Part 2 out of 3
when I was no bigger than Stella here," pointing to Annie's younger
Milly and Stella both looked through the door into the sitting-room,
where a crayon portrait of John Bergson hung on the wall. Alexandra
had had it made from a little photograph, taken for his friends
just before he left Sweden; a slender man of thirty-five, with
soft hair curling about his high forehead, a drooping mustache,
and wondering, sad eyes that looked forward into the distance, as
if they already beheld the New World.
After dinner Lou and Oscar went to the orchard to pick cherries--they
had neither of them had the patience to grow an orchard of their
own--and Annie went down to gossip with Alexandra's kitchen girls
while they washed the dishes. She could always find out more about
Alexandra's domestic economy from the prattling maids than from
Alexandra herself, and what she discovered she used to her own
advantage with Lou. On the Divide, farmers' daughters no longer
went out into service, so Alexandra got her girls from Sweden, by
paying their fare over. They stayed with her until they married,
and were replaced by sisters or cousins from the old country.
Alexandra took her three nieces into the flower garden. She was
fond of the little girls, especially of Milly, who came to spend
a week with her aunt now and then, and read aloud to her from the
old books about the house, or listened to stories about the early
days on the Divide. While they were walking among the flower beds,
a buggy drove up the hill and stopped in front of the gate. A man
got out and stood talking to the driver. The little girls were
delighted at the advent of a stranger, some one from very far away,
they knew by his clothes, his gloves, and the sharp, pointed cut
of his dark beard. The girls fell behind their aunt and peeped out
at him from among the castor beans. The stranger came up to the
gate and stood holding his hat in his hand, smiling, while Alexandra
advanced slowly to meet him. As she approached he spoke in a low,
"Don't you know me, Alexandra? I would have known you, anywhere."
Alexandra shaded her eyes with her hand. Suddenly she took a quick
step forward. "Can it be!" she exclaimed with feeling; "can it be
that it is Carl Linstrum? Why, Carl, it is!" She threw out both
her hands and caught his across the gate. "Sadie, Milly, run tell
your father and Uncle Oscar that our old friend Carl Linstrum is
here. Be quick! Why, Carl, how did it happen? I can't believe
this!" Alexandra shook the tears from her eyes and laughed.
The stranger nodded to his driver, dropped his suitcase inside
the fence, and opened the gate. "Then you are glad to see me, and
you can put me up overnight? I couldn't go through this country
without stopping off to have a look at you. How little you have
changed! Do you know, I was sure it would be like that. You
simply couldn't be different. How fine you are!" He stepped back
and looked at her admiringly.
Alexandra blushed and laughed again. "But you yourself, Carl--with
that beard--how could I have known you? You went away a little
boy." She reached for his suitcase and when he intercepted her
she threw up her hands. "You see, I give myself away. I have only
women come to visit me, and I do not know how to behave. Where is
"It's in Hanover. I can stay only a few days. I am on my way to
They started up the path. "A few days? After all these years!"
Alexandra shook her finger at him. "See this, you have walked
into a trap. You do not get away so easy." She put her hand
affectionately on his shoulder. "You owe me a visit for the sake
of old times. Why must you go to the coast at all?"
"Oh, I must! I am a fortune hunter. From Seattle I go on to
"Alaska?" She looked at him in astonishment. "Are you going to
paint the Indians?"
"Paint?" the young man frowned. "Oh! I'm not a painter, Alexandra.
I'm an engraver. I have nothing to do with painting."
"But on my parlor wall I have the paintings--"
He interrupted nervously. "Oh, water-color sketches--done for
amusement. I sent them to remind you of me, not because they were
good. What a wonderful place you have made of this, Alexandra."
He turned and looked back at the wide, map-like prospect of field
and hedge and pasture. "I would never have believed it could be
done. I'm disappointed in my own eye, in my imagination."
At this moment Lou and Oscar came up the hill from the orchard.
They did not quicken their pace when they saw Carl; indeed, they
did not openly look in his direction. They advanced distrustfully,
and as if they wished the distance were longer.
Alexandra beckoned to them. "They think I am trying to fool them.
Come, boys, it's Carl Linstrum, our old Carl!"
Lou gave the visitor a quick, sidelong glance and thrust out his
hand. "Glad to see you."
Oscar followed with "How d' do." Carl could not tell whether their
offishness came from unfriendliness or from embarrassment. He and
Alexandra led the way to the porch.
"Carl," Alexandra explained, "is on his way to Seattle. He is
going to Alaska."
Oscar studied the visitor's yellow shoes. "Got business there?"
Carl laughed. "Yes, very pressing business. I'm going there to
get rich. Engraving's a very interesting profession, but a man
never makes any money at it. So I'm going to try the goldfields."
Alexandra felt that this was a tactful speech, and Lou looked up
with some interest. "Ever done anything in that line before?"
"No, but I'm going to join a friend of mine who went out from New
York and has done well. He has offered to break me in."
"Turrible cold winters, there, I hear," remarked Oscar. "I thought
people went up there in the spring."
"They do. But my friend is going to spend the winter in Seattle and
I am to stay with him there and learn something about prospecting
before we start north next year."
Lou looked skeptical. "Let's see, how long have you been away from
"Sixteen years. You ought to remember that, Lou, for you were
married just after we went away."
"Going to stay with us some time?" Oscar asked.
"A few days, if Alexandra can keep me."
"I expect you'll be wanting to see your old place," Lou observed
more cordially. "You won't hardly know it. But there's a few
chunks of your old sod house left. Alexandra wouldn't never let
Frank Shabata plough over it."
Annie Lee, who, ever since the visitor was announced, had been
touching up her hair and settling her lace and wishing she had worn
another dress, now emerged with her three daughters and introduced
them. She was greatly impressed by Carl's urban appearance, and
in her excitement talked very loud and threw her head about. "And
you ain't married yet? At your age, now! Think of that! You'll
have to wait for Milly. Yes, we've got a boy, too. The youngest.
He's at home with his grandma. You must come over to see mother
and hear Milly play. She's the musician of the family. She does
pyrography, too. That's burnt wood, you know. You wouldn't believe
what she can do with her poker. Yes, she goes to school in town,
and she is the youngest in her class by two years."
Milly looked uncomfortable and Carl took her hand again. He liked
her creamy skin and happy, innocent eyes, and he could see that her
mother's way of talking distressed her. "I'm sure she's a clever
little girl," he murmured, looking at her thoughtfully. "Let me
see-- Ah, it's your mother that she looks like, Alexandra. Mrs.
Bergson must have looked just like this when she was a little
girl. Does Milly run about over the country as you and Alexandra
used to, Annie?"
Milly's mother protested. "Oh, my, no! Things has changed since
we was girls. Milly has it very different. We are going to rent
the place and move into town as soon as the girls are old enough
to go out into company. A good many are doing that here now. Lou
is going into business."
Lou grinned. "That's what she says. You better go get your things
on. Ivar's hitching up," he added, turning to Annie.
Young farmers seldom address their wives by name. It is always
"you," or "she."
Having got his wife out of the way, Lou sat down on the step and
began to whittle. "Well, what do folks in New York think of William
Jennings Bryan?" Lou began to bluster, as he always did when he
talked politics. "We gave Wall Street a scare in ninety-six, all
right, and we're fixing another to hand them. Silver wasn't the
only issue," he nodded mysteriously. "There's a good many things
got to be changed. The West is going to make itself heard."
Carl laughed. "But, surely, it did do that, if nothing else."
Lou's thin face reddened up to the roots of his bristly hair. "Oh,
we've only begun. We're waking up to a sense of our responsibilities,
out here, and we ain't afraid, neither. You fellows back there
must be a tame lot. If you had any nerve you'd get together and
march down to Wall Street and blow it up. Dynamite it, I mean,"
with a threatening nod.
He was so much in earnest that Carl scarcely knew how to answer
him. "That would be a waste of powder. The same business would
go on in another street. The street doesn't matter. But what have
you fellows out here got to kick about? You have the only safe
place there is. Morgan himself couldn't touch you. One only has
to drive through this country to see that you're all as rich as
"We have a good deal more to say than we had when we were poor,"
said Lou threateningly. "We're getting on to a whole lot of things."
As Ivar drove a double carriage up to the gate, Annie came out in
a hat that looked like the model of a battleship. Carl rose and
took her down to the carriage, while Lou lingered for a word with
"What do you suppose he's come for?" he asked, jerking his head
toward the gate.
"Why, to pay us a visit. I've been begging him to for years."
Oscar looked at Alexandra. "He didn't let you know he was coming?"
"No. Why should he? I told him to come at any time."
Lou shrugged his shoulders. "He doesn't seem to have done much
for himself. Wandering around this way!"
Oscar spoke solemnly, as from the depths of a cavern. "He never
was much account."
Alexandra left them and hurried down to the gate where Annie was
rattling on to Carl about her new dining-room furniture. "You
must bring Mr. Linstrum over real soon, only be sure to telephone
me first," she called back, as Carl helped her into the carriage.
Old Ivar, his white head bare, stood holding the horses. Lou came
down the path and climbed into the front seat, took up the reins,
and drove off without saying anything further to any one. Oscar
picked up his youngest boy and trudged off down the road, the other
three trotting after him. Carl, holding the gate open for Alexandra,
began to laugh. "Up and coming on the Divide, eh, Alexandra?" he
Carl had changed, Alexandra felt, much less than one might have
expected. He had not become a trim, self-satisfied city man. There
was still something homely and wayward and definitely personal
about him. Even his clothes, his Norfolk coat and his very high
collars, were a little unconventional. He seemed to shrink into
himself as he used to do; to hold himself away from things, as if
he were afraid of being hurt. In short, he was more self-con-scious
than a man of thirty-five is expected to be. He looked older than
his years and not very strong. His black hair, which still hung
in a triangle over his pale forehead, was thin at the crown, and
there were fine, relentless lines about his eyes. His back, with
its high, sharp shoulders, looked like the back of an over-worked
German professor off on his holiday. His face was intelligent,
That evening after supper, Carl and Alexandra were sitting by the
clump of castor beans in the middle of the flower garden. The
gravel paths glittered in the moonlight, and below them the fields
lay white and still.
"Do you know, Alexandra," he was saying, "I've been thinking how
strangely things work out. I've been away engraving other men's
pictures, and you've stayed at home and made your own." He pointed
with his cigar toward the sleeping landscape. "How in the world
have you done it? How have your neighbors done it?"
"We hadn't any of us much to do with it, Carl. The land did it.
It had its little joke. It pretended to be poor because nobody
knew how to work it right; and then, all at once, it worked itself.
It woke up out of its sleep and stretched itself, and it was so big,
so rich, that we suddenly found we were rich, just from sitting
still. As for me, you remember when I began to buy land. For
years after that I was always squeezing and borrowing until I was
ashamed to show my face in the banks. And then, all at once, men
began to come to me offering to lend me money--and I didn't need
it! Then I went ahead and built this house. I really built it
for Emil. I want you to see Emil, Carl. He is so different from
the rest of us!"
"Oh, you'll see! I'm sure it was to have sons like Emil, and to
give them a chance, that father left the old country. It's curious,
too; on the outside Emil is just like an American boy,--he graduated
from the State University in June, you know,--but underneath he is
more Swedish than any of us. Sometimes he is so like father that
he frightens me; he is so violent in his feelings like that."
"Is he going to farm here with you?"
"He shall do whatever he wants to," Alexandra declared warmly. "He
is going to have a chance, a whole chance; that's what I've worked
for. Sometimes he talks about studying law, and sometimes, just
lately, he's been talking about going out into the sand hills and
taking up more land. He has his sad times, like father. But I
hope he won't do that. We have land enough, at last!" Alexandra
"How about Lou and Oscar? They've done well, haven't they?"
"Yes, very well; but they are different, and now that they have
farms of their own I do not see so much of them. We divided the
land equally when Lou married. They have their own way of doing
things, and they do not altogether like my way, I am afraid. Perhaps
they think me too independent. But I have had to think for myself
a good many years and am not likely to change. On the whole,
though, we take as much comfort in each other as most brothers and
sisters do. And I am very fond of Lou's oldest daughter."
"I think I liked the old Lou and Oscar better, and they probably
feel the same about me. I even, if you can keep a secret,"--Carl
leaned forward and touched her arm, smiling,--"I even think I liked
the old country better. This is all very splendid in its way,
but there was something about this country when it was a wild old
beast that has haunted me all these years. Now, when I come back
to all this milk and honey, I feel like the old German song, 'Wo
bist du, wo bist du, mein geliebtest Land?'-- Do you ever feel like
that, I wonder?"
"Yes, sometimes, when I think about father and mother and those
who are gone; so many of our old neighbors." Alexandra paused and
looked up thoughtfully at the stars. "We can remember the graveyard
when it was wild prairie, Carl, and now--"
"And now the old story has begun to write itself over there," said
Carl softly. "Isn't it queer: there are only two or three human
stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they
had never happened before; like the larks in this country, that
have been singing the same five notes over for thousands of years."
"Oh, yes! The young people, they live so hard. And yet I sometimes
envy them. There is my little neighbor, now; the people who bought
your old place. I wouldn't have sold it to any one else, but I
was always fond of that girl. You must remember her, little Marie
Tovesky, from Omaha, who used to visit here? When she was eighteen
she ran away from the convent school and got married, crazy child!
She came out here a bride, with her father and husband. He had
nothing, and the old man was willing to buy them a place and set
them up. Your farm took her fancy, and I was glad to have her so
near me. I've never been sorry, either. I even try to get along
with Frank on her account."
"Is Frank her husband?"
"Yes. He's one of these wild fellows. Most Bohemians are
good-natured, but Frank thinks we don't appreciate him here, I
guess. He's jealous about everything, his farm and his horses and
his pretty wife. Everybody likes her, just the same as when she
was little. Sometimes I go up to the Catholic church with Emil,
and it's funny to see Marie standing there laughing and shaking
hands with people, looking so excited and gay, with Frank sulking
behind her as if he could eat everybody alive. Frank's not a bad
neighbor, but to get on with him you've got to make a fuss over
him and act as if you thought he was a very important person all
the time, and different from other people. I find it hard to keep
that up from one year's end to another."
"I shouldn't think you'd be very successful at that kind of thing,
Alexandra." Carl seemed to find the idea amusing.
"Well," said Alexandra firmly, "I do the best I can, on Marie's
account. She has it hard enough, anyway. She's too young and
pretty for this sort of life. We're all ever so much older and
slower. But she's the kind that won't be downed easily. She'll
work all day and go to a Bohemian wedding and dance all night, and
drive the hay wagon for a cross man next morning. I could stay by
a job, but I never had the go in me that she has, when I was going
my best. I'll have to take you over to see her to-morrow."
Carl dropped the end of his cigar softly among the castor beans and
sighed. "Yes, I suppose I must see the old place. I'm cowardly
about things that remind me of myself. It took courage to come
at all, Alexandra. I wouldn't have, if I hadn't wanted to see you
very, very much."
Alexandra looked at him with her calm, deliberate eyes. "Why do
you dread things like that, Carl?" she asked earnestly. "Why are
you dissatisfied with yourself?"
Her visitor winced. "How direct you are, Alexandra! Just like
you used to be. Do I give myself away so quickly? Well, you see,
for one thing, there's nothing to look forward to in my profession.
Wood-engraving is the only thing I care about, and that had gone out
before I began. Everything's cheap metal work nowadays, touching
up miserable photographs, forcing up poor drawings, and spoiling good
ones. I'm absolutely sick of it all." Carl frowned. "Alexandra,
all the way out from New York I've been planning how I could
deceive you and make you think me a very enviable fellow, and here
I am telling you the truth the first night. I waste a lot of time
pretending to people, and the joke of it is, I don't think I ever
deceive any one. There are too many of my kind; people know us on
Carl paused. Alexandra pushed her hair back from her brow with a
puzzled, thoughtful gesture. "You see," he went on calmly, "measured
by your standards here, I'm a failure. I couldn't buy even one of
your cornfields. I've enjoyed a great many things, but I've got
nothing to show for it all."
"But you show for it yourself, Carl. I'd rather have had your
freedom than my land."
Carl shook his head mournfully. "Freedom so often means that one
isn't needed anywhere. Here you are an individual, you have a
background of your own, you would be missed. But off there in the
cities there are thousands of rolling stones like me. We are all
alike; we have no ties, we know nobody, we own nothing. When one
of us dies, they scarcely know where to bury him. Our landlady and
the delicatessen man are our mourners, and we leave nothing behind
us but a frock-coat and a fiddle, or an easel, or a typewriter, or
whatever tool we got our living by. All we have ever managed to
do is to pay our rent, the exorbitant rent that one has to pay for
a few square feet of space near the heart of things. We have no
house, no place, no people of our own. We live in the streets,
in the parks, in the theatres. We sit in restaurants and concert
halls and look about at the hundreds of our own kind and shudder."
Alexandra was silent. She sat looking at the silver spot the moon
made on the surface of the pond down in the pasture. He knew that
she understood what he meant. At last she said slowly, "And yet I
would rather have Emil grow up like that than like his two brothers.
We pay a high rent, too, though we pay differently. We grow hard
and heavy here. We don't move lightly and easily as you do, and
our minds get stiff. If the world were no wider than my cornfields,
if there were not something beside this, I wouldn't feel that it
was much worth while to work. No, I would rather have Emil like
you than like them. I felt that as soon as you came."
"I wonder why you feel like that?" Carl mused.
"I don't know. Perhaps I am like Carrie Jensen, the sister of one
of my hired men. She had never been out of the cornfields, and a
few years ago she got despondent and said life was just the same
thing over and over, and she didn't see the use of it. After she
had tried to kill herself once or twice, her folks got worried and
sent her over to Iowa to visit some relations. Ever since she's
come back she's been perfectly cheerful, and she says she's contented
to live and work in a world that's so big and interesting. She
said that anything as big as the bridges over the Platte and the
Missouri reconciled her. And it's what goes on in the world that
Alexandra did not find time to go to her neighbor's the next day, nor
the next. It was a busy season on the farm, with the corn-plowing
going on, and even Emil was in the field with a team and cultivator.
Carl went about over the farms with Alexandra in the morning, and
in the afternoon and evening they found a great deal to talk about.
Emil, for all his track practice, did not stand up under farmwork
very well, and by night he was too tired to talk or even to practise
on his cornet.
On Wednesday morning Carl got up before it was light, and stole
downstairs and out of the kitchen door just as old Ivar was making
his morning ablutions at the pump. Carl nodded to him and hurried
up the draw, past the garden, and into the pasture where the milking
cows used to be kept.
The dawn in the east looked like the light from some great fire that
was burning under the edge of the world. The color was reflected
in the globules of dew that sheathed the short gray pasture grass.
Carl walked rapidly until he came to the crest of the second hill,
where the Bergson pasture joined the one that had belonged to his
father. There he sat down and waited for the sun to rise. It was
just there that he and Alexandra used to do their milking together, he
on his side of the fence, she on hers. He could remember exactly
how she looked when she came over the close-cropped grass, her
skirts pinned up, her head bare, a bright tin pail in either hand,
and the milky light of the early morning all about her. Even as
a boy he used to feel, when he saw her coming with her free step,
her upright head and calm shoulders, that she looked as if she had
walked straight out of the morning itself. Since then, when he had
happened to see the sun come up in the country or on the water, he
had often remembered the young Swedish girl and her milking pails.
Carl sat musing until the sun leaped above the prairie, and in the
grass about him all the small creatures of day began to tune their
tiny instruments. Birds and insects without number began to chirp,
to twitter, to snap and whistle, to make all manner of fresh shrill
noises. The pasture was flooded with light; every clump of ironweed
and snow-on-the-mountain threw a long shadow, and the golden light
seemed to be rippling through the curly grass like the tide racing
He crossed the fence into the pasture that was now the Shabatas' and
continued his walk toward the pond. He had not gone far, however,
when he discovered that he was not the only person abroad. In the
draw below, his gun in his hands, was Emil, advancing cautiously,
with a young woman beside him. They were moving softly, keeping
close together, and Carl knew that they expected to find ducks on
the pond. At the moment when they came in sight of the bright spot
of water, he heard a whirr of wings and the ducks shot up into the
air. There was a sharp crack from the gun, and five of the birds
fell to the ground. Emil and his companion laughed delightedly,
and Emil ran to pick them up. When he came back, dangling the
ducks by their feet, Marie held her apron and he dropped them into
it. As she stood looking down at them, her face changed. She
took up one of the birds, a rumpled ball of feathers with the blood
dripping slowly from its mouth, and looked at the live color that
still burned on its plumage.
As she let it fall, she cried in distress, "Oh, Emil, why did you?"
"I like that!" the boy exclaimed indignantly. "Why, Marie, you
asked me to come yourself."
":Yes, yes, I know," she said tearfully, "but I didn't think. I
hate to see them when they are first shot. They were having such
a good time, and we've spoiled it all for them."
Emil gave a rather sore laugh. "I should say we had! I'm not going
hunting with you any more. You're as bad as Ivar. Here, let me
take them." He snatched the ducks out of her apron.
"Don't be cross, Emil. Only--Ivar's right about wild things. They're
too happy to kill. You can tell just how they felt when they flew
up. They were scared, but they didn't really think anything could
hurt them. No, we won't do that any more."
"All right," Emil assented. "I'm sorry I made you feel bad." As
he looked down into her tearful eyes, there was a curious, sharp
young bitterness in his own.
Carl watched them as they moved slowly down the draw. They had
not seen him at all. He had not overheard much of their dialogue,
but he felt the import of it. It made him, somehow, unreasonably
mournful to find two young things abroad in the pasture in the
early morning. He decided that he needed his breakfast.
At dinner that day Alexandra said she thought they must really
manage to go over to the Shabatas' that afternoon. "It's not often
I let three days go by without seeing Marie. She will think I have
forsaken her, now that my old friend has come back."
After the men had gone back to work, Alexandra put on a white dress
and her sun-hat, and she and Carl set forth across the fields.
"You see we have kept up the old path, Carl. It has been so nice
for me to feel that there was a friend at the other end of it
Carl smiled a little ruefully. "All the same, I hope it hasn't
been QUITE the same."
Alexandra looked at him with surprise. "Why, no, of course not.
Not the same. She could not very well take your place, if that's
what you mean. I'm friendly with all my neighbors, I hope. But
Marie is really a companion, some one I can talk to quite frankly.
You wouldn't want me to be more lonely than I have been, would
Carl laughed and pushed back the triangular lock of hair with the
edge of his hat. "Of course I don't. I ought to be thankful that
this path hasn't been worn by--well, by friends with more pressing
errands than your little Bohemian is likely to have." He paused
to give Alexandra his hand as she stepped over the stile. "Are
you the least bit disappointed in our coming together again?" he
asked abruptly. "Is it the way you hoped it would be?"
Alexandra smiled at this. "Only better. When I've thought about
your coming, I've sometimes been a little afraid of it. You have
lived where things move so fast, and everything is slow here; the
people slowest of all. Our lives are like the years, all made up
of weather and crops and cows. How you hated cows!" She shook her
head and laughed to herself.
"I didn't when we milked together. I walked up to the pasture
corners this morning. I wonder whether I shall ever be able to
tell you all that I was thinking about up there. It's a strange
thing, Alexandra; I find it easy to be frank with you about everything
under the sun except--yourself!"
"You are afraid of hurting my feelings, perhaps." Alexandra looked
at him thoughtfully.
"No, I'm afraid of giving you a shock. You've seen yourself for
so long in the dull minds of the people about you, that if I were
to tell you how you seem to me, it would startle you. But you must
see that you astonish me. You must feel when people admire you."
Alexandra blushed and laughed with some confusion. "I felt that
you were pleased with me, if you mean that."
"And you've felt when other people were pleased with you?" he
"Well, sometimes. The men in town, at the banks and the county
offices, seem glad to see me. I think, myself, it is more pleasant
to do business with people who are clean and healthy-looking," she
Carl gave a little chuckle as he opened the Shabatas' gate for her.
"Oh, do you?" he asked dryly.
There was no sign of life about the Shabatas' house except a big
yellow cat, sunning itself on the kitchen doorstep.
Alexandra took the path that led to the orchard. "She often sits
there and sews. I didn't telephone her we were coming, because I
didn't want her to go to work and bake cake and freeze ice-cream.
She'll always make a party if you give her the least excuse. Do
you recognize the apple trees, Carl?"
Linstrum looked about him. "I wish I had a dollar for every bucket
of water I've carried for those trees. Poor father, he was an
easy man, but he was perfectly merciless when it came to watering
"That's one thing I like about Germans; they make an orchard grow
if they can't make anything else. I'm so glad these trees belong
to some one who takes comfort in them. When I rented this place,
the tenants never kept the orchard up, and Emil and I used to come
over and take care of it ourselves. It needs mowing now. There
she is, down in the corner. Maria-a-a!" she called.
A recumbent figure started up from the grass and came running toward
them through the flickering screen of light and shade.
"Look at her! Isn't she like a little brown rabbit?" Alexandra
Maria ran up panting and threw her arms about Alexandra. "Oh, I
had begun to think you were not coming at all, maybe. I knew you
were so busy. Yes, Emil told me about Mr. Linstrum being here.
Won't you come up to the house?"
"Why not sit down there in your corner? Carl wants to see the
orchard. He kept all these trees alive for years, watering them
with his own back."
Marie turned to Carl. "Then I'm thankful to you, Mr. Linstrum. We'd
never have bought the place if it hadn't been for this orchard, and
then I wouldn't have had Alexandra, either." She gave Alexandra's
arm a little squeeze as she walked beside her. "How nice your dress
smells, Alexandra; you put rosemary leaves in your chest, like I
She led them to the northwest corner of the orchard, sheltered on
one side by a thick mulberry hedge and bordered on the other by a
wheatfield, just beginning to yellow. In this corner the ground
dipped a little, and the blue-grass, which the weeds had driven out
in the upper part of the orchard, grew thick and luxuriant. Wild
roses were flaming in the tufts of bunchgrass along the fence.
Under a white mulberry tree there was an old wagon-seat. Beside
it lay a book and a workbasket.
"You must have the seat, Alexandra. The grass would stain your
dress," the hostess insisted. She dropped down on the ground
at Alexandra's side and tucked her feet under her. Carl sat at
a little distance from the two women, his back to the wheatfield,
and watched them. Alexandra took off her shade-hat and threw it on
the ground. Marie picked it up and played with the white ribbons,
twisting them about her brown fingers as she talked. They made a
pretty picture in the strong sunlight, the leafy pattern surrounding
them like a net; the Swedish woman so white and gold, kindly and
amused, but armored in calm, and the alert brown one, her full lips
parted, points of yellow light dancing in her eyes as she laughed
and chattered. Carl had never forgotten little Marie Tovesky's
eyes, and he was glad to have an opportunity to study them. The
brown iris, he found, was curiously slashed with yellow, the color
of sunflower honey, or of old amber. In each eye one of these
streaks must have been larger than the others, for the effect was
that of two dancing points of light, two little yellow bubbles,
such as rise in a glass of champagne. Sometimes they seemed like
the sparks from a forge. She seemed so easily excited, to kindle
with a fierce little flame if one but breathed upon her. "What
a waste," Carl reflected. "She ought to be doing all that for a
sweetheart. How awkwardly things come about!"
It was not very long before Marie sprang up out of the grass again.
"Wait a moment. I want to show you something." She ran away and
disappeared behind the low-growing apple trees.
"What a charming creature," Carl murmured. "I don't wonder that
her husband is jealous. But can't she walk? does she always run?"
Alexandra nodded. "Always. I don't see many people, but I don't
believe there are many like her, anywhere."
Marie came back with a branch she had broken from an apricot tree,
laden with pale yellow, pink-cheeked fruit. She dropped it beside
Carl. "Did you plant those, too? They are such beautiful little
Carl fingered the blue-green leaves, porous like blotting-paper and
shaped like birch leaves, hung on waxen red stems. "Yes, I think
I did. Are these the circus trees, Alexandra?"
"Shall I tell her about them?" Alexandra asked. "Sit down like
a good girl, Marie, and don't ruin my poor hat, and I'll tell you
a story. A long time ago, when Carl and I were, say, sixteen and
twelve, a circus came to Hanover and we went to town in our wagon,
with Lou and Oscar, to see the parade. We hadn't money enough to
go to the circus. We followed the parade out to the circus grounds
and hung around until the show began and the crowd went inside the
tent. Then Lou was afraid we looked foolish standing outside in
the pasture, so we went back to Hanover feeling very sad. There
was a man in the streets selling apricots, and we had never seen
any before. He had driven down from somewhere up in the French
country, and he was selling them twenty-five cents a peck. We had
a little money our fathers had given us for candy, and I bought
two pecks and Carl bought one. They cheered us a good deal, and
we saved all the seeds and planted them. Up to the time Carl went
away, they hadn't borne at all."
"And now he's come back to eat them," cried Marie, nodding at Carl.
"That IS a good story. I can remember you a little, Mr. Linstrum.
I used to see you in Hanover sometimes, when Uncle Joe took me to
town. I remember you because you were always buying pencils and
tubes of paint at the drug store. Once, when my uncle left me at
the store, you drew a lot of little birds and flowers for me on a
piece of wrapping-paper. I kept them for a long while. I thought
you were very romantic because you could draw and had such black
Carl smiled. "Yes, I remember that time. Your uncle bought you
some kind of a mechanical toy, a Turkish lady sitting on an ottoman
and smoking a hookah, wasn't it? And she turned her head backwards
"Oh, yes! Wasn't she splendid! I knew well enough I ought not
to tell Uncle Joe I wanted it, for he had just come back from the
saloon and was feeling good. You remember how he laughed? She
tickled him, too. But when we got home, my aunt scolded him for
buying toys when she needed so many things. We wound our lady up
every night, and when she began to move her head my aunt used to
laugh as hard as any of us. It was a music-box, you know, and the
Turkish lady played a tune while she smoked. That was how she made
you feel so jolly. As I remember her, she was lovely, and had a
gold crescent on her turban."
Half an hour later, as they were leaving the house, Carl and Alexandra
were met in the path by a strapping fellow in overalls and a blue
shirt. He was breathing hard, as if he had been running, and was
muttering to himself.
Marie ran forward, and, taking him by the arm, gave him a little
push toward her guests. "Frank, this is Mr. Linstrum."
Frank took off his broad straw hat and nodded to Alexandra. When
he spoke to Carl, he showed a fine set of white teeth. He was burned
a dull red down to his neckband, and there was a heavy three-days'
stubble on his face. Even in his agitation he was handsome, but
he looked a rash and violent man.
Barely saluting the callers, he turned at once to his wife and
began, in an outraged tone, "I have to leave my team to drive the
old woman Hiller's hogs out-a my wheat. I go to take dat old woman
to de court if she ain't careful, I tell you!"
His wife spoke soothingly. "But, Frank, she has only her lame boy
to help her. She does the best she can."
Alexandra looked at the excited man and offered a suggestion. "Why
don't you go over there some afternoon and hog-tight her fences?
You'd save time for yourself in the end."
Frank's neck stiffened. "Not-a-much, I won't. I keep my hogs
home. Other peoples can do like me. See? If that Louis can mend
shoes, he can mend fence."
"Maybe," said Alexandra placidly; "but I've found it sometimes pays
to mend other people's fences. Good-bye, Marie. Come to see me
Alexandra walked firmly down the path and Carl followed her.
Frank went into the house and threw himself on the sofa, his face
to the wall, his clenched fist on his hip. Marie, having seen her
guests off, came in and put her hand coaxingly on his shoulder.
"Poor Frank! You've run until you've made your head ache, now
haven't you? Let me make you some coffee."
"What else am I to do?" he cried hotly in Bohemian. "Am I to let
any old woman's hogs root up my wheat? Is that what I work myself
to death for?"
"Don't worry about it, Frank. I'll speak to Mrs. Hiller again.
But, really, she almost cried last time they got out, she was so
Frank bounced over on his other side. "That's it; you always side
with them against me. They all know it. Anybody here feels free
to borrow the mower and break it, or turn their hogs in on me.
They know you won't care!"
Marie hurried away to make his coffee. When she came back, he was
fast asleep. She sat down and looked at him for a long while, very
thoughtfully. When the kitchen clock struck six she went out to
get supper, closing the door gently behind her. She was always
sorry for Frank when he worked himself into one of these rages, and
she was sorry to have him rough and quarrelsome with his neighbors.
She was perfectly aware that the neighbors had a good deal to put
up with, and that they bore with Frank for her sake.
Marie's father, Albert Tovesky, was one of the more intelligent
Bohemians who came West in the early seventies. He settled in Omaha
and became a leader and adviser among his people there. Marie was
his youngest child, by a second wife, and was the apple of his eye.
She was barely sixteen, and was in the graduating class of the
Omaha High School, when Frank Shabata arrived from the old country
and set all the Bohemian girls in a flutter. He was easily the
buck of the beer-gardens, and on Sunday he was a sight to see, with
his silk hat and tucked shirt and blue frock-coat, wearing gloves
and carrying a little wisp of a yellow cane. He was tall and fair,
with splendid teeth and close-cropped yellow curls, and he wore a
slightly disdainful expression, proper for a young man with high
connections, whose mother had a big farm in the Elbe valley. There
was often an interesting discontent in his blue eyes, and every
Bohemian girl he met imagined herself the cause of that unsatisfied
expression. He had a way of drawing out his cambric handkerchief
slowly, by one corner, from his breast-pocket, that was melancholy
and romantic in the extreme. He took a little flight with each
of the more eligible Bohemian girls, but it was when he was with
little Marie Tovesky that he drew his handkerchief out most slowly,
and, after he had lit a fresh cigar, dropped the match most
despairingly. Any one could see, with half an eye, that his proud
heart was bleeding for somebody.
One Sunday, late in the summer after Marie's graduation, she met
Frank at a Bohemian picnic down the river and went rowing with him
all the afternoon. When she got home that evening she went straight
to her father's room and told him that she was engaged to Shabata.
Old Tovesky was having a comfortable pipe before he went to bed.
When he heard his daughter's announcement, he first prudently
corked his beer bottle and then leaped to his feet and had a turn
of temper. He characterized Frank Shabata by a Bohemian expression
which is the equivalent of stuffed shirt.
"Why don't he go to work like the rest of us did? His farm in the
Elbe valley, indeed! Ain't he got plenty brothers and sisters?
It's his mother's farm, and why don't he stay at home and help her?
Haven't I seen his mother out in the morning at five o'clock with
her ladle and her big bucket on wheels, putting liquid manure on
the cabbages? Don't I know the look of old Eva Shabata's hands?
Like an old horse's hoofs they are--and this fellow wearing gloves
and rings! Engaged, indeed! You aren't fit to be out of school,
and that's what's the matter with you. I will send you off to the
Sisters of the Sacred Heart in St. Louis, and they will teach you
some sense, ~I~ guess!"
Accordingly, the very next week, Albert Tovesky took his daughter,
pale and tearful, down the river to the convent. But the way to
make Frank want anything was to tell him he couldn't have it. He
managed to have an interview with Marie before she went away,
and whereas he had been only half in love with her before, he now
persuaded himself that he would not stop at anything. Marie took
with her to the convent, under the canvas lining of her trunk, the
results of a laborious and satisfying morning on Frank's part; no
less than a dozen photographs of himself, taken in a dozen different
love-lorn attitudes. There was a little round photograph for her
watch-case, photographs for her wall and dresser, and even long
narrow ones to be used as bookmarks. More than once the handsome
gentleman was torn to pieces before the French class by an indignant
Marie pined in the convent for a year, until her eighteenth birthday
was passed. Then she met Frank Shabata in the Union Station in
St. Louis and ran away with him. Old Tovesky forgave his daughter
because there was nothing else to do, and bought her a farm in
the country that she had loved so well as a child. Since then her
story had been a part of the history of the Divide. She and Frank
had been living there for five years when Carl Linstrum came back
to pay his long deferred visit to Alexandra. Frank had, on the
whole, done better than one might have expected. He had flung
himself at the soil with savage energy. Once a year he went to
Hastings or to Omaha, on a spree. He stayed away for a week or
two, and then came home and worked like a demon. He did work; if
he felt sorry for himself, that was his own affair.
On the evening of the day of Alexandra's call at the Shabatas',
a heavy rain set in. Frank sat up until a late hour reading the
Sunday newspapers. One of the Goulds was getting a divorce, and
Frank took it as a personal affront. In printing the story of the
young man's marital troubles, the knowing editor gave a sufficiently
colored account of his career, stating the amount of his income
and the manner in which he was supposed to spend it. Frank read
English slowly, and the more he read about this divorce case, the
angrier he grew. At last he threw down the page with a snort. He
turned to his farm-hand who was reading the other half of the paper.
"By God! if I have that young feller in de hayfield once, I show
him someting. Listen here what he do wit his money." And Frank
began the catalogue of the young man's reputed extravagances.
Marie sighed. She thought it hard that the Goulds, for whom she
had nothing but good will, should make her so much trouble. She
hated to see the Sunday newspapers come into the house. Frank was
always reading about the doings of rich people and feeling outraged.
He had an inexhaustible stock of stories about their crimes and
follies, how they bribed the courts and shot down their butlers
with impunity whenever they chose. Frank and Lou Bergson had very
similar ideas, and they were two of the political agitators of the
The next morning broke clear and brilliant, but Frank said the
ground was too wet to plough, so he took the cart and drove over to
Sainte-Agnes to spend the day at Moses Marcel's saloon. After he
was gone, Marie went out to the back porch to begin her butter-making.
A brisk wind had come up and was driving puffy white clouds across
the sky. The orchard was sparkling and rippling in the sun. Marie
stood looking toward it wistfully, her hand on the lid of the
churn, when she heard a sharp ring in the air, the merry sound of
the whetstone on the scythe. That invitation decided her. She ran
into the house, put on a short skirt and a pair of her husband's
boots, caught up a tin pail and started for the orchard. Emil
had already begun work and was mowing vigorously. When he saw her
coming, he stopped and wiped his brow. His yellow canvas leggings
and khaki trousers were splashed to the knees.
"Don't let me disturb you, Emil. I'm going to pick cherries.
Isn't everything beautiful after the rain? Oh, but I'm glad to get
this place mowed! When I heard it raining in the night, I thought
maybe you would come and do it for me to-day. The wind wakened
me. Didn't it blow dreadfully? Just smell the wild roses! They
are always so spicy after a rain. We never had so many of them
in here before. I suppose it's the wet season. Will you have to
cut them, too?"
"If I cut the grass, I will," Emil said teasingly. "What's the
matter with you? What makes you so flighty?"
"Am I flighty? I suppose that's the wet season, too, then. It's
exciting to see everything growing so fast,--and to get the grass
cut! Please leave the roses till last, if you must cut them. Oh,
I don't mean all of them, I mean that low place down by my tree, where
there are so many. Aren't you splashed! Look at the spider-webs
all over the grass. Good-bye. I'll call you if I see a snake."
She tripped away and Emil stood looking after her. In a few moments
he heard the cherries dropping smartly into the pail, and he began
to swing his scythe with that long, even stroke that few American
boys ever learn. Marie picked cherries and sang softly to herself,
stripping one glittering branch after another, shivering when she
caught a shower of raindrops on her neck and hair. And Emil mowed
his way slowly down toward the cherry trees.
That summer the rains had been so many and opportune that it was
almost more than Shabata and his man could do to keep up with the
corn; the orchard was a neglected wilderness. All sorts of weeds and
herbs and flowers had grown up there; splotches of wild larkspur,
pale green-and-white spikes of hoarhound, plantations of wild
cotton, tangles of foxtail and wild wheat. South of the apricot
trees, cornering on the wheatfield, was Frank's alfalfa, where
myriads of white and yellow butterflies were always fluttering
above the purple blossoms. When Emil reached the lower corner by
the hedge, Marie was sitting under her white mulberry tree, the
pailful of cherries beside her, looking off at the gentle, tireless
swelling of the wheat.
"Emil," she said suddenly--he was mowing quietly about under the
tree so as not to disturb her--"what religion did the Swedes have
away back, before they were Christians?"
Emil paused and straightened his back. "I don't know. About like
the Germans', wasn't it?"
Marie went on as if she had not heard him. "The Bohemians, you
know, were tree worshipers before the missionaries came. Father says
the people in the mountains still do queer things, sometimes,--they
believe that trees bring good or bad luck."
Emil looked superior. "Do they? Well, which are the lucky trees?
I'd like to know."
"I don't know all of them, but I know lindens are. The old people
in the mountains plant lindens to purify the forest, and to do away
with the spells that come from the old trees they say have lasted
from heathen times. I'm a good Catholic, but I think I could get
along with caring for trees, if I hadn't anything else."
"That's a poor saying," said Emil, stooping over to wipe his hands
in the wet grass.
"Why is it? If I feel that way, I feel that way. I like trees
because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than
other things do. I feel as if this tree knows everything I ever
think of when I sit here. When I come back to it, I never have to
remind it of anything; I begin just where I left off."
Emil had nothing to say to this. He reached up among the branches
and began to pick the sweet, insipid fruit,--long ivory-colored
berries, tipped with faint pink, like white coral, that fall to
the ground unheeded all summer through. He dropped a handful into
"Do you like Mr. Linstrum?" Marie asked suddenly.
"Yes. Don't you?"
"Oh, ever so much; only he seems kind of staid and school-teachery.
But, of course, he is older than Frank, even. I'm sure I don't
want to live to be more than thirty, do you? Do you think Alexandra
likes him very much?"
"I suppose so. They were old friends."
"Oh, Emil, you know what I mean!" Marie tossed her head impatiently.
"Does she really care about him? When she used to tell me about
him, I always wondered whether she wasn't a little in love with
"Who, Alexandra?" Emil laughed and thrust his hands into his
trousers pockets. "Alexandra's never been in love, you crazy!" He
laughed again. "She wouldn't know how to go about it. The idea!"
Marie shrugged her shoulders. "Oh, you don't know Alexandra as well
as you think you do! If you had any eyes, you would see that she
is very fond of him. It would serve you all right if she walked
off with Carl. I like him because he appreciates her more than
Emil frowned. "What are you talking about, Marie? Alexandra's
all right. She and I have always been good friends. What more do
you want? I like to talk to Carl about New York and what a fellow
can do there."
"Oh, Emil! Surely you are not thinking of going off there?"
"Why not? I must go somewhere, mustn't I?" The young man took up
his scythe and leaned on it. "Would you rather I went off in the
sand hills and lived like Ivar?"
Marie's face fell under his brooding gaze. She looked down at his
wet leggings. "I'm sure Alexandra hopes you will stay on here,"
"Then Alexandra will be disappointed," the young man said roughly.
"What do I want to hang around here for? Alexandra can run the
farm all right, without me. I don't want to stand around and look
on. I want to be doing something on my own account."
"That's so," Marie sighed. "There are so many, many things you
can do. Almost anything you choose."
"And there are so many, many things I can't do." Emil echoed her
tone sarcastically. "Sometimes I don't want to do anything at
all, and sometimes I want to pull the four corners of the Divide
together,"--he threw out his arm and brought it back with a jerk,--"so,
like a table-cloth. I get tired of seeing men and horses going up
and down, up and down."
Marie looked up at his defiant figure and her face clouded. "I wish
you weren't so restless, and didn't get so worked up over things,"
she said sadly.
"Thank you," he returned shortly.
She sighed despondently. "Everything I say makes you cross, don't
it? And you never used to be cross to me."
Emil took a step nearer and stood frowning down at her bent head.
He stood in an attitude of self-defense, his feet well apart, his
hands clenched and drawn up at his sides, so that the cords stood
out on his bare arms. "I can't play with you like a little boy
any more," he said slowly. "That's what you miss, Marie. You'll
have to get some other little boy to play with." He stopped and took
a deep breath. Then he went on in a low tone, so intense that it
was almost threatening: "Sometimes you seem to understand perfectly,
and then sometimes you pretend you don't. You don't help things
any by pretending. It's then that I want to pull the corners of
the Divide together. If you WON'T understand, you know, I could
Marie clasped her hands and started up from her seat. She had grown
very pale and her eyes were shining with excitement and distress.
"But, Emil, if I understand, then all our good times are over, we
can never do nice things together any more. We shall have to behave
like Mr. Linstrum. And, anyhow, there's nothing to understand!"
She struck the ground with her little foot fiercely. "That won't
last. It will go away, and things will be just as they used to.
I wish you were a Catholic. The Church helps people, indeed it
does. I pray for you, but that's not the same as if you prayed
She spoke rapidly and pleadingly, looked entreatingly into his
face. Emil stood defiant, gazing down at her.
"I can't pray to have the things I want," he said slowly, "and I
won't pray not to have them, not if I'm damned for it."
Marie turned away, wringing her hands. "Oh, Emil, you won't try!
Then all our good times are over."
"Yes; over. I never expect to have any more."
Emil gripped the hand-holds of his scythe and began to mow. Marie
took up her cherries and went slowly toward the house, crying
On Sunday afternoon, a month after Carl Linstrum's arrival, he rode
with Emil up into the French country to attend a Catholic fair. He
sat for most of the afternoon in the basement of the church, where
the fair was held, talking to Marie Shabata, or strolled about the
gravel terrace, thrown up on the hillside in front of the basement
doors, where the French boys were jumping and wrestling and throwing
the discus. Some of the boys were in their white baseball suits;
they had just come up from a Sunday practice game down in the
ballgrounds. Amedee, the newly married, Emil's best friend, was
their pitcher, renowned among the country towns for his dash and
skill. Amedee was a little fellow, a year younger than Emil and
much more boyish in appearance; very lithe and active and neatly
made, with a clear brown and white skin, and flashing white teeth.
The Sainte-Agnes boys were to play the Hastings nine in a fortnight,
and Amedee's lightning balls were the hope of his team. The little
Frenchman seemed to get every ounce there was in him behind the
ball as it left his hand.
"You'd have made the battery at the University for sure, 'Medee,"
Emil said as they were walking from the ball-grounds back to the
church on the hill. "You're pitching better than you did in the
Amedee grinned. "Sure! A married man don't lose his head no more."
He slapped Emil on the back as he caught step with him. "Oh, Emil,
you wanna get married right off quick! It's the greatest thing
Emil laughed. "How am I going to get married without any girl?"
Amedee took his arm. "Pooh! There are plenty girls will have
you. You wanna get some nice French girl, now. She treat you well;
always be jolly. See,"--he began checking off on his fingers,--"there
is Severine, and Alphosen, and Josephine, and Hectorine, and Louise,
and Malvina--why, I could love any of them girls! Why don't you
get after them? Are you stuck up, Emil, or is anything the matter
with you? I never did know a boy twenty-two years old before that
didn't have no girl. You wanna be a priest, maybe? Not-a for me!"
Amedee swaggered. "I bring many good Catholics into this world,
I hope, and that's a way I help the Church."
Emil looked down and patted him on the shoulder. "Now you're windy,
'Medee. You Frenchies like to brag."
But Amedee had the zeal of the newly married, and he was not
to be lightly shaken off. "Honest and true, Emil, don't you want
ANY girl? Maybe there's some young lady in Lincoln, now, very
grand,"--Amedee waved his hand languidly before his face to denote
the fan of heartless beauty,--"and you lost your heart up there.
Is that it?"
"Maybe," said Emil.
But Amedee saw no appropriate glow in his friend's face. "Bah!"
he exclaimed in disgust. "I tell all the French girls to keep 'way
from you. You gotta rock in there," thumping Emil on the ribs.
When they reached the terrace at the side of the church, Amedee,
who was excited by his success on the ball-grounds, challenged
Emil to a jumping-match, though he knew he would be beaten. They
belted themselves up, and Raoul Marcel, the choir tenor and Father
Duchesne's pet, and Jean Bordelau, held the string over which they
vaulted. All the French boys stood round, cheering and humping
themselves up when Emil or Amedee went over the wire, as if they
were helping in the lift. Emil stopped at five-feet-five, declaring
that he would spoil his appetite for supper if he jumped any more.
Angelique, Amedee's pretty bride, as blonde and fair as her name,
who had come out to watch the match, tossed her head at Emil and
"'Medee could jump much higher than you if he were as tall. And
anyhow, he is much more graceful. He goes over like a bird, and
you have to hump yourself all up."
"Oh, I do, do I?" Emil caught her and kissed her saucy mouth squarely,
while she laughed and struggled and called, "'Medee! 'Medee!"
"There, you see your 'Medee isn't even big enough to get you away
from me. I could run away with you right now and he could only
sit down and cry about it. I'll show you whether I have to hump
myself!" Laughing and panting, he picked Angelique up in his arms
and began running about the rectangle with her. Not until he saw
Marie Shabata's tiger eyes flashing from the gloom of the basement
doorway did he hand the disheveled bride over to her husband.
"There, go to your graceful; I haven't the heart to take you away
Angelique clung to her husband and made faces at Emil over the
white shoulder of Amedee's ball-shirt. Emil was greatly amused at
her air of proprietorship and at Amedee's shameless submission to
it. He was delighted with his friend's good fortune. He liked to
see and to think about Amedee's sunny, natural, happy love.
He and Amedee had ridden and wrestled and larked together since
they were lads of twelve. On Sundays and holidays they were always
arm in arm. It seemed strange that now he should have to hide the
thing that Amedee was so proud of, that the feeling which gave one
of them such happiness should bring the other such despair. It
was like that when Alexandra tested her seed-corn in the spring,
he mused. From two ears that had grown side by side, the grains
of one shot up joyfully into the light, projecting themselves into
the future, and the grains from the other lay still in the earth
and rotted; and nobody knew why.
While Emil and Carl were amusing themselves at the fair, Alexandra
was at home, busy with her account-books, which had been neglected
of late. She was almost through with her figures when she heard
a cart drive up to the gate, and looking out of the window she saw
her two older brothers. They had seemed to avoid her ever since
Carl Linstrum's arrival, four weeks ago that day, and she hurried
to the door to welcome them. She saw at once that they had come
with some very definite purpose. They followed her stiffly into
the sitting-room. Oscar sat down, but Lou walked over to the window
and remained standing, his hands behind him.
"You are by yourself?" he asked, looking toward the doorway into
"Yes. Carl and Emil went up to the Catholic fair."
For a few moments neither of the men spoke.
Then Lou came out sharply. "How soon does he intend to go away
"I don't know, Lou. Not for some time, I hope." Alexandra spoke
in an even, quiet tone that often exasperated her brothers. They
felt that she was trying to be superior with them.
Oscar spoke up grimly. "We thought we ought to tell you that people
have begun to talk," he said meaningly.
Alexandra looked at him. "What about?"
Oscar met her eyes blankly. "About you, keeping him here so long.
It looks bad for him to be hanging on to a woman this way. People
think you're getting taken in."
Alexandra shut her account-book firmly. "Boys," she said seriously,
"don't let's go on with this. We won't come out anywhere. I can't
take advice on such a matter. I know you mean well, but you must
not feel responsible for me in things of this sort. If we go on
with this talk it will only make hard feeling."
Lou whipped about from the window. "You ought to think a little
about your family. You're making us all ridiculous."
"How am I?"
"People are beginning to say you want to marry the fellow."
"Well, and what is ridiculous about that?"
Lou and Oscar exchanged outraged looks. "Alexandra! Can't you
see he's just a tramp and he's after your money? He wants to be
taken care of, he does!"
"Well, suppose I want to take care of him? Whose business is it
but my own?"
"Don't you know he'd get hold of your property?"
"He'd get hold of what I wished to give him, certainly."
Oscar sat up suddenly and Lou clutched at his bristly hair.
"Give him?" Lou shouted. "Our property, our homestead?"
"I don't know about the homestead," said Alexandra quietly. "I
know you and Oscar have always expected that it would be left to
your children, and I'm not sure but what you're right. But I'll
do exactly as I please with the rest of my land, boys."
"The rest of your land!" cried Lou, growing more excited every
minute. "Didn't all the land come out of the homestead? It was
bought with money borrowed on the homestead, and Oscar and me worked
ourselves to the bone paying interest on it."
"Yes, you paid the interest. But when you married we made a division
of the land, and you were satisfied. I've made more on my farms
since I've been alone than when we all worked together."
"Everything you've made has come out of the original land that us
boys worked for, hasn't it? The farms and all that comes out of
them belongs to us as a family."
Alexandra waved her hand impatiently. "Come now, Lou. Stick to
the facts. You are talking nonsense. Go to the county clerk and
ask him who owns my land, and whether my titles are good."
Lou turned to his brother. "This is what comes of letting a woman
meddle in business," he said bitterly. "We ought to have taken
things in our own hands years ago. But she liked to run things,
and we humored her. We thought you had good sense, Alexandra. We
never thought you'd do anything foolish."
Alexandra rapped impatiently on her desk with her knuckles.
"Listen, Lou. Don't talk wild. You say you ought to have taken
things into your own hands years ago. I suppose you mean before
you left home. But how could you take hold of what wasn't there?
I've got most of what I have now since we divided the property;
I've built it up myself, and it has nothing to do with you."
Oscar spoke up solemnly. "The property of a family really belongs
to the men of the family, no matter about the title. If anything
goes wrong, it's the men that are held responsible."
"Yes, of course," Lou broke in. "Everybody knows that. Oscar and
me have always been easy-going and we've never made any fuss. We
were willing you should hold the land and have the good of it, but
you got no right to part with any of it. We worked in the fields
to pay for the first land you bought, and whatever's come out of
it has got to be kept in the family."
Oscar reinforced his brother, his mind fixed on the one point he
could see. "The property of a family belongs to the men of the
family, because they are held responsible, and because they do the
Alexandra looked from one to the other, her eyes full of indignation.
She had been impatient before, but now she was beginning to feel
angry. "And what about my work?" she asked in an unsteady voice.
Lou looked at the carpet. "Oh, now, Alexandra, you always took
it pretty easy! Of course we wanted you to. You liked to manage
round, and we always humored you. We realize you were a great
deal of help to us. There's no woman anywhere around that knows
as much about business as you do, and we've always been proud of
that, and thought you were pretty smart. But, of course, the real
work always fell on us. Good advice is all right, but it don't
get the weeds out of the corn."
"Maybe not, but it sometimes puts in the crop, and it sometimes
keeps the fields for corn to grow in," said Alexandra dryly. "Why,
Lou, I can remember when you and Oscar wanted to sell this homestead
and all the improvements to old preacher Ericson for two thousand
dollars. If I'd consented, you'd have gone down to the river and
scraped along on poor farms for the rest of your lives. When I put
in our first field of alfalfa you both opposed me, just because I
first heard about it from a young man who had been to the University.
You said I was being taken in then, and all the neighbors said
so. You know as well as I do that alfalfa has been the salvation
of this country. You all laughed at me when I said our land here
was about ready for wheat, and I had to raise three big wheat crops
before the neighbors quit putting all their land in corn. Why, I
remember you cried, Lou, when we put in the first big wheat-planting,
and said everybody was laughing at us."
Lou turned to Oscar. "That's the woman of it; if she tells you to
put in a crop, she thinks she's put it in. It makes women conceited
to meddle in business. I shouldn't think you'd want to remind us
how hard you were on us, Alexandra, after the way you baby Emil."
"Hard on you? I never meant to be hard. Conditions were hard.
Maybe I would never have been very soft, anyhow; but I certainly
didn't choose to be the kind of girl I was. If you take even a
vine and cut it back again and again, it grows hard, like a tree."
Lou felt that they were wandering from the point, and that
in digression Alexandra might unnerve him. He wiped his forehead
with a jerk of his handkerchief. "We never doubted you, Alexandra.
We never questioned anything you did. You've always had your own
way. But you can't expect us to sit like stumps and see you done
out of the property by any loafer who happens along, and making
yourself ridiculous into the bargain."
Oscar rose. "Yes," he broke in, "everybody's laughing to see you
get took in; at your age, too. Everybody knows he's nearly five
years younger than you, and is after your money. Why, Alexandra,
you are forty years old!"
"All that doesn't concern anybody but Carl and me. Go to town and
ask your lawyers what you can do to restrain me from disposing of
my own property. And I advise you to do what they tell you; for
the authority you can exert by law is the only influence you will
ever have over me again." Alexandra rose. "I think I would rather
not have lived to find out what I have to-day," she said quietly,
closing her desk.
Lou and Oscar looked at each other questioningly. There seemed to
be nothing to do but to go, and they walked out.
"You can't do business with women," Oscar said heavily as he
clambered into the cart. "But anyhow, we've had our say, at last."
Lou scratched his head. "Talk of that kind might come too high, you
know; but she's apt to be sensible. You hadn't ought to said that
about her age, though, Oscar. I'm afraid that hurt her feelings;
and the worst thing we can do is to make her sore at us. She'd
marry him out of contrariness."
"I only meant," said Oscar, "that she is old enough to know better,
and she is. If she was going to marry, she ought to done it long
ago, and not go making a fool of herself now."
Lou looked anxious, nevertheless. "Of course," he reflected hopefully
and inconsistently, "Alexandra ain't much like other women-folks.
Maybe it won't make her sore. Maybe she'd as soon be forty as
Emil came home at about half-past seven o'clock that evening. Old
Ivar met him at the windmill and took his horse, and the young
man went directly into the house. He called to his sister and she
answered from her bedroom, behind the sitting-room, saying that
she was lying down.
Emil went to her door.
"Can I see you for a minute?" he asked. "I want to talk to you
about something before Carl comes."
Alexandra rose quickly and came to the door. "Where is Carl?"
"Lou and Oscar met us and said they wanted to talk to him, so he
rode over to Oscar's with them. Are you coming out?" Emil asked
"Yes, sit down. I'll be dressed in a moment."
Alexandra closed her door, and Emil sank down on the old slat lounge
and sat with his head in his hands. When his sister came out, he
looked up, not knowing whether the interval had been short or long,
and he was surprised to see that the room had grown quite dark.
That was just as well; it would be easier to talk if he were not
under the gaze of those clear, deliberate eyes, that saw so far in
some directions and were so blind in others. Alexandra, too, was
glad of the dusk. Her face was swollen from crying.
Emil started up and then sat down again. "Alexandra," he said
slowly, in his deep young baritone, "I don't want to go away to
law school this fall. Let me put it off another year. I want to
take a year off and look around. It's awfully easy to rush into
a profession you don't really like, and awfully hard to get out of
it. Linstrum and I have been talking about that."
"Very well, Emil. Only don't go off looking for land." She came
up and put her hand on his shoulder. "I've been wishing you could
stay with me this winter."
"That's just what I don't want to do, Alexandra. I'm restless.
I want to go to a new place. I want to go down to the City of
Mexico to join one of the University fellows who's at the head of
an electrical plant. He wrote me he could give me a little job,
enough to pay my way, and I could look around and see what I want
to do. I want to go as soon as harvest is over. I guess Lou and
Oscar will be sore about it."
"I suppose they will." Alexandra sat down on the lounge beside
him. "They are very angry with me, Emil. We have had a quarrel.
They will not come here again."
Emil scarcely heard what she was saying; he did not notice the
sadness of her tone. He was thinking about the reckless life he
meant to live in Mexico.
"What about?" he asked absently.
"About Carl Linstrum. They are afraid I am going to marry him,
and that some of my property will get away from them."
Emil shrugged his shoulders. "What nonsense!" he murmured. "Just
Alexandra drew back. "Why nonsense, Emil?"
"Why, you've never thought of such a thing, have you? They always
have to have something to fuss about."
"Emil," said his sister slowly, "you ought not to take things for
granted. Do you agree with them that I have no right to change my
way of living?"
Emil looked at the outline of his sister's head in the dim light.
They were sitting close together and he somehow felt that she
could hear his thoughts. He was silent for a moment, and then said
in an embarrassed tone, "Why, no, certainly not. You ought to do
whatever you want to. I'll always back you."
"But it would seem a little bit ridiculous to you if I married
Emil fidgeted. The issue seemed to him too far-fetched to warrant
discussion. "Why, no. I should be surprised if you wanted to. I
can't see exactly why. But that's none of my business. You ought
to do as you please. Certainly you ought not to pay any attention
to what the boys say."
Alexandra sighed. "I had hoped you might understand, a little,
why I do want to. But I suppose that's too much to expect. I've
had a pretty lonely life, Emil. Besides Marie, Carl is the only
friend I have ever had."
Emil was awake now; a name in her last sentence roused him. He
put out his hand and took his sister's awkwardly. "You ought to
do just as you wish, and I think Carl's a fine fellow. He and I
would always get on. I don't believe any of the things the boys
say about him, honest I don't. They are suspicious of him because
he's intelligent. You know their way. They've been sore at me
ever since you let me go away to college. They're always trying to
catch me up. If I were you, I wouldn't pay any attention to them.
There's nothing to get upset about. Carl's a sensible fellow. He
won't mind them."
"I don't know. If they talk to him the way they did to me, I think
he'll go away."
Emil grew more and more uneasy. "Think so? Well, Marie said it
would serve us all right if you walked off with him."
"Did she? Bless her little heart! SHE would." Alexandra's voice
Emil began unlacing his leggings. "Why don't you talk to her about
it? There's Carl, I hear his horse. I guess I'll go upstairs and
get my boots off. No, I don't want any supper. We had supper at
five o'clock, at the fair."
Emil was glad to escape and get to his own room. He was a little
ashamed for his sister, though he had tried not to show it. He
felt that there was something indecorous in her proposal, and she
did seem to him somewhat ridiculous. There was trouble enough in
the world, he reflected, as he threw himself upon his bed, without
people who were forty years old imagining they wanted to get
married. In the darkness and silence Emil was not likely to think
long about Alexandra. Every image slipped away but one. He had
seen Marie in the crowd that afternoon. She sold candy at the
fair. WHY had she ever run away with Frank Shabata, and how could
she go on laughing and working and taking an interest in things?
Why did she like so many people, and why had she seemed pleased when
all the French and Bohemian boys, and the priest himself, crowded
round her candy stand? Why did she care about any one but him? Why
could he never, never find the thing he looked for in her playful,
Then he fell to imagining that he looked once more and found it
there, and what it would be like if she loved him,--she who, as
Alexandra said, could give her whole heart. In that dream he could
lie for hours, as if in a trance. His spirit went out of his body
and crossed the fields to Marie Shabata.
At the University dances the girls had often looked wonderingly
at the tall young Swede with the fine head, leaning against the
wall and frowning, his arms folded, his eyes fixed on the ceiling
or the floor. All the girls were a little afraid of him. He was
distinguished-looking, and not the jollying kind. They felt that
he was too intense and preoccupied. There was something queer about
him. Emil's fraternity rather prided itself upon its dances, and
sometimes he did his duty and danced every dance. But whether he
was on the floor or brooding in a corner, he was always thinking
about Marie Shabata. For two years the storm had been gathering
Carl came into the sitting-room while Alexandra was lighting the
lamp. She looked up at him as she adjusted the shade. His sharp
shoulders stooped as if he were very tired, his face was pale,
and there were bluish shadows under his dark eyes. His anger had
burned itself out and left him sick and disgusted.
"You have seen Lou and Oscar?" Alexandra asked.
"Yes." His eyes avoided hers.
Alexandra took a deep breath. "And now you are going away. I
Carl threw himself into a chair and pushed the dark lock back
from his forehead with his white, nervous hand. "What a hopeless
position you are in, Alexandra!" he exclaimed feverishly. "It is
your fate to be always surrounded by little men. And I am no better
than the rest. I am too little to face the criticism of even such
men as Lou and Oscar. Yes, I am going away; to-morrow. I cannot
even ask you to give me a promise until I have something to offer
you. I thought, perhaps, I could do that; but I find I can't."
"What good comes of offering people things they don't need?"
Alexandra asked sadly. "I don't need money. But I have needed
you for a great many years. I wonder why I have been permitted to
prosper, if it is only to take my friends away from me."
"I don't deceive myself," Carl said frankly. "I know that I am
going away on my own account. I must make the usual effort. I
must have something to show for myself. To take what you would
give me, I should have to be either a very large man or a very
small one, and I am only in the middle class."
Alexandra sighed. "I have a feeling that if you go away, you will
not come back. Something will happen to one of us, or to both.
People have to snatch at happiness when they can, in this world.
It is always easier to lose than to find. What I have is yours,
if you care enough about me to take it."
Carl rose and looked up at the picture of John Bergson. "But I
can't, my dear, I can't! I will go North at once. Instead of idling
about in California all winter, I shall be getting my bearings up
there. I won't waste another week. Be patient with me, Alexandra.
Give me a year!"
"As you will," said Alexandra wearily. "All at once, in a single
day, I lose everything; and I do not know why. Emil, too, is going
away." Carl was still studying John Bergson's face and Alexandra's
eyes followed his. "Yes," she said, "if he could have seen all
that would come of the task he gave me, he would have been sorry.
I hope he does not see me now. I hope that he is among the old
people of his blood and country, and that tidings do not reach him
from the New World."
Winter has settled down over the Divide again; the season in
which Nature recuperates, in which she sinks to sleep between the
fruitfulness of autumn and the passion of spring. The birds have
gone. The teeming life that goes on down in the long grass is
exterminated. The prairie-dog keeps his hole. The rabbits run
shivering from one frozen garden patch to another and are hard put
to it to find frost-bitten cabbage-stalks. At night the coyotes
roam the wintry waste, howling for food. The variegated fields
are all one color now; the pastures, the stubble, the roads, the
sky are the same leaden gray. The hedgerows and trees are scarcely
perceptible against the bare earth, whose slaty hue they have taken
on. The ground is frozen so hard that it bruises the foot to walk
in the roads or in the ploughed fields. It is like an iron country,
and the spirit is oppressed by its rigor and melancholy. One could
easily believe that in that dead landscape the germs of life and
fruitfulness were extinct forever.
Alexandra has settled back into her old routine. There are weekly
letters from Emil. Lou and Oscar she has not seen since Carl
went away. To avoid awkward encounters in the presence of curious
spectators, she has stopped going to the Norwegian Church and drives
up to the Reform Church at Hanover, or goes with Marie Shabata to
the Catholic Church, locally known as "the French Church." She has
not told Marie about Carl, or her differences with her brothers.
She was never very communicative about her own affairs, and when
she came to the point, an instinct told her that about such things
she and Marie would not understand one another.
Old Mrs. Lee had been afraid that family misunderstandings might
deprive her of her yearly visit to Alexandra. But on the first day
of December Alexandra telephoned Annie that to-morrow she would
send Ivar over for her mother, and the next day the old lady arrived
with her bundles. For twelve years Mrs. Lee had always entered
Alexandra's sitting-room with the same exclamation, "Now we be yust-a
like old times!" She enjoyed the liberty Alexandra gave her, and
hearing her own language about her all day long. Here she could
wear her nightcap and sleep with all her windows shut, listen
to Ivar reading the Bible, and here she could run about among the
stables in a pair of Emil's old boots. Though she was bent almost
double, she was as spry as a gopher. Her face was as brown as if
it had been varnished, and as full of wrinkles as a washerwoman's
hands. She had three jolly old teeth left in the front of her
mouth, and when she grinned she looked very knowing, as if when
you found out how to take it, life wasn't half bad. While she and
Alexandra patched and pieced and quilted, she talked incessantly
about stories she read in a Swedish family paper, telling the plots
in great detail; or about her life on a dairy farm in Gottland
when she was a girl. Sometimes she forgot which were the printed
stories and which were the real stories, it all seemed so far away.
She loved to take a little brandy, with hot water and sugar, before
she went to bed, and Alexandra always had it ready for her. "It
sends good dreams," she would say with a twinkle in her eye.
When Mrs. Lee had been with Alexandra for a week, Marie Shabata
telephoned one morning to say that Frank had gone to town for the
day, and she would like them to come over for coffee in the afternoon.
Mrs. Lee hurried to wash out and iron her new cross-stitched apron,
which she had finished only the night before; a checked gingham
apron worked with a design ten inches broad across the bottom;
a hunting scene, with fir trees and a stag and dogs and huntsmen.
Mrs. Lee was firm with herself at dinner, and refused a second
helping of apple dumplings. "I ta-ank I save up," she said with
At two o'clock in the afternoon Alexandra's cart drove up to the
Shabatas' gate, and Marie saw Mrs. Lee's red shawl come bobbing up
the path. She ran to the door and pulled the old woman into the
house with a hug, helping her to take off her wraps while Alexandra
blanketed the horse outside. Mrs. Lee had put on her best black
satine dress--she abominated woolen stuffs, even in winter--and
a crocheted collar, fastened with a big pale gold pin, containing
faded daguerreotypes of her father and mother. She had not worn
her apron for fear of rumpling it, and now she shook it out and
tied it round her waist with a conscious air. Marie drew back and
threw up her hands, exclaiming, "Oh, what a beauty! I've never
seen this one before, have I, Mrs. Lee?"
The old woman giggled and ducked her head. "No, yust las' night I
ma-ake. See dis tread; verra strong, no wa-ash out, no fade. My
sister send from Sveden. I yust-a ta-ank you like dis."
Marie ran to the door again. "Come in, Alexandra. I have been
looking at Mrs. Lee's apron. Do stop on your way home and show it
to Mrs. Hiller. She's crazy about cross-stitch."
While Alexandra removed her hat and veil, Mrs. Lee went out to the
kitchen and settled herself in a wooden rocking-chair by the stove,
looking with great interest at the table, set for three, with a white
cloth, and a pot of pink geraniums in the middle. "My, a-an't you
gotta fine plants; such-a much flower. How you keep from freeze?"
She pointed to the window-shelves, full of blooming fuchsias and
"I keep the fire all night, Mrs. Lee, and when it's very cold I put
them all on the table, in the middle of the room. Other nights I
only put newspapers behind them. Frank laughs at me for fussing,
but when they don't bloom he says, 'What's the matter with the
darned things?'-- What do you hear from Carl, Alexandra?"
"He got to Dawson before the river froze, and now I suppose I won't
hear any more until spring. Before he left California he sent me
a box of orange flowers, but they didn't keep very well. I have
brought a bunch of Emil's letters for you." Alexandra came out
from the sitting-room and pinched Marie's cheek playfully. "You
don't look as if the weather ever froze you up. Never have colds,
do you? That's a good girl. She had dark red cheeks like this
when she was a little girl, Mrs. Lee. She looked like some queer
foreign kind of a doll. I've never forgot the first time I saw
you in Mieklejohn's store, Marie, the time father was lying sick.
Carl and I were talking about that before he went away."
"I remember, and Emil had his kitten along. When are you going to
send Emil's Christmas box?"
"It ought to have gone before this. I'll have to send it by mail
now, to get it there in time."
Marie pulled a dark purple silk necktie from her workbasket. "I
knit this for him. It's a good color, don't you think? Will you
please put it in with your things and tell him it's from me, to
wear when he goes serenading."
Alexandra laughed. "I don't believe he goes serenading much. He
says in one letter that the Mexican ladies are said to be very
beautiful, but that don't seem to me very warm praise."
Marie tossed her head. "Emil can't fool me. If he's bought a
guitar, he goes serenading. Who wouldn't, with all those Spanish
girls dropping flowers down from their windows! I'd sing to them
every night, wouldn't you, Mrs. Lee?"
The old lady chuckled. Her eyes lit up as Marie bent down and
opened the oven door. A delicious hot fragrance blew out into the
tidy kitchen. "My, somet'ing smell good!" She turned to Alexandra
with a wink, her three yellow teeth making a brave show, "I ta-ank
dat stop my yaw from ache no more!" she said contentedly.
Marie took out a pan of delicate little rolls, stuffed with stewed
apricots, and began to dust them over with powdered sugar. "I hope
you'll like these, Mrs. Lee; Alexandra does. The Bohemians always
like them with their coffee. But if you don't, I have a coffee-cake
with nuts and poppy seeds. Alexandra, will you get the cream jug?
I put it in the window to keep cool."
"The Bohemians," said Alexandra, as they drew up to the table,
"certainly know how to make more kinds of bread than any other
people in the world. Old Mrs. Hiller told me once at the church
supper that she could make seven kinds of fancy bread, but Marie
could make a dozen."
Mrs. Lee held up one of the apricot rolls between her brown thumb
and forefinger and weighed it critically. "Yust like-a fedders,"
she pronounced with satisfaction. "My, a-an't dis nice!" she
exclaimed as she stirred her coffee. "I yust ta-ake a liddle yelly
now, too, I ta-ank."
Alexandra and Marie laughed at her forehandedness, and fell to
talking of their own affairs. "I was afraid you had a cold when
I talked to you over the telephone the other night, Marie. What
was the matter, had you been crying?"
"Maybe I had," Marie smiled guiltily. "Frank was out late that
night. Don't you get lonely sometimes in the winter, when everybody
has gone away?"
"I thought it was something like that. If I hadn't had company,
I'd have run over to see for myself. If you get down-hearted, what
will become of the rest of us?" Alexandra asked.
"I don't, very often. There's Mrs. Lee without any coffee!"
Later, when Mrs. Lee declared that her powers were spent, Marie
and Alexandra went upstairs to look for some crochet patterns the
old lady wanted to borrow. "Better put on your coat, Alexandra.
It's cold up there, and I have no idea where those patterns are. I
may have to look through my old trunks." Marie caught up a shawl
and opened the stair door, running up the steps ahead of her guest.
"While I go through the bureau drawers, you might look in those
hat-boxes on the closet-shelf, over where Frank's clothes hang.
There are a lot of odds and ends in them."
She began tossing over the contents of the drawers, and Alexandra
went into the clothes-closet. Presently she came back, holding a
slender elastic yellow stick in her hand.
"What in the world is this, Marie? You don't mean to tell me Frank
ever carried such a thing?"
Marie blinked at it with astonishment and sat down on the floor.
"Where did you find it? I didn't know he had kept it. I haven't
seen it for years."
"It really is a cane, then?"
"Yes. One he brought from the old country. He used to carry it
when I first knew him. Isn't it foolish? Poor Frank!"
Alexandra twirled the stick in her fingers and laughed. "He must
have looked funny!"
Marie was thoughtful. "No, he didn't, really. It didn't seem out
of place. He used to be awfully gay like that when he was a young
man. I guess people always get what's hardest for them, Alexandra."
Marie gathered the shawl closer about her and still looked hard at
the cane. "Frank would be all right in the right place," she said
reflectively. "He ought to have a different kind of wife, for one
thing. Do you know, Alexandra, I could pick out exactly the right
sort of woman for Frank--now. The trouble is you almost have
to marry a man before you can find out the sort of wife he needs;
and usually it's exactly the sort you are not. Then what are you
going to do about it?" she asked candidly.
Alexandra confessed she didn't know. "However," she added, "it
seems to me that you get along with Frank about as well as any
woman I've ever seen or heard of could."
Marie shook her head, pursing her lips and blowing her warm breath
softly out into the frosty air. "No; I was spoiled at home. I
like my own way, and I have a quick tongue. When Frank brags, I
say sharp things, and he never forgets. He goes over and over it
in his mind; I can feel him. Then I'm too giddy. Frank's wife
ought to be timid, and she ought not to care about another living
thing in the world but just Frank! I didn't, when I married him,
but I suppose I was too young to stay like that." Marie sighed.
Alexandra had never heard Marie speak so frankly about her husband
before, and she felt that it was wiser not to encourage her. No
good, she reasoned, ever came from talking about such things, and
while Marie was thinking aloud, Alexandra had been steadily searching
the hat-boxes. "Aren't these the patterns, Maria?"
Maria sprang up from the floor. "Sure enough, we were looking
for patterns, weren't we? I'd forgot about everything but Frank's
other wife. I'll put that away."
She poked the cane behind Frank's Sunday clothes, and though she
laughed, Alexandra saw there were tears in her eyes.
When they went back to the kitchen, the snow had begun to fall,
and Marie's visitors thought they must be getting home. She went
out to the cart with them, and tucked the robes about old Mrs.
Lee while Alexandra took the blanket off her horse. As they drove
away, Marie turned and went slowly back to the house. She took up
the package of letters Alexandra had brought, but she did not read
them. She turned them over and looked at the foreign stamps, and
then sat watching the flying snow while the dusk deepened in the
kitchen and the stove sent out a red glow.
Marie knew perfectly well that Emil's letters were written more for
her than for Alexandra. They were not the sort of letters that a
young man writes to his sister. They were both more personal and
more painstaking; full of descriptions of the gay life in the old
Mexican capital in the days when the strong hand of Porfirio Diaz
was still strong. He told about bull-fights and cock-fights,
churches and FIESTAS, the flower-markets and the fountains, the
music and dancing, the people of all nations he met in the Italian
restaurants on San Francisco Street. In short, they were the kind
of letters a young man writes to a woman when he wishes himself
and his life to seem interesting to her, when he wishes to enlist
her imagination in his behalf.
Marie, when she was alone or when she sat sewing in the evening,
often thought about what it must be like down there where Emil was;
where there were flowers and street bands everywhere, and carriages
rattling up and down, and where there was a little blind boot-black
in front of the cathedral who could play any tune you asked for
by dropping the lids of blacking-boxes on the stone steps. When
everything is done and over for one at twenty-three, it is pleasant
to let the mind wander forth and follow a young adventurer who has
life before him. "And if it had not been for me," she thought,
"Frank might still be free like that, and having a good time making
people admire him. Poor Frank, getting married wasn't very good
for him either. I'm afraid I do set people against him, as he says.
I seem, somehow, to give him away all the time. Perhaps he would
try to be agreeable to people again, if I were not around. It
seems as if I always make him just as bad as he can be."
Later in the winter, Alexandra looked back upon that afternoon as
the last satisfactory visit she had had with Marie. After that
day the younger woman seemed to shrink more and more into herself.
When she was with Alexandra she was not spontaneous and frank
as she used to be. She seemed to be brooding over something, and
holding something back. The weather had a good deal to do with
their seeing less of each other than usual. There had not been
such snowstorms in twenty years, and the path across the fields was
drifted deep from Christmas until March. When the two neighbors
went to see each other, they had to go round by the wagon-road,
which was twice as far. They telephoned each other almost every
night, though in January there was a stretch of three weeks when
the wires were down, and when the postman did not come at all.
Marie often ran in to see her nearest neighbor, old Mrs. Hiller,
who was crippled with rheumatism and had only her son, the lame
shoemaker, to take care of her; and she went to the French Church,
whatever the weather. She was a sincerely devout girl. She prayed
for herself and for Frank, and for Emil, among the temptations of
that gay, corrupt old city. She found more comfort in the Church
that winter than ever before. It seemed to come closer to her,
and to fill an emptiness that ached in her heart. She tried to
be patient with her husband. He and his hired man usually played
California Jack in the evening. Marie sat sewing or crocheting and
tried to take a friendly interest in the game, but she was always
thinking about the wide fields outside, where the snow was drifting
over the fences; and about the orchard, where the snow was falling
and packing, crust over crust. When she went out into the dark
kitchen to fix her plants for the night, she used to stand by the
window and look out at the white fields, or watch the currents of
snow whirling over the orchard. She seemed to feel the weight of
all the snow that lay down there. The branches had become so hard
that they wounded your hand if you but tried to break a twig. And
yet, down under the frozen crusts, at the roots of the trees, the
secret of life was still safe, warm as the blood in one's heart;
and the spring would come again! Oh, it would come again!
If Alexandra had had much imagination she might have guessed what
was going on in Marie's mind, and she would have seen long before
what was going on in Emil's. But that, as Emil himself had more
than once reflected, was Alexandra's blind side, and her life had
not been of the kind to sharpen her vision. Her training had all
been toward the end of making her proficient in what she had undertaken
to do. Her personal life, her own realization of herself, was
almost a subconscious existence; like an underground river that
came to the surface only here and there, at intervals months apart,
and then sank again to flow on under her own fields. Nevertheless,
the underground stream was there, and it was because she had so much
personality to put into her enterprises and succeeded in putting
it into them so completely, that her affairs prospered better than
those of her neighbors.
There were certain days in her life, outwardly uneventful, which
Alexandra remembered as peculiarly happy; days when she was close
to the flat, fallow world about her, and felt, as it were, in her
own body the joyous germination in the soil. There were days,
too, which she and Emil had spent together, upon which she loved
to look back. There had been such a day when they were down on
the river in the dry year, looking over the land. They had made
an early start one morning and had driven a long way before noon.
When Emil said he was hungry, they drew back from the road, gave
Brigham his oats among the bushes, and climbed up to the top of a
grassy bluff to eat their lunch under the shade of some little elm
trees. The river was clear there, and shallow, since there had
been no rain, and it ran in ripples over the sparkling sand. Under
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