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Title: Main-Travelled Roads
Author: Garland, Hamlin
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Books by Hamlin Garland

Border Edition

    Main-Travelled Roads
    Other Main-Travelled Roads
    Boy Life
    Rose of Dutcher's Coolly
    The Eagle's Heart
    The Captain of the Gray Horse Troop
    Hesper
    Mart Haney's Mate
    Cavanaugh, Forest Rangers
    They of the High Trails
    The Long Trail
    The Forester's Daughter

Regular Edition

    The Light of the Star
    Prarie Folks
    The Shadow World
    Trail of the Gold-Seekers
    The Tyranny of the Dark
    Victor Ollnee's Discipline

Harper & Brothers
Publishers



Other Editions

    Under the Wheel
    Jason Edwards
    A Member of the Third House
    A Little Norsk
    A Spoil of Office
    Prairie Songs
    Crumbling Idols
    Wayside Courtships
    The Spirit of Sweetwater
    Ulysses S. Grant, his life and character
    Her Mountain Lover
    Witch's Gold
    Money Magic
    Moccassin Ranch
    A Son of the Middle Border
    A Daughter of the Middle Border
    A Prairie Mother

Main-Travelled Roads

By
Hamlin Garland

Author of
Other Main-Travelled Roads, etc.

Border Edition



Harper & Brothers
Publishers
New York and London



Main-Travelled Roads

Copyright, 1891, by The Arena Publishing Company
Copyright, 1893, by The Century Co.
Copyright, 1893, 1899, by Hamlin Garland



To

My Father and Mother

Whose Half-Century Pilgrimage on the Main-Travelled Road of Life Has 
Brought Them Only Toil and Deprivation, This Book of Stories Is 
Dedicated By a Son to Whom Every Day Brings a Deepening Sense of His 
Parents' Silent Heroism



The main-travelled road in the West (as everywhere) is hot and dusty in 
summer, and desolate and drear with mud in fall and spring, and in 
winter the winds sweep the snow across it; but it does sometimes cross a
rich meadow where the songs of the larks and bobolinks and blackbirds 
are tangled. Follow it far enough, it may lead past a bend in the river
where the water laughs eternally over its shallows.

Mainly it is long and wearyful, and has a dull little town at one end 
and a home of toil at the other. Like the main-travelled road of life it
is traversed by many classes of people, but the poor and the weary
predominate.



Table of Contents.
Main-Travelled Roads 
Foreword                         xi
Introduction                      1
A Branch Road                     7
Up the Coolly                    67
Among the Corn-Rows             131
The Return of a Private         167
Under the Lion's Paw            195
The Creamery Man                219
A Day's Pleasure                245
Mrs. Ripley's Trip              261
Uncle Ethan Ripley              281
God's Ravens                    301
A "Good-Fellow's" Wife          327



Foreword

In the summer of 1887, after having been three years in Boston, and six
years absent from my old home in northern Iowa, I found myself with
money enough to pay my railway fare to Ordway, South Dakota, where my
father and mother were living, and as it cost very little extra to go by
way of Dubuque and Charles City, I planned to visit Osage, Iowa, and the
farm we had opened on Dry Run prairie in 1871.

Up to this time I had written only a few poems, and some articles
descriptive of boy life on the prairie, although I was doing a good deal
of thinking and lecturing on land reform, and was regarded as a very
intense disciple of Herbert Spencer and Henry George--a singular
combination, as I see it now. On my way westward, that summer day in
1887, rural life presented itself from an entirely new angle. The
ugliness, the endless drudgery, and the loneliness of the farmer's lot
smote me with stern insistence. I was the militant reformer.

The farther I got from Chicago the more depressing the landscape became.
It was bad enough in our former home in Mitchell County, but my pity
grew more intense as I passed from northwest Iowa into southern Dakota.
The houses, bare as boxes, dropped on the treeless plains, the
barbed-wire fences running at right angles, and the towns mere
assemblages of flimsy wooden sheds with painted-pine battlement,
produced on me the effect of an almost helpless and sterile poverty.

My dark mood was deepened into bitterness by my father's farm, where I
found my mother imprisoned in a small cabin on the enormous sunburned,
treeless plain, with no expectation of ever living anywhere else.
Deserted by her sons and failing in health, she endured the discomforts
of her life uncomplainingly--but my resentment of "things as they are"
deepened during my talks with her neighbors who were all housed in the
same unshaded cabins in equal poverty and loneliness. The fact that at
twenty-seven I was without power to aid my mother in any substantial way
added to my despairing mood.

My savings for the two years of my teaching in Boston were not
sufficient to enable me to purchase my return ticket, and when my father
offered me a stacker's wages in the harvest field I accepted and for two
weeks or more proved my worth with the fork, which was still
mightier--with me--than the pen.

However, I did not entirely neglect the pen. In spite of the dust and
heat of the wheat ricks I dreamed of poems and stories. My mind teemed
with subjects for fiction, and one Sunday morning I set to work on a
story which had been suggested to me by a talk with my mother, and a few
hours later I read to her (seated on the low sill of that treeless
cottage) the first two thousand words of Mrs. Ripley's Trip, the first
of the series of sketches which became Main Travelled Roads.

I did not succeed in finishing it, however, till after my return to
Boston in September. During the fall and winter of '87 and the winter
and spring of '88, I wrote the most of the stories in Main Travelled
Roads, a novelette for the Century Magazine, and a play called "Under
the Wheel." The actual work of the composition was carried on in the
south attic room of Doctor Cross's house at 21 Seaverns Avenue, Jamaica
Plain.

The mood of bitterness in which these books were written was renewed and
augmented by a second visit to my parents in 1889, for during my stay my
mother suffered a stroke of paralysis due to overwork and the dreadful
heat of the summer. She grew better before the time came for me to
return to my teaching in Boston, but I felt like a sneak as I took my
way to the train leaving my mother and sister on that bleak and
sun-baked plain.

"Old Paps Flaxen," "Jason Edwards," "A Spoil of Office," and most of the
stories gathered into the second volume of Main Travelled Roads were
written in the shadow of these defeats. If they seem unduly austere, let
the reader remember the times in which they were composed. That they
were true of the farms of that day no one can know better than I, for I
was there--a farmer.

Life on the farms of Iowa and Wisconsin--even on the farms of
Dakota--has gained in beauty and security, I will admit, but there are
still wide stretches of territory in Kansas and Nebraska where the
farmhouse is a lonely shelter. Groves and lawns, better roads, the rural
free delivery, the telephone, and the motor car have done much to bring
the farmer into a frame of mind where he is contented with his lot, but
much remains to be done before the stream of young life from the country
to the city can be checked.

The two volumes of Main Travelled Roads can now be taken to be what
William Dean Howells called them, "historical fiction," for they form a
record of the farmer's life as I lived it and studied it. In these two
books is a record of the privations and hardships of the men and women
who subdued the midland wilderness and prepared the way for the present
golden age of agriculture.

H. G.

March 1, 1922.



Introduction

I

An interesting phase of fiction, at present, is the material prosperity
of the short story, which seems to have followed its artistic excellence
among us with uncommon obedience to a law that ought always to prevail.
Until of late the publisher has been able to say to the author, dazzled
and perhaps deceived by his magazine success with short stories, and
fondly intending to make a book of them, "Yes. But collections of short
stories don't sell. The public won't have them. I don't know why; but it
won't."

This was never quite true of the short stories of Mr. Bret Harte, or of
Miss Sarah Orne Jewett, or of Mr. T. B. Aldrich; but it was too true of
the short stories of most other writers. For some reason, or for none,
the very people who liked an author's short stories in the magazine
could not bear them, or would not buy them, when he put several of them
together in a volume. They then became obnoxious, or at least
undesirable; somewhat as human beings, agreeable enough as long as they
are singly domiciled in one's block, become a positive detriment to the
neighborhood when gathered together in a boarding-house. A novel not
half so good by the same author would formerly outsell his collection of
short stories five times over. Perhaps it would still outsell the
stories; we rather think it would; but not in that proportion. The hour
of the short story in book form has struck, apparently, for with all our
love and veneration for publishers, we have never regarded them as
martyrs to literature, and we do not believe they would now be issuing
so many volumes of short stories if these did not pay. Publishers, with
all their virtues, are as distinctly made a little lower than the angels
as any class of mortals we know. They are, in fact, a tentative and
timid kind, never quite happy except in full view of the main chance;
and just at this moment, this chance seems to wear the diversified
physiognomy of the collected short stories. We do not know how it has
happened; we should not at all undertake to say; but it is probably
attributable to a number of causes. It may be the prodigious popularity
of Mr. Kipling, which has broken down all prejudices against the form of
his success. The vogue that Maupassant's tales in the original or in
versions have enjoyed may have had something to do with it. Possibly the
critical recognition of the American supremacy in this sort has helped.
But however it has come about, it is certain that the result has come,
and the publishers are fearlessly adventuring volumes of short stories
on every hand; and not only short stories by authors of established
repute, but by new writers, who would certainly not have found this way
to the public some time ago.

The change by no means indicates that the pleasure in large fiction is
dying out. This remains of as ample gorge as ever. But it does mean that
a quite reasonless reluctance has given way, and that a young writer can
now hope to come under the fire of criticism much sooner than before.
This may not be altogether a blessing; it has its penalties inherent in
the defective nature of criticism, or the critics; but undoubtedly it
gives the young author definition and fixity in the reader's knowledge.
It enables him to continue a short-story writer if he likes, or it
prepares the public not to be surprised at him if he turns out a
novelist.

II

These are advantages, and we must not be impatient of any writer who
continues a short-story writer when he might freely become a novelist.
Now that a writer can profitably do so, he may prefer to grow his
fiction on the dwarf stock. He may plausibly contend that this was the
original stock, and that the novella was a short story many ages before
its name was appropriated by the standard variety, the duodecimo
American, or the three-volume English; that Boccaccio was a world-wide
celebrity five centuries before George Eliot was known to be a woman. To
be sure, we might come back at him with the Greek romancers; we might
ask him what he had to say to the interminable tales of Heliodorus and
Longus, and the rest, and then not let him say.

But no such controversy is necessary to the enjoyment of the half dozen
volumes of short stories at hand, and we gladly postpone it till we have
nothing to talk about. At present we have only too much to talk about in
a book so robust and terribly serious as Mr. Hamlin Garland's volume
called Main-Travelled Roads. That is what they call the highways in the
part of the West that Mr. Garland comes from and writes about; and these
stories are full of the bitter and burning dust, the foul and trampled
slush, of the common avenues of life, the life of the men who hopelessly
and cheerlessly make the wealth that enriches the alien and the idler,
and impoverishes the producer.

If any one is still at a loss to account for that uprising of the
farmers in the West which is the translation of the Peasants' War into
modern and republican terms, let him read Main-Travelled Roads, and he
will begin to understand, unless, indeed, Mr. Garland is painting the
exceptional rather than the average. The stories are full of those
gaunt, grim, sordid, pathetic, ferocious figures, whom our satirists
find so easy to caricature as Hayseeds, and whose blind groping for
fairer conditions is so grotesque to the newspapers and so menacing to
the politicians. They feel that something is wrong, and they know that
the wrong is not theirs. The type caught in Mr. Garland's book is not
pretty; it is ugly and often ridiculous; but it is heart-breaking in its
rude despair.

The story of a farm mortgage, as it is told in the powerful sketch 
"Under the Lion's Paw," is a lesson in political economy, as well as a
tragedy of the darkest cast. "The Return of the Private" is a satire of
the keenest edge, as well as a tender and mournful idyl of the unknown
soldier who comes back after the war with no blare of welcoming trumpets
or flash of streaming flags, but foot-sore, heart-sore, with no stake in
the country he has helped to make safe and rich but the poor man's
chance to snatch an uncertain subsistence from the furrows he left for
the battle-field.

"Up the Coolly," however, is the story which most pitilessly of all
accuses our vaunted conditions, wherein every man has the chance to rise
above his brother and make himself richer than his fellows. It shows us
once for all what the risen man may be, and portrays in his good-natured
selfishness and indifference that favorite ideal of our system. The
successful brother comes back to the old farmstead, prosperous,
handsome, well-dressed, and full of patronizing sentiment for his
boyhood days there, and he cannot understand why his brother, whom hard
work and corroding mortgages have eaten all the joy out of, gives him a
grudging and surly welcome. It is a tremendous situation, and it is the
allegory of the whole world's civilization: the upper dog and the under
dog are everywhere, and the under dog nowhere likes it.

But the allegorical effects are not the primary intent of Mr. Garland's
work: it is a work of art, first of all, and we think of fine art;
though the material will strike many gentilities as coarse and common.
In one of the stories, "Among the Corn-Rows," there is a good deal of
burly, broad-shouldered humor of a fresh and native kind; in "Mrs.
Ripley's Trip" is a delicate touch, like that of Miss Wilkins; but Mr.
Garland's touches are his own, here and elsewhere. He has a certain
harshness and bluntness, an indifference to the more delicate charms of
style, and he has still to learn that though the thistle is full of an
unrecognized poetry, the rose has a poetry, too, that even over-praise
cannot spoil. But he has a fine courage to leave a fact with the reader,
ungarnished and unvarnished, which is almost the rarest trait in an
Anglo-Saxon writer, so infantile and feeble is the custom of our art;
and this attains tragical sublimity in the opening sketch, "A Branch
Road," where the lover who has quarrelled with his betrothed comes back
to find her mismated and miserable, such a farm wife as Mr. Garland has
alone dared to draw, and tempts the broken-hearted drudge away from her
loveless home. It is all morally wrong, but the author leaves you to say
that yourself. He knows that his business was with those two people,
their passions and their probabilities.

W. D. HOWELLS
(In the Editor's Study, "Harper's Magazine").



A Branch Road

"Keep the main-travelled road till you come to a branch leading
off--keep to the right."

I

In the windless September dawn a voice went ringing clear and sweet, a
man's voice, singing a cheap and common air. Yet something in the sound
of it told he was young, jubilant, and a happy lover.

Above the level belt of timber to the east a vast dome of pale
undazzling gold was rising, silently and swiftly. Jays called in the
thickets where the maples flamed amid the green oaks, with irregular
splashes of red and orange. The grass was crisp with frost under the
feet, the road smooth and gray-white in color, the air was indescribably
pure, resonant, and stimulating. No wonder the man sang!

He came into view around the curve in the lane. He had a fork on his
shoulder, a graceful and polished tool. His straw hat was tilted on the
back of his head; his rough, faded coat was buttoned close to the chin,
and he wore thin buckskin gloves on his hands. He looked muscular and
intelligent, and was evidently about twenty-two years of age.

As he walked on, and the sunrise came nearer to him, he stopped his
song. The broadening heavens had a majesty and sweetness that made him
forget the physical joy of happy youth. He grew almost sad with the
vague thoughts and great emotions which rolled in his brain as the
wonder of the morning grew.

He walked more slowly, mechanically following the road, his eyes on the
ever-shifting streaming banners of rose and pale green, which made the
east too glorious for any words to tell. The air was so still it seemed
to await expectantly the coming of the sun.

Then his mind flew back to Agnes. Would she see it? She was at work,
getting breakfast, but he hoped she had time to see it. He was in that
mood, so common to him now, wherein he could not fully enjoy any sight
or sound unless sharing it with her. Far down the road he heard the
sharp clatter of a wagon. The roosters were calling near and far, in
many keys and tunes. The dogs were barking, cattle-bells were jangling
in the wooded pastures, and as the youth passed farmhouses, lights in
the kitchen windows showed that the women were astir about breakfast,
and the sound of voices and the tapping of curry-combs at the barn told
that the men were at their morning chores.

And the east bloomed broader! The dome of gold grew brighter, the faint
clouds here and there flamed with a flush of red. The frost began to
glisten with a reflected color. The youth dreamed as he walked; his
broad face and deep earnest eyes caught and retained some part of the
beauty and majesty of the sky.

But his brow darkened as he passed a farm gate and a young man of about
his own age joined him. The other man was equipped for work like
himself.

"Hello, Will!"

"Hello, Ed!"

"Going down to help Dingman thrash!"

"Yes," replied Will, shortly. It was easy to see he did not welcome
company.

"So'm I. Who's goin' to do your thrashin'--Dave McTurg?"

"Yes, I guess so. Haven't spoken to anybody yet."

They walked on side by side. Will hardly felt like being rudely broken
in on in this way. The two men were rivals, but Will, being the victor,
would have been magnanimous, only he wanted to be alone with his lover's
dream.

"When do you go back to the Sem?" Ed asked after a little.

"Term begins next week. I'll make a break about second week."

"Le's see: you graduate next year, don't yeh?"

"I expect to, if I don't slip up on it."

They walked on side by side, both handsome fellows; Ed a little more
showy in his face, which had a certain clear-cut precision of line, and
a peculiar clear pallor that never browned under the sun. He chewed
vigorously on a quid of tobacco, one of his most noticeable bad habits.

Teams could be heard clattering along on several roads now, and jovial
voices singing. One team coming along rapidly behind the two men, the
driver sung out in good-natured warning, "Get out o' the way, there."
And with a laugh and a chirp spurred his horses to pass them.

Ed, with a swift understanding of the driver's trick, flung out his left
hand and caught the end-gate, threw his fork in and leaped after it.
Will walked on, disdaining attempt to catch the wagon. On all sides now
the wagons of the ploughmen or threshers were getting out into the
fields, with a pounding, rumbling sound.

The pale-red sun was shooting light through the leaves, and warming the
boles of the great oaks that stood in the yard, and melting the frost
off the great gaudy, red and gold striped threshing machine standing
between the stacks. The interest, picturesqueness, of it all got hold of
Will Hannan, accustomed to it as he was. The horses stood about in a
circle, hitched to the ends of the six sweeps, every rod shining with
frost.

The driver was oiling the great tarry cog-wheels underneath. Laughing
fellows were wrestling about the yard. Ed Kinney had scaled the highest
stack, and stood ready to throw the first sheaf. The sun, lighting him
where he stood, made his fork-handle gleam like dull gold. Cheery words,
jests, and snatches of song rose everywhere. Dingman bustled about
giving his orders and placing his men, and the voice of big David
McTurg was heard calling to the men as they raised the long stacker into
place:

"Heave ho, there! Up she rises!"

And, best of all, Will caught a glimpse of a smiling girl-face at the
kitchen window that made the blood beat in his throat.

"Hello, Will!" was the general greeting, given with some constraint by
most of the young fellows, for Will had been going to Rock River to
school for some years, and there was a little feeling of jealousy on the
part of those who pretended to sneer at the "seminary chaps like Will
Hannan and Milton Jennings."

Dingman came up. "Will, I guess you'd better go on the stack with Ed."

"All ready. Hurrah, there!" said David in his soft but resonant bass
voice that always had a laugh in it. "Come, come, every sucker of yeh
git hold o' something. All ready!" He waved his hand at the driver, who
climbed upon his platform. Everybody scrambled into place.

The driver began to talk:

"Chk, chk! All ready, boys! Stiddy there, Dan! Chk, chk! All ready,
boys! Stiddy there, boys! All ready now!" The horses began to strain at
the sweeps. The cylinder began to hum.

"Grab a root there! Where's my band-cutter? Here, you, climb on here!"
And David reached down and pulled Shep Watson up by the shoulder with
his gigantic hand.

Boo-oo-oo-oom, Boo-woo-woo-oom-oom-ow-owm, yarr, yarr! The whirling
cylinder boomed, roared, and snarled as it rose in speed. At last, when
its tone became a rattling yell, David nodded to the pitchers and rasped
his hands together. The sheaves began to fall from the stack; the
band-cutter, knife in hand, slashed the bands in twain, and the feeder
with easy majestic movement gathered them under his arm, rolled them out
into an even belt of entering wheat, on which the cylinder tore with its
smothered, ferocious snarl.

Will was very happy in a quiet way. He enjoyed the smooth roll of his
great muscles, the sense of power in his hands as he lifted, turned, and
swung the heavy sheaves two by two upon the table, where the band-cutter
madly slashed away. His frame, sturdy rather than tall, was nevertheless
lithe, and he made a fine figure to look at, so Agnes thought, as she
came out a moment and bowed and smiled.

This scene, one of the jolliest and most sociable of the Western farm,
had a charm quite aside from human companionship. The beautiful yellow
straw entering the cylinder; the clear yellow-brown wheat pulsing out at
the side; the broken straw, chaff, and dust puffing out on the great
stacker; the cheery whistling and calling of the driver; the keen, crisp
air, and the bright sun somehow weirdly suggestive of the passage of
time.

Will and Agnes had arrived at a tacit understanding of mutual love only
the night before, and Will was powerfully moved to glance often toward
the house, but feared as never before the jokes of his companions. He
worked on, therefore, methodically, eagerly; but his thoughts were on
the future--the rustle of the oak-tree near by, the noise of whose sere
leaves he could distinguish sifting beneath the booming snarl of the
machine, was like the sound of a woman's dress; on the sky were great
fleets of clouds sailing on the rising wind, like merchantmen bound to
some land of love and plenty.

When the Dingmans first came in, only a couple of years before, Agnes
had been at once surrounded by a swarm of suitors. Her pleasant face and
her abounding good-nature made her an instant favorite with all. Will,
however, had disdained to become one of the crowd, and held himself
aloof, as he could easily do, being away at school most of the time.

The second winter, however, Agnes also attended the seminary, and Will
saw her daily, and grew to love her. He had been just a bit jealous of
Ed Kinney all the time, for Ed had a certain rakish grace in dancing and
a dashing skill in handling a team, which made him a dangerous rival.

But, as Will worked beside him all the Monday, he felt so secure in his
knowledge of the caress Agnes had given him at parting the night before
that he was perfectly happy--so happy that he didn't care to talk, only
to work on and dream as he worked.

Shrewd David McTurg had his joke when the machine stopped for a few
minutes. "Well, you fellers do better'n I expected yeh to, after bein'
out so late last night. The first feller I see gappin' has got to treat
to the apples."

"Keep your eye on me," said Shep Wilson.

"You?" laughed one of the others. "Anybody knows if a girl so much as
looked crossways at you, you'd fall in a fit."

"Another thing," said David. "I can't have you fellers carryin' grain
goin' to the house every minute for fried cakes or cookies."

"Now you git out," said Bill Young from the straw pile. "You ain't goin'
to have all the fun to yerself."

Will's blood began to grow hot in his face. If Bill had said much more,
or mentioned Agnes by name, he would have silenced him. To have this
rough joking come so close upon the holiest and most exquisite evening
of his life was horrible. It was not the words they said, but the tones
they used, that vulgarized it all. He breathed a sigh of relief when the
sound of the machine began again.

This jesting made him more wary, and when the call for dinner sounded
and he knew he was going to see her, he shrank from it. He took no part
in the race of the dust-blackened, half-famished men to get at the
washing-place first. He took no part in the scurry to get seats at the
first table.

Threshing-time was always a season of great trial to the housewife. To
have a dozen men with the appetites of dragons to cook for, in addition
to their other everyday duties, was no small task for a couple of women.
Preparations usually began the night before with a raid on a hen-roost,
for "biled chickun" formed the pièce de resistance of the dinner. The
table, enlarged by boards, filled the sitting room. Extra seats were
made out of planks placed on chairs, and dishes were borrowed from
neighbors, who came for such aid in their turn.

Sometimes the neighboring women came in to help; but Agnes and her
mother were determined to manage the job alone this year, and so the
girl, in a neat dark dress, her eyes shining, her cheeks flushed with
the work, received the men as they came in, dusty, coatless, with grime
behind their ears, but a jolly good smile on every face.

Most of them were farmers of the neighborhood, and her schoolmates. The
only one she shrank from was Bill Young, with his hard, glittering eyes
and red, sordid face. She received their jokes, their noise, with a
silent smile which showed her even teeth and dimpled her round cheek.
"She was good for sore eyes," as one of the fellows said to Shep. She
seemed deliciously sweet and dainty to these roughly dressed fellows.

They ranged along the table with a great deal of noise, boots thumping,
squeaking, knives and forks rattling, voices bellowing out.

"Now hold on, Steve! Can't hev yeh so near that chickun!"

"Move along, Shep! I want to be next to the kitchen door! I won't get
nothin' with you on that side o' me."

"Oh, that's too thin! I see what you're--"

"No, I won't need any sugar, if you just smile into it." This from
gallant David, greeted with roars of laughter.

"Now, Dave, s'pose your wife 'ud hear o' that?"

"She'd snatch 'im bald-headed, that's what she'd do."

"Say, somebody drive that ceow down this way," said Bill.

"Don't get off that drive! It's too old," criticised Shep, passing the
milk-jug.

Potatoes were seized, cut in halves, sopped in gravy, and taken one,
two! Corn cakes went into great jaws like coal into a steam-engine.
Knives in the right hand cut meat and scooped gravy up. Great, muscular,
grimy, but wholesome fellows they were, feeding like ancient Norse, and
capable of working like demons. They were deep in the process,
half-hidden by steam from the potatoes and stew, in less than sixty
seconds after their entrance.

With a shrinking from the comments of the others upon his regard for
Agnes, Will assumed a reserved and almost haughty air toward his
fellow-workmen, and a curious coldness toward her. As he went in, she
came forward smiling brightly.

"There's one more place, Will." A tender, involuntary droop in her voice
betrayed her, and Will felt a wave of hot blood surge over him as the
rest roared.

"Ha, ha! Oh, there'd be a place for him!"

"Don't worry, Will! Always room for you here!"

Will took his seat with a sudden, angry flame.

"Why can't she keep it from these fools?" was his thought. He didn't
even thank her for showing him the chair.

She flushed vividly, but smiled back. She was so proud and happy she
didn't care very much if they did know it. But as Will looked at her
with that quick, angry glance, she was hurt and puzzled. She redoubled
her exertions to please him, and by so doing added to the amusement of
the crowd that gnawed chicken-bones, rattled cups, knives, and forks,
and joked as they ate with small grace and no material loss of time.

Will remained silent through it all, eating his potato, in marked
contrast to the others, with his fork instead of his knife, and drinking
his tea from his cup rather than from his saucer--"finnickies" which did
not escape the notice of the girl nor the sharp eyes of the other
workmen.

"See that? That's the way we do down to the Sem! See? Fork for pie in
yer right hand! Hey? I can't do it? Watch me."

When Agnes leaned over to say, "Won't you have some more tea, Will?"
they nudged each other and grinned. "Aha! What did I tell you?"

Agnes saw at last that for some reason Will didn't want her to show her
regard for him--that he was ashamed of it in some way, and she was
wounded. To cover it up, she resorted to the natural device of smiling
and chatting with the others. She asked Ed if he wouldn't have another
piece of pie.

"I will--with a fork, please."

"This is 'bout the only place you can use a fork," said Bill Young,
anticipating a laugh by his own broad grin.

"Oh, that's too old," said Shep Watson. "Don't drag that out agin. A man
that'll eat seven taters--"

"Shows who does the work."

"Yes, with his jaws," put in Jim Wheelock, the driver.

"If you'd put in a little more work with soap 'n water before comin' in
to dinner, it 'ud be a religious idee," said David.

"It ain't healthy to wash."

"Well, you'll live forever, then."

"He ain't washed his face sence I knew 'im."

"Oh, that's a little too tough! He washes once a week," said Ed Kinney.

"Back of his ears?" inquired David, who was munching a doughnut, his
black eyes twinkling with fun.

"Yep."

"What's the cause of it?"

"Dade says she won't kiss 'im if he don't."

Everybody roared.

"Good fer Dade! I wouldn't if I was in her place."

Wheelock gripped a chicken-leg imperturbably, and left it bare as a
toothpick with one or two bites at it. His face shone in two clean
sections around his nose and mouth. Behind his ears the dirt lay
undisturbed. The grease on his hands could not be washed off.

Will began to suffer now because Agnes treated the other fellows too
well. With a lover's exacting jealousy, he wanted her in some way to
hide their tenderness from the rest, but to show her indifference to
men like Young and Kinney. He didn't stop to inquire of himself the
justice of such a demand, nor just how it was to be done. He only
insisted she ought to do it.

He rose and left the table at the end of his dinner without having
spoken to her, without even a tender, significant glance, and he knew,
too, that she was troubled and hurt. But he was suffering. It seemed as
if he had lost something sweet, lost it irrecoverably.

He noticed Ed Kinney and Bill Young were the last to come out, just
before the machine started up again after dinner, and he saw them pause
outside the threshold and laugh back at Agnes standing in the doorway.
Why couldn't she keep those fellows at a distance, not go out of her way
to bandy jokes with them?

In some way the elation of the morning was gone. He worked on doggedly
now, without looking up, without listening to the leaves, without seeing
the sunlighted clouds. Of course he didn't think that she meant anything
by it, but it irritated him and made him unhappy. She gave herself too
freely.

Toward the middle of the afternoon the machine stopped for some
repairing; and while Will lay on his stack in the bright yellow
sunshine, shelling wheat in his hands and listening to the wind in the
oaks, he heard his name and her name mentioned on the other side of the
machine, where the measuring-box stood. He listened.

"She's pretty sweet on him, ain't she? Did yeh notus how she stood
around over him?"

"Yes; an' did yeh see him when she passed the cup o' tea down over his
shoulder?"

Will got up, white with wrath, as they laughed.

"Someway he didn't seem to enjoy it as I would. I wish she'd reach her
arm over my neck that way."

Will walked around the machine, and came on the group lying on the chaff
near the straw-pile.

"Say, I want you fellers to understand that I won't have any more of
this talk. I won't have it."

There was a dead silence. Then Bill Young got up.

"What yeh goin' to do about ut?" he sneered.

"I'm going to stop it."

The wolf rose in Young. He moved forward, his ferocious soul flaming
from his eyes.

"W'y, you damned seminary dude, I can break you in two!"

An answering glare came into Will's eyes. He grasped and slightly shook
his fork, which he had brought with him unconsciously.

"If you make one motion at me, I'll smash your head like an egg-shell!"
His voice was low but terrific. There was a tone in it that made his own
blood stop in his veins. "If you think I'm going to roll around on this
ground with a hyena like you, you've mistaken your man. I'll kill you,
but I won't fight with such men as you are."

Bill quailed and slunk away, muttering some epithet like "coward."

"I don't care what you call me, but just remember what I say: you keep
your tongue off that girl's affairs."

"That's the talk!" said David. "Stand up for your girl always, but don't
use a fork. You can handle him without that."

"I don't propose to try," said Will, as he turned away. As he did so, he
caught a glimpse of Ed Kinney at the well, pumping a pail of water for
Agnes, who stood beside him, the sun on her beautiful yellow hair. She
was laughing at something Ed was saying as he slowly moved the handle up
and down.

Instantly, like a foaming, turbid flood, his rage swept out toward her.
"It's all her fault," he thought, grinding his teeth. "She's a fool.
If she'd hold herself in, like other girls! But no; she must smile and
smile at everybody." It was a beautiful picture, but it sent a shiver
through him.

He worked on with teeth set, white with rage. He had an impulse that
would have made him assault her with words as with a knife. He was
possessed of a terrible passion which was hitherto latent in him, and
which he now felt to be his worst self. But he was powerless to
exorcise it. His set teeth ached with the stress of his muscular
tension, and his eyes smarted with the strain.

He had always prided himself on being cool, calm, above these absurd
quarrels which his companions had indulged in. He didn't suppose he
could be so moved. As he worked on, his rage settled into a sort of
stubborn bitterness--stubborn bitterness of conflict between this evil
nature and his usual self. It was the instinct of possession, the
organic feeling of proprietorship of a woman, which rose to the surface
and mastered him. He was not a self-analyst, of course, being young,
though he was more introspective than the ordinary farmer.

He had a great deal of time to think it over as he worked on there,
pitching the heavy bundles, but still he did not get rid of the
miserable desire to punish Agnes; and when she came out, looking very
pretty in her straw hat, and came around near his stack, he knew she
came to see him, to have an explanation, a smile; and yet he worked away
with his hat pulled over his eyes, hardly noticing her.

Ed went over to the edge of the stack and chatted with her; and
she--poor girl!--feeling Will's neglect, could only put a good face on
the matter, and show that she didn't mind it, by laughing back at Ed.

All this Will saw, though he didn't appear to be looking. And when Jim
Wheelock--Dirty Jim--with his whip in his hand, came up and playfully
pretended to pour oil on her hair, and she laughingly struck at him with
a handful of straw, Will wouldn't have looked at her if she had called
him by name.

She looked so bright and charming in her snowy apron and her boy's straw
hat tipped jauntily over one pink ear, that David and Steve and Bill,
and even Shep, found a way to get a word with her, and the poor fellows
in the high straw-pile looked their disappointment and shook their forks
in mock rage at the lucky dogs on the ground. But Will worked on like a
fiend, while the dapples of light and shade fell on the bright face of
the merry girl.

To save his soul from hell-flames he couldn't have gone over there and
smiled at her. It was impossible. A wall of bronze seemed to have arisen
between them. Yesterday--last night--seemed a dream. The clasp of her
hands at his neck, the touch of her lips, were like the caresses of an
ideal in some revery long ago.

As night drew on the men worked with a steadier, more mechanical action.
No one spoke now. Each man was intent on his work. No one had any
strength or breath to waste. The driver on his power, changed his weight
on weary feet and whistled and sang at the tired horses. The feeder,
his face gray with dust, rolled the grain into the cylinder so evenly,
so steady, so swiftly that it ran on with a sullen, booming roar. Far up
on the straw-pile the stackers worked with the steady, rhythmic action
of men rowing a boat, their figures looming vague and dim in the flying
dust and chaff, outlined against the glorious yellow and orange-tinted
clouds.

"Phe-e-eew-ee," whistled the driver with the sweet, cheery, rising notes
of a bird. "Chk, chk, chk! Phe-e-eew-e! Go on there, boys! Chk, chk,
chk! Step up there, Dan, step up! (Snap!) Phe-e-eew-ee! G'-wan--g'-wan, 
g'-wan! Chk, chk, chk! Wheest, wheest, wheest! Chk, chk!"

In the house the women were setting the table for supper. The sun had
gone down behind the oaks, flinging glorious rose-color and orange
shadows along the edges of the slate-blue clouds. Agnes stopped her work
at the kitchen window to look up at the sky, and cry silently. "What was
the matter with Will?" She felt a sort of distrust of him now. She
thought she knew him so well; but now he was so strange.

"Come, Aggie," said Mrs. Dingman, "they're gettin' 'most down to the
bottom of the stack. They'll be pilin' in here soon."

"Phe-e-eew-ee! G'-wan, Doll! G'-wan, boys! Chk, chk, chk! Phe-e-eew-ee!"
called the driver out in the dusk, cheerily swinging the whip over the
horses' backs. Boom-oo-oo-oom! roared the machine, with a muffled,
monotonous, solemn tone. "G'-wan, boys! G'-wan, g'-wan!"

Will had worked unceasingly all day. His muscles ached with fatigue. His
hands trembled. He clenched his teeth, however, and worked on,
determined not to yield. He wanted them to understand that he could do
as much pitching as any of them, and read Cæsar's Commentaries beside.
It seemed as if each bundle were the last he could raise. The sinews of
his wrist pained him so; they seemed swollen to twice their natural
size. But still he worked on grimly, while the dusk fell and the air
grew chill.

At last the bottom bundle was pitched up, and he got down on his knees
to help scrape the loose wheat into baskets. What a sweet relief it was
to kneel down, to release the fork, and let the worn and cramping
muscles settle into rest! A new note came into the driver's voice, a
soothing tone, full of kindness and admiration for the work his teams
had done.

"Wo-o-o, lads! Stiddy-y-y, boys! Wo-o-o, there, Dan. Stiddy, stiddy, old
man! Ho, there!" The cylinder took on a lower key, with short, rising
yells, as it ran empty for a moment. The horses had been going so long
that they came to a stop reluctantly. At last David called, "Turn out!"
The men seized the ends of the sweep, David uncoupled the tumbling-rods,
and Shep slowly shoved a sheaf of grain into the cylinder, choking it
into silence.

The stillness and the dusk were very impressive. So long had the
bell-metal cog-wheel sung its deafening song into Will's ear that, as he
walked away into the dusk, Will had a weird feeling of being suddenly
deaf, and his legs were so numb that he could hardly feel the earth. He
stumbled away like a man paralyzed.

He took out his handkerchief, wiped the dust from his face as best he
could, shook his coat, dusted his shoulders with a grain-sack, and was
starting away, when Mr. Dingman, a rather feeble, elderly man, came up.

"Come, Will, supper's all ready. Go in and eat."

"I guess I'll go home to supper."

"Oh, no; that won't do. The women'll be expecting you to stay."

The men were laughing at the well, the warm yellow light shone from the
kitchen, the chill air making it seem very inviting, and she was
there--waiting! But the demon rose in him. He knew Agnes would expect
him, that she would cry that night with disappointment, but his face
hardened. "I guess I'll go home," he said, and his tone was relentless.
He turned and walked away, hungry, tired--so tired he stumbled, and so
unhappy he could have wept.

II

On Thursday the county fair was to be held. The fair is one of the
gala-days of the year in the country districts of the West, and one of
the times when the country lover rises above expense to the extravagance
of hiring a top-buggy, in which to take his sweetheart to the
neighboring town.

It was customary to prepare for this long beforehand, for the demand for
top-buggies was so great the livery-men grew dictatorial, and took no
chances. Slowly but surely the country beaux began to compete with the
clerks, and in many cases actually outbid them, as they furnished their
own horses and could bid higher, in consequence, on the carriages.

Will had secured his brother's "rig," and early on Thursday morning he
was at work, busily washing the mud from the carriage, dusting the
cushions, and polishing up the buckles and rosettes on his horses'
harnesses. It was a beautiful, crisp, clear dawn--the ideal day for a
ride; and Will was singing as he worked. He had regained his real self,
and, having passed through a bitter period of shame, was now joyous with
anticipation of forgiveness. He looked forward to the day, with its
chances of doing a thousand little things to show his regret and his
love.

He had not seen Agnes since Monday; Tuesday he did not go back to help
thresh, and Wednesday he had been obliged to go to town to see about
board for the coming term; but he felt sure of her. It had all been
arranged the Sunday before; she'd expect him, and he was to call at
eight o'clock.

He polished up the colts with merry tick-tack of the brush and comb, and
after the last stroke on their shining limbs, threw his tools in the box
and went to the house.

"Pretty sharp last night," said his brother John, who was scrubbing his
face at the cistern.

"Should say so by that rim of ice," Will replied, dipping his hands into
the icy water.

"I ought 'o stay home to-day and dig 'tates," continued the older man,
thoughtfully, as they went into the woodshed and wiped consecutively on
the long roller-towel. "Some o' them Early Rose lay right on top o' the
ground. They'll get nipped, sure."

"Oh, I guess not. You'd better go, Jack; you don't get away very often.
And then it would disappoint Nettie and the children so. Their little
hearts are overflowing," he ended, as the door opened and two sturdy
little boys rushed out.

"B'ekfuss, poppa; all yeady!"

The kitchen table was set near the stove; the window let in the sun, and
the smell of sizzling sausages and the aroma of coffee filled the room.

The kettle was doing its duty cheerily, and the wife, with flushed face
and smiling eyes, was hurrying to and fro, her heart full of
anticipation of the day's outing.

There was a hilarity almost like some strange intoxication on the part
of the two children. They danced and chattered and clapped their chubby
brown hands and ran to the windows ceaselessly.

"Is yuncle Will goin' yide nour buggy?"

"Yus; the buggy and the colts."

"Is he goin' to take his girl?"

Will blushed a little and John roared.

"Yes, I'm goin'--"

"Is Aggie your girl?"

"H'yer! h'yer! young man," called John, "you're gettin' personal."

"Well, set up!" said Nettie, and with a good deal of clatter they drew
around the cheerful table.

Will had already begun to see the pathos, the pitiful significance of
his great joy over a day's outing, and he took himself a little to task
at his own selfish freedom. He resolved to stay at home some time and
let Nettie go in his place. A few hours in the middle of the day on
Sunday, three or four holidays in summer; the rest of the year, for this
cheerful little wife and her patient husband, was made up of work--work
which accomplished little and brought them almost nothing that was
beautiful.

While they were eating breakfast, teams began to clatter by, huge
lumber-wagons with three seats across, and a boy or two jouncing up and
down with the dinner baskets near the end-gate. The children rushed to
the window each time to announce who it was and how many there were in.

But as Johnny said "firteen" each time, and Ned wavered between "seven"
and "sixteen," it was doubtful if they could be relied upon. They had
very little appetite, so keen was their anticipation of the ride and the
wonderful sights before them. Their little hearts shuddered with joy at
every fresh token of preparation--a joy that made Will say, "Poor little
men!"

They vibrated between the house and the barn while the chores were being
finished, and their happy cries started the young roosters into a
renewed season of crowing. And when at last the wagon was brought out
and the horses hitched to it, they danced like mad sprites.

After they had driven away, Will brought out the colts, hitched them in,
and drove them to the hitching-post. Then he leisurely dressed himself
in his best suit, blacked his boots with considerable exertion, and at
about 7:30 o'clock climbed into his carriage and gathered up the reins.

He was quite happy again. The crisp, bracing air, the strong pull of the
spirited young team, put all thought of sorrow behind him. He had
planned it all out. He would first put his arm round her and kiss
her--there would not need to be any words to tell her how sorry and
ashamed he was. She would know!

Now, when he was alone and going toward her on a beautiful morning, the
anger and bitterness of Monday fled away, became unreal, and the sweet
dream of the Sunday parting grew the reality. She was waiting for him
now. She had on her pretty blue dress, and the wide hat that always made
her look so arch. He had said about eight o'clock.

The swift team was carrying him along the cross-road, which was little
travelled, and he was alone with his thoughts. He fell again upon his
plans. Another year at school for them both, and then he'd go into a law
office. Judge Brown had told him he'd give him--

"Whoa! Ho!"

There was a swift lurch that sent him flying over the dasher. A confused
vision of a roadside ditch full of weeds and bushes, and then he felt
the reins in his hands and heard the snorting horses trample on the hard
road.

He rose dizzy, bruised, and covered with dust. The team he held securely
and soon quieted. The cause of the accident was plain; the right
fore-wheel had come off, letting the front of the buggy drop. He
unhitched the excited team from the carriage, drove them to the fence
and tied them securely, then went back to find the wheel, and the burr
whose failure to hold its place had done all the mischief. He soon had
the wheel on, but to find the burr was a harder task. Back and forth he
ranged, looking, scraping in the dust, searching the weeds.

He knew that sometimes a wheel will run without the burr for many rods
before coming off, and so each time he extended his search. He traversed
the entire half mile several times, each time his rage and
disappointment getting more bitter. He ground his teeth in a fever of
vexation and dismay.

He had a vision of Agnes waiting, wondering why he did not come. It was
this vision that kept him from seeing the burr in the wheel-track,
partly covered by a clod. Once he passed it looking wildly at his watch,
which was showing nine o'clock. Another time he passed it with eyes
dimmed with a mist that was almost tears of anger.

There is no contrivance that will replace an axle-burr, and farm-yards
have no unused axle-burrs, and so Will searched. Each moment he said: 
"I'll give it up, get onto one of the horses, and go down and tell her."
But searching for a lost axle-burr is like fishing; the searcher expects
each moment to find it. And so he groped, and ran breathlessly,
furiously, back and forth, and at last kicked away the clod that covered
it, and hurried, hot and dusty, cursing his stupidity, back to the team.

It was ten o'clock as he climbed again into the buggy, and started his
team on a swift trot down the road. What would she think? He saw her now
with tearful eyes and pouting lips. She was sitting at the window, with
hat and gloves on; the rest had gone, and she was waiting for him.

But she'd know something had happened, because he had promised to be
there at eight. He had told her what team he'd have. (He had forgotten
at this moment the doubt and distrust he had given her on Monday.) She'd
know he'd surely come.

But there was no smiling or tearful face watching at the window as he
came down the lane at a tearing pace, and turned into the yard. The
house was silent, and the curtains down. The silence sent a chill to his
heart. Something rose up in his throat to choke him.

"Agnes!" he called. "Hello! I'm here at last!"

There was no reply. As he sat there the part he had played on Monday
came back to him. She may be sick! he thought, with a cold thrill of
fear.

An old man came around the corner of the house with a potato fork in his
hands, his teeth displayed in a grin.

"She ain't here. She's gone."

"Gone!"

"Yes--more'n an hour ago."

"Who'd she go with?"

"Ed Kinney," said the old fellow, with a malicious grin. "I guess your
goose is cooked."

Will lashed the horses into a run, and swung round the yard and out of
the gate. His face was white as a dead man's, and his teeth were set
like a vice. He glared straight ahead. The team ran wildly, steadily
homeward, while their driver guided them unconsciously without seeing
them. His mind was filled with a tempest of rages, despairs, and shames.

That ride he will never forget. In it he threw away all his plans. He
gave up his year's schooling. He gave up his law aspirations. He
deserted his brother and his friends. In the dizzying whirl of passions
he had only one clear idea--to get away, to go West, to escape from the
sneers and laughter of his neighbors, and to make her suffer by it all.

He drove into the yard, did not stop to unharness the team, but rushed
into the house, and began packing his trunk. His plan was formed. He
would drive to Cedarville, and hire some one to bring the team back. He
had no thought of anything but the shame, the insult, she had put upon
him. Her action on Monday took on the same levity it wore then, and
excited him in the same way. He saw her laughing with Ed over his
dismay. He sat down and wrote a letter to her at last--a letter that
came from the ferocity of the mediæval savage in him:

"It you want to go to hell with Ed Kinney, you can. I won't say a word.
That's where he'll take you. You won't see me again."

This he signed and sealed, and then he bowed his head and wept like a
girl. But his tears did not soften the effect of the letter. It went as
straight to its mark as he meant it should. It tore a seared and ragged
path to an innocent, happy heart, and he took a savage pleasure in the
thought of it as he rode away in the cars toward the South.

III

The seven years lying between 1880 and 1887 made a great change in Rock
River and in the adjacent farming land. Signs changed and firms went out
of business with characteristic Western ease of shift. The trees grew
rapidly, dwarfing the houses beneath them, and contrasts of newness and
decay thickened.

Will found the country changed, as he walked along the dusty road from
Rock River toward "The Corners." The landscape was at its fairest and
liberalest, with its seas of corn, deep-green and moving with a mournful
rustle, in sharp contrast to its flashing blades; its gleaming fields of
barley, and its wheat already mottled with soft gold in the midst of its
pea-green.

The changes were in the hedges, grown higher, in the greater
predominance of cornfields and cattle pastures, and especially in the
destruction of homes. As he passed on, Will saw the grass growing and
cattle feeding on a dozen places where homes had once stood. They had
given place to the large farm and the stock-raiser. Still the whole
scene was bountiful and beautiful to the eye.

It was especially grateful to Will, for he had spent nearly all his
years of absence among the rocks, treeless swells, and bleak cliffs of
the Southwest. The crickets rising before his dusty feet appeared to him
something sweet and suggestive, and the cattle feeding in the clover
moved him to deep thought--they were so peaceful and slow motioned.

As he reached a little popple tree by the roadside, he stopped, removed
his broad-brimmed hat, put his elbows on the fence, and looked hungrily
upon the scene. The sky was deeply blue, with only here and there a
huge, heavy, slow-moving, massive, sharply outlined cloud sailing like a
berg of ice in a shoreless sea of azure.

In the fields the men were harvesting the ripened oats and barley, and
the sound of their machines clattering, now low, now loud, came to his
ears. Flies buzzed near him, and a kingbird clattered overhead. He
noticed again, as he had many a time when a boy, that the softened sound
of the far-off reaper was at times exactly like the hum of a bluebottle
fly buzzing heedlessly about his ears.

A slender and very handsome young man was shocking grain near the fence,
working so desperately he did not see Will until greeted by him. He
looked up, replied to the greeting, but kept on until he had finished
his last stook; then he came to the shade of the tree and took off his
hat.

"Nice day to sit under a tree and fish."

Will smiled. "I ought to know you, I suppose; I used to live here years
ago."

"Guess not; we came in three years ago."

The young man was quick-spoken and pleasant to look at. Will felt freer
with him.

"Are the Kinneys still living over there?" He nodded at a group of large
buildings.

"Tom lives there. Old man lives with Ed. Tom ousted the old man some
way, nobody seems to know how, and so he lives with Ed."

Will wanted to ask after Agnes, but hardly felt able. "I s'pose John
Hannan is on his old farm?"

"Yes. Got a good crop this year."

Will looked again at the fields of rustling wheat over which the clouds
rippled, and said with an air of conviction: "This lays over Arizony,
dead sure."

"You're from Arizony, then?"

"Yes--a good ways from it," Will replied, in a way that stopped further
question. "Good luck!" he added, as he walked on down the road toward
the creek, musing.

"And the spring--I wonder if that's there yet. I'd like a drink." The
sun seemed hotter than at noon, and he walked slowly. At the bridge that
spanned the meadow brook, just where it widened over a sandy ford, he
paused again. He hung over the rail and looked at the minnows swimming
there.

"I wonder if they're the same identical chaps that used to boil and
glitter there when I was a boy--looks so. Men change from one generation
to another, but the fish remain the same. The same eternal procession of
types. I suppose Darwin 'ud say their environment remains the same."

He hung for a long time over the railing, thinking of a vast number of
things, mostly vague, flitting things, looking into the clear depths of
the brook, and listening to the delicious liquid note of a blackbird
swinging on the willow. Red lilies starred the grass with fire, and
golden-rod and chicory grew everywhere; purple and orange and
yellow-green the prevailing tints.

Suddenly a water-snake wriggled across the dark pool above the ford and
the minnows disappeared under the shadow of the bridge. Then Will
sighed, lifted his head and walked on. There seemed to be something
prophetic in it, and he drew a long breath. That's the way his plans
broke and faded away.

Human life does not move with the regularity of a clock. In living there
are gaps and silences when the soul stands still in its flight through
abysses--and there come times of trial and times of struggle when we
grow old without knowing it. Body and soul change appallingly.

Seven years of hard, busy life had made changes in Will.

His face had grown bold, resolute, and rugged; some of its delicacy and
all of its boyish quality was gone. His figure was stouter, erect as of
old, but less graceful. He bore himself like a man accustomed to look
out for himself in all kinds of places. It was only at times that there
came into his deep eyes a preoccupied, almost sad, look which showed
kinship with his old self.

This look was on his face as he walked toward the clump of trees on the
right of the road.

He reached the grove of popple trees and made his way at once to the
spring. When he saw it, he was again shocked. They had allowed it to
fill with leaves and dirt!

Overcome by the memories of the past, he flung himself down on the cool
and shadowy bank, and gave himself up to the bitter-sweet reveries of a
man returning to his boyhood's home. He was filled somehow with a
strange and powerful feeling of the passage of time; with a vague
feeling of the mystery and elusiveness of human life. The leaves
whispered it overhead, the birds sang it in chorus with the insects, and
far above, in the measureless spaces of sky, the hawk told it in the
silence and majesty of his flight from cloud to cloud.

It was a feeling hardly to be expressed in words--one of those emotions
whose springs lie far back in the brain. He lay so still the chipmunks
came curiously up to his very feet, only to scurry away when he stirred
like a sleeper in pain.

He had cut himself off entirely from the life at The Corners. He had
sent money home to John, but had concealed his own address carefully.
The enormity of his folly now came back to him, racking him till he
groaned.

He heard the patter of feet and the half-mumbled monologue of a running
child. He roused up and faced a small boy, who started back in terror
like a wild fawn. He was deeply surprised to find a man there, where
only boys and squirrels now came. He stuck his fist in his eye, and was
backing away when Will spoke.

"Hold on, sonny! Nobody's hit you. Come, I ain't goin' to eat yeh." He
took a bit of money from his pocket. "Come here and tell me your name. I
want to talk with you."

The boy crept upon the dime.

Will smiled. "You ought to be a Kinney. What is your name?"

"Tomath Dickinthon Kinney. I'm thix and a half. I've got a colt," lisped
the youngster, breathlessly, as he crept toward the money.

"Oh, you are, eh? Well, now, are you Tom's boy, or Ed's?"

"Tomth's boy. Uncle Ed heth got a little--"

"Ed got a boy?"

"Yeth, thir--a lil baby. Aunt Agg letth me hold 'im."

"Agg! Is that her name?"

"Tha'th what Uncle Ed callth her."

The man's head fell, and it was a long time before he asked his next
question.

"How is she anyhow?"

"Purty well," piped the boy, with a prolongation of the last words into
a kind of chirp. "She'th been thick, though," he added.

"Been sick? How long?"

"Oh, a long time. But she ain't thick abed; she'th awful poor, though.
Gran'pa thayth she'th poor ath a rake."

"Oh, he does, eh?"

"Yeth, thir. Uncle Ed he jawth her, then she crieth."

Will's anger and remorse broke out in a groaning curse. "O my God! I see
it all. That great lunkin houn' has made life a hell for her." Then that
letter came back to his mind--he had never been able to put it out of
his mind--he never would till he saw her and asked her pardon.

"Here, my boy, I want you to tell me some more. Where does your Aunt
Agnes live?"

"At gran'pa'th. You know where my gran'pa livth?"

"Well, you do. Now I want you to take this letter to her. Give it to
her." He wrote a little note and folded it. "Now dust out o' here."

The boy slipped away through the trees like a rabbit; his little brown
feet hardly rustled. He was like some little wood-animal. Left alone,
the man fell back into a revery which lasted till the shadows fell on
the thick little grove around the spring. He rose at last, and taking
his stick in hand, walked out to the wood again and stood there gazing
at the sky. He seemed loath to go farther. The sky was full of
flame-colored clouds floating in a yellow-green sea, where bars of faint
pink streamed broadly away.

As he stood there, feeling the wind lift his hair, listening to the
crickets' ever-present crying, and facing the majesty of space, a
strange sadness and despair came into his eyes.

Drawing a quick breath, he leaped the fence and was about going on up
the road, when he heard, at a little distance, the sound of a drove of
cattle approaching, and he stood aside to allow them to pass. They
snuffed and shied at the silent figure by the fence, and hurried by with
snapping heels--a peculiar sound that made Will smile with pleasure.

An old man was driving the cows, crying out:

"St--boy, there! Go on there! Whay, boss!"

Will knew that hard-featured, wiry old man, now entering his second
childhood and beginning to limp painfully. He had his hands full of hard
clods which he threw impatiently at the lumbering animals.

"Good-evening, uncle!"

"I ain't y'r uncle, young man."

His dim eyes did not recognize the boy he had chased out of his plum
patch years before.

"I don't know yeh, neither," he added.

"Oh, you will, later on. I'm from the East. I'm a sort of a relative to
John Hannan."

"I want 'o know if y' be!" the old man exclaimed, peering closer.

"Yes. I'm just up from Rock River. John's harvesting, I s'pose?"

"Yus."

"Where's the youngest one--Will?"

"William? Oh! he's a bad aig--he lit out f'r the West somewhere. He was
a hard boy. He stole a hatful o' my plums once. He left home kind o'
sudden. He! he! I s'pose he was purty well cut up jest about them days."

"How's that?"

The old man chuckled.

"Well, y' see, they was both courtin' Agnes then, an' my son cut William
out. Then William he lit out f'r the West, Arizony, 'r California, 'r
somewhere out West. Never been back sence."

"Ain't, heh?"

"No. But they say he's makin' a terrible lot o' money," the old man said
in a hushed voice. "But the way he makes it is awful scaly. I tell my
wife if I had a son like that an' he'd send me home a bushel-basket o'
money, earnt like that, I wouldn't touch finger to it--no sir!"

"You wouldn't? Why?"

"'Cause it ain't right. It ain't made right noway, you--"

"But how is it made? What's the feller's trade?"

"He's a gambler--that's his trade! He plays cards, and every cent is
bloody. I wouldn't touch such money nohow you could fix it."

"Wouldn't, heh?" The young man straightened up. "Well, look-a-here, old
man: did you ever hear of a man foreclosing a mortgage on a widow and
two boys, getting a farm f'r one quarter what it was really worth? You
damned old hypocrite! I know all about you and your whole tribe--you old
blood-sucker!"

The old man's jaw fell; he began to back away.

"Your neighbors tell some good stories about you. Now skip along after
those cows, or I'll tickle your old legs for you!"

The old man, appalled and dazed at this sudden change of manner, backed
away, and at last turned and racked off up the road, looking back with a
wild face, at which the young man laughed remorselessly.

"The doggoned old skeesucks!" Will soliloquized as he walked up the
road. "So that's the kind of a character he's been givin' me!"

"Hullo! A whippoorwill. Takes a man back into childhood--No, don't 'whip
poor Will'; he's got all he can bear now."

He came at last to the little farm Dingman had owned, and he stopped in
sorrowful surprise. The barn had been moved away, the garden ploughed
up, and the house, turned into a granary, stood with boards nailed
across its dusty, cobwebbed windows. The tears started into the man's
eyes; he stood staring at it silently.

In the face of this house the seven years that he had last lived
stretched away into a wild waste of time. It stood as a symbol of his
wasted, ruined life. It was personal, intimately personal, this decay of
her home.

All that last scene came back to him; the booming roar of the
threshing-machine, the cheery whistle of the driver, the loud, merry
shouts of the men. He remembered how warmly the lamp-light streamed out
of that door as he turned away tired, hungry, sullen with rage and
jealousy. Oh, if he had only had the courage of a man!

Then he thought of the boy's words. She was sick, Ed abused her. She had
met her punishment. A hundred times he had been over the whole scene. A
thousand times he had seen her at the pump smiling at Ed Kinney, the sun
lighting her hair; and he never thought of that without hardening.

At this very gate he had driven up that last forenoon; to find that she
had gone with Ed. He had lived that sickening, depressing moment over
many times, but not times enough to keep down the bitter passion he had
felt then, and felt now as he went over it in detail.

He was so happy and confident that morning, so perfectly certain that
all would be made right by a kiss and a cheery jest. And now! Here he
stood sick with despair and doubt of all the world. He turned away from
the desolate homestead and walked on.

"But I'll see her--just once more. And then--"

And again the mighty significance, responsibility of life, fell upon
him. He felt, as young people seldom do, the irrevocableness of living,
the determinate, unalterable character of living. He determined to begin
to live in some new way--just how he could not say.

IV

Old man Kinney and his wife were getting their Sunday-school lessons
with much bickering, when Will drove up the next day to the dilapidated
gate and hitched his team to a leaning-post under the oaks. Will saw the
old man's head at the open window, but no one else, though he looked
eagerly for Agnes as he walked up the familiar path. There stood the
great oak under whose shade he had grown to be a man. How close the
great tree seemed to stand to his heart, someway! As the wind stirred
in the leaves, it was like a rustle of greeting.

In that old house they had all lived, and his mother had toiled for
thirty years. A sort of prison after all. There they were all born, and
there his father and his little sister had died. And then it passed into
old Kinney's hands.

Walking along up the path he felt a serious weakness in his limbs, and
he made a pretence of stopping to look at a flower-bed containing
nothing but weeds. After seven years of separation he was about to face
once more the woman whose life came so near being a part of his--Agnes,
now a wife and a mother.

How would she look? Would her face have that old-time peachy bloom, her
mouth that peculiar beautiful curve? She was large and fair, he
recalled, hair yellow and shining, eyes blue--

He roused himself. This was nonsense! He was trembling. He composed
himself by looking around again.

"The old scoundrel has let the weeds choke out the flowers and surround
the bee-hives. Old man Kinney never believed in anything but a petty
utility."

Will set his teeth, and marched up to the door and struck it like a man
delivering a challenge. Kinney opened the door, and started back in fear
when he saw who it was.

"How de do? How de do?" said Will, walking in, his eyes fixed on a woman
seated beyond, a child in her lap.

Agnes rose, without a word; a fawn-like, startled widening of the eyes,
her breath coming quick, and her face flushing. They couldn't speak;
they only looked at each other an instant, then Will shivered, passed
his hand over his eyes and sat down.

There was no one there but the old people, who were looking at him in
bewilderment. They did not notice any confusion in Agnes's face. She
recovered first.

"I'm glad to see you back, Will," she said, rising and putting the
sleeping child down in a neighboring room. As she gave him her hand, he
said:

"I'm glad to get back, Agnes. I hadn't ought to have gone." Then he
turned to the old people:

"I'm Will Hannan. You needn't be scared, Daddy; I was jokin' last
night."

"Dew tell! I want o' know!" exclaimed Granny. "Wal, I never! An, you're
my little Willy boy who ust 'o he in my class? Well! Well! W'y, pa,
ain't he growed tall! Grew handsome tew. I ust 'o think he was a dretful
humly boy; but my sakes, that mustache--"

"Wal, he give me a turrible scare last night. My land! scared me out of
a year's growth," cackled the old man.

This gave them all a chance to laugh, and the air was cleared. It gave
Agnes time to recover herself, and to be able to meet Will's eyes. Will
himself was powerfully moved; his throat swelled and tears came to his
eyes every time he looked at her.

She was worn and wasted incredibly. The blue of her eyes seemed dimmed
and faded by weeping, and the old-time scarlet of her lips had been
washed away. The sinews of her neck showed painfully when she turned her
head, and her trembling hands were worn, discolored, and lumpy at the
joints.

Poor girl! She knew she was under scrutiny, and her eyes felt hot and
restless. She wished to run away and cry, but she dared not. She stayed,
while Will began to tell her of his life and to ask questions about old
friends.

The old people took it up and relieved her of any share in it; and Will,
seeing that she was suffering, told some funny stories which made the
old people cackle in spite of themselves.

But it was forced merriment on Will's part. Once or twice Agnes smiled,
with just a little flash of the old-time sunny temper. But there was no
dimple in the cheek now, and the smile had more suggestion of an
invalid--or even a skeleton. He was almost ready to take her in his arms
and weep, her face appealed so pitifully to him.

"It's most time f'r Ed to be gittin' back, ain't it, pa?"

"Sh'd say 't was! He jest went over to Hobkirk's to trade horses. It's
dretful tryin' to me to have him go off tradin' horses on Sunday. Seems
if he might wait till a rainy day, 'r do it evenin's. I never did
believe in horse-tradin' anyhow."

"Have y' come back to stay, Willie?" asked the old lady.

"Well--it's hard tellin'," answered Will, looking at Agnes.

"Well, Agnes, ain't you goin' to git no dinner? I'm 'bout ready f'r
dinner. We must git to church early to-day. Elder Wheat is goin' to
preach, an' they'll be a crowd. He's goin' to hold communion."

"You'll stay to dinner, Will?" asked Agnes.

"Yes--if you wish it."

"I do wish it."

"Thank you; I want to have a good visit with you. I don't know when I'll
see you again."

As she moved about, getting dinner on the table, Will sat with gloomy
face, listening to the "clack" of the old man. The room was a poor
little sitting room, with furniture worn and shapeless; hardly a touch
of pleasant color, save here and there a little bit of Agnes's
handiwork. The lounge, covered with calico, was rickety; the
rocking-chair matched it, and the carpet of rags was patched and darned
with twine in twenty places. Everywhere was the influence of the
Kinneys. The furniture looked like them, in fact.

Agnes was outwardly calm, but her real distraction did not escape Mrs.
Kinney's hawk-like eyes.

"Well, I declare if you hain't put the butter on in one o' my blue
chainy saucers? Now you know I don't allow that saucer to be took down
by nobody. I don't see what's got into yeh! Anybody'd s'pose you never
see any comp'ny b'fore--wouldn't they, pa?"

"Sh'd say th' would," said pa, stopping short in a long story about Ed.
"Seems if we couldn't keep anything in this house sep'rit from the rest.
Ed he uses my curry-comb--"

He launched out a long list of grievances, to which Will shut his ears
as completely as possible, and was thinking how to stop him, when there
came a sudden crash. Agnes had dropped a plate.

"Good land o' Goshen!" screamed Granny. "If you ain't the worst I ever
see. I'll bet that's my grapevine plate. If it is--Well, of all the
mercies, it ain't! But it might 'a' ben. I never see your beat--never!
That's the third plate since I came to live here."

"Oh, look-a-here, Granny," said Will, desperately, "don't make so much
fuss about the plate. What's it worth, anyway? Here's a dollar."

Agnes cried quickly:

"Oh, don't do that, Will! It ain't her plate. It's my plate, and I can
break every plate in the house if I want to," she cried defiantly.

"'Course you can," Will agreed.

"Wal, she can't! Not while I'm around," put in Daddy. "I've helped to
pay f'r them plates, if she does call 'em her'n--"

"What the devul is all this row about? Agg, can't you get along without
stirring up the old folks every time I'm out o' the house?"

The speaker was Ed, now a tall and slouchily dressed man of thirty-two
or three; his face still handsome in a certain dark, cleanly-cut style,
but he wore a surly look as he lounged in with insolent swagger, clothed
in greasy overalls and a hickory shirt.

"Hello, Will! I heard you'd got home. John told me as I came along."

They shook hands, and Ed slouched down on the lounge. Will could have
kicked him for laying the blame of the dispute upon Agnes; it showed him
in a flash just how he treated her. He disdained to quarrel; he simply
silenced and dominated her.

Will asked a few questions about crops, with such grace as he could
show, and Ed, with keen eyes fixed on Will's face, talked easily and
stridently.

"Dinner ready?" he asked of Agnes. "Where's Pete?"

"He's asleep."

"All right. Let 'im sleep. Well, let's go out an' set up. Come, Dad,
sling away that Bible and come to grub. Mother, what the devul are you
snifflin' at? Say, now, look here! If I hear any more about this row,
I'll simply let you walk down to meetin'. Come, Will, set up."

He led the way out into the little kitchen where the dinner was set.

"What was the row about? Hain't been breakin' some dish, Agg?"

"Yes, she has," broke in the old lady.

"One o' the blue ones?" winked Ed.

"No, thank goodness, it was a white one."

"Well, now, I'll git into that dod-gasted cubberd some day an' break the
whole eternal outfit. I ain't goin' to have this damned jawin' goin'
on," he ended, brutally unconscious of his own "jawin'."

After this the dinner proceeded in comparative silence, Agnes sobbing
under breath. The room was small and very hot; the table was warped so
badly that the dishes had a tendency to slide to the centre; the walls
were bare plaster, grayed with time; the food was poor and scant, and
the flies absolutely swarmed upon everything, like bees. Otherwise the
room was clean and orderly.

"They say you've made a pile o' money out West, Bill. I'm glad of it.
We fellers back here don't make anything. It's a dam tight squeeze.
Agg, it seems to me the flies are devilish thick to-day. Can't you drive
'em out?"

Agnes felt that she must vindicate herself a little.

"I do drive 'em out, but they come right in again. The screen-door is
broken and they come right in."

"I told Dad to fix that door."

"But he won't do it for me."

Ed rested his elbows on the table and fixed his bright black eyes on his
father.

"Say, what d' you mean by actin' like a mule? I swear I'll trade you off
f'r a yaller dog. What do I keep you round here for anyway--to look
purty?"

"I guess I've as good a right here as you have, Ed Kinney."

"Oh, go soak y'r head, old man. If you don't 'tend out here a little
better, down goes your meat-house! I won't drive you down to meetin'
till you promise to fix that door. Hear me!"

Daddy began to snivel. Agnes could not look up for shame. Will felt
sick. Ed laughed.

"I c'n bring the old man to terms that way; he can't walk very well late
years, an' he can't drive my colt. You know what a cuss I used to be
about fast nags? Well, I'm just the same. Hobkirk's got a colt I want.
Say, that reminds me: your team's out there by the fence. I forgot. I'll
go out and put 'em up."

"No, never mind; I can't stay but a few minutes."

"Goin' to be round the country long?"

"A week--maybe."

Agnes looked up a moment, and then let her eyes fall.

"Goin' back West, I s'pose?"

"No. May go East, to Europe, mebbe."

"The devul y' say! You must 'a' made a ten-strike out West."

"They say it didn't come lawful," piped Daddy, over his blackberries and
milk.

"Oh, you shet up, who wants your put-in? Don't work in any o' your Bible
on us."

Daddy rose to go into the other room.

"Hold on, old man. You goin' to fix that door?"

"Course I be," quavered he.

"Well see 't y' do, that's all. Now get on y'r duds, an' I'll go an'
hitch up." He rose from the table. "Don't keep me waiting."

He went out unceremoniously, and Agnes was alone with Will.

"Do you go to church?" he asked. She shook her head. "No, I don't go
anywhere now. I have too much to do; I haven't strength left. And I'm
not fit anyway."

"Agnes, I want to say something to you; not now--after they're gone."

He went into the other room, leaving her to wash the dinner-things. She
worked on in a curious, almost dazed way, a dream of something sweet and
irrevocable in her eyes. Will represented so much to her. His voice
brought up times and places that thrilled her like song. He was
associated with all that was sweetest and most care-free and most
girlish in her life.

Ever since the boy had handed her that note she had been re-living those
days. In the midst of her drudgery she stopped to dream--to let some
picture come back into her mind. She was a student again at the
Seminary, and stood in the recitation-room with suffocating beat of the
heart; Will was waiting outside--waiting in a tremor like her own, to
walk home with her under the maples.

Then she remembered the painfully sweet mixture of pride and fear with
which she walked up the aisle of the little church behind him. Her
pretty new gown rustled, the dim light of the church had something like
romance in it, and he was so strong and handsome. Her heart went out in
a great silent cry to God--

"Oh, let me be a girl again!"

She did not look forward to happiness. She hadn't power to look forward
at all.

As she worked, she heard the high, shrill voices of the old people as
they bustled about and nagged at each other.

"Ma, where's my specticles?"

"I ain't seen y'r specticles."

"You have, too."

"I ain't neither."

"You had 'em this forenoon."

"Didn't no such thing. Them was my own brass-bowed ones. You had your'n
jest 'fore goin' to dinner. If you'd put 'em into a proper place you'd
find 'em again."

"I want 'o know if I would," the old man snorted.

"Wal, you'd orter know."

"Oh, you're awful smart, ain't yeh? You never have no trouble, and use
mine--do yeh?--an' lose 'em so 't I can't--"

"And if this is the thing that goes on when I'm here it must be hell
when visitors are gone," thought Will.

"Willy, ain't you goin' to meetin'?"

"No, not to-day. I want to visit a little with Agnes, then I've got to
drive back to John's."

"Wal, we must be goin'. Don't you leave them dishes f'r me to wash,"
she screamed at Agnes as she went out the door. "An' if we don't git
home by five, them caaves orter be fed."

As Agnes stood at the door to watch them drive away, Will studied her,
a smothering ache in his heart as he saw how thin and bent and weary she
was. In his soul he felt that she was a dying woman unless she had rest
and tender care.

As she turned, she saw something in his face--a pity and an agony of
self-accusation--that made her weak and white. She sank into a chair,
putting her hand on her chest, as if she felt a failing of breath. Then
the blood came back to her face and her eyes filled with tears.

"Don't--don't look at me like that," she said in a whisper. His pity
hurt her.

At sight of her sitting there pathetic, abashed, bewildered, like some
gentle animal, Will's throat contracted so that he could not speak. His
voice came at last in one terrible cry--

"Oh, Agnes! for God's sake forgive me!" He knelt by her side and put his
arm about her shoulders and kissed her bowed head. A curious numbness
involved his whole body; his voice was husky, the tears burned in his
eyes. His whole soul and body ached with his pity and remorseful,
self-accusing wrath.

"It was all my fault. Lay it all to me.... I am the one to bear it....
Oh, I've dreamed a thousand times of sayin' this to you, Aggie! I
thought if I could only see you again and ask your forgiveness, I'd--"
He ground his teeth together in his assault upon himself. "I threw my
life away an' killed you--that's what I did!"

He rose, and raged up and down the room till he had mastered himself.

"What did you think I meant that day of the thrashing?" he said, turning
suddenly. He spoke of it as if it were but a month or two past.

She lifted her head and looked at him in a slow way. She seemed to be
remembering. The tears lay on her hollow cheeks.

"I thought you was ashamed of me. I didn't know--why--"

He uttered a snarl of self-disgust.

"You couldn't know. Nobody could tell what I meant. But why didn't you
write? I was ready to come back. I only wanted an excuse--only a line."

"How could I, Will--after your letter?"

He groaned, and turned away.

"And Will, I--I got mad too. I couldn't write."

"Oh, that letter--I can see every line of it! F'r God's sake, don't
think of it again! But I didn't think, even when I wrote that letter,
that I'd find you where you are. I didn't think. I hoped, anyhow, Ed
Kinney wouldn't--"

She stopped him with a startled look in her great eyes.

"Don't talk about him--it ain't right. I mean it don't do any good. What
could I do, after father died? Mother and I. Besides, I waited three
years to hear from you, Will."

He gave a strange, choking cry. It burst from his throat--that terrible
thing, a man's sob of agony. She went on, curiously calm now.

"Ed was good to me; and he offered a home, anyway, for mother--"

"And all the time I was waiting for some line to break down my cussed
pride, so I could write to you and explain. But you did go with Ed to
the fair," he ended suddenly, seeking a morsel of justification for
himself.

"Yes. But I waited an' waited; and I thought you was mad at me, so when
they came I--no, I didn't really go with Ed. There was a wagon-load of
them."

"But I started," he explained, "but the wheel came off. I didn't send
word because I thought you'd feel sure I'd come. If you'd only trusted
me a little more--No! It was all my fault. I acted like a crazy fool. I
didn't stop to reason about anything."

They sat in silence after these explanations. The sound of the snapping
wings of the grasshoppers came through the windows, and a locust high in
a poplar sent down his ringing whir.

"It can't be helped now, Will," Agnes said at last, her voice full of
the woman's resignation. "We've got to bear it."

Will straightened up. "Bear it?" He paused. "Yes, I s'pose so. If you
hadn't married Ed Kinney! Anybody but him. How did you do it?"

"Oh, I don't know," she answered, wearily brushing her hair back from
her eyes. "It seemed best when I did it--and it can't be helped now." 
There was infinite, dull despair and resignation in her voice.

Will went over to the window. He thought how bright and handsome Ed used
to be. "After all, it's no wonder you married him. Life pushes us into
such things." Suddenly he turned, something resolute and imperious in
his eyes and voice.

"It can be helped, Aggie," he said. "Now just listen to me. We've made
an awful mistake. We've lost seven years o' life, but that's no reason
why we should waste the rest of it. Now hold on; don't interrupt me
just yet. I come back thinking just as much of you as ever. I ain't
going to say a word more about Ed; let the past stay past. I'm going to
talk about the future."

She looked at him in a daze of wonder as he went on.

"Now I've got some money, I've got a third interest in a ranch, and I've
got a standing offer to go back on the Sante Fee road as conductor.
There is a team standing out there. I'd like to make another trip to
Cedarville--with you--"

"Oh, Will, don't!" she cried; "for pity's sake don't talk--"

"Wait!" he exclaimed, imperiously. "Now look at it. Here you are in
hell! Caged up with two old crows picking the life out of you. They'll
kill you--I can see it; you're being killed by inches. You can't go
anywhere, you can't have anything. Life is just torture for you--"

She gave a little moan of anguish and despair, and turned her face to
her chair-back. Her shoulders shook with weeping, but she listened. He
went to her and stood with his hand on the chair-back.

His voice trembled and broke. "There's just one way to get out of this,
Agnes. Come with me. He don't care for you; his whole idea of women is
that they are created for his pleasure and to keep house. Your whole
life is agony. Come! Don't cry. There's a chance for life yet."

She didn't speak, but her sobs were less violent; his voice growing
stronger reassured her.

"I'm going East, maybe to Europe; and the woman who goes with me will
have nothing to do but get strong and well again. I've made you suffer
so, I ought to spend the rest of my life making you happy. Come! My wife
will sit with me on the deck of the steamer and see the moon rise, and
walk with me by the sea, till she gets strong and happy again--till the
dimples get back into her cheeks. I never will rest till I see her eyes
laugh again."

She rose flushed, wide-eyed, breathing hard with the emotion his vibrant
voice called up, but she could not speak. He put his hand gently upon
her shoulder, and she sank down again. And he went on with his appeal.
There was something hypnotic, dominating, in his voice and eyes.

On his part there was no passion of an ignoble sort, only a passion of
pity and remorse, and a sweet, tender, reminiscent love. He did not love
the woman before him so much as the girl whose ghost she was--the woman
whose promise she was. He held himself responsible for it all, and he
throbbed with desire to repair the ravage he had indirectly caused.
There was nothing equivocal in his position--nothing to disown. How
others might look at it, he did not consider, and did not care. His
impetuous soul was carried to a point where nothing came in to mar or
divert.

"And then after you're well, after our trip, we'll come back--to
Houston, or somewhere in Texas, and I'll build my wife a house that will
make her eyes shine. My cattle will give us a good living, and she can
have a piano and books, and go to the theatre and concerts. Come, what
do you think of that?"

Then she heard his words beneath his voice somehow, and they produced
pictures that dazzled her. Luminous shadows moved before her eyes,
drifting across the gray background of her poor, starved, work-weary
life.

As his voice ceased the rosy clouds faded, and she realized again the
faded, musty little room, the calico-covered furniture, and looking down
at her own cheap and ill-fitting dress, she saw her ugly hands lying
there. Then she cried out with a gush of tears:

"Oh, Will, I'm so old and homely now, I ain't fit to go with you now!
Oh, why couldn't we have married then?"

She was seeing herself as she was then, and so was he; but it deepened
his resolution. How beautiful she used to be! He seemed to see her there
as if she stood in perpetual sunlight, with a warm sheen in her hair and
dimples in her cheeks.

She saw her thin red wrists, her gaunt and knotted hands. There was a
pitiful droop in the thin, pale lips, and the tears fell slowly from her
drooping lashes. He went on:

"Well, it's no use to cry over what was. We must think of what we're
going to do. Don't worry about your looks; you'll be the prettiest
woman in the country when we get back. Don't wait, Aggie; make up your
mind."

She hesitated, and was lost.

"What will people say?"

"I don't care what they say," he flamed out. "They'd say, stay here and
be killed by inches. I say you've had your share of suffering. They'd
say--the liberal ones--stay and get a divorce; but how do you know we
can get one after you've been dragged through the mud of a trial? We can
get one as well in some other state. Why should you be worn out at
thirty? What right or justice is there in making you bear all your life
the consequences of our--my schoolboy folly?"

As he went on his argument rose to the level of Browning's philosophy.

"We can make this experience count for us yet. But we mustn't let a
mistake ruin us--it should teach us. What right has any one to keep you
in a hole? God don't expect a toad to stay in a stump and starve if it
can get out. He don't ask the snakes to suffer as you do."

She had lost the threads of right and wrong out of her hands. She was
lost in a maze, but she was not moved by passion. Flesh had ceased to
stir her; but there was vast power in the new and thrilling words her
deliverer spoke. He seemed to open a door for her, and through it
turrets shone and great ships crossed on dim blue seas.

"You can't live here, Aggie. You'll die in less than five years. It
would kill me to see you die here. Come! It's suicide."

She did not move, save the convulsive motion of her breath and the
nervous action of her fingers. She stared down at a spot in the carpet.
She could not face him.

He grew insistent, a sterner note creeping into his voice.

"If I leave this time of course you know I'll never come back."

Her hoarse breathing, growing quicker each moment, was her only reply.

"I'm done," he said with a note of angry disappointment. He did not give
her up, however. "I've told you what I'd do for you. Now if you think--"

"Oh, give me time to think, Will!" she cried out, lifting her face.

He shook his head. "No. You might as well decide now. It won't be any
easier to-morrow. Come, one minute more and I go out o' that
door--unless--" He crossed the room slowly, doubtful himself of his
desperate last measure. "My hand is on the knob. Shall I open it?"

She stopped breathing; her fingers closed convulsively on the chair. As
he opened the door she sprang up.

"Don't go, Will! Don't go, please don't! I need you here--I--"

"That ain't the question. Are you going with me, Agnes?"

"Yes, yes! I tried to speak before. I trust you, Will; you're--"

He flung the door open wide. "See the sunlight out there shining on that
field o' wheat? That's where I'll take you--out into the sunshine. You
shall see it shining on the Bay of Naples. Come, get on your hat; don't
take anything more'n you actually need. Leave the past behind you--"

The woman turned wildly and darted into the little bedroom. The man
listened. He whistled in surprise almost comical. He had forgotten the
baby. He could hear the mother talking, cooing.

"Mommie's 'ittle pet! She wasn't goin' to leave her 'ittle man--no, she
wasn't! There, there, don't 'e cry. Mommie ain't goin' away and leave
him--wicked mommie ain't--'ittle treasure!"

She was confused again; and when she reappeared at the door, with the
child in her arms, there was a wandering look on her face pitiful to
see. She tried to speak, tried to say, "Please go, Will."

He designedly failed to understand her whisper. He stepped forward. "The
baby! Sure enough. Why, certainly! to the mother belongs the child. Blue
eyes, thank heaven!"

He put his arm about them both. She obeyed silently. There was something
irresistible in his frank, clear eyes, his sunny smile, his strong
brown hand. He slammed the door behind them.

"That closes the door on your sufferings," he said, smiling down at her.
"Good-by to it all."

The baby laughed and stretched out its hands toward the light.

"Boo, boo!" he cried.

"What's he talking about?"

She smiled in perfect trust and fearlessness, seeing her child's face
beside his own. "He says it's beautiful."

"Oh, he does? I can't follow his French accent."

She smiled again, in spite of herself. Will shuddered with a thrill of
fear, she was so weak and worn. But the sun shone on the dazzling,
rustling wheat, the fathomless sky, blue as a sea, bent above them--and
the world lay before them.



Up the Coolly

"Keep the main-travelled road up the Coolly--it's the second house after
crossin' the crick."

I

The ride from Milwaukee to the Mississippi is a fine ride at any time,
superb in summer. To lean back in a reclining-chair and whirl away in a
breezy July day, past lakes, groves of oak, past fields of barley being
reaped, past hay-fields, where the heavy grass is toppling before the
swift sickle, is a panorama of delight, a road full of delicious
surprises, where down a sudden vista lakes open, or a distant wooded
hill looms darkly blue, or swift streams, foaming deep down the solid
rock, send whiffs of cool breezes in at the window.

It has majesty, breadth. The farming has nothing apparently petty about
it. All seems vigorous, youthful, and prosperous. Mr. Howard McLane in
his chair let his newspaper fall on his lap, and gazed out upon it with
dreaming eyes. It had a certain mysterious glamour to him; the lakes
were cooler and brighter to his eye, the greens fresher, and the grain
more golden than to any one else, for he was coming back to it all after
an absence of ten years. It was, besides, his West. He still took pride
in being a Western man.

His mind all day flew ahead of the train to the little town, far on
toward the Mississippi, where he had spent his boyhood and youth. As the
train passed the Wisconsin River, with its curiously carved cliffs, its
cold, dark, swift-swirling water eating slowly under cedar-clothed
banks, Howard began to feel curious little movements of the heart, like
those of a lover nearing his sweetheart.

The hills changed in character, growing more intimately recognizable.
They rose higher as the train left the ridge and passed down into the
Black River valley, and specifically into the La Crosse valley. They
ceased to have any hint of upheavals of rock, and became simply parts of
the ancient level left standing after the water had practically given up
its post-glacial scooping action.

It was about six o'clock as he caught sight of the splendid broken line
of hills on which his baby eyes had looked thirty-five years ago. A few
minutes later, and the train drew up at the grimy little station set
into the hillside, and, giving him just time to leap off, plunged on
again toward the West. Howard felt a ridiculous weakness in his legs as
he stepped out upon the broiling-hot, splintery planks of the station
and faced the few idlers lounging about. He simply stood and gazed with
the same intensity and absorption one of the idlers might show standing
before the Brooklyn Bridge.

The town caught and held his eyes first. How poor and dull and sleepy
and squalid it seemed! The one main street ended at the hillside at his
left, and stretched away to the north, between two rows of the usual
village stores, unrelieved by a tree or a touch of beauty. An unpaved
street, with walled, drab-colored, miserable, rotting wooden buildings,
with the inevitable battlements; the same--only worse and more
squalid--was the town.

The same, only more beautiful still, was the majestic amphitheatre of
green wooded hills that circled the horizon, and toward which he lifted
his eyes. He thrilled at the sight.

"Glorious!" he cried involuntarily.

Accustomed to the White Mountains, to the Alleghanies, he had wondered
if these hills would retain their old-time charm. They did. He took off
his hat to them as he stood there. Richly wooded, with gently sloping
green sides, rising to massive square or rounded tops with dim vistas,
they glowed down upon the squat little town, gracious, lofty in their
greeting, immortal in their vivid and delicate beauty.

He was a goodly figure of a man as he stood there beside his valise.
Portly, erect, handsomely dressed, and with something unusually winning
in his brown mustache and blue eyes, something scholarly suggested by
the pinch-nose glasses, something strong in the repose of the head. He
smiled as he saw how unchanged was the grouping of the old loafers on
the salt-barrels and nail-kegs. He recognized most of them--a little
dirtier, a little more bent, and a little grayer.

They sat in the same attitudes, spat tobacco with the same calm delight,
and joked each other, breaking into short and sudden fits of laughter,
and pounded each other on the back, just as when he was a student at the
La Crosse Seminary and going to and fro daily on the train.

They ruminated on him as he passed, speculating in a perfectly audible
way upon his business.

"Looks like a drummer."

"No, he ain't no drummer. See them Boston glasses?"

"That's so. Guess he's a teacher."

"Looks like a moneyed cuss."

"Bos'n, I guess."

He knew the one who spoke last--Freeme Cole, a man who was the fighting
wonder of Howard's boyhood, now degenerated into a stoop-shouldered,
faded, garrulous, and quarrelsome old man. Yet there was something epic
in the old man's stories, something enthralling in the dramatic power 
of recital.

Over by the blacksmith shop the usual game of "quaits" was in progress,
and the drug-clerk on the corner was chasing a crony with the
squirt-pump with which he was about to wash the windows. A few teams
stood ankle-deep in the mud, tied to the fantastically gnawed pine
pillars of the wooden awnings. A man on a load of hay was "jawing" with
the attendant of the platform scales, who stood below, pad and pencil in
hand.

"Hit 'im! hit 'im! Jump off and knock 'im!" suggested a bystander,
jovially.

Howard knew the voice.

"Talk's cheap. Takes money to buy whiskey," he said, when the man on the
load repeated his threat of getting off and whipping the scales-man.

"You're William McTurg," Howard said, coming up to him.

"I am, sir," replied the soft-voiced giant, turning and looking down on
the stranger, with an amused twinkle in his deep brown eyes. He stood as
erect as an Indian, though his hair and beard were white.

"I'm Howard McLane."

"Ye begin t' look it," said McTurg, removing his right hand from his
pocket. "How are yeh?"

"I'm first-rate. How's mother and Grant?"

"Saw 'm ploughing corn as I came down. Guess he's all right. Want a
boost?"

"Well, yes. Are you down with a team?"

"Yep. 'Bout goin' home. Climb right in. That's my rig, right there,"
nodding at a sleek bay colt hitched in a covered buggy. "Heave y'r grip
under the seat."

They climbed into the seat after William had lowered the buggy-top and
unhitched the horse from the post. The loafers were mildly curious.
Guessed Bill had got hooked onto by a lightnin'-rod peddler, or
somethin' o' that kind.

"Want to go by river, or 'round by the hills?"

"Hills, I guess."

The whole matter began to seem trivial, as if he had been away only for
a month or two.

William McTurg was a man little given to talk. Even the coming back of a
nephew did not cause any flow of questions or reminiscences. They rode
in silence. He sat a little bent forward, the lines held carelessly in
his hands, his great lion-like head swaying to and fro with the movement
of the buggy.

As they passed familiar spots, the younger man broke the silence with a
question.

"That's old man McElvaine's place, ain't it?"

"Yep."

"Old man living?"

"I guess he is. Husk more corn'n any man he c'n hire."

In the edge of the village they passed an open lot on the left, marked
with circus-rings of different eras.

"There's the old ball-ground. Do they have circuses on it just the same
as ever?"

"Just the same."

"What fun that field calls up! The games of ball we used to have! Do you
play yet?"

"Sometimes. Can't stoop as well as I used to." He smiled a little. "Too
much fat."

It all swept back upon Howard in a flood of names and faces and sights
and sounds; something sweet and stirring somehow, though it had little
of æsthetic charms at the time. They were passing along lanes now,
between superb fields of corn, wherein ploughmen were at work. Kingbirds
flew from post to post ahead of them; the insects called from the grass.
The valley slowly outspread below them. The workmen in the fields were
"turning out" for the night. They all had a word of chaff with McTurg.

Over the western wall of the circling amphitheatre the sun was setting.
A few scattering clouds were drifting on the west wind, their shadows
sliding down the green and purpled slopes. The dazzling sunlight flamed
along the luscious velvety grass, and shot amid the rounded, distant
purple peaks, and streamed in bars of gold and crimson across the blue
mist of the narrower upper Coollies.

The heart of the young man swelled with pleasure almost like pain, and
the eyes of the silent older man took on a far-off, dreaming look, as he
gazed at the scene which had repeated itself a thousand times in his
life, but of whose beauty he never spoke.

Far down to the left was the break in the wall through which the river
ran on its way to join the Mississippi. They climbed slowly among the
hills, and the valley they had left grew still more beautiful as the
squalor of the little town was hid by the dusk of distance. Both men
were silent for a long time. Howard knew the peculiarities of his
companion too well to make any remarks or ask any questions, and besides
it was a genuine pleasure to ride with one who understood that silence
was the only speech amid such splendors.

Once they passed a little brook singing in a mournfully sweet way its
eternal song over its pebbles. It called back to Howard the days when he
and Grant, his younger brother, had fished in this little brook for
trout, with trousers rolled above the knee and wrecks of hats upon their
heads.

"Any trout left?" he asked.

"Not many. Little fellers." Finding the silence broken, William asked
the first question since he met Howard. "Le' 's see: you're a show
feller now? B'long to a troupe?"

"Yes, yes; I'm an actor."

"Pay much?"

"Pretty well."

That seemed to end William's curiosity about the matter.

"Ah, there's our old house, ain't it?" Howard broke out, pointing to one
of the houses farther up the Coolly. "It'll be a surprise to them, won't
it?"

"Yep; only they don't live there."

"What! They don't!"

"Who does?"

"Dutchman."

Howard was silent for some moments. "Who lives on the Dunlap place?"

"'Nother Dutchman."

"Where's Grant living, anyhow?"

"Farther up the Coolly."

"Well, then, I'd better get out here, hadn't I?"

"Oh, I'll drive ye up."

"No, I'd rather walk."

The sun had set, and the Coolly was getting dusk when Howard got out of
McTurg's carriage and set off up the winding lane toward his brother's
house. He walked slowly to absorb the coolness and fragrance and color
of the hour. The katydids sang a rhythmic song of welcome to him.
Fireflies were in the grass. A whippoorwill in the deep of the wood was
calling weirdly, and an occasional night-hawk, flying high, gave his
grating shriek, or hollow boom, suggestive and resounding.

He had been wonderfully successful, and yet had carried into his success
as a dramatic author as well as actor a certain puritanism that made him
a paradox to his fellows. He was one of those actors who are always in
luck, and the best of it was he kept and made use of his luck. Jovial as
he appeared, he was inflexible as granite against drink and tobacco. He
retained through it all a certain freshness of enjoyment that made him
one of the best companions in the profession; and now, as he walked on,
the hour and the place appealed to him with great power. It seemed to
sweep away the life that came between.

How close it all was to him, after all! In his restless life, surrounded
by the glare of electric lights, painted canvas, hot colors, creak of
machinery, mock trees, stones, and brooks, he had not lost, but gained,
appreciation for the coolness, quiet, and low tones, the shyness of the
wood and field.

In the farmhouse ahead of him a light was shining as he peered ahead,
and his heart gave another painful movement. His brother was awaiting
him there, and his mother, whom he had not seen for ten years and who
had lost the power to write. And when Grant wrote, which had been more
and more seldom of late, his letters had been cold and curt.

He began to feel that in the pleasure and excitement of his life he had
grown away from his mother and brother. Each summer he had said, "Well,
now, I'll go home this year, sure." But a new play to be produced, or a
new yachting trip, or a tour of Europe, had put the home-coming off; and
now it was with a distinct consciousness of neglect of duty that he
walked up to the fence and looked into the yard, where William had told
him his brother lived.

It was humble enough--a small white story-and-a-half structure, with a
wing set in the midst of a few locust-trees; a small drab-colored barn
with a sagging ridge-pole; a barnyard full of mud, in which a few cows
were standing, fighting the flies and waiting to be milked. An old man
was pumping water at the well; the pigs were squealing from a pen near
by; a child was crying.

Instantly the beautiful, peaceful valley was forgotten. A sickening
chill struck into Howard's soul as he looked at it all. In the dim light
he could see a figure milking a cow. Leaving his valise at the gate, he
entered and walked up to the old man, who had finished pumping and was
about to go to feed the hogs.

"Good-evening," Howard began. "Does Mr. Grant McLane live here?"

"Yes, sir, he does. He's right over there milkin'."

"I'll go over there an--"

"Don't b'lieve I would. It's darn muddy over there. It's been turrible
rainy. He'll be done in a minute, anyway."

"Very well; I'll wait."

As he waited, he could hear a woman's fretful voice and the impatient
jerk and jar of kitchen things, indicative of ill-temper or worry. The
longer he stood absorbing this farm-scene, with all its sordidness,
dullness, triviality, and its endless drudgeries, the lower his heart
sank. All the joy of the home-coming was gone, when the figure arose
from the cow and approached the gate, and put the pail of milk down on
the platform by the pump.

"Good-evening," said Howard, out of the dusk.

Grant stared a moment. "Good-evening."

Howard knew the voice, though it was older and deeper and more sullen.
"Don't you know me, Grant? I am Howard."

The man approached him, gazing intently at his face. "You are?" after a
pause. "Well, I'm glad to see you, but I can't shake hands. That damned
cow had laid down in the mud."

They stood and looked at each other. Howard's cuffs, collar, and shirt,
alien in their elegance, showed through the dusk, and a glint of light
shot out from the jewel of his necktie, as the light from the house
caught it at the right angle. As they gazed in silence at each other,
Howard divined something of the hard, bitter feeling that came into
Grant's heart, as he stood there, ragged, ankle-deep in muck, his
sleeves rolled up, a shapeless old straw hat on his head.

The gleam of Howard's white hands angered him. When he spoke, it was in
a hard, gruff tone, full of rebellion.

"Well, go in the house and set down. I'll be in soon's I strain the milk
and wash the dirt off my hands."

"But mother--"

"She's 'round somewhere. Just knock on the door under the porch round
there."

Howard went slowly around the corner of the house, past a vilely
smelling rain-barrel, toward the west. A gray-haired woman was sitting
in a rocking-chair on the porch, her hands in her lap, her eyes fixed on
the faintly yellow sky, against which the hills stood, dim purple
silhouettes, and on which the locust trees were etched as fine as lace.
There was sorrow, resignation, and a sort of dumb despair in her
attitude.

Howard stood, his throat swelling till it seemed as if he would
suffocate. This was his mother--the woman who bore him, the being who
had taken her life in her hand for him; and he, in his excited and
pleasurable life, had neglected her!

He stepped into the faint light before her. She turned and looked at him
without fear. "Mother!" he said. She uttered one little, breathing,
gasping cry, called his name, rose, and stood still. He bounded up the
steps, and took her in his arms.

"Mother! Dear old mother!"

In the silence, almost painful, which followed, an angry woman's voice
could be heard inside: "I don't care! I ain't goin' to wear myself out
fer him. He c'n eat out here with us, or else--"

Mrs. McLane began speaking. "Oh, I've longed to see yeh, Howard. I was
afraid you wouldn't come till--too late."

"What do you mean, mother? Ain't you well?"

"I don't seem to be able to do much now 'cept sit around and knit a
little. I tried to pick some berries the other day, and I got so dizzy I
had to give it up."

"You mustn't work. You needn't work. Why didn't you write to me how you
were?" Howard asked, in an agony of remorse.

"Well, we felt as if you probably had all you could do to take care of
yourself. Are you married, Howard?" she broke off to ask.

"No, mother; and there ain't any excuse for me--not a bit," he said,
dropping back into her colloquialisms. "I'm ashamed when I think of how
long it's been since I saw you. I could have come."

"It don't matter now," she interrupted gently. "It's the way things go.
Our boys grow up and leave us."

"Well, come in to supper," said Grant's ungracious voice from the
doorway. "Come, mother."

Mrs. McLane moved with difficulty. Howard sprang to her aid, and,
leaning on his arm, she went through the little sitting room, which was
unlighted, out into the kitchen, where the supper table stood near the
cook-stove.

"How.--this is my wife," said Grant, in a cold, peculiar tone.

Howard bowed toward a remarkably handsome young woman, on whose forehead
was a scowl, which did not change as she looked at him and the old lady.

"Set down anywhere," was the young woman's cordial invitation.

Howard sat down next his mother, and facing the wife, who had a small,
fretful child in her arms. At Howard's left was the old man, Lewis. The
supper was spread upon a gay-colored oil-cloth, and consisted of a pan
of milk, set in the midst, with bowls at each plate. Beside the pan was
a dipper and a large plate of bread, and at one end of the table was a
dish of fine honey.

A boy of about fourteen leaned upon the table, his bent shoulders making
him look like an old man. His hickory shirt, like Grant's, was still wet
with sweat, and discolored here and there with grease, or green from
grass. His hair, freshly wet and combed, was smoothed away from his
face, and shone in the light of the kerosene lamp. As he ate, he stared
at Howard, as though he would make an inventory of each thread of the
visitor's clothing.

"Did I look like that at his age?" thought Howard.

"You see we live just about the same as ever," said Grant, as they began
eating, speaking with a grim, almost challenging, inflection.

The two brothers studied each other curiously, as they talked of
neighborhood scenes. Howard seemed incredibly elegant and handsome to
them all, with his rich, soft clothing, his spotless linen, and his
exquisite enunciation and ease of speech. He had always been
"smooth-spoken," and he had become "elegantly persuasive," as his
friends said of him, and it was a large factor in his success.

Every detail of the kitchen, the heat, the flies buzzing aloft, the poor
furniture, the dress of the people--all smote him like the lash of a
wire whip. His brother was a man of great character. He could see that
now. His deep-set, gray eyes and rugged face showed at thirty a man of
great natural ability. He had more of the Scotch in his face than
Howard, and he looked much older.

He was dressed, like the old man and the boy, in a checked shirt,
without vest. His suspenders, once gay-colored, had given most of their
color to his shirt, and had marked irregular broad bands of pink and
brown and green over his shoulders. His hair was uncombed, merely pushed
away from his face. He wore a mustache only, though his face was covered
with a week's growth of beard. His face was rather gaunt, and was brown
as leather.

Howard could not eat much. He was disturbed by his mother's strange
silence and oppression, and sickened by the long-drawn gasps with which
the old man ate his bread and milk, and by the way the boy ate. He had
his knife gripped tightly in his fist, knuckles up, and was scooping
honey upon his bread.

The baby, having ceased to be afraid, was curious, gazing silently at
the stranger.

"Hello, little one! Come and see your uncle. Eh? Course 'e will," cooed
Howard, in the attempt to escape the depressing atmosphere. The little
one listened to his inflections as a kitten does, and at last lifted its
arms in sign of surrender.

The mother's face cleared up a little. "I declare, she wants to go to
you."

"Course she does. Dogs and kittens always come to me when I call 'em.
Why shouldn't my own niece come?"

He took the little one and began walking up and down the kitchen with
her, while she pulled at his beard and nose. "I ought to have you, my
lady, in my new comedy. You'd bring down the house."

"You don't mean to say you put babies on the stage, Howard," said his
mother in surprise.

"Oh, yes. Domestic comedy must have a baby these days."

"Well, that's another way of makin' a livin', sure," said Grant. The
baby had cleared the atmosphere a little. "I s'pose you fellers make a
pile of money."

"Sometimes we make a thousand a week; oftener we don't."

"A thousand dollars!" They all stared.

"A thousand dollars sometimes, and then lose it all the next week in
another town. The dramatic business is a good deal like gambling--you
take your chances."

"I wish you weren't in it, Howard. I don't like to have my son--"

"I wish I was in somethin' that paid better than farmin'. Anything under
God's heavens is better 'n farmin'," said Grant.

"No, I ain't laid up much," Howard went on, as if explaining why he
hadn't helped them. "Costs me a good deal to live, and I need about ten
thousand dollars leeway to work on. I've made a good living, but I--I
ain't made any money."

Grant looked at him, darkly meditative.

Howard went on: "How'd ye come to sell the old farm? I was in hopes--"

"How'd we come to sell it?" said Grant with terrible bitterness. "We had
something on it that didn't leave anything to sell. You probably don't
remember anything about it, but there was a mortgage on it that eat us
up in just four years by the almanac. 'Most killed mother to leave it.
We wrote to you for money, but I don't suppose you remember that."

"No, you didn't."

"Yes, I did."

"When was it? I don't--why, it's--I never received it. It must have been
that summer I went with Bob Manning to Europe." Howard put the baby down
and faced his brother. "Why, Grant, you didn't think I refused to help?"

"Well, it looked that way. We never heard a word from yeh, all summer,
and when y' did write, it was all about yerself 'n plays 'n things we
didn't know anything about. I swore to God I'd never write to you again,
and I won't."

"But, good heavens! I never got it."

"Suppose you didn't. You might have known we were poor as Job's off-ox.
Everybody is that earns a living. We fellers on the farm have to earn a
livin' for ourselves and you fellers that don't work. I don't blame you.
I'd do it if I could."

"Grant, don't talk so! Howard didn't realize--"

"I tell yeh I don't blame him! Only I don't want him to come the
brotherly business over me, after livin' as he has--that's all." There
was a bitter accusation in the man's voice.

Howard leaped to his feet, his face twitching.

"By God, I'll go back to-morrow morning!" he threatened.

"Go, an' be damned! I don't care what yeh do," Grant growled, rising and
going out.

"Boys," called the mother, piteously, "it's terrible to see you
quarrel."

"But I'm not to blame, mother," cried Howard, in a sickness that made
him white as chalk. "The man is a savage. I came home to help you all,
not to quarrel."

"Grant's got one o' his fits on," said the young wife, speaking for the
first time. "Don't pay any attention to him. He'll be all right in the
morning."

"If it wasn't for you, mother, I'd leave now, and never see that savage
again."

He lashed himself up and down in the room, in horrible disgust and hate
of his brother and of this home in his heart. He remembered his tender
anticipations of the home-coming with a kind of self-pity and disgust.
This was his greeting!

He went to bed, to toss about on the hard, straw-filled mattress in the
stuffy little best room. Tossing, writhing under the bludgeoning of his
brother's accusing inflections, a dozen times he said, with a
half-articulate snarl:

"He can go to hell! I'll not try to do anything more for him. I don't
care if he is my brother; he has no right to jump on me like that. On
the night of my return, too. My God! he is a brute, a fool!"

He thought of the presents in his trunk and valise, which he couldn't
show to him that night after what had been said. He had intended to have
such a happy evening of it, such a tender reunion! It was to be so
bright and cheery!

In the midst of his cursings--his hot indignation--would come visions of
himself in his own modest rooms. He seemed to be yawning and stretching
in his beautiful bed, the sun shining in, his books, foils, pictures,
around him to say good-morning and tempt him to rise, while the squat
little clock on the mantel struck eleven warningly.

He could see the olive walls, the unique copper-and-crimson arabesque
frieze (his own selection), and the delicate draperies; an open grate
full of glowing coals, to temper the sea-winds; and in the midst of it,
between a landscape by Enneking and an Indian in a canoe in a cañon, by
Brush, he saw a sombre landscape by a master greater than Millet, a
melancholy subject, treated with pitiless fidelity.

A farm in the valley! Over the mountains swept jagged, gray, angry,
sprawling clouds, sending a freezing, thin drizzle of rain, as they
passed, upon a man following a plough. The horses had a sullen and weary
look, and their manes and tails streamed sidewise in the blast. The
ploughman, clad in a ragged gray coat, with uncouth, muddy boots upon
his feet, walked with his head inclined toward the sleet, to shield his
face from the cold and sting of it. The soil rolled away black and
sticky and with a dull sheen upon it. Near by, a boy with tears on his
cheeks was watching cattle; a dog seated near, his back to the gale.

As he looked at this picture, his heart softened. He looked down at the
sleeve of his soft and fleecy nightshirt, at his white, rounded arm,
muscular, yet fine as a woman's, and when he looked for the picture it
was gone. Then came again the assertive odor of stagnant air, laden with
camphor; he felt the springless bed under him, and caught dimly a few
soap-advertising lithographs on the walls. He thought of his brother, in
his still more inhospitable bedroom, disturbed by the child, condemned
to rise at five o'clock and begin another day's pitiless labor. His
heart shrank and quivered, and the tears started to his eyes.

"I forgive him, poor fellow! He's not to blame."

II

He woke, however, with a dull, languid pulse, and an oppressive
melancholy on his heart. He looked around the little room, clean enough,
but oh, how poor! how barren! Cold plaster walls, a cheap wash-stand, a
wash-set of three pieces, with a blue band around each; the windows
rectangular, and fitted with fantastic green shades.

Outside he could hear the bees humming. Chickens were merrily moving
about. Cow-bells far up the road were sounding irregularly. A jay came
by and yelled an insolent reveille, and Howard sat up. He could hear
nothing in the house but the rattle of pans on the back side of the
kitchen. He looked at his watch, which indicated half-past seven. Grant
was already in the field, after milking, currying the horses, and eating
breakfast--had been at work two hours and a half.

He dressed himself hurriedly, in a negligé shirt, with a Windsor scarf,
light-colored, serviceable trousers with a belt, russet shoes, and a
tennis hat--a knockabout costume, he considered. His mother, good soul,
thought it a special suit put on for her benefit, and admired it through
her glasses.

He kissed her with a bright smile, nodded at Laura, the young wife, and
tossed the baby, all in a breath, and with the manner, as he himself
saw, of the returned captain in the war-dramas of the day.

"Been to breakfast?" He frowned reproachfully. "Why didn't you call me?
I wanted to get up, just as I used to, at sunrise."

"We thought you was tired, and so we didn't--"

"Tired! Just wait till you see me help Grant pitch hay or something.
Hasn't finished his haying yet, has he?"

"No, I guess not. He will to-day if it don't rain again."

"Well, breakfast is all ready--Howard," said Laura, hesitating a little
on his name.

"Good! I am ready for it. Bacon and eggs, as I'm a jay! Just what I was
wanting. I was saying to myself: 'Now if they'll only get bacon and eggs
and hot biscuits and honey--' Oh, say, mother, I heard the bees humming
this morning; same noise they used to make when I was a boy, exactly.
Must be the same bees,--Hey, you young rascal! come here and have some
breakfast with your uncle."

"I never saw her take to any one so quick," Laura said, emphasizing the
baby's sex. She had on a clean calico dress and a gingham apron, and she
looked strong and fresh and handsome. Her head was intellectual, her
eyes full of power. She seemed anxious to remove the impression of her
unpleasant looks and words the night before. Indeed, it would have been
hard to resist Howard's sunny good-nature.

The baby laughed and crowed. The old mother could not take her dim eyes
off the face of her son, but sat smiling at him as he ate and rattled
on. When he rose from the table at last, after eating heartily and
praising it all, he said, with a smile:

"Well, now I'll just telephone down to the express and have my trunk
brought up. I've got a few little things in there you'll enjoy seeing.
But this fellow," indicating the baby, "I didn't take him into account.
But never mind: Uncle How.'ll make that all right."

"You ain't going to lay it up agin Grant, be you, my son?" Mrs. McLane
faltered, as they went out into the best room.

"Of course not! He didn't mean it. Now, can't you send word down and
have my trunk brought up? Or shall I have to walk down?"

"I guess I'll see somebody goin' down," said Laura.

"All right. Now for the hay-field," he smiled, and went out into the
glorious morning.

The circling hills were the same, yet not the same as at night, a
cooler, tenderer, more subdued cloak of color lay upon them. Far down
the valley a cool, deep, impalpable, blue mist hung, beneath which one
divined the river ran, under its elms and basswoods and wild grapevines.
On the shaven slopes of the hill cattle and sheep were feeding, their
cries and bells coming to the ear with a sweet suggestiveness. There was
something immemorial in the sunny slopes dotted with red and brown and
gray cattle.

Walking toward the haymakers, Howard felt a twinge of pain and distrust. 
Would Grant ignore it all and smile--

He stopped short. He had not seen Grant smile in so long--he couldn't
quite see him smiling. He had been cold and bitter for years. When he
came up to them, Grant was pitching on; the old man was loading, and the
boy was raking after.

"Good-morning," Howard cried cheerily; the old man nodded, the boy
stared. Grant growled something, without looking up. These "finical"
things of saying good-morning and good-night are not much practised in
such homes as Grant McLane's.

"Need some help? I'm ready to take a hand. Got on my regimentals this
morning."

Grant looked at him a moment. "You look it."

Howard smiled. "Gimme a hold on that fork, and I'll show you. I'm not so
soft as I look, now you bet."

He laid hold upon the fork in Grant's hands, who released it sullenly
and stood back sneering. Howard struck the fork into the pile in the old
way, threw his left hand to the end of the polished handle, brought it
down into the hollow of his thigh, and laid out his strength till the
handle bent like a bow. "Oop she rises!" he called laughingly, as the
whole pile began slowly to rise, and finally rolled upon the high load.

"Oh, I ain't forgot how to do it," he laughed, as he looked around at
the boy, who was eyeing the tennis suit with a devouring gaze.

Grant was studying him, too, but not in admiration.

"I shouldn't say you had," said the old man, tugging at the forkful.

"Mighty funny to come out here and do a little of this. But if you had
to come here and do it all the while, you wouldn't look so white and
soft in the hands," Grant said, as they moved on to another pile. "Give
me that fork. You'll be spoiling your fine clothes."

"Oh, these don't matter. They're made for this kind of thing."

"Oh, are they? I guess I'll dress in that kind of a rig. What did that
shirt cost? I need one."

"Six dollars a pair; but then it's old."

"And them pants," he pursued; "they cost six dollars, too, didn't they?"

Howard's face darkened. He saw his brother's purpose. He resented it.
"They cost fifteen dollars, if you want to know, and the shoes cost
six-fifty. This ring on my cravat cost sixty dollars, and the suit I had
on last night cost eighty-five. My suits are made by Breckstein, on
Fifth Avenue, if you want to patronize him," he ended brutally, spurred
on by the sneer in his brother's eyes. "I'll introduce you."

"Good idea," said Grant, with a forced, mocking smile. "I need just such
a get-up for haying and corn-ploughing. Singular I never thought of it.
Now my pants cost eighty-five cents, s'spenders fifteen, hat twenty,
shoes one-fifty; stockin's I don't bother about."

He had his brother at a disadvantage, and he grew fluent and caustic as
he went on, almost changing places with Howard, who took the rake out of
the boy's hand, and followed, raking up the scatterings.

"Singular we fellers here are discontented and mulish, ain't it?
Singular we don't believe your letters when you write, sayin', 'I just
about make a live of it'? Singular we think the country's goin' to hell,
we fellers, in a two-dollar suit, wadin' around in the mud or sweatin'
around in the hay-field, while you fellers lay around New York and smoke
and wear good clothes and toady to millionaires?"

Howard threw down the rake and folded his arms. "My God! you're enough
to make a man forget the same mother bore us!"

"I guess it wouldn't take much to make you forget that. You ain't put
much thought on me nor her for ten years."

The old man cackled, the boy grinned, and Howard, sick and weak with
anger and sorrow, turned away and walked down toward the brook. He had
tried once more to get near his brother, and had failed. Oh, God! how
miserably, pitiably! The hot blood gushed all over him as he thought of
the shame and disgrace of it.

He, a man associating with poets, artists, sought after by brilliant
women, accustomed to deference even from such people, to be sneered at,
outfaced, shamed, shoved aside, by a man in a stained hickory shirt and
patched overalls, and that man his brother! He lay down on the bright
grass, with the sheep all around him, and writhed and groaned with the
agony and despair of it.

And worst of all, underneath it was a consciousness that Grant was right
in distrusting him. He had neglected him; he had said, "I guess they're
getting along all right." He had put them behind him when the invitation
to spend summer on the Mediterranean or in the Adirondacks, came.

"What can I do? What can I do?" he groaned.

The sheep nibbled the grass near him, the jays called pertly, "Shame,
shame," a quail piped somewhere on the hillside, and the brook sung a
soft, soothing melody that took away at last the sharp edge of his pain,
and he sat up and gazed down the valley, bright with the sun and
apparently filled with happy and prosperous people.

Suddenly a thought seized him. He stood up so suddenly that the sheep
fled in affright. He leaped the brook, crossed the flat, and began
searching in the bushes on the hillside. "Hurrah!" he said, with a
smile.

He had found an old road which he used to travel when a boy--a road that
skirted the edge of the valley, now grown up to brush, but still
passable for footmen. As he ran lightly along down the beautiful path,
under oaks and hickories, past masses of poison-ivy, under hanging
grapevines, through clumps of splendid hazel-nut bushes loaded with
great sticky, rough, green burs, his heart threw off part of its load.

How it all came back to him! How many days, when the autumn sun burned
the frost of the bushes, had he gathered hazel-nuts here with his boy
and girl friends--Hugh and Shelley McTurg, Rome Sawyer, Orrin McIlvaine,
and the rest! What had become of them all? How he had forgotten them!

This thought stopped him again, and he fell into a deep muse, leaning
against an oak tree, and gazing into the vast fleckless space above. The
thrilling, inscrutable mystery of life fell upon him like a blinding
light. Why was he living in the crush and thunder and mental unrest of a
great city, while his companions, seemingly his equals in powers, were
milking cows, making butter, and growing corn and wheat in the silence
and drear monotony of the farm?

His boyish sweethearts! their names came back to his ear now, with a
dull, sweet sound as of faint bells. He saw their faces, their pink
sunbonnets tipped back upon their necks, their brown ankles flying with
the swift action of the scurrying partridge. His eyes softened, he took
off his hat. The sound of the wind and the leaves moved him almost to
tears.

A woodpecker gave a shrill, high-keyed, sustained cry, "Ki, ki, ki!" and
he started from his revery, the dapples of the sun and shade falling
upon his lithe figure as he hurried on down the path.

He came at last to a field of corn that ran to the very wall of a large
weather-beaten house, the sight of which made his breathing quicker. It
was the place where he was born. The mystery of his life began there. In
the branches of those poplar and hickory trees he had swung and sung in
the rushing breeze, fearless as a squirrel. Here was the brook where,
like a larger kildee, he with Grant had waded after crawfish, or had
stolen upon some wary trout, rough-cut pole in hand.

Seeing someone in the garden, he went down along the corn-row through
the rustling ranks of green leaves. An old woman was picking berries, a
squat and shapeless figure.

"Good-morning," he called cheerily.

"Morgen," she said, looking up at him with a startled and very red face.
She was German in every line of her body.

"Ich bin Herr McLane," he said, after a pause.

"So?" she replied, with a questioning inflection.

"Yah; ich bin Herr Grant's Bruder."

"Ach, so!" she said, with a downward inflection. "Ich no spick Inglish.
No spick Inglis."

"Ich bin durstig," he said. Leaving her pans, she went with him to the
house, which was what he really wanted to see.

"Ich bin hier geboren."

"Ach, so!" She recognized the little bit of sentiment, and said some
sentences in German whose general meaning was sympathy. She took him to
the cool cellar where the spring had been trained to run into a tank
containing pans of cream and milk; she gave him a cool draught from a
large tin cup, and at his request went with him upstairs. The house was
the same, but somehow seemed cold and empty. It was clean and sweet, but
it showed so little evidence of being lived in. The old part, which was
built of logs, was used as best room, and modelled after the best rooms
of the neighboring "Yankee" homes, only it was emptier, without the
cabinet organ and the rag-carpet and the chromos.

The old fireplace was bricked up and plastered--the fireplace beside
which, in the far-off days, he had lain on winter nights, to hear his
uncles tell tales of hunting, or to hear them play the violin, great
dreaming giants that they were.

The old woman went out and left him sitting there, the centre of a swarm
of memories, coming and going like so many ghostly birds and
butterflies.

A curious heartache and listlessness, a nerveless mood came on him. What
was it worth, anyhow--success? Struggle, strife, trampling on some one
else. His play crowding out some other poor fellow's hope. The hawk eats
the partridge, the partridge eats the flies and bugs, the bugs eat each
other, and the hawk, when he in his turn is shot by man. So in the world
of business, the life of one man seemed to him to be drawn from the life
of another man, each success to spring from other failures.

He was like a man from whom all motives had been withdrawn. He was sick,
sick to the heart. Oh, to be a boy again! An ignorant baby, pleased with
a block and string, with no knowledge and no care of the great unknown!
To lay his head again on his mother's bosom and rest! To watch the
flames on the hearth!--

Why not? Was not that the very thing to do? To buy back the old farm?
It would cripple him a little for the next season, but he could do it.
Think of it! To see his mother back in the old home, with the fireplace
restored, the old furniture in the sitting room around her, and fine new
things in the parlor!

His spirits rose again. Grant couldn't stand out when he brought to
him a deed of the farm. Surely his debt would be cancelled when he had
seen them all back in the wide old kitchen. He began to plan and to
dream. He went to the windows, and looked out on the yard to see how
much it had changed.

He'd build a new barn and buy them a new carriage. His heart glowed
again, and his lips softened into their usual feminine grace--lips a
little full and falling easily into curves.

The old German woman came in at length, bringing some cakes and a bowl
of milk, smiling broadly and hospitably as she waddled forward.

"Ach! Goot!" he said, smacking his lips over the pleasant draught.

"Wo ist ihre goot mann?" he inquired, ready for business.

III

When Grant came in at noon Mrs. McLane met him at the door with a tender
smile on her face.

"Where's Howard, Grant?"

"I don't know," he replied, in a tone that implied "I don't care."

The dim eyes clouded with quick tears.

"Ain't you seen him?"

"Not since nine o'clock."

"Where do you think he is?"

"I tell yeh I don't know. He'll take care of himself; don't worry."

He flung off his hat and plunged into the wash-basin. His shirt was wet
with sweat and covered with dust of the hay and fragments of leaves. He
splashed his burning face with the water, paying no further attention to
his mother. She spoke again, very gently, in reproof:

"Grant, why do you stand out against Howard so?"

"I don't stand out against him," he replied harshly, pausing with the
towel in his hands. His eyes were hard and piercing. "But if he expects
me to gush over his coming back, he's fooled, that's all. He's left us
to paddle our own canoe all this while, and, so far as I'm concerned, he
can leave us alone hereafter. He looked out for his precious hide mighty
well, and now he comes back here to play big gun and pat us on the head.
I don't propose to let him come that over me."

Mrs. McLane knew too well the temper of her son to say any more, but she
inquired about Howard of the old hired man.

"He went off down the valley. He 'n' Grant had s'm words, and he pulled
out down toward the old farm. That's the last I see of 'im."

Laura took Howard's part at the table. "Pity you can't be decent," she
said, brutally direct as usual. "You treat Howard as if he was a--a--I
do' know what."

"Will you let me alone?"

"No, I won't. If you think I'm going to set by an' agree to your
bullyraggin' him, you're mistaken. It's a shame! You're mad 'cause he's
succeeded and you hain't. He ain't to blame for his brains. If you and
I'd had any, we'd 'a' succeeded too. It ain't our fault, and it ain't
his; so what's the use?"

A look came into Grant's face which the wife knew meant bitter and
terrible silence. He ate his dinner without another word.

It was beginning to cloud up. A thin, whitish, all-pervasive vapor which
meant rain was dimming the sky, and Grant forced his hands to their
utmost during the afternoon, in order to get most of the down hay in
before the rain came. He was pitching from the load into the barn when
Howard came by, just before one o'clock.

It was windless there. The sun fell through the white mist with
undiminished fury, and the fragrant hay sent up a breath that was hot as
an oven-draught. Grant was a powerful man, and there was something
majestic in his action as he rolled the huge flakes of hay through the
door. The sweat poured from his face like rain, and he was forced to
draw his drenched sleeve across his face to clear away the blinding
sweat that poured into his eyes.

Howard stood and looked at him in silence, remembering how often he had
worked there in that furnace-heat, his muscles quivering, cold chills
running over his flesh, red shadows dancing before his eyes.

His mother met him at the door, anxiously, but smiled as she saw his
pleasant face and cheerful eyes.

"You're a little late, m' son."

Howard spent most of the afternoon sitting with his mother on the
porch, or under the trees, lying sprawled out like a boy, resting at
times with sweet forgetfulness of the whole world, but feeling a dull
pain whenever he remembered the stern, silent man pitching hay in the
hot sun on the torrid side of the barn.

His mother did not say anything about the quarrel; she feared to
reopen it. She talked mainly of old times in a gentle monotone of
reminiscence, while he listened, looking up into her patient face.

The heat slowly lessened as the sun sank down toward the dun clouds
rising like a more distant and majestic line of mountains beyond the
western hills. The sound of cow-bells came irregularly to the ear, and
the voices and sounds of the haying-fields had a jocund, pleasant sound
to the ear of the city-dweller.

He was very tender. Everything conspired to make him simple, direct, and
honest.

"Mother, if you'll only forgive me for staying away so long, I'll surely
come to see you every summer."

She had nothing to forgive. She was so glad to have him there at her
feet--her great, handsome, successful boy! She could only love him and
enjoy him every moment of the precious days. If Grant would only
reconcile himself to Howard! That was the great thorn in her flesh.

Howard told her how he had succeeded.

"It was luck, mother. First I met Cook, and he introduced me to Jake
Saulsman of Chicago. Jake asked me to go to New York with him, and--I
don't know why--took a fancy to me some way. He introduced me to a lot
of the fellows in New York, and they all helped me along. I did nothing
to merit it. Everybody helps me. Anybody can succeed in that way."

The doting mother thought it not at all strange that they all helped
him.

At the supper table Grant was gloomily silent, ignoring Howard
completely. Mrs. McLane sat and grieved silently, not daring to say a
word in protest. Laura and the baby tried to amuse Howard, and under
cover of their talk the meal was eaten.

The boy fascinated Howard. He "sawed wood" with a rapidity and
uninterruptedness which gave alarm. He had the air of coaling up for a
long voyage.

"At that age," Howard thought, "I must have gripped my knife in my right
hand so, and poured my tea into my saucer so. I must have buttered and
bit into a huge slice of bread just so, and chewed at it with a smacking
sound in just that way. I must have gone to the length of scooping up
honey with my knife-blade."

The sky was magically beautiful over all this squalor and toil and
bitterness, from five till seven--a moving hour. Again the falling sun
streamed in broad banners across the valleys; again the blue mist lay
far down the Coolly over the river; the cattle called from the hills in
the moistening, sonorous air; the bells came in a pleasant tangle of
sound; the air pulsed with the deepening chorus of katydids and other
nocturnal singers.

Sweet and deep as the very springs of his life was all this to the soul
of the elder brother; but in the midst of it, the younger man, in
ill-smelling clothes and great boots that chafed his feet, went out to
milk the cows,--on whose legs the flies and mosquitoes swarmed, bloated
with blood,--to sit by the hot side of the cow and be lashed with her
tail as she tried frantically to keep the savage insects from eating her
raw.

"The poet who writes of milking the cows does it from the hammock,
looking on," Howard soliloquized, as he watched the old man Lewis racing
around the filthy yard after one of the young heifers that had kicked
over the pail in her agony with the flies, and was unwilling to stand
still and be eaten alive.

"So, so! you beast!" roared the old man, as he finally cornered the
shrinking, nearly frantic creature.

"Don't you want to look at the garden?" asked Mrs. McLane of Howard; and
they went out among the vegetables and berries.

The bees were coming home heavily laden and crawling slowly into the
hives. The level, red light streamed through the trees, blazed along the
grass, and lighted a few old-fashioned flowers into red and gold flame.
It was beautiful, and Howard looked at it through his half-shut eyes as
the painters do, and turned away with a sigh at the sound of blows where
the wet and grimy men were assailing the frantic cows.

"There's Wesley with your trunk," Mrs. McLane said, recalling him to
himself.

Wesley helped him carry the trunk in, and waved off thanks.

"Oh, that's all right," he said; and Howard knew the Western man too
well to press the matter of pay.

As he went in an hour later and stood by the trunk, the dull ache came
back into his heart. How he had failed! It seemed like a bitter mockery
now to show his gifts.

Grant had come in from his work, and with his feet released from his
chafing boots, in his wet shirt and milk-splashed overalls, sat at the
kitchen table reading a newspaper which he held close to a small
kerosene lamp. He paid no attention to any one. His attitude, curiously
like his father's, was perfectly definite to Howard. It meant that from
that time forward there were to be no words of any sort between them. It
meant that they were no longer brothers, not even acquaintances. "How
inexorable that face!" thought Howard.

He turned sick with disgust and despair, and would have closed his trunk
without showing any of the presents, only for the childish expectancy of
his mother and Laura.

"Here's something for you, mother," he said, assuming a cheerful voice,
as he took a fold of fine silk from the trunk and held it up. "All the
way from Paris." He laid it on his mother's lap and stooped and kissed
her, and then turned hastily away to hide the tears that came to his own
eyes as he saw her keen pleasure.

"And here's a parasol for Laura. I don't know how I came to have that in
here. And here's General Grant's autobiography for his namesake," he
said, with an effort at carelessness, and waited to hear Grant rise.

"Grant, won't you come in?" asked his mother, quiveringly.

Grant did not reply nor move. Laura took the handsome volumes out and
laid them beside him on the table. He simply pushed them to one side and
went on with his reading.

Again that horrible anger swept hot as flame over Howard. He could have
cursed him. His hands shook as he handed out other presents to his
mother and Laura and the baby. He tried to joke.

"I didn't know how old the baby was, so she'll have to grow to some of
these things."

But the pleasure was all gone for him and for the rest. His heart
swelled almost to a feeling of pain as he looked at his mother. There
she sat with the presents in her lap. The shining silk came too late for
her. It threw into appalling relief her age, her poverty, her work-weary
frame. "My God!" he almost cried aloud, "how little it would have taken
to lighten her life!"

Upon this moment, when it seemed as if he could endure no more, came the
smooth voice of William McTurg:

"Hello, folkses!"

"Hello, Uncle Bill! Come in."

"That's what we came for," laughed a woman's voice.

"Is that you, Rose?" asked Laura.

"It's me--Rose," replied the laughing girl, as she bounced into the room
and greeted everybody in a breathless sort of way.

"You don't mean little Rosy?"

"Big Rosy now," said William.

Howard looked at the handsome girl and smiled, saying in a nasal sort of
tone, "Wal, wal! Rosy, how you've growed since I saw yeh!"

"Oh, look at all this purple and fine linen! Am I left out?"

Rose was a large girl of twenty-five or thereabouts, and was called an
old maid. She radiated good-nature from every line of her buxom self.
Her black eyes were full of drollery, and she was on the best of terms
with Howard at once. She had been a teacher, but that did not prevent
her from assuming a homely directness of speech. Of course they talked
about old friends.

"Where's Rachel?" Howard inquired. Her smile faded away.

"Shellie married Orrin McIlvaine. They're 'way out in Dakota. Shellie's
havin' a hard row of stumps."

There was a little silence.

"And Tommy?"

"Gone West. Most all the boys have gone West. That's the reason there's
so many old maids."

"You don't mean to say--"

"I don't need to say--I'm an old maid. Lots of the girls are. It don't
pay to marry these days." "Are you married?"

"Not yet." His eyes lighted up again in a humorous way.

"Not yet! That's good! That's the way old maids all talk."

"You don't mean to tell me that no young fellow comes prowling around--"

"Oh, a young Dutchman or Norwegian once in a while. Nobody that counts.
Fact is, we're getting like Boston--four women to one man; and when you
consider that we're getting more particular each year, the outlook
is--well, it's dreadful!"

"It certainly is."

"Marriage is a failure these days for most of us. We can't live on a
farm, and can't get a living in the city, and there we are." She laid
her hand on his arm. "I declare, Howard, you're the same boy you used to
be. I ain't a bit afraid of you, for all your success."

"And you're the same girl? No, I can't say that. It seems to me you've
grown more than I have--I don't mean physically, I mean mentally," he
explained, as he saw her smile in the defensive way a fleshy girl has,
alert to ward off a joke.

They were in the midst of talk, Howard telling one of his funny stories,
when a wagon clattered up to the door, and merry voices called loudly:

"Whoa, there, Sampson!"

"Hullo, the house!"

Rose looked at her father with a smile in her black eyes exactly like
his. They went to the door.

"Hullo! What's wanted?"

"Grant McLane live here?"

"Yup. Right here."

A moment later there came a laughing, chattering squad of women to the
door. Mrs. McLane and Laura stared at each other in amazement. Grant
went outdoors.

Rose stood at the door as if she were hostess.

"Come in, Nettie. Glad to see yeh--glad to see yeh! Mrs. McIlvaine,
come right in! Take a seat. Make yerself to home, do! And Mrs. Peavey!
Wal, I never! This must be a surprise party. Well, I swan! How many more
o' ye air they?"

All was confusion, merriment, hand-shakings as Rose introduced them in
her roguish way.

"Folks, this is Mr. Howard McLane of New York. He's an actor, but it
hain't spoiled him a bit as I can see. How., this is Nettie
McIlvaine--Wilson that was."

Howard shook hands with Nettie, a tall, plain girl with prominent teeth.

"This is Ma McIlvaine."

"She looks just the same," said Howard, shaking her hand and feeling how
hard and work-worn it was.

And so amid bustle, chatter, and invitations "to lay off y'r things an'
stay awhile," the women got disposed about the room at last. Those that
had rocking-chairs rocked vigorously to and fro to hide their
embarrassment. They all talked in loud voices.

Howard felt nervous under this furtive scrutiny. He wished that his
clothes didn't look so confoundedly dressy. Why didn't he have sense
enough to go and buy a fifteen-dollar suit of diagonals for everyday
wear.

Rose was the life of the party. Her tongue rattled on in the most
delightful way.

"It's all Rose and Bill's doin's," Mrs. McIlvaine explained. "They told
us to come over and pick up anybody we see on the road. So we did."

Howard winced a little at her familiarity of tone. He couldn't help it
for the life of him.

"Well, I wanted to come to-night because I'm going away next week, and I
wanted to see how he'd act at a surprise-party again," Rose explained.

"Married, I s'pose," said Mrs. McIlvaine, abruptly.

"No, not yet."

"Good land! Why, y' mus' be thirty-five, How. Must 'a' dis'p'inted y'r
mam not to have a young 'un to call 'er granny."

The men came clumping in, talking about haying and horses. Some of the
older ones Howard knew and greeted, but the younger ones were mainly too
much changed. They were all very ill at ease. Some of them were in
compromise dress--something lying between working "rig" and Sunday
dress. Most of them had on clean shirts and paper collars, and wore
their Sunday coats (thick woollen garments) over rough trousers. Most of
them crossed their legs at once, and all of them sought the wall and
leaned back perilously upon the hind legs of their chairs, eyeing Howard
slowly.

For the first few minutes the presents were the subjects of
conversation. The women especially spent a good deal of talk upon them.

Howard found himself forced to taking the initiative, so he inquired
about the crops and about the farms.

"I see you don't plough the hills as we used to. And reap! What a job it
used to be. It makes the hills more beautiful to have them covered with
smooth grass and cattle."

There was only dead silence to this touching upon the idea of beauty.

"I s'pose it pays reasonably?"

"Not enough to kill," said one of the younger men. "You c'n see that by
the houses we live in--that is, most of us. A few that came in early
an' got land cheap, like McIlvaine, here--he got a lift that the rest of
us can't get."

"I'm a free-trader, myself," said one young fellow, blushing and looking
away as Howard turned and said cheerily:

"So'm I."

The rest semed to feel that this was a tabooed subject--a subject to be
talked out of doors, where a man could prance about and yell and do
justice to it.

Grant sat silently in the kitchen doorway, not saying a word, not
looking at his brother.

"Well, I don't never use hot vinegar for mine," Mrs. McIlvaine was heard
to say. "I jest use hot water, and I rinse 'em out good, and set 'em
bottom-side up in the sun. I do' know but what hot vinegar would be more
cleansin'."

Rose had the younger folks in a giggle with a droll telling of a joke on
herself.

"How d' y' stop 'em from laffin'?"

"I let 'em laugh. Oh, my school is a disgrace--so one director says. But
I like to see children laugh. It broadens their cheeks."

"Yes, that's all hand-work." Laura was showing the baby's Sunday
clothes.

"Goodness Peter! How do you find time to do so much?"

"I take time."

Howard, being the lion of the evening, tried his best to be agreeable.
He kept near his mother, because it afforded her so much pride and
satisfaction, and because he was obliged to keep away from Grant, who
had begun to talk to the men. Howard talked mainly about their affairs,
but still was forced more and more into talking of life in the city. As
he told of the theatre and the concerts, a sudden change fell upon them;
they grew sober, and he felt deep down in the hearts of these people a
melancholy which was expressed only illusively with little tones or
sighs. Their gayety was fitful.

They were hungry for the world, for life--these young people.
Discontented, and yet hardly daring to acknowledge it; indeed, few of
them could have made definite statement of their dissatisfaction. The
older people felt it less. They practically said, with a sigh of
pathetic resignation:

"Well, I don't expect ever to see these things now."

A casual observer would have said, "What a pleasant bucolic--this little
surprise-party of welcome!" But Howard, with his native ear and eye, had
no such pleasing illusion. He knew too well these suggestions of
despair and bitterness. He knew that, like the smile of the slave, this
cheerfulness was self-defence; deep down was another unsatisfied ego.

Seeing Grant talking with a group of men over by the kitchen door, he
crossed over slowly and stood listening. Wesley Cosgrove--a tall,
raw-boned young fellow with a grave, almost tragic face--was saying:

"Of course I ain't. Who is? A man that's satisfied to live as we do is a
fool."

"The worst of it is," said Grant, without seeing Howard, "a man can't
get out of it during his lifetime, and I don't know that he'll have any
chance in the next--the speculator 'll be there ahead of us."

The rest laughed, but Grant went on grimly:

"Ten years ago Wess, here, could have got land in Dakota pretty easy,
but now it's about all a feller's life's worth to try it. I tell you
things seem shuttin' down on us fellers."

"Plenty o' land to rent," suggested some one.

"Yes, in terms that skin a man alive. More than that, farmin' ain't so
free a life as it used to be. This cattle-raisin' and butter-makin'
makes a nigger of a man. Binds him right down to the grindstone and he
gets nothin' out of it--that's what rubs it in. He simply wallers around
in the manure for somebody else. I'd like to know what a man's life is
worth who lives as we do? How much higher is it than the lives the
niggers used to live?"

These brutally bald words made Howard thrill with emotion like the
reading of some great tragic poem. A silence fell on the group.

"That's the God's truth, Grant," said young Cosgrove, after a pause.

"A man like me is helpless," Grant was saying. "Just like a fly in a pan
of molasses. There's no escape for him. The more he tears around the
more liable he is to rip his legs off."

"What can he do?"

"Nothin'."

The men listened in silence.

"Oh, come, don't talk politics all night!" cried Rose, breaking in.
"Come, let's have a dance. Where's that fiddle?"

"Fiddle!" cried Howard, glad of a chance to laugh. "Well, now! Bring out
that fiddle. Is it William's?"

"Yes, pap's old fiddle."

"O Gosh! he don't want to hear me play," protested William. "He's heard
s' many fiddlers."

"Fiddlers! I've heard a thousand violinists, but not fiddlers. Come,
give us 'Honest John.'"

William took the fiddle in his work-calloused and crooked hands and
began tuning it. The group at the kitchen door turned to listen, their
faces lighting up a little. Rose tried to get a "set" on the floor.

"Oh, good land!" said some. "We're all tuckered out. What makes you so
anxious?"

"She wants a chance to dance with the New Yorker."

"That's it, exactly," Rose admitted.

"Wal, if you'd churned and mopped and cooked for hayin' hands as I have
to-day, you wouldn't be so full o' nonsense."

"Oh, bother! Life's short. Come quick, get Bettie out. Come, Wess, never
mind your hobby-horse."

By incredible exertion she got a set on the floor, and William got the
fiddle in tune. Howard looked across at Wesley, and thought the change
in him splendidly dramatic. His face had lighted with a timid,
deprecating, boyish smile. Rose could do anything with him.

William played some of the old tunes that had a thousand associated
memories in Howard's brain, memories of harvest-moons, of melon-feasts,
and of clear, cold winter nights. As he danced, his eyes filled with a
tender light. He came closer to them all than he had been able to do
before. Grant had gone out into the kitchen.

After two or three sets had been danced, the company took seats and
could not be stirred again. So Laura and Rose disappeared for a few
moments, and returning, served strawberries and cream, which Laura said
she "just happened to have in the house."

And then William played again. His fingers, now grown more supple,
brought out clearer, firmer tones. As he played, silence fell on these
people. The magic of music sobered every face; the women looked older
and more careworn, the men slouched sullenly in their chairs, or leaned
back against the wall.

It seemed to Howard as if the spirit of tragedy had entered this house.
Music had always been William's unconscious expression of his
unsatisfied desires. He was never melancholy except when he played. Then
his eyes grew sombre, his drooping face full of shadows.

He played on slowly, softly, wailing Scotch tunes and mournful Irish
love songs. He seemed to find in these melodies, and especially in a
wild, sweet, low-keyed negro song, some expression for his indefinable
inner melancholy.

He played on, forgetful of everybody, his long beard sweeping the
violin, his toil-worn hands marvellously obedient to his will.

At last he stopped, looked up with a faint, apologetic smile, and said
with a sigh:

"Well, folkses, time to go home."

The going was quiet. Not much laughing. Howard stood at the door and
said good-night to them all, his heart very tender.

"Come and see us," they said.

"I will," he replied cordially. "I'll try and get around to see
everybody, and talk over old times, before I go back."

After the wagons had driven out of the yard, Howard turned and put his
arm about his mother's neck.

"Tired?"

"A little."

"Well, now good night. I'm going for a little stroll."

His brain was too active to sleep. He kissed his mother good-night, and
went out into the road, his hat in his hand, the cool moist wind on his
hair.

It was very dark, the stars being partly hidden by a thin vapor. On each
side the hills rose, every line familiar as the face of an old friend. A
whippoorwill called occasionally from the hillside, and the spasmodic
jangle of a bell now and then told of some cow's battle with the
mosquitoes.

As he walked, he pondered upon the tragedy he had rediscovered in these
people's lives. Out here under the inexorable spaces of the sky, a deep
distaste of his own life took possession of him. He felt like giving it
all up. He thought of the infinite tragedy of these lives which the
world loves to call peaceful and pastoral. His mind went out in the aim
to help them. What could he do to make life better worth living? 
Nothing.

They must live and die practically as he saw them to-night.

And yet he knew this was a mood, and that in a few hours the love and
the habit of life would come back upon him and upon them; that he would
go back to the city in a few days; that these people would live on and
make the best of it.

"I'll make the best of it," he said at last, and his thought came back
to his mother and Grant.

IV

The next day was a rainy day; not a shower, but a steady rain--an
unusual thing in midsummer in the West. A cold, dismal day in the
fireless, colorless farmhouses. It came to Howard in that peculiar
reaction which surely comes during a visit of this character, when
thought is a weariness, when the visitor longs for his own familiar
walls and pictures and books, and longs to meet his friends, feeling at
the same time the tragedy of life which makes friends nearer and more
congenial than blood-relations.

Howard ate his breakfast alone, save Baby and Laura its mother going
about the room. Baby and mother alike insisted on feeding him to death.
Already dyspeptic pangs were setting in.

"Now ain't there something more I can--"

"Good heavens! No!" he cried in dismay. "I'm likely to die of dyspepsia
now. This honey and milk, and these delicious hot biscuits--"

"I'm afraid it ain't much like the breakfasts you have in the city."

"Well, no, it ain't," he confessed. "But this is the kind a man needs
when he lives in the open air."

She sat down opposite him, with her elbows on the table, her chin in her
palm, her eyes full of shadows.

"I'd like to go to a city once. I never saw a town bigger'n La Crosse.
I've never seen a play, but I've read of 'em in the magazines. It must
be wonderful; they say they have wharves and real ships coming up to the
wharf, and people getting off and on. How do they do it?"

"Oh, that's too long a story to tell. It's a lot of machinery and paint
and canvas. If I told you how it was done, you wouldn't enjoy it so well
when you come on and see it."

"Do you ever expect to see me in New York?"

"Why, yes. Why not? I expect Grant to come on and bring you all some
day, especially Tonikins here. Tonikins, you hear, sir? I expect you to
come on you' forf birfday, sure." He tried thus to stop the woman's
gloomy confidence.

"I hate farm-life," she went on with a bitter inflection. "It's nothing
but fret, fret, and work the whole time, never going any place, never
seeing anybody but a lot of neighbors just as big fools as you are. I
spend my time fighting flies and washing dishes and churning. I'm sick
of it all."

Howard was silent. What could he say to such an indictment? The ceiling
swarmed with flies which the cold rain had driven to seek the warmth of
the kitchen. The gray rain was falling with a dreary sound outside, and
down the kitchen stove-pipe an occasional drop fell on the stove with a
hissing, angry sound.

The young wife went on with a deeper note:

"I lived in La Crosse two years, going to school, and I know a little
something of what city life is. If I was a man, I bet I wouldn't wear my
life out on a farm, as Grant does. I'd get away and I'd do something. I
wouldn't care what, but I'd get away."

There was a certain volcanic energy back of all the woman said, that
made Howard feel she would make the attempt. She did not know that the
struggle for a place to stand on this planet was eating the heart and
soul out of men and women in the city, just as in the country. But he
could say nothing. If he had said in conventional phrase, sitting there
in his soft clothing, "We must make the best of it all," the woman could
justly have thrown the dish-cloth in his face. He could say nothing.

"I was a fool for ever marrying," she went on, while the baby pushed a
chair across the room. "I made a decent living teaching, I was free to
come and go, my money was my own. Now I'm tied right down to a churn or
a dish-pan, I never have a cent of my own. He's growlin' 'round half the
time, and there's no chance of his ever being different."

She stopped with a bitter sob in her throat. She forgot she was talking
to her husband's brother. She was conscious only of his sympathy.

As if a great black cloud had settled down upon him, Howard felt it
all--the horror, hopelessness, imminent tragedy of it all. The glory of
nature, the bounty and splendor of the sky, only made it the more
benumbing. He thought of a sentence Millet once wrote:

"I see very well the aureole of the dandelions, and the sun also, far
down there behind the hills, flinging his glory upon the clouds. But not
alone that--I see in the plains the smoke of the tired horses at the
plough, or, on a stony-hearted spot of ground, a back-broken man trying
to raise himself upright for a moment to breathe. The tragedy is
surrounded by glories--that is no invention of mine."

Howard arose abruptly and went back to his little bedroom, where he
walked up and down the floor till he was calm enough to write, and then
he sat down and poured it all out to "Dearest Margaret," and his first
sentence was this:

"If it were not for you (just to let you know the mood I'm in)--if it
were not for you, and I had the world in my hands, I'd crush it like a
puff-ball; evil so predominates, suffering is so universal and
persistent, happiness so fleeting and so infrequent."

He wrote on for two hours, and by the time he had sealed and directed
several letters he felt calmer, but still terribly depressed. The rain
was still falling, sweeping down from the half-seen hills, wreathing the
wooded peaks with a gray garment of mist, and filling the valley with a
whitish cloud.

It fell around the house drearily. It ran down into the tubs placed to
catch it, dripped from the mossy pump, and drummed on the upturned
milk-pails, and upon the brown and yellow beehives under the maple
trees. The chickens seemed depressed, but the irrepressible bluejay
screamed amid it all, with the same insolent spirit, his plumage
untarnished by the wet. The barnyard showed a horrible mixture of mud
and mire, through which Howard caught glimpses of the men, slumping to
and fro without more additional protection than a ragged coat and a
shapeless felt hat.

In the sitting room where his mother sat sewing there was not an
ornament, save the etching he had brought. The clock stood on a small
shell, its dial so much defaced that one could not tell the time of day;
and when it struck, it was with noticeably disproportionate
deliberation, as if it wished to correct any mistake into which the
family might have fallen by reason of its illegible dial.

The paper on the walls showed the first concession of the Puritans to
the Spirit of Beauty, and was made up of a heterogeneous mixture of
flowers of unheard-of shapes and colors, arranged in four different ways
along the wall. There were no books, no music, and only a few newspapers
in sight--a bare, blank, cold, drab-colored shelter from the rain, not a
home. Nothing cozy, nothing heart-warming; a grim and horrible shed.

"What are they doing? It can't be they're at work such a day as this,"
Howard said, standing at the window.

"They find plenty to do, even on rainy days," answered his mother.
"Grant always has some job to set the men at. It's the only way to
live."

"I'll go out and see them." He turned suddenly. "Mother, why should
Grant treat me so? Have I deserved it?"

Mrs. McLane sighed in pathetic hopelessness. "I don't know, Howard. I'm
worried about Grant. He gets more an' more down-hearted an' gloomy every
day. Seems if he'd go crazy. He don't care how he looks any more, won't
dress up on Sunday. Days an' days he'll go aroun' not sayin' a word. I
was in hopes you could help him, Howard."

"My coming seems to have had an opposite effect. He hasn't spoken a word
to me, except when he had to, since I came. Mother, what do you say to
going home with me to New York?"

"Oh, I couldn't do that!" she cried in terror. "I couldn't live in a
big city--never!"

"There speaks the truly rural mind," smiled Howard at his mother, who
was looking up at him through her glasses with a pathetic forlornness
which sobered him again. "Why, mother, you could live in Orange, New
Jersey, or out in Connecticut, and be just as lonesome as you are here.
You wouldn't need to live in the city. I could see you then every day or
two."

"Well, I couldn't leave Grant an' the baby, anyway," she replied, not
realizing how one could live in New Jersey and do business daily in New
York.

"Well, then, how would you like to go back into the old house?"

The patient hands fell to the lap, the dim eyes fixed in searching
glance on his face. There was a wistful cry in the voice.

"Oh, Howard! Do you mean--"

He came and sat down by her, and put his arm about her and hugged her
hard. "I mean, you dear, good, patient, work-weary old mother, I'm going
to buy back the old farm and put you in it."

There was no refuge for her now except in tears, and she put up her
thin, trembling old hands about his neck, and cried in that easy,
placid, restful way age has.

Howard could not speak. His throat ached with remorse and pity. He saw
his forgetfulness of them all once more without relief,--the black thing
it was!

"There, there, mother, don't cry!" he said, torn with anguish by her
tears. Measured by man's tearlessness, her weeping seemed terrible to
him. "I didn't realize how things were going here. It was all my
fault--or, at least, most of it. Grant's letter didn't reach me. I
thought you were still on the old farm. But no matter; it's all over
now. Come, don't cry any more, mother dear. I'm going to take care of
you now."

It had been years since the poor, lonely woman had felt such warmth of
love. Her sons had been like her husband, chary of expressing their
affection; and like most Puritan families, there was little of caressing
among them. Sitting there with the rain on the roof and driving through
the trees, they planned getting back into the old house. Howard's plan
seemed to her full of splendor and audacity. She began to understand his
power and wealth now, as he put it into concrete form before her.

"I wish I could eat Thanksgiving dinner there with you," he said at
last, "but it can't be thought of. However, I'll have you all in there
before I go home. I'm going out now and tell Grant. Now don't worry any
more; I'm going to fix it all up with him, sure." He gave her a parting
hug.

Laura advised him not to attempt to get to the barn; but as he persisted
in going, she hunted up an old rubber coat for him. "You'll mire down
and spoil your shoes," she said, glancing at his neat calf gaiters.

"Darn the difference!" he laughed in his old way. "Besides, I've got
rubbers."

"Better go round by the fence," she advised, as he stepped out into the
pouring rain.

How wretchedly familiar it all was! The miry cow-yard, with the hollow
trampled out around the horse-trough, the disconsolate hens standing
under the wagons and sheds, a pig wallowing across its sty, and for
atmosphere the desolate, falling rain. It was so familiar he felt a pang
of the old rebellious despair which seized him on such days in his
boyhood.

Catching up courage, he stepped out on the grass, opened the gate and
entered the barn-yard. A narrow ribbon of turf ran around the fence, on
which he could walk by clinging with one hand to the rough boards. In
this way he slowly made his way around the periphery, and came at last
to the open barn-door without much harm.

It was a desolate interior. In the open floor-way Grant, seated upon a
half-bushel, was mending a harness. The old man was holding the trace in
his hard brown hands; the boy was lying on a wisp of hay. It was a small
barn, and poor at that. There was a bad smell, as of dead rats, about
it, and the rain fell through the shingles here and there. To the right,
and below, the horses stood, looking up with their calm and beautiful
eyes, in which the whole scene was idealized.

Grant looked up an instant, and then went on with his work.

"Did yeh wade through?" grinned Lewis, exposing his broken teeth.

"No, I kinder circumambiated the pond." He sat down on the little
tool-box near Grant. "Your barn is good deal like that in 'The Arkansaw
Traveller.' Needs a new roof, Grant." His voice had a pleasant sound,
full of the tenderness of the scene through which he had just been.
"In fact, you need a new barn."

"I need a good many things more'n I'll ever get," Grant replied shortly.

"How long did you say you'd been on this farm?"

"Three years this fall."

"I don't s'pose you've been able to think of buying--Now hold on,
Grant," he cried, as Grant threw his head back. "For God's sake, don't
get mad again! Wait till you see what I'm driving at."

"I don't see what you're drivin' at, and I don't care. All I want you to
do is to let us alone. That ought to be easy enough for you."

"I tell you, I didn't get your letter. I didn't know you'd lost the old
farm." Howard was determined not to quarrel. "I didn't suppose--"

"You might 'a' come to see."

"Well, I'll admit that. All I can say in excuse is that since I got to
managing plays I've kept looking ahead to making a big hit and getting a
barrel of money--just as the old miners used to hope and watch. Besides,
you don't understand how much pressure there is on me. A hundred
different people pulling and hauling to have me go here or go there, or
do this or do that. When it isn't yachting, it's canoeing, or--"

He stopped. His heart gave a painful throb, and a shiver ran through
him. Again he saw his life, so rich, so bright, so free, set over
against the routine life in the little low kitchen, the barren sitting
room, and this still more horrible barn. Why should his brother sit
there in wet and grimy clothing, mending a broken trace, while he
enjoyed all the light and civilization of the age?

He looked at Grant's fine figure, his great, strong face; recalled his
deep, stern, masterful voice. "Am I so much superior to him? Have not
circumstances made me and destroyed him?"

"Grant, for God's sake, don't sit there like that! I'll admit I've been
negligent and careless. I can't understand it all myself. But let me do
something for you now. I've sent to New York for five thousand dollars.
I've got terms on the old farm. Let me see you all back there once more
before I return."

"I don't want any of your charity."

"It ain't charity. It's only justice to you." He rose. "Come now, let's
get at an understanding, Grant. I can't go on this way. I can't go back
to New York and leave you here like this."

Grant rose, too. "I tell you, I don't ask your help. You can't fix this
thing up with money. If you've got more brains'n I have, why, it's all
right. I ain't got any right to take anything that I don't earn."

"But you don't get what you do earn. It ain't your fault. I begin to see
it now. Being the oldest, I had the best chance. I was going to town to
school while you were ploughing and husking corn. Of course I thought
you'd be going soon yourself. I had three years the start of you. If
you'd been in my place, you might have met a man like Cook, you might
have gone to New York and have been where I am".

"Well, it can't be helped now. So drop it."

"But it must be helped!" Howard said, pacing about, his hands in his
coat-pockets. Grant had stopped work, and was gloomily looking out of
the door at a pig nosing in the mud for stray grains of wheat at the
granary door. The old man and the boy quietly withdrew.

"Good God! I see it all now," Howard burst out in an impassioned tone.
"I went ahead with my education, got my start in life, then father died,
and you took up his burdens. Circumstances made me and crushed you.
That's all there is about that. Luck made me and cheated you. It ain't
right."

His voice faltered. Both men were now oblivious of their companions and
of the scene. Both were thinking of the days when they both planned
great things in the way of an education, two ambitious, dreamful boys.

"I used to think of you, Grant, when I pulled out Monday morning in my
best suit--cost fifteen dollars in those days." He smiled a little at
the recollection. "While you in overalls and an old 'wammus' was going
out into the field to plough, or husk corn in the mud. It made me feel
uneasy, but, as I said, I kept saying to myself, 'His turn'll come in a
year or two.' But it didn't."

His voice choked. He walked to the door, stood a moment, came back. His
eyes were full of tears.

"I tell you, old man, many a time in my boarding-house down to the city,
when I thought of the jolly times I was having, my heart hurt me. But I
said, 'It's no use to cry. Better go on and do the best you can, and
then help them afterward. There'll only be one more miserable member of
the family if you stay at home.' Besides, it seemed right to me to have
first chance. But I never thought you'd be shut off, Grant. If I had, I
never would have gone on. Come, old man, I want you to believe that."
His voice was very tender now and almost humble.

"I don't know as I blame you for that, How.," said Grant, slowly. It was
the first time he had called Howard by his boyish nickname. His voice
was softer, too, and higher in key. But he looked steadily away.

"I went to New York. People liked my work. I was very successful, Grant;
more successful than you realize. I could have helped you at any time.
There's no use lying about it. And I ought to have done it; but some
way--it's no excuse, I don't mean it for an excuse, only an
explanation--some way I got in with the boys. I don't mean I was a
drinker and all that. But I bought pictures and kept a horse and a
yacht, and of course I had to pay my share of all expeditions, and--oh,
what's the use!"

He broke off, turned, and threw his open palms out toward his brother,
as if throwing aside the last attempt at an excuse.

"I did neglect you, and it's a damned shame! and I ask your forgiveness.
Come, old man!"

He held out his hand, and Grant slowly approached and took it. There was
a little silence. Then Howard went on, his voice trembling, the tears on
his face.

"I want you to let me help you, old man. That's the way to forgive me.
Will you?"

"Yes, if you can help me."

Howard squeezed his hand. "That's all right, old man. Now you make me a
boy again. Course I can help you. I've got ten--"

"I don't mean that, How." Grant's voice was very grave. "Money can't
give me a chance now."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean life ain't worth very much to me. I'm too old to take a new
start. I'm a dead failure. I've come to the conclusion that life's a
failure for ninety-nine per cent of us. You can't help me now. It's too
late."

The two men stood there, face to face, hands clasped, the one
fair-skinned, full-lipped, handsome in his neat suit; the other tragic,
sombre in his softened mood, his large, long, rugged Scotch face bronzed
with sun and scarred with wrinkles that had histories, like sabre-cuts
on a veteran, the record of his battles.



Among the Corn-Rows

"But the road sometimes passes a rich meadow, where the songs of larks
and bobolinks and blackbirds are tangled."

I

Rob held up his hands, from which the dough depended in ragged strings.

"Biscuits," he said, with an elaborate working of his jaws, intended to
convey the idea that they were going to be specially delicious.

Seagraves laughed, but did not enter the shanty door. "How do you like
baching it?"

"Oh, don't mention it!" entreated Rob, mauling the dough again. "Come in
an' sit down. What in thunder y' standin' out there for?"

"Oh, I'd rather be where I can see the prairie. Great weather!"

"Im-mense!"

"How goes breaking?"

"Tip-top! A leette dry now; but the bulls pull the plough through two
acres a day. How's things in Boomtown?"

"Oh, same old grind."

"Judge still lyin'?"

"Still at it."

"Major Mullens still swearin' to it?"

"You hit it like a mallet. Railroad schemes are thicker 'n
prairie-chickens. You've got grit, Rob. I don't have anything but
crackers and sardines over to my shanty, and here you are making
soda-biscuit."

"I have t' do it. Couldn't break if I didn't. You editors c'n take
things easy, lay around on the prairie, and watch the plovers and
medderlarks; but we settlers have got to work."

Leaving Rob to sputter over his cooking, Seagraves took his slow way
off down toward the oxen grazing in a little hollow. The scene was
characteristically, wonderfully beautiful. It was about five o'clock
in a day in late June, and the level plain was green and yellow, and
infinite in reach as a sea; the lowering sun was casting over its
distant swells a faint impalpable mist, through which the breaking teams
on the neighboring claims ploughed noiselessly, as figures in a dream.
The whistle of gophers, the faint, wailing, fluttering cry of the
falling plover, the whir of the swift-winged prairie-pigeon, or the
quack of a lonely duck, came through the shimmering air. The lark's
infrequent whistle, piercingly sweet, broke from the longer grass in the
swales nearby. No other climate, sky, plain, could produce the same
unnamable weird charm. No tree to wave, no grass to rustle, scarcely a
sound of domestic life; only the faint melancholy soughing of the wind
in the short grass, and the voices of the wild things of the prairie.

Seagraves, an impressionable young man (junior editor of the Boomtown
Spike), threw himself down on the sod, pulled his hat-rim down over his
eyes, and looked away over the plain. It was the second year of
Boomtown's existence, and Seagraves had not yet grown restless under its
monotony. Around him the gophers played saucily. Teams were moving here
and there across the sod, with a peculiar noiseless, effortless motion,
that made them seem as calm, lazy, and insubstantial as the mist through
which they made their way; even the sound of passing wagons seemed a
sort of low, well-fed, self-satisfied chuckle.

Seagraves, "holding down a claim" near Rob, had come to see his
neighboring "bach" because feeling the need of company; but now that he
was near enough to hear him prancing about getting supper, he was
content to lie alone on a slope of the green sod.

The silence of the prairie at night was well-nigh terrible. Many a
night, as Seagraves lay in his bunk against the side of his cabin, he
would strain his ear to hear the slightest sound, and be listening thus
sometimes for minutes before the squeak of a mouse or the step of a
passing fox came as a relief to the aching sense. In the daytime,
however, and especially on a morning, the prairie was another thing. The
pigeons, the larks, the cranes, the multitudinous voices of the
ground-birds and snipes and insects, made the air pulsate with sound--a
chorus that died away into an infinite murmur of music.

"Hello, Seagraves!" yelled Rob from the door. "The biscuit are 'most
done."

Seagraves did not speak, only nodded his head, and slowly rose. The
faint clouds in the west were getting a superb flame-color above and a
misty purple below, and the sun had pierced them with lances of yellow
light. As the air grew denser with moisture, the sounds of neighboring
life began to reach the ear. Children screamed and laughed, and afar off
a woman was singing a lullaby. The rattle of wagons and the voices of
men speaking to their teams multiplied. Ducks in a neighboring lowland
were quacking sociably. The whole scene took hold upon Seagraves with
irresistible power.

"It is American," he exclaimed. "No other land or time can match this
mellow air, this wealth of color, much less the strange social
conditions of life on this sunlit Dakota prairie."

Rob, though visibly affected by the scene also, couldn't let his
biscuit spoil or go without proper attention.

"Say, ain't y' comin' t' grub?" he asked impatiently.

"In a minute," replied his friend, taking a last wistful look at the
scene. "I want one more look at the landscape."

"Landscape be blessed! If you'd been breakin' all day--Come, take that
stool an' draw up."

"No; I'll take the candle-box."

"Not much. I know what manners are, if I am a bull-driver."

Seagraves took the three-legged and rather precarious-looking stool and
drew up to the table, which was a flat broad box nailed up against the
side of the wall, with two strips of board spiked at the outer corners
for legs.

"How's that f'r a lay-out?" Rob inquired proudly.

"Well, you have spread yourself! Biscuit and canned peaches and sardines
and cheese. Why, this is--is--prodigal."

"It ain't nothin' else."

Rob was from one of the finest counties of Wisconsin, over toward
Milwaukee. He was of German parentage, a middle-sized, cheery,
wide-awake, good-looking young fellow--a typical claim-holder. He was
always confident, jovial, and full of plans for the future. He had dug
his own well, built his own shanty, washed and mended his own clothing.
He could do anything, and do it well. He had a fine field of wheat, and
was finishing the ploughing of his entire quarter-section.

"This is what I call settin' under a feller's own vine an' fig
tree"--after Seagraves' compliments--"an' I like it. I'm my own boss. No
man can say 'come here' 'r 'go there' to me. I get up when I'm a min'
to, an' go t' bed when I'm a min' to."

"Some drawbacks, I s'pose?"

"Yes. Mice, f'r instance, give me a devilish lot o' trouble. They get
into my flour-barrel, eat up my cheese, an' fall into my well. But it
ain't no use t' swear."

Seagraves quoted an old rhyme:

   "'The rats and the mice they made such a strife
    He had to go to London to buy him a wife.'"

"Don't blush. I've probed your secret thought."

"Well, to tell the honest truth," said Rob, a little sheepishly, leaning
across the table, "I ain't satisfied with my style o' cookin'. It's
good, but a little too plain, y' know. I'd like a change. It ain't much
fun to break all day, and then go to work an' cook y'r own supper."

"No, I should say not."

"This fall I'm going back to Wisconsin. Girls are thick as huckleberries
back there, and I'm goin' t' bring one back, now you hear me."

"Good! That's the plan," laughed Seagraves, amused at a certain timid
and apprehensive look in his companion's eye. "Just think what a woman
would do to put this shanty in shape; and think how nice it would be to
take her arm and saunter out after supper, and look at the farm, and
plan, and lay out gardens and paths, and tend the chickens!"

Rob's manly and self-reliant nature had the settler's typical buoyancy
and hopefulness, as well as a certain power of analysis, which enabled
him now to say: "The fact is, we fellers holdin' down claims out here
ain't fools clear to the rine. We know a couple o' things. Now I didn't
leave Waupac County f'r fun. Did y' ever see Waupac? Well, it's one o'
the handsomest counties the sun ever shone on, full o' lakes and rivers
and groves of timber. I miss 'em all out here, and I miss the boys an'
girls; but they wa'n't no chance there f'r a feller. Land that was good
was so blamed high you couldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole from a
balloon. Rent was high, if you wanted t' rent, an' so a feller like me
had t' get out, an' now I'm out here, I'm goin' t' make the most of it.
Another thing," he went on, after a pause--"we fellers workin' out back
there got more 'n' more like hands, an' less like human beings. Y' know,
Waupac is a kind of a summer resort, and the people that use' t' come in
summers looked down on us cusses in the fields an' shops. I couldn't
stand it. By God!" he said, with a sudden impulse of rage quite unusual,
"I'd rather live on an iceberg and claw crabs f'r a livin' than have
some feller passin' me on the road an' callin' me 'fellah!'"

Seagraves knew what he meant, but listened in astonishment at his
outburst.

"I consider myself a sight better 'n any man who lives on somebody
else's hard work. I've never had a cent I didn't earn with them hands."
He held them up and broke into a grin. "Beauties, ain't they? But they
never wore gloves that some other poor cuss earned."

Seagraves thought them grand hands, worthy to grasp the hand of any man
or woman living.

"Well, so I come West, just like a thousand other fellers, to get a
start where the cussed European aristocracy hadn't got a holt on the
people. I like it here--course I'd like the lakes an' meadows of Waupac
better--but I'm my own boss, as I say, and I'm goin' to stay my own boss
if I have to live on crackers an' wheat coffee to do it; that's the kind
of a hair-pin I am."

In the pause which followed, Seagraves, plunged deep into thought by
Rob's words, leaned his head on his hand. This working farmer had voiced
the modern idea. It was an absolute overturn of all the ideas of
nobility and special privilege born of the feudal past.

"I'd like to use your idea for an editorial, Rob," he said.

"My ideas!" exclaimed the astounded host, pausing in the act of filling
his pipe. "My ideas! Why, I didn't know I had any."

"Well, you've given me some, anyhow."

Seagraves felt that it was a wild, grand upstirring of the modern
democrat against the aristocrat, against the idea of caste and the
privilege of living on the labor of others. This atom of humanity (how
infinitesimal this drop in the ocean of humanity!) was feeling the
nameless longing of expanding personality. He had declared rebellion
against laws that were survivals of hate and prejudice. He had exposed
also the native spring of the emigrant by uttering the feeling that it
is better to be an equal among peasants than a servant before nobles.

"So I have good reasons f'r liking the country," Rob resumed, in a quiet
way. "The soil is rich, the climate good so far, an' if I have a couple
o' decent crops you'll see a neat upright goin' up here, with a porch
and a bay-winder."

"And you'll still be living here alone, frying leathery slapjacks an'
chopping 'taters and bacon."

"I think I see myself," drawled Rob, "goin' around all summer wearin'
the same shirt without washin', an' wipin' on the same towel four
straight weeks, an' wearin' holes in my socks, an' eatin' musty
ginger-snaps, mouldy bacon, an' canned Boston beans f'r the rest o' my
endurin' days! Oh, yes; I guess not!" He rose. "Well, see y' later. Must
go water my bulls."

As he went off down the slope, Seagraves smiled to hear him sing:

   "I wish that some kind-hearted girl
    Would pity on me take,
    And extricate me from the mess I'm in.
    The angel--how I'd bless her,
    If this her home she'd make,
    In my little old sod shanty on the plain."

The boys nearly fell off their chairs in the Western House dining room,
a few days later, when Rob came in to supper with a collar and necktie
as the finishing touch of a remarkable outfit.

"Hit him, somebody!"

"It's a clean collar!"

"He's started f'r Congress!"

"He's going to get married," put in Seagraves, in a tone that brought
conviction.

"What!" screamed Jack Adams, O'Neill, and Wilson, in one breath. "That
man?"

"That man," replied Seagraves, amazed at Rob, who coolly took his seat,
squared his elbows, pressed his collar down at the back, and called for
the bacon and eggs.

The crowd stared at him in a dead silence.

"Where's he going to do it?" asked Jack Adams. "Where's he going to find
a girl?"

"Ask him," said Seagraves.

"I ain't tellin'," put in Rob, with his mouth full of potato.

"You're afraid of our competition."

"That's right; our competition, Jack; not your competition. Come, now,
Rob, tell us where you found her."

"I ain't found her."

"What! And yet you're goin' away t' get married!"

"I'm goin' t' bring a wife back with me ten days fr'm date."

"I see his scheme," put in Jim Rivers. "He's goin' back East somewhere,
an' he's goin' to propose to every girl he meets."

"Hold on!" interrupted Rob, holding up his fork. "Ain't quite right.
Every good lookin' girl I meet."

"Well, I'll be blanked!" exclaimed Jack, impressively; "that simply lets
me out. Any man with such a cheek ought to--"

"Succeed," interrupted Seagraves.

"That's what I say," bawled Hank Whiting, the proprietor of the house.
"You fellers ain't got any enterprise to yeh. Why don't you go to work
an' help settle the country like men? 'Cause y' ain't got no sand. Girls
are thicker 'n huckleberries back East. I say it's a dum shame!"

"Easy, Henry," said the elegant bank-clerk, Wilson, looking gravely
about through his spectacles. "I commend the courage and the resolution
of Mr. Rodemaker. I pray the lady may not

   'Mislike him for his complexion,
    The shadowed livery of the burning sun.'"

"Shakespeare," said Adams, at a venture.

Wilson turned to Rob. "Brother in adversity, when do you embark another
Jason on an untried sea?"

"Hay!" said Rob, winking at Seagraves. "Oh, I go to-night--night train."

"And return?"

"Ten days from date."

"I'll wager a wedding supper he brings a blonde," said Wilson, in his
clean-cut, languid speech compelling attention.

"Oh, come, now, Wilson; that's too thin! We all know that rule about
dark marryin' light."

"I'll wager she'll be tall," continued Wilson. "I'll wager you, friend
Rodemaker, she'll be blonde and tall."

The rest roared at Rob's astonishment and confusion.

The absurdity of it grew, and they went into spasms of laughter. But
Wilson remained impassive, not the twitching of a muscle betraying that
he saw anything to laugh at in the proposition.

Mrs. Whiting and the kitchen-girls came in, wondering at the merriment.
Rob began to get uneasy.

"What is it? What is it?" said Mrs. Whiting, a jolly little matron.

Rivers put the case. "Rob's on his way back to Wisconsin t' get married,
and Wilson has offered to bet him that his wife will be a blonde and
tall, and Rob dassent bet!" And they roared again.

"Why, the idea! The man's crazy!" said Mrs. Whiting.

The crowd looked at each other. This was hint enough; they sobered,
nodding at each other commiseratingly.

"Aha! I see; I understand."

"It's the heat."

"And the Boston beans."

"Let up on him, Wilson. Don't badger a poor irresponsible fellow. I
thought something was wrong when I saw the collar."

"Oh, keep it up!" said Rob, a little nettled by their evident intention
to have fun with him.

"Soothe him--soo-o-o-o-the him!" said Wilson. "Don't be harsh."

Rob rose from the table. "Go to thunder! You fellows make me tired."

"The fit is on him again!"

He rose disgustedly and went out. They followed him in single file. The
rest of the town "caught on." Frank Graham heaved an apple at him, and
joined the procession. Rob went into the store to buy some tobacco. They
all followed, and perched like crows on the counters till he went out;
then they followed him, as before. They watched him check his trunk;
they witnessed the purchase of the ticket. The town had turned out by
this time.

"Waupac!" announced the one nearest the victim.

"Waupac!" said the next man, and the word was passed along the street up
town.

"Make a note of it," said Wilson; "Waupac--a county where a man's
proposal for marriage is honored upon presentation. Sight drafts."

Rivers struck up a song, while Rob stood around, patiently bearing the
jokes of the crowd:

   "We're lookin' rather seedy now,
    While holdin' down our claims,
    And our vittles are not always of the best,
    And the mice play slyly round us
    As we lay down to sleep
    In our little old tarred shanties on the claim.

   "Yet we rather like the novelty
    Of livin' in this way,
    Though the bill of fare is often rather tame;
    An' we're happy as a clam
    On the land of Uncle Sam
    In our little old tarred shanty on the claim."

The train drew up at length, to the immense relief of Rob, whose stoical
resignation was beginning to weaken.

"Don't y' wish y' had sand?" he yelled to the crowd, as he plunged into
the car, thinking he was rid of them at last.

He was mistaken. Their last stroke was to follow him into the car,
nodding, pointing to their heads, and whispering, managing in the
half-minute the train stood at the platform to set every person in the
car staring at the "crazy man." Rob groaned, and pulled his hat down
over his eyes--an action which confirmed his tormentors' words and made
several ladies click their tongues in sympathy--"Tlck! tlck! poor
fellow!"

"All abo-o-o-a-rd!' said the conductor, grinning his appreciation at the
crowd, and the train was off.

"Oh, won't we make him groan when he gets back!" said Barney, the young
lawyer, who sang the shouting tenor.

"We'll meet him with the timbrel and the harp. Anybody want to wager?
I've got two to one on a short brunette," said Wilson.

II

"Follow it far enough and it may pass the bend in the river where the
water laughs eternally over its shallows."

A corn-field in July is a sultry place. The soil is hot and dry; the
wind comes across the lazily murmuring leaves laden with a warm,
sickening smell drawn from the rapidly growing, broad-flung banners of
the corn. The sun, nearly vertical, drops a flood of dazzling light upon
the field over which the cool shadows run, only to make the heat seem
the more intense.

Julia Peterson, faint with hunger, was tolling back and forth between
the corn-rows, holding the handles of the double-shovel corn-plough,
while her little brother Otto rode the steaming horse. Her heart was
full of bitterness, her face flushed with heat, and her muscles aching
with fatigue. The heat grew terrible. The corn came to her shoulders,
and not a breath seemed to reach her, while the sun, nearing the noon
mark, lay pitilessly upon her shoulders, protected only by a calico
dress. The dust rose under her feet, and as she was wet with
perspiration it soiled her till with a woman's instinctive cleanliness,
she shuddered. Her head throbbed dangerously. What matter to her that
the kingbird pitched jovially from the maples to catch a wandering
bluebottle fly, that the robin was feeding its young, that the bobolink
was singing? All these things, if she saw them, only threw her bondage
to labor into greater relief.

Across the field, in another patch of corn, she could see her father--a
big, gruff-voiced, wide-bearded Norwegian--at work also with a plough.
The corn must be ploughed, and so she toiled on, the tears dropping from
the shadow of the ugly sun-bonnet she wore. Her shoes, coarse and
square-toed, chafed her feet; her hands, large and strong, were browned,
or, more properly, burnt, on the backs by the sun. The horse's harness
"creak-cracked" as he swung steadily and patiently forward, the moisture
pouring from his sides, his nostrils distended.

The field bordered on a road, and on the other side of the road ran a
river--a broad, clear, shallow expanse at that point, and the eyes of
the boy gazed longingly at the pond and the cool shadow each time that
he turned at the fence.

"Say, Jule, I'm goin' in! Come, can't I? Come--say!" he pleaded, as they
stopped at the fence to let the horse breathe.

"I've let you go wade twice."

"But that don't do any good. My legs is all smarty, 'cause ol' Jack
sweats so." The boy turned around on the horse's back and slid back to
his rump. "I can't stand it!" he burst out, sliding off and darting
under the fence. "Father can't see."

The girl put her elbows on the fence and watched her little brother as
he sped away to the pool, throwing off his clothes as he ran, whooping
with uncontrollable delight. Soon she could hear him splashing about in
the water a short distance up the stream, and caught glimpses of his
little shiny body and happy face. How cool that water looked! And the
shadows there by the big basswood! How that water would cool her
blistered feet. An impulse seized her, and she squeezed between the
rails of the fence, and stood in the road looking up and down to see
that the way was clear. It was not a main-travelled road; no one was
likely to come; why not?

She hurriedly took off her shoes and stockings--how delicious the cool,
soft velvet of the grass! and sitting down on the bank under the great
basswood, whose roots formed an abrupt bank, she slid her poor
blistered, chafed feet into the water, her bare head leaned against the
huge tree-trunk.

And now, as she rested, the beauty of the scene came to her. Over her
the wind moved the leaves. A jay screamed far off, as if answering the
cries of the boy. A kingfisher crossed and recrossed the stream with
dipping sweep of his wings. The river sang with its lips to the pebbles.
The vast clouds went by majestically, far above the tree-tops, and the
snap and buzzing and ringing whir of July insects made a ceaseless,
slumberous undertone of song solvent of all else. The tired girl forgot
her work. She began to dream. This would not last always. Some one would
come to release her from such drudgery. This was her constant,
tenderest, and most secret dream. He would be a Yankee, not a Norwegian.
The Yankees didn't ask their wives to work in the field. He would have a
home. Perhaps he'd live in town--perhaps a merchant! And then she
thought of the drug clerk in Rock River who had looked at her--A voice
broke in on her dream, a fresh, manly voice.

"Well, by jinks! if it ain't Julia! Just the one I wanted to see!"

The girl turned, saw a pleasant-faced young fellow in a derby hat and a
cutaway suit of diagonals.

"Bod Rodemaker! How come--"

She remembered her situation and flushed, looked down at the water, and
remained perfectly still.

"Ain't you goin' to shake hands? Y' don't seem very glad t' see me."

She began to grow angry. "If you had any eyes, you'd see."

Rob looked over the edge of the bank, whistled, turned away. "Oh, I see!
Excuse me! Don't blame yeh a bit, though. Good weather f'r corn," he
went on, looking up at the trees. "Corn seems to be pretty well
forward," he continued, in a louder voice, as he walked away, still
gazing into the air. "Crops is looking first-class in Boomtown. Hello!
This Otto? H'yare, y' little scamp! Get on to that horse agin. Quick, 'r
I'll take y'r skin off an' hang it on the fence. What y' been doing?"

"Ben in swimmin'. Jimminy, ain't it fun! When 'd y' get back?" said the
boy, grinning.

"Never you mind!" replied Rob, leaping the fence by laying his left hand
on the top rail. "Get on to that horse." He tossed the boy up on the
horse, and hung his coat on the fence. "I s'pose the ol' man makes her
plough, same as usual?"

"Yup," said Otto.

"Dod ding a man that'll do that! I don't mind if it's necessary, but it
ain't necessary in his case." He continued to mutter in this way as he
went across to the other side of the field. As they turned to come back,
Rob went up and looked at the horse's mouth. "Gettin' purty near of age.
Say, who's sparkin' Julia now--anybody?"

"Nobody 'cept some ol' Norwegians. She won't have them. Por wants her
to, but she won't."

"Good f'r her. Nobody comes t' see her Sunday nights, eh?"

"Nope, only 'Tias Anderson an' Ole Hoover; but she goes off an' leaves
'em."

"Chk!" said Rob, starting old Jack across the field.

It was almost noon, and Jack moved reluctantly. He knew the time of day
as well as the boy. He made this round after distinct protest.

In the meantime Julia, putting on her shoes and stockings, went to the
fence and watched the man's shining white shirt as he moved across the
corn-field. There had never been any special tenderness between them,
but she had always liked him. They had been at school together. She
wondered why he had come back at this time of the year, and wondered how
long he would stay. How long had he stood looking at her? She flushed
again at the thought of it. But he wasn't to blame; it was a public
road. She might have known better.

She stood under a little popple tree, whose leaves shook musically at
every zephyr, and her eyes, through half-shut lids, roved over the sea
of deep-green, glossy leaves, dappled here and there by cloud shadows,
stirred here and there like water by the wind; and out of it all a
longing to be free from such toil rose like a breath, filling her throat
and quickening the motion of her heart. Must this go on forever, this
life of heat and dust and labor? What did it all mean?

The girl laid her chin on her strong red wrists, and looked up into the
blue spaces between the vast clouds--aerial mountains dissolving in a
shoreless azure sea. How cool and sweet and restful they looked! If she
might only lie out on the billowy, snow-white, sunlit edge! The voices
of the driver and the ploughman recalled her, and she fixed her eyes
again upon the slowly nodding head of the patient horse, on the boy
turned half about on his saddle, talking to the white-sleeved man, whose
derby hat bobbed up and down quite curiously, like the horse's head.
Would she ask him to dinner? What would her people say?

"Phew! it's hot!" was the greeting the young fellow gave as he came up.
He smiled in a frank, boyish way, as he hung his hat on the top of a
stake and looked up at her. "D' y' know, I kind o' enjoy gettin' at it
again? Fact. It ain't no work for a girl, though," he added.

"When 'd you get back?" she asked, the flush not yet out of her face.
Rob was looking at her thick, fine hair and full Scandinavian face, rich
as a rose in color, and did not reply for a few seconds. She stood with
her hideous sun-bonnet pushed back on her shoulders. A kingbird was
chattering overhead.

"Oh, a few days ago."

"How long y' goin' t' stay?"

"Oh, I d' know. A week, mebbe."

A far-off halloo came pulsing across the shimmering air. The boy
screamed "Dinner!" and waved his hat with an answering whoop, then
flopped off the horse like a turtle off a stone into water. He had the
horse unhooked in an instant, and had flung his toes up over the horse's
back, in act to climb on, when Rob said:

"H'yare, young feller! wait a minute. Tired?" he asked the girl, with a
tone that was more than kindly. It was almost tender.

"Yes," she replied, in a low voice. "My shoes hurt me."

"Well, here y' go," he replied, taking his stand by the horse, and
holding out his hand like a step. She colored and smiled a little as she
lifted her foot into his huge, hard, sunburned hand.

"Oop-a-daisy!" he called. She gave a spring, and sat on the horse like
one at home there.

Rob had a deliciously unconscious, abstracted, business-like air. He
really left her nothing to do but enjoy his company, while he went ahead
and did precisely as he pleased.

"We don't raise much corn out there, an' so I kind o' like to see it
once more."

"I wish I didn't have to see another hill of corn as long as I live!"
replied the girl, bitterly.

"Don't know as I blame yeh a bit. But, all the same, I'm glad you was
working in it to-day," he thought to himself, as he walked beside her
horse toward the house.

"Will you stop to dinner?" she inquired bluntly, almost surlily. It was
evident there were reasons why she didn't mean to press him to do so.

"You bet I will," he replied; "that is, if you want I should."

"You know how we live," she replied evasively. "If you can stand it,
why--" She broke off abruptly.

Yes, he remembered how they lived in that big, square, dirty, white
frame house. It had been three or four years since he had been in it,
but the smell of the cabbage and onions, the penetrating, peculiar
mixture of odors, assailed his memory as something unforgettable.

"I guess I'll stop," he said, as she hesitated. She said no more, but
tried to act as if she were not in any way responsible for what came
afterward.

"I guess I c'n stand f'r one meal what you stand all the while," he
added.

As she left them at the well and went to the house he saw her limp
painfully, and the memory of her face so close to his lips as he helped
her down from the horse gave him pleasure at the same time that he was
touched by its tired and gloomy look. Mrs. Peterson came to the door of
the kitchen, looking just the same as ever. Broad-faced, unwieldly,
flabby, apparently wearing the same dress he remembered to have seen her
in years before,--a dirty drab-colored thing,--she looked as shapeless
as a sack of wool. Her English was limited to, "How de do, Rob?"

He washed at the pump, while the girl, in the attempt to be hospitable,
held the clean towel for him.

"You're purty well used up, eh?" he said to her.

"Yes; it's awful hot out there."

"Can't you lay off this afternoon? It ain't right"

"No. He won't listen to that."

"Well, let me take your place."

"No; there ain't any use o' that."

Peterson, a brawny, wide-bearded Norwegian, came up at this moment, and
spoke to Rob in a sullen, gruff way.

"Hallo, when yo' gaet back?"

"To-day. He ain't very glad to see me," said Rob, winking at Julia. "He
ain't b'ilin' over with enthusiasm; but I c'n stand it, for your sake,"
he added, with amazing assurance; but the girl had turned away, and it
was wasted.

At the table he ate heartily of the "bean swaagen," which filled a large
wooden bowl in the centre of the table, and which was ladled into
smaller wooden bowls at each plate. Julia had tried hard to convert her
mother to Yankee ways, and had at last given it up in despair. Rob kept
on safe subjects, mainly asking questions about the crops of Peterson,
and when addressing the girl, inquired of the schoolmates. By skilful
questioning, he kept the subject of marriage uppermost, and seemingly
was getting an inventory of the girls not yet married or engaged.

It was embarrassing for the girl. She was all too well aware of the
difference between her home and the home of her schoolmates and friends.
She knew that it was not pleasant for her "Yankee" friends to come to
visit her when they could not feel sure of a welcome from the tireless,
silent, and grim-visaged old Norse, if, indeed, they could escape
insult. Julia ate her food mechanically, and it could hardly be said
that she enjoyed the brisk talk of the young man, his eyes were upon her
so constantly and his smile so obviously addressed to her, She rose as
soon as possible and, going outside, took a seat on a chair under the
trees in the yard. She was not a coarse or dull girl. In fact, she had
developed so rapidly by contact with the young people of the
neighborhood that she no longer found pleasure in her own home. She
didn't believe in keeping up the old-fashioned Norwegian customs, and
her life with her mother was not one to breed love or confidence. She
was more like a hired hand. The love of the mother for her "Yulyie" was
sincere though rough and inarticulate, and it was her jealousy of the
young "Yankees" that widened the chasm between the girl and herself--an
inevitable result.

Rob followed the girl out into the yard, and threw himself on the grass
at her feet, perfectly unconscious of the fact that this attitude was
exceedingly graceful and becoming to them both. He did it because he
wanted to talk to her, and the grass was cool and easy; there wasn't any
other chair, anyway.

"Do they keep up the ly-ceum and the sociables same as ever?"

"Yes. The others go a good 'eal, but I don't. We're gettin' such a stock
round us, and father thinks he needs me s' much, I don't get out often.
I'm gettin' sick of it."

"I sh'd think y' would," he replied, his eyes on her face,

"I c'd stand the churnin' and housework, but when it comes t' workin'
outdoors in the dirt an' hot sun, gettin' all sunburned and chapped up,
it's another thing. An' then it seems as if he gets stingier 'n'
stingier every year. I ain't had a new dress in--I d'-know-how-long. He
says it's all nonsense, an' mother's just about as bad. She don't want a
new dress, an' so she thinks I don't." The girl was feeling the
influence of a sympathetic listener and was making up for the long
silence. "I've tried t' go out t' work, but they won't let me. They'd
have t' pay a hand twenty dollars a month f'r the work I do, an' they
like cheap help; but I'm not goin' t' stand it much longer, I can tell
you that."

Rob thought she was very handsome as she sat there with her eyes fixed
on the horizon, while these rebellious thoughts found utterance in her
quivering, passionate voice.

"Yulie! Kom haar!" roared the old man from the well.

A frown of anger and pain came into her face. She looked at Rob. "That
means more work."

"Say! let me go out in your place. Come, now; what's the use--"

"No; it wouldn't do no good. It ain't t'day s' much; it's every day,
and--"

"Yulie!" called Peterson again, with a string of impatient Norwegian.
"Batter yo' kom pooty hal quick."

"Well, all right, only I'd like to--" Rob submitted.

"Well, good-by," she said, with a little touch of feeling. "When d' ye
go back?"

"I don't know. I'll see y' again before I go. Good-by."

He stood watching her slow, painful pace till she reached the well,
where Otto was standing with the horse. He stood watching them as they
moved out into the road and turned down toward the field. He felt that
she had sent him away; but still there was a look in her eyes which was
not altogether--

He gave it up in despair at last. He was not good at analyses of this
nature; he was used to plain, blunt expressions. There was a woman's
subtlety here quite beyond his reach.

He sauntered slowly off up the road after his talk with Julia. His head
was low on his breast; he was thinking as one who is about to take a
decided and important step.

He stopped at length, and, turning, watched the girl moving along in the
deeps of the corn. Hardly a leaf was stirring; the untempered sunlight
fell in a burning flood upon the field; the grasshoppers rose, snapped,
buzzed, and fell; the locust uttered its dry, heat-intensifying cry. The
man lifted his head.

"It's a d--n shame!" he said, beginning rapidly to retrace his steps. He
stood leaning on the fence, awaiting the girl's coming very much as she
had waited his on the round he had made before dinner. He grew impatient
at the slow gait of the horse, and drummed on the rail while he
whistled. Then he took off his hat and dusted it nervously. As the horse
got a little nearer he wiped his face carefully, pushed his hat back on
his head, and climbed over the fence, where he stood with elbows on the
middle rail as the girl and boy and horse came to the end of the furrow.

"Hot, ain't it?" he said, as she looked up.

"Jimminy Peters, it's awful!" puffed the boy. The girl did not reply
till she swung the plough about after the horse, and set it upright into
the next row. Her powerful body had a superb swaying motion at the waist
as she did this--a motion which affected Rob vaguely but massively.

"I thought you'd gone," she said gravely, pushing back her bonnet till
he could see her face dewed with sweat, and pink as a rose. She had the
high cheek-bones of her race, but she had also their exquisite fairess
of color.

"Say, Otto," asked Rob, alluringly, "wan' to go swimmin'?"

"You bet!" replied Otto.

"Well, I'll go a round if--"

The boy dropped off the horse, not waiting to hear any more. Rob
grinned, but the girl dropped her eyes, then looked away.

"Got rid o' him mighty quick. Say, Julyie, I hate like thunder t' see
you out here; it ain't right. I wish you'd--I wish--"

She could not look at him now, and her bosom rose and fell with a motion
that was not due to fatigue. Her moist hair matted around her forehead
gave her a boyish look.

Rob nervously tried again, tearing splinters from the fence. "Say, now,
I'll tell yeh what I came back here for--t' git married; and if you're
willin' I'll do it to-night. Come, now, whaddy y' say?"

"What've I got t' do 'bout it?" she finally asked, the color flooding
her face, and a faint smile coming to her lips. "Go ahead. I ain't got
anything--"

Rob put a splinter in his mouth and faced her. "Oh, looky here, now,
Julyie! you know what I mean. I've got a good claim out near Boomtown--a
rattlin' good claim; a shanty on it fourteen by sixteen--no tarred paper
about it, and a suller to keep butter in, and a hundred acres o' wheat
just about ready to turn now. I need a wife."

Here he straightened up, threw away the splinter, and took off his hat.
He was a very pleasant figure as the girl stole a look at him. His black
laughing eyes were especially earnest just now. His voice had a touch of
pleading. The popple tree over their heads murmured applause at his
eloquence, then hushed to listen. A cloud dropped a silent shadow down
upon them, and it sent a little thrill of fear through Rob, as if it
were an omen of failure. As the girl remained silent, looking away, he
began, man-fashion, to desire her more and more, as he feared to lose
her. He put his hat on the post again and took out his jack-knife. Her
calico dress draped her supple and powerful figure simply but naturally.
The stoop in her shoulders, given by labor, disappeared as she partly
leaned upon the fence. The curves of her muscular arms showed through
her sleeve.

"It's all-fired lonesome f'r me out there on that claim, and it ain't no
picnic f'r you here. Now, if you'll come out there with me, you needn't
do anything but cook f'r me, and after harvest we can git a good layout
o' furniture, an' I'll lath and plaster the house and put a little hell
[ell] in the rear." He smiled, and so did she. He felt encouraged to
say: "An' there we be, as snug as y' please. We're close t' Boomtown,
an' we can go down there to church sociables an' things, and they're a
jolly lot there."

The girl was still silent, but the man's simple enthusiasm came to her
charged with passion and a sort of romance such as her hard life had
known little of. There was something enticing about this trip to the
West.

"What'll my folks say?" she said at last.

A virtual surrender, but Rob was not acute enough to see it. He pressed
on eagerly:

"I don't care. Do you? They'll jest keep y' ploughin' corn and milkin'
cows till the day of judgment. Come, Julyie, I ain't got no time to fool
away. I've got t' get back t' that grain. It's a whoopin' old crop, 
sure's y'r born, an' that means sompin purty scrumptious in furniture
this fall. Come, now." He approached her and laid his hand on her
shoulder very much as he would have touched Albert Seagraves or any
other comrade. "Whaddy y' say?"

She neither started nor shrunk nor looked at him. She simply moved a
step away. "They'd never let me go," she replied bitterly. "I'm too
cheap a hand. I do a man's work an' get no pay at all."

"You'll have half o' all I c'n make," he put in.

"How long c'n you wait?" she asked, looking down at her dress.

"Just two minutes," he said, pulling out his watch. "It ain't no use t'
wait. The old man'll be jest as mad a week from now as he is to-day. Why
not go now?"

"I'm of age in a few days," she mused, wavering, calculating.

"You c'n be of age to-night if you'll jest call on old Square Hatfield
with me."

"All right, Rob," the girl said, turning and holding out her hand.

"That's the talk!" he exclaimed, seizing it. "And now a kiss, to bind
the bargain, as the fellah says."

"I guess we c'n get along without that."

"No, we can't. It won't seem like an engagement without it."

"It ain't goin' to seem much like one, anyway," she answered, with a
sudden realization of how far from her dreams of courtship this reality
was.

"Say, now, Julyie, that ain't fair; it ain't treatin' me right. You
don't seem to understand that I like you, but I do."

Rob was carried quite out of himself by the time, the place, and the
girl. He had said a very moving thing.

The tears sprang involuntarily to the girl's eyes. "Do you mean it? If
y' do, you may."

She was trembling with emotion for the first time. The sincerity of the
man's voice had gone deep.

He put his arm around her almost timidly, and kissed her on the cheek,
a great love for her springing up in his heart. "That settles it," he
said. "Don't cry, Julyie. You'll never be sorry for it. Don't cry. It
kind o' hurts me to see it."

He didn't understand her feelings. He was only aware that she was
crying, and tried in a bungling way to soothe her. But now that she had
given way, she sat down in the grass and wept bitterly.

"Yulyie!" yelled the vigilant old Norwegian, like a distant foghorn.

The girl sprang up; the habit of obedience was strong.

"No; you set right there, and I'll go round," he said. "Otto!"

The boy came scrambling out of the wood, half dressed. Rob tossed him
upon the horse, snatched Julia's sun-bonnet, put his own hat on her
head, and moved off down the corn-rows, leaving the girl smiling through
her tears as he whistled and chirped to the horse. Farmer Peterson,
seeing the familiar sun-bonnet above the corn-rows, went back to his
work, with a sentence of Norwegian trailing after him like the tail of a
kite--something about lazy girls who didn't earn the crust of their
bread, etc.

Rob was wild with delight. "Git up there, Jack! Hay, you old corncrib!
Say, Otto, can you keep your mouth shet if it puts money in your
pocket?"

"Jest try me 'n' see," said the keen-eyed little scamp.

"Well, you keep quiet about my bein' here this afternoon, and I'll put a
dollar on y'r tongue--hay?--what?--understand?"

"Show me y'r dollar," said the boy, turning about and showing his
tongue.

"All right. Begin to practise now by not talkin' to me."

Rob went over the whole situation on his way back, and when he got in
sight of the girl his plan was made. She stood waiting for him with a
new look on her face. Her sullenness had given way to a peculiar
eagerness and anxiety to believe in him. She was already living that
free life in a far-off, wonderful country. No more would her stern
father and sullen mother force her to tasks which she hated. She'd be a
member of a new firm. She'd work, of course, but it would be because she
wanted to, and not because she was forced to. The independence and the
love promised grew more and more attractive. She laughed back with a
softer light in her eyes, when she saw the smiling face of Rob looking
at her from her sun-bonnet.

"Now you mustn't do any more o' this," he said. "You go back to the
house an' tell y'r mother you're too lame to plough any more to-day, and
it's gettin' late, anyhow. To-night!" he whispered quickly. "Eleven!
Here!"

The girl's heart leaped with fear. "I'm afraid."

"Not of me, are yeh?"

"No, I'm not afraid of you, Rob."

"I'm glad o' that. I--I want you--to like me, Julyie; won't you?"

"I'll try," she answered, with a smile.

"To-night, then," he said, as she moved away.

"To-night. Good-by."

"Good-by."

He stood and watched her till her tall figure was lost among the
drooping corn-leaves. There was a singular choking feeling in his
throat. The girl's voice and face had brought up so many memories of
parties and picnics and excursions on far-off holidays, and at the same
time held suggestions of the future. He already felt that it was going
to be an unconscionably long time before eleven o'clock.

He saw her go to the house, and then he turned and walked slowly up the
dusty road. Out of the May-weed the grasshoppers sprang, buzzing and
snapping their dull red wings. Butterflies, yellow and white, fluttered
around moist places in the ditch, and slender, striped water-snakes
glided across the stagnant pools at sound of footsteps.

But the mind of the man was far away on his claim, building a new house,
with a woman's advice and presence.

It was a windless night. The katydids and an occasional cricket were the
only sounds Rob could hear as he stood beside his team and strained his
ear to listen. At long intervals a little breeze ran through the corn
like a swift serpent, bringing to his nostrils the sappy smell of the
growing corn. The horses stamped uneasily as the mosquitoes settled on
their shining limbs. The sky was full of stars, but there was no moon.

"What if she don't come?" he thought. "Or can't come? I can't stand
that. I'll go to the old man an' say, 'Looky here--' Sh!"

He listened again. There was a rustling in the corn. It was not like the
fitful movement of the wind; it was steady, slower, and approaching. It
ceased. He whistled the wailing, sweet cry of the prairie-chicken. Then
a figure came out into the road--a woman--Julia!

He took her in his arms as she came panting up to him.

"Rob!"

"Julyie!"

A few words, the dull tread of swift horses, the rising of a silent
train of dust, and then--the wind wandered in the growing corn, the dust
fell, a dog barked down the road, and the katydids sang to the liquid
contralto of the river in its shallows.



The Return of a Private

"On the road leading 'back to God's country' and wife and babies."

I

The nearer the train drew toward La Crosse, the soberer the little group
of "vets" became. On the long way from New Orleans they had beguiled
tedium with jokes and friendly chaff; or with planning with elaborate
detail what they were going to do now, after the war. A long journey,
slowly, irregularly, yet persistently pushing northward. When they
entered on Wisconsin territory they gave a cheer, and another when they
reached Madison, but after that they sank into a dumb expectancy.
Comrades dropped off at one or two points beyond, until there were only
four or five left who were bound for La Crosse County.

Three of them were gaunt and brown, the fourth was gaunt and pale, with
signs of fever and ague upon him. One had a great scar down his temple,
one limped, and they all had unnaturally large, bright eyes, showing
emaciation. There were no bands greeting them at the stations, no banks
of gayly dressed ladies waving handkerchiefs and shouting "Bravo!" as
they came in on the caboose of a freight train into the towns that had
cheered and blared at them on their way to war. As they looked out or
stepped upon the platform for a moment, while the train stood at the
station, the loafers looked at them indifferently. Their blue coats,
dusty and grimy, were too familiar now to excite notice, much less a
friendly word. They were the last of the army to return, and the loafers
were surfeited with such sights.

The train jogged forward so slowly that it seemed likely to be midnight
before they should reach La Crosse. The little squad grumbled and swore,
but it was no use; the train would not hurry, and, as a matter of fact,
it was nearly two o'clock when the engine whistled "down brakes."

All of the group were farmers, living in districts several miles out of
the town, and all were poor.

"Now, boys," said Private Smith, he of the fever and ague, "we are
landed in La Crosse in the night. We've got to stay somewhere till
mornin'. Now I ain't got no two dollars to waste on a hotel. I've got a
wife and children, so I'm goin' to roost on a bench and take the cost of
a bed out of my hide."

"Same here," put in one of the other men. "Hide'll grow on again,
dollars'll come hard. It's goin' to be mighty hot skirmishin' to find a
dollar these days."

"Don't think they'll be a deputation of citizens waitin' to 'scort us to
a hotel, eh?" said another. His sarcasm was too obvious to require an
answer.

Smith went on, "Then at daybreak we'll start for home--at least, I
will."

"Well, I'll be dummed if I'll take two dollars out o' my hide," one of
the younger men said. "I'm goin' to a hotel, ef I don't never lay up a
cent."

"That'll do f'r you," said Smith; "but if you had a wife an' three young
uns dependin' on yeh--"

"Which I ain't, thank the Lord! and don't intend havin' while the court
knows itself."

The station was deserted, chill, and dark, as they came into it at
exactly a quarter to two in the morning. Lit by the oil lamps that
flared a dull red light over the dingy benches, the waiting room was not
an inviting place. The younger man went off to look up a hotel, while
the rest remained and prepared to camp down on the floor and benches.
Smith was attended to tenderly by the other men, who spread their
blankets on the bench for him, and, by robbing themselves, made quite a
comfortable bed, though the narrowness of the bench made his sleeping
precarious.

It was chill, though August, and the two men, sitting with bowed heads,
grew stiff with cold and weariness, and were forced to rise now and
again and walk about to warm their stiffened limbs. It did not occur to
them, probably, to contrast their coming home with their going forth, or
with the coming home of the generals, colonels, or even captains--but to
Private Smith, at any rate, there came a sickness at heart almost deadly
as he lay there on his hard bed and went over his situation.

In the deep of the night, lying on a board in the town where he had
enlisted three years ago, all elation and enthusiasm gone out of him, he
faced the fact that with the joy of home-coming was already mingled the
bitter juice of care. He saw himself sick, worn out, taking up the work
on his half-cleared farm, the inevitable mortgage standing ready with
open jaw to swallow half his earnings. He had given three years of his
life for a mere pittance of pay, and now!--

Morning dawned at last, slowly, with a pale yellow dome of light rising
silently above the bluffs, which stand like some huge storm-devastated
castle, just east of the city. Out to the left the great river swept on
its massive yet silent way to the south. Bluejays called across the
water from hillside to hillside through the clear, beautiful air, and
hawks began to skim the tops of the hills. The older men were astir
early, but Private Smith had fallen at last into a sleep, and they went
out without waking him. He lay on his knapsack, his gaunt face turned
toward the ceiling, his hands clasped on his breast, with a curious
pathetic effect of weakness and appeal.

An engine switching near woke him at last, and he slowly sat up and
stared about. He looked out of the window and saw that the sun was
lightening the hills across the river. He rose and brushed his hair as
well as he could, folded his blankets up, and went out to find his
companions. They stood gazing silently at the river and at the hills.

"Looks natcher'l, don't it?" they said, as he came out.

"That's what it does," he replied. "An' it looks good. D 'yeh see that
peak?" He pointed at a beautiful symmetrical peak, rising like a
slightly truncated cone, so high that it seemed the very highest of them
all. It was touched by the morning sun and it glowed like a beacon, and
a light scarf of gray morning fog was rolling up its shadowed side.

"My farm's just beyond that. Now, if I can only ketch a ride, we'll be
home by dinner-time."

"I'm talkin' about breakfast," said one of the others.

"I guess it's one more meal o' hardtack f'r me," said Smith.

They foraged around, and finally found a restaurant with a sleepy old
German behind the counter, and procured some coffee, which they drank to
wash down their hardtack.

"Time'll come," said Smith, holding up a piece by the corner, "when
this'll be a curiosity."

"I hope to God it will! I bet I've chawed hardtack enough to shingle
every house in the coolly. I've chawed it when my lampers was down, and
when they wasn't. I've took it dry, soaked, and mashed. I've had it
wormy, musty, sour, and blue-mouldy. I've had it in little bits and big
bits; 'fore coffee an' after coffee. I'm ready f'r a change. I'd like t'
git holt jest about now o' some of the hot biscuits my wife c'n make
when she lays herself out f'r company."

"Well, if you set there gabblin', you'll never see yer wife."

"Come on," said Private Smith. "Wait a moment, boys; less take suthin'.
It's on me." He led them to the rusty tin dipper which hung on a nail
beside the wooden water-pail, and they grinned and drank. Then
shouldering their blankets and muskets, which they were "takin' home to
the boys," they struck out on their last march.

"They called that coffee Jayvy," grumbled one of them, "but it never
went by the road where government Jayvy resides. I reckon I know coffee
from peas."

They kept together on the road along the turnpike, and up the winding
road by the river, which they followed for some miles. The river was
very lovely, curving down along its sandy beds, pausing now and then
under broad basswood trees, or running in dark, swift, silent currents
under tangles of wild grapevines, and drooping alders, and haw trees.
At one of these lovely spots the three vets sat down on the thick green
sward to rest, "on Smith's account." The leaves of the trees were as
fresh and green as in June, the jays called cheery greetings to them,
and kingfishers darted to and fro with swooping, noiseless flight.

"I tell yeh, boys, this knocks the swamps of Loueesiana into kingdom
come."

"You bet. All they c'n raise down there is snakes, niggers, and
p'rticler hell."

"An' fightin' men," put in the older man.

"An' fightin' men. If I had a good hook an' line I'd sneak a pick'rel
out o' that pond. Say, remember that time I shot that alligator--"

"I guess we'd better be crawlin' along," interrupted Smith, rising and
shouldering his knapsack, with considerable effort, which he tried to
hide.

"Say, Smith, lemme give you a lift on that."

"I guess I c'n manage," said Smith, grimly.

"Course. But, yo' see, I may not have a chance right off to pay yeh back
for the times you've carried my gun and hull caboodle. Say, now, gimme
that gun, anyway."

"All right, if yeh feel like it, Jim," Smith replied, and they trudged
along doggedly in the sun, which was getting higher and hotter each
half-mile.

"Ain't it queer there ain't no teams comin' along," said Smith, after a
long silence.

"Well, no, seein's it's Sunday."

"By jinks, that's a fact! It is Sunday. I'll git home in time f'r
dinner, sure!" he exulted. "She don't hev dinner usially till about one
on Sundays." And he fell into a muse, in which he smiled.

"Well, I'll git home jest about six o'clock, jest about when the boys
are milkin' the cows," said old Jim Cranby. "I'll step into the barn,
an' then I'll say: 'Heah! why ain't this milkin' done before this time
o' day?' An' then won't they yell!" he added, slapping his thigh in
great glee.

Smith went on. "I'll jest go up the path. Old Rover'll come down the
road to meet me. He won't bark; he'll know me, an' he'll come down
waggin' his tail an' showin' his teeth. That's his way of laughin'. An'
so I'll walk up to the kitchen door, an' I'll say, 'Dinner f'r a hungry
man!' An' then she'll jump up, an'--"

He couldn't go on. His voice choked at the thought of it. Saunders, the
third man, hardly uttered a word, but walked silently behind the others.
He had lost his wife the first year he was in the army. She died of
pneumonia, caught in the autumn rains while working in the fields in his
place.

They plodded along till at last they came to a parting of the ways. To
the right the road continued up the main valley; to the left it went
over the big ridge.

"Well, boys," began Smith, as they grounded their muskets and looked
away up the valley, "here's where we shake hands. We've marched together
a good many miles, an' now I s'pose we're done."

"Yes, I don't think we'll do any more of it f'r a while. I don't want
to, I know."

"I hope I'll see yeh once in a while, boys, to talk over old times."

"Of course," said Saunders, whose voice trembled a little, too. "It
ain't exactly like dyin'." They all found it hard to look at each other.

"But we'd ought'r go home with you," said Cranby. "You'll never climb
that ridge with all them things on yer back."

"Oh, I'm all right! Don't worry about me. Every step takes me nearer
home, yeh see. Well, good-by, boys."

They shook hands. "Good-by. Good luck!"

"Same to you. Lemme know how you find things at home."

"Good-by."

"Good-by."

He turned once before they passed out of sight, and waved his cap, and
they did the same, and all yelled. Then all marched away with their
long, steady, loping, veteran step. The solitary climber in blue walked
on for a time, with his mind filled with the kindness of his comrades,
and musing upon the many wonderful days they had had together in camp
and field.

He thought of his chum, Billy Tripp. Poor Billy! A "minie" ball fell
into his breast one day, fell wailing like a cat, and tore a great
ragged hole in his heart. He looked forward to a sad scene with Billy's
mother and sweetheart. They would want to know all about it. He tried to
recall all that Billy had said, and the particulars of it, but there was
little to remember, just that wild wailing sound high in the air, a dull
slap, a short, quick, expulsive groan, and the boy lay with his face in
the dirt in the ploughed field they were marching across.

That was all. But all the scenes he had since been through had not
dimmed the horror, the terror of that moment, when his boy comrade fell,
with only a breath between a laugh and a death-groan. Poor handsome
Billy! Worth millions of dollars was his young life.

These sombre recollections gave way at length to more cheerful feelings
as he began to approach his home coolly. The fields and houses grew
familiar, and in one or two he was greeted by people seated in the
doorway. But he was in no mood to talk, and pushed on steadily, though
he stopped and accepted a drink of milk once at the well-side of a
neighbor.

The sun was getting hot on that slope, and his step grew slower, in
spite of his iron resolution. He sat down several times to rest. Slowly
he crawled up the rough, reddish-brown road, which wound along the
hillside, under great trees, through dense groves of jack oaks, with
tree-tops far below him on his left hand, and the hills far above him on
his right. He crawled along like some minute, wingless variety of fly.

He ate some hardtack, sauced with wild berries, when he reached the
summit of the ridge, and sat there for some time, looking down into his
home coolly.

Sombre, pathetic figure! His wide, round, gray eyes gazing down into the
beautiful valley, seeing and not seeing, the splendid cloud-shadows
sweeping over the western hills and across the green and yellow wheat
far below. His head drooped forward on his palm, his shoulders took on a
tired stoop, his cheek-bones showed painfully. An observer might have
said, "He is looking down upon his own grave."

II

Sunday comes in a Western wheat harvest with such sweet and sudden
relaxation to man and beast that it would be holy for that reason, if
for no other, and Sundays are usually fair in harvest-time. As one goes
out into the field in the hot morning sunshine, with no sound abroad
save the crickets and the indescribably pleasant silken rustling of the
ripened grain, the reaper and the very sheaves in the stubble seem to be
resting, dreaming.

Around the house, in the shade of the trees, the men sit, smoking,
dozing, or reading the papers, while the women, never resting, move
about at the housework. The men eat on Sundays about the same as on
other days, and breakfast is no sooner over and out of the way than
dinner begins.

But at the Smith farm there were no men dozing or reading. Mrs. Smith
was alone with her three children, Mary, nine, Tommy, six, and little
Ted, just past four. Her farm, rented to a neighbor, lay at the head of
a coolly or narrow gully, made at some far-off post-glacial period by
the vast and angry floods of water which gullied these tremendous
furrows in the level prairie--furrows so deep that undisturbed portions
of the original level rose like hills on either side, rose to quite
considerable mountains.

The chickens wakened her as usual that Sabbath morning from dreams of
her absent husband, from whom she had not heard for weeks. The shadows
drifted over the hills, down the slopes, across the wheat, and up the
opposite wall in leisurely way, as if, being Sunday, they could take it
easy also. The fowls clustered about the housewife as she went out into
the yard. Fuzzy little chickens swarmed out from the coops, where their
clucking and perpetually disgruntled mothers tramped about, petulantly
thrusting their heads through the spaces between the slats.

A cow called in a deep, musical bass, and a calf answered from a little
pen near by, and a pig scurried guiltily out of the cabbages. Seeing all
this, seeing the pig in the cabbages, the tangle of grass in the garden,
the broken fence which she had mended again and again--the little woman,
hardly more than a girl, sat down and cried. The bright Sabbath morning
was only a mockery without him!

A few years ago they had bought this farm, paying part, mortgaging the
rest in the usual way. Edward Smith was a man of terrible energy. He
worked "nights and Sundays," as the saying goes, to clear the farm of
its brush and of its insatiate mortgage! In the midst of his Herculean
struggle came the call for volunteers, and with the grim and unselfish
devotion to his country which made the Eagle Brigade able to "whip its
weight in wild-cats," he threw down his scythe and grub-axe, turned his
cattle loose, and became a blue-coated cog in a vast machine for killing
men, and not thistles. While the millionaire sent his money to England
for safe-keeping, this man, with his girl-wife and three babies, left
them on a mortgaged farm, and went away to fight for an idea. It was
foolish, but it was sublime for all that.

That was three years before, and the young wife, sitting on the
well-curb on this bright Sabbath harvest morning, was righteously
rebellious. It seemed to her that she had borne her share of the
country's sorrow. Two brothers had been killed, the renter in whose
hands her husband had left the farm had proved a villain; one year the
farm had been without crops, and now the overripe grain was waiting the
tardy hand of the neighbor who had rented it, and who was cutting his
own grain first.

About six weeks before, she had received a letter saying, "We'll be
discharged in a little while." But no other word had come from him. She
had seen by the papers that his army was being discharged, and from day
to day other soldiers slowly percolated in blue streams back into the
State and county, but still her hero did not return.

Each week she had told the children that he was coming, and she had
watched the road so long that it had become unconscious; and as she
stood at the well, or by the kitchen door, her eyes were fixed
unthinkingly on the road that wound down the coolly.

Nothing wears on the human soul like waiting. If the stranded mariner,
searching the sun-bright seas, could once give up hope of a ship, that
horrible grinding on his brain would cease. It was this waiting, hoping,
on the edge of despair, that gave Emma Smith no rest.

Neighbors said, with kind intentions, "He's sick, maybe, an' can't start
north just yet. He'll come along one o' these days."

"Why don't he write?" was her question, which silenced them all. This
Sunday morning it seemed to her as if she could not stand it longer. The
house seemed intolerably lonely. So she dressed the little ones in their
best calico dresses and home-made jackets, and, closing up the house,
set off down the coolly to old Mother Gray's.

"Old Widder Gray" lived at the "mouth of the coolly." She was a widow
woman with a large family of stalwart boys and laughing girls. She was
the visible incarnation of hospitality and optimistic poverty. With
Western open-heartedness she fed every mouth that asked food of her, and
worked herself to death as cheerfully as her girls danced in the
neighborhood harvest dances.

She waddled down the path to meet Mrs. Smith with a broad smile on her
face.

"Oh, you little dears! Come right to your granny. Gimme a kiss! Come
right in, Mis' Smith. How are yeh, anyway? Nice mornin', ain't it? Come
in an' set down. Everything's in a clutter, but that won't scare you
any."

She led the way into the best room, a sunny, square room, carpeted with
a faded and patched rag carpet, and papered with white-and-green-striped
wall-paper, where a few faded effigies of dead members of the family
hung in variously sized oval walnut frames. The house resounded with
singing, laughter, whistling, tramping of heavy boots, and riotous
scufflings. Half-grown boys came to the door and crooked their fingers
at the children, who ran out, and were soon heard in the midst of the
fun.

"Don't s'pose you've heard from Ed?" Mrs. Smith shook her head. "He'll
turn up some day, when you ain't lookin' for 'm." The good old soul had
said that so many times that poor Mrs. Smith derived no comfort from it
any longer.

"Liz heard from Al the other day. He's comin' some day this week.
Anyhow, they expect him."

"Did he say anything of--"

"No, he didn't," Mrs. Gray admitted. "But then it was only a short
letter, anyhow. Al ain't much for writin', anyhow.--But come out and see
my new cheese. I tell yeh, I don't believe I ever had better luck in my
life. If Ed should come, I want you should take him up a piece of this
cheese."

It was beyond human nature to resist the influence of that noisy,
hearty, loving household, and in the midst of the singing and laughing
the wife forgot her anxiety, for the time at least, and laughed and sang
with the rest.

About eleven o'clock a wagon-load more drove up to the door, and Bill
Gray, the widow's oldest son, and his whole family, from Sand Lake
Coolly, piled out amid a good-natured uproar. Every one talked at once,
except Bill, who sat in the wagon with his wrists on his knees, a straw
in his mouth, and an amused twinkle in his blue eyes.

"Ain't heard nothin' o' Ed, I s'pose?" he asked in a kind of bellow.
Mrs. Smith shook her head. Bill, with a delicacy very striking in such a
great giant, rolled his quid in his mouth, and said:

"Didn't know but you had. I hear two or three of the Sand Lake boys are
comin'. Left New Orleenes some time this week. Didn't write nothin'
about Ed, but no news is good news in such cases, mother always says."

"Well, go put out yer team," said Mrs. Gray, "an' go'n bring me in some
taters, an', Sim, you go see if you c'n find some corn. Sadie, you put
on the water to bile. Come now, hustle yer boots, all o' yeh. If I feed
this yer crowd, we've got to have some raw materials. If y' think I'm
goin' to feed yeh on pie--your jest mightily mistaken."

The children went off into the fields, the girls put dinner on to boil,
and then went to change their dresses and fix their hair. "Somebody
might come," they said.

"Land sakes, I hope not! I don't know where in time I'd set 'em, 'less
they'd eat at the second table," Mrs. Gray laughed, in pretended dismay.

The two older boys, who had served their time in the army, lay out on
the grass before the house, and whittled and talked desultorily about
the war and the crops, and planned buying a threshing-machine. The older
girls and Mrs. Smith helped enlarge the table and put on the dishes,
talking all the time in that cheery, incoherent, and meaningful way a
group of such women have,--a conversation to be taken for its spirit
rather than for its letter, though Mrs. Gray at last got the ear of them
all and dissertated at length on girls.

"Girls in love ain't no use in the whole blessed week," she said.
"Sundays they're a-lookin' down the road, expectin' he'll come. Sunday
afternoons they can't think o' nothin' else, 'cause he's here. Monday
mornin's they're sleepy and kind o' dreamy and slimpsy, and good f'r
nothin' on Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday they git absent-minded, an'
begin to look off toward Sunday agin, an' mope aroun' and let the
dishwater git cold, right under their noses. Friday they break dishes,
an' go off in the best room an' snivel, an' look out o' the winder.
Saturdays they have queer spurts o' workin' like all p'ssessed, an'
spurts o' frizzin' their hair. An' Sunday they begin it all over agin."

The girls giggled and blushed, all through this tirade from their
mother, their broad faces and powerful frames anything but suggestive of
lackadaisical sentiment. But Mrs. Smith said:

"Now, Mrs. Gray, I hadn't ought to stay to dinner. You've got--"

"Now you set right down! If any of them girls' beaus comes, they'll have
to take what's left, that's all. They ain't s'posed to have much
appetite, nohow. No, you're goin' to stay if they starve, an' they ain't
no danger o' that."

At one o'clock the long table was piled with boiled potatoes, cords of
boiled corn on the cob, squash and pumpkin pies, hot biscuit, sweet
pickles, bread and butter, and honey. Then one of the girls took down a
conch-shell from a nail, and going to the door, blew a long, fine, tree
blast, that showed there was no weakness of lungs in her ample chest.

Then the children came out of the forest of corn, out of the creek, out
of the loft of the barn, and out of the garden.

"They come to their feed f'r all the world jest like the pigs when y'
holler 'poo-ee!' See 'em scoot!" laughed Mrs. Gray, every wrinkle on her
face shining with delight.

The men shut up their jack-knives, and surrounded the horse-trough to
souse their faces in the cold, hard water, and in a few moments the
table was filled with a merry crowd, and a row of wistful-eyed
youngsters circled the kitchen wall, where they stood first on one leg
and then on the other, in impatient hunger.

"Now pitch in, Mrs. Smith," said Mrs. Gray, presiding over the table.
"You know these men critters. They'll eat every grain of it, if yeh give
'em a chance. I swan, they're made o' India-rubber, their stomachs is, I
know it."

"Haf to eat to work," said Bill, gnawing a cob with a swift, circular
motion that rivalled a corn-sheller in results.

"More like workin' to eat," put in one of the girls, with a giggle.
"More eat 'n work with you."

"You needn't say anything, Net. Any one that'll eat seven ears--"

"I didn't, no such thing. You piled your cobs on my plate."

"That'll do to tell Ed Varney. It won't go down here where we know yeh."

"Good land! Eat all yeh want! They's plenty more in the fiel's, but I
can't afford to give you young uns tea. The tea is for us women-folks,
and 'specially f'r Mis' Smith an' Bill's wife. We're a-goin' to tell
fortunes by it."

One by one the men filled up and shoved back, and one by one the
children slipped into their places, and by two o'clock the women alone
remained around the débris-covered table, sipping their tea and telling
fortunes.

As they got well down to the grounds in the cup, they shook them with a
circular motion in the hand, and then turned them bottom-side-up quickly
in the saucer, then twirled them three or four times one way, and three
or four times the other, during a breathless pause. Then Mrs. Gray
lifted the cup, and, gazing into it with profound gravity, pronounced
the impending fate.

It must be admitted that, to a critical observer, she had abundant
preparation for hitting close to the mark, as when she told the girls
that "somebody was comin'." "It's a man," she went on gravely. "He is
cross-eyed--"

"Oh, you hush!" cried Nettie.

"He has red hair, and is death on b'iled corn and hot biscuit."

The others shrieked with delight.

"But he's goin' to get the mitten, that red-headed feller is, for I see
another feller comin' up behind him."

"Oh, lemme see, lemme see!" cried Nettie.

"Keep off," said the priestess, with a lofty gesture. "His hair is
black. He don't eat so much, and he works more."

The girls exploded in a shriek of laughter, and pounded their sister on
the back.

At last came Mrs. Smith's turn, and she was trembling with excitement as
Mrs. Gray again composed her jolly face to what she considered a proper
solemnity of expression.

"Somebody is comin' to you," she said, after a long pause. "He's got a
musket on his back. He's a soldier. He's almost here. See?"

She pointed at two little tea-stems, which really formed a faint
suggestion of a man with a musket on his back. He had climbed nearly to
the edge of the cup. Mrs. Smith grew pale with excitement. She trembled
so she could hardly hold the cup in her hand as she gazed into it.

"It's Ed," cried the old woman. "He's on the way home. Heavens an'
earth! There he is now!" She turned and waved her hand out toward the
road. They rushed to the door to look where she pointed.

A man in a blue coat, with a musket on his back, was toiling slowly up
the hill on the sun-bright, dusty road, toiling slowly, with bent head
half hidden by a heavy knapsack. So tired it seemed that walking was
indeed a process of falling. So eager to get home he would not stop,
would not look aside, but plodded on, amid the cries of the locusts, the
welcome of the crickets, and the rustle of the yellow wheat. Getting
back to God's country, and his wife and babies!

Laughing, crying, trying to call him and the children at the same time,
the little wife, almost hysterical, snatched her hat and ran out into
the yard. But the soldier had disappeared over the hill into the hollow
beyond, and, by the time she had found the children, he was too far away
for her voice to reach him. And, besides, she was not sure it was her
husband, for he had not turned his head at their shouts. This seemed so
strange. Why didn't he stop to rest at his old neighbor's house?
Tortured by hope and doubt, she hurried up the coolly as fast as she
could push the baby wagon, the blue-coated figure just ahead pushing
steadily, silently forward up the coolly.

When the excited, panting little group came in sight of the gate they
saw the blue-coated figure standing, leaning upon the rough rail fence,
his chin on his palms, gazing at the empty house. His knapsack, canteen,
blankets, and musket lay upon the dusty grass at his feet.

He was like a man lost in a dream. His wide, hungry eyes devoured the
scene. The rough lawn, the little unpainted house, the field of clear
yellow wheat behind it, down across which streamed the sun, now almost
ready to touch the high hill to the west, the crickets crying merrily, a
cat on the fence near by, dreaming, unmindful of the stranger in blue--

How peaceful it all was. O God! How far removed from all camps,
hospitals, battle lines. A little cabin in a Wisconsin coolly, but it
was majestic in its peace. How did he ever leave it for those years of
tramping, thirsting, killing?

Trembling, weak with emotion, her eyes on the silent figure, Mrs. Smith
hurried up to the fence. Her feet made no noise in the dust and grass,
and they were close upon him before he knew of them. The oldest boy ran
a little ahead. He will never forget that figure, that face. It will
always remain as something epic, that return of the private. He fixed
his eyes on the pale face covered with a ragged beard.

"Who are you, sir?" asked the wife, or, rather, started to ask, for he
turned, stood a moment, and then cried:

"Emma!"

"Edward!"

The children stood in a curious row to see their mother kiss this
bearded, strange man, the elder girl sobbing sympathetically with her
mother. Illness had left the soldier partly deaf, and this added to the
strangeness of his manner.

But the youngest child stood away, even after the girl had recognized
her father and kissed him. The man turned then to the baby, and said in
a curiously unpaternal tone:

"Come here, my little man; don't you know me?" But the baby backed away
under the fence and stood peering at him critically.

"My little man!" What meaning in those words! This baby seemed like some
other woman's child, and not the infant he had left in his wife's arms.
The war had come between him and his baby--he was only a strange man to
him, with big eyes; a soldier, with mother hanging to his arm, and
talking in a loud voice.

"And this is Tom," the private said, drawing the oldest boy to him.
"He'll come and see me. He knows his poor old pap when he comes home
from the war."

The mother heard the pain and reproach in his voice and hastened to
apologize.

"You've changed so, Ed. He can't know yeh. This is papa, Teddy; come and
kiss him--Tom and Mary do. Come, won't you?" But Teddy still peered
through the fence with solemn eyes, well out of reach. He resembled a
half-wild kitten that hesitates, studying the tones of one's voice.

"I'll fix him," said the soldier, and sat down to undo his knapsack, out
of which he drew three enormous and very red apples. After giving one to
each of the older children, he said:

"Now I guess he'll come. Eh, my little man? Now come see your pap."

Teddy crept slowly under the fence, assisted by the overzealous Tommy,
and a moment later was kicking and squalling in his father's arms. Then
they entered the house, into the sitting room, poor, bare, art-forsaken
little room, too, with its rag carpet, its square clock, and its two or
three chromos and pictures from Harper's Weekly pinned about.

"Emma, I'm all tired out," said Private Smith, as he flung himself down
on the carpet as he used to do, while his wife brought a pillow to put
under his head, and the children stood about munching their apples.

"Tommy, you run and get me a pan of chips, and Mary, you get the
tea-kettle on, and I'll go and make some biscuit."

And the soldier talked. Question after question he poured forth about
the crops, the cattle, the renter, the neighbors. He slipped his heavy
government brogan shoes off his poor, tired, blistered feet, and lay out
with utter, sweet relaxation. He was a free man again, no longer a
soldier under command. At supper he stopped once, listened and smiled.
"That's old Spot. I know her voice. I s'pose that's her calf out there
in the pen. I can't milk her to-night, though. I'm too tired. But I tell
you, I'd like a drink o' her milk. What's become of old Rove?"

"He died last winter. Poisoned, I guess." There was a moment of sadness
for them all. It was some time before the husband spoke again, in a
voice that trembled a little.

"Poor old feller! He'd 'a' known me a half a mile away. I expected him
to come down the hill to meet me. It 'ud 'a' been more like comin' home
if I could 'a' seen him comin' down the road an' waggin' his tail, an'
laughin' that way he has. I tell yeh, it kind o' took hold o' me to see
the blinds down an' the house shut up."

"But, yeh see, we--we expected you'd write again 'fore you started. And
then we thought we'd see you if you did come," she hastened to explain.

"Well, I ain't worth a cent on writin'. Besides, it's just as well yeh
didn't know when I was comin'. I tell you, it sounds good to hear them
chickens out there, an' turkeys, an' the crickets. Do you know they
don't have just the same kind o' crickets down South? Who's Sam hired
t' help cut yer grain?"

"The Ramsey boys."

"Looks like a good crop; but I'm afraid I won't do much gettin' it cut.
This cussed fever an' ague has got me down pretty low. I don't know when
I'll get rid of it. I'll bet I've took twenty-five pounds of quinine if
I've taken a bit. Gimme another biscuit. I tell yeh, they taste good,
Emma. I ain't had anything like it--Say, if you'd 'a' hear'd me braggin'
to th' boys about your butter 'n' biscuits I'll bet your ears 'ud 'a'
burnt."

The private's wife colored with pleasure. "Oh, you're always a-braggin'
about your things. Everybody makes good butter."

"Yes; old lady Snyder, for instance."

"Oh, well, she ain't to be mentioned. She's Dutch."

"Or old Mis' Snively. One more cup o' tea, Mary. That's my girl! I'm
feeling better already. I just b'lieve the matter with me is, I'm
starved."

This was a delicious hour, one long to be remembered. They were like
lovers again. But their tenderness, like that of a typical American
family, found utterance in tones, rather than in words. He was praising
her when praising her biscuit, and she knew it. They grew soberer when
he showed where he had been struck, one ball burning the back of his
hand, one cutting away a lock of hair from his temple, and one passing
through the calf of his leg. The wife shuddered to think how near she
had come to being a soldier's widow. Her waiting no longer seemed hard.
This sweet, glorious hour effaced it all.

Then they rose, and all went out into the garden and down to the barn.
He stood beside her while she milked old Spot. They began to plan fields
and crops for next year.

His farm was weedy and encumbered, a rascally renter had run away with
his machinery (departing between two days), his children needed
clothing, the years were coming upon him, he was sick and emaciated, but
his heroic soul did not quail. With the same courage with which he faced
his Southern march he entered upon a still more hazardous future.

Oh, that mystic hour! The pale man with big eyes standing there by the
well, with his young wife by his side. The vast moon swinging above the
eastern peaks, the cattle winding down the pasture slopes with jangling
bells, the crickets singing, the stars blooming out sweet and far and
serene; the katydids rhythmically calling, the little turkeys crying
querulously, as they settled to roost in the poplar tree near the open
gate. The voices at the well drop lower, the little ones nestle in their
father's arms at last, and Teddy falls asleep there.

The common soldier of the American volunteer army had returned. His war
with the South was over, and his fight, his daily running fight with
nature and against the injustice of his fellow-men, was begun again.



Under the Lion's Paw

"Along this main-travelled road trailed an endless line of prairie
schooners, coming into sight at the east, and passing out of sight over
the swell to the west. We children used to wonder where they were going
and why they went."

I

It was the last of autumn and first day of winter coming together. All
day long the ploughmen on their prairie farms had moved to and fro in
their wide level fields through the falling snow, which melted as it
fell, wetting them to the skin--all day, notwithstanding the frequent
squalls of snow, the dripping, desolate clouds, and the muck of the
furrows, black and tenacious as tar.

Under their dripping harness the horses swung to and fro silently, with
that marvellous uncomplaining patience which marks the horse. All day
the wild geese, honking wildly, as they sprawled sidewise down the wind,
seemed to be fleeing from an enemy behind, and with neck outthrust and
wings extended, sailed down the wind, soon lost to sight.

Yet the ploughman behind his plough, though the snow lay on his ragged
great-coat, and the cold clinging mud rose on his heavy boots, fettering
him like gyves, whistled in the very beard of the gale. As day passed,
the snow, ceasing to melt, lay along the ploughed land, and lodged in
the depth of the stubble, till on each slow round the last furrow stood
out black and shining as jet between the ploughed land and the gray
stubble.

When night began to fall, and the geese, flying low, began to alight
invisibly in the near corn-field, Stephen Council was still at work
"finishing a land." He rode on his sulky plough when going with the
wind, but walked when facing it. Sitting bent and cold but cheery under
his slouch hat, he talked encouragingly to his four-in-hand.

"Come round there, boys!--Round agin! We got t' finish this land. Come
in there, Dan! Stiddy, Kate,--stiddy! None o' y'r tantrums, Kittie. It's
purty tuff, but got a be did. Tchk! tchk! Step along, Pete! Don't let
Kate git y'r single-tree on the wheel. Once more!"

They seemed to know what he meant, and that this was the last round, for
they worked with greater vigor than before.

"Once more, boys, an' then, sez I, oats an' a nice warm stall, an' sleep
f'r all."

By the time the last furrow was turned on the land it was too dark to
see the house, and the snow was changing to rain again. The tired and
hungry man could see the light from the kitchen shining through the
leafless hedge, and he lifted a great shout, "Supper f'r a half a
dozen!"

It was nearly eight o'clock by the time he had finished his chores and
started for supper. He was picking his way carefully through the mud,
when the tall form of a man loomed up before him with a premonitory
cough.

"Waddy ye want?" was the rather startled question of the farmer.

"Well, ye see," began the stranger, in a deprecating tone, "we'd like
t' git in f'r the night. We've tried every house f'r the last two miles,
but they hadn't any room f'r us. My wife's jest about sick, 'n' the
children are cold and hungry--"

"Oh, y' want 'o stay all night, eh?"

"Yes, sir; it 'ud be a great accom--"

"Waal, I don't make it a practice t' turn anybuddy way hungry, not on
sech nights as this. Drive right in. We ain't got much, but sech as it
is--"

But the stranger had disappeared. And soon his steaming, weary team,
with drooping heads and swinging single-trees, moved past the well to
the block beside the path. Council stood at the side of the "schooner"
and helped the children out--two little half-sleeping children--and then
a small woman with a babe in her arms.

"There ye go!" he shouted jovially, to the children. "Now we're all
right! Run right along to the house there, an' tell Mam' Council you
wants sumpthin' t' eat. Right this way, Mis'--keep right off t' the
right there. I'll go an' git a lantern. Come," he said to the dazed and
silent group at his side.

"Mother," he shouted, as he neared the fragrant and warmly lighted
kitchen, "here are some wayfarers an' folks who need sumpthin' t' eat
an' a place t' snooze." He ended by pushing them all in.

Mrs. Council, a large, jolly, rather coarse-looking woman, took the
children in her arms. "Come right in, you little rabbits. 'Most asleep,
hey? Now here's a drink o' milk f'r each o' ye. I'll have s'm tea in a
minute. Take off y'r things and set up t' the fire."

While she set the children to drinking milk, Council got out his lantern
and went out to the barn to help the stranger about his team, where his
loud, hearty voice could be heard as it came and went between the
haymow and the stalls.

The woman came to light as a small, timid, and discouraged-looking
woman, but still pretty, in a thin and sorrowful way.

"Land sakes! An' you've travelled all the way from Clear Lake t'-day in
this mud! Waal! waal! No wonder you're all tired out. Don't wait f'r the
men, Mis'--" She hesitated, waiting for the name.

"Haskins."

"Mis' Haskins, set right up to the table an' take a good swig o' tea
whilst I make y' s'm toast. It's green tea, an' it's good. I tell
Council as I git older I don't seem to enjoy Young Hyson n'r Gunpowder.
I want the reel green tea, jest as it comes off'n the vines. Seems t'
have more heart in it, some way. Don't s'pose it has. Council says it's
all in m' eye."

Going on in this easy way, she soon had the children filled with bread
and milk and the woman thoroughly at home, eating some toast and
sweet-melon pickles, and sipping the tea.

"See the little rats!" she laughed at the children. "They're full as
they can stick now, and they want to go to bed. Now, don't git up,
Mis' Haskins; set right where you are an' let me look after 'em. I know
all about young ones, though I'm all alone now. Jane went an' married
last fall. But, as I tell Council, it's lucky we keep our health. Set
right there, Mis' Haskins; I won't have you stir a finger."

It was an unmeasured pleasure to sit there in the warm, homely kitchen,
the jovial chatter of the housewife driving out and holding at bay the
growl of the impotent, cheated wind.

The little woman's eyes filled with tears which fell down upon the
sleeping baby in her arms. The world was not so desolate and cold and
hopeless, after all.

"Now I hope Council won't stop out there and talk politics all night.
He's the greatest man to talk politics an' read the Tribune--How old is
it?"

She broke off and peered down at the face of the babe.

"Two months 'n' five days," said the mother, with a mother's exactness.

"Ye don't say! I want 'o know! The dear little pudzy-wudzy!" she went
on, stirring it up in the neighborhood of the ribs with her fat
forefinger.

"Pooty tough on 'oo to go gallivant'n' 'cross lots this way--"

"Yes, that's so; a man can't lift a mountain," said Council, entering
the door. "Mother, this is Mr. Haskins, from Kansas. He's been eat up
'n' drove out by grasshoppers."

"Glad t' see yeh!--Pa, empty that wash-basin 'n' give him a chance t'
wash."

Haskins was a tall man, with a thin, gloomy face. His hair was a reddish
brown, like his coat, and seemed equally faded by the wind and sun, and
his sallow face, though hard and set, was pathetic somehow. You would
have felt that he had suffered much by the line of his mouth showing
under his thin, yellow mustache.

"Hadn't Ike got home yet, Sairy?"

"Hadn't seen 'im."

"W-a-a-l, set right up, Mr. Haskins; wade right into what we've got;
'taint much, but we manage to live on it--she gits fat on it," laughed
Council, pointing his thumb at his wife.

After supper, while the women put the children to bed, Haskins and
Council talked on, seated near the huge cooking-stove, the steam rising
from their wet clothing. In the Western fashion Council told as much of
his own life as he drew from his guest. He asked but few questions, but
by and by the story of Haskins' struggles and defeat came out. The story
was a terrible one, but he told it quietly, seated with his elbows on
his knees, gazing most of the time at the hearth.

"I didn't like the looks of the country, anyhow," Haskins said, partly
rising and glancing at his wife. "I was ust t' northern Ingyannie, where
we have lots o' timber 'n' lots o' rain, 'n' I didn't like the looks o'
that dry prairie. What galled me the worst was goin' s' far away acrosst
so much fine land layin' all through here vacant."

"And the 'hoppers eat ye four years, hand runnin', did they?"

"Eat! They wiped us out. They chawed everything that was green. They
jest set around waitin' f'r us to die t' eat us, too. My God! I ust t'
dream of 'em sittin' 'round on the bedpost, six feet long, workin' their
jaws. They eet the fork-handles. They got worse 'n' worse till they jest
rolled on one another, piled up like snow in winter. Well, it ain't no
use. If I was t' talk all winter I couldn't tell nawthin'. But all the
while I couldn't help thinkin' of all that land back here that nobuddy
was usin' that I ought 'o had 'stead o' bein' out there in that cussed
country."

"Waal, why didn't ye stop an' settle here?" asked Ike, who had come in
and was eating his supper.

"Fer the simple reason that you fellers wantid ten 'r fifteen dollars an
acre fer the bare land, and I hadn't no money fer that kind o' thing."

"Yes, I do my own work," Mrs. Council was heard to say in the pause
which followed. "I'm a gettin' purty heavy t' be on m' laigs all day,
but we can't afford t' hire, so I keep rackin' around somehow, like a
foundered horse. S' lame--I tell Council he can't tell how lame I am,
f'r I'm jest as lame in one laig as t'other." And the good soul laughed
at the joke on herself as she took a handful of flour and dusted the
biscuit-board to keep the dough from sticking.

"Well, I hain't never been very strong," said Mrs. Haskins. "Our folks
was Canadians an' small-boned, and then since my last child I hain't got
up again fairly. I don't like t' complain. Tim has about all he can bear
now--but they was days this week when I jest wanted to lay right down
an' die."

"Waal, now, I'll tell ye," said Council, from his side of the stove,
silencing everybody with his good-natured roar, "I'd go down and see
Butler, anyway, if I was you. I guess he'd let you have his place purty
cheap; the farm's all run down. He's ben anxious t' let t' somebuddy
next year. It 'ud be a good chance fer you. Anyhow, you go to bed and
sleep like a babe. I've got some ploughing t' do, anyhow, an' we'll see
if somethin' can't be done about your case. Ike, you go out an' see if
the horses is all right, an' I'll show the folks t' bed."

When the tired husband and wife were lying under the generous quilts of
the spare bed, Haskins listened a moment to the wind in the eaves, and
then said, with a slow and solemn tone,

"There are people in this world who are good enough t' be angels, an'
only haff t' die to be angels."

II

Jim Butler was one of those men called in the West "land poor." Early in
the history of Rock River he had come into the town and started in the
grocery business in a small way, occupying a small building in a mean
part of the town. At this period of his life he earned all he got, and
was up early and late sorting beans, working over butter, and carting
his goods to and from the station. But a change came over him at the end
of the second year, when he sold a lot of land for four times what he
paid for it. From that time forward he believed in land speculation as
the surest way of getting rich. Every cent he could save or spare from
his trade he put into land at forced sale, or mortgages on land, which
were "just as good as the wheat," he was accustomed to say.

Farm after farm fell into his hands, until he was recognized as one of
the leading landowners of the county. His mortgages were scattered all
over Cedar County, and as they slowly but surely fell in he sought
usually to retain the former owner as tenant.

He was not ready to foreclose; indeed, he had the name of being one of
the "easiest" men in the town. He let the debtor off again and again,
extending the time whenever possible.

"I don't want y'r land," he said. "All I'm after is the int'rest on my
money--that's all. Now, if y' want 'o stay on the farm, why, I'll give
y' a good chance. I can't have the land layin' vacant." And in many
cases the owner remained as tenant.

In the meantime he had sold his store; he couldn't spend time in it; he
was mainly occupied now with sitting around town on rainy days smoking
and "gassin' with the boys," or in riding to and from his farms. In
fishing-time he fished a good deal. Doc Grimes, Ben Ashley, and Cal
Cheatham were his cronies on these fishing excursions or hunting trips
in the time of chickens or partridges. In winter they went to Northern
Wisconsin to shoot deer.

In spite of all these signs of easy life Butler persisted in saying he
"hadn't enough money to pay taxes on his land," and was careful to
convey the impression that he was poor in spite of his twenty farms. At
one time he was said to be worth fifty thousand dollars, but land had
been a little slow of sale of late, so that he was not worth so much.

A fine farm, known as the Higley place, had fallen into his hands in the
usual way the previous year, and he had not been able to find a tenant
for it. Poor Higley, after working himself nearly to death on it in the
attempt to lift the mortgage, had gone off to Dakota, leaving the farm
and his curse to Butler.

This was the farm which Council advised Haskins to apply for; and the
next day Council hitched up his team and drove down to see Butler.

"You jest let me do the talkin'," he said. "We'll find him wearin' out
his pants on some salt barrel somew'ers; and if he thought you wanted a
place he'd sock it to you hot and heavy. You jest keep quiet; I'll fix
'im."

Butler was seated in Ben Ashley's store telling fish yarns when Council
sauntered in casually.

"Hello, But; lyin' agin, hey?"

"Hello, Steve! how goes it?"

"Oh, so-so. Too dang much rain these days. I thought it was goin' t'
freeze up f'r good last night. Tight squeak if I get m' ploughin' done.
How's farmin' with you these days?"

"Bad. Ploughin' ain't half done."

"It 'ud be a religious idee f'r you t' go out an' take a hand y'rself."

"I don't haff to," said Butler, with a wink.

"Got anybody on the Higley place?"

"No. Know of anybody?"

"Waal, no; not eggsackly. I've got a relation back t' Michigan who's
ben hot an' cold on the idee o' comin' West f'r some time. Might come if
he could get a good lay-out. What do you talk on the farm?"

"Well, I d' know. I'll rent it on shares or I'll rent it money rent."

"Waal, how much money, say?"

"Well, say ten per cent, on the price--two-fifty."

"Waal, that ain't bad. Wait on 'im till 'e thrashes?"

Haskins listened eagerly to his important question, but Council was
coolly eating a dried apple which he had speared out of a barrel with
his knife. Butler studied him carefully.

"Well, knocks me out of twenty-five dollars interest."

"My relation'll need all he's got t' git his crops in," said Council,
in the same, indifferent way.

"Well, all right; say wait," concluded Butler.

"All right; this is the man. Haskins, this is Mr. Butler--no relation to
Ben--the hardest-working man in Cedar County."

On the way home Haskins said: "I ain't much better off. I'd like that
farm; it's a good farm, but it's all run down, an' so 'm I. I could make
a good farm of it if I had half a show. But I can't stock it n'r seed
it."

"Waal, now, don't you worry," roared Council in his ear. "We'll pull y'
through somehow till next harvest. He's agreed t' hire it ploughed, an'
you can earn a hundred dollars ploughin' an' y' c'n git the seed o' me,
an' pay me back when y' can."

Haskins was silent with emotion, but at last he said, "I ain't got
nothin' t' live on."

"Now, don't you worry 'bout that. You jest make your headquarters at ol'
Steve Council's. Mother'll take a pile o' comfort in havin' y'r wife an'
children 'round. Y' see, Jane's married off lately, an' Ike's away a
good 'eal, so we'll be darn glad t' have y' stop with us this winter.
Nex' spring we'll see if y' can't git a start agin." And he chirruped to
the team, which sprang forward with the rumbling, clattering wagon.

"Say, looky here, Council, you can't do this. I never saw--" shouted
Haskins in his neighbor's ear.

Council moved about uneasily in his seat and stopped his stammering
gratitude by saying: "Hold on, now; don't make such a fuss over a little
thing. When I see a man down, an' things all on top of 'm, I jest like
t' kick 'em off an' help 'm up. That's the kind of religion I got, an'
it's about the only kind."

They rode the rest of the way home in silence. And when the red light of
the lamp shone out into the darkness of the cold and windy night, and he
thought of this refuge for his children and wife, Haskins could have
put his arm around the neck of his burly companion and squeezed him like
a lover. But he contented himself with saying, "Steve Council, you'll
git y'r pay f'r this some day."

"Don't want any pay. My religion ain't run on such business principles."

The wind was growing colder, and the ground was covered with a white
frost, as they turned into the gate of the Council farm, and the
children came rushing out, shouting, "Papa's come!" They hardly looked
like the same children who had sat at the table the night before. Their
torpidity, under the influence of sunshine and Mother Council, had given
way to a sort of spasmodic cheerfulness, as insects in winter revive
when laid on the hearth.

III

Haskins worked like a fiend, and his wife, like the heroic woman that
she was, bore also uncomplainingly the most terrible burdens. They rose
early and toiled without intermission till the darkness fell on the
plain, then tumbled into bed, every bone and muscle aching with fatigue,
to rise with the sun next morning to the same round of the same ferocity
of labor.

The eldest boy drove a team all through the spring, ploughing and
seeding, milked the cows, and did chores innumerable, in most ways
taking the place of a man.

An infinitely pathetic but common figure--this boy on the American farm,
where there is no law against child labor. To see him in his coarse
clothing, his huge boots, and his ragged cap, as he staggered with a
pail of water from the well, or trudged in the cold and cheerless dawn
out into the frosty field behind his team, gave the city-bred visitor a
sharp pang of sympathetic pain. Yet Haskins loved his boy, and would
have saved him from this if he could, but he could not.

By June the first year the result of such Herculean toil began to show
on the farm. The yard was cleaned up and sown to grass, the garden
ploughed and planted, and the house mended.

Council had given them four of his cows.

"Take 'em an' run 'em on shares. I don't want 'o milk s' many. Ike's
away s' much now, Sat'd'ys an' Sund'ys, I can't stand the bother
anyhow."

Other men, seeing the confidence of Council in the newcomer, had sold
him tools on time; and as he was really an able farmer, he soon had
round him many evidences of his care and thrift. At the advice of
Council he had taken the farm for three years, with the privilege of
re-renting or buying at the end of the term.

"It's a good bargain, an' y' want 'o nail it," said Council. "If you
have any kind ov a crop, you c'n pay y'r debts, an' keep seed an'
bread."

The new hope which now sprang up in the heart of Haskins and his wife
grew almost as a pain by the time the wide field of wheat began to wave
and rustle and swirl in the winds of July. Day after day he would snatch
a few moments after supper to go and look at it.

"'Have ye seen the wheat t'-day, Nettie?" he asked one night as he rose
from supper.

"No, Tim, I ain't had time."

"Well, take time now. Le's go look at it."

She threw an old hat on her head--Tommy's hat--and looking almost pretty
in her thin, sad way, went out with her husband to the hedge.

"Ain't it grand, Nettie? Just look at it."

It was grand. Level, russet here and there, heavy-headed, wide as a
lake, and full of multitudinous whispers and gleams of wealth, it
stretched away before the gazers like the fabled field of the cloth of
gold.

"Oh, I think--I hope we'll have a good crop, Tim; and oh, how good the
people have been to us!"

"Yes; I don't know where we'd be t'-day if it hadn't ben f'r Council and
his wife."

"They're the best people in the world," said the little woman, with a
great sob of gratitude.

"We'll be in the field on Monday, sure," said Haskins, gripping the rail
on the fence as if already at the work of the harvest.

The harvest came, bounteous, glorious, but the winds came and blew it
into tangles, and the rain matted it here and there close to the ground,
increasing the work of gathering it threefold.

Oh, how they toiled in those glorious days! Clothing dripping with
sweat, arms aching, filled with briers, fingers raw and bleeding, backs
broken with the weight of heavy bundles, Haskins and his man toiled on.
Tommy drove the harvester, while his father and a hired man bound on the
machine. In this way they cut ten acres every day, and almost every
night after supper, when the hand went to bed, Haskins returned to the
field shocking the bound grain in the light of the moon. Many a night he
worked till his anxious wife came out at ten o'clock to call him in to
rest and lunch.

At the same time she cooked for the men, took care of the children,
washed and ironed, milked the cows at night, made the butter, and
sometimes fed the horses and watered them while her husband kept at the
shocking.

No slave in the Roman galleys could have toiled so frightfully and
lived, for this man thought himself a free man, and that he was working
for his wife and babes.

When he sank into his bed with a deep groan of relief, too tired to
change his grimy, dripping clothing, he felt that he was getting nearer
and nearer to a home of his own, and pushing the wolf of want a little
farther from his door.

There is no despair so deep as the despair of a homeless man or woman.
To roam the roads of the country or the streets of the city, to feel
there is no rood of ground on which the feet can rest, to halt weary and
hungry outside lighted windows and hear laughter and song within,--these
are the hungers and rebellions that drive men to crime and women to
shame.

It was the memory of this homelessness, and the fear of its coming
again, that spurred Timothy Haskins and Nettie, his wife, to such
ferocious labor during that first year.

IV

"'M, yes; 'm, yes; first-rate," said Butler, as his eye took in the neat
garden, the pig-pen, and the well-filled barnyard. "You're gitt'n' quite
a stock around yeh. Done well, eh?"

Haskins was showing Butler around the place. He had not seen it for a
year, having spent the year in Washington and Boston with Ashley, his
brother-in-law, who had been elected to Congress.

"Yes, I've laid out a good deal of money durin' the last three years.
I've paid out three hundred dollars f'r fencin'."

"Um--h'm! I see, I see," said Butler, while Haskins went on:

"The kitchen there cost two hundred; the barn ain't cost much in money,
but I've put a lot o' time on it. I've dug a new well, and I--"

"Yes, yes, I see. You've done well. Stock worth a thousand dollars,"
said Butler, picking his teeth with a straw.

"About that," said Haskins, modestly. "We begin to feel's if we was
gitt'n' a home f'r ourselves; but we've worked hard. I tell you we begin
to feel it, Mr. Butler, and we're goin' t' begin to ease up purty soon.
We've been kind o' plannin' a trip back t' her folks after the fall
ploughin's done."

"Eggs-actly!" said Butler, who was evidently thinking of something else.
"I suppose you've kind o' calc'lated on stayin' here three years more?"

"Well, yes. Fact is, I think I c'n buy the farm this fall, if you'll
give me a reasonable show."

"Um--m! What do you call a reasonable show?"

"Well, say a quarter down and three years' time."

Butler looked at the huge stacks of wheat, which filled the yard, over
which the chickens were fluttering and crawling, catching grasshoppers,
and out of which the crickets were singing innumerably. He smiled in a
peculiar way as he said, "Oh, I won't be hard on yeh. But what did you
expect to pay f'r the place?"

"Why, about what you offered it for before, two thousand five hundred,
or possibly three thousand dollars," he added quickly, as he saw the
owner shake his head.

"This farm is worth five thousand and five hundred dollars," said
Butler, in a careless and decided voice.

"What!" almost shrieked the astounded Haskins. "What's that? Five
thousand? Why, that's double what you offered it for three years ago."

"Of course, and it's worth it. It was all run down then; now it's in
good shape. You've laid out fifteen hundred dollars in improvements,
according to your own story."

"But you had nothin' t' do about that. It's my work an' my money."

"You bet it was; but it's my land."

"But what's to pay me for all my--"

"Ain't you had the use of 'em?" replied Butler, smiling calmly into his
face.

Haskins was like a man struck on the head with a sandbag; he couldn't
think; he stammered as he tried to say: "But--I never'd git the
use--You'd rob me! More'n that: you agreed--you promised that I could
buy or rent at the end of three years at--"

"That's all right. But I didn't say I'd let you carry off the
improvements, nor that I'd go on renting the farm at two-fifty. The land
is doubled in value, it don't matter how; it don't enter into the
question; an' now you can pay me five hundred dollars a year rent, or
take it on your own terms at fifty-five hundred, or--git out."

He was turning away when Haskins, the sweat pouring from his face,
fronted him, saying again:

"But you've done nothing to make it so. You hain't added a cent. I put
it all there myself, expectin' to buy. I worked an' sweat to improve it.
I was workin' for myself an' babes--"

"Well, why didn't you buy when I offered to sell? What y' kickin'
about?"

"I'm kickin' about payin' you twice f'r my own things,--my own fences,
my own kitchen, my own garden."

Butler laughed. "You're too green t' eat, young feller. Your
improvements! The law will sing another tune."

"But I trusted your word."

"Never trust anybody, my friend. Besides, I didn't promise not to do
this thing. Why, man, don't look at me like that. Don't take me for a
thief. It's the law. The reg'lar thing. Everybody does it."

"I don't care if they do. It's stealin' jest the same. You take three
thousand dollars of my money--the work o' my hands and my wife's." He
broke down at this point. He was not a strong man mentally. He could
face hardship, ceaseless toil, but he could not face the cold and
sneering face of Butler.

"But I don't take it," said Butler, coolly. "All you've got to do is to
go on jest as you've been a-doin', or give me a thousand dollars down,
and a mortgage at ten per cent on the rest."

Haskins sat down blindly on a bundle of oats near by, and with staring
eyes and drooping head went over the situation. He was under the lion's
paw. He felt a horrible numbness in his heart and limbs. He was hid in a
mist, and there was no path out.

Butler walked about, looking at the huge stacks of grain, and pulling
now and again a few handfuls out, shelling the heads in his hands and
blowing the chaff away. He hummed a little tune as he did so. He had an
accommodating air of waiting.

Haskins was in the midst of the terrible toil of the last year. He was
walking again in the rain and the mud behind his plough; he felt the
dust and dirt of the threshing. The ferocious husking-time, with its
cutting wind and biting, clinging snows, lay hard upon him. Then he
thought of his wife, how she had cheerfully cooked and baked, without
holiday and without rest.

"Well, what do you think of it?" inquired the cool, mocking, insinuating
voice of Butler.

"I think you're a thief and a liar!" shouted Haskins, leaping up. "A
black-hearted houn'!" Butler's smile maddened him; with a sudden leap he
caught a fork in his hands, and whirled it in the air. "You'll never rob
another man, damn ye!" he grated through his teeth, a look of pitiless
ferocity in his accusing eyes.

Butler shrank and quivered, expecting the blow; stood, held hypnotized
by the eyes of the man he had a moment before despised--a man
transformed into an avenging demon. But in the deadly hush between the
lift of the weapon and its fall there came a gush of faint, childish
laughter and then across the range of his vision, far away and dim, he
saw the sun-bright head of his baby girl, as, with the pretty, tottering
run of a two-year-old, she moved across the grass of the dooryard. His
hands relaxed: the fork fell to the ground; his head lowered.

"Make out y'r deed an' mor'gage, an' git off'n my land, an' don't ye
never cross my line agin; if y' do, I'll kill ye."

Butler backed away from the man in wild haste, and climbing into his
buggy with trembling limbs drove off down the road, leaving Haskins
seated dumbly on the sunny pile of sheaves, his head sunk into his
hands.



The Creamery Man

"Along these woods in storm and sun the busy people go."

The tin-peddler has gone out of the West. Amiable gossip and sharp
trader that he was, his visits once brought a sharp business grapple to
the farmer's wife and daughters, after which, as the man of trade was
repacking his unsold wares, a moment of cheerful talk often took place.
It was his cue, if he chanced to be a tactful peddler, to drop all
attempts at sale and become distinctly human and neighborly.

His calls were not always well received, but they were at their best
pleasant breaks of a monotonous round of duties. But he is no longer a
familiar spot on the landscape. He has passed into the limbo of the
things no longer necessary. His red wagon may be rumbling and rattling
through some newer region, but the "Coolly Country" knows him no more.

"The creamery man" has taken his place. Every afternoon, rain or shine,
the wagons of the North Star Creamery in "Dutcher's Coolly" stop at the
farmers' windmills to skim the cream from the "submerged cans." His
wagon is not gay; it is generally battered and covered with mud and
filled with tall cans; but the driver himself is generally young and
sometimes attractive. The driver in Molasses Gap, which is a small
coolly leading into Dutcher's Coolly, was particularly good-looking and
amusing.

He was aware of his good looks, and his dress not only showed that he
was single, but that he hoped to be married soon. He wore brown
trousers, which fitted him very well, and a dark blue shirt, which had a
gay lacing of red cord in front, and a pair of suspenders that were a
vivid green. On his head he wore a Chinese straw helmet, which was as
ugly as anything could conceivably be, but he was as proud of it as he
was of his green suspenders. In summer he wore no coat at all, and even
in pretty cold weather he left his vest on his wagon-seat, not being
able to bring himself to the point of covering up the red and green of
his attire.

It was noticeable that the women of the neighborhood always came out,
even on wash-day, to see that Claude (his name was Claude Williams)
measured the cream properly. There was much banter about this. Mrs.
Kennedy always said she wouldn't trust him "fur's you can fling a
yearlin' bull by the tail."

"Now that's the difference between us," he would reply. "I'd trust you
anywhere. Anybody with such a daughter as your'n."

He seldom got further, for Lucindy always said (in substance), "Oh, you
go 'long."

There need be no mystery in the matter. 'Cindy was the girl for whose
delight he wore the green and red. He made no secret of his love, and
she made no secret of her scorn. She laughed at his green 'spenders and
the "red shoestring" in his shirt; but Claude considered himself very
learned in women's ways, by reason of two years' driving the creamery
wagon, and he merely winked at Mrs. Kennedy when the girl was looking,
and kissed his hand at 'Cindy when her mother was not looking.

He looked forward every afternoon to these little exchanges of wit, and
was depressed when for any reason the women folks were away. There were
other places pleasanter than the Kennedy farm--some of "the Dutchmen"
had fine big brick houses and finer and bigger barns, but their women
were mostly homely, and went around bare-footed and bare-legged, with
ugly blue dresses hanging frayed and greasy round their lank ribs and
big joints.

"Someway their big houses have a look like a stable when you get close
to 'em," Claude said to 'Cindy once. "Their women work so much in the
field they don't have any time to fix up--the way you do. I don't
believe in women workin' in the fields." He said this looking 'Cindy in
the face. "My wife needn't set her foot outdoors 'less she's a mind to."

"Oh, you can talk," replied the girl, scornfully, "but you'd be like the
rest of 'em." But she was glad that she had on a clean collar and
apron--if it was ironing-day.

What Claude would have said further 'Cindy could not divine, for her
mother called her away, as she generally did when she saw her daughter
lingering too long with the creamery man. Claude was not considered a
suitable match for Lucindy Kennedy, whose father owned one of the finest
farms in the Coolly. Worldly considerations hold in Molasses Gap as well
as in Bluff Siding and Tyre.

But Claude gave little heed to these moods in Mrs. Kennedy. If 'Cindy
sputtered, he laughed; and if she smiled, he rode on whistling till he
came to old man Haldeman's, who owned the whole lower half of Molasses
Gap, and had one ummarried daughter, who thought Claude one of the
handsomest men in the world. She was always at the gate to greet him as
he drove up, and forced sections of cake and pieces of gooseberry pie
upon him each day.

"She's good enough--for a Dutchman," Claude said of her, "but I hate to
see a woman go around looking as if her clothes would drop off if it
rained on her. And on Sundays, when she dresses up, she looks like a boy
rigged out in some girl's cast-off duds."

This was pretty hard on Nina. She was tall and lank and sandy, with
small blue eyes, her limbs were heavy, and she did wear her Sunday
clothes badly, but she was a good, generous soul, and very much in love
with the creamery man. She was not very clean, but then she could not
help that; the dust of the field is no respecter of sex. No, she was not
lovely, but she was the only daughter of old Ernest Haldeman, and the
old man was not very strong.

Claude was the daily bulletin of the Gap. He knew whose cow died the
night before, who was at the strawberry dance, and all about Abe
Anderson's night in jail up at the Siding. If his coming was welcome to
the Kennedy's, who took the Bluff Siding Gimlet and the county paper,
how much the more cordial ought his greeting to be at Haldeman's, where
they only took the Milwaukee Weekly Freiheit.

Nina in her poor way had longings and aspirations. She wanted to marry
"a Yankee," and not one of her own kind. She had a little schooling
obtained at the small brick shed under the towering cottonwood tree at
the corner of her father's farm; but her life had been one of hard work
and mighty little play. Her parents spoke in German about the farm, and
could speak English only very brokenly. Her only brother had adventured
into the foreign parts of Pine County, and had been killed in a sawmill.
Her life was lonely and hard.

She had suitors among the Germans, plenty of them, but she had a disgust
of them--considered as possible husbands--and though she went to their
beery dances occasionally, she had always in her mind the ease,
lightness, and color of Claude. She knew that the Yankee girls did not
work in the fields,--even the Norwegian girls seldom did so now, they
worked out in town,--but she had been brought up to hoe and pull weeds
from her childhood, and her father and mother considered it good for
her, and being a gentle and obedient child, she still continued to do as
she was told. Claude pitied the girl, and used to talk with her, during
his short stay, in his cheeriest manner.

"Hello, Nina! How you vass, ain't it? How much cream already you got
this morning? Did you hear the news, not?"

"No, vot hass happened?"

"Everything. Frank McVey's horse stepped through the bridge and broke
his leg, and he's going to sue the county--mean Frank is, not the
horse."

"Iss dot so?"

"Sure! and Bill Hetner had a fight, and Julia Doorflinger's got home."

"Vot wass Bill fightding apoudt?"

"Oh, drunk--fighting for exercise. Hain't got a fresh pie cut?"

Her face lighted up, and she turned so suddenly to go that her bare leg
showed below her dress. Her unstockinged feet were thrust into coarse
working shoes. Claude wrinkled his nose in disgust, but he took the
piece of green currant pie on the palm of his hand and bit the acute
angle from it.

"First rate. You do make lickin' good pies," he said, out of pure
kindness of heart; and Nina was radiant.

"She wouldn't be so bad-lookin' if they didn't work her in the fields
like a horse," he said to himself as he drove away.

The neighbors were well aware of Nina's devotion, and Mrs. Smith, who
lived two or three houses down the road, said, "Good-evening, Claude.
Seen Nina to-day?"

"Sure! and she gave me a piece of currant pie--her own make."

"Did you eat it?"

"Did I? I guess yes. I ain't refusin' pie from Nina--not while her pa
has five hundred acres of the best land in Molasses Gap."

Now, it was this innocent joking on his part that started all Claude's
trouble. Mrs. Smith called a couple of days later, and had her joke with
'Cindy.

"'Cindy, your cake's all dough."

"Why, what's the matter now?"

"Claude come along t'other day grinnin' from ear to ear, and some
currant pie in his musstache. He had jest fixed it up with Nina. He jest
as much as said he was after the old man's acres."

"Well, let him have 'em. I don't know as it interests me," replied
'Cindy, waving her head like a banner. "If he wants to sell himself to
that greasy Dutchwoman--why, let him, that's all! I don't care."

Her heated manner betrayed her to Mrs. Smith, who laughed with huge
enjoyment.

"Well, you better watch out!"

The next day was very warm, and when Claude drove up under the shade of
the big maples he was ready for a chat while his horses rested, but
'Cindy was nowhere to be seen. Mrs. Kennedy came out to get the amount
of the skimming, and started to reënter the house without talk.

"Where's the young folks?" asked Claude, carelessly.

"If you mean Lucindy, she's in the house."

"Ain't sick or nothin', is she?"

"Not that anybody knows of. Don't expect her to be here to gass with you
every time, do ye?"

"Well, I wouldn't mind," replied Claude. He was too keen not to see his
chance. "In fact, I'd like to have her with me all the time, Mrs.
Kennedy," he said, with engaging frankness.

"Well, you can't have her," the mother replied ungraciously.

"What's the matter with me?"

"Oh, I like you well enough, but 'Cindy'd be a big fool to marry a man
without a roof to cover his head."

"That's where you take your inning, sure," Claude replied. "I'm not much
better than a hired hand. Well, now, see here, I'm going to make a
strike one of these days, and then--look out for me! You don't know but
what I've invested in a gold mine. I may be a Dutch lord in disguise.
Better not be brash."

Mrs. Kennedy's sourness could not stand against such sweetness and
drollery. She smiled in wry fashion. "You'd better be moving, or you'll
be late."

"Sure enough. If I only had you for a mother-in-law--that's why I'm so
poor. Nobody to keep me moving. If I had some one to do the talking for
me, I'd work." He grinned broadly and drove out.

His irritation led him to say some things to Nina which he would not
have thought of saying the day before. She had been working in the
field, and had dropped her hoe to see him.

"Say, Nina, I wouldn't work outdoors such a day as this if I was you.
I'd tell the old man to go to thunder, and I'd go in and wash up and
look decent. Yankee women don't do that kind of work, and your old dad's
rich; no use of your sweatin' around a corn-field with a hoe in your
hands. I don't like to see a woman goin' round without stockin's, and
her hands all chapped and calloused. It ain't accordin' to Hoyle. No,
sir! I wouldn't stand it. I'd serve an injunction on the old man right
now."

A dull, slow flush crept into the girl's face and she put one hand over
the other as they rested on the fence. One looked so much less monstrous
than two.

Claude went on, "Yes, sir! I'd brace up and go to Yankee meeting instead
of Dutch; you'd pick up a Yankee beau like as not."

He gathered his cream while she stood silently by, and when he looked at
her again she was in deep thought.

"Good-day," he said cheerily.

"Good-by," she replied, and her face flushed again.

It rained that night and the roads were very bad, and he was late the
next time he arrived at Haldeman's. Nina came out in her best dress, but
he said nothing about it, supposing she was going to town or something
like that, and he hurried through with his task and had mounted his seat
before he realized that anything was wrong.

Then Mrs. Haldeman appeared at the kitchen door and hurled a lot of
unintelligible German at him. He knew she was mad, and mad at him, and
also at Nina, for she shook her fist at them alternately.

Singular to tell, Nina paid no attention to her mother's sputter. She
looked at Claude with a certain timid audacity.

"How you like me to-day?"

"That's better," he said, as he eyed her critically. "Now you're
talkin'! I'd do a little reading of the newspaper myself, if I was you.
A woman's business ain't to work out in the hot sun--it's to cook and
fix up things round the house, and then put on her clean dress and set
in the shade and read or sew on something. Stand up to 'em! doggone me
if I'd paddle round that hot corn-field with a mess o' Dutchmen--it
ain't decent!"

He drove off with a chuckle at the old man, who was seated at the back
of the house with a newspaper in his hand. He was lame, or pretended he
was, and made his wife and daughter wait upon him. Claude had no
conception of what was working in Nina's mind, but he could not help
observing the changes for the better in her appearance. Each day he
called she was neatly dressed, and wore her shoes laced up to the very
top hook.

She was passing through tribulation on his account, but she said nothing
about it. The old man, her father, no longer spoke to her, and the
mother sputtered continually, but the girl seemed sustained by some
inner power. She calmly went about doing as she pleased, and no fury of
words could check her or turn her aside.

Her hands grew smooth and supple once more, and her face lost the
parboiled look it once had.

Claude noticed all these gains, and commented on them with the freedom
of a man who had established friendly relations with a child.

"I tell you what, Nina, you're coming along, sure. Next ground hop
you'll be wearin' silk stockin's and high-heeled shoes. How's the old
man? Still mad?"

"He don't speak to me no more. My mudder says I am a big fool."

"She does? Well, you tell her I think you're just getting sensible."

She smiled again, and there was a subtle quality in the mixture of
boldness and timidity of her manner. His praise was so sweet and
stimulating.

"I sold my pigs," she said. "The old man, he wass madt, but I didn't
mind. I pought me a new dress with the money."

"That's right! I like to see a woman have plenty of new dresses," Claude
replied. He was really enjoying the girl's rebellion and growing
womanliness.

Meanwhile his own affairs with Lucindy were in a bad way. He seldom saw
her now. Mrs. Smith was careful to convey to her that Claude stopped
longer than was necessary at Haldeman's, and so Mrs. Kennedy attended to
the matter of recording the cream. Kennedy himself was always in the
field, and Claude had no opportunity for a conversation with him, as he
very much wished to have. Once, when he saw 'Cindy in the kitchen at
work, he left his team to rest in the shade and sauntered to the door
and looked in.

She was kneading out cake dough, and she looked the loveliest thing he
had ever seen. Her sleeves were rolled up. Her neat brown dress was
covered with a big apron, and her collar was open a little at the
throat, for it was warm in the kitchen. She frowned when she saw him.

He began jocularly. "Oh, thank you, I can wait till it bakes. No trouble
at all."

"Well, it's a good deal of trouble to me to have you standin' there
gappin' at me!"

"Ain't gappin' at you. I'm waitin' for the pie."

"'Tain't pie; it's cake."

"Oh, well, cake'll do for a change. Say, 'Cindy--"

"Don't call me 'Cindy!"

"Well, Lucindy. It's mighty lonesome when I don't see you on my trips."

"Oh, I guess you can stand it with Nina to talk to."

"Aha! jealous, are you?"

"Jealous of that Dutchwoman! I don't care who you talk to, and you
needn't think it."

Claude was learned in woman's ways, and this pleased him mightily.

"Well, when shall I speak to your daddy?"

"I don't know what you mean, and I don't care."

"Oh, yes, you do. I'm going to come up here next Sunday in my best bib
and tucker, and I'm going to say, 'Mr. Kennedy'--"

The sound of Mrs. Kennedy's voice and footsteps approaching made Claude
suddenly remember his duties.

"See ye later," he said, with a grin. "I'll call for the cake next
time."

"Call till you split your throat, if you want to," said 'Cindy.

Apparently this could have gone on indefinitely, but it didn't. Lucindy
went to Minneapolis for a few weeks to stay with her brother, and that
threw Claude deeper into despair than anything Mrs. Kennedy might do or
any word Lucindy might say. It was a dreadful blow to him to have her
pack up and go so suddenly, and without one backward look at him, and,
besides, he had planned taking her to Tyre on the Fourth of July.

Mr. Kennedy, much better-natured than the mother, told Claude where she
had gone.

"By mighty! That's a knock on the nose for me. When did she go?"

"Yistady. I took her down to the Siding."

"When's she coming back?"

"Oh, after the hot weather is over; four or five weeks."

"I hope I'll be alive when she returns," said Claude, gloomily.

Naturally he had a little more time to give to Nina and her remarkable
doings, which had set the whole neighborhood to wondering "what had come
over the girl."

She no longer worked in the field. She dressed better, and had taken to
going to the most fashionable church in town. She was as a woman
transformed. Nothing was able to prevent her steady progression and
bloom. She grew plumper and fairer, and became so much more attractive
that the young Germans thickened round her, and one or two Yankee boys
looked her way. Through it all Claude kept up his half-humorous banter
and altogether serious daily advice, without once realizing that
anything sentimental connected him with it all. He knew she liked him,
and sometimes he felt a little annoyed by her attempts to please him,
but that she was doing all that she did and ordering her whole life to
please him never entered his self-sufficient head.

There wasn't much room left in that head for any one else except
Lucindy, and his plans for winning her. Plan as he might, he saw no way
of making more than the two dollars a day he was earning as a cream
collector.

Things ran along thus from week to week till it was nearly time for
Lucindy to return. Claude was having his top buggy repainted, and was
preparing for a vigorous campaign when Lucindy should be at home again.
He owned his team and wagon and the buggy--nothing more.

One Saturday Mr. Kennedy said, "Lucindy's coming home. I'm going down
after her to-night."

"Let me bring her up," said Claude, with suspicious eagerness.

Mr. Kennedy hesitated. "No, I guess I'll go myself. I want to go to
town, anyway."

Claude was in high spirits as he drove into Haldeman's yard that
afternoon.

Nina was leaning over the fence singing softly to herself, but a fierce
altercation was going on inside the house. The walls resounded. It was
all Dutch to Claude, but he knew the old people were quarrelling.

Nina smiled and colored as Claude drew up at the side gate. She seemed
not to hear the eloquent discussion inside.

"What's going on?" asked Claude.

"Dey tink I am in house."

"How's that?"

"My mudder she lock me up."

Claude stared. "Locked you up? What for?"

"She tondt like it dot I come out to see you."

"Oh, she don't?" said Claude. "What's the matter o' me? I ain't a
dangerous chap. I ain't eatin' up little girls."

Nina went on placidly. "She saidt dot you was goin' to marry me undt get
the farm."

Claude grinned, then chuckled, and at last roared and whooped with the
delight of it. He took off his hat and said:

"She said that, did she? Why, bless her old cabbage head--"

The opening of the door and the sudden irruption of Frau Haldeman
interrupted him. She came rushing toward him like a she grizzly bear,
uttering a torrent of German expletives, and hurled herself upon him,
clutching at his hair and throat. He leaped aside and struck down her
hands with a sweep of his hard right arm. As she turned to come again he
shouted,

"Keep off! or I'll knock you down!"

But before the blow came Nina seized the infuriated woman from behind
and threw her down, and held her till the old man came hobbling to the
rescue. He seemed a little dazed by it all, and made no effort to
assault Claude.

The old woman, who was already black in the face with rage, suddenly
fell limp, and Nina, kneeling beside her, grew white with fear.

"Oh, vat is the matter! I haf kildt her!"

Claude rushed for a bucket of water, and dashed it in the old woman's
face. He flooded her with slashings of it, especially after he saw her
open her eyes, ending by emptying the bucket in her face. He was a
little malicious about that.

The mother sat up soon, wet, scared, bewildered, gasping.

"Mein Gott! Mein Gott! Ich bin ertrinken!"

"What does she say--she's been drinkin'? Well, that looks reasonable."

"No, no--she thinks she is trouned."

"Oh, drowned!" Claude roared again. "Not much she ain't. She's only just
getting cooled off."

He helped the girl get her mother to the house and stretch her out on a
bed. The old woman seemed to have completely exhausted herself with her
effort, and submitted like a child to be waited upon. Her sudden
fainting had subdued her.

Claude had never penetrated so far into the house before, and was much
pleased with the neatness and good order of the rooms, though they were
bare of furniture and carpets.

As the girl came out with him to the gate he uttered the most serious
word he had ever had with her.

"Now, I want you to notice," he said, "that I did nothing to call out
the old lady's rush at me. I'd 'a' hit her, sure, if she'd 'a' clinched
me again. I don't believe in striking a woman, but she was after my hide
for the time bein', and I can't stand two such clutches in the same
place. You don't blame me, I hope."

"No. You done choost ride."

"What do you suppose the old woman went for me for?"

Nina looked down uneasily.

"She know you an' me lige one anudder, an' she is afrait you marry me,
an' den ven she tie you get the farm a-ready."

Claude whistled. "Great Jehosaphat! She really thinks that, does she?
Well, dog my cats! What put that idea into her head?"

"I told her," said Nina calmly.

"You told her?" Claude turned and stared at her. She looked down, and
her face slowly grew to a deep red. She moved uneasily from one foot to
the other, like an awkward, embarrassed child. As he looked at her
standing like a culprit before him, his first impulse was to laugh. He
was not specially refined, but he was a kindly man, and it suddenly
occurred to him that the girl was suffering.

"Well, you were mistaken," he said at last, gently enough. "I don't know
why you should think so, but I never thought of marrying you--never
thought of it."

The flush faded from her face, and she stopped swaying. She lifted her
eyes to his in a tearful, appealing stare.

"I t'ought so--you made me t'ink so."

"I did? How? I never said a word to you about--liking you
or--marrying--or anything like that. I--" He was going to tell her he
intended to marry Lucindy, but he checked himself.

Her lashes fell again, and the tears began to stream down her cheeks.
She knew the worst now. His face had convinced her. She could not tell
him the grounds of her belief--that every time he had said, "I don't
like to see a woman do this or that," or, "I like to see a woman fix up
around the house," she had considered his words in the light of
courtship, believing that in such ways the Yankees made love. So she
stood suffering dumbly while he loaded his cream-can and stood by the
wheel ready to mount his wagon.

He turned. "I'm mighty sorry about it," he said. "Mebbe I was to blame.
I didn't mean nothing by it--not a thing. It was all a mistake. Let's
shake hands over it, and call the whole business off."

He held his hand out to her, and with a low cry she seized it and laid
her cheek upon it. He started back in amazement, and drew his hand away.
She fell upon her knees in the path and covered her face with her apron,
while he hastily mounted his seat and drove away.

Nothing so profoundly moving had come into his life since the death of
his mother, and as he rode on down the road he did a great deal of
thinking. First it gave him a pleasant sensation to think a woman should
care so much for him. He had lived a homeless life for years, and had
come into intimate relations with few women, good or bad. They had
always laughed with him (not at him, for Claude was able to take care of
himself), and no woman before had taken him seriously, and there was a
certain charm about the realization.

Then he fell to wondering what he had said or done to give the girl such
a notion of his purposes. Perhaps he had been too free with his talk. He
was so troubled that he hardly smiled once during the rest of his
circuit, and at night he refrained from going up town, and sat under the
trees back of the creamery, and smoked and pondered on the astounding
situation.

He came at last to the resolution that it was his duty to declare
himself to Lucindy and end all uncertainty, so that no other woman would
fall into Nina's error. He was as good as an engaged man, and the world
should know it.

The next day, with his newly painted buggy flashing in the sun, and the
extra dozen ivory rings he had purchased for his harnesses clashing
together, he drove up the road as a man of leisure and a resolved lover.
It was a beautiful day in August.

Lucindy was getting a light tea for some friends up from the Siding,
when she saw Claude drive up.

"Well, for the land sake!" she broke out, using one of her mother's
phrases, "if here isn't that creamery man!" In that phrase lay the
answer to Claude's question--if he had heard it. He drove in, and Mr.
Kennedy, with impartial hospitality, went out and asked him to 'light
and put his team in the barn.

He did so, feeling very much exhilarated. He never before had gone
courting in this direct and aboveboard fashion. He mistook the father's
hospitality for compliance in his designs. He followed his host into the
house, and faced, with very fair composure, two girls who smiled broadly
as they shook hands with him. Mrs. Kennedy gave him a lax hand and a
curt how-de-do, and Lucindy fairly scowled in answer to his radiant
smile.

She was much changed, he could see. She wore a dress with puffed
sleeves, and her hair was dressed differently. She seemed strange and
distant, but he thought she was "putting that on" for the benefit of
others. At the table the three girls talked of things at the Siding, and
ignored him so that he was obliged to turn to Farmer Kennedy for refuge.
He kept his courage up by thinking, "Wait till we are alone."

After supper, when Lucindy explained that the dishes would have to be
washed, he offered to help her in his best manner.

"Thank you, I don't need any help," was Lucindy's curt reply.

Ordinarily he was a man of much facility and ease in addressing women,
but he was vastly disconcerted by her manner. He sat rather silently
waiting for the room to clear. When the visitors intimated that they
must go, he rose with cheerful alacrity.

"I'll get your horse for you."

He helped hitch the horse into the buggy, and helped the girls in with a
return of easy gallantry, and watched them drive off with joy. At last
the field was clear.

They returned to the sitting room, where the old folks remained for a
decent interval, and then left the young people alone. His courage
returned then, and he turned toward her with resolution in his voice and
eyes.

"Lucindy," he began.

"Miss Kennedy, please," interrupted Lucindy, with cutting emphasis.

"I'll be darned if I do," he replied hotly. "What's the matter with you?
Since going to Minneapolis you put on a lot of city airs, it seems to
me."

"If you don't like my airs, you know what you can do!"

He saw his mistake.

"Now see here, Lucindy, there's no sense in our quarrelling."

"I don't want to quarrel; I don't want anything to do with you. I wish
I'd never seen you."

"Oh, you don't mean that! after all the good talks we've had."

She flushed red. "I never had any such talks with you."

He pursued his advantage.

"Oh, yes, you did, and you took pains that I should see you."

"I didn't; no such thing. You came poking into the kitchen where you'd
no business to be."

"Say, now, stop fooling. You like me and--"

"I don't. I hate you, and if you don't clear out I'll call father.
You're one o' these kind o' men that think if a girl looks at 'em that
they want to marry 'em. I tell you I don't want anything more to do with
you, and I'm engaged to another man, and I wish you'd attend to your own
business. So there! I hope you're satisfied."

Claude sat for nearly a minute in silence, then he rose. "I guess you're
right. I've made a mistake. I've made a mistake in the girl." He spoke
with a curious hardness in his voice. "Good-evening, Miss Kennedy."

He went out with dignity and in good order. His retreat was not
ludicrous. He left the girl with the feeling that she had lost her
temper, and with the knowledge that she had uttered a lie.

He put his horses to the buggy with a mournful self-pity as he saw the
wheels glisten. He had done all this for a scornful girl who could not
treat him decently. As he drove slowly down the road he mused deeply. It
was a knock-down blow, surely. He was a just man, so far as he knew, and
as he studied the situation over he could not blame the girl. In the
light of her convincing wrath he comprehended that the sharp things she
had said to him in the past were not make-believe--not love-taps, but
real blows. She had not been coquetting with him; she had tried to keep
him away. She considered herself too good for a hired man. Well, maybe
she was. Anyhow, she had gone out of his reach, hopelessly.

As he came past the Haldemans' he saw Nina sitting out under the trees
in the twilight. On the impulse he pulled in. His mind took another
turn. Here was a woman who was open and aboveboard in her affection. Her
words meant what they stood for. He remembered how she had bloomed out
the last few months. She has the making of a handsome woman in her, he
thought.

She saw him and came out to the gate, and while he leaned out of his
carriage she rested her arms on the gate and looked up at him. She
looked pale and sad, and he was touched.

"How's the old lady?" he asked.

"Oh, she's up! She is much change-ed. She is veak and quiet."

"Quiet, is she? Well, that's good."

"She t'inks God strike her fer her vickedness. Never before did she
fainted like dot."

"Well, don't spoil that notion in her. It may do her a world of good."

"Der priest come. He saidt it wass a punishment. She saidt I should
marry who I like."

Claude looked at her searchingly. She was certainly much improved. All
she needed was a little encouragement and advice and she would make a
handsome wife. If the old lady had softened down, her son-in-law could
safely throw up the creamery job and become the boss of the farm. The
old man was used up, and the farm needed some one right away.

He straightened up suddenly. "Get your hat," he said, "and we'll take a
ride."

She started erect, and he could see her pale face glow with joy.

"With you?"

"With me. Get your best hat. We may turn up at the minister's and get
married--if a Sunday marriage is legal."

As she hurried up the walk he said to himself,

"I'll bet it gives Lucindy a shock!"

And the thought pleased him mightily.



A Day's Pleasure

"Mainly it is long and wearyful, and has a home of toil at one end and a
dull little town at the other."

I

When Markham came in from shovelling his last wagon-load of corn into
the crib he found that his wife had put the children to bed, and was
kneading a batch of dough with the dogged action of a tired and sullen
woman.

He slipped his soggy boots off his feet, and having laid a piece of wood
on top of the stove, put his heels on it comfortably. His chair squeaked
as he leaned back on its hinder legs, but he paid no attention; he was
used to it, exactly as he was used to his wife's lameness and ceaseless
toil.

"That closes up my corn," he said after a silence. "I guess I'll go to
town to-morrow to git my horses shod."

"I guess I'll git ready and go along," said his wife, in a sorry attempt
to be firm and confident of tone.

"What do you want to go to town fer?" he grumbled.

"What does anybody want to go to town fer?" she burst out, facing him.
"I ain't been out o' this house fer six months, while you go an' go!"

"Oh, it ain't six months. You went down that day I got the mower."

"When was that? The tenth of July, and you know it."

"Well, mebbe 'twas. I didn't think it was so long ago. I ain't no
objection to your goin', only I'm goin' to take a load of wheat."

"Well, jest leave off a sack, an' that'll balance me an' the baby," she
said spiritedly.

"All right," he replied good-naturedly, seeing she was roused. "Only
that wheat ought to be put up to-night if you're goin'. You won't have
any time to hold sacks for me in the morning with them young ones to get
off to school."

"Well, let's go do it then," she said, sullenly resolute.

"I hate to go out agin; but I s'pose we'd better."

He yawned dismally and began pulling his boots on again, stamping his
swollen feet into them with grunts of pain. She put on his coat and one
of the boy's caps, and they went out to the granary. The night was cold
and clear.

"Don't look so much like snow as it did last night," said Sam. "It may
turn warm."

Laying out the sacks in the light of the lantern, they sorted out those
which were whole, and Sam climbed into the bin with a tin pail in his
hand, and the work began.

He was a sturdy fellow, and he worked desperately fast; the shining tin
pail dived deep into the cold wheat and dragged heavily on the woman's
tired hands as it came to the mouth of the sack, and she trembled with
fatigue, but held on and dragged the sacks away when filled, and brought
others, till at last Sam climbed out, puffing and wheezing, to tie them
up.

"I guess I'll load 'em in the morning," he said. "You needn't wait fer
me. I'll tie 'em up alone."

"Oh, I don't mind," she replied, feeling a little touched by his
unexpectedly easy acquiescence to her request. When they went back to
the house the moon had risen.

It had scarcely set when they were wakened by the crowing roosters. The
man rolled stiffly out of bed and began rattling at the stove in the
dark, cold kitchen.

His wife arose lamer and stiffer than usual, and began twisting her thin
hair into a knot.

Sam did not stop to wash, but went out to the barn. The woman, however,
hastily soused her face into the hard limestone water at the sink, and
put the kettle on. Then she called the children. She knew it was early,
and they would need several callings. She pushed breakfast forward,
running over in her mind the things she must have: two spools of thread,
six yards of cotton flannel, a can of coffee, and mittens for Kitty.
These she must have--there were oceans of things she needed.

The children soon came scudding down out of the darkness of the upstairs
to dress tumultuously at the kitchen stove. They humped and shivered,
holding up their bare feet from the cold floor, like chickens in new
fallen snow. They were irritable, and snarled and snapped and struck
like cats and dogs. Mrs. Markham stood it for a while with mere commands
to "hush up," but at last her patience gave out, and she charged down on
the struggling mob and cuffed them right and left.

They ate their breakfast by lamplight, and when Sam went back to his
work around the barnyard it was scarcely dawn. The children, left alone
with their mother, began to tease her to let them go to town also.

"No, sir--nobody goes but baby. Your father's goin' to take a load of
wheat."

She was weak with the worry of it all when she had sent the older
children away to school and the kitchen work was finished. She went into
the cold bedroom off the little sitting room and put on her best dress.
It had never been a good fit, and now she was getting so thin it hung in
wrinkled folds everywhere about the shoulders and waist. She lay down on
the bed a moment to ease that dull pain in her back. She had a moment's
distaste for going out at all. The thought of sleep was more alluring.
Then the thought of the long, long day, and the sickening sameness of
her life, swept over her again, and she rose and prepared the baby for
the journey.

It was but little after sunrise when Sam drove out into the road and
started for Belleplain. His wife sat perched upon the wheat-sacks behind
him, holding the baby in her lap, a cotton quilt under her, and a cotton
horse-blanket over her knees.

Sam was disposed to be very good-natured, and he talked back at her
occasionally, though she could only understand him when he turned his
face toward her. The baby stared out at the passing fence-posts, and
wiggled his hands out of his mittens at every opportunity. He was merry
at least.

It grew warmer as they went on, and a strong south wind arose. The dust
settled upon the woman's shawl and hat. Her hair loosened and blew
unkemptly about her face. The road which led across the high, level
prairie was quite smooth and dry, but still it jolted her, and the pain
in her back increased. She had nothing to lean against, and the weight
of the child grew greater, till she was forced to place him on the sacks
beside her, though she could not loose her hold for a moment.

The town drew in sight--a cluster of small frame houses and stores on
the dry prairie beside a railway station. There were no trees yet which
could be called shade trees. The pitilessly severe light of the sun
flooded everything. A few teams were hitched about, and in the lee of
the stores a few men could be seen seated comfortably, their broad
hat-rims flopping up and down, their faces brown as leather.

Markham put his wife out at one of the grocery-stores, and drove off
down toward the elevators to sell his wheat.

The grocer greeted Mrs. Markham in a perfunctorily kind manner, and
offered her a chair, which she took gratefully. She sat for a quarter of
an hour almost without moving, leaning against the back of the high
chair. At last the child began to get restless and troublesome, and she
spent half an hour helping him amuse himself around the nail-kegs.

At length she rose and went out on the walk, carrying the baby. She went
into the dry-goods store and took a seat on one of the little revolving
stools. A woman was buying some woollen goods for a dress. It was worth
twenty-seven cents a yard, the clerk said, but he would knock off two
cents if she took ten yards. It looked warm, and Mrs. Markham wished she
could afford it for Mary.

A pretty young girl came in and laughed and chatted with the clerk, and
bought a pair of gloves. She was the daughter of the grocer. Her
happiness made the wife and mother sad. When Sam came back she asked him
for some money.

"Want you want to do with it?" he asked.

"I want to spend it," she said.

She was not to be trifled with, so he gave her a dollar.

"I need a dollar more."

"Well, I've got to go take up that note at the bank."

"Well, the children's got to have some new underclo'es," she said.

He handed her a two-dollar bill and then went out to pay his note.

She bought her cotton flannel and mittens and thread, and then sat
leaning against the counter. It was noon, and she was hungry. She went
out to the wagon, got the lunch she had brought, and took it into the
grocery to eat it--where she could get a drink of water.

The grocer gave the baby a stick of candy and handed the mother an
apple.

"It'll kind o' go down with your doughnuts," he said.

After eating her lunch she got up and went out. She felt ashamed to sit
there any longer. She entered another dry-goods store, but when the
clerk came toward her saying, "Anything to-day, Mrs.--?" she answered,
"No, I guess not," and turned away with foolish face.

She walked up and down the street, desolately homeless. She did not know
what to do with herself. She knew no one except the grocer. She grew
bitter as she saw a couple of ladies pass, holding their demi-trains in
the latest city fashion. Another woman went by pushing a baby carriage,
in which sat a child just about as big as her own. It was bouncing
itself up and down on the long slender springs, and laughing and
shouting. Its clean round face glowed from its pretty fringed hood. She
looked down at the dusty clothes and grimy face of her own little one,
and walked on savagely.

She went into the drug store where the soda fountain was, but it made
her thirsty to sit there and she went out on the street again. She heard
Sam laugh, and saw him in a group of men over by the blacksmith shop. He
was having a good time and had forgotten her.

Her back ached so intolerably that she concluded to go in and rest once
more in the grocer's chair. The baby was growing cross and fretful. She
bought five cents' worth of candy to take home to the children, and gave
baby a little piece to keep him quiet. She wished Sam would come. It
must be getting late. The grocer said it was not much after one. Time
seemed terribly long. She felt that she ought to do something while she
was in town. She ran over her purchases--yes, that was all she had
planned to buy. She fell to figuring on the things she needed. It was
terrible. It ran away up into twenty or thirty dollars at the least. Sam
as well as she, needed underwear for the cold winter, but they would
have to wear the old ones, even if they were thin and ragged. She would
not need a dress, she thought bitterly, because she never went anywhere.
She rose and went out on the street once more, and wandered up and down,
looking at everything in the hope of enjoying something.

A man from Boon Creek backed a load of apples up to the sidewalk, and as
he stood waiting for the grocer he noticed Mrs. Markham and the baby,
and gave the baby an apple. This was a pleasure. He had such a hearty
way about him. He on his part saw an ordinary farmer's wife with dusty
dress, unkempt hair, and tired face. He did not know exactly why she
appealed to him, but he tried to cheer her up.

The grocer was familiar with these bedraggled and weary wives. He was
accustomed to see them sit for hours in his big wooden chair, and nurse
tired and fretful children. Their forlorn, aimless, pathetic wandering
up and down the street was a daily occurrence, and had never possessed
any special meaning to him.

II

In a cottage around the corner from the grocery store two men and a
woman were finishing a dainty luncheon. The woman was dressed in cool,
white garments, and she seemed to make the day one of perfect comfort.

The home of the Honorable Mr. Hall was by no means the costliest in the
town, but his wife made it the most attractive. He was one of the
leading lawyers of the county, and a man of culture and progressive
views. He was entertaining a friend who had lectured the night before
in the Congregational church.

They were by no means in serious discussion. The talk was rather
frivolous. Hall had the ability to caricature men with a few gestures
and attitudes, and was giving to his Eastern friend some descriptions of
the old-fashioned Western lawyers he had met in his practice. He was
very amusing, and his guest laughed heartily for a time.

But suddenly Hall became aware that Otis was not listening. Then he
perceived that he was peering out of the window at some one, and that on
his face a look of bitter sadness was falling.

Hall stopped. "What do you see, Otis?"

Otis replied, "I see a forlorn, weary woman."

Mrs. Hall rose and went to the window. Mrs. Markham was walking by the
house, her baby in her arms. Savage anger and weeping were in her eyes
and on her lips, and there was hopeless tragedy in her shambling walk
and weak back.

In the silence Otis went on: "I saw the poor, dejected creature twice
this morning. I couldn't forget her."

"Who is she?" asked Mrs. Hall, very softly.

"Her name is Markham; she's Sam Markham's wife," said Hall.

The young wife led the way into the sitting room, and the men took seats
and lit their cigars. Hall was meditating a diversion when Otis resumed
suddenly:

"That woman came to town to-day to get a change, to have a little
play-spell, and she's wandering around like a starved and weary cat. I
wonder if there is a woman in this town with sympathy enough and courage
enough to go out and help that woman? The saloon-keepers, the
politicians, and the grocers make it pleasant for the man--so pleasant
that he forgets his wife. But the wife is left without a word."

Mrs. Hall's work dropped, and on her pretty face was a look of pain. The
man's harsh words had wounded her--and wakened her. She took up her hat
and hurried out on the walk. The men looked at each other, and then the
husband said:

"It's going to be a little sultry for the men around these diggings.
Suppose we go out for a walk."

Delia felt a hand on her arm as she stood at the corner.

"You look tired, Mrs. Markham; won't you come in a little while? I'm
Mrs. Hall."

Mrs. Markham turned with a scowl on her face and a biting word on her
tongue, but something in the sweet, round little face of the other woman
silenced her, and her brow smoothed out.

"Thank you kindly, but it's most time to go home. I'm looking fer Mr.
Markham now."

"Oh, come in a little while, the baby is cross and tired out; please
do."

Mrs. Markham yielded to the friendly voice, and together the two women
reached the gate just as two men hurriedly turned the other corner.

"Let me relieve you," said Mrs. Hall.

The mother hesitated: "He's so dusty."

"Oh, that won't matter. Oh, what a big fellow he is! I haven't any of my
own," said Mrs. Hall, and a look passed like an electric spark between
the two women, and Delia was her willing guest from that moment.

They went into the little sitting room, so dainty and lovely to the
farmer's wife, and as she sank into an easy-chair she was faint and
drowsy with the pleasure of it. She submitted to being brushed. She gave
the baby into the hands of the Swedish girl, who washed its face and
hands and sang it to sleep, while its mother sipped some tea. Through it
all she lay back in her easy-chair, not speaking a word, while the ache
passed out of her back, and her hot, swollen head ceased to throb.

But she saw everything--the piano, the pictures, the curtains, the
wall-paper, the little tea-stand. They were almost as grateful to her
as the food and fragrant tea. Such housekeeping as this she had never
seen. Her mother had worn her kitchen floor thin as brown paper in
keeping a speckless house, and she had been in houses that were larger
and costlier, but something of the charm of her hostess was in the
arrangement of vases, chairs, or pictures. It was tasteful.

Mrs. Hall did not ask about her affairs. She talked to her about the
sturdy little baby, and about the things upon which Delia's eyes dwelt.
If she seemed interested in a vase she was told what it was and where it
was made. She was shown all the pictures and books. Mrs. Hall seemed to
read her visitor's mind. She kept as far from the farm and her guest's
affairs as possible, and at last she opened the piano and sang to
her--not slow-moving hymns, but catchy love-songs full of sentiment, and
then played some simple melodies, knowing that Mrs. Markham's eyes were
studying her hands, her rings, and the flash of her fingers on the
keys--seeing more than she heard--and through it all Mrs. Hall conveyed
the impression that she, too, was having a good time.

The rattle of the wagon outside roused them both. Sam was at the gate
for her. Mrs. Markham rose hastily. "Oh, it's almost sundown!" she
gasped in astonishment as she looked out of the window.

"Oh, that won't kill anybody," replied her hostess. "Don't hurry.
Carrie, take the baby out to the wagon for Mrs. Markham while I help her
with her things."

"Oh, I've had such a good time," Mrs. Markham said as they went down the
little walk.

"So have I," replied Mrs. Hall. She took the baby a moment as her guest
climbed in. "Oh, you big, fat fellow!" she cried as she gave him a
squeeze. "You must bring your wife in oftener, Mr. Markham," she said,
as she handed the baby up.

Sam was staring with amazement.

"Thank you, I will," he finally managed to say.

"Good-night," said Mrs. Markham.

"Good-night, dear," called Mrs. Hall, and the wagon began to rattle off.

The tenderness and sympathy in her voice brought the tears to Delia's
eyes--not hot nor bitter tears, but tears that cooled her eyes and
cleared her mind.

The wind had gone down, and the red sunlight fell mistily over the world
of corn and stubble. The crickets were still chirping and the feeding
cattle were drifting toward the farmyards. The day had been made
beautiful by human sympathy.



Mrs. Ripley's Trip

"And in winter the winds sweep the snows across it."

The night was in windy November, and the blast, threatening rain, roared
around the poor little shanty of Uncle Ripley, set like a chicken-trap
on the vast Iowa prairie. Uncle Ethan was mending his old violin, with
many York State "dums!" and "I gol darns!" totally oblivious of his
tireless old wife, who, having "finished the supper-dishes," sat
knitting a stocking, evidently for the little grandson who lay before
the stove like a cat.

Neither of the old people wore glasses, and their light was a tallow
candle; they couldn't afford "none o' them new-fangled lamps." The room
was small, the chairs were wooden, and the walls bare--a home where
poverty was a never-absent guest. The old lady looked pathetically
little, weazened, and hopeless in her ill-fitting garments (whose
original color had long since vanished), intent as she was on the
stocking in her knotted, stiffened fingers, and there was a peculiar
sparkle in her little black eyes, and an unusual resolution in the
straight line of her withered and shapeless lips.

Suddenly she paused, stuck a needle in the spare knob of her hair at the
back of her head, and looking at Ripley, said decisively: "Ethan Ripley,
you'll haff to do your own cooking from now on to New Year's. I'm goin'
back to Yaark State."

The old man's leather-brown face stiffened into a look of quizzical
surprise for a moment; then he cackled, incredulously: "Ho! Ho! har!
Sho! be y', now? I want to know if y' be."

"Well, you'll find out."

"Goin' to start to-morrow, mother?"

"No, sir, I ain't; but I am on Thursday. I want to get to Sally's by
Sunday, sure, an' to Silas's on Thanksgivin'."

There was a note in the old woman's voice that brought genuine
stupefaction into the face of Uncle Ripley. Of course in this case, as
in all others, the money consideration was uppermost.

"Howgy 'xpect to get the money, mother? Anybody died an' left yeh a
pile?"

"Never you mind where I get the money so 's 't you don't haff to bear
it. The land knows if I'd 'a' waited for you to pay my way--"

"You needn't twit me of bein' poor, old woman," said Ripley, flaming up
after the manner of many old people. "I've done my part t' get along.
I've worked day in and day out--"

"Oh! I ain't done no work, have I?" snapped she, laying down the
stocking and levelling a needle at him, and putting a frightful emphasis
on "I."

"I didn't say you hadn't done no work."

"Yes, you did!"

"I didn't neither. I said--

"I know what you said."

"I said I'd done my part!" roared the husband, dominating her as usual
by superior lung power. "I didn't say you hadn't done your part," he
added with an unfortunate touch of emphasis.

"I know y' didn't say it, but y' meant it. I don't know what y' call
doin' my part, Ethan Ripley; but if cookin' for a drove of harvest hands
and thrashin' hands, takin' care o' the eggs and butter, 'n' diggin'
'taters an' milkin' ain't my part, I don't never expect to do my part,
'n' you might as well know it fust 's last."

"I'm sixty years old," she went on, with a little break in her harsh
voice, dominating him now by woman's logic, "an' I've never had a day to
myself, not even Fourth o' July. If I've went a-visitin' 'r to a picnic,
I've had to come home an' milk 'n' get supper for you men-folks. I ain't
been away t' stay overnight for thirteen years in this house, 'n' it was
just so in Davis County for ten more. For twenty-three years, Ethan
Ripley, I've stuck right to the stove an' churn without a day or a night
off."

Her voice choked again, but she rallied, and continued impressively,
"And now I'm a-goin' back to Yaark State."

Ethan was vanquished. He stared at her in speechless surprise, his jaw
hanging. It was incredible.

"For twenty-three years," she went on, musingly, "I've just about
promised myself every year I'd go back an' see my folks." She was
distinctly talking to herself now, and her voice had a touching, wistful
cadence. "I've wanted to go back an' see the old folks, an' the hills
where we played, an' eat apples off the old tree down by the well. I've
had them trees an' hills in my mind days and days--nights, too--an' the
girls I used to know, an' my own folks--"

She fell into a silent muse, which lasted so long that the ticking of
the clock grew loud as the gong in the man's ears, and the wind outside
seemed to sound drearier than usual. He returned to the money problem;
kindly, though.

"But how y' goin' t' raise the money? I ain't got no extra cash this
time. Agin Roach is paid, an' the interest paid, we ain't got no hundred
dollars to spare, Jane, not by a jugful."

"Wal, don't you lay awake nights studyin' on where I'm a-goin' to get
the money," said the old woman, taking delight in mystifying him. She
had him now, and he couldn't escape. He strove to show his indifference,
however, by playing a tune or two on the violin.

"Come, Tukey, you better climb the wooden hill," Mrs. Ripley said, a
half-hour later, to the little chap on the floor, who was beginning to
get drowsy under the influence of his grandpa's fiddling. "Pa, you had
orta 'a' put that string in the clock to-day--on the 'larm side the
string is broke," she said, upon returning from the boy's bedroom. "I
orta git up early to-morrow, to git some sewin' done. Land knows, I
can't fix up much, but they is a little I c'n do. I want to look
decent."

They were alone now, and they both sat expectantly.

"You 'pear to think, mother, that I'm agin yer goin'."

"Wal, it would kinder seem as if y' hadn't hustled yerself any t' help
me git off."

He was smarting under the sense of being wronged. "Wal, I'm just as
willin' you should go as I am for myself, but if I ain't got no money I
don't see how I'm goin' to send--"

"I don't want ye to send; nobody ast ye to, Ethan Ripley. I guess if I
had what I've earnt since we came on this farm I'd have enough to go to
Jericho with."

"You've got as much out of it as I have," he replied gently. "You talk
about your goin' back. Ain't I been wantin' to go back myself? And ain't
I kep' still 'cause I see it wa'n't no use? I guess I've worked jest as
long and as hard as you, an' in storms an' in mud an' heat, ef it comes
t' that."

The woman was staggered, but she wouldn't give up; she must get in one
more thrust.

"Wal, if you'd 'a' managed as well as I have, you'd have some money to
go with." And she rose and went to mix her bread and set it "raisin'."

He sat by the fire twanging his fiddle softly. He was plainly thrown
into gloomy retrospection, something quite unusual for him. But his
fingers picking out the bars of a familiar tune set him to smiling, and
whipping his bow across the strings, he forgot all about his wife's
resolutions and his own hardships. "Trouble always slid off his back
like punkins off a haystack, anyway," his wife said.

The old man still sat fiddling softly after his wife disappeared in the
hot and stuffy little bedroom off the kitchen. His shaggy head bent
lower over his violin. He heard her shoes drop--one, two. Pretty soon
she called:

"Come, put up that squeakin' old fiddle, and go to bed. Seems as if you
orta have sense enough not to set there keepin' everybody in the house
awake."

"You hush up," retorted he. "I'll come when I git ready, and not till.
I'll be glad when you're gone--"

"Yes, I warrant that."

With which amiable good-night they went off to sleep, or at least she
did, while he lay awake pondering on "where under the sun she was goin'
t' raise that money."

The next day she was up bright and early, working away on her own
affairs, ignoring Ripley entirely, the fixed look of resolution still on
her little old wrinkled face. She killed a hen and dressed and baked it.
She fried up a pan of doughnuts and made a cake. She was engaged in the
doughnuts when a neighbor came in, one of these women who take it as a
personal affront when any one in the neighborhood does anything without
asking their advice. She was fat, and could talk a man blind in three
minutes by the watch. Her neighbor said:

"What's this I hear, Mis' Ripley?"

"I dun know. I expect you hear about all they is goin' on in this
neighborhood," replied Mrs. Ripley, with crushing bluntness; but the
gossip did not flinch.

"Well, Sett Turner told me that her husband told her that Ripley told
him this mornin' that you was goin' back East on a visit."

"Wal, what of it?"

"Well, air yeh?"

"The Lord willin' an' the weather permittin', I expect to be."

"Good land, I want to know! Well, well! I never was so astonished in my
life. I said, says I, 'It can't be.' 'Well,' ses 'e, 'tha's what she
told me,' ses 'e. 'But,' says I, 'she is the last woman in the world to
go gallivantin' off East,' ses I. 'An',' ses he, 'but it comes from good
authority,' ses he. 'Well, then, it must be so,' ses I. But, land sakes!
do tell me all about it. How come you to make up y'r mind? All these
years you've been kind a' talkin' it over, an' now y'r actshelly
goin'--well, I never! 'I s'pose Ripley furnishes the money,' ses I to
him. 'Well, no,' ses 'e. 'Ripley says he'll be blowed if he sees where
the money's comin' from,' ses 'e; and ses I, 'But maybe she's jest
jokin',' ses I. 'Not much,' he says. S' 'e: 'Ripley believes she's
goin' fast enough. He's jest as anxious to find out as we be--'"

Here Mrs. Doudney paused for breath; she had walked so fast and had
rested so little that her interminable flow of "ses I's" and "ses he's"
ceased necessarily. She had reached, moreover, the point of most vital
interest--the money.

"An' you'll find out jest 'bout as soon as he does," was the dry
response from the figure hovering over the stove; and with all her
manœuvring that was all she got.

All day Ripley went about his work exceedingly thoughtful for him. It
was cold blustering weather. The wind rustled among the corn-stalks with
a wild and mournful sound, the geese and ducks went sprawling down the
wind, and the horses' coats were ruffled and backs raised.

The old man was husking all alone in the field, his spare form rigged
out in two or three ragged coats, his hands inserted in a pair of gloves
minus nearly all the fingers, his thumbs done up in "stalls," and his
feet thrust into huge coarse boots. The "down ears" wet and chapped his
hands, already worn to the quick. Toward night it grew colder and
threatened snow. In spite of all these attacks he kept his cheerfulness,
and though he was very tired, he was softened in temper.

Having plenty of time to think matters over, he had come to the
conclusion that the old woman needed a play-spell. "I ain't likely to be
no richer next year than I am this one; if I wait till I'm able to send
her she won't never go. I calc'late I c'n git enough out o' them shoats
to send her. I'd kind a' lotted on eat'n' them pigs done up in
sassengers, but if the ol' woman goes East, Tukey an' me'll kind a' haff
to pull through without 'em. We'll have a turkey f'r Thanksgivin', an' a
chicken once 'n a while. Lord! but we'll miss the gravy on the
flapjacks." (He smacked his lips over the thought of the lost dainty.)
"But let 'er rip! We can stand it. Then there is my buffalo overcoat.
I'd kind a' calc'lated on havin' a buffalo--but that's gone up the spout
along with them sassengers."

These heroic sacrifices having been determined upon, he put them into
effect at once.

This he was able to do, for his corn-rows ran alongside the road leading
to Cedarville, and his neighbors were passing almost all hours of the
day.

It would have softened Jane Ripley's heart could she have seen his bent
and stiffened form among the corn-rows, the cold wind piercing to the
bone through his threadbare and insufficient clothing. The rising wind
sent the snow rattling among the moaning stalks at intervals. The cold
made his poor dim eyes water, and he had to stop now and then to swing
his arms about his chest to warm them. His voice was hoarse with
shouting at the shivering team.

That night as Mrs. Ripley was clearing the dishes away she got to
thinking about the departure of the next day, and she began to soften.
She gave way to a few tears when little Tewksbury Gilchrist, her
grandson, came up and stood beside her.

"Gran'ma, you ain't goin' to stay away always, are yeh?"

"Why, course not, Tukey. What made y' think that?"

"Well, y' ain't told us nawthin' 't all about it. An' yeh kind o' look
's if yeh was mad."

"Well, I ain't mad; I'm jest a-thinkin', Tukey. Y' see, I come away from
them hills when I was a little girl a'most; before I married y'r
grandad. And I ain't never been back. 'Most all my folks is there,
sonny, an' we've been s' poor all these years I couldn't seem t' never
git started. Now, when I'm 'most ready t' go, I feel kind a queer--'s if
I'd cry."

And cry she did, while little Tewksbury stood patting her trembling
hands. Hearing Ripley's step on the porch, she rose hastily and, drying
her eyes, plunged at the work again.

Ripley came in with a big armful of wood, which he rolled into the
wood-box with a thundering crash. Then he pulled off his mittens,
slapped them together to knock off the ice and snow, and laid them side
by side under the stove. He then removed cap, coat, blouse, and finally
his boots, which he laid upon the wood-box, the soles turned toward the
stove-pipe.

As he sat down without speaking, he opened the front doors of the stove,
and held the palms of his stiffened hands to the blaze. The light
brought out a thoughtful look on his large, uncouth, yet kindly, visage.
Life had laid hard lines on his brown skin, but it had not entirely
soured a naturally kind and simple nature. It had made him penurious and
dull and iron-muscled; had stifled all the slender flowers of his
nature; yet there was warm soil somewhere hid in his heart.

"It's snowin' like all p'ssessed," he remarked finally. "I guess we'll
have a sleigh-ride to-morrow. I calc'late t' drive y' daown in
scrumptious style. If yeh must leave, why, we'll give yeh a whoopin' old
send-off--won't we, Tukey?"

Nobody replying, he waited a moment. "I've ben a-thinkin' things over
kind o' t'-day, mother, an' I've come t' the conclusion that we have
been kind o' hard on yeh, without knowin' it, y' see. Y' see I'm kind o'
easy-goin', 'an' little Tuke he's only a child, an' we ain't c'nsidered
how you felt."

She didn't appear to be listening, but she was, and he didn't appear, on
his part, to be talking to her, and he kept his voice as hard and dry as
he could.

"An' I was tellin' Tukey t'-day that it was a dum shame our crops hadn't
turned out better. An' when I saw ol' Hatfield go by I hailed him, an'
asked him what he'd gimme for two o' m' shoats. Wal, the upshot is, I
sent t' town for some things I calc'lated you'd need. An' here's a
ticket to Georgetown, and ten dollars. Why, ma, what's up?"

Mrs. Ripley broke down, and with her hands all wet with dish-water, as
they were, covered her face, and sobbed. She felt like kissing him, but
she didn't. Tewksbury began to whimper too; but the old man was
astonished. His wife had not wept for years (before him). He rose and
walking clumsily up to her timidly touched her hair--

"Why, mother! What's the matter? What've I done now? I was calc'latin'
to sell them pigs anyway. Hatfield jest advanced the money on 'em."

She hopped up and dashed into the bedroom, and in a few minutes returned
with a yarn mitten, tied around the wrist, which she laid on the table
with a thump, saying: "I don't want yer money. There's money enough to
take me where I want to go."

"Whee--ew! Thunder and gimpsum root! Where 'd ye get that? Didn't dig it
out of a hole?"

"No, I jest saved it--a dime at a time--see!"

Here she turned it out on the table--some bills, but mostly silver dimes
and quarters.

"Thunder and scissors! Must be two er three hundred dollars there," he
exclaimed.

"They's jest seventy-five dollars and thirty cents; jest about enough to
go back on. Tickets is fifty-five dollars, goin' an' comin'. That leaves
twenty dollars for other expenses, not countin' what I've already spent,
which is six-fifty," said she, recovering her self-possession. "It's
plenty."

"But y' ain't calc'lated on no sleepers nor hotel bills."

"I ain't goin' on no sleeper. Mis' Doudney says it's jest scandalous the
way things is managed on them cars. I'm goin' on the old-fashioned cars,
where they ain't no half-dressed men runnin' around."

"But you needn't be afraid of them, mother; at your age--"

"There! you needn't throw my age an' homeliness into my face, Ethan
Ripley. If I hadn't waited an' tended on you so long, I'd look a little
more's I did when I married yeh."

Ripley gave it up in despair. He didn't realize fully enough how the
proposed trip had unsettled his wife's nerves. She didn't realize it
herself.

"As for the hotel bills, they won't be none. I agoin' to pay them
pirates as much for a day's board as we'd charge for a week's, an' have
nawthin' to eat but dishes. I'm goin' to take a chicken an' some
hard-boiled eggs, an' I'm goin' right through to Georgetown."

"Wal, all right, mother; but here's the ticket I got."

"I don't want yer ticket."

"But you've got to take it."

"Well, I hain't."

"Why, yes, ye have. It's bought, an' they won't take it back."

"Won't they?" She was perplexed again.

"Not much they won't. I ast 'em. A ticket sold is sold."

"Wal, if they won't--"

"You bet they won't."

"I s'pose I'll haff to use it." And that ended it.

They were a familiar sight as they rode down the road toward town next
day. As usual, Mrs. Ripley sat up straight and stiff as "a half-drove
wedge in a white-oak log." The day was cold and raw. There was some snow
on the ground, but not enough to warrant the use of sleighs. It was
"neither sleddin' nor wheelin'." The old people sat on a board laid
across the box, and had an old quilt or two drawn up over their knees.
Tewksbury lay in the back part of the box (which was filled with hay),
where he jounced up and down, in company with a queer old trunk and a
brand-new imitation-leather hand-bag.

There is no ride quite so desolate and uncomfortable as a ride in a
lumber-wagon on a cold day in autumn, when the ground is frozen, and the
wind is strong and raw with threatening snow. The wagon-wheels grind
along in the snow, the cold gets in under the seat at the calves of
one's legs, and the ceaseless bumping of the bottom of the box on the
feet is almost intolerable.

There was not much talk on the way down, and what little there was
related mainly to certain domestic regulations, to be strictly followed,
regarding churning, pickles, pancakes, etc. Mrs. Ripley wore a shawl
over her head, and carried her queer little black bonnet in her hand.
Tewksbury was also wrapped in a shawl. The boy's teeth were pounding
together like castanets by the time they reached Cedarville, and every
muscle ached with the fatigue of shaking.

After a few purchases they drove down to the station, a frightful little
den (common in the West), which was always too hot or too cold. It
happened to be hot just now--a fact which rejoiced little Tewksbury.

"Now git my trunk stamped, 'r fixed, 'r whatever they call it," she said
to Ripley, in a commanding tone, which gave great delight to the
inevitable crowd of loafers beginning to assemble. "Now remember, Tukey,
have grandad kill that biggest turkey night before Thanksgiving, an'
then you run right over to Mis' Doudney's--she's got a nawful tongue,
but she can bake a turkey first-rate--an' she'll fix up some squash-pies
for yeh. You can warm up one o' them mince-pies. I wish ye could be with
me, but ye can't; so do the best ye can."

Ripley returning now, she said: "Wal, now, I've fixed things up the best
I could. I've baked bread enough to last a week, an' Mis' Doudney has
promised to bake for yeh--"

"I don't like her bakin'."

"Wal, you'll haff to stand it till I get back, 'n' you'll find a jar o'
sweet pickles an' some crab-apple sauce down suller, 'n' you'd better
melt up brown sugar for 'lasses, 'n' for goodness' sake don't eat all
them mince-pies up the fust week, 'n' see that Tukey ain't froze goin'
to school. An' now you'd better get out for home. Good-by! an' remember
them pies."

As they were riding home, Ripley roused up after a long silence.

"Did she--a--kiss you good-by, Tukey?"

"No, sir," piped Tewksbury.

"Thunder! didn't she?" After a silence: "She didn't me, neither. I guess
she kind a' sort a' forgot it, bein' so flustrated, y' know."

One cold, windy, intensely bright day, Mrs. Stacey, who lives about two
miles from Cedarville, looking out of the window, saw a queer little
figure struggling along the road, which was blocked here and there with
drifts. It was an old woman laden with a good half-dozen parcels, which
the wind seemed determined to wrench from her.

She was dressed in black, with a full skirt, and her cloak being short,
the wind had excellent opportunity to inflate her garments and sail her
off occasionally into the deep snow outside the track, but she held out
bravely till she reached the gate. As she turned in, Mrs. Stacey cried:

"Why! it's Gran'ma Ripley, just getting back from her trip. Why! how do
you do? Come in. Why! you must be nearly frozen. Let me take off your
hat and veil."

"No, thank ye kindly, but I can't stop," was the given reply. "I must be
gittin' back to Ripley. I expec' that man has jest let ev'rything go six
ways f'r Sunday."

"Oh, you must sit down just a minute and warm."

"Wal, I will; but I've got to git home by sundown sure. I don't s'pose
they's a thing in the house to eat," she said solemnly.

"Oh dear! I wish Stacey was here, so he could take you home. An' the
boys at school--"

"Don't need any help, if 't wa'nt for these bundles an' things. I guess
I'll jest leave some of 'em here, an'--Here! take one of these apples. I
brought 'em from Lizy Jane's suller, back to Yaark State."

"Oh! they're delicious! You must have had a lovely time."

"Pretty good. But I kep' thinkin' of Ripley an' Tukey all the time. I
s'pose they have had a gay time of it" (she meant the opposite of gay).
"Wal, as I told Lizy Jane, I've had my spree, an' now I've got to git
back to work. They ain't no rest for such as we are. As I told Lizy
Jane, them folks in the big houses have Thanksgivin' dinners every day
of their lives, and men an' women in splendid clo's to wait on 'em, so
't Thanksgivin' don't mean anything to 'em; but we poor critters, we
make a great to-do if we have a good dinner onct a year. I've saw a pile
o' this world, Mrs. Stacey--a pile of it! I didn't think they was so
many big houses in the world as I saw b'tween here an' Chicago. Wal, I
can't set here gabbin'." She rose resolutely. "I must get home to
Ripley. Jest kind o' stow them bags away. I'll take two an' leave them
three others. Good-by! I must be gittin' home to Ripley. He'll want his
supper on time."

And off up the road the indomitable little figure trudged, head held
down to the cutting blast--little snow-fly, a speck on a measureless
expanse, crawling along with painful breathing, and slipping, sliding
steps--"Gittin' home to Ripley an' the boy."

Ripley was out to the barn when she entered, but Tewksbury was building
a fire in the old cook-stove. He sprang up with a cry of joy, and ran to
her. She seized him and kissed him, and it did her so much good she
hugged him close, and kissed him again and again, crying hysterically.

"Oh, gran'ma, I'm so glad to see you! We've had an awful time since
you've been gone."

She released him, and looked around. A lot of dirty dishes were on the
table, the table-cloth was a "sight to behold" (as she afterward said),
and so was the stove--kettle-marks all over the table-cloth, splotches
of pancake batter all over the stove.

"Wal, I sh'd say as much," she dryly assented, untying her
bonnet-strings.

When Ripley came in she had her regimentals on, the stove was brushed,
the room swept, and she was elbow-deep in the dish-pan. "Hullo, mother!
Got back, hev yeh?"

"I sh'd say it was about time," she replied curtly, without looking up
or ceasing work. "Has ol' 'Crumpy' dried up yit?" This was her greeting.

Her trip was a fact now; no chance could rob her of it. She had looked
forward twenty-three years toward it, and now she could look back at it
accomplished. She took up her burden again, never more thinking to lay
it down.



Uncle Ethan Ripley

"Like the Main-Travelled Road of Life, it is traversed by many classes
of people."

Uncle Ethan had a theory that a man's character could be told by the way
he sat in a wagon seat.

"A mean man sets right plumb in the middle o' the seat, as much as to
say, 'Walk, gol darn yeh, who cares!' But a man that sets in the corner
o' the seat, much as to say, 'Jump in--cheaper t' ride 'n to walk,' you
can jest tie to."

Uncle Ripley was prejudiced in favor of the stranger, therefore, before
he came opposite the potato patch, where the old man was "bugging his
vines." The stranger drove a jaded-looking pair of calico ponies,
hitched to a clattering democrat wagon, and he sat on the extreme end of
the seat, with the lines in his right hand, while his left rested on his
thigh, with his little finger gracefully crooked and his elbows akimbo.
He wore a blue shirt, with gay-colored armlets just above the elbows,
and his vest hung unbuttoned down his lank ribs. It was plain he was
well pleased with himself.

As he pulled up and threw one leg over the end of the seat, Uncle Ethan
observed that the left spring was much more worn than the other, which
proved that it was not accidental, but that it was the driver's habit to
sit on that end of the seat.

"Good afternoon," said the stranger, pleasantly.

"Good afternoon, sir."

"Bugs purty plenty?"

"Plenty enough, I gol! I don't see where they all come fum."

"Early Rose?" inquired the man, as if referring to the bugs.

"No; Peachblows an' Carter Reds. My Early Rose is over near the house.
The old woman wants 'em near. See the darned things!" he pursued,
rapping savagely on the edge of the pan to rattle the bugs back.

"How do yeh kill 'em--scald 'em?"

"Mostly. Sometimes I--

"Good piece of oats," yawned the stranger, listlessly.

"That's barley."

"So 'tis. Didn't notice."

Uncle Ethan was wondering who the man was. He had some pots of black
paint in the wagon, and two or three square boxes.

"What do yeh think o' Cleveland's chances for a second term?" continued
the man, as if they had been talking politics all the while.

Uncle Ripley scratched his head. "Waal--I dunno--bein' a Republican--I
think--"

"That's so--it's a purty scaly outlook. I don't believe in second terms
myself," the man hastened to say.

"Is that your new barn acrosst there?" he asked, pointing with his whip.

"Yes, sir, it is," replied the old man, proudly. After years of planning
and hard work he had managed to erect a little wooden barn, costing
possibly three hundred dollars. It was plain to be seen he took a
childish pride in the fact of its newness.

The stranger mused. "A lovely place for a sign," he said, as his eyes
wandered across its shining yellow broadside.

Uncle Ethan stared, unmindful of the bugs crawling over the edge of his
pan. His interest in the pots of paint deepened.

"Couldn't think o' lettin' me paint a sign on that barn?" the stranger
continued, putting his locked hands around one knee, and gazing away
across the pig-pen at the building.

"What kind of a sign? Gol darn your skins!" Uncle Ethan pounded the pan
with his paddle and scraped two or three crawling abominations off his
leathery wrist.

It was a beautiful day, and the man in the wagon seemed unusually loath
to attend to business. The tired ponies slept in the shade of the
lombardies. The plain was draped in a warm mist, and shadowed by vast,
vaguely defined masses of clouds--a lazy June day.

"Dodd's Family Bitters," said the man, waking out of his abstraction
with a start, and resuming his working manner. "The best bitter in the
market." He alluded to it in the singular. "Like to look at it? No
trouble to show goods, as the fellah says," he went on hastily, seeing
Uncle Ethan's hesitation.

He produced a large bottle of triangular shape, like a bottle for
pickled onions. It had a red seal on top, and a strenuous caution in red
letters on the neck, "None genuine unless 'Dodd's Family Bitters' is
blown in the bottom."

"Here's what it cures," pursued the agent, pointing at the side, where,
in an inverted pyramid, the names of several hundred diseases were
arranged, running from "gout" to "pulmonary complaints," etc.

"I gol! she cuts a wide swath, don't she?" exclaimed Uncle Ethan,
profoundly impressed with the list.

"They ain't no better bitter in the world," said the agent, with a
conclusive inflection.

"What's its speshy-ality? Most of 'em have some speshy-ality."

"Well--summer complaints--an'--an'--spring an' fall troubles--tones ye
up, sort of."

Uncle Ethan's forgotten pan was empty of his gathered bugs. He was
deeply interested in this man. There was something he liked about him.

"What does it sell fur?" he asked, after a pause.

"Same price as them cheap medicines--dollar a bottle--big bottles, too.
Want one?"

"Wal, mother ain't to home, an' I don't know as she'd like this kind.
We ain't been sick f'r years. Still, they's no tellin'," he added,
seeing the answer to his objection in the agent's eyes. "Times is purty
close too, with us, y' see; we've jest built that stable--"

"Say I'll tell yeh what I'll do," said the stranger, waking up and
speaking in a warmly generous tone. "I'll give you ten bottles of the
bitter if you'll let me paint a sign on that barn. It won't hurt the
barn a bit, and if you want 'o you can paint it out a year from date.
Come, what d'ye say?"

"I guess I hadn't better."

The agent thought that Uncle Ethan was after more pay, but in reality he
was thinking of what his little old wife would say.

"It simply puts a family bitter in your home that may save you fifty
dollars this comin' fall. You can't tell."

Just what the man said after that Uncle Ethan didn't follow. His voice
had a confidential purring sound as he stretched across the wagon-seat
and talked on, eyes half shut. He straightened up at last, and concluded
in the tone of one who has carried his point:

"So! If you didn't want to use the whole twenty-five bottles y'rself,
why! sell it to your neighbors. You can get twenty dollars out of it
easy, and still have five bottles of the best family bitter that ever
went into a bottle."

It was the thought of this opportunity to get a buffalo-skin coat that
consoled Uncle Ethan as he saw the hideous black letters appearing under
the agent's lazy brush.

It was the hot side of the barn, and painting was no light work. The
agent was forced to mop his forehead with his sleeve.

"Say, hain't got a cooky or anything, and a cup o' milk, handy?" he said
at the end of the first enormous word, which ran the whole length of the
barn.

Uncle Ethan got him the milk and cooky, which he ate with an
exaggeratedly dainty action of his fingers, seated meanwhile on the
staging which Uncle Ripley had helped him to build. This lunch infused
new energy into him, and in a short time "Dodd's Family Bitters, Best in
the Market," disfigured the sweet-smelling pine boards.

Ethan was eating his self-obtained supper of bread and milk when his
wife came home.

"Who's been a-paintin' on that barn?" she demanded, her bead-like eyes
flashing, her withered little face set in an ominous frown. "Ethan
Ripley, what you been doin'?"

"Nawthin'," he replied feebly.

"Who painted that sign on there?"

"A man come along an' he wanted to paint that on there, and I let 'im;
and it's my barn anyway. I guess I can do what I'm a min' to with it,"
he ended, defiantly; but his eyes wavered.

Mrs. Ripley ignored the defiance. "What under the sun p'sessed you to do
such a thing as that, Ethan Ripley? I declare I don't see! You git
fooler an' fooler ev'ry day you live, I do believe."

Uncle Ethan attempted a defence.

"Wal, he paid me twenty-five dollars f'r it, anyway."

"Did 'e?" She was visibly affected by this news.

"Wal, anyhow, it amounts to that; he give me twenty-five bottles--"

Mrs. Ripley sank back in her chair. "Wal, I swan to Bungay! Ethan
Ripley--wal, you beat all I ever see!" she added, in despair of
expression. "I thought you had some sense left; but you hain't, not one
blessed scimpton. Where is the stuff?"

"Down cellar, an' you needn't take on no airs, ol' woman. I've known you
to buy things you didn't need time an' time an' agin--tins an' things,
an' I guess you wish you had back that ten dollars you paid for that
illustrated Bible."

"Go 'long an' bring that stuff up here. I never see such a man in my
life. It's a wonder he didn't do it f'r two bottles." She glared out at
the sign, which faced directly upon the kitchen window.

Uncle Ethan tugged the two cases up and set them down on the floor of
the kitchen. Mrs. Ripley opened a bottle and smelled of it like a
cautious cat.

"Ugh! Merciful sakes, what stuff! It ain't fit f'r a hog to take. What'd
you think you was goin' to do with it?" she asked in poignant disgust.

"I expected to take it--if I was sick. Whaddy ye s'pose?" He defiantly
stood his ground, towering above her like a leaning tower.

"The hull cartload of it?"

"No. I'm goin' to sell part of it an' git me an overcoat--"

"Sell it!" she shouted. "Nobuddy'll buy that sick'nin' stuff but an old
numskull like you. Take that slop out o' the house this minute! Take it
right down to the sink-hole an' smash every bottle on the stones."

Uncle Ethan and the cases of medicine disappeared, and the old woman
addressed her concluding remarks to little Tewksbury, her grandson, who
stood timidly on one leg in the doorway, like an intruding pullet.

"Everything around this place 'ud go to rack an' ruin if I didn't keep a
watch on that soft-pated old dummy. I thought that lightnin'-rod man had
give him a lesson he'd remember; but no, he must go an' make a reg'lar--"

She subsided in a tumult of banging pans, which helped her out in the
matter of expression and reduced her to a grim sort of quiet. Uncle
Ethan went about the house like a convict on shipboard. Once she caught
him looking out of the window.

"I should think you'd feel proud o' that."

Uncle Ethan had never been sick a day in his life. He was bent and
bruised with never-ending toil, but he had nothing especial the matter
with him.

He did not smash the medicine, as Mrs. Ripley commanded, because he had
determined to sell it. The next Sunday morning, after his chores were
done, he put on his best coat of faded diagonal, and was brushing his
hair into a ridge across the centre of his high, narrow head, when Mrs.
Ripley came in from feeding the calves.

"Where you goin' now?"

"None o' your business," he replied. "It's darn funny if I can't stir
without you wantin' to know all about it. Where's Tukey?"

"Feedin' the chickens. You ain't goin' to take him off this mornin' now!
I don't care where you go."

"Who's a-goin' to take him off? I ain't said nothin' about takin' him
off."

"Wal, take y'rself off, an' if y' ain't here f'r dinner, I ain't goin'
to get no supper."

Ripley took a water-pail and put four bottles of "the bitter" into it,
and trudged away up the road with it in a pleasant glow of hope. All
nature seemed to declare the day a time of rest, and invited men to
disassociate ideas of toil from the rustling green wheat, shining grass,
and tossing blooms. Something of the sweetness and buoyancy of all
nature permeated the old man's work-calloused body, and he whistled
little snatches of the dance tunes he played on his fiddle.

But he found neighbor Johnson to be supplied with another variety of
bitter, which was all he needed for the present. He qualified his
refusal to buy with a cordial invitation to go out and see his shoats,
in which he took infinite pride. But Uncle Ripley said: "I guess I'll
haf t' be goin'; I want 'o git up to Jennings' before dinner."

He couldn't help feeling a little depressed when he found Jennings away.
The next house along the pleasant lane was inhabited by a "newcomer." He
was sitting on the horse-trough, holding a horse's halter, while his
hired man dashed cold water upon the galled spot on the animal's
shoulder.

After some preliminary talk Ripley presented his medicine.

"Hell, no! What do I want of such stuff? When they's anything the matter
with me, I take a lunkin' ol' swig of popple-bark and bourbon! That fixes
me."

Uncle Ethan moved off up the lane. He hardly felt like whistling now. At
the next house he set his pail down in the weeds beside the fence, and
went in without it. Doudney came to the door in his bare feet, buttoning
his suspenders over a clean boiled shirt. He was dressing to go out.

"Hello, Ripley. I was just goin' down your way. Jest wait a minute, an'
I'll be out."

When he came out, fully dressed, Uncle Ethan grappled him.

"Say, what d' you think o' paytent med--"

"Some of 'em are boss. But y' want 'o know what y're gittin'."

"What d' ye think o' Dodd's--"

"Best in the market."

Uncle Ethan straightened up and his face lighted. Doudney went on:

"Yes, sir; best bitter that ever went into a bottle. I know, I've tried
it. I don't go much on patent medicines, but when I get a good--"

"Don't want 'o buy a bottle?"

Doudney turned and faced him.

"Buy! No. I've got nineteen bottles I want 'o sell." Ripley glanced up at
Doudney's new granary and there read "Dodd's Family Bitters." He was
stricken dumb. Doudney saw it all, and roared.

"Wal, that's a good one! We two tryin' to sell each other bitters.
Ho--ho--ho--har, whoop! wal, this is rich! How many bottles did you git?"

"None o' your business," said Uncle Ethan, as he turned and made off,
while Doudney screamed with merriment.

On his way home Uncle Ethan grew ashamed of his burden. Doudney had
canvassed the whole neighborhood, and he practically gave up the
struggle. Everybody he met seemed determined to find out what he had been
doing, and at last he began lying about it.

"Hello, Uncle Ripley, what y' got there in that pail?"

"Goose eggs f'r settin'."

He disposed of one bottle to old Gus Peterson. Gus never paid his debts,
and he would only promise fifty cents "on tick" for the bottle, and yet
so desperate was Ripley that this questionable sale cheered him up not a
little.

As he came down the road, tired, dusty, and hungry, he climbed over the
fence in order to avoid seeing that sign on the barn, and slunk into the
house without looking back.

He couldn't have felt meaner about it if he had allowed a Democratic
poster to be pasted there.

The evening passed in grim silence, and in sleep he saw that sign
wriggling across the side of the barn like boa-constrictors hung on
rails. He tried to paint them out, but every time he tried it the man
seemed to come back with a sheriff, and savagely warned him to let it
stay till the year was up. In some mysterious way the agent seemed to
know every time he brought out the paint-pot, and he was no longer the
pleasant-voiced individual who drove the calico ponies.

As he stepped out into the yard next morning that abominable, sickening,
scrawling advertisement was the first thing that claimed his glance--it
blotted out the beauty of the morning.

Mrs. Ripley came to the window, buttoning her dress at the throat, a wisp
of her hair sticking assertively from the little knob at the back of her
head.

"Lovely, ain't it! An' I've got to see it all day long. I can't look out
the winder but that thing's right in my face." It seemed to make her
savage. She hadn't been in such a temper since her visit to New York.
"I hope you feel satisfied with it."

Ripley walked off to the barn. His pride in its clean sweet newness was
gone. He slyly tried the paint to see if it couldn't be scraped off, but
it was dried in thoroughly. Whereas before he had taken delight in having
his neighbors turn and look at the building, now he kept out of sight
whenever he saw a team coming. He hoed corn away in the back of the
field, when he should have been bugging potatoes by the roadside.

Mrs. Ripley was in a frightful mood about it, but she held herself in
check for several days. At last she burst forth:

"Ethan Ripley, I can't stand that thing any longer, and I ain't goin' to,
that's all! You've got to go and paint that thing out, or I will. I'm
just about crazy with it."

"But, mother, I promised--"

"I don't care what you promised, it's got to be painted out. I've got the
nightmare now, seein' it. I'm goin' to send f'r a pail o' red paint, and
I'm goin' to paint that out if it takes the last breath I've got to do
it."

"I'll tend to it, mother, if you won't hurry me--"

"I can't stand it another day. It makes me boil every time I look out the
winder."

Uncle Ethan hitched up his team and drove gloomily off to town, where he
tried to find the agent. He lived in some other part of the county,
however, and so the old man gave up and bought a pot of red paint, not
daring to go back to his desperate wife without it.

"Goin' to paint y'r new barn?" inquired the merchant, with friendly
interest.

Uncle Ethan turned with guilty sharpness; but the merchant's face was
grave and kindly.

"Yes, I thought I'd tech it up a little--don't cost much."

"It pays--always," the merchant said emphatically.

"Will it--stick jest as well put on evenings?" inquired Uncle Ethan,
hesitatingly.

"Yes--won't make any difference. Why? Ain't goin' to have--"

"Wal,--I kind o' thought I'd do it odd times night an' mornin'--kind o'
odd times--"

He seemed oddly confused about it, and the merchant looked after him
anxiously as he drove away.

After supper that night he went out to the barn, and Mrs. Ripley heard
him sawing and hammering. Then the noise ceased, and he came in and sat
down in his usual place.

"What y' ben makin'?" she inquired. Tewksbury had gone to bed. She sat
darning a stocking.

"I jest thought I'd git the stagin' ready f'r paintin'," he said,
evasively.

"Wal! I'll be glad when it's covered up." When she got ready for bed, he
was still seated in his chair, and after she had dozed off two or three
times she began to wonder why he didn't come. When the clock struck ten,
and she realized that he had not stirred, she began to get impatient.
"Come, are y' goin' to sit there all night?" There was no reply. She rose
up in bed and looked about the room. The broad moon flooded it with
light, so that she could see he was not asleep in his chair, as she had
supposed. There was something ominous in his disappearance.

"Ethan! Ethan Ripley, where are yeh!" There was no reply to her sharp
call. She rose and distractedly looked about among the furniture, as if
he might somehow be a cat and be hiding in a corner somewhere. Then she
went upstairs where the boy slept, her hard little heels making a curious
tunking noise on the bare boards. The moon fell across the sleeping boy
like a robe of silver. He was alone.

She began to be alarmed. Her eyes widened in fear. All sorts of vague
horrors sprang unbidden into her brain. She still had the mist of sleep
in her brain.

She hurried down the stairs and out into the fragrant night. The katydids
were singing in infinite peace under the solemn splendor of the moon. The
cattle sniffed and sighed, jangling their bells now and then, and the
chickens in the coop stirred uneasily as if overheated. The old woman
stood there in her bare feet and long nightgown, horror-stricken. The
ghastly story of a man who had hung himself in his barn because his wife
deserted him came into her mind, and stayed there with frightful
persistency. Her throat filled chokingly.

She felt a wild rush of loneliness. She had a sudden realization of how
dear that gaunt old figure was, with its grizzled face and ready smile.
Her breath came quick and quicker, and she was at the point of bursting
into a wild cry to Tewksbury, when she heard a strange noise. It came
from the barn, a creaking noise. She looked that way, and saw in the
shadowed side a deeper shadow moving to and fro. A revulsion to
astonishment and anger took place in her.

"Land o' Bungay! If he ain't paintin' that barn, like a perfect old
idiot, in the night."

Uncle Ethan, working desperately, did not hear her feet pattering down
the path, and was startled by her shrill voice.

"Well, Ethan Ripley, whaddy y' think you're doin' now?"

He made two or three slapping passes with the brush, and then snapped
out, "I'm a-paintin' this barn--whaddy ye s'pose? If ye had eyes y'
wouldn't ask."

"Well, you come right straight to bed. What d'you mean by actin' so?"

"You go back into the house an' let me be. I know what I'm a-doin'.
You've pestered me about this sign jest about enough." He dabbed his
brush to and fro as he spoke. His gaunt figure towered above her in
shadow. His slapping brush had a vicious sound.

Neither spoke for some time. At length she said more gently, "Ain't you
comin' in?"

"No--not till I get a-ready. You go 'long an' tend to y'r own business.
Don't stan' there an' ketch cold."

She moved off slowly toward the house. His shout subdued her. Working
alone out there had rendered him savage; he was not to be pushed any
further. She knew by the tone of his voice that he must now be respected.
She slipped on her shoes and a shawl, and came back where he was working,
and took a seat on a saw-horse.

"I'm goin' to set right here till you come in, Ethan Ripley," she said,
in a firm voice, but gentler than usual.

"Wal, you'll set a good while," was his ungracious reply, but each felt
a furtive tenderness for the other. He worked on in silence. The boards
creaked heavily as he walked to and fro, and the slapping sound of the
paint-brush sounded loud in the sweet harmony of the night. The majestic
moon swung slowly round the corner of the barn, and fell upon the old
man's grizzled head and bent shoulders. The horses inside could be heard
stamping the mosquitoes away, and chewing their hay in pleasant chorus.

The little figure seated on the saw-horse drew the shawl closer about her
thin shoulders. Her eyes were in shadow, and her hands were wrapped in
her shawl. At last she spoke in a curious tone.

"Wal, I don't know as you was so very much to blame. I didn't want that
Bible myself--I held out I did, but I didn't."

Ethan worked on until the full meaning of this unprecedented surrender
penetrated his head, and then he threw down his brush.

"Wal, I guess I'll let 'er go at that. I've covered up the most of it,
anyhow. Guess we better go in."



God's Ravens

I

Chicago has three winds that blow upon it. One comes from the east, and
the mind goes out to the cold gray-blue lake. One from the north, and men
think of illimitable spaces of pine-lands and maple-clad ridges which
lead to the unknown deeps of the arctic woods.

But the third is the west or southwest wind, dry, magnetic, full of smell
of unmeasured miles of growing grain in summer, or ripening corn and
wheat in autumn. When it comes in winter the air glitters with incredible
brilliancy. The snow of the country dazzles and flames in the eyes;
deep-blue shadows everywhere stream like stains of ink. Sleigh-bells
wrangle from early morning till late at night, and every step is quick
and alert. In the city, smoke dims its clarity, but it is welcome.

But its greatest moment of domination is spring. The bitter gray wind of
the east has held unchecked rule for days, giving place to its brother
the north wind only at intervals, till some day in March the wind of the
southwest begins to blow. Then the eaves begin to drip. Here and there a
fowl (in a house that is really a prison) begins to sing the song it sang
on the farm, and toward noon its song becomes a chant of articulate joy.

Then the poor crawl out of their reeking hovels on the south and west
sides to stand in the sun--the blessed sun--and felicitate themselves on
being alive. Windows of sick-rooms are opened, the merry small boy goes
to school without his tippet, and men lay off their long ulsters for
their beaver coats. Caps give place to hats, and men and women pause to
chat when they meet each other on the street. The open door is the sign
of the great change of wind.

There are imaginative souls who are stirred yet deeper by this wind--men
like Robert Bloom, to whom come vague and very sweet reminiscences of
farm life when the snow is melting and the dry ground begins to appear.
To these people the wind comes from the wide unending spaces of the
prairie west. They can smell the strange thrilling odor of newly
uncovered sod and moist brown ploughed lands. To them it is like the
opening door of a prison.

Robert had crawled down-town and up to his office high in the Star block
after a month's sickness. He had resolutely pulled a pad of paper under
his hand to write, but the window was open and that wind coming in, and
he could not write--he could only dream.

His brown hair fell over the thin white hand which propped his head. His
face was like ivory with dull yellowish stains in it. His eyes did not
see the mountainous roofs humped and piled into vast masses of brick and
stone, crossed and riven by streets, and swept by masses of gray-white
vapor; they saw a little valley circled by low-wooded bluffs--his native
town in Wisconsin.

As his weakness grew his ambition fell away, and his heart turned back to
nature and to the things he had known in his youth, to the kindly people
of the olden time. It did not occur to him that the spirit of the country
might have changed.

Sitting thus, he had a mighty longing come upon him to give up the
struggle, to go back to the simplest life with his wife and two boys. Why
should he tread in the mill, when every day was taking the life-blood out
of his heart?

Slowly his longing took resolution. At last he drew his desk down, and as
the lock clicked it seemed like the shutting of a prison gate behind him.

At the elevator door he met a fellow-editor. "Hello, Bloom! Didn't know
you were down to-day."

"I'm only trying it. I'm going to take a vacation for a while."

"That's right, man. You look like a ghost."

He hadn't the courage to tell him he never expected to work there again.
His step on the way home was firmer than it had been for weeks. In his
white face his wife saw some subtle change.

"What is it, Robert?"

"Mate, let's give it up."

"What do you mean?"

"The struggle is too hard. I can't stand it. I'm hungry for the country
again. Let's get out of this."

"Where'll we go?"

"Back to my native town--up among the Wisconsin hills and coulies. Go
anywhere, so that we escape this pressure--it's killing me. Let's go to
Bluff Siding for a year. It will do me good--may bring me back to life. I
can do enough special work to pay our grocery bill; and the Merrill
place--so Jack tells me--is empty. We can get it for seventy-five dollars
for a year. We can pull through some way."

"Very well, Robert."

"I must have rest. All the bounce has gone out of me, Mate," he said,
with sad lines in his face. "Any extra work here is out of the question.
I can only shamble around--an excuse for a man."

The wife had ceased to smile. Her strenuous cheerfulness could not hold
before his tragically drawn and bloodless face.

"I'll go wherever you think best, Robert. It will be just as well for the
boys. I suppose there is a school there?"

"Oh, yes. At any rate, they can get a year's schooling in nature."

"Well--no matter, Robert; you are the one to be considered." She had the
self-sacrificing devotion of the average woman. She fancied herself
hopelessly his inferior.

They had dwelt so long on the crumbling edge of poverty that they were
hardened to its threat, and yet the failure of Robert's health had been
of the sort which terrifies. It was a slow but steady sinking of vital
force. It had its ups and downs, but it was a downward trail, always
downward. The time for self-deception had passed.

His paper paid him a meagre salary, for his work was prized only by the
more thoughtful readers of the Star. In addition to his regular work he
occasionally hazarded a story for the juvenile magazines of the East. In
this way he turned the antics of his growing boys to account, as he often
said to his wife.

He had also passed the preliminary stages of literary success by getting
a couple of stories accepted by an Eastern magazine, and he still
confidently looked forward to seeing them printed.

His wife, a sturdy, practical little body, did her part in the bitter
struggle by keeping their little home one of the most attractive on the
West Side, the North Side being altogether too high for them.

In addition, her sorely pressed brain sought out other ways of helping.
She wrote out all her husband's stories on the typewriter, and secretly
she had tried composing others herself, the results being queer dry
little chronicles of the doings of men and women, strung together without
a touch of literary grace.

She proposed taking a large house and re-renting rooms, but Robert would
not hear to it. "As long as I can crawl about we'll leave that to
others."

In the month of preparation which followed he talked a great deal about
their venture.

"I want to get there," he said, "just when the leaves are coming out on
the trees. I want to see the cherry-trees blossom on the hillsides. The
popple-trees always get green first."

At other times he talked about the people. "It will be a rest just to get
back among people who aren't ready to tread on your head in order to lift
themselves up. I believe a year among those kind, unhurried people will
give me all the material I'll need for years. I'll write a series of
studies somewhat like Jefferies'--or Barrie's--only, of course, I'll be
original. I'll just take his plan of telling about the people I meet and
their queer ways, so quaint and good."

"I'm tired of the scramble," he kept breaking out of silence to say. "I
don't blame the boys, but it's plain to me they see that my going will
let them move up one. Mason cynically voiced the whole thing today: 'I
can say, 'sorry to see you go, Bloom,' because your going doesn't concern
me. I'm not in line of succession, but some of the other boys don't feel
so. There's no divinity doth hedge an editor; nothing but law prevents
the murder of those above by those below.'"

"I don't like Mr. Mason when he talks like that," said the wife.

"Well--I don't." He didn't tell her what Mason said when Robert talked
about the good simple life of the people in Bluff Siding:

"Oh, bosh, Bloom! You'll find the struggle of the outside world reflected
in your little town. You'll find men and women just as hard and selfish
in their small way. It'll be harder to bear, because it will all be so
petty and pusillanimous."

It was a lovely day in late April when they took the train out of the
great grimy terrible city. It was eight o'clock, but the streets were
muddy and wet, a cold east wind blowing off the lake.

With clanging bell the train moved away piercing the ragged gray formless
mob of houses and streets (through which railways always run in a city).
Men were hurrying to work, and Robert pitied them, poor fellows,
condemned to do that thing forever.

In an hour they reached the prairies, already clothed upon faintly with
green grass and tender springing wheat. The purple-brown squares reserved
for the corn looked deliciously soft and warm to the sick man, and he
longed to set his bare feet into it.

His boys were wild with delight. They had the natural love of the earth
still in them, and correspondingly cared little for the city. They raced
through the cars like colts. They saw everything. Every blossoming plant,
every budding tree, was precious to them all.

All day they rode. Toward noon they left the sunny prairie-land of
northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, and entered upon the
hill-land of Madison and beyond. As they went north, the season was less
advanced, but spring was in the fresh wind and the warm sunshine.

As evening drew on, the hylas began to peep from the pools, and their
chorus deepened as they came on toward Bluff Siding, which seemed very
small, very squalid, and uninteresting, but Robert pointed at the
circling wine-colored wall of hills and the warm sunset sky.

"We're in luck to find a hotel," said Robert. "They burn down every three
months."

They were met by a middle-aged man, and conducted across the road to a
hotel, which had been a roller-skating rink in other days, and was not
prepossessing. However, they were ushered into the parlor, which
resembled the sitting-room of a rather ambitious village home, and there
they took seats, while the landlord consulted about rooms.

The wife's heart sank. From the window she could see several of the low
houses, and far off just the hills which seemed to make the town so very
small, very lonely. She was not given time to shed tears. The children
clamored for food, tired and cross.

Robert went out into the office, where he signed his name under the
close and silent scrutiny of a half-dozen roughly clad men, who sat
leaning against the wall. They were merely working-men to him, but in
Mrs. Bloom's eyes they were dangerous people.

The landlord looked at the name as Robert wrote. "Your boxes are all
here," he said.

Robert looked up at him in surprise. "What boxes?"

"Your household goods. They came in on No. 9."

Robert recovered himself. He remembered this was a village where
everything that goes on--everything--is known.

The stairway rose picturesquely out of the office to the low second
story, and up these stairs they tramped to their tiny rooms which were
like cells.

"Oh, mamma, ain't it queer?" cried the boys.

"Supper is all ready," the landlord's soft, deep voice announced a few
moments later, and the boys responded with whoops of hunger.

They were met by the close scrutiny of every boarder as they entered, and
they heard also the muttered comments and explanations.

"Family to take the Merrill house."

"He looks purty well flaxed out, don't he?"

They were agreeably surprised to find everything neat and clean and
wholesome. The bread was good and the butter delicious. Their spirits
revived.

"That butter tastes like old times," said Robert. "It's fresh. It's
really butter."

They made a hearty meal, and the boys, being filled up, grew sleepy.
After they were put to bed Robert said, "Now, Mate, let's go see the
house."

They walked out arm in arm like lovers. Her sturdy form steadied him,
though he would not have acknowledged it. The red flush was not yet gone
from the west, and the hills still kept a splendid tone of purple-black.
It was very clear, the stars were out, the wind deliciously soft. "Isn't
it still?" Robert almost whispered.

They walked on under the budding trees up the hill, till they came at
last to the small frame house set under tall maples and locust-trees,
just showing a feathery fringe of foliage.

"This is our home," said Robert.

Mate leaned on the gate in silence. Frogs were peeping. The smell of
spring was in the air. There was a magnificent repose in the hour,
restful, recreating, impressive.

"Oh, it's beautiful, Robert! I know we shall like it."

"We must like it," he said.

II

First contact with the people disappointed Robert. In the work of moving
in he had to do with people who work at day's work, and the fault was his
more than theirs. He forgot that they did not consider their work
degrading. They resented his bossing. The drayman grew rebellious.

"Look a-here, my Christian friend, if you'll go 'long in the house and
let us alone it'll be a good job. We know what we're about."

This was not pleasant, and he did not perceive the trouble. In the same
way he got foul of the carpenter and the man who ploughed his garden.
Some way his tone was not right. His voice was cold and distant. He
generally found that the men knew better than he what was to be done and
how to do it; and sometimes he felt like apologizing, but their attitude
had changed till apology was impossible.

He had repelled their friendly advances because he considered them
(without meaning to do so) as workmen, and not as neighbors. They
reported, therefore, that he was cranky and rode a high horse.

"He thinks he's a little tin god on wheels," the drayman said.

"Oh, he'll get over that," said McLane. "I knew the boy's folks years
ago--tiptop folks, too. He ain't well, and that makes him a little
crusty."

"That's the trouble--he thinks he's an upper crust," said Jim Cullen, the
drayman.

At the end of ten days they were settled, and nothing remained to do but
plan a little garden and--get well. The boys, with their unspoiled
natures, were able to melt into the ranks of the village-boy life at
once, with no more friction than was indicated by a couple of
rough-and-tumble fights. They were sturdy fellows, like their mother, and
these fights gave them high rank.

Robert got along in a dull, smooth way with his neighbors. He was too
formal with them. He met them only at the meat-shop and the post-office.
They nodded genially, and said, "Got settled yet?" And he replied,
"Quite comfortable, thank you." They felt his coldness. Conversation
halted when he came near, and made him feel that he was the subject of
their talk. As a matter of fact, he generally was. He was a source of
great speculation with them. Some of them had gone so far as to bet he
wouldn't live a year. They all seemed grotesque to him, so work-scarred
and bent and hairy. Even the men whose names he had known from childhood
were queer to him. They seemed shy and distant, too, not like his ideas
of them.

To Mate they were almost caricatures. "What makes them look so--so 'way
behind the times, Robert?"

"Well, I suppose they are," said Robert. "Life in these coulies goes on
rather slower than in Chicago. Then there are a great many Welsh and
Germans and Norwegians, living 'way up the coulies, and they're the ones
you notice. They're not all so." He could be generous toward them in
general; it was in special cases where he failed to know them.

They had been there nearly two weeks without meeting any of them
socially, and Robert was beginning to change his opinion about them.
"They let us severely alone," he was saying one night to his wife.

"It's very odd. I wonder what I'd better do, Robert. I don't know the
etiquette of these small towns. I never lived in one before, you know.
Whether I ought to call first--and, good gracious, who'll I call on? I'm
in the dark."

"So am I, to tell the truth. I haven't lived in one of these small towns
since I was a lad. I have a faint recollection that introductions were
absolutely necessary. They have an etiquette which is as binding as that
of McAllister's Four Hundred, but what it is I don't know."

"Well, we'll wait."

"The boys are perfectly at home," said Robert, with a little emphasis on
boys, which was the first indication of his disappointment. The people he
had failed to reach.

There came a knock on the door that startled them both. "Come in," said
Robert, in a nervous shout.

"Land sakes! did I scare ye? Seem so, way ye yelled," said a high-keyed
nasal voice, and a tall woman came in, followed by an equally stalwart
man.

"How d'e do, Mrs. Folsom? My wife, Mr. Folsom."

Folsom's voice was lost in the bustle of getting settled, but Mrs.
Folsom's voice rose above the clamor. "I was tellin' him it was about
time we got neighborly. I never let anybody come to town a week without
callin' on 'em. It does a body a heap o' good to see a face outside the
family once in a while, specially in a new place. How do you like up here
on the hill?"

"Very much. The view is so fine."

"Yes, I s'pose it is. Still, it ain't my notion. I don't like to climb
hills well enough. Still, I've heard of people buildin' just for the
view. It's all in taste, as the old woman said that kissed the cow."

There was an element of shrewdness and self-analysis in Mrs. Folsom which
saved her from being grotesque. She knew she was queer to Mrs. Bloom, but
she did not resent it. She was still young in form and face, but her
teeth were gone, and, like so many of her neighbors, she was too poor to
replace them from the dentist's. She wore a decent calico dress and a
shawl and hat.

As she talked her eyes took in every article of furniture in the room,
and every little piece of fancy-work and bric-à-brac. In fact, she
reproduced the pattern of one of the tidies within two days.

Folsom sat dumbly in his chair. Robert, who met him now as a neighbor for
the first time, tried to talk with him, but failed, and turned himself
gladly to Mrs. Folsom, who delighted him with her vigorous phrases.

"Oh, we're a-movin', though you wouldn't think it. This town is filled
with a lot of old skinflints. Close ain't no name for 'em. Jest ask
Folsom thar about 'em. He's been buildin' their houses for 'em. Still, I
suppose they say the same thing o' me," she added, with a touch of
humor which always saved her. She used a man's phrases. "We're always
ready to tax some other feller, but we kick like mules when the tax falls
on us," she went on. "My land! the fight we've had to git sidewalks in
this town!"

"You should be mayor."

"That's what I tell Folsom. Takes a woman to clean things up. Well, I
must run along. Thought I'd jest call in and see how you all was. Come
down when ye kin."

"Thank you, I will."

After they had gone Robert turned with a smile: "Our first formal call."

"Oh, dear, Robert, what can I do with such people?"

"Go see 'em. I like her. She's shrewd. You'll like her, too."

"But what can I say to such people? Did you hear her say 'we fellers' to
me?"

Robert laughed. "That's nothing. She feels as much of a man, or 'feller,'
as any one. Why shouldn't she?"

"But she's so vulgar."

"I admit she isn't elegant, but I think she's a good wife and mother."

"I wonder if they're all like that?"

"Now, Mate, we must try not to offend them. We must try to be one of
them."

But this was easier said than done. As he went down to the post-office
and stood waiting for his mail like the rest he tried to enter into
conversation with them, but mainly they moved away from him. William
McTurg nodded at him and said, "How de do?" and McLane asked how he liked
his new place, and that was about all.

He couldn't reach them. They suspected him. They had only the estimate of
the men who had worked for him; and, while they were civil, they plainly
didn't need him in the slightest degree, except as a topic of
conversation.

He did not improve as he had hoped to do. The spring was wet and cold,
the most rainy and depressing the valley had seen in many years. Day
after day the rain-clouds sailed in over the northern hills and deluged
the flat little town with water, till the frogs sang in every street,
till the main street mired down every team that drove into it.

The corn rotted in the earth, but the grass grew tall and yellow-green,
the trees glistened through the gray air, and the hills were like green
jewels of incalculable worth, when the sun shone, at sweet infrequent
intervals.

The cold and damp struck through into the alien's heart. It seemed to
prophesy his dark future. He sat at his desk and looked out into the gray
rain with gloomy eyes--a prisoner when he had expected to be free.

He had failed in his last venture. He had not gained any power--he was
really weaker than ever. The rain had kept him confined to the house. The
joy he had anticipated of tracing out all his boyish pleasure haunts was
cut off. He had relied, too, upon that as a source of literary power.

He could not do much more than walk down to the post-office and back on
the pleasantest days. A few people called, but he could not talk to them,
and they did not call again.

In the mean while his little bank-account was vanishing. The boys were
strong and happy; that was his only comfort. And his wife seemed strong,
too. She had little time to get lonesome.

He grew morbid. His weakness and insecurity made him jealous of the
security and health of others.

He grew almost to hate the people as he saw them coming and going in the
mud, or heard their loud hearty voices sounding from the street. He hated
their gossip, their dull jokes. The flat little town grew vulgar and low
and desolate to him.

Every little thing which had amused him now annoyed him. The cut of their
beards worried him. Their voices jarred upon him. Every day or two he
broke forth to his wife in long tirades of abuse.

"Oh, I can't stand these people! They don't know anything. They talk
every rag of gossip into shreds. 'Taters, fish, hops; hops, fish, and
'taters. They've saved and pinched and toiled till their souls are
pinched and ground away. You're right. They are caricatures. They don't
read or think about anything in which I'm interested. This life is
nerve-destroying. Talk about the health of the village life! it destroys
body and soul. It debilitates me. It will warp us both down to the level
of these people."

She tried to stop him, but he went on, a flush of fever on his cheek:

"They degrade the nature they have touched. Their squat little town is a
caricature like themselves. Everything they touch they belittle. Here
they sit while sidewalks rot and teams mire in the streets."

He raged on like one demented--bitter, accusing, rebellious. In such a
mood he could not write. In place of inspiring him, the little town and
its people seemed to undermine his power and turn his sweetness of spirit
into gall and acid. He only bowed to them now as he walked feebly among
them, and they excused it by referring to his sickness. They eyed him
each time with pitying eyes. "He's failin' fast," they said among
themselves.

One day, as he was returning from the post-office, he felt blind for a
moment and put his hand to his head. The world of vivid green grew gray,
and life receded from him into illimitable distance. He had one dim
fading glimpse of a shaggy-bearded face looking down at him, and felt the
clutch of an iron-hard strong arm under him, and then he lost hold even
on so much consciousness.

He came back slowly, rising out of immeasurable deeps toward a distant
light which was like the mouth of a well filled with clouds of misty
vapor. Occasionally he saw a brown big hairy face floating in over this
lighted horizon, to smile kindly and go away again. Others came with
shaggy beards. He heard a cheery tenor voice which he recognized, and
then another face, a big brown smiling face; very lovely it looked now to
him--almost as lovely as his wife's, which floated in from the other
side.

"He's all right now," said the cheery tenor voice from the big bearded
face.

"Oh, Mr. McTurg, do you think so?"

"Ye-e-s, sir. He's all right. The fever's left him. Brace up, old man. We
need ye yit awhile." Then all was silent again.

The well-mouth cleared away its mist again, and he saw more clearly. Part
of the time he knew he was in bed staring at the ceiling. Part of the
time the well-mouth remained closed in with clouds.

Gaunt old women put spoons of delicious broth to his lips, and their
toothless mouths had kindly lines about them. He heard their high voices
sounding faintly.

"Now, Mis' Bloom, jest let Mis' Folsom an' me attend to things out here.
We'll get supper for the boys, an' you jest go an' lay down. We'll take
care of him. Don't worry. Bell's a good hand with sick."

Then the light came again, and he heard a robin singing, and a cat-bird
squalled softly, pitifully. He could see the ceiling again. He lay on his
back, with his hands on his breast. He felt as if he had been dead. He
seemed to feel his body as if it were an alien thing.

"How are you, sir?" called the laughing, thrillingly hearty voice of
William McTurg.

He tried to turn his head, but it wouldn't move. He tried to speak, but
his dry throat made no noise.

The big man bent over him. "Want 'o change place a little?"

He closed his eyes in answer.

A giant arm ran deftly under his shoulders and turned him as if he were
an infant, and a new part of the good old world burst on his sight. The
sunshine streamed in the windows through a waving screen of lilac leaves
and fell upon the carpet in a priceless flood of radiance.

There sat William McTurg smiling at him. He had no coat on and no hat,
and his bushy thick hair rose up from his forehead like thick
marsh-grass. He looked to be the embodiment of sunshine and health. Sun
and air were in his brown face, and the perfect health of a fine animal
was in his huge limbs. He looked at Robert with a smile that brought a
strange feeling into his throat. It made him try to speak; at last he
whispered.

The great figure bent closer: "What is it?"

"Thank--you."

William laughed a low chuckle. "Don't bother about thanks. Would you like
some water?"

A tall figure joined William, awkwardly.

"Hello, Evan!"

"How is he, Bill?"

"He's awake to-day."

"That's good. Anything I can do?"

"No, I guess not. All he needs is somethin' to eat."

"I jest brought a chicken up, an' some jell an' things the women sent.
I'll stay with him till twelve, then Folsom will come in."

Thereafter he lay hearing the robins laugh and the orioles whistle, and
then the frogs and katydids at night. These men with greasy vests and
unkempt beards came in every day. They bathed him, and helped him to and
from the bed. They helped to dress him and move him to the window, where
he could look out on the blessed green of the grass.

O God, it was so beautiful! It was a lover's joy only to live, to look
into these radiant vistas again. A cat-bird was singing in the
currant-hedge. A robin was hopping across the lawn. The voices of the
children sounded soft and jocund across the road. And the
sunshine--"Beloved Christ, Thy sunshine falling upon my feet!" His soul
ached with the joy of it, and when his wife came in she found him sobbing
like a child.

They seemed never to weary in his service. They lifted him about, and
talked to him in loud and hearty voices which roused him like fresh winds
from free spaces.

He heard the women busy with things in the kitchen. He often saw them
loaded with things to eat passing his window, and often his wife came in
and knelt down at his bed.

"Oh, Robert, they're so good! They feed us like God's ravens."

One day, as he sat at the window fully dressed for the fourth of fifth
time, William McTurg came up the walk.

"Well, Robert, how are ye to-day?"

"First rate, William," he smiled. "I believe I can walk out a little if
you'll help me."

"All right, sir."

And he went forth leaning on William's arm, a piteous wraith of a man.

On every side the golden June sunshine fell, filling the valley from
purple brim to purple brim. Down over the hill to the west the light
poured, tangled and glowing in the plum and cherry trees, leaving the
glistening grass spraying through the elms, and flinging streamers of
pink across the shaven green slopes where the cattle fed.

On every side he saw kindly faces and heard hearty voices: "Good day,
Robert. Glad to see you out again." It thrilled him to hear them call him
by his first name.

His heart swelled till he could hardly breathe. The passion of living
came back upon him, shaking, uplifting him. His pallid lips moved. His
face was turned to the sky.

"O God, let me live! It is so beautiful! O God, give me strength again!
Keep me in the light of the sun! Let me see the green grass come and go!"

He turned to William with trembling lips, trying to speak:

"Oh, I understand you now. I know you all now."

But William did not understand him.

"There! there!" he said, soothingly. "I guess you're gettin' tired." He
led Robert back and put him to bed.

"I'd know but we was a little brash about goin' out," William said to
him, as Robert lay there smiling up at him.

"Oh, I'm all right now," the sick man said.

"Matie," the alien cried, when William had gone, "we know our neighbors
now, don't we? We never can hate or ridicule them again."

"Yes, Robert. They never will be caricatures again--to me."



A "Good Fellow's" Wife

I

Life in the small towns of the older West moves slowly--almost as slowly
as in the seaport villages or little towns of the East. Towns like Tyre
and Bluff Siding have grown during the last twenty years, but very
slowly, by almost imperceptible degrees. Lying too far away from the
Mississippi to be affected by the lumber interest, they are merely
trading-points for the farmers, with no perceivable germs of boom in
their quiet life.

A stranger coming into Belfast, Minnesota, excites much the same languid
but persistent inquiry as in Belfast, New Hampshire. Juries of men,
seated on salt-barrels and nail-kegs, discuss the stranger's appearance
and his probable action, just as in Kittery, Maine, but with a lazier
speech-tune, and with a shade less of apparent interest.

On such a rainy day as comes in May after the corn is planted--a cold,
wet rainy day--the usual crowd was gathered in Wilson's grocery-store at
Bluff Siding, a small town in "The Coally Country." They were farmers,
for the most part, retired from active service. Their coats were of
cheap diagonal or cassimere, much faded and burned by the sun; their
hats, flapped about by winds and soaked with countless rains, were also
of the same yellow-brown tints. One or two wore paper collars on their
hickory shirts.

McIlvaine, farmer and wheat-buyer, wore a paper collar and a butterfly
necktie, as befitted a man of his station in life. He was a short,
squarely made Scotchman, with sandy whiskers much grayed, and with a
keen, intensely blue eye.

"Say," called McPhail, ex-sheriff of the county, in the silence that
followed some remark about the rain, "any o' you fellers had any talk
with this feller Sanford?"

"I hain't," said Vance. "You, Bill?"

"No; but somebody was sayin' he thought o' startin' in trade here."

"Don't Sam know? He generally knows what's goin' on."

"Knows he registered from Pittsfield, Mass., an' that's all. Say, that's
a mighty smart-lookin' woman o' his."

"Vance always sees how the women look. Where'd you see her?"

"Came in here the other day to look up prices."

"Wha'd she say 'bout settlin'?"

"Hadn't decided yet."

"He's too slick to have much business in him. That waxed mustache gives
'im away."

The discussion having reached that point where his word would have most
effect, Steve Gilbert said, while opening the hearth to rap out the ashes
of his pipe, "Sam's wife heerd that he was kind o' thinkin' some of goin'
into business here, if things suited 'im first-rate."

They all knew the old man was aching to tell something, but they didn't
purpose to gratify him by any questions. The rain dripped from the awning
in front, and fell upon the roof of the storeroom at the back with a soft
and steady roar.

"Good f'r the corn," McPhail said, after a long pause.

"Purty cold, though."

Gilbert was tranquil--he had a shot in reserve.

"Sam's wife said his wife said he was thinkin' some of goin' into a bank
here--"

"A bank!"

"What in thunder--"

Vance turned, with a comical look on his long, placid face, one hand
stroking his beard.

"Well, now, gents, I'll tell you what's the matter with this town. It
needs a bank. Yes, sir! I need a bank."

"You?"

"Yes, me. I didn't know just what did ail me, but I do now. It's the need
of a bank that keeps me down."

"Well, you fellers can talk an' laugh, but I tell yeh they's a boom goin'
to strike this town. It's got to come. W'y, just look at Lumberville!"

"Their boom is our bu'st," was McPhail's comment.

"I don't think so," said Sanford, who had entered in time to hear these
last two speeches. They all looked at him with deep interest. He was a
smallish man. He wore a derby hat and a neat suit. "I've looked things
over pretty close--a man don't like to invest his capital" (here the rest
looked at one another) "till he does; and I believe there's an opening
for a bank."

As he dwelt upon the scheme from day to day, the citizens warmed to him,
and he became "Jim" Sanford. He hired a little cottage, and went to
housekeeping at once; but the entire summer went by before he made his
decision to settle. In fact, it was in the last week of August that the
little paper announced it in the usual style:

Mr. James G. Sanford, popularly known as "Jim," has decided to open an
exchange bank for the convenience of our citizens, who have hitherto been
forced to transact business in Lumberville. The thanks of the town are
due Mr. Sanford, who comes well recommended from Massachusetts and from
Milwaukee, and, better still, with a bag of ducats. Mr. S. will be well
patronized. Success, Jim!

The bank was open by the time the corn-crop and the hogs were being
marketed, and money was received on deposit while the carpenters were
still at work on the building. Everybody knew now that he was as solid as
oak.

He had taken into the bank, as bookkeeper, Lincoln Bingham, one of
McPhail's multitudinous nephews; and this was a capital move. Everybody
knew Link, and knew he was a McPhail, which meant that he "could be tied
to in all kinds o' weather." Of course the McPhails, McIlvaines, and the
rest of the Scotch contingency "banked on Link." As old Andrew McPhail
put it:

"Link's there, an' he knows the bank an' books, an' just how things
stand"; and so when he sold his hogs he put the whole sum--over fifteen
hundred dollars--into the bank. The McIlvaines and the Binghams did the
same, and the bank was at once firmly established among the farmers.

Only two people held out against Sanford, old Freeme Cole and Mrs.
Bingham, Lincoln's mother; but they didn't count, for Freeme hadn't a
cent, and Mrs. Bingham was too unreasoning in her opposition. She could
only say: "I don't like him, that's all. I knowed a man back in New York
that curled his mustaches just that way, an' he wa'n't no earthly good."

It might have been said by a cynic that Banker Sanford had all the
virtues of a defaulting bank cashier. He had no bad habits beyond
smoking. He was genial, companionable, and especially ready to help when
sickness came. When old Freeme Cole got down with delirium tremens that
winter, Sanford was one of the most heroic of nurses, and the service was
so clearly disinterested and magnanimous that every one spoke of it.

His wife and he were included in every dance or picnic; for Mrs. Sanford
was as great a favorite as the banker himself, she was so sincere, and
her gray eyes were so charmingly frank, and then she said "such funny
things."

"I wish I had something to do besides housework. It's a kind of a
putterin' job, best ye can do," she'd say, merrily, just to see the
others stare. "There's too much moppin' an' dustin'. Seems 's if a woman
used up half her life on things that don't amount to anything, don't it?"

"I tell yeh that feller's a scallywag. I know it buh the way 'e walks
'long the sidewalk," Mrs. Bingham insisted to her son, who wished her to
put her savings into the bank.

The youngest of a large family, Link had been accustomed all his life to
Mrs. Bingham's many whimsicalities.

"I s'pose you can smell he's a thief, just as you can tell when it's
goin' to rain, or the butter's comin', by the smell."

"Well, you needn't laugh, Lincoln. I can," maintained the old lady,
stoutly. "An' I ain't goin' to put a red cent o' my money into his
pocket--f'r there's where it 'ud go to."

She yielded at last, and received a little bank-book in return for her
money. "Jest about all I'll ever get," she said, privately; and
thereafter out of her brass-bowed spectacles with an eagle's gaze she
watched the banker go by. But the banker, seeing the dear old soul at the
window looking out at him, always smiled and bowed, unaware of her
suspicion.

At the end of the year he bought the lot next his rented house, and began
building one of his own, a modest little affair, shaped like a pork-pie
with a cupola, or a Tam-o'-Shanter cap--a style of architecture which
became fashionable at once.

He worked heroically to get the location of the plow-factory at Bluff
Siding, and all but succeeded; but Tyre, once their ally, turned against
them, and refused to consider the fact of the Siding's position at the
centre of the county. However, for some reason or other, the town woke up
to something of a boom during the next two years. Several large farmers
decided to retire and live off the sweat of some other fellow's brow, and
so built some houses of the pork-pie order, and moved into town.

This inflow of moneyed men from the country resulted in the establishment
of a "seminary of learning" on the hillside, where the Soldiers' Home was
to be located. This called in more farmers from the country, and a new
hotel was built, a sash-and-door factory followed, and Burt McPhail set
up a feed-mill.

All this improvement unquestionably dated from the opening of the bank,
and the most unreasoning partisans of the banker held him to be the chief
cause of the resulting development of the town, though he himself
modestly disclaimed any hand in the affair.

Had Bluff Siding been a city, the highest civic honors would have been
open to Banker Sanford; indeed, his name was repeatedly mentioned in
connection with the county offices.

"No, gentlemen," he explained, firmly, but courteously, in Wilson's store
one night; "I'm a banker, not a politician. I can't ride two horses."

In the second year of the bank's history he went up to the north part of
the state on business, visiting West Superior, Duluth, Ashland, and other
booming towns, and came back full of the wonders of what he saw.

"There's big money up there, Nell," he said to his wife.

But she had the woman's tendency to hold fast to what she had, and would
not listen to any plans about moving.

"Build up your business here, Jim, and don't worry about what good
chances there are somewhere else."

He said no more about it, but he took great interest in all the news the
"boys" brought back from their annual deer-hunts "up north." They were
all enthusiastic over West Superior and Duluth, and their wonderful
development was the never-ending theme of discussion in Wilson's store.

II

The first two years of the bank's history were solidly successful, and
"Jim" and "Nellie" were the head and front of all good works, and the
provoking cause of most of the fun. No one seemed more care-free.

"We consider ourselves just as young as anybody," Mrs. Sanford would say,
when joked about going out with the young people so much; but sometimes
at home, after the children were asleep, she sighed a little.

"Jim, I wish you was in some kind of a business so I could help. I don't
have enough to do. I s'pose I could mop an' dust, an' dust an' mop; but
it seems sinful to waste time that way. Can't I do anything, Jim?"

"Why, no. If you 'tend to the children and keep house, that's all
anybody asks of you."

She was silent, but not convinced. She had a desire to do something
outside the walls of her house--a desire transmitted to her from her
father, for a woman inherits these things.

In the spring of the second year a number of the depositors drew out
money to invest in Duluth and Superior lots, and the whole town was
excited over the matter.

The summer passed, Link and Sanford spending their time in the bank--that
is, when not out swimming or fishing with the boys. But July and August
were terribly hot and dry, and oats and corn were only half-crop, and the
farmers were grumbling. Some of them were forced to draw on the bank
instead of depositing.

McPhail came in, one day in November, to draw a thousand dollars to pay
for a house and lot he had recently bought.

Sanford was alone. He whistled. "Phew! You're comin' at me hard. Come in
to-morrow. Link's gone down to the city to get some money."

"All right," said McPhail; "any time."

"Goin' t' snow?"

"Looks like it. I'll haf to load a lot o' ca'tridges ready f'r biz."

About an hour later old lady Bingham burst upon the banker, wild and
breathless. "I want my money," she announced.

"Good-morning, Mrs. Bingham. Pleasant--"

"I want my money. Where's Lincoln?"

She had read that morning of two bank failures--one in Nova Scotia and
one in Massachusetts--and they seemed providential warnings to her.
Lincoln's absence confirmed them.

"He's gone to St. Paul--won't be back till the five-o'clock train. Do you
need some money this morning? How much?"

"All of it, sir. Every cent."

Sanford saw something was out of gear. He tried to explain. "I've sent
your son to St. Paul after some money--"

"Where's my money? What have you done with that?" In her excitement she
thought of her money just as she hand handed it in--silver and little
rolls and wads of bills.

"If you'll let me explain--"

"I don't want you to explain nawthin'. Jest hand me out my money."

Two or three loafers, seeing her gesticulate, stopped on the walk outside
and looked in at the door. Sanford was annoyed, but he remained calm and
persuasive. He saw that something had caused a panic in the good, simple
old woman. He wished for Lincoln as one wishes for a policeman sometimes.

"Now, Mrs. Bingham, if you'll only wait till Lincoln--"

"I don't want 'o wait. I want my money, right now."

"Will fifty dollars do?"

"No, sir; I want it all--every cent of it--jest as it was."

"But I can't do that. Your money is gone--"

"Gone? Where is it gone? What have you done with it? You thief--"

"'Sh!" He tried to quiet her. "I mean I can't give you your money--"

"Why can't you?" she stormed, trotting nervously on her feet as she stood
there.

"Because--if you'd let me explain--we don't keep the money just as it
comes to us. We pay it out, and take in other--"

Mrs. Bingham was getting more and more bewildered. She now had only one
clear idea--she couldn't get her money. Her voice grew tearful like an
angry child's.

"I want my money--I knew you'd steal it--that I worked for. Give me my
money."

Sanford hastily handed her some money. "Here's fifty dollars. You can
have the rest when--"

The old lady clutched the money, and literally ran out of the door, and
went off up the sidewalk, talking incoherently. To every one she met she
told her story; but the men smiled and passed on. They had heard her
predictions of calamity before.

But Mrs. McIlvaine was made a trifle uneasy by it. "He wouldn't give you
y'r money? Or did he say he couldn't?" she inquired, in her moderate way.

"He couldn't, an' he wouldn't!" she said. "If you've got any money there,
you'd better get it out quick. It ain't safe a minute. When Lincoln comes
home I'm goin' to see if I can't--"

"Well, I was calc'latin' to go to Lumberville this week, anyway, to buy a
carpet and a chamber set. I guess I might 's well get the money to-day."

When she came in and demanded the money, Sanford was scared. Were these
two old women the beginning of the deluge? Would McPhail insist on being
paid also? There was just one hundred dollars left in the bank, together
with a little silver. With rare strategy he smiled.

"Certainly, Mrs. McIlvaine. How much will you need?"

She had intended to demand the whole of her deposit--one hundred and
seventeen dollars--but his readiness mollified her a little. "I did 'low
I'd take the hull, but I guess seventy-five dollars 'll do."

He paid the money briskly out over the little glass shelf. "How is your
children, Mrs. McIlvaine?"

"Purty well, thanky," replied Mrs. McIlvaine, laboriously counting the
bills.

"Is it all right?"

"I guess so," she replied, dubiously. "I'll count it after I get home."

She went up the street with the feeling that the bank was all right, and
she stepped in and told Mrs. Bingham that she had no trouble in getting
her money.

After she had gone Sanford sat down and wrote a telegram which he sent to
St. Paul. This telegram, according to the duplicate at the station, read
in this puzzling way:

E. O., Exchange Block, No. 96. All out of paper. Send five hundred
note-heads and envelopes to match. Business brisk. Press of
correspondence just now. Get them out quick. Wire.

Sanford.

Two or three others came in after a little money, but he put them off
easily. "Just been cashing some paper, and took all the ready cash I can
spare. Can't you wait till to-morrow? Link's gone down to St. Paul to
collect on some paper. Be back on the five-o'clock. Nine o'clock, sure."

An old Norwegian woman came in to deposit ten dollars, and he counted it
in briskly, and put the amount down on her little book for her. Barney
Mace came in to deposit a hundred dollars, the proceeds of a horse sale,
and this helped him through the day. Those who wanted small sums he paid.

"Glad this ain't a big demand. Rather close on cash to-day," he said,
smiling, as Lincoln's wife's sister came in.

She laughed, "I guess it won't bu'st yeh. If I thought it would, I'd
leave it in."

"Bu'sted!" he said, when Vance wanted him to cash a draft. "Can't do it.
Sorry, Van. Do it in the morning all right. Can you wait?"

"Oh, I guess so. Haf to, won't I?"

"Curious," said Sanford, in a confidential way. "I don't know that I ever
saw things get in just such shape. Paper enough--but exchange, ye know,
and readjustment of accounts."

"I don't know much about banking, myself," said Vance, good-naturedly;
"but I s'pose it's a good 'eal same as with a man. Git short o' cash,
first they know--'ain't got a cent to spare."

"That's the idea exactly. Credit all right, plenty o' property, but--"
and he smiled and went at his books. The smile died out of his eyes as
Vance went out, and he pulled a little morocco book from his pocket and
began studying the beautiful columns of figures with which it seemed to
be filled. Those he compared with the books with great care, thrusting
the book out of sight when any one entered.

He closed the bank as usual at five. Lincoln had not come--couldn't come
now till the nine-o'clock accommodation. For an hour after the shades
were drawn he sat there in the semi-darkness, silently pondering on his
situation. This attitude and deep quiet were unusual to him. He heard the
feet of friends and neighbors passing the door as he sat there by the
smouldering coal-fire, in the growing darkness. There was something
impressive in his attitude.

He started up at last, and tried to see what the hour was by turning the
face of his watch to the dull glow from the cannon-stove's open door.

"Supper-time," he said, and threw the whole matter off, as if he had
decided it or had put off the decision till another time.

As he went by the post-office Vance said to McIlvaine in a smiling way,
as if it were a good joke on Sanford:

"Little short o' cash down at the bank."

"He's a good fellow," McIlvaine said.

"So's his wife," added Vance, with a chuckle.

III

That night, after supper, Sanford sat in his snug little sitting-room
with a baby on each knee, looking as cheerful and happy as any man in the
village. The children crowed and shouted as he "trotted them to Boston,"
or rode them on the toe of his boot. They made a noisy, merry group.

Mrs. Sanford "did her own work," and her swift feet could be heard moving
to and fro out in the kitchen. It was pleasant there; the woodwork, the
furniture, the stove, the curtains--all had that look of newness just
growing into coziness. The coal-stove was lighted and the curtains were
drawn.

After the work in the kitchen was done, Mrs. Sanford came in and sat
awhile by the fire with the children, looking very wifely in her dark
dress and white apron, her round, smiling face glowing with love and
pride--the gloating look of a mother seeing her children in the arms of
her husband.

"How is Mrs. Peterson's baby, Jim?" she said, suddenly, her face
sobering.

"Pretty bad, I guess. La, la, la--deedle-dee! The doctor seemed to think
it was a tight squeak if it lived. Guess it's done for--oop 'e goes!"

She made a little leap at the youngest child, and clasped it convulsively
to her bosom. Her swift maternal imagination had made another's loss
very near and terrible.

"Oh, say, Nell," he broke out, on seeing her sober, "I had the
confoundedest time to-day with old lady Bingham--"

"'Sh! Baby's gone to sleep."

After the children had been put to bed in the little alcove off the
sitting-room, Mrs. Sanford came back, to find Jim absorbed over a little
book of accounts.

"What are you studying, Jim?"

Some one knocked on the door before he had time to reply.

"Come in!" he said.

"Sh! Don't yell so," his wife whispered.

"Telegram, Jim," said a voice in the obscurity.

"Oh! That you, Sam? Come in."

Sam, a lathy fellow with a quid in his cheek, stepped in. "How d' 'e do,
Mis' Sanford?"

"Set down--se' down."

"Can't stop; 'most train-time."

Sanford tore the envelope open, read the telegram rapidly, the smile
fading out of his face. He read it again, word for word, then sat looking
at it.

"Any answer?" asked Sam.

"No."

"All right. Good-night."

"Good-night."

After the door slammed, Sanford took the sheet from the envelope and
reread it. At length he dropped into his chair. "That settles it," he
said, aloud.

"Settles what? What's the news?" His wife came up and looked over his
shoulder.

"Settles I've got to go on that nine-thirty train."

"Be back on the morning train?"

"Yes; I guess so--I mean, of course--I'll have to be--to open the bank."

Mrs. Sanford looked at him for a few seconds in silence. There was
something in his look, and especially in his tone, that troubled her.

"What do you mean? Jim, you don't intend to come back!" She took his arm.
"What's the matter? Now tell me! What are you going away for?"

He knew he could not deceive his wife's ears and eyes just then, so he
remained silent. "We've got to leave, Nell," he admitted at last.

"Why? What for?"

"Because I'm bu'sted--broke--gone up the spout--and all the rest!" he
said, desperately, with an attempt at fun. "Mrs. Bingham and Mrs.
McIlvaine have bu'sted me--dead."

"Why--why--what has become of the money--all the money the people have
put in there?"

"Gone up with the rest."

"What 've you done with it? I don't--"

"Well, I've invested it--and lost it."

"James Gordon Sanford!" she exclaimed, trying to realize it. "Was that
right? Ain't that a case of--of--"

"Shouldn't wonder. A case of embezzlement such as you read of in the
newspapers." His tone was easy, but he avoided the look in his wife's
beautiful gray eyes.

"But it's--stealing--ain't it?" She stared at him, bewildered by his
reckless lightness of mood.

"It is now, because I've lost. If I'd 'a' won it, it 'ud 'a' been
financial shrewdness!"

She asked her next question after a pause, in a low voice, and through
teeth almost set. "Did you go into this bank to--steal this money? Tell
me that!"

"No; I didn't, Nell. I ain't quite up to that."

His answer softened her a little, and she sat looking at him steadily as
he went on. The tears began to roll slowly down her cheeks. Her hands
were clenched.

"The fact is, the idea came into my head last fall when I went up to
Superior. My partner wanted me to go in with him on some land, and I did.
We speculated on the growth of the town toward the south. We made a
strike; then he wanted me to go in on a copper-mine. Of course I
expected--"

As he went on with the usual excuses her mind made all the allowances
possible for him. He had always been boyish, impulsive, and lacking in
judgment and strength of character. She was humiliated and frightened,
but she loved and sympathized with him.

Her silence alarmed him, and he made excuses for himself. He was
speculating for her sake more than for his own, and so on.

"Choo--choo!" whistled the far-off train through the still air.

He sprang up and reached for his coat.

She seized his arm again. "Where are you going?" she sternly asked.

"To take that train."

"When are you coming back?"

"I don't know." But his tone said, "Never."

She felt it. Her face grew bitter. "Going to leave me and--the babies?"

"I'll send for you soon. Come, good-by!" He tried to put his arm about
her. She stepped back.

"Jim, if you leave me to-night" ("Choo--choo!" whistled the engine), "you
leave me forever." There was a terrible resolution in her tone.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that I'm going to stay here. If you go--I'll never be your
wife--again--never!" She glanced at the sleeping children, and her chin
trembled.

"I can't face those fellows--they'll kill me," he said, in a sullen tone.

"No, they won't. They'll respect you, if you stay and tell 'em exactly
how--it--all--is. You've disgraced me and my children, that's what you've
done! If you don't stay--"

The clear jangle of the engine-bell sounded through the night as with the
whiz of escaping steam and scrape and jar of gripping brakes and howl of
wheels the train came to a stop at the station. Sanford dropped his coat
and sat down again.

"I'll have to stay now." His tone was dry and lifeless. It had a reproach
in it that cut the wife deep--deep as the fountain of tears; and she went
across the room and knelt at the bedside, burying her face in the clothes
on the feet of her children, and sobbed silently.

The man sat with bent head, looking into the glowing coal, whistling
through his teeth, a look of sullen resignation and endurance on his face
that had never been there before. His very attitude was alien and
ominous.

Neither spoke for a long time. At last he rose and began taking off his
coat and vest.

"Well, I suppose there's nothing to do but go to bed."

She did not stir--she might have been asleep so far as any sound or
motion was concerned. He went off to the bed in the little parlor, and
she still knelt there, her heart full of anger, bitterness, sorrow.

The sunny uneventfulness of her past life made this great storm the more
terrifying. Her trust in her husband had been absolute. A farmer's
daughter, the bank clerk had seemed to her the equal of any gentleman in
the world--her world; and when she knew his delicacy, his unfailing
kindness, and his abounding good nature, she had accepted him as the
father of her children, and this was the first revelation to her of his
inherent moral weakness.

Her mind went over the whole ground again and again, in a sort of
blinding rush. She was convinced of his lack of honor more by his tone,
his inflections, than by his words. His lack of deep regret, his
readiness to leave her to bear the whole shock of the discovery--these
were in his flippant tones; and every time she thought of them the hot
blood surged over her. At such moments she hated him, and her white teeth
clenched.

To these moods succeeded others, when she remembered his smile, the
dimple in his chin, his tender care for the sick, his buoyancy, his songs
to the children--How could he sit there, with the children on his knees,
and plan to run away, leaving them disgraced?

She went to bed at last with the babies, and with their soft, warm little
bodies touching her side fell asleep, pondering, suffering as only a
mother and wife can suffer when distrust and doubt of her husband
supplant confidence and adoration.

IV

The children awakened her by their delighted cooing and kissing. It was a
great event, this waking to find mamma in their bed. It was hardly light,
of a dull gray morning; and with the children tumbling about over her,
feeling the pressure of the warm little hands and soft lips, she went
over the whole situation again, and at last settled upon her action.

She rose, shook down the coal in the stove in the sitting-room, and
started a fire in the kitchen; then she dressed the children by the
coal-burner. The elder of them, as soon as dressed, ran in to wake
"poppa" while the mother went about breakfast-getting.

Sanford came out of his bedroom unwontedly gloomy, greeting the children
in a subdued maimer. He shivered as he sat by the fire, and stirred the
stove as if he thought the room was cold. His face was pale and moist.

"Breakfast is ready, James," called Mrs. Sanford, in a tone which she
meant to be habitual, but which had a cadence of sadness in it.

Someway, he found it hard to look at her as he came out. She busied
herself with placing the children at the table, in order to conceal her
own emotion.

"I don't believe I'll eat any meat this morning, Nellie. I ain't very
well."

She glanced at him quickly, keenly. "What's the matter?"

"I d'know. My stomach is kind of upset by this failure o' mine. I'm in
great shape to go down to the bank this morning--and face them fellows--"

"It's got to be done."

"I know it; but that don't help me any." He tried to smile.

She mused, while the baby hammered on his tin plate.

"You've got to go down. If you don't--I will," said she, resolutely. "And
you must say that that money will be paid back--every cent."

"But that's more'n I can do--"

"It must be done."

"But under the law--"

"There's nothing can make this thing right except paying every cent we
owe. I ain't a-goin' to have it said that my children--that I'm livin'
on somebody else. If you don't pay these debts, I will. I've thought it
all out. If you don't stay and face it, and pay these men, I won't own
you as my husband. I loved and trusted you, Jim--I thought you was
honorable--it's been a terrible blow--but I've decided it all in my mind."

She conquered her little weakness, and went on to the end firmly. Her
face looked pale. There was a square look about the mouth and chin. The
iron resolution and Puritanic strength of her father, old John Foreman,
had come to the surface. Her look and tone mastered the man, for he loved
her deeply.

She had set him a hard task, and when he rose and went down the street he
walked with bent head, quite unlike his usual self.

There were not many men on the street. It seemed earlier than it was, for
it was a raw, cold morning, promising snow. The sun was completely masked
in a seamless dust-gray cloud. He met Vance with a brown parcel
(beefsteak for breakfast) under his arm.

"Hello, Jim! How are ye, so early in the morning?"

"Blessed near used up."

"That so? What's the matter?"

"I d'know," said Jim, listlessly. "Bilious, I guess. Headache--stomach
bad."

"Oh! Well, now, you try them pills I was tellin' you of."

Arrived at the bank, he let himself in, and locked the door behind him.
He stood in the middle of the floor a few minutes, then went behind the
railing and sat down. He didn't build a fire, though it was cold and
damp, and he shivered as he sat leaning on the desk. At length he drew a
large sheet of paper toward him and wrote something on it in a heavy
hand.

He was writing on this when Lincoln entered at the back, whistling
boyishly. "Hello, Jim! Ain't you up early? No fire, eh?" He rattled at
the stove.

Sanford said nothing, but finished his writing. Then he said, quietly,
"You needn't build a fire on my account, Link."

"Why not?"

"Well, I'm used up."

"What's the matter?"

"I'm sick, and the business has gone to the devil." He looked out of the
window.

Link dropped the poker, and came around behind the counter, and stared at
Sanford with fallen mouth.

"Wha'd you say?"

"I said the business had gone to the devil. We're
broke--bu'sted--petered--gone up the spout." He took a sort of morbid
pleasure in saying these things.

"What's bu'sted us? Have--"

"I've been speculatin' in copper. My partner's bu'sted me."

Link came closer. His mouth stiffened and an ominous look came into his
eyes. "You don't mean to say you've lost my money, and mother's, and
Uncle Andrew's, and all the rest?"

Sanford was getting irritated. "------it! What's the use? I tell you,
yes! It's all gone--every cent of it."

Link caught him by the shoulder as he sat at the desk. Sanford's tone
enraged him. "You thief! But you'll pay me back, or I'll--"

"Oh, go ahead! Pound a sick man, if it 'll do you any good," said
Sanford, with a peculiar recklessness of lifeless misery. "Pay y'rself
out of the safe. Here's the combination."

Lincoln released him, and began turning the knob of the door. At last it
swung open, and he searched the money-drawers. Less than forty dollars,
all told. His voice was full of helpless rage as he turned at last and
walked up close to Sanford's bowed head.

"I'd like to pound the life out o' you!"

"You're at liberty to do so, if it 'll be any satisfaction."

This desperate courage awed the younger man. He gazed at Sanford in
amazement.

"If you'll cool down and wait a little, Link, I'll tell you all about it.
I'm sick as a horse. I guess I'll go home. You can put this up in the
window, and go home, too, if you want to."

Lincoln saw that Sanford was sick. He was shivering, and drops of sweat
were on his white forehead. Lincoln stood aside silently, and let him go
out.

"Better lock up, Link. You can't do anything by staying here."

Lincoln took refuge in a boyish phrase that would have made any one but a
sick man laugh: "Well, this is a------of a note!"

He took up the paper. It read:

BANK CLOSED

To my creditors and depositors

Through a combination of events I find myself obliged to temporarily
suspend payment. I ask the depositors to be patient, and their claims
will be met. I think I can pay twenty-five cents on the dollar, if given
a little time. I shall not run away. I shall stay right here till all
matters are honorably settled.

James G. Sanford.

Lincoln hastily pinned this paper to the window-sash so that it could be
seen from without, then pulled down the blinds and locked the door. His
fun-loving nature rose superior to his rage for the moment. "There'll be
the devil to pay in this burg before two hours."

He slipped out the back way, taking the keys with him. "I'll go and tell
uncle, and then we'll see if Jim can't turn in the house on our account,"
he thought, as he harnessed a team to drive out to McPhail's.

The first man to try the door was an old Norwegian in a spotted Mackinac
jacket and a fur cap, with the inevitable little red tippet about his
neck. He turned the knob, knocked, and at last saw the writing, which he
could not read, and went away to tell Johnson that the bank was closed.
Johnson thought nothing special of that; it was early, and they weren't
very particular to open on time, anyway.

Then the barber across the street tried to get in to have a bill changed.
Trying to peer in the window, he saw the notice, which he read with a
grin.

"One o' Link's jobs," he explained to the fellows in the shop. "He's too
darned lazy to open on time, so he puts up notice that the bank is
bu'sted."

"Let's go and see."

"Don't do it! He's watchin' to see us all rush across and look. Just keep
quiet, and see the solid citizens rear around."

Old Orrin McIlvaine came out of the post-office and tried the door next,
then stood for a long time reading the notice, and at last walked
thoughtfully away. Soon he returned, to the merriment of the fellows in
the barber shop, with two or three solid citizens who had been smoking an
after-breakfast cigar and planning a deer-hunt. They stood before the
window in a row and read the notice. McIlvaine gesticulated with his
cigar.

"Gentlemen, there's a pig loose here."

"One o' Link's jokes, I reckon."

"But that's Sanford's writin'. An' here it is nine o'clock, and no one
round. I don't like the looks of it, myself."

The crowd thickened; the fellows came out of the blacksmith shop, while
the jokers in the barber shop smote their knees and yelled with
merriment.

"What's up?" queried Vance, coming up and repeating the universal
question.

McIlvaine pointed at the poster with his cigar.

Vance read the notice, while the crowd waited silently.

"What ye think of it?" asked some one, impatiently.

Vance smoked a moment. "Can't say. Where's Jim?"

"That's it! Where is he?"

"Best way to find out is to send a boy up to the house." He called a boy
and sent him scurrying up the street.

The crowd now grew sober and discussed possibilities.

"If that's true, it's the worst crack on the head I ever had," said
McIlvaine. "Seventeen hundred dollars is my pile in there." He took a
seat on the window-sill.

"Well, I'm tickled to death to think I got my little stake out before
anything happened."

"When you think of it--what security did he ever give?" McIlvaine
continued.

"Not a cent--not a red cent."

"No, sir; we simply banked on him. Now, he's a good fellow, an' this may
be a joke o' Link's; but the fact is, it might 'a' happened. Well,
sonny?" he said to the boy, who came running up.

"Link ain't to home, an' Mrs. Sanford she says Jim's sick, an' can't come
down."

There was a silence. "Anybody see him this morning?" asked Wilson.

"Yes; I saw him," said Vance. "Looked bad, too."

The crowd changed; people came and went, some to get news, some to carry
it away. In a short time the whole town knew the bank had "bu'sted all to
smash." Farmers drove along, and stopped to find out what it all meant.
The more they talked, the more excited they grew; and "Scoundrel," and
"I always had my doubts of that feller," were phrases growing more
frequent.

The list of the victims grew until it was evident that nearly all of the
savings of a dozen or more depositors were swallowed up, and the sum
reached was nearly twenty thousand dollars.

"What did he do with it?" was the question. He never gambled or drank. He
lived frugally. There was no apparent cause for this failure of a trusted
institution.

It was beginning to snow in great, damp, driving flakes, which melted as
they fell, giving to the street a strangeness and gloom that were
impressive. The men left the sidewalk at last, and gathered in the
saloons and stores to continue the discussion.

The crowd at the railroad saloon was very decided in its belief. Sanford
had pocketed the money and skipped. That yarn about his being at home
sick was a blind. Some went so far as to say that it was almighty curious
where Link was, hinting darkly that the bank ought to be broken into, and
so on.

Upon this company burst Barney and Sam Mace from "Hogan's Corners." They
were excited by the news and already inflamed with drink.

"Say!" yelled Barney, "any o' you fellers know anything about Jim
Sanford?"

"No. Why? Got any money there?"

"Yes; and I'm goin' to git it out, if I haf to smash the door in."

"That's the talk!" shouted some of the loafers. They sprang up and
surrounded Barney. There was something in his voice that aroused all
their latent ferocity. "I'm goin' to get into that bank an' see how
things look, an' then I'm goin' to find Sanford an' get my money, or
pound--out of 'im, one o' the six."

"Go find him first. He's up home, sick--so's his wife."

"I'll see whether he's sick 'r not. I'll drag 'im out by the scruff o'
the neck! Come on!" He ended with a sudden resolution, leading the way
out into the street, where the falling snow was softening the dirt into a
sticky mud.

A rabble of a dozen or two of men and boys followed Mace up the street.
He led the way with great strides, shouting his threats. As they passed
along, women thrust their heads out at the windows, asking, "What's the
matter?" And some one answered each time, in a voice of unconcealed
delight:

"Sanford's stole all the money in the bank, and they're goin' up to lick
'im. Come on if ye want to see the fun."

In a few moments the street looked as if an alarm of fire had been
sounded. Half the town seemed to be out, and the other half
coming--women in shawls, like squaws; children capering and laughing;
young men grinning at the girls who came out and stood at the gates.

Some of the citizens tried to stop it. Vance found the constable looking
on, and ordered him to do his duty and stop that crowd.

"I can't do anything," he said, helplessly. "They ain't done nawthin'
yet, an' I don't know--"

"Oh, git out! They're goin' up there to whale Jim, an' you know it. If
you don't stop 'em, I'll telephone f'r the sheriff, and have you arrested
with 'em."

Under this pressure, the constable ran along after the crowd, in an
attempt to stop it. He reached them as they stood about the little porch
of the house, packed closely around Barney and Sam, who said nothing, but
followed Barney like his shadow. If the sun had been shining, it might
not have happened as it did; but there was a semi-obscurity, a weird
half-light shed by the thick sky and falling snow, which somehow
encouraged the enraged ruffians, who pounded on the door just as the
pleading voice of the constable was heard.

"Hold on, gentlemen! This is ag'inst the law--"

"Law to--!" said some one. "This is a case f'r something besides law."

"Open up there!" roared the raucous voice of Barney Mace, as he pounded
at the door fiercely.

The door opened, and the wife appeared, one child in her arms, the other
at her side.

"What do you want?"

"Where's that banker? Tell the thief to come out here! We want to talk
with him."

The woman did not quail, but her face seemed a ghastly yellow, seen
through the falling snow.

"He can't come. He's sick."

"Sick! We'll sick 'im! Tell 'im t' come out, or we'll snake 'im out by
the heels." The crowd laughed. The worst elements of the saloons
surrounded the two half-savage men. It was amusing to them to see the
woman face them all in that way.

"Where's McPhail?" Vance inquired, anxiously. "Somebody find McPhail."

"Stand out o' the way!" snarled Barney, as he pushed the struggling woman
aside.

The wife raised her voice to that wild, animal-like pitch a woman uses
when desperate.

"I sha'n't do it, I tell you! Help!"

"Keep out o' my way, or I'll wring y'r neck f'r yeh."

She struggled with him, but he pushed her aside and entered the room.

"What's goin' on here?" called the ringing voice of Andrew McPhail, who
had just driven up with Link.

Several of the crowd looked over their shoulders at McPhail.

"Hello, Mac! Just in time. Oh, nawthin'. Barney's callin' on the banker,
that's all."

Over the heads of the crowd, packed struggling about the door, came the
woman's scream again. McPhail dashed around the crowd, running two or
three of them down, and entered the back door. Vance, McIlvaine, and
Lincoln followed him.

"Cowards!" the wife said, as the ruffians approached the bed. They swept
her aside, but paused an instant before the glance of the sick man's eye.
He lay there, desperately, deathly sick. The blood throbbed in his
whirling brain, his eyes were bloodshot and blinded, his strength was
gone. He could hardly speak. He partly rose and stretched out his hand,
and then fell back.

"Kill me--if you want to--but let her--alone. She's--"

The children were crying. The wind whistled drearily across the room,
carrying the evanescent flakes of soft snow over the heads of the
pausing, listening crowd in the doorway. Quick steps were heard.

"Hold on there!" cried McPhail, as he burst into the room. He seemed an
angel of God to the wife and mother.

He spread his great arms in a gesture which suggested irresistible
strength and resolution. "Clear out! Out with ye!"

No man had ever seen him look like that before. He awed them with the
look in his eyes. His long service as sheriff gave him authority. He
hustled them, cuffed them out of the door like school-boys. Barney backed
out, cursing. He knew McPhall too well to refuse to obey.

McPhail pushed Barney out, shut the door behind him, and stood on the
steps, looking at the crowd.

"Well, you're a great lot! You fellers, would ye jump on a sick man? What
ye think ye're all doin', anyhow?"

The crowd laughed. "Hey, Mac; give us a speech!"

"You ought to be booted, the whole lot o' yeh!" he replied.

"That houn' in there's run the bank into the ground, with every cent o'
money we'd put in," said Barney. "I s'pose ye know that."

"Well, s'pose he has--what's the use o' jumpin' on 'im?"

"Git it out of his hide."

"I've heerd that talk before. How much you got in?"

"Two hundred dollars."

"Well, I've got two thousand." The crowd saw the point.

"I guess if anybody was goin' t' take it out of his hide, I'd be the man;
but I want the feller to live and have a chance to pay it back. Killin'
'im is a dead loss."

"That's so!" shouted somebody. "Mac ain't no fool, if he does chaw hay,"
said another, and the crowd laughed. They were losing that frenzy,
largely imitative and involuntary, which actuates a mob. There was
something counteracting in the ex-sheriff's cool, humorous tone.

"Give us the rest of it, Mac!"

"The rest of it is--clear out o' here, 'r I'll boot every mother's son of
yeh!"

"Can't do it!"

"Come down an' try it!"

McIlvaine opened the door and looked out. "Mac, Mrs. Sanford wants to say
something--if it's safe."

"Safe as eatin' dinner."

Mrs. Sanford came out, looking pale and almost like a child as she stood
beside her defender's towering bulk. But her face was resolute.

"That money will be paid back," she said, "dollar for dollar, if you'll
just give us a chance. As soon as Jim gets well enough every cent will be
paid, if I live."

The crowd received this little speech in silence. One or two said, in low
voices: "That's business. She'll do it, too, if any one can."

Barney pushed his way through the crowd with contemptuous curses.
"The------she will!" he said.

"We'll see 't you have a chance," McPhall and McIlvaine assured Mrs.
Sanford.

She went in and closed the door.

"Now git!" said Andrew, coming down the steps. The crowd scattered with
laughing taunts. He turned, and entered the house. The rest drifted off
down the street through the soft flurries of snow, and in a few moments
the street assumed its usual appearance.

The failure of the bank and the raid on the banker had passed into
history.

V

In the light of the days of calm afterthought which followed, this
attempt upon the peace of the Sanford home grew more monstrous, and
helped largely to mitigate the feeling against the banker. Besides, he
had not run away; that was a strong point in his favor.

"Don't that show," argued Vance, in the post-office--"don't that show he
didn't intend to steal? An' don't it show he's goin' to try to make
things square?"

"I guess we might as well think that as anything."

"I claim the boys has a right t' take sumpthin' out o' his hide," Bent
Wilson stubbornly insisted.

"Ain't enough t' go 'round," laughed McPhail. "Besides, I can't have it.
Link an' I own the biggest share in 'im, an' we can't have him hurt."

McIlvaine and Vance grinned. "That's a fact, Mac. We four fellers are the
main losers. He's ours, an' we can't have him foundered 'r crippled 'r
cut up in any way. Ain't that woman of his gritty?"

"Gritty ain't no name for her. She's goin' into business."

"So I hear. They say Jim was crawling around a little yesterday. I didn't
see 'im.

"I did. He looks pretty streak-id--now you bet."

"Wha'd he say for himself?"

"Oh, said give 'im time--he'd fix it all up."

"How much time?"

"Time enough. Hain't been able to look at a book since. Say, ain't it a
little curious he was so sick just then--sick as a p'isened dog?"

The two men looked at each other in a manner most comically significant.
The thought of poison was in the mind of each.

It was under these trying circumstances that Sanford began to crawl
about, a week or ten days after his sickness. It was really the most
terrible punishment for him. Before, everybody used to sing out, "Hello,
Jim!" or "Mornin', banker," or some other jovial, heart-warming
salutation. Now, as he went down the street, the groups of men smoking on
the sunny side of the stores ignored him, or looked at him with scornful
eyes.

Nobody said, "Hello, Jim!"--not even McPhail or Vance. They nodded
merely, and went on with their smoking. The children followed him and
stared at him without compassion. They had heard him called a scoundrel
and a thief too often at home to feel any pity for his pale face.

After his first trip down the street, bright with the December sunshine,
he came home in a bitter, weak mood, smarting, aching with a poignant
self-pity over the treatment he had received from his old cronies.

"It's all your fault," he burst out to his wife. "If you'd only let me go
away and look up another place I wouldn't have to put up with all these
sneers and insults."

"What sneers and insults?" she asked, coming over to him.

"Why, nobody 'll speak to me."

"Won't Mr. McPhail and Mr. McIlvaine?"

"Yes; but not as they used to."

"You can't blame 'em, Jim. You must go to work and win back their
confidence."

"I can't do that. Let's go away, Nell, and try again."

Her mouth closed firmly. A hard look came into her eyes. "You can go if
you want to, Jim. I'm goin' to stay right here till we can leave
honorably. We can't run away from this. It would follow us anywhere we
went; and it would get worse the farther we went."

He knew the unyielding quality of his wife's resolution, and from that
moment he submitted to his fate. He loved his wife and children with a
passionate love that made life with them, among the citizens he had
robbed, better than life anywhere else on earth; he had no power to leave
them.

As soon as possible he went over his books and found out that he owed,
above all notes coming in, about eleven thousand dollars. This was a
large sum to look forward to paying by anything he could do in the
Siding, now that his credit was gone. Nobody would take him as a clerk,
and there was nothing else to be done except manual labor, and he was not
strong enough for that.

His wife, however, had a plan. She sent East to friends for a little
money at once, and with a few hundred dollars opened a little store in
time for the holiday trade--wall-paper, notions, light dry-goods, toys,
and millinery. She did her own housework and attended to her shop in a
grim, uncomplaining fashion that made Sanford feel like a criminal in her
presence. He couldn't propose to help her in the store, for he knew the
people would refuse to trade with him, so he attended to the children and
did little things about the house for the first few months of the winter.

His life for a time was abjectly pitiful. He didn't know what to do. He
had lost his footing, and, worst of all, he felt that his wife no longer
respected him. She loved and pitied him, but she no longer looked up to
him. She went about her work and down to her store with a silent,
resolute, uncommunicative air, utterly unlike her former sunny, domestic
self, so that even she seemed alien like the rest. If he had been ill,
Vance and McPhail would have attended him; as it was, they could not help
him.

She already had the sympathy of the entire town, and McIlvaine had said:
"If you need more money, you can have it, Mrs. Sanford. Call on us at any
time."

"Thank you. I don't think I'll need it. All I ask is your trade," she
replied. "I don't ask anybody to pay more'n a thing's worth, either. I'm
goin' to sell goods on business principles, and I expect folks to buy of
me because I'm selling reliable goods as cheap as anybody else."

Her business was successful from the start, but she did not allow herself
to get too confident.

"This is a kind of charity trade. It won't last on that basis. Folks
ain't goin' to buy of me because I'm poor--not very long," she said to
Vance, who went in to congratulate her on her booming trade during
Christmas and New Year.

Vance called so often, advising or congratulating her, that the boys
joked him. "Say, looky here! You're goin' to get into a peck o' trouble
with your wife yet. You spend about half y'r time in the new store."

Vance looked serene as he replied, "I'd stay longer and go oftener if I
could."

"Well, if you ain't cheekier 'n ol' cheek! I should think you'd be
ashamed to say it."

"'Shamed of it? I'm proud of it! As I tell my wife, if I'd 'a' met Mis'
Sanford when we was both young, they wouldn't 'a' be'n no such present
arrangement."

The new life made its changes in Mrs. Sanford. She grew thinner and
graver, but as she went on, and trade steadily increased, a feeling of
pride, a sort of exultation, came into her soul and shone from her steady
eyes. It was glorious to feel that she was holding her own with men in
the world, winning their respect, which is better than their flattery.
She arose each day at five o'clock with a distinct pleasure, for her
physical health was excellent, never better.

She began to dream. She could pay off five hundred dollars a year of the
interest--perhaps she could pay some of the principal, if all went well.
Perhaps in a year or two she could take a larger store, and, if Jim got
something to do, in ten years they could pay it all off--every cent! She
talked with business men, and read and studied, and felt each day a
firmer hold on affairs.

Sanford got the agency of an insurance company or two, and earned a few
dollars during the spring. In June things brightened up a little. The
money for a note of a thousand dollars fell due--a note he had considered
virtually worthless, but the debtor, having had a "streak o' luck," sent
seven hundred and fifty dollars. Sanford at once called a meeting of his
creditors, and paid them, pro rata, a thousand dollars. The meeting took
place in his wife's store, and in making the speech Sanford said:

"I tell you, gentlemen, if you'll only give us a chance, we'll clear this
thing all up--that is, the principal. We can't--"

"Yes, we can, James. We can pay it all, principal and interest. We owe
the interest just as much as the rest." It was evident that there was to
be no letting down while she lived.

The effect of this payment was marked. The general feeling was much more
kindly than before. Most of the fellows dropped back into the habit of
calling him Jim; but, after all, it was not like the greeting of old,
when he was "banker." Still the gain in confidence found a reflex in him.
His shoulders, which had begun to droop a little, lifted, and his eyes
brightened.

"We'll win yet," he began to say.

"She's a-holdin' of 'im right to time," Mrs. Bingham said.

It was shortly after this that he got the agency for a new cash-delivery
system, and went on the road with it, travelling in northern Wisconsin
and Minnesota. He came back after a three weeks' trip, quite jubilant.
"I've made a hundred dollars, Nell. I'm all right if this holds out, and
I guess it will."

In the following November, just a year after the failure, they celebrated\
the day, at her suggestion, by paying interest on the unpaid sums they
owed.

"I could pay a little more on the principal," she explained, "but I guess
it 'll be better to use it for my stock. I can pay better dividends next
year.

"Take y'r time, Mrs. Sanford," Vance said.

Of course she could not escape criticism. There were the usual number of
women who noticed that she kept her "young uns" in the latest style, when
as a matter of fact she sat up nights to make their little things. They
also noticed that she retained her house and her furniture.

"If I was in her place, seems to me, I'd turn in some o' my fine
furniture toward my debts," Mrs. Sam Gilbert said, spitefully.

She did not even escape calumny. Mrs. Sam Gilbert darkly hinted at
certain "goin's on durin' his bein' away. Lit up till after midnight some
nights. I c'n see her winder from mine."

Rose McPhail, one of Mrs. Sanford's most devoted friends, asked, quietly,
"Do you sit up all night t' see?"

"S'posin' I do!" she snapped. "I can't sleep with such things goin' on."

"If it'll do you any good, Jane, I'll say that she's settin' up there
sewin' for the children. If you'd keep your nose out o' other folks'
affairs, and attend better to your own, your house wouldn't look like a
pig-pen, an' your children like A-rabs."

But in spite of a few annoyances of this character Mrs. Sanford found her
new life wholesomer and broader than her old life, and the pain of her
loss grew less poignant.

VI

One day in spring, in the lazy, odorous hush of the afternoon, the usual
number of loafers were standing on the platform, waiting for the train.
The sun was going down the slope toward the hills, through a warm April
haze.

"Hello!" exclaimed the man who always sees things first. "Here comes Mrs.
Sanford and the ducklings."

Everybody looked.

"Ain't goin' off, is she?"

"Nope; guess not. Meet somebody, prob'ly Sanford."

"Well, somethin's up. She don't often get out o' that store."

"Le's see; he's been gone most o' the winter, hain't he?"

"Yes; went away about New-Year's."

Mrs. Sanford came past, leading a child by each hand, nodding and smiling
to friends--for all seemed friends. She looked very resolute and
business-like in her plain, dark dress, with a dull flame of color at the
throat, while the broad hat she wore gave her face a touch of piquancy
very charming. Evidently she was in excellent spirits, and laughed and
chatted in quite a care-free way.

She was now an institution at the Siding. Her store had grown in
proportions yearly, until it was as large and commodious as any in the
town. The drummers for dry-goods all called there, and the fact that she
did not sell any groceries at all did not deter the drummers for grocery
houses from calling to see each time if she hadn't decided to put in a
stock of groceries.

These keen-eyed young fellows had spread her fame all up and down the
road. She had captured them, not by beauty, but by her pluck, candor,
honesty, and by a certain fearless but reserved camaraderie. She was not
afraid of them, or of anybody else, now.

The train whistled, and everybody turned to watch it as it came pushing
around the bluff like a huge hound on a trail, its nose close to the
ground. Among the first to alight was Sanford, in a shining new silk hat
and a new suit of clothes. He was smiling gaily as he fought his way
through the crowd to his wife's side. "Hello!" he shouted. "I thought I'd
see you all here."

"W'y, Jim, ain't you cuttin' a swell?"

"A swell! Well, who's got a better right? A man wants to look as well as
he can when he comes home to such a family."

"Hello, Jim! That plug 'll never do."

"Hello, Vance! Yes; but it's got to do. Say, you tell all the fellers
that's got anything ag'inst me to come around to-morrow night to the
store. I want to make some kind of a settlement."

"All right, Jim. Goin' to pay a new dividend?"

"That's what I am," he beamed, as he walked off with his wife, who was
studying him sharply.

"Jim, what ails you?"

"Nothin'; I'm all right."

"But this new suit? And the hat? And the necktie?"

He laughed merrily--so merrily, in fact, that his wife looked at him the
more anxiously. He appeared to be in a queer state of intoxication--a
state that made him happy without impairing his faculties, however. He
turned suddenly and put his lips down toward her ear. "Well, Nell, I
can't hold in any longer. We've struck it!"

"Struck what?"

"Well, you see that derned fool partner o' mine got me to go into a lot
o' land in the copper country. That's where all the trouble came. He got
awfully let down. Well, he's had some surveyors to go up there lately and
look it over, and the next thing we knew the Superior Mining Company came
along an' wanted to buy it. Of course we didn't want to sell just then."

They had reached the store door, and he paused.

"We'll go right home to supper," she said. "The girls will look out for
things till I get back."

They walked on together, the children laughing and playing ahead.

"Well, upshot of it is, I sold out my share to Osgood for twenty thousand
dollars."

She stopped, and stared at him. "Jim--Gordon Sanford!"

"Fact! I can prove it." He patted his breast pocket mysteriously. "Ten
thousand right there."

"Gracious sakes alive! How dare you carry so much money?"

"I'm mighty glad o' the chance." He grinned.

They walked on almost in silence, with only a word now and then. She
seemed to be thinking deeply, and he didn't want to disturb her. It was a
delicious spring hour. The snow was all gone, even under the hedges. The
roads were warm and brown. The red sun was flooding the valley with a
misty, rich-colored light, and against the orange and gold of the sky the
hills stood in Tyrian purple. Wagons were rattling along the road. Men on
the farms in the edge of the village could be heard whistling at their
work. A discordant jangle of a neighboring farmer's supper-bell announced
that it was time "to turn out."

Sanford was almost as gay as a lover. He seemed to be on the point of
regaining his old place in his wife's respect. Somehow the possession of
the package of money in his pocket seemed to make him more worthy of her,
to put him more on an equality with her.

As they reached the little one-story square cottage he sat down on the
porch, where the red light fell warmly, and romped with the children,
while his wife went in and took off her things. She "kept a girl" now,
so that the work of getting supper did not devolve entirely upon her. She
came out soon to call them all to the supper-table in the little kitchen
back of the sitting-room.

The children were wild with delight to have "poppa" back, and the meal
was the merriest they had had for a long time. The doors and windows were
open, and the spring evening air came in, laden with the sweet,
suggestive smell of bare ground. The alert chuckle of an occasional robin
could be heard.

Mrs. Sanford looked up from her tea. "There's one thing I don't like,
Jim, and that's the way that money comes. You didn't--you didn't really
earn it."

"Oh, don't worry yourself about that. That's the way things go. It's just
luck."

"Well, I can't see it just that way. It seems to me just--like gambling.
You win, but--but somebody else must lose."

"Oh well, look a-here; if you go to lookin' too sharp into things like
that, you'll find a good 'eal of any business like gamblin'."

She said no more, but her face remained clouded. On the way down to the
store they met Lincoln.

"Come down to the store, Link, and bring Joe. I want to talk with yeh."

Lincoln stared, but said, "All right." Then added, as the others walked
away, "Well, that feller ain't got no cheek t' talk to me like that--more
cheek 'n a gov'ment mule!"

Jim took a seat near the door, and watched his wife as she went about the
store. She employed two clerks now, while she attended to the books and
the cash. He thought how different she was, and he liked (and, in a way,
feared) her cool, business-like manner, her self-possession, and her
smileless conversation with a drummer who came in. Jim was puzzled. He
didn't quite understand the peculiar effect his wife's manner had upon
him.

Outside, word had passed around that Jim had got back and that something
was in the wind, and the fellows began to drop in. When McPhail came in
and said, "Hello!" in his hearty way, Sanford went over to his wife and
said:

"Say, Nell, I can't stand this. I'm goin' to get rid o' this money right
off, now!"

"Very well; just as you please."

"Gents," he began, turning his back to the counter and smiling blandly on
them, one thumb in his vest pocket, "any o' you fellers got anything
against the Lumber County Bank--any certificates of deposit, or notes?"

Two or three nodded, and McPhail said, humorously, slapping his pocket,
"I always go loaded."

"Produce your paper, gents," continued Sanford, with a dramatic whang of
a leathern wallet down into his palm. "I'm buying up all paper on the
bank."

It was a superb stroke. The fellows whistled and stared and swore at one
another. This was coming down on them. Link was dumb with amazement as he
received sixteen hundred and fifty dollars in crisp, new bills.

"Andrew, it's your turn next." Sanford's tone was actually patronizing as
he faced McPhail.

"I was jokin'. I ain't got my certificate here."

"Don't matter--don't matter. Here's fifteen hundred dollars. Just give us
a receipt, and bring the certif. any time. I want to get rid o' this
stuff right now."

"Say, Jim, we'd like to know jest--jest where this windfall comes from,"
said Vance, as he took his share.

"Comes from the copper country," was all he ever said about it.

"I don't see where he invested," Link said. "Wasn't a scratch of a pen to
show that he invested anything while he was in the bank. Guess that's
where our money went."

"Well, I ain't squealin'," said Vance. "I'm glad to get out of it without
asking any questions. I'll tell yeh one thing, though," he added, as they
stood outside the door; "we'd 'a' never smelt of our money again if it
hadn't 'a' been f'r that woman in there. She'd 'a' paid it alone if Jim
hadn't 'a' made this strike, whereas he never 'd 'a'--Well, all right.
We're out of it."

It was one of the greatest moments of Sanford's life. He expanded in it.
He was as pleasantly aware of the glances of his wife as he used to be
when, as a clerk, he saw her pass and look in at the window where he sat
dreaming over his ledger.

As for her, she was going over the whole situation from this new
standpoint. He had been weak, he had fallen in her estimation, and yet,
as he stood there, so boyish in his exultation, the father of her
children, she loved him with a touch of maternal tenderness and hope, and
her heart throbbed in an unconscious, swift determination to do him good.
She no longer deceived herself. She was his equal--in some ways his
superior. Her love had friendship in it, but less of sex, and no
adoration.

As she blew out the lights, stepped out on the walk, and turned the key
in the lock, he said, "Well, Nellie, you won't have to do that any more."

"No; I won't have to, but I guess I'll keep on just the same, Jim."

"Keep on? What for?"

"Well, I rather like it."

"But you don't need to--"

"I like being my own boss," she said. "I've done a lot o' figuring, Jim,
these last three years, and it's kind o' broadened me, I hope. I can't go
back where I was. I'm a better woman than I was before, and I hope and
believe that I'm better able to be a real mother to my children."

Jim looked up at the moon filling the warm, moist air with a
transfiguring light that fell in a luminous mist on the distant hills. "I
know one thing, Nellie; I'm a better man than I was before, and it's all
owin' to you."

His voice trembled a little, and the sympathetic tears came into her
eyes. She didn't speak at once--she couldn't. At last she stopped him by
a touch on the arm.

"Jim, I want a partner in my store. Let us begin again, right here. I
can't say that I'll ever feel just as I did once--I don't know as it's
right to. I looked up to you too much. I expected too much of you, too.
Let's begin again, as equal partners." She held out her hand, as one man
to another. He took it wonderingly.

"All right, Nell; I'll do it."

Then, as he put his arm around her, she held up her lips to be kissed.
"And we'll be happy again--happy as we deserve, I s'pose," she said, with
a smile and a sigh.

"It's almost like getting married again, Nell--for me."

As they walked off up the sidewalk in the soft moonlight, their arms were
interlocked.

They loitered like a couple of lovers.



The End.



Transcriber's Notes


Welcome to Doctrine Publishing Corporation's edition of Main-Travelled Roads by
Hamlin Garland. Garland produced several versions of this book during his
life. The first was released in 1891, containing six short stories: A
Branch Road, Up the Coolly, Among the Corn-Rows, The Return of a Private,
Under the Lion's Paw, and Mrs. Ripley's Trip. In 1899, MacMillan released
a new version of the book with three additions: The Creamery Man, A Day's
Pleasure, and Uncle Ethan Ripley. The 1920 edition of the book added two
more short stories: God's Ravens and A "Good Fellow's" Wife. The 1930
edition added The Fireplace and featured illustrations by Garland's wife.

The 1930 edition of Main-Travelled Roads is not in the public domain. The
last version of the book in the public domain is the 1922 Border Edition,
a reprint of the 1920 edition with a foreward written by the author. We
used the 1922 Border Edition of the book for this transcription. A
scanned version of this book is available on Hathitrust courtesy of The
University of Michigan.

Page ii of this book lists other publications written by the author
available through Harper & Brothers. All of those books are in the Public
Domain. We appended a list of other books by the author which were not
available through Harper & Brothers, yet also published before this book
was printed, in a section called Other Editions. We have provided links
to versions of the books available through Doctrine Publishing Corporation. As of this
writing, we are missing ten books written by Garland in the public
domain, but we're always adding new titles!

The Introduction by William Dean Howells first appeared in the 1893
release of the book.

We used a web site on Hamlin Garland, created and maintained by professor
Keith Newlin, to help compile the list of Garland's publications and the
publication history of Main-Travelled Roads.

Our e-book has links at the top of each chapter, and the top of each
part, designed to improve navigation. The links at the top of each
chapter return the reader to the Table of Contents. The links at the top
of each part send the reader to the next part. For example, if you want
to reach part III of A Good-Fellow's Wife from the Table of Contents, you
would click on the page number to send you to the top of the chapter.
Click on part I to go to part II, then click on part II to go to part
III. The link for the last part in each chapter will take you back to the
beginning of the chapter.


Detailed Notes

This section contains a list of emendations to the text and decisions
made in transcribing the text, as well as accompanying explanations.

For many of the short stories with several parts, the physical book used
a convention of not printing I. for the first part of the story. We put
those in, to give better structure to the document.

The quotes at the beginning of each chapter were not closed with a period
in the physical book. We put them in the e-book, to give better results
with the tools that we use to check e-books that we produce.


Foreward

On Page xiv, farm-house was hyphenated and split between two lines for
spacing. There were three other occurrences of farmhouse or farmhouses
without the hyphen, and no occurrences with the hyphen. We transcribed
the word without the hyphen.


A Branch Road

On Page 50, grape-vine is hyphenated and split between two lines for
spacing. There are three other occurrences of grapevine without the
hyphen, and none with. We transcribed the word without the hyphen.


Under the Coolly

Several times in this short story, Howard was abbreviated as How. with
the period. This convention was retained.

On Page 105, add to after them in the sentence He simply pushed them one
side and went on with his reading.

On Page 120, barn-yard is hyphenated and split between two lines for
spacing. In the same short story, barn-yard is hyphenated on Page 124 in
the middle of the line. However, barnyard is spelled without the hyphen
on Page 78, also in the same short story. Barnyard is spelled without a
hyphen on Page 213 and on Page 249. We went with the majority and spelled
barnyard without a hyphen here, which makes the item on page 124 the sole
outlier.

On Page 124, barn-door is hyphenated and split between two lines for
spacing. There are no other occurrences of the word in this book. We
transcribed barn-door, with the hyphen, mainly because barn-yard is
spelled with a hyphen on the same page.

On Page 124, horse-trough is hyphenated and split between two lines for
spacing. Horse-trough also occurs on page 185 and 291, with the hyphen,
so it was retained here as well.


Return of a Private

On Page 173-Page 174, we added a missing quote before but in the
paragraph:

"They called that coffee Jayvy," grumbled one of them, "but it never went
by the road where government Jayvy resides. I reckon I know coffee from
peas."

On Page 182, remove me from Gimme me a kiss!


Under the Lion's Paw

On Page 204, some-buddy was hyphenated and split between two lines for
spacing. There is no other usage of somebuddy, but anybuddy and nobuddy
can be found in the same short story. Therefore, we transcribed somebuddy
without the hyphen.

On Page 216, we added a closing quote following the period after rest:

"But I don't take it," said Butler, coolly. "All you've got to do is to
go on jest as you've been a-doin', or give me a thousand dollars down,
and a mortgage at ten per cent on the rest."


Mrs. Ripley's Trip

On Page 277, flustrated is some cross between flustered and frustrated,
and given it is used in dialect, perhaps this is some midwest variation
of one of the two words. Therefore, we left the following sentence as is:
I guess she kind a' sort a' forgot it, bein' so flustrated, y' know.


Uncle Ethan Ripley

On Page 289, sick'-nin' is hyphenated and split between two lines for
spacing. We transcribed the word without the hyphen: Nobuddy'll buy that
sick'nin' stuff but an old numskull like you.


God's Raven

The convention in this story and in the next one was to spell it 'll with
a space, but in the earlier short stories, the contraction was spelled
it'll. We retained this inconsistency.

On Page 308, there is a triple-nested quote. The book uses a
double-quote for the first quote, a single quote for the second, and a
double quote for the third quote. This will cause a problem with our
error-checking mechanism. We have also used a single quote for the third
quote.

"I'm tired of the scramble," he kept breaking out of silence to say. "I
don't blame the boys, but it's plain to me they see that my going will
let them move up one. Mason cynically voiced the whole thing today: 'I
can say, 'sorry to see you go, Bloom,' because your going doesn't concern
me. I'm not in line of succession, but some of the other boys don't feel
so. There's no divinity doth hedge an editor; nothing but law prevents
the murder of those above by those below.'"





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