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Title: Prairie Folks
Author: Garland, Hamlin
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Prairie Folks" ***

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



PRAIRIE FOLKS

By HAMLIN GARLAND, AUTHOR OF
"MAIN-TRAVELED ROADS," "A MEMBER OF
THE THIRD HOUSE," "A SPOIL OF OFFICE,"
ETC., ETC.

F. J. SCHULTE & COMPANY

PUBLISHERS   CHICAGO.   M DCCC XCIII

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Copyright, 1892,
by HAMLIN GARLAND.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Prairie Folks.

Pioneers.

  They rise to mastery of wind and snow;
    They go like soldiers grimly into strife,
  To colonize the plain; they plow and sow,
    And fertilize the sod with their own life
  As did the Indian and the buffalo.

Settlers.

  Above them soars a dazzling sky,
    In winter blue and clear as steel,
  In summer like an Arctic sea
    Wherein vast icebergs drift and reel
  And melt like sudden sorcery.

  Beneath them plains stretch far and fair,
    Rich with sunlight and with rain;
  Vast harvests ripen with their care
    And fill with overplus of grain
  Their square, great bins.

  Yet still they strive! I see them rise
    At dawn-light, going forth to toil:
  The same salt sweat has filled my eyes,
    My feet have trod the self-same soil
  Behind the snarling plow.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

CONTENTS

UNCLE ETHAN'S SPECULATION                                11

THE TEST OF ELDER PILL                                   33

WILLIAM BACON'S HIRED MAN                                73

SIM BURNS'S WIFE                                        101

SATURDAY NIGHT ON THE FARM                              143

VILLAGE CRONIES                                         169

DRIFTING CRANE                                          187

OLD DADDY DEERING                                       201

THE SOCIABLE AT DUDLEY'S                                227

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PART I.

UNCLE ETHAN'S SPECULATION IN PATENT MEDICINES.

  A certain guileless trust in human kind
  Too often leads them into nets
  Spread by some wandering trader,
  Smooth, and deft, and sure.


UNCLE ETHAN RIPLEY.


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 one 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 what 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 acrost there?" 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-_al_ity? Most of 'em have some speshy-_al_ity."

"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 defense.

"Well, he paid me twenty-five dollars f'r it, anyway."

"Did 'e?" She was visibly affected by this news.

"Well, anyhow, it amounts to that; he give me twenty-five bottles"----

Mrs. Ripley sank back in her chair. "Well, 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 'n' agin, tins and 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
numbskull 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 lightenin'-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 center 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 Tewky?"

"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."

"Wall, 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 shotes,
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 "new-comer."
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 gitt'n'."

"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 _quasi_ 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
whisp 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 touch 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"----

"Waal,--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.

"Waal! 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 coops 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,
"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 voice subdued her. Working
alone out there had rendered him savage; he was not to be pushed any
farther. She knew by the tone of his voice that he must not be
assaulted. 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 a-goin' to set right here till you come in, Ethan Ripley," she
said, in a firm voice, but gentler than usual.

"Waal, 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.

"Well, 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.

"Waal, I guess I'll let 'er go at that. I've covered up the most of it,
anyhow. Guess we'd better go in."

-----------------------------------------------------------------------



PART II.

THE TEST OF ELDER PILL: THE COUNTRY PREACHER.

  The lonely center of their social life,
  The low, square school-house, stands
    Upon the wind-swept plain,
  Hacked by thoughtless boyish hands,
  And gray, and worn, and warped with strife
    Of sleet and autumn rain.


ELDER PILL, PREACHER.

I.


Old man Bacon was pinching forked barbs on a wire fence one rainy day in
July, when his neighbor Jennings came along the road on his way to town.
Jennings never went to town except when it rained too hard to work
outdoors, his neighbors said; and of old man Bacon it was said he
_never_ rested _nights_ nor Sundays.

Jennings pulled up. "Good morning, neighbor Bacon."

"Mornin'," rumbled the old man without looking up.

"Taking it easy, as usual, I see. Think it's going to clear up?"

"May, an' may not. Don't make much differunce t' me," growled Bacon,
discouragingly.

"Heard about the plan for a church?"

"Naw."

"Well, we're goin' to hire Elder Pill from Douglass to come over and
preach every Sunday afternoon at the school-house, an' we want help t'
pay him--the laborer is worthy of his hire."

"Sometimes he is an' then agin he ain't. Y' needn't look t' me f'r a
dollar. I ain't got no intrust in y'r church."

"Oh, yes, you have--besides, y'r wife "----

"She ain't got no more time 'n I have t' go t' church. We're obleeged to
do 'bout all we c'n stand t' pay our debts, let alone tryun' to support
a preacher." And the old man shut the pinchers up on a barb with a
vicious grip.

Easy-going Mr. Jennings laughed in his silent way. "I guess you'll help
when the time comes," he said, and, clucking to his team, drove off.

"I guess I won't," muttered the grizzled old giant as he went on with
his work. Bacon was what is called land-poor in the West, that is, he
had more land than money; still he was able to give if he felt disposed.
It remains to say that he was _not_ disposed, being a sceptic and a
scoffer. It angered him to have Jennings predict so confidently that he
would help.

The sun was striking redly through a rift in the clouds, about three
o'clock in the afternoon, when he saw a man coming up the lane, walking
on the grass at the side of the road, and whistling merrily. The old man
looked at him from under his huge eyebrows with some curiosity. As he
drew near, the pedestrian ceased to whistle, and, just as the farmer
expected him to pass, he stopped and said, in a free and easy style:

"How de do? Give me a chaw t'baccer. I'm Pill, the new minister. I take
fine-cut when I can get it," he said, as Bacon put his hand into his
pocket. "Much obliged. How goes it?"

"Tollable, tollable," said the astounded farmer, looking hard at Pill as
he flung a handful of tobacco into his mouth.

"Yes, I'm the new minister sent around here to keep you fellows in the
traces and out of hell-fire. Have y' fled from the wrath?" he asked, in
a perfunctory way.

"You are, eh?" said Bacon, referring back to his profession.

"I am just! How do you like that style of barb fence? Ain't the twisted
wire better?"

"I s'pose they be, but they cost more."

"Yes, costs more to go to heaven than to hell. You'll think so after I
board with you a week. Narrow the road that leads to light, and broad
the way that leads--how's your soul anyway, brother?"

"Soul's all right. I find more trouble to keep m' body go'n'."

"Give us your hand; so do I. All the same we must prepare for the next
world. We're gettin' old; lay not up your treasures where moth and rust
corrupt and thieves break through and steal."

Bacon was thoroughly interested in the preacher, and was studying him
carefully. He was tall, straight, and superbly proportioned;
broad-shouldered, wide-lunged, and thewed like a Greek racer. His rather
small steel-blue eyes twinkled, and his shrewd face and small head, set
well back, completed a remarkable figure. He wore his reddish beard in
the usual way of Western clergymen, with mustache chopped close.

Bacon spoke slowly:

"You look like a good, husky man to pitch in the barnyard; you've too
much muscle f'r preachun'."

"Come and hear me next Sunday, and if you say so then, I'll quit,"
replied Mr. Pill, quietly. "I give ye my word for it. I believe in
preachers havin' a little of the flesh and the devil; they can
sympathize better with the rest of ye." The sarcasm was lost on Bacon,
who continued to look at him. Suddenly he said, as if with an
involuntary determination:

"Where ye go'n' to stay t'night?"

"I don' know; do you?" was the quick reply.

"I reckon ye can hang out with me, 'f ye feel like ut. We ain't very
purty, ol' woman an' me, but we eat. You go along down the road and tell
'er I sent yeh. Y'll find an' ol' dusty Bible round some'rs--I s'pose ye
spend y'r spare time read'n about Joshua an' Dan'l"----

"I spend more time reading men. Well, I'm off! I'm hungrier 'n a gray
wolf in a bear-trap." And off he went as he came. But he did not whistle;
he chewed.

Bacon felt as if he had made too much of a concession, and had a strong
inclination to shout after him, and retract his invitation; but he did
not, only worked on, with an occasional bear-like grin. There was
something captivating in this fellow's free and easy way.

When he came up to the house an hour or two later, in singular good
humor for him, he found the Elder in the creamery, with "the old woman"
and Marietta. Marietta was not more won by him than was Jane Bacon, he
was so genial and put on so few religious frills.

Mrs. Bacon never put on frills of any kind. She was a most frightful
toiler, only excelled (if excelled at all) by her husband. She was still
muscular in her age and shapelessness. Unlovely at her best, when about
her work in her faded calico gown and flat shoes, hair wisped into a
slovenly knot, she was depressing. But she was a good woman, of sterling
integrity, and ambitious for her girl.

Marietta was as attractive as her mother was depressing. She was very
young at this time and had the physical perfection--at least as regards
body--that her parents must have had in youth. She was above the average
height of woman, with strong swell of bosom and glorious, erect
carriage of head. Her features were coarse, but regular and pleasing,
and her manner boyish.

Elder Pill was on the best of terms with them as he watched the milk
being skimmed out of the "submerged cans" ready for the "caaves and
hawgs," as Mrs. Bacon called them.

"Dad told you t' come here 'nd stay t' supper, did he? What's come over
him?" said the girl, with a sort of audacious humor.

"Dad has an awful grutch agin preachers," said Mrs. Bacon, as she wiped
her hands on her apron. "I declare, I don't see how"----

"_Some_ preachers, not _all_ preachers," laughed Pill, in his mellow
nasal. "There are preachers, and then again preachers. I'm one o' the
t'other kind."

"I sh'd think y' was," laughed the girl.

"Now, Merry Etty, you run right t' the pig-pen with that milk, whilst I
go in an' set the tea on."

Mr. Pill seized the can of milk, saying, with a twang: "Show me the way
that I may walk therein," and, accompanied by the laughing girl, made
rapid way to the pig-pen just as the old man set up a ferocious shout to
call the hired hand out of the cornfield.

"How'd y' come to send _him_ here?" asked Mrs. Bacon, nodding toward
Pill.

"Damfino! I kind o' liked him--no nonsense about him," answered Bacon,
going into temporary eclipse behind his hands as he washed his face at
the cistern.

At the supper table Pill was "easy as an old shoe," ate with his knife,
talked on fatting hogs, suggested a few points on raising clover, told
of pioneer experiences in Michigan, and soon won them--hired man and
all--to a most favorable opinion of himself. But he did not trench on
religious matters at all.

The hired man in his shirt-sleeves, and smelling frightfully of tobacco
and sweat (as did Bacon), sat with open month, at times forgetting to
eat, in his absorbing interest in the minister's yarns.

"Yes, I've got a family, too much of a family, in fact--that is, I think
so sometimes when I'm pinched. Our Western people are so indigent--in
plain terms, poor--they _can't_ do any better than they do. But we pull
through--we pull through! John, you look like a stout fellow, but I'll
bet a hat I can _down_ you three out of five."

"I bet you can't," grinned the hired man. It was the climax of all, that
bet.

"I'll take y' in hand an' flop y' both," roared Bacon from his lion-like
throat, his eyes glistening with rare good-nature from the shadow of his
gray brows. But he admired the minister's broad shoulders at the same
time. If this fellow panned out as he promised, he was a rare specimen.

After supper the Elder played a masterly game of croquet with Marietta,
beating her with ease; then he wandered out to the barn and talked
horses with the hired man, and finished by stripping off his coat and
putting on one of Mrs. Bacon's aprons to help milk the cows.

       *       *       *       *       *

But at breakfast the next morning, when the family were about pitching
into their food as usual without ceremony, "_Wait!_" said the visitor,
in an imperious tone and with lifted hand. "Let us look to the Lord for
His blessing."

They waited till the grace was said, but it threw a depressing
atmosphere over the meal; evidently they considered the trouble begun.
At the end of the meal the minister asked:

"Have you a Bible in the house?"

"I reckon there's one in the house somewhere. Merry, go 'n see 'f y'
can't raise one," said Mrs. Bacon, indifferently.

"Have you any objection to family devotion?" asked Pill, as the book was
placed in his hands by the girl.

"No; have all you want," said Bacon, as he rose from the table and
passed out the door.

"I guess I'll see the thing through," said the hand. "It ain't just
square to leave the women folks to bear the brunt of it."

It was shortly after breakfast that the Elder concluded he'd walk up to
Brother Jennings' and see about church matters.

"I shall expect you, Brother Bacon, to be at the service at 2:30."

"All right, go ahead expectun'," responded Bacon, with an inscrutable
sidewise glance.

"You promised, you remember?"

"The--devil--I did!" the old man snarled.

The Elder looked back with a smile, and went off whistling in the warm,
bright morning.



II.


The school-house down on the creek was known as "Hell's Corners" all
through the county, because of the frequent rows that took place therein
at "corkuses" and the like, and also because of the number of teachers
that had been "ousted" by the boys. In fact, it was one of those places
still to be found occasionally in the West, far from railroads and
schools, where the primitive ignorance and ferocity of men still prowl,
like the panthers which are also found sometimes in the deeps of the
Iowa timber lands.

The most of this ignorance and ferocity, however, was centered in the
family of Dixons, a dark-skinned, unsavory group of Missourians. It
consisted of old man Dixon and wife, and six sons, all man-grown, great,
gaunt, sinewy fellows, with no education, but superstitious as savages.
If anything went wrong in 'Hell's Corners' everybody knew that the
Dixons were "on the rampage again." The school-teachers were warned
against the Dixons, and the preachers were besought to convert the
Dixons.

In fact, John Jennings, as he drove Pill to the school-house next day,
said:

"If you can convert the Dixon boys, Elder, I'll give you the best horse
in my barn."

"I work not for such hire," said Mr. Pill, with a look of deep solemnity
on his face, belied, indeed, by a twinkle in his small, keen eye--a
twinkle which made Milton Jennings laugh candidly.

There was considerable curiosity, expressed by a murmur of lips and
voices, as the minister's tall figure entered the door and stood for a
moment in a study of the scene before him. It was a characteristically
Western scene. The women were rigidly on one side of the school-room,
the men as rigidly on the other; the front seats were occupied by
squirming boys and girls in their Sunday splendor.

On the back, to the right, were the young men, in their best vests, with
paper collars and butterfly neckties, with their coats unbuttoned, their
hair plastered down in a fascinating wave on their brown foreheads. Not
a few were in their shirt-sleeves. The older men sat immediately
between the youths and boys, talking in hoarse whispers across the
aisles about the state of the crops and the county ticket, while the
women in much the same way conversed about children and raising onions
and strawberries. It was their main recreation, this Sunday meeting.

"Brethren!" rang out the imperious voice of the minister, "let us pray."

The audience thoroughly enjoyed the Elder's prayer. He was certainly
gifted in that direction, and his petition grew genuinely eloquent as
his desires embraced the "ends of the earth and the utterm'st parts of
the seas thereof." But in the midst of it a clatter was heard, and five
or six strapping fellows filed in with loud thumpings of their brogans.

Shortly after they had settled themselves with elaborate impudence on
the back seat, the singing began. Just as they were singing the last
verse, every individual voice wavered and all but died out in
astonishment to see William Bacon come in--an unheard-of thing! And with
a clean shirt, too! Bacon, to tell the truth, was feeling as much out of
place as a cat in a bath-tub, and looked uncomfortable, even shamefaced,
as he sidled in, his shapeless hat gripped nervously in both hands;
coatless and collarless, his shirt open at his massive throat. The girls
tittered, of course, and the boys hammered each other's ribs, moved by
the unusual sight. Milton Jennings, sitting beside Marietta, said:

"Well! may I jump straight up and never come down!"

And Shep Watson said: "May I never see the back o' my neck!" Which
pleased Marietta so much that she grew purple with efforts to conceal
her laughter; she always enjoyed a joke on her father.

But all things have an end, and at last the room became quiet as Mr.
Pill began to read the Scripture, wondering a little at the commotion.
He suspected that those dark-skinned, grinning fellows on the back seat
were the Dixon boys, and knew they were bent on fun. The physique of the
minister being carefully studied, the boys began whispering among
themselves, and at last, just as the sermon opened, they began to push
the line of young men on the long seat over toward the girls' side,
squeezing Milton against Marietta. This pleasantry encouraged one of
them to whack his neighbor over the head with his soft hat, causing
great laughter and disturbance. The preacher stopped. His cool,
penetrating voice sounded strangely unclerical as he said:

"There are some fellows here to-day to have fun with me. If they don't
keep quiet, they'll have more fun than they can hold." At this point a
green crab-apple bounded up the aisle. "I'm not to be bulldozed."

He pulled off his coat and laid it on the table before him, and, amid a
wondering silence, took off his cuffs and collar, saying:

"I can preach the word of the Lord just as well without my coat, and I
can throw rowdies out the door a little better in my shirt-sleeves."

Had the Dixon boys been a little shrewder as readers of human character,
or if they had known why old William Bacon was there, they would have
kept quiet; but it was not long before they began to push again, and at
last one of them gave a squeak, and a tussle took place. The preacher
was in the midst of a sentence:

"An evil deed, brethren, is like unto a grain of mustard seed. It is
small, but it grows steadily, absorbing its like from the earth and air,
sending out roots and branches, till at last"----

There was a scuffle and a snicker. Mr. Pill paused, and gazed intently
at Tom Dixon, who was the most impudent and strongest of the gang; then
he moved slowly down on the astonished young savage. As he came his eyes
seemed to expand like those of an eagle in battle, steady, remorseless,
unwavering, at the same time that his brows shut down over them--a
glance that hushed every breath. The awed and astounded ruffians sat as
if paralyzed by the unuttered yet terribly ferocious determination of
the preacher's eyes. His right hand was raised, the other was clenched
at his waist. There was a sort of solemnity in his approach, like a
tiger creeping upon a foe.

At last, after what seemed minutes to the silent, motionless
congregation, his raised hand came down on the shoulder of the leader
with the exact, resistless precision of the tiger's paw, and the ruffian
was snatched from his seat to the floor sprawling. Before he could rise,
the steel-like grip of the roused preacher sent him half way to the
door, and then out into the dirt of the road.

Turning, Pill came back down the aisle; as he came the half-risen
congregation made way for him, curiously. When he came within reach of
Dick, the fellow struck savagely out at the preacher, only to have his
blow avoided by a lithe, lightning-swift movement of the body above the
hips (a trained boxer's trick), and to find himself also lying bruised
and dazed on the floor.

By this time the rest of the brothers had recovered from their stupor,
and, with wild curses, leaped over the benches toward the fearless Pill.

But now a new voice was heard in the sudden uproar--a new but familiar
voice. It was the raucous snarl of William Bacon, known far and wide as
a terrible antagonist, a man who had never been whipped. He was like a
wild beast excited to primitive savagery by the smell of blood.

"_Stand back_, you hell-hounds!" he said, leaping between them and the
preacher. "You know me. Lay another hand on that man an', by the livun'
God, you answer t' me. Back thear!"

Some of the men cheered, most stood irresolute. The women crowded
together, the children began to scream with terror, while through it all
Pill was dragging his last assailant toward the door.

Bacon made his way down to where the Dixons had halted, undecided what
to do. If the preacher had the air and action of the tiger, Bacon looked
the grizzly bear--his eyebrows working up and down, his hands clenched
into frightful bludgeons, his breath rushing through his hairy nostrils.

"Git out o' hyare," he growled. "You've run things here jest about long
enough. Git out!"

His hands were now on the necks of two of the boys, and he was hustling
them toward the door.

"If you want 'o whip the preacher, meet him in the public road--one at a
time; he'll take care o' himself. Out with ye," he ended, kicking them
out. "Show your faces here agin, an' I'll break ye in two."

The non-combative farmers now began to see the humor of the whole
transaction and began to laugh; but they were cut short by the calm
voice of the preacher at his desk:

"But a _good_ deed, brethren, is like unto a grain of wheat planted in
good earth, that bringeth forth fruit in due season an hundred fold."



III.


Mr. Pill, with all his seeming levity, was a powerful hand at revivals,
as was developed at the "protracted" meetings held at the Corners during
December. Indeed, such was the pitiless intensity of his zeal that a
gloom was cast over the whole township; the ordinary festivities stopped
or did not begin at all.

The lyceum, which usually began by the first week in December, was put
entirely out of the question, as were the spelling-schools and
"exhibitions." The boys, it is true, still drove the girls to meeting in
the usual manner; but they all wore a furtive, uneasy air, and their
laughter was not quite genuine at its best, and died away altogether
when they came near the school-house, and they hardly recovered from the
effects of the preaching till a mile or two had been spun behind the
shining runners. It took all the magic of the jingle of the bells and
the musical creak of the polished steel on the snow to win them back to
laughter.

As for Elder Pill, he was as a man transformed. He grew more intense
each night, and strode back forth behind his desk and pounded the Bible
like an assassin. No more games with the boys, no more poking the girls
under the chin! When he asked for a chew of tobacco now it was with an
air which said: "I ask it as sustenance that will give me strength for
the Lord's service," as if the demands of the flesh had weakened the
spirit.

Old man Bacon overtook Milton Jennings early one Monday morning, as
Milton was marching down toward the Seminary at Rock River. It was
intensely cold and still, so cold and still that the ring of the cold
steel of the heavy sleigh, the snort of the horses, and the old man's
voice came with astonishing distinctness to the ears of the hurrying
youth, and it seemed a very long time before the old man came up.

"Climb on!" he yelled, out of his frosty beard. He was seated on the
"hind bob" of a wood-sleigh, on a couple of blankets. Milton clambered
on, knowing well he'd freeze to death there.

"Reckon I heerd you prowlun' around the front door with my girl last
night," Bacon said at length. "The way you both 'tend out t' meetun'
ought 'o sanctify yeh; must 'a' stayed to the after-meetun', didn't
yeh?"

"Nope. The front part was enough for"----

"Danged if I was any more fooled with a man in m' life. I b'lieve the
whole thing is a little scheme on the bretheren t' raise a dollar."

"Why so?"

"Waal, y' see Pill ain't got much out o' the app'intment thus fur, and
he ain't likely to, if he don't shake 'em up a leetle. Borrud ten
dollars o' me t'other day."

Well, thought Milton, whatever his real motive is, Elder Pill is earning
all he gets. Standing for two or three hours in his place night after
night, arguing, pleading, but mainly commanding them to be saved.

Milton was describing the scenes of the meeting to Bradley Talcott and
Douglas Radbourn the next day, and Radbourn, a young law student said:

"I'd like to see him. He must be a character."

"Let's make up a party and go out," said Milton, eagerly.

"All right; I'll speak to Lily Graham."

Accordingly, that evening a party of students, in a large sleigh, drove
out toward the school-house, along the drifted lanes and through the
beautiful aisles of the snowy woods. A merry party of young people, who
had no sense of sin to weigh them down. Even Radbourn and Lily joined in
the songs which they sang to the swift clanging of the bells, until the
lights of the school-house burned redly through the frosty air.

Not a few of the older people present felt scandalized by the singing
and by the dancing of the "town girls," who could not for the life of
them take the thing seriously. The room was so little, and hot, and
smoky, and the men looked so queer in their rough coats and hair
every which-way.

But they took their seats demurely on the back seat, and joined in the
opening songs, and listened to the halting prayers of the brethren and
the sonorous prayers of the Elder, with commendable gravity. Miss Graham
was a devout Congregationalist, and hushed the others into gravity when
their eyes began to dance dangerously.

However, as Mr. Pill warmed to his work, the girls grew sober enough. He
awed them, and frightened them with the savagery of his voice and
manner. His small gray eyes were like daggers unsheathed, and his small,
round head took on a cat-like ferocity, as he strode to and fro, hurling
out his warnings and commands in a hoarse howl that terrified the
sinner, and drew 'amens' of admiration from the saints.

"Atavism; he has gone back to the era of the medicine man," Radbourn
murmured.

As the speaker went on, foam came upon his thin lips; his lifted hand
had prophecy and threatening in it. His eyes reflected flames; his voice
had now the tone of the implacable, vindictive judge. He gloated on the
pictures that his words called up. By the power of his imagination the
walls widened, the floor was no longer felt, the crowded room grew
still as death, every eye fixed on the speaker's face.

"I tell you, you must repent or die. I can see the great judgment angel
now!" he said, stopping suddenly and pointing above the stove-pipe. "I
can see him as he stands weighing your souls as a man 'ud weigh wheat
and chaff. Wheat goes into the Father's garner; chaff is blown to hell's
devouring flame! I can see him _now_! He seizes a poor, damned,
struggling soul by the _neck_, he holds him over the flaming forge of
_hell_ till his bones melt like wax; he shrivels like thread in a flame
of a candle; he is nothing but a charred husk, and the angel flings him
back into _outer darkness_; life was not in him."

It was this astonishing figure, powerfully acted, that scared poor Tom
Dixon into crying out for mercy. The effect on the rest was awful. To
see so great a sinner fall terror-stricken seemed like a providential
stroke of confirmatory evidence, and nearly a dozen other young people
fell crying. Whereat the old people burst out into amens with
unspeakable fervor. But the preacher, the wild light still in his eyes,
tore up and down, crying above the tumult:

"The Lord is come with _power_! His hand is visible _here_. Shout
_aloud_ and spare _not_. Fall before him as _dust_ to his feet!
Hypocrites, vipers, scoffers! the _lash_ o' the _Lord_ is on ye!"

In the intense pause which followed as he waited with expectant,
uplifted face--a pause so deep even the sobbing sinners held their
breath--a dry, drawling, utterly matter-of-fact voice broke the tense
hush.

"S-a-y, Pill, ain't you a bearun' down on the boys a _leetle too_ hard?"

The preacher's extended arm fell as if life had gone out of it. His face
flushed and paled; the people laughed hysterically, some of them the
tears of terror still on their cheeks; but Radbourn said, "Bravo,
Bacon!"

Pill recovered himself.

"Not hard enough for _you_, neighbor Bacon."

Bacon rose, retaining the same dry, prosaic tone:

"I ain't bitin' that kind of a hook, an' I ain't goin' to be _yanked_
into heaven when I c'n _slide_ into hell. Waal! I must be goin'; I've
got a new-milk's cow that needs tendin' to."

The effect of all this was indescribable. From being at the very mouth
of the furnace, quivering with fear and captive to morbid imaginings,
Bacon's dry intonation had brought them all back to earth again. They
saw a little of the absurdity of the whole situation.

Pill was beaten for the first time in his life. He had been struck below
the belt by a good-natured giant. The best he could do, as Bacon
shuffled calmly out, was to stammer: "Will some one please sing?" And
while they sang, he stood in deep thought. Just as the last verse was
quivering into silence, the full, deep tones of Radbourn's voice rose
above the bustle of feet and clatter of seats:

"And all _that_ he preaches in the name of Him who came bringing peace
and good-will to men."

Radbourn's tone had in it reproach and a noble suggestion. The people
looked at him curiously. The deacons nodded their heads together in
counsel, and when they turned to the desk Pill was gone!

"Gee whittaker! That was tough," said Milton to Radbourn; "knocked the
wind out o' him like a cannon-ball. What'll he do now?

"He can't do anything but acknowledge his foolishness."

"You no business t' come here an' 'sturb the Lord's meetin'," cried old
Daddy Brown to Radbourn. "You're a sinner and a scoffer."

"I thought Bacon was the disturbing ele"----

"You're just as bad!"

"He's all _right_," said William Councill. "I've got sick, m'self, of
bein' _scared_ into religion. I never was so fooled in a man in my life.
If I'd tell you what Pill said to me the other day, when we was in
Robie's store, you'd fall in a fit. An' to hear him talkin' here
t'night, is enough to make a horse laugh."

"You're all in league with the devil," said the old man wildly; and so
the battle raged on.

Milton and Radbourn escaped from it, and got out into the clear, cold,
untainted night.

"The heat of the furnace don't reach as far as the horses," Radbourn
moralized, as he aided in unhitching the shivering team. "In the vast,
calm spaces of the stars, among the animals, such scenes as we have just
seen are impossible." He lifted his hand in a lofty gesture. The light
fell on his pale face and dark eyes.

The girls were a little indignant and disposed to take the preacher's
part. They thought Bacon had no right to speak out that way, and Miss
Graham uttered her protest, as they whirled away on the homeward ride
with pleasant jangle of bells.

"But the secret of it all was," said Radbourn in answer, "Pill knew he
was acting a part. I don't mean that he meant to deceive, but he got
excited, and his audience responded as an audience does to an actor of
the first class, and he was for the time in earnest; his imagination
_did_ see those horrors,--he was swept away by his own words. But when
Bacon spoke, his dry tone and homely words brought everybody, preacher
and all, back to the earth with a thump! Every body saw that, after
weeping and wailing there for an hour, they'd go home, feed the calves,
hang up the lantern, put out the cat, wind the clock, and go to bed. In
other words, they all came back out of their barbaric _powwow_ to their
natural modern selves."

This explanation had palpable truth, but Lily had a dim feeling that it
had wider application than to the meeting they had just left.

"They'll be music around this clearing to-morrow," said Milton, with a
sigh; "wish I was at home this week."

"But what'll become of Mr. Pill?"

"Oh, he'll come out all right," Radbourn assured her, and Milton's clear
tenor rang out as he drew Eileen closer to his side:

  "O silver moon, O silver moon,
   You set, you set too soon--
   The morrow day is far away,
   The night is but begun."



IV.


The news, grotesquely exaggerated, flew about the next day, and at
night, though it was very cold and windy, the house was jammed to
suffocation. On these lonely prairies life is so devoid of anything but
work, dramatic entertainments are so few, and appetite so keen, that a
temperature of twenty degrees below zero is no bar to a trip of ten
miles. The protracted meeting was the only recreation for many of them.
The gossip before and after service was a delight not to be lost, and
this last sensation was dramatic enough to bring out old men and women
who had not dared to go to church in winter for ten years.

Long before seven o'clock, the school-house blazed with light and buzzed
with curious speech. Team after team drove up to the door, and as the
drivers leaped out to receive the women, they said in low but eager
tones to the bystanders:

"Meeting begun yet?"

"Nope!"

"What kind of a time y' havin' over here, any way?"

"A mighty solumn time," somebody would reply to a low laugh.

By seven o'clock every inch of space was occupied; the air was
frightful. The kerosene lamps gave off gas and smoke, the huge stove
roared itself into an angry red on its jack-oak grubs, and still people
crowded in at the door.

Discussion waxed hot as the stove; two or three Universalists boldly
attacked everybody who came their way. A tall man stood on a bench in
the corner, and, thumping his Bible wildly with his fist, exclaimed, at
the top of his voice:

"There is _no_ hell at _all_! The Bible says the _wicked_ perish
_utterly_. They are _consumed_ as _ashes_ when they die. They _perish_
as _dogs_!"

"What kind o' docterin' is that?" asked a short man of Councill.

"I d'know. It's ol' Sam Richards. Calls himself a
Christian--Christadelphian 'r some new-fangled name."

At last people began to inquire, "Well, ain't he comin'?"

"Most time f'r the Elder to come, ain't it?"

"Oh, I guess he's preparin' a sermon."

John Jennings pushed anxiously to Daddy Brown.

"Ain't the Elder comin'?"

"I d'know. He didn't stay at my house."

"He didn't?"

"No. Thought he went home with you."

"I ain't see 'im 't all. I'll ask Councill. Brother Councill, seen
anything of the Elder?"

"No. Didn't he go home with Bensen?"

"I d'n know. I'll see."

This was enough to start the news that "Pill had skipped."

This the deacons denied, saying "he'd come or send word."

Outside, on the leeward side of the house, the young men who couldn't
get in stood restlessly, now dancing a jig, now kicking their huge boots
against the underpinning to warm their toes. They talked spasmodically
as they swung their arms about their chests, speaking from behind their
huge buffalo-coat collars.

The wind roared through the creaking oaks; the horses stirred
complainingly, the bells on their backs crying out querulously; the
heads of the fortunates inside were shadowed outside on the snow, and
the restless young men amused themselves betting on which head was
Bensen and which Councill.

At last some one pounded on the desk inside. The suffocating but lively
crowd turned with painful adjustment toward the desk, from whence Deacon
Benson's high, smooth voice sounded:

"Brethren an' sisters, Elder Pill hain't come--and, as it's about eight
o'clock, he probably won't come to-night. After the disturbances last
night, it's--a--a--we're all the more determined to--the--a--need of
reforming grace is more felt than ever. Let us hope nothing has happened
to the Elder. I'll go see to-morrow, and if he is unable to come--I'll
see Brother Wheat, of Cresco. After prayer by Brother Jennings, we will
adjourn till to-morrow night. Brother Jennings, will you lead us in
prayer?" (Some one snickered.) "I hope the disgraceful--a--scenes of
last night will not be repeated."

"Where's Pill?" demanded a voice in the back part of the room. "That's
what I want to know."

"He's a bad pill," said another, repeating a pun already old.

"I guess so! He borrowed twenty dollars o' me last week," said the first
voice.

"He owes me for a pig," shouted a short man, excitedly. "I believe he's
skipped to get rid o' his debts."

"So do I. I allus said he was a mighty queer preacher."

"He'd bear watchin' was my idee fust time I ever see him."

"Careful, brethren--_careful_. He may come at any minute."

"I don't care if he does. I'd bone him f'r pay f'r that shote, preacher
'r no preacher," said Bartlett, a little nervously.

High words followed this, and there was prospect of a fight. The
pressure of the crowd, however, was so great it was well-nigh impossible
for two belligerents to get at each other. The meeting broke up at last,
and the people, chilly, soured, and disappointed at the lack of
developments, went home saying Pill was _scaly_; no preacher who chawed
terbacker was to be trusted; and when it was learned that the horse and
buggy he drove he owed Jennings and Bensen for, everybody said, "He's a
fraud."



V.


In the meantime, Andrew Pill was undergoing the most singular and awful
mental revolution.

When he leaped blindly into his cutter and gave his horse the rein, he
was wild with rage and shame, and a sort of fear. As he sat with bent
head, he did not hear the tread of the horse, and did not see the trees
glide past. The rabbit leaped away under the shadow of the thick groves
of young oaks; the owl, scared from its perch, went fluttering off into
the cold, crisp air; but he saw only the contemptuous, quizzical face of
old William Bacon--one shaggy eyebrow lifted, a smile showing through
his shapeless beard.

He saw the colorless, handsome face of Radbourn, with a look of reproach
and a note of suggestion--Radbourn, one of the best thinkers and
speakers in Rock River, and the most generally admired young man in Rock
County.

When he saw and heard Bacon, his hurt pride flamed up in wrath, but the
calm voice of Radbourn, and the look in his stern, accusing eyes, made
his head fall in thought. As he rode, things grew clearer. As a matter
of fact, his whole system of religious thought was like the side of a
shelving sand-bank--in unstable equilibrium--needing only a touch to
send it slipping into a shapeless pile at the river's edge. That touch
had been given, and he was now in the midst of the motion of his falling
faith. He didn't know how much would stand when the sloughing ended.

Andrew Pill had been a variety of things, a farmer, a dry-goods
merchant, and a traveling salesman, but in a revival quite like this of
his own, he had been converted and his life changed. He now desired to
help his fellow-men to a better life, and willingly went out among the
farmers, where pay was small. It was not true, therefore, that he had
gone into it because there was little work and good pay. He was really
an able man, and would have been a success in almost anything he
undertook; but his reading and thought, his easy intercourse with men
like Bacon and Radbourn, had long since undermined any real faith in the
current doctrine of retribution, and to-night, as he rode into the
night, he was feeling it all and suffering it all, forced to acknowledge
at last what had been long moving.

The horse took the wrong road, and plodded along steadily, carrying him
away from his home, but he did not know it for a long time. When at last
he looked up and saw the road leading out upon the wide plain between
the belts of timber, leading away to Rock River, he gave a sigh of
relief. He could not meet his wife then; he must have a chance to think.

Over him, the glittering, infinite sky of winter midnight soared,
passionless, yet accusing in its calmness, sweetness and majesty. What
was he that he could dogmatize on eternal life and the will of the Being
who stood behind that veil? And then would come rushing back that scene
in the school-house, the smell of the steaming garments, the gases from
the lamps, the roar of the stove, the sound of his own voice, strident,
dominating, so alien to his present mood, he could only shudder at it.

He was worn out with the thinking when he drove into the stable at the
Merchants' House and roused up the sleeping hostler, who looked at him
suspiciously and demanded pay in advance. This seemed right in his
present mood. He was not to be trusted.

When he flung himself face downward on his bed, the turmoil in his brain
was still going on. He couldn't hold one thought or feeling long; all
seemed slipping like water from his hands.

He had in him great capacity for change, for growth. Circumstances had
been against his development thus far, but the time had come when growth
seemed to be defeat and failure.



VI.


Radbourn was thinking about him, two days after, as he sat in his friend
Judge Brown's law office, poring over a volume of law. He saw that
Bacon's treatment had been heroic; he couldn't get that pitiful
confusion of the preacher's face out of his mind. But, after all,
Bacon's seizing of just that instant was a stroke of genius.

Some one touched him on the arm.

"Why,--Elder,--Mr. Pill, how de do? Sit down. Draw up a chair."

There was trouble in the preacher's face. "Can I see you, Radbourn,
alone?"

"Certainly; come right into this room. No one will disturb us there."

"Now, what can I do for you?" he said, as they sat down.

"I want to talk with you about--about religion," said Pill, with a
little timid pause in his voice.

Radbourn looked grave. "I'm afraid you've come to a dangerous man."

"I want you to tell me what you think. I know you're a student. I want
to talk about my case," pursued the preacher, with a curious hesitancy.
"I want to ask a few questions on things."

"Very well; sail in. I'll do the best I can," said Radbourn.

"I've been thinking a good deal since that night. I've come to the
conclusion that I don't believe what I've been preaching. I thought I
did, but I didn't. I don't know _what_ I believe. Seems as if the land
had slid from under my feet. What am I to do?"

"Say so," replied Radbourn, his eyes kindling. "Say so, and get out of
it. There's nothing worse than staying where you are. What have you
saved from the general land-slide?"

Pill smiled a little. "I don't know."

"Want me to cross-examine you and see, eh? Very well, here goes." He
settled back with a smile. "You believe in square dealing between man
and man?"

"Certainly."

"You believe in good deeds, candor and steadfastness?"

"I do."

"You believe in justice, equality of opportunity, and in liberty?"

"Certainly I do."

"You believe, in short, that a man should do unto others as he'd have
others do unto him; think right and live out his thoughts?"

"All that I steadfastly believe."

"Well, I guess your land-slide was mostly imaginary. The face of the
eternal rock is laid bare. You didn't recognize it at first, that's all.
One question more. You believe in truth?"

"Certainly."

"Well, truth is only found from the generalizations of facts. Before
calling a thing true, study carefully all accessible facts. Make your
religion practical. The matter-of-fact tone of Bacon would have had no
force if you had been preaching an earnest morality in place of an
antiquated terrorism."

"I know it; I know it," sighed Pill, looking down.

"Well, now, go back and tell 'em so. And then, if you can't keep your
place preaching what you do believe, get into something else. For the
sake of all morality and manhood, don't go on cursing yourself with
hypocrisy."

Mr. Pill took a chew of tobacco, rather distractedly, and said:

"I'd like to ask you a few questions."

"No, not now. You think out your present position yourself. Find out
just what you have saved from your land-slide."

The elder man rose; he hardly seemed the same man who had dominated his
people a few days before. He turned with still greater embarrassment.

"I want to ask a favor. I'm going back to my family. I'm going to say
something of what you've said, to my congregation--but--I'm in debt--and
the moment they know I'm a backslider, they're going to bear down on me
pretty heavy. I'd like to be independent."

"I see. How much do you need?" mused Radbourn.

"I guess two hundred would stave off the worst of them."

"I guess Brown and I can fix that. Come in again to-night. Or no, I'll
bring it round to you."

The two men parted with a silent pressure of the hand that meant more
than any words.

When Mr. Pill told his wife that he could preach no more, she cried, and
gasped, and scolded till she was in danger of losing her breath
entirely. "A guinea-hen sort of a woman" Councill called her. "She can
talk more an' say less'n any woman I ever see," was Bacon's verdict,
after she had been at dinner at his house. She was a perpetual irritant.

Mr. Pill silenced her at last with a note of impatience approaching a
threat, and he drove away to the Corners to make his confession without
her. It was Saturday night, and Elder Wheat was preaching as he entered
the crowded room. A buzz and mumble of surprise stopped the orator for a
few moments, and he shook hands with Mr. Pill dubiously, not knowing
what to think of it all, but as he was in the midst of a very effective
oratorical scene, he went on.

The silent man at his side felt as if he were witnessing a burlesque of
himself as he listened to the pitiless and lurid description of torment
which Elder Wheat poured forth--the same figures and threats he had used
a hundred times. He stirred uneasily in his seat, while the audience
paid so little attention that the perspiring little orator finally
called for a hymn, saying:

"Elder Pill has returned from his unexpected absence, and will exhort in
his proper place."

When the singing ended, Mr. Pill rose, looking more like himself than
since the previous Sunday. A quiet resolution was in his eyes and voice
as he said:

"Elder Wheat has more right here than I have. I want 'o say that I'm
going to give up my church in Douglass and"----A murmur broke out,
which he silenced with his raised hand. "I find I don't believe any
longer what I've been believing and preaching. Hold on! let me go on. I
don't quite know where I'll bring up, but I think my religion will
simmer down finally to about this: A full half-bushel to the half-bushel
and sixteen ounces to the pound." Here two or three cheered. "Do unto
others as you'd have others do unto you." Applause from several, quickly
suppressed as the speaker went on, Elder Wheat listening as if
petrified, with his mouth open.

"I'm going out of preaching, at least for the present. After things get
into shape with me again, I may set up to teach people how to live, but
just now I can't do it. I've got all I can do to instruct myself. Just
one thing more. I owe two or three of you here. I've got the money for
William Bacon, James Bartlett and John Jennings. I turn the mare and
cutter over to Jacob Bensen, for the note he holds. I hain't got much
religion left, but I've got some morality. That's all I want to say
now."

When he sat down there was a profound hush; then Bacon arose.

"That's _man's_ talk, that is! An' I jest want 'o say, Andrew Pill, that
you kin jest forgit you owe me anything. An' if ye want any help come to
me. Y're jest gittun' ready to preach, 'n' I'm ready to give ye my
support."

"That's the talk," said Councill. "I'm with ye on that."

Pill shook his head. The painful silence which followed was broken by
the effusive voice of Wheat:

"Let us pray--and remember our lost brother."

       *       *       *       *       *

The urgings of the people were of no avail. Mr. Pill settled up his
affairs, and moved to Cresco, where he went back into trade with a
friend, and for three years attended silently to his customers, lived
down their curiosity and studied anew the problem of life. Then he moved
away, and no one knew whither.

One day, last year, Bacon met Jennings on the road.

"Heerd anything o' Pill lately?"

"No; have you?"

"Waal, yes. Brown told me he ran acrost him down in Eelinoy, doun' well,
too."

"In dry goods?"

"No, preachun'."

"Preachun'?"

"So Brown said. Kind of a free-f'r-all church, I reckon from what Jedge
told me. Built a new church, fills it twice a Sunday. I'd like to hear
him, but he's got t' be too big a gun f'r us. Ben studyun', they say;
went t' school."

Jennings drove sadly and thoughtfully on.

"Rather stumps Brother Jennings," laughed Bacon, in his leonine
fashion.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------



PART III.


WILLIAM BACON'S HIRED MAN: AND DAUGHTER MARIETTA.

  ... Love and youth pass swiftly: Love sings,
  And April's sun fans warmer sunlight from his wings.


WILLIAM BACON'S MAN

I.


The yellow March sun lay powerfully on the bare Iowa prairie, where the
plowed fields were already turning warm and brown, and only here and
there in a corner or on the north side of the fence did the sullen
drifts remain, and they were so dark and low that they hardly appeared
to break the mellow brown of the fields.

There passed also an occasional flock of geese, cheerful harbingers of
spring, and the prairie-chickens had set up their morning symphony,
wide-swelling, wonderful with its prophecy of the new birth of grass and
grain and the springing life of all breathing things. The crow passed
now and then, uttering his resonant croak, but the crane had not yet
sent forth his bugle note.

Lyman Gilman rested on his ax-helve at the wood-pile of Farmer Bacon to
listen to the music around him. In a vague way he was powerfully moved
by it. He heard the hens singing their weird, raucous, monotonous song,
and saw them burrowing in the dry chip-dust near him. He saw the young
colts and cattle frisking in the sunny space around the straw-stacks,
absorbed through his bare arms and uncovered head the heat of the sun,
and felt the soft wooing of the air so deeply that he broke into an
unwonted exclamation:

"Glory! we'll be seeding by Friday, sure."

This short and disappointing soliloquy was, after all, an expression of
deep emotion. To the Western farmer the very word "seeding" is a poem.
And these few words, coming from Lyman Gilman, meant more and expressed
more than many a large and ambitious spring-time song.

But the glory of all the slumbrous landscape, the stately beauty of the
sky with its masses of fleecy vapor, were swept away by the sound of a
girl's voice humming, "Come to the Savior," while she bustled about the
kitchen near by. The windows were open. Ah! what suggestion to these
dwellers in a rigorous climate was in the first unsealing of the
windows! How sweet it was to the pale and weary women after their long
imprisonment!

As Lyman sat down on his maple log to hear better, a plump face appeared
at the window, and a clear girl-voice said:

"Smell anything, Lime?"

He snuffed the air. "Cookies, by the great horn spoons!" he yelled,
leaping up. "Bring me some, an' see me eat; it'll do ye good."

"Come an' get 'm," laughed the face at the window.

"Oh, it's nicer out here, Merry Etty. What's the rush? Bring me out
some, an' set down on this log."

With a nod Marietta disappeared, and soon came out with a plate of
cookies in one hand and a cup of milk in the other.

"Poor little man, he's all tired out, ain't he?"

Lime, taking the cue, collapsed in a heap, and said feebly, "Bread,
bread!"

"Won't milk an' cookies do as well?"

He brushed off the log and motioned her to sit down beside him, but she
hesitated a little and colored a little.

"O Lime, s'pose somebody should see us?"

"Let 'em. What in thunder do we care? Sit down an' gimme a holt o' them
cakes. I'm just about done up. I couldn't 'a' stood it another minute."

She sat down beside him with a laugh and a pretty blush. She was in her
apron, and the sleeves of her dress were rolled to her elbows,
displaying the strong, round arms. Wholesome and sweet she looked and
smelled, the scent of the cooking round her. Lyman munched a couple of
the cookies and gulped a pint of milk before he spoke.

"Whadda we care who sees us sittin' side b' side? Ain't we goin' t' be
married soon?"

"Oh, them cookies in the oven!" she shrieked, leaping up and running to
the house. She looked back as she reached the kitchen door, however, and
smiled with a flushed face. Lime slapped his knee and roared with
laughter at his bold stroke.

"Ho! ho!" he laughed. "Didn't I do it slick? Ain't nothin' green in _my_
eye, I guess." In an intense and pleasurable abstraction he finished the
cookies and the milk. Then he yelled:

"Hey! Merry--Merry Etty!"

"Whadda ye want?" sang the girl from the window, her face still rosy
with confusion.

"Come out here and git these things."

The girl shook her head, with a laugh.

"Come out an' git 'm, 'r by jingo I'll throw 'em at ye! Come on, now!"

The girl looked at the huge, handsome fellow, the sun falling on his
golden hair and beard, and came slowly out to him--came creeping along
with her hand outstretched for the plate which Lime, with a laugh in his
sunny blue eyes, extended at the full length of his bare arm. The girl
made a snatch at it, but his left hand caught her by the wrist, and away
went cup and plate as he drew her to him and kissed her in spite of her
struggles.

"My! ain't you strong!" she said, half-ruefully and half-admiringly, as
she shrugged her shoulders. "If you'd use a little more o' _that_
choppin' wood, Dad wouldn't 'a' lost s' much money by yeh."

Lime grew grave.

"There's the hog in the fence, Merry; what's yer dad goin' t' say"----

"About what?"

"About our gitt'n' married this spring."

"I guess you'd better find out what _I'm_ a-goin' t' say, Lime Gilman,
'fore you pitch into Dad."

"I _know_ what you're a-goin' t' say."

"No, y' don't."

"Yes, but I _do_, though."

"Well, ask me, and see, if you think you're so smart. Jest as like 's
not, you'll slip up."

"All right; here goes. Marietty Bacon, ain't you an' Lime Gilman goin'
t' be married?"

"No, sir, we ain't," laughed the girl, snatching up the plate and
darting away to the house, where she struck up "Weevily Wheat," and went
busily on about her cooking. Lime threw a kiss at her, and fell to work
on his log with startling energy.

Lyman looked forward to his interview with the old man with as much
trepidation as he had ever known, though commonly he had little fear of
anything--but a girl.

Marietta was not only the old man's only child, his housekeeper, his
wife having at last succumbed to the ferocious toil of the farm. It was
reasonable to suppose, therefore, that he would surrender his claim on
the girl reluctantly. Rough as he was, he loved Marietta strongly, and
would find it exceedingly hard to get along without her.

Lyman mused on these things as he drove the gleaming ax into the huge
maple logs. He was something more than the usual hired man, being a
lumberman from the Wisconsin pineries, where he had sold out his
interest in a camp not three weeks before the day he began work for
Bacon. He had a nice "little wad o' money" when he left the camp and
started for La Crosse, but he had been robbed in his hotel the first
night in the city, and was left nearly penniless. It was a great blow to
him, for, as he said, every cent of that money "stood fer hard knocks
an' poor feed. When I smelt of it I could jest see the cold, frosty
mornin's and the late nights. I could feel the hot sun on my back like
it was when I worked in the harvest-field. By jingo! It kind o' made my
toes curl up."

But he went resolutely out to work again, and here he was chopping wood
in old man Bacon's yard, thinking busily on the talk which had just
passed between him and Marietta.

"By jingo!" he said all at once, stopping short, with the ax on his
shoulder. "If I hadn't 'a' been robbed I wouldn't 'a' come here--I
never'd met Merry. Thunder and jimson root! Wasn't that a narrow
escape?"

And then he laughed so heartily that the girl looked out of the window
again to see what in the world he was doing. He had his hat in his hand
and was whacking his thigh with it.

"Lyman Gilman, what in the world ails you to-day? It's perfectly
ridiculous the way you yell and talk t' y'rself out there on the chips.
You beat the hens, I declare if you don't."

Lime put on his hat and walked up to the window, and, resting his great
bare arms on the sill, and his chin on his arms, said:

"Merry, I'm goin' to tackle 'Dad' this afternoon. He'll be settin' up
the new seeder, and I'm goin' t' climb right on the back of his neck.
He's jest _got_ t' give me a chance."

Marietta looked sober in sympathy.

"Well! P'raps it's best to have it over with, Lime, but someway I feel
kind o' scary about it."

Lime stood for a long time looking in at the window, watching the
light-footed girl as she set the table in the middle of the sun-lighted
kitchen floor. The kettle hissed, the meat sizzled, sending up a
delicious odor; a hen stood in the open door and sang a sort of cheery
half-human song, while to and fro moved the sweet-faced, lithe and
powerful girl, followed by the smiling eyes at the window.

"Merry, you look purty as a picture. You look just like the wife I be'n
a-huntin' for all these years, sure 's shootin'."

Marietta colored with pleasure.

"Does Dad pay you to stand an' look at me an' say pretty things t' the
cook?"

"No, he don't. But I'm willin' t' do it without pay. I could jest stand
here till kingdom come an' look at you. Hello! I hear a wagon. I guess I
better hump into that wood-pile."

"I think so, too. Dinner's most ready, and Dad 'll be here soon."

Lime was driving away furiously at a tough elm log when Farmer Bacon
drove into the yard with a new seeder in his wagon. Lime whacked away
busily while Bacon stabled the team, and in a short time Marietta
called, in a long-drawn, musical fashion:

"Dinner-r-r!"

After sozzling their faces at the well the two men went in and sat down
at the table. Bacon was not much of a talker at any time, and at
mealtime, in seeding, eating was the main business in hand; therefore
the meal was a silent one, Marietta and Lime not caring to talk on
general topics. The hour was an anxious one for her, and an important
one for him.

"Wal, now, Lime, seedun' 's the nex' thing," said Bacon, as he shoved
back his chair and glared around from under his bushy eyebrows. "We
can't do too much this afternoon. That seeder's got t' be set up an' a
lot o' seed-wheat cleaned up. You unload the machine while I feed the
pigs."

Lime sat still till the old man was heard outside calling "Oo-ee,
poo-ee" to the pigs in the yard; then he smiled at Marietta, but she
said:

"He's got on one of his fits, Lime; I don't b'lieve you'd better tackle
him t'-day."

"Don't you worry; I'll fix him. Come, now, give me a kiss."

"Why, you great thing! You--took"----

"I know, but I want you to _give_ 'em to me. Just walk right up to me
an' give me a smack t' bind the bargain."

"I ain't made any bargain," laughed the girl. Then, feeling the force of
his tender tone, she added: "Will you behave, and go right off to your
work?"

"Jest like a little man--hope t' die!"

"_Lime!_" roared the old man from the barn.

"Hello!" replied Lime, grinning joyously and winking at the girl, as
much as to say, "This would paralyze the old man if he saw it."

He went out to the shed where Bacon was at work, as serene as if he had
not a fearful task on hand. He was apprehensive that the father might
"gig back" unless rightly approached, and so he awaited a good
opportunity.

The right moment seemed to present itself along about the middle of the
afternoon. Bacon was down on the ground under the machine, tightening
some burrs. This was a good chance for two reasons. In the first place
the keen, almost savage eyes of Bacon were no longer where they could
glare on him, and in spite of his cool exterior Lime had just as soon
not have the old man looking at him.

Besides, the old farmer had been telling about his "river eighty," which
was without a tenant; the man who had taken it, having lost his wife,
had grown disheartened and had given it up.

"It's an almighty good chance for a man with a small family. Good house
an' barn, good land. A likely young feller with a team an' a woman could
do tip-top on that eighty. If he wanted more, I'd let him have an eighty
j'inun'"----

"I'd like t' try that m'self," said Lime, as a feeler. The old fellow
said nothing in reply for a moment.

"Ef you had a team an' tools an' a woman, I'd jest as lief you'd have it
as anybody."

"Sell me your blacks, and I'll pay half down--the balance in the fall. I
can pick up some tools, and as for a woman, Merry Etty an' me have
talked that over to-day. She's ready to--ready to marry me whenever you
say go."

There was an ominous silence under the seeder, as if the father could
not believe his ears.

"What's--what's that?" he stuttered. "Who'd you say? What about Merry
Etty?"

"She's agreed to marry me."

"The hell you say!" roared Bacon, as the truth burst upon him. "So
that's what you do when I go off to town and leave you to chop wood. So
you're goun' to git married, hey?"

He was now where Lime could see him, glaring up into his smiling blue
eyes. Lime stood his ground.

"Yes, sir. That's the calculation."

"Well, I guess I'll have somethin' t' say about that," nodding his head
violently.

"I rather expected y' would. Blaze away. Your privilege--my bad luck.
Sail in, ol' man. What's y'r objection to me fer a son-in-law?"

"Don't you worry, young feller. I'll come at it soon enough," went on
Bacon, as he turned up another burr in a very awkward corner. In his
nervous excitement the wrench slipped, banging his knuckle.

"Ouch! Thunder--m-m-m!" howled and snarled the wounded man.

"What's the matter? Bark y'r knuckle?" queried Lime, feeling a mighty
impulse to laugh. But when he saw the old savage straighten up and glare
at him he sobered. Bacon was now in a frightful temper. The veins in his
great, bare, weather-beaten neck swelled dangerously.

"Jest let me say right here that I've had enough o' you. You can't live
on the same acre with my girl another day."

"What makes ye think I can't?" It was now the young man's turn to draw
himself up, and as he faced the old man, his arms folded and each vast
hand grasping an elbow, he looked like a statue of red granite, and the
hands resembled the paws of a crouching lion; but his eyes smiled.

"I don't _think_, I know ye won't."

"What's the objection to me?"

"Objection? Hell! What's the inducement? My hired man, an' not three
shirts to yer back!"

"That's another; I've got four. Say, old man, did you ever work out for
a living?"

"That's none o' your business," growled Bacon, a little taken down.
"I've worked, an' scraped, an' got t'gether a little prop'ty here, an'
they ain't no sucker like you goun' to come 'long here, an' live off me,
an' spend my prop'ty after I'm dead. You can jest bet high on that."

"Who's goin' t' live on ye?"

"You're aimun' to."

"I ain't, neither."

"Yes, y'are. You've loafed on me ever since I hired ye."

"That's a"----Lime checked himself for Marietta's sake, and the enraged
father went on:

"I hired ye t' cut wood, an' you've gone an' fooled my daughter away
from me. Now you jest figger up what I owe ye, and git out o' here. Ye
can't go too soon t' suit _me_."

Bacon was renowned as the hardest man in Cedar County to handle, and
though he was getting old, he was still a terror to his neighbors when
roused. He was honest, temperate, and a good neighbor until something
carried him off his balance; then he became as cruel as a panther and as
savage as a grizzly. All this Lime knew, but it did not keep his anger
down so much as did the thought of Marietta. His silence infuriated
Bacon, who yelled hoarsely:

"Git out o' this!"

"Don't be in a rush, ol' man"----

Bacon hurled himself upon Lime, who threw out one hand and stopped him,
while he said in a low voice:

"Stay right where you are, ol' man. I'm dangerous. It's for Merry's
sake"----

The infuriated old man struck at him. Lime warded off the blow, and with
a sudden wrench and twist threw him to the ground with frightful force.
Before Bacon could rise, Marietta, who had witnessed the scene, came
flying from the house.

"Lime! Father! What are you doing?"

"I--couldn't help it, Merry. It was him 'r me," said Lime, almost
sadly.

"Dad, ain't you got no sense? What 're you thinking of? You jest stop
right now. I won't have it."

He rose while she clung to him; he seemed a little dazed. It was the
first time he had ever been thrown, and he could not but feel a certain
respect for his opponent, but he could not give way.

"Pack up yer duds," he snarled, "an' git off'n my land. I'll have the
money fer ye when ye come back. I'll give ye jest five minutes to git
clear o' here. Merry, you stay here."

The young man saw it was useless to remain, as it would only excite the
old man; and so, with a look of apology, not without humor, at Marietta,
he went to the house to get his valise. The girl wept silently while the
father raged up and down. His mood frightened her.

"I thought you had more sense than t' take up with such a dirty houn'."

"He ain't a houn'," she blazed forth, "and he's just as good and clean
as you are."

"Shut up! Don't let me hear another word out o' your head. I'm boss here
yet, I reckon."

Lime came out with his valise in his hand.

"Good-by, Merry," he said cheerily. She started to go to him, but her
father's rough grasp held her.

"Set _down_, an' stay there."

Lime was going out of the gate.

"Here! Come and get y'r money," yelled the old man, extending some
bills. "Here's twenty"-----

"Go to thunder with your money," retorted Lime. "I've had my pay for my
month's work." As he said that, he thought of the sunny kitchen and the
merry girl, and his throat choked. Good-by to the sweet girl whose smile
was so much to him, and to the happy noons and nights her eyes had made
for him. He waved his hat at her as he stood in the open gate, and the
sun lighted his handsome head into a sort of glory in her eyes. Then he
turned and walked rapidly off down the road, not looking back.

The girl, when she could no longer see him, dashed away, and, sobbing
violently, entered the house.



II.


There was just a suspicion of light in the east, a mere hint of a glow,
when Lyman walked cautiously around the corner of the house and tapped
at Marietta's window. She was sleeping soundly and did not hear, for she
had been restless during the first part of the night. He tapped again,
and the girl woke without knowing what woke her.

Lyman put the blade of his pocket-knife under the window and raised it
a little, and then placed his lips to the crack, and spoke in a
sepulchral tone, half groan, half whisper:

"Merry! Merry Etty!"

The dazed girl sat up in bed and listened, while her heart almost stood
still.

"Merry, it's me--Lime. Come to the winder." The girl hesitated, and
Lyman spoke again.

"Come, I hain't got much time. This is your last chance t' see me. It's
now 'r never."

The girl slipped out of bed and, wrapping herself in a shawl, crept to
the window.

"Boost on that winder," commanded Lyman. She raised it enough to admit
his head, which came just above the sill; then she knelt on the floor by
the window.

Her eyes stared wide and dark. 

"Lime, what in the world do you mean"----

"I mean business," he replied. "I ain't no last year's chicken; I know
when the old man sleeps the soundest." He chuckled pleasantly.

"How 'd y' fool old Rove?"

"Never mind about that now; they's something more important on hand.
You've got t' go with me."

She drew back. "Oh, Lime, I can't!"

He thrust a great arm in and caught her by the wrist.

"Yes, y' can. This is y'r last chance. If I go off without ye t-'night,
I never come back. What make ye gig back? Are ye 'fraid o' me?"

"N-no; but--but"----

"But what, Merry Etty?"

"It ain't right to go an' leave Dad all alone. Where y' goin' t' take
me, anyhow?"

"Milt Jennings let me have his horse an' buggy; they're down the road a
piece, an' we'll go right down to Rock River and be married by sun-up."

The girl still hesitated, her firm, boyish will unwontedly befogged.
Resolute as she was, she could not at once accede to his demand.

"Come, make up your mind soon. The old man 'll fill me with buck-shot if
he catches sight o' me." He drew her arm out of the window and laid his
bearded cheek to it. "Come, little one, we're made for each other; God
knows it. Come! It's him 'r me."

The girl's head dropped, consented.

"That's right! Now a kiss to bind the bargain. There! What, cryin'? No
more o' that, little one. Now I'll give you jest five minutes to git on
your Sunday-go-t'-meetin' clo'es. Quick, there goes a rooster. It's
gittin' white in the east."

The man turned his back to the window and gazed at the western sky with
a wealth of unuttered and unutterable exultation in his heart. Far off a
rooster gave a long, clear blast--would it be answered in the barn?
Yes; some wakeful ear had caught it, and now came the answer, but faint,
muffled and drowsy. The dog at his feet whined uneasily as if suspecting
something wrong. The wind from the south was full of the wonderful odor
of springing grass, warm, brown earth, and oozing sap. Overhead, to the
west, the stars were shining in the cloudless sky, dimmed a little in
brightness by the faint silvery veil of moisture in the air. The man's
soul grew very tender as he stood waiting for his bride. He was rough,
illiterate, yet there was something fine about him after all, a kind of
simplicity and a gigantic, leonine tenderness.

He heard his sweetheart moving about inside, and thought: "The old man
won't hold out when he finds we're married. He can't get along without
her. If he does, why, I'll rent a farm here, and we'll go to work
housekeepin'. I can git the money. She sha'n't always be poor," he
ended, with a vow.

The window was raised again, and the girl's voice was heard low and
tremulous: 

"Lime, I'm ready, but I wish we didn't"----

He put his arm around her waist and helped her out, and did not put her
down till they reached the road. She was completely dressed, even to her
hat and shoes, but she mourned:

"My hair is every-which-way; Lime, how can I be married so?"

They were nearing the horse and buggy now, and Lime laughed. "Oh, we'll
stop at Jennings's and fix up. Milt knows what's up, and has told his
mother by this time. So just laugh as jolly as you can."

Soon they were in the buggy, the impatient horse swung into the road at
a rattling pace, and as Marietta leaned back in the seat, thinking of
what she had done, she cried lamentably, in spite of all the caresses
and pleadings of her lover.

But the sun burst up from the plain, the prairie-chickens took up their
mighty chorus on the hills, robins met them on the way, flocks of wild
geese, honking cheerily, drove far overhead toward the north, and, with
these sounds of a golden spring day in her ears, the bride grew
cheerful, and laughed.


III.

At about the time the sun was rising, Farmer Bacon, roused from his
sleep by the crowing of the chickens on the dry knolls in the fields as
well as by those in the barnyard, rolled out of bed wearily, wondering
why he should feel so drowsy. Then he remembered the row with Lime and
his subsequent inability to sleep with thinking over it. There was a
dull pain in his breast, which made him uncomfortable.

As was his usual custom, he went out into the kitchen and built the fire
for Marietta, filled the tea-kettle with water, and filled the
water-bucket in the sink. Then he went to her bed-room door and knocked
with his knuckles as he had done for years in precisely the same
fashion.

Rap--rap--rap. "Hello, Merry! Time t' git up. Broad daylight, an' birds
a-singun'."

Without waiting for an answer he went out to the barn and worked away at
his chores. He took such delight in the glorious morning and the
turbulent life of the farmyard that his heart grew light and he hummed a
tune which sounded like the merry growl of a lion. "Poo-ee, poo-ee," he
called to the pigs as they swarmed across the yard.

"Ahrr! you big, fat rascals, them hams o' yourn is clear money. One of
ye shall go t' buy Merry a new dress," he said as he glanced at the
house and saw the smoke pouring out the stove-pipe. "Merry 's a good
girl; she's stood by her old pap when other girls 'u'd 'a' gone back on
'im."

While currying horses he went all over the ground of the quarrel
yesterday, and he began to see it in a different light. He began to see
that Lyman was a good man and an able man, and that his own course was a
foolish one.

"When I git mad," he confessed to himself, "I don't know anythin'. But
I won't give her up. She ain't old 'nough t' marry yet--and, besides, I
need her."

After finishing his chores, as usual, he went to the well and washed his
face and hands, then entered the kitchen--to find the tea-kettle boiling
over, and no signs of breakfast anywhere, and no sign of the girl.

"Well, I guess she felt sleepy this mornin'. Poor gal! Mebbe she cried
half the night."

"Merry!" he called, gently, at the door. "Merry, m' gal! Pap needs his
breakfast."

There was no reply, and the old man's face stiffened into a wild
surprise. He knocked heavily again and got no reply, and, with a white
face and shaking hand, he flung the door open and gazed at the empty
bed. His hand dropped to his side; his head turned slowly from the bed
to the open window; he rushed forward and looked out on the ground,
where he saw the tracks of a man.

He fell heavily into the chair by the bed, while a deep groan broke from
his stiff and twitching lips.

"She's left me! She's left me!"

For a long half-hour the iron-muscled old man sat there motionless,
hearing not the songs of the hens or the birds far out in the brilliant
sunshine. He had lost sight of his farm, his day's work, and felt no
hunger for food. He did not doubt that her going was final. He felt
that she was gone from him forever. If she ever came back it would not
be as his daughter, but as the wife of Gilman. She had deserted him,
fled in the night like a thief; his heart began to harden again, and he
rose stiffly. His native stubbornness began to assert itself, the first
great shock over, and he went out to the kitchen, and prepared, as best
he could, a breakfast, and sat down to it. In some way his appetite
failed him, and he fell to thinking over his past life, of the death of
his wife, and the early death of his only boy. He was still trying to
think what his life would be in the future without his girl, when two
carriages drove into the yard. It was about the middle of the forenoon,
and the prairie-chickens had ceased to boom and squawk; in fact, that
was why he knew that he had been sitting two hours at the table. Before
he could rise he heard swift feet and a merry voice. Then Marietta burst
through the door.

"Hello, Pap! How you makin' out with break"----She saw a look on his
face that went to her heart like a knife. She saw a lonely and deserted
old man sitting at his cold and cheerless breakfast, and with a
remorseful cry she ran across the floor and took him in her arms,
kissing him again and again, while Mr. John Jennings and his wife stood
in the door.

"Poor ol' Pap! Merry couldn't leave you. She's come back to stay as long
as he lives."

The old man remained cold and stern. His deep voice had a raucous note
in it as he pushed her away from him, noticing no one else.

"But how do you come back t' me?"

The girl grew rosy, but she stood proudly up.

"I come back a wife of a _man_, Pap; a wife like my mother, an' this t'
hang beside hers;" and she laid down a rolled piece of parchment.

"Take it an' go," growled he; "take yer lazy lubber an' git out o' my
sight. I raised ye, took keer o' ye when ye was little, sent ye t'
school, bought ye dresses,--done everythin' for ye I could, 'lowin' t'
have ye stand by me when I got old,--but no, ye must go back on yer ol'
pap, an' go off in the night with a good-f'r-nothin' houn' that nobuddy
knows anything about--a feller that never done a thing fer ye in the
world"----

"What did you do for mother that she left _her_ father and mother and
went with you? How much did you have when you took her away from her
good home an' brought her away out here among the wolves an' Indians?
I've heard you an' her say a hundred times that you didn't have a chair
in the house. Now, why do you talk so t' me when I want t' git--when
Lime comes and asks for me?"

The old man was staggered. He looked at the smiling face of John
Jennings and the tearful face of Mrs. Jennings, who had returned with
Lyman. But his face hardened again as he caught sight of Lime looking in
at him. His absurd pride would not let him relent. Lime saw it, and
stepped forward.

"Ol' man, I want t' take a little inning now. I'm a fair, square man. I
asked ye fer Merry as a man should. I told you I'd had hard luck, when I
first came here. I had five thousand dollars in clean cash stole from
me. I hain't got a thing now except credit, but that's good fer enough
t' stock a little farm with. Now, I wan' to be fair and square in this
thing. You wan' to rent a farm; I need one. Let me have the river
eighty, or I'll take the whole business on a share of a third an' Merry
Etty, and I to stay here with you jest as if nothin' 'd happened. Come,
now, what d' y' say?"

There was something winning in the whole bearing of the man as he stood
before the father, who remained silent and grim.

"Or if you don't do that, why, there's nothin' left fer Merry an' me but
to go back to La Crosse, where I can have my choice of a dozen farms.
Now this is the way things is standin'. I don't want to be underhanded
about this thing"----

"That's a fair offer," said Mr. Jennings in the pause which followed.
"You'd better do it, neighbor Bacon. Nobuddy need know how things
stood; they were married in my house--I thought that 'u'd be best. You
can't live without your girl," he went on, "any more 'n I could without
my boy. You'd better"----

The figure at the table straightened up. Under his tufted eyebrows his
keen gray eyes flashed from one to the other. His hands knotted.

"Go slow!" went on the smooth voice of Jennings, known all the country
through as a peace-maker. "Take time t' think it over. Stand out, an'
you'll live here alone without chick 'r child; give in, and this house
'll bubble over with noise and young ones. Now is short, and forever's a
long time to feel sorry in."

The old man at the table knitted his eyebrows, and a distorted,
quivering, ghastly smile broke out on his face. His chest heaved; then
he burst forth:

"Gal, yank them gloves off, an' git me something to eat--breakfus 'r
dinner, I don't care which. Lime, you infernal idiot, git out there and
gear up them horses. What in thunder you foolun' around about hyere in
seed'n'? Come, hustle, all o' ye!"

And then they shouted in laughter, while the cause of it all strode
unsteadily but resolutely out toward the barn, followed by the
bridegroom, who was laughing--silently.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------



PART IV.

SIM BURNS'S WIFE: A PRAIRIE HEROINE.

  A tale of toil that's never done I tell;
  Of life where love's a fleeting wing
  Above the woman's hopeless hell
  Of ceaseless, year-round journeying.


SIM BURNS'S WIFE.

I.


Lucretia Burns had never been handsome, even in her days of early
girlhood, and now she was middle-aged, distorted with work and
child-bearing, and looking faded and worn as one of the boulders that
lay beside the pasture fence near where she sat milking a large white
cow.

She had no shawl or hat and no shoes, for it was still muddy in the
little yard, where the cattle stood patiently fighting the flies and
mosquitoes swarming into their skins, already wet with blood. The
evening was oppressive with its heat, and a ring of just-seen
thunder-heads gave premonitions of an approaching storm.

She rose from the cow's side at last, and, taking her pails of foaming
milk, staggered toward the gate. The two pails hung from her lean arms,
her bare feet slipped on the filthy ground, her greasy and faded calico
dress showed her tired, swollen ankles, and the mosquitoes swarmed
mercilessly on her neck and bedded themselves in her colorless hair.

The children were quarreling at the well, and the sound of blows could
be heard. Calves were querulously calling for their milk, and little
turkeys, lost in a tangle of grass, were piping plaintively.

The sun just setting struck through a long, low rift like a boy peeping
beneath the eaves of a huge roof. Its light brought out Lucretia's face
as she leaned her sallow forehead on the top bar of the gate and looked
toward the west.

It was a pitifully worn, almost tragic face--long, thin, sallow,
hollow-eyed. The mouth had long since lost the power to shape itself
into a kiss, and had a droop at the corners which seemed to announce a
breaking-down at any moment into a despairing wail. The collarless neck
and sharp shoulders showed painfully.

She felt vaguely that the night was beautiful. The setting sun, the
noise of frogs, the nocturnal insects beginning to pipe--all in some way
called her girlhood back to her, though there was little in her girlhood
to give her pleasure. Her large gray eyes grew round, deep and wistful
as she saw the illimitable craggy clouds grow crimson, roll slowly up,
and fire at the top. A childish scream recalled her.

"Oh, my soul!" she half groaned, half swore, as she lifted her milk and
hurried to the well. Arriving there, she cuffed the children right and
left with all her remaining strength, saying in justification:

"My soul! can't you--you young 'uns give me a minute's peace? Land
knows, I'm almost gone up; washin', an' milkin' six cows, and tendin'
you, and cookin' f'r _him_, ought 'o be enough f'r one day! Sadie, you
let him drink now 'r I'll slap your head off, you hateful thing! Why
can't you behave, when you know I'm jest about dead?" She was weeping
now, with nervous weakness. "Where's y'r pa?" she asked after a moment,
wiping her eyes with her apron.

One of the group, the one cuffed last, sniffed out, in rage and grief:

"He's in the cornfield; where'd ye s'pose he was?"

"Good land! why don't the man work all night? Sile, you put that dipper
in that milk agin, an' I'll whack you till your head'll swim! Sadie, le'
go Pet, an' go 'n get them turkeys out of the grass 'fore it gits dark!
Bob, you go tell y'r dad if he wants the rest o' them cows milked he's
got 'o do it himself. I jest can't, and what's more, I _won't_," she
ended, rebelliously.

Having strained the milk and fed the children, she took some skimmed
milk from the cans and started to feed the calves bawling strenuously
behind the barn. The eager and unruly brutes pushed and struggled to get
into the pails all at once, and in consequence spilt nearly all of the
milk on the ground. This was the last trial; the woman fell down on the
damp grass and moaned and sobbed like a crazed thing. The children came
to seek her and stood around like little partridges, looking at her in
scared silence, till at last the little one began to wail. Then the
mother rose wearily to her feet, and walked slowly back toward the
house.

She heard Burns threshing his team at the well, with the sound of oaths.
He was tired, hungry and ill-tempered, but she was too desperate to
care. His poor, overworked team did not move quickly enough for him, and
his extra long turn in the corn had made him dangerous. His eyes gleamed
wrathfully from his dust-laid face.

"Supper ready?" he growled.

"Yes, two hours ago."

"Well, I can't help it!" he said, understanding her reproach. "That
devilish corn is gettin' too tall to plow again, and I've got 'o go
through it to-morrow or not at all. Cows milked?"

"Part of 'em."

"How many left?"

"Three."

"Hell! Which three?"

"Spot, and Brin, and Cherry."

"_Of_ course, left the three worst ones. I'll be damned if I milk a cow
to-night. I don't see why you play out jest the nights I need ye most."
Here he kicked a child out of the way. "Git out o' that! Hain't you got
no sense? I'll learn ye"----

"Stop that, Sim Burns," cried the woman, snatching up the child. "You're
a reg'lar ol' hyeny,--that's what you are," she added defiantly, roused
at last from her lethargy.

"You're a--beauty, that's what _you_ are," he said, pitilessly. "Keep
your brats out f'um under my feet." And he strode off to a barn after
his team, leaving her with a fierce hate in her heart. She heard him
yelling at his team in their stalls: "Git around there, damn yeh."

The children had had their supper; so she took them to bed. She was
unusually tender to them, for she wanted to make up in some way for her
previous harshness. The ferocity of her husband had shown up her own
petulant temper hideously, and she sat and sobbed in the darkness a long
time beside the cradle where little Pet slept.

She heard Burns come growling in and tramp about, but she did not rise.
The supper was on the table; he could wait on himself. There was an
awful feeling at her heart as she sat there and the house grew quiet.
She thought of suicide in a vague way; of somehow taking her children in
her arms and sinking into a lake somewhere, where she would never more
be troubled, where she could sleep forever, without toil or hunger.

Then she thought of the little turkeys wandering in the grass, of the
children sleeping at last, of the quiet, wonderful stars. Then she
thought of the cows left unmilked, and listened to them stirring
uneasily in the yard. She rose, at last, and stole forth. She could not
rid herself of the thought that they would suffer. She knew what the
dull ache in the full breasts of a mother was, and she could not let
them stand at the bars all night moaning for relief.

The mosquitoes had gone, but the frogs and katydids still sang, while
over in the west Venus shone. She was a long time milking the cows; her
hands were so tired she had often to stop and rest them, while the tears
fell unheeded into the pail. She saw and felt little of the external as
she sat there. She thought in vague retrospect of how sweet it seemed
the first time Sim came to see her; of the many rides to town with him
when he was an accepted lover; of the few things he had given her--a
coral breastpin and a ring.

She felt no shame at her present miserable appearance; she was past
personal pride. She hardly felt as if the tall, strong girl, attractive
with health and hope, could be the same soul as the woman who now sat in
utter despair listening to the heavy breathing of the happy cows,
grateful for the relief from their burden of milk.

She contrasted her lot with that of two or three women that she knew
(not a very high standard), who kept hired help, and who had fine houses
of four or five rooms. Even the neighbors were better off than she, for
they didn't have such quarrels. But she wasn't to blame--Sim didn't----
Then her mind changed to a dull resentment against "things." Everything
seemed against her.

She rose at last and carried her second load of milk to the well,
strained it, washed out the pails, and, after bathing her tired feet in
a tub that stood there, she put on a pair of horrible shoes, without
stockings, and crept stealthily into the house. Sim did not hear her as
she slipped up the stairs to the little low, unfinished chamber beside
her oldest children. She could not bear to sleep near _him_ that
night,--she wanted a chance to sob herself to quiet.

As for Sim, he was a little disturbed, but would as soon have cut off
his head as acknowledge himself in the wrong. As he went to bed, and
found her still away, he yelled up the stairway:

"Say, o' woman, ain't ye comin' to bed?" Upon receiving no answer he
rolled his aching body into the creaking bed. "Do as y' damn please
about it. If y' want to sulk y' can." And in such wise the family grew
quiet in sleep, while the moist, warm air pulsed with the ceaseless
chime of the crickets.



II.


When Sim Burns woke the next morning he felt a sharper twinge of
remorse. It was not a broad or well-defined feeling--just a sense that
he had been unduly irritable, not that on the whole he was not in the
right. Little Pet lay with the warm June sunshine filling his baby eyes,
curiously content in striking at flies that buzzed around his little
mouth.

The man thrust his dirty, naked feet into his huge boots, and, without
washing his face or combing his hair, went out to the barn to do his
chores.

He was a type of the average prairie farmer, and his whole surrounding
was typical of the time. He had a quarter-section of fine level land,
bought with incredible toil, but his house was a little box-like
structure, costing, perhaps, five hundred dollars. It had three rooms
and the ever-present summer kitchen attached to the back. It was
unpainted and had no touch of beauty--a mere box.

His stable was built of slabs and banked and covered with straw. It
looked like a den, was low and long, and had but one door in the end.
The cow-yard held ten or fifteen cattle of various kinds, while a few
calves were bawling from a pen near by. Behind the barn, on the west and
north, was a fringe of willows forming a "wind-break." A few broken and
discouraged fruit trees standing here and there among the weeds formed
the garden. In short, he was spoken of by his neighbors as "a
hard-working cuss, and tol'ably well fixed."

No grace had come or ever could come into his life. Back of him were
generations of men like himself, whose main business had been to work
hard, live miserably, and beget children to take their places when they
died.

His courtship had been delayed so long on account of poverty that it
brought little of humanizing emotion into his life. He never mentioned
his love-life now, or if he did, it was only to sneer obscenely at it.
He had long since ceased to kiss his wife or even speak kindly to her.
There was no longer any sanctity to life or love. He chewed tobacco and
toiled on from year to year without any very clearly defined idea of the
future. His life was mainly regulated from without.

He was tall, dark and strong, in a flat-chested, slouching sort of way,
and had grown neglectful of even decency in his dress. He wore the
American farmer's customary outfit of rough brown pants, hickory shirt
and greasy wool hat. It differed from his neighbors' mainly in being a
little dirtier and more ragged. His grimy hands were broad and strong as
the clutch of a bear, and he was a "terrible feller to turn off work,"
as Councill said. "I 'druther have Sim Burns work for me one day than
some men three. He's a linger." He worked with unusual speed this
morning, and ended by milking all the cows himself as a sort of savage
penance for his misdeeds the previous evening, muttering in
self-defense:

"Seems 's if ever' cussid thing piles on to me at once. That corn, the
road-tax, and hayin' comin' on, and now _she_ gits her back up"----

When he went back to the well he sloshed himself thoroughly in the
horse-trough and went to the house. He found breakfast ready, but his
wife was not in sight. The older children were clamoring around the
uninviting breakfast table, spread with cheap ware and with boiled
potatoes and fried salt pork as the principal dishes.

"Where's y'r ma?" he asked, with a threatening note in his voice, as he
sat down by the table.

"She's in the bed-room."

He rose and pushed open the door. The mother sat with the babe in her
lap, looking out of the window down across the superb field of timothy,
moving like a lake of purple water. She did not look around. She only
grew rigid. Her thin neck throbbed with the pulsing of blood to her
head.

"What's got into you _now_?" he said, brutally. "Don't be a fool. Come
out and eat breakfast with me, an' take care o' y'r young ones."

She neither moved nor made a sound. With an oath he turned on his heel
and went out to the table. Eating his breakfast in his usual wolfish
fashion, he went out into the hot sun with his team and riding-plow, not
a little disturbed by this new phase of his wife's "cantankerousness."
He plowed steadily and sullenly all the forenoon, in the terrific heat
and dust. The air was full of tempestuous threats, still and sultry, one
of those days when work is a punishment. When he came in at noon he
found things the same--dinner on the table, but his wife out in the
garden with the youngest child.

"I c'n stand it as long as _she_ can," he said to himself, in the
hearing of the children, as he pushed back from the table and went back
to work.

When he had finished the field of corn it was after sundown, and he came
up to the house, hot, dusty, his shirt wringing wet with sweat, and his
neck aching with the work of looking down all day at the corn-rows. His
mood was still stern. The multitudinous lift, and stir, and sheen of the
wide, green field had been lost upon him.

"I wonder if she's milked them cows," he muttered to himself. He gave a
sigh of relief to find she had. But she had done so not for his sake,
but for the sake of the poor, patient dumb brutes.

When he went to the bed-room after supper, he found that the cradle and
his wife's few little boxes and parcels--poor, pathetic properties!--had
been removed to the garret, which they called a chamber, and he knew he
was to sleep alone again.

"She'll git over it, I guess." He was very tired, but he didn't feel
quite comfortable enough to sleep. The air was oppressive. His shirt,
wet in places, and stiff with dust in other places, oppressed him more
than usual; so he rose and removed it, getting a clean one out of a
drawer. This was an unusual thing for him, for he usually slept in the
same shirt which he wore in his day's work; but it was Saturday night,
and he felt justified in the extravagance.

In the meanwhile poor Lucretia was brooding over her life in a most
dangerous fashion. All she had done and suffered for Simeon Burns came
back to her till she wondered how she had endured it all. All day long
in the midst of the glorious summer landscape she brooded.

"I hate him," she thought, with a fierce blazing up through the murk of
her musing. "I hate t' live. But they ain't no hope. I'm tied down. I
can't leave the children, and I ain't got no money. I couldn't make a
living out in the world. I ain't never seen anything an' don't know
anything."

She was too simple and too unknowing to speculate on the loss of her
beauty, which would have brought her competency once--if sold in the
right market. As she lay in her little attic bed, she was still sullenly
thinking, wearily thinking of her life. She thought of a poor old horse
which Sim had bought once, years before, and put to the plough when it
was too old and weak to work. She could see her again as in a vision,
that poor old mare, with sad head drooping, toiling, toiling, till at
last she could no longer move, and lying down under the harness in the
furrow, groaned under the whip--and died.

Then she wondered if her own numbness and despair meant death, and she
held her breath to think harder upon it. She concluded at last, grimly,
that she didn't care--only for the children.

The air was frightfully close in the little attic, and she heard the low
mutter of the rising storm in the west. She forgot her troubles a
little, listening to the far-off gigantic footsteps of the tempest.

_Boom, boom, boom_, it broke nearer and nearer, as if a vast cordon of
cannon was being drawn around the horizon. Yet she was conscious only of
pleasure. She had no fear. At last came the sweep of cool, fragrant
storm-wind, a short and sudden dash of rain, and then, in the cool,
sweet hush which followed, the worn and weary woman fell into a deep
sleep.



III.


When she woke the younger children were playing about on the floor in
their night-clothes, and little Pet was sitting in a square of sunshine,
intent on one of his shoes. He was too young to know how poor and
squalid his surroundings were--the patch of sunshine flung on the floor
glorified it all. He--little animal--was happy.

The poor of the Western prairies lie almost as unhealthily close
together as do the poor of the city tenements. In the small hut of the
peasant there is as little chance to escape close and tainting contact
as in the coops and dens of the North End of proud Boston. In the midst
of oceans of land, floods of sunshine and gulfs of verdure, the farmer
lives in two or three small rooms. Poverty's eternal cordon is ever
round the poor.

"Ma, why didn't you sleep with Pap last night?" asked Bob, the
seven-year-old, when he saw she was awake at last. She flushed a dull
red.

"You hush, will yeh? Because--I--it was too warm--and there was a storm
comin'. You never mind askin' such questions. Is he gone out?"

"Yup. I heerd him callin' the pigs. It's Sunday, ain't it, ma?"

The fact seemed to startle her.

"Why, yes, so it is! Wal! Now, Sadie, you jump up an' dress quick 's
y' can, an' Bob an' Sile, you run down an' bring s'm' water," she
commanded, in nervous haste, beginning to dress. In the middle of the
room there was scarce space to stand beneath the rafters.

When Sim came in for his breakfast he found it on the table, but his
wife was absent.

"Where's y'r ma?" he asked, with a little less of the growl in his
voice.

"She's upstairs with Pet."

The man ate his breakfast in dead silence, till at last Bob ventured to
say:

"What makes ma ac' so?"

"Shut up!" was the brutal reply. The children began to take sides with
the mother--all but the oldest girl, who was ten years old. To her the
father turned now for certain things to be done, treating her in his
rough fashion as a housekeeper, and the girl felt flattered and docile
accordingly.

They were pitiably clad; like many farm-children, indeed, they could
hardly be said to be clad at all. Sadie had on but two garments, a sort
of undershirt of cotton and a faded calico dress, out of which her bare,
yellow little legs protruded, lamentably dirty and covered with
scratches.

The boys also had two garments, a hickory shirt and a pair of pants like
their father's, made out of brown denims by the mother's never-resting
hands--hands that in sleep still sewed, and skimmed, and baked, and
churned. The boys had gone to bed without washing their feet, which now
looked like toads, calloused, brown, and chapped.

Part of this the mother saw with her dull eyes as she came down, after
seeing the departure of Sim up the road with the cows. It was a
beautiful Sunday morning, and the woman might have sung like a bird if
men had been as kind to her as Nature. But she looked dully out upon the
seas of ripe grasses, tangled and flashing with dew, out of which the
bobolinks and larks sprang. The glorious winds brought her no melody, no
perfume, no respite from toil and care.

She thought of the children she saw in the town,--children of the
merchant and banker, clean as little dolls, the boys in knickerbocker
suits, the girls in dainty white dresses,--and a vengeful bitterness
sprang up in her heart. She soon put the dishes away, but felt too tired
and listless to do more.

"Taw-bay-wies! Pet want ta-aw-bay-wies!" cried the little one, tugging
at her dress.

Listlessly, mechanically she took him in her arms, and went out into the
garden, which was fragrant and sweet with dew and sun. After picking
some berries for him, she sat down on the grass under the row of
cottonwoods, and sank into a kind of lethargy. A kingbird chattered and
shrieked overhead, the grasshoppers buzzed in the grasses, strange
insects with ventriloquistic voices sang all about her--she could not
tell where.

"Ma, can't I put on my clean dress?" insisted Sadie.

"I don't care," said the brooding woman, darkly. "Leave me alone."

Oh, if she could only lie here forever, escaping all pain and weariness!
The wind sang in her ears; the great clouds, beautiful as heavenly
ships, floated far above in the vast, dazzling deeps of blue sky; the
birds rustled and chirped around her; leaping insects buzzed and
clattered in the grass and in the vines and bushes. The goodness and
glory of God was in the very air, the bitterness and oppression of man
in every line of her face.

But her quiet was broken by Sadie, who came leaping like a fawn down
through the grass.

"O ma, Aunt Maria and Uncle William are coming. They've jest turned in."

"I don't care if they be!" she answered in the same dully-irritated way.
"What're they comin' here to-day for, I wan' to know." She stayed there
immovably, till Mrs. Councill came down to see her, piloted by two or
three of the children. Mrs. Councill, a jolly, large-framed woman,
smiled brightly, and greeted her in a loud, jovial voice. She made the
mistake of taking the whole matter lightly; her tone amounted to
ridicule.

"Sim says you've been having a tantrum, Creeshy. Don't know what for, he
says."

"He don't," said the wife, with a sullen flash in her eyes. "_He_ don't
know why! Well, then, you just tell him what I say. I've lived in hell
long enough. I'm done. I've slaved here day in and day out f'r twelve
years without pay--not even a decent word. I've worked like no nigger
ever worked 'r could work and live. I've given him all I had, 'r ever
expect to have. I'm wore out. My strength is gone, my patience is gone.
I'm done with it--that's a _part_ of what's the matter."

"My sakes, Lucreeshy! You mustn't talk that way."

"But I _will_," said the woman, as she supported herself on one palm and
raised the other. "I've _got_ to talk that way." She was ripe for an
explosion like this. She seized upon it with eagerness. "They ain't no
use o' livin' this way, anyway. I'd take poison if it wa'n't f'r the
young ones."

"Lucreeshy Burns!"

"Oh, I mean it."

"Land sakes alive, I b'lieve you're goin' crazy!"

"I shouldn't wonder if I was. I've had enough t' drive an Indian crazy.
Now you jest go off an' leave me 'lone. I ain't no mind to visit--they
ain't no way out of it, an' I'm tired o' tryin' to _find_ a way. Go off
an' let me be."

Her tone was so bitterly hopeless that the great, jolly face of Mrs.
Councill stiffened into a look of horror such as she had not known for
years. The children, in two separate groups, could be heard rioting.
Bees were humming around the clover in the grass, and the kingbird
chattered ceaselessly from the Lombardy poplar tip. Both women felt all
this peace and beauty of the morning dimly, and it disturbed Mrs.
Councill because the other was so impassive under it all. At last, after
a long and thoughtful pause, Mrs. Councill asked a question whose answer
she knew would decide it all--asked it very kindly and softly:

"Creeshy, are you comin' in?"

"No," was the short and sullenly decisive answer. Mrs. Councill knew
that was the end, and so rose, with a sigh, and went away.

"Wal, good-by," she said, simply.

Looking back, she saw Lucretia lying at length, with closed eyes and
hollow cheeks. She seemed to be sleeping, half-buried in the grass. She
did not look up nor reply to her sister-in-law, whose life was one of
toil and trouble, also, but not so hard and helpless as Lucretia's. By
contrast with most of her neighbors, she seemed comfortable.

"Sim Burns, what you ben doin' to that woman?" she burst out, as she
waddled up to where the two men were sitting under a cottonwood tree,
talking and whittling after the manner of farmers.

"Nawthin' 's fur 's I know," answered Burns, not quite honestly, and
looking uneasy.

"You needn't try t' git out of it like that, Sim Burns," replied his
sister. "That woman never got into that fit f'r _nawthin_'."

"Wall, if you know more about it than I do, whadgy ask _me_ fur?" he
replied, angrily.

"Tut, tut!" put in Councill, "hold y'r horses! Don't git on y'r ear,
children! Keep cool, and don't spile y'r shirts. Most likely you're all
t' blame. Keep cool an' swear less."

"Wal, I'll bet Sim's more to blame than she is. Why, they ain't a
harder-workin' woman in the hull State of Ioway than she is"----

"Except Marm Councill."

"Except nobody. Look at her, jest skin and bones."

Councill chuckled in his vast way. "That's so, mother; measured in that
way, she leads over you. You git fat on it."

She smiled a little, her indignation oozing away. She never "_could_
stay mad," her children were accustomed to tell her. Burns refused to
talk any more about the matter, and the visitors gave it up, and got out
their team and started for home, Mrs. Councill firing this parting
shot:

"The best thing you can do to-day is t' let her alone. Mebbe the
children 'll bring her round ag'in. If she does come round, you see 't
you treat her a little more 's y' did when you was a-courtin' her."

"This way," roared Councill, putting his arm around his wife's waist.
She boxed his ears, while he guffawed and clucked at his team.

Burns took a measure of salt and went out into the pasture to salt the
cows. On the sunlit slope of the field, where the cattle came running
and bawling to meet him, he threw down the salt in handfuls, and then
lay down to watch them as they eagerly licked it up, even gnawing a bare
spot in the sod in their eagerness to get it all.

Burns was not a drinking man; he was hard-working, frugal; in fact, he
had no extravagances except his tobacco. His clothes he wore until they
all but dropped from him; and he worked in rain and mud, as well as dust
and sun. It was this suffering and toiling all to no purpose that made
him sour and irritable. He didn't see why he should have so little after
so much hard work.

He was puzzled to account for it all. His mind--the average mind--was
weary with trying to solve an insoluble problem. His neighbors, who had
got along a little better than himself, were free with advice and
suggestion as to the cause of his persistent poverty.

Old man Bacon, the hardest-working man in the county, laid it to Burns's
lack of management. Jim Butler, who owned a dozen farms (which he had
taken on mortgages), and who had got rich by buying land at government
price and holding for a rise, laid all such cases as Burns's to "lack of
enterprise, foresight."

But the larger number, feeling themselves in the same boat with Burns,
said:

"I d' know. Seems as if things get worse an' worse. Corn an' wheat
gittin' cheaper 'n' cheaper. Machinery eatin' up profits--got to _have_
machinery to harvest the cheap grain, an' then the machinery eats up
profits. Taxes goin' up. Devil to pay all round; I d' know what in
thunder _is_ the matter."

The Democrats said protection was killing the farmers; the Republicans
said no. The Grangers growled about the middle-men; the Greenbackers
said there wasn't circulating medium enough, and, in the midst of it
all, hard-working, discouraged farmers, like Simeon Burns, worked on,
unable to find out what really was the matter.

And there, on this beautiful Sabbath morning, Sim sat and thought and
thought, till he rose with an oath and gave it up.



IV.


It was hot and brilliant again the next morning as Douglass Radbourn
drove up the road with Lily Graham, the teacher of the school in the
little white school-house. It was blazing hot, even though not yet nine
o'clock, and the young farmers plowing beside the fence looked longingly
and somewhat bitterly at Radbourn seated in a fine top-buggy beside a
beautiful creature in lace and cambric.

Very beautiful the town-bred "school-ma'am" looked to those grimy,
sweaty fellows, superb fellows, too, physically, with bare red arms and
leather-colored faces. She was as if builded of the pink and white
clouds soaring far up there in the morning sky. So cool, and sweet, and
dainty.

As she came in sight, their dusty and sweaty shirts grew biting as the
poisoned shirt of the Norse myth, their bare feet in the brown dirt grew
distressingly flat and hoof-like, and their huge, dirty, brown, chapped
and swollen hands grew so repulsive that the mere remote possibility of
some time in the far future standing a chance of having an introduction
to her caused them to wipe their palms on their trousers' legs
stealthily.

Lycurgus Banks swore when he saw Radbourn. "That cuss thinks he's ol'
hell this morning. He don't earn his living. But he's just the kind of
cuss to get holt of all the purty girls."

Others gazed with simple, sad wistfulness upon the slender figure, pale,
sweet face, and dark eyes of the young girl, feeling that to have talk
with such a fairy-like creature was a happiness too great to ever be
their lot. And when she had passed they went back to work with a sigh
and feeling of loss.

As for Lily, she felt a pang of pity for these people. She looked at
this peculiar form of poverty and hardship much as the fragile, tender
girl of the city looks upon the men laying a gas-main in the streets.
She felt, sympathetically, the heat and grime, and, though but the
faintest idea of what it meant to wear such clothing came to her, she
shuddered. Her eyes had been opened to these things by Radbourn, a
class-mate at the Seminary.

The young fellow knew that Lily was in love with him, and he made
distinct effort to keep the talk upon impersonal subjects. He liked her
very much, probably because she listened so well.

"Poor fellows," sighed Lily, almost unconsciously. "I hate to see them
working there in the dirt and hot sun. It seems a hopeless sort of life,
doesn't it?"

"Oh, but this is the most beautiful part of the year," said Radbourn.
"Think of them in the mud, in the sleet; think of them husking corn in
the snow, a bitter wind blowing; think of them a month later in the
harvest; think of them imprisoned here in winter!"

"Yes, it's dreadful! But I never felt it so keenly before. You have
opened my eyes to it. Of course, I've been on a farm, but not to live
there."

"Writers and orators have lied so long about 'the idyllic' in farm life,
and said so much about the 'independent American farmer,' that he
himself has remained blind to the fact that he's one of the
hardest-working and poorest-paid men in America. See the houses they
live in--hovels."

"Yes, yes, I know," said Lily; a look of deeper pain swept over her
face. "And the fate of the poor women; oh, the fate of the women!"

"Yes, it's a matter of statistics," went on Radbourn, pitilessly, "that
the wives of the American farmers fill our insane asylums. See what a
life they lead, most of them; no music, no books. Seventeen hours a day
in a couple of small rooms--dens. Now, there is Sim Burns! What a
travesty of a home! Yet there are a dozen just as bad in sight. He works
like a fiend--so does his wife--and what is their reward? Simply a hole
to hibernate in and to sleep and eat in in summer. A dreary present and
a well-nigh hopeless future. No, they have a future, if they knew it,
and we must tell them."

"I know Mrs. Burns," Lily said, after a pause; "she sends several
children to my school. Poor, pathetic little things, half-clad and
wistful-eyed. They make my heart ache; they are so hungry for love, and
so quick to learn."

As they passed the Burns farm, they looked for the wife, but she was not
to be seen. The children had evidently gone up to the little white
school-house at the head of the lane. Radbourn let the reins fall slack
as he talked on. He did not look at the girl; his eyebrows were drawn
into a look of gloomy pain.

"It ain't so much the grime that I abhor, nor the labor that crooks
their backs and makes their hands bludgeons. It's the horrible waste of
life involved in it all. I don't believe God intended a man to be bent
to plow-handles like that, but that ain't the worst of it. The worst of
it is, these people live lives approaching automata. They become
machines to serve others more lucky or more unscrupulous than
themselves. What is the world of art, of music, of literature, to these
poor devils--to Sim Burns and his wife there, for example? Or even to
the best of these farmers?"

The girl looked away over the shimmering lake of yellow-green corn. A
choking came into her throat. Her gloved hand trembled.

"What is such a life worth? It's all very comfortable for us to say,
'They don't feel it.' How do we know what they feel? What do we know of
their capacity for enjoyment of art and music? They never have leisure
or opportunity. The master is very glad to be taught by preacher, and
lawyer, and novelist, that his slaves are contented and never feel any
longings for a higher life. These people live lives but little higher
than their cattle--are _forced_ to live so. Their hopes and aspirations
are crushed out, their souls are twisted and deformed just as toil
twists and deforms their bodies. They are on the same level as the city
laborer. The very religion they hear is a soporific. They are taught to
be content here that they may be happy hereafter. Suppose there isn't
any hereafter?"

"Oh, don't say that, please!" Lily cried.

"But I don't _know_ that there is," he went on remorselessly, "and I do
know that these people are being robbed of something more than money, of
all that makes life worth living. The promise of milk and honey in
Canaan is all very well, but I prefer to have mine here; then I'm sure
of it."

"What can we do?" murmured the girl.

"Do? Rouse these people for one thing; preach _discontent_, a noble
discontent."

"It will only make them unhappy."

"No, it won't; not if you show them the way out. If it does, it's better
to be unhappy striving for higher things, like a man, than to be content
in a wallow like swine."

"But what _is_ the way out?"

This was sufficient to set Radbourn upon his hobby-horse. He outlined
his plan of action--the abolition of all indirect taxes; the State
control of all privileges the private ownership of which interfered with
the equal rights of all. He would utterly destroy speculative holdings
of the earth. He would have land everywhere brought to its best use, by
appropriating all ground rents to the use of the State, etc., etc., to
which the girl listened with eager interest, but with only partial
comprehension.

As they neared the little school-house, a swarm of midgets in pink
dresses, pink sun-bonnets, and brown legs, came rushing to meet their
teacher, with that peculiar devotion the children in the country develop
for a refined teacher.

Radbourn helped Lily out into the midst of the eager little scholars,
who swarmed upon her like bees on a lump of sugar, till even Radbourn's
gravity gave way, and he smiled into her lifted eyes--an unusual smile,
that strangely enough stopped the smile on her own lips, filling her
face with a wistful shadow, and her breath came hard for a moment, and
she trembled.

She loved that cold, stern face, oh, so much! and to have him smile was
a pleasure that made her heart leap till she suffered a smothering pain.
She turned to him to say:

"I am very thankful, Mr. Radbourn, for another pleasant ride," adding in
a lower tone: "It was a very great pleasure; you always give me so much.
I feel stronger and more hopeful."

"I'm glad you feel so. I was afraid I was prosy with my land-doctrine."

"Oh, no! Indeed no! You have given me a new hope; I am exalted with the
thought; I shall try to think it all out and apply it."

And so they parted, the children looking on and slyly whispering among
themselves. Radbourn looked back after awhile, but the bare little hive
had absorbed its little group, and was standing bleak as a tombstone and
hot as a furnace on the naked plain in the blazing sun.

"America's pitiful boast!" said the young radical, looking back at it.
"Only a miserable hint of what it might be."

All that forenoon, as Lily faced her little group of barefooted
children, she was thinking of Radbourn, of his almost fierce sympathy
for these poor, supine farmers, hopeless and in some cases content in
their narrow lives. The children almost worshiped the beautiful girl
who came to them as a revelation of exquisite neatness and taste,--whose
very voice and intonation awed them.

They noted, unconsciously, of course, every detail. Snowy linen, touches
of soft color, graceful lines of bust and side--the slender fingers that
could almost speak, so beautifully flexile were they. Lily herself
sometimes, when she shook the calloused, knotted, stiffened hands of the
women, shuddered with sympathetic pain, to think that the crowning
wonder and beauty of God's world should be so maimed and distorted from
its true purpose.

Even in the children before her she could see the inherited results of
fruitless labor--and, more pitiful yet, in the bent shoulders of the
older ones she could see the beginnings of deformity that would soon be
permanent. And as these things came to her, she clasped the poor
wondering things to her side with a convulsive wish to make life a
little brighter for them.

"How is your mother to-day?" she asked of Sadie Burns, as she was eating
her luncheon on the drab-colored table near the open window.

"Purty well," said Sadie, in a hesitating way.

Lily was looking out, and listening to the gophers whistling as they
raced to and fro. She could see Bob Burns lying at length on the grass
in the pasture over the fence, his heels waving in the air, his hands
holding a string which formed a snare. It was like fishing to young
Izaak Walton.

It was very still and hot, and the cheep and trill of the gophers and
the chatter of the kingbirds alone broke the silence. A cloud of
butterflies were fluttering about a pool near; a couple of big flies
buzzed and mumbled on the pane.

"What ails your mother?" Lily asked, recovering herself and looking at
Sadie, who was distinctly ill at ease.

"Oh, I dunno," Sadie replied, putting one bare foot across the other.

Lily insisted. 

"She 'n' pa's had an awful row"----

"Sadie!" said the teacher warningly, "what language!"

"I mean they quarreled, an' she don't speak to him any more."

"Why, how dreadful!"

"An' pa he's awful cross; and she won't eat when he does, an' I haf to
wait on table."

"I believe I'll go down and see her this noon," said Lily to herself, as
she divined a little of the state of affairs in the Burns family.



V.


Sim was mending the pasture fence as Lily came down the road toward him.
He had delayed going to dinner to finish his task and was just about
ready to go when Lily spoke to him.

"Good morning, Mr. Burns. I am just going down to see Mrs. Burns. It
must be time to go to dinner--aren't you ready to go? I want to talk
with you."

Ordinarily he would have been delighted with the idea of walking down
the road with the school-ma'am, but there was something in her look
which seemed to tell him that she knew all about his trouble, and,
besides, he was not in good humor.

"Yes, in a minnit--soon's I fix up this hole. Them shoats, I b'lieve,
would go through a key-hole, if they could once get their snoots in."

He expanded on this idea as he nailed away, anxious to gain time. He
foresaw trouble for himself. He couldn't be rude to this sweet and
fragile girl. If a _man_ had dared to attack him on his domestic
shortcomings, he could have fought. The girl stood waiting for him, her
large, steady eyes full of thought, gazing down at him from the shadow
of her broad-brimmed hat.

"The world is so full of misery anyway, that we ought to do the best we
can to make it less," she said at last, in a musing tone, as if her
thoughts had unconsciously taken on speech. She had always appealed to
him strongly, and never more so than in this softly-uttered
abstraction--that it was an abstraction added to its power with him.

He could find no words for reply, but picked up his hammer and nail-box,
and slouched along the road by her side, listening without a word to her
talk.

"Christ was patient, and bore with his enemies. Surely we ought to bear
with our--friends," she went on, adapting her steps to his. He took off
his torn straw hat and wiped his face on his sleeve, being much
embarrassed and ashamed. Not knowing how to meet such argument, he kept
silent.

"How _is_ Mrs. Burns?" said Lily at length, determined to make him
speak. The delicate meaning in the emphasis laid on _is_ did not escape
him.

"Oh, she's all right--I mean she's done her work jest the same as ever.
I don't see her much"----

"I didn't know--I was afraid she was sick. Sadie said she was acting
strangely."

"No, she's well enough--but"----

"But what is the trouble? Won't you let me help you, _won't_ you?" she
pleaded.

"Can't anybody help us. We've got 'o fight it out, I s'pose," he
replied, a gloomy note of resentment creeping into his voice. "She's
ben in a devil of a temper f'r a week."

"Haven't you been in the same kind of a temper too?" demanded Lily,
firmly, but kindly. "I think most troubles of this kind come from bad
temper on both sides. Don't you? Have you done your share at being kind
and patient?"

They had reached the gate now, and she laid her hand on his arm to stop
him. He looked down at the slender gloved hand on his arm, feeling as if
a giant had grasped him; then he raised his eyes to her face, flushing a
purplish red as he remembered his grossness. It seemed monstrous in the
presence of this girl-advocate. Her face was like silver; her eyes
seemed pools of tears.

"I don't s'pose I have," he said at last, pushing by her. He could not
have faced her glance another moment. His whole air conveyed the
impression of destructive admission. Lily did not comprehend the extent
of her advantage or she would have pursued it further. As it was she
felt a little hurt as she entered the house. The table was set, but Mrs.
Burns was nowhere to be seen. Calling her softly, the young girl passed
through the shabby little living-room to the oven-like bed-room which
opened off it, but no one was about. She stood for a moment shuddering
at the wretchedness of the room.

Going back to the kitchen, she found Sim about beginning on his dinner.
Little Pet was with him; the rest of the children were at the
school-house.

"Where is she?"

"I d' know. Out in the garden, I expect. She don't eat with me now. I
never see her. She don't come near _me_. I ain't seen her since
Saturday."

Lily was shocked inexpressibly and began to see more clearly the
magnitude of the task she had set herself to do. But it must be done;
she felt that a tragedy was not far off. It must be averted.

"Mr. Burns, what have you done? What _have_ you done?" she asked in
terror and horror.

"Don't lay it all to _me_! She hain't done nawthin' but complain f'r ten
years. I couldn't do nothin' to suit her. She was always naggin' me."

"I don't think Lucretia Burns would nag anybody. I don't say you're
_all_ to blame, but I'm afraid you haven't acknowledged you were _any_
to blame. I'm afraid you've not been patient with her. I'm going out to
bring her in. If she comes, will you _say_ you were _part_ to blame? You
needn't beg her pardon--just say you'll try to be better. Will you do
it? Think how much she has done for you! Will you?"

He remained silent, and looked discouragingly rude. His sweaty, dirty
shirt was open at the neck, his arms were bare, his scraggly teeth were
yellow with tobacco, and his uncombed hair lay tumbled about on his
high, narrow head. His clumsy, unsteady hands played with the dishes on
the table. His pride was struggling with his sense of justice; he knew
he ought to consent, and yet it was so hard to acknowledge himself to
blame. The girl went on in a voice piercingly sweet, trembling with pity
and pleading.

"What word can I carry to her from you? I'm going to go and see her. If
I could take a word from _you_, I know she would come back to the table.
Shall I tell her you feel to blame?"

The answer was a long time coming; at last the man nodded an assent, the
sweat pouring from his purple face. She had set him thinking; her
victory was sure.

Lily almost ran out into the garden and to the strawberry patch, where
she found Lucretia in her familiar, colorless, shapeless dress, picking
berries in the hot sun, the mosquitoes biting her neck and hands.

"Poor, pathetic, dumb sufferer!" the girl thought as she ran up to her.

She dropped her dish as she heard Lily coming, and gazed up into the
tender, pitying face. Not a word was spoken, but something she saw there
made her eyes fill with tears, and her throat swell. It was pure
sympathy. She put her arms around the girl's neck and sobbed for the
first time since Friday night. Then they sat down on the grass under
the hedge, and she told her story, interspersed with Lily's horrified
comments.

When it was all told, the girl still sat listening. She heard Radbourn's
calm, slow voice again. It helped her not to hate Burns; it helped her
to pity and understand him:

"You must remember that such toil brutalizes a man; it makes him
callous, selfish, unfeeling, necessarily. A fine nature must either
adapt itself to its hard surroundings or die. Men who toil terribly in
filthy garments day after day and year after year cannot easily keep
gentle; the frost and grime, the heat and cold will soon or late enter
into their souls. The case is not all in favor of the suffering wives,
and against the brutal husbands. If the farmer's wife is dulled and
crazed by her routine, the farmer himself is degraded and brutalized."

As well as she could Lily explained all this to the woman, who lay with
her face buried in the girl's lap. Lily's arms were about her thin
shoulders in an agony of pity.

"It's hard, Lucretia, I know--more than you can bear--but you mustn't
forget what Sim endures too. He goes out in the storms and in the heat
and dust. His boots are hard, and see how his hands are all bruised and
broken by his work! He was tired and hungry when he said that--he didn't
really mean it."

The wife remained silent.

"Mr. Radbourn says work, as things go now, _does_ degrade a man in spite
of himself. He says men get coarse and violent in spite of themselves,
just as women do when everything goes wrong in the house--when the flies
are thick, and the fire won't burn, and the irons stick to the clothes.
You see, you both suffer. Don't lay up this fit of temper against
Sim--will you?"

The wife lifted her head and looked away. Her face was full of hopeless
weariness.

"It ain't this once. It ain't that 't all. It's having no let-up. Just
goin' the same thing right over 'n' over--no hope of anything better."

"If you had a hope of another world"----

"Don't talk that. I don't want that kind o' comfert. I want a decent
chance here. I want 'o rest an' be happy _now_." Lily's big eyes were
streaming with tears. What should she say to the desperate woman?
"What's the use? We might jest as well die--all of us."

The woman's livid face appalled the girl. She was gaunt, heavy-eyed,
nerveless. Her faded dress settled down over her limbs, showing the
swollen knees and thin calves; her hands, with distorted joints,
protruded painfully from her sleeves. And all about was the
ever-recurring wealth and cheer of nature that knows no fear or
favor--the bees and flies buzzing in the sun, the jay and kingbird in
the poplars, the smell of strawberries, the motion of lush grass, the
shimmer of corn-blades tossed gayly as banners in a conquering army.

Like a flash of keener light, a sentence shot across the girl's mind:
"Nature knows no title-deed. The bounty of her mighty hands falls as the
sunlight falls, copious, impartial; her seas carry all ships; her air is
for all lips, her lands for all feet."

"Poverty and suffering such as yours will not last." There was something
in the girl's voice that roused the woman. She turned her dull eyes upon
the youthful face.

Lily took her hand in both hers as if by a caress she could impart her
own faith.

"Look up, dear. When nature is so good and generous, man must come to be
better, surely. Come, go in the house again. Sim is there; he expects
you; he told me to tell you he was sorry." Lucretia's face twitched a
little at that, but her head was bent. "Come; you can't live this way.
There isn't any other place to go to."

No; that was the bitterest truth. Where on this wide earth, with its
forth-shooting fruits and grains, its fragrant lands and shining seas,
could this dwarfed, bent, broken, middle-aged woman go? Nobody wanted
her, nobody cared for her. But the wind kissed her drawn lips as readily
as those of the girl, and the blooms of clover nodded to her as if to a
queen.

Lily had said all she could. Her heart ached with unspeakable pity and a
sort of terror.

"Don't give up, Lucretia. This may be the worst hour of your life. Live
and bear with it all for Christ's sake--for your children's sake. Sim
told me to tell you he was to blame. If you will only see that you are
both to blame and yet neither to blame, then you can rise above it. Try,
dear!"

Something that was in the girl imparted itself to the wife,
electrically. She pulled herself together, rose silently, and started
toward the house. Her face was rigid, but no longer sullen. Lily
followed her slowly, wonderingly.

As she neared the kitchen door, she saw Sim still sitting at the table;
his face was unusually grave and soft. She saw him start and shove back
his chair--saw Lucretia go to the stove and lift the tea-pot, and heard
her say, as she took her seat beside the baby:

"Want some more tea?"

She had become a wife and mother again, but in what spirit the puzzled
girl could not say.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------



PART V.

SATURDAY NIGHT ON THE FARM: BOYS AND HARVEST HANDS.

  In mystery of town and play
  The splendid lady lives alway,
  Inwrought with starlight, winds and streams.


SATURDAY NIGHT ON THE FARM.


A group of men were gathered in Farmer Graham's barn one rainy day in
September; the rain had stopped the stacking, and the men were amusing
themselves with feats of skill and strength. Steve Nagle was the
champion, no matter what came up; whether shouldering a sack of wheat,
or raising weights or suspending himself with one hand, he left the
others out of the race.

"Aw! it's no good foolun' with such puny little men as you," he
swaggered at last, throwing himself down upon a pile of sacks.

"If our hired man was here I bet he'd beat you all holler," piped a
boy's voice from the doorway.

Steve raised himself up and glared.

"What's that thing talkun'?"

The boy held his ground. "You can brag when he ain't around, but I bet
he can lick you with one hand tied behind him; don't you, Frank?"

Frank was doubtful, and kept a little out of sight. He was afraid of
Steve, as were, indeed, all the other men, for he had terrorized the
saloons of the county for years. Johnny went on about his hero:

"Why, he can take a sack of wheat by the corners and snap every kernel
of it clean out; he can lift a separator just as easy! You'd better brag
when he's around."

Steve's anger rose, for he saw the rest laughing; he glared around at
them all like a hyena. "Bring on this whelp, let's see how he looks. I
ain't seen him yit."

"Pa says if Lime went to a saloon where you'd meet him once, you
wouldn't clean out that saloon," Johnny went on in a calm voice, with a
sort of undercurrent of glee in it. He saw Steve's anger, and was
delighted.

"Bring on this feller; I'll knock the everlasting spots offen 'im f'r
two cents."

"I'll tell 'im that."

"Tell him and be damned," roared Steve, with a wolfish gleam in his eyes
that drove the boys away whooping with mingled terror and delight.

Steve saw that the men about him held Johnny's opinion of Lime, and it
made him furious. For several years he had held undisputed sovereignty
over the saloons of Rock County, and when, with both sleeves rolled up
and eyes flaming with madness, he had leaped into the center of a
bar-room floor with a wild shout, everybody got out, by doors, windows
or any other way, sometimes taking sash and all, and left him roaring
with maniacal delight.

No one used a revolver in those days. Shooting was almost unknown.
Fights were tests of physical strength and savagery.

Harvest brought into Iowa at that time a flood of rough and hardy men
who drifted north with the moving line of ripening wheat, and on
Saturday nights the saloons of the county were filled with them, and
Steve found many chances to show his power. Among these strangers, as
they gathered in some saloon to make a night of it, he loved to burst
with his assertion of individual sovereignty.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lime was out mending fence when Johnny came home to tell him what Steve
had said. Johnny was anxious to see his faith in his hero justified, and
watched Lime carefully as he pounded away without looking up. His dress
always had an easy slouch about his vast limbs, and his pantaloons,
usually of some dark stuff, he wore invariably tucked into his
boot-tops, his vest swinging unbuttoned, his hat carelessly awry.

Being a quiet, sober man, he had never been in a saloon when Steve
entered to swing his hat to the floor and yell:

"I'm Jack Robinson, I am! I am the man that bunted the bull off the
bridge! I'm the best man in Northern Iowa!" He had met him, of course,
but Steve kept a check upon himself when sober.

"He says he can knock the spots off of you," Johnny said, in conclusion,
watching Lime roguishly.

The giant finished nailing up the fence, and at last said: "Now run
along, sonny, and git the cows." There was a laugh in his voice that
showed his amusement at Johnny's disappointment. "I ain't got any
spots."

On the following Saturday night, at dusk, as Lime was smoking his pipe
out on the horse-block, with the boys around him, there came a
swiftly-driven wagon down the road, filled with a noisy load of men.
They pulled up at the gate, with a prodigious shouting.

"Hello, Lime!"

"Hello, the house!"

"Hurrah for the show!"

"It's Al Crandall," cried Johnny, running down to the gate. Lime
followed slowly, and asked: "What's up, boys?"

"All goin' down to the show; climb in!"

"All right; wait till I git my coat."

Lime was working one of Graham's farms on shares in the summer; in the
winter he went to the pinery.

"Oh, can't we go, Lime?" pleaded the boys.

"If your dad'll let you; I'll pay for the tickets."

The boys rushed wildly to the house and as wildly back again, and the
team resumed its swift course, for it was getting late. It was a
beautiful night; the full moon poured down a cataract of silent white
light like spray, and the dew (almost frost) lay on the grass and
reflected the glory of the autumn sky; the air was still and had that
peculiar property, common to the prairie air, of carrying sound to a
great distance.

The road was hard and smooth, and the spirited little team bowled the
heavy wagon along at a swift pace. "We're late," Crandall said, as he
snapped his long whip over the heads of his horses, "and we've got to
make it in twenty-five minutes or miss part of the show." This caused
Johnny great anxiety. He had never seen a play and wanted to see it all.
He looked at the flying legs of the horses and pushed on the dashboard,
chirping at them slyly.

Rock Falls was the county town and the only town where plays could be
produced. It was a place of about 3,000 inhabitants at that time, and to
Johnny's childish eyes it was a very great place indeed. To go to town
was an event, but to go with the men at night, and to a show, was
something to remember a lifetime.

There was little talk as they rushed along, only some singing of a
dubious sort by Bill Young, on the back seat. At intervals Bill stopped
singing and leaned over to say, in exactly the same tone of voice each
time: "Al, I hope t' God we won't be late." Then he resumed his
monotonous singing, or said something coarse to Rice, who laughed
immoderately.

The play had begun when they climbed the narrow, precarious stairway
which led to the door of the hall. Every seat of the room was filled,
but as for the boys, after getting their eyes upon the players, they did
not think of sitting, or of moving, for that matter; they were literally
all eyes and ears.

The hall seated about 400 persons, and the stage was a contrivance
striking as to coloring as well as variety of pieces. It added no little
to the sport of the evening by the squeaks it gave out as the heavy man
walked across, and by the falling down of the calico wings and by the
persistent refusal of the curtain to go down at the proper moment on the
tableau. At the back of the room the benches rose one above the other
until the one at the rear was near the grimy ceiling. These benches were
occupied by the toughs of the town, who treated each other to peanuts
and slapped one another over the head with their soft, shapeless hats,
and laughed inordinately when some fellow's hat was thrown out of his
reach into the crowd.

The play was Wilkie Collins' "New Magdalen," and the part of Mercy was
taken by a large and magnificently proportioned woman, a blonde, and in
Johnny's eyes she seemed something divine, with her grace and majesty of
motion. He took a personal pride in her at once and wanted her to come
out triumphant in the end, regardless of any conventional morality.

True, his admiration for the dark little woman's tragic utterance at
times drew him away from his breathless study of the queenly Mercy, but
such moments were few. Within a half hour he was deeply in love with the
heroine and wondered how she could possibly endure the fat man who
played the part of Horace, and who pitched into the practicable supper
of cold ham, biscuit and currant wine with a gusto that suggested
gluttony as the reason for his growing burden of flesh.

And so the play went on. The wonderful old lady in the cap and
spectacles, the mysterious dark little woman who popped in at short
intervals to say "Beware!" in a very deep contralto voice, the tender
and repentant Mercy, all were new and wonderful, beautiful things to the
boys, and though they stood up the whole evening through, it passed so
swiftly that the curtain's fall drew from them long sighs of regret.
From that time on they were to dream of that wonderful play and that
beautiful, repentant woman. So securely was she enthroned in their
regard that no rude and senseless jest could ever unseat her. Of
course, the men, as they went out, laughed and joked in the manner of
such men, and swore in their disappointment because it was a serious
drama in place of the comedy and the farce which they had expected.

"It's a regular sell," Bill said. "I wanted to hear old Plunket stid of
all that stuff about nothin'. That was a lunkin' good-lookin' woman
though," he added, with a coarse suggestion in his voice, which
exasperated Johnny to the pitch of giving him a kick on the heel as he
walked in front. "Hyare, young feller, look where you're puttin' your
hoofs!" Bill growled, looking about.

John was comforted by seeing in the face of his brother the same rapt
expression which he felt was on his own. He walked along almost
mechanically, scarcely feeling the sidewalk, his thoughts still dwelling
on the lady and the play. It was after ten o'clock, and the stores were
all shut, the frost lay thick and white on the plank walk, and the moon
was shining as only a moon can shine through the rarefied air on the
Western prairies, and overhead the stars in innumerable hosts swam in
the absolutely cloudless sky.

John stumbled along, keeping hold of Lime's hand till they reached the
team standing at the sidewalk, shivering with cold. The impatient horses
stretched their stiffened limbs with pleasure and made off with a
rearing plunge. The men were noisy. Bill sang another song at the top
of his voice as they rattled by the sleeping houses, but as he came to
an objectionable part of the song Lime turned suddenly and said: "Shut
up on that, will you?" and he became silent.

Rock Falls, after the most extraordinary agitation, had just prohibited
the sale of liquor at any point within two miles of the school-house in
the town. This, after strenuous opposition, was enforced; the immediate
effect of the law was to establish saloons at the limit of the two miles
and to throw a large increase of business into the hands of Hank Swartz
in the retail part of his brewery, which was situated about two miles
from the town, on the bank of the river. He had immediately built a
bar-room and made himself ready for the increase of his trade, which had
previously been confined to supplying picnic parties with half-kegs of
beer or an occasional glass to teamsters passing by. Hank had an eye to
the main chance and boasted: "If the public gits ahead of me it's got to
be up and a-comin'."

The road along which Crandall was driving did not lead to Hank's place,
but the river road, which branched off a little farther on, went by the
brewery, though it was a longer way around. The men grew silent at last,
and the steady roll and rumble of the wagon over the smooth road was
soothing, and John laid his head in Lime's lap and fell asleep while
looking at the moon and wondering why it always seemed to go just as
fast as the team.

He was awakened by a series of wild yells, the snapping of whips and the
furious rush of horses. It was another team filled with harvesters
trying to pass, and not succeeding. The fellows in the other wagon
hooted and howled and cracked the whip, but Al's little bays kept them
behind until Lime protested, "Oh, let 'em go, Al," and then with a shout
of glee the team went by and left them in a cloud of dust.

"Say, boys," said Bill, "that was Pat Sheehan and the Nagle boys.
They've turned off; they're goin' down to Hank's. Let's go too. Come on,
fellers, what d'you say? I'm allfired dry. Ain't you?"

"I'm willun'," said Frank Rice; "what d'you say, Lime?" John looked up
into Lime's face and said to him, in a low voice, "Let's go home; that
was Steve a-drivin'." Lime nodded and made a sign to John to keep still,
but John saw his head lift. He had heard and recognized Steve's voice.

"It was Pat Sheehan, sure," repeated Bill, "an' I shouldn't wonder if
the others was the Nagle boys and Eth Cole."

"Yes, it was Steve," said Al. "I saw his old hat as he went by."

It was perfectly intelligible to Lime that they were all anxious to
have a meeting between Steve and himself. Johnny saw also that if Lime
refused to go to the brewery he would be called a coward. Bill would
tell it all over the neighborhood, and his hero would be shamed. At last
Lime nodded his head in consent and Al turned off into the river road.

When they drew up at the brewery by the river the other fellows had all
entered and the door was shut. There were two or three other teams
hitched about under the trees. The men sprang out and Bill danced a jig
in anticipation of the fun to follow. "If Steve starts to lam Lime
there'll be a circus."

As they stood for a moment before the door Al spoke to Lime about
Steve's probable attack. "I ain't goin' to hunt around for no row,"
replied Lime, placidly, "and I don't believe Steve is. You lads," he
said to the boys, "watch the team for a little while; cuddle down under
the blankets if you git cold. It ain't no place for you in the inside.
We won't stop long," he ended, cheerily.

The door opened and let out a dull red light, closed again, and all was
still except an occasional burst of laughter and noise of heavy feet
within. The scene made an indelible impress upon John, child though he
was. Fifty feet away the river sang over its shallows, broad and
whitened with foam which gleamed like frosted silver in the brilliant
moonlight. The trees were dark and tall about him and loomed overhead
against the starlit sky, and the broad high moon threw a thick tracery
of shadows on the dusty white road where the horses stood. Only the
rhythmic flow of the broad, swift river, with the occasional uneasy
movement of the horses under their creaking harnesses or the dull noise
of the shouting men within the shanty, was to be heard.

John nestled down into the robes and took to dreaming of the lovely lady
he had seen, and wondered if, when he became a man, he should have a
wife like her. He was awakened by Frank, who was rousing him to serve a
purpose of his own. John was ten and Frank fifteen; he rubbed his sleepy
eyes and rose under orders.

"Say, Johnny, what d'yeh s'pose them fellers are doen' in there? You
said Steve was goin' to lick Lime, you did. It don't sound much like it
in there. Hear 'um laugh," he said viciously and regretfully. "Say,
John, you sly along and peek in and see what they're up to, an' come an'
tell me, while I hold the horses," he said, to hide the fact that John
was doing a good deal for his benefit.

John got slowly off the wagon and hobbled on toward the saloon, stiff
with the cold. As he neared the door he could hear some one talking in a
loud voice, while the rest laughed at intervals in the manner of those
who are listening to the good points in a story. Not daring to open the
door, Johnny stood around the front trying to find a crevice to look in
at. The speaker inside had finished his joke and some one had begun
singing.

The building was a lean-to attached to the brewery, and was a rude and
hastily constructed affair. It had only two windows; one was on the side
and the other on the back. The window on the side was out of John's
reach, so he went to the back of the shanty. It was built partly into
the hill, and the window was at the top of the bank. John found that by
lying down on the ground on the outside he had a good view of the
interior. The window, while level with the ground on the outside, was
about as high as the face of a man on the inside. He was extremely
wide-awake now and peered in at the scene with round, unblinking eyes.

Steve was making sport for the rest and stood leaning his elbow on the
bar. He was in rare good humor, for him. His hat was lying beside him
and he was in his shirt-sleeves, and his cruel gray eyes, pockmarked
face and broken nose were lighted up with a frightful smile. He was
good-natured now, but the next drink might set him wild. Hank stood
behind the high pine bar, a broad but nervous grin on his round, red
face. Two big kerosene lamps, through a couple of smoky chimneys, sent
a dull red glare upon the company, which half filled the room.

If Steve's face was unpleasant to look upon, the nonchalant, tiger-like
poise and flex of his body was not. He had been dancing, it seemed, and
had thrown off his coat, and as he talked he repeatedly rolled his blue
shirt-sleeves up and down as though the motion were habitual to him.
Most of the men were sitting around the room looking on and laughing at
Steve's antics, and the antics of one or two others who were just drunk
enough to make fools of themselves. Two or three sat on an old billiard
table under the window through which John was peering.

Lime sat in his characteristic attitude, his elbows upon his knees and
his thumbs under his chin. His eyes were lazily raised now and then with
a lion-like action of the muscles of his forehead. But he seemed to take
little interest in the ribaldry of the other fellows. John measured both
champions critically, and exulted in the feeling that Steve was not so
ready for the row with Lime as he thought he was.

After Steve had finished his story there was a chorus of roars: "Bully
for you, Steve!" "Give us another," etc. Steve, much flattered, nodded
to the alert saloon-keeper, and said: "Give us another, Hank." As the
rest all sprang up he added: "Pull out that brandy kaig this time,
Hank. Trot her out, you white-livered Dutchman," he roared, as Swartz
hesitated.

The brewer fetched it up from beneath the bar, but he did it
reluctantly. In the midst of the hubbub thus produced, an abnormally
tall and lanky fellow known as "High" Bedloe pushed up to the bar and
made an effort to speak, and finally did say solemnly:

"Gen'lmun, Steve, say, gen'lmun, do'n' less mix our drinks!"

This was received with boisterous delight, in which Bedloe could not see
the joke, and looked feebly astonished.

Just at this point John received such a fright as entirely took away his
powers of moving or breathing, for something laid hold of his heels with
deadly grip. He was getting his breath to yell when a familiar voice at
his ear said, in a tone somewhere between a whisper and a groan:

"Say, what they up to all this while? I'm sick o' wait'n' out there."

Frank had become impatient; as for John, he had been so absorbed by the
scenes within, he had not noticed how the frosty ground was slowly
stiffening his limbs and setting his teeth chattering. They were both
now looking in at the window. John had simply pointed with his mittened,
stubby thumb toward the interior, and Frank had crawled along to a place
beside him.

Mixing the drinks had produced the disastrous effect which Hank and
Bedloe had anticipated. The fun became uproarious. There were songs and
dances by various members of the Nagle gang, but Lime's crowd, being in
the minority, kept quiet, occasionally standing treat as was the proper
thing to do.

But Steve grew wilder and more irritable every moment. He seemed to have
drunk just enough to let loose the terrible force that slept in his
muscles. He had tugged at his throat until the strings of his woolen
shirt loosened, displaying the great, sloping muscles of his neck and
shoulders, white as milk and hard as iron. His eyes rolled restlessly to
and fro as he paced the floor. His panther-like step was full of a
terrible suggestiveness. The breath of the boys at the window came
quicker and quicker. They saw he was working himself into a rage that
threatened momentarily to break forth into a violence. He realized that
this was a crisis in his career; his reputation was at stake.

Young as John was, he understood the whole matter as he studied the
restless Steve, and compared him with his impassive hero, sitting
immovable.

"You see Lime can't go away," he explained, breathlessly, to Frank, in a
whisper, "'cause they'd tell it all over the country that he backed down
for Steve. He daresn't leave."

"Steve ain't no durn fool," returned the superior wisdom of Frank, in
the same cautious whisper, keeping his eyes on the bar-room. "See Lime
there, cool as a cucumber. He's from the pineries, he is." He ended in a
tone of voice intended to convey that fighting was the principal study
of the pineries, and that Lime had graduated with the highest honors.
"Steve ain't a-go'n' to pitch into him yet awhile, you bet y'r bottom
dollar; he ain't drunk enough for that."

Each time the invitation for another drink was given, they noticed that
Lime kept on the outside of the crowd, and some one helped him to his
glass. "Don't you see he ain't drinkin'. He's throwin' it away," said
Frank; "there, see! He's foolun' 'em; he ain't a-go'n' to be drunk when
Steve tackles him. Oh, there'll be music in a minute or two."

Steve now walked the floor, pouring forth a flood of profanity and
challenges against men who were not present. He had not brought himself
to the point of attacking the unmoved and silent giant. Some of the
younger men, and especially the pleader against mixed drinks, had
succumbed, and were sleeping heavily on the back end of the bar and on
the billiard table. Hank was getting anxious, and the forced smile on
his face was painful to see. Over the whole group there was a singular
air of waiting. No one was enjoying himself, and all wished that they
were on the road home, but there was no way out of it now. It was
evident that Lime purposed forcing the beginning of the battle on Steve.
He sat in statuesque repose.

Steve had got his hat in his hand and held it doubled up like a club,
and every time that he turned in his restless walk he struck the bar a
resounding blow. His eyes seemed to see nothing, although they moved
wildly from side to side.

He lifted up his voice in a raucous snarl. "I'm the man that struck
Billy Patterson! I'm the man that bunted the bull off the bridge!
Anybody got anything to say, now's his time. I'm here. Bring on your
champion."

Foam came into the corners of his mouth, and the veins stood out on his
neck. His red face shone with its swollen veins. He smashed his fists
together, threw his hat on the floor, tramped on it, snarling out
curses. Nothing kept him in check save the imperturbability of the
seated figure. Everybody expected him to clear the saloon to prove his
power.

Bedloe, who was asleep on the table, precipitated matters by rolling off
with a prodigious noise amid a pandemonium of howls and laughter. In his
anxiety to see what was going on, Frank thrust his head violently
against the window, and it crashed in, sending the glass rattling down
on the table.

Steve looked up, a red sheen in his eyes like that of a wild beast.
Instantly his fury burst out against this new object of attention--a
wild, unreasoning rage.

"What you doen' there? Who air ye, ye mangy little dog?"

Both boys sank back in tumultuous, shuddering haste, and rolled down the
embankment, while they heard the voice of Steve thundering: "Fetch the
little whelp here!"

There was a rush from the inside, a sudden outpouring, and the next
moment John felt a hand touch his shoulder. Steve dragged him around to
the front of the saloon before he could draw his breath or utter a
sound. The rest crowded around.

"What are y' doen' there?" said Steve, shaking him with insane
vindictiveness.

"Drop that boy!" said the voice of Lime, and voice never sounded
sweeter. "Drop that boy!" he repeated, and his voice had a peculiar
sound, as if it came through his teeth.

Steve dropped him, and turned with a grating snarl upon Lime, who opened
his way through the excited crowd while Johnny stumbled, leaped and
crawled out of the ring and joined Frank. 

"Oh, it's you, is it? You white-livered"----He did not finish, for the arm
of the blond giant shot out against his face like a beetle, and down he
rolled on the grass. The sound of the blow made Johnny give an involuntary,
quick cry.

"No human bein' could have stood up agin that blow," Crandall said
afterwards. "It was like a mule a-kickin'."

As Steve slowly gained his feet, the silence was so great that Johnny
could hear the thumping of his heart and the fierce, almost articulate
breathing of Steve. The chatter and roar of the drunken crowd had been
silenced by this encounter of the giants. The open door, where Hank
stood, sent a reddish bar of light upon the two men as they faced each
other with a sort of terrific calm. In his swift gaze in search of his
brother, John noticed the dark wood, the river murmuring drowsily over
its foam-wreathed pebbles, and saw his brother's face white with
excitement, but not fear.

Lime's blow had dazed Steve for a moment, but at the same time it had
sobered him. He came to his feet with a rising mutter that sounded like
the swelling snarl of a tiger. He had been taken by surprise before, and
he now came forward with his hands in position, to vindicate his
terrible reputation. The two men met in a frightful struggle. Blows that
meant murder were dealt by each. Each slapping thud seemed to carry the
cracking of bones in it. Steve was the more agile of the two and
circled rapidly around, striking like a boxer.

Every time his face came into view, with set teeth and ferocious scowl,
the boys' spirits fell. But when they saw the calm, determined eyes of
Lime, his watchful, confident look, they grew assured. All depended upon
him. The Nagle gang were like wolves in their growing ferocity, and as
they outnumbered the other party two to one, it was a critical quarter
of an hour. In a swift retrospect they remembered the frightful tales
told of this very spot--of the killing of Lars Peterson and his brother
Nels, and the brutal hammering a crowd of drunken men had given to Big
Ole, of the Wapsy.

The blood was trickling down Lime's face from a cut on his cheek, but
Steve's face was swollen and ghastly from the three blows which he had
received. Lime was saving himself for a supreme effort. The Nagle party,
encouraged by the sound of the blows which Steve struck, began to yell
and to show that they were ready to take a hand in the contest.

"Go it, Steve, we'll back yeh! Give it to 'im. We're with yeh! We'll
tend to the rest." They began to pull off their coats.

Rice also threw off his coat. "Never mind these cowards, Lime. Hold on!
Fair play!" he yelled, as he saw young Nagle about to strike Lime from
behind.

His cry startled Lime, and with a sudden leap he dealt Steve a terrible
blow full in the face, and as he went reeling back made another leaping
lunge and struck him to the ground--a motion that seemed impossible to
one of his bulk. But as he did so one of the crowd tripped him and sent
him rolling upon the prostrate Steve, whose friends leaped like a pack
of snarling wolves upon Lime's back. There came into the giant's heart a
terrible, blind, desperate resolution. With a hoarse, inarticulate cry
he gathered himself for one supreme effort and rose from the heap like a
bear shaking off a pack of dogs; and holding the stunned and nerveless
Steve in his great hands, with one swift, incredible effort literally
swept his opponent's body in the faces of the infuriated men rushing
down upon him.

"Come on, you red hellions!" he shouted, in a voice like a lion at bay.
The light streamed on his bared head, his hands were clinched, his chest
heaved in great gasps. There was no movement. The crowd waited with
their hands lowered; before such a man they could not stand for a
moment. They could not meet the blaze of his eyes. For a moment it
seemed as if no one breathed.

In the silence that followed, Bill, who had kept out of sight up to this
moment, piped out in a high, weak falsetto, with a comically
questioning accent: "All quiet along the Potomac, boys?"

Lime unbraced, wiped his face and laughed. The others joined in
cautiously. "No, thank yez, none in mine," said Sheehan, in answer to
the challenge of Lime. "Whan Oi take to fightin' stame-ingins Oi'll lit
you knaw."

"Well, I should say so," said another. "Lime, you're the best man that
walks this State."

"Git out of the way, you white-livered hound, or I'll blow hell out o'
yeh," said Steve, who had recovered himself sufficiently to know what it
all meant. He lay upon the grass behind the rest and was weakly trying
to get his revolver sighted upon Lime. One of the men caught him by the
shoulder and the rest yelled:

"Hyare, Steve, no shootin'. It was a fair go, and you're whipped."

Steve only repeated his warnings to get out of the way. Lime turned upon
him and kicked the weapon from his outstretched hand, breaking his arm
at the wrist. The bullet went flying harmlessly into the air, and the
revolver hurtled away into the shadows.

Walking through the ring, Lime took John by the hand and said: "Come,
boy, this is no place for you. Let's go home. Fellers," he drawled in
his customary lazy way, "when y' want me you know where to find me.
Come, boys, the circus is over, the last dog is hung."

For the first mile or two there was a good deal of talk, and Bill said
he knew that Lime could whip the whole crowd.

"But where was you, Bill, about the time they had me down? I don't
remember hearin' anything of you 'long about that time, Bill."

Bill had nothing to say.

"Made me think somehow of Daniel in the lions' den," said Johnny.

"What do you mean by that, Johnny?" said Bill. "It made me think of a
circus. The circus there'll be when Lime's woman finds out what he's
been a-doin'."

"Great Scott, boys, you mustn't tell on me," said Lime, in genuine
alarm.

As for John, he lay with his head in Lime's lap, looking up at the glory
of the starlit night, and with a confused mingling of the play, of the
voice of the lovely woman, of the shouts and blows at the brewery in his
mind, and with the murmur of the river and the roll and rumble of the
wagon blending in his ears, he fell into a sleep which the rhythmic beat
of the horses' hoofs did not interrupt.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------



PART VI.


VILLAGE CRONIES: A GAME OF CHECKERS AT THE GROCERY.

  The village life abounds with jokers,
  Shiftless, conscienceless and shrewd.


SOME VILLAGE CRONIES.


Colonel Peavy had just begun the rubber with Squire Gordon, of Cerro
Gordo County. They were seated in Robie's grocery, behind the rusty old
cannon stove, the checker-board spread out on their knees. The Colonel
was grinning in great glee, wringing his bony yellow hands in nervous
excitement, in strong contrast to the stolid calm of the fat Squire.

The Colonel had won the last game by a large margin, and was sure he had
his opponent's dodges well in hand. It was early in the evening, and the
grocery was comparatively empty. Robie was figuring at a desk, and old
Judge Brown stood in legal gravity warming his legs at the red-hot
stove, and swaying gently back and forth in speechless content. It was a
tough night outside, one of the toughest for years. The frost had
completely shut the window panes as with thick blankets of snow. The
streets were silent.

"I don't know," said the Judge, reflectively, to Robie, breaking the
silence in his rasping, judicial bass, "I don't know as there has been
such a night as this since the night of February 2d, '59; that was the
night James Kirk went under--Honorable Kirk, you remember--knew him
well. Brilliant fellow, ornament to Western bar. But whisky downed him.
It'll beat the oldest man--I wonder where the boys all are to-night?
Don't seem to be any one stirring on the street. Ain't frightened out by
the cold?"

"Shouldn't wonder." Robie was busy at his desk, and not in humor for
conversation on reminiscent lines. The two old war-dogs at the board had
settled down to one of those long, silent struggles which ensue when two
champions meet. In the silence which followed, the Judge was looking
attentively at the back of the Colonel, and thinking that the old thief
was getting about down to skin and bone. He turned with a yawn to Robie,
saying:

"This cold weather must take hold of the old Colonel terribly, he's so
damnably thin and bald, you know,--bald as a babe. The fact is, the old
Colonel ain't long for this world, anyway; think so, Hank?" Robie making
no reply, the Judge relapsed into silence for awhile, watching the cat
(perilously walking along the edge of the upper shelf) and listening to
the occasional hurrying footsteps outside. "I don't know _when_ I've
seen the windows closed up so, Hank; go down to thirty below to-night;
devilish strong wind blowing, too; tough night on the prairies, Hank."

"You bet," replied Hank, briefly.

The Colonel was plainly getting excited. His razor-like back curved
sharper than ever as he peered into the intricacies of the board to spy
the trap which the fat Squire had set for him. At this point the squeal
of boots on the icy walk outside paused, and a moment later Amos Ridings
entered, with whiskers covered with ice, and looking like a huge bear in
his buffalo coat.

"By Josephus! it's cold," he roared, as he took off his gloves and began
to warm his face and hands at the fire.

"Is it?" asked the Judge, comfortably, rising on his tiptoes, only to
fall back into his usual attitude legal, legs well spread, shoulders
thrown back.

"You bet it is!" replied Amos. "I d'know when I've felt the cold more'n
I have t'-day. It's jest snifty; doubles me up like a jack-knife, Judge.
How do you stand it?"

"Toler'ble, toler'ble, Amos. But we're agin', we ain't what we were
once. Cold takes hold of us."

"That's a fact," answered Amos to the retrospective musings of the
Judge. "Time was you an' me would go t' singing-school or sleigh-riding
with the girls on a night like this and never notice it."

"Yes, sir; yes, sir!" said the Judge with a sigh. It was a little
uncertain in Robie's mind whether the Judge was regretting the lost
ability to stand the cold, or the lost pleasure of riding with the
girls.

"Great days, those, gentlemen! Lived in Vermont then. Hot-blooded--lungs
like an ox. I remember, Sallie Dearborn and I used to go a-foot to
singing-school down the valley four miles. But now, wouldn't go riding
to-night with the handsomest woman in America, and the best cutter in
Rock River."

"Oh! you've got both feet in the grave up t' the ankles, anyway," said
Robie, from his desk, but the Judge immovably gazed at the upper shelf
on the other side of the room, where the boilers and pans and washboards
were stored.

"The Judge is a little on the sentimental order to-night," said Amos.

"Hold on, Colonel! hold on. You've _got_ 'o jump. Hah! hah!" roared
Gordon from the checker-board. "That's right, that's right!" he ended,
as the Colonel complied reluctantly.

"Sock it to the old cuss!" commented Amos. "What I was going to say," he
resumed, rolling down the collar of his coat, "was, that when my wife
helped me bundle up t-'night, she said I was gitt'n' t' be an old
granny. We _are_ agin', Judge, the's no denyin' that. We're both gray as
Norway rats now. An' speaking of us agin' reminds me,--have y' noticed
how bald the old Kyernel's gitt'n'?"

"I have, Amos," answered the Judge, mournfully. "The old man's head is
showing age, showing age! Getting thin up there, ain't it?"

The old Colonel bent to his work with studied abstraction, and even when
Amos said, judicially, after long scrutiny: "Yes, he'll soon be as bald
as a plate," he only lifted one yellow, freckled, bony hand, and brushed
his carroty growth of hair across the spot under discussion. Gordon
shook his fat paunch in silent laughter, nearly displacing the board.

"I was just telling Robie," pursued Brown, still retaining his
reminiscent intonation, "that this storm takes the cake over
anything"----

At this point Steve Roach and another fellow entered. Steve was Ridings'
hired hand, a herculean fellow, with a drawl, and a liability for taking
offense quite as remarkable.

"Say! gents, I'm no spring rooster, but this jest gits away with
anything in line of cold _I_ ever see."

While this communication was being received in ruminative silence, Steve
was holding his ears in his hand and gazing at the intent champions at
the board. There they sat; the old Squire panting and wheezing in his
excitement, for he was planning a great "snap" on the Colonel, whose
red and freckled nose almost touched the board. It was a solemn battle
hour. The wind howled mournfully outside, the timbers of the store
creaked in the cold, and the huge cannon stove roared in steady bass.

"Speaking about ears," said Steve, after a silence, "dummed if I'd like
t' be quite s' bare 'round the ears as Kernel there. I wonder if any o'
you fellers has noticed how the ol' feller's lost hair this last summer.
He's gittin' bald, they's no coverin' it up--gittin' bald as a plate."

"You're right, Stephen," said the Judge, as he gravely took his stand
behind his brother advocate and studied, with the eye of an adept, the
field of battle. "We were noticing it when you came in. It's a sad
thing, but it must be admitted."

"It's the Kyernel's brains wearin' up through his hair, I take it,"
commented Amos, as he helped himself to a handful of peanuts out of the
bag behind the counter. "Say, Steve, did y' stuff up that hole in front
of ol' Barney?"

A shout was heard outside, and then a rush against the door, and
immediately two young fellows burst in, followed by a fierce gust of
snow. One was Professor Knapp, the other Editor Foster, of the _Morning
Call_.

"Well, gents, how's this for high?" said Foster, in a peculiar tone of
voice, at which all began to smile. He was a slender fellow with
close-clipped, assertive red hair. "In this company we now have the
majesty of the law, the power of the press, and the underpinning of the
American civilization all represented. Hello! There are a couple of old
roosters with their heads together. Gordon, my old enemy, how are you?"

Gordon waved him off with a smile and a wheeze. "Don't bother me now.
I've got 'im. I'm laying f'r the old dog. Whist!"

"Got nothing!" snarled the Colonel. "You try that on if you want to.
Just swing that man in there if you think it's healthy for him. Just as
like as not, you'll slip up on that little trick."

"Ha! Say you so, old True Penny? The Kunnel has met a foeman worthy of
his steel," said Foster, in great glee, as he bent above the Colonel. "I
know. _How_ do I know, quotha? By the curve on the Kunnel's back. The
size of the parabola described by that backbone accurately gauges his
adversary's skill. But, by the way, gentlemen, have you--but that's a
nice point, and I refer all nice points to Professor Knapp. Professor,
is it in good taste to make remarks concerning the dress or features of
another?"

"Certainly not," answered Knapp, a handsome young fellow with a yellow
mustache.

"Not when the person is an esteemed public character, like the Colonel
here? What I was about to remark, if it had been proper, was that the
old fellow is getting wofully bald. He'll soon be bald as an egg."

"Say!" asked the Colonel, "I want to know how long you're going to keep
this thing up? Somebody's dummed sure t' get hurt soon."

"There, there! Colonel," said Brown, soothingly, "don't get excited;
you'll lose the rubber. Don't mind 'em. Keep cool."

"Yes, keep cool, Kunnel; it's only our solicitude for your welfare,"
chipped in Foster. Then, addressing the crowd in a general sort of way,
he speculated: "Curious how a man, a plain American citizen like Colonel
Peavy, wins a place in the innermost affections of a whole people."

"That's so!" murmured the rest.

"He can't grow bald without deep sympathy from his fellow-citizens. It
amounts to a public calamity."

The old Colonel glared in speechless wrath.

"Say! gents," pleaded Gordon, "let up on the old man for the present.
He's going to need all of himself if he gets out o' the trap he's in
now." He waved his fat hand over the Colonel's head, and smiled blandly
at the crowd hugging the stove.

"My head may be bald," grated the old man with a death's-head grin,
indescribably ferocious, "but it's got brains enough in it to skunk any
man in this crowd three games out o' five."

"The ol' man rather gits the laugh on y' there, gents," called Robie
from the other side of the counter. "I hain't seen the old skeesix play
better'n he did last night, in years."

"Not since his return from Canada, after the war, I reckon," said Amos,
from the kerosene barrel.

"Hold on, Amos," put in the Judge warningly, "that's outlawed. Talking
about being bald and the war reminds me of the night Walters and I----
By the way, where is Walters to-night?"

"Sick," put in the Colonel, straightening up exultantly. "I waxed him
three straight games last night. You won't see him again till spring.
Skunked him once, and beat him twice."

"Oh, git out."

"Hear the old seed twitter!"

"Did you ever notice, gentlemen, how lying and baldness go together?"
queried Foster, reflectively.

"No! Do they?"

"Invariably. I've known many colossal liars, and they were all as bald
as apples."

The Colonel was getting nervous, and was so slow that even Gordon (who
could sit and stare at the board a full half hour without moving) began
to be impatient.

"Come, Colonel, marshal your forces a little more promptly. If you're
going at me _echelon_, sound y'r bugle; I'm ready."

"Don't worry," answered the Colonel, in his calmest nasal. "I'll
accommodate you with all the fight you want."

"Did it ever occur to you," began the Judge again, addressing the crowd
generally, as he moved back to the stove and lit another cigar, "did it
ever occur to you that it is a little singular a man should get bald on
the _top_ of his head first? Curious fact. So accustomed to it we no
longer wonder at it. Now see the Colonel there. Quite a growth of hair
on his clapboarding, as it were, but devilish thin on his roof."

Here the Colonel looked up and tried to say something, but the Judge
went on imperturbably:

"Now, I take it that it's strictly providential that a man gets bald on
top of his head first, because, if he _must_ get bald, it is best to get
bald where it can be covered up."

"By jinks, that's a fact!" said Foster, in high admiration of the
Judge's ratiocination. Steve was specially pleased, and, drawing a
neck-yoke from a barrel standing near, pounded the floor vigorously.

"Talking about being bald," put in Foster, "reminds me of a scheme of
mine, which is to send no one out to fight Indians but bald men. Think
how powerless they'd be in"----

The talk now drifted off to Indians, politics and religion, edged round
to the war, when the grave Judge began telling Ridings and Robie just
how "Kilpatrick charged along the Granny White Turnpike," and, on a
sheet of wrapping-paper, was showing where Major John Dilrigg fell. "I
was on his left, about thirty yards, when I saw him throw up his
hand"----

Foster in a low voice was telling something to the Professor and two or
three others, which made them whoop with uncontrollable merriment, when
the roaring voice of big Sam Walters was heard outside, and a moment
later he rolled into the room, filling it with his noise. Lottridge, the
watchmaker, and Erlberg, the German baker, came in with him.

"_Hello_, hello, _hello_! All here, are yeh?"

"All here waiting for you--and the turnkey," said Foster.

"Well, here I am. Always on hand, like a sore thumb in huskin' season.
What's goin' on here? A game, hey? Hello, Gordon, it's you, is it?
Colonel, I owe you several for last night. But what the devil yo' got
your cap on fur, Colonel? Ain't it warm enough here for yeh?"

The desperate Colonel, who had snatched up his cap when he heard Walters
coming, grinned painfully, pulling his straggly red and white beard
nervously. The strain was beginning to tell on his iron nerves. He
removed the cap, and with a few muttered words went back to the game,
but there was a dangerous gleam in his fishy blue eyes, and the grizzled
tufts of red hair above his eyes lowered threateningly. A man who is
getting swamped in a game of checkers is not in a mood to bear
pleasantly any remarks on his bald head.

"Oh! don't take it off, Colonel," went on his tormentor, hospitably.
"When a man gets as old as you are, he's privileged to wear his cap. I
wonder if any of you fellers have noticed how the Colonel is shedding
his hair."

The old man leaped up, scattering the men on the checkerboard, which
flew up and struck Squire Gordon in the face, knocking him off his
stool. The old Colonel was ashy pale, and his eyes glared out from under
his huge brow like sapphires lit by flame. His spare form, clothed in a
seedy Prince Albert frock, towered with a singular dignity. His features
worked convulsively a moment, then he burst forth like the explosion of
a safety valve:

"Shuttup, damyeh!"

And then the crowd whooped, roared and rolled on the counters and
barrels, and roared and whooped again. They stamped and yelled, and ran
around like fiends, kicking the boxes and banging the coal scuttle in a
perfect pandemonium of mirth, leaving the old man standing there
helpless in his wrath, mad enough to shoot. Steve was just preparing to
seize the old man from behind, when Squire Gordon, struggling to his
feet among the spittoons, cried out, in the voice of a colonel of Fourth
of July militia:

"H-O-L-D!"

Silence was restored, and all stood around in expectant attitudes to
hear the Squire's explanation. He squared his elbows, shoved up his
sleeves, puffed out his fat cheeks, moistened his lips, and began
pompously: 

"Gentlemen"----

"You've hit it; that's us," said some of the crowd in applause.

"Gentlemen of Rock River, when, in the course of human events, rumor had
blow'd to my ears the history of the checker-playing of Rock River, and
when I had waxed Cerro Gordo, and Claiborne, and Mower, then, when I say
to my ears was borne the clash of resounding arms in Rock River, the
emporium of Rock County, then did I yearn for more worlds to conquer,
and behold, I buckled on my armor and I am here."

"Behold, he is here," said Foster, in confirmation of the statement.
"Good for you, Squire; git breath and go for us some more."

"Hurrah for the Squire," etc.

"I came seekin' whom I might devour, like a raging lion. I sought foeman
worthy of my steel. I leaped into the arena and blew my challenge to
the four quarters of Rock"----

"Good f'r you! Settemupagin! Go it, you old balloon," they all
applauded.

"Knowing my prowess, I sought a fair fout and no favors. I met the
enemy, and he was mine. Champion after champion went down before me
like--went down like--Ahem! went _down_ before me like grass before the
mighty cyclone of the Andes."

"Listen to the old blowhard," said Steve.

"Put him out," said the speaker, imperturbably. "Gentlemen, have I the
floor?"

"You have," replied Brown, "but come to the point. The Colonel is
anxious to begin shooting." The Colonel, who began to suspect himself
victimized, stood wondering what under heaven they were going to do
next.

"I am a-gitt'n' there," said the orator with a broad and sunny
condescension. "I found your champions an' laid 'em low. I waxed
Walters, and then I tackled the Colonel. I tried the _echelon_, the
'general advance,' then the 'give away' and 'flank' movements. But the
Colonel _was there_! Till this last game it was a fair field and no
favor. And now, gentlemen of Rock, I desire t' state to my deeply
respected opponent that he is still champion of Rock, and I'm not sure
but of Northern Iowa."

"Three cheers for the Kunnel!"

And while they were being given the Colonel's brows relaxed, and the
champion of Cerro Gordo continued earnestly:

"And now I wish to state to Colonel the solemn fact that I had nothing
to do with the job put up on him to-night. I scorn to use such means in
a battle. Colonel, you may be as bald as an apple, or an egg, yes, or a
_plate_, but you can play more checkers than any man I ever met; more
checkers than any other man on God's green footstool. With one single,
lone exception--myself."

At this moment, somebody hit the Squire from Cerro Gordo with a decayed
apple, and as the crowd shouted and groaned Robie turned down the lights
on the tumult. The old Colonel seized the opportunity for putting a
handful of salt down Walters' neck, and slipped out of the door like a
ghost. As the crowd swarmed out on the icy walk, Editor Foster yelled:

"Gents! let me give you a pointer. Keep your eye peeled for the next
edition of the Rock River _Morning Call_."

And the bitter wind swept away the answering shouts of the pitiless
gang.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------



PART VII.


DRIFTING CRANE: THE INDIAN AND THE PIONEER.

  Before them, surely, sullenly and slow,
  The desperate and cheated Indians go.


DRIFTING CRANE.


The people of Boomtown invariably spoke of Henry Wilson as the oldest
settler in the Jim Valley, as he was of Buster County; but the Eastern
man, with his ideas of an "old settler," was surprised as he met the
short, silent, middle-aged man, who was very loath to tell anything
about himself, and about whom many strange and thrilling stories were
told by good story-tellers. In 1879 he was the only settler in the upper
part of the valley, living alone on the banks of the Elm, a slow,
tortuous stream pulsing lazily down the valley, too small to be called a
river and too long to be called a creek. For two years, it is said,
Wilson had only the company of his cattle, especially during the
winter-time, and now and then a visit from an Indian, or a trapper after
mink and musk-rats.

Between his ranch and the settlements in Eastern Dakota there was the
wedge-shaped reservation known as the Sisseton Indian Reserve, on which
were stationed the customary agency and company of soldiers. But, of
course, at that time the Indians were not restricted closely to the
bounds of the reserve, but ranged freely over the vast and beautiful
prairie lying between the coteaux or ranges of low hills which mark out
"the Jim Valley." The valley was unsurveyed for the most part, and the
Indians naturally felt a sort of proprietorship in it, and when Wilson
drove his cattle down into the valley and squatted, the chief, Drifting
Crane, welcomed him, as a host might, to an abundant feast whose
hospitality was presumed upon, but who felt the need of sustaining his
reputation as a host, and submitted graciously.

The Indians during the first summer got to know Wilson, and liked him
for his silence, his courage, his generosity; but the older men pondered
upon the matter a great deal and watched with grave faces to see him
ploughing up the sod for his garden. There was something strange in this
solitary man thus deserting his kindred, coming here to live alone with
his cattle; they could not understand it. What they said in those
pathetic, dimly lighted lodges will never be known; but when winter
came, and the new-comer did not drive his cattle back over the hills as
they thought he would, then the old chieftains took long counsel upon
it. Night after night they smoked upon it, and at last Drifting Crane
said to two of his young men: "Go ask this cattleman why he remains in
the cold and snow with his cattle. Ask him why he does not drive his
cattle home."

This was in March, and one evening a couple of days later, as Wilson was
about re-entering his shanty at the close of his day's work, he was
confronted by two stalwart Indians, who greeted him pleasantly.

"How d'e do? How d'e do?" he said in reply. "Come in. Come in and take a
snack."

The Indians entered and sat silently while he put some food on the
table. They hardly spoke till after they had eaten. The Indian is always
hungry, for the reason that his food supply is insufficient and his
clothing poor. When they sat on the cracker-boxes and soap-boxes which
served as seats, they spoke. They told him of the chieftain's message.
They said they had come to assist him in driving his cattle back across
the hills; that he must go.

To all this talk in the Indian's epigrammatic way, and in the dialect
which has never been written, the rancher replied almost as briefly:
"You go back and tell Drifting Crane that I like this place; that I'm
here to stay; that I don't want any help to drive my cattle. I'm on the
lands of the Great Father at Washington, and Drifting Crane ain't got
any say about it. Now that sizes the whole thing up. I ain't got
anything against you nor against him, but I'm a settler; that's my
constitution; and now I'm settled I'm going to stay."

While the Indians discussed his words between themselves he made a bed
of blankets on the floor and said: "I never turn anybody out. A white
man is just as good as an Indian as long as he behaves himself as well.
You can bunk here."

The Indians didn't understand his words fully, but they did understand
his gesture, and they smiled and accepted the courtesy, so like their
own rude hospitality. Then they all smoked a pipe of tobacco in silence,
and at last Wilson turned in and went serenely off to sleep, hearing the
mutter of the Indians lying before the fire.

In the morning he gave them as good a breakfast as he had--bacon and
potatoes, with coffee and crackers. Then he shook hands, saying: "Come
again. I ain't got anything against you. You've done y'r duty. Now go
back and tell your chief what I've said. I'm at home every day. Good
day."

The Indians smiled kindly, and drawing their blankets over their arms,
went away toward the east.

During April and May two or three reconnoitering parties of land-hunters
drifted over the hills and found him out. He was glad to see them, for,
to tell the truth, the solitude of his life was telling on him. The
winter had been severe, and he had hardly caught a glimpse of a white
face during the three midwinter months, and his provisions were scanty.

These parties brought great news. One of them was the advance surveying
party for a great Northern railroad, and they said a line of road was to
be surveyed during the summer if their report was favorable.

"Well, what d'ye think of it?" Wilson asked, with a smile.

"Think! It's immense!" said a small man in the party, whom the rest
called Judge Balser. "Why, they'll be a town of four thousand
inhabitants in this valley before snow flies. We'll send the surveyors
right over the divide next month."

They sent some papers to Wilson a few weeks later, which he devoured as
a hungry dog might devour a plate of bacon. The papers were full of the
wonderful resources of the Jim Valley. It spoke of the nutritious
grasses for stock. It spoke of the successful venture of the lonely
settler Wilson, how his stock fattened upon the winter grasses without
shelter, etc., what vegetables he grew, etc., etc.

Wilson was reading this paper for the sixth time one evening in May. He
had laid off his boots, his pipe was freshly filled, and he sat in the
doorway in vast content, unmindful of the glory of color that filled the
western sky, and the superb evening chorus of the prairie-chickens,
holding conventions on every hillock. He felt something touch him on the
shoulder, and looked up to see a tall Indian gazing down upon him with a
look of strange pride and gravity. Wilson sprang to his feet and held
out his hand.

"Drifting Crane, how d'e do?"

The Indian bowed, but did not take the settler's hand. Drifting Crane
would have been called old if he had been a white man, and there was a
look of age in the fixed lines of his powerful, strongly modeled face,
but no suspicion of weakness in the splendid poise of his broad,
muscular body. There was a smileless gravity about his lips and eyes
which was very impressive.

"I'm glad to see you. Come in and get something to eat," said Wilson,
after a moment's pause.

The chief entered the cabin and took a seat near the door. He took a cup
of milk and some meat and bread silently, and ate while listening to the
talk of the settler.

"I don't brag on my biscuits, chief, but they _eat_, if a man is hungry
enough. An' the milk's all right. I suppose you've come to see why I
ain't moseying back over the divide?"

The chief, after a long pause, began to speak in a low, slow voice, as
if choosing his words. He spoke in broken English, of course, but his
speech was very direct and plain, and had none of those absurd figures
of rhetoric which romancers invariably put into the mouths of Indians.
His voice was almost lion-like in its depth, and yet was not unpleasant.
It was easy to see that he was a chief by virtue of his own personality.

"Cattleman, my young men brought me bad message from you. They brought
your words to me, saying he will not go away."

"That's about the way the thing stands," replied Wilson, in response to
the question that was in the old chief's steady eyes. "I'm here to stay.
This ain't your land. This is Uncle Sam's land, and part of it'll be
mine as soon as the surveyors come to measure it off."

"Who gave it away?" asked the chief. "My people were cheated out of it.
They didn't know what they were doing."

"I can't help that. That's for Congress to say. That's the business of
the Great Father at Washington." Wilson's voice changed. He knew and
liked the chief; he didn't want to offend him. "They ain't no use making
a fuss, chief. You won't gain anything."

There was a look of deep sorrow in the old man's face. At last he spoke
again: "The cattleman is welcome; but he must go, because whenever one
white man goes and calls it good, the others come. Drifting Crane has
seen it far in the east, twice. The white men come thick as the grass.
They tear up the sod. They build houses. They scare the buffalo away.
They spoil my young men with whisky. Already they begin to climb the
eastern hills. Soon they will fill the valley, and Drifting Crane and
his people will be surrounded. The sod will all be black."

"I hope you're right," was the rancher's grim reply.

"But they will not come if the cattleman go back to say the water is not
good. There is no grass, and the Indians own the land."

Wilson smiled at the childish faith of the chief. "Won't do,
chief--won't do. That won't do any good. I might as well stay."

The chief rose. He was touched by the settler's laugh; his eyes flashed;
his voice took on a sterner note. "The white man _must_ go!"

Wilson rose also. He was not a large man, but he was a very resolute
one. "I shan't go!" he said, through his clinched teeth. Each man
understood the tones of the other perfectly.

It was a thrilling, a significant scene. It was in absolute truth the
meeting of the modern vidette of civilization with one of the rear-guard
of retreating barbarism. Each man was a type; each was wrong, and each
was right. The Indian as true and noble from the barbaric point of view
as the white man. He was a warrior and hunter--made so by circumstances
over which he had no control. Guiltless as the panther, because war to
a savage is the necessity of life.

The settler represented the unflagging energy and fearless heart of the
American pioneer. Narrow-minded, partly brutalized by hard labor and a
lonely life, yet an admirable figure for all that. As he looked into the
Indian's face he seemed to grow in height. He felt behind him all the
weight of the millions of westward-moving settlers; he stood the
representative of an unborn State. He took down a rifle from the
wall--the magazine rifle, most modern of guns; he patted the stock,
pulled the crank, throwing a shell into view.

"You know this thing, chief?"

The Indian nodded slightly.

"Well, I'll go when--this--is--empty."

"But my young men are many."

"So are the white men--my brothers."

The chief's head dropped forward. Wilson, ashamed of his boasting, put
the rifle back on the wall.

"I'm not here to fight. You can kill me any time. You could 'a' killed
me to-night, but it wouldn't do any good. It 'ud only make it worse for
you. Why, they'll be a town in here bigger'n all your tribe before two
grass from now. It ain't no use, Drifting Crane; it's _got_ to be. You
an' I can't help n'r hinder it. I know just how you feel about it, but
I tell yeh it ain't no use to fight."

Drifting Crane turned his head and gazed out on the western sky, still
red with the light of the fallen sun. His face was rigid as bronze, but
there was a dreaming, prophetic look in his eyes. A lump came into the
settler's throat; for the first time in his life he got a glimpse of the
infinite despair of the Indian. He forgot that Drifting Crane was the
representative of a "vagabond race;" he saw in him, or rather _felt_ in
him, something almost magnetic. He was a _man_, and a man of sorrows.
The settler's voice was husky when he spoke again, and his lips
trembled.

"Chief, I'd go to-morrow if it 'ud do any good, but it won't--not a
particle. You know that, when you stop to think a minute. What good did
it do to massa_cree_ all them settlers at New Ulm? What good will it do
to murder me and a hundred others? Not a bit. A thousand others would
take our places. So I might just as well stay, and we might just as well
keep good friends. Killin' is out o' fashion; don't do any good."

There was a twitching about the stern mouth of the Indian chief. He
understood all too well the irresistible logic of the pioneer. He kept
his martial attitude, but his broad chest heaved painfully, and his eyes
grew dim. At last he said: "Good-by. Cattleman right; Drifting Crane
wrong. Shake hands. Good-by." He turned and strode away.

The rancher watched him till he mounted his pony, picketed down by the
river; watched him as, with drooping head and rein flung loose upon the
neck of his horse, he rode away into the dusk, hungry, weary and
despairing, to face his problem alone. Again, for the thousandth time,
the impotence of the Indian's arm and the hopelessness of his fate were
shown as perfectly as if two armies had met and soaked the beautiful
prairie sod with blood.

"This is all wrong," muttered the settler. "There's land enough for us
all, or ought to be. I don't understand----Well, I'll leave it to Uncle
Sam anyway." He ended with a sigh.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------



PART VIII.


OLD DADDY DEERING: THE COUNTRY FIDDLER.

    Like Scotland's harper,
  Or Irish piper, with his droning lays,
  Before the spread of modern life and light
  The country fiddler slowly disappears.


DADDY DEERING.

I.


They were threshing on Farmer Jennings' place when Daddy made his very
characteristic appearance. Milton, a boy of thirteen, was gloomily
holding sacks for the measurer, and the glory of the October day was
dimmed by the suffocating dust, and poisoned by the smarting beards and
chaff which had worked their way down his neck. The bitterness of the
dreaded task was deepened also by contrast with the gambols of his
cousin Billy, who was hunting rats with Growler amid the last sheaves of
the stack bottom. The piercing shrieks of Billy, as he clapped his hands
in murderous glee, mingled now and again with the barking of the dog.

The machine seemed to fill the world with its snarling boom, which
became a deafening yell when the cylinder ran empty for a moment. It was
nearly noon, and the men were working silently, with occasional glances
toward the sun to see how near dinner-time it was. The horses, dripping
with sweat, and with patches of foam under their harness, moved round
and round steadily to the cheery whistle of the driver.

The wild, imperious song of the bell-metal cog-wheel had sung into
Milton's ears till it had become a torture, and every time he lifted his
eyes to the beautiful far-off sky, where the clouds floated like ships,
a lump of rebellious anger rose in his throat. Why should he work in
this choking dust and deafening noise while the hawks could sail and
sweep from hill to hill with nothing to do but play?

Occasionally his uncle, the feeder, smiled down upon him, his face black
as a negro, great goggles of glass and wire-cloth covering his merry
eyes. His great good-nature shone out in the flash of his white teeth,
behind his dusky beard, and he tried to encourage Milton with his smile.
He seemed tireless to the other hands. He was so big and strong. He had
always been Milton's boyish hero. So Milton crowded back the tears that
came into his eyes, and would not let his uncle see how childish he was.

A spectator riding along the road would have remarked upon the lovely
setting for this picturesque scene--the low swells of prairie, shrouded
with faint, misty light from the unclouded sky, the flaming colors of
the trees, the faint sound of cow-bells, and the cheery sound of the
machine. But to be a tourist and to be a toiler in a scene like this
are quite different things.

They were anxious to finish the setting by noon, and so the feeder was
crowding the cylinder to its limit, rolling the grain in with slow and
apparently effortless swaying from side to side, half-buried in the
loose yellow straw. But about eleven o'clock the machine came to a
stand, to wait while a broken tooth was being replaced, and Milton fled
from the terrible dust beside the measuring-spout, and was shaking the
chaff out of his clothing, when he heard a high, snappy, nasal voice
call down from the straw-pile. A tall man, with a face completely masked
in dust, was speaking to Mr. Jennings:

"Say, young man, I guess you'll haf to send another man up here. It's
poorty stiff work f'r two; yes, sir, poorty stiff."

"There, there! I thought you'd cry 'cavy,'" laughed Mr. Jennings. "I
told you it wasn't the place for an old man."

"Old man," snarled the figure in the straw. "I ain't so old but I can
daown you, sir--yessir, condemmit, yessir!"

"I'm your man," replied Jennings, smiling up at him.

The man rolled down the side of the stack, disappearing in a cloud of
dust and chaff. When he came to light, Milton saw a tall, gaunt old man
of sixty years of age, or older. Nothing could be seen but a dusty
expanse of face, ragged beard, and twinkling, sharp little eyes. His
color was lost, his eyes half hid. Without waiting for ceremony, the men
clinched. The crowd roared with laughter, for though Jennings was the
younger, the older man was a giant still, and the struggle lasted for
some time. He made a gallant fight, but his breath gave out, and he lay
at last flat on his back.

"I wish I was your age, young man," he said ruefully, as he rose. "I'd
knock the heads o' these young scamps t'gether--yessir!--I could do it,
too!".

"Talk's a good dog, uncle," said a young man.

The old man turned on him so ferociously that he fled.

"Run, condemn yeh! I own y' can beat me at that."

His face was not unpleasant, though his teeth were mainly gone, and his
skin the color of leather and wrinkled as a pan of cream. His eyes had a
certain sparkle of fun that belied his rasping voice, which seemed to
have the power to lift a boy clean off his feet. His frame was bent and
thin, but of great height and breadth, bony and tough as hickory. At
some far time vast muscles must have rolled on those giant limbs, but
toil had bent and stiffened him.

"Never been sick a day 'n my life; no, sir!" he said, in his rapid,
rasping, emphatic way, as they were riding across the stubble to dinner.
"And by gol! I c'n stand as long at the tail of a stacker as any man,
sir. Dummed if I turn my hand for any man in the State; no, sir; no,
sir! But if I do two men's works, I am goin' to have two men's
pay--that's all, sir!"

Jennings laughed and said: "All right, uncle. I'll send another man up
there this afternoon."

The old man seemed to take a morbid delight in the hard and dirty
places, and his endurance was marvelous. He could stand all day at the
tail of a stacker, tirelessly pushing the straw away with an indifferent
air, as if it were all mere play.

He measured the grain the next day, because it promised to be a noisier
and dustier job than working in the straw, and it was in this capacity
that Milton came to know and to hate him, and to associate him with that
most hated of all tasks, the holding of sacks. To a twelve-year-old boy
it seems to be the worst job in the world.

All day while the hawks wheel and dip in the glorious air, and the trees
glow like banks of roses; all day, while the younger boys are tumbling
about the sun-lit straw, to be forced to stand holding sacks, like a
convict, was maddening. Daddy, whose rugged features, bent shoulders and
ragged cap loomed through the suffocating, blinding dust, necessarily
came to seem like the jailer who held the door to freedom.

And when the dust and noise and monotony seemed the very hardest to bear
the old man's cackling laugh was sure to rise above the howl of the
cylinder.

"Nem mind, sonny! Chaff ain't pizen; dust won't hurt ye a mite." And
when Milton was unable to laugh the old man tweaked his ear with his
leathery thumb and finger.

Then he shouted long, disconnected yarns, to which Milton could make
neither head nor tail, and which grew at last to be inaudible to him,
just as the steady boom and snarl of the great machine did. Then he fell
to studying the old man's clothes, which were a wonder to him. He spent
a good deal of time trying to discover which were the original sections
of the coat, and especially of the vest, which was ragged and yellow
with age, with the cotton-batting working out; and yet Daddy took the
greatest care of it, folding it carefully and putting it away during the
heat of the day out of reach of the crickets.

One of his peculiarities, as Mrs. Jennings learned on the second day,
was his habit of coming to breakfast. But he always earned all he got,
and more too; and, as it was probable that his living at home was
frugal, Mrs. Jennings smiled at his thrift, and quietly gave him his
breakfast if he arrived late, which was not often.

He had bought a little farm not far away, and settled down into a mode
of life which he never afterward changed. As he was leaving at the end
of the third day, he said:

"Now, sir; if you want any bootcherin' done, I'm y'r man. I don't turn
m' hand over f'r any man in the State; no, sir! I c'n git a hawg on the
gambrils jest a leetle quicker'n any other man I ever see; yes, sir; by
gum!"

"All right, uncle; I'll send for you when I'm ready to kill."



II.


Hog-killing was one of the events of a boy's life on a Western farm, and
Daddy was destined to be associated in the minds of Shep and Milton with
another disagreeable job, that of building the fire and carrying water.

It was very early on a keen, biting morning in November when Daddy came
driving into the yard with his rude, long-runnered sled, one horse half
his length behind the other in spite of the driver's clucking. He was
delighted to catch the boys behind in the preparation.

"A-a-h-h-r-r-h-h!" he rasped out, "you lazy vagabon's? Why ain't you got
that fire blazin'? What the devil do y' mean, you rascals! Here it is
broad daylight, and that fire not built. I vum, sir, you need a
thrashin', the whole kit an bilun' of ye; yessir! Come, come, come!
hustle now, stir your boots! hustle y'r boots--Ha! ha! ha!"

It was of no use to plead cold weather and damp chips.

"What has that got to do with it, sir? I vum, sir, when I was your age,
I could make a fire of green red-oak; yessir! Don't talk to me of colds!
Stir your stumps and get warm, sir!"

The old man put up his horses (and fed them generously with oats), and
then went to the house to ask for "a leetle something hot--mince pie or
sassidge." His request was very modest, but, as a matter of fact, he sat
down and ate a very hearty breakfast, while the boys worked away at the
fire under the big kettle.

The hired man, under Daddy's direction, drew the bob-sleighs into
position on the sunny side of the corn-crib, and arranged the barrel at
the proper slant while the old man ground his knives, Milton turning the
grindstone--another hateful task, which Daddy's stories could not
alleviate.

Daddy never finished a story. If he started in to tell about a
horse-trade, it infallibly reminded him of a cattle trade, and talking
of cattle switched him off upon logging, and logging reminded him of
some heavy snow-storms he had known. Each parenthesis outgrew its
proper limits, till he forgot what should have been the main story. His
stories had some compensation, for when he stopped to try to recollect
where he was, the pressure on the grindstone was released.

At last the water was hot, and the time came to seize the hogs. This was
the old man's great moment. He stood in the pen and shrieked with
laughter while the hired men went rolling, one after the other, upon the
ground, or were bruised against the fence by the rush of the burly
swine.

"You're a fine lot," he laughed. "Now, then, sir, _grab 'im_! Why don't
ye nail 'im? I vum, sir, if I couldn't do better'n that, sir, I'd sell
out; I would, sir, by gol! Get out o' the way!"

With a lofty scorn he waved aside all help and stalked like a gladiator
toward the pigs huddled in one corner of the pen. And when the selected
victim was rushing by him, his long arm and great bony hand swept out,
caught him by the ear and flung him upon his side, squealing with
deafening shrillness. But in spite of his smiling concealment of effort,
Daddy had to lean against the fence and catch his breath even while he
boasted:

"I'm an old codger, sir, but I'm worth--a dozen o' you--spindle-legged
chaps; dum me if I ain't, sir!"

His pride in his ability to catch and properly kill a hog was as genuine
as the old knight-errant's pride in his ability to stick a knife into
another steel-clothed brigand like himself. When the slain shote was
swung upon the planking on the sled before the barrel, Daddy rested,
while the boys filled the barrel with water from the kettle.

There was always a weird charm about this stage of the work to the boys.
The sun shone warm and bright in the lee of the corn-crib; the steam
rose up, white and voluminous, from the barrel; the eaves dropped
steadily; the hens ventured near, nervously, but full of curiosity,
while the men laughed and joked with Daddy, starting him off on long
stories, and winking at each other when his back was turned.

At last he mounted his planking, selecting Mr. Jennings to pull upon the
other handle of the hog-hook. He considered he conferred a distinct
honor in this selection.

"The time's been, sir, when I wouldn't thank any man for his help. No,
sir, wouldn't thank 'im."

"What do you do with these things?" asked one of the men, kicking two
iron candlesticks which the old man laid conveniently near.

"Scrape a hawg with them, sir? What did y' s'pose, you numbskull?"

"Well, I never saw anything"----

"You'll have a chance mighty quick, sir. Grab ahold, sir! Swing 'im
around--there! Now easy, easy! Now, then, one, two; one, two--that's
right."

While he dipped the porker in the water, pulling with his companion
rhythmically upon the hook, he talked incessantly, mixing up scraps of
stories and boastings of what he could do, with commands of what he
wanted the other man to do.

"The best man I ever worked with. _Now turn 'im, turn 'im!_" he yelled,
reaching over Jennings' wrist. "Grab under my wrist. There! won't ye
never learn how to turn a hawg? _Now, out with 'im!_" was his next wild
yell, as the steaming hog was jerked out of the water upon the planking.
"Now try the hair on them ears! Beautiful scald," he said, clutching his
hand full of bristles and beaming with pride. "Never see anything finer.
Here, Bub, a pail of hot water, quick! Try one of them candlesticks!
They ain't no better scraper than the bottom of an old iron candlestick;
no, sir! Dum your new-fangled scrapers! I made a bet once with old Jake
Ridgeway that I could scrape the hair off'n two hawgs, by gum, quicker'n
he could one. Jake was blowin' about a new scraper he had ...

"Yes, yes, yes, dump it right into the barrel. Condemmit! Ain't you got
no gumption?... So Sim Smith, he held the watch. Sim was a mighty good
hand t' work with; he was about the only man I ever sawed with who didn't
ride the saw. He could jerk a cross-cut saw.... Now let him in again,
now; _he-ho_, once again! _Roll him over now_; that foreleg needs a tech
o' water. Now out with him again; that's right, that's right! By gol, a
beautiful scald as ever I see!"

Milton, standing near, caught his eye again. "Clean that ear, sir! What
the devil you standin' there for?" He returned to his story after a
pause. "A--n--d Jake he scraped away--_Hyare_," he shouted, suddenly,
"don't ruggle the skin like that! Can't you see the way I do it? Leave
it smooth as a baby, sir--yessir!"

He worked on in this way all day, talking unceasingly, never shirking a
hard job, and scarcely showing fatigue at any moment.

"I'm short o' breath a leetle, that's all; never git tired, but my wind
gives out. Dum cold got on me, too."

He ate a huge supper of liver and potatoes, still working away hard at
an ancient horse-trade, and when he drove off at night, he had not yet
finished a single one of the dozen stories he had begun.



III.


But pitching grain and hog-killing were on the lower levels of his art,
for above all else Daddy loved to be called upon to play the fiddle for
dances. He "officiated" for the first time at a dance given by one of
the younger McTurgs. They were all fiddlers themselves--had been for
three generations--but they seized the opportunity of helping Daddy and
at the same time of relieving themselves of the trouble of furnishing
the music while the rest danced.

Milton attended this dance, and saw Daddy for the first time earning his
money pleasantly. From that time on the associations around his
personality were less severe, and they came to like him better. He came
early, with his old fiddle in a time-worn white-pine box. His hair was
neatly combed to the top of his long, narrow head, and his face was very
clean. The boys all greeted him with great pleasure, and asked him where
he would sit.

"Right on that table, sir; put a chair up there."

He took his chair on the kitchen-table as if it were a throne. He wore
huge moccasins of moose-hide on his feet, and for special occasions like
this added a paper collar to his red woolen shirt. He took off his coat
and laid it across his chair for a cushion. It was all very funny to the
young people, but they obeyed him laughingly, and while they "formed
on," he sawed his violin and coaxed it up to concert pitch, and twanged
it and banged it into proper tunefulness.

"A-a-a-ll-ready there!" he rasped out, with prodigious force. "Everybody
git into his place!" Then, lifting one huge foot, he put the fiddle
under his chin, and, raising his bow till his knuckles touched the
strings, he yelled, "Already, G'LANG!" and brought his foot down with a
startling bang on the first note. _Rye doodle doo, doodle doo._

As he went on and the dancers fell into rhythm, the clatter of heavy
boots seemed to thrill him with old-time memories, and he kept
boisterous time with his foot while his high, rasping nasal rang high
above the confusion of tongues and heels and swaying forms.

"_Ladies_' gran' change! FOUR hands round! _Bal_-ance all! _Elly_-man
left! Back to play-cis."

His eyes closed in a sort of intoxication of pleasure, but he saw all
that went on in some miraculous way.

"_First_ lady lead to the right--_toodle rum rum! Gent_ foller after
(step along thar)! Four hands round"----

The boys were immensely pleased with him. They delighted in his antics
rather than in his tunes, which were exceedingly few and simple. They
seemed never to be able to get enough of one tune which he called
"Honest John," and which he played in his own way, accompanied by a
chant which he meant, without doubt, to be musical.

"HON-ers tew your pardners--_tee teedle deedle dee dee dee dee!_ Stand
up straight an' put on your style! _Right_ an' left four"----

The hat was passed by the floor-manager during the evening, and Daddy
got nearly three dollars, which delighted Milton very much.

At supper he insisted on his prerogative, which was to take the
prettiest girl out to supper.

"Look-a-here, Daddy, ain't that crowdin' the mourners?" objected the
others.

"What do you mean by that, sir? No, sir! Always done it, in Michigan and
Yark State both; yes, sir."

He put on his coat ceremoniously, while the tittering girls stood about
the room waiting. He did not delay. His keen eyes had made selection
long before, and, approaching Rose Watson with old-fashioned, elaborate
gallantry, he said: "_May_ I have the pleasure?" and marched out
triumphantly, amidst shouts of laughter.

His shrill laugh rang high above the rest at the table, as he said: "I'm
the youngest man in this crowd, sir! Demmit, I bet a hat I c'n dance
down any man in this crowd; yes, sir. The old man can do it yet."

They all took sides in order to please him.

"I'll bet he can," said Hugh McTurg; "I'll bet a dollar on Daddy."

"I'll take the bet," said Joe Randall, and with great noise the match
was arranged to come the first thing after supper.

"All right, sir; any time, sir. I'll let you know the old man is on
earth yet."

While the girls were putting away the supper dishes, the young man lured
Daddy out into the yard for a wrestling-match, but some of the others
objected.

"Oh, now, that won't do! If Daddy was a young man"----

"What do you mean, sir? I am young enough for you, sir. Just let me get
ahold o' you, sir, and I'll show you, you young rascal! you dem
jackanapes!" he ended, almost shrieking with rage, as he shook his fist
in the face of his grinning tormentors.

The others held him back with much apparent alarm, and ordered the other
fellows away.

"There, there, Daddy, I wouldn't mind him! I wouldn't dirty my hands on
him; he ain't worth it. Just come inside, and we'll have that
dancing-match now."

Daddy reluctantly returned to the house, and, having surrendered his
violin to Hugh McTurg, was ready for the contest. As he stepped into the
middle of the room he was not altogether ludicrous. His rusty trousers
were bagged at the knee, and his red woolen stockings showed between the
tops of his moccasins and his pantaloon-legs; and his coat, utterly
characterless as to color and cut, added to the stoop in his shoulders,
and yet there was a rude sort of grace and a certain dignity about his
bearing which kept down laughter. They were to have a square dance of
the old-fashioned sort.

"_Farrm_ on," he cried, and the fiddler struck out the first note of the
Virginia Reel. Daddy led out Rose, and the dance began. He straightened
up till his tall form towered above the rest of the boys like a
weather-beaten pine-tree, as he balanced and swung and led and called
off the changes with a voice full of imperious command.

The fiddler took a malicious delight toward the last in quickening the
time of the good old dance, and that put the old man on his mettle.

"Go it, ye young rascal!" he yelled. He danced like a boy and yelled
like a demon, catching a laggard here and there, and hurling them into
place like tops, while he kicked and stamped, wound in and out and waved
his hands in the air with a gesture which must have dated back to the
days of Washington. At last, flushed, breathless, but triumphant, he
danced a final break-down to the tune of "Leather Breeches," to show he
was unsubdued.



IV.


But these rare days passed away. As the country grew older it lost the
wholesome simplicity of pioneer days, and Daddy got a chance to play but
seldom. He no longer pleased the boys and girls--his music was too
monotonous and too simple. He felt this very deeply. Once in a while he
broke out to some of the old neighbors in protest against the changes.

"The boys I used to trot on m' knee are gittin' too high-toned. They
wouldn't be found dead with old Deering, and then the preachers are
gittin' thick, and howlin' agin dancin', and the country's filling up
with Dutchmen, so't I'm left out."

As a matter of fact, there were few homes now where Daddy could sit on
the table, in his ragged vest and rusty pantaloons, and play "Honest
John," while the boys thumped about the floor. There were few homes
where the old man was even a welcome visitor, and he felt this rejection
keenly. The women got tired of seeing him about, because of his
uncleanly habits of spitting and his tiresome stories. Many of the old
neighbors had died or moved away, and the young people had gone West or
to the cities. Men began to pity him rather than laugh at him, which
hurt him more than their ridicule. They began to favor him at threshing
or at the fall hog-killing.

"Oh, you're getting old, Daddy; you'll have to give up this heavy work.
Of course, if you feel able to do it, why, all right! Like to have you
do it, but I guess we'll have to have a man to do the heavy lifting, I
s'pose."

"I s'pose not, sir! I am jest as able to yank a hawg as ever, sir; yes,
sir, demmit--demmit! Do you think I've got one foot in the grave?"

Nevertheless, Daddy often failed to come to time on appointed days, and
it was painful to hear him trying to explain, trying to make light of it
all.

"M' caugh wouldn't let me sleep last night. A gol-dum leetle, nasty,
ticklin' caugh, too; but it kept me awake, fact was, an'--well, m' wife,
she said I hadn't better come. But don't you worry, sir; it won't happen
again, sir; no, sir."

His hands got stiffer year by year, and his simple tunes became
practically a series of squeaks and squalls. There came a time when the
fiddle was laid away almost altogether, for his left hand got caught in
the cog-wheels of the horse-power, and all four of the fingers on that
hand were crushed. Thereafter he could only twang a little on the
strings. It was not long after this that he struck his foot with the ax
and lamed himself for life.

As he lay groaning in bed, Mr. Jennings went in to see him and tried to
relieve the old man's feelings by telling him the number of times he had
practically cut his feet off, and said he knew it was a terrible hard
thing to put up with.

"Gol dummit, it ain't the pain," the old sufferer yelled, "it's the dum
awkwardness. I've chopped all my life; I can let an ax in up to the
maker's name, and hew to a hair-line; yes, sir! It was jest them dum new
mittens my wife made; they was s' slippery," he ended, with a groan.

As a matter of fact, the one accident hinged upon the other. It was the
failure of his left hand, with its useless fingers, to do its duty, that
brought the ax down upon his foot. The pain was not so much physical as
mental. To think that he, who could hew to a hair-line, right and left
hand, should cut his own foot like a ten-year-old boy--that scared him.
It brought age and decay close to him. For the first time in his life he
felt that he was fighting a losing battle.

A man like this lives so much in the flesh that when his limbs begin to
fail him, everything else seems slipping away. He had gloried in his
strength. He had exulted in the thrill of his life-blood and in the
swell of his vast muscles; he had clung to the idea that he was strong
as ever, till this last blow came upon him, and then he began to think
and to tremble.

When he was able to crawl about again, he was not the same man. He was
gloomy and morose, snapping and snarling at all that came near him, like
a wounded bear. He was alone a great deal of the time during the winter
following his hurt. Neighbors seldom went in, and for weeks he saw no
one but his hired hand, and the faithful, dumb little old woman, his
wife, who moved about without any apparent concern or sympathy for his
suffering. The hired hand, whenever he called upon the neighbors, or
whenever questions were asked, said that Daddy hung around over the
stove most of the time, paying no attention to any one or anything. "He
ain't dangerous 'tall," he said, meaning that Daddy was not dangerously
ill.

Milton rode out from school one winter day with Bill, the hand, and was
so much impressed with his story of Daddy's condition that he rode home
with him. He found the old man sitting bent above the stove, wrapped in
a quilt, shivering and muttering to himself. He hardly looked up when
Milton spoke to him, and seemed scarcely to comprehend what he said.

Milton was much alarmed at the terrible change, for the last time he had
seen him he had towered above him, laughingly threatening to "warm his
jacket," and now here he sat, a great hulk of flesh, his mind flickering
and flaring under every wind of suggestion, soon to go out altogether.

In reply to questions he only muttered with a trace of his old spirit:
"I'm all right. Jest as good a man as I ever was, only I'm cold. I'll be
all right when spring comes, so 't I c'n git outdoors. Somethin' to warm
me up, yessir; I'm cold, that's all."

The young fellow sat in awe before him, but the old wife and Bill moved
about the room, taking very little interest in what the old man said or
did. Bill at last took down the violin. "I'll wake him up," he said.
"This always fetches the old feller. Now watch 'im."

"Oh, don't do that!" Milton said, in horror. But Bill drew the bow
across the strings in the same way that Daddy always did when tuning up.

He lifted his head as Bill dashed into "Honest John," in spite of
Milton's protest. He trotted his feet after a little and drummed with
his hands on the arms of his chair, then smiled a little in a pitiful
way. Finally he reached out his right hand for the violin and took it
into his lap. He tried to hold the neck with his poor, old, mutilated
left hand and burst into tears.

"Don't you do that again, Bill," Milton said. "It's better for him to
forget that. Now you take the best care of him you can to-night. I don't
think he's going to live long; I think you ought to go for the doctor
right off."

"Oh, he's been like this for the last two weeks; he ain't sick, he's
jest old, that's all," replied Bill, brutally.

And the old lady, moving about without passion and without speech,
seemed to confirm this; and yet Milton was unable to get the picture of
the old man out of his mind. He went home with a great lump in his
throat.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next morning, while they were at breakfast, Bill burst wildly into
the room.

"Come over there, all of you; we want you."

They all looked up much scared. "What's the matter, Bill?"

"Daddy's killed himself," said Bill, and turned to rush back, followed
by Mr. Jennings and Milton.

While on the way across the field Bill told how it all happened.

"He wouldn't go to bed, the old lady couldn't make him, and when I got
up this morning I didn't think nothin' about it. I s'posed, of course,
he'd gone to bed all right, but when I was going out to the barn I
stumbled across something in the snow, and I felt around, and there he
was. He got hold of my revolver someway. It was on the shelf by the
washstand, and I s'pose he went out there so 't we wouldn't hear him."
"I dassn't touch him," he said, with a shiver; "and the old woman, she
jest slumped down in a chair an set there--wouldn't do a thing--so I
come over to see you."

Milton's heart swelled with remorse. He felt guilty because he had not
gone directly for the doctor. To think that the old sufferer had killed
himself was horrible and seemed impossible.

The wind was blowing the snow, cold and dry, across the yard, but the
sun shone brilliantly upon the figure in the snow as they came up to it.
There Daddy lay. The snow was in his scant hair and in the hollow of his
vast, half-naked chest. A pistol was in his hand, but there was no mark
upon him, and Milton's heart leaped with quick relief. It was delirium,
not suicide.

There was a sort of majesty in the figure half-buried in the snow. His
hands were clenched, and there was a frown of resolution on his face, as
if he had fancied Death coming and had gone defiantly forth to meet
him.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------



PART IX.

THE SOCIABLE AT DUDLEY'S: DANCING THE "WEEVILY WHEAT."

    "Good night, Lettie!"
    "Goodnight, Ben!"
    (The moon is sinking at the west.)
  "Good night, my sweetheart." Once again
  The parting kiss, while comrades wait
  Impatient at the roadside gate,
  And the red moon sinks beyond the west.


THE SOCIABLE AT DUDLEY'S.

I.


John Jennings was not one of those men who go to a donation party with
fifty cents' worth of potatoes and eat and carry away two dollars' worth
of turkey and jelly-cake. When he drove his team around to the front
door for Mrs. Jennings, he had a sack of flour and a quarter of a fine
fat beef in his sleigh and a five-dollar bill in his pocket-book, a
contribution to Elder Wheat's support.

Milton, his twenty-year-old son, was just driving out of the yard,
seated in a fine new cutter, drawn by a magnificent gray four-year-old
colt. He drew up as Mr. Jennings spoke.

"Now be sure and don't never leave him a minute untied. And see that the
harness is all right. Do you hear, Milton?"

"Yes, I hear!" answered the young fellow, rather impatiently, for he
thought himself old enough and big enough to look out for himself.

"Don't race, will y', Milton?" was his mother's anxious question from
the depth of her shawls.

"Not if I can help it," was his equivocal response as he chirruped to
Marc Antony. The grand brute made a rearing leap that brought a cry
from the mother and a laugh from the young driver, and swung into the
road at a flying pace. The night was clear and cold, the sleighing
excellent, and the boy's heart was full of exultation.

It was a joy just to control such a horse as he drew rein over that
night. Large, with the long, lithe body of a tiger and the broad, clear
limbs of an elk, the gray colt strode away up the road, his hoofs
flinging a shower of snow over the dasher. The lines were like steel
rods; the sleigh literally swung by them; the traces hung slack inside
the thills. The bells clashed out a swift clamor; the runners seemed to
hiss over the snow as the duck-breasted cutter swung round the curves
and softly rose and fell along the undulating road.

On either hand the snow stood billowed against the fences and amid the
wide fields of corn-stalks bleached in the wind. Over in the east, above
the line of timber skirting Cedar Creek, the vast, slightly gibbous moon
was rising, sending along the crusted snow a broad path of light. Other
sleighs could be heard through the still, cold air. Far away a party of
four or five were singing a chorus as they spun along the road.

Something sweet and unnamable was stirring in the young fellow's brain
as he spun along in the marvelously still and radiant night. He wished
Eileen were with him. The vast and cloudless blue vault of sky
glittered with stars, which even the radiant moon could not dim. Not a
breath of air was stirring save that made by the swift, strong stride of
the horse.

It was a night for youth and love and bells, and Milton felt this
consciously, and felt it by singing:

  "Stars of the summer night,
   Hide in your azure deeps,--
   She sleeps--my lady sleeps."

He was on his way to get Bettie Moss, one of his old sweethearts, who
had become more deeply concerned with the life of Edwin Blackler. He had
taken the matter with sunny philosophy even before meeting Eileen
Deering at the Seminary, and he was now on his way to bring about peace
between Ed and Bettie, who had lately quarreled. Incidentally he
expected to enjoy the sleigh-ride.

"Stiddy, boy! Ho, boy! _Stiddy_, old fellow," he called soothingly to
Marc, as he neared the gate and whirled up to the door. A girl came to
the door as he drove up, her head wrapped in a white hood, a shawl on
her arms. She had been waiting for him.

"Hello, Milt. That you?"

"It's me. Been waiting?"

"I should say I had. Begun t' think you'd gone back on me. Everybody
else's gone."

"Well! Hop in here before you freeze; we'll not be the last ones there.
Yes, bring the shawl; you'll need it t' keep the snow off your face,"
he called, authoritatively.

"'Tain't snowin', is it?" she asked as she shut the door and came to the
sleigh's side.

"Clear as a bell," he said as he helped her in.

"Then where'll the snow come from?"

"From Marc's heels."

"Goodness sakes! you don't expect me t' ride after _that_ wild-headed
critter, do you?"

His answer was a chirp which sent Marc half-way to the gate before
Bettie could catch her breath. The reins stiffened in his hands. Bettie
clung to him, shrieking at every turn in the road. 

"Milton Jennings, if you tip us over, I'll"----

Milton laughed, drew the colt down to a steady, swift stride, and Bettie
put her hands back under the robe.

"I wonder who that is ahead?" he asked after a few minutes, which
brought them in sound of bells.

"I guess it's Cy Hurd; it sounded like his bells when he went past. I
guess it's him and Bill an' Belle an' Cad Hines."

"Expect to see Ed there?" asked Milton after a little pause.

"I don't care whether I ever see him again or not," she snapped.

"Oh, yes, you do!" he answered, feeling somehow her insincerity.

"Well--I don't!"

Milton didn't care to push the peace-making any further. However, he had
curiosity enough to ask, "What upset things 'tween you 'n Ed?"

"Oh, nothing."

"You mean none o' my business?"

"I didn't say so."

"No, you didn't need to," he laughed, and she joined in.

"Yes, that's Cy Hurd. I know that laugh of his far's I c'n hear it,"
said Bettie as they jingled along. "I wonder who's with him?"

"We'll mighty soon see," said Milton, as he wound the lines around his
hands and braced his feet, giving a low whistle, which seemed to run
through the colt's blood like fire. His stride did not increase in rate,
but its reach grew majestic as he seemed to lengthen and lower. His
broad feet flung great disks of hard-packed snow over the dasher, and
under the clash of his bells the noise of the other team grew plainer.

"Get out of the way," sang Milton, as he approached the other team.
There was challenge and exultation in his tone.

"Hello! In a hurry?" shouted those in front, without increasing their
own pace.

"Ya-as, something of a hurry," drawled Milton in a disguised voice.

"Wa-al? Turn out an' go by if you are."

"No, thankee, I'll just let m' nag nibble the hay out o' your box an'
take it easy."

"Sure o' that?"

"You bet high I am." Milton nudged Bettie, who was laughing with
delight. "It's Bill an' his bays. He thinks there isn't a team in the
country can keep up with him. Get out o' the way there!" he shouted
again. "I'm in a hurry."

"Let 'em out! Let 'em out, Bill," they heard Cy say, and the bays sprang
forward along the level road, the bells ringing like mad, the snow
flying, the girls screaming at every lurch of the sleighs. But Marc's
head still shook haughtily above the end-gate; still the foam from his
lips fell upon the hay in the box ahead.

"Git out o' this! Yip!" yelled Bill to his bays, but Marc merely made a
lunging leap and tugged at the lines as if asking for more liberty.
Milton gave him his head and laughed to see the great limbs rise and
fall like the pistons of an engine. They swept over the weeds like a
hawk skimming the stubble of a wheat field.

"Get out o' the way or I'll run right over your back," yelled Milton
again.

"Try it," was the reply.

"Grab hold of me, Bettie, and lean to the right. When we turn this
corner I'm going to take the inside track and pass 'em."

"You'll tip us over"----

"No, I won't! Do as I tell you."

They were nearing a wide corner, where the road turned to the right and
bore due south through the woods. Milton caught sight of the turn, gave
a quick twist of the lines around his hands, leaned over the dasher and
spoke shrilly:

"Git out o' this, Marc!"

The splendid brute swerved to the right and made a leap that seemed to
lift the sleigh and all into the air. The snow flew in such stinging
showers Milton could see nothing. The sleigh was on one runner, heeling
like a yacht in a gale; the girl was clinging to his neck; he could hear
the bells of the other sleigh to his left; Marc was passing them; he
heard shouts and the swish of a whip. Another convulsive effort of the
gray, and then Milton found himself in the road again, in the moonlight,
where the apparently unwearied horse, with head out-thrust, nostril
wide-blown and body squared, was trotting like a veteran on the track.
The team was behind.

"Stiddy, boy!"

Milton soothed Marc down to a long, easy pace; then turned to Bettie,
who had uncovered her face again.

"How d' y' like it?"

"My sakes! I don't want any more of that. If I'd 'a' known you was goin'
t' drive like that I wouldn't 'a' come. You're worse'n Ed. I expected
every minute we'd be down in the ditch. But, oh! ain't he jest
splendint?" she added, in admiration of the horse.

"Don't y' want to drive him?"

"Oh, yes; let me try. I drive our teams."

She took the lines, and at Milton's suggestion wound them around her
hands. She looked very pretty with the moon shining on her face, her
eyes big and black with excitement, and Milton immediately put his arm
around her and laid his head on her shoulder. 

"Milton Jennings, you don't"----

"Look out," he cried in mock alarm, "don't you drop those lines!" He
gave her a severe hug.

"Milton Jennings, you let go me!"

"That's what you said before."

"Take these lines."

"Can't do it," he laughed; "my hands are cold. Got to warm them, see?" He
pulled off his mitten and put his icy hand under her chin. The horse was
going at a tremendous pace again.

"O-o-o-oh! If you don't take these lines I'll drop 'em, so there!"

"Don't y' do it," he called warningly, but she did, and boxed his ears
soundly while he was getting Marc in hand again. Bettie's rage was
fleeting as the blown breath from Marc's nostrils, and when Milton
turned to her again all was as if his deportment had been grave and
cavalier.

The stinging air made itself felt, and they drew close under their huge
buffalo robes as Marc strode steadily forward. The dark groves fell
behind, the clashing bells marked the rods and miles and kept time to
the songs they hummed.

  "Jingle, bells! Jingle, bells!
   Jingle all the way.
   Oh, what joy it is to ride
   In a one-horse open sleigh."

They overtook another laughing, singing load of young folks--a great
wood sleigh packed full with boys and girls, two and two--hooded girls,
and boys with caps drawn down over their ears. A babel of tongues arose
from the sweeping, creaking bob-sleigh, and rose into the silent air
like a mighty peal of laughter.



II.


A school-house set beneath the shelter of great oaks was the center of
motion and sound. On one side of it the teams stood shaking their bells
under their insufficient blankets, making a soft chorus of fitful trills
heard in the pauses of the merry shrieks of the boys playing "pom-pom
pullaway" across the road before the house, which radiated light and
laughter. A group of young men stood on the porch as Milton drove up.

"Hello, Milt," said a familiar voice as he reined Marc close to the
step.

"That you, Shep?"

"Chuss, it's me," replied Shep.

"How'd you know me so far off?"

"Puh! Don't y' s'pose I know that horse an' those bells--Miss Moss,
allow me"----He helped her out with elaborate courtesy. "The supper and
the old folks are _here_, and the girls and boys and the fun is over to
Dudley's," he explained as he helped Bettie out.

"I'll be back soon's I put my horse up," said Milton to Bettie. "You go
in and get good 'n' warm, and then we'll go over to the house."

"I saved a place in the barn for you, Milt. I knew you'd never let Marc
stand out in the snow," said Shephard as he sprang in beside Milton.

"I knew you would. What's the news? Is Ed here t'night?"

"Yeh-up. On deck with S'fye Kinney. It'll make him _swear_ when he finds
out who Bettie come with."

"Let him. Are the Yohe boys here?"

"Yep. They're alwiss on hand, like a sore thumb. Bill's been drinking,
and is likely to give Ed trouble. He never'll give Bettie up without a
fight. Look out he don't jump onto _your_ neck."

"No danger o' that," said Milton coolly.

The Yohe boys were strangers in the neighborhood. They had come in with
the wave of harvest help from the South and had stayed on into the
winter, making few friends and a large number of enemies among the young
men of "the crick." Everybody admitted that they had metal in them, for
they instantly paid court to the prettiest girls in the neighborhood,
without regard to any prior claims.

And the girls were attracted by these Missourians, their air of
mysterious wickedness and their muscular swagger, precisely as a flock
of barnyard fowl are interested in the strange bird thrust among them.

But the Southerners had muscles like wild-cats, and their feats of broil
and battle commanded a certain respectful consideration. In fact, most
of the young men of the district were afraid of the red-faced, bold-eyed
strangers, one of the few exceptions being Milton, and another Shephard
Watson, his friend and room-mate at the Rock River Seminary. Neither of
these boys being at all athletic, it was rather curious that Bill and
Joe Yohe should treat them with so much consideration.

Bill was standing before the huge cannon stove, talking with Bettie,
when Milton and Shephard returned to the school-house. The man's hard,
black eyes were filled with a baleful fire, and his wolfish teeth shone
through his long red mustache. It made Milton mutter under his breath
to see how innocently Bettie laughed with him. She never dreamed and
could not have comprehended the vileness of the man's whole life and
thought. No lizard reveled in the mud more hideously than he. His
conversation reeked with obscenity. His tongue dropped poison each
moment when among his own sex, and his eye blazed it forth when in the
presence of women.

"Hello, Bill," said Milton, with easy indifference. "How goes it?"

"Oh, 'bout so-so. You rather got ahead o' me t'night, didn't yeh?"

"Well, rather. The man that gets ahead o' me has got t' drive a good
team, eh?" He looked at Bettie.

"I'd like to try it," said Bill.

"Well, let's go across the road," said Milton to Bettie, anxious to get
her out of the way of Bill.

They had to run the gauntlet of the whooping boys outside, but Bettie
proved too fleet of foot for them all.

When they entered the Dudley house opposite, her cheeks were hot with
color, but the roguish gleam in her eyes changed to a curiously haughty
and disdainful look as she passed Blackler, who stood desolately beside
the door, looking awkward and sullen.

Milton was a great favorite, and he had no time to say anything more to
Bettie as peace-maker. He reached Ed as soon as possible.

"Ed, what's up between you and Bettie?"

"Oh, I don't know. I can't find out," Blackler replied, and he spurred
himself desperately into the fun.



III.


"It'll make Ed Blackler squirm t' see Betsey come in on Milt Jennings'
arm," said Bill to Shephard after Milton went out.

"Wal, chuss. I denk it will." Shephard was looking round the room, where
the old people were noisily eating supper, and the steaming oysters and
the cold chicken's savory smell went to his heart. One of the motherly
managers of the feast bustled up to him.

"Shephard, you c'n run over t' the house an' tell the young folks that
they can come over t' supper about eight o'clock; that'll be in a half
an hour. You understand?"

"Oh, I'm so hungry! Can't y' give me a hunk o' chicken t' stay m'
stomach?"

Mrs. Councill laughed. "I'll fish you out a drumstick," she said. And he
went away, gnawing upon it hungrily. Bill went with him, still belching
forth against Blackler.

"Jim said he heard _he_ said he'd slap my face f'r a cent. I wish he
would. I'd lick the life out of 'im in a minnit."

"Why don't you pitch into Milt? He's got her now. He's the one y'd orto
be dammin'."

"Oh, he don't mean nothin' by it. He don't care for her. I saw him down
to town at the show with the girl he's after. He's jest makin' Ed mad."

A game of "Copenhagen" was going on as they entered. Bettie was in the
midst of it, but Milton, in the corner, was looking on and talking with
a group of those who had outgrown such games.

The ring of noisy, flushed and laughter-intoxicated young people filled
the room nearly to the wall, and round and round the ring flew Bettie,
pursued by Joe Yohe.

"Go it, Joe!" yelled Bill.

"You're good f'r 'im," yelled Shephard.

Milton laughed and clapped his hands. "Hot foot, Bettie!"

Like another Atalanta, the superb young girl sped, now dodging through
the ring, now doubling as her pursuer tried to catch her by turning
back. At last she made the third circuit, and, breathless and laughing,
took her place in the line. But Joe rushed upon her, determined to steal
a kiss anyhow.

"H'yare! H'yare! None o' that."

"That's no fair," cried the rest, and he was caught by a dozen hands.

"She didn't go round three times," he said.

"Yes, she did," cried a dozen voices.

"You shut up," he retorted, brutally, looking at Ed Blackler, who had
not spoken at all. Ed glared back, but said nothing. Bettie ignored Ed,
and the game went on.

"There's going to be trouble here to-night," said Milton to Shephard.

Shephard, as the ring dissolved, stepped into the middle of the room and
flourished his chicken-leg as if it were a baton. After the burst of
laughter, his sonorous voice made itself heard.

"Come to supper! Everybody take his girl if he can, and if he can't--get
the other feller's girl."

Bill Yohe sprang toward Bettie, but Milton had touched her on the arm.

"Not t'night, Bill," he grinned.

Bill grinned in reply and made off toward another well-known belle, Ella
Pratt, who accepted his escort. Ed Blackler, with gloomy desperation,
took Maud Buttles, the most depressingly plain girl in the room, an
action that did not escape Bettie's eyes, and which softened her heart
toward him; but she did not let him see it.

Supper was served on the desks, each couple seated in the drab-colored
wooden seats as if they were at school. A very comfortable arrangement
for those who occupied the back seats, but torture to the adults who
were obliged to cramp their legs inside the desk where the primer class
sat on school-days.

Bettie saw with tenderness how devotedly poor Ed served Maud. He could
not have taken a better method of heaping coals of fire on her head.

Ed was entirely unconscious of her softening, however, for he could not
look around from where he sat. He heard her laughing and believed she
was happy. He had not taken poor Maud for the purpose of showing his
penitence, for he had no such feeling in his heart; he was, on the
contrary, rather gloomy and reckless. He was not in a mood to show a
front of indifference.

The oysters steamed; the heels of the boys' boots thumped in wild
delight; the women bustled about; the girls giggled, and the men roared
with laughter. Everybody ate as if he and she had never tasted
oyster-soup and chicken before, and the cakes and pies went the way of
the oyster-soup like corn before a troup of winter turkeys.

Bill Yohe, by way of a joke, put some frosting down the back of Cy Hurd,
and, by way of delicate attention to Ella, alternately shoved her out of
the seat and pulled her back again, while Joe hurled a chicken-leg at
Cad Hines as she stood in the entry-way. Will Kinney told Sary Hines
for the fourth time how his team had run away, interrupted by his fear
that some kind of pie would get away untasted.

"An' so I laid the lines down--H'yare! Gimme another handful of
crackers, Merry--an' I laid the lines down while I went t' fine--nary a
noyster I can hold any more. Mrs. Moss, I'm ready f'r pie now--an' so I
noticed ole Frank's eye kind o' roll, but thinksi, I c'n git holt o' the
lines if he--Yes'm, I alwiss eat mince; won't you try some,
Sary?--an'--an'--so, jest as I gut my ax--You bet! I'm goin' t' try a
piece of every kind if it busts my stummick. Gutta git my money's
worth."

Milton was in his best mood and was very attractive in his mirth. His
fine teeth shone and his yellow curls shook under the stress of his
laughter. He wrestled with Bettie for the choice bits of cake,
delighting in the touch of her firm, sweet flesh; and, as for Bettie,
she was almost charmed to oblivion of Ed by the superior attractions of
Milton's town-bred gallantry. Ed looked singularly awkward and lonesome
as he sat sprawled out in one of the low seats, and curiously enough his
uncouthness and disconsolateness of attitude won her heart back again.

Everybody, with the usual rustic freedom, had remarks to make upon the
situation.

"Wal, Bettie, made a swop, hev yeh?" said Councill.

"Hello, Milt; thought you had a girl down town."

"Oh, I keep one at each end of the line," Milton replied, with his ready
laugh.

"Wal, I swan t' gudgeon! I can't keep track o' you town fellers. You're
too many f'r me!" said Mrs. Councill.

Carrie Hines came up behind Milton and Bettie and put her arms around
their necks, bringing their cheeks together. Bettie grew purple with
anger and embarrassment, but Milton, with his usual readiness, said,
"Thank you," and reached for the tittering malefactor's waist. Nobody
noticed it, for the room was full of such romping.

The men were standing around the stove discussing political outlooks,
and the matrons were busy with the serving of the supper. Out of doors
the indefatigable boys were beginning again on "pom-pom pullaway."

Supper over, the young folks all returned to the house across the way,
leaving the men of elderly blood to talk on the Grange and the
uselessness of the middlemen. Sport began again in the Dudley farm-house
by a dozen or so of the young people "forming on" for "Weevily Wheat."

"Weevily Wheat" was a "donation dance." As it would have been wicked to
have a fiddle to play the music, singers were substituted with stirring
effect, and a song was sung, while the couples bowed and balanced and
swung in rhythm to it:

  "Come _hither_, my love, and _trip_ together
     In the morning early.
   I'll give to _you_ the parting hand,
     Although I love you dearly.
   But I _won't_ have none of y'r weevily wheat,
     An' I _won't_ have _none_ of y'r barley,
   But have some flour in a half an hour
     To bake a cake for Charley.

  "Oh, Charley, _he_ is a fine young man;
     Charley, he is a dandy.
   Oh, Charley, _he's_ a fine young man,
     F'r he buys the girls some candy.
   Oh, I _won't_ have none o' y'r weevily wheat,
     I won't have _none_ o' y'r barley,
   But have some flour in a half an hour
     To bake a cake for Charley.

  "Oh, Charley, he's," etc.

Milton was soon in the thick of this most charming old-fashioned dance,
which probably dates back to dances on the green in England or Norway.
Bettie was a good dancer, and as she grew excited with the rhythm and
swing of the quaint, plaintive music her form grew supple at the waist
and her large limbs light. The pair moved up and back between the two
ranks of singers, then down the outside, and laughed in glee when they
accelerated the pace at the time when they were swinging down the
center. All faces were aglow and eyes shining.

Bill's red face and bullet eyes were not beautiful, but the grace and
power of his body were unmistakable. He was excited by the music, the
alcohol he had been drinking, and by the presence of the girls, and
threw himself into the play with dangerous abandon.

Under his ill-fitting coat his muscles rolled swift and silent. His tall
boots were brilliantly blue and starred with gold at the top, and his
pantaloons were tucked inside the tops to let their glory strike the
eye. His physical strength and grace and variety of "steps" called forth
many smiles and admiring exclamations from the girls, and caused the
young men to lose interest in "Weevily Wheat."

When a new set was called for, Bill made a determined assault on Bettie
and secured her, for she did not have the firmness to refuse. But the
singers grew weary, and the set soon broke up. A game of forfeit was
substituted. This also dwindled down to a mere excuse for lovers to kiss
each other, and the whole company soon separated into little groups to
chatter and romp. Some few sat at the table in the parlor and played
"authors."

Bettie was becoming annoyed by the attentions of Bill, and, to get rid
of him, went with Miss Lytle, Milton and two or three others into
another room and shut the door. This was not very unusual, but poor
Blackler seemed to feel it a direct affront to him and was embittered.
He was sitting by Ella Pratt when Bill Yohe swaggered up to him.

"Say! Do you know where your girl is?"

"No, an' I don't care."

"Wal! It's _time_ y' cared. She's in the other room there. Milt Jennings
has cut you out."

"You're a liar," cried the loyal lover, leaping to his feet.

_Spat!_ Yohe's open palm resounded upon the pale face of Blackler, whose
eyes had a wild glare in them, and the next moment they were rolling on
the floor like a couple of dogs, the stronger and older man above, the
valiant lover below. The house resounded with sudden screams, and then
came the hurry of feet, then a hush, in the midst of which was heard the
unsubdued voice of Blackler as he rose to his feet. 

"You're a"----

Another dull stroke with the knotted fist, and the young fellow went to
the floor again, while Joe Yohe, like a wild beast roused at the sight
of blood, stood above the form of his brother (who had leaped upon the
fallen man), shouting with the hoarse, raucous note of a tiger:

"Give 'im hell! I'll back yeh."

Bettie pushed through the ring of men and women who were looking on in
delicious horror--pushed through quickly and yet with dignity. Her head
was thrown back, and the strange look on her face was thrilling. Facing
the angry men with a gesture of superb scorn and fearlessness, she
spoke, and in the deep hush her quiet words were strangely impressive:

"Bill Yohe, what do you think you're doing?"

For a moment the men were abashed, and, starting back, they allowed
Blackler, dazed, bleeding and half strangled, to rise to his feet. He
would have sprung against them both, for he had not heard or realized
who was speaking, but Bettie laid her hand on his arm, and the haughty
droop of her eyelids changed as she said in a tender voice:

"Never mind, Ed; they ain't worth mindin'!"

Her usual self came back quickly as she led him away. Friends began to
mutter now, and the swagger of the brothers threatened further trouble.
Their eyes rolled, their knotted hands swung about like bludgeons.
Threats, horrible snarls and oaths poured from their lips. But there
were heard at this critical moment rapid footsteps--a round, jovial
voice--and bursting through the door came the great form and golden head
of Lime Gilman.

"Hold on here! What's all this?" he said, leaping with an ominously
good-natured smile into the open space before the two men, whose
restless pacing stopped at the sound of his voice. His sunny, laughing
blue eyes swept around him, taking in the situation at a glance. He
continued to smile, but his teeth came together.

"Git out o' this, you hounds! Git!" he said, in the same jovial tone.
"You! _You_," he said to Bill, slapping him lightly on the breast with
the back of his lax fingers. Bill struck at him ferociously, but the
slope-shouldered giant sent it by with his left wrist, kicking the feet
of the striker from under him with a frightful swing of his right
foot--a trick which appalled Joe.

"Clear the track there," ordered Lime. "It's against the law t' fight at
a donation; so out y' go."

Bill crawled painfully to his feet.

"I'll pay you for this yet."

"_Any_ time but now. Git out, 'r I'll kick you out." Lime's voice
changed now. The silent crowd made way for them, and, seizing Joe by the
shoulder and pushing Bill before him, the giant passed out into the open
air. There he pushed Bill off the porch into the snow, and kicked his
brother over him with this parting word:

"You infernal hyenies! Kickin's too good f'r you. If you ever want me,
look around an' you'll find me."

Then, to the spectators who thronged after, he apologized:

"I hate t' fight, and especially to kick a man; but they's times when a
man's _got_ t' do it. Now, jest go back and have a good time. Don't let
them hyenies spoil all y'r fun."

That ended it. All knew Lime. Everybody had heard how he could lift one
end of the separator and toss a two-bushel sack filled with wheat over
the hind wheel of a wagon, and the terror of his kick was not unknown to
them. They all felt sure that the Yohes would not return, and all went
back into the house and attempted to go on with the games. But it was
impossible; such exciting events must be discussed, and the story was
told and retold by each one.

When Milton returned to the parlor, he saw Bettie, tender, dignified and
grave, bending over Blackler, bathing his bruised face. Milton had never
admired her more than at that moment; she looked so womanly. She no
longer cared what people thought.

The other girls, pale and tearful and a little hysterical, stood about,
close to their sweethearts. They enjoyed the excitement, however, and
the fight appealed to something organic in them.

The donation party was at an end, that was clear, and the people began
to get ready to go home. Bettie started to thank Lyman for his help.

"Don't say anything. I'd 'a' done it jest the same f'r anybody. It ain't
the thing to come to a donation and git up a row."

Milton hardly knew whether to ask Bettie to go back with him or not, but
Blackler relieved him from embarrassment by rousing up and saying:

"Oh, I'm all right now, Bettie. Hyere's yer girl, Milt. See the eye I've
got on me? She says she won't ride home with any such"----

"Ed, what in the world do you mean?" Bettie could hardly understand her
lover's sudden exultation; it was still a very serious matter to her, in
spite of the complete reconciliation which had come with the assault.
She felt in a degree guilty, and that feeling kept her still tearful and
subdued, but Ed leered and winked with his good eye in uncontrollable
delight. Milton turned to Bettie at last, and said:

"Well! I'll get Marc around to the door in a few minutes. Get your
things on."

Bettie and Ed stood close together by the door. She was saying:

"You'll forgive me, won't you, Ed?"

"Why, course I will, Bettie. I was as much to blame as you was. I no
business to git mad till I knew what I was gittin' mad _at_."

They were very tender now.

"I'll--I'll go home with you, if you want me to, 'stead of with Milt,"
she quavered.

"No, I've got to take S'fye home. It's the square thing."

"All right, Ed, but come an' let me talk it all straight."

"It's all straight now; let's let it all go, whaddy y' say?"

"All right, Ed."

There was a kiss that the rest pretended not to hear. And bidding them
all good-night, Bettie ran out to the fence, where Milton sat waiting.

The moon was riding high in the clear, cold sky, but falling toward the
west, as they swung into the wood-road. Through the branches of the oaks
the stars, set in the deep-blue, fathomless night, peered cold and
bright. There was no wind save the rush of air caused by the motion of
the sleigh. Neither of the young people spoke for some time. They lay
back in the sleigh under the thick robes, listening to the chime of the
bells, the squeal of the runners, and the weirdly-sweet distant singing
of another sleigh-load of young people far ahead.

Milton pulled Marc down to a slow trot, and, tightening his arm around
Bettie's shoulders in a very brotherly hug, said:

"Well, I'm glad you and Ed have fixed things up again. You'd always have
been sorry."

"It was all my fault anyway," replied the girl, with a little tremor in
her voice, "and it was all my fault to-night, too. I no business to 'a'
gone off an' left him that way."

"Well, it's all over now anyway, and so I wouldn't worry any more about
it," said Milton, soothingly, and then they fell into silence again.

The sagacious Marc Antony strode steadily away, and the two young lovers
went on with their dreaming. Bettie was silent mainly, and Milton was
trying to fancy that she was Eileen, and was remembering the long rides
they had had together. And the horse's hoofs beat a steady rhythm, the
moon fell to the west, and the bells kept cheery chime. The breath of
the horse rose into the air like steam. The house-dogs sent forth
warning howls as they went by. Once or twice they passed houses where
the windows were still lighted and where lanterns were flashing around
the barn, where the horses were being put in for the night.

The lights were out at the home of Bettie when they drove up, for the
young people, however rapidly they might go to the sociable, always
returned much slower than the old folks. Milton leaped out and held up
his arms to help his companion out. As she shook the robes down, stood
up and reached out for his arms, he seized her round the waist, and,
holding her clear of the ground, kissed her in spite of her struggles.

"Milton!"

"The las' time, Bettie; the las' time," he said, in extenuation. With
this mournful word on his lips he leaped into the sleigh and was off
like the wind. But the listening girl heard his merry voice ringing out
on the still air. Suddenly something sweet and majestic swept upon the
girl. Something that made her look up into the glittering sky with vast
yearning. In the awful hush of the sky and the plain she heard the beat
of her own blood in her ears. She longed for song to express the
swelling of her throat and the wistful ache of her heart.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------



AN AFTERWORD: OF WINDS, SNOWS AND THE STARS....


  O witchery of the winter night
    (With broad moon shouldering to the west)!

  In city streets the west wind sweeps
  Before my feet in rustling flight;
  The midnight snows in untracked heaps
  Lie cold and desolate and white.
  I stand and wait with upturned eyes,
  Awed with the splendor of the skies
  And star-trained progress of the moon.

  The city walls dissolve like smoke
  Beneath the magic of the moon,
  And age falls from me like a cloak;
  I hear sweet girlish voices ring
  Clear as some softly stricken string--
  (The moon is sailing to the west.)
  The sleigh-bells clash in homeward flight;
  With frost each horse's breast is white--
  (The big moon sinking to the west.)

       *       *       *       *       *

       "Good night, Lettie!"
       "Good night, Ben!"
  (The moon is sinking at the west.)
  "Good night, my sweetheart," Once again
  The parting kiss while comrades wait
  Impatient at the roadside gate,
  And the red moon sinks beyond the west.



Transcriber's Notes


Welcome to Doctrine Publishing Corporation's edition of the first version of Prairie
Folks by Hamlin Garland. We have used the 1893 edition of the book
published by F. J. Schulte and Company for this transcription. This book
is available through the Internet Archive courtesy of the New York
Public Library.

In 1899, Garland published a revised edition of Prairie Folks with many
changes:

 • The short stories Saturday Night on the Farm and Uncle Ethan's
Speculation were omitted from the 1899 edition.
 • The short stories Aidgewise Feelings, Black Ephram, and The
Wapseypinnicon Tiger were added to the 1899 edition.
 • The order of Elder Pill and Bacon's Man were switched; some parts of
Elder Pill were modified to make the story appear as if it was written
after Bacon's Man. These alterations involved changed dialogue and the
revision of scenes involving Mrs. Bacon and Merry Etty.
 • A page or more of verse was added between each story.
 • Some tinkering was done with the title and text of the rest of the short stories.

Notes:

The following alternate spellings of words or phrases were found in the
text:
 • every which-way (page 51);
   every-which-way (page 91).
 • checkerboard (page 180);
   checker-board (pages 169, 172)

On page 132, change faught to fought.

On page 156, transcribe forehead without the hyphen (see pages 16, 42, and 102).

On page 188, transcribe new-comer with the hyphen (see page 21).

On page 191, transcribe doorway without the hyphen (see pages 14 and
143).

On page 235, transcribe pom-pom pullaway without the hyphen in pullaway
(see page 244).

On page 237, transcribe barnyard without the hyphen (see pages 36 and
91).

On page 246, place left quote before my hands are cold in the sentence:
"Can't do it," he laughed; "my hands are cold. Got to warm them, see?"

On page 248, remove quote after Gilman in the clause "through the door
came the great form and golden head of Lime Gilman."

Several words hyphenated and split between two lines for spacing could
be spelled with the hyphen or not: night-gown (page 27), meal-time (page
80), and jacka-napes (page 216).





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