics all the
Uncle Ripley scratched his head. "Waal-I dunn~ bein' a
"That's so-it's a purty scaly outlook. I don't believe in second
terms myself," the man hastened to say.
"Is that your new barn acrosst there?" be asked, point-ing with his
"Yes, sir, it is," replied the old man proudly. After years of
planning and hard work he had managed to erect a little wooden barn,
costing possibly three hundred dollars. It was plain to be seen he
took a childish pride in the fact of its newness.
The stranger mused. "A lovely place for a sign," he said as his
eyes wandered across its shining yellow broadside.
Uncle Ethan stared, unmindful of the bugs crawling over the edge
of his pan. His interest in the pots of paint deepened.
"Couldn't think o' lettin' me paint a sign on that barn?" the
stranger continued, putting his locked hands around one knee and
gaining away across the pigpen at the building.
"What kind of a sign? Goldarn your skins!" Uncle Ethan pounded the
pan with his paddle and scraped two or three crawling abominations off
his leathery wrist.
It was a beautiful day, and the man in the wagon seemed unusually
loath to attend to business. The tired ponies slept in the shade of
the lombardies. The plain was draped in a warm mist and shadowed by
vast, vaguely defined masses of clouds-a lazy June day.
"Dodd's Family Bitters," said the man, waking out of his
abstraction with a start and resuming his working manner. "The best
bitter in the market." He alluded to it in the singular. "Like to look
at it? No trouble to show goods, as the fellah says," he went on
hastily, seeing Uncle Ethan's hesitation.
He produced a large bottle of triangular shape, like a bottle for
pickled onions. It had a red seal on top and a strenuous caution in
red letters on the neck, "None genuine unless 'Dodd's Family Bittem'
is blown in the bottom."
"Here's what it cures," pursued the agent, pointing at the side,
where; in an inverted pyramid, the names of several hundred diseases
were arranged, running from "gout" to "pulmonary complaints," etc.
"I gol! She cuts a wide swath, don't she?" exclaimed Uncle Ethan,
profoundly impressed with the list.
"They ain't no better bitter in the world," said the agent with a
"What's its speshy-ality? Most of 'em have some speshy-ality."
"Well-summer complaints-an'-an'-spring an' fall troubles-tones ye
up, sort of."
Uncle Ethan's forgotten pan was empty of his gathered bugs. He was
deeply interested in this man. There was something he liked about him.
"What does it sell fur?" he asked after a pause.
"Same price as them cheap medicines-dollar a bottle-big bottles,
too. Want one?"
"Wal, mother ain't to home, an' I don't know as she'd like this
kind. We ain't been sick fr years. Still, they's no tellln'," he
added, seeing the answer to his objection in the agent's eyes. "Times
is purty close too, with us, y' see;; we've just built that stable-"
'Say I'll tell yeh what I'll do," said the stranger, waking up and
speaking in a warnily generous tone. "I'll give you ten bottles of the
bitter if you'll let me paint a sign on that barn. It won't hurt the
barn a bit, and if you want 'o you can paint it Out a year from date.
Come, what d'ye say?"
"I guess I hadn't better."
The agent thought that Uncle Ethan was after more pay, but in
reality he was thinking of what his little old wife would say.
"It simply puts a family bitter in your home that may save you
fifty dollars this comin' fall. You can't tell."
Just what the man said after that Uncle Ethan didn't follow. His
voice had a confidential purring sound as he stretched across the
wagon seat and talked on, eyes half shut. He straightened up at last
and concluded in the tone of one who has carried his point:
"So! If you didn't want to use the whole twenty five bottles
y'rself, why! sell it to your neighbors. You can get twenty dollars
out of it easy, and still have five bottles of the best family bitter
that ever went into a bottle."
It was the thought of this opportunity to get a buffalo skin coat
that consoled Uncle Ethan as he saw the hideous black letters
appearing under the agent's lazy brush.
It was the hot side of the barn, and painting was no light work.
The agent was forced to mop his forehead with his sleeve.
"Say, hain't got a cookie or anything, and a cup o' milk, handy?"
he said at the end of the first enormous word, which ran the whole
length of the barn.
Uncle Ethan got him the milk and oookie, which he ate with an
exaggeratedly dainty action of his fingers, seated meanwhile on the
staging which Uncle Ripley had helped him to build. This lunch
infused new energy into him, and in a short time "DODD'S FAMILY
BITTERS, Best in the Market," disfigured the sweet-smelling pine
Ethan was eating his self-obtained supper of bread and milk when
his wife came home.
"Who's been a-paintin' on that barn?" she demanded, her beadlike
eyes flashing, her withered little face set in an ominous frown.
"Ethan Ripley, what you been doin'?"
"Nawthin'," he replied feebly.
"Who painted that sign on there?"
"A man come along an' he wanted to paint that on there, and I let
'im; and it's my barn anyway. I guess I can do what I'm a min' to
with it," he ended defiantly; but his eyes wavered.
Mrs. Ripley ignored the defiance. "What under the sun p'sessed you
to do such a thing as that, Ethan Ripley? I declare I don't see! You
git fooler an' fooler cv'ry day you live, I do believe."
Uncle Ethan attempted a defense.
"Wal, he paid me twenty-five dollars f'r it, anyway."
"Did 'e?" She was visibly affected by this news.
"Wal, anyhow, it amounts to that; he give me twenty-five bottles-"
Mrs. Ripley sank back in her chair. "Wal, I swan to Bungay! Ethan
Ripley-wal, you beat all I ever see!" she added in despair of
expression. "I thought you had some sense left; but you hain't, not
one blessed scimpton. Where is the stuff?"
"Down cellar, an' you needn't take on no airs, ol' woman. I've
known you to buy things you didn't need time an' time an' agin-tins
an' things, an' I guess you wish you had back that ten dollars you
paid for that illustrated Bible,"
"Go 'long an' bring that stuff up here. I never see such a man in
my life. It's a wonder he didn't do it f'r two bottles." She glared
out at the 'sign, which faced directly upon the kitchen window.
Uncle Ethan tugged the two cases up and set them down on the floor
of the kitchen. Mrs. Ripley opened a bottle and smelled of it like a
"Ugh! Merciful sakes, what stuff! It ain't fit f'r a hog to take.
What'd you think you was goin' to do with it?" she asked in poignant
"I expected to take it-if I was sick. Whaddy ye s'pose?" He
defiantly stood his ground, towering above her like a leaning tower.
"The hull cartload of it?"
"No. I'm goin' to sell part of it an' git me an overcoat-"
"Sell it!" she shouted. "Nobuddy'il buy that sick'nin' stuff but an
old numskull like you. Take that slop out o' the house this 'minute!
Take it right down to the sinkhole an' smash every bottle on the
Uncle Ethan and the cases of medicine disappeared, and the old
woman addressed her concluding remarks to little Tewksbury, her
grandson, who stood timidly on one leg in the doorway, like an
"Everything around this place 'ud go to rack an' ruin if I didn't
keep a watch on that soft-pated old dummy. I thought that
lightnin'-rod man had glve him a lesson he'd remember; but no, he
must go an' make a reg'lar-"
She subsided in a tumult of banging pans, which helped her out in
the matter of expression and reduced her to a grim sort of quiet.
Uncle Ethan went about the house like a convict on shipboard. Once
she caught him looking out of the window.
"I should think you'd feel proud o' that."
Uncle Ethan had never been sick a day in his life. He was bent and
bruised with never-ending toil, but he had nothing especial the
matter with him.
He did not smash the medicine, as Mrs. Ripley commanded, because
he had determined to sell it. The next Sunday morning, after his
chores were done, he put on his best coat of faded diagonal, and was
brushing his hair into a ridge across the center of his high, narrow
head when Mrs. Ripley carne in from feeding the calves.
"Where you goin' now?"
"None o' your business," he replied. "It's darn funny if I can't
stir without you wantin' to know all about it. Where's Tukey?"
"Feedin' the chickens. You ain't goin' to take him off this mornin'
now! I don't care where you go."
"Who's a-goin' to take him off? I ain't said nothin' about takin'
"Wal, take y'rseif off, an' if y' ain't here f'r dinner, I ain't
goin' to get no supper."
Ripley took a water pail, and put four bottles of "the bitter mto
it, and trudged away up the road with it in a pleasant glow of hope.
All nature seemed to declare the day a time of rest and invited men
to disassoeiate ideas of toil from the rustling green wheat, shining
grass, and tossing blooms. Something of the sweetness and buoyancy of
all nature permeated the old man's work-calloused body, and he
whistled little snatches of the dance tunes he played on his fiddle.
But he found neighbor Johnson to be supplied with another variety
of bitter, which was all he needed for the present. He qualified his
refusal to buy with a cordial invitation to go out and see his shoats,
in which he took infinite pride. But Uncle Ripley said: "I guess I'll
haf t' be gom'; I want 'o git up to Jennings' before dimier."
He couldn't help feeling a little depressed when he found Jennings
away. The next house along the pleasant lane was inhabited by a
"newcomer." He was sitting on the horse trough, holding a horse's
halter, while his hired man dashed cold water upon the galled spot on
the animal's shoulder.
After some preliminary talk Ripley presented his medicine.
"Hell, no! What do I want of such stuff? When they's anything the
matter with me, I take a lunkin' ol' swig of popple bark and bourbon!
That fixes me."
Uncle Ethan moved off up the lane. He hardly felt like whistling
now. At the next house he set his pail down in the weeds beside the
fence and went in without it. Doudney came to the door in his bare
feet, buttoning his suspenders over a clean boiled shirt. He was
dressing to go out.
"Hello, Ripley. I was just goin' down your way. Jest wait a minute,
an' I'll be out."
When he came out, fully dressed, Uncle Ethan grappled him.
"Say, what d' you think o' paytent med-"
"Some of 'em are boss. But y' want 'o know what y're gittin'."
"What d' ye think o, Dodd's-"
"Best in the market."
Uncle Ethan straightened up and his face lighted. Doudney went on:
"Yes, sir; best bitter that ever went into a bottle. I know, I've
tried it. I don't go much on patent medicines, but when I get a good-"
"Don't want 'o buy a bottle?"
Doudney turned and faced him.
"Buy! No. I've got nineteen bottles I want 'o sell" Ripley glanced
up at Doudney's new granary and there read "Dodd's Family Bitters."
He was stricken dumb. Doudney saw it all and roared.
"Wal, that's a good one! We two tryin' to sell each other bitters.
Ho-ho-ho-har, whoop! wal, this is rich! How many bottles did you
"None o' your business," said Uncle Ethan as he turned and made
off, while Doudney screamed with merriment.
On his way home Uncle Ethan grew ashamed of his burden. Doudney
had canvassed the whole neighborhood, and he practically gave up the
struggle. Everybody he met seemed determined to find out what he had
been doing, and at last he began lying about it.
"Hello, Uncle Ripley, what y' got there in that pail?"
"Goose eggs fr settin'."
He disposed of one bottle to old Gus Peterson. Gus never paid his
debts, and he would oniy promise fifty cents "on tick" for the
bottle, and yet so desperate was Ripley that this questionable sale
cheered him up not a little.
As he came down the road, tired, dusty, and hungry, he climbed
over the fence in order to avoid seeing that sign on the barn and
slunk into the house without looking back.
He couldn't have felt meaner about it if he had allowed a
Democratic poster to be pasted there.
The evening passed in grim silence, and in sleep he saw that sign
wriggling across the side of the barn like boa constrictors hung on
rails. He tried to paint them out, but every time he tried it the man
seemed to come back with a sheriff and savagely warned him to let it
stay till the year was up. In some mysterious way the agent seemed to
know every time he brought out the paint pot, and he was no longer the
pleasant-voiced individual who drove the calico ponies.
As he stepped out into the yard next morning that abominable,
sickening, scrawling advertisement was the first thing that claimed
his glance-it blotted out the beauty of the morning.
Mrs. Ripley came to the window, buttoning her dress at the throat,
a wisp of her hair sticking assertively from the little knob at the
back of her head.
"Lovely, ain't it! An' J've got to see it all day long. I can't
look out the winder, but that thing's right in my face." It seemed to
make her savage. She hadn't been in such a temper since her visit to
New York. "I hope you feel satisfied with it."
Ripley walked off to the barn. His pride in its clean sweet newness
was gone. He slyly tried the paint to see if it couldn't be scraped
off, but it was dried in thoroughly. Whereas before he had taken
delight in having his neighbors turn and look at the building, now he
kept out of sight whenever he saw a team coming. He hoed corn away in
the back of the field, when he should have been bugging potatoes by
Mrs. Ripley was in a frightful mood about it, but she held herself
in check for several days. At last she burst forth:
"Ethan Ripley, I can't stand that thing any longer, and I ain't
goin' to, that's all! You've got to go and paint that thing out, or I
will. I'm just about crazy with it."
"But, Mother, I promised-"
"I don't care what you promised, it's got to be painted out. I've
got the nightmare now, seein' it. I'm goin' to send for a pail o' red
paint, and I'm goin' to paint that out if it takes the last breath
I've got to do it."
"I'll tend to it, Mother, if you won't hurry me-"
"I can't stand it another day. It makes me boil every time I look
out the winder."
Uncle Ethan hitched up his team and drove gloomily off to town,
where he tried to find the agent. He lived in some other part of the
county, however, and so the old man gave up and bought a pot of red
paint, not daring to go back to his desperate wife without it.
"Goin' to paint y'r new barn?" inquired the merchant with friendly
Uncle Ethan turned with guilty sharpness; but the merchant's face
was grave and kindly.
"Yes, I thought I'd tech it up a little-don't cost much."
"It pays-always," the merchant said emphatically.
"Will it-stick jest as well put on evenings?" inquired Uncle Ethan
"Yes-won't make any difference. Why? Ain't goin' to have-"
"Wal-I kind o' thought I'd do it odd times night an' mornin'-kind
o' odd times-"
He seemed oddly confused about it, and the merchant looked after
him anxiously as he drove away.
After supper that night he went out to the barn, and Mrs. Ripley
heard him sawing and hammering. Then the noise ceased, and he came in
and sat down in his usual place.
"What y' be'n makin'?" she inquired. Tewksbury had gone to bed.
She sat darning a stocking.
"I jest thought I'd git the stagin' ready f'r paintin'," he said
"Wal! I'll be glad when it's covered up." When she got ready for
bed, he was still seated in his chair, and after she had dozed off
two or three times she began to wonder why he didn't come When the
clock struck ten, and she realized that he had not stirred, she began
to get impatient. "Come, are y' goin' to sit there all night?" There
was no reply. She rose up in bed and looked about the room. The broad
moon flooded it with light, so that she could see he was not asleep in
his chair, as she had supposed. There was something ominous in his
"Ethan! Ethan Ripley, where are yeh?" There was no reply to her
sharp call. She rose and distractedly looked about among the
furniture, as if he inight somehow be a cat and be hiding in a corner
somewhere. Then she went upstairs where the boy slept, her hard little
heels making a curious tunking noise on the bare boards. The moon fell
across the sleeping hoy like a robe of silver. He was alone.
She began to be alarmed. Her eyes widened in fear. An sorts of
vague horrors sprang unbidden into her brain. She still had the mist
of sleep in her brain.
She hurried down the stairs and out into the fragrant night. The
katydids were singing in infinite peace under the solemn splendor of
the moon. The cattle sniffed and sighed, jangling their bells now and
then, and the chickens in the coop stirred uneasily as if overheated.
The old woman stood there in her bare feet and long nightgown,
horror-stricken. The ghastly story of a man who had hung himseif in
his barn because his wife deserted him came into her mind and stayed
there with frightful persistency. Her throat filled chokingly.
She felt a wild rush of loneliness. She had a sudden realization of
how dear that gaunt old figure was, with its grizzled face and ready
smile. Her breath came quick and quicker, and she was at the point of
bursting into a wild cry to Tewksbury when she heard a strange noise.
It came from the barn, a creaking noise. She looked that way and saw
in the shadowed side a deeper shadow moving to and fro. A revulsion to
astonishment and anger took place in her.
"Land o' Bungay! If he ain't paintin' that barn, like a perfect old
idiot, in the night."
Uncle Ethan, working desperately, did not hear her feet pattering
down the path, and was startled by her shrill voice.
"Well, Ethan Ripley, whaddy y' think you're doin' now?"
He made two or three slapping passes with the brush and then
snapped out, "I'm a-paintin' this barn-whaddy ye s'pose? II ye had
eyes y' wouldn't ask."
"Well, you come right straight to bed. What d'you mean by actin'
"You go back into the house an' let me be. I know what I'm a-doin'.
You've pestered me about this sign jest about enough." He dabbed his
brush to and fro as he spoke. His gaunt figure towered above her in
shadow. His slapping brush had a vicious sound.
Neither spoke for some time. At length she said more gently, "Ain't
you comin' in?"
"No-not till I get a-ready. You go 'long an' tend to y'r own
business. Don't stan' there an' ketch cold."
She moved off slowly toward the house. His shout subdued her.
Working alone out there had rendered him savage; he was not to be
pushed any further. She knew by the tone of his voice that he must now
She slipped on her shoes and a shawl, and came back where he was
working, and took a seat on a sawhorse.
"I'm goin' to set right here till you come in, Ethan Ripley," she
said in a firm voice, but gentler than usual.
"Wal, you'll set a good while," was his ungracious reply, but each
felt a furtive tenderness for the other. He worked on in silence. The
boards creaked heavily as he walked to and fro, and the slapping
sound of the paint brush sounded loud in the sweet harmony of the
night. The majestic moon swung slowly round the corner of the barn and
fell upon the old man's grizzled head and bent shoulders. The horses
inside could be heard stamping the mosquitoes away and chewing their
hay in pleasant chorus.
The little figure seated on the sawhorse drew the shawl closer
ahout her thin shoulders. Her eyes were in shadow, and her hands were
wrapped in her shawl. At last she spoke in a curious tone.
"Wal, I don't know as you was so very much to blame. I didn't want
that Bible myself-I hold out I did, but I didn't."
Ethan worked on until the full meaning of this unprecedented
surrender penetrated his head, and then he threw down his brush.
"Wal, I guess I'll let 'er go at that. I'ye covered up the most of
it, anyhow. Guess we better go in."
CHICAGO has three winds that blow upon it. One comes from the
East, and the mind goes out to the cold gray-blue lake. One from the
North, and men think of illimitable spaces of pinelands and maple-clad
ridges which lead to the unknown deeps of the arctic woods.
But the third is the West of Southwest wind, dry, magnetic, full of
smell of unmeasured miles of growing grain in summer, or ripening
corn and wheat in autumn. When it comes in winter the air glitters
with incredible brilliancy. The snow of the country dazzles and flames
in the eyes; deep blue shadows everywhere stream like stains of ink.
Sleigh bells wrangle from early morning till late at night, and every
step is quick and alert. In the city, smoke dims its clarity, but it
But its greatest moment of domination is spring. The bitter gray
wind of the East has held unchecked rule for days, giving place to
its brother the North wind only at intervals, till some day in March
the wind of the southwest begins to blow. Then the eaves begin to
drip. Here and there a fowl (in a house that is really a prison)
begins to sang the song it sang on the farm, and toward noon its song
becomes a chant of articulate joy.
Then the poor crawl out of their reeking hovels on the South and
West sides to stand in the sun-the blessed sun-and felicitate
themselves on being alive. Windows of sickrooms are opened, the merry
small boy goes to school without his tippet, and men lay off their
long ulsters for their beaver coats. Caps give place to hats, and men
women pause to chat when they meet each other the street. The open
door is the sign of the great change of wind.
There are imaginative souls who are stirred yet deeper by this
wind-men like Robert Bloom, to whom come vague and very sweet
reminiscences of farm life when the snow is melting and the dry ground
begins to appear. To these people the wind comes from the wide
unending spaces of the prairie West. They can smell the strange
thrilling odor of newly uncovered sod and moist brown plowed lands. To
them it is like the opening door of a prison.
Robert had crawled downtown and up to his office high in the Star
block after a month's sickness. He had resolutely pulled a pad of
paper under his hand to write, but the window was open and that wind
coming in, and he could not write-he could only dream.
His brown hair fell over the thin white hand which propped his
head. His face was like ivory with dull yellowish stains in it. His
eyes did not see the mountainous roofs humped and piled into vast
masses of brick and stone, crossed and riven by streets, and swept by
masses of gray-white vapor; they saw a little valley circled by
low-wooded bluffs-his native town in Wisconsin.
As his weakness grew his ambition fell away, and his heart turned
back to nature and to the things he had known in his youth, to the
kindly people of the olden time. It did not occur to him that the
spirit of the country might have changed.
Sitting thus, he had a mighty longing come upon him to give up the
struggle, to go back to the simplest life with his wife and two boys.
Why should he tread in the mill, when every day was taking the
lifeblood out of his heart?
Slowly his longing took resolution. At last he drew his desk down,
and as the lock clicked it seemed like the shutting of a prison gate
At the elevator door he met a fellow editor. "Hello, Bloom! Didn't
know you were down today."
"I'm only trying it. I'm going to take a vacation for a while."
"That's right, man. You look like a ghost."
"He hadn't the courage to tell him he never expected to work there
again. His step on the way home was firmer than it had been for
weeks. In his white face his wife saw some subtle change.
"What is it, Robert?"
"Mate, let's give it up."
"What do you mean?"
"The struggle is too hard. I can't stand it. I'm hungry for the
country again. Let's get out of this."
"Where'll we go?"
"Back to my native town-up among the Wisconsin hills and coulees.
Go anywhere, so that we escape this pressure-it's killing me. Let's go
to Bluff Siding for a year. It will do me good-may bring me back to
life. I can do enough special work to pay our grocery bill; and the
Merrill place-so Jack tells me-is empty. We can get it for
seventy-five dollars for a year. We can pull through some way."
"Very well, Robert."
"I must have rest. All the bounce has gone out of me, Mate," he
said with sad lines in his face. "Any extra work here is out of the
question. I can only shamble around-an excuse for a man."
The wife had ceased to smile. Her strenuous cheerfulness could not
hold before his tragically drawn and bloodless face.
"I'll go wherever you think best, Robert It will be just as well
for the boys. I suppose there is a school there?"
"Oh, yes. At any rate, they can get a year's schooling in nature."
"Well-no matter, Robert; you are the one to be considered." She
had the self-sacrfficing devotion of the average woman. She fancied
herself hopelessly his inferior.
They had dwelt so long on the crumbling edge of poverty that they
were hardened to its threat, and yet the failure of Robert's health
had been of the sort which terrifies. It was a slow but steady
sinking of vital force. It had its ups and downs, but it was a
downward trail, always downward. The time for sell-deception had
His paper paid him a meager salary, for his work was prized only
by the more thoughtful readers of the Star.
In addition to his' regular work he occasionally hazarded a story
for the juvenile magazines of the East. In this way he turned the
antics of his growing boys to account, as he often said to his wife.
He had also passed the preliminary stages of literary success by
getting a couple of stories accepted by an Eastern magazine, and he
still confidently looked forward to seeing them printed.
His wife, a sturdy, practical little body, did her part in the
bitter struggle by keeping their little home one of the most
attractive on the West Side, the North Side being altogether too high
In addition, her sorely pressed brain sought out other ways of
helping. She wrote out all her husband's stories on the typewriter,
and secretly she had tried composing others herself, the results
being queer dry little chronicles of the doings of men and women,
strung together without a touch of literary grace.
She proposed taking a large house and rerenting rooms, but Robert
would not hear to it. "As long as I can crawl about we'll leave that
In the month of preparation which followed he talked a great deal
about their venture.
"I want to get there," he said, "just when the leaves are coming
out on the trees. I want to see the cherry trees blossom on the
hillside. The popple trees always get green first."
At other times he talked about the people. "It will be a rest just
to get back among people who aren't ready to tread on your head in
order to lift themselves up. I believe a year among those kind,
unhurried people will glve me all the material I'll need for years.
I'll write a series of studies somewhat like Jefferies'-or Barrie's-
only, of course, I'll be original. I'll just take his plan Of telling
about the people I meet and their queer ways, so quaint and good."
"I'm tired of the scramble," he kept breaking out Of silence to
say. "I don't blame the boys, but it's plain to me they see that my
going will let them move up one. Mason cynically voiced the whole
thing today: 'I can say, "Sorry to see you go, Bloom," because your
going doesn't concern me. I'm not in line of succession, but some of
the other boys don't feel so. There's no divinity doth hedge an
editor; nothing but law prevents the murder of those above by those
"I don't like Mr. Mason when he talks like that," said the wife.
"Well-I don't." He didn't tell her what Mason said when Robert
talked about the good simple life of the people in Bluff Siding:
"Oh, bosh, Bloom! You'll find the struggle of the outside world
reflected in your little town. You'll find men and women just as hard
and selfish in their small way. It'll be harder to bear, because it
will all be so petty and pusillailmous."
It was a lovely day in late April when they took the train out of
the great grimy terrible city. It was eight o'clock, but the streets
were muddy and wet, a cold East wind blowing off the lake.
With clanging bell the train moved away, piercing the ragged gray
formless mob of houses and streets (through which railways always run
in a city). Men were hurrying to work, and Robert pitied them, poor
fellows, condemned to do that thing forever.
In an hour they reached the prairies, already clothed upon faintly
with green grass and tender springing wheat. The purple-brown squares
reserved for the corn looked deliciously soft and warm to the sick
man, and he longed to set his bare feet into it.
His boys were wild with delight. They had the natural love of the
earth still in them, and correspondingly cared little for the city.
They raced through the cars like colts. They saw everything. Every
blossoming plant, every budding tree, was precious to them all.
All day they rode. Toward noon they left the sunny prairie land of
northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, and entered upon the hill
land of Madison and beyond. As they went North, the season was less
advanced, but spring was in the fresh wind and the warm sunshine.
As evening drew on, the hylas began to peep from the pools, and
their chorus deepened as they came on toward Bluff Siding, which
seemed very small, very squalid, and uninteresting, but Robert
pointed at the circling wine-colored wall of hills and the warm
"We're in luck to find a hotel," said Robert. "They burn down every
They were met by a middle-aged man and conducted across the road
to a hotel, which had been a roller-skating rink in other days, and
was not prepossessing. However, they were ushered into the parlor,
which resembled the sitting room of a rather ambitious village home,
and there they took seats, while the landlord consulted about rooms.
The wife's heart sank. From the window she could see several of
the low houses, and far off just the hills which seemed to make the
town so very small, very lonely. She was not given time to shed
tears. The children clamored for food, tired and cross.
Robert went out into the office, where he sigued his name under
the close and silent scrutiny of a half dozen roughly clad men, who
sat leaning against the wall. They were merely workingmen to him, but
in Mrs. Bloom's eyes they were dangerous people.
The landlord looked at the name as Robert wrote. "Your boxes are
all here," he said.
Robert looked up at him in surprise. "What boxes?"
"Your household goods. They came in on No.9."
Robert recovered himself. He remembered this was a village where
everything that goes on-everything-is known.
The stairway rose picturesquely out of the office to the low
second story, and wp these stairs they tramped to' their tiny rooms,
which were like cells.
"Oh, Mamma, ain't it queer?" cried the boys.
"Supper is all ready," the landlord's soft, deep voice aunounced a
few moments later, and the boys responded with whoops of hunger.
They were met by the close scrutiny of every boarder as they
entered, and they heard also the muttered cornments and explanations.
"Family to take the Merrill house."
"He looks purty well fiaxed out, don't he?"
They were agreeably surprised to find everything neat and clean
and wholesome. The bread was good and the butter delicious. Their
"That butter tastes like old times," said Robert. "li's fresh. It's
They made a hearty meal, and the boys, being filled up, grew
sleepy. After they were put to bed Robert said, "Now, Mate, let's go
see the house."
They walked out arm in arm like lovers. Her sturdy form steadied
him, though he would not have acknowledged it. The red flush was not
yet gone from the west, and the hills still kept a splendid tone of
purple-black. It was very clear, the stars were out, the wind
deliciously soft. "Isn't it still?" Robert aimost whispered.
They walked on under the budding trees up the hill, till they came
at last to the small frame house set under tall maples and locust
trees, just showing a feathery fringe of foliage.
"This is our home," said Robert.
Mate leaned on the gate in silence. Frogs were peeping. The smell
of spring was in the air. There was a magnificent repose in the hour,
restful, recreating, impressive.
"Oh, it's beautiful, Robert! I know we shall like it."
"We must like it," he said.
First contact with the people disappointed Robert. In the work of
moving in he had to do with people who work at day's work, and the
fault was his more than theirs. He forgot that they did not consider
their work degrading. They resented his bossing. The drayman grew
"Look a-here, my Christian friend, if you'll go 'long in the house
and let us alone it'll be a good job. We know what we're about."
This was not pleasant, and he did not perceive the trouble. In the
same way he got foul of the carpenter and the man who plowed his
garden. Some way his tone was not right. His voice was cold and
distant. He generally found that the men knew better than he what was
to be done and how to do it; and sometimes he felt like apologizing,
but their attitude had changed till apology was impossible.
He had repelled their friendly advances because he considered them
(without meaning to do so) as workmen, and not as neighbors. They
reported, therefore, that he was cranky and rode a high horse.
"He thinks he's a little tin god on wheels," the drayman said.
"Oh, he'll get over that," said McLane. "I knew the boy's folks
years ago-tip-top folks, too. He ain't well, and that makes him a
"That's the trouble-he thinks he's an upper crust," said Jim
Cullen, the drayman.
At the end of ten days they were settled, and nothing remained to
do but plan a little garden and-get well. The boys, with their
unspoiled natures, were able to melt into the ranks of the
village-boy life at once, with no more friction than was indicated by
a couple of rough-and-tumble fights. They were sturdy fellows, like
their mother, and these fights gave them high rank.
Robert got along in a dull, smooth way with his neighbors. He was
too formal with them. He met them only at the meat shop and the post
office. They nodded genially and said, "Got settled yet?" And he
replied, "Quite comfortable, thank you." They felt his coldness.
Conversation halted when he came near and made him feel that he was
the subject of their talk. As a matter of fact, he generally was. He
was a source of great speculation with them. Some of them had gone so
far as to bet he wouldn't live a year. They all seemed grotesque to
him, so work-scarred and bent and hairy. Even the men whose names he
had known from childhood were queer to him. They seemed shy and
distant, too, not like his ideas of them.
To Mate they were almost caricatures. "What makes them look so-so
'way behind the times, Robert?"
"Well, I suppose they are," said Robert. "Life in these coulees
goes on rather slower than in Chicago. Then there are a great many
Welsh and Germans and Norwegians living way up the coulees, and
they're the ones you notice. They're not all so." He could be generous
toward them in general; it was in special cases where he failed to
They had been there nearly two weeks without meeting any of them
socially, and Robert was beginning to change his opinion about them.
"They let us severely alone," he was saying one night to his wife.
"It's very odd. I wonder what I'd better do, Robert. I don't know
the etiquette of these small towns. I never lived in one before, you
know. Whether I ought to call first-and, good gracious, who'll I call
on? I'm in the dark."
"So am I, to tell the truth. I haven't lived in one of these small
towns since I was a lad. I have a faint recollection that
introductions were absolutely necessary. They have an etiquette which
is as binding as that of McAilister's Four Hundred, but what it is I
"Well, we'll wait."
"The boys are perfectly at home," said Robert with a little
emphasis on boys, which was the first indication of his
disappointment. The people he had failed to reach.
There came a knock on the door that startled them both. "Come in,"
said Robert in a nervous shout.
"Land sakes! did I scare ye? Seem so, way ye yelled," said a
high-keyed nasal voice, and a tall woman came in, followed by an
equally stalwart man.
"How d'e do, Mrs. Folsom? My wife, Mr. Folsom."
Folsom's voice was lost in the bustle of getting settled, but Mrs.
Folsom's voice rose above the clamor. "I was tellin' him it was about
time we got neighborly. I never let anybody come to town a week
without callin' on 'em. It does a body a heap o' good to see a face
outside the family once in a while, specially in a new place. How do
you like up here on the hill?"
"Very much. The view is so fine."
"Yes, I s'pose it is. Still, it ain't my notion. I don't like to
climb hills well enough. Still, I've heard of people buildin' just for
the view. It's all in taste, as the old woman said that kissed the
There was an element of shrewdness and sell-analysis in Mrs.
Folsom which saved her from being grotesque. She knew she was queer
to Mrs. Bloom, but she did not resent it. She was still young in form
and face, but her teeth were gone, and, like so many of her neighbors,
she was too poor to replace them from the dentist's. She wore a decent
calico dress and a shawl and hat.
As she talked her eyes took in every article of furniture in the
room, and every little piece of fancywork and bric-a-brac. In fact,
she reproduced the pattern of one of the tidies within two days.
Folsom sat dumbly in his chair. Robert, who met him now as a
neighbor for the first time, tried to talk with him, but failed, and
turned himself gladly to Mrs. Folsom, who delighted him with her
"Oh, we're a-movin', though you wouldn't think it. This town is
filled with a lot of old skinflints. Close ain't no name for 'em. Jest
ask Folsom thar about 'em. He's been buildin' their houses for 'em.
Still, I suppose they say the same thing o' me," she added with a
touch of humor which always saved her. She used a man's phrases.
"We're always ready to tax some other feller, but we kick like mules
when the tax falls on us," she went on. "My land! the fight we've had
to git sidewalks in this town!"
"You should be mayor."
"That's what I tell Folsom. Takes a woman to clean things up.
Well, I must run along. Thought I'd jest call in and see how you all
was. Come down when ye kin."
"Thank you, I will."
After they had gone Robert turned with a smile: "Our first formal
"Oh, dear, Robert, what can I do with such people?"
"Go see 'em. I like her. She's shrewd. You'll like her, too."
"But what can I say to such people? Did you hear her say 'we
fellers' to me?"
Robert laughed. "That's nothing. She feels as much of a man, or
'feller,' as anyone. Why shouldn't she?"
"But she's so vulgar."
"I admit she isn't elegant, but I think she's a good wife and
"I wonder if they're all like that?"
"Now, Mate, we must try not to offend them. We must try to be one
But this was easier said than done. As he went down to the post
office and stood waiting for his mail like the rest, he tried to enter
into conversation witb them, but mainly they moved away from him.
William McTurg nodded at him and said, "How de do?" and McLane asked
how he liked his new place, and that was about all.
He couldn't reach them. They suspected him. They had only the
estimate of the men who had worked for him; and, while they were
civil, they plainly didn't need him in the slightest degree, except as
a topic of conversation.
He did not improve as he had hoped to do. The spring was wet and
cold, the most rainy and depressing the valley had seen in many
years. Day after day the rain clouds sailed in over the northern hills
and deluged the flat little town with water, till the frogs sang in
every street, till the main street mired down every team that drove
The corn rotted in the earth, but the grass grew tall and
yellow-green, the trees glistened through the gray air, and the hills
were like green jewels of incalculable worth, when the sun shone, at
sweet infrequent intervals.
The cold and damp struck through into the alien's heart. It seemed
to prophesy his dark future. He sat at his desk and looked out into
the gray rain with gloomy eyes-a prisoner when he had expected to be
He had failed in his last venture. He had not gained any power-he
was reaily weaker than ever. The rain had kept him confined to the
house. The joy he had anticipated of tracing out all his boyish
pleasure haunts was cut off. He had relied, too, upon that as a
source of literary power.
He could not do much more than walk down to the post office and
back on the pleasantest days. A few people called, but he could not
talk to them, and they did not call again.
In the meanwhile his little bank account was vanishing. The boys
were strong and happy; that was his only comfort. And his wife seemed
strong, too. She had little time to get lonesome.
He grew morbid. His weakness and insecurity made him jealous of
the security and health of others.
He grew almost to hate the people as he saw them coming and going
in the mud, or heard their loud hearty voices sounding from the
street. He hated their gossip, their dull jokes. The flat little town
grew vulgar and low and desolate to him.
Every little thing which had amused him now annoyed him. The cut
of their beards worried him. Their voices jarred upon him. Every day
or two he broke forth to his wife in long tirades of abuse.
"Oh, I can't stand these people! They don't know any-thing. They
talk every rag of gossip into shreds. Taters, fish, hops; hops, fish,
and taters. They've saved and pinched and toiled till their souls are
pinched and ground away. You're right. They are caricatures. They
don't read or think about anything in which I'm interested. This life
is nerve-destroying. Talk about the health of the village life! it
destroys body and soul. It debilitates me. It will warp us both down
to the level of these people."
She tried to stop him, but he went on, a flush of fever on his
"They degrade the nature they have touched. Their squat little
town is a caricature like themselves. Everything they touch they
belittle. Here they sit while side-walks rot and teams mire in the
He raged on like one demented-bitter, accusing, rebellious. In such
a mood he could not write. In place of inspiring him, the little town
and its people seemed to undermine his power and turn his sweetness of
spirit into gall and acid. He only bowed to them now as he walked
feebly among them, and they excused it by referring to his sickness.
They eyed him each time with pitying eyes; "He's failin' fast," they
said among themselves.
One day, as he was returning from the post office, he felt blind
for a moment and put his hand to his head. The wold of vivid green
grew gray, and life rceded from him into illimitable distance. He had
one dim fading glimpse of a shaggy-bearded face looking down at him,
and felt the clutch of an iron-hard strong arm under him, and then he
lost hold even on so much consciousness.
He came back slowly, rising out of immeasurable deeps toward a
distant light which was like the mouth of a well filled with clouds
of misty vapor. Occasionally he saw a brown big hairy face floating
in over this lighted horizon, to smile kindly and go away again.
Others came with shaggy beards. He heard a cheery tenor voice which he
recognized, and then another face, a big brown smiling face; very
lovely it looked now to him-almost as lovely as his wife's, which
floated in from the other side.
"He's all right now," said the cheery tenor voice from the big
"Oh, Mr. McTurg; do you think so?"
"Ye-e-s, sir. He's all right. The fever's left him. Brace up, old
man. We need ye yit awhile." Then all was silent agam.
The well mouth cleared away its mist again, and he saw more
clearly. Part of the time he knew he was in bed staring at the
ceiling. Part of the time the well mouth remained closed in with
Gaunt old women put spoons of delicious broth to his lips, and
their toothless mouths had kindly lines about them. He heard their
high voices sounding faintly.
"Now, Mis' Bloom, jest let Mis' Folsom an' me attend to things out
here. We'll get supper for the boys, an' you jest go an' lay down.
We'll take care of him. Don't worry. Bell's a good hand with sick."
Then the light came again, and he heard a robin singing, and a
catbird squalled softly, pitifully. He could see the ceiling again. He
lay on his back, with his hands on his breast. He felt as if he had
been dead. He seemed to feel his body as if it were an alien thing.
"How are you, sir?" called the laughing, thrillingly hearty voice
of William McTurg.
He tried to turn his head, but it wouldn't move. He tried to speak,
but his dry throat made no noise.
The big man bent over him. "Want 'o change place a little?"
He closed his eyes in answer.
A giant arm ran deftly under his shoulders and turned him as if he
were an infant, and a new part of the good old world burst on his
sight. The sunshine streamed in the windows through a waving screen
of lilac leaves and fell upon the carpet in a priceless flood of
There sat William McTurg smiling at him. He had no coat on and no
hat, and his bushy thick hair rose up from his forehead like thick
marsh grass. He looked to be the embodiment of sunshine and health.
Sun and air were in his brown face, and the perfect health of a fine
animal was in his huge limbs. He looked at Robert with a smile that
brought a strange feeling into his throat. It made him try to speak;
at last he whispered.
The great figure bent closer: "What is it?"
William laughed a low chuckle. "Don't bother about thanks. Would
you like some water?"
A tall figure joined William, awkwardiy.
"How is he, Bm?"
"He's awake today."
"That's good. Anything I can do?"
"No, I guess not. An he needs is somethin' to eat."
"I jest brought a chicken up, an' some jell an' things the women
sent. I'll stay with him till twelve, then Folsom will come in."
Thereafter he lay hearing the robins laugh and the orioles whistle,
and then the frogs and katydids at night. These men with greasy vests
and unkempt beards came in every day. They bathed him, and helped him
to and from the bed. They helped to dress him and move him to the
window, where he could look out on the blessed green of the grass.
O God, it was so beautiful! It was a lover's joy only to live, to
look into these radiant vistas again. A catbird was singing in the
currant hedge. A robin was hopping across the lawn. The voices of the
children sounded soft and jocund across the road. And the
surshine-"Beloved Christ, Thy sunshine falling upon my feet!" His
soul ached with the joy of it, and when his wife came in she found
him sobbing like a child.
They seemed never to weary in his service. They lifted him about
and talked to him in loud and hearty voices which roused him like
fresh winds from free spaces.
He heard the women busy with things in the kitchen. He often saw
them loaded with things to eat passing his window, and often his wife
came in and knelt down at his bed.
"Oh, Robert, they're so good! They feed us like Gods ravens."
One day, as he sat at the window fully dressed for the fourth of
fifth time, William McTurg came up the walk.
"Well, Robert, how are ye today?"
"First-rate, William," he smiled. "I believe I can walk out a
little if you'll help me."
"All right, sir."
And he went forth leaning on William's arm, a piteous wraith of a
On every side the golden June sunshine fell, filling the valley
from purple brim to purple brim. Down over the hill to the west the
light poured, tangled and glowing in the plum and cherry trees,
leaving the glistening grass spraying through the elms and flinging
streamers of pink across the shaven green slopes where the cattle
On every side he saw kindly faces and heard hearty voices: "Good
day, Robert. Glad to see you out again." It thrilled him to hear them
call him by his first name.
His heart swelled till he could hardly breathe. The passion of
living came back upon him, shaking, uplifting him. His pallid lips
moved. His face was turned to the sky.
"O God, let me live! It is so beautiful! O God, give me strength
again! Keep me in the light of the sun! Let me see the green grass
come and go!"
He turned to William with trembling lips, trying to speak:
"Oh, I understand you now. I know you all now."
But William did not understand him.
"There! there!" he said soothingly. "I guess you're gettin' tired."
He led Robert back and put him to bed.
"I'd know but we was a little brash about goin' out," William said
to him as Robert lay there smiling up at him.
"Oh, I'm all right now," the sick man said.
"Matie," the alien cried, when William had gone, "we knew our
neighbors now, don't we? We never can hate or ridicule them again."
"Yes, Robert. They never will be caricatures again-to me."
A "GOOD FELLOW'S" WIFE
LIFE in the small towns of the older West moves slowly-almost as
slowly as in the seaport villages or little towns of the East. Towns
like Tyre and Bluff Siding have grown during the last twenty years,
but very slowly, by almost imperceptible degrees. Lying too far away
from the Mississippi to be affected by the lumber interest, they are
merely trading points for the farmers, with no perceivable germs of
boom in their quiet life.
A stranger coming into Belfast, Minnesota, excites much the same
lanquid but persistent inquiry as in Belfast, New Hampshire. Juries
of men, seated on salt barrels and nall kegs, discuss the stranger's
appearance and his probable action, just as in Kittery, Maine, but
with a lazier speech tune and with a shade less of apparent interest.
On such a rainy day as comes in May after the corn is planted-a
cold, wet rainy day-the usual crowd was gathered in Wilson's grocery
store at Bluff Siding, a small town in the "coulee country." They were
farmers, for the most part, retired from active service. Their coats
were of cheap diagonal or cassimere, much faded and burned by the sun;
their hats, flapped about by winds and soaked with countless rains,
were also of the same yellow-brown tints. One or two wore paper
collars on their hickory shirts.
Mcllvaine, farmer and wheat buyer, wore a paper collar and a
butterfly necktie, as befitted a man of his station in life. He was a
short, squarely made Scotchman, with sandy whiskers much grayed and
with a keen, in-tensely blue eye.
"Say," called McPhail, ex-sheriff of the county, in the silence
that followed some remark about the rain, "any o' you fellers had any
talk with this feller Sanford?"
"I hain't," said Vance. "You, Bill?"
"No; but somebody was sayin' he thought o' startin' in trade here."
"Don't Sam know? He generally knows what's goin' on.',
"Knows he registered from Pittsfield, Mass., an' that's all. Say,
that's a mighty smart-lookin' woman o' his."
"Vance always sees how the women look, Where'd you see her?"
"Came in here the other day to look up prices."
"Wha'd she say 'bout settlin'?"
"Hadn't decided yet."
"He's too slick to have much business in him. That waxed mustache
gives 'im away."
The discussion having reached that point where his word would have
most effect, Steve Gilbert said, while opening the hearth to rap out
the ashes of his pipe, "Sam's wife heerd that he was kind o' thinkin'
some of goin' into business here, if things suited 'im first-rate."
They all knew the old man was aching to tell something, but they
didn't purpose to gratify him by any questions. The rain dripped from
the awning in front and fell upon the roof of the storeroom at the
back with a soft and steady roar.
"Good f'r the corn," MePhail said after a long pause.
"Purty cold, though."
Gilbert was tranquil-he had a shot in reserve. "Sam's wife said his
wife said he was thinkin' some of goin' into a bank here-"
"What in thunder-"
Vance turned, with a comical look on his long, placid face, one
hand stroking his beard.
"Well, now, gents, I'll tell you what's the matter with this town.
It needs a bank. Yes, sir! I need a bank."
"Yes, me. I didn't know just what did ail me, but I do how. It's
the need of a bank that keeps me down."
"Well, you fellers can talk an' laugh, but I tell yeb they's a boom
goin' to strike this town. It's got to come.. W'y, just look at
"Their boom is our bust," was McPhail's comment.
"I don't think so," said Sanford, who had entered in time to hear
these last two speeches. They all looked at him with deep interest.
He was a smallish man. He wore a derby hat and a neat suit. "I've
looked things over pretty close-a man don't like to invest his
capital" (here the rest looked at one another) "till he does; and I
believe there's an opening for a bank."
As he dwelt upon the scheme from day to day, the citizens, warmed
to him, and he became "Jim" Sanford. He hired a little cottage and
went to housekeeping at once; but the entire summer went by before he
made his decision to settle. In fact, it was in the last week of
August that the little paper announced it in the usual style:
Mr. James G. Sanford, popularly known as "Jim," has decided to
open an' exchange bank for the convenienee of our citizens, who have
hitherto been forced to transact business in Lumberville. The thanks
of the town are due Mr. Sanford, who comes well recommended from
Massachusetts and from Milwaukee, and, better still, with a bag of
ducats. Mr. S. will be well patronized. Success, Jim!
The bank was open by the time the corn crop and the hogs were
being marketed, and money was received on deposit while the
carpenters were still at work on the building. Everybody knew now
that he was as solid as oak.
He had taken into the bank, as bookkeeper, Lincoln Bingham, one of
McPhail's multitudinous nephews; and this was a capital move.
Everybody knew Link, and knew he was a McPhail, which meant that he
"could be tied to in all kinds o' weather." Of course the McPhails,
McIlvaines, and the rest of the Scotch contingency "banked on Link."
As old Andrew McPhail put it:
"Link's there, an' he knows the bank an' books, an' just how things
stand"; and so when he sold his hogs he put the whole sum-over-
fifteen hundred dollars-into the bank. The McIlvaines and the
Binghams did the same, and the bank was at once firmly established
among the farmers.
Only two people held out against Sanford, old Freeme Cole and Mrs.
Bingham, Lincoln's mother; but they didn't count, for Freeme hadn't a
cent, and Mrs. Bingham was too unreasoning in her opposition. She
could only say:
"I don't like him, that's all. I knowed a man back in New York that
curled his mustaches just that way, an' he wa'n't no earthiy good."
It might have been said by a cynic that Banker Sanford had all the
virtues of a defaulting bank cashier. He had no bad habits beyond
smoking. He was genial, companionable, and especially ready to help
when sickness came. When old Freeme Cole got down with delirium
tremens that winter, Sanford was one of the most heroic of nurses, and
the service was so clearly disinterested and maguanimous that everyone
spoke of it.
His wife and he were included in every dance or picnic; for Mrs.
Sanford was as great a favorite as the banker himself, she was so
sincere, and her gray eyes were so charmingly frank, and then she
said "such funny things."
"I wish I had something to do besides housework. It's a kind of a
putterin' job, best ye can do," she'd say merrily, just to see the
others stare. "There's too much moppin' an' dustin'. Seems 's if a
woman used up half her life on things that don't amount to anything,
"I tell yeh that feller's a scallywag. I know it buh the way 'e
walks 'long the sidewalk," Mrs. Bingham insisted to her son, who
wished her to put her savings into the bank.
The youngest of a large family, Link had been accustomed all his
life to Mrs. Biugham's many whimsicalities.
"I s'pose you can smell he's a thief, just as you can tell when
it's goin' to rain, or the butter's comin', by the smell."
"Well, you needn't laugh, Lincoln. I can," maintained the old lady
stoutly. "An' I ain't goin' to put a red cent o my money mto his
pocket-f'r there's where it 'ud go to."
She yielded at last, and received a little bankbook in return for
her money. "Jest about all I'll ever get," she said privately; and
thereafter out of her' brass-bowed spectacles with an eagle's gaze
she watched the banker go by. But the banker, seeing the dear old
soul at the window looking out at him, always smiled and bowed,
unaware of her suspicion.
At the end of the year he bought the lot next to his rented house
and began building one of his own, a modest little affair, shaped
like a pork pie with a cupola, or a Tamo'-Shanter cap-a style of
architecture which became fashionable at once.
He worked heroically to get the location of the plow factory at
Bluff Siding, and all but succeeded; but Tyre, once their ally,
turned against them, and refused to consider the fact of the Siding's
position at the center of the county. However, for some reason or
other, the town woke up to something of a boom during the next two
years. Several large farmers decided to retire and live off the sweat
of some other fellow's brow, and so built some houses of the pork-pie
order and moved into town.
This inflow of moneyed men from the country resulted in the
establishment of a "seminary of learning" on the hillside, where the
Soldiers' Home was to be located. This called in more farmers from the
country, and a new hotel was built, a sash-and-door factory followed,
and Burt McPhail set up a feed mill.
An this improvement unquestionably dated, from the opening of the
bank, and the most unreasonmg partisans of the banker held him to be
the chief cause of the resulting development of the town, though he
himself modestly disclaimed any hand in the affair.
Had Bluff Siding been a city, the highest civic honors would have
been open to Banker Sanford; indeed, his name was repeatedly
mentioned in connection with the county offices.
"No, gentlemen," he explained firmly, but courteously, in Wilson's
store one night; "I'm a banker, not a politician. I can't ride two
In the second year of the bank's history he went up to the north
part of the state on business, visiting West Superior, Duluth,
Ashland, and other booming towns, and came back full of the wonders of
what he saw.
"There's big money up there, Nell," he said to his wife.
But she had the woman's tendency to hold fast to what she had, and
would not listen to any plans about moving.
"Build up your business here, Jim, and don't worry about what good
chances there are somewhere else."
He said no more about it, but he took great interest in all the
news the "boys" brought back from their annual deer hunts "up North."
They were all enthusiastic over West Superior and Duluth, and their
wonderful development was the never-ending theme of discussion in
The first two years of the bank's history were solidly successful,
and "Jim" and "Nellie" were the head and front of all good works and
the provoking cause of most of the fun. No one seemed more carefree.
"We consider ourselves just as young as anybody," Mrs. Sanford
would say, when joked about going out with the young people so much;
but sometirnes at home, after the children were asleep, she sighed a
"Jim, I wish you was in some kind of a business so I could help. I
don't have enough to do. I s'pose I could mop an' dust, an' dust an'
mop; but it seems sinful to Waste time that way. Can't I do anything,
"Why, no. If you 'tend to the children and keep house, that's all
anybody asks of you."
She was silent, but not convinced. She had a desire to do
something outside the walls of her house-a desire transmitted to her
from her father, for a woman inherits these things.
In the spring of the second year a number of the depositors drew
out money to invest in Duluth and Superior lots, and the whole town
was excited over the matter.
The summer passed, Link and Sanford spending their tirne in the
bank-that is, when not out swimming or fishing with the boys. But
July and August were terribly hot and dry, and oats and corn were
only half-crop; and the farmers were grumbling. Some of them were
forced to draw on the bank instead of depositing.
McPhail came in, one day in November, to draw a thousand dollars
to pay for a house and lot he had recently bought.
Sanford was alone. He whistled. "Phew! You're comin' at me hard.
Come in tomorrow. Link's gone down to the city to get some money."
"All right," said MePhail; "any time."
"Goin' t' snow?"
"Looks like it. I'll haf to load a lot o' ca'tridges ready fr biz."
About an hour later old lady Bingham burst upon the banker, wild
and breathless. "I want my money," she announced.
"Good morning, Mrs. Bingham. Pleasant-"
"I want my money. Where's Lincoln?"
She had read that morning of two bank failure-one in Nova Scotia
and one in Massachusetts-and they seemed providential warnings to
her. Lincoln's absence confirmed them.
"He's gone to St. Paul-won't be back till the five-o'clock train.
Do you need some money this morning? How much?"
"All of it, sir. Every cent."
Sanford saw something was out of gear. He tried to explain. "I've
sent your son to St. Paul after some money-"
"Where's my money? What have you done with that?" In her
excitement she thought of her money just as she hand handed it
in-silver and little rolls and wads of bills.
"If you'll let me explain-"
"I don't want you to explain nawthin'. Jest hand me out my money."
Two or three loafers, seeing her gesticulate, stopped on the walk
outside and looked in at the door. Sanford was annoyed, but he
remained calm and persuasive. He saw that something had caused a
panic in the good, simple old woman. He wished for Lincoln as one
wishes for a policeman sometimes.
"Now, Mrs. Bingham, if you'll only wait till Lincoln-"
"I don't want 'o wait. I want my money, right now."
"Will fifty dollars do?"
"No, sir; I want it all-every cent of it-jest as it was."
"But I can't do that. Your money is gone-"
"Gone? Where is it gone? What have you done with it? You thief-"
"'Sh!" He tried to quiet her. "I mean I can't give you your money-"
"Why can't you?" she stormed, trotting nervously on her feet as she
"Because-if you'd let me explain-we don't keep the money just as it
comes to us. We pay it out and take in other-"
Mrs. Bingham was getting more and more bewildered. She now had
only one clear idea-she couldn't get her money. Her voice grew tearful
like an angry child's.
"I want my money-I knew you'd steal it-that I worked for. Give me
Sanford hastily handed her some money. "Here's fifty dollars. You
can have the rest when-"
The old lady clutched the money, and literally ran out of the door,
and went off up the sidewalk, talking incoherently. To everyone she
met she told her story; but the men smiled and passed on. They had
heard her predictions of calamity before.
But Mrs. Mcllvaine was made a triffe uneasy by it "He wouldn't
give you y'r money? Or did he say he couldn't?" she inquired in her
"He couldn't, an' he wouldn't!" she said. "If you've got any money
there, you'd better get it out quick. It ain't safe a minute. When
Lincoln comes home I'm goin' to see if I can't-"
"Well, I was calc'latin' to go to Lumberville this week, anyway, to
buy a carpet and a chamber set. I guess I might 's well get the money
When she came in and demanded the money, Sanford was scared. Were
these two old women the beginning of the deluge? Would McPhail insist
on being paid also? There was just one hundred dollars left in the
bank, together with a little silver. With rare strategy he smiled.
"Certainly, Mrs. McIlvaine. How much will you need?" She had
intended to demand the whole of her deposit-one hundred and seventeen
dollars-but his readiness mollified her a little. "I did 'low I'd take
the hull, but I guess seventy-five dollars 'll do."
He paid the money briskly out over the little glass shelf. "How is
your children, Mrs. McIlvaine?"
"Purty well, thanky," replied Mrs. Mcllvaine, laboriously counting
"Is it all right?"
"I guess so," she replied dubiously. "I'll count it after I get
She went up the street with the feeling that the bank was all
right, and she stepped in and told Mrs. Bingham that she had no
trouble in getting her money.
Alter she had gone Sanford sat down and wrote a telegram which he
sent to St. Paul. This telegram, according to the duplicate at the
station, read in this puzzling way:
E. O., Exchange Block, No.96. All out of paper. Send five hundred
noteheads and envelopes to match. Business brisk. Press of
correspondence just now. Get them out quick. Wire.
Two or three others came in after a little money, but he put them
off easily. "Just been cashing some paper, and took all the ready
cash I can spare. Can't you wait till tomorrow? Link's gone down to
St. Paul to collect on some paper. Be back on the five o'clock. Nine
An old Norwegian woman came in to deposit ten dollars, and he
counted it in briskly, and put the amount down on her little book for
her. Barney Mace came in to deposit a hundred dollars, the proceeds of
a horse sale, and this helped him through the day. Those who wanted
small sums he paid.
"Glad this ain't a big demand. Rather close on cash today," he
said, smiling, as Lincoln's wife's sister came in.
She laughed, "I guess it won't bust yeh. If I thought it would, I'd
leave it in."
"Busted!" he said, when Vance wanted him to cash a draft. "Can't
do it. Sorry, Van. Do it in the morning all right. Can you wait?"
"Oh, I guess so. Haf to, won't I?"
"Curious," said Sanford, in a confidential way. "I don't know that
I ever saw things get in just such shape. Paper enough-but exchange,
ye know, and readjustment of accounts."
"I don't know much about banking, myself," said Vance, good
naturedly; "but I s'pose it's a good 'eal same as with a man. Git
short o' cash, first they know -ain't got a cent to spare."
"That's the idea exactly. Credit all right, plenty o' property,
but-" and he smiled and went at his books. The smile died out of his
eyes as Vance went out, and he pulled a little morocco book from his
pocket and began studying the beautiful columns of figures with which
it seemed to be filled. Those he compared with the books with great
care, thrusting the book out of sight when anyone entered.
He closed the bank as usual at five. Lincoln had not come couldn't
come now till the nine-o'clock accommodation. For an hour after the
shades were drawn he sat there in the semidarkness, silently pondering
on his situation. This attitude and deep quiet were unusual to him. He
heard the feet of friends and neighbors passing the door as he sat
there by the smoldering coal fire, in the growing darkness. There was
something impressive in his attitude.
He started up at last and tried to see what the hour was by turning
the face of his watch to the dull glow from the cannon stoye's open
"Suppertime," he said and threw the whole matter off, as if he had
decided it or had put off the decision till another time.
As he went by the post office Vance said to Mcllvaine in a smiling
way, as if it were a good joke on Sanford:
"Little short o' cash down at the bank."
"He's a good fellow," Mcllvaine said.
"So's his wife," added Vance with a chuckle.
That night, after supper, Sanford sat in his snug little skting
room with a baby on each knee, looking as cheerful and happy as any
man in the village. The children crowed and shouted as he "trotted
them to Boston," or rode them on the toe of his boot. They made a
noisy, merry group.
Mrs. Sanford "did her own work," and her swift feet could be heard
moving to and fro out in the kitchen. It was pleasant there; the
woodwork, the furniture, the stove, the curtains-all had that look of
newness just growing into coziness. The coal stove was lighted and the
curtains were drawn.
After the work in the kitchen was done, Mrs. Sanford came in and
sat awhile by the fire with the children, looking very wifely in her
dark dress and white apron, her round, smiling face glowing with love
and pride-the gloating look of a mother seeing her children in the
arms of her husband.
"How is Mrs. Peterson's baby, Jim?" she said suddenly, her face
"Pretty bad, I guess. La, la, la-deedle-dee! The doctor seemed to
think it was a tight squeak if it lived. Guess it's done for-oop 'e
She made a little leap at the youngest child and clasped it
convulsively to her bosom. Her swift maternal imagination had made
another's loss very near and terrible.
"Oh, say, Nell," he broke out, on seeing her sober, "I had the
confoundedest time today with old lady Bingham-"
"'Sh! Baby's gone to sleep."
After the children had been put to bed in the little alcove off the
sitting room, Mrs. Sanford came back, to find Jim absorbed over a
little book of accounts.
"What are you studying, Jim?"
Someone knocked on the door before he had time to reply.
"Come in!" he said.
'Sh! Don't yell so," his wife whispered.
"Telegram, Jim," said a voice in the obscurity.
"Oh! That you, Sam? Come in.
Sam, a lathy fellow with a quid in his cheek, stepped in. "How d'
'e do, Mis' Sanford?"
"Set down-se' down."
"Can't stop; 'most train time."
Sanford tore the envelope open, read the telegram rapidly, the
smile fading out of his face. He read it again, word for word, then
sat looking at it.
"Any answer?" asked Sam.
"All right. Good night."
After the door slammed, Sanford took the sheet from the envelope
and reread it. At length he dropped into his chair. "That settles it,"
he said aloud.
"Settles what? What's the news?" His wife came up and looked over
"Settles I've got to go on that nine-thirty train."
"Be back on the morning train?"
"Yes; I guess so-I mean, of course-I'll have to be-to open the
Mrs. Sanford looked at him for a few seconds in silence. There was
something in his look, and especially in his tone, that troubled her.
"What do you mean? Jim, you don't intend to come back!" She took
his arm. "What's the matter? Now tell me! What are you going away
He knew he could not deceive his wife's ears and eyes just then, so
he remained silent. "We've got to leave, Nell," he admitted at last.
"Why? What for?"
"Because I'm busted-broke-gone up the spout-and all the rest!" he
said desperately, with an attempt at fun. "Mrs. Bingham and Mrs.
McIlvaine have busted me-dead."
"Why-why-what has become of the money-all the money the people
have put in there?"
"Gone up with the rest."
"What 've you done with it? I don't-"
"Well, I've invested it-and lost it."
"James Gordon Sanford!" she exclaimed, trying to realize it. "Was
that right? Ain't that a case of-of-"
"Shouldn't wonder. A case of embezzlement such as you read of in
the newspapers." His tone was easy, but he avoided the look in his
wife's beautiful gray eyes.
"But it's-stealing-ain't it?" She stared at him, bewildered by his
reckless lightness of mood.- "It is now, because I've lost. If I'd'a
won it, it 'ud 'a' been financial shrewdness!"
She asked her next question after a pause, in a low voice, and
through teeth almost set. "Did you go into this bank to-steal this
money? Tell me that!"
"No; I didn't, Nell. I ain't quite up to that."
His answer softened her a little, and she sat looking at him
steadlly as he went on. The tears began to roll slowly down her
cheeks. Her hands were clenched.
"The fact is, the idea came into my head last fall when I went up
to Superior. My partner wanted me to go in with him on some land, and
I did. We speculated on the growth of the town toward the south. We
made a strike; then he wanted me to go in on a copper mine. Of course
As he went on with the usual excuses her mind made all the
allowances possible for him. He had always been boyish, impulsive,
and lacking in judgment and strength of character. She was humiliated
and frightened, but she loved and sympathized with him.
Her silence alarmed him, and he made excuses for himself. He was
speculating for her sake more than for his own, and so on.
"Cho-coo!" whistled the far-off train through the still air.
He sprang up and reached for his coat.
She seized his arm again. "Where are you going?" she sternly
"To take that train."
'When are you coming back?"
"I don't know." But his tone said, "Never."
She felt it. Her face grew bitter. "Going to leave me and-the
"I'll send for you soon. Come, goodbye!" He tried to put his arm
about her. She stepped back.
"Jim, if you leave me tonight" ("Choo-choo!" whistled the engine)
"you leave me forever." There was a terrible resolution in her tone.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that I'm going to stay here. If you go-I'll never be your
wife-again-never!" She glanced at the sleeping children, and her chin
"I can't face those fellows-they'll kill me," he said in a sullen
"No, they won't. They'll respect you, if you stay and tell 'em
exactly how-it-all-is. You've disgraced me and my children, that's
what you've done! If you don't stay-"
The clear jangle of the engine bell sounded through the night as
with the whiz of escaping steam and scrape and jar of gripping brakes
and howl of wheels the train came to a stop at the station. Sanford
dropped his coat and sat down again. + "I'll have to stay now." His
tone was dry and lifeless. It had a reproach in it that cut the wife
deep-deep as the fountain of tears; and she went across the room and
knelt at the bedside, burying her face in the clothes on the feet of
her children, and sobbed silently.
The man sat with bent head, looking into the glowing coal,
whistling through his teeth, a look of sullen resignation and
endurance on his face that had never been there before. His very
attitude was alien and ominous.
Neither spoke for a long time. At last he rose and began taking off
his coat and vest.
"Well, I suppose there's nothing to do but go to bed."
She did not stir-she might have been asleep so far as any sound or
motion was concerned. He went off to the bed in the little parlor,
and she still knelt there, her heart full of anger, bitterness,
The sunny uneventfulness of her past life made this great storm the
more terrifying. Her trust in her husband had been absolute. A
farmer's daughter, the bank clerk had seemed to her the equal of any
gentleman in the world-her world; and when she knew his delicacy, his
unfailing kindness, and his abounding good nature, she had accepted
him as the father of her children, and this was the first revelation
to her of his inherent moral weakness.
Her mind went over the whole ground again and again, in a sort of
blinding rush. She was convinced of his lack of honor more by his
tone, his inflections, than by his words. His lack of deep regret, his
readiness to leave her to bear the whole shock of thediscovery- these
were in his flippant tones; and everytime she thought of them the hot
blood surged over her. At such moments she hated him, and her white
To these moods succeeded others, when she remembered his smile,
the dimple in his chin, his tender care for the sick, his buoyancy,
his songs to the children-How could he sit there, with the children on
his knees, and plan to run away, leaving them disgraced?
She went to bed at last with the babies, and with their soft, warm
little bodies touching her side fell asleep, pondering, suffering as
only a mother and wife can suffer when distrust and doubt of her
husband supplant confidence and adoration.
The children awakened her by their delighted cooing and kissing.
It was a great event, this waking to find mamma in their bed. It was
hardly light, of a dull gray morning; and with the children tumbling
about over her, feeling the pressure of the warm little hands and soft
lips, she went over the whole situation again, and at last settled
upon her action.
She rose, shook down the coal in the stove in the sitting room, and
started a fire in the kitchen; then she dressed the children by the
coal burner. The elder of them, as soon as dressed, ran in to wake
"Poppa" while the mother went about breakfast-getting.
Sanford came out of his bedroom unwontedly gloomy, greeting the
children in a subdued maimer. He shivered as he sat by the fire and
stirred the stove as if he thought the room was cold. His face was
pale and moist.
"Breakfast is ready, James," called Mrs. Sanford in a tone which
she meant to be habitual, but which had a cadence of sadness in it.
Some way, he found it hard to look at her as he came out. She
busied herself with placing the children at the table, in order to
conceal her own emotion.
"I don't believe I'll eat any meat this morning, Nellie. I ain't
She glanced at him quickly, keenly. "What's the matter?"
"I d'know. My stomach is kind of upset by this failure o' mine. I'm
in great shape to go down to the bank this morning and face them
"It's got to be done."
"I know it; but that don't help me any." He tried to smile.
She mused, while the baby hammered on his tin plate. "You've got
to go down. If you don't-I will," said she resolutely. "And you must
say that that money will be paid back-every cent."
"But that's more'n I can do-"
"It must be done."
"But under the law-"
"There's nothing can make this thing right except paying every cent
we owe. I ain't a-goin' to have it said that my children-that I'm
livin' on somebody else. If you don't pay these debts, I will. I've
thought it all out. If you don't stay and face it, and pay these men,
I won't own you as my husband. I loved and trusted you, Jim-I thought
you was honorable-it's been a terrible blow-but I've decided it all in
She conquered her little weakness and went on to the end firmly.
Her face looked pale. There was a square look about the mouth and
chin. The iron resolution and Puritanic strength of her father, old
John Foreman, had come to the surface. Her look and tone mastered the
man, for he loved her deeply.
She had set him a hard task, and when he rose and went down the
street he walked with bent head, quite unlike his usual self.
There were not many men on the street. It seemed earlier than it
was, for it was a raw, cold morning, promising snow. The sun was
completely masked in a seamless dust-gray cloud. He met Vance with a
brown parcel (beefsteak for breakfast) under his arm.
"Hello, Jim! How are ye, so early in the morning?"
"Blessed near used up."
"That so? What's the matter?"
"I d'know," said Jim, listlessly. "Bilious, I guess. Headache-
"Oh! Well, now, you try them pills I was tellin' you of." Arrived
at the bank, he let himself in and locked the door behind him. He
stood in the middle of the floor a few minutes, then went behind the
railing and sat down. He didn't build a fire, though it was cold and
damp, and he shivered as he sat leaning on the desk. At length he drew
a large sheet of paper toward him and wrote something on it in a heavy
He was writing on this when Lincoln entered at the back, whistling
boyishly. "Hello, Jim! Ain't you up early? No fire, eh?" He rattled
at the stove.
Sanford said nothing, but finished his writing. Then he said,
quietly, "You needn't build a fire on my account, Link."
"Well, I'm used up."
"What's the matter?"
"I'm sick, and the business has gone to the devil." He looked out
of the window.
Link dropped the poker, and came around behind the counter, and
stared at Sanford with fallen mouth.
"Wha'd you say?"
"I said the business had gone to the devil. We're broke
busted-petered-gone up the spout." He took a sort of morbid pleasure
in saying these things.
"What's busted us? Have-"
"I've been speciflatin' in copper. My partner's busted me."
Link came closer. His mouth stiffened and an ominous look came
into his eyes. "You don't mean to say you've lost my money, and
Mother's, and Uncle Andrew's, and all the rest?"
Sanford was getting irritated. "- it! What's the use? I tell you,
yes! It's all gone-very cent of it."
Link caught him by the shoulder as he sat at the desk. Sanford's
tone enraged him. "You thief! But you'll pay me back, or I'll-"
"Oh, go ahead! Pound a sick man, if it'll do you any good," said
Sanford with a peculiar recklessness of lifeless misery. "Pay y'rsell
out of the safe. Here's the combination."
Lincoln released him and began turning the knob of the door. At
last it swung open, and he searched the money drawers. Less than
forty dollars, all told. His voice was full of helpless rage as he
turned at last and walked up close to Sanford's bowed head.
"I'd like to pound the life out o' you!"
"You're at liberty to do so, if it'll be any satisfaction." This
desperate courage awed the younger man. He gazed at Sanford in
"If you'll cool down and wait a little, Link, I'll tell you all
about it. I'm sick as a horse. I guess I'll go home. You can put this
up in the window and go home, too, if you want to."
Lincoln saw that Sanford was sick. He was shivering, and drops of
sweat were on his white forehead. Lincoln stood aside silently and
let him go out.
"Better lock up, Link. You can't do anything by staying here."
Lincoln took refuge in a boyish phrase that would have made anyone
but a sick man laugh: "Well, this is a -of a note!"-
He took up the paper. It read:
TO MY CREDITORS AND DEPOSITORS
Through a combination of events I find myself obliged to
temporarily suspend payment. I ask the depositors to be patient, and
their claims will be met. I think I can pay twenty-five cents on the
dollar, if given a little time. I shall not run away. I shall stay
right here till all matters are honorably settled.
JAMES G. SANFORD
Lincoln hastily pinned this paper to the windowsash so that it
could be seen from without, then pulled down the blinds and locked
the door. His fun-loving nature rose superior to his rage for the
moment. "There'll be the devil to pay in this burg before two hours."
He slipped out the back way, taking the keys with him. "I'll go and
tell uncle, and then we'll see if Jim can't turn in the house on our
account," he thought as he harnessed a team to drive out to
The first man to try the door was an old Norwegian in a spotted
Mackinac jacket and a fur cap, with the inevitable little red tippet
about his neck. He turned the knob, knocked, and at last saw the
writing, which he could not read, and went away to tell Johnson that
the bank was closed. Johnson thought nothing special of that; it was
early, and they weren't very particular to open on time, anyway.
Then the barber across the street tried to get in to have a bill
changed. Trying to peer in the window, he saw the notice, which he
read with a grin.
"One o' Link's jobs," he explained to the fellows in the shop.
"He's too darned lazy to open on time, so he puts up notice that the
bank is busted."
"Let's go and see."
"Don't do it! He's watchin' to see us all rush across and look.
Just keep quiet, and see the solid citizens rear around."
Old Orrin McIlvaine came out of the post office and tried the door
next, then stood for a long time reading the notice, and at last
walked thoughtfully away. Soon he returned, to the merriment of the
fellows in the barbershop, with two or three solid citizens who had
been smoking an after-breakfast cigar and planning a deer hunt. They
stood before the window in a row and read the notice. Mcllvaine
gesticulated with his cigar.
"Gentlemen, there's a pig loose here."
"One o' Link's jokes, I reckon."
"But that's Sanford's writin'. An' here it is nine o'clock, and no
one round. I don't like the looks of it, myself."
The crowd thickened; the fellows came out of the blacksmith shop,
while the jokers in the barbershop smote their knees and yelled with
"What's up?" queried Vance, coming up and repeating the universal
McIlvaine pointed at the poster with his cigar.
Vance read the notice, while the crowd waited silently.
"What ye think of it?"asked someone impatiently. Vance smoked a
moment. "Can't say. Where's Jim?"
"That's it! Where is he?"
"Best way to find out is to send a boy up to the house." He called
a boy and sent him scurrying up the street.
The crowd now grew sober and discussed possibilities. "If that's
true, it's the worst crack on the head I ever had," said Mcllvaine.
"Seventeen hundred dollars is my pile in there." He took a seat on
"Well, I'm tickled to death to think I got my little stake out
before anything happened."
"When you think of it-what security did he ever give?" Mcllvaine
"Not a cent-not a red cent."
"No, sir; we simply banked on him. Now, he's a good fellow, an'
this may be a joke o' Link's; but the fact is, it might 'a' happened.
Well, sonny?" he said to the boy, who came running up.
"Link ain't to home, an' Mrs. Sanford she says Jim's sick an' can't
There was a silence. "Anybody see him this morning?" asked Wilson.
"Yes; I saw him," said Vance. "Looked bad, too." The crowd
changed; people came and went, some to get news, some to carry it
away. In a short time the whole town knew the bank had "busted all to
smash." Farmers drove along and stopped to find out what it all meant.
The more they talked, the more excited they grew; and "scoundrel," and
"I always had my doubts of that feller," were phrases growing more
The list of the victims grew until it was evident that neariy all
of the savings of a dozen or. more depositors were swallowed up, and
the sum reached was nearly twenty thousand dollars.
"What did he do with it?" was the question. He never gambled or
drank. He lived frugally. There was no apparent cause for this
failure of a trusted institution.
It was beginning to snow in great, damp, driving flakes, which
melted as they fell, giving to the street a strangeness and gloom
that were impressive. The men left the sidewalk at last and gathered
in the saloons and stores to continue the discussion.
The crowd at the railroad saloon was very decided in its belief.
Sanford had pocketed the money and skipped. That yarn about his being
at home sick was a blind. Some went so far as to say that it was
almighty curious where Link was, hinting darkly that the bank ought to
be broken into, and so on.
Upon this company burst Barney and Sam Mace from "Hogan's
Corners." They were excited by the news and already inflamed with
"Say!" yelled Barney, "any o' you fellers know any-thing about Jim
"No. Why? Got any money there?"
"Yes; and I'm goin' to git it out, if I haf to smash the door in."
"That's the talk!" shouted some of the loafers. They sprang up and
surrounded Barney. There was something in his voice that aroused all
their latent ferocity. "I'm goin' to get into that bank an' see how
things look, an' then I'm goin' to find Sanford an' get my money, or
pound - out of 'im, one o' the six."
"Go find him first. He's up home, sick-so's his wife."
"I'll see whether he's sick 'r not. I'll drag 'im out by the scruff
o' the neck! Come on!" He ended with a sudden resolution, leading the
way out into the street, where the falling snow was softening the
dirt into a sticky mud.
A rabble of a dozen or two of men and boys followed Mace up the
street. He led the way with great strides, shouting his threats. As
they passed along, women thrust their heads out at the windows,
asking, "What's the matter?" And someone answered each time in a
voice of unconcealed delight:
"Sanford's stole all the money in the bank, and they're goin' up to
lick 'im. Come on if ye want to see the fun."
In a few moments the street looked as if an alarm of fire had been
sounded. Half the town seemed to be out, and the other half
coming-women in shawls, like squaws; children capering and laughing;
young men grinning at the girls who came out and stood at the gates.
Some of the citizens tried to stop it. Vance found the constable
looking on and ordered him to do his duty and stop that crowd.
"I can't do anything," he said helplessly. "They ain't done
nawthin' yet, an' I don't know-"
"Oh, git out! They're goin' up there to whale Jim, an' you know it.
If you don't stop 'em, I'll telephone f'r the sheriff, and have you
arrested with 'em."
Under this pressure, the constable ran along after the crowd, in an
attempt to stop it. He reached them as they stood about the little
porch of the house, packed closely around Barney and Sam, who said
nothing, but followed Barney like his shadow. If the sun had been
shining, it might not have happened as it did; but there was a
semi-obscurity, a weird half-light shed by the thick sky and falling
snow, which somehow encouraged the enraged ruffians, who pounded on
the door just as the pleading voice of the constable was heard.
"Hold on, gentlemen! This is ag'inst the law
"Law to -!" said someone. "This is a case f'r something besides
"Open up there!" roared the raucous voice of Barney Mace as he
pounded at the door fiercely.
The door opened, and the wife appeared, one child in her arms, the
other at her side.
"What do you want?"
"Where's that banker? Tell the thief to come out here! We want to
talk with him."
The woman did not quail, but her face seemed a ghastly yellow,
seen through the falling snow.
"He can't come. He's sick."
"Sick! We'll sick 'im! Tell 'im t' come out, or we'll snake 'im out
by the heels." The crowd laughed. The worst elements of the saloons
surrounded the two half-savage men. It was amusing to them to see the
woman face them all in that way.
"Where's McPhail?" Vance inquired anxiously. "Some-body find
"Stand out o' the way!" snarled Barney as he pushed the struggling
The wife raised her voice to that wild, animal-like pitch a woman
uses when desperate.
"I shan't do it, I tell you! Help!"
"Keep out o' my way, or I'll wring y'r neck fr yeh." She struggled
with him, but he pushed her aside and entered the room.
"What's goin' on here?" called the ringing voice of Andrew
McPhail, who had just driven up with Link.
Several of the crowd looked over their shoulders at McPhail.
"Hello, Mac! Just in time. Oh, nawthin'. Barney's callin' on the
banker, that's all."
Over the heads of the crowd, packed struggling about the door,
came the woman's scream again. McPhail dashed around the crowd,
running two or three of them down, and entered the back door. Vance,
McIlvaine, and Lincoln followed him.
"Cowards!" the wife said as the ruffians approached the bed. They
swept her aside, but paused an instant be-fore the glance of the sick
man's eye. He lay there, desperately, deathly sick. The blood throbbed
in his whirling brain, his eyes were bloodshot and blinded, his
strength was gone. He could hardly speak. He partly rose and stretched
out his hand, and then fell back.
"Kill me-if you want to-but let her-alone. She's-"
The children were crying. The wind whistled drearily across the
room, carrying the evanescent flakes of soft snow over the heads of
the pausing, listening crowd in the doorway. Quick steps were heard.
"Hold on there!" cried McPhail as he burst into the room. He
seemed an angel of God to the wife and mother.
He spread his great arms in a gesture which suggested irresistible
strength and resolution. "Clear out! Out with ye!"
No man had ever seen him look like that before. He awed them with
the look in his eyes. His long service as sheriff gave him authority.
He hustled them, cuffed them out of the door like schoolboys. Barney
backed out, cursing. He knew McPhall too well to refuse to obey.
McPhail pushed Barney out, shut the door behind him, and stood on
the steps, looking at the crowd.
"Well, you're a great lot! You fellers, would ye jump on a sick
man? What ye think ye're all doin', anyhow?"
The crowd laughed. "Hey, Mac; give us a speech!"
"You ought to be booted, the whole lot o' yeh!" he replied.
"That houn' in there's run the bank into the ground, with every
cent o' money we'd put in," said Barney. "I s'pose ye know that."
"Well, s'pose he has-what's the use o' jumpin' on
"Git it out of his hide."
"I've heerd that talk before. How much you got in?"
"Two hundred dollars."
"Well, I've got two thousand." The crowd saw the point.
"I guess if anybody was goin' t' take it out of his hide, I'd be
the man; but I want the feller to live and have a chance to pay it
back. Killin' 'im is a dead loss."
"That's so!" shouted somebody. "Mac ain't no fool, if he does chaw
hay," said another, and the crowd laughed. They were losing that
frenzy, largely imitative and involuntary, which actuates a mob.
There was something counteracting in the ex-sheriff's cool, humorous
"Give us the rest of it, Mac!"
"The rest of it is clear out o' here, 'r I'll boot every mother's
son of yeh!"
"Can't do it!"
"Come down an' try it!"
McIlvaine opened the door and looked out. "Mac, Mrs. Sanford wants
to say something-if it's safe."
"Safe as eatin' dinner."
Mrs. Sanford came out, looking pale and almost like a child as she
stood beside her defender's towering bulk. But her face was resolute.
"That money will be paid back," she said, "dollar for dollar, if
you'll just give us a chance. As soon as Jim gets well enough every
cent will be paid, If I live."
The crowd received this little speech in silence. One or two said,
in low voices: "That's business. She'll do it, too, if anyone can."
Barney pushed his way through the crowd with contemptuous. curses.
"The she will!" he said.
"We'll see 't you have a chance," McPhall and McIlvaine assured
She went in and closed the door.
"Now git!" said Andrew, coming down the steps. The crowd scattered
with laughing taunts. He turned and entered the house. The rest
drifted off down the street through the soft flurries of snow, and in
a few moments the street assumed its usual appearance.
The failure of the bank and the raid on the banker had passed into
In the light of the days of calm afterthought which followed, this
attempt upon the peace of the Sanford home grew more monstrous and
helped largely to mitigate the feeling against the banker. Besides, he
had not run away; that was a strong point in his favor.
"Don't that show," argued Vance to the post office- "don't that
show he didn't intend to steal? An' don't it show he's goin' to try to
make things square?"
"I guess we might as well think that as anything."
"I claim the boys has a right t' take sumpthin' out o' his hide,"
Bent Wilson stubbornly insisted.
"Ain't enough t' go 'round," laughed McPhail. "Besides, I can't
have it. Link an' I own the biggest share in 'im, an' we can't have
McIlvaine and Vance grinned. "That's a fact, Mac. We four fellers
are the main losers. He's ours, an' we can't have him foundered 'r
crippled 'r cut up in any way. Ain't that woman of his gritty?"
"Gritty ain't no name for her. She's goin' into business."
"So I hear. They say Jim was crawling around a little yesterday. I
"I did. He looks pretty streak-id-now you bet."
"Wha'd he say for himself?"
"Oh, said give 'im time-he'd fix it all up."
"How much time?"
"Time enough. Hain't been able to look at a book since. Say, ain't
it a little curious he was so sick just then-sick as a p'isened dog?"
The two men looked at each other in a manner most comically
significant. The thought of poison was in the mind of each.
It was under these trying circumstances that Sanford began to
crawl about, a week or ten days after his sickness. It was really the
most terrible punishment for him. Before, everybody used to sing out,
"Hello, Jim!"- or "Mornin', banker," or some other jovial,
heartwarming salutation. Now, as he went down the street, the groups
of men smoking on the sunny side of the stores ignored him, or looked
at him with scornfull eyes.
Nobody said, "Hello, Jim!"-not even McPhail or Vance. They nodded
merely, and went on with their smoking. The children followed him and
stared at him without compassion. They had heard him called a
scoundrel and a thief too often at home to feel any pity for his pale
After his first trip down the street, bright with the December
sunshine, he came home in a bitter, weak mood, smarting, aching with
a poignant self-pity over the treatment he had received from his old
"It's all your fault," he burst out to his wife. "If you'd only let
me go away and look up another place, I wouldn't have to put up with
all these sneers and insults."
"What sneers and insults?" she asked, coming over to him.
"Why, nobody 'll speak to me."
"Won't Mr. McPhail and Mr. Mcllvalne?"
"Yes; but not as they used to."
"You can't blame 'em, Jim. You must go to work and win back their
"I can't do that. Let's go away, Nell, and try again." Her mouth
closed firmly. A hard look came into her eyes. "You can go if you
want to, Jim, I'm goin' to stay right here till we can leave
honorably. We can't run away from this. It would follow us anywhere
we went; and it would get worse the farther we went"
He knew the unyielding quality of his wife's resolution, and from
that moment he submitted to his fate. He loved his wife and children
with a passionate love that made life with them, among the citizens he
had robbed, better than life anywhere else on earth; he had no power
to leave them.
As soon as possible he went over his books and found out that he
owed, above all notes coming in, about eleven thousand dollars. This
was a large sum to look forward to paying by anything he could do in
the Siding, now that his credit was gone. Nobody would take him as a
clerk, and there was nothing else to be done except manual labor, and
he was not strong enough for that.
His wife, however, had a plan. She sent East to friends for a
little money at once, and with a few hundred dollars opened a little
store in time for the holiday trade-wallpaper, notions, light dry
goods, toys, and millinery. She did her own housework and attended to
her shop in a grim, uncomplaining fashion that made Sanford feel like
a criminal in her presence. He couldn't propose to help her in the
store, for he knew the people would refuse to trade with him, so he
attended to the children and did little things about the house for the
first few months of the winter.
His life for a time was abjectly pitiful. He didn't know what to
do. He had lost his footing, and, worst of all, he felt that his wife
no longer respected him. She loved and pitied him, but she no longer
looked up to him. She went about her work and down to her store with
a silent, resolute, uncommunicative air, utterly unlike her former
sunny, domestic self, so that even she seemed alien like the rest. If
he had been ill, Vance and McPhail would have attended him; as it was,
they could not help him.
She already had the sympathy of the entire town, and McIlvaine had
said: "If you need more money, you can have it, Mrs. Sanford. Call on
us at any time."
"Thank you. I don't think I'll need it. All I ask is your trade,"
she replied. "I don't ask anybody to pay more'n a thing's worth,
either. I'm goin' to sell goods on business principles, and I expect
folks to buy of me because I'm selling reliable goods as cheap as
Her business was successful from the start, but she did not allow
herself to get too confident.
"This is a kind of charity trade. It won't last on that basis.
Folks ain't goin' to buy of me because I'm poor-not very long," she
said to Vance, who went in to congratulate her on her booming trade
during Christmas and New Year.
Vance called so often, advising or congratulating her, that the
boys joked him. "Say, looky here! You're gom' to get into a peck o'
trouble with your wife yet. You spend about hall y'r time in the new
Vance looked serene as he replied, "I'd stay longer and go oftener
If I could."
"Well, if you ain't cheekier 'n ol' cheek! I should think you'd be
ashamed to say it."
"'Shamed of it? I'm proud of it! As I tell my wife, if I'd 'a' met
Mis' Sanford when we was both young, they wouldn't 'a' be'n no such
The new life made its changes in Mrs. Sanford. She grew thinner
and graver, but as she went on, and trade steadily increased, a
feeling of pride, a sort of exultation, came into her soul and shone
from her steady eyes. It was glorious to feel that she was holding
her own with men in the world, winning their respect, which is better
than their flattery. She arose each day at five o'clock with a
distinct pleasure, for her physical health was excellent, never
She began to dream. She could pay off five hundred dollars a year
of the interest-perhaps she could pay some of the principal, if all
went well. Perhaps in a year br two she could take a larger store,
and, if Jim got something to do, in ten years they could pay it all
off-every cent! She talked with businessmen, and read and studied,
and felt each day a firmer hold on affairs.
Sanford got the agency of an insurance company or two and earned a
few dollars during the spring. In June things brightened up a little.
The money for a note of a thousand dollars fell due-a note he had
considered virtually worthless, but the debtor, having had a "streak
o' luck," sent seven hundred and fifty dollars. Sanford at once called
a meeting of his creditors, and paid them, pro rata, a thousand
dollars. The meeting took place in his wife's store, and in making the
speech Sanford said:
"I tell you, gentlemen, if you'll only give us a chance, we'll
clear this thing all up-that is, the principal. We can't-"
"Yes, we can, James. We can pay it all, principal and interest. We
owe the interest just as much as the rest." It was evident that there
was to be no letting down while she lived.
The effect of this payment was marked. The general feeling was
much more kindly than before. Most of the fellows dropped back into
the habit of calling him Jim; but, after all, it was not like the
greeting of old, when he was "banker." Still the gain in confidence
found a reflex in him. His shoulders, which had begun to droop a
little, lifted, and his eyes brightened.
"We'll win yet," he began to say.
"She's a-holdin' of 'im right to time," Mrs. Bingham said.
It was shortly after this that he got the agency for a new
cash-delivery system, and went on the road with it, traveling in
northern Wisconsin and Minnesota. He came back after a three weeks'
trip, quite jubilant. "I've made a hundred dollars, Nell. I'm all
right if this holds out, and I guess it will."
In the following November, just a year after the failure, they
celebrated the day, at her suggestion, by paying interest on the
unpaid sums they owed.
"I could pay a little more on the principal," she explained, "but I
guess it'll be better to use it for my stock. I can pay better
dividends next year.
"Take y'r time, Mrs. Sanford," Vance said.
Of course she could not escape criticism. There were the usual
number of women who noticed that she kept her 'young uns" in the
latest style, when as a matter of fact she sat up nights to make their
little things. They also noticed that she retained her house and her
"If I was in her place, seems to me, I'd turn in some o' my fine
furniture toward my debts," Mrs. Sam Gilbert said spitefully.
She did not even escape calumny. Mrs. Sam Gilbert darkly hinted at
certain "goin's on durin' his bein' away. Lit up till after midnight
some nights. I c'n see her winder from mine."
Rose McPhail, one of Mrs. Sanford's most devoted friends, asked
quietly, "Do you sit up all night t' see?"
"S'posin' I do!" she snapped. "I can't sleep with such things goin'
"If it'll do you any good, Jane, I'll say that she's settin' up
there sewin' for the children. If you'd keep your nose out o' other
folks' affairs, and attend better to your own, your house wouldn't
look' like a pigpen, all' your children like A-rabs."
But in spite of a few annoyances of this character Mrs. Sanford
found her new life wholesomer and broader than her old life, and the
pain of her loss grew less poignant.
One day in spring, in the lazy, odorous hush of the afternoon, the
usual number of loafers were standing on the platform, waiting for
the train. The sun was going down the slope toward the hills, through
a warm April haze.
"Hello!" exclaimed the man who always sees things first. "Here
comes Mrs. Sanford and the ducklings."
"Ain't goin' off, is she?"
"Nope; guess not. Meet somebody, prob'ly Sanford."
"Well, sornethin's up. She don't often get out o' that store."
"Le's see; he's been gone most o' the winter, hain't he?"
"Yes; went away about New Year's."
Mrs. Sanford came past, leading a child by each hand, nodding and
smiling to friends-for all seemed friends. She looked very resolute
and businesslike in her plain, dark dress, with a dull flame of color
at the throat, while the broad hat she wore gave her face a touch of
piquancy very charming. Evidently she was in excellent spirits, and
laughed and chatted in quite a carefree way.
She was now an institution at the Siding. Her store had grown in
proportions yearly, until it was as large and commodious as any in
the town. The drummers for dry goods all called there, and the fact
that she did not sell any groceries at all did not deter the drummers
for grocery houses from calling to see each time if she hadn't
decided to put in a stock of groceries.
These keen-eyed young fellows had spread her fame all up and down
the road. She had captured them, not by beauty, but by her pluck,
candor, honesty, and by a certain fearless but reserved camaraderie.
She was not afraid of them, or of anybody else, now.
The train whistled, and everybody turned to watch it as it came
pushing around the bluff like a huge hound on a trail, its nose close
to the ground. Among the first to alight was Sanford, in a shining
new silk hat and a new suit of clothes. He was smiling gaily as he
fought his way through the crowd to his wife's side. "Hello!" he
shouted. "I thought I'd see you all here."
"W'y, Jim, ain't you cuttin' a swell?"
"A swell! Well, who's got a better right? A man wants to look as
well as he can when he comes home to such a family."
"Hello, Jim!. That plug 'll never do."
"Hello, Vance! Yes; but it's got to do. Say, you tell all the
fellers that's got anything ag'inst me to come around tomorrow night
to the store. I want to make some kind of a settlement."
"All right, Jim. Goin' to pay a new dividend?"
"That's what I am," he beamed as he walked off with his wife, who
was studying him sharply.
"Jim, what ails you?"
"Nothin'; I'm all right."
"But this new suit? And the hat? And the necktie?" He laughed
merrily-so merrily, in fact, that his wife looked at him the more
anxiously. He appeared to be in a queer state of intoxication-a state
that made him happy without impairing his faculties, however. He
turned suddenly and put his lips down toward her ear. "Well, Nell, I
can't hold in any longer. We've struck it!"
"Well, you see that derned fool partner o' mine got me to go into a
lot o' land in the copper country. That's where all the trouble came.
He got awfully let down. Well, he's had some surveyors to go up there
lately and look it over, and the next thing we knew the Superior
Mining Company came along an' wanted to buy it. Of course we didn't
want to sell just then."
They had reached the store door, and he paused.
"We'll go right home to supper," she said. "The girls will look out
for things till I get back."
They walked on together, the children laughing and playing ahead.
"Well, upshot of it is, I sold out my share to Osgood for twenty
She stopped and stared at him. "Jim-Gordon Sanford!"
"Fact! I can prove it." He patted his breast pocket mysteriously.
"Ten thousand right there."
"Gracious sakes alive! How dare you' carry so much money?"
"I'm mighty glad o' the chance." He grinned.
They walked on almost in silence, with only a word now and then.
She seemed to be thinking deeply, and he didn't want to disturb her.
It was a delicious spring hour. The snow was all gone, even under the
hedges. The roads were warm and brown. The red sun was flooding the
valley with a misty, rich-colored light, and against the orange and
gold of the sky the hills stood in Tyrian purple. Wagons were rattling
along the road. Men on the farms in the edge of the village could be
heard whistling at their work. A discordant jangle of a neighboring
farmer's supper bell announced that it was time "to turn out."
Sanford was almost as gay as a lover. He seemed to be on the point
of regaining his old place in his wife's respect. Somehow the
possession of the package of money in his pocket seemed to make him
more worthy of her, to put him more on an equality with her.
As they reached the little one-story square cottage he sat down on
the porch, where the red light fell warmly, and romped with the
children, while his wife went in and took off her things. She "kept a
girl" now, so that the work of getting supper did not devolve entirely
upon her. She came out soon to call them all to the supper table in
the little kitchen back of the sitting room.
The children were wild with delight to have "Poppa" back, and the
meal was the merriest they had had for a long time. The doors and
windows were open, and the spring evening air came in' laden with the
sweet, suggestive smell of bare ground. The alert chuckle of an
occasional robin could be heard.
Mrs. Sanford looked up from her tea. "There's one thing I don't
like, Jim, and that's the way that money comes. You didn't-you didn't
really earn it."
"Oh' don't worry yourself about that. That's the way things go.
It's just luck."
"Well, I can't see it just that way. It seems to me just-like
gambling. You win' but-but somebody else must lose."
"Oh well, look a-here; if you go to lookin' too sharp into things
like that, you'll find a good 'eal of any business like gamblin'."
She said no more, but her face remained clouded. On the way down
to the store they met Lincoln.
"Come down to the store, Link, and bring Joe. I want to talk with
Lincoln stared, but said, "All right." Then added, as the others
walked away, "Well, that feller ain't got no cheek t' talk to me like
that-more cheek 'n a gov'ment mule!"
Jim took a seat near the door and watched his wife as she went
about the store. She employed two clerks now, while she attended to
the books and the cash. He thought how different she was, and he liked
(and, in a way, feared) her cool, businesslike manner, her
self-possession, and her smileless conversation with a drummer who
came in. Jim was puzzled. He didn't quite -understand the peculiar
effect his wife's manner had upon him.
Outside, word had passed around that Jim had got back and that
something was in the wind, and the fellows began to drop in. When
McPhail came in and said, "Hello!" in his hearty way, Sanford went
over to his wile and said:
"Say, Nell, I can't stand this. I'm goin' to get rid o' this money
right off, now!"
"Very well; just as you please."
"Gents," he began, turning his back to the. counter and smiling
blandly on them, one thumb in his vest pocket, "any o' you fellers
got anything against the Lumber Cpunty Bank-any certificates of
deposit, or notes?"
Two or three nodded, and McPhail said humorously, slapping his
pocket, "I always go loaded."
"Produce your paper, gents," continued Sanford, with a dramatic
whang of a leathern wallet down into his palm. "I'm buying up all
paper on the bank."
It was a superb stroke. The fellows whistled and stared and swore
at one another. This was coming down on them. Link was dumb with
amazement as he received sixteen hundred and fifty dollars in crisp,
"Andrew, it's your turn next." Sanford's tone was actually
patronizing as he faced McPhail.
"I was jokin'. I ain't got my certificate here."
"Don't .matter-don't matter. Here's fifteen hundred dollars. Just
give us a receipt, and bring the certif. any time. I want to get rid
o' this stuff right now."
"Say, Jim, we'd like to know jest-jest where this windfall comes
from," said Vance as he took his share.
"Comes from the copper country," was all he ever said about it.
"I don't see where he invested," Link said. "Wasn't a scratch of a
pen to show that he invested anything while he was in the bank. Guess
that's where our money went."
"Well, I ain't squealin'," said Vance. "I'm glad to get out of it
without asking any questions. I'll tell yeh one thing, though," he
added as they stood outside the door; "we'd 'a' never smelt of our
money again if it hadn't 'a' been f'r that woman in there. She'd 'a'
paid it alone if Jim hadn't 'a' made this strike, whereas he never'd
'a'-Well, all right. We're out of it."
It was one of the greatest moments of Sanford's life. He expanded
in it. He was as pleasantly aware of the glances of his wife as he
used to be when, as a clerk, he saw her pass and look in at the
window where he sat dreaming over his ledger.
As for her, she was going over the whole situation from this new
standpoint. He had been weak, he had fallen in her estimation, and
yet, as he stood there, so boyish in his exultation, the father of her
children, she loved him with a touch of maternal tenderness and hope,
and her heart throbbed in an unconscious, swift determination to do
him good. She no longer deceived herself. She was his equal-in some
ways his superior. Her love had friendship in it, but less of sex, and
As she blew out the lights, stepped out on the walk, and turned the
key in the lock, he said, "Well, Nellie, you won't have to do that
"No; I won't have to, but I guess I'll keep on just the same, Jim."
"Keep on? What for?"
"Well, I rather like it."
"But you don't need to-"
"I like being my own boss," she said. "I've done a lot o' figuring,
Jim, these last three years, and it's kind o' broadened me, I hope. I
can't go back where I was. I'm a better woman than I was before, and
I hope and believe that I'm better able to be a real mother to my
children." Jim looked up at the moon filling the warm, moist air with
a transfiguring light that fell in a luminous mist on the distant
hills. "I know one thing, Nellie; I'm a better man than I was before,
and it's all owin' to you."
His voice trembled a little, and the sympathetic tears came into
her eyes. She didn't speak at once-she couldn't At last she stopped
him by a touch on the arm.
"Jim, I want a partner in my store. Let us begin again, right here.
I can't say that I'll ever feel just as I did once I don't know as
it's right to. I looked up to you too much. I expected too much of
you, too. Let's' begin again, as equal partners." She held out her
hand, as one man to another. He took it wonderingly.
"All right, Nell; I'll do it."
Then, as he put his arm around her, she held up her lips to be
kissed. "And we'll be happy again-happy as we deserve, I s'pose," she
said with a smile and a sigh.
"It's almost like getting married again, Nell-for me." As they
walked off up the sidewalk in the soft moon-light, their arms were
They loitered like a couple of lovers.