Part 5 out of 8
"They all said he'd gone to fill you up, and get you on his side."
"Mother, what is the trouble?" asked Kate. "Take your time and
tell me what has happened, and what YOU want, not what Adam
Mrs. Bates relaxed her body a trifle, but gripped her hands
tightly together in her lap.
"Well, it was quick work," she said. "It all came yesterday
afternoon just like being hit by lightening. Pa hadn't failed a
particle that any one could see. Ate a big dinner of ham an'
boiled dumplings, an' him an' Hiram was in the west field. It was
scorchin' hot an' first Hiram saw, Pa was down. Sam Langley was
passin' an' helped get him in, an' took our horse an' ran for
Robert. He was in the country but Sam brought another doctor real
quick, an' he seemed to fetch Pa out of it in good shape, so we
thought he'd be all right, mebby by morning, though the doctor
said he'd have to hole up a day or two. He went away, promisin'
to send Robert back, and Hiram went home to feed. I set by Pa
fanning him an' putting cloths on his head. All at once he began
"We thought it was only the way a-body was with sunstroke, and
past pilin' on blankets, we didn't pay much attention. He SAID he
was all right, so I went to milk. Before I left I gave him a
drink, an' he asked me to feel in his pants pocket an' get the key
an' hand him the deed box, till he'd see if everything was right.
Said he guessed he'd had a close call. You know how he was. I
got him the box and went to do the evening work. I hurried fast
as I could. Coming back, clear acrost the yard I smelt burning
wool, an' I dropped the milk an' ran. I dunno no more about just
what happened 'an you do. The house was full of smoke. Pa was on
the floor, most to the sitting-room door, his head and hair and
hands awfully burned, his shirt burned off, laying face down, and
clear gone. The minute I seen the way he laid, I knew he was
gone. The bed was pourin' smoke and one little blaze about six
inches high was shootin' up to the top. I got that out, and then
I saw most of the fire was smothered between the blankets where
he'd thrown them back to get out of the bed. I dunno why he
fooled with the lamp. It always stood on the little table in his
reach, but it was light enough to read fine print. All I can
figure is that the light was going out of his EYES, an' he thought
IT WAS GETTIN' DARK, so he tried to light the lamp to see the
deeds. He was fingerin' them when I left, but he didn't say he
couldn't see them. The lamp was just on the bare edge of the
table, the wick way up an' blackened, the chimney smashed on the
floor, the bed afire."
"Those deeds are burned?" gasped Kate. "All of them? Are they
"Every last one," said Mrs. Bates.
"Well, if ONE is gone, thank God they all are," said Kate.
Her mother turned swiftly and caught her arm.
"Say that again!" she cried eagerly.
"Maybe I'm WRONG about it, but it's what I think," said Kate. "If
the boys are crazy over all of them being gone, they'd do murder
if part had theirs, and the others had not."
Mrs. Bates doubled over on Kate's shoulder suddenly and struggled
with an inward spasm.
"You poor thing," said Kate. "This is dreadful. All of us know
how you loved him, how you worked together. Can you think of
anything I can do? Is there any special thing the matter?"
"I'm afraid!" whispered Mrs. Bates. "Oh, Katie, I'm so afraid.
You know how SET he was, you know how he worked himself and all of
us -- he had to know what he was doing, when he fought the fire
till the shirt burned off him" -- her voice dropped to a harsh
whisper -- "what do you s'pose he's doing now?"
Any form of religious belief was a subject that never had been
touched upon or talked of in the Bates family. Money was their
God, work their religion; Kate looked at her mother curiously.
"You mean you believe in after life?" she asked.
"Why, I suppose there must be SOMETHING," she said.
"I think so myself," said Kate. "I always have. I think there is
a God, and that Father is facing Him now, and finding out for the
first time in his experience that he is very small potatoes, and
what he planned and slaved for amounted to nothing, in the scheme
of the universe. I can't imagine Father being subdued by anything
on earth, but it appeals to me that he will cut a pathetic figure
before the throne of an Almighty God."
A slow grin twisted Mrs. Bates' lips.
"Well, wherever he went," she said, "I guess he found out pretty
quick that he was some place at last where he couldn't be boss."
"I'm very sure he has," said Kate, "and I am equally sure the
discipline will be good for him. But his sons! His precious
sons! What are they doing?"
"Taking it according to their bent," said Mrs. Bates. "Adam is
insane, Hiram is crying."
"Have you had a lawyer?" asked Kate.
"What for? We all know the law on this subject better than we
know our a, b, c's."
"Did your deed for this place go, too?" asked Kate.
"Yes," said Mrs. Bates, "but mine was recorded, none of the others
were. I get a third, and the rest will be cut up and divided,
share and share alike, among ALL OF YOU, equally. I think it's
going to kill Adam and ruin Andrew."
"It won't do either. But this is awful. I can see how the boys
feel, and really, Mother, this is no more fair to them than things
always have been for the girls. By the way, what are they doing?"
"Same as the boys, acting out their natures. Mary is openly
rejoicing. So is Nancy Ellen. Hannah and Bertha at least can see
the boys' side. The others say one thing before the boys and
another among themselves. In the end the girls will have their
shares and nobody can blame them. I don't myself, but I think Pa
will rise from his grave when those farms are torn up."
"Don't worry," said Kate. "He will have learned by now that
graves are merely incidental, and that he has no option on real
estate where he is. Leave him to his harp, and tell me what you
"I want you to see that it was all accidental. I want you to take
care of me. I want you should think out the FAIR thing for all of
us to DO. I want you to keep sane and cool-headed and shame the
others into behaving themselves. And I want you to smash down
hard on their everlasting, 'why didn't you do this?' and 'why
didn't you do that?' I reckon I've been told five hundred times
a-ready that I shouldn't a-give him the deeds. Josie say it, an'
then she sings it. NOT GIVE THEM TO HIM! How could I help giving
them to him? He'd a-got up and got them himself if I hadn't -- "
"You have cut out something of a job for me," said Kate, "but I'll
do my best. Anyway, I can take care of you. Come on into the
house now, and let me clean you up, and then I'll talk the rest of
them into reason, if you stand back of me, and let them see I'm
acting for you."
"You go ahead," said Mrs. Bates. "I'll back whatever you say.
But keep them off of me! Keep them off of me!"
After Kate had bathed her mother, helped her into fresh clothes,
and brushed her hair, she coaxed her to lie down, and by
diplomatic talk and stroking her head, finally soothed her to
sleep. Then she went down and announced the fact, asked them all
to be quiet, and began making her way from group to group in an
effort to restore mental balance and sanity. After Kate had
invited all of them to go home and stay until time for the funeral
Sunday morning, and all of them had emphatically declined, and
eagerly had gone on straining the situation to the breaking point,
Kate gave up and began setting the table. When any of them tried
to talk or argue with her she said conclusively: "I shall not say
one word about this until Monday. Then we will talk things over,
and find where we stand, and what Mother wants. This would be
much easier for all of us, if you'd all go home and calm down, and
plan out what you think would be the fair and just thing to do."
Before evening Kate was back exactly where she left off, for when
Mrs. Bates came downstairs, her nerves quieted by her long sleep,
she asked Kate what would be best about each question that arose,
while Kate answered as nearly for all of them as her judgment and
common sense dictated; but she gave the answer in her own way, and
she paved the way by making a short, sharp speech when the first
person said in her hearing that "Mother never should have given
him the deeds." Not one of them said that again, while at Kate's
suggestion, mentally and on scraps of paper, every single one of
them figured that one third of sixteen hundred and fifty was five
hundred and fifty; subtracted from sixteen hundred and fifty this
left one thousand one hundred, which, divided by sixteen, save
sixty-eight and three fourths. This result gave Josie the
hysterics, strong and capable though she was; made Hiram violently
ill, so that he resorted to garden palings for a support; while
Agatha used her influence suddenly, and took Adam, Jr., home.
As she came to Kate to say that they were going, Agatha was white
as possible, her thin lips compressed, a red spot burning on
"Adam and I shall take our departure now, Katherine," she said,
standing very stiffly, her head held higher than Kate ever had
thought it could be lifted. Kate put her arm around her sister-
in-law and gave her a hearty hug: "Tell Adam I'll do what I think
is fair and just; and use all the influence I have to get the
others to do the same," she said.
"Fruitless!" said Agatha. "Fruitless! Reason and justice have
departed from this abode. I shall hasten my pace, and take Adam
where my influence is paramount. The state of affairs here is
deplorable, perfectly deplorable! I shall not be missed, and I
shall leave my male offspring to take the place of his poor,
Adam, 3d, was now a tall, handsome young man of twenty-two, quite
as fond of Kate as ever. He wiped the dishes, and when the
evening work was finished, they talked with Mrs. Bates until they
knew her every wish. The children had planned for a funeral from
the church, because it was large enough to seat the family and
friends in comfort; but when they mentioned this to Mrs. Bates,
she delivered an ultimatum on the instant: "You'll do no such
thing!" she cried. "Pa never went to that church living; I'll not
sanction his being carried there feet first, when he's helpless.
And we'll not scandalize the neighbours by fighting over money on
Sunday, either. You'll all come Monday morning, if you want
anything to say about this. If you don't, I'll put through the
business in short order. I'm sick to my soul of the whole thing.
I'll wash my hands of it as quick as possible."
So the families all went to their homes; Kate helped her mother to
bed; and then she and Adam, 3d, tried to plan what would be best
for the morrow; afterward they sat down and figured until almost
"There's no faintest possibility of pleasing everyone," said Kate.
"The level best we can do is to devise some scheme whereby
everyone will come as nearly being satisfied as possible."
"Can Aunt Josie and Aunt Mary keep from fighting across the
grave?" asked Adam.
"Only Heaven knows," said Kate.
THE BANNER HAND
SUNDAY morning Kate arose early and had the house clean and
everything ready when the first carriage load drove into the
barnyard. As she helped her mother to dress, Mrs. Bates again
evidenced a rebellious spirit. Nancy Ellen had slipped upstairs
and sewed fine white ruching in the neck and sleeves of her
mother's best dress, her only dress, in fact, aside from the
calicoes she worked in. Kate combed her mother's hair and drew it
in loose waves across her temples. As she produced the dress,
Mrs. Bates drew back.
"What did you stick them gew-gaws onto my dress for?" she
"I didn't," said Kate.
"Oh, it was Nancy Ellen! Well, I don't see why she wanted to make
a laughing stock of me," said Mrs. Bates.
"She didn't!" said Kate. "Everyone is wearing ruching now; she
wanted her mother to have what the best of them have."
"Humph!" said Mrs. Bates. "Well, I reckon I can stand it until
noon, but it's going to be a hot dose."
"Haven't you a thin black dress, Mother?" asked Kate.
"No," said Mrs. Bates, "I haven't; but you can make a pretty safe
bet that I will have one before I start anywhere again in such
weather as this."
"That's the proper spirit," said Kate. "There comes Andrew. Let
me put your bonnet on."
She set the fine black bonnet Nancy Ellen had bought on Mrs.
Bates' head at the proper angle and tied the long, wide silk
ribbon beneath her chin. Mrs. Bates sat in martyr-like
resignation. Kate was pleased with her mother's appearance.
"Look in the mirror," she said. "See what a handsome lady you
"I ain't seen in a looking-glass since I don't know when," said
Mrs. Bates. "Why should I begin now? Chances are 'at you have
rigged me up until I'll set the neighbours laughing, or else to
saying that I didn't wait until the breath was out of Pa's body to
"Nonsense, Mother," said Kate. "Nobody will say or think
anything. Everyone will recognize Nancy Ellen's fine Spencerian
hand in that bonnet and ruching. Now for your veil!"
Mrs. Bates arose from her chair, and stepped back.
"There, there, Katie!" she said. "You've gone far enough. I'll
be sweat to a lather in this dress; I'll wear the head-riggin',
because I've go to, or set the neighbours talkin' how mean Pa was
not to let me have a bonnet; and between the two I'd rather they'd
take it out on me than on him." She steadied herself by the chair
back and looked Kate in the eyes. "Pa was always the banner hand
to boss everything," she said. "He was so big and strong, and so
all-fired sure he was right, I never contraried him in the start,
so before I knowed it, I was waiting for him to say what to do,
and then agreeing with him, even when I knowed he was WRONG. So
goin' we got along FINE, but it give me an awful smothered feeling
Kate stood looking at her mother intently, her brain racing, for
she was thinking to herself: "Good Lord! She means that to
preserve the appearance of self-respect she systematically agreed
with him, whether she thought he was right or wrong; because she
was not able to hold her own against him. Nearly fifty years of
life like that!"
Kate tossed the heavy black crepe veil back on the bed. "Mother,"
she said, "here alone, and between us, if I promise never to tell
a living soul, will you tell me the truth about that deed
business?" Mrs. Bates seemed so agitated Kate added: "I mean how
it started. If you thought it was right and a fair thing to do."
"Yes, I'll tell you that," said Mrs. Bates. "It was not fair, and
I saw it; I saw it good and plenty. There was no use to fight
him; that would only a-drove him to record them, but I was sick of
it, an' I told him so."
Kate was pinning her hat.
"I have planned for you to walk with Adam," she said.
"Well, you can just change THAT plan, so far as I am concerned,"
said Mrs. Bates with finality. "I ain't a-goin' with Adam.
Somebody had told him about the deeds before he got here. He came
in ravin', and he talked to me something terrible. He was the
first to say I shouldn't a-give Pa the box. NOT GIVE IT TO HIM!
An' he went farther than that, till I just rose up an' called him
down proper; but I ain't feelin' good at him, an' I ain't goin'
with him. I am goin' with you. I want somebody with me that
understands me, and feels a little for me, an' I want the
neighbours to see that the minute I'm boss, such a fine girl as
you has her rightful place in her home. I'll go with you, or I'll
sit down on this chair, and sit here."
"But you didn't send for me," said Kate.
"No, I hadn't quite got round to it yet; but I was coming. I'd
told all of them that you were the only one in the lot who had any
sense; and I'd said I WISHED you were here, and as I see it, I'd
a-sent for you yesterday afternoon about three o'clock. I was
coming to it fast. I didn't feel just like standing up for
myself; but I'd took about all fault-finding it was in me to bear.
Just about three o'clock I'd a-sent for you, Katie, sure as God
made little apples."
"All right then," said Kate, "but if you don't tell them, they'll
always say I took the lead."
"Well, they got to say something," said Mrs. Bates. "Most of 'em
would die if they had to keep their mouths shut awhile; but I'll
tell them fast enough."
Then she led the way downstairs. There were enough members of the
immediate family to pack the front rooms of the house, the
neighbours filled the dining room and dooryard. The church choir
sang a hymn in front of the house, the minister stood on the front
steps and read a chapter, and told where Mr. Bates had been born,
married, the size of his family and possessions, said he was a
good father, an honest neighbour, and very sensibly left his
future with his God. Then the choir sang again and all started to
their conveyances. As the breaking up began outside, Mrs. Bates
arose and stepped to the foot of the casket. She steadied herself
by it and said: "Some time back, I promised Pa that if he went
before I did, at this time in his funeral ceremony I would set his
black tin box on the foot of his coffin and unlock before all of
you, and in the order in which they lay, beginning with Adam, Jr.,
hand each of you boys the deed Pa had made you for the land you
live on. You all know WHAT happened. None of you know just HOW.
It wouldn't bring the deeds BACK if you did. They're gone. But I
want you boys to follow your father to his grave with nothing in
your hearts against HIM. He was all for the men. I don't ever
want to hear any of you criticize him about this, or me, either.
He did his best to make you upstanding men in your community, his
one failing being that he liked being an upstanding man himself so
well that he carried it too far; but his intentions was the best.
As for me, I'd no idea how sick he was, and nobody else did. I
minded him just like all the rest of you always did; the BOYS
especially. From the church I want all of you to go home until
to-morrow morning, and then I want my sons and daughters by BIRTH
only, to come here, and we'll talk things over, quietly, QUIETLY,
mind you; and decide what to do. Katie, will you come with me?"
It was not quite a tearless funeral. Some of the daughters-in-law
wept from nervous excitement; and some of the little children
cried with fear, but there were no tears from the wife of Adam
Bates, or his sons and daughters. And when he was left to the
mercies of time, all of them followed Mrs. Bates' orders, except
Nancy Ellen and Robert, who stopped to help Kate with the dinner.
Kate slipped into her second dress and went to work. Mrs. Bates
untied her bonnet strings and unfastened her dress neck as they
started home. She unbuttoned her waist going up the back walk and
pulled it off at the door.
"Well, if I ever put that thing on in July again," she said, "you
can use my head for a knock-maul. Nancy Ellen, can't you stop at
a store as you come out in the morning and get the goods, and you
girls run me up a dress that is nice enough to go out in, and not
so hot it starts me burning before my time?"
"Of course I can," said Nancy Ellen. "About what do you want to
"Whatever it takes to get a decent and a cool dress; cool, mind
you," said Mrs. Bates, "an' any colour but black."
"Why, Mother!" cried Nancy Ellen "it must be black!"
"No," said Mrs. Bates. "Pa kept me in black all my life on the
supposition it showed the dirt the least. There's nothing in
that. It shows dirt worse 'an white. I got my fill of black.
You can get a nice cool gray, if you want me to wear it."
"Well, I never!" said Nancy Ellen. "What will the neighbours
"What do I care?" asked Mrs. Bates. "They've talked about me all
my life, I'd be kinda lonesome if they's to quit."
Dinner over, Kate proposed that her mother should lie down while
they washed the dishes.
"I would like a little rest," said Mrs. Bates. "I guess I'll go
"You'll do nothing of the kind," said Kate. "It's dreadfully hot
up there. Go in the spare room, where it is cool; we'll keep
quiet. I am going to stay Tuesday until I move you in there,
anyway. It's smaller, but it's big enough for one, and you'll
feel much better there."
"Oh, Katie, I'm so glad you thought of that," cried Mrs. Bates.
"I been thinking and thinking about it, and it just seems as if I
can't ever steel myself to go into that room to sleep again. I'll
never enter that door that I don't see -- "
"You'll never enter it again as your room," said Kate. "I'll fix
you up before I go; and Sally Whistler told me last evening she
would come and make her home with you if you wanted her. You like
Sally, don't you?"
"Yes, I like her fine," said Mrs. Bates.
Quietly as possible the girls washed the dishes, pulled down the
blinds, closed the front door, and slipped down in the orchard
with Robert to talk things over. Nancy Ellen was stiffly reserved
with Kate, but she WOULD speak when she was spoken to, which was
so much better than silence that Kate was happy over it. Robert
was himself. Kate thought she had never liked him so well. He
seemed to grow even kinder and more considerate as the years
passed. Nancy Ellen was prettier than Kate ever had seen her, but
there was a line of discontent around her mouth, and she spoke
pettishly on slight provocation, or none at all. Now she was
openly, brazenly, brutally, frank in her rejoicing. She thought
it was the best "JOKE" that ever happened to the boys; and she
said so repeatedly. Kate found her lips closing more tightly and
a slight feeling of revulsion growing in her heart. Surely in
Nancy Ellen's lovely home, cared for and shielded in every way,
she had no such need of money as Kate had herself. She was
delighted when Nancy Ellen said she was sleepy, and was going to
the living-room lounge for a nap. Then Kate produced her sheet of
figures. She and Robert talked the situation over and carefully
figured on how an adjustment, fair to all, could be made, until
they were called to supper.
After supper Nancy Ellen and Robert went home, while Kate and her
mother sat on the back porch and talked until Kate had a clear
understanding and a definite plan in her mind, which was that much
improvement over wearing herself out in bitter revilings, or
selfish rejoicing over her brothers' misfortune. Her mother
listened to all she had to say, asked a question occasionally,
objected to some things, and suggested others. They arose when
they had covered every contingency they could think of and went
upstairs to bed, even though the downstairs was cooler.
As she undressed, Mrs. Bates said slowly: "Now in the morning,
I'll speak my piece first; and I'll say it pretty plain. I got
the whip-hand here for once in my life. They can't rave and fight
here, and insult me again, as they did Friday night and Saturday
till you got here an' shut 'em up. I won't stand it, that's flat!
I'll tell 'em so, and that you speak for me, because you can
figure faster and express yourself plainer; but insist that there
be no fussing, an' I'll back you. I don't know just what life has
been doing to you, Katie, but Lord! it has made a fine woman of
Kate set her lips in an even line and said nothing, but her heart
was the gladdest it had been in years.
Her mother continued: "Seems like Nancy Ellen had all the chance.
Most folks thought she was a lot the purtiest to start with,
though I can't say that I ever saw so much difference. She's had
leisure an' pettin', and her husband has made a mint o' money;
she's gone all over the country with him, and the more chance she
has, the narrower she grows, and the more discontenteder. One
thing, she is awful disappointed about havin' no children. I pity
her about that."
"Is it because she's a twin?" asked Kate.
"I'm afraid so," said Mrs. Bates. "You can't tell much about
those things, they just seem to happen. Robert and Nancy Ellen
feel awful bad about it. Still, she might do for others what she
would for her own. The Lord knows there are enough mighty nice
children in the world who need mothering. I want to see your
children, Katie. Are they nice little folks, straight and good
"The boy is," said Kate. "The girl is good, with the exception of
being the most stubborn child I've ever seen. She looks so much
like a woman it almost sickens me to think of that I have to drive
myself to do her justice."
"What a pity!" said Mrs. Bates, slowly.
"Oh, they are healthy, happy youngsters," said Kate. "They get as
much as we ever did, and don't expect any more. I have yet to see
a demonstrative Bates."
"Humph!" said Mrs. Bates. "Well, you ought to been here Friday
night, and I thought Adam came precious near it Saturday."
"Demonstrating power, or anger, yes," said Kate. "I meant
affection. And isn't it the queerest thing how people are made?
Of all the boys, Adam is the one who has had the most softening
influences, and who has made the most money, and yet he's acting
the worst of all. It really seems as if failure and hardship make
more of a human being of folks than success."
"You're right," said Mrs. Bates. "Look at Nancy Ellen and Adam.
Sometimes I think Adam has been pretty much galled with Agatha and
her money all these years; and it just drives him crazy to think
of having still less than she has. Have you got your figures all
set down, to back you up, Katie?"
"Yes," said Kate. "I've gone all over it with Robert, and he
thinks it's the best and only thing that can be done. Now go to
Each knew that the other was awake most of the night, but very few
words passed between them. They were up early, dressed, and
waiting when the first carriage stopped at the gate. Kate told
her mother to stay where she would not be worried until she was
needed, and went down herself to meet her brothers and sisters in
the big living room. When the last one arrived, she called her
mother. Mrs. Bates came down looking hollow-eyed, haggard, and
grim, as none of her children ever before had seen her. She
walked directly to the little table at the end of the room, and
while still standing she said: "Now I've got a few words to say,
and then I'll turn this over to a younger head an' one better at
figures than mine. I've said my say as to Pa, yesterday. Now
I'll say THIS, for myself. I got my start, minding Pa, and
agreeing with him, young; but you needn't any of you throw it in
my teeth now, that I did. There is only ONE woman among you, and
no MAN who ever disobeyed him. Katie stood up to him once, and
got seven years from home to punish her and me. He wasn't RIGHT
then, and I knew it, as I'd often known it before, and pretty
often since; but no woman God ever made could have lived with Adam
Bates as his wife and contraried him. I didn't mind him any
quicker or any oftener than the rest of you; keep that pretty
clear in your heads, and don't one of you dare open your mouth
again to tell me, as you did Saturday, what I SHOULD a-done, and
what I SHOULDN'T. I've had the law of this explained to me; you
all know it for that matter. By the law, I get this place and one
third of all the other land and money. I don't know just what
money there is at the bank or in notes and mortgages, but a
sixteenth of it after my third is taken out ain't going to make or
break any of you. I've told Katie what I'm willing to do on my
part and she will explain it, and then tell you about a plan she
has fixed up. As for me, you can take it or leave it. If you
take it, well and good; if you don't, the law will be set in
motion to-day, and it will take its course to the end. It all
depends on YOU.
"Now two things more. At the start, what Pa wanted to do seemed
to me right, and I agreed with him and worked with him. But when
my girls began to grow up and I saw how they felt, and how they
struggled and worked, and how the women you boys married went
ahead of my own girls, and had finer homes, an' carriages, and
easier times, I got pretty sick of it, and I told Pa so more'n
once. He just raved whenever I did, an' he always carried his
keys in his pocket. I never touched his chest key in my life,
till I handed him his deed box Friday afternoon. But I agree with
my girls. It's fair and right, since things have come out as they
have, that they should have their shares. I would, too.
"The other thing is just this: I'm tired to death of the whole
business. I want peace and rest and I want it quick. Friday and
Saturday I was so scared and so knocked out I s'pose I'd 'a' took
it if one of the sucking babies had riz up and commenced to tell
me what I should a-done, and what I shouldn't. I'm THROUGH with
that. You will all keep civil tongues in your heads this morning,
or I'll get up and go upstairs, an' lock myself in a room till
you're gone, an' if I go, it will mean that the law takes its
course; and if it does, there will be three hundred acres less
land to divide. You've had Pa on your hands all your lives, now
you will go civil, and you will go easy, or you will get a taste
of Ma. I take no more talk from anybody. Katie, go ahead with
Kate spread her sheet on the table and glanced around the room:
"The Milton County records show sixteen hundred and fifty acres
standing in Father's name," she said. "Of these, Mother is heir
to five hundred and fifty acres, leaving one thousand one hundred
acres to be divided among sixteen of us, which give sixty-eight
and three-fourths acres to each. This land is the finest that
proper fertilization and careful handling can make. Even the
poorest is the cream of the country as compared with the
surrounding farms. As a basis of estimate I have taken one
hundred dollars an acre as a fair selling figure. Some is worth
more, some less, but that is a good average. This would make the
share of each of us in cash that could easily be realized, six
thousand eight hundred and seventy-five dollars. Whatever else is
in mortgages, notes, and money can be collected as it is due,
deposited in some bank, and when it is all in, divided equally
among us, after deducting Mother's third. Now this is the law,
and those are the figures, but I shall venture to say that none of
us feel RIGHT about it, or ever will."
An emphatic murmur of approval ran among the boys, Mary and Nancy
Ellen stoutly declared that they did.
"Oh, no, you don't!" said Kate. "If God made any woman of you so
that she feels right and clean in her conscience about this deal,
he made her WRONG, and that is a thing that has not yet been
proven of God. As I see it, here is the boys' side: from
childhood they were told, bribed, and urged to miss holidays, work
all week, and often on Sunday, to push and slave on the promise of
this land at twenty-one. They all got the land and money to stock
it and build homes. They were told it was theirs, required to pay
the taxes on it, and also to labour at any time and without wages
for Father. Not one of the boys but has done several hundred
dollars' worth of work on Father's farm for nothing, to keep him
satisfied and to insure getting his deed. All these years, each
man has paid his taxes, put thousands in improvements, in
rebuilding homes and barns, fertilizing, and developing his land.
Each one of these farms is worth nearly twice what it was the day
it was received. That the boys should lose all this is no cause
for rejoicing on the part of any true woman; as a fact, no true
woman would allow such a thing to happen -- "
"Speak for yourself!" cried several of the girls at once.
"Now right here is where we come to a perfect understanding," said
Kate. "I did say that for myself, but in the main what I say, I
say for MOTHER. Now you will not one of you interrupt me again,
or this meeting closes, and each of you stands to lose more than
two thousand dollars, which is worth being civil for, for quite a
while. No more of that! I say any woman should be ashamed to
take advantage of her brother through an accident; and rob him of
years of work and money he was perfectly justified in thinking was
his. I, for one, refuse to do it, and I want and need money
probably more than any of you. To tear up these farms, to take
more than half from the boys, is too much. On the other hand, for
the girls to help earn the land, to go with no inheritance at all,
is even more unfair. Now in order to arrive at a compromise that
will leave each boy his farm, and give each girl the nearest
possible to a fair amount, figuring in what the boys have spent in
taxes and work for Father, and what each girl has LOST by not
having her money to handle all these years, it is necessary to
split the difference between the time Adam, the eldest, has had
his inheritance, and Hiram, the youngest, came into possession,
which by taking from and adding to, gives a fair average of
fifteen years. Now Mother proposes if we will enter into an
agreement this morning with no words and no wrangling, to settle
on this basis: she will relinquish her third of all other land,
and keep only this home farm. She even will allow the fifty lying
across the road to be sold and the money put into a general fund
for the share of the girls. She will turn into this fund all
money from notes and mortgages, and the sale of all stock,
implements, etc., here, except what she wants to keep for her use,
and the sum of three thousand dollars in cash, to provide against
old age. This releases quite a sum of money, and three hundred
and fifty acres of land, which she gives to the boys to start this
fund as her recompense for their work and loss through a scheme in
which she had a share in the start. She does this only on the
understanding that the boys form a pool, and in some way take from
what they have saved, sell timber or cattle, or borrow enough
money to add to this sufficient to pay to each girl six thousand
dollars in cash, in three months. Now get out your pencils and
figure. Start with the original number of acres at fifty dollars
an acre which is what it cost Father on an average. Balance
against each other what the boys have lost in tax and work, and
the girls have lost in not having their money to handle, and cross
it off. Then figure, not on a basis of what the boys have made
this land worth, but on what it cost Father's estate to buy, build
on, and stock each farm. Strike the fifteen-year average on
prices and profits. Figure that the girls get all their money
practically immediately, to pay for the time they have been out of
it; while each boy assumes an equal share of the indebtedness
required to finish out the six thousand, after Mother has turned
in what she is willing to, if this is settled HERE AND NOW."
"Then I understand," said Mary, "that if we take under the law,
each of us is entitled to sixty-eight and three quarter acres; and
if we take under Mother's proposition we are entitled to eighty-
seven and a half acres."
"No, no, E. A.," said Kate, the old nickname for "Exceptional
Ability" slipping out before she thought. "No, no! Not so! You
take sixty-eight and three quarters under the law. Mother's
proposition is made ONLY to the boys, and only on condition that
they settle here and now; because she feels responsible to them
for her share in rearing them and starting them out as she did.
By accepting her proposition you lose eight hundred and seventy-
five dollars, approximately. The boys lose on the same basis,
figuring at fifty dollars and acre, six thousand five hundred and
sixty-two dollars and fifty cents, plus their work and taxes, and
minus what Mother will turn in, which will be about, let me see --
It will take a pool of fifty-four thousand dollars to pay each of
us six thousand. If Mother raises thirty-five thousand, plus sale
money and notes, it will leave about nineteen thousand for the
boys, which will divide up at nearly two thousand five hundred for
them to lose, as against less than a thousand for us. That should
be enough to square matters with any right-minded woman, even in
our positions. It will give us that much cash in hand, it will
leave the boys, some of the younger ones, in debt for years, if
they hold their land. What more do you want?"
"I want the last cent that is coming to me," said Mary.
"I thought you would," said Kate. "Yet you have the best home,
and the most money, of any of the girls living on farms. I settle
under this proposition, because it is fair and just, and what
Mother wants done. If she feels that this is defrauding the girls
any, she can arrange to leave what she has to us at her death,
which would more than square matters in our favour -- "
"You hold on there, Katie," said Mrs. Bates. "You're going too
fast! I'll get what's coming to me, and hang on to it awhile,
before I decide which way the cat jumps. I reckon you'll all
admit that in mothering the sixteen of you, doing my share indoors
and out, and living with PA for all these years, I've earned it.
I'll not tie myself up in any way. I'll do just what I please
with mine. Figure in all I've told you to; for the rest -- let
"I beg your pardon," said Kate. "You're right, of course. I'll
sign this, and I shall expect every sister I have to do the same,
quickly and cheerfully, as the best way out of a bad business that
has hurt all of us for years, and then I shall expect the boys to
follow like men. It's the fairest, decentest thing we can do,
let's get it over."
Kate picked up the pen, handed it to her mother, signed afterward
herself, and then carried it to each of her sisters, leaving Nancy
Ellen and Mary until last. All of them signed up to Nancy Ellen.
She hesitated, and she whispered to Kate: "Did Robert --?" Kate
nodded. Nancy Ellen thought deeply a minute and then said slowly:
"I guess it is the quickest and best we can do." So she signed.
Mary hesitated longer, but finally added her name. Kate passed on
to the boys, beginning with Adam. Slowly he wrote his name, and
as he handed back the paper he said: "Thank you, Kate, I believe
it's the sanest thing we can do. I can make it easier than the
"Then HELP them," said Kate tersely, passing on.
Each boy signed in turn, all of them pleased with the chance. It
was so much better than they had hoped, that it was a great
relief, which most of them admitted; so they followed Adam's
example in thanking Kate, for all of them knew that in her brain
had originated the scheme, which seemed to make the best of their
Then they sat closer and talked things over calmly and
dispassionately. It was agreed that Adam and his mother should
drive to Hartley the following afternoon and arrange for him to
take out papers of administration for her, and start the
adjustment of affairs. They all went home thinking more of each
other, and Kate especially, than ever before. Mrs. Bates got
dinner while Kate and Nancy Ellen went to work on the cool gray
dress, so that it would be ready for the next afternoon. While
her mother was away Kate cleaned the spare bedroom and moved her
mother's possessions into it. She made it as convenient and
comfortable and as pretty as she could, but the house was bare to
austerity, so that her attempt at prettifying was rather a
failure. Then she opened the closed room and cleaned it, after
studying it most carefully as it stood. The longer she worked,
the stronger became a conviction that was slowly working its way
into her brain. When she could do no more she packed her
telescope, installed Sally Whistler in her father's room, and rode
to Hartley with a neighbour. From there she took the Wednesday
hack for Walden.
KATE TAKES THE BIT IN HER TEETH
THE hackman was obliging, for after delivering the mail and some
parcels, he took Kate to her home. While she waited for him, she
walked the ravine bank planning about the mill which was now so
sure that she might almost begin work. Surely she might as soon
as she finished figuring, for she had visited the Court House in
Hartley and found that George's deeds were legal, and in proper
shape. Her mind was filled with plans which this time must
As she approached the house she could see the children playing in
the yard. It was the first time she ever had been away from them;
she wondered if they had missed her. She was amazed to find that
they were very decidedly disappointed to see her; but a few
pertinent questions developed the reason. Their grandmother had
come with her sister; she had spent her time teaching them that
their mother was cold, and hard, and abused them, by not treating
them as other children were treated. So far as Kate could see
they had broken every rule she had ever laid down for them: eaten
until their stomachs were out of order, and played in their better
clothing, until it never would be nice again, while Polly shouted
at her approach: "Give ME the oranges and candy. I want to
"Silly," said Kate. "This is too soon. I've no money yet, it
will be a long time before I get any; but you shall each have an
orange, some candy, and new clothing when I do. Now run see what
big fish you can catch."
Satisfied, the children obeyed and ran to the creek. Aunt Ollie,
worried and angered, told Adam to tell his father that Mother was
home and for him to come and take her and grandmother to Walden at
once. She had not been able to keep Mrs. Holt from one steady
round of mischief; but she argued that her sister could do less,
with her on guard, than alone, so she had stayed and done her
best; but she knew how Kate would be annoyed, so she believed the
best course was to leave as quickly as possible. Kate walked into
the house, spoke to both women, and went to her room to change her
clothing. Before she had finished, she heard George's voice in
the house demanding: "Where's our millionaire lady? I want a
look at her."
Kate was very tired, slowly relaxing from intense nerve strain,
she was holding herself in check about the children. She took a
tighter grip, and vowed she would not give Mrs. Holt the
satisfaction of seeing her disturbed and provoked, if she killed
herself in the effort at self-control. She stepped toward the
"Here," she called in a clear voice, the tone of which brought
"What was he worth, anyway?" he shouted.
"Oh, millions and millions," said Kate, sweetly, "at least I THINK
so. It was scarcely a time to discuss finances, in the face of
that horrible accident."
George laughed. "Oh, you're a good one!" he cried. "Think you
can keep a thing like that still? The cats, and the dogs, and the
chickens of the whole county know about the deeds the old Land
King had made for his sons; and how he got left on it. Served him
right, too! We could here Andrew swear, and see Adam beat his
horse, clear over here! That's right! Go ahead! Put on airs!
Tell us something we don't KNOW, will you? Maybe you think I
wasn't hanging pretty close around that neighbourhood, myself!"
"Spying?" cried Kate.
"Looking for timber," he sneered. "And never in all my life have
I seen anything to beat it. Sixteen hundred and fifty acres of
the best land in the world. Your share of land and money together
will be every cent of twelve thousand. Oh, I guess I know what
you've got up your sleeve, my lady. Come on, shell out! Let's
all go celebrate. What did you bring the children?"
Kate was rapidly losing patience in spite of her resolves.
"Myself," she said. "From their appearance and actions, goodness
knows they needed me. I have been to my father's funeral, George;
not to a circus."
"Humph!" said George. "And home for the first time in seven
years. You needn't tell me it wasn't the biggest picnic you ever
had! And say, about those deeds burning up -- wasn't that too
"Even if my father burned with them?" she asked. "George, you
make me completely disgusted."
"Big hypocrite!" he scoffed. "You know you're tickled silly.
Why, you will get ten times as much as you would if those deeds
hadn't burned. I know what that estate amounts to. I know what
that land is worth. I'll see that you get your share to the last
penny that can be wrung out of it. You bet I will! Things are
coming our way at last. Now we can build the mill, and do
everything we planned. I don't know as we will build a mill.
With your fifteen thousand we could start a store in Hartley, and
do bigger things."
"The thing for you to do right now is to hitch up and take Aunt
Ollie and your mother home," said Kate. "I'll talk to you after
supper and tell you all there is to know. I'm dusty and tired
"Well, you needn't try to fix up any shenanigan for me," he said.
"I know to within five hundred dollars of what your share of that
estate is worth, and I'll see that you get it."
"No one has even remotely suggested that I shouldn't have my share
of that estate," said Kate.
While he was gone, Kate thought intently as she went about her
work. She saw exactly what her position was, and what she had to
do. Their talk would be disagreeable, but the matter had to gone
into and gotten over. She let George talk as he would while she
finished supper and they ate. When he went for his evening work,
she helped the children scale their fish for breakfast and as they
worked she talked to them, sanely, sensibly, explaining what she
could, avoiding what she could not. She put them to bed, her
heart almost sickened at what they had been taught and told. Kate
was in no very propitious mood for her interview with George. As
she sat on the front porch waiting for him, she was wishing with
all her heart that she was back home with the children, to remain
forever. That, of course, was out of the question, but she wished
it. She had been so glad to be with her mother again, to be of
service, to hear a word of approval now and then. She must be
worthy of her mother's opinion, she thought, just as George
stepped on the porch, sat on the top step, leaned against a
pillar, and said: "Now go on, tell me all about it."
Kate thought intently a second. Instead of beginning with leaving
Friday morning: "I was at the Court House in Hartley this
morning," she said.
"You needn't have done that," he scoffed. "I spent most of the
day there Monday. You bet folks shelled out the books when I told
them who I was, and what I was after. I must say you folks have
some little reason to be high and mighty. You sure have got the
dough. No wonder the old man hung on to his deeds himself. He
wasn't so FAR from a King, all right, all right."
"You mean you left your work Monday, and went to the Court House
in Hartley and told who you were, and spent the day nosing into my
father's affairs, before his SONS had done anything, or you had
any idea WHAT was to be done?" she demanded.
"Oh, you needn't get so high and mighty," he said. "I propose to
know just where I am, about this. I propose to have just what is
coming to me -- to you, to the last penny, and no Bates man will
manage the affair, either."
Suddenly Kate leaned forward.
"I foresee that you've fixed yourself up for a big
disappointment," she said. "My mother and her eldest son will
settle my father's estate; and when it is settled I shall have
exactly what the other girls have. Then if I still think it is
wise, I shall at once go to work building the mill. Everything
must be shaved to the last cent, must be done with the closest
economy, I MUST come out of this with enough left to provide us a
"Do that from the first profits of the mill," he suggested.
"I'm no good at 'counting chickens before they're hatched,'" said
Kate. "Besides, the first profits from the mill, as you very well
know, if you would ever stop to think, must go to pay for logs to
work on, and there must always be a good balance for that purpose.
No. I reserve enough from my money to fix the home I want; but I
shall wait to do it until the mill is working, so I can give all
my attention to it, while you are out looking up timber."
"Of course I can do all of it perfectly well," he said. "And it's
a MAN'S business. You'll make me look like fifty cents if you get
out among men and go to doing a thing no woman in this part of the
country ever did. Why, it will look like you didn't TRUST me!"
"I can't help how it will look," said Kate. "This is my last and
only dollar; if I lose it, I am out for life; I shall take no
risk. I've no confidence in your business ability, and you know
it. It need not hurt your pride a particle to say that we are
partners; that I'm going to build the mill, while you're going to
bring in the timber. It's the only way I shall touch the
proposition. I will give you two hundred dollars for the deed and
abstract of the ravine. I'll give your mother eight hundred for
the lot and house, which is two hundred more than it is worth.
I'll lay away enough to rebuild and refurnish it, and with the
remainder I'll build the dam, bridge, and mill, just as quickly as
it can be done. As soon as I get my money, we'll buy timber for
the mill and get it sawed and dried this winter. We can be all
done and running by next June."
"Kate, how are you going to get all that land sold, and the money
in hand to divide up that quickly? I don't think it ever can be
done. Land is always sold on time, you know," he said.
Kate drew a deep breath. "THIS land isn't going to be sold," she
said. "Most of the boys have owned their farms long enough to
have enabled them to buy other land, and put money in the bank.
They're going to form a pool, and put in enough money to pay the
girls the share they have agreed to take; even if they have to
borrow it, as some of the younger ones will; but the older ones
will help them; so the girls are to have their money in cash, in
three months. I was mighty glad of the arrangement for my part,
because we can begin at once on our plans for the mill."
"And how much do the girls get?" he asked darkly.
"Can't say just yet," said Kate. "The notes and mortgages have to
be gone over, and the thing figured out; it will take some time.
Mother and Adam began yesterday; we shall know in a few weeks."
"Sounds to me like a cold-blooded Bates steal," he cried. "Who
figured out what WAS a fair share for the girls; who planned that
arrangement? Why didn't you insist on the thing going through
court; the land belong sold, and equal divisions of all the
"Now if you'll agree not to say a word until I finish, I'll show
you the figures," said Kate. "I'll tell you what the plan is, and
why it was made, and I'll tell you further that it is already
recorded, and in action. There are no minor heirs. We could make
an agreement and record it. There was no will. Mother will
administer. It's all settled. Wait until I get the figures."
Then slowly and clearly she went over the situation, explaining
everything in detail. When she finished he sat staring at her
with a snarling face.
"You signed that?" he demanded. "You signed that! YOU THREW AWAY
AT LEAST HALF YOU MIGHT HAVE HAD! You let those lazy scoundrels
of brothers of yours hoodwink you, and pull the wool over your
eyes like that? Are you mad? Are you stark, staring mad?"
"No, I'm quite sane," said Kate. "It is you who are mad. You
know my figures, don't you? Those were the only ones used
yesterday. The whole scheme was mine, with help from Mother to
the extent of her giving up everything except the home farm."
"You crazy fool!" he cried, springing up.
"Now stop," said Kate. "Stop right there! I've done what I think
is right, and fair, and just, and I'm happy with the results. Act
decently, I'll stay and build the mill. Say one, only one more of
the nasty, insulting things in your head, and I'll go in there and
wake up the children and we will leave now and on foot."
Confronted with Kate and her ultimatum, George arose and walked
down to the road; he began pacing back and forth in the moonlight,
struggling to regain command of himself. He had no money. He had
no prospect of any until Aunt Ollie died and left him her farm.
He was, as he expressed it, "up against it" there. Now he was "up
against it" with Kate. What she decided upon and proposed to do
was all he could do. She might shave prices, and cut, and skimp,
and haggle to buy material, and put up her building at the least
possible expense. She might sit over books and figure herself
blind. He would be driving over the country, visiting with the
farmers, booming himself for a fat county office maybe, eating big
dinners, and being a jolly good fellow generally. Naturally as
breathing, there came to him a scheme whereby he could buy at the
very lowest figure he could extract; then he would raise the price
to Kate enough to make him a comfortable income besides his share
of the business. He had not walked the road long until his anger
was all gone.
He began planning the kind of horse he would have to drive, the
buggy he would want, and a box in it to carry a hatchet, a square,
measures, an auger, other tools he would need, and by Jove! it
would be a dandy idea to carry a bottle of the real thing. Many a
farmer, for a good cigar and a few swallows of the right thing,
would warm up and sign such a contract as could be got in no other
manner; while he would need it on cold days himself. George
stopped in the moonlight to slap his leg and laugh over the happy
thought. "By George, Georgie, my boy," he said, "most days will
be cold, won't they?"
He had no word to say to Kate of his change of feeling in the
matter. He did not want to miss the chance of twitting her at
every opportunity he could invent with having thrown away half her
inheritance; but he was glad the whole thing was settled so
quickly and easily. He was now busy planning how he would spend
the money Kate agreed to pay him for the ravine; but that was
another rosy cloud she soon changed in colour, for she told him if
he was going to be a partner he could put in what money he had, as
his time was no more valuable than she could make hers teaching
school again -- in other words, he could buy his horse and buggy
with the price she paid for the location, so he was forced to
agree. He was forced to do a great many things in the following
months that he hated; but he had to do them or be left out of the
Mrs. Bates and Adam administered the Bates estate promptly and
efficiently. The girls had their money on time, the boys adjusted
themselves as their circumstances admitted. Mrs. Bates had to
make so many trips to town, before the last paper was signed, and
the last transfer was made, that she felt she could not go any
farther, so she did not. Nancy Ellen had reached the point where
she would stop and talk a few minutes to Kate, if she met her on
the streets of Hartley, as she frequently did now; but she would
not ask her to come home with her, because she would not bring
herself in contact with George Holt. The day Kate went to Hartley
to receive and deposit her check, and start her bank account, her
mother asked her if she had any plan as to what she would do with
her money. Kate told her in detail. Mrs. Bates listened with
grim face: "You better leave it in the bank," she said, "and use
the interest to help you live, or put it in good farm mortgages,
where you can easily get ten per cent."
Kate explained again and told how she was doing all the buying,
how she would pay all bills, and keep the books. It was no use.
Mrs. Bates sternly insisted that she should do no such thing. In
some way she would be defrauded. In some way she would lose the
money. What she was proposing was a man's work. Kate had most of
her contracts signed and much material ordered, she could not
stop. Sadly she saw her mother turn from her, declaring as she
went that Kate would lose every cent she had, and when she did she
need not come hanging around her. She had been warned. If she
lost, she could take the consequences. For an instant Kate felt
that she could not endure it then she sprang after her mother.
"Oh, but I won't lose!" she cried. "I'm keeping my money in my
own hands. I'm spending it myself. Please, Mother, come and see
the location, and let me show you everything."
"Too late now," said Mrs. Bates grimly, "the thing is done. The
time to have told me was before you made any contracts. You're
always taking the bit in your teeth and going ahead. Well, go!
But remember, 'as you make your bed, so you can lie.'"
"All right," said Kate, trying to force a laugh. "Don't you
worry. Next time you get into a tight place and want to borrow a
few hundreds, come to me."
Mrs. Bates laughed derisively. Kate turned away with a faint
sickness in her heart and when half an hour later she met Nancy
Ellen, fresh from an interview with her mother, she felt no better
-- far worse, in fact -- for Nancy Ellen certainly could say what
was in her mind with free and forceful directness. With deft
tongue and nimble brain, she embroidered all Mrs. Bates had said,
and prophesied more evil luck in three minutes than her mother
could have thought of in a year. Kate left them with no promise
of seeing either of them again, except by accident, her heart and
brain filled with misgivings. "Must I always have 'a fly in my
ointment'?" she wailed to herself. "I thought this morning this
would be the happiest day of my life. I felt as if I were flying.
Ye Gods, but wings were never meant for me. Every time I take
them, down I come kerflop, mostly in a 'gulf of dark despair,' as
the hymn book says. Anyway, I'll keep my promise and give the
youngsters a treat."
So she bought each of them an orange, some candy, and goods for a
new Sunday outfit and comfortable school clothing. Then she took
the hack for Walden, feeling in a degree as she had the day she
married George Holt. As she passed the ravine and again studied
the location her spirits arose. It WAS a good scheme. It would
work. She would work it. She would sell from the yards to Walden
and the surrounding country. She would see the dealers in Hartley
and talk the business over, so she would know she was not being
cheated in freight rates when she came to shipping. She stopped
at Mrs. Holt's, laid a deed before her for her signature, and
offered her a check for eight hundred for the Holt house and lot,
which Mrs. Holt eagerly accepted. They arranged to move
immediately, as the children were missing school. She had a deed
with her for the ravine, which George signed in Walden, and both
documents were acknowledged; but she would not give him the money
until he had the horse and buggy he was to use, at the gate, in
He wanted to start out buying at once, but that was going too far
in the future for Kate. While the stream was low, and the banks
firm, Kate built her dam, so that it would be ready for spring,
put in the abutments, and built the bridge. It was not a large
dam, and not a big bridge, but both were solid, well constructed,
and would serve every purpose. Then Kate set men hauling stone
for the corner foundations. She hoped to work up such a trade and
buy so much and so wisely in the summer that she could run all
winter, so she was building a real mill in the Bates way, which
way included letting the foundations freeze and settle over
winter. That really was an interesting and a comfortable winter.
Kate and George both watched the children's studies at night,
worked their plans finer in the daytime, and lived as cheaply and
carefully as they could. Everything was going well. George was
doing his best to promote the mill plan, to keep Kate satisfied at
home, to steal out after she slept, and keep himself satisfied in
appetite, and some ready money in his pockets, won at games of
chance, at which he was an expert, and at cards, which he handled
like a master.
"AS A MAN SOWETH"
AT THE earliest possible moment in the spring, the building of the
mill began. It was scarcely well under way when the work was
stopped by a week of heavy rains. The water filled the ravine to
dangerous height and the roaring of the dam could be heard all
over town. George talked of it incessantly. He said it was the
sweetest music his ears had ever heard. Kate had to confess that
she like the sound herself, but she was fearful over saying much
on the subject because she was so very anxious about the stability
of the dam. There was a day or two of fine weather; then the
rains began again. Kate said she had all the music she desired;
she proposed to be safe; so she went and opened the sluiceway to
reduce the pressure on the dam. The result was almost immediate.
The water gushed through, lowering the current and lessening the
fall. George grumbled all day, threatening half a dozen times to
shut the sluice; but Kate and the carpenter were against him, so
he waited until he came slipping home after midnight, his brain in
a muddle from drink, smoke, and cards. As he neared the dam, he
decided that the reason he felt so badly was because he had missed
hearing it all day, but he would have it to go to sleep by. So he
crossed the bridge and shut the sluice gate. Even as he was doing
it the thunder pealed; lightning flashed, and high Heaven gave him
warning that he was doing a dangerous thing; but all his life he
had done what he pleased; there was no probability that he would
change then. He needed the roar of the dam to quiet his nerves.
The same roar that put him to sleep, awakened Kate. She lay
wondering at it and fearing. She raised her window to listen.
The rain was falling in torrents, while the roar was awful, so
much worse than it had been when she fell asleep, that she had a
suspicion of what might have caused it. She went to George's room
and shook him awake.
"Listen to the dam!" she cried. "It will go, as sure as fate.
George, did you, Oh, did you, close the sluice-gate when you came
He was half asleep, and too defiant from drink to take his usual
"Sure!" he said. "Sweesish mushich ever hearsh. Push me shleep."
He fell back on the pillow and went on sleeping. Kate tried again
to waken him, but he struck at her savagely. She ran to her room,
hurried into a few clothes, and getting the lantern, started
toward the bridge. At the gate she stepped into water. As far as
she could see above the dam the street was covered. She waded to
the bridge, which was under at each end but still bare in the
middle, where it was slightly higher. Kate crossed it and started
down the yard toward the dam. The earth was softer there, and she
mired in places almost to her knees. At the dam, the water was
tearing around each end in a mad race, carrying earth and
everything before it. The mill side was lower than the street.
The current was so broad and deep she could not see where the
sluice was. She hesitated a second to try to locate it from the
mill behind her; and in that instant there was a crack and a roar,
a mighty rush that swept her from her feet and washed away the
lantern. Nothing saved her but the trees on the bank. She struck
one, clung to it, pulled herself higher, and in the blackness
gripped the tree, while she heard the dam going gradually after
the first break.
There was no use to scream, no one could have heard her. The
storm raved on; Kate clung to her tree, with each flash of
lightning trying to see the dam. At last she saw that it was not
all gone. She was not much concerned about herself. She knew the
tree would hold. Eagerly she strained her eyes toward the dam.
She could feel the water dropping lower, while the roar subsided
to a wild rush, and with flashes of lightning she could see what
she thought was at least half of the dam holding firm. By that
time Kate began to chill. She wrapped her arms around the tree,
and pressing her cheek against the rough bark, she cried as hard
as she could and did not care. God would not hear; the neighbours
could not. She shook and cried until she was worn out. By that
time the water was only a muddy flow around her ankles; if she had
a light she could wade back to the bridge and reach home. But if
she missed the bridge and went into the ravine, the current would
be too strong for her. She held with one arm and tried to wipe
her face with the other hand. "What a fool to cry!" she said.
"As if there were any more water needed here!"
Then she saw a light in the house, and the figures of the
children, carrying it from room to room, so she knew that one of
them had awakened for a drink, or with the storm, and they had
missed her. Then she could see them at the front door, Adam's
sturdy feet planted widely apart, bracing him, as he held up the
lamp which flickered in the wind. Then she could hear his voice
shouting: "Mother!" Instantly Kate answered. Then she was sorry
she had, for both of them began to scream wildly. There was a
second of that, then even the children realized its futility.
"She is out there in the water, WE GOT TO GET HER," said Adam.
"We got to do it!"
He started with the light held high. The wind blew it out. They
had to go back to relight it. Kate knew they would burn their
fingers, and she prayed they would not set the house on fire.
When the light showed again, at the top of her lungs she screamed:
"Adam, set the broom on fire and carry it to the end of the
bridge; the water isn't deep enough to hurt you." She tried
twice, then she saw him give Polly the lamp, and run down the
hall. He came back in an instant with the broom. Polly held the
lamp high, Adam went down the walk to the gate and started up the
sidewalk. "He's using his head," said Kate to the tree. "He's
going to wait until he reaches the bridge to start his light, so
it will last longer. THAT is BATES, anyway. Thank God!"
Adam scratched several matches before he got the broom well
ignited, then he held it high, and by its light found the end of
the bridge. Kate called to him to stop and plunging and splashing
through mud and water, she reached the bridge before the broom
burned out. There she clung to the railing she had insisted upon,
and felt her way across to the boy. His thin cotton night shirt
was plastered to his sturdy little body. As she touched him Kate
lifted him in her arms, and almost hugged the life from him.
"You big man!" she said. "You could help Mother! Good for you!"
"Is the dam gone?" he asked.
"Part of it," said Kate, sliding her feet before her, as she waded
toward Polly in the doorway.
"Did Father shut the sluice-gate, to hear the roar?"
Kate hesitated. The shivering body in her arms felt so small to
"I 'spect he did," said Adam. "All day he was fussing after you
stopped the roar." Then he added casually: "The old fool ought-a
known better. I 'spect he was drunk again!"
"Oh, Adam!" cried Kate, setting him on the porch. "Oh, Adam!
What makes you say that?"
"Oh, all of them at school say that," scoffed Adam. "Everybody
knows it but you, don't they, Polly?"
"Sure!" said Polly. "Most every night; but don't you mind,
Mother, Adam and I will take care of you."
Kate fell on her knees and gathered both of them in a crushing hug
for an instant; then she helped them into to dry nightgowns and to
bed. As she covered them she stooped and kissed each of them
before she went to warm and put on dry clothes, and dry her hair.
It was almost dawn when she walked to George Holt's door and
looked in at him lying stretched in deep sleep.
"You may thank your God for your children," she said. "If it
hadn't been for them, I know what I would have done to you."
Then she went to her room and lay down to rest until dawn. She
was up at the usual time and had breakfast ready for the children.
As they were starting to school George came into the room.
"Mother," said Polly, "there is a lot of folks over around the
dam. What shall we tell them?"
Kate's heart stopped. She had heard that question before.
"Tell them the truth," said Adam scornfully, before Kate could
answer. "Tell them that Mother opened the sluiceway to save the
dam and Father shut it to hear it roar, and it busted!"
"Shall I, Mother?" asked Polly.
A slow whiteness spread over George's face; he stared down the
hall to look.
"Tell them exactly what you please," said Kate, "only you watch
yourself like a hawk. If you tell one word not the way it was, or
in any way different from what happened, I'll punish you
"May I tell them I held the lamp while Adam got you out of the
water?" asked Polly. "That would be true, you know."
George turned to listen, his face still whiter.
"Yes, that would be true," said Kate, "but if you tell them that,
the first thing they will ask will be 'where was your father?'
What will you say then?"
"Why, we'll say that he was so drunk we couldn't wake him up,"
said Polly conclusively. "We pulled him, an' we shook him, an' we
yelled at him. Didn't we, Adam?"
"I was not drunk!" shouted George.
"Oh, yes, you were," said Adam. "You smelled all sour, like it
does at the saloon door!"
George made a rush at Adam. The boy spread his feet and put up
his hands, but never flinched or moved. Kate looking on felt
something in her heart that never had been there before. She
caught George's arm, as he reached the child.
"You go on to school, little folks," she said. "And for Mother's
sake try not to talk at all. If people question you, tell them to
ask Mother. I'd be so proud of you, if you would do that."
"I WILL, if you'll hold me and kiss me again like you did last
night when you got out of the water," said Polly.
"It is a bargain," said Kate. "How about you, Adam?"
"I will for THAT, too," said Adam, "but I'd like awful well to
tell how fast the water went, and how it poured and roared, while
I held the light, and you got across. Gee, if was awful, Mother!
So black, and so crashy, and so deep. I'd LIKE to tell!"
"But you WON'T if I ask you not to?" queried Kate.
"I will not," said Adam.
Kate went down on her knees again, she held out her arms and both
youngsters rushed to her. After they were gone, she and George
Holt looked at each other an instant, then Kate turned to her
work. He followed: "Kate -- " he began.
"No use!" said Kate. "If you go out and look at the highest water
mark, you can easily imagine what I had to face last night when I
had to cross the bridge to open the sluice-gate, or the bridge
would have gone, too. If the children had not wakened with the
storm, and hunted me, I'd have had to stay over there until
morning, if I could have clung to the tree that long. First they
rescued me; and then they rescued YOU, if you only but knew it.
By using part the money I had saved for the house, I can rebuild
the dam; but I am done with you. We're partners no longer. Not
with business, money, or in any other way, will I ever trust you
again. Sit down there and eat your breakfast, and then leave my
Instead George put on his old clothing, crossed the bridge, and
worked all day with all his might trying to gather building
material out of the water, save debris from the dam, to clear the
village street. At noon he came over and got a drink, and a piece
of bread. At night he worked until he could see no longer, and
then ate some food from the cupboard and went to bed. He was up
and at work before daybreak in the morning, and for two weeks he
kept this up, until he had done much to repair the work of the
storm. The dam he almost rebuilt himself, as soon as the water
lowered to normal again. Kate knew what he was trying to do, and
knew also that in a month he had the village pitying him, and
blaming her because he was working himself to death, and she was
She doggedly went on with her work; the contracts were made; she
was forced to. As the work neared completion, her faith in the
enterprise grew. She studied by the hour everything she could
find pertaining to the business. When the machinery began to
arrive, George frequently spoke about having timber ready to begin
work on, but he never really believed the thing which did happen,
would happen, until the first load of logs slowly crossed the
bridge and began unloading in the yards. A few questions elicited
from the driver the reply that he had sold the timber to young
Adam Bates of Bates Corners, who was out buying right and left and
paying cash on condition the seller did his own delivering.
George saw the scheme, and that it was good. Also the logs were
good, while the price was less than he hoped to pay for such
timber. His soul was filled with bitterness. The mill was his
scheme. He had planned it all. Those thieving Bates had stolen
his plan, and his location, and his home, and practically
separated him from his wife and children. It was his mill, and
all he was getting from it was to work with all his might, and not
a decent word from morning until night. That day instead of
working as before, he sat in the shade most of the time, and that
night instead of going to bed he went down town.
When the mill was almost finished Kate employed two men who lived
in Walden, but had been working in the Hartley mills for years.
They were honest men of much experience. Kate made the better of
them foreman, and consulted with him in every step of completing
the mill, and setting up the machinery. She watched everything
with sharp eyes, often making suggestions that were useful about
the placing of different parts as a woman would arrange them.
Some of these the men laughed at, some they were more than glad to
accept. When the engine was set up, the big saw in place, George
went to Kate.
"See here!" he said roughly. "I know I was wrong about the
sluice-gate. I was a fool to shut it with the water that high,
but I've learned my lesson; I'll never touch it again; I've worked
like a dog for weeks to pay for it; now where do I come in?
What's my job, how much is my share of the money, and when do I
"The trouble with you, George, is that you have to learn a new
lesson about every thing you attempt. You can't carry a lesson
about one thing in your mind, and apply it to the next thing that
comes up. I know you have worked, and I know why. It is fair
that you should have something, but I can't say what, just now.
Having to rebuild the dam, and with a number of incidentals that
have come up, in spite of the best figuring I could do, I have
been forced to use my money saved for rebuilding the house; and
even with that, I am coming out a hundred or two short. I'm
strapped; and until money begins to come in I have none myself.
The first must go toward paying the men's wages, the next for
timber. If Jim Milton can find work for you, go to work at the
mill, and when we get started I'll pay you what is fair and just,
you may depend on that. If he hasn't work for you, you'll have to
find a job at something else."
"Do you mean that?" he asked wonderingly.
"I mean it," said Kate.
"After stealing my plan, and getting my land for nothing, you'd
throw me out entirely?" he demanded.
"You entreated me to put all I had into your plan, you told me
repeatedly the ravine was worth nothing, you were not even keeping
up the taxes on it until I came and urged you to, the dam is used
merely for water, the engine furnishes the real power, and if you
are thrown out, you have thrown yourself out. You have had every
"You are going to keep your nephew on the buying job?" he asked
"I am," said Kate. "You can have no job that will give you a
chance to involve me financially."
"Then give me Milton's place. It's so easy a baby could do it,
and the wages you have promised him are scandalous," said George.
Kate laughed. "Oh, George," she said, "you can't mean that! Of
all your hare-brained ideas, that you could operate that saw, is
the wildest. Oh course you could start the engine, and set the
saw running -- I could myself; but to regulate its speed, to
control it with judgment, you could no more do it than Polly. As
for wages, Milton is working for less than he got in Hartley,
because he can be at home, and save his hack fare, as you know."
George went over to Jim Milton, and after doing all he could see
to do and ordering Milton to do several things he thought might be
done, he said casually: "Of course I am BOSS around this shack,
but this is new to me. You fellows will have to tell me what to
do until I get my bearings. As soon as we get to running, I'll be
yard-master, and manage the selling and shipping. I'm good at
figures, and that would be the best place for me."
"You'll have to settle with Mrs. Holt about that," said Jim
"Of course," said George. "Isn't she a wonder? With my help,
we'll soon wipe the Hartley mills off the map, and be selling till
Grand Rapids will get her eye peeled. With you to run the
machinery, me to manage the sales, and her to keep the books, we
got a combination to beat the world."
"In the meantime," said Jim Milton dryly, "you might take that
scoop shovel and clean the shavings and blocks off this floor.
Leave me some before the engine to start the first fire, and
shovel the rest into that bin there where it's handy. It isn't
safe to start with so much loose, dry stuff lying around."
George went to work with the scoop shovel, but he watched every
movement Jim Milton made about the engine and machinery. Often he
dropped the shovel and stood studying things out for himself, and
asking questions. Not being sure of his position, Jim Milton
answered him patiently, and showed him all he wanted to know; but
he constantly cautioned him not to touch anything, or try to start
the machinery himself, as he might lose control of the gauge and
break the saw, or let the power run away with him. George scoffed
at the idea of danger and laughed at the simplicity of the engine
and machinery. There was little for him to do. He hated to be
seen cleaning up the debris; men who stopped in passing kept
telling what a fine fellow young Bates was, what good timber he
was sending in. Several of them told George frankly they thought
that was to be his job. He was so ashamed of that, he began
"That was the way we first planned things," he said boastfully,
"but when it came to working out our plans, we found I would be
needed here till I learned the business, and then I'm going on the
road. I am going to be the salesman. To travel, dress well, eat
well, flirt with the pretty girls, and take big lumber orders will
just about suit little old Georgie."
"Wonder you remembered to put the orders in at all," said Jim
George glared at him. "Well, just remember whom you take orders
from," he said, pompously.
"I take them from Mrs. Holt, and nobody else," said Milton, with
equal assurance. "And I've yet to hear her say the first word
about this wonderful travelling proposition. She thinks she will
do well to fill home orders and ship to a couple of factories she
already has contracts with. Sure you didn't dream that travelling
At that instant George wished he could slay Jim Milton. All day
he brooded and grew sullen and ugly. By noon he quit working and
went down town. By suppertime he went home to prove to his wife
that he was all right. She happened to be coming across from the
mill, where she had helped Milton lay the first fire under the
boiler ready to touch off, and had seen the first log on the set
carriage. It had been agreed that she was to come over at opening
time in the morning and start the machinery. She was a proud and
eager woman when she crossed the bridge and started down the
street toward the gate. From the opposite direction came George,
so unsteady that he was running into tree boxes, then lifting his
hat and apologizing to them for his awkwardness. Kate saw at a
glance that he might fall any instant. Her only thought was to
help him from the street, to where children would not see him.
She went to him and taking his arm started down the walk with him.
He took off his hat to her also, and walked with wavering dignity,
setting his steps as if his legs were not long enough to reach the
walk, so that each step ended with a decided thump. Kate could
see the neighbours watching at their windows, and her own children
playing on the roof of the woodshed. When the children saw their
parents, they both stopped playing to stare at them. Then
suddenly, shrill and high, arose Adam's childish voice:
"Father came home the other night,
Tried to blow out the 'lectric light,
Blew and blew with all his might,
And the blow almost killed Mother."
Polly joined him, and they sang and shrilled, and shrieked it;
they jumped up and down and laughed and repeated it again and
again. Kate guided George to his room and gave him a shove that
landed him on his bed. Then to hush the children she called them
to supper. They stopped suddenly, as soon as they entered the
kitchen door, and sat, sorry and ashamed while she went around,
her face white, her lips closed, preparing their food. George was
asleep. The children ate alone, as she could take no food. Later
she cleaned the kitchen, put the children to bed, and sat on the
front porch looking at the mill, wondering, hoping, planning,
praying unconsciously. When she went to bed at ten o'clock George
was still asleep.
He awakened shortly after, burning with heat and thirst. He arose
and slipped to the back porch for a drink. Water was such an
aggravation, he crossed the yard, went out the back gate, and down
the alley. When he came back up the street, he was pompously,
maliciously, dangerously drunk. Either less or more would have
been better. When he came in sight of the mill, standing new and
shining in the moonlight, he was a lord of creation, ready to work
creation to his will. He would go over and see if things were all
right. But he did not cross the bridge, he went down the side
street, and entered the yard at the back. The doors were closed
and locked, but there was as yet no latch on the sliding windows
above the work bench. He could push them open from the ground.
He leaned a board against the side of the mill, set his foot on
it, and pulled himself up, so that he could climb on the bench.
That much achieved, he looked around him. After a time his eyes
grew accustomed to the darkness, so that he could see his way
plainly. Muddled half-thoughts began to filter through his brain.
He remembered he was abused. He was out of it. He remembered
that he was not the buyer for the mill. He remembered how the men
had laughed when he had said that he was to be the salesman. He
remembered that Milton had said that he was not to touch the
machinery. He at once slid from the bench and went to the boiler.
He opened the door of the fire-box and saw the kindling laid ready
to light, to get up steam. He looked at the big log on the set
carriage. They had planned to start with a splurge in the
morning. Kate was to open the throttle that started the
machinery. He decided to show them that they were not so smart.
He would give them a good surprise by sawing the log. That would
be a joke on them to brag about the remainder of his life. He
took matches from his pocket and started the fire. It seemed to
his fevered imagination that it burned far too slowly. He shoved
in more kindling, shavings, ends left from siding. This smothered
his fire, so he made trip after trip to the tinder box, piling in
armloads of dry, inflammable stuff.
Then suddenly the flames leaped up. He slammed shut the door and
started toward the saw. He could not make it work. He jammed and
pulled everything he could reach. Soon he realized the heat was
becoming intense, and turned to the boiler to see that the fire-
box was red hot almost all over, white hot in places.
"My God!" he muttered. "Too hot! Got to cool that down."
Then he saw the tank and the dangling hose, and remembered that he
had not filled the boiler. Taking down the hose, he opened the
watercock, stuck in the nozzle, and turned on the water full
force. Windows were broken across the street. Parts of the fire-
box, boiler, and fire flew everywhere. The walls blew out, the
roof lifted and came down, the fire raged among the new, dry
timbers of the mill.
When her windows blew in, Kate was thrown from her bed to the
floor. She lay stunned a second, then dragged herself up to look
across the street. There was nothing where the low white expanse
of roof had spread an hour before, while a red glare was creeping
everywhere over the ground. She ran to George's room and found it
empty. She ran to the kitchen, calling him, and found the back
door standing open. She rushed back to her room and began trying
to put on her dress over her nightrobe. She could not control her
shaking fingers, while at each step she cut her feet on broken
glass. She reached the front door as the children came screaming
with fright. In turning to warn them about the glass, she
stumbled on the top step, pitched forward headlong, then lay
still. The neighbours carried her back to her bed, called the
doctor, and then saved all the logs in the yard they could. The
following day, when the fire had burned itself out, the undertaker
hunted assiduously, but nothing could be found to justify a
"FOR A GOOD GIRL"
FOR a week, Kate lay so dazed she did not care whether she lived
or died; then she slowly crept back to life, realizing that
whether she cared or not, she must live. She was too young, too
strong, to quit because she was soul sick; she had to go on. She
had life to face for herself and her children. She wondered dully
about her people, but as none of the neighbours who had taken care
of her said anything concerning them, she realized that they had
not been there. At first she was almost glad. They were
forthright people. They would have had something to say; they
would have said it tersely and to the point.
Adam, 3d, had wound up her affairs speedily by selling the logs he
had bought for her to the Hartley mills, paying what she owed, and
depositing the remainder in the Hartley Bank to her credit; but
that remainder was less than one hundred dollars. That winter was
a long, dreadful nightmare to Kate. Had it not been for Aunt
Ollie, they would have been hungry some of the time; they were
cold most of it. For weeks Kate thought of sending for her
mother, or going to her; then as not even a line came from any of
her family, she realized that they resented her losing that much
Bates money so bitterly that they wished to have nothing to do
with her. Often she sat for hours staring straight before her,
trying to straighten out the tangle she had made of her life. As
if she had not suffered enough in the reality of living, she now
lived over in day and night dreams, hour by hour, her time with
George Holt, and gained nothing thereby.
All winter Kate brooded, barely managing to keep alive, and the
children in school. As spring opened, she shook herself, arose,
and went to work. It was not planned, systematic, effective,
Bates work. Piecemeal she did anything she saw needed the doing.
The children helped to make garden and clean the yard. Then all
of them went out to Aunt Ollie's and made a contract to plant and
raise potatoes and vegetables on shares. They passed a neglected
garden on the way, and learning that the woman of the house was
ill, Kate stopped and offered to tend it for enough cords of
windfall wood to pay her a fair price, this to be delivered in
With food and fire assured, Kate ripped up some of George's
clothing, washed, pressed, turned, and made Adam warm clothes for
school. She even achieved a dress for Polly by making a front and
back from a pair of her father's trouser legs, and setting in side
pieces, a yoke and sleeves from one of her old skirts. George's
underclothing she cut down for both of the children; then drew
another check for taxes and second-hand books. While she was in
Hartley in the fall paying taxes, she stopped at a dry goods store
for thread, and heard a customer asking for knitted mittens, which
were not in stock. After he had gone, she arranged with the
merchant for a supply of yarn which she carried home and began to
knit into mittens such as had been called for. She used every
minute of leisure during the day, she worked hours into the night,
and soon small sums began coming her way. When she had a supply of
teamster's heavy mittens, she began on fancy coloured ones for
babies and children, sometimes crocheting, sometimes using
needles. Soon she started both children on the rougher work with
her. They were glad to help for they had a lively remembrance of
one winter of cold and hunger, with no Christmas. That there were
many things she might have done that would have made more money
with less exertion Kate never seemed to realize. She did the
obvious thing. Her brain power seemed to be on a level with that
of Adam and Polly.
When the children began to carry home Christmas talk, Kate opened
her mouth to say the things that had been said to her as a child;
then tightly closed it. She began getting up earlier, sitting up
later, knitting feverishly. Luckily the merchant could sell all
she could furnish. As the time drew nearer, she gathered from the
talk of the children what was the deepest desire of their hearts.
One day a heavy wind driving ice-coated trees in the back yard
broke quite a large limb from a cherry tree. Kate dragged it into
the woodhouse to make firewood. She leaned it against the wall to
wait until the ice melted, and as it stood there in its silvery
coat, she thought how like a small tree the branch was shaped, and
how pretty it looked. After the children had gone to school the
next day she shaped it with the hatchet and saw, and fastened it
in a small box. This she carried to her bedroom and locked the
door. She had not much idea what she was going to do, but she
kept thinking. Soon she found enough time to wrap every branch
carefully with the red tissue paper her red knitting wool came in,
and to cover the box smoothly. Then she thought of the country
Christmas trees she had seen decorated with popcorn and
cranberries. She popped the corn at night and the following day
made a trip up the ravine, where she gathered all the bittersweet
berries, swamp holly, and wild rose seed heads she could find.
She strung the corn on fine cotton cord putting a rose seed pod
between each grain, then used the bittersweet berries to terminate
the blunt ends of the branches, and climb up the trunk. By the
time she had finished this she was really interested. She
achieved a gold star for the top from a box lid and a piece of
gilt paper Polly had carried home from school. With yarn ends and
mosquito netting, she whipped up a few little mittens, stockings,
and bags. She cracked nuts from their fall store and melting a
little sugar stirred in the kernels until they were covered with a
sweet, white glaze. Then she made some hard candy, and some fancy
cookies with a few sticks of striped candy cut in circles and
dotted on the top. She polished red, yellow, and green apples and
set them under the tree.
When she made her final trip to Hartley before Christmas the
spirit of the day was in the air. She breathed so much of it that
she paid a dollar and a half for a stout sled and ten cents for a
dozen little red candles, five each for two oranges, and fifteen
each for two pretty little books, then after long hesitation added
a doll for Polly. She felt that she should not have done this,
and said so, to herself; but knew if she had it to do over, she
would do the same thing again. She shook her shoulders and took
the first step toward regaining her old self-confidence.
"Pshaw! Big and strong as I am, and Adam getting such a great
boy, we can make it," she said. Then she hurried to the hack and
was driven home barely in time to rush her bundles into her room
before school was out. She could scarcely wait until the children
were in bed to open the parcels. The doll had to be dressed, but
Kate was interested in Christmas by that time, and so contemplated
the spider-waisted image with real affection. She never had owned
a doll herself. She let the knitting go that night, and cut up an
old waist to make white under-clothing with touches of lace, and a
pretty dress. Then Kate went to her room, tied the doll in a safe
place on the tree, put on the books, and set the candles with
pins. As she worked she kept biting her lips, but when it was all
finished she thought it was lovely, and so it was. As she set the
sled in front of the tree she said: "There, little folks, I
wonder what you will think of that! It's the best I can do. I've
a nice chicken to roast; now if only, if only Mother or Nancy
Ellen would come, or write a line, or merely send one word by
Suddenly Kate lay down on the bed, buried her face in the pillow
while her shoulders jerked and shook in dry sobs for a long time.
At last she arose, went to the kitchen, bathed her face, and
banked the fires. "I suppose it is the Bates way," she said, "but
it's a cold, hard proposition. I know what's the matter with all
of them. They are afraid to come near me, or show the slightest
friendliness, for fear I'll ask them to help support us. They
needn't worry, we can take care of ourselves."
She set her tree on the living room table, arranged everything to
the best advantage, laid a fire in the stove, and went to sleep
Christmas eve, feeling more like herself than she had since the
explosion. Christmas morning she had the house warm and the tree
ready to light while the children dressed. She slipped away their
every-day clothing and laid out their best instead. She could
hear them talking as they dressed, and knew the change of clothing
had filled them with hope. She hastily lighted the tree, and was
setting the table as they entered the dining room.
"Merry Christmas, little people," she cried in a voice they had
not heard in a long time. They both rushed to her and Kate's
heart stood still as they each hugged her tight, kissed her, and
offered a tiny packet. From the size and feeling of these, she
realized that they were giving her the candy they had received the
day before at school. Surprises were coming thick and fast with
Kate. That one shook her to her foundations. They loved candy.
They had so little! They had nothing else to give. She held them
an instant so tightly they were surprised at her, then she told
them to lay the packages on the living room table until after
breakfast. Polly opened the door, and screamed. Adam ran, and
then both of them stood silently before the brave little tree,
flaming red, touched with white, its gold star shining. They
looked at it, and then at each other, while Kate, watching at an
angle across the dining room, distinctly heard Polly say in an
awed tone: "Adam, hadn't we better pray?"
Kate lifted herself full height, and drew a deep breath. "Well, I
guess I manage a little Christmas after this," she said, "and
maybe a Fourth of July, and a birthday, and a few other things. I
needn't be such a coward. I believe I can make it."
From that hour she began trying to think of something she could do
that would bring returns more nearly commensurate with the time
and strength she was spending. She felt tied to Walden because
she owned the house, and could rely on working on shares with Aunt
Ollie for winter food; but there was nothing she could do there
and take care of the children that would bring more than the most
meagre living. Still they were living, each year more
comfortably; the children were growing bigger and stronger; soon
they could help at something, if only she could think what. The
time flew, each day a repetition of yesterday's dogged, soul-
tiring grind, until some days Kate was close to despair. Each day
the house grew shabbier; things wore out and could not be
replaced; poverty showed itself more plainly. So three more years
of life in Walden passed, setting their indelible mark on Kate.
Time and again she almost broke the spell that bound her, but she
never quite reached the place where her thought cleared, her heart
regained its courage, her soul dared take wing, and try another
flight. When she thought of it, "I don't so much mind the
falling," said Kate to herself; "but I do seem to select the
hardest spots to light on."
Kate sat on the back steps, the sun shone, her nearest neighbour
was spading an onion bed. She knew that presently she would get
out the rake and spade and begin another year's work; but at that
minute she felt too hopeless to move. Adam came and sat on the
step beside her. She looked at him and was surprised at his size
and apparent strength. Someway he gave her hope. He was a good
boy, he had never done a mean, sneaking thing that she knew of.
He was natural, normal, mischievous; but he had not an underhand
inclination that she could discover. He would make a fine-
looking, big man, quite as fine as any of the Bates men; even
Adam, 3d, was no handsomer than the fourth Adam would be. Hope
arose in her with the cool air of spring on her cheek and its wine
in her nostrils. Then out of the clear sky she said it: "Adam,
how long are we going to stay in the beggar class?"
Adam jumped, and turned surprised eyes toward her. Kate was
forced to justify herself.
"Of course we give Aunt Ollie half we raise," she said, "but
anybody would do that. We work hard, and we live little if any
better than Jasons, who have the County Trustee in three times a
winter. I'm big and strong, you're almost a man, why don't we DO
something? Why don't we have some decent clothes, some money for
out work and" -- Kate spoke at random -- "a horse and carriage?"
"A horse and carriage?" repeated Adam, staring at her.
"Why not?" said Kate, casually.
"But how?" cried the amazed boy.
"Why, earn the money, and buy it!" said Kate, impatiently. "I'm
about fed up on earning cabbage, and potatoes, and skirmishing for
wood. I'd prefer to have a dollar in my pocket, and BUY what we
need. Can't you use your brain and help me figure out a way to
earn some MONEY?"
"I meant to pretty soon now, but I thought I had to go to school a
few years yet," he said.
"Of course you do," said Kate. "I must earn the money, but can't
you help me think how?"
"Sure," said Adam, sitting straight and seeming thoughtful, "but
give me a little time. What would you -- could you, do?"
"I taught before I was married," said Kate; "but methods of
teaching change so I'd have to have a Normal term to qualify for
even this school. I could put you and Polly with Aunt Ollie this
summer; but I wouldn't, not if we must freeze and starve together -- "
"Because of Grandma?" asked the boy. Kate nodded.
"I borrowed money to go once, and I could again; but I have been
away from teaching so long, and I don't know what to do with you
children. The thing I would LIKE would be to find a piece of land
somewhere, with a house, any kind of one on it, and take it to
rent. Land is about all I really know. Working for money would
be of some interest. I am so dead tired working for potatoes.
Sometimes I see them flying around in the air at night."
"Do you know of any place you would like?" asked Adam.
"No, I don't," said Kate, "but I am going to begin asking and I'm
going to keep my eyes open. I heard yesterday that Dr. James
intends to build a new house. This house is nothing, but the lot
is in the prettiest place in town. Let's sell it to him, and take
the money, and buy us some new furniture and a cow, and a team,
and wagon, and a buggy, and go on a piece of land, and live like
other people. Seems to me I'll die if I have to work for potatoes
any longer. I'm heart sick of them. Don't say a word to anybody,
but Oh, Adam, THINK! Think HARD! Can't you just help me THINK?"
"You are sure you want land?" asked the boy.
"It is all I know," said Kate. "How do you feel about it?"
"I want horses, and cows, and pigs -- lots of pigs -- and sheep,
and lots of white hens," said Adam, promptly.
"Get the spade and spade the onion bed until I think," said Kate.
"And that reminds me, we didn't divide the sets last fall.
Somebody will have to go after them."
"I'll go," said Adam, "but it's awful early. It'll snow again.
Let me go after school Friday and stay over night. I'd like to go
and stay over night with Aunt Ollie. Grandma can't say anything
to me that I'll listen to. You keep Polly, and let me go alone.
Sure I can."
"All right," said Kate. "Spade the bed, and let it warm a day.
It will be good for it. But don't tell Polly you're going, or
she'll want to go along."
Until Friday night, Kate and Adam went around in such a daze of
deep thought that they stumbled, and ran against each other; then
came back to their affairs suddenly, looking at each other and
smiling understandingly. After one of these encounters Kate said
to the boy: "You may not arrive at anything, Adam, but I
certainly can't complain that you are not thinking."
Adam grinned: "I'm not so sure that I haven't got it," he said.
"Tell me quick and let me think, too" said Kate.
"But I can't tell you yet," said Adam. "I have to find out
Friday evening he wanted to put off his trip until Saturday
morning, so Kate agreed. She was surprised when he bathed and put
on his clean shirt and trousers, but said not a word. She had
made some study of child psychology, she thought making the trip
alone was of so much importance to Adam that he was dressing for
the occasion. She foresaw extra washing, yet she said nothing to
stop the lad. She waved good-bye to him, thinking how sturdy and
good looking he was, as he ran out of the front door. Kate was
beginning to be worried when Adam had not returned toward dusk
Sunday evening, and Polly was cross and fretful. Finally they saw