One of Ours
Part 3 out of 8
were waiting for their dessert.
"Is it any one I know?"
"Certainly. Brother Weldon is in town. His meetings are over, and
I was afraid he might be gone, but he is staying on a few days
with Mrs. Gleason. I brought some of Carrie's letters along for
him to read."
Claude made a wry face. "He won't be delighted to see me. We
never got on well at school. He's a regular muff of a teacher, if
you want to know," he added resolutely.
Enid studied him judicially. "I'm surprised to hear that; he's
such a good speaker. You'd better come along. It's so foolish to
have a coolness with your old teachers."
An hour later the Reverend Arthur Weldon received the two young
people in Mrs. Gleason's half-darkened parlour, where he seemed
quite as much at home as that lady herself. The hostess, after
chatting cordially with the visitors for a few moments, excused
herself to go to a P. E. O. meeting. Every one rose at her
departure, and Mr. Weldon approached Enid, took her hand, and
stood looking at her with his head inclined and his oblique
smile. "This is an unexpected pleasure, to see you again, Miss
Enid. And you, too, Claude," turning a little toward the latter.
"You've come up from Frankfort together this beautiful day?" His
tone seemed to say, "How lovely for you!"
He directed most of his remarks to Enid and, as always, avoided
looking at Claude except when he definitely addressed him.
"You are farming this year, Claude? I presume that is a great
satisfaction to your father. And Mrs. Wheeler is quite well?"
Mr. Weldon certainly bore no malice, but he always pronounced
Claude's name exactly like the word "Clod," which annoyed him. To
be sure, Enid pronounced his name in the same way, but either
Claude did not notice this, or did not mind it from her. He sank
into a deep, dark sofa, and sat with his driving cap on his knee
while Brother Weldon drew a chair up to the one open window of
the dusky room and began to read Carrie Royce's letters. Without
being asked to do so, he read them aloud, and stopped to comment
from time to time. Claude observed with disappointment that Enid
drank in all his platitudes just as Mrs. Wheeler did. He had
never looked at Weldon so long before. The light fell full on the
young man's pear-shaped head and his thin, rippled hair. What in
the world could sensible women like his mother and Enid Royce
find to admire in this purring, white-necktied fellow? Enid's
dark eyes rested upon him with an expression of profound respect.
She both looked at him and spoke to him with more feeling than
she ever showed toward Claude.
"You see, Brother Weldon," she said earnestly, "I am not
naturally much drawn to people. I find it hard to take the proper
interest in the church work at home. It seems as if I had always
been holding myself in reserve for the foreign field,- by not
making personal ties, I mean. If Gladys Farmer went to China,
everybody would miss her. She could never be replaced in the High
School. She has the kind of magnetism that draws people to her.
But I have always been keeping myself free to do what Carrie is
doing. There I know I could be of use."
Claude saw it was not easy for Enid to talk like this. Her face
looked troubled, and her dark eyebrows came together in a sharp
angle as she tried to tell the young preacher exactly what was
going on in her mind. He listened with his habitual, smiling
attention, smoothing the paper of the folded letter pages and
murmuring, "Yes, I understand. Indeed, Miss Enid?"
When she pressed him for advice, he said it was not always easy
to know in what field one could be most useful; perhaps this very
restraint was giving her some spiritual discipline that she
particularly needed. He was careful not to commit himself, not to
advise anything unconditionally, except prayer.
"I believe that all things are made clear to us in prayer, Miss
Enid clasped her hands; her perplexity made her features look
sharper. "But it is when I pray that I feel this call the
strongest. It seems as if a finger were pointing me over there.
Sometimes when I ask for guidance in little things, I get none,
and only get the feeling that my work lies far away, and that for
it, strength would be given me. Until I take that road, Christ
Mr. Weldon answered her in a tone of relief, as if something
obscure had been made clear. "If that is the case, Miss Enid, I
think we need have no anxiety. If the call recurs to you in
prayer, and it is your Saviour's will, then we can be sure that
the way and the means will be revealed. A passage from one of the
Prophets occurs to me at this moment; 'And behold a way shall be
opened up before thy feet; walk thou in it.' We might say that
this promise was originally meant for Enid Royce! I believe God
likes us to appropriate passages of His word personally." This
last remark was made playfully, as if it were a kind of Christian
Endeavour jest. He rose and handed Enid back the letters.
Clearly, the interview was over.
As Enid drew on her gloves she told him that it had been a great
help to talk to him, and that he always seemed to give her what
she needed. Claude wondered what it was. He hadn't seen Weldon do
anything but retreat before her eager questions. He, an
"atheist," could have given her stronger reinforcement.
Claude's car stood under the maple trees in front of Mrs.
Gleason's house. Before they got into it, he called Enid's
attention to a mass of thunderheads in the west.
"That looks to me like a storm. It might be a wise thing to stay
at the hotel tonight."
"Oh, no! I don't want to do that. I haven't come prepared."
He reminded her that it wouldn't be impossible to buy whatever
she might need for the night.
"I don't like to stay in a strange place without my own things,"
she said decidedly.
"I'm afraid we'll be going straight into it. We may be in for
something pretty rough,--but it's as you say." He still
hesitated, with his hand on the door.
"I think we'd better try it," she said with quiet determination.
Claude had not yet learned that Enid always opposed the
unexpected, and could not bear to have her plans changed by
people or circumstances.
For an hour he drove at his best speed, watching the clouds
anxiously. The table-land, from horizon to horizon, was glowing
in sunlight, and the sky itself seemed only the more brilliant
for the mass of purple vapours rolling in the west, with bright
edges, like new-cut lead. He had made fifty odd miles when the
air suddenly grew cold, and in ten minutes the whole shining sky
was blotted out. He sprang to the ground and began to jack up his
wheels. As soon as a wheel left the earth, Enid adjusted the
chain. Claude told her he had never got the chains on so quickly
before. He covered the packages in the back seat with an oilcloth
and drove forward to meet the storm.
The rain swept over them in waves, seemed to rise from the sod as
well as to fall from the clouds. They made another five miles,
ploughing through puddles and sliding over liquefied roads.
Suddenly the heavy car, chains and all, bounded up a two-foot
bank, shot over the sod a dozen yards before the brake caught it,
then swung a half-circle and stood still. Enid sat calm and
Claude drew a long breath. "If that had happened on a culvert,
we'd be in the ditch with the car on top of us. I simply can't
control the thing. The whole top soil is loose, and there's
nothing to hold to. That's Tommy Rice's place over there. We'd
better get him to take us in for the night."
"But that would be worse than the hotel," Enid objected. "They
are not very clean people, and there are a lot of children."
"Better be crowded than dead," he murmured. "From here on, it
would be a matter of luck. We might land anywhere."
"We are only about ten miles from your place. I can stay with
your mother tonight."
"It's too dangerous, Enid. I don't like the responsibility. Your
father would blame me for taking such a chance."
"I know, it's on my account you're nervous." Enid spoke
reasonably enough. "Do you mind letting me drive for awhile?
There are only three bad hills left, and I think I can slide down
them sideways; I've often tried it."
Claude got out and let her slip into his seat, but after she took
the wheel he put his hand on her arm. "Don't do anything so
foolish," he pleaded.
Enid smiled and shook her head. She was amiable, but inflexible.
He folded his arms. "Go on."
He was chafed by her stubbornness, but he had to admire her
resourcefulness in handling the car. At the bottom of one of the
worst hills was a new cement culvert, overlaid with liquid mud,
where there was nothing for the chains to grip. The car slid to
the edge of the culvert and stopped on the very brink. While they
were ploughing up the other side of the hill, Enid remarked;
"It's a good thing your starter works well; a little jar would
have thrown us over."
They pulled up at the Wheeler farm just before dark, and Mrs.
Wheeler came running out to meet them with a rubber coat over her
"You poor drowned children!" she cried, taking Enid in her arms.
"How did you ever get home? I so hoped you had stayed in
"It was Enid who got us home," Claude told her. "She's a
dreadfully foolhardy girl, and somebody ought to shake her, but
she's a fine driver."
Enid laughed as she brushed a wet lock back from her forehead.
"You were right, of course; the sensible thing would have been to
turn in at the Rice place; only I didn't want to."
Later in the evening Claude was glad they hadn't. It was pleasant
to be at home and to see Enid at the supper table, sitting on his
father's right and wearing one of his mother's new grey
house-dresses. They would have had a dismal time at the Rices',
with no beds to sleep in except such as were already occupied by
Rice children. Enid had never slept in his mother's guest room
before, and it pleased him to think how comfortable she would be
At an early hour Mrs. Wheeler took a candle to light her guest to
bed; Enid passed near Claude's chair as she was leaving the room.
"Have you forgiven me?" she asked teasingly.
"What made you so pig-headed? Did you want to frighten me? or to
show me how well you could drive?"
"Neither. I wanted to get home. Good-night."
Claude settled back in his chair and shaded his eyes. She did
feel that this was home, then. She had not been afraid of his
father's jokes, or disconcerted by Mahailey's knowing grin. Her
ease in the household gave him unaccountable pleasure. He picked
up a book, but did not read. It was lying open on his knee when
his mother came back half an hour later.
"Move quietly when you go upstairs, Claude. She is so tired that
she may be asleep already."
He took off his shoes and made his ascent with the utmost
Ernest Havel was cultivating his bright, glistening young
cornfield one summer morning, whistling to himself an old German
song which was somehow connected with a picture that rose in his
memory. It was a picture of the earliest ploughing he could
He saw a half-circle of green hills, with snow still lingering in
the clefts of the higher ridges; behind the hills rose a wall of
sharp mountains, covered with dark pine forests. In the meadows
at the foot of that sweep of hills there was a winding creek,
with polled willows in their first yellow-green, and brown
fields. He himself was a little boy, playing by the creek and
watching his father and mother plough with two great oxen, that
had rope traces fastened to their heads and their long horns. His
mother walked barefoot beside the oxen and led them; his father
walked behind, guiding the plough. His father always looked down.
His mother's face was almost as brown and furrowed as the fields,
and her eyes were pale blue, like the skies of early spring. The
two would go up and down thus all morning without speaking,
except to the oxen. Ernest was the last of a long family, and as
he played by the creek he used to wonder why his parents looked
Leonard Dawson drove his car up to the fence and shouted, waking
Ernest from his revery. He told his team to stand, and ran out to
the edge of the field.
"Hello, Ernest," Leonard called. "Have you heard Claude Wheeler
got hurt day before yesterday?"
"You don't say so! It can't be anything bad, or they'd let me
"Oh, it's nothing very bad, I guess, but he got his face
scratched up in the wire quite a little. It was the queerest
thing I ever saw. He was out with the team of mules and a heavy
plough, working the road in that deep cut between their place and
mine. The gasoline motor-truck came along, making more noise than
usual, maybe. But those mules know a motor truck, and what they
did was pure cussedness. They begun to rear and plunge in that
deep cut. I was working my corn over in the field and shouted to
the gasoline man to stop, but he didn't hear me. Claude jumped
for the critters' heads and got 'em by the bits, but by that time
he was all tangled up in the lines. Those damned mules lifted him
off his feet and started to run. Down the draw and up the bank
and across the fields they went, with that big plough-blade
jumping three or four feet in the air every clip. I was sure it
would cut one of the mules open, or go clean through Claude. It
would have got him, too, if he hadn't kept his hold on the bits.
They carried him right along, swinging in the air, and finally
ran him into the barb-wire fence and cut his face and neck up."
"My goodness! Did he get cut bad?"
"No, not very, but yesterday morning he was out cultivating corn,
all stuck up with court plaster. I knew that was a fool thing to
do; a wire cut's nasty if you get overheated out in the dust. But
you can't tell a Wheeler anything. Now they say his face has
swelled and is hurting him terrible, and he's gone to town to see
the doctor. You'd better go over there tonight, and see if you
can make him take care of himself."
Leonard drove on, and Ernest went back to his team. "It's queer
about that boy," he was thinking. "He's big and strong, and he's
got an education and all that fine land, but he don't seem to fit
in right." Sometimes Ernest thought his friend was unlucky. When
that idea occurred to him, he sighed and shook it off. For Ernest
believed there was no help for that; it was something rationalism
did not explain.
The next afternoon Enid Royce's coupe drove up to the Wheeler
farmyard. Mrs. Wheeler saw Enid get out of her car and came down
the hill to meet her, breathless and distressed. "Oh, Enid!
You've heard of Claude's accident? He wouldn't take care of
himself, and now he's got erysipelas. He's in such pain, poor
Enid took her arm, and they started up the hill toward the house.
"Can I see Claude, Mrs. Wheeler? I want to give him these
Mrs. Wheeler hesitated. "I don't know if he will let you come in,
dear. I had hard work persuading him to see Ernest for a few
moments last night. He seems so low-spirited, and he's sensitive
about the way he's bandaged up. I'll go to his room and ask him."
"No, just let me go up with you, please. If I walk in with you,
he won't have time to fret about it. I won't stay if he doesn't
wish it, but I want to see him."
Mrs. Wheeler was alarmed at this suggestion, but Enid ignored her
uncertainty. They went up to the third floor together, and Enid
herself tapped at the door.
"It's I, Claude. May I come in for a moment?"
A muffled, reluctant voice answered. "No. They say this is
catching, Enid. And anyhow, I'd rather you didn't see me like
Without waiting she pushed open the door. The dark blinds were
down, and the room was full of a strong, bitter odor. Claude lay
flat in bed, his head and face so smothered in surgical cotton
that only his eyes and the tip of his nose were visible. The
brown paste with which his features were smeared oozed out at the
edges of the gauze and made his dressings look untidy. Enid took
in these details at a glance.
"Does the light hurt your eyes? Let me put up one of the blinds
for a moment, because I want you to see these flowers. I've
brought you my first sweet peas."
Claude blinked at the bunch of bright colours she held out before
him. She put them up to his face and asked him if he could smell
them through his medicines. In a moment he ceased to feel
embarrassed. His mother brought a glass bowl, and Enid arranged
the flowers on the little table beside him.
"Now, do you want me to darken the room again?"
"Not yet. Sit down for a minute and talk to me. I can't say much
because my face is stiff."
"I should think it would be! I met Leonard Dawson on the road
yesterday, and he told me how you worked in the field after you
were cut. I would like to scold you hard, Claude."
"Do. It might make me feel better." He took her hand and kept her
beside him a moment. "Are those the sweet peas you were planting
that day when I came back from the West?"
"Yes. Haven't they done well to blossom so early?"
"Less than two months. That's strange," he sighed.
"Oh, that a handful of seeds can make anything so pretty in a few
weeks, and it takes a man so long to do anything and then it's
not much account."
"That's not the way to look at things," she said reprovingly.
Enid sat prim and straight on a chair at the foot of his bed. Her
flowered organdie dress was very much like the bouquet she had
brought, and her floppy straw hat had a big lilac bow. She began
to tell Claude about her father's several attacks of erysipelas.
He listened but absently. He would never have believed that Enid,
with her severe notions of decorum, would come into his room and
sit with him like this. He noticed that his mother was quite as
much astonished as he. She hovered about the visitor for a few
moments, and then, seeing that Enid was quite at her ease, went
downstairs to her work. Claude wished that Enid would not talk at
all, but would sit there and let him look at her. The sunshine
she had let into the room, and her tranquil, fragrant presence,
soothed him. Presently he realized that she was asking him
"What is it, Enid? The medicine they give me makes me stupid. I
don't catch things."
"I was asking whether you play chess."
"Father says I play passably well. When you are better you must
let me bring up my ivory chessmen that Carrie sent me from China.
They are beautifully carved. And now it's time for me to go."
She rose and patted his hand, telling him he must not be foolish
about seeing people. "I didn't know you were so vain. Bandages
are as becoming to you as they are to anybody. Shall I pull the
dark blind again for you?"
"Yes, please. There won't be anything to look at now."
"Why, Claude, you are getting to be quite a ladies' man!"
Something in the way Enid said this made him wince a little. He
felt his burning face grow a shade warmer. Even after she went
downstairs he kept wishing she had not said that.
His mother came to give him his medicine. She stood beside him
while he swallowed it. "Enid Royce is a real sensible girl--" she
said as she took the glass. Her upward inflection expressed not
conviction but bewilderment.
Enid came every afternoon, and Claude looked forward to her
visits restlessly; they were the only pleasant things that
happened to him, and made him forget the humiliation of his
poisoned and disfigured face. He was disgusting to himself; when
he touched the welts on his forehead and under his hair, he felt
unclean and abject. At night, when his fever ran high, and the
pain began to tighten in his head and neck, it wrought him to a
distressing pitch of excitement. He fought with it as one bulldog
fights with another. His mind prowled about among dark legends of
torture,--everything he had ever read about the Inquisition, the
rack and the wheel.
When Enid entered his room, cool and fresh in her pretty summer
clothes, his mind leaped to meet her. He could not talk much, but
he lay looking at her and breathing in a sweet contentment. After
awhile he was well enough to sit up half-dressed in a steamer
chair and play chess with her.
One afternoon they were by the west window in the sitting-room
with the chess board between them, and Claude had to admit that
he was beaten again.
"It must be dull for you, playing with me," he murmured, brushing
the beads of sweat from his forehead. His face was clean now, so
white that even his freckles had disappeared, and his hands were
the soft, languid hands of a sick man.
"You will play better when you are stronger and can fix your mind
on it," Enid assured him. She was puzzled because Claude, who had
a good head for some things, had none at all for chess, and it
was clear that he would never play well.
"Yes," he sighed, dropping back into his chair, "my wits do
wander. Look at my wheatfield, over there on the skyline. Isn't
it lovely? And now I won't be able to harvest it. Sometimes I
wonder whether I'll ever finish anything I begin."
Enid put the chessmen back into their box. "Now that you are
better, you must stop feeling blue. Father says that with your
trouble people are always depressed."
Claude shook his head slowly, as it lay against the back of the
chair. "No, it's not that. It's having so much time to think that
makes me blue. You see, Enid, I've never yet done anything that
gave me any satisfaction. I must be good for something. When I
lie still and think, I wonder whether my life has been happening
to me or to somebody else. It doesn't seem to have much
connection with me. I haven't made much of a start."
"But you are not twenty-two yet. You have plenty of time to
start. Is that what you are thinking about all the time!" She
shook her finger at him.
"I think about two things all the time. That is one of them."
Mrs. Wheeler came in with Claude's four o'clock milk; it was his
first day downstairs.
When they were children, playing by the mill-dam, Claude had seen
the future as a luminous vagueness in which he and Enid would
always do things together. Then there came a time when he wanted
to do everything with Ernest, when girls were disturbing and a
bother, and he pushed all that into the distance, knowing that
some day he must reckon with it again.
Now he told himself he had always known Enid would come back; and
she had come on that afternoon when she entered his drug-smelling
room and let in the sunlight. She would have done that for nobody
but him. She was not a girl who would depart lightly from
conventions that she recognized as authoritative. He remembered
her as she used to march up to the platform for Children's Day
exercises with the other little girls of the infant class; in her
stiff white dress, never a curl awry or a wrinkle in her
stocking, keeping her little comrades in order by the acquiescent
gravity of her face, which seemed to say, "How pleasant it is to
do thus and to do Right!"
Old Mr. Smith was the minister in those days,--a good man who had
been much tossed about by a stormy and temperamental wife--and his
eyes used to rest yearningly upon little Enid Royce, seeing in
her the promise of "virtuous and comely Christian womanhood," to
use one of his own phrases. Claude, in the boys' class across the
aisle, used to tease her and try to distract her, but he
respected her seriousness.
When they played together she was fair-minded, didn't whine if
she got hurt, and never claimed a girl's exemption from anything
unpleasant. She was calm, even on the day when she fell into the
mill-dam and he fished her out; as soon as she stopped choking
and coughing up muddy water, she wiped her face with her little
drenched petticoats, and sat shivering and saying over and over,
"Oh, Claude, Claude!" Incidents like that one now seemed to him
significant and fateful.
When Claude's strength began to return to him, it came
overwhelmingly. His blood seemed to grow strong while his body
was still weak, so that the in-rush of vitality shook him. The
desire to live again sang in his veins while his frame was
unsteady. Waves of youth swept over him and left him exhausted.
When Enid was with him these feelings were never so strong; her
actual presence restored his equilibrium--almost. This fact did
not perplex him; he fondly attributed it to something beautiful
in the girl's nature,--a quality so lovely and subtle that there
is no name for it.
During the first days of his recovery he did nothing but enjoy
the creeping stir of life. Respiration was a soft physical
pleasure. In the nights, so long he could not sleep them through,
it was delightful to lie upon a cloud that floated lazily down
the sky. In the depths of this lassitude the thought of Enid
would start up like a sweet, burning pain, and he would drift out
into the darkness upon sensations he could neither prevent nor
control. So long as he could plough, pitch hay, or break his back
in the wheatfield, he had been master; but now he was overtaken
by himself. Enid was meant for him and she had come for him; he
would never let her go. She should never know how much he longed
for her. She would be slow to feel even a little of what he was
feeling; he knew that. It would take a long while. But he would
be infinitely patient, infinitely tender of her. It should be he
who suffered, not she. Even in his dreams he never wakened her,
but loved her while she was still and unconscious like a statue.
He would shed love upon her until she warmed and changed without
Sometimes when Enid sat unsuspecting beside him, a quick blush
swept across his face and he felt guilty toward her, meek and
humble, as if he must beg her forgiveness for something. Often he
was glad when she went away and left him alone to think about
her. Her presence brought him sanity, and for that he ought to be
grateful. When he was with her, he thought how she was to be the
one who would put him right with the world and make him fit into
the life about him. He had troubled his mother and disappointed
his father, His marriage would be the first natural, dutiful,
expected thing he had ever done. It would be the beginning of
usefulness and content; as his mother's oft-repeated Psalm said,
it would restore his soul. Enid's willingness to listen to him he
could scarcely doubt. Her devotion to him during his illness was
probably regarded by her friends as equivalent to an engagement.
Claude's first trip to Frankfort was to get his hair cut. After
leaving the barber-shop he presented himself, glistening with
bayrum, at Jason Royce's office. Mr. Royce, in the act of closing
his safe, turned and took the young man by the hand.
"Hello, Claude, glad to see you around again! Sickness can't do
much to a husky young farmer like you. With old fellows, it's
another story. I'm just starting off to have a look at my
alfalfa, south of the river. Get in and go along with me."
They went out to the open car that stood by the sidewalk, and
when they were spinning along between fields of ripening grain
Claude broke the silence. "I expect you know what I want to see
you about, Mr. Royce?"
The older man shook his head. He had been preoccupied and grim
ever since they started.
"Well," Claude went on modestly, "it oughtn't to surprise you to
hear that I've set my heart on Enid. I haven't said anything to
her yet, but if you're not against me, I'm going to try to
persuade her to marry me."
"Marriage is a final sort of thing, Claude," said Mr. Royce. He
sat slumping in his seat, watching the road ahead of him with
intense abstraction, looking more gloomy and grizzled than usual.
"Enid is a vegetarian, you know," he remarked unexpectedly.
Claude smiled. "That could hardly make any difference to me, Mr.
The other nodded slightly. "I know. At your age you think it
doesn't. Such things do make a difference, however." His lips
closed over his half-dead cigar, and for some time he did not
"Enid is a good girl," he said at last. "Strictly speaking, she
has more brains than a girl needs. If Mrs. Royce had another
daughter at home, I'd take Enid into my office. She has good
judgment. I don't know but she'd run a business better than a
house."' Having got this out, Mr. Royce relaxed his frown, took
his cigar from his mouth, looked at it, and put it back between
his teeth without relighting it.
Claude was watching him with surprise. "There's no question about
Enid, Mr. Royce. I didn't come to ask you about her," he
exclaimed. "I came to ask if you'd be willing to have me for a
son-in-law. I know, and you know, that Enid could do a great deal
better than to marry me. I surely haven't made much of a showing,
"Here we are," announced Mr. Royce. "I'll leave the car under
this elm, and we'll go up to the north end of the field and have
They crawled under the wire fence and started across the rough
ground through a field of purple blossoms. Clouds of yellow
butterflies darted up before them. They walked jerkily, breaking
through the sun-baked crust into the soft soil beneath. Mr. Royce
lit a fresh cigar, and as he threw away the match let his hand
drop on the young man's shoulder. "I always envied your father.
You took my fancy when you were a little shaver, and I used to
let you in to see the water-wheel, When I gave up water power and
put in an engine, I said to myself: 'There's just one fellow in
the country will be sorry to see the old wheel go, and that's
"I hope you don't think I'm too young to marry," Claude said as
they tramped on.
"No, it's right and proper a young man should marry. I don't say
anything against marriage," Mr. Royce protested doggedly. "You
may find some opposition in Enid's missionary motives. I don't
know how she feels about that now. I don't enquire. I'd be
pleased to see her get rid of such notions. They don't do a woman
"I want to help her get rid of them. If it's all right with you,
I hope I can persuade Enid to marry me this fall."
Jason Royce turned his head quickly toward his companion, studied
his artless, hopeful countenance for a moment, and then looked
away with a frown.
The alfalfa field sloped upward at one corner, lay like a bright
green-and-purple handkerchief thrown down on the hillside. At the
uppermost angle grew a slender young cottonwood, with leaves as
light and agitated as the swarms of little butterflies that
hovered above the clover. Mr. Royce made for this tree, took off
his black coat, rolled it up, and sat down on it in the
flickering shade. His shirt showed big blotches of moisture, and
the sweat was rolling in clear drops along the creases in his
brown neck. He sat with his hands clasped over his knees, his
heels braced in the soft soil, and looked blankly off across the
field. He found himself absolutely unable to touch upon the vast
body of experience he wished to communicate to Claude. It lay in
his chest like a physical misery, and the desire to speak
struggled there. But he had no words, no way to make himself
understood. He had no argument to present. What he wanted to do
was to hold up life as he had found it, like a picture, to his
young friend; to warn him, without explanation, against certain
heart-breaking disappointments. It could not be done, he saw. The
dead might as well try to speak to the living as the old to the
young. The only way that Claude could ever come to share his
secret, was to live. His strong yellow teeth closed tighter and
tighter on the cigar, which had gone out like the first. He did
not look at Claude, but while he watched the wind plough soft,
flowery roads in the field, the boy's face was clearly before
him, with its expression of reticent pride melting into the
desire to please, and the slight stiffness of his shoulders, set
in a kind of stubborn loyalty. Claude lay on the sod beside him,
rather tired after his walk in the sun, a little melancholy,
though he did not know why.
After a long while Mr. Royce unclasped his broad, thick-fingered
miller's hands, and for a moment took out the macerated cigar.
"Well, Claude," he said with determined cheerfulness, "we'll
always be better friends than is common between father and
son-in-law. You'll find out that pretty nearly everything you
believe about life--about marriage, especially--is lies. I don't
know why people prefer to live in that sort of a world, but they
After his interview with Mr. Royce, Claude drove directly to the
mill house. As he came up the shady road, he saw with
disappointment the flash of two white dresses instead of one,
moving about in the sunny flower garden. The visitor was Gladys
Farmer. This was her vacation time. She had walked out to the
mill in the cool of the morning to spend the day with Enid. Now
they were starting off to gather water-cresses, and had stopped
in the garden to smell the heliotrope. On this scorching
afternoon the purple sprays gave out a fragrance that hung over
the flower-bed and brushed their cheeks like a warm breath. The
girls looked up at the same moment and recognized Claude. They
waved to him and hurried down to the gate to congratulate him on
his recovery. He took their little tin pails and followed them
around the old dam-head and up a sandy gorge, along a clear
thread of water that trickled into Lovely Creek just above the
mill. They came to the gravelly hill where the stream took its
source from a spring hollowed out under the exposed roots of two
elm trees. All about the spring, and in the sandy bed of the
shallow creek, the cresses grew cool and green.
Gladys had strong feelings about places. She looked around her
with satisfaction. "Of all the places where we used to play,
Enid, this was my favourite," she declared.
"You girls sit up there on the elm roots," Claude suggested.
"Wherever you put your foot in this soft gravel, water gathers.
You'll spoil your white shoes. I'll get the cress for you."
"Stuff my pail as full as you can, then," Gladys called as they
sat down. "I wonder why the Spanish dagger grows so thick on this
hill, Enid? These plants were old and tough when we were little.
I love it here."
She leaned back upon the hot, glistening hill-side. The sun came
down in red rays through the elm-tops, and all the pebbles and
bits of quartz glittered dazzlingly. Down in the stream bed the
water, where it caught the light, twinkled like tarnished gold.
Claude's sandy head and stooping shoulders were mottled with
sunshine as they moved about over the green patches, and his duck
trousers looked much whiter than they were. Gladys was too poor
to travel, but she had the good fortune to be able to see a great
deal within a few miles of Frankfort, and a warm imagination
helped her to find life interesting. She did, as she confided to
Enid, want to go to Colorado; she was ashamed of never having
seen a mountain.
Presently Claude came up the bank with two shining, dripping
pails. "Now may I sit down with you for a few minutes?"
Moving to make room for him beside her, Enid noticed that his
thin face was heavily beaded with perspiration. His pocket
handkerchief was wet and sandy, so she gave him her own, with a
proprietary air. "Why, Claude, you look quite tired! Have you
been over-doing? Where were you before you came here?"
"I was out in the country with your father, looking at his
"And he walked you all over the field in the hot sun, I suppose?"
Claude laughed. "He did."
"Well, I'll scold him tonight. You stay here and rest. I am going
to drive Gladys home."
Gladys protested, but at last consented that they should both
drive her home in Claude's car. They lingered awhile, however,
listening to the soft, amiable bubbling of the spring; a wise,
unobtrusive voice, murmuring night and day, continually telling
the truth to people who could not understand it.
When they went back to the house Enid stopped long enough to cut
a bunch of heliotrope for Mrs. Farmer,--though with the sinking
of the sun its rich perfume had already vanished. They left
Gladys and her flowers and cresses at the gate of the white
cottage, now half hidden by gaudy trumpet vines.
Claude turned his car and went back along the dim, twilight road
with Enid. "I usually like to see Gladys, but when I found her
with you this afternoon, I was terribly disappointed for a
minute. I'd just been talking with your father, and I wanted to
come straight to you. Do you think you could marry me, Enid?"
"I don't believe it would be for the best, Claude." She spoke
He took her passive hand. "Why not?"
"My mind is full of other plans. Marriage is for most girls, but
not for all."
Enid had taken off her hat. In the low evening light Claude
studied her pale face under her brown hair. There was something
graceful and charming about the way she held her head, something
that suggested both submissiveness and great firmness. "I've had
those far-away dreams, too, Enid; but now my thoughts don't get
any further than you. If you could care ever so little for me to
start on, I'd be willing to risk the rest." She sighed. "You know
I care for you. I've never made any secret of it. But we're happy
as we are, aren't we?"
"No, I'm not. I've got to have some life of my own, or I'll go to
pieces. If you won't have me, I'll try South America,--and I
won't come back until I am an old man and you are an old woman."
Enid looked at him, and they both smiled.
The mill house was black except for a light in one upstairs
window. Claude sprang out of his car and lifted Enid gently to
the ground. She let him kiss her soft cool mouth, and her long
lashes. In the pale, dusty dusk, lit only by a few white stars,
and with the chill of the creek already in the air, she seemed to
Claude like a shivering little ghost come up from the rushes
where the old mill-dam used to be. A terrible melancholy clutched
at the boy's heart. He hadn't thought it would be like this. He
drove home feeling weak and broken. Was there nothing in the
world outside to answer to his own feelings, and was every turn
to be fresh disappointment? Why was life so mysteriously hard?
This country itself was sad, he thought, looking about him,-and
you could no more change that than you could change the story in
an unhappy human face. He wished to God he were sick again; the
world was too rough a place to get about in.
There was one person in the world who felt sorry for Claude that
night. Gladys Farmer sat at her bedroom window for a long while,
watching the stars and thinking about what she had seen plainly
enough that afternoon. She had liked Enid ever since they were
little girls,--and knew all there was to know about her. Claude
would become one of those dead people that moved about the
streets of Frankfort; everything that was Claude would perish,
and the shell of him would come and go and eat and sleep for
fifty years. Gladys had taught the children of many such dead
men. She had worked out a misty philosophy for herself, full of
strong convictions and confused figures. She believed that all
things which might make the world beautiful--love and kindness,
leisure and art--were shut up in prison, and that successful men
like Bayliss Wheeler held the keys. The generous ones, who would
let these things out to make people happy, were somehow weak, and
could not break the bars. Even her own little life was squeezed
into an unnatural shape by the domination of people like Bayliss.
She had not dared, for instance, to go to Ornaha that spring for
the three performances of the Chicago Opera Company. Such an
extravagance would have aroused a corrective spirit in all her
friends, and in the schoolboard as well; they would probably have
decided not to give her the little increase in salary she counted
upon having next year.
There were people, even in Frankfort, who had imagination and
generous impulses, but they were all, she had to admit,
inefficient--failures. There was Miss Livingstone, the fiery,
emotional old maid who couldn't tell the truth; old Mr. Smith, a
lawyer without clients, who read Shakespeare and Dryden all day
long in his dusty office; Bobbie Jones, the effeminate drug
clerk, who wrote free verse and "movie" scenarios, and tended the
Claude was her one hope. Ever since they graduated from High
School, all through the four years she had been teaching, she had
waited to see him emerge and prove himself. She wanted him to be
more successful than Bayliss AND STILL BE CLAUDE. She would have
made any sacrifice to help him on. If a strong boy like Claude,
so well endowed and so fearless, must fail, simply because he had
that finer strain in his nature,--then life was not worth the
chagrin it held for a passionate heart like hers.
At last Gladys threw herself upon the bed. If he married Enid,
that would be the end. He would go about strong and heavy, like
Mr. Royce; a big machine with the springs broken inside.
Claude was well enough to go into the fields before the harvest
was over. The middle of July came, and the farmers were still
cutting grain. The yield of wheat and oats was so heavy that
there were not machines enough to thrash it within the usual
time. Men had to await their turn, letting their grain stand in
shock until a belching black engine lumbered into the field.
Rains would have been disastrous; but this was one of those "good
years" which farmers tell about, when everything goes well. At
the time they needed rain, there was plenty of it; and now the
days were miracles of dry, glittering heat.
Every morning the sun came up a red ball, quickly drank the dew,
and started a quivering excitement in all living things. In great
harvest seasons like that one, the heat, the intense light. and
the important work in hand draw people together and make them
friendly. Neighbours helped each other to cope with the
burdensome abundance of man-nourishing grain; women and children
and old men fell to and did what they could to save and house it.
Even the horses had a more varied and sociable existence than
usual, going about from one farm to another to help neighbour
horses drag wagons and binders and headers. They nosed the colts
of old friends, ate out of strange mangers, and drank, or refused
to drink, out of strange water-troughs. Decrepit horses that
lived on a pension, like the Wheelers' stiff-legged Molly and
Leonard Dawson's Billy with the heaves--his asthmatic cough could
be heard for a quarter of a mile--were pressed into service now.
It was wonderful, too, how well these invalided beasts managed to
keep up with the strong young mares and geldings; they bent their
willing heads and pulled as if the chafing of the collar on their
necks was sweet to them.
The sun was like a great visiting presence that stimulated and
took its due from all animal energy. When it flung wide its cloak
and stepped down over the edge of the fields at evening, it left
behind it a spent and exhausted world. Horses and men and women
grew thin, seethed all day in their own sweat. After supper they
dropped over and slept anywhere at all, until the red dawn broke
clear in the east again, like the fanfare of trumpets, and nerves
and muscles began to quiver with the solar heat.
For several weeks Claude did not have time to read the
newspapers; they lay about the house in bundles, unopened, for
Nat Wheeler was in the field now, working like a giant. Almost
every evening Claude ran down to the mill to see Enid for a few
minutes; he did not get out of his car, and she sat on the old
stile, left over from horse-back days, while she chatted with
him. She said frankly that she didn't like men who had just come
out of the harvest field, and Claude did not blame her. He didn't
like himself very well after his clothes began to dry on him. But
the hour or two between supper and bed was the only time he had
to see anybody. He slept like the heroes of old; sank upon his
bed as the thing he desired most on earth, and for a blissful
moment felt the sweetness of sleep before it overpowered him. In
the morning, he seemed to hear the shriek of his alarm clock for
hours before he could come up from the deep places into which he
had plunged. All sorts of incongruous adventures happened to him
between the first buzz of the alarm and the moment when he was
enough awake to put out his hand and stop it. He dreamed, for
instance, that it was evening, and he had gone to see Enid as
usual. While she was coming down the path from the house, he
discovered that he had no clothes on at all! Then, with wonderful
agility, he jumped over the picket fence into a clump of castor
beans, and stood in the dusk, trying to cover himself with the
leaves, like Adam in the garden, talking commonplaces to Enid
through chattering teeth, afraid lest at any moment she might
discover his plight.
Mrs. Wheeler and Mahailey always lost weight in thrashing time,
just as the horses did; this year Nat Wheeler had six hundred
acres of winter wheat that would run close upon thirty bushels to
the acre. Such a harvest was as hard on the women as it was on
the men. Leonard Dawson's wife, Susie, came over to help Mrs.
Wheeler, but she was expecting a baby in the fall, and the heat
proved too much for her. Then one of the Yoeder daughters came;
but the methodical German girl was so distracted by Mahailey's
queer ways that Mrs. Wheeler said it was easier to do the work
herself than to keep explaining Mahailey's psychology. Day after
day ten ravenous men sat down at the long dinner table in the
kitchen. Mrs. Wheeler baked pies and cakes and bread loaves as
fast as the oven would hold them, and from morning till night the
range was stoked like the fire-box of a locomotive. Mahailey
wrung the necks of chickens until her wrist swelled up, as she
said, "like a puff-adder."
By the end of July the excitement quieted down. The extra leaves
were taken out of the dining table, the Wheeler horses had their
barn to themselves again, and the reign of terror in the henhouse
One evening Mr. Wheeler came down to supper with a bundle of
newspapers under his arm. "Claude, I see this war scare in Europe
has hit the market. Wheat's taken a jump. They're paying
eighty-eight cents in Chicago. We might as well get rid of a few
hundred bushel before it drops again. We'd better begin hauling
tomorrow. You and I can make two trips a day over to Vicount, by
changing teams,--there's no grade to speak of."
Mrs. Wheeler, arrested in the act of pouring coffee, sat holding
the coffee-pot in the air, forgetting she had it. "If this is
only a newspaper scare, as we think, I don't see why it should
affect the market," she murmured mildly. "Surely those big
bankers in New York and Boston have some way of knowing rumour
"Give me some coffee, please," said her husband testily. "I don't
have to explain the market, I've only got to take advantage of
"But unless there's some reason, why are we dragging our wheat
over to Vicount? Do you suppose it's some scheme the grain men
are hiding under a war rumour? Have the financiers and the press
ever deceived the public like this before?"
"I don't know a thing in the world about it, Evangeline, and I
don't suppose. I telephoned the elevator at Vicount an hour ago,
and they said they'd pay me seventy cents, subject to change in
the morning quotations. Claude," with a twinkle in his eye,
"you'd better not go to mill tonight. Turn in early. If we are on
the road by six tomorrow, we'll be in town before the heat of the
"All right, sir. I want to look at the papers after supper. I
haven't read anything but the headlines since before thrashing.
Ernest was stirred up about the murder of that Grand Duke and
said the Austrians would make trouble. But I never thought there
was anything in it."
"There's seventy cents a bushel in it, anyway," said his father,
reaching for a hot biscuit.
"If there's that much, I'm somehow afraid there will be more,"
said Mrs. Wheeler thoughtfully. She had picked up the paper
fly-brush and sat waving it irregularly, as if she were trying to
brush away a swarm of confusing ideas.
"You might call up Ernest, and ask him what the Bohemian papers
say about it," Mr. Wheeler suggested.
Claude went to the telephone, but was unable to get any answer
from the Havels. They had probably gone to a barn dance down in
the Bohemian township. He event upstairs and sat down before an
armchair full of newspapers; he could make nothing reasonable
out of the smeary telegrams in big type on the front page of the
Omaha World Herald. The German army was entering Luxembourg; he
didn't know where Luxembourg was, whether it was a city or a
country; he seemed to have some vague idea that it was a palace!
His mother had gone up to "Mahailey's library," the attic, to
hunt for a map of Europe,--a thing for which Nebraska farmers had
never had much need. But that night, on many prairie homesteads,
the women, American and foreign-born, were hunting for a map.
Claude was so sleepy that he did not wait for his mother's
return. He stumbled upstairs and undressed in the dark. The night
was sultry, with thunder clouds in the sky and an unceasing play
of sheet-lightning all along the western horizon. Mosquitoes had
got into his room during the day, and after he threw himself upon
the bed they began sailing over him with their high, excruciating
note. He turned from side to side and tried to muffle his ears
with the pillow. The disquieting sound became merged, in his
sleepy brain, with the big type on the front page of the paper;
those black letters seemed to be flying about his head with a
soft, high, sing-song whizz.
Late in the afternoon of the sixth of August, Claude and his
empty wagon were bumping along the level road over the flat
country between Vicount and the Lovely Creek valley. He had made
two trips to town that day. Though he had kept his heaviest team
for the hot afternoon pull, his horses were too tired to be urged
off a walk. Their necks were marbled with sweat stains, and their
flanks were plastered with the white dust that rose at every
step. Their heads hung down, and their breathing was deep and
slow. The wood of the green-painted wagon seat was blistering hot
to the touch. Claude sat at one end of it, his head bared to
catch the faint stir of air that sometimes dried his neck and
chin and saved him the trouble of pulling out a handkerchief. On
every side the wheat stubble stretched for miles and miles.
Lonely straw stacks stood up yellow in the sun and cast long
shadows. Claude peered anxiously along the distant locust hedges
which told where the road ran. Ernest Havel had promised to meet
him somewhere on the way home. He had not seen Ernest for a week:
since then Time had brought prodigies to birth.
At last he recognized the Havels' team along way off, and he
stopped and waited for Ernest beside a thorny hedge, looking
thoughtfully about him. The sun was already low. It hung above
the stubble, all milky and rosy with the heat, like the image of
a sun reflected in grey water. In the east the full moon had just
risen, and its thin silver surface was flushed with pink until it
looked exactly like the setting sun. Except for the place each
occupied in the heavens, Claude could not have told which was
which. They rested upon opposite rims of the world, two bright
shields, and regarded each other, as if they, too, had met by
Claude and Ernest sprang to the ground at the same instant and
shook hands, feeling that they had not seen each other for a long
"Well, what do you make of it, Ernest?"
The young man shook his head cautiously, but replied no further.
He patted his horses and eased the collars on their necks.
"I waited in town for the Hastings paper," Claude went on
impatiently. "England declared war last night."
"The Germans," said Ernest, "are at Liege. I know where that is.
I sailed from Antwerp when I came over here."
"Yes, I saw that. Can the Belgians do anything?"
"Nothing." Ernest leaned against the wagon wheel and drawing his
pipe from his pocket slowly filled it. "Nobody can do anything.
The German army will go where it pleases."
"If it's as bad as that, why are the Belgians putting up a fight
"I don't know. It's fine, but it will come to nothing in the end.
Let me tell you something about the German army, Claude."
Pacing up and down beside the locust hedge, Ernest rehearsed the
great argument; preparation, organization, concentration,
inexhaustible resources, inexhaustible men. While he talked the
sun disappeared, the moon contracted, solidified, and slowly
climbed the pale sky. The fields were still glimmering with the
bland reflection left over from daylight, and the distance grew
shadowy,--not dark, but seemingly full of sleep.
"If I were at home," Ernest concluded, "I would be in the
Austrian army this minute. I guess all my cousins and nephews are
fighting the Russians or the Belgians already. How would you like
it yourself, to be marched into a peaceful country like this, in
the middle of harvest, and begin to destroy it?"
"I wouldn't do it, of course. I'd desert and be shot."
"Then your family would be persecuted. Your brothers, maybe even
your father, would be made orderlies to Austrian officers and be
kicked in the mouth."
"I wouldn't bother about that. I'd let my male relatives decide
for themselves how often they would be kicked."
Ernest shrugged his shoulders. "You Americans brag like little
boys; you would and you wouldn't! I tell you, nobody's will has
anything to do with this. It is the harvest of all that has been
planted. I never thought it would come in my life-time, but I
knew it would come."
The boys lingered a little while, looking up at the soft radiance
of the sky. There was not a cloud anywhere, and the low glimmer
in the fields had imperceptibly changed to full, pure moonlight.
Presently the two wagons began to creep along the white road, and
on the backless seat of each the driver sat drooping forward,
lost in thought. When they reached the corner where Ernest turned
south, they said goodnight without raising their voices. Claude's
horses went on as if they were walking in their sleep. They did
not even sneeze at the low cloud of dust beaten up by their heavy
foot-falls,--the only sounds in the vast quiet of the night.
Why was Ernest so impatient with him, Claude wondered. He could
not pretend to feel as Ernest did. He had nothing behind him to
shape his opinions or colour his feelings about what was going on
in Europe; he could only sense it day by day. He had always been
taught that the German people were pre-eminent in the virtues
Americans most admire; a month ago he would have said they had
all the ideals a decent American boy would fight for. The
invasion of Belgium was contradictory to the German character as
he knew it in his friends and neighbours. He still cherished the
hope that there had been some great mistake; that this splendid
people would apologize and right itself with the world.
Mr. Wheeler came down the hill, bareheaded and coatless, as
Claude drove into the barnyard. "I expect you're tired. I'll put
your team away. Any news?"
"England has declared war."
Mr. Wheeler stood still a moment and scratched his head. "I guess
you needn't get up early tomorrow. If this is to be a sure enough
war, wheat will go higher. I've thought it was a bluff until now.
You take the papers up to your mother."
Enid and Mrs. Royce had gone away to the Michigan sanatorium
where they spent part of every summer, and would not be back
until October. Claude and his mother gave all their attention to
the war despatches. Day after day, through the first two weeks of
August, the bewildering news trickled from the little towns out
into the farming country.
About the middle of the month came the story of the fall of the
orts at Liege, battered at for nine days and finally reduced in a
few hours by siege guns brought up from the rear,--guns which
evidently could destroy any fortifications that ever had been, or
ever could be constructed. Even to these quiet wheat-growing
people, the siege guns before Liege were a menace; not to their
safety or their goods, but to their comfortable, established way
of thinking. They introduced the greater-than-man force which
afterward repeatedly brought into this war the effect of
unforeseeable natural disaster, like tidal waves, earthquakes, or
the eruption of volcanoes.
On the twenty-third came the news of the fall of the forts at
Namur; again giving warning that an unprecedented power of
destruction had broken loose in the world. A few days later the
story of the wiping out of the ancient and peaceful seat of
learning at Louvain made it clear that this force was being
directed toward incredible ends. By this time, too, the papers
were full of accounts of the destruction of civilian populations.
Something new, and certainly evil, was at work among mankind.
Nobody was ready with a name for it. None of the well-worn words
descriptive of human behaviour seemed adequate. The epithets
grouped about the name of "Attila" were too personal, too
dramatic, too full of old, familiar human passion.
One afternoon in the first week of September Mrs. Wheeler was in
the kitchen making cucumber pickles, when she heard Claude's car
coming back from Frankfort. In a moment he entered, letting the
screen door slam behind him, and threw a bundle of mail on the
"What do you, think, Mother? The French have moved the seat of
government to Bordeaux! Evidently, they don't think they can hold
Mrs. Wheeler wiped her pale, perspiring face with the hem of her
apron and sat down in the nearest chair. "You mean that Paris is
not the capital of France any more? Can that be true?"
"That's what it looks like. Though the papers say it's only a
She rose. "Let's go up to the map. I don't remember exactly where
Bordeaux is. Mahailey, you won't let my vinegar burn, will you?"
Claude followed her to the sitting-room, where her new map hung
on the wall above the carpet lounge. Leaning against the back of
a willow rocking-chair, she began to move her hand about over the
brightly coloured, shiny surface, murmuring, "Yes, there is
Bordeaux, so far to the south; and there is Paris."
Claude, behind her, looked over her shoulder. "Do you suppose
they are going to hand their city over to the Germans, like a
Christmas present? I should think they'd burn it first, the way
the Russians did Moscow. They can do better than that now, they
can dynamite it!"
"Don't say such things." Mrs. Wheeler dropped into the deep
willow chair, realizing that she was very tired, now that she had
left the stove and the heat of the kitchen. She began weakly to
wave the palm leaf fan before her face. "It's said to be such a
beautiful city. Perhaps the Germans will spare it, as they did
Brussels. They must be sick of destruction by now. Get the
encyclopaedia and see what it says. I've left my glasses
Claude brought a volume from the bookcase and sat down on the
lounge. He began: "Paris, the capital city o f France and the
Department of the Seine,--shall I skip the history?"
"No. Read it all."
He cleared his throat and began again: "At its first appearance
in history, there was nothing to foreshadow the important part
which Paris was to play in Europe and in the world," etc.
Mrs. Wheeler rocked and fanned, forgetting the kitchen and the
cucumbers as if they had never been. Her tired body was resting,
and her mind, which was never tired, was occupied with the
account of early religious foundations under the Merovingian
kings. Her eyes were always agreeably employed when they rested
upon the sunburned neck and catapult shoulders of her red-headed
Claude read faster and faster until he stopped with a gasp.
"Mother, there are pages of kings! We'll read that some other
time. I want to find out what it's like now, and whether it's
going to have any more history." He ran his finger up and down
the columns. "Here, this looks like business.
Defences: Paris, in a recent German account of the greatest
fortresses of the world, possesses three distinct rings of
defences"--here he broke off. "Now what do you think of that? A
German account, and this is an English book! The world simply
made a mistake about the Germans all along. It's as if we invited
a neighbour over here and showed him our cattle and barns, and
all the time he was planning how he would come at night and club
us in our beds."
Mrs. Wheeler passed her hand over her brow. "Yet we have had so
many German neighbours, and never one that wasn't kind and
"I know it. Everything Mrs. Erlich ever told me about Germany
made me want to go there. And the people that sing all those
beautiful songs about women and children went into Belgian
"Don't, Claude!" his mother put out her lands as if to push his
words back. "Read about the defences of Paris; that's what we
must think about now. I can't but believe there is one fort the
Germans didn't put down in their book, and that it will stand. We
know Paris is a wicked city, but there must be many God-fearing
people there, and God has preserved it all these years. You saw
in the paper how the churches are full all day of women praying."
She leaned forward and smiled at him indulgently. "And you
believe those prayers will accomplish nothing, son?"
Claude squirmed, as he always did when his mother touched upon
certain subjects. "Well, you see, I can't forget that the Germans
are praying, too. And I guess they are just naturally more pious
than the French." Taking up the book he began once more: "In the
low ground again, at the narrowest part of the great loop of the
Claude and his mother had grown familiar with the name of that
river, and with the idea of its strategic importance, before it
began to stand out in black headlines a few days later.
The fall ploughing had begun as usual. Mr. Wheeler had decided to
put in six hundred acres of wheat again. Whatever happened on the
other side of the world, they would need bread. He took a third
team himself and went into the field every morning to help Dan
and Claude. The neighbours said that nobody but the Kaiser had
ever been able to get Nat Wheeler down to regular work.
Since the men were all afield, Mrs. Wheeler now went every
morning to the mailbox at the crossroads, a quarter of a mile
away, to get yesterday's Omaha and Kansas City papers which the
carrier left. In her eagerness she opened and began to read them
as she turned homeward, and her feet, never too sure, took a
wandering way among sunflowers and buffaloburrs. One morning,
indeed, she sat down on a red grass bank beside the road and read
all the war news through before she stirred, while the
grasshoppers played leap-frog over her skirts, and the gophers
came out of their holes and blinked at her. That noon, when she
saw Claude leading his team to the water tank, she hurried down
to him without stopping to find her bonnet, and reached the
"The French have stopped falling back, Claude. They are standing
at the Marne. There is a great battle going on. The papers say it
may decide the war. It is so near Paris that some of the army
went out in taxi-cabs." Claude drew himself up. "Well, it will
decide about Paris, anyway, won't it? How many divisions?"
"I can't make out. The accounts are so confusing. But only a few
of the English are there, and the French are terribly
outnumbered. Your father got in before you, and he has the papers
"They are twenty-four hours old. I'll go to Vicount tonight after
I'm done work, and get the Hastings paper."
In the evening, when he came back from town, he found his father
and mother waiting up for him. He stopped a moment in the
sitting-room. "There is not much news, except that the battle is
on, and practically the whole French army is engaged. The Germans
outnumber them five to three in men, and nobody knows how much in
artillery. General Joffre says the French will fall back no
farther." He did not sit down, but went straight upstairs to his
Mrs. Wheeler put out the lamp, undressed, and lay down, but not
to sleep. Long afterward, Claude heard her gently closing a
window, and he smiled to himself in the dark. His mother, he
knew, had always thought of Paris as the wickedest of cities, the
capital of a frivolous, wine-drinking, Catholic people, who were
responsible for the massacre of St. Bartholomew and for the
grinning atheist, Voltaire. For the last two weeks, ever since
the French began to fall back in Lorraine, he had noticed with
amusement her growing solicitude for Paris.
It was curious, he reflected, lying wide awake in the dark: four
days ago the seat of government had been moved to Bordeaux,--with
the effect that Paris seemed suddenly to have become the capital,
not of France, but of the world! He knew he was not the only
farmer boy who wished himself tonight beside the Marne. The fact
that the river had a pronounceable name, with a hard Western "r"
standing like a keystone in the middle of it, somehow gave one's
imagination a firmer hold on the situation. Lying still and
thinking fast, Claude felt that even he could clear the bar of
French "politeness"--so much more terrifying than German
bullets--and slip unnoticed into that outnumbered army. One's
manners wouldn't matter on the Marne tonight, the night of the
eighth of September, 1914. There was nothing on earth he would so
gladly be as an atom in that wall of flesh and blood that rose
and melted and rose again before the city which had meant so much
through all the centuries--but had never meant so much before.
Its name had come to have the purity of an abstract idea. In
great sleepy continents, in land-locked harvest towns, in the
little islands of the sea, for four days men watched that name as
they might stand out at night to watch a comet, or to see a star
It was Sunday afternoon and Claude had gone down to the mill
house, as Enid and her mother had returned from Michigan the day
before. Mrs. Wheeler, propped back in a rocking chair, was
reading, and Mr. Wheeler, in his shirt sleeves, his Sunday collar
unbuttoned, was sitting at his walnut secretary, amusing himself
with columns of figures. Presently he rose and yawned, stretching
his arms above his head.
"Claude thinks he wants to begin building right away, up on the
quarter next the timber claim. I've been figuring on the lumber.
Building materials are cheap just now, so I suppose I'd better
let him go ahead."
Mrs. Wheeler looked up absently from the page. "Why, I suppose
Her husband sat down astride a chair, and leaning his arms on the
back of it, looked at her. "What do you think of this match,
anyway? I don't know as I've heard you say."
"Enid is a good, Christian girl. . ." Mrs. Wheeler began
resolutely, but her sentence hung in the air like a question.
He moved impatiently. "Yes, I know. But what does a husky boy
like Claude want to pick out a girl like that for? Why,
Evangeline, she'll be the old woman over again!"
Apparently these misgivings were not new to Mrs. Wheeler,* for she
put out her hand to stop him and whispered in solemn agitation,
"Don't say anything! Don't breathe!"
"Oh, I won't interfere! I never do. I'd rather have her for a
daughter-in-law than a wife, by a long shot. Claude's more of a
fool than I thought him." He picked up his hat and strolled down
to the barn, but his wife did not recover her composure so
easily. She left the chair where she had hopefully settled
herself for comfort, took up a feather duster and began moving
distractedly about the room, brushing the surface of the
furniture. When the war news was bad, or when she felt troubled
about Claude, she set to cleaning house or overhauling the
closets, thankful to be able to put some little thing to rights
in such a disordered world.
As soon as the fall planting was done, Claude got the well borers
out from town to drill his new well, and while they were at work
he began digging his cellar. He was building his house on the
level stretch beside his father's timber claim because, when he
was a little boy, he had thought that grove of trees the most
beautiful spot in the world. It was a square of about thirty
acres, set out in ash and box-elder and cotton-woods, with a
thick mulberry hedge on the south side. The trees had been
neglected of late years, but if he lived up there he could manage
to trim them and care for them at odd moments.
Every morning now he ran up in the Ford and worked at his cellar.
He had heard that the deeper a cellar was, the better it was; and
he meant that this one should be deep enough. One day Leonard
Dawson stopped to see what progress he was making. Standing on
the edge of the hole, he shouted to the lad who was sweating
"My God, Claude, what do you want of a cellar as deep as that?
When your wife takes a notion to go to China, you can open a
trap-door and drop her through!"
Claude flung down his pick and ran up the ladder. "Enid's not
going to have notions of that sort," he said wrathfully.
"Well, you needn't get mad. I'm glad to hear it. I was sorry when
other girl went. It always looked to me like Enid had her face
set for China, but I haven't seen her for a good while,--not
since before she went off to Michigan with the old lady."
After Leonard was gone, Claude returned to his work, still out of
humour. He was not altogether happy in his mind about Enid. When
he went down to the mill it was usually Mr. Royce, not Enid, who
sought to detain him, followed him down the path to the gate and
seemed sorry to see him go. He could not blame Enid with any lack
of interest in what he was doing. She talked and thought of
nothing but the new house, and most of her suggestions were good.
He often wished she would ask for something unreasonable and
extravagant. But she had no selfish whims, and even insisted that
the comfortable upstairs sleeping room he had planned with such
care should be reserved for a guest chamber.
As the house began to take shape, Enid came up often in her car,
to watch its growth, to show Claude samples of wallpapers and
draperies, or a design for a window-seat she had cut from some
magazine. There could be no question of her pride in every
detail. The disappointing thing was that she seemed more
interested in the house than in him. These months when they could
be together as much as they pleased, she treated merely as a
period of time in which they were building a house.
Everything would be all right when they were married, Claude told
himself. He believed in the transforming power of marriage, as
his mother believed in the miraculous effects of conversion.
Marriage reduced all women to a common
denominator ; changed a cool, self-satisfied girl into a loving
and generous one. It was quite right that Enid should be
unconscious now of everything that she was to be when she was his
wife. He told himself he wouldn't want it otherwise.
But he was lonely, all the same. He lavished upon the little
house the solicitude and cherishing care that Enid seemed not to
need. He stood over the carpenters urging the greatest nicety in
the finish of closets and cupboards, the convenient placing of
shelves, the exact joining of sills and casings. Often he stayed
late in the evening, after the workmen with their noisy boots had
gone home to supper. He sat down on a rafter or on the skeleton
of the upper porch and quite lost himself in brooding, in
anticipation of things that seemed as far away as ever. The dying
light, the quiet stars coming out, were friendly and sympathetic.
One night a bird flew in and fluttered wildly about among the
partitions, shrieking with fright before it darted out into the
dusk through one of the upper windows and found its way to
When the carpenters were ready to put in the staircase, Claude
telephoned Enid and asked her to come and show them just what
height she wanted the steps made. His mother had always had to
climb stairs that were too steep. Enid stopped her car at the
Frankfort High School at four o'clock and persuaded Gladys Farmer
to drive out with her.
When they arrived they found Claude working on the lattice
enclosure of the back porch. "Claude is like Jonah," Enid
laughed. "He wants to plant gourd vines here, so they will run
over the lattice and make shade. I can think of other vines that
might be more ornamental."
Claude put down his hammer and said coaxingly: "Have you ever
seen a gourd vine when it had something to climb on, Enid? You
wouldn't believe how pretty they are; big green leaves, and
gourds and yellow blossoms hanging all over them at the same
time. An old German woman who keeps a lunch counter at one of
those stations on the road to Lincoln has them running up her
back porch, and I've wanted to plant some ever since I first saw
Enid smiled indulgently. "Well, I suppose you'll let me have
clematis for the front porch, anyway? The men are getting ready
to leave, so we'd better see about the steps."
After the workmen had gone, Claude took the girls upstairs by the
ladder. They emerged from a little entry into a large room which
extended over both the front and back parlours. The carpenters
called it "the pool hall". There were two long windows, like
doors, opening upon the porch roof, and in the sloping ceiling
were two dormer windows, one looking north to the timber claim
and the other south toward Lovely Creek. Gladys at once felt a
singular pleasantness about this chamber, empty and unplastered
as it was. "What a lovely room!" she exclaimed.
Claude took her up eagerly. "Don't you think so? You see it's my
idea to have the second floor for ourselves, instead of cutting
it up into little boxes as people usually do. We can come up here
and forget the farm and the kitchen and all our troubles. I've
made a big closet for each of us, and got everything just right.
And now Enid wants to keep this room for preachers!"
Enid laughed. "Not only for preachers, Claude. For Gladys, when
she comes to visit us--you see she likes it--and for your mother
when she comes to spend a week and rest. I don't think we ought
to take the best room for ourselves."
"Why not?" Claude argued hotly. "I'm building the whole house for
ourselves. Come out on the porch roof, Gladys. Isn't this fine
for hot nights? I want to put a railing round and make this into
a balcony, where we can have chairs and a hammock."
Gladys sat down on the low window-sill. "Enid, you'd be foolish
to keep this for a guest room. Nobody would ever enjoy it as much
as you would. You can see the whole country from here."
Enid smiled, but showed no sign of relenting. "Let's wait and
watch the sun go down. Be careful, Claude. It makes me nervous to
see you lying there."
He was stretched out on the edge of the roof, one leg hanging
over, and his head pillowed on his arm. The flat fields turned
red, the distant windmills flashed white, and little rosy clouds
appeared in the sky above them.
"If I make this into a balcony," Claude murmured, "the peak of
the roof will always throw a shadow over it in the afternoon, and
at night the stars will be right overhead. It will be a fine
place to sleep in harvest time."
"Oh, you could always come up here to sleep on a hot night," Enid
"It wouldn't be the same."
They sat watching the light die out of the sky, and Enid and
Gladys drew close together as the coolness of the autumn evening
came on. The three friends were thinking about the same thing;
and yet, if by some sorcery each had begun to speak his thoughts
aloud, amazement and bitterness would have fallen upon all.
Enid's reflections were the most blameless. The discussion about
the guest room had reminded her of Brother Weldon. In September,
on her way to Michigan with Mrs. Royce, she had stopped for a day
in Lincoln to take counsel with Arthur Weldon as to whether she
ought to marry one whom she described to him as "an unsaved man."
Young Mr. Weldon approached this subject with a cautious tread,
but when he learned that the man in question was Claude Wheeler,
he became more partisan than was his wont. He seemed to think
that her marrying Claude was the one way to reclaim him, and did
not hesitate to say that the most important service devout girls
could perform for the church was to bring promising young men to
its support. Enid had been almost certain that Mr. Weldon would
approve her course before she consulted him, but his concurrence
always gratified her pride. She told him that when she had a home
of her own she would expect him to spend a part of his summer
vacation there, and he blushingly expressed his willingness to do
Gladys, too, was lost in her own thoughts, sitting with that ease
which made her seem rather indolent, her head resting against the
empty window frame, facing the setting sun. The rosy light made
her brown eyes gleam like old copper, and there was a moody look
in them, as if in her mind she were defying something. When he
happened to glance at her, it occurred to Claude that it was a
hard destiny to be the exceptional person. in a community, to be
more gifted or more intelligent than the rest. For a girl it must
be doubly hard. He sat up suddenly and broke the long silence.
"I forgot, Enid, I have a secret to tell you. Over in the timber
claim the other day I started up a flock of quail. They must be
the only ones left in all this neighbourhood, and I doubt if they
ever come out of the timber. The bluegrass hasn't been mowed in
there for years,--not since I first went away to school, and maybe
they live on the grass seeds. In summer, of course, there are
Enid wondered whether the birds could have learned enough about
the world to stay hidden in the timber lot. Claude was sure they
"Nobody ever goes near the place except Father; he stops there
sometimes. Maybe he has seen them and never said a word. It would
be just like him." He told them he had scattered shelled corn in
the grass, so that the birds would not be tempted to fly over
into Leonard Dawson's cornfield. "If Leonard saw them, he'd
likely take a shot at them."
"Why don't you ask him not to?" Enid suggested.
Claude laughed. "That would be asking a good deal. When a bunch
of quail rise out of a cornfield they're a mighty tempting sight,
if a man likes hunting. We'll have a picnic for you when you come
out next summer, Gladys. There are some pretty places over there
in the timber."
Gladys started up. "Why, it's night already! It's lovely here,
but you must get me home, Enid."
They found it dark inside. Claude took Enid down the ladder and
out to her car, and then went back for Gladys. She was sitting on
the floor at the top of the ladder. Giving her his hand he helped
her to rise.
"So you like my little house," he said gratefully.
"Yes. Oh, yes!" Her voice was full of feeling, but she did not
exert herself to say more. Claude descended in front of her to
keep her from slipping. She hung back while he led her through
confusing doorways and helped her over the piles of laths that
littered the floors. At the edge of the gaping cellar entrance
she stopped and leaned wearily on his arm for a moment. She did
not speak, but he understood that his new house made her sad;
that she, too, had come to the place where she must turn out of
the old path. He longed to whisper to her and beg her not to
marry his brother. He lingered and hesitated, fumbling in the
dark. She had his own cursed kind of sensibility; she would
expect too much from life and be disappointed. He was reluctant
to lead her out into the chilly evening without some word of
entreaty. He would willingly have prolonged their passage,--
through many rooms and corridors. Perhaps, had that been
possible, the strength in him would have found what it was
seeking; even in this short interval it had stirred and made
itself felt, had uttered a confused appeal. Claude was greatly
surprised at himself.
Enid decided that she would be married in the first week of June.
Early in May the plasterers and painters began to be busy in the
new house. The walls began to shine, and Claude went about all
day, oiling and polishing the hard-pine floors and wainscoting.
He hated to have anybody step on his floors. He planted gourd
vines about the back porch, set out clematis and lilac bushes,
and put in a kitchen garden. He and Enid were going to Denver and
Colorado Springs for their wedding trip, but Ralph would be at
home then, and he had promised to come over and water the flowers
and shrubs if the weather was dry.
Enid often brought her work and sat sewing on the front porch
while Claude was rubbing the woodwork inside the house, or
digging and planting outside. This was the best part of his
courtship. It seemed to him that he had never spent such happy
days before. If Enid did not come, he kept looking down the road
and listening, went from one thing to another and made no
progress. He felt full of energy, so long as she sat there on the
porch, with lace and ribbons and muslin in her lap. When he
passed by, going in or out, and stopped to be near her for a
moment, she seemed glad to have him tarry. She liked him to
admire her needlework, and did not hesitate to show him the
featherstitching and embroidery she was putting on her new
underclothes. He could see, from the glances they exchanged, that
the painters thought this very bold behaviour in one so soon to
be a bride. He thought it very charming behaviour himself, though
he would never have expected it of Enid. His heart beat hard when
he realized how far she confided in him, how little she was
afraid of him! She would let him linger there, standing over her
and looking down at her quick fingers, or sitting on the ground
at her feet, gazing at the muslin pinned to her knee, until his
own sense of propriety told him to get about his work and spare
the feelings of the painters.
"When are you going over to the timber claim with me?" he asked,
dropping on the ground beside her one warm, windy afternoon. Enid
was sitting on the porch floor, her back against a pillar, and
her feet on one of those round mats of pursley that grow over
hard-beaten earth. "I've found my flock of quail again. They live
in the deep grass, over by a ditch that holds water most of the
year. I'm going to plant a few rows of peas in there, so they'll
have a feeding ground at home. I consider Leonard's cornfield a
great danger. I don't know whether to take him into my confidence
"You've told Ernest Havel, I suppose?"
"Oh, yes!" Claude replied, trying not to be aware of the little
note of acrimony in her voice. "He's perfectly safe. That place
is a paradise for birds. The trees are full of nests. You can
stand over there in the morning and hear the young robins
squawking for their breakfast. Come up early tomorrow morning and
go over with me, won't you? But wear heavy shoes; it's wet in the
While they were talking a sudden whirlwind swept round the corner
of the house, caught up the little mound of folded lace
corset-covers and strewed them over the dusty yard. Claude ran
after them with Enid's flowered workbag and thrust them into it
as he came upon one after another, fluttering in the weeds. When
he returned, Enid had folded her needle-case and was putting on
her hat. "Thank you," she said with a smile. "Did you find
"I think so." He hurried toward the car to hide his guilty face.
One little lace thing he had not put into the bag, but had thrust
into his pocket.
The next morning Enid came up early to hear the birds in the
0n the night before his wedding Claude went to bed early. He had
been dashing about with Ralph all day in the car, making final
preparations, and was worn out. He fell asleep almost at once.
The women of the household could not so easily forget the great
event of tomorrow. After the supper dishes were washed, Mahailey
clambered up to the attic to get the quilt she had so long been
saving for a wedding present for Claude. She took it out of the
chest, unfolded it, and counted the stars in the
pattern--counting was an accomplishment she was proud of--before
she wrapped it up. It was to go down to the mill house with the
other presents tomorrow. Mrs. Wheeler went to bed many times that
night. She kept thinking of things that ought to be looked after;
getting up and going to make sure that Claude's heavy underwear
had been put into his trunk, against the chance of cold in the
mountains; or creeping downstairs to see that the six roasted
chickens which were to help out at the wedding supper were
securely covered from the cats. As she went about these tasks,
she prayed constantly. She had not prayed so long and fervently
since the battle of the Marne.
Early the next morning Ralph loaded the big car with the presents
and baskets of food and ran down to the Royces'. Two motors from
town were already standing in the mill yard; they had brought a
company of girls who came with all the June roses in Frankfort to
trim the house for the wedding. When Ralph tooted his horn,
half-a-dozen of them ran out to greet him, reproaching him
because he had not brought his brother along. Ralph was
immediately pressed into service. He carried the step-ladder
wherever he was told, drove nails, and wound thorny sprays of
rambler roses around the pillars between the front and back
parlours, making the arch under which the ceremony was to take
Gladys Farmer had not been able to leave her classes at the High
School to help in this friendly work, but at eleven o'clock a
livery automobile drove up, laden with white and pink peonies
from her front yard, and bringing a box of hothouse flowers she
had ordered for Enid from Hastings. The girls admired them, but
declared that Gladys was extravagant, as usual; the flowers from
her own yard would really have been enough. The car was driven by
a lank, ragged boy who worked about the town garage, and who was
called "Silent Irv," because nobody could ever get a word out of
him. He had almost no voice at all,--a thin little squeak in the
top of his throat, like the gasping whisper of a medium in her
trance state. When he came to the front door, both arms full of
peonies, he managed to wheeze out:
"These are from Miss Farmer. There are some more down there."
The girls went back to his car with him, and he took out a square
box, tied up with white ribbons and little silver bells,
containing the bridal bouquet.
"How did you happen to get these?" Ralph asked the thin boy. "I
was to go to town for them."
The messenger swallowed. "Miss Farmer told me if there were any
other flowers at the station marked for here, I should bring them
"That was nice of her." Ralph thrust his hand into his trousers
pocket. "How much? I'll settle with you before I forget."
A pink flush swept over the boy's pale face,--a delicate face
under ragged hair, contracted by a kind of shrinking unhappiness.
His eyes were always half-closed, as if he did not want to see
the world around him, or to be seen by it. He went about like
somebody in a dream. "Miss Farmer," he whispered, "has paid me."
"Well, she thinks of everything!" exclaimed one of the girls.
"You used to go to school to Gladys, didn't you, Irv?"
"Yes, mam." He got into his car without opening the door,
slipping like an eel round the steering-rod, and drove off.
The girls followed Ralph up the gravel walk toward the house. One
whispered to the others: "Do you suppose Gladys will come out
tonight with Bayliss Wheeler? I always thought she had a pretty
warm spot in her heart for Claude, myself."
Some one changed the subject. "I can't get over hearing Irv talk
so much. Gladys must have put a spell on him."
"She was always kind to him in school," said the girl who had
questioned the silent boy. "She said he was good in his studies,
but he was so frightened he could never recite. She let him write
out the answers at his desk."
Ralph stayed for lunch, playing about with the girls until his
mother telephoned for him. "Now I'll have to go home and look
after my brother, or he'll turn up tonight in a striped shirt."
"Give him our love," the girls called after him, "and tell him
not to be late."
As he drove toward the farm, Ralph met Dan, taking Claude's trunk
into town. He slowed his car. "Any message?" he called.
Dan grinned. "Naw. I left him doin' as well as could be
Mrs. Wheeler met Ralph on the stairs. "He's up in his room. He
complains his new shoes are too tight. I think it's nervousness.
Perhaps he'll let you shave him; I'm sure he'll cut himself. And
I wish the barber hadn't cut his hair so short, Ralph. I hate
this new fashion of shearing men behind the ears. The back of his
neck is the ugliest part of a man." She spoke with such
resentment that Ralph broke into a laugh.
"Why, Mother, I thought all men looked alike to you! Anyhow,
Claude's no beauty."
"When will you want your bath? I'll have to manage so that
everybody won't be calling for hot water at once." She turned to
Mr. Wheeler who sat writing a check at the secretary. "Father,
could you take your bath now, and be out of the way?"
"Bath?" Mr. Wheeler shouted, "I don't want any bath! I'm not
going to be married tonight. I guess we don't have to boil the
whole house for Enid."
Ralph snickered and shot upstairs. He found Claude sitting on the
bed, with one shoe off and one shoe on. A pile of socks lay
scattered on the rug. A suitcase stood open on one chair and a
black travelling bag on another.
"Are you sure they're too small?" Ralph asked.
"About four sizes."
"Well, why didn't you get them big enough?"
"I did. That shark in Hastings worked off another pair on me when
I wasn't looking. That's all right," snatching away the shoe his
brother had picked up to examine. "I don't care, so long as I can
stand in them. .You'd better go telephone the depot and ask if
the train's on time."
"They won't know yet. It's seven hours till it's due."
"Then telephone later. But find out, somehow. I don't want to
stand around that station, waiting for the train."
Ralph whistled. Clearly, his young man was going to be hard to
manage. He proposed a bath as a soothing measure. No, Claude had
had his bath. Had he, then, packed his suitcase?
"How the devil can I pack it when I don't know what I'm going to
"You'll put on one shirt and one pair of socks. I'm going to get
some of this stuff out of the way for you." Ralph caught up a
handful of socks and fell to sorting them. Several had bright red
spots on the toe. He began to laugh.
"I know why your shoe hurts, you've cut your foot!"
Claude sprang up as if a hornet had stung him. "Will you get out
of here," he shouted, "and let me alone?"
Ralph vanished. He told his mother he would dress at once, as
they might have to use force with Claude at the last moment. The
wedding ceremony was to be at eight, supper was to follow, and
Claude and Enid were to leave Frankfort at 10:25, on the Denver
express. At six o'clock, when Ralph knocked at his brother's
door, he found him shaved and brushed, and dressed, except for
his coat. His tucked shirt was not rumpled, and his tie was
properly knotted. Whatever pain they concealed, his patent
leather shoes were smooth and glistening and resolutely pointed.
"Are you packed?" Ralph asked in astonishment.
"Nearly. I wish you'd go over things and make them look a little
neater, if you can. I'd hate to have a girl see the inside of
that suitcase, the way it is. Where shall I put my cigars?
They'll make everything smell, wherever I put them. All my
clothes seem to smell of cooking, or starch, or something. I
don't know what Mahailey does to them," he ended bitterly.
Ralph looked outraged. "Well, of all ingratitude! Mahailey's been
ironing your damned old shirts for a week!"
"Yes, yes, I know. Don't rattle me. I forgot to put any
handkerchiefs in my trunk, so you'll have to get the whole bunch
Mr. Wheeler appeared in the doorway, his Sunday black trousers
gallowsed up high over a white shirt, wafting a rich odor of
bayrum from his tumbled hair. He held a thin folded paper
delicately between his thick fingers.
"Where is your bill-book, son?"
Claude caught up his discarded trousers and extracted a square of
leather from the pocket. His father took it and placed the bit of
paper inside with the bank notes. "You may want to pick up some
trifle your wife fancies," he said. "Have you got your railroad
tickets in here? Here is your trunk check Dan brought back. Don't
forget, I've put it in with your tickets and marked it C. W., so
you'll know which is your check and which is Enid's."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
Claude had already drawn from the bank all the money he would
need. This additional bank check was Mr. Wheeler's admission that
he was sorry for some sarcastic remarks he had made a few days
ago, when he discovered that Claude had reserved a stateroom on
the Denver express. Claude had answered curtly that when Enid and
her mother went to Michigan they always had a stateroom, and he
wasn't going to ask her to travel less comfortably with him.
At seven o'clock the Wheeler family set out in the two cars that
stood waiting by the windmill. Mr. Wheeler drove the big
Cadillac, and Ralph took Mahailey and Dan in the Ford. When they
reached the mill house the outer yard was already black with
motors, and the porch and parlours were full of people talking
and moving about.
Claude went directly upstairs. Ralph began to seat the guests,
arranging the folding chairs in such a way as to leave a passage
from the foot of the stairs to the floral arch he had constructed
that morning. The preacher had his Bible in his hand and was
standing under the light, hunting for his chapter. Enid would
have preferred to have Mr. Weldon come down from Lincoln to marry
her, but that would have wounded Mr. Snowberry deeply. After all,
he was her minister, though he was not eloquent and persuasive
like Arthur Weldon. He had fewer English words at his command
than most human beings, and even those did not come to him
readily. In his pulpit he sought for them and struggled with them
until drops of perspiration rolled from his forehead and fell
upon his coarse, matted brown beard. But he believed what he
said, and language was so little an accomplishment with him that
he was not tempted to say more than he believed. He had been a
drummer boy in the Civil War, on the losing side, and he was a
simple, courageous man.
Ralph was to be both usher and best man. Gladys Farmer could not
be one of the bridesmaids because she was to play the wedding
march. At eight o'clock Enid and Claude came downstairs together,
conducted by Ralph and followed by four girls dressed in white,
like the bride. They took their places under the arch before the
preacher. He began with the chapter from Genesis about the
creation of man, and Adam's rib, reading in a laboured manner, as
if he did not quite know why he had selected that passage and was
looking for something he did not find. His nose-glasses kept
falling off and dropping upon the open book. Throughout this
prolonged fumbling Enid stood calm, looking at him respectfully,
very pretty in her short veil. Claude was so pale that he looked
unnatural,--nobody had ever seen him like that before. His face,
between his very black clothes and his smooth, sandy hair, was
white and severe, and he uttered his responses in a hollow voice.
Mahailey, at the back of the room, in a black hat with green
gooseberries on it, was standing, in order to miss nothing. She
watched Mr. Snowberry as if she hoped to catch some visible sign
of the miracle he was performing. She always wondered just what
it was the preacher did to make the wrongest thing in the world
the rightest thing in the world.
When it was over, Enid went upstairs to put on her travelling
dress, and Ralph and Gladys began seating the guests for supper.
Just twenty minutes later Enid came down and took her place
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