Part 3 out of 6
can't give me a chance now."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean life ain't worth very much to me. I'm too old to take a new
start. I'm a dead failure. I've come to the conclusion that life's a
failure for ninety-nine per cent of us. You can't help me now. It's
The two men stood there, face to face, hands clasped, the one
fair-skinned, full-lipped, handsome in his neat sult; the other
tragic, somber in his softened mood, his large, long, rugged Scotch
face bronzed with sun and scarred with wrinkles that had histories,
like saber cuts on a veteran, the record of his battles.
AMONG THE CORN ROWS
"But the road sometimes passes a rich meadow, where the songs o/
larks and bobolinks and blackbirds are tangled."
ROB held up his hands, from which the dough depended in ragged
"Biscuits," he said with an elaborate working of his jaws, intended
to convey the idea that they were going to be specially delicious.
Seagraves laughed, but did not enter the shanty door. "How do you
like baching it?"
"Oh, don't mention it!" entreated Rob, mauling the dough again.
"Come in an' sit down. Why in thunder y' standin' out there for?"
"Oh, I'd rather be where I can see the prairie. Great weather!"
"How goes breaking?"
"Tip-top! A leette dry now; but the bulls pull the plow through two
acres a day. How's things in Boomtown?"
"Oh, same old grind."
"Judge still lyin'?"
"Still at it."
"Major Mullens still swearin' to it?"
"You hit it like a mallet. Railroad schemes are thicker'n prairie
chickens. You've got grit, Rob. I don't have anything but crackers
and sardines over to my shanty, and here you are making soda
"I have t' do it. Couldn't break if I didn't. You editors c'n take
things easy, lay around on the prairie, and watch the plovers and
medderlarks; but we settlers have got to work."
Leaving Rob to sputter over his cooking, Seagraves took his slow
way off down toward the oxen grazing in a little hollow. The scene
was characteristically, wonderfully beautiful. It was about five
o'clock in a day in late June, and the level plain was green and
yellow, and infinite in reach as a sea; the lowering sun was casting
over its distant swells a faint impalpable mist, through which the
breaking teams on the neighboring claims plowed noiselessly, as
figures in a dream. The whistle of gophers, the faint, wailing,
fluttering cry of the falling plover, the whir of the swift-winged
prairie pigeon, or the quack of a lonely duck, came through the
shimmering air. The lark's infrequent whistle, piercingly sweet,
broke from the longer grass m the swales nearby. No other climate,
sky, plain, could produce the same unnamable weird charm. No
tree to wave, no grass to rustle; scarcely a sound of domestic life;
only the faint melancholy soughing of the wind in the short grass,
and the voices of the wild things of the prairie.
Seagraves, an impressionable young man (junior editor of the
Boomtown Spike), threw himself down on the sod, pulled his hat
rim down over his eyes, and looked away over the plain. It was the
second year of Boom-town's existence, and Seagraves had not yet
grown restless under its monotony. Around him the gophers played
saucily. Teams were moving here and there across the sod, with a
peculiar noiseless, effortless motion that made them seem as calm,
lazy, and unsubstantial as the mist through which they made their
way; even the sound of passing wagons was a sort of low, well-fed,
Seagraves, "holding down a claim" near Rob, had come to see his
neighboring "bach" because of feeling the need of company; but
now that he was near enough to hear him prancing about getting
supper, he was content to lie alone on a slope of the green sod.
The silence of the prairie at night was well-nigh terrible. Many a
night, as Seagraves lay in his bunk against the side of his cabin, he
would strain his ear to hear the slightest sound, and he listening
thus sometimes for minutes before the squeak of a mouse or the
step of a passing fox came as a relief to the aching sense. In the
daytime, however, and especially on a morning, the prairie was
another thing. The pigeons, the larks; the cranes, the multitudinous
voices of the ground birds and snipes and insects, made the air
pulsate with sound-a chorus that died away into an infinite murmur
"Hello, Seagraves!" yelled Rob from the door. "The biscuit are
Seagraves did not speak, only nodded his head and slowly rose.
The faint clouds in the west were getting a superb flame color
above and a misty purple below, and the sun had shot them with
lances of yellow light. As the air grew denser with moisture, the
sounds of neighboring life began to reach the ear. Children
screamed and laughed, and afar off a woman was singing a lullaby.
The rattle of wagons and voices of men speaking to their teams
multiplied. Ducks in a neighboring lowland were quacking. The
whole scene took hold upon Seagraves with irresistible power.
"It is American," he exclaimed. 'No other land or time can match
this mellow air, this wealth of color, much less the strange social
conditions of life on this sunlit Dakota prairie."
Rob, though visibly affected by the scene also, couldn't let his
biscuit spoil or go without proper attention.
"Say, ain't y' comin' t' grub?" he asked impatiently.
"Th a minute," replied his friend, taking a last wistful look at the
scene. "I want one more look at the landscape."
"Landscape be blessed! If you'd been breakin' all day-Come, take
that stool an' draw up."
"No; I'll take the candle box."
"Not much. I know what manners are, if I am a bull driver."
Seagraves took the three-legged and rather precarious-looking
stool and drew up to the table, which was a flat broad box nailed
up against the side of the wall, with two strips of board nailed at
the outer corners for legs.
"How's that f'r a layout?" Rob inquired proudly.
"Well, you have spread yourself! Biscuit and canned peaches and
sardines and cheese. why, this is-is- prodigal."
"It ain't nothin' else."
Rob was from one of the finest counties of Wisconsin, over toward
Milwaukee. He was of German parentage, a middle-sized, cheery,
wide-awake, good-looking young fellow-a typical claimholder. He
was always confident, jovial, and full of plans for the future. He
had dug his own well, built his own shanty, washed and mended
his own clothing. He could do anything, and do it well. He had a
fine field of wheat, and was finishing the plowing of his entire
"This is what I call settin' under a feller's own vine an' fig
tree"-after Seagraves's compliments-"an' I like it. I'm my own boss.
No man can say 'come here' 'n' 'go there' to me. I get up when I'm a
min' to, an' go t' bed when I'm a min' t'."
"Some drawbacks, I s'pose?"
"Yes. Mice, f'r instance, give me a devilish lot o' trouble. They get
into my flour barrel, eat up my cheese, an' fall into my well. But it
ain't no use t' swear."
"The rats and the mlce they made such a strife
He had to go to London to buy him a wife,"
quoted Seagraves. "Don't blush. I've probed your secret thought."
"Well, to tell the honest truth," said Rob a little sheepishly, leaning
across the table, "I ain't satisfied with my style o' cookin'. It's good,
but a little too plain, y' know. I'd like a change. It ain't much fun to
break all day and then go to work an' cook y'r own supper."
"No, I should say not."
"This fall I'm going back to Wisconsin. Girls are thick as
huckleberries back there, and I'm goin' t' bring one back, now you
"Good! That's the plan," laughed Seagraves, amused at a certain
timid and apprehensive look in his companion's eye. "Just think
what a woman 'd do to put this shanty in shape; and think how nice
it would be to take her arm and saunter out after supper, and look
at the farm, and plan and lay out gardens and paths, and tend the
Rob's manly and self-reliant nature had the settler's typical
buoyancy and hopefulness, as well as a certain power of analysis,
which enabled him now to say: "The fact is, we fellers holdin'
down claims out here ain't fools clear to the rine. We know a
couple o' things. Now I didn't leave Waupac County f'r fun. Did y'
ever see Wanpac? Well, it's one o' the handsomest counties the sun
ever shone on, full o' lakes and rivers and groves of timber. I miss
'em all out here, and I miss the boys an' girls; but they wa'n't no
chance there f'r a feller. Land that was good was so blamed high
you couldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole from a balloon. Rent was
high, if you wanted t' rent, an' so a feller like me had t' get out, an'
now I'm out here, I'm goin' f make the most of it. An other thing,"
he went on, after a pause-"we fellers work-in' out back there got
more 'n' more like hands, an' less like human beings. Y'know,
Waupac is a kind of a summer resort, and the people that use' t'
come in summers looked down on us cusses in the fields an'
shops. I couldn't stand it. By God!" he said with a sudden im pulse
of rage quite unlike him, "I'd rather live on an ice-berg and claw
crabs f'r a livin' than have some feller passin' me on the road an'
callin' me fellah!'"
Seagraves knew what he meant and listened in astonishment at this
"I consider myself a sight better 'n any man who lives on somebody
else's hard work. I've never had a cent I didn't earn with them
hands." He held them up and broke into a grin. "Beauties, ain't
they? But they never wore gloves that some other poor cuss
Seagraves thought them grand hands, worthy to grasp the hand of
any man or woman living.
"Well, so I come West, just like a thousand other fellers, to get a
start where the cussed European aristocracy hadn't got a holt on the
people. I like it here-course I'd like the lakes an' meadows of
Waupac better-but I'm my own boss, as I say, an' I'm goin' to stay
my own boss if I haf to live on crackers an' wheat coffee to do it;
that's the kind of a hairpin I am."
In the pause which followed, Seagraves, plunged deep into thought
by Rob's words, leaned his head on his hand. This working farmer
had voiced the modem idea. It was an absolute overturn of all the
ideas of nobility and special privilege born of the feudal past. Rob
had spoken upon impulse, but that impulse appeared to Sea-graves
to be right.
"I'd like to use your idea for an editorial, Rob," he said.
"My ideas!" exclaimed the astounded host, pausing in the act of
filling his pipe. "My ideas! why, I didn't know I had any."
"Well, you've given me some, anyhow."
Seagraves felt that it was a wild, grand upstirring of the modem
democrat against the aristocratic, against the idea of caste and the
privilege of living on the labor of others. This atom of humanity
(how infinitesimal this drop in the ocean of humanity!) was feeling
the name-less longing of expanding personality, and had already
pierced the conventions of society and declared as nil the laws of
the land-laws that were survivals of hate and prejudice. He had
exposed also the native spring of the emigrant by uttering the
feeling that it is better to be an equal among peasants than a
servant before nobles.
"So I have good reasons f'r liking the country," Rob resumed in a
quiet way. "The soil is rich, the climate good so far, an' if I have a
couple o' decent crops you'll see a neat upright goin' up here, with
a porch and a bay winder."
"And you'll still be livin' here alone, frying leathery slapjacks an'
choppin' taters and bacon."
"I think I see myself," drawled Rob, "goin' around all summer
wearin' the same shirt without washin', an' wipin' on the same
towel four straight weeks, an' wearin' holes in my socks, an' eatin'
musty gingersnaps, moldy bacon, an' canned Boston beans f'r the
rest o' my endurin' days! Oh, yes; I guess not! Well, see y' later.
Must go water my bulls."
As he went off down the slope, Seagraves smiled to hear him sing:
"I wish that some kindhearted girl
Would pity on me take,
And extricate me from the mess I'm in.
The angel-how I'd bless her,
li this her home she'd make,
In my little old sod shanty on the plain!"
The boys nearly fell off their chairs in the Western House dining
room, a few days later, at seeing Rob come into supper with a
collar and necktie as the finishing touch of a remarkable outfit.
"Hit him, somebody!"
"It's a clean collar!"
"He's started f'r Congress!"
"He's going to get married," put in Seagraves in a tone that brought
"What!" screamed Jack Adams, O'Neill, and Wilson in one breath.
"That man," replied Seagraves, amazed at Rob, who coolly took
his seat, squared his elbows, pressed his collar down at the back,
and called for the bacon and eggs.
The crowd stared at him in a dead silence.
"Where's he going to do it?" asked Jack Adarns. "where's he going
to find a girl?"
"Ask him," said Seagraves.
"I ain't tellin'," put in Rob, with his mouth full of potato.
"You're afraid of our competition."
"That's right; our competition, Jack; not your competition. Come,
now, Rob, tell us where you found her."
"I ain't found her."
"What! And yet you're goin' away t' get married!"
"I'm goin' t' bring a wife back with me ten days fr'm date."
"I see his scheme," put in Jim Rivers. "He's goin' back East
somewhere, an' he's goin' to propose to every girl he meets."
"Hold on!" interrupted Rob, holding up his fork. "Ain't quite right.
Every good-lookin' girl I meet."
"Well, I'll be blanked!" exclaimed Jack impatientiy; "that simply
lets me out. Any man with such a cheek ought to-"
"Succeed," interrupted Seagraves.
"That's what I say," bawled Hank whiting, the proprietor of the
house. "You fellers ain't got any enterprise to yeh. Why don't you
go to work an' help settle the country like men? 'Cause y' ain't got
no sand. Girls are thicker'n huckleberries back East. I say it's a
"Easy, Henry," said the elegant bank clerk, Wilson, looking
gravely about through his spectacles. "I commend the courage and
the resolution of Mr. Rodemaker. I pray the lady may not
"Mislike him for his complexion,
The shadowed livery of the burning sun."
"Shakespeare," said Adams at a venture.
"Brother in adversity, when do you embark? Another 3ason on an
"Hay!" said Rob, winking at Seagraves. "Oh, I go tonight-night
"Ten days from date."
"I'll wager a wedding supper he brings a blonde," said Wilson in
his clean-cut, languid speech.
"Oh, come now, Wilson; that's too thin! We all know that rule
about dark marryin' light."
"I'll wager she'll be tall," continued Wilson. "I'll wager you, friend
Rodemaker, she'll be blonde and tall."
The rest roared at Rob's astonishment and contusion. The absurdity
of it grew, and they went into spasms of laughter. But Wilson
remained impassive, not the twitching of a muscle betraying that
he saw anything to laugh at in the proposition.
Mrs. Whiting and the kitchen girls came in, wondering at the
merriment. Rob began to get uneasy.
"What is it? What is it?" said Mrs. Whiting, a jolly little matron.
Rivers put the case. "Rob's on his way back to Wisconsin t' get
married, and Wilson has offered to bet him that his wife will be a
blonde and tall, and Rob dassent bet!" And they roared again.
"Why, the idea! The man's crazy!" said Mrs. Whiting. The crowd
looked at each other. This was hint enough; they sobered, nodding
at each other.
"Aha! I see; I understand."
"It's the heat."
"And the Boston beans."
"Let up on him, Wilson. Don't badger a poor irresponsible fellow. I
thought something was wrong when I saw the collar."
"Oh, keep it up!" said Rob, a little nettled by their evident intention
to "have fun" with him.
"Soothe him-soo-o-o-o-the him!" said Wilson. "Don't be harsh."
Rob rose from the table. "Go to thunder! You make me tired."
"The fit is on him again!"
He rose disgustedly and went out. They followed him in singie file.
The rest of the town "caught on." Frank Graham heaved an apple
at him and joined the procession. Rob went into the store to buy
some tobacco. They followed and perched like crows on the
counters till he went out; then they followed him, as before. They
watched him check his trunk; they witnessed the purchase of the
ticket. The town had turned out by this time.
"Waupac!" announced the one nearest the victim.
"Waupac!" said the next man, and the word was passed along the
street up town.
"Make a note of it," said Wilson: "Waupa-a county where a man's
proposal for marriage is honored upon presentation. Sight drafts."
Rivers struck up a song, while Rob stood around, patientiy bearing
the jokes of the crowd:
"We're lookin' rather seedy now,
While holdin' down our claims,
And our vittles are not always of the best,
And the mice play slyly round us
As we lay down to sleep
In our little old tarred shanties on the claim.
"Yet we rather like the novelty
Of livin' in this way,
Though the bill of fare is often rather tame;
An' we're happy as a clam
On the land of Uncle Sam
In our little old tarred shanty on the claim."
The train drew up at length, to the immense relief of Rob, whose
stoical resiguation was beginning to weaken.
"Don't y' wish y' had sand?" he yelled to the crowd as he plunged
into the car, thinking he was rid of them.
But no; their last stroke was to follow him into the car, nodding,
pointing to their heads, and whispering, managing in the
half-minute the train stood at the platform to set every person in
the car staring at the crazy man. Rob groaned and pulled his hat
down over his eyes-an action which confirmed his tormentors'
words and made several ladies click their tongues in
sympathy-"Tick! tick! poor fellow!"
"All abo-o-o-a-rd!' said the conductor, grinning his appreciation at
the crowd, and the train was off.
"Oh, won't we make him groan when he gets back!" said Barney,
the young lawyer who sang the shouting tenor.
"We'll meet him with the timbrel and the harp. Anybody want to
wager? I've got two to one on a short brunette," said Wilson.
"Follow it far enough and it may pass the bend in the river where
the water laughs eternally over its shallows."
A CORNFIELD in July is a hot place. The soil is hot and dry; the
wind comes across the lazily murmuring leaves laden with a warm
sickening smell drawn from the rapidly growing, broad-flung
banners of the corn. The sun, nearly vertical, drops a flood of
dazzing light and heat upon the field over which the cool shadows
run, only to make the heat seem the more intense.
Julia Peterson, faint with fatigue, was tolling back and forth
between the corn rows, holding the handles of the double-shovel
corn plow while her little brother Otto rode the steaming horse.
Her heart was full of bitterness, and her face flushed with heat, and
her muscles aching with fatigue. The heat grew terrible. The corn
came to her shoulders, and not a breath seemed to reach her, while
the sun, nearing the noon mark, lay pitilessly upon her shoulders,
protected only by a calico dress. The dust rose under her feet, and
as she was wet with perspiration it soiled her till, with a woman's
instinctive cleanliness, she shuddered. Her head throbbed
dangerously. what matter to her that the king bird pitched jovially
from the maples to catch a wandering bluebottle fly, that the robin
was feeding its young, that the bobolink was singing? All these
things, if she saw them, only threw her bondage to labor into
Across the field, in another patch of corn, she could see her
father-a big, gruff-voiced, wide-bearded Norwegian-at work also
with a plow. The corn must be plowed, and so she toiled on, the
tears dropping from the shadow of the ugly sunbonnet she wore.
Her shoes, coarse and square-toed, chafed her feet; her hands,
large and strong, were browned, or more properly burned, on the
backs by the sun. The horse's harness "creak-cracked" as he swung
steadily and patientiy forward, the moisture pouring from his sides,
his nostrils distended.
The field ran down to a road, and on the other side of the road ran
a river-a broad, clear, shallow expanse at that point, and the eyes
of the boy gazed longingly at the pond and the cool shadow each
time that he turned at the fence.
"Say, Jule, I'm goin' in! Come, can't I? Come-say!" he pleaded as
they stopped at the fence to let the horse breathe.
"I've let you go wade twice."
"But that don't do any good. My legs is all smarty, 'cause ol' Jack
sweats so." The boy turned around on the horse's back and slid
back to his rump. "I can't stand it!" he burst out, sliding off and
darting under the fence. "Father can't see."
The girl put her elbows on the fence and watched her little brother
as be sped away to the pool, throwing off his clothes as he ran,
whooping with uncontrollable delight. Soon she could hear him
splashing about in the water a short distance up the stream, and
caught glimpses of his little shiny body and happy face. How cool
that water looked! And the shadows there by the big basswood!
How that water would cool her blistered feet! An impulse seized
her, and she squeezed between the rails of the fence and stood in
the road looking up and down to see that the way was clear. It was
not a main-travelled road; no one was likely to come; why not?
She hurriedly took off her shoes and stockings-how delicious the
cool, soft velvet of the grass!-and sitting down on the bank under
the great basswood, whose roots formed an abrupt bank, she slid
her poor blistered, chafed feet into the water, her bare head leaned
against the huge tree trunk.
And now as she rested, the beauty of the scene came to her. Over
her the wind moved the leaves. A jay screamed far off, as if
answering the cries of the boy. A kingfisher crossed and recrossed
the stream with dipping sweep of his wings. The river sang with its
lips to the pebbles. The vast clouds went by majestically, far above
the treetops, and the snap and buzzing and ringing whir of July
insects made a ceaseless, slumberous undertone of song solvent of
all else. The tired girl forgot her work. She began to dream. This
would not last always. Some one would come to release her from
such drudgery. This was her constant, tenderest, and most secret
dream. He would be a Yankee, not a Norwegian; the Yankees
didn't ask their wives to work in the field. He would have a home.
Perhaps he'd live in town-perhaps a merchant! And then she
thought of the drug clerk in Rock River who had looked at her- A
voice broke in on her dream, a fresh, manly voice.
"Well, by jinks! if it ain't Julia! Just the one I wanted to see!"
The girl turned, saw a pleasant-faced young fellow in a derby hat
and a fifteen-dollar suit of diagonals.
"Rod Rodemaker! How come-"
She remembered her situation, and flushed, looked down at the
water, and remained perfectly still.
"Ain't ye goin' to shake hands? Y' don't seem very glad t' see me."
She began to grow angry. "If you had any eyes you'd see!"
Rob looked over the edge of the bank, whistled, turned away. "Oh,
I see! Excuse me! Don't blame yeh a bit, though. Good weather f'r
corn," he went on' looking up at the trees. 'Corn seems to be pretty
well for-ward," he continued in a louder voice as he walked away,
still gazing into the air. "Crops is looking first-class in Boomtown.
Hello! This Otto? H'yare y' little scamp! Get onto that horse agin.
Quick, 'r I'll take y'r skin off an, hang it on the fence. what y' been
"Ben in swimmm'. Jimminy, ain't it fun! when 'd y' get back?" said
the boy, grinning.
"Never you mind," replied Rob, leaping the fence by laying his left
hand on the top rail. "Get onto that horse." He tossed the boy up on
the horse, hung his coat on the fence. "I s'pose the ol' man makes
her plow same as usual?"
"Yup," said Otto.
"Dod ding a man that'll do that! I don't mind if it's necessary, but it
ain't necessary m his case." He continued to mutter in this way as
he went across to the other side of the field. As they turned to
come back, Rob went up and looked at the horse's mouth. "Gettin'
purty near of age. Say, who's sparkin' Julia now-anybody?"
"Nobody 'cept some ol' Norwegians. She won't have them. Por
wants her to, but she won't."
"Good f'r her. Nobody comes t' see her Sunday nights, eh?"
"Nope, only 'Tias Anderson an' Ole Hoover; but she goes off an'
"Chk!" said Rob, starting old Jack across the field.
It was almost noon, and Jack moved reluctantly. He knew the time
of day as well as the boy. He made this round after distinct protest.
In the meantime Julia, putting on her shoes and stockings, went to
the fence and watched the man's shining white shirt as he moved
across the cornfield. There had never been any special tenderness
between them, but she had always liked him. They had been at
school together. She wondered why he had come back at this time
of the year, and wondered how long he would stay. How long had
he stood looking at her? She flushed again at the thought of it. But
he wasn't to blame; it was a public road. She might have known
She stood under a little popple tree, whose leaves shook musically
at every zephyr, and her eyes through half-shut lids roved over the
sea of deep-green glossy leaves, dappled here and there by
cloud-shadows, stirred here and there like water by the wind, and
out of it all a longing to be free from such toil rose like a breath,
filling her throat, and quickening the motion of her heart. Must this
go on forever, this life of heat and dust and labor? what did it all
The girl laid her chin on her strong red wrists, and looked up into
the blue spaces between the vast clouds -aerial mountains
dissolving in a shoreless azure sea. How cool and sweet and restful
they looked! li she might only lie out on the billowy, snow-white,
sunlit edge! The voices of the driver and the plowman recalled her,
and she fixed her eyes again upon the slowly nodding head of the
patient horse, on the boy turned half about on the horse, talking to
the white-sleeved man, whose derby hat bobbed up and down quite
curiously, like the horse's head. Would she ask him to dinner?
what would her people say?
"Phew! it's hot!" was the greeting the young fellow gave as he
came up. He smiled in a frank, boyish way as he hung his hat on
the top of a stake and looked up at her. "D' y' know, I kind o' enjoy
getting at it again. Fact. It ain't no work for a girl, though," he
"When 'd you get back?" she asked, the flush not yet out of her
face. Rob was looking at her thick, fine hair and full Scandinavian
face, rich as a rose in color, and did not reply for a few seconds.
She stood with her hideous sun bonnet pushed back on her
shoulders. A kingbird was chattering overhead.
"Oh' a few days ago."
"How long y' goin' t' stay?"
"Oh, I d' know. A week, mebbe."
A far-off halloo came pulsing across the shimmering air. The boy
screamed "Dinner!" and waved his hat with an answering whoop,
then flopped off the horse like a turtle off a stone into water. He
had the horse unhooked in an instant, and had flung his toes up
over the horse's back, in act to climb on, when Rob said:
"H'yare, young feller! wa!t a minute. Tired?" he asked the girl with
a tone that was more than kindly; it was almost tender.
"Yes," she replied in a low voice. "My shoes hurt me."
"Well, here y' go," he replied, taking his stand by the horse and
holding out his hand like a step. She colored and smiled a little as
she lifted her foot into his huge, hard, sunburned hand.
"Oop-a-daisy!" he called. She gave a spring and sat the horse like
one at home there.
Rob had a deliciously unconscious, abstracted, businesslike air. He
really left her nothing to do but enjoy his company, while he went
ahead and did precisely as he pleased.
"We don't raise much corn out there, an' so I kind o' like to see it
"I wish I didn't have to see another hill of corn as long as I live!"
replied the girl bitterly.
"Don't know as I blame yeh a bit. But, all the same, I'm glad you
was working in it today," he thought to hiniseif as he walked
beside her horse toward the house.
"Will you stop to dinner?" she inquired bluntly, almost surmy. It
was evident that there were reasons why she didn't mean to press.
hirn to'. do so.
"You bet I will," he replied; "that is, if you want I should."
"You know how we live," she replied evasively. "I' you c'n stand it,
why-" She broke off abruptly.
Yes, he remembered how they lived in that big, square, dirty,
white frame house. It had been- three or four years since he had
been ill it, but the smell of the cabbage and onions, the
penetrating, peculiar mixture of odors, assailed his memory as
"I guess I'll stop," he said as she hesitated. She said no more, but
tried to act as if she were not in any way responsible for what
"I guess I c'n stand fr one meal what you stand all the while," he
As she left them at the well and went to the house, he saw her limp
painfully, and the memory of her face so close to his 1ips as he
helped her down from the horse gave him pleasure, at the same
time that he was touched by its tired and gloomy look. Mrs.
Peterson came to the door of the kitchen, looking just the same as
ever. Broadfaced, unwieldly, flabby, apparently wearing the same
dress he remembered to have seen her in years before a dirty
drab-colored thing-she looked as shapeless as a sack of wool. Her
English was limited to "How de do, Rob?"
He washed at the pump, while the girl, in the attempt to be
hospitable, held the clean towel for him.
"You're purty well used up, eh?" he said to her.
"Yes; it's awful hot out there."
"Can't you lay off this afternoon? It ain't right"
"No. He won't listen to that."
"Well, let me take your place."
"No; there ain't any use o' that."
Peterson, a brawny wide-bearded Norwegian, came up at this
moment and spoke to Rob in a sullen, gruff way
"He ain't very glad to see me," said Rob, winking at Julia. "He ain't
b'ilin' over with enthusiasm; but I c'n stand it, for your sake," he
added with amazing assurance; but the girl had turned away, and it
At the table he ate heartily of the "bean swaagen," which filled a
large wooden bowl in the center of the table, and which was ladled
into smaller wooden bowls at each plate. Julia had tried hard to
convert her mother to Yankee ways, and had at last given it up in
despair. Rob kept on safe subjects, mainly asking questions about
the it comes t' workin' outdoors in the dirt an' hot sun, gettin' all
sunburned and chapped up, it's another thing. An' then it seems as
if he gets stingier 'n' stingier every year. I ain't had a new dress in-I
d'-know-how-long. He says it's all nonsense, an' Mother's just about
as bad. She don't want a new dress, an' so she thinks I don't." The
girl was feeling the influence of a sympathetic listener and was
making up for her long silence. "I've tried t' go out t' work, but they
won't let me. They'd have t' pay a hand twenty dollars a month f'r
the work I do, an' they like cheap help; but I'm not goin' t' stand it
much longer, I can tell you that."
Rob thought she was yery handsome as she sat there with her eyes
fixed on the horizon, while these rebellious thoughts found
utterance in her quivering, passionate voice.
"Yulie! Kom heat!" roared the old man from the well. A frown of
anger and pain came into her face. She looked at Rob. "That
means more work."
"Say! let me go out in your place. Come, now; what's the use-"
"No; it wouldn't do no good. It ain't t'day s' much; it's every day,
"Yulie!" called Peterson again with a string of impatient
"Well, all right, only I'd like to"
"Well, goodbye," she said, with a little touch of feeling. "When
d'ye go back?"
"I don't know. I'll see y' again before I go. Goodbye." He stood
watching her slow, painful pace till she reached the well, where
Otto was standing with the horse. He stood watching them as they
moved out into the road and turned down toward the field. He felt
that she had sent him away; but still there was a look in her eyes
which was not altogether-
He gave it up in despair at last. He was not good at analyses of this
nature; he was used to plain, blunt expressions. There was a
woman's subtlety here quite beyond his reach.
He sauntered slowly off up the road after his talk with Julia. His
head was low on his breast; he was thinking as one who is about to
take a decided and important step.
He stopped at length, and turning, watched the girl moving along
in the deeps of the corn. Hardly a leaf was stirring; the untempered
sunlight fell in a burning flood upon the field; the grasshoppers
rose, snapped, buzzed, and fell; the locust uttered its dry,
heat-intensifving cry. The man lifted his head.
"It's a d-n shame!" he said, beginning rapidly to retrace his steps.
He stood leaning on the fence, awaiting the girl's coming very
much as she had waited his on the round he had made before
dinner. He grew impatient at the slow gait of the horse and
drummed on their rail while he whistled. Then he took off his hat
and dusted it nervously. As the horse got a little nearer he wiped
his face carefully, pushed his hat back on his head, and climbed
over the fence, where he stood with elbows on the middle rail as
the girl and boy and horse came to the end of the furrow.
"Hot, ain't it?" he said as she looked up.
"Jimminy Peters, it's awful!" puffed the boy. The girl did not reply
trn she swung the plow about after the horse, and set it upright into
the next row. Her powerful body had a superb swaying motion at
the waist as she did this-a motion which affected Rob vaguely but
"I thought you'd gone," she said gravely, pushing hack her bonnet
trn he could see her face dewed with sweat and pink as a rose. She
had the high cheekbones of her race, but she had also their
exquisite fairess of color.
"Say, Otto," asked Rob alluringiy, "wan' to go swimming?"
"You bet!" replied Otto.
"Well, I'll go a round if-"
The boy dropped off the horse, not waiting to hear any more. Rob
grinned; but the girl dropped her eyes, then looked away.
"Got rid o' him mighty quick. Say, Julyie, I hate like thunder t' see
you out here; it ain't right. I wish you'd -I wish-"
She could not look at him now, and her bosom rose and fell with a
motion that was not due to fatigue. Her moist hair matted around
her forehead gave her a boyish look.
Rob nervously tried again, tearing splinters from the fence. "Say,
now, I'll tell yeh what I came back here fer -t' git married; and if
you're willin', I'll do it tonight. Come, now, whaddy y' say?"
"What 've I got t' do 'bout it?" she finally asked, the color flooding
her face and a faint smile coming to her lips. "Go ahead. I ain't got
Rob put a splinter in his mouth and faced her. "Oh, looky here,
now, Julyie! you know what I mean. I've got a good claim out near
Boomtown-a rattlin' good claim; a shanty on it fourteen by
sixteen-no tarred paper about it; and a suller to keep butter in; and
a hundred acres wheat just about ready to turn now. I need a wife."
Here he straightened up, threw away the splinter, and took off his
hat. He was a very pleasant figure as the girl stole a look at him.
His black laughing eyes were especially earnest just now. His
voice had a touch of pleading. The popple tree over their heads
murmured applause at his eloquence, then hushed to listen. A
cloud dropped a silent shadow down upon them, and it sent a
little thrill of fear through Rob, as if it were an omen of failure. As
the girl remained silent, looking away, he began, man-fashion, to
desire her more and more as he feared to lose her. He put his hat
on the post again and took out his jackknife. Her calico dress
draped her supple and powerful figure simply but naturally. The
stoop in her shoulders, given by labor, disappeared as she partly
leaned upon the fence. The curves of her muscular arms showed
through her sleeve.
"It's all-fired lonesome fr me out there on that claim, and it ain't no
picnic f'r you here. Now, if you'll come out there with me, you
needn't do anything but cook f'r me, and after harvest we can git a
good layout o' furniture, an' I'll lath and plaster the house, an' put a
little hell [ell] in the rear." He smiled, and so did she. He felt
encouraged to say: "An' there we be, as snug as y' please. We're
close t' Boomtown, an' we can go down there to church sociables
an' things, and they're a jolly lot there."
The girl was still silent, but the man's simple enthusiasm came to
her charged with passion and a sort of romance such as her hard
life had known little of. There was something enticing about this
trip to the West.
"What 'li my folks say?" she said at last.
A virtual surrender, but Rob was not acute enough to see it. He
pressed on eagerly:
"I don't care. Do you? They'll jest keep y' plowin' corn and milkin'
cows till the day of judgment. Come, Julyie, I ain't got no time to
fool away. I've got t' get back t' that grain. It's a whoopin' old crop,
sure's y'r born, an' that means som'pin' purty scrumptious in
furniture this fall. Come, now." He approached her and laid his
hand on her shoulder very much as he would have touched Albert
Seagraves or any other comrade. "Whady y' say?"
She neither started, nor shrunk, nor looked at him. She simply
moved a step away. "They'd never let me ge," she replied bitterly.
"I'm too cheap a hand. I do a man's work an' get no pay at all."
"You'll have half o' all I c'n make," he put in.
"How long c'n you wait?" she asked, looking down at her dress.
"Just two minutes," he said, pulling out his watch. "It ain't no use t'
wait. The old man 'li be jest as mad a week from now as he is
today. why not go now?"
"I'm of age day after tomorrow," she mused, wavering, calculating.
"You c'n be of age tonight if you'll jest call on old Square Hatfield
"All right, Rob," the girl said, turning and holding out her hand.
"That's the talk!" he exclaimed, seizing it. "An' now a kiss, to bind
the bargain, as the fellah says."
"I guess we c'n get along without that."
"No, we can't. It won't seem like an engagement without it."
"It ain't goin' to seem much like one anyway," she answered with a
sudden realization of how far from her dreams of courtship this
"Say, now, Julyie, that ain't fair; it ain't treatin' me right. You don't
seem to understand that I like you, but I do."
Rob was carried quite out of himself by the time, the place, and the
girl. He had said a very moving thing.
The tears sprang involuntarily to the girl's eyes. "Do you mean it?
If y' do, you may."
She was trembling with emotion for the first time. The sincerity of
the man's voice had gone deep.
He put his arm around her almost timidly and kissed her on the
cheek, a great love for her springing up in his heart. "That setties
it," he said. "Don't cry, Jalyie. You'll never be sorry for it. Don't
cry. It kind o' hurts me to see it."
He didn't understand her feelings. He was only aware that she was
crying, and tried in a bungling way to soothe her. But now that she
had given way, she sat down in the grass and wept bitterly.
"Yulyie!" yelled the old Norwegian, like a distant fog-horn.
The girl sprang up; the habit of obedience was strong.
"No; you set right there, and I'll go round," he said. "Otto!"
The boy came scrambling out of the wood half dressed. Rob tossed
him upon the horse, snatched Julia's sun-bonnet, put his own hat
on her head, and moved off down the corn rows, leaving the girl
smiling throgh her tears as he whistled and chirped to the horse.
Farmer Peterson, seeing the familiar sunbonnet above the corn
rows, went back to his work, with a sentence of Norwegian trailing
after him like the tail of a kite-something about lazy girls who
didn't earn the crust of their bread, etc.
Rob was wild with delight. "Git up there Jack! Hay, you old
corncrib! Say, Otto, can you keep your mouth shet if it puts money
in your pocket?"
"Jest try me 'n' see," said the keen-eyed little scamp. "Well, you
keep quiet about my being here this alter-noon, and I'll put a dollar
on y'r tongue-hay?-what? -understand?"
"Show me y'r dollar," said the boy, turning about and showing his
"All right. Begin to practice now by not talkin' to me."
Rob went over the whole situation on his way back, and when he
got in sight of the girl his plan was made. She stood waiting for
him with a new look on her face. Her sullenness had given way to
a peculiar eagerness and anxiety to believe in him. She was
already living that free life in a far-off wonderful country. No more
would her stern father and sullen mother force her to tasks which
she hated. She'd be a member of a new firm. She'd work, of course,
but it would be because she wanted to, and not because she was
forced to. The independence and the love promised grew more and
more attractive. She laughed back with a softer light in her eyes
when she saw the smiling face of Rob looking at her from her
"Now you mustn't do any more o' this," he said. "You go back to
the house an' tell y'r mother you're too lame to plow any more
today, and it's too late, anyhow. To-night!" he whispered quickiy.
The girl's heart leaped with fear. "I'm afraid."
"Not of me, are yeh?"
"No, I'm not afraid of you, Rob."
"I'm glad o' that. I-I want you to-to like me, Julyie; won't you?"
"I'll try," she answered with a smile.
"Tonight, then," he said as she moved away.
He stood and watched her till her tall figure was lost among the
drooping corn leaves. There was a singular choking feeling in his
throat. The girl's voice and face had brought up so many memories
of parties and picnics and excursions on far-off holidays, and at the
same time such suggestions of the future. He already felt that it
was going to be an unconscionably long time before eleven
He saw her go to the house, and then he turned and walked slowly
up the dusty road. Out of the May weed the grasshoppers sprang,
buzzing and snapping their dull red wings. Butterflies, yellow and
white, fluttered around moist places in the ditch, and slender
striped water snakes glided across the stagnant pools at sound o~
But the mind of the man was far away on his claim, building a new
house, with a woman's advice and presence.
* * * * * *
It was a windless night. The katydids and an occasional cricket
were the only sounds Rob could hear as he stood beside his team
and strained his ear to listen. At long intervals a little breeze ran
through the corn like a swift serpent, bringing to the nostrils the
sappy smell of the growing corn. The horses stamped uneasily as
the mosquitoes settled on their shining limbs. The sky was full of
stars, but there was no moon.
"What if she don't come?" he thought. "Or can't come? I can't stand
that. I'll go to the old man an' say, 'Looky here-' Sh!"
He listened again. There was a rustling in the corn. It was not like
the fitful movement of the wind; it was steady, slower, and
approaching. It ceased. He whistled the wailing, sweet cry of the
prairie chicken. Then a figure came out into the road-a woman-
He took her in his arms as she came panting up to him.
* * * * * *
A few words, the dull tread of swift horses, the rising of a silent
train of dust, and then the wind wandered in the growing corn. The
dust fell, a dog barked down the road and the katydids sang to the
liquid contralto of the river in its shallows.
THE RETURN OF A PRIVATE
On the road leading "back to God's country" and wile and babies.
The nearer the train drew toward La Crosse, the soberer the little
group of "vets" became. On the long way from New Orleans they
had beguiled tedium with jokes and friendly chaff; or with
planning with elaborate detail what they were going to do now,
after the war. A long journey, slowly, irregularly, yet persistently
pushing northward. when they entered on Wisconsin Territory they
gave a cheer, and another when they reached Madison, but after
that they sank into a dumb expectancy. Comrades dropped off at
one or two points beyond, until there were only four or five left
who were bound for La Crosse County
Three of them were gaunt and brown, the fourth was gaunt and
pale, with signs of fever and ague upon him. One had a great scar
down his temple; one limped; and they all had unnaturally large
bright eyes, showing emaciation. There were no bands greeting
them at the stations, no banks of gaily dressed ladies waving
hand-kerchiefs and shouting "Bravo!" as they came in on the
caboose of a freight tram into the towns that had cheered and
blared at them on their way to war. As they looked out or stepped
upon the platform for a moment, as the train stood at the station,
the loafers looked at them indifferenfly. Their blue coats, dusty
and grimy, were too familiar now to excite notice, much less a
friendly word. They were the last of the army to return, and the
loafers were surfeited with such sights.
The train jogged forward so slowly that it seemed likely to be
midnight before they should reach La Crosse. The little squad of
"vets" grumbled and swore, but it was no use, the train would not
hurry; and as a matter of fact, rt was nearly two o'clock when the
engine whistled "down brakes."
Most of the group were farmers, living in districts several miles
out of the town, and all were poor.
"Now, boys," said Private Smith, he of the fever and ague, "we are
landed in La Crosse in the night. We've got to stay somewhere till
mornin'. Now, I ain't got no two dollars to waste on a hotel. I've got
a wife and children, so I'm goin' to roost on a bench and take the
cost of a bed out of my hide."
"Same here," put in one of the other men. "Hide'll grow on again,
dollars come hard. It's goin' to be mighty hot skirmishin' to find a
dollar these days."
"Don't think they'll be a deputation of citizens waitin' to 'scort us to
a hotel, eh?" said another. His sarcasm was too obvious to require
Smith went on: "Then at daybreak we'll start f'r home; at least I
"Well, I'll be dummed if I'll take two dollars out o' my hide," one
of the younger men said. "I'm goin' to a hotel, ef I don't never lay
up a cent."
"That'll do f'r you," said Smith; "but if you had a wife an' three
young 'uns dependin' on yeh-"
"Which I ain't, thank the Lord! and don't intend havin' while the
court knows itself."
The station was deserted, chill, and dark, as they came into it at
exactly a quarter to two in the morning. Lit by the oil lamps that
flared a dull red light over the dingy benches, the waiting room
was not an inviting place. The younger man went off to look up a
hotel, while the rest remained and prepared to camp down on the
floor and benches. Smith was attended to tenderly by the other
men, who spread their blankets on the bench for him, and by
robbing themselves made quite a comfortable bed, though the
narrowness of the bench made his sleeping precarious.
It was chill, though August, and the two men sitting with bowed
heads grew stiff with cold and weariness, and were forced to rise
now and again, and walk about to warm their stiffened limbs It
didn't occur to them, probably, to contrast their coming home with
their going forth, or with the coming home of the generals,
colonels, or even captains-but to Private Smith, at any rate, there
came a sickness at heart almost deadly, as he lay there on his hard
bed and went over his situation.
In the deep of the night, lying on a board in the town where he had
enlisted three years ago, all elation and enthusiasm gone out of
him, he faced the fact that with the joy of homecoming was
mingled the bitter juice of care. He saw himself sick, worn out,
taking up the work on his half-cleared farm, the inevitable
mortgage standing ready with open jaw to swallow half his
earnings. He had given three years of his life for a mere pittance of
pay, and now-
Morning dawned at last, slowly, with a pale yellow dome of light
rising silently above the bluffs which stand like some huge
battlemented castle, just east of the city. Out to the left the great
river swept on its massive yet silent way to the south. Jays called
across the river from hillside to hillside, through the clear,
beautiful air, and hawks began to skim the tops of the hills.
The two vets were astir early, but Private Smith had fallen at last
into a sleep, and they went out without waking him. He lay on his
knapsack, his gaunt face turned toward the ceiling, his hands
clasped on his breast, with a curious pathetic effect of weakness
An engine switching near woke him at last, and he slowly sat up
and stared about. He looked out of the window and saw that the
sun was lightening the hills across the river. He rose and brushed
his hair as well as he could, folded his blankets up, and went out to
find his companions. They stood gazing silently at the river and at
"Looks nat'cherl, don't it?" they said as he came out.
"That's what it does," he replied. "An' it looks good. D'yeh see that
peak?" He pointed at a beautiful symmetrical peak, rising like a
slightly truncated cone, so high that it seemed the very highest of
them all. It was lighted by the morning sun till it glowed like a
beacon, and a light scarf of gray morning fog was rolling up its
"My farm's just beyond that. Now, ef I can only ketch a ride, we'll
be home by dinnertime."
"I'm talkin' about breakfast," said one of the others.
"I guess it's one more meal o' hardtack f'r me," said Smith.
They foraged around, and finally found a restaurant with a sleepy
old German behind the counter, and procured some coffee, which
they drank to wash down their hardtack.
"Time'll come," said Smith, holding up a piece by the corner,
"when this'll be a curiosity."
"I hope to God it will! I bet I've chawed hardtack enough to
shingle every house in the coulee. I've chawed it when my lampers
was down, and when they wasn't. I've took it dry, soaked, and
mashed. I've had it wormy, musty, sour, and blue-moldy. I've had it
in little bits and big bits; 'fore coffee an' after coffee. I'm ready f'r a
change. I'd like t' git hol't jest about now o' some of the hot biscuits
my wife c'n make when she lays herself out f'r company."
"Well, if you set there gablin', you'll never see yer wife."
"Come on," said Private Smith. "Wait a moment, boys; less take
suthin'. It's on me." He led them to the rusty tin dipper which hung
on a nail beside the wooden water pail, and they grinned and
drank. (Things were primitive in La Crosse then.) Then,
shouldering their blankets and muskets, which they were "taking
home to the boys," they struck out on their last march.
"They called that coffee 'Jayvy," grumbled one of them, "but it
never went by the road where government Jayvy resides. I reckon I
know coffee from peas."
They kept together on the road along the turnpike, and up the
winding road by the river, which they followed for some miles.
The river was very lovely, curving down along its sandy beds,
pausing now and then under broad basswood trees, or running in
dark, swift, silent currents under tangles of wild grapevines, and
drooping alders, and haw trees. At one of these lovely spots the
three vets sat down on the thick green sward to rest, "on Smith's
account." The leaves of the trees were as fresh and green as in
June, the jays called cheery greetings to them, and kingflshers
darted to and fro, with swooping, noiseless flight.
"I tell yeh, boys, this knocks the swamps of Loueesiana into
"You bet. All they c'n raise down there is snakes, niggers, and
"An' fightin' men," put in the older man.
"An' fightin' men. If I had a good hook an' line I'd sneak a pick'rel
out o' that pond. Say, remember that time I shot that alligator-"
"I guess we'd better be crawlin' along," interrupted Smith, rising
and shouldering his knapsack, with considerable effort, which he
tried to hide.
"Say, Smith, lemme give you a lift on that."
"I guess I c'n manage," said Smith grimly.
"'Course. But, yeh see, I may not have a chance right off to pay yeh
back for the times ye've carried my gun and hull caboodie. Say,
now, girne that gun, any-way."
"All right, if yeh feel like it, Jim," Smith replied, and they trudged
along doggedly in the sun, which was getting higher and hotter
each half mile.
"Ain't it queer there ain't no teams cornin' along."
"Well, no, seem's it's Sunday."
"By jinks, that's a fact! It is Sunday. I'll git home in time fr dinner,
sure. She don't hev dinner usually till-about one on Sundays." And
he fell into a muse, in which he smiled.
"Well, I'll git home jest about six o'clock, jest about when the boys
are milkin' the cows," said old Jim Cranby. "I'll step into the barn
an' then I'll say, 'Heah! why ain't this milkin' done before this time
o' day? An' then won't they yell!" he added, slapping his thigh in
Smith went on. "I'll jest go up the path. Old Rover'll come down
the road to meet me. He won't bark; he'll know me, an' he'll come
down waggin' his tail an' shonin' his teeth. That's his way of
laughin'. An' so I'll walk up to the kitchen door, an' I'll say 'Dinner
f'r a hungry man!' An' then she'll jump up, an'-"
He couldn't go on. His voice choked at the thought of it. Saunders,
the third man, hardly uttered a word. He walked silently behind the
others. He had lost his wife the first year he was in the army. She
died of pneumonia caught in the autumn rains, while working in
the fields in his place.
They plodded along till at last they came to a parting of the ways.
To the right the road continued up the main valley; to the left it
went over the ridge.
"Well, boys," began Smith as they grounded their muskets and
looked away up the valley, "here's where we shake hands. We've
marched together a good many miles, an' now I s'pose we're done."
"Yes, I don't think we'll do any more of it f'r a while. I don't want
to, I know."
"I hope I'll see yeh once in a while, boys, to taik over old times."
"Of course," said Saunders, whose voice trembled a little, too. "It
ain't exactly like dyin'."
"But we'd ought'r go home with you," said the younger man. "You
never'll climb that ridge with all them things on yer back."
"Oh, I'm all right! Don't worry about me. Every step takes me
nearer home, yeh see. Well, goodbye, boys."
They shook hands. "Goodbye. Good luck!"
"Same to you. Lemme know how you find things at home."
He turned once before they passed out of sight and waved his cap,
and they did the same, and all yelled. Then all marched away with
their long, steady, loping, veteran step. The solitary climber in blue
walked on for a time, with his mind filled with the kindness of his
comrades, and musing upon the many jolly days they had had
together in camp and field.
He thought of his chum, Billy Tripp. Poor Billy! A "mime" ball fell
into his breast one day, fell wailing like a cat, and tore a great
ragged hole in his heart. He looked forward to a sad scene with
Billy's mother and sweet-heart. They would want to know all about
it. He tried to recall all that Billy had said, and the particulars of it,
but there was little to remember, just that wild wailing sound high
in the air, a dull slap, a short, quick, expulsive groan, and the boy
lay with his face in the dirt in the plowed field they were marching
That was all. But all the scenes he had since been through had not
dimmed the horror, the terror of that moment, when his boy
comrade fell, with only a breath between a laugh and a death
groan. Poor handsome Billy! Worth millions of dollars was his
These somber recollections gave way at length to more cheerful
feelings as he began to approach his home coulee. The fields and
houses grew familiar, and in one or two he was greeted by people
seated in the doorway. But he was in no mood to talk, and pushed
on steadily, though he stopped and accepted a drink of milk once
at the well-side of a neighbor.
The sun was getting hot on that slope, and his step grew slower, in
spite of his iron resolution. He sat down several times to rest.
Slowly he crawled up the rough, reddish-brown road, which
wound along the hillside, under great trees, through dense groves
of jack oaks, with treetops' far below him on his left hand, and the
hills far above him on his right. He crawled along like some
minute wingless variety of fly.
He ate some hardtack, sauced with wild berries, when he reached
the summit of the ridge, and sat there for some time, looking down
into his home coulee.
Somber, pathetic figure! His wide, round, gray eyes gazing down
into the beautiful valley, seeing and not seeing, the splendid
cloud-shadows sweeping over the western hills and across the
green and yellow wheat far below. His head drooped forward on
his palm, his shoulders took on a tired stoop, his cheekbones
showed painfully. An observer might have said, "He is looking
down upon his own grave."
Sunday comes in a Western wheat harvest with such sweet and
sudden relaxation to man and beast that it would be holy for that
reason, if for no other. And Sundays are usually fair in harvest
time. As one goes out into the field in the hot morning sunshine,
with no sound abroad save the crickets and the indescribably
pleasant, silken rustling of the ripened grain, the reaper and the
very sheaves in the stubble seem to be resting, dreaming.
Around the house, in the shade of the trees, the men sit, smoking,
dozing, or reading the papers, while the women, never resting,
move about at the housework. The men eat on Sundays about the
same as on other days; and breakfast is no sooner over and out of
the way than dinner begins.
But at the Smith farm there were no men dozing or reading. Mrs.
Smith was alone with her three children, Mary, nine, Tommy, six,
and littie Ted, just past four. Her farm, rented to a neighbor, lay at
the head of a coulee or narrow galley, made at some far-off
postglacial period by the vast and angry floods of water which
gullied these trememdous furrows in the level prairie-furrows so
deep that undisturbed portions of the original level rose like hills
on either sid~rose to quite considerable mountains.
The chickens wakened her as usual that Sabbath morning from
dreams of her absent husband, from whom she had not heard for
weeks. The shadows drifted over the hills, down the slopes, across
the wheat, and up the opposite wall in leisurely way, as if, being
Sunday, they could "take it easy," also. The fowls clustered about
the housewife as she went out into the yard. Fuzzy little chickens
swarmed out from the coops where their clucking and perpetually
disgruntled mothers tramped about, petulantly thrusting their
heads through the spaces between the slats.
A cow called in a deep, musical bass, and a call answered from a
little pen nearby, and a pig scurried guiltily out of the cabbages.
Seeing all this, seeing the pig in the cabbages, the tangle of grass
in the garden, the broken fence which she had mended again and
again -the little woman, hardly more than a girl, sat down and
cried. The bright Sabbath morning was only a mockery without
A few years ago they had bought this farm, paying part,
mortgaging the rest in the usual way. Edward Smith was a man of
terrible energy. He worked "nights and Sundays," as the saying
goes, to clear the farm of its brush and of its insatiate mortgage. In
the midst of his Herculean struggle came the call for volunteers,
and with the grirn and unselfish devotion to his country which
made the Eagle Brigade able to "whip its weight in wildcats," he
threw down his scythe and his grub ax, turned his cattle loose, and
became a blue-coated cog in a vast machine for killing men, and
not thistles. While the millionnaire sent his money to England for
safekeeping, this man, with his girl-wife and three babies, left
them on a mortgaged farm and went away to fight for an idea. It
was foolish, but it was sublime for all that.
That was three years before, and the young wife, sitting on the well
curb on this bright Sabbath harvest morning, was righteously
rebellious. It seemed to her that she had borne her share of the
country's sorrow. Two brothers had been killed, the renter in
whose hands her husband had left the farm had proved a villain,
one year the farm was without crops, and now the overripe grain
was waiting the tardy hand of the neighbor who had rented it, and
who was cutting his own grain first.
About six weeks before, she had received a letter saying, "We'll be
discharged in a little while." But no other word had come from
him. She had seen by the papers that his army was being
discharged, and from day to day other soldiers slowly percolated in
blue streams back into the state and county, but still her private did
Each week she had told the children that he was coming' and she
had watched the road so long that it had become unconscious, and
as she stood at the well, or by the kitchen door, her eyes were fixed
unthinkingly on the road that wound down the coulee. Nothing
wears on the human soul like waiting. If the stranded mariner,
'searching the sun-bright seas, could once give up hope of a ship,
that horrible grinding on his brain would cease. It was this waiting,
hoping, on the edge of despair, that gave Emma Smith no rest.
Neighbors said, with kind intentions, "He's sick, maybe, an' can't
start North just yet. He'll come along one o' these days."
"Why don't he write?" was her question, which silenced them all.
This Sunday morning it seemed to her as if she couldn't stand it
any longer. The house seemed intolerably lonely. So she dressed
the little ones in their best calico dresses and homemade jackets,
and closing up the house, set off down the coulee to old Mother
"Old Widder Gray" lived at the "mouth of the coulee." She was a
widow woman with a large family of stalwart boys and laughing
girls. She was the visible incarnation of hospitality and optimistic
poverty. With Western open-heartedness she fed every mouth that
asked food of her, and worked herself to death as cheerfully as her
girls danced in the neighborhood harvest dances.
She waddled down the path to meet Mrs. Smith with a smile on
her face that would have made the countenance of a convict
"Oh, you little dears! Come right to yer granny. Gimme a kiss!
Come right in, Mis' Smith. How are yeh, anyway? Nice mornin',
ain't it? Come in an' set down. Every-thing's in a clutter, but that
won't scare you any."
She led the way into the "best room," a sunny, square room,
carpeted with a faded and patched rag carpet, and papered with a
horrible white-and-green-striped wallpaper, where a few ghastly
effigies of dead members of the family hung in variously sized
oval walnut frames. The house resounded with singing, laughter,
whistling, tramping of boots, and scufflings. Half-grown boys
came to the door and crooked their fingers at the children, who ran
out, and were soon heard in the midst of the fun.
"Don't s'pose you've heard from Ed?" Mrs. Smith shook her head.
"He'll turn up some day, when you ain't look-in' for 'm." The good
old soul had said that so many times that poor Mrs. Smith derived
no comfort from it any longer.
"Liz heard from Al the other day. He's comin' some, day this week.
Anyhow, they expect him."
"Did he say anything of-"
"No, he didn't," Mrs. Gray admitted. "But then it was only a short
letter, anyhow. Al ain't much for ritin', anyhow. But come out and
see my new cheese. I tell yeh, I don't believe I ever had hetter luck
in my life. If Ed should come, I want you should take him up a
piece of this cheese."
It was beyond human nature to resist the influence of that noisy,
hearty, loving household, and in the midst of the singing and
laughing the wife forgot her anxiety, for the time at least, and
laughed and sang with the rest.
About eleven o'clock a wagonload more drove up to the door, and
Bill Gray, the widow's oldest son, and his whole family from Sand
Lake Coulee piled out amid a good-natured uproar, as
characteristic as it was ludicrous. Everyone talked. at once, except
Bill, who sat in the wagon with his wrists on his knees, a straw in
his mouth, and an amused twinkle in his blue eyes.
"Ain't heard nothin' o' Ed, I s'pose?" he asked in a kind of bellow.
Mrs. Smith shook her head. Bill, with a delicacy very striking in
such a great giant, rolled his quid in his mouth and said:
"Didn't know but you had. I hear two or three of the Sand Lake
boys are comm'. Left New Orleenes some time this week. Didn't
write nothin' about Ed, but no news is good news in such cases,
Mother always says."
"Well, go put out yer team," said Mrs. Gray, "an' go'n bring me in
some taters, an', Sim, you go see if you c'n find some corn. Sadie,
you put on the water to b'ile. Come now, hustle yer boots., all o'
yeh. If I feed this yer crowd, we've got to have some raw materials.
If y' think.I'm goin' to feed yeh on pie-"
The children went off into the fields, the girls put dinner on to
"b'ile," and then went to change their dresses and fix their hair.
"Somebody might come," they said.
"Land sakes, l hope not! I don't know where in time I'd set 'em,
'less they'd eat at the secont table," Mrs. Gray laughed in pretended
The two older boys, who had served their time in the army, lay out
on the grass before the house, and whittied and talked desultorily
about the war and the crops, and planned buying a threshing
machine. The older girls and Mrs. Smith helped enlarge the table
and put on the dishes, talking all the time in that cheery,
incoherent, and meaningful way a group of such women have-a
conversation to be taken for its spirit rather than for its letter,
though Mrs. Gray at last got the ear of them all and dissertated at
length on girls.
"Girls in love ain't no use in the whole blessed week," she said.
"Sundays they're a-lookin' down the road, expectin' he'll come.
Sunday afternoons they can't think o' nothin' else, 'cause he's here.
Monday mornin's they're sleepy and kind o' dreamy and slimpsy,
and good fr nothin' on Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday they git
absent-minded, an' begin to look off toward Sunday agin, an' mope
aroun' and let the dishwater git cold, rtght under their noses. Friday
they break dishes, and go off in the best room an' snivel, an' look
out o' the winder. Saturdays they have queer spurts o' workin' like
all p'ssessed, an spurts o' frizzin' their hair. An' Sunday they begin
it all over agin."
The girls giggled and blushed all through this tirade from their
mother, their broad faces and powerful frames anything but
suggestive of lackadaisical sentiment. But Mrs. Smith said:
"Now, Mrs. Gray, I hadn't ought to stay to dianer. You've got-"
"Now you set right down! If any of them girls' beaus comes, they'll
have to take what's left, that's all. They ain't s'posed to have much
appetite, nohow. No, you're goin' to stay if they starve, an' they
ain't no danger o' that."
At one o'clock the long table was piled with boiled potatoes, cords
of boiled corn on the cob, squash and pumpkin pies, hot biscuit,
sweet pickles, bread and butter, and honey. Then one of the girls
took down a conch shell from a nail and, going to the door, blew a
long, fine, free blast, that showed there was no weakness of lungs
in her ample chest.
Then the children came out of the forest of corn, out of the crick,
out of the loft of the barn, and out of the garden. The men shut up
their jackknives, and surrounded the horse trough to souse their
faces in the cold, hard water, and in a few moments the table was
filled with a merry crowd, and a row of wistful-eyed youngsters
circled the kitchen wail, where they stood first on one leg and then
on the other, in impatient hunger.
"They come to their feed f'r all the world jest like the pigs when y'
hoilder 'poo-ee!' See 'em scoot!" laughed Mrs. Gray, every wrinkle
on her face shining with delight. "Now pitch in, Mrs. Smith," she
said, presiding over the table. "You know these men critters.
They'll eat every grain of it, if yeh give 'em a chance. I swan,
they're made o' Indian rubber, their stomachs is, I know it."
"Haft to eat to work," said Bill, gnawing a cob with a swift,
circular motion that rivaled a corn sheller in results.
"More like workin' to eat," put in one of the girls with a giggle.
"More eat 'n' work with you."
"You needn't say anything, Net. Anyone that'll eat seven ears-"
"I didn't, no such thing. You piled your cobs on my plate."
"That'll do to tell Ed Varney. It won't go down here, where we
"Good land! Eat all yeh want! They's plenty more in the fiel's, but I
can't afford to give you young 'uns tea. The tea is for us
womenfolks, and 'specially fr Mis' Smith an' Bill's wife. We're
agoin' to tell fortunes by it."
One by one the men filled up and shoved back, and one by one the
children slipped into their places, and by two o'clock the women
alone remained around the debris-covered table, sipping their tea
and telling fortunes.
As they got well down to the grounds in the cup, they shook them
with a circular motion in the hand, and then turned them
bottom-side-up quickly in the saucer, then twirled them three or
four times one way, and three or four times the other, during a
breathless pause. Then Mrs. Gray lifted the cup and, gazing into it
with profound gravity, pronounced the impending fate.
It must be admitted that, to a critical observer, she had abundant
preparation for hitting close to the mark; as when she told the girls
that "somebody was coming." "It is a man," she went on gravely.
"He is cross-eyed-"
"Oh, you hush!"
"He has red hair, and is death on b'iled corn and hot biscuit."
The others shrieked with delight.
"But he's goin' to get the mitten, that redheaded feller is, for I see a
feller comin' up behind him."
"Oh, lemme see, lemme see!" cried Nettle.
"Keep off," said the priestess with a lofty gesture. "His hair is
black. He don't eat so much, and he works more."
The girls exploded in a shriek of laughter and pounded their sister
on the back.
At last came Mrs. Smith's turn, and she was trembling with
excitement as Mrs. Gray again composed her jolly face to what she
considered a proper solemnity of expression.
"Somebody is comin' to you," she said after a long pause. "He's got
a musket on his back. He's a soldier. He's almost here. See?"
She pointed at two little tea stems, which formed a faint
suggestion of a man with a musket on his back. He had climbed
nearly to the edge of the cup. Mrs. Smith grew pale with
excitement. She trembled so she could hardly hold the cup in her
hand as she gazed into it.
"It's Ed," cried the old woman. "He's on the way home. Heavens an'
earth! There he is now!" She turned and waved her hand out
toward the road. They rushed to the door and looked where she
A man in a blue coat, with a musket on his back, was toiling
slowly up the hill, on the sun-bright, dusty road, toiling slowly,
with bent head half-hidden by a heavy knapsack. So tired it
seemed that walking was indeed a process of falling. So eager to
get home he would not stop, would not look aside, but plodded on,
amid the cries of the locusts, the welcome of the crickets, and the
rustle of the yellow wheat. Getting back to God's country, and his
wife and babies!
Laughing, crying, trying to call him and the children at the same
time, the little wife, almost hysterical, snatched her hat and ran out
into the yard. But the soldier had disappeared over the hill into the
hollowy beyond, and, by the time she had found the children, he
was too far away for her voice to reach him. And besides, she was
not sure it was her husband, for he had not turned his head at their
shouts. This seemed so strange. Why didn't he stop to rest at his
old neighbor's house? Tortured by hope and doubt, she hurried up
the coulee as fast as she could push the baby wagon, the blue
coated figure just ahead pushing steadily, silently forward up the
When the excited, panting little group came in sight of the gate,
they saw the blue-coated figure standing, leaning upon the rough
rail fence, his chin on his palms, gazing at the empty house. His
knapsack, canteen, blankets, and musket lay upon the dusty grass
at his feet.
He was like a man lost in a dream. His wide, hungry eyes devoured
the scene. The rough lawn, the little unpainted house, the field of
clear yellow wheat behind it, down across which streamed the sun,
now almost ready to touch the high hill to the west, the crickets
crying merrily, a cat on the fence nearby, dreaming, unmmdful of
the stranger in blue.
How peaceful it all was. O God! How far removed from all camps,
hospitals, battlelines. A little cabin in a Wisconsin coulee, but it
was majestic in its peace. How did he ever leave it for those years
of tramping, thirsting, killing?
Trembling, weak with emotion, her eyes on the silent figure, Mrs.
Smith hurried up to the fence. Her feet made no noise in the dust
and grass, and they were close upon him before he knew of them.
The oldest boy ran a little ahead. He will never forget that figure,
that face. It will always remain as something epic, that return of
the private. He fixed his eyes on the pale face, covered with a
"Who are you, sir?" asked the wife, or, rather, started to ask, for he
turned, stood a moment, and then cried:
The children stood in a curious row to see their mother kiss this
bearded, strange man, the elder girl sobbing sympathetically with
her mother. Illness had left the soldier partly deaf, and this added
to the strangeness of his manner.
But the boy of six years stood away, even after the girl had
recognized her father and kissed him. The man turned then to the
baby and said in a curiously unpaternal tone:
"Come here, my little man; don't you know me?" But the baby
backed away under the fence and stood peering at him critically.
"My little man!" What meaning in those words! This baby seemed
like some other woman's child, and not the infant he had left in his
wife's arms. The war had come between him and his baby-he was
only "a strange man, with big eyes, dressed in blue, with Mother
hanging to his arm, and talking in a loud voice.
"And this is Tom," he said, drawing the oldest boy to him. "He'll
come and see me. He knows his poor old pap when he comes
home from the war."
The mother heard the pain and reproach in his voice and hastened
"You've changed so, Ed. He can't know yeh. This is Papa, Teddy;
come and kiss him-Tom and Mary do, Come, won't you?" But
Teddy still peered through the fence with solemn eyes, well out of
reach. He resembled a half-wild kitten that hesitates, studying the
tones of one's voice.
"I'll fix him," said the soldier, and sat down to undo his knapsack,
out of which he drew three enormous and very red apples. After
giving one to each of the older children, he said:
"Now I guess he'll come. Eh, my little man? Now come see your
Teddy crept slowly under the fence, assisted by the overzealous
Tommy, and a moment later was kick-ing and squalling in his
father's arms. Then they entered the house, into the sitting room,
poor, bare, art-forsaken little room, too, with its rag carpet, its
square clock, and its two or three chromos and pictures from
Harper's Weekly pinned about.
"Emma, I'm all tired out," said Private Smith as he flung himself
down on the carpet as he used to do, while his wife brought a
pillow to put under his head, and the children stood about,
munching their apples.
"Tommy, you run and get me a pan of chips; and Mary, you get the
teakettle on, and I'll go and make some biscuit."
And the soldier talked. Question after question he poured forth
about the crops, the cattle, the renter, the neighbors. He slipped his
heavy government brogan shoes off his poor, tired, blistered feet,
and lay out with utter, sweet relaxation. He was a free man again,
no longer a soldier under command. At supper he stopped once,
listened, and smiled. "That's old Spot. I know her voice. I s'pose
that's her calf out there in the pen. I can't milk her tonight, though,
I'm too tired; but I tell you, I'd like a drink o' her milk. What's
become of old Rove?"
"He died last winter. Poisoned, I guess." There was a moment of
sadness for them all. It was some time before the husband spoke
again, in a voice that trembled a little.
"Poor old feller! He'd a known me a half a mile away. I expected
him to come down the hill to meet me. It 'ud 'a' been more like
comin' home if I could 'a' seen him comm' down the road an'
waggin' his tail, an' laugh-in' that way he has. I tell yeh, it kin' o'
took hold o' me to see the blinds down an' the house shut up."
"But, yeh see, we-we expected you'd write again 'fore you started.
And then we thought we'd see you if you did come," she hastened
"Well, I ain't worth a cent on writin'. Besides, it's just as well yeh
didn't know when I was comm'. I tell yeh, it sounds good to hear
them chickens out there, an' turkeys, an' the crickets. Do you know
they don't have just the same kind o' crickets down South. Who's
Sam hired t' help cut yer grain?"
"The Ramsey boys."
"Looks like a good crop; but I'm afraid I won't do much gettin' it
cut. This cussed fever an' ague has got me down pretty low. I don't
know when I'll get red of it. I'll bet I've took twenty-five pounds of
quinine, if I've taken a bit. Gimme another biscuit. I tell yeh, they
taste good, Emma. I ain't had anything like it- Say, if you'd a heard
me braggin' to th' boys about your butter 'n' biscuits, I'll bet your
ears 'ud 'a' burnt."
The private's wife colored with pleasure. "Oh, you're always
a-braggin' about your things. Everybody makes good butter."
"Yes; old lady Snyder, for instance."
"Oh, well, she ain't to be mentioned. She's Dutch."
"Or old Mis' Snively. One more cup o' tea, Mary. That's my girl!
I'm feeling better already. I just b'lieve the matter with me is, I'm
This was a delicious hour, one long to be remembered. They were
like lovers again. But their tenderness, like that of a typical
American, found utterance in tones, rather than in words. He was
praising her when praising her biscuit, and she knew it. They grew
soberer when he showed where he had been struck, one ball
burning the back of his hand, one cutting away a lock of hair from
his temple, and one passing through the calf of his leg. The wife
shuddered to think how near she had come to being a soldier's
widow. Her waiting no longer seemed hard. This sweet, glorious
hour effaced it all.
Then they rose and all went out into the garden and down to the
barn. He stood beside her while she milked old Spot. They began
to plan fields and crops for next year. Here was the epic figure
which Whitman has in mind, and which he calls the "common
American soldier." With the livery of war on his limbs, this man
was facing his future, his thoughts holding no scent of battle.
Clean, clear-headed, in spite of physical weakness, Edward Smith,
private, turned future-ward with a sublime courage.
His farm was mortgaged, a rascally renter had run away with his
machinery, "departing between two days," his children needed
clothing, the years were coming upon him, he was sick and
emaciated, but his heroic soul did not quail. With the same
courage with which he faced his southern march, be entered upon
a still more hazardous future.
Oh, that mystic hour! The pale man with big eyes standing there by
the well, with his young wife by his side. The vast moon swinging
above the eastern peaks; the cattle winding down the pasture
slopes with jangling bells; the crickets singing; the stars blooming
out sweet and far and serene; the katydids rhythmically calling; the
little turkeys crying querulously as they settled to roost in the
poplar tree near the open gate. The voices at the well drop lower,
the little ones nestle in their father's arms at last, and Teddy falls
The common soldier of the American volunteer army had returned.
His war with the South was over, and his fight, his daily running
fight, with nature and against the injustice of his fellow men was
begun again. In tlie dusk of that far-off valley his figure looms
vast, his personal peculiarities fade away, he rises into a
He is a gray-haired man of sixty now, and on the brown hair of his
wife the white is also showing. They are fighting a hopeless battle,
and must fight till God gives them furlough.
UNDER THE LION'S PAW
"Along the main-travelled road trailed an endless line of prairie
schooners. Coming into sight at the east, and passing out of sight
over the swell to the west. We children used to wonder where they
were going and why they went."
IT was the last of autumn and first day of winter coming together.
All day long the ploughmen on their prairie farms had moved to
and fro in their wide level fields through the falling snow, which
melted as it fell, wetting them to the skin all day, notwithstanding
the frequent squalls of snow, the dripping, desolate clouds, and the
muck of the furrows, black and tenacious as tar.
Under their dripping harness the horses swung to and fro silently
with that marvellous uncomplaining patience which marks the
horse. All day the wild geese, honking wildly, as they sprawled
sidewise down the wind, seemed to be fleeing from an enemy
behind, and with neck outthrust and wings extended, sailed down
the wind, soon lost to sight.
Yet the ploughman behind his plough, though the snow lay on his
ragged great-coat, and the cold clinging mud rose on his heavy
boots, fettering him like gyves, whistled in the very beard of the
gale. As day passed, the snow, ceasing to melt, lay along the
ploughed land, and lodged in the depth of the stubble, till on each
slow round the last furrow stood out black and shining as jet
between the ploughed land and the gray stubble.
When night began to fall, and the geese, flying low, began to alight
invisibly in the near corn-field, Stephen Council was still at work
"finishing a land." He rode on his sulky plough when going with
the wind, but walked when facing it. Sitting bent and cold but
cheery under his slouch hat, he talked encouragingly to his
"Come round there, boys! Round agin! We got t' finish this land.
Come in there, Dan! Stiddy, Kate, stiddy! None o' y'r tantrums,
Kittie. It's purty tuff, but got a be did. Tchk! tchk! Step along, Pete!
Don't let Kate git y'r single-tree on the wheel. Once more!"
They seemed to know what he meant, and that this was the last
round, for they worked with greater vigor than before. "Once
more, boys, an' then, sez I, oats an' a nice warm stall, an' sleep f'r
By the time the last furrow was turned on the land it was too dark
to see the house, and the snow was changing to rain again. The
tired and hungry man could see the light from the kitchen shining
through the leafless hedge, and he lifted a great shout, "Supper f'r
a half a dozen!"
It was nearly eight o'clock by the time he had finished his chores
and started for supper. He was picking his way carefully through
the mud, when the tall form of a man loomed up before him with
a premonitory cough.
"Waddy ye want ?" was the rather startled question of the farmer.
"Well, ye see," began the stranger, in a deprecating tone, "we'd
like t' git in f'r the night. We've tried every house f'r the last two
miles, but they hadn't any room f'r us. My wife's jest about sick, 'n'
the children are cold and hungry-- "
"Oh, y' want 'o stay all night, eh, ?"
"Yes, sir; it 'ud be a great accom-- "
"Waal, I don't make it a practice t' turn anybuddy way hungry, not
on sech nights as this. Drive right in. We ain't got much, but sech
as it is--"
But the stranger had disappeared. And soon his steaming, weary
team, with drooping heads and swinging single-trees, moved past
the well to the block beside the path. Council stood at the side of
the "schooner" and helped the children out two little half- sleeping
children and then a small woman with a babe in her arms.
"There ye go!" he shouted jovially, to the children. "Now we're all
right! Run right along to the house there, an' tell Mam' Council
you wants sumpthin' t' eat. Right this way, Mis' keep right off t' the
right there. I'll go an' git a lantern. Come," he said to the dazed and
silent group at his side.
"Mother'" he shouted, as he neared the fragrant and warmly
lighted kitchen, "here are some wayfarers an' folks who need
sumpthin' t' eat an' a place t' snoot." He ended by pushing them all
Mrs. Council, a large, jolly, rather coarse-looking woman, too the
children in her arms. "Come right in, you little rabbits. 'Mos
asleep, hey? Now here's a drink o' milk f'r each o' ye. I'll have sam
tea in a minute. Take off y'r things and set up t' the fire."
While she set the children to drinking milk, Council got out his
lantern and went out to the barn to help the stranger about his
team, where his loud, hearty voice could be heard as it came and
went between the haymow and the stalls.
The woman came to light as a small, timid, and discouraged
looking woman, but still pretty, in a thin and sorrowful way.
"Land sakes! An' you've travelled all the way from Clear Lake'
t'-day in this mud! Waal! Waal! No wonder you're all tired out
Don't wait f'r the men, Mis'-- " She hesitated, waiting for the name.
"Mis' Haskins, set right up to the table an' take a good swig o tea
whilst I make y' s'm toast. It's green tea, an' it's good. I tell Council
as I git older I don't seem to enjoy Young Hyson n'r Gunpowder. I
want the reel green tea, jest as it comes off'n the vines. Seems t'
have more heart in it, some way. Don't s'pose it has. Council says
it's all in m' eye."
Going on in this easy way, she soon had the children filled with
bread and milk and the woman thoroughly at home, eating some
toast and sweet-melon pickles, and sipping the tea.
"See the little rats!" she laughed at the children. "They're full as
they can stick now, and they want to go to bed. Now, don't git up,
Mis' Haskins; set right where you are an' let me look after 'em. I
know all about young ones, though I'm all alone now. Jane went
an' married last fall. But, as I tell Council, it's lucky we keep our
health. Set right there, Mis' Haskins; I won't have you stir a finger."
It was an unmeasured pleasure to sit there in the warm, homely
kitchen. the jovial chatter of the housewife driving out and holding
at bay the growl of the impotent, cheated wind.
The little woman's eyes filled with tears which fell down upon the
sleeping baby in her arms. The world was not so desolate and cold
and hopeless, after all.
"Now I hope. Council won't stop out there and talk politics all
night. He's the greatest man to talk politics an' read the Tribune
--How old is it?"
She broke off and peered down at the face of the babe.
"Two months 'n' five days," said the mother, with a mother's
"Ye don't say! I want 'o know! The dear little pudzy-wudzy!" she
went on, stirring it up in the neighborhood of the ribs with her fat
"Pooty tough on 'oo to go gallivant'n' 'cross lots this way--"
"Yes, that's so; a man can't lift a mountain," said Council, entering
the door. "Mother, this is Mr. Haskins, from Kansas. He's been eat
up 'n' drove out by grasshoppers."
"Glad t' see yeh! Pa, empty that wash-basin 'n' give him a chance t'
wash." Haskins was a tall man, with a thin, gloomy face. His hair
was a reddish brown, like his coat, and seemed equally faded by