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Title: So Big
Author: Ferber, Edna
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "So Big" ***

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                                 SO BIG

                                   BY
                              EDNA FERBER

                               AUTHOR OF
                       THE GIRLS, FANNY HERSELF,
                        ROAST BEEF MEDIUM, ETC.


                                NEW YORK
                            GROSSET & DUNLAP
                               PUBLISHERS

                  Made in the United States of America



    COPYRIGHT, 1924, BY DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY. ALL RIGHTS
    RESERVED. COPYRIGHT, 1923, 1924, BY THE CROWELL PUBLISHING
    COMPANY. PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES AT THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS,
    GARDEN CITY, N. Y.

                                 So Big



                                   I


Until he was almost ten the name stuck to him. He had literally to fight
his way free of it. From So Big (of fond and infantile derivation) it
had been condensed into Sobig. And Sobig DeJong, in all its consonantal
disharmony, he had remained until he was a ten-year-old schoolboy in
that incredibly Dutch district southwest of Chicago known first as New
Holland and later as High Prairie. At ten, by dint of fists, teeth,
copper-toed boots, and temper, he earned the right to be called by his
real name, Dirk DeJong. Now and then, of course, the nickname bobbed up
and had to be subdued in a brief and bitter skirmish. His mother, with
whom the name had originated, was the worst offender. When she lapsed he
did not, naturally, use schoolyard tactics on her. But he sulked and
glowered portentously and refused to answer, though her tone, when she
called him So Big, would have melted the heart of any but that natural
savage, a boy of ten.

The nickname had sprung from the early and idiotic question invariably
put to babies and answered by them, with infinite patience, through the
years of their infancy.

Selina DeJong, darting expertly about her kitchen, from washtub to
baking board, from stove to table, or, if at work in the fields of the
truck farm, straightening the numbed back for a moment’s respite from
the close-set rows of carrots, turnips, spinach, or beets over which she
was labouring, would wipe the sweat beads from nose and forehead with a
quick duck of her head in the crook of her bent arm. Those great fine
dark eyes of hers would regard the child perched impermanently on a
little heap of empty potato sacks, one of which comprised his costume.
He was constantly detaching himself from the parent sack heap to dig and
burrow in the rich warm black loam of the truck garden. Selina DeJong
had little time for the expression of affection. The work was always hot
at her heels. You saw a young woman in a blue calico dress, faded and
earth-grimed. Between her eyes was a driven look as of one who walks
always a little ahead of herself in her haste. Her dark abundant hair
was skewered into a utilitarian knob from which soft loops and strands
were constantly escaping, to be pushed back by that same harried ducking
gesture of head and bent arm. Her hands, for such use, were usually too
crusted and inground with the soil into which she was delving. You saw a
child of perhaps two years, dirt-streaked, sunburned, and generally
otherwise defaced by those bumps, bites, scratches, and contusions that
are the common lot of the farm child of a mother harried by work. Yet,
in that moment, as the woman looked at the child there in the warm moist
spring of the Illinois prairie land, or in the cluttered kitchen of the
farmhouse, there quivered and vibrated between them and all about them
an aura, a glow, that imparted to them and their surroundings a mystery,
a beauty, a radiance.

“How big is baby?” Selina would demand, senselessly. “How big is my
man?”

The child would momentarily cease to poke plump fingers into the rich
black loam. He would smile a gummy though slightly weary smile and
stretch wide his arms. She, too, would open her tired arms wide, wide.
Then they would say in a duet, his mouth a puckered pink petal, hers
quivering with tenderness and a certain amusement, “_So-o-o-o_ big!”
with the voice soaring on the prolonged vowel and dropping suddenly with
the second word. Part of the game. The child became so habituated to
this question that sometimes, if Selina happened to glance round at him
suddenly in the midst of her task, he would take his cue without the
familiar question being put and would squeal his “_So-o-o-o_ big!”
rather absently, in dutiful solo. Then he would throw back his head and
laugh a triumphant laugh, his open mouth a coral orifice. She would run
to him, and swoop down upon him, and bury her flushed face in the warm
moist creases of his neck, and make as though to devour him. “So big!”

But of course he wasn’t. He wasn’t as big as that. In fact, he never
became as big as the wide-stretched arms of her love and imagination
would have had him. You would have thought she should have been
satisfied when, in later years, he was the Dirk DeJong whose name you
saw (engraved) at the top of heavy cream linen paper, so rich and thick
and stiff as to have the effect of being starched and ironed by some
costly American business process; whose clothes were made by Peter Peel,
the English tailor; whose roadster ran on a French chassis; whose
cabinet held mellow Italian vermouth and Spanish sherry; whose wants
were served by a Japanese houseman; whose life, in short, was that of
the successful citizen of the Republic. But she wasn’t. Not only was she
dissatisfied: she was at once remorseful and indignant, as though she,
Selina DeJong, the vegetable pedler, had been partly to blame for this
success of his, and partly cheated by it.

When Selina DeJong had been Selina Peake she had lived in Chicago with
her father. They had lived in many other cities as well. In Denver
during the rampant ’80s. In New York when Selina was twelve. In
Milwaukee briefly. There was even a San Francisco interlude which was
always a little sketchy in Selina’s mind and which had ended in a
departure so hurried as to bewilder even Selina who had learned to
accept sudden comings and abrupt goings without question. “Business,”
her father always said. “Little deal.” She never knew until the day of
his death how literally the word deal was applicable to his business
transactions. Simeon Peake, travelling the country with his little
daughter, was a gambler by profession, temperament, and natural talents.
When in luck they lived royally, stopping at the best hotels, eating
strange, succulent sea-viands, going to the play, driving in hired rigs
(always with two horses. If Simeon Peake had not enough money for a
two-horse equipage he walked). When fortune hid her face they lived in
boarding houses, ate boarding-house meals, wore the clothes bought when
Fortune’s breath was balmy. During all this time Selina attended
schools, good, bad, private, public, with surprising regularity
considering her nomadic existence. Deep-bosomed matrons, seeing this
dark-eyed serious child seated alone in a hotel lobby or boarding-house
parlour, would bend over her in solicitous questioning.

“Where is your mamma, little girl?”

“She is dead,” Selina would reply, politely and composedly.

“Oh, my poor little dear!” Then, with a warm rush, “Don’t you want to
come and play with my little girl? She loves little girls to play with.
H’m?” The “m” of the interrogation held hummingly, tenderly.

“No, thank you very much. I’m waiting for my father. He would be
disappointed not to find me here.”

These good ladies wasted their sympathy. Selina had a beautiful time.
Except for three years, to recall which was to her like entering a
sombre icy room on leaving a warm and glowing one, her life was free,
interesting, varied. She made decisions usually devolving upon the adult
mind. She selected clothes. She ruled her father. She read absorbedly
books found in boarding-house parlours, in hotels, in such public
libraries as the times afforded. She was alone for hours a day, daily.
Frequently her father, fearful of loneliness for her, brought her an
armful of books and she had an orgy, dipping and swooping about among
them in a sort of gourmand’s ecstasy of indecision. In this way, at
fifteen, she knew the writings of Byron, Jane Austen, Dickens, Charlotte
Brontë, Felicia Hemans. Not to speak of Mrs. E. D. E. N. Southworth,
Bertha M. Clay, and that good fairy of the scullery, the _Fireside
Companion_, in whose pages factory girls and dukes were brought together
as inevitably as steak and onions. These last were, of course, the
result of Selina’s mode of living, and were loaned her by kind-hearted
landladies, chambermaids, and waitresses all the way from California to
New York.

Her three dark years—from nine to twelve—were spent with her two
maiden aunts, the Misses Sarah and Abbie Peake, in the dim, prim Vermont
Peake house from which her father, the black sheep, had run away when a
boy. After her mother’s death Simeon Peake had sent his little daughter
back east in a fit of remorse and temporary helplessness on his part and
a spurt of forgiveness and churchly charity on the part of his two
sisters. The two women were incredibly drawn in the pattern of the New
England spinster of fiction. Mitts, preserves, Bible, chilly best room,
solemn and kittenless cat, order, little-girls-mustn’t. They smelled of
apples—of withered apples that have rotted at the core. Selina had once
found such an apple in a corner of a disorderly school-desk, had sniffed
it, regarded its wrinkled, sapless pink cheek, and had bitten into it
adventuresomely, only to spit out the mouthful in an explosive and
unladylike spray. It had been all black and mouldy at its heart.

Something of this she must have conveyed, in her desperation, to her
father in an uncensored letter. Without warning he had come for her, and
at sight of him she had been guilty of the only fit of hysteria that
marked her life, before or after the episode.

So, then, from twelve to nineteen she was happy. They had come to
Chicago in 1885, when she was sixteen. There they remained. Selina
attended Miss Fister’s Select School for Young Ladies. When her father
brought her there he had raised quite a flutter in the Fister breast—so
soft-spoken was he, so gentle, so sad-appearing, so winning as to smile.
In the investment business, he explained. Stocks and that kind of thing.
A widower. Miss Fister said, yes, she understood.

Simeon Peake had had nothing of the look of the professional gambler of
the day. The wide slouch hat, the flowing mustache, the glittering eye,
the too-bright boots, the gay cravat, all were missing in Simeon Peake’s
makeup. True, he did sport a singularly clear white diamond pin in his
shirt front; and his hat he wore just a little on one side. But then,
these both were in the male mode and quite commonly seen. For the rest
he seemed a mild and suave man, slim, a trifle diffident, speaking
seldom and then with a New England drawl by which he had come honestly
enough, Vermont Peake that he was.

Chicago was his meat. It was booming, prosperous. Jeff Hankins’s red
plush and mirrored gambling house, and Mike McDonald’s, too, both on
Clark Street, knew him daily. He played in good luck and bad, but he
managed somehow to see to it that there was always the money to pay for
the Fister schooling. His was the ideal poker face—bland, emotionless,
immobile. When he was flush they ate at the Palmer House, dining off
chicken or quail and thick rich soup and the apple pie for which the
hostelry was famous. Waiters hovered solicitously about Simeon Peake,
though he rarely addressed them and never looked at them. Selina was
happy. She knew only such young people—girls—as she met at Miss
Fister’s school. Of men, other than her father, she knew as little as a
nun—less. For those cloistered creatures must, if only in the conning
of their Bible, learn much of the moods and passions that sway the male.
The Songs of Solomon alone are a glorious sex education. But the Bible
was not included in Selina’s haphazard reading, and the Gideonite was
not then a force in the hotel world.

Her chum was Julie Hempel, daughter of August Hempel, the Clark Street
butcher. You probably now own some Hempel stock, if you’re lucky; and
eat Hempel bacon and Hempel hams cured in the hickory, for in Chicago
the distance from butcher of 1885 to packer of 1890 was only a five-year
leap.

Being so much alone developed in her a gift for the make-believe. In a
comfortable, well-dressed way she was a sort of mixture of Dick
Swiveller’s Marchioness and Sarah Crewe. Even in her childhood she
extracted from life the double enjoyment that comes usually only to the
creative mind. “Now I’m doing this. Now I’m doing that,” she told
herself while she was doing it. Looking on while she participated.
Perhaps her theatre-going had something to do with this. At an age when
most little girls were not only unheard but practically unseen, she
occupied a grown-up seat at the play, her rapt face, with its dark
serious eyes, glowing in a sort of luminous pallor as she sat proudly
next her father. Simeon Peake had the gambler’s love of the theatre,
himself possessing the dramatic quality necessary to the successful
following of his profession.

In this way Selina, half-hidden in the depths of an orchestra seat,
wriggled in ecstatic anticipation when the curtain ascended on the
grotesque rows of Haverly’s minstrels. She wept (as did Simeon) over the
agonies of The Two Orphans when Kitty Blanchard and McKee Rankin came to
Chicago with the Union Square Stock Company. She witnessed that
startling innovation, a Jewish play, called Samuel of Posen. She saw
Fanny Davenport in Pique. Simeon even took her to a performance of that
shocking and delightful form of new entertainment, the Extravaganza. She
thought the plump creature in tights and spangles, descending the long
stairway, the most beautiful being she had ever seen.

“The thing I like about plays and books is that anything can happen.
Anything! You never know,” Selina said, after one of these evenings.

“No different from life,” Simeon Peake assured her. “You’ve no idea the
things that happen to you if you just relax and take them as they come.”

Curiously enough, Simeon Peake said this, not through ignorance, but
deliberately and with reason. In his way and day he was a very modern
father. “I want you to see all kinds,” he would say to her. “I want you
to realize that this whole thing is just a grand adventure. A fine show.
The trick is to play in it and look at it at the same time.”

“What whole thing?”

“Living. All mixed up. The more kinds of people you see, and the more
things you do, and the more things that happen to you, the richer you
are. Even if they’re not pleasant things. That’s living. Remember, no
matter what happens, good or bad, it’s just so much”—he used the
gambler’s term, unconsciously—“just so much velvet.”

But Selina, somehow, understood. “You mean that anything’s better than
being Aunt Sarah and Aunt Abbie.”

“Well—yes. There are only two kinds of people in the world that really
count. One kind’s wheat and the other kind’s emeralds.”

“Fanny Davenport’s an emerald,” said Selina, quickly, and rather
surprised to find herself saying it.

“Yes. That’s it.”

“And—and Julie Hempel’s father—he’s wheat.”

“By golly, Sele!” shouted Simeon Peake. “You’re a shrewd little tyke!”

It was after reading “Pride and Prejudice” that she decided to be the
Jane Austen of her time. She became very mysterious and enjoyed a brief
period of unpopularity at Miss Fister’s owing to her veiled allusions to
her “work”; and an annoying way of smiling to herself and tapping a
ruminative toe as though engaged in visions far too exquisite for the
common eye. Her chum Julie Hempel, properly enough, became enraged at
this and gave Selina to understand that she must make her choice between
revealing her secret or being cast out of the Hempel heart. Selina swore
her to secrecy.

“Very well, then. Now I’ll tell you. I’m going to be a novelist.” Julie
was palpably disappointed, though she said, “Selina!” as though properly
impressed, but followed it up with: “Still, I don’t see why you had to
be so mysterious about it.”

“You just don’t understand, Julie. Writers have to study life at first
hand. And if people know you’re studying them they don’t act natural.
Now, that day you were telling me about the young man in your father’s
shop who looked at you and said——”

“Selina Peake, if you dare to put that in your book I’ll never
speak——”

“All right. I won’t. But that’s what I mean. You see!”

Julie Hempel and Selina Peake, both finished products of Miss Fister’s
school, were of an age—nineteen. Selina, on this September day, had
been spending the afternoon with Julie, and now, adjusting her hat
preparatory to leaving, she clapped her hands over her ears to shut out
the sounds of Julie’s importunings that she stay to supper. Certainly
the prospect of the usual Monday evening meal in Mrs. Tebbitt’s boarding
house (the Peake luck was momentarily low) did not present sufficient
excuse for Selina’s refusal. Indeed, the Hempel supper as sketched dish
for dish by the urgent Julie brought little greedy groans from Selina.

“It’s prairie chickens—three of them—that a farmer west of town
brought Father. Mother fixes them with stuffing, and there’s currant
jell. Creamed onions and baked tomatoes. And for dessert, apple roll.”

Selina snapped the elastic holding her high-crowned hat under her
chignon of hair in the back. She uttered a final and quavering groan.
“On Monday nights we have cold mutton and cabbage at Mrs. Tebbitt’s.
This is Monday.”

“Well then, silly, why not stay!”

“Father comes home at six. If I’m not there he’s disappointed.”

Julie, plump, blonde, placid, forsook her soft white blandishments and
tried steel against the steel of Selina’s decision.

“He leaves you right after supper. And you’re alone every night until
twelve and after.”

“I don’t see what that has to do with it,” Selina said, stiffly.

Julie’s steel, being low-grade, melted at once and ran off her in
rivulets. “Of course it hasn’t, Selie dear. Only I thought you might
leave him just this once.”

“If I’m not there he’s disappointed. And that terrible Mrs. Tebbitt
makes eyes at him. He hates it there.”

“Then I don’t see why you stay. I never could see. You’ve been there
four months now, and I think it’s horrid and stuffy; and oilcloth on the
stairs.”

“Father has had some temporary business setbacks.”

Selina’s costume testified to that. True, it was modish, and bustled,
and basqued, and flounced; and her high-crowned, short-rimmed hat, with
its trimming of feathers and flowers and ribbons had come from New York.
But both were of last spring’s purchasing, and this was September.

In the course of the afternoon they had been looking over the pages of
Godey’s _Ladies’ Book_ for that month. The disparity between Selina’s
costume and the creations pictured there was much as the difference
between the Tebbitt meal and that outlined by Julie. Now Julie, fond
though defeated, kissed her friend good-bye.

Selina walked quickly the short distance from the Hempel house to
Tebbitt’s, on Dearborn Avenue. Up in her second-floor room she took off
her hat and called to her father, but he had not yet come in. She was
glad of that. She had been fearful of being late. She regarded her hat
now with some distaste, decided to rip off the faded spring roses, did
rip a stitch or two, only to discover that the hat material was more
faded than the roses, and that the uncovered surface showed up a dark
splotch like a wall-spot when a picture, long hung, is removed. So she
got a needle and prepared to tack the offending rose in its accustomed
place.

Perched on the arm of a chair near the window, taking quick deft
stitches, she heard a sound. She had never heard that sound before—that
peculiar sound—the slow, ominous tread of men laden with a heavy inert
burden; bearing with infinite care that which was well beyond hurting.
Selina had never heard that sound before, and yet, hearing it, she
recognized it by one of those pangs, centuries old, called woman’s
instinct. Thud—shuffle—thud—shuffle—up the narrow stairway, along
the passage. She stood up, the needle poised in her hand. The hat fell
to the floor. Her eyes were wide, fixed. Her lips slightly parted. The
listening look. She knew.

She knew even before she heard the hoarse man’s voice saying, “Lift ’er
up there a little on the corner, now. Easy—e-e-easy.” And Mrs.
Tebbitt’s high shrill clamour: “You can’t bring it in there! You hadn’t
ought to bring it in here like this!”

Selina’s suspended breath came back. She was panting now. She had flung
open the door. A flat still burden partially covered with an overcoat
carelessly flung over the face. The feet, in their square-toed boots,
wobbled listlessly. Selina noticed how shiny the boots were. He was
always very finicking about such things.

Simeon Peake had been shot in Jeff Hankins’s place at five in the
afternoon. The irony of it was that the bullet had not been intended for
him at all. Its derelict course had been due to feminine aim. Sped by
one of those over-dramatic ladies who, armed with horsewhip or pistol in
tardy defence of their honour, spangled Chicago’s dull ’80s with their
doings, it had been meant for a well-known newspaper publisher usually
mentioned (in papers other than his own) as a bon vivant. The lady’s
leaden remonstrance was to have been proof of the fact that he had been
more vivacious than bon.

It was, perhaps, because of this that the matter was pretty well hushed
up. The publisher’s paper—which was Chicago’s foremost—scarcely
mentioned the incident and purposely misspelled the name. The lady,
thinking her task accomplished, had taken truer aim with her second
bullet, and had saved herself the trouble of trial by human jury.

Simeon Peake left his daughter Selina a legacy of two fine clear
blue-white diamonds (he had had the gambler’s love of them) and the sum
of four hundred and ninety-seven dollars in cash. Just how he had
managed to have a sum like this put by was a mystery. The envelope
containing it had evidently once held a larger sum. It had been sealed,
and then slit. On the outside was written, in Simeon Peake’s fine,
almost feminine hand: “For my little daughter Selina Peake in case
anything should happen to me.” It bore a date seven years old. What the
original sum had been no one ever knew. That any sum remained was
evidence of the almost heroic self-control practised by one to whom
money—ready money in any sum at all—meant only fuel to feed the flames
of his gaming fever.

To Selina fell the choice of earning her own living or of returning to
the Vermont village and becoming a withered and sapless dried apple,
with black fuzz and mould at her heart, like her aunts, the Misses Sarah
and Abbie Peake. She did not hesitate.

“But what kind of work?” Julie Hempel demanded. “What kind of work can
you do?” Women—that is, the Selina Peakes—did not work.

“I—well, I can teach.”

“Teach what?”

“The things I learned at Miss Fister’s.”

Julie’s expression weighed and discredited Miss Fister. “Who to?” Which
certainly justified her expression.

“To children. People’s children. Or in the public schools.”

“You have to do something first—go to Normal, or teach in the country,
don’t you?—before you can teach in the public schools. They’re mostly
old. Twenty-five or even thirty—or more!” with nineteen’s incapacity to
imagine an age beyond thirty.

That Julie was taking the offensive in this conversation, and Selina the
defensive, was indicative of the girl’s numbed state. Selina did not
then know the iron qualities her friend was displaying in being with her
at all. Mrs. Hempel had quite properly forbidden Julie ever to see the
dead dissolute gambler’s daughter again. She had even sent a note to
Miss Fister expressing her opinion of a school which would, by admitting
such unselected ladies to its select circle, expose other pupils to
contamination.

Selina rallied to Julie’s onslaught. “Then I’ll just teach a country
school. I’m good at arithmetic. You know that.” Julie should have known
it, having had all her Fister sums solved by Selina. “Country schools
are just arithmetic and grammar and geography.”

“You! Teaching a country school!”

She looked at Selina.

She saw a misleadingly delicate face, the skull small and exquisitely
formed. The cheek bones rather high—or perhaps they looked so because
of the fact that the eyes, dark, soft, and luminous, were unusually
deep-set in their sockets. The face, instead of narrowing to a soft
curve at the chin, developed unexpected strength in the jaw line. That
line, fine, steel-strong, sharp and clear, was of the stuff of which
pioneer women are made. Julie, inexperienced in the art of reading the
human physiognomy, did not decipher the meaning of it. Selina’s hair was
thick, long, and fine, so that she piled it easily in the loops, coils,
and knots that fashion demanded. Her nose, slightly pinched at the
nostrils, was exquisite. When she laughed it had the trick of wrinkling
just a little across the narrow bridge; very engaging, and mischievous.
She was thought a rather plain little thing, which she wasn’t. But the
eyes were what you marked and remembered. People to whom she was
speaking had a way of looking into them deeply. Selina was often
embarrassed to discover that they were not hearing what she had to say.
Perhaps it was this velvety softness of the eyes that caused one to
overlook the firmness of the lower face. When the next ten years had
done their worst to her, and Julie had suddenly come upon her stepping
agilely out of a truck gardener’s wagon on Prairie Avenue, a tanned,
weather-beaten, toil-worn woman, her abundant hair skewered into a knob
and held by a long gray hairpin, her full calico skirt grimed with the
mud of the wagon wheel, a pair of men’s old side-boots on her slim feet,
a grotesquely battered old felt hat (her husband’s) on her head, her
arms full of ears of sweet corn, and carrots, and radishes, and bunches
of beets; a woman with bad teeth, flat breasts, a sagging pocket in her
capacious skirt—even then Julie, staring, had known her by her eyes.
And she had run to her in her silk suit and her fine silk shirtwaist and
her hat with the plume and had cried, “Oh, Selina! My dear! My
dear!”—with a sob of horror and pity—“My dear.” And had taken Selina,
carrots, beets, corn, and radishes, in her arms. The vegetables lay
scattered all about them on the sidewalk in front of Julie Hempel
Arnold’s great stone house on Prairie Avenue. But strangely enough it
had been Selina who had done the comforting, patting Julie’s silken
shoulder and saying, over and over, “There, there! It’s all right,
Julie. It’s all right. Don’t cry. What’s there to cry for! Sh! . . .
It’s all right.”



                                   II


Selina had thought herself lucky to get the Dutch school at High
Prairie, ten miles outside Chicago. Thirty dollars a month! She was to
board at the house of Klaas Pool, the truck farmer. It was August Hempel
who had brought it all about; or Julie, urging him. Now, at forty-five,
August Hempel, the Clark Street butcher, knew every farmer and stockman
for miles around, and hundreds besides scattered throughout Cook County
and the State of Illinois.

To get the Dutch school for Selina Peake was a simple enough matter for
him. The High Prairie district school teacher had always, heretofore,
been a man. A more advantageous position presenting itself, this year’s
prospective teacher had withdrawn before the school term had begun. This
was in September. High Prairie school did not open until the first week
in November. In that region of truck farms every boy and girl over six
was busy in the fields throughout the early autumn. Two years of this,
and Selina would be qualified for a city grade. August Hempel indicated
that he could arrange that, too, when the time came. Selina thought this
shrewd red-faced butcher a wonderful man, indeed. Which he was.

At forty-seven, single-handed, he was to establish the famous Hempel
Packing Company. At fifty he was the power in the yards, and there were
Hempel branches in Kansas City, Omaha, Denver. At sixty you saw the name
of Hempel plastered over packing sheds, factories, and canning plants
all the way from Honolulu to Portland. You read:

Don’t Say Ham: Say Hempel’s.

Hempel products ranged incredibly from pork to pineapple; from grease to
grape-juice. An indictment meant no more to Hempel, the packer, than an
injunction for speeding to you. Something of his character may be
gleaned from the fact that farmers who had known the butcher at forty
still addressed this millionaire, at sixty, as Aug. At sixty-five he
took up golf and beat his son-in-law, Michael Arnold, at it. A
magnificent old pirate, sailing the perilous commercial seas of the
American ’90s before commissions, investigations, and inquisitive senate
insisted on applying whitewash to the black flag of trade.

Selina went about her preparations in a singularly clear-headed fashion,
considering her youth and inexperience. She sold one of the blue-white
diamonds, and kept one. She placed her inheritance of four hundred and
ninety-seven dollars, complete, in the bank. She bought stout sensible
boots, two dresses, one a brown lady’s-cloth which she made herself,
finished with white collars and cuffs, very neat (the cuffs to be
protected by black sateen sleevelets, of course, while teaching); and a
wine-red cashmere (mad, but she couldn’t resist it) for best.

She eagerly learned what she could of this region once known as New
Holland. Its people were all truck gardeners, and as Dutch as the
Netherlands from which they or their fathers had come. She heard stories
of wooden shoes worn in the wet prairie fields; of a red-faced plodding
Cornelius Van der Bilt living in placid ignorance of the existence of
his distinguished New York patronymic connection; of sturdy, phlegmatic,
industrious farmers in squat, many-windowed houses patterned after the
north Holland houses of their European memories. Many of them had come
from the town of Schoorl, or near it. Others from the lowlands outside
Amsterdam. Selina pictured it another Sleepy Hollow, a replica of the
quaint settlement in Washington Irving’s delightful tale. The deserting
schoolmaster had been a second Ichabod Crane, naturally; the farmer at
whose house she was to live a modern Mynheer Van Tassel, pipe, chuckle,
and all. She and Julie Hempel read the tale over together on an
afternoon when Julie managed to evade the maternal edict. Selina,
picturing mellow golden corn fields; crusty crullers, crumbling
oly-koeks, toothsome wild ducks, sides of smoked beef, pumpkin pies;
country dances, apple-cheeked farmer girls, felt sorry for poor Julie
staying on in the dull gray commonplaceness of Chicago.

The last week in October found her on the way to High Prairie, seated
beside Klaas Pool in the two-horse wagon with which he brought his
garden stuff to the Chicago market. She sat perched next him on the high
seat like a saucy wren beside a ruminant Holstein. So they jolted up the
long Halsted road through the late October sunset. The prairie land just
outside Chicago had not then been made a terrifying and epic thing of
slag-heaps, smoke-stacks, and blast furnaces like a Pennell drawing.
To-day it stretched away and away in the last rays of the late autumn
sunlight over which the lake mist was beginning to creep like chiffon
covering gold. Mile after mile of cabbage fields, jade-green against the
earth. Mile after mile of red cabbage, a rich plummy Burgundy veined
with black. Between these, heaps of corn were piled-up sunshine. Against
the horizon an occasional patch of woods showed the last russet and
bronze of oak and maple. These things Selina saw with her beauty-loving
eye, and she clasped her hands in their black cotton gloves.

“Oh, Mr. Pool!” she cried. “Mr. Pool! How beautiful it is here!”

Klaas Pool, driving his team of horses down the muddy Halsted road, was
looking straight ahead, his eyes fastened seemingly on an invisible spot
between the off-horse’s ears. His was not the kind of brain that acts
quickly, nor was his body’s mechanism the sort that quickly responds to
that brain’s message. His eyes were china-blue in a round red face that
was covered with a stubble of stiff golden hairs. His round moon of a
head was set low and solidly between his great shoulders, so that as he
began to turn it now, slowly, you marvelled at the process and waited
fearfully to hear a creak. He was turning his head toward Selina, but
keeping his gaze on the spot between his horse’s ears. Evidently the
head and the eyes revolved by quite distinct processes. Now he faced
Selina almost directly. Then he brought his eyes around, slowly, until
they focussed on her cameo-like face all alight now with her enjoyment
of the scene around her; with a certain elation at this new venture into
which she was entering; and with excitement such as she used to feel
when the curtain rose with tantalizing deliberateness on the first act
of a play which she was seeing with her father. She was well bundled up
against the sharp October air in her cloak and muffler, with a shawl
tucked about her knees and waist. The usual creamy pallor of her fine
clear skin showed an unwonted pink, and her eyes were wide, dark, and
bright. Beside this sparkling delicate girl’s face Klaas Pool’s heavy
features seemed carved from the stuff of another clay and race. His pale
blue eyes showed incomprehension.

“Beautiful?” he echoed, in puzzled interrogation. “What is beautiful?”

Selina’s slim arms flashed out from the swathings of cloak, shawl, and
muffler and were flung wide in a gesture that embraced the landscape on
which the late afternoon sun was casting a glow peculiar to that lake
region, all rose and golden and mist-shimmering.

“This! The—the cabbages.”

A slow-dawning film of fun crept over the blue of Klaas Pool’s stare.
This film spread almost imperceptibly so that it fluted his broad
nostrils, met and widened his full lips, reached and agitated his
massive shoulders, tickled the round belly, so that all Klaas Pool, from
his eyes to his waist, was rippling and shaking with slow, solemn, heavy
Dutch mirth.

“Cabbages is beautiful!” his round pop eyes staring at her in a fixity
of glee. “Cabbages is beautiful!” His silent laughter now rose and
became audible in a rich throaty chortle. It was plain that laughter,
with Klaas Pool, was not a thing to be lightly dismissed, once raised.
“Cabbages——” he choked a little, and spluttered, overcome. Now he
began to shift his gaze back to his horses and the road, by the same
process of turning his head first and then his eyes, so that to Selina
the mirthful tail of his right eye and his round red cheek with the
golden fuzz on it gave him an incredibly roguish brownie look.

Selina laughed, too, even while she protested his laughter. “But they
are!” she insisted. “They _are_ beautiful. Like jade and Burgundy. No,
like—uh—like—what’s that in—like chrysoprase and porphyry. All those
fields of cabbages and the corn and the beet-tops together look like
Persian patches.”

Which was, certainly, no way for a new school teacher to talk to a
Holland truck gardener driving his team along the dirt road on his way
to High Prairie. But then, Selina, remember, had read Byron at
seventeen.

Klaas Pool knew nothing of chrysoprase and porphyry. Nor of Byron. Nor,
for that matter, of jade and Burgundy. But he did know cabbages, both
green and red. He knew cabbage from seed to sauerkraut; he knew and grew
varieties from the sturdy Flat Dutch to the early Wakefield. But that
they were beautiful; that they looked like jewels; that they lay like
Persian patches, had never entered his head, and rightly. What has the
head of a cabbage, or, for that matter, of a robust, soil-stained,
toiling Dutch truck farmer to do with nonsense like chrysoprase, with
jade, with Burgundy, with Persian patterns!

The horses clopped down the heavy country road. Now and again the bulk
beside Selina was agitated silently, as before. And from between the
golden fuzz of stubble beard she would hear, “Cabbages! Cabbages is
——” But she did not feel offended. She could not have been offended at
anything to-day. For in spite of her recent tragedy, her nineteen years,
her loneliness, the terrifying thought of this new home to which she was
going, among strangers, she was conscious of a warm little thrill of
elation, of excitement—of adventure! That was it. “The whole thing’s
just a grand adventure,” Simeon Peake had said. Selina gave a little
bounce of anticipation. She was doing a revolutionary and daring thing;
a thing that the Vermont and now, fortunately, inaccessible Peakes would
have regarded with horror. For equipment she had youth, curiosity, a
steel-strong frame; one brown lady’s-cloth, one wine-red cashmere; four
hundred and ninety-seven dollars; and a gay, adventuresome spirit that
was never to die, though it led her into curious places and she often
found, at the end, only a trackless waste from which she had to retrace
her steps, painfully. But always, to her, red and green cabbages were to
be jade and Burgundy, chrysoprase and porphyry. Life has no weapons
against a woman like that.

So now, as they bumped and jolted along the road Selina thought herself
lucky, though she was a little terrified. She turned her gaze from the
flat prairie land to the silent figure beside her. Hers was a lively,
volatile nature, and his uncommunicativeness made her vaguely
uncomfortable. Yet there was nothing glum about his face. Upon it there
even lingered, in the corners of his eyes and about his mouth, faint
shadows of merriment.

Klaas Pool was a school director. She was to live at his house. Perhaps
she should not have said that about the cabbages. So now she drew
herself up primly and tried to appear the school teacher, and succeeded
in looking as severe as a white pansy.

“Ahem!” (or nearly that). “You have three children, haven’t you, Mr.
Pool? They’ll all be my pupils?”

Klaas Pool ruminated on this. He concentrated so that a slight frown
marred the serenity of his brow. In this double question of hers, an
attempt to give the conversation a dignified turn, she had apparently
created some difficulty for her host. He was trying to shake his head
two ways at the same time. This gave it a rotary motion. Selina saw,
with amazement, that he was attempting to nod negation and confirmation
at once.

“You mean you haven’t—or they’re not?—or——?”

“I have got three children. All will not be your pupils.” There was
something final, unshakable in his delivery of this.

“Dear me! Why not? Which ones won’t?”

This fusillade proved fatal. It served permanently to check the slight
trickle of conversation which had begun to issue from his lips. They
jogged on for perhaps a matter of three miles, in silence. Selina told
herself then, sternly, that she must not laugh. Having told herself
this, sternly, she began to laugh because she could not help it; a gay
little sound that flew out like the whir of a bird’s wing on the crisp
autumnal sunset air. And suddenly this light sound was joined by a slow
rumbling that swelled and bubbled a good deal in the manner of the rich
glubby sounds that issue from a kettle that has been simmering for a
long time. So they laughed together, these two; the rather scared young
thing who was trying to be prim, and the dull, unimaginative truck
farmer because this alert, great-eyed, slim white creature perched
birdlike on the wagon seat beside him had tickled his slow humour-sense.

Selina felt suddenly friendly and happy. “Do tell me which ones will and
which won’t.”

“Geertje goes to school. Jozina goes to school. Roelf works by the
farm.”

“How old is Roelf?” She was being school teacherly again.

“Roelf is twelve.”

“Twelve! And no longer at school! But why not!”

“Roelf he works by the farm.”

“Doesn’t Roelf like school?”

“But sure.”

“Don’t you think he ought to go to school?”

“But sure.”

Having begun, she could not go back. “Doesn’t your wife want Roelf to go
to school any more?”

“Maartje? But sure.”

She gathered herself together; hurled herself behind the next question.
“Then why _doesn’t_ he go to school, for pity’s sake!”

Klaas Pool’s pale blue eyes were fixed on the spot between the horse’s
ears. His face was serene, placid, patient.

“Roelf he works by the farm.”

Selina subsided, beaten.

She wondered about Roelf. Would he be a furtive, slinking boy, like
Smike? Geertje and Jozina. Geertje—Gertrude, of course. Jozina?
Josephine. Maartje?—m-m-m-m—Martha, probably. At any rate, it was
going to be interesting. It was going to be wonderful! Suppose she had
gone to Vermont and become a dried apple!

Dusk was coming on. The lake mist came drifting across the prairie and
hung, a pearly haze, over the frost-nipped stubble and the leafless
trees. It caught the last light in the sky, and held it, giving to
fields, trees, black earth, to the man seated stolidly beside the girl,
and to the face of the girl herself an opalescent glow very wonderful to
see. Selina, seeing it, opened her lips to exclaim again; and then,
remembering, closed them. She had learned her first lesson in High
Prairie.



                                  III


The Klaas Pools lived in a typical High Prairie house. They had passed a
score like it in the dusk. These sturdy Holland-Americans had built here
in Illinois after the pattern of the squat houses that dot the lowlands
about Amsterdam, Haarlem, and Rotterdam. A row of pollards stood stiffly
by the roadside. As they turned in at the yard Selina’s eye was caught
by the glitter of glass. The house was many-windowed, the panes the size
of pocket-handkerchiefs. Even in the dusk Selina thought she had never
seen windows sparkle so. She did not then know that spotless
window-panes were a mark of social standing in High Prairie. Yard and
dwelling had a geometrical neatness like that of a toy house in a set of
playthings. The effect was marred by a clothes-line hung with a dado of
miscellaneous wash—a pair of faded overalls, a shirt, socks, a man’s
drawers carefully patched and now bellying grotesquely in the breeze
like a comic tramp turned bacchanal. Selina was to know this frieze of
nether garments as a daily decoration in the farm-wife’s yard.

Peering down over the high wheel she waited for Klaas Pool to assist her
in alighting. He seemed to have no such thought. Having jumped down, he
was throwing empty crates and boxes out of the back of the wagon. So
Selina, gathering her shawls and cloak about her, clambered down the
side of the wheel and stood looking about her in the dim light, a very
small figure in a very large world. Klaas had opened the barn door. Now
he returned and slapped one of the horses smartly on the flank. The team
trotted obediently off to the barn. He picked up her little hide-bound
trunk. She took her satchel. The yard was quite dark now. As Klaas Pool
opened the kitchen door the red mouth that was the open draught in the
kitchen stove grinned a toothy welcome at them.

A woman stood over the stove, a fork in her hand. The kitchen was clean,
but disorderly, with the disorder that comes of pressure of work. There
was a not unpleasant smell of cooking. Selina sniffed it hungrily. The
woman turned to face them. Selina stared.

This, she thought, must be some other—an old woman—his mother perhaps.
But: “Maartje, here is school teacher,” said Klaas Pool. Selina put out
her hand to meet the other woman’s hand, rough, hard, calloused. Her
own, touching it, was like satin against a pine board. Maartje smiled,
and you saw her broken discoloured teeth. She pushed back the sparse
hair from her high forehead, fumbled a little, shyly, at the collar of
her clean blue calico dress.

“Pleased to meet you,” Maartje said, primly. “Make you welcome.” Then,
as Pool stamped out to the yard, slamming the door behind him, “Pool he
could have come with you by the front way, too. Lay off your things.”
Selina began to remove the wrappings that swathed her—the muffler, the
shawl, the cloak. Now she stood, a slim, incongruously elegant little
figure in that kitchen. The brown lady’s-cloth was very tight and
basqued above, very flounced and bustled below. “My, how you are young!”
cried Maartje. She moved nearer, as if impelled, and fingered the stuff
of Selina’s gown. And as she did this Selina suddenly saw that she, too,
was young. The bad teeth, the thin hair, the careless dress, the
littered kitchen, the harassed frown—above all these, standing out
clearly, appeared the look of a girl.

“Why, I do believe she’s not more than twenty-eight!” Selina said to
herself in a kind of panic. “I do believe she’s not more than
twenty-eight.”

She had been aware of the two pigtailed heads appearing and vanishing in
the doorway of the next room. Now Maartje was shooing her into this
room. Evidently her hostess was distressed because the school teacher’s
formal entrance had not been made by way of parlour instead of kitchen.
She followed Maartje Pool into the front room. Behind the stove,
tittering, were two yellow-haired little girls. Geertje and Jozina, of
course. Selina went over to them, smiling. “Which is Geertje?” she
asked. “And which Jozina?” But at this the titters became squeals. They
retired behind the round black bulwark of the woodburner, overcome.
There was no fire in this shining ebon structure, though the evening was
sharp. Above the stove a length of pipe, glittering with polish as was
the stove itself, crossed the width of the room and vanished through a
queer little perforated grating in the ceiling. Selina’s quick glance
encompassed the room. In the window were a few hardy plants in pots on a
green-painted wooden rack. There were geraniums, blossomless; a cactus
with its thick slabs of petals like slices of gangrenous ham set up for
beauty in a parlour; a plant called Jacob’s ladder, on a spindling
trellis. The bony scaffolding of the green-painted wooden stand was
turned toward the room. The flowers blindly faced the dark square of the
window. There was a sofa with a wrinkled calico cover; three rocking
chairs; some stark crayons of incredibly hard-featured Dutch ancients on
the wall. It was all neat, stiff, unlovely. But Selina had known too
many years of boarding-house ugliness to be offended at this.

Maartje had lighted a small glass-bowled lamp. The chimney of this
sparkled as had the window panes. A steep, uncarpeted stairway,
enclosed, led off the sitting room. Up this Maartje Pool, talking, led
the way to Selina’s bedroom. Selina was to learn that the farm woman,
often inarticulate through lack of companionship, becomes a torrent of
talk when opportunity presents itself. They made quite a little
procession. First, Mrs. Pool with the lamp; then Selina with the
satchel; then, tap-tap, tap-tap, Jozina and Geertje, their heavy
hob-nailed shoes creating a great clatter on the wooden stairs, though
they were tip-toeing in an effort to make themselves unheard by their
mother. There evidently had been an arrangement on the subject of their
invisibility. The procession moved to the accompaniment of Maartje’s,
“Now you stay downstairs didn’t I tell you!” There was in her tone a
warning; a menace. The two pigtails would hang back a moment, only to
come tap-tapping on again, their saucer eyes at once fearful and
mischievous.

A narrow, dim, close-smelling hallway, uncarpeted. At the end of it a
door opening into the room that was to be Selina’s. As its chill struck
her to the marrow three objects caught her eye. The bed, a huge and not
unhandsome walnut mausoleum, reared its sombre height almost to the
room’s top. Indeed, its apex of grapes did actually seem to achieve a
meeting with the whitewashed ceiling. The mattress of straw and
corn-husks was unworthy of this edifice, but over it Mrs. Pool had
mercifully placed a feather bed, stitched and quilted, so that Selina
lay soft and warm through the winter. Along one wall stood a low chest
so richly brown as to appear black. The front panel of this was
curiously carved. Selina stooped before it and for the second time that
day said: “How beautiful!” then looked quickly round at Maartje Pool as
though fearful of finding her laughing as Klaas Pool had laughed. But
Mrs. Pool’s face reflected the glow in her own. She came over to Selina
and stooped with her over the chest, holding the lamp so that its yellow
flame lighted up the scrolls and tendrils of the carved surface. With
one discoloured forefinger she traced the bold flourishes on the panel.
“See? How it makes out letters?”

Selina peered closer. “Why, sure enough! This first one’s an S!”

Maartje was kneeling before the chest now. “Sure an S. For Sophia. It is
a Holland bride’s chest. And here is K. And here is big D. It makes
Sophia Kroon DeVries. It is anyways two hundred years. My mother she
gave it to me when I was married, and her mother she gave it to her when
she was married, and her mother gave it to her when she was married, and
her——”

“I should think so!” exclaimed Selina, rather meaninglessly; but
stemming the torrent. “What’s in it? Anything? There ought to be bride’s
clothes in it, yellow with age.”

“It is!” cried Maartje Pool and gave a little bounce that imperilled the
lamp.

“No!” The two on their knees sat smiling at each other, wide-eyed, like
schoolgirls. The pigtails, emboldened, had come tap-tapping nearer and
were peering over the shoulders of the women before the chest.

“Here—wait.” Maartje Pool thrust the lamp into Selina’s hand, raised
the lid of the chest, dived expertly into its depths amidst a great
rustling of old newspapers and emerged red-faced with a Dutch basque and
voluminous skirt of silk; an age-yellow cap whose wings, stiff with
embroidery, stood out grandly on either side; a pair of wooden shoes,
stained terra-cotta like the sails of the Vollendam fishing boats, and
carved from toe to heel in a delicate and intricate pattern. A bridal
gown, a bridal cap, bridal shoes.

“Well!” said Selina, with the feeling of a little girl in a rich attic
on a rainy day. She clasped her hands. “May I dress up in it some time?”

Maartje Pool, folding the garments hastily, looked shocked and
horrified. “Never must anybody dress up in a bride’s dress only to get
married. It brings bad luck.” Then, as Selina stroked the stiff silken
folds of the skirt with a slim and caressing forefinger: “So you get
married to a High Prairie Dutchman I let you wear it.” At this absurdity
they both laughed again. Selina thought that this school-teaching
venture was starting out very well. She would have _such_ things to tell
her father—then she remembered. She shivered a little as she stood up
now. She raised her arms to take off her hat, feeling suddenly tired,
cold, strange in this house with this farm woman, and the two staring
little girls, and the great red-faced man. There surged over her a great
wave of longing for her father—for the gay little dinners, for the
theatre treats, for his humorous philosophical drawl, for the Chicago
streets, and the ugly Chicago houses; for Julie; for Miss Fister’s
school; for anything and any one that was accustomed, known, and
therefore dear. Even Aunt Abbie and Aunt Sarah had a not unlovely
aspect, viewed from this chill farmhouse bedroom that had suddenly
become her home. She had a horrible premonition that she was going to
cry, began to blink very fast, turned a little blindly in the dim light
and caught sight of the room’s third arresting object. A blue-black
cylinder of tin sheeting, like a stove and yet unlike. It was polished
like the length of pipe in the sitting room below. Indeed, it was
evidently a giant flower of this stem.

“What’s that?” demanded Selina, pointing.

Maartje Pool, depositing the lamp on the little wash-stand preparatory
to leaving, smiled pridefully. “Drum.”

“Drum?”

“For heat your room.” Selina touched it. It was icy. “When there is
fire,” Mrs. Pool added, hastily. In her mind’s eye Selina traced the tin
tube below running along the ceiling in the peaceful and orderly path of
a stove-pipe, thrusting its way through the cylindrical hole in the
ceiling and here bursting suddenly into swollen and monstrous bloom like
an unthinkable goitre on a black neck. Selina was to learn that its
heating powers were mythical. Even when the stove in the sitting room
was blazing away with a cheerful roar none of the glow communicated
itself to the drum. It remained as coolly indifferent to the blasts
breathed upon it as a girl hotly besieged by an unwelcome lover. This
was to influence a number of Selina’s habits, including nocturnal
reading and matutinal bathing. Selina was a daily morning bather in a
period which looked upon the daily bath as an eccentricity, or, at best,
an affectation. It would be charming to be able to record that she
continued the practice in the Pool household; but a morning bath in the
arctic atmosphere of an Illinois prairie farmhouse would not have been
eccentric merely, but mad, even if there had been an available kettle of
hot water at 6.30 A. M., which there emphatically was not. Selina was
grateful for an occasional steaming basin of water at night and a
hurried piecemeal bath by the mythical heat of the drum.

“Maartje!” roared a voice from belowstairs. The voice of the hungry
male. There was wafted up, too, a faint smell of scorching. Then came
sounds of a bumping and thumping along the narrow stairway.

“Og heden!” cried Maartje, in a panic, her hands high in air. She was
off, sweeping the two pigtails with her in her flight. There were sounds
of scuffling on the stairway, and Maartje’s voice calling something that
sounded like hookendunk to Selina. But she decided that that couldn’t
be. The bumping now sounded along the passage outside her room. Selina
turned from her satchel to behold a gnome in the doorway. Below, she saw
a pair of bow-legs; above, her own little hide-bound trunk; between, a
broad face, a grizzled beard, a lack-lustre eye in a weather-beaten
countenance.

“Jakob Hoogendunk,” the gnome announced, briefly, peering up at her from
beneath the trunk balanced on his back.

Selina laughed delightedly. “Not really! Do come in. This is a good
place, don’t you think? Along the wall? Mr.—Mr. Hoogendunk?”

Jakob Hoogendunk grunted and plodded across the room, the trunk lurching
perilously above his bow-legged stride. He set it down with a final
thump, wiped his nose with the back of his hand—sign of a task
completed—and surveyed the trunk largely, as if he had made it. “Thank
you, Mr. Hoogendunk,” said Selina, and put out her hand. “I’m Selina
Peake. How”—she couldn’t resist it—“how did you leave Rip?”

It was characteristic of her that in this grizzled hired man, twisted
with rheumatism, reeking of mould and manure, she should see a direct
descendant of those gnarled and bearded bowlers so mysteriously
encountered by Rip Van Winkle on that fatal day in the Kaatskills. The
name, too, appealed to her in its comic ugliness. So she laughed a soft
little laugh; held out her hand. The man was not offended. He knew that
people laughed when they were introduced. So he laughed, too, in a
mixture of embarrassment and attempted ease, looking down at the small
hand extended to him. He blinked at it curiously. He wiped his two hands
down his thighs, hard; then shook his great grizzled head. “My hand is
all muck. I ain’t washed up yet,” and lurched off, leaving Selina
looking rather helplessly down at her own extended hand. His clatter on
the wooden stairway sounded like cavalry on a frozen road.

Left alone in her room Selina unlocked her trunk and took from it two
photographs—one of a mild-looking man with his hat a little on one
side, the other of a woman who might have been a twenty-five-year-old
Selina, minus the courageous jaw-line. Looking about for a fitting place
on which to stand these leather-framed treasures she considered the top
of the chill drum, humorously, then actually placed them there, for lack
of better refuge, from which vantage point they regarded her with
politely interested eyes. Perhaps Jakob Hoogendunk would put up a shelf
for her. That would serve for her little stock of books and for the
pictures as well. She was enjoying that little flush of exhilaration
that comes to a woman, unpacking. There was about her trunk, even though
closed but this very day, the element of surprise that gilds familiar
objects when disclosed for the first time in unfamiliar surroundings.
She took out her neat pile of warm woollen underwear, her stout shoes.
She shook out the crushed folds of the wine-coloured cashmere. Now, if
ever, she should have regretted its purchase. But she didn’t. No one,
she reflected, as she spread it rosily on the bed, possessing a
wine-coloured cashmere could be altogether downcast.

The wine cashmere on the bed, the photographs on the drum, her clothes
hanging comfortably on wall-hooks with a calico curtain on a cord
protecting them, her stock of books on the closed trunk. Already the
room wore the aspect of familiarity.

From belowstairs came the hiss of frying. Selina washed in the chill
water of the basin, took down her hair and coiled it again before the
swimmy little mirror over the wash-stand. She adjusted the stitched
white bands of the severe collar and patted the cuffs of the brown
lady’s-cloth. The tight basque was fastened with buttons from throat to
waist. Her fine long head rose above this trying base with such grace
and dignity as to render the stiff garment beautiful. The skirt billowed
and puffed out behind, and was drawn in folds across the front. It was a
day of appalling bunchiness and equally appalling tightness in dress; of
panniers, galloons, plastrons, reveres, bustles, and all manner of lumpy
bedevilment. That Selina could appear in this disfiguring garment a
creature still graceful, slim, and pliant was a sheer triumph of spirit
over matter.

She blew out the light now and descended the steep wooden stairway to
the unlighted parlour. The door between parlour and kitchen was closed.
Selina sniffed sensitively. There was pork for supper. She was to learn
that there always was pork for supper. As the winter wore on she
developed a horror of this porcine fare, remembering to have read
somewhere that one’s diet was in time reflected in one’s face; that
gross eating made one gross looking. She would examine her features
fearfully in the swimmy mirror—the lovely little white nose—was it
coarsening? The deep-set dark eyes—were they squinting? The firm sweet
lips—were they broadening? But the reflection in the glass reassured
her.

She hesitated a moment there in the darkness. Then she opened the
kitchen door. There swam out at her a haze of smoke, from which emerged
round blue eyes, guttural talk, the smell of frying grease, of stable,
of loam, and of woollen wash freshly brought in from the line. With an
inrush of cold air that sent the blue haze into swirls the outer kitchen
door opened. A boy, his arm piled high with stove-wood, entered; a dark,
handsome sullen boy who stared at Selina over the armload of wood.
Selina stared back at him. There sprang to life between the boy of
twelve and the woman of nineteen an electric current of feeling.

“Roelf,” thought Selina; and even took a step toward him, inexplicably
drawn.

“Hurry then with that wood there!” fretted Maartje at the stove. The boy
flung the armful into the box, brushed his sleeve and coat-front
mechanically, still looking at Selina. A slave to the insatiable maw of
the wood-box.

Klaas Pool, already at table, thumped with his knife. “Sit down! Sit
down, teacher.” Selina hesitated, looked at Maartje. Maartje was holding
a frying pan aloft in one hand while with the other she thrust and poked
a fresh stick of wood into the open-lidded stove. The two pigtails
seated themselves at the table, set with its red-checked cloth and
bone-handled cutlery. Jakob Hoogendunk, who had been splashing,
snorting, and puffing porpoise-fashion in a corner over a hand-basin
whose cubic contents were out of all proportion to the sounds extracted
therefrom, now seated himself. Roelf flung his cap on a wall-hook and
sat down. Only Selina and Maartje remained standing. “Sit down! Sit
down!” Klaas Pool said again, jovially. “Well, how is cabbages?” He
chuckled and winked. Jakob Hoogendunk snorted. A duet of titters from
the pigtails. Maartje at the stove smiled; but a trifle grimly, one
might have thought, watching her. Evidently Klaas had not hugged his
joke in secret. Only the boy Roelf remained unsmiling. Even Selina,
feeling the red mounting her cheeks, smiled a little, nervously, and sat
down with some suddenness.

Maartje Pool now thumped down on the table a great bowl of potatoes
fried in grease; a platter of ham. There was bread cut in chunks. The
coffee was rye, roasted in the oven, ground, and taken without sugar or
cream. Of this food there was plenty. It made Mrs. Tebbitt’s Monday
night meal seem ambrosial. Selina’s visions of chickens, oly-koeks, wild
ducks, crusty crullers, and pumpkin pies vanished, never to return. She
had been very hungry, but now, as she talked, nodded, smiled, she cut
her food into infinitesimal bites, did not chew them so very well, and
despised herself for being dainty. A slight, distinctive little figure
there in the yellow lamplight, eating this coarse fare bravely, turning
her soft dark glance on the woman who was making countless trips from
stove to table, from table to stove; on the sullen handsome boy with his
purplish chapped hands and his sombre eyes; on the two round-eyed,
red-cheeked little girls; on the great red-faced full-lipped man eating
his supper noisily and with relish; on Jakob Hoogendunk, grazing
greedily. . . .

“Well,” she thought, “it’s going to be different enough, that’s
certain. . . . This is a vegetable farm, and they don’t eat vegetables.
I wonder why. . . . What a pity that she lets herself look like that,
just because she’s a farm woman. Her hair screwed into that knob, her
skin rough and neglected. That hideous dress. Shapeless. She’s not bad
looking, either. A red spot on either cheek, now; and her eyes so blue.
A little like those women in the Dutch pictures Father took me to see
in—where?—where?—New York, years ago?—yes. A woman in a kitchen, a
dark sort of room with pots of brass on a shelf; a high mullioned
window. But that woman’s face was placid. This one’s strained. Why need
she look like that, frowsy, harried, old! . . . The boy is, somehow,
foreign looking—Italian. Queer. . . . They talk a good deal like some
German neighbours we had in Milwaukee. They twist sentences. Literal
translations from the Dutch, I suppose.” . . .

Jakob Hoogendunk was talking. Supper over, the men sat relaxed, pipe in
mouth. Maartje was clearing the supper things, with Geertje and Jozina
making a great pretense at helping. If they giggled like that in school,
Selina thought, she would, in time, go mad, and knock their pigtailed
heads together.

“You got to have rich bottom land,” Hoogendunk was saying, “else you get
little tough stringy stuff. I seen it in market Friday, laying. Stick to
vegetables that is vegetables and not new-fangled stuff. Celery! What is
celery! It ain’t rightly a vegetable, and it ain’t a yerb. Look how
Voorhees he used as much as one hundred fifty pounds nitrate of sody,
let alone regular fertilizer, and what comes from it? Little stringy
stuff. You got to have rich bottom land.”

Selina was interested. She had always thought that vegetables grew. You
put them in the ground—seeds or something—and pretty soon things came
popping up—potatoes, cabbages, onions, carrots, beets. But what was
this thing called nitrate of soda? It must have had something to do with
the creamed cabbage at Mrs. Tebbitt’s. And she had never known it. And
what was regular fertilizer? She leaned forward.

“What’s a regular fertilizer?”

Klaas Pool and Jakob Hoogendunk looked at her. She looked at them, her
fine intelligent eyes alight with interest. Pool then tipped back his
chair, lifted a stove-lid, spat into the embers, replaced the lid and
rolled his eyes in the direction of Jakob Hoogendunk. Hoogendunk rolled
his slow gaze in the direction of Klaas Pool. Then both turned to look
at this audacious female who thus interrupted men’s conversation.

Pool took his pipe from his mouth, blew a thin spiral, wiped his mouth
with the back of his hand. “Regular fertilizer is—regular fertilizer.”

Jakob Hoogendunk nodded his solemn confirmation of this.

“What’s in it?” persisted Selina.

Pool waved a huge red hand as though to waft away this troublesome
insect. He looked at Maartje. But Maartje was slamming about her work.
Geertje and Jozina were absorbed in some game of their own behind the
stove. Roelf, at the table, sat reading, one slim hand, chapped and
gritty with rough work, outspread on the cloth. Selina noticed, without
knowing she noticed, that the fingers were long, slim, and the broken
nails thin and fine. “But what’s in it?” she said again. Suddenly life
in the kitchen hung suspended. The two men frowned. Maartje half turned
from her dishpan. The two little girls peered out from behind the stove.
Roelf looked up from his book. Even the collie, lying in front of the
stove half asleep, suddenly ran his tongue out, winked one eye. But
Selina, all sociability, awaited her answer. She could not know that in
High Prairie women did not brazenly intrude thus on men’s weighty
conversation. The men looked at her, unanswering. She began to feel a
little uncomfortable. The boy Roelf rose and went to the cupboard in the
kitchen corner. He took down a large green-bound book, and placed it in
Selina’s hand. The book smelled terribly. Its covers were greasy with
handling. On the page margins a brown stain showed the imprint of
fingers. Roelf pointed at a page. Selina followed the line with her eye.

             Good Basic Fertilizer for Market-Garden Crops.

Then, below:

                           Nitrate of soda.
                           Ammonium sulfate.
                           Dried blood.

Selina shut the book and handed it back to Roelf, gingerly. Dried blood!
She stared at the two men. “What does it mean by dried blood?”

Klaas answered stubbornly, “Dried blood is dried blood. You put in the
field dried blood and it makes grow. Cabbages, onions, squash.” At sight
of her horrified face he grinned. “Well, cabbages is anyway beautiful,
huh?” He rolled a facetious eye around at Jakob. Evidently this joke was
going to last him the winter.

Selina stood up. She wasn’t annoyed; but she wanted, suddenly, to be
alone in her room—in the room that but an hour before had been a
strange and terrifying chamber with its towering bed, its chill drum,
its ghostly bride’s chest. Now it had become a refuge, snug, safe,
infinitely desirable. She turned to Mrs. Pool. “I—I think I’ll go up to
my room. I’m very tired. The ride, I suppose. I’m not used . . .” Her
voice trailed off.

“Sure,” said Maartje, briskly. She had finished the supper dishes and
was busy with a huge bowl, flour, a baking board. “Sure go up. I got my
bread to set yet and what all.”

“If I could have some hot water——”

“Roelf! Stop once that reading and show school teacher where is hot
water. Geertje! Jozina! Never in my world did I see such.” She cuffed a
convenient pigtail by way of emphasis. A wail arose.

“Never mind. It doesn’t matter. Don’t bother.” Selina was in a sort of
panic now. She wanted to be out of the room. But the boy Roelf, with
quiet swiftness, had taken a battered tin pail from its hook on the
wall, had lifted an iron slab at the back of the kitchen stove. A mist
of steam arose. He dipped the pail into the tiny reservoir thus
revealed. Then, as Selina made as though to take it, he walked past her.
She heard him ascending the wooden stairway. She wanted to be after him.
But first she must know the name of the book over which he had been
poring. But between her and the book outspread on the table were Pool,
Hoogendunk, dog, pigtails, Maartje. She pointed with a determined
forefinger. “What’s that book Roelf was reading?”

Maartje thumped a great ball of dough on the baking board. Her arms were
white with flour. She kneaded and pummelled expertly. “Woorden boek.”

Well. That meant nothing. Woorden boek. Woorden b—— Dimly the meaning
of the Dutch words began to come to her. But it couldn’t be. She brushed
past the men in the tipped-back chairs, stepped over the collie, reached
across the table. Woorden—word. Boek—book. Word book. “He’s reading
the dictionary!” Selina said, aloud. “He’s reading the dictionary!” She
had the horrible feeling that she was going to laugh and cry at once;
hysteria.

Mrs. Pool glanced around. “School teacher he gave it to Roelf time he
quit last year for spring planting. A word book. In it is more as a
hundred thousand words, all different.”

Selina flung a good-night over her shoulder and made for the stairway.
He should have all her books. She would send to Chicago for books. She
would spend her thirty dollars a month buying books for him. He had been
reading the dictionary!

Roelf had placed the pail of hot water on the little wash-stand, and had
lighted the glass lamp. He was intent on replacing the glass chimney
within the four prongs that held it firm. Downstairs, in the crowded
kitchen, he had seemed quite the man. Now, in the yellow lamplight, his
profile sharply outlined, she saw that he was just a small boy with
tousled hair. About his cheeks, his mouth, his chin one could even see
the last faint traces of soft infantile roundness. His trousers,
absurdly cut down from a man’s pair by inexpert hands, hung grotesquely
about his slim shanks.

“He’s just a little boy,” thought Selina, with a quick pang. He was
about to pass her now, without glancing at her, his head down. She put
out her hand; touched his shoulder. He looked up at her, his face
startlingly alive, his eyes blazing. It came to Selina that until now
she had not heard him speak. Her hand pressed the thin stuff of his coat
sleeve.

“Cabbages—fields of cabbages—what you said—they _are_ beautiful,” he
stammered. He was terribly in earnest. Before she could reply he was out
of the room, clattering down the stairs.

Selina stood, blinking a little.

The glow that warmed her now endured while she splashed about in the
inadequate basin; took down the dark soft masses of her hair; put on the
voluminous long-sleeved, high-necked nightgown. Just before she blew out
the lamp her last glimpse was of the black drum stationed like a patient
eunuch in the corner; and she could smile at that; even giggle a little,
what with weariness, excitement, and a general feeling of being awake in
a dream. But once in the vast bed she lay there utterly lost in the
waves of terror and loneliness that envelop one at night in a strange
house amongst strange people. She lay there, tensed and tight, her toes
curled with nervousness, her spine hunched with it, her leg muscles
taut. She peeked over the edge of the covers looking a good deal like a
frightened brownie, if one could have seen her; her eyes very wide, the
pupils turned well toward the corners with the look of listening and
distrust. The sharp November air cut in from the fields that were
fertilized with dried blood. She shivered, and wrinkled up her lovely
little nose and seemed to sniff this loathsome taint in the air. She
listened to the noises that came from belowstairs; voices gruff,
unaccustomed; shrill, high. These ceased and gave place to others less
accustomed to her city-bred ears; a dog’s bark and an answering one; a
far-off train whistle; the dull thud of hoofs stamping on the barn
floor; the wind in the bare tree branches outside the window.

Her watch—a gift from Simeon Peake on her eighteenth birthday—with the
gold case all beautifully engraved with a likeness of a gate, and a
church, and a waterfall and a bird, linked together with spirals and
flourishes of the most graceful description, was ticking away
companionably under her pillow. She felt for it, took it out and held it
in her palm, under her cheek, for comfort.

She knew she would not sleep that night. She knew she would not
sleep——

She awoke to a clear, cold November dawn; children’s voices; the
neighing of horses; a great sizzling and hissing, and scent of frying
bacon; a clucking and squawking in the barnyard. It was six o’clock.
Selina’s first day as a school teacher. In a little more than two hours
she would be facing a whole roomful of round-eyed Geertjes and Jozinas
and Roelfs. The bedroom was cruelly cold. As she threw the bed-clothes
heroically aside Selina decided that it took an appalling amount of
courage—this life that Simeon Peake had called a great adventure.



                                   IV


Every morning throughout November it was the same. At six o’clock: “Miss
Peake! _Oh_, Miss Peake!”

“I’m up!” Selina would call in what she meant to be a gay voice, through
chattering teeth.

“You better come down and dress where is warm here by the stove.”

Peering down the perforations in the floor-hole through which the
parlour chimney swelled so proudly into the drum, Selina could vaguely
descry Mrs. Pool stationed just below, her gaze upturned.

That first morning, on hearing this invitation, Selina had been rocked
between horror and mirth. “I’m not cold, really. I’m almost dressed.
I’ll be down directly.”

Maartje Pool must have sensed some of the shock in the girl’s voice; or,
perhaps, even some of the laughter. “Pool and Jakob are long out already
cutting. Here back of the stove you can dress warm.”

Shivering and tempted though she was, Selina had set her will against
it. A little hardening of the muscles around her jaw so that they stood
out whitely beneath the fine-grained skin. “I won’t go down,” she said
to herself, shaking with the cold. “I won’t come down to dressing behind
the kitchen stove like a—like a peasant in one of those dreadful
Russian novels. . . . That sounds stuck up and horrid. . . . The Pools
are good and kind and decent. . . . But I _won’t_ come down to huddling
behind the stove with a bundle of underwear in my arms. Oh, _dear_, this
corset’s like a casing of ice.”

Geertje and Jozina had no such maidenly scruples. Each morning they
gathered their small woollen garments in a bundle and scudded briskly to
the kitchen for warmth, though their bedroom just off the parlour had by
no means the degree of refrigeration possessed by Selina’s clammy
chamber. Not only that, the Misses Pool slept snugly in the woollen
nether garments that invested them by day and so had only mounds of
woollen petticoats, woollen stockings, and mysterious grimy straps,
bands, and fastenings with which to struggle. Their intimate flannels
had a cactus quality that made the early martyrs’ hair shirts seem, in
comparison, but a fleece-lined cloud. Dressing behind the kitchen stove
was a natural and universal custom in High Prairie.

By the middle of December as Selina stuck her nose cautiously out of the
covers into the midnight blackness of early morning you might have
observed, if it had been at all light, that the tip of that elegant and
erstwhile alabaster feature had been encarmined during the night by a
mischievous brush wielded by that same wight who had been busy painting
fronds and lacy ferns and gorgeous blossoms of silver all over the
bedroom window. Slowly, inch by inch, that bedroom window crept down,
down. Then, too, the Pools objected to the icy blasts which swept the
open stairway and penetrated their hermetically sealed bedrooms below.
Often the water in the pitcher on her washstand was frozen when Selina
awoke. Her garments, laid out the night before so that their donning
next morning might occupy a minimum of time, were mortuary to the touch.
Worst of all were the steel-stiffened, unwieldy, and ridiculous stays
that encased the female form of that day. As Selina’s numbed fingers
struggled with the fastenings of this iciest of garments her ribs shrank
from its arctic embrace.

“But I won’t dress behind the kitchen stove!” declared Selina, glaring
meanwhile at that hollow pretense, the drum. She even stuck her tongue
out at it (only nineteen, remember!). For that matter, it may as well be
known that she brought home a piece of chalk from school and sketched a
demon face on the drum’s bulging front, giving it a personal and horrid
aspect that afforded her much satisfaction.

When she thought back, years later, on that period of her High Prairie
experience, stoves seemed to figure with absurd prominence in her
memory. That might well be. A stove changed the whole course of her
life.

From the first, the schoolhouse stove was her bête noir. Out of the
welter of that first year it stood, huge and menacing, a black tyrant.
The High Prairie schoolhouse in which Selina taught was a little more
than a mile up the road beyond the Pool farm. She came to know that road
in all its moods—ice-locked, drifted with snow, wallowing in mud.
School began at half-past eight. After her first week Selina had the
mathematics of her early morning reduced to the least common
denominator. Up at six. A plunge into the frigid garments; breakfast of
bread, cheese, sometimes bacon, always rye coffee without cream or
sugar. On with the cloak, muffler, hood, mittens, galoshes. The lunch
box in bad weather. Up the road to the schoolhouse, battling the prairie
wind that whipped the tears into the eyes, ploughing the drifts,
slipping on the hard ruts and icy ridges in dry weather. Excellent at
nineteen. As she flew down the road in sun or rain, in wind or snow, her
mind’s eye was fixed on the stove. The schoolhouse reached, her numbed
fingers wrestled with the rusty lock. The door opened, there smote her
the schoolroom smell—a mingling of dead ashes, kerosene, unwashed
bodies, dust, mice, chalk, stove-wood, lunch crumbs, mould, slate that
has been washed with saliva. Into this Selina rushed, untying her
muffler as she entered. In the little vestibule there was a box piled
with chunks of stove-wood and another heaped with dried corn-cobs.
Alongside this a can of kerosene. The cobs served as kindling. A dozen
or more of these you soaked with kerosene and stuffed into the maw of
the rusty iron pot-bellied stove. A match. Up flared the corn-cobs. Now
was the moment for a small stick of wood; another to keep it company.
Shut the door. Draughts. Dampers. Smoke. Suspense. A blaze, then a
crackle. The wood has caught. In with a chunk now. A wait. Another
chunk. Slam the door. The schoolhouse fire is started for the day. As
the room thawed gradually Selina removed layers of outer garments. By
the time the children arrived the room was livable.

Naturally, those who sat near this monster baked; those near the windows
froze. Sometimes Selina felt she must go mad beholding the writhings and
contortions of a roomful of wriggling bodies scratching at backs, legs,
and sides as the stove grew hotter and flesh rebelled against the harsh
contact with the prickling undergarments of an over-cautious day.

Selina had seen herself, dignified, yet gentle, instructing a roomful of
Dutch cherubs in the simpler elements of learning. But it is difficult
to be dignified and gracious when you are suffering from chilblains.
Selina fell victim to this sordid discomfort, as did every child in the
room. She sat at the battered pine desk or moved about, a little
ice-wool shawl around her shoulders when the wind was wrong and the
stove balky. Her white little face seemed whiter in contrast with the
black folds of this sombre garment. Her slim hands were rough and
chapped. The oldest child in the room was thirteen, the youngest four
and a half. From eight-thirty until four Selina ruled this grubby
domain; a hot-and-cold roomful of sneezing, coughing, wriggling,
shuffling, dozing children, toe scuffling on agonized heel, and heel
scrunching on agonized toe, in a frenzy of itching.

“Aggie Vander Sijde, parse this sentence: The ground is wet because it
has rained.”

Miss Vander Sijde, eleven, arises with a switching of skirts and a
tossing of pigtail. “‘Ground’ the subject; ‘is wet’ the predicate;
‘because’ . . .”

Selina is listening with school-teacherly expression indicative of
encouragement and approval. “Jan Snip, parse this sentence: The flower
will wither if it is picked.”

Brown lady’s cloth; ice-wool shawl; chalk in hand. Just a phase; a brief
chapter in the adventure. Something to remember and look back on with a
mingling of amusement and wonder. Things were going to happen. Such
things, with life and life and life stretching ahead of her! In five
years—two—even one, perhaps, who knows but that she might be lying on
lacy pillows on just such a bleak winter morning, a satin coverlet over
her, the morning light shaded by soft rose-coloured hangings. (Early
influence of the _Fireside Companion_.)

“What time is it, Celeste?”

“It is now eleven o’clock, madame.”

“Is that all!”

“Would madame like that I prepare her bath now, or later?”

“Later, Celeste. My chocolate now. My letters.”

“. . . and if is the conjunction modifying . . .”

Early in the winter Selina had had the unfortunate idea of opening the
ice-locked windows at intervals and giving the children five minutes of
exercise while the fresh cold air cleared brains and room at once. Arms
waved wildly, heads wobbled, short legs worked vigorously. At the end of
the week twenty High Prairie parents sent protests by note or word of
mouth. Jan and Cornelius, Katrina and Aggie went to school to learn
reading and writing and numbers, not to stand with open windows in the
winter.

On the Pool farm the winter work had set in. Klaas drove into Chicago
with winter vegetables only once a week now. He and Jakob and Roelf were
storing potatoes and cabbages underground; repairing fences; preparing
frames for the early spring planting; sorting seedlings. It had been
Roelf who had taught Selina to build the schoolhouse fire. He had gone
with her on that first morning, had started the fire, filled the water
pail, initiated her in the rites of corn-cobs, kerosene, and dampers. A
shy, dark, silent boy. She set out deliberately to woo him to
friendship.

“Roelf, I have a book called ‘Ivanhoe.’ Would you like to read it?”

“Well, I don’t get much time.”

“You wouldn’t have to hurry. Right there in the house. And there’s
another called ‘The Three Musketeers’.”

He was trying not to look pleased; to appear stolid and Dutch, like the
people from whom he had sprung. Some Dutch sailor ancestor, Selina
thought, or fisherman, must have touched at an Italian port or Spanish
and brought back a wife whose eyes and skin and feeling for beauty had
skipped layer on layer of placid Netherlanders to crop out now in this
wistful sensitive boy.

Selina had spoken to Jakob Hoogendunk about a shelf for her books and
her photographs. He had put up a rough bit of board, very crude and
ugly, but it had served. She had come home one snowy afternoon to find
this shelf gone and in its place a smooth and polished one, with
brackets intricately carved. Roelf had cut, planed, polished, and carved
it in many hours of work in the cold little shed off the kitchen. He had
there a workshop of sorts, fitted with such tools and implements as he
could devise. He did man’s work on the farm, yet often at night Selina
could faintly hear the rasp of his handsaw after she had gone to bed. He
had built a doll’s house for Geertje and Jozina that was the black envy
of every pigtail in High Prairie. This sort of thing was looked upon by
Klaas Pool as foolishness. Roelf’s real work in the shed was the making
and mending of coldframes and hotbeds for the early spring plants.
Whenever possible Roelf neglected this dull work for some fancy of his
own. To this Klaas Pool objected as being “dumb.” For that matter, High
Prairie considered Pool’s boy “dumb like.” He said such things. When the
new Dutch Reformed Church was completed after gigantic effort—red
brick, and the first brick church in High Prairie—bright yellow painted
pews—a red and yellow glass window, most handsome—the Reverend
Vaarwerk brought from New Haarlem to preach the first sermon—Pool’s
Roelf was heard to hint darkly to a group of High Prairie boys that some
night he was going to burn the church down. It was ugly. It hurt you to
look at it, just.

Certainly, the boy was different. Selina, none too knowledgeous herself,
still recognized that here was something rare, something precious to be
fostered, shielded, encouraged.

“Roelf, stop that foolishness, get your ma once some wood. Carving on
that box again instead finishing them coldframes. Some day, by golly, I
show you. I break every stick . . . dumb as a Groningen . . .”

Roelf did not sulk. He seemed not to mind, particularly, but he came
back to the carved box as soon as chance presented itself. Maartje and
Klaas Pool were not cruel people, nor unkind. They were a little
bewildered by this odd creature that they, inexplicably enough, had
produced. It was not a family given to demonstration of affection. Life
was too grim for the flowering of this softer side. Then, too, they had
sprung from a phlegmatic and unemotional people. Klaas toiled like a
slave in the fields and barn; Maartje’s day was a treadmill of cooking,
scrubbing, washing, mending from the moment she arose (four in the
summer, five in the winter) until she dropped with a groan in her bed
often long after the others were asleep. Selina had never seen her kiss
Geertje or Jozina. But once she had been a little startled to see
Maartje, on one of her countless trips between stove and table, run her
hand through the boy’s shock of black hair, down the side of his face to
his chin which she tipped up with an indescribably tender gesture as she
looked down into his eyes. It was a movement fleeting, vague, yet
infinitely compassionate. Sometimes she even remonstrated when Klaas
berated Roelf. “Leave the boy be, then, Klaas. Leave him be, once.”

“She loves him best,” Selina thought. “She’d even try to understand him
if she had time.”

He was reading her books with such hunger as to cause her to wonder if
her stock would last him the winter. Sometimes, after supper, when he
was hammering and sawing away in the little shed Selina would snatch
Maartje’s old shawl off the hook, and swathed in this against draughty
chinks, she would read aloud to him while he carved, or talk to him
above the noise of his tools. Selina was a gay and volatile person. She
loved to make this boy laugh. His dark face would flash into almost
dazzling animation. Sometimes Maartje, hearing their young laughter,
would come to the shed door and stand there a moment, hugging her arms
in her rolled apron and smiling at them, uncomprehending but
companionable.

“You make fun, h’m?”

“Come in, Mrs. Pool. Sit down on my box and make fun, too. Here, you may
have half the shawl.”

“Og Heden! I got no time to sit down.” She was off.

Roelf slid his plane slowly, more slowly, over the surface of a
satin-smooth oak board. He stopped, twined a curl of shaving about his
finger. “When I am a man, and earning, I am going to buy my mother a
silk dress like I saw in a store in Chicago and she should put it on
every day, not only for Sunday; and sit in a chair and make little fine
stitches like Widow Paarlenberg.”

“What else are you going to do when you grow up?” She waited, certain
that he would say something delightful.

“Drive the team to town alone to market.”

“Oh, Roelf!”

“Sure. Already I have gone five times—twice with Jakob and three times
with Pop. Pretty soon, when I am seventeen or eighteen, I can go alone.
At five in the afternoon you start and at nine you are in the Haymarket.
There all night you sleep on the wagon. There are gas lights. The men
play dice and cards. At four in the morning you are ready when they
come, the commission men and the pedlers and the grocery men. Oh, it’s
fine, I tell you!”

“Roelf!” She was bitterly disappointed.

“Here. Look.” He rummaged around in a dusty box in a corner and,
suddenly shy again, laid before her a torn sheet of coarse brown paper
on which he had sketched crudely, effectively, a mêlée of great-haunched
horses; wagons piled high with garden truck; men in overalls and
corduroys; flaring gas torches. He had drawn it with a stub of pencil
exactly as it looked to him. The result was as startling as that
achieved by the present-day disciple of the impressionistic school.

Selina was enchanted.

Many of her evenings during November were spent thus. The family life
was lived in a kitchen blue with pipe smoke, heavy with the smell of
cooking. Sometimes—though rarely—a fire was lighted in the parlour
stove. Often she had school papers to correct—grubby sheaves of
arithmetic, grammar, or spelling lessons. Often she longed to read;
wanted to sew. Her bedroom was too cold. The men sat in the kitchen or
tramped in and out. Geertje and Jozina scuffled and played. Maartje
scuttled about like a harried animal, heavy-footed but incredibly swift.
The floor was always gritty with the sandy loam tracked in by the men’s
heavy boots.

Once, early in December, Selina went into town. The trip was born of
sudden revolt against her surroundings and a great wave of nostalgia for
the dirt and clamour and crowds of Chicago. Early Saturday morning Klaas
drove her to the railway station five miles distant. She was to stay
until Sunday. A letter had been written Julie Hempel ten days before,
but there had been no answer. Once in town she went straight to the
Hempel house. Mrs. Hempel, thin-lipped, met her in the hall and said
that Julie was out of town. She was visiting her friend Miss Arnold, in
Kansas City. Selina was not asked to stay to dinner. She was not asked
to sit down. When she left the house her great fine eyes seemed larger
and more deep-set than ever, and her jaw-line was set hard against the
invasion of tears. Suddenly she hated this Chicago that wanted none of
her; that brushed past her, bumping her elbow and offering no apology;
that clanged, and shrieked, and whistled, and roared in her ears now
grown accustomed to the prairie silence.

“I don’t care,” she said, which meant she did. “I don’t care. Just you
wait. Some day I’m going to be—oh, terribly important. And people will
say, ‘Do you know that wonderful Selina Peake? Well, they say she used
to be a country school teacher and slept in an ice-cold room and ate
pork three times a . . .’ There! I know what I’m going to do. I’m going
to have luncheon and I’ll order the most delicious things. I think I’ll
go to the Palmer House where Father and I . . . no, I couldn’t stand
that. I’ll go to the Auditorium Hotel restaurant and have ice cream; and
chicken broth in a silver cup; and cream puffs, and all kinds of
vegetables and little lamb chops in paper panties. And orange pekoe
tea.”

She actually did order all these things and had a group of amazed
waiters hovering about her table waiting to see her devour this meal,
much as a similar group had stared at David Copperfield when he was
innocent of having bolted the huge dinner ordered in the inn on his way
to London.

She ate the ice cream and drank the orange pekoe (mainly because she
loved the sound of its name; it made her think of chrysanthemums and
cherry blossoms, spices, fans, and slant-eyed maidens). She devoured a
crisp salad with the avidity of a canary pecking at a lettuce leaf. She
flirted with the lamb chops. She remembered the size of her father’s
generous tips and left a sum on the table that temporarily dulled the
edge of the waiter’s hatred of women diners. But the luncheon could not
be said to have been a success. She thought of dinner, and her spirit
quailed. She spent the time between one and three buying portable
presents for the entire Pool household—including bananas for Geertje
and Jozina, for whom that farinaceous fruit had the fascination always
held for the farm child. She caught a train at four thirty-five and
actually trudged the five miles from the station to the farm, arriving
half frozen, weary, with aching arms and nipped toes, to a great welcome
of the squeals, grunts, barks, and gutturals that formed the expression
of the Pool household. She was astonished to find how happy she was to
return to the kitchen stove, to the smell of frying pork, to her own
room with the walnut bed and the book shelf. Even the grim drum had
taken on the dear and comforting aspect of the accustomed.



                                   V


High Prairie swains failed to find Selina alluring. She was too small,
too pale and fragile for their robust taste. Naturally, her coming had
been an event in this isolated community. She would have been surprised
to know with what eagerness and curiosity High Prairie gathered crumbs
of news about her; her appearance, her manner, her dress. Was she stuck
up? Was she new fangled? She failed to notice the agitation of the
parlour curtains behind the glittering windows of the farmhouses she
passed on her way to school. With no visible means of communication news
of her leaped from farm to farm as flame leaps the gaps in a forest
fire. She would have been aghast to learn that High Prairie,
inexplicably enough, knew all about her from the colour of the ribbon
that threaded her neat little white corset covers to the number of books
on her shelf. She thought cabbage fields beautiful; she read books to
that dumb-acting Roelf Pool; she was making over a dress for Maartje
after the pattern of the stylish brown lady’s-cloth she wore (foolishly)
to school. Now and then she encountered a team on the road. She would
call a good-day. Sometimes the driver answered, tardily, as though
surprised. Sometimes he only stared. She almost never saw the High
Prairie farm women, busy in their kitchens.

On her fifth Sunday in the district she accompanied the Pools to the
morning service at the Dutch Reformed Church. Maartje seldom had the
time for such frivolity. But on this morning Klaas hitched up the big
farm wagon with the double seat and took the family complete—Maartje,
Selina, Roelf, and the pigtails. Maartje, out of her kitchen calico and
dressed in her best black, with a funereal bonnet made sadder by a
sparse and drooping feather whose listless fronds emerged surprisingly
from a faded red cotton rose, wore a new strange aspect to Selina’s
eyes, as did Klaas in his clumsy sabbaticals. Roelf had rebelled against
going, had been cuffed for it, and had sat very still all through the
service, gazing at the red and yellow glass church window. Later he
confided to Selina that the sunlight filtering through the crude yellow
panes had imparted a bilious look to the unfortunates seated within its
range, affording him much secret satisfaction.

Selina’s appearance had made quite a stir, of which she was entirely
unaware. As the congregation entered by twos and threes she thought they
resembled startlingly a woodcut in an old illustrated book she once had
seen. The men’s Sunday trousers and coats had a square stiff angularity,
as though chopped out of a block. The women, in shawls and bonnets of
rusty black, were incredibly cut in the same pattern. The unmarried
girls, though, were plump, red-cheeked, and not uncomely, with high
round cheek-bones on which sat a spot of brick-red which imparted no
glow to the face. Their foreheads were prominent and meaningless.

In the midst of this drab assemblage there entered late and rustlingly a
tall, slow-moving woman in a city-bought cloak and a bonnet quite unlike
the vintage millinery of High Prairie. As she came down the aisle Selina
thought she was like a full-sailed frigate. An ample woman, with a fine
fair skin and a ripe red mouth; a high firm bosom and great thighs that
moved rhythmically, slowly. She had thick, insolent eyelids. Her hands,
as she turned the leaves of her hymn book, were smooth and white. As she
entered there was a little rustle throughout the congregation; a craning
of necks. Though she was bustled and flounced and panniered, you
thought, curiously enough, of those lolling white-fleshed and
unconventional ladies whom the sixteenth century painters were always
portraying as having their toe nails cut with nothing on.

“Who’s that?” whispered Selina to Maartje.

“Widow Paarlenberg. She is rich like anything.”

“Yes?” Selina was fascinated.

“Look once how she makes eyes at him.”

“At him? Who? Who?”

“Pervus DeJong. By Gerrit Pon he is sitting with the blue shirt and sad
looking so.”

Selina craned, peered. “The—oh—he’s very good looking, isn’t he?”

“Sure. Widow Paarlenberg is stuck on him. See how
she—Sh-sh-sh!—Reverend Dekker looks at us. I tell you after.”

Selina decided she’d come to church oftener. The service went on, dull,
heavy. It was in English and Dutch. She heard scarcely a word of it. The
Widow Paarlenberg and this Pervus DeJong occupied her thoughts. She
decided, without malice, that the widow resembled one of the sleekest of
the pink porkers rooting in Klaas Pool’s barnyard, waiting to be cut
into Christmas meat.

The Widow Paarlenberg turned and smiled. Her eyes were slippery
(Selina’s term). Her mouth became loose and wide with one corner sliding
down a trifle into something very like a leer.

With one surge the Dutch Reformed congregation leaned forward to see how
Pervus DeJong would respond to this public mark of favour. His gaze was
stern, unsmiling. His eyes were fixed on that extremely dull gentleman,
the Reverend Dekker.

“He’s annoyed,” thought Selina, and was pleased at the thought. “Well, I
may not be a widow, but I’m sure that’s not the way.” And then: “Now I
wonder what it’s like when _he_ smiles.”

According to fiction as Selina had found it in the _Fireside Companion_
and elsewhere, he should have turned at this moment, irresistibly drawn
by the magnetism of her gaze, and smiled a rare sweet smile that lighted
up his stern young face. But he did not. He yawned suddenly and
capaciously. The Reformed Dutch congregation leaned back feeling
cheated. Handsome, certainly, Selina reflected. But then, probably Klaas
Pool, too, had been handsome a few years ago.

The service ended, there was much talk of the weather, seedlings, stock,
the approaching holiday season. Maartje, her Sunday dinner heavy on her
mind, was elbowing her way up the aisle. Here and there she introduced
Selina briefly to a woman friend. “Mrs. Vander Sijde, meet school
teacher.”

“Aggie’s mother?” Selina would begin, primly, only to be swept along by
Maartje on her way to the door. “Mrs. Von Mijnen, meet school teacher.
Is Mrs. Von Mijnen.” They regarded her with a grim gaze. Selina would
smile and nod rather nervously, feeling young, frivolous, and somehow
guilty.

When, with Maartje, she reached the church porch Pervus DeJong was
unhitching the dejected horse that was harnessed to his battered and
lopsided cart. The animal stood with four feet bunched together in a
drooping and pathetic attitude and seemed inevitably meant for mating
with this decrepit vehicle. DeJong untied the reins quickly, and was
about to step into the sagging conveyance when the Widow Paarlenberg
sailed down the church steps with admirable speed for one so amply
proportioned. She made straight for him, skirts billowing, flounces
flying, plumes waving. Maartje clutched Selina’s arm. “Look how she
makes! She asks him to eat Sunday dinner I bet you! See once how he
makes with his head no.”

Selina—and the whole congregation unashamedly watching—could indeed
see how he made with his head no. His whole body seemed set in
negation—the fine head, the broad patient shoulders, the muscular
powerful legs in their ill-fitting Sunday blacks. He shook his head,
gathered up the reins, and drove away, leaving the Widow Paarlenberg to
carry off with such bravado as she could muster this public flouting in
full sight of the Dutch Reformed congregation of High Prairie. It must
be said that she actually achieved this feat with a rather magnificent
composure. Her round pink face, as she turned away, was placid; her
great cowlike eyes mild. Selina abandoned the pink porker simile for
that of a great Persian cat, full-fed and treacherous, its claws all
sheathed in velvet. The widow stepped agilely into her own neat phaeton
with its sleek horse and was off down the hard snowless road, her head
high.

“Well!” exclaimed Selina, feeling as though she had witnessed the first
act of an exciting play. And breathed deeply. So, too, did the watching
congregation, so that the widow could be said to have driven off in
quite a gust.

As they jogged home in the Pool farm wagon Maartje told her tale with a
good deal of savour.

Pervus DeJong had been left a widower two years before. Within a month
of that time Leendert Paarlenberg had died, leaving to his widow the
richest and most profitable farm in the whole community. Pervus DeJong,
on the contrary, through inheritance from his father, old Johannes,
possessed a scant twenty-five acres of the worst lowland—practically
the only lowland—in all High Prairie. The acreage was notoriously
barren. In spring, the critical time for seedlings and early vegetable
crops, sixteen of the twenty-five were likely to be under water. Pervus
DeJong patiently planted, sowed, gathered crops, hauled them to market;
seemed still never to get on in this thrifty Dutch community where
getting on was so common a trait as to be no longer thought a virtue.
Luck and nature seemed to work against him. His seedlings proved
unfertile; his stock was always ailing; his cabbages were worm-infested;
snout-beetle bored his rhubarb. When he planted largely of spinach,
hoping for a wet spring, the season was dry. Did he turn the following
year to sweet potatoes, all auguries pointing to a dry spring and
summer, the summer proved the wettest in a decade. Insects and fungi
seemed drawn to his fields as by a malevolent force. Had he been small,
puny, and insignificant his bad luck would have called forth
contemptuous pity. But there was about him the lovableness and splendour
of the stricken giant. To complete his discomfort, his household was
inadequately ministered by an elderly and rheumatic female connection
whose pies and bread were the scandal of the neighbouring housewives.

It was on this Pervus DeJong, then, that the Widow Paarlenberg of the
rich acres, the comfortable farmhouse, the gold neck chain, the silk
gowns, the soft white hands and the cooking talents, had set her
affections. She wooed him openly, notoriously, and with a Dutch
vehemence that would have swept another man off his feet. It was known
that she sent him a weekly baking of cakes, pies, and bread. She urged
upon him choice seeds from her thriving fields; seedlings from her
hotbeds; plants, all of which he steadfastly refused. She tricked,
cajoled, or nagged him into eating her ample meals. She even asked his
advice—that subtlest form of flattery. She asked him about sub-soiling,
humus, rotation—she whose rich land yielded, under her shrewd
management, more profitably to the single acre than to any ten of
Pervus’s. One Jan Bras managed her farm admirably under her supervision.

DeJong’s was a simple mind. In the beginning, when she said to him, in
her deep, caressing voice, “Mr. DeJong, could I ask you a little advice
about something? I’m a woman alone since I haven’t got Leendert any
more, and strangers what do they care how they run the land! It’s about
my radishes, lettuce, spinach, and turnips. Last year, instead of
tender, they were stringy and full of fibre on account that Jan Bras.
He’s for slow growing. Those vegetables you’ve got to grow quick. Bras
says my fertilizer is the fault, but I know different. What you think?”

Jan Bras, getting wind of this, told it abroad with grim humour.
Masculine High Prairie, meeting Pervus DeJong on the road, greeted him
with: “Well, DeJong, you been giving the Widow Paarlenberg any good
advice here lately about growing?”

It had been a particularly bad season for his fields. As High Prairie
poked a sly thumb into his ribs thus he realized that he had been duped
by the wily widow. A slow Dutch wrath rose in him against her; a male
resentment at being manipulated by a woman. When next she approached
him, cajolery in her voice, seeking guidance about tillage, drainage, or
crops, he said, bluntly: “Better you ask Harm Tien his advice.” Harm
Tien was the district idiot, a poor witless creature of thirty with the
mind of a child.

Knowing well that the entire community was urging him toward this
profitable match with the plump, rich, red-lipped widow, Pervus set his
will like a stubborn steer and would have none of her. He was
uncomfortable in his untidy house; he was lonely, he was unhappy. But he
would have none of her. Vanity, pride, resentment were all mixed up in
it.

The very first time that Pervus DeJong met Selina he had a chance to
protect her. With such a start, the end was inevitable. Then, too,
Selina had on the wine-coloured cashmere and was trying hard to keep the
tears back in full view of the whole of High Prairie. Urged by Maartje
(and rather fancying the idea) Selina had attended the great meeting and
dance at Adam Ooms’s hall above the general store near the High Prairie
station. Farmer families for miles around were there. The new church
organ—that time-hallowed pretext for sociability—was the excuse for
this gathering. There was a small admission charge. Adam Ooms had given
them the hall. The three musicians were playing without fee. The women
were to bring supper packed in boxes or baskets, these to be raffled off
to the highest bidder whose privilege it then was to sup with the fair
whose basket he had bought. Hot coffee could be had at so much the cup.
All the proceeds were to be devoted to the organ. It was understood, of
course, that there was to be no lively bidding against husbands. Each
farm woman knew her own basket as she knew the countenance of her
children, and each farmer, as that basket came up at auction, named a
cautious sum which automatically made him the basket’s possessor. The
larger freedom had not come to High Prairie in 1890. The baskets and
boxes of the unwed women were to be the fought-for prizes. Maartje had
packed her own basket at noon and had driven off at four with Klaas and
the children. She was to serve on one of those bustling committees whose
duties ranged from coffee making to dish washing. Klaas and Roelf were
to be pressed into service. The pigtails would slide up and down the
waxed floor of Ooms’s hall with other shrieking pigtails of the
neighbourhood until the crowd began to arrive for the auction and
supper. Jakob Hoogendunk would convey Selina to the festivities when his
chores were done. Selina’s lunch basket was to be a separate and
distinct affair, offered at auction with those of the Katrinas and Linas
and Sophias of High Prairie. Not a little apprehensive, she was to pack
this basket herself. Maartje, departing, had left copious but disjointed
instructions.

“Ham . . . them big cookies in the crock . . . pickles . . . watch how
you don’t spill . . . plum preserves . . .”

Maartje’s own basket was of gigantic proportions and staggering content.
Her sandwiches were cubic blocks; her pickles clubs of cucumber; her
pies vast plateaus.

The basket provided for Selina, while not quite so large, still was of
appalling size as Selina contemplated it. She decided, suddenly, that
she would have none of it. In her trunk she had a cardboard box such as
shoes come in. Certainly this should hold enough lunch for two, she
thought. She and Julie Hempel had used such boxes for picnic lunches on
their Saturday holidays. She was a little nervous about the whole thing;
rather dreaded the prospect of eating her supper with a High Prairie
swain unknown to her. Suppose no one should bid for her box! She
resolved to fill it after her own pattern, disregarding Maartje’s heavy
provender.

She had the kitchen to herself. Jakob was in the fields or out-houses.
The house was deliciously quiet. Selina rummaged for the shoe box, lined
it with a sheet of tissue paper, rolled up her sleeves, got out mixing
bowl, flour, pans. Cup cakes were her ambition. She baked six of them.
They came out a beautiful brown but somewhat leaden. Still, anything was
better than a wedge of soggy pie, she told herself. She boiled eggs very
hard, halved them, devilled their yolks, filled the whites neatly with
this mixture and clapped the halves together again, skewering them with
a toothpick. Then she rolled each egg separately in tissue paper twisted
at the ends. Daintiness, she had decided, should be the keynote of her
supper box. She cut bread paper-thin and made jelly sandwiches, scorning
the ubiquitous pork. Bananas, she knew, belonged in a lunch box, but
these were unobtainable. She substituted two juicy pippins, polished
until their cheeks glittered. The food neatly packed she wrapped the box
in paper and tied it with a gay red ribbon yielded by her trunk. At the
last moment she whipped into the yard, twisted a brush of evergreen from
the tree at the side of the house, and tucked this into the knot of
ribbon atop the box. She stepped back and thought the effect enchanting.

She was waiting in her red cashmere and her cloak and hood when
Hoogendunk called for her. They were late arrivals, for outside Ooms’s
hall were hitched all manner of vehicles. There had been a heavy
snowfall two days before. This had brought out bob-sleds, cutters,
sleighs. The horse sheds were not large enough to shelter all. Late
comers had to hitch where they could. There was a great jangling of
bells as the horses stamped in the snow.

Selina, balancing her box carefully, opened the door that led to the
wooden stairway. The hall was on the second floor. The clamour that
struck her ears had the effect of a physical blow. She hesitated a
moment, and if there had been any means of returning to the Pool farm,
short of walking five miles in the snow, she would have taken it. Up the
stairs and into the din. Evidently the auctioning of supper baskets was
even now in progress. The roar of voices had broken out after the sale
of a basket and now was subsiding under the ear-splitting cracks of the
auctioneer’s hammer. Through the crowded doorway Selina could catch a
glimpse of him as he stood on a chair, the baskets piled before him. He
used a barrel elevated on a box as his pulpit. The auctioneer was Adam
Ooms who himself had once been the High Prairie school teacher. A
fox-faced little man, bald, falsetto, the village clown with a solid
foundation of shrewdness under his clowning and a tart layer of malice
over it.

High and shrill came his voice. “What am I bid! What am I bid! Thirty
cents! Thirty-five! Shame on you, gentlemen. What am I bid! Who’ll make
it forty!”

Selina felt a little thrill of excitement. She looked about for a place
on which to lay her wraps. Every table, chair, hook, and rack in the
hallway was piled with clothing. She espied a box that appeared empty,
rolled her cloak, muffler, and hood into a neat bundle and, about to
cast it into the box, saw, upturned to her from its depths, the round
pink faces of the sleeping Kuyper twins, aged six months. From the big
hall now came a great shouting, clapping of hands, stamping, cat-calls.
Another basket had been disposed of. Oh, dear! In desperation Selina
placed her bundle on the floor in a corner, smoothed down the red
cashmere, snatched up her lunch box and made for the doorway with the
childish eagerness of one out of the crowd to be in it. She wondered
where Maartje and Klaas Pool were in this close-packed roomful; and
Roelf. In the doorway she found that broad black-coated backs shut off
sight and ingress. She had written her name neatly on her lunch box. Now
she was at a loss to find a way to reach Adam Ooms. She eyed the
great-shouldered expanse just ahead of her. In desperation she decided
to dig into it with a corner of her box. She dug, viciously. The back
winced. Its owner turned. “Here! What——!”

Selina looked up into the wrathful face of Pervus DeJong. Pervus DeJong
looked down into the startled eyes of Selina Peake. Large enough eyes at
any time; enormous now in her fright at what she had done.

“I’m sorry! I’m—sorry. I thought if I could—there’s no way of getting
my lunch box up there—such a crowd——”

A slim, appealing, lovely little figure in the wine-red cashmere, amidst
all those buxom bosoms, and overheated bodies, and flushed faces. His
gaze left her reluctantly, settled on the lunch box, became, if
possible, more bewildered. “That? Lunch box?”

“Yes. For the raffle. I’m the school teacher. Selina Peake.”

He nodded. “I saw you in church Sunday.”

“You did! I didn’t think you. . . . Did you?”

“Wait here. I’ll come back. Wait here.”

He took the shoe box. She waited. He ploughed his way through the crowd
like a Juggernaut, reached Adam Ooms’s platform and placed the box
inconspicuously next a colossal hamper that was one of a dozen grouped
awaiting Adam’s attention. When he had made his way back to Selina he
again said, “Wait,” and plunged down the wooden stairway. Selina waited.
She had ceased to feel distressed at her inability to find the Pools in
the crowd, a-tiptoe though she was. When presently he came back he had
in his hand an empty wooden soap-box. This he up-ended in the doorway
just behind the crowd stationed there. Selina mounted it; found her head
a little above the level of his. She could survey the room from end to
end. There were the Pools. She waved to Maartje; smiled at Roelf. He
made as though to come toward her; did come part way, and was restrained
by Maartje catching at his coat tail.

Selina wished she could think of something to say. She looked down at
Pervus DeJong. The back of his neck was pink, as though with effort. She
thought, instinctively, “My goodness, he’s trying to think of something
to say, too.” That, somehow, put her at her ease. She would wait until
he spoke. His neck was now a deep red. The crowd surged back at some
disturbance around Adam Ooms’s elevation. Selina teetered perilously on
her box, put out a hand blindly, felt his great hard hand on her arm,
steadying her.

“Quite a crowd, ain’t it?” The effort had reached its apex. The red of
his neck began to recede.

“Oh, quite!”

“They ain’t all High Prairie. Some of ’em’s from Low Prairie way. New
Haarlem, even.”

“Really!”

A pause. Another effort.

“How goes it school teaching?”

“Oh—it goes pretty well.”

“You are little to be school teacher, anyway, ain’t you?”

“Little!” She drew herself up from her vantage point of the soap-box.
“I’m bigger than you are.”

They laughed at that as at an exquisite piece of repartee.

Adam Oom’s gavel (a wooden potato masher) crashed for silence. “Ladies!”
[Crash!] “And gents!” [Crash!] “Gents! Look what basket we’ve got here!”

Look indeed. A great hamper, grown so plethoric that it could no longer
wear its cover. Its contents bellied into a mound smoothly covered with
a fine white cloth whose glistening surface proclaimed it damask. A
Himalaya among hampers. You knew that under that snowy crust lay gold
that was fowl done crisply, succulently; emeralds in the form of
gherkins; rubies that melted into strawberry preserves; cakes frosted
like diamonds; to say nothing of such semi-precious jewels as potato
salad; cheeses; sour cream to be spread on rye bread and butter; coffee
cakes; crullers.

Crash! “The Widow Paarlenberg’s basket, ladies—_and_ gents! The Widow
Paarlenberg! I don’t know what’s in it. You don’t know what’s in it. We
don’t have to know what’s in it. Who has eaten Widow Paarlenberg’s
chicken once don’t have to know. Who has eaten Widow Paarlenberg’s cake
once don’t have to know. What am I bid on Widow Paarlenberg’s basket!
What am I bid! WhatmIbidwhatmIbidwhatmIbid!” [Crash!]

The widow herself, very handsome in black silk, her gold neck chain
rising and falling richly with the little flurry that now agitated her
broad bosom, was seated in a chair against the wall not five feet from
the auctioneer’s stand. She bridled now, blushed, cast down her eyes,
cast up her eyes, succeeded in looking as unconscious as a complaisant
Turkish slave girl on the block.

Adam Ooms’s glance swept the hall. He leaned forward, his fox-like face
fixed in a smile. From the widow herself, seated so prominently at his
right, his gaze marked the young blades of the village; the old bucks;
youths and widowers and bachelors. Here was the prize of the evening.
Around, in a semi-circle, went his keen glance until it reached the tall
figure towering in the doorway—reached it, and rested there. His gimlet
eyes seemed to bore their way into Pervus DeJong’s steady stare. He
raised his right arm aloft, brandishing the potato masher. The whole
room fixed its gaze on the blond head in the doorway. “Speak up! Young
men of High Prairie! Heh, you, Pervus DeJong!
WhatmIbidwhatmIbidwhatmIbid!”

“Fifty cents!” The bid came from Gerrit Pon at the other end of the
hall. A dashing offer, as a start, in this district where one dollar
often represented the profits on a whole load of market truck brought to
the city.

Crash! went the potato masher. “Fifty cents I’m bid. Who’ll make it
seventy-five? Who’ll make it seventy-five?”

“Sixty!” Johannes Ambuul, a widower, his age more than the sum of his
bid.

“Seventy!” Gerrit Pon.

Adam Ooms whispered it—hissed it. “S-s-s-seventy. Ladies and gents, I
wouldn’t repeat out loud sucha figger. I would be ashamed. Look at this
basket, gents, and then you can say . . . s-s-seventy!”

“Seventy-five!” the cautious Ambuul.

Scarlet, flooding her face, belied the widow’s outward air of composure.
Pervus DeJong, standing beside Selina, viewed the proceedings with an
air of detachment. High Prairie was looking at him expectantly, openly.
The widow bit her red lip, tossed her head. Pervus DeJong returned the
auctioneer’s meaning smirk with the mild gaze of a disinterested
outsider. High Prairie, Low Prairie, and New Haarlem sat tense, like an
audience at a play. Here, indeed, was drama being enacted in a community
whose thrills were all too rare.

“Gents!” Adam Ooms’s voice took on a tearful note—the tone of one who
is more hurt than angry. “Gents!” Slowly, with infinite reverence, he
lifted one corner of the damask cloth that concealed the hamper’s
contents—lifted it and peered within as at a treasure. At what he saw
there he started back dramatically, at once rapturous, despairing,
amazed. He rolled his eyes. He smacked his lips. He rubbed his stomach.
The sort of dumb show that, since the days of the Greek drama, has been
used to denote gastronomic delight.

“Eighty!” was wrenched suddenly from Goris Von Vuuren, the
nineteen-year-old fat and gluttonous son of a prosperous New Haarlem
farmer.

Adam Ooms rubbed brisk palms together. “Now then! A dollar! A dollar!
It’s an insult to this basket to make it less than a dollar.” He lifted
the cover again, sniffed, appeared overcome. “Gents, if it wasn’t for
Mrs. Ooms sitting there I’d make it a dollar myself and a bargain. A
dollar! Am I bid a dollar!” He leaned far forward over his improvised
pulpit. “Did I hear you say a dollar, Pervus DeJong?” DeJong stared,
immovable, unabashed. His very indifference was contagious. The widow’s
bountiful basket seemed to shrink before one’s eyes.
“Eighty-eighty-eighty-eighty—gents! I’m going to tell you something.
I’m going to whisper a secret.” His lean face was veined with
craftiness. “Gents. Listen. It isn’t chicken in this beautiful basket.
It isn’t chicken. It’s”—a dramatic pause—“it’s _roast duck!_” He
swayed back, mopped his brow with his red handkerchief, held one hand
high in the air. His last card.

“Eighty-five!” groaned the fat Goris Von Vuuren.

“Eighty-five! Eighty-five! Eightyfiveeightyfiveeightyfive eighty-five!
Gents! Gen-tle-men! Eighty-five once! Eighty-five—twice!” [Crash!]
“Gone to Goris Von Vuuren for eighty-five.”

A sigh went up from the assemblage; a sigh that was the wind before the
storm. There followed a tornado of talk. It crackled and thundered. The
rich Widow Paarlenberg would have to eat her supper with Von Vuuren’s
boy, the great thick Goris. And there in the doorway, talking to teacher
as if they had known each other for years, was Pervus DeJong with his
money in his pocket. It was as good as a play.

Adam Ooms was angry. His lean, fox-like face became pinched with spite.
He prided himself on his antics as auctioneer; and his chef d’œuvre had
brought a meagre eighty-five cents, besides doubtless winning him the
enmity of that profitable store customer, the Widow Paarlenberg. Goris
Von Vuuren came forward to claim his prize amidst shouting, clapping,
laughter. The great hamper was handed down to him; an ample,
rich-looking burden, its handle folded comfortably over its round
stomach, its white cover so glistening with starch and ironing that it
gave back the light from the big lamp above the auctioneer’s stand. As
Goris Von Vuuren lifted it his great shoulders actually sagged. Its
contents promised satiety even to such a feeder as he. A grin, half
sheepish, half triumphant, creased his plump pink face.

Adam Ooms scuffled about among the many baskets at his feet. His
nostrils looked pinched and his skinny hands shook a little as he
searched for one small object.

When he stood upright once more he was smiling. His little eyes gleamed.
His wooden sceptre pounded for silence. High in one hand, balanced
daintily on his finger tips, he held Selina’s little white shoe box,
with its red ribbon binding it, and the plume of evergreen stuck in the
ribbon. Affecting great solicitude he brought it down then to read the
name written on it; held it aloft again, smirking.

He said nothing. Grinning, he held it high. He turned his body at the
waist from side to side, so that all might see. The eyes of those before
him still held a mental picture of the huge hamper, food-packed, that
had just been handed down. The contrast was too absurd, too cruel. A
ripple of laughter swept the room; rose; swelled to a roar. Adam Ooms
drew his mouth down solemnly. His little finger elegantly crooked, he
pendulumed the box to right and left. He swerved his beady eyes from
side to side. He waited with a nice sense of the dramatic until the
laughter had reached its height, then held up a hand for silence. A
great scraping “Ahem!” as he cleared his throat threatened to send the
crowd off again.

“Ladies—_and_ gents! Here’s a dainty little tidbit. Here’s something
not only for the inner man, but a feast for the eye. Well, boys, if the
last lot was too much for you this lot ought to be just about right. If
the food ain’t quite enough for you, you can tie the ribbon in the
lady’s hair and put the posy in your buttonhole and there you are.
_There_ you are! What’s more, the lady herself goes with it. You don’t
get a country girl with this here box, gents. A city girl, you can tell
by looking at it, just. And who is she? Who did up this dainty little
box just big enough for two?” He inspected it again, solemnly, and
added, as an after-thought, “If you ain’t feeling specially hungry.
Who?——” He looked about, apishly.

Selina’s cheeks matched her gown. Her eyes were wide and dark with the
effort she was making to force back the hot haze threatening them. Why
had she mounted this wretched soap-box! Why had she come to this hideous
party! Why had she come to High Prairie! Why! . . .

“Miss Selina Peake, that’s who. Miss Se-li-na Peake!”

A hundred balloon faces pulled by a single cord turned toward her as she
stood there on the box for all to see. They swam toward her. She put up
a hand to push them back.

“What’m I bid! What’m I bid! What’m I bid for this here lovely little
toothful, gents! Start her up!”

“Five cents!” piped up old Johannes Ambuul, with a snicker. The
tittering crowd broke into a guffaw. Selina was conscious of a little
sick feeling at the pit of her stomach. Through the haze she saw the
widow’s face, no longer sulky, but smiling now. She saw Roelf’s dear
dark head. His face was set, like a man’s. He was coming toward her, or
trying to, but the crowd wedged him in, small as he was among those
great bodies. She lost sight of him. How hot it was! how hot . . . An
arm at her waist. Some one had mounted the little box and stood
teetering there beside her, pressed against her slightly, reassuringly.
Pervus DeJong. Her head was on a level with his great shoulder now. They
stood together in the doorway, on the soap-box, for all High Prairie to
see.

“Five cents I’m bid for this lovely little mouthful put up by the school
teacher’s own fair hands. Five cents! Five——”

“One dollar!” Pervus DeJong.

The balloon faces were suddenly punctured with holes. High Prairie’s jaw
dropped with astonishment. Its mouth stood open.

There was nothing plain about Selina now. Her dark head was held high,
and his fair one beside it made a vivid foil. The purchase of the
wine-coloured cashmere was at last justified.

“And ten!” cackled old Johannes Ambuul, his rheumy eyes on Selina.

Art and human spitefulness struggled visibly for mastery in Adam Ooms’s
face—and art won. The auctioneer triumphed over the man. The term
“crowd psychology” was unknown to him, but he was artist enough to sense
that some curious magic process, working through this roomful of people,
had transformed the little white box, from a thing despised and
ridiculed, into an object of beauty, of value, of infinite desirability.
He now eyed it in a catalepsy of admiration.

“One-ten I’m bid for this box all tied with a ribbon to match the gown
of the girl who brought it. Gents, you get the ribbon, the lunch, _and_
the girl. And only one-ten bid for all that. Gents! Gents! Remember, it
ain’t only a lunch—it’s a picture. It pleases the eye. Do I hear
one——”

“Five bits!” Barend DeRoo, of Low Prairie, in the lists. A strapping
young Dutchman, the Brom Bones of the district. Aaltje Huff, in a fit of
pique at his indifference, had married to spite him. Cornelia Vinke,
belle of New Haarlem, was said to be languishing for love of him. He
drove to the Haymarket with his load of produce and played cards all
night on the wagon under the gas torches while the street girls of the
neighbourhood assailed him in vain. Six feet three, his red face shone
now like a harvest moon above the crowd. A merry, mischievous eye that
laughed at Pervus DeJong and his dollar bid.

“Dollar and a half!” A high clear voice—a boy’s voice. Roelf.

“Oh, no!” said Selina aloud. But she was unheard in the gabble. Roelf
had once confided to her that he had saved three dollars and fifty cents
in the last three years. Five dollars would purchase a set of tools that
his mind had been fixed on for months past. Selina saw Klaas Pool’s look
of astonishment changing to anger. Saw Maartje Pool’s quick hand on his
arm, restraining him.

“Two dollars!” Pervus DeJong.

“Twotwotwotwotwotwo!” Adam Ooms in a frenzy of salesmanship.

“And ten.” Johannes Ambuul’s cautious bid.

“Two and a quarter.” Barend DeRoo.

“Two-fifty!” Pervus DeJong.

“Three dollars!” The high voice of the boy. It cracked a little on the
last syllable, and the crowd laughed.

“Three-three-three-three-threethreethree. Three once——”

“And a half.” Pervus DeJong.

“Three sixty.”

“Four!” DeRoo.

“And ten.”

The boy’s voice was heard no more.

“I wish they’d stop,” whispered Selina.

“Five!” Pervus DeJong.

“Six!” DeRoo, his face very red.

“And ten.”

“Seven!”

“It’s only jelly sandwiches,” said Selina to DeJong, in a panic.

“Eight!” Johannes Ambuul, gone mad.

“Nine!” DeRoo.

“Nine! Nine I’m bid! Nine-nine-nine! Who’ll make it——”

“Let him have it. The cup cakes fell a little. Don’t——”

“Ten!” said Pervus DeJong.

Barend DeRoo shrugged his great shoulders.

“Ten-ten-ten. Do I hear eleven? Do I hear ten-fifty! Ten-ten-ten
tententententententen! Gents! Ten once. Ten twice! Gone!—for ten
dollars to Pervus DeJong. And a bargain.” Adam Ooms mopped his bald head
and his cheeks and the damp spot under his chin.

Ten dollars. Adam Ooms knew, as did all the countryside, this was not
the sum of ten dollars merely. No basket of food, though it contained
nightingales’ tongues, the golden apple of Atalanta, wines of rare
vintage, could have been adequate recompense for these ten dollars. They
represented sweat and blood; toil and hardship; hours under the burning
prairie sun at mid-day; work doggedly carried on through the drenching
showers of spring; nights of restless sleep snatched an hour at a time
under the sky in the Chicago market place; miles of weary travel down
the rude corduroy road between High Prairie and Chicago, now up to the
hubs in mud, now blinded by dust and blowing sand.

A sale at Christie’s, with a miniature going for a million, could not
have met with a deeper hush, a more dramatic babble following the hush.

They ate their lunch together in one corner of Adam Ooms’s hall. Selina
opened the box and took out the devilled eggs, and the cup cakes that
had fallen a little, and the apples, and the sandwiches sliced very,
very thin. The coldly appraising eye of all High Prairie, Low Prairie,
and New Haarlem watched this sparse provender emerge from the
ribbon-tied shoe box. She offered him a sandwich. It looked
infinitesimal in his great paw. Suddenly all Selina’s agony of
embarrassment was swept away, and she was laughing, not wildly or
hysterically, but joyously and girlishly. She sank her little white
teeth into one of the absurd sandwiches and looked at him, expecting to
find him laughing, too. But he wasn’t laughing. He looked very earnest,
and his blue eyes were fixed hard on the bit of bread in his hand, and
his face was very red and clean-shaven. He bit into the sandwich and
chewed it solemnly. And Selina thought: “Why, the dear thing! The great
big dear thing! And he might have been eating breast of duck . . . Ten
dollars!” Aloud she said, “What made you do it?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know.” Then, “You looked so little. And they were
making fun. Laughing.” He looked very earnest, and his blue eyes were
fixed hard on the sandwich, and his face was very red.

“That’s a very foolish reason for throwing away ten dollars,” Selina
said, severely.

He seemed not to hear her; bit ruminantly into one of the cup cakes.
Suddenly: “I can’t hardly write at all, only to sign my name and like
that.”

“Read?”

“Only to spell out the words. Anyways I don’t get time for reading. But
figuring I wish I knew. ’Rithmetic. I can figger some, but those fellows
in Haymarket they are too sharp for me. They do numbers in their
head—like that, so quick.”

Selina leaned toward him. “I’ll teach you. I’ll teach you.”

“How do you mean, teach me?”

“Evenings.”

He looked down at his great calloused palms, then up at her. “What would
you take for pay?”

“Pay! I don’t want any pay.” She was genuinely shocked.

His face lighted up with a sudden thought. “Tell you what. My place is
just this side the school, next to Bouts’s place. I could start for you
the fire, mornings, in the school. And thaw the pump and bring in a pail
of water. This month, and January and February and part of March, even,
now I don’t go to market on account it’s winter, I could start you the
fire. Till spring. And I could come maybe three times a week, evenings,
to Pool’s place, for lessons.” He looked so helpless, so humble, so
huge; and the more pathetic for his hugeness.

She felt a little rush of warmth toward him that was at once impersonal
and maternal. She thought again, “Why, the dear thing! The great
helpless big thing! How serious he is! And funny.” He was indeed both
serious and funny, with the ridiculous cup cake in his great hand, his
eyes wide and ruminant, his face ruddier than ever, his forehead knotted
with earnestness. She laughed, suddenly, a gay little laugh, and he,
after a puzzled pause, joined her companionably.

“Three evenings a week,” repeated Selina, then, from the depths of her
ignorance. “Why, I’d love to. I’d—love to.”



                                   VI


The evenings turned out to be Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Supper
was over by six-thirty in the Pool household. Pervus was there by seven,
very clean as to shirt, his hair brushed till it shone; shy, and given
to dropping his hat and bumping against chairs, and looking solemn.
Selina was torn between pity and mirth. If only he had blustered. A
blustering big man puts the world on the defensive. A gentle giant
disarms it.

Selina got out her McBride’s Grammar and Duffy’s Arithmetic, and
together they started to parse verbs, paper walls, dig cisterns, and
extract square roots. They found study impossible at the
oilcloth-covered kitchen table, with the Pool household eddying about
it. Jakob built a fire in the parlour stove and there they sat, teacher
and pupil, their feet resting cosily on the gleaming nickel railing that
encircled the wood burner.

On the evening of the first lesson Roelf had glowered throughout supper
and had disappeared into the work-shed, whence issued a great sound of
hammering, sawing, and general clatter. He and Selina had got into the
way of spending much time together, in or out of doors. They skated on
Vander Sijde’s pond; together with the shrieking pigtails they coasted
on the little slope that led down from Kuyper’s woods to the main road,
using sleds that had been put together by Roelf. On bad days they read
or studied. Not Sundays merely, but many week-day evenings were spent
thus. Selina was determined that Roelf should break away from the
uncouth speech of the countryside; that he should at least share with
her the somewhat sketchy knowledge gained at Miss Fister’s select
school. She, the woman of almost twenty, never talked down to this boy
of twelve. The boy worshipped her inarticulately. She had early
discovered that he had a feeling for beauty—beauty of line, texture,
colour, and grouping—that was rare in one of his years. The feel of a
satin ribbon in his fingers; the orange and rose of a sunset; the folds
of the wine-red cashmere dress; the cadence of a spoken line, brought a
look to his face that startled her. She had a battered volume of
Tennyson. When first she read him the line beginning, “Elaine the fair,
Elaine the lovable, Elaine, the lily maid of Astolat——” he had uttered
a little exclamation. She, glancing up from her book, had found his eyes
wide, bright, and luminous in his lean dark face.

“What is it, Roelf?”

He had flushed. “I didn’t say nothing—anything. Start over again how it
goes, ‘Elaine——’”

She had begun again the fragrant lines, “Elaine the fair, Elaine the
lovable . . .”

Since the gathering at Ooms’s hall he had been moody and sullen; had
refused to answer when she spoke to him of his bid for her basket.
Urged, he would only say, “Oh, it was just fun to make old Ooms mad.”

Now, with the advent of Pervus DeJong, Roelf presented that most
touching and miserable of spectacles, a small boy jealous and helpless
in his jealousy. Selina had asked him to join the tri-weekly evening
lessons; had, indeed, insisted that he be a pupil in the class round the
parlour stove. Maartje had said, on the night of Pervus DeJong’s first
visit, “Roelf, you sit, too, and learn. Is good for you to learn out of
books the way teacher says.” Klaas Pool, too, had approved the plan,
since it would cost nothing and, furthermore, would in no way interfere
with Roelf’s farm work. “Sure; learn,” he said, with a large gesture.

Roelf would not. He behaved very badly; slammed doors, whistled,
scuffled on the kitchen floor, made many mysterious trips through the
parlour up the stairs that led off that room, ascending with a clatter;
incited Geertje and Jozina to quarrels and tears; had the household in a
hubbub; stumbled over Dunder, the dog, so that that anguished animal’s
yelps were added to the din.

Selina was frantic. Lessons were impossible amidst this uproar. “It has
never been like this before,” she assured Pervus, almost tearfully. “I
don’t know what’s the matter. It’s awful.”

Pervus had looked up from his slate. His eyes were calm, his lips
smiling. “Is all right. In my house is too still, evenings. Next time it
goes better. You see.”

Next time it did go better. Roelf disappeared into his work-shed after
supper; did not emerge until after DeJong’s departure.

There was something about the sight of this great creature bent
laboriously over a slate, the pencil held clumsily in his huge fingers,
that moved Selina strangely. Pity wracked her. If she had known to what
emotion this pity was akin she might have taken away the slate and given
him a tablet, and the whole course of her life would have been
different. “Poor lad,” she thought. “Poor lad.” Chided herself for being
amused at his childlike earnestness.

He did not make an apt pupil, though painstaking. Usually the top
draught of the stove was open, and the glow of the fire imparted to his
face and head a certain roseate glory. He was very grave. His brow wore
a troubled frown. Selina would go over a problem or a sentence again and
again, patiently, patiently. Then, suddenly, like a hand passed over his
face, his smile would come, transforming it. He had white strong teeth,
too small, and perhaps not so white as they seemed because of his russet
blondeur. He would smile like a child, and Selina should have been
warned by the warm rush of joy that his smile gave her. She would smile,
too. He was as pleased as though he had made a fresh and wonderful
discovery.

“It’s easy,” he would say, “when you know it once.” Like a boy.

He usually went home by eight-thirty or nine. Often the Pools went to
bed before he left. After he had gone Selina was wakeful. She would heat
water and wash; brush her hair vigorously; feeling at once buoyant and
depressed.

Sometimes they fell to talking. His wife had died in the second year of
their marriage, when the child was born. The child, too, had died. A
girl. He was unlucky, like that. It was the same with the farm.

“Spring, half of the land is under water. My piece, just. Bouts’s place,
next to me, is high and rich. Bouts, he don’t even need deep ploughing.
His land is quick land. It warms up in the spring early. After rain it
works easy. He puts in fertilizer, any kind, and his plants jump, like.
My place is bad for garden truck. Wet. All the time, wet; or in summer
baked before I can loosen it again. Muckland.”

Selina thought a moment. She had heard much talk between Klaas and
Jakob, winter evenings. “Can’t you do something to it—fix it—so that
the water will run off? Raise it, or dig a ditch or something?”

“We-e-ell, maybe. Maybe you could. But it costs money, draining.”

“It costs money not to, doesn’t it?”

He considered this, ruminatively. “Guess it does. But you don’t have to
have ready cash to let the land lay. To drain it you do.”

Selina shook her head impatiently. “That’s a very foolish, short-sighted
way to reason.”

He looked helpless as only the strong and powerful can look. Selina’s
heart melted in pity. He would look down at the great calloused hands;
up at her. One of the charms of Pervus DeJong lay in the things that his
eyes said and his tongue did not. Women always imagined he was about to
say what he looked, but he never did. It made otherwise dull
conversation with him most exciting.

His was in no way a shrewd mind. His respect for Selina was almost
reverence. But he had this advantage: he had married a woman, had lived
with her for two years. She had borne him a child. Selina was a girl in
experience. She was a woman capable of a great deal of passion, but she
did not know that. Passion was a thing no woman possessed, much less
talked about. It simply did not exist, except in men, and then was
something to be ashamed of, like a violent temper, or a weak stomach.

By the first of March he could speak a slow, careful, and fairly
grammatical English. He could master simple sums. By the middle of March
the lessons would cease. There was too much work to do about the
farm—night work as well as day. She found herself trying not to think
about the time when the lessons should cease. She refused to look ahead
to April.

One night, late in February, Selina was conscious that she was trying to
control something. She was trying to keep her eyes away from something.
She realized that she was trying not to look at his hands. She wanted,
crazily, to touch them. She wanted to feel them about her throat. She
wanted to put her lips on his hands—brush the backs of them, slowly,
moistly, with her mouth, lingeringly. She was terribly frightened. She
thought to herself: “I am going crazy. I am losing my mind. There is
something the matter with me. I wonder how I look. I must look queer.”

She said something to make him look up at her. His glance was mild,
undismayed. So this hideous thing did not show in her face. She kept her
eyes resolutely on the book. At half-past eight she closed her book
suddenly. “I’m tired. I think it’s the spring coming on.” She smiled a
little wavering smile. He rose and stretched himself, his great arms
high above his head. Selina shivered.

“Two more weeks,” he said, “is the last lesson. Well, do you think I
have done pretty good—well?”

“Very well,” Selina replied, evenly. She felt very tired.

The first week in March he was ill, and did not come. A rheumatic
affliction to which he was subject. His father, old Johannes DeJong, had
had it before him. Working in the wet fields did it, they said. It was
the curse of the truck farmer. Selina’s evenings were free to devote to
Roelf, who glowed again. She sewed, too; read; helped Mrs. Pool with the
housework in a gust of sympathy and found strange relief therein; made
over an old dress; studied; wrote all her letters (few enough), even one
to the dried-apple aunts in Vermont. She no longer wrote to Julie
Hempel. She had heard that Julie was to be married to a Kansas man named
Arnold. Julie herself had not written. The first week in March passed.
He did not come. Nor did he come the following Tuesday or Thursday.
After a terrific battle with herself Selina, after school on Thursday,
walked past his house, busily, as though bent on an errand. Despised
herself for doing it, could not help herself, found a horrible and
tortuous satisfaction in not looking at the house as she passed it.

She was bewildered, frightened. All that week she had a curious
feeling—or succession of feelings. There was the sensation of
suffocation followed by that of emptiness—of being
hollow—boneless—bloodless. Then, at times, there was a feeling of
physical pain; at others a sense of being disembowelled. She was
restless, listless, by turns. Period of furious activity followed by
days of inertia. It was the spring, Maartje said. Selina hoped she
wasn’t going to be ill. She had never felt like that before. She wanted
to cry. She was irritable to the point of waspishness with the children
in the schoolroom.

On Saturday—the fourteenth of March—he walked in at seven. Klaas,
Maartje, and Roelf had driven off to a gathering at Low Prairie, leaving
Selina with the pigtails and old Jakob. She had promised to make taffy
for them, and was in the midst of it when his knock sounded at the
kitchen door. All the blood in her body rushed to her head; pounded
there hotly. He entered. There slipped down over her a complete armour
of calmness, of self-possession; of glib how do you do Mr. DeJong and
how are you feeling and won’t you sit down and there’s no fire in the
parlour we’ll have to sit here.

He took part in the taffy pulling. Selina wondered if Geertje and Jozina
would ever have done squealing. It was half-past eight before she
bundled them off to bed with a plate of clipped taffy lozenges between
them. She heard them scuffling and scrimmaging about in the rare freedom
of their parents’ absence.

“Now, children!” she called. “You know what you promised your mother and
father.”

She heard Geertje’s tones mimicking her mincingly, “You know what you
promised your mother and father.” Then a cascade of smothered giggles.

Pervus had been to town, evidently, for he now took from his coat pocket
a bag containing half a dozen bananas—that delicacy of delicacies to
the farm palate. She half peeled two and brought them in to the
pigtails. They ate them thickly rapturous, and dropped off to sleep
immediately, surfeited.

Pervus DeJong and Selina sat at the kitchen table, their books spread
out before them on the oilcloth. The sweet heavy scent of the fruit
filled the room. Selina brought the parlour lamp into the kitchen, the
better to see. It was a nickel-bellied lamp with a yellow glass shade
that cast a mellow golden glow.

“You didn’t go to the meeting,” primly. “Mr. and Mrs. Pool went.”

“No. No, I didn’t go.”

“Why not?”

She saw him swallow. “I got through too late. I went to town, and I got
through too late. We’re fixing to sow tomato seeds in the hotbeds
to-morrow.”

Selina opened McBride’s Grammar. “Ahem!” a school-teacherly cough. “Now,
then, we’ll parse this sentence: Blucher arrived on the field of
Waterloo just as Wellington was receiving the last onslaught of
Napoleon. ‘Just’ may be treated as a modifier of the dependent clause.
That is: ‘Just’ means: at the time _at which_. Well. _Just_ here
modified _at the time_. And Wellington is the . . .”

This for half an hour. Selina kept her eyes resolutely on the book. His
voice went on with the dry business of parsing and its deep resonance
struck a response from her as a harp responds when a hand is swept over
its strings. Upstairs she could hear old Jakob clumping about in his
preparations for bed. Then there was only stillness overhead. Selina
kept her eyes resolutely on the book. Yet she saw, as though her eyes
rested on them, his large, strong hands. On the backs of them was a fine
golden down that deepened at his wrists. Heavier and darker at the
wrists. She found herself praying a little for strength—for strength
against this horror and wickedness. This sin, this abomination that held
her. A terrible, stark, and pitiful prayer, couched in the idiom of the
Bible.

“Oh, God, keep my eyes and my thoughts away from him. Away from his
hands. Let me keep my eyes and my thoughts away from the golden hairs on
his wrists. Let me not think of his wrists. . . . The owner of the
southwest ¼ sells a strip 20 rods wide along the south side of his farm.
How much does he receive at $150 per acre?”

He triumphed in this transaction, began the struggle with the square
root of 576. Square roots agonized him. She washed the slate clean with
her little sponge. He was leaning close in his effort to comprehend the
fiendish little figures that marched so tractably under Selina’s
masterly pencil.

She took it up, glibly. “The remainder must contain twice the product of
the tens by the units plus the square of the units.” He blinked. Utterly
bewildered. “_And_,” went on Selina, blithely, “twice the tens, times
the units, plus the square of the units, is the same as the sum of twice
the tens, and the units, times the units. _Therefore_”—with a
flourish—“add 4 units to the 40 and multiply the result by 4.
_Therefore_”—in final triumph—“the square root of 576 is 24.”

She was breathing rather fast. The fire in the kitchen stove snapped and
cracked. “Now, then, suppose you do that for me. We’ll wipe it out.
There! What must the remainder contain?”

He took it up, slowly, haltingly. The house was terribly still except
for the man’s voice. “The remainder . . . twice . . . product . . . tens
. . . units . . .” A something in his voice—a note—a timbre. She felt
herself swaying queerly, as though the whole house were gently rocking.
Little delicious agonizing shivers chased each other, hot and cold, up
her arms, down her legs, over her spine. . . . “plus the square of the
units is the same as the sum twice the tens . . . twice . . . the tens
. . . the tens . . .” His voice stopped.

Selina’s eyes leaped from the book to his hands, uncontrollably.
Something about them startled her. They were clenched into fists. Her
eyes now leaped from those clenched fists to the face of the man beside
her. Her head came up, and back. Her wide startled eyes met his. His
were a blaze of blinding blue in his tanned face. Some corner of her
mind that was still working clearly noted this. Then his hands
unclenched. The blue blaze scorched her, enveloped her. Her cheek knew
the harsh cool feel of a man’s cheek. She sensed the potent, terrifying,
pungent odour of close contact—a mixture of tobacco smoke, his hair,
freshly laundered linen, an indefinable body smell. It was a mingling
that disgusted and attracted her. She was at once repelled and drawn.
Then she felt his lips on hers and her own, incredibly, responding
eagerly, wholly to that pressure.



                                  VII


They were married the following May, just two months later. The High
Prairie school year practically ended with the appearance of the first
tender shoots of green that meant onions, radishes, and spinach above
the rich sandy loam. Selina’s classes broke, dwindled, shrank to almost
nothing. The school became a kindergarten of five-year-old babies who
wriggled and shifted and scratched in the warm spring air that came from
the teeming prairie through the open windows. The schoolhouse stove
stood rusty-red and cold. The drum in Selina’s bedroom was a black genie
deprived of his power now to taunt her.

Selina was at once bewildered and calm; rebellious and content.
Over-laying these emotions was something like grim amusement. Beneath
them, something like fright. High Prairie, in May, was green and gold
and rose and blue. The spring flowers painted the fields and the
roadside with splashes of yellow, of pink, of mauve, and purple.
Violets, buttercups, mandrakes, marsh-marigolds, hepatica. The air was
soft and cool from the lake. Selina had never known spring in the
country before. It made her ache with an actual physical ache. She moved
with a strange air of fatality. It was as if she were being drawn
inexorably, against her will, her judgment, her plans, into something
sweet and terrible. When with Pervus she was elated, gay, voluble. He
talked little; looked at her dumbly, worshippingly. When he brought her
a withered bunch of trilliums, the tears came to her eyes. He had walked
to Updike’s woods to get them because he had heard her say she loved
them, and there were none nearer. They were limp and listless from the
heat, and from being held in his hand. He looked up at her from where he
stood on the kitchen steps, she in the doorway. She took them, laid her
hand on his head. It was as when some great gentle dog brings in a limp
and bedraggled prize dug from the yard and, laying it at one’s feet,
looks up at one with soft asking eyes.

There were days when the feeling of unreality possessed her. She, a
truck farmer’s wife, living in High Prairie the rest of her days! Why,
no! No! Was this the great adventure that her father had always spoken
of? She, who was going to be a happy wayfarer down the path of life—any
one of a dozen things. This High Prairie winter was to have been only an
episode. Not her life! She looked at Maartje. Oh, but she’d never be
like that. That was stupid, unnecessary. Pink and blue dresses in the
house, for her. Frills on the window curtains. Flowers in bowls.

Some of the pangs and terrors with which most prospective brides are
assailed she confided to Mrs. Pool while that active lady was slamming
about the kitchen.

“Did you ever feel scared and—and sort of—scared when you thought
about marry, Mrs. Pool?”

Maartje Pool’s hands were in a great batch of bread dough which she
pummelled and slapped and kneaded vigorously. She shook out a handful of
flour on the baking board while she held the dough mass in the other
hand, then plumped it down and again began to knead, both hands doubled
into fists.

She laughed a short little laugh. “I ran away.”

“You did! You mean you really ran—but why? Didn’t you lo—like Klaas?”

Maartje Pool kneaded briskly, the colour high in her cheeks, what with
the vigorous pummelling and rolling, and something else that made her
look strangely young for the moment—girlish, almost. “Sure I liked him,
I liked him.”

“But you ran away?”

“Not far. I came back. Nobody ever knew I ran, even. But I ran. I knew.”

“Why did you come back?”

Maartje elucidated her philosophy without being in the least aware that
it could be called by any such high-sounding name. “You can’t run away
far enough. Except you stop living you can’t run away from life.”

The girlish look had fled. She was world-old. Her strong arms ceased
their pounding and thumping for a moment. On the steps just outside
Klaas and Jakob were scanning the weekly reports preparatory to going
into the city late that afternoon.

Selina had the difficult task of winning Roelf to her all over again. He
was like a trusting little animal, who, wounded by the hand he has
trusted, is shy of it. She used blandishments on this boy of thirteen
such as she had never vouchsafed the man she was going to marry. He had
asked her, bluntly, one day: “Why are you going to marry with him?” He
never spoke the name.

She thought deeply. What to say? The answer ready on her tongue would
have little meaning for this boy. There came to her a line from Lancelot
and Elaine. She answered, “To serve him, and to follow him through the
world.” She thought that rather fine-sounding until Roelf promptly
rejected it. “That’s no reason. An answer out of a book. Anyway, to
follow him through the world is dumb. He stays right here in High
Prairie all his life.”

“How do you know!” Selina retorted, almost angrily. Startled, too.

“I know. He stays.”

Still, he could not withstand her long. Together they dug and planted
flower beds in Pervus’s dingy front yard. It was too late for tulips
now. Pervus had brought her some seeds from town. They ranged all the
way from poppies to asters; from purple iris to morning glories. The
last named were to form the back-porch vine, of course, because they
grew quickly. Selina, city-bred, was ignorant of varieties, but insisted
she wanted an old-fashioned garden—marigolds, pinks, mignonette, phlox.
She and Roelf dug, spaded, planted. The DeJong place was markedly ugly
even in that community of squat houses. It lacked the air of sparkling
cleanliness that saved the other places from sordidness. The house, even
then, was thirty years old—a gray, weather-beaten frame box with a
mansard roof and a flat face staring out at the dense willows by the
roadside. It needed paint; the fences sagged; the window curtains were
awry. The parlour was damp, funereal. The old woman who tended the house
for Pervus slopped about all day with a pail and a wet gray rag. There
was always a crazy campanile of dirty dishes stacked on the table, and
the last meal seemed never to catch up with the next. About the whole
house there was a starkness, a bareness that proclaimed no woman who
loved it dwelt therein.

Selina told herself (and Pervus) that she would change all that. She saw
herself going about with a brush and a can of white paint, leaving
beauty in her wake, where ugliness had been.

Her trousseau was of the scantiest. Pervus’s household was already
equipped with such linens as they would need. The question of a wedding
gown troubled her until Maartje suggested that she be married in the old
Dutch wedding dress that lay in the bride’s chest in Selina’s bedroom.

“A real Dutch bride,” Maartje said. “Your man will think that is fine.”
Pervus was delighted. Selina basked in his love like a kitten in the
sun. She was, after all, a very lonely little bride with only two
photographs on the shelf in her bedroom to give her courage and counsel.
The old Dutch wedding gown was many inches too large for her. The
skirt-band overlapped her slim waist; her slender little bosom did not
fill out the generous width of the bodice; but the effect of the whole
was amazingly quaint as well as pathetic. The wings of the stiffly
embroidered coif framed the white face from which the eyes looked out,
large and dark. She had even tried to wear the hand-carved shoes, but
had to give that up. In them her feet were as lost as minnows in a
rowboat. She had much difficulty with the queer old buttons and
fastenings. It was as though the dead and gone Sophia Kroon were trying,
with futile ghostly fingers, to prevent this young thing from meeting
the fate that was to be hers.

They were married at the Pools’. Klaas and Maartje had insisted on
furnishing the wedding supper—ham, chickens, sausages, cakes, pickles,
beer. The Reverend Dekker married them and all through the ceremony
Selina chided herself because she could not keep her mind on his words
in the fascination of watching his short stubby beard as it waggled with
every motion of his jaw. Pervus looked stiff, solemn, and uncomfortable
in his wedding blacks—not at all the handsome giant of the everyday
corduroys and blue shirt. In the midst of the ceremony Selina had her
moment of panic when she actually saw herself running shrieking from
this company, this man, this house, down the road, on, on toward—toward
what? The feeling was so strong that she was surprised to find herself
still standing there in the Dutch wedding gown answering “I do” in the
proper place.

The wedding gifts were few. The Pools had given them a “hanging lamp,”
coveted of the farmer’s wife; a hideous atrocity in yellow, with pink
roses on its shade and prisms dangling and tinkling all around the edge.
It was intended to hang suspended from the parlour ceiling, and worked
up and down on a sort of pulley chain. From the Widow Paarlenberg came a
water set in red frosted glass shading to pink—a fat pitcher and six
tumblers. Roelf’s gift, the result of many weeks’ labour in the
work-shed, was a bride’s chest copied from the fine old piece that had
saved Selina’s room from sheer ugliness. He had stained the wood,
polished it. Had carved the front of it with her initials—very like
those that stood out so boldly on the old chest upstairs—S. P. D. And
the year—1890. The whole was a fine piece of craftsmanship for a boy of
thirteen—would not have discredited a man of any age. It was the one
beautiful gift among Selina’s clumsy crude wedding things. She had
thanked him with tears in her eyes. “Roelf, you’ll come to see me often,
won’t you? Often!” Then, as he had hesitated, “I’ll need you so. You’re
all I’ve got.” A strange thing for a bride to say.

“I’ll come,” the boy had said, trying to make his voice casual, his tone
careless. “Sure, I’ll come oncet in a while.”

“Once, Roelf. _Once_ in a while.”

He repeated it after her, dutifully.

After the wedding they went straight to DeJong’s house. In May the
vegetable farmer cannot neglect his garden even for a day. The house had
been made ready for them. The sway of the old housekeeper was over. Her
kitchen bedroom was empty.

Throughout the supper Selina had had thoughts which were so foolish and
detached as almost to alarm her.

“Now I am married. I am Mrs. Pervus DeJong. That’s a pretty name. It
would look quite distinguished on a calling card, very spidery and fine:

          ┌───────────────────────────────────┐
          │                                   │
          │                                   │
          │         MRS. PERVUS DEJONG        │
          │                                   │
          │  _At Home Fridays_                │
          │                                   │
          └───────────────────────────────────┘

She recalled this later, grimly, when she was Mrs. Pervus DeJong, at
home not only Fridays, but Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays,
Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

They drove down the road to DeJong’s place. Selina thought, “Now I am
driving home with my husband. I feel his shoulder against mine. I wish
he would talk. I wish he would say something. Still, I’m not
frightened.”

Pervus’s market wagon was standing in the yard, shafts down. He should
have gone to market to-day; would certainly have to go to-morrow,
starting early in the afternoon so as to get a good stand in the
Haymarket. By the light of his lantern the wagon seemed to Selina to be
a symbol. She had often seen it before, but now that it was to be a part
of her life—this the DeJong market wagon and she Mrs. DeJong—she saw
clearly what a crazy, disreputable, and poverty-proclaiming old vehicle
it was, in contrast with the neat strong wagon in Klaas Pool’s yard,
smart with green paint and red lettering that announced, “Klaas Pool,
Garden Produce.” With the two sleek farm horses the turnout looked as
prosperous and comfortable as Klaas himself.

Pervus swung her down from the seat of the buggy, his hand about her
waist, and held her so for a moment, close. Selina said, “You must have
that wagon painted, Pervus. And the seat-springs fixed and the sideboard
mended.”

He stared. “Wagon!”

“Yes. It looks a sight.”

The house was tidy enough, but none too clean. Old Mrs. Voorhees had not
been minded to keep house too scrupulously for a man who would be
unlikely to know whether or not it was clean. Pervus lighted the lamps.
There was a fire in the kitchen stove. It made the house seem stuffy on
this mild May night. Selina thought that her own little bedroom at the
Pools’, no longer hers, must be deliciously cool and still with the
breeze fanning fresh from the west. Pervus was putting the horse into
the barn. The bedroom was off the sitting room. The window was shut.
This last year had taught Selina to prepare the night before for next
morning’s rising, so as to lose the least possible time. She did this
now, unconsciously. She took off her white muslin underwear with its
frills and embroidery—the three stiff petticoats, and the stiffly
starched corset-cover, and the high-bosomed corset and put them into the
bureau drawer that she herself had cleaned and papered neatly the week
before. She brushed her hair, laid out to-morrow’s garments, put on her
high-necked, long-sleeved nightgown and got into this strange bed. She
heard Pervus DeJong shut the kitchen door; the latch clicked, the lock
turned. Heavy quick footsteps across the bare kitchen floor. This man
was coming into her room . . . “You can’t run far enough,” Maartje Pool
had said. “Except you stop living you can’t run away from life.”

Next morning it was dark when he awakened her at four. She started up
with a little cry and sat up, straining her ears, her eyes. “Is that
you, Father?” She was little Selina Peake again, and Simeon Peake had
come in, gay, debonair, from a night’s gaming.

Pervus DeJong was already padding about the room in stocking feet.
“What—what time is it? What’s the matter, Father? Why are you up?
Haven’t you gone to bed . . .” Then she remembered.

Pervus DeJong laughed and came toward her. “Get up, little lazy bones.
It’s after four. All yesterday’s work I’ve got to do, and all to-day’s.
Breakfast, little Lina, breakfast. You are a farmer’s wife now.”



                                  VIII


By October High Prairie Housewives told each other that Mrs. Pervus
DeJong was “expecting.” Dirk DeJong was born in the bedroom off the
sitting room on the fifteenth day of March, of a bewildered, somewhat
resentful, but deeply interested mother; and a proud, foolish, and
vainglorious father whose air of achievement, considering the really
slight part he had played in the long, tedious, and racking business,
was disproportionate. The name Dirk had sounded to Selina like something
tall, straight, and slim. Pervus had chosen it. It had been his
grandfather’s name.

Sometimes, during those months, Selina would look back on her first
winter in High Prairie—that winter of the icy bedroom, the chill black
drum, the schoolhouse fire, the chilblains, the Pool pork—and it seemed
a lovely dream; a time of ease, of freedom, of careless happiness. That
icy room had been her room; that mile of road traversed on bitter winter
mornings a mere jaunt; the schoolhouse stove a toy, fractious but
fascinating.

Pervus DeJong loved his pretty young wife, and she him. But young love
thrives on colour, warmth, beauty. It becomes prosaic and inarticulate
when forced to begin its day at four in the morning by reaching blindly,
dazedly, for limp and obscure garments dangling from bedpost or chair,
and to end that day at nine, numb and sodden with weariness, after
seventeen hours of physical labour.

It was a wet summer. Pervus’s choice tomato plants, so carefully set out
in the hope of a dry season, became draggled gray spectres in a waste of
mire. Of fruit the field bore one tomato the size of a marble.

For the rest, the crops were moderately successful on the DeJong place.
But the work necessary to make this so was heartbreaking. Pervus and his
hired helper, Jan Steen, used the hand sower and hand cultivator. It
seemed to Selina that they were slaves to these buds, shoots, and roots
that clamoured with a hundred thousand voices, “Let me out! Let me out!”
She had known, during her winter at the Pools’, that Klaas, Roelf, and
old Jakob worked early and late, but her months there had encompassed
what is really the truck farmer’s leisure period. She had arrived in
November. She had married in May. From May until October it was
necessary to tend the fields with a concentration amounting to fury.
Selina had never dreamed that human beings toiled like that for
sustenance. Toil was a thing she had never encountered until coming to
High Prairie. Now she saw her husband wrenching a living out of the
earth by sheer muscle, sweat, and pain. During June, July, August, and
September the good black prairie soil for miles around was teeming, a
hotbed of plenty. There was born in Selina at this time a feeling for
the land that she was never to lose. Perhaps the child within her had
something to do with this. She was aware of a feeling of kinship with
the earth; an illusion of splendour, of fulfilment. Sometimes, in a
moment’s respite from her work about the house, she would stand in the
kitchen doorway, her flushed face turned toward the fields. Wave on wave
of green, wave on wave, until the waves melted into each other and
became a verdant sea.

As cabbages had been cabbages, and no more, to Klaas Pool, so, to
Pervus, these carrots, beets, onions, turnips, and radishes were just so
much produce, to be planted, tended, gathered, marketed. But to Selina,
during that summer, they became a vital part in the vast mechanism of a
living world. Pervus, earth, sun, rain, all elemental forces that
laboured to produce the food for millions of humans. The sordid, grubby
little acreage became a kingdom; the phlegmatic Dutch-American truck
farmers of the region were high priests consecrated to the service of
the divinity, Earth. She thought of Chicago’s children. If they had red
cheeks, clear eyes, nimble brains it was because Pervus brought them the
food that made them so. It was before the day when glib talk of irons,
vitamines, arsenic entered into all discussion pertaining to food. Yet
Selina sensed something of the meaning behind these toiling, patient
figures, all unconscious of meaning, bent double in the fields for miles
throughout High Prairie. Something of this she tried to convey to
Pervus. He only stared, his blue eyes wide and unresponsive.

“Farm work grand! Farm work is slave work. Yesterday, from the load of
carrots in town I didn’t make enough to bring you the goods for the
child so when it comes you should have clothes for it. It’s better I
feed them to the livestock.”

Pervus drove into the Chicago market every other day. During July and
August he sometimes did not have his clothes off for a week. Together he
and Jan Steen would load the wagon with the day’s garnering. At four he
would start on the tedious trip into town. The historic old Haymarket on
west Randolph Street had become the stand for market gardeners for miles
around Chicago. Here they stationed their wagons in preparation for the
next day’s selling. The wagons stood, close packed, in triple rows, down
both sides of the curb and in the middle of the street. The early comer
got the advantageous stand. There was no regular allotment of space.
Pervus tried to reach the Haymarket by nine at night. Often bad roads
made a detour necessary and he was late. That usually meant bad business
next day. The men, for the most part, slept on their wagons, curled up
on the wagon-seat or stretched out on the sacks. Their horses were
stabled and fed in near-by sheds, with more actual comfort than the men
themselves. One could get a room for twenty-five cents in one of the
ramshackle rooming houses that faced the street. But the rooms were
small, stuffy, none too clean; the beds little more comfortable than the
wagons. Besides, twenty-five cents! You got twenty-five cents for half a
barrel of tomatoes. You got twenty-five cents for a sack of potatoes.
Onions brought seventy-five cents a sack. Cabbages went a hundred heads
for two dollars, and they were five-pound heads. If you drove home with
ten dollars in your pocket it represented a profit of exactly zero. The
sum must go above that. No; one did not pay out twenty-five cents for
the mere privilege of sleeping in a bed.

One June day, a month or more after their marriage, Selina drove into
Chicago with Pervus, an incongruous little figure in her bride’s finery
perched on the seat of the vegetable wagon piled high with early garden
stuff. They had started before four that afternoon, and reached the city
at nine, though the roads were still heavy from the late May rains. It
was, in a way, their wedding trip, for Selina had not been away from the
farm since her marriage. The sun was bright and hot. Selina held an
umbrella to shield herself from the heat and looked about her with
enjoyment and interest. She chattered, turned her head this way and
that, exclaimed, questioned. Sometimes she wished that Pervus would
respond more quickly to her mood. A gay, volatile creature, she frisked
about him like a friendly bright-eyed terrier about a stolid, ponderous
St. Bernard.

As they jogged along now she revealed magnificent plans that had been
forming in her imagination during the past four weeks. It had not taken
her four weeks—or days—to discover that this great broad-shouldered
man she had married was a kindly creature, tender and good, but lacking
any vestige of initiative, of spirit. She marvelled, sometimes, at the
memory of his boldness in bidding for her lunch box that evening of the
raffle. It seemed incredible now, though he frequently referred to it,
wagging his head doggishly and grinning the broadly complacent grin of
the conquering male. But he was, after all, a dull fellow, and there was
in Selina a dash of fire, of wholesome wickedness, of adventure, that he
never quite understood. For her flashes of flame he had a mingled
feeling of uneasiness and pride.

In the manner of all young brides, Selina started bravely out to make
her husband over. He was handsome, strong, gentle; slow, conservative,
morose. She would make him keen, daring, successful, buoyant. Now,
bumping down the Halsted road, she sketched some of her plans in large
dashing strokes.

“Pervus, we must paint the house in October, before the frost sets in,
and after the summer work is over. White would be nice, with green
trimmings. Though perhaps white isn’t practical. Or maybe green with
darker green trimmings. A lovely background for the hollyhocks.” (Those
that she and Roelf had planted showed no signs of coming up.) “Then that
west sixteen. We’ll drain it.”

“Yeh, drain,” Pervus muttered. “It’s clay land. Drain and you have got
yet clay. Hard clay soil.”

Selina had the answer to that. “I know it. You’ve got to use tile
drainage. And—wait a minute—humus. I know what humus is. It’s decayed
vegetables. There’s always a pile by the side of the barn; and you’ve
been using it on the quick land. All the west sixteen isn’t clay. Part
of it’s muckland. All it needs is draining and manure. With potash, too,
and phosphoric acid.”

Pervus laughed a great hearty laugh that Selina found surprisingly
infuriating. He put one great brown hand patronizingly on her flushed
cheek; pinched it gently.

“Don’t!” said Selina, and jerked her head away. It was the first time
she had ever resented a caress from him.

Pervus laughed again. “Well, well, well! School teacher is a farmer now,
huh? I bet even Widow Paarlenberg don’t know as much as my little farmer
about”—he exploded again—“about this, now, potash and—what kind of
acid? Tell me, little Lina, from where did you learn all this about
truck farming?”

“Out of a book,” Selina said, almost snappishly. “I sent to Chicago for
it.”

“A book! A book!” He slapped his knee. “A vegetable farmer out of a
book.”

“Why not! The man who wrote it knows more about vegetable farming than
anybody in all High Prairie. He knows about new ways. You’re running the
farm just the way your father ran it.”

“What was good enough for my father is good enough for me.”

“It isn’t!” cried Selina, “It isn’t! The book says clay loam is all
right for cabbages, peas, and beans. It tells you how. It tells you
how!” She was like a frantic little fly darting and pricking him on to
accelerate the stolid sluggishness of his slow plodding gait.

Having begun, she plunged on. “We ought to have two horses to haul the
wagon to market. It would save you hours of time that you could spend on
the place. Two horses, and a new wagon, green and red, like Klaas
Pool’s.”

Pervus stared straight ahead down the road between his horse’s ears much
as Klaas Pool had done so maddeningly on Selina’s first ride on the
Halsted road. “Fine talk. Fine talk.”

“It isn’t talk. It’s plans. You’ve got to plan.”

“Fine talk. Fine talk.”

“Oh!” Selina beat her knee with an impotent fist.

It was the nearest they had ever come to quarrelling. It would seem that
Pervus had the best of the argument, for when two years had passed the
west sixteen was still a boggy clay mass, and unprolific; and the old
house stared out shabby and paintless, at the dense willows by the
roadside.

They slept that night in one of the twenty-five-cent rooming houses.
Rather, Pervus slept. The woman lay awake, listening to the city noises
that had become strange in her ears; staring out into the purple-black
oblong that was the open window, until that oblong became gray. She wept
a little, perhaps. But in the morning Pervus might have noted (if he had
been a man given to noting) that the fine jaw-line was set as
determinedly as ever with an angle that spelled inevitably paint,
drainage, humus, potash, phosphoric acid, and a horse team.

She rose before four with Pervus, glad to be out of the stuffy little
room with its spotted and scaly green wall paper, its rickety bed and
chair. They had a cup of coffee and a slice of bread in the eating house
on the first floor. Selina waited while he tended the horse. The
night-watchman had been paid another twenty-five cents for watching the
wagonload through the night as it stood in a row with the hundreds of
others in the Haymarket. It was scarcely dawn when the trading began.
Selina, watching it from the wagon seat, thought that this was a
ridiculously haphazard and perilous method of distributing the food for
whose fruition Pervus had toiled with aching back and tired arms. But
she said nothing.

She kept, perforce, to the house that first year, and the second. Pervus
declared that his woman should never work in the fields as did many of
the High Prairie wives and daughters. Of ready cash there was almost
none. Pervus was hard put to it to pay Jan Steen his monthly wage during
May, June, July, and August, when he was employed on the DeJong place,
though Steen got but a pittance, being known as a poor hand, and “dumb.”
Selina learned much that first year, and the second, but she said
little. She kept the house in order—rough work, and endless—and she
managed, miraculously, to keep herself looking fresh and neat. She
understood now Maartje Pool’s drab garments, harassed face, heavily
swift feet, never at rest. The idea of flowers in bowls was abandoned by
July. Had it not been for Roelf’s faithful tending, the flower beds
themselves, planted with such hopes, would have perished for lack of
care.

Roelf came often to the house. He found there a tranquillity and peace
never known in the Pool place, with its hubbub and clatter. In order to
make her house attractive Selina had actually rifled her precious little
bank hoard—the four hundred and ninety-seven dollars left her by her
father. She still had one of the clear white diamonds. She kept it sewed
in the hem of an old flannel petticoat. Once she had shown it to Pervus.

“If I sell this maybe we could get enough money to drain and tile.”

Pervus took the stone, weighed it in his great palm, blinked as he
always did when discussing a subject of which he was ignorant. “How much
could you get for it? Fifty dollars, maybe. Five hundred is what I would
need.”

“I’ve got that. I’ve got it in the bank!”

“Well, maybe next spring. Right now I got my hands full, and more.”

To Selina that seemed a short-sighted argument. But she was too newly
married to stand her ground; too much in love; too ignorant still of
farm conditions.

The can of white paint and the brush actually did materialize. For weeks
it was dangerous to sit, lean, or tread upon any paintable thing in the
DeJong farmhouse without eliciting a cry of warning from Selina. She
would actually have tried her hand at the outside of the house with a
quart can and three-inch brush if Pervus hadn’t intervened. She hemmed
dimity curtains, made slip-covers for the hideous parlour sofa and the
ugliest of the chairs. Subscribed for a magazine called _House and
Garden_. Together she and Roelf used to pore over this fascinating
periodical. Terraces, lily-pools, leaded casements, cretonne,
fireplaces, yew trees, pergolas, fountains—they absorbed them all,
exclaimed, admired, actually criticized. Selina was torn between an
English cottage with timbered porch, bay window, stone flagging, and an
Italian villa with a broad terrace on which she would stand in trailing
white with a Russian wolf-hound. If High Prairie had ever overheard one
of these conversations between the farm woman who would always be a girl
and the farm boy who had never been quite a child, it would have raised
palms high in an “Og heden!” of horror. But High Prairie never heard,
and wouldn’t have understood if it had. She did another strange thing:
She placed the fine hand-carved oak chest Roelf had given her in a
position so that her child should see it as soon as he opened his eyes
in the morning. It was the most beautiful thing she possessed. She had,
too, an incomplete set of old Dutch luster ware. It had belonged to
Pervus’s mother, and to her mother before her. On Sunday nights Selina
used this set for supper, though Pervus protested. And she always
insisted that Dirk drink his milk out of one of the lovely jewel-like
cups. Pervus thought this a piece of madness.

Selina was up daily at four. Dressing was a swift and mechanical
covering of the body. Breakfast must be ready for Pervus and Jan when
they came in from the barn. The house to clean, the chickens to tend,
sewing, washing, ironing, cooking. She contrived ways of minimizing her
steps, of lightening her labour. And she saw clearly how the little farm
was mismanaged through lack of foresight, imagination, and—she faced it
squarely—through stupidity. She was fond of this great, kindly,
blundering, stubborn boy who was her husband. But she saw him with
amazing clearness through the mists of her love. There was something
prophetic about the way she began to absorb knowledge of the farm work,
of vegetable culture, of marketing. Listening, seeing, she learned about
soil, planting, weather, selling. The daily talk of the house and fields
was of nothing else. About this little twenty-five-acre garden patch
there was nothing of the majesty of the Iowa, Illinois, and Kansas grain
farms, with their endless billows of wheat and corn, rye, alfalfa, and
barley rolling away to the horizon. Everything was done in diminutive
here. An acre of this. Two acres of that. A score of chickens. One cow.
One horse. Two pigs. Here was all the drudgery of farm life with none of
its bounteousness, fine sweep, or splendour. Selina sensed that every
inch of soil should have been made to yield to the utmost. Yet there lay
the west sixteen, useless during most of the year; reliable never. And
there was no money to drain it or enrich it; no ready cash for the
purchase of profitable neighbouring acreage. She did not know the term
intensive farming, but this was what she meant. Artificial protection
against the treacherous climate of the Great Lakes region was pitifully
lacking in Pervus’s plans. Now it would be hot with the humid,
withering, sticky heat of the district. The ground was teeming, smoking,
and the green things seemed actually to be pushing their way out of the
earth so that one could almost see them growing, as in some absurd
optical illusion. Then, without warning, would come the icy Lake
Michigan wind, nipping the tender shoots with fiendish fingers. There
should have been hotbeds and coldframes, forcing-hills, hand-boxes.
There were almost none.

These things Selina saw, but not quite clearly. She went about her
housework, now dreamily, now happily. Her physical condition swayed her
mood. Sometimes, in the early autumn, when the days became cooler, she
would go to where Pervus and Jan were working in the fields in the late
afternoon gathering the produce for that night’s trip to market. She
would stand there, a bit of sewing in her hand, perhaps, the wind
ruffling her hair, whipping her skirts, her face no longer pale, tilted
a little toward the good sun like a lovely tawny flower. Sometimes she
sat perched on a pile of empty sacks, or on an up-ended crate, her
sewing in her hand. She was happiest at such times—most content—except
for the pang she felt at sight of the great dark splotch on the blue of
Pervus’s work-shirt where the sweat stained it.

She had come out so one autumn afternoon. She was feeling particularly
gay, buoyant. In one of his rare hours of leisure Roelf Pool had come to
help her with her peony roots which Pervus had brought her from Chicago
for fall planting. Roelf had dug the trench, deep and wide, mulched it
with cow-manure, banked it. They were to form a double row up the path
to the front of the house, and in her mind’s eye Selina already saw them
blooming when spring should come, shaggy balls of luscious pink. Now
Roelf was lending a hand to Pervus and Jan as they bent over the late
beets and radishes. It was a day all gold and blue and scarlet; warm for
the season with a ripe mellow warmth like yellow chartreuse. There were
stretches of seal-black loam where the vegetables had been uprooted.
Bunches of them, string-tied, lay ready for gathering into baskets.
Selina’s eye was gladdened by the clear coral of radishes flung against
the rich black loam.

“A jewel, Pervus!” she cried. “A jewel in an Ethiop’s ear!”

“What?” said Pervus, looking up, amiable but uncomprehending. But the
boy smiled. Selina had left him that book for his own when she went
away. Suddenly Selina stooped and picked up one of the scarlet and green
clusters tied with its bit of string. Laughing, she whipped out a
hairpin and fastened the bunch in her hair just behind her ear. An
absurd thing to do, and childish. It should have looked as absurd as it
was, but it didn’t. Instead it was like a great crimson flower there.
Her cheeks were flushed with the hot sun. Her fine dark hair was
wind-blown and a little loosened, her dress open at the throat. Her
figure was fuller, her breast had a richer curve, for the child was four
months on the way. She was laughing. At a little exclamation from Roelf,
Pervus looked up, as did Jan. Selina took a slow rhythmic step, and
another, her arms upraised, a provocative lovely bacchic little figure
there in the fields under the hot blue sky. Jan Steen wiped the sweat
from his brown face, a glow in his eyes.

“You are like the calendar!” cried Roelf, “on the wall in the parlour.”
A cheap but vivid and not unlovely picture of a girl with cherries in
her hair. It hung in the Pool farmhouse.

Pervus DeJong showed one of his rare storms of passion. Selina had not
seen that blaze of blue in his eyes since the night, months ago, in the
Pools’ kitchen. But that blaze had been a hot and burning blue, like the
sky of to-day. This was a bitter blue, a chill and freezing thing, like
the steel-blue of ice in the sun.

“Take them things out of your hair now! Take shame to yourself!” He
strode over to her and snatched the things from her hair and threw them
down and ground them into the soft earth with his heavy heel. A long
coil of her fine dark hair came rippling over her shoulder as he did so.
She stood looking at him, her eyes wide, dark, enormous in her face now
suddenly white.

His wrath was born of the narrow insular mind that fears gossip. He knew
that the hired man would tell through the length and width of High
Prairie how Pervus DeJong’s wife pinned red radishes in her hair and
danced in the fields like a loose woman.

Selina had turned, fled to the house. It was their first serious
quarrel. For days she was hurt, ashamed, moody. They made it up, of
course. Pervus was contrite, abject almost. But something that belonged
to her girlhood had left her that day.

During that winter she was often hideously lonely. She never got over
her hunger for companionship. Here she was, a gregarious and fun-loving
creature, buried in a snow-bound Illinois prairie farmhouse with a
husband who looked upon conversation as a convenience, not a pastime.
She learned much that winter about the utter sordidness of farm life.
She rarely saw the Pools; she rarely saw any one outside her own little
household. The front room—the parlour—was usually bitterly cold but
sometimes she used to slip in there, a shawl over her shoulders, and sit
at the frosty window to watch for a wagon to go by, or a chance
pedestrian up the road. She did not pity herself, nor regret her step.
She felt, physically, pretty well for a child-bearing woman; and Pervus
was tender, kindly, sympathetic, if not always understanding. She
struggled gallantly to keep up the small decencies of existence. She
loved the glow in Pervus’s eyes when she appeared with a bright ribbon,
a fresh collar, though he said nothing and perhaps she only fancied that
he noticed. Once or twice she had walked the mile and a half of slippery
road to the Pools’, and had sat in Maartje’s warm bright bustling
kitchen for comfort. It seemed to her incredible that a little more than
a year ago she had first stepped into this kitchen in her modish brown
lady’s-cloth dress, muffled in wraps, cold but elated, interested, ready
for adventure, surprise, discomfort—anything. And now here she was in
that same kitchen, amazingly, unbelievably Mrs. Pervus DeJong, truck
farmer’s wife, with a child soon to be born. And where was adventure
now? And where was life? And where the love of chance bred in her by her
father?

The two years following Dirk’s birth were always somewhat vague in
Selina’s mind, like a dream in which horror and happiness are
inextricably blended. The boy was a plump hardy infant who employed
himself cheerfully in whatever spot Selina happened to deposit him. He
had his father’s blond exterior, his mother’s brunette vivacity. At two
he was a child of average intelligence, sturdy physique, and marked good
humour. He almost never cried.

He was just twelve months old when Selina’s second child—a girl—was
born dead. Twice during those two years Pervus fell victim to his
so-called rheumatic attacks following the early spring planting when he
was often forced to stand in water up to his ankles. He suffered
intensely and during his illness was as tractable as a goaded bull.
Selina understood why half of High Prairie was bent and twisted with
rheumatism—why the little Dutch Reformed church on Sunday mornings
resembled a shrine to which sick and crippled pilgrims creep.

High Prairie was kind to the harried household. The farm women sent
Dutch dainties. The men lent a hand in the fields, though they were hard
put to it to tend their own crops at this season. The Widow
Paarlenberg’s neat smart rig was frequently to be seen waiting under the
willows in the DeJong yard. The Paarlenberg, still widow, still
Paarlenberg, brought soups and chickens and cakes which never stuck in
Selina’s throat because she refused to touch them. The Widow Paarlenberg
was what is known as good-hearted. She was happiest when some one else
was in trouble. Hearing of an illness, a catastrophe, “Og heden!” she
would cry, and rush off to the scene with sustaining soup. She was the
sort of lady bountiful who likes to see her beneficiaries benefit before
her very eyes. If she brought them soup at ten in the morning she wanted
to see that soup consumed.

“Eat it all,” she would urge. “Take it now, while it is hot. See, you
are looking better already. Just another spoonful.”

In the DeJongs’ plight she found a grisly satisfaction, cloaked by
commiseration. Selina, white and weak following her tragic second
confinement, still found strength to refuse the widow’s sustaining
potions. The widow, her silks making a gentle susurrus in the bare
little bedroom, regarded Selina with eyes in which pity and triumph made
horrid conflict. Selina’s eyes, enormous now in her white face, were
twin pools of Peake pride.

“It’s most kind of you, Mrs. Paarlenberg, but I don’t like soup.”

“A whole chicken boiled in it.”

“Especially chicken soup. Neither does Pervus. But I’m sure Mrs.
Voorhees will enjoy it.” This being Pervus’s old housekeeper pressed now
into temporary emergency service.

It was easy to see why the DeJong house still was unpainted two years
after Selina’s rosy plans began to form; why the fences still sagged,
the wagon creaked, the single horse hauled the produce to market.

Selina had been married almost three years when there came to her a
letter from Julie Hempel, now married. The letter had been sent to the
Klaas Pool farm and Jozina had brought it to her. Though she had not
seen it since her days at Miss Fister’s school, Selina recognized with a
little hastening heart-beat the spidery handwriting with the shading and
curleycues. Seated on her kitchen steps in her calico dress she read it.

    DARLING SELINA:—

    I thought it was so queer that you didn’t answer my letter and
    now I know you must have thought it queer that I did not answer
    yours. I found your letter to me, written long ago, when I was
    going over Mother’s things last week. It was the letter you must
    have written when I was in Kansas City. Mother had never given
    it to me. I am not reproaching her. You see, I had written you
    from Kansas City, but had sent my letter to Mamma to mail
    because I never could remember that funny address of yours in
    the country.

    Mamma died three weeks ago. Last week I was going over her
    things—a trying task, you may imagine—and there were your two
    letters addressed to me. She had never destroyed them. Poor
    Mamma . . .

    Well, dear Selina, I suppose you don’t even know that I am
    married. I married Michael Arnold of Kansas City. The Arnolds
    were in the packing business there, you know. Michael has gone
    into business with Pa here in Chicago and I suppose you have
    heard of Pa’s success. Just all of a sudden he began to make a
    great deal of money after he left the butcher business and went
    into the yards—the stockyards, you know. Poor Mamma was so
    happy these last few years, and had everything that was
    beautiful. I have two children. Eugene and Pauline.

    I am getting to be quite a society person. You would laugh to
    see me. I am on the Ladies’ Entertainment Committee of the
    World’s Fair. We are supposed to entertain all the visiting big
    bugs—that is the lady bugs. There! How is that for a joke?

    I suppose you know about the Infanta Eulalie. Of Spain, you
    know. And what she did about the Potter Palmer ball. . . .

Selina, holding the letter in her work-stained hand, looked up and
across the fields and away to where the prairie met the sky and closed
in on her; her world. The Infanta Eulalie of Spain. . . . She went back
to the letter.

    Well, she came to Chicago for the Fair and Mrs. Potter Palmer
    was to give a huge reception and ball for her. Mrs. P. is head
    of the whole committee, you know, and I must say she looks
    queenly with her white hair so beautifully dressed and her
    diamond dog-collar and her black velvet and all. Well, at the
    very last minute the Infanta refused to attend the ball because
    she had just heard that Mrs. P. was an innkeeper’s wife.
    Imagine! The Palmer House, of course.

Selina, holding the letter in her hand, imagined.

It was in the third year of Selina’s marriage that she first went into
the fields to work. Pervus had protested miserably, though the
vegetables were spoiling in the ground.

“Let them rot,” he said. “Better the stuff rots in the ground. DeJong
women folks they never worked in the fields. Not even in Holland. Not my
mother or my grandmother. It isn’t for women.”

Selina had regained health and vigour after two years of wretchedness.
She felt steel-strong and even hopeful again, sure sign of physical
well-being. Long before now she had realized that this time must
inevitably come. So she answered briskly, “Nonsense, Pervus. Working in
the field’s no harder than washing or ironing or scrubbing or standing
over a hot stove in August. Women’s work! Housework’s the hardest work
in the world. That’s why men won’t do it.”

She would often take the boy Dirk with her into the fields, placing him
on a heap of empty sacks in the shade. He invariably crawled off this
lowly throne to dig and burrow in the warm black dirt. He even made as
though to help his mother, pulling at the rooted things with futile
fingers, and sitting back with a bump when a shallow root did
unexpectedly yield to his tugging.

“Look! He’s a farmer already,” Pervus would say.

But within Selina something would cry, “No! No!”

During May, June, and July Pervus worked not only from morning until
night, but by moonlight as well, and Selina worked with him. Often their
sleep was a matter of three hours only, or four.

So two years went—three years—four. In the fourth year of Selina’s
marriage she suffered the loss of her one woman friend in all High
Prairie. Maartje Pool died in childbirth, as was so often the case in
this region where a Gampish midwife acted as obstetrician. The child,
too, had not lived. Death had not been kind to Maartje Pool. It had
brought neither peace nor youth to her face, as it so often does.
Selina, looking down at the strangely still figure that had been so
active, so bustling, realized that for the first time in the years she
had known her she was seeing Maartje Pool at rest. It seemed incredible
that she could lie there, the infant in her arms, while the house was
filled with people and there were chairs to be handed, space to be
cleared, food to be cooked and served. Sitting there with the other High
Prairie women Selina had a hideous feeling that Maartje would suddenly
rise up and take things in charge; rub and scratch with capable fingers
the spatters of dried mud on Klaas Pool’s black trousers (he had been in
the yard to see to the horses); quiet the loud wailing of Geertje and
Jozina; pass her gnarled hand over Roelf’s wide-staring tearless eyes;
wipe the film of dust from the parlour table that had never known a
speck during her régime.

“You can’t run far enough,” Maartje had said. “Except you stop living
you can’t run away from life.”

Well, she had run far enough this time.

Roelf was sixteen now, Geertje twelve, Jozina eleven. What would this
household do now, Selina wondered, without the woman who had been so
faithful a slave to it? Who would keep the pigtails—no longer
giggling—in clean ginghams and decent square-toed shoes? Who, when
Klaas broke out in rumbling Dutch wrath against what he termed Roelf’s
“dumb” ways, would say, “Og, Pool, leave the boy alone once. He does
nothing.” Who would keep Klaas himself in order; cook his meals, wash
his clothes, iron his shirts, take pride in the great ruddy childlike
giant?

Klaas answered these questions just nine months later by marrying the
Widow Paarlenberg. High Prairie was rocked with surprise. For months
this marriage was the talk of the district. They had gone to Niagara
Falls on a wedding trip; Pool’s place was going to have this improvement
and that; no, they were going to move to the Widow Paarlenberg’s large
farmhouse (they would always call her that); no, Pool was putting in a
bathroom with a bathtub and running water; no, they were going to buy
the Stikker place between Pool’s and Paarlenberg’s and make one farm of
it, the largest in all High Prairie, Low Prairie, or New Haarlem. Well,
no fool like an old fool.

So insatiable was High Prairie’s curiosity that every scrap of fresh
news was swallowed at a gulp. When the word went round of Roelf’s flight
from the farm, no one knew where, it served only as sauce to the great
dish of gossip.

Selina had known. Pervus was away at the market when Roelf had knocked
at the farmhouse door one night at eight, had turned the knob and
entered, as usual. But there was nothing of the usual about his
appearance. He wore his best suit—his first suit of store clothes,
bought at the time of his mother’s funeral. It never had fitted him; now
was grotesquely small for him. He had shot up amazingly in the last
eight or nine months. Yet there was nothing of the ridiculous about him
as he stood before her now, tall, lean, dark. He put down his cheap
yellow suitcase.

“Well, Roelf.”

“I am going away. I couldn’t stay.”

She nodded. “Where?”

“Away. Chicago maybe.” He was terribly moved, so he made his tone
casual. “They came home last night. I have got some books that belong to
you.” He made as though to open the suitcase.

“No, no! Keep them.”

“Good-bye.”

“Good-bye, Roelf.” She took the boy’s dark head in her two hands and,
standing on tiptoe, kissed him. He turned to go. “Wait a minute. Wait a
minute.” She had a few dollars—in quarters, dimes, half
dollars—perhaps ten dollars in all—hidden away in a canister on the
shelf. She reached for it. But when she came back with the box in her
hand he was gone.



                                   IX


Dirk was eight; Little Sobig DeJong, in a suit made of bean-sacking
sewed together by his mother. A brown blond boy with mosquito bites on
his legs and his legs never still. Nothing of the dreamer about this
lad. The one-room schoolhouse of Selina’s day had been replaced by a
two-story brick structure, very fine, of which High Prairie was vastly
proud. The rusty iron stove had been dethroned by a central heater. Dirk
went to school from October until June. Pervus protested that this was
foolish. The boy could be of great help in the fields from the beginning
of April to the first of November, but Selina fought savagely for his
schooling, and won.

“Reading and writing and figgering is what a farmer is got to know,”
Pervus argued. “The rest is all foolishness. Constantinople is the
capital of Turkey he studies last night and uses good oil in the lamp.
What good does it do a truck farmer when he knows Constantinople is the
capital of Turkey? That don’t help him raise turnips.”

“Sobig isn’t a truck farmer.”

“Well, he will be pretty soon. Time I was fifteen I was running our
place.”

Verbally Selina did not combat this. But within her every force was
gathering to fight it when the time should come. Her Sobig a truck
farmer, a slave to the soil, bent by it, beaten by it, blasted by it, so
that he, in time, like the other men of High Prairie, would take on the
very look of the rocks and earth among which they toiled!

Dirk, at eight, was a none too handsome child, considering his father
and mother—or his father and mother as they had been. He had, though, a
“different” look. His eyelashes were too long for a boy. Wasted, Selina
said as she touched them with a fond forefinger, when a girl would have
been so glad of them. He had developed, too, a slightly aquiline nose,
probably a long-jump inheritance from some Cromwellian rapscallion of
the English Peakes of a past century. It was not until he was seventeen
or eighteen that he was to metamorphose suddenly into a graceful and
aristocratic youngster with an indefinable look about him of distinction
and actual elegance. It was when Dirk was thirty that Peter Peel the
English tailor (of Michigan Avenue north) said he was the only man in
Chicago who could wear English clothes without having them look like
Halsted Street. Dirk probably appeared a little startled at that, as
well he might, west Halsted Street having loomed up so large in his
background.

Selina was a farm woman now, nearing thirty. The work rode her as it had
ridden Maartje Pool. In the DeJong yard there was always a dado of
washing, identical with the one that had greeted Selina’s eye when first
she drove into the Pool yard years before. Faded overalls, a shirt,
socks, a boy’s drawers grotesquely patched and mended, towels of rough
sacking. She, too, rose at four, snatched up shapeless garments,
invested herself with them, seized her great coil of fine cloudy hair,
twisted it into a utilitarian knob and skewered it with a hairpin from
which the varnish had long departed, leaving it a dull gray; thrust her
slim feet into shapeless shoes, dabbed her face with cold water, hurried
to the kitchen stove. The work was always at her heels, its breath hot
on her neck. Baskets of mending piled up, threatened to overwhelm her.
Overalls, woollen shirts, drawers, socks. Socks! They lay coiled and
twisted in an old market basket. Sometimes as she sat late at night
mending them, in and out, in and out, with quick fierce stabs of the
needle in her work-scarred hand, they seemed to writhe and squirm and
wriggle horribly, like snakes. One of her bad dreams was that in which
she saw herself overwhelmed, drowned, swallowed up by a huge welter and
boiling of undarned, unmended nightshirts, drawers, socks, aprons,
overalls.

Seeing her thus one would have thought that the Selina Peake of the
wine-red cashmere, the fun-loving disposition, the high-spirited
courage, had departed forever. But these things still persisted. For
that matter, even the wine-red cashmere clung to existence. So
hopelessly old-fashioned now as to be almost picturesque, it hung in
Selina’s closet like a rosy memory. Sometimes when she came upon it in
an orgy of cleaning she would pass her rough hands over its soft folds
and by that magic process Mrs. Pervus DeJong vanished in a pouf and in
her place was the girl Selina Peake perched a-tiptoe on a soap-box in
Adam Ooms’s hall while all High Prairie, open-mouthed, looked on as the
impecunious Pervus DeJong threw ten hard-earned dollars at her feet. In
thrifty moments she had often thought of cutting the wine-red cashmere
into rag-rug strips; of dyeing it a sedate brown or black and
remodelling it for a much-needed best dress; of fashioning it into
shirts for Dirk. But she never did.

It would be gratifying to be able to record that in these eight or nine
years Selina had been able to work wonders on the DeJong farm; that the
house glittered, the crops thrived richly, the barn housed sleek cattle.
But it could not be truthfully said. True, she had achieved some
changes, but at the cost of terrific effort. A less indomitable woman
would have sunk into apathy years before. The house had a coat of
paint—lead-gray, because it was cheapest. There were two horses—the
second a broken-down old mare, blind in one eye, that they had picked up
for five dollars after it had been turned out to pasture for future sale
as horse-carcass. Piet Pon, the mare’s owner who drove a milk route, had
hoped to get three dollars for the animal, dead. A month of rest and
pasturage restored the mare to usefulness. Selina had made the bargain,
and Pervus had scolded her roundly for it. Now he drove the mare to
market, saw that she pulled more sturdily than the other horse, but had
never retracted. It was no quality of meanness in him. Pervus merely was
like that.

But the west sixteen! That had been Selina’s most heroic achievement.
Her plan, spoken of to Pervus in the first month of her marriage, had
taken years to mature; even now was but a partial triumph. She had even
descended to nagging.

“Why don’t we put in asparagus?”

“Asparagus!” considered something of a luxury, and rarely included in
the High Prairie truck farmer’s products. “And wait three years for a
crop!”

“Yes, but then we’d have it. And a plantation’s good for ten years, once
it’s started.”

“Plantation! What is that? An asparagus plantation? Asparagus I’ve
always heard of in beds.”

“That’s the old idea. I’ve been reading up on it. The new way is to
plant asparagus in rows, the way you would rhubarb or corn. Plant six
feet apart, and four acres anyway.”

He was not even sufficiently interested to be amused. “Yeh, four acres
where? In the clay land, maybe.” He did laugh then, if the short bitter
sound he made could be construed as indicating mirth. “Out of a book.”

“In the clay land,” Selina urged, crisply. “And out of a book. Every
farmer in High Prairie raises cabbage, turnips, carrots, beets, beans,
onions, and they’re better quality than ours. That west sixteen isn’t
bringing you anything, so what difference does it make if I am wrong!
Let me put my own money into it, I’ve thought it all out, Pervus.
Please. We’ll under-drain the clay soil. Just five or six acres, to
start. We’ll manure it heavily—as much as we can afford—and then for
two years we’ll plant potatoes there. We’ll put in our asparagus plants
the third spring—one-year-old seedlings. I’ll promise to keep it
weeded—Dirk and I. He’ll be a big boy by that time.”

“How much manure?”

“Oh, twenty to forty tons to the acre——”

He shook his head in slow Dutch opposition.

“—but if you’ll let me use humus I won’t need that much. Let me try it,
Pervus. Let me try.”

In the end she had her way, partly because Pervus was too occupied with
his own endless work to oppose her; and partly because he was, in his
undemonstrative way, still in love with his vivacious, nimble-witted,
high-spirited wife, though to her frantic goadings and proddings he was
as phlegmatically oblivious as an elephant to a pin prick. Year in, year
out, he maintained his slow-plodding gait, content to do as his father
had done before him; content to let the rest of High Prairie pass him on
the road. He rarely showed temper. Selina often wished he would.
Sometimes, in a sort of hysteria of hopelessness, she would rush at him,
ruffle up his thick coarse hair, now beginning to be threaded with gray;
shake his great impassive shoulders.

“Pervus! Pervus! if you’d only get mad—real mad! Fly into a rage. Break
things! Beat me! Sell the farm! Run away!” She didn’t mean it, of
course. It was the vital and constructive force in her resenting his
apathy, his acceptance of things as they were.

“What is that for dumb talk?” He would regard her solemnly through a
haze of smoke, his pipe making a maddening putt-putt of sleepy content.

Though she worked as hard as any woman in High Prairie, had as little,
dressed as badly, he still regarded her as a luxury; an exquisite toy
which, in a moment of madness, he had taken for himself. “Little
Lina”—tolerantly, fondly. You would have thought that he spoiled her,
pampered her. Perhaps he even thought he did.

When she spoke of modern farming, of books on vegetable gardening, he
came very near to angry impatience, though his amusement at the idea
saved him from it. College agricultural courses he designated as
foolishness. Of Linnæus he had never heard. Burbank was, for him,
non-existent, and he thought head-lettuce a silly fad. Selina sometimes
talked of raising this last named green as a salad, with marketing
value. Everyone knew that regular lettuce was leaf lettuce which you ate
with vinegar and a sprinkling of sugar, or with hot bacon and fat
sopping its wilted leaves.

He said, too, she spoiled the boy. Back of this may have been a lurking
jealousy. “Always the boy; always the boy,” he would mutter when Selina
planned for the child; shielded him; took his part (sometimes unjustly).
“You will make a softy of him with your always babying.” So from time to
time he undertook to harden Dirk. The result was generally disastrous.
In one case the process terminated in what was perilously near to
tragedy. It was during the midsummer school vacation. Dirk was eight.
The woody slopes about High Prairie and the sand hills beyond were
covered with the rich blue of huckleberries. They were dead ripe. One
shower would spoil them. Geertje and Jozina Pool were going
huckleberrying and had consented to take Dirk—a concession, for he was
only eight and considered, at their advanced age, a tagger. But the last
of the tomatoes on the DeJong place were also ripe and ready for
picking. They hung, firm, juicy scarlet globes, prime for the Chicago
market. Pervus meant to haul them to town that day. And this was work in
which the boy could help. To Dirk’s, “Can I go berrying? The
huckleberries are ripe. Geert and Jozina are going,” his father shook a
negative head.

“Yes, well tomatoes are ripe, too, and that comes before huckleberries.
There’s the whole patch to clean up this afternoon by four.”

Selina looked up, glanced at Pervus’s face, at the boy’s, said nothing.
The look said, “He’s a child. Let him go, Pervus.”

Dirk flushed with disappointment. They were at breakfast. It was barely
daybreak. He looked down at his plate, his lip quivered, his long lashes
lay heavy on his cheeks. Pervus got up, wiped his mouth with the back of
his hand. There was a hard day ahead of him. “Time I was your age,
Sobig, I would think it was an easy day when all I had to do was pick a
tomato patch clean.”

Dirk looked up then, quickly. “If I get it all picked can I go?”

“It’s a day’s job.”

“But if I do pick the patch—if I get through early enough—can I go?”

In his mind’s eye Pervus saw the tomato patch, more scarlet than green,
so thick hung the fruit upon the bushes. He smiled. “Yes. You pick them
tomatoes and you can go. But no throwing into the baskets and getting
’em all softed up.”

Secretly Selina resolved to help him, but she knew that this could not
be until afternoon. The berry patches were fully three miles from the
DeJong farm. Dirk would have to finish by three o’clock, at the latest,
to get there. Selina had her morning full with the housework.

He was in the patch before six; fell to work, feverishly. He picked,
heaped the fruit into hillocks. The scarlet patches glowed, blood-red,
in the sun. The child worked like a machine, with an economy of gesture
calculated to the fraction of an inch. He picked, stooped, heaped the
mounds in the sultry heat of the August morning. The sweat stood out on
his forehead, darkened his blond hair, slid down his cheeks that were
pink, then red, then tinged with a purplish tone beneath the summer tan.
When dinner time came he gulped a dozen alarming mouthfuls and was out
again in the broiling noonday glare. Selina left her dinner dishes
unwashed on the table to help him, but Pervus intervened. “The boy’s got
to do it alone,” he insisted.

“He’ll never do it, Pervus. He’s only eight.”

“Time I was eight——”

He actually had cleared the patch by three. He went to the well and took
a huge draught of water; drank two great dippersful, lipping it down
thirstily, like a colt. It was cool and delicious beyond belief. Then he
sloshed a third and a fourth dipperful over his hot head and neck, took
an empty lard pail for berries and was off down the dusty road and
across the fields, running fleetly in spite of the quivering heat waves
that seemed to dance between fiery heaven and parched earth. Selina
stood in the kitchen doorway a moment, watching him. He looked very
small and determined.

He found Geertje and Jozina, surfeited with fruit, berry stained and
bramble torn, lolling languidly in Kuyper’s woods. He began to pick the
plump blue balls but he ate them listlessly, though thriftily, because
that was what he had come for and his father was Dutch. When Geertje and
Jozina prepared to leave not an hour after he had come he was ready to
go, yet curiously loath to move. His lard pail was half filled. He
trotted home laboriously through the late afternoon, feeling giddy and
sick, with horrid pains in his head. That night he tossed in delirium,
begged not to be made lie down, came perilously near to death.

Selina’s heart was an engine pumping terror, hate, agony through her
veins. Hate for her husband who had done this to the boy.

“You did it! You did it! He’s a baby and you made him work like a man.
If anything happens to him! If anything happens to him!——”

“Well, I didn’t think the kid would go for to do it. I didn’t ask him to
pick and then go berrying. He said could he and I said yes. If I had
said no it would have been wrong, too, maybe.”

“You’re all alike. Look at Roelf Pool! They tried to make a farmer of
him, too. And ruined him.”

“What’s the matter with farming? What’s the matter with a farmer? You
said farm work was grand work, once.”

“Oh, I did. It is. It could be. It—— Oh, what’s the use of talking
like that now! Look at him! Don’t, Sobig! Don’t, baby. How hot his head
is! Listen! Is that Jan with the doctor? No. No, it isn’t. Mustard
plasters. Are you sure that’s the right thing?”

It was before the day of the omnipresent farmhouse telephone and the
farmhouse Ford. Jan’s trip to High Prairie village for the doctor and
back to the farm meant a delay of hours. But within two days the boy was
again about, rather pale, but otherwise seeming none the worse for his
experience.

That was Pervus. Thrifty, like his kind, but unlike them in shrewdness.
Penny wise, pound foolish; a characteristic that brought him his death.
September, usually a succession of golden days and hazy opalescent
evenings on the Illinois prairie land, was disastrously cold and rainy
that year. Pervus’s great frame was racked by rheumatism. He was forty
now, and over, still of magnificent physique, so that to see him
suffering gave Selina the pangs of pity that one has at sight of the
very strong or the very weak in pain. He drove the weary miles to market
three times a week, for September was the last big month of the truck
farmer’s season. After that only the hardier plants survived the
frosts—the cabbages, beets, turnips, carrots, pumpkins, squash. The
roads in places were morasses of mud into which the wheels were likely
to sink to the hubs. Once stuck you had often to wait for a friendly
passing team to haul you out. Pervus would start early, detour for miles
in order to avoid the worst places. Jan was too stupid, too old, too
inexpert to be trusted with the Haymarket trading. Selina would watch
Pervus drive off down the road in the creaking old market wagon, the
green stuff protected by canvas, but Pervus wet before ever he climbed
into the seat. There never seemed to be enough waterproof canvas for
both.

“Pervus, take it off those sacks and put it over your shoulders.”

“That’s them white globe onions. The last of ’em. I can get a fancy
price for them but not if they’re all wetted down.”

“Don’t sleep on the wagon to-night, Pervus. Sleep in. Be sure. It saves
in the end. You know the last time you were laid up for a week.”

“It’ll clear. Breaking now over there in the west.”

The clouds did break late in the afternoon; the false sun came out hot
and bright. Pervus slept out in the Haymarket, for the night was close
and humid. At midnight the lake wind sprang up, cold and treacherous,
and with it came the rain again. Pervus was drenched by morning,
chilled, thoroughly miserable. A hot cup of coffee at four and another
at ten when the rush of trading was over stimulated him but little. When
he reached home it was mid-afternoon. Beneath the bronze wrought by the
wind and sun of many years the gray-white of sickness shone dully, like
silver under enamel. Selina put him to bed against his half-hearted
protests. Banked him with hot water jars, a hot iron wrapped in flannel
at his feet. But later came fever instead of the expected relief of
perspiration. Ill though he was he looked more ruddy and hale than most
men in health; but suddenly Selina, startled, saw black lines like
gashes etched under his eyes, about his mouth, in his cheeks.

In a day when pneumonia was known as lung fever and in a locality that
advised closed windows and hot air as a remedy, Pervus’s battle was lost
before the doctor’s hooded buggy was seen standing in the yard for long
hours through the night. Toward morning the doctor had Jan Steen stable
the horse. It was a sultry night, with flashes of heat lightning in the
west.

“I should think if you opened the windows,” Selina said to the old High
Prairie doctor over and over, emboldened by terror, “it would help him
to breathe. He—he’s breathing so—he’s breathing so——” She could not
bring herself to say so terribly. The sound of the words wrung her as
did the sound of his terrible breathing.



                                   X


Perhaps the most poignant and touching feature of the days that followed
was not the sight of this stricken giant, lying majestic and aloof in
his unwonted black; nor of the boy Dirk, mystified but elated, too, with
the unaccustomed stir and excitement; nor of the shabby little farm that
seemed to shrink and dwindle into further insignificance beneath the
sudden publicity turned upon it. No; it was the sight of Selina,
widowed, but having no time for decent tears. The farm was there; it
must be tended. Illness, death, sorrow—the garden must be tended, the
vegetables pulled, hauled to market, sold. Upon the garden depended the
boy’s future, and hers.

For the first few days following the funeral one or another of the
neighbouring farmers drove the DeJong team to market, aided the
blundering Jan in the fields. But each had his hands full with his own
farm work. On the fifth day Jan Steen had to take the garden truck to
Chicago, though not without many misgivings on Selina’s part, all of
which were realized when he returned late next day with half the load
still on his wagon and a sum of money representing exactly zero in
profits. The wilted left-over vegetables were dumped behind the barn to
be used later as fertilizer.

“I didn’t do so good this time,” Jan explained, “on account I didn’t get
no right place in the market.”

“You started early enough.”

“Well, they kind of crowded me out, like. They see I was a new hand and
time I got the animals stabled and come back they had the wagon crowded
out, like.”

Selina was standing in the kitchen doorway, Jan in the yard with the
team. She turned her face toward the fields. An observant person (Jan
Steen was not one of these) would have noted the singularly determined
and clear-cut jaw-line of this drably calicoed farm woman.

“I’ll go myself Monday.”

Jan stared. “Go? Go where, Monday?”

“To market.”

At this seeming pleasantry Jan Steen smiled uncertainly, shrugged his
shoulders, and was off to the barn. She was always saying things that
didn’t make sense. His horror and unbelief were shared by the rest of
High Prairie when on Monday Selina literally took the reins in her own
slim work-scarred hands.

“To market!” argued Jan as excitedly as his phlegmatic nature would
permit. “A woman she don’t go to market. A woman——”

“This woman does.” Selina had risen at three in the morning. Not only
that, she had got Jan up, grumbling. Dirk had joined them in the fields
at five. Together the three of them had pulled and bunched a wagon load.
“Size them,” Selina ordered, as they started to bunch radishes, beets,
turnips, carrots. “And don’t leave them loose like that. Tie them tight
at the heads, like this. Twice around with the string, and through. Make
bouquets of them, not bunches. And we’re going to scrub them.”

High Prairie washed its vegetables desultorily; sometimes not at all.
Higgledy piggledy, large and small, they were bunched and sold as
vegetables, not objets d’art. Generally there was a tan crust of good
earth coating them which the housewife could scrub off at her own
kitchen sink. What else had housewives to do!

Selina, scrubbing the carrots vigorously under the pump, thought they
emerged from their unaccustomed bath looking like clustered spears of
pure gold. She knew better, though, than to say this in Jan’s hearing.
Jan, by now, was sullen with bewilderment. He refused to believe that
she actually intended to carry out her plan. A woman—a High Prairie
farmer’s wife—driving to market like a man! Alone at night in the
market place—or at best in one of the cheap rooming houses! By Sunday
somehow, mysteriously, the news had filtered through the district. High
Prairie attended the Dutch Reformed church with a question hot on its
tongue and Selina did not attend the morning services. A fine state of
things, and she a widow of a week! High Prairie called at the DeJong
farm on Sunday afternoon and was told that the widow was over in the wet
west sixteen, poking about with the boy Dirk at her heels.

The Reverend Dekker appeared late Sunday afternoon on his way to evening
service. A dour dominie, the Reverend Dekker, and one whose talents were
anachronistic. He would have been invaluable in the days when New York
was New Amsterdam. But the second and third generations of High Prairie
Dutch were beginning to chafe under his old-world régime. A hard blue
eye, had the Reverend Dekker, and a fanatic one.

“What is this talk I hear, Mrs. DeJong, that you are going to the
Haymarket with the garden stuff, a woman alone?”

“Dirk goes with me.”

“You don’t know what you are doing, Mrs. DeJong. The Haymarket is no
place for a decent woman. As for the boy! There is card-playing,
drinking—all manner of wickedness—daughters of Jezebel on the street,
going among the wagons.”

“Really!” said Selina. It sounded thrilling, after twelve years on the
farm.

“You must not go.”

“The vegetables are rotting in the ground. And Dirk and I must live.”

“Remember the two sparrows. ‘One of them shall not fall on the ground
without’—Matthew X-29.”

“I don’t see,” replied Selina, simply, “what good that does the sparrow,
once it’s fallen.”

By Monday afternoon the parlour curtains of every High Prairie farmhouse
that faced the Halsted road were agitated as though by a brisk wind
between the hours of three and five, when the market wagons were to be
seen moving toward Chicago. Klaas Pool at dinner that noon had spoken of
Selina’s contemplated trip with a mingling of pity and disapproval.

“It ain’t decent a woman should drive to market.”

Mrs. Klaas Pool (they still spoke of her as the Widow Paarlenberg)
smiled her slippery crooked smile. “What could you expect! Look how
she’s always acted.”

Klaas did not follow this. He was busy with his own train of thought.
“It don’t seem hardly possible. Time she come here school teacher I
drove her out and she was like a little robin or what, set up on the
seat. She says, I remember like yesterday, cabbages was beautiful. I bet
she learned different by this time.”

But she hadn’t. So little had Selina learned in these past eleven years
that now, having loaded the wagon in the yard she surveyed it with more
sparkle in her eye than High Prairie would have approved in a widow of
little more than a week. They had picked and bunched only the best of
the late crop—the firmest reddest radishes, the roundest juiciest
beets; the carrots that tapered a good seven inches from base to tip;
kraut cabbages of the drumhead variety that were flawless green balls;
firm juicy spears of cucumber; cauliflower (of her own planting; Pervus
had opposed it) that looked like a bride’s bouquet. Selina stepped back
now and regarded this riot of crimson and green, of white and gold and
purple.

“Aren’t they beautiful! Dirk, aren’t they beautiful!”

Dirk, capering in his excitement at the prospect of the trip before him,
shook his head impatiently. “What? I don’t see anything beautiful.
What’s beautiful?”

Selina flung out her arms. “The—the whole wagon load. The cabbages.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” said Dirk. “Let’s go, Mother. Aren’t we
going now? You said as soon as the load was on.”

“Oh, Sobig, you’re just exactly like your——” She stopped.

“Like my what?”

“We’ll go now, son. There’s cold meat for your supper, Jan, and potatoes
all sliced for frying and half an apple pie left from noon. Wash your
dishes—don’t leave them cluttering around the kitchen. You ought to get
in the rest of the squash and pumpkins by evening. Maybe I can sell the
lot instead of taking them in by the load. I’ll see a commission man.
Take less, if I have to.”

She had dressed the boy in his home-made suit cut down from one of his
father’s. He wore a wide-brimmed straw hat which he hated. Selina had
made him an overcoat of stout bean-sacking and this she tucked under the
wagon seat, together with an old black fascinator, for though the
September afternoon was white-hot she knew that the evenings were likely
to be chilly, once the sun, a great crimson Chinese balloon, had burned
itself out in a blaze of flame across the prairie horizon. Selina
herself, in a full-skirted black-stuff dress, mounted the wagon agilely,
took up the reins, looked down at the boy seated beside her, clucked to
the horses. Jan Steen gave vent to a final outraged bellow.

“Never in my life did I hear of such a thing!”

Selina turned the horses’ heads toward the city. “You’d be surprised,
Jan, to know of all the things you’re going to hear of some day that
you’ve never heard of before.” Still, when twenty years had passed and
the Ford, the phonograph, the radio, and the rural mail delivery had
dumped the world at Jan’s plodding feet he liked to tell of that
momentous day when Selina DeJong had driven off to market like a man
with a wagon load of hand-scrubbed garden truck and the boy Dirk perched
beside her on the seat.

If, then, you had been travelling the Halsted road, you would have seen
a decrepit wagon, vegetable-laden, driven by a too-thin woman, sallow,
bright-eyed, in a shapeless black dress, a battered black felt hat that
looked like a man’s old “fedora” and probably was. Her hair was
unbecomingly strained away from the face with its high cheek bones, so
that unless you were really observant you failed to notice the exquisite
little nose or the really fine eyes so unnaturally large now in the
anxious face. On the seat beside her you would have seen a farm boy of
nine or thereabouts—a brown freckle-faced lad in a comically home-made
suit of clothes and a straw hat with a broken and flopping brim which he
was forever jerking off only to have it set firmly on again by the woman
who seemed to fear the effects of the hot afternoon sun on his
close-cropped head. But in the brief intervals when the hat was off you
must have noted how the boy’s eyes were shining.

At their feet was the dog Pom, a mongrel whose tail bore no relation to
his head, whose ill-assorted legs appeared wholly at variance with his
sturdy barrel of a body. He dozed now, for it had been his duty to watch
the wagon load at night, while Pervus slept.

A shabby enough little outfit, but magnificent, too. Here was Selina
DeJong driving up the Halsted road toward the city instead of sitting,
black-robed, in the farm parlour while High Prairie came to condole. In
Selina, as they jogged along the hot dusty way, there welled up a
feeling very like elation. Conscious of this, the New England strain in
her took her to task. “Selina Peake, aren’t you ashamed of yourself!
You’re a wicked woman! Feeling almost gay when you ought to be
sad. . . . Poor Pervus . . . the farm . . . Dirk . . . and you can feel
almost gay! You ought to be ashamed of yourself!”

But she wasn’t, and knew it. For even as she thought this the little
wave of elation came flooding over her again. More than ten years ago
she had driven with Klaas Pool up that same road for the first time, and
in spite of the recent tragedy of her father’s death, her youth, her
loneliness, the terrifying thought of the new home to which she was
going, a stranger among strangers, she had been conscious of a warm
little thrill of elation, of excitement—of adventure! That was it. “The
whole thing’s just a grand adventure,” her father, Simeon Peake, had
said. And now the sensations of that day were repeating themselves. Now,
as then, she was doing what was considered a revolutionary and daring
thing; a thing that High Prairie regarded with horror. And now, as then,
she took stock. Youth was gone, but she had health, courage; a boy of
nine; twenty-five acres of wornout farm land; dwelling and out-houses in
a bad state of repair; and a gay adventuresome spirit that was never to
die, though it led her into curious places and she often found, at the
end, only a trackless waste from which she had to retrace her steps
painfully. But always, to her, red and green cabbages were to be jade
and burgundy, chrysoprase and porphyry. Life has no weapons against a
woman like that.

And the wine-red cashmere. She laughed aloud.

“What are you laughing at, Mom?”

That sobered her. “Oh, nothing, Sobig. I didn’t know I was laughing. I
was just thinking about a red dress I had when I first came to High
Prairie a girl. I’ve got it yet.”

“What’s that to laugh at?” He was following a yellow-hammer with his
eyes.

“Nothing. Mother said it was nothing.”

“Wisht I’d brought my sling-shot.” The yellow-hammer was perched on the
fence by the roadside not ten feet away.

“Sobig, you promised me you wouldn’t throw at any more birds, ever.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t hit it. I would just like to aim at it.”

Down the hot dusty country road. She was serious enough now. The cost of
the funeral to be paid. The doctor’s bills. Jan’s wage. All the
expenses, large and small, of the poor little farm holding. Nothing to
laugh at, certainly. The boy was wiser than she.

“There’s Mrs. Pool on her porch, Mom. Rocking.”

There, indeed, was the erstwhile Widow Paarlenberg on her porch,
rocking. A pleasant place to be in mid-afternoon of a hot September day.
She stared at the creaking farm wagon, vegetable laden; at the boy
perched on the high seat; at the sallow shabby woman who was charioteer
for the whole crazy outfit. Mrs. Klaas Pool’s pink face creased in a
smile. She sat forward in her chair and ceased to rock.

“Where you going this hot day, Mis’ DeJong?”

Selina sat up very straight. “To Bagdad, Mrs. Pool.”

“To—Where’s that? What for?”

“To sell my jewels, Mrs. Pool. And to see Aladdin, and Harun-al-Rashid
and Ali Baba. And the Forty Thieves.”

Mrs. Pool had left her rocker and had come down the steps. The wagon
creaked on past her gate. She took a step or two down the path, and
called after them. “I never heard of it. Bag—How do you get there?”

Over her shoulder Selina called out from the wagon seat. “You just go
until you come to a closed door. And you say ‘Open Sesame!’ and there
you are.”

Bewilderment shadowed Mrs. Pool’s placid face. As the wagon lurched on
down the road it was Selina who was smiling and Mrs. Pool who was
serious.

The boy, round eyed, was looking up at his mother. “That’s out of
_Arabian Nights_, what you said. Why did you say that?” Suddenly
excitement tinged his voice. “That’s out of the book. Isn’t it? Isn’t
it! We’re not really——”

She was a little contrite, but not very. “Well, not really, perhaps. But
’most any place is Bagdad if you don’t know what will happen in it. And
this is an adventure, isn’t it, that we’re going on? How can you tell!
All kind of things can happen. All kinds of people. People in disguise
in the Haymarket. Caliphs, and princes, and slaves, and thieves, and
good fairies, and witches.”

“In the Haymarket! That Pop went to all the time! That is just dumb
talk.”

Within Selina something cried out, “Don’t say that, Sobig! Don’t say
that!”

On down the road. Here a head at a front room window. There a woman’s
calicoed figure standing in the doorway. Mrs. Vander Sijde on the porch,
fanning her flushed face with her apron; Cornelia Snip in the yard
pretending to tie up the drooping stalks of the golden-glow and eyeing
the approaching team with the avid gossip’s gaze. To these Selina waved,
bowed, called.

“How d’you do, Mrs. Vander Sijde!”

A prim reply to this salutation. Disapproval writ large on the
farm-wife’s flushed face.

“Hello, Cornelia!”

A pretended start, notable for its bad acting. “Oh, is it you, Mrs.
DeJong! Sun’s in my eyes. I couldn’t think it was you like that.”

Women’s eyes, hostile, cold, peering.

Five o’clock. Six. The boy climbed over the wheel, filled a tin pail
with water at a farmhouse well. They ate and drank as they rode along,
for there was no time to lose. Bread and meat and pickles and pie. There
were vegetables in the wagon, ripe for eating. There were other
varieties that Selina might have cooked at home in preparation for this
meal—German celery root boiled tender and soaked in vinegar; red beets,
pickled; onions; coleslaw; beans. They would have regarded these with an
apathetic eye all too familiar with the sight of them. Selina knew now
why the Pools’ table, in her school-teacher days, had been so lacking in
the green stuff she had craved. The thought of cooking the spinach which
she had planted, weeded, spaded, tended, picked, washed, bunched, filled
her with a nausea of distaste such as she might have experienced at the
contemplation of cannibalism.

The boy had started out bravely enough in the heat of the day, sitting
up very straight beside his mother, calling to the horses, shrieking and
waving his arms at chickens that flew squawking across the road. Now he
began to droop. Evening was coming on. A cool blanket of air from the
lake on the east enveloped them with the suddenness characteristic of
the region, and the mist began to drift across the prairie, softening
the autumn stubble, cooling the dusty road, misting the parched willows
by the roadside, hazing the shabby squat farmhouses.

She brushed away the crumbs, packed the remaining bread and meat
thriftily into the basket and covered it with a napkin against the boy’s
future hunger should he waken in the night.

“Sleepy, Sobig?”

“No. Should say not.” His lids were heavy. His face and body, relaxed,
took on the soft baby contours that come with weariness. The sun was
low. Sunset gloried the west in a final flare of orange and crimson.
Dusk. The boy drooped against her heavy, sagging. She wrapped the old
black fascinator about him. He opened his eyes, tugged at the wrapping
about his shoulders. “Don’t want the old thing . . . fas’nator . . .
like a girl . . .” drooped again with a sigh and found the soft curve
where her side just cushioned his head. In the twilight the dust gleamed
white on weeds, and brush, and grass. The far-off mellow sonance of a
cowbell. Horses’ hoofs clopping up behind them, a wagon passing in a
cloud of dust, a curious backward glance, or a greeting exchanged.

One of the Ooms boys, or Jakob Boomsma. “You’re never going to market,
Mis’ DeJong!” staring with china-blue eyes at her load.

“Yes, I am, Mr. Boomsma.”

“That ain’t work for a woman, Mis’ DeJong. You better stay home and let
the men folks go.”

Selina’s men folks looked up at her—one with the asking eyes of a
child, one with the trusting eyes of a dog. “My men folks are going,”
answered Selina. But then, they had always thought her a little queer,
so it didn’t matter much.

She urged the horses on, refusing to confess to herself her dread of the
destination which they were approaching. Lights now, in the houses along
the way, and those houses closer together. She wrapped the reins around
the whip, and holding the sleeping boy with one hand reached beneath the
seat with the other for the coat of sacking. This she placed around him
snugly, folded an empty sack for a pillow, and lifting the boy in her
arms laid him gently on the lumpy bed formed by the bags of potatoes
piled up just behind the seat in the back of the wagon. So the boy
slept. Night had come on.

The figure of the woman drooped a little now as the old wagon creaked on
toward Chicago. A very small figure in the black dress and a shawl over
her shoulders. She had taken off her old black felt hat. The breeze
ruffled her hair that was fine and soft, and it made a little halo about
the white face that gleamed almost luminously in the darkness as she
turned it up toward the sky.

“I’ll sleep out with Sobig in the wagon. It won’t hurt either of us. It
will be warm in town, there in the Haymarket. Twenty-five cents—maybe
fifty for the two of us, in the rooming house. Fifty cents just to
sleep. It takes hours of work in the fields to make fifty cents.”

She was sleepy now. The night air was deliciously soft and soothing. In
her nostrils was the smell of the fields, of grass dew-wet, of damp
dust, of cattle; the pungent prick of goldenrod, and occasionally a
scented wave that meant wild phlox in a near-by ditch. She sniffed all
this gratefully, her mind and body curiously alert to sounds, scents,
forms even, in the darkness. She had suffered much in the past week; had
eaten and slept but little. Had known terror, bewilderment, agony,
shock. Now she was relaxed, receptive, a little light-headed perhaps,
what with under-feeding and tears and over-work. The racking process had
cleared brain and bowels; had washed her spiritually clean; had
quickened her perceptions abnormally. Now she was like a delicate and
sensitive electric instrument keyed to receive and register; vibrating
to every ether wave.

She drove along in the dark, a dowdy farm woman in shapeless garments;
just a bundle on the rickety seat of a decrepit truck wagon. The boy
slept on his hard lumpy bed like the little vegetable that he was. The
farm lights went out. The houses were blurs in the black. The lights of
the city came nearer. She was thinking clearly, if disconnectedly,
without bitterness, without reproach.

“My father was wrong. He said that life was a great adventure—a fine
show. He said the more things that happen to you the richer you are,
even if they’re not pleasant things. That’s living, he said. No matter
what happens to you, good or bad, it’s just so much—what was that word
he used?—so much—oh, yes—‘velvet.’ Just so much velvet. Well, it
isn’t true. He had brains, and charm, and knowledge and he died in a
gambling house, shot while looking on at some one else who was to have
been killed. . . . Now we’re on the cobblestones. Will Dirk wake up? My
little So Big. . . . No, he’s asleep. Asleep on a pile of potato sacks
because his mother thought that life was a grand adventure—a fine
show—and that you took it as it came. A lie! I’ve taken it as it came
and made the best of it. That isn’t the way. You take the best, and make
the most of it . . . Thirty-fifth Street, that was. Another hour and a
half to reach the Haymarket. . . . I’m not afraid. After all, you just
sell your vegetables for what you can get. . . . Well, it’s going to be
different with him. I mustn’t call him Sobig any more. He doesn’t like
it. Dirk. That’s a fine name. Dirk DeJong. . . . No drifting along for
him. I’ll see that he starts with a plan, and follows it. He’ll have
every chance. Every chance. Too late for me, now, but he’ll be
different. . . . Twenty-second Street . . . Twelfth . . . Look at all
the people! . . . I’m enjoying this. No use denying it. I’m enjoying
this. Just as I enjoyed driving along with Klaas Pool that evening,
years and years ago. Scared, but enjoying it. Perhaps I oughtn’t to
be—but that’s hypocritical and sneaking. Why not, if I really do enjoy
it! I’ll wake him. . . . Dirk! Dirk, we’re almost there. Look at all the
people, and the lights. We’re almost there.”

The boy awoke, raised himself from his bed of sacking, looked about,
blinked, sank back again and curled into a ball. “Don’t want to see the
lights . . . people . . .”

He was asleep again. Selina guided the horses skilfully through the
downtown streets. She looked about with wide ambient eyes. Other wagons
passed her. There was a line of them ahead of her. The men looked at her
curiously. They called to one another, and jerked a thumb in her
direction, but she paid no heed. She decided, though, to have the boy on
the seat beside her. They were within two blocks of the Haymarket, on
Randolph Street.

“Dirk! Come, now. Come up here with mother.” Grumbling, he climbed to
the seat, yawned, smacked his lips, rubbed his knuckles into his eyes.

“What are we here for?”

“So we can sell the garden truck and earn money.”

“What for?”

“To send you to school to learn things.”

“That’s funny. I go to school already.”

“A different school. A big school.”

He was fully awake now, and looking about him interestedly. They turned
into the Haymarket. It was a tangle of horses, carts, men. The wagons
were streaming in from the German truck farms that lay to the north of
Chicago as well as from the Dutch farms that lay to the southwest,
whence Selina came. Fruits and vegetables—tons of it—acres of
it—piled in the wagons that blocked the historic square. An unarmed
army bringing food to feed a great city. Through this little section,
and South Water Street that lay to the east, passed all the verdant
growing things that fed Chicago’s millions. Something of this came to
Selina as she manœuvred her way through the throng. She felt a little
thrill of significance, of achievement. She knew the spot she wanted for
her own. Since that first trip to Chicago with Pervus in the early days
of her marriage she had made the journey into town perhaps not more than
a dozen times, but she had seen, and heard, and remembered. A place near
the corner of Des Plaines, not at the curb, but rather in the double
line of wagons that extended down the middle of the road. Here the
purchasing pedlers and grocers had easy access to the wagons. Here
Selina could display her wares to the best advantage. It was just across
the way from Chris Spanknoebel’s restaurant, rooming house, and saloon.
Chris knew her; had known Pervus for years and his father before him;
would be kind to her and the boy in case of need.

Dirk was wide awake now; eager, excited. The lights, the men, the
horses, the sound of talk, and laughter, and clinking glasses from the
eating houses along the street were bewilderingly strange to his
country-bred eyes and ears. He called to the horses; stood up in the
wagon; but clung closer to her as they found themselves in the thick of
the mêlée.

On the street corners where the lights were brightest there were stands
at which men sold chocolate, cigars, collar buttons, suspenders, shoe
strings, patent contrivances. It was like a fair. Farther down the men’s
faces loomed mysteriously out of the half light. Stolid, sunburned faces
now looked dark, terrifying, the whites of the eyes very white, the
mustaches very black, their shoulders enormous. Here was a crap game
beneath the street light. There stood two girls laughing and chatting
with a policeman.

“Here’s a good place, Mother. Here! There’s a dog on that wagon like
Pom.”

Pom, hearing his name, stood up, looked into the boy’s face, quivered,
wagged a nervous tail, barked sharply. The Haymarket night life was an
old story to Pom, but it never failed to stimulate him. Often he had
guarded the wagon when Pervus was absent for a short time. He would
stand on the seat ready to growl at any one who so much as fingered a
radish in Pervus’s absence.

“Down, Pom! Quiet, Pom!” She did not want to attract attention to
herself and the boy. It was still early. She had made excellent time.
Pervus had often slept in snatches as he drove into town and the horses
had lagged, but Selina had urged them on to-night. They had gained a
good half hour over the usual time. Halfway down the block Selina espied
the place she wanted. From the opposite direction came a truck farmer’s
cart obviously making for the same stand. For the first time that night
Selina drew the whip out of its socket and clipped sharply her surprised
nags. With a start and a shuffle they broke into an awkward lope. Ten
seconds too late the German farmer perceived her intention, whipped up
his own tired team, arrived at the spot just as Selina, blocking the
way, prepared to back into the vacant space.

“Heh, get out of there you——” he roared; then, for the first time,
perceived in the dim light of the street that his rival was a woman. He
faltered, stared open-mouthed, tried other tactics. “You can’t go in
there, missus.”

“Oh, yes, I can.” She backed her team dexterously.

“Yes, we can!” shouted Dirk in an attitude of fierce belligerence.

From the wagons on either side heads were lifted. “Where’s your man?”
demanded the defeated driver, glaring.

“Here,” replied Selina; put her hand on Dirk’s head.

The other, preparing to drive on, received this with incredulity. He
assumed the existence of a husband in the neighbourhood—at Chris
Spanknoebel’s probably, or talking prices with a friend at another wagon
when he should be here attending to his own. In the absence of this, her
natural protector, he relieved his disgruntled feelings as he gathered
up the reins. “Woman ain’t got no business here in Haymarket, anyway.
Better you’re home night time in your kitchen where you belong.”

This admonition, so glibly mouthed by so many people in the past few
days, now was uttered once too often. Selina’s nerves snapped. A
surprised German truck farmer found himself being harangued from the
driver’s seat of a vegetable wagon by an irate and fluent woman in a
mashed black hat.

“Don’t talk to me like that, you great stupid! What good does it do a
woman to stay home in her kitchen if she’s going to starve there, and
her boy with her! Staying home in my kitchen won’t earn me any money.
I’m here to sell the vegetables I helped raise and I’m going to do it.
Get out of my way, you. Go along about your business or I’ll report you
to Mike, the street policeman.”

Now she clambered over the wagon wheel to unhitch the tired horses. It
is impossible to tell what interpretation the dumfounded north-sider put
upon her movements. Certainly he had nothing to fear from this small
gaunt creature with the blazing eyes. Nevertheless as he gathered up his
reins terror was writ large on his rubicund face.

“_Teufel!_ What a woman!” Was off in a clatter of wheels and hoofs on
the cobblestones.

Selina unharnessed swiftly. “You stay here, Dirk, with Pom. Mother’ll be
back in a minute.” She marched down the street driving the horses to the
barns where, for twenty-five cents, the animals were to be housed in
more comfort than their owner. She returned to find Dirk deep in
conversation with two young women in red shirtwaists, plaid skirts that
swept the ground, and sailor hats tipped at a saucy angle over pyramidal
pompadours.

“I can’t make any sense out of it, can you, Elsie? Sounds like Dirt to
me, but nobody’s going to name a kid that, are they? Stands to reason.”

“Oh, come on. Your name’ll be mud first thing you know. Here it’s after
nine already and not a——” she turned and saw Selina’s white face.

“There’s my mother,” said Dirk, triumphantly, pointing. The three women
looked at each other. Two saw the pathetic hat and the dowdy clothes,
and knew. One saw the red shirtwaists and the loose red lips, and knew.

“We was just talking to the kid,” said the girl who had been puzzled by
Dirk’s name. Her tone was defensive. “Just asking him his name, and like
that.”

“His name is Dirk,” said Selina, mildly. “It’s a Dutch name—Holland,
you know. We’re from out High Prairie way, south. Dirk DeJong. I’m Mrs.
DeJong.”

“Yeh?” said the other girl. “I’m Elsie. Elsie from Chelsea, that’s me.
Come on, Mabel. Stand gabbin’ all night.” She was blonde and shrill. The
other was older, dark-haired. There was about her a paradoxical
wholesomeness.

Mabel, the older one, looked at Selina sharply. From the next wagon came
loud snores issuing from beneath the seat. From down the line where a
lantern swung from the tailboard of a cart came the rattle of dice.
“What you doing down here, anyway?”

“I’m here to sell my stuff to-morrow morning. Vegetables. From the
farm.”

Mabel looked around. Hers was not a quick mind. “Where’s your man?”

“My husband died a week ago.” Selina was making up their bed for the
night. From beneath the seat she took a sack of hay, tight-packed, shook
out its contents, spread them evenly on the floor of the wagon, at the
front, first having unhinged the seat and clapped it against the wagon
side as a headboard. Over the hay she spread empty sacking. She shook
out her shawl, which would serve as cover. The girl Mabel beheld these
preparations. Her dull eyes showed a gleam of interest which deepened to
horror.

“Say, you ain’t never going to sleep out here, are you? You and the kid.
Like that!”

“Yes.”

“Well, for——” She stared, turned to go, came back. From her belt that
dipped so stylishly in the front hung an arsenal of jangling metal
articles—purse, pencil, mirror, comb—a chatelaine, they called it. She
opened the purse now and took from it a silver dollar. This she tendered
Selina, almost roughly. “Here. Get the kid a decent roost for the night.
You and the kid, see.”

Selina stared at the shining round dollar; at Mabel’s face. The quick
sting of tears came to her eyes. She shook her head, smiled. “We don’t
mind sleeping out here. Thank you just the same—Mabel.”

The girl put her dollar plumply back into her purse. “Well, takes all
kinds, I always say. I thought I had a bum deal but, say, alongside of
what you got I ain’t got it so worse. Place to sleep in, anyways, even
if it is—well, good-night. Listen to that Elsie, hollering for me. I’m
comin’! Shut up!”

You heard the two on their way up the street, arm in arm, laughing.

“Come Dirk.”

“Are we going to sleep here!” He was delighted.

“Right here, all snug in the hay, like campers.”

The boy lay down, wriggling, laughing. “Like gypsies. Ain’t it, Mom?”

“‘Isn’t it,’ Dirk—not ‘ain’t it’.” The school teacher.

She lay down beside him. The boy seemed terribly wide awake. “I liked
the Mabel one best, didn’t you? She was the nicest, h’m?”

“Oh, much the nicest,” said Selina, and put one arm around him and drew
him to her, close. And suddenly he was asleep, deeply. The street became
quieter. The talking and laughter ceased. The lights were dim at Chris
Spanknoebel’s. Now and then the clatter of wheels and horses’ hoofs
proclaimed a late comer seeking a place, but the sound was not near by,
for this block and those to east and west were filled by now. These men
had been up at four that morning, must be up before four the next.

The night was cool, but not cold. Overhead you saw the wide strip of sky
between the brick buildings on either side of the street. Two men came
along singing. “Shut up!” growled a voice from a wagon along the curb.
The singers subsided. It must be ten o’clock and after, Selina thought.
She had with her Pervus’s nickel watch, but it was too dark to see its
face, and she did not want to risk a match. Measured footsteps that
passed and repassed at regular intervals. The night policeman.

She lay looking up at the sky. There were no tears in her eyes. She was
past tears. She thought, “Here I am, Selina Peake, sleeping in a wagon,
in the straw, like a bitch with my puppy snuggled beside me. I was going
to be like Jo in Louisa Alcott’s book. On my feet are boots and on my
body a dyed dress. How terribly long it is going to be until morning
. . . I must try to sleep. . . . I must try to sleep . . .”

She did sleep, miraculously. The September stars twinkled brightly down
on them. As she lay there, the child in her arms, asleep, peace came to
the haggard face, relaxed the tired limbs. Much like another woman who
had lain in the straw with her child in her arms almost two thousand
years before.



                                   XI


It would be enchanting to be able to record that Selina, next day, had
phenomenal success, disposing of her carefully bunched wares to great
advantage, driving smartly off up Halsted Street toward High Prairie
with a goodly profit jingling in her scuffed leather purse. The truth is
that she had a day so devastating, so catastrophic, as would have
discouraged most men and certainly any woman less desperate and
determined.

She had awakened, not to daylight, but to the three o’clock blackness.
The street was already astir. Selina brushed her skirt to rid it of the
clinging hay, tidied herself as best she could. Leaving Dirk still
asleep, she called Pom from beneath the wagon to act as sentinel at the
dashboard, and crossed the street to Chris Spanknoebel’s. She knew
Chris, and he her. He would let her wash at the faucet at the rear of
the eating house. She would buy hot coffee for herself and Dirk to warm
and revivify them. They would eat the sandwiches left from the night
before.

Chris himself, a pot-paunched Austrian, blond, benevolent, was standing
behind his bar, wiping the slab with a large moist cloth. With the other
hand he swept the surface with a rubber-tipped board about the size of a
shingle. This contrivance gathered up such beads of moisture as might be
left by the cloth. Two sweeps of it rendered the counter dry and
shining. Later Chris allowed Dirk to wield this rubber-tipped
contrivance—a most satisfactory thing to do, leaving one with a feeling
of perfect achievement.

Spanknoebel seemed never to sleep, yet his colour was ruddy, his blue
eyes clear. The last truckster coming in at night for a beer or a cup of
coffee and a sandwich was greeted by Chris, white-aproned, pink-cheeked,
wide awake, swabbing the bar’s shining surface with the thirsty cloth,
swishing it with the sly rubber-tipped board. “Well, how goes it all the
while?” said Chris. The earliest morning trader found Chris in a fresh
white apron crackling with starch and ironing. He would swab the bar
with a gesture of welcome, of greeting. “Well, how goes it all the
while?”

As Selina entered the long room now there was something heartening,
reassuring about Chris’s clean white apron, his ruddy colour, the very
sweep of his shirt-sleeved arm as it encompassed the bar-slab. From the
kitchen at the rear came the sounds of sizzling and frying, and the
gracious scent of coffee and of frying pork and potatoes. Already the
market men were seated at the tables eating huge and hurried breakfasts:
hunks of ham; eggs in pairs; potatoes cut in great cubes; cups of
steaming coffee and chunks of bread that they plastered liberally with
butter.

Selina approached Chris. His round face loomed out through the smoke
like the sun in a fog. “Well, how goes it all the while?” Then he
recognized her. “_Um Gottes!_—why, it’s Mis’ DeJong!” He wiped his
great hand on a convenient towel, extended it in sympathy to the widow.
“I heerd,” he said, “I heerd.” His inarticulateness made his words
doubly effective.

“I’ve come in with the load, Mr. Spanknoebel. The boy and I. He’s still
asleep in the wagon. May I bring him over here to clean him up a little
before breakfast?”

“Sure! Sure!” A sudden suspicion struck him. “You ain’t slept in the
wagon, Mis’ DeJong! _Um Gottes!_——”

“Yes. It wasn’t bad. The boy slept the night through. I slept, too,
quite a little.”

“Why you didn’t come here! Why——” At the look in Selina’s face he knew
then. “For nothing you and the boy could sleep here.”

“I knew that! That’s why.”

“Don’t talk dumb, Mrs. DeJong. Half the time the rooms is vacant. You
and the boy chust as well—twenty cents, then, and pay me when you got
it. But any way you don’t come in reg’lar with the load, do you? That
ain’t for womans.”

“There’s no one to do it for me, except Jan. And he’s worse than nobody.
Just through September and October. After that, maybe——” Her voice
trailed off. It is hard to be hopeful at three in the morning, before
breakfast.

She went to the little wash room at the rear, felt better immediately
she had washed vigorously, combed her hair. She returned to the wagon to
find a panic-stricken Dirk sure of nothing but that he had been deserted
by his mother. Fifteen minutes later the two were seated at a table on
which was spread what Chris Spanknoebel considered an adequate
breakfast. A heartening enough beginning for the day, and a deceptive.

The Haymarket buyers did not want to purchase its vegetables from Selina
DeJong. It wasn’t used to buying of women, but to selling to them.
Pedlers and small grocers swarmed in at four—Greeks, Italians, Jews.
They bought shrewdly, craftily, often dishonestly. They sold their wares
to the housewives. Their tricks were many. They would change a box of
tomatoes while your back was turned; filch a head of cauliflower. There
was little system or organization.

Take Luigi. Luigi peddled on the north side. He called his wares through
the alleys and side streets of Chicago, adding his raucous voice to the
din of an inchoate city. A swarthy face had Luigi, a swift brilliant
smile, a crafty eye. The Haymarket called him Loogy. When prices did not
please Luigi he pretended not to understand. Then the Haymarket would
yell, undeceived, “Heh, Loogy, what de mattah! Spika da Engleesh!” They
knew him.

Selina had taken the covers off her vegetables. They were revealed
crisp, fresh, colourful. But Selina knew they must be sold now, quickly.
When the leaves began to wilt, when the edges of the cauliflower heads
curled ever so slightly, turned brown and limp, their value decreased by
half, even though the heads themselves remained white and firm.

Down the street came the buyers—little black-eyed swarthy men; plump,
shirt-sleeved, greasy men; shrewd, tobacco-chewing men in overalls.
Stolid red Dutch faces, sunburned. Lean dark foreign faces. Shouting,
clatter, turmoil.

“Heh! Get your horse outta here! What the hell!”

“How much for the whole barrel?”

“Got any beans? No, don’t want no cauliflower. Beans!”

“Tough!”

“Well, keep ’em. I don’t want ’em.”

“Quarter for the sack.”

“G’wan, them ain’t five-pound heads. Bet they don’t come four pounds to
the head.”

“Who says they don’t!”

“Gimme five bushels them.”

Food for Chicago’s millions. In and out of the wagons. Under horses’
hoofs. Bare-footed children, baskets on their arms, snatching bits of
fallen vegetables from the cobbles. Gutter Annie, a shawl pinned across
her pendulous breasts, scavengering a potato there, an onion fallen to
the street, scraps of fruit and green stuff in the ditch. Big Kate
buying carrots, parsley, turnips, beets, all slightly wilted and cheap,
which she would tie into bunches with her bit of string and sell to the
real grocers for soup greens.

The day broke warm. The sun rose red. It would be a humid September day
such as frequently came in the autumn to this lake region. Garden stuff
would have to move quickly this morning. Afternoon would find it
worthless.

Selina stationed herself by her wagon. She saw the familiar faces of a
half dozen or more High Prairie neighbours. These called to her, or came
over briefly to her wagon, eyeing her wares with a calculating glance.
“How you making out, Mis’ DeJong? Well, you got a good load there. Move
it along quick this morning. It’s going to be hot I betcha.” Their tone
was kindly, but disapproving, too. Their look said, “No place for a
woman. No place for a woman.”

The pedlers looked at her bunched bouquets, glanced at her, passed her
by. It was not unkindness that prompted them, but a certain shyness, a
fear of the unaccustomed. They saw her pale fine face with its great
sombre eyes; the slight figure in the decent black dress; the slim brown
hands clasped so anxiously together. Her wares were tempting but they
passed her by with the instinct that the ignorant have against that
which is unusual.

By nine o’clock trading began to fall off. In a panic Selina realized
that the sales she had made amounted to little more than two dollars. If
she stayed there until noon she might double that, but no more. In
desperation she harnessed the horses, threaded her way out of the
swarming street, and made for South Water Street farther east. Here were
the commission houses. The district was jammed with laden carts and
wagons exactly as the Haymarket had been, but trading was done on a
different scale. She knew that Pervus had sometimes left his entire load
with an established dealer here, to be sold on commission. She
remembered the name—Talcott—though she did not know the exact
location.

“Where we going now, Mom?” The boy had been almost incredibly patient
and good. He had accepted his bewildering new surroundings with the
adaptability of childhood. He had revelled richly in Chris Spanknoebel’s
generous breakfast. He had thought the four dusty artificial palms that
graced Chris’s back room luxuriantly tropical. He had been fascinated by
the kitchen with its long glowing range, its great tables for slicing,
paring, cutting. He liked the ruddy cheer of it, the bustle, the
mouth-watering smells. At the wagon he had stood sturdily next his
mother, had busied himself vastly assisting her in her few pitiful
sales; had plucked wilted leaves, brought forward the freshest and
crispest vegetables. But now she saw that he was drooping a little as
were her wares, with the heat and the absence from accustomed soil.
“Where we going now, Mom?”

“To another street, Sobig——”

“Dirk!”

“—Dirk, where there’s a man who’ll buy all our stuff at once—maybe.
Won’t that be fine! Then we’ll go home. You help mother find his name
over the store. Talcott—T-a-l-c-o-double t.”

South Water Street was changing with the city’s growth. Yankee names
they used to be—Flint—Keen—Rusk—Lane. Now you saw
Cuneo—Meleges—Garibaldi—Campagna. There it was: William Talcott.
Fruits and Vegetables.

William Talcott, standing in the cool doorway of his great deep
shed-like store, was the antithesis of the feverish crowded street which
he so calmly surveyed. He had dealt for forty years in provender. His
was the unruffled demeanour of a man who knows the world must have what
he has to sell. Every week-day morning at six his dim shaded cavern of a
store was packed with sacks, crates, boxes, barrels from which peeped
ruffles and sprigs of green; flashes of scarlet, plum-colour, orange. He
bought the best only; sold at high prices. He had known Pervus, and
Pervus’s father before him, and had adjudged them honest, admirable men.
But of their garden truck he had small opinion. The Great Lakes boats
brought him choice Michigan peaches and grapes; refrigerator cars
brought him the products of California’s soil in a day when
out-of-season food was a rare luxury. He wore neat pepper-and-salt pants
and vest; shirt sleeves a startling white in that blue-shirted overalled
world; a massive gold watch chain spanning his middle; square-toed
boots; a straw fedora set well back; a pretty good cigar, unlighted, in
his mouth. Shrewd blue eyes he had; sparse hair much the colour of his
suit. Like a lean laconic god he stood in his doorway niche while
toilers offered for his inspection the fruits of the earth.

“Nope. Can’t use that lot, Jake. Runty. H’m. Wa-a-al, guess you’d better
take them farther up the street, Tunis. Edges look kind of brown.
Wilty.”

Stewards from the best Chicago hotels of that day—the Sherman House,
the Auditorium, the Palmer House, the Wellington, the Stratford—came to
Will Talcott for their daily supplies. The grocers who catered to the
well-to-do north-side families and those in the neighbourhood of
fashionable Prairie Avenue on the south bought of him.

Now, in his doorway, he eyed the spare little figure that appeared
before him all in rusty black, with its strained anxious face, its great
deep-sunk eyes.

“DeJong, eh? Sorry to hear about your loss, ma’am. Pervus was a fine
lad. No great shakes at truck farming, though. His widow, h’m? Hm.”
Here, he saw, was no dull-witted farm woman; no stolid Dutch woman
truckster. He went out to her wagon, tweaked the boy’s brown cheek.
“Wa-al now, Mis’ DeJong, you got a right smart lot of garden stuff here
and it looks pretty good. Yessir, pretty good. But you’re too late. Ten,
pret’ near.”

“Oh, no!” cried Selina. “Oh, no! Not too late!” And at the agony in her
voice he looked at her sharply.

“Tell you what, mebbe I can move half of ’em along for you. But stuff
don’t keep this weather. Turns wilty and my trade won’t touch it . . .
First trip in?”

She wiped her face that was damp and yet cold to the touch. “First—trip
in.” Suddenly she was finding it absurdly hard to breathe.

He called from the sidewalk to the men within: “George! Ben! Hustle this
stuff in. Half of it. The best. Send you check to-morrow, Mis’ DeJong.
Picked a bad day, didn’t you, for your first day?”

“Hot, you mean?”

“Wa-al, hot, yes. But I mean a holiday like this pedlers mostly ain’t
buying.”

“Holiday?”

“You knew it was a Jew holiday, didn’t you? Didn’t!—Wa-al, my sakes!
Worst day in the year. Jew pedlers all at church to-day and all the
others not pedlers bought in Saturday for two days. Chicken men down the
street got empty coops and will have till to-morrow. Yessir. Biggest
chicken eaters, Jews are, in the world . . . Hm . . . Better just drive
along home and just dump the rest that stuff, my good woman.”

One hand on the seat she prepared to climb up again—did step to the
hub. You saw her shabby, absurd side-boots that were so much too big for
the slim little feet. “If you’re just buying my stuff because you’re
sorry for me——” The Peake pride.

“Don’t do business that way. Can’t afford to, ma’am. My da’ter she’s
studying to be a singer. In Italy now, Car’line is, and costs like all
get-out. Takes all the money I can scrape together, just about.”

There was a little colour in Selina’s face now. “Italy! Oh, Mr.
Talcott!” You’d have thought she had seen it, from her face. She began
to thank him, gravely.

“Now, that’s all right, Mis’ DeJong. I notice your stuff’s bunched kind
of extry, and all of a size. Fixin’ to do that way right along?”

“Yes. I thought—they looked prettier that way—of course vegetables
aren’t supposed to look pretty, I expect——” she stammered, stopped.

“You fix ’em pretty like that and bring ’em in to me first thing, or
send ’em. My trade, they like their stuff kind of special. Yessir.”

As she gathered up the reins he stood again in his doorway, cool,
remote, his unlighted cigar in his mouth, while hand-trucks rattled past
him, barrels and boxes thumped to the sidewalk in front of him, wheels
and hoofs and shouts made a great clamour all about him.

“We going home now?” demanded Dirk. “We going home now? I’m hungry.”

“Yes, lamb.” Two dollars in her pocket. All yesterday’s grim toil, and
all to-day’s, and months of labour behind those two days. Two dollars in
the pocket of her black calico petticoat. “We’ll get something to eat
when we drive out a ways. Some milk and bread and cheese.”

The sun was very hot. She took the boy’s hat off, passed her tender
work-calloused hand over the damp hair that clung to his forehead. “It’s
been fun, hasn’t it?” she said. “Like an adventure. Look at all the kind
people we’ve met. Mr. Spanknoebel, and Mr. Talcott——”

“And Mabel.”

Startled, “And Mabel.”

She wanted suddenly to kiss him, knew he would hate it with all the boy
and all the Holland Dutch in him, and did not.

She made up her mind to drive east and then south. Pervus had sometimes
achieved a late sale to outlying grocers. Jan’s face if she came home
with half the load still on the wagon! And what of the unpaid bills? She
had, perhaps, thirty dollars, all told. She owed four hundred. More than
that. There were seedlings that Pervus had bought in April to be paid
for at the end of the growing season, in the fall. And now fall was
here.

Fear shook her. She told herself she was tired, nervous. That terrible
week. And now this. The heat. Soon they’d be home, she and Dirk. How
cool and quiet the house would seem. The squares of the kitchen
tablecloth. Her own neat bedroom with the black walnut bed and dresser.
The sofa in the parlour with the ruffled calico cover. The old chair on
the porch with the cane seat sagging where warp and woof had become
loosened with much use and stuck out in ragged tufts. It seemed years
since she had seen all this. The comfort of it, the peace of it. Safe,
desirable, suddenly dear. No work for a woman, this. Well, perhaps they
were right.

Down Wabash Avenue, with the L trains thundering overhead and her
horses, frightened and uneasy with the unaccustomed roar and clangour of
traffic, stepping high and swerving stiffly, grotesque and angular in
their movements. A dowdy farm woman and a sunburned boy in a rickety
vegetable wagon absurdly out of place in this canyon of cobblestones,
shops, street-cars, drays, carriages, bicycles, pedestrians. It was
terribly hot.

The boy’s eyes popped with excitement and bewilderment.

“Pretty soon,” Selina said. The muscles showed white beneath the skin of
her jaw. “Pretty soon. Prairie Avenue. Great big houses, and lawns, all
quiet.” She even managed a smile.

“I like it better home.”

Prairie Avenue at last, turning in at Sixteenth Street. It was like calm
after a storm. Selina felt battered, spent.

There were groceries near Eighteenth, and at the other
cross-streets—Twenty-second, Twenty-sixth, Thirty-first, Thirty-fifth.
They were passing the great stone houses of Prairie Avenue of the ’90s.
Turrets and towers, cornices and cupolas, humpbacked conservatories,
porte-cochères, bow windows—here lived Chicago’s rich that had made
their riches in pork and wheat and dry goods; the selling of necessities
to a city that clamoured for them.

“Just like me,” Selina thought, humorously. Then another thought came to
her. Her vegetables, canvas covered, were fresher than those in the
near-by markets. Why not try to sell some of them here, in these big
houses? In an hour she might earn a few dollars this way at retail
prices slightly less than those asked by the grocers of the
neighbourhood.

She stopped her wagon in the middle of the block on Twenty-fourth
Street. Agilely she stepped down the wheel, gave the reins to Dirk. The
horses were no more minded to run than the wooden steeds on a carrousel.
She filled a large market basket with the finest and freshest of her
stock and with this on her arm looked up a moment at the house in front
of which she had stopped. It was a four-story brownstone, with a hideous
high stoop. Beneath the steps were a little vestibule and a door that
was the tradesmen’s entrance. The kitchen entrance, she knew, was by way
of the alley at the back, but this she would not take. Across the
sidewalk, down a little flight of stone steps, into the vestibule under
the porch. She looked at the bell—a brass knob. You pulled it out,
shoved it in, and there sounded a jangling down the dim hallway beyond.
Simple enough. Her hand was on the bell. “Pull it!” said the desperate
Selina. “I can’t! I can’t!” cried all the prim dim Vermont Peakes, in
chorus. “All right. Starve to death and let them take the farm and Dirk,
then.”

At that she pulled the knob hard. Jangle went the bell in the hall.
Again. Again.

Footsteps up the hall. The door opened to disclose a large woman, high
cheek-boned, in a work apron; a cook, apparently.

“Good morning,” said Selina. “Would you like some fresh country
vegetables?”

“No.” She half shut the door, opening it again to ask, “Got any fresh
eggs or butter?” At Selina’s negative she closed the door, bolted it.
Selina, standing there, basket on arm, could hear her heavy tread down
the passageway toward the kitchen. Well, that was all right. Nothing so
terrible about that, Selina told herself. Simply hadn’t wanted any
vegetables. The next house. The next house, and the next, and the next.
Up one side of the street, and down the other. Four times she refilled
her basket. At one house she sold a quarter’s worth. Fifteen at another.
Twenty cents here. Almost fifty there. “Good morning,” she always said
at the door in her clear, distinct way. They stared, usually. But they
were curious, too, and did not often shut the door in her face.

“Do you know of a good place?” one kitchen maid said. “This place ain’t
so good. She only pays me three dollars. You can get four now. Maybe you
know a lady wants a good girl.”

“No,” Selina answered. “No.”

At another house the cook had offered her a cup of coffee, noting the
white face, the look of weariness. Selina refused it, politely.
Twenty-first Street—Twenty-fifth—Twenty-eighth. She had over four
dollars in her purse. Dirk was weary now and hungry to the point of
tears. “The last house,” Selina promised him, “the very last one. After
this one we’ll go home.” She filled her basket again. “We’ll have
something to eat on the way, and maybe you’ll go to sleep with the
canvas over you, high, fastened to the seat like a tent. And we’ll be
home in a jiffy.”

The last house was a new gray stone one, already beginning to turn dingy
from the smoke of the Illinois Central suburban trains that puffed along
the lake front a block to the east. The house had large bow windows,
plump and shining. There was a lawn, with statues, and a conservatory in
the rear. Real lace curtains at the downstairs windows with plush
hangings behind them. A high iron grille ran all about the property
giving it an air of aloofness, of security. Selina glanced at this
wrought-iron fence. And it seemed to bar her out. There was something
forbidding about it—menacing. She was tired, that was it. The last
house. She had almost five dollars, earned in the last hour. “Just five
minutes,” she said to Dirk, trying to make her tone bright, her voice
gay. Her arms full of vegetables which she was about to place in the
basket at her feet she heard at her elbow:

“Now, then, where’s your license?”

She turned. A policeman at her side. She stared up at him. How
enormously tall, she thought; and how red his face. “License?”

“Yeh, you heard me. License. Where’s your pedler’s license? You got one,
I s’pose.”

“Why, no. No.” She stared at him, still.

His face grew redder. Selina was a little worried about him. She
thought, stupidly, that if it grew any redder——

“Well, say, where d’ye think you are, peddlin’ without a license! A good
mind to run you in. Get along out of here, you and the kid. Leave me
ketch you around here again!”

“What’s the trouble, Officer?” said a woman’s voice. A smart open
carriage of the type known as a victoria, with two chestnut horses whose
harness shone with metal. Spanking, was the word that came to Selina’s
mind, which was acting perversely certainly; crazily. A spanking team.
The spankers disdainfully faced Selina’s comic bony nags which were
grazing the close-cropped grass that grew in the neat little
lawn-squares between curb and sidewalk. “What’s the trouble, Reilly?”

The woman stepped out of the victoria. She wore a black silk Eton suit,
very modish, and a black hat with a plume.

“Woman peddling without a license, Mrs. Arnold. You got to watch ’em
like a hawk. . . . Get along wid you, then.” He put a hand on Selina’s
shoulder and gave her a gentle push.

There shook Selina from head to foot such a passion, such a storm of
outraged sensibilities, as to cause street, victoria, silk-clad woman,
horses, and policeman to swim and shiver in a haze before her eyes. The
rage of a fastidious woman who had had an alien male hand put upon her.
Her face was white. Her eyes glowed black, enormous. She seemed tall,
majestic even.

“Take your hand off me!” Her speech was clipped, vibrant. “How dare you
touch me! How dare you! Take your hand!——” The blazing eyes in the
white mask. He took his hand from her shoulder. The red surged into her
face. A tanned weather-beaten toil-worn woman, her abundant hair
skewered into a knob and held by a long gray-black hairpin, her full
skirt grimed with the mud of the wagon wheel, a pair of old side-boots
on her slim feet, a grotesquely battered old felt hat (her husband’s) on
her head, her arms full of ears of sweet corn, and carrots, and radishes
and bunches of beets; a woman with bad teeth, flat breasts—even then
Julie had known her by her eyes. And she had stared and then run to her
in her silk dress and her plumed hat, crying, “Oh, Selina! My dear! My
dear!” with a sob of horror and pity. “My dear!” And had taken Selina,
carrots, beets, corn, and radishes in her arms. The vegetables lay
scattered all about them on the sidewalk in front of Julie Hempel
Arnold’s great stone house on Prairie Avenue. But strangely enough it
had been Selina who had done the comforting, patting Julie’s plump
silken shoulder and saying, over and over, soothingly, as to a child,
“There, there! It’s all right, Julie. It’s all right. Don’t cry. What’s
there to cry for! Sh-sh! It’s all right.”

Julie lifted her head in its modish black plumed hat, wiped her eyes,
blew her nose. “Get along with you, do,” she said to Reilly, the
policeman, using his very words to Selina. “I’m going to report you to
Mr. Arnold, see if I don’t. And you know what that means.”

“Well, now, Mrs. Arnold, ma’am, I was only doing my duty. How cud I know
the lady was a friend of yours. Sure, I——” He surveyed Selina, cart,
jaded horses, wilted vegetables. “Well, how _cud_ I, now, Mrs. Arnold,
ma’am!”

“And why not!” demanded Julie with superb unreasonableness. “Why not,
I’d like to know. Do get along with you.”

He got along, a defeated officer of the law, and a bitter. And now it
was Julie who surveyed Selina, cart, Dirk, jaded horses, wilted
left-over vegetables. “Selina, whatever in the world! What are you doing
with——” She caught sight of Selina’s absurd boots then and she began
to cry again. At that Selina’s overwrought nerves snapped and she began
to laugh, hysterically. It frightened Julie, that laughter. “Selina,
don’t! Come in the house with me. What are you laughing at! Selina!”

With shaking finger Selina was pointing at the vegetables that lay
tumbled at her feet. “Do you see that cabbage, Julie? Do you remember
how I used to despise Mrs. Tebbitt’s because she used to have boiled
cabbage on Monday nights?”

“That’s nothing to laugh at, is it? Stop laughing this minute, Selina
Peake!”

“I’ll stop. I’ve stopped now. I was just laughing at my ignorance. Sweat
and blood and health and youth go into every cabbage. Did you know that,
Julie? One doesn’t despise them as food, knowing that. . . . Come, climb
down, Dirk. Here’s a lady mother used to know—oh, years and years ago,
when she was a girl. Thousands of years ago.”



                                  XII


The best thing for Dirk. The best thing for Dirk. It was the phrase that
repeated itself over and over in Selina’s speech during the days that
followed. Julie Arnold was all for taking him into her gray stone house,
dressing him like Lord Fauntleroy and sending him to the north-side
private school attended by Eugene, her boy, and Pauline, her girl. In
this period of bewilderment and fatigue Julie had attempted to take
charge of Selina much as she had done a dozen years before at the time
of Simeon Peake’s dramatic death. And now, as then, she pressed into
service her wonder-working father and bounden slave, August Hempel. Her
husband she dismissed with affectionate disregard.

“Michael’s all right,” she had said on that day of their first meeting,
“if you tell him what’s to be done. He’ll always do it. But Pa’s the one
that thinks of things. He’s like a general, and Michael’s the captain.
Well, now, Pa’ll be out to-morrow and I’ll probably come with him. I’ve
got a committee meeting, but I can easily——”

“You said—did you say your father would be out to-morrow! Out where?”

“To your place. Farm.”

“But why should he? It’s a little twenty-five-acre truck farm, and half
of it under water a good deal of the time.”

“Pa’ll find a use for it, never fear. He won’t say much, but he’ll think
of things. And then everything will be all right.”

“It’s miles. Miles. Way out in High Prairie.”

“Well, if you could make it with those horses, Selina, I guess we can
with Pa’s two grays that hold a record for a mile in three minutes or
three miles in a minute, I forget which. Or in the auto, though Pa hates
it. Michael is the only one in the family who likes it.”

A species of ugly pride now possessed Selina. “I don’t need help. Really
I don’t, Julie dear. It’s never been like to-day. Never before. We were
getting on very well, Pervus and I. Then after Pervus’s death so
suddenly like that I was frightened. Terribly frightened. About Dirk. I
wanted him to have everything. Beautiful things. I wanted his life to be
beautiful. Life can be so ugly, Julie. You don’t know. You don’t know.”

“Well, now, that’s why I say. We’ll be out to-morrow, Pa and I. Dirk’s
going to have everything beautiful. We’ll see to that.”

It was then that Selina had said, “But that’s just it. I want to do it
myself, for him. I can. I want to give him all these things myself.”

“But that’s selfish.”

“I don’t mean to be. I just want to do the best thing for Dirk.”

It was shortly after noon that High Prairie, hearing the unaccustomed
chug of a motor, rushed to its windows or porches to behold Selina
DeJong in her mashed black felt hat and Dirk waving his battered straw
wildly, riding up the Halsted road toward the DeJong farm in a bright
red automobile that had shattered the nerves of every farmer’s team it
had met on the way. Of the DeJong team and the DeJong dog Pom, and the
DeJong vegetable wagon there was absolutely no sign. High Prairie was
rendered unfit for work throughout the next twenty-four hours.

The idea had been Julie’s, and Selina had submitted rather than
acquiesced, for by now she was too tired to combat anything or any one.
If Julie had proposed her entering High Prairie on the back of an
elephant with a mahout perched between his ears Selina would have
agreed—rather, would have been unable to object.

“It’ll get you home in no time,” Julie had said, energetically. “You
look like a ghost and the boy’s half asleep. I’ll telephone Pa and he’ll
have one of the men from the barns drive your team out so it’ll be there
by six. Just you leave it all to me. Haven’t you ever ridden in one!
Why, there’s nothing to be scared of. I like the horses best, myself.
I’m like Pa. He says if you use horses you get there.”

Dirk had accepted the new conveyance with the adaptability of childhood,
had even predicted, grandly, “I’m going to have one when I grow up
that’ll go faster ’n this, even.”

“Oh, you wouldn’t want to go faster than this, Dirk,” Selina had
protested breathlessly as they chugged along at the alarming rate of
almost fifteen miles an hour.

Jan Snip had been rendered speechless. Until the actual arrival of the
team and wagon at six he counted them as mysteriously lost and DeJong’s
widow clearly gone mad. August Hempel’s arrival next day with Julie
seated beside him in the light spider-phaeton drawn by two slim
wild-eyed quivering grays made little tumult in Jan’s stunned mind by
now incapable of absorbing any fresh surprises.

In the twelve years’ transition from butcher to packer Aug Hempel had
taken on a certain authority and distinction. Now, at fifty-five, his
hair was gray, relieving the too-ruddy colour of his face. He talked
almost without an accent; used the idiomatic American speech he heard
about the yards, where the Hempel packing plant was situated. Only his
d’s were likely to sound like t’s. The letter j had a slightly ch sound.
In the last few years he had grown very deaf in one ear, so that when
you spoke to him he looked at you intently. This had given him a
reputation for keenness and great character insight, when it was merely
the protective trick of a man who does not want to confess that he is
hard of hearing. He wore square-toed shoes with soft tips and square-cut
gray clothes and a large gray hat with a chronically inadequate
sweat-band. The square-cut boots were expensive, and the square-cut gray
clothes and the large gray hat, but in them he always gave the effect of
being dressed in the discarded garments of a much larger man.

Selina’s domain he surveyed with a keen and comprehensive eye.

“You want to sell?”

“No.”

“That’s good.” (It was nearly goot as he said it.) “Few years from now
this land will be worth money.” He had spent a bare fifteen minutes
taking shrewd valuation of the property from fields to barn, from barn
to house. “Well, what _do_ you want to do, heh, Selina?”

They were seated in the cool and unexpectedly pleasing little parlour,
with its old Dutch lustre set gleaming softly in the cabinet, its three
rows of books, its air of comfort and usage.

Dirk was in the yard with one of the Van Ruys boys, surveying the grays
proprietorially. Jan was rooting in the fields. Selina clasped her hands
tightly in her lap—those hands that, from much grubbing in the soil,
had taken on something of the look of the gnarled things they tended.
The nails were short, discoloured, broken. The palms rough, calloused.
The whole story of the last twelve years of Selina’s life was written in
her two hands.

“I want to stay here, and work the farm, and make it pay. I can. By next
spring my asparagus is going to begin to bring in money. I’m not going
to grow just the common garden stuff any more—not much, anyway. I’m
going to specialize in the fine things—the kind the South Water Street
commission men want. I want to drain the low land. Tile it. That land
hasn’t been used for years. It ought to be rich growing land by now, if
once it’s properly drained. And I want Dirk to go to school. Good
schools. I never want my son to go to the Haymarket. Never. Never.”

Julie stirred with a little rustle and click of silk and beads. Her
gentle amiability was vaguely alarmed by the iron quality of
determination in the other’s tone.

“Yes, but what about you, Selina?”

“Me?”

“Yes, of course. You talk as though you didn’t count. Your life. Things
to make you happy.”

“My life doesn’t count, except as something for Dirk to use. I’m done
with anything else. Oh, I don’t mean that I’m discouraged, or
disappointed in life, or anything like that. I mean I started out with
the wrong idea. I know better now. I’m here to keep Dirk from making the
mistakes I made.”

Here Aug Hempel, lounging largely in his chair and eyeing Selina
intently, turned his gaze absently through the window to where the
grays, a living equine statue, stood before the house. His tone was one
of meditation, not of argument. “It don’t work out that way, seems.
About mistakes it’s funny. You got to make your own; and not only that,
if you try to keep people from making theirs they get mad.” He whistled
softly through his teeth following this utterance and tapped the chair
seat with his finger nails.

“It’s beauty!” Selina said then, almost passionately. Aug Hempel and
Julie plainly could make nothing of this remark so she went on, eager,
explanatory. “I used to think that if you wanted beauty—if you wanted
it hard enough and hopefully enough—it came to you. You just waited,
and lived your life as best you could, knowing that beauty might be just
around the corner. You just waited, and then it came.”

“Beauty!” exclaimed Julie, weakly. She stared at Selina in the evident
belief that this work-worn haggard woman was bemoaning her lack of
personal pulchritude.

“Yes. All the worth-while things in life. All mixed up. Rooms in
candle-light. Leisure. Colour. Travel. Books. Music. Pictures.
People—all kinds of people. Work that you love. And growth—growth and
watching people grow. Feeling very strongly about things and then
developing that feeling to—to make something fine come of it.” The word
self-expression was not in cant use then, and Selina hadn’t it to offer
them. They would not have known what she meant if she had. She threw out
her hands now in a futile gesture. “That’s what I mean by beauty. I want
Dirk to have it.”

Julie blinked and nodded with the wise amiable look of comprehension
assumed by one who has understood no single word of what has been said.
August Hempel cleared his throat.

“I guess I know what you’re driving at Selina, maybe. About Julie I felt
just like that. She should have everything fine. I wanted her to have
everything. And she did, too. Cried for the moon she had it.”

“I never did have it Pa, any such thing!”

“Never cried for it, I know of.”

“For pity’s sake!” pleaded Julie, the literal, “let’s stop talking and
do something. My goodness, anybody with a little money can have books
and candles and travel around and look at pictures, if that’s all. So
let’s _do_ something. Pa, you’ve probably got it all fixed in your mind
long ago. It’s time we heard it. Here Selina was one of the most popular
girls in Miss Fister’s school, and lots of people thought the prettiest.
And now just look at her!”

A flicker of the old flame leaped up in Selina. “Flatterer!” she
murmured.

Aug Hempel stood up. “If you think giving your whole life to making the
boy happy is going to make him happy you ain’t so smart as I took you
for. You go trying to live somebody else’s life for them.”

“I’m not going to live his life for him. I want to show him how to live
it so that he’ll get full value out of it.”

“Keeping him out of the Haymarket if the Haymarket’s the natural place
for him to be won’t do that. How can you tell! Monkeying with what’s to
be. I’m out at the yards every day, in and out of the cattle pens,
talking to the drovers and herders, mixing in with the buyers. I can
tell the weight of a hog and what he’s worth just by a look at him, and
a steer, too. My son-in-law Michael Arnold sits up in the office all day
in our plant, dictating letters. His clothes they never stink of the
pens like mine do. . . . Now I ain’t saying anything against him, Julie.
But I bet my grandson Eugene”—he repeated it, stressing the name so
that you sensed his dislike of it—“Eugene, if he comes into the
business at all when he grows up, won’t go within smelling distance of
the yards. His office I bet will be in a new office building on, say
Madison Street, with a view of the lake. Life! You’ll be hoggin’ it all
yourself and not know it.”

“Don’t pay any attention to him,” Julie interposed. “He goes on like
that. Old yards!”

August Hempel bit off the end of a cigar, was about to spit out the
speck explosively, thought better of it and tucked it in his vest
pocket. “I wouldn’t change places with Mike, not——”

“Please don’t call him Mike, Pa.”

“Michael, then. Not for ten million. And I need ten million right now.”

“And I suppose,” retorted Selina, spiritedly, “that when your son-in-law
Michael Arnold is your age he’ll be telling Eugene how he roughed it in
an office over at the yards in the old days. These will be the old
days.”

August Hempel laughed good humouredly. “That can be, Selina. That can
be.” He chewed his cigar and settled to the business at hand.

“You want to drain and tile. Plant high-grade stuff. You got to have a
man on the place that knows what’s what, not this Rip Van Winkle we saw
in the cabbage field. New horses. A wagon.” His eyes narrowed
speculatively. Shrewd wrinkles radiated from their corners. “I betcha
we’ll see the day when you truck farmers will run into town with your
stuff in big automobile wagons that will get you there in under an hour.
It’s bound to come. The horse is doomed, that’s chust what.” Then,
abruptly, “I will get you the horses, a bargain, at the yards.” He took
out a long flat check book. He began writing in it with a pen that he
took from his pocket—some sort of marvellous pen that seemed already
filled with ink and that you unscrewed at the top and then screwed at
the bottom. He squinted through his cigar smoke, the check book propped
on his knee. He tore off the check with a clean rip. “For a starter,” he
said. He held it out to Selina.

“There now!” exclaimed Julie, in triumphant satisfaction. That was more
like it. Doing something.

But Selina did not take the check. She sat very still in her chair, her
hands folded. “That isn’t the regular way,” she said.

August Hempel was screwing the top on his fountain pen again. “Regular
way? for what?”

“I’m borrowing this money, not taking it. Oh, yes, I am! I couldn’t get
along without it. I realize that now, after yesterday. Yesterday! But in
five years—seven—I’ll pay it back.” Then, at a half-uttered protest
from Julie, “That’s the only way I’ll take it. It’s for Dirk. But I’m
going to earn it—and pay it back. I want a——” she was being
enormously businesslike, and unconsciously enjoying it——“a—an I. O.
U. A promise to pay you back just as—as soon as I can. That’s business,
isn’t it? And I’ll sign it.”

“Sure,” said Aug Hempel, and unscrewed his fountain pen again. “Sure
that’s business.” Very serious, he scribbled again, busily, on a piece
of paper. A year later, when Selina had learned many things, among them
that simple and compound interest on money loaned are not mere problems
devised to fill Duffy’s Arithmetic in her school-teaching days, she went
to August Hempel between laughter and tears.

“You didn’t say one word about interest, that day. Not a word. What a
little fool you must have thought me.”

“Between friends,” protested August Hempel.

But—“No,” Selina insisted. “Interest.”

“I guess I better start me a bank pretty soon if you keep on so
businesslike.”

Ten years later he was actually the controlling power in the Yards &
Rangers’ Bank. And Selina had that original I. O. U. with its “Paid In
Full. Aug Hempel,” carefully tucked away in the carved oak chest
together with other keepsakes that she foolishly treasured—ridiculous
scraps that no one but she would have understood or valued—a small
school slate such as little children use (the one on which she had
taught Pervus to figure and parse); a dried bunch of trilliums; a
bustled and panniered wine-red cashmere dress, absurdly old-fashioned; a
letter telling about the Infanta Eulalie of Spain, and signed Julie
Hempel Arnold; a pair of men’s old side-boots with mud caked on them; a
crude sketch, almost obliterated now, done on a torn scrap of brown
paper and showing the Haymarket with the wagons vegetable-laden and the
men gathered beneath the street-flares, and the patient farm
horses—Roelf’s childish sketch.

Among this rubbish she rummaged periodically in the years that followed.
Indeed, twenty years later Dirk, coming upon her smoothing out the
wrinkled yellow creases of the I. O. U. or shaking the camphor-laden
folds of the wine-red cashmere, would say, “At it again! What a
sentimental generation yours was, Mother. Pressed flowers! They went out
with the attic, didn’t they? If the house caught fire you’d probably run
for the junk in that chest. It isn’t worth two cents, the lot of it.”

“Perhaps not,” Selina said, slowly. “Still, there’d be some money value,
I suppose, in an early original signed sketch by Rodin.”

“Rodin! You haven’t got a——”

“No, but here’s one by Pool—Roelf Pool—signed. At a sale in New York
last week one of his sketches—not a finished thing at all—just a rough
drawing that he’d made of some figures in a group that went into the
Doughboy statue—brought one thous——”

“Oh, well, that—yes. But the rest of the stuff you’ve got there—funny
how people will treasure old stuff like that. Useless stuff. It isn’t
even beautiful.”

“Beautiful!” said Selina, and shut the lid of the old chest. “Why,
Dirk—Dirk! You don’t even know what beauty is. You never will know.”



                                  XIII


If those vague characteristics called (variously) magnetism, manner,
grace, distinction, attractiveness, fascination, go to make up that
nebulous quality known as charm; and if the possessor of that quality is
accounted fortunate in his equipment for that which the class-day
orators style the battle of life, then Dirk DeJong was a lucky lad and
life lay promisingly before him. Undoubtedly he had it; and undoubtedly
it did. People said that things “came easy” for Dirk. He said so
himself, not boastfully, but rather shyly. He was not one to talk a
great deal. Perhaps that was one of his most charming qualities. He
listened so well. And he was so quietly effortless. He listened while
other people talked, his fine head inclined just a little to one side
and bent toward you. Intent on what you were saying, and evidently
impressed by it. You felt him immensely intelligent, appreciative. It
was a gift more valuable than any other social talent he might have
possessed. He himself did not know how precious an attribute this was to
prove in a later day when to be allowed to finish a sentence was an
experience all too rare. Older men especially said he was a smart young
feller and would make his mark. This, surprisingly enough, after a
conversation to which he had contributed not a word other than “Yes,” or
“No,” or, “Perhaps you’re right, sir,” in the proper places.

Selina thought constantly of Dirk’s future. A thousand other thoughts
might be racing through her mind during the day—plans for the farm, for
the house—but always, over and above and through all these, like the
steady beat of a drum penetrating sharper and more urgent sounds—was
the thought of Dirk. He did well enough at high school. Not a brilliant
student, nor even a very good one. But good enough. Average. And well
liked.

It was during those careless years of Dirk’s boyhood between nine and
fifteen that Selina changed the DeJong acres from a worn-out and
down-at-heel truck farm whose scant products brought a second-rate price
in a second-rate market to a prosperous and blooming vegetable garden
whose output was sought a year in advance by the South Water Street
commission merchants. DeJong asparagus with firm white thick stalk bases
tapering to a rich green streaked with lavender at the tips. DeJong
hothouse tomatoes in February, plump, scarlet, juicy. You paid for a
pound a sum Pervus had been glad to get for a bushel.

These six or seven years of relentless labour had been no showy success
with Selina posing grandly as the New Woman in Business. No, it had been
a painful, grubbing, heart-breaking process as is any project that
depends on the actual soil for its realization. She drove herself
pitilessly. She literally tore a living out of the earth with her two
bare hands. Yet there was nothing pitiable about this small energetic
woman of thirty-five or forty with her fine soft dark eyes, her
clean-cut jaw-line, her shabby decent clothes that were so likely to be
spattered with the mud of the road or fields, her exquisite nose with
the funny little wrinkle across the bridge when she laughed. Rather,
there was something splendid about her; something rich, prophetic. It
was the splendour and richness that achievement imparts.

It is doubtful that she ever could have succeeded without the money
borrowed from August Hempel; without his shrewd counsel. She told him
this, sometimes. He denied it. “Easier, yes. But you would have found a
way, Selina. Some way. Julie, no. But you, yes. You are like that. Me,
too. Say, plenty fellers that was butchers with me twenty years ago over
on North Clark Street are butchers yet, cutting off a steak or a chop.
‘Good morning, Mrs. Kruger. What’ll it be to-day?’”

The Hempel Packing Company was a vast monster now stretching great arms
into Europe, into South America. In some of the yellow journals that had
cropped up in the last few years you even saw old Aug himself portrayed
in cartoons as an octopus with cold slimy eyes and a hundred writhing
reaching tentacles. These bothered Aug a little, though he pretended to
laugh at them. “What do they want to go to work and make me out like
that for? I sell good meat for all I can get for it. That’s business,
ain’t it?”

Dirk had his tasks on the farm. Selina saw to that. But they were not
heavy. He left for school at eight in the morning, driving, for the
distance was too great for walking. Often it was dark on his return in
the late afternoon. Between these hours Selina had accomplished the work
of two men. She had two field-helpers on the place now during the busy
season and a woman in the house, the wife of Adam Bras, one of the
labourers. Jan Snip, too, still worked about the place in the barn, the
sheds, tending the coldframes and hothouses, doing odd jobs of
carpentering. He distrusted Selina’s new-fangled methods, glowered at
any modern piece of machinery, predicted dire things when Selina bought
the twenty acres that comprised the old Bouts place adjoining the DeJong
farm.

“You bit off more as you can chaw,” he told her. “You choke yet. You
see.”

By the time Dirk returned from school the rough work of the day was
over. His food was always hot, appetizing, plentiful. The house was
neat, comfortable. Selina had installed a bathroom—one of the two
bathrooms in High Prairie. The neighbourhood was still rocking with the
shock of this when it was informed by Jan that Selina and Dirk ate with
candles lighted on the supper table. High Prairie slapped its thigh and
howled with mirth.

“Cabbages is beautiful,” said old Klaas Pool when he heard this.
“Cabbages is beautiful I betcha.”

Selina, during the years of the boy’s adolescence, had never urged him
to a decision about his future. That, she decided, would come. As the
farm prospered and the pressure of necessity lifted she tried, in
various ingenious ways, to extract from him some unconscious sign of
definite preference for this calling, that profession. As in her leanest
days she had bought an occasional book at the cost of much-needed shoes
for herself so now she bought many of them with money that another woman
would have used for luxury or adornments. Years of personal privation
had not killed her love of fine soft silken things, mellow colouring,
exquisite workmanship. But they had made it impossible for her to covet
these things for herself. She loved to see them, to feel them. Could not
wear them. Years later, when she could well afford a French hat in one
of the Michigan Avenue millinery shops, she would look at the silk and
satin trifles blooming in the windows like gay brilliant flowers in a
conservatory—and would buy an untrimmed “shape” for $2.95 in Field’s
basement. The habit of a lifetime is strong. Just once she made herself
buy one of these costly silk-and-feather extravagances, going about the
purchase deliberately and coldly as a man gets drunk once for the
experience. The hat had cost twenty-two dollars. She never had worn it.

Until Dirk was sixteen she had been content to let him develop as
naturally as possible, and to absorb impressions unconsciously from the
traps she so guilefully left about him. Books on the lives of great
men—lives of Lincoln, of Washington, Gladstone, Disraeli, Voltaire.
History. Books on painting, charmingly illustrated. Books on
architecture; law; medicine, even. She subscribed to two of the best
engineering magazines. There was a shed which he was free to use as a
workshop, fitted up with all sorts of tools. He did not use it much,
after the first few weeks. He was pleasantly and mildly interested in
all these things; held by none of them. Selina had thought of Roelf when
they were fitting up the workshop. The Pools had heard from Roelf just
once since his flight from the farm. A letter had come from France. In
it was a sum of money for Geertje and Jozina—a small sum to take the
trouble to send all the way from an outlandish country, the well-to-do
Pool household thought. Geertje was married now to Vander Sijde’s son
Gerrit and living on a farm out Low Prairie way. Jozina had a crazy idea
that she wanted to go into the city as a nurse. Roelf’s small gift of
money made little difference in their day. They never knew the struggle
that the impecunious young Paris art student had had to save it sou by
sou. Selina had never heard from him. But one day years later she had
come running to Dirk with an illustrated magazine in her hand.

“Look!” she had cried, and pointed to a picture. He had rarely seen her
so excited, so stirred. The illustration showed a photographic
reproduction of a piece of sculpture—a woman’s figure. It was called
The Seine. A figure sinuous, snake-like, graceful, revolting, beautiful,
terrible. The face alluring, insatiable, generous, treacherous, all at
once. It was the Seine that fed the fertile valley land; the Seine that
claimed a thousand bloated lifeless floating Things; the red-eyed hag of
1793; the dimpling coquette of 1650. Beneath the illustration a line or
two—Roelf Pool . . . Salon . . . American . . . future . . .

“It’s Roelf!” Selina had cried. “Roelf. Little Roelf Pool!” Tears in her
eyes. Dirk had been politely interested. But then he had never known
him, really. He had heard his mother speak of him, but——

Selina showed the picture to the Pools, driving over there one evening
to surprise them with it. Mrs. Klaas Pool had been horrified at the
picture of a nude woman’s figure; had cried “Og heden!” in disgust, and
had seemed to think that Selina had brought it over in a spirit of
spite. Was she going to show it to the rest of High Prairie!

Selina understood High Prairie folk better now, though not altogether,
even after almost twenty years of living amongst them. A cold people,
yet kindly. Suspicious, yet generous. Distrustful of all change, yet
progressing by sheer force of thrift and unceasing labour. Unimaginative
for generations, only to produce—a Roelf Pool.

She tried now to explain the meaning of the figure Roelf had moulded so
masterfully. “You see, it’s supposed to represent the Seine. The River
Seine that flows through Paris into the countryside beyond. The whole
history of Paris—of France—is bound up in the Seine; intertwined with
it. Terrible things, and magnificent things. It flows just beneath the
Louvre. You can see it from the Bastille. On its largest island stands
Notre Dame. The Seine has seen such things, Mrs. Pool!——”

“What _dom_ talk!” interrupted the late widow. “A river can’t see.
Anybody knows that.”

At seventeen Dirk and Selina talked of the year to come. He was going to
a university. But to what university? And what did he want to study?
We-e-ll, hard to say. Kind of a general course, wasn’t there? Some
languages—little French or something—and political economy, and some
literature and maybe history.

“Oh,” Selina had said. “Yes. General. Of course, if a person wanted to
be an architect, why, I suppose Cornell would be the place. Or Harvard
for law. Or Boston Tech for engineering, or——”

Oh, yeh, if a fellow wanted any of those things. Good idea, though, to
take a kind of general course until you found out exactly what you
wanted to do. Languages and literature and that kind of thing.

Selina was rather delighted than otherwise. That, she knew, was the way
they did it in England. You sent your son to a university not to cram
some technical course into him, or to railroad him through a
book-knowledge of some profession. You sent him so that he might develop
in an atmosphere of books, of learning; spending relaxed hours in the
companionship of men who taught for the love of teaching; whose informal
talks before a study fire were more richly valuable than whole courses
of classroom lectures. She had read of these things in English novels.
Oxford. Cambridge. Dons. Ivy. Punting. Prints. Mullioned windows. Books.
Discussion. Literary clubs.

This was England. An older civilization, of course. But there must be
something of that in American universities. And if that was what Dirk
wanted she was glad. Glad! A reaching after true beauty.

You heard such wonderful things about Midwest University, in Chicago. On
the south side. It was new, yes. But those Gothic buildings gave an
effect, somehow, of age and permanence (the smoke and cinders from the
Illinois Central suburban trains were largely responsible for that, as
well as the soft coal from a thousand neighbouring chimneys). And there
actually was ivy. Undeniable ivy, and mullioned windows.

Dirk had suggested it, not she. The entrance requirements were quite
mild. Harvard? Yale? Oh, those fellows all had wads of money. Eugene
Arnold had his own car at New Haven.

In that case, they decided, Midwest University, in Chicago, on the south
side near the lake, would do splendidly. For a general course, sort of.
The world lay ahead of Dirk. It was like the childhood game of counting
buttons.

    Rich man, poor man, beggar-man, thief,
    Doctor, lawyer, merchant, chief.

Together they counted Dirk’s mental buttons but it never came out twice
the same. It depended on the suit you happened to be wearing, of course.
Eugene Arnold was going to take law at Yale. He said it would be
necessary if he was going into the business. He didn’t put it just that
way, when talking to Dirk. He said the damned old hog business. Pauline
(she insisted that they call her Paula now) was at a girls’ school up
the Hudson—one of those schools that never advertise even in the front
of the thirty-five-cent magazines.

So, at eighteen, it had been Midwest University for Dirk. It was a much
more economical plan than would have resulted from the choice of an
eastern college. High Prairie heard that Dirk DeJong was going away to
college. A neighbour’s son said, “Going to Wisconsin? Agricultural
course there?”

“My gosh, no!” Dirk had answered. He told this to Selina, laughing. But
she had not laughed.

“I’d like to take that course myself, if you must know. They say it’s
wonderful.” She looked at him, suddenly. “Dirk, you wouldn’t like to
take it, would you? To go to Madison, I mean. Is that what you’d like?”

He stared. “Me! No! . . . Unless you want me to, Mother. Then I would,
gladly. I hate your working like this, on the farm, while I go off to
school. It makes me feel kind of rotten, having my mother working for
me. The other fellows——”

“I’m doing the work I’m interested in, for the person I love best in the
world. I’d be lost—unhappy—without the farm. If the city creeps up on
me here, as they predict it will, I don’t know what I shall do.”

But Dirk had a prediction of his own to make. “Chicago’ll never grow
this way, with all those steel mills and hunkies to the south of us. The
north side is going to be the place to live. It is already.”

“The place for whom?”

“For the people with money.”

She smiled then so that you saw the funny little wrinkle across her
nose. “Well, then the south section of Chicago is going to be all right
for us yet a while.”

“Just you wait till I’m successful. Then there’ll be no more working for
you.”

“What do you mean by ‘successful’, Sobig?” She had not called him that
in years. But now the old nickname came to her tongue perhaps because
they were speaking of his future, his success. “What do you mean by
‘successful’, Sobig?”

“Rich. Lots of money.”

“Oh, no, Dirk! No! That’s not success. Roelf—the thing Roelf
does—that’s success.”

“Oh, well, if you have money enough you can buy the things he makes, and
have ’em. That’s almost as good, isn’t it?”

Midwest University had sprung up almost literally overnight on the
property that had been the site of the Midway Plaisance during the
World’s Fair in Chicago in ’93. One man’s millions had been the magic
wand that, waved over a bare stretch of prairie land, had produced a
seat of learning. The university guide book spoke of him reverently as
the Founder, capitalizing the word as one does the Deity. The student
body spoke of him with somewhat less veneration. They called him
Coal-Oil Johnny. He had already given thirty millions to the university
and still the insatiable maw of this institute of learning yawned for
more. When oil went up a fraction of a cent they said, “Guess Coal-Oil
Johnny’s fixing to feed us another million.”

Dirk commenced his studies at Midwest University in the autumn of 1909.
His first year was none too agreeable, as is usually the case in first
years. He got on well, though. A large proportion of the men students
were taking law, which accounts for the great number of real-estate
salesmen and insurance agents now doing business in and about Chicago.
Before the end of the first semester he was popular. He was a
natural-born floor committeeman and badges bloomed in his buttonhole.
Merely by donning a ready-made dress suit he could give it a
made-to-order air. He had great natural charm of manner. The men liked
him, and the girls, too. He learned to say, “Got Pol Econ at ten,” which
meant that he took Political Economy at that hour; and “I’d like to cut
Psyk,” meant that he was not up on his approaching lesson in Applied
Psychology. He rarely “cut” a class. He would have felt that this was
unfair and disloyal to his mother. Some of his fellow students joked
about this faithfulness to his classes. “Person would think you were an
Unclassified,” they said.

The Unclassifieds were made up, for the most part, of earnest and rather
middle-aged students whose education was a delayed blooming. They
usually were not enrolled for a full course, or were taking double work
feverishly. The Classifieds, on the other hand, were the regularly
enrolled students, pretty well of an age (between seventeen and
twenty-three) who took their education with a sprinkling of sugar. Of
the Unclassified students the University catalogue said:

    Persons at least twenty-one years of age, not seeking a degree,
    may be admitted through the office of the University Examiner to
    the courses of instruction offered in the University, as
    unclassified students. They shall present evidence of successful
    experience as a teacher or _other valuable educative experience
    in practical life_. . . . They are ineligible for public
    appearance. . . .

You saw them the Cinderellas and the Smikes of this temple of learning.

The Classifieds and the Unclassifieds rarely mixed. Not age alone, but
purpose separated them. The Classifieds, boys and girls, were, for the
most part, slim young lads with caps and pipes and sweaters, their talk
of football, baseball, girls; slim young girls in sheer shirtwaists with
pink ribbons run through the corset covers showing beneath, pleated
skirts that switched delightfully as they strolled across the campus arm
in arm, their talk of football games, fudge, clothes, boys. They cut
classes whenever possible. The Student Body. Midwest turned them out by
the hundreds—almost by the link, one might say, as Aug Hempel’s sausage
factory turned out its fine plump sausages, each one exactly like the
one behind and the one ahead of it. So many hundreds graduated in this
year’s class. So many more hundreds to be graduated in next year’s
class. Occasionally an unruly sausage burst its skin and was discarded.
They attended a university because their parents—thrifty shop-keepers,
manufacturers, merchants, or professional men and their good
wives—wanted their children to have an education. Were ambitious for
them. “I couldn’t have it myself, and always regretted it. Now I want my
boy (or girl) to have a good education that’ll fit ’em for the battle of
life. This is an age of specialization, let me tell you.”

Football, fudge, I-said-to-Jim, I-said-to-Bessie.

The Unclassifieds would no more have deliberately cut a class than they
would have thrown their sparse weekly budget-allowance into the gutter.
If it had been physically possible they would have attended two classes
at once, listened to two lectures, prepared two papers simultaneously.
Drab and earnest women between thirty and forty-eight, their hair not an
ornament, but something to be pinned up quickly out of the way, their
clothes a covering, their shoes not even smartly “sensible,” but just
shoes, scuffed, patched, utilitarian. The men were serious, shabby,
often spectacled; dandruff on their coat collars; their lined, anxious
faces in curious contrast to the fresh, boyish, care-free countenances
of the Classifieds. They said, carefully, almost sonorously, “Political
Economy. Applied Psychology.” Most of them had worked ten years, fifteen
years for this deferred schooling. This one had had to support a mother;
that one a family of younger brothers and sisters. This plump woman of
thirty-nine, with the jolly kindly face, had had a paralyzed father.
Another had known merely poverty, grinding, sordid poverty, with fifteen
years of painful penny savings to bring true this gloriously realized
dream of a university education. Here was one studying to be a trained
Social Service Worker. She had done everything from housework as a
servant girl to clerking in a 5- and 10-cent store. She had studied
evenings; saved pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters. _Other valuable
educative experience in practical life._ They had had it, God knows.

They regarded the university at first with the love-blind eyes of a
bridegroom who looks with the passionate tenderness of possession upon
his mistress for whom he has worked and waited through the years of his
youth. The university was to bring back that vanished youth—and
something more. Wisdom. Knowledge. Power. Understanding. They would have
died for it—they almost had, what with privation, self-denial, work.

They came with love clasped close in their two hands, an offertory.
“Take me!” they cried. “I come with all I have. Devotion, hope, desire
to learn, a promise to be a credit to you. I have had experience,
bitter-sweet experience. I have known the battle. See, here are my
scars. I can bring to your classrooms much that is valuable. I ask only
for bread—the bread of knowledge.”

And the University gave them a stone.

“Get on to the hat!” said the Classifieds, humorously, crossing the
campus. “A fright!”

The professors found them a shade too eager, perhaps; too inquiring;
demanding too much. They stayed after class and asked innumerable
questions. They bristled with interrogation. They were prone to hold
forth in the classroom, “Well, I have found it to be the case in my
experience that——”

But the professor preferred to do the lecturing himself. If there was to
be any experience related it should come from the teacher’s platform,
not the student’s chair. Besides, this sort of thing interfered with the
routine; kept you from covering ground fast enough. The period bell
rang, and there you were, halfway through the day’s prescribed lesson.

In his first year Dirk made the almost fatal mistake of being rather
friendly with one of these Unclassifieds—a female Unclassified. She was
in his Pol Econ class and sat next to him. A large, good-humoured, plump
girl, about thirty-eight, with a shiny skin which she never powdered and
thick hair that exuded a disagreeable odour of oil. She was sympathetic
and jolly, but her clothes were a fright, the Classifieds would have
told you, and no matter how cold the day there was always a half-moon of
stain showing under her armpits. She had a really fine mind, quick,
eager, balanced, almost judicial. She knew just which references were
valuable, which useless. Just how to go about getting information for
next day’s class; for the weekly paper to be prepared. Her name was
Schwengauer—Mattie Schwengauer. Terrible!

“Here,” she would say good-naturedly, to Dirk. “You don’t need to read
all those. My, no! I’ll tell you. You’ll get exactly what you want by
reading pages 256 to 273 in Blaine’s; 549 to 567 in Jaeckel; and the
first eleven—no, twelve—pages of Trowbridge’s report. That’ll give you
practically everything you need.”

Dirk was grateful. Her notes were always copious, perfect. She never
hesitated to let him copy them. They got in the way of walking out of
the classroom together, across the campus. She told him something of
herself.

“Your people farmers!” Surprised, she looked at his well-cut clothes,
his slim, strong, unmarked hands, his smart shoes and cap. “Why, so are
mine. Iowa.” She pronounced it Ioway. “I lived on the farm all my life
till I was twenty-seven. I always wanted to go away to school, but we
never had the money and I couldn’t come to town to earn because I was
the oldest, and Ma was sickly after Emma—that’s the youngest—there are
nine of us—was born. Ma was anxious I should go and Pa was willing, but
it couldn’t be. No fault of theirs. One year the summer would be so hot,
with no rain hardly from spring till fall, and the corn would just dry
up on the stalks, like paper. The next year it would be so wet the seed
would rot in the ground. Ma died when I was twenty-six. The kids were
all pretty well grown up by that time. Pa married again in a year and I
went to Des Moines to work. I stayed there six years but I didn’t save
much on account of my brother. He was kind of wild. He had come to Des
Moines, too, after Pa married. He and Aggie—that’s the second
wife—didn’t get along. I came to Chicago about five years ago. . . .
I’ve done all kinds of work, I guess, except digging in a coal mine. I’d
have done that if I’d had to.”

She told him all this ingenuously, simply. Dirk felt drawn toward her,
sorry for her. His was a nature quick to sympathy. Something she said
now stirred him while it bewildered him a little, too.

“You can’t have any idea what it means to me to be here . . . All those
years! I used to dream about it. Even now it seems to me it can’t be
true. I’m conscious of my surroundings all the time and yet I can’t
believe them. You know, like when you are asleep and dream about
something beautiful, and then wake up and find it’s actually true. I get
a thrill out of just being here. ‘I’m crossing the campus,’ I say to
myself. ‘I’m a student—a girl student—in Midwest University and now
I’m crossing the campus of my university to go to a class.’”

Her face was very greasy and earnest and fine.

“Well, that’s great,” Dirk replied, weakly. “That’s cer’nly great.”

He told his mother about her. Usually he went home on Friday nights to
stay until Monday morning. His first Monday-morning class was not until
ten. Selina was deeply interested and stirred. “Do you think she’d spend
some Saturday and Sunday here with us on the farm? She could come with
you on Friday and go back Sunday night if she wanted to. Or stay until
Monday morning and go back with you. There’s the spare room, all quiet
and cool. She could do as she liked. I’d give her cream and all the
fresh fruit and vegetables she wanted. And Meena would bake one of her
fresh cocoanut cakes. I’d have Adam bring a fresh cocoanut from South
Water Street.”

Mattie came one Friday night. It was the end of October, and Indian
summer, the most beautiful time of the year on the Illinois prairie. A
mellow golden light seemed to suffuse everything. It was as if the very
air were liquid gold, and tonic. The squash and pumpkins next the good
brown earth gave back the glow, and the frost-turned leaves of the
maples in the sun. About the countryside for miles was the look of
bounteousness, of plenty, of prophecy fulfilled as when a beautiful and
fertile woman having borne her children and found them good, now sits
serene-eyed, gracious, ample bosomed, satisfied.

Into the face of Mattie Schwengauer there came a certain glory. When she
and Selina clasped hands Selina stared at her rather curiously, as
though startled. Afterward she said to Dirk, aside, “But I thought you
said she was ugly!”

“Well, she is, or—well, isn’t she?”

“Look at her!”

Mattie Schwengauer was talking to Meena Bras, the houseworker. She was
standing with her hands on her ample hips, her fine head thrown back,
her eyes alight, her lips smiling so that you saw her strong square
teeth. A new cream separator was the subject of their conversation.
Something had amused Mattie. She laughed. It was the laugh of a young
girl, care-free, relaxed, at ease.

For two days Mattie did as she pleased, which meant she helped pull
vegetables in the garden, milk the cows, saddle the horses; rode them
without a saddle in the pasture. She tramped the road. She scuffled
through the leaves in the woods, wore a scarlet maple leaf in her hair,
slept like one gloriously dead from ten until six; ate prodigiously of
cream, fruits, vegetables, eggs, sausage, cake.

“It got so I hated to do all those things on the farm,” she said,
laughing a little shamefacedly. “I guess it was because I had to. But
now it comes back to me and I enjoy it because it’s natural to me, I
suppose. Anyway, I’m having a grand time, Mrs. DeJong. The grandest time
I ever had in my life.” Her face was radiant and almost beautiful.

“If you want me to believe that,” said Selina, “you’ll come again.”

But Mattie Schwengauer never did come again.

Early the next week one of the university students approached Dirk. He
was a Junior, very influential in his class, and a member of the
fraternity to which Dirk was practically pledged. A decidedly desirable
frat.

“Say, look here, DeJong, I want to talk to you a minute. Uh, you’ve got
to cut out that girl—Swinegour or whatever her name is—or it’s all off
with the fellows in the frat.”

“What d’you mean! Cut out! What’s the matter with her!”

“Matter! She’s Unclassified, isn’t she! And do you know what the story
is? She told it herself as an economy hint to a girl who was working her
way through. She bathes with her union suit and white stockings on to
save laundry soap. Scrubs ’em on her! ’S the God’s truth.”

Into Dirk’s mind there flashed a picture of this large girl in her tight
knitted union suit and her white stockings sitting in a tub half full of
water and scrubbing them and herself simultaneously. A comic picture,
and a revolting one. Pathetic, too, but he would not admit that.

“Imagine!” the frat brother-to-be was saying. “Well, we can’t have a
fellow who goes around with a girl like that. You got to cut her out,
see! Completely. The fellahs won’t stand for it.”

Dirk had a mental picture of himself striking a noble attitude and
saying, “Won’t stand for it, huh! She’s worth more than the whole
caboodle of you put together. And you can all go to hell!”

Instead he said, vaguely, “Oh. Well. Uh——”

Dirk changed his seat in the classroom, avoided Mattie’s eye, shot out
of the door the minute class was over. One day he saw her coming toward
him on the campus and he sensed that she intended to stop and speak to
him—chide him laughingly, perhaps. He quickened his pace, swerved a
little to one side, and as he passed lifted his cap and nodded, keeping
his eyes straight ahead. Out of the tail of his eye he could see her
standing a moment irresolutely in the path.

He got into the fraternity. The fellahs liked him from the first. Selina
said once or twice, “Why don’t you bring that nice Mattie home with you
again some time soon? Such a nice girl—woman, rather. But she seemed so
young and care-free while she was here, didn’t she? A fine mind, too,
that girl. She’ll make something of herself. You’ll see. Bring her next
week, h’m?”

Dirk shuffled, coughed, looked away. “Oh, I dunno. Haven’t seen her
lately. Guess she’s busy with another crowd, or something.”

He tried not to think of what he had done, for he was honestly ashamed.
Terribly ashamed. So he said to himself, “Oh, what of it!” and hid his
shame. A month later Selina again said, “I wish you’d invite Mattie for
Thanksgiving dinner. Unless she’s going home, which I doubt. We’ll have
turkey and pumpkin pie and all the rest of it. She’ll love it.”

“Mattie?” He had actually forgotten her name.

“Yes, of course. Isn’t that right? Mattie Schwengauer?”

“Oh, her. Uh—well—I haven’t been seeing her lately.”

“Oh, Dirk, you haven’t quarrelled with that nice girl!”

He decided to have it out. “Listen, Mother. There are a lot of different
crowds at the U, see? And Mattie doesn’t belong to any of ’em. You
wouldn’t understand, but it’s like this. She—she’s smart and jolly and
everything but she just doesn’t belong. Being friends with a girl like
that doesn’t get you anywhere. Besides, she isn’t a girl. She’s a
middle-aged woman, when you come to think of it.”

“Doesn’t get you anywhere!” Selina’s tone was cool and even. Then, as
the boy’s gaze did not meet hers: “Why, Dirk DeJong, Mattie Schwengauer
is one of my reasons for sending you to a university. She’s what I call
part of a university education. Just talking to her is learning
something valuable. I don’t mean that you wouldn’t naturally prefer
pretty young girls of your own age to go around with, and all. It would
be queer if you didn’t. But this Mattie—why, she’s life. Do you
remember that story of when she washed dishes in the kosher restaurant
over on Twelfth Street and the proprietor used to rent out dishes and
cutlery for Irish and Italian neighbourhood weddings where they had pork
and goodness knows what all, and then use them next day in the
restaurant again for the kosher customers?”

Yes, Dirk remembered. Selina wrote Mattie, inviting her to the farm for
Thanksgiving, and Mattie answered gratefully, declining. “I shall always
remember you,” she wrote in that letter, “with love.”



                                  XIV


Throughout Dirk’s Freshman year there were, for him, no heartening,
informal, mellow talks before the wood-fire in the book-lined study of
some professor whose wisdom was such a mixture of classic lore and
modernism as to be an inspiration to his listeners. Midwest professors
delivered their lectures in the classroom as they had been delivering
them in the past ten or twenty years and as they would deliver them
until death or a trustees’ meeting should remove them. The younger
professors and instructors in natty gray suits and bright-coloured ties
made a point of being unpedantic in the classroom and rather overdid it.
They posed as being one of the fellows; would dashingly use a bit of
slang to create a laugh from the boys and an adoring titter from the
girls. Dirk somehow preferred the pedants to these. When these had to
give an informal talk to the men before some university event they would
start by saying, “Now listen, fellahs——” At the dances they were not
above “rushing” the pretty co-eds.

Two of Dirk’s classes were conducted by women professors. They were well
on toward middle age, or past it; desiccated women. Only their eyes were
alive. Their clothes were of some indefinite dark stuff, brown or
drab-gray; their hair lifeless; their hands long, bony, unvital. They
had seen classes and classes and classes. A roomful of fresh young faces
that appeared briefly only to be replaced by another roomful of fresh
young faces like round white pencil marks manipulated momentarily on a
slate, only to be sponged off to give way to other round white marks. Of
the two women one—the elder—was occasionally likely to flare into
sudden life; a flame in the ashes of a burned-out grate. She had humour
and a certain caustic wit, qualities that had managed miraculously to
survive even the deadly and numbing effects of thirty years in the
classroom. A fine mind, and iconoclastic, hampered by the restrictions
of a conventional community and the soul of a congenital spinster.

Under the guidance of these Dirk chafed and grew restless. Miss Euphemia
Hollingswood had a way of emphasizing every third or fifth syllable,
bringing her voice down hard on it, thus:

“In the _con_sideration of _all_ the facts in the _case_ presented
be_fore_ us we must _first_ review the _his_tory and at_tempt_ to
analyze the _out_standing——”

He found himself waiting for that emphasis and shrinking from it as from
a sledge-hammer blow. It hurt his head.

Miss Lodge droned. She approached a word with a maddening uh-uh-uh-uh.
In the uh-uh-uh face of the uh-uh-uh-uh geometrical situation of the
uh-uh-uh uh——

He shifted restlessly in his chair, found his hands clenched into fists,
and took refuge in watching the shadow cast by an oak branch outside the
window on a patch of sunlight against the blackboard behind her.

During the early spring Dirk and Selina talked things over again, seated
before their own fireplace in the High Prairie farmhouse. Selina had had
that fireplace built five years before and her love of it amounted to
fire-worship. She had it lighted always on winter evenings and in the
spring when the nights were sharp. In Dirk’s absence she would sit
before it at night long after the rest of the weary household had gone
to bed. Old Pom, the mongrel, lay stretched at her feet enjoying such
luxury in old age as he had never dreamed of in his bastard youth. High
Prairie, driving by from some rare social gathering or making a late
trip to market as they sometimes were forced to do, saw the rosy flicker
of Mrs. DeJong’s fire dancing on the wall and warmed themselves by it
even while they resented it.

“A good heater in there and yet anyway she’s got to have a fire going in
a grate. Always she does something funny like that. I should think she’d
be lonesome sitting there like that with her dog only.”

They never knew how many guests Selina entertained there before her fire
those winter evenings—old friends and new. Sobig was there, the plump
earth-grimed baby who rolled and tumbled in the fields while his young
mother wiped the sweat from her face to look at him with fond eyes. Dirk
DeJong of ten years hence was there. Simeon Peake, dapper, soft-spoken,
ironic, in his shiny boots and his hat always a little on one side.
Pervus DeJong, a blue-shirted giant with strong tender hands and little
fine golden hairs on the backs of them. Fanny Davenport, the
actress-idol of her girlhood came back to her, smiling, bowing; and the
gorgeous spangled creatures in the tights and bodices of the old
Extravaganzas. In strange contrast to these was the patient, tireless
figure of Maartje Pool standing in the doorway of Roelf’s little shed,
her arms tucked in her apron for warmth. “You make fun, huh?” she said,
wistfully, “you and Roelf. You make fun.” And Roelf, the dark vivid boy,
misunderstood. Roelf, the genius. He was always one of the company.

Oh, Selina DeJong never was lonely on these winter evenings before her
fire.

She and Dirk sat there one fine sharp evening in early April. It was
Saturday. Of late Dirk had not always come to the farm for the week-end.
Eugene and Paula Arnold had been home for the Easter holidays. Julie
Arnold had invited Dirk to the gay parties at the Prairie Avenue house.
He had even spent two entire week-ends there. After the brocaded luxury
of the Prairie Avenue house his farm bedroom seemed almost startlingly
stark and bare. Selina frankly enjoyed Dirk’s somewhat fragmentary
accounts of these visits; extracted from them as much vicarious pleasure
as he had had in the reality—more, probably.

“Now tell me what you had to eat,” she would say, sociably, like a
child. “What did you have for dinner, for example? Was it grand? Julie
tells me they have a butler now. Well! I can’t wait till I hear Aug
Hempel on the subject.”

He would tell her of the grandeurs of the Arnold ménage. She would
interrupt and exclaim: “Mayonnaise! On fruit! Oh, I don’t believe I’d
like _that_. You did! Well, I’ll have it for you next week when you come
home. I’ll get the recipe from Julie.”

He didn’t think he’d be home next week. One of the fellows he’d met at
the Arnolds’ had invited him to their place out north, on the lake. He
had a boat.

“That’ll be lovely!” Selina exclaimed, after an almost unnoticeable
moment of silence—silence with panic in it. “I’ll try not to fuss and
be worried like an old hen every minute of the time I think you’re on
the water. . . . Now do go on, Sobig. First fruit with mayonnaise, h’m?
What kind of soup?”

He was not a naturally talkative person. There was nothing surly about
his silence. It was a taciturn streak inherited from his Dutch ancestry.
This time, though, he was more voluble than usual. “Paula . . .” came
again and again into his conversation. “Paula . . . Paula . . .” and
again “. . . Paula.” He did not seem conscious of the repetition, but
Selina’s quick ear caught it.

“I haven’t seen her,” Selina said, “since she went away to school the
first year. She must be—let’s see—she’s a year older than you are.
She’s nineteen going on twenty. Last time I saw her I thought she was a
dark scrawny little thing. Too bad she didn’t inherit Julie’s lovely
gold colouring and good looks, instead of Eugene, who doesn’t need ’em.”

“She isn’t!” said Dirk, hotly. “She’s dark and slim and sort
of—uh—sensuous”—Selina started visibly, and raised her hand quickly
to her mouth to hide a smile—“like Cleopatra. Her eyes are big and kind
of slanting—not squinty I don’t mean, but slanting up a little at the
corners. Cut out, kind of, so that they look bigger than most people’s.”

“My eyes used to be considered rather fine,” said Selina, mischievously;
but he did not hear.

“She makes all the other girls look sort of blowzy.” He was silent a
moment. Selina was silent, too, and it was not a happy silence. Dirk
spoke again, suddenly, as though continuing aloud a train of thought,
“—all but her hands.”

Selina made her voice sound natural, not sharply inquisitive. “What’s
the matter with her hands, Dirk?”

He pondered a moment, his brows knitted. At last, slowly, “Well, I don’t
know. They’re brown, and awfully thin and sort of—grabby. I mean it
makes me nervous to watch them. And when the rest of her is cool they’re
hot when you touch them.”

He looked at his mother’s hands that were busy with some sewing. The
stuff on which she was working was a bit of satin ribbon; part of a hood
intended to grace the head of Geertje Pool Vander Sijde’s second baby.
She had difficulty in keeping her rough fingers from catching on the
soft surface of the satin. Manual work, water, sun, and wind had tanned
those hands, hardened them, enlarged the knuckles, spread them,
roughened them. Yet how sure they were, and strong, and cool and
reliable—and tender. Suddenly, looking at them, Dirk said, “Now your
hands. I love your hands, Mother.”

She put down her work hastily, yet quietly, so that the sudden rush of
happy grateful tears in her eyes should not sully the pink satin ribbon.
She was flushed, like a girl. “Do you, Sobig?” she said.

After a moment she took up her sewing again. Her face looked young,
eager, fresh, like the face of the girl who had found cabbages so
beautiful that night when she bounced along the rutty Halsted road with
Klaas Pool, many years ago. It came into her face, that look, when she
was happy, exhilarated, excited. That was why those who loved her and
brought that look into her face thought her beautiful, while those who
did not love her never saw the look and consequently considered her a
plain woman.

There was another silence between the two. Then: “Mother, what would you
think of my going East next fall, to take a course in architecture?”

“Would you like that, Dirk?”

“Yes, I think so—yes.”

“Then I’d like it better than anything in the world. I—it makes me
happy just to think of it.”

“It would—cost an awful lot.”

“I’ll manage. I’ll manage. . . . What made you decide on architecture?”

“I don’t know, exactly. The new buildings at the university—Gothic, you
know—are such a contrast to the old. Then Paula and I were talking the
other day. She hates their house on Prairie—terrible old lumpy gray
stone pile, with the black of the I. C. trains all over it. She wants
her father to build north—an Italian villa or French château. Something
of that sort. So many of her friends are moving to the north shore, away
from these hideous south-side and north-side Chicago houses with their
stoops, and their bay windows, and their terrible turrets. Ugh!”

“Well, now, do you know,” Selina remonstrated mildly, “I like ’em. I
suppose I’m wrong, but to me they seem sort of natural and solid and
unpretentious, like the clothes that old August Hempel wears, so
squarecut and baggy. Those houses look dignified to me, and fitting.
They may be ugly—probably are—but anyway they’re not ridiculous. They
have a certain rugged grandeur. They’re Chicago. Those French and
Italian gimcracky things they—they’re incongruous. It’s as if Abraham
Lincoln were to appear suddenly in pink satin knee breeches and buckled
shoes, and lace ruffles at his wrists.”

Dirk could laugh at that picture. But he protested, too. “But there’s no
native architecture, so what’s to be done! You wouldn’t call those
smoke-blackened old stone and brick piles with their iron fences and
their conservatories and cupolas and gingerbread exactly native, would
you?”

“No,” Selina admitted, “but those Italian villas and French châteaux in
north Chicago suburbs are a good deal like a lace evening gown in the
Arizona desert. It wouldn’t keep you cool in the daytime, and it
wouldn’t be warm enough at night. I suppose a native architecture is
evolved from building for the local climate and the needs of the
community, keeping beauty in mind as you go. We don’t need turrets and
towers any more than we need draw-bridges and moats. It’s all right to
keep them, I suppose, where they grew up, in a country where the feudal
system meant that any day your next-door neighbour might take it into
his head to call his gang around him and sneak up to steal your wife and
tapestries and gold drinking cups.”

Dirk was interested and amused. Talks with his mother were likely to
affect him thus. “What’s your idea of a real Chicago house, Mother?”

Selina answered quickly, as if she had thought often about it; as if she
would have liked just such a dwelling on the site of the old DeJong
farmhouse in which they now were seated so comfortably. “Well, it would
need big porches for the hot days and nights so’s to catch the
prevailing southwest winds from the prairies in the summer—a porch that
would be swung clear around to the east, too—or a terrace or another
porch east so that if the precious old lake breeze should come up just
when you think you’re dying of the heat, as it sometimes does, you could
catch that, too. It ought to be built—the house, I mean—rather
squarish and tight and solid against our cold winters and north-easters.
Then sleeping porches, of course. There’s a grand American institution
for you! England may have its afternoon tea on the terrace, and Spain
may have its patio, and France its courtyard, and Italy its pergola,
vine-covered; but America’s got the sleeping porch—the screened-in
open-air sleeping porch, and I shouldn’t wonder if the man who first
thought of that would get precedence, on Judgment Day, over the men who
invented the aeroplane, the talking machine, and the telephone. After
all, he had nothing in mind but the health of the human race.” After
which grand period Selina grinned at Dirk, and Dirk grinned at Selina
and the two giggled together there by the fireplace, companionably.

“Mother, you’re simply wonderful!—only your native Chicago dwelling
seems to be mostly porch.”

Selina waved such carping criticism away with a careless hand. “Oh,
well, any house that has enough porches, and two or three bathrooms and
at least eight closets can be lived in comfortably, no matter what else
it has or hasn’t got.”

Next day they were more serious. The eastern college and the
architectural career seemed to be settled things. Selina was content,
happy. Dirk was troubled about the expense. He spoke of it at breakfast
next morning (Dirk’s breakfast; his mother had had hers hours before and
now as he drank his coffee, was sitting with him a moment and glancing
at the paper that had come in the rural mail delivery). She had been out
in the fields overseeing the transplanting of young tomato seedlings
from hotbed to field. She wore an old gray sweater buttoned up tight,
for the air was still sharp. On her head was a battered black felt soft
hat (an old one of Dirk’s) much like the one she had worn to the
Haymarket that day ten years ago. Selina’s cheeks were faintly pink from
her walk across the fields in the brisk morning air.

She sniffed. “That coffee smells wonderful. I think I’ll just——” She
poured herself a half cup with the air of virtue worn by one who really
longs for a whole cup and doesn’t take it.

“I’ve been thinking,” he began, “the expense——”

“Pigs,” said Selina, serenely.

“Pigs!” He looked around, bewildered; stared at his mother.

“Pigs’ll do it,” Selina explained, calmly. “I’ve been wanting to put
them in for three or four years. It’s August Hempel’s idea. Hogs, I
should have said.”

Again, as before, he echoed, “Hogs!” rather faintly.

“High-bred hogs. They’re worth their weight in silver this minute, and
will be for years to come. I won’t go in for them extensively. Just
enough to make an architect out of Mr. Dirk DeJong.” Then, at the
expression in his face: “Don’t look so pained, son. There’s nothing
revolting about a hog—not my kind, brought up in a pen as sanitary as a
tiled bathroom and fed on corn. He’s a handsome, impressive-looking
animal, the hog, when he isn’t treated like one.”

He looked dejected. “I’d rather not go to school on—hogs.”

She took off the felt hat and tossed it over to the old couch by the
window; smoothed her hair back with the flat of her palm. You saw that
the soft dark hair was liberally sprinkled with gray now, but the eyes
were bright and clear as ever.

“You know, Sobig, this is what they call a paying farm—as vegetable
farms go. We’re out of debt, the land’s in good shape, the crop promises
well if we don’t have another rainy cold spring like last year’s. But no
truck garden is going to make its owner rich these days, with labour so
high and the market what it is, and the expense of hauling and all. Any
truck farmer who comes out even thinks he’s come out ahead.”

“I know it.” Rather miserably.

“Well. I’m not complaining, son. I’m just telling you. I’m having a
grand time. When I see the asparagus plantation actually yielding, that
I planted ten years ago, I’m as happy as if I’d stumbled on a gold mine.
I think, sometimes, of the way your father objected to my planting the
first one. April, like this, in the country, with everything coming up
green and new in the rich black loam—I can’t tell you. And when I know
that it goes to market as food—the best kind of food, that keeps
people’s bodies clean and clear and flexible and strong! I like to think
of babies’ mothers saying: ‘Now eat your spinach, every scrap, or you
can’t have any dessert! . . . Carrots make your eyes bright. . . .
Finish your potato. Potatoes make you strong!’”

Selina laughed, flushed a little.

“Yes, but how about hogs? Do you feel that way about hogs?”

“Certainly!” said Selina, briskly. She pushed toward him a little
blue-and-white platter that lay on the white cloth near her elbow. “Have
a bit more bacon, Dirk. One of these nice curly slivers that are so
crisp.”

“I’ve finished my breakfast, Mother.” He rose.

The following autumn saw him a student of architecture at Cornell. He
worked hard, studied even during his vacations. He would come home to
the heat and humidity of the Illinois summers and spend hours each day
in his own room that he had fitted up with a long work table and a
drawing board. His T-square was at hand; two triangles—a 45 and a 60;
his compass; a pair of dividers. Selina sometimes stood behind him
watching him as he carefully worked on the tracing paper. His contempt
for the local architecture was now complete. Especially did he hold
forth on the subject of the apartment-houses that were mushrooming on
every street in Chicago from Hyde Park on the south to Evanston on the
north. Chicago was very elegant in speaking of these; never called them
“flats”; always apartments. In front of each of these (there were
usually six to a building), was stuck a little glass-enclosed cubicle
known as a sun-parlour. In these (sometimes you heard them spoken of,
grandly, as solariums) Chicago dwellers took refuge from the leaden
skies, the heavy lake atmosphere, the gray mist and fog and smoke that
so frequently swathed the city in gloom. They were done in yellow or
rose cretonnes. Silk lamp shades glowed therein, and flower-laden boxes.
In these frank little boxes Chicago read its paper, sewed, played
bridge, even ate its breakfast. It never pulled down the shades.

“Terrible!” Dirk fumed. “Not only are they hideous in themselves, stuck
on the front of those houses like three pairs of spectacles; but the
lack of decent privacy! They do everything but bathe in ’em. Have they
never heard the advice given people who live in glass houses!”

By his junior year he was talking in a large way about the Beaux Arts.
But Selina did not laugh at this. “Perhaps,” she thought. “Who can tell!
After a year or two in an office here, why not another year of study in
Paris if he needs it.”

Though it was her busiest time on the farm Selina went to Ithaca for his
graduation in 1913. He was twenty-two and, she was calmly sure, the
best-looking man in his class. Undeniably he was a figure to please the
eye; tall, well-built, as his father had been, and blond, too, like his
father, except for his eyes. These were brown—not so dark as Selina’s,
but with some of the soft liquid quality of her glance. They
strengthened his face, somehow; gave him an ardent look of which he was
not conscious. Women, feeling the ardour of that dark glance turned upon
them, were likely to credit him with feelings toward themselves of which
he was quite innocent. They did not know that the glance and its effect
were mere matters of pigmentation and eye-conformation. Then, too, the
gaze of a man who talks little is always more effective than that of one
who is loquacious.

Selina, in her black silk dress, and her plain black hat, and her
sensible shoes was rather a quaint little figure amongst all those
vivacious, bevoiled, and beribboned mammas. But a distinctive little
figure, too. Dirk need not be ashamed of her. She eyed the rather
paunchy, prosperous, middle-aged fathers and thought, with a pang, how
much handsomer Pervus would have been than any of these, if only he
could have lived to see this day. Then, involuntarily, she wondered if
this day would ever have occurred, had Pervus lived. Chided herself for
thinking thus.

When he returned to Chicago, Dirk went into the office of Hollis &
Sprague, Architects. He thought himself lucky to work with this firm,
for it was doing much to guide Chicago’s taste in architecture away from
the box car. Already Michigan Boulevard’s skyline soared somewhat above
the grimly horizontal. But his work there was little more than that of
draughtsman, and his weekly stipend could hardly be dignified by the
term of salary. But he had large ideas about architecture and he found
expression for his suppressed feelings on his week-ends spent with
Selina at the farm. “Baroque” was the word with which he dismissed the
new Beachside Hotel, north. He said the new Lincoln Park band-stand
looked like an igloo. He said that the city council ought to order the
Potter Palmer mansion destroyed as a blot on the landscape, and waxed
profane on the subject of the east face of the Public Library Building,
down town.

“Never mind,” Selina assured him, happily. “It was all thrown up so
hastily. Remember that just yesterday, or the day before, Chicago was an
Indian fort, with tepees where towers are now, and mud wallows in place
of asphalt. Beauty needs time to perfect it. Perhaps we’ve been waiting
all these years for just such youngsters as you. And maybe some day I’ll
be driving down Michigan Boulevard with a distinguished visitor—Roelf
Pool, perhaps. Why not? Let’s say Roelf Pool, the famous sculptor. And
he’ll say, ‘Who designed that building—the one that is so strong and
yet so light? So gay and graceful, and yet so reticent!’ And I’ll say,
‘Oh, that! That’s one of the earlier efforts of my son, Dirk DeJong.’”

But Dirk pulled at his pipe moodily; shook his head. “Oh, you don’t
know, Mother. It’s so damned slow. First thing you know I’ll be thirty.
And what am I! An office boy—or little more than that—at Hollis’s.”

During his university years Dirk had seen much of the Arnolds, Eugene
and Paula, but it sometimes seemed to Selina that he avoided these
meetings—these parties and week-ends. She was content that this should
be so, for she guessed that the matter of money held him back. She
thought it was well that he should realize the difference now. Eugene
had his own car—one of five in the Arnold garage. Paula, too, had hers.
She had been one of the first Chicago girls to drive a gas car; had
breezed about Chicago’s boulevards in one when she had been little more
than a child in short skirts. At the wheel she was dexterous,
dare-devil, incredibly relaxed. Her fascination for Dirk was strong.
Selina knew that, too. In the last year or two he had talked very little
of Paula and that, Selina knew, meant that he was hard hit.

Sometimes Paula and Eugene drove out to the farm, making the distance
from their new north-shore house to the DeJong place far south in some
breath-taking number of minutes. Eugene would appear in rakish cap,
loose London coat, knickers, queer brogans with an English look about
them, a carefully careless looseness about the hang and fit of his
jacket. Paula did not affect sports clothes for herself. She was not the
type, she said. Slim, dark, vivacious, she wore slinky clothes—crêpes,
chiffons. Her feet were slim in sheer silk stockings and slippers with
buckles. Her eyes were languorous, lovely. She worshipped luxury and
said so.

“I’ll have to marry money,” she declared. “Now that they’ve finished
calling poor Grandpa a beef-baron and taken I don’t know how many
millions away from him, we’re practically on the streets.”

“You look it!” from Dirk; and there was bitterness beneath his light
tone.

“Well, it’s true. All this silly muckraking in the past ten years or
more. Poor Father! Of course Grand-dad was pur-ty rough, let me tell
you. I read some of the accounts of that last indictment—the 1910
one—and I must say I gathered that dear old Aug made Jesse James look
like a philanthropist. I should think, at his age, he’d be a little
scared. After all, when you’re over seventy you’re likely to have some
doubts and fears about punishment in the next world. But not a grand old
pirate like Grandfather. He’ll sack and burn and plunder until he goes
down with the ship. And it looks to me as if the old boat had a pretty
strong list to starboard right now. Father says himself that unless a
war breaks, or something, which isn’t at all likely, the packing
industry is going to spring a leak.”

“Elaborate figure of speech,” murmured Eugene. The four of them—Paula,
Dirk, Eugene, and Selina—, were sitting on the wide screened porch that
Selina had had built at the southwest corner of the house. Paula was, of
course, in the couch-swing. Occasionally she touched one slim languid
foot to the floor and gave indolent impetus to the couch.

“It is, rather, isn’t it? Might as well finish it, then. Darling Aug’s
been the grand old captain right through the vi’age. Dad’s never been
more than a pretty bum second mate. And as for you, Gene my love, cabin
boy would be, y’understand me, big.” Eugene had gone into the business a
year before.

“What can you expect,” retorted Eugene, “of a lad that hates salt pork?
And every other kind of pig meat?” He despised the yards and all that
went with it.

Selina now got up and walked to the end of the porch. She looked out
across the fields, shading her eyes with her hand. “There’s Adam coming
in with the last load for the day. He’ll be driving into town now.
Cornelius started an hour ago.” The DeJong farm sent two great loads to
the city now. Selina was contemplating the purchase of one of the large
automobile trucks that would do away with the plodding horses and save
hours of time on the trip. She went down the steps now on her way to
oversee the loading of Adam Bras’s wagon. At the bottom of the steps she
turned. “Why can’t you two stay to supper? You can quarrel comfortably
right through the meal and drive home in the cool of the evening.”

“I’ll stay,” said Paula, “thanks. If you’ll have all kinds of
vegetables, cooked and uncooked. The cooked ones smothered in cream and
oozing butter. And let me go out into the fields and pick ’em myself
like Maud Muller or Marie Antoinette or any of those make-believe rustic
gals.”

In her French-heeled slippers and her filmy silk stockings she went out
into the rich black furrows of the fields, Dirk carrying the basket.

“Asparagus,” she ordered first. Then, “But where is it? Is _that_ it!”

“You dig for it, idiot,” said Dirk, stooping, and taking from his basket
the queerly curved sharp knife or spud used for cutting the asparagus
shoots. “Cut the shoots three or four inches below the surface.”

“Oh, let me do it!” She was down on her silken knees in the dirt, ruined
a goodly patch of the fine tender shoots, gave it up and sat watching
Dirk’s expert manipulation of the knife. “Let’s have radishes, and corn,
and tomatoes and lettuce and peas and artichokes and——”

“Artichokes grow in California, not Illinois.” He was more than usually
uncommunicative, and noticeably moody.

Paula remarked it. “Why the Othello brow?”

“You didn’t mean that rot, did you? about marrying a rich man.”

“Of course I meant it. What other sort of man do you think I ought to
marry?” He looked at her, silently. She smiled. “Yes, wouldn’t I make an
ideal bride for a farmer!”

“I’m not a farmer.”

“Well, architect then. Your job as draughtsman at Hollis & Sprague’s
must pay you all of twenty-five a week.”

“Thirty-five,” said Dirk, grimly. “What’s that got to do with it!”

“Not a thing, darling.” She stuck out one foot. “These slippers cost
thirty.”

“I won’t be getting thirty-five a week all my life. You’ve got brains
enough to know that. Eugene wouldn’t be getting that much if he weren’t
the son of his father.”

“The grandson of his grandfather,” Paula corrected him. “And I’m not so
sure he wouldn’t. Gene’s a born mechanic if they’d just let him work at
it. He’s crazy about engines and all that junk. But no—‘Millionaire
Packer’s Son Learns Business from Bottom Rung of Ladder.’ Picture of
Gene in workman’s overalls and cap in the Sunday papers. He drives to
the office on Michigan at ten and leaves at four and he doesn’t know a
steer from a cow when he sees it.”

“I don’t care a damn about Gene. I’m talking about you. You were joking,
weren’t you?”

“I wasn’t. I’d hate being poor, or even just moderately rich. I’m used
to money—loads of it. I’m twenty-four. And I’m looking around.”

He kicked an innocent beet-top with his boot. “You like me better than
any man you know.”

“Of course I do. Just my luck.”

“Well, then!”

“Well, then, let’s take these weggibles in and have ’em cooked in cream,
as ordered.”

She made a pretense of lifting the heavy basket. Dirk snatched it
roughly out of her hand so that she gave a little cry and looked
ruefully down at the red mark on her palm. He caught her by the
shoulder—even shook her a little. “Look here, Paula. Do you mean to
tell me you’d marry a man simply because he happened to have a lot of
money!”

“Perhaps not simply because he had a lot of money. But it certainly
would be a factor, among other things. Certainly he would be preferable
to a man who knocked me about the fields as if I were a bag of
potatoes.”

“Oh, forgive me. But—listen, Paula—you know I’m—gosh!—— And there I
am stuck in an architect’s office and it’ll be years before I——”

“Yes, but it’ll probably be years before I meet the millions I require,
too. So why bother? And even if I do, you and I can be just as good
friends.”

“Oh, shut up. Don’t pull that ingénue stuff on me, please. Remember I’ve
known you since you were ten years old.”

“And you know just how black my heart is, don’t you, what? You want,
really, some nice hearty lass who can tell asparagus from peas when she
sees ’em, and who’ll offer to race you from here to the kitchen.”

“God forbid!”

Six months later Paula Arnold was married to Theodore A. Storm, a man of
fifty, a friend of her father’s, head of so many companies, stockholder
in so many banks, director of so many corporations that even old Aug
Hempel seemed a recluse from business in comparison. She never called
him Teddy. No one ever did. Theodore Storm was a large man—not exactly
stout, perhaps, but flabby. His inches saved him from grossness. He had
a large white serious face, fine thick dark hair, graying at the
temples, and he dressed very well except for a leaning toward rather
effeminate ties. He built for Paula a town house on the Lake Shore drive
in the region known as the Gold Coast. The house looked like a
restrained public library. There was a country place beyond Lake Forest
far out on the north shore, sloping down to the lake and surrounded by
acres and acres of fine woodland, expertly parked. There were drives,
ravines, brooks, bridges, hothouses, stables, a race-track, gardens,
dairies, fountains, bosky paths, keeper’s cottage (twice the size of
Selina’s farmhouse). Within three years Paula had two children, a boy
and a girl. “There! That’s done,” she said. Her marriage was a great
mistake and she knew it. For the war, coming in 1914, a few months after
her wedding, sent the Hempel-Arnold interests sky-rocketing. Millions of
pounds of American beef and pork were shipped to Europe. In two years
the Hempel fortune was greater than it ever had been. Paula was up to
her eyes in relief work for Bleeding Belgium. All the Gold Coast was.
The Beautiful Mrs. Theodore A. Storm in her Gift Shop Conducted for the
Relief of Bleeding Belgium.

Dirk had not seen her in months. She telephoned him unexpectedly one
Friday afternoon in his office at Hollis & Sprague’s.

“Come out and spend Saturday and Sunday with us, won’t you? We’re
running away to the country this afternoon. I’m so sick of Bleeding
Belgium, you can’t imagine. I’m sending the children out this morning. I
can’t get away so early. I’ll call for you in the roadster this
afternoon at four and drive you out myself.”

“I am going to spend the week-end with Mother. She’s expecting me.”

“Bring her along.”

“She wouldn’t come. You know she doesn’t enjoy all that velvet-footed
servitor stuff.”

“Oh, but we live quite simply out there, really. Just sort of rough it.
Do come, Dirk. I’ve got some plans to talk over with you . . . How’s the
job?”

“Oh, good enough. There’s very little building going on, you know.”

“Will you come?”

“I don’t think I——”

“I’ll call for you at four. I’ll be at the curb. Don’t keep me waiting,
will you? The cops fuss so if you park in the Loop after four.”



                                   XV


“Run along!” said Selina, when he called her on the farm telephone.
“It’ll do you good. You’ve been as grumpy as a gander for weeks. How
about shirts? And you left one pair of flannel tennis pants out here
last fall—clean ones. Won’t you need . . .”

In town he lived in a large front room and alcove on the third floor of
a handsome old-fashioned three-story-and-basement house in Deming Place.
He used the front room as a living room, the alcove as a bedroom. He and
Selina had furnished it together, discarding all of the room’s original
belongings except the bed, a table, and one fat comfortable faded old
armchair whose brocade surface hinted a past grandeur. When he had got
his books ranged in open shelves along one wall, soft-shaded lamps on
table and desk, the place looked more than livable; lived in. During the
process of furnishing Selina got into the way of coming into town for a
day or two to prowl the auction rooms and the second-hand stores. She
had a genius for this sort of thing; hated the spick-and-span varnish
and veneer of the new furniture to be got in the regular way.

“Any piece of furniture, I don’t care how beautiful it is, has got to be
lived with, and kicked about, and rubbed down, and mistreated by
servants, and repolished, and knocked around and dusted and sat on or
slept in or eaten off of before it develops its real character,” Selina
said. “A good deal like human beings. I’d rather have my old maple
table, mellow with age and rubbing, that Pervus’s father put together
himself by hand seventy years ago, than all the mahogany library slabs
on Wabash Avenue.”

She enjoyed these rare trips into town; made a holiday of them. Dirk
would take her to the theatre and she would sit entranced. Her feeling
for this form of entertainment was as fresh and eager as it had been in
the days of the Daly Stock Company when she, a little girl, had been
seated in the parquet with her father, Simeon Peake. Strangely enough,
considering the lack of what the world calls romance and adventure in
her life, she did not like the motion pictures. “All the difference in
the world,” she would say, “between the movies and the thrill I get out
of a play at the theatre. My, yes! Like fooling with paper dolls when
you could be playing with a real live baby.”

She developed a mania for nosing into strange corners of the huge
sprawling city; seemed to discover a fresh wonder on each visit. In a
short time she was more familiar with Chicago than was Dirk—for that
matter, than old Aug Hempel who had lived in it for over half a century
but who never had gone far afield in his pendulum path between the yards
and his house, his house and the yards.

The things that excited her about Chicago did not seem to interest Dirk
at all. Sometimes she took a vacant room for a day or two in Dirk’s
boarding house. “What do you think!” she would say to him, breathlessly,
when he returned from the office in the evening. “I’ve been way over on
the northwest side. It’s another world. It’s—it’s Poland. Cathedrals
and shops and men sitting in restaurants all day long reading papers and
drinking coffee and playing dominoes or something like it. And what do
you think I found out! Chicago’s got the second largest Polish
population of any city in the world. In the _world_!”

“Yeh?” Dirk would reply, absently.

There was nothing absent-minded about his tone this afternoon as he
talked to his mother on the telephone. “Sure you don’t mind? Then I’ll
be out next Saturday. Or I may run out in the middle of the week to stay
over night . . . Are you all right?”

“I’m fine. Be sure and remember all about Paula’s new house so’s you can
tell me about it. Julie says it’s like the kind you read of in the
novels. She says old Aug saw it just once and now won’t go near it even
to visit his grandchildren.”

The day was marvellously mild for March in Chicago. Spring, usually so
coy in this region, had flung herself at them head first. As the massive
revolving door of Dirk’s office building fanned him into the street he
saw Paula in her long low sporting roadster at the curb. She was dressed
in black. All feminine fashionable and middle-class Chicago was dressed
in black. All feminine fashionable and middle-class America was dressed
in black. Two years of war had robbed Paris of its husbands, brothers,
sons. All Paris walked in black. America, untouched, gayly borrowed the
smart habiliments of mourning and now Michigan Boulevard and Fifth
Avenue walked demurely in the gloom of crêpe and chiffon; black hats,
black gloves, black slippers. Only black was “good” this year.

Paula did not wear black well. She was a shade too sallow for these
sombre swathings even though relieved by a pearl strand of exquisite
colour, flawlessly matched; and a new sly face-powder. Paula smiled up
at him, patted the leather seat beside her with one hand that was
absurdly thick-fingered in its fur-lined glove.

“It’s cold driving. Button up tight. Where’ll we stop for your bag? Are
you still in Deming Place?”

He was still in Deming Place. He climbed into the seat beside her—a
feat for the young and nimble. Theodore Storm never tried to double his
bulk into the jack-knife position necessary to riding in his wife’s
roadster. The car was built for speed, not comfort. One sat flat with
the length of one’s legs stretched out. Paula’s feet, pedalling brake
and clutch so expertly, were inadequately clothed in sheer black silk
stockings and slim buckled patent-leather slippers.

“You’re not dressed warmly enough,” her husband would have said. “Those
shoes are idiotic for driving.” And he would have been right.

Dirk said nothing.

Her manipulation of the wheel was witchcraft. The roadster slid in and
out of traffic like a fluid thing, an enamel stream, silent as a swift
current in a river. “Can’t let her out here,” said Paula. “Wait till we
get past Lincoln Park. Do you suppose they’ll ever really get rid of
this terrible Rush Street bridge?” When his house was reached, “I’m
coming up,” she said. “I suppose you haven’t any tea?”

“Gosh, no! What do you think I am! A young man in an English novel!”

“Now, don’t be provincial and Chicago-ish, Dirk.” They climbed the three
flights of stairs. She looked about. Her glance was not disapproving.
“This isn’t so bad. Who did it? She did! Very nice. But of course you
ought to have your own smart little apartment, with a Jap to do you up.
To do that for you, for example.”

“Yes,” grimly. He was packing his bag—not throwing clothes into it, but
folding them deftly, neatly, as the son of a wise mother packs. “My
salary’d just about keep him in white linen house-coats.”

She was walking about the living room, picking up a book, putting it
down, fingering an ash tray, gazing out of the window, examining a
photograph, smoking a cigarette from the box on his table. Restless,
nervously alive, catlike. “I’m going to send you some things for your
room, Dirk.”

“For God’s sake don’t!”

“Why not?”

“Two kinds of women in the world. I learned that at college. Those who
send men things for their rooms and those that don’t.”

“You’re very rude.”

“You asked me. There! I’m all set.” He snapped the lock of his bag. “I’m
sorry I can’t give you anything. I haven’t a thing. Not even a glass of
wine and a—what is it they say in books?—oh, yeh—a biscuit.”

In the roadster again they slid smoothly out along the drive, along
Sheridan Road, swung sharply around the cemetery curve into Evanston,
past the smug middle-class suburban neatness of Wilmette and Winnetka.
She negotiated expertly the nerve-racking curves of the Hubbard Woods
hills, then maintained a fierce and steady speed for the remainder of
the drive.

“We call the place Stormwood,” Paula told him. “And nobody outside the
dear family knows how fitting that is. Don’t scowl. I’m not going to
tell you my marital woes. And don’t you say I asked for it. . . . How’s
the job?”

“Rotten.”

“You don’t like it? The work?”

“I like it well enough, only—well, you see we leave the university
architectural course thinking we’re all going to be Stanford Whites or
Cass Gilberts, tossing off a Woolworth building and making ourselves
famous overnight. I’ve spent all yesterday and to-day planning how to
work in space for toilets on every floor of the new office building, six
stories high and shaped like a drygoods box, that’s going up on the
corner of Milwaukee Avenue and Ashland, west.”

“And ten years from now?”

“Ten years from now maybe they’ll let me do the plans for the drygoods
box all alone.”

“Why don’t you drop it?”

He was startled. “Drop it! How do you mean?”

“Chuck it. Do something that will bring you quick results. This isn’t an
age of waiting. Suppose, twenty years from now, you do plan a grand
Gothic office building to grace this new and glorified Michigan
Boulevard they’re always shouting about! You’ll be a middle-aged man
living in a middle-class house in a middle-class suburb with a
middle-class wife.”

“Maybe”—slightly nettled. “And maybe I’ll be the Sir Christopher Wren
of Chicago.”

“Who’s he?”

“Good G——, how often have you been in London?”

“Three times.”

“Next time you find yourself there you might cast your eye over a very
nice little structure called St. Paul’s Cathedral. I’ve never seen it
but it has been very well spoken of.”

They turned in at the gates of Stormwood. Though the trees and bushes
were gaunt and bare the grass already showed stretches of vivid green.
In the fading light one caught glimpses through the shrubbery of the
lake beyond. It was a dazzling sapphire blue in the sunset. A final turn
of the drive. An avenue of trees. A house, massive, pillared, porticoed.
The door opened as they drew up at the entrance. A maid in cap and apron
stood in the doorway. A man appeared at the side of the car, coming
seemingly from nowhere, greeted Paula civilly and drove the car off. The
glow of an open fire in the hall welcomed them. “He’ll bring up your
bag,” said Paula. “How’re the babies, Anna? Has Mr. Storm got here?”

“He telephoned, Mrs. Storm. He says he won’t be out till late—maybe ten
or after. Anyway, you’re not to wait dinner.”

Paula, from being the limp, expert, fearless driver of the high-powered
roadster was now suddenly very much the mistress of the house, quietly
observant, giving an order with a lift of the eyebrow or a nod of the
head. Would Dirk like to go to his room at once? Perhaps he’d like to
look at the babies before they went to sleep for the night, though the
nurse would probably throw him out. One of those stern British females.
Dinner at seven-thirty. He needn’t dress. Just as he liked. Everything
was very informal here. They roughed it. (Dirk had counted thirteen
servants by noon next day and hadn’t been near the kitchen, laundry, or
dairy.)

His room, when he reached it, he thought pretty awful. A great square
chamber with narrow leaded windows, deep-set, on either side. From one
he could get a glimpse of the lake, but only a glimpse. Evidently the
family bedrooms were the lake rooms. In the DeJong code and class the
guest had the best but evidently among these moneyed ones the family had
the best and the guest was made comfortable, but was not pampered. It
was a new angle for Dirk. He thought it startling but rather sensible.
His bag had been brought up, unpacked, and stowed away in a closet
before he reached his room. “Have to tell that to Selina,” he thought,
grinning. He looked about the room, critically. It was done in a style
that he vaguely defined as French. It gave him the feeling that he had
stumbled accidentally into the chamber of a Récamier and couldn’t get
out. Rose brocade with gold net and cream lace and rosebuds. “Swell
place for a man,” he thought, and kicked a footstool—a _fauteuil_ he
supposed it was called, and was secretly glad that he could pronounce it
faultlessly. Long mirrors, silken hanging, cream walls. The bed was lace
hung. The coverlet was rose satin, feather-light. He explored his
bathroom. It actually was a room, much larger than his alcove bedroom on
Deming Place—as large as his own bedroom at home on the farm. The bath
was done dazzlingly in blue and white. The tub was enormous and as solid
as if the house had been built around it. There were towels and towels
and towels in blue and white, ranging in size all the way from tiny
embroidered wisps to fuzzy all-enveloping bath towels as big as a
carpet.

He was much impressed.

He decided to bathe and change into dinner clothes and was glad of this
when he found Paula in black chiffon before the fire in the great beamed
room she had called the library. Dirk thought she looked very beautiful
in that diaphanous stuff, with the pearls. Her heart-shaped face, with
its large eyes that slanted a little at the corners; her long slim
throat; her dark hair piled high and away from her little ears. He
decided not to mention it.

“You look extremely dangerous,” said Paula.

“I am,” replied Dirk, “but it’s hunger that brings this look of the
beast to my usually mild Dutch features. Also, why do you call this the
library?” Empty shelves gaped from the wall on all sides. The room was
meant to hold hundreds of volumes. Perhaps fifty or sixty in all now
leaned limply against each other or lay supine.

Paula laughed. “They do look sort of sparse, don’t they? Theodore bought
this place, you know, as is. We’ve books enough in town, of course. But
I don’t read much out here. And Theodore!—I don’t believe he ever in
his life read anything but detective stories and the newspapers.”

Dirk told himself that Paula had known her husband would not be home
until ten and had deliberately planned a tête-à-tête meal. He would not,
therefore, confess himself a little nettled when Paula said, “I’ve asked
the Emerys in for dinner; and we’ll have a game of bridge afterward.
Phil Emery, you know, the Third. He used to have it on his visiting
card, like royalty.”

The Emerys were drygoods; had been drygoods for sixty years; were
accounted Chicago aristocracy; preferred England; rode to hounds in pink
coats along Chicago’s prim and startled suburban prairies. They had a
vast estate on the lake near Stormwood. They arrived a trifle late. Dirk
had seen pictures of old Phillip Emery (“Phillip the First,” he thought,
with an inward grin) and decided, looking at the rather anæmic third
edition, that the stock was running a little thin. Mrs. Emery was
blonde, statuesque, and unmagnetic. In contrast Paula seemed to glow
like a sombre jewel. The dinner was delicious but surprisingly simple;
little more than Selina would have given him, Dirk thought, had he come
home to the farm this week-end. The talk was desultory and rather dull.
And this chap had millions, Dirk said to himself. Millions. No
scratching in an architect’s office for this lad. Mrs. Emery was
interested in the correct pronunciation of Chicago street names.

“It’s terrible,” she said. “I think there ought to be a Movement for the
proper pronunciation. The people ought to be taught; and the children in
the schools. They call Goethe Street ‘Gerty’; and pronounce all the s’s
in Des Plaines. Even Illinois they call ‘Illi_noise_.’” She was very
much in earnest. Her breast rose and fell. She ate her salad rapidly.
Dirk thought that large blondes oughn’t to get excited. It made their
faces red.

At bridge after dinner Phillip the Third proved to be sufficiently the
son of his father to win from Dirk more money than he could conveniently
afford to lose. Though Mrs. Phil had much to do with this, as Dirk’s
partner. Paula played with Emery, a bold shrewd game.

Theodore Storm came in at ten and stood watching them. When the guests
had left the three sat before the fire. “Something to drink?” Storm
asked Dirk. Dirk refused but Storm mixed a stiff highball for himself,
and then another. The whiskey brought no flush to his large white
impassive face. He talked almost not at all. Dirk, naturally silent, was
loquacious by comparison. But while there was nothing heavy, unvital
about Dirk’s silence this man’s was oppressive, irritating. His paunch,
his large white hands, his great white face gave the effect of bleached
bloodless bulk. “I don’t see how she stands him,” Dirk thought. Husband
and wife seemed to be on terms of polite friendliness. Storm excused
himself and took himself off with a word about being tired, and seeing
them in the morning.

After he had gone: “He likes you,” said Paula.

“Important,” said Dirk, “if true.”

“But it is important. He can help you a lot.”

“Help me how? I don’t want——”

“But I do. I want you to be successful. I want you to be. You can be.
You’ve got it written all over you. In the way you stand, and talk, and
don’t talk. In the way you look at people. In something in the way you
carry yourself. It’s what they call force, I suppose. Anyway, you’ve got
it.”

“Has your husband got it?”

“Theodore! No! That is——”

“There you are. I’ve got the force, but he’s got the money.”

“You can have both.” She was leaning forward. Her eyes were bright,
enormous. Her hands—those thin dark hot hands—were twisted in her lap.
He looked at her quietly. Suddenly there were tears in her eyes. “Don’t
look at me that way, Dirk.” She huddled back in her chair, limp. She
looked a little haggard and older, somehow. “My marriage is a mess, of
course. You can see that.”

“You knew it would be, didn’t you?”

“No. Yes. Oh, I don’t know. Anyway, what’s the difference, now? I’m not
trying to be what they call an Influence in your life. I’m just fond of
you—you know that—and I want you to be great and successful. It’s
maternal, I suppose.”

“I should think two babies would satisfy that urge.”

“Oh, I can’t get excited about two pink healthy lumps of babies. I love
them and all that, but all they need is to have a bottle stuffed into
their mouths at proper intervals and to be bathed, and dressed and aired
and slept. It’s a mechanical routine and about as exciting as a
treadmill. I can’t go round being maternal and beating my breast over
two nice firm lumps of flesh.”

“Just what do you want me to do, Paula?”

She was eager again, vitally concerned in him. “It’s all so ridiculous.
All these men whose incomes are thirty—forty—sixty—a hundred thousand
a year usually haven’t any qualities, really, that the
five-thousand-a-year man hasn’t. The doctor who sent Theodore a bill for
four thousand dollars when each of my babies was born didn’t do a thing
that a country doctor with a Ford wouldn’t do. But he knew he could get
it and he asked it. Somebody has to get the fifty-thousand-dollar
salaries—some advertising man, or bond salesman or—why, look at Phil
Emery! He probably couldn’t sell a yard of pink ribbon to a schoolgirl
if he had to. Look at Theodore! He just sits and blinks and says
nothing. But when the time comes he doubles up his fat white fist and
mumbles, ‘Ten million,’ or ‘Fifteen million,’ and that settles it.”

Dirk laughed to hide his own little mounting sensation of excitement.
“It isn’t quite as simple as that, I imagine. There’s more to it than
meets the eye.”

“There isn’t! I tell you I know the whole crowd of them. I’ve been
brought up with this moneyed pack all my life, haven’t I? Pork packers
and wheat grabbers and pedlers of gas and electric light and dry goods.
Grandfather’s the only one of the crowd that I respect. He has stayed
the same. They can’t fool him. He knows he just happened to go into
wholesale beef and pork when wholesale beef and pork was a new game in
Chicago. Now look at him!”

“Still, you will admit there’s something in knowing when,” he argued.

Paula stood up. “If you don’t know I’ll tell you. Now is when. I’ve got
Grandfather and Dad and Theodore to work with. You can go on being an
architect if you want to. It’s a fine enough profession. But unless
you’re a genius where’ll it get you! Go in with them, and Dirk, in five
years——”

“What!” They were both standing, facing each other, she tense, eager; he
relaxed but stimulated.

“Try it and see what, will you? Will you, Dirk?”

“I don’t know, Paula. I should say my mother wouldn’t think much of it.”

“What does she know! Oh, I don’t mean that she isn’t a fine, wonderful
person. She is. I love her. But success! She thinks success is another
acre of asparagus or cabbage; or a new stove in the kitchen now that
they’ve brought gas out as far as High Prairie.”

He had a feeling that she possessed him; that her hot eager hands held
him though they stood apart and eyed each other almost hostilely.

As he undressed that night in his rose and satin room he thought, “Now
what’s her game? What’s she up to? Be careful, Dirk, old boy.” On coming
into the room he had gone immediately to the long mirror and had looked
at himself carefully, searchingly, not knowing that Paula, in her room,
had done the same. He ran a hand over his close-shaved chin, looked at
the fit of his dinner coat. He wished he had had it made at Peter
Peel’s, the English tailor on Michigan Boulevard. But Peel was so damned
expensive. Perhaps next time . . .

As he lay in the soft bed with the satin coverlet over him he thought,
“Now what’s her lit-tle game!”

He awoke at eight, enormously hungry. He wondered, uneasily, just how he
was going to get his breakfast. She had said his breakfast would be
brought him in his room. He stretched luxuriously, sprang up, turned on
his bath water, bathed. When he emerged in dressing gown and slippers
his breakfast tray had been brought him mysteriously and its contents
lay appetizingly on a little portable table. There were flocks of small
covered dishes and a charming individual coffee service. The morning
papers, folded and virgin, lay next this. A little note from Paula:
“Would you like to take a walk at about half-past nine? Stroll down to
the stables. I want to show you my new horse.”

The distance from the house to the stables was actually quite a brisk
little walk in itself. Paula, in riding clothes, was waiting for him.
She looked boyish and young standing beside the sturdy bulk of Pat, the
head stableman. She wore tan whipcord breeches, a coat of darker stuff,
a little round felt hat whose brim curved away from her face.

She greeted him. “I’ve been out two hours. Had my ride.”

“I hate people who tell you, first thing in the morning, that they’ve
been out two hours.”

“If that’s the kind of mood you’re in we won’t show him the horse, will
we, Pat?”

Pat thought they would. Pat showed him the new saddle mare as a mother
exhibits her latest offspring, tenderly, proudly. “Look at her back,”
said Pat. “That’s the way you tell a horse, sir. By the length of this
here line. Lookut it! There’s a picture for you, now!”

Paula looked up at Dirk. “You ride, don’t you?”

“I used to ride the old nags, bareback, on the farm.”

“You’ll have to learn. We’ll teach him, won’t we, Pat?”

Pat surveyed Dirk’s lean, flexible figure. “Easy.”

“Oh, say!” protested Dirk.

“Then I’ll have some one to ride with me. Theodore never rides. He never
takes any sort of exercise. Sits in that great fat car of his.”

They went into the coach house, a great airy whitewashed place with
glittering harness and spurs and bridles like jewels in glass cases.
There were ribbons, too, red and yellow and blue in a rack on the wall;
and trophy cups. The coach house gave Dirk a little hopeless feeling. He
had never before seen anything like it. In the first place, there were
no motors in it. He had forgotten that people rode in anything but
motors. A horse on Chicago’s boulevards raised a laugh. The sight of a
shining brougham with two sleek chestnuts driving down Michigan Avenue
would have set that street to staring and sniggering as a Roman chariot
drawn by zebras might have done. Yet here was such a brougham,
glittering, spotless. Here was a smart cream surrey with a
cream-coloured top hung with fringe. There were two-wheeled carts high
and slim and chic. A victoria. Two pony carts. One would have thought,
seeing this room, that the motor vehicle had never been invented. And
towering over all, dwarfing the rest, out-glittering them, stood a
tally-ho, a sheer piece of wanton insolence. It was in perfect order.
Its cushions were immaculate. Its sides shone. Its steps glistened.
Dirk, looking up at it, laughed outright. It seemed too splendid, too
absurd. With a sudden boyish impulse he swung himself up the three steps
that led to the box and perched himself on the fawn cushioned seat. He
looked very handsome there. “A coach and four—isn’t that what they call
it? Got any Roman juggernauts?”

“Do you want to drive it?” asked Paula. “This afternoon? Do you think
you can? Four horses, you know.” She laughed up at him, her dark face
upturned to his.

Dirk looked down at her. “No.” He climbed down. “I suppose that at about
the time they drove this hereabouts my father was taking the farm plugs
into the Haymarket.”

Something had annoyed him, she saw. Would he wait while she changed to
walking things? Or perhaps he’d rather drive in the roadster. They
walked up to the house together. He wished that she would not consult
his wishes so anxiously. It made him sulky, impatient.

She put a hand on his arm. “Dirk, are you annoyed at me for what I said
last night?”

“No.”

“What did you think when you went to your room last night? Tell me. What
did you think?”

“I thought: ‘She’s bored with her husband and she’s trying to vamp me.
I’ll have to be careful.’”

Paula laughed delightedly. “That’s nice and frank . . . What else?”

“I thought my coat didn’t fit very well and I wished I could afford to
have Peel make my next one.”

“You can,” said Paula.



                                  XVI


As it turned out, Dirk was spared the necessity of worrying about the
fit of his next dinner coat for the following year and a half. His coat,
during that period, was a neat olive drab as was that of some millions
of young men of his age, or thereabouts. He wore it very well, and with
the calm assurance of one who knows that his shoulders are broad, his
waist slim, his stomach flat, his flanks lean, and his legs straight.
Most of that time he spent at Fort Sheridan, first as an officer in
training, then as an officer training others to be officers. He was
excellent at this job. Influence put him there and kept him there even
after he began to chafe at the restraint. Fort Sheridan is a few miles
outside Chicago, north. No smart North Shore dinner was considered
complete without at least a major, a colonel, two captains, and a
sprinkling of first lieutenants. Their boots shone so delightfully while
dancing.

In the last six months of it (though he did not, of course, know that it
was to be the last six months) Dirk tried desperately to get to France.
He was suddenly sick of the neat job at home; of the dinners; of the
smug routine; of the olive-drab motor car that whisked him wherever he
wanted to go (he had a captaincy); of making them “snap into it”; of
Paula; of his mother, even. Two months before the war’s close he
succeeded in getting over; but Paris was his headquarters.

Between Dirk and his mother the first rift had appeared.

“If I were a man,” Selina said, “I’d make up my mind straight about this
war and then I’d do one of two things. I’d go into it the way Jan Snip
goes at forking the manure pile—a dirty job that’s got to be cleaned
up; or I’d refuse to do it altogether if I didn’t believe in it as a job
for me. I’d fight, or I’d be a conscientious objector. There’s nothing
in between for any one who isn’t old or crippled, or sick.”

Paula was aghast when she heard this. So was Julie whose wailings had
been loud when Eugene had gone into the air service. He was in France
now, thoroughly happy. “Do you mean,” demanded Paula, “that you actually
want Dirk to go over there and be wounded or killed!”

“No. If Dirk were killed my life would stop. I’d go on living, I
suppose, but my life would have stopped.”

They all were doing some share in the work to be done.

Selina had thought about her own place in this war welter. She had
wanted to do canteen work in France but had decided against this as
being selfish. “The thing for me to do,” she said, “is to go on raising
vegetables and hogs as fast as I can.” She supplied countless households
with free food while their men were gone. She herself worked like a man,
taking the place of the able-bodied helper who had been employed on her
farm.

Paula was lovely in her Red Cross uniform. She persuaded Dirk to go into
the Liberty Bond selling drive and he was unexpectedly effective in his
quiet, serious way; most convincing and undeniably thrilling to look at
in uniform. Paula’s little air of possession had grown until now it
enveloped him. She wasn’t playing now; was deeply and terribly in love
with him.

When, in 1918, Dirk took off his uniform he went into the bond
department of the Great Lakes Trust Company in which Theodore Storm had
a large interest. He said that the war had disillusioned him. It was a
word you often heard uttered as a reason or an excuse for abandoning the
normal. “Disillusioned.”

“What did you think war was going to do?” said Selina. “Purify! It never
has yet.”

It was understood, by Selina at least, that Dirk’s abandoning of his
profession was a temporary thing. Quick as she usually was to arrive at
conclusions, she did not realize until too late that this son of hers
had definitely deserted building for bonds; that the only structures he
would rear were her own castles in Spain. His first two months as a bond
salesman netted him more than a year’s salary at his old post at Hollis
& Sprague’s. When he told this to Selina, in triumph, she said, “Yes,
but there isn’t much fun in it, is there? This selling things on paper?
Now architecture, that must be thrilling. Next to writing a play and
seeing it acted by real people—seeing it actually come alive before
your eyes—architecture must be the next most fun. Putting a building
down on paper—little marks here, straight lines there, figures,
calculations, blueprints, measurements—and then, suddenly one day, the
actual building itself. Steel and stone and brick, with engines
throbbing inside it like a heart, and people flowing in and out. Part of
a city. A piece of actual beauty conceived by you! Oh, Dirk!” To see her
face then must have given him a pang, it was so alive, so eager.

He found excuses for himself. “Selling bonds that make that building
possible isn’t so dull, either.”

But she waved that aside almost contemptuously. “What nonsense, Dirk.
It’s like selling seats at the box office of a theatre for the play
inside.”

Dirk had made many new friends in the last year and a half. More than
that, he had acquired a new manner; an air of quiet authority, of
assurance. The profession of architecture was put definitely behind him.
There had been no building in all the months of the war; probably would
be none in years. Materials were prohibitive, labour exorbitant. He did
not say to Selina that he had put the other work from him. But after six
months in his new position he knew that he would never go back.

From the start he was a success. Within one year he was so successful
that you could hardly distinguish him from a hundred other successful
young Chicago business and professional men whose clothes were made at
Peel’s; who kept their collars miraculously clean in the soot-laden
atmosphere of the Loop; whose shoes were bench-made; who lunched at the
Noon Club on the roof of the First National Bank where Chicago’s
millionaires ate corned-beef hash whenever that plebeian dish appeared
on the bill of fare. He had had a little thrill out of his first meal at
this club whose membership was made up of the “big men” of the city’s
financial circle. Now he could even feel a little flicker of contempt
for them. He had known old Aug Hempel, of course, for years, as well as
Michael Arnold, and, later, Phillip Emery, Theodore Storm, and others.
But he had expected these men to be different.

Paula had said, “Theodore, why don’t you take Dirk up to the Noon Club
some day? There are a lot of big men he ought to meet.”

Dirk went in some trepidation. The great grilled elevator, as large as a
room, whisked them up to the roof of the fortress of gold. The club
lounge furnished his first disappointment. It looked like a Pullman
smoker. The chairs were upholstered in black leather or red plush. The
woodwork was shiny red imitation mahogany. The carpet was green. There
were bright shining brass cuspidors in the hall near the cigar counter.
The food was well cooked. Man’s food. Nine out of every ten of these men
possessed millions. Whenever corned beef and cabbage appeared on the
luncheon menu nine out of ten took it. These were not at all the
American Big Business Man of the comic papers and of fiction—that
yellow, nervous, dyspeptic creature who lunches off milk and pie. They
were divided into two definite types. The older men of between fifty and
sixty were great high-coloured fellows of full habit. Many of them had
had a physician’s warning of high blood pressure, hardening arteries,
overworked heart, rebellious kidneys. So now they waxed cautious, taking
time over their substantial lunches, smoking and talking. Their faces
were impassive, their eyes shrewd, hard. Their talk was colloquial and
frequently illiterate. They often said “was” for “were.” “Was you going
to see Baldwin about that South American stuff or is he going to ship it
through without?” Most of them had known little of play in their youth
and now they played ponderously and a little sadly and yet eagerly as
does one to whom the gift of leisure had come too late. On Saturday
afternoon you saw them in imported heather green golf stockings and
Scotch tweed suits making for the links or the lake. They ruined their
palates and livers with strong cigars, thinking cigarette smoking
undignified and pipes common. “Have a cigar!” was their greeting, their
password, their open sesame. “Have a cigar.” Only a few were so rich, so
assured as to smoke cheap light panatellas. Old Aug Hempel was one of
these. Dirk noticed that when he made one of his rare visits to the Noon
Club his entrance was met with a little stir, a deference. He was
nearing seventy-five now; was still straight, strong, zestful of life; a
magnificent old buccaneer among the pettier crew. His had been the
direct and brutal method—swish! swash! and his enemies walked the
plank. The younger men eyed him with a certain amusement and respect.

These younger men whose ages ranged from twenty-eight to forty-five were
disciples of the new system in business. They were graduates of
universities. They had known luxury all their lives. They were the
second or third generation. They used the word “psychology.” They
practised restraint. They knew the power of suggestion. Where old Aug
Hempel had flown the black flag they resorted to the periscope. Dirk
learned that these men did not talk business during meal time except
when they had met definitely for that purpose. They wasted a good deal
of time, Dirk thought, and often, when they were supposed to be “in
conference” or when their secretaries said primly that they were very
busy and not to be disturbed until three, they were dozing off for a
comfortable half hour in their private offices. They were the sons or
grandsons of those bearded, rugged, and rather terrible old boys who, in
1835 or 1840, had come out of County Limerick or County Kilkenny or out
of Scotland or the Rhineland to mold this new country in their strong
hairy hands; those hands whose work had made possible the symphony
orchestras, the yacht clubs, the golf clubs through which their
descendants now found amusement and relaxation.

Dirk listened to the talk of the Noon Club.

“I made it in eighty-six. That isn’t so bad for the Tippecanoe course.”

“. . . boxes are going pretty well but the Metropolitan grabs up all the
big ones and the house wants names. Garden doesn’t draw the way she used
to, even in Chicago. It’s the popular subscription that counts.”

“. . . grabbed the Century out of New York at two-forty-five and got
back here in time to try out my new horse in the park. She’s a little
nervous for city riding but we’re opening the house at Lake Forest next
week——”

“. . . pretty good show but they don’t send the original companies here,
that’s the trouble . . .”

“. . . in London. It’s a neat shade of green, isn’t it? You can’t get
ties like this over here, I don’t know why. Got a dozen last time I was
over. Yeh, Plumbridge in Bond Street.”

Well, Dirk could talk like that easily enough. He listened quietly,
nodded, smiled, agreed or disagreed. He looked about him carefully,
appraisingly. Waist lines well kept in; carefully tailored clothes;
shrewd wrinkles of experience radiating in fine sprays in the skin
around the corners of their eyes. The president of an advertising firm
lunching with a banker; a bond salesman talking to a rare book
collector; a packer seated at a small table with Horatio Craft, the
sculptor.

Two years and Dirk, too, had learned to “grab the Century” in order to
save an hour or so of time between Chicago and New York. Peel said it
was a pleasure to fit a coat to his broad, flat tapering back, and
trousers to his strong sturdy legs. His colour, inherited from his
red-cheeked Dutch ancestors brought up in the fresh sea-laden air of the
Holland flats, was fine and clear. Sometimes Selina, in pure sensuous
delight, passed her gnarled, work-worn hand over his shoulders and down
his fine, strong, straight back. He had been abroad twice. He learned to
call it “running over to Europe for a few days.” It had all come about
in a scant two years, as is the theatrical way in which life speeds in
America.

Selina was a little bewildered now at this new Dirk whose life was so
full without her. Sometimes she did not see him for two weeks, or three.
He sent her gifts which she smoothed and touched delightedly and put
away; fine soft silken things, hand-made—which she could not wear. The
habit of years was too strong upon her. Though she had always been a
woman of dainty habits and fastidious tastes the grind of her early
married life had left its indelible mark. Now, as she dressed, you might
have seen that her petticoat was likely to be black sateen and her
plain, durable corset cover neatly patched where it had worn under the
arms. She employed none of the artifices of a youth-mad day. Sun and
wind and rain and the cold and heat of the open prairie had wreaked
their vengeance on her flouting of them. Her skin was tanned,
weather-beaten; her hair rough and dry. Her eyes, in that frame,
startled you by their unexpectedness, they were so calm, so serene, yet
so alive. They were the beautiful eyes of a wise young girl in the face
of a middle-aged woman. Life was still so fresh to her.

She had almost poignantly few personal belongings. Her bureau drawers
were like a nun’s; her brush and comb, a scant stock of plain white
underwear. On the bathroom shelf her toothbrush, some vaseline, a box of
talcum powder. None of those aids to artifice with which the elderly
woman deludes herself into thinking that she is hoodwinking the world.
She wore well-made walking oxfords now, with sensible heels—the kind
known as Field’s special; plain shirtwaists and neat dark suits, or a
blue cloth dress. A middle-aged woman approaching elderliness; a woman
who walked and carried herself well; who looked at you with a glance
that was direct but never hard. That was all. Yet there was about her
something arresting, something compelling. You felt it.

“I don’t see how you do it!” Julie Arnold complained one day as Selina
was paying her one of her rare visits in town. “Your eyes are as bright
as a baby’s and mine look like dead oysters.” They were up in Julie’s
dressing room in the new house on the north side—the new house that was
now the old house. Julie’s dressing table was a bewildering thing.
Selina DeJong, in her neat black suit and her plain black hat, sat
regarding it and Julie seated before it, with a grim and lively
interest.

“It looks,” Selina said, “like Mandel’s toilette section, or a hospital
operating room just before a major operation.” There were great glass
jars that contained meal, white and gold. There were rows and rows of
cream pots holding massage cream, vanishing cream, cleansing cream.
There were little china bowls of scarlet and white and yellowish pastes.
A perforated container spouted a wisp of cotton. You saw toilet waters,
perfumes, atomizers, French soaps, unguents, tubes. It wasn’t a dressing
table merely, but a laboratory.

“This!” exclaimed Julie. “You ought to see Paula’s. Compared to her
toilette ceremony mine is just a splash at the kitchen sink.” She rubbed
cold cream now around her eyes with her two forefingers, using a
practised upward stroke.

“It looks fascinating,” Selina exclaimed. “Some day I’m going to try it.
There are so many things I’m going to try some day. So many things I’ve
never done that I’m going to do for the fun of it. Think of it, Julie!
I’ve never had a manicure! Some day I’m going to have one. I’ll tell the
girl to paint my nails a beautiful bright vermilion. And I’ll tip her
twenty-five cents. They’re so pretty with their bobbed hair and their
queer bright eyes. I s’pose you’ll think I’m crazy if I tell you they
make me feel young.”

Julie was massaging. Her eyes had an absent look. Suddenly: “Listen,
Selina. Dirk and Paula are together too much. People are talking.”

“Talking?” The smile faded from Selina’s face.

“Goodness knows I’m not strait-laced. You can’t be in this day and age.
If I had ever thought I’d live to see the time when—— Well, since the
war of course anything’s all right, seems. But Paula has no sense.
Everybody knows she’s insane about Dirk. That’s all right for Dirk, but
how about Paula! She won’t go anywhere unless he’s invited. Of course
Dirk is awfully popular. Goodness knows there are few enough young men
like him in Chicago—handsome and successful and polished and all. Most
of them dash off East just as soon as they can get their fathers to
establish an Eastern branch or something. . . . They’re together all the
time, everywhere. I asked her if she was going to divorce Storm and she
said no, she hadn’t enough money of her own and Dirk wasn’t earning
enough. His salary’s thousands, but she’s used to millions. Well!”

“They were boy and girl together,” Selina interrupted, feebly.

“They’re not any more. Don’t be silly, Selina. You’re not as young as
that.”

No, she was not as young as that. When Dirk next paid one of his rare
visits to the farm she called him into her bedroom—the cool, dim shabby
bedroom with the old black walnut bed in which she had lain as Pervus
DeJong’s bride more than thirty years ago. She had on a little knitted
jacket over her severe white nightgown. Her abundant hair was neatly
braided in two long plaits. She looked somehow girlish there in the dim
light, her great soft eyes gazing up at him.

“Dirk, sit down here at the side of my bed the way you used to.”

“I’m dead tired, Mother. Twenty-seven holes of golf before I came out.”

“I know. You ache all over—a nice kind of ache. I used to feel like
that when I’d worked in the fields all day, pulling vegetables, or
planting.” He was silent. She caught his hand. “You didn’t like that. My
saying that. I’m sorry. I didn’t say it to make you feel bad, dear.”

“I know you didn’t, Mother.”

“Dirk, do you know what that woman who writes the society news in the
Sunday _Tribune_ called you to-day?”

“No. What? I never read it.”

“She said you were one of the _jeunesse dorée_.”

Dirk grinned. “Gosh!”

“I remember enough of my French at Miss Fister’s school to know that
that means gilded youth.”

“Me! That’s good! I’m not even spangled.”

“Dirk!” her voice was low, vibrant. “Dirk, I don’t want you to be a
gilded youth, I don’t care how thick the gilding. Dirk, that isn’t what
I worked in the sun and cold for. I’m not reproaching you; I didn’t mind
the work. Forgive me for even mentioning it. But, Dirk, I don’t want my
son to be known as one of the _jeunesse dorée_. No! Not my son!”

“Now, listen, Mother. That’s foolish. If you’re going to talk like that.
Like a mother in a melodrama whose son’s gone wrong. . . . I work like a
dog. You know that. You get the wrong angle on things, stuck out here on
this little farm. Why don’t you come into town and take a little place
and sell the farm?”

“Live with you, you mean?” Pure mischievousness.

“Oh, no. You wouldn’t like that,” hastily. “Besides, I’d never be there.
At the office all day, and out somewhere in the evening.”

“When do you do your reading, Dirk?”

“Why—uh——”

She sat up in bed, looking down at the thin end of her braid as she
twined it round and round her finger. “Dirk, what is this you sell in
that mahogany office of yours? I never did get the hang of it.”

“Bonds, Mother. You know that perfectly well.”

“Bonds.” She considered this a moment. “Are they hard to sell? Who buys
them?”

“That depends. Everybody buys them—that is . . .”

“I don’t. I suppose because whenever I had any money it went back into
the farm for implements, or repairs, or seed, or stock, or improvements.
That’s always the way with a farmer—even on a little truck farm like
this.” She pondered again a moment. He fidgeted, yawned. “Dirk
DeJong—Bond Salesman.”

“The way you say it, Mother, it sounds like a low criminal pursuit.”

“Dirk, do you know sometimes I actually think that if you had stayed
here on the farm——”

“Good God, Mother! What for!”

“Oh, I don’t know. Time to dream. Time to—no, I suppose that isn’t true
any more. I suppose the day is past when the genius came from the farm.
Machinery has cut into his dreams. He used to sit for hours on the wagon
seat, the reins slack in his hands, while the horses plodded into town.
Now he whizzes by in a jitney. Patent binders, ploughs, reapers—he’s a
mechanic. He hasn’t time to dream. I guess if Lincoln had lived to-day
he’d have split his rails to the tune of a humming, snarling patent wood
cutter, and in the evening he’d have whirled into town to get his books
at the public library, and he’d have read them under the glare of the
electric light bulb instead of lying flat in front of the flickering
wood fire. . . . Well. . . .”

She lay back, looked up at him. “Dirk, why don’t you marry?”

“Why—there’s no one I want to marry.”

“No one who’s free, you mean?”

He stood up. “I mean no one.” He stooped and kissed her lightly. Her
arms went round him close. Her hand with the thick gold wedding band on
it pressed his head to her hard. “Sobig!” He was a baby again.

“You haven’t called me that in years.” He was laughing.

She reverted to the old game they had played when he was a child. “How
big is my son! How big?” She was smiling, but her eyes were sombre.

“So big!” answered Dirk, and measured a very tiny space between thumb
and forefinger. “So big.”

She faced him, sitting up very straight in bed, the little wool shawl
hunched about her shoulders. “Dirk, are you ever going back to
architecture? The war is history. It’s now or never with you. Pretty
soon it will be too late. Are you ever going back to architecture? To
your profession?”

A clean amputation. “No, Mother.”

She gave an actual gasp, as though icy water had been thrown full in her
face. She looked suddenly old, tired. Her shoulders sagged. He stood in
the doorway, braced for her reproaches. But when she spoke it was to
reproach herself. “Then I’m a failure.”

“Oh, what nonsense, Mother. I’m happy. You can’t live somebody else’s
life. You used to tell me, when I was a kid I remember, that life wasn’t
just an adventure, to be taken as it came, with the hope that something
glorious was always hidden just around the corner. You said you had
lived that way and it hadn’t worked. You said——”

She interrupted him with a little cry. “I know I did. I know I did.”
Suddenly she raised a warning finger. Her eyes were luminous, prophetic.
“Dirk, you can’t desert her like that!”

“Desert who?” He was startled.

“Beauty! Self-expression. Whatever you want to call it. You wait! She’ll
turn on you some day. Some day you’ll want her, and she won’t be there.”

Inwardly he had been resentful of this bedside conversation with his
mother. She made little of him, he thought, while outsiders appreciated
his success. He had said, “So big,” measuring a tiny space between thumb
and forefinger in answer to her half-playful question, but he had not
honestly meant it. He thought her ridiculously old-fashioned now in her
viewpoint, and certainly unreasonable. But he would not quarrel with
her.

“You wait, too, Mother,” he said now, smiling. “Some day your wayward
son will be a real success. Wait till the millions roll in. Then we’ll
see.”

She lay down, turned her back deliberately upon him, pulled the covers
up about her.

“Shall I turn out your light, Mother, and open the windows?”

“Meena’ll do it. She always does. Just call her. . . . Good-night.”

He knew that he had come to be a rather big man in his world. Influence
had helped. He knew that, too. But he shut his mind to much of Paula’s
manœuvring and wire pulling—refused to acknowledge that her lean, dark,
eager fingers had manipulated the mechanism that ordered his career.
Paula herself was wise enough to know that to hold him she must not let
him feel indebted to her. She knew that the debtor hates his creditor.
She lay awake at night planning for him, scheming for his advancement,
then suggested these schemes to him so deftly as to make him think he
himself had devised them. She had even realized of late that their
growing intimacy might handicap him if openly commented on. But now she
must see him daily, or speak to him. In the huge house on Lake Shore
Drive her own rooms—sitting room, bedroom, dressing room, bath—were as
detached as though she occupied a separate apartment. Her telephone was
a private wire leading only to her own bedroom. She called him the first
thing in the morning; the last thing at night. Her voice, when she spoke
to him, was an organ transformed; low, vibrant, with a timbre in its
tone that would have made it unrecognizable to an outsider. Her words
were commonplace enough, but pregnant and meaningful for her.

“What did you do to-day? Did you have a good day? . . . Why didn’t you
call me? . . . Did you follow up that suggestion you made about Kennedy?
I think it’s a wonderful idea, don’t you? You’re a wonderful man, Dirk;
did you know that? . . . I miss you. . . . Do you? . . . When? . . . Why
not lunch? . . . Oh, not if you have a business appointment . . . How
about five o’clock? . . . No, not there . . . Oh, I don’t know. It’s so
public . . . Yes . . . Good-bye. . . . Good-night. . . .
Good-night. . . .”

They began to meet rather furtively, in out-of-the-way places. They
would lunch in department store restaurants where none of their friends
ever came. They spent off afternoon hours in the dim, close atmosphere
of the motion picture palaces, sitting in the back row, seeing nothing
of the film, talking in eager whispers that failed to annoy the
scattered devotees in the middle of the house. When they drove it was on
obscure streets of the south side, as secure there from observation as
though they had been in Africa, for to the north sider the south side of
Chicago is the hinterland of civilization.

Paula had grown very beautiful, her world thought. There was about her
the aura, the glow, the roseate exhalation that surrounds the woman in
love.

Frequently she irritated Dirk. At such times he grew quieter than ever;
more reserved. As he involuntarily withdrew she advanced. Sometimes he
thought he hated her—her hot eager hands, her glowing asking eyes, her
thin red mouth, her sallow heart-shaped exquisite face, her perfumed
clothing, her air of ownership. That was it! Her possessiveness. She
clutched him so with her every look and gesture, even when she did not
touch him. There was about her something avid, sultry. It was like the
hot wind that sometimes blew over the prairie—blowing, blowing, but
never refreshing. It made you feel dry, arid, irritated, parched.
Sometimes Dirk wondered what Theodore Storm thought and knew behind that
impassive flabby white mask of his.

Dirk met plenty of other girls. Paula was clever enough to see to that.
She asked them to share her box at the opera. She had them at her
dinners. She affected great indifference to their effect on him. She
suffered when he talked to one of them.

“Dirk, why don’t you take out that nice Farnham girl?”

“Is she nice?”

“Well, isn’t she! You were talking to her long enough at the Kirks’
dance. What were you talking about?”

“Books.”

“Oh. Books. She’s awfully nice and intelligent, isn’t she? A lovely
girl.” She was suddenly happy. Books.

The Farnham girl was a nice girl. She was the kind of girl one should
fall in love with and doesn’t. The Farnham girl was one of many
well-bred Chicago girls of her day and class. Fine, honest,
clear-headed, frank, capable, good-looking in an indefinite and
unarresting sort of way. Hair-coloured hair, good teeth, good enough
eyes, clear skin, sensible medium hands and feet; skated well, danced
well, talked well. Read the books you had read. A companionable girl.
Loads of money but never spoke of it. Travelled. Her hand met yours
firmly—and it was just a hand. At the contact no current darted through
you, sending its shaft with a little zing to your heart.

But when Paula showed you a book her arm, as she stood next you, would
somehow fit into the curve of yours and you were conscious of the feel
of her soft slim side against you.

He knew many girls. There was a distinct type known as the North Shore
Girl. Slim, tall, exquisite; a little fine nose, a high, sweet, slightly
nasal voice, earrings, a cigarette, luncheon at Huyler’s. All these
girls looked amazingly alike, Dirk thought; talked very much alike. They
all spoke French with a pretty good accent; danced intricate symbolic
dances; read the new books; had the same patter. They prefaced,
interlarded, concluded their remarks to each other with, “My deah!” It
expressed, for them, surprise, sympathy, amusement, ridicule, horror,
resignation. “My _deah_! You should have seen her! My
_dee-ah_!”—horror. Their slang was almost identical with that used by
the girls working in his office. “She’s a good kid,” they said, speaking
in admiration of another girl. They made a fetish of frankness. In a day
when everyone talked in screaming headlines they knew it was necessary
to red-ink their remarks in order to get them noticed at all. The word
rot was replaced by garbage and garbage gave way to the ultimate swill.
One no longer said “How shocking!” but, “How perfectly obscene!” The
words, spoken in their sweet clear voices, fell nonchalantly from their
pretty lips. All very fearless and uninhibited and free. That, they told
you, was the main thing. Sometimes Dirk wished they wouldn’t work so
hard at their play. They were forever getting up pageants and plays and
large festivals for charity; Venetian fêtes, Oriental bazaars, charity
balls. In the programme performance of these many of them sang better,
acted better, danced better than most professional performers, but the
whole thing always lacked the flavour, somehow, of professional
performance. On these affairs they lavished thousands in costumes and
decorations, receiving in return other thousands which they soberly
turned over to the Cause. They found nothing ludicrous in this.
Spasmodically they went into business or semi-professional ventures,
defying the conventions. Paula did this, too. She or one of her friends
were forever opening blouse shops; starting Gifte Shoppes; burgeoning
into tea rooms decorated in crude green and vermilion and orange and
black; announcing their affiliation with an advertising agency. These
adventures blossomed, withered, died. They were the result of post-war
restlessness. Many of these girls had worked indefatigably during the
1917-1918 period; had driven service cars, managed ambulances, nursed,
scrubbed, conducted canteens. They missed the excitement, the
satisfaction of achievement.

They found Dirk fair game, resented Paula’s proprietorship. Susans and
Janes and Kates and Bettys and Sallys—plain old-fashioned names for
modern, erotic misses—they talked to Dirk, danced with him, rode with
him, flirted with him. His very unattainableness gave him piquancy. That
Paula Storm had him fast. He didn’t care a hoot about girls.

“Oh, Mr. DeJong,” they said, “your name’s Dirk, isn’t it? What a slick
name! What does it mean?”

“Nothing, I suppose. It’s a Dutch name. My people—my father’s
people—were Dutch, you know.”

“A dirk’s a sort of sword, isn’t it, or poniard? Anyway, it sounds very
keen and cruel and fatal—Dirk.”

He would flush a little (one of his assets) and smile, and look at them,
and say nothing. He found that to be all that was necessary.

He got on enormously.



                                  XVII


Between these girls and the girls that worked in his office there
existed a similarity that struck and amused Dirk. He said, “Take a
letter, Miss Roach,” to a slim young creature as exquisite as the girl
with whom he had danced the day before; or ridden or played tennis or
bridge. Their very clothes were faultless imitations. They even used the
same perfume. He wondered, idly, how they did it. They were eighteen,
nineteen, twenty, and their faces and bodies and desires and natural
equipment made their presence in a business office a paradox, an
absurdity. Yet they were capable, too, in a mechanical sort of way.
Theirs were mechanical jobs. They answered telephones, pressed levers,
clicked buttons, tapped typewriters, jotted down names. They were lovely
creatures with the minds of fourteen-year-old children. Their hair was
shining, perfectly undulated, as fine and glossy and tenderly curling as
a young child’s. Their breasts were flat, their figures singularly
sexless like that of a very young boy. They were wise with the wisdom of
the serpent. They wore wonderful little sweaters and flat babyish
collars and ridiculously sensible stockings and oxfords. Their legs were
slim and sturdy. Their mouths were pouting, soft, pink, the lower lip a
little curled back, petal-wise, like the moist mouth of a baby that has
just finished nursing. Their eyes were wide apart, empty, knowledgeous.
They managed their private affairs like generals. They were cool,
remote, disdainful. They reduced their boys to desperation. They were
brigands, desperadoes, pirates, taking all, giving little. They came,
for the most part, from sordid homes, yet they knew, in some miraculous
way, all the fine arts that Paula knew and practised. They were
corsetless, pliant, bewildering, lovely, dangerous. They ate lunches
that were horrible mixtures of cloying sweets and biting acids yet their
skin was like velvet and cream. Their voices were thin, nasal, vulgar;
their faces like those in a Greuze or a Fragonard. They said, with a
twang that racked the listener, “I wouldn’t of went if I got an invite
but he could of give me a ring, anyways. I called him right. I was
sore.”

“Yeh? Wha’d he say?”

“Oh, he laffed.”

“Didja go?”

“Me! No! Whatcha think I yam, anyway?”

“Oh, he’s a good kid.”

Among these Dirk worked immune, aloof, untouched. He would have been
surprised to learn that he was known among them as Frosty. They approved
his socks, his scarfs, his nails, his features, his legs in their
well-fitting pants, his flat strong back in the Peel coat. They admired
and resented him. Not one that did not secretly dream of the day when he
would call her into his office, shut the door, and say, “Loretta” (their
names were burbankian monstrosities, born of grafting the original
appellation onto their own idea of beauty in nomenclature—hence
Loretta, Imogene, Nadine, Natalie, Ardella), “Loretta, I have watched
you for a long, long time and you must have noticed how deeply I admire
you.”

It wasn’t impossible. Those things happen. The movies had taught them
that.

Dirk, all unconscious of their pitiless, all-absorbing scrutiny, would
have been still further appalled to learn how fully aware they were of
his personal and private affairs. They knew about Paula, for example.
They admired and resented her, too. They were fair in granting her the
perfection of her clothes, drew immense satisfaction from the knowledge
of their own superiority in the matters of youth and colouring; despised
her for the way in which she openly displayed her feeling for him (how
they knew this was a miracle and a mystery, for she almost never came
into the office and disguised all her telephone talks with him). They
thought he was grand to his mother. Selina had been in his office twice,
perhaps. On one of these occasions she had spent five minutes chatting
sociably with Ethelinda Quinn who had the face of a Da Vinci cherub and
the soul of a man-eating shark. Selina always talked to everyone. She
enjoyed listening to street car conductors, washwomen, janitors,
landladies, clerks, doormen, chauffeurs, policemen. Something about her
made them talk. They opened to her as flowers to the sun. They sensed
her interest, her liking. As they talked Selina would exclaim, “You
don’t say! Well, that’s terrible!” Her eyes would be bright with
sympathy.

Selina had said, on entering Dirk’s office, “My land! I don’t see how
you can work among those pretty creatures and not be a sultan. I’m going
to ask some of them down to the farm over Sunday.”

“Don’t, Mother! They wouldn’t understand. I scarcely see them. They’re
just part of the office equipment.”

Afterward, Ethelinda Quinn had passed expert opinion. “Say, she’s got
ten times the guts that Frosty’s got. I like her fine. Did you see her
terrible hat! But say, it didn’t look funny on her, did it? Anybody else
in that getup would look comical, but she’s the kind that could walk off
with anything. I don’t know. She’s got what I call an air. It beats
style. Nice, too. She said I was a pretty little thing. Can you beat it!
At that she’s right. I cer’nly yam.”

All unconscious, “Take a letter, Miss Quinn,” said Dirk half an hour
later.

In the midst, then, of this fiery furnace of femininity Dirk walked
unscorched. Paula, the North Shore girls, well-bred business and
professional women he occasionally met in the course of business, the
enticing little nymphs he encountered in his own office, all practised
on him their warm and perfumed wiles. He moved among them cool and
serene. Perhaps his sudden success had had something to do with this;
and his quiet ambition for further success. For he really was accounted
successful now, even in the spectacular whirl of Chicago’s meteoric
financial constellation. North-side mammas regarded his income, his
career, and his future with eyes of respect and wily speculation. There
was always a neat little pile of invitations in the mail that lay on the
correct little console in the correct little apartment ministered by the
correct little Jap on the correct north-side street near (but not too
near) the lake, and overlooking it.

The apartment had been furnished with Paula’s aid. Together she and Dirk
had gone to interior decorators. “But you’ve got to use your own taste,
too,” Paula had said, “to give it the individual touch.” The apartment
was furnished in a good deal of Italian furniture, the finish a dark oak
or walnut, the whole massive and yet somehow unconvincing. The effect
was sombre without being impressive. There were long carved tables on
which an ash tray seemed a desecration; great chairs roomy enough for
lolling, yet in which you did not relax; dull silver candlesticks;
vestments; Dante’s saturnine features sneering down upon you from a
correct cabinet. There were not many books. Tiny foyer, large living
room, bedroom, dining room, kitchen, and a cubby-hole for the Jap. Dirk
did not spend much time in the place. Sometimes he did not sit in a
chair in the sitting room for days at a time, using the room only as a
short cut in his rush for the bedroom to change from office to dinner
clothes. His upward climb was a treadmill, really. His office, the
apartment, a dinner, a dance. His contacts were monotonous, and too few.
His office was a great splendid office in a great splendid office
building in LaSalle Street. He drove back and forth in a motor car along
the boulevards. His social engagements lay north. LaSalle Street bounded
him on the west, Lake Michigan on the east, Jackson Boulevard on the
south, Lake Forest on the north. He might have lived a thousand miles
away for all he knew of the rest of Chicago—the mighty, roaring,
sweltering, pushing, screaming, magnificent hideous steel giant that was
Chicago.

Selina had had no hand in the furnishing of his apartment. When it was
finished Dirk had brought her in triumph to see it. “Well,” he had said,
“what do you think of it, Mother?”

She had stood in the centre of the room, a small plain figure in the
midst of these massive sombre carved tables, chairs, chests. A little
smile had quirked the corner of her mouth. “I think it’s as cosy as a
cathedral.”

Sometimes Selina remonstrated with him, though of late she had taken on
a strange reticence. She no longer asked him about the furnishings of
the houses he visited (Italian villas on Ohio Street), or the exotic
food he ate at splendid dinners. The farm flourished. The great steel
mills and factories to the south were closing in upon her but had not
yet set iron foot on her rich green acres. She was rather famous now for
the quality of her farm products and her pens. You saw “DeJong
asparagus” on the menu at the Blackstone and the Drake hotels. Sometimes
Dirk’s friends twitted him about this and he did not always acknowledge
that the similarity of names was not a coincidence.

“Dirk, you seem to see no one but just these people,” Selina told him in
one of her infrequent rebukes. “You don’t get the full flavour of life.
You’ve got to have a vulgar curiosity about people and things. All kinds
of people. All kinds of things. You revolve in the same little circle,
over and over and over.”

“Haven’t time. Can’t afford to take the time.”

“You can’t afford not to.”

Sometimes Selina came into town for a week or ten days at a stretch, and
indulged in what she called an orgy. At such times Julie Arnold would
invite her to occupy one of the guest rooms at the Arnold house, or Dirk
would offer her his bedroom and tell her that he would be comfortable on
the big couch in the living room, or that he would take a room at the
University Club. She always declined. She would take a room in a hotel,
sometimes north, sometimes south. Her holiday before her she would go
off roaming gaily as a small boy on a Saturday morning, with the day
stretching gorgeously and adventuresomely ahead of him, sallies down the
street without plan or appointment, knowing that richness in one form or
another lies before him for the choosing. She loved the Michigan
Boulevard and State Street shop windows in which haughty waxed ladies in
glittering evening gowns postured, fingers elegantly crooked as they
held a fan, a rose, a programme, meanwhile smiling condescendingly out
upon an envious world flattening its nose against the plate glass
barrier. A sociable woman, Selina, savouring life, she liked the lights,
the colour, the rush, the noise. Her years of grinding work, with her
face pressed down to the very soil itself, had failed to kill her zest
for living. She prowled into the city’s foreign quarters—Italian,
Greek, Chinese, Jewish. She penetrated the Black Belt, where Chicago’s
vast and growing Negro population shifted and moved and stretched its
great limbs ominously, reaching out and out in protest and overflowing
the bounds that irked it. Her serene face and her quiet manner, her
bland interest and friendly look protected her. They thought her a
social worker, perhaps; one of the uplifters. She bought and read the
_Independent_, the Negro newspaper in which herb doctors advertised
magic roots. She even sent the twenty-five cents required for a box of
these, charmed by their names—Adam and Eve roots, Master of the Woods,
Dragon’s Blood, High John the Conqueror, Jezebel Roots, Grains of
Paradise.

“Look here, Mother,” Dirk would protest, “you can’t wander around like
that. It isn’t safe. This isn’t High Prairie, you know. If you want to
go round I’ll get Saki to drive you.”

“That would be nice,” she said, mildly. But she never availed herself of
this offer. Sometimes she went over to South Water Street, changed now,
and swollen to such proportions that it threatened to burst its
confines. She liked to stroll along the crowded sidewalks, lined with
crates and boxes and barrels of fruits, vegetables, poultry. Swarthy
foreign faces predominated now. Where the red-faced overalled men had
been she now saw lean muscular lads in old army shirts and khaki pants
and scuffed puttees wheeling trucks, loading boxes, charging down the
street in huge rumbling auto vans. Their faces were hard, their talk
terse. They moved gracefully, with an economy of gesture. Any one of
these, she reflected, was more vital, more native, functioned more
usefully and honestly than her successful son, Dirk DeJong.

“Where ’r’ beans?”

“In th’ ol’ beanery.”

“Tough.”

“Best you can get.”

“Keep ’em.”

Many of the older men knew her, shook hands with her, chatted a moment
friendlily. William Talcott, a little more dried up, more wrinkled, his
sparse hair quite gray now, still leaned up against the side of his
doorway in his shirt sleeves and his neat pepper-and-salt pants and
vest, a pretty good cigar, unlighted, in his mouth, the heavy gold watch
chain spanning his middle.

“Well, you certainly made good, Mrs. DeJong. Remember the day you come
here with your first load?”

Oh, yes. She remembered.

“That boy of yours has made his mark, too, I see. Doing grand, ain’t he?
Wa-al, great satisfaction having a son turn out well like that. Yes,
sirree! Why, look at my da’ter Car’line——”

Life at High Prairie had its savour, too. Frequently you saw strange
visitors there for a week or ten days at a time—boys and girls whose
city pallor gave way to a rich tan; tired-looking women with sagging
figures who drank Selina’s cream and ate her abundant vegetables and
tender chickens as though they expected these viands to be momentarily
snatched from them. Selina picked these up in odd corners of the city.
Dirk protested against this, too. Selina was a member of the High
Prairie school board now. She often drove about the roads and into town
in a disreputable Ford which she manipulated with imagination and skill.
She was on the Good Roads Committee and the Truck Farmers’ Association
valued her opinion. Her life was full, pleasant, prolific.



                                 XVIII


Paula had a scheme for interesting women in bond buying. It was a good
scheme. She suggested it so that Dirk thought he had thought of it. Dirk
was head now of the bond department in the Great Lakes Trust Company’s
magnificent new white building on Michigan Boulevard north. Its white
towers gleamed pink in the lake mists. Dirk said it was a terrible
building, badly proportioned, and that it looked like a vast vanilla
sundae. His new private domain was more like a splendid bookless library
than a business office. It was finished in rich dull walnut and there
were great upholstered chairs, soft rugs, shaded lights. Special
attention was paid to women clients. There was a room for their
convenience fitted with low restful chairs and couches, lamps, writing
desks, in mauve and rose. Paula had selected the furnishings for this
room. Ten years earlier it would have been considered absurd in a suite
of business offices. Now it was a routine part of the equipment.

Dirk’s private office was almost as difficult of access as that of the
nation’s executive. Cards, telephones, office boys, secretaries stood
between the caller and Dirk DeJong, head of the bond department. You
asked for him, uttering his name in the ear of the six-foot statuesque
detective who, in the guise of usher, stood in the centre of the marble
rotunda eyeing each visitor with a coldly appraising gaze. This one
padded softly ahead of you on rubber heels, only to give you over to the
care of a glorified office boy who took your name. You waited. He
returned. You waited. Presently there appeared a young woman with
inquiring eyebrows. She conversed with you. She vanished. You waited.
She reappeared. You were ushered into Dirk DeJong’s large and luxurious
inner office. And there formality fled.

Dirk was glad to see you; quietly, interestedly glad to see you. As you
stated your business he listened attentively, as was his charming way.
The volume of business done with women clients by the Great Lakes Trust
Company was enormous. Dirk was conservative, helpful—and he always got
the business. He talked little. He was amazingly effective. Ladies in
the modish black of recent bereavement made quite a sombre procession to
his door. His suggestions (often originating with Paula) made the Great
Lakes Trust Company’s discreet advertising rich in results. Neat little
pamphlets written for women on the subjects of saving, investments. “You
are not dealing with a soulless corporation,” said these brochures. “May
we serve you? You need more than friends. Before acting, you should have
your judgment vindicated by an organization of investment specialists.
You may have relatives and friends, some of whom would gladly advise you
on investments. But perhaps you rightly feel that the less they know
about your financial affairs, the better. To handle trusts, and to care
for the securities of widows and orphans, is our business.”

It was startling to note how this sort of thing mounted into millions.
“Women are becoming more and more used to the handling of money,” Paula
said, shrewdly. “Pretty soon their patronage is going to be as valuable
as that of men. The average woman doesn’t know about bonds—about bond
buying. They think they’re something mysterious and risky. They ought to
be educated up to it. Didn’t you say something, Dirk, about classes in
finance for women? You could make a sort of semi-social affair of it.
Send out invitations and get various bankers—big men, whose names are
known—to talk to these women.”

“But would the women come?”

“Of course they’d come. Women will accept any invitation that’s engraved
on heavy cream paper.”

The Great Lakes Trust had a branch in Cleveland now, and one in New
York, on Fifth Avenue. The drive to interest women in bond buying and to
instruct them in finance was to take on almost national proportions.
There was to be newspaper and magazine advertising.

The Talks for Women on the Subject of Finance were held every two weeks
in the crystal room of the Blackstone and were a great success. Paula
was right. Much of old Aug Hempel’s shrewdness and business foresight
had descended to her. The women came—widows with money to invest;
business women who had thriftily saved a portion of their salaries;
moneyed women who wanted to manage their own property, or who resented a
husband’s interference. Some came out of curiosity. Others for lack of
anything better to do. Others to gaze on the well-known banker or lawyer
or business man who was scheduled to address the meeting. Dirk spoke
three or four times during the winter and was markedly a favourite. The
women, in smart crêpe gowns and tailored suits and small chic hats,
twittered and murmured about him, even while they sensibly digested his
well-thought-out remarks. He looked very handsome, clean-cut, and
distinguished there on the platform in his admirably tailored clothes, a
small white flower in his buttonhole. He talked easily, clearly,
fluently; answered the questions put to him afterward with just the
right mixture of thoughtful hesitation and confidence.

It was decided that for the national advertising there must be an
illustration that would catch the eye of women, and interest them. The
person to do it, Dirk thought, was this Dallas O’Mara whose queer
hen-track signature you saw scrawled on half the advertising
illustrations that caught your eye. Paula had not been enthusiastic
about this idea.

“M-m-m, she’s very good,” Paula had said, guardedly, “but aren’t there
others who are better?”

“She!” Dirk had exclaimed. “Is it a woman? I didn’t know. That name
might be anything.”

“Oh, yes, she’s a woman. She’s said to be very—very attractive.”

Dirk sent for Dallas O’Mara. She replied, suggesting an appointment two
weeks from that date. Dirk decided not to wait, consulted other
commercial artists, looked at their work, heard their plans outlined,
and was satisfied with none of them. The time was short. Ten days had
passed. He had his secretary call Dallas O’Mara on the telephone. Could
she come down to see him that day at eleven?

No: she worked until four daily at her studio.

Could she come to his office at four-thirty, then?

Yes, but wouldn’t it be better if he could come to her studio where he
could see something of the various types of drawings—oils, or
black-and-white, or crayons. She was working mostly in crayons now.

All this relayed by his secretary at the telephone to Dirk at his desk.
He jammed his cigarette-end viciously into a tray, blew a final
infuriated wraith of smoke, and picked up the telephone connection on
his own desk. “One of those damned temperamental near-artists trying to
be grand,” he muttered, his hand over the mouthpiece. “Here, Miss
Rawlings—I’ll talk to her. Switch her over.”

“Hello, Miss—uh—O’Mara. This is Mr. DeJong talking. I much prefer that
you come to my office and talk to me.” (No more of this nonsense.)

Her voice: “Certainly, if you prefer it. I thought the other would save
us both some time. I’ll be there at four-thirty.” Her voice was
leisurely, low, rounded. An admirable voice. Restful.

“Very well. Four-thirty,” said Dirk, crisply. Jerked the receiver onto
the hook. That was the way to handle ’em. These females of forty with
straggling hair and a bundle of drawings under their arm.

The female of forty with straggling hair and a bundle of drawings under
her arm was announced at four-thirty to the dot. Dirk let her wait five
minutes in the outer office, being still a little annoyed. At
four-thirty-five there entered his private office a tall slim girl in a
smart little broadtail jacket, fur-trimmed skirt, and a black hat at
once so daring and so simple that even a man must recognize its French
nativity. She carried no portfolio of drawings under her arms.

Through the man’s mind flashed a series of unbusinesslike thoughts such
as: “Gosh! . . . Eyes! . . . That’s way I like to see girl dress . . .
Tired looking . . . No, guess it’s her eyes—sort of fatigued. . . .
Pretty . . . No, she isn’t . . . yes, she . . .” Aloud he said, “This is
very kind of you, Miss O’Mara.” Then he thought that sounded pompous and
said, curtly, “Sit down.”

Miss O’Mara sat down. Miss O’Mara looked at him with her tired deep blue
eyes. Miss O’Mara said nothing. She regarded him pleasantly, quietly,
composedly. He waited for her to say that usually she did not come to
business offices; that she had only twenty minutes to give him; that the
day was warm, or cold; his office handsome; the view over the river
magnificent. Miss O’Mara said nothing, pleasantly. So Dirk began to
talk, rather hurriedly.

Now, this was a new experience for Dirk DeJong. Usually women spoke to
him first and fluently. Quiet women waxed voluble under his silence;
voluble women chattered. Paula always spoke a hundred words to his one.
But here was a woman more silent than he; not sullenly silent, nor
heavily silent, but quietly, composedly, restfully silent.

“I’ll tell you the sort of thing we want, Miss O’Mara.” He told her.
When he had finished she probably would burst out with three or four
plans. The others had done that.

When he had finished she said, “I’ll think about it for a couple of days
while I’m working on something else. I always do. I’m doing an olive
soap picture now. I can begin work on yours Wednesday.”

“But I’d like to see it—that is, I’d like to have an idea of what
you’re planning to do with it.” Did she think he was going to let her go
ahead without consulting his judgment!

“Oh, it will be all right. But drop into the studio if you like. It will
take me about a week, I suppose. I’m over on Ontario in that old studio
building. You’ll know it by the way most of the bricks have fallen out
of the building and are scattered over the sidewalk.” She smiled a slow
wide smile. Her teeth were good but her mouth was too big, he thought.
Nice big warm kind of smile, though. He found himself smiling, too,
sociably. Then he became businesslike again. Very businesslike.

“How much do you—what is your—what would you expect to get for a
drawing such as that?”

“Fifteen hundred dollars,” said Miss O’Mara.

“Nonsense.” He looked at her then. Perhaps that had been humour. But she
was not smiling. “You mean fifteen hundred for a single drawing?”

“For that sort of thing, yes.”

“I’m afraid we can’t pay that, Miss O’Mara.”

Miss O’Mara stood up. “That is my price.” She was not at all
embarrassed. He realized that he had never seen such effortless
composure. It was he who was fumbling with the objects on his
flat-topped desk—a pen, a sheet of paper, a blotter. “Good-bye, Mr.
DeJong.” She held out a friendly hand. He took it. Her hair was
gold—dull gold, not bright—and coiled in a single great knot at the
back of her head, low. He took her hand. The tired eyes looked up at
him.

“Well, if that’s your price, Miss O’Mara. I wasn’t prepared to pay any
such—but of course I suppose you top-notchers do get crazy prices for
your work.”

“Not any crazier than the prices you top-notchers get.”

“Still, fifteen hundred dollars is quite a lot of money.”

“I think so, too. But then, I’ll always think anything over nine dollars
is quite a lot of money. You see, I used to get twenty-five cents apiece
for sketching hats for Gage’s.”

She was undeniably attractive. “And now you’ve arrived. You’re
successful.”

“Arrived! Heavens, no! I’ve started.”

“Who gets more money than you do for a drawing?”

“Nobody, I suppose.”

“Well, then?”

“Well, then, in another minute I’ll be telling you the story of my
life.”

She smiled again her slow wide smile; turned to leave. Dirk decided that
while most women’s mouths were merely features this girl’s was a
decoration.

She was gone. Miss Ethelinda Quinn _et al._, in the outer office,
appraised the costume of Miss Dallas O’Mara from her made-to-order
footgear to her made-in-France millinery and achieved a lightning mental
reconstruction of their own costumes. Dirk DeJong in the inner office
realized that he had ordered a fifteen-hundred-dollar drawing, sight
unseen, and that Paula was going to ask questions about it.

“Make a note, Miss Rawlings, to call Miss O’Mara’s studio on Thursday.”

In the next few days he learned that a surprising lot of people knew a
surprisingly good deal about this Dallas O’Mara. She hailed from Texas,
hence the absurd name. She was
twenty-eight—twenty-five—thirty-two—thirty-six. She was beautiful.
She was ugly. She was an orphan. She had worked her way through art
school. She had no sense of the value of money. Two years ago she had
achieved sudden success with her drawings. Her ambition was to work in
oils. She toiled like a galley-slave; played like a child; had twenty
beaux and no lover; her friends, men and women, were legion and wandered
in and out of her studio as though it were a public thoroughfare. You
were likely to find there at any hour any one from Bert Colson, the
blackface musical comedy star, to Mrs. Robinson Gilman of Lake Forest
and Paris; from Leo Mahler, first violin with the Chicago Symphony
Orchestra, to Fanny Whipple who designed dresses for Carson’s. She
supported an assortment of unlucky brothers and spineless sisters in
Texas and points west.

Miss Rawlings made an appointment for Thursday at three. Paula said
she’d go with him and went. She dressed for Dallas O’Mara and the result
was undeniably enchanting. Dallas sometimes did a crayon portrait, or
even attempted one in oils. Had got a prize for her portrait of Mrs.
Robinson Gilman at last spring’s portrait exhibit at the Chicago Art
Institute. It was considered something of an achievement to be asked to
pose for her. Paula’s hat had been chosen in deference to her hair and
profile, and the neck line of her gown in deference to hat, hair, and
profile, and her pearls with an eye to all four. The whole defied
competition on the part of Miss Dallas O’Mara.

Miss Dallas O’Mara, in her studio, was perched on a high stool before an
easel with a large tray of assorted crayons at her side. She looked a
sight and didn’t care at all. She greeted Dirk and Paula with a cheerful
friendliness and went right on working. A model, very smartly gowned,
was sitting for her.

“Hello!” said Dallas O’Mara. “This is it. Do you think you’re going to
like it?”

“Oh,” said Dirk. “Is that it?” It was merely the beginning of a drawing
of the smartly gowned model. “Oh, that’s it, is it?” Fifteen hundred
dollars!

“I hope you didn’t think it was going to be a picture of a woman buying
bonds.” She went on working. She squinted one eye, picked up a funny
little mirror thing which she held to one side, looked into, and put
down. She made a black mark on the board with a piece of crayon then
smeared the mark with her thumb. She had on a faded all-enveloping smock
over which French ink, rubber cement, pencil marks, crayon dust and wash
were so impartially distributed that the whole blended and mixed in a
rich mellow haze like the Chicago atmosphere itself. The collar of a
white silk blouse, not especially clean, showed above this. On her feet
were soft kid bedroom slippers, scuffed, with pompons on them. Her dull
gold hair was carelessly rolled into that great loose knot at the back.
Across one cheek was a swipe of black.

“Well,” thought Dirk, “she looks a sight.”

Dallas O’Mara waved a friendly hand toward some chairs on which were
piled hats, odd garments, bristol board and (on the broad arm of one) a
piece of yellow cake. “Sit down.” She called to the girl who had opened
the door to them: “Gilda, will you dump some of those things. This is
Mrs. Storm, Mr. DeJong—Gilda Hanan.” Her secretary, Dirk later learned.

The place was disorderly, comfortable, shabby. A battered grand piano
stood in one corner. A great skylight formed half the ceiling and sloped
down at the north end of the room. A man and a girl sat talking
earnestly on the couch in another corner. A swarthy foreign-looking
chap, vaguely familiar to Dirk, was playing softly at the piano. The
telephone rang. Miss Hanan took the message, transmitted it to Dallas
O’Mara, received the answer, repeated it. Perched atop the stool, one
slippered foot screwed in a rung, Dallas worked on concentratedly,
calmly, earnestly. A lock of hair straggled over her eyes. She pushed it
back with her wrist and left another dark splotch on her forehead. There
was something splendid, something impressive, something magnificent
about her absorption, her indifference to appearance, her unawareness of
outsiders, her concentration on the work before her. Her nose was shiny.
Dirk hadn’t seen a girl with a shiny nose in years. They were always
taking out those little boxes and things and plastering themselves with
the stuff in ’em.

“How can you work with all this crowd around?”

“Oh,” said Dallas in that deep restful leisurely voice of hers, “there
are always between twenty and thirty”—she slapped a quick scarlet line
on the board, rubbed it out at once—“thousand people in and out of here
every hour, just about. I like it. Friends around me while I’m slaving.”

“Gosh!” he thought, “she’s—— I don’t know—she’s——”

“Shall we go?” said Paula.

He had forgotten all about her. “Yes. Yes, I’m ready if you are.”

Outside, “Do you think you’re going to like the picture?” Paula asked.
They stepped into her car.

“Oh, I don’t know. Can’t tell much about it at this stage, I suppose.”

“Back to your office?”

“Sure.”

“Attractive, isn’t she?”

“Think so?”

So he was going to be on his guard, was he! Paula threw in the clutch
viciously, jerked the lever into second speed. “Her neck was dirty.”

“Crayon dust,” said Dirk.

“Not necessarily,” replied Paula.

Dirk turned sideways to look at her. It was as though he saw her for the
first time. She looked brittle, hard, artificial—small, somehow. Not in
physique but in personality.

The picture was finished and delivered within ten days. In that time
Dirk went twice to the studio in Ontario Street. Dallas did not seem to
mind. Neither did she appear particularly interested. She was working
hard both times. Once she looked as he had seen her on her first visit.
The second time she had on a fresh crisp smock of faded yellow that was
glorious with her hair; and high-heeled beige kid slippers, very smart.
She was like a little girl who has just been freshly scrubbed and
dressed in a clean pinafore, Dirk thought.

He thought a good deal about Dallas O’Mara. He found himself talking
about her in what he assumed to be a careless offhand manner. He liked
to talk about her. He told his mother of her. He could let himself go
with Selina and he must have taken advantage of this for she looked at
him intently and said: “I’d like to meet her. I’ve never met a girl like
that.”

“I’ll ask her if she’ll let me bring you up to the studio some time when
you’re in town.”

It was practically impossible to get a minute with her alone. That
irritated him. People were always drifting in and out of the
studio—queer, important, startling people; little, dejected, shabby
people. An impecunious girl art student, red-haired and wistful, that
Dallas was taking in until the girl got some money from home; a
pearl-hung grand-opera singer who was condescending to the Chicago Opera
for a fortnight. He did not know that Dallas played until he came upon
her late one afternoon sitting at the piano in the twilight with Bert
Colson, the blackface comedian. Colson sang those terrible songs about
April showers bringing violets, and about mah Ma-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-my
but they didn’t seem terrible when he sang them. There was about this
lean, hollow-chested, sombre-eyed comedian a poignant pathos, a gorgeous
sense of rhythm—a something unnameable that bound you to him, made you
love him. In the theatre he came out to the edge of the runway and took
the audience in his arms. He talked like a bootblack and sang like an
angel. Dallas at the piano, he leaning over it, were doing “blues.” The
two were rapt, ecstatic. I got the blues—I said the blues—I got the
this or that—the somethingorother—blue—hoo-hoos. They scarcely
noticed Dirk. Dallas had nodded when he came in, and had gone on
playing. Colson sang the cheaply sentimental ballad as though it were
the folksong of a tragic race. His arms were extended, his face rapt. As
Dallas played the tears stood in her eyes. When they had finished,
“Isn’t it a terrible song?” she said. “I’m crazy about it. Bert’s going
to try it out to-night.”

“Who—uh—wrote it?” asked Dirk politely.

Dallas began to play again. “H’m? Oh, I did.” They were off once more.
They paid no more attention to Dirk. Yet there was nothing rude about
their indifference. They simply were more interested in what they were
doing. He left telling himself that he wouldn’t go there again. Hanging
around a studio. But next day he was back.

“Look here, Miss O’Mara,” he had got her alone for a second. “Look here,
will you come out to dinner with me some time? And the theatre?”

“Love to.”

“When?” He was actually trembling.

“To-night.” He had an important engagement. He cast it out of his life.

“To-night! That’s grand. Where do you want to dine? The Casino?” The
smartest club in Chicago; a little pink stucco Italian box of a place on
the Lake Shore Drive. He was rather proud of being in a position to take
her there as his guest.

“Oh, no, I hate those arty little places. I like dining in a hotel full
of all sorts of people. Dining in a club means you’re surrounded by
people who’re pretty much alike. Their membership in the club means
they’re there because they are all interested in golf, or because
they’re university graduates, or belong to the same political party or
write, or paint, or have incomes of over fifty thousand a year, or
something. I like ’em mixed up, higgledy-piggledy. A dining room full of
gamblers, and insurance agents, and actors, and merchants, thieves,
bootleggers, lawyers, kept ladies, wives, flaps, travelling men,
millionaires—everything. That’s what I call dining out. Unless one is
dining at a friend’s house, of course.” A rarely long speech for her.

“Perhaps,” eagerly, “you’ll dine at my little apartment some time. Just
four or six of us, or even——”

“Perhaps.”

“Would you like the Drake to-night?”

“It looks too much like a Roman bath. The pillars scare me. Let’s go to
the Blackstone. I’ll always be sufficiently from Texas to think the
Blackstone French room the last word in elegance.”

They went to the Blackstone. The head waiter knew him. “Good evening,
Mr. DeJong.” Dirk was secretly gratified. Then, with a shock, he
realized that the head waiter was grinning at Dallas and Dallas was
grinning at the head waiter. “Hello, André,” said Dallas.

“Good evening, Miss O’Mara.” The text of his greeting was correct and
befitting the head waiter of the French room at the Blackstone. But his
voice was lyric and his eyes glowed. His manner of seating her at a
table was an enthronement.

At the look in Dirk’s eyes, “I met him in the army,” Dallas explained,
“when I was in France. He’s a grand lad.”

“Were you in—what did you do in France?”

“Oh, odd jobs.”

Her dinner gown was very smart, but the pink ribbon strap of an
under-garment showed untidily at one side. Her silk brassiere, probably.
Paula would have—but then, a thing like that was impossible in Paula’s
perfection of toilette. He loved the way the gown cut sharply away at
the shoulder to show her firm white arms. It was dull gold, the colour
of her hair. This was one Dallas. There were a dozen—a hundred. Yet she
was always the same. You never knew whether you were going to meet the
gamin of the rumpled smock and the smudged face or the beauty of the
little fur jacket. Sometimes Dirk thought she looked like a Swede hired
girl with those high cheek bones of hers and her deep-set eyes and her
large capable hands. Sometimes he thought she looked like the splendid
goddesses you saw in paintings—the kind with high pointed breasts and
gracious gentle pose—holding out a horn of plenty. There was about her
something genuine and earthy and elemental. He noticed that her nails
were short and not well cared for—not glittering and pointed and
cruelly sharp and horridly vermilion, like Paula’s. That pleased him,
too, somehow.

“Some oysters?” he suggested. “They’re perfectly safe here. Or fruit
cocktail? Then breast of guinea hen under glass and an artichoke——”

She looked a little worried. “If you—suppose you take that. Me, I’d
like a steak and some potatoes au gratin and a salad with Russian——”

“That’s fine!” He was delighted. He doubled that order and they consumed
it with devastating thoroughness. She ate rolls. She ate butter. She
made no remarks about the food except to say, once, that it was good and
that she had forgotten to eat lunch because she had been so busy
working. All this Dirk found most restful and refreshing. Usually, when
you dined in a restaurant with a woman she said, “Oh, I’d love to eat
one of those crisp little rolls!”

You said, “Why not?”

Invariably the answer to this was, “I daren’t! Goodness! A half pound at
least. I haven’t eaten a roll with butter in a year.”

Again you said, “Why not?”

“Afraid I’ll get fat.”

Automatically, “You! Nonsense. You’re just right.”

He was bored with these women who talked about their weight, figure,
lines. He thought it in bad taste. Paula was always rigidly refraining
from this or that. It made him uncomfortable to sit at the table facing
her; eating his thorough meal while she nibbled fragile curls of Melba
toast, a lettuce leaf, and half a sugarless grapefruit. It lessened his
enjoyment of his own oysters, steak, coffee. He thought that she always
eyed his food a little avidly, for all her expressed indifference to it.
She was looking a little haggard, too.

“The theatre’s next door,” he said. “Just a step. We don’t have to leave
here until after eight.”

“That’s nice.” She had her cigarette with her coffee in a mellow
sensuous atmosphere of enjoyment. He was talking about himself a good
deal. He felt relaxed, at ease, happy.

“You know I’m an architect—at least, I was one. Perhaps that’s why I
like to hang around your shop so. I get sort of homesick for the pencils
and the drawing board—the whole thing.”

“Why did you give it up, then?”

“Nothing in it.”

“How do you mean—nothing in it?”

“No money. After the war nobody was building. Oh, I suppose if I’d hung
on——”

“And then you became a banker, h’m? Well, there ought to be money enough
in a bank.”

He was a little nettled. “I wasn’t a banker—at first. I was a bond
salesman.”

Her brows met in a little frown. Her eyebrows were thick and strongly
marked and a little uneven and inclined to meet over her nose. Paula’s
brows were a mere line of black—a carefully traced half-parenthesis
above her unmysterious dark eyes. “I’d rather,” Dallas said, slowly,
“plan one back door of a building that’s going to help make this town
beautiful and significant than sell all the bonds that ever floated
a—whatever it is that bonds are supposed to float.”

He defended himself. “I felt that way, too. But you see my mother had
given me my education, really. She worked for it. I couldn’t go dubbing
along, earning just enough to keep me. I wanted to give her things. I
wanted——”

“Did she want those things? Did she want you to give up architecture and
go into bonds?”

“Well—she—I don’t know that she exactly——” He was too decent—still
too much the son of Selina DeJong—to be able to lie about that.

“You said you were going to let me meet her.”

“Would you let me bring her in? Or perhaps you’d even—would you drive
out to the farm with me some day. She’d like that so much.”

“So would I.”

He leaned toward her, suddenly. “Listen, Dallas. What do you think of
me, anyway?” He wanted to know. He couldn’t stand not knowing any
longer.

“I think you’re a nice young man.”

That was terrible. “But I don’t want you to think I’m a nice young man.
I want you to like me—a lot. Tell me, what haven’t I got that you think
I ought to have? Why do you put me off so many times? I never feel that
I’m really near you. What is it I lack?” He was abject.

“Well, if you’re asking for it. I do demand of the people I see often
that they possess at least a splash of splendour in their makeup. Some
people are nine tenths splendour and one tenth tawdriness, like Gene
Meran. And some are nine tenths tawdriness and one tenth splendour, like
Sam Huebch. But some people are all just a nice even pink without a
single patch of royal purple.”

“And that’s me, h’m?”

He was horribly disappointed, hurt, wretched. But a little angry, too.
His pride. Why, he was Dirk DeJong, the most successful of Chicago’s
younger men; the most promising; the most popular. After all, what did
she do but paint commercial pictures for fifteen hundred dollars apiece?

“What happens to the men who fall in love with you? What do they do?”

Dallas stirred her coffee thoughtfully. “They usually tell me about it.”

“And then what?”

“Then they seem to feel better and we become great friends.”

“But don’t you ever fall in love with them?” Pretty damned sure of
herself. “Don’t you ever fall in love with them?”

“I almost always do,” said Dallas.

He plunged. “I could give you a lot of things you haven’t got, purple or
no purple.”

“I’m going to France in April. Paris.”

“What d’you mean! Paris. What for?”

“Study. I want to do portraits. Oils.”

He was terrified. “Can’t you do them here?”

“Oh, no. Not what I need. I have been studying here. I’ve been taking
life-work three nights a week at the Art Institute, just to keep my hand
in.”

“So that’s where you are, evenings.” He was strangely relieved. “Let me
go with you some time, will you?” Anything. Anything.

She took him with her one evening, steering him successfully past the
stern Irishman who guarded the entrance to the basement classrooms; to
her locker, got into her smock, grabbed her brushes. She rushed down the
hall. “Don’t talk,” she cautioned him. “It bothers them. I wonder what
they’d think of my shop.” She turned into a small, cruelly bright,
breathlessly hot little room, its walls whitewashed. Every inch of the
floor space was covered with easels. Before them stood men and women,
brushes in hand, intent. Dallas went directly to her place, fell to work
at once. Dirk blinked in the strong light. He glanced at the dais toward
which they were all gazing from time to time as they worked. On it lay a
nude woman.

To himself Dirk said in a sort of panic: “Why, say, she hasn’t got any
clothes on! My gosh! this is fierce. She hasn’t got anything on!” He
tried, meanwhile, to look easy, careless, critical. Strangely enough, he
succeeded, after the first shock, not only in looking at ease, but
feeling so. The class was doing the whole figure in oils.

The model was a moron with a skin like velvet and rose petals. She fell
into poses that flowed like cream. Her hair was waved in wooden
undulations and her nose was pure vulgarity and her earrings were
drug-store pearls in triple strands but her back was probably finer than
Helen’s and her breasts twin snowdrifts peaked with coral. In twenty
minutes Dirk found himself impersonally interested in tone, shadows,
colours, line. He listened to the low-voiced instructor and squinted
carefully to ascertain whether that shadow on the model’s stomach really
should be painted blue or brown. Even he could see that Dallas’s canvas
was almost insultingly superior to that of the men and women about her.
Beneath the flesh on her canvas there were muscles, and beneath those
muscles blood and bone. You felt she had a surgeon’s knowledge of
anatomy. That, Dirk decided, was what made her commercial pictures so
attractive. The drawing she had done for the Great Lakes Trust Company’s
bond department had been conventional enough in theme. The treatment,
the technique, had made it arresting. He thought that if she ever did
portraits in oils they would be vital and compelling portraits. But oh,
he wished she didn’t want to do portraits in oils. He wished——

It was after eleven when they emerged from the Art Institute doorway and
stood a moment together at the top of the broad steps surveying the
world that lay before them. Dallas said nothing. Suddenly the beauty of
the night rushed up and overwhelmed Dirk. Gorgeousness and tawdriness;
colour and gloom. At the right the white tower of the Wrigley building
rose wraithlike against a background of purple sky. Just this side of it
a swarm of impish electric lights grinned their message in scarlet and
white. In white:

                                TRADE AT

then blackness, while you waited against your will. In red:

                                THE FAIR

Blackness again. Then, in a burst of both colours, in bigger letters,
and in a blaze that hurled itself at your eyeballs, momentarily shutting
out tower, sky, and street:

                               SAVE MONEY

Straight ahead the hut of the Adams Street L station in midair was a
Venetian bridge with the black canal of asphalt flowing sluggishly
beneath. The reflection of cafeteria and cigar-shop windows on either
side were slender shafts of light along the canal. An enchanting sight.
Dirk thought suddenly that Dallas was a good deal like that—like
Chicago. A mixture of grandeur and cheapness; of tawdriness and
magnificence; of splendour and ugliness.

“Nice,” said Dallas. A long breath. She was a part of all this.

“Yes.” He felt an outsider. “Want a sandwich? Are you hungry?”

“I’m starved.”

They had sandwiches and coffee at an all-night one-arm lunch room
because Dallas said her face was too dirty for a restaurant and she
didn’t want to bother to wash it. She was more than ordinarily
companionable that night; a little tired; less buoyant and independent
than usual. This gave her a little air of helplessness—of fatigue—that
aroused all his tenderness. Her smile gave him a warm rush of pure
happiness—until he saw her smile in exactly the same way at the pimply
young man who lorded it over the shining nickel coffee container, as she
told him that his coffee was grand.



                                  XIX


The things that had mattered so vitally didn’t seem to be important,
somehow, now. The people who had seemed so desirable had become suddenly
insignificant. The games he had played appeared silly games. He was
seeing things through Dallas O’Mara’s wise, beauty-loving eyes.
Strangely enough, he did not realize that this girl saw life from much
the same angle as that at which his mother regarded it. In the last few
years his mother had often offended him by her attitude toward these
rich and powerful friends of his—their ways, their games, their
amusements, their manners. And her way of living in turn offended him.
On his rare visits to the farm it seemed to him there was always some
drab dejected female in the kitchen or living room or on the porch—a
woman with broken teeth and comic shoes and tragic eyes—drinking great
draughts of coffee and telling her woes to Selina—Sairey Gampish ladies
smelling unpleasantly of peppermint and perspiration and poverty. “And
he ain’t had a lick of work since November——”

“You don’t say! That’s terrible!”

He wished she wouldn’t.

Sometimes old Aug Hempel drove out there and Dirk would come upon the
two snickering wickedly together about something that he knew concerned
the North Shore crowd.

It had been years since Selina had said, sociably, “What did they have
for dinner, Dirk? H’m?”

“Well—soup——”

“Nothing before the soup?”

“Oh, yeh. Some kind of a—one of those canapé things, you know.
Caviare.”

“My! Caviare!”

Sometimes Selina giggled like a naughty girl at things that Dirk had
taken quite seriously. The fox hunts, for example. Lake Forest had taken
to fox hunting, and the Tippecanoe crowd kept kennels. Dirk had learned
to ride—pretty well. An Englishman—a certain Captain
Stokes-Beatty—had initiated the North Shore into the mysteries of fox
hunting. Huntin’. The North Shore learned to say nec’s’ry and
conservat’ry. Captain Stokes-Beatty was a tall, bow-legged, and somewhat
horse-faced young man, remote in manner. The nice Farnham girl seemed
fated to marry him. Paula had had a hunt breakfast at Stormwood and it
had been very successful, though the American men had balked a little at
the devilled kidneys. The food had been patterned as far as possible
after the pale flabby viands served at English hunt breakfasts and
ruined in an atmosphere of luke-warm steam. The women were slim and
perfectly tailored but wore their hunting clothes a trifle uneasily and
self-consciously like girls in their first low-cut party dresses. Most
of the men had turned stubborn on the subject of pink coats, but Captain
Stokes-Beatty wore his handsomely. The fox—a worried and somewhat
dejected-looking animal—had been shipped in a crate from the south and
on being released had a way of sitting sociably in an Illinois corn
field instead of leaping fleetly to cover. At the finish you had a
feeling of guilt, as though you had killed a cockroach.

Dirk had told Selina about it, feeling rather magnificent. A fox hunt.

“A fox hunt! What for?”

“For! Why, what’s any fox hunt for?”

“I can’t imagine. They used to be for the purpose of ridding a
fox-infested country of a nuisance. Have the foxes been bothering ’em
out in Lake Forest?”

“Now, Mother, don’t be funny.” He told her about the breakfast.

“Well, but it’s so silly, Dirk. It’s smart to copy from another country
the things that that country does better than we do. England does
gardens and wood-fires and dogs and tweeds and walking shoes and pipes
and leisure better than we do. But those luke-warm steamy breakfasts of
theirs! It’s because they haven’t gas, most of them. No Kansas or
Nebraska farmer’s wife would stand for one of their kitchens—not for a
minute. And the hired man would balk at such bacon.” She giggled.

“Oh, well, if you’re going to talk like that.”

But Dallas O’Mara felt much the same about these things. Dallas, it
appeared, had been something of a fad with the North Shore society crowd
after she had painted Mrs. Robinson Gilman’s portrait. She had been
invited to dinners and luncheons and dances, but their doings, she told
Dirk, had bored her.

“They’re nice,” she said, “but they don’t have much fun. They’re all
trying to be something they’re not. And that’s such hard work. The women
were always explaining that they lived in Chicago because their
husband’s business was here. They all do things pretty well—dance or
paint or ride or write or sing—but not well enough. They’re
professional amateurs, trying to express something they don’t feel; or
that they don’t feel strongly enough to make it worth while expressing.”

She admitted, though, that they did appreciate the things that other
people did well. Visiting and acknowledged writers, painters, lecturers,
heroes, they entertained lavishly and hospitably in their Florentine or
English or Spanish or French palaces on the north side of Chicago,
Illinois. Especially foreign notables of this description. Since 1918
these had descended upon Chicago (and all America) like a plague of
locusts, starting usually in New York and sweeping westward, devouring
the pleasant verdure of greenbacks and chirping as they came. Returning
to Europe, bursting with profits and spleen, they thriftily wrote of
what they had seen and the result was more clever than amiable; bearing,
too, the taint of bad taste.

North Shore hostesses vied for the honour of entertaining these
notables. Paula—pretty, clever, moneyed, shrewd—often emerged from
these contests the winner. Her latest catch was Emile Goguet—General
Emile Goguet, hero of Champagne—Goguet of the stiff white beard, the
empty left coat-sleeve, and the score of medals. He was coming to
America ostensibly to be the guest of the American Division which, with
Goguet’s French troops, had turned the German onslaught at Champagne,
but really, it was whispered, to cement friendly relations between his
country and a somewhat diffident United States.

“And guess,” trilled Paula, “guess who’s coming with him, Dirk! That
wonderful Roelf Pool, the French sculptor! Goguet’s going to be my
guest. Pool’s going to do a bust, you know, of young Quentin Roosevelt
from a photograph that Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt——”

“What d’you mean—French sculptor! He’s no more French than I am. He was
born within a couple of miles of my mother’s farm. His people were Dutch
truck farmers. His father lived in High Prairie until a year ago, when
he died of a stroke.”

When he told Selina she flushed like a girl, as she sometimes still did
when she was much excited. “Yes, I saw it in the paper. I wonder,” she
added, quietly, “if I shall see him.”

That evening you might have seen her sitting, crosslegged, before the
old carved chest, fingering the faded shabby time-worn objects the
saving of which Dirk had denounced as sentimental. The crude drawing of
the Haymarket; the wine-red cashmere dress; some faded brittle flowers.

Paula was giving a large—but not too large—dinner on the second night.
She was very animated about it, excited, gay. “They say,” she told Dirk,
“that Goguet doesn’t eat anything but hard-boiled eggs and rusks. Oh,
well, the others won’t object to squabs and mushrooms and things. And
his hobby is his farm in Brittany. Pool’s stunning—dark and sombre and
very white teeth.”

Paula was very gay these days. Too gay. It seemed to Dirk that her
nervous energy was inexhaustible—and exhausting. Dirk refused to admit
to himself how irked he was by the sallow heart-shaped exquisite face,
the lean brown clutching fingers, the air of ownership. He had begun to
dislike things about her as an unfaithful spouse is irritated by quite
innocent mannerisms of his unconscious mate. She scuffed her heels a
little when she walked, for example. It maddened him. She had a way of
biting the rough skin around her carefully tended nails when she was
nervous. “Don’t _do_ that!” he said.

Dallas never irritated him. She rested him, he told himself. He would
arm himself against her, but one minute after meeting her he would sink
gratefully and resistlessly into her quiet depths. Sometimes he thought
all this was an assumed manner in her.

“This calm of your—this effortlessness,” he said to her one day, “is a
pose, isn’t it?” Anything to get her notice.

“Partly,” Dallas had replied, amiably. “It’s a nice pose though, don’t
you think?”

What are you going to do with a girl like that!

Here was the woman who could hold him entirely, and who never held out a
finger to hold him. He tore at the smooth wall of her indifference,
though he only cut and bruised his own hands in doing it.

“Is it because I’m a successful business man that you don’t like me?”

“But I do like you.”

“That you don’t find me attractive, then.”

“But I think you’re an awfully attractive man. Dangerous, that’s wot.”

“Oh, don’t be the wide-eyed ingénue. You know damned well what I mean.
You’ve got me and you don’t want me. If I had been a successful
architect instead of a successful business man would that have made any
difference?” He was thinking of what his mother had said just a few
years back, that night when they had talked at her bedside. “Is that it?
He’s got to be an artist, I suppose, to interest you.”

“Good Lord, no! Some day I’ll probably marry a horny-handed son of toil,
and if I do it’ll be the horny hands that will win me. If you want to
know, I like ’em with their scars on them. There’s something about a man
who has fought for it—I don’t know what it is—a look in his eye—the
feel of his hand. He needn’t have been successful—though he probably
would be. I don’t know. I’m not very good at this analysis stuff. I only
know he—well, you haven’t a mark on you. Not a mark. You quit being an
architect, or whatever it was, because architecture was an uphill
disheartening job at the time. I don’t say that you should have kept on.
For all I know you were a bum architect. But if you had kept on—if you
had loved it enough to keep on—fighting, and struggling, and sticking
it out—why, that fight would show in your face to-day—in your eyes and
your jaw and your hands and in your way of standing and walking and
sitting and talking. Listen. I’m not criticizing you. But you’re all
smooth. I like ’em bumpy. That sounds terrible. It isn’t what I mean at
all. It isn’t——”

“Oh, never mind,” Dirk said, wearily. “I think I know what you mean.” He
sat looking down at his hands—his fine strong unscarred hands. Suddenly
and unreasonably he thought of another pair of hands—his mother’s—with
the knuckles enlarged, the skin broken—expressive—her life written on
them. Scars. She had them. “Listen, Dallas. If I thought—I’d go back to
Hollis & Sprague’s and begin all over again at forty a week if I thought
you’d——”

“Don’t.”



                                   XX


General Goguet and Roelf Pool had been in Chicago one night and part of
a day. Dirk had not met them—was to meet them at Paula’s dinner that
evening. He was curious about Pool but not particularly interested in
the warrior. Restless, unhappy, wanting to see Dallas (he admitted it,
bitterly) he dropped into her studio at an unaccustomed hour almost
immediately after lunch and heard gay voices and laughter. Why couldn’t
she work alone once in a while without that rabble around her!

Dallas in a grimy smock and the scuffed kid slippers was entertaining
two truants from Chicago society—General Emile Goguet and Roelf Pool.
They seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely. She introduced Dirk as
casually as though their presence were a natural and expected
thing—which it was. She had never mentioned them to him. Yet now: “This
is Dirk DeJong—General Emile Goguet. We were campaigners together in
France. Roelf Pool. So were we, weren’t we, Roelf?”

General Emile Goguet bowed formally, but his eyes were twinkling. He
appeared to be having a very good time. Roelf Pool’s dark face had
lighted up with such a glow of surprise and pleasure as to transform it.
He strode over to Dirk, clasped his hand. “Dirk DeJong! Not—why, say,
don’t you know me? I’m Roelf Pool!”

“I ought to know you,” said Dirk.

“Oh, but I mean I’m—I knew you when you were a kid. You’re Selina’s
Dirk. Aren’t you? My Selina. I’m driving out to see her this afternoon.
She’s one of my reasons for being here. Why, I’m——” He was laughing,
talking excitedly, like a boy. Dallas, all agrin, was enjoying it
immensely.

“They’ve run away,” she explained to Dirk, “from the elaborate programme
that was arranged for them this afternoon. I don’t know where the French
got their reputation for being polite. The General is a perfect boor,
aren’t you? And scared to death of women. He’s the only French general
in captivity who ever took the trouble to learn English.”

General Goguet nodded violently and roared. “And you?” he said to Dirk
in his careful and perfect English. “You, too, are an artist?”

“No,” Dirk said, “not an artist.”

“What, then?”

“Why—uh—bonds. That is, the banking business. Bonds.”

“Ah, yes,” said General Goguet, politely. “Bonds. A very good thing,
bonds. We French are very fond of them. We have great respect for
American bonds, we French.” He nodded and twinkled and turned away to
Dallas.

“We’re all going,” announced Dallas, and made a dash for the stuffy
little bedroom off the studio.

Well, this was a bit too informal. “Going where?” inquired Dirk. The
General, too, appeared bewildered.

Roelf explained, delightedly. “It’s a plot. We’re all going to drive out
to your mother’s. You’ll go, won’t you? You simply must.”

“Go?” now put in General Goguet. “Where is it that we go? I thought we
stayed here, quietly. It is quiet here, and no reception committees.”
His tone was wistful.

Roelf attempted to make it clear. “Mr. DeJong’s mother is a farmer. You
remember I told you all about her in the ship coming over. She was
wonderful to me when I was a kid. She was the first person to tell me
what beauty was—is. She’s magnificent. She raises vegetables.”

“Ah! A farm! But yes! I, too, am a farmer. Well!” He shook Dirk’s hand
again. He appeared now for the first time to find him interesting.

“Of course I’ll go. Does Mother know you’re coming? She has been hoping
she’d see you but she thought you’d grown so grand——”

“Wait until I tell her about the day I landed in Paris with five francs
in my pocket. No, she doesn’t know we’re coming, but she’ll be there,
won’t she? I’ve a feeling she’ll be there, exactly the same. She will,
won’t she?”

“She’ll be there.” It was early spring; the busiest of seasons on the
farm.

Dallas emerged in greatcoat and a new spring hat. She waved a hand to
the faithful Gilda Hanan. “Tell any one who inquires for me that I’ve
felt the call of spring. And if the boy comes for that clay pack picture
tell him to-morrow was the day.”

They were down the stairs and off in the powerful car that seemed to be
at the visitors’ disposal. Through the Loop, up Michigan Avenue, into
the south side. Chicago, often lowering and gray in April, was wearing
gold and blue to-day. The air was sharp but beneath the brusqueness of
it was a gentle promise. Dallas and Pool were very much absorbed in
Paris plans, Paris reminiscences. “And do you remember the time we . . .
only seven francs among the lot of us and the dinner was . . . you’re
surely coming over in June, then . . . oils . . . you’ve got the thing,
I tell you . . . you’ll be great, Dallas . . . remember what Vibray said
. . . study . . . work . . .”

Dirk was wretched. He pointed out objects of interest to General Goguet.
Sixty miles of boulevard. Park system. Finest in the country. Grand
Boulevard. Drexel Boulevard. Jackson Park. Illinois Central trains.
Terrible, yes, but they were electrifying. Going to make ’em run by
electricity, you know. Things wouldn’t look so dirty, after that.
Halsted Street. Longest street in the world.

And, “Ah, yes,” said the General, politely. “Ah, yes. Quite so. Most
interesting.”

The rich black loam of High Prairie. A hint of fresh green things just
peeping out of the earth. Hothouses. Coldframes. The farm.

It looked very trim and neat. The house, white with green shutters
(Selina’s dream realized), smiled at them from among the willows that
were already burgeoning hazily under the wooing of a mild and early
spring.

“But I thought you said it was a small farm!” said General Goguet, as
they descended from the car. He looked about at the acreage.

“It is small,” Dirk assured him. “Only about forty acres.”

“Ah, well, you Americans. In France we farm on a very small scale, you
understand. We have not the land. The great vast country.” He waved his
right arm. You felt that if the left sleeve had not been empty he would
have made a large and sweeping gesture with both arms.

Selina was not in the neat quiet house. She was not on the porch, or in
the yard. Meena Bras, phlegmatic and unflustered, came in from the
kitchen. Mis’ DeJong was in the fields. She would call her. This she
proceeded to do by blowing three powerful blasts and again three on a
horn which she took from a hook on the wall. She stood in the kitchen
doorway facing the fields, blowing, her red cheeks puffed outrageously.
“That brings her,” Meena assured them; and went back to her work. They
came out on the porch to await Selina. She was out on the west
sixteen—the west sixteen that used to be unprolific, half-drowned
muckland. Dirk felt a little uneasy, and ashamed that he should feel so.

Then they saw her coming, a small dark figure against the background of
sun and sky and fields. She came swiftly yet ploddingly, for the ground
was heavy. They stood facing her, the four of them. As she came nearer
they saw that she was wearing a dark skirt pinned up about her ankles to
protect it from the wet spring earth and yet it was spattered with a
border of mud spots. A rough heavy gray sweater was buttoned closely
about the straight slim body. On her head was a battered soft black hat.
Her feet, in broad-toed sensible boots, she lifted high out of the soft
clinging soil. As she came nearer she took off her hat and holding it a
little to one side against the sun, shaded her eyes with it. Her hair
blew a little in the gentle spring breeze. Her cheeks were faintly pink.
She was coming up the path now. She could distinguish their faces. She
saw Dirk; smiled, waved. Her glance went inquiringly to the others—the
bearded man in uniform, the tall girl, the man with the dark vivid face.
Then she stopped, suddenly, and her hand went to her heart as though she
had felt a great pang, and her lips were parted, and her eyes enormous.
As Roelf came forward swiftly she took a few quick running steps toward
him like a young girl. He took the slight figure in the mud-spattered
skirt, the rough gray sweater, and the battered old hat into his arms.



                                  XXI


They had had tea in the farm sitting room and Dallas had made a little
moaning over the beauty of the Dutch lustre set. Selina had entertained
them with the shining air of one who is robed in silk and fine linen.
She and General Goguet had got on famously from the start, meeting on
the common ground of asparagus culture.

“But how thick?” he had demanded, for he, too, had his pet asparagus
beds on the farm in Brittany. “How thick at the base?”

Selina made a circle with thumb and forefinger. The General groaned with
envy and despair. He was very comfortable, the General. He partook
largely of tea and cakes. He flattered Selina with his eyes. She
actually dimpled, flushed, laughed like a girl. But it was to Roelf she
turned; it was on Roelf that her eyes dwelt and rested. It was with him
she walked when she was silent and the others talked. It was as though
he were her one son, and had come home. Her face was radiant, beautiful.

Seated next to Dirk, Dallas said, in a low voice: “There, that’s what I
mean. That’s what I mean when I say I want to do portraits. Not
portraits of ladies with a string of pearls and one lily hand half
hidden in the folds of a satin skirt. I mean character portraits of men
and women who are really distinguished looking—distinguishedly
American, for example—like your mother.”

Dirk looked up at her quickly, half smiling, as though expecting to find
her smiling, too. But she was not smiling. “My mother!”

“Yes, if she’d let me. With that fine splendid face all lit up with the
light that comes from inside; and the jaw-line like that of the women
who came over in the _Mayflower_; or crossed the continent in a covered
wagon; and her eyes! And that battered funny gorgeous bum old hat and
the white shirtwaist—and her hands! She’s beautiful. She’d make me
famous at one leap. You’d see!”

Dirk stared at her. It was as though he could not comprehend. Then he
turned in his chair to stare at his mother. Selina was talking to Roelf.

“And you’ve done all the famous men of Europe, haven’t you, Roelf! To
think of it! You’ve seen the world, and you’ve got it in your hand.
Little Roelf Pool. And you did it all alone. In spite of everything.”

Roelf leaned toward her. He put his hand over her rough one. “Cabbages
are beautiful,” he said. Then they both laughed as at some exquisite
joke. Then, seriously: “What a fine life you’ve had, too, Selina. A full
life, and a rich one and successful.”

“I!” exclaimed Selina. “Why, Roelf, I’ve been here all these years, just
where you left me when you were a boy. I think the very hat and dress
I’m wearing might be the same I wore then. I’ve been nowhere, done
nothing, seen nothing. When I think of all the places I was going to
see! All the things I was going to do!”

“You’ve been everywhere in the world,” said Roelf. “You’ve seen all the
places of great beauty and light. You remember you told me that your
father had once said, when you were a little girl, that there were only
two kinds of people who really mattered in the world. One kind was wheat
and the other kind emeralds. You’re wheat, Selina.”

“And you’re emerald,” said Selina, quickly.

The General was interested but uncomprehending. He glanced now at the
watch on his wrist and gave a little exclamation. “But the dinner! Our
hostess, Madame Storm! It is very fine to run away but one must come
back. Our so beautiful hostess.” He had sprung to his feet.

“She is beautiful, isn’t she?” said Selina.

“No,” Roelf replied, abruptly. “The mouth is smaller than the eyes. With
Mrs. Storm from here to here”—he illustrated by turning to Dallas,
touching her lips, her eyes, lightly with his slender powerful brown
fingers—“is smaller than from here to here. When the mouth is smaller
than the eyes there is no real beauty. Now Dallas here——”

“Yes, me,” scoffed Dallas, all agrin. “There’s a grand mouth for you. If
a large mouth is your notion of beauty then I must look like Helen of
Troy to you, Roelf.”

“You do,” said Roelf, simply.

Inside Dirk something was saying, over and over, “You’re nothing but a
rubber stamp, Dirk DeJong. You’re nothing but a rubber stamp.” Over and
over.

“These dinners!” exclaimed the General. “I do not wish to seem
ungracious, but these dinners! Much rather would I remain here on this
quiet and beautiful farm.”

At the porch steps he turned, brought his heels together with a sharp
smack, bent from the waist, picked up Selina’s rough work-worn hand and
kissed it. And then, as she smiled a little, uncertainly, her left hand
at her breast, her cheeks pink, Roelf, too, kissed her hand tenderly.

“Why,” said Selina, and laughed a soft tremulous little laugh, “Why,
I’ve never had my hand kissed before.”

She stood on the porch steps and waved at them as they were whirled
swiftly away, the four of them. A slight straight little figure in the
plain white blouse and the skirt spattered with the soil of the farm.

“You’ll come out again?” she had said to Dallas. And Dallas had said
yes, but that she was leaving soon for Paris, to study and work.

“When I come back you’ll let me do your portrait?”

“_My_ portrait!” Selina had exclaimed, wonderingly.

Now as the four were whirled back to Chicago over the asphalted Halsted
road they were relaxed, a little tired. They yielded to the narcotic of
spring that was in the air.

Roelf Pool took off his hat. In the cruel spring sunshine you saw that
the black hair was sprinkled with gray. “On days like this I refuse to
believe that I’m forty-five. Dallas, tell me I’m not forty-five.”

“You’re not forty-five,” said Dallas in her leisurely caressing voice.

Roelf’s lean brown hand reached over frankly and clasped her strong
white one. “When you say it like that, Dallas, it sounds true.”

“It is true,” said Dallas.

They dropped Dallas first at the shabby old Ontario Street studio, then
Dirk at his smart little apartment, and went on.

Dirk turned his key in the lock. Saki, the Japanese houseman, slid
silently into the hall making little hissing noises of greeting. On the
correct little console in the hall there was a correct little pile of
letters and invitations. He went through the Italian living room and
into his bedroom. The Jap followed him. Dirk’s correct evening clothes
(made by Peel the English tailor on Michigan Boulevard) were laid
correctly on his bed—trousers, vest, shirt, coat; fine, immaculate.

“Messages, Saki?”

“Missy Stlom telephone.”

“Oh. Leave any message?”

“No. Say s’e call ’gain.”

“All right, Saki.” He waved him away and out of the room. The man went
and closed the door softly behind him as a correct Jap servant should.
Dirk took off his coat, his vest, threw them on a chair near the bed. He
stood at the bedside looking down at his Peel evening clothes, at the
glossy shirtfront that never bulged. A bath, he thought, dully,
automatically. Then, quite suddenly, he flung himself on the fine
silk-covered bed, face down, and lay there, his head in his arms, very
still. He was lying there half an hour later when he heard the
telephone’s shrill insistence and Saki’s gentle deferential rap at the
bedroom door.

                                THE END



                              EDNA FERBER
                          BY ROGERS DICKINSON


Edna Ferber is an arresting personality. In speech, in appearance, and
in manner she stands out clear against the mass.

Anyone who really knows her realizes why her stories, both long and
short, reach the understanding and touch the hearts of the readers. One
is very likely to say, “Why, I know somebody like that,” or “I knew she
would do that.”

She knows folks, all sorts of people, but she is interested chiefly in
people who do things: not the men who run great corporations and control
the destinies of thousands of men and women, but the men and women who
have jobs, and under that classification come that vast number who run
modest households, who struggle to bring up children, who, in fact, form
the permanent solid stratum on which our society is built.

She has the large-minded sympathy that makes for understanding of the
under dog. She will take French lessons, not only because she wants to
study the language, but because a cultivated Frenchman needs money and
will not accept charity.

Edna Ferber enjoys a talk with a washwoman and the woman enjoys the talk
too. Her colored maid adores her—and imposes on her (as is the way with
colored maids).

She hates pretension and is very likely to speak her mind not only to
her intimates but straight to the face of the objectionable person.
Sometimes she speaks more strongly than she should, for she is impulsive
and quick-tempered, but no one is more generous than she in the
acknowledgment of mistakes.

Her letters are characteristic. They just begin. No salutation, no
sparring for an opening—they begin at the beginning and when she is
through she stops. She just adds her initials.

She stands on her own small feet. If you say to her, “The mantle of O.
Henry has fallen on your shoulders” (it has been said with complimentary
intent), you will get a flash from her black eyes that will scorch you
and a rush of words that will make you wish you were elsewhere. She does
not want anyone’s else mantle or footgear for that matter—she is
herself, Edna Ferber.

Her earlier picturesque, sometimes flippant style, the surprise
climaxes, and the short pithy sentences, come from her newspaper
experience and not from any influence of O. Henry. The newspaper
editor’s command is to “tell the story and make it snappy,” and it has
affected Edna Ferber’s style, as it has affected the work of many other
writers who grew out of newspaper offices.

Her style has changed as all thoughtful readers must have noticed. The
literary form of the Emma McChesney stories is quite different from that
of the stories in “Cheerful by Request” and “Gigolo.” Read a story in
“Roast Beef Medium” and then read “Old Man Minick.”

There is a depth and richness, a dignity and soundness, that the earlier
works lacked. Yet there is no loss of strength and vital freshness in
her later books.

There is a vitality about Edna Ferber that is recognizable the moment
she comes into a room. She enters almost with a rush, with a quick, firm
step; though she is short, scarcely more than five feet three, I should
think, she dominates most groups. Her rather large head with its thick
black hair, cropped so one may see the admirable shape of the skull, is
held erect. She greets one with a cordiality that is sometimes disarming
and she speaks with a curious drawl that seems quite out of character
with her forthright nature. What she says is worth listening to, for
even the most commonplace occasions bring forth unbromidic speech from
Edna Ferber.

As she talks in private conversation so she talks in public. She is a
good speech-maker, a good lecturer. Her spoken words have the pungent
vitality of her writing and the reading of her own stories makes the
characters come alive startlingly.

It may seem strange to those of us who do not make our own living by
creative writing that a woman who has made her mark as a reporter and
who still occasionally reports a national convention, finds it so hard
to write fiction. Edna Ferber has written for newspapers about all sorts
of things under every sort of difficult handicap of time and place, and
has produced good “copy.” Yet her short stories, novels and plays, are
slowly and laboriously produced. And when the job is done, so closely
has she held her nose to the grindstone, that she is unable to perceive
the work as a whole, and realize how good it is.

She once rented an apartment on the lake front in Chicago, her desk
facing the blue waters. She was in the midst of her novel, “The Girls.”
She complained that she could not get on with it, it was hard labor, so
hard that in spite of her best efforts she would look at the lake and
the trees and the children playing in the street below. Her anxious
publisher besought her to turn her typewriter table so she faced the
blank wall. She did; and the book was speedily born.

In an article in _The American Magazine_, under the characteristic title
of “The Joy of the Job,” she tells of her methods of work.

“At the risk of being hated I wanted to state that I’ve always felt
sorry for any woman who could play whenever she wanted to. She never
will know how sweet play can be. Chocolate is no treat for a girl in a
candy factory. Play is no treat for an idler. My work is such that
morning engagements and festive luncheoning are forbidden. On those rare
occasions, two or three times a year, perhaps, when I deliberately, and
for the good of my soul, break the rule and sneak off down-town for
luncheon, the affair takes on the proportions of an orgy. No college
girls’ midnight fudge spree could be more thrilling. To my unaccustomed
eyes the girls in their new hats all look pretty. The matrons appear
amazingly well dressed. The men, chatting over their after-luncheon
cigarettes, are captains of finance, discussing problems of national
import. I refuse to believe what my _vis-à-vis_ says about their being
cloak-and-suit salesmen whose conversation probably runs thus:

“‘I come into his place at ten this morning and he wouldn’t look at my
stuff till twelve, and finally I goes up to him, and I says to him, I
says, “Looka here, Marx.”’

“The very waiters interest me. The ’bus boys are deft, and I refuse to
be bothered by their finger nails. The chicken salad is a poem, the
coffee a dream, the French pastry a divine concoction.

“When you work three hundred and fifty mornings in the year, a game of
golf on the three hundred and fifty-first is a lark. That’s one reason
why I play so atrociously, I suppose. They who say that work hardens
one, or wearies, or dulls, have chosen the wrong occupation, or have
never really tasted the delights of it. It’s the finest freshener in the
world. It’s an appetizer. It’s a combination cocktail and _hors
d’œuvre_, to be taken before playing. It gives color to the most
commonplace of holidays. It makes a run through the park a treat.
There’s very little thrill in a brisk walk if you can brisk-walk from
morning until night. But after having sat before a typewriter, or desk,
or table, for hours together, to be able to stretch one’s legs for a
swing of two or three miles—that’s living.

“The entire output of my particular job depends upon me. By that I mean
that when I put the cover on my typewriter the works are closed. The
office equipment consists of one flat table, rather messy; one
typewriter, much abused, and one typewriter table; a chunk of yellow
copy paper, and one of white. All the wheels, belts, wires, bolts,
files, tools—the whole manufacturing scheme of things—has got to be
contained in the space between my chin and my topmost hairpin. And my
one horror, my nightmare of nightmares, is that some morning I’ll wake
up and find that space vacant, and the works closed down, with a mental
sign over the front door reading:

“‘For Rent. Fine, large empty head. Inquire within.’

“There was one year when there was a sign reading, ‘Closed for repairs.’
The horror of it is still with me.”

In another place she says: “No autobiographical sketch is complete
without a statement of ambitions. I have two. I want to be allowed to
sit in a rocking chair on the curb at the corner of State and Madison
streets and watch the folks go by. And I would fain live on a houseboat
in the Vale of Cashmere. I don’t know where the Vale of Cashmere is, nor
whether it boasts a water course or not.”

What a lot she would get out of her view of life from a rocking chair at
State and Madison streets!

She complained bitterly once that a certain writer, now opulent and
lazy, who knew Chicago from the stockyards to the North Shore, did not
use the stuff he had in his head. She felt not so much that he was
missing an opportunity, but that he had buried the talent of experience
that should have been passed on to others after he had gone.

Though Edna Ferber lives in New York—her apartment faces Central
Park—she is not of New York. She knows Chicago, she thinks Chicago,
just as Booth Tarkington thinks and knows Indianapolis and would not
live wholly away from it. The author of “The Girls,” that masterpiece of
Chicago, frequently visits the Windy City and sits, metaphorically, at
the corner of State and Madison and soaks in the spirit of the city,
that city so recently a pioneer town, so lately an effete city. No
wonder she finds it fascinating and inexhaustible.

Edna Ferber’s apartment is the place where she meets her friends,
breakfasts, lunches, dines, and sleeps. It is her rest house, her
relaxation. The furnishing of it was an adventure. The choosing of
draperies for the windows (there are many facing east), the tints for
the walls, and the fabrics for the upholstery, she found an exhilarating
venture into the unknown. She has been a hotel dweller, a renter of the
homes of other people. But here she is rioting in her own home with her
own furniture and hers is the sole responsibility for the color scheme,
the style, and the composition. And it is good. Her taste in furnishing
as in writing is to be relied upon. It is also most comfortable, too
comfortable. It would be hard enough to break away from this interesting
woman if one were standing talking in a windy street, but when
surrounded by all the comforts it is almost impossible not to overstay
one’s welcome.

But she works in a bare studio, close by, away from the telephone and
too friendly visitors. Every morning she sits down at the typewriter and
works—and most afternoons. No writer produces good work without
wearying effort, long hours of concentration, and at times great
discouragement.

What Miss Ferber wears while she works, whether dress, sweater, or
smock, I do not know, for she does not do her writing in public as a
prize fighter trains for a battle. Her battles are fought out alone.

One of her old and understanding friends, William Allen White, has
written a most illuminating account of her life, her struggles, and her
achievement. Mr. White being a Middle Westerner himself, quite
understands Edna Ferber’s point of view. The following extract is taken
from an introduction by the famous editor of the _Emporia Gazette_ for
an edition of “Cheerful by Request”:

“Edna Ferber’s pasture is long and narrow geographically; ranging from a
thin pennant running westward to the mountains, to a slim tatter as far
east as Vienna. But it is close clipped around Chicago, in Illinois,
Minnesota, and Wisconsin; and well cropped in and about New York. In its
social boundaries her field is more compact; chiefly lying in the middle
class, sometimes taking in those who are just climbing out of poverty,
and often considering those who are happily wiggling into our
plutocracy. But one thread will string every character she ever
conceived; all her people do something for a living. She is the goddess
of the worker. And from her typewriter keys spring hard-working bankers,
merchants, burglars, garage-helpers, stenographers, actors, traveling
salesmen, hotel clerks, porters and reporters, wholesalers, pushcart
men, wine touts, welfare workers, farmers, writers—always doers of
things: money makers, men and women who pull their weight in the boat.
And her stories chiefly tell what a fine time these hardworking
Americans have with their day’s work.

“In the Great American Short Story, which must tell of American life
rather than our Great American Novel, Edna Ferber’s section will be
among the workers. Mrs. Wharton and Henry Fuller and Sherwood Anderson
can have the loafers, in high life and low life. But Miss Ferber’s
people will come from the stores and offices and workshops. They will,
as the Gospel Hymn has it, come rejoicing, bringing home the bacon.
Their dramatic moments are oftenest in aprons, shirt-sleeves, overalls,
at desks, behind counters, in kitchens, behind stage curtains, in the
midst of the business of earning a living. Precious little is done in
the Ferber stories ‘in God’s great out of doors—in the wide open
spaces.’ When anything has to be open in Miss Ferber’s work it is a
lively and festive wide-open town.

“So let us consider who she is and how she happened to be a writing
woman. In the middle or late ’eighties of the nineteenth century she was
born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, of Jewish parents. Her father was a
Hungarian. Her mother an American, born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her
father was the owner of a general merchandise store, first in Iowa, then
in Appleton, Wisconsin. Miss Ferber at seventeen was graduated from the
Ryan High School in Appleton. For her graduating essay she wrote an
account of the life of the women workers in a local mill. The local
editor saw it: recognized that it was good reporting and gave her a job
as local reporter at $3.00 a week—a rather princely salary twenty years
ago for a new girl reporter in a country town. She wrote local items,
from the court house, the city hall, the fire department, the home of
the village Crœsus, and the police court. Then she was graduated from
the Appleton paper to Milwaukee. In Milwaukee also she was a reporter.
And while she was earning a living as a reporter she wrote ‘Dawn
O’Hara,’ her first novel. It sold well. While it was in the press and
selling during 1911 and ’12, the magazines began telling the story of
‘Emma McChesney.’ Here was something new; the traveling saleswoman—who
was rather more woman than merchant, but who was altogether human. The
character appealed to the public, and Edna Ferber had her knee in the
door of success. In 1913 the stories were collected under the title
‘Roast Beef Medium,’ and that book sold well. Two years later appeared
more McChesney stories under the title ‘Emma McChesney & Co.’ Then came
the play ‘Emma McChesney,’ and Edna Ferber was well in the ante-room of
the hall of fame, with her card going to posterity. In the meantime, a
book of short stories, ‘Buttered Side Down,’ had been written and sold
to the magazines and successfully published. In 1917 Miss Ferber’s
second novel appeared, ‘Fanny, Herself,’ and in 1918 came ‘Cheerful by
Request.’

“In 1922 all the promise of ten years of conscientious work was
fulfilled, when Miss Ferber wrote ‘The Girls,’ a novel of Chicago. The
humor of it, the strength of it, the art of it, must make posterity give
more than a glance at Edna Ferber’s card. She has something to tell
posterity about America.

“And so we must tell posterity something about her—about Edna Ferber,
herself. The best description of her family life ever written, she wrote
in the dedication of ‘Dawn O’Hara,’ to Julia Ferber, her ‘dear mother
who frequently interrupts, and to Sister Fannie who says Sh-Sh-Sh-
outside my door.’ Some shadowy hint of the life of the Ferbers after the
husband and father died, and before the family moved to Chicago, may be
found in the earlier chapters of ‘Fanny, Herself’—at least it is a good
picture of Julia Ferber, the mother, a strong, devoted, capable woman
who is a credit to her country.

“All around Edna Ferber is an atmosphere of work. She works hard and all
the time. Her friends work hard, and all the time. So when she takes her
typewriter in hand to tell of the world she knows, she describes a
working world. It is a world deeply American. For whatever else we
Americans are, we are workers. Here and there a man lives without work,
a white rich man’s son or a black washerwoman’s son. We have no leisure
classes. But the world of Edna Ferber’s people in its economic status is
the real world of America. And she, a working woman, is typical of the
modern American woman. If for any reason posterity is interested in this
American world of the first three decades of the twentieth century,
posterity will do well—indeed posterity probably can do no better than
to tell the butler to bring Edna Ferber for a few moments and let her
read ‘The Gay Old Dog,’ and ‘The Eldest.’”

Since Mr. White wrote the foregoing, Edna Ferber has made two big steps
forward. In the volume, “Gigolo,” is to be found that masterpiece, “Old
Man Minick,” to mention but one of a group of eight. The play from this
story, written by her in collaboration with George S. Kaufman, has
become an artistic and a financial success. The story, “Old Man Minick,”
together with the play, “Minick,” have been published in a separate
volume, so one can see how a short story can be turned into a successful
play. It is interesting to compare the fictional use of an idea with the
dramatic, especially when the work is done by the same hand.

Edna Ferber has always been interested in plays and play-writing. She
has written three that I know of, and two have been highly successful.
“$1,200 a Year,” written with Newman Levy, deserved a greater success
than it won. As a piece of literature it deserves more than one
rereading.

Of course “So Big” has done more to interest people in Edna Ferber than
anything else, yet the quality that has made such a success of that book
lies also in most of her earlier work. That she herself was not too sure
about it is made clear in an interview, titled “How it Feels to be a
Best Seller”:

“There are people who write Best Sellers as a matter of business. That
is, they are in the Best Seller business. They write them, I am told,
deliberately and mathematically, using a formula as a cook uses a
recipe. You hear a name and you say, in your ignorance, ‘Who? . . .
Who’s he?’ And the answer is, ‘He’s Whosis. You don’t mean to say you’ve
never read him! He writes Best Sellers.’

“I don’t know how they do it. I don’t want to know. I suppose they have
some peculiar thermometer or mechanism by which they gauge that fickle
phenomenon known as the public pulse. But occasionally some one comes
along who commits a Best Seller in all innocence, and with no such
intent. Of such am I.

“Not only did I not plan to write a Best Seller when I wrote ‘So Big’
but I thought, when I had finished it, that I had written the world’s
worst seller. Not that alone, I thought I had written a complete
Non-Seller. I didn’t think anyone would ever read it. And that’s the
literal truth.

“It was this way. I had worked on it, day after day, day after day, for
many months, starting at nine each morning and working until four in the
afternoon. I knew where I was going and why I wanted to get there, but
after a time I became like a patient plodder who must travel weary miles
along a lonely road before he arrives at the city of his destination.
Mile after mile I covered the distance, sometimes traveling fairly
swiftly, sometimes scarcely able to lift one tired foot after the other.
When it was finished I was so dulled by contact with it that I scarcely
could see it. The last stretch of the work, during June and July, had
been written in Chicago. That June and July in Chicago I recall as a
period during which the thermometer hovered gracefully between 90 and 96
in the shade.

“As the work of final correction began and progressed I began to dole
out sheaves of copy to the typist. She used to call for a chunk of the
story every day or two. She would appear at about four in the afternoon
when I had finished work for the day, and when I was at my limpest,
dampest and lowest. I remember her as a nice fresh-looking red-haired
girl in crisp cool orchid organdie. She would make four copies of each
fresh sheaf as she received it, return these, and call for more. No
other soul except myself had seen a line of that story.

“Each time she called I waited eagerly, hopefully, for her to make some
comment. I wanted her to say she liked Selina. I wanted her to say she
didn’t care for Dirk. I wanted her to say she thought the story should
have ended this way, or that. I wanted her to evince some interest in
the novel; to show some liking for it, or even to show dislike. She
never did.

“‘Well,’ said I to Miss E. Ferber, ‘that settles it. There you are,
Edna! I told you so! Who would be interested in a novel about a
middle-aged woman in a calico dress and with wispy hair and bad teeth,
grubbing on a little truck farm south of Chicago! Nobody. Who cares
about cabbages! Nobody. Who would read the thing if it came out as a
novel! A dull plodding book, written because I was interested; because I
wanted intensely to write it; because I had carried the thought of it
around in my head for five years or more.’

“The story was to be serialized in the _Woman’s Home Companion_ before
being published in novel form. Well, that was all right. It might go
well enough as a serial. But as a novel! Never.

“I wrote Mr. Russell Doubleday, of Doubleday, Page & Company, telling
him that I had finished the book but that it was not, in my opinion, a
book that would sell. No one, I wrote him, would read it. I thought it
would be better for his firm, as publishers, and for me, as author, if
we gave up the idea of publishing this story as a novel. It would be a
flat failure, receiving bad reviews, having no sale.

“Mr. Doubleday replied that I might be right, but that perhaps I should
let some one besides myself have a chance to judge its merits and
faults. Perhaps, he said, I had been too close to it. Would I let him
read it before deciding against it?

“He read it. He wrote me a letter. I keep that letter to read on rainy
days when I’m not feeling well.

“‘So Big’ has, for some reason I can’t explain, been a best seller since
it was published in February, selling on an average of a thousand a day.
I know how the ugly duckling felt who turned into a swan.”

And so, unlike Dirk de Jong, who thought he was so big and wasn’t, the
novel is so very big, when the author thought it of much less
importance.

It is safe to say that at least seven million people read “So Big” in
its serial and book form. All these people will be looking forward
hopefully to her next book. That there will be no disappointment can be
confidently predicted because Edna Ferber has built upon so sure a
foundation.

I believe that big work cannot come of small people. Edna Ferber is a
big person (not in stature nor avoirdupois) in mind, in heart, in soul,
and in vision. A study of her work shows her growth and she is still
growing, and will keep on growing as long as she lives. She will keep on
growing because she sees so much farther than she has been able to
reach. Her vision is so big.



                           TRANSCRIBER NOTES


Mis-spelled words and printer errors have been fixed.

Inconsistency in hyphenation has been retained.





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