Part 2 out of 3
only her name were not Rose, and if only she were not coming from
But little Rose, with her dark brown curls, merry expression,
roguish nose and soft radiance swept all his misgivings and
prejudices before her. One might as well hold grudges against a
flower, he thought. He liked the confiding way she had of
suddenly slipping her little hand into his great one. Her prattle
amused him, and he was both flattered and worried by the
fearlessness with which she followed him everywhere. She seemed
to bring a veritable shower of song into this home of long
silences. The very chaos made Mrs. Wade's heart beat
tumultuously, and once when Martin came upon the little girl
seated solemnly in the midst of a circle of corncob dolls, his
throat contracted with an extraordinary tightness.
"You really are a rose--a lovely, sweet brown Rose of Sharon," he
had exclaimed, forgetting his wife's presence and not stopping to
think how strange the words must sound on his lips. "If you'll
give me a kiss, I'll let you ride on old Jettie."
The child scrambled to her feet and, seated on his broad
shoulder, granted the demand for toll. Her aunt's eyes filled.
This was the first time she had ever heard Martin ask for
something as sentimental as a kiss. She was thoroughly ashamed of
herself for it--it was really too absurd!--but she felt jealousy,
an emotion that had never bothered her since they had been
married. And this bit of chattering femininity had caused it.
Mrs. Wade worked faster.
The kiss was like the touch of silk against Martin's cheek. He
felt inexplicably sad as he put the child down again among her
playthings. There was, he realized with a shock, much that he was
missing, things he was letting work supplant. He wished that boy
of theirs could have lived. All might have been different. He had
almost forgotten that disappointment, had never understood until
this moment what a misfortune it had been, and here he was being
gripped by a more poignant sense of loss than he had ever before
felt, even when he had lost his mother.
Wonderful as little Rose was, she was not his own. But, he
wondered suddenly, wasn't this aching sense of need perhaps
something utterly different from unsatisfied paternal instinct?
He turned his head toward the kitchen where his Rag-weed was
working and asked himself if she were gone and some other woman
were here--such as little Rose might be when she grew up, one to
whom he went out spontaneously, would not his life be more
complete and far more worth while? What a fool he was, to bother
his head with such get-nowhere questions! He dismissed them
roughly, but new processes of thought had been opened, new
Meanwhile, little Rose's response to his clumsy tenderness taught
him many unsuspected lessons. He never would have believed the
pleasure there could be in simply watching a child's eyes light
with glee over a five-cent bag of candy. It began to be a regular
thing for him to bring one home from Fallon, each trip, and the
gay hunts that followed as she searched for it--sometimes to find
the treasure in Martin's hat, sometimes under the buggy seat,
sometimes in a knobby hump under the table-cloth at her
plate--more than once brought his rare smile. For years
afterward, the memory of one evening lingered with him. He was
resting in an old chair tipped back against the house, thinking
deeply, when the little girl, tired from her play, climbed into
his lap and, making a cozy nest for herself in the crook of his
arm, fell asleep. He had finished planning out the work upon
which he had been concentrating and had been about to take her
into the house when he suddenly became aware of the child's
loveliness. In the silvery moonlight all the fairy, flower-like
quality of her was enhanced. Martin studied her closely,
reverently. It was his first conscious worship of beauty. Leaning
down to the rosy lips he listened to the almost imperceptible
breathing; he touched the long, sweeping lashes resting on the
smooth cheeks and lifted one of the curls the wind had been
ruffling lightly against his face. With his whole soul, he
marvelled at her softness and relaxation. A profound, pitying
rebellion gripped him at the idea that anything so sweet, so
perfect must pass slowly through the defacing furnaces of time
and pain. "Little Rose of Sharon!" he thought gently, conscious
of an actual tearing at his heart, even a startling stinging in
his eyes. With an abruptness that almost awakened her, he carried
her in to his wife.
Mrs. Wade felt an inexplicable hurt at the decidedness of little
Rose's preference for Martin. She could not understand it. She
took exquisite care of her, cooked the things she liked best, let
her mess to her heart's content in the kitchen, made her dolls
pretty frocks, cuddled her, told her stories and stopped her work
to play with her on rainy days--but she could not win the same
affection the little girl bestowed so lavishly on Martin. If left
to herself she was always to be found with the big, silent man.
As the month's visit lengthened into three, it was astonishing
what good times they had together. If he was pitching hay, her
slender little figure, short dress a-flutter, was to be seen
standing on the fragrant wagonload. At threshing time, she darted
lightly all over the separator, Martin's watchful eye constantly
upon her, and his protective hand near her. She went with him to
haul the grain to mill and was fascinated by the big scales. On
the way there and back he let her hold the great lines in her
little fists. In the dewy mornings, she hop-skipped and jumped by
his side into the pasture to bring in the cows. She flitted in
and out among them during milking time.
"I think she makes them too nervous, Martin," Rose had once
remarked. "Better run out, darling, until we finish and then come
help auntie in the dairy."
"They might as well get used to her," he had answered tersely.
"It'll hurt her feelings to be sent away."
Rose could scarcely believe her ears. Memories, bitter,
intolerable, crowded upon her. Had the little girl really changed
Martin so completely? Oh, if only her boy could have lived!
Perhaps she had made a great mistake in being so determined not
to have another. Was it too late now? She looked at her husband.
Well as she knew every detail of his fine, clean cut features,
his broad shoulders and rippling muscles, they gave her a sudden
thrill. It was as if she were seeing him again for the first time
in years. If only he could let a shadow of this new
thoughtfulness and kindliness fall on her, they might even yet
bring some joy into each other's lives. They had stepped off on
the wrong foot. Why, they really hadn't been even acquainted.
They had been led into thinking so because of the length of time
they had both been familiar figures in the same community. Beyond
a doubt, if they were being married today, and she understood him
as she did now, she could make a success of their marriage. But,
as it was, Martin was so fixed in the groove of his attitude of
utter indifference toward her that she felt there was little
chance of ever jogging him out of it. To Rose, the very fact that
the possibility of happiness seemed so nearly within reach was
what put the cruel edge to their present status.
She did not comprehend that Martin definitely did not want it
changed. Conscious, at last, that he was slowly starving for a
woman's love, beginning to brood because there was no beauty in
his life, he was looking at her with eyes as newly appraising as
her own. He remembered her as she had been that day in the bank,
when he had thought her like a rose. She had been all white and
gold then; now, hair, eyes, skin, and clothes seemed to him to be
of one earthy color. Her clean, dull calico dress belted in by
her checked apron revealed the ungraceful lines of her figure.
She looked middle-aged and unshapely, when he wanted youth and an
exquisite loveliness. Well, he told himself, harshly, he was not
likely to get it. There was no sense in harboring such notions.
They must be crushed. He would work harder, much harder, hard
enough to forget them. There was but one thing worth while--his
farm. He would develop it to its limits.
Accordingly, when little Rose returned to Sharon, he and his
Rag-weed soon settled themselves to the old formula of endless
toil, investing the profits in sound farm mortgages that were
beginning to tax the capacity of his huge tin box in the vault of
the First State Bank.
DUST BEGETS DUST
YET, through the Wades' busy days the echo of little Rose's visit
lingered persistently. Each now anxiously wanted another child,
but both were careful to keep this longing locked in their
separate bosoms. Their constraint with each other was of far too
long a standing to permit of any sudden exchange of confidences.
It was with this hope half-acknowledged, however, and in her mind
the recent memories of a more approachable Martin, that Rose
began to make a greater effort with her appearance. By dint of
the most skillful maneuvering, she contrived to purchase herself
a silk dress--the first since her marriage. It was of dark blue
crepe-de-chine, simply but becomingly made, the very richness of
its folds shedding a new luster over her quiet graciousness and
large proportions. Even her kind, capable hands seemed subtly
ennobled as they emerged from the luscious, well fitting sleeves,
and the high collar, with its narrow edge of lace, stressed the
nobility of her fine head. When she came home from church, she
did not, as she would have heretofore, change at once into
calico, but protected by a spick and span white apron, kept on
the best frock through dinner and, frequently, until chore time
in the afternoon. In the winter, too, she was exposed less to sun
and wind and her skin lost much of its weathered look. She took
better care of it and was more careful with the arrangement of
her hair. Gradually a new series of impressions began to register
on Martin's brain.
One Sunday she came in fresh and ruddy from the drive home in the
cold, crisp air. Martin found it rather pleasant to watch her
brisk movements as she prepared the delayed meal. He observed,
with something of a mental start, that today, at least, she still
had more than a little of the old sumptuous, full-blown quality.
It reminded him, together with the deft way in which she hurried,
without haste, without flurry, of their first evening in the
shack, nearly seven years ago. How tense they both had been, how
afraid of each other, how she had irritated him! Well, he had
grown accustomed to her at last, thanks be. Was he, perhaps,
foolish not to get more out of their life--it was not improbable
that a child might come. Why had he been taking it so for granted
that this was out of the question? When one got right down to it,
just what was the imaginary obstacle that was blocking the
realization of this deep wish? Her chance of not pulling through?
He'd get her a hired girl this time and let her have her own head
about things. She'd made it all right once, why not again? The
settledness of their habitual neutrality? What of it? He would
ignore that. It wasn't as if he had to court her, make
explanations. She was his wife. He didn't love her, never had,
never would, but life was too short to be overly fastidious. It
was flying, flying --in a few more years he would be fifty.
Fifty! And what had it all been about, anyway? He did have this
farm to show for his work--he had not made a bad job of that, he
and his Rag-weed. In her own fashion she was a good sort, and
better looking than most women past forty.
Rose felt the closeness of his scrutiny, sensed the unusual
cordiality of his mood, but from the depths of her hardly won
wisdom took no apparent notice of it. She knew well enough how
not to annoy him. If only she had not learned too late! What was
it about Martin, she wondered afresh, that had held her through
all these deadening years? Her love for him was like a stream
that, disappearing for long periods underground, seemed utterly
lost, only to emerge again unexpectedly, cleared of all past
murkiness, tranquil and deep.
This unspoken converging of minds, equivocal though it was on
Martin's part, resulted gradually in a more friendly period. Rose
always liked to remember that winter, with its peace that
quenched her thirsty heart and helped to blur the recollection of
old unkindnesses long since forgiven, but still too vividly
recalled. When, a year later, Billy was born, she was swept up to
that dizzy crest of rapture which, to finely attuned souls, is
the recompense and justification of all their valleys.
Martin watched her deep, almost painful delight, with a profound
envy. He had looked forward, with more anticipation than even he
himself had realized, to the thrill which he had supposed
fatherhood would bring, taking it entirely for granted that he
would feel a bond with this small reincarnation of his own being,
but after the first week of attempting to get interested in the
unresponsive bundle that was his son, he decided the idea of a
baby had certainly signified in his mind emotions which this
tiny, troublesome creature, with a voice like a small-sized
foghorn, did not cause to materialize. No doubt when it grew into
a child he would feel very differently toward it--more as he did
toward little Rose, but that was a long time to wait, and
meanwhile he could not shake off a feeling of acute
disappointment, of defeated hopes.
By the end of the second month, he was sure he must have been out
of his senses to bring such a nuisance upon himself and into his
well-ordered house. Not only was his rest disturbed with trying
regularity by night, and his meals served with an equally trying
irregularity by day, but he was obliged to deal with an
altogether changed wife. For, yielding as Rose was in all other
matters, where Billy was concerned she was simply imperturbable.
At times, as she held the chubby little fellow to her breast or
caught and kissed a waving pink foot, she would feel a sense of
physical weakness come over her--it seemed as if her breath would
leave her. Martin could be what he might; life, at last, was
worth its price. With the courage of her mother-love she could
resist anything and everyone.
To her, the relative importance of the farm to Billy was as
simple as a problem in addition. She had lost none of her old
knack for turning off large amounts of work quickly, but she
firmly stopped just short of the point where her milk might be
impaired by her exertions. Martin had insisted that the
requirement for hired help was over; however, in despair over his
wife's determined sabotage, it was Martin himself who commanded
that the girl be reinstated for another two months.
Rose was a methodical mother and not overly fussy. As soon as
Billy could sit in a highchair or an ordinary packing box on the
floor, she kept him with her while she went about her different
tasks, cooing and laughing with him as she worked, but when he
needed attention she could disregard calling dishes, chickens,
half-churned butter, unfinished ironing, unmilked cows or an
irate husband with a placidity that was worthy of the old Greek
gods. Martin was dumbfounded to the point of stupefaction. He was
too thoroughly self-centred, however, to let other than his own
preferences long dominate his Rag-weed's actions. Her first duty
was clearly to administer to his comfort, and that was precisely
what she would do. It was ridiculous, the amount of time she gave
to that baby--out of all rhyme and reason. If she wasn't feeding
him, she was changing him; if she wasn't bathing him she was
rocking him to sleep. And there, at last, Martin found a tangible
point of resistance, for he discovered from Nellie that not only
was it not necessary to rock a baby, but that it was contrary to
the new ideas currently endorsed. Reinforced, he argued the
matter, adding that he could remember distinctly his own mother
had never rocked Benny.
"Yes, and Benny died."
"It wasn't her fault if he did," he retorted, a trifle
"I don't know about that. She took chances I would never take
with Billy. She sacrificed him, with her eyes open, for you and
Nellie--gave him up so that you could have this farm."
Martin did not care for this new version. "What has that to do
with the question?" he demanded coldly.
"Just this--your mother had her ideas and I have mine. I am going
to raise Billy in my own way." But, for weeks thereafter she
managed with an almost miraculous adroitness to have him asleep
at meal times.
At seven months, Billy was the most adorable, smiling, cuddly
baby imaginable, with dimples, four teeth and a tantalizing hint
of curl in his soft, surprisingly thick, fawn-colored hair.
Already, it was quite evident that he had his mother's sensitive,
affectionate nature. If only his father had picked him up,
occasionally, had talked to him now and then, he scarcely could
have resisted the little fellow's crowing, sweet-tempered,
responsive charm, but resentment at the annoyance of his presence
was now excessive. For the present, Martin's only concern in his
son consisted in seeing to it that his effacement was as nearly
complete as possible.
The long-impending clash came one evening after a sultry, dusty
day when Rose, occupied with a large washing in the morning and
heavy work in the dairy in the afternoon, realized with
compunction that never had she come so near to neglecting her
boy. Tired and hot from fretting, he had been slow about going to
sleep, and was just dozing off, when Martin came in, worn out and
"Isn't supper ready yet?"
"All but frying the sausage," Rose answered, achieving a pleasant
tone in spite of her jadedness. "He's almost turning the
corner--hear his little sleepy song? Sit down and cool off. I'll
have it ready by the time you and the boys are washed."
Under its thick coat of tan, Martin's face went white. "I've had
enough of this," he announced levelly. "You'll put him down and
fry that meat."
"Wait just a minute," she coaxed; "he'll be off for the night and
if you wake him, he'll cry and get all worked up."
"You heard what I said." His tone was vibrant with determination.
"How am I going to keep hired men if you treat them like this?
When they come in to eat, they want to find their food on the
"This doesn't often happen any more and they know, good and well,
I make it up to them in other ways," returned Rose truthfully.
For answer, he crossed over to her quickly, reached down and took
the baby from her.
"What are you going to do with him?" she demanded, a-tremble with
rage and a sense of impotent helplessness, as, avoiding her quick
movement, Martin went into the bedroom.
"Let him go to sleep as other children do, while you finish
getting supper. Do you want to make a sissy of him?"
"A lot you care what he becomes!" she flashed, conflicting
impulses contending for mastery, as Billy, now thoroughly awake
and seeing his mother, began to cry, pleading to her with big
blue eyes and out-stretched arms to take him. She started
forward, but Martin stepped between herself and the crib.
"Martin Wade, let me pass. He's mine."
"It isn't going to hurt him to cry. He does it often enough."
"If you had a really cross baby around you'd know how good and
reasonable Billy is," she flamed, torn by the little sobs.
"You get out to that kitchen," he ordered, more openly angry than
Rose had ever seen him. "I've had enough of this talk, do you
hear, and enough of this way of doing. Don't you set foot in here
again till supper's over. I've had quite enough, too, of jumping
up and down to wait on myself."
Confusedly, Rose thought of her countless hours of lost sleep,
her even yet unrecovered strength, the enormous readjustment of
her own life in her sincere efforts to do her best by the whole
household, her joyous acceptance of all the perpetual self-denial
her new duties to Billy necessitated. In comparison, the
inconveniences to which Martin had been put seemed trifling. The
occasional delays, and the unusual bother of stepping to the
stove, now and then, to pour himself and the men a hot cup of
coffee--this was their sum total. And how injured he really felt!
The injustice of it left her speechless. Nails biting into her
hands in her struggle for self-control, she left the room. With a
slam of the door behind him, Martin followed her.
Blindly she strove for reason. Billy would simply cry himself to
sleep--it was bad for his whole nervous system, but it would not
actually make him sick. What a chaos must be in that little
heart! His mother had failed him for the first time in his life.
It was cruel, the way Martin had forced her to this, and as she
listened, for the next half hour, to the muffled sound of Billy's
crying and saw how impervious to it Martin was, she knew that
never again could things be the same between her husband and
But when, supper over, she found the corners of the rosebud mouth
still pathetically down and Billy's breath still quivering in
long gasps, she gathered the snuggly body to her and vowed in
little broken love-words that from now on his father should have
no further opportunities for discipline. Knowing him as she did,
she should have trained the baby in the first place to go to
sleep alone, should have denied herself those added sweet
moments. After this she would be on her guard, forestall Martin,
do tenderly what he would do harshly. Never again should her boy
be made to suffer through any such mistaken selfishness of hers.
And though, after a while, the importance of this episode shrank
to its true proportions, she never forgot or broke this promise.
It would have been literally impossible for her to touch Billy,
even when he was naughtiest and most exasperating, with other
than infinite love, but she had an even firmness of her own. As
sensitive as herself, adoring her to the point of worship, he was
easily punished by her displeasure or five minutes of enforced
quiet on a chair. The note of dread in her voice as she pleaded:
"Hush, oh, hush, Billy, be good; quick, darling, papa's coming,"
was always effective. By ceaseless vigilance and indefatigable
patience, she evaded further open rupture until the boy was three
His shrieks had brought both his father and herself flying to the
hog barn to find him dancing up and down as, frightened and
aghast, he vainly attempted to beat off old Dorcas, a mammoth
sow, from one of her day-old litter on which, having crushed it
by accident, she was now quite deliberately feasting.
"God Almighty!" stormed Martin, hastily putting the little pigs
back into the next pen. "Who let them in to her? That's her old
"I opened the door," confessed Billy, troubled, frank eyes
looking straight into his father's. "They were hungry; that one
wanted her most." And, at the thought of the tragedy he had
witnessed, he flung himself heartbroken into his mother's
"I'll whip you for this," said Martin sternly.
"Oh, please!" protested Rose, gathering the child closer. "Can't
you see he's had a bitter enough lesson? His little heart is
"He's got to learn, once and for all, not to meddle with the
stock. Come here."
"No! I won't have it. I'll see to it that he never does a thing
like this again. He's too young to understand. He's never been
struck in his life. You shan't."
Martin's cold blue eyes looked icily into his wife's blazing gray
ones. "Don't act like a fool. Suppose he had gotten in there
himself, and had fallen down --do you think she'd have waited to
kill him? Where'd he be now--like that?" and he pointed to the
Rose shuddered. There it was again--the same, familiar, disarming
plausibility of Martin's, the old trick of making her seem to be
the one in the wrong.
"I wish I had an acre for every good thrashing I got when I was a
boy," he commented drily. "But in those days a father who
demanded obedience wasn't considered a monster."
"If you only loved him, I wouldn't care," sobbed Rose. "I could
stand it better to have you hit him in anger, but you're so hard,
so cruel. You plan it all out so--how can you?"
Nevertheless, with a last convulsive hug and a broken "Mother
can't help it, darling," she put Billy on his feet, her tormented
heart wrung with bitterness as Martin took the clinging child
from her and carried him away, hysterical and resisting.
"What else could I do?" she asked herself miserably, stabbed by
the added fear that Billy might not forgive her. Could he
understand how powerless she had been?
When once more the child was cuddled against her, she realized
that in some mystical way there was a new bond between them, and
as the days passed, she discovered it was not so much the
whipping, but the unnatural perfidy of Dorcas that had scarred
his mind. With his own eyes he had seen a mother devour her baby.
He woke from dreams of it at night. Even the sight of her in the
pasture contentedly suckling the remaining nine did not reassure
him. The modern methods of psychology were then, to such women as
Rose, a sealed book, but love and intuition taught her to apply
"You see, Billy," she explained, "hogs are meant to eat meat like
dogs or bears or tigers. But they can live on just grain and
grass, and that is what most farmers make them do because there
is so much more of it and it costs so much less. Some of them
feed what is called tankage. If old Dorcas could have had some of
that she probably would not have eaten the little pig. You
mustn't blame her too much, for she was just famishing for flesh,
the way you are, sometimes, for a drink of water, when you've
been playing hard." Thus rationalized, the old sow's conduct lost
some of its grewsomeness, and in time, of course, the shock of
the whole experience was submerged under other and newer
impressions, but always the remembrance of it floated near the
surface of his consciousness, his first outstanding memory of his
father and the farm.
Inheriting a splendid physique from both parents, at six little
Bill was as tall as the average child of eight, well set up and
sturdy, afraid of nothing on the place except Martin, who,
resenting his attitude, not unreasonably put the blame for it on
his wife. "It's not what I do to him," he told her, "it's what
you teach him to think I might do that makes him dislike me." To
which Rose looked volumes, but made no reply.
Whatever the reason for the child's distrust, and honestly as he
tried not to let it affect his feeling for his son, Martin found
himself as much repelled by it as he had once been drawn to
little Rose by her sweet faith and affection. Yet, in spite of
the only too slightly veiled enmity between them, he was rather
proud of the handsome lad and determined to give him a thorough
stockman's and agriculturist's training. Some day he would run
this farm, and Martin had put too much of his very blood into it
not to make sure that the hands into which it would fall became
competent. With almost impersonal approval he noticed the perfect
co-ordination of the boy's muscles, his insatiable curiosity
about machinery and his fondness for animals; all of which only
made his pronounced distaste for work just that much more
aggravating. He was, his father decided contemptuously, a
Martin reached this conclusion early in his son's life--Bill was
nine--and he determined to grind the objectionable tendency out
of him. The youngster had a way of stopping for no reason
whatever and just standing there. For all his iron self-control,
it nearly drove the energetic man to violence. He would leave
Bill in the barn to shovel the manure into the litter-carrier--a
good fifteen-minute job; he would return in half an hour to find
him sitting in the alleyway, staring down into his idle scoop.
"God Almighty!" Martin would explode. "How many times must I tell
you to do a thing?"
The boy would look up slowly, like a frightened colt, expecting a
blow, his non-resistance as angering as his indolence. Gazing at
the enormous, imposing person who was his father, he would simply
wait with wide open eyes--eyes that reminded Martin of a calf
begging for a bucket of milk.
"I'm asking you! Answer when I speak. Have you lost the use of
your tongue? What are you, anyway --a lump of jelly? Didn't I
tell you to clean this barn? It's fly time and no wonder the cows
suffer and slack up on their milk when there is a lazy bones like
you around who won't even help haul away the manure."
"I was just a-goin' to."
"You should have been through long ago. What are you good for, is
what I'd like to find out. You eat a big bellyful and what do you
give in return? Do you expect to go through the world like
this--having other people do your work for you? If this job isn't
finished in fifteen minutes, I'll whip you."
Bill would work swiftly and painfully, for the carrier was high
and hard for him to manipulate. But he would do his best,
desperate over the threat, his whole nature rebelling, not so
much at the task, as at the interruption of the pleasant stream
of pictures which had been flowing so excitingly through his
mind. Always it was like this--just when he was most blissfully
happy, he was jerked back to some mean, dirty job by the stern,
driving demands of his tireless father.
Without regard to the fact that harness is heavy, and a horse's
back high, Martin would order him to hitch up. He was perfectly
aware that it was too much for the child, but lack of affection,
and a vague, extenuating belief that especially trying jobs
developed one, made him merciless. The boy frequently boiled with
rage, but he was so weaponless, so completely in his father's
power--there was no escape from this tyranny. He knew he could
not live without him; even his mother could not do that. His
mother! What a sense of rest would come over him when he sat in
her capacious lap, his head on her soft shoulder. With her cheek
against his and her kind hand gently patting the back of his
still chubby one, something hard in him always melted away.
"Why do I love you so, mama," he asked once, "and hate papa so?"
Mrs. Wade realized what was in his sore heart and hers ached for
him, but she answered quietly: "You mustn't hate anybody, dear.
"I don't hate anybody but him. I hate him and I'm afraid of
him--just like you are."
"Oh, Billy," cried Rose, shocked to the quick. "You must never,
never say I hate your father--when you're older you'll
understand. He is a wonderful man."
"He's mean," said Billy succinctly. "When I get big I'm going to
"From me? Oh, darling, don't think such thoughts. Papa doesn't
intend to be mean. He just doesn't know what fun it is to play.
You see, dear, when he was a boy like you, he had to work, oh,
ever and ever so much more than you do--yes, he did," she nodded
solemnly at Bill's incredulous stare. "And his mother never
talked with him or held him close as I do you. She didn't have
time. Aunt Nellie has told me all about it. He just worked and
worked and worked--they all did. That's all there was in their
life--just work. Why, when he was your age, his father was at war
and papa and Grandmother Wade had to do everything. He did a
man's share at fourteen and by the time he was fifteen, he ran
this whole farm. Work has gotten to be a habit with him and it's
made him different from a great many people. But he thinks that
is why he's gone ahead and so he's trying to raise you the same
way. If he really didn't care about you, Billy, it wouldn't
bother him what you did."
In the silence that fell they could hear old Molly bellowing with
pathetic monotony for her calf that had been taken from her.
Yesterday she had been so proud, so happy. She had had such a
hard time bringing it into the world, too. Martin had been
obliged to tie a rope to its protruding legs and pull with all
his strength. It didn't seem fair to think that the trusting-eyed
little fellow had been snatched from her so soon, as if her pain
had been an entirely negligible incident. Already, after six
short weeks, he was hanging, drawn and quartered, in one of
"I hate this place!" burst out the boy passionately. "I hate it!"
"All farms are cruel," agreed his mother quickly. "But I suppose
they have to be. People must have milk and they must have veal."
At nine, though his fingers would become cramped and his wrists
would pain him, Bill had three cows to account for twice a day.
At five in the morning, he would be shaken by Martin and told to
hurry up. It would be dark when he stepped out into the chill
air, and he would draw back with a shiver. Somewhere on these six
hundred acres was the herd and it was his chore to find it and
bring it in. He would go struggling through the pasture, unable
to see twenty-five feet ahead of him, the cold dew or snow
soaking through his overalls, his shoes becoming wet. Often he
would go a mile north only to have to wander to another end of
the farm before he located them. Other times, when he was lucky,
they would be waiting within a hundred yards of the barn. Oh, how
precious the warm bed was, and how his growing body craved a few
more hours of sleep! He had a trick of pulling the sheet up over
his head, as if thus he could shut out the world, but always his
father was there to rout him out from this nest and set him none
too gently on his feet; always there was a herd to be brought in
and udders to be emptied. It made no difference to Martin that
the daily walk to and from the district school was long, and left
no spare time; it made no difference that the long hours at his
lessons left the boy longing for play--always there was the herd,
twice a day, cows and cows without end.
At twelve, Bill was plowing behind four heavy horses. He could
run a mower, and clean a pasture of weeds in a day. He could
cultivate and handle the manure spreader. In the hot, blazing
sun, he could shock wheat behind Martin, who sat on the binder
and cut the beautiful swaying gold. There wasn't a thing he could
not do, but there was not one that he did with a willing heart.
His dreams were all of escape from this grinding, harsh farm. It
seemed to him that it was as ruthless as his father; that
everything it demanded of him was, at best, just a little beyond
his strength. If there was a lever to be pulled on the disk, very
likely it was rusted and refused to give unless he yanked until
he was short of breath and his heart beat fast; four horses were
so unruly and hard to keep in place; the gates were all so
heavy--they were not easy to lift and then drag open. It was such
a bitter struggle every step of the way. It was so hard to plow
as deeply as he was commanded. It was so wearing to make the seed
bed smooth enough to measure up to his father's standard. Never
was there a person who saw less to love about a farm than this
son of Martin's. He even ceased to take any interest in the
"You used to be foolish about them," Martin taunted, "cried
whenever I broke one."
"If I don't get to liking 'em, I don't care what happens to em,"
Bill answered with his father's own laconicism.
This chicken-heartedness, as he dubbed it, disgusted Martin, who
consequently took a satisfaction in compelling the boy to assist
him actively whenever there were cattle to be dehorned, wire
rings to be pushed through bunches of pigs' snouts, calves to be
delivered by force, young stuff to be castrated or butchering to
be done. Often the sensitive lad's nerves were strained to the
breaking point by the inhuman torture he was constantly forced to
inflict upon creatures that had learned to trust him. There was a
period when it seemed to him every hour brought new horrors; with
each one, his determination strengthened to free himself as soon
as possible from this life that was one round of toil and
Rose gave him all the sympathy and help her great heart knew. His
rebellion had been her own, but she had allowed it to be ground
out of her, with her soul now in complete surrender. And here was
her boy going through it all over again, for himself, learning
the dull religion of toil from one of its most fanatical priests.
What if Bill, too, should finally have acquiescence to Martin
rubbed into his very marrow, should absorb his father's point of
view, grow up and run, with mechanical obedience, the farm he
abhorred? The very possibility made her shudder. If only she
could rescue him in some manner, help him to break free from this
bondage. College--that would be the open avenue. Martin would
insist upon an agricultural course, but she would use all her
tact and rally all her powers that Billy might be given the
opportunity to fit himself for some congenial occupation. Martin
might even die, and if she were to have the farm to sell and the
interest from the investments to live on, how happy she could be
with this son of hers, so like her in temperament. She caught
herself up sharply. Well, it was Martin himself who was driving
her to such thoughts.
"You are like old Dorcas," she once told her husband, driven
desperate by the exhausted, harrowed look that was becoming
habitual in Bill's face. "You're trampling down your own flesh
and blood, that's what you're doing--eating the heart out of your
"Go right on," retorted Martin, all his loneliness finding vent
in his bitter sneer, "tell that to Bill. You've turned him
against me from the day he was born. A fine chance I've ever had
with my son!"
DUST IN HIS EYES
SUCH was the relationship of the Wades when one morning the mail
brought them a letter from Sharon, Illinois. Rose wrote that she
was miserably unhappy with her step-mother. Could she live with
them until she found a job? She had been to business college and
was a dandy stenographer. Maybe Uncle Martin could help her get
located in Fallon.
"Of course I will, if she's got her head set on working," was his
comment. "I'll telegraph her to come right along. Might as well
wire the fare, too, while I'm about it and tell her to let us
know exactly when she can get here."
Mrs. Wade looked up quickly at this unusual generosity, yet she
was, she realized, more startled than surprised. For had not
little Rose been the one creature Martin had loved and to whom he
had enjoyed giving pleasure? It had been charming--the response
of the big, aloof man to the merry child of seven, but that child
was now a woman, and, in all probability, a beautiful one. Wasn't
there danger of far more complicated emotions which might prove
even uprooting in their consequences? Mrs. Wade blushed. Really,
she chided herself sternly, she wouldn't have believed she could
be such an old goose--going out of her way to borrow trouble. If
her husband was moved to be hospitable, she ought to be wholly
glad, not petty enough to resent it. She would put such thoughts
out of her mind, indeed she would, and welcome Rose as she would
have wanted Norah to have welcomed Bill, had the circumstances
been reversed. It would be lovely to have the girl about--she
would be so much company, and the atmosphere of light-hearted
youth which she would bring with her would be just what Billy
needed. By the time Rose's answer came, saying she would arrive
in two weeks, her aunt was genuinely enthusiastic.
"I wonder," said Martin, "if we could build on an extra room by
then. If she's going to make this her home, she can't be crowded
as if she was just here for a short visit. I'll hunt up Fletcher
Mrs. Wade's lips shut tight, as she grappled with an altogether
new kind of jealousy. To think that Martin should delight in
giving to an outsider a pleasure he had persistently denied his
own son. How often had she pleaded: "It's a shame to make Billy
sleep in the parlor! A boy ought to have one spot to himself
where he can keep his own little treasures." But always she had
been met with a plausible excuse or a direct refusal. "I suppose
I ought to be thankful someone can strike an unselfish chord in
him," she thought, wearily.
"You'll have to get some furniture," Martin continued placidly.
"Mahogany's the thing nowadays."
"It's fearfully expensive," she murmured.
"Oh, I don't know. Might as well get something good while we're
buying. And while you're at it, pick out some of those curtains
that have flowers and birds on 'em and a pretty rug or two. I'll
have Fletcher put down hard oak flooring; and I guess it won't
make much more of a mess if we go ahead and connect up the house
with the rest of the Delco system."
"It's about time," put in Bill, who had been listening
round-eyed, until now actually more than half believing his
father to be in cynical jest. "We're known all over the county as
the place that has electric lights in the barns and lamps in the
"It hasn't been convenient to do it before," was the crisp
Bill and his mother exchanged expressive glances. When was
anything ever convenient for Martin Wade unless he were to derive
a direct, personal satisfaction from it! Then it became a horse
of quite another color. He could even become lavish; everything
must be of the best; nothing else would do; no expense, as long
as full value was received, was too great. Mrs. Wade found
herself searching her memory. She was positive that not since
those occasions upon which he had brought home the sacks of candy
for the sheer sunshine of watching little Rose's glee had
anyone's pleasure been of enough importance to him to become his
own. All this present concern for her comfort talked far more
plainly than words.
This time, Mrs. Wade admitted bravely to herself that her
jealousy was not for Billy. It would have been far easier for her
if she had known that Martin was thinking of their coming guest
as he had last seen her thirteen years before. He realized,
thoroughly, that she must have grown up, but before his mental
eyes there still danced the roguish little girl he had held so
tenderly in his arms and had so longed to protect and cherish.
He experienced a distinct sense of shock, therefore, when, tall,
slender and smartly dressed, Rose stepped off the train and,
throwing her arms impulsively around his neck, gave him an
affectionate kiss. The feel of those soft, warm lips lingered
strangely, setting his heart to pounding as he guided her down
"Uncle Martin, you haven't changed a bit!" she exclaimed
joyously. "I was wondering if I'd recognise you--imagine!
Somehow, I thought thirteen years would make a lot of difference,
but you don't look a day older."
"You little blarney," he smiled, pleased nevertheless. "Well,
here we are," and he stopped before his fine Cadillac.
"Oh, Uncle Martin," gasped Rose ecstatically. "What a perfectly
gorgeous car! I thought all farmers were supposed to have Fords."
They laughed happily together.
"It's the best in these parts," he admitted complacently.
"It's too wonderful to think that it is really yours. Oh, Uncle
Martin, do you suppose you could ever teach me to drive it?"
"It takes a good deal of strength to shift the gears, but you can
have a try at it anyway, tomorrow."
"Oh-h-h!" she exulted, slipping naturally into their old
Martin took her elbow as he helped her into the car. The firm
young flesh felt good--it was hard to let go. His thumb and under
finger had pressed the muscles slightly and they had moved under
his touch. His hand trembled a bit. The grace with which she
stepped up gave him another thrill. He was struck with her trim
pump, and the several inches of silk stocking that flashed before
his eyes, so unaccustomed to noticing dainty details, gave him a
mingled sensation of delight and embarrassment. It had been many
a day, many a year, since he had consciously observed his wife.
She was too useful for him to permit himself to be influenced by
questions of beauty into underrating her value, and he was a
respectable husband, if not a kind one. They had jogged on so
long together that he would have said he had ceased to be
conscious of her appearance. But suddenly he felt that he could
not continue to endure, for another day, the sight of the
spreading, flat house-slippers which, because of her two hundred
and forty pounds and frequently rheumatic feet, she wore about
her work. Moreover, it was forcibly borne in upon him just what a
source of irritation they had been. And they were only as a drop
in the bucket! Well, such thoughts did no one any good. Thank
heaven, from now on he would have Rose to look at.
They settled down beside each other in the front seat and he was
aware that her lovely eyes, so violet-blue and ivory-white, were
studying him admiringly. Here was a man, she was deciding, who
for his age was the physical superior of any she had ever met. He
was clearly one of those whom toil did not bend, and while, she
concluded further, he might be taken for all of his fifty-four
years it would be simply because of his austere manner.
Martin sustained her scrutiny until they were well out of Fallon
and speeding along on a good level road. Then with a teasing
"turn about's fair play," he, too, took a frank look, oddly
stirred by the sophisticated touches which added so subtly to her
natural beauty. From her soft, thick brown hair done up cleverly
in the latest mode and her narrow eyebrows arched, oh, so
carefully, and penciled with such skill, to that same trim
provocative pump and disconcerting flash of silk-clad ankle, Rose
had dash. Hers was that gift of style which is as unmistakable as
the gift of song and which, like it, is sometimes to be found
unexpectedly in any village or small town.
Martin drank in every detail wonderingly, with a kind of awe. All
his life, it seemed to him, for the last thirteen years
positively, he had known that somewhere there must be just such a
woman whose radiance would set his heart beating with the rapture
of this moment and whose moods would blend so easily with his own
that she would seem like a very part of himself. And here she
was, come true, sitting right beside him in his own car. For the
first time in his whole life, Martin understood the meaning of
the word happiness. It gripped and shook him and made his heart
ache with a delicious pain.
"It's hard to believe," he murmured, "such a very small girl went
away and such a very grown up little woman has come back. Let's
see--twenty is it? My, you make me feel old--but you say I
haven't changed much."
"You haven't. A little bit of gray, a number of tiny wrinkles
about your eyes"--the tips of two dainty fingers touched them
lightly--"and you're a bit thinner--that's all. Why you look so
good to me, Uncle Martin, I could fall in love with you myself,
if you weren't auntie's husband."
It was an innocent remark, and he understood it as such, but its
effect on him was dynamic.
"You always were as pretty as a picture," he said slowly, his
nerves tingling, "if a farmer's opinion is worth anything in that
This was twaddle, of course, and Martin knew it. Rather it was
the city person's point of view he was inclined to belittle. He
had the confidence in his superiority that comes from complete
economic security and his pride of place was even more deeply
rooted. Men of Martin's class who are able to gaze, in at least
one direction, as far as eye can see over their own land, are
shrewd, sharp, intelligent, and far better informed on current
events and phases of thought than the people of commercial
centers even imagine. There is nothing of the peasant about them.
Martin knew quite well that dressed in his best clothes and put
among a crowd of strange business men he would be taken for one
of their own--so easy was his bearing, so naturally correct his
Something of all this had already registered in Rose's mind.
"Come on, Uncle Martin," she laughed, "flatter me. I just love
"Very well, then, I'll say that you've come back as pretty a
little woman as ever I've laid eyes on."
"Is that all? Oh, Uncle Martin, just pretty? The boys usually say
"You are beautiful--as beautiful as a rose. That's what you are,
a red, red rose of Sharon--with your dove's eyes, your little
white teeth like a flock of even sheep and your sweet, pretty
lips like a thread of scarlet."
"Why, Uncle Martin!" exclaimed the girl, a trifle puzzled by the
intensity of his quiet tone, and stressing their relationship
ever so lightly. "You're almost a poet."
"You mean old King Solomon was," he retrieved himself quickly.
"Don't you ever read the Bible?"
"I didn't know you did!"
"Oh, your old Uncle reads a little of everything," he returned
with a reassuring commonplaceness of manner. He was thunderstruck
at his outburst. Never had he had occasion to talk in that vein.
He remembered how blunt he had been with the older Rose twenty
years before--how he had jumped to the point at the start and
landed safely; clinched his wooing, as he had since realized, by
calling her his Rose of Sharon, and now he was saying the same
thing over again, but, oh, how differently. If only he were
thirty-four today, and unmarried!
"You always were the most wonderful person," beamed Rose,
completely at her ease once more, "I used to simply adore you,
and I'm beginning to adore you again."
"That's because you don't know what a glum old grouch I really
"You--a grouch? Oh, Uncle Martin!" Her merry, infectious laugh
left no doubt of how ridiculous such a notion seemed.
"Oh, yes; I am."
"Nonsense. You'll have to prove it to me."
"Ask your aunt or Bill; they'll tell you." The acrimony in his
tone did not escape her.
"Then they'll have to prove it to me," she corrected, her gaiety
now a trifle forced. Aunt Rose never had appreciated him, was her
quick thought. Even as a child she had sensed that.
"How are they?" she added quickly. "Bill must be a great boy by
"Only a few inches shorter than I am," Martin answered
indifferently. "He's one of the kind who get their growth
early--by the time he's fifteen he'll be six feet."
"I'm crazy to see them."
"Well, there's your aunt now," he resumed drily as they drew up
before the little house that contrasted so conspicuously with the
fine brick silos and imposing barns. Gleaming with windows, they
loomed out of the twilight, reminding one, in their slate-colored
paint, of magnificent battleships.
The bright glare of the auto picked Mrs. Wade out for them as
mercilessly as a searchlight. Where she had been stout thirteen
years before, she was now frankly fat. Four keen eyes noted the
soft, cushiony double chin, the heavy breasts, ample stomach,
spreading hips, and thick shoulders, rounded from many years of
bending over her kitchen table. Kansas wind, Kansas well-water
and Kansas sun had played their usual havoc, giving her skin the
dull sand color so common in the Sunflower State. She had come
from her cooking and she was hot, beads of sweat trickling from
the deep folds of her neck. Withal, there was something so
comfortable and motherly about her, the kind, wise eyes behind
the gold-rimmed glasses were so misty with welcome and unspoken
thoughts of the dear mother Rose had lost, that the girl went out
to her sincerely even as she marvelled that the same years on the
same farm which had given one person added polish and had made
him even more good looking than ever, could have changed another
so completely and turned her into such a toil-scarred, frumpy,
oldish woman. Why, when she had been talking with Uncle Martin he
had seemed no older than herself--well, not quite that, of
course, but she had just forgotten about his age
altogether--until she saw Aunt Rose. No wonder whenever he spoke
of his wife every intonation told how little he loved her. How
could he care any more--that way?
Rose's first look of astonishment and her darting glance in his
own direction were not lost on Martin. With an imperceptible
smile, he accepted the unintended compliment, but he felt a pang
when he noticed that to her Aunt went the same affectionate,
impetuous embrace that she had given to him at the station.
"You're losing your head," he told himself sternly, driving into
the garage, where, stopping his engine, he continued to sit
motionless at the wheel. "That ought to be a lesson to you; she's
just naturally warm-hearted and loving. Always was. You're no
more to her than anybody else. Well, there's no fool like an old
fool." Yet, deeper than his admitted thought was the positive
conviction that already something was up between them. If not,
why this excitement and wild happiness? To be sure, nothing had
been said--really. It had all been so light. Rose was just a bit
of a born flirt. But he, having laughed at love all his life,
loved her deeply, desperately. Well, so much the worse for
himself--it couldn't lead anywhere. Yet in spite of all his logic
he knew that something was going to happen. Hang it all--just
what? He was afraid to answer his own question; not because of
any dread of what his wife might do--he was conscious only of a
new, cold, impersonal hatred toward her because she stood between
him and his Rose; nor was it qualms about his ability to win the
girl's heart. Already, despite his inexperience with love
technique, he was, in some mysterious manner, making progress.
The community --his position in it? This was food for thought
certainly, but it was not what worried him. Then why this feeling
of dismay when he wanted to be only glad?
The question was still unanswered when he finally left the
garage. With all his powers of introspection, he had not yet
fathomed the fact that it was a fear of his own, until now
utterly unsuspected, capacity for recklessness. Heretofore, he
had been able to count on the certainty that his best judgment
would govern all his actions. Now, he felt himself clutching,
almost frantically, at the hard sense of proportion that never
before had so much as threatened to desert him. He went about his
chores in a grave, automatic way, absorbed in anything but
agriculture. Hardly ever did he pass through his barn without
paying homage to his own progressiveness and oozing approval of
the mechanical milker, driven by his own electrical dynamo, the
James Way stanchions with electric lights above, the individual
drinking fountains at the head of each cow, the cork-brick
floors, the scrupulously white-washed walls, and the absence of
odor, with the one exception of sweet, fermented silage. But,
tonight, he was not seeing these symbols of material superiority.
Instead he was thinking of a girl with eyes as soft as a dove's,
lips like a thread of scarlet and small white teeth as even as a
flock of his own Shropshire sheep. What else did that old King
Solomon say? God Almighty, he thought, there was a man who
understood! He'd try to get a chance to reread that Song of Songs
that was breaking his own heart with its joy and its sadness.
His reverie was broken abruptly by the jangling supper-bell. When
he reached the back door Bill was already at the table and Rose,
in a simple gown that brought out the appealing lines of her slim
young body, was deftly helping his wife in the final dishing up.
As Martin stood a moment, looking in at the bright scene and
listening to the happy chatter, he heard her ask if he had got
her a job. At sight of him she cried excitedly: "Oh, Uncle
Martin! You can't think how I adore my beautiful room! And Bill
says it was you who first thought of building it for me. You old
darling! You and Aunt Rose are the best people in the whole wide
world. How can I ever thank you?"
"I'll tell you," he smiled, "forget all about that job and just
stay around here and make us all young. Time enough to work when
you have to."
Mrs. Wade noticed how Bill's eyes widened at these words, so
unlike his father, and soon she was acutely aware of her
husband's marked agreeableness whenever he directed his
conversation toward Rose. He even tried to include his son and
herself in this new atmosphere, but with each remark in their
direction his manner changed subtly. Toward herself, in
particular, his feelings were too deep for him to succeed in
As the meal progressed, she realized that her dim forebodings
were fast materializing into a certain danger. Unless she acted
promptly this slip of a girl was going to affect, fundamentally,
all their lives. Already, it seemed as though she had been
amongst them a long time and had colored the future of them all.
Mrs. Wade understood far better than her husband would have
supposed that, in his own way, his married life had been as
starved as her own; oh, far more so, for she had her boy. And
while it was not at all likely, it was not wholly impossible that
he might seek a readjustment. It seemed far-fetched for her to
sit thus and feel that drama was entering their hard lives when
nothing had really happened, but nevertheless--she knew. As,
outwardly so calm, she speculated with tumbled thoughts on how it
might end, she tried to analyze why it was that the prospect of a
shake-up filled her with such a sense of disaster. Surely, it was
not because of any reluctance to separate from Martin. Her life
would be far easier if they went their own ways. With Bill, she
could make a home anywhere, one that was far more real, in a
house from which broken promises did not sound as from a trumpet.
Ashes of resentment still smouldered against Martin because of
that failure of his to play fair. She recalled the years during
which she had helped him to earn with never an unexpected
pleasure; reflected with bitterness that never, since they had
cast their lives together, had he urged her to indulge in any
sweet little extravagance, though he had denied himself nothing
that he really wished. It was no riddle to her, as it had been to
her niece earlier in the evening, why the same hard work had
dealt so benignly with Martin and so uncharitably with herself.
She comprehended only too well that it was not that alone which
had crushed her. It was his ceaseless domination over her, the
utter subjugation of her will, her complete lack of freedom. She
glanced across the table at him, astounded by his hearty laugh in
response to one of Rose's sallies. It seemed incredible that it
could be really Martin's. It had such a ring and came out so
easily as if he were more inclined to merriment than to silence.
Usually, he seemed made of long strips of thin steel, but under
the inspiration of Rose's presence he had become animated, brisk,
interesting. No wonder she was being drawn to him.
It was as if he had withheld from his wife a secret alchemy that
had kept him handsome and attractive, as compelling as when he
had come in search of herself so long ago. And now that the last
vestige of her own bloom was gone, he was laughing at her,
inwardly, as a cunning person does who plays a malicious trick on
a simpler, more trusting, soul. Only it had taken twenty years to
spring the point of this one. Hatred welled in her heart; a sad,
weary hatred that knew no tears. She wished that she might hurt
him as he had hurt her. Yet, with her usual honesty, she
presently admitted how easy it would be for this malevolence to
melt away--a word, a look, a gesture from Martin and the heart in
her would flood with forgiveness; but the look did not come, the
word was unuttered.
He was squandering, she continued to observe, sufficient evidence
of his interest at the feet of this child who never would have
missed it, while she, herself, who could have lifted mountains
from her breast with one tenth of this appreciation, was left, as
she always had been left, without the love her being craved, the
love of a mate, rising full and strong to meet her own. It was a
yearning that the most cherished of children could never satisfy
and as she watched Martin and Rose her position seemed to her to
be that of a hungry pauper, brought to the table of a rich
gourmand, there to look on helplessly while the other toyed
carelessly with the precious morsels of which she was in such
extreme need. And what rankled was that these thoughts were
futile, that too much water had run under the bridge, that it was
her lot in Martin's life merely to accept what was offered her.
She knew that the marks of her many hours of suppressed anguish,
thousands of days of toil and long series of disappointments were
thick upon her. She realized, too, how ironical it was that with
all her work she should have grown to be so ungainly although
Martin retained the old magnetism of his gorgeous physique. There
was no doubt that if he chose, he could still hold a woman's
devotion. Yes, for him there was an open road from this gray
monotony, if he had the will and the courage to escape.
Suddenly, she found herself wondering what effect all this would
have on Bill. She stole a surreptitious glance at him, but he,
too, seemed to have been caught up by Rose's gay, good humor.
Mrs. Wade sighed as she remembered how everyone had flocked
around Norah. Rose had inherited her mother's charm. Such women
were a race apart. They could no more be held responsible for
trying to please than a flower for exhaling its fragrance. At
what a lovely moment of life she was! Small wonder that Martin
was captivated, but not even the shadow of harm must fall on that
fresh young spirit while she was under their roof. If things went
much further she would have it out with him. And this decision
reached, Mrs. Wade felt her usual composure gradually return, nor
did it again desert her during the long evening through which it
seemed to her as if her husband must be some stranger.
MARTIN BATTLES WITH DUST
THE human animal is a strange spectacle to behold, let alone
comprehend. Not infrequently he goes along for years developing a
state of mind, a consistent attitude, and then having got it
thoroughly established does something in distinct contradiction
to it. Martin had never cared for music, but when one evening, a
little more than a week after Rose's arrival, she suggested, with
a laughing lilt, her fondness for it, he agreed that he had
missed it in his home and, to Bill's and Mrs. Wade's unbelieving
surprise, dwelt at length upon his enjoyment of Fallon's band and
his longing to blow a cornet. A little later, finding an excuse
to leave, he drove into town on a mission so foreign to his
iron-clad character that it seemed to cry against his every
instinct, but which, for all that, he did with such simplicity as
to indicate that it was the most natural step imaginable. He
actually bought a two-hundred-dollar mahogany Victrola and an
assortment of records, bringing both home with him in his car
and, assisted eagerly by Bill, carrying them into the front room
with an air that said it was a purchase he had been intending to
make for a long time. Rose rewarded him with her bubbling delight
and her aunt noticed with an odd constriction about her heart how
Bill revelled at last in the new treasure, until now so
hopelessly coveted. Martin had never shone to better advantage
than this evening as he helped select and put on different
pieces, lending himself to the mood of each. It was while a
foot-stirring dance was on that Rose asked suddenly:
"Oh, Uncle Martin, do you know how?"
He shook his head. "You'll have to teach me to square up for
learning to drive the car."
"That's a bargain; and I'll teach Bill too," she added with
native tact. But Mrs. Wade, ill at ease in her own parlor, caught
the afterthought quality of Rose's tone. There was no question
but that it was for Martin she sparkled, sweet and spontaneous as
she was. Decidedly, the time had come when definite action should
not be delayed.
It was nearly twelve o'clock when they finally broke up and
husband and wife found themselves alone in their own room. As
they undressed, Mrs. Wade acted nervously, confused as to how to
begin, while Martin whistled lightly and kept time by a slight
bobbing of his head. She shot a meaning look in his direction.
"You seem happy, don't you?"
He stopped whistling instantly and assumed his more normal look
of set sternness. This was the man she knew and she preferred him
that way, rather than buoyant because of some other woman, even
though that other was as lovable and innocent of any deliberate
mischief as her niece. Not that she was jealous so much as she
was hurt. When a woman has fortified herself, after years of the
existence to which Mrs. Wade had submitted, with the final
conviction that undoubtedly her husband's is a nature that cannot
be other than it is, and then learns there are emotional
potentialities not yet plumbed, not to mention a capacity for
pleasant comradeship of which he has never vouchsafed her an
inkling, she finds herself being ground between the millstones of
an aching admission of her own deficiencies and a tattered, but
Martin, when her remark concerning his apparent happiness had
registered, let his answer be a sober inspection of the garment
he had just removed.
"I don't suppose you can talk to me now after such a strenuous
evening," she went on more emphatically. And as he maintained his
silence, she continued with: "Oh, don't think I'm blind, Martin
Wade. I know exactly how far this has gone and I know how far it
"What are you driving at?"
"You know perfectly well what I mean--the way you are behaving
"Are you trying to imply that I'm carrying on with her?"
"I certainly am. I'm not angry, Martin. I never was calmer than I
am right now, and I don't intend to say things just for the sake
of saying them. I only want you to know that I have eyes, and
that I don't want to be made a fool of."
To her surprise, Martin came over to her and, looking at her
steadily, returned with amazing candidness: "I'm not going to lie
to you. You're perfectly welcome to know what's in my mind. I
love her with every beat of my heart--she has brought something
new into my life, something sacred--you've always thought I cared
for nothing but work, that all I lived for was to plan and scheme
how to make money. Haven't you? I don't blame you. It's what I've
always believed, but tonight I've learned something." Mrs. Wade
could see his blood quicken. "She has been in this house only a
few days and already I am alive with a new fire. It seems as if
these hours are the only ones in which I have ever really
lived--nothing else matters. Nothing! If there could be the
slightest chance of my winning her love, of making her feel as I
am feeling now, I'd build my world over again even if I had to
tear all of the old one down." Martin was now talking to himself,
oblivious to his wife's presence, indifferent to her. "Happiness
is waiting for me with her, with my little flower."
"Your Rose of Sharon?" Her tone was biting.
"If only I could say that! My Rose of Sharon!" It seemed to Mrs.
Wade that the very room quivered with his low cry that was almost
a groan. "I know what you're thinking," he went on, "but you know
I have never loved you. You knew it when I married you, you must
have." The twisting agony of it--that he could make capital out
of the very crux of all her suffering. "I have never deceived you
and I never intend to. My life with you hasn't been a Song of
Solomon, but I'm not complaining."
"You're not complaining! I hope I won't start complaining,
"Well, now you know how I feel. I'll go on with the present
arrangement between us, but I'm playing square with you--it's
because there's no hope for me. If I thought she cared for me, I
would go to her, right now, tonight, and pour out my heart to
her, wife or no wife. Oh, Rose, have pity! It can't do you any
harm if I drink a little joy--don't spoil her faith in me! Don't
frighten her away. I can't bear the thought of her going out into
the world to work. She's like a gentle little doe feeding on
lilies--she doesn't dream of the pitfalls ahead of her. And she
will never know--she doesn't even suspect how I feel towards her.
She will meet some young fellow in town and marry. I'm too old
for her--but Rose, you don't understand what it means to me to
have her in the same house, to know that she is sleeping so near,
so beautiful, so ready for love; that when I wake up tomorrow she
will still be here."
Disarmed and partly appeased by the frankness of his confession,
Mrs. Wade sat silently taking in each word, studying him with wet
eyes, her lips almost blue, her breath a little short. The fire
in his voice, the reality of his strange, terrible love, the eyes
that gazed so sadly and so unexpectantly into space, the hands
that seemed to have shed their weight of toil and clutched, too
late, for the bright flowers of happiness--all filled her with
compassion. Never had he looked so splendid. He seemed, in
casting off his thongs, to have taken on some of the Herculean
quality of his own magnificent gesture. It was as if their
barnyard well had burst into a mighty, high-shooting geyser. To
her dying day would she remember that surge of passion. To have
met it with anger would have been of as little avail as the stamp
of a protesting foot before the tremors of an earthquake.
She offered him the comforting directness which she might have
given Bill. "I didn't know you felt so deeply, Martin. Life plays
us all tricks; it's played many with me, and it's playing one of
its meanest with you, for whatever happens you are going to
suffer--far more than I am. You can believe it or not, but I'm
Martin felt oddly grateful to her; he had not expected this sense
of understanding. She might have burst into wild tears. Instead,
she was pitying him. More possessed of his usual immobility, he
"I must be a fool, a great, pathetic fool. I look into a girl's
eyes and immediately see visions. I say a few words to her and
she is kind enough to say a few to me and I see pictures of new
happiness. I should have more sense. I don't know what is the
matter with me."
Although countless answers leaped to his wife's tongue she made
none but the cryptic: "Well, it's no use to discuss it any more
tonight. We both need rest." But all the while that she was
undressing with her usual sure, swift movements, and after she
had finally slipped between the sheets, her mind was racing.
She was soon borne so completely out on the current of her own
thoughts that she forgot Martin's actual presence. She remembered
as if it were yesterday, the afternoon he came to the office and
asked her to marry him. She wondered anew, as she had wondered a
thousand times, if anything other than a wish for a housekeeper
had prompted him. She remembered her misgivings--how she had read
into him qualities which she had believed all these years were
not there. But hadn't her intuition been justified, after all, by
the very man she had seen tonight? Yes, her first feeling, that
he was something finer, still in the rough, had been correct. She
had thought it was his shyness, his unaccustomedness to women
that had made him such a failure as a lover--and all the while it
had been simply that she was not the right woman. When love
touched him, he became a veritable white light.
All these years when he had been so cold, so hard toward her, it
simply was because he disliked her. She remembered the day she
was hurt, and the night her first baby came. Martin's brutality
even now kindled in her a dull blazing anger, and as she realized
what depths of feeling were in him, his callousness seemed
intensified an hundred-fold. Well, she was having her revenge.
All his life he had thwarted her, stolen from her, used her as
one could not use even a hired hand, worked her more as a
slave-driver hurries his underlings that profits may mount; now,
by her mere existence, she was thwarting him. She saw him again
as he had flashed before her when he had talked of Rose and she
admitted bitterly to herself, what in her heart she had known all
along--that if Martin could have loved her, she could have
worshipped him. Instead, he had slowly smothered her, but she had
at least a dignity in the community. He should not harm that. If
they were unhappy, at least no one knew it. Her pride was her
refuge. If that were violated she felt life would hold no
sanctuary, that her soul would be stripped naked before the
But why was she afraid? Didn't Martin have his own position to
think of? What if he had said nothing was to be compared to his
new-found love for Rose. What stupidity on his part not to
realize that it was his very position, power and money that
commanded her respect. Did he command anything else from her?
Mrs. Wade reviewed the evening. Yes, response had been in Rose's
laugh, in every movement. Hadn't she always adored Martin, even
as a tiny girl? Hadn't there always been some mystic bond between
them? How she had envied them then. But if Martin were to go to
her with only his love? From the depths of her observations of
people she took comfort. He might stir his lovely Rose of Sharon
to the uttermost, had he been free he might have won her for his
wife--but would it be possible for fifty-four to hold the
attention of twenty for long if he had nothing but his love to
Such thoughts were hurrying through her heated mind as Martin
slowly laid himself beside her. He said nothing, but lost himself
in a flood of ceaseless ponderings. After stretching some of the
tiredness out of his throbbing muscles, he relaxed and lay
quietly, trying to recall exactly what he had said. Did his wife
suspect that there might be no truth in the remark that Rose
would never know how he felt toward her? At moments he felt that
the girl already divined it, again he was not so sure. It was
hard to be certain, but the more he thought about it the more
hope he began to feel that she would yet be wholly his. Her
admiration and trust belonged to him now, but there might be
moral scruples which he would have to overcome. There would be
the difficulty of convincing her that she would be doing her aunt
no wrong. She would gain courage, however, from his own
heedlessness. That same daring which he had just shown with the
older Rose and which had impressed her into silence would
eventually move his flower to him. He had thrown down the bars.
Secrecy was now out of the question and it was well that he was
moving thus in the open. Rose might shrink at first from the
plain-spokenness of the situation, but this phase would soon pass
and then the fact that she knew he was not hiding his love for
her even from his wife would make it far easier to press his suit
and possibly to bring it to a swift consummation.
He must win her! He must. He had been mad to admit to himself,
much less to his Rag-weed, that there was any doubt of this
outcome. It might take a few more days, a week, not longer than
that. But what should he do when Rose gave the message to him?
Could he go away with her? This bothered him for a while. Of
course, he would have to. He could not send his wife away. The
community would not tolerate this. Martin knew his neighbors. He
did not care a snap for their good opinion, but he realized
exactly how much they could hurt him if he violated their
prejudices beyond a certain point. Fortunately, there are
millions of communities in the world. This one would rise against
him and denounce, another would accept them as pleasant
strangers. He might be taken for Rose's father! He would fight
this with tireless care. Yes, he would have to go away. But his
business interests --what about his farm, his cattle, his
machinery, his bank stock, his mortgages, his municipal bonds?
How wonderful it would be if he could go with her to the
station--his securities in a grip, his other possessions turned
into a bank draft! But this woman lying at his side--the law gave
her such a large share.
Cataclysmic changes were taking place in the soul of Martin Wade.
The very thing which, without being able to name, he had dreaded
a short week ago in the garage, was hovering over him, casting
its foreboding shadow of material destruction. His whole system
of values was being upset. He felt an actual revulsion against
property. What was it all compared to his Rose? He would throw it
at his wife's feet--his wife's feet and Bill's. Let them take
every penny of it--no, not every penny. He would need a
little--just a thousand or two to start with and then the rest
would come easily, for he knew how to make money. And how liberal
that would be.
He could see himself as he would go forth with Rose, leaving
behind the woman he had never loved and all that he had toiled so
many years to amass. It seemed fair--the property for which he
had lusted so mercilessly left for the woman with whom he had
lived so dully, left as the ransom to be paid for his liberty. So
he and his Rose of Sharon would walk away--walk, because even the
car would be surrendered--and he would be free with the only
woman for whom he had ever yearned.
Would she be happy for long? His pride answered "yes," but
against his will he pictured himself being dumped ruthlessly into
the pitiless sixties while Rose still lingered in the glorious
twenties. This was a most unpleasant reflection and Martin
preferred to dismiss it. That belonged to tomorrow. He would wait
until then to fight tomorrow's battles. His mind came back to the
property again. Wasn't it rather impetuous to surrender all?
Wouldn't it be unfair to Rose to be so generous to his wife? She
had Bill. In a few years he would be old enough to run the farm.
Until then, with his help and good hired hands, she could do it
herself. Why not leave it and the goods on it to her and take the
mortgages and bonds with him? Rose was joy. He could hold her
more securely with comforts added to his great love. Her
happiness had to be thought of, had to be protected.
He could tell that his wife was still awake. He might begin to
talk and maybe they could arrange a settlement. But he was
getting too tired for a discussion that might invite tears and
even a fit of hysterics, like the one she had gone through before
their first child came dead. He could see her still as she looked
that morning in the barn crying: "You'll be punished for this
some day--you will--you will. You don't love me, but some time
you will love some one. Then you'll understand what it is to be
treated like this--" It gave him the creeps now to remember it.
It was like one of those old incantations; almost like a curse.
What if some day his Rose should grow to be as indifferent, feel
as little tenderness toward him as he had felt toward his wife at
that moment. The pain of it made him break out into a fine sweat.
But he hadn't understood. What had he understood until this love
had come into his life! He would never do a thing as cruel as
that now. Come to think of it, the older Rose wasn't acting like
a bad sort. But then, when it came to a show-down she might not
be so magnanimous as she had appeared tonight.
Mrs. Wade was still thinking. She also was measuring
possibilities and clairvoyantly sensing what was going on in her
husband's mind. She, too, was sure that Rose would capitulate to
him. She felt a deep sympathy for the girl. Martin had said it
himself--he was too old for her. Her happiness lay with youth.
And yet, how could one be so certain? Love was so illusive, so
capricious! Did it really bow to the accident of years? Had she,
Rose Wade, the right to snatch from anyone's hands the most
precious gift of life? Wouldn't she have sold her very soul, at
one time, to have had Martin care for her like this? Oh, if the
child were wise she would not hesitate! She would drink her cup
of joy while it was held out to her brimming full. A strange
conclusion for a staid churchwoman like Mrs. Wade, but her rich
humanity transcended all her training. She wondered if there
could be anything in the belief that there was waiting somewhere
for each soul just one other. There were people, she knew, who
thought that. Rose had drawn out all that was finest in
Martin--she had transformed him into a lover, and if she wanted
the man, himself, she could have him. But, decided his wife, he
could not take with him the things which her sweat and blood had
helped to create. She would give him a divorce, but her terms
would be as brutal as the Martin with whom she had lived these
twenty years, and who now took it for granted that she would let
him do whatever he chose. She was to be made to step aside, was
she, with no weapon with which to strike back and no armor with
which to protect herself? Well, there was one way she might hit
him --one. She would strike him in his weakest point --his
belongings. Yes, Martin Wade might leave her but all his property
must be left behind--every cent of it. There should be a contract
to that effect; otherwise, she would fight as only a frenzied
woman can fight.
The two of them, lying there side by side as quietly as if in
death, each considered the issue settled. She would let him go
without his property; Martin would leave with half of it. And
through all the long wordless controversy, their little Rose of
Sharon, a few yards away, slept as only a tired child can sleep.
THE DUST SMOTHERS
WHEN Martin opened his eyes, next morning, he realized with a
start that he had overslept, which was a new experience for one
whose life had been devoted so consistently to hard toil; and he
saw with a sharper start, that his wife, who always got up about
a half hour earlier than himself, was not even yet awake. He
wondered what had come over him that he should have committed
such a sin, and as his tired mind opened one of its doors and let
the confused impressions flutter out, he countenanced a luxury as
unusual as the impulse that had sent him townward the evening
before to bring home the Victrola. Instead of jumping out hastily
so that he might attend to his hungry, bellowing stock, he lay
quietly marshalling the new incidents of his life into a parade
which he ordered to march across the low ceiling.
He could not comprehend what the tornado had been about. There
had been so little on which to base the excitement--so little
that he was puzzled as to what had caused the scene with his
wife. And as he reflected, it seemed highly unlikely to him that
he would ever permit himself to do anything that might jeopardize
his whole life, topple over the structure that decades of work
had built. Why, it was scarcely less than suicidal to let a
stranger come into his heart and maybe weaken his position. He
remembered his last thought before falling asleep. It appeared
unutterably rash, though when hit upon, it had been a decision
that moderated a more extreme action. Now he realized that it was
the very acme of foolishness deliberately to sacrifice half his
fortune, especially the farm itself, to which he had given so
many years of complete concentration. Certainly, if Rose were
ready to be his, he might not hesitate even a second; but this
flower was still to be won by him, and this morning, aware of
what scant grounds he had upon which to venture any forecasts, he
felt as full of doubt as he had been of confidence last night. It
had been a saddening experience, but fortunate, for all that,
inasmuch as nothing serious had come of it, except that he was
greatly sobered. Martin could not understand that mysterious
something which had risen up in his nature and threatened to
wreck a carefully-built life. It was his first meeting with the
little demon that rebels in a man after he thinks his character
and his reactions thoroughly established, and he shuddered as he
realized how close the strange imp had pulled him to the
precipice. Yesterday, that precipice had seemed a new paradise;
now it was a yawning chasm --and he drew back, frightened.
Cows, horses, sheep, pigs, chickens, turkeys, dogs, barn
cats--all do not remain patient while the man who owns them lies
in bed dreaming dreams. They wait a while and then get nervous.
The many messages for food which they sent to Martin forced him
to spring out of bed and hurry to them, for nothing is as
unbearably insistent as a barn and yard full of living things
clamoring their determination to have something to eat. As Martin
ran to stop the bedlam, he saw the world as an enormous, empty
stomach, at the opening of which he stood, hurling in the feed as
fast as his muscles would permit. It was all there was to
farming--raising crops and then shovelling the hay and the grain
into these stomachs. Martin stood back a few feet and with loving
eyes watched his animals enjoy their food. Here were the
creatures he loved. The fine herd of Holstein cows--their big
eyes looked at him with such trust! And their black and white
markings--so spick and span with shininess because he threw salt
on them that each cow might lick the other clean--their heavy
milk veins, great udders, and backs as straight as a die--all
appealed to his sense of the beautiful. "God Almighty!" he
thought, "but they're wonders! There's none like them west of
Chicago." The mule colts, so huge and handsome, and oh, so
knowing! made him chuckle his pride and satisfaction in a
muttered: "Man's creation, are you, you fine young devils? Well,
you're a credit, the lot of you, to whoever deserves it." His
eyes wandered over the rest of his stock, swept his wide realm.
It was all a very part of himself. Yes, here was his life--here
was his world. It would be the height of folly to leave it.
At breakfast, his wife ate sullenly, refusing to be drawn into
the conversation, but by a wise compression of her lips and a
flicker of amusement in her eyes, which seemed to say: "Oh, if
only you could see how absurd you appear," she contrived very
cleverly to render Martin miserably self-conscious. Hampered by
this new and unexpected feeling, his attempts to be pleasant fell
flat and he lapsed into his old grimness, while Rose, eating
quickly, confined her remarks to her determination to go to town
in search of a job. Had Martin not talked as he had to his wife
he would have been able, undoubtedly, to disregard her and to
continue the line of chatter which he had hit upon so happily and
which he had never suspected was in him. But the fact, not so
much that she knew, but that from this vantage point of knowledge
she was ridiculing him, was too much for even his
self-possession. It made the light banter impossible. Especially,
as there was no doubt that Rose did not seem anxious for it.
For Martin had not been the only member of that household who had
held early communion with himself. The girl had sat long and
dreamily at her dressing table--the dainty one of rich, dark
mahogany that Uncle Martin's thoughtfulness had provided. It
seemed unbelievable, but there was no use pretending she was
mistaken--Uncle Martin, Aunt Rose's husband, was falling in love
with her. She felt a little heady with the excitement of it. He
was so different from the callow youths and dapper fellows who
had heretofore worshipped at her shrine. There was something so
imposing, so important about him. She was conscious that a man so
much older might not appeal to many girls of her age, but it so
happened that he did appeal to her. She would be able to have
everything she wished, too--didn't she know how good, how kind,
how tender he could be. And her heart yearned toward him--he was
so clearly misunderstood, unhappy. But what about Aunt Rose?
Well, then, why had she let herself get to be so ugly? She looked
as if the greases of her own kitchen stove had cooked into her
skin, thought the girl, mercilessly. Didn't she know there was
such a thing as a powder puff? Women like that brought their own
troubles upon themselves, that's what they did. And she was an
old prude, too. Anyone could see with half an eye that she didn't
like the idea of Uncle Martin learning to dance--why, she didn't
even like his getting the Victrola--when it was just what both he
and Bill had been wanting. But for all that she was her aunt, her
own mother's sister and, poor dear, she was a good soul. It would
probably upset her awfully and besides, oh well, it just wasn't
Before her mirror Rose blushed furiously, quite ashamed of the
light way in which she had been leading Uncle Martin on. "But I
haven't said one solitary thing auntie couldn't have heard," she
justified herself. Oh, well, no harm had been done. But she
mustn't stay here, that was certain. She wouldn't say so, or hurt
their feelings, for she wanted to be on the best of terms with
them always, but she would stop flirting with Uncle Martin and
just turn him back into a dear good friend. She hoped she was
clever enough to do that much. And the dark-brown curls received
a brushing that left no doubt of the vigor of her decisions.
She insisted that she go to Fallon that morning.
"I've been here eight whole days, Uncle Martin," she announced
firmly, "eight whole days and haven't tried to get a thing. It's
terrible, isn't it, Aunt Rose, how lazy I am. I'm going to have
Bill take me in right straight after breakfast."
"If you're so set on it, I'll see about your position this
afternoon," conceded Martin reluctantly. "We'll drive in in the
"Oh, Uncle Martin," she coaxed innocently, "let me try my luck
alone first. Bill can tell me who the different men are and if I
know he's waiting for me outside in the buggy, it will keep me
from being scared." And her young cousin, only too pleased with
the proposed arrangement, chimed in with: "That's the stuff,
Rose. Folks have got to go it on their own, to get anywhere."
By evening she had a position in an insurance agent's office with
wages upon which she could live with fair decency. As it had
rained all day and her employer wanted her to begin the next
morning, she had the best possible excuse for renting a room in
Fallon and asking Bill to ride in horseback with some things
which she would ask Aunt Rose, over the telephone, to pack. It
rained all the next day, too, and Sunday, when she met Mrs. Wade
and Bill at church, she told them she had some extra typing she
had promised to do by Monday. "No, auntie" this week it is really
and truly just impossible, but next week--honest and true!" she
insisted as the older woman seconded rather impersonally her
son's urgent invitation to chicken and noodles.
Soon winter was upon them in good earnest, and Rose's visits
"home," as she always called it, were naturally infrequent. By
Christmas time, she was receiving attentions from Frank Mall,
Nellie's second son, a young farmer of twenty-five.
To Mrs. Wade's everlasting credit, she never twitted Martin with
this, although she knew it from Rose's own lips, a month before
he heard of it through Bill. She was too grateful for their
narrow escape to feel vindictive and might have convinced herself
they had merely endured a bad nightmare if it had not been for
the shiny Victrola; the sight of it underscored the whole
experience and she wished there were some way to get rid of the
thing, a wish that was echoed even more fervently by Martin. In
the evenings they would sit around the cleared supper table, she
doing odd jobs of mending, Martin reading, checking up the
interest dates on his mortgages or making entries in his account
book, while Bill at his books, would study to the accompaniment
of record after record, blissfully unconscious of what a thorn in
the flesh he and his music were to both his parents.
It was all so unpleasant. To Mrs. Wade it brought up pictures.
And it made Martin feel sheepish--the way he had felt that
afternoon, decades ago, as he sat in the bakery eating a
chocolate ice-cream soda and watching her walk across the Square.
He would have told Bill to quit playing it--more than once the
sharp words were on his tongue--but memories of the enthusiasm he
had evinced the night he brought it home kept him silent. He was
afraid of what the boy might say, afraid he might put two and two
together, so he let it stay, although with his usual caution he
had arranged for a trial and would have felt justified in packing
it back as soon as the roads had permitted. Illogically, he felt
it was all Bill's fault that he must endure this annoyance.
That fall, the boy started to high school in Fallon, making the
long daily ride to and from town on horseback. He was a good
pupil and the hours he spent with his lessons were precious; they
made the farm drift away. To his mind, which was opening like a
bud, it seemed that history was the recorded romance of men who
were everything but farmers. School books told fascinating
stories of conquerors, soldiers, inventors, writers, engineers,
kings, statesmen and orators. He would sit and dream of the doers
of great deeds. When he read of Alexander the Great, Bill was he.
He was Caesar and Napoleon, Washington and Lincoln, Grant and
Edison and Shakespeare. When railroads were built in the pages of
his American History, it was Bill, himself, no less, who was the
presiding genius. His imagination constructed and levelled, and
rebuilt and remade.
One beautiful November afternoon, in his Junior year, at the
sound of the last bell, which usually found him cantering out of
town, he went instead to the school reading-room, and, sitting
down calmly, opened his book and slowly read. The clock ticked
off the seconds he was stealing from his father; counted the
minutes that had never belonged to Bill before, but which now
tasted like old wine on the palate. He cuddled down, lost to the
world until five o'clock, when the building was closed. He left
it only to march down a few blocks to the town's meager library,
where another hour flew past. Gradually an empty feeling in his
middle region became increasingly insistent, and briefly
exploring his pockets, Bill decided upon a restaurant where he
bought a stew and rolls for fifteen cents. Never had a supper
tasted so satisfying. After it, he strolled around the town,
feeling a pleasant warmth in his veins, a springiness to his
legs, a new song in his heart. It was so good to be free to go
where he pleased, to be his own master, if only for a stolen
hour, to keep out of sight of a cow or a plow. He wondered why he
had never done this before.
It was youth daring Fate, without show or bravado or fear;
rolling the honey under his tongue and drawing in its sweetness;
youth, that lives for the moment, that can be blind to the
threatening future, that can forget the mean past; youth slipping
along with some chewing-gum between his teeth and a warm
sensation in his stew-crammed stomach, whistling, dreaming,
happy; youth, that can, without premeditation, remain away from
home and leave udders untapped and pigs unfed; sublime enigma;
angering bit of irresponsibility to the Martins of a fiercely
practical world. Bill was that rare kind of boy who could pull
away from the traces just when he seemed most thoroughly broken
to the harness.
It was ten o'clock before he got his pony out of the livery barn
and started for home. Even on the way, he refused to imagine what
would happen. He entered the house quietly, as though to tell his
father that it was his next move, and setting his bundle of books
on a chair, he glanced at his mother. She was at the stove, where
an armful of kindling had been set off to take the chill out of
the house. She looked at him mysteriously, as though he were a
ghost of some lost one who had strayed in from a graveyard, but
she said nothing. Bill did not even nod to her. He fumbled with
his books, as though to keep them from slipping to the floor
when, quite obviously, they were not even inclined to leave the
chair. Rose let her eyes fall and then slide, under half-closed
lids, until they had Martin in her view. She looked at him
appealingly, but he was staring at a paper which he was not
reading. He had been in this chair for two hours, without a word,
pretending to be studying printed words which his mind refused to
register. Martin had done Bill's share of the chores, with
unbelief in his heart. He had never imagined such a thing. Who
would have thought it could happen--a son of his!
His wife broke the silence with:
"What happened, Billy? Were you sick?"
"No, mother, I wasn't sick."
Martin was still looking at his paper, which his fists gripped
"Then you just couldn't get home sooner, could you? Something you
couldn't help kept you away, didn't it?"
Bill shook his head slowly. "No," he answered easily. "I could
have come home much sooner."
"Billy, dear, what DID happen?" She was beginning to feel
panicky; he was courting distress.
"Nothing, mother. I just felt like staying in the reading-room
"Oh, you HAD to do some lessons, didn't you! Miss Roberts should
have known better--"
"I didn't have to stay in--I wanted to."
Martin still kept silent, his eyes looking over the newspaper
wide open, staring, the muscles of his jaw relaxed. The boy was
quick to sense that he was winning--the simple, non-resistance of
the lamb was confounding his father.
"I wanted to stay. I read a book, and then I took a walk, and
then I dropped in at the restaurant for a bite, and then I walked
around some more, and then I went to a movie."
"Billy, what are you saying?"
Martin, slowly putting down his paper, remarked without stressing
"You had better go to bed, Bill; at once, without arguing."
Bill moved towards the parlor, as though to obey. At the door he
stopped a moment and said: "I wasn't arguing; I was just
answering mother. She wanted to know."
"She does not want to know."
"Then I wanted her to know that I don't intend to work after
school any more. I'll do my chores in the morning, but that's
all. From now on nobody can MAKE me do anything."
"I am not asking you to do anything but go to bed."
"I don't intend to come home tomorrow afternoon until I'm ready.
Or any afternoon. And if you don't like it--"
"Billy!" his mother cried; "Billy! go to bed!"
The boy obeyed.
Bill was fifteen when this took place. The impossible had
happened. He had challenged the master and had won. Even after he
had turned in, his father remained silent, feeling a secret
respect for him; mysteriously he had grown suddenly to manhood.
Martin was too mental to let anger express itself in violence
and, besides, strangely enough, he felt no desire to punish;
there was still the dislike he had always felt for him--his son
who was the son of this woman, but though he would never have
confessed aloud the satisfaction it gave him, he began to see
there was in the boy more than a little of himself.
"Poor Billy," his mother apologized; "he's tired."
"He didn't say he was tired--"
"Then he did say he was tired of working evenings."
"Yes, it's different, Martin; but can you make him work?"
"No, I don't intend to try. He isn't my slave."
With overwhelming pride in her eyes, pride that shook her voice,
she exclaimed: "Not anybody's slave, and not afraid to declare
it. Billy is a different kind of a boy. He doesn't like the
farm--he hates it--"
"He loathes everything about it. Only the other day he told me he
wished he could take it and tear it board from board, and leave
it just a piece of bleak prairie, as it was when your father
brought you here, Martin."
"You actually mean he said he would tear down what took so many
years of work to build? This farm that gives him a home and
clothes and feeds him?"
"He did, Martin. And he meant it--there was hatred burning in his
eyes. There's that in his heart which can tear and rend; and
there's that which can build. Oh, my unhappy Billy, my boy!"
"Don't get hysterical. What do you want me to do? Have I said he
"No, but you have tried to rub it into his soul and it just can't
be done. You're not to be blamed for being what you are, nor is
Billy--I'll milk his cows."
"I'm not asking that."
"But I will, Martin."
"And let him stand by and watch you?"
"Put it that way if you will. Billy must get away from here. I
see that now."
"I haven't suggested it."
"But I do. I want him to be happy. We'll let him board in Fallon
the rest of the year. The butter and egg money will be enough to
carry him through. It won't cost much. If we don't send him,
he'll run away. I know him. He's my boy, and your son, Martin. I
won't see him suffer in a strange world, learning his lessons
from bitter experiences. I want him to be taken care of."
"Very well, have it as you say. I'm not putting anything in the
way. I thought this was his home, but I see it isn't. It isn't a
prison. He can go, and good luck go with him." And after a long
silence: "He would tear down this farm--the best in the county!
Tear it down--board from board!"
MARTIN'S SON SHAKES OFF THE DUST
THE very next day, Mrs. Wade rented a room for Bill in the same
home in which Rose boarded, and for the rest of the winter she
and Martin went on as before--working as hard as ever and making
money even faster, while peace settled over their household, a
peace so profound that, in her more intuitive moments, Bill's
mother felt in it an ominous quality.
The storm broke with the summer vacation and the boy's
point-blank refusal to return to farm work. His father laid down
an ultimatum: until he came home he should not have a cent even
from his mother, and home he should not come, at all, until he
was willing to carry his share of the farm work willingly, and
without further argument. "You see," he pointed out to his wife,
"that's the thanks I get for managing along without him this
winter. The ungrateful young rascal! If he doesn't come to his
"Oh, Martin, don't do anything rash," implored Mrs. Wade. "Nearly
all boys go through this period. Just be patient with him."
But even she was shaken when his Aunt Nellie, over ostensibly for
an afternoon of sociable carpet-rag sewing, began abruptly: "Do
you know what Bill is doing, Rose?"
"Working in the mines," returned his mother easily. "Isn't it
strange, Nellie, that he should be digging coal right under this