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´╗┐Title: God's Green Country - A Novel of Canadian Rural Life
Author: Chapman, Ethel M., 1888-1976
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 "God's Green Country - A Novel of Canadian Rural Life" ***

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God's Green Country

A NOVEL OF CANADIAN RURAL LIFE

By ETHEL M. CHAPMAN


THE RYERSON PRESS TORONTO 1922



  To
  The Memory of a Friend
  whose Vision Saw an Arcadia
  for Every Field of the Green Country
  and
  whose Brief Years of Sympathy and Service
  were Given to Make it Real for
  One Spot in Rural Ontario



CONTENTS


  Chapter I.            18
  Chapter II.           34
  Chapter III.          44
  Chapter IV.           57
  Chapter V.            72
  Chapter VI.           92
  Chapter VII.         107
  Chapter VIII.        114
  Chapter IX.          132
  Chapter X.           152
  Chapter XI.          178
  Chapter XII.         193
  Chapter XIII.        211
  Chapter XIV.         220
  Chapter XV.          230
  Chapter XVI.         245
  Chapter XVII.        252
  Chapter XVIII.       262
  Chapter XIX.         281



God's Green Country



CHAPTER I.

  "_Do you hear the children weeping, O my brothers,
    Ere the sorrow comes with years?
  They are leaning their young heads against their mothers,
    And that cannot stop their tears.
  The young lambs are bleating in the meadows;
    The young birds are chirping in their nest;
  The young fawns are playing with the shadows;
    The young flowers are blowing toward the West--
  But the young, young children, O my brothers,
    They are weeping bitterly!
  They are weeping in the playtime of the others,
    In the country of the free._"
                                --_Mrs. Browning._


Something was wrong--a little more than usual--at the Withers farm.

A spirit of foreboding seemed to hang in the quietness of the
untravelled road past the gate, in the clamorous squeaks of the new
litter of Tamworths in the barnyard, nosing sleepily into their
mother's side. It seemed to come up from the swamp in the spring
night's pollen-scented breath, like the air in a little close parlor
after an anchor of hyacinths has been carried out on a coffin.

Billy felt the weight in the atmosphere, but he was too young to
analyse it. Of all the old human emotions stirring the ten long
bitter years of his short life, fear had been the most exercised;
and it was fear that troubled him now--fear of his father. Because it
had been there always, he had never wondered about it. He knew that
somehow, in spite of it all, he would grow up--then he would put the
Swamp Farm and all he could forget about it as far away from him as
possible. In the meantime, with the merciful forgetfulness of
childhood, he enjoyed whatever passing pleasures came between. Just
now he was down by the milk-house with little Jean, bending over her
pathetic garden of four potato plants and a pansy. Billy had never
had a garden for himself. It was too much like playing. Besides, as
far back as he could remember he had had quite as much gardening as
he wanted, taking care of the "hoed crops." It was good, though, to
see Jean take the potato top affectionately in her little cupped
hands, proud that she had made it grow. Billy was glad she was a
girl, so she could have time for such things. Not that he minded
work, of course, he soliloquized. He remembered how he had begged
daily to go to help his grandfather before he died.

It was working with his father that was disagreeable. Come to think
of it, it was the dread of that more than anything else that was
bothering him to-night. In the morning the potato planting started.
It wasn't difficult to get help just then, but for some reason of his
own Dan Withers had decided to take Billy out of school and "break
him in" to farm work, just when he was getting ready to try the
entrance, too, and the entrance meant such a long step towards
qualifying for a job away from home!

Moreover, Billy liked to go to school. It was so different--to work
where the teacher showed you how without calling you a stupid--oh,
lots of names--and praised you sometimes. Remembering past
experiences working with his father his heart sank. Somehow he was
just beginning to wonder why, but not for years yet would he realize
the injustice of being brought into the world entirely without his
own willing, only to be made the prey of a chain of cruel
circumstances. He couldn't even see the reason for each individual
tribulation. Only his mother knew that, generally, and because she
knew and anticipated for the children, hers was a twofold suffering.

Dan Withers came out to the little sagging wooden porch and lit his
pipe. Judging from his physique he might have managed the tillable
acres of his Swamp Farm with one hand. Also he was not the
caricatured work-driven, grasping type of farmer, bent and
wooden-jointed and prematurely old, as a result of his struggle to
wrest a living from the elements. He had the build of an athlete
without the bearing--a laziness of movement and a slouch of the
shoulders that was almost insolent, except when he walked before a
crowd. He could command a military spine the instant it seemed worth
the effort. When the occasion required it the hard cunning in his
little brown eyes could take cover, leaving them as soft and honest
as a spaniel's. The coarseness of speech that had become a habit in
his own family could, with an effort, give way to a more refined
vernacular, as eloquent as it was unnatural. He was not a farmer from
choice; farm work irritated him. If some vocational expert could have
taken him young enough, and put him on the stage, he might have
developed into a master actor. As it was, his gift of address was
divided among various implement agencies. The run-down farm was a
hopeless sideline that supported the family.

Perhaps because Nature is always working to keep her balance and save
the race, Mary Withers was made of an entirely different kind of
clay. When she followed her husband out to the porch to-night it was
under the strain of preparation for one of the thousand battles
which, with her gentle, appealing logic, she tried to fight for her
children. Her intercessions were never of any avail, but she was no
strategist and she knew no other tactics. Moreover she had never been
trained to fight. She had come to Dan with no experience outside the
shelter of a rosemary, white-linen home, and he had taken the heart
out of her so suddenly and overwhelmingly directly after, that she
was not likely to ever take any very radical initiative again.

She brought her mending to the porch with her. It was too dark to
sew; but when she had to ask Dan for anything she always felt less
nervous if she had something in her hands. It was hard to begin.

"The fall wheat yonder is coming on nicely," she ventured cheerfully.

He pressed the hot tobacco into his pipe a little harder than was
necessary.

"Oh, yes," he conceded after some deliberation. "Things'll come along
nice enough, if a man slaves from one year's end to the other without
any help, like I'm fixed."

"I thought perhaps you could get Jonas to help with the potatoes
to-morrow. He isn't working."

"Oh, you did, did you? An' while you were thinkin' so active, did you
think where the money was comin' from to pay Jonas? I've throwed away
enough good money hirin' men. It don't ever occur to you, I suppose,
thet we've a boy of our own thet's never done much to pay for his
keep yet? He's got to take holt now."

"But he needs to be at school so badly, just now," she ventured
timidly. "The teacher called to-day to say she felt sure he'd pass
this summer if he could get to school regularly from now on."

"Well, you can tell the teacher for me, thet we ain't makin' no
professor out o' Bill. When I was ten year old I was harrowin' an
drivin' team, doin' a man's work. There was no school for me except
what I got in the winters. Spite o' that, though, I ain't such a fool
as you take me for. I can see as far into a mill stone as them that
picks it, an' I ain't more'n usual blind just now. You think what's
good enough fer me ain't good enough fer Bill. You don't care how
hard I work so's he can get to school an' learn enough tomfoolery to
get him a job thet he can clear out to, about the time he's able to
be some help. But you jest ain't dealin' with the right man. You've
molly-coddled that young one long enough now. To-morrow he starts
his career with _me_, an' he'll maybe think he's struck fire an'
brimstone before the day's over."

It wasn't a case for argument. The children were beginning to look up
apprehensively, and Mary called them to come to bed. In the darkness
of the kitchen when she was getting down the lamp, Billy waited to
whisper: "He didn't say I could go to school, did he?"

It was hard to look into the wistful, searching face and say "No." It
was harder when Billy turned away quickly and kept his face averted
while he got the little tin basin to wash his feet. His mother's
hard, gentle hand rested for a moment on his shoulder and dropped
away discouraged at the quivering of the resolute little back. Her
whole body ached to take him in her arms. He really wasn't much more
than a baby yet, but such expressions were denied her in the
never-ending struggle to keep her emotions dammed back. Only the
anxiety of love, the eagerness of service were busy in a thousand
ways from the first stirrings of daylight until long after the family
were asleep.

As she hung up the key of the clock Dan came in. At the entrance to
the darkness of the little bedroom off the kitchen he stopped,
slipping a brace over his shoulder, and looking back with a hard
little glitter in his eyes inquired:

"C'n you git that fellow up to catch the horses by five o'clock? ....
'Cause if you can't I _kin_."

Another of the thousand bitter details!

In the morning Mary kindled the fire and busied herself about the
kitchen as long as she dared before climbing the narrow stairs to
Billy's room. Then she hesitated. There was something so blue and
drawn about the closed eyelids; already his hands were bent and
calloused like a man's.

"An' him not much more'n a baby," she murmured. It seemed nothing
short of cruel to disturb him. Perhaps he would waken himself if she
just kept looking at him.

But Billy didn't waken. Once he twitched nervously, but a boy
consumed with the weakening fever of growth doesn't waken easily
after working the length of a man's day, with "chores" afterwards. He
had to be shaken several times before the slow, painful process
began. It started somewhere in his dimmest consciousness, and
gradually sent a long, slow quiver down through his healthy little
muscles and back again, emerging in a gulping breath that seemed to
shake his eyes open. Ordinarily he would have closed them again, but
this morning the bewildering memory of something dreadful hanging
over him brought him to, suddenly.

It wasn't so bad once he got up. The smarting soon left his eyes, and
the stiffness began to go out of his legs. They ached, of course,
from the heels up, but that was from trying to keep up to the colts
on the harrow yesterday. Then his mother had a berry turnover waiting
for him to start out on. She had been telling him that, he
remembered, while she tried to get him awake. So he took the halters
in one hand and the turnover in the other and started out for the
horses in a very philosophical frame of mind, considering everything.
The dew on the grass was cool to his bare feet; the robins in the
bushes as he passed didn't seem to expect anyone so early, so from
their reckless chattering he learned the location of many a new nest.
He marked the places so he could show them to Jean. On the hill in
the pasture, where the sun was just coming up like a yellow half
ball, the young cattle stood out like pieces cut out of black paper
and pasted on; they looked funny when they moved. Then it was good to
get up on old Nell's broad grey back, and feel the shake of the
friendly muscles under him. Altogether, if some miracle could have
given him a father who would occasionally see eye-to-eye with him on
things agricultural and personal, Billy would almost have played
hookey from school for a life like this.

The forenoon seemed to be going uneventfully enough. Dan's rather
threatening admonition when they began the planting had been to "look
sharp now" and not keep the horses standing, and Billy had determined
to keep ahead of them at the sacrifice of any minor details. He had
been shown just how far apart to drop the pieces, but when you see
the furrow reaching up behind you like an unfriendly snake, and no
escape before the end of the row; when the handle of the pail is
cutting into the flesh of your arm and the bags of seed are rods down
the field, there is a powerful temptation to make what you have go as
far as possible. Suddenly the horses stopped and Dan came around to
examine the planting.

"Hev you dropped 'em all as far apart as this?" he asked. "I might
'a' knowed I couldn't trust you. Never saw the time yet that you
wasn't a durn sight more bother than help. Well, you c'n just stake
off these rows, an' when we're through plantin' you c'n dig 'em up
with the hoe, an' plant 'em right. Mebby that'll learn you a little
more than goin' to school fer a while."

Just when the neighbors' dinner bells began to call the men from the
farther fields, Dan again called across the headland: "You'd better
go to the barn an' get some more seed. Save the prize Carmens here
fer the last rows an' mind to shut the gate after you or the sow'll
be in."

Billy hitched old Nell to the stone-boat, shut the gate after him and
went for the seed. When he came back the gate was still closed, but
Tibby and her family were demolishing the last of the prize Carmens.
When she found she had to leave, she made straight for the vulnerable
spot in the stump fence that had given her entrance. Billy drove the
pigs ahead of him and went after some rails. On the way he heard his
mother ring the dinner-bell, saw, from many a furtive glance back,
his father stop at the littered remains of the prize Carmens, look
all around and start on to the barn. The most Billy could hope for
was that his wrath might have cooled a little before he would have to
meet him. By the time he had blocked the hole in the fence and
brought Nell up to the stable his father had gone to the house, so he
climbed up and put down the hay, dampened old Nell's oats as usual,
so she wouldn't choke on them, and with his little heart palpitating
till he could hardly swallow, approached the house.

The savory steam of stewed chicken came out from the kitchen. When
the meat supply ran low in the spring his mother killed off the old
hens. She always made hot biscuits to break into the gravy and had
the grandest pot pies ever to tide a fellow over a time like this. If
they had it for dinner when he was at school she saved a drumstick
and the gizzard for him. He was almost forgetting his soul's anxiety
in the urgent pressure of his animal wants.

Mary knew something of what had happened. In fact Dan had informed
her without softening the details. Still, in spite of the morning's
"aggrevations," he was eating his dinner with satisfactory relish
when Billy came in. She met Billy at the door to ask cheerfully:

"How'd you get along?"

"Fine," Billy answered with a disconcerting unsteadiness under the
attempt.

"Well, just get washed now, and have your dinner while it's hot. I
have some nice pot pie here."

But this was a little too much for Dan. To be ignored so brazenly in
the face of the storm he had been brewing with inward satisfaction,
to be treated as though he were no more than a figurehead in his own
house! He had often declared that there was a secret understanding,
a conspiracy against him in his own family, and it was time to show
where he stood now.

"You hain't got no pot-pie fer him," he interrupted. "He'll git his
belly full o' something else 'sides pie when I'm through here."

All at once Billy's fortitude gave way. Perhaps because he was tired
and hungry, his flesh quailed before the coming ordeal. "I didn't
leave the gate open," he cried, wild terror in his eyes. "The pigs
got in through the fence. I found the place."

"You consarned little liar! You fool away the whole morning, spoil
the whole patch with yer lazy tricks, thinkin' I wouldn't see 'em,
then let the stock in to eat up the seed I've paid fer. I'll just
waken you up so's I'll warrant you'll think twice before you try the
like again."

The rawhide was coming down from its hook; it had been kept in the
house ever since Billy could remember.

"Now, Dan," Mary pleaded with her hand on his arm--a gentleness of
touch that always irritated him into a frenzy, "you aren't fit to
punish him now ... and he did his best."

"You dictatin' too, hey!" he stormed, pushing her off. "No wonder the
young un's no good with your eternal coddlin' an' interferin'. Stand
out the way there."

But the mother-tigress instinct was roused in its helpless way.
Still she clung to his arm. Only Billy seemed to have come to any
self-control.

"Don't, mummy," he ordered calmly; "I c'n stand it."

The nerve, the audacity of the proud little figure angered Dan more
because it shamed him. If the boy had been a foot taller his father
would have been cowed by the quiet reproach in the steady brown eyes,
but Billy was only such a little handful of bones--something like a
bird when you cover it with your hand and find it all feathers and
skeleton and crushable, so he suffered the full punishment--the
sickening, lithe, cutting, kind of blows that we have shivered to
hear dealt to colts out in the far recesses of the green country,
away from the danger of official interference. He emerged ridged,
welted, white and tearless, with an ugly red streak across one cheek
that somehow Dan wished wasn't there. It made the rest of his face
look so white and pinched and old for its years.

Potato planting had been suspended for the day. Without excuse or
errand Dan had driven off to town. Straggling buggies began driving
down the road--people, neighbors most of them, all dressed up like
they went to church on Sundays, the sun shining pleasantly on the
horses' sleek backs and glittering over the bright parts of the
harness. Billy climbed up to the vantage point of the gate post, and
looked up the road eagerly, as many another boy has watched for a
circus parade. Yes, it was coming just over the hill--he could see
the bright black top of it--the hearse. He remembered that this was
the day of Mrs. Brown's funeral, and he had heard his mother say she
ought to go; maybe he could go with her.

He had been at old Mr. Hopkin's funeral when he was quite small and
had enjoyed it immensely. It had seemed just like a story to watch
the people all moving around so still as if they expected something;
to see the black box with its silver handles and the flowers all
piled on top--he had wanted his mother to lift him up to see in, but
she didn't. Mr. Hopkins' family were all there, fine, rich-looking
men and women with their hair beginning to turn grey and children of
their own almost grown up. And the people had sung "The Lord's my
Shepherd, I'll not want." It was just fine. You could almost see old
Mr. Hopkins going down the green pastures with his long staff, just
like he came out to salt the sheep, only not so bent over, and maybe
with a long gown on like the charts showed at Sunday school. He would
likely have found Mrs. Hopkins, who had died two years before, and
they would sit under the trees and both be happier than they had been
in all their lives. One of the daughters had said, "He never was the
same since Ma died," and Billy's faith never questioned the goodness
of the angels in taking him to her. Altogether there was nothing sad
about it, except that everyone would miss old Mr. Hopkins for a
while.

But this funeral to-day would be different. There were children at
Brown's--some of them just babies. Mrs. Brown couldn't be much older
than his mother. People said she had consumption, and when Billy had
called to ask hands to the threshing last fall he had seen her at the
pump, and she looked so white and thin she had almost frightened him.
When he asked if he could carry the water for her she couldn't
answer--just leaned on the pump and coughed and coughed. He had seen
her helping her husband plant potatoes once too. She hadn't looked so
bad then, but that was a year ago. Well, she would be through now. He
had heard his grandmother say once that there were "a thousand things
worse than death." Maybe it was true. He climbed stiffly down from
the gate post and walked reflectively to the house.

Long before the hour, the Brown house was filled with people; others
gathered in little knots about the yard. Men exchanged views of the
crop prospects, and occasionally when the drone of the bees in the
lilacs and the creak of the buggies in the lane ceased for a moment,
a remark like "That sod field ought to go fifty bushel to the acre,"
sounded irrelevantly across the yard. The women talked only of the
deceased--when she had taken the turn, how she had said good-bye to
the children the last night and sent them off to bed with a smile,
then gone completely out of her mind in the bitterness of it--and how
hard it was going to be for Jim. He was just getting ready to build a
barn too; a pile of gravel a few yards from the back door was
evidence of its progress--it seemed hard, just when they were getting
along so well. And he had done all for her that a man could do. He
had even had her to the sanitarium; but it was no use--once you got
consumption there was just one thing to wait for. They reviewed the
lives and deaths of her ancestors to see where she had inherited it,
but could find no trace of the trouble for three generations back.
She had always been so smart and strong, too. Why, when she was first
married she could do as much as any other two women in the
neighborhood.

The old doctor, friend and terror of the community, stopped to shake
hands with a strong, honest-looking young fellow leaning against the
fence.

"Pretty hard, eh?" he remarked nodding towards the house.

"Sure is. It's a bad thing to let get hold of you. I know from
experience. I worked in the city for a couple of years in a wholesale
house once. Got a notion I didn't like farming, you know, like lots
of other young fellows do--and I believe if I'd stayed there a year
longer, cooped up in a cage breathing the dust and smoke of the
place, I'd never got back at all. But I got out of it in time. I'm
out in the field now ten hours a day. I eat like a horse and I'll bet
you couldn't find a spot on my lungs with the point of a needle. I'm
always glad I was able to bring Hazel out to the farm. She gets tired
of it sometimes, after always being in a store, but I tell her it's
the healthiest place this side of Switzerland--all the fresh air
there is clean off the fields, and the best place in the world to
bring up children."

"Isn't turning out very well for these kids here."

"Losing their mother?--No."

"There's always that chance."

"There is anywhere. What do you mean?"

"Just that nine women out of ten in these parts don't have time to
bring up their children; that if they were given half the care you
give the milk critters the young ones would have a better chance to
start with. The air may be good enough in the fields, but it's no
elixir after it's been shut up all day in a house so badly heated
that you have to keep the windows down tight to keep things from
freezing. Did you ever see where they slept in there? A little room
off the kitchen just big enough for a bed and the window frozen down
from summer to summer. I told Brown the danger, but he reckoned he
got enough fresh air out doors all day, and if his wife had a cough
it was no place for her in a draught. Besides, he said, she was
prowling around so late at night sewing for the kids that the little
time she was in bed didn't matter much. Now he's afraid he's caught
it from her, but he hasn't. He's in too healthy a shape to catch
anything. It's different with a woman, spent with the children coming
and the long hours and the work that you couldn't hire a girl to do.
I'm not so sure of the children being safe; they're none too strong
to start with."

The young man resented this.

"Ain't you pretty hard on Brown?" he demanded. "You won't find a
harder workin' or a kinder man to his family anywhere; nor a woman
more contented or that took more pride in her home than she did. I
don't like to hear him talked about as if he was to blame for this.
Nor she wouldn't."

The doctor's eyes wandered up to the window with its patched,
starched curtains, and row of tomato cans holding weary-looking
geraniums. There were new coverings of wall-paper around the tins--a
pitiful reminder of a woman's struggle to keep her house to the last.

"No, she wouldn't," he agreed quietly. "She thought the sun rose and
set on Jim and the kids.... And I'm not blaming him. He thought this
driving and saving now was going to make things easier later on, and
he just got the habit and couldn't stop. What you all need around
here is a little more physiological common sense. How's Hazel?"

The question seemed ill-timed.

"First rate," the husband answered. "She's over there."

The doctor looked over to the girl who a year ago had left the smoke
of the town for the haven of the green country. The plume in her
chiffon hat sagged a little; her wedding dress hung a bit limp, her
face seemed noticeably pale through the tan. Altogether, to his
professional eye, she didn't look as well as when she left the town.

In the house the service was beginning. Through the open door in the
strained quiet of the drowsy afternoon, the voice of the minister
came steadily in the melancholy cadence of the old text:

"Man that is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. He
cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down; he fleeth also as a
shadow, and continueth not."

In his dumb, helpless way the father tried to comfort the oldest
little girl, the only one of the children who could know anything of
the meaning of their loss. He was no callous materialist. He was
suffering the full agony of his first great sorrow and he couldn't
see why it had been sent to him.

At the gate the doctor gripped the minister's hand warmly. "That was
a fine sermon," he said. "Never heard better for a time like this. Ye
didn't talk as though you were glad of the chance to warn us of the
agony of hell. 'Man is of few days and full of trouble.' ... It's a
great text. Now some day," the doctor was neither amused or
irreverent, "some Sunday, can't you preach from it again, and tell
'em how to stretch the time out and make it happier? I could give you
some facts. Bless your heart, man, it would be the most opportune
sermon you ever preached in your life. If you were in a city church
you'd be fighting sweat shops and child labor. You've got them here,
just a little more hidden from the public."

When it was all over, Billy trudged off up the road after his mother,
trudged because he was stiff and sore from the day's experiences,
also because his feet hurt. His Sunday shoes had been too big for him
once, but they pinched his feet terribly since he started to go
barefoot. They were hard, sturdy, unyielding little cases. Billy
hated to go to Sunday school on account of them--but he always took
them off on his way home. He asked his mother if he could now, but
she paid no attention. She was walking very fast, looking straight
ahead of her. At last he caught her skirt and she stopped quickly,
bent down and put her arms tight around him, drawing in her breath in
sharp little gasps. He was afraid she was going to cry. He had never
seen her cry, and it frightened him.

"What's the matter?" he asked, drawing away.

"Nothing. Just take them off, sonny, and how'd you like to go across
the fields now and bring the cows? I'm a little anxious about Dolly."



CHAPTER II.

"_A billion elements go into the making of a boy, but there is one
fundamental agent of his greatness or commonness--his mother._"--_Will
Levington Comfort._


Fears for Dolly were not ungrounded. Following the instinct of her
kind, the aristocratic little Jersey had slipped away by herself on
this particular afternoon. Billy found the rest of the cows waiting
at the bars, lowing to be milked after a day on the heavy spring
pasture. It was only necessary to let them into the lane and they
started off home in a bobbing file. To find the missing cow was
another proposition.

Billy knew the magnitude of the task, and planned his course with the
ingenuity of a general. He would climb the hill first and inspect the
cedar thickets; then he would come down through the gully where the
rocks and thorns and hazel bushes made strange hiding places. If she
wasn't there he would have to inspect the fence into the neighbor's
woods. The pasture was rough and thickety, but he knew every foot of
the ground--he had covered it on similar occasions before, and if he
suffered some anxiety as to whether he could locate the cow before
dark, there was also a pleasant little thrill of adventure in the
undertaking.

But Dolly wasn't among the cedars, and she hadn't found a shelter in
the valley. The shadows were creeping out long and misty when Billy,
with an unsteady feeling under his belt, turned his scrutiny to the
line fence. Sure enough, there was a spot where the dead bush topping
the ridge of piled up stones was trampled and broken. The high-strung
little heifer had taken a dangerous climb to find a sanctuary worthy
of her great moment. Beyond the break in the fence there wasn't a
clue to the direction she had taken--nothing but solid, damp woods,
and it was getting dark. Then over the fields came two slow, familiar
calls from the dinner bell. A warm flood of relief came over Billy;
his mother was telling him to come home--maybe his father had come
back and would hunt the cow.

Dan hadn't come home yet. He was just driving into the yard when
Billy came up. Besides, he had spent the afternoon in a rather noisy
hang-out in town and was in no humor for hunting stray cattle.

"Chores all done?" he asked in the edged voice that the family had
learned to listen for. Billy had never thought of chores. He
remembered them now with a feeling of guilt. At the same time his
quick senses observed the quietness of the pigs in the pen, the
horses crunching their hay in the stable. "Seems as if mother's done
them," he replied. "I went from the funeral to get the cows. Dolly's
missing."

"You mean to say you went off all afternoon when you knew that heifer
needed watchin'? And you haven't found her yet? Well, just git right
back and stay till you do find her. Never mind about your mother
callin' you. You ain't dealin' with your mother now. What I'm
telling' you is not to show yourself back here till you find that
cow, if it takes you till daylight."

If the task of finding a hiding cow in the woods at night had seemed
impossible before, it was the last thing Billy hoped for now, as he
stumbled rapidly back over the humpy path through the stubble field,
blinding, angry tears burning his eyes and a child's bitter vengeance
surging up inside of him and finding an outlet in strange, mad little
curses. At the edge of the woods the feeling began to cool in a new
sensation. Billy wouldn't have admitted what it was, but the place
was so still and dark and far away from everywhere, that the breaking
of a dry twig under his feet set his pulses beating wildly. There
were weird stories afloat in the neighborhood that the wood was a
dark haunt of tramps, and ever since old Enoch, the half-witted
brother of a neighbor, had wandered off and gotten lost in the heart
of it and only his pitiful crying had brought the men with their
lanterns, school children had avoided it as the abode of all things
lunatic and uncanny.

But Billy couldn't avoid it now. With hands clenched and legs
stiffened and cold he began his lone patrol, rustling the dead leaves
as little as possible and stopping to listen every few seconds, as he
groped deeper into the blackness. Once he called "Dolly," but the
hoarse, strained voice came whispering back from behind a hundred
tree trunks. He didn't move till they had finished. Once he stumbled
against a rotten log, and a cat leaped almost from under his feet and
shot in long lopes off into the bracken. Instinctively Billy broke
off a dead limb--he had heard of ugly encounters with bush cats in
the hungry season, and the consciousness that his presence of mind
hadn't entirely left him brought new courage. For the first time
since he entered the wood he really remembered what he was there for.
The blood began to circulate in his shaking limbs, and he found
himself peering into the blackness and listening--not for "sounds"
this time, but for Dolly.

Years after, in a wood in Flanders, on a night mercifully blacker
than this, moving like a shadow among the willows, keeping his eyes
raised from the pitiful staring eyes on the ground around him, and
calling softly in a voice scarcely above the warm, scented wind off
the field, his memory played him a strange trick. A shutter in his
brain seemed to click, revealing for an instant an old picture, as
though this experience had happened to him before somewhere. Was the
thing "getting" him as he had seen it get others? With a new terror
in his drawn face he put his hand to his head and whispered, "Oh,
God, not that!" Then over his bleared consciousness came a tinkling
like a little bell, and a voice, clear, sweet and confident: "Billy,
boy, it's all right. I'm here." And the tears came with a flood of
relief and comfort, just as they had done years before when he stood
in the woods of the old swamp farm, hearing her call and the tinkling
of her milk pail. She had come to help him.

So are the hardest experiences made bearable by such a love, and the
bitterest tragedies averted even through its memory.

It was a strong, free "Whoo-oo," that the boy sent ringing through
the woods now. It started a dozen little creatures scuttling back to
their holes--and right beside him a crackling of dead underbrush, the
sound of a short, quick trot, a low bellow either of fear or warning,
then not five yards away from him, with lowered head and eyes blazing
in the darkness stood the Jersey heifer.

Billy knew that for the moment the gentle, domesticated little beast
was as dangerous as any of the wild cattle of the plains. A few
minutes before he would have been paralyzed at the vague shape in
the darkness with its blazing eyes and low, threatening guttural
sounds. Now, with the confidence inspired by his mother's nearness,
came a self mastery and a happy feeling of competence. He advanced
steadily, ready to dart behind a tree if the cow showed any real sign
of attack, calmly enough repeating, "Steady, Dolly; so, Boss."
Evidently the cow recognized and trusted him; he had petted her all
her life; also he was not coming near her calf. She had hidden it in
a spot quite safe from intrusion. Sure of that she was not averse to
being friendly. There was nothing to do but to try to make her
comfortable where she was for the night; that was why his mother had
brought the milk-pail. With a knowledge acquired of experience she
learned that the calf had fed itself; that meant that it was all
right. Glowing like prospectors who have found a yellow vein and
marked the place, they made their way out of the wood.

Down in the hollow a light twinkled in the kitchen window; it was
nearly midnight and Billy found himself stumbling over the rough
pasture field half asleep and decidedly out of temper.

"My, but I hate this place," he stormed bitterly. "Soon's I'm big
enough to get away it won't see much more of me, I can tell you."

His mother was silent. She never used the evasive "You must not say
such things." Perhaps the most eloquent part of her life was its
quietness. Just now Billy felt his conscience twinge under it. Her
patience was teaching him early to overcome the selfishness of youth.
He knew that always hers was the greater suffering, but she never
complained; so a bit sheepishly he added: "And I suppose that's just
when I might be able to save you and Jean some. But I could make lots
of money then; we'd be independent; we could all go together."

"Oh, no, sonny, we couldn't do that. Things will be different.
There'll be a way for you and Jean. We'll find one somehow. Maybe
your father'll see things differently after a while. I think that'll
be a fine calf of Dolly's; likely almost a cream coat with black
points and big soft, black eyes, like a young deer's."

"I think she was a fool to trail it away in there as if she thought
we'd kill it. I'd have been gooder'n gold to it at home. It was just
a chance that we found her at all, and I'm sure no one wants to go
prowlin' around the swamp at this time of the night."

Then she told him what she knew of nature's primitive laws handed
down from Dolly's wild ancestors--how the wild birds protect their
young from preying enemies and why the old turkey hen, tame for
generations, always tried to hide her nest. She also told him of
whatever beautiful things she knew to look and listen for in the
woods at night, simple, wonderful lore that her father had given her
on their walks through the woods to salt the cattle on Sundays.
Before Billy had finished his bread and milk and crawled into bed he
had resolved to explore that wood again. He wasn't afraid of it now;
it was a real outdoor theatre.

But long after he was asleep his mother lay awake on the lounge
downstairs, listening to the heavy breathing in the next room and
thinking. It had troubled her a good deal lately, this night
thinking, always looking back and wondering just how present
situations had come about. Life had sprung up around her so happily
in her beautiful old home. Only to live and laugh and be happy--that
was all that was expected of her, and if it didn't seem enough, if
she had visions, mysterious inward stirrings of something creative
crying for expression, she generally kept them to herself. At last
she suggested it timidly--she wanted to go to school, she wanted to
do something. She didn't know just what. How could she when she had
never had a chance to see what there was to be done? But her father
had laughed and petted her and said he guessed he could keep his only
little girl. It was a pretty hard lookout if a man couldn't protect
his one pet lamb from being buffetted about in the world, fighting
for a living with men, and losing their respect and her own
womanliness by working at a man's job. And he added with unconcealed
disappointment that it wasn't like her to want such a thing when she
could have the protection of her father's home.

She didn't realize then, of course, how miserably inadequate such a
protection might be, but the argument silenced her. She felt keenly
ashamed of herself--sort of in a class with the long-spurred hen
cropping up every year, a menace to the social life and economic
purpose of the flock. They seemed to think she wanted to "go into the
world" for the mere joy of adventure or the hope of notoriety, either
of which would almost have frightened her to death. But the
uncontrollable little voice inside wouldn't be quiet. It still cried
out to create something, to be a part of the scheme that makes the
world go round.

Then Dan came, Dan with his handsome face and buoyant, indomitable
swing, a fine animal--and the time-old instinct leapt into a flame.
There had never been anyone else, because there hadn't been anyone
else in the neighborhood, and she had never been out of it, and this
seemed just what she had been waiting for. She wasn't introspective,
and she didn't stop to analyze this feeling, of course. Apart from
the tumultuous sway of it there were secret visions which she would
not for worlds have revealed to anyone, but which brought her the
only reassurance, "This is real"--a train of little white figures to
hold close for a while, then to send out into the world to do the
things she had wanted to do. They would be just like Dan, of course,
but they would be guided by the spark she had kept smouldering in her
dreams for them.

Now that the dream had failed it never occurred to her that she had
made a mistake. Dan was still her man; she couldn't have imagined
things otherwise, only she wondered what she could do, working
single-handed and against odds, to give the children a chance. What
if, in the fight ahead of her, she should go out as she had seen
several of her neighbors go, coming up to the battle spent and tired
out, trying desperately to hang on, then suddenly letting go because
the overstrained vitality just snapped? Staring into the darkness she
whispered over and over, "Oh, God, I can't--not yet."



CHAPTER III.

"_I want to tell you how much I love you. I also want not to tell
you at all, but to do something for you with my hands and feet, to
make your bed, to pick lavender pine cones for you, to do something
you would never know that I had done. For of the many ways of love,
one of the dearest is to serve in silence, to celebrate and not be
found out. Mothering is a great business on these lines._"--_Dr.
Richard Cabot in "What Men Live By."_


Summer had passed with the anxiety and toil of harvest, and the
cheering presence of numberless bird colonies, living out the
romances and cares of their family history in the meadow of the Swamp
Farm. The sumachs in the fence corners were turning crimson before a
plan that had long been evolving in Mary's mind took definite
direction. Dan had gone on a two days' trip for one of his agencies.
It might be the only opportunity she would have for secrecy. Nothing
had ever before driven her to such drastic measures, but never before
had she had so much at stake. She felt distinctly guilty as she
evaded Billy's few searching questions and looked away from the
troubled appeal in Jean's brimming eyes. For the first time in their
lives she was leaving them; no wonder they had misgivings. She was
almost frightened herself, at this new thing that could drive her to
practise such deception.

Still she set out on her six mile walk to town with grim
determination, walking fast to reach the railroad track before she
should meet any one she knew on the travelled highway. By the time
she came to the narrow board walk at the edge of the town she was hot
and tired and white with excitement. Everyone seemed to be looking at
her. She supposed they all knew Dan, but then there was no reason why
they should associate her with Dan. It was a long time since they had
been in town together, strangely enough, on a similar errand.

That was before Jean was born, and Dan had brought her in to the
lawyer's office. He had sold a town lot that her father had given
her, and superficial as it might seem, it had been necessary for her
to come to the lawyer's office to put her name to the deed, and sign
another paper applying the proceeds against the mortgage on the Swamp
Farm. It was the first time Mary had put her name to any legal
document except her marriage certificate, and she wished now that she
had known more about what these papers meant with their dazzling red
seals and nothing clear about them except the dotted line for her
name.

She had another town lot, though. That was what had brought her out
on such a questionable adventure to-day. Dan had sold it too, but
when he came home with arrangements all made to take her to town the
next day to sign the papers again, she gave him the biggest surprise
of his married life by saying she didn't want to sell; she wanted to
keep that lot--her father had given it to her.

And Dan had laughed, a very indulgent, unnatural laugh for Dan, and
said she was "such a whimsical little woman." However it was much
better to sell the lot and turn the money into the farm where it
would be safe for the children; so he had sold it. He wanted to make
that quite clear; _the lot was already sold_; all that remained was
to sign the papers.

And Mary with that quiet immovableness that sometimes takes
possession of those gentle, pliable, unquestioning women, replied
that she was sorry, but she wouldn't sign the papers. She didn't say
why. She didn't mention that the farm was running deeper into debt
every year; that it was already proving more of an injury than a help
to the children, and that in this remnant of her inheritance lay the
only hope she had of ever giving them anything better. She just
repeated slowly, a bit shakily, and looking down at the spout of her
tea-pot, that she _wouldn't sign them_.

And then Dan dropped his indulgent, protective attitude quite
suddenly. He asked her "what in hell" she expected to do with the
lot, then. Did she think she could look after it herself? She knew
about as much about business as a squaw. How was any woman to look
after her interests in legal affairs where even a man had to keep his
eyes open? And who would be expected to take care of such things for
her if not her husband? He also enlarged upon a business man's
attitude toward women who cared to mix up in such things instead of
keeping their place. Altogether he was very much annoyed over this
unexpected check in his affairs. It was extremely humiliating to have
to tell Harding that his wife, for sentimental reasons, didn't want
the lot sold; besides he needed the money. He had no doubt about
getting it ultimately, of course. Several plans might be worked to
that end, one of the most feasible being to take Billy out of school
because there were no funds forthcoming to hire help. But even under
the pressure of this, Mary was risking his further displeasure, and
taking a venture that would have seemed madness to her a year ago.

The world seemed swimming around her when she entered the lawyer's
office, nervously tucking back the damp hair from her forehead, and
painfully conscious of the years-old cut of her dress, the road-dust
on her shoes, and her absolute ignorance of what to do. If the lawyer
was surprised he didn't show it. His practice was not very pressing
in the sleepy little town, and he could afford time to put his
clients at ease before proceeding to business.

"You mean," he repeated when she had explained her errand, "that you
have changed your mind about the lot; that you would like to see
Harding this afternoon?"

She assented with inward panic at the thought of it. "Or would I need
to see him? You couldn't just--telephone him or something? I should
be getting back, and I wanted to--it seems foolish--but I thought I
would like to make my will."

"I see. And you think if you had the lot turned into cash it would be
easier to leave it as you want to? I'll just ask Harding to come
around. You feel that you know what the lot's worth?"

"Why, I hadn't thought much about that. Father paid five hundred for
it, I think."

"That was a long time ago. A dollar doesn't go as far now. Do you
remember just what Harding offered Mr. Withers this spring?"

"Six hundred."

The lawyer's mouth hardened a little. He had heard the offer made in
his office, and had suspected that Dan wanted to reserve a few
hundred for immediate use.

"Better ask for a thousand," he advised casually, "and would you like
to put the money out on a mortgage?"

"I'd rather put it in the bank. I want it where it can be got at.
That's why I came about the will. I want it used for the children
while they need it, before they come of age. I want it used to send
them to school. That could be arranged, couldn't it?"

"I guess so. What about your executor?"

"I hadn't thought of that. How do they generally do?"

"A woman generally makes her husband her executor, but if there is
any reason why you would rather have someone else----."

"Certainly not." Mary had come into possession of her dignity with
remarkable suddenness. A bright red covered her face, but her head
was up, and the eyes that had wandered all over the room in nervous
embarrassment before, met the lawyer's squarely with something of a
challenge. She even held them there in the face of his amusement
while she finished a bit lamely: "But I think I would rather leave it
with you to take care of for them, if you would--Dan has so much to
look after."

Mary didn't notice the weariness of the way home that night. A
strange, new elation carried her aching feet over the bruising,
irregular railroad ties. The whole dismal swamp seemed singing with
the joy of a breaker passed. Only, when the stars began to come out
over the trees, she wondered if the children would be afraid to stay
alone, and quickened her steps. Several times she slipped her hand
into her bag just to feel the copy of the will that was to be their
safeguard if anything happened. Once she took out her bank-book and
peered through the faint moonlight at the dancing figures. She had
never had a bank-book before. She had never known what it was to take
a ten-dollar bill from a pile, and spend it with luxurious
recklessness in white flannelette and nainsook and shirting and
various colored calicoes for the children. Then she would gather up
the parcels in her aching arms and hurry on again with a thrill of
happy anticipation.

A section-man watching her thought her deranged, but Mary knew that
she was just beginning to see clearly. She had learned that the laws
relating to a woman's property were not framed to be beyond a woman's
understanding, and the men hadn't seemed to consider her out of her
place. A hot wave went over her when she thought of her ignorance of
the simplest parts of the procedure. They had been very kind about
it, but some arrangement must be made to teach these things to Jean,
and save her the agony of such embarrassment.

So it seems we have one of the great motive forces of human
evolution--the ambition of individuals here and there to give their
children the things they have missed themselves.

The days after this were filled with a mother's provident setting of
her house in order. Piles of little garments took shape and received
their distinguishing hand touches of smocking and embroidery in the
cold, weary hours when everyone else was sleeping. When she smoothed
them out the soft nap caught on her roughened hands like the clutch
of something frail and clinging--something that needed her, and she
prayed for life desperately, as though the waters were already
covering her.

Then, one day in late November, when Dan had gone on an indefinite
itinerary selling incubators, and Billy was trying to harvest the
turnip crop, the dinner-bell called over the fields again. Something
in the short, quick ring told him the call was urgent, but when he
reached the house he could only stare with growing terror. His
mother's face and hair were wet with perspiration; her mouth was set
hard and white at the edges; her eyes were bright like stars--full of
suffering that could not be hidden even from the child. She was
sorting through a basket of white stuff and as usual she stopped to
reassure him.

"It's all right, Boy. Just take the colt and run and tell Auntie
Brown to come."

Through all the hard things that had tried the boy's courage and
robbed him of the irresponsibility of childhood, he had never known
what real fear was before. It seemed to make his limbs and voice
powerless to urge the colt to his hardest run. Only one thing was
clear to him--his mother might die, and she was alone. It was miles
farther to the doctor's, but if only Auntie Brown were there! She was
as good as a doctor, everyone said, and she was the only physician
many of them knew.

Mrs. Brown saw him coming and opened the door before he stopped. She
didn't ask him what he came for. She just said she would go right
down, and told him to go for the doctor, then called after him to ask
if his father was at home, or when he was coming, but Billy didn't
answer. Already he was floating down the road on the horse's neck. He
might have told her, he reflected, that they didn't know when his
father was coming home; his trip had been delayed because he had to
stay around until Nell's colt came, but there was no time for
gossiping now. Anyway, he couldn't see why anyone should be concerned
about where his father was at such a time as this.

The doctor wasn't at home. His wife said she would telephone and send
him right down from another case but to the boy, remembering the look
in his mother's eyes when he left her, it seemed as though the fates
in general had conspired against him. When he reached home with his
lathered, limping colt, the doctor hadn't arrived yet and Mrs. Brown
was worried. She wouldn't let him see his mother, but she lifted the
corner of a shawl from a white flannel bundle in the rocking chair
and Billy looked. He swallowed his astonishment and looked again, at
the squirming, blind, uncomfortable little mite, and sighed. He felt
much as he had done when a kindly-intentioned neighbor had
unexpectedly thrust into his arms one cold day in winter, a very
young, whimpering puppy, when he had no warm place to keep it, and
the cows were dry--he couldn't see how he was going to make it very
comfortable. Perhaps, however, the dog had developed his sense of
responsibility and protection, for he bent down till he could feel
the baby's breath in faint, warm little puffs against his face and
from the depths of bitter experience, confided his sympathy.

"Poor little beggar," he said. "Just startin' out, ain't you?"

The baby didn't make much difference to the tenor of affairs in the
household. When he was three days old his father came home and was
glad to see him. A week later Billy discovered that the newcomer was
going to get him into serious difficulties. Mrs. Brown had told him,
with no uncertain meaning, that if he wanted to keep his mother he
would have to help her a lot, and Billy was beginning awkwardly and
heroically, because he hated it, to add several new chores about the
house to his regular daily programme. On this afternoon he was riding
the disc-harrow up the field toward the house when his mother, who
had been washing, came out with a basket of clothes. It occurred to
Billy that he might hang out the clothes for her, and he brought down
a storm of his father's wrath by urging the horses over the
half-frozen clods almost at a trot. He was so sure that his case was
justified that he offered a spirited, if terrified, explanation, but
Dan wasn't interested in hanging out a washing. Out of all patience
with Billy's lack of judgment as a horseman, he demanded with
finality, "Don't you know that mare has a colt?"

Then one day, in the winter, the baby dropped out of the world as
unceremoniously as he had entered. Dan was away on another business
trip when the first heavy snowfall came and the young cattle had to
be housed. As she had done in other years, Mary went out to help. The
next day the baby had a cold. In a few days more he was fighting a
losing battle with pneumonia. His father reached home in time to see
him go.

Dan had been proud of the happy, laughing little fellow, with his
strong little body and bright, dark eyes, just like his own. He had
never cared to handle him much, and he had often sworn moderately
when he cried in the night--not at the baby himself, just at the
general conspiracy of domestic affairs to disturb a man's sleep. But
he had felt a real thrill of pride when anyone who came into the
house exclaimed at his sturdy, perfect little form, at his striking
resemblance to his father. Now all this was slipping away under his
eyes, and he could do nothing but stand there helpless. There was
a hard bitterness in the set of his jaw, and it grew harder as he
watched his wife's pitiful, useless efforts and tearless submission.
She had been with the baby day and night, through it all, and now,
even as she felt the round, clinging arms slowly loosen from around
her neck, she was glad his suffering was over. For the first time she
seemed to notice that Dan was there. She looked up and waited.

"You killed him," he said. "He hadn't no chance to live. You just
killed him. After you had deliberately gone out and waded in the snow
for half a day when you knowed better--after you had give it to him,
if you couldn't save him yourself, why didn't you get someone who
could? Don't look at me like that. If you've a spark of motherliness
in you, cry or something."

And, looking down at the little form, before the neighbors sent him
out, Dan himself cried, freely and easily as one does at a pathetic
play, until the women felt sure that the loss of his child had
reformed him. Mary followed him out to the porch, pleading in dry,
broken attempts. She reached out and almost touched him, but he
folded his arms with a cruelty of aloofness and contempt that was
almost dramatic. Then a hard glitter came into his eyes, and in a
steely voice, too low to carry into the house, he said:

"Keep away, will you. 'Tain't only the boy, there, but I _can't
trust you_. You've deceived me. I seen Harding yesterday."

And Billy, watching and listening with a child's intuition, saw his
mother stagger against the door as she went into the house. The old
smouldering hate possessed him wickedly; he had never wanted so much
to be a man.



CHAPTER IV.

"_He was a boy whose emotions were hidden under mountains of
reserve; who could have stood up to be shot more easily than he could
have said: 'I love you.' .... I have wondered what might have been if
some one--some understanding person had recognized his gift, or if he
himself as a boy had once dared to cut free. We do not know; we do
not know the tragedy of our nearest friend._"--_David Grayson._


An atmosphere like this does not nurture the most outwardly genial
qualities in a boy. When Billy was sixteen he had encased his real
personality in a reserve which few people could penetrate. The
neighbors admitted that he was civil and steady, but they generally
agreed that he was sullen. The premature work and responsibility of
the farm may have stiffened his body and hardened his outlook, but it
had not affected his growth. In spite of everything, sixteen years
found him something of a giant with splendid physical possibilities
waiting development, but for the present leaving him awkward,
painfully conscious of his size, ashamed of his ignorance, galling
under the tyranny and hopelessness of his environment, but keeping
his reflections largely to himself. His saving force was his
inherited ambition. It never let him rest, but since all the
experience of his life had been gleaned, like the steadily decreasing
crops, from the unproductive acres of the Swamp Farm, his ambition
lacked direction. On rare occasions he confided secret plans to his
mother, but the plans were never practical and there was no prospect
of ever working them out. A few books, good and otherwise, that had
found their way into the house, were the best information he had of
the world outside; but the "good" books his mother had brought from
home years ago, and they dealt with problems of a different age
altogether, problems solved and forgotten long since; the "other"
books had mostly been left by an itinerant hired man, and they were
far too new. With it all there was a growing discontent, discontent
of the divine order really, but showing itself sometimes in very
human guise.

An unrest, a discontent like this, is like to gnaw the heart out of a
boy, leaving him a hollow reed to be played upon by any wind that
blows. Out in the great open spaces of the green country, of course,
we wouldn't expect to find any insidious influence to mar a boy's
future, yet it came in one of the commonest ways.

In need of money to meet a debt to his incubator firm, it occurred to
Dan that the swamp was full of cedar posts. It meant a lot of work to
get the posts out and he had no fondness for the task of laying roads
through a boggy stretch of woods and putting in the long hours
teaming the posts to the railroad, but Billy could do one man's work,
and for the rest he could pick up a force in town. The men were an
unsteady crowd. They didn't care to work many days at a time, and
invariably left when they were most needed. Then one day a man called
looking for a job. He was a Hercules for strength, quick and sure at
his work as a professional lumberman. At night he turned a line of
handsprings across the barn floor, and did a series of acrobatic
stunts over the brace rod, calculated to fill the spectators with awe
and amazement. Billy watched him with more amusement than admiration
in his steady brown eyes; athletics had never been given a prominent
place in his interests.

The man boarded in the house, of course. He was courteous and
considerate in ways the other men had never thought of. He never
passed the woodpile without bringing in an armful. He refused to
leave his washing to be done. He stayed out of the house as much as
possible--and Billy stayed with him. From the first time she saw him,
Mary begged Dan to send him away.

Even when he had gone, she wasn't reassured. Billy seemed different.
He seemed uneasy and secretive. Often under the questioning of her
kind eyes he would redden painfully and look away, and knowing that a
boy of sixteen is getting beyond his mother's understanding, she
never forced her inquiries further.

Then the thing she had dreaded came. One bitter February morning,
while she slept, Billy came quietly downstairs. In the kitchen the
lamp was turned low, and he peered across at the clock. It wasn't
quite three. He listened for a second to the two regular breathings
in the little bedroom, and it seemed that one of them stopped. The
thought that perhaps she suspected him made him feel like a thief,
but, he reflected, when she got the note under his pillow she would
know that he had meant it for the best, that he would come back,
sometime. The thought of what she would have to endure in the while
between almost made him give it up, but he reasoned that this was
just what he had done times before. It was just "drivelling
weakness," as Lou had said. He looked around miserably, wishing he
could do something to make her understand; that in some way he could
soften the hurt of the discovery in the morning. Standing, shivering
in the freezing kitchen, he realized that she had to endure this
atmosphere for an hour or two every morning, and at the risk of being
heard he lighted the fire. Then he picked up the tightly rolled grain
bag that contained his worldly possessions, and went out. For a long
time after, he remembered the frosty squeak of the door, the snapping
of the frost, like pistols, in the trees, and the daylight peering
cold and cheerless into the steely sky, as things following, watching
and accusing him.

It was a short, quick run to the railroad to catch the way-freight
laboring up to town, a wait of two hours or more around the sheds
there, then a ride on the local express to the Junction, where Lou
was to meet him. The ride on the freight and the waiting at the sheds
attracted no attention, and as he slid into the end seat of the
passenger coach he was glad to find that there was no one there whom
he knew. The only person in the car who seemed awake was a young man
who looked steadily out of the window and seemed so indifferent to
everything around him that Billy felt no fear of his curiosity. When
he looked up some minutes later he caught the quiet, genial,
interested gaze square on his face, and the young man rose and came
down the aisle towards him.

It wasn't just that the young man wanted a diversion. He may have
looked bored enough while he stared out of the window at the light
breaking over the frozen fields, but that was because he was a little
discouraged with his job. He had been trying to figure out
approximately how many bushels of grain his formalin solution had
saved for the county that year, and whether all this extension work
of the Department of Agriculture was worth while. He was on his way
now to begin a short course with the young men farther up the county,
in the intervals of which he might be required to test the milk from
a few dairy herds, secure a few hired men for the neighborhood, or
talk about revenues from chickens, or strawberries to a gathering of
women. It occurred to him that the boy who had just come in might be
going up to join the class, and because he liked boys as individuals,
and because there was something unusually promising in the keen,
serious face and striking physique of this young man, he came to talk
to him.

Billy had never heard of an agricultural short course. He had seen
the agricultural office in town, but he had a very vague idea of what
the "district representative" was doing there. He listened to the
explanation of the short course with interest; then, as man to man,
told candidly what he thought of farming and, naturally enough, why
he was leaving it.

The Representative didn't ask any questions, but he gathered that
Billy was leaving home for the first time, to begin his independent
career in a lumber-camp somewhere. He also saw that under the
retiring, self-conscious exterior, was a live fuse of ambition, and
an unmistakable pride.

"It won't get you anywhere," he said, when Billy asked what he
thought of the lumber camp as a beginning, "and if you stay long
enough, you won't care whether it does or not. We're having a course
next month not so far from your place; come to that and see if you
can't find something worth while around home. Come to the office on
Saturday and I'll tell you of a dozen fellows who have made good with
a worse start than you have."

The train was stopping at the Junction. "Sorry," Billy replied,
rising. "I have to meet a friend here."

He took up his grain-bag, reddening. He had a momentary idea of
leaving it under the seat, but it contained everything he had left.

"You can get a train back home in ten minutes," the Representative
suggested, with a friendly grip. "I'll look for you Saturday."

"I'm sorry I didn't meet you sooner," Billy replied calmly. "As it
is, I've promised to go north. Anyway I think perhaps you don't
understand just how things are at our place."

The Representative looked away and frowned with sympathy. "I know
it's rotten enough," he said, "but if you want to play fair, why
don't you go back and put it right up to your father? You know this
is pretty rough on the mother."

And Billy, standing alone on the platform, wished the Representative
had kept that last argument to himself. That was what had been his
undoing every time before, and Lou had shown him quite clearly that
he could never do anything for his mother by staying on the wretched
farm where they could scarcely make enough to keep alive. Now this
young man said he could show him how to make money out of the place.
He said that boys with a worse beginning had gone ahead right at home
and made good, even realized their ambitions for themselves and made
the right kind of homes for their families. Family considerations
weren't troubling Billy. He was just sixteen years old, and the
social side of his nature had been sadly neglected. What he wanted
was freedom to do something. Then, while Lou had persuaded him that
he was not only a fool, but a weak one to stay at home, this
agricultural fellow had somehow made him feel like a coward for
running away.

The train for home was whistling nearer while Billy argued wildly.
When it came around the bend he had about made his decision. He
picked up his grain bag and sauntered coolly across to meet it, then
he saw Lou coming, and waited.

It was not easy to dispose of Lou--he had met cases like this before;
but Billy's struggles from childhood, with a man's work, crop
failures, an unjust government and himself, had not been for nothing.
Also, a certain dogged will-power, bred of these struggles, and their
achievements, and more than ever dominant in the teen age, gave him
an aversion to being "talked into" anything. The Representative
hadn't shown any effort at trying to persuade him. He had told him
just what he thought without reserve and quite forcibly enough, it
seemed; then he had left him to make his own decision, and it gave
Billy no little pride in himself to know that he was planning his
own course. He felt, suddenly, above the wheedling, anxious tone of
his former leader, who, he decided, didn't have enough brains to keep
his personal concern out of his argument. Exasperated at last, Lou
swore openly at all "young milk-fed Rubes who would keep a man
hanging around for weeks, not knowing their own minds, and then fail
to come across at the last."

And Billy laughed--laughed right into the threatening face with its
hardened cunning, laughed for pure joy at the new spirit that had
just awakened in him, laughed also because he had measured carefully
the distance to the last car of the moving train. He caught it just
in time to leave Lou clutching foolishly at the place where he had
been.

Miles away the Representative had again relapsed into speculation as
to whether his work was worth while.

It was only a few hours from the time Billy left the Swamp Farm until
he walked up the lane again, but it seemed as though he had been in a
new, bigger country for a long time. He saw the limits of his
environment in a new perspective and they looked less binding. The
feel of the familiar, worn little door-latch under his hand carried a
distinct sense of being back in the right place. Mary, with a way
women have of watching the road while they work, had seen him
coming. It wasn't in her nature to cry out, or to take him in her
arms. She just stood immovable, her breath coming fast, but in the
glad welcome illuminating the drawn lines of her patient face the boy
saw all the wonder of a mother's unquestioning love, and he knew it
would have been the same, however, or whenever he had come back--if
she were still there. She didn't ask him where he had been; she
didn't mention the note he had left; she only said:

"You haven't had your breakfast."

And Billy, because he was sixteen years old and practised in curbing
his emotions, could not go to her. He just looked back as eloquently
as he could, and asked:

"Where's Jean?"

Jean was crumbled up on the bed in her little cold room upstairs,
crying her heart out. Billy could manage with her more easily. He
gathered her up and patted her back and smoothed her hair so
awkwardly that it tangled about his fingers. He said he shouldn't
have done it, and then told her quite firmly to stop now right away;
that he was back and he was going to stay. He was fast becoming a
man.

Even Dan realized this when Billy met him in the stable for an
interview. The plans he had been designing began to lose shape in the
fearlessness of the new individual whom he had always considered his
child to mould as he liked. Billy's experience had not given him much
of the quality called business sense, so he didn't ask much--a
percentage of whatever profits he could show from the place above an
estimate for previous years, and a chance to run a few sidelines of
his own. Since this would not interfere with his own interests and
would mean still having free labor on the farm, Dan was willing to
grant it.

And Billy was happy. He couldn't have told why. Practically, he was
just where he had been before; only he had something to hope for. In
the house the ham sizzling in the pan, the smell of turnips cooking
for dinner and a spicy apple pie bubbling on the back of the stove,
filled him with a very tangible comfort. The world had never seemed
so near to heaven.

The agricultural course was full of promise. For some time Billy had
been painfully reminded of his scant education. The few brief seasons
in the local school, following the cramped and theoretical course of
prescribed text-books, and his ill chosen reading afterwards, had not
given him much that a young man would need. A class of twenty young
farmers leaving their work to meet every day in a room above the
local store was different; it had some purpose. The informal lectures
and discussions were practical from the beginning. The taking of
notes, the preparation of a speech, was new and hard for every one
of them, but they were all at the same disadvantage, which carried
some encouragement.

On the second day of the course they went to a farm for a class in
stock-judging. Boys who would have wormed through a barbed-wire
entanglement to get within touching distance of the prize animals at
the provincial fair, but who might as well have hoped to enter a
sacred temple as a show ring, could examine to their hearts' content
the most aristocratic specimens of Aberdeen-Angus lineage in the
country. Added to their instruction in rules and principles they had
the unstinted and practical advice of the man himself who had built
up the herd, whose name was known to stockmen in every province of
the Dominion.

When they had finished he took them to the house. There was a great,
long living-room with red curtains and a log blazing in a brick
fireplace, and his wife, in a big blue apron, her cheeks red from the
warmth of the kitchen stove, gave them hot biscuits and coffee. The
man's voice boomed heartily through the house, and the baby from a
quilt on the floor reached up to him. It was amazing the dexterity
with which he could tuck the babe away, perfectly contented, in the
hollow of his arm, and use both hands in expounding the points of
various Panmures and Black Megs, with the history of their ancestors
from the oldest farms in Scotland. He made no effort to keep his
business affairs out of his home, this man; the two were so
intimately connected that their interests were common. Either would
have failed long ago without the support of the other. His wife knew
exactly what he was talking about. Her pride in the herd was about as
great as his own; she had made little sacrifices and taken with him
the risks involved in buying new, expensive stock. It was a fine kind
of co-operation.

The warmth and peace and genuineness of it all filled Billy with a
happy wonder. He forgot to be embarrassed, but he sat in a corner as
much out of sight as possible, watching the restful air of content
about the woman, and listening to the man's enthusiastic forecast of
the future of the breed in Canada. The stockman noticed his interest,
and when they were ready to go he kept the rest waiting while he took
him back to go more fully into the peculiar traits of a certain
family. Then he asked:

"What do you keep at home?"

"Most anything," Billy answered, with a grim little smile.

"You ought to get on with stock," the expert remarked, sincerely.
"Come to me when you start for yourself and I'll give you a bargain
on some better than these, if nothing happens."

Billy looked at the square, curly little beasts as a cripple stares
at an athlete's cup. Then he found all his wandering ambitions coming
to a point. Some day he would have a herd of such cattle. He could
see their perfect black shapes moving over a sunny field when the
autumn frosts had turned the trees and pastures to a glorious gold
and crimson background. They would be _his_, and when he had some
of them graded up to a show standard, he himself would groom their
curly hides till they shone; he could almost feel the shaking
muscles of their broad, level backs as they stood under the hands of
the judges. And there would be a house with red curtains and an open
fire, where his mother would be safe and comfortable as long as she
lived. He fervently hoped his father's business would continue to
take him away from home a lot.

At night he sat up late over a borrowed Aberdeen-Angus history. He
sketched over all the paper in the house to show how certain
individuals he had seen that day compared with types illustrated. He
estimated with reckless optimism what it would cost to start a herd,
and how long it would take them to pay for a house with a fireplace
and red curtains. At intervals he would get up and walk around the
table to work off his enthusiasm. There was nothing reserved about
his plans now. His mother felt that her cup was full. She was sure
her prayers for his direction had been answered and she blessed
"that agricultural young man" as an agent sent by Heaven.



CHAPTER V.

  "_What is a butterfly? At best
  She's but a caterpillar, drest._"
             --_Benjamin Franklin._


The dreams of our youth are long in coming true. When at last they do
arrive we have worked so hard for them, watched them grow from such
humble, unpromising beginnings, come through so much commonplace,
grinding routine, that we do not recognize them as the reality of the
vision that carried us up to the clouds years before.

The more definite Billy's ideal became, the farther it receded, until
at last it seemed so impossible that he said little about it. The
only man whom he hoped to believe in it was the District
Representative. He had helped him in the selection of a flock of
sheep to trim down the rough corners of the neglected farm. He had
used his influence to get him credit on a bunch of shaggy, bony
calves to turn into the waste places in the spring, and had been the
first person to laugh with him over the cheque in the fall. He had
initiated him in the art of mixing cement, with the result that the
stables, the cellar and the porch around the house were made dry and
solid. He had surveyed for drains through a field that had never
grown much but bulrushes, and Billy had another two acres of black
loam added to his tillable area. Oh, he was an all-round man, that
Representative, with the tentacles of his office reaching out to a
thousand sources for help, and placing it to the best of his
knowledge wherever anyone in his territory wanted it.

It was the Representative who revealed to Billy at last that the
thing he needed before he would ever be satisfied with anything else
was more education. Billy knew that he wanted an education, but he
also wanted the fields, the steady quieting toil of seed time and
harvest, the care of the cattle, the directing of life and growth
with all their mysteries and miracles, and their unfailing obediences
to natural laws. He was a born farmer, but he would never be content
to farm blindly, mechanically, as an animal follows prey, for an
existence. The best solution for his case seemed to be the
agricultural college.

A college year leaves considerable free time in the twelve months,
and Billy managed somehow to keep the tillable acres of the farm
under crop and to harvest what he planted. The first year initiated
him into a dozen phases of learning that he had never heard of
before. In the second year, partly by accident, partly through the
insight of a few semi-professionals, it was discovered that he had
some unusual athletic possibilities, and Billy loosened up from his
grind sufficiently to learn the hard, clean strain of rugby and
hockey, and to warm up daily in the gymnasium. It opened up a new
world for him. In his whole life he had never before learned to play,
and as it put a new spring in his muscles, a new physical joy of
living in his existence, it began to clear away the cloud that had
sobered and darkened his outlook. It was in his third year, at the
term's closing dance before Christmas, that he had another awakening.

Up to this time, every attempt of his classmates to draw him across
the girls' campus had failed. The magic force had come to him on the
rink that afternoon. A gay little figure in a white wool skating
outfit, with a brave dash of crimson here and there, chasing a hockey
puck down the ice, skated very close to him, lost the puck around his
skates somehow, and as he returned it, she turned in his direction
for a moment the most naive, childish gaze from a pair of wonderful
blue eyes. At night, to the amazement of his friends, he went to the
dance. The girl might be as unattainable as a royal princess--he was
quite sure she was; yet, as millions of men had done before him, he
took the trail of the impossible with a hope that really promised
nothing.

She made the first picture he saw when he went in, standing like a
rare bit of Italian china on a space of polished floor, the magnet of
a train of sleekly-groomed, linen-bosomed young men. Absently Billy
was having a programme thrust upon him. Dazedly the admonition was
being borne in on him that he would be expected to do his duty to the
end, and distribute himself around well. Already he was entangled,
introduced to a girl wearing a committee badge, and his escort
deserted him.

The committee girl didn't disturb his equilibrium at all. It wasn't
necessary to pay much attention to her; she didn't seem to expect it.
She was there for a purpose, to put people at ease, the rare
individuals of the twentieth century youth who needed this
ministration--and to shuffle them. She handled Billy's case by
reassuring him from the frankest and friendliest eyes he had ever
looked into, then following the direction of his gaze, she led him
directly to the regal little figure with its buzzing circle of
attendants.

Miss Evison's greeting was not so alluring as her wide baby stare in
the afternoon. She turned her meaningless, drawing-room gaze toward
him with the indifference due one of her innumerable courtiers, and
even glanced with immovable correctness at his hand extended half way
across the distance between them. Billy brought the hand back
painfully. He had known better, of course, but it seemed such a
humanly natural thing to do. Come to think of it, he had shaken hands
with the committee girl too, but she must have met him half way, or
something, because he had never thought of it until now. There was
something decidedly chilling, too, in Miss Evison's clear, blase,
very "nice girl," how-do-you-_do_, and not being a connoisseur in
the ways of women, he took it for a dismissal and turned to go.

Miss Evison had not anticipated this danger. He was walking right
away from her, with his rare six feet of athlete, his good looks, and
his whole unique farmerish appearance that would make such a striking
background for the evening.

She had to think quickly and she was not accustomed to the process.

"I--I think I noticed you at the rink this afternoon?" she threw out
desperately.

It was very bad, of course. She should never have admitted that she
ever noticed anyone anywhere. It was a decided compromise from the
standards she upheld so carefully, and the high tint of excitement in
her cheeks deepened and burned at the mistake. Billy sincerely looked
his gratitude for the recognition. It was so much more than he had
expected from this queenly little personage, with the whole of her
narrow little circumscribed world at her feet. He found something
very sweet and womanly in the deepening color, in the maidenly
lifting and lowering of her eyes--very wonderful eyes they seemed,
large and long-lashed, with the beautiful, deep blue and little brown
specks that Nature had given them, and the thousand little tricks,
flashes and mists and a half-closed dreaminess for which Nature was
not responsible at all. They could never be called soft in their
expression, but they could be very mysterious. Yet the girl was only
twenty.

Billy was not a novice at dancing. He had spent many a night gliding
over the candle-waxed floor in the town hall at home. He would never
take Jean to these affairs; he hated their atmosphere himself, but he
was very human in his fondness for the poetry of motion, and there
was very little poetry of anything else in his life. From the time he
entered the ball-room, it was his habit to dance constantly until he
decided to stop--then he went home. Sometimes, for reasons of his
own, he left earlier, but never because he was tired of the dance
itself. Here the tone was different.

Unconsciously he attracted some attention by dancing three times in
succession with the popular Miss Evison. She had demurred playfully
over the second, and seriously over the third, but when Billy
apologized for his selfishness, she gave it to him very sweetly. She
even managed, though he would never have thought of suggesting it, to
give him the second half of an extra, because it does give a certain
prestige to a girl's social standing to have to cut into her
dances--and Billy made such a noticeable figure coming across to
claim this mere fragment of her evening, and covering her with
confusion, in her effort to be nice to everybody.

In the intervals when she was away from him, Billy stood in the
shadows and watched her with a sober tenderness, something akin to
worship. She was as remote as the stars, he knew, yet a moment before
he had felt her soft, clingy scarf blowing against his face. She was
so sort of set apart, so uncertain, so alluringly feminine, from the
transparent drape about her white shoulders, and the American
Beauties trembling against her with every breath, to her frail,
little high-heeled shoes, and he thought happily that she would
always need a man to take care of her, to work for her, and to give
her these things. Then he came back to earth heavily. He thought of
the bleak little, weather-worn house on the Swamp Farm, with the fire
now covered up for the night in the chilly kitchen, and the oil lamp
turned low. To-morrow night he would be back, it would be Christmas
Eve, and until the last few hours the thought of it exalted him. Now
it hovered like the proverbial little cloud darkening his skies.

He began to make his way out of the gymnasium with its confusion of
crashing music, delicate tinted dresses, gay shaded lights and
gliding figures trailing their white shadows after them along the
polished floor. Then it occurred to him that he might see Miss
Evison again on the pretext of saying good-night.

Miss Evison wasn't accustomed to this ceremony from the rank and file
of the college body. She was rather surprised, but she was too much
occupied to be much interested. The diversion was a senior student
who was considered exceedingly "interesting" that term, and who had
been inattentive enough the last while to set a special premium on
his society.

"Oh, going? I'm sorry!" she flipped off in the clear, smooth
_staccato_ that always came when she had no point in particular.
She didn't offer him her hand, of course not--and Billy went out
vaguely unhappy.

The train for home would leave in the afternoon. There were many
things Billy could have done with the morning, but he paced moodily
among the term's wreckage in his room. About ten o'clock a crowd of
girls passed the window and a crimson scarf flying from a white
skating outfit brought him to, suddenly. The next minute he was
unstrapping his trunk and groping for his skates.

Miss Evison in her skating rigs seemed far more of a flesh and blood
creation than when she was made up for the evening. She was less
formal, too, and Billy felt more sure of himself. They had made one
circle of the rink when a new crowd of students came in. Billy didn't
know them; they belonged to a clique by themselves. They could steer
a toboggan down a hill, or balance a tea-cup with the dexterity of
long practice. Why they had chosen agriculture as a profession was a
mystery, but from the standpoint of tearooms, flowers and theatres,
they were very select young men. As she passed them with her new
attendant, Miss Evison observed that their attention was casual and
it set her thinking. She realized that perhaps she had been overdoing
things. It was one thing to let the attentions of a very good-looking
and unknown young man create a sensation at a dance, and quite
another matter to keep up the acquaintance.

After rapid consideration, she cut right into Billy's enthusiastic
account of the carnival after the last hockey match with a sister
college. She didn't interrupt him rudely, of course. If you're just
socially cultivated enough you can do anything without being rude.

"I had almost forgotten," she said, "this is the last skate of the
year. A lot of the people I know are here, and I don't want to
be--exclusive."

"I'm sorry," he apologized. "I should have thought, but it seemed
such a little time."

It had been a little time, scarcely five minutes, and it occurred to
her that possibly he had more intuition than she suspected. It was
not at all what she desired, that this boy from the country, whom she
had chosen to be nice to, should question anything she wanted to do,
whether it was right or not.

"Perhaps the men here are too appreciative of trifles," she remarked
stiffly. "It may be different in the country."

Billy took her back silently. Things _were_ very different in the
country; if she only knew how different, he surmised, she would
despise him even more. Turning dazedly to go off the ice he ran right
into the committee girl.

It was fortunate that the speed of his arms measured up pretty well
with the force of his body, otherwise the girl might have had a bad
fall. As it was, there was a blue mark on her shoulder that she kept
hidden for some days. The fear that it might be there troubled Billy
not a little. He dropped his hand and stood there terrified.

"Thank you," she said, "I was just about gone," and then she laughed,
just naturally laughed at his confusion, laughed with a frank,
reassuring kindness in her friendly eyes, and just as unconcernedly
as he had met her the night before, Billy found himself skating down
the ice with her. He found himself talking to her without restraint
and quite on a level. Then she introduced him to a crowd of the
finest girls he had ever known. Altogether, he was having a very good
time. He had almost forgotten the agony it gave him to see Miss
Evison sweep past, listening with rapt attention, evidently, to the
social oratory of the "interesting" man, when a thin little voice
beside him almost whispered--

"Was I terribly horrid?"

If she had been alluring before in her many variable little moods,
she was irresistible when she put all that childish appeal to be
forgiven into her misty eyes and pouting mouth. Billy looked and
wondered. He couldn't see that she had done much to require
forgiveness, but it made him very happy to have her come back; so he
laughed into her troubled eyes as one does to a penitent child, and
answered:--

"I think you were. How far will you come now to make up for it?"
Considering his inexperience, he was playing up to her lead very
well.

She would go any distance. She would even skate with him a little
while after the others had all gone--if he had time before his train
left. She told him in broken, embarrassed little phrases, that she
was impulsive, that she guessed she was spoiled, but she was always
sorry after she had been rude; she would do anything to make up, she
wanted always to be kind, because she just couldn't stand it not to
have people love her.

And Billy replied gallantly that he didn't see how anyone could help
it.

They had the ice to themselves now, and as they swept down the clear,
wide stretch they were unutterably happy. At least Billy was. He
didn't know that the sudden change in her attitude was due to the
fact that he had established his favor with the best girls of the
college that morning. If he had known he might have appreciated the
kindness of the committee girl even more.

Miss Evison explained her high spirits on the ground that she was
going home that night. Mother and Dad had both written that they were
dying to see her--that was the worst of being an only child. She had
an inkling that Dad was getting her a little runabout for Christmas,
sort of a bribe to keep her from wanting to go back to the city next
year. Oh, yes, they had a farm--just a hobby, of course. Oh, no, they
didn't live on it. They had a house in the nearest town; there were
several congenial families living there, and it was near enough to
the city to go in to a show when there was anything really good. But,
oh, she loved the country--just loved it.

And what did she think of the college? She loved it, too. She would
be sorry when her year was up. She had met some of the _dearest_
girls, and she had had a perfectly _lovely_ time. She hadn't
wanted to come in the first place, but Dad had just insisted; he said
she was going far too fast at home--it really was hard to get an
evening in, because there were some _very_ nice people in the
town, for the size of it, and she was _so_ fond of company and
excitement. She could just live on it. She told him, with the naivete
of a child, of her many amusing culinary disasters, after she had
begun to study household science; how the last time she was at home
she had _insisted_ on getting tea on the maid's afternoon off;
how the souffle had fallen flat and she had forgotten to put the
cream of tartar in the biscuits.

When she suddenly remembered that she had an engagement in the
afternoon, Billy took off her skates something after the manner of a
slave kneeling at the feet of the Queen of Sheba.

"Just to think," she chattered, "our last skate this year, and I've
talked all about myself. The next time you must tell me all about
_your_ affairs, and your holidays, and everything."

Billy smiled and looked away. He realized painfully how difficult it
would be to tell this beautiful, irresponsible, "delicately-reared"
girl anything about himself or his holidays or anything.

When he opened the Hall door for her she drew from her muff her
smooth, supple little hand without even its glove, held it out to him
warmly, and left him thrilling from the contact. She rushed upstairs
glowing; she had had a glorious time and there were a thousand more
glorious times ahead of her--not with Billy--oh, dear no. She
confided to a circle of her dearest girl friends that he was "all
right in an agricultural setting," he was "awfully handsome in his
lumbering yeoman style," he was "splendid to have looking at you with
his sober eyes, as though you were a Madonna, or an actress, or
something," but Billy "transplanted to a circle of the class of
people a girl would want to live with--heavens!"

And Billy, rushing for his train, staring out at the flying white
fields, or figuring on the back of the latest market report of beef
cattle, was possessed of one thought. He must make his plans work
out; he must be ready to turn things into money fast; he must be
successful in some way or other; and he wasn't thinking of the folks
at home this time. He didn't notice the old familiar landmarks until
the train stopped at the home station.

Jean was there to meet him. She had her arms around his neck almost
before he reached the platform, and would not let him go till he had
fairly crushed the breath out of her.

"And how's everything?" he asked.

"Just fine--only Mother!"

"Is anything wrong?"

"No, I guess not. She just doesn't seem very well sometimes."

Somehow the news filled Billy with foreboding; he could only picture
some awful change. He was impatient to get home, yet, so suddenly
awakened from his dream of other things, he felt like a stranger as
they neared the old place. How little and lonely the house looked in
the thickening dusk with the lamplight making red squares of the
windows--the frost already creeping out from the edges of the panes,
and the white smoke floating up from the two little chimneys. There
was a fire in the parlor to-night--a sign of festivity for his
homecoming.

The horse had scarcely turned in at the lane when the kitchen door
opened, and in the light flooding out, Mary stood waiting with the
lantern, on duty as usual. She seemed very frail and little as she
hurried to meet him, very pathetic too, with her face lifted shyly,
not knowing just what to expect, aching to express her love, but
fearful of doing the wrong thing. They grow away from their mothers
so fast, these men-children; they get so involved in things outside
that the mother who stays at home trembles for the time when they
will have ceased to need her.

As she bustled around in happy confusion putting the finishing
touches to the supper, Billy struggled to adjust himself. The ceiling
of the little room seemed very close to his head, the walls very
confining as he paced about, but he noticed that the floor was
scrubbed white, that the curtains had been laundered until they
fairly bristled out into the room. His foot disturbed a rag mat with
some yellow birds hooked into it, and when he got down to straighten
it, some good fortune prompted him to observe:

"This is something new."

"Well, to think you'd notice that! I was afraid I wasn't going to get
it done in time. Do you remember that plaid? It's some of the first
kilts you had. The brighter pieces I've worked into a quilt for you
when you have a house of your own--if you'd want it."

Billy did some quick imagining, then, as if challenging some argument
against the patched quilt.

"Sure I'd want it," he said. "I should think _I would_ want it."

All evening he watched to see whether there was any ground for Jean's
fears. It never occurred to him that his mother, with her tactful
simplicity, might be watching him too. It was not until after Jean
had gone to bed that they came nearer to an understanding. For a few
minutes she knitted while he watched her and listened to the clock
ticking on towards midnight. Then without looking up she asked:

"Did you have any good times this term?"

She had never inquired about his "good times" before, and he
wondered, half pleased, how she knew. He felt a pleasant warmth
covering his face as he answered:

"A few, toward the last."

She didn't seem to notice his embarrassment. She suggested casually:

"Let's move up closer to the stove and open the door. It's as good
as a fireplace when you want to talk."

He knew she hoped he would tell her more, and he wished he could,
but there was nothing to tell. To repeat anything Miss Evison had
said--and heaven knows he remembered every word--wouldn't give a
right impression of her at all. You had to _see_ her to get any
idea of what she was like. Besides there was something about her
whole airy, pleasure-loving, exotic presence that didn't seem to fit
in here. He liked to shut his eyes and picture her as she looked
standing under the cluster of rose-shaded lights in the college
ballroom, but when he opened them on the neat, square little kitchen,
with the wood-box behind the stove and the bleary little lamp
throwing shadows in the corners, the vision tortured him with the
weight of something irreparably wrong. He started from his reverie,
remembering that the last thing his mother had said was to the effect
that the stove with the door open was as good as a fireplace.

"We were going to have a fireplace of our own, weren't we?" he began.
"You must be tired waiting for it, but it won't be long now. If I can
get through next year----"

He thought he saw the patient lines draw across her face, but she
smiled naturally enough.

"It will be fine to be through," she said, "but you mustn't worry
about the fireplace yet. And I must tell you, too, because I have to
bring myself to it, that you're a man now. I want you to have your
house and your fireplace and everything just like you want it; but
you mustn't go putting your mother in your plans; it isn't natural.
I'd like to see it all, and I'd be so pleased about it--to know you
were happy, but young people want their own life. Only there's one
thing I like to feel safe about--you'll always look out for Jean? I'm
glad I can be sure about that."

And for the first time, watching her as she stared into the fire, her
knitting lying forgotten in her lap, Billy saw the change he had been
looking for. He came over and knelt beside her in all a boy's
helplessness, tears swimming unhidden in his eyes.

"What is it?" he asked. "Jean said you were not well. What about it?"

He felt her start, but she smiled back as she had done hundreds of
times before when things disturbed him.

"It's nothing," she said.

"Did you see the doctor?"

"Yes."

"What did he say?"

She had been trying ever since to forget what the doctor said.

"Oh! He said something about a specialist. They have to say
something."

"You--wouldn't mind going to the specialist?"

"No; but we can't think of it now. I don't feel bad at all. You see I
have everything so comfortable since you fixed the house."

Billy had the happy faculty of making his decisions quickly under
pressure.

"But why can't we go to the specialist now?" he persisted quietly.
"I'm not going away again till you're better. There's the money for
the next term; we'll use that. Then I'll be here. I can surely make
things a little better in some ways."

"Oh, no," she protested in alarm. "You mustn't think of that. I want
to see you get through. If it was the money, there's some in the
bank, but----"

"You want to keep that for Jean, don't you?"

"I do want her to go on to school. I want her to learn some way of
making her living. And if Jean should ever get married----"

"Oh, Jove, we'll not let her get married," he exploded with a
determination born of his own limited and bitter observation. "I
certainly don't believe in getting married--for girls."

It took more than Billy's inexperienced force of argument to persuade
his mother that he would not be happy anywhere but at home for the
next few months--that the farm was suffering for his attention
anyway. When she did agree to his plan it was because she found that
in some things he was absolutely immovable. He could be steered
easily enough to a certain point; after that all the winds of heaven
couldn't influence his course. Even the disturbing visitations of the
vision of the satin-shod idol, never once suggested the idea that he
might go back.



CHAPTER VI.

"_That a girl may make five dollars a day in a canning club during
the summer, or a boy win a prize of one hundred dollars for feeding a
baby beef, is one of the lesser advantages of the great national
movement which has caught the imaginative enthusiasm of the Young
Generation. It is really leading the way to a finer community life.
Many of us remember the old-fashioned chicken suppers in the basement
of the church, where the boys sat on the benches by themselves, while
the girls looked pityingly and shyly across the intervening space.
The club boys and girls in this great industrial college, allied
artists in the creation of a better country life, are changing all
this. Nothing in rural life has ever been the medium of such good
times._"--_Stanley Johnson._


Dan heard of the intended visit to the city doctor with astonishment
and annoyance. It wasn't like Mary to want such a thing, and he
attributed it to some more of Billy's "higher life" ideas. He
repeatedly unburdened his bitterness to Mary in Billy's absence, that
he had been fool enough to let him go to school just to come home
with his superior ways. To outsiders he had a habit of remarking: "My
boy, he's in college now. Costs a good deal--an education, nowadays,
but I want him to have the best I can give him."

Regarding the consulting of a special doctor he openly disapproved,
on the grounds that all a doctor hung out his sign for was to get
people's money. He had never had a doctor in his life and he never
would have one. The best rule he knew for health was to "forget it."
Then Billy came in and he stopped. When Mary came home at night and
took up the threads of her work where she had dropped them in the
morning, however, he rested more easily. He inquired, apparently
amused at the whole affair, when she was going back again, and she
said she didn't have to go back. He reflected then, that it was only
a "notion," as he had supposed, and was satisfied.

It was different with Billy. A dozen times a day he came into the
house and waited around awkwardly, without asking any questions, but
the most his mother ever said about the subject that troubled him was
that it was "about time to take the tonic," as though the
completeness of her heart's desire was assured through that
proceeding. Billy had never known her to appear so happy and he knew
in his heart that while she had opposed so seriously his staying at
home, she felt a support in his presence. A strange dread haunted him
that the time might come when she would need him still more. His
first important step in the farming operations was to provoke his
father's wrath by the extravagance of adding a bathroom to the house.
It was a very simple affair, built on a level with the ground floor,
with a hand-force pump and cement storage tank, but it gave a
satisfying touch of comfort and refinement.

Early in the New Year Billy received a scribbled note from the
District Representative. "Can you help us with our short course? We
have about thirty enrolled for the boys' class, pretty good fellows
practically, but most of them, I dare say, could have had all the
schooling they ever got crowded into two full years. To make matters
worse, we're putting on a course for the girls--cooking and the like.
A girl taking some post-graduate work at the college is coming down. I
expect the thing will develop into considerable of a nuisance before
we're done with it, but we'll have to see it through."

Billy's sympathies were aroused. He readjusted his plans so he could
get five days a week off, went to call on the Representative and
found him troubled.

"You see, it wouldn't be so bad," explained that work-driven,
detail-harrassed official, "if it were not for this girls' affair.
Even if they'd keep to themselves it wouldn't matter so much, but I
understand there are to be tobogganings and skating-parties and
socials--sort of a sleigh-ride-and-taffy-pull phase of the
keep-the-young-people-on-the-farm movement, and I expect it will
leave them a hundred per cent more of the hoyden, or a hundred per
cent more buried in the Slough of Sentimentality than if they'd
never been the object of an uplift."

"I expect it will be the best thing that ever happened to them," said
Billy. "Were you ever so scared of a girl that when you went to a
neighbor's in the evening you'd go around to the stable first and
wait there till some of the boys came out and took you into the
house, sort of under cover?"

"No," came witheringly from his superior.

"And did you ever find yourself left alone with a girl that you'd
known or should have known all your life, a really good-sense, clever
girl who must have had lots of ideas of her own, but neither of you
could advance any conversation at all because you hadn't the first
shade of a common ground or a common interest? There was nothing to
do but try to imitate the smart talk of the imported store-clerk, or
go, so because you didn't want to make a complete donkey of yourself
you generally went?"

"I should say not."

"Or if you were an easy prey to the hoodlum element hanging around
almost every country village, you possibly found your recreation in
shooting peas from the back seat of the church at tea-meetings, or
cutting harness, or stretching wires across the road on dark nights.
When you reached the age of more civil instincts the most alluring
social interest was to follow the public balls from one end of the
country to the other. You met the same people, or the same class of
people, night after night, and you stayed till four o'clock in the
morning. Before it was done half the men would be glazed-eyed and
unsteady, and the girls looking dragged out, but sort of tolerating
it all; and some of them the best girls in the country, too. They
must have gone home heart-sick of it, but they always came back; you
can't wonder much--there was a lot they didn't know and there wasn't
any other excitement in their lives. A minister in the village here
ventured the idea of fitting up a gymnasium in the basement of the
church and having moving pictures on Wednesday nights, but one old
reprobate of an elder opposed it until it was dropped. He considered
it profanity in the first degree, and anyway he didn't want his
daughter going to picture shows or dressing up in gymnasium rigs, but
every time she came down to the post office, a new arrival in the
village who had come to open a pool-room over the carriage-shop, a
social and moral worm, as every man in the place knew, walked part
way home with her. She wouldn't have tolerated him a minute if she
could have seen him in comparison with decent men, but her father
didn't believe in the "safety in numbers" fact. She ran away with the
pool promoter and married him, and all the time there were a dozen
honest, well-intentioned fellows native to the farms around, any one
of whom she might just as possibly have married, but didn't for the
very good reason that she didn't know them. I believe this
co-education venture will be the best move yet in the 'rural
sociology' scheme."

"Well, then, before your enthusiasm cools, I wish you'd go and take a
look at the hall we have to fix up for a demonstration kitchen."

Billy looked at the hall and reported. The next day he brought his
tools, and according to directions improvised a table from some rough
lumber, nailed some boxes together for a cupboard, then swept out his
shavings and incidentally the dust from a year's meetings of the
county council. On the third day he was commissioned to meet the
train bringing the teacher.

Billy was not given to questioning orders, but he stopped unloading
chairs from a wood-rack to look his chief over with open defiance.

"I'll do anything in reason," he said. "I'll haul the furniture from
any part of the county till we get the place equipped. I'll blacken
the stove or scrub the floor if I have to, but I don't feel at all
equal to meeting any post-graduate domestic science girl and
escorting her up to the Royal Hotel. I wouldn't be surprised if she'd
sit right down on the steps and cry."

"More likely to sit right down and give you five minutes to find a
better place or get a taxi to take her home."

"Only that there isn't any better place."

"Why won't some of the women take her?"

"Some of them claim to have had previous experience with 'lady
speakers.' The general trouble, however, is that she comes from the
city--is rumored to be something of an aristocrat and the people are
afraid of her."

In spite of these scattered feelings of fear and hostility, the
teacher had a pretty fair attendance the first day. The second day it
seemed as though some one, probably the girls themselves, had done
some additional advertising. Toward the close of the afternoon the
Representative suggested to Billy that he go up and see if she wanted
anything.

The classes were over, but the girls were still there, and sounds
unlike the scraping of pans or handling of dishes, or anything else
pertaining to domestic science, came from the room. The door was
open, and instead of finding the students bending over a yeast
culture or copying the food constituents of cereals, he saw twenty or
more girls coming down the hall practising the minuet. The teacher
was there, with her back to him, demonstrating, of course; the girls
themselves had never seen the minuet before--and Billy stood
watching, open mouthed, for a full minute, before someone saw him,
and the dance broke up in confusion. He came forward to apologize to
the teacher and when she turned he remembered; she was the "committee
girl."

The class filed out bashfully, and the teacher gave Billy some idea
of what she was trying to do. Evidently she thought some explanation
was due. The minuet, she explained, was part of some physical culture
she was working into the course, and he heartily approved. He had
observed a neighbor's daughter, an awkward girl of sixteen, stiffened
and sobered from the care of the family of younger children, actually
relaxing and taking the bend with considerable grace. He had noticed
the stolid, stoop-shouldered girl from the Home, whose pride, almost
her self-respect, had been crushed out of existence, curving her
spine and lifting her head in admirable imitation of Miss Macdonald's
poise. He didn't wonder at this at all. If ever a school of physical
culture turned out a model it must be this girl, with her slim,
perfect physique, her quiet, supple carriage, her entire absence of
self-consciousness. Her whole personality radiated a wholesomeness.
From her regular, white teeth, her hair still shining from the brush
and sending out little rusty glints from the brown hollows where the
light struck it, to her white linen uniform and classy low-heeled
shoes, she carried the mark of the thoroughbred. And feeling the
warmth of her kind, happy eyes, hazel or gray or whatever they were,
it didn't matter, Billy almost decided that these things were worth
more than being pretty. He considered bringing Jean home from school
for the two weeks--not for the sake of the course, just for the
atmosphere.

In spite of her poise he surmised that she was taking her job pretty
seriously.

"The playing part of it," she explained, "will be questioned a good
deal, I'm afraid; it isn't outlined in the programme, but I believe
it's almost the most important here. Most of the girls can cook
pretty well; you can tell by the way they listen to the reasons why
you put meat to cook in cold water for soup, and boiling water for a
stew; and by the questions they ask about why specialists have
decided that it's better to keep a baby's feeding four hours apart
instead of two. You can't give them very much in two weeks, but they
have so much that is practical to begin on that they can go right
ahead and apply almost any principle they learn. When they're through
here they should be able to take the best Home Economics literature
and study for themselves. We're considering forming a 'Better Homes
Club' and linking up with your Junior Farmers. What do you think?"

Billy accepted the idea with encouraging enthusiasm.

"That's why it seems that the social part of it should be started
under some direction. Do the boys skate?"

"I'm afraid a lot of them don't. I never thought of such a thing
until I left here."

"I'm going to teach some of the girls on the pond on Saturday
afternoon. If the boys were interested we could have some skating
parties before we finish."

Billy spent some strenuous nights on the ice, getting the boys
interested. At the end of the first week a bonfire of pine roots at
the edge of the pond made the illumination for a union skating meet,
a laborious exercise for some of the class, but sending everyone home
with a happy anticipation for the next time. Before it was over Billy
set out with Ruth to follow the creek for a few miles down through
the moonlit stretches of frosted barrens. The girl skated as she did
everything else, freely and easily with an expression of joy of
living in every stroke. He had never seen such rhythmic, easy,
independent motion in girls' athletics, and he wondered how she had
acquired it.

"You must have taken to the out-doors soon after you learned to
creep," he ventured.

"I imagine I was kept pretty closely under cover at that time. I know
when I was seven years old people still thought I wouldn't grow up.
My mother died when I was a few weeks old and a well-intentioned aunt
put me into an exquisite nursery in the attic of her big house, and
got an expensive nurse to take care of me, but I just wouldn't
thrive. It was a very patient and far-seeing teacher who took me to
the fields and taught me to climb trees and spent nearly a whole
summer overcoming my fears of the lake. Then suddenly one day I swam
away from her; after that I began to live. There must be hundreds of
children like that whom no one ever bothers with. Had we better go
back?"

"Tired?"

"No, but I think we've come far enough."

She didn't look tired. Of all the glowing, happy, well-poised
creatures under the heavens she seemed the most thoroughly alive.
Billy admired the quiet control that never sickened a pleasure with
satiety, that reverenced a recreation enough to stop when it had
recreated. He thought of the jaded girls he had seen dragging through
after-midnight dances, in rooms reeking with air so poisoned that
even the lamps burned blue and flickered, and he hoped she would
teach them her creed of guarding her physical womanhood as a sacred
trust. He hoped she could inspire a love for the clean out of doors
that seemed to leave her tingling with the fires of pure oxygen.

Even the Representative, in spite of his prejudices, fell a convert
to her social propaganda, and attended with less boredom than he had
anticipated the tobogganings and sleigh-rides and taffy-pulling
functions. Instead of finding his young people "one hundred per cent
more of the hoyden," he observed an unwonted dignity. He overheard a
few conversations discussing landscape effects for the spring
planting, and the practicability of power systems for the farms and
homes of the districts. Instead of discovering his teen-age
irresponsibles floundering "in the Sloughs of Sentimentality," he
found a free and easy mixing of a few older people in every
entertainment and none of the clandestine pairing off so general in
some of their former affairs. He inquired how the parties and
sleigh-rides always came to be chaperoned by some women of the
neighborhood, and was informed that the girls arranged it. He
marvelled that the gatherings always broke up not later than eleven
o'clock, and heard from more than one mystified youth that the girls
seemed to have some secret understanding; no one knew what had come
over them.

On the last day of the course, when Billy returned from taking the
boys to see the Aberdeen-Angus herd that had played such an important
part in directing his own early interests, he found the
Representative unusually worried, and interrupting his enthusiastic
report of the day's proceedings with the irrelevant question:

"Have you seen Miss Macdonald to-day?"

Billy hadn't seen her.

"Well, she's got a beast of a cold, and looks like destruction," the
Representative grumbled. "I wish she was out of that hotel. She never
should have been there in the first place. I'll bet the walls are
fairly dripping dampness, and you probably know that when she's at
home she lives in a steam-heated, electric-ventilated palace of a
place, with a kind of millionaire uncle."

"I didn't know."

"Queer she should care about knocking around at a job like this."

"What are you going to do about it?"

"What would I be likely to do about it? I suppose what she needs is
mustard plasters and ginger-tea. What would you suggest that we do?"

Billy stared out the window for a minute.

"I guess I'll see if she'll come home with me and let my mother fix
her up," he said.

The Representative contemplated the back of his assistant's head,
wisely, for a minute, then decided he was wrong. He had never in his
experience with agricultural undergraduates come across so little
presumption and so much cool initiative. It made a puzzling
combination.

Ruth heard his suggestion with surprised gratitude. "It's just the
most ordinary kind of a farm house," he apologized, "but I think it
would be more comfortable and a lot safer than staying another night
at the hotel."

She wasn't afraid of the farm house, but she hesitated at the
imposition; she wasn't accustomed to such consideration. She also
realized her danger, and it decided her.

Of the several things in Billy's later career that had heightened his
mother's hopes for him, this was the crowning event, and in the whole
of her orphaned life Ruth had never known so well how much she missed
in not having a mother of her own. She felt no homesickness for her
uncle's luxurious house and her aunt's efficient, methodical
ministrations. She liked to lie in the deep feather bed with a
flannel-wrapped hot brick at her feet; and she liked to have Billy's
mother coming to see how she was getting on and staying to regret
that he hadn't brought her sooner; and she liked the strong, nippy
sweetness of her black currant drinks, even the warmth of her mustard
plasters--and she _loved_ the mother herself.

Somehow Mary knew it, and was happy. She supposed she would have
liked any girl Billy had brought home--certainly she would have
tried. But such a girl! She had always treasured the hope that
sometime there would be such a one, serious, and wise, and
considerate--a girl who would sort of take his mother's place for a
man when she had gone.

She confided the hope to Billy while they watched the fire the next
night, and Ruth was probably having dinner in her uncle's house with
no trace of her cold left other than an inconvenient red square on
her chest that interfered with wearing the regulation dinner-gown. He
looked up surprised. He stretched his imagination for some time,
but he couldn't picture Marjorie Evison in any such capacity at all;
neither could he see why any man would want such a thing. He was
still pretty young.



CHAPTER VII.


With the unfolding of the willow-buds at the edge of the marshes, and
the high, warm sun piercing the March winds, came a change to the
Swamp Farm. When every growing thing was stirring into life, happy in
its blindness to the rigors of seed-time and harvest and the burdens
incident to its later family life, Mary found that her battle was
nearing the end. The world was very dear to her too; the oldest and
most enduring of human hopes, the possibilities of her children, was
beginning to promise the things she had dreamed of--and she wanted to
live. But one day she crumpled up like a wilted leaf over a dress she
was making for Jean's commencement, and Billy put her to bed and
'phoned the specialist.

"There's nothing I can do," was the hopeless response.

"There must be. I'll meet you," came back over the wires in a voice
sharp and hard. And the specialist came.

It was Billy's first experience of coming up against a situation
where he was absolutely powerless. He blamed himself that he had been
too blind to see it coming, that he had ever left her to take alone
the hardships and worries that made such a large part of the life of
the desolate place. He unburdened these confessions to the specialist
with shame and bitterness.

"It wouldn't have made any difference," the doctor said, "and there's
nothing you can do now, except to make the waiting easier. I'm just
as helpless as you are. It was too late to do anything even when she
came to me first. To have saved her I should have been here years
ago, when her last child was born."

Billy went back to the day whose details would always haunt him, when
his angry little soul had cried out against it all--but there was no
room for the bitterness in his heart now--only a cold, gripping
dread, a dread for her, for the suffering and the heart-break of the
leave-taking. The thought of going out was something that, in his own
young, physical courage, he could not take philosophically.

"Will she suffer?" he asked.

"The worst of her suffering is over. Kept it hidden pretty bravely,
hasn't she?"

"Does she know?"

"She knew when she left my office that it couldn't be very long. She
hasn't let it shake her grip of herself yet, and she won't. After
all, there comes a time when none of us can hold life for a minute;
the one thing we can do, is to make it as good as we can for the
people we live with while we have them."

And then the old troublesome hate came back savagely. Billy knew that
as long as he lived he would have hard memories to fight. When he was
alone he waited miserably outside the room wondering how he could go
to her, but as usual she understood and called him.

"I just wondered," she said, "if you would take Jean's dress to the
dressmaker, so she can have it finished in time. I think I'd better
not try to sew for a while, and I wouldn't like her to be
disappointed."

So the days went on without a word of what was to come. Auntie Brown
took up her residence in the house. Dan accepted the situation with
stoical resignation while he was at home. He couldn't feel that it
was as serious as the rest supposed, but he made an unprecedented
attempt at kindness. In spite of his assumed optimism, he had a
sinking feeling that something which had contributed indispensably to
the background of his life was going to be taken away, and the whole
picture would be thrown out of balance. He kept away from home a
little more than usual, explaining to his friends in pathetic lapses
of despondency that he had to get away to get his mind off things.

But Billy stayed at home constantly. He could always be found within
call of the house, and notwithstanding his young terror of the
inevitable, managed to maintain the kindest sort of cheerfulness in
his mother's presence.

Her own fortitude puzzled him. Here and there she dropped many little
suggestions for the years to come, but she never spoke of leaving
them. Then one day she gave him her philosophy, pointing it out to
him on the worn page of a Bible--"_If thou hast run with the footmen
and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses?
And if in the land of peace wherein thou trustedst, they wearied
thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?_"

Billy had never heard the quotation. It struck him as pretty strong
thinking, a real man's philosophy for every day living--something he
wouldn't have expected to find in the Bible. He handed the book back
soberly, but without a word; he didn't know what to say. He was not
sufficiently sure of the theories so popular with students making
their elementary dip into the sciences, to be irreverent, but the
Bible opened for discussion on week days embarrassed him.

His mother watched him anxiously, then taking courage said:

"You won't think I'm preaching to you? I know I can't understand how a
young man looks at things, and I'm not questioning how you feel--but
I just hope you'll think about it. You've had a lot of hard things
already; there may be more ahead, and I'm afraid for you--not that I
think you'd fail where any other man wouldn't. I feel very safe about
you in things that most mothers have to worry about--but it's too
hard for any one to hold out alone. You'll think about it?"

Billy turned down the leaf by way of assurance. It was the best he
had to offer.

A few days later she left them. The turn came suddenly. A nurse was
brought down from the city, and with this professional help in charge
Dan said good-bye awkwardly each morning and drove off; the strain of
things at home made him nervous. It was Billy who stayed day and
night within hearing of the room, whose awkward boyish care
astonished the nurse with its gentleness and forethought, and it was
Billy who steadied the spent, trembling soul in its last great
weariness.

All day he had watched the tired eyes closing wearily, only to return
with troubled anxiety to Jean, and he had always assured her that he
would not forget her plans for the little sister. Then, as the mists
began to come over, she looked up again, with an effort, searching
for something.

"What is it?" he whispered.

"Where--is your father?"

It was the old, human cry of loneliness, and Billy realized as he had
never done before what she had been starving for through all the
years. Whatever Dan might be to anyone else, to her he was the
person she had lived for first; she wanted him now and no one knew
where to find him. Unless by chance he returned in the next few
minutes it would be too late. Even now, when he had not considered
the hours precious enough to wait with her, she was anticipating his
need of her, thinking ahead for him, with the pure maternal love that
rises above personal considerations. Painfully she left her last
request with Billy.

"You'll try to forget ... to think of him as I do?"

And Billy promised. He would have promised anything, and having made
a promise he knew he would keep it, whether it seemed impossible now
or not.

Then the frail little form settled down close against him, and with
the weariness of a hard day ended, the last light flickered and went
out.

Three days later, when it was all over, and they had come back to the
empty house, when Jean had cried herself to sleep and Billy could go
out alone to think, Ruth Macdonald came. She had seen the
announcement and had come at once, but when she reached the
churchyard everyone had gone, so she came to the house and found
Billy alone behind the mat of vines screening the little wooden
porch. There was a hardness in his set face, the traces of a fierce
battle going on inside. He was still trying to overcome the hate
that possessed him.

"It isn't that she had to go," he said, bitterly; "it's the kind of
life she had."

Ruth didn't say anything. She looked away for a while, then she
looked back, and there was a compassion in her misty eyes that Billy
had never hoped to receive again, since his mother had gone. And
somehow the hardness toward his father and life in general began to
melt. He leaned against the wooden rail with his face covered, and
Ruth listened silently to the dryest, hardest sobs she had ever
heard, listened until it wasn't in her nature to wait any longer. For
the hour he was only a broken-hearted boy and the mother instinct was
strong in her. She bent over him as she would to comfort a suffering
child, and ran her slim, supple hand through his hair. And because
Billy couldn't speak just then he covered the hand with his own and
held it there to show his gratitude. Beyond that he was unmoved, but
the girl was startled by a quick, hot rush through her young body.
She wormed her hand loose and looked over the fields for a minute
away from his stare of bewilderment. After that she was herself
again. But long after Billy was asleep that night she lay awake,
trying to smother in her pillow a torrent of hard, racking little
sounds that would not be kept back.



CHAPTER VIII.

"_We are so often ashamed of the earth--the soil of it, the sweat
of it, the good common coarseness. To us in our fine raiment and soft
manners it seems indelicate. Bring out your social remedies! They
will fail, they will fail every one until each man has his feet
somewhere upon the soil._"--_David Grayson._


How pitifully the compass of our lives is played with by the most
wanton little winds. When Billy finished college he did not have to
grope through the indecision of finding his work; he knew he was a
farmer. The conviction was verified one day when, rounding a bend in
a drive through a pine-woods country, he felt his pulses bound at the
sudden picture of a beautiful stretch of tilled land. It was in the
first intoxicating days of spring when the promise of the year is
likely to play tricks with our optimism, but the spring never elated
him any more. With the breath of the first white thorn blossoms came
the memory of another year when their perfume had blown in through
the open window of the little Swamp Farm house where his mother
waited; and a wonderful quiet possessed him; the old hardness had
almost gone. On the day when he had fought his first hard battle with
himself, and sobbed out the agony at last, the breaking up had
started, and when his father turned to the road after selling the
farm and nailing up the empty house Billy felt a genuine pity for
him. Jean had been sent back to school and would soon be ready to
teach, but he regretted seriously the loss of a home for her. This
was another pressing argument for getting a farm of his own.

It was a beautiful stretch of land at the end of a timbered road, a
lonely place, generally considered, but Billy went over it acre by
acre with glowing anticipation. Here he would start a permanent
pasture for the long dreamed of Aberdeen-Angus herd. Down where the
broad creek took such a precipitous leap in its course, he would
build a dam and drive the water to the buildings--perhaps install a
dynamo later on. The glinting blue stones from the rough little rise
back of the barn would make the foundation and fireplace and chimneys
for a low Swiss chalet among the trees. He could already see its
light blinking down on the highway like a beacon, the welcome to a
shelter and resting place where he could dream and hope, blessed with
the happy content of having paid his debt to existence through the
day.

Billy confided to a classmate, the Jimmy Wood who had piloted him to
the brink of his first college social adventure, his plan to buy the
place and work it, and Jimmy was disappointed.

"Have you stopped to think what you're letting yourself in for?" he
asked. "You've done farm work at home, and I'll warrant you've hated
it, but after four years away from it you'll find it a sight
worse--the dirt and the drudgery and the eternal monotony. Of course,
you'd get used to it. At the end of a year I dare say you'd be
content to wear overalls and a six days' beard from Sunday to Sunday.
I know we've all said we wanted to farm eventually, but not the
grubbing, driving, scraping kind of a job that goes with paying for a
place. Better make your money at something else and end up with
farming as a hobby, when you can afford to be merely business manager
yourself. If you start in now with nothing ahead, and have to save
every cent, you'll get so absorbed in yourself, so haunted by the
bogey of your mortgage, that by the time you should be some force in
the community philanthropically, you'll be sealed like a clam in the
money-getting idea."

"You mean, then, that the only public-spirited agriculturist is the
man who makes his money some easier, faster way, and comes back to
donate it here and there for rural uplift, who cultivates a hobby of
making speeches on the calamity of rural depopulation?"

"Oh, I know my view of it seems sordid enough," Jimmy admitted, "but
you're an idealist. And I can tell you there's no way you'll lose
your vision more surely than in a mill with poverty. Besides, if I'm
not uncommonly dense you've set your heart on that place because you
want to build a home on it; you know as well as I do, that a farm's
the lonesomest place on earth to go to alone. A man can navigate
fairly easily on a single craft anywhere else; he can stop to think
whether he can afford a wife and a home or not, and he can wait until
he can afford them, but a wife and a home are almost an absolute
necessity for a man who owns and works a farm, poor or not. Being an
idealist you don't want anything but the best, and I've observed that
the best is generally expensive."

Billy still seemed absorbed in the skyline and his adviser feared
that he might have gone too far. He knew that if Billy's decision had
been made, it had no doubt stood arguments quite as enduring as any
he could advance, and it wasn't likely to help things, to remind him
of the disadvantages.

"Of course," Jimmy continued. "I haven't any fear that you'd make a
mess of things, and I know there are compensations, but suppose you
do go back and bury yourself there now, you cut yourself off from
everything social at least, and I'm afraid you'll just wall yourself
in alone for the rest of your life. On the other hand, you have your
choice of two of the best counties in the province for Rep. work. The
job has a few allurements apart from the salary, and that reminds
me----"

From a collection of letters of various post marks and hand-writing,
and sundry photographs, Jimmy produced a snapshot and handed it to
Billy. It gave him a wicked satisfaction to see the dull red slowly
cover the sober face, for the picture showed nothing more disturbing
than Marjorie Evison perched nymph-like on the limb of a blossoming
apple-tree. Billy looked for a long time with the same unconscious
worship that had followed the airy little figure through the college
dance; then he handed the picture back.

"You can have that," Jimmy offered magnanimously.

Billy stared in amazement. "Don't you want it?" he asked.

"Not specially."

"Where did you get it?"

"Slipped it off the mantel right under her eyes."

Billy looked at the picture again with the same quiet gravity.

"Guess it doesn't belong to either of us," he decided, and carefully
held it over the fire until the flames covered it.

Jimmy had not enjoyed such an interesting bit of drama for a long
time. He also congratulated himself as a rather successful diplomat.

"I suppose you know you have a chance of the office in her county?"
he remarked incidentally. "What are you going to do about it?"

Billy didn't say definitely what he intended to do about it. That
night he stood at his window for a long time in the dark and looked
out over the roofs of the city, massed off in dark, blurry squares
with the street lights stretching between like ropes of toy electric
globes strung along a circus midway. Very confining it seemed to his
country-bred instincts, while beyond the last flickering lamp in some
laborer's cottage, the moist brown earth stretched for miles and
miles in limitless freedom. A thin white mist rose from it now like
incense from the hearth of the god of production. It was the
wonderful season of beginnings on the farm, birth and promise
everywhere--the eternal old mother pulsing with the first life of the
bursting seed, warm, yellow beaks chipping their shells,
wobbly-legged colts blinking at the light of day, and weak, trembly,
clamorous lambs needing the tenderest care of all, and so few people
with the right human instinct to look after them.

A passionate hunger for the land possessed him. Beyond the
pine-covered hills lay the place he had set his heart on. It would
take a long time to work it into the Eldorado it promised, and his
restive young muscles ached to get at it. There would be two or three
years of the grindingest kind of work, then returns would begin to
come in. The quaint Swiss chalet with its low stone wall and chimney
would go up among the trees, and its light blink down through their
shelter on the highway at night as he had pictured it for years.
There would still be an abundance of man-size tasks to do, and
worries to handle, and debts to meet; the same fields would call him
to work every day, but there would be the cabin to come back to at
night to dream and to love.

As usual his arguments brought him back in a circle. Of course Jimmy
had been right in thinking the farm was the loneliest place in the
world to go to alone, and of course, whatever Jimmy or anyone else
thought, the dreams of the little house were all inspired by a vision
that had hovered never far from the surface of his consciousness
since it startled him out of his boyhood a few years before. As is
usual with idealistic natures, he had endowed his idol with every
grace he worshipped; it was strengthened and purified as his
experience broadened, until no one else would ever have recognized it
as belonging to the silky little kitten of a maid who handled her
playthings with such soft-pawed heartlessness. The longer he stayed
away from her the more she seemed set apart in a world of other
interests and other friends. Now the opportunity had come to live in
the same community, and while there were moments when the prospect
rather terrified him, it never occurred to him to let it pass. He
still wanted the farm, but the farm could wait; the human, jealous
fear of losing her stamped out every other ambition. So it came about
that the next few weeks found him moving into the county agricultural
office.

The work habit is a powerful saving force to tide us sanely over
periods of distracting interests. When Billy took on the robes of his
office he was not by any means indifferent. He owed enough personally
to the Representative in his home county to appreciate the bigness of
the job, and his brief experience as assistant made it easy for him
to go ahead with the general routine. Against this there was a
troublesome undercurrent of dissatisfaction working, a half-ashamed
feeling that he was making the position a means to an end. But
because he had worked all his life he began at once to dig up
something to do. The more he investigated the more he found to do,
and the more he found to do the more he became fired with the
possibilities of achievement.

For the first week he drove all day from one school to another,
distributing settings of eggs and seed potatoes, and leaving with the
children such scientific information as they might apply in directing
the increase thereof. In the evenings he talked late with
labor-harassed farmers who came to get him to negotiate for hired
men, and remained to discuss other less urgent matters. As soon as he
could see a free evening ahead, he phoned Miss Evison to ask if he
might call.

He heard a dozen receivers come down while someone went to bring her,
and when her voice did come over the wires the clear, smooth staccato
was not reassuring. It had the ring of a woman with much business to
despatch, but who hadn't yet learned the art of handling each case
whole-heartedly.

"Mr. Withers?" she repeated with doubtful inflection, then, "Oh, yes,
I do remember. I believe I had you confused with someone else."

This was less complimentary than puzzling, since the local papers had
advertised widely the coming of the new Agricultural Representative,
in one case, by some strange accident, directly following an account
of Miss Evison's card party in the "society column."

She would be glad to see him, however; the difficulty was just to
find an evening free. She counted over her engagements, beginning at
the end of the week and working back, and decided she could give him
the next evening. He came away from the interview grateful, but
unhappy. Two things troubled him. When she could be so charmingly
cordial, why did she ever assume that tantalizing aloofness which
made a man wonder how much discomfort his attention was giving her?
And why, when she must have known who he was, did she pretend to have
forgotten? To his simple standards of honesty it was disappointing.
Then he reflected that he didn't understand girls--that, of course, a
girl of her popularity must be bored to death with cases like his own
and had a right to use her own methods of defence.

It was a maid in uniform who admitted Billy to the Evison home and
ushered him into a parlor to wait for Miss Marjorie. As it was his
first experience with this formality he was a little embarrassed. The
room itself was not just fashioned to put any one at ease. He didn't
know much about house furnishings, but he judged from its fantastic
twistings and carvings that this was copied from some antique
historic period. He knew also that it must have cost about as much as
he would have to spend in equipping a whole house. A level shaft of
warm, yellow light from the sunset came through the curtain and
touched a vase of long-stemmed jonquils, but the highly cut points of
the glass caught the light and splintered it into a dazzling
spectrum, leaving the delicate beauty of the flowers pale and
lifeless.

Somehow the picture remained strangely in his mind when Marjorie
came. There was something dazzling about her, just as there had been
when she played a local magnet in the college ballroom, and it seemed
to outshine the natural girlish sweetness which by reason of his own
ideals and his lover's interpretation of a few of her passing moods
had grown into his thoughts of her. She greeted him with the assured
graciousness cultivated of constant social experience that he knew
nothing about. He was frankly embarrassed and he didn't care. Weighed
against her cool indifference, it seemed to save a remnant of reality
in his dream.

The April evening out of doors was inviting. The night air was sweet
with the perfume of budding orchards, the roads for miles around were
smooth and damp, and the Department of Agriculture car was at their
service. Billy considered her dress, doubtfully; very pretty it was,
sheer and white, with little blue flowers sprinkled over it; very
short, like a little girl's, showing white silk stockings dotted with
the same blue flowers.

"I just wondered," he ventured, "if you'd care to wrap up and come
for a drive?"

Her composure left her instantly. She drew in her breath in childish
anticipation.

"Down to the city?" she asked. "I haven't been there for ages.
They're playing The Follies to-night. Do you think we'd be in time if
we hurried?"

A few minutes later she ran downstairs in her motoring outfit,
followed by her mother. She was very proud of her mother, because,
impressed by the striking resemblance, people always thought, "Just
like the daughter will be twenty years from now." She was very
pretty, willowy and girlish with a youthfulness that told of
painstaking preservation, effusively gracious, in a subtly superior
way, years of social practice in the same groove having equipped her
with a supply of stock-phrases ready to be tripped off glibly to any
occasion.

"You'll take good care of our little girl?" she said. "She doesn't
make a practice of running off like this unchaperoned, but we want
her to have a good time and it's really very dull for her here. Since
Mr. Evison got the farming bug he has become a hopeless recluse. He
runs out to the farm almost every day, and I tell him he'll soon be
driving his own pigs in to the market." She laughed gaily at the
idea, a silvery little descending scale, and Billy wondered why she
should have bothered for him. "You're connected with the Farmers'
Institute or something here yourself, aren't you?" she continued.

Billy explained as briefly as he could what he was trying to do, and
received at the end of each department, the safe comment, "How
interesting!"

Of course it wasn't interesting, as he told it. There's nothing
interesting about dealing out setting eggs and potatoes to school
children all day, and trying to round up elusive and indifferent farm
laborers at night. Personally he saw something very much worth while
beneath these externals, but weighed by her standards they shrank
perceptibly. Not that he attached any importance to her judgment;
only she was Marjorie's mother, and her opinion might matter a good
deal.

Nature never intended a motorist to speed through the soft dusk of an
April night in the country. The breath of the balm of Gilead tree,
the scent of whitethorn blossoms, the rich, earthy odors from
fresh-ploughed fields, were lost in a chill, damp wind driving in
their faces; the blurry outlines of heavily tasselled willows on the
roadside, and lamplight pictures caught through the windows of farm
houses--mothers bending over children at their lessons, or a late
supper group where the day's work had been unusually long, all shot
past like dizzy films on a crazy reel; the musical roar of high,
boiling creeks, and the sleepy chirp of nesting birds were drowned in
the pounding of the engine. It wasn't the hilarious joy of speeding,
just the strained sitting-tight and making time. There was a rough,
noisy climb up a stony hill, and the city glittered in a bowl below.

They coasted down silently, and when Billy could take his eyes from
the wheel, to fairly look at the girl, he found her bright with
excitement.

"I wonder if I'll see anyone I know," she said.

The play was not inspiring, to make the best of it. This didn't
matter much to Marjorie, because she had not forgotten her opera
glasses, and seemed to find a wonderful interest in searching the
audience. Suddenly she brought the glasses down, and directed her
attention solely to Billy and the stage. Billy didn't look near the
stage much; his knowledge of plays was limited, but critical, and on
the night when the hope of four years had its first gift of reality,
it would have seemed a prodigal waste to give his attention to stage
fiction. He found quite heaven enough for the present in her
nearness, the beauty of her white, regular profile, and her adorable
way of leaning the merest trifle over the arm-rest between them.

When it was over, and the car was gliding quietly over the road home,
she slid down snugly in the seat like a satisfied child, and he
thought, with large plans for the future, how little it took to make
her happy. He didn't know, of course, that the satisfaction of her
evening had begun when her glasses caught the attention of a very
desirable acquaintance whose interest of late seemed to require some
stimulation. If she had had all gifts of the gods at her command,
nothing, she reflected, could be more effective than to be seen with
Billy with his good looks and the unaccountable impression he gave of
"being somebody." None of her friends would know who he was, of
course, and she didn't intend that they ever should know. Altogether
she had spent a very profitable evening. Then there was something
very gratifying about Billy's company; he gave so much and asked so
little. She was accustomed to lavish attention from other men, but
none of them ever offered her the deference of a saint and the
indulgence of an irresponsible child. It was an understood part of
their social code that she work her resources to the limit to be
entertaining, that she make the most of her beauty, that she play the
game for what it was worth. With this she had an easier trick of her
own--to set them off against each other through the gentle art of
inviting opposition.

The balmy softness of the evening had gone and the air held the chill
of midnight. The lights were out in the houses except an occasional
night-burning lamp turned low in a kitchen. They saw one bent,
white-bearded old man with a lantern coming from the barn, presumably
making his anxious nightly rounds to the sheep-fold during lambing
time. Marjorie roused from her reverie and shivered a little.

"How terribly lonesome," she said. "I don't know how they stand it to
live here all the time, but I suppose some people are made for that
sort of thing."

"I suppose so. I'd rather farm than anything else."

"You would? Of course you mean to manage a farm, or to advise other
people like you're doing now. That's different."

Billy smiled.

"You don't advise people much at this job," he said. "You just try to
get the community in line with whatever service the Department of
Agriculture (which is their own) has to give them." And then because
he didn't want her to have any illusions as to the dignity of his
work he outlined in detail some of its humblest phases.

"How very funny," she laughed. "You must be very much amused
sometimes, but it must be an awful bore, too, dealing with that class
of people day after day. Someone's generally at home at our house. I
know you'd like Dad and I hope we'll see heaps of you."

"That's very kind," he said, genuinely grateful, "but I didn't mean
that I find it tiresome at all. You see it's different when you've
always been a farmer yourself, and I'd like to go back to real
practical farming on a place of my own."

"Yes?" she inquired, beginning to get his viewpoint. "I know a girl
friend of mine--and they're very nice people--they have a farm that
they live on the year round, and all summer her father wears a white
suit and goes right out among the men."

Then Billy must have touched something, for the car shot out
suddenly, and they didn't discuss things agricultural any more. He
had about decided that the case was hopeless.

The lights were still bright in the house when they drove up, but she
led him around to a side door opening into her own little
sitting-room. Someone had just kindled a fire on the hearth, and
slipping out of her coat she dropped down on a stool. Billy looked
down at her with a tenderness that he wouldn't have dared to let her
see, then his eyes wandered to a few of the room's features that
clamored for attention.

It was decidedly a girl's sanctum. The one soft-shaded light was
turned low, but the flickering blaze from the fire showed the walls
gay with pennants. On the mantel, the little French writing-desk, and
here and there in odd spaces on the walls were photographs; she
seemed to have a preference for college graduates in gown and
sheep-skin and the smiling assurance that usually goes with a degree
before experience has tested its infallibility as a talisman. On a
table in the centre of the room, a vase of tall American Beauties
served, no doubt, to keep green the memory of some very ardent or
wealthy admirer.

A less prejudiced person might have seen in the collection of
trophies something in common with the scalps decorating the walls of
an Indian tepee, but to Billy it only emphasized his infinitesimal
place in her world. There was something very sober and kind in his
eyes when they came back again to the thoughtful face with its starry
eyes and childish, pursed-up mouth and the mysterious touch that
comes from the glow and shadows of the firelight. He thought how
sweet and becoming this seriousness was, compared with her lighter,
irresponsible moods, and he looked ahead to the time when life would
have taught her more of its meaning. Then the little Swiss clock
chimed out twelve and he came to apologetically.

"When may I see you again?" he asked.

She drew her brows together and counted on her fingers a list of
engagements for a week.

"You'd better call me up," she said. "I'm never sure of what I want
to do for a day ahead."

It was the beginning of many such evenings, distracting, uncertain,
alluring but promising nothing, and the agricultural office suffered
accordingly.



CHAPTER IX.


Very often, in planning his trips to examine the children's school
gardens, Billy arranged an itinerary touching the neighborhood of the
Evison home, and took Marjorie with him. Very gay little picnics they
had. A bank of violets or a nest of young robins never failed to move
the girl to ecstasies. They generally stripped the bank of its
flowers and she carried them away, withering, laced through her hair
and knotted about her dress; and it took a great deal of moral
support to keep her from taking the young robins out in her hand to
feel the softness of their feathers.

"That's the way I love things," she pouted when Billy had warned her
of the subsequent fate of the birds if she touched them. "If I want a
thing I _want_ it. Life must be very easy for you cool, slow-feeling
people who can sort of stop and calculate before you know whether
you really care about a thing or not."

If the picnicking did claim undue importance and time in the garden
examining, it did not save her from getting a few glimpses of the
sterner phases of country life. In the middle of one hot July
afternoon they drove up to a farm home and found the woman bringing
in lines and lines of fresh-smelling clothes. She had done the
washing herself that morning and judging from the shine and order of
her kitchen she had done several other things besides. She wasn't
dressed in any regulation afternoon costume; her gingham dress was
turned in low at the neck and the sleeves rolled back at the elbows.
A few little damp tendrils of hair cropped out from under her sun
hat. She was thin and tanned and a little tired looking, but
something about her gave a wholesome impression of health, happiness
and usefulness. A perfect little Sandow of a boy a year or so old
slept on the porch in a crib canopied over with mosquito netting, and
two others in blue overalls hung shyly in the background.

Marjorie was surprised at the dignified kindness of the woman's
greeting. She wasn't at all embarrassed to be found taking in her
washing, but she put her basket down and gave her attention entirely
to her visitors.

"I'll take Miss Evison in where it's cooler," she said to Billy, "and
when the boys have taken you over their garden they have something to
show you in the house."

The feature of interest in the house was a big velvety cyclopia moth,
clinging sleepily to the curtain--one of the rarest of Nature's
beautiful creations.

"Their father found the cocoon on a peach tree," the mother
explained, "and we have all been watching it ever since. They're
learning a lot from their gardens and chickens and explorations of
the fields, that will give them a clearer view of things when the
time comes for them to need it. Never a day goes now but I thank God
that I am allowed to have my boys grow up on a farm."

"I didn't expect to find her like that," Marjorie remarked when they
left her, "so perfectly at ease and so sure of herself. She isn't the
average type of farm woman is she?"

"There isn't any average type of farm woman," Billy exclaimed. "They
have the most individuality, are the least run in a conventional
mould, of any class of women I know. This Mrs. Burns was a trained
nurse before she was married. There are a dozen others just as fine
and capable scattered through the neighborhood. The community doesn't
know much about them because they're so everlastingly busy they can't
get away from home much."

"Can't they get help, or don't they want to spend the money?"

"Some of them could afford help, but you can't get a girl to work in
the country. The city offers them good wages, and most of them have
an exaggerated idea of the inconvenience of a farm house from a
woman's standpoint. Naturally a girl prefers to work in a house where
the water comes hot or cold from a faucet in an enamel sink, instead
of where it has to be carried from a pump in the yard, where the
washing is done with a power machine or sent to the laundry instead
of being scrubbed out on a little zinc washboard, and a hundred other
details that make the farm undesirable for a city girl."

"And the lonesomeness of it! A girl who had lived in town would find
it maddening."

"But women like Mrs. Burns don't find it lonely. They have grown up
with country ideas, and they have a great deal in themselves--they
can make their own entertainment; then they have a live interest in
their homes and families, and the men in this community are generally
a pretty fine lot."

"Then why don't they make things different for their wives?"

"Naturally that's the first question a person would ask. Some of them
don't seem to care much, I'll admit. A lot of them, though, are
ambitious to have the very best things for their homes, but there are
two hard rocks in the way. In the first place most farms don't pay
well enough to install big improvements and not many farmers know how
to put in a low-cost equipment. Practically every farm that pays its
way at all could afford the essential conveniences, and with labor
as it is now, it looks as though power of some kind would soon become
an economic necessity. Then, we may see lots of improvements. There's
enough water-power going to waste in this country to supply every
farm with electricity, but I guess we farmers will always have to
fight the sin of conservatism."

Marjorie settled back in her corner of the seat. She was ready to
drop the subject for something more interesting.

"And yet," she said, laughing at him through half closed eyes, "you
want to be a farmer. Your poor wife!"

Billy looked hard at the road ahead. "It wouldn't be a very alluring
prospect, would it?" he agreed.

For several nights after this the light burned late in the
Agricultural Office, and curious sentinels of neighborhood affairs
speculated on reasons for the strange behaviour of "the agricultural
fellow" during the day. On several occasions he had been seen
patrolling the creeks which wound like threads of a spider's web
through the hollows of the rolling land. He always carried an armful
of boards and a saw and appeared to be measuring the width of the
streams.

"Mebby surveyin' for an irrigatin' system," one of the village store
roosters suggested.

When Billy had satisfied himself as to the resources at hand, and his
search for technical data had about exhausted the patience of the
engineers within reach, he succeeded in getting some twenty farmers
to meet in the agricultural office one evening to discuss harnessing
and putting to work the water-power in the district. He pointed out
how the sight of a dozen young horses running wild in his pastures
would impress the average farmer as an awful example of horse-power
going to waste, how he would spend a good deal of time and effort and
money if necessary to capture a horse-power or two for his own use;
while there may be five, ten or twenty horse-power running to waste
in the brook that waters his meadows, but he is not inspired with any
desire to possess and harness that.

He explained his strange conduct of the past two weeks when he had
followed the streams of the district for miles, measuring their flow
with a weir, and he gave the results of his prospecting. He told them
that every four thousand gallons of water falling one foot in one
minute, or every four hundred gallons falling ten feet in one minute
meant the power of one horse going to waste; that one water
horse-power would furnish light for the average farm; that five water
horse-power would furnish light and power for both the barn and the
house. He estimated that the cost of installing a five water
horse-power would not exceed the cost of one young horse, and that
it would have paid for itself in saving wages, by the time the horse
was ready to die.

He didn't expect the men to be carried away by his enthusiasm, and
they weren't. A power system of any kind was a novelty in the
section. An itinerant gasoline engine made its rounds every winter to
cut the year's wood, but no one had ventured to adapt even gasoline
to any farm work. Naturally, they were skeptical of the energy stored
up in their quiet little creeks. Billy knew that the only hope of
converting them rested in demonstrating just what a power system
could be made to do, and beyond the pine woods, neighboring with the
farm he had hoped to own, was a place where a stream from the hills
ran everything that had formerly turned with a crank. He could
arrange an excursion to the place. He could have the engineer who had
gone over the ground here come out and explain just how the same
principle could be carried out at home. He could get manufacturers to
bring special pieces of equipment and demonstrate their uses. And in
order that the scheme might not miss its main objective--to show Miss
Evison that a farm home could be made a livable place--he would
arrange with the owner and his wife to let him put on a demonstration
of a complete home equipment. In the last undertaking his zeal was
considerably in excess of his ability to handle the case. He wrote
to ask Ruth Macdonald if she would come and help him.

Ruth said she would come; somehow people always expected that when
they went to her for help. Besides, it was part of her professional
work. She spent some days consulting with dealers in household
equipment, from bath-tubs to wash-boards, and finally got together a
collection to fit the needs of any ordinary farm-house. The evening
before the day of the demonstration she followed her shipment out to
the farm, partly because the work ahead of her would require the
thrifty precaution known in country lore as "taking the morning by
the forelock," partly because she wanted to feel again the spell of
the moonlight flooding into the room, and the night stirred so little
by a breath among the leaves and the distant gurgle of the creek,
that she could hardly sleep for the stillness.

She awakened early next morning, to the sound of carefully handled
dishes in the kitchen, and the drone of a cream separator in some
distant annex of the house. The early October sun was flooding the
mists from the fields; a scattered drove of young cattle on the crown
of a hill moved like black silhouettes against the blaze. A tingling
buoyancy came from looking out over miles of open country and
breathing long, dizzy breaths of autumn-scented air, while down in
the city the great human herd still slept, catching whatever faint
little whiffs drifted in between brick walls. Field after field
bristling with yellow stubble told of a harvest gathered in, but the
orchards were still heavy with apples, their bright red glowing
through a glittering coat of the night's frost. Here and there a
corduroy of black furrows showed where the farmer was already taking
thought for next spring's sowing. Everywhere there was evidence of
productive work completed and the urgent call of other work to do; to
the born farmer there could be no monotony in the changing seasons.
Every morning in town she saw swarms of workers like herself return
to their day labors like bees to a hive, each passing mechanically to
its own little cell, pigeon-holed somewhere in the make-up of an
office building.

She had sometimes thought the lives of women in the country narrow
and drab-visioned, but here in the kitchen the farm mother was
singing quietly to herself as she cooked her family's breakfast. She
was no mechanical cog in the machinery of the place; she planned and
directed and created every day. Under the window her dahlias were
blooming gloriously. In the orchard a flock of her turkeys were
getting ready for the Thanksgiving market. Overhead was coming the
soft thud of her baby's bare feet on the stairs. On a hill off among
the pines a red maple flamed at the door of a crumbling house--an
ideal site for a Swiss chalet, Billy had called it one day when his
enthusiasm had run away with his reserve--and she thought wretchedly
of her office with its soft red rug, and its one gloomy window, and
of her uncle's luxurious house where hired experts held the sole
privilege of ministering to the family comfort.

However, she had a clear field for working out her own ideas to-day.
The house was a roomy, old-fashioned, hospitable place which had made
a home for two generations and might yet be the pride of a third. The
family had spent a good deal of money in redecorating and
refurnishing it as fashions changed or things wore out, and when the
stream from the hill was harnessed to furnish power for every machine
in the barn, the house was trigged out with a dazzling array of
electric lights. Apart from this, the returning ghost of a
great-grandfather would not have noticed anything new enough to
arouse his curiosity. One look into the barn with its whirring
motors, and general hum of activity--everything from the grindstone
to the grain chopper turning without a crank and all going at
once--would have sent the apparition scurrying back to more primitive
quarters.

Some of the women excursionists at the farm that afternoon seemed to
be possessed of the same instinct. They clutched at their children
when they saw them getting within reach of the electric washer. A few
were even afraid to touch it themselves for fear of a shock. When it
was suggested that where electricity was not available any ordinary
washer could be driven by a little portable gasoline engine about the
size of a lawn mower, they immediately had a presentiment of being
caught in the belt. The simplest arrangement demonstrated was the
connecting of a water-power machine to the tap in the kitchen sink,
but half of the houses in the neighborhood didn't have kitchen sinks
or any water supply other than a pump in the back yard and a rain
barrel under the eaves.

The women unanimously agreed that what they wanted most was running
water in the house. With a set of little models the girl showed how
this could begin with a soft water cistern and a pump plying into a
kitchen sink. The next improvement would be a water front on the
kitchen range and a hot water faucet, and these would lead directly
to a complete bath-room. Even without electricity or any other form
of power, a hand force-pump in the cellar could give a water supply
for a bath-room.

A genuine interest was kindled when the people began to handle the
equipment themselves. The men were not the least interested; those to
whom a vacuum cleaner was a new piece of machinery investigated its
mechanism with the enthusiasm of a boy with a new engine. They began
to realize why the family doctor sometimes condemned the straining,
twisting motion that goes with sweeping, even though their mothers
had lived long and used brooms. Those of a mechanical bent took up
the toy dumb-waiter with interest; they didn't resent being told that
every time a woman took a step up in climbing a stair she had to
actually lift her own weight--a waste of energy which they overcame
in their own work by fitting their barns with feed-chutes and
litter-carriers. They even listened with some show of interest to the
fact that most of the tuberculosis in the country was due to such
poor methods of heating the houses that the windows of sleeping rooms
must be kept closed all winter to keep from freezing, and they
discussed cost, and advantages of hot air and steam heating systems.
Women took up the electric iron, gingerly at first, then freely to
test the speed and ease of pressing out clothes with an iron always
hot and clean--without fires to keep up, or constant trips to and
from the stove. One weary little mother had eyes for nothing but the
kiddie-koop, a little screened box on wheels where her baby could
play safe and happy always near her, but out of her way, while she
cooked meals for a raft of hired men.

After a general discussion, they planned a simple and practical
equipment for an average farm house. Then they estimated the cost,
and the practicability of the whole scheme began to waver. In view
of the yearly income derived from the average farm, most of the men
decided that no farmer could afford to put so much money into an
unproductive investment. Their wives generally agreed with them. The
farm mortgage is as much a nightmare to a woman as it is to her
husband; she is willing to wait for everything until the place is
clear, and the most of her life has gone; then, if they still want
it, they can afford a most comfortable home to die in. Many parents
argued that they had to look ahead if they were going to give their
boys a start on farms of their own, but those of wider vision
believed that the whole scheme of family life falls down if the home
suffers; that it does not pay to build the farm up into a profitable
property which is despised by the very children for whom they are
giving their lives. Even the most doubtful showed some amusement at
the announcement that every essential convenience could be installed
in an ordinary farm house for less than the cost of a farm car--and
even the poorest of them owned a car.

Late in the afternoon Marjorie Evison and her mother called, as they
had promised. For the sake of Mr. Evison's business they made it a
matter of principle to patronize all agricultural movements. They had
never known the need of things that were novelties in most farm
homes, and could not grasp the significance of the array of washing
machines, mops and what not strewn about the big kitchen, but they
had time to talk to Ruth for a few minutes--to regret that they
couldn't entertain her at tea, as they were due at a corn roast at
the Country Club--and they congratulated Billy on the originality of
the idea and hoped they would see more of him now.

Billy had planned to find a spare hour during the day to take
Marjorie up to the place on the hill. It was very beautiful now with
the maples turning crimson and the sleepy countryside for miles below
basking in the sun, making a picture blurred and softened through the
purple haze. He wanted to search her face when she saw the wonder and
promise of it all for the first time--to try to learn whether it
would ever be possible to make her like it. But somehow things had
gone wrong; he decided that this was not the right day to try to
convert her to the gospel of country life. When she arrived he was
standing in the middle of the stream, explaining the mechanics of the
water-motor to a group of men. He was blissfully unconscious of how
his muddy hip boots, and collarless shirt with here and there a
smudge of machine oil, might appear to a girl who never saw men of
her own social strata in any outdoor apparel less elegant than white
tennis flannels. He didn't know that his unconcerned appearance as he
was seemed almost like effrontery. She might have even admired it in
some novel hero engineer hewing a railroad through a mountain, but
there was nothing romantic about this; it was just grovelling in a
muddy stream to show some two dozen farmers how a wheel went round;
it was just the dirt and soil of farming and he seemed to like it.
She found herself comparing him with the leisurely, polished men
of her own little _coterie_, and she decided that she liked clean
men. She was also unusually indifferent to-day on account of the
event at the Country Club. It was the recognized social centre for
urbanites who from choice or necessity had stranded themselves on the
dead sands of rural life. They frequently entertained very smart
people from town, and Mrs. Evison, with a mother's ambition, and a
social expert's diplomacy, looked upon it as the one chance in this
isolated place, through which she could give her daughter
"opportunities."

The Evisons didn't want to separate themselves literally from the
neighborhood social life, of course; they would try to drop in for a
few minutes at every community gathering, and they would give their
grounds for garden parties and use whatever other advantage they
possessed for the good of "the people," but it was not to be expected
that just because they were back-to-the-landers they should be
satisfied with the company of people of entirely different social
interests. This agricultural young man who had filled in so nicely
to give Marjorie a good time, who was so safe and unpresuming, had
always seemed rather superior, probably on account of his college
experience. He had always refused to be considered anything but a
farmer and they had laughed at him, but to-day, dirty and
dishevelled, he looked it. They must hurry on. And Billy watched the
scarlet blur of a girl's motor coat until the long grey car carried
it out of sight; then he returned to his water wheel. The shadows
were already darkening over the dream place on the hill.

The people went away interested. An agent or two who had hovered
tirelessly about the place all day, succeeded, in spite of government
regulations, in taking a few orders for their goods on exhibition,
and Billy was satisfied with the day's work. He knew that if one
improvement came into actual use in the district others would follow.
When the last car had gone he had a scrub up at the spring, made the
best of his disordered appearance and went to the house to find Ruth.
Notwithstanding the success of the day's proceedings he had a heavy
sense of disappointment. After all, the whole scheme had been
inspired by a personal object, and that had failed. To-morrow he
would be able to think of some new tack, of course, but to-night he
welcomed the buoyant philosophy and sympathetic interest that always
seemed to go with Ruth.

He found her in the kitchen helping the farmer's wife with the
supper. It was a repast fitting a day's strenuous work out of
doors--a great iron kettle of sizzling fried potatoes, a cold roast
chicken reserved from the weekly market supply, a platter piled with
steaming ears of corn, and deep, brown-skinned pumpkin pies. The
doors were open and a crackling wood fire warmed the frost-edged air
of the October evening. He found an old instinct stirred strangely by
something in the genuine home atmosphere of the place. He couldn't
tell whether it was the motherly air of the woman who directed
things, or the way the littlest sleepy towhead burrowed into his
father's shoulder, or whether the spell was partly due to the
rose-shaded light falling about the girl with her silky, dark hair
and glowing eyes. They were not at all practised in magnetic arts,
those eyes; they were just frank and kind and happy and rather
beautiful, he thought--the light might have been responsible. He had
a boyish desire to tell her what troubled him--not definitely, of
course; he had a masculine, cautious dislike of personalities, but if
he could give her the abstract problem, he might at least get the
benefit of a woman's viewpoint. He had to take her to the station
that night and he would drive around by the hill.

The mountain road was beautifully winding. For a stretch the trees
arched over, leaving it cut like a black tunnel through the woods;
then the rocks shot up a steep wall on one side and on the other a
rain-washed slope ran down to a level of flat, tilled fields. At the
crown of the hill the woods ended and a plateau of cleared land
marked the beginning of the farm.

The car stopped abruptly.

"Do you know," Billy began with animation, "I've always thought I'd
like to own this place. What do you think of it? I've gone over every
foot of it and I know it's a good investment--that it would give a
good living at least. Do you think it could ever be made a good place
to live?"

Ruth looked at the crumbling house with its background of old trees.
She remembered how the maple had flamed in the sun when she saw it
from her window that morning. Now with the shadows lying sharp and
black on the frosted grass and the moonlight filtering through the
branches, it seemed to stand waiting for something to shelter and
protect--rather a curious old sentinel too; wondering just what loves
and trials and heart breaks would be lived out in the house to be.
Suddenly she came to, remembering that he had asked if she thought
the place could be made livable.

"Why not?" she said.

"Well--it's twelve miles from the city----"

"You'd have a car. Why would you want it nearer the city?"

"I wouldn't. I just wondered----. I want to build a house like a
Swiss chalet, low and brown with a little corner tower for a sunroom,
and a stone foundation just piling up naturally out of the ground,
and a stone chimney with a fireplace as wide as a cave, where a
person could dream the wildest kind of dreams and then live them. You
can hear the creek roaring over the hill; there's enough water power
there to run a factory, and the house could be made pretty snug, I
think; but sometimes I'm afraid I've just let myself be carried away
with a vision--east is east, and the country will never make a good
imitation of the town. You have lived in the city, and you know the
country pretty well. Do you think this could be made a place
where--well, where anyone not used to country life would be happy?"

"I think it could." She was looking away and the tone did not sound
at all impulsive. Desperately he tried again.

"Do you think a man would be a downright piker to ask a girl who has
always had everything she wanted to come to a place like this?"

"No." The answer was very frank, and the girl bolted directly into a
rapid, and not very comprehensive review of plans she had seen
developed in less promising places. For some reason she seemed
confused.



CHAPTER X.


From the day when he took the farmers of his county to see how
another man had harnessed the creek which ran wild through his
pastures, setting it to work to cut the wood, and grind the grain and
to run every hand machine from the fanning-mill to the grindstone,
the Agricultural Representative began to see visions.

"Did you ever see anything like it?" one man exclaimed when they were
going over the details afterwards. "There wasn't a darned crank on
the place. The thing must do more than one man's work, and the most
soul-aggravatin' part of the work at that. Now at our place there's
just the boy and me to do everything, and we're prowlin' around the
barn with a lantern till nine o'clock most nights. We get a man for a
month or two sometimes, but the wife isn't strong and it makes more
work for her. Besides, as wages go now it doesn't pay. I know Jim
gets discouraged sometimes. He has a fair schooling and the wages he
could get in town must look pretty good compared with what we turn in
in actual cash from the farm; a boy doesn't see what capital's being
laid away in the place every year. If he's half alive he knows he's
living the best part of his life now; and he isn't going to waste it
all laying up something for a time when he can't enjoy it.

"I've tried to keep Jim at home by giving him a calf or a colt once
in a while, like my father used to do, but if a boy has to feed
calves and curry colts long after the hour when every other working
man has hung up his overalls, he gets sick of them. I never saw a boy
sick of tinkerin' around a gasoline engine or a motor, though. If Jim
goes his mother and I might as well go too, and we're so used to the
old place now that I guess we'd never get over being homesick if we
left it. I wish you'd come up and measure the flow of our creek."

Another evening one of the young men who had taken the junior
farmers' course in the winter came into the agricultural office
looking rather embarrassed.

"It's about the water-power," he began.

"Oh, yes," Billy encouraged. He wasn't thinking of much except water
power these days and was glad of an opportunity to unload his
enthusiasm. Besides, the boy had just commenced farming on a place of
his own, and the agricultural adviser knew that young blood moves
more quickly in adopting reforms. "I should think you'd have a pretty
good force from that hill of yours," he said. "What did you think of
doing?"

"Well, you see," the boy stammered, "it's like this. I ain't just
sure what's the best way. I want to get married and I don't know what
to do."

The Representative stared. He had had varied requests for advice
since he came to stand for the Department of Agriculture in the
community, but this was something new. Under his quizzical grin the
boy reddened painfully. He had never seen the Representative's steady
brown eyes hold such a glint of amusement, and he was afraid he was
going to laugh.

"I'm sorry," Billy said without looking particularly sympathetic,
"but I don't know much about it myself. It would just be a case of
the blind leading the blind."

"Oh!" The boy began to grasp things; then he roared. "I guess you'll
learn," he admitted dryly. "Leastways you don't strike the
neighborhood up around 'The Heights' as one that wasn't interested."

Billy felt his own face warming up. "The Heights" was the section
surrounding the Evison estate, and in his evening spins over the
country roads he had often met his client jogging quietly along in a
rubber-tired buggy, his feet stretched out comfortably on the
dashboard and his interest evidently very much absorbed in a
white-robed presence beside him. Billy felt that they had a
singularly common interest, and he shook hands with him across the
table.

"Go ahead," he said. "What has the water-power to do with your case?"

"If you'd been down at our club meetings oftener this summer you'd
have known I was keeping company with the school-teacher."

There was an unmistakable pride in the confession. The school-teacher
evidently held a rather superior place in the social life of the
neighborhood, and again Billy felt the nearness of a kindred
interest. At the same time he interpreted something of reproach in
the words "if you'd been down to our club meetings oftener...."

Unfortunately the club met on Tuesday evenings and Miss Evison seemed
to be free more often on Tuesday than on other nights of the week.
Frequently when he was about ready to leave the office the 'phone
would ring and the familiar flute-like voice would pipe, "I was
afraid you might have gone. I meant to call all afternoon and had
almost forgotten." Then the tone would drop almost to a whisper, "I'm
afraid I've been very stingy of my time lately, but we'd have the
whole evening to ourselves if you'd care to come to-night."

Once he had been obliged to tell her that this was the night when his
Junior Farmers held their meeting and that he had almost promised to
be there.

"I'm so sorry," she replied, with touching plaintiveness. "We're
having a little euchre. Some friends from town have just dropped in.
They're very informal, and I know you'd enjoy it. You couldn't leave
your precious young farmers for just one night?"

"I've done that so many nights. Perhaps I could leave the meeting
early and call on the way home?"

She was unmistakably hurt.

"Oh, no; don't trouble," she answered quickly. "I wouldn't _think_
of having you do such a thing. It doesn't matter. I just thought
perhaps you'd _like_ to come."

Another time he had asked her to come with him. It was an evening
when girls attended.

"You know," she said, "it's very sweet of you to offer to take me
right into your Holy-of-Holies to hear how they feed their calves and
the like, but it would be casting your pearls before a very
ungrateful little pig. I wouldn't enjoy it a bit. And I think, too,
if you'll take an experienced person's advice, that you're getting
too much of it yourself. Do you know that you've talked to me an hour
now, about waterwheels?"

"I'm sorry."

"I like to hear about them, and what you're doing and everything, but
don't you think if you work all day at that sort of thing, it's
enough without running to meetings at night? It doesn't leave you any
time for social interests at all. I'm sure you wouldn't have any
trouble in getting into the Country Club, and the people there are so
different. Most of the members are men and women of wide social
experience."

Billy knew something of their social experience, but he didn't tell
her. Neither did he make any effort to gain admittance to the club,
but he did spend more evenings attending theatres and motoring
excursions than was good for his Junior Farmers' Society. He felt
that he deserved the unconscious reproof, "If you'd been at our
meetings oftener," from this young man whose aspirations were, after
all, so like his own. Evidently, however, his friend's efforts had
accomplished something, while his case was as uncertain as ever.

"You're going to marry the teacher, then?" he asked.

"Yes." There was no doubt about that. "She isn't afraid to go on a
farm because she doesn't know anything about it. She'd always lived
in town before she came here, but she's crazy about the country, and
no gush about it either. She takes the kids to the woods and has them
making gardens at the school, and all that. When I bought the farm
every old wiseacre in the settlement came and said: 'You're making a
mistake. That girl's never done farm work and wouldn't stand it for a
year.' I could have wrung their necks. I didn't want to marry any
girl to have her help to support the place. I thought I could make
things so she wouldn't have to work any harder to take care of a home
out here than she would in town. There was no person I could ask
about it until you brought that girl out to the farm excursion. I
didn't know what she'd think, but I didn't suppose I'd ever see her
again, anyway, so I asked her if she thought a fellow had any right
to take a girl who didn't know anything about farming out to a place
like mine, and if she thought a farm house could be made just as
comfortable and handy as a place in town. She's some girl that. She
never smiled, and she didn't seem surprised--she was a sight more
considerate than some other people I know. She said that a girl worth
having wouldn't be afraid to take a chance on a few hardships with a
man, but that the work on an average farm with no conveniences at all
was too hard for any woman. Then she showed how an ordinary house
could be made a regular doves' nest for the price of an automobile."

Billy was thinking of his own inquiry on the way to the station. It
struck him with a certain grim amusement that she would be rather
impressed with the prevailing sentiment. And she had said: "A girl
worth having wouldn't be afraid to take a chance on a few hardships
with a man." She hadn't told him that.

When he came out of his reverie the boy was still talking.

"So I thought if you'd come and measure the flow of the creek," he
was saying, "I'd know what to do. If there isn't enough water power,
I'll get a gasoline engine big enough to pump water for a bathroom
and do the power work around the house, anyway."

A few other inquiries for power systems came in, but their motives
were more purely economic. The labor problem was becoming more
baffling every year; hired men were expensive, and they wouldn't
stay. The water power, once installed, would cost nothing; it would
work all day and all year until the bed of the stream was worn level.
Billy knew that once started the fever was bound to spread, and he
had visions.

When his car climbed the hills at sunrise, as it often did now that
the work was pressing, with school fairs and marketing associations
busy disposing of the year's harvests, he frequently saw a
round-shouldered, blue-overalled boy, half awake, plodding out to the
barn. He remembered well the sleepy stupidness, the torturing ache of
the body weakened by the fever of growth, and stiffened by long hours
of a man's work. Some day, he believed, every farm in the district
would have mechanical power doing the heartbreaking drudgery which
was making boys shiver at the thought of farming all their lives.
Occasionally a woman coming from the barn with her milk-pails and a
fretful little toddler or two tagging along after her would startle
him with a crowd of memories which he had been trying hard to forget.
Whatever changes might come now, he would always have to remember
that until he was old enough to do it himself, nothing had been done
to make things easier for his mother. In the evenings when he drove
home late and saw families still struggling with belated chores, he
had a dream of a time when every farm would have regular hours, when
the family would gather in the evenings not too tired to enjoy each
other, when the mothers of the farms, famed in all history for giving
the world its sturdiest, brainiest children, would have time to give
their best to all their children, to put their best work on the black
sheep, or misfits, or handicapped, or delicate ones, for whom there
is little special provision in the country outside their own homes.

A speaker at a political meeting in the town hall had recently
expressed something of the same ideas. "There is a movement for
better things among the farmers' wives," he said. "The idea is
finding recognition among them that all the prizes of progress are no
longer to be allowed to go to the man-life on the farm while the
woman-life is left to vegetate. The woman on the farm must bear the
oncoming hosts of strong men, or they will not be borne. And unless
the farm women can live under conditions which make for happiness,
health and pride our whole nation will be weakened by ill-health,
unhappiness, and unrest of the mothers and wives."

A few of the more adventurous women had accompanied their husbands to
hear the speaker, but they gave little sign of their approval or
disapproval of his sentiments. A week or two later Mrs. Burns called
at the agricultural office to see if the Representative would have
time, with all the community water-power demands, to help do
something for the children. Billy hoped he would have time.
Recollections of certain experiences of his own childhood on the
Swamp Farm had left his sympathies quick for any youngster suffering
possibly some of the same tribulations. Yet he knew the homes in the
neighborhood pretty well, and he knew that child-labor could not be
called an evil of the section, except in the backward crevices of the
hills, and in the best counties of the province there are "way-back"
places where a lot of evils go unmolested. Even on one of the leading
farms near the town, where the children of the family were perhaps
over cared for, there was a "Home-boy," stolid, stunted,
stupid-looking, who couldn't talk plain, and who went around with his
mouth open and a painful, bitter look about his eyes. Billy had
misgivings as to how things were going with him. He felt ready to
support any movement which Mrs. Burns might have in mind.

"You remember hearing that political speaker say that the woman on
the farm gave the world its sturdiest children?" she began. "Well,
after what I had seen in hospital work, and what I've seen right
around home, I wondered. Last week we had a doctor talk to us at the
Women's Institute, and he showed us that the tradition that children
brought up in the country are healthier than children brought up in
the city is all a lie. He showed us that while the death rate in the
cities has been going down steadily for the last ten years, in the
country it maintains a pretty straight line. The beginning of most of
it starts with the children. In the country we don't go to doctors or
dentists or oculists until the case gets desperate; it's a good deal
of trouble to go, and often the cost has to be considered. Most
people have never been taught that "little" things like enlarged
tonsils or bad teeth can become very serious.

"I was in a house the other day when one of the girls came home from
school crying with a toothache. She had been suffering for weeks, but
they said it was only a first tooth; it would soon come out itself.
She had never gone to a dentist in her life, and her front teeth were
so crooked as to be a disfigurement. If something isn't done soon
she will have to go through her whole life disfigured. It isn't fair.

"One of our neighbor's boys had always been considered stupid. The
teachers didn't know what was wrong with him; he just didn't grasp
things. He also made a great deal of amusement for the school by his
awkwardness; he couldn't walk across the room without bumping into
things. They have just by accident discovered that he's nearly blind.
The oculist can do a good deal for him even yet, but he can never
bring his sight back perfectly, and his school years have been
wasted. That could have been prevented.

"In a garden in our little village at home, a young woman with a
twisted back works all day with the flowers--they are the closest
friends she has. I've noticed that she is always there in the morning
and afternoon when the school children go past. They pick the flowers
through the fence and go on unrebuked, and I've seen her stand
watching them up the road, especially the little five-year-olds, with
tears in her eyes and a look almost rebellious. She won't ever have
any children, you see. And it's all because no one noticed the
curvature when it was just beginning and could have been
straightened. She was sent to school to sit in the same old painful
seat day after day so she might 'pass the entrance.'

"Just one other case. On the farm next ours, a girl with brown eyes
like a Madonna's, and the proverbial crown of red-gold hair, is
suffering everything from the consciousness of a cruel disfigurement.
When she was three years old an adenoid growth blocked the natural
breathing passage, and the only thing left for her to do was to keep
her mouth open and catch whatever air she could. Of course, the
result was that the upper jaw narrowed and the teeth protruded,
taking the character entirely away from the lower part of the face.
She kept having colds, and became so deaf that when she was about
grown up it was necessary to operate and remove the growth. Her
hearing came back pretty well, but the natural lines of her face will
never come back. An operation at the beginning would have changed her
whole life.

"Now we want to have a doctor come and examine the children in the
schools, and then if there's anything wrong we want to have a clinic
and get them taken care of. We don't know just how to go about it.
Will you help us?"

The Representative was not indifferent or pessimistic. He knew that
other Women's Institutes had engineered Medical Examination campaigns
in the public schools, that they had even held school clinics, and
brought a surgeon to operate on the youngsters who needed it, and he
knew that in some way the Department of Agriculture stood back of
them in the undertaking. That was as far as his interest had gone.
As for helping personally with the procedure, he would rather blunder
into a hornets' nest than get mixed up in the detail of a women's
organization. As usual, when he needed help, he thought of Ruth. She
would understand just how to map out the whole campaign. She was
working for the Department, and if Mrs. Burns would write, no doubt
they would send her. Of course, he would be pleased to give any
incidental help he could.

Ruth came and outlined the plan. The Institute would first have to
get the school board's consent to let them go on with the work. Then
they could get the local doctors to look the children over and see if
there were any suffering from the troubles that could be remedied. If
they could have a nurse to help with the inspection and to visit the
homes in a neighborly way and report what the kiddies needed, so much
the better. If they wanted to make the campaign of real, practical
help, they could hold a clinic and have the children actually
treated.

It was well on in December before the clinic could be arranged, and
the general excitement kept the telephones busy and caused
considerable delay in picking the geese for the Christmas market.
Mrs. Burns had offered to turn her house into a hospital for the day
and other members of the Institute were contributing supplies of
sheets and towels for the occasion. Mrs. Evison had dropped in at an
Institute meeting to express her delighted approval of the plan and
to say that her daughter would be pleased to drive their car all day,
if necessary, to fetch the children to and from the clinic. Billy
placed the Department of Agriculture's car at their service, praying
in secret that they wouldn't send him out alone with any of the
patients. A surgeon, young, but notoriously successful, was being
brought from the city, and Ruth was coming to help.

On the evening before the day of the clinic, when Billy was driving
home, he overtook the "Home boy" trudging up to the village to get
what little social color he could from the gossip of the regular
store roosters. He climbed into the car with his accustomed
sullenness--or what was generally considered sullenness. Billy knew
it was only a painful self-consciousness dulled a little by dragging
dog-tiredness. He was breathing audibly through his distorted mouth,
and his deafness gave a stupid look to his face.

"Why don't you come up to our Junior Farmers' meetings?" the
Representative began.

The boy didn't look up.

"They ain't for the likes of me," he said.

"Of course they are," the Representative declared, warmly. "What do
you mean?"

"Oh, I don't mean that your fellows are snobs," the boy admitted,
"but there's a difference, and you know it. They're used to being
out. They can make speeches and talk, and me--I can't talk."

Billy had never realized before how the boy's pride had suffered
through his affliction. He wondered if the school clinic would admit
him; or, what would be more difficult, whether he could persuade him
to go. He made the proposition as tactfully as he could.

"I don't belong there, neither," the boy replied. "I've never gone to
school, and, anyway, I ain't in the same class. I don't know any of
the folks except the men I meet at threshin's. Jim that come out here
the same time I did, it's different with him. At the place where he
works, they don't make much difference by him. But the folks at the
Home thinks if they once gets us out to what they call the 'green
country,' they've sort of landed us in 'eaven. Men send in for 'a boy
to do chores,' but we know it's a hired man they want. 'Course it's
different with Jim, but then I'm different to Jim. If you can't talk
an' you can't hear, an' your mouth hangs open, you can't expect folks
to want you around more-n-s necessary."

Billy had never tried so hard to argue anyone out of a mistaken idea.
His own experience had given him an insight into a boy's
sensitiveness at the time when life is opening a strange world to
him, and he needs a confidant, and he had not forgotten how the
"Representative" in his county at home had given him confidence. He
determined to stay right with this boy until he saw him past the
turning-place. When he let him out of the car at the store
rendezvous, he urged:

"Now, you'll come to-morrow and let them fix you up? I'll go with
you."

The boy eyed him shrewdly for a minute, then his face softened.

"I guess you're all right," he conceded. "I guess you wouldn't take
it as any trouble, but that's not sayin' what the others 'ud think.
I'll think it over. If I can bring myself to it, I'll call in an'
tell you before I go back."

In the office Billy sorted over his mail, and pushed it away. Some of
the letters dealt with marketing news that meant hundreds of dollars
gain or loss to the community; one carried a promise of a
co-operative creamery that had been one of his main ambitions for the
district--but these things didn't seem so important to-night. If the
clinic to-morrow could remove one boy's handicap and give him the
chance for life that Nature meant him to have, it would be worth more
than several reforms for more profitable farming. If he were not
taken care of now the chances were that he would never be. He decided
to walk over to the store and make sure of seeing him before he went
home. Then the phone called him.

"Oh, you _are_ there at last!" It was the soft little purring
tone that always set his pulses pounding. "Could you possibly run up
for a little while?"

"I'm afraid--" he began.

"But listen," she interrupted. "I'm going to help you to-morrow, you
know, and mother and I have some plans we'd like to talk over with
you. We're delighted that you're having such a distinguished surgeon
as Dr. Knight. It's really very unusual for him to go out of the city
at all, and we thought you wouldn't want him to go to the Village
Inn--it's quite impossible, you know, so mother thought you'd better
have him come here. Dad has met him, I think, and we'd be glad to
have him. Perhaps Miss McDonald would come, too, though she's so used
to going to all sorts of places."

"All right," he agreed, absently. "And you're going to help"--that
was the thing that impressed him. "That's fine."

"I'm going to drive the car all day," she announced, emphatically.

"That's fine," he said again. At last she was interested. Of course,
she couldn't resist the children--she was such a feminine bit of
creation.

"And I know you're going to say you have some state council or
something on to-night," she rattled along; then dropping her voice
appealingly, "I know I'm an awful nuisance, that I'm just hindering
you all the time, but I _do_ want you to-night. Was it anything
important?"

"Why, I wanted to see the boy who works at McGill's. I was wondering
if we could get him into the clinic to-morrow."

"Oh, I'm _sure_ we could. I'll get Mother to speak for him. I'm so
glad it was nothing urgent. I'll expect you, then. You'll hurry?"

Billy didn't exactly hurry. He walked up and down the office a few
times, looking more like swearing than his friends would have thought
possible. Then he remembered the confession, "I know I'm just
hindering your work all the time." Now, when she was beginning to be
interested, to even try to help, he was losing his temper over having
a plan of his own upset. He got ready to go--which took some
time--and on the way out he called at the store. They told him the
boy had gone.

When Billy drove his ambulance out to the Burns farm the next morning
and carried a little blanket-wrapped patient into the house, he found
Ruth already there. She was bending over a cot, evidently trying to
restore courage to a brave little fellow who was having a hard
struggle to keep the corners of his mouth from going down. The child
said something at last and her head went down beside him on the
pillow. There was an unsteady little gurgle of a laugh, so low and
deep and comrady that it made him shiver a little. He had heard the
little sob catch at the end of it and he was aware that it meant a
good deal. When she looked up and saw him she colored warmly, then
came straight to meet him in her frank, friendly way; but he thought
she left him very soon to go back to her work. He would have liked to
stay and watch her putting the children to bed. There was something
so strong and easy in the way she lifted them; something so clever
and steady in her supple hands--you could almost feel the touch in
watching them; something so close and reassuring in the way she held
the nervous ones. But his presence seemed to embarrass her, so he
went away.

He didn't see her again until evening. He had finished his part of
the day's programme, and had helped the doctor to pack away in the
long, deep-purring Evison car the patients who required the easiest
riding. He had never known Marjorie to be so adorable. She was
unnecessarily solicitous for the comfort of the children, and she
took orders from the doctor with a demure seriousness that was most
becoming. When he tucked the rugs about her as she started off with
her last convoy, she leaned down and whispered, "We're expecting you
for dinner. You'll bring the doctor--and Miss Macdonald, if she'll
come."

As she bent over the wheel in her red motoring outfit, with the wind
whipping a bright color in her cheeks, and her eyes dark and glowing,
she seemed like nothing so much as a brilliant scarlet tanager,
poised for flight. It was unreasonable, he reflected, to expect a
girl like that to conform to standards set for ordinary people. Her
heart was in the right place, however irresponsible she might seem
sometimes. How thoughtful she had been for the children.

In the house the women were clearing away the litter from the day's
work. Ruth was still busy. Her white uniform had lost some of its
crispness; her face was flushed; her hair was straying out from under
her nurse's cowl. It had been a busy day. She was testing the heat of
some irons on the stove when Billy came in.

"Are you nearly through?" he asked. "Is there anything I can do? I
want to take you to Evison's for dinner."

"I'm sorry," she said, "but we've just had another patient come in.
The doctor's operating now."

"And what are you going to do?"

"Iron his bed."

He smiled to think she knew the homely trick; then a sharp, pained
look crossed his face.

"My mother used to do that," he said.

She put the iron down and looked at him just as she had done when she
followed him home from his mother's funeral and heard him sob out his
agony for the things he couldn't help.

"I know," she said. "She did it for me once, too. I don't wonder that
you remember how good she was."

The little worried wrinkle had gone from between her eyes. In some
inexplicable way she seemed to be getting across to him the warmth of
her sympathy, and he felt for the first time the full wonder of it.
What a treasure would be there for some man to explore, and how blind
and ungrateful he had been all along. He had never done anything but
go to her for help. Even now she looked tired enough to go into
hysterics instead of troubling to think about him, and he felt he had
been nothing less than brutal. She was gathering up her irons.

"When you get that done will you come?" he begged. "We'll drive
around till you get rid of the ether you've been breathing all day. I
didn't think what I was getting you into."

"But, you see, it's a pretty bad case, and I'm going to stay all
night with the boy."

"Why can't some of his own people stay?"

"He hasn't any people, nor evidently any friends. He's a boy from the
Home, who works somewhere around. He came in alone at the last
minute, and you could see it had been pretty hard for him. We want
to make it as easy as we can."

She went away smiling, and Billy went out, bitterly ashamed of
himself. It had been hard for the boy to come, and he hadn't done
anything to help him.

An hour later the doctor came out.

"I suppose we're late," he grumbled. "I don't know whether to curse
that girl or go down on my knees and worship her. I'd had about
enough bad tonsils to-day without this last case, and there was no
reason under the sun why we should take an outsider like that in a
school clinic, but she held me right to it. Now she's going to see
him through the night."

The evening at Evison's held a new atmosphere for Billy. The elegant
luxury of the place seemed very restful after the crowded confusion
of the Burns home. Marjorie was unusually quiet and sweet and
dignified. She seemed even a little shy in the presence of the
notorious surgeon, listening with charming attention to all he said,
but saying little herself. However, the men talked, and they talked
to her and for her--Billy with his usual sincere interest; the doctor
with his clever way of unconsciously saying the most complimentary
things. It was quite possible that he had said them before, of
course, and quite probable that he would say them again and keep
right on saying them so long as people with grown-up daughters
continued to shower him with their hospitality. Several times she
caught Billy watching her with the sober tenderness that he always
dropped apologetically when she looked, but the doctor looked her
over with a daring admiration that might mean anything or nothing. It
was splendid to have Billy there, because whatever the doctor's
attitude might be, he couldn't help seeing that another man--a rather
exceptional man, too--was in earnest, and that meant a great deal for
a girl sometimes. Altogether, she felt that she was being a great
success.

Marjorie had an idea that men, at least men with a reputation, liked
to talk about themselves, and under cover of the general table
conversation, she confided to Dr. Knight that she thought it was
_wonderful_ to be able to do so much for people, especially for
"the little children." "When I see other people doing things like
that, I just wonder what I'm living for," she confessed, gravely, as
though she had just been awakened to the responsibility of existence
through his greatness. "It's simply unbearable to see people suffer
and do nothing to help them--especially the babies. Don't you think
it's rather hard to be a girl?"

"What about training for a nurse?" he suggested practically.

She hadn't expected anything like that, and she thought it was
scarcely kind of him. She looked appealingly at her mother.

"I guess Marjorie's a home girl," the mother explained, smiling with
indulgent pride at her daughter. "And, of course, her father wouldn't
think of letting her go away from home. She was at college two years
ago studying domestic science and she did enjoy that so much, but we
were completely lost without her. I guess we're rather selfish."

And the men both smiled across at her with the masculine equivalent
for her mother's expression. She had always found it most gratifying
to be admired by two men at the same time.

Of course, she was "a home girl," Billy thought, as he drove home.
Every little grace of her feminine personality proclaimed her made to
be taken care of, and how proud of her a man would be. He imagined
with some anxiety how hard it would go with her if she ever came to a
place where she wouldn't have the consideration they gave her at
home, and he found himself wondering just what manner of man this Dr.
Knight was, apart from his profession. When he had left them he was
turning her music and he had never known her to be so generous with
her playing. He wouldn't admit that he was jealous, but one of those
proverbial little clouds the size of a man's hand seemed to be
threatening his skies.

When he passed the Burns house he saw a dim light in an upstairs
window and was reminded bitterly again of his neglect of the Home
boy. However, Ruth would take care of him. He could see her shadow
moving against the blind now, and he thought how tired she must be.
He didn't know that her tiredness had gone, leaving something
infinitely more painful in its place.

Under the anesthetic the boy had mumbled something about the
"agricultural man" who had told him to come.

"Mr. Withers takes an interest in everything," Mrs. Burns had
remarked. "He's an exceptionally fine young man. There's just one
thing that's spoiling his work a little. He's very much in love with
Miss Evison. You can imagine how seriously he would take anything
like that, and it interferes with his work sometimes."

It was then that Ruth forgot her tiredness. She only ached for her
own room at home where she could be alone for a while.



CHAPTER XI.

  "_Not unto the forest, O my lover,
  O my lover, do not lead me to the forest.
  Joy is where the temples are, lines of dancers swinging far,
  Drums and lyres and viols in the town,
  And the flapping leaves would blind me, and the clinging
    vines would bind me,
  And the thorny rose-boughs tear my saffron gown.
  I will love you by the light, and the beat of drums at night,
  And the echoing of laughter in my ears,
  But I fear the forest._"
                              --_Greek Folk Song._


It was Christmas Eve. A soft, light snow had left the country white
and downy as a young swan's breast. As if the feather padding of the
road had muffled the engine, the car cut along quietly as a boat, but
the clear, cooing tones of the girl's voice carried far, and her
laughter echoed back from the trees like the mimicry of some
mischievous nymph. In the after calm of the year's first snowstorm
the purity of the earth and air and sky gave the world that touch of
unreality dear to poets and lovers, and Marjorie and Billy had come
out in the late afternoon, as they often did on holidays and Sundays,
to breathe for miles the air of the hills, to watch the lights of the
city rush out through the dusk like streams of little racing fires,
and to drive wherever fancy led them, stopping somewhere in town for
supper and coming home slowly, very slowly and quietly in the dark.

"Let's take some road we don't know," the girl suggested. "Let's go
over the hills, and then just when it's getting dark we'll come to
the edge of the heights somewhere and coast right down into the city,
like we did the first night you came here--do you remember?"

"Every second of it."

"That was in the spring. Even the town was half asleep and lazy after
the winter's dissipation; to-night it will be as gay as a debutantes'
ball. In the country it was muddy and the fields and barns and fences
stood out ugly and unashamed of themselves, like some old
scrub-woman. Now the snow comes and gives her a new dress, you see,
and here she is, a lady in white fox and diamonds. Wonderful, isn't
it, what clothes will do? But underneath she's still the same old
scrub-woman, the work-driven, squalid country. How I pity the people
who have to stay here all their lives. Where are we going?"

Billy had turned up a new road, the winding, wooded avenue leading to
the place on the hill. He had felt that if she could ever see its
beauty it would be to-day, with the glow of the sun still pink above
the cedars jagging the horizon, and the early moon making sharp
shadows and glittering open spaces on the snow. Her last burst of
sympathy for the people who had to live in the country was not
encouraging, but he was so filled with the spell of it all himself
that it seemed as though he must fire her with some of his
enthusiasm.

At the crest of the hill the car stopped and he told her to look.
There was nothing tangible to see but a deep expanse of level
whiteness with a windbreak of black pines at the back, and one tall
gnarl-limbed maple sheltering the remains of a ruined old house. She
looked about blankly and asked:

"What is it?"

He smiled. "There's isn't much to see, yet," he said, "but I've
always wanted to show you this place. I think it could be made a
little heaven and I want to buy it. I can just see what it would be
like on a night like this with the light shining from the windows and
the sparks from the fireplace shooting right up to the sky, and
inside----"

"But it would cost an awful lot to fix it up and when you did get it
done it would be so far from everywhere. But then you like to be away
off from people and towns, don't you?"

"It wouldn't matter what I liked. A man can make his home anywhere; I
suppose something of the savage in him likes to get out to the wild
places. You think this is lonesome, then? It seems the beginning of
an Eldorado to me. Listen to the trees. On the stillest days you can
hear those pines starting up with a low, cooing little shiver,
growing louder and louder till you'd think there was a forest of
them. It can be the sleepiest or the thrilliest sound in the world, I
think."

"To me they sound like someone crazy, crying. Let's go." She
shivered, crept deeper into her furs and consulted her little French
wrist-watch. "Do you know it's getting late?" she finished a little
wearily.

Then when the car had started she moved up closer--it was one of the
trifling signs that always set him piling up the robes again, and
scarcely above a whisper she confided:

"I'm sorry I don't like your place. I remember, when I was very
small, the little boy who played with me came one day to see my new
play-house. It was the dream of my heart--up to that time--expressed
in wood and paint and wonderful miniature furnishings, and I did so
want him to like it. But he came and looked it over for a long time,
frowning, with his hands in his pockets, just like a man. Then he
said, 'I don't like it. It's too sissy,' and he walked right away.
But when I cried, he came back and he said, 'I don't like your house,
but that isn't saying I don't like you, and 'cause you're a girl, I
guess maybe I like you better 'cause you like a house like that.' ...
You understand, don't you, Billy?"

She was rather startled by the intense searching that suddenly came
into his steady eyes. His right hand was leaving the wheel and she
wasn't ready for this. She laughed gaily to break the tension, and
finished her parable.

"I believe I had almost made you forget that we're grown up. Things
aren't nearly so simple as when we lived in play-houses, are they?"

"Heavens, no," he agreed, and went back to the wheel.

To hide the shock of the sudden contact with earth after his insane
flight he turned his attention to the car, inquiring lightly:

"Shall we fly for a mile or two? There aren't any speed laws here,
nor many living things to run over. It's one of the advantages of a
place as wild as this, that you can do just as you like."

So they raced against the wind, the girl looking ahead to catch the
first glow of the city lights, and Billy staring blindly at the road
and hearing the crying of the pines waiting for a house and warmth
and light and life to shelter. He was beginning to accept the
haunting suspicion that it wasn't just the fear for the hard, lonely
places that was responsible for the girl's indifference, but that all
his constant, ardent reaching out for her had failed absolutely to
awaken anything deeper than a passing delight in being courted. Some
unaccountable flash of disillusionment made him wonder if she was
capable of anything more than this weak, kittenlike playfulness, and
as quickly he cursed himself for being an unchivalrous cad, and came
to, with all his usual interest.

They were not strangers to the most select cafes in town, and they
found a table in a corner close to a blazing fire, half screened
from the crowd, but where a panel mirror reflected all the gaiety
of the place. They made a very human little pantomime, these
pleasure-seekers--over-made-up women with bloated, sated-looking men;
gay young college crowds, glowing and noisy, trooping in from an
afternoon on the ice; engaged couples making the most of one of the
rare celebrations which the limits of their purses and the needs of
the half-furnished nest would allow, and other less elated, but
obviously more comfortable, men and women whom one could spot
immediately as having left the baby with a grandmother and come here
to snatch a respite from family ties, only to fly happily back to
them again and ask, "After all what did we ever see to prize so much
in what we called our liberty?"

At odd moments Billy found himself prospecting their cases in the
light of his own ambitions; most of the time he was unconscious of
any presence in the room other than the girl sitting opposite him. He
was also proudly aware of other admiring glances in her direction. It
was the same dazzling attraction that had made her so popular at
dances and house-parties almost before she was grown up. The wild
rose color in her cheeks, the gold in her crinkling hair, the bits of
just the right shade of an amethyst gown peeping out from her white
furs, and the wonderful little hat that had evidently been the breast
of a bird--all had their part in the effect. More compelling still
were the wavering blue eyes with their little brown specks. They
seemed very mysterious and bright and childishly troubled to-night,
but that was because she was searching the crowd to see if there
might be "anyone she knew."

Coming back from one of these explorations she suddenly seemed to
remember that she owed some attention to Billy. Without thinking much
she inquired gaily:

"When you go out to your farm are you still going to come in here
sometimes to celebrate?"

"Every Christmas Eve anyway. You don't think I expect to make a
hermitage of the farm, do you?"

"I didn't know. It's so hard for me to get your viewpoint." The tone
implied that she would give worlds to acquire the art of getting his
viewpoint. Then, lest his courage should surprise her again, she
rattled on:

"And you will say to your wife, 'The girl who taught me to like these
things couldn't have made a pound of butter to save her life'."

He didn't laugh and he didn't play up to her banter as he generally
did. He looked away from her, and she knew he was angry. She leaned
forward, but failed to get his attention; then she called softly:

"Billy----"

It was the irresistible childish plea to be forgiven, but for the
first time it failed to move him. His hand was resting on the table.
She reached across until her fingers almost touched his and again she
called, "Billy," but it was almost a whisper this time and very
unsteady. The brown fingers closed quickly and warmly over the
reconciliatory hand and held it for a minute longer than necessary,
but the hurt had not quite left him. With all her "socially trained"
delicacy, he realized that she had no scruples about rushing into
what he considered sacred ground. The armor of her frivolity was
always ready as a check to his seriousness, and while she could seem
alluringly in earnest herself sometimes, the minute he turned to
follow her again she brought his pursuit down to the level of common
philandering. Suddenly he reddened and slowly released her hand; at
the next table a sleek, muddy-eyed man with a theatrical-looking
woman, was doing the same thing.

Whether it was an effort or not, he caught the spirit of her gaiety
very well after that. On their way to the theatre they called at a
florist's and he experienced a new, thrilling sense of nearness in
being allowed to hold the long-stemmed roses in place while she
pinned them to her dress. It was nearly midnight when their car
threaded its way out from the flashing, snorting tangle of limousines
and taxis, and gradually leaving the lights and the noises behind,
purred out toward the snowy darkness of the hills. The moon had gone;
there were no lights in the houses, and they felt strangely alone and
quiet.

Presently in a thin, groping little voice she said:

"I almost made you angry to-night, didn't I?"

He laughed. "I'm afraid you did. A man is generally an awful crank
about some things, and if a thing means very much to him he can't
stand to have it handled lightly."

"You mean----"

"That I love you. You see I've been trying so long to let you know.
Most of the time I see what a fool I am to dream of such a thing.
Then sometimes I go blind for a while and almost wonder if you don't
care a little; but all the time, whether you care or not, it seems
impossible to think of going on without you."

He was talking with a hard edge in his voice, both hands gripping the
wheel as though he could manage them better if he kept them there.
When she didn't answer, he turned and searched her face hungrily for
a minute, but looked away again unrewarded.

"Don't worry about it," he said gently. "I almost knew you couldn't.
I shouldn't have said anything."

Marjorie was not accustomed to such unsensational _denouements_ as
this. She caught her breath in something so nearly like a sob that
he came back more penitent than ever.

"Don't," he pleaded. "It's all right, I shouldn't have told you."

"But I didn't say that I didn't care--" She was going on to explain
that a highly emotional nature was capable of varying shades of
caring, but there was nothing in Billy's simple code of ethics to
anticipate such a fine analysis of the case. Perhaps he waited for
one breathless second to be sure he had heard aright; the next, she
was pushing him away.

"How could you!" she stormed. "How could you!" She was angry and
injured and tearful--or she seemed to be, and for the minute the
thought of his mistake staggered him. Then very quietly he said:

"I didn't understand, and I'm sorry; but I'm not ashamed. I know I've
offended you, but you wouldn't be offended if you knew what I meant.
You think it's savage and primitive. It is that, I guess; but I want
you to know that at least it's genuine, and--it's _not_ brutal.
If things had been different, if you could have cared and married
me, you would know."

Marjorie was considering. It was not her first experience of this
kind. You can't make a practice of playing with animals and not get
mussed up sometimes, but with a girl in her social position most men
of the "socially experienced" set would not have blustered into
things so whole heartedly. If they did, beneath their cajoling
apologies afterwards, there would lurk a quizzical half-smile, as
much as to say, "What did you start the thing for? Just what is the
game?" It generally meant the end of a flirtation and the loss of the
girl's prestige in that particular quarter; but, somehow, Billy had
left her with all her self-respect. It was hard to know what to do,
for even with the weak passion of which her selfish make-up was
capable, she had unwittingly stumbled into a little love herself.

"I--I don't want to be silly about this," she advanced magnanimously
after a while. "I'm not offended, but don't let's spoil everything by
being serious on our last night together."

"Our _last_ night?"

"The last for a while, anyway. I guess I didn't tell you that I'm
going to town for the winter--my really official _debut_ in
society. Auntie wants me, and Dad and Mother have consented to let me
go for the season. You see," she explained rather plaintively, "I've
never really had an opportunity of trying my wings at all, and I
just crave life and excitement and company. Maybe some day I'll
settle down and be the domestic little wren you'd like to see me; but
don't you see, I'm so young--I don't want to get married. I just want
to live for awhile. I think a winter in town will do me lots of good.
Auntie knows the very best people, and she entertains beautifully.
Would you--I wonder if you'd care to see some of my little dresses?"

Later, in her luxurious little sitting-room, she brought out the
"little dresses" and caressingly displayed them one by one for his
stupid admiration. They were very artful creations and considerably
expensive, but Mrs. Evison, who appreciated the value of clothes as a
social asset, considered them a good investment for her daughter. To
Billy they emphasized how meagre she would find the kind of life he
could give her, so far as purchasable things were concerned.

"You should consider yourself a very privileged person," she told him
archly. "I don't know another man I'd show them to, but you won't be
there when I wear them, and I just couldn't go without letting you
see them. I wish you were coming, too. I hope you won't be lonesome
when I've gone."

"Can I come to see you?"

She considered, surveying him slantwise. "If you'd asked me that
yesterday, I might have said 'yes'; but after to-night--I wonder.
You'd better wait. Maybe I'll send for you."

When he was leaving her he begged:

"I can see you to-morrow, anyway, can't I? You say you leave the day
after."

"I'm sorry, but we're having a little dinner-party to-morrow. Dr.
Knight and some of his friends have planned for a sleigh-ride. I
guess I'll have to say good-bye to-night." Her voice seemed to be
trembling a little. "And whatever happens, I'll always remember our
little times together as some of the dearest of my life. You've been
very good to me, Billy; I know, whatever happens, you won't think
I've been heartless, or that I haven't cared at all. You're so much
more generous than most men. I've read, somewhere, that where a girl
is concerned, men are generally like boys setting out to catch a
bird. They have a cage and they want a bird for it, and someone has
told them that they can catch one by putting salt on its tail.
Whenever they think they have just caught it, the bird flits off and
waits till they come up again; it doesn't want to go into a cage.
When it gets tired being pursued and flies away out of reach
altogether, the little savage in them crops out, and they throw
stones at the bird for leading them on. You won't ever think I did
that, will you?"

She felt rather alone after he had gone, but then she knew that he
would come back any time she wanted him. For the present alluring
possibilities were awaiting elsewhere. Dr. Knight had been very
attentive in the way of motoring out to see her, but of course a
great many liked to motor out to pleasant country homes on holidays.
Once launched in society under the prestige of her aunt's influential
wing, the situation would be different. From various angles she
consulted her mirror, and decided that her prospects were good. She
could already picture the quaint old Anglican church in the village
decorated for her wedding; there would be lilies and smilax--she had
often talked that over with her mother, and she would have a little
empire dress, very girlish and bride-like, with her veil caught up in
a Juliet cap. She visualized herself very distinctly coming down the
church aisle. It would be very hard for Billy, for of course he would
be there to follow her with that tragic worship in his sober eyes--it
was far from likely that he would ever love anyone else--and when he
came to say he hoped she would be happy, she just knew she wouldn't
be able to keep the tears back, and she would lift her face--heavens,
no!--she couldn't do that. Why, everything would be at an end with
Billy, and she would have to go away with Dr. Knight. But she would
know that he would be thinking about her and loving her just the
same. And whenever she came home to her mother's receptions and
things, she would see that he was invited, and she would be very
gracious to him.

A wicked little voice suggested another idea. What if she should come
back sometime to find Billy in love with someone else? Men were so
queer. She had known them to be married a year after some girl had
supposedly broken their hearts, and to actually fall desperately and
permanently in love with their wives. The possibility made her
furious. If only Billy had had Dr. Knight's position--he would have
been so everlastingly good to live with, and recklessly she made up
her mind that if nothing materialized from her season in town--if Dr.
Knight remained indefinite, she would come back and marry Billy. She
couldn't go on a farm with him, of course, and she couldn't live all
her life in small towns like this, but he could get something else to
do; she had heard a man tell her father that he hoped to see him in
the federal parliament some day. So if nothing else developed, she
would marry Billy. The idea left her feeling beautifully generous and
secure.



CHAPTER XII.

  "_These laid the world away; poured out the red
  Sweet wine of youth; gave up the years to be
  Of work and joy, and that unhoped serene
  That men call age; and those who would have been
  Their sons, they gave, their immortality._"
                          --_Rupert Brooke._


There was no sense of loss for Billy in the days that followed Miss
Evison's leaving the neighborhood--you can't lose a thing you never
had. Removed from the fascination of her presence, and reviewing one
incident after another, there was only one theory to accept. It had
been the affair of a moment for her, a diversion acceptable for the
want of something better; now it was over, and she wanted to be free
from any further obligation. Still, it was disconcerting to an
agricultural expert, holding forth late in some village hall, while
the fire in the boxstove burned low and the frost patterns crept over
the steamy window panes, to have his efforts to inspire a sleepy
audience with the need of greater production, suddenly sidetracked by
a vision of a regal little figure in some palm-bordered ballroom,
brilliant and excited and restless as a beautiful moth that has found
the light.

He had now considerable free time in the evenings which might be
turned to good account in his work, but people had become so
accustomed to finding the office locked at night, that they had
stopped calling, and it would be difficult to win back their
interest. With notes of Miss Evison's social engagements in town
constantly finding their way into the local papers, he could scarcely
advertise that henceforth his evenings would be at the service of the
community.

But it was not the blow of Miss Evison's dismissal, nor
dissatisfaction with his work, which turned his affairs in another
direction where things like these don't count for much. It was the
first winter of the war and like many another young man absorbed in
the peaceful industries of the green country, the Representative had
had some serious debates with himself. The men who directed his work,
peering through the chaos of the country's general unpreparedness to
probable starvation ahead, kept the wires from head quarters hot,
suggesting plans for growing bigger crops in the district, leaving it
with the Representative to put the plans before the people. This they
considered his best service just then. At the same time newspapers
were bringing home reports that made it hard for men to go on tilling
their fields, even to feed the men who were fighting, or the people
whose homes had been outraged by an invading army.

Most of these steady, thinking young men with ambitions in other
directions, made no attempt to explain the motives which led them to
put away all the things they cared for to enter a new life as hateful
as it was strange to them. It might have been just the chivalry that
guided their every-day conduct in less spectacular ways, or the more
plebeian, but equally unselfish, spirit of doing an unpleasant, but
necessary, thing because someone had to do it; perhaps the
comradeship with others who were making the sacrifice had some part.
Anyway, without discussion or ceremony, the Representative gave up
his plans for the community and the possibilities of the place on the
hill, which of course didn't mean anything now, anyway, and joined
the county battalion. It would have been harder if his mother had
been living, but as things were he reasoned it wouldn't matter much
to anyone but Jean, and she had developed a splendid faculty for
taking care of herself. It was difficult to associate the easy,
self-assured young varsity student with the shy little school-teacher
who in the years when she felt the loss of her mother most, had cried
to him over problems on which he was helplessly ignorant. His
unfailing solution was to send her to Ruth Macdonald for advice,
until she acquired the habit of going herself, and didn't need his
help any more. In one way, however, Jean remained unchanged from the
little girl who had trotted after him everywhere with the
faithfulness of a little spaniel. He had taught her to climb trees,
and skate, and swim, and though naturally timid and afraid of the
water, she would float with him, perfectly confident, out to the
deepest places. When, nervous and ill with the loneliness of her
first school, she had sent for him, he had only to gather her up like
the child she was, and she went right to sleep, secure and quiet in
the strength and gentleness of his great body. With all the
admirable, twentieth-century young woman's independence, he knew that
the hero worship of the little sister remained the same, and at the
thought of leaving her he was painfully conscious of his neglect
since his interests and his holidays had been given so wholly to Miss
Evison.

It was when he returned from the ceremony of putting on his uniform
that this reproach seemed verified. The mail had brought a note from
Ruth Macdonald saying "Jean has just been sent home for a nerve rest.
I believe the trouble is mostly loneliness. If you could be with her
for a while you might tide it over."

The stenographer covertly sizing up the Representative, with the
popular feminine admiration for a uniform, wondered if his courage
had suddenly failed him that he went so white. The idea wasn't
convincing, however. The afternoon mail offered a more interesting
explanation. With amazing constructive genius she reported that Miss
Evison had written offering to take him back--"and him signed up,"
she lamented tragically. The theory gained weight, but travelled
faster, when Billy was seen taking the first train for the city.

Even Ruth became a victim to circumstantial evidence. The next day
she found Jean alone, and troubled.

"Billy's enlisted," she shuddered.

Ruth experienced all the cold terror that the news has given women
the world over when the men they cared about joined the army. She
didn't say anything--people are so sick of the glib platitudes about
the glory of sacrifice when they can't drive from their imaginations
the actual torture of soul and body. Besides it never mattered
whether Ruth put her sympathy into words or not. It came to you from
the understanding kindness in her eyes, the quick, warm pressure of
her hands, and a thousand little thoughtfulnesses which anticipated
your needs. Her concern was perhaps too evident, for Jean hurried on
to explain.

"Oh, it isn't just that he's going. I was expecting that, but
everyone is saying he's going broken-hearted. Look--"

She indicated a paragraph in the morning paper which stated that Mr.
and Mrs. Evison announced the marriage of their daughter, Marjorie
Angela, to Dr. Knight.

Then Billy came in. He didn't look broken-hearted. In fact, for a man
who had just lost the love of a life time he seemed in a much too
healthy frame of mind to have any sentiment at all. As a matter of
fact, of course, he hadn't seen the little announcement; he had some
time ago stopped reading the social columns where Miss Evison's name
figured, but with sisterly consideration Jean left the paper in his
room where he could read it and have his battle out by himself. Ruth
shared this consideration. When the evening papers, crowded with the
latest draught of casualties, found space to describe at length the
flowers and dresses at some tea given in honor of "the popular Miss
Evison," the girls so obviously avoided any comment that Billy rather
wondered if he shouldn't draw their attention to the fact that Miss
Evison would be charming indeed in the gown of some imported-sounding
stuff with pearls and lilies of the valley. Such wooden creatures men
can be, where a little tragedy would seem the appropriate thing.

Jean's nerves were soon restored to smooth running order, for which
the doctor gave no small share of credit to Ruth's efforts to keep
her out of doors. The county battalion was training near the city,
and every evening Billy could get off, the three of them would tramp
out in moccasins and general Indian accoutrements to the edge of the
city, to toboggan down a snow-crusted hill, or to skate for miles
down some winding creek straggling through spooky cedar swamps and
open, moonlit fields. It was an invigorating change from the theatres
and cafes that had been Billy's late amusement haunts--not that he
had buried all these in the ashes of the past, but they seemed to
have their purpose in catering to the needs of people who wanted
their pleasures ready-made for them. His sister, by chance or design,
frequently added other friends to their party, and he found himself,
either by chance or design, taking Ruth farther up the ice than
anyone else cared to go.

Of course it was natural enough; no other girl could skate so far
without tiring; no other girl could abandon herself so wholly to the
joy of a sport and still keep about her a sort of reverence for it.
And when he watched her from a distance, slim, buoyant, wholly alive,
taking the ice like a sail before a breeze, and remembered the
unconscious glow in her friendly eyes as he had skated with her, he
realized that it was rather gratifying to a man's pride to know that,
while he was so unnecessary to her in a material way, she still cared
to have him around. That there was something strained underneath her
casual friendliness he knew, and wondered; he was beginning to find
it hard to be perfectly natural himself. But when he took her home
one night, and very soberly asked if he might come in and talk to
her, she said "It's pretty late."

He wasn't surprised. He felt that it was pretty late. He had been a
long time awakening. No woman would value very highly the interest of
a man supposedly trying to gather himself together from the blow of
his ideal woman's engagement to another man, and she was not the type
of girl likely to accept a compromise. The next day the battalion
moved to a farther camp.

A few people, dependent entirely upon statistics for their
information, have believed that the farming districts were not
touched by the war, that the great, green country smiled peacefully
through it all, hoping only that the allies might have favorable
weather for their task. Investigations show few homes that have not
suffered the anxiety of waiting, or the grief of loss. Many of the
first to go from the cities had been nurtured in the austere
discipline of some rocky farm whose meagre income did not appeal to
an ambitious young man; or, if the family was large, it behooved some
of them to move out and leave a delving-ground for the rest. Nor was
the change to military life quite so hard for those who had rubbed
against the world in many places, as for the brothers at home for
whom the thought of even a training camp had a homesick apprehension.

A boy from a farm back among the hills occasionally dropped into a
back seat at the village recruiting meetings. He heard unmoved the
argument that he would be handsome in khaki, and listened with
cynical but well-concealed amusement to girls who sang, with more
zeal for, than appreciation of, the cause, "We don't want to lose
you, but we think you ought to go." Then one night the officer made a
sincere and rather strong appeal. He didn't minimize the hardships so
far as he knew them, and he described the brutalized misery of the
invaded countries as graphically as a good imagination could picture
it. The boy from the farm listened with little outward sign of
emotion, but a battle was going on inside. He didn't go to the
platform with the few others who responded to the appeal: he had
never stood before a crowd in his life. He was not used to crowds;
all his life had been spent in the quiet of the fields, and the long
hours of constant, necessary toil had left little time for exploring
other places. He didn't know the ways of men in companies, and it
would have taken more courage than he possessed to stand up before an
audience and take their approval. He waited at the door until the
officer came out--and he joined the army. Then he went home.

In the kitchen the fire burned low. A few geraniums had been moved to
the table, that they might not freeze against the window-panes.
Beside them lay the day's paper and his father's glasses; the father
and mother had acquired a habit of discussing the war news long after
he went to bed at night, and he had often wondered why they should be
so interested; he knew now. Always on the rare occasions when he was
out late, he came in quietly, took off his shoes and went directly
upstairs, but to-night he sat on the wood-box, staring at the ashy
fire and listening to the regular breathing in the little bedroom off
the kitchen. There was only one of these comfortable, sleepy sounds
to-night; his mother was awake. After all the sleepless nights she
had spent over the family it was hard to think of the vigils she
would keep when he had gone. It was hard to think of leaving them
with the work of the farm; they were getting old and the mortgage was
still hanging over them. It meant hard work and careful living to
keep afloat, even with a young man's steady work. They couldn't
afford to hire help, even if the help were available, and he could
see his father, in the evenings of the next harvest, crippling over
the fields, footsore and bent, to bring the cows home for milking.
They would be standing at the bars, in the dusk, those cows, lowing
and nervous from waiting, as though they wondered why the work was
never done. And his mother would come out with the pails, and on into
the dark there would be no sound but the regular flow of the milk
streams, and the contented breathing of the animals. The aching
loneliness of it! And he, the last of their sons, who had hoped to
make things easier, to some day fit up the other house on the place
and bring home a girl who would be a daughter to them--after all they
had hoped of him, where would he be while they were trying to do his
work? Lying out under the sky somewhere, maybe, as powerless to ever
help them again, as though he had never been. Yet the recruiting
officer had said--and the arguments came back as logical and
appealing as when he had placed them before an enthused audience. But
to the boy trying to do the right thing, the problem was cruelly
complicated.

Then his mother called quietly:

"There's nothing wrong, Jim?"

"No. Did I wake you coming in?"

"I was awake. I guess thinking about the boys, lying out, made me
anxious. It's good to know you're in."

She left a good opening for the argument that he couldn't rest at
home while the others were "lying out," but knowing her anxiety he
hadn't the heart. He would tell her in the morning, and she would
accept it as other mothers had done, as motherhood has always
accepted things that paid little for its sacrifice. Maybe she would
even be proud to be the mother of this man-child who was willing to
suffer the inquisition of warfare, with a motive as chivalrous as
those which prompted old-time knights to historic adventures, but in
her secret moments, remembering the poignant joy of the hour when she
had heard his first cry, and felt the helpless, clinging little body
groping toward her and snuggling down safe in the warmth of a
protecting presence, she would know that to her he would always be
the little child who needed her, and, like thousands of other
mothers, she would cry out fearfully and rebelliously, "God, why
should these things be?"

It remained with people less personally concerned to express the
fitting public appreciation of the county battalion. Mrs. Evison
became the leader of a very popular suburban "khaki club," which had
neither the time nor the skill to do much sewing or knitting, but by
giving a series of fetes and teas and musicales, the ladies raised
funds to present the battalion with a set of colors. The presentation
was to be made at a garden party on the Evison grounds as soon as the
shrubbery bloomed, and it was to be a rather elaborate affair. Some
half-dozen more or less prominent men were invited up from the city
to speak. The battalion would be there in full strength. A number of
Marjorie's dearest girl friends would come out from town to supply
the beauty and charm appropriate to the occasion, crosses on the
sleeves and a nurse's head kerchief. There would be a military band
and pavilion for dancing. The speakers' platform would be bright with
flags and bunting and Chinese lantern footlights, with reserved seats
in front for the mothers, and as president of the khaki club, Mrs.
Evison would say a few words to them herself.

When the time arrived she did not fail them. People had come in
crowds, the presentation had passed off with due ceremony and
applause, and her soul was so filled with the perfection of her plans
that she wanted to pour out the balm of her appreciation on those
women who were "so gloriously sending their sons to fight for the
empire and liberty." She was very charming as she stood surrounded by
the flags of the allies and a few hot house palms. To make herself
beautiful for them she had even risked wearing her loveliest and
lowest evening gown, with just the sheerest scarf falling from a bare
shoulder, as a protection from the night air. And standing there like
a goddess of liberty, she told them that she wished she had a dozen
sons to give. She said further that she knew these women who were so
splendidly giving their boys would do still more. The food situation
was serious, but what women in other countries had done the splendid
women on Canadian farms would do. Belgian and French and German and
even English women were sowing the seed and gathering the harvest
this year; she knew that the dear mothers from the farms who had so
unselfishly given their sons would not see them starve in the
trenches, that they would put their shoulders to the wheel as their
pioneer foremothers had done, and go into the fields if necessary, to
the last one of them.

When she had finished, people from somewhere applauded, the band
added its contribution to the clamour, but the mothers sitting down
in the shadows, with their boys back in the lines standing rigid and
weary at attention, were strangely silent. The speaker gathered her
draperies about her, a little elf of a girl handed her a sheaf of
roses, and in the general stir which followed, a few of the women
from the farms got up a bit stiffly--they were not used to sitting so
long at a time--and looked about for their men to go home. It was in
the press of the spring work and they hadn't had time to do the
milking before they came.

Billy was there, and he had listened with all his logical faculties
active. When she finished he began to move towards the gate; it was
his last leave and he had plans for the next day which meant a great
deal to him. There was more than enough time to catch the car to the
city, but he just naturally found himself going. The band had taken a
stand close to the pavilion and was starting up a waltz, and,
well--it was too much like pouring honey into a cup of hemlock. At
the edge of the crowd he suddenly found Marjorie right in his path,
but looking the other way.

"Oh," she gasped, "you frightened me."

He didn't apologize, because he knew he hadn't frightened her. "I was
just getting off to catch the car," he explained.

Miss Evison was disappointed. She had pointed out the good-looking
soldier to a few of her girl friends, with a mysterious half-promise
of a story, later. She had counted on this evening for days, and had
rehearsed several delicate little speeches and a touching, but very
proper, farewell. She hadn't anticipated being confronted with a new
man. It would have been highly satisfactory if he had shown a sign of
the end-of-everything bitterness, generally supposed to be
appropriate under the circumstances, but this cool, friendly
indifference was more than any girl could stand from a man who had
proposed to her not six months before. He was holding out his hand
and saying:

"I may not see you again before I go."

She softened at once.

"You're not going yet," she coaxed. "I simply can't let you go yet,"
and when he showed no sign of staying, she added rather sharply, "I
don't believe I ever knew you to be in such a hurry before."

He smiled kindly and happily as one might over an episode of
childhood.

"I have to get back to the city," he explained patiently, "We're
going out to the country to-morrow."

Miss Evison wasn't used to disappointments and they made her temper
very uncertain.

"Are you taking Miss Macdonald with you?" she inquired.

"Yes." He seemed modestly proud that she should guess it.

She was ashamed the minute the question was out, but that he should
fail to resent it was maddening, and when she was angry she forgot to
be elegant. She was smiling in a way that was not beautiful, and she
said:

"You know I wouldn't have thought from the exalted opinion of her you
used to have, that she'd have fallen for the soldier stuff."

There was nothing gratifying to her vanity in the way he looked at
her. He was angry, of course, but more evident was the surprise of
disillusionment. It seemed as though for the first time he saw her as
she was and hated to believe it.

"You don't mean that, honest?" he said. He put his big toil-hardened
hand on her shoulder, very gently. It was a rather remarkable hand,
strong and capable and intelligent looking, and it had steadied many
other people to be honest, but it was unthinkable that he should
presume to take such an attitude of fatherly disappointment in her
conduct. So she looked at the hand until he took it away, and she
said good night with as much dignity as the situation and her temper
would allow.

She was still in this frame of mind when she met Dr. Knight a few
minutes later, but then she was beginning to know Dr. Knight pretty
well by this time, and it was impossible to avoid such things
constantly.

"What's the matter?" he inquired casually.

"I had arranged to have Mr. Withers meet the girls, but he seemed to
feel that he had other things more important. He's taking Miss
Macdonald out to see some farm or something to-morrow. He always did
have a craze for that."

Dr. Knight on close acquaintance dropped all his drawing-room talk
and expressed some very plebeian views of things. His direct
observation now was,

"She's the kind of girl who'd make him a great wife."

"Yes," she agreed, "the kind of girl whom every man advises every
other man to marry, but never thinks of marrying himself."

The doctor studied his fiancee with the candid speculation of a man
endeavoring to adjust himself to an engagement which somehow seems to
have happened without his planning. He was not ill natured, but
perfectly frank.

"What a little cat!" he said.



CHAPTER XIII.


"If you'd just come out with me to the hill place for one day," Billy
had pleaded. "I want to have something to take away with me to
remember."

Ruth had looked ahead to the day not without foreboding. Why, in the
name of all that was sane, she wondered, should a man want to go and
uncover the grave of his dreams at a time when he should be fighting
to forget them? If he wanted her to witness the agony, of course she
would be there--he would need someone--but to see him staring into
the ruins of an old house at the ghost picture of the future he had
visioned, to know that he was still aching for the nearness of an
ethereal bit of thistledown of a girl, and to be unable to tell him
just where he had been blind! It would be well if a storm and a flood
would wash the place away in the night.

But the storm did not come. The sun shone and the birds sang; the car
purred up hills and down; Billy seemed strangely happy, except for an
occasional glance of anxiety at the white profile beside him, and the
girl was preoccupied and troubled. Something was wrong. It was their
last day, and it might have been so wonderful.

"I suppose, if we lived by centuries," Billy remarked, "we would
still leave some of the things we wanted most to be crowded into the
last day we had. There seems to be something inherently selfish in
most of us. We get an idea that we want a certain thing, and if we
can't have it we curse Fate for her heartlessness. We never think how
our self-centred ambition is hurting someone else, overlooking
something worlds better than the trifling thing our fancy has
idealized. Whatever failures I might make, Jean would still believe
in me, and I've neglected her shamefully.

"It's the same with the work I might have done. A lot of us have been
misled by our ideas of 'rural leadership.' We know that the country
needs leaders who can see clearly, and who have the courage to make
their visions materialize. We have big plans for the country, but
we're afraid to go right out to the land and take its risks and
steady, commonplace toil. Those of us who grew up there learned
something of the beauty and irrevocableness of its natural laws, and
a lot of its hardships and cruelties. When we went away to study how
to overcome the hard things, which should not be, an insidious
influence in the new environment resulted in a kindly ridicule or
patient tolerance of the simplicity of these natural laws.

"I remember one day before I ever left the farm, I was ploughing
alone in the field and a lark flew over my head, called twice and
disappeared. It was in the spring, and the scheme of things seemed
very perfect and simple to me then. That fall I went to college and
the artificial crept in. When the war brings men up against elemental
things, suffering and quick death and endurance and sacrifice
absolutely devoid of self-interest, I wonder if it will give them a
higher regard for the genuine in everything. And if it does, will it
make them so vastly more primitive, that when it comes to the old
human longing for a mate and a home, the kind of woman they want, the
woman with dreams and a sensitiveness to the finest things, will find
them changed, and be afraid to cross the gulf between them? What do
you think?"

"I don't think 'the woman with dreams' has ever been afraid of the
natural things." Then she stopped. It seemed simple enough, after his
experience, that he should want to dig into such questions for the
ease of his own soul, but it was hard to talk about them at all and
keep her own feelings covered. So she looked away and very
practically broke off. "Anyway no one can see things in generalities;
you only know how you feel yourself."

Then she found that he wasn't interested in generalities.

"I'm afraid that's really what I wanted to know," he said--"how you
would feel about it. When the war is over a lot more men will have to
go out to the land, if the country is ever to come back to normal
again. Some of these men won't be the greatest possible asset to
the country; men of all sorts go into the making of an army; but
a lot of them will be of the finest type, educated, practical,
public-spirited, the kind we need for building a community. Only men
alone can't build a community; it requires the indispensable woman,
and there's the problem. The men themselves will have learned, under
the severest discipline, to endure and cope with hard conditions.
They have slept in muddy trenches, they have suffered and survived
unthinkable physical hardships; the rigors of agriculture will have
no terrors for them. But their wives, or the girls who would be their
wives, have been living in refined homes--maybe during the war they
have gone without luxuries which they considered necessities in other
times; perhaps they have done work they would have thought impossible
before; still they have lived in an atmosphere of considerable
elegance. It's rather a good thing that they have. If these women
would come out to make homes on the land, bringing with them all
their essentials of refinement, but dropping the superficialities,
what a blessing it would be.

"I can imagine the horror some of them would feel at the prospect of
pioneering in the country, but I know that things out here can be
made as safe and comfortable and I hope far more worth while than
they can be in any city, if people just have the right material in
themselves. We would have less money, but less would be required for
the same kind of life. Think what it could be! This place will be
mine then, the old house and the trees and all. We could have a
bungalow to delight the heart of any architect, and we have ground
enough to make a natural park around it. We could have a blazing
fireplace as big as a cave with logs from our own woods, and we could
make it a centre for other less happy people who needed the warmth of
a real home sometimes. We would have our own horses to galavant all
over the country, but, best of all, we would always have the cabin to
come home to, and time to be alone, to think and talk and learn to
know each other. People can't do that where they live in crowds."

Then a quick, troubled look shot over his face. "I had forgotten," he
apologized awkwardly, "but there's so little time, and I get so
carried away with the idea of having you here, that anything else
seems impossible; so I blunder into a visioning like this."

Three years ago she could run her hand through his crumpled hair as
she would with a little boy in trouble. She couldn't do that now.
Anyway, she reasoned, it was very different comforting a man for his
mother who had died, and for a sweetheart who was flippantly alive
and breaking his heart from a distance. She couldn't even look at
him. But the old instinct was still there, maternal, protective. She
seemed to take on new height with it, and her eyes laughed with a
comradely tenderness near akin to tears.

"The whole trouble is you're lonesome, Billy, and it's leading you
into dangerous places," she said. "You've set your heart so on living
here that you think just the place would make everything right. Don't
go away thinking you're losing anything. The place will be here just
the same when you come back, and I'll be here. We can come out as
often as you like and have no end of good times--but don't you see,
Billy, there are some places where you just can't compromise?"

He reddened painfully.

"It's all right," he said. "I know you would if you could, just like
you've always done everything else I wanted. But you can't, and I
don't wonder.... We came out here for a holiday. The woods are all
dappled green and sunshine--pine needles under your feet deep as a
Donegal carpet. There's a trail winding around for about a mile up to
a spring in the rocks. People say the Indians made it, but I think it
was some wise old cow finding the easiest slopes on her way up for a
drink. It's like a view from an aeroplane to look down when you get
to the top. Shall we go?"

They were not more foolish or more misunderstood than generations of
lovers had been before them.

And the girl learned what a day in the woods could be--sun pouring
through the parting branches and warming at every touch; brown furry
things scuttling off through the dead leaves; here and there a mother
partridge strutting out watchful and wary, and whirring close,
broken-winged, at sight of them, to lead her brood to cover;
stillness like the stillness of an abbey, broken only by the distant
drumming of a woodpecker on a hollow tree. And always there was
Billy--his sleeve just touching when the path was narrow, his hand so
quick and steady when the rocks were slippery. And once, when at the
sound of the faintest chirping in a thicket he had stolen over and
reached out for her to come and look at a nest of the downiest yellow
fledgelings, in the breath-holding wonder of it her fingers had
somehow tightened convulsively about his. The birds had done it, of
course; but they came home very quietly after that.

But when he left her he said: "There's just one thing more. Will you
try to forget me as you must think of me now, and let me try all over
again when I come back? You've been no end kind always--I won't
presume on it--but when I come back, if you can stand to have me
around at all, I'm going to try to make you love me. And I'm going to
keep on trying. And if you ever find you can marry me I'll keep right
on after that--and if you can't--it'll be all right. Until I come
back, we'll just go right on being pals like we have been? So I can
write to you and know you're here, like a warm fire to reach out to
when there seems to be no warmth anywhere else. Talk about men
protecting women! We're as left as deserted children, when things go
wrong, without a woman we can trust, somewhere."

       *       *       *       *       *

Ruth's aunt came in to comfort her when he had gone.

"You're going to miss Mr. Withers," she said. "He is a flower of a
man. But I'm going to tell you something. You've never had much to do
with men; you seem to have always been too busy with your work, and
I've been sorry about it; but as things are turning out now it may be
as well. Some of our men won't come back; many of those who do come
back will be changed. Mr. Withers is naturally likeable; he will be
made much of socially, and there's the question of how much of it he
can stand. I believe he was a great admirer of that pretty Miss
Evison, which is really not a strong argument for his ability to
take care of himself. I'm glad now that you have so much of interest
in your career."



CHAPTER XIV.


It was very quiet in the neighborhood after the battalion left. Over
the whole green country always known as a retreat from the strain and
noise and gaiety of the town, there brooded a quiet that was not
restful. Canada was far removed from the areas where every home had
been broken, but in the littlest hamlet or the most secluded
community there was some home with a cloud hanging over. When Ruth's
work took her among these people now, she felt a closer touch with
their anxiety; she hadn't known what it meant before.

It was in a Scotch settlement in Eastern Ontario that the real spirit
of the war seemed to have entered. She had visited the place during
the winter before the war, and the meeting-hall had been filled with
young people. They were an interesting crowd--the young men, hardened
from summers of harvesting and winters of lumbering, every one of
them standing six feet or over, not all modelled after Adonis, but
generally bearing unmistakable marks of good breeding and
intelligence in their strong-featured faces. It had long been the
ambition of every family to turn out at least one university man, if
it ran the farm to the rocks to pay for it, and the others, the
elder brothers who stayed at home to fatten the calves that went to
buy the books and the dress suits and sundry incidentals of the
college course--they had just as active brains, were just as clear
thinkers. The houses were not all painted on the outside, but they
had libraries of the choicest things in standard literature, and most
of the houses had their bagpipes or a violin. From the time when the
long evenings set in in the fall until the spring floods broke up the
roads the young men and the girls would gather regularly in some farm
house and dance all night. The Highland fling was as well known here
as in any home in the hills of the Old Land, and when the whole floor
wound up the night in the Scotch reel, the drone of the pipes and the
whoops of the dancers seemed a very harmless and picturesque way of
keeping alive the traditions of their warrior ancestors.

But they were indeed sons of the Covenanters, and with the first
surety of war every man who could get away at all wound up his
affairs as fast as he could, or left them incomplete, got into kilts
if he could find a Highland regiment not filled up, but in any case
got into a uniform of some kind, said good-bye to his women folk or
his children, a bit roughly and unsteadily at the last, held them
painfully close for a minute, then broke away and left them without
looking back. The whole settlement had been left like that, and the
farming was now being done by the old men and the young boys and the
women and girls.

But the girls had come from the same strain of Covenanter ancestors.
They were tall, deep-bosomed, motherly young women with a strength of
will and character in their faces like their brothers--and it was
war-time. Just as their great grandmothers must have gathered in the
sheep when their war-fired men followed the bagpipes over the hills
to meet an enemy before their own hearths were dishonored, so their
daughters in Canada, with the enemy far away, but none the less
menacing if no one went to meet him, took up the tools their soldiers
had laid down, and went to farming. Many of these girls had never
lifted an axe or driven three horses on a binder before, but they
were doing it now, and doing it fairly well. Not that this was work
that any Canadian girl could do. These girls had unusually good
physiques to begin with; perhaps the canny forethought of their race
had made them judicious in what they attempted to do, and there were
usually more than one of them in the house, so they didn't have to
try to crowd a woman's work into the night after doing a man's work
in the fields all day. Anyway, it was their avowed intention to keep
it up "until the men came back."

In the winter the girls who in other years had given their evenings
entirely to the neighborhood frolics now sat late beside their lamps
at home, knitting. In one community it occurred to them that they
could work better together, so they formed a "Next o' Kin Club."
Incidentally they sent for Ruth to come and help them get their work
better organized.

It was easy to arrange a plan for the most practical kind of Red
Cross work. It was not so easy to look squarely at the problems ahead
of most of these girls, and offer any solution. But the girls
themselves had gone right to the heart of things.

"We've thought it all out," one girl explained to Ruth, a girl with
eyes as soft and blue as the heather and a wealth of bronze hair that
would have set an artist raving. She was obviously a girl who in
normal times had followed the quick, warm workings of her heart
rather than to reason out any logical line of conduct. "We've thought
it all out, and we want to be ready for whatever happens.

"Andra and I were to have been married in October. At the first word
of war he and my brother Donald, a lad just turned eighteen, left
together. Father is old and I'm trying to take Donald's place till he
comes back. If he shouldn't come I'll stay anyway and do the best
I can. Then when Andra comes he'll work the two places; it would
be easy for him--you never _saw_ Andra. I'm sure he's coming
back--somehow you couldn't think of Andra not coming back. He just
wasn't afraid of anything and the things that set other people
cowering before them, just naturally made way for him. He always
drove the logs over the gorge where every other man in the place
thought it was playing with death to go--and when something came
loose at a barn-raising and the whole framework seemed ready to come
crashing down on the men, he crawled out on a beam with the timbers
swaying under him and drove the joint together. Of course they say a
man has no chance at all over there; that it's just human life put up
against so much machinery; still I can't think Andra won't come
back--that just couldn't be," she cried, a terrified protest in her
blue eyes. "But he might come back not able to do things like when he
went away," she added quietly, "and that's why I want to keep the
farm going as well as I can. We could still make a living here; so we
could be married even if he couldn't work.

"Oh, don't tell me it wouldn't be prudent," she broke out when Ruth
tried to speak. "You never _saw_ Andra. If you'd once known the
look and the pride of him in his kilt, if you'd seem him taking the
logs from a jamb, and the river frothing around him, if you'd known
the mind and the will and the kind, true heart of him you'd know that
there aren't many men like him left in the world, and you'd know that
the greatest mistake would be that he shouldn't get married--that
there wouldn't be any children to grow up like him. So no matter what
happens, just so God sends him back to me alive. I'll be waiting.

"That's how most of the girls here feel, but a lot of their lads have
been killed. The only hope for them is to have something to do that
will make it seem worth while to live. A few of them want to train
for nurses, thinking that by trying to ease other people's suffering
they can forget their own, but they wouldn't all make nurses, and the
life will soon go out of the place here if they all go. If you could
plan something worth while for girls to do right here at home, and
help the others who feel that they must get away, to find their right
place when they do go, it would be worth everything."

It happened when the "Next o' Kin" club were making shirts and
bandages at a farm house one day that a pedlar called selling
lavender. The people had little use for lavender, but in the warmth
of their hospitality they asked the stranger to stay for supper. He
was embarrassed by the situation; evidently itinerant selling was new
to him, and not congenial. It was also discovered that he was trying
painfully to conceal the fact that his right arm hung limp and
useless. Then someone noticed that he wore the badge of a discharged
soldier, and if Prince Charlie had suddenly appeared in their midst
his welcome could not have been more cordial.

He was the first person they had seen who had actually been "there,"
and the young people, especially, pressed him with questions. Their
imaginations had created thrilling pictures of kilted regiments
charging over level fields with the sun flashing on their trappings
and somewhere, always, the pipes playing; and those who fell would go
down smiling. Was it like that, they begged, and had he seen any of
their men?

The soldier considered and decided that they deserved to know the
truth.

"You'll be gettin' some of them back one of these days," he said,
"and you wouldn't want to be expectin' too much of them for a while.
I may not have seen any of your men, but I've seen men of the best
picked regiments in the army, men who had been there long enough to
be hardened to it if that were possible, and I've seen them loaded on
to the stretchers cryin' like children. You see it's all so
different, you just don't _get_ it here at all.

"There was one chap, a sort of leader and general favorite in our
crowd. He had been a champion athlete at college and his face would
have made a painting of a young Greek god look like a poor copy. They
carried him back to the dressing-station one day and sent home a
telegram saying that he was wounded in the face. The little girl from
home wrote back that he would be all the more handsome to her with a
scar that told of sacrifice and bravery, and the dear knows what
else, but she didn't know just what it was. For the rest of his life
he'll keep the lower part of his face covered with a black cloth. The
question is just how the girl will feel about it after the first
shock or the first romantic phase of the incident has passed."

The next day Ruth went into another community. It was a land flowing
with milk and honey and humming with automobiles, and except as a
live topic of conversation, the war was something apart.

"We've done very well in patriotic work around here," one prosperous
citizen explained. "The young people have a patriotic dance every
month, and we've raised a lot at entertainments because everyone for
miles around has a car and there's sure to be a good turnout if it's
for anything patriotic. Then we send donations regularly to the
military hospital in the next town; we feel that we owe something to
the men there. But the returned soldier is going to be a serious
problem. They're going to feel that they've done everything for the
country and that the country should take care of them for the rest of
their lives. One called here last summer looking for work, but he was
all crippled up and couldn't stand anything. A few days ago he went
through here again selling perfume or something. Never saw one yet
that could stick at anything. You see they've been idle for so long
they'll never settle down again to hard, steady work."

Of one thing he was sure, however--the war must be won. "We've sent a
lot of men, but we'll send more," he declared, swelling with pride of
his determined patriotism. "We don't want our children and our
children's children to have to live under the terror of a repetition
of this." What did he think of conscription? Conscription would be a
fine thing. There were lots of young men who could be spared, but the
government must see that men were not drafted from the farms; the
farms were already undermanned. Incidentally, though he didn't
express it, with this provision conscription wouldn't touch his own
son. It was a strange, but not uncommon, line of human reasoning, and
to the girl, pure and strong in contrast, a sentence in Billy's last
letter kept recurring: "One virtue stands out through the worst of
it; however big a piece of blundering the whole thing may be, so far
as the men are concerned the spirit of selfishness is entirely
absent." Perhaps it was true that the peaceful little country
communities, confined in the shelter of their own hills, sometimes
missed the vision of a world-wide public spirit.

And "there were lots of young men who could be spared," the generous
one had declared. She thought of the blue-eyed Scotch girl's Andra,
and the young leader and favorite of his mates, who "would have made
a Greek god look like a poor copy," and who, for the rest of his
life, would keep his face half covered with a black cloth; and she
thought of Billy and everything else seemed to end there.

In her settlement work in town when a soldier wandered into the club,
homesick on his way to the war, or broken in health returning, it
might have been Billy, and she swept him into the warmth of her
understanding sympathy almost as his mother might have done. When the
doctor said "We might have another mother and baby clinic here every
week, if you have time for it," she thought of Billy's mother and the
baby who died, and she always had time for it. When the young
people's club met on Wednesday evenings and she found some
serious-eyed, embarrassed boy isolated by his shyness or falling a
prey to an unscrupulous little huntress, she thought of another
chapter of Billy's career, and she spared no trouble to align his
interests with a real girl. Two years of such personal social service
could scarcely fail to be heard of, and by the time the war was over
her House and her methods were becoming rather famous. It was one of
the city's little recognitions that she should be a member of the
delegation to meet Billy's battalion at a formal reception, as it
passed through on the way home for demobilization.



CHAPTER XV.

"_Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice._"


It was all a mistake, somehow, the reception. In his letters to Ruth,
Billy had been the same unassuming young Canadian who could find an
interest in working every night for a week on so common a thing as a
water-wheel; he scarcely seemed a soldier at all. He wrote little of
the war, and much about the country, repeating in a hundred ways
between the lines his need of her. Now that he was here he was an
officer, apparently an inch or two taller than ever--a very
military-looking officer, much as he hated it--with women crowding
around to pour tea for him, ushering their daughters along to meet
him. His eyes were just as honest; he was altogether just as fine.
The war had not changed him, but it had changed things for him. One
couldn't just imagine him shedding all the smartness of such a
uniform and trappings to put on overalls and go to digging a living
out of the earth.

"How the army makes them over," Ruth overheard one old lady remark to
another. "I fear the girls at home haven't kept up to them. It will
be fortunate for some of them if they made no entanglements before
they went away."

Billy was standing near when the mayor presented Ruth to the colonel,
and he heard his eulogy of her work at the Settlement. To Billy
himself the mayor observed:

"That girl has a career ahead of her. There's been nothing like her
work elsewhere on the continent. The city will need to watch her, for
they're wanting her in other places."

"They would," Billy agreed.

"I believe some fanatic has even had the nerve to suggest that she
open some kind of similar centre in the country somewhere, and bury
herself out there."

They had just a minute together before the train left.

"It's rotten having to go like this," he said, too perfunctorily, she
thought, as though he had said it many times before. "As soon as I
can I'm coming back. It's great, the work you're doing. Do you like
it very much?"

Very casual it seemed, very different from the high tension of his
leave-taking, and she assured him with more enthusiasm than she felt
that she did like it very much. And he went off like that without
straightening things out. It wasn't like him.

A week later he wrote to her:

"I've been up here in the hills for five days trying to think things
out. I have to confess that your civic reception quite knocked me out
to begin with, and I've been struggling to see clearly ever since.
It wasn't the ceremony of it--I've become quite used to standing in
line through all sorts of formalities. The whole trouble was _you_.
I didn't miss anything, from the shine of your hair to the tips of
your velvet shoes, nor the thoroughbred poise and grace of you, and
the same all-seeing kindness of your eyes, and you wore a dress that
looked as though it might be wonderfully soft to touch. It would
make everyone happier if the women had more of such things up here.
I heard all the mayor said about you, about what he called "the
future ahead of you," and how some idiot had suggested that you
give up your career in town to bury yourself in the country--and
everything went blurry. I had even suggested that myself.

"And things didn't look any better when the train dropped me right
from the heart of the city on to the platform of the little flag
station at Pinehill. The village houses huddled like so many white
chickens close about the old grey cheese-factory; the sheds were
bright with last year's circus posters, the snow stretched in patches
over the muddy fields, like so much linen from a broken clothes-line.
There was none of the water-color landscape effect that we always
associate with pastoral scenes when we are away from them. This, of
course, was a mere accident of time and weather, but out on the farms
there is a real trouble. The farmsteads lack something of the
well-groomedness of the days when their owners took a pride in them.
The hedges are a bit shaggy; the gates sag here and there. One of the
best farms is in the hands of a tenant who 'loves not his land with
love far-brought,' and the owner of another lives on it for only two
months a year and has no aspirations to fit it up for a permanent
home. Pine Ridge, of which I have the honor to be the new owner, is
the most dilapidated of all--a veritable scarecrow waiting to have
the breath of life breathed into it. Still, I've come back to it like
a homesick child, and I don't believe the country ever fails those
who trust her.

"I have at least been encouraged in that since I came here. Yesterday
I called at the littlest house in the village to get an axe-handle.
There's a man there who takes a special pride in making them,
smoothing them down at the last with his bare hands like a cabinet
worker on mahogany. He is an old man, bent by years of husbandry, but
I found him working at his craft with the joyful concentration that
an artist puts into a masterpiece. His old wife, bent by years of
housewifery and making babies comfortable in the crook of her arm
while she worked, bustled about showing me the blooms of her
geraniums, and the photographs of her grandchildren. They are,
evidently, quite a creditable and promising line of descendants,
especially one lad of twenty years who seems to have inherited the
best brain of the family for generations back. His grandfather says
the world will hear from him some day, and I don't know why it
shouldn't. They are very happy, these old people. I think I know why.
They have been a part of the simple, wonderful things that make life;
they have made it a contribution that will go on long after their own
lives have gone out, so it can never hold for them anything of
purposelessness or boredom.

"I've heard a lot about what you're doing. Perhaps you don't know
that even back here you're rather famous. It's a sort of glorified
social service, isn't it--running a community institute, bringing
cultural advantages to those who have missed them, seeing that lonely
young people have a good time, finding sweethearts for those who
haven't them? I wish someone would start something like that out
here. Our need, I can tell you, is as desperate as any down-town
settlement's, with its abundance of people and playhouses, and
gathering places of a dozen different kinds not two blocks away from
anywhere. And that reminds me that when I dropped into the
Agricultural Office the other day, the representative told me they
were trying to persuade you to come out and open a four-square
developing centre for the young people of this county--to carry out
among the young people of the farms the same physical, intellectual,
social and spiritual programme that has made such progress in town.
And I couldn't enthuse over it at all. I want someone to do it, of
course. I think it's the best movement that has ever been suggested
for the country yet; but there are going to be a lot of 'movements'
in the country during the next few years, and the thing they'll need
more than anything else is more people living here to help them
along, to make them permanent, something more than a passing
demonstration.

"I've been thinking what a glorious 'four-square' plan we could work
out in our own little house up here. I've never heard of anyone
trying the idea on a home, but that's really where it should begin.
Of course, it's the easiest part to square up a house physically, if
you know how to use tools, but every day I see houses along the road
with constitutions absolutely broken down, and a family still
struggling to keep a pulse of life within--weather-boards off,
chimneys sagging, summer kitchens straggling off drunkenly at the
back. Sometimes there is a solid, square, stone structure, ruggedly
upright, but with signs of something wrong inside--windows frozen
over like disease-dulled eyes, because there is no warmth within; the
whole front presenting a forbidding countenance, when it could be
made to smile invitingly by putting on a front porch, lifting the
parlor blinds, adding a bay-window at the side, where the sun could
catch it. Our own little house will be small enough, dear knows, but
it will be tight against the weather; it will have a stone chimney
running up one side--a pillar without and an altar within--and
because we don't want to compromise with what we call our 'standards
of living,' it will have waterworks before we think of any other
luxury.

"In your little pamphlet on intellectual training, I see you have
outlined a course of reading. I wonder how much time you get for
reading now. Just when you've planned a quiet evening for yourself,
do your friends ever call you out to a tea or a show or a bridge
party? I can tell you, you have to come to the quiet of a place like
this to really enjoy books. I think we even might be able to start a
reading circle among our neighbors. I left some magazines with a
neighbor's wife the other day, and she quite embarrassed me with her
gratitude.

"'Do you know I haven't seen a woman's magazine since I was married,'
she said. 'Joe's the best man in the world'--what confidences have
been prefaced by safeguards like this--'but he isn't much for
luxuries, and he isn't much company. He'll sit for hours smoking or
figuring and when he does talk it's mostly the crops or the taxes. It
isn't his fault; he was like that when he used to come to see me.
I've known him to sit for a whole evening without saying much more
than to ask if we'd noticed the cows failing since they went on the
grass. You don't notice that so much for an evening once or twice a
week, but when you have to live with it day in and day out it's
terrible. The doctor says my nerves are bad and that I've got to go
away for a change, but with three small children one can't pick up
and go away. Anyway, I wouldn't leave Joe alone with no one to do for
him. I'll tell the doctor to prescribe some good reading and I'll get
my change at home.'

"But what a shame it is that you couldn't have had a chance at
four-squaring Joe when he was younger and more plastic. There are
other boys here with the same need. Just now the church is getting up
a concert to help 'raise the stipend,' and it is the custom to have a
two or three act play, usually a comedy, which necessitates the
entertainment being taken from the church to the Orange Hall. I wish
you were here to help them create a pantomime from 'The Hanging of
the Crane.' I want to go over it with you myself to see again just
how wonderful some of the pictures are.

"I know about the social work you're doing--keeping open house with a
grate fire on snowy, dusky Sunday afternoons, and bringing lonely
young people in for supper. We would have a grate fire here too, and
we could find people just as lonely.

"Our neighbor down the road has a daughter, very bright, and actually
suffering for young friends and a 'good time.' He won't let her go to
the dances in the Orange Hall, in which his judgment may be sound
enough, only he doesn't try to find a substitute for this diversion,
and the neighborhood provides nothing else. Some miles in the other
direction we have another neighbor, a young man just starting to farm
for himself. Whether Angus goes to the hall or not, I don't know, but
if he does he must have some trouble supplying conversation in the
intervals between dances. He gets on much better talking about Sir
Walter Scott and politics and the habits of bees, ... If we could
bring them home here some Sunday afternoon I don't suppose they would
speak ten words to each other, but he would take her home afterwards
and a few nights later we would see a light in her parlor window, an
entirely new occurrence, and considered quite an omen in the
neighborhood.

"And how the neighbors here would welcome you. You would find the
social life very different; but there's something very genuine about
it. They would not drop in for a formal call after they were sure you
were completely settled. You would possibly find a woman climbing the
hills in a snowstorm the first day after you arrived, bringing a jar
of black currants and wanting to know if she couldn't help you hook a
mat or quilt a quilt. I think we could give our house a social
squaring here that it might miss anywhere else.

"A few years ago I would have been frightened and embarrassed at the
responsibility of trying to establish a spiritual corner in my house
or in myself. The square idea makes it seem the most practical,
natural thing in the world, and then there is some inspiration in
seeing the lack of it. In the mountains skirting off from the
farmlands here there is a settlement that is a little kingdom of
heathenism such as one might find in a country where no churches
exist. I am told that almost every county has such a nest somewhere
within its boundaries and that it seldom appeals to anyone as a home
mission field. The people just naturally run to wickedness and break
every commandment shamelessly. This is one extreme. The other is not
much less serious. In a lot of the 'solid old farm homes' there is a
rigid dominance of a thing called religion which is not beautiful nor
compassionate nor consistent. Children suffer under it and grow up to
hate the name it stands for. Old Jonas Birchfield had a tractor
cutting wood at his place last week, and his son, in some way, broke
a delicate part of the engine. They worked at it until noon with the
old man's wrath growing hotter every minute. I dropped in with the
mail just as they were sitting down to dinner and overheard Jonas
shouting: 'It just seems you've been sent to aggravate me. I've
tried every way to teach ye and ye get stupider every year. I'll be
glad when the day comes that ye're old enough to turn on the road,
and I'll never see yer cursed face again. Now after dinner ye can
walk the six miles to town and get a new bolt--Bless, we pray Thee,
Lord, a portion of this food, etc., etc.--Maybe that'll get some of
the gum out o' your brain. And mark ye, ye don't get to school
another day till ye've cut enough wood with the axe to pay for the
bolt, often enough to teach ye a lesson.'

"I suppose Jonas thought he was giving his family something of a
Christian environment by repeating that blessing at every meal,
regardless of the spirit pervading the house at the time. But they
won't know much about such promises as 'Like as a father pitieth his
children,' will they? I don't know much about it myself, but it would
be wonderful to help keep other children from missing it. I'm glad
you've made it so clear how the Christ way of living can be such a
practical thing, even in a little farm house.

"Perhaps I should hesitate to even want you out here. There are a lot
of 'advantages' in town, I suppose. I remember in our college days,
we used to make a great deal of the cultural value of higher life,
operas, travel, books and the like. Seems to me we were far too
content to take our thrills at second hand. There are no operas here,
but there's an abundance of material to start a community theatre.
I'm not an acting man myself, but a girl who has conducted a dramatic
campaign in a down-town settlement could set a powerful leaven
working. Anyway there's a mine of unexplored dramatic interest up
here. In lieu of the social tangles ravelled out in the shows, you
can see how the Great Author planned the miracle of life with the
creatures of the woods. There's a red-crested bird just arrived with
his mate from the South last week, and they seem to be in trouble. I
went to sleep last night listening to him calling low in the bushes
and she never answering. But I know it's going to come out all
right--there's no reason why it shouldn't, because there are only the
two of them concerned. Nature doesn't mix up in triangular affairs.
If you could come out right away you might be in time for the last
act. I whittled out a house from a piece of log last night and set it
on the gatepost, and I think at the rate they're getting on, they'll
be moving in about the day after this reaches you.

"To-morrow I want to commence work on the bungalow fireplace. It's to
be a great stone cavern with boulders broken from the side of our own
hill and a heavy oak timber hewn from a log in our own woods. And on
the edge of the mantel I want to whittle out the words, '_Chop Your
Own Wood and It Will Warm You Twice_.' That much I've learned from
experience--the glow that comes from earning a thing before you take
it. You feel it when you build your own house, or plant your own
trees and wait for them to grow, or when you work in some community
move to help your neighbors--most of all I think in the last; there
are so few of us out here and we need each other so badly. I can't
help thinking what a stupendous lot a girl with your experience
and--and everything, could do for the place.

"We're beginning to make plans for our spring operations, deciding
whether to plant one hundred or two hundred acres of wheat, whether
the price of corn is going to make it worth while to raise hogs. It's
as full of adventure as a gamble in stocks, the chance a farmer takes
with blight and drought and flood and uncertain markets, but there's
always the promise of the year ahead, of seed-time and harvest, and
the wonderful satisfaction of knowing that agriculture is one of the
few industries the world couldn't do without.

"But after all, important as it is to produce food for the world's
need, instinctively a man plans for other things. Early this morning
I started up the mountain to get out some stone for the house
foundation. The sun was just coming up, and when I stood for a few
minutes, sort of at the top of the world, wondering at the distance
and stillness and the unexplored beauty of it all, a bird, possibly a
descendant of the one that startled me at my ploughing fifteen years
ago, flew over my head, called a few times and flew away. And I
wanted you. At night I came back to the house and the emptiness was
awful, and things troubled me, but through the smoke of my pipe I
could see you sitting there, with the fire making lights in your
hair, and your eyes starry and thoughtful in the dusk, and I wanted
to take your hands in mine and hold them out to the blaze, _and I
wanted to ask you what you thought about the things that worried
me_. That's the worst of it with you women who have other
interests--you would make such ripping companions for a man. There it
is, you see--the man's old primitive hunger for his mate and his
home. It's more urgent out here than in town. Suppose we had lots of
money and went into an uptown house. I'd pay people to do things for
you, and you'd direct them to do things for me, and a lot of the
personal communication would be cut off. Out here, a man and a woman
need each other more.

"So, very humble, but unashamed--if you get the difference--I'm
coming down for you. Try to be waiting for me."

       *       *       *       *       *

His first, swift look told him she was waiting. There would be no
more wondering and questions and misunderstandings.

"Just what was the trouble the other day?" he asked. "If you're not
sure in any way, we'll get it cleared up now."

And very frankly, with no vein of coquetry, she told him:

"I was afraid of you."

This was incredible. Whatever feeling anyone might have had regarding
him, he was sure no one had ever been afraid of him. And she, of all
people! Why, the truth was, he was appallingly afraid of her,
himself, only he would have called it by another name. It was the
thing that made his touch fearful of crushing her feathers, that a
poet would say "kept the soul of him kneeling" in her presence. Then
the wonder of it dawned on him. Surely she didn't care that way!

He hadn't learned that there was no other way.



CHAPTER XVI.

"_God's outposts are the little homes._"


So much can happen between the kindling of fires in hearts and on the
hearth of a new household. It is such a shy, questioning,
never-to-be-repeated time, filled with the anxiety to understand, and
the keener anxiety of holding the mirror to one's own soul to better
see its appalling unworthiness.

"The house must be ready by fall," Billy said. "I'll have the men at
it in the morning."

"But they'll want boards and plans and stones, and lots of things,"
his wife-to-be protested. "They'll know you're going to get married,
and if they aren't too sorry for you, I'm afraid they'll laugh at
you."

"They can start digging the cellar, anyway. Surely they'll have sense
enough to know that any house has to have a cellar. Could--couldn't
we make some kind of plan to-night--something for them to begin on?
From March to October is a long time to wait. It might make it seem a
little nearer just to get it on paper."

Ruth had always wanted to plan a house. She had always been planning
them, theoretically, in her dream castles, and technically in her
profession--but there was something very different about this one.

"This is the one thing we're sure of--the chimney," Billy was saying,
blocking it out awkwardly on the back of an envelope. "Now what do
you want?"

"Why, really, nothing much at all," she stammered. "I--I'm afraid
this is a bad time to plan a house. It's all so new--so wonderful,
somehow--it seems it wouldn't ever make any difference where we
live."

"You think that wouldn't stand in the way so much after a while?"

"No, but--you remember all those houses you passed on the road? The
ones with frost over the windows, and the kitchen straggling off at
the back, and no porches? After all I've believed a house should be,
it seems we could just move into any of those and the things that
were wrong wouldn't matter at all."

And then she saw something in his eyes that even she had never
discovered before--a look incredible with wonder and gratitude and
tenderness, and a smile back of it like the warmth of a fire that
would always be there to reach out to. It was the only way Billy had
of saying certain things.

"But since Nature doesn't make any concession to such a sentiment,
lovely as it is," he reminded her, "we might find pneumonia lurking
in the house with frosty windows, and a worn-out shred of a woman,
crying, in a heap at the foot of the straggling kitchen steps some
day. We want our house--what is it you call it?--'physically
sound.' ... We still have nothing but a chimney. Where do you want the
living room, and all the other things I've heard you talk about? We
can spread out all over the lot, you know. That's the beauty of a
home in the country; you don't have to worry about the limitations of
frontage or the proximity of your neighbors' walls shutting out the
light. Only, the two old pines will be here, and here. They'll just
naturally stand like pillars at each corner. They've been waiting for
the house for a long time, and when the wind comes up at night I've
heard them start with a low, cooing little shiver and work up to a
perfect wail about it. I hope you won't mind the noise they make. I
think it's about the knowingest sound I ever hear when I'm very
lonely or very happy. I remember hearing someone say that it was like
a lost soul crying, or something like that; but I imagine you'd like
it. Why, I believe you first taught me to listen to it--the night we
drove past the place after our 'power demonstration.' Do you
remember?"

He remembered it now, very happily, himself, but events between had
not quite blotted out other details of the time, and he added,
shamedly,

"Heaven must have a special company of angels whose sole duty is to
take care of fools."

They weren't making much progress with the plan. He had watched her
draft house plans and remodel them for her classes, shifting rooms
here and there with the ease and interest of a child playing with
blocks. For some reason she seemed afraid of this one.

"We won't want it very big," she said.

"Because you're fearful of the mortgage? But a farm house has to be
built for permanence, you know. It generally stands for years and
years. You don't move out every first of May. That's why it should be
so much better planned than a town house--you have to look farther
ahead."

Then he took from his pocket a yellow, much-folded sketch copied from
one of her blackboard drafts for the classes years ago--just after he
had first become interested in houses.

"How would this do?" he asked.

She recognized it, happily.

"You liked that? I'm so glad. I believe I was drawing that house for
you even then."

"You knew--then?"

"No, no. I didn't think of it ever being _my_ house. I think I
couldn't have drawn it if I had. But I knew what a house would mean
to you, and I was building it for you. It was the very best I could
do. Why, I never could have thought of a house, with everything in
it like that, if I hadn't been planning it for someone, could I?"

He didn't just get it all at once. She "knew how much a house would
mean to him"--a house "with everything in it, like that." Well he
knew every detail of it, from the great stone fireplace in the
living-room and the little bookcases under the windows--a thought for
all the precious intimacies of family life--to the den looking out
over the valley and the sun-porch for a baby. He considered them
gravely now while she drew meaningless squares and circles about the
chimney and the two pine trees on the back of the torn envelope. Then
he took the distracting jumble away and gathered her close.

"That was too wonderful of you," he said. "Shall we leave it just as
it is?"

She nodded without looking up. Then she smiled into his eyes, the
same old, comrady smile. After all he was just Billy--the same
delightful directness, the same steady eyes, clear to the depths, the
same unfailing dependableness, the same infinite understanding.

But he did a strange thing when he went home that night. It was long
past midnight when his car climbed the hill and turned in at the road
gate. The moon was high and the shadows of the pine trees lay like
black pools on the grass. He was not a sentimentalist, but he brought
a spade and turned the first earth for the foundation of the new
house himself. Then he sat down on the fallen timbers of the old
house and looked off across the country to where the ruins of another
old house lay rotting in the marshes of the Swamp Farm.

It had been such a pitiful venture, the founding of that house. It
wouldn't have mattered that it had failed economically; many of the
happiest families in the world had come through poverty together. But
that there should be no trust, no confidence, no hope--nothing but a
brooding fear where there should have been a fortress of refuge!

"We could not love the world so much if we had had no childhood in
it," he had read and questioned. He could still feel the warmth of
the sun on his back as he sat for a brief half-hour on the bank of a
creek, fishing; the coolness of the earth under his bare feet when he
first shed his shoes in the spring. He remembered vividly the
poignant elation at the discovery of a bush of ripe blackberries in a
hidden fence corner. Yet his childhood was something which he would
always be trying to forget. It came back to startle him in his dreams
sometimes, even yet. It wasn't fair--a person had only one
childhood--but his mother had lived her whole married life in this
atmosphere, and had gone out bravely trying to keep a stream of
sunshine about the place for the rest of them, self-forgetful to the
last.

Perhaps she didn't know how prevailing the effort would be--not by
what she taught them, but by what she was. By the uncounted
sacrifices she had made to give them a chance, their ways had been
cast in safe and pleasant places. Here was a heaven on earth opening
for him. Jean was happy and interested in a career of her own, and
recently, just as happy when the county Agricultural Representative
craved her interest in another direction. The mother who had made it
all possible had done it single-handed, working desperately to
construct a sailing craft for them out of the wreckage of her own
life.

He wondered, dreamily, what it would mean to a boy to have a father
who cared as much as that.

"Of course, everything will be as happy here as wanting-to can make
it," he reasoned. "It would need to be. We're generally so stupid
with the people we love. But it ought to go farther than that.
Perhaps out here, where we have no settlement houses as centres of
things that should exist for everyone, there may be a mission for a
few more real homes."

"Bury herself in the country, when the world needs her so much," the
mayor had said. "So far as the _need_ goes," he soliloquized, "I
needn't have worried over bringing her here."



CHAPTER XVII.

"_A tribal mind came into existence. Man had entered upon the
long and tortuous and difficult path toward a life for the common
good, with all its sacrifice of personal impulse, which he is still
treading to-day._"--_H. G. Wells in The Outline of History._


They gipsyed about through the country a lot that summer. The task of
getting the neglected farm into bearing shape was a man-size job, and
often, after a day in the fields, Billy worked until the last light
faded, clearing away odds and ends to hasten the speed of the
builders next day, especially building in the stone fireplace with
his own hands--that was a joy he had always promised himself. But
there were other days when he quit work early, took a plunge in the
river at the foot of the pasture, dressed in outing clothes and
motored into town.

On these occasions, a cartoonist in search of a subject for his next
attack on farmers in politics would not have looked a second time at
the sunbrowned young man with his swinging stride and crisp hair-cut.
He seemed to break every established tradition of his class, not even
loitering before the bills of movie stars and jaded stock companies,
but transacting his business with despatch, then driving down a shady
street in the boulevarded residential section. He always stopped
very quietly before a deep, dark stone house, took the steps with a
bound, and rang with the shyness of a lover making his first call. He
could never quite get over this. And a girl always met him just as
quietly, with eyes just as eager to tell him she had been waiting for
him. In spite of all that the actresses in the social game believed
of the fascination of uncertainty, it held him like a lode-star, this
constant declaration. He would have been as fearful of losing it by
failing an iota of what she believed of him, as he would fear to lose
the trust of a child by striking it down. It was easy to understand,
now, why the fabric of family life held so safely sometimes.

Toward evening they usually left the city to follow winding roads
through orchards and meadow lands. They were rich with many charms,
these excursions--the faint, elusive scent from raspberry bloom and
uncut clover, stirring in the night air; the occasional sleepy tinkle
of a cow-bell, a lamb bleating back to the flock, or a mother calling
her children in for the night; here and there a lamplighted house
close to the road, blinds undrawn, showing the little group within;
an old man and woman sitting in a seat they had built for themselves
outside their little gate that they might not miss anything of the
world going by them--the simple, vital dramas of life flashing past
with every mile of film of the open country.

The Agricultural Representative, observing Billy's nomadic habits,
tore out of the office after him one day and called him back.

"It seems to me, if you have so much time for running around, as no
other decent farmer in the neighborhood has," he remarked, "you might
as well be running to some purpose. I have a lot of school plots to
judge at odd points through the county. By driving a few miles out of
your way each trip, you might be able to make the work interesting
for yourself, and it would save the time of a man who really has
something to do. I thought perhaps, if you were on your way to the
city, you might call for Miss Macdonald and take her along. It would
give her an opportunity to do some of the research work she'll need
when she comes out to help in the office here."

And he grinned the wider when he saw that the suggestion stirred only
a response of pity.

"Sorry you had counted on that," the generous one replied. He felt
that he could afford to be compassionate.

Their first judging trip took them to a neighborhood far back from
the town. A group of three houses banked close to a railway siding, a
post office, a blacksmith shop and a farm house marked the centre of
the community, with well-tilled farms all about. The school was
there, too, but something that was evidently an addition to the
building arrested their attention.

But the thing didn't look like a new building. Stranger still, it was
set on wheels. On closer view, it was frankly and simply, a passenger
coach from the railway, apparently a derelict for travelling
purposes, stranded in the centre of a grass-grown school-yard, flying
a flag, and docilely bearing the inscription "Nestleville School
Annex--1921."

They climbed up and looked in at the windows. There it was--seated,
blackboarded along one side, a room equipped to take care of some
forty children.

"Now, I wonder how this happened. For the sake of the research work
you're supposed to be doing, wouldn't you like to drop in on Mrs.
Terryberry and get her to tell you about it?" Billy suggested.

Mrs. Terryberry was delighted to tell them about it. A busy enough
farmer's wife, she could find time to drop her work for a chat at any
hour of the day, and she could always catch up with the time she had
lost before the day ended. A half-hour's gossip revived her like a
refreshing sleep, strangely enough, since she did all the talking
herself. She met them at "the little gate" when they drove up the
lane, ushered them into the house, in spite of their protests, and
settled them and herself comfortably in her cool, herb-scented
parlor. Before she launched on such a story she liked to get her feet
up a little on a hassock--she had been on them all day--her white
apron well spread, and her sturdy arms lying comfortably across her
generous waist-line.

"You see, we had needed a bigger school for years back and the
trustees always said the section couldn't afford one. Finally it got
to the place where the little ones were to be allowed to come only
half a day, and the children from back on the mountain, who needed
schooling the most, were to be shut out altogether. It was then the
Women's Institute got into it. When this order came up we knew the
thing couldn't wait any longer, and we called a meeting about it.
Someone thought of the old car that had been standing on the siding
for years, waiting for the company to haul it away for firewood, and
we got right up from the meeting and went across in a body and looked
it over. Some of the seats were broken but the walls were solid as a
church. We got the trustees out to look at it, and we sent two of
them down to see the agent in the city--we didn't go ourselves
because we're old-fashioned women up here, and we don't believe in
women running things. The company said we could have the car for
nothing; so the institute made a bee--that is, we invited the men to
it, and they brought their teams and hauled the car down to the
school. The women fixed it up ready for the children to move into it.

"The next thing we wanted to do was to start a hot lunch for the
children. Some of us had gone down to Toronto to the Institutes'
convention, and heard how the city schools had brought ill-nourished
children up to strength by giving them hot cocoa at noon. Well, we
came back home and we said to ourselves, if those children needed a
drink of hot cocoa at noon, surely our children, that walked a mile
or two miles to school through rain and snow, and carried a cold
dinner with them--surely they would be the better for it too. We
hadn't any equipment like they had in the city--no domestic science
kitchen with nice little gas plates and aluminum ware, but I lent my
tea-kettle and Mrs. Applegath lent her dish-pan, and every child
brought its own cup and spoon; the institute bought the sugar and
cocoa and the parents sent the milk, and it all worked so well that
this year we've bought dishes and a coal-oil stove with an oven,
where they can bake potatoes and such. And if the children here
aren't as well nourished as the best they have in town, it won't be
our fault."

She told them of other equally ambitious ventures--how the cemetery
had been a real disgrace to the place until the women got at it,
planned a stumping-bee to clear away the brush, inviting the men with
their teams and giving them a good dinner "to make it sociable," how
they had taken flower seeds and slips from their geraniums and
planted flowers on every grave they could find, and how Jim Black and
Huldy Adams, who hadn't spoken since their fathers quarrelled over
their rights to water their cattle at the creek that ran between
their pastures, had gone home reconciled because Jim saw Huldy down
on her knees planting a border of sweet alyssum around his father's
grave-stone.

She was loath to let them go. She had many other things to tell them.
And when they finally did convince her of their necessity to be away,
she followed them to the gate, her bare, capable arms rolled in her
apron, and she watched with interest while Billy extricated a coat,
evidently his own, from the back seat of the car, and buttoned the
girl into it. Such attentions had long ago slipped out of her own
life, nor did she particularly miss them; but she could enjoy their
observance in the lives of others just as she enjoyed the weekly
instalment of breath-taking romance in the local newspaper.

"Well now!" she breathed, when the rite had been performed, "I hope,
Miss Macdonald, you'll get a man that'll always be as kind to you as
that."

"I hope so," Ruth acknowledged, humbly.

"Oh, she will," Billy hastened to put in, for some reason addressing
himself quite as much to Ruth as to the other woman.

"Well, now!" the inquisitive one exclaimed again, her brow clearing.
She had found out what she wanted to know. "I fancied so, I'm real
glad to hear it. I think you'll get on fine."

She watched them out of sight--a curious, kindly gossipy soul, whose
interest in other people gave a color to her own life and harmed no
one.

They found others like her, bringing hope and happiness to their own
little corner of the world in a way that a whole army of professional
socialogists could never do it. Stopping to ask for a drink at a
cabin at the end of a mountain road one day, they found the woman
bending over a flat, heavy box that had just come in on the stage.
She glowed with excitement.

"It's our travelling library," she explained. "This is the third one
we've had, and it's the best yet."

Oblivious to the strangers for a minute, she fingered the worn
volumes caressingly.

"Here's Carman's 'Making of Personality,' I hoped they'd send that.
And, Oh, Sonny," she called to a tow-headed, blue-overalled boy
hovering shyly and eagerly in the doorway, "here's 'Nicholas
Nickleby.' He has just finished 'The Old Curiosity Shop'," she
remarked casually. "He should have all of Dickens read by the time
he's sixteen."

"Where do you get them?" they inquired.

"The Institute gets them from the government. They are always left
here because this is on the stage road. Some of the women have to
come five miles for their books, but we try to help each other by
leaving them half way whenever we can. We trade them around like our
mothers used to exchange their home-made yeast."

Finally she came to, apologetically. She made tea for her guests and
talked to them about books. The living-room of her shining little
house opened to the out-of-doors at the front, and at the back, with
tiny bedrooms at the sides, but it was a centre of refinement, from
the clean scrubbed floor to the pictures on the walls. These, too,
she had acquired when the women ordered a collection from an art
catalogue to decorate the school. They had cost a few cents each, and
her husband had whittled out little wooden frames for them. A special
place of honor above the book-shelves, was given to the famous
"Hope."

"I had seen that picture often enough, years ago," she remarked, "but
I never knew what it meant till we came up here and the frost killed
our crops three years in succession, while we still had faith in good
years to come. The one unbroken string and the one star in the sky
were very familiar to us for a long time.... We like that picture
very much."

Another evening, coasting along a quiet road some miles from town, a
section without a village centre anywhere, they came to a little
hall with automobiles parked around it, but no light in the window.
Billy went to investigate and came back a bit dumbfounded.

"They're having moving-pictures," he reported. "Strictly high-class
stuff. 'Lorna Doone' is the attraction to-night, and next week it's
to be 'The Merchant of Venice'--a joint scheme of your ubiquitous
Women's Institute and a farmer's club. If we would go a little
farther back from town we might possibly drop in on a radiophone
concert somewhere along the way. For your research observations, I
would inform you that one object of the picture scheme here is to run
a counter-attraction against the influence of a very depraved movie
theatre in the next town. I imagine they're getting somewhere, too.
When I was coming out, a boy of about sixteen or so asked me if I
knew where he could get the book 'Lorna Doone.' I wonder if he'll
want to start in on Shakespeare after next week."

And with the old, recurring pain, he remembered how avidly another
sixteen-year-old boy had devoured a collection of paper-backed novels
left at the Swamp Farm by an itinerant hired man.



CHAPTER XVIII.

  "_I stand where the cooling breeze from the hills
      Meets the draught from the furnace heat,
  And lonely eyes from the cabins far
      Trace the lights of the city street._

  "_I hear the throb and the laugh of life,
      While violets bloom at my feet,
  For, oh, there is much to gain and to give
      Where the town and the country meet._"


It was on a journey in another direction, one cool spring evening at
sundown, that they met another surprise. Rounding a curve in a level,
wooded road they met a party of some dozen boys dressed in the
briefest of gym. suits and running shoes, trotting along with the
easy poise of practised runners. They might have been a group of
college athletes out training for their annual meet, but one would
scarcely expect to find them twenty miles out from town. Meeting a
native of the locality jogging along with a heavy farm horse and
sulky, Billy stopped to ask if he knew where the boys came from.

"Oh, I know where they come from, all right", was the grim response.
"I know where they're goin', too, if this sort of thing keeps up.
They're boys raised within three miles of here, every one of them,
though we never aimed to start a circus of our own till Sam Brown's
boy come home from college. Old enough to know better, too."

"What did he do?"

"What did he do! Got it into his head that he was Longboat,
apparently, and every night about dusk he'd come out half stripped,
and he'd run around the block. He got away with it all right, too,
till one night I was drivin' through Dead Man's Swamp and all at once
this long, white shape of a man come lopin' along. The horse gave one
snort and bolted, and was all but away when he caught the bridle,
'whoah'-in' and 'steady'-in', and speakin' as natural as if he was
after the plough instead of leapin' over the roads at night like a
tame kangaroo. But I gave him a piece of my mind that I guess he
won't forget. I gave him fair warning that if I ever caught him at
such pranks again, I'd see him in the asylum where he belonged. He
acted ashamed enough about it at the time, but they say he still goes
out just the same. I haven't been down that way at night since. Worse
still, he's got all the younger fellows at it now, and the whole
neighborhood's got so callous to it that even the horses don't shy at
them no more."

They called and asked the Representative about it on their way home.

"They're young Brown's Tuxis boys," he told them. "The neighborhood
has needed such a man for a long time. I tried to organize a class in
agriculture up there two years ago, and I couldn't get any response
at all. There was a little store and 'stopping house,' that was
about the worst hang-out for boys that I have ever seen. In the
winter a run-down, semi-professional hockey player came in on the
pretext of coaching a team, and supplied about every undesirable
influence that they hadn't had up to that time. The boys from the
farms around were getting in just about as deep as the village crowd.
No person going in occasionally could hope to do much, but when Brown
came home he went right after it, and the boys follow him like sheep.
They asked for a course themselves this year, and I couldn't have had
a better class of boys if I had hand-picked them. I believe Brown has
a very live Bible class composed largely of boys who used to spend
most of their Sunday afternoons smoking behind the barn.... It just
demonstrates the same old truth over again, that no good movement
will ever get anywhere in a community, unless there are some people
who care about it right on the ground. As we've agreed before, what
the country needs is more people--of the right kind."

"How about the city people who come out?" Billy inquired casually. He
was brazenly proud of what he would do for his own community in this
regard.

"Wonderful," the Representative replied; "wonderful. They must
sometimes find the people they have to live with very trying,
though."

"Which remark quite justifies the criticism I have heard of some
Agricultural Representatives--that they have no sympathy with farm
people. What were you going to say about your commuters?"

"One family I have in mind weren't just commuters, though they
weren't actually year-round, out-and-out residents. A neighborhood
loses something, of course, in the family that goes to town for the
winter, but the point I want to make is that sometimes we get a
certain breadth of view from experience in the city. This happened in
Haven Hollow. Perhaps you don't know the place, but to drive through
and see it, with its green fields and blue sky, and a quiet broken
only by sheep bells and birds and children's voices, you would expect
it to be the most safe and peaceful little cup of a world on the face
of the earth. You would expect it to be filled to the brim with all
the old, sterling virtues of honesty and neighborly love--and in all
the outward signs and tokens it was, but the Hollow had a besetting
sin of its own. It was distrustful and cruelly critical of anything
it did not understand. The object of its criticism might be something
new in the schools or the government or the very personal affairs of
its neighbors. A typical case is reported of one woman who had knit
socks for the Red Cross, and also sent boxes of clothing to the
sufferers in the fires of Northern Ontario and Halifax. A few months
afterwards, she explained to her friends that she had put a card with
her name and address in the box that went to New Ontario and she had
a nice letter back from there. She had forgotten to put her name in
the box that went to Halifax, and she received no letter back from
there. She supposed the Red Cross officials had gotten hold of her
box and that the Halifax people never saw it at all.

"Things were going like this when the new family bought a strip of
land on the river-front and built a summer home on it. They had seen
the Hollow from a train window and thought it would be a nice,
peaceful spot to retire to. They were very popular; they opened their
house for all sorts of community gatherings and all went merry as a
marriage bell till Poppy Andrews came home for a visit.

"Poppy had left the Hollow ten years before to study music--a very
clever, level-headed girl, they say. A few years later she married a
man who sang like a nightingale and kept his marriage vows like a
beetle, and Poppy got a divorce. You can imagine the dust that would
stir up in the Hollow. They took it as a public disgrace, and Poppy
had been ostracized ever since. The new family took her in as they
did everyone else; only the woman seemed to have a particular
fondness for her. The rest of the Hollow was alarmed about it,
especially the woman who was always ready to shoulder the
responsibility of going to people with painful gossip under the
pretext 'I thought you ought to know.'

"The interview, as I heard of it, was interesting. 'Oh, yes, I know'
the woman interrupted before she had fairly started her story. 'It
was the only right thing for her to do, don't you think? If she were
your daughter, now, what would you want her to do?'

"'But she wasn't my daughter.'

"'Nor mine, because unfortunately I never had a daughter, and we
never know what we'd do in any experience until we find ourselves in
a corner with that same experience offering us just one of two ways
out. But I believe I understand something of what Poppy meant when
she said: 'You know it isn't facts as they are that trouble me. I
thought it all out before and I know it was right. And I can stand
the eyes of the Hollow staring at me like a pack of ravening wolves.
They have a right to look, and I can look back at them because I've
nothing to hide. But you remember the picture of the Russian slave
with the pack closing in on him? It wasn't their smouldering yellow
eyes, but their bright red tongues that were the cruelest'....
Strange such a thing should get into the child's head, isn't it?

"The woman still continues to be popular in the Hollow, and she has
done more to create a community spirit by her breadth of view and
generous, kindly judgments than all the little clubs and cliques the
people had before she came."

So it became their custom to go out and explore the surface signs of
a neighborhood, and come back to have the Representative interpret
them. It was in an old-settled, prosperous section, generally known
as the Eden of the county, that they discovered a sinister lack of
something beneath the well-ordered beauty of the farmlands. The
fields bloomed with a heavy tangle of clover, because they were rich
from years of good farming. The stone fences were monuments to the
industry of the pioneers. Long avenues of maples, set out half a
century ago, led back from the road gates to big brick houses, and
lilac bushes that a grandmother had planted grew rather too thick and
high at the cellar windows. Skimming over the smooth stone roads at
the hour of sundown, they marvelled at the stillness, the order, the
substantial, weatherworn dignity of the old farmsteads. Prosperity
brooded over the land, if not like a benediction, like an absolution
from any concern for the future. But there were no barefoot children
rioting over the lawns, no little, new houses of the kind people
build when they are "starting," no crowds of young people chattering
in the lobbies of the churches, nothing primitive or youthful--but
the lack of them seemed like a danger signal, somehow. Birchfield,
unknown to itself, might be on the verge of an era of decadence.

They asked the Representative about it.

"Birchfield," he said, "is not different from many another
neighborhood that lives in its past. I know its story best through
Peter Summers, for the community in general, as you can imagine,
does not feel the need of either service or interference from the
agricultural office. I've always liked Peter tremendously, though.
The community may be like others of its kind, but Peter, even if he
has lived there all his life, is different. I suppose anyone who has
much in the way of character, either good or bad, is 'different' to
those who know them. Peter lived on one of the oldest, finest farms
in the section--an only son. It would all be his as soon as he was
ready to take it over. Every plan his father made for the future of
the estate, he would preface with the statement 'When Peter gets
married,' as naturally as if he said 'When the wheat comes into
head'; but that was as far as it ever went. I suppose Peter had known
it was spring as often as any other young man of his age, but if he
did he kept it to himself.

"There was really no one to whom he could be expected to tell it.
Peter's social experience, so far as girls were concerned, had been
rather circumscribed. The young women he knew were just the grown-up
little girls who had gone to school with him. He had seen them
regularly ever since, at church and at every neighborhood gathering.
In fact they had been in his sight so constantly that he never had a
respite to see that they were grown up. Other young men had noticed
it, and many of the same girls had married and left Birchfield
without causing his pulses to quicken or retard for a second. He
had a whole colony of cousins up country, and another branch of
the connection in town. He met them all at family reunions and
anniversaries, but they were--well, cousins.

"Of course, Peter hadn't lived a starved young life. To begin with,
there was the beautiful old brick house and his mother. Mrs. Summers
is the gentle domesticated, motherly type of woman who looks first
and always to the ways of her household and the comfort of her men
folk. With her white hair, and low voice and lavender-flowered
afternoon dresses, she would just naturally lull a man into contented
ways about the house. And in order that Peter might have girl's
society at home, or to encourage his interests in that direction she
used to invite the nicest girls she knew in to tea, but they were all
old friends, the cousins and the neighbors, who seemed even more like
cousins.

"Personally, Peter didn't suffer. He had other hobbies. In his big
front room upstairs he had a bookcase filled with the best standard
books, from Shakespeare down, and he was familiar with all of them.
Also he had a violin. He seldom brought it down to the family
living-room but alone in his sanctum upstairs it was like a living
companion. On summer evenings, when the windows were open, the
neighbors would sit on their verandas and listen for Peter's violin.
It seldom disappointed them. And whether the violin was in any way
responsible or not, Peter had another accomplishment which few people
ever suspected--he was a finished dancer. He hadn't studied it at
all. Once, in his most impressionable years, he had attended a dance
after a barn-raising, and he had taken to it like a puppy to the
water.

"A few times afterwards he had been invited to dancing parties in
homes in the neighborhood, and while he was dancing he enjoyed them,
but when that stopped he was at sea. There were the interludes to be
spent in cosy corners and on stair steps, when he felt as much
out of his element as a buffalo at a pony show. Small talk was an
accomplishment of which he knew nothing and which held a kind of
terror for him--and these very informal gatherings seemed to demand
an appalling amount of it.

"Every winter Peter spent a week or two with the cousins in town. He
knew as much of city ways as any other wide-awake young man who lives
on a farm within easy travelling distance, and he had the same
amazing faculty for getting the most out of these flying trips. He
knew just what plays were showing in the theatres--the daily papers
reach neighborhoods far more obscure than Birchfield--and he knew
pretty well which plays were most worth seeing. He knew when Mischa
Elman would be in town and timed his visits accordingly. He knew what
churches he wanted to visit--a review of the sermons was one of the
treats he took home to his father and mother. And he knew that he
wanted to have one night's unbroken enjoyment with the best orchestra
in the best dance-hall in the city. His cousins never failed him in
this. They were girls who never frequented a dance-hall on any other
occasion, but Peter's enthusiasm, and his dancing were irresistible.
These annual dissipations kept him in touch with the art, as it were.
With the passing seasons when Fashion 'hesitated' or one-stepped or
fox-trotted, Peter did it too, for one night, then came home and
dropped it absolutely for the rest of the year.

"Besides his violin and his library, Peter had a very businesslike
looking desk in his room. He was secretary of about every
agricultural organization in the district--fairs and such like. That
which occupied more of his time, however, was a pile of hand-drawn
maps of the neighborhood with a line dotted in to show where an
electric power-line might come through if a sufficient number of
farmers could be persuaded to co-operate toward that end. After every
meeting of possible supporters he would come home and shift the line
a little, somewhat as a general, hard pressed, shifts his line of
defence. He used to drop into the office, worried to death about it.
'There's something wrong with Birchfield,' he would storm. 'We're too
satisfied with ourselves. If something isn't done soon we won't have
enough people left to care whether it goes off the map or not. The
radial and power line would bring new life--people who have something
left to work for, and their effort might stir up the whole place.'

"One evening this spring he drove into the town to attend a meeting
of the power-line committee. He opened up the council chamber, lifted
the windows to let in some clean air and waited. No one else came. No
doubt he was finding the whole thing very discouraging; anyway when
it was too late to expect anyone else he decided to go home, and I
suppose when he was putting down the windows he caught the sound of
the orchestra in the dance-hall across the street. He had heard it
often enough before, of course, and had paid no more attention to
it than if it had been a hand organ on the corner. This night, with
the defiance that has led disappointed men into more serious
dissipations, he walked across the street in the face of whoever
cared to look, and disappeared up the dirty stairs.

"The Birchfield dance-hall was really not so very bad, as such places
go; the town fathers would have cleared it out if they could have
found a case against it. There was nothing lax in the morals of
Birchfield as a municipality. If it had any indirect, insidious
influence, that, of course, was out of their province. As individuals
they did what they could to discourage it. The better people wouldn't
let their daughters go, nor their sons if they could help it, but of
course a lot of the boys drifted in. There was nothing else to do.
The hall was well patronized by the factory girls from the lower part
of the town--it would be no worse for that. They were mostly
good-hearted, hard-working girls; this was the best the town had to
offer them in the way of a good time, and they made the most of
it--only there was an over-sophisticated, imported forelady in town
at the time, and it happened that most of the evening she danced with
Peter.

"There is a library in Birchfield not a hundred yards from the
dance-hall, but it's safe to say that ninety per cent. of the people
who attended the dances didn't know what the inside of the library
looked like. It's amazing how many different cliques, castes, or
strata can flourish in a small town without ever rubbing shoulders
with each other; how many institutions can exist and never touch the
lives of half the people! And the girl who was librarian had perhaps
never spoken to the girls who worked in the factory. It wasn't her
fault. Dorothy Walton is neither a snob nor a high brow; but the
social customs of Birchfield were so hedged about by habits of
longstanding that there was no common meeting ground for those who
happened to be once cast into separate grooves. It made life rather
narrow for all of them, and Miss Walton was planning to leave
Birchfield.

"Driving his car into town one evening Peter overtook her on the
country road and gave her a ride. She told him that she had been
helping to revise the library in the school on the corner of his
farm, and he wasn't interested. He says he remembered his own school
days and pitied the poor little beggars who had to depend on any
school library for their reading. In fact he had seen Miss Walton
many times before and hadn't been at all interested in what she was
doing. He supposed a librarian was a person who kept the books
straight on the shelves. And she wasn't at all interested in him. She
didn't know about his books at home, or his violin or the power-line.
She only knew that he was a young man of good family, who was
becoming notoriously popular at the dance-hall. That was where he
went when he left her.

"And all the time Peter's mother talked of 'When Peter gets married.'
And Peter went on dancing with the commonest kind of a dance-hall
girl. Of course his mother wouldn't have needed to worry over the
possibility of his bringing home a bride of this type. If he had been
ten years younger she might have been dangerous. The danger for Peter
now was that he might develop into the gay old dog searching around
for amusement anywhere, compromising with all the standards that had
made him a man any woman might like. The Birchfield dances had not
fascinated him--he had gone to them because there was nothing else to
do. He was a student and a dreamer; he was also human. There had been
no one to share his dreams, but he had found what seemed to be an
outlet for his humanness.

"Two weeks ago an unprecedented thing happened in Birchfield--not in
the village, but among the farms in the Summers' neighborhood. Some
woman conceived the startling idea that the people were not getting
together enough--not just for the future of the power-line, but for
the good of their souls. They were also missing a great deal by not
being acquainted with the people in neighboring communities. The
village hadn't proved a desirable centre; so they would create a
centre of their own in their own neighborhood, and make it of such
a character that the best people of the village would come to them.
They invited the people from neighboring communities all over the
township; they asked Peter to come and state the case for the
power-line; and they had Miss Walton there to talk about libraries.
I was at the meeting myself and when the girl got up to speak I was
heartily sorry for her. It was plain that she was frightened; she was
not used to talking to crowds of people older than the children who
came to her story hour at the library. It seems Peter noticed this
too, and set himself to help her. I suppose he began with the idea
that if giving her his undivided attention would be of any use he
would see her through. She saw him and it did help. The next minute
she had forgotten him--she was lost in her story; she loved books
with a human affection and she was carried away with them, as any
lover loses himself in the thing he loves. And there sat poor old
Peter, staring. I suppose he had never dreamed that anyone else, at
least any girl, ever thought of things that way. When everyone else
applauded, he still sat, staring. And he had lived five miles from
this girl all his life, and had known her--as a librarian.

"The rest of the night's programme was a bigger surprise to
Birchfield. The furniture was pushed to the walls and an old
character who cuts wood for the farmers by day and fiddles for
dances at night was tuning his violin--and Peter had the shock of his
young life when he saw his own stately father and his rather portly,
dignified mother lead out a set at the lancers. It was largely an
old-people's dance, and they laughed a lot, and panted a lot over it;
but there was no doubt they enjoyed it. Afterwards they went off in
little groups by themselves, and looked on pityingly at their young
folks' degeneracy into fox-trotting.

"There were a lot of young people from the country around who hadn't
learned to dance--the town dance hall was the only available dancing
school and naturally they weren't encouraged to go there. When the
farming community started a dance of its own it was inevitable that
there should be a lot of boys and girls standing around the walls,
watching. So the chairwoman of the evening cut into things, pushed
the dancers off to one half of the floor, and had a row of benches
strung across to keep them there, then made the announcement that
Miss Walton would give the others a lesson on the fox-trot. I looked
about for Peter just then, and found him standing against the wall,
still staring. If the girl had been embarrassed on the platform she
was perfectly at home here. It seems she teaches dancing to a
kindergarten class at the library on Saturday afternoons. She strung
her class out in a circle and spent some time drilling them in the
step of it; then, encouraging as a mother bird flying ahead, watchful
as a drill sergeant, she led them swinging around the room, counting
'one and two and three and fo-ur and two-step in and two-step out,'
like a professional dancing teacher. Properly or not, she had them
all fox-trotting in ten minutes. Then she told them to try it
together and when she went to demonstrate this Peter was there. As
far as I can learn he hasn't been far away ever since.

"This happened just two weeks ago. Driving through, you don't see the
effect on the neighborhood yet--but it's already visible enough in
Peter. He's going after the power-line now in a way that can't fail
to bring it within the next year, and the Summers won't have to sell
the old homestead--a calamity that they were beginning to fear
themselves. There will be many other cases that we don't hear about,
and all because several communities, including a town, pooled their
social interests."

"Rather heavy stuff, all this community investigation," Billy
remarked as they drove away. "I started out with the idea of
impressing you with the freedom and restfulness of country life, and
we've found nothing but responsibility. It would seem that every
socially minded person going to the country should go with the spirit
of a foreign missionary."

"They'd be dreadful nuisances if they did, though. All the
worth-while things seem to have just grown out of someone's wanting
other people to be happy. You don't go after it like a profession.
You don't try to see the whole world at once--just your own little
corner. First, your own family--you want them to be happy because you
like them; then your own neighbors--you want them to be happy because
you know them. It works out wonderfully in a natural little way of
its own, too. When you're very happy you want everyone else to have
the same things that make you happy. That's why it's the best first
investment a woman can make for the world to keep the fires warm
in her own house. You can't imagine a family quarrelling among
themselves and wanting to take in a tramp, can you?"

"And I suppose a family self-centred is almost as bad as an
individual self-centred. But next week let's let our friend judge his
own plots while we do some of this linking up with city advantages
which he says is so important to a broadened outlook. Let's see 'Dear
Brutus.' After all this researching into the whereforeness of
failures in a community we ought to be prepared for the theme. How is
it it goes? 'The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in
ourselves.' Sounds like some more sermonizing, but if it is it will
be fairly subtle."



CHAPTER XIX.

_"One can miss the best happiness of marriage because one
travels through it in kid gloves, Pullman cars, first-class
staterooms, and grand hotels. Rich, city-bred, voluntarily childless,
one can mince through marriage as sightseers promenade in a forest on
a gravelled path with hand-rails, signposts, and seats. On the other
hand, one may know marriage as Kipling's Mowgli knew the forest,
because he travelled as well in the tree-tops as on the springy
ground._"--_Dr. Richard Cabot, in "What Men Live By."_


With "Dear Brutus" there was the usual surprised delight when the
curtain rose, at the birds and sunshine in the English garden, the
piquant fascination of the dwarf magician, then the unfolding of the
tragedy of the failure-lives begging a second chance, and the
whimsical fairy tale of the enchanted garden--the land of "Might Have
Been."

Billy was accustomed to the impulsive touch of a hand on his sleeve,
at the high spots in plays, not a nervous, bothersome little hand,
but a warm electric contact as quickly withdrawn while the girl kept
her eyes fast on the stage. Sometimes he lost the effect of half the
best acting in his amusement at watching her, like a child actually
living for the moment in the drama going on before her. He was
accustomed also to the tears that welled up at emotional parts, tears
usually with a smile shining through them. But he was not prepared
for the deluge that swept her when the impenetrable darkness came
down over the enchanted garden and the little dream daughter, who
might have set things right for the misunderstood artist, cried in
the hopelessness of a child's terrified loneliness "I don't want to
be a 'Might Have Been.'"

He had seen her weep in poetic enjoyment of pathetic parts before,
but this was different and offered no explanation for itself. Sitting
as close as the arm of the chair and the formality due in a public
place would allow, he got the impact of each fresh shock. He was
genuinely concerned. It was a most helpless situation. There were
ways of meeting it, of course, which he knew--but not in a public
theatre.... If only the lights would go out! Still it troubled him a
little. And when it was over her sole comment was "Wasn't it
wonderful!"

"You liked it!"

"It was the most beautiful thing--"

"Even the garden? Just what was the trouble?"

"I hardly know myself. Sometime I'll try to tell you."

There would always be something left to tell--a new world dawning
every morning, new mysteries unfolding every evening--a wonderful
blessing on a long journey together.

When he left her he stood bareheaded, boyish in his humility, and
spoke, as thousands of lovers had done before him, of the time when
she would go all the way home with him.

       *       *       *       *       *

It came in October. The painters had fairly crowded the carpenters
out of the house, and before the last varnish was dry on the woodwork
Billy had cleared away the wreckage of mortar, boxes and discarded
scaffolds and left the house standing trim and solid between the
sentinel pines, unmistakably new, but looking as though it had grown
there. The next day Ruth's aunt, accompanied by a capable charwoman
and a truck load of boxes, known in the housewife's vernacular as
chests, decorously chaperoned her niece to her future home to arrange
furniture and hang curtains and give the last touches toward making
it sufficiently habitable to begin with. The aunt wasn't just sure
that it was the proper thing for a girl to visit her fiancee's house
before she was married. She didn't know that Ruth had rope-walked the
naked joists in the moonlight with Billy many times while the
building was in progress; that they had measured the windows for
curtains by the gleam of a flashlight a month before, else how could
they have planned every last chair and hanging. The next night they
came home to the house together.

The girl had protested at the idea of a wedding trip. "We both like
that hill farm better than anywhere else in the world," she said.
"Why should we go racing off to some place we don't care about?"

"And defy an old custom like that?" he argued; but he knew that she
knew how much he had wanted exactly that.

So they had gone to the church in the afternoon and had come back to
a reception at the aunt's afterwards--a very nice affair with the
luxurious old rooms candle-lighted and hung with autumn leaves. And
their best friends had come to wish them well, with all the noise and
chatter common to such occasions, even among very well bred people;
and as soon as they could, they kissed the aunt and slipped away,
getting a last glimpse of Jean and the Agricultural Representative,
apparently completely lost in some panorama unfolding itself before
them in the open fire.

The car swung out of the city streets on to the smooth, winding
country road, a familiar road, but somehow different. At the crest of
the hill they stopped and looked back at the city glittering in a cup
below them.

"Sure you're not sorry you're leaving it?" Billy asked.

"Quite sure. But it isn't the city's fault. It isn't a natural place
to live; but it has a lot to give in other ways."

"Things we must try to keep in touch with."

"Only there are times when neither city nor country, nor anything
else, matters. It's only people that count--"

But Billy was very appreciative and that sentence was never quite
finished.

       *       *       *       *       *

They were miles from the lights of the city now. A long stretch of
road through woods and pastures, a white frost glittering on the
fields and fences, a golden moonlight filtering through the branches
of wind-swept trees and yellowing the dead leaves on the moist, black
roadway, a cold white mist lying in the valley and never a sound but
the steady purring of the engine. Presently a little cabin stood out
alone in a clearing, its lights out, a faint white plume of smoke
arising slowly from its chimney.

"Always seems a sort of lonely little house," Billy remarked. "It
must be a jolt to come out of the heart of a city to a spot like
this. The compensation, of course, is that people have to love each
other harder--sometimes there isn't much else. When they don't, the
result is terrible."

It was late when they turned in at their own gate. Earlier in the
evening a neighbor had come in and lighted the fire and gone away
again; the red light glowed warmly in the living-room windows. They
went in together. It was the same room where they had hung curtains
and adjusted furniture the day before, the same room Billy had
looked back upon happily before he left the house that afternoon, but
it seemed to have come alive, somehow. The firelight played over the
brown walls, the rich red and brown and gold bindings of the books,
the warm autumn tints in the curtains.... A new, strange shyness held
them. She slipped out of her coat and he took it from her with his
best drawing-room adeptness; she waited while he found a place for
it. Then they turned their attention to the fire--there was always
something that might be done to a fire.

But standing there in the fresh warmth of the blazing logs, with
Billy's eyes upon her, serious and friendly, she realized suddenly
how appealingly boyish he was in his anxiety to make her feel at
home. And just as suddenly it dawned on Billy that she was, after
all, just a wisp of a girl, such a rare, whimsical, comrady bit of a
girl, who had staked everything so sportingly to come with him. And
his arm went about her with the quick, reassuring pressure of a guide
to be trusted.

"We're going to be awfully happy here," he said, just as though he
hadn't said it a thousand times before.

And the girl pressed closer to the good, rough sleeve of his coat and
let it go at that.

The lights went out in the little house. The smoke still rose from
the chimney like incense from an altar. Somewhere in the distance
an owl hooted, a far off lonely cry--one of the calls of the wild
places which seldom fails to stir the human soul with kindred
desolation, or a throb of security in the nearness of its mate. And
the old pines dozed in dreamy retrospection. They had watched other
lovers come and go. They were at the happy beginning of a new story.



Transcriber's Notes


Inconsistent hyphenation in the original document has been preserved.

The following changes have been made to the text:

  Page   Original
         Emendation

   26  And the people had snug
       And the people had sung

   62  The representative didn't ask any questions
       The Representative didn't ask any questions

   63  wished the representative had kept that last argument to himself
       wished the Representative had kept that last argument to himself

   95  it will be the best thing that ever happened them
       it will be the best thing that ever happened to them

  133  a big velvety cycopia moth
       a big velvety cyclopia moth

  146  looked upon it is the one chance
       looked upon it as the one chance

  166  ain't for the likes of me.
       ain't for the likes of me,

  176  Billy thought, he he drove home
       Billy thought, as he drove home

  208  She was smiling in a way that was not beautiful, and she said.
       She was smiling in a way that was not beautiful, and she said:

  264  "Wonderful, the Representative replied
       "Wonderful," the Representative replied





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