One of Ours
Part 2 out of 8
water and stood shaking in the cold while the chilled pump
brought it slowly up. He pictured her then very much as he did
now; about her figure there gathered a luminous cloud, like dust,
with soldiers in it . . . the banner with lilies . . . a great
church . . . cities with walls.
On this balmy spring afternoon, Claude felt softened and
reconciled to the world. Like Gibbon, he was sorry to have
finished his labour,--and he could not see anything else as
interesting ahead. He must soon be going home now. There would be
a few examinations to sit through at the Temple, a few more
evenings with the Erlichs, trips to the Library to carry back the
books he had been using,--and then he would suddenly find himself
with nothing to do but take the train for Frankfort.
He rose with a sigh and began to fasten his history papers
between covers. Glancing out of the window, he decided that he
would walk into town and carry his thesis, which was due today;
the weather was too fine to sit bumping in a street car. The
truth was, he wished to prolong his relations with his manuscript
as far as possible.
He struck off by the road,--it could scarcely be called a street,
since it ran across raw prairie land where the buffalo-peas were
in blossom. Claude walked slower than was his custom, his straw
hat pushed back on his head and the blaze of the sun full in his
face. His body felt light in the scented wind, and he listened
drowsily to the larks, singing on dried weeds and sunflower
stalks. At this season their song is almost painful to hear, it
is so sweet. He sometimes thought of this walk long afterward; it
was memorable to him, though he could not say why.
On reaching the University, he went directly to the Department of
European History, where he was to leave his thesis on a long
table, with a pile of others. He rather dreaded this, and was
glad when, just as he entered, the Professor came out from his
private office and took the bound manuscript into his own hands,
"Your thesis? Oh yes, Jeanne d'Arc. The Proces. I had forgotten.
Interesting material, isn't it?" He opened the cover and ran over
the pages. "I suppose you acquitted her on the evidence?"
Claude blushed. "Yes, sir."
"Well, now you might read what Michelet has to say about her.
There's an old translation in the Library. Did you enjoy working
"I did, very much." Claude wished to heaven he could think of
something to say.
"You've got a good deal out of your course, altogether, haven't
you? I'll be interested to see what you do next year. Your work
has been very satisfactory to me." The Professor went back into
his study, and Claude was pleased to see that he carried the
manuscript with him and did not leave it on the table with the
Between haying and harvest that summer Ralph and Mr. Wheeler
drove to Denver in the big car, leaving Claude and Dan to
cultivate the corn. When they returned Mr. Wheeler announced that
he had a secret. After several days of reticence, during which he
shut himself up in the sitting-room writing letters, and passed
mysterious words and winks with Ralph at table, he disclosed a
project which swept away all Claude's plans and purposes.
On the return trip from Denver Mr. Wheeler had made a detour down
into Yucca county, Colorado, to visit an old friend who was in
difficulties. Tom Wested was a Maine man, from Wheeler's own
neighbourhood. Several years ago he had lost his wife. Now his
health had broken down, and the Denver doctors said he must
retire from business and get into a low altitude. He wanted to go
back to Maine and live among his own people, but was too much
discouraged and frightened about his condition even to undertake
the sale of his ranch and live stock. Mr. Wheeler had been able
to help his friend, and at the same time did a good stroke of
business for himself. He owned a farm in Maine, his share of his
father's estate, which for years he had rented for little more
than the up-keep. By making over this property, and assuming
certain mortgages, he got Wested's fine, well-watered ranch in
exchange. He paid him a good price for his cattle, and promised
to take the sick man back to Maine and see him comfortably
settled there. All this Mr. Wheeler explained to his family when
he called them up to the living room one hot, breathless night
after supper. Mrs. Wheeler, who seldom concerned herself with her
husband's business affairs, asked absently why they bought more
land, when they already had so much they could not farm half of
"Just like a woman, Evangeline, just like a woman!" Mr. Wheeler
replied indulgently. He was sitting in the full glare of the
acetylene lamp, his neckband open, his collar and tie on the
table beside him, fanning himself with a palm-leaf fan. "You
might as well ask me why I want to make more money, when I
haven't spent all I've got."
He intended, he said, to put Ralph on the Colorado ranch and
"give the boy some responsibility." Ralph would have the help of
Wested's foreman, an old hand in the cattle business, who had
agreed to stay on under the new management. Mr. Wheeler assured
his wife that he wasn't taking advantage of poor Wested; the
timber on the Maine place was really worth a good deal of money;
but because his father had always been so proud of his great pine
woods, he had never, he said, just felt like turning a sawmill
loose in them. Now he was trading a pleasant old farm that didn't
bring in anything for a grama-grass ranch which ought to turn
over a profit of ten or twelve thousand dollars in good cattle
years, and wouldn't lose much in bad ones. He expected to spend
about half his time out there with Ralph. "When I'm away," he
remarked genially, "you and Mahailey won't have so much to do.
You can devote yourselves to embroidery, so to speak."
"If Ralph is to live in Colorado, and you are to be away from
home half of the time, I don't see what is to become of this
place," murmured Mrs. Wheeler, still in the dark.
"Not necessary for you to see, Evangeline," her husband replied,
stretching his big frame until the rocking chair creaked under
him. "It will be Claude's business to look after that."
"Claude?" Mrs. Wheeler brushed a lock of hair back from her damp
forehead in vague alarm.
"Of course." He looked with twinkling eyes at his son's straight,
silent figure in the corner. "You've had about enough theology, I
presume? No ambition to be a preacher? This winter I mean to turn
the farm over to you and give you a chance to straighten things
out. You've been dissatisfied with the way the place is run for
some time, haven't you? Go ahead and put new blood into it. New
ideas, if you want to; I've no objection. They're expensive, but
let it go. You can fire Dan if you want, and get what help you
Claude felt as if a trap had been sprung on him. He shaded his
eyes with his hand. "I don't think I'm competent to run the place
right," he said unsteadily.
"Well, you don't think I am either, Claude, so we're up against
it. It's always been my notion that the land was made for man,
just as it's old Dawson's that man was created to work the land.
I don't mind your siding with the Dawsons in this difference of
opinion, if you can get their results."
Mrs. Wheeler rose and slipped quickly from the room, feeling her
way down the dark staircase to the kitchen. It was dusky and
quiet there. Mahailey sat in a corner, hemming dish-towels by the
light of a smoky old brass lamp which was her own cherished
luminary. Mrs. Wheeler walked up and down the long room in soft,
silent agitation, both hands pressed tightly to her breast, where
there was a physical ache of sympathy for Claude.
She remembered kind Tom Wested. He had stayed over night with
them several times, and had come to them for consolation after
his wife died. It seemed to her that his decline in health and
loss of courage, Mr. Wheeler's fortuitous trip to Denver, the old
pine-wood farm in Maine; were all things that fitted together and
made a net to envelop her unfortunate son. She knew that he had
been waiting impatiently for the autumn, and that for the first
time he looked forward eagerly to going back to school. He was
homesick for his friends, the Erlichs, and his mind was all the
time upon the history course he meant to take.
Yet all this would weigh nothing in the family councils probably
he would not even speak of it--and he had not one substantial
objection to offer to his father's wishes. His disappointment
would be bitter. "Why, it will almost break his heart," she
murmured aloud. Mahailey was a little deaf and heard nothing. She
sat holding her work up to the light, driving her needle with a
big brass thimble, nodding with sleepiness between stitches.
Though Mrs. Wheeler was scarcely conscious of it, the old woman's
presence was a comfort to her, as she walked up and down with her
drifting, uncertain step.
She had left the sitting-room because she was afraid Claude might
get angry and say something hard to his father, and because she
couldn't bear to see him hectored. Claude had always found life
hard to live; he suffered so much over little things,-and she
suffered with him. For herself, she never felt disappointments.
Her husband's careless decisions did not disconcert her. If he
declared that he would not plant a garden at all this year, she
made no protest. It was Mahailey who grumbled. If he felt like
eating roast beef and went out and killed a steer, she did the
best she could to take care of the meat, and if some of it
spoiled she tried not to worry. When she was not lost in
religious meditation, she was likely to be thinking about some
one of the old books she read over and over. Her personal life
was so far removed from the scene of her daily activities that
rash and violent men could not break in upon it. But where Claude
was concerned, she lived on another plane, dropped into the lower
air, tainted with human breath and pulsating with poor, blind,
passionate human feelings.
It had always been so. And now, as she grew older, and her flesh
had almost ceased to be concerned with pain or pleasure, like the
wasted wax images in old churches, it still vibrated with his
feelings and became quick again for him. His chagrins shrivelled
her. When he was hurt and suffered silently, something ached in
her. On the other hand, when he was happy, a wave of physical
contentment went through her. If she wakened in the night and
happened to think that he had been happy lately, she would lie
softly and gratefully in her warm place.
"Rest, rest, perturbed spirit," she sometimes whispered to him in
her mind, when she wakened thus and thought of him. There was a
singular light in his eyes when he smiled at her on one of his
good days, as if to tell her that all was well in his inner
kingdom. She had seen that same look again and again, and she
could always remember it in the dark,--a quick blue flash, tender
and a little wild, as if he had seen a vision or glimpsed bright
The next few weeks were busy ones on the farm. Before the wheat
harvest was over, Nat Wheeler packed his leather trunk, put on
his "store clothes," and set off to take Tom Welted back to
Maine. During his absence Ralph began to outfit for life in Yucca
county. Ralph liked being a great man with the Frankfort
merchants, and he had never before had such an opportunity as
this. He bought a new shot gun, saddles, bridles, boots, long and
short storm coats, a set of furniture for his own room, a
fireless cooker, another music machine, and had them shipped to
Colorado. His mother, who did not like phonograph music, and
detested phonograph monologues, begged him to take the machine at
home, but he assured her that she would be dull without it on
winter evenings. He wanted one of the latest make, put out under
the name of a great American inventor.
Some of the ranches near Wested's were owned by New York men who
brought their families out there in the summer Ralph had heard
about the dances they gave, and he way counting on being one of
the guests. He asked Claude to give him his dress suit, since
Claude wouldn't be needing it any more.
"You can have it if you want it," said Claude indifferently "But
it won't fit you."
"I'll take it in to Fritz and have the pants cut off a little and
the shoulders taken in," his brother replied lightly.
Claude was impassive. "Go ahead. But if that old Dutch man takes
a whack at it, it will look like the devil."
"I think I'll let him try. Father won't say anything about what
I've ordered for the house, but he isn't much for glad rags, you
know." Without more ado he threw Claude's black clothes into the
back seat of the Ford and ran into town to enlist the services of
the German tailor.
Mr. Wheeler, when he returned, thought Ralph had been rather free
in expenditures, but Ralph told him it wouldn't do to take over
the new place too modestly. "The ranchers out there are all
high-fliers. If we go to squeezing nickels, they won't think we
The country neighbours, who were always amused at the Wheelers'
doings, got almost as much pleasure out of Ralph's lavishness as
he did himself. One said Ralph had shipped a new piano out to
Yucca county, another heard he had ordered a billiard table.
August Yoeder, their prosperous German neighbour, asked grimly
whether he could, maybe, get a place as hired man with Ralph.
Leonard Dawson, who was to be married in October, hailed Claude
in town one day and shouted;
"My God, Claude, there's nothing left in the furniture store for
me and Susie! Ralph's bought everything but the coffins. He must
be going to live like a prince out there."
"I don't know anything about it," Claude answered coolly. "It's
not my enterprise."
"No, you've got to stay on the old place and make it pay the
debts, I understand." Leonard jumped into his car, so that Claude
wouldn't have a chance to reply.
Mrs. Wheeler, too, when she observed the magnitude of these
preparations, began to feel that the new arrangement was not fair
to Claude, since he was the older boy and much the steadier.
Claude had always worked hard when he was at home, and made a
good field hand, while Ralph had never done much but tinker with
machinery and run errands in his car. She couldn't understand why
he was selected to manage an undertaking in which so much money
"Why, Claude," she said dreamily one day, "if your father were an
older man, I would almost think his judgment had begun to fail.
Won't we get dreadfully into debt at this rate?"
"Don't say anything, Mother. It's Father's money. He shan't think
I want any of it."
"I wish I could talk to Bayliss. Has he said anything?"
"Not to me, he hasn't."
Ralph and Mr. Wheeler took another flying trip to Colorado, and
when they came back Ralph began coaxing his mother to give him
bedding and table linen. He said he wasn't going to live like a
savage, even in the sand hills. Mahailey was outraged to see the
linen she had washed and ironed and taken care of for so many
years packed into boxes. She was out of temper most of the time
now, and went about muttering to herself.
The only possessions Mahailey brought with her when she came to
live with the Wheelers, were a feather bed and three patchwork
quilts, interlined with wool off the backs of Virginia sheep,
washed and carded by hand. The quilts had been made by her old
mother, and given to her for a marriage portion. The patchwork on
each was done in a different design; one was the popular
"logcabin" pattern, another the "laurel-leaf," the third the
"blazing star." This quilt Mahailey thought too good for use, and
she had told Mrs. Wheeler that she was saving it "to give Mr.
Claude when he got married."
She slept on her feather bed in winter, and in summer she put it
away in the attic. The attic was reached by a ladder. which,
because of her weak back, Mrs. Wheeler very seldom climbed. Up
there Mahailey had things her own way, and thither she often
retired to air the bedding stored away there, or to look at the
pictures in the piles of old magazines. Ralph facetiously called
the attic "Mahailey's library."
One day, while things were being packed for the western ranch,
Mrs. Wheeler, going to the foot of the ladder to call Mahailey,
narrowly escaped being knocked down by a large feather bed which
came plumping through the trap door. A moment later Mahailey
herself descended backwards, holding to the rungs with one hand,
and in the other arm carrying her quilts.
"Why, Mahailey," gasped Mrs. Wheeler. "It's not winter yet;
whatever are you getting your bed for?"
"I'm just a-goin' to lay on my fedder bed," she broke out, "or
direc'ly I won't have none. I ain't a-goin' to have Mr. Ralph
carryin' off my quilts my mudder pieced fur me."
Mrs. Wheeler tried to reason with her, but the old woman took up
her bed in her arms and staggered down the hall with it,
muttering and tossing her head like a horse in fly-time.
That afternoon Ralph brought a barrel and a bundle of straw into
the kitchen and told Mahailey to carry up preserves and canned
fruit, and he would pack them. She went obediently to the cellar,
and Ralph took off his coat and began to line the barrel with
straw. He was some time in doing this, but still Mahailey had not
returned. He went to the head of the stairs and whistled.
"I'm a-comin', Mr. Ralph, I'm a-comin' ! Don't hurry me, I don't
want to break nothin'."
Ralph waited a few minutes. "What are you doing down there,
Mahailey?" he fumed. "I could have emptied the whole cellar by
this time. I suppose I'll have to do it myself."
"I'm a-comin'. You'd git yourself all dusty down here." She came
breathlessly up the stairs, carrying a hamper basket full of
jars, her hands and face streaked with black.
"Well, I should say it is dusty!" Ralph snorted. "You might clean
your fruit closet once in awhile, you know, Mahailey. You ought
to see how Mrs. Dawson keeps hers. Now, let's see." He sorted the
jars on the table. "Take back the grape jelly. If there's
anything I hate, it's grape jelly. I know you have lots of it,
but you can't work it off on me. And when you come up, don't
forget the pickled peaches. I told you particularly, the pickled
"We ain't got no pickled peaches." Mahailey stood by the cellar
door, holding a corner of her apron up to her chin, with a queer,
animal look of stubbornness in her face.
"No pickled peaches? What nonsense, Mahailey ! I saw you making
them here, only a few weeks ago."
"I know you did, Mr. Ralph, but they ain't none now. I didn't
have no luck with my peaches this year. I must 'a' let the air
git at 'em. They all worked on me, an' I had to throw 'em out."
Ralph was thoroughly annoyed. "I never heard of such a thing,
Mahailey ! You get more careless every year. Think of wasting all
that fruit and sugar! Does mother know?"
Mahailey's low brow clouded. "I reckon she does. I don't wase
your mudder's sugar. I never did wase nothin'," she muttered. Her
speech became queerer than ever when she was angry.
Ralph dashed down the cellar stairs, lit a lantern, and searched
the fruit closet. Sure enough, there were no pickled peaches.
When he came back and began packing his fruit, Mahailey stood
watching him with a furtive expression, very much like the look
that is in a chained coyote's eyes when a boy is showing him off
to visitors and saying he wouldn't run away if he could.
"Go on with your work," Ralph snapped. "Don't stand there
That evening Claude was sitting on the windmill platform, down by
the barn, after a hard day's work ploughing for winter wheat. He
was solacing himself with his pipe. No matter how much she loved
him, or how sorry she felt for him, his mother could never bring
herself to tell him he might smoke in the house. Lights were
shining from the upstairs rooms on the hill, and through the open
windows sounded the singing snarl of a phonograph. A figure came
stealing down the path. He knew by her low, padding step that it
was Mahailey, with her apron thrown over her head. She came up to
him and touched him on the shoulder in a way which meant that
what she had to say was confidential.
"Mr. Claude, Mr. Ralph's done packed up a barr'l of your mudder's
jelly an' pickles to take out there."
"That's all right, Mahailey. Mr. Wested was a widower, and I
guess there wasn't anything of that sort put up at his place."
She hesitated and bent lower. "He asked me fur them pickled
peaches I made fur you, but I didn't give him none. I hid 'em all
in my old cook-stove we done put down cellar when Mr. Ralph
bought the new one. I didn't give him your mudder's new
preserves, nudder. I give him the old last year's stuff we had
left over, and now you an' your mudder'll have plenty." Claude
laughed. "Oh, I don't care if Ralph takes all the fruit on the
She shrank back a little, saying confusedly, "No, I know you
don't, Mr. Claude. I know you don't."
"I surely ought not to take it out on her," Claude thought, when
he saw her disappointment. He rose and patted her on the back.
"That's all right, Mahailey. Thank you for saving the peaches,
She shook her finger at him. "Don't you let on!"
He promised, and watched her slipping back over the zigzag path
up the hill.
Ralph and his father moved to the new ranch the last of August,
and Mr. Wheeler wrote back that late in the fall he meant to ship
a carload of grass steers to the home farm to be fattened during
the winter. This, Claude saw, would mean a need for fodder. There
was a fifty-acre corn field west of the creek,--just on the
sky-line when one looked out from the west windows of the house.
Claude decided to put this field into winter wheat, and early in
September he began to cut and bind the corn that stood upon it
for fodder. As soon as the corn was gathered, he would plough up
the ground, and drill in the wheat when he planted the other
This was Claude's first innovation, and it did not meet with
approval. When Bayliss came out to spend Sunday with his mother,
he asked her what Claude thought he was doing, anyhow. If he
wanted to change the crop on that field, why didn't he plant oats
in the spring, and then get into wheat next fall? Cutting fodder
and preparing the ground now, would only hold him back in his
work. When Mr. Wheeler came home for a short visit, he jocosely
referred to that quarter as "Claude's wheat field."
Claude went ahead with what he had undertaken to do, but all
through September he was nervous and apprehensive about the
weather. Heavy rains, if they came, would make him late with his
wheat-planting, and then there would certainly be criticism. In
reality, nobody cared much whether the planting was late or not,
but Claude thought they did, and sometimes in the morning he
awoke in a state of panic because he wasn't getting ahead faster.
He had Dan and one of August Yoeder's four sons to help him, and
he worked early and late. The new field he ploughed and drilled
himself. He put a great deal of young energy into it, and buried
a great deal of discontent in its dark furrows. Day after day he
flung himself upon the land and planted it with what was
fermenting in him, glad to be so tired at night that he could not
Ralph came home for Leonard Dawson's wedding, on the first of
October. All the Wheelers went to the wedding, even Mahailey, and
there was a great gathering of the country folk and townsmen.
After Ralph left, Claude had the place to himself again, and the
work went on as usual. The stock did well, and there were no
vexatious interruptions. The fine weather held, and every morning
when Claude got up, another gold day stretched before him like a
glittering carpet, leading. . . ? When the question where the
days were leading struck him on the edge of his bed, he hurried
to dress and get down-stairs in time to fetch wood and coal for
Mahailey. They often reached the kitchen at the same moment, and
she would shake her finger at him and say, "You come down to help
me, you nice boy, you!" At least he was of some use to Mahailey.
His father could hire one of the Yoeder boys to look after the
place, but Mahailey wouldn't let any one else save her old back.
Mrs. Wheeler, as well as Mahailey, enjoyed that fall. She slept
late in the morning, and read and rested in the afternoon. She
made herself some new house-dresses out of a grey material Claude
chose. "It's almost like being a bride, keeping house for just
you, Claude," she sometimes said.
Soon Claude had the satisfaction of seeing a blush of green come
up over his brown wheat fields, visible first in the dimples and
little hollows, then flickering over the knobs and levels like a
fugitive smile. He watched the green blades coming every day,
when he and Dan went afield with their wagons to gather corn.
Claude sent Dan to shuck on the north quarter, and he worked on
the south. He always brought in one more load a day than Dan
did,--that was to be expected. Dan explained this very
reasonably, Claude thought, one afternoon when they were hooking
up their teams.
"It's all right for you to jump at that corn like you was
a-beating carpets, Claude; it's your corn, or anyways it's your
Paw's. Them fields will always lay betwixt you and trouble. But a
hired man's got no property but his back, and he has to save it.
I figure that I've only got about so many jumps left in me, and I
ain't a-going to jump too hard at no man's corn."
"What's the matter? I haven't been hinting that you ought to jump
any harder, have I ?"
"No, you ain't, but I just want you to know that there's reason
in all things." With this Dan got into his wagon and drove off.
He had probably been meditating upon this declaration for some
That afternoon Claude suddenly stopped flinging white ears into
the wagon beside him. It was about five o'clock, the yellowest
hour of the autumn day. He stood lost in a forest of light, dry,
rustling corn leaves, quite hidden away from the world. Taking
off his husking-gloves, he wiped the sweat from his face, climbed
up to the wagon box, and lay down on the ivory-coloured corn. The
horses cautiously advanced a step or two, and munched with great
content at ears they tore from the stalks with their teeth.
Claude lay still, his arms under his head, looking up at the
hard, polished blue sky, watching the flocks of crows go over
from the fields where they fed on shattered grain, to their nests
in the trees along Lovely Creek. He was thinking about what Dan
had said while they were hitching up. There was a great deal of
truth in it, certainly. Yet, as for him, he often felt that he
would rather go out into the world and earn his bread among
strangers than sweat under this half-responsibility for acres and
crops that were not his own. He knew that his father was
sometimes called a "land hog" by the country people, and he
himself had begun to feel that it was not right they should have
so much land,--to farm, or to rent, or to leave idle, as they
chose. It was strange that in all the centuries the world had
been going, the question of property had not been better
adjusted. The people who had it were slaves to it, and the people
who didn't have it were slaves to them.
He sprang down into the gold light to finish his load. Warm
silence nestled over the cornfield. Sometimes a light breeze rose
for a moment and rattled the stiff, dry leaves, and he himself
made a great rustling and crackling as he tore the husks from the
Greedy crows were still cawing about before they flapped
homeward. When he drove out to the highway, the sun was going
down, and from his seat on the load he could see far and near.
Yonder was Dan's wagon, coming in from the north quarter; over
there was the roof of Leonard Dawson's new house, and his
windmill, standing up black in the declining day. Before him were
the bluffs of the pasture, and the little trees, almost bare,
huddled in violet shadow along the creek, and the Wheeler
farm-house on the hill, its windows all aflame with the last red
fire of the sun.
Claude dreaded the inactivity of the winter, to which the farmer
usually looks forward with pleasure. He made the Thanksgiving
football game a pretext for going up to Lincoln,--went intending
to stay three days and stayed ten. The first night, when he
knocked at the glass door of the Erlichs' sitting-room and took
them by surprise, he thought he could never go back to the farm.
Approaching the house on that clear, frosty autumn evening,
crossing the lawn strewn with crackling dry leaves, he told
himself that he must not hope to find things the same. But they
were the same. The boys were lounging and smoking about the
square table with the lamp on it, and Mrs. Erlich was at the
piano, playing one of Mendelssohn's "Songs Without Words." When
he knocked, Otto opened the door and called:
"A surprise for you, Mother! Guess who's here."
What a welcome she gave him, and how much she had to tell him!
While they were all talking at once, Henry, the oldest son, came
downstairs dressed for a Colonial ball, with satin breeches and
stockings and a sword. His brothers began to point out the
inaccuracies of his costume, telling him that he couldn't
possibly call himself a French emigre unless he wore a powdered
wig. Henry took a book of memoirs from the shelf to prove to them
that at the time when the French emigres were coming to
Philadelphia, powder was going out of fashion.
During this discussion, Mrs. Erlich drew Claude aside and told
him in excited whispers that her cousin Wilhelmina, the singer,
had at last been relieved of the invalid husband whom she had
supported for so many years, and now was going to marry her
accompanist, a man much younger than herself.
After the French emigre had gone off to his party, two young
instructors from the University dropped in, and Mrs. Erlich
introduced Claude as her "landed proprietor" who managed a big
ranch out in one of the western counties. The instructors took
their leave early, but Claude stayed on. What was it that made
life seem so much more interesting and attractive here than
elsewhere? There was nothing wonderful about this room; a lot of
books, a lamp . . . comfortable, hard-used furniture, some people
whose lives were in no way remarkable--and yet he had the sense
of being in a warm and gracious atmosphere, charged with generous
enthusiasms and ennobled by romantic friendships. He was glad to
see the same pictures on the wall; to find the Swiss wood-cutter
on the mantel, still bending under his load of faggots; to handle
again the heavy brass paper-knife that in its time had cut so
many interesting pages. He picked it up from the cover of a red
book lying there,-one of Trevelyan's volumes on Garibaldi, which
Julius told him he must read before he was another week older.
The next afternoon Claude took Mrs. Erlich to the football game
and came home with the family for dinner. He lingered on day
after day, but after the first few evenings his heart was growing
a little heavier all the time. The Erlich boys had so many new
interests he couldn't keep up with them; they had been going on,
and he had been standing still. He wasn't conceited enough to
mind that. The thing that hurt was the feeling of being out of
it, of being lost in another kind of life in which ideas played
but little part. He was a stranger who walked in and sat down
here; but he belonged out in the big, lonely country, where
people worked hard with their backs and got tired like the
horses, and were too sleepy at night to think of anything to say.
If Mrs. Erlich and her Hungarian woman made lentil soup and
potato dumplings and WienerSchnitzel for him, it only made the
plain fare on the farm seem the heavier.
When the second Friday came round, he went to bid his friends
good-bye and explained that he must be going home tomorrow. On
leaving the house that night, he looked back at the ruddy windows
and told himself that it was goodbye indeed, and not, as Mrs.
Erlich had fondly said, auf wiedersehen. Coming here only made
him more discontented with his lot; his frail claim on this kind
of life existed no longer. He must settle down into something
that was his own, take hold of it with both hands, no matter how
grim it was. The next day, during his journey out through the
bleak winter country, he felt that he was going deeper and deeper
Claude had not written when he would be home, but on Saturday
there were always some of the neighbours in town. He rode out
with one of the Yoeder boys, and from their place walked on the
rest of the way. He told his mother he was glad to be back again.
He sometimes felt as if it were disloyal to her for him to be so
happy with Mrs. Erlich. His mother had been shut away from the
world on a farm for so many years; and even before that, Vermont
was no very stimulating place to grow up in, he guessed. She had
not had a chance, any more than he had, at those things which
make the mind more supple and keep the feeling young.
The next morning it was snowing outside, and they had a long,
pleasant Sunday breakfast. Mrs. Wheeler said they wouldn't try to
go to church, as Claude must be tired. He worked about the place
until noon, making the stock comfortable and looking after things
that Dan had neglected in his absence. After dinner he sat down
at the secretary and wrote a long letter to his friends in
Lincoln. Whenever he lifted his eyes for a moment, he saw the
pasture bluffs and the softly falling snow. There was something
beautiful about the submissive way in which the country met
winter. It made one contented,--sad, too. He sealed his letter
and lay down on the couch to read the paper, but was soon asleep.
When he awoke the afternoon was already far gone. The clock on
the shelf ticked loudly in the still room, the coal stove sent
out a warm glow. The blooming plants in the south bow-window
looked brighter and fresher than usual in the soft white light
that came up from the snow. Mrs. Wheeler was reading by the west
window, looking away from her book now and then to gaze off at
the grey sky and the muffled fields. The creek made a winding
violet chasm down through the pasture, and the trees followed it
in a black thicket, curiously tufted with snow. Claude lay for
some time without speaking, watching his mother's profile against
the glass, and thinking how good this soft, clinging snow-fall
would be for his wheat fields.
"What are you reading, Mother?" he asked presently.
She turned her head toward him. "Nothing very new. I was just
Beginning 'Paradise Lost' again. I haven't read it for a long
"Read aloud, won't you? Just wherever you happen to be. I like
the sound of it."
Mrs. Wheeler always read deliberately, giving each syllable its
full value. Her voice, naturally soft and rather wistful, trailed
over the long measures and the threatening Biblical names, all
familiar to her and full of meaning.
"A dungeon horrible, on all sides round As one great furnace
flamed; yet from the flames No light, but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe."
Her voice groped as if she were trying to realize something. The
room was growing greyer as she read on through the turgid
catalogue of the heathen gods, so packed with stories and
pictures, so unaccountably glorious. At last the light failed,
and Mrs. Wheeler closed the book.
"That's fine," Claude commented from the couch. "But Milton
couldn't have got along without the wicked, could he?"
Mrs. Wheeler looked up. "Is that a joke?" she asked slyly.
"Oh no, not at all! It just struck me that this part is so much
more interesting than the books about perfect innocence in Eden."
"And yet I suppose it shouldn't be so," Mrs. Wheeler said slowly,
as if in doubt.
Her son laughed and sat up, smoothing his rumpled hair. "The fact
remains that it is, dear Mother. And if you took all the great
sinners out of the Bible, you'd take out all the interesting
characters, wouldn't you?"
"Except Christ," she murmured.
"Yes, except Christ. But I suppose the Jews were honest when they
thought him the most dangerous kind of criminal."
"Are you trying to tangle me up?" his mother inquired, with both
reproach and amusement in her voice.
Claude went to the window where she was sitting, and looked out
at the snowy fields, now becoming blue and desolate as the
shadows deepened. "I only mean that even in the Bible the people
who were merely free from blame didn't amount to much."
"Ah, I see!" Mrs. Wheeler chuckled softly. "You are trying to get
me back to Faith and Works. There's where you always balked when
you were a little fellow. Well, Claude, I don't know as much
about it as I did then. As I get older, I leave a good deal more
to God. I believe He wants to save whatever is noble in this
world, and that He knows more ways of doing it than I." She rose
like a gentle shadow and rubbed her cheek against his flannel
shirt-sleeve, murmuring, "I believe He is sometimes where we
would least expect to find Him,--even in proud, rebellious
For a moment they clung together in the pale, clear square of the
west window, as the two natures in one person sometimes meet and
cling in a fated hour.
Ralph and his father came home to spend the holidays, and on
Christmas day Bayliss drove out from town for dinner. He arrived
early, and after greeting his mother in the kitchen, went up to
the sitting-room, which shone with a holiday neatness, and, for
once, was warm enough for Bayliss,--having a low circulation, he
felt the cold acutely. He walked up and down, jingling the keys
in his pockets and admiring his mother's winter chrysanthemums,
which were still blooming. Several times he paused before the
old-fashioned secretary, looking through the glass doors at the
volumes within. The sight of some of those books awoke
disagreeable memories. When he was a boy of fourteen or fifteen,
it used to make him bitterly jealous to hear his mother coaxing
Claude to read aloud to her. Bayliss had never been bookish. Even
before he could read, when his mother told him stories, he at
once began to prove to her how they could not possibly be true.
Later he found arithmetic and geography more interesting than
"Robinson Crusoe." If he sat down with a book, he wanted to feel
that he was learning something. His mother and Claude were always
talking over his head about the people in books and stories.
Though Bayliss had a sentimental feeling about coming home, he
considered that he had had a lonely boyhood. At the country
school he had not been happy; he was the boy who always got the
answers to the test problems when the others didn't, and he kept
his arithmetic papers buttoned up in the inside pocket of his
little jacket until he modestly handed them to the teacher, never
giving a neighbour the benefit of his cleverness. Leonard Dawson
and other lusty lads of his own age made life as terrifying for
him as they could. In winter they used to throw him into a
snow-drift, and then run away and leave him. In summer they made
him eat live grasshoppers behind the schoolhouse, and put big
bull-snakes in his dinner pail to surprise him. To this day,
Bayliss liked to see one of those fellows get into difficulties
that his big fists couldn't get him out of.
It was because Bayliss was quick at figures and undersized for a
farmer that his father sent him to town to learn the implement
business. From the day he went to work, he managed to live on his
small salary. He kept in his vest pocket a little day-book
wherein he noted down all his expenditures,-- like the
millionaire about whom the Baptist preachers were never tired of
talking,-and his offering to the contribution box stood out
conspicuous in his weekly account.
In Bayliss' voice, even when he used his insinuating drawl and
said disagreeable things, there was something a little plaintive;
the expression of a deep-seated sense of injury. He felt that he
had always been misunderstood and underestimated. Later after he
went into business for himself, the young men of Frankfort had
never urged him to take part in their pleasures. He had not been
asked to join the tennis club or the whist club. He envied Claude
his fine physique and his unreckoning, impulsive vitality, as if
they had been given to his brother by unfair means and should
rightly have been his.
Bayliss and his father were talking together before dinner when
Claude came in and was so inconsiderate as to put up a window,
though he knew his brother hated a draft. In a moment Bayliss
addressed him without looking at him:
"I see your friends, the Erlichs, have bought out the Jenkinson
company, in Lincoln; at least, they've given their notes."
Claude had promised his mother to keep his temper today, "Yes, I
saw it in the paper. I hope they'll succeed."
"I doubt it." Bayliss shook his head with his wisest look. "I
understand they've put a mortgage on their home. That old woman
will find herself without a roof one of these days."
"I don't think so. The boys have wanted to go into business
together for a long while. They are all intelligent and
industrious; why shouldn't they get on?" Claude flattered himself
that he spoke in an easy, confidential way.
Bayliss screwed up his eyes. "I expect they're too fond of good
living. They'll pay their interest, and spend whatever's left
entertaining their friends. I didn't see the young fellow's name
in the notice of incorporation, Julius, do they call him?"
"Julius is going abroad to study this fall. He intends to be a
"What's the matter with him? Does he have poor health?"
At this moment the dinner bell sounded, Ralph ran down from his
room where he had been dressing, and they all descended to the
kitchen to greet the turkey. The dinner progressed pleasantly.
Bayliss and his father talked politics, and Ralph told stories
about his neighbours in Yucca county. Bayliss was pleased that
his mother had remembered he liked oyster stuffing, and he
complimented her upon her mince pies. When he saw her pour a
second cup of coffee for herself and for Claude at the end of
dinner, he said, in a gentle, grieved tone, "I'm sorry to see you
taking two, Mother."
Mrs. Wheeler looked at him over the coffee-pot with a droll,
guilty smile. "I don't believe coffee hurts me a particle,
"Of course it does; it's a stimulant." What worse could it be,
his tone implied! When you said anything was a "stimulant," you
had sufficiently condemned it; there was no more noxious word.
Claude was in the upper hall, putting on his coat to go down to
the barn and smoke a cigar, when Bayliss came out from the
sitting-room and detained him by an indefinite remark.
"I believe there's to be a musical show in Hastings Saturday
Claude said he had heard something of the sort.
"I was thinking," Bayliss affected a careless tone, as if he
thought of such things every day, "that we might make a party and
take Gladys and Enid. The roads are pretty good."
"It's a hard drive home, so late at night," Claude objected.
Bayliss meant, of course, that Claude should drive the party up
and back in Mr. Wheeler's big car. Bayliss never used his
glistening Cadillac for long, rough drives.
"I guess Mother would put us up overnight, and we needn't take
the girls home till Sunday morning. I'll get the tickets."
"You'd better arrange it with the girls, then. I'll drive you, of
course, if you want to go."
Claude escaped and went out, wishing that Bayliss would do his
own courting and not drag him into it. Bayliss, who didn't know
one tune from another, certainly didn't want to go to this
concert, and it was doubtful whether Enid Royce would care much
about going. Gladys Farmer was the best musician in Frankfort,
and she would probably like to hear it.
Claude and Gladys were old friends, from their High School days,
though they hadn't seen much of each other while he was going to
college. Several times this fall Bayliss had asked Claude to go
somewhere with him on a Sunday, and then stopped to "pick Gladys
up," as he said. Claude didn't like it. He was disgusted, anyhow,
when he saw that Bayliss had made up his mind to marry Gladys.
She and her mother were so poor that he would probably succeed in
the end, though so far Gladys didn't seem to give him much
encouragement. Marrying Bayliss, he thought, would be no joke for
any woman, but Gladys was the one girl in town whom he
particularly ought not to marry. She was as extravagant as she
was poor. Though she taught in the Frankfort High School for
twelve hundred a year, she had prettier clothes than any of the
other girls, except Enid Royce, whose father was a rich man. Her
new hats and suede shoes were discussed and criticized year in
and year out. People said if she married Bayliss Wheeler, he
would soon bring her down to hard facts. Some hoped she would,
and some hoped she wouldn't. As for Claude, he had kept away from
Mrs. Farmer's cheerful parlour ever since Bayliss had begun to
drop in there. He was disappointed in Gladys. When he was
offended, he seldom stopped to reason about his state of feeling.
He avoided the person and the thought of the person, as if it
were a sore spot in his mind.
It had been Mr. Wheeler's intention to stay at home until spring,
but Ralph wrote that he was having trouble with his foreman, so
his father went out to the ranch in February. A few days after
his departure there was a storm which gave people something to
talk about for a year to come.
The snow began to fall about noon on St. Valentine's day, a soft,
thick, wet snow that came down in billows and stuck to
everything. Later in the afternoon the wind rose, and wherever
there was a shed, a tree, a hedge, or even a clump of tall weeds,
drifts began to pile up. Mrs. Wheeler, looking anxiously out from
the sitting-room windows, could see nothing but driving waves of
soft white, which cut the tall house off from the rest of the
Claude and Dan, down in the corral, where they were provisioning
the cattle against bad weather, found the air so thick that they
could scarcely breathe; their ears and mouths and nostrils were
full of snow, their faces plastered with it. It melted constantly
upon their clothing, and yet they were white from their boots to
their caps as they worked,- there was no shaking it off. The air
was not cold, only a little below freezing. When they came in for
supper, the drifts had piled against the house until they covered
the lower sashes of the kitchen windows, and as they opened the
door, a frail wall of snow fell in behind them. Mahailey came
running with her broom and pail to sweep it up.
"Ain't it a turrible storm, Mr. Claude? I reckon poor Mr. Ernest
won't git over tonight, will he? You never mind, honey; I'll wipe
up that water. Run along and git dry clothes on you, an' take a
bath, or you'll ketch cold. Th' ole tank's full of hot water for
you." Exceptional weather of any kind always delighted Mahailey.
Mrs. Wheeler met Claude at the head of the stairs. "There's no
danger of the steers getting snowed under along the creek, is
there?" she asked anxiously.
"No, I thought of that. We've driven them all into the little
corral on the level, and shut the gates. It's over my head down
in the creek bottom now. I haven't a dry stitch on me. I guess
I'll follow Mahailey's advice and get in the tub, if you can wait
supper for me."
"Put your clothes outside the bathroom door, and I'll see to
drying them for you."
"Yes, please. I'll need them tomorrow. I don't want to spoil my
new corduroys. And, Mother, see if you can make Dan change. He's
too wet and steamy to sit at the table with. Tell him if anybody
has to go out after supper, I'll go."
Mrs. Wheeler hurried down stairs. Dan, she knew, would rather sit
all evening in wet clothes than take the trouble to put on dry
ones. He tried to sneak past her to his own quarters behind the
wash-room, and looked aggrieved when he heard her message.
"I ain't got no other outside clothes, except my Sunday ones," he
"Well, Claude says he'll go out if anybody has to. I guess you'll
have to change for once, Dan, or go to bed without your supper."
She laughed quietly at his dejected expression as he slunk away.
"Mrs. Wheeler," Mahailey whispered, "can't I run down to the
cellar an' git some of them nice strawberry preserves? Mr.
Claude, he loves 'em on his hot biscuit. He don't eat the honey
no more; he's got tired of it."
"Very well. I'll make the coffee good and strong; that will
please him more than anything."
Claude came down feeling clean and warm and hungry. As he opened
the stair door he sniffed the coffee and frying ham, and when
Mahailey bent over the oven the warm smell of browning biscuit
rushed out with the heat. These combined odours somewhat
dispersed Dan's gloom when he came back in squeaky Sunday shoes
and a bunglesome cut-away coat. The latter was not required of
him, but he wore it for revenge.
During supper Mrs. Wheeler told them once again how, long ago
when she was first married, there were no roads or fences west of
Frankfort. One winter night she sat on the roof of their first
dugout nearly all night, holding up a lantern tied to a pole to
guide Mr. Wheeler home through a snowstorm like this.
Mahailey, moving about the stove, watched over the group at the
table. She liked to see the men fill themselves with food-though
she did not count Dan a man, by any means, and she looked out to
see that Mrs. Wheeler did not forget to eat altogether, as she
was apt to do when she fell to remembering things that had
happened long ago. Mahailey was in a happy frame of mind because
her weather predictions had come true; only yesterday she had
told Mrs. Wheeler there would be snow, because she had seen
snowbirds. She regarded supper as more than usually important
when Claude put on his "velvet close," as she called his brown
After supper Claude lay on the couch in the sitting room, while
his mother read aloud to him from "Bleak House,"--one of the few
novels she loved. Poor Jo was drawing toward his end when Claude
suddenly sat up. "Mother, I believe I'm too sleepy. I'll have to
turn in. Do you suppose it's still snowing?"
He rose and went to look out, but the west windows were so
plastered with snow that they were opaque. Even from the one on
the south he could see nothing for a moment; then Mahailey must
have carried her lamp to the kitchen window beneath, for all at
once a broad yellow beam shone out into the choked air, and down
it millions of snowflakes hurried like armies, an unceasing
progression, moving as close as they could without forming a
solid mass. Claude struck the frozen window-frame with his fist,
lifted the lower sash, and thrusting out his head tried to look
abroad into the engulfed night. There was a solemnity about a
storm of such magnitude; it gave one a feeling of infinity. The
myriads of white particles that crossed the rays of lamplight
seemed to have a quiet purpose, to be hurrying toward a definite
end. A faint purity, like a fragrance almost too fine for human
senses, exhaled from them as they clustered about his head and
shoulders. His mother, looking under his lifted arm, strained her
eyes to see out into that swarming movement, and murmured softly
in her quavering voice:
"Ever thicker, thicker, thicker, Froze the ice on lake and river;
Ever deeper, deeper, deeper, Fell the snow o'er all the
Claude's bedroom faced the east. The next morning, when he looked
out of his windows, only the tops of the cedars in the front yard
were visible. Hurriedly putting on his clothes he ran to the west
window at the end of the hall; Lovely Creek, and the deep ravine
in which it flowed, had disappeared as if they had never been.
The rough pasture was like a smooth field, except for humps and
mounds like haycocks, where the snow had drifted over a post or a
At the kitchen stairs Mahailey met him in gleeful excitement.
"Lord 'a' mercy, Mr. Claude, I can't git the storm door open.
We're snowed in fas'." She looked like a tramp woman, in a jacket
patched with many colours, her head tied up in an old black
"fascinator," with ravelled yarn hanging down over her face like
wild locks of hair. She kept this costume for calamitous
occasions; appeared in it when the water-pipes were frozen and
burst, or when spring storms flooded the coops and drowned her
The storm door opened outward. Claude put his shoulder to it and
pushed it a little way. Then, with Mahailey's fireshovel he
dislodged enough snow to enable him to force back the door. Dan
came tramping in his stocking-feet across the kitchen to his
boots, which were still drying behind the stove. "She's sure a
bad one, Claude," he remarked, blinking.
"Yes. I guess we won't try to go out till after breakfast. We'll
have to dig our way to the barn, and I never thought to bring the
shovels up last night."
"Th' ole snow shovels is in the cellar.
I'll git 'em."
"Not now, Mahailey. Give us our breakfast before you do anything
Mrs. Wheeler came down, pinning on her little shawl, her
shoulders more bent than usual. "Claude," she said fearfully,
"the cedars in the front yard are all but covered. Do you suppose
our cattle could be buried?"
He laughed. "No, Mother. The cattle have been moving around all
night, I expect."
When the two men started out with the wooden snow shovels, Mrs.
Wheeler and Mahailey stood in the doorway, watching them. For a
short distance from the house the path they dug was like a
tunnel, and the white walls on either side were higher than their
heads. On the breast of the hill the snow was not so deep, and
they made better headway. They had to fight through a second
heavy drift before they reached the barn, where they went in and
warmed themselves among the horses and cows. Dan was for getting
next a warm cow and beginning to milk.
"Not yet," said Claude. "I want to have a look at the hogs before
we do anything here."
The hog-house was built down in a draw behind the barn. When
Claude reached the edge of the gully, blown almost bare, he could
look about him. The draw was full of snow, smooth . . . except in
the middle, where there was a rumpled depression, resembling a
great heap of tumbled bed-linen.
Dan gasped. "God a' mighty, Claude, the roof's fell in! Them
hogs'll be smothered."
"They will if we don't get at them pretty quick. Run to the house
and tell Mother Mahailey will have to milk this morning, and get
back here as fast as you can."
The roof was a flat thatch, and the weight of the snow had been
too much for it. Claude wondered if he should have put on a new
thatch that fall; but the old one wasn't leaky, and had seemed
When Dan got back they took turns, one going ahead and throwing
out as much snow as he could, the other handling the snow that
fell back. After an hour or so of this work, Dan leaned on his
"We'll never do it, Claude. Two men couldn't throw all that snow
out in a week. I'm about all in."
"Well, you can go back to the house and sit by the fire," Claude
called fiercely. He had taken off his coat and was working in his
shirt and sweater. The sweat was rolling from his face, his back
and arms ached, and his hands, which he couldn't keep dry, were
blistered. There were thirty-seven hogs in the hoghouse.
Dan sat down in the hole. "Maybe if I could git a drink of water,
I could hold on a-ways," he said dejectedly.
It was past noon when they got into the shed; a cloud of steam
rose, and they heard grunts. They found the pigs all lying in a
heap at one end, and pulled the top ones off alive and squealing.
Twelve hogs, at the bottom of the pile, had been suffocated. They
lay there wet and black in the snow, their bodies warm and
smoking, but they were dead; there was no mistaking that.
Mrs. Wheeler, in her husband's rubber boots and an old overcoat,
came down with Mahailey to view the scene of disaster.
"You ought to git right at them hawgs an' butcher 'em today,"
Mahailey called down to the men. She was standing on the edge of
the draw, in her patched jacket and ravelled hood. Claude, down
in the hole, brushed the sleeve of his sweater across his
streaming face. "Butcher them?" he cried indignantly. "I wouldn't
butcher them if I never saw meat again."
"You ain't a-goin' to let all that good hawg-meat go to wase, air
you, Mr. Claude?" Mahailey pleaded. "They didn't have no sickness
nor nuthin'. Only you'll have to git right at 'em, or the meat
won't be healthy."
"It wouldn't be healthy for me, anyhow. I don't know what I will
do with them, but I'm mighty sure I won't butcher them."
"Don't bother him, Mahailey," Mrs. Wheeler cautioned her. "He's
tired, and he has to fix some place for the live hogs."
"I know he is, mam, but I could easy cut up one of them hawgs
myself. I butchered my own little pig onct, in Virginia. I could
save the hams, anyways, and the spare-ribs. We ain't had no
spare-ribs for ever so long."
What with the ache in his back and his chagrin at losing the
pigs, Claude was feeling desperate. "Mother," he shouted, "if you
don't take Mahailey into the house, I'll go crazy!"
That evening Mrs. Wheeler asked him how much the twelve hogs
would have been worth in money. He looked a little startled.
"Oh, I don't know exactly; three hundred dollars, anyway."
"Would it really be as much as that? I don't see how we could
have prevented it, do you?" Her face looked troubled.
Claude went to bed immediately after supper, but he had no sooner
stretched his aching body between the sheets than he began to
feel wakeful. He was humiliated at losing the pigs, because they
had been left in his charge; but for the loss in money, about
which even his mother was grieved, he didn't seem to care. He
wondered whether all that winter he hadn't been working himself
up into a childish contempt for money-values.
When Ralph was home at Christmas time, he wore on his little
finger a heavy gold ring, with a diamond as big as a pea,
surrounded by showy grooves in the metal. He admitted to Claude
that he had won it in a poker game. Ralph's hands were never free
from automobile grease--they were the red, stumpy kind that
couldn't be kept clean. Claude remembered him milking in the barn
by lantern light, his jewel throwing off jabbing sparkles of
colour, and his fingers looking very much like the teats of the
cow. That picture rose before him now, as a symbol of what
successful farming led to.
The farmer raised and took to market things with an intrinsic
value; wheat and corn as good as could be grown anywhere in the
world, hogs and cattle that were the best of their kind. In
return he got manufactured articles of poor quality; showy
furniture that went to pieces, carpets and draperies that faded,
clothes that made a handsome man look like a clown. Most of his
money was paid out for machinery,--and that, too, went to pieces.
A steam thrasher didn't last long; a horse outlived three
Claude felt sure that when he was a little boy and all the
neighbours were poor, they and their houses and farms had more
individuality. The farmers took time then to plant fine
cottonwood groves on their places, and to set osage orange hedges
along the borders of their fields. Now these trees were all being
cut down and grubbed up. Just why, nobody knew; they impoverished
the land . . . they made the snow drift . . . nobody had them any
more. With prosperity came a kind of callousness; everybody
wanted to destroy the old things they used to take pride in. The
orchards, which had been nursed and tended so carefully twenty
years ago, were now left to die of neglect. It was less trouble
to run into town in an automobile and buy fruit than it was to
The people themselves had changed. He could remember when all the
farmers in this community were friendly toward each other; now
they were continually having lawsuits. Their sons were either
stingy and grasping, or extravagant and lazy, and they were
always stirring up trouble. Evidently, it took more intelligence
to spend money than to make it.
When he pondered upon this conclusion, Claude thought of the
Erlichs. Julius could go abroad and study for his doctor's
degree, and live on less than Ralph wasted every year. Ralph
would never have a profession or a trade, would never do or make
anything the world needed.
Nor did Claude find his own outlook much better. He was
twenty-one years old, and he had no skill, no training,--no
ability that would ever take him among the kind of people he
admired. He was a clumsy, awkward farmer boy, and even Mrs.
Erlich seemed to think the farm the best place for him. Probably
it was; but all the same he didn't find this kind of life worth
the trouble of getting up every morning. He could not see the use
of working for money, when money brought nothing one wanted. Mrs.
Erlich said it brought security. Sometimes he thought this
security was what was the matter with everybody; that only
perfect safety was required to kill all the best qualities in
people and develop the mean ones.
Ernest, too, said "it's the best life in the world, Claude."
But if you went to bed defeated every night, and dreaded to wake
in the morning, then clearly it was too good a life for you. To
be assured, at his age, of three meals a day and plenty of sleep,
was like being assured of a decent burial. Safety, security; if
you followed that reasoning out, then the unborn, those who would
never be born, were the safest of all; nothing could happen to
Claude knew, and everybody else knew, seemingly, that there was
something wrong with him. He had been unable to conceal his
discontent. Mr. Wheeler was afraid he was one of those visionary
fellows who make unnecessary difficulties for themselves and
other people. Mrs. Wheeler thought the trouble with her son was
that he had not yet found his Saviour. Bayliss was convinced that
his brother was a moral rebel, that behind his reticence and his
guarded manner he concealed the most dangerous opinions. The
neighbours liked Claude, but they laughed at him, and said it was
a good thing his father was well fixed. Claude was aware that his
energy, instead of accomplishing something, was spent in
resisting unalterable conditions, and in unavailing efforts to
subdue his own nature. When he thought he had at last got himself
in hand, a moment would undo the work of days; in a flash he
would be transformed from a wooden post into a living boy. He
would spring to his feet, turn over quickly in bed, or stop short
in his walk, because the old belief flashed up in him with an
intense kind of hope, an intense kind of pain,- the conviction
that there was something splendid about life, if he could but
The weather, after the big storm, behaved capriciously. There was
a partial thaw which threatened to flood everything,--then a hard
freeze. The whole country glittered with an icy crust, and people
went about on a platform of frozen snow, quite above the level of
ordinary life. Claude got out Mr. Wheeler's old double sleigh
from the mass of heterogeneous objects that had for years lain on
top of it, and brought the rusty sleighbells up to the house for
Mahailey to scour with brick dust. Now that they had automobiles,
most of the farmers had let their old sleighs go to pieces. But
the Wheelers always kept everything.
Claude told his mother he meant to take Enid Royce for a
sleigh-ride. Enid was the daughter of Jason Royce, the grain
merchant, one of the early settlers, who for many years had run
the only grist mill in Frankfort county. She and Claude were old
playmates; he made a formal call at the millhouse, as it was
called, every summer during his vacation, and often dropped in to
see Mr. Royce at his town office.
Immediately after supper, Claude put the two wiry little blacks,
Pompey and Satan, to the sleigh. The moon had been up since long
before the sun went down, had been hanging pale in the sky most
of the afternoon, and now it flooded the snow-terraced land with
silver. It was one of those sparkling winter nights when a boy
feels that though the world is very big, he himself is bigger;
that under the whole crystalline blue sky there is no one quite
so warm and sentient as himself, and that all this magnificence
is for him. The sleighbells rang out with a kind of musical
lightheartedness, as if they were glad to sing again, after the
many winters they had hung rusty and dustchoked in the barn.
The mill road, that led off the highway and down to the river,
had pleasant associations for Claude. When he was a youngster,
every time his father went to mill, he begged to go along. He
liked the mill and the miller and the miller's little girl. He
had never liked the miller's house, however, and he was afraid of
Enid's mother. Even now, as he tied his horses to the long
hitch-bar down by the engine room, he resolved that he would not
be persuaded to enter that formal parlour, full of new-looking,
expensive furniture, where his energy always deserted him and he
could never think of anything to talk about. If he moved, his
shoes squeaked in the silence, and Mrs. Royce sat and blinked her
sharp little eyes at him, and the longer he stayed, the harder it
was to go.
Enid herself came to the door.
"Why, it's Claude!" she exclaimed. "Won't you come in?"
"No, I want you to go riding. I've got the old sleigh out. Come
on, it's a fine night!"
"I thought I heard bells. Won't you come in and see Mother while
I get my things on?"
Claude said he must stay with his horses, and ran back to the
hitch-bar. Enid didn't keep him waiting long; she wasn't that
kind. She came swiftly down the path and through the front gate
in the Maine seal motor-coat she wore when she drove her coupe in
"Now, which way?" Claude asked as the horses sprang forward and
the bells began to jingle.
"Almost any way. What a beautiful night! And I love your bells,
Claude. I haven't heard sleighbells since you used to bring me
and Gladys home from school in stormy weather. Why don't we stop
for her tonight? She has furs now, you know!" Here Enid laughed.
"All the old ladies are so terribly puzzled about them; they
can't find out whether your brother really gave them to her for
Christmas or not. If they were sure she bought them for herself,
I believe they'd hold a public meeting."
Claude cracked his whip over his eager little blacks. "Doesn't it
make you tired, the way they are always nagging at Gladys?"
"It would, if she minded. But she's just as serene! They must
have something to fuss about, and of course poor Mrs. Farmer's
back taxes are piling up. I certainly suspect Bayliss of the
Claude did not feel as eager to stop for Gladys as he had been a
few moments before. They were approaching the town now, and
lighted windows shone softly across the blue whiteness of the
snow. Even in progressive Frankfort, the street lights were
turned off on a night so glorious as this. Mrs. Farmer and her
daughter had a little white cottage down in the south part of the
town, where only people of modest means lived. "We must stop to
see Gladys' mother, if only for a minute," Enid said as they drew
up before the fence. "She is so fond of company." Claude tied his
team to a tree, and they went up to the narrow, sloping porch,
hung with vines that were full of frozen snow.
Mrs. Farmer met them; a large, rosy woman of fifty, with a
pleasant Kentucky voice. She took Enid's arm affectionately, and
Claude followed them into the long, low sitting-room, which had
an uneven floor and a lamp at either end, and was scantily
furnished in rickety mahogany. There, close beside the hard-coal
burner, sat Bayliss Wheeler. He did not rise when they entered,
but said, "Hello, folks," in a rather sheepish voice. On a little
table, beside Mrs. Farmer's workbasket, was the box of candy he
had lately taken out of his overcoat pocket, still tied up with
its gold cord. A tall lamp stood beside the piano, where Gladys
had evidently been practising. Claude wondered whether Bayliss
actually pretended to an interest in music! At this moment Gladys
was in the kitchen, Mrs. Farmer explained, looking for her
mother's glasses, mislaid when she was copying a recipe for a
"Are you still getting new recipes, Mrs. Farmer?" Enid asked her.
"I thought you could make every dish in the world already."
"Oh, not quite!" Mrs. Farmer laughed modestly and showed that she
liked compliments. "Do sit down, Claude," she besought of the
stiff image by the door. "Daughter will be here directly."
At that moment Gladys Farmer appeared.
"Why, I didn't know you had company, Mother," she said, coming in
to greet them.
This meant, Claude supposed, that Bayliss was not company. He
scarcely glanced at Gladys as he took the hand she held out to
One of Gladys' grandfathers had come from Antwerp, and she had
the settled composure, the full red lips, brown eyes, and dimpled
white hands which occur so often in Flemish portraits of young
women. Some people thought her a trifle heavy, too mature and
positive to be called pretty, even though they admired her rich,
tulip-like complexion. Gladys never seemed aware that her looks
and her poverty and her extravagance were the subject of
perpetual argument, but went to and from school every day with
the air of one whose position is assured. Her musicianship gave
her a kind of authority in Frankfort.
Enid explained the purpose of their call. "Claude has got out his
old sleigh, and we've come to take you for a ride. Perhaps
Bayliss will go, too?"
Bayliss said he guessed he would, though Claude knew there was
nothing he hated so much as being out in the cold. Gladys ran
upstairs to put on a warm dress, and Enid accompanied her,
leaving Mrs. Farmer to make agreeable conversation between her
two incompatible guests.
"Bayliss was just telling us how you lost your hogs in the storm,
Claude. What a pity!" she said sympathetically.
Yes, Claude thought, Bayliss wouldn't be at all reticent about
"I suppose there was really no way to save them," Mrs. Farmer
went on in her polite way; her voice was low and round, like her
daughter's, different from the high, tight Western voice. "So I
hope you don't let yourself worry about it."
"No, I don't worry about anything as dead as those hogs were.
What's the use?" Claude asked boldly.
"That's right," murmured Mrs. Farmer, rocking a little in her
chair. "Such things will happen sometimes, and we ought not to
take them too hard. It isn't as if a person had been hurt, is
Claude shook himself and tried to respond to her cordiality, and
to the shabby comfort of her long parlour, so evidently doing its
best to be attractive to her friends. There weren't four steady
legs on any of the stuffed chairs or little folding tables she
had brought up from the South, and the heavy gold moulding was
half broken away from the oil portrait of her father, the judge.
But she carried her poverty lightly, as Southern people did after
the Civil War, and she didn't fret half so much about her back
taxes as her neighbours did. Claude tried to talk agreeably to
her, but he was distracted by the sound of stifled laughter
upstairs. Probably Gladys and Enid were joking about Bayliss'
being there. How shameless girls were, anyhow!
People came to their front windows to look out as the sleigh
dashed jingling up and down the village streets. When they left
town, Bayliss suggested that they drive out past the Trevor
place. The girls began to talk about the two young New
Englanders, Trevor and Brewster, who had lived there when
Frankfort was still a tough little frontier settlement. Every one
was talking about them now, for a few days ago word had come that
one of the partners, Amos Brewster, had dropped dead in his law
office in Hartford. It was thirty years since he and his friend,
Bruce Trevor, had tried to be great cattle men in Frankfort
county, and had built the house on the round hill east of the
town, where they wasted a great deal of money very joyously.
Claude's father always declared that the amount they squandered
in carousing was negligible compared to their losses in
commendable industrial endeavour. The country, Mr. Wheeler said,
had never been the same since those boys left it. He delighted to
tell about the time when Trevor and Brewster went into sheep.
They imported a breeding ram from Scotland at a great expense,
and when he arrived were so impatient to get the good of him that
they turned him in with the ewes as soon as he was out of his
crate. Consequently all the lambs were born at the wrong season;
came at the beginning of March, in a blinding blizzard, and the
mothers died from exposure. The gallant Trevor took horse and
spurred all over the county, from one little settlement to
another, buying up nursing bottles and nipples to feed the orphan
The rich bottom land about the Trevor place had been rented out
to a truck gardener for years now; the comfortable house with its
billiard-room annex-- a wonder for that part of the country in
its day--remained closed, its windows boarded up. It sat on the
top of a round knoll, a fine cottonwood grove behind it. Tonight,
as Claude drove toward it, the hill with its tall straight trees
looked like a big fur cap put down on the snow.
"Why hasn't some one bought that house long ago and fixed it up?"
Enid remarked. "There is no building site around here to compare
with it. It looks like the place where the leading citizen of the
town ought to live."
"I'm glad you like it, Enid," said Bayliss in a guarded voice.
"I've always had a sneaking fancy for the place myself. Those
fellows back there never wanted to sell it. But now the estate's
got to be settled up. I bought it yesterday. The deed is on its
way to Hartford for signature."
Enid turned round in her seat. "Why Bayliss, are you in earnest?
Think of just buying the Trevor place off-hand, as if it were any
ordinary piece of real estate! Will you make over the house, and
live there some day?"
"I don't know about living there. It's too far to walk to my
business, and the road across this bottom gets pretty muddy for a
car in the spring."
"But it's not far, less than a mile. If I once owned that spot,
I'd surely never let anybody else live there. Even Carrie
remembers it. She often asks in her letters whether any one has
bought the Trevor place yet."
Carrie Royce, Enid's older sister, was a missionary in China.
"Well," Bayliss admitted, "I didn't buy it for an investment,
exactly. I paid all it was worth."
Enid turned to Gladys, who was apparently not listening. "You'd
be the one who could plan a mansion for Trevor Hill, Gladys. You
always have such original ideas about houses."
"Yes, people who have no houses of their own often seem to have
ideas about building," said Gladys quietly. "But I like the
Trevor place as it is. I hate to think that one of them is dead.
People say they did have such good times up there."
Bayliss grunted. "Call it good times if you like. The kids were
still grubbing whiskey bottles out of the cellar when I first
came to town. Of course, if I decide to live there, I'll pull
down that old trap and put up something modern." He often took
this gruff tone with Gladys in public.
Enid tried to draw the driver into the conversation. "There seems
to be a difference of opinion here, Claude."
"Oh," said Gladys carelessly, "it's Bayliss' property, or soon
will be. He will build what he likes. I've always known somebody
would get that place away from me, so I'm prepared."
"Get it away from you?" muttered Bayliss, amazed.
"Yes. As long as no one bought it and spoiled it, it was mine as
much as it was anybody's."
"Claude," said Enid banteringly, "now both your brothers have
houses. Where are you going to have yours?"
"I don't know that I'll ever have one. I think I'll run about the
world a little before I draw my plans," he replied sarcastically.
"Take me with you, Claude!" said Gladys in a tone of sudden
weariness. From that spiritless murmur Enid suspected that
Bayliss had captured Gladys' hand under the buffalo robe.
Grimness had settled down over the sleighing party. Even Enid,
who was not highly sensitive to unuttered feelings, saw that
there was an uncomfortable constraint. A sharp wind had come up.
Bayliss twice suggested turning back, but his brother answered,
"Pretty soon," and drove on. He meant that Bayliss should have
enough of it. Not until Enid whispered reproachfully, "I really
think you ought to turn; we're all getting cold," did he realize
that he had made his sleighing party into a punishment! There was
certainly nothing to punish Enid for; she had done her best, and
had tried to make his own bad manners less conspicuous. He
muttered a blundering apology to her when he lifted her from the
sleigh at the mill house. On his long drive home he had bitter
thoughts for company.
He was so angry with Gladys that he hadn't been able to bid her
good-night. Everything she said on the ride had nettled him. If
she meant to marry Bayliss, then she ought to throw off this
affectation of freedom and independence. If she did not mean to,
why did she accept favours from him and let him get into the
habit of walking into her house and putting his box of candy on
the table, as all Frankfort fellows did when they were courting?
Certainly she couldn't make herself believe that she liked his
When they were classmates at the Frankfort High School, Gladys
was Claude's aesthetic proxy. It wasn't the proper thing for a
boy to be too clean, or too careful about his dress and manners.
But if he selected a girl who was irreproachable in these
respects, got his Latin and did his laboratory work with her,
then all her personal attractions redounded to his credit. Gladys
had seemed to appreciate the honour Claude did her, and it was
not all on her own account that she wore such beautifully ironed
muslin dresses when they went on botanical expeditions.
Driving home after that miserable sleigh-ride, Claude told
himself that in so far as Gladys was concerned he could make up
his mind to the fact that he had been "stung" all along. He had
believed in her fine feelings; believed implicitly. Now he knew
she had none so fine that she couldn't pocket them when there was
enough to be gained by it. Even while he said these things over
and over, his old conception of Gladys, down at the bottom of his
mind, remained persistently unchanged. But that only made his
state of feeling the more painful. He was deeply hurt,--and for
some reason, youth, when it is hurt, likes to feel itself
Book Two: Enid
0ne afternoon that spring Claude was sitting on the long flight
of granite steps that leads up to the State House in Denver. He
had been looking at the collection of Cliff Dweller remains in
the Capitol, and when he came out into the sunlight the faint
smell of fresh-cut grass struck his nostrils and persuaded him to
linger. The gardeners were giving the grounds their first light
mowing. All the lawns on the hill were bright with daffodils and
hyacinths. A sweet, warm wind blew over the grass, drying the
waterdrops. There had been showers in the afternoon, and the sky
was still a tender, rainy blue, where it showed through the
masses of swiftly moving clouds.
Claude had been away from home for nearly a month. His father had
sent him out to see Ralph and the new ranch, and from there he
went on to Colorado Springs and Trinidad. He had enjoyed
travelling, but now that he was back in Denver he had that
feeling of loneliness which often overtakes country boys in a
city; the feeling of being unrelated to anything, of not
mattering to anybody. He had wandered about Colorado Springs
wishing he knew some of the people who were going in and out of
the houses; wishing that he could talk to some of those pretty
girls he saw driving their own cars about the streets, if only to
say a few words. One morning when he was walking out in the hills
a girl passed him, then slowed her car to ask if she could give
him a lift. Claude would have said that she was just the sort who
would never stop to pick him up, yet she did, and she talked to
him pleasantly all the way back to town. It was only twenty
minutes or so, but it was worth everything else that happened on
his trip. When she asked him where she should put him down, he
said at the Antlers, and blushed so furiously that she must have
known at once he wasn't staying there.
He wondered this afternoon how many discouraged young men had sat
here on the State House steps and watched the sun go down behind
the mountains. Every one was always saying it was a fine thing to
be young; but it was a painful thing, too. He didn't believe
older people were ever so wretched. Over there, in the golden
light, the mass of mountains was splitting up into four distinct
ranges, and as the sun dropped lower the peaks emerged in
perspective, one behind the other. It was a lonely splendour that
only made the ache in his breast the stronger. What was the
matter with him, he asked himself entreatingly. He must answer
that question before he went home again.
The statue of Kit Carson on horseback, down in the Square,
pointed Westward; but there was no West, in that sense, any more.
There was still South America; perhaps he could find something
below the Isthmus. Here the sky was like a lid shut down over the
world; his mother could see saints and martyrs behind it.
Well, in time he would get over all this, he supposed. Even his
father had been restless as a young man, and had run away into a
new country. It was a storm that died down at last,--but what a
pity not to do anything with it! A waste of power--for it was a
kind of power; he sprang to his feet and stood frowning against
the ruddy light, so deep in his struggling thoughts that he did
not notice a man, mounting from the lower terraces, who stopped
to look at him.
The stranger scrutinized Claude with interest. He saw a young man
standing bareheaded on the long flight of steps, his fists
clenched in an attitude of arrested action,--his sandy hair, his
tanned face, his tense figure copper-coloured in the oblique
rays. Claude would have been astonished if he could have known
how he seemed to this stranger.
The next morning Claude stepped off the train at Frankfort and
had his breakfast at the station before the town was awake. His
family were not expecting him, so he thought he would walk home
and stop at the mill to see Enid Royce. After all, old friends
He left town by the low road that wound along the creek. The
willows were all out in new yellow leaves, and the sticky
cotton-wood buds were on the point of bursting. Birds were
calling everywhere, and now and then, through the studded willow
wands, flashed the dazzling wing of a cardinal.
All over the dusty, tan-coloured wheatfields there was a tender
mist of green,--millions of little fingers reaching up and waving
lightly in the sun. To the north and south Claude could see the
corn-planters, moving in straight lines over the brown acres
where the earth had been harrowed so fine that it blew off in
clouds of dust to the roadside. When a gust of wind rose, gay
little twisters came across the open fields, corkscrews of
powdered earth that whirled through the air and suddenly fell
again. It seemed as if there were a lark on every fence post,
singing for everything that was dumb; for the great ploughed
lands, and the heavy horses in the rows, and the men guiding the
Along the roadsides, from under the dead weeds and wisps of dried
bluestem, the dandelions thrust up their clean, bright faces. If
Claude happened to step on one, the acrid smell made him think of
Mahailey, who had probably been out this very morning, gouging
the sod with her broken butcher knife and stuffing dandelion
greens into her apron. She always went for greens with an air of
secrecy, very early, and sneaked along the roadsides stooping
close to the ground, as if she might be detected and driven away,
or as if the dandelions were wild things and had to be caught
Claude was thinking, as he walked, of how he used to like to come
to mill with his father. The whole process of milling was
mysterious to him then; and the mill house and the miller's wife
were mysterious; even Enid was, a little--until he got her down
in the bright sun among the cat-tails. They used to play in the
bins of clean wheat, watch the flour coming out of the hopper and
get themselves covered with white dust.
Best of all he liked going in where the water-wheel hung dripping
in its dark cave, and quivering streaks of sunlight came in
through the cracks to play on the green slime and the spotted
jewel-weed growing in the shale. The mill was a place of sharp
contrasts; bright sun and deep shade, roaring sound and heavy,
dripping silence. He remembered how astonished he was one day,
when he found Mr. Royce in gloves and goggles, cleaning the
millstones, and discovered what harmless looking things they
were. The miller picked away at them with a sharp hammer until
the sparks flew, and Claude still had on his hand a blue spot
where a chip of flint went under the skin when he got too near.
Jason Royce must have kept his mill going out of sentiment, for
there was not much money in it now. But milling had been his
first business, and he had not found many things in life to be
sentimental about. Sometimes one still came upon him in dusty
miller's clothes, giving his man a day off. He had long ago
ceased to depend on the risings and fallings of Lovely Creek for
his power, and had put in a gasoline engine. The old dam now lay
"like a holler tooth," as one of his men said, grown up with
weeds and willow-brush.
Mr. Royce's family affairs had never gone as well as his
business. He had not been blessed with a son, and out of five
daughters he had succeeded in bringing up only two. People
thought the mill house damp and unwholesome. Until he built a
tenant's cottage and got a married man to take charge of the
mill, Mr. Royce was never able to keep his millers long. They
complained of the gloom of the house, and said they could not get
enough to eat. Mrs. Royce went every summer to a vegetarian
sanatorium in Michigan, where she learned to live on nuts and
toasted cereals. She gave her family nourishment, to be sure, but
there was never during the day a meal that a man could look
forward to with pleasure, or sit down to with satisfaction. Mr.
Royce usually dined at the hotel in town. Nevertheless, his wife
was distinguished for certain brilliant culinary accomplishments.
Her bread was faultless. When a church supper was toward, she was
always called upon for her wonderful mayonnaise dressing, or her
angel-food cake,--sure to be the lightest and spongiest in any
assemblage of cakes.
A deep preoccupation about her health made Mrs. Royce like a
woman who has a hidden grief, or is preyed upon by a consuming
regret. It wrapped her in a kind of insensibility. She lived
differently from other people, and that fact made her distrustful
and reserved. Only when she was at the sanatorium, under the care
of her idolized doctors, did she feel that she was understood and
surrounded by sympathy.
Her distrust had communicated itself to her daughters and in
countless little ways had coloured their feelings about life.
They grew up under the shadow of being "different," and formed no
close friendships. Gladys Farmer was the only Frankfort girl who
had ever gone much to the mill house. Nobody was surprised when
Caroline Royce, the older daughter, went out to China to be a
missionary, or that her mother let her go without a protest. The
Royce women were strange, anyhow, people said; with Carrie gone,
they hoped Enid would grow up to be more like other folk. She
dressed well, came to town often in her car, and was always ready
to work for the church or the public library.
Besides, in Frankfort, Enid was thought very pretty,--in itself a
humanizing attribute. She was slender, with a small, well-shaped
head, a smooth, pale skin, and large, dark, opaque eyes with
heavy lashes. The long line from the lobe of her ear to the tip
of her chin gave her face a certain rigidity, but to the old
ladies, who are the best critics in such matters, this meant
firmness and dignity. She moved quickly and gracefully, just
brushing things rather than touching them, so that there was a
suggestion of flight about her slim figure, of gliding away from
her surroundings. When the Sunday School gave tableaux vivants,
Enid was chosen for Nydia, the blind girl of Pompeii, and for the
martyr in "Christ or Diana." The pallor of her skin, the
submissive inclination of her forehead, and her dark, unchanging
eyes, made one think of something "early Christian."
On this May morning when Claude Wheeler came striding up the mill
road, Enid was in the yard, standing by a trellis for vines built
near the fence, out from under the heavy shade of the trees. She
was raking the earth that had been spaded up the day before, and
making furrows in which to drop seeds. From the turn of the road,
by the knotty old willows, Claude saw her pink starched dress and
little white sun-bonnet. He hurried forward.
"Hello, are you farming?" he called as he came up to the fence.
Enid, who was bending over at that moment, rose quickly, but
without a start. "Why, Claude! I thought you were out West
somewhere. This is a surprise!" She brushed the earth from her
hands and gave him her limp white fingers. Her arms, bare below
the elbow, were thin, and looked cold, as if she had put on a
summer dress too early.
"I just got back this morning. I'm walking out home. What are you
"You always have the finest ones in the country. When I see a
bunch of yours at church or anywhere, I always know them."
"Yes, I'm quite successful with my sweet peas," she admitted.
"The ground is rich down here, and they get plenty of sun."
"It isn't only your sweet peas. Nobody else has such lilacs or
rambler roses, and I expect you have the only wistaria vine in
"Mother planted that a long while ago, when she first moved here.
She is very partial to wistaria. I'm afraid we'll lose it, one of
these hard winters."
"Oh, that would be a shame! Take good care of it. You must put in
a lot of time looking after these things, anyway." He spoke
Enid leaned against the fence and pushed back her little bonnet.
"Perhaps I take more interest in flowers than I do in people. I
often envy you, Claude; you have so many interests."
He coloured. "I? Good gracious, I don't have many! I'm an awfully
discontented sort of fellow. I didn't care about going to school
until I had to stop, and then I was sore because I couldn't go
back. I guess I've been sulking about it all winter."
She looked at him with quiet astonishment. "I don't see why you
should be discontented; you're so free."
"Well, aren't you free, too?"
"Not to do what I want to. The only thing I really want to do is
to go out to China and help Carrie in her work. Mother thinks I'm
not strong enough. But Carrie was never very strong here. She is
better in China, and I think I might be."
Claude felt concern. He had not seen Enid since the sleighride,
when she had been gayer than usual. Now she seemed sunk in
lassitude. "You must get over such notions, Enid. You don't want
to go wandering off alone like that. It makes people queer. Isn't
there plenty of missionary work to be done right here?"
She sighed. "That's what everybody says. But we all of us have a
chance, if we'll take it. Out there they haven't. It's terrible
to think of all those millions that live and die in darkness."
Claude glanced up at the sombre mill house, hidden in
cedars,--then off at the bright, dusty fields. He felt as if he
were a little to blame for Enid's melancholy. He hadn't been very
neighbourly this last year. "People can live in darkness here,
too, unless they fight it. Look at me. I told you I've been
moping all winter. We all feel friendly enough, but we go
plodding on and never get together. You and I are old friends,
and yet we hardly ever see each other. Mother says you've been
promising for two years to run up and have a visit with her. Why
don't you come? It would please her."
"Then I will. I've always been fond of your mother." She paused a
moment, absently twisting the strings of her bonnet, then
twitched it from her head with a quick movement and looked at him
squarely in the bright light. "Claude, you haven't really become
a free-thinker, have you?"
He laughed outright. "Why, what made you think I had?"
"Everybody knows Ernest Havel is, and people say you and he read
that kind of books together."
"Has that got anything to do with our being friends?"
"Yes, it has. I couldn't feel the same confidence in you. I've
worried about it a good deal."
"Well, you just cut it out. For one thing, I'm not worth it," be
"Oh, yes, you are! If worrying would do any good--" she shook her
head at him reproachfully.
Claude took hold of the fence pickets between them with both
hands. "It will do good! Didn't I tell you there was missionary
work to be done right here? Is that why you've been so
stand-offish with me the last few years, because you thought I
was an atheist?"
"I never, you know, liked Ernest Havel," she murmured.
When Claude left the mill and started homeward he felt that he
had found something which would help him through the summer. How
fortunate he had been to come upon Enid alone and talk to her
without interruption,--without once seeing Mrs. Royce's face,
always masked in powder, peering at him from behind a drawn
blind. Mrs. Royce had always looked old, even long ago when she
used to come into church with her little girls,--a tiny woman in
tiny high-heeled shoes and a big hat with nodding plumes, her
black dress covered with bugles and jet that glittered and
rattled and made her seem hard on the outside, like an insect.
Yes, he must see to it that Enid went about and saw more of other
people. She was too much with her mother, and with her own
thoughts. Flowers and foreign missions--her garden and the great
kingdom of China; there was something unusual and touching about
her preoccupations. Something quite charming, too. Women ought to
be religious; faith was the natural fragrance of their minds. The
more incredible the things they believed, the more lovely was the
act of belief. To him the story of "Paradise Lost" was as
mythical as the "Odyssey"; yet when his mother read it aloud to
him, it was not only beautiful but true. A woman who didn't have
holy thoughts about mysterious things far away would be prosaic
and commonplace, like a man.
During the next few weeks Claude often ran his car down to the
mill house on a pleasant evening and coaxed Enid to go into
Frankfort with him and sit through a moving picture show, or to
drive to a neighbouring town. The advantage of this form of
companionship was that it did not put too great a strain upon
one's conversational powers. Enid could be admirably silent, and
she was never embarrassed by either silence or speech. She was
cool and sure of herself under any circumstances, and that was
one reason why she drove a car so well,--much better than Claude,
One Sunday, when they met after church, she told Claude that she
wanted to go to Hastings to do some shopping, and they arranged
that he should take her on Tuesday in his father's big car. The
town was about seventy miles to the northeast and, from
Frankfort, it was an inconvenient trip by rail.
On Tuesday morning Claude reached the mill house just as the sun
was rising over the damp fields. Enid was on the front porch
waiting for him, wearing a blanket coat over her spring suit. She
ran down to the gate and slipped into the seat beside him.
"Good morning, Claude. Nobody else is up. It's going to be a
glorious day, isn't it?"
"Splendid. A little warm for this time of year. You won't need
that coat long."
For the first hour they found the roads empty. All the fields
were grey with dew, and the early sunlight burned over everything
with the transparent brightness of a fire that has just been
kindled. As the machine noiselessly wound off the miles, the sky
grew deeper and bluer, and the flowers along the roadside opened
in the wet grass. There were men and horses abroad on every hill
now. Soon they began to pass children on the way to school, who
stopped and waved their bright dinner pails at the two
travellers. By ten o'clock they were in Hastings.
While Enid was shopping, Claude bought some white shoes and duck
trousers. He felt more interest than usual in his summer clothes.
They met at the hotel for lunch, both very hungry and both
satisfied with their morning's work. Seated in the dining room,
with Enid opposite him, Claude thought they did not look at all
like a country boy and girl come to town, but like experienced
people touring in their car.
"Will you make a call with me after dinner?" she asked while they
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