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Title: A Little Norsk; Or, Ol' Pap's Flaxen
Author: Garland, Hamlin, 1860-1940
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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A LITTLE NORSK

OR

OL' PAP'S FLAXEN



By

HAMLIN GARLAND



AUTHOR OF MAIN TRAVELED ROADS, A MEMBER OF THE THIRD HOUSE,
A SPOIL OF OFFICE, JASON EDWARDS, ETC.



NEW YORK
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
1892

Copyright, 1892,
By D. APPLETON AND COMPANY.

Printed at the
Appleton Press, U.S.A.



    On the Plain.


    _My cabin cowers in the pathless sweep
    Of the terrible northern blast;
    Above its roof the wild clouds leap
    And shriek as they hurtle past.
    The snow-waves hiss along the plain,
    Like spectral wolves they stretch and strain
    And race and ramp--with hissing beat,
    Like stealthy tread of myriad feet,
    I hear them pass; upon the roof
    The icy showers swirl and rattle;
    At times the moon, from storms aloof,
    Shines white and wan within the room--
    Then swift clouds drive across the light
    And all the plain is lost to sight,
    The cabin rocks, and on my palm
    The sifted snow falls, cold and calm._

    _God! What a power is in the wind!
    I lay my cheek to the cabin side
    To feel the weight of his giant hands--
    A speck, a fly in the blasting tide
    Of streaming, pitiless, icy sands;
    A single heart with its feeble beat--
    A mouse in the lion's throat--
    A swimmer at sea--a sunbeam's mote
    In the grasp of a tempest of hail and sleet!_



Contents.


                                                             PAGE

CHAPTER I.
    Her Adoptive Parents                                        1

CHAPTER II.
    Her First Trip in a Blizzard                                9

CHAPTER III.
    The Burial of her Dead Mother                              22

CHAPTER IV.
    Flaxen Adopts Anson as "Pap"                               32

CHAPTER V.
    Flaxen Becomes Indispensable to the Two Old Bachelors      38

CHAPTER VI.
    A Question of Dress                                        46

CHAPTER VII.
    After Harvest                                              69

CHAPTER VIII.
    An Empty House                                             78

CHAPTER IX.
    "Baching" it Again                                         86

CHAPTER X.
    Flaxen Comes Home on a Vacation                           105

CHAPTER XI.
    Flaxen Grows Restless                                     113

CHAPTER XII.
    Flaxen Says Good-bye                                      124

CHAPTER XIII.
    Flaxen's Great Need                                       133

CHAPTER XIV.
    Kendall Steps Out                                         148

CHAPTER XV.
    Bert Comes Back                                           153



A LITTLE NORSK.



CHAPTER I.

HER ADOPTIVE PARENTS.


"Ans, the next time you twist hay f'r the fire, I wish't you'd dodge the
damp spots," said the cook, rising from a prolonged scrutiny of the
stove and the bread in the oven. His pose was threatening.

"Cooks are always grumblin'," calmly remarked Anson, drawing on his
gloves preparatory to going out to the barn; "but seein' 's this is
Chris'mus, I'll go out an' knock a barrel to pieces. I want them
biscuit to be O.K. See?"

"Yes: I see."

"Say, Bert!"

"Well?"

"Can't we have some sugar-'lasses on our biscuits, seein' it's
Chris'mus?"

"Well, I s'pose we can, Ans; but we're gittin' purty low on the thing
these days, an' they ain't no tellin' when we'll be able to git more."

"Well, jes' as you say, not as I care." Anson went out into the roaring
wind with a shout of defiance, but came back instantly, as if to say
something he had forgotten. "Say, wha' d'ye s'pose is the trouble over
to the Norsk's? I hain't seen a sign o' smoke over there f'r two 'r
three days."

"Well, now you speak of it, Ans, I've be'n thinkin' about that myself.
I'm afraid he's out o' coal, 'r sick, 'r somethin'. It 'u'd be mighty
tough f'r the woman an' babe to be there without any fire, an' this
blizzard whoopin' her up. I guess you'd better go over an' see what's
up. I was goin' to speak of it this mornin', but f'rgot it, I'm cook
this week, so I guess the job falls on you."

"All right. Here goes."

"Better take a horse."

"No: I guess not. The snow is driftin' purty bad, an' he couldn't git
through the drifts, anyway."

"Well, lookout f'r y'rself, ol' man. It looks purty owly off in the
west. Don't waste any time. I'd hate like thunder to be left alone on a
Dakota prairie f'r the rest o' the winter."

Anson laughed back through the mist of snow that blew in the open door,
his great-coat and cap allowing only a glimpse of his cheeks.

The sky was bright overhead, but low down around the horizon it looked
wild. The air was frightfully cold--far below zero--and the wind had
been blowing almost every day for a week, and was still strong. The
snow was sliding fitfully along the sod with a stealthy, menacing
motion, and far off in the west and north a dense, shining cloud of
frost was hanging.

The plain was almost as lone and level and bare as a polar ocean, where
death and silence reign undisputedly. There was not a tree in sight,
the grass was mainly burned, or buried by the snow, and the little
shanties of the three or four settlers could hardly be said to be in
sight, half sunk, as they were, in drifts. A large white owl seated on
a section stake was the only living thing to be seen.

The boom had not yet struck Buster County. Indeed, it did not seem to
Bert Gearheart at this moment that it would ever strike Buster County.
It was as cold, dreary, and unprofitable an outlook as a man could face
and not go utterly mad. If any of these pioneers could have forecast
the winter, they would not have dared to pass it on the plains.

Bert watched his partner as he strode rapidly across the prairie, now
lost to sight as a racing troop of snow-waves, running shoulder-high,
shot between, now reappearing as the wind lulled.

"This is gittin' pretty monotonous, to tell the honest truth," he
muttered as he turned from the little window. "If that railroad don't
show up by March, in some shape or other, I'm goin' to give it up.
Gittin' free land like this is a little too costly for me. I'll go back
to Wiscons', an' rent land on shares."

Bert was a younger-looking man than his bachelor companion; perhaps
because his face was clean-shaven and his frame much slighter. He was a
silent, moody young fellow, hard to get along with, though of great
good heart. Anson Wood succeeded in winning and holding his love even
through the trials of masculine housekeeping. As Bert kept on with the
dinner, he went often to the little window facing the east and looked
out, each time thawing a hole in the frost on the window-panes.

The wind was rising again, and the night promised to be wild, as the
two preceding nights had been. As he moved back and forth setting out
their scanty meal, he was thinking of the old life back in Wisconsin in
the deeps of the little _coulée_; of the sleigh-rides with the boys and
girls; of the Christmas doings; of the damp, thick-falling snow among
the pines, where the wind had no terrors; of musical bells on swift
horses in the fragrant deeps, where the snowflakes fell like caresses
through the tossing branches of the trees.

By the side of such a life the plain, with its sliding snow and
ferocious wind, was appalling--a treeless expanse and a racing-ground
for snow and wind. The man's mood grew darker while he mused. He served
the meal on the rude box which took the place of table, and still his
companion did not come. Ho looked at his watch. It was nearly one
o'clock, and yet there was no sign of the sturdy figure of Anson.

The house of the poor Norwegian was about two miles away, and out of
sight, being built in a gully; but now the eye could distinguish a
house only when less than a mile away. A man could not at times be seen
at a distance of ten rods, though occasional lulls in the wind
permitted Bert to see nearly to the "First Moccasin."

"He may be in the swale," muttered the watcher as he stood with his eye
to the loop-hole. But the next time he looked the plain was as wild and
lone as before, save under the rising blast the snow was beginning to
ramp and race across the level sod till it looked at times like a sea
running white with foam and misty with spray.

At two o'clock he said: "Well, I s'pose Ans has concluded to stay over
there to dinner, though what the Norsk can offer as inducement I swear
I don't know. I'll eat, anyhow; he can have what's left."

He sat down to his lonely meal, and ate slowly, getting up two or three
times from his candle-box in a growing anxiety for Ans, using the
heated poker now to clear a spot on the pane. He expressed his growing
apprehension, manlike, by getting angry.

"I don't see what the darn fool means by stayin' so late. It'll be dark
by four o'clock, er jest as soon as that cloud over there strikes us.
You couldn't beat sense into some men's heads with a club."

He had eaten his dinner now, and had taken to pacing up and down the
little room, which was exactly six paces long and three wide, and just
high enough to permit Anson to walk erect in the highest part.

"Nice fix to leave a man in, ain't it? All alone here, an' a blizzard
comin' on! If I ever git out o' this country alive, I'll bet I'll know
enough not to come back," he broke out, stamping his foot in a rage. "I
don't see what he means by it. If he's caught in that blow, his life
ain't worth a cent."



CHAPTER II.

HER FIRST TRIP IN A BLIZZARD.


At half-past two the feelings of the silent watcher began to change. He
thought more about his partner out there in the rising wind and
thickening snow. The blast roared round the little cabin with a deep,
menacing, rising moan, and laid to the stove-pipe a resounding lip,
wailing and shouting weirdly. Bert's nervous walk quickened, and he
looked so often through the pane that the frost had not time to close
up.

Suddenly, out of the blinding, sweeping snow, not ten rods distant, the
burly form of Anson burst, head down, blindly staggering forward into
the teeth of the tempest. He walked like a man whose strength was
almost gone, and he carried a large bundle in his arms.

Gearhart flung the door open, and called in a cheery voice to guide the
struggling man to the house. He knew what it was to face such a wind.

"Here ye are, ol' man! Right this way! Keep y'r head down!"

Then, seeing that Anson hardly made headway against the terrible blast,
he rushed out, bare-headed as he was, and caught and hurried him in and
shut the door.

Reeling blindly, his breath roaring like a furnace, his eyebrows hung
with icicles, his face masked with crusted snow, Anson staggered in,
crying hoarsely, "Take her!" then slid to the floor, where he lay
panting for breath.

Bert caught the bundle from his arms. A wailing, half-smothered cry
came from it.

"What is it, Ans?" he asked.

"A kid; warm it," said the giant, trying with his numbed fingers to
undo the shawl which wrapped the bundle. Bert hurriedly unwound the
shawl, and a frightened child, blue-eyed and flaxen-haired--flossy as
unfrosted corn-silk--was disclosed like a nubbin of corn after the
husks are stripped off.

"Why, it's little Flaxen Hair! Wha' d'ye bring her over for?"

"'Sh!" said Anson hoarsely. "Mind how y' git her warm! Don't y' see
she's froze?"

The little creature was about five, or possibly six years old, scantily
clad, but neat and pretty. As her feet began to get warm before the
fire, she wailed with pain, which Bert tried to stop by rubbing.

"Put her hands in y'r hair, hold her feet in y'r hands--don't rub 'em,"
commanded Ans, who was stripping the ice from his eyelashes and from
his matted beard, which lay like a shield upon his breast. "Stir up the
fire; give her some hot coffee an' some feed. She hain't had anything
to eat."

Bert tried to do all these things at once, and could not, but managed
finally to get the child a piece of bread and a cup of coffee, and to
allay her fears. Ans began to recover from his horrible journey and was
able to speak, though his lungs were still painful.

"Ol' man," he said solemnly and tenderly, "I came jest as near stayin'
in that last gully down there as a man could an' not. The snow was up
to my armpits, an' let me down wherever the weeds was. I had to waller;
if it hadn't be'n for her, I guess I'd 'a' give up; but I jest grit m'
teeth an' pulled through. There, guess y' hadn't better let her have
any more. I guess she'll go to sleep now she's fed an' warmed. Jest le'
me take her now, ol' man."

"No: you git rested up."

"See here, it'll rest me to hold that little chap. I'm all right. My
hands is frosted some, an' my ears, that's all, but my breath is
gittin' back. Come on, now," he pleaded.

Bert surrendered the child, who looked up into the bearded face of the
rough fellow, then rested her head on his breast, and went to sleep at
last. It made his heart thrill as he felt her little head against his
breast. He never had held a child in his arms before.

"Say, Bert, reckon I'm a purty fair picture of a fam'ly man, now, eh?
Throw in a couple o' twists more o' hay----"

Bert stirred up the fire.

"Well, now the little one is off, what's up over to the Norsk's? Wha'
d'ye bring the child for?" he asked at last.

"Because she was the only livin' soul in the shanty."

"What?" His face was set in horror.

"Fact."

"Where's the Norsk?"

"I don't know. On the prairie somewhere."

"An' the mother?"

"She's----" Here the little one stirred slightly as he leaned forward,
and Ans said; with a wink, "She's _asleep_." He winked significantly,
and Bert understood what the sleep was. "Be a little careful what y'
say--jes' now; the little rat is listenin'. Jest say _relative_ when y'
mean her--the woman, y' know."

"Yes; sir," he resumed after a moment; "I was scart when I saw that
house--when I knocked, an' no one stirred 'r come to the door. They
wasn't a track around, an' the barn an' house was all drifted up. I
pushed the door open; it was cold as a barn, an' dark. I couldn't see
anythin' f'r a minute, but I heard a sound o' cryin' from the bed that
made my hair stand up. I rushed over there, an' there lay the mother on
the bed, with nothin' on but some kind of a night-dress, an'
everythin'--dress, shawl, an' all--piled on an' around that blessed
child."

"She was sleepin'?"

"Like a stone. I couldn't believe it at first. I raved around there,
split up a chair an' the shelves, an' made a fire. Then I started to
rub the woman's hands an' feet, but she was cold an' hard as iron."
Bert shuddered in sympathy. "Then I took the child up an' rubbed her;
tried to find somethin' f'r her to eat--not a blessed thing in that
house! Finally I thought I better bolt f'r home----"

"Lucky you did. Hear that wind! Great heavens! We are in for another
two-days' blow of it. That woman, of course, stripped herself to save
the child."

"Yes: she did."

"Jes' like a woman! Why didn't she rip down the shelf an' split up the
chairs for fuel, or keep walkin' up an' down the room?"

"Now, there it is! She _had_ burnt up a lot o' stuff, then took to bed
with the child. She rolled her up in all the quilts an' shawls an'
dresses they was in the house; then laid down by the side of her, an'
put her arm over her--an' froze--jes' like a mother--no judgment!"

"Well, lay her down now, an' eat some thin' y'rself, while I go out an'
look after the chores. Lord! it makes me crawl to think of that woman
layin' there in the shanty all alone!" he turned and said in a peculiar
hesitating voice. He shivered a little as he spoke. "Say, did y' shut
the door?"

"Yes: an' it shuts hard. The wind n'r wolves can't open it."

"That's good. I couldn't sleep nights if I thought the coyotes could
get in." Bert's imagination seized upon that lonely cabin and the
figure lying cold as iron upon the bed. It appealed to him more than to
Anson.

By four o'clock it was dark, and the lamp was lighted when Bert came
in, bringing an immense load of hay-twists. The ferocious wind, as if
exulting in its undisputed sway over the plain, raved in ceaseless fury
around the cabin, and lashed the roof with a thousand stinging streams
of snow. The tiny shanty did not rock; it shuddered as if with fright.
The drifts rose higher on the windows, and here and there through some
unseen crevice the snow, fine as bolted flour, found its way like oil,
seeming to penetrate the solid boards; and to the stove-pipe the storm
still laid hoarse lip, piping incessantly, now dolorously, now
savagely, now high, now low.

While the two men sat above the fire that night, discussing the sad
case of the woman, the child slept heavily, muttering and sobbing in
her sleep.

"The probabilities are," said Anson, in a matter-of-fact way, "the
Norsk took his oxen an' started f'r Summit f'r provisions, an' got
caught in this blizzard an' froze to death somewhere--got lost in some
gully, probably."

"But why didn't he come an' tell us to look after his fam'ly?"

"Well, I s'pose he was afraid to trust us. I don't wonder, as I
remember the treatment their women git from the Yankees. We look a good
'eal worse than we are, besides; an' then the poor cuss couldn't talk
to us, anyhow, an' he's be'n shy ever since he came, in October."

After a long silence, in which Gearheart went over and studied the face
of the sleeper, Anson said: "Well, if he's dead, an' the woman's dead
too, we've got to look after this child till some relative turns up.
An' that woman's got to be buried."

"All right. What's got to be done had better be done right off. We've
only one bed, Ans, an' a cradle hasn't appeared necessary before. How
about the sleepin' to-night? If you're goin' into the orphan-asylum
business, you'll have to open up correspondence with a furniture
store."

Ans reddened a little. "It ain't mine any more'n yours. We're pardners
in this job."

"No: I guess not. You look more like a dad, an' I guess I'll shift the
responsibility of this thing off onto you. I'll bunk here on the floor,
an' you take the child an' occupy the bed."

"Well, all right," answered Anson, going over in his turn and looking
down at the white face and tow-coloured hair of the little stranger.
"But say, we ain't got no night-clothes f'r the little chap. What'll we
do? Put her to sleep jes' as she is?"

"I reckon we'll have to to-night. Maybe you'll find some more clothes
over to the shanty."

"Say, Bert," said Ans later.

"Well?"

"It's too darn cold f'r you to sleep on the floor there. You git in
here on the back side, an' I'll take the child on the front. She'd be
smashed flatter'n a pancake if she was in the middle. She ain't
bigger'n a pint o' cider, anyway."

"No, ol' man. I'll lay here on the floor, an' kind o' heave a twist in
once in a while. It's goin' to be cold enough to freeze the tail off a
brass bull by daylight."

Ans bashfully crept in beside the sleeping child, taking care not to
waken her, and lay there thinking of his new responsibility. At every
shiver of the cowering cabin and rising shriek of the wind, his heart
went out in love toward the helpless little creature whose dead mother
lay in the cold and deserted shanty, and whose father was wandering
perhaps breathless and despairing on the plain, or lying buried in the
snow in some deep ravine beside his patient oxen. He tucked the
clothing in carefully about the child, felt to see if her little feet
were cold, and covered her head with her shawl, patting her lightly
with his great paw.

"Say, Bert!"

"Well, Ans, what now?"

"If this little chap should wake up an' cry f'r its mother, what in
thunder would I do?"

"Give it up, ol' boy," was the reply from the depths of the
buffalo-robes before the fire. "Pat her on the back, an' tell her not
to cry, or somethin' like that."

"But she can't tell what I say."

"Oh, she'll understand if y' kind o' chuckle an' gurgle like a fam'ly
man." But the little one slept on, and when, about midnight, Bert got
up to feed the fire, he left the stove door open to give light, and
went softly over to the sleepers. Ans was sleeping with the little form
close to his breast, and the poor, troubled face safe under his shaggy
beard.

                    *      *      *      *      *

And all night long the blasting wind, sweeping the sea of icy sands,
hissed and howled round the little sod cabin like surf beating on a
half-sunken rock. The wind and the snow and the darkness possessed the
plain; and Cold (whose other name is Death) was king of the horrible
carnival. It seemed as though morning and sunlight could not come
again, so absolute was the sway of night and death.



CHAPTER III.

THE BURIAL OF HER DEAD MOTHER.


When Anson woke the next morning, he found the great flower-like eyes
of the little waif staring straight into his face with a surprise too
great for words or cries. She stared steadily and solemnly into his
open eyes for a while, and when he smiled she smiled back; but when he
lifted his large hand and tried to brush her hair she grew frightened,
pushing her little fists against him, and began to cry "Mor! Mor Kom!"

This roused Gearheart, who said:

"Well, Ans, what are y' goin' to do with that child? This is your
mornin' to git breakfast. Come, roll out. I've got the fire goin' good.
I can't let y' off; it'll break up our system."

Anson rolled out of the bunk and dressed hurriedly in the cold room.
The only sound was the roar of the stove devouring the hay-twist. Anson
danced about.

"Thunder an' black cats, ain't it cold! The wind has died down, or we'd
be froze stiffer'n a wedge. It was mighty good in you, ol' man, to keep
the stove goin' durin' the night. The child has opened her eyes
brighter'n a dollar, but I tell you I don't like to let her know what's
happened to her relatives."

The little one began to wail in a frightened way, being alone in the
dim corner.

"There she goes now; she's wantin' to go home! That's what she's
askin', jes' like's not. Say, Bert, what the devil can I do?"

"Talk to her, Ans; chuckle to her."

"Talk! She'll think I'm threatenin' to knock her head off, or
somethin'. There there, don't ee cry! We'll go see papa soon.--Confound
it, man, I can't go on with this thing! There, there! See, child, we're
goin' to have some nice hot pancakes now; goin' to have breakfast now.
See, ol' pap's goin' to fry some pancakes. Whoop--see!" He took down
the saucepan, and flourished it in order to make his meaning plainer.
Bert laughed.

"That's as bad as your fist. Put that down, Ans. You'll scare the young
one into a fit; you ain't built f'r a jumpin'-jack."

The child did indeed set up a louder and more distracting yell. Getting
desperate, Anson seized her in his arms, and, despite her struggles,
began tossing her on his shoulder. The child understood him and ceased
to cry, especially as Gearheart began to set the table, making a
pleasant clatter, whistling the while.

The glorious light of the morning made its way only dimly through the
thickly frosted window-panes; the boards snapped in the horrible cold;
out in the barn the cattle were bellowing and kicking with pain.

"Do you know," said Bert, impressively, "I couldn't keep that woman out
o' my mind. I could see her layin' there without any quilts on her, an'
the mice a-runnin' over her. God! it's tough, this bein' alone on a
prairie on such a night."

"I knew I'd feel so, an' I jest naturally covered her up an' tucked the
covers in, the child a-lookin' on. I thought she'd feel better, seein'
her ma tucked in good an' warm. Poor little rat!"

"Did you do that, ol' man?"

"You bet I did! I couldn't have slep' a wink if I hadn't."

"Well, why didn't y' tell me, so't _I_ could sleep?"

"I didn't think you'd think of it that way, not havin' seen her."

The child now consented to sit in one of the chairs and put her feet
down by the stove. She wept silently now, with that infrequent, indrawn
sob, more touching than wails. She felt that these strangers were her
friends, but she wanted her mother. She ate well, and soon grew more
resigned. She looked first at one and then at the other of the men as
they talked, trying to understand their strange language. Then she fell
to watching a mouse that stole out from behind the flour-barrels,
snatching a crumb occasionally and darting back, and laughed gleefully
once, and clapped her hands.

"Now, the first thing after the chores, Ans, is that woman over there.
Of course it's out o' the question buryin' her, but we'd better go over
an' git what things there is left o' the girl's, an' fasten up the
shanty to keep the wolves out."

"But then----"

"What?"

"The mice. You can't shut them out."

"That's so, I never thought o' that. We've got to make a box, I guess;
but it's goin' to be an awful job for me, Ans, to git her into it. I
thought I wouldn't have to touch her."

"Le' me go; I've seen her once an' you hain't. I'd just as soon."

"Heaven an' earth! what could I do with the babe? She'd howl like a
coyote, an' drive me plumb wild. No: you're elected to take care o' the
child. I ain't worth a picayune at it. Besides, you had your share
yesterday."

And so, in the brilliant sunshine of that bitterly cold morning,
Gearheart crunched away over the spotless snow, which burned under his
feet--a land mocking, glorious, pitiless. Far off some slender columns
of smoke told of two or three hearth-fires, but mainly the plain was
level and lifeless as the Polar Ocean, appallingly silent, no cry or
stir in the whole expanse, no tree to creak nor bell to ring.

It required strong effort on the part of the young man to open the door
of the cottage, and he stood for some time with his hand on the latch,
looking about. There was perfect silence without and within, no trace
of feet or hands anywhere. All was as peaceful and unbroken as a
sepulchre.

Finally, as if angry with himself, Gearheart shook himself and pushed
open the door, letting the morning sun stream in. It lighted the bare
little room and fell on the frozen face and rigid, half-open eyes of
the dead woman with a strong, white glare. The thin face and worn,
large-jointed hands lying outside the quilt told of the hardships which
had been the lot of the sleeper. Her clothing was clean and finer than
one would expect to see.

Gearheart stood looking at her for a long time, the door still open,
for he felt re-enforced in some way by the sun. If any one had come
suddenly and closed the door on him and the white figure there, he
would have cried out and struggled like a madman to escape, such was
his unreasoning fear of the dead.

At length, with a long breath, he backed out and closed the door. Going
to the barn, he found a cow standing at an empty manger, and some hens
and pigs frozen in the hay. Looking about for some boards to make a
coffin, he came upon a long box in which a reaper had been packed, and
this he proceeded to nail together firmly, and to line with pieces of
an old stove-pipe at such places as he thought the mice would try to
enter.

When it was all prepared, he carried the box to the house and managed
to lay it down beside the bed; but he could not bring himself to touch
the body. He went out to see if some one were not coming. The sound of
a human voice would have relieved him at once, and he could have gone
on without hesitation. But there was no one in sight, and no one was
likely to be; so he returned, and summoning all his resolution, took
one of the quilts from the bed and placed it in the bottom of the box.
Then he removed the pillow from beneath the head of the dead woman and
placed that in the box. Then he paused, the cold moisture breaking out
on his face.

Like all young persons born far from war, and having no knowledge of
death even in its quiet forms, he had the most powerful organic
repugnance toward a corpse. He kept his eye on it as though it were a
sleeping horror, likely at a sudden sound to rise and walk. More than
this, there had always been something peculiarly sacred in the form of
a woman, and in his calmer moments the dead mother appealed to him with
irresistible power.

At last, with a sort of moan through his set teeth, he approached the
bed and threw the sheet over the figure, holding it as in a sling;
then, by a mighty effort, he swung it stiffly off the bed into the box.

He trembled so that he could hardly spread the remaining quilts over
the dead face. The box was wide enough to receive the stiff, curved
right arm, and he had nothing to do but to nail the cover on, which he
did in feverish haste. Then he rose, grasped his tools, rushed outside,
slammed the door, and set off in great speed across the snow, pushed on
by an indescribable horror.

As he neared home, his fresh young blood asserted itself more and more;
but when he entered the cabin he was still trembling, and dropped into
a chair like a man out of breath. At sight of the ruddy face of Anson,
and with the aid of the heat and light of the familiar little room, he
shook off part of his horror.

"Gi' me a cup o' coffee, Ans. I'm kind o' chilly an' tired."

Before drinking he wiped his face and washed his hands again and again
at the basin in the corner, as though there were something on them
which was ineffably unclean. The little one, who had been weeping
again, stared at him with two big tears drying on her hollow cheeks.

"Well?" interrogated Anson.

"I nailed her up safe enough for the present. But what're we goin' to
do next?"

"I can't see 's we can do anythin' as long as such weather as this
lasts. It ain't safe f'r one of us to go out an' leave the other alone.
Besides, it's thirty below zero, an' no road, Moccasin's full of snow;
an' another wind likely to rise at any time. It's mighty tough on this
little one, but it can't be helped. As soon as it moderates a little,
we'll try to find a woman an' a preacher, an' bury that--relative."

"The only woman I know of is ol' Mrs. Cap Burdon, down on the Third
Moccasin, full fifteen miles away."



CHAPTER IV.

FLAXEN ADOPTS ANSON AS "PAP."


For nearly two weeks they waited, while the wind alternately raved and
whispered over them as it scurried the snow south or east, or shifted
to the south in the night, bringing "the north end of a south wind,"
the most intolerable and cutting of winds. Day after day the restless
snow sifted or leaped across the waste of glittering crust; day after
day the sun shone in dazzling splendor, but so white and cold that the
thermometer still kept down among the thirties. They were absolutely
alone on the plain, except that now and then a desperate wolf or
inquisitive owl came by.

These were long days for the settlers. They would have been longer had
it not been for little Elga, or "Flaxen," as they took to calling her.
They racked their brains to amuse her, and in the intervals of tending
the cattle and of cooking, or of washing dishes, rummaged through all
their books and pictures, taught her "cat's cradle," played
"jack-straws" with her, and with all their resources of song and
pantomime strove to fill up the little one's lonely days, happy when
they succeeded in making her laugh.

"That settles it!" said Bert one day, whanging the basin back into the
empty flour-barrel.

"What's the matter?"

"Matter is, we've reached the bottom o' the flour-barrel, an' it's got
to be filled; no two ways about that. We can get along on biscuit an'
pancakes in place o' meat, but we can't put anythin' in the place o'
bread. If it looks favorable to-morrow, we've got to make a break for
Summit an' see if we can't stock up."

Early the next morning they brought out the shivering team and piled
into the box all the quilts and robes they had, and bundling little
Flaxen in, started across the trackless plain toward the low line of
hills to the east, twenty-five or thirty miles. From four o'clock in
the morning till nearly noon they toiled across the sod, now ploughing
through the deep snow where the unburned grass had held it, now
scraping across the bare, burned earth, now wandering up or down the
swales, seeking the shallowest places, now shovelling a pathway
through.

The sun rose unobscured as usual, and shone down with unusual warmth,
which afforded the men the satisfaction of seeing little Flaxen warm
and merry. She chattered away in her own tongue, and clapped her little
hands in glee at sight of the snowbirds running and fluttering about.
As they approached the low hills the swales got deeper and more
difficult to cross, but about eleven o'clock they came to Burdon's
Ranch, a sort of half-way haven between their own claim and Summit, the
end of the railway.

Captain Burdon was away, but Mrs. Burdon, a big, slatternly Missourian,
with all the kindliness of a universal mother in her swarthy face and
flaccid bosom, ushered them into the cave-like dwelling set in the
sunny side of Water Moccasin.

"Set down, set right down. Young uns, git out some o' them cheers an'
let the strangers set. Purty tol'able tough weather? A feller don't git
out much such weather as this 'ere 'thout he's jes' naturally 'bleeged
to. Suse, heave in another twist, an' help the little un to take off
her shawl."

After Mrs. Burdon's little flurry of hospitality was over, Anson found
time to tell briefly the history of the child.

"Heavens to Betsey! I wan' to know!" she cried, her fat hands on her
knees and her eyes bulging. "Wal! wal! I declare, it beats the Dutch!
So that woman jest frizzed right burside the babe! Wal, I never! An'
the ol' man he ain't showed up? Wal, now, he ain't likely to. I reckon
I saw that Norsk go by here that very day, an' I says to Cap'n, says I,
'If that feller don't reach home inside an hour, he'll go through
heaven a-gittin' home,' says I to the Cap'n."

"Well, now," said Anson, stopping the old woman's garrulous flow, "I've
got to be off f'r Summit, but I wish you'd jest look after this little
one here till we git back. It's purty hard weather f'r her to be out,
an' I don't think she ought to."

"Yaas; leave her, o' course. She'll enjoy playin' with the young uns. I
reckon y' did all y' could for that woman. Y' can't burry her now; the
ground's like linkum-vity."

But as Anson turned to leave, the little creature sprang up with a
torrent of wild words, catching him by the coat, and pleading
strenuously to go with him. Her accent was unmistakable.

"You wan' to go with Ans?" he inquired, looking down into the little
tearful face with a strange stirring in his bachelor heart. "I believe
on my soul she does."

"Sure's y're born!" replied Mrs. Burdon. "She'd rather go with you than
to stay an' fool with the young uns; that's what she's tryin' to say."

"Do y' wan' to go?" asked Ans again, opening his arms. She sprang
toward him, raising her eager little hands as high as she could, and
when he lifted her she twined her arms around his neck.

"Poor little critter! she ain't got no pap ner mam now," the old woman
explained to the ring of children, who still stared silently at the
stranger almost without moving.

"Ain't he her pa-a-p?" drawled one of the older girls, sticking a
finger at Anson.

"He is now," laughed Ans, and that settled the question over which he
had been pondering for days. It meant that as long as she wanted to
stay she should be his Flaxen and he would be her "pap." "And you can
be Uncle Bert, hey?" he said to Bert.

"Good enough," said Bert.



CHAPTER V.

FLAXEN BECOMES INDISPENSABLE TO THE TWO OLD BACHELORS.


They never found any living relative, and only late in the spring was
the fate of the poor father revealed. He and his cattle were found side
by side in a deep swale, where they had foundered in the night and
tempest.

As for little Flaxen, she soon recovered her cheerfulness, with the
buoyancy natural to childhood, and learned to prattle in broken English
very fast. She developed a sturdy self-reliance that was surprising in
one so young, and long before spring came was indispensable to the two
"old baches."

"Now, Bert," said Ans one day, "I don't wan' to hear you talk in that
slipshod way any longer before Flaxen. You know better; you've had more
chance than I have--be'n to school more. They ain't no excuse for you,
not an ioty. Now, I'm goin' to say to her, 'Never mind how I talk, but
talk like Bert does."

"Oh, say, now, look here, Ans, I can't stand the strain. Suppose she'd
hear me swearin' at ol' Barney or the stove?"

"That's jest it. You ain't goin' to swear," decided Anson; and after
that Bert took the education of the little waif in hand, for he was a
man of good education; his use of dialect and slang sprang mainly from
carelessness.

But all the little fatherly duties and discipline fell to Anson, and
much perplexed he often got. For instance, when he bought her an outfit
of American clothing at the store they were strange to her and to him,
and the situation was decidedly embarrassing when they came to try
them.

"Now, Flaxie, I guess this thing goes on this side before, so's you can
button it. If it went on so, you _couldn't_ reach around to button it,
don't you see? I guess you'd better try it so. An' this thing, I judge,
is a shirt, an' goes on under that other thing, which I reckon is
called a shimmy. Say, Bert, shouldn't you call that a shirt?" holding
up a garment.

"W-e-l-l, yes" (after a close scrutiny). "Yes: I should."

"And this a shimmy?"

"Well, now, you've got me, Ans. It seems to me I've heard the women
folks home talk about shimmies, but they were always kind o' private
about it, so I don't think I can help you out. That little thing goes
underneath, sure enough."

"All right, here goes, Flax; if it should turn out to be hind side
before, no matter."

Then again little Flaxen would want to wear her best dress on
week-days, and Ans was unable to explain. Here again Bert came to the
rescue.

"Git her one dress fer ev'ry day in the week, an' make her wear 'em in
rotation. Hang 'em up an' put a tag on each one--Sunday, Monday, an' so
on."

"Good idea."

And it was done. But the embarrassments of attending upon the child
soon passed away; she quickly grew independent of such help, dressed
herself, and combed her own hair, though Anson enjoyed doing it himself
when he could find time, and she helped out not a little about the
house. She seemed to have forgotten her old life, awakening as she had
from almost deathly torpor into a new home--almost a new world--where a
strange language was spoken, where no woman was, and where no mention
of her mother, father, or native land was ever made before her. The
little waif was at first utterly bewildered, then reconciled, and by
the time spring came over the prairie was almost happy in the touching
way of a child deprived of childish things.

Oh, how sweet spring seemed to those snow-weary people! Day after day
the sun crept higher up in the sky; day after day the snow gave way a
little on the swells, and streams of water began to trickle down under
the huge banks of snow, filling the ravines; and then at last came a
day when a strange, warm wind blew from the northwest. Soft and sweet
and sensuous it was, as if it swept some tropic bay filled with a
thousand isles--a wind like a vast warm breath blown upon the land.
Under its touch the snow did not melt; it vanished. It fled in a single
day from the plain to the gullies. Another day, and the gullies were
rivers.

It was the "chinook," which old Lambert, the trapper and surveyor, said
came from the Pacific Ocean.

The second morning after the chinook began to blow, Anson sprang to his
feet from his bunk, and standing erect in the early morning light,
yelled: "Hear that?"

"What is it?" asked Bert.

"There! Hear it?" Anson smiled, holding up his hand joyfully as a
mellow "Boom--boom--boom" broke through the silent air.
"Prairie-chickens! Hurrah! Spring has come! That breaks the back o'
winter short off."

"Hurrah! de 'pring ees come!" cried little Flaxen, gleefully clapping
her hands in imitation.

No man can know what a warm breeze and the note of a bird can mean to
him till he is released, as these men were released, from the bondage
of a horrible winter. Perhaps still more moving was the thought that
with the spring the loneliness of the prairie would be broken, never
again to be so dread and drear; for with the coming of spring came the
tide of land-seekers pouring in: teams scurried here and there on the
wide prairie, carrying surveyors, land agents, and settlers. At Summit
trains came rumbling in by the first of April, emptying thousands of
men, women, and children upon the sod, together with cattle, machinery,
and household articles, to lie there roofed only by the blue sky.
Summit, from being a half-buried store and a blacksmith's shop, bloomed
out into a town with saloons, lumber-yards, hotels, and restaurants;
the sound of hammer and anvil was incessant, and trains clanged and
whistled night and day.

Day after day the settlers got their wagons together and loaded up, and
then moved down the slope into the fair valley of the sleepy James.
Mrs. Cap Burdon did a rushing business as a hotel-keeper, while Cap
sold hay and oats at rates which made the land-seekers gasp.

"I'm not out here f'r my health," was all the explanation he ever made.

Soon all around the little shanty of Anson and Bert other shanties were
built and filled with young, hopeful, buoyant souls. The railway
surveyors came through, locating a town about three and another about
twelve miles away, and straightway the bitter rivalry between Boomtown
and Belleplain began. Belleplain being their town, Bert and Anson swore
by Belleplain, and correspondingly derided the claims of Boomtown.

With the coming of spring began the fiercest toil of the
pioneers--breaking the sod, building, harvesting, ploughing; then the
winter again, though not so hard to bear; then the same round of work
again. So the land was settled, the sod was turned over; sod shanties
gave way to little frame houses; the tide of land-seekers passed on,
the boom burst, but the real workers, like Wood and Gearheart, went
patiently, steadily on, founding a great State.



CHAPTER VI.

A QUESTION OF DRESS.


One morning eight years later Flaxen left the home of Gearheart and
Wood with old Doll and the buggy, bound for Belleplain after groceries
for harvest. She drove with a dash, her hat on the back of her head.
She was seemingly intent on getting all there was possible out of a
chew of kerosene gum, which she had resolved to throw away upon
entering town, intending to get a new supply.

She had thriven on Western air and gum, and though hardly more than
fourteen years of age, her bust and limbs revealed the grace of
approaching womanhood, however childish her short dress and braided
hair might still show her to be. Her face was large and decidedly of
Scandinavian type, fair in spite of wind and sun, and broad at the
cheekbones. Her eyes were as blue and clear as winter ice.

As she rode along she sang as well as she could without neglecting the
gum, sitting at one end of the seat like a man, the reins held
carelessly in her left hand, notwithstanding the swift gait of the
horse, who always knew when Flaxen was driving. She met a friend on the
road, and said, "Hello!" pulling up her horse with one strong hand.

"Can't stop," she explained; "got to go over to the city to get some
groceries for harvest. Goin' to the sociable to-morrow?"

"You bet," replied the friend, "You?"

"I d'know; mebbe, if the boys'll go. Ta-ta; see ye later." And away she
spun.

Belleplain had not thriven, or to be more exact, it had had a rise and
fall; and as the rise had been considerable, so the fall was something
worth chronicling. It was now a collection of wooden buildings, mostly
empty, graying under the storms and suns of pitiless winters and
summers, and now, just in mid-summer, surrounded by splendid troops and
phalanxes of gorgeous sunflowers, whose brown crowns, gold-dusted,
looked ever toward the sun as it swung through the wide arch of
cloudless sky. The signs of the empty buildings still remained, and one
might still read the melancholy decline from splendours of the past in
"emporiums," "palace drug stores," and "mansion-houses."

As Flaxen would have said, "Belleplain's boom had bu'sted." Her glory
had gone with the C., B. and Q., which formed the junction at Boomtown
and left the luckless citizens of Belleplain "high and dry" on the
prairie, with nothing but a "spur" to travel on. However, a few stores
yet remained in the midst of desolation.

After making her other purchases, Flaxen entered the "red-front drug
store" to secure the special brand of gum which seemed most delectable
and to buy a couple of cigars for the "boys."

The clerk, who was lately from the East, and wore his moustache curled
upward like the whiskers of a cat, was "gassing" with another young
man, who sat in a chair with his heels on the counter.

"Well, my dear, what can I do for you to-day?" he said, winking at the
loafer, as if to say, "Now watch me."

"I want some gum."

"What kind, darling?" he asked, encouraged by the fellow in the chair.

"I ain't your darling.--Kerosene, shoofly, an' ten cents' worth."

"Say, Jack," drawled the other fellow, "git onto the ankles! Say,
sissy, you picked your dress too soon. She's goin' to be a daisy, first
you know. Ain't y', honey?" he said, leaning over and pinching her arm.

"Let me alone, you great, mean thing! I'll tell ol' pap on you, see if
I don't," cried Flaxen, her eyes filling with angry tears. And as they
proceeded to other and bolder remarks she rushed out, feeling vaguely
the degradation of being so spoken to and so touched. It seemed to
become more atrocious the more she thought upon it.

When she reached home there were still signs of tears on her face, and
when Anson came out to help her alight, and noticing it asked, "What's
the matter?" she burst out afresh, crying, and talking incoherently.
Anson was astonished.

"Why, what's the matter, Flaxie? Can't you tell ol' pap? Are ye sick?"

She shook her head, and rushed past him into the house and into her
bedroom, like a little cyclone of wrath. Ans slowly followed her, much
perplexed. She was lying face downward on the bed, sobbing.

"What's the matter, little one? Can't y' tell ol' pap? Have the girls
be'n makin' fun o' yeh again?"

She shook her head.

"Have the boys be'n botherin' yeh?" No reply. "Who was it?" Still
silence. He was getting stern now. "Tell me right now."

"Jack Reeves--an'--an' another feller."

"Wha' d' they do?" Silence. "Tell me."

"They--pinched me, an'--an'--talked mean to me," she replied, breaking
down again with the memory of the insult.

Anson began to understand.

"Wal, there! You dry y'r eyes, Flaxie, an' go an' git supper; they
won't do it again--not _this_ harvest," he added grimly as he marched
to the door to enter the buggy.

Bert, coming along from the barn and seeing Anson about to drive away,
asked where he was going. Anson tried to look indifferent.

"Oh, I've got a little business to transact with Reeves and some other
smart Aleck downtown."

"What's up? What have they be'n doing?" asked Gearheart, reading
trouble in the eyes of his friend.

"Well, they have be'n a little too fresh with Flaxen to-day, an' need a
lesson."

"They're equal to it. Say, Anson, let me go," laying his hand on the
dasher, ready to leap in.

"No: you're too brash. You wouldn't know when to quit. No: you stay
right here. Don't say anything to Flaxen about it; if she wants to know
where I'm gone, tell her I found I was out o' nails."

As Anson drove along swiftly he was in a savage mood and thinking
deeply. Two or three times of late some of his friends had touched
rather freely upon the fact that Flaxen was becoming a woman. "Girls
ripen early out in this climate," one old chap had said, "and your
little Norsk there is likely to leave you one of these days." He felt
now that something deliberately and inexpressibly offensive had been
said and done to his little girl. He didn't want to know just what it
was, but just who did it; that was all. It was time to make a protest.

Hitching his horse to a ring in the sidewalk upon arrival, he walked
into the drug store, which was also the post-office. Young Reeves was
inside the post-office corner giving out the mail, and Anson sauntered
about the store waiting his chance.

He was a dangerous-looking man just now. Ordinarily his vast frame,
huge, grizzled beard, and stern, steady eyes would quell a panther; but
now as he leaned against the counter a shrewd observer would have said,
"Lookout for him; he's dangerous."

His gray shirt, loose at the throat, showed a neck that resembled the
spreading base of an oak tree, and his crossed limbs and half-recumbent
pose formed a curious opposition to the look in his eyes.

Nobody noticed him specially. Most comers and goers, being occupied
with their mail, merely nodded and passed on.

Finally some one called for a cigar, and Reeves, having finished in the
post-office department, came jauntily along behind the counter directly
to where Anson stood. As he looked casually into the giant's eyes he
started back, but too late; one vast hand had clutched him by the
collar, and he was jerked over the counter and cuffed from hand to
hand, like a mouse in the paws of a cat. Though Ans used his open palm,
the punishment was fearful. Blood burst from his victim's nose and
mouth; he yelled with fright and pain.

The rest rushed to help.

"Stand back! This is a private affair," said Ans, throwing up a warning
hand. They paused; all knew his strength.

"It wasn't me!" screamed Reeves as the punishment increased; "it was
Doc Coe."

Coe, his hands full of papers and letters, horrified at what had
overtaken Reeves, stood looking on. But now he tried to escape.
Flinging the battered, half-senseless Reeves back over the counter,
where he lay in a heap, Anson caught Coe by the coat just as he was
rushing past him, and duplicated the punishment, ending by kicking him
into the street, where he lay stunned and helpless. Ans said then, in a
voice that the rest heard, "The next time you insult a girl, you'd
better inquire into the qualities of her guardeen."

This little matter attended to, he unhitched his horse from the
sidewalk, and refusing to answer any questions, rode off home,
outwardly as calm as though he had just been shaking hands.

Supper was about ready when he drove up, and through the open door he
could see the white-covered table and could hear the cheerful clatter
of dishes. Flaxen was whistling. Eight years of hard work had not done
much for these sturdy souls, but they had managed to secure with
incredible toil a comfortable little house surrounded with
outbuildings. Calves and chickens gave life to the barn-yard, and
fields of wheat rippled and ran with swash of heavy-bearded heads and
dapple of shadow and sheen.

Flaxen was now the housewife and daughter of these hard-working
pioneers, and a cheery and capable one she had become. No one had ever
turned up with a better claim to her, and so she had grown up with Ans
and Bert, going to school when she could spare the time, but mainly
being adviser and associate at the farm.

Ans and Bert had worked hard winter and summer trying to get ahead, but
had not succeeded as they had hoped. Crops had failed for three or four
years, and money was scarce with them; but they had managed to build
this small frame house and to get a little stock about them, and this
year, with a good crop, would "swing clear," and be able to do
something for Flaxen--perhaps send her to Belleplain to school; togged
out like a little queen.

When Anson returned to the house after putting out the horse, he found
Bert reading the paper in the little sitting-room and Flaxen putting
the tea on the stove.

"Wha' d' y' do to him, pap?" laughed she, all her anger gone. Bert came
out to listen.

"Oh, nothin' p'tic'lar," answered Ans, flinging his hat at a chicken
that made as though to come in, and rolling up his sleeves preparatory
to sozzling his face at the sink. "I jest cuffed 'em a little, an' let
'em go."

"Is that all?" said Flaxen, disappointedly, a comical look on her round
face.

"Now, don't you worry," put in Bert. "Anson's cuffin' a man is rather
severe experience. I saw him cuff a man once; it ain't anythin' to be
desired a second time."

They all drew about the table. Flaxen looked very womanly as she sat
cutting the bread and pouring the tea. She had always been old in her
ways about the house, for she had very early assumed the housewife's
duties and cares. Her fresh-coloured face beamed with delight as she
watched the hungry men devouring the fried pork, potatoes, and cheese.

"When y' goin' to begin cuttin', boys?" Collectively they were boys to
her, but when addressing them separately they were "Bert" and "Pap."

"To-morrow 'r nex' day, I guess," answered Anson, looking out of the
open door. "Don't it look fine--all yeller an' green? I tell ye they
ain't anything lays over a ripe field o' wheat in my eyes. You jest
take it when the sun strikes it right, an' the wind is playin' on
it--when it kind o' sloshes around like water--an' the clouds go over
it, droppin' shadders down on it, an' a hawk kind o' goes skimmin' over
it, divin' into it once in a while----"

He did not finish; it was not necessary.

"Yes, sir!" adjudged Gearheart, after a pause, leaning his elbows on
the table and looking out of the door on the far-stretching,
sun-glorified plain.

"The harvest kind o' justifies the winter we have out here. That is,
when we have a harvest such as this. Fact is, we fellers live six
months o' the year lookin' ahead to harvest, an' t'other six months
lookin' back to it. Well, this won't buy the woman a dress, Ans. We
must get that header set up to-night if we can."

They pushed their chairs back noisily and rose to go out. Flaxen said:

"Say, which o' you boys is goin' to help me churn to-night?"

Anson groaned, while she laughed.

"I don't know, Flax; ask us an easier one."

"We'll attend to that after it gets too dark to work on the machine,"
added Bert.

"Well, see 't y' do. I can't do it; I've got bread to mix an' a chicken
to dress. Say, if you don't begin cuttin' till day after to-morrow, we
can go down to the sociable to-morrow night. Last one o' the season."

"I wish it was the last one before the kingdom come," growled Bert as
he "stomped" out the door. "They're a bad lot. The idea o' takin' down
four dollars' worth o' grub an' then payin' four dollars for the
privilege of eatin' half of it! I'll take my chicken here, when I'm
hungry."

"Bert ain't partial to sociables, is he, pap?" laughed Flaxen.

"I should hate to have the minister dependin' on Bert for a livin'."

"Sa-ay, pap!"

"Wal, babe?"

"I expect I'll haf t' have a new dress one o' these days."

"Think so?"

"You bet."

"Why, what's the matter with the one y' got on? Ain't no holes in it
that I can see," looking at it carefully and turning her around as if
she were on a pivot.

"Well, ain't it purty short, pap?" she said suggestively.

"I swear, I don't know but it is," conceded Anson, scratching his head;
"I hadn't paid much 'tention to it before. It certainly is a lee-tle
too short. Lemme see: ain't no way o' lettin' it down, is they?"

"Nary. She's clean down to the last notch now," replied Flaxen
convincingly.

"Couldn't pull through till we thrash?" he continued, still in a
tentative manner.

"Could, but don't like to," she answered, laughing again, and showing
her white teeth pleasantly.

"I s'pose it'll cost suthin'," he insinuated in a dubious tone.

"Mattie Stuart paid seven dollars fer her'n, pap, an' I----"

"Seven how manys?"

"Dollars, pap, makin' an' everythin'. An' then I ought to have a new
hat to go with the dress, an' a new pair o' shoes. All the girls are
wearin' white, but I reckon I can git along with a good coloured one
that'll do fer winter."

"Wal, all right. I'll fix it--some way," Ans said, turning away only to
look back and smile to see her dancing up and down and crying:

"Oh, goody, goody!"

"I'll do it if I haf to borrow money at two per cent a month," said he
to Bert, as he explained the case. "Hear her sing! Why, dern it! I'd
spend all I've got to keep that child twitterin' like that. Wouldn't
you, eh?"

Bert was silent, thinking deeply on a variety of matters suggested by
Anson's words. The crickets were singing from out the weeds near by; a
lost little wild chicken was whistling in plaintive sweetness down in
the barley-field; the flaming light from the half-sunk sun swept along
the green and yellow grain, glorifying as with a bath of gold
everything it touched.

"I wish that grain hadn't ripened so fast, Ans. It's blightin'."

"Think so?"

"No: I know it. I went out to look at it before supper, an' every one
of those spots that look so pretty are just simply burnin' up! But,
say, ain't it a little singular that Flaxen should blossom out in a
desire for a new dress all at once? Ain't it rather sudden?"

"Wal, no: I don't think it is. Come to look it all over, up one side
an' down the other, she's been growin' about an inch a month this
summer, an' her best dress is gittin' turrible short the best way you
can fix it. She's gittin' to be 'most a woman, Bert."

"Yes: I know she is," said Bert, significantly. "An' something's got to
be done right off."

"Wha' d' ye mean by that, ol' man?"

"I mean jest this. It's time we did something religious for that girl.
She ain't had much chance since she's been here with us. She ain't had
no chance at all. Now I move that we send her away to school this
winter. Give her a good outfit an' send her away. This ain't no sort o'
way for a girl to grow up in."

"Wal, I've be'n thinkin' o' that myself; but where'll we send her?"

"Oh, back to the States somewhere; Wisconsin or Minnesota--somewhere."

"Why not to Boomtown?"

"Well, I'll tell yeh, Ans. I've been hearing a good 'eal off an' on
about the way we're bringin' her up here 'alone with two rough old
codgers,' an' I jest want to give her a better chance than the
Territory affords. I want her to git free of us and all like us, for a
while; let her see something of the world. Besides, that business over
in Belleplain to-day kind o' settled me. The plain facts are, Ans, the
people are a little too free with her because she is growin' up
here----"

"I know some fellers that won't be again."

"Well, they are beginnin' to wink an' nudge each other an' to say----"

"Go on! What do they say?"

"They say she's goin' to be a woman soon; that this fatherly business
is bound to play out."

"I'd like to see anybody wink when I'm around. I'd smash 'em!" said
Anson through his set teeth. "Why, she's our little babe," he broke
out, as the full significance of the matter came to him. "My little un;
I'm her ol' pap. Why----" He ended in despair. "It's none o' their darn
business."

"There ain't no use o' howlin', Ans. You can't smash a whole neighborhood."

"But what are we goin' to do?"

"Well, I'll tell ye what we mustn't do. We mustn't tog her out jest
yet."

"Why not?" asked Anson, not seeing these subtle distinctions of time
and place.

"Because, you tog her out this week or next, without any apparent
reason, in a new hat an' dress an' gloves, an' go down to one o' these
sociables with her, an' you'd have to clean out the whole crowd. They'd
all be winkin' an' nudgin' an' grinnin'--see?"

"Wal, go on," said the crushed giant. "What'll we do?"

"Just let things go on as they are for the present till we git ready to
send her to school."

"But I promised the togs."

"All right. I've stated the case," Gearheart returned, with the air of
a man who washed his hands of the whole affair.

Anson rose with a sudden gesture. "Jest hear her! whistlin' away like a
lark. I don't see how I'm goin' to go in there an' spoil all her fun; I
can't do it, that's all."

"Well, now, you leave it all to me. I'll state the case to her in a way
that'll catch her--see if I don't. She ain't no common girl."

It was growing dark as they went in, and the girl's face could not be
seen.

"Well, Bert, are y' ready to help churn?"

"Yes, I guess so, if Ans'll milk."

"Oh, he'll milk; he jest loves to milk ol' Brindle when the flies are
thick."

"Oh, you bet," said Ans, to make her laugh.

"Now, Flaxen," coughed Gearheart in beginning, "we've been discussin'
your case, an' we've come to the conclusion that you ought to have the
togs specified in the indictment" (this to take away the gravity of
what was to follow); "but we're kind o' up a tree about just what we'd
better do. The case is this. We've got to buy a horse to fill out our
team, an' that's a-goin' to take about all we can rake an' scrape."

"We may have to git our groceries on tick. Now, if you could only pull
through till after----" Anson broke in.

"It's purty tough, Flaxie, an' pap's awful sorry; but if you could jest
pull through----"

It was a great blow to poor little Flaxen, and she broke down and cried
unrestrainedly.

"I--I--don't see why I can't have things like the rest o' the girls."
It was her first reproach, and it cut to the heart. Anson swore under
his breath, and was stepping forward to say something when Gearheart
restrained him.

"But, y' see, Flaxie, we ain't askin' you to give up the dress, only to
wait on us for a month or so, till we thrash."

"That's it, babe," said Anson, going over to where she sat, with her
arms lying on the table and her face hidden upon them. "We could spend
dollars then where we couldn't cents now."

"And they won't be any more thingumiyjigs at the church, anyhow, an'
the wheat's blightin' on the knolls, besides."

But the first keen disappointment over, she was her brave self once
more.

"Well, all right, boys," she said, her trembling voice curiously at
variance with her words; "I'll get along somehow, but I tell you I'll
have something scrumptious to pay for this--see if I don't." She was
smiling again faintly, "It'll cost more'n _one_ ten dollars for my
togs, as you call 'em. Now, pap, you go an' milk that cow! An', Bert,
you glue yerself to that churn-dasher, an' don't you stop to breathe or
swear till it's done."

"That's the girl to have--that's our own Flaxie! She knows how hard
things come on a farm," cheered Anson.

"I bet I do," she said, wiping away the last trace of her tears and
smiling at her palpable hit. And then began the thump of the dasher,
and out in the dusk Anson was whistling as he milked.

She went down to the sociable the next night in her old dress, and
bravely looked happy for pap's sake. Bert did not go. Anson was a
rather handsome old fellow. Huge, bearded like a Russian, though the
colour of his beard was a wolf brindle, resembling a bunch of dry
buffalo-grass, Bert was accustomed to say that he looked the father of
the girl, for she had the same robust development, carried herself as
erect, and looked everybody in the eye with the same laughing
directness.

There were some sly remarks among a ribald few, but on the whole
everything passed off as usual. They were both general favorites, and
as a matter of fact few people remarked that Flaxen's dress was not
good enough. She certainly forgot all about it, so complete was her
absorption in the gayety of the evening.

"Wal, now for four weeks' hard times, Flaxen," said Anson, as they were
jogging homeward about eleven o'clock.

"I can stand _my_ share of it, pap," she stoutly replied. "I'm no
chicken."



CHAPTER VII.

AFTER HARVEST.


All through those four or five weeks, at every opportunity, the
partners planned the future of their waif. In the harvest-field, when
they had a moment together, one would say to the other:

"We'll let her stay two years if she likes it, eh?"

"Certainly; she needn't come back till she wants to. We may be rich
enough to sell out then, and move back ourselves. I'm gittin' tired o'
this prairie myself. If we could sell, we'd put her through a whole
course o' sprouts."

"You bet! Sell when you can find a buyer. I'll sign the deed."

"All right."

And then they would go to work again toiling and planning for the
future. Every day during August these men worked with the energy of
demons, up early in the morning and out late at night, harvesting their
crop. All day the header clattered to and fro with Bert or Ans astride
the rudder, a cloud of dust rolling up from the ground, out of which
the painted flanges of the reel flashed like sword-strokes. All day,
and day after day; while the gulls sailed and soared in the hazy air
and the larks piped from the dun grass, these human beings, covered
with grime and sweat, worked in heat and parching wind. And never for
an hour did they forget their little waif and her needs. And she did
her part in the house. She rose as early as they and worked almost as
late. It was miraculous, they admitted.

One night toward the last of the harvest they were returning along the
road from a neighboring farm, where they had been to head some late
wheat. The tired horses with down-hung heads and swinging traces were
walking sullenly but swiftly along the homeward road, the wagon
rumbling sleepily; the stars were coming out in the east, while yet the
rose and amethyst of the fallen sun lighted the western sky. Through
the air, growing moist, came the sound of reapers still going. Men were
shouting blithely, while voices of women and children came from the
cabins, where yellow lights began to twinkle.

Anson and Bert, blackened with dust and perspiration and weary to the
point of listlessness, sat with elbows on knees, talking in low, slow
tones on the never-failing topic, crops and profits. Their voices
chimed with the sound of the wagon.

"There's the light," broke out Ans, rousing himself and the team;
"Flaxen's got supper all ready for us. She's a regular little Trojan,
that girl is. They ain't many girls o' fourteen that 'u'd stay there
contented all day alone an' keep all the whole business in apple-pie
order. She'll get her pay some day."

"We'll try to pay her; but say, ol' man, ain't it about time to open up
our plans to her?"

"Wal, yes; it is. You kind o' start the thing to-night, an' we'll have
it over with."

As they drove up, Flaxen came to the door. "Hello, boys! What makes ye
so late?"

"Finishin' up a field, babe. All done."

She clapped her hands and danced up and down.

"Goody! all done at last. Well, yank them horses out o' their harnesses
an' come to biscuits. They're jest sizzlin' hot."

"All right. We'll be there in about two jerks of a lamb's tail in
fly-time. Bert, grab a tug; I'm hungry as a wolf."

It was about the first of September and the nights were getting cool,
and the steaming supper seemed like a feast to the chilled and
stiffened men coming in a little later and sitting down with the sound
of the girl's cheery voice in their ears. The tea was hot; so were the
biscuits. The pyramid of hot mashed potato had a lump of half-melted
butter in the hollow top, and there were canned peaches and canned
salmon.

"Yes: we're about finished up harvestin'," said Bert, as they settled
themselves at the table, "an' it's about time to talk about gittin' you
off to school."

"Don't worry about that. It ain't no great job, I reckon. I can git
ready in about seventeen jiffies, stop-watch time."

"Not if you are goin' away off to some city in the East----"

"Yes: but I ain't, y' see."

"Oh, yes, you are. Bert an' I've be'n talkin' it all over f'r the last
three weeks. We're goin' to send you back to St. Peter to the
seminary."

"I guess not, pap. I'd like to know what you think you're a-doin'
sendin' me 'way back there. Boomtown's good enough fer me."

"There, there, Flaxie; don't git mad. Y' see, we think they ain't
anythin' good enough for you. Nothin' too good for a girl that stays to
home an' cooks f'r two old cusses----"

"You ain't cusses! You're jest as good as you can be; but I ain't
a-goin'--there!"

"Why not?"

"'Cause I ain't; that's why."

"Why, don't y' wan' to go back there where the people have nice houses,
an' where they's a good----"

"Well, I don't know enough; that's why. I ain't goin' back to no
seminary to be laughed at 'cause I don't know beans."

"But you do," laughed Bert, with an attempt to lighten the gloom--"you
know canned beans."

"They'd laff at me, I know, an' call me a little Norsk." She was ready
to cry.

"I'll bet they won't, not when they see our new dress an' our new gold
watch--dress jest the color o' crow's-foot grass, watch thirty carats
fine. I'd laugh to see 'em callin' my babe names then!"

And so by bribing, coaxing, and lying they finally obtained her tearful
consent. They might not have succeeded even then had it not been for a
young lady in Boomtown who was going back to the same school, and who
offered to take her in charge. But there was hardly a day that she did
not fling herself down into a chair and cry out:

"I jest ain't goin'. I'm all right here, an' I don't see why you can't
let me stay here. _I_ ain't made no fuss. Seems as if you thought it
was fun f'r me to go 'way off there where I don't know anythin' an'
where I don't know anybody."

But having come to a conclusion, the men were relentless. They hired
sewing-girls, and skirmished back and forth between Boomtown and the
farm like mad. Their steady zeal made up for her moody and fitful
enthusiasm. However, she grew more resigned to the idea as the days
wore on toward the departure, though her fits of dark and unusual
musing were alarming to Anson, who feared a desperate retreat at the
last moment.

He took her over to see Miss Holt one day, but not before he had
prepared the way.

"I s'pose things are in purty good shape around this seminary?" he
asked.

"Oh, yes, indeed. There are three large buildings; libraries,
picture-galleries, and music-rooms. The boarding-halls are carpeted and
the parlors are really elegant."

"Uh-hum!" commented Anson. "Well, now, I'm goin' to bring my girl over
to see you, an' I guess it 'u'd be jest as well if you didn't mention
these fineries an' things. Y' see, she's afraid of all such things. It
'u'd be better to tell her that things weren't very gorgeous
there--about like the graded school in Boomtown, say. She ain't used to
these music-halls an' things. Kind o' make her think St. Peter ain't no
great shakes, anyhow."

"I see," laughed the quick-witted girl. And she succeeded in removing
a good deal of Flaxen's dread of the seminary.

"Wal, babe, to-morrow," said Anson, as they were eating supper, and he
was astonished to see her break out in weeping.

"Why don't you keep harpin' away on that the whole while?" she
exclaimed. "Can't you leave me alone a minute? Seems to me you're jest
crazy to git rid o' me."

"Oh, we are," put in Bert. "We're jest lickin' our chops to git back to
sour flapjacks an' soggy bread. Jest seems as though we couldn't wait
till to-morrow noon, to begin doing our own cookin' again."

This cleared the air a little, and they spent the rest of the evening
without saying very much directly upon the departure. The two men sat
up late after Flaxen had gone to bed. There was the trunk and valise
which would not let them forget even for a moment what was coming on
the morrow. Every time Anson looked at her he sighed and tried to
swallow the lump in his throat.

"Say, Bert, let's let her stay if she wants to," he said suddenly after
they had been in silence for a long time.

"Don't make a cussed fool of yourself, Ans," growled Bert, who saw that
heroic measures were necessary. "Go to bed an' don't you say another
word; we've got to take our medicine like men."



CHAPTER VIII.

AN EMPTY HOUSE.


Anson was the more talkative of the two next morning, however.

"Come, come, brace up, babe! Anybody 'u'd think we'd lost all the rest
of our family, when we're only doin' the square thing by our daughter.
That's all. Why, you'll be as happy as a canary in less'n two weeks.
Young folks is about the same everywhere, an' you'll git acquainted in
less'n two jiffies."

They were on the road to Boomtown to put Flaxen on the train. It was
about the tenth of September, early in the cold, crisp air of a perfect
morning. In the south there was a vast phantom lake, with duplicate
cities here and there along the winding shores, which stretched from
east to west. The grain-stacks stood around so thickly that they seemed
like walls of a great, low-built town, the mirage bringing into vision
countless hundreds of them commonly below the horizon.

The smoke of steam threshing-machines mounted into the still air here
and there, and hung long in a slowly drifting cloud above the land. The
prairie-lark, the last of the singing birds, whistled softly and
infrequently from the dry grass. The gulls were streaming south from
the lakes.

They were driving her to Boomtown to avoid the inquisitive eyes of the
good people of Belleplain. "I may break down an' blubber," said Anson
to Bert; "an' if I do, I don't want them cussed idiots standin' around
laughin'--it's better to go on the C., B. and Q., anyhow."

Notwithstanding his struggle to keep talk going, Anson was unsuccessful
from the very moment that Belleplain faded to an unsubstantial group of
shadows and disappeared from the level plain into the air, just as
Boomtown correspondingly wavered into sight ahead. Silence so profound
was a restraint on them all, and poor Flaxen with wide eyes looked
wistfully on the plain that stretched away into unknown regions. She
was thinking of her poor mother, whom she dimly remembered in the
horror of that first winter. Naturally of a gay, buoyant disposition,
she had not dwelt much upon her future or her past; but now that the
familiar plain seemed slipping from her sight entirely, she was
conscious of its beauty, and, rapt with the associated emotions which
came crowding upon her, she felt as though she were leaving the tried
and true for the unknown and uncertain.

"Boys," she said finally, "do you s'pose I've got any folks?"

"I shouldn't wonder if y' had, babe, somewhere back in the ol'
country."

"They couldn't talk with me if I could find 'em, could they?"

"I reckon not, 'less you study so hard that you can learn their lingo,"
said Ans, seeing another opportunity to add a reason for going to
school.

"Well, boys, that's what I'm goin' to do, an' by an' by we'll go over
there an' see if we can't find 'em, won't we?"

"That's the talk; now you're gittin' down to business," rejoined Ans.

"I s'pose St. Peter is a good 'eal bigger'n Boomtown," she said
sighfully, as they neared the "emporium of the sleepy James."

"A little," said the astute Gearheart.

The clanging of the engines and the noise of shouting gave her a
sinking sensation in the chest, and she clung to Anson's arm as they
drove past the engine. She was deafened by the hiss of the escaping
steam of the monster standing motionless, headed toward the east, ready
to leap on its sounding way.

On the platform they found Miss Holt and a number of other friends
waiting. There was a great deal of clanging and whanging and scuffling,
it seemed to the poor, overwrought girl. Miss Holt took her in charge
at once and tried to keep her cheerful. When they had checked her trunk
and the train was about ready to start, Ans looked uneasy and fidgeted
about. Bert looked on, silent and dark. Flaxen, with her new long dress
and new hat, looked quite the woman, and Miss Holt greeted her as such;
indeed, she kept so close to her that Anson looked in vain for a chance
to say something more which was on his mind. Finally, as the train was
about going, he said hesitatingly:

"Elga, jest a minute." She stared for a moment, then came up to him.

"I didn't want to call y' Flaxen afore her," he explained; "but
you--ain't--kissed us good-bye." He ended hesitatingly.

The tears were already streaming down her cheeks, and this was too
much. She flung her arms about his neck and sobbed on his bosom with
the abandon of girlish grief.

"I don't wan' to go 't all, pap."

"Oh, yes, y' do, Elga; yes; y' do! Don't mind us; we'll be all right.
I'll have Bert writin' a full half the time. There, kiss me good-bye
an' git on--Bert here, too."

She kissed him twice through his bristling moustache, and going to Bert
offered her lips, and then came back to Anson and threw herself against
his broad, strong breast. She had no one to love but these two. It
seemed as if she were leaving everything in the world. Anson took her
on his firm arm and helped her on the car, and followed her till she
was seated beside Miss Holt.

"Don't cry, babe; you'll make ol' pap feel turrible. He'll break right
down here afore all these people, an' blubber, if y' don't cheer up.
Why, you'll soon be as happy as a fly in soup. Good-bye, good-bye!"

The train started, and Anson, brushing his eyes with his great brown
hand, swung himself off and stood looking at her. As the train passed
him she rushed to the rear end of the car, and remained there looking
back at the little station till the sympathetic Miss Holt gently led
her back to her seat. Then she flattened her round cheek against the
pane and tried to see the boys. When the last house of the town passed
by her window she sank back in her seat and sobbed silently.

                    *      *      *      *      *

"I feel as if I'd be'n attendin' my own funeral," said Anson, after
they had got into their wagon and the train had gone out of sight in
the haze of the prairie.

"Well, it's pretty tough on that child to go off that way. To her the
world is all a great mystery. When you an' I go to heaven it won't be
any greater change for us than this change for Flaxen--every face
strange, every spot new."

"Wal, she ain't far away but we can look out for her. She ain't poor
n'r fatherless as long as we live, hey?"

And then silence fell on them. As they were jogging homeward they saw
the gray gulls rise from the sod and go home to the lake for the night.
They heard the crickets' evening chorus broaden and deepen to an
endless and monotonous symphony, while behind fantastic, thin, and
rainless clouds the sun sank in unspeakable glory of colour. The air,
perfectly still, was cool almost to frostiness, and, far above, the
fair stars broke from the lilac and gold of the sun-flushed sky. Lights
in the farm-houses began to appear.

Once or twice Anson said: "She's about at Summit now. I hope she's
chirked up."

They met threshing-crews going noisily home to supper. Once they met an
"outfit," engine, tank, separator, all moving along like a train of
cars, while every few minutes the red light from the furnace gleamed on
the man who was stuffing the straw into the furnace-door, bringing out
his face so plainly that they knew him. As the night grew deeper, an
occasional owl flapped across the fields in search of mice.

"We're bound to miss her like thunder, Bert; no two ways about that.
Can't help but miss her on the cookin', hey?"

Bert nodded without looking up. As they came in sight of home at last,
and saw the house silhouetted against the faintly yellow sky, Ans said
with a sigh:

"No light an' no singin' there to-night."



CHAPTER IX.

"BACHING" IT AGAIN.


"The fact is, Flaxen has sp'iled us," laughed Anson, a couple of days
later, when Bert was cursing the soggy biscuit. "We've got so
high-toned that we can't stand common cookin'. Time was we'd 'a'
thought ourselves lucky to git as good as that. Rec'lect them flapjacks
we ust to make? By mighty! you could shoe a horse with 'em. Say, I wish
I could jest slip in an' see what she's a-doin' about now, hey?"

"She's probably writin' a letter. She won't do much of anythin' else
for the first week."

"I hope you're right," said Anson.

They got a queer little letter every Wednesday, each one for several
weeks pitifully like the others.

    Dear boys i thought i would take my pen in hand to tell you i dont
    like it one bit the school is just as mene as it can be the girls
    do laugh at me they call me toe-head. if i catch em right i will
    fix their heads. They is one girl who i like she is from pipestone
    she dont know no moren i do she says my dress is pritty--ol nig an
    the drake all rite i wish i was home. ELGA.

The wish to be home was in all these letters like a sob. The men read
them over carefully and gravely, and finally Anson would put them away
in the Bible (bought on Flaxen's account) for safe-keeping.

As the letters improved in form their exultation increased.

"Say, Bert, don't you notice she writes better now? She makes big I's
now in place o' little ones. Seems 's if she runs the sentence all
together, though."

"She'll come out all right. You see, she goes into the preparatory
department, where they teach writin' an' spellin'. You'll see her hand
improve right along now."

And it did, and she ceased to wail for home and ceased to say that she
hated her studies.

"I am getting along splendid," she wrote some weeks after this. "I like
my teacher; her name is Holt. She is just as nice as she can be. She is
cousin to the one who came with me; I live with her uncle, and I can go
to soshibles whenever I want to; but the other girls cant. I am feeling
pretty good, but I wish you boys was here."

She did not wish to be at home this time!

Winter shut down on the broad land again with that implacable,
remorseless brilliancy of fierce cold which characterises the northern
plain, stopping work on the farm and bolting all doors. Hardly a day
that the sun did not shine; but the light was hard, white, glittering,
and cold, the winds treacherous, the snow wild and restless. There was
now comparatively little danger of being lost even in the fiercest
storms, but still life in one of these little cabins had an isolation
almost as terrible as that of a ship wedged amid the ice-floes of the
polar regions.

Day after day rising to feed the cattle, night after night bending over
the sooty stove listening to the ceaseless voice of the wind as it beat
and brushed, whispered, moaned, and piped or screamed around the
windows and eaves--this was their life, varied with an occasional visit
to the store or the post-office, or by the call of a neighbour. It is
easy to conceive that Flaxen's bright letters were like bursts of
bird-song in their loneliness. Many of the young men, their neighbours,
went back East to spend the winter--back to Michigan, Iowa, New York,
or elsewhere.

"Ans, why don't you go back an' visit your folks?" asked Bert, one day.
"I'll take care o' things."

"Wal, the fact is, I've be'n away so long they don't care whether I'm
alive er dead. I ain't got no near relatives except a sister, an' she's
got all the fam'ly she can 'tend to."

"Same here. We ain't very affectionate, anyway; our fam'ly and I don't
write. Still I'd like to go back, just to see how they all are."

"Why not go?"

"Well, I don't know. I guess I must one o' these days. I've kind o'
be'n waitin' till we got into a little better shape. I hate to go back
poor."

"So do I. It's hard work f'r me to give up beat; I ain't goin' to do it
yet awhile."

Sometimes a neighbour dropped in during the middle of the day, and on
pleasant days they would harness up the team and take a drive down to
the store and the post-office; but mainly they vegetated like a couple
of huge potatoes in a cellar, as did most of the settlers. There was
nothing else to do.

It was the worst winter since the first that they had spent in the
country. The snow seemed never still. It slid, streamed, rose in the
air ceaselessly; it covered the hay, drifted up the barn door, swept
the fields bare, and, carrying the dirt of the ploughed fields with it,
built huge black drifts wherever there was a wind-break, corn-field, or
other obstruction.

There were moments when Bert was well-nigh desperate. Only contact with
hard work and cold winds saved him. He was naturally a more ambitious,
more austere man than Anson. He was not content to vegetate, but longed
to escape. He felt that he was wasting his life.

It was in December that the letter first came from Flaxen which
mentioned Will Kendall.

    O boys! I had the best time. We had a party at our house and lots
    of boys came and girls too, and they were nice, the boys, I mean.
    Will Kendall he is the nicest feller you ever seen. He has got
    black eyes and brown hair and a gold watch-chain with a locket with
    some girl's hair in it, and he said it was his sister's hair, but I
    told him I didn't believe it, do you? We had cake and popcorn and
    lasses candy; and Will he took me out to supper.

Bert was reading the letter, and at this point he stopped and raised
his eyes, and the two men gazed at each other without a word for a long
time. Then Anson laughed.

"She's gittin' over her homesickness. She's all right now she's got out
to a sociable."

After that there was hardly a letter that did not mention Kendall in
some innocent fashion among the other boys and girls who took part in
the sleigh-rides, parties, and sociables. But the morbidly acute Bert,
if he saw, said nothing, and Anson did not see.

"Who d' y' s'pose this Kendall is?" asked Anson, one night late in the
winter, of Gearheart, who was reading the paper while his companion
reread a letter from Flaxen. "Seems to me she's writin' a good 'eal
about him lately."

"Oh, some slick little dry-goods clerk or druggist," said Bert, with
unwarrantable irritation.

"She seems to have a good 'eal to say about him, anyway," repeated
Anson, in a meditative way.

"Oh, that's natural enough. They are two young folks together," replied
Bert, with a careless accent, to remove any suspicion which his hasty
utterance might have raised in Anson's mind.

"Wal, I guess you're right," agreed Anson, after a pause, relieved.
This relief was made complete when in other letters which came she said
less and less about Kendall. If they had been more experienced, they
would have been disturbed by this suspicious fact.

Then again, when Anson wrote asking "What has become of that Kendall
you wrote so much about?" she replied that he was there, and began
writing of him again in a careless sort of way, with the craft of woman
already manifest in the change of front.

Spring came again, and that ever-recurring miracle, the good green
grass, sprang forth from its covering of ice and snow, up from its
hiding-place in the dark, cold sod.

Again the two men set to work ferociously at the seeding. Up early in
the wide, sweet dawn, toiling through the day behind harrow and seeder,
coming in at noon to a poor and badly cooked meal, hurrying back to the
field and working till night, coming in at sundown so tired that one
leg could hardly be dragged by the other--this was their daily life.

One day, as they were eating their supper of sour bread and canned
beans, Gearheart irritatedly broke out: "Ans, why don't you git
married? It 'u'd simplify matters a good 'eal if you should. 'Old Russ'
is no good."

"What's the matter with _your_ gittin' married?" replied Anson,
imperturbably pinching oil the cooked part of the loaf, skilfully
leaving the doughy part.

"I ain't on the marry; that's all."

"Neither am I."

"Well, you ought to be."

"Don't see it."

"Well, now, let me show it. We can't go on this way. I'm gittin' so
poor you can count my ribs through my shirt. Jest think how comfortable
it would make things! No more awful coffee; no more canned baked beans;
no more cussed, infernal, everlastin', leathery flapjacks; no more
soggy bread--confound it!" Here he seized the round inner part of the
loaf, from which the crust had been flaked, and flung it through the
open door far down toward the garden.

"Bert! that's the last bit of bread we've got in the house."

"What's the odds? We couldn't eat it."

"We could 'a' baked it over."

"We _could_ eat dog, but we don't," replied Bert gloomily. His temper
was getting frightful of late.

"We'll be all right when Flaxen comes back," said Ans, laughing.

"Say, now, you've said that a thousand times this winter. You know well
enough Flaxen's out o' this. We ain't countin' on her," blurted
Gearheart, just in the mood to say disagreeable things.

"Wha' d' y' mean? Ain't she comin' back in June?"

"Probably; but she won't stay."

"No: that's so. She'll have to go back in September; but that's three
months, an' we may sell out by that time if we have a good crop.
Anyway, we'll live high fer a spell. We ought to have a letter from her
to-night, hadn't we?"

"I'm goin' down to see, if you'll wash the dishes."

"All right. Take a horse."

"No: the horses are tired. I'll foot it."

"Wal, ain't you too?"

"Want anythin' from the store?"

"Yes: git a hunk o' bacon an' some canned corn, tomatoes, an' some
canned salmon; if y' think we can stand the pressure, bring home a can
o' peaches."

And so Gearheart started off for town in the dusk, afoot, in order to
spare the horse, as though he had not himself walked all day long in
the soft, muddy ground. The wind was soft and moist, and the light of
the stars coming out in the east fell upon Ins upturned eyes with
unspeakable majesty. Yet he saw them but dimly. He was dreaming of a
face which was often in his mind now--a face not unlike Flaxen's, only
older, more glorified, more womanly. He was asking himself some
searching questions to-night as his tired limbs dragged themselves over
the grassy road.

What was he toiling for, anyway? What mattered all this terrible
tramping to and fro--was it an end or only a means? Would there ever
come anything like satisfaction of desire? Life for him had been a
silent, gloomy, and almost purposeless struggle. He had not looked
forward to anything very definite, though vaguely he had hoped for
something better.

As his eyes fell upon the twinkling, yellow lights of the village his
thoughts came back to Flaxen and to the letter which he expected to
receive from her. He quickened his steps, though his feet were sore and
his limbs stiff and lame.

The one little street presented its usual Saturday-night appearance.
Teams were hitched to the narrow plank walk before the battlemented
wooden stores. Men stood here and there in listless knots, smoking,
talking of the weather and of seeding, while their wives, surrounded by
shy children, traded within. Being Saturday night, the saloons were
full of men, and shouts and the clink of beer mugs could be heard at
intervals. But the larger crowd was gathered at the post-office:
uncouth farmers of all nationalities, clerks, land-sharks, lawyers, and
giggling girls in couples, who took delight in mingling with the crowd.

Judge Sid Balser was over from Boomtown, and was talking expansively to
a crowd of "leading citizens" about a scheme to establish a horse-car
line between Boomtown and Belleplain.

Colonel Arran, of the Belleplain _Argus_, in another corner, not ten
feet away, was saying that the judge was "a scoundrel, a blow-hard, and
would down his best lover for a pewter cent," to all of which the
placid judge was accustomed and gave no heed.

Bert paid no attention to the colonel or to the judge, or to any of
this buzzing. "They are just talking to hear themselves make a noise,
anyway. They talk about building up the country--they who are a rope
and a grindstone around the necks of the rest of us, who do the work."

When Gearheart reached his box he found a large, square letter in it,
and looking at it saw that it was from Flaxen directed to Anson. "Her
picture, probably," he said as he held it up. As he was pushing rapidly
out he heard a half-drunken fellow say, in what he thought was an
inaudible tone:

"There's Gearheart. Wonder what's become of his little Norsk."

Gearheart turned, and pushing through the crowd, thrust his eyes into
the face of the speaker with a glare that paralysed the poor fool.

"What's become o' your sense?" he snarled, and his voice had in it a
carnivorous note.

With this warning he turned contemptuously and passed out, leaving the
discomfited rowdy to settle accounts with his friends. But there was a
low note in the ruffian's voice, an insinuating inflection, which
stayed with him all along the way home, like a bad taste in the mouth.
He saw by the aid of a number of these side-lights of late that Flaxen
never could come back to them in the old relation; but how could she
come back?

Gearheart stopped and gazed thoughtfully upward. She must come back as
the wife of Ans or himself. "Pooh! she is only a child," he said,
snapping his finger and walking on. But the insistence remained. "She
is not a child--she is a maiden, soon to be a woman; she has no
relatives, no home to go to but ours after her two or three years of
schooling are over. It must still be her home; no breath of scandal
shall touch her if I can prevent it; and after her two years are
up"--after a long, motionless reverie he strode forward--"she shall
choose between us."

There had grown up between the two friends of late a constraint, or, to
be more exact, Gearheart had held himself in before his friend, had not
discussed these problems with him at all. "Ans is just like a boy," he
had said to himself; "he don't seem to understand the case, and I don't
know as it's my duty to enlighten him; he either feels very sure about
her, or he has not understood the situation."

He was thinking this now as he strode across the spongy sod toward the
lighted windows of the shanty. The air was damp and chill, for the ice
was not yet out of the ponds or swamps of tall grasses. An occasional
prairie-cock sent forth a muffled, drowsy "boom"; low-hung flights of
geese, gabbling anxiously, or the less-orderly ducks, with hissing
wings, swept by overhead, darkly limned against the stars. There was a
strange charm in the raw air. The weary man almost forgot his pain as
he drew deep breathings of the night.

It was significant of the restraint that had grown up between him and
Anson that he held the letter from Flaxen unopened in his hand simply
because it was directed to his friend. He knew that it was as much to
him as to Anson, and yet, feeling as he had of late, he would not open
it, for he would have been angry if Anson had opened one directed to
him. He simply judged Anson by himself.

The giant was asleep when he entered. His great, shaggy head lay beside
the lamp on his crossed arms. Bert laid the letter down beside him and
shook him.

"Hello! got back, hey?" the sleeper said, rousing up sluggishly.
"Anything?" Then he caught sight of the letter. "Oh, bless her little
heart! Wonder what it is? Picture, bet my hat!" Here he opened it.

"Gee-whittiker, thunder and turf, gosh-all--Friday!--look a-there!
Ain't she growed!" he yelled, holding the picture by the corner and
moving it into all sorts of positions. "That's my little girl--our
Flaxen; she can't grow so purty but what I'd know her. See that hair
done up on the top of her head! Look at that dress, an' the
thingumajigs around her neck! Oh, she's gittin' there, Smith, hey?"

"She's changing pretty fast," said Bert listlessly.

"Changin' fast! Say, ol' man, what's the matter with you? Are y' sick?"

"I'm played out, that's all."

"Darn my skin! I should think y' would be, draggin' all day, an' then
walkin' all o' four mile to the post-office. Jest lay down on the bed
there, ol' boy, while I read the letter to yeh. Say, ol' man, don't you
git up in the mornin' till you please. I'll look after the breakfast,"
insisted Anson, struck with remorse by the expression on Bert's face.
"But here's the letter. Short an' sweet."

    DEAR BOYS [Bless the little fist that wrote that!]. I send my
    picture. I think it is a nice one. The girls say it flatters
    me, but Will says it don't [What the devil do we care what Will
    says?]--I guess it does, don't you? I wish I had a picture of
    you both; I want to show the girls how handsome you are [she
    means me, of course. No, confound it] how handsome you are both
    of you. I wish you would send me your pictures both of you. I
    ain't got much to say. I will write again soon.

    ELGA.

Bert looked at the picture over Anson's shoulder, but did not seem to
pay much attention to it.

"Wal, I'll go out an' shut the barn door. Nights git cold after the sun
goes down. You needn't peel the 'taters to-night. We'll bake 'em,
brussels an' all, to-morrow mornin'."

When Anson had gone, Bert snatched up the picture with great eagerness
and gazed upon it with a steady, devouring glance. How womanly she
looked with her hair done up so, and the broad, fair face and full
bosom.

He heard Anson returning from the barn, and hastily laid the picture
down, and when Anson entered was apparently dropping off to sleep.



CHAPTER X.

FLAXEN COMES HOME ON A VACATION.


It was in June, just before the ending of the school, that Flaxen first
began to write about delaying her return. Anson was wofully
disappointed. He had said all along that she would make tracks for home
just as soon as school was out, and he had calculated just when she
would arrive; and on the second day after the close of school for the
summer he drove down to the train to meet her. She did not come, but he
got a letter which said that one of her friends wanted her to stay two
weeks with her, until after the Fourth of July.

"She's an awful nice girl, and we will have a grand time; she has a
rich father and a piano and a pony and a buggy. It will just be grand."

"I don't blame her none," sighed Anson to Bert. "I don't want her to
come away while she's enjoyin' herself. It'll be a big change for her
to come back an' cook f'r us old mossbacks after bein' at school an' in
good company all these months."

He was plainly disturbed. Her vacation was going to be all too short at
the best, and he was so hungry for the sight of her! Still, he could
not blame her for staying, under the circumstances; as he told Bert,
his feelings did not count. He just wanted her to got all she could out
of life; "there ain't much, anyway, for us poor devils; but what little
there is we want her to have."

The Fourth of July was the limit of her stay, and on the sixth,
seventh, and eighth Anson drove regularly to the evening train to meet
her.

On the third day another letter came, saying that she would reach home
the next Monday. With this Anson rode home in triumph. During the next
few days he went to the barber's and had his great beard shaved off.
"Made me look so old," he explained, seeing Bert's wild start of
surprise. "I've be'n carryin' that mop o' hair round so long I'd kind
o' got into the notion o' bein' old myself. Got a kind o' crick in the
back, y' know. But I ain't; I ain't ten years older'n you be."

And he was not. His long blond moustache, shaved beard, and clipped
hair made a new man of him, and a very handsome man, too, in a large
way. He was curiously embarrassed by Bert's prolonged scrutiny, and
said jocosely:

"We've got to brace up a little now. Company boarders comin', young
lady from St. Peter's Seminary, city airs an' all that sort o' thing.
Don't you let me see you eatin' pie with y'r knife. I'll break the
shins of any man that feeds himself with anythin' 'cept the
silver-plated forks I've bought."

Flaxen had been gone almost a year, and a year counts for much at her
age. Besides, Anson had exaggerated ideas of the amount of learning she
could absorb in a year at a boarding-seminary, and he had also a very
vague idea of what "society" was in St. Peter, although he seemed
suddenly to awake to the necessity of "bracing up" a little and getting
things generally into shape. He bought a new suit of clothes and a
second-hand two-seated carriage, notwithstanding the sarcastic
reflection of his partner, who was making his own silent comment upon
this thing.

"The paternal business is _auskerspeelt_," he said to himself. "Ans is
goin' in on shape now. Well, it's all right; nobody's business but
ours. Let her go, Smith; but they won't be no talk in this neighbourhood
when they get hold of what's goin' on--oh, no!" He smiled grimly. "We
can stand it, I guess; but it'll be hard on her. Ans is a little too
previous. It's too soon to spring this trap on the poor little thing."

They stood side by side on the platform the next Monday when the train
rolled into the station at Boomtown, panting with fatigue from its long
run. Flaxen caught sight of Bert first as she sprang off the train, and
running to him, kissed him without much embarrassment. Then she looked
around, saying:

"Where's ol' pap? Didn't he----"

"Why, Flaxen, don't ye know me?" he cried out at her elbow.

She knew his voice, but his shaven face, so much more youthful, was so
strange that she knew him only by his eyes laughing down into hers.
Nevertheless she kissed him doubtfully.

"Oh, what've you done? You've shaved off your whiskers; you don't look
a bit natural. I----"

She was embarrassed, almost frightened, at the change in him. He
"looked so queer"; his fair, untroubled, smiling face and blond
moustache made him look younger than Bert.

"Nev' mind that! She'll grow again if y' like it better. Get int' this
new buggy--it's ours. They ain't no flies on us to-day; not many," said
Ans in high glee, elaborately assisting her to the carriage, not
appreciating the full meaning of the situation.

As they rode home he was extravagantly gay. He sat beside her, and she
drove, wild with delight at the prairie, the wheat, the gulls,
everything.

"Ain't no dust on our clo'es," said Ans, coughing, winking at Bert, and
brushing off with an elaborately finical gesture an imaginary fleck
from his knee and elbow. "Ain't we togged out? I guess nobody said
'boo' to us down to St. Peter, eh?"

"You like my clo'es?" said Flaxen, with charming directness.

"You bet! They're scrumptious."

"Well, they ought to be; they're my best, except my white dress. I
thought you'd like 'em; I wore 'em a-purpose."

"Like 'em? They're--you're jest as purty as a red lily er a wild rose
in the wheat--ahem! Ain't she, Bert, ol' boy? We're jest about starvin'
to death, we are."

"I knew you'd be. What'll I stir up for supper? Biscuits?"

"Um, um! Say, what y' s'pose I've got to go with 'em?"

"Honey."

"Oh, you're too sharp," wailed Ans, while Flaxen went off into a peal
of laughter. "Say, Bert's be'n in the _damnedest_--excuse me--plaguedest
temper fer the last two munce as you ever did see."

While this chatter was going on Bert sat silent and unsmiling on the
back seat. He was absorbed in seeing the exquisite colour that played
in her check and the equally charming curves of her figure. She was
well dressed and was wonderfully mature. He was saying to himself: "Ans
ain't got no more judgment than a boy. We can't keep that girl here.
More'n that, the girl never'll be contented again, unless----" He did
not allow himself to go farther. He dared not even think farther.

They had a merry time that night, quite like old times. The biscuits
were light and flaky, the honey was delightsome, and the milk and
butter (procured specially) were fresh. They shouted in laughter as
Flaxen insisted on their eating potatoes with a fork, and opposed the
use of the knife in scooping up the honey from their plates! Even the
saturnine Bert forgot his gloom and laughed too, as Ans laboriously
dipped his honey with a fork, and, finally growing desperate, split a
biscuit in half, and in the good old boyish way sopped it in the honey.

"There, that's the Christian way of doing things!" he exulted, while
Flaxen laughed. How bright she was--how strange she acted! There were
moments when she embarrassed them by some new womanly grace or
accomplishment, some new air which she had caught from her companions
or teachers at school. It was truly amazing how much she had absorbed
outside of her regular studies. She indeed was no longer a girl; she
was a young woman, and to them a beautiful one.

Not a day passed without some added surprise which made Anson exult and
say, "She's gettin' her money's worth down there--no two ways about
that."



CHAPTER XI.

FLAXEN GROWS RESTLESS.


But as the excitement of getting back died out, poor Flaxen grew
restless, moody, and unaccountable. Before, she had always been the
same cheery, frank, boyish creature. As Bert said, "You know where to
find her." Now she was full of strange tempers and moods. She would
work most furiously for a time, and then suddenly fall dreaming,
looking away out on the shimmering plain toward the east.

At Bert's instigation, a middle-aged widow had been hired, at a
fabulous price, to come and do the most of the work for them, thus
releasing Flaxen from the weight of the hard work, which perhaps was
all the worse for her. Hard work might have prevented the unbearable,
sleepless pain within. She hated the slatternly Mrs. Green at once for
her meddling with her affairs, though the good woman meant no offence.
She was jocose in the broad way of middle-aged persons, to whom a
love-affair is legitimate food for raillery.

But Gearheart's keen eye was on Flaxen as well. He saw how eagerly she
watched for the mail on Tuesdays and Fridays, and how she sought a
quiet place at once in order to read and dream over her letters. She
was restless a day or two before a certain letter came, with an eager,
excited, expectant air. Then, after reading it, she was absent-minded,
flighty in conversation, and at last listlessly uneasy, moving slowly
about from one thing to another, in a kind of restless inability to
take continued interest in anything.

All this, if it came to the attention of Anson at all, was laid to the
schooling the girl had had.

"Of course it'll seem a little slow to you, Flaxie, but harvestin' is
comin' on soon, an' then things'll be a little more lively."

But Gearheart was not so slow-witted. He had had sisters and girl
cousins, and knew "the symptoms," as Mrs. Green would have put it. He
noticed that when Flaxen read her letters to them there was one which
she carefully omitted. He knew that this was the letter which meant the
most to her. He saw how those letters affected her, and thought he had
divined in what way.

One day when Flaxen, after reading her letters, sprang up and ran into
her bedroom; her eyes filled with sudden tears, Gearheart crooked his
finger at Ans, and they went out to the barn together.

It was nearly one o'clock on an intolerable day peculiar to the Dakota
plain. A frightfully hot, withering, and powerful wind was abroad. The
thermometer stood nearly a hundred in the shade, and the wind, so far
from being a relief, was suffocating because of its heat and the dust
it swept along with it.

The heavy-headed grain and russet grass writhed and swirled as if in
agony, and dashed high in waves of green and yellow. The corn-leaves
had rolled up into long cords like the lashes of a whip, and beat
themselves into tatters on the dry, smooth spot their blows had made
beneath them; they seemed ready to turn to flame in the pitiless,
furnace-like blast. Everywhere in the air was a silver-white,
impalpable mist, which gave to the cloudless sky a whitish cast. The
glittering gulls were the only living things that did not move
listlessly and did not long for rain. They soared and swooped, exulting
in the sounding wind; now throwing themselves upon it, like a swimmer,
then darting upward with miraculous ease, to dip again into the
shining, hissing, tumultuous waves of the grass.

Along the roads prodigious trains of dust rose hundreds of feet in the
air, and drove like vast caravans with the wind. So powerful was the
blast that men hesitated about going out with carriages, and everybody
watched feverishly, expecting to see fire break out on the prairie and
sweep everything before it. Work in the fields had stopped long before
dinner, and the farmers waited, praying or cursing, for the wheat was
just at the right point to be blighted.

As the two men went out to the shed side by side, they looked out on
the withering wheat-stalks and corn-leaves with gloomy eyes.

"Another day like this, an' they won't be wheat enough in this whole
county to make a cake," said Anson, with a calm intonation, which after
all betrayed the anxiety he felt. They sat down in the wagon-shed near
the horses' mangers. They listened to the roar of the wind and the
pleasant sound of the horses eating their hay, a good while before
either of them spoke again. Finally Bert said sullenly:

"We can't put up hay such a day as this. You couldn't haul it home
under lock an' key while this infernal wind is blowin'. It's gittin'
worse, if anythin'."

Anson said nothing, but waited to hear what Bert had brought him out
here for. Bert speared away with his knife at a strip of board. Anson
sat on a wagon-tongue, his elbows on his knees, looking intently at the
grave face of his companion. The horses ground cheerily at the hay.

"Ans, we've got to send Flaxen back to St. Peter; she's so homesick she
don't know what to do."

Ans' eyes fell.

"I know it. I've be'n hopin' she'd git over that, but it's purty tough
on her, after bein' with the young folks in the city f'r a year, to
come back here on a farm." He did not finish for a moment. "But she
can't stand it. I'd looked ahead to havin' her here till September, but
I can't stand it to see her cryin' like she did to-day. We've got to
give up the idee o' her livin' here. I don't see any other way but to
sell out an' go back East somewhere."

Bert saw that Anson was still ignorant of the real state of affairs,
but thought he would say nothing for the present.

"Yes: that's the best thing we can do. We'll send her right back, an'
take our chances on the crops. We can git enough to live on an' keep
her at school, I guess."

They sat silent for a long time, while the wind tore round the shed,
Bert spearing at the stick, and Anson watching the hens as they vainly
tried to navigate in the wind. Finally Anson spoke:

"The fact is, Bert, this ain't no place f'r a woman, anyway--such a
woman as Flaxen's gittin' to be. They ain't nothin' goin' on, nothin'
to see 'r hear. You can't expect a girl to be contented with this
country after she's seen any other. No trees; no flowers; jest a lot o'
little shanties full o' flies."

"I knew all that, Ans, a year ago. I knew she'd never come back here,
but I jest said it's the thing to do--give her a chance, if we don't
have a cent; now let's go back to the house an' tell her she needn't
stay here if she don't want to."

"Wha' d' ye s'pose was in that letter?"

"Couldn't say. Some girl's description of a pic-nic er somethin'." Bert
was not yet ready to tell what he knew. When they returned to the house
the girl was still invisible, in her room. Mrs. Green was busy clearing
up the dinner-dishes.

"I don't know's I ever see such a wind back to Michigan. Seems as if it
'u'd blow the hair off y'r head."

"Oh, this ain't nothin'. This is a gentle zephyr. Wait till y' see a
wind."

"Wal, I hope to goodness I won't never see a wind. Zephyrs is all I can
mortally stand."

Anson went through the little sitting-room and knocked on Flaxen's
door.

"Flaxie, we want to talk to yeh." There was no answer, and he came back
and sat down. Bert pointed to the letter which Flaxen had flung down on
the table. The giant took it, folded it up, and called, "Here's y'r
letter, babe."

The door opened a little, and a faint, tearful voice said:

"Read it, if ye want to, boys." Then the door closed tightly again, and
they heard her fling herself on the bed. Anson handed the letter to
Bert, who read it in a steady voice.

    DEAR DARLING: I have good news to tell you. My uncle was out
    from Wisconsin to see me and he was pleased with what I had
    done, and he bought out Mr. Ford, and gave me the whole half
    interest. I'm to pay him back when I please. Ain't that
    glorious? Now we can get married right off, can't we, darling?
    So you just show this letter to your father, and tell him how
    things stand. I've got a good business. The drug-store is worth
    $1,200 a year--my half--but knock off fifty per cent and we
    could live nicely. Don't you think so? I want to see you so
    bad, and talk things over. If you can't come back soon, I will
    come on. Write soon.

    Yours till death,

    WILL.

From the first word Anson winced, grew perplexed, then suffered. His
head drooped forward on his hands, his elbows rested on his vast,
spread knees. He drew his breath with a long, grieving gasp. Bert read
on steadily to the end, then glanced at his companion with a deep frown
darkening his face; but he was not taken by surprise. He had not had
paternal affection change to the passion of a lover only to have it
swept down like a half-opened flower. For the first time in his life
Anson writhed in mental agony. He saw it all. It meant eternal
separation. It meant a long ache in his heart which time could scarcely
deaden into a tolerable pain.

Gearheart rose and went out, unwilling to witness the agony of his
friend and desiring himself to be alone. Anson sat motionless, with his
hands covering his wet eyes, going over the past and trying to figure
the future.

He began in that storm: felt again the little form and face of the
wailing child; thought of the frightful struggle against the wind and
snow; of the touch of the little hands and feet; of her pretty prattle
and gleeful laughter; then of her helpful and oddly-womanish ways as
she grew older; of the fresh, clear voice calling him "pap" and
ordering him about with a roguish air; of her beauty now, when for the
first time he had begun to hope that she might be something dearer to
him.

How could he live without her? She had grown to be a part of him. He
had long ceased to think of the future without her. As he sat so, the
bedroom door opened, and Flaxen's tearful face looked out at him. He
did not seem to hear, and she stole up to him and, putting her arm
around his neck, laid her cheek on his head--a dear, familiar, childish
gesture, used when she wished to propitiate him. He roused himself and
put his arm about her waist, tried to speak, and finally said in a
sorry attempt at humor, wofully belied by the tears on his face and the
choking in his throat:

"You tell that feller--if he wants ye, to jest come an'--git ye--that's
all!"



CHAPTER XII.

FLAXEN SAYS GOOD-BYE.


Elga went back to her friends, the Holts, in the course of a week. It
hurt Anson terribly to see how eager she was to get away, and he grew a
little bitter--a quality of temper Bert did not know he possessed.

"What's that little whipper-snapper ever done for her, that she should
leave us in the shade f'r him--f'rget us an' all we've done f'r her,
an' climb out an' leave us just at his wink? It beats me, but it's all
right. I don't blame her if she feels so--only it does seem queer, now
don't it?"

"It does, that's a fact--'specially the idea of leaving us for a thing
like that."

After arriving at a complete understanding of the matter, they said no
more about it, but went to work to make everything as pleasant for
Flaxen as possible. Again they rode down to the station with her, down
past the wide, level fields of grain which the blazing sun had ripened
prematurely. Again they parted from her at the train, but this time the
girl was eager to go; and yet a peculiar feeling of sadness was mixed
with her eagerness to be off.

"Now, boys, you'll come down just as soon as you can this fall, won't
you?" she said, tearfully, as they stood in the aisle of the car. "I
wish't you'd sell out an' come back there an' live--I want you to."

"Well, we'll try," Anson said, speaking with difficulty, the lump in
his throat was so big and so dry.

They rode home in silence again, but this time there was something
darker and more sullen in their thoughts.

"Well, Ans, that settles it. We're orphaned again, sure." He tried to
give a little touch of jocoseness to it, but failed miserably.

"Yes," Anson sighed deeply, "we'll haf t' stand it, I s'pose, but it's
tough."

It was hard, but it would have been harder had not the rush and push of
the harvest come upon them just as it did. They never spoke of the
matter again, except as a matter settled, till they received a letter
from the young people asking their consent to an early marriage.

They both read the letter, and then Anson said, without raising his
eyes:

"Well, what d' you think of it?"

"Oh, we might as well say yes," replied Bert irritably.

"But she's so young."

"She seems so to us, but my mother was married at fifteen. If she's
going to leave us, why, the sooner she has a home the better, I
s'pose."

"I s'pose you're right. But I'd rather have 'em put it off a year."

"Oh, a year wouldn't make any difference, and besides, you can't stop
the thing now. She's out of our hands."

They wrote giving their consent, and the wedding was fixed for late
September to enable the fall's work to be put out of the way. For
Elga's sake they bought new suits and hats before starting on their
trip, though the harvest hardly justified any extravagance.

Under other circumstances they would have rejoiced over the trip, for
it was carrying them back to the gleam of leaf-dappled streams and
waving trees and deep, cool forests. It made their nostrils dilate with
pleasure as they whirled past fern-filled ravines, out of which the
rivulets stole with stealthy circuits under mossy rocks. They were both
forest-born, and it was like getting back home out of a strange desert
country to come back into "the States."

St. Peter was a small town, situated on the steep bank of a broad
river--that is to say, the business street was there, but the seminary
and the residence part of the town was on a high and beautiful plateau.
Tho country was well diversified with wood and prairie.

Kendall and Elga met them at the station. Elga with flushed face was
searching the car-windows with eager glance, when Anson appeared on the
platform. The quick rush she made for him drove out all his bitterness.
It made him understand that she loved him as if he were her father.

She greeted Bert with a little less warmth, and chattering with joy she
led the way up the street with Anson. She had a hundred things to tell
him, and he listened in a daze. She seemed so different from his
Flaxen. Bert walked behind with Kendall, who did not impress him
favourably.

He was a harmless little creature enough--small, a little inclined to
bow-legs, and dudish in manner and dress. His hair was smoothed till it
shone like ebony, and he wore the latest designs in standing collars,
high on his slim neck. His hands were beautifully small and white and
held several rings. He had the manners of a dry-goods clerk.

"He can't abuse her, that's one good thing about the whelp," thought
Bert as he crushed the young bridegroom's hand in his brown palm, just
to see him cringe.

As for Kendall, he was a little afraid of these big fellows, so sullen
and strong; and he tried his best to please them, chirping away
brightly upon all kinds of things, ending up by telling them his
business plans.

"We're one o' the best cities on the river. Couldn't be a better place
fer a business stand, don't you see? And we're getting to the front
with our wholesale department (of course--ha! ha! my wife's father
ought to know how I'm getting on), so you're welcome to look over my
books. Our trade is a cash trade so far as our retail trade goes, and
we're mighty careful who gets tick from us on the wholesale trade.
We're developing a great business."

Bert and Anson made no replies to his chatter, and he pattered along by
Anson's side like a small boy, showing them the town and its beauties.
Anson inwardly despised the little man, but held it a sort of treason
to think so, and tried to look upon him kindly.

The wedding took place in the house of the Holt family, and was in
charge of Miss Holt, Elga's teacher. Kendall's parents could not be
present, which was a great disappointment to Elga, but Will was
secretly glad of it. His father was a very crusty and brutal old
fellow, and he would not have fitted in smoothly beside Bert and Anson,
who were as uncomfortable as men could well be. Both wished to avoid
it, but dared not object.

Anson stood bravely through the ceremony as the father of the bride,
and bore himself with his usual massive, rude dignity. But he inwardly
winced as he saw Elga, looking very stately and beautiful in her
bride's veil, towering half a head above the sleek-haired little clerk.
Not a few of the company smiled at the contrast, but she had no other
feeling than perfect love and happiness.

When the ceremony was over and Anson looked around for Bert, he was
gone. He couldn't stand the pressure of the crowd and the whispered
comments, and had slipped away early in the evening.

Among the presents which were laid on the table in the dining-room was
a long envelope addressed to Mrs. Will Kendall. It contained a deed for
a house and lot in one of the most desirable parts of the suburbs. It
was from Gearheart, but there was no other written word. This gift
meant the sale of his claim in Dakota.

When Anson got back to the hotel that night, wondering and alarmed at
his partner's absence, he found a letter from him. It was savage and
hopeless.

    This climate is getting too frigid for my lungs. I'm going to
    emigrate to California. I made a mistake: I ought to have gone in
    for stand-up collars, shiny hair, and bow-legs. You'd better skip
    back to Dakota and sell your claim. Keep my share of the stock and
    tools; it ain't worth bothering about. Don't try to live there
    alone, old man. If you can't sell, marry. Don't let that girl break
    you all up too. We are all fools, but some can get over it quicker
    than others.

    If that little bow-legged thing gets under your feet or abuses her,
    jest get your toe under him and hoist him over into the alley.

    Good-bye and good luck, old man.

    BERT.

And the next day the doubly bereaved man started on his lonely journey
back to the Dakota claim, back to an empty house, with a gnawing pain
in his heart and a constriction like an iron band about his throat;
back to his broad fields to plod to and fro alone.

As he began to realize it all and to think how terrible was this loss,
he laid his head down on the car-seat before him and cried. His first
great trial had come to him, and meeting it like a man, he must now
weep like a woman.



CHAPTER XIII.

FLAXEN'S GREAT NEED.


Flaxen wrote occasionally, during the next year, letters all too short
and too far between for the lonely man toiling away on his brown farm.
These letters were very much alike, telling mainly of how happy she
was, and of what she was going to do by and by, on Christmas or
Thanksgiving. Once she sent a photograph of herself and husband, and
Anson, after studying it for a long time, took a pair of shears and cut
the husband off, and threw him into the fire.

"That fellow gives me the ague," he muttered.

Bert did not write, and there was hardly a night that Ans lay down on
his bed that he did not wonder where his chum was, especially as the
winter came on unusually severe, reminding him of that first winter in
the Territory. Day after day he spent alone in his house, going out
only to feed the cattle or to get the mail. The sad wind was always in
his ears. But with the passage of time the pain in his heart lost its
intensity.

One day he got a letter from Flaxen that startled and puzzled him. It
was like a cry for help, somehow.

"Dear old pap, I wish you was here," and then in another place came the
piteous cry, "Oh, I wish I had some folks!"

All night long that cry rang in the man's head with a wailing, falling
cadence like the note of a lost little prairie-chicken.

"I wonder what that whelp has been doin' now. If he's begun to abuse
her I'll wring his neck. She wants me an' da'sn't ask me to come. Poor
chick, I'll be pap an' mam to ye, both," he said at last, with sudden
resolution.

The day after the receipt of this letter a telegram was handed to him
at the post-office, which he opened with trembling hands:

    ANSON WOOD: Your daughter is ill. Wants you. Come at once.

    DR. DIETRICH.

He got into his wagon mechanically and lashed his horses into a run. He
must get home and arrange about his stock and catch the seven o'clock
train. His mind ran the round of the possibilities in the case until it
ached with the hopeless fatigue of it. When he got upon the train for
an all-night ride, he looked like a man suffering some great physical
pain.

He sat there all night in a common seat--he could not afford to pay for
a sleeper; sat and suffered the honest torture that can come to a
man--to sit and think the same dread, apprehensive wondering thoughts;
to strain at the seat as if to push the train faster, and to ache with
the desire to fly like the eagle. He tried to be patient, but he could
only grow numb with the effort.

A glorious winter sun was beginning to light up the frost foliage of
the maples lining St. Peter's streets when Anson, stiff with cold and
haggard with a night of sleepless riding, sprang off the train and
looked about him. The beauty of the morning made itself felt even
through his care. These rows of resplendent maples, heavy with
iridescent frost, were like fairy-land to him, fresh from the treeless
prairie. As he walked on under them, showers of powdered rubies and
diamonds fell down upon him; the colonnades seemed like those leading
to some enchanted palace, such as he had read of in boyhood. Every
shrub in the yards was similarly decked, and the snug cottages were
like the little house which he had once seen at the foot of the
Christmas-tree in a German church years before.

Feet crunched along cheerily on the sidewalks, bells of dray-teams were
beginning to sound, and workmen to whistle.

Anson was met at the door by a hard-faced, middle-aged woman.

"How's my girl?" he asked.

"Oh, she's nicely. Walk in."

"Can I see her now?"

"She's sleepin'; I guess you better wait a little while till after
breakfast."

"Where's Kendall?" was his next question.

"I d'n' know. Hain't seen 'im sence yesterday. He don't amount to much,
anyway, and in these cases there ain't no dependin' on a boy like that.
It's nachel fer girls to call on their mothers an' fathers in such
cases."

Anson was about to ask her what the trouble was with his girl, when she
turned away. She could not be dangerously ill; anyway, there was
comfort in that.

After he had eaten a slight breakfast of bad coffee and yellow
biscuits, Mrs. Stickney came back.

"She's awake an' wants to see yeh. Now don't get excited. She ain't
dangerous."

Anson was alarmed and puzzled at her manner. Her smile mystified him.

"What is the matter?" he demanded.

Her reply was common enough, but it stopped him with his foot on the
threshold. He understood at last. The majesty and mystery of birth was
like a light in his face, and dazzled him. He was awed and exalted at
the same time.

"Open the door; I want to see her," he said in a new tone.

As they entered the darkened chamber he heard his girl's eager cry.

"Is that you, pap?" wailed her faint, sweet voice.

"Yes: it's me, Flaxie." He crossed the room and knelt by the bed. She
flung her arms round his neck.

"O pappy! pappy! I wanted you. Oh, my poor mamma! O pap, I don't like
her," she whispered, indicating the nurse with her eyes. "O pap, I hate
to think of mother lying there in the snow--an' Bert--where is Bert,
pap? Perhaps he's in the blizzard too----"

"She's a little flighty," said the nurse in her matter-of-fact tone.

Anson groaned as he patted the pale cheek of the sufferer.

"Don't worry, Flaxie; Bert's all right. He'll come home soon. Why don't
you send for the doctor?" he said to the nurse.

"He'll be here soon. Don't worry over that," indicating Flaxen, who was
whispering to herself. "They of'n do that."

"Do you s'pose I can find my folks if I go back to Norway?" she said to
Anson a little after.

"Yes: I guess so, little one. When you get well, we'll try an' see."

"Perhaps if I found my aunt she'd look like mamma, an' I'd know then
how mamma looked, wouldn't I? Perhaps if the wheat is good this year we
can go back an' find her, can't we?" Then her words melted into a moan
of physical pain, and the nurse said:

"Now I guess you'd better go an' see if you can't hurry the doctor up.
Yes: now he's got to go," she went on to Flaxen, drowning out her voice
and putting her imploring hands back upon the bed.

Anson saw it all now. In her fear and pain she had turned to him--poor,
motherless little bird--forgetting her boy-husband or feeling the need
of a broader breast and stronger hand. It was a beautiful trust, and as
the great, shaggy man went out into the morning he was exalted by the
thought. "My little babe--my Flaxen!" he said with unutterable love and
pity.

Again his mind ran over the line of his life--the cabin, the dead
woman, the baby face nestling at his throat, the girl coming to him
with her trials and triumphs. His heart swelled so that he could not
have spoken, but deep in his throat he muttered a dumb prayer. And how
he suffered that day, hearing her babble mixed with moanings every time
the door opened. Once the doctor said:

"It's no use for you to stand here, Wood. It only makes you suffer and
don't help her a particle."

"It _seems_ 's if it helped her, an' so--I guess I'll stay. She may
call for me, an' if she does," he said resolutely, "I'm goin' in,
doctor. How is she now?"

"She's slightly delirious now, but still she knows you're here. She now
and then speaks of you, but doesn't call for you."

But she did call for him, and he went in, and kneeling by her side he
talked to her and held her hands, stroked her hair and soothed her as
he need to when a little child unable to speak save in her pretty
Norseland tongue, and at last when opiates were given, and he rose and
staggered from the room, it seemed as though he had lived years.

So weary was he that, when the doctor came out and said, "You may go to
sleep now," he dropped heavily on a lounge and fell asleep almost with
the motion. Even the preparations for breakfast made by the
hoarse-voiced servant-girl did not wake him, but the drawling, nasal
tone of Kendall did. He sat up and looked at the oily little clerk. It
was after seven o'clock.

"Hello!" said Kendall, "when d' you get in?"

"Shortly after you went out," said Anson in reply.

Kendall felt the rebuke, and as he twisted his cuffs into place said,
"Well, y' see I couldn't do no good--a man ain't any good in such
cases, anyway--so I just thought I'd run down to St. Paul an' do a
little buying."

Anson turned away and went into the kitchen to wash his face and to
comb his hair, glad to get rid of the sight of Kendall for a moment.
Mrs. Stickney was toasting some bread.

"She's awake an' wants to see you when you woke up. It's a girl--thought
I'd tell ye--yes: she's comfortable. Say, 'tween you an' me, a man 'at
'u'd run off--waal----" she ended, expressively glancing at Kendall.

Once more Anson caught his breath as he entered the darkened chamber.
He was a rough, untaught man, but there was something in him that made
that room holy and mysterious. But the figure on the bed was tranquil
now, and the voice, though weak and low, was Flaxen's own.

He stopped as his eyes fell on her. She was no longer a girl. The
majesty of maternity was on her pale face and in her great eyes. A
faint, expectant smile was on her lips; her eyes were fixed on his face
as she drew the cover from the little red, weirdly-wrinkled face at her
throat.

Before he could speak, and while he was looking down at the mite of
humanity, Kendall stepped into the room.

"Hello, Ellie! How are----"

A singular revulsion came out on her face. She turned to Anson. "Make
him go 'way; I don't want him."

"All right," said Kendall cheerfully, glad to escape.

"Isn't she beautiful?" the mother whispered. "Does she look like me?"
she asked artlessly.

"She's beautiful to me because she's yours, Flaxie," replied Anson,
with a delicacy all the more striking because of the contrast with his
great frame and hard, rough hands. "But there, my girl, go to sleep
like baby, an' don't worry any more."

"You ain't goin' away while I'm sick?" she asked, following him with
her eyes, unnaturally large.

"I won't never go 'way again if you don't want me to," he replied.

"Oh, I'm so glad!" she sighed restfully.

He was turning to go when she wailed reproachfully, "Pap, you didn't
kiss baby!"

Anson turned and came back. "She's sleepin', an' I thought it wasn't
right to kiss a girl without she said so."

This made Flaxen smile, and Anson went out with a lighter heart than he
had had for two years. Kendall met him outside and said confidentially:

"I don't s'pose it was just the thing for me to do; but--confound it! I
never could stand a sick-room, anyway. I couldn't do any good,
anyway--just been in the way. She'll get over her mad in a few days.
Think so?"

But she did not. Her singular and sudden dislike of him continued, and
though she passively submitted to his being in the room, she would not
speak a word to him nor look at him as long as she could avoid it; and
when he approached the baby or took it in his arms a jealous frown came
on her face.

As for Anson, he grew to hate the sound of that little chuckle of
Kendall's; the part in the man's hair and the hang of his cut-away coat
made him angry. The trim legs, a little bowed, the big cuffs hiding the
small, cold hands, and the peculiar set of his faultless collar, grew
daily more insupportable.

"Say, looky here, Kendall," said he in desperation one day, "I wish you
didn't like me quite so well. We don't hitch first rate--at least, I
don't. Seems to me you're neglectin' your business too much."

He was going to tell him to keep away, but he relented as he looked
down at the harmless little man, with his thin, boyish face.

"Oh, my business is all right. Gregory looks after it mostly, anyhow.
But, I say, if you wanted to go into the dray business, there's a
first-class opening now. Clark wants to sell."

It ended in Anson seeing Clark and buying out his line of drays,
turning in his claim toward the payment--a transaction which made
Flaxen laugh for joy, for she had not felt certain before that he would
remain in St. Peter. She was getting about the house now, looking very
wifely in her long, warm wraps, her slow motions contrasting strongly
with the old restless, springing steps Anson remembered so well.

Night after night, as he sat beside the fire and held baby, listening
to the changed voice of his girl and watching the grave, new
expressions of her face, the tooth of time took hold upon him
powerfully, and he would feel his shaggy head and think, "I'll soon be
gray, soon be gray!" while the little one cooed, and sprang, and pulled
at his beard, which had grown long again and had white hairs in it.

Kendall spent most of his time at the store, or downtown somewhere, and
so all of those long, delicious winter evenings were Flaxen's and
Anson's. And his enjoyment of them was pathetic. The cheerful little
sitting-room, the open grate, the gracious, ever-growing womanliness of
Elga, the pressure of soft little limbs; and the babble of a liquid
baby language, were like the charm of an unexpected Indian-summer day
between two gray November storms.



CHAPTER XIV.

KENDALL STEPS OUT.


One night Kendall did not come home, but as he had been talking of
going to St. Paul they were not disturbed about it--in fact, they both
took but very mild interest in his coming or going. In the morning,
while they were at breakfast, there came a knock at the door.

"Come in," shouted Anson in the Western way, not rising.

McDaniel, the county sheriff, entered.

"Where's Kendall?" he asked without ceremony.

"I don't know; went away yesterday."

The sheriff looked at his companion. "Skipped between two days."

"What's up?" asked Anson, while Elga stared and baby reached slyly for
the sugar-bowl.

"Nothing," the sheriff said in a tone which meant everything. "Come out
here," he said to Anson. Anson went out with him, and he told him that
Kendall had purchased goods on credit and gambled the money away, and
was ruined.

His stock of goods was seized, and the house was saved only through the
firmness of Anson.

Flaxen shut her lips and said nothing, and he could not read her
silence. One day she came to him with a letter.

"Read that!" she exclaimed scornfully. He saw that it was dated from
Eau Claire, Wisconsin:

    DEAR DARLING WIFE: I'm all right here with father. It was all
    Gregory's fault--he was always betting on something. I'm coming
    back as soon as the old man can raise the money to pay Fitch.
    Don't worry about me. They can't take the house, anyway. You
    might rent the house, sell the furniture on the sly, and come
    back here. The old man will give me another show. I don't owe
    more than a thousand dollars, anyway. Write soon. Your loving

    WILL.

She did not need to say what she thought of the advice the little
villain gave.

Anson went quietly on with his work, making a living for himself and
Flaxen and baby. It never occurred to either of them that any other
arrangement was necessary. Kendall wrote once or twice a month for
awhile, saying each time, "I'll come back and settle up," and asking
her to come to him; but she did not reply, and never referred to him
outside her home, and when others inquired after him she replied
evasively:

"He's in Wisconsin somewhere; I don't know where."

"Is he coming back?"

"I don't know."

She often spoke of Bert, and complained of his silence. Once she said:

"I guess he's forgot us, pap."

"I guess not. More likely he's thinkin' we've fergot him. He'll turn up
some bright mornin' with a pocketful o' rocks. He ain't no spring
chicken, Bert ain't." ("All the same, I wish't he'd write," Anson said
to himself.)

                    *      *      *      *      *

The sad death of Kendall came to them without much disturbing force. He
had been out of their lives so long that when Anson came in with the
paper and letter telling of the accident, and with his instinctive
delicacy left her alone to read the news, Flaxen was awed and saddened,
but had little sense of personal pain and loss.

"Young Kendall," the newspaper went on under its scare-heads, "was on a
visit to La Crosse, and while skating with a party on the bayou, where
the La Crosse River empties into the Father of Waters, skated into an
air-hole. The two young ladies with him were rescued, but the fated man
was swept under the ice. He was the son," etc.

When Anson came back Flaxen sat with the letter in her hand and the
paper on her lap. She was meditating deeply, but what was in her mind
Anson never knew. She had grown more and more reticent of late. She
sighed, rose, and resumed her evening tasks.



CHAPTER XV.

BERT COMES BACK.


One raw March evening, when the wind was roaring among the gray
branches of the maples like a lion in wrath, some one knocked on the
door.

"Come in!" shouted Anson, who was giving baby her regular ride on his
boots.

"Come in!" added Flaxen.

Gearheart walked in slowly, closed the door behind his back, and stood
devouring the cheerful scene. He was poorly dressed and wore a wide,
limp hat; they did not know him till he bared his head.

"Bert!" yelled Anson, tossing the baby to his shoulder and leaping
toward his chum, tramping and shaking and clapping like a madman,
scaring the child.

"My gosh-all-hemlock! I'm glad to see ye! Gimme that paw again. Come to
the fire. This is Flaxie" (as though he had not had his eyes on her
face all the time). "Be'n sick?"

Bert's hollow cough prompted this question.

"Yes. Had some kind of a fever down in Arizony. Oh, I'm all right now,"
he added in reply to an anxious look from Flaxen.

"An' this is----"

"Baby--Elsie," she replied, putting a finishing touch to the little
one's dress, mother-like.

"Where's he?" he asked a little later.

Anson replied with a little gesture, which silenced Bert at the same
time that it explained. And when Flaxen was busy a few moments later,
Anson said:

"Gone up the spout."

At the table they grew quite gay, talking over old times, and Bert's
pale face grew rosier, catching a reflection of the happy faces
opposite.

"Say, Bert, do you remember the time you threw that pan o' biscuits I
made out into the grass an' killed every dog in the township?" Then
they roared.

"I remember your flapjacks that always split open in the middle, an' no
amount o' heat could cook 'em inside," Bert replied.

Then they grew sober again when Bert said with a pensive cadence:
"Well, I tell you, those were days of hard work; but many's the time
I've looked back at 'em these last three years, wishin' they'd never
ended an' that we'd never got scattered."

"We won't be again, will we, pap?"

"Not if I can help it," Anson replied.

"But how are you, Bert? Rich?"

Bert put his hand into his pocket and laid a handful of small coins on
the table.

"That's the size o' my pile--four dollars," he said, smiling faintly;
"the whole o' my three years' work."

"Well, never mind, ol' man. I've got a chance fer yeh. Still an ol'
bach?"

"Still an old bach." He looked at Flaxen, irresistibly drawn to her
face. She dropped her eyes; she could not have told why.

And so "Wood & Gearheart" was painted on the sides of the drays, and
they all continued to live in the little yellow cottage, enjoying life
much more than the men, at least, had ever dared to hope; and little
Elsie grew to be a "great girl," and a nuisance with her desire to
"yide" with "g'an'pap."

There is no spot more delightful in early April than the sunny side of
the barn, and Ans and Bert felt this, though they did not say it. The
eaves were dripping, the doves cooing, the hens singing their
harsh-throated, weirdly suggestive songs, and the thrilling warmth and
vitality of the sun and wind of spring made the great, rude fellows
shudder with a strange delight. Anson held out his palm to catch the
sunshine in it, took off his hat to feel the wind, and mused:

"This is a great world--and a great day. I wish't it was always
spring."

"Say," began Bert abruptly, "it seems pretty well understood that
you're her father--but where do I come in?"

"You ought to be her husband." A light leaped into the younger man's
face. "But go slow," Anson went on gravely. "This package is marked
'Glass; handle with care.'"


THE END.



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+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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