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´╗┐Title: Dust
Author: Haldeman-Julius, E. (Emanuel), 1889-1951, Haldeman-Julius, Marcet, 1887-1941
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Dust" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



DUST

By Mr. And Mrs. Haldeman-Julius



CONTENTS

     I.    THE DUST IS STIRRED
     II.   OUT OF THE DUST
     III.  DUST IN HER HEART
     IV.   A ROSE-BUD IN THE DUST
     V.    DUST BEGETS DUST
     VI.   DUST IN HIS EYES
     VII.  MARTIN BATTLES WITH DUST
     VIII. THE DUST SMOTHERS
     IX.   MARTIN'S SON SHAKES OFF THE DUST
     X.    INTO THE DUST-BIN
     XI.   THE DUST SETTLES



I. THE DUST IS STIRRED

DUST was piled in thick, velvety folds on the weeds and grass of the
open Kansas prairie; it lay, a thin veil on the scrawny black horses and
the sharp-boned cow picketed near a covered wagon; it showered to the
ground in little clouds as Mrs. Wade, a tall, spare woman, moved about a
camp-fire, preparing supper in a sizzling skillet, huge iron kettle and
blackened coffee-pot.

Her husband, pale and gaunt, the shadow of death in his weary face
and the droop of his body, sat leaning against one of the wagon
wheels trying to quiet a wailing, emaciated year-old baby while little
tow-headed Nellie, a vigorous child of seven, frolicked undaunted by the
August heat.

"Does beat all how she kin do it," thought Wade, listlessly.

"Ma," she shouted suddenly, in her shrill, strident treble, "I see
Martin comin'."

The mother made no answer until the strapping, fourteen-year-old boy,
tall and powerful for his age, had deposited his bucket of water at her
side. As he drew the back of a tanned muscular hand across his dripping
forehead she asked shortly:

"What kept you so long?"

"The creek's near dry. I had to follow it half a mile to find anything
fit to drink. This ain't no time of year to start farmin'," he added,
glum and sullen.

"I s'pose you know more'n your father and mother," suggested Wade.

"I know who'll have to do all the work," the boy retorted, bitterness
and rebellion in his tone.

"Oh, quit your arguin'," commanded the mother. "We got enough to do to
move nearer that water tonight, without wastin' time talkin'. Supper's
ready."

Martin and Nellie sat down beside the red-and-white-checkered cloth
spread on the ground, and Wade, after passing the still fretting baby to
his wife, took his place with them.

"Seems like he gets thinner every day," he commented, anxiously.

With a swift gesture of fierce tenderness, Mrs. Wade gathered little
Benny to her. "Oh, God!" she gasped. "I know I'm goin' to lose him. That
cow's milk don't set right on his stomach."

"It won't set any better after old Brindle fills up on this dust,"
observed Martin, belligerency in his brassy voice.

"That'll do," came sharply from his father. "I don't think this is
paradise no more'n you do, but we wouldn't be the first who've come with
nothing but a team and made a living. You mark what I tell you, Martin,
land ain't always goin' to be had so cheap and I won't be living this
time another year. Before I die, I'm goin' to see your mother and you
children settled. Some day, when you've got a fine farm here, you'll see
the sense of what I'm doin' now and thank me for it."

The boy's cold, blue eyes became the color of ice, as he retorted: "If I
ever make a farm out o' this dust, I'll sure 'ave earned it."

"I guess your mother'll be doin' her share of that, all right. And don't
you forget it."

As he intoned in even accents, Wade's eyes, so deep in their somber
sockets, dwelt with a strange, wistful compassion on his faded wife.
The rays of the setting sun brought out the drabness of her. Already,
at thirty-five, grey streaked the scanty, dull hair, wrinkles lined
the worn olive-brown face, and the tendons of the thin neck stood out.
Chaotically, he compared her to the happy young girl--round of cheek and
laughing of eye--he had married back in Ohio, fifteen years before. It
comforted him a little to remember he hadn't done so badly by her until
the war had torn him from his rented farm and she had been forced to do
a man's work in field and barn. Exposure and a lung wound from a rebel
bullet had sent Wade home an invalid, and during the five years which
had followed, he had realized only too well how little help he had been
to her.

It is not likely he would have had the iron persistency of purpose to
drag her through this new stern trial if he had not known that in her
heart, as in his, there gnawed ever an all-devouring hunger to work
land of their own, a fervent aspiration to establish a solid basis of
self-sustentation upon which their children might build. From the day a
letter had come from Peter Mall, an ex-comrade in Wade's old regiment,
saying the quarter-section next his own could be bought by paying
annually a dollar and twenty-five cents an acre for seven years, their
hopes had risen into determination that had become unshakable. Before
the eyes of Jacob and Sarah Wade there had hovered, like a promise, the
picture of the snug farm that could be evolved from this virgin soil.
Strengthened by this vision and stimulated by the fact of Wade's
increasing weakness, they had sold their few possessions, except the
simplest necessities for camping, had made a canvas cover for their
wagon, stocked up with smoked meat, corn meal and coffee, tied old
Brindle behind, fastened a coop of chickens against the wagon-box and,
without faltering, had made the long pilgrimage. Their indomitable
courage and faith, Martin's physical strength and the pulling power of
their two ring-boned horses--this was their capital.

It seemed pitifully meager to Wade at that despondent moment, exhausted
as he was by the long, hard journey and the sultry heat. Never had he
been so taunted by a sense of failure, so torn by the haunting knowledge
that he must soon leave his family. To die--that was nothing; but the
fears of what his death might mean to this group, gripped his heart and
shook his soul.

If only Martin were more tender! There was something so ruthless in the
boy, so overbearing and heartless. Not that he was ever deliberately
cruel, but there was an insensibility to the feelings of others, a
capacity placidly to ignore them, that made Wade tremble for the future.
Martin would work, and work hard; he was no shirk, but would he ever
feel any responsibility toward his younger brother and sister? Would
he be loyal to his mother? Wade wondered if his wife ever felt as he
did--almost afraid of this son of theirs. He had a way of making his
father seem foolishly inexperienced and ineffectual.

"I reckon," Wade analysed laboriously, "it's because I'm gettin' less
able all the time and he's growing so fast--him limber an' quick, and me
all thumbs. There ain't nothing like just plain muscle and size to make
a fellow feel as if he know'd it all."

Martin had never seemed more competent than this evening as, supper
over, he harnessed the horses and helped his mother set the little
caravan in motion. It was Martin who guided them to the creek, Martin
who decided just where to locate their camp, Martin who, early the next
morning, unloaded the wagon and made a temporary tent from its cover,
and Martin who set forth on a saddleless horse in search of Peter Mall.
When he returned, the big, kindly man came with him, and in Martin's
arms there squealed and wriggled a shoat.

"A smart boy you've got, Jacob," chuckled Peter, jovially, after the
first heart-warming greetings. "See that critter! Blame me if Martin,
here, didn't speak right up and ask me to lend 'er to you!" And he
collapsed into gargantuan laughter.

"I promised when she'd growed up and brought pigs, we'd give him back
two for one," Martin hastily explained.

"That's what he said," nodded Peter, carefully switching his navy plug
to the opposite cheek before settling down to reply, "and sez I, 'Why,
Martin, what d'ye want o' that there shoat? You ain't got nothin' to
keep her on!' 'If I can borrow the pig,' sez he, 'I reckon I can borrow
the feed somewheres.' God knows, he'll find that ain't so plentiful,
but he's got the right idea. A new country's a poor man's country and
fellows like us have to stand together. It's borrow and lend out here. I
know where you can get some seed wheat if you want to try puttin' it
in this fall. There's a man by the name of Perry--lives just across the
Missouri line--who has thrashed fifteen hundred bushel and he'll lend
you three hundred or so. He's willing to take a chance, but if you get a
crop he wants you should give him back an extra three hundred."

It was a hard bargain, but one that Wade could afford to take up, for if
the wheat were to freeze out, or if the grasshoppers should eat it, or
the chinch bugs ruin it, or a hail storm beat it down into the mud,
or if any of the many hatreds Stepmother Nature holds out toward those
trusting souls who would squeeze a living from her hard hands--if any of
these misfortunes should transpire, he would be out nothing but labor,
and that was the one thing he and Martin could afford to risk.

The seed deal was arranged, and Martin made the trip six times back and
forth, for the wagon could hold only fifty bushels. Perry lived twenty
miles from the Wades and a whole day was consumed with each load. It was
evening when Martin, hungry and tired, reached home with the last one;
and, as he stopped beside the tent, he noticed with surprise that there
was no sign of cooking. Nellie was huddled against her mother, who sat,
idle, with little Benny in her arms. The tragic yearning her whole body
expressed, as she held the baby close, arrested the boy's attention,
filled him with clamoring uneasiness. His father came to help him
unhitch.

"What's the matter with Benny?"

Wade looked at Martin queerly. "He's dead. Died this mornin' and your
ma's been holding him just like that. I want you should ride over to
Peter's and see if you can fetch his woman."

"No!" came from Mrs. Wade, brokenly, "I don't want no one. Just let me
alone."

The shattering anguish in his mother's voice startled Martin, stirred
within him tumultuous, veiled sensations. He was unaccustomed to seeing
her show suffering, and it embarrassed him. Restless and uncomfortable,
he was glad when his father called him to help decide where to dig the
grave, and fell the timber from which to make a rough box. From time to
time, through the long night, he could not avoid observing his mother.
In the white moonlight, she and Benny looked as if they had been carved
from stone. Dawn was breaking over them when Wade, surrendering to a
surge of pity, put his arms around her with awkward gentleness. "Ma, we
got to bury 'im."

A low, half-suppressed sob broke from Mrs. Wade's tight lips as she
clasped the tiny figure and pressed her cheek against the little head.

"I can't give him up," she moaned, "I can't! It wasn't so hard with the
others. Their sickness was the hand of God, but Benny just ain't had
enough to eat. Seems like it'll kill me."

With deepened discomfort, Martin hurried to the creek to water the
horses. It was good, he felt, to have chores to do. This knowledge shot
through him with the same thrill of discovery that a man enjoys when he
first finds what an escape from the solidity of fact lies in liquor. If
one worked hard and fast one could forget. That was what work did. It
made one forget--that moan, that note of agony in his mother's voice,
that hurt look in her eyes, that bronze group in the moonlight. By the
time he had finished his chores, his mother was getting breakfast as
usual. With unspeakable relief, Martin noticed that though pain haunted
her face, she was not crying.

"I heard while I was over in Missouri, yesterday," he ventured, "of a
one-room house down in the Indian Territory. The fellow who built it's
give up and gone back East. Maybe we could fix a sledge and haul it up
here."

"I ain't got the strength to help," said Wade.

Martin's eyes involuntarily sought his mother's. He knew the power in
her lean, muscular arms, the strength in her narrow shoulders.

"We'd better fetch it," she agreed.

The pair made the trip down on horseback and brought back the shack that
was to be home for many years. Eighteen miles off a man had some extra
hand-cut shingles which he was willing to trade for a horse-collar.
While Mrs. Wade took the long drive Martin, under his father's guidance,
chopped down enough trees to build a little lean-to kitchen and
make-shift stable. Sixteen miles south another neighbor had some
potatoes to exchange for a hatching of chickens. Martin rode over with
the hen and her downy brood. The long rides, consuming hours, were
trying, for Martin was needed every moment on a farm where everything
was still to be done.

Day by day Wade was growing weaker, and it was Mrs. Wade who helped put
in the crop, borrowing a plow, harrow, and extra team, and repaying the
loan with the use of their own horses and wagon. Luck was with their
wheat, which soon waved green. It seemed one of life's harsh jests
that now, when the tired, ill-nourished baby had fretted his last, old
Brindle, waxing fat and sleek on the wheat pasture, should give more
rich cream than the Wades could use. "He could have lived on the skimmed
milk we feed to the pigs," thought Martin.

In the Spring he went with his father into Fallon, the nearest trading
point, to see David Robinson, the owner of the local bank. By giving a
chattel mortgage on their growing wheat, they borrowed enough, at twenty
per cent, to buy seed corn and a plow. It was Wade's last effort. Before
the corn was in tassel, he had been laid beside Benny.

Martin, who already had been doing a man's work, now assumed a man's
responsibilities. Mrs. Wade consulted more and more with him, relied
more and more upon his judgment. She was immensely proud of him, of his
steadiness and dependability, but at rare moments, remembering her own
normal childhood, she would think with compunction: "It ain't right.
Young 'uns ought to have some fun. Seems like it's makin' him too old
for his age." She never spoke of these feelings, however. There were no
expressions of tenderness in the Wade household. She was doing her
best by her children and they knew it. Even Nellie, child that she was,
understood the grimness of the battle before them.

They were able to thresh enough wheat to repay their debt of six hundred
bushels and keep an additional three hundred of seed for the following
year. The remaining seven hundred and fifty they sold at twenty-five
cents a bushel by hauling them to Fort Scott--thirty miles distant. Each
trip meant ten dollars, but to the Wades, to whom this one hundred and
eighty-seven dollars--the first actual money they had seen in over a
year--was a fortune, these journeys were rides of triumph, fugitive
flashes of glory in the long, gray struggle.

That Fall they paid the first installment of two hundred dollars on
their land and Martin persuaded his mother to give and Robinson to take
a chattel on their two horses, old Brindle, her calf and the pigs, that
other much-needed implements might be bought. Mrs. Wade toiled early
and late, doing part of the chores and double her share of the Spring
plowing that Martin, as well as Nellie, could attend school in Fallon.

"I don't care about goin'," he had protested squirmingly.

But on this matter his mother was without compromise. "Don't say
that," she had commanded, her voice shaken and her eyes bright with the
intensity of her emotion; "you're goin' to get an education."

And Martin, surprised and embarrassed by his mother's unusual exhibition
of feeling, had answered, roughly: "Aw, well, all right then. Don't take
on. I didn't say I wouldn't, did I?"

He was twenty-three and Nellie sixteen when, worn out and broken down
before her time, her resistance completely undermined, Mrs. Wade died
suddenly of pneumonia. Within the year Nellie married Bert Mall, Peter's
eldest son, and Martin, at once, bought out her half interest in the
farm, stock and implements, giving a first mortgage to Robinson in order
to pay cash.

"I'm making it thirty dollars an acre," he explained.

"That's fair," conceded the banker, "though the time will come when
it will be cheap at a hundred and a half. There's coal under all this
county, millions of dollars' worth waiting to be mined."

"Maybe," assented Martin, laconically.

As he sat in the dingy, little backroom of the bank, while Robinson's
pen scratched busily drawing up the papers, he was conscious of an odd
thrill. The land--it was all his own! But with this thrill welled a wave
of resentment over what he considered a preposterous imposition. Who
had made the land into a farm? What had Nellie ever put into it that it
should be half hers? His mother--now, that was different. She and he had
toiled side by side like real partners; her efforts had been real and
unstinted. If he were buying her out, for instance--but Nellie!
Well, that was the way, he noticed, with many women--doing little and
demanding much. He didn't care for them; not he. From the day Nellie
left, Martin managed alone in the shack, "baching it," and putting his
whole heart and soul into the development of his quarter-section.



II. OUT OF THE DUST

AT thirty-four, Martin was still unmarried, and though he had not
travelled far on that strange road to affluence which for some seems a
macadamized boulevard, but for so many, like himself, a rough cow-path,
he had done better than the average farmer of Fallon County. To be sure,
this was nothing over which to gloat. A man who received forty cents a
bushel for wheat was satisfied; corn sold at twenty-eight cents, and
the hogs it fattened in proportion. But his hundred and sixty acres were
clear from debt, four thousand dollars were on deposit drawing three per
cent in The First State Bank--the old Bank of Fallon, now incorporated
with Robinson as its president. In the pasture, fourteen sows with
their seventy-five spring pigs rooted beside the sleek herd of steers
fattening for market; the granary bulged with corn; two hundred bushels
of seed wheat were ready for sowing; his machinery was in excellent
condition; his four Percheron mares brought him, each, a fine mule colt
once a year; and the well never went dry, even in August. Martin was--if
one discounted the harshness of the life, the dirt, the endless duties
and the ever-pressing chores--a Kansas plutocrat.

One fiery July day, David Robinson drew up before Martin's shack. The
little old box-house was still unpainted without and unpapered within.
Two chairs, a home-made table with a Kansas City Star as a cloth,
a sheetless bed, a rough cupboard, a stove and floors carpeted with
accumulations of untidiness completed the furnishings.

"Chris-to-pher Columbus!" exploded Robinson, "why don't you fix yourself
up a bit, Martin? The Lord knows you're going to be able to afford it.
What you need is a wife--someone to look after you." And as Martin,
observing him calmly, made no response, he added, "I suppose you know
what I want. You've been watching for this day, eh, Martin? All Fallon
County's sitting on its haunches--waiting."

"Oh, I haven't been worrying. A fellow situated like me, with a
hundred and sixty right in the way of a coal company, can afford to be
independent."

"You understand our procedure, Martin," Robinson continued. "We are
frank and aboveboard. We set the price, and if you can't see your way
clear to take it there are no hard feelings. We simply call it off--for
good."

Wade knew how true this was. When the mining first began, several rebels
toward the East had tried profitlessly to buck this irrefragable game
and had found they had battered their unyielding heads against
an equally unyielding stone wall. These men had demanded more and
Robinson's company, true to its threat, had urbanely gone around their
farms, travelled on and left them behind, their coal untouched and
certain to so remain. Such inelastic lessons, given time to soak in,
were sobering.

"Now," said Robinson, in his amiable matter-of-fact manner, "as I happen
to know the history of this quarter, backwards and forwards, we can do
up this deal in short order. You sign this contract, which is exactly
like all the others we use, and I'll hand over your check. We get the
bottom; you keep the top; I give you the sixteen thousand, and the thing
is done."

"Well, Martin," he added, genially, as Wade signed his name, "it's a
long day since you came in with your father to make that first loan
to buy seed corn. Wouldn't he have opened his eyes if any one had
prophesied this? It's a pity your mother couldn't have lived to enjoy
your good fortune. A fine, plucky woman, your mother. They don't make
many like her."

Long after Robinson's buggy was out of sight, Martin stood in his
doorway and stared at the five handsome figures, spelled out the even
more convincing words and admired the excellent reproduction of The
First State Bank.

"This is a whole lot of money," his thoughts ran. "I'm rich. All this
land still mine--practically as much mine as ever--all this stock and
twenty thousand dollars in money--in cash. It's a fact. I, Martin Wade,
am rich."

He remembered how he had exulted, how jubilant, even intoxicated, he had
felt when he had received the ten dollars for the first load of wheat
he had hauled to Fort Scott. Now, with a check for sixteen
thousand--SIXTEEN THOUSAND DOLLARS!--in his hand, he stood dumbly,
curiously unmoved.

Slowly, the first bitter months on this land, little Benny's death from
lack of nourishment, his father's desperate efforts to establish
his family, the years of his mother's slow crucifixion, his own
long struggle--all floated before him in a fog of reverie. Years of
deprivation, of bending toil and then, suddenly, this had come--this
miracle symbolized by this piece of paper. Martin moistened his
lips. Mentally, he realized all the dramatic significance of what had
happened, but it gave him none of the elation he had expected.

This bewildered and angered him. Sixteen thousand dollars and with it no
thrill. What was lacking? As he pondered, puzzled and disappointed, it
came to him that he needed something by which to measure his wealth,
someone whose appreciation of it would make it real to him, give him
a genuine sense of its possession. What if he were to take Robinson's
advice: fix up a bit and--marry?

Nellie had often urged the advantages of this, but he had never had much
to do with women; they did not belong in his world and he had not
missed them; he had never before felt a need of marriage. Upon the
few occasions when, driven by his sister's persistence, he had vaguely
considered it, he had shrunk away quickly from the thought of the
unavoidable changes which would be ushered in by such a step. This
shack, itself--no one whom he would want would, in this day, consent to
live in it, and, if he should marry, his wife must be a superior woman,
good looking, and with the push and energy of his mother. He thought of
all she had meant to his father; and there was Nellie, not to be spoken
of in the same breath, yet making Bert Mall a good wife. What a cook she
was! Memories of her hot, fluffy biscuits, baked chicken, apple pies
and delicious coffee, carried trailing aromas that set his nostrils
twitching. It would be pleasant to have satisfying meals once more, to
be relieved, too, of the bother of the three hundred chickens, to have
some one about in the evenings. True, there would be expense, oh, such
expense--the courting, the presents, the wedding, the building, the
furniture, and, later, innumerable new kinds of bills. But weren't all
the men around him married? Surely, if they, not nearly as well off as
himself, could afford it, so could he.

Besides, wasn't it all different now that he held this check in his
hand? These sixteen thousand dollars were not the same dollars which he
had extorted from close-fisted Nature. Each of those had come so lamely,
was such a symbol of sweat and aching muscles, that to spend one was
like parting with a portion of himself, but this new, almost incredible
fortune, had come without a turn of his hand, without an hour's labor.
To Martin, the distinction was sharp and actual.

He figured quickly. Five thousand dollars would do wonders. With that
amount, he would build so substantially that his neighbors could no
longer feel the disapprobation in which, according to Nellie, he was
beginning to be held, because of his sordid, hermit-like life. That five
thousand could buy many cows and additional acreage--but just now a home
and a wife would be better investments. Yes, he would marry and a house
should be his bait. That was settled. He would drive into Fallon at once
to see the carpenter and deposit the check.

He was already out of the house when a thought struck him. Suppose
he were to meet just the woman he might want? These soiled, once-blue
overalls, these heavy, manure-spotted shoes, this greasy, shapeless
straw hat, with its dozen matches showing their red heads over the band,
the good soils and fertilizers of Kansas resting placidly in his ears
and the lines of his neck--such a Romeo might not tempt his Juliet; he
must spruce up.

On an aged soap-box behind the house, several inches of grey water in
a battered tin-pan indicated a previous effort. He tossed the greasy
liquid to the ground and from the well, near the large, home-built
barn, refilled the make-shift basin. Martin's ablutions were always a
strenuous affair. In his cupped hands he brought the water toward
his face and, at the moment he was about to apply it, made pointless
attempts to blow it away. This blowing and sputtering indicated the
especial importance of an occasion--the more important, the more
vigorously he blew. Today, the cold water gave a healthy glow to his
face, which, after much stropping of his razor, he shaved of a week's
growth of beard, tawny as his thick, crisp hair where the sun had not
yet bleached it. This, he soaked thoroughly, in lieu of brushing, before
using a crippled piece of comb. The dividing line between washed and
unwashed was one inch above his neckband and two above his wrists. Even
when fresh from a scrubbing, his hands were not entirely clean. They had
been so long in contact with the earth that it had become absorbed into
the very pores of his skin; but they were powerful hands, interesting,
with long palms and spatulate fingers. The black strips at the end of
each nail, Martin pared off with his jackknife.

He entered the house a trifle nervously, positive that his only clean
shirt, at present spread over his precious shot-gun, had been worn once
more than he could have wished, but, after all, how much of one's shirt
showed? It would pass. The coat-shirt not yet introduced, a man had
to slip the old-fashioned kind over his head, drag it down past his
shoulders and poke blindly for the sleeve openings. Martin was thankful
when he felt the collar buttons in their holes. His salt and pepper suit
was of a stiff, unyielding material, and the first time he had worn
it the creases had vanished never to return. Before putting on his
celluloid collar, he spat on it and smeared it off with the tail of his
shirt. A recalcitrant metal shaper insisted on peeking from under his
lapels, and his ready-made tie with its two grey satin-covered
cardboard wings pushed out of sight, see-sawed, necessitating frequent
adjustments. His brown derby, the rim of which made almost three
quarters of a circle at each side, seemed to want to get as far as
possible from his ears and, at the same time, remain perched on his
head. The yellow shoes looked as though each had half a billiard ball in
the toe, and the entire tops were perforated with many diverging lines
in an attempt for the decorative. Those were the days of sore feet
and corns! Hart Schaffner and Marx had not yet become rural America's
tailor. Sartorial magicians in Chicago had not yet won over the young
men of the great corn belt, with their snappy lines and style for the
millions. In 1890, when a suit served merely as contrast to a pair of
overalls, the Martin Wades who would clothe themselves pulled their
garments from the piles on long tables. It was for the next generation
to patronize clothiers who kept each suit on its separate hanger. A
moving-picture of the tall, broad-shouldered fellow, as, with creaking
steps, he walked from the house, might bring a laugh from the young
farmers of this more fastidious day, but Martin was dressed no worse
than any of his neighbors and far better than many. Health, vigor,
sturdiness, self-reliance shone from him, and once his make-up had
ceased to obtrude its clumsiness, he struck one as handsome. His was a
commanding physique, hard as the grim plains from which he wrested his
living.

As Martin drove into Fallon, his attention was directed toward the
architecture and the women. He observed that the average homes were
merely a little larger than his own--four, six, or eight rooms instead
of one, made a little trimmer with neat porches and surrounded by
well-cut lawns, instead of weeds. He, with his new budget, could do
better. Even Robinson's well-constructed residence had probably
cost only three thousand more than he himself planned to spend. Its
suggestion of originality had been all but submerged by carpenters
spoiled through constant work on commonplace buildings. But to Martin it
was a marvellous mansion. He told himself that with such a place moved
out to his quarter-section, he could have stood on his door-step and
chosen whomever he wished for a wife.

It was an elemental materialism, difficult to understand, but it was a
language very clear to Martin. Marriage with the men and women of his
world was a practical business, arranged and conducted by practical
people, who lived practical lives, and died practical deaths. The women
who might pass his way could deny their lust for concrete possessions,
but their actions, however concealed their motives, would give the lie
to any ineffectual glamour of romance they might attempt to fling over
their carefully measured adventures of the heart.

Martin smiled cynically as he let his thoughts drift along this channel.
"What a lot of bosh is talked about lovers," his comment ran. "As if
everyone didn't really know how much like drunken men they are--saying
things which in a month they'll have forgotten. Folks pretend to approve
of 'em and all the while they're laughing at 'em up their sleeves. But
how they respect a man who's got the root they're all grubbing for! It
may be the root of all evil, but it's a fact that everything people want
grows from it. They hate a man for having it, but they'd like to be
him. Their hearts have all got strings dangling from 'em, especially
the women's. A house tied onto the other end ought to be hefty enough to
fetch the best of the lot."

Who could she be, anyway? Was she someone in Fallon? He drove slowly,
thinking over the families in the different houses--four to each side
of the block. The street, even yet, was little more than a country road.
There was no indication of the six miles of pavement which later were
to be Fallon's pride. It had rained earlier in the week and Martin was
obliged to be careful of the chuck-holes in the sticky, heavy gumbo soon
to be the bane of pioneers venturing forth in what were to be known for
a few short years as "horseless carriages."

Bumping along he recalled to his mind the various girls with whom he had
gone to school. As if the sight of the building, itself, would sharpen
his memory, he turned north and drove past it. Like its south, east and
west counterparts, it was a solid two-story brick affair. In time it
would be demolished to make way for what would be known as the "Emerson
School," in which, to be worthy of this high title, the huge stoves
would be supplanted with hot-water pipes, oil lamps with soft, indirect
lighting, and unsightly out-buildings with modern plumbing. The South
building would become the "Whittier School," the East, the "Longfellow,"
and the West, not to be neglected by culture's invasion, the "Oliver
Wendell Holmes." But these changes were still to be effected. Many
a school board meeting was first to be split into stormy factions of
conservatives fighting to hold the old, and of anarchists threatening
civilization with their clamors for experimentation. Many a bond
election was yet to rip the town in two, with the retired farmers, whose
children were grown and through school, satisfied with things as they
were and parents of the new generation demanding gymnasiums, tennis
courts, victrolas, domestic science laboratories, a public health nurse
and individual lockers. Yes, and the faddists were to win despite
the other side's incontrovertible evidence that Fallon was headed for
bankruptcy and that the proposed bonds and outstanding ones could never
be met.

Martin drove, meditatively, around the school-house and was still
engrossed in the problem of "Who?" when he reached the Square. The neat
canvas drops of later years had not yet replaced the wooden awnings
which gave to the town such a decidedly western appearance and which
threw the sidewalks and sheltered windows into deep pools of shadow. The
old brick store-building which housed The First State Bank was like
a cool cavern. He brought out the check quietly but with a full
consciousness that with one gesture he was shoving enough over that
scratched and worn walnut counter to buy out half the bank.

James Osborne, the youthful cashier, feigned complete paralysis.

"Why don't you give a poor fellow some warning?" he beamed
good-naturedly, "or maybe you think you've strayed into Wall Street.
This is Fallon. Fallon, Kansas. So you've had your merry little session
with Robinson? Put it here!" and he extended a cordial hand.

"Oh, considering the wait, it isn't so wonderful. Sixteen thousand is an
awful lot when it's coming, but it just seems about half as big when it
gets here."

Martin was talking not so much for Osborne's benefit as to impress a
woman who had entered behind him and was awaiting her turn. He wondered
why, in his mental quest, he had not thought of her. Here was the very
person for whom he was looking. Rose Conroy, the editor of the better
local weekly, a year or so younger than himself, pleasant, capable. Here
was a real woman, one above the average in character and brains.

With a quick glance he took in her well-built figure. Everything
about Rose--every line, every tone of her coloring suggested warmth,
generosity, bigness. She was as much above medium height for a woman as
Martin for a man. About her temples the line of her bright golden-brown
hair had an oddly pleasing irregularity. The rosy color in her cheeks
brought out the rich creamy whiteness of her skin. Warm, gray-blue eyes
were set far apart beneath a kind, broad forehead and her wide, generous
mouth seemed made to smile. The impression of good temper and fun
was accented by her nose, ever so slightly up-tilted. Some might have
thought Rose too large, her hips too rounded, the soft deep bosom too
full, but Martin's eyes were approving. Even her hands, plump, with
broad palms, square fingers and well-kept nails, suggested decision.
He felt the quiet distinction of her simple white dress. She was like a
full-blown, luxuriant white and gold flower--like a rose, a full-blown
white rose, Martin realized, suddenly. One couldn't call her pretty, but
there was something about her that gave the impression of sumptuous
good looks. He liked, too, the spirited carriage of her head. "Healthy,
good-sense, sound all through," was his final appraisement.

Pocketing his bank-book, he gave her a sharp nod, a colorless
"how-de-do, Miss Rose," and a tip of the hat that might have been a
little less stiff had he been more accustomed to greeting the ladies.
"Right well, thank you, Martin," was her cordial response, and her
friendly smile told him she had heard and understood the remarks about
the big deal. He was curious to know how it had impressed her.

Hurrying out, he asked himself how he could begin advances. Either he
must do something quickly in time to get home for the evening chores
or he must wait until another day. He must think out a plan, at once.
Passing the bakery, half way down the block, he dropped in, ordered a
chocolate ice-cream soda, and chose a seat near the window. As he had
expected, it was not long before he saw Rose go across the courthouse
yard toward her office on the north side of the square. He liked the
swift, easy way in which she walked. She had been walking the first time
he had ever seen her, thirteen years before, when her father had led his
family uptown from the station, the day of their arrival in Fallon.

Patrick Conroy had come from Sharon, Illinois, to perform the thankless
task of starting a weekly newspaper in a town already undernourishing
one. By sheer stubbornness he had at last established it. Twelve hundred
subscribers, their little printing jobs, advertisers who bought liberal
portions of space at ten cents an inch--all had enabled him to give his
children a living that was a shade better than an existence. He had died
less than a year ago, and Martin, like the rest of the community, had
supposed the Fallon Independent would be sold or suspended. Instead, as
quietly and matter-of-factly as she had filled her dead mother's place
in the home while her brothers and sisters were growing up, Rose stepped
into her father's business, took over the editorship and with a boy to
do the typesetting and presswork, continued the paper without missing
an issue. It even paid a little better than before, partly because it
flattered Fallon's sense of Christian helpfulness to throw whatever
it could in Rose's way, but chiefly because she made the Independent a
livelier sheet with double the usual number of "Personals."

Yes, decidedly, Rose had force and push. Martin's mind was made up. He
would drop into the Independent ostensibly to extend his subscription,
but really to get on more intimate terms with the woman whom he had
now firmly determined should become his wife. He drew a deep breath
of relaxation and finished the glass of sweetness with that sense of
self-conscious sheepishness which most men feel when they surrender to
the sticky charms of an ice-cream soda. A few minutes later he stood
beside Rose's worn desk.

"How-do-you-do, once more, Miss Rose of Sharon. You're not the Bible's
Rose of Sharon, are you?" he joshed a bit awkwardly.

"If I were a rose of anywhere, I'd soon wilt in this stuffy little
office of inky smells," she answered pleasantly. "A rose would need
petals of leather to get by here."

"A rose, by rights, belongs out of doors,"--Martin indicated the
direction of his farm--"out there where the sun shines and there's no
smells except the rich, healthy smells of nature."

A merry twinkle appeared in Rose's eyes. "Aren't roses out there"--and
her gesture was in the same direction--"rather apt to be crowded down by
the weeds?"

"Not if there was a good strong man about--a man who wanted to cultivate
the soil and give the rose a pretty place in which to bloom."

"Why, Martin," Rose laughed lightly, "the way you're fixed out there
with that shack, the only thing that ever blooms is a fine crop of
rag-weeds."

At this gratuitous thrust a flood of crimson surged up Martin's
magnificent, column-like throat and broke in hot waves over his cheeks.
"Well, it's not going to be that way for long," he announced evenly.
"I'm going to plant a rose--a real rose there soon and everything is
going to be right--garden, house and all."

"Is this your way of telling me you're going to be married?"

"Kinda. The only trouble is, I haven't got my rose yet."

"Well, if I can't have that item, at least I can print something about
the selling of your coal rights. People will be interested because it
shows the operators are coming in our direction. Here in Fallon, we can
hardly realize all that this sudden new promotion may mean. From that
conversation I heard at the bank I guess you got the regulation hundred
an acre."

"Yes, and a good part of it is going into a first-class modern house
with a heating plant and running hot and cold water in a tiled-floor
bath-room, and a concrete cellar for the woman's preserved things and
built-in cupboards, lots of closets, a big garret, and hardwood floors
and fancy paper on the walls, and the prettiest polished golden oak
furniture you can buy in Kansas City, not to mention a big fireplace
and wide, sunny porches. A rose ought to be happy in a garden like that,
don't you think? Folks'll say I've gone crazy when they see my building
spree, but I know what I'm about. It's time I married and the woman who
decides to be my wife is going to be glad to stay with me--"

"See here, Martin Wade, what ARE you driving at? What does all this talk
mean anyway? Do you want me to give you a boost with someone?"

"You've hit it."

"Who is she?" Rose asked, with genuine curiosity.

"You," he said bluntly.

"Well, of all the proposals!"

"There's nothing to beat around the bush about. I'm only thirty-four, a
hard worker, with a tidy sum to boot--not that I'm boasting about it."

"But, Martin, what makes you think I could make you happy?"

Martin felt embarrassed. He was not looking for happiness but merely
for more of the physical comforts, and an escape from loneliness. He
was practical; he fancied he knew about what could be expected from
marriage, just as he knew exactly how many steers and hogs his farm
could support. This was a new idea--happiness. It had never entered into
his calculations. Life as he knew it was hard. There was no happiness in
those fields when burned by the hot August winds, the soil breaking into
cakes that left crevices which seemed to groan for water. That sky with
its clouds that gave no rain was a hard sky. The people he knew were
sometimes contented, but he could not remember ever having known any to
whom the word "happy" could be applied. His father and mother--they had
been a good husband and wife. But happy? They had been far too absorbed
in the bitter struggle for a livelihood to have time to think of
happiness. This had been equally true of the elder Malls, was true today
of Nellie and her husband. A man and a woman needed each other's help,
could make a more successful fight, go farther together than either
could alone. To Martin that was the whole matter in a nutshell, and
Rose's gentle question threw him into momentary confusion.

"I don't know," he answered uneasily. "We both like to make a success of
things and we'd have plenty to do with. We'd make a pretty good pulling
team."

Rose considered this thoughtfully. "Perhaps the people who work together
best are the happiest. But somehow I'd never pictured myself on a farm."

"Of course, I don't expect you to make up your mind right away," Martin
conceded. "It's something to study over. I'll come around to your place
tomorrow evening after I get the chores done up and we can talk some
more."

So far as Martin was concerned, the matter was clinched. He felt not the
slightest doubt but that it was merely a question of time before Rose
would consent to his proposition.

After he had left, she reviewed it a little sadly. It wasn't the kind
of marriage of which she had always dreamed. She realized that she was
capable of profound devotion, of responding with her whole being to
a deep love. But was it probable that this love would ever come? She
thought over the men of Fallon and its neighborhood. There were few as
handsome as Martin--not one with such generous plans. She knew her own
domestic talents. She was a born housekeeper and home-maker. It had been
a curious destiny that had driven her into a newspaper office, and at
that very moment, there lay on her desk, like a whisper from Fate, the
written offer from the rival paper to buy her out for fifteen hundred
dollars, giving herself a position on the consolidated staff. She had
been pondering over this proposal when Martin interrupted her.

It wasn't as if she were younger or likely to start somewhere else.
She would live out her life in Fallon, that she knew. There was little
chance of her meeting new men, and those established enough to make
marriage with them desirable were already married. Candidly, she
admitted that if she turned Martin Wade down now, she might never have
another such opportunity. If only she could feel that he cared for
her--loved her. But wasn't the fact that he was asking her to be his
wife proof of that? It was very strange. She had never suspected that
Martin had ever felt drawn to her. With a sigh she pressed her large,
capable hands to her heart. Its deep piercing ache brought tears to her
eyes. She felt, bitterly, that she was being cheated of too much that
was sweet and precious--it was all wrong--she would be making a mistake.
For a moment, she was overwhelmed. Then the practical common sense that
had been instilled into her from her earliest consciousness, even as it
had been instilled into Martin, reasserted itself. After all, perhaps he
was right--the busy people were the happy people. Many couples who began
marriage madly in love ended in the divorce courts. Martin was kind and
it would be wonderful to have the home he had described. She imagined
herself mistress of it, thrilled with the warm hospitality she would
radiate, entertained already at missionary meetings and at club. At
least, she would be less lonely. It would be a fuller life than now.
What was she getting, really getting, alone, out of this world? She and
Martin would be good partners. Poor boy! What a long, hard, cheerless
existence he had led. Tenderness welled in her heart and stilled its
pain. Perhaps his emotions were far deeper than he could express in
words. His way was to plan for her comfort. Wasn't there something big
about his simple cards-on-the-table wooing? And he had called her his
rose, his Rose of Sharon. The new house was to be the garden in which
she should blossom. To be sure, he had said it all awkwardly, but Rose,
who was devout, knew the stately Song of Solomon and as she recalled the
magnificent outburst of passion she almost let herself be convinced that
Martin was a poet-lover in the rough.

And all the while, giving pattern to her flying thoughts, the contents
of a letter, received the day before, echoed through her mind. Her
sister, Norah, the youngest of the family, had told of her first baby.
"We have named her for you, darling," she wrote. "Oh, Rose, she has
brought me such deep happiness. I wonder if this ecstasy can last. Her
little hand against my breast--it is so warm and soft--like a flower's
curling petal, as delicate and as beautiful as a butterfly's wing.
I never knew until now what life really meant." As Rose reread the
throbbing lines and pictured the eager-eyed young mother, her own sweet
face glowed with reflected joy and with the knowledge that this ecstasy,
this deeper understanding could come to her, too--Martin, he was
vigorous, so worthy of being the father of her children. He would love
them, of course, and provide for them better than any other man she
knew. Had not Norah married a plain farmer who was only a tenant? The
new little Rose's father was not to be compared to Martin, and yet he
had brought the supreme experience to her sister. So Rose sat dreaming,
the arid level of monotonous days which, one short hour ago, had
stretched before her, flowering into fragrant, sun-filled fields.

Meanwhile, Martin congratulated himself upon having found a woman as
sensible, industrious and free from foolish notions, as even he could
wish.



III. DUST IN HER HEART

SIX weeks later Martin and Rose were married. Martin had let the
contract for the new house and barn to Silas Fletcher, Fallon's
leading carpenter, who had the science of construction reduced to utter
simplicity. He had listened to Martin's description of what he wished
and, after some rough figuring, had proceeded to draw the plans on the
back of a large envelope. Both Rose and Martin knew that those rude
lines would serve unfailingly. For three thousand dollars Fletcher would
build the very house Martin had pictured to Rose: a two-story one with
four nice rooms and a bath upstairs, four rooms and a pantry downstairs,
a floored garret, concrete cellar, an inviting fireplace and wide
porches. For two thousand dollars he would give a substantial barn
capable of holding a hundred tons of hay and of accommodating twenty
cows and four horses.

Rose had been deeply touched by the thoroughness of Martin's plans,
by his unfailing consideration for her comfort. True, there had been
moments when her warm, loving nature had been chilled. At such times,
misgivings had clamored and she had, finally, all but made up her mind
to tell him that she could not go on--that it had all been a mistake.
She would say to him, she had decided: "Martin, you are one of the
kindest and best men, and I could be happy with you if only you loved
me, but you don't really care for me and you never will. I feel it. Oh,
I do! and I could not bear it--to live with you day in and day out and
know that."

But she had reckoned without her own goodness of heart. On the very
evening on which she had quite determined to tell Martin this decision
he also had arrived at one. As soon as he had entered Rose's little
parlor he had exclaimed with an enthusiasm unusual with him: "We broke
the ground for your new garden, today, Rose of Sharon, and Fletcher
wants to see you. There are some more little things you'll have to talk
over with him. He understands that you're the one I want suited."

Rose had felt suddenly reassured. Why, she had asked herself contritely,
couldn't she let Martin express his love in his own way? Why was she
always trying to measure his feelings for her by set standards?

"I've been wondering," he had gone on quickly, "what you would think
of putting up with my old shack while the new house is being built? It
wouldn't be as if you were going to live there for long and you'd be
right on hand to direct things."

"Why, I could do that, of course," she had answered pleasantly. "If
you've lived there all these years, I surely ought to be able to live
there a few months, but Martin--"

"I know what you're going to say," he had interrupted hastily. "You
think we ought to wait a while longer, but if we're going to pull
together for the rest of our lives why mightn't we just as well begin
now? Why is one time any better than another?"

There had been a wistfulness, so rarely in Martin's voice, that Rose had
detected it instantly. After all, why should she keep him waiting
when he needed her so much, she had thought tenderly, all the sweet
womanliness in her astir with yearnings to lift the cloud of loneliness
from his life.

Rose had always believed love a breath of beauty that would hold its
purity even in a hovel, but she had not been prepared for the sordidness
that seemed to envelop her as she crossed the threshold of the first
home of her married life. Martin, held in the clutch of the strained
embarrassment that invariably laid its icy fingers around his heart
whenever he found himself confronted by emotion, had suggested that Rose
go in while he put up the horse and fed the stock. "Don't be scared if
you find it pretty rough," he had warned, to which her light answer had
lilted back, "Oh, I shan't mind."

And, as she stood in the doorway a moment later, her eyes taking in one
by one, the murky windows, the dirty floor, the unwashed dishes, the
tumbled bed, the rusty, grease bespattered stove choked with cold ashes,
she told herself hotly that it was not the dirt nor even the desperate
crassness that was smothering her joy. It was the fact that there was
nowhere a touch to suggest preparation for her home-coming. Martin had
made not even the crudest attempt to welcome her. It would have been
as easy for Rose to be cheerful in the midst of mere squalor as for
a flower to bloom white in a crowded tenement, but at the swift
realization of the lack of tenderness for her which this indifference to
her first impressions so clearly expressed, her faith in the man she had
married began to wither. He had failed her in the very quality in
which she had put her trust. Already, he had carelessly dropped the
thoughtfulness by which he had won her. She wondered how she could have
made herself believe that Martin loved her. "He has tried so hard
in every way to show me how much I would mean to him," she justified
herself. "But now he has me he just doesn't care what I think."

As Rose forced herself to face this squarely, something within her
crumpled. Grim truth leered at her, hurling dust on her bright wings of
illusion, poking cruel jests. "This is your wedding day," it taunted,
"that tall figure out there near the dilapidated barn feeding his hogs
is your husband. Oh, first, sweet, most precious hours! How you will
always like to remember them! Here in this dirty shanty you will enter
into love's fulfillment. How romantic! Why doesn't your heart leap and
your arms ache for your new passion?" Tears pushed against her eyelids.
Her new life was not going to be happy. Of this she was suddenly,
irrevocably certain.

Rose struggled against a complete break-down. This was no time for a
scene. What was the matter with her, anyway? Of course, Martin had not
meant to disappoint her, nor deliberately hurt her. He probably thought
this first home so temporary it didn't count. She simply would not mope.
Of that she was positive, and a brave little smile swimming up from
her troubled heart, she set about, with much energy, to achieve order,
valiantly fighting back her insistent tears as she worked.

Meanwhile, Martin, totally oblivious of any cause for storm, was making
trips to and from the barrel which contained shorts mixed with water'
skimmed milk and house slops, the screaming, scrambling shoats gulping
the pork-making mixture as rapidly as he could fetch it. He worked
unconsciously, thinking, typically, not of Rose's reaction to this new
life, but of what it held in store for himself.

He glanced toward the shack. Already the mere fact of a woman's presence
beneath its roof seemed, to him, to give it a different aspect. Through
the open door he observed that Rose was sweeping. How he had always
hated the thought of any one handling what was his! He dumped another
bucket of slops into the home-made trough. Why couldn't she just let
things alone and get supper quietly? Heaven only knew what he had gotten
himself into! But of one thing he was miserably certain; never again
would he have that comfortable seclusion to which he had grown so
accustomed. He had known this would be true, but the sight of Rose and
her broom brought the realization of it home to him with an all too
irritating vividness. Yes, everything was going to be different. There
would be many changes and he would never know what to expect next. Why
had he brought this upon himself; had he not lived alone for years? He
had let the habit of obtaining whatever he started after get the better
of him. Even today he could have drawn back from this marriage. But, he
had sensed that Rose was about to do so herself, and this knowledge had
pushed his determination to the final notch.

Martin shook his head ruefully. "This is 'The Song of Songs," he smiled,
"and there is my Rose of Sharon. Guess I was never intended for a
Solomon." Now that she was so close to him, in the very core of his
life, this woman frightened him; instead of desire, there was dread. He
wished Rose had been a man that he might go into that shack and eat
ham and eggs with him while they talked crops and politics and animals.
There would be no thrills in this opening chapter and he, if not his
wife, would be shaken.

Martin was mental, an incurable individualist who found himself
sufficient unto himself. He was different from his neighbors in that
he was always thinking, asking questions and pondering over his
conclusions. He had convinced himself that each demand of the body was
useless except the food that nourished it, the clothes that warmed it
and the sleep that repaired it. He hated soft things and the twist in
his mind that was Martin proved to him their futility. Love? It was an
empty dream, a shell that fooled. Its joys were fleeting. There was but
one thing worth while and that was work. The body was made for it--the
thumb to hold the hammer, the hand to pump the water and drive the
horses, the legs to follow the plow, herd the cattle and chase the
pigs from the cornfield, the ears to listen for strange noises from the
stock, the eyes to watch for weeds and discover the lice on the hens,
the mouth to yell the food call to the calves, the back to carry the
bran. Work meant money, and money meant--what? It was merely a stick
that measured the amount of work done. Then why did he toil so hard and
save so scrupulously? His answer was always another question. What was
there in life that could enable one to forget it faster? That woman
in there waiting for him--oh, she would suffer before she realized the
truth of this lesson he had already learned, and Martin felt a little
pity for her.

When he went in for supper, Rose was just beginning to prepare it. With
a catch of anger in his manner, he gave her a sharp look and saw that
she had been crying. He couldn't remember ever before having had to deal
with a weeping woman; even when Benny had died and his mother had been
so shaken she had not given way to tears; so this was to be another of
the new experiences which must trot in with marriage. It annoyed him.

"What's the matter, Rose?"

"Nothing at all, Martin."

"Nothing? You don't cry about nothing, do you?"

"No." Rose felt a sudden fear; she sensed a lack of pity in Martin, an
unwillingness even to try to understand her conflicting emotions.

"Then you're crying about something. What is it?" There was command in
his question. Martin was losing patience. He knew tears were used as
weapons by women, but why in the world should Rose need any sort of
weapon on the first day of their marriage? He hadn't done anything to
her, said anything unkind. Was she going to be unreasonable? Now he was
sure it was all wrong.

"What's the matter?" he demanded, his voice rising.

"Nothing's the matter. I'm just a little nervous." Rose began to cry
afresh. If only Martin had come to her and put his arms around her, she
would have been able to throw off her newly-born fear of him and this
disheartening shattering of her faith in his kindness. But he was going
to the other extreme, growing harder as she was becoming more panicky.

"Nervous? What's there to be nervous about?" Rose's answer was stifled
sobbing. "You're not sorry you married today, I hope?" She shook her
head. "Then what's this mean, anyway?"

"I was wondering if we are going to be happy after all--"

"Happy? You don't like this place. That's the trouble. I was afraid of
this, but I thought you knew what you were about when you said you could
stand it for a while."

"Oh, it isn't the house itself, Martin," she hastened to correct
truthfully, sure that she had gone too far. "I--I--know we'll be happy."

Again this talk about happiness. He did not like it. He had never hunted
for happiness, and he was contented. Why should she persist in
this eternal search for this impossible condition? He supposed that
occasionally children found themselves in it, but surely grown-ups could
not expect it. The nearest they could approach it was in forgetting that
there was such a state by finding solace in constant occupation.

"Let's eat," he announced. "I'm sick of this wrangling. Seems to me
you're not starting off just right."

Rose hastened to prepare the meal, finding it more difficult to be
cheerful as she realized how indifferent Martin was to her feelings, if
only she presented a smooth surface. He had not seemed even to notice
how orderly and freshened everything was. She thought of the new
experience soon to be hers. Could it make up for all the understanding
and friendly appreciation that she saw only too clearly would be missing
in her daily life? Resolutely, she suppressed her doubts.

Martin, bothered by an odd feeling of strangeness in the midst of his
own familiar surroundings, smoked his pipe in silence and studied Rose
soberly. Why, he asked himself, was he unmoved by a woman who was so
attractive? He liked the deftness with which her hands worked the pie
dough, the quick way she moved between stove and table, yet mingled with
this admiration was a slight but distinct hostility. How can one like
and have an aversion to a person at the same time? he pondered. "I
suppose," he concluded grimly, "it's because I'm supposed to love and
adore her--to pretend a lot of extravagant feelings."

His mind travelled to the stock in the pasture. How stolid they were and
how matter of fact and how sensible. They affected no high, nonsensical
sentiments. Weren't they, after all, to be envied, rooted as they were
in their solid simplicity? Why should human beings everlastingly try so
hard to be different? He and Rose would have to get down to a genuine
basis, and the quicker the better. Meanwhile he must remember that,
whether he was glad or sorry, she was there, in his shack, because he
had asked her to come.

As he ate his second helping of the excellent meal, he said pleasantly:
"You do know how to cook, Rose."

Her soft gray-blue eyes brightened. "I love to do it," she answered
quickly. "You must tell me the things you like best, Martin. If I had a
real stove with a good oven, I could do much better."

"Could you? We'll get one tomorrow."

"That'll be fine!" she smiled, eager to have all serene between them,
and as she passed him to get some coffee her hand touched his in a swift
caress. Instantly, Martin's cordiality vanished; his hostility toward
her surged. Even as a boy he had hated to be "fussed over." Well, he
had married and he would go through with it. If only Rose would be more
matter of fact; not look at him with that expression which made him
think of a confiding child. What business had a grown woman with such
trust in her eyes, anyway?

It was quite gone, in the early dawn, as Rose sat on the edge of the bed
looking at her husband. Never had she felt so far from him, so certain
that he did not love her, as when she had lain quivering but impassive
in his arms. "I might be just any woman," she had told herself,
astounded and stricken to find how little she was touched by this
experience which she had always believed bound heart to heart and
crowned the sweet transfusion of affection from soul into soul. "It
doesn't make any more difference to him who I am than who cooks for
him."

Not that Martin had been unkind, except negatively. Intuitively, Rose
understood that their first evening and night foreshadowed their whole
lives. Not in what Martin would do, but in what he would not do, would
lie her heartaches. Yet in her sad reflections there was no bitterness
toward him; he had disappointed her, but perhaps it was only because
she had taught herself to expect something rare, even spiritual, from
marriage. Her idealism had played her a trick.

With the quiet relinquishment of this long-cherished dream, eagerness
for the realization of an even more precious one took possession of
her. She comforted herself with the thought that maybe life had brought
Martin merely as a door to the citadel which looms, sparkling with
dancing sunlight, in the midst of mysterious shadows. Motherhood--she
would feel as if she were in another world. Out of all this
disappointment would come her ultimate happiness.

Always struggling toward happiness, she was cheered too as the
foundation for the house progressed. Everything would be so different,
she told herself, once they were in their pretty new home. It was true
she had given up a concrete floor for her cellar, but she had seen at
once the good sense of having the concrete in the barn instead. Martin
was right. While it would have been nice in the house, of course, it
would not have begun to be the constant blessing to herself that it
would now be to him. How much easier it would make keeping the barn
clean! Why, it was almost a duty in a dairy barn to have such a floor
and really she, herself, could manage almost as well with the dirt
bottom. But when Martin began to discuss eliminating the whole upper
story of the house, Rose protested.

"You won't use it," he had returned reasonably. "I'll keep my word, but
when a body gets to figuring and sees all that can be built with that
same money, it seems mighty foolish to put it into something that you
don't really need."

As Martin looked at her questioningly, Rose felt suddenly unable to
muster an argument for the additional sleeping-rooms. It was true that
they were not actually necessary for their comfort; but the house as it
had been decided upon was so interwoven with memories of her courtship
and all that was lovable in Martin; it had become so real to her, that
it was as if some dear possession were being torn to pieces before her
eyes.

"I don't know why, Martin," she had answered, with a choky little laugh,
"but it seems as if I just can't bear to give it up."

"Why?"

"I--I--like it all so well the way you planned it."

"Just liking a thing isn't always good reason for having it. It'll make
lots more for you to take care of. What would you say if I was to prove
to you that it would build a fine chicken-house, one for the herd boar,
a concrete tank down in the pasture that'd save the cows enough trips to
the barn to make 'em give a heap sight more milk, a cooling house for it
and a good tool room?" Rose's eyes opened wide. "I can prove it to you."

That was all. But the shack filled with his disapproval of her
reluctance to free him from his promise. She remembered one time when
she had come home from school in a pelting rain that had changed,
suddenly, to hail. There had seemed no escape from the hard, little
balls and their cruel bruises. Just so, it seemed to her, from Martin,
outwardly so calm as he read his paper, the harsh, determined thoughts
beat thick and fast. Turn what way she would, they surrounded, enveloped
and pounded down upon her. Her resolution weakened. Wasn't she paying
too big a price for what was, after all, only material? The one time she
and Martin had seemed quite close had been the moment in which she had
agreed so quickly to change the location of the concrete floor. Now she
had utterly lost him. She could scarcely endure the aloofness with which
he had withdrawn into himself.

"Martin," she said a bit huskily, two evenings later, at supper, "I've
decided that you are right. It is foolish and extravagant of me to want
a second story when there are just the two of us. It will be better to
have all those other things you told me about."

Martin did not respond; simply continued eating without looking up. This
was a habit of his that nearly drove Rose desperate. In her father's
household meals had always been friendly, sociable affairs. Patrick
Conroy had been loquacious and by way of a wit; sharpened on his, Rose's
own had developed. They had dealt in delicious nonsense, these two, and
had her husband been of a different temperament she might have found it
a refuge in her life with him. But, somehow, from the first, even before
they were married, when with Martin, such chatter had died unuttered on
Rose's tongue. The few remarks which she did venture, nowadays, had the
effect of a disconcerting splash before they sank into the gloomy depths
of the thick silence. Occasionally, in sheer self defense, she carried
on a light monologue, but Martin's lack of interest gave her such an
odd, lonely, stage-struck sensation that she, too, became untalkative,
keeping to herself the ideas which chased through her ever-active mind.
Innately just, she attributed this peculiarity of his to the fact
that he had lived so long alone, and while it fretted her, she usually
forgave him. But tonight, as no answer came, it seemed to her that
if Martin did not at least raise his eyes, she must scream or throw
something.

"It would be a godsend to be the sort who permits oneself to do such
things," she told herself, a suggestion of a smile touching her lips,
and mentally she sent dish after dish at him, watching them fall
shattered to the floor. Dismay at the relief this gave her brought the
dimples into her cheeks. Her voice was pleasant as she asked: "Martin,
did you hear your spouse just now?"

Annoyance flitted across his face and crept into his tone as he answered
tersely: "Of course, I heard you." Presently he finished his meal,
pushed back his chair and went out.

Nothing further was said between them on the subject, but when the
scaffolding went up she saw that it was for only one story. It might
have comforted her a little, had she known what uneasy moments
Martin was having. In spite of himself, he could not shake off the
consciousness that he had broken his word. That was something which,
heretofore, he had never done. But, heretofore, his promises had been of
a strictly business nature. He would deliver so many bushels of wheat at
such and such a time; he would lend such and such a piece of machinery;
he would supply so many men and so many teams at a neighbor's threshing;
he would pay so much per pound for hogs; he would guarantee so many eggs
out of a setting or so many pounds of butter in so many months from
a cow he was selling. A few such guarantees made good at a loss to
himself, a few such loads delivered in adverse weather, a few such
pledges of help kept when he was obliged actually to hire men, had
established for him an enviable reputation, which Martin was of no mind
to lose. Had Rose not released him from his promise he would have kept
it. Even now he was disturbed as to what Fletcher and Fallon might
think. But already he had lived long enough with his wife to understand
something of the quality of her pride. Once having agreed to the change,
she would carry it off with a dash.

Had Rose stood her ground on this matter, undoubtedly all her after life
might have been different, but she was of those women whose charm and
whose folly lie in their sensitiveness to the moods and contentment of
the people most closely associated with them. They can rise above their
own discomfort or depression, but they are utterly unable to disregard
that of those near them. This gave Martin, who by temperament and habit
considered only his own feelings, an incalculable advantage. His was the
old supremacy of the selfish over the self sacrificing, the hard over
the tender, the mental over the emotional. Add to this, the fact that
with all his faults, perhaps largely because of them, perhaps chiefly
because she cooked, washed, ironed, mended, and baked for him, kept his
home and planned so continually for his pleasure, Martin was dear to
Rose, and it is not difficult to understand how unequal the contest in
which she was matched when her wishes clashed with her husband's. It was
predestined that he, invariably, should win out.

Rose told her friends she and her husband had decided that the second
story would make her too much work, and Martin noticed with surprise how
easily her convincing statement was accepted. He decided, for his own
peace of mind, that he had nothing with which to reproach himself.
He had put it up to her and she had agreed. This principal concession
obtained, other smaller ones followed logically and rapidly. The running
water and bath in the house were given up for piping to the barn, and
stanchions--then novelties in southeastern Kansas. The money for the
hardwood floors went into lightning rods. Built-in cupboards were
dismissed as luxuries, and the saving paid for an implement shed which
delighted Martin, who had figured how much expensive machinery would be
saved from rust. When it came to papering the walls he decided that the
white plaster was attractive enough and could serve for years. Instead,
he bought a patented litter-carrier that made the job of removing manure
from the barn an easy task. The porches purchased everything from a
brace and bit to a lathe for the new tool-room and put the finishing
touches to the dairy. The result was a four-room house that was the old
one born again, and such well-equipped farm buildings that they were the
pride of the township.

Rose, who had surrendered long since, let the promises go to naught
without much protest. Martin was so quietly domineering, so stubbornly
persistent--and always so plausible--oh, so plausible!--that there was
no resisting him. Only when it came to the fireplace did she make a last
stand. She felt that it would be such a friendly spirit in the house.
She pictured Martin and herself sitting beside it in the winter
evenings.

"A house without one is like a place without flowers," she explained to
him.

"It's a mighty dirty business," he answered tersely. "You would have to
track the coal through the rest of the house and you'd have all those
extra ashes to clean out."

"But you would never see any of the dirt," she argued with more than
her usual courage, "and if I wouldn't mind the ashes I don't see why you
should."

"We can't afford it."

"Martin, I've given in to you on everything else," she asserted firmly.
"I'm not going to give this up. I'll pay for it out of my own money."

"What do you mean 'out of my own money'?" he asked sternly. "I told
Osborne we'd run one account. If what is mine is going to be yours, what
is yours is going to be mine. I'd think your own sense of fairness would
tell you that."

As a matter of fact, Martin had no intention of ever touching Rose's
little capital, but he had made up his mind to direct the spending
of its income. He would keep her from putting it into just such
foolishnesses as this fireplace. But Rose, listening, saw the last of
her independence going. She felt tricked, outraged. During the years she
had been at the head of her father's household, she had regulated the
family budget and, no matter how small it had happened to be, she always
had contrived to have a surplus. This notion of Martin's that he, and he
alone, should decide upon expenditures was ridiculous. She told him so
and in spite of himself, he was impressed.

"All right," he said calmly. "You can do all the buying for the house.
Write a check with my name and sign your own initials. Get what you
think we need. But there isn't going to be any fireplace. You can just
set that down."

Voice, eyes, the line of his chin, all told Rose that he would not
yield. Nothing could be gained from a quarrel except deeper ill feeling.
With a supreme effort of will she obeyed the dictates of common sense
and ended the argument abruptly.

But, for months after she was settled in the new little house, her eye
never fell on the space where the fireplace should have been without a
bitter feeling of revolt sweeping over her. She never carried a heavy
bucket in from the pump without thinking cynically of Martin's promises
of running water. As she swept the dust out of her front and back doors
to narrow steps, she remembered the spacious porches that were to have
been; and as she wiped the floors she had painted herself, and polished
her pine furniture, she was taunted by memories of the smooth boards
and the golden oak to which she had once looked forward so happily. This
resentment was seldom expressed, but its flame scorched her soul.

Her work increased steadily. She did not object to this; it kept her
from thinking and brooding; it helped her to forget all that might have
been, all that was. She milked half the cows, separated the cream, took
charge of the dairy house and washed all the cans. Three times a
week she churned, and her butter became locally famous. She took over
completely both the chickens and the garden. Often, because her feet
ached from being on them such long hours, she worked barefoot in the
soft dirt. According to the season, she canned vegetables, preserved
fruit, rendered lard and put down pork. When she sat at meals now, like
Martin she was too tired for conversation. From the time she arose in
the morning until she dropped off to sleep at night, her thoughts,
like his, were chiefly of immediate duties to be performed. One concept
dominated their household--work. It seemed to offer the only way out of
life's perplexities.



IV. ROSE-BUD IN THE DUST

UNDER this rigid regime Martin's prosperity increased. Although he
would not have admitted it, Rose's good cooking and the sweet, fresh
cleanliness with which he was surrounded had their effect, giving him a
new sense of physical well-being, making his mind more alert. Always, he
had been a hard worker, but now he began for the first time to take an
interest in the scientific aspects of farming. He subscribed for farm
journals and put real thought into all he did, with results that were
gratifying. He grew the finest crop of wheat for miles around; in the
season which brought others a yield of fifteen or twenty bushels to the
acre, Martin averaged thirty-three, without buying a ton of commercial
fertilizer. His corn was higher than anybody's else; the ears longer,
the stalks juicier, because of his careful, intelligent cultivating. In
the driest season, it resisted the hot winds; this, he explained,
was the result of his knowing how to prepare his seed bed and when
to plant--moisture could be retained if the soil was handled
scientifically. He bought the spoiled acreage of his neighbors, which he
cut up for the silo--as yet the only one in the county--adding water
to help fermentation. His imported hogs seemed to justify the prices
he paid for them, growing faster and rounder and fatter than any in
the surrounding county. The chinch bugs might bother everyone else, but
Martin seemed to be able to guard against them with fair success. He
took correspondence courses in soils and fertilizers, animal husbandry
and every related subject; kept a steady stream of letters flowing to
and from both Washington and the State Agricultural College.

Now and then it crossed his mind that with the farm developing into such
an institution it would be more than desirable to pass it on to one of
his own blood, and secretly he was pleased when Rose told him a baby
was coming. A child, a son, might bring with him a little of what was
missing in his marriage with her. She irritated him more and more, not
by what she did but by what she was. Her whole temperament, in so much
as he permitted himself to be aware of it, her whole nature, jarred on
his.

"When is it due?"

"October."

"It's lucky harvest will be over; silo filling, too," was his only
comment.

In spite of Rose's three long years with Martin his lack of enthusiasm
was like a sharp stab. What had she expected, she asked herself sternly.
To be taken in his arms and rejoiced over as others were at such a
moment? What did he care so long as he wouldn't have to hire extra help
for her in the busy season! It was incredible--his hardness.

Why couldn't she hate him? He was mean enough to her, surely. "I'm as
foolish as old Rover," she thought bitterly. The faithful dog lived for
his master and yet Rose could not remember ever having seen Martin give
him a pat. "When I once hold my own little baby in my arms, I won't
care like this. I'll have someone else to fill my heart," she consoled
herself, thrilling anew with the conviction that then she would be more
than recompensed for everything. The love she had missed, the house that
had been stolen from her--what were they in comparison to this growing
bit of life? Meanwhile, she longed as never before to feel near to
Martin. She could not help recalling how gallantly her father had
watched over her mother when she carried her last child and how eagerly
they all had waited upon her. At times, the contrast was scarcely to be
borne.

Rose was troubled with nausea, but Martin pooh-poohed, as childish, the
notion of dropping some of her responsibilities. Didn't his mares work
almost to the day of foaling? It was good for them, keeping them in
shape. And the cows--didn't they go about placidly until within a few
hours of bringing their calves? Even the sows--did they droop as they
neared farrowing? Why should a woman be so different? Her child would be
healthier and she able to bring it into the world with less discomfort
to herself if she went about her ordinary duties in her usual way. Thus
Martin, impersonally, logically.

"That would be true," Rose agreed, "if the work weren't so heavy and if
I were younger."

"It's the work you're used to doing all the time, isn't it? Because you
aren't young is all the more reason you need the exercise. You're not
going to hire extra help, so you might just as well get any to-do out of
your mind," he retorted, the dreaded note in his voice.

She considered leaving him. If she had earned her living before, she
could again. More than once she had thought of doing this, but always
the hope of a child had shone like a tiny bright star through the
midnight of her trials. Since she had endured so much, why not endure a
little longer and reap a dear reward? Then, too, she could never quite
bring herself to face the pictures her imagination conjured of Martin,
struggling along uncared for. Now, as her heart hardened against him, an
inner voice whispered that everyone had a right to a father as well as
a mother, and Martin might be greatly softened by daily contact with a
little son or daughter. In fairness, she must wait.

Yet, she knew these were not her real reasons. They lay far deeper, in
the very warp and woof of her nature. She did not leave Martin because
she could not. She was incapable of making drastic changes, of tearing
herself from anyone to whom she was tied by habit and affection--no
matter how bitterly the mood of the moment might demand it. Always she
would be bound by circumstances. True, however hard and adverse they
might prove, she could adapt herself to them with rare patience and
dignity, but never would she be able to compel them to her will, rise
superbly above them, toss them aside. Her life had been, and would be,
shaped largely by others. Her mother's death, the particular enterprise
in which her father's little capital had been invested, Martin's
peculiar temperament--these had moulded and were moulding Rose Wade. At
the time she came to Martin's shack, she was potentially any one of a
half dozen women. It was inevitable that the particular one into which
she would evolve should be determined by the type of man she might
happen to marry, inevitable that she would become, to a large degree,
what he wished and expected, that her thoughts would take on the
complexion of his. Lacking in strength of character? In power of
resistance, certainly. Time out of mind, such malleability has been the
cross of the Magdalenes. Yet in what else lies the secret of the harmony
achieved by successful wives?

And as, her nausea passing, Rose began to feel a glorious sensation
of vigor, she decided that perhaps, after all, Martin had been right.
Child-bearing was a natural function. People probably made far too much
fuss about it. Nellie came to help her cook for the threshers and, for
the rest, she managed very well, even milking her usual eight cows and
carrying her share of the foaming buckets.

All might have gone smoothly if only she had not overslept one morning
in late September. When she reached the barn, Martin was irritable. She
did not answer him but sat down quietly by her first cow, a fine-blooded
animal which soon showed signs of restlessness under her tense hands.

"There! There! So Bossy," soothed Rose gently.

"You never will learn how to manage good stock," Martin criticized
bitingly.

"Nor you how to treat a wife."

"Oh, shut up."

"Don't talk to me that way."

As she started to rise, a kick from the cow caught her square on the
stomach with such force that it sent her staggering backward, still
clutching the handle of the pail from which a snowy stream cascaded.

"Now what have you done?" demanded Martin sternly. "Haven't I warned
you time and again that milk cows are sensitive, nervous? Fidgety people
drive them crazy. Why can't you behave simply and directly with them!
Why is it I always get more milk from mine! It's your own fault this
happened--fussing around, taking out your ill temper at me on her.
Shouting at me. What could you expect?"

For the first time in their life together, Rose was frankly unnerved. It
seemed to her that she would go mad. "You devil!" she burst out, wildly.
"That's what you are, Martin Wade! You're not human. Your child may be
lost and you talk about cows letting down more milk. Oh God! I didn't
know there was any one living who could be so cruel, so cold, so
diabolical. You'll be punished for this some day--you will--you will.
You don't love me--never did, oh, don't I know it. But some time you
will love some one. Then you'll understand what it is to be treated
like this when your whole soul is in need of tenderness. You'll see then
what--"

"Oh, shut up," growled Martin, somewhat abashed by the violence of her
broken words and gasping sobs. "You're hysterical. You're doing yourself
as much harm right now as that kick did you."

"Oh, Martin, please be kind," pleaded Rose more quietly. "Please! It's
your baby as much as mine. Be just half as kind as you are to these
cows."

"They have more sense," he retorted angrily. And when Rose woke him, the
following night, to go for the doctor, his quick exclamation was: "So
now you've done it, have you?"

As the sound of his horse's hoofs died away, it seemed to her that he
had taken the very heart out of her courage. She thought with anguished
envy of the women whose husbands loved them, for whom the heights and
depths of this ordeal were as real as for their wives. It seemed to her
that even the severest of pain could be wholly bearable if, in the midst
of it, one felt cherished. Well, she would go through it alone as she
had gone through everything else since their marriage. She would try to
forget Martin. She WOULD forget him. She must. She would keep her mind
fixed on the deep joy so soon to be hers. Had she not chosen to suffer
of her own free will, because the little creature that could be won only
through it was worth so much more than anything else the world had to
offer? She imagined the baby already arrived and visualized him as she
hoped her child might be at two years. Suppose he were in a burning
house, would she have the courage to rescue him? What would be the limit
of her endurance in the flames? She laughed to herself at the absurdity
of the question. How well she knew its answer! She wished with
passionate intensity that she could look into the magic depths of some
fairy mirror and see, for just the flash of one instant, exactly how
her boy or girl really would look. How much easier that would make it to
hold fast to the consciousness that she was not merely in pain, but
was laboring to bring forth a warm flesh-and-blood child. There was the
rub--in spite of her eagerness, the little one, so priceless, wasn't as
yet quite definite, real. She recalled the rosy-checked, curly-haired
youngster her fancy had created a moment ago. She would cling to that
picture; yes, even if her pain mounted to agony, it should be of the
body only; she would not let it get into her mind, not into her soul,
not into the welcoming mother-heart of her.

Meanwhile, as she armored her spirit, she built a fire, put on water to
heat, attended capably to innumerable details. Rose was a woman of sound
experience. She had been with others at such times. It held no goblin
terrors for her. Had it not been for Martin's heartlessness, she would
have felt wholly equal to the occasion. As it was, she made little
commotion. Dr. Bradley, gentle and direct, had been the Conroys' family
physician for years. Nellie, who arrived in an hour, had been through
the experience often herself, and was friendly and helpful.

She liked Rose, admired her tremendously and the thought--an odd one for
Nellie--crossed her mind that tonight she was downright beautiful. When
at dawn, Dr. Bradley whispered: "She has been so brave, Mrs. Mall, I
can't bear to tell her the child is not alive. Wouldn't it be better for
you to do so?" She shrank from the task. "I can't; I simply can't," she
protested, honest tears pouring down her thin face.

"Could you, Mr. Wade?"

Martin strode into Rose's room, all his own disappointment adding
bitterness to his words: "Well, I knew you'd done it and you have. It's
a fine boy, but he came dead."

Out of the dreariness and the toil, out of the hope, the suffering and
the high courage had come--nothing. As Rose lay, the little still form
clasped against her, she was too broken for tears. Life had played
her another trick. Indignation toward Martin gathered volume with her
returning strength.

"You don't deserve a child," she told him bitterly. "You might treat him
when he grew up as you treat me."

"I've never laid hand to you," said Martin gruffly, certain stinging
words of Nellie's still smarting. When she chose, his sister's tongue
could be waspish. She had tormented him with it all the way to her home.
He had been goaded into flaring back and both had been thoroughly angry
when they separated, yet he was conscious that he came nearer a feeling
of affection for her than for any living person. Well, not affection,
precisely, he corrected. It was rather that he relished, with a
quizzical amusement, the completeness of their mutual comprehension. She
was growing to be more like their mother, too. Decidedly, this was the
type of woman he should have married, not someone soft and eager and
full of silly sentiment like Rose. Why didn't she hold her own as
Nellie did? Have more snap and stamina? It was exasperating--the way she
frequently made him feel as if he actually were trampling on something
defenseless.

He now frankly hated her. There was not dislike merely; there was acute
antipathy. He took a delight in having her work harder and harder. It
used to be "Rose," but now it was always "say" or "you" or "hey." Once
she asked cynically if he had ever heard of a "Rose of Sharon" to which
he maliciously replied: "She turned out to be a Rag-weed."

Yet such a leveller of emotions and an adjuster of disparate
dispositions is Time that when they rounded their fourth year, Martin
viewed his life, with a few reservations, as fairly satisfactory. He
turned the matter over judicially in his mind and concluded that even
though he cared not a jot for Rose, at least he could think of no other
woman who could carry a larger share of the drudgery in their dusty
lives, help save more and, on the whole, bother him less. He, like his
rag-weed, had settled down to an apathetic jog.

Rose was convinced that Martin would make too unkind a father; he had no
wish for another taste of the general confusion and disorganized routine
her confinement had entailed. Besides, it would be inconvenient if she
were to die, as Dr. Bradley quite solemnly had warned him she might only
too probably. Without any exchange of words, it was settled there should
not be another child--settled, he dismissed it. In a way, he had come
to appreciate Rose, but it was absurd to compliment anyone, let alone
a wife whom he saw constantly. Physically, she did not interest him; in
fact, the whole business bored him. It was tiresome and got one nowhere.
He decided this state of mind must be rather general among married
people, and reasoned his way to the conclusion that marriage was a good
thing in that it drove out passion and placed human animals on a more
practicable foundation. If there had been the likelihood of children, he
undoubtedly would have sought her from time to time, but with that hope
out of their lives the attraction died completely.

When he was through with his work, it was late and he was sleepy. When
he woke early in the morning, he had to hurry to his stock. So that
which always had been less than secondary, now became completely
quiescent, and he was satisfied that it should. It never occurred to him
to consider what Rose might be thinking and feeling. She wondered about
it, and would have liked to ask advice from someone--the older Mrs.
Mall or Dr. Bradley--but habitual reserve held her back. After all, she
decided finally, what did it matter? Meanwhile, financially, things were
going better than ever.

Martin had the most improved farm in the neighborhood; he was looked up
to by everyone as one of the most intelligent men in the county, and
his earnings were swelling, going into better stock and the surplus into
mortgages which he accumulated with surprising rapidity. Occasionally,
he would wonder why he was working so hard, saving so assiduously and
investing so consistently. His growing fortune seemed to mean little now
that his affluence was thoroughly established. For whom was he working?
he would ask himself. For the life of him, he could not answer. Surely
not for his Rag-weed of Sharon. Nellie? She was well enough fixed and he
didn't care a shot for her husband. Then why? Sometimes he pursued this
chain of thought further, "I'll die and probably leave five times as
much as I have now to her and who knows what she'll do with it? I'll
never enjoy any of it myself. I'm not such a fool as to expect it. What
difference can a few thousand dollars more or less make to me from now
on? Then why do I scheme and slave? Pshaw! I've known the answer ever
since I first turned the soil of this farm. The man who thinks about
things knows there's nothing to life. It's all a grinding chase for the
day when someone will pat my cheek with a spade."

He might have escaped this materialism through the church, but to him
it offered no inducements. He could find nothing spiritual in it. In his
opinion, it was a very carnal institution conducted by very hypocritical
men and women. He smiled at their Hell and despised their Heaven. Their
religion, to him, seemed such a crudely selfish affair. They were always
expecting something from God; always praying for petty favors--begging
and whining for money, or good crops, or better health. Martin would
have none of this nonsense. He was as selfish as they, probably more
so, he conceded, but he hoped he would never reach the point of currying
favor with anyone, even God. With his own good strength he would answer
his own prayers. This farm was the nearest he would ever come to a
paradise and on it he would be his own God. Rose did not share these
feelings. She went to church each Sunday and read her Bible daily with a
simple faith that defied derision. Once, when she was gone, Martin idly
hunted out the Song of Solomon. His lips curled with contempt at the
passionate rhapsody. He knew a thing or two, he allowed, about these
wonderful Roses of Sharon and this Song of Songs. Lies, all lies, every
word of it! Yet, in spite of himself, from time to time, he liked to
reread it. He fancied this was because of the sardonic pleasure its
superlative phrases gave him, but the truth was it held him. He despised
sentiment, tenderness, and, by the strangeness of the human mind, he
went, by way of paradox, to the tenderest, most sublime spot in a book
supreme in tenderness and sublimity.

At forty, he owned and, with the aid of two hired hands, worked an
entire section of land. The law said it was his and he had the might
to back up the law. On these six hundred and forty broad acres he could
have lived without the rest of the world. Here he was King. Other
farms he regarded as foreign countries, their owners with impersonal
suspicion. Yet he trusted them after a fashion, because he had learned
from many and devious dealings with a large assortment of people that
the average human being is honest, which is to say that he does not
steal his neighbor's stock nor fail to pay his just debts if given
plenty of time and the conditions have the explicitness of black and
white. He knew them to be as mercenary as himself, with this only
difference: Where he was frankly so, they pretended otherwise.
They bothered him with their dinky deals, with their scrimping and
scratching, and their sneaky attempts to hide their ugliness by the
observance of one set day of sanctuary. Because they seemed to him so
two-faced, so trifling, so cowardly, he liked to "stick" them every time
he had a fair chance and could do it within the law. It was his favorite
game. They worked so blindly and went on so stupidly, talking so
foolishly, that it afforded him sport to come along and take the bacon
away from them.

All held him a little in awe, for he was of a forbidding bearing, tall,
grave and thoughtful; accurate in his facts and sure of himself; slow to
express an opinion, but positive in his conclusions; seeking no favors,
and giving none; careful not to offend, indifferent whether he pleased.
He would deceive, but never insult. The women were afraid of him,
because he never "jollied." He had no jokes or bright remarks for them.
They were such useless creatures out of their particular duties. There
was nothing to take up with them. Everyone rendered him much the same
respectful manner that they kept on tap for the leading citizens of the
town, David Robinson, for instance. Indeed, Martin himself was somewhat
of a banker, for he was a stockholder and director of the First State
Bank, where he was looked up to as a shrewd man who was too big even
for the operation of his magnificent farm. He understood values. When it
came to loans, his judgment on land and livestock was never disputed. If
he wanted to make a purchase he did not go to several stores for prices.
He knew, in the first place, what he should pay, and the business
men, especially the hardware and implement dealers, were afraid of his
knowledge, and still more of his influence.

About Rose, too, there was a poise, an atmosphere of background which
inspired respect above her station. When Mrs. Wade said anything, her
statement was apt to settle the matter, for on those subjects which she
discussed at all, she was an authority, and on those which she was not,
her training in Martin's household had taught her to maintain a wise
silence. The stern self-control had stolen something of the tenderness
from her lips. There were other changes. The sunlight had faded from
her hair; the once firm white neck was beginning to lose its resilience.
Deep lines furrowed her cheeks from mouth to jaw, and fine wrinkles had
slipped into her forehead. There were delicate webs of them about her
patient eyes, under which lack of sleep and overwork had left their
brown shadows. Since the birth of her baby she had become much heavier
and though she was still neat, her dresses were always of dark colors
and made up by herself of cheap materials. For, while she bought without
consulting Martin, her privilege of discretion was confined within
strict and narrow limits. He kept a meticulous eye on all her cancelled
checks and knew to a penny what she spent. If he felt a respect for her
thrift it was completely unacknowledged. They worked together with as
little liking, as little hatred, as two oxen pulling a plow.

It had been a wise day for both, thought Fallon, when they had decided
to marry--they were so well mated. What a model and enviable couple they
were! To Rose it seemed the essence of irony that her life with Martin
should be looked upon as a flower of matrimony. Yet, womanlike, she took
an unconfessed comfort in the fact that this was so--that no one, unless
it were Nellie, was sufficiently astute to fathom the truth. To be sure,
the Wades were never spoken of as "happy." They were invariably alluded
to as "good folks," "true blue," "solid people," "ideal husband and
wife," or "salt of the earth."

Each year they gave a round sum to the church, and Martin took caustic
gratification in the fact that, although his attitude toward it and
religion was well known, he too was counted as one of the fold. To
do its leaders justice, he admitted that this might have been partly
through their hesitancy to hurt Rose who was always to be found in the
thick of its sale-dinners, bazaars and sociables. How she was able to
accomplish so much without neglecting her own heavy duties, which now
included cooking, washing, mending and keeping in order the old shack
for the hired men, was a topic upon which other women feasted with
appreciative gusto, especially at missionary meetings when she was not
present. It really was extraordinary how much she managed to put into a
day. Early as Martin was up to feed his stock, she was up still earlier
that she might lend a hand to a neighbor, harrowed by the fear that
gathered fruit might perish. Late as he plowed, in the hot summer
evenings, her sweaty fingers were busy still later with patching,
brought home to boost along some young wife struggling with a teething
baby. She seemed never too rushed to tuck in an extra baking for someone
even more rushed than herself, or to make delicious broths and tasty
dishes for sick folk. In her quiet way, she became a real power, always
in demand, the first to be entrusted with sweet secrets, the first to be
sent for in paralysing emergencies and moments of sorrow. The warmth
of heart which Martin ridiculed and resented, intensified by its very
repression, bubbled out to others in cheery helpfulness, and blessed her
quick tears.

Of her deep yearning for love, she never spoke. Just when she would
begin to feel almost self-sufficient it would quicken to a throbbing
ache. Usually, at such times, she buried it determinedly under work. But
one day, yielding to an impulse, she wrote to Norah asking if her little
namesake could come for a month's visit.

"I know she is only seven," the letter ran, "but I am sure if she were
put in care of the conductor she would come through safely, and I do so
want to see her." After long hesitation, she enclosed a check to cover
expenses. She was half frightened by her own daring and did not tell
Martin until she had received the reply giving the date for the child's
arrival.

"I earned that, Martin," she returned determinedly to his emphatic
remonstrance. "And when the check comes in it's going to be honored."

"A Wade check is always honored," was his cryptic assertion. "I merely
say," he added more calmly, "that if we are to board her, and I don't
make any protest over that at all, it seems to me only fair that her
father should have bought the ticket."

"Maybe you're right--in theory. But then she simply couldn't have come
and I've never seen her. I first knew of her the very day you asked me
to marry you. I've thought of her, often and often. Her mother named her
after me and calls her 'Little Rose of Sharon, Illinois'."

"Another rag-weed, probably," said Martin, shortly. Yet, to his own
surprise, he was not altogether sorry she was to come--this house of
his had never had a child in it for more than a few hours. He was rather
curious to find out how it would seem. If only her name were not Rose,
and if only she were not coming from Sharon.

But little Rose, with her dark brown curls, merry expression, roguish
nose and soft radiance swept all his misgivings and prejudices before
her. One might as well hold grudges against a flower, he thought. He
liked the confiding way she had of suddenly slipping her little hand
into his great one. Her prattle amused him, and he was both flattered
and worried by the fearlessness with which she followed him everywhere.
She seemed to bring a veritable shower of song into this home of long
silences. The very chaos made Mrs. Wade's heart beat tumultuously, and
once when Martin came upon the little girl seated solemnly in the
midst of a circle of corncob dolls, his throat contracted with an
extraordinary tightness.

"You really are a rose--a lovely, sweet brown Rose of Sharon," he had
exclaimed, forgetting his wife's presence and not stopping to think how
strange the words must sound on his lips. "If you'll give me a kiss,
I'll let you ride on old Jettie."

The child scrambled to her feet and, seated on his broad shoulder,
granted the demand for toll. Her aunt's eyes filled. This was the first
time she had ever heard Martin ask for something as sentimental as a
kiss. She was thoroughly ashamed of herself for it--it was really too
absurd!--but she felt jealousy, an emotion that had never bothered her
since they had been married. And this bit of chattering femininity had
caused it. Mrs. Wade worked faster.

The kiss was like the touch of silk against Martin's cheek. He felt
inexplicably sad as he put the child down again among her playthings.
There was, he realized with a shock, much that he was missing, things
he was letting work supplant. He wished that boy of theirs could have
lived. All might have been different. He had almost forgotten that
disappointment, had never understood until this moment what a misfortune
it had been, and here he was being gripped by a more poignant sense of
loss than he had ever before felt, even when he had lost his mother.

Wonderful as little Rose was, she was not his own. But, he wondered
suddenly, wasn't this aching sense of need perhaps something utterly
different from unsatisfied paternal instinct? He turned his head toward
the kitchen where his Rag-weed was working and asked himself if she were
gone and some other woman were here--such as little Rose might be when
she grew up, one to whom he went out spontaneously, would not his life
be more complete and far more worth while? What a fool he was, to bother
his head with such get-nowhere questions! He dismissed them roughly, but
new processes of thought had been opened, new emotions awakened.

Meanwhile, little Rose's response to his clumsy tenderness taught him
many unsuspected lessons. He never would have believed the pleasure
there could be in simply watching a child's eyes light with glee over a
five-cent bag of candy. It began to be a regular thing for him to bring
one home from Fallon, each trip, and the gay hunts that followed as
she searched for it--sometimes to find the treasure in Martin's hat,
sometimes under the buggy seat, sometimes in a knobby hump under the
table-cloth at her plate--more than once brought his rare smile. For
years afterward, the memory of one evening lingered with him. He was
resting in an old chair tipped back against the house, thinking deeply,
when the little girl, tired from her play, climbed into his lap and,
making a cozy nest for herself in the crook of his arm, fell asleep. He
had finished planning out the work upon which he had been concentrating
and had been about to take her into the house when he suddenly became
aware of the child's loveliness. In the silvery moonlight all the fairy,
flower-like quality of her was enhanced. Martin studied her closely,
reverently. It was his first conscious worship of beauty. Leaning down
to the rosy lips he listened to the almost imperceptible breathing;
he touched the long, sweeping lashes resting on the smooth cheeks and
lifted one of the curls the wind had been ruffling lightly against his
face. With his whole soul, he marvelled at her softness and relaxation.
A profound, pitying rebellion gripped him at the idea that anything so
sweet, so perfect must pass slowly through the defacing furnaces of time
and pain. "Little Rose of Sharon!" he thought gently, conscious of an
actual tearing at his heart, even a startling stinging in his eyes. With
an abruptness that almost awakened her, he carried her in to his wife.

Mrs. Wade felt an inexplicable hurt at the decidedness of little Rose's
preference for Martin. She could not understand it. She took exquisite
care of her, cooked the things she liked best, let her mess to her
heart's content in the kitchen, made her dolls pretty frocks, cuddled
her, told her stories and stopped her work to play with her on rainy
days--but she could not win the same affection the little girl bestowed
so lavishly on Martin. If left to herself she was always to be found
with the big, silent man.

As the month's visit lengthened into three, it was astonishing what
good times they had together. If he was pitching hay, her slender little
figure, short dress a-flutter, was to be seen standing on the fragrant
wagonload. At threshing time, she darted lightly all over the separator,
Martin's watchful eye constantly upon her, and his protective hand near
her. She went with him to haul the grain to mill and was fascinated
by the big scales. On the way there and back he let her hold the great
lines in her little fists. In the dewy mornings, she hop-skipped and
jumped by his side into the pasture to bring in the cows. She flitted in
and out among them during milking time.

"I think she makes them too nervous, Martin," Rose had once remarked.
"Better run out, darling, until we finish and then come help auntie in
the dairy."

"They might as well get used to her," he had answered tersely. "It'll
hurt her feelings to be sent away."

Rose could scarcely believe her ears. Memories, bitter, intolerable,
crowded upon her. Had the little girl really changed Martin so
completely? Oh, if only her boy could have lived! Perhaps she had made
a great mistake in being so determined not to have another. Was it too
late now? She looked at her husband. Well as she knew every detail of
his fine, clean cut features, his broad shoulders and rippling muscles,
they gave her a sudden thrill. It was as if she were seeing him again
for the first time in years. If only he could let a shadow of this new
thoughtfulness and kindliness fall on her, they might even yet bring
some joy into each other's lives. They had stepped off on the wrong
foot. Why, they really hadn't been even acquainted. They had been
led into thinking so because of the length of time they had both been
familiar figures in the same community. Beyond a doubt, if they were
being married today, and she understood him as she did now, she could
make a success of their marriage. But, as it was, Martin was so fixed
in the groove of his attitude of utter indifference toward her that she
felt there was little chance of ever jogging him out of it. To Rose,
the very fact that the possibility of happiness seemed so nearly within
reach was what put the cruel edge to their present status.

She did not comprehend that Martin definitely did not want it changed.
Conscious, at last, that he was slowly starving for a woman's love,
beginning to brood because there was no beauty in his life, he was
looking at her with eyes as newly appraising as her own. He remembered
her as she had been that day in the bank, when he had thought her like
a rose. She had been all white and gold then; now, hair, eyes, skin, and
clothes seemed to him to be of one earthy color. Her clean, dull calico
dress belted in by her checked apron revealed the ungraceful lines of
her figure. She looked middle-aged and unshapely, when he wanted youth
and an exquisite loveliness. Well, he told himself, harshly, he was not
likely to get it. There was no sense in harboring such notions. They
must be crushed. He would work harder, much harder, hard enough to
forget them. There was but one thing worth while--his farm. He would
develop it to its limits.

Accordingly, when little Rose returned to Sharon, he and his Rag-weed
soon settled themselves to the old formula of endless toil, investing
the profits in sound farm mortgages that were beginning to tax the
capacity of his huge tin box in the vault of the First State Bank.



V. DUST BEGETS DUST

YET, through the Wades' busy days the echo of little Rose's visit
lingered persistently. Each now anxiously wanted another child, but both
were careful to keep this longing locked in their separate bosoms. Their
constraint with each other was of far too long a standing to permit
of any sudden exchange of confidences. It was with this hope
half-acknowledged, however, and in her mind the recent memories of a
more approachable Martin, that Rose began to make a greater effort with
her appearance. By dint of the most skillful maneuvering, she contrived
to purchase herself a silk dress--the first since her marriage. It
was of dark blue crepe-de-chine, simply but becomingly made, the very
richness of its folds shedding a new luster over her quiet graciousness
and large proportions. Even her kind, capable hands seemed subtly
ennobled as they emerged from the luscious, well fitting sleeves, and
the high collar, with its narrow edge of lace, stressed the nobility of
her fine head. When she came home from church, she did not, as she would
have heretofore, change at once into calico, but protected by a spick
and span white apron, kept on the best frock through dinner and,
frequently, until chore time in the afternoon. In the winter, too, she
was exposed less to sun and wind and her skin lost much of its
weathered look. She took better care of it and was more careful with the
arrangement of her hair. Gradually a new series of impressions began to
register on Martin's brain.

One Sunday she came in fresh and ruddy from the drive home in the cold,
crisp air. Martin found it rather pleasant to watch her brisk movements
as she prepared the delayed meal. He observed, with something of a
mental start, that today, at least, she still had more than a little of
the old sumptuous, full-blown quality. It reminded him, together with
the deft way in which she hurried, without haste, without flurry, of
their first evening in the shack, nearly seven years ago. How tense
they both had been, how afraid of each other, how she had irritated
him! Well, he had grown accustomed to her at last, thanks be. Was
he, perhaps, foolish not to get more out of their life--it was not
improbable that a child might come. Why had he been taking it so for
granted that this was out of the question? When one got right down
to it, just what was the imaginary obstacle that was blocking the
realization of this deep wish? Her chance of not pulling through? He'd
get her a hired girl this time and let her have her own head about
things. She'd made it all right once, why not again? The settledness of
their habitual neutrality? What of it? He would ignore that. It wasn't
as if he had to court her, make explanations. She was his wife. He
didn't love her, never had, never would, but life was too short to be
overly fastidious. It was flying, flying--in a few more years he would
be fifty. Fifty! And what had it all been about, anyway? He did have
this farm to show for his work--he had not made a bad job of that, he
and his Rag-weed. In her own fashion she was a good sort, and better
looking than most women past forty.

Rose felt the closeness of his scrutiny, sensed the unusual cordiality
of his mood, but from the depths of her hardly won wisdom took no
apparent notice of it. She knew well enough how not to annoy him.
If only she had not learned too late! What was it about Martin, she
wondered afresh, that had held her through all these deadening years?
Her love for him was like a stream that, disappearing for long periods
underground, seemed utterly lost, only to emerge again unexpectedly,
cleared of all past murkiness, tranquil and deep.

This unspoken converging of minds, equivocal though it was on Martin's
part, resulted gradually in a more friendly period. Rose always liked to
remember that winter, with its peace that quenched her thirsty heart and
helped to blur the recollection of old unkindnesses long since forgiven,
but still too vividly recalled. When, a year later, Billy was born, she
was swept up to that dizzy crest of rapture which, to finely attuned
souls, is the recompense and justification of all their valleys.

Martin watched her deep, almost painful delight, with a profound envy.
He had looked forward, with more anticipation than even he himself had
realized, to the thrill which he had supposed fatherhood would bring,
taking it entirely for granted that he would feel a bond with this small
reincarnation of his own being, but after the first week of attempting
to get interested in the unresponsive bundle that was his son, he
decided the idea of a baby had certainly signified in his mind emotions
which this tiny, troublesome creature, with a voice like a small-sized
foghorn, did not cause to materialize. No doubt when it grew into a
child he would feel very differently toward it--more as he did toward
little Rose, but that was a long time to wait, and meanwhile he could
not shake off a feeling of acute disappointment, of defeated hopes.

By the end of the second month, he was sure he must have been out of his
senses to bring such a nuisance upon himself and into his well-ordered
house. Not only was his rest disturbed with trying regularity by night,
and his meals served with an equally trying irregularity by day, but he
was obliged to deal with an altogether changed wife. For, yielding as
Rose was in all other matters, where Billy was concerned she was simply
imperturbable. At times, as she held the chubby little fellow to her
breast or caught and kissed a waving pink foot, she would feel a sense
of physical weakness come over her--it seemed as if her breath would
leave her. Martin could be what he might; life, at last, was worth its
price. With the courage of her mother-love she could resist anything and
everyone.

To her, the relative importance of the farm to Billy was as simple as a
problem in addition. She had lost none of her old knack for turning off
large amounts of work quickly, but she firmly stopped just short of
the point where her milk might be impaired by her exertions. Martin
had insisted that the requirement for hired help was over; however, in
despair over his wife's determined sabotage, it was Martin himself who
commanded that the girl be reinstated for another two months.

Rose was a methodical mother and not overly fussy. As soon as Billy
could sit in a highchair or an ordinary packing box on the floor, she
kept him with her while she went about her different tasks, cooing and
laughing with him as she worked, but when he needed attention she could
disregard calling dishes, chickens, half-churned butter, unfinished
ironing, unmilked cows or an irate husband with a placidity that was
worthy of the old Greek gods. Martin was dumbfounded to the point of
stupefaction. He was too thoroughly self-centred, however, to let other
than his own preferences long dominate his Rag-weed's actions. Her first
duty was clearly to administer to his comfort, and that was precisely
what she would do. It was ridiculous, the amount of time she gave to
that baby--out of all rhyme and reason. If she wasn't feeding him,
she was changing him; if she wasn't bathing him she was rocking him to
sleep. And there, at last, Martin found a tangible point of resistance,
for he discovered from Nellie that not only was it not necessary to rock
a baby, but that it was contrary to the new ideas currently endorsed.
Reinforced, he argued the matter, adding that he could remember
distinctly his own mother had never rocked Benny.

"Yes, and Benny died."

"It wasn't her fault if he did," he retorted, a trifle disconcerted.

"I don't know about that. She took chances I would never take with
Billy. She sacrificed him, with her eyes open, for you and Nellie--gave
him up so that you could have this farm."

Martin did not care for this new version. "What has that to do with the
question?" he demanded coldly.

"Just this--your mother had her ideas and I have mine. I am going to
raise Billy in my own way." But, for weeks thereafter she managed with
an almost miraculous adroitness to have him asleep at meal times.

At seven months, Billy was the most adorable, smiling, cuddly baby
imaginable, with dimples, four teeth and a tantalizing hint of curl in
his soft, surprisingly thick, fawn-colored hair. Already, it was quite
evident that he had his mother's sensitive, affectionate nature. If only
his father had picked him up, occasionally, had talked to him now and
then, he scarcely could have resisted the little fellow's crowing,
sweet-tempered, responsive charm, but resentment at the annoyance of his
presence was now excessive. For the present, Martin's only concern in
his son consisted in seeing to it that his effacement was as nearly
complete as possible.

The long-impending clash came one evening after a sultry, dusty day when
Rose, occupied with a large washing in the morning and heavy work in
the dairy in the afternoon, realized with compunction that never had she
come so near to neglecting her boy. Tired and hot from fretting, he had
been slow about going to sleep, and was just dozing off, when Martin
came in, worn out and hungry.

"Isn't supper ready yet?"

"All but frying the sausage," Rose answered, achieving a pleasant tone
in spite of her jadedness. "He's almost turning the corner--hear his
little sleepy song? Sit down and cool off. I'll have it ready by the
time you and the boys are washed."

Under its thick coat of tan, Martin's face went white. "I've had enough
of this," he announced levelly. "You'll put him down and fry that meat."

"Wait just a minute," she coaxed; "he'll be off for the night and if you
wake him, he'll cry and get all worked up."

"You heard what I said." His tone was vibrant with determination. "How
am I going to keep hired men if you treat them like this? When they come
in to eat, they want to find their food on the table."

"This doesn't often happen any more and they know, good and well, I make
it up to them in other ways," returned Rose truthfully.

For answer, he crossed over to her quickly, reached down and took the
baby from her.

"What are you going to do with him?" she demanded, a-tremble with rage
and a sense of impotent helplessness, as, avoiding her quick movement,
Martin went into the bedroom.

"Let him go to sleep as other children do, while you finish getting
supper. Do you want to make a sissy of him?"

"A lot you care what he becomes!" she flashed, conflicting impulses
contending for mastery, as Billy, now thoroughly awake and seeing
his mother, began to cry, pleading to her with big blue eyes and
out-stretched arms to take him. She started forward, but Martin stepped
between herself and the crib.

"Martin Wade, let me pass. He's mine."

"It isn't going to hurt him to cry. He does it often enough."

"If you had a really cross baby around you'd know how good and
reasonable Billy is," she flamed, torn by the little sobs.

"You get out to that kitchen," he ordered, more openly angry than Rose
had ever seen him. "I've had enough of this talk, do you hear, and
enough of this way of doing. Don't you set foot in here again till
supper's over. I've had quite enough, too, of jumping up and down to
wait on myself."

Confusedly, Rose thought of her countless hours of lost sleep, her even
yet unrecovered strength, the enormous readjustment of her own life in
her sincere efforts to do her best by the whole household, her joyous
acceptance of all the perpetual self-denial her new duties to Billy
necessitated. In comparison, the inconveniences to which Martin had been
put seemed trifling. The occasional delays, and the unusual bother of
stepping to the stove, now and then, to pour himself and the men a hot
cup of coffee--this was their sum total. And how injured he really felt!
The injustice of it left her speechless. Nails biting into her hands
in her struggle for self-control, she left the room. With a slam of the
door behind him, Martin followed her.

Blindly she strove for reason. Billy would simply cry himself to
sleep--it was bad for his whole nervous system, but it would not
actually make him sick. What a chaos must be in that little heart! His
mother had failed him for the first time in his life. It was cruel, the
way Martin had forced her to this, and as she listened, for the next
half hour, to the muffled sound of Billy's crying and saw how impervious
to it Martin was, she knew that never again could things be the same
between her husband and herself.

But when, supper over, she found the corners of the rosebud mouth still
pathetically down and Billy's breath still quivering in long gasps, she
gathered the snuggly body to her and vowed in little broken love-words
that from now on his father should have no further opportunities for
discipline. Knowing him as she did, she should have trained the baby in
the first place to go to sleep alone, should have denied herself those
added sweet moments. After this she would be on her guard, forestall
Martin, do tenderly what he would do harshly. Never again should her boy
be made to suffer through any such mistaken selfishness of hers.

And though, after a while, the importance of this episode shrank to its
true proportions, she never forgot or broke this promise. It would
have been literally impossible for her to touch Billy, even when he was
naughtiest and most exasperating, with other than infinite love, but she
had an even firmness of her own. As sensitive as herself, adoring her to
the point of worship, he was easily punished by her displeasure or five
minutes of enforced quiet on a chair. The note of dread in her voice
as she pleaded: "Hush, oh, hush, Billy, be good; quick, darling, papa's
coming," was always effective. By ceaseless vigilance and indefatigable
patience, she evaded further open rupture until the boy was three years
old.

His shrieks had brought both his father and herself flying to the hog
barn to find him dancing up and down as, frightened and aghast, he
vainly attempted to beat off old Dorcas, a mammoth sow, from one of
her day-old litter on which, having crushed it by accident, she was now
quite deliberately feasting.

"God Almighty!" stormed Martin, hastily putting the little pigs back
into the next pen. "Who let them in to her? That's her old trick."

"I opened the door," confessed Billy, troubled, frank eyes looking
straight into his father's. "They were hungry; that one wanted her
most." And, at the thought of the tragedy he had witnessed, he flung
himself heartbroken into his mother's comforting arms.

"I'll whip you for this," said Martin sternly.

"Oh, please!" protested Rose, gathering the child closer. "Can't you see
he's had a bitter enough lesson? His little heart is full."

"He's got to learn, once and for all, not to meddle with the stock. Come
here."

"No! I won't have it. I'll see to it that he never does a thing like
this again. He's too young to understand. He's never been struck in his
life. You shan't."

Martin's cold blue eyes looked icily into his wife's blazing gray ones.
"Don't act like a fool. Suppose he had gotten in there himself, and had
fallen down--do you think she'd have waited to kill him? Where'd he be
now--like that?" and he pointed to the half-eaten carcass.

Rose shuddered. There it was again--the same, familiar, disarming
plausibility of Martin's, the old trick of making her seem to be the one
in the wrong.

"I wish I had an acre for every good thrashing I got when I was a boy,"
he commented drily. "But in those days a father who demanded obedience
wasn't considered a monster."

"If you only loved him, I wouldn't care," sobbed Rose. "I could stand it
better to have you hit him in anger, but you're so hard, so cruel. You
plan it all out so--how can you?"

Nevertheless, with a last convulsive hug and a broken "Mother can't help
it, darling," she put Billy on his feet, her tormented heart wrung with
bitterness as Martin took the clinging child from her and carried him
away, hysterical and resisting.

"What else could I do?" she asked herself miserably, stabbed by the
added fear that Billy might not forgive her. Could he understand how
powerless she had been?

When once more the child was cuddled against her, she realized that in
some mystical way there was a new bond between them, and as the
days passed, she discovered it was not so much the whipping, but the
unnatural perfidy of Dorcas that had scarred his mind. With his own
eyes he had seen a mother devour her baby. He woke from dreams of it
at night. Even the sight of her in the pasture contentedly suckling the
remaining nine did not reassure him. The modern methods of psychology
were then, to such women as Rose, a sealed book, but love and intuition
taught her to apply them.

"You see, Billy," she explained, "hogs are meant to eat meat like dogs
or bears or tigers. But they can live on just grain and grass, and that
is what most farmers make them do because there is so much more of it
and it costs so much less. Some of them feed what is called tankage. If
old Dorcas could have had some of that she probably would not have
eaten the little pig. You mustn't blame her too much, for she was just
famishing for flesh, the way you are, sometimes, for a drink of water,
when you've been playing hard." Thus rationalized, the old sow's conduct
lost some of its grewsomeness, and in time, of course, the shock of the
whole experience was submerged under other and newer impressions,
but always the remembrance of it floated near the surface of his
consciousness, his first outstanding memory of his father and the farm.

Inheriting a splendid physique from both parents, at six little Bill was
as tall as the average child of eight, well set up and sturdy, afraid
of nothing on the place except Martin, who, resenting his attitude, not
unreasonably put the blame for it on his wife. "It's not what I do to
him," he told her, "it's what you teach him to think I might do that
makes him dislike me." To which Rose looked volumes, but made no reply.

Whatever the reason for the child's distrust, and honestly as he tried
not to let it affect his feeling for his son, Martin found himself as
much repelled by it as he had once been drawn to little Rose by her
sweet faith and affection. Yet, in spite of the only too slightly
veiled enmity between them, he was rather proud of the handsome lad
and determined to give him a thorough stockman's and agriculturist's
training. Some day he would run this farm, and Martin had put too much
of his very blood into it not to make sure that the hands into which it
would fall became competent. With almost impersonal approval he noticed
the perfect co-ordination of the boy's muscles, his insatiable curiosity
about machinery and his fondness for animals; all of which only made his
pronounced distaste for work just that much more aggravating. He was,
his father decided contemptuously, a dreamer.

Martin reached this conclusion early in his son's life--Bill was
nine--and he determined to grind the objectionable tendency out of him.
The youngster had a way of stopping for no reason whatever and just
standing there. For all his iron self-control, it nearly drove the
energetic man to violence. He would leave Bill in the barn to shovel
the manure into the litter-carrier--a good fifteen-minute job; he would
return in half an hour to find him sitting in the alleyway, staring down
into his idle scoop.

"God Almighty!" Martin would explode. "How many times must I tell you to
do a thing?"

The boy would look up slowly, like a frightened colt, expecting a blow,
his non-resistance as angering as his indolence. Gazing at the enormous,
imposing person who was his father, he would simply wait with wide open
eyes--eyes that reminded Martin of a calf begging for a bucket of milk.

"I'm asking you! Answer when I speak. Have you lost the use of your
tongue? What are you, anyway--a lump of jelly? Didn't I tell you to
clean this barn? It's fly time and no wonder the cows suffer and slack
up on their milk when there is a lazy bones like you around who won't
even help haul away the manure."

"I was just a-goin' to."

"You should have been through long ago. What are you good for, is what
I'd like to find out. You eat a big bellyful and what do you give in
return? Do you expect to go through the world like this--having other
people do your work for you? If this job isn't finished in fifteen
minutes, I'll whip you."

Bill would work swiftly and painfully, for the carrier was high and
hard for him to manipulate. But he would do his best, desperate over the
threat, his whole nature rebelling, not so much at the task, as at the
interruption of the pleasant stream of pictures which had been flowing
so excitingly through his mind. Always it was like this--just when he
was most blissfully happy, he was jerked back to some mean, dirty job by
the stern, driving demands of his tireless father.

Without regard to the fact that harness is heavy, and a horse's back
high, Martin would order him to hitch up. He was perfectly aware that
it was too much for the child, but lack of affection, and a vague,
extenuating belief that especially trying jobs developed one, made
him merciless. The boy frequently boiled with rage, but he was so
weaponless, so completely in his father's power--there was no escape
from this tyranny. He knew he could not live without him; even his
mother could not do that. His mother! What a sense of rest would
come over him when he sat in her capacious lap, his head on her soft
shoulder. With her cheek against his and her kind hand gently patting
the back of his still chubby one, something hard in him always melted
away.

"Why do I love you so, mama," he asked once, "and hate papa so?"

Mrs. Wade realized what was in his sore heart and hers ached for
him, but she answered quietly: "You mustn't hate anybody, dear. You
shouldn't."

"I don't hate anybody but him. I hate him and I'm afraid of him--just
like you are."

"Oh, Billy," cried Rose, shocked to the quick. "You must never, never
say I hate your father--when you're older you'll understand. He is a
wonderful man."

"He's mean," said Billy succinctly. "When I get big I'm going to run
away."

"From me? Oh, darling, don't think such thoughts. Papa doesn't intend
to be mean. He just doesn't know what fun it is to play. You see, dear,
when he was a boy like you, he had to work, oh, ever and ever so
much more than you do--yes, he did," she nodded solemnly at Bill's
incredulous stare. "And his mother never talked with him or held him
close as I do you. She didn't have time. Aunt Nellie has told me all
about it. He just worked and worked and worked--they all did. That's
all there was in their life--just work. Why, when he was your age, his
father was at war and papa and Grandmother Wade had to do everything.
He did a man's share at fourteen and by the time he was fifteen, he ran
this whole farm. Work has gotten to be a habit with him and it's made
him different from a great many people. But he thinks that is why he's
gone ahead and so he's trying to raise you the same way. If he really
didn't care about you, Billy, it wouldn't bother him what you did."

In the silence that fell they could hear old Molly bellowing with
pathetic monotony for her calf that had been taken from her. Yesterday
she had been so proud, so happy. She had had such a hard time bringing
it into the world, too. Martin had been obliged to tie a rope to its
protruding legs and pull with all his strength. It didn't seem fair to
think that the trusting-eyed little fellow had been snatched from her so
soon, as if her pain had been an entirely negligible incident. Already,
after six short weeks, he was hanging, drawn and quartered, in one of
Fallon's meat-markets.

"I hate this place!" burst out the boy passionately. "I hate it!"

"All farms are cruel," agreed his mother quickly. "But I suppose they
have to be. People must have milk and they must have veal."

At nine, though his fingers would become cramped and his wrists would
pain him, Bill had three cows to account for twice a day. At five in the
morning, he would be shaken by Martin and told to hurry up. It would be
dark when he stepped out into the chill air, and he would draw back with
a shiver. Somewhere on these six hundred acres was the herd and it was
his chore to find it and bring it in. He would go struggling through the
pasture, unable to see twenty-five feet ahead of him, the cold dew or
snow soaking through his overalls, his shoes becoming wet. Often he
would go a mile north only to have to wander to another end of the farm
before he located them. Other times, when he was lucky, they would be
waiting within a hundred yards of the barn. Oh, how precious the warm
bed was, and how his growing body craved a few more hours of sleep! He
had a trick of pulling the sheet up over his head, as if thus he could
shut out the world, but always his father was there to rout him out from
this nest and set him none too gently on his feet; always there was a
herd to be brought in and udders to be emptied. It made no difference to
Martin that the daily walk to and from the district school was long,
and left no spare time; it made no difference that the long hours at his
lessons left the boy longing for play--always there was the herd, twice
a day, cows and cows without end.

At twelve, Bill was plowing behind four heavy horses. He could run a
mower, and clean a pasture of weeds in a day. He could cultivate and
handle the manure spreader. In the hot, blazing sun, he could shock
wheat behind Martin, who sat on the binder and cut the beautiful swaying
gold. There wasn't a thing he could not do, but there was not one that
he did with a willing heart. His dreams were all of escape from this
grinding, harsh farm. It seemed to him that it was as ruthless as his
father; that everything it demanded of him was, at best, just a little
beyond his strength. If there was a lever to be pulled on the disk, very
likely it was rusted and refused to give unless he yanked until he was
short of breath and his heart beat fast; four horses were so unruly and
hard to keep in place; the gates were all so heavy--they were not easy
to lift and then drag open. It was such a bitter struggle every step of
the way. It was so hard to plow as deeply as he was commanded. It was so
wearing to make the seed bed smooth enough to measure up to his father's
standard. Never was there a person who saw less to love about a farm
than this son of Martin's. He even ceased to take any interest in the
little colts.

"You used to be foolish about them," Martin taunted, "cried whenever I
broke one."

"If I don't get to liking 'em, I don't care what happens to em," Bill
answered with his father's own laconicism.

This chicken-heartedness, as he dubbed it, disgusted Martin, who
consequently took a satisfaction in compelling the boy to assist him
actively whenever there were cattle to be dehorned, wire rings to be
pushed through bunches of pigs' snouts, calves to be delivered by
force, young stuff to be castrated or butchering to be done. Often
the sensitive lad's nerves were strained to the breaking point by the
inhuman torture he was constantly forced to inflict upon creatures that
had learned to trust him. There was a period when it seemed to him every
hour brought new horrors; with each one, his determination strengthened
to free himself as soon as possible from this life that was one round of
toil and brutality.

Rose gave him all the sympathy and help her great heart knew. His
rebellion had been her own, but she had allowed it to be ground out of
her, with her soul now in complete surrender. And here was her boy going
through it all over again, for himself, learning the dull religion of
toil from one of its most fanatical priests. What if Bill, too, should
finally have acquiescence to Martin rubbed into his very marrow, should
absorb his father's point of view, grow up and run, with mechanical
obedience, the farm he abhorred? The very possibility made her shudder.
If only she could rescue him in some manner, help him to break free
from this bondage. College--that would be the open avenue. Martin would
insist upon an agricultural course, but she would use all her tact and
rally all her powers that Billy might be given the opportunity to fit
himself for some congenial occupation. Martin might even die, and if she
were to have the farm to sell and the interest from the investments to
live on, how happy she could be with this son of hers, so like her in
temperament. She caught herself up sharply. Well, it was Martin himself
who was driving her to such thoughts.

"You are like old Dorcas," she once told her husband, driven desperate
by the exhausted, harrowed look that was becoming habitual in Bill's
face. "You're trampling down your own flesh and blood, that's what
you're doing--eating the heart out of your own boy."

"Go right on," retorted Martin, all his loneliness finding vent in his
bitter sneer, "tell that to Bill. You've turned him against me from the
day he was born. A fine chance I've ever had with my son!"



VI. DUST IN HIS EYES

SUCH was the relationship of the Wades when one morning the mail brought
them a letter from Sharon, Illinois. Rose wrote that she was miserably
unhappy with her step-mother. Could she live with them until she found
a job? She had been to business college and was a dandy stenographer.
Maybe Uncle Martin could help her get located in Fallon.

"Of course I will, if she's got her head set on working," was his
comment. "I'll telegraph her to come right along. Might as well wire the
fare, too, while I'm about it and tell her to let us know exactly when
she can get here."

Mrs. Wade looked up quickly at this unusual generosity, yet she was, she
realized, more startled than surprised. For had not little Rose been
the one creature Martin had loved and to whom he had enjoyed giving
pleasure? It had been charming--the response of the big, aloof man to
the merry child of seven, but that child was now a woman, and, in
all probability, a beautiful one. Wasn't there danger of far more
complicated emotions which might prove even uprooting in their
consequences? Mrs. Wade blushed. Really, she chided herself sternly, she
wouldn't have believed she could be such an old goose--going out of her
way to borrow trouble. If her husband was moved to be hospitable, she
ought to be wholly glad, not petty enough to resent it. She would put
such thoughts out of her mind, indeed she would, and welcome Rose as
she would have wanted Norah to have welcomed Bill, had the circumstances
been reversed. It would be lovely to have the girl about--she would be
so much company, and the atmosphere of light-hearted youth which she
would bring with her would be just what Billy needed. By the time
Rose's answer came, saying she would arrive in two weeks, her aunt was
genuinely enthusiastic.

"I wonder," said Martin, "if we could build on an extra room by then.
If she's going to make this her home, she can't be crowded as if she was
just here for a short visit. I'll hunt up Fletcher this afternoon."

Mrs. Wade's lips shut tight, as she grappled with an altogether new
kind of jealousy. To think that Martin should delight in giving to an
outsider a pleasure he had persistently denied his own son. How often
had she pleaded: "It's a shame to make Billy sleep in the parlor! A
boy ought to have one spot to himself where he can keep his own little
treasures." But always she had been met with a plausible excuse or a
direct refusal. "I suppose I ought to be thankful someone can strike an
unselfish chord in him," she thought, wearily.

"You'll have to get some furniture," Martin continued placidly.
"Mahogany's the thing nowadays."

"It's fearfully expensive," she murmured.

"Oh, I don't know. Might as well get something good while we're buying.
And while you're at it, pick out some of those curtains that have
flowers and birds on 'em and a pretty rug or two. I'll have Fletcher put
down hard oak flooring; and I guess it won't make much more of a mess if
we go ahead and connect up the house with the rest of the Delco system."

"It's about time," put in Bill, who had been listening round-eyed, until
now actually more than half believing his father to be in cynical jest.
"We're known all over the county as the place that has electric lights
in the barns and lamps in the house."

"It hasn't been convenient to do it before," was the crisp answer.

Bill and his mother exchanged expressive glances. When was anything ever
convenient for Martin Wade unless he were to derive a direct, personal
satisfaction from it! Then it became a horse of quite another color. He
could even become lavish; everything must be of the best; nothing else
would do; no expense, as long as full value was received, was too great.
Mrs. Wade found herself searching her memory. She was positive that not
since those occasions upon which he had brought home the sacks of candy
for the sheer sunshine of watching little Rose's glee had anyone's
pleasure been of enough importance to him to become his own. All this
present concern for her comfort talked far more plainly than words.

This time, Mrs. Wade admitted bravely to herself that her jealousy was
not for Billy. It would have been far easier for her if she had known
that Martin was thinking of their coming guest as he had last seen her
thirteen years before. He realized, thoroughly, that she must have grown
up, but before his mental eyes there still danced the roguish little
girl he had held so tenderly in his arms and had so longed to protect
and cherish.

He experienced a distinct sense of shock, therefore, when, tall, slender
and smartly dressed, Rose stepped off the train and, throwing her arms
impulsively around his neck, gave him an affectionate kiss. The feel of
those soft, warm lips lingered strangely, setting his heart to pounding
as he guided her down the platform.

"Uncle Martin, you haven't changed a bit!" she exclaimed joyously. "I
was wondering if I'd recognise you--imagine! Somehow, I thought thirteen
years would make a lot of difference, but you don't look a day older."

"You little blarney," he smiled, pleased nevertheless. "Well, here we
are," and he stopped before his fine Cadillac.

"Oh, Uncle Martin," gasped Rose ecstatically. "What a perfectly gorgeous
car! I thought all farmers were supposed to have Fords."

They laughed happily together.

"It's the best in these parts," he admitted complacently.

"It's too wonderful to think that it is really yours. Oh, Uncle Martin,
do you suppose you could ever teach me to drive it?"

"It takes a good deal of strength to shift the gears, but you can have a
try at it anyway, tomorrow."

"Oh-h-h!" she exulted, slipping naturally into their old comradeship.

Martin took her elbow as he helped her into the car. The firm young
flesh felt good--it was hard to let go. His thumb and under finger had
pressed the muscles slightly and they had moved under his touch. His
hand trembled a bit. The grace with which she stepped up gave him
another thrill. He was struck with her trim pump, and the several
inches of silk stocking that flashed before his eyes, so unaccustomed
to noticing dainty details, gave him a mingled sensation of delight
and embarrassment. It had been many a day, many a year, since he had
consciously observed his wife. She was too useful for him to permit
himself to be influenced by questions of beauty into underrating her
value, and he was a respectable husband, if not a kind one. They had
jogged on so long together that he would have said he had ceased to
be conscious of her appearance. But suddenly he felt that he could not
continue to endure, for another day, the sight of the spreading, flat
house-slippers which, because of her two hundred and forty pounds and
frequently rheumatic feet, she wore about her work. Moreover, it was
forcibly borne in upon him just what a source of irritation they had
been. And they were only as a drop in the bucket! Well, such thoughts
did no one any good. Thank heaven, from now on he would have Rose to
look at.

They settled down beside each other in the front seat and he was aware
that her lovely eyes, so violet-blue and ivory-white, were studying him
admiringly. Here was a man, she was deciding, who for his age was the
physical superior of any she had ever met. He was clearly one of those
whom toil did not bend, and while, she concluded further, he might be
taken for all of his fifty-four years it would be simply because of his
austere manner.

Martin sustained her scrutiny until they were well out of Fallon and
speeding along on a good level road. Then with a teasing "turn
about's fair play," he, too, took a frank look, oddly stirred by the
sophisticated touches which added so subtly to her natural beauty. From
her soft, thick brown hair done up cleverly in the latest mode and her
narrow eyebrows arched, oh, so carefully, and penciled with such skill,
to that same trim provocative pump and disconcerting flash of
silk-clad ankle, Rose had dash. Hers was that gift of style which is as
unmistakable as the gift of song and which, like it, is sometimes to be
found unexpectedly in any village or small town.

Martin drank in every detail wonderingly, with a kind of awe. All his
life, it seemed to him, for the last thirteen years positively, he had
known that somewhere there must be just such a woman whose radiance
would set his heart beating with the rapture of this moment and whose
moods would blend so easily with his own that she would seem like a very
part of himself. And here she was, come true, sitting right beside him
in his own car. For the first time in his whole life, Martin understood
the meaning of the word happiness. It gripped and shook him and made his
heart ache with a delicious pain.

"It's hard to believe," he murmured, "such a very small girl went away
and such a very grown up little woman has come back. Let's see--twenty
is it? My, you make me feel old--but you say I haven't changed much."

"You haven't. A little bit of gray, a number of tiny wrinkles about your
eyes"--the tips of two dainty fingers touched them lightly--"and you're
a bit thinner--that's all. Why you look so good to me, Uncle Martin, I
could fall in love with you myself, if you weren't auntie's husband."

It was an innocent remark, and he understood it as such, but its effect
on him was dynamic.

"You always were as pretty as a picture," he said slowly, his nerves
tingling, "if a farmer's opinion is worth anything in that line."

This was twaddle, of course, and Martin knew it. Rather it was the
city person's point of view he was inclined to belittle. He had the
confidence in his superiority that comes from complete economic security
and his pride of place was even more deeply rooted. Men of Martin's
class who are able to gaze, in at least one direction, as far as eye can
see over their own land, are shrewd, sharp, intelligent, and far better
informed on current events and phases of thought than the people of
commercial centers even imagine. There is nothing of the peasant about
them. Martin knew quite well that dressed in his best clothes and put
among a crowd of strange business men he would be taken for one of their
own--so easy was his bearing, so naturally correct his speech.

Something of all this had already registered in Rose's mind. "Come on,
Uncle Martin," she laughed, "flatter me. I just love it!"

"Very well, then, I'll say that you've come back as pretty a little
woman as ever I've laid eyes on."

"Is that all? Oh, Uncle Martin, just pretty? The boys usually say I'm
beautiful."

"You are beautiful--as beautiful as a rose. That's what you are, a red,
red rose of Sharon--with your dove's eyes, your little white teeth
like a flock of even sheep and your sweet, pretty lips like a thread of
scarlet."

"Why, Uncle Martin!" exclaimed the girl, a trifle puzzled by the
intensity of his quiet tone, and stressing their relationship ever so
lightly. "You're almost a poet."

"You mean old King Solomon was," he retrieved himself quickly. "Don't
you ever read the Bible?"

"I didn't know you did!"

"Oh, your old Uncle reads a little of everything," he returned with
a reassuring commonplaceness of manner. He was thunderstruck at his
outburst. Never had he had occasion to talk in that vein. He remembered
how blunt he had been with the older Rose twenty years before--how he
had jumped to the point at the start and landed safely; clinched his
wooing, as he had since realized, by calling her his Rose of Sharon, and
now he was saying the same thing over again, but, oh, how differently.
If only he were thirty-four today, and unmarried!

"You always were the most wonderful person," beamed Rose, completely at
her ease once more, "I used to simply adore you, and I'm beginning to
adore you again."

"That's because you don't know what a glum old grouch I really am."

"You--a grouch? Oh, Uncle Martin!" Her merry, infectious laugh left no
doubt of how ridiculous such a notion seemed.

"Oh, yes; I am."

"Nonsense. You'll have to prove it to me."

"Ask your aunt or Bill; they'll tell you." The acrimony in his tone did
not escape her.

"Then they'll have to prove it to me," she corrected, her gaiety now
a trifle forced. Aunt Rose never had appreciated him, was her quick
thought. Even as a child she had sensed that.

"How are they?" she added quickly. "Bill must be a great boy by this
time."

"Only a few inches shorter than I am," Martin answered indifferently.
"He's one of the kind who get their growth early--by the time he's
fifteen he'll be six feet."

"I'm crazy to see them."

"Well, there's your aunt now," he resumed drily as they drew up before
the little house that contrasted so conspicuously with the fine brick
silos and imposing barns. Gleaming with windows, they loomed out of the
twilight, reminding one, in their slate-colored paint, of magnificent
battleships.

The bright glare of the auto picked Mrs. Wade out for them as
mercilessly as a searchlight. Where she had been stout thirteen years
before, she was now frankly fat. Four keen eyes noted the soft, cushiony
double chin, the heavy breasts, ample stomach, spreading hips, and thick
shoulders, rounded from many years of bending over her kitchen table.
Kansas wind, Kansas well-water and Kansas sun had played their usual
havoc, giving her skin the dull sand color so common in the Sunflower
State. She had come from her cooking and she was hot, beads of sweat
trickling from the deep folds of her neck. Withal, there was something
so comfortable and motherly about her, the kind, wise eyes behind the
gold-rimmed glasses were so misty with welcome and unspoken thoughts of
the dear mother Rose had lost, that the girl went out to her sincerely
even as she marvelled that the same years on the same farm which had
given one person added polish and had made him even more good looking
than ever, could have changed another so completely and turned her
into such a toil-scarred, frumpy, oldish woman. Why, when she had been
talking with Uncle Martin he had seemed no older than herself--well,
not quite that, of course, but she had just forgotten about his age
altogether--until she saw Aunt Rose. No wonder whenever he spoke of his
wife every intonation told how little he loved her. How could he care
any more--that way?

Rose's first look of astonishment and her darting glance in his own
direction were not lost on Martin. With an imperceptible smile, he
accepted the unintended compliment, but he felt a pang when he noticed
that to her Aunt went the same affectionate, impetuous embrace that she
had given to him at the station.

"You're losing your head," he told himself sternly, driving into the
garage, where, stopping his engine, he continued to sit motionless
at the wheel. "That ought to be a lesson to you; she's just naturally
warm-hearted and loving. Always was. You're no more to her than anybody
else. Well, there's no fool like an old fool." Yet, deeper than his
admitted thought was the positive conviction that already something was
up between them. If not, why this excitement and wild happiness? To be
sure, nothing had been said--really. It had all been so light. Rose was
just a bit of a born flirt. But he, having laughed at love all his life,
loved her deeply, desperately. Well, so much the worse for himself--it
couldn't lead anywhere. Yet in spite of all his logic he knew that
something was going to happen. Hang it all--just what? He was afraid to
answer his own question; not because of any dread of what his wife might
do--he was conscious only of a new, cold, impersonal hatred toward her
because she stood between him and his Rose; nor was it qualms about his
ability to win the girl's heart. Already, despite his inexperience with
love technique, he was, in some mysterious manner, making progress. The
community--his position in it? This was food for thought certainly, but
it was not what worried him. Then why this feeling of dismay when he
wanted to be only glad?

The question was still unanswered when he finally left the garage. With
all his powers of introspection, he had not yet fathomed the fact that
it was a fear of his own, until now utterly unsuspected, capacity for
recklessness. Heretofore, he had been able to count on the certainty
that his best judgment would govern all his actions. Now, he felt
himself clutching, almost frantically, at the hard sense of proportion
that never before had so much as threatened to desert him. He went
about his chores in a grave, automatic way, absorbed in anything but
agriculture. Hardly ever did he pass through his barn without paying
homage to his own progressiveness and oozing approval of the mechanical
milker, driven by his own electrical dynamo, the James Way stanchions
with electric lights above, the individual drinking fountains at the
head of each cow, the cork-brick floors, the scrupulously white-washed
walls, and the absence of odor, with the one exception of sweet,
fermented silage. But, tonight, he was not seeing these symbols of
material superiority. Instead he was thinking of a girl with eyes as
soft as a dove's, lips like a thread of scarlet and small white teeth as
even as a flock of his own Shropshire sheep. What else did that old King
Solomon say? God Almighty, he thought, there was a man who understood!
He'd try to get a chance to reread that Song of Songs that was breaking
his own heart with its joy and its sadness.

His reverie was broken abruptly by the jangling supper-bell. When he
reached the back door Bill was already at the table and Rose, in a
simple gown that brought out the appealing lines of her slim young body,
was deftly helping his wife in the final dishing up. As Martin stood
a moment, looking in at the bright scene and listening to the happy
chatter, he heard her ask if he had got her a job. At sight of him
she cried excitedly: "Oh, Uncle Martin! You can't think how I adore my
beautiful room! And Bill says it was you who first thought of building
it for me. You old darling! You and Aunt Rose are the best people in the
whole wide world. How can I ever thank you?"

"I'll tell you," he smiled, "forget all about that job and just stay
around here and make us all young. Time enough to work when you have
to."

Mrs. Wade noticed how Bill's eyes widened at these words, so unlike
his father, and soon she was acutely aware of her husband's marked
agreeableness whenever he directed his conversation toward Rose. He even
tried to include his son and herself in this new atmosphere, but
with each remark in their direction his manner changed subtly. Toward
herself, in particular, his feelings were too deep for him to succeed in
belying them.

As the meal progressed, she realized that her dim forebodings were fast
materializing into a certain danger. Unless she acted promptly this slip
of a girl was going to affect, fundamentally, all their lives. Already,
it seemed as though she had been amongst them a long time and had
colored the future of them all. Mrs. Wade understood far better than her
husband would have supposed that, in his own way, his married life had
been as starved as her own; oh, far more so, for she had her boy. And
while it was not at all likely, it was not wholly impossible that he
might seek a readjustment. It seemed far-fetched for her to sit thus and
feel that drama was entering their hard lives when nothing had really
happened, but nevertheless--she knew. As, outwardly so calm, she
speculated with tumbled thoughts on how it might end, she tried to
analyze why it was that the prospect of a shake-up filled her with such
a sense of disaster. Surely, it was not because of any reluctance to
separate from Martin. Her life would be far easier if they went their
own ways. With Bill, she could make a home anywhere, one that was far
more real, in a house from which broken promises did not sound as from a
trumpet. Ashes of resentment still smouldered against Martin because of
that failure of his to play fair. She recalled the years during which
she had helped him to earn with never an unexpected pleasure; reflected
with bitterness that never, since they had cast their lives together,
had he urged her to indulge in any sweet little extravagance, though he
had denied himself nothing that he really wished. It was no riddle to
her, as it had been to her niece earlier in the evening, why the same
hard work had dealt so benignly with Martin and so uncharitably with
herself. She comprehended only too well that it was not that alone which
had crushed her. It was his ceaseless domination over her, the utter
subjugation of her will, her complete lack of freedom. She glanced
across the table at him, astounded by his hearty laugh in response to
one of Rose's sallies. It seemed incredible that it could be really
Martin's. It had such a ring and came out so easily as if he were more
inclined to merriment than to silence. Usually, he seemed made of long
strips of thin steel, but under the inspiration of Rose's presence he
had become animated, brisk, interesting. No wonder she was being drawn
to him.

It was as if he had withheld from his wife a secret alchemy that had
kept him handsome and attractive, as compelling as when he had come in
search of herself so long ago. And now that the last vestige of her own
bloom was gone, he was laughing at her, inwardly, as a cunning person
does who plays a malicious trick on a simpler, more trusting, soul. Only
it had taken twenty years to spring the point of this one. Hatred welled
in her heart; a sad, weary hatred that knew no tears. She wished that
she might hurt him as he had hurt her. Yet, with her usual honesty, she
presently admitted how easy it would be for this malevolence to melt
away--a word, a look, a gesture from Martin and the heart in her
would flood with forgiveness; but the look did not come, the word was
unuttered.

He was squandering, she continued to observe, sufficient evidence of his
interest at the feet of this child who never would have missed it, while
she, herself, who could have lifted mountains from her breast with
one tenth of this appreciation, was left, as she always had been left,
without the love her being craved, the love of a mate, rising full and
strong to meet her own. It was a yearning that the most cherished of
children could never satisfy and as she watched Martin and Rose her
position seemed to her to be that of a hungry pauper, brought to the
table of a rich gourmand, there to look on helplessly while the other
toyed carelessly with the precious morsels of which she was in such
extreme need. And what rankled was that these thoughts were futile, that
too much water had run under the bridge, that it was her lot in Martin's
life merely to accept what was offered her. She knew that the marks of
her many hours of suppressed anguish, thousands of days of toil and long
series of disappointments were thick upon her. She realized, too, how
ironical it was that with all her work she should have grown to be so
ungainly although Martin retained the old magnetism of his gorgeous
physique. There was no doubt that if he chose, he could still hold a
woman's devotion. Yes, for him there was an open road from this gray
monotony, if he had the will and the courage to escape.

Suddenly, she found herself wondering what effect all this would have
on Bill. She stole a surreptitious glance at him, but he, too, seemed to
have been caught up by Rose's gay, good humor. Mrs. Wade sighed as she
remembered how everyone had flocked around Norah. Rose had inherited her
mother's charm. Such women were a race apart. They could no more be
held responsible for trying to please than a flower for exhaling its
fragrance. At what a lovely moment of life she was! Small wonder that
Martin was captivated, but not even the shadow of harm must fall on that
fresh young spirit while she was under their roof. If things went much
further she would have it out with him. And this decision reached, Mrs.
Wade felt her usual composure gradually return, nor did it again desert
her during the long evening through which it seemed to her as if her
husband must be some stranger.



VII. MARTIN BATTLES WITH DUST

THE human animal is a strange spectacle to behold, let alone comprehend.
Not infrequently he goes along for years developing a state of mind, a
consistent attitude, and then having got it thoroughly established does
something in distinct contradiction to it. Martin had never cared for
music, but when one evening, a little more than a week after Rose's
arrival, she suggested, with a laughing lilt, her fondness for it, he
agreed that he had missed it in his home and, to Bill's and Mrs. Wade's
unbelieving surprise, dwelt at length upon his enjoyment of Fallon's
band and his longing to blow a cornet. A little later, finding an excuse
to leave, he drove into town on a mission so foreign to his iron-clad
character that it seemed to cry against his every instinct, but which,
for all that, he did with such simplicity as to indicate that it was the
most natural step imaginable. He actually bought a two-hundred-dollar
mahogany Victrola and an assortment of records, bringing both home with
him in his car and, assisted eagerly by Bill, carrying them into the
front room with an air that said it was a purchase he had been intending
to make for a long time. Rose rewarded him with her bubbling delight
and her aunt noticed with an odd constriction about her heart how Bill
revelled at last in the new treasure, until now so hopelessly coveted.
Martin had never shone to better advantage than this evening as he
helped select and put on different pieces, lending himself to the mood
of each. It was while a foot-stirring dance was on that Rose asked
suddenly:

"Oh, Uncle Martin, do you know how?"

He shook his head. "You'll have to teach me to square up for learning to
drive the car."

"That's a bargain; and I'll teach Bill too," she added with native tact.
But Mrs. Wade, ill at ease in her own parlor, caught the afterthought
quality of Rose's tone. There was no question but that it was for Martin
she sparkled, sweet and spontaneous as she was. Decidedly, the time had
come when definite action should not be delayed.

It was nearly twelve o'clock when they finally broke up and husband and
wife found themselves alone in their own room. As they undressed, Mrs.
Wade acted nervously, confused as to how to begin, while Martin whistled
lightly and kept time by a slight bobbing of his head. She shot a
meaning look in his direction.

"You seem happy, don't you?"

He stopped whistling instantly and assumed his more normal look of set
sternness. This was the man she knew and she preferred him that way,
rather than buoyant because of some other woman, even though that other
was as lovable and innocent of any deliberate mischief as her niece. Not
that she was jealous so much as she was hurt. When a woman has fortified
herself, after years of the existence to which Mrs. Wade had submitted,
with the final conviction that undoubtedly her husband's is a nature
that cannot be other than it is, and then learns there are emotional
potentialities not yet plumbed, not to mention a capacity for pleasant
comradeship of which he has never vouchsafed her an inkling, she finds
herself being ground between the millstones of an aching admission of
her own deficiencies and a tattered, but rebellious, pride.

Martin, when her remark concerning his apparent happiness had
registered, let his answer be a sober inspection of the garment he had
just removed.

"I don't suppose you can talk to me now after such a strenuous evening,"
she went on more emphatically. And as he maintained his silence, she
continued with: "Oh, don't think I'm blind, Martin Wade. I know exactly
how far this has gone and I know how far it can go."

"What are you driving at?"

"You know perfectly well what I mean--the way you are behaving toward
Rose."

"Are you trying to imply that I'm carrying on with her?"

"I certainly am. I'm not angry, Martin. I never was calmer than I am
right now, and I don't intend to say things just for the sake of saying
them. I only want you to know that I have eyes, and that I don't want to
be made a fool of."

To her surprise, Martin came over to her and, looking at her steadily,
returned with amazing candidness: "I'm not going to lie to you. You're
perfectly welcome to know what's in my mind. I love her with every
beat of my heart--she has brought something new into my life, something
sacred--you've always thought I cared for nothing but work, that all I
lived for was to plan and scheme how to make money. Haven't you? I don't
blame you. It's what I've always believed, but tonight I've learned
something." Mrs. Wade could see his blood quicken. "She has been in this
house only a few days and already I am alive with a new fire. It
seems as if these hours are the only ones in which I have ever really
lived--nothing else matters. Nothing! If there could be the slightest
chance of my winning her love, of making her feel as I am feeling now,
I'd build my world over again even if I had to tear all of the old
one down." Martin was now talking to himself, oblivious to his wife's
presence, indifferent to her. "Happiness is waiting for me with her,
with my little flower."

"Your Rose of Sharon?" Her tone was biting.

"If only I could say that! My Rose of Sharon!" It seemed to Mrs. Wade
that the very room quivered with his low cry that was almost a groan. "I
know what you're thinking," he went on, "but you know I have never loved
you. You knew it when I married you, you must have." The twisting
agony of it--that he could make capital out of the very crux of all her
suffering. "I have never deceived you and I never intend to. My life
with you hasn't been a Song of Solomon, but I'm not complaining."

"You're not complaining! I hope I won't start complaining, Martin."

"Well, now you know how I feel. I'll go on with the present arrangement
between us, but I'm playing square with you--it's because there's no
hope for me. If I thought she cared for me, I would go to her, right
now, tonight, and pour out my heart to her, wife or no wife. Oh, Rose,
have pity! It can't do you any harm if I drink a little joy--don't spoil
her faith in me! Don't frighten her away. I can't bear the thought of
her going out into the world to work. She's like a gentle little doe
feeding on lilies--she doesn't dream of the pitfalls ahead of her. And
she will never know--she doesn't even suspect how I feel towards her.
She will meet some young fellow in town and marry. I'm too old for
her--but Rose, you don't understand what it means to me to have her in
the same house, to know that she is sleeping so near, so beautiful, so
ready for love; that when I wake up tomorrow she will still be here."

Disarmed and partly appeased by the frankness of his confession, Mrs.
Wade sat silently taking in each word, studying him with wet eyes, her
lips almost blue, her breath a little short. The fire in his voice, the
reality of his strange, terrible love, the eyes that gazed so sadly and
so unexpectantly into space, the hands that seemed to have shed their
weight of toil and clutched, too late, for the bright flowers of
happiness--all filled her with compassion. Never had he looked so
splendid. He seemed, in casting off his thongs, to have taken on some of
the Herculean quality of his own magnificent gesture. It was as if their
barnyard well had burst into a mighty, high-shooting geyser. To her
dying day would she remember that surge of passion. To have met it with
anger would have been of as little avail as the stamp of a protesting
foot before the tremors of an earthquake.

She offered him the comforting directness which she might have given
Bill. "I didn't know you felt so deeply, Martin. Life plays us all
tricks; it's played many with me, and it's playing one of its meanest
with you, for whatever happens you are going to suffer--far more than I
am. You can believe it or not, but I'm sorry."

Martin felt oddly grateful to her; he had not expected this sense of
understanding. She might have burst into wild tears. Instead, she was
pitying him. More possessed of his usual immobility, he remarked:

"I must be a fool, a great, pathetic fool. I look into a girl's eyes and
immediately see visions. I say a few words to her and she is kind enough
to say a few to me and I see pictures of new happiness. I should have
more sense. I don't know what is the matter with me."

Although countless answers leaped to his wife's tongue she made none but
the cryptic: "Well, it's no use to discuss it any more tonight. We both
need rest." But all the while that she was undressing with her usual
sure, swift movements, and after she had finally slipped between the
sheets, her mind was racing.

She was soon borne so completely out on the current of her own thoughts
that she forgot Martin's actual presence. She remembered as if it were
yesterday, the afternoon he came to the office and asked her to marry
him. She wondered anew, as she had wondered a thousand times, if
anything other than a wish for a housekeeper had prompted him. She
remembered her misgivings--how she had read into him qualities which she
had believed all these years were not there. But hadn't her intuition
been justified, after all, by the very man she had seen tonight? Yes,
her first feeling, that he was something finer, still in the rough, had
been correct. She had thought it was his shyness, his unaccustomedness
to women that had made him such a failure as a lover--and all the while
it had been simply that she was not the right woman. When love touched
him, he became a veritable white light.

All these years when he had been so cold, so hard toward her, it simply
was because he disliked her. She remembered the day she was hurt, and
the night her first baby came. Martin's brutality even now kindled in
her a dull blazing anger, and as she realized what depths of feeling
were in him, his callousness seemed intensified an hundred-fold. Well,
she was having her revenge. All his life he had thwarted her, stolen
from her, used her as one could not use even a hired hand, worked her
more as a slave-driver hurries his underlings that profits may mount;
now, by her mere existence, she was thwarting him. She saw him again as
he had flashed before her when he had talked of Rose and she admitted
bitterly to herself, what in her heart she had known all along--that if
Martin could have loved her, she could have worshipped him. Instead,
he had slowly smothered her, but she had at least a dignity in the
community. He should not harm that. If they were unhappy, at least no
one knew it. Her pride was her refuge. If that were violated she felt
life would hold no sanctuary, that her soul would be stripped naked
before the world.

But why was she afraid? Didn't Martin have his own position to think of?
What if he had said nothing was to be compared to his new-found love
for Rose. What stupidity on his part not to realize that it was his very
position, power and money that commanded her respect. Did he command
anything else from her? Mrs. Wade reviewed the evening. Yes, response
had been in Rose's laugh, in every movement. Hadn't she always adored
Martin, even as a tiny girl? Hadn't there always been some mystic bond
between them? How she had envied them then. But if Martin were to go to
her with only his love? From the depths of her observations of people
she took comfort. He might stir his lovely Rose of Sharon to the
uttermost, had he been free he might have won her for his wife--but
would it be possible for fifty-four to hold the attention of twenty for
long if he had nothing but his love to offer?

Such thoughts were hurrying through her heated mind as Martin slowly
laid himself beside her. He said nothing, but lost himself in a flood of
ceaseless ponderings. After stretching some of the tiredness out of his
throbbing muscles, he relaxed and lay quietly, trying to recall exactly
what he had said. Did his wife suspect that there might be no truth in
the remark that Rose would never know how he felt toward her? At moments
he felt that the girl already divined it, again he was not so sure. It
was hard to be certain, but the more he thought about it the more hope
he began to feel that she would yet be wholly his. Her admiration and
trust belonged to him now, but there might be moral scruples which he
would have to overcome. There would be the difficulty of convincing
her that she would be doing her aunt no wrong. She would gain courage,
however, from his own heedlessness. That same daring which he had just
shown with the older Rose and which had impressed her into silence would
eventually move his flower to him. He had thrown down the bars. Secrecy
was now out of the question and it was well that he was moving thus in
the open. Rose might shrink at first from the plain-spokenness of the
situation, but this phase would soon pass and then the fact that she
knew he was not hiding his love for her even from his wife would make
it far easier to press his suit and possibly to bring it to a swift
consummation.

He must win her! He must. He had been mad to admit to himself, much less
to his Rag-weed, that there was any doubt of this outcome. It might take
a few more days, a week, not longer than that. But what should he do
when Rose gave the message to him? Could he go away with her? This
bothered him for a while. Of course, he would have to. He could not send
his wife away. The community would not tolerate this. Martin knew
his neighbors. He did not care a snap for their good opinion, but he
realized exactly how much they could hurt him if he violated their
prejudices beyond a certain point. Fortunately, there are millions of
communities in the world. This one would rise against him and denounce,
another would accept them as pleasant strangers. He might be taken for
Rose's father! He would fight this with tireless care. Yes, he would
have to go away. But his business interests--what about his farm, his
cattle, his machinery, his bank stock, his mortgages, his municipal
bonds? How wonderful it would be if he could go with her to the
station--his securities in a grip, his other possessions turned into a
bank draft! But this woman lying at his side--the law gave her such a
large share.

Cataclysmic changes were taking place in the soul of Martin Wade. The
very thing which, without being able to name, he had dreaded a short
week ago in the garage, was hovering over him, casting its foreboding
shadow of material destruction. His whole system of values was being
upset. He felt an actual revulsion against property. What was it all
compared to his Rose? He would throw it at his wife's feet--his wife's
feet and Bill's. Let them take every penny of it--no, not every penny.
He would need a little--just a thousand or two to start with and then
the rest would come easily, for he knew how to make money. And how
liberal that would be.

He could see himself as he would go forth with Rose, leaving behind the
woman he had never loved and all that he had toiled so many years
to amass. It seemed fair--the property for which he had lusted so
mercilessly left for the woman with whom he had lived so dully, left
as the ransom to be paid for his liberty. So he and his Rose of Sharon
would walk away--walk, because even the car would be surrendered--and he
would be free with the only woman for whom he had ever yearned.

Would she be happy for long? His pride answered "yes," but against
his will he pictured himself being dumped ruthlessly into the pitiless
sixties while Rose still lingered in the glorious twenties. This was
a most unpleasant reflection and Martin preferred to dismiss it. That
belonged to tomorrow. He would wait until then to fight tomorrow's
battles. His mind came back to the property again. Wasn't it rather
impetuous to surrender all? Wouldn't it be unfair to Rose to be so
generous to his wife? She had Bill. In a few years he would be old
enough to run the farm. Until then, with his help and good hired hands,
she could do it herself. Why not leave it and the goods on it to her and
take the mortgages and bonds with him? Rose was joy. He could hold her
more securely with comforts added to his great love. Her happiness had
to be thought of, had to be protected.

He could tell that his wife was still awake. He might begin to talk and
maybe they could arrange a settlement. But he was getting too tired for
a discussion that might invite tears and even a fit of hysterics, like
the one she had gone through before their first child came dead. He
could see her still as she looked that morning in the barn crying:
"You'll be punished for this some day--you will--you will. You don't
love me, but some time you will love some one. Then you'll understand
what it is to be treated like this--" It gave him the creeps now to
remember it. It was like one of those old incantations; almost like a
curse. What if some day his Rose should grow to be as indifferent, feel
as little tenderness toward him as he had felt toward his wife at that
moment. The pain of it made him break out into a fine sweat. But he
hadn't understood. What had he understood until this love had come into
his life! He would never do a thing as cruel as that now. Come to think
of it, the older Rose wasn't acting like a bad sort. But then, when it
came to a show-down she might not be so magnanimous as she had appeared
tonight.

Mrs. Wade was still thinking. She also was measuring possibilities and
clairvoyantly sensing what was going on in her husband's mind. She, too,
was sure that Rose would capitulate to him. She felt a deep sympathy
for the girl. Martin had said it himself--he was too old for her. Her
happiness lay with youth. And yet, how could one be so certain? Love was
so illusive, so capricious! Did it really bow to the accident of years?
Had she, Rose Wade, the right to snatch from anyone's hands the most
precious gift of life? Wouldn't she have sold her very soul, at one
time, to have had Martin care for her like this? Oh, if the child were
wise she would not hesitate! She would drink her cup of joy while it
was held out to her brimming full. A strange conclusion for a staid
churchwoman like Mrs. Wade, but her rich humanity transcended all her
training. She wondered if there could be anything in the belief that
there was waiting somewhere for each soul just one other. There were
people, she knew, who thought that. Rose had drawn out all that was
finest in Martin--she had transformed him into a lover, and if she
wanted the man, himself, she could have him. But, decided his wife, he
could not take with him the things which her sweat and blood had helped
to create. She would give him a divorce, but her terms would be as
brutal as the Martin with whom she had lived these twenty years, and who
now took it for granted that she would let him do whatever he chose.
She was to be made to step aside, was she, with no weapon with which to
strike back and no armor with which to protect herself? Well, there
was one way she might hit him--one. She would strike him in his weakest
point--his belongings. Yes, Martin Wade might leave her but all his
property must be left behind--every cent of it. There should be a
contract to that effect; otherwise, she would fight as only a frenzied
woman can fight.

The two of them, lying there side by side as quietly as if in death,
each considered the issue settled. She would let him go without his
property; Martin would leave with half of it. And through all the long
wordless controversy, their little Rose of Sharon, a few yards away,
slept as only a tired child can sleep.



VIII. THE DUST SMOTHERS

WHEN Martin opened his eyes, next morning, he realized with a start that
he had overslept, which was a new experience for one whose life had been
devoted so consistently to hard toil; and he saw with a sharper start,
that his wife, who always got up about a half hour earlier than himself,
was not even yet awake. He wondered what had come over him that he
should have committed such a sin, and as his tired mind opened one of
its doors and let the confused impressions flutter out, he countenanced
a luxury as unusual as the impulse that had sent him townward the
evening before to bring home the Victrola. Instead of jumping out
hastily so that he might attend to his hungry, bellowing stock, he lay
quietly marshalling the new incidents of his life into a parade which he
ordered to march across the low ceiling.

He could not comprehend what the tornado had been about. There had been
so little on which to base the excitement--so little that he was puzzled
as to what had caused the scene with his wife. And as he reflected, it
seemed highly unlikely to him that he would ever permit himself to do
anything that might jeopardize his whole life, topple over the structure
that decades of work had built. Why, it was scarcely less than suicidal
to let a stranger come into his heart and maybe weaken his position.
He remembered his last thought before falling asleep. It appeared
unutterably rash, though when hit upon, it had been a decision that
moderated a more extreme action. Now he realized that it was the
very acme of foolishness deliberately to sacrifice half his fortune,
especially the farm itself, to which he had given so many years of
complete concentration. Certainly, if Rose were ready to be his, he
might not hesitate even a second; but this flower was still to be won by
him, and this morning, aware of what scant grounds he had upon which
to venture any forecasts, he felt as full of doubt as he had been
of confidence last night. It had been a saddening experience, but
fortunate, for all that, inasmuch as nothing serious had come of it,
except that he was greatly sobered. Martin could not understand that
mysterious something which had risen up in his nature and threatened to
wreck a carefully-built life. It was his first meeting with the little
demon that rebels in a man after he thinks his character and his
reactions thoroughly established, and he shuddered as he realized how
close the strange imp had pulled him to the precipice. Yesterday, that
precipice had seemed a new paradise; now it was a yawning chasm--and he
drew back, frightened.

Cows, horses, sheep, pigs, chickens, turkeys, dogs, barn cats--all do
not remain patient while the man who owns them lies in bed dreaming
dreams. They wait a while and then get nervous. The many messages for
food which they sent to Martin forced him to spring out of bed and hurry
to them, for nothing is as unbearably insistent as a barn and yard full
of living things clamoring their determination to have something to eat.
As Martin ran to stop the bedlam, he saw the world as an enormous, empty
stomach, at the opening of which he stood, hurling in the feed as fast
as his muscles would permit. It was all there was to farming--raising
crops and then shovelling the hay and the grain into these stomachs.
Martin stood back a few feet and with loving eyes watched his animals
enjoy their food. Here were the creatures he loved. The fine herd of
Holstein cows--their big eyes looked at him with such trust! And their
black and white markings--so spick and span with shininess because he
threw salt on them that each cow might lick the other clean--their heavy
milk veins, great udders, and backs as straight as a die--all appealed
to his sense of the beautiful. "God Almighty!" he thought, "but they're
wonders! There's none like them west of Chicago." The mule colts, so
huge and handsome, and oh, so knowing! made him chuckle his pride and
satisfaction in a muttered: "Man's creation, are you, you fine young
devils? Well, you're a credit, the lot of you, to whoever deserves it."
His eyes wandered over the rest of his stock, swept his wide realm. It
was all a very part of himself. Yes, here was his life--here was his
world. It would be the height of folly to leave it.

At breakfast, his wife ate sullenly, refusing to be drawn into the
conversation, but by a wise compression of her lips and a flicker of
amusement in her eyes, which seemed to say: "Oh, if only you could see
how absurd you appear," she contrived very cleverly to render Martin
miserably self-conscious. Hampered by this new and unexpected feeling,
his attempts to be pleasant fell flat and he lapsed into his old
grimness, while Rose, eating quickly, confined her remarks to her
determination to go to town in search of a job. Had Martin not talked
as he had to his wife he would have been able, undoubtedly, to disregard
her and to continue the line of chatter which he had hit upon so happily
and which he had never suspected was in him. But the fact, not so much
that she knew, but that from this vantage point of knowledge she was
ridiculing him, was too much for even his self-possession. It made the
light banter impossible. Especially, as there was no doubt that Rose did
not seem anxious for it.

For Martin had not been the only member of that household who had held
early communion with himself. The girl had sat long and dreamily at
her dressing table--the dainty one of rich, dark mahogany that Uncle
Martin's thoughtfulness had provided. It seemed unbelievable, but
there was no use pretending she was mistaken--Uncle Martin, Aunt Rose's
husband, was falling in love with her. She felt a little heady with the
excitement of it. He was so different from the callow youths and dapper
fellows who had heretofore worshipped at her shrine. There was something
so imposing, so important about him. She was conscious that a man so
much older might not appeal to many girls of her age, but it so happened
that he did appeal to her. She would be able to have everything she
wished, too--didn't she know how good, how kind, how tender he could
be. And her heart yearned toward him--he was so clearly misunderstood,
unhappy. But what about Aunt Rose? Well, then, why had she let herself
get to be so ugly? She looked as if the greases of her own kitchen stove
had cooked into her skin, thought the girl, mercilessly. Didn't she know
there was such a thing as a powder puff? Women like that brought their
own troubles upon themselves, that's what they did. And she was an old
prude, too. Anyone could see with half an eye that she didn't like the
idea of Uncle Martin learning to dance--why, she didn't even like his
getting the Victrola--when it was just what both he and Bill had been
wanting. But for all that she was her aunt, her own mother's sister and,
poor dear, she was a good soul. It would probably upset her awfully and
besides, oh well, it just wasn't right.

Before her mirror Rose blushed furiously, quite ashamed of the light way
in which she had been leading Uncle Martin on. "But I haven't said one
solitary thing auntie couldn't have heard," she justified herself.
Oh, well, no harm had been done. But she mustn't stay here, that was
certain. She wouldn't say so, or hurt their feelings, for she wanted to
be on the best of terms with them always, but she would stop flirting
with Uncle Martin and just turn him back into a dear good friend. She
hoped she was clever enough to do that much. And the dark-brown curls
received a brushing that left no doubt of the vigor of her decisions.

She insisted that she go to Fallon that morning.

"I've been here eight whole days, Uncle Martin," she announced firmly,
"eight whole days and haven't tried to get a thing. It's terrible, isn't
it, Aunt Rose, how lazy I am. I'm going to have Bill take me in right
straight after breakfast."

"If you're so set on it, I'll see about your position this afternoon,"
conceded Martin reluctantly. "We'll drive in in the car."

"Oh, Uncle Martin," she coaxed innocently, "let me try my luck alone
first. Bill can tell me who the different men are and if I know he's
waiting for me outside in the buggy, it will keep me from being scared."
And her young cousin, only too pleased with the proposed arrangement,
chimed in with: "That's the stuff, Rose. Folks have got to go it on
their own, to get anywhere."

By evening she had a position in an insurance agent's office with wages
upon which she could live with fair decency. As it had rained all day
and her employer wanted her to begin the next morning, she had the best
possible excuse for renting a room in Fallon and asking Bill to ride
in horseback with some things which she would ask Aunt Rose, over the
telephone, to pack. It rained all the next day, too, and Sunday, when
she met Mrs. Wade and Bill at church, she told them she had some extra
typing she had promised to do by Monday. "No, auntie, this week it is
really and truly just impossible, but next week--honest and true!"
she insisted as the older woman seconded rather impersonally her son's
urgent invitation to chicken and noodles.

Soon winter was upon them in good earnest, and Rose's visits "home," as
she always called it, were naturally infrequent. By Christmas time, she
was receiving attentions from Frank Mall, Nellie's second son, a young
farmer of twenty-five.

To Mrs. Wade's everlasting credit, she never twitted Martin with this,
although she knew it from Rose's own lips, a month before he heard of
it through Bill. She was too grateful for their narrow escape to feel
vindictive and might have convinced herself they had merely endured a
bad nightmare if it had not been for the shiny Victrola; the sight of it
underscored the whole experience and she wished there were some way
to get rid of the thing, a wish that was echoed even more fervently by
Martin. In the evenings they would sit around the cleared supper table,
she doing odd jobs of mending, Martin reading, checking up the interest
dates on his mortgages or making entries in his account book, while Bill
at his books, would study to the accompaniment of record after record,
blissfully unconscious of what a thorn in the flesh he and his music
were to both his parents.

It was all so unpleasant. To Mrs. Wade it brought up pictures. And it
made Martin feel sheepish--the way he had felt that afternoon, decades
ago, as he sat in the bakery eating a chocolate ice-cream soda and
watching her walk across the Square. He would have told Bill to quit
playing it--more than once the sharp words were on his tongue--but
memories of the enthusiasm he had evinced the night he brought it home
kept him silent. He was afraid of what the boy might say, afraid he
might put two and two together, so he let it stay, although with his
usual caution he had arranged for a trial and would have felt justified
in packing it back as soon as the roads had permitted. Illogically, he
felt it was all Bill's fault that he must endure this annoyance.

That fall, the boy started to high school in Fallon, making the long
daily ride to and from town on horseback. He was a good pupil and the
hours he spent with his lessons were precious; they made the farm drift
away. To his mind, which was opening like a bud, it seemed that history
was the recorded romance of men who were everything but farmers. School
books told fascinating stories of conquerors, soldiers, inventors,
writers, engineers, kings, statesmen and orators. He would sit and dream
of the doers of great deeds. When he read of Alexander the Great, Bill
was he. He was Caesar and Napoleon, Washington and Lincoln, Grant and
Edison and Shakespeare. When railroads were built in the pages of his
American History, it was Bill, himself, no less, who was the presiding
genius. His imagination constructed and levelled, and rebuilt and
remade.

One beautiful November afternoon, in his Junior year, at the sound of
the last bell, which usually found him cantering out of town, he went
instead to the school reading-room, and, sitting down calmly, opened his
book and slowly read. The clock ticked off the seconds he was stealing
from his father; counted the minutes that had never belonged to Bill
before, but which now tasted like old wine on the palate. He cuddled
down, lost to the world until five o'clock, when the building was
closed. He left it only to march down a few blocks to the town's meager
library, where another hour flew past. Gradually an empty feeling in his
middle region became increasingly insistent, and briefly exploring his
pockets, Bill decided upon a restaurant where he bought a stew and rolls
for fifteen cents. Never had a supper tasted so satisfying. After it,
he strolled around the town, feeling a pleasant warmth in his veins, a
springiness to his legs, a new song in his heart. It was so good to be
free to go where he pleased, to be his own master, if only for a stolen
hour, to keep out of sight of a cow or a plow. He wondered why he had
never done this before.

It was youth daring Fate, without show or bravado or fear; rolling the
honey under his tongue and drawing in its sweetness; youth, that lives
for the moment, that can be blind to the threatening future, that can
forget the mean past; youth slipping along with some chewing-gum between
his teeth and a warm sensation in his stew-crammed stomach, whistling,
dreaming, happy; youth, that can, without premeditation, remain away
from home and leave udders untapped and pigs unfed; sublime enigma;
angering bit of irresponsibility to the Martins of a fiercely practical
world. Bill was that rare kind of boy who could pull away from the
traces just when he seemed most thoroughly broken to the harness.

It was ten o'clock before he got his pony out of the livery barn and
started for home. Even on the way, he refused to imagine what would
happen. He entered the house quietly, as though to tell his father that
it was his next move, and setting his bundle of books on a chair, he
glanced at his mother. She was at the stove, where an armful of kindling
had been set off to take the chill out of the house. She looked at him
mysteriously, as though he were a ghost of some lost one who had strayed
in from a graveyard, but she said nothing. Bill did not even nod to her.
He fumbled with his books, as though to keep them from slipping to the
floor when, quite obviously, they were not even inclined to leave the
chair. Rose let her eyes fall and then slide, under half-closed lids,
until they had Martin in her view. She looked at him appealingly, but
he was staring at a paper which he was not reading. He had been in this
chair for two hours, without a word, pretending to be studying printed
words which his mind refused to register. Martin had done Bill's share
of the chores, with unbelief in his heart. He had never imagined such a
thing. Who would have thought it could happen--a son of his!

His wife broke the silence with:

"What happened, Billy? Were you sick?"

"No, mother, I wasn't sick."

Martin was still looking at his paper, which his fists gripped tightly.

"Then you just couldn't get home sooner, could you? Something you
couldn't help kept you away, didn't it?"

Bill shook his head slowly. "No," he answered easily. "I could have come
home much sooner."

"Billy, dear, what DID happen?" She was beginning to feel panicky; he
was courting distress.

"Nothing, mother. I just felt like staying in the reading-room and
reading--"

"Oh, you HAD to do some lessons, didn't you! Miss Roberts should have
known better--"

"I didn't have to stay in--I wanted to."

Martin still kept silent, his eyes looking over the newspaper wide open,
staring, the muscles of his jaw relaxed. The boy was quick to sense that
he was winning--the simple, non-resistance of the lamb was confounding
his father.

"I wanted to stay. I read a book, and then I took a walk, and then I
dropped in at the restaurant for a bite, and then I walked around some
more, and then I went to a movie."

"Billy, what are you saying?"

Martin, slowly putting down his paper, remarked without stressing a
syllable:

"You had better go to bed, Bill; at once, without arguing."

Bill moved towards the parlor, as though to obey. At the door he stopped
a moment and said: "I wasn't arguing; I was just answering mother. She
wanted to know."

"She does not want to know."

"Then I wanted her to know that I don't intend to work after school
any more. I'll do my chores in the morning, but that's all. From now on
nobody can MAKE me do anything."

"I am not asking you to do anything but go to bed."

"I don't intend to come home tomorrow afternoon until I'm ready. Or any
afternoon. And if you don't like it--"

"Billy!" his mother cried; "Billy! go to bed!"

The boy obeyed.

Bill was fifteen when this took place. The impossible had happened. He
had challenged the master and had won. Even after he had turned in, his
father remained silent, feeling a secret respect for him; mysteriously
he had grown suddenly to manhood. Martin was too mental to let anger
express itself in violence and, besides, strangely enough, he felt no
desire to punish; there was still the dislike he had always felt for
him--his son who was the son of this woman, but though he would never
have confessed aloud the satisfaction it gave him, he began to see there
was in the boy more than a little of himself.

"Poor Billy," his mother apologized; "he's tired."

"He didn't say he was tired--"

"Then he did say he was tired of working evenings."

"That's different."

"Yes, it's different, Martin; but can you make him work?"

"No, I don't intend to try. He isn't my slave."

With overwhelming pride in her eyes, pride that shook her voice, she
exclaimed: "Not anybody's slave, and not afraid to declare it. Billy is
a different kind of a boy. He doesn't like the farm--he hates it--"

"I know."

"He loathes everything about it. Only the other day he told me he wished
he could take it and tear it board from board, and leave it just a piece
of bleak prairie, as it was when your father brought you here, Martin."

"You actually mean he said he would tear down what took so many years
of work to build? This farm that gives him a home and clothes and feeds
him?"

"He did, Martin. And he meant it--there was hatred burning in his eyes.
There's that in his heart which can tear and rend; and there's that
which can build. Oh, my unhappy Billy, my boy!"

"Don't get hysterical. What do you want me to do? Have I said he must
work?"

"No, but you have tried to rub it into his soul and it just can't be
done. You're not to be blamed for being what you are, nor is Billy--I'll
milk his cows."

"I'm not asking that."

"But I will, Martin."

"And let him stand by and watch you?"

"Put it that way if you will. Billy must get away from here. I see that
now."

"I haven't suggested it."

"But I do. I want him to be happy. We'll let him board in Fallon the
rest of the year. The butter and egg money will be enough to carry him
through. It won't cost much. If we don't send him, he'll run away. I
know him. He's my boy, and your son, Martin. I won't see him suffer in a
strange world, learning his lessons from bitter experiences. I want him
to be taken care of."

"Very well, have it as you say. I'm not putting anything in the way. I
thought this was his home, but I see it isn't. It isn't a prison. He can
go, and good luck go with him." And after a long silence: "He would tear
down this farm--the best in the county! Tear it down--board from board!"



IX. MARTIN'S SON SHAKES OFF THE DUST

THE very next day, Mrs. Wade rented a room for Bill in the same home in
which Rose boarded, and for the rest of the winter she and Martin went
on as before--working as hard as ever and making money even faster,
while peace settled over their household, a peace so profound that, in
her more intuitive moments, Bill's mother felt in it an ominous quality.

The storm broke with the summer vacation and the boy's point-blank
refusal to return to farm work. His father laid down an ultimatum: until
he came home he should not have a cent even from his mother, and home he
should not come, at all, until he was willing to carry his share of the
farm work willingly, and without further argument. "You see," he pointed
out to his wife, "that's the thanks I get for managing along without
him this winter. The ungrateful young rascal! If he doesn't come to his
senses shortly--"

"Oh, Martin, don't do anything rash," implored Mrs. Wade. "Nearly all
boys go through this period. Just be patient with him."

But even she was shaken when his Aunt Nellie, over ostensibly for an
afternoon of sociable carpet-rag sewing, began abruptly: "Do you know
what Bill is doing, Rose?"

"Working in the mines," returned his mother easily. "Isn't it strange,
Nellie, that he should be digging coal right under this farm, the very
coal that gave Martin his start?"

"Well, I'm not going to beat about the bush," continued her
sister-in-law abruptly. "He's working in the mines all right, but he
isn't digging coal at all, though that would be bad enough. I wouldn't
say a word about it, but I think you ought to know the truth and put a
stop to such a risky business--he's firing shots."

Rose's heart jumped, but she continued to wind up her large ball with
the same uninterrupted motion.

"Are you sure?"

"I made Frank find out for certain. It's an extra dangerous mine because
gas forms in it unusually often, and he gets fifteen dollars a day
for the one hour he works. There's a contract, but he's told them he's
twenty-one, and when you prove he's under age they'll make him stop."

Rose still wound and wound, her clear eyes, looking over her glasses,
fixed on Nellie.

"It's bad enough, I'll say," rapped out the spare, angular woman, "to
have everybody talking about the way Martin has ditched his son, without
having the boy scattered to bits, or burned to a cinder. Already he's
been blown twenty feet by one windy shot, and more than once he's had to
lie flat while those horrible gases burned themselves out right over his
head. His 'buddie,' the Italian who fires in the other part of the mine
at the same time, told Harry Brown, the nightman, and he told Frank,
himself. Why, they say if he'd have moved the least bit it would have
fanned the fire downward and he'd have been in a fine mess. Sooner or
later all shot-firers meet a tragic end. You want to put your foot down,
Rose, and put it down hard--for once in your life--if you can," she
added, half under her breath.

"It isn't altogether Martin's fault," began Rose, but Nellie cut her off
with a short: "Now, don't you tell me a word about that precious brother
of mine! It's as plain to me as the nose on your face that between his
bull-headed hardness and your wishy-washy softness you're fixing to ruin
one of the best boys God ever put on this earth."

"I'll talk to Billy," Rose promised.

It was the first time she ever had found herself definitely in
opposition to her boy, but she felt serene in the confidence of her
own power to dissuade him from anything so perilous. She understood the
general routine of mining, and had been daily picturing him going down
in the cage to the bottom, travelling through a long entry until he
was under his home farm and located in one of the low, three-foot rooms
where a Kansas miner must stoop all day. Oh, how it had hurt--that
thought of those fine young shoulders bending, bending! She had
visualized him filling his car, and mentally had followed his coal as it
was carried up to the surface to be dumped into the hopper, weighed and
dropped down the chute into the flat cars. Of course, there was always
the danger of a loosened rock falling on him, but wasn't there always
the possibility of accidents on a farm, too? Didn't the company's man
always go down, first, into the mine to test the air and make certain
it was all right? Rose had convinced herself that the risk was not so
great, after all, though she could not help sharing a little of her
husband's wonder that the boy could prefer to work underground instead
of in the sweet, fresh sunshine. But she had thought it was because in
the desperation of his complete revolt from Martin's domination
anything else seemed to him preferable. Now, in a lightning flash, she
understood. This reaction from a life whose duties had begun before
sun-up and ended long after sundown, made danger seem as nothing in
comparison with the marvellous chance to earn a comfortable living with
only one hour's work a day.

Her conversation with Bill proved that she had been only too right. The
boy was intoxicated with his own liberty. "I know I ought to have told
you, mother," he confessed. "I wanted to. Honest, I did, but I was
afraid you'd worry, though you needn't. The man who taught me how to
fire has been doing it over twenty years. A lot of it's up to a fellow,
himself. You can pretty near tell if the air is all right by the way
it blows--the less the better it is. And if you're right careful to see
that the tool-boxes the boys leave are all locked--so's no powder can
catch, you know--and always start lighting against the air, so that if
there's gas and it catches the fire'll blow away from you instead of
following you up--and if you examine the fuses to see they're long
enough and the powder is tamped in just right--each miner does that
before he leaves and lots of firers just give 'em a hasty once-over
instead of a real look--and then shake your heels good and fast after
you do fire--"

"Billy!" Rose was white. "I can't bear it--to hear you go on so lightly,
when it's your life, your LIFE, you're playing with. For my sake, son,
give it up."

With an odd sinking of the heart, she observed the expression in his
face which she had seen so often in his father's--the one that said as
plainly as words that nothing could shake his determination. "A fellow's
got a right to some good times in this world," he said very low, "and
I'm getting mine now. I'm not going to grind away and grind away all my
life like father and you've done. If anything did happen I'd have had a
chance to dream and think and read instead of getting to be old without
ever having any fun out of it all. Maybe you won't believe it, but
some days for hours I just lie in the sun like a darky boy, not even
thinking. Gee! it feels great! And sometimes I read all day until I have
to go to the mine. There's one thing I'm going to tell you square," he
went on, a firm ring in his voice, boyish for all its deep, bass note,
"I'm never going back to the farm, never! Mother," he cried, suddenly,
coming over to take her hand in both his. "Will you leave father? We
could rent a little house and you'd have hardly anything to do. I'm
making more than lots of men with families. And I'd give you my envelope
without opening it every pay-day." "Oh, Billy, you don't know what
you're saying! I couldn't leave your father. I couldn't think of it."

"What I don't see is how you can stand it to stay with him. He's always
been a brute to you. He's never cared a red cent for either of us."

Rose was abashed before the harsh logic of youth. "Oh, son," she
murmured brokenly, "there are things one can't explain. I suppose it may
seem strange to you--but his life has been so empty. He has missed so
much! Everything, Billy."

"Then it's his own fault," judged the boy. "If ever anybody's always had
his own way and done just as he darn pleased it's father. I wish he'd
die, that's what I wish."

"Bill!" His mother's tone was stern.

"There you are!" he marvelled. "You must have wished it lots of times
yourself. I know you have. Yet you always talk as if you loved him."

In Rose's eyes, the habitual look of patience and understanding
deepened. How could Bill, as yet scarcely tried by life, comprehend the
purging flames through which she had passed or realize time's power to
reveal unsuspected truths.

"When you've been married to a man nearly twenty-two years and have
built up a place together, there's bound to be a bond between you," she
eluded. "He just lives for this farm. It's almost as dear to him as
you are to me, son, and it's a wonderful heritage, Bill, a magnificent
heritage. Just think! Two generations have labored to build it out of
the dust. Your father's whole life is in it. Your father's and mine. And
your grandmother's. If only you could ever come to care for it!"

Bill fidgeted uneasily. "You mean you want me to go on with it?"
he demanded. "You want me to come back to it, settle down to be a
farmer--like father?"

The tone in which he asked this question made Rose choose her words
carefully.

"What are your plans, son? What do you want to be--not just now, but
finally?"

"I can't see what difference it makes what a fellow is--except that in
one business a man makes more than in another. And I can't see either
that it does a person a bit of good to have money. I'm having more fun
right now than father or you ever had--more fun than anybody I know.
Mother," and his face was solemn as if with a great discovery, "I've
figured it out that it's silly to do as most people--just live to work.
I'm going to work just enough to live comfortably. Not one scrap more,
either. You can't think how I hate the very thought of it."

Rose sighed. Couldn't she, indeed! She understood only too well how
deeply this rebellion was rooted. The hours when he had been dragged up
from the far shores of a dreamful slumber to shiver forth in the
chill darkness to milk and chore, still rankled. Those tangy frosty
afternoons, when he had been forced to clean barns and plow while the
other boys went rabbit and possum hunting or nutting, were afternoons
whose loss he still mourned. Nothing had yet atoned for the evenings
when he had been torn from his reading and sent sternly to bed
because he must get up so early. Always work had stolen from him these
treasures--dreams, recreation and knowledge. He had been obliged to
fight the farm and his father for even a modicum of them--the things
that made life worth living. And the irony of it--that eventually it
would be this farm and Martin's driving methods which, if he became
reconciled to his father, would make it possible for him to drink all
the fullness of leisure.

It was too tragic that the very thing which should have stood for
opportunity to the boy had been used to embitter him and drive him into
danger. But he must not lose his birthright. An almost passionate desire
welled in Rose's heart to hold on to it for him. True, she too had been
a slave to the farm. Yet not so much a slave to it, she distinguished,
as to Martin's absorption in its development. And of late years there
had been for her, running through all the humdrum days, a satisfaction
in perfecting it. In her mind now floated clearly the ideal toward which
her husband was striving. She had not guessed how much it had become her
own until she felt herself being drawn relentlessly by Bill's quiet,
but implacable determination to have her leave it all behind. If only he
would try again, she felt sure all would be so different! His father
had learned a lesson, of that she was positive, and though he would
not promise it, would not be so hard on the boy. And with this new
independence of Bill's to strengthen her, they could resist Martin more
successfully as different issues came up. She could manage to help her
boy get what he wanted out of life without his having to pay such a
terrible price as, the mine on one hand, and his father's displeasure on
the other, might exact, for she knew that if he persisted too long, the
break with Martin could never be bridged and that in the end his father
would evoke the full powers of the law to disinherit him and tie her own
hands as completely as possible in that direction.

But she was far too wise to press such arguments in her son's present
mood. They would have to drift for a while, she saw that clearly, until
she could gradually impress upon him how different farming would be if
he were his own master. In time, he might even come to understand how
much Martin needed her.

"Say you will," Bill, pleading, insistent, broke in on her train of
reflections, "I've always dreamed of this day, when we'd go away, and
now it's come. I can take care of you."

As he stood there, a glorious figure in his youthful self-confidence, a
turn of his head reminded her a second time of Martin, recalling sharply
the way her husband had looked the night he told her of his love for
the other Rose. He had been bothered by no fine qualms about abandoning
herself. She thought of his final surrender of love to wisdom. It was
only youth that dared pursue happiness--to purchase delicious idleness
by gambling with death. Billy was her boy. His dreams and hopes should
be hers; her way of life, the one that gave him the most joy. She would
follow him, if need be, to the end of the earth.

"Very well, son," she said simply, her voice breaking over the few
words. "If a year from now you still feel like this, I'll do as you
wish."

"You don't know how I hate him," muttered the boy. "It's only when I'm
tramping in the woods, or in the middle of some book I like that I can
forgive him for living. No, mother, I don't mean all that," he laughed,
giving her a bear-like hug.

It was in this more reasonable side, this ability to change his point of
view quickly when he became convinced he was wrong, that Mrs. Wade now
put her faith. She would give him plenty of rope, she decided, not
try to drive him. It would all come right, if she only waited, and she
prayed, nightly, with an increasing tranquillity, that he might be kept
safe from harm, taking deep comfort in the new light of contentment that
was gradually stealing into his face. After all, each one had to work
out his destiny in his own way, she supposed.

It was less than a month later that her telephone rang, and Rose, calmly
laying aside her sewing and getting up rather stiffly because of her
rheumatism, answered, thinking it probably a call from Martin, who had
left earlier in the evening, to wind up a little matter of a chattel on
some growing wheat. It had just begun to rain and she feared he might be
stuck in the road somewhere, calling to tell her to come for him. But it
was not Martin's voice that answered.

"Mrs. Wade?"

"Yes."

"Why"--there was a forbidding break that made her shudder. A second
later she convinced herself that it seemed a natural halt--people do
such things without any apparent cause; but she could not help shaking a
little.

"Is it about Mr. Wade?" and as she asked this question she wondered why
she had spoken her husband's name when it was Bill's that really had
rushed through her mind.

"No, ma'am, it ain't about Martin Wade I'm callin' you up, it ain't him
at all--"

"I see." She said this calmly and quietly, as though to impress her
informant and reassure him. "What is it?" It was almost unnecessary to
ask, for she knew already what had happened, knew that the boy had flung
his dice and lost.

"It's your son, Mrs. Wade; it's him I'm a-callin' about. We're about to
bring him home to you--an'--and I thought it'd be better to call you up
first so's you might expect us an' not take on with the suddenness of
it all. This is Brown--Harry Brown--the nightman at the mine down here.
We've got the ambulance here and we're about ready to start." There was
an evenness about the strange voice that she understood better than its
words. If Bill had been hurt the man would have been quick and jerky in
his speaking as though he were feeling the boy's pain with him; but he
was so even about it all--as even as Death.

"Then I'll phone for Dr. Bradley so he'll be here by the time you come,"
said Rose, wondering how she could think of so practical a thing. Her
mind had wrapped itself in a protecting armor, forbidding the shock of
it all to strike with a single blow. She couldn't understand why she was
not screaming.

"You can--if you want to, but Bill don't need him, Mrs. Wade,--he's
dead."

Slowly she hung up the receiver, the wall still around her brain,
holding it tight and keeping her nerves taut, afraid to release them
for fear they might snap. She stood there looking at the receiver as her
hands came together.

As though she were talking to a person instead of the telephone before
her, she gasped: "So--so THIS is what it has all been for--this. Into
the world, into Martin's world--and this way out of it. Burned to
death--Billy."

The rain had lessened a little and now the wind began to shake the
house, rattle the windows and scream as it tore its way over the plains.
The sky flared white and the world lighted up suddenly, as though the
sun had been turned on from an electric switch. At the same instant she
saw a bolt of lightning strike a young tree by the roadside, heard the
sharp click as it hit and then watched the flash dance about, now on
the road, now along the barbed wire fencing. Then the world went black
again. And a rumble quickly grew to an earth-shaking blast of thunder.
It was as though that tree were Billy--struck by a gush of flying fire.
The next bolt broke above the house, and the light it threw showed
her the stripling split and lying on the ground. In the impenetrable
darkness she realized that the house fuse of their Delco system must
have been blown out, and she groped blindly for a match. She could hear
the rain coming down again, now in rivers. There was unchained wrath in
the downpour, viciousness. It was a madman rushing in to rend and tear.
It frothed, and writhed, and spat hatred. Rose shook as though gripped
by a strong hand. She was afraid--of the rain, the lightning, the
thunder, the darkness; alone there, waiting for them to bring her Billy.
She was too terrified to add her weeping to the wail of the wind--it
would have been too ghastly. Would she never find a match! As she lit
the lamp, like the stab of a needle in the midst of agony, came the
thought of how long it had been after Martin had put in his electrical
system and connected up his barns before she had been permitted to have
this convenience in the house. What would he think now? She wished he
were home. Anyone would be better than this awful waiting alone. She
could only stand there, away from the window, looking out at the sheets
of water running down the panes and shivering with the frightfulness and
savageness of it all.

Her ears caught a rumble, fainter than thunder, and the splash of
horses' hoofs--"it's too muddy for the motor ambulance," she thought,
mechanically. "They're using the old one," and her heart contracting,
twisting, a queer dryness in her throat, she opened the door as they
stopped, her hand shading the lamp against the sudden inrush of wind and
rain. "In there, through the parlor," she said dully, indicating the
new room and thinking, bitterly, as she followed them, that now, when
it could mean nothing to Billy, Martin would offer no objections to its
being given over to him.

The scuffling of feet, the low, matter-of-fact orders of a directing
voice: "Easy now, boys--all together, lift. Watch out; pull that
sheet back up over him," and a brawny, work-stooped man saying to her
awkwardly: "I wouldn't look at him if I was you, Mrs. Wade, till the
undertaker fixes him up," and she was once more alone.

As if transfixed, she continued to stand, looking beyond the lamp,
beyond the bed on which her son's large figure was outlined by the
sheet, beyond the front door which faced her, beyond--into the night,
looking for Martin, waiting for him to come home to his boy. She asked
herself again and again how she had been so restrained when her Billy
had been carried in. After what seemed interminable ages, she heard
heavy steps on the back porch and knew that her husband had returned
at last. He brought in with him a gust of wind that caused the lamp to
smoke. She held it with both hands, afraid that she might drop it, and
carrying it to the dining-room table set it down slowly, looking at him.
He seemed huger than ever with his hulk sinking into the gray darkness
behind him. There was something elephantine about him as he stood there,
soaked to the skin, bending forward a little, breathing slowly and
deeply, his fine nostrils distending with perfect regularity, his face
in the dim light, yellow, with the large lines almost black. He was
hatless and his tawny-gray hair was flat with wetness, coming down
almost to his eyes, so clear and far-seeing.

"What's the matter with the lights? Fuse blown out?" he asked, spitting
imaginary rain out of his mouth.

Rose did not answer.

"Awful night for visiting," Martin announced roughly, as he took off his
coat. "But it was lucky I went, or all would have been pretty bad
for me. Do you know, that rascal was delivering the wheat to the
elevator--wheat on which I held a chattel--and I got to Tom Mayer just
as he was figuring up the weights. You should have seen Johnson's face
when I came in. He knew I had him cornered. 'Here,' I said, 'what's up?'
And that lying rascal turned as white as death and said something about
getting ready to bring me a check. I told him I was much obliged, but
I would take it along with me--and I did. Here it is--fourteen hundred
dollars, plus interest. And I got it by the skin of my teeth. I didn't
stop to argue with him for I saw the storm coming on. I went racing, but
a half mile north I skidded into the ditch. I really feel like leaving
the car there all night, but it would do a lot of damage. I'll have
to get a team and drag it in. I call it a good day's work. What do you
say?" He looked at her closely, for the first time noticing her drawn
face and far-away look.

"What's the matter? You look goopy--"

Rose settled herself heavily in the rocker close to the table.

"You're not sick, are you?"

She shook her head a few times and answered: "He's in there--"

"Who?" Martin straightened up ready for anything.

"Billy--"

"Oh!" A light flashed into Martin's face. "So he has come back, has he?
Back home? What made him change toward this place? Is he here to stay?"

"No, Martin--"

"Then if he hasn't come to his senses, what is he doing here--here in my
house, the home he hates--"

"He doesn't hate it now," Rose replied, struggling for words that she
might express herself and end this cruel conversation, but all she could
do was to point nervously toward the spare room.

"What is he doing in there? It's the one spot that Rose can call her
own, poor child."

"He's on the bed, Martin--"

"What's the matter with the davenport he's always slept on? Is he sick?
What in heaven's name is going on in this house?"

As Martin started toward the bedroom, his wife opened her lips to tell
him the truth but the words refused to come; at the same instant it
struck her that not to speak was brutal, yet just. She would let
Martin go to this bed with words of anger on his lips, with feelings of
unkindness in his heart. She would do this. Savage? Yes, but why not?
There seemed to be something fair about it. Then her heart-strings
pulled more strongly than ever. No; it was too hard. She must stop him,
tell him, prepare him. But before the words came, he was out of the room
and when she spoke he did not hear her because of the rain.

He saw the vague lines of the boy's body, hidden by the sheet, and
thought quickly, "Bill's old ostrich-like trick," and while at the same
instant something told him that a terrible thing had happened, the idea
did not register completely until he had his hand on the linen. Then,
with a short yank, he pulled away the cover and saw the boy's head. Dark
as it was, it was enough to show him the truth. With a quick move he
covered him again. There was a smeary wetness on his fingers, which he
wiped away on the side of his trousers. They were drenched with rain,
but he distinguished the sticky feel of blood leaving his hand as he
rubbed it nervously.

His first emotion was one of anger with Rose. He was sure she had played
this sinister jest deliberately to torture him and he had fallen into
the trap. He wanted to rush back into the other room and strike her
down. He would show her! But he dismissed this impulse, for he did not
want her to see him like this, no hold on himself and his mind without
direction. Sitting there, she would have the advantage. Without so much
as a sound except for the slight noise he made in walking, Martin went
through the parlor towards the front door and out to the steps, where he
leaned for a moment against the weather-boarding, letting the rain fall
on him as he stared dully down at the ground. It felt good to stand
there. No eyes were on him, and the rain was refreshing. This had
been too much for him. Never had he known himself to be so near to
bewilderment. How fortunate that he had escaped by this simple trick of
leaving the house. Then he thought of the car--a half-mile north--and
the horses in the stable. He must do something. He would bring the car
into the garage. It was relieving to hurry across the dripping grass
toward the barn. How wonderful it was to keep the body doing something
when the breath in him was short, his heart battering like an engine
with burned-out bearings, his brain in insane chaos. As he applied a
match to the lantern he thought of his wife again, and his face regained
its scowl.

Only when he had his great heavy team in the yard, his lantern hanging
from his arm, the reins in his hands, and was pulling back with all his
strength as he followed the horses--only then did he permit himself to
think about the tragedy that had befallen.

"He's dead--killed," he groaned. "It had to come. Shot-firers don't last
long. Whoa, there, Lottie; not so fast, Jet, whoa!" His protesting team
in control again, he trudged heavily behind. "It's terrible to die that
way--not a chance in a thousand. And a kid of sixteen didn't have the
judgment--couldn't have. But Bill knew what he was facing every evening.
He didn't go in blindly. They'll blame me, as though it was my fault.
I didn't want him to go there. I wanted him to take a hand here, to run
the place by himself in good time. It was his mother who sent him away
first." He went on like that, justifying himself more positively as
excuse after excuse suggested itself.

Not until he had convinced himself that he was in no way responsible,
did he allow his heart to beat a little for this boy of his. "Poor
Bill," he thought on, "it has been a tough game for him. Lost in the
shuffle. Born into something he didn't like and trying to escape, only
to get caught. What did he expect out of life, anyway? Why didn't
he learn that it's only a lot of senseless pain? Every moment of it
pain--from coming into the world to going out. Oh, Bill, why didn't you
learn what I know? You had brains, boy, but it would have been better
if you had never used them. I've brains, too, but I've always managed
to keep them tied down--buckled to the farm, to investments, and
work--thinking about things that make us forget life. It's all dust and
dust, with rain once in a while, only the rain steams off and it's dust
again."

Martin began to review the course of his own past, and smiled bitterly.
Others were able to live the same kind of an existence, but, unlike
himself, took it as a preparation for another day, another existence
which, it seemed to him, was measured and cut to order by professionals
who understood how to fix up the meaning of life so that it would
soothe and satisfy. He thought how much better it was to be a dumb,
unquestioning beast, or a human being conscious of his soul, than to be
as he was--alone, a materialist, who saw the meaninglessness of
matter and whose mind, in some manner which he did not understand, had
developed a slant that made him doubt what others accepted so easily as
facts. Martin knew he was bound to things of substance but he followed
the lure of property and accumulation as he might have followed some
other game had he learned it, knowing all along that it was a delusion
and at the same time acknowledging that for him there was nothing else
as sufficing.

How simple, if Bill's future could be a settled thing in his mind as
it was to the boy's mother. Or his own future! If only he could
believe--then how different it would be for him. He could go on placidly
and die with a smile. But he could not believe. His atheism was both
mental and instinctive. It was something he could not understand, and
which he knew he could never change, try as he might. Take this very
evening. Here was death in his home. And he was escaping a lot of
anguish, not by praying for Bill's soul or his own forgiveness, but by
the simple process of harnessing a team and dragging a car through the
mud. It was a great game, work was--the one weapon with which to meet
life. This was not a cut and dried philosophy with him, but a glimmer
that, though always suggesting itself but dimly, never failed when put
to the test. Martin felt better. He began to probe a little farther,
albeit with an aimlessness about his questions that almost frightened
him. He asked himself whether he loved Bill, now that he was dead, and
he had to admit that he did not. The boy had always been something other
than he had expected--a disappointment. Did he love anyone? No. Not a
person; not even any longer that lovely Rose of Sharon who had flowered
in his dust for a brief hour. His wife? God Almighty, no. Then who?
Himself? No, his very selfishness had other springs than that. He was
one of those men, not so uncommon either, he surmised, who loved no one
on the whole wide earth.

When he re-entered the house, he found his wife still seated in the
rocker, softly weeping, the tears flowing down her cheeks and dropping
unheeded into her lap. He pitied her.

"I feel as though he didn't die tonight," she mourned, looking at Martin
through full eyes. "He died when he was born, like the first one."

"I know how you feel," said Martin, sympathy in his voice.

"I made him so many promises before he came, but I wasn't able to keep a
single one of them."

"I'm sorry; I wish I could help you in some way."

"Oh, Martin, I know you're not a praying man--but if you could only
learn."

Martin looked at her respectfully but with profound curiosity.

"There must be an answer to all this," Rose went on brokenly. "There
must! Billy is lying in the arms of Jesus now--no pain, only sweet rest.
I believe that."

"I'm glad you have the faith that can put such meaning into it all."

"Martin, I want to pray for strength to bear it."

"Yes, Rose."

"You'll pray with me, won't you?"

"You just said I wasn't a praying man."

"Yes, but I can't pray alone, with him in there alone, too, and you here
with me, scoffing."

"I can't be other than I am, Rose; but you pray, and as you pray I'll
bow my head."



X. INTO THE DUST-BIN

WITH the loss of her boy, time ceased to exist for Rose. The days came
and went, lengthening into years, full of duties, leaving her as they
found her, outwardly little changed and habitually calm and kind, but
inwardly sunk in apathy. She moved as if in a dream, seeming to live
in a strange world that would never again seem real--this world without
Billy. Occasionally, she would forget and think he was out in the field
or down in the mine; more rarely still, she would slip even further
backward and wonder what he was about in his play. During these moments
she would feel normal, but some object catching her eye would jerk her
back to the present and the cruel truth. She and Martin had less than
ever to say to each other, though in his own grim way he was more
thoughtful, giving her to understand that there were no longer any
restrictions laid upon her purchasing, and even suggesting that they
remodel the house; as if, she thought impassively, at this late day, it
could matter what she bought or in what she lived. His one interest in
making money, just as if they had some one to leave it to, puzzled
her. Always investing, then reinvesting the interest, and spending
comparatively little of his income, his fortune had now reached the
point where it was growing rapidly of its own momentum and, as there was
nothing to which he looked forward, nothing he particularly wanted to
do, he set himself the task of making it cross the half million mark,
much as a man plays solitaire, to occupy his mind, betting against
himself, to give point to his efforts.

Yet, it gave him a most disconcerting, uncanny start, when one bright
winter day, he faced the fact that he, too, was about to be shovelled
into the great dust-bin. Death was actually at his side, his long, bony
finger on his shoulder and whispering impersonally, "You're next." "Very
much," thought Martin, "like a barber on a busy Saturday." How odd
that here was something that had never entered into his schemes, his
carefully worked out plans! It seemed so unfair--why, he had been
feeling so well, his business had been going on so profitably, there
was something so substantial to the jog of his life, there seemed to be
something of the eternal about it. He had taken ten-year mortgages but a
few days ago, and had bought two thousand dollars' worth of twenty-year
Oklahoma municipals when he could have taken an earlier issue which he
had rejected as maturing too soon. He had forgotten that there was a
stranger who comes but once, and now that he was here, Martin felt that
a mean trick had been played on him. He cogitated on the journey he
was to take, and it made him not afraid, but angry. It was a shabby
deal--that's what it was--when he was so healthy and contented, only
sixty-one and ready to go on for decades--two or three at least--forced,
instead, to prepare to lay himself in a padded box and be hurriedly
packed away. It had always seemed so vague, this business of dying, and
now it was so personal--he, Martin Wade, himself, not somebody else,
would suffer a little while longer and then grow still forever.

He would never know how sure a breeder was his new bull--the son of that
fine creature he had imported; two cows he had spotted as not paying
their board could go on for months eating good alfalfa and bran before
a new herdsman might become convinced of their unreadiness to turn the
expensive feed into white gold; he had not written down the dates when
the sows were to farrow, and they might have litters somewhere around
the strawstack and crush half the little pigs. His one hundred and
seventy-five acres of wheat had had north and south dead furrows, but he
had learned that this was a mistake in probably half the acreage, where
they should be east and west. It would make a great difference in the
drainage, but a new plowman might think this finickiness and just go
ahead and plow all of it north and south, or all of it east and west and
this would result in a lower yield--some parts of the field would get
soggy and the wheat might get a rust, and other parts drain too readily,
letting the ground become parched and break into cakes, all of which
might be prevented. And there was all that manure, maker of big crops.
He knew only too well how other farmers let it pile up in the barnyard
to be robbed by the sun of probably twenty per cent of its strength. He
figured quickly how it would hurt the crops that he had made traditional
on Wade land. He considered these things, and they worried him, made
him realize what a serious thing was death, far more serious than the
average person let himself believe.

Martin had gone to the barn a week before to help a cow which was
aborting. It had enraged him when he thought what an alarming thing
this was--abortion among HIS cows--in Martin Wade's beautiful herd!
"God Almighty!" he had exclaimed, deciding as he took the calf from the
mother to begin doctoring her at once. He would fight this disease
before it could establish a hold. Locking the cow's head in an iron
stanchion, he had shed his coat, rolled up his right sleeve almost to
the shoulder, washed his hand and arm in a solution of carbolic and hot
water, carefully examining them to make sure there was no abrasion
of any kind. But despite his caution, a tiny cut so small that it had
escaped his searching, had come in contact with the infected mucous
membrane and blood poisoning had set in. And here he was, lying in bed,
given up by Doctor Bradley and the younger men the older physician had
called into consultation and who had tried in vain to stem the spread of
poison through his system. Martin was going to die, and no power could
save him. The irony of it! This farm to which he had devoted his life
was taking it from him by a member of its herd.

Martin made a wry little grimace of amusement as he realized suddenly
that even at the very gate of death it was still on life, his life,
that his thoughts dwelt. In these last moments, it was the tedious,
but stimulating, battle of existence that really occupied his full
attention. He would cling to it until the last snap of the thin string.
This cavern of oblivion that was awaiting him, that he must enter--it
was black and now more than ever his deep, simple irreligion refused
to let fairy tales pacify him with the belief that beyond it was
everlasting daylight. Scepticism was not only in his conscious thought
but in the very tissues of his mind.

He remembered how his own father had died on this farm--he had had
no possessions to think about; only his loved ones, his wife and his
children; but he had brought them here that they might amass property
out of Martin's sweat and the dust of the prairie. Now he, the son,
dying, had in his mind no thought of people, but of this land and of
stock and of things. And how strangely his mind was reacting to it. His
concern was not who should own them all, but what would actually be
the fate of each individual property child of his. Why, he had not even
written a will. It would all go to his wife, of course, and how little
he cared to whom she left it. He would have liked, perhaps, to have
given Rose Mall twenty-five thousand or so--so she could always be
independent of that young husband of hers--snap her fingers at him if he
got to driving her too hard, and crushing out the flower-like quality of
her--but his wife wouldn't have understood, and he had hurt her enough,
in all conscience. The one thing he might have enjoyed doing, he
couldn't. Outside of that he didn't care who got it. She could leave it
to whomever she liked when her turn came. Not to whom it went, but what
would happen to it--that was what concerned him.

By his side, Rose, sitting so motionless that he was scarcely conscious
of her presence, was dying with him. With that peculiar gift of
profoundly sympathetic natures she was thinking and feeling much of what
he was experiencing. It seemed to her heart-breaking that Martin must
be forced to abandon the only things for which he cared. He had even
sacrificed his lovely Rose of Sharon for them--she had never been in any
doubt as to the reason for that sudden emotional retreat of his seven
years before. And she knew his one thought now must be for their
successful administration.

He had worked so hard always and yet had had so little happiness,
so little real brightness out of life. She felt, generously, with a
clutching ache, that with all the disappointments she had suffered
through him--from his first broken promises about the house to his lack
of understanding of their boy which had resulted in Billy's death--with
even that, she had salvaged so much more out of living than he. A great
compassion swelled within her; all the black moments, all the long, gray
hours of their years together, seemed suddenly insignificant. She saw
him again as he had been the day he had proposed marriage to her and for
the first time she was sure that she could interpret the puzzling look
that had come into his eyes when she had asked him why he thought she
could make him happy. What had he understood about happiness? With a
noiseless sob, she remembered that he had answered her in terms of the
only thing he had understood--work. And she saw him again, too, as he
had been the night he had so bluntly told her of his passion for Rose.
It seemed to her now, free of all rancor, unutterably tragic that the
only person Martin had loved should have come into his life too late.

He was not to be blamed because he had never been able to care for
herself. He should never have asked her to marry him--and yet, they had
not been such bad partners. It would have been so easy for her to love
him. She had loved him until he had killed her boy; since then, all her
old affection had withered. But if it really had done so why was she so
racked now? She felt, desperately, that she could not let him go
until he had had some real joy. To think that she used to plan,
cold-bloodedly, when Billy was little, all she would do if only Martin
should happen to die! The memory of it smote her as with a blow. She
looked down at the powerful hand lying so passively, almost, she would
have said, contentedly, in her own. How she had yearned for the comfort
of it when her children were born. She wondered if Martin realized her
touch, if it helped a little. If it had annoyed him, he would have said
so. It came to her oddly that in all the twenty-seven years she and her
husband had been married this was the very first time he had let her
be tender to him. Oh, his life had been bleak. Bleak! And she with such
tenderness in her heart. It hadn't been right. From the depths of her
rebellion and forgiveness, slow tears rose. Feeling too intensely, too
mentally, to be conscious of them she sat unmoving as they rolled one by
one down her cheeks and dropped unheeded.

"Rose," he called with a soft hoarseness, "I want to talk to you."

"Yes, Martin," and she gave his fingers a slight squeeze as though to
convince him that she was there at his side. He felt relieved. It was
good to feel her hand and be sure that if his body were to give its
final sign that life had slipped away someone would be there to know the
very second it had happened. It was a satisfactory way to die; it took a
little of the loneliness away from the experience.

"Rose," he repeated. It sounded so new, the yearning tone in which he
said it--"Rose!" It hurt. "Isn't it funny, Rose, to go like this--not
sick, no accident--just dying without any real reason except that I
absorbed the poison through a cut so small my eyes couldn't see it."

"It's a mystery, dear," the little word limped out awkwardly, "but God's
ways are not ours."

"Not a mystery," he corrected, "just a heap of tricks; funny ones, sad
ones, sensible ones, and crazy ones--and of all the crazy ones this is
the worst. But, what's the use? If there's a God, as you believe,
it doesn't do any good to argue with Him, and if it's as I think and
there's no God, there's no one to argue with. But never mind about that
now--it's no matter. You'll listen carefully, won't you, Rose?"

"Yes, Martin."

"This abortion in the herd. You know what a terrible thing it is."

"I certainly do; it's the cause of your leaving me."

"Rose, I know you'll be busy during the next few days--me dying, the
things that have to be arranged, the funeral and all that. But when it's
all over, you'll let that be the first thing, won't you?"

"Yes, the very first thing, if you wish it."

"I do. Get Dr. Hurton on the job at once, and have him fight it. He
knows his business. Let him come twice a day until he's sure it's out
of the herd. Keep that new bull out of the pasture. And if Hurton can't
clean it up, you'd better get rid of the herd before it gets known
around the country. You know how news of that kind travels. Don't try to
handle the sale yourself. If you do, it'll be a mistake. The prices will
be low if you get only a county crowd."

"Neighbors usually bid low," she agreed.

"Run up to Topeka and see Baker--he's the sales manager of the Holstein
Breeders' Association. Let him take charge of it all--he's a straight
fellow. He'll charge you enough--fifteen per cent of the gross receipts,
but then he'll see to it that the people who want good stuff will be
there. He knows how and where to advertise. He's got a big list of
names, and can send out letters to the people that count. He'll bring
buyers from Iowa down to Texas. Remember his name--Baker."

"Yes, Martin--Baker."

"I think you ought to sell the herd anyway," he went on. "I know you,
Rose; you'll be careless about the papers--no woman ever realizes how
important it is to have the facts for the certificates of registry
and transfer just right. I'm afraid you'll fall down there and get the
records mixed. You won't get the dates exact and the name and number of
each dam and sire. Women are all alike there--they never seem to realize
that a purebred without papers is just a good grade."

Rose made no comment, while Martin changed his position slowly and lost
himself in thought.

"Yes, I guess it's the only thing to do--to get rid of the purebred
stuff. God Almighty! It's taken me long enough to build up that herd,
but a few weeks from now they'll be scattered to the four winds. Well,
it can't be helped. Try to sell them to men who understand something
of their value. And that reminds me, Rose. You always speak of them as
thoroughbreds. It always did get on my nerves. That's right for horses,
but try to remember that cows are purebreds. You'll make that mistake
before men who know. Those little things are important. Remember it,
won't you?"

"Thoroughbred for a horse, and purebred for a cow," Rose repeated
willingly.

"When you get your money for the stock put it into mortgages--first
mortgages, not seconds. Let that be a principle with you. Many a holder
of a second mortgage has been left to hold the sack. You must remember
that the first mortgage comes in for the first claim after taxes, and
if the foreclosure doesn't bring enough to satisfy more than that, the
second mortgage is sleeping on its rights."

"First mortgages, not seconds," said Rose.

"And while I'm on that, let me warn you about Alex Tracy, four miles
north and a half mile east, on the west side of the road. He's a
slippery cuss and you'll have to watch him."

"Alex Tracy, four miles north--"

"You'll find my mortgage for thirty-seven hundred in my box at the bank.
He's two coupons behind in his interest. I made him give me a chattel on
his growing corn. Watch him--he's treacherous. He may think he can sneak
around because you're a woman and stall you. He's just likely to turn
his hogs into that corn. Your chattel is for growing corn, not for corn
in a hog's belly. If he tries any dirty business get the sheriff after
him."

"It's on the GROWING corn," said Rose.

"And here's another important point--taxes. Don't pay any taxes on
mortgages. What's the use of giving the politicians more money to waste?
Hold on to your bank stock and arrange to have all mortgages in the
name of the bank, not in your own. They pay taxes on their capital and
surplus, not on their loans. But be sure to get a written acknowledgment
on each mortgage from Osborne. He's square, but you can't ever tell what
changes might take place and then there might be some question about
mortgages in the bank's name."

"Keep them in the bank's name," said Rose.

"And a written acknowledgment," Martin stressed.

"A written acknowledgment," she echoed.

For probably fifteen minutes he lay without further talk; then, a little
more weariness in his voice than she had ever known before, he began to
speak again.

"I've been thinking a great deal, Rose." There was still that new
tenderness in the manner in which he pronounced her name, that new
tone she had never heard before and which caused her to feel a little
nervous. "I've been thinking, Rose, about the years we've lived together
here on a Kansas prairie farm--"

"It lacks just a few months of being twenty-eight years," she added.

"Yes, it sounds like a long time when you put it that way, but it
doesn't seem any longer than a short sigh to me lying here. I've been
thinking, Rose, how you've always got it over to me that you loved me or
could love me--"

"I've always loved you, Martin--deeply."

"Yes, that's what's always made me so hard with you. It would have been
far better for you if you hadn't cared for me at all. I've never loved
anybody, not even my own mother, nor Bill, nor myself for that matter."
Their eyes shifted away from each other quickly as both thought of one
other whom he did not mention. "I wasn't made that way, Rose. Now you
could love anything--lots of women are like that, and men, too. But I
wasn't. Life to me has always been a strange world that I never got over
thinking about and trying to understand, and at the same time hustling
to get through with every day of it as fast as I could by keeping at the
only thing I knew which would make it all more bearable. There's a lot
of pain in work, but it's only of the muscles and my pain has always
been in the things I've thought about. The awful waste and futility of
it all! Take this farm--I came here when this was hardly more than a
desert. You ought to have seen how thick the dust was the first day
we got down here. And I've built up this place. You've helped me. Bill
didn't care for it--even if he had lived, he'd never have stayed here.
But you do, in spite of all that's happened."

"Yes, Martin, I do," she returned fervently. "It's a wonderful monument
to leave behind you--this farm is."

His eyes grew somber. "That's what I've always thought it would be," he
answered, very low. "I've felt as if I was building something that would
last. Even the barns--they're ready to stand for generations. But this
minute, when the end is sitting at the foot of this bed, I seem to see
it all crumbling before me. You won't stay here. Why should you--even
if you do for a few years you'll have to leave it sometime, and there's
nothing that goes to rack and ruin as quickly as a farm--even one like
this."

"Oh, Martin, don't think such thoughts," she begged. "Your fever is
coming up; I can see it."

"What has it all been about, that's what I want to know," he went on
with quiet cynicism. "What have I been sweating about--nothing. What
is anyone's life? No more than mine. We're all like a lot of hens in a
backyard, scratching so many hours a day. Some scratch a little deeper
than those who aren't so skilled or so strong. And when I stand off
a little, it's all alike. The end is as blind and senseless as the
beginning on this farm--drought and dust."

Martin closed his eyes wearily and gave a deep sigh. To his wife's
quickened ears, it was charged with lingering regret for frustrated
plans and palpitant with his consciousness of life's evanescence and of
the futility of his own success.

She waited patiently for him to continue his instructions, but the
opiates had begun to take effect and Martin lapsed into sleep.
Although he lived until the next morning, he never again regained full
consciousness.



XI. THE DUST SETTLES

ROSE'S grief was a surprise to herself; there was no blinking the fact
that her life was going to be far more disrupted by Martin's death than
it had been by Bill's. There were other differences. Where that loss
had struck her numb, this quickened every sensibility, drove her into
action; more than that, as she realized how much less there was to
regret in the boy's life than in his father's, how much more he had got
out of his few short years, the edge of the older, more precious sorrow,
dulled. During quite long periods she would be so absorbed in her
thoughts of Martin that Bill would not enter her mind. Was it possible,
that this husband who with his own lips had confessed he had never
loved her, had been a more integral part of herself than the son who had
adored her? What was this bond that had roots deeper than love? Was it
merely because they had grown so used to each other that she felt as
if half of her had been torn away and buried, leaving her crippled and
helpless? Probably it would have been different if Bill had been living.
Was it because when he had died, she still had had Martin, demanding,
vital, to goad her on and give the semblance of a point to her life,
and now she was left alone, adrift? She pondered over these questions,
broodingly.

"I suppose you'll want to sell out, Rose," Nellie's husband, Bert Mall,
big and cordial as Peter had been before him, suggested a day or two
after the funeral. "I'll try to get you a buyer, or would you rather
rent?"

"I haven't any plans yet, Bert," Mrs. Wade had evaded adroitly, "it's
all happened so quickly. I have plenty of time and there are lots
of things to be seen to." There had been that in her voice which had
forbidden discussion, and it was a tone to which she was forced to have
recourse more than once during the following days when it seemed to her
that all her friends were in a conspiracy to persuade her to a hasty,
ill-advised upheaval.

Nothing, she resolved, should push her from this farm or into final
decisions until a year had passed. She must have something to which she
could cling if it were nothing more than a familiar routine. Without
that to sustain and support her, she felt she could never meet the
responsibilities which had suddenly descended, with such a terrific
impact, upon her shoulders.

In an inexplicable way, these new burdens, her black dress--the first
silk one since the winter before Billy came--and the softening folds of
her veil, all invested her with a new and touching majesty that seemed
to set her a little apart from her neighbors.

Nellie had been frankly scandalized at the idea of mourning. "Nobody
does that out here--exceptin' during the services," she had said sharply
to her daughter-in-law when Rose had told her of the hasty trip she and
her aunt had made to the largest town in the county. "Folks'll think
it's funny and kind o' silly. You oughtn't to have encouraged it."

"Oh, Mother Mall, I didn't especially," the younger woman had protested.
"She just said in that quiet, settled way she has, that she was going
to--she thought it would be easier for her. And I believe it will, too,"
she added, feeling how pathetic it was that Aunt Rose had never looked
half so well during Uncle Martin's life as she had since his death.

"Oh, well," Mall commented, "Rose always was sort of sentimental, but
there's not many like her. She's right to take her time, too. It'll be
six or eight months, anyway, before she can get things lined up. She's
got a longer head than a body'd think for. Look at the way she run that
newspaper office when old Conroy died."

"That was nearly thirty years ago," commented his wife crisply, "and
Rose's got so used to being bossed around by Martin that she'll find it
ain't so easy to go ahead on her own."

With her usual shrewdness, Nellie had surmised the chief difficulty,
but it dwindled in real importance because of the fact that Rose so
frequently had the feeling that Martin merely had gone on a journey
and would come home some day, expecting an exact accounting of her
stewardship. His instructions were to her living instructions which must
be carried out to the letter.

She had attended with conscientious promptness to checking the trouble
that had brought about his death. "I promised Mr. Wade it should be the
first thing," she had explained to Dr. Hurton. "'You'll let it be the
first thing, won't you?' Those were his very words. He depended on us,
Doctor."

When the time came to plan definitely for the disposal of the purebred
herd, she went herself to Topeka to arrange details with Baker. She was
constantly thinking: "Now, what would Martin say to this?" or "Would he
approve of that?" And her conclusions were reached accordingly. The
sale itself was an event that was discussed in Fallon County for years
afterwards. The hotel was crowded with out-of-town buyers. Enthused by
the music from two bands, even the local people bid high, and through
it all, Rose, vigilant, remembered everything Martin would have wanted
remembered. She felt that even he would have been satisfied with
the manner in which the whole transaction was handled, and with the
financial results.

She began to take a new pleasure in everything, the nervous pleasure one
takes when going through an experience for what may be the last time.
The threshing--how often she had toiled and sweated over those three
days of dinners and suppers for twenty-two men. Now she recalled,
with an aching tightness about her heart, how delicious had been her
relaxation, when, the dinner dishes washed, the table reset and the
kitchen in scrupulous order with the last fly vanquished, she and Nellie
had luxuriated in that exquisite sense of leisure that only women know
who have passed triumphantly through a heavy morning's work and have
everything ready for the evening. Later there had been the stroll down
to the field in the shade of the waning afternoon, to find out what time
the men would be in for supper; and the sheer delight of breathing
in the pungent smell of the straw as it came flying from the funnel,
looking, with the sinking sun shining through it, like a million bees
swarming from a hive, while the red-brown grain gushed, a lush stream,
into the waiting wagon.

"It always makes me think of a ship sailing into port, Nellie," Rose
had once exclaimed, "the crop coming in. It gives me a queer kind of
giddiness, makes me feel like laughing and crying all at once," to which
her sister-in-law had returned with more than her usual responsiveness:
"Yes, it's the most excitin' time of the year, unless it's Christmas."

More nebulous were the memories of those early mornings when she had
paused in the midst of getting breakfast to sniff in the clover-laden
air and think how wonderful it would be if only she needn't stay in the
hot, stuffy kitchen but could be free to call Bill and go picnicking or
loaf deliciously under one of the big elms. Most precious of all--the
evenings she and her boy had sat in the yard, with the cool south breeze
blowing up from the pasture, the cows looking on placidly, the frogs
fluting rhythmically in the pond, the birds chirping their good-night
calls, and the dip and swell of the farm land pulling at them like
a haunting tune, almost too lovely to be endured. Oh, there had been
moments all the sweeter and more poignant because they had been so
fleeting.

As she passed successfully through one whole round of planting,
harvesting and garnering of grain, she began to realize her own ability
and to be tempted more and more seriously to remain on the farm. She
understood it, and Martin would have liked her to run it. If it had not
been for the problem of keeping dependable hired hands and the sight
of the mine-tipple, which, towering on the adjoining farm, reminded her
more and more constantly of Bill, she would not even have considered the
offer of Gordon Hamilton, one of Fallon's leading business men, to buy
her whole section.

"There's a bunch going into this deal, together, Rose," Bert Mall
explained. "They want to run a new branch of their street car line
straight through here and they're going to plat this quarter into
streets and lots. The rest they'll split up into several farms and rent
for the present. It's a speculation, of course, but the way the mines
are moving north and west it's likely this'll be a thickly settled camp
in another two or three years."

"But they only offer seventy-five an acre," Rose expostulated, "and it's
worth more than that as farm land. There's none around here as fertile
as Martin made this--and then, all the improvements!"

"They'll have to dispose of them second-hand. It's a pity they're in
exactly the wrong spot. Well, of course, I'm not advising you, Rose," he
added, "but forty-five thousand ain't to be sneezed at, is it, when it
comes in a lump and you own only the surface? You may wait a long while
before you get another such bid. Seems to me you've worked hard enough.
I'd think you'd want a rest."

In the end, Mrs. Wade capitulated to what, as Martin had foreseen so
clearly, was sooner or later inevitable. She was a little stunned by
the vast amount of available money now in her possession and at her
disposal. "But it's all dust in my hands," she thought sadly. "What do
I want of so much? It's going to be a terrible worry. I don't even know
who to leave it to," and she sighed deeply, pressing her hands, with her
old, characteristic gesture, to her heart. Everybody would approve,
she supposed, if she left it to Rose and Frank--her niece and Martin's
nephew--but she couldn't quite bring herself to welcome that idea--not
yet. And anyway it might be better to divide it among more people, so
that it would bring more happiness.

Her own needs were simple. The modest five-room house which she
purchased was set on a pleasant paved street in Fallon and was obviously
ample for her. She hoped that during part of each year she could rent
the extra bed-room to some one, preferably a boy, like Bill, who was
attending high school. There was a barn for her horse and the one cow
she would keep, a neat little chicken-house for the twenty-five hens
that would more than supply her with eggs and summer fries, and a small
garage for Martin's car. It would seem very strange, she thought, to
have so few things to care for and she wondered how she would fill her
time, she whose one problem always had been how to achieve snatches of
leisure. She saw herself jogging on and on, gradually getting to be less
able on her feet, a little more helpless, until she was one of those
feeble old ladies who seem at the very antipodes of the busy mothers
they have been in their prime. How could it be that she who had always
been in such demand, so needed, so driven by real duties, should have
become suddenly such a supernumerary, so footloose, and unattached?

But when it came to that, wasn't Fallon full of others in the same
circumstances? It was not an uncommon lot. There was Mrs. McMurray. Rose
remembered over what a jolly household she had reigned before she, too,
had lost her husband and three children instead of just one, like Billy.
Two of them had been grown and married. Now she was living in a little
cottage, all alone, doing sewing and nursing, yet always so brave and
cheerful; not only that, but interested, really interested in living.
And Mrs. Nelson. Her children were living and married and happy, but
she had given up her home, sold it--the pretty place with the hospitable
yard that used to seem to be fairly spilling over with wholesome,
boisterous boys and chatty, beribboned little girls. She was rooming
with a family, taking her meals at a restaurant, keeping up her zest
in tomorrow by running a shop. She thought of how her friend, Mrs.
Robinson, gracious, democratic woman of wide sympathies that she was,
had lived alone after David Robinson's death, taking his place as
president of the bank, during the years her only daughter, Janet, had
been off at college and later travelling around the country "on the
stage"--of all things for a daughter of Fallon. When hadn't the town
been full of these widowed, elderly women made childless alike by life
and by death? What others had met successfully, she could also, she
told herself sternly, and still the old Rose, still struggling toward
happiness, she tried to think with a little enthusiasm of her new life,
of the things she would do for others. One recreation she would be able
to enjoy to her heart's content when she moved into town--the movies.
They would tide her over, she felt gratefully. When she was too
lonely, she would go to them and shed her own troubles and problems by
absorption in those of others. She who had been married for years
and had borne two children without ever having had the joy of one
overwhelming kiss, would find romance at last, for an hour, as she
identified herself with the charming heroines of the films.

She was to surrender the farm and the crops as they stood in June,
but as there was to be no new immediate tenant in her old house it
was easily arranged that she could continue in it until the cottage in
Fallon would be empty in September.

Meanwhile, preparations were begun for the new car line which would pass
where the big dairy barn was standing. As the latter went down, board
by board, it seemed to Mrs. Wade that this structure which, in the
building, had been the sign and symbol of her surrender and heartbreak,
now in its destruction, typified Martin's life. It was as if Martin,
himself, were being torn limb from limb. All that he had built would
soon be dust. The sound of the cement breaking under the heavy sledges,
was almost more than she could bear. It was a relief to have the smaller
buildings dragged bodily to other parts of the farm.

Only once before in her memory had there been such a summer and such a
drought. The corn leaves burned to a crisp brown, the ground cracked and
broke into cakes and dust piled high in thick, velvety folds on weeds
and grass. It seemed too strange for words to see others harvest the
wheat and to know that the usual crop could not be put in.

Rose was thankful when her last evening came. Most of her furniture had
been moved in the morning, her boxes had left in the afternoon, and
the last little accessories were now piled in the car. As, hand on
the wheel, she paused a moment before starting, she was conscious of a
choking sensation. It was over, finished--she, the last of Martin, was
leaving it, for good. Before her rolled the quarter section, except for
the little box-house, as bare of fences and buildings as when the Wades
had first camped on it in their prairie schooner. With what strange
prophetic vision had Martin foreseen so clearly that all the
construction of his life would crumble. Would Jacob and Sarah Wade have
had the courage to make all their sacrifices, she wondered, if they had
known that she and she alone, daughter of a Patrick and Norah Conroy,
whom they had never seen, would some day stand there profiting by it
all? She thought of the mortgages in the bank and the bonds, of the
easier life she seemed to be entering. How strange that she whom
Grandfather and Grandmother Wade had not even known, she whom Martin
had never loved, should be the one to reap the real benefits from their
planning, and that the farm itself, for which her husband had been
willing to sacrifice Billy and herself, should be utterly destroyed. A
sudden breeze caught up some of the dust and whirling it around let
it fall. "Martin's life," thought Rose, "it was like a handful of dust
thrown into God's face and blown back again by the wind to the ground."





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