Part 3 out of 3
farm, the very coal that gave Martin his start?"
"Well, I'm not going to beat about the bush," continued her
sister-in-law abruptly. "He's working in the mines all right, but
he isn't digging coal at all, though that would be bad enough. I
wouldn't say a word about it, but I think you ought to know the
truth and put a stop to such a risky business--he's firing
Rose's heart jumped, but she continued to wind up her large ball
with the same uninterrupted motion.
"Are you sure?"
"I made Frank find out for certain. It's an extra dangerous mine
because gas forms in it unusually often, and he gets fifteen
dollars a day for the one hour he works. There's a contract, but
he's told them he's twenty-one, and when you prove he's under age
they'll make him stop."
Rose still wound and wound, her clear eyes, looking over her
glasses, fixed on Nellie.
"It's bad enough, I'll say," rapped out the spare, angular woman,
"to have everybody talking about the way Martin has ditched his
son, without having the boy scattered to bits, or burned to a
cinder. Already he's been blown twenty feet by one windy shot,
and more than once he's had to lie flat while those horrible
gases burned themselves out right over his head. His 'buddie,'
the Italian who fires in the other part of the mine at the same
time, told Harry Brown, the nightman, and he told Frank, himself.
Why, they say if he'd have moved the least bit it would have
fanned the fire downward and he'd have been in a fine mess.
Sooner or later all shot-firers meet a tragic end. You want to
put your foot down, Rose, and put it down hard--for once in your
life --if you can," she added, half under her breath.
"It isn't altogether Martin's fault," began Rose, but Nellie cut
her off with a short: "Now, don't you tell me a word about that
precious brother of mine! It's as plain to me as the nose on your
face that between his bull-headed hardness and your wishy-washy
softness you're fixing to ruin one of the best boys God ever put
on this earth."
"I'll talk to Billy," Rose promised.
It was the first time she ever had found herself definitely in
opposition to her boy, but she felt serene in the confidence of
her own power to dissuade him from anything so perilous. She
understood the general routine of mining, and had been daily
picturing him going down in the cage to the bottom, travelling
through a long entry until he was under his home farm and located
in one of the low, three-foot rooms where a Kansas miner must
stoop all day. Oh, how it had hurt--that thought of those fine
young shoulders bending, bending! She had visualized him filling
his car, and mentally had followed his coal as it was carried up
to the surface to be dumped into the hopper, weighed and dropped
down the chute into the flat cars. Of course, there was always
the danger of a loosened rock falling on him, but wasn't there
always the possibility of accidents on a farm, too? Didn't the
company's man always go down, first, into the mine to test the
air and make certain it was all right? Rose had convinced herself
that the risk was not so great, after all, though she could not
help sharing a little of her husband's wonder that the boy could
prefer to work underground instead of in the sweet, fresh
sunshine. But she had thought it was because in the desperation
of his complete revolt from Martin's domination anything else
seemed to him preferable. Now, in a lightning flash, she
understood. This reaction from a life whose duties had begun
before sun-up and ended long after sundown, made danger seem as
nothing in comparison with the marvellous chance to earn a
comfortable living with only one hour's work a day.
Her conversation with Bill proved that she had been only too
right. The boy was intoxicated with his own liberty. "I know I
ought to have told you, mother," he confessed. "I wanted to.
Honest, I did, but I was afraid you'd worry, though you needn't.
The man who taught me how to fire has been doing it over twenty
years. A lot of it's up to a fellow, himself. You can pretty near
tell if the air is all right by the way it blows--the less the
better it is. And if you're right careful to see that the
tool-boxes the boys leave are all locked--so's no powder can
catch, you know--and always start lighting against the air, so
that if there's gas and it catches the fire'll blow away from you
instead of following you up--and if you examine the fuses to see
they're long enough and the powder is tamped in just right--each
miner does that before he leaves and lots of firers just give 'em
a hasty once-over instead of a real look--and then shake your
heels good and fast after you do fire--"
"Billy!" Rose was white. "I can't bear it--to hear you go on so
lightly, when it's your life, your LIFE, you're playing with. For
my sake, son, give it up."
With an odd sinking of the heart, she observed the expression in
his face which she had seen so often in his father's--the one
that said as plainly as words that nothing could shake his
determination. "A fellow's got a right to some good times in this
world," he said very low, "and I'm getting mine now. I'm not
going to grind away and grind away all my life like father and
you've done. If anything did happen I'd have had a chance to
dream and think and read instead of getting to be old without
ever having any fun out of it all. Maybe you won't believe it,
but some days for hours I just lie in the sun like a darky boy,
not even thinking. Gee! it feels great! And sometimes I read all
day until I have to go to the mine. There's one thing I'm going
to tell you square," he went on, a firm ring in his voice, boyish
for all its deep, bass note, "I'm never going back to the farm,
never! Mother," he cried, suddenly, coming over to take her hand
in both his. "Will you leave father? We could rent a little house
and you'd have hardly anything to do. I'm making more than lots
of men with families. And I'd give you my envelope without
opening it every pay-day." "Oh, Billy, you don't know what you're
saying! I couldn't leave your father. I couldn't think of it."
"What I don't see is how you can stand it to stay with him. He's
always been a brute to you. He's never cared a red cent for
either of us."
Rose was abashed before the harsh logic of youth. "Oh, son," she
murmured brokenly, "there are things one can't explain. I suppose
it may seem strange to you--but his life has been so empty. He
has missed so much! Everything, Billy."
"Then it's his own fault," judged the boy. "If ever anybody's
always had his own way and done just as he darn pleased it's
father. I wish he'd die, that's what I wish."
"Bill!" His mother's tone was stern.
"There you are!" he marvelled. "You must have wished it lots of
times yourself. I know you have. Yet you always talk as if you
In Rose's eyes, the habitual look of patience and understanding
deepened. How could Bill, as yet scarcely tried by life,
comprehend the purging flames through which she had passed or
realize time's power to reveal unsuspected truths.
"When you've been married to a man nearly twenty-two years and
have built up a place together, there's bound to be a bond
between you," she eluded. "He just lives for this farm. It's
almost as dear to him as you are to me, son, and it's a wonderful
heritage, Bill, a magnificent heritage. Just think! Two
generations have labored to build it out of the dust. Your
father's whole life is in it. Your father's and mine. And your
grandmother's. If only you could ever come to care for it!"
Bill fidgeted uneasily. "You mean you want me to go on with it?"
he demanded. "You want me to come back to it, settle down to be a
The tone in which he asked this question made Rose choose her
"What are your plans, son? What do you want to be--not just now,
"I can't see what difference it makes what a fellow is--except
that in one business a man makes more than in another. And I
can't see either that it does a person a bit of good to have
money. I'm having more fun right now than father or you ever
had--more fun than anybody I know. Mother," and his face was
solemn as if with a great discovery, "I've figured it out that
it's silly to do as most people--just live to work. I'm going to
work just enough to live comfortably. Not one scrap more, either.
You can't think how I hate the very thought of it."
Rose sighed. Couldn't she, indeed! She understood only too well
how deeply this rebellion was rooted. The hours when he had been
dragged up from the far shores of a dreamful slumber to shiver
forth in the chill darkness to milk and chore, still rankled.
Those tangy frosty afternoons, when he had been forced to clean
barns and plow while the other boys went rabbit and possum
hunting or nutting, were afternoons whose loss he still mourned.
Nothing had yet atoned for the evenings when he had been torn
from his reading and sent sternly to bed because he must get up
so early. Always work had stolen from him these
treasures--dreams, recreation and knowledge. He had been obliged
to fight the farm and his father for even a modicum of them--the
things that made life worth living. And the irony of it--that
eventually it would be this farm and Martin's driving methods
which, if he became reconciled to his father, would make it
possible for him to drink all the fullness of leisure.
It was too tragic that the very thing which should have stood for
opportunity to the boy had been used to embitter him and drive
him into danger. But he must not lose his birthright. An almost
passionate desire welled in Rose's heart to hold on to it for
him. True, she too had been a slave to the farm. Yet not so much
a slave to it, she distinguished, as to Martin's absorption in
its development. And of late years there had been for her,
running through all the humdrum days, a satisfaction in
perfecting it. In her mind now floated clearly the ideal toward
which her husband was striving. She had not guessed how much it
had become her own until she felt herself being drawn
relentlessly by Bill's quiet, but implacable determination to
have her leave it all behind. If only he would try again, she
felt sure all would be so different! His father had learned a
lesson, of that she was positive, and though he would not promise
it, would not be so hard on the boy. And with this new
independence of Bill's to strengthen her, they could resist
Martin more successfully as different issues came up. She could
manage to help her boy get what he wanted out of life without his
having to pay such a terrible price as, the mine on one hand, and
his father's displeasure on the other, might exact, for she knew
that if he persisted too long, the break with Martin could never
be bridged and that in the end his father would evoke the full
powers of the law to disinherit him and tie her own hands as
completely as possible in that direction.
But she was far too wise to press such arguments in her son's
present mood. They would have to drift for a while, she saw that
clearly, until she could gradually impress upon him how different
farming would be if he were his own master. In time, he might
even come to understand how much Martin needed her.
"Say you will," Bill, pleading, insistent, broke in on her train
of reflections, "I've always dreamed of this day, when we'd go
away, and now it's come. I can take care of you."
As he stood there, a glorious figure in his youthful
self-confidence, a turn of his head reminded her a second time of
Martin, recalling sharply the way her husband had looked the
night he told her of his love for the other Rose. He had been
bothered by no fine qualms about abandoning herself. She thought
of his final surrender of love to wisdom. It was only youth that
dared pursue happiness--to purchase delicious idleness by
gambling with death. Billy was her boy. His dreams and hopes
should be hers; her way of life, the one that gave him the most
joy. She would follow him, if need be, to the end of the earth.
"Very well, son," she said simply, her voice breaking over the
few words. "If a year from now you still feel like this, I'll do
as you wish."
"You don't know how I hate him," muttered the boy. "It's only
when I'm tramping in the woods, or in the middle of some book I
like that I can forgive him for living. No, mother, I don't mean
all that," he laughed, giving her a bear-like hug.
It was in this more reasonable side, this ability to change his
point of view quickly when he became convinced he was wrong, that
Mrs. Wade now put her faith. She would give him plenty of rope,
she decided, not try to drive him. It would all come right, if
she only waited, and she prayed, nightly, with an increasing
tranquillity, that he might be kept safe from harm, taking deep
comfort in the new light of contentment that was gradually
stealing into his face. After all, each one had to work out his
destiny in his own way, she supposed.
It was less than a month later that her telephone rang, and Rose,
calmly laying aside her sewing and getting up rather stiffly
because of her rheumatism, answered, thinking it probably a call
from Martin, who had left earlier in the evening, to wind up a
little matter of a chattel on some growing wheat. It had just
begun to rain and she feared he might be stuck in the road
somewhere, calling to tell her to come for him. But it was not
Martin's voice that answered.
"Why"--there was a forbidding break that made her shudder. A
second later she convinced herself that it seemed a natural
halt--people do such things without any apparent cause; but she
could not help shaking a little.
"Is it about Mr. Wade?" and as she asked this question she
wondered why she had spoken her husband's name when it was Bill's
that really had rushed through her mind.
"No, ma'am, it ain't about Martin Wade I'm callin' you up, it
ain't him at all--"
"I see." She said this calmly and quietly, as though to impress
her informant and reassure him. "What is it?" It was almost
unnecessary to ask, for she knew already what had happened, knew
that the boy had flung his dice and lost.
"It's your son, Mrs. Wade; it's him I'm a-callin' about. We're
about to bring him home to you--an'--and I thought it'd be better
to call you up first so's you might expect us an' not take on
with the suddenness of it all. This is Brown--Harry Brown--the
nightman at the mine down here. We've got the ambulance here and
we're about ready to start." There was an evenness about the
strange voice that she understood better than its words. If Bill
had been hurt the man would have been quick and jerky in his
speaking as though he were feeling the boy's pain with him; but
he was so even about it all--as even as Death.
"Then I'll phone for Dr. Bradley so he'll be here by the time you
come," said Rose, wondering how she could think of so practical a
thing. Her mind had wrapped itself in a protecting armor,
forbidding the shock of it all to strike with a single blow. She
couldn't understand why she was not screaming.
"You can--if you want to, but Bill don't need him, Mrs.
Slowly she hung up the receiver, the wall still around her brain,
holding it tight and keeping her nerves taut, afraid to release
them for fear they might snap. She stood there looking at the
receiver as her hands came together.
As though she were talking to a person instead of the telephone
before her, she gasped: "So--so THIS is what it has all been
for--this. Into the world, into Martin's world--and this way out
of it. Burned to death--Billy."
The rain had lessened a little and now the wind began to shake
the house, rattle the windows and scream as it tore its way over
the plains. The sky flared white and the world lighted up
suddenly, as though the sun had been turned on from an electric
switch. At the same instant she saw a bolt of lightning strike a
young tree by the roadside, heard the sharp click as it hit and
then watched the flash dance about, now on the road, now along
the barbed wire fencing. Then the world went black again. And a
rumble quickly grew to an earth-shaking blast of thunder. It was
as though that tree were Billy --struck by a gush of flying fire.
The next bolt broke above the house, and the light it threw
showed her the stripling split and lying on the ground. In the
impenetrable darkness she realized that the house fuse of their
Delco system must have been blown out, and she groped blindly for
a match. She could hear the rain coming down again, now in
rivers. There was unchained wrath in the downpour, viciousness.
It was a madman rushing in to rend and tear. It frothed, and
writhed, and spat hatred. Rose shook as though gripped by a
strong hand. She was afraid--of the rain, the lightning, the
thunder, the darkness; alone there, waiting for them to bring her
Billy. She was too terrified to add her weeping to the wail of
the wind--it would have been too ghastly. Would she never find a
match! As she lit the lamp, like the stab of a needle in the
midst of agony, came the thought of how long it had been after
Martin had put in his electrical system and connected up his
barns before she had been permitted to have this convenience in
the house. What would he think now? She wished he were home.
Anyone would be better than this awful waiting alone. She could
only stand there, away from the window, looking out at the sheets
of water running down the panes and shivering with the
frightfulness and savageness of it all.
Her ears caught a rumble, fainter than thunder, and the splash of
horses' hoofs--"it's too muddy for the motor ambulance," she
thought, mechanically. "They're using the old one," and her heart
contracting, twisting, a queer dryness in her throat, she opened
the door as they stopped, her hand shading the lamp against the
sudden inrush of wind and rain. "In there, through the parlor,"
she said dully, indicating the new room and thinking, bitterly,
as she followed them, that now, when it could mean nothing to
Billy, Martin would offer no objections to its being given over
The scuffling of feet, the low, matter-of-fact orders of a
directing voice: "Easy now, boys--all together, lift. Watch out;
pull that sheet back up over him," and a brawny, work-stooped man
saying to her awkwardly: "I wouldn't look at him if I was you,
Mrs. Wade, till the undertaker fixes him up," and she was once
As if transfixed, she continued to stand, looking beyond the
lamp, beyond the bed on which her son's large figure was outlined
by the sheet, beyond the front door which faced her, beyond--into
the night, looking for Martin, waiting for him to come home to
his boy. She asked herself again and again how she had been so
restrained when her Billy had been carried in. After what seemed
interminable ages, she heard heavy steps on the back porch and
knew that her husband had returned at last. He brought in with
him a gust of wind that caused the lamp to smoke. She held it
with both hands, afraid that she might drop it, and carrying it
to the dining-room table set it down slowly, looking at him. He
seemed huger than ever with his hulk sinking into the gray
darkness behind him. There was something elephantine about him as
he stood there, soaked to the skin, bending forward a little,
breathing slowly and deeply, his fine nostrils distending with
perfect regularity, his face in the dim light, yellow, with the
large lines almost black. He was hatless and his tawny-gray hair
was flat with wetness, coming down almost to his eyes, so clear
"What's the matter with the lights? Fuse blown out?" he asked,
spitting imaginary rain out of his mouth.
Rose did not answer.
"Awful night for visiting," Martin announced roughly, as he took
off his coat. "But it was lucky I went, or all would have been
pretty bad for me. Do you know, that rascal was delivering the
wheat to the elevator--wheat on which I held a chattel--and I got
to Tom Mayer just as he was figuring up the weights. You should
have seen Johnson's face when I came in. He knew I had him
cornered. 'Here,' I said, 'what's up?' And that lying rascal
turned as white as death and said something about getting ready
to bring me a check. I told him I was much obliged, but I would
take it along with me --and I did. Here it is--fourteen hundred
dollars, plus interest. And I got it by the skin of my teeth. I
didn't stop to argue with him for I saw the storm coming on. I
went racing, but a half mile north I skidded into the ditch. I
really feel like leaving the car there all night, but it would do
a lot of damage. I'll have to get a team and drag it in. I call
it a good day's work. What do you say?" He looked at her closely,
for the first time noticing her drawn face and far-away look.
"What's the matter? You look goopy--"
Rose settled herself heavily in the rocker close to the table.
"You're not sick, are you?"
She shook her head a few times and answered: "He's in there--"
"Who?" Martin straightened up ready for anything.
"Oh!" A light flashed into Martin's face. "So he has come back,
has he? Back home? What made him change toward this place? Is he
here to stay?"
"Then if he hasn't come to his senses, what is he doing
here--here in my house, the home he hates--"
"He doesn't hate it now," Rose replied, struggling for words that
she might express herself and end this cruel conversation, but
all she could do was to point nervously toward the spare room.
"What is he doing in there? It's the one spot that Rose can call
her own, poor child."
"He's on the bed, Martin--"
"What's the matter with the davenport he's always slept on? Is he
sick? What in heaven's name is going on in this house?"
As Martin started toward the bedroom, his wife opened her lips to
tell him the truth but the words refused to come; at the same
instant it struck her that not to speak was brutal, yet just. She
would let Martin go to this bed with words of anger on his lips,
with feelings of unkindness in his heart. She would do this.
Savage? Yes, but why not? There seemed to be something fair about
it. Then her heart-strings pulled more strongly than ever. No; it
was too hard. She must stop him, tell him, prepare him. But
before the words came, he was out of the room and when she spoke
he did not hear her because of the rain.
He saw the vague lines of the boy's body, hidden by the sheet,
and thought quickly, "Bill's old ostrich-like trick," and while
at the same instant something told him that a terrible thing had
happened, the idea did not register completely until he had his
hand on the linen. Then, with a short yank, he pulled away the
cover and saw the boy's head. Dark as it was, it was enough to
show him the truth. With a quick move he covered him again. There
was a smeary wetness on his fingers, which he wiped away on the
side of his trousers. They were drenched with rain, but he
distinguished the sticky feel of blood leaving his hand as he
rubbed it nervously.
His first emotion was one of anger with Rose. He was sure she had
played this sinister jest deliberately to torture him and he had
fallen into the trap. He wanted to rush back into the other room
and strike her down. He would show her! But he dismissed this
impulse, for he did not want her to see him like this, no hold on
himself and his mind without direction. Sitting there, she would
have the advantage. Without so much as a sound except for the
slight noise he made in walking, Martin went through the parlor
towards the front door and out to the steps, where he leaned for
a moment against the weather-boarding, letting the rain fall on
him as he stared dully down at the ground. It felt good to stand
there. No eyes were on him, and the rain was refreshing. This had
been too much for him. Never had he known himself to be so near
to bewilderment. How fortunate that he had escaped by this simple
trick of leaving the house. Then he thought of the car--a
half-mile north--and the horses in the stable. He must do
something. He would bring the car into the garage. It was
relieving to hurry across the dripping grass toward the barn. How
wonderful it was to keep the body doing something when the breath
in him was short, his heart battering like an engine with
burned-out bearings, his brain in insane chaos. As he applied a
match to the lantern he thought of his wife again, and his face
regained its scowl.
Only when he had his great heavy team in the yard, his lantern
hanging from his arm, the reins in his hands, and was pulling
back with all his strength as he followed the horses--only then
did he permit himself to think about the tragedy that had
"He's dead--killed," he groaned. "It had to come. Shot-firers
don't last long. Whoa, there, Lottie; not so fast, Jet, whoa!"
His protesting team in control again, he trudged heavily behind.
"It's terrible to die that way--not a chance in a thousand. And a
kid of sixteen didn't have the judgment --couldn't have. But Bill
knew what he was facing every evening. He didn't go in blindly.
They'll blame me, as though it was my fault. I didn't want him to
go there. I wanted him to take a hand here, to run the place by
himself in good time. It was his mother who sent him away first."
He went on like that, justifying himself more positively as
excuse after excuse suggested itself.
Not until he had convinced himself that he was in no way
responsible, did he allow his heart to beat a little for this boy
of his. "Poor Bill," he thought on, "it has been a tough game for
him. Lost in the shuffle. Born into something he didn't like and
trying to escape, only to get caught. What did he expect out of
life, anyway? Why didn't he learn that it's only a lot of
senseless pain? Every moment of it pain--from coming into the
world to going out. Oh, Bill, why didn't you learn what I know?
You had brains, boy, but it would have been better if you had
never used them. I've brains, too, but I've always managed to
keep them tied down--buckled to the farm, to investments, and
work--thinking about things that make us forget life. It's all
dust and dust, with rain once in a while, only the rain steams
off and it's dust again."
Martin began to review the course of his own past, and smiled
bitterly. Others were able to live the same kind of an existence,
but, unlike himself, took it as a preparation for another day,
another existence which, it seemed to him, was measured and cut
to order by professionals who understood how to fix up the
meaning of life so that it would soothe and satisfy. He thought
how much better it was to be a dumb, unquestioning beast, or a
human being conscious of his soul, than to be as he was--alone, a
materialist, who saw the meaninglessness of matter and whose
mind, in some manner which he did not understand, had developed a
slant that made him doubt what others accepted so easily as
facts. Martin knew he was bound to things of substance but he
followed the lure of property and accumulation as he might have
followed some other game had he learned it, knowing all along
that it was a delusion and at the same time acknowledging that
for him there was nothing else as sufficing.
How simple, if Bill's future could be a settled thing in his mind
as it was to the boy's mother. Or his own future! If only he
could believe--then how different it would be for him. He could
go on placidly and die with a smile. But he could not believe.
His atheism was both mental and instinctive. It was something he
could not understand, and which he knew he could never change,
try as he might. Take this very evening. Here was death in his
home. And he was escaping a lot of anguish, not by praying for
Bill's soul or his own forgiveness, but by the simple process of
harnessing a team and dragging a car through the mud. It was a
great game, work was--the one weapon with which to meet life.
This was not a cut and dried philosophy with him, but a glimmer
that, though always suggesting itself but dimly, never failed
when put to the test. Martin felt better. He began to probe a
little farther, albeit with an aimlessness about his questions
that almost frightened him. He asked himself whether he loved
Bill, now that he was dead, and he had to admit that he did not.
The boy had always been something other than he had expected --a
disappointment. Did he love anyone? No. Not a person; not even
any longer that lovely Rose of Sharon who had flowered in his
dust for a brief hour. His wife? God Almighty, no. Then who?
Himself? No, his very selfishness had other springs than that. He
was one of those men, not so uncommon either, he surmised, who
loved no one on the whole wide earth.
When he re-entered the house, he found his wife still seated in
the rocker, softly weeping, the tears flowing down her cheeks and
dropping unheeded into her lap. He pitied her.
"I feel as though he didn't die tonight," she mourned, looking at
Martin through full eyes. "He died when he was born, like the
"I know how you feel," said Martin, sympathy in his voice.
"I made him so many promises before he came, but I wasn't able to
keep a single one of them."
"I'm sorry; I wish I could help you in some way."
"Oh, Martin, I know you're not a praying man--but if you could
Martin looked at her respectfully but with profound curiosity.
"There must be an answer to all this," Rose went on brokenly.
"There must! Billy is lying in the arms of Jesus now--no pain,
only sweet rest. I believe that."
"I'm glad you have the faith that can put such meaning into it
"Martin, I want to pray for strength to bear it."
"You'll pray with me, won't you?"
"You just said I wasn't a praying man."
"Yes, but I can't pray alone, with him in there alone, too, and
you here with me, scoffing."
"I can't be other than I am, Rose; but you pray, and as you pray
I'll bow my head."
INTO THE DUST-BIN
WITH the loss of her boy, time ceased to exist for Rose. The days
came and went, lengthening into years, full of duties, leaving
her as they found her, outwardly little changed and habitually
calm and kind, but inwardly sunk in apathy. She moved as if in a
dream, seeming to live in a strange world that would never again
seem real--this world without Billy. Occasionally, she would
forget and think he was out in the field or down in the mine;
more rarely still, she would slip even further backward and
wonder what he was about in his play. During these moments she
would feel normal, but some object catching her eye would jerk
her back to the present and the cruel truth. She and Martin had
less than ever to say to each other, though in his own grim way
he was more thoughtful, giving her to understand that there were
no longer any restrictions laid upon her purchasing, and even
suggesting that they remodel the house; as if, she thought
impassively, at this late day, it could matter what she bought or
in what she lived. His one interest in making money, just as if
they had some one to leave it to, puzzled her. Always investing,
then reinvesting the interest, and spending comparatively little
of his income, his fortune had now reached the point where it was
growing rapidly of its own momentum and, as there was nothing to
which he looked forward, nothing he particularly wanted to do, he
set himself the task of making it cross the half million mark,
much as a man plays solitaire, to occupy his mind, betting
against himself, to give point to his efforts.
Yet, it gave him a most disconcerting, uncanny start, when one
bright winter day, he faced the fact that he, too, was about to
be shovelled into the great dust-bin. Death was actually at his
side, his long, bony finger on his shoulder and whispering
impersonally, "You're next." "Very much," thought Martin, "like a
barber on a busy Saturday." How odd that here was something that
had never entered into his schemes, his carefully worked out
plans! It seemed so unfair--why, he had been feeling so well, his
business had been going on so profitably, there was something so
substantial to the jog of his life, there seemed to be something
of the eternal about it. He had taken ten-year mortgages but a
few days ago, and had bought two thousand dollars' worth of
twenty-year Oklahoma municipals when he could have taken an
earlier issue which he had rejected as maturing too soon. He had
forgotten that there was a stranger who comes but once, and now
that he was here, Martin felt that a mean trick had been played
on him. He cogitated on the journey he was to take, and it made
him not afraid, but angry. It was a shabby deal--that's what it
was--when he was so healthy and contented, only sixty-one and
ready to go on for decades--two or three at least--forced,
instead, to prepare to lay himself in a padded box and be
hurriedly packed away. It had always seemed so vague, this
business of dying, and now it was so personal--he, Martin Wade,
himself, not somebody else, would suffer a little while longer
and then grow still forever.
He would never know how sure a breeder was his new bull--the son
of that fine creature he had imported; two cows he had spotted as
not paying their board could go on for months eating good alfalfa
and bran before a new herdsman might become convinced of their
unreadiness to turn the expensive feed into white gold; he had
not written down the dates when the sows were to farrow, and they
might have litters somewhere around the strawstack and crush half
the little pigs. His one hundred and seventy-five acres of wheat
had had north and south dead furrows, but he had learned that
this was a mistake in probably half the acreage, where they
should be east and west. It would make a great difference in the
drainage, but a new plowman might think this finickiness and just
go ahead and plow all of it north and south, or all of it east
and west and this would result in a lower yield--some parts of
the field would get soggy and the wheat might get a rust, and
other parts drain too readily, letting the ground become parched
and break into cakes, all of which might be prevented. And there
was all that manure, maker of big crops. He knew only too well
how other farmers let it pile up in the barnyard to be robbed by
the sun of probably twenty per cent of its strength. He figured
quickly how it would hurt the crops that he had made traditional
on Wade land. He considered these things, and they worried him,
made him realize what a serious thing was death, far more serious
than the average person let himself believe.
Martin had gone to the barn a week before to help a cow which was
aborting. It had enraged him when he thought what an alarming
thing this was--abortion among HIS cows--in Martin Wade's
beautiful herd! "God Almighty!" he had exclaimed, deciding as he
took the calf from the mother to begin doctoring her at once. He
would fight this disease before it could establish a hold.
Locking the cow's head in an iron stanchion, he had shed his
coat, rolled up his right sleeve almost to the shoulder, washed
his hand and arm in a solution of carbolic and hot water,
carefully examining them to make sure there was no abrasion of
any kind. But despite his caution, a tiny cut so small that it
had escaped his searching, had come in contact with the infected
mucous membrane and blood poisoning had set in. And here he was,
lying in bed, given up by Doctor Bradley and the younger men the
older physician had called into consultation and who had tried in
vain to stem the spread of poison through his system. Martin was
going to die, and no power could save him. The irony of it! This
farm to which he had devoted his life was taking it from him by a
member of its herd.
Martin made a wry little grimace of amusement as he realized
suddenly that even at the very gate of death it was still on
life, his life, that his thoughts dwelt. In these last moments,
it was the tedious, but stimulating, battle of existence that
really occupied his full attention. He would cling to it until
the last snap of the thin string. This cavern of oblivion that
was awaiting him, that he must enter--it was black and now more
than ever his deep, simple irreligion refused to let fairy tales
pacify him with the belief that beyond it was everlasting
daylight. Scepticism was not only in his conscious thought but in
the very tissues of his mind.
He remembered how his own father had died on this farm--he had
had no possessions to think about; only his loved ones, his wife
and his children; but he had brought them here that they might
amass property out of Martin's sweat and the dust of the prairie.
Now he, the son, dying, had in his mind no thought of people, but
of this land and of stock and of things. And how strangely his
mind was reacting to it. His concern was not who should own them
all, but what would actually be the fate of each individual
property child of his. Why, he had not even written a will. It
would all go to his wife, of course, and how little he cared to
whom she left it. He would have liked, perhaps, to have given
Rose Mall twenty-five thousand or so--so she could always be
independent of that young husband of hers--snap her fingers at
him if he got to driving her too hard, and crushing out the
flower-like quality of her--but his wife wouldn't have
understood, and he had hurt her enough, in all conscience. The
one thing he might have enjoyed doing, he couldn't. Outside of
that he didn't care who got it. She could leave it to whomever
she liked when her turn came. Not to whom it went, but what would
happen to it--that was what concerned him.
By his side, Rose, sitting so motionless that he was scarcely
conscious of her presence, was dying with him. With that peculiar
gift of profoundly sympathetic natures she was thinking and
feeling much of what he was experiencing. It seemed to her
heart-breaking that Martin must be forced to abandon the only
things for which he cared. He had even sacrificed his lovely Rose
of Sharon for them--she had never been in any doubt as to the
reason for that sudden emotional retreat of his seven years
before. And she knew his one thought now must be for their
He had worked so hard always and yet had had so little happiness,
so little real brightness out of life. She felt, generously, with
a clutching ache, that with all the disappointments she had
suffered through him--from his first broken promises about the
house to his lack of understanding of their boy which had
resulted in Billy's death--with even that, she had salvaged so
much more out of living than he. A great compassion swelled
within her; all the black moments, all the long, gray hours of
their years together, seemed suddenly insignificant. She saw him
again as he had been the day he had proposed marriage to her and
for the first time she was sure that she could interpret the
puzzling look that had come into his eyes when she had asked him
why he thought she could make him happy. What had he understood
about happiness? With a noiseless sob, she remembered that he had
answered her in terms of the only thing he had understood--work.
And she saw him again, too, as he had been the night he had so
bluntly told her of his passion for Rose. It seemed to her now,
free of all rancor, unutterably tragic that the only person
Martin had loved should have come into his life too late.
He was not to be blamed because he had never been able to care
for herself. He should never have asked her to marry him--and
yet, they had not been such bad partners. It would have been so
easy for her to love him. She had loved him until he had killed
her boy; since then, all her old affection had withered. But if
it really had done so why was she so racked now? She felt,
desperately, that she could not let him go until he had had some
real joy. To think that she used to plan, cold-bloodedly, when
Billy was little, all she would do if only Martin should happen
to die! The memory of it smote her as with a blow. She looked
down at the powerful hand lying so passively, almost, she would
have said, contentedly, in her own. How she had yearned for the
comfort of it when her children were born. She wondered if Martin
realized her touch, if it helped a little. If it had annoyed him,
he would have said so. It came to her oddly that in all the
twenty-seven years she and her husband had been married this was
the very first time he had let her be tender to him. Oh, his life
had been bleak. Bleak! And she with such tenderness in her heart.
It hadn't been right. From the depths of her rebellion and
forgiveness, slow tears rose. Feeling too intensely, too
mentally, to be conscious of them she sat unmoving as they rolled
one by one down her cheeks and dropped unheeded.
"Rose," he called with a soft hoarseness, "I want to talk to
"Yes, Martin," and she gave his fingers a slight squeeze as
though to convince him that she was there at his side. He felt
relieved. It was good to feel her hand and be sure that if his
body were to give its final sign that life had slipped away
someone would be there to know the very second it had happened.
It was a satisfactory way to die; it took a little of the
loneliness away from the experience.
"Rose," he repeated. It sounded so new, the yearning tone in
which he said it--"Rose!" It hurt. "Isn't it funny, Rose, to go
like this--not sick, no accident--just dying without any real
reason except that I absorbed the poison through a cut so small
my eyes couldn't see it."
"It's a mystery, dear," the little word limped out awkwardly,
"but God's ways are not ours."
"Not a mystery," he corrected, "just a heap of tricks; funny
ones, sad ones, sensible ones, and crazy ones--and of all the
crazy ones this is the worst. But, what's the use? If there's a
God, as you believe, it doesn't do any good to argue with Him,
and if it's as I think and there's no God, there's no one to
argue with. But never mind about that now--it's no matter. You'll
listen carefully, won't you, Rose?"
"This abortion in the herd. You know what a terrible thing it
"I certainly do; it's the cause of your leaving me."
"Rose, I know you'll be busy during the next few days--me dying,
the things that have to be arranged, the funeral and all that.
But when it's all over, you'll let that be the first thing, won't
"Yes, the very first thing, if you wish it."
"I do. Get Dr. Hurton on the job at once, and have him fight it.
He knows his business. Let him come twice a day until he's sure
it's out of the herd. Keep that new bull out of the pasture. And
if Hurton can't clean it up, you'd better get rid of the herd
before it gets known around the country. You know how news of
that kind travels. Don't try to handle the sale yourself. If you
do, it'll be a mistake. The prices will be low if you get only a
"Neighbors usually bid low," she agreed.
"Run up to Topeka and see Baker--he's the sales manager of the
Holstein Breeders' Association. Let him take charge of it
all--he's a straight fellow. He'll charge you enough--fifteen per
cent of the gross receipts, but then he'll see to it that the
people who want good stuff will be there. He knows how and where
to advertise. He's got a big list of names, and can send out
letters to the people that count. He'll bring buyers from Iowa
down to Texas. Remember his name--Baker."
"I think you ought to sell the herd anyway," he went on. "I know
you, Rose; you'll be careless about the papers--no woman ever
realizes how important it is to have the facts for the
certificates of registry and transfer just right. I'm afraid
you'll fall down there and get the records mixed. You won't get
the dates exact and the name and number of each dam and sire.
Women are all alike there--they never seem to realize that a
purebred without papers is just a good grade."
Rose made no comment, while Martin changed his position slowly
and lost himself in thought.
"Yes, I guess it's the only thing to do--to get rid of the
purebred stuff. God Almighty! It's taken me long enough to build
up that herd, but a few weeks from now they'll be scattered to
the four winds. Well, it can't be helped. Try to sell them to men
who understand something of their value. And that reminds me,
Rose. You always speak of them as thoroughbreds. It always did
get on my nerves. That's right for horses, but try to remember
that cows are purebreds. You'll make that mistake before men who
know. Those little things are important. Remember it, won't you?"
"Thoroughbred for a horse, and purebred for a cow," Rose repeated
"When you get your money for the stock put it into
mortgages--first mortgages, not seconds. Let that be a principle
with you. Many a holder of a second mortgage has been left to
hold the sack. You must remember that the first mortgage comes in
for the first claim after taxes, and if the foreclosure doesn't
bring enough to satisfy more than that, the second mortgage is
sleeping on its rights."
"First mortgages, not seconds," said Rose.
"And while I'm on that, let me warn you about Alex Tracy, four
miles north and a half mile east, on the west side of the road.
He's a slippery cuss and you'll have to watch him."
"Alex Tracy, four miles north--"
"You'll find my mortgage for thirty-seven hundred in my box at
the bank. He's two coupons behind in his interest. I made him
give me a chattel on his growing corn. Watch him--he's
treacherous. He may think he can sneak around because you're a
woman and stall you. He's just likely to turn his hogs into that
corn. Your chattel is for growing corn, not for corn in a hog's
belly. If he tries any dirty business get the sheriff after him."
"It's on the GROWING corn," said Rose.
"And here's another important point--taxes. Don't pay any taxes
on mortgages. What's the use of giving the politicians more money
to waste? Hold on to your bank stock and arrange to have all
mortgages in the name of the bank, not in your own. They pay
taxes on their capital and surplus, not on their loans. But be
sure to get a written acknowledgment on each mortgage from
Osborne. He's square, but you can't ever tell what changes might
take place and then there might be some question about mortgages
in the bank's name."
"Keep them in the bank's name," said Rose.
"And a written acknowledgment," Martin stressed.
"A written acknowledgment," she echoed.
For probably fifteen minutes he lay without further talk; then, a
little more weariness in his voice than she had ever known
before, he began to speak again.
"I've been thinking a great deal, Rose." There was still that new
tenderness in the manner in which he pronounced her name, that
new tone she had never heard before and which caused her to feel
a little nervous. "I've been thinking, Rose, about the years
we've lived together here on a Kansas prairie farm--"
"It lacks just a few months of being twenty-eight years," she
"Yes, it sounds like a long time when you put it that way, but it
doesn't seem any longer than a short sigh to me lying here. I've
been thinking, Rose, how you've always got it over to me that you
loved me or could love me--"
"I've always loved you, Martin--deeply."
"Yes, that's what's always made me so hard with you. It would
have been far better for you if you hadn't cared for me at all.
I've never loved anybody, not even my own mother, nor Bill, nor
myself for that matter." Their eyes shifted away from each other
quickly as both thought of one other whom he did not mention. "I
wasn't made that way, Rose. Now you could love anything--lots of
women are like that, and men, too. But I wasn't. Life to me has
always been a strange world that I never got over thinking about
and trying to understand, and at the same time hustling to get
through with every day of it as fast as I could by keeping at the
only thing I knew which would make it all more bearable. There's
a lot of pain in work, but it's only of the muscles and my pain
has always been in the things I've thought about. The awful waste
and futility of it all! Take this farm--I came here when this was
hardly more than a desert. You ought to have seen how thick the
dust was the first day we got down here. And I've built up this
place. You've helped me. Bill didn't care for it--even if he had
lived, he'd never have stayed here. But you do, in spite of all
"Yes, Martin, I do," she returned fervently. "It's a wonderful
monument to leave behind you--this farm is."
His eyes grew somber. "That's what I've always thought it would
be," he answered, very low. "I've felt as if I was building
something that would last. Even the barns--they're ready to stand
for generations. But this minute, when the end is sitting at the
foot of this bed, I seem to see it all crumbling before me. You
won't stay here. Why should you --even if you do for a few years
you'll have to leave it sometime, and there's nothing that goes
to rack and ruin as quickly as a farm--even one like this."
"Oh, Martin, don't think such thoughts," she begged. "Your fever
is coming up; I can see it."
"What has it all been about, that's what I want to know," he went
on with quiet cynicism. "What have I been sweating
about--nothing. What is anyone's life? No more than mine. We're
all like a lot of hens in a backyard, scratching so many hours a
day. Some scratch a little deeper than those who aren't so
skilled or so strong. And when I stand off a little, it's all
alike. The end is as blind and senseless as the beginning on this
farm--drought and dust."
Martin closed his eyes wearily and gave a deep sigh. To his
wife's quickened ears, it was charged with lingering regret for
frustrated plans and palpitant with his consciousness of life's
evanescence and of the futility of his own success.
She waited patiently for him to continue his instructions, but
the opiates had begun to take effect and Martin lapsed into
sleep. Although he lived until the next morning, he never again
regained full consciousness.
THE DUST SETTLES
ROSE'S grief was a surprise to herself; there was no blinking the
fact that her life was going to be far more disrupted by Martin's
death than it had been by Bill's. There were other differences.
Where that loss had struck her numb, this quickened every
sensibility, drove her into action; more than that, as she
realized how much less there was to regret in the boy's life than
in his father's, how much more he had got out of his few short
years, the edge of the older, more precious sorrow, dulled.
During quite long periods she would be so absorbed in her
thoughts of Martin that Bill would not enter her mind. Was it
possible, that this husband who with his own lips had confessed
he had never loved her, had been a more integral part of herself
than the son who had adored her? What was this bond that had
roots deeper than love? Was it merely because they had grown so
used to each other that she felt as if half of her had been torn
away and buried, leaving her crippled and helpless? Probably it
would have been different if Bill had been living. Was it because
when he had died, she still had had Martin, demanding, vital, to
goad her on and give the semblance of a point to her life, and
now she was left alone, adrift? She pondered over these
"I suppose you'll want to sell out, Rose," Nellie's husband, Bert
Mall, big and cordial as Peter had been before him, suggested a
day or two after the funeral. "I'll try to get you a buyer, or
would you rather rent?"
"I haven't any plans yet, Bert," Mrs. Wade had evaded adroitly,
"it's all happened so quickly. I have plenty of time and there
are lots of things to be seen to." There had been that in her
voice which had forbidden discussion, and it was a tone to which
she was forced to have recourse more than once during the
following days when it seemed to her that all her friends were in
a conspiracy to persuade her to a hasty, ill-advised upheaval.
Nothing, she resolved, should push her from this farm or into
final decisions until a year had passed. She must have something
to which she could cling if it were nothing more than a familiar
routine. Without that to sustain and support her, she felt she
could never meet the responsibilities which had suddenly
descended, with such a terrific impact, upon her shoulders.
In an inexplicable way, these new burdens, her black dress--the
first silk one since the winter before Billy came--and the
softening folds of her veil, all invested her with a new and
touching majesty that seemed to set her a little apart from her
Nellie had been frankly scandalized at the idea of mourning.
"Nobody does that out here--exceptin' during the services," she
had said sharply to her daughter-in-law when Rose had told her of
the hasty trip she and her aunt had made to the largest town in
the county. "Folks'll think it's funny and kind o' silly. You
oughtn't to have encouraged it."
"Oh, Mother Mall, I didn't especially," the younger woman had
protested. "She just said in that quiet, settled way she has,
that she was going to--she thought it would be easier for her.
And I believe it will, too," she added, feeling how pathetic it
was that Aunt Rose had never looked half so well during Uncle
Martin's life as she had since his death.
"Oh, well," Mall commented, "Rose always was sort of sentimental,
but there's not many like her. She's right to take her time, too.
It'll be six or eight months, anyway, before she can get things
lined up. She's got a longer head than a body'd think for. Look
at the way she run that newspaper office when old Conroy died."
"That was nearly thirty years ago," commented his wife crisply,
"and Rose's got so used to being bossed around by Martin that
she'll find it ain't so easy to go ahead on her own."
With her usual shrewdness, Nellie had surmised the chief
difficulty, but it dwindled in real importance because of the
fact that Rose so frequently had the feeling that Martin merely
had gone on a journey and would come home some day, expecting an
exact accounting of her stewardship. His instructions were to her
living instructions which must be carried out to the letter.
She had attended with conscientious promptness to checking the
trouble that had brought about his death. "I promised Mr. Wade it
should be the first thing," she had explained to Dr. Hurton.
'You'll let it be the first thing, won't you?' Those were his
very words. He depended on us, Doctor."
When the time came to plan definitely for the disposal of the
purebred herd, she went herself to Topeka to arrange details with
Baker. She was constantly thinking: "Now, what would Martin say
to this?" or "Would he approve of that?" And her conclusions were
reached accordingly. The sale itself was an event that was
discussed in Fallon County for years afterwards. The hotel was
crowded with out-of-town buyers. Enthused by the music from two
bands, even the local people bid high, and through it all, Rose,
vigilant, remembered everything Martin would have wanted
remembered. She felt that even he would have been satisfied with
the manner in which the whole transaction was handled, and with
the financial results.
She began to take a new pleasure in everything, the nervous
pleasure one takes when going through an experience for what may
be the last time. The threshing--how often she had toiled and
sweated over those three days of dinners and suppers for
twenty-two men. Now she recalled, with an aching tightness about
her heart, how delicious had been her relaxation, when, the
dinner dishes washed, the table reset and the kitchen in
scrupulous order with the last fly vanquished, she and Nellie had
luxuriated in that exquisite sense of leisure that only women
know who have passed triumphantly through a heavy morning's work
and have everything ready for the evening. Later there had been
the stroll down to the field in the shade of the waning
afternoon, to find out what time the men would be in for supper;
and the sheer delight of breathing in the pungent smell of the
straw as it came flying from the funnel, looking, with the
sinking sun shining through it, like a million bees swarming from
a hive, while the red-brown grain gushed, a lush stream, into the
"It always makes me think of a ship sailing into port, Nellie,"
Rose had once exclaimed, "the crop coming in. It gives me a queer
kind of giddiness, makes me feel like laughing and crying all at
once," to which her sister-in-law had returned with more than her
usual responsiveness: "Yes, it's the most excitin' time of the
year, unless it's Christmas."
More nebulous were the memories of those early mornings when she
had paused in the midst of getting breakfast to sniff in the
clover-laden air and think how wonderful it would be if only she
needn't stay in the hot, stuffy kitchen but could be free to call
Bill and go picnicking or loaf deliciously under one of the big
elms. Most precious of all--the evenings she and her boy had sat
in the yard, with the cool south breeze blowing up from the
pasture, the cows looking on placidly, the frogs fluting
rhythmically in the pond, the birds chirping their good-night
calls, and the dip and swell of the farm land pulling at them
like a haunting tune, almost too lovely to be endured. Oh, there
had been moments all the sweeter and more poignant because they
had been so fleeting.
As she passed successfully through one whole round of planting,
harvesting and garnering of grain, she began to realize her own
ability and to be tempted more and more seriously to remain on
the farm. She understood it, and Martin would have liked her to
run it. If it had not been for the problem of keeping dependable
hired hands and the sight of the mine-tipple, which, towering on
the adjoining farm, reminded her more and more constantly of
Bill, she would not even have considered the offer of Gordon
Hamilton, one of Fallon's leading business men, to buy her whole
"There's a bunch going into this deal, together, Rose," Bert Mall
explained. "They want to run a new branch of their street car
line straight through here and they're going to plat this quarter
into streets and lots. The rest they'll split up into several
farms and rent for the present. It's a speculation, of course,
but the way the mines are moving north and west it's likely
this'll be a thickly settled camp in another two or three years."
"But they only offer seventy-five an acre," Rose expostulated,
"and it's worth more than that as farm land. There's none around
here as fertile as Martin made this--and then, all the
"They'll have to dispose of them second-hand. It's a pity they're
in exactly the wrong spot. Well, of course, I'm not advising you,
Rose," he added, "but forty-five thousand ain't to be sneezed at,
is it, when it comes in a lump and you own only the surface? You
may wait a long while before you get another such bid. Seems to
me you've worked hard enough. I'd think you'd want a rest."
In the end, Mrs. Wade capitulated to what, as Martin had foreseen
so clearly, was sooner or later inevitable. She was a little
stunned by the vast amount of available money now in her
possession and at her disposal. "But it's all dust in my hands,"
she thought sadly. "What do I want of so much? It's going to be a
terrible worry. I don't even know who to leave it to," and she
sighed deeply, pressing her hands, with her old, characteristic
gesture, to her heart. Everybody would approve, she supposed, if
she left it to Rose and Frank--her niece and Martin's nephew--but
she couldn't quite bring herself to welcome that idea--not yet.
And anyway it might be better to divide it among more people, so
that it would bring more happiness.
Her own needs were simple. The modest five-room house which she
purchased was set on a pleasant paved street in Fallon and was
obviously ample for her. She hoped that during part of each year
she could rent the extra bed-room to some one, preferably a boy,
like Bill, who was attending high school. There was a barn for
her horse and the one cow she would keep, a neat little
chicken-house for the twenty-five hens that would more than
supply her with eggs and summer fries, and a small garage for
Martin's car. It would seem very strange, she thought, to have so
few things to care for and she wondered how she would fill her
time, she whose one problem always had been how to achieve
snatches of leisure. She saw herself jogging on and on, gradually
getting to be less able on her feet, a little more helpless,
until she was one of those feeble old ladies who seem at the very
antipodes of the busy mothers they have been in their prime. How
could it be that she who had always been in such demand, so
needed, so driven by real duties, should have become suddenly
such a supernumerary, so footloose, and unattached?
But when it came to that, wasn't Fallon full of others in the
same circumstances? It was not an uncommon lot. There was Mrs.
McMurray. Rose remembered over what a jolly household she had
reigned before she, too, had lost her husband and three children
instead of just one, like Billy. Two of them had been grown and
married. Now she was living in a little cottage, all alone, doing
sewing and nursing, yet always so brave and cheerful; not only
that, but interested, really interested in living. And Mrs.
Nelson. Her children were living and married and happy, but she
had given up her home, sold it--the pretty place with the
hospitable yard that used to seem to be fairly spilling over with
wholesome, boisterous boys and chatty, beribboned little girls.
She was rooming with a family, taking her meals at a restaurant,
keeping up her zest in tomorrow by running a shop. She thought of
how her friend, Mrs. Robinson, gracious, democratic woman of wide
sympathies that she was, had lived alone after David Robinson's
death, taking his place as president of the bank, during the
years her only daughter, Janet, had been off at college and later
travelling around the country "on the stage"--of all things for a
daughter of Fallon. When hadn't the town been full of these
widowed, elderly women made childless alike by life and by death?
What others had met successfully, she could also, she told
herself sternly, and still the old Rose, still struggling toward
happiness, she tried to think with a little enthusiasm of her new
life, of the things she would do for others. One recreation she
would be able to enjoy to her heart's content when she moved into
town--the movies. They would tide her over, she felt gratefully.
When she was too lonely, she would go to them and shed her own
troubles and problems by absorption in those of others. She who
had been married for years and had borne two children without
ever having had the joy of one overwhelming kiss, would find
romance at last, for an hour, as she identified herself with the
charming heroines of the films.
She was to surrender the farm and the crops as they stood in
June, but as there was to be no new immediate tenant in her old
house it was easily arranged that she could continue in it until
the cottage in Fallon would be empty in September.
Meanwhile, preparations were begun for the new car line which
would pass where the big dairy barn was standing. As the latter
went down, board by board, it seemed to Mrs. Wade that this
structure which, in the building, had been the sign and symbol of
her surrender and heartbreak, now in its destruction, typified
Martin's life. It was as if Martin, himself, were being torn limb
from limb. All that he had built would soon be dust. The sound of
the cement breaking under the heavy sledges, was almost more than
she could bear. It was a relief to have the smaller buildings
dragged bodily to other parts of the farm.
Only once before in her memory had there been such a summer and
such a drought. The corn leaves burned to a crisp brown, the
ground cracked and broke into cakes and dust piled high in thick,
velvety folds on weeds and grass. It seemed too strange for words
to see others harvest the wheat and to know that the usual crop
could not be put in.
Rose was thankful when her last evening came. Most of her
furniture had been moved in the morning, her boxes had left in
the afternoon, and the last little accessories were now piled in
the car. As, hand on the wheel, she paused a moment before
starting, she was conscious of a choking sensation. It was over,
finished--she, the last of Martin, was leaving it, for good.
Before her rolled the quarter section, except for the little
box-house, as bare of fences and buildings as when the Wades had
first camped on it in their prairie schooner. With what strange
prophetic vision had Martin foreseen so clearly that all the
construction of his life would crumble. Would Jacob and Sarah
Wade have had the courage to make all their sacrifices, she
wondered, if they had known that she and she alone, daughter of a
Patrick and Norah Conroy, whom they had never seen, would some
day stand there profiting by it all? She thought of the mortgages
in the bank and the bonds, of the easier life she seemed to be
entering. How strange that she whom Grandfather and Grandmother
Wade had not even known, she whom Martin had never loved, should
be the one to reap the real benefits from their planning, and
that the farm itself, for which her husband had been willing to
sacrifice Billy and herself, should be utterly destroyed. A
sudden breeze caught up some of the dust and whirling it around
let it fall. "Martin's life," thought Rose, "it was like a
handful of dust thrown into God's face and blown back again by
the wind to the ground."