Part 1 out of 3
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Dust by Mr. And Mrs. Haldeman-Julius
I. THE DUST IS STIRRED
II. OUT OF THE DUST
III. DUST IN HER HEART
IV. A ROSE-BUD IN THE DUST
V. DUST BEGETS DUST
VI. DUST IN HIS EYES
VII. MARTIN BATTLES WITH DUST
VIII. THE DUST SMOTHERS
IX. MARTIN'S SON SHAKES OFF THE DUST
X. INTO THE DUST-BIN
XI. THE DUST SETTLES
THE DUST IS STIRRED
DUST was piled in thick, velvety folds on the weeds and grass of
the open Kansas prairie; it lay, a thin veil on the scrawny black
horses and the sharp-boned cow picketed near a covered wagon; it
showered to the ground in little clouds as Mrs. Wade, a tall,
spare woman, moved about a camp-fire, preparing supper in a
sizzling skillet, huge iron kettle and blackened coffee-pot.
Her husband, pale and gaunt, the shadow of death in his weary
face and the droop of his body, sat leaning against one of the
wagon wheels trying to quiet a wailing, emaciated year-old baby
while little tow-headed Nellie, a vigorous child of seven,
frolicked undaunted by the August heat.
"Does beat all how she kin do it," thought Wade, listlessly.
"Ma," she shouted suddenly, in her shrill, strident treble, "I
see Martin comin'."
The mother made no answer until the strapping, fourteen-year-old
boy, tall and powerful for his age, had deposited his bucket of
water at her side. As he drew the back of a tanned muscular hand
across his dripping forehead she asked shortly:
"What kept you so long?"
"The creek's near dry. I had to follow it half a mile to find
anything fit to drink. This ain't no time of year to start
farmin'," he added, glum and sullen.
"I s'pose you know more'n your father and mother," suggested
"I know who'll have to do all the work," the boy retorted,
bitterness and rebellion in his tone.
"Oh, quit your arguin'," commanded the mother. "We got enough to
do to move nearer that water tonight, without wastin' time
talkin'. Supper's ready."
Martin and Nellie sat down beside the red-and-white-checkered
cloth spread on the ground, and Wade, after passing the still
fretting baby to his wife, took his place with them.
"Seems like he gets thinner every day," he commented, anxiously.
With a swift gesture of fierce tenderness, Mrs. Wade gathered
little Benny to her. "Oh, God!" she gasped. "I know I'm goin' to
lose him. That cow's milk don't set right on his stomach."
"It won't set any better after old Brindle fills up on this
dust," observed Martin, belligerency in his brassy voice.
"That'll do," came sharply from his father. "I don't think this
is paradise no more'n you do, but we wouldn't be the first who've
come with nothing but a team and made a living. You mark what I
tell you, Martin, land ain't always goin' to be had so cheap and
I won't be living this time another year. Before I die, I'm goin'
to see your mother and you children settled. Some day, when
you've got a fine farm here, you'll see the sense of what I'm
doin' now and thank me for it."
The boy's cold, blue eyes became the color of ice, as he
retorted: "If I ever make a farm out o' this dust, I'll sure 'ave
"I guess your mother'll be doin' her share of that, all right.
And don't you forget it."
As he intoned in even accents, Wade's eyes, so deep in their
somber sockets, dwelt with a strange, wistful compassion on his
faded wife. The rays of the setting sun brought out the drabness
of her. Already, at thirty-five, grey streaked the scanty, dull
hair, wrinkles lined the worn olive-brown face, and the tendons
of the thin neck stood out. Chaotically, he compared her to the
happy young girl--round of cheek and laughing of eye--he had
married back in Ohio, fifteen years before. It comforted him a
little to remember he hadn't done so badly by her until the war
had torn him from his rented farm and she had been forced to do a
man's work in field and barn. Exposure and a lung wound from a
rebel bullet had sent Wade home an invalid, and during the five
years which had followed, he had realized only too well how
little help he had been to her.
It is not likely he would have had the iron persistency of
purpose to drag her through this new stern trial if he had not
known that in her heart, as in his, there gnawed ever an
all-devouring hunger to work land of their own, a fervent
aspiration to establish a solid basis of self-sustentation upon
which their children might build. From the day a letter had come
from Peter Mall, an ex-comrade in Wade's old regiment, saying the
quarter-section next his own could be bought by paying annually a
dollar and twenty-five cents an acre for seven years, their hopes
had risen into determination that had become unshakable. Before
the eyes of Jacob and Sarah Wade there had hovered, like a
promise, the picture of the snug farm that could be evolved from
this virgin soil. Strengthened by this vision and stimulated by
the fact of Wade's increasing weakness, they had sold their few
possessions, except the simplest necessities for camping, had
made a canvas cover for their wagon, stocked up with smoked meat,
corn meal and coffee, tied old Brindle behind, fastened a coop of
chickens against the wagon-box and, without faltering, had made
the long pilgrimage. Their indomitable courage and faith,
Martin's physical strength and the pulling power of their two
ring-boned horses --this was their capital.
It seemed pitifully meager to Wade at that despondent moment,
exhausted as he was by the long, hard journey and the sultry
heat. Never had he been so taunted by a sense of failure, so torn
by the haunting knowledge that he must soon leave his family. To
die--that was nothing; but the fears of what his death might mean
to this group, gripped his heart and shook his soul.
If only Martin were more tender! There was something so ruthless
in the boy, so overbearing and heartless. Not that he was ever
deliberately cruel, but there was an insensibility to the
feelings of others, a capacity placidly to ignore them, that made
Wade tremble for the future. Martin would work, and work hard; he
was no shirk, but would he ever feel any responsibility toward
his younger brother and sister? Would he be loyal to his mother?
Wade wondered if his wife ever felt as he did--almost afraid of
this son of theirs. He had a way of making his father seem
foolishly inexperienced and ineffectual.
"I reckon," Wade analysed laboriously, "it's because I'm gettin'
less able all the time and he's growing so fast--him limber an'
quick, and me all thumbs. There ain't nothing like just plain
muscle and size to make a fellow feel as if he know'd it all."
Martin had never seemed more competent than this evening as,
supper over, he harnessed the horses and helped his mother set
the little caravan in motion. It was Martin who guided them to
the creek, Martin who decided just where to locate their camp,
Martin who, early the next morning, unloaded the wagon and made a
temporary tent from its cover, and Martin who set forth on a
saddleless horse in search of Peter Mall. When he returned, the
big, kindly man came with him, and in Martin's arms there
squealed and wriggled a shoat.
"A smart boy you've got, Jacob," chuckled Peter, jovially, after
the first heart-warming greetings. "See that critter! Blame me if
Martin, here, didn't speak right up and ask me to lend 'er to
you!" And he collapsed into gargantuan laughter.
"I promised when she'd growed up and brought pigs, we'd give him
back two for one," Martin hastily explained.
"That's what he said," nodded Peter, carefully switching his navy
plug to the opposite cheek before settling down to reply, "and
sez I, 'Why, Martin, what d'ye want o' that there shoat? You
ain't got nothin' to keep her on!' 'If I can borrow the pig,' sez
he, 'I reckon I can borrow the feed somewheres.' God knows, he'll
find that ain't so plentiful, but he's got the right idea. A new
country's a poor man's country and fellows like us have to stand
together. It's borrow and lend out here. I know where you can get
some seed wheat if you want to try puttin' it in this fall.
There's a man by the name of Perry--lives just across the
Missouri line--who has thrashed fifteen hundred bushel and he'll
lend you three hundred or so. He's willing to take a chance, but
if you get a crop he wants you should give him back an extra
It was a hard bargain, but one that Wade could afford to take up,
for if the wheat were to freeze out, or if the grasshoppers
should eat it, or the chinch bugs ruin it, or a hail storm beat
it down into the mud, or if any of the many hatreds Stepmother
Nature holds out toward those trusting souls who would squeeze a
living from her hard hands--if any of these misfortunes should
transpire, he would be out nothing but labor, and that was the
one thing he and Martin could afford to risk.
The seed deal was arranged, and Martin made the trip six times
back and forth, for the wagon could hold only fifty bushels.
Perry lived twenty miles from the Wades and a whole day was
consumed with each load. It was evening when Martin, hungry and
tired, reached home with the last one; and, as he stopped beside
the tent, he noticed with surprise that there was no sign of
cooking. Nellie was huddled against her mother, who sat, idle,
with little Benny in her arms. The tragic yearning her whole body
expressed, as she held the baby close, arrested the boy's
attention, filled him with clamoring uneasiness. His father came
to help him unhitch.
"What's the matter with Benny?"
Wade looked at Martin queerly. "He's dead. Died this mornin' and
your ma's been holding him just like that. I want you should ride
over to Peter's and see if you can fetch his woman."
"No!" came from Mrs. Wade, brokenly, "I don't want no one. Just
let me alone."
The shattering anguish in his mother's voice startled Martin,
stirred within him tumultuous, veiled sensations. He was
unaccustomed to seeing her show suffering, and it embarrassed
him. Restless and uncomfortable, he was glad when his father
called him to help decide where to dig the grave, and fell the
timber from which to make a rough box. From time to time, through
the long night, he could not avoid observing his mother. In the
white moonlight, she and Benny looked as if they had been carved
from stone. Dawn was breaking over them when Wade, surrendering
to a surge of pity, put his arms around her with awkward
gentleness. "Ma, we got to bury 'im."
A low, half-suppressed sob broke from Mrs. Wade's tight lips as
she clasped the tiny figure and pressed her cheek against the
"I can't give him up," she moaned, "I can't! It wasn't so hard
with the others. Their sickness was the hand of God, but Benny
just ain't had enough to eat. Seems like it'll kill me."
With deepened discomfort, Martin hurried to the creek to water
the horses. It was good, he felt, to have chores to do. This
knowledge shot through him with the same thrill of discovery that
a man enjoys when he first finds what an escape from the solidity
of fact lies in liquor. If one worked hard and fast one could
forget. That was what work did. It made one forget--that moan,
that note of agony in his mother's voice, that hurt look in her
eyes, that bronze group in the moonlight. By the time he had
finished his chores, his mother was getting breakfast as usual.
With unspeakable relief, Martin noticed that though pain haunted
her face, she was not crying.
"I heard while I was over in Missouri, yesterday," he ventured,
"of a one-room house down in the Indian Territory. The fellow who
built it's give up and gone back East. Maybe we could fix a
sledge and haul it up here."
"I ain't got the strength to help," said Wade.
Martin's eyes involuntarily sought his mother's. He knew the
power in her lean, muscular arms, the strength in her narrow
"We'd better fetch it," she agreed.
The pair made the trip down on horseback and brought back the
shack that was to be home for many years. Eighteen miles off a
man had some extra hand-cut shingles which he was willing to
trade for a horse-collar. While Mrs. Wade took the long drive
Martin, under his father's guidance, chopped down enough trees to
build a little lean-to kitchen and make-shift stable. Sixteen
miles south another neighbor had some potatoes to exchange for a
hatching of chickens. Martin rode over with the hen and her downy
brood. The long rides, consuming hours, were trying, for Martin
was needed every moment on a farm where everything was still to
Day by day Wade was growing weaker, and it was Mrs. Wade who
helped put in the crop, borrowing a plow, harrow, and extra team,
and repaying the loan with the use of their own horses and wagon.
Luck was with their wheat, which soon waved green. It seemed one
of life's harsh jests that now, when the tired, ill-nourished
baby had fretted his last, old Brindle, waxing fat and sleek on
the wheat pasture, should give more rich cream than the Wades
could use. "He could have lived on the skimmed milk we feed to
the pigs," thought Martin.
In the Spring he went with his father into Fallon, the nearest
trading point, to see David Robinson, the owner of the local
bank. By giving a chattel mortgage on their growing wheat, they
borrowed enough, at twenty per cent, to buy seed corn and a plow.
It was Wade's last effort. Before the corn was in tassel, he had
been laid beside Benny.
Martin, who already had been doing a man's work, now assumed a
man's responsibilities. Mrs. Wade consulted more and more with
him, relied more and more upon his judgment. She was immensely
proud of him, of his steadiness and dependability, but at rare
moments, remembering her own normal childhood, she would think
with compunction: "It ain't right. Young 'uns ought to have some
fun. Seems like it's makin' him too old for his age." She never
spoke of these feelings, however. There were no expressions of
tenderness in the Wade household. She was doing her best by her
children and they knew it. Even Nellie, child that she was,
understood the grimness of the battle before them.
They were able to thresh enough wheat to repay their debt of six
hundred bushels and keep an additional three hundred of seed for
the following year. The remaining seven hundred and fifty they
sold at twenty-five cents a bushel by hauling them to Fort
Scott--thirty miles distant. Each trip meant ten dollars, but to
the Wades, to whom this one hundred and eighty-seven dollars--the
first actual money they had seen in over a year--was a fortune,
these journeys were rides of triumph, fugitive flashes of glory
in the long, gray struggle.
That Fall they paid the first installment of two hundred dollars
on their land and Martin persuaded his mother to give and
Robinson to take a chattel on their two horses, old Brindle, her
calf and the pigs, that other much-needed implements might be
bought. Mrs. Wade toiled early and late, doing part of the chores
and double her share of the Spring plowing that Martin, as well
as Nellie, could attend school in Fallon.
"I don't care about goin'," he had protested squirmingly.
But on this matter his mother was without compromise. "Don't say
that," she had commanded, her voice shaken and her eyes bright
with the intensity of her emotion; "you're goin' to get an
And Martin, surprised and embarrassed by his mother's unusual
exhibition of feeling, had answered, roughly: "Aw, well, all
right then. Don't take on. I didn't say I wouldn't, did I?"
He was twenty-three and Nellie sixteen when, worn out and broken
down before her time, her resistance completely undermined, Mrs.
Wade died suddenly of pneumonia. Within the year Nellie married
Bert Mall, Peter's eldest son, and Martin, at once, bought out
her half interest in the farm, stock and implements, giving a
first mortgage to Robinson in order to pay cash.
"I'm making it thirty dollars an acre," he explained.
"That's fair," conceded the banker, "though the time will come
when it will be cheap at a hundred and a half. There's coal under
all this county, millions of dollars' worth waiting to be mined."
"Maybe," assented Martin, laconically.
As he sat in the dingy, little backroom of the bank, while
Robinson's pen scratched busily drawing up the papers, he was
conscious of an odd thrill. The land--it was all his own! But
with this thrill welled a wave of resentment over what he
considered a preposterous imposition. Who had made the land into
a farm? What had Nellie ever put into it that it should be half
hers? His mother--now, that was different. She and he had toiled
side by side like real partners; her efforts had been real and
unstinted. If he were buying her out, for instance --but Nellie!
Well, that was the way, he noticed, with many women--doing little
and demanding much. He didn't care for them; not he. From the day
Nellie left, Martin managed alone in the shack, "baching it," and
putting his whole heart and soul into the development of his
OUT OF THE DUST
AT thirty-four, Martin was still unmarried, and though he had not
travelled far on that strange road to affluence which for some
seems a macadamized boulevard, but for so many, like himself, a
rough cow-path, he had done better than the average farmer of
Fallon County. To be sure, this was nothing over which to gloat.
A man who received forty cents a bushel for wheat was satisfied;
corn sold at twenty-eight cents, and the hogs it fattened in
proportion. But his hundred and sixty acres were clear from debt,
four thousand dollars were on deposit drawing three per cent in
The First State Bank--the old Bank of Fallon, now incorporated
with Robinson as its president. In the pasture, fourteen sows
with their seventy-five spring pigs rooted beside the sleek herd
of steers fattening for market; the granary bulged with corn; two
hundred bushels of seed wheat were ready for sowing; his
machinery was in excellent condition; his four Percheron mares
brought him, each, a fine mule colt once a year; and the well
never went dry, even in August. Martin was--if one discounted the
harshness of the life, the dirt, the endless duties and the
ever-pressing chores--a Kansas plutocrat.
One fiery July day, David Robinson drew up before Martin's shack.
The little old box-house was still unpainted without and
unpapered within. Two chairs, a home-made table with a Kansas
City Star as a cloth, a sheetless bed, a rough cupboard, a stove
and floors carpeted with accumulations of untidiness completed
"Chris-to-pher Columbus!" exploded Robinson, "why don't you fix
yourself up a bit, Martin? The Lord knows you're going to be able
to afford it. What you need is a wife--someone to look after
you." And as Martin, observing him calmly, made no response, he
added, "I suppose you know what I want. You've been watching for
this day, eh, Martin? All Fallon County's sitting on its
"Oh, I haven't been worrying. A fellow situated like me, with a
hundred and sixty right in the way of a coal company, can afford
to be independent."
"You understand our procedure, Martin," Robinson continued. "We
are frank and aboveboard. We set the price, and if you can't see
your way clear to take it there are no hard feelings. We simply
call it off--for good."
Wade knew how true this was. When the mining first began, several
rebels toward the East had tried profitlessly to buck this
irrefragable game and had found they had battered their
unyielding heads against an equally unyielding stone wall. These
men had demanded more and Robinson's company, true to its threat,
had urbanely gone around their farms, travelled on and left them
behind, their coal untouched and certain to so remain. Such
inelastic lessons, given time to soak in, were sobering.
"Now," said Robinson, in his amiable matter-of-fact manner, "as I
happen to know the history of this quarter, backwards and
forwards, we can do up this deal in short order. You sign this
contract, which is exactly like all the others we use, and I'll
hand over your check. We get the bottom; you keep the top; I give
you the sixteen thousand, and the thing is done."
"Well, Martin," he added, genially, as Wade signed his name,
"it's a long day since you came in with your father to make that
first loan to buy seed corn. Wouldn't he have opened his eyes if
any one had prophesied this? It's a pity your mother couldn't
have lived to enjoy your good fortune. A fine, plucky woman, your
mother. They don't make many like her."
Long after Robinson's buggy was out of sight, Martin stood in his
doorway and stared at the five handsome figures, spelled out the
even more convincing words and admired the excellent reproduction
of The First State Bank.
"This is a whole lot of money," his thoughts ran. "I'm rich. All
this land still mine--practically as much mine as ever--all this
stock and twenty thousand dollars in money--in cash. It's a fact.
I, Martin Wade, am rich."
He remembered how he had exulted, how jubilant, even intoxicated,
he had felt when he had received the ten dollars for the first
load of wheat he had hauled to Fort Scott. Now, with a check for
sixteen thousand--SIXTEEN THOUSAND DOLLARS!--in his hand, he
stood dumbly, curiously unmoved.
Slowly, the first bitter months on this land, little Benny's
death from lack of nourishment, his father's desperate efforts to
establish his family, the years of his mother's slow crucifixion,
his own long struggle --all floated before him in a fog of
reverie. Years of deprivation, of bending toil and then,
suddenly, this had come--this miracle symbolized by this piece of
paper. Martin moistened his lips. Mentally, he realized all the
dramatic significance of what had happened, but it gave him none
of the elation he had expected.
This bewildered and angered him. Sixteen thousand dollars and
with it no thrill. What was lacking? As he pondered, puzzled and
disappointed, it came to him that he needed something by which to
measure his wealth, someone whose appreciation of it would make
it real to him, give him a genuine sense of its possession. What
if he were to take Robinson's advice: fix up a bit and--marry?
Nellie had often urged the advantages of this, but he had never
had much to do with women; they did not belong in his world and
he had not missed them; he had never before felt a need of
marriage. Upon the few occasions when, driven by his sister's
persistence, he had vaguely considered it, he had shrunk away
quickly from the thought of the unavoidable changes which would
be ushered in by such a step. This shack, itself--no one whom he
would want would, in this day, consent to live in it, and, if he
should marry, his wife must be a superior woman, good looking,
and with the push and energy of his mother. He thought of all she
had meant to his father; and there was Nellie, not to be spoken
of in the same breath, yet making Bert Mall a good wife. What a
cook she was! Memories of her hot, fluffy biscuits, baked
chicken, apple pies and delicious coffee, carried trailing aromas
that set his nostrils twitching. It would be pleasant to have
satisfying meals once more, to be relieved, too, of the bother of
the three hundred chickens, to have some one about in the
evenings. True, there would be expense, oh, such expense--the
courting, the presents, the wedding, the building, the furniture,
and, later, innumerable new kinds of bills. But weren't all the
men around him married? Surely, if they, not nearly as well off
as himself, could afford it, so could he.
Besides, wasn't it all different now that he held this check in
his hand? These sixteen thousand dollars were not the same
dollars which he had extorted from close-fisted Nature. Each of
those had come so lamely, was such a symbol of sweat and aching
muscles, that to spend one was like parting with a portion of
himself, but this new, almost incredible fortune, had come
without a turn of his hand, without an hour's labor. To Martin,
the distinction was sharp and actual.
He figured quickly. Five thousand dollars would do wonders. With
that amount, he would build so substantially that his neighbors
could no longer feel the disapprobation in which, according to
Nellie, he was beginning to be held, because of his sordid,
hermit-like life. That five thousand could buy many cows and
additional acreage--but just now a home and a wife would be
better investments. Yes, he would marry and a house should be his
bait. That was settled. He would drive into Fallon at once to see
the carpenter and deposit the check.
He was already out of the house when a thought struck him.
Suppose he were to meet just the woman he might want? These
soiled, once-blue overalls, these heavy, manure-spotted shoes,
this greasy, shapeless straw hat, with its dozen matches showing
their red heads over the band, the good soils and fertilizers of
Kansas resting placidly in his ears and the lines of his
neck--such a Romeo might not tempt his Juliet; he must spruce up.
On an aged soap-box behind the house, several inches of grey
water in a battered tin-pan indicated a previous effort. He
tossed the greasy liquid to the ground and from the well, near
the large, home-built barn, refilled the make-shift basin.
Martin's ablutions were always a strenuous affair. In his cupped
hands he brought the water toward his face and, at the moment he
was about to apply it, made pointless attempts to blow it away.
This blowing and sputtering indicated the especial importance of
an occasion--the more important, the more vigorously he blew.
Today, the cold water gave a healthy glow to his face, which,
after much stropping of his razor, he shaved of a week's growth
of beard, tawny as his thick, crisp hair where the sun had not
yet bleached it. This, he soaked thoroughly, in lieu of brushing,
before using a crippled piece of comb. The dividing line between
washed and unwashed was one inch above his neckband and two above
his wrists. Even when fresh from a scrubbing, his hands were not
entirely clean. They had been so long in contact with the earth
that it had become absorbed into the very pores of his skin; but
they were powerful hands, interesting, with long palms and
spatulate fingers. The black strips at the end of each nail,
Martin pared off with his jackknife.
He entered the house a trifle nervously, positive that his only
clean shirt, at present spread over his precious shot-gun, had
been worn once more than he could have wished, but, after all,
how much of one's shirt showed? It would pass. The coat-shirt not
yet introduced, a man had to slip the old-fashioned kind over his
head, drag it down past his shoulders and poke blindly for the
sleeve openings. Martin was thankful when he felt the collar
buttons in their holes. His salt and pepper suit was of a stiff,
unyielding material, and the first time he had worn it the
creases had vanished never to return. Before putting on his
celluloid collar, he spat on it and smeared it off with the tail
of his shirt. A recalcitrant metal shaper insisted on peeking
from under his lapels, and his ready-made tie with its two grey
satin-covered cardboard wings pushed out of sight, see-sawed,
necessitating frequent adjustments. His brown derby, the rim of
which made almost three quarters of a circle at each side, seemed
to want to get as far as possible from his ears and, at the same
time, remain perched on his head. The yellow shoes looked as
though each had half a billiard ball in the toe, and the entire
tops were perforated with many diverging lines in an attempt for
the decorative. Those were the days of sore feet and corns! Hart
Schaffner and Marx had not yet become rural America's tailor.
Sartorial magicians in Chicago had not yet won over the young men
of the great corn belt, with their snappy lines and style for the
millions. In 1890, when a suit served merely as contrast to a
pair of overalls, the Martin Wades who would clothe themselves
pulled their garments from the piles on long tables. It was for
the next generation to patronize clothiers who kept each suit on
its separate hanger. A moving-picture of the tall,
broad-shouldered fellow, as, with creaking steps, he walked from
the house, might bring a laugh from the young farmers of this
more fastidious day, but Martin was dressed no worse than any of
his neighbors and far better than many. Health, vigor,
sturdiness, self-reliance shone from him, and once his make-up
had ceased to obtrude its clumsiness, he struck one as handsome.
His was a commanding physique, hard as the grim plains from which
he wrested his living.
As Martin drove into Fallon, his attention was directed toward
the architecture and the women. He observed that the average
homes were merely a little larger than his own--four, six, or
eight rooms instead of one, made a little trimmer with neat
porches and surrounded by well-cut lawns, instead of weeds. He,
with his new budget, could do better. Even Robinson's
well-constructed residence had probably cost only three thousand
more than he himself planned to spend. Its suggestion of
originality had been all but submerged by carpenters spoiled
through constant work on commonplace buildings. But to Martin it
was a marvellous mansion. He told himself that with such a place
moved out to his quarter-section, he could have stood on his
door-step and chosen whomever he wished for a wife.
It was an elemental materialism, difficult to understand, but it
was a language very clear to Martin. Marriage with the men and
women of his world was a practical business, arranged and
conducted by practical people, who lived practical lives, and
died practical deaths. The women who might pass his way could
deny their lust for concrete possessions, but their actions,
however concealed their motives, would give the lie to any
ineffectual glamour of romance they might attempt to fling over
their carefully measured adventures of the heart.
Martin smiled cynically as he let his thoughts drift along this
channel. "What a lot of bosh is talked about lovers," his comment
ran. "As if everyone didn't really know how much like drunken men
they are--saying things which in a month they'll have forgotten.
Folks pretend to approve of 'em and all the while they're
laughing at 'em up their sleeves. But how they respect a man
who's got the root they're all grubbing for! It may be the root
of all evil, but it's a fact that everything people want grows
from it. They hate a man for having it, but they'd like to be
him. Their hearts have all got strings dangling from 'em,
especially the women's. A house tied onto the other end ought to
be hefty enough to fetch the best of the lot."
Who could she be, anyway? Was she someone in Fallon? He drove
slowly, thinking over the families in the different houses--four
to each side of the block. The street, even yet, was little more
than a country road. There was no indication of the six miles of
pavement which later were to be Fallon's pride. It had rained
earlier in the week and Martin was obliged to be careful of the
chuck-holes in the sticky, heavy gumbo soon to be the bane of
pioneers venturing forth in what were to be known for a few short
years as "horseless carriages."
Bumping along he recalled to his mind the various girls with whom
he had gone to school. As if the sight of the building, itself,
would sharpen his memory, he turned north and drove past it. Like
its south, east and west counterparts, it was a solid two-story
brick affair. In time it would be demolished to make way for what
would be known as the "Emerson School," in which, to be worthy of
this high title, the huge stoves would be supplanted with
hot-water pipes, oil lamps with soft, indirect lighting, and
unsightly out-buildings with modern plumbing. The South building
would become the "Whittier School," the East, the "Longfellow,"
and the West, not to be neglected by culture's invasion, the
"Oliver Wendell Holmes." But these changes were still to be
effected. Many a school board meeting was first to be split into
stormy factions of conservatives fighting to hold the old, and of
anarchists threatening civilization with their clamors for
experimentation. Many a bond election was yet to rip the town in
two, with the retired farmers, whose children were grown and
through school, satisfied with things as they were and parents of
the new generation demanding gymnasiums, tennis courts,
victrolas, domestic science laboratories, a public health nurse
and individual lockers. Yes, and the faddists were to win despite
the other side's incontrovertible evidence that Fallon was headed
for bankruptcy and that the proposed bonds and outstanding ones
could never be met.
Martin drove, meditatively, around the school-house and was still
engrossed in the problem of "Who?" when he reached the Square.
The neat canvas drops of later years had not yet replaced the
wooden awnings which gave to the town such a decidedly western
appearance and which threw the sidewalks and sheltered windows
into deep pools of shadow. The old brick store-building which
housed The First State Bank was like a cool cavern. He brought
out the check quietly but with a full consciousness that with one
gesture he was shoving enough over that scratched and worn walnut
counter to buy out half the bank.
James Osborne, the youthful cashier, feigned complete paralysis.
"Why don't you give a poor fellow some warning?" he beamed
good-naturedly, "or maybe you think you've strayed into Wall
Street. This is Fallon. Fallon, Kansas. So you've had your merry
little session with Robinson? Put it here!" and he extended a
"Oh, considering the wait, it isn't so wonderful. Sixteen
thousand is an awful lot when it's coming, but it just seems
about half as big when it gets here."
Martin was talking not so much for Osborne's benefit as to
impress a woman who had entered behind him and was awaiting her
turn. He wondered why, in his mental quest, he had not thought of
her. Here was the very person for whom he was looking. Rose
Conroy, the editor of the better local weekly, a year or so
younger than himself, pleasant, capable. Here was a real woman,
one above the average in character and brains.
With a quick glance he took in her well-built figure. Everything
about Rose--every line, every tone of her coloring suggested
warmth, generosity, bigness. She was as much above medium height
for a woman as Martin for a man. About her temples the line of
her bright golden-brown hair had an oddly pleasing irregularity.
The rosy color in her cheeks brought out the rich creamy
whiteness of her skin. Warm, gray-blue eyes were set far apart
beneath a kind, broad forehead and her wide, generous mouth
seemed made to smile. The impression of good temper and fun was
accented by her nose, ever so slightly up-tilted. Some might have
thought Rose too large, her hips too rounded, the soft deep bosom
too full, but Martin's eyes were approving. Even her hands,
plump, with broad palms, square fingers and well-kept nails,
suggested decision. He felt the quiet distinction of her simple
white dress. She was like a full-blown, luxuriant white and gold
flower--like a rose, a full-blown white rose, Martin realized,
suddenly. One couldn't call her pretty, but there was something
about her that gave the impression of sumptuous good looks. He
liked, too, the spirited carriage of her head. "Healthy,
good-sense, sound all through," was his final appraisement.
Pocketing his bank-book, he gave her a sharp nod, a colorless
"how-de-do, Miss Rose," and a tip of the hat that might have been
a little less stiff had he been more accustomed to greeting the
ladies. "Right well, thank you, Martin," was her cordial
response, and her friendly smile told him she had heard and
understood the remarks about the big deal. He was curious to know
how it had impressed her.
Hurrying out, he asked himself how he could begin advances.
Either he must do something quickly in time to get home for the
evening chores or he must wait until another day. He must think
out a plan, at once. Passing the bakery, half way down the block,
he dropped in, ordered a chocolate ice-cream soda, and chose a
seat near the window. As he had expected, it was not long before
he saw Rose go across the courthouse yard toward her office on
the north side of the square. He liked the swift, easy way in
which she walked. She had been walking the first time he had ever
seen her, thirteen years before, when her father had led his
family uptown from the station, the day of their arrival in
Patrick Conroy had come from Sharon, Illinois, to perform the
thankless task of starting a weekly newspaper in a town already
undernourishing one. By sheer stubbornness he had at last
established it. Twelve hundred subscribers, their little printing
jobs, advertisers who bought liberal portions of space at ten
cents an inch--all had enabled him to give his children a living
that was a shade better than an existence. He had died less than
a year ago, and Martin, like the rest of the community, had
supposed the Fallon Independent would be sold or suspended.
Instead, as quietly and matter-of-factly as she had filled her
dead mother's place in the home while her brothers and sisters
were growing up, Rose stepped into her father's business, took
over the editorship and with a boy to do the typesetting and
presswork, continued the paper without missing an issue. It even
paid a little better than before, partly because it flattered
Fallon's sense of Christian helpfulness to throw whatever it
could in Rose's way, but chiefly because she made the Independent
a livelier sheet with double the usual number of "Personals."
Yes, decidedly, Rose had force and push. Martin's mind was made
up. He would drop into the Independent ostensibly to extend his
subscription, but really to get on more intimate terms with the
woman whom he had now firmly determined should become his wife.
He drew a deep breath of relaxation and finished the glass of
sweetness with that sense of self-conscious sheepishness which
most men feel when they surrender to the sticky charms of an
ice-cream soda. A few minutes later he stood beside Rose's worn
"How-do-you-do, once more, Miss Rose of Sharon. You're not the
Bible's Rose of Sharon, are you?" he joshed a bit awkwardly.
"If I were a rose of anywhere, I'd soon wilt in this stuffy
little office of inky smells," she answered pleasantly. "A rose
would need petals of leather to get by here."
"A rose, by rights, belongs out of doors,"--Martin indicated the
direction of his farm--"out there where the sun shines and
there's no smells except the rich, healthy smells of nature."
A merry twinkle appeared in Rose's eyes. "Aren't roses out
there"--and her gesture was in the same direction--"rather apt to
be crowded down by the weeds?"
"Not if there was a good strong man about--a man who wanted to
cultivate the soil and give the rose a pretty place in which to
"Why, Martin," Rose laughed lightly, "the way you're fixed out
there with that shack, the only thing that ever blooms is a fine
crop of rag-weeds."
At this gratuitous thrust a flood of crimson surged up Martin's
magnificent, column-like throat and broke in hot waves over his
cheeks. "Well, it's not going to be that way for long," he
announced evenly. "I'm going to plant a rose--a real rose there
soon and everything is going to be right--garden, house and all."
"Is this your way of telling me you're going to be married?"
"Kinda. The only trouble is, I haven't got my rose yet."
"Well, if I can't have that item, at least I can print something
about the selling of your coal rights. People will be interested
because it shows the operators are coming in our direction. Here
in Fallon, we can hardly realize all that this sudden new
promotion may mean. From that conversation I heard at the bank I
guess you got the regulation hundred an acre."
"Yes, and a good part of it is going into a first-class modern
house with a heating plant and running hot and cold water in a
tiled-floor bath-room, and a concrete cellar for the woman's
preserved things and built-in cupboards, lots of closets, a big
garret, and hardwood floors and fancy paper on the walls, and the
prettiest polished golden oak furniture you can buy in Kansas
City, not to mention a big fireplace and wide, sunny porches. A
rose ought to be happy in a garden like that, don't you think?
Folks'll say I've gone crazy when they see my building spree, but
I know what I'm about. It's time I married and the woman who
decides to be my wife is going to be glad to stay with me--"
"See here, Martin Wade, what ARE you driving at? What does all
this talk mean anyway? Do you want me to give you a boost with
"You've hit it."
"Who is she?" Rose asked, with genuine curiosity.
"You," he said bluntly.
"Well, of all the proposals!"
"There's nothing to beat around the bush about. I'm only
thirty-four, a hard worker, with a tidy sum to boot--not that I'm
boasting about it."
"But, Martin, what makes you think I could make you happy?"
Martin felt embarrassed. He was not looking for happiness but
merely for more of the physical comforts, and an escape from
loneliness. He was practical; he fancied he knew about what could
be expected from marriage, just as he knew exactly how many
steers and hogs his farm could support. This was a new
idea--happiness. It had never entered into his calculations. Life
as he knew it was hard. There was no happiness in those fields
when burned by the hot August winds, the soil breaking into cakes
that left crevices which seemed to groan for water. That sky with
its clouds that gave no rain was a hard sky. The people he knew
were sometimes contented, but he could not remember ever having
known any to whom the word "happy" could be applied. His father
and mother --they had been a good husband and wife. But happy?
They had been far too absorbed in the bitter struggle for a
livelihood to have time to think of happiness. This had been
equally true of the elder Malls, was true today of Nellie and her
husband. A man and a woman needed each other's help, could make a
more successful fight, go farther together than either could
alone. To Martin that was the whole matter in a nutshell, and
Rose's gentle question threw him into momentary confusion.
"I don't know," he answered uneasily. "We both like to make a
success of things and we'd have plenty to do with. We'd make a
pretty good pulling team."
Rose considered this thoughtfully. "Perhaps the people who work
together best are the happiest. But somehow I'd never pictured
myself on a farm."
"Of course, I don't expect you to make up your mind right away,"
Martin conceded. "It's something to study over. I'll come around
to your place tomorrow evening after I get the chores done up and
we can talk some more."
So far as Martin was concerned, the matter was clinched. He felt
not the slightest doubt but that it was merely a question of time
before Rose would consent to his proposition.
After he had left, she reviewed it a little sadly. It wasn't the
kind of marriage of which she had always dreamed. She realized
that she was capable of profound devotion, of responding with her
whole being to a deep love. But was it probable that this love
would ever come? She thought over the men of Fallon and its
neighborhood. There were few as handsome as Martin--not one with
such generous plans. She knew her own domestic talents. She was a
born housekeeper and home-maker. It had been a curious destiny
that had driven her into a newspaper office, and at that very
moment, there lay on her desk, like a whisper from Fate, the
written offer from the rival paper to buy her out for fifteen
hundred dollars, giving herself a position on the consolidated
staff. She had been pondering over this proposal when Martin
It wasn't as if she were younger or likely to start somewhere
else. She would live out her life in Fallon, that she knew. There
was little chance of her meeting new men, and those established
enough to make marriage with them desirable were already married.
Candidly, she admitted that if she turned Martin Wade down now,
she might never have another such opportunity. If only she could
feel that he cared for her--loved her. But wasn't the fact that
he was asking her to be his wife proof of that? It was very
strange. She had never suspected that Martin had ever felt drawn
to her. With a sigh she pressed her large, capable hands to her
heart. Its deep piercing ache brought tears to her eyes. She
felt, bitterly, that she was being cheated of too much that was
sweet and precious--it was all wrong--she would be making a
mistake. For a moment, she was overwhelmed. Then the practical
common sense that had been instilled into her from her earliest
consciousness, even as it had been instilled into Martin,
reasserted itself. After all, perhaps he was right--the busy
people were the happy people. Many couples who began marriage
madly in love ended in the divorce courts. Martin was kind and it
would be wonderful to have the home he had described. She
imagined herself mistress of it, thrilled with the warm
hospitality she would radiate, entertained already at missionary
meetings and at club. At least, she would be less lonely. It
would be a fuller life than now. What was she getting, really
getting, alone, out of this world? She and Martin would be good
partners. Poor boy! What a long, hard, cheerless existence he had
led. Tenderness welled in her heart and stilled its pain. Perhaps
his emotions were far deeper than he could express in words. His
way was to plan for her comfort. Wasn't there something big about
his simple cards-on-the-table wooing? And he had called her his
rose, his Rose of Sharon. The new house was to be the garden in
which she should blossom. To be sure, he had said it all
awkwardly, but Rose, who was devout, knew the stately Song of
Solomon and as she recalled the magnificent outburst of passion
she almost let herself be convinced that Martin was a poet-lover
in the rough.
And all the while, giving pattern to her flying thoughts, the
contents of a letter, received the day before, echoed through her
mind. Her sister, Norah, the youngest of the family, had told of
her first baby. "We have named her for you, darling," she wrote.
"Oh, Rose, she has brought me such deep happiness. I wonder if
this ecstasy can last. Her little hand against my breast--it is
so warm and soft--like a flower's curling petal, as delicate and
as beautiful as a butterfly's wing. I never knew until now what
life really meant." As Rose reread the throbbing lines and
pictured the eager-eyed young mother, her own sweet face glowed
with reflected joy and with the knowledge that this ecstasy, this
deeper understanding could come to her, too--Martin, he was
vigorous, so worthy of being the father of her children. He would
love them, of course, and provide for them better than any other
man she knew. Had not Norah married a plain farmer who was only a
tenant? The new little Rose's father was not to be compared to
Martin, and yet he had brought the supreme experience to her
sister. So Rose sat dreaming, the arid level of monotonous days
which, one short hour ago, had stretched before her, flowering
into fragrant, sun-filled fields.
Meanwhile, Martin congratulated himself upon having found a woman
as sensible, industrious and free from foolish notions, as even
he could wish.
DUST IN HER HEART
SIX weeks later Martin and Rose were married. Martin had let the
contract for the new house and barn to Silas Fletcher, Fallon's
leading carpenter, who had the science of construction reduced to
utter simplicity. He had listened to Martin's description of what
he wished and, after some rough figuring, had proceeded to draw
the plans on the back of a large envelope. Both Rose and Martin
knew that those rude lines would serve unfailingly. For three
thousand dollars Fletcher would build the very house Martin had
pictured to Rose: a two-story one with four nice rooms and a bath
upstairs, four rooms and a pantry downstairs, a floored garret,
concrete cellar, an inviting fireplace and wide porches. For two
thousand dollars he would give a substantial barn capable of
holding a hundred tons of hay and of accommodating twenty cows
and four horses.
Rose had been deeply touched by the thoroughness of Martin's
plans, by his unfailing consideration for her comfort. True,
there had been moments when her warm, loving nature had been
chilled. At such times, misgivings had clamored and she had,
finally, all but made up her mind to tell him that she could not
go on--that it had all been a mistake. She would say to him, she
had decided: "Martin, you are one of the kindest and best men,
and I could be happy with you if only you loved me, but you don't
really care for me and you never will. I feel it. Oh, I do! and I
could not bear it--to live with you day in and day out and know
But she had reckoned without her own goodness of heart. On the
very evening on which she had quite determined to tell Martin
this decision he also had arrived at one. As soon as he had
entered Rose's little parlor he had exclaimed with an enthusiasm
unusual with him: "We broke the ground for your new garden,
today, Rose of Sharon, and Fletcher wants to see you. There are
some more little things you'll have to talk over with him. He
understands that you're the one I want suited."
Rose had felt suddenly reassured. Why, she had asked herself
contritely, couldn't she let Martin express his love in his own
way? Why was she always trying to measure his feelings for her by
"I've been wondering," he had gone on quickly, "what you would
think of putting up with my old shack while the new house is
being built? It wouldn't be as if you were going to live there
for long and you'd be right on hand to direct things."
"Why, I could do that, of course," she had answered pleasantly.
"If you've lived there all these years, I surely ought to be able
to live there a few months, but Martin--"
"I know what you're going to say," he had interrupted hastily.
"You think we ought to wait a while longer, but if we're going to
pull together for the rest of our lives why mightn't we just as
well begin now? Why is one time any better than another?"
There had been a wistfulness, so rarely in Martin's voice, that
Rose had detected it instantly. After all, why should she keep
him waiting when he needed her so much, she had thought tenderly,
all the sweet womanliness in her astir with yearnings to lift the
cloud of loneliness from his life.
Rose had always believed love a breath of beauty that would hold
its purity even in a hovel, but she had not been prepared for the
sordidness that seemed to envelop her as she crossed the
threshold of the first home of her married life. Martin, held in
the clutch of the strained embarrassment that invariably laid its
icy fingers around his heart whenever he found himself confronted
by emotion, had suggested that Rose go in while he put up the
horse and fed the stock. "Don't be scared if you find it pretty
rough," he had warned, to which her light answer had lilted back,
"Oh, I shan't mind."
And, as she stood in the doorway a moment later, her eyes taking
in one by one, the murky windows, the dirty floor, the unwashed
dishes, the tumbled bed, the rusty, grease bespattered stove
choked with cold ashes, she told herself hotly that it was not
the dirt nor even the desperate crassness that was smothering her
joy. It was the fact that there was nowhere a touch to suggest
preparation for her home-coming. Martin had made not even the
crudest attempt to welcome her. It would have been as easy for
Rose to be cheerful in the midst of mere squalor as for a flower
to bloom white in a crowded tenement, but at the swift
realization of the lack of tenderness for her which this
indifference to her first impressions so clearly expressed, her
faith in the man she had married began to wither. He had failed
her in the very quality in which she had put her trust. Already,
he had carelessly dropped the thoughtfulness by which he had won
her. She wondered how she could have made herself believe that
Martin loved her. "He has tried so hard in every way to show me
how much I would mean to him," she justified herself. "But now he
has me he just doesn't care what I think."
As Rose forced herself to face this squarely, something within
her crumpled. Grim truth leered at her, hurling dust on her
bright wings of illusion, poking cruel jests. "This is your
wedding day," it taunted, "that tall figure out there near the
dilapidated barn feeding his hogs is your husband. Oh, first,
sweet, most precious hours! How you will always like to remember
them! Here in this dirty shanty you will enter into love's
fulfillment. How romantic! Why doesn't your heart leap and your
arms ache for your new passion?" Tears pushed against her
eyelids. Her new life was not going to be happy. Of this she was
suddenly, irrevocably certain.
Rose struggled against a complete break-down. This was no time
for a scene. What was the matter with her, anyway? Of course,
Martin had not meant to disappoint her, nor deliberately hurt
her. He probably thought this first home so temporary it didn't
count. She simply would not mope. Of that she was positive, and a
brave little smile swimming up from her troubled heart, she set
about, with much energy, to achieve order, valiantly fighting
back her insistent tears as she worked.
Meanwhile, Martin, totally oblivious of any cause for storm, was
making trips to and from the barrel which contained shorts mixed
with water' skimmed milk and house slops, the screaming,
scrambling shoats gulping the pork-making mixture as rapidly as
he could fetch it. He worked unconsciously, thinking, typically,
not of Rose's reaction to this new life, but of what it held in
store for himself.
He glanced toward the shack. Already the mere fact of a woman's
presence beneath its roof seemed, to him, to give it a different
aspect. Through the open door he observed that Rose was sweeping.
How he had always hated the thought of any one handling what was
his! He dumped another bucket of slops into the home-made trough.
Why couldn't she just let things alone and get supper quietly?
Heaven only knew what he had gotten himself into! But of one
thing he was miserably certain; never again would he have that
comfortable seclusion to which he had grown so accustomed. He had
known this would be true, but the sight of Rose and her broom
brought the realization of it home to him with an all too
irritating vividness. Yes, everything was going to be different.
There would be many changes and he would never know what to
expect next. Why had he brought this upon himself; had he not
lived alone for years? He had let the habit of obtaining whatever
he started after get the better of him. Even today he could have
drawn back from this marriage. But, he had sensed that Rose was
about to do so herself, and this knowledge had pushed his
determination to the final notch.
Martin shook his head ruefully. "This is 'The Song of Songs," he
smiled, "and there is my Rose of Sharon. Guess I was never
intended for a Solomon." Now that she was so close to him, in the
very core of his life, this woman frightened him; instead of
desire, there was dread. He wished Rose had been a man that he
might go into that shack and eat ham and eggs with him while they
talked crops and politics and animals. There would be no thrills
in this opening chapter and he, if not his wife, would be shaken.
Martin was mental, an incurable individualist who found himself
sufficient unto himself. He was different from his neighbors in
that he was always thinking, asking questions and pondering over
his conclusions. He had convinced himself that each demand of the
body was useless except the food that nourished it, the clothes
that warmed it and the sleep that repaired it. He hated soft
things and the twist in his mind that was Martin proved to him
their futility. Love? It was an empty dream, a shell that fooled.
Its joys were fleeting. There was but one thing worth while and
that was work. The body was made for it--the thumb to hold the
hammer, the hand to pump the water and drive the horses, the legs
to follow the plow, herd the cattle and chase the pigs from the
cornfield, the ears to listen for strange noises from the stock,
the eyes to watch for weeds and discover the lice on the hens,
the mouth to yell the food call to the calves, the back to carry
the bran. Work meant money, and money meant--what? It was merely
a stick that measured the amount of work done. Then why did he
toil so hard and save so scrupulously? His answer was always
another question. What was there in life that could enable one to
forget it faster? That woman in there waiting for him--oh, she
would suffer before she realized the truth of this lesson he had
already learned, and Martin felt a little pity for her.
When he went in for supper, Rose was just beginning to prepare
it. With a catch of anger in his manner, he gave her a sharp look
and saw that she had been crying. He couldn't remember ever
before having had to deal with a weeping woman; even when Benny
had died and his mother had been so shaken she had not given way
to tears; so this was to be another of the new experiences which
must trot in with marriage. It annoyed him.
"What's the matter, Rose?"
"Nothing at all, Martin."
"Nothing? You don't cry about nothing, do you?"
"No." Rose felt a sudden fear; she sensed a lack of pity in
Martin, an unwillingness even to try to understand her
"Then you're crying about something. What is it?" There was
command in his question. Martin was losing patience. He knew
tears were used as weapons by women, but why in the world should
Rose need any sort of weapon on the first day of their marriage?
He hadn't done anything to her, said anything unkind. Was she
going to be unreasonable? Now he was sure it was all wrong.
"What's the matter?" he demanded, his voice rising.
"Nothing's the matter. I'm just a little nervous." Rose began to
cry afresh. If only Martin had come to her and put his arms
around her, she would have been able to throw off her newly-born
fear of him and this disheartening shattering of her faith in his
kindness. But he was going to the other extreme, growing harder
as she was becoming more panicky.
"Nervous? What's there to be nervous about?" Rose's answer was
stifled sobbing. "You're not sorry you married today, I hope?"
She shook her head. "Then what's this mean, anyway?"
"I was wondering if we are going to be happy after all--"
"Happy? You don't like this place. That's the trouble. I was
afraid of this, but I thought you knew what you were about when
you said you could stand it for a while."
"Oh, it isn't the house itself, Martin," she hastened to correct
truthfully, sure that she had gone too far. "I--I--know we'll be
Again this talk about happiness. He did not like it. He had never
hunted for happiness, and he was contented. Why should she
persist in this eternal search for this impossible condition? He
supposed that occasionally children found themselves in it, but
surely grown-ups could not expect it. The nearest they could
approach it was in forgetting that there was such a state by
finding solace in constant occupation.
"Let's eat," he announced. "I'm sick of this wrangling. Seems to
me you're not starting off just right."
Rose hastened to prepare the meal, finding it more difficult to
be cheerful as she realized how indifferent Martin was to her
feelings, if only she presented a smooth surface. He had not
seemed even to notice how orderly and freshened everything was.
She thought of the new experience soon to be hers. Could it make
up for all the understanding and friendly appreciation that she
saw only too clearly would be missing in her daily life?
Resolutely, she suppressed her doubts.
Martin, bothered by an odd feeling of strangeness in the midst of
his own familiar surroundings, smoked his pipe in silence and
studied Rose soberly. Why, he asked himself, was he unmoved by a
woman who was so attractive? He liked the deftness with which her
hands worked the pie dough, the quick way she moved between stove
and table, yet mingled with this admiration was a slight but
distinct hostility. How can one like and have an aversion to a
person at the same time? he pondered. "I suppose," he concluded
grimly, "it's because I'm supposed to love and adore her--to
pretend a lot of extravagant feelings."
His mind travelled to the stock in the pasture. How stolid they
were and how matter of fact and how sensible. They affected no
high, nonsensical sentiments. Weren't they, after all, to be
envied, rooted as they were in their solid simplicity? Why should
human beings everlastingly try so hard to be different? He and
Rose would have to get down to a genuine basis, and the quicker
the better. Meanwhile he must remember that, whether he was glad
or sorry, she was there, in his shack, because he had asked her
As he ate his second helping of the excellent meal, he said
pleasantly: "You do know how to cook, Rose."
Her soft gray-blue eyes brightened. "I love to do it," she
answered quickly. "You must tell me the things you like best,
Martin. If I had a real stove with a good oven, I could do much
"Could you? We'll get one tomorrow."
"That'll be fine!" she smiled, eager to have all serene between
them, and as she passed him to get some coffee her hand touched
his in a swift caress. Instantly, Martin's cordiality vanished;
his hostility toward her surged. Even as a boy he had hated to be
"fussed over." Well, he had married and he would go through with
it. If only Rose would be more matter of fact; not look at him
with that expression which made him think of a confiding child.
What business had a grown woman with such trust in her eyes,
It was quite gone, in the early dawn, as Rose sat on the edge of
the bed looking at her husband. Never had she felt so far from
him, so certain that he did not love her, as when she had lain
quivering but impassive in his arms. "I might be just any woman,"
she had told herself, astounded and stricken to find how little
she was touched by this experience which she had always believed
bound heart to heart and crowned the sweet transfusion of
affection from soul into soul. "It doesn't make any more
difference to him who I am than who cooks for him."
Not that Martin had been unkind, except negatively. Intuitively,
Rose understood that their first evening and night foreshadowed
their whole lives. Not in what Martin would do, but in what he
would not do, would lie her heartaches. Yet in her sad
reflections there was no bitterness toward him; he had
disappointed her, but perhaps it was only because she had taught
herself to expect something rare, even spiritual, from marriage.
Her idealism had played her a trick.
With the quiet relinquishment of this long-cherished dream,
eagerness for the realization of an even more precious one took
possession of her. She comforted herself with the thought that
maybe life had brought Martin merely as a door to the citadel
which looms, sparkling with dancing sunlight, in the midst of
mysterious shadows. Motherhood--she would feel as if she were in
another world. Out of all this disappointment would come her
Always struggling toward happiness, she was cheered too as the
foundation for the house progressed. Everything would be so
different, she told herself, once they were in their pretty new
home. It was true she had given up a concrete floor for her
cellar, but she had seen at once the good sense of having the
concrete in the barn instead. Martin was right. While it would
have been nice in the house, of course, it would not have begun
to be the constant blessing to herself that it would now be to
him. How much easier it would make keeping the barn clean! Why,
it was almost a duty in a dairy barn to have such a floor and
really she, herself, could manage almost as well with the dirt
bottom. But when Martin began to discuss eliminating the whole
upper story of the house, Rose protested.
"You won't use it," he had returned reasonably. "I'll keep my
word, but when a body gets to figuring and sees all that can be
built with that same money, it seems mighty foolish to put it
into something that you don't really need."
As Martin looked at her questioningly, Rose felt suddenly unable
to muster an argument for the additional sleeping-rooms. It was
true that they were not actually necessary for their comfort; but
the house as it had been decided upon was so interwoven with
memories of her courtship and all that was lovable in Martin; it
had become so real to her, that it was as if some dear possession
were being torn to pieces before her eyes.
"I don't know why, Martin," she had answered, with a choky little
laugh, "but it seems as if I just can't bear to give it up."
"I--I--like it all so well the way you planned it."
"Just liking a thing isn't always good reason for having it.
It'll make lots more for you to take care of. What would you say
if I was to prove to you that it would build a fine
chicken-house, one for the herd boar, a concrete tank down in the
pasture that'd save the cows enough trips to the barn to make 'em
give a heap sight more milk, a cooling house for it and a good
tool room?" Rose's eyes opened wide. "I can prove it to you."
That was all. But the shack filled with his disapproval of her
reluctance to free him from his promise. She remembered one time
when she had come home from school in a pelting rain that had
changed, suddenly, to hail. There had seemed no escape from the
hard, little balls and their cruel bruises. Just so, it seemed to
her, from Martin, outwardly so calm as he read his paper, the
harsh, determined thoughts beat thick and fast. Turn what way she
would, they surrounded, enveloped and pounded down upon her. Her
resolution weakened. Wasn't she paying too big a price for what
was, after all, only material? The one time she and Martin had
seemed quite close had been the moment in which she had agreed so
quickly to change the location of the concrete floor. Now she had
utterly lost him. She could scarcely endure the aloofness with
which he had withdrawn into himself.
"Martin," she said a bit huskily, two evenings later, at supper,
"I've decided that you are right. It is foolish and extravagant
of me to want a second story when there are just the two of us.
It will be better to have all those other things you told me
Martin did not respond; simply continued eating without looking
up. This was a habit of his that nearly drove Rose desperate. In
her father's household meals had always been friendly, sociable
affairs. Patrick Conroy had been loquacious and by way of a wit;
sharpened on his, Rose's own had developed. They had dealt in
delicious nonsense, these two, and had her husband been of a
different temperament she might have found it a refuge in her
life with him. But, somehow, from the first, even before they
were married, when with Martin, such chatter had died unuttered
on Rose's tongue. The few remarks which she did venture,
nowadays, had the effect of a disconcerting splash before they
sank into the gloomy depths of the thick silence. Occasionally,
in sheer self defense, she carried on a light monologue, but
Martin's lack of interest gave her such an odd, lonely,
stage-struck sensation that she, too, became untalkative, keeping
to herself the ideas which chased through her ever-active mind.
Innately just, she attributed this peculiarity of his to the fact
that he had lived so long alone, and while it fretted her, she
usually forgave him. But tonight, as no answer came, it seemed to
her that if Martin did not at least raise his eyes, she must
scream or throw something.
"It would be a godsend to be the sort who permits oneself to do
such things," she told herself, a suggestion of a smile touching
her lips, and mentally she sent dish after dish at him, watching
them fall shattered to the floor. Dismay at the relief this gave
her brought the dimples into her cheeks. Her voice was pleasant
as she asked: "Martin, did you hear your spouse just now?"
Annoyance flitted across his face and crept into his tone as he
answered tersely: "Of course, I heard you." Presently he finished
his meal, pushed back his chair and went out.
Nothing further was said between them on the subject, but when
the scaffolding went up she saw that it was for only one story.
It might have comforted her a little, had she known what uneasy
moments Martin was having. In spite of himself, he could not
shake off the consciousness that he had broken his word. That was
something which, heretofore, he had never done. But, heretofore,
his promises had been of a strictly business nature. He would
deliver so many bushels of wheat at such and such a time; he
would lend such and such a piece of machinery; he would supply so
many men and so many teams at a neighbor's threshing; he would
pay so much per pound for hogs; he would guarantee so many eggs
out of a setting or so many pounds of butter in so many months
from a cow he was selling. A few such guarantees made good at a
loss to himself, a few such loads delivered in adverse weather, a
few such pledges of help kept when he was obliged actually to
hire men, had established for him an enviable reputation, which
Martin was of no mind to lose. Had Rose not released him from his
promise he would have kept it. Even now he was disturbed as to
what Fletcher and Fallon might think. But already he had lived
long enough with his wife to understand something of the quality
of her pride. Once having agreed to the change, she would carry
it off with a dash.
Had Rose stood her ground on this matter, undoubtedly all her
after life might have been different, but she was of those women
whose charm and whose folly lie in their sensitiveness to the
moods and contentment of the people most closely associated with
them. They can rise above their own discomfort or depression, but
they are utterly unable to disregard that of those near them.
This gave Martin, who by temperament and habit considered only
his own feelings, an incalculable advantage. His was the old
supremacy of the selfish over the self sacrificing, the hard over
the tender, the mental over the emotional. Add to this, the fact
that with all his faults, perhaps largely because of them,
perhaps chiefly because she cooked, washed, ironed, mended, and
baked for him, kept his home and planned so continually for his
pleasure, Martin was dear to Rose, and it is not difficult to
understand how unequal the contest in which she was matched when
her wishes clashed with her husband's. It was predestined that
he, invariably, should win out.
Rose told her friends she and her husband had decided that the
second story would make her too much work, and Martin noticed
with surprise how easily her convincing statement was accepted.
He decided, for his own peace of mind, that he had nothing with
which to reproach himself. He had put it up to her and she had
agreed. This principal concession obtained, other smaller ones
followed logically and rapidly. The running water and bath in the
house were given up for piping to the barn, and stanchions--then
novelties in southeastern Kansas. The money for the hardwood
floors went into lightning rods. Built-in cupboards were
dismissed as luxuries, and the saving paid for an implement shed
which delighted Martin, who had figured how much expensive
machinery would be saved from rust. When it came to papering the
walls he decided that the white plaster was attractive enough and
could serve for years. Instead, he bought a patented
litter-carrier that made the job of removing manure from the barn
an easy task. The porches purchased everything from a brace and
bit to a lathe for the new tool-room and put the finishing
touches to the dairy. The result was a four-room house that was
the old one born again, and such well-equipped farm buildings
that they were the pride of the township.
Rose, who had surrendered long since, let the promises go to
naught without much protest. Martin was so quietly domineering,
so stubbornly persistent--and always so plausible--oh, so
plausible! --that there was no resisting him. Only when it came
to the fireplace did she make a last stand. She felt that it
would be such a friendly spirit in the house. She pictured Martin
and herself sitting beside it in the winter evenings.
"A house without one is like a place without flowers," she
explained to him.
"It's a mighty dirty business," he answered tersely. "You would
have to track the coal through the rest of the house and you'd
have all those extra ashes to clean out."
"But you would never see any of the dirt," she argued with more
than her usual courage, "and if I wouldn't mind the ashes I don't
see why you should."
"We can't afford it."
"Martin, I've given in to you on everything else," she asserted
firmly. "I'm not going to give this up. I'll pay for it out of my
"What do you mean 'out of my own money'?" he asked sternly. "I
told Osborne we'd run one account. If what is mine is going to be
yours, what is yours is going to be mine. I'd think your own
sense of fairness would tell you that."
As a matter of fact, Martin had no intention of ever touching
Rose's little capital, but he had made up his mind to direct the
spending of its income. He would keep her from putting it into
just such foolishnesses as this fireplace. But Rose, listening,
saw the last of her independence going. She felt tricked,
outraged. During the years she had been at the head of her
father's household, she had regulated the family budget and, no
matter how small it had happened to be, she always had contrived
to have a surplus. This notion of Martin's that he, and he alone,
should decide upon expenditures was ridiculous. She told him so
and in spite of himself, he was impressed.
"All right," he said calmly. "You can do all the buying for the
house. Write a check with my name and sign your own initials. Get
what you think we need. But there isn't going to be any
fireplace. You can just set that down."
Voice, eyes, the line of his chin, all told Rose that he would
not yield. Nothing could be gained from a quarrel except deeper
ill feeling. With a supreme effort of will she obeyed the
dictates of common sense and ended the argument abruptly.
But, for months after she was settled in the new little house,
her eye never fell on the space where the fireplace should have
been without a bitter feeling of revolt sweeping over her. She
never carried a heavy bucket in from the pump without thinking
cynically of Martin's promises of running water. As she swept the
dust out of her front and back doors to narrow steps, she
remembered the spacious porches that were to have been; and as
she wiped the floors she had painted herself, and polished her
pine furniture, she was taunted by memories of the smooth boards
and the golden oak to which she had once looked forward so
happily. This resentment was seldom expressed, but its flame
scorched her soul.
Her work increased steadily. She did not object to this; it kept
her from thinking and brooding; it helped her to forget all that
might have been, all that was. She milked half the cows,
separated the cream, took charge of the dairy house and washed
all the cans. Three times a week she churned, and her butter
became locally famous. She took over completely both the chickens
and the garden. Often, because her feet ached from being on them
such long hours, she worked barefoot in the soft dirt. According
to the season, she canned vegetables, preserved fruit, rendered
lard and put down pork. When she sat at meals now, like Martin
she was too tired for conversation. From the time she arose in
the morning until she dropped off to sleep at night, her
thoughts, like his, were chiefly of immediate duties to be
performed. One concept dominated their household--work. It seemed
to offer the only way out of life's perplexities.
ROSE-BUD IN THE DUST
UNDER this rigid regime Martin's prosperity increased. Although
he would not have admitted it, Rose's good cooking and the sweet,
fresh cleanliness with which he was surrounded had their effect,
giving him a new sense of physical well-being, making his mind
more alert. Always, he had been a hard worker, but now he began
for the first time to take an interest in the scientific aspects
of farming. He subscribed for farm journals and put real thought
into all he did, with results that were gratifying. He grew the
finest crop of wheat for miles around; in the season which
brought others a yield of fifteen or twenty bushels to the acre,
Martin averaged thirty-three, without buying a ton of commercial
fertilizer. His corn was higher than anybody's else; the ears
longer, the stalks juicier, because of his careful, intelligent
cultivating. In the driest season, it resisted the hot winds;
this, he explained, was the result of his knowing how to prepare
his seed bed and when to plant --moisture could be retained if
the soil was handled scientifically. He bought the spoiled
acreage of his neighbors, which he cut up for the silo--as yet
the only one in the county--adding water to help fermentation.
His imported hogs seemed to justify the prices he paid for them,
growing faster and rounder and fatter than any in the surrounding
county. The chinch bugs might bother everyone else, but Martin
seemed to be able to guard against them with fair success. He
took correspondence courses in soils and fertilizers, animal
husbandry and every related subject; kept a steady stream of
letters flowing to and from both Washington and the State
Now and then it crossed his mind that with the farm developing
into such an institution it would be more than desirable to pass
it on to one of his own blood, and secretly he was pleased when
Rose told him a baby was coming. A child, a son, might bring with
him a little of what was missing in his marriage with her. She
irritated him more and more, not by what she did but by what she
was. Her whole temperament, in so much as he permitted himself to
be aware of it, her whole nature, jarred on his.
"When is it due?"
"It's lucky harvest will be over; silo filling, too," was his
In spite of Rose's three long years with Martin his lack of
enthusiasm was like a sharp stab. What had she expected, she
asked herself sternly. To be taken in his arms and rejoiced over
as others were at such a moment? What did he care so long as he
wouldn't have to hire extra help for her in the busy season! It
was incredible--his hardness.
Why couldn't she hate him? He was mean enough to her, surely.
"I'm as foolish as old Rover," she thought bitterly. The faithful
dog lived for his master and yet Rose could not remember ever
having seen Martin give him a pat. "When I once hold my own
little baby in my arms, I won't care like this. I'll have someone
else to fill my heart," she consoled herself, thrilling anew with
the conviction that then she would be more than recompensed for
everything. The love she had missed, the house that had been
stolen from her--what were they in comparison to this growing bit
of life? Meanwhile, she longed as never before to feel near to
Martin. She could not help recalling how gallantly her father had
watched over her mother when she carried her last child and how
eagerly they all had waited upon her. At times, the contrast was
scarcely to be borne.
Rose was troubled with nausea, but Martin pooh-poohed, as
childish, the notion of dropping some of her responsibilities.
Didn't his mares work almost to the day of foaling? It was good
for them, keeping them in shape. And the cows--didn't they go
about placidly until within a few hours of bringing their calves?
Even the sows--did they droop as they neared farrowing? Why
should a woman be so different? Her child would be healthier and
she able to bring it into the world with less discomfort to
herself if she went about her ordinary duties in her usual way.
Thus Martin, impersonally, logically.
"That would be true," Rose agreed, "if the work weren't so heavy
and if I were younger."
"It's the work you're used to doing all the time, isn't it?
Because you aren't young is all the more reason you need the
exercise. You're not going to hire extra help, so you might just
as well get any to-do out of your mind," he retorted, the dreaded
note in his voice.
She considered leaving him. If she had earned her living before,
she could again. More than once she had thought of doing this,
but always the hope of a child had shone like a tiny bright star
through the midnight of her trials. Since she had endured so
much, why not endure a little longer and reap a dear reward?
Then, too, she could never quite bring herself to face the
pictures her imagination conjured of Martin, struggling along
uncared for. Now, as her heart hardened against him, an inner
voice whispered that everyone had a right to a father as well as
a mother, and Martin might be greatly softened by daily contact
with a little son or daughter. In fairness, she must wait.
Yet, she knew these were not her real reasons. They lay far
deeper, in the very warp and woof of her nature. She did not
leave Martin because she could not. She was incapable of making
drastic changes, of tearing herself from anyone to whom she was
tied by habit and affection--no matter how bitterly the mood of
the moment might demand it. Always she would be bound by
circumstances. True, however hard and adverse they might prove,
she could adapt herself to them with rare patience and dignity,
but never would she be able to compel them to her will, rise
superbly above them, toss them aside. Her life had been, and
would be, shaped largely by others. Her mother's death, the
particular enterprise in which her father's little capital had
been invested, Martin's peculiar temperament --these had moulded
and were moulding Rose Wade. At the time she came to Martin's
shack, she was potentially any one of a half dozen women. It was
inevitable that the particular one into which she would evolve
should be determined by the type of man she might happen to
marry, inevitable that she would become, to a large degree, what
he wished and expected, that her thoughts would take on the
complexion of his. Lacking in strength of character? In power of
resistance, certainly. Time out of mind, such malleability has
been the cross of the Magdalenes. Yet in what else lies the
secret of the harmony achieved by successful wives?
And as, her nausea passing, Rose began to feel a glorious
sensation of vigor, she decided that perhaps, after all, Martin
had been right. Child-bearing was a natural function. People
probably made far too much fuss about it. Nellie came to help her
cook for the threshers and, for the rest, she managed very well,
even milking her usual eight cows and carrying her share of the
All might have gone smoothly if only she had not overslept one
morning in late September. When she reached the barn, Martin was
irritable. She did not answer him but sat down quietly by her
first cow, a fine-blooded animal which soon showed signs of
restlessness under her tense hands.
"There! There! So Bossy," soothed Rose gently.
"You never will learn how to manage good stock," Martin
"Nor you how to treat a wife."
"Oh, shut up."
"Don't talk to me that way."
As she started to rise, a kick from the cow caught her square on
the stomach with such force that it sent her staggering backward,
still clutching the handle of the pail from which a snowy stream
"Now what have you done?" demanded Martin sternly. "Haven't I
warned you time and again that milk cows are sensitive, nervous?
Fidgety people drive them crazy. Why can't you behave simply and
directly with them! Why is it I always get more milk from mine!
It's your own fault this happened--fussing around, taking out
your ill temper at me on her. Shouting at me. What could you
For the first time in their life together, Rose was frankly
unnerved. It seemed to her that she would go mad. "You devil!"
she burst out, wildly. "That's what you are, Martin Wade! You're
not human. Your child may be lost and you talk about cows letting
down more milk. Oh God! I didn't know there was any one living
who could be so cruel, so cold, so diabolical. You'll be punished
for this some day--you will--you will. You don't love me--never
did, oh, don't I know it. But some time you will love some one.
Then you'll understand what it is to be treated like this when
your whole soul is in need of tenderness. You'll see then what--"
"Oh, shut up," growled Martin, somewhat abashed by the violence
of her broken words and gasping sobs. "You're hysterical. You're
doing yourself as much harm right now as that kick did you."
"Oh, Martin, please be kind," pleaded Rose more quietly. "Please!
It's your baby as much as mine. Be just half as kind as you are
to these cows."
"They have more sense," he retorted angrily. And when Rose woke
him, the following night, to go for the doctor, his quick
exclamation was: "So now you've done it, have you?"
As the sound of his horse's hoofs died away, it seemed to her
that he had taken the very heart out of her courage. She thought
with anguished envy of the women whose husbands loved them, for
whom the heights and depths of this ordeal were as real as for
their wives. It seemed to her that even the severest of pain
could be wholly bearable if, in the midst of it, one felt
cherished. Well, she would go through it alone as she had gone
through everything else since their marriage. She would try to
forget Martin. She WOULD forget him. She must. She would keep her
mind fixed on the deep joy so soon to be hers. Had she not chosen
to suffer of her own free will, because the little creature that
could be won only through it was worth so much more than anything
else the world had to offer? She imagined the baby already
arrived and visualized him as she hoped her child might be at two
years. Suppose he were in a burning house, would she have the
courage to rescue him? What would be the limit of her endurance
in the flames? She laughed to herself at the absurdity of the
question. How well she knew its answer! She wished with
passionate intensity that she could look into the magic depths of
some fairy mirror and see, for just the flash of one instant,
exactly how her boy or girl really would look. How much easier
that would make it to hold fast to the consciousness that she was
not merely in pain, but was laboring to bring forth a warm
flesh-and-blood child. There was the rub--in spite of her
eagerness, the little one, so priceless, wasn't as yet quite
definite, real. She recalled the rosy-checked, curly-haired
youngster her fancy had created a moment ago. She would cling to
that picture; yes, even if her pain mounted to agony, it should
be of the body only; she would not let it get into her mind, not
into her soul, not into the welcoming mother-heart of her.
Meanwhile, as she armored her spirit, she built a fire, put on
water to heat, attended capably to innumerable details. Rose was
a woman of sound experience. She had been with others at such
times. It held no goblin terrors for her. Had it not been for
Martin's heartlessness, she would have felt wholly equal to the
occasion. As it was, she made little commotion. Dr. Bradley,
gentle and direct, had been the Conroys' family physician for
years. Nellie, who arrived in an hour, had been through the
experience often herself, and was friendly and helpful.
She liked Rose, admired her tremendously and the thought--an odd
one for Nellie--crossed her mind that tonight she was downright
beautiful. When at dawn, Dr. Bradley whispered: "She has been so
brave, Mrs. Mall, I can't bear to tell her the child is not
alive. Wouldn't it be better for you to do so?" She shrank from
the task. "I can't; I simply can't," she protested, honest tears
pouring down her thin face.
"Could you, Mr. Wade?"
Martin strode into Rose's room, all his own disappointment adding
bitterness to his words: "Well, I knew you'd done it and you
have. It's a fine boy, but he came dead."
Out of the dreariness and the toil, out of the hope, the
suffering and the high courage had come--nothing. As Rose lay,
the little still form clasped against her, she was too broken for
tears. Life had played her another trick. Indignation toward
Martin gathered volume with her returning strength.
"You don't deserve a child," she told him bitterly. "You might
treat him when he grew up as you treat me."
"I've never laid hand to you," said Martin gruffly, certain
stinging words of Nellie's still smarting. When she chose, his
sister's tongue could be waspish. She had tormented him with it
all the way to her home. He had been goaded into flaring back and
both had been thoroughly angry when they separated, yet he was
conscious that he came nearer a feeling of affection for her than
for any living person. Well, not affection, precisely, he
corrected. It was rather that he relished, with a quizzical
amusement, the completeness of their mutual comprehension. She
was growing to be more like their mother, too. Decidedly, this
was the type of woman he should have married, not someone soft
and eager and full of silly sentiment like Rose. Why didn't she
hold her own as Nellie did? Have more snap and stamina? It was
exasperating--the way she frequently made him feel as if he
actually were trampling on something defenseless.
He now frankly hated her. There was not dislike merely; there was
acute antipathy. He took a delight in having her work harder and
harder. It used to be "Rose," but now it was always "say" or
"you" or "hey." Once she asked cynically if he had ever heard of
a "Rose of Sharon" to which he maliciously replied: "She turned
out to be a Rag-weed."
Yet such a leveller of emotions and an adjuster of disparate
dispositions is Time that when they rounded their fourth year,
Martin viewed his life, with a few reservations, as fairly
satisfactory. He turned the matter over judicially in his mind
and concluded that even though he cared not a jot for Rose, at
least he could think of no other woman who could carry a larger
share of the drudgery in their dusty lives, help save more and,
on the whole, bother him less. He, like his rag-weed, had settled
down to an apathetic jog.
Rose was convinced that Martin would make too unkind a father; he
had no wish for another taste of the general confusion and
disorganized routine her confinement had entailed. Besides, it
would be inconvenient if she were to die, as Dr. Bradley quite
solemnly had warned him she might only too probably. Without any
exchange of words, it was settled there should not be another
child--settled, he dismissed it. In a way, he had come to
appreciate Rose, but it was absurd to compliment anyone, let
alone a wife whom he saw constantly. Physically, she did not
interest him; in fact, the whole business bored him. It was
tiresome and got one nowhere. He decided this state of mind must
be rather general among married people, and reasoned his way to
the conclusion that marriage was a good thing in that it drove
out passion and placed human animals on a more practicable
foundation. If there had been the likelihood of children, he
undoubtedly would have sought her from time to time, but with
that hope out of their lives the attraction died completely.
When he was through with his work, it was late and he was sleepy.
When he woke early in the morning, he had to hurry to his stock.
So that which always had been less than secondary, now became
completely quiescent, and he was satisfied that it should. It
never occurred to him to consider what Rose might be thinking and
feeling. She wondered about it, and would have liked to ask
advice from someone--the older Mrs. Mall or Dr. Bradley--but
habitual reserve held her back. After all, she decided finally,
what did it matter? Meanwhile, financially, things were going
better than ever.
Martin had the most improved farm in the neighborhood; he was
looked up to by everyone as one of the most intelligent men in
the county, and his earnings were swelling, going into better
stock and the surplus into mortgages which he accumulated with
surprising rapidity. Occasionally, he would wonder why he was
working so hard, saving so assiduously and investing so
consistently. His growing fortune seemed to mean little now that
his affluence was thoroughly established. For whom was he
working? he would ask himself. For the life of him, he could not
answer. Surely not for his Rag-weed of Sharon. Nellie? She was
well enough fixed and he didn't care a shot for her husband. Then
why? Sometimes he pursued this chain of thought further, "I'll
die and probably leave five times as much as I have now to her
and who knows what she'll do with it? I'll never enjoy any of it
myself. I'm not such a fool as to expect it. What difference can
a few thousand dollars more or less make to me from now on? Then
why do I scheme and slave? Pshaw! I've known the answer ever
since I first turned the soil of this farm. The man who thinks
about things knows there's nothing to life. It's all a grinding
chase for the day when someone will pat my cheek with a spade."
He might have escaped this materialism through the church, but to
him it offered no inducements. He could find nothing spiritual in
it. In his opinion, it was a very carnal institution conducted by
very hypocritical men and women. He smiled at their Hell and
despised their Heaven. Their religion, to him, seemed such a
crudely selfish affair. They were always expecting something from
God; always praying for petty favors--begging and whining for
money, or good crops, or better health. Martin would have none of
this nonsense. He was as selfish as they, probably more so, he
conceded, but he hoped he would never reach the point of currying
favor with anyone, even God. With his own good strength he would
answer his own prayers. This farm was the nearest he would ever
come to a paradise and on it he would be his own God. Rose did
not share these feelings. She went to church each Sunday and read
her Bible daily with a simple faith that defied derision. Once,
when she was gone, Martin idly hunted out the Song of Solomon.
His lips curled with contempt at the passionate rhapsody. He knew
a thing or two, he allowed, about these wonderful Roses of Sharon
and this Song of Songs. Lies, all lies, every word of it! Yet, in
spite of himself, from time to time, he liked to reread it. He
fancied this was because of the sardonic pleasure its superlative
phrases gave him, but the truth was it held him. He despised
sentiment, tenderness, and, by the strangeness of the human mind,
he went, by way of paradox, to the tenderest, most sublime spot
in a book supreme in tenderness and sublimity.
At forty, he owned and, with the aid of two hired hands, worked
an entire section of land. The law said it was his and he had the
might to back up the law. On these six hundred and forty broad
acres he could have lived without the rest of the world. Here he
was King. Other farms he regarded as foreign countries, their
owners with impersonal suspicion. Yet he trusted them after a
fashion, because he had learned from many and devious dealings
with a large assortment of people that the average human being is
honest, which is to say that he does not steal his neighbor's
stock nor fail to pay his just debts if given plenty of time and
the conditions have the explicitness of black and white. He knew
them to be as mercenary as himself, with this only difference:
Where he was frankly so, they pretended otherwise. They bothered
him with their dinky deals, with their scrimping and scratching,
and their sneaky attempts to hide their ugliness by the
observance of one set day of sanctuary. Because they seemed to
him so two-faced, so trifling, so cowardly, he liked to "stick"
them every time he had a fair chance and could do it within the
law. It was his favorite game. They worked so blindly and went on
so stupidly, talking so foolishly, that it afforded him sport to
come along and take the bacon away from them.
All held him a little in awe, for he was of a forbidding bearing,
tall, grave and thoughtful; accurate in his facts and sure of
himself; slow to express an opinion, but positive in his
conclusions; seeking no favors, and giving none; careful not to
offend, indifferent whether he pleased. He would deceive, but
never insult. The women were afraid of him, because he never
"jollied." He had no jokes or bright remarks for them. They were
such useless creatures out of their particular duties. There was
nothing to take up with them. Everyone rendered him much the same
respectful manner that they kept on tap for the leading citizens
of the town, David Robinson, for instance. Indeed, Martin himself
was somewhat of a banker, for he was a stockholder and director
of the First State Bank, where he was looked up to as a shrewd
man who was too big even for the operation of his magnificent
farm. He understood values. When it came to loans, his judgment
on land and livestock was never disputed. If he wanted to make a
purchase he did not go to several stores for prices. He knew, in
the first place, what he should pay, and the business men,
especially the hardware and implement dealers, were afraid of his
knowledge, and still more of his influence.
About Rose, too, there was a poise, an atmosphere of background
which inspired respect above her station. When Mrs. Wade said
anything, her statement was apt to settle the matter, for on
those subjects which she discussed at all, she was an authority,
and on those which she was not, her training in Martin's
household had taught her to maintain a wise silence. The stern
self-control had stolen something of the tenderness from her
lips. There were other changes. The sunlight had faded from her
hair; the once firm white neck was beginning to lose its
resilience. Deep lines furrowed her cheeks from mouth to jaw, and
fine wrinkles had slipped into her forehead. There were delicate
webs of them about her patient eyes, under which lack of sleep
and overwork had left their brown shadows. Since the birth of her
baby she had become much heavier and though she was still neat,
her dresses were always of dark colors and made up by herself of
cheap materials. For, while she bought without consulting Martin,
her privilege of discretion was confined within strict and narrow
limits. He kept a meticulous eye on all her cancelled checks and
knew to a penny what she spent. If he felt a respect for her
thrift it was completely unacknowledged. They worked together
with as little liking, as little hatred, as two oxen pulling a
It had been a wise day for both, thought Fallon, when they had
decided to marry--they were so well mated. What a model and
enviable couple they were! To Rose it seemed the essence of irony
that her life with Martin should be looked upon as a flower of
matrimony. Yet, womanlike, she took an unconfessed comfort in the
fact that this was so--that no one, unless it were Nellie, was
sufficiently astute to fathom the truth. To be sure, the Wades
were never spoken of as "happy." They were invariably alluded to
as "good folks," "true blue," "solid people," "ideal husband and
wife," or "salt of the earth."
Each year they gave a round sum to the church, and Martin took
caustic gratification in the fact that, although his attitude
toward it and religion was well known, he too was counted as one
of the fold. To do its leaders justice, he admitted that this
might have been partly through their hesitancy to hurt Rose who
was always to be found in the thick of its sale-dinners, bazaars
and sociables. How she was able to accomplish so much without
neglecting her own heavy duties, which now included cooking,
washing, mending and keeping in order the old shack for the hired
men, was a topic upon which other women feasted with appreciative
gusto, especially at missionary meetings when she was not
present. It really was extraordinary how much she managed to put
into a day. Early as Martin was up to feed his stock, she was up
still earlier that she might lend a hand to a neighbor, harrowed
by the fear that gathered fruit might perish. Late as he plowed,
in the hot summer evenings, her sweaty fingers were busy still
later with patching, brought home to boost along some young wife
struggling with a teething baby. She seemed never too rushed to
tuck in an extra baking for someone even more rushed than
herself, or to make delicious broths and tasty dishes for sick
folk. In her quiet way, she became a real power, always in
demand, the first to be entrusted with sweet secrets, the first
to be sent for in paralysing emergencies and moments of sorrow.
The warmth of heart which Martin ridiculed and resented,
intensified by its very repression, bubbled out to others in
cheery helpfulness, and blessed her quick tears.
Of her deep yearning for love, she never spoke. Just when she
would begin to feel almost self-sufficient it would quicken to a
throbbing ache. Usually, at such times, she buried it
determinedly under work. But one day, yielding to an impulse, she
wrote to Norah asking if her little namesake could come for a
"I know she is only seven," the letter ran, "but I am sure if she
were put in care of the conductor she would come through safely,
and I do so want to see her." After long hesitation, she enclosed
a check to cover expenses. She was half frightened by her own
daring and did not tell Martin until she had received the reply
giving the date for the child's arrival.
"I earned that, Martin," she returned determinedly to his
emphatic remonstrance. "And when the check comes in it's going to
"A Wade check is always honored," was his cryptic assertion. "I
merely say," he added more calmly, "that if we are to board her,
and I don't make any protest over that at all, it seems to me
only fair that her father should have bought the ticket."
"Maybe you're right--in theory. But then she simply couldn't have
come and I've never seen her. I first knew of her the very day
you asked me to marry you. I've thought of her, often and often.
Her mother named her after me and calls her 'Little Rose of
"Another rag-weed, probably," said Martin, shortly. Yet, to his
own surprise, he was not altogether sorry she was to come--this
house of his had never had a child in it for more than a few
hours. He was rather curious to find out how it would seem. If