Path of Glory by Mary Brecht Pulver
It was so poor a place—a bitten-off morsel “at the
beyond end of nowhere”—that when a February gale
came driving down out of a steel sky and shut up the
little lane road and covered the house with snow a
passer-by might have mistaken it all, peeping through
its icy fleece, for just a huddle of the brown bowlders so
common to the country thereabouts.
And even when there was no snow it was as bad—worse,
almost, Luke thought. When everything else
went brave and young with new greenery; when the
alders were laced with the yellow haze of leaf bud, and
the brooks got out of prison again, and arbutus and
violet and buttercup went through their rotation of
bloom up in the rock pastures and maple bush—the
farm buildings seemed only the bleaker and barer.
That forlorn unpainted little house, with its sagging
blinds! It squatted there through the year like a one-eyed
beggar without a friend—lost in its venerable
white-beard winters, or contemplating an untidy welter
of rusty farm machinery through the summers.
When Luke brought his one scraggy little cow up the
lane he always turned away his head. The place made
him think of the old man who let the birds build nests in
his whiskers. He preferred, instead, to look at the
glories of Bald Mountain or one of the other hills.
There was nothing wrong with the back drop in the
home stage-set; it was only home itself that hurt one’s
There was no cheer inside, either. The sagging old
floors, though scrubbed and spotless, were uncarpeted;
the furniture meager. A pine table, a few old chairs, a
shabby scratched settle covered by a thin horse blanket
as innocent of nap as a Mexican hairless—these for essentials;
and for embellishment a shadeless glass lamp
on the table, about six-candle power, where you might
make shift to read the Biweekly—times when there was
enough money to have a Biweekly—if you were so
minded; and window shelves full of corn and tomato
cans, still wearing their horticultural labels, where
scrawny one-legged geraniums and yellowing coleus and
begonia contrived an existence of sorts.
And then, of course, the mantelpiece with the black-edged
funeral notice and shiny coffin plate, relics of
Grampaw Peel’s taking-off; and the pink mug with the
purple pansy and “Woodstock, N. Y.,” on it; the photograph
of a forgotten cousin in Iowa, with long antennæ-shaped
mustaches; the Bible with the little china
knobs on the corners; and the pile of medicine testimonials
and seed catalogues—all these contributed
If it was not a beautiful place within, it was, also, not
even a pleasant place spiritually. What with the open
door into his father’s room, whence you could hear the
thin frettings made by the man who had lain these ten
years with chronic rheumatism, and the untuneful
whistlings of whittling Tom, the big brother, the shapely
supple giant whose mind had never grown since the fall
from the barn room when he was eight years old, and
the acrid complaints of the tall gaunt mother, stepping
about getting their inadequate supper, in her gray
wrapper, with the ugly little blue shawl pinned round
her shoulders, it was as bad a place as you might find
in a year’s journeying for anyone to keep bright and
“chirk up” in.
Not that anyone in particular expected “them poor
Hayneses” to keep bright or “chirk up.” As far back
as he could remember, Luke had realized that the hand
of God was laid on his family. Dragging his bad leg up
the hill pastures after the cow, day in and day out, he
had evolved a sort of patient philosophy about it. It
was just inevitable, like a lot of things known in that
rock-ribbed and fatalistic region—as immutably decreed
by heaven as foreordination and the damnation of unbaptized
babes. The Hayneses had just “got it hard.”
Yet there were times, now he was come to a gangling
fourteen, when Luke’s philosophy threatened to fail
him. It wasn’t fair—so it wasn’t! They weren’t bad
folks; they’d done nothing wicked. His mother worked
like a dog—“no fair for her,” any way you looked at it.
There were times when the boy drank in bitterly every
detail of the miserable place he called home and knew
the depths of an utter despair.
If there was only some way to better it all! But
there was no chance. His father had been a failure at
everything he touched in early life, and now he was a
hopeless invalid. Tom was an idiot—or almost—and
himself a cripple. And Nat! Well, Nat “wa’n’t
willin”—not that one should blame him. Times like
these, a lump like a roc’s egg would rise in the
boy’s throat. He had to spit—and spit hard—to
“If we hain’t the gosh-awfulest lot!” he would gulp.
To-day, as he came up the lane, June was in the land.
She’d done her best to be kind to the farm. All the old
heterogeneous rosebushes in the wood-yard and front
“lawn” were piled with fragrant bloom. Usually Luke
would have lingered to sniff it all, but he saw only one
thing now with a sudden skipping at his heart—an automobile
standing beside the front porch.
It was not the type of car to cause cardiac disturbance
in a connoisseur. It was, in fact, of an early vintage,
high-set, chunky, brassily æsthetic, and given to asthmatic
choking on occasion; but Luke did not know this.
He knew only that it spelled luxury beyond all dreams.
It belonged, in short, to his Uncle Clem Cheesman, the
rich butcher who lived in the village twelve miles away;
and its presence here signaled the fact that Uncle Clem
and Aunt Mollie had come to pay one of their detestable
quarterly visits to their poor relations. They had come
while he was out, and Maw was in there now, bearing
it all alone.
Luke limped into the house hastily. He was not mistaken.
There was a company air in the room, a stiff
hostile-polite taint in the atmosphere. Three visitors
sat in the kitchen, and a large hamper, its contents
partly disgorged, stood on the table. Luke knew that
it contained gifts—the hateful, merciful, nauseating
charity of the better-off.
Aunt Mollie was speaking as he entered—a large,
high-colored, pouter-pigeon-chested woman, with a
great many rings with bright stones, and a nodding
pink plume in her hat. She was holding up a bifurcated
crimson garment, and greeted Luke absently.
“Three pair o’ them underdrawers, Delia—an’ not a
break in one of ’em! I sez, as soon as I see Clem layin’
’em aside this spring, ‘Them things’ll be jest right fur
Delia’s Jere, layin’ there with the rheumatiz.’ They
may come a little loose; but, of course, you can’t be
choicey. I’ve b’en at Clem fur five years to buy him
union suits; but he’s always b’en so stuck on red flannen.
But now he’s got two aut’mobiles, countin’ the new
delivery, I guess he’s gotta be more tony; so he made out
to spare ’em. And now that hat, Delia—it ain’t a mite
wore out, an’ fur all you’ll need one it’s plenty good
enough. I only had it two years and I guess folks won’t
remember; an’ what if they do—they all know you get
my things. Same way with that collarette. It’s a
little moth-eaten, but it won’t matter fur you....
The gray suit you can easy cut down fur Luke,
She droned on, the other woman making dry automatic
sounds of assent. She looked cool—Maw—Luke
thought; but she wasn’t. Not by a darn sight! There
was a spot of pink in each cheek and she stared hard
every little bit at Grampaw Peel’s funeral plate on the
mantel. Luke knew what she was thinking of—poor
Maw! She was burning in a fire of her own lighting.
She had brought it all on herself—on the whole lot of
Years ago she had been just like Aunt Mollie. The
daughters of a prosperous village carpenter, they had
shared beads, beaux and bangles until Maw, in a moment’s
madness, had chucked it all away to marry poor
Paw. Now she had made her bed, she must lie in it.
Must sit and say “Thank you!” for Aunt Mollie’s
leavings, precious scraps she dared not refuse—Maw,
who had a pride as fierce and keen as any! It was
devilish! Oh, it was kind of Aunt Mollie to give; it was
the taking that came so bitter hard. And then they
weren’t genteel about their giving. There was always
that air of superiority, that conscious patronage, as now,
when Uncle Clem, breaking off his conversation with
the invalid in the next room about the price of mutton
on the hoof and the chances of the Democrats’ getting
in again, stopped fiddling with his thick plated watch
chain and grinned across at big Tom to fling his undeviating
flower of wit:
“Runnin’ all to beef, hain’t ye, Tom, boy? Come on
down to the market an’ we’ll git some A 1 sirloins outen
ye, anyway. Do your folks that much good.”
It was things like this that made Luke want to burn,
poison, or shoot Uncle Clem. He was not a bad man,
Uncle Clem—a thick sandy chunk of a fellow, given to
bright neckties and a jocosity that took no account of
feelings. Shaped a little like a log, he was—back of
his head and back of his neck—all of a width. Little
lively green eyes and bristling red mustaches. A complexion
a society bud might have envied. Why was it a
butcher got so pink and white and sleek? Pork, that’s
what Uncle Clem resembled, Luke thought—a nice,
smooth, pale-fleshed pig, ready to be skinned.
His turn next! When crops and politics failed and the
joke at poor Tom—Tom always giggled inordinately at
it, too—had come off, there was sure to be the one about
himself and the lame duck next. To divert himself of
bored expectation, Luke turned to stare at his cousin,
S’norta, sitting quietly in a chair across the room, was
seldom known to be emotional. Indeed, there were
times when Luke wondered whether she had not died
in her chair. One had that feeling about S’norta, so
motionless was she, so uncompromising of glance. She
was very prosperous-looking, as became the heiress to
the Cheesman meat business—a fat little girl of twelve,
dressed with a profusion of ruffles, glass pearls, gilt
buckles, and thick tawny curls that might have come
straight from the sausage hook in her papa’s shop.
S’norta had been consecrated early in life to the unusual.
Even her name was not ordinary. Her romantic
mother, immersed in the prenatal period in the hair-lifting
adventures of one Señorita Carmena, could think
of no lovelier appellation when her darling came than
the first portion of that sloe-eyed and restless lady’s
title, which she conceived to be baptismal; and in due
course she had conferred it, together with her own pronunciation,
on her child. A bold man stopping in at
Uncle Clem’s market, as Luke knew, had once tried to
pronounce and expound the cognomen in a very different
fashion; but he had been hustled unceremoniously from
the place, and S’norta remained in undisturbed possession
of her honors.
Now Luke was recalled from his contemplation by his
uncle’s voice again. A lull had fallen and out of it broke
the question Luke always dreaded.
“Nat, now!” said Uncle Clem, leaning forward, his
thick fingers clutching his fat knees. “You ain’t had
any news of him since quite a while ago, have you?”
The wit that was so preponderable a feature of Uncle
Clem’s nature bubbled to the surface. “Dunno but
he’s landed in jail a spell back and can’t git out again!”
The lively little eyes twinkled appreciatively.
Nobody answered. It set Maw’s mouth in a thin,
hard line. You wouldn’t get a rise out of old Maw with
such tactics—Maw, who believed in Nat, soul and body.
Into Luke’s mind flashed suddenly a formless half
prayer: “Don’t let ’em nag her now—make ’em talk
The Lord, in the guise of Aunt Mollie, answered him.
For once, Nat and Nat’s character and failings did not
hold her. She drew a deep breath and voiced something
that claimed her interest:
“Well, Delia, I see you wasn’t out at the Bisbee’s
funeral. Though I don’t s’pose anyone really expected
you, knowin’ how things goes with you. Time was,
when you was a girl, you counted in as big as any and
traveled with the best; but now”—she paused delicately,
and coughed politely with an appreciative glance
round the poor room—“they ain’t anyone hereabouts
but’s talkin’ about it. My land, it was swell! I couldn’t
ask no better for my own. Fourteen cabs, and the
hearse sent over from Rockville—all pale gray, with
mottled gray horses. It was what I call tasty.
“Matty wasn’t what you’d call well-off—not as lucky
as some I could mention; but she certainly went off
grand! The whole Methodist choir was out, with three
numbers in broken time; and her cousin’s brother-in-law
from out West—some kind of bishop—to preach.
Honest, it was one of the grandest sermons I ever heard!
Wasn’t it, Clem?”
Uncle Clem cleared his throat thoughtfully.
“Humiliatin’!—that’s what I’d call it. A strong
maur’l sermon all round. A man couldn’t hear it ’thout
bein’ humiliated more ways’n one.” He was back at
the watch-chain again.
“It’s a pity you couldn’t of gone, Delia—you an’
Matty always was so intimate too. You certainly
missed a grand treat, I can tell you; though, if you
hadn’t the right clothes—”
“Well, I haven’t,” Maw spoke dryly. “I don’t go no-wheres,
as you know—not even church.”
“I s’pose not. Time was it was different, though,
Delia. Ain’t nobody but talks how bad off you are.
Ann Chester said she seen you in town a while back and
wouldn’t of knowed it was you if it hadn’t of b’en you
was wearin’ my old brown cape, an’ she reconnized it.
Her an’ me got ’em both alike to the same store in Rockville.
You was so changed, she said she couldn’t hardly
believe it was you at all.”
“Sometimes I wonder myself if it is,” said Maw
“Well, ’s I was sayin’, it was a grand funeral. None
better! They even had engraved invites, over a hundred
printed—and they had folks from all over the
state. They give Clem, here, the contract fur the
“The best of everything!” Uncle Clem broke in.
“None o’ your cheap graft. Gimme a free hand. Jim
Bisbee tole me himself. ‘I want the best ye got,’ he
sez; an’ I give it. Spring lamb and prime ribs, fancy
“An’ Em Carson baked the cakes fur ’em, sixteen of
’em; an’ Dickison the undertaker’s tellin’ all over they
got the best quality shroud he carries. Well, you’ll
find it all in the Biweekly, under Death’s Busy Sickle.
Jim Bisbee shore set a store by Matty oncet she was
dead. It was a grand affair, Delia. Not but what
we’ve had some good ones in our time too.”
It was Aunt Mollie’s turn to stare pridefully at the
Peel plate on the chimney shelf.
“A thing like that sets a family up, sorta.”
Uncle Clem had taken out a fat black cigar with a
red-white-and-blue band. He bit off the end and
alternately thrust it between his lips or felt of its thickness
with a fondling thumb and finger. Luke, watching,
felt a sudden compassion for the cigar. It looked so
“I always say,” Aunt Mollie droned on, “a person
shows up what he really is at the last—what him and
his family stands fur. It’s what kind of a funeral you’ve
got that counts—who comes out an’ all. An’ that was
true with Matty. There wa’n’t a soul worth namin’
that wasn’t out to hers.”
How Aunt Molly could gouge—even amicably!
And funerals! What a subject, even in a countryside
where a funeral is a social event and the manner of its
furniture marks a definite social status! Would they
never go? But it seemed at last they would. Incredibly,
somehow, they were taking their leave, Aunt
Mollie kissing Maw good-by, with the usual remark
about “hopin’ the things would help some,” and about
being “glad to spare somethin’ from my great plenty.”
She and Señorita were presently packed into the
car and Tom had gone out to goggle at Uncle Clem
cranking up, the cold cigar still between his lips. Now
they were off—choking and snorting their way out of
the wood-yard and down the lane. Aunt Mollie’s pink
feather streamed into the breeze like a pennon of
Maw was standing by the stove, a queer look in her
eyes; so queer that Luke didn’t speak at once. He
limped over to finger the spilled treasures on the table.
“Gee! Lookit, Maw! More o’ them prunes we
liked so; an’ a bag o’ early peaches; an’ fresh soup
meat fur a week—”
A queer trembling had seized his mother. She was
so white he was frightened.
“Did you sense what it meant, Luke—what Aunt
Molly told us about Matty Bisbee? We was left out
deliberate—that’s what it meant. Her an’ me that was
raised together an’ went to school and picnics all our
girlhood together! Never could see one ’thout the
other when we was growin’ up—Jim Bisbee knew that
too! But”—her voice wavered miserably—“I didn’t
get no invite to her funeral. I don’t count no more,
Lukey. None of us, anywheres.... We’re jest them
poor Gawd-forsaken Hayneses.”
She slipped down suddenly into a chair and covered
her face, her thin shoulders shaking. Luke went and
touched her awkwardly. Times he would have liked
to put his arms round Maw—now more than ever;
but he didn’t dare.
“Don’t take on, Maw! Don’t!”
“Who’s takin’ on?” She lifted a fierce, sallow, tear-wet
face. “Hain’t no use makin’ a fuss. All’s left’s to
work—to work, an’ die after a while.”
“I hate ’em! Uncle Clem an’ her, I mean.”
“They mean kindness—their way.” But her tears
“I hate ’em!” Luke’s voice grew shriller. “I’d like—I’d
like—Oh, damn ’em!”
“Don’t swear, boy!”
It was Tom who broke in on them. “It’s a letter
from Rural Free Delivery. He jest dropped it.”
He came up, grinning, with the missive. The
mother’s fingers closed on it nervously.
“From Nat, mebbe—he ain’t wrote in months.”
But it wasn’t from Nat. It was a bill for a last
payment on the “new harrow,” brought three years
One of the earliest memories Luke could recall was
the big blurred impression of Nat’s face bending over
his crib of an evening. At first flat, indefinite, remote
as the moon, it grew with time to more human, intimate
proportions. It became the face of “brother,” the
black-haired, blue-eyed big boy who rollicked on the
floor with or danced him on his knee to—
This is the way the lady rides!
Or who, returning from school and meeting his faltering
feet in the lane, would toss him up on his shoulder and
canter him home with mad, merry scamperings.
Not that school and Nat ever had much in common.
Even as a little shaver Luke had realized that, Nat was
the family wilding, the migratory bird that yearned
for other climes. There were the times when he sulked
long days by the fire, and the springs and autumns
when he played an unending round of hookey. There
were the days when he was sent home from school in
disgrace; when protesting notes, and sometimes even
“It’s not that Nat’s a bad boy, Mrs. Haynes,” he
remembered one teacher saying; “but he’s so active,
so full of restless animal spirits. How are we ever
going to tame him?”
Maw didn’t know the answer—that was sure. She
loved Nat best—Luke had guessed it long ago, by the
tone of her voice when she spoke to him, by the touch
of her hand on his head, or the size of his apple turnover,
so much bigger than the others’. Maw must have built
heavily on her hopes of Nat those days—her one perfect
child. She was so proud of him! In the face of
all ominous prediction she would fling her head high.
“My Nat’s a Peel!” she would say. “Can’t never
tell how he’ll turn out.”
The farmers thereabouts thought they could tell her.
Nat was into one scrape after another—nothing especially
wicked; but a compound of the bubbling mischief
in a too ardent life—robbed orchards, broken windows,
practical jokes, Halloween jinks, vagrant whimsies of
an active imagination.
It was just that Nat’s quarters were too small for
him, chiefly. Even he realized this presently. Luke
would never forget the sloppy March morning when
Nat went away. He was wakened by a flare of candle
in the room he shared with his brothers. Tom, the
twelve-year-old, lay sound asleep; but Nat, the big
man of fifteen, was up, dressed, bending over something
he was writing on a paper at the bureau. There was a
fat little bundle beside him, done up in a blue-and-white
Day was still far off. The window showed black;
there was the sound of a thaw running off the eaves;
the whitewashed wall was painted with grotesque leaping
shadows by the candle flame. At the first murmur,
Nat had come and put his arms about him.
“Don’t ye holler, little un; don’t ye do it! ’Tain’t
nothin’—on’y Natty’s goin’ away a spell; quite a spell,
little un. Now kiss Natty.... That’s right!...
An’ you lay still there an’ don’t holler. An’ listen
here, too: Natty’s goin’ to bring ye somethin’—a grand
red ball, mebbe—if you’re good. You wait an’ see!”
But Natty hadn’t brought the ball. Two years had
passed without a scrap of news of him; and then—he
was back. Slipped into the village on a freighter at dusk
one evening. A forlorn scarecrow Nat was; so tattered
of garment, so smeared of coal dust, you scarcely knew
him. So full of strange sophistications, too, and new
trails of thought—so oddly rich of experience. He
gave them his story. The tale of an exigent life in a
great city; a piecework life made of such flotsam labors
as he could pick up, of spells of loafing, of odd incredible
associates, of months tagging a circus, picking up a
task here and there, of long journeyings through the
country, “riding the bumpers”—even of alms asked
at back doors!
“Oh, not a tramp, Nat!”
The hurt had quivered all through Maw.
But Nat only laughed.
“Jiminy Christmas, it was great!”
He had thrown back his head, laughing. That was
Nat all through—sipping of life generously, no matter
in what form.
He had stayed just three weeks. He had spent
them chiefly defeating Maw’s plans to keep him.
Wanderlust kept him longer the next time. That was
eight years ago. Since then he had been back home
three times. Never so poor and shabby as at first—indeed,
Nat’s wanderings had prospered more or less—but
still remote, somewhat mysterious, touched by
new habits of life, new ways of speech.
The countryside, remembering the manner of his
first return, shook its head darkly. A tramp—a
burglar, even. God knew what! When, on his third
visit home, he brought an air of extreme opulence,
plenty of money, and a sartorial perfection undreamed
of locally, the heads wagged even harder. A gambler
probably; a ne’er-do-well certainly; and one to break
his mother’s heart in the end.
But none of this was true, as Luke knew. It was just
that Nat hated farming; that he liked to rove and take
a floater’s fortune. He had a taste for the mechanical
and followed incomprehensible quests. San Francisco
had known him; the big races at Cincinnati; the
hangars at Mineola. He was restless—Nat; but he
was respectable. No one could look into his merry
blue eyes and not know it. If his labors were uncertain
and sporadic, and his address that of a nomad, it all
sufficed, at least for himself.
If at times Luke felt a stirring doubt that Nat was not
acquitting himself of his family duty, he quenched it
fiercely. Nat was different. He was born free; you
could tell it in his talk, in his way of thinking. He was
like an eagle and hated to be bound by earthly ties.
He cared for them all in his own way. Times when
he was back he helped Maw all he could. If he brought
money he gave of it freely; if he had none, just the look
of his eye or the ready jest on his lip helped.
Upstairs in a drawer of the old pine bureau lay some
of Nat’s discarded clothing—incredible garments to
Luke. The lame boy, going to them sometimes, fingered
them, pondering, reconstructing for himself the
fabric of Nat’s adventures, his life. The ice-cream
pants of a by-gone day; the pointed, shriveled yellow
Oxfords! the silk-front shirt; the odd cuff link or stud—they
were like a genie-in-a-bottle, these poor clothes!
You rubbed them and a whole Arabian Night’s dream
unfurled from them.
And Nat lived it all! But people—dull stodgy
people like Uncle Clem and Aunt Mollie, and old Beckonridge
down at the store, and a dozen others—these
criticized him for not “workin’ reg’lar” and giving a
full account of himself.
Luke, thinking of all this, would flush with impotent
“Oh, let ’em talk, though! He’ll show ’em some
day! They dunno Nat. He’ll do somethin’ big fur
us all some day.”
Midsummer came to trim the old farm with her
wreaths. It was the time Luke loved best of all—the
long, sweet, loam-scented evenings with Maw and Tom
on the old porch; and sometimes—when there was no
fog—Paw’s cot, wheeled out in the stillness. But Maw
was not herself this summer. Something had fretted
and eaten into her heart like an acid ever since
Aunt Mollie’s visit and the news of Matty Bisbee’s
When, one by one, the early summer festivities of
the neighborhood had slipped by, with no inclusion
of the Hayneses, she had fallen to brooding deeply,—to
feeling more bitterly than ever the ignominy and
wretchedness of their position.
Luke tried to comfort her; to point out that this
summer was like any other; that they “never had
mattered much to folks.” But Maw continued to
brood; to allude vaguely and insistently to “the straw
that broke the camel’s back.” It was bitter hard to
have Maw like that—home was bad enough, anyway.
Sometimes on clear, soft nights, when the moon came
out all splendid and the “peepers” sang so plaintively
in the Hollow, the boy’s heart would fill and grow
enormous in his chest with the intolerable sadness he
Then Maw’s mood lifted—pierced by a ray of heavenly
sunlight—for Nat came home!
Luke saw him first—heard him, rather; for Nat
came up the lane—oh, miraculous!—driving a motor
car. It was not a car like Uncle Clem’s—not even a
step-brother to it. It was low and almost noiseless, and
shaped like one of those queer torpedoes they were
fighting with across the water. It was colored a soft
dust-gray and trimmed with nickel; and, huge and
powerful though it was, it swung to a mere touch of
Nat stood before them, clad in black leather Norfolk
and visored cap and leggings.
“Look like a fancy brand of chauffeur, don’t I?”
he laughed, with the easy resumption of a long-broken
relation that was so characteristically Nat.
But Nat was not a chauffeur. Something much
bigger and grander. The news he brought them on
top of it all took their breaths away. Nat was a special
demonstrator, out on a brand-new high-class job for a
house handling a special line of high-priced goods.
And he was to go to Europe in another week—did they
get it straight? Europe! Jiminy! He and another
fellow were taking cars over to France and England.
No; they didn’t quite get it. They could not grasp
its significance, but clung humbly, instead, to the mere
glorious fact of his presence.
He stayed two days and a night; and summer was
never lovelier. Maw was like a girl, and there was
such a killing of pullets and extravagance with new-laid
eggs as they had never known before. At the last
he gave them all presents.
“Tell the truth,” he laughed, “I’m stony broke.
’Tisn’t mine, all this stuff you see. I got some kale in
advance—not much, but enough to swing me; but of
course, the outfit’s the company’s. But I’ll tell you
one thing: I’m going to bring some long green home
with me, you can bet! And when I do”—Nat had
given Maw a prodigious nudge in the ribs—“when I
do—I ain’t goin’ to stay an old bachelor forever! Do
you get that?”
Maw’s smile had faded for a moment. But the presents
were fine—a new knife for Tom, a book for Luke,
and twenty whole round dollars for Maw, enough to
pay that old grocery bill down at Beckonridge’s and
Paw’s new invoice of patent medicine.
They all stood on the porch and watched him as
far as they could see; and Maw’s black mood didn’t
return for a whole week.
Evenings now they had something different to talk
about—journeys in seagoing craft; foreign countries
and the progress of the “Ee-ropean” war, and Nat’s
likelihood—he had laughed at this—of touching even
its fringe. They worked it all up from the boiler-plate
war news in the Biweekly and Luke’s school geography.
Yes; for a little space the blackness was lifted.
Then came the August morning when Paw died.
This was an unexpected and unsettling contingency.
One doesn’t look for a “chronic’s” doing anything
so unscheduled and foreign to routine; but Paw spoiled
all precedent. They found him that morning with
his heart quite still, and Luke knew they stood in the
presence of imminent tragedy.
It’s all very well to peck along, hand-to-mouth
fashion. You can manage a living of sorts; and farm
produce, even scanty, unskillfully contrived, and the
charity of relatives, and the patience of tradesmen,
will see you through. But a funeral—that’s different!
Undertaker—that means money. Was it possible
that the sordid epic of their lives must be capped by
the crowning insult, the Poormaster and the Pauper’s
Field? If only poor Paw could have waited a little
before he claimed the spotlight—until prices fell a
little or Nat got back with that “long green”!
Maw swallowed her bitter pill.
She went to see Uncle Clem and ask! And Uncle
Clem was kind.
“He’ll buy a casket—he’s willin’ fur that—an’ send
a wreath and pay fur notices, an’ even half on a buryin’
lot; but he said he couldn’t do no more. The high cost
has hit him too.... An’ where are we to git the
rest? He said—at the last—it might be better all
round fur us to take what Ellick Flick would gimme
outen the Poor Fund—” Maw hadn’t been able to
go on for a spell.
A pauper’s burial for Paw! Surely Maw would
manage better than that! She tried to find a better
way that very night.
“This farm’s mortgaged to the neck; but I calculate
Ben Travis won’t care if I’m a mind to put Paw in the
south field. It hain’t no mortal good fur anything
else, anyhow; an’ he can lay there if we want. It’s a
real pleasant place. An’ I can git the preacher myself—I’ll
give him the rest o’ the broilers; an’ they’s seasoned
hickory plankin’ in the lean-to. Tom, you come along
All night Luke had lain and listened to the sound of
big Tom’s saw and hammer. Tom was real handy if
you told him how—and Maw would be showing him
just how to shape it all out. Each hammer blow struck
deep on the boy’s heart.
Maw lined the home-made box herself with soft old
quilts, and washed and dressed her dead herself in his
faded outlawed wedding clothes. And on a morning
soft and sweet, with a hint of rain in the air, they rode
down in the farm wagon to the south field together—Paw
and Maw and Luke—with big Tom walking beside
the aged knobby horse’s head.
Abel Gazzam, a neighbor, had seen to the grave;
and in due course the little cavalcade reached the
appointed spot inside the snake fence—a quiet place
in a corner, under a graybeard elm. As Maw had
said, it was “a pleasant place for Paw to lay in.”
There were some old neighbors out in their own rigs,
and Uncle Clem had brought his family up in his car,
with a proper wreath; and Reverend Kearns came up
and—declining all lien on the broilers—read the burial
service, and spoke a little about poor Paw. But it
wasn’t a funeral, no how. No supper; no condolence;
no viewing “the remains”—not even a handshake!
Maw didn’t even look at her old friends, riding back
home between Tom and Luke, with her head fiercely
high in the air.
A dull depression settled on Luke’s heart. It was
all up with the Hayneses now. They had saved Paw
from charity with their home-made burial; but what
had it availed? They might as well have gone the
whole figure. Everybody knew! There wasn’t any
comeback for a thing like this. They were just no-bodies—the
social pariahs of the district.
Somehow, after the fashion of other years, they got
their meager crops in—turnips, potatoes and Hubbard
squashes put up in the vegetable cellar; oats cradled;
corn husked; the buckwheat ready for the mill; even
Tom’s crooked furrows for the spring sowings made.
Somehow, Maw helping like a man and Tom obeying
like a docile child, they took toll of their summer. And
suddenly September was at their heels—and then the
It seemed to Luke that it had never rained so much
before. Brown vapor rose eternally from the valley
flats; the hilltops lay lost entirely in clotted murk. By
periods hard rains, like showers of steel darts, beat on
the soaking earth. Gypsy gales of wind went ricocheting
among the farm buildings, setting the shingles to
snapping and singing; the windows moaned and rattled.
The sourest weather the boy could remember!
And on the worst day of all they got the news. Out
of the mail box in the lane Luke got it—going down
under an old rubber cape in a steady blinding pour. It
got all damp—the letter, foreign postmark, stamp and
all—by the time he put it into Maw’s hand.
It was a double letter—or so one judged, first opening
it. There was another inside, complete, sealed, and
addressed in Nat’s hand; but one must read the paper
inclosed with it first—that was obvious. It was just
a strip, queer, official looking, with a few lines typed
upon it and a black heading that sprang out at one
strangely. They read it together—or tried to. At first
they got no sense from it. Paris—from clear off in
France—and then the words below—and Maw’s name
at the top, just like the address on the newspaper:
Mrs. Jere Haynes,
Stony Brook, New York.
It was for Maw all right. Then quite suddenly the
words came clear through the blur:
Mrs. Jere Haynes,
Stony Brook, New York.
Dear Madam: We regret to inform you that the official
communiqué for September sixth contains the
tidings that the writer of the enclosed letter, Nathaniel
Haynes, of Stony Brook, New York, U. S. A., was killed
while on duty as an ambulance driver in the Sector of
Verdun, and has been buried in that region. Further
details will follow.
The American Ambulance, Paris.
Even when she realized, Maw never cried out. She
sat wetting her lips oddly, looking at the words that had
come like evil birds across the wide spaces of earth. It
was Luke who remembered the other letter:
“My dear kind folks—Father, Mother and Brothers:
I guess I dare call you that when I get far enough away
from you. Perhaps you won’t mind when I tell you my
“Well we came over from England last Thursday and
struck into our contract here. Things was going pretty
good; but you might guess yours truly couldn’t stand
the dead end of things. I bet Maw’s guessed already.
Well sir it’s that roving streak in me I guess. Never
could stick to nothing steady. It got me bad when I
got here any how.
“To cut it short I throwed up my job with the firm
yesterday and have volunteered as an Ambulance
driver. Nothing but glory; but I’m going to like it fine!
They’re short-handed anyhow and a fellow likes to help
what he can. Wish I could send a little money; but it
took all I had to outfit me. Had to cough up eight
bucks for a suit of underclothes. What do you know
“You can write me in care of the Ambulance, Paris.
“Now Maw don’t worry! I’m not going to fight. I
did try to get into the Foreign Legion but had no chance.
I’m all right. Think of me as a nice little Red Cross boy
and the Wise Willie on the gas wagon. And won’t I
have the hot stuff to make old Luke’s eyes pop out!
Hope Paw’s legs are better. And Maw have a kiss on
me. Mebbe you folks think I don’t appreciate you. If
I was any good at writing I’d tell you different.
“Your Son and Brother,
The worst of it all was about Maw’s not crying—just
sitting there staring at the fire, or where the fire had
been when the wood had died out of neglect. It’s not in
reason that a woman shouldn’t cry, Luke felt. He tried
some words of comfort:
“He’s safe, anyhow, Maw—’member that! That’s a
whole lot too. Didn’t always know that, times he was
rollin’ round so over here. You worried a whole lot
about him, you know.”
But Maw didn’t answer. She seldom spoke at all—moved
about as little as possible. When she had put
out food for him and Tom she always went back to her
corner and stared into the fire. Luke had to bring a
plate to her and coax her to eat. Even the day Uncle
Clem and Aunt Mollie came up she did not notice them.
Only once she spoke of Nat to Luke.
“You loved him the most, didn’t ye, Maw?” he
asked timidly one dreary evening.
She answered in a sort of dull surprise.
“Why, lad, he was my first!” she said; and after a
bit, as though to herself: “His head was that round and
shiny when he was a little fellow it was like to a little
round apple. I mind, before he ever come, I bought me
a cap fur him over to Rockville, with a blue bow onto it.
He looked awful smart an’ pretty in it.”
Sometimes in the night Luke, sleeping ill and thinking
long, lay and listened for possible sounds from
Maw’s room. Perhaps she cried in the nights. If she
only would—it would help break the tension for them
all. But he never heard anything but the rain—steadily,
miserably beating on the sodden shingles overhead.
It was only Luke who watched the mail box now.
One morning his journey to it bore fruit. No sting any
longer; no fear in the thick foreign letter he carried.
“It’ll tell ye all’s to it, I bet!” he said eagerly.
Maw seemed scarcely interested. It was Luke who
broke the seal and read it aloud.
It was written from the Ambulance Headquarters, in
Paris—written by a man of rare insight, of fine and
delicate perception. All that Nat’s family might have
wished to learn he sought to tell them. He had himself
investigated Nat’s story and he gave it all fully and
freely. He spoke in praise of Nat; of his friendly associations
with the Ambulance men; of his good nature and
cheerful spirits; his popularity and ready willingness to
serve. People, one felt, had loved Nat over there.
He wrote of the preliminary duties in Paris, the preparations—of
Nat’s final going to join one of the three
sections working round Verdun. It wasn’t easy work
that waited for Nat there. It was a stiff contract guiding
the little ambulance over the shell-rutted roads,
with deftness and precision, to those distant dressing
stations where the hurt soldiers waited for him. It
was a picture that thrilled Luke and made his pulses
tingle—the blackness of the nights; the rumble of
moving artillery and troops; the flash of starlights; the
distant crackling of rifle fire; the steady thunder of
And the shells! It was mighty close they swept to a
fellow, whistling, shrieking, low overhead; falling to tear
out great gouges in the earth. It was enough to wreck
one’s nerve utterly; but the fellows that drove were all
nerve. Just part of the day’s work to them! And that
was Nat too. Nat hadn’t known what fear was—he’d
eaten it alive. The adventurer in him had gone out to
meet it joyously.
Nat was only on his third trip when tragedy had come
to him. He and a companion were seeking a dressing
station in the cellar of a little ruined house in an obscure
French village, when a shell had burst right at their feet,
so to speak. That was all. Simple as that. Nat was
dead instantly and his companion—oh, Nat was really
the lucky one....
Luke had to stop for a little time. One couldn’t go on
at once before a thing like that.... When he did, it
was to leave behind the darkness, the shell-torn houses,
the bruised earth, the racked and mutilated humans....
Reading on, it was like emerging from Hades into a
“I wish it were possible to convey to you, my dear
Mrs. Haynes, some impression of the moving and
beautiful ceremony with which your son was laid to
rest on the morning of September ninth, in the little
village of Aucourt. Imagine a warm, sunny, late-summer
day, and a village street sloping up a hillside,
filled with soldiers in faded, dusty blue, and American
Ambulance drivers in khaki.
“In the open door of one of the houses, the front of
which was covered with the tri-color of France, the
coffin was placed, wrapped in a great French flag, and
covered with flowers and wreaths sent by the various
American sections. At the head a small American flag
was placed, on which was pinned the Croix de Guerre—a
gold star on a red-and-green ribbon—a tribute from
the army general to the boy who gave his life for
“A priest, with six soldier attendants, led the procession
from the courtyard. Six more soldiers bore the coffin,
the Americans and representatives of the army
branches following, bearing wreaths. After these came
the General of the Army Corps, with a group of officers,
and a detachment of soldiers with arms reversed. At
the foot of the hill a second detachment fell in and joined
“The scene was unforgettable, beautiful and impressive.
In the little church a choir of soldiers sang and a
soldier-priest played the organ, while the Chaplain of
the Army Division held the burial service. The chaplain’s
sermon I have asked to have reproduced and
sent to you, together with other effects of your son’s....
“The chaplain spoke most beautifully and at length,
telling very tenderly what it meant to the French people
that an American should give his life while trying to
help them in the hour of their extremity. The name of
this chaplain is Henri Deligny, Aumônier Militaire,
Ambulance 16-27, Sector 112; and he was assisted by
the permanent curé of the little church, Abbé Blondelle,
who wishes me to assure you that he will guard most
reverently your son’s grave, and be there to receive you
when the day may come that you shall wish to visit it.
“After leaving the church the procession marched to
the military cemetery, where your son’s body was laid
beside the hundreds of others who have died for France.
Both the lieutenant and general here paid tributes of appreciation,
which I will have sent to you. The general,
various officers of the army, and ambulance assisted in
the last rites....
“I have brought back and will send you the Croix de
Oh, but you couldn’t read any further—for the great
lump of pride in your throat, the thick mist of tears in
your eyes. A sob escaped the boy. He looked over at
Maw and saw the miraculous. Maw was awake at last
and crying—a new-fledged pulsating Maw emerged from
the brown chrysalis of her sorrows.
“Oh, Maw!... Our Nat!... All that—that-funeral!...
Some funeral, Maw!” The boy choked.
“My Nat!” Maw was saying. “Buried like a king!
... Like a King o’ France!” She clasped her hands
It was like some beautiful fantasy. A Haynes—the
despised and rejected of earth—borne to his last home
with such pomp and ceremony!
“There never was nothin’ like it heard of round here,
Maw.... If folks could only know—”
She lifted her head as at a challenge.
“Why, they’re goin’ to know, Luke—for I’m goin’ to
tell ’em. Folks that have talked behind Nat’s back—folks
that have pitied us—when they see this—like a
King o’ France!” she repeated softly. “I’m goin’ down
to town to-day, Luke.”
It was dusk when Maw came back; dusk of a clear
day, with a rosy sunset off behind the hills. Luke
opened the door for her and he saw that she had brought
some of the sun along in with her—its colors in her
worn face; its peace in her eyes. She was the same,
yet somehow new. Even the tilt of her crazy old
bonnet could not detract from a strange new dignity
that clothed her.
She did not speak at once, going over to warm her
gloveless hands at the stove, and staring up at the
Grampaw Peel plate; then:
“When it comes—my Nat’s medal—it’s goin’ to set
right up here, ’stead o’ this old thing—an’ the letters
and the sermons in my shell box I got on my weddin’
trip.... Lawyer Ritchie told me to-day what it
means, the name o’ that medal—Cross o’ War! It’s
a decoration fur soldiers and earned by bravery.”
She paused; then broke out suddenly:
“I b’en a fool, settin’ here grievin’. My Nat was a
hero, an’ I never knew it!... A hero’s folks hadn’t
ought to cry. It’s a thing too big for that. Come here,
you little Luke! Maw hain’t b’en real good to you an’
Tommy lately. You’re gittin’ all white an’ peaked.
Too much frettin’ ’bout Nat. You an’ me’s got to
stop it, I tell you. Folks round here ain’t goin’ to let
“Folks! Maw!” The words burst from the boy’s
heart. “Did they find out?... You showed it to
’em? Uncle Clem—”
“Clem! Oh, he was real took aback; but he don’t
count in on this—not big enough.” Then triumph
hastened her story. “It’s the big ones that’s mixin’
into this, Lukey. Seems like they’d heard somethin’
a spell back in one o’ the county papers, an’ we didn’t
know.... Anyhow, when I first got into town I met
Judge Geer. He had me right into his office in Masonic
Hall, ’fore I could git my breath almost—had
me settin’ in his private room, an’ sent his stenugifer
out fur a cup o’ cawfee fur me. He had me give him
the letter to read, an’ asked dare he make some copies.
The stenugifer took ’em like lightnin’, right there.
“The judge had a hard time of it, coughin’ an’
blowin’ over that letter. He’s goin’ to send some
copies to the New York papers right off. He took me
acrost the hall and interduced me to Lawyer Ritchie.
Lawyer Ritchie, he read the letter too. ‘A hero!’
they called Nat; an’ me ‘A hero’s mother!’
“‘We ain’t goin’ to forgit this, Mis’ Haynes,’ Lawyer
Ritchie said. ‘This here whole town’s proud o’ your
Nat.’ ... My land! I couldn’t sense it all!...
Me, Delia Haynes, gettin’ her hand wrung, ’count o’
anything Nat’d b’en doin’, by the big bugs round
town! Judge Geer, he fetched ’em all out o’ their
offices—Slade, the supervisor, and Fuller Brothers,
and old Sumner Pratt—an’ all! An’ Ben Watson
asked could he have a copy to put in the Biweekly.
It’s goin’ to take the whole front page, with an editor’al
inside. He said the Rockville Center News’d most
likely copy it too.
“I was like in a dream!... All I’d aimed to do
was to let some o’ them folks know that those people
acrost the ocean had thought well of our Nat, an’ here
they was breakin’ their necks to git in on it too!...
Goin’ down the street they was more of it. Lu Shiffer
run right out o’ the hardware store an’ left the nails
he was weighin’ to shake hands with me; and Jem
Brand came; and Lan’lord Peters come out o’ the
Valley House an’ spoke to me.... I felt awful
public. An’ Jim Beckonridge come out of the Emporium
to shake too.
“‘I ain’t seen you down in town fur quite a spell,’
he sez. ‘How are you all up there to the farm?...
Want to say I’m real proud o’ Nat—a boy from round
here!’ he sez.... Old Beckonridge, that was always
wantin’ to arrest Nat fur takin’ his chestnuts or foolin’
down in the store!
“I just let ’em drift—seein’ they had it all fixed fur
me. All along the street they come an’ spoke to me.
Mame Parmlee, that ain’t b’en able to see me fur
three years, left off sweepin’ her porch an’ come down
an’ shook my hand, an’ cried about it; an’ that stylish
Mis’ Willowby, that’s president o’ the Civil Club,
followed me all over the Square and asked dare she
read a copy o’ the letter an’ tell about Nat to the school-house
“It seems Judge Geer had gone out an’ spread it
broadcast that I was in town, for they followed me
everywhere. Next thing I run into Reverend Kearns
and Reverend Higby, huntin’ me hard. They both
had one idee.
“‘We wanted to have a memor’al service to the
churches ’bout Nat,’ they sez; ‘then it come over us
that it was the town’s affair really. So, Mis’ Haynes,’
they sez, ‘we want you should share this thing with
us. You mustn’t be selfish. You gotta give us a little
part in it too. Are you willin’?’”
“It knocked me dumb—me givin’ anybody anything!
Well, to finish, they’s to be a big public service
in the Town Hall on Friday. They’ll have it all flags—French
ones, an’ our’n too. An’ the ministers’ll preach;
an’ Judge Geer’ll tell Nat’s story an’ speak about him;
an’ the Ladies’ Guild’ll serve a big hot supper, because
they’ll probably be hundreds out; an’ they’ll read the
letters an’ have prayers for our Nat!” She faltered
a moment. “An’ we’ll be there too—you an’ me an’
Tom—settin’ in the seat o’ honor, right up front!...
It’ll be the greatest funeral service this town’s ever
Maw’s face was crimson with emotion.
“An’ Uncle Clem an’ Aunt Mollie—”
“Oh—them!” Maw came back to earth and smiled
tolerantly. “They was real sharp to be in it too.
Mollie took me into the parlor an’ fetched a glass o’
wine to stren’then me up.” Maw mused a moment;
then spoke with a touch of patronage: “I’m goin’ to
knit Clem some new socks this winter. He says he
can’t git none like the oldtime wool ones; an’ the market
floors are cold. Clem’s done what he could, an’
I’ll be real glad to help him out.... Oh, I asked
’em to come an’ set with us at the service—S’norta
too. I allowed we could manage to spare ’em the
She dreamed again, launched on a sea of glory; then
roused to her final triumph:
“But that’s only part, Luke. The best’s comin’.
Jim Beckonridge wants you to go down an’ see him.
‘That lame boy o’ yours,’ he sez, ‘was in here a spell
ago with some notion about raisin’ bees an’ buckwheat
together, an’ gittin’ a city market fur buckwheat
honey. Slipped my mind,’ he sez, ’till I heard what
Nat’d done; an’ then it all come back. City party
this summer had the same notion an’ was lookin’ out
for a likely place to invest some cash in. You send
that boy down an’ we’ll talk it over. Shouldn’t wonder
if he’d get some backin’. I calculate I might help him,
myself,’ he sez, ‘I b’en thinkin’ of it too.’ ... Don’t
seem like it could hardly be true.”
“Oh, Maw!” Luke’s pulses were leaping wildly.
Buckwheat honey was the dear dream of many a long
hour’s wistful meditation. “If we could—I could
study up about it an’ send away fur printed books.
We could make some money—”
But Maw had not yet finished.
“An’ they’s some about Tom, too, Luke! That
young Doctor Wells down there—he’s on’y b’en there
a year—he come right up, an’ spoke to me, in the
midst of several. ‘I want to talk about your boy,’ he
sez. ‘I’ve wanted to fur some time, but didn’t like to
make bold; but now seem’s as good a time as any.’
‘They’re all talkin’ of him,’ I sez. ‘Well,’ he sez, ‘I
don’t mean the dead, but the livin’ boy—the one folks
calls Big Tom. I’ve heard his story, an’ I got a good
look over him down here in the store a while ago.
Woman’—he sez it jest like that—‘if that big boy o’
your’n had a little operation, he’d be as good as
“I answered him patient, an’ told him what ailed
Tom an’ why he couldn’t be no different—jest what
old Doc Andrews told us—that they was a little piece
o’ bone druv deep into his skull that time he fell. He
spoke real vi’lent then. ‘But—my Lord!—woman,’
he sez, ‘that’s what I’m talkin’ about. If we jack up
that bone’—trepannin’, he called it too—’his brains’d
git to be like anybody else’s.’ Told me he wants fur us
to let him look after it. Won’t cost anything unless
we want. They’s a hospital to Rockville would tend
to it, an’ glad to—when we git ready.... My poor
Tommy!... Don’t seem’s if it could be true.”
Her face softened, and she broke up suddenly.
“I got good boys all round,” she wept. “I always
said it; an’ now folks know.”
Luke lay on the old settle, thinking. In the air-tight
stove the hickory fagots crackled, with jeweled
color-play. On the other side Tom sat whittling silently—Tom,
who would presently whittle no more,
but rise to be a man.
It was incredible! Incredible that the old place
might some day shake off its shackles of poverty and
be organized for a decent struggle with life! Incredible
that Maw—stepping briskly about getting the supper—should
Already the room seemed filled and warmed with
the odors of prosperity and self-respect. Maw had
put a red geranium on the table; there was the crispy
fragrance of frying salt pork and soda biscuit in the
These the Hayneses! These people, with hope and
self-esteem once more in their hearts! These people,
with a new, a unique place in the community’s respect!
It was all like a beautiful miracle; and,
thinking of its maker, Luke choked suddenly and
There was a moist spot on the old Mexican hairless
right under his eyes; but it had been made by tears of
pride, not sorrow. Maw was right! A hero’s folks
hadn’t ought to cry. And he wouldn’t. Nat was
better off than ever—safe and honored. He had trod
the path of glory. A line out of the boy’s old Reader
sprang to his mind: “The paths of glory lead but to
the grave.” Oh, but it wasn’t true! Nat’s path led
to life—to hope; to help for all of them, for Nat’s own.
In his death, if not in his life, he had rehabilitated
them. And Nat—who loved them—would look down
and call it good.
In spite of himself the boy sobbed, visioning his
“Oh, Nat!” he whispered. “I knew you’d do it!
I always said you’d do somethin’ big for us all.”
—Mary Brecht Pulver.