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
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 its shallows.
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
Table of Contents
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
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
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 in the south attic room of Doctor
Cross's house at 21 Seaverns Avenue, Jamaica Plain.
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.
March 1, 1922
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
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 like himself.
"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 habits.
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
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
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 in 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, chk! 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 time.
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 dangerous rival.
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 turn.
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
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
"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
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.
"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 his shoulder?"
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 it?" he 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 in 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
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
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
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
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 orange-tinted clouds.
"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!
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 strange.
"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, 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 up.
"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 beautiful.
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 7:30 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
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
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
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 for him.
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 seven years lying between 1880 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 Corners." 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
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
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 words—one of those
emotions whose springs lie far back in the brain. He lay so still, the
chipmunks came curiously up to his very feet, only to scurry away
when he stirred like a sleeper in pain.
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 pardon.
"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 pleasure.
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
"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
"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
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
"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 without hardening.
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
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 again.
"The old scoundrel has let the weeds choke out the flowers and
surround the beehives. Old man Kinney neverbelieved in anything
but a petty utility."
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, he said:
"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
"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
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 set.
"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
"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
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
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 wrath.
"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 line."
"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 Kinney
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
"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
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 yet."
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, work-weary life.
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
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 behind you."
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
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 town.
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
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 grayer.
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 train.
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
"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
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
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,
"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
"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
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 to
"'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 remember that."
"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 savage!"
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
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
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 gale.
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
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 upon 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 forkful.
'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
"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 came.
"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
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 load.
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 in 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 chromoes.
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
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 other failures.
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
"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
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 way."
The doting mother thought it not at all strange that they all helped
At the supper table Grant was gloomily silent, ignoring Howard
completely. Mrs. McLane sat and grieved silently, not daring to
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
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 cows.
"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
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 rise.
"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
"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 McIlvaine. 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. McIlvaine,
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
McIlvaine-Wilson that was."
Howard shook hands with Nettie, a tall, plain girl with prominent
"This is Ma McIlvaine."
"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
Rose was the life of the party. Her tongue rattled on in the most
"It's all Rose an' Bill's doin's," Mrs. McIlvaine explained. "They
told us to come over an' pick up anybody we see on the road. So
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,"
"Married, I s'pose," said Mrs. McIlvaine 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
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 McIlvaine, 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. McIlvaine 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
"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 pathetic resignation:
"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
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
"Of course I ain't. Who is? A man that's satisfied to live as we do is
"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 floor.
"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
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
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 the mosquitoes.
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 them tonight.
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 city."
"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 nothing.
"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
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
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 horrible shed.
"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
"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 parting hug.
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 gaiters.
"Darn the difference!" he laughed in his old way. "Besides, I've got
"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
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
Grant looked up an instant and then went on with his work.
"Did yeh wade through?" grinned Lewis, exposing his broken
"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 earn."
"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, dreamful boys.
"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
"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 in 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,
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
"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 irresistible power.
"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
"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 supper."
"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
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
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 my bulls."
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 brought
"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
"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 burning sun."
"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 each other.
"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 the claim.
"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
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' been
"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 in 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
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
"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
"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, Rob?"
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
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 crops of Peterson, and when addressing the girl, inquired of
the schoolmates. By skillful questioning, he kept the subject of
marriage uppermost, and seemingly was getting an inventory of the
girls not yet married or engaged.
It was embarrassing for the girl. She was all too well aware of
the difference between her home and the home of her schoolmates
and friends, She. knew that it was not pleasant for her "Yankee"
friends to come to visit her when they could not feel sure of a
welcome from the tireless, silent, and grim-visaged old Norse, if,
indeed, they could escape insult. Julia ate her food mechanically,
and it could hardly be said that she enjoyed the brisk talk of the
young man, his eyes were upon her so constantly and his smile so
obviously addressed to her, She rose as soon as possible and, going
outside, took a seat on a chair under the trees in the yard. She was
not a coarse or dull girl. In fact, she had developed so rapidly by
contact with the young people of the neighborhood that she no
longer found pleasure, in her own home. She didn't believe in
keeping up the old-fashioned Norwegian customs, and her life with
her mother was not one to breed love or confidence. She was more
like a hired hand. The love of the mother for her "Yulyie" was
sincere though rough and inarticulate, and it was her jealousy of
the young "Yankees" that widened the chasm between the girl
and herself—an inevitable result.
Rob followed the girl out into the yard, and threw himself on
the grass at her feet, perfectly unconscious of the fact that this
attitude was exceedingly graceful and becoming to them both. He did
it because he wanted to talk to her, and the grass was cool and easy;
there wasn't any other chair, anyway.
"Do they keep up the ly-ceum and the sociables same as ever?"
"Yes. The others go a good 'eal, but I don't. We're gettin' such
a stock round us, and father thinks he needs me s' much, I don't
get out often. Fm gettin' sick of it."
"I sh'd think y' would," he replied, his eyes on her face,
"I c'd stand the churnin' and housework, but when it comes
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 more work."
"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 day,
"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 altogether—
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
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 the West.
"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
"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 your pocket?"
"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
"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.
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
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
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
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 sleeping precarious.
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 his situation.
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
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
"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, noiseless flight.
"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 alligator-"
"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
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 times."
"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
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 of fly.
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 dinner begins.
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 slats.
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
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.
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
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
"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
"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 always says."
"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 telling fortunes.
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 is cross-eyed-"
"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 into it.
"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
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
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 in blue.
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
"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 war."
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 one's voice.
"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 about.
"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 apples.
"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 old Rove?"
"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
"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 sublime courage.
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 future.
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 sight.
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
"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
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 dozen!"
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 premonitory cough.
"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
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 finger."
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 hearth.
"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
"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 o'
"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' bed."
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 much.
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
"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 y'rself."
"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
"Well, I d' know. I'll rent it on shares or I'll rent it money rent."
"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
"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 neighbor's ear.
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
"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 not.
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
"'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 lowered.
"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
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 no more.
'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
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
"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
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
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 right now."
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
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
"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 sensible."
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
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 saw him.
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
"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 time."
"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 of July.
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 self-sufficient head.
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
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 he shouted,
"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 face. 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
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
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 astounding situation.
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
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 and eyes.
"Lucindy," he began.
"Miss Kennedy, please," interrupted Lucindy with cutting
"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,
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 right away.
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 sullen woman.
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
"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 and left.
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
"No, sir-nobody goes but baby. Your father's goin' to take a load of
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
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 moment.
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
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
"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 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
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 comfort.
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 resumed suddenly:
"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; please
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
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 time.
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
"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 a pile?"
"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 State."
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 decent."
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 house awake."
"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 we be-'"
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
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 heart.
"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
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 it
"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
"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 frightful.
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,
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"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 boards.
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 cautious cat.
"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
"I expected to take it-if I was sick. Whaddy ye s'pose?" He
defiantly stood his ground, towering above her like a leaning
"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
"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' him
"Wal, take y'rseif off, an' if y' ain't here f'r dinner, I ain't goin' to get
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
"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
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 the roadside.
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
"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
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'
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 disappearance.
"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
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
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 be respected.
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
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 is welcome.
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
"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 for them.
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
"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
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
They were met by the close scrutiny of every boarder as they
entered, and they heard also the muttered cornments and
"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 spirits revived.
"That butter tastes like old times," said Robert. "li's fresh. It's really
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 rebellious.
"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
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
"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,
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 know them.
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 don't know."
"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 cow."
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 of them."
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
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
"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 cheek:
"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
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
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
"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.
McIlvaine, 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
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
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.
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, don't it?"
"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 Wilson's store.
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
"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 little.
"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
"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
"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
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. McIlvaine 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
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. McIlvaine, laboriously counting
"Is it all right?"
"I guess so," she replied dubiously. "I'll count it after I get home."
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 o'clock, sure."
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
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 McIlvaine 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," McIlvaine 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 his shoulder.
"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 bank."
Mrs. Sanford looked at him for a few seconds in silence. There
was something in his look, and especially in his tone, that troubled
"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 for?"
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 I expected-"
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
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
"I can't face those fellows-they'll kill me," he said in a sullen tone.
"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, sorrow.
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 the discovery—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 teeth clenched.
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
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 very
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 my mind."
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.
"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 hand.
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
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
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,
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
"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.
McIlvaine 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 merriment.
"What's up?" queried Vance, coming up and repeating the
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 McIlvaine.
"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
"When you think of it-what security did he ever give?" McIlvaine
"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
"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 frequent.
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
"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
"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
"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,
"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
"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
"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
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 face.
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 cronies.
"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
"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 anybody
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
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
"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
"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, new bills.
"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 no adoration.
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.