One of Ours
Part 4 out of 8
beside Claude at the head of the long table. The company rose and
drank the bride's health in grape-juice punch. Mr. Royce,
however, while the guests were being seated, had taken Mr.
Wheeler down to the fruit cellar, where the two old friends drank
off a glass of well-seasoned Kentucky whiskey, and shook hands.
When they came back to the table, looking younger than when they
withdrew, the preacher smelled the tang of spirits and felt
slighted. He looked disconsolately into his ruddy goblet and
thought about the marriage at Cana. He tried to apply his Bible
literally to life and, though he didn't dare breathe it aloud in
these days, he could never see why he was better than his Lord.
Ralph, as master of ceremonies, kept his head and forgot nothing.
When it was time to start, he tapped Claude on the shoulder,
cutting his father short in one of his best stories. Contrary to
custom, the bridal couple were to go to the station
unaccompanied, and they vanished from the head of the table with
only a nod and a smile to the guests. Ralph hurried them into the
light car, where he had already stowed Enid's hand luggage. Only
wizened little Mrs. Royce slipped out from the kitchen to bid
That evening some bad boys had come out from town and strewn the
road near the mill with dozens of broken glass bottles, after
which they hid in the wild plum bushes to wait for the fun.
Ralph's was the first car out, and though his lights glittered on
this bed of jagged glass, there was no time to stop; the road was
ditched on either side, so he had to drive straight ahead, and
got into Frankfort on flat tires. The express whistled just as he
pulled up at the station. He and Claude caught up the four pieces
of hand luggage and put them in the stateroom. Leaving Enid there
with the bags, the two boys went to the rear platform of the
observation car to talk until the last moment. Ralph checked off
on his fingers the list of things he had promised Claude to
attend to. Claude thanked him feelingly. He felt that without
Ralph he could never have got married at all. They had never been
such good friends as during the last fortnight.
The wheels began to turn. Ralph gripped Claude's hand, ran to the
front of the car and stepped off. As Claude passed him, he stood
waving his handkerchief,--a rather funny figure under the station
lights, in his black clothes and his stiff straw hat, his short
legs well apart, wearing his incurably jaunty air.
The train glided quietly out through the summer darkness, along
the timbered river valley. Claude was alone on the back platform,
smoking a nervous cigar. As they passed the deep cut where Lovely
Creek flowed into the river, he saw the lights of the mill house
flash for a moment in the distance. The night air was still;
heavy with the smell of sweet clover that grew high along the
tracks, and of wild grapevines wet with dew. The conductor came
to ask for the tickets, saying with a wise smile that he had been
hunting for him, as he didn't like to trouble the lady.
After he was gone, Claude looked at his watch, threw away the end
of his cigar, and went back through the Pullman cars. The
passengers had gone to bed; the overhead lights were always
turned low when the train left Frankfort. He made his way through
the aisles of swaying green curtains, and tapped at the door of
his state room. It opened a little way, and Enid stood there in a
white silk dressing-gown with many ruffles, her hair in two
smooth braids over her shoulders.
"Claude," she said in a low voice, "would you mind getting a
berth somewhere out in the car tonight? The porter says they are
not all taken. I'm not feeling very well. I think the dressing on
the chicken salad must have been too rich."
He answered mechanically. "Yes, certainly. Can't I get you
"No, thank you. Sleep will do me more good than anything else.
She closed the door, and he heard the lock slip. He stood looking
at the highly polished wood of the panel for a moment, then
turned irresolutely and went back along the slightly swaying
aisle of green curtains. In the observation car he stretched
himself out upon two wicker chairs and lit another cigar. At
twelve o'clock the porter came in.
"This car is closed for the night, sah. Is you the gen'leman from
the stateroom in fourteen? Do you want a lower?"
"No, thank you. Is there a smoking car?"
"They is the day-coach smokah, but it ain't likely very clean at
this time o' night."
"That's all right. It's forward?" Claude absently handed him a
coin, and the porter conducted him to a very dirty car where the
floor was littered with newspapers and cigar stumps, and the
leather cushions were grey with dust. A few desperate looking men
lay about with their shoes off and their suspenders hanging down
their backs. The sight of them reminded Claude that his left foot
was very sore, and that his shoes must have been hurting him for
some time. He pulled them off, and thrust his feet, in their silk
socks, on the opposite seat.
On that long, dirty, uncomfortable ride Claude felt many things,
but the paramount feeling was homesickness. His hurt was of a
kind that made him turn with a sort of aching cowardice to the
old, familiar things that were as sure as the sunrise. If only
the sagebrush plain, over which the stars were shining, could
suddenly break up and resolve itself into the windings of Lovely
Creek, with his father's house on the hill, dark and silent in
the summer night! When he closed his eyes he could see the light
in his mother's window; and, lower down, the glow of Mahailey's
lamp, where she sat nodding and mending his old shirts. Human
love was a wonderful thing, he told himself, and it was most
wonderful where it had least to gain.
By morning the storm of anger, disappointment, and humiliation
that was boiling in him when he first sat down in the observation
car, had died out. One thing lingered; the peculiarly casual,
indifferent, uninterested tone of his wife's voice when she sent
him away. It was the flat tone in which people make commonplace
remarks about common things.
Day broke with silvery brightness on the summer sage. The sky
grew pink, the sand grew gold. The dawn-wind brought through the
windows the acrid smell of the sagebrush: an odour that is
peculiarly stimulating in the early morning, when it always seems
to promise freedom . . . large spaces. new beginnings, better
The train was due in Denver at eight o'clock. Exactly at seven
thirty Claude knocked at Enid's door,--this time firmly. She was
dressed, and greeted him with a fresh, smiling face, holding her
hat in her hand.
"Are you feeling better?" he asked.
"Oh, yes! I am perfectly all right this morning. I've put out all
your things for you, there on the seat."
He glanced at them. "Thank you. But I won't have time to change,
"Oh, won't you? I'm so sorry I forgot to give you your bag last
night. But you must put on another necktie, at least. You look
too much like a groom."
"Do I?" he asked, with a scarcely perceptible curl of his lip.
Everything he needed was neatly arranged on the plush seat;
shirt, collar, tie, brushes, even a handkerchief. Those in his
pockets were black from dusting off the cinders that blew in all
night, and he threw them down and took up the clean one. There
was a damp spot on it, and as he unfolded it he recognized the
scent of a cologne Enid often used. For some reason this
attention unmanned him. He felt the smart of tears in his eyes,
and to hide them bent over the metal basin and began to scrub his
face. Enid stood behind him, adjusting her hat in the mirror.
"How terribly smoky you are, Claude. I hope you don't smoke
"No. I was in the smoking car awhile. I suppose my clothes got
full of it."
"You are covered with dust and cinders, too!" She took the
clothes broom from the rack and began to brush him.
Claude caught her hand. "Don't, please!" he said sharply. "The
porter can do that for me."
Enid watched him furtively as he closed and strapped his
suitcase. She had often heard that men were cross before
"Sure you've forgotten nothing?" he asked before he closed her
"Yes. I never lose things on the train,--do you?"
"Sometimes," he replied guardedly, not looking up as he snapped
Book Three; Sunrise on the Prairie
Claude was to continue farming with his father, and after he
returned from his wedding journey, he fell at once to work. The
harvest was almost as abundant as that of the summer before, and
he was busy in the fields six days a week.
One afternoon in August he came home with his team, watered and
fed the horses in a leisurely way, and then entered his house by
the back door. Enid, he knew, would not be there. She had gone to
Frankfort to a meeting of the AntiSaloon League. The Prohibition
party was bestirring itself in Nebraska that summer, confident of
voting the State dry the following year, which purpose it
Enid's kitchen, full of the afternoon sun, glittered with new
paint, spotless linoleum, and blue-and-white cooking vessels. In
the dining-room the cloth was laid, and the table was neatly set
for one. Claude opened the icebox, where his supper was arranged
for him; a dish of canned salmon with a white sauce; hardboiled
eggs, peeled and lying in a nest of lettuce leaves; a bowl of
ripe tomatoes, a bit of cold rice pudding; cream and butter. He
placed these things on the table, cut some bread, and after
carelessly washing his face and hands, sat down to eat in his
working shirt. He propped the newspaper against a red glass water
pitcher and read the war news while he had his supper. He was
annoyed when he heard heavy footsteps coming around the house.
Leonard Dawson stuck his head in at the kitchen door, and Claude
rose quickly and reached for his hat; but Leonard came in,
uninvited, and sat down. His brown shirt was wet where his
suspenders gripped his shoulders, and his face, under a wide
straw hat which he did not remove, was unshaven and streaked with
"Go ahead and finish your supper," he cried. "Having a wife with
a car of her own is next thing to having no wife at all. How they
do like to roll around! I've been mighty blamed careful to see
that Susie never learned to drive a car. See here, Claude, how
soon do you figure you'll be able to let me have the thrasher? My
wheat will begin to sprout in the shock pretty soon. Do you
reckon your father would be willing to work on Sunday, if I
helped you, to let the machine off a day earlier?"
"I'm afraid not. Mother wouldn't like it. We never have done
that, even when we were crowded."
"Well, I think I'll go over and have a talk with your mother. If
she could look inside my wheat shocks, maybe I could convince her
it's pretty near a case of your neighbour's ox falling into a pit
on the Sabbath day."
"That's a good idea. She's always reasonable."
Leonard rose. "What's the news?"
"The Germans have torpedoed an English passenger ship, the Arabic;
coming this way, too."
"That's all right," Leonard declared. "Maybe Americans will stay
at home now, and mind their own business. I don't care how they
chew each other up over there, not a bit! I'd as soon one got
wiped off the map as another."
"Your grandparents were English people, weren't they?"
"That's a long while ago. Yes, my grandmother wore a cap and
little white curls, and I tell Susie I wouldn't mind if the baby
turned out to have my grandmother's skin. She had the finest
complexion I ever saw."
As they stepped out of the back door, a troop of white chickens
with red combs ran squawking toward them. It was the hour at
which the poultry was usually fed. Leonard stopped to admire
them. "You've got a fine lot of hens. I always did like white
leghorns. Where are all your roosters?"
"We've only got one. He's shut up in the coop. The brood hens are
setting. Enid is going to try raising winter frys."
"Only one rooster? And may I ask what these hens do?"
Claude laughed. "They lay eggs, just the same,--better. it's the
fertile eggs that spoil in warm weather."
This information seemed to make Leonard angry. "I never heard of
such damned nonsense," he blustered. "I raise chickens on a
natural basis, or I don't raise 'em at all." He jumped into his
car for fear he would say more.
When he got home his wife was lifting supper, and the baby sat
near her in its buggy, playing with a rattle. Dirty and sweaty as
he was, Leonard picked up the clean baby and began to kiss it and
smell it, rubbing his stubbly chin in the soft creases of its
neck. The little girl was beside herself with delight.
"Go and wash up for supper, Len," Susie called from the stove. He
put down the baby and began splashing in the tin basin, talking
with his eyes shut.
"Susie, I'm in an awful temper. I can't stand that damned wife of
She was spearing roasting ears out of a big iron pot and looked
up through the steam. "Why, have you seen her? I was listening on
the telephone this morning and heard her tell Bayliss she would
be in town until late." "Oh, yes! She went to town all right, and
he's over there eating a cold supper by himself. That woman's a
fanatic. She ain't content with practising prohibition on
humankind; she's begun now on the hens." While he placed the
chairs and wheeled the baby up to the table, he explained Enid's
method of raising poultry to his wife. She said she really didn't
see any harm in it.
"Now be honest, Susie; did you ever know hens would keep on
laying without a rooster?"
"No, I didn't, but I was brought up the old-fashioned way. Enid
has poultry books and garden books, and all such things. I don't
doubt she gets good ideas from them. But anyhow, you be careful.
She's our nearest neighbour, and I don't want to have trouble
"I'll have to keep out of her way, then. If she tries to do any
missionary work among my chickens, I'll tell her a few home
truths her husband's too bashful to tell her. It's my opinion
she's got that boy cowed already."
"Now, Len, you know she won't bother your chickens. You keep
quiet. But Claude does seem to sort of avoid people," Susie
admitted, filling her husband's plate again. "Mrs. Joe Havel says
Ernest don't go to Claude's any more. It seems Enid went over
there and wanted Ernest to paste some Prohibition posters about
fifteen million drunkards on their barn, for an example to the
Bohemians. Ernest wouldn't do it, and told her he was going to
vote for saloons, and Enid was quite spiteful, Mrs. Havel said.
It's too bad, when those boys were such chums. I used to like to
see them together." Susie spoke so kindly that her husband shot
her a quick glance of shy affection.
"Do you suppose Claude relished having that preacher visiting
them, when they hadn't been married two months? Sitting on the
front porch in a white necktie every day, while Claude was out
"Well, anyhow, I guess Claude had more to eat when Brother Weldon
was staying there. Preachers won't be fed on calories, or
whatever it is Enid calls 'em," said Susie, who was given to
looking on the bright side of things. "Claude's wife keeps a
wonderful kitchen; but so could I, if I never cooked any more
than she does."
Leonard gave her a meaning look. "I don't believe you would live
with the sort of man you could feed out of a tin can."
"No, I don't believe I would." She pushed the buggy toward him.
"Take her up, Daddy. She wants to play with you."
Leonard set the baby on his shoulder and carried her off to show
her the pigs. Susie kept laughing to herself as she cleared the
table and washed the dishes; she was much amused by what her
husband had told her.
Late that evening, when Leonard was starting for the barn to see
that all was well before he went to bed, he observed a discreet
black object rolling along the highroad in the moonlight, a red
spark winking in the rear. He called Susie to the door.
"See, there she goes; going home to report the success of the
meeting to Claude. Wouldn't that be a nice way to have your wife
"Now, Leonard, if Claude likes it--"
"Likes it?" Big Leonard drew himself up. "What can he do, poor
kid? He's stung!"
After Leonard left him, Claude cleared away the remains of his
supper and watered the gourd vine before he went to milk. It was
not really a gourd vine at all, but a summer-squash, of the
crook-necked, warty, orange-coloured variety, and it was now full
of ripe squashes, hanging by strong stems among the rough green
leaves and prickly tendrils. Claude had watched its rapid growth
and the opening of its splotchy yellow blossoms, feeling grateful
to a thing that did so lustily what it was put there to do. He
had the same feeling for his little Jersey cow, which came home
every night with full udders and gave down her milk willingly,
keeping her tail out of his face, as only a well disposed cow will
His milking done, he sat down on the front porch and lit a cigar.
While he smoked, he did not think about anything but the quiet
and the slow cooling of the atmosphere, and how good it was to
sit still. The moon swam up over the bare wheat fields, big and
magical, like a great flower. Presently he got some bath towels,
went across the yard to the windmill, took off his clothes, and
stepped into the tin horse tank. The water had been warmed by the
sun all afternoon, and was not much cooler than his body. He
stretched himself out in it, and resting his head on the metal
rim, lay on his back, looking up at the moon. The sky was a
midnight-blue, like warm, deep, blue water, and the moon seemed
to lie on it like a water-lily, floating forward with an
invisible current. One expected to see its great petals open.
For some reason, Claude began to think about the far-off times
and countries it had shone upon. He never thought of the sun as
coming from distant lands, or as having taken part in human life
in other ages. To him, the sun rotated about the wheatfields. But
the moon, somehow, came out of the historic past, and made him
think of Egypt and the Pharaohs, Babylon and the hanging gardens.
She seemed particularly to have looked down upon the follies and
disappointments of men; into the slaves' quarters of old times,
into prison windows, and into fortresses where captives
Inside of living people, too, captives languished. Yes, inside of
people who walked and worked in the broad sun, there were
captives dwelling in darkness, never seen from birth to death.
Into those prisons the moon shone, and the prisoners crept to the
windows and looked out with mournful eyes at the white globe
which betrayed no secrets and comprehended all. Perhaps even in
people like Mrs. Royce and his brother Bayliss there was
something of this sort--but that was a shuddery thought. He
dismissed it with a quick movement of his hand through the water,
which, disturbed, caught the light and played black and gold,
like something alive, over his chest. In his own mother the
imprisoned spirit was almost more present to people than her
corporeal self. He had so often felt it when he sat with her on
summer nights like this. Mahailey, too, had one, though the walls
of her prison were so thick--and Gladys Farmer. Oh, yes, how much
Gladys must have to tell this perfect confidant! The people whose
hearts were set high needed such intercourse--whose wish was so
beautiful that there were no experiences in this world to satisfy
it. And these children of the moon, with their unappeased
longings and futile dreams, were a finer race than the children
of the sun. This conception flooded the boy's heart like a second
moonrise, flowed through him indefinite and strong, while he lay
deathly still for fear of losing it.
At last the black cubical object which had caught Leonard
Dawson's wrathful eye, came rolling along the highroad. Claude
snatched up his clothes and towels, and without waiting to make
use of either, he ran, a white man across a bare white yard.
Gaining the shelter of the house, he found his bathrobe, and fled
to the upper porch, where he lay down in the hammock. Presently
he heard his name called, pronounced as if it were spelled
"Clod." His wife came up the stairs and looked out at him. He lay
motionless, with his eyes closed. She went away. When all was
quiet again he looked off at the still country, and the moon in
the dark indigo sky. His revelation still possessed him, making
his whole body sensitive, like a tightly strung bow. In the
morning he had forgotten, or was ashamed of what had seemed so
true and so entirely his own the night before. He agreed, for the
most part, that it was better not to think about such things, and
when he could he avoided thinking.
After the heavy work of harvest was over, Mrs. Wheeler often
persuaded her husband, when he was starting off in his buckboard,
to take her as far as Claude's new house. She was glad Enid
didn't keep her parlour dark, as Mrs. Royce kept hers. The doors
and windows were always open, the vines and the long petunias in
the window-boxes waved in the breeze, and the rooms were full of
sunlight and in perfect order. Enid wore white dresses about her
work, and white shoes and stockings. She managed a house easily
and systematically. On Monday morning Claude turned the washing
machine before he went to work, and by nine o'clock the clothes
were on the line. Enid liked to iron, and Claude had never before
in his life worn so many clean shirts, or worn them with such
satisfaction. She told him he need not economize in working
shirts; it was as easy to iron six as three.
Although within a few months Enid's car travelled more than two
thousand miles for the Prohibition cause, it could not be said
that she neglected her house for reform. Whether she neglected
her husband depended upon one's conception of what was his due.
When Mrs. Wheeler saw how well their little establishment was
conducted, how cheerful and attractive Enid looked when one
happened to drop in there, she wondered that Claude was not
happy. And Claude himself wondered. If his marriage disappointed
him in some respects, he ought to be a man, he told himself, and
make the best of what was good in it. If his wife didn't love
him, it was because love meant one thing to him and quite another
thing to her. She was proud of him, was glad to see him when he
came in from the fields, and was solicitous for his comfort.
Everything about a man's embrace was distasteful to Enid;
something inflicted upon women, like the pain of childbirth,--
for Eve's transgression, perhaps.
This repugnance was more than physical; she disliked ardour of
any kind, even religious ardour. She had been fonder of Claude
before she married him than she was now; but she hoped for a
readjustment. Perhaps sometime she could like him again in
exactly the same way. Even Brother Weldon had hinted to her that
for the sake of their future tranquillity she must be lenient
with the boy. And she thought she had been lenient. She could not
understand his moods of desperate silence, the bitter, biting
remarks he sometimes dropped, his evident annoyance if she went
over to join him in the timber claim when he lay there idle in
the deep grass on a Sunday afternoon.
Claude used to lie there and watch the clouds, saying to himself,
"It's the end of everything for me." Other men than he must have
been disappointed, and he wondered how they bore it through a
lifetime. Claude had been a well behaved boy because he was an
idealist; he had looked forward to being wonderfully happy in
love, and to deserving his happiness. He had never dreamed that
it might be otherwise.
Sometimes now, when he went out into the fields on a bright
summer morning, it seemed to him that Nature not only smiled, but
broadly laughed at him. He suffered in his pride, but even more
in his ideals, in his vague sense of what was beautiful. Enid
could make his life hideous to him without ever knowing it. At
such times he hated himself for accepting at all her grudging
hospitality. He was wronging something in himself.
In her person Enid was still attractive to him. He wondered why
she had no shades of feeling to correspond to her natural grace
and lightness of movement, to the gentle, almost wistful
attitudes of body in which he sometimes surprised her. When he
came in from work and found her sitting on the porch, leaning
against a pillar, her hands clasped about her knees, her head
drooping a little, he could scarcely believe in the rigidity
which met him at every turn. Was there something repellent in
him? Was it, after all, his fault?
Enid was rather more indulgent with his father than with any one
else, he noticed. Mr. Wheeler stopped to see her almost every
day, and even took her driving in his old buckboard. Bayliss came
out from town to spend the evening occasionally. Enid's
vegetarian suppers suited him, and as she worked with him in the
Prohibition campaign, they always had business to discuss.
Bayliss had a social as well as a hygienic prejudice against
alcohol, and he hated it less for the harm it did than for the
pleasure it gave. Claude consistently refused to take any part in
the activities of the Anti-Saloon League, or to distribute what
Bayliss and Enid called "our literature."
In the farming towns the term "literature" was applied only to a
special kind of printed matter; there was Prohibition literature,
Sex-Hygiene literature, and, during a scourge of cattle disease,
there was Hoof-and-Mouth literature. This special application of
the word didn't bother Claude, but his mother, being an
old-fashioned school-teacher, complained about it.
Enid did not understand her husband's indifference to a burning
question, and could only attribute it to the influence of Ernest
Havel. She sometimes asked Claude to go with her to one of her
committee meetings. If it was a Sunday, he said he was tired and
wanted to read the paper. If it was a week-day, he had something
to do at the barn, or meant to clear out the timber claim. He
did, indeed, saw off a few dead limbs, and cut down a tree the
lightning had blasted. Further than that he wouldn't have let
anybody clear the timber lot; he would have died defending it.
The timber claim was his refuge. In the open, grassy spots, shut
in by the bushy walls of yellowing ash trees, he felt unmarried
and free; free to smoke as much as he liked, and to read and
dream. Some of his dreams would have frozen his young wife's
blood with horror--and some would have melted his mother's heart
with pity. To lie in the hot sun and look up at the stainless
blue of the autumn sky, to hear the dry rustle of the leaves as
they fell, and the sound of the bold squirrels leaping from
branch to branch; to lie thus and let his imagination play with
life--that was the best he could do. His thoughts, he told
himself, were his own. He was no longer a boy. He went off into
the timber claim to meet a young man more experienced and
interesting than himself, who had not tied himself up with
>From her upstairs window Mrs. Wheeler could see Claude moving
back and forth in the west field, drilling wheat. She felt lonely
for him. He didn't come home as often as he might. She had begun
to wonder whether he was one of those people who are always
discontented; but whatever his disappointments were, he kept them
locked in his own breast. One had to learn the lessons of life.
Nevertheless, it made her a little sad to see him so settled and
indifferent at twenty-three.
After watching from the window for a few moments, she turned to
the telephone and called up Claude's house, asking Enid whether
she would mind if he came there for dinner. "Mahailey and I get
lonesome with Mr. Wheeler away so much," she added.
"Why, no, Mother Wheeler, of course not." Enid spoke cheerfully,
as she always did. "Have you any one there you can send over to
"I thought I would walk over myself, Enid. It's not far, if I
take my time."
Mrs. Wheeler left the house a little before noon and stopped at
the creek to rest before she climbed the long hill. At the edge
of the field she sat down against a grassy bank and waited until
the horses came tramping up the long rows. Claude saw her and
pulled them in.
"Anything wrong, Mother?" he called.
"Oh, no! I'm going to take you home for dinner with me, that's
all. I telephoned Enid." He unhooked his team, and he and his
mother started down the hill together, walking behind the horses.
Though they had not been alone like this for a long while, she
felt it best to talk about impersonal things.
"Don't let me forget to give you an article about the execution
of that English nurse."
"Edith Cavell? I've read about it," he answered listlessly. "It's
nothing to be surprised at. If they could sink the Lusitania,
they could shoot an English nurse, certainly."
"Someway I feel as if this were different," his mother murmured.
"It's like the hanging of John Brown. I wonder they could find
soldiers to execute the sentence."
"Oh, I guess they have plenty of such soldiers!"
Mrs. Wheeler looked up at him. "I don't see how we can stay out
of it much longer, do you? I suppose our army wouldn't be a drop
in the bucket, even if we could get it over. They tell us we can
be more useful in our agriculture and manufactories than we could
by going into the war. I only hope it isn't campaign talk. I do
distrust the Democrats."
Claude laughed. "Why, Mother, I guess there's no party politics
She shook her head. "I've never yet found a public question in
which there wasn't party politics. Well, we can only do our duty
as it comes to us, and have faith. This field finishes your fall
"Yes. I'll have time to do some things about the place, now. I'm
going to make a good ice-house and put up my own ice this
"Were you thinking of going up to Lincoln, for a little?"
"I guess not."
Mrs. Wheeler sighed. His tone meant that he had turned his back
on old pleasures and old friends.
"Have you and Enid taken tickets for the lecture course in
"I think so, Mother," he answered a little impatiently. "I told
her she could attend to it when she was in town some day."
"Of course," his mother persevered, "some of the programs are not
very good, but we ought to patronize them and make the best of
what we have."
He knew, and his mother knew, that he was not very good at that.
His horses stopped at the water tank. "Don't wait for me. I'll be
along in a minute." Seeing her crestfallen face, he smiled.
"Never mind, Mother, I can always catch you when you try to give
me a pill in a raisin. One of us has to be pretty smart to fool
She blinked up at him with that smile in which her eyes almost
disappeared. "I thought I was smart that time!"
It was a comfort, she reflected, as she hurried up the hill, to
get hold of him again, to get his attention, even.
While Claude was washing for dinner, Mahailey came to him with a
page of newspaper cartoons, illustrating German brutality. To her
they were all photographs,--she knew no other way of making a
"Mr. Claude," she asked, "how comes it all them Germans is such
ugly lookin' people? The Yoeders and the German folks round here
ain't ugly lookin'."
Claude put her off indulgently. "Maybe it's the ugly ones that
are doing the fighting, and the ones at home are nice, like our
"Then why don't they make their soldiers stay home, an' not go
breakin' other people's things, an' turnin' 'em out of their
houses," she muttered indignantly. "They say little babies was
born out in the snow last winter, an' no fires for their mudders
nor nothin'. 'Deed, Mr. Claude, it wasn't like that in our war;
the soldiers didn't do nothin' to the women an' chillun. Many a
time our house was full of Northern soldiers, an' they never so
much as broke a piece of my mudder's chiney."
"You'll have to tell me about it again sometime, Mahailey. I must
have my dinner and get back to work. If we don't get our wheat
in, those people over there won't have anything to eat, you
The picture papers meant a great deal to Mahailey, because she
could faintly remember the Civil War. While she pored over
photographs of camps and battlefields and devastated villages,
things came back to her; the companies of dusty Union infantry
that used to stop to drink at her mother's cold mountain spring.
She had seen them take off their boots and wash their bleeding
feet in the run. Her mother had given one louse-bitten boy a
clean shirt, and she had never forgotten the sight of his back,
"as raw as beef where he'd scratched it." Five of her brothers
were in the Confederate army. When one was wounded in the second
battle of Bull Run, her mother had borrowed a wagon and horses,
gone a three days' journey to the field hospital, and brought the
boy home to the mountain. Mahailey could remember how her older
sisters took turns pouring cold spring water on his gangrenous
leg all day and all night. There were no doctors left in the
neighbourhood, and as nobody could amputate the boy's leg, he
died by inches. Mahailey was the only person in the Wheeler
household who had ever seen war with her own eyes, and she felt
that this fact gave her a definite superiority.
Claude had been married a year and a half. One December morning
he got a telephone message from his father-in-law, asking him to
come in to Frankfort at once. He found Mr. Royce sunk in his
desk-chair, smoking as usual, with several foreign-looking
letters on the table before him. As he took these out of their
envelopes and sorted the pages, Claude noticed how unsteady his
hands had become.
One letter, from the chief of the medical staff in the mission
school where Caroline Royce taught, informed Mr. Royce that his
daughter was seriously ill in the mission hospital. She would
have to be sent to a more salubrious part of the country for rest
and treatment, and would not be strong enough to return to her
duties for a year or more. If some member of her family could
come out to take care of her, it would relieve the school
authorities of great anxiety. There was also a letter from a
fellow teacher, and a rather incoherent one from Caroline
herself. After Claude finished reading them, Mr. Royce pushed a
box of cigars toward him and began to talk despondently about
"I could go to her," he complained, "but what good would that do?
I'm not in sympathy with her ideas, and it would only fret her.
You can see she's made her mind up not to come home. I don't
believe in one people trying to force their ways or their
religion on another. I'm not that kind of man." He sat looking at
his cigar. After a long pause he broke out suddenly, "China has
been drummed into my ears . It seems like a long way to go to
hunt for trouble, don't it? A man hasn't got much control over
his own life, Claude. If it ain't poverty or disease that
torments him, it's a name on the map. I could have made out
pretty well, if it hadn't been for China, and some other things .
. . . If Carrie'd had to teach for her clothes and help pay off
my notes, like old man Harrison's daughters, like enough she'd
have stayed at home. There's always something. I don't know what
to say about showing these letters to Enid."
"Oh, she will have to know about it, Mr. Royce. If she feels that
she ought to go to Carrie, it wouldn't be right for me to
Mr. Royce shook his head. "I don't know. It don't seem fair that
China should hang over you, too."
When Claude got home he remarked as he handed Enid the letters,
"Your father has been a good deal upset by this. I never saw him
look so old as he did today."
Enid studied their contents, sitting at her orderly little desk,
while Claude pretended to read the paper.
"It seems clear that I am the one to go," she said when she had
"You think it's necessary for some one to go? I don't see it."
"It would look very strange if none of us went," Enid replied
"How, look strange?"
"Why, it would look to her associates as if her family had no
"Oh, if that's all!" Claude smiled perversely and took up his
paper again. "I wonder how it will look to people here if you go
off and leave your husband?"
"What a mean thing to say, Claude!" She rose sharply, then
hesitated, perplexed. "People here know me better than that. It
isn't as if you couldn't be perfectly comfortable at your
mother's." As he did not glance up from his paper, she went into
Claude sat still, listening to Enid's quick movements as she
opened up the range to get supper. The light in the room grew
greyer. Outside the fields melted into one another as evening
came on. The young trees in the yard bent and whipped about under
a bitter north wind. He had often thought with pride that winter
died at his front doorstep; within, no draughty halls, no chilly
corners. This was their second year here. When he was driving
home, the thought that he might be free of this house for a long
while had stirred a pleasant excitement in him; but now, he
didn't want to leave it. Something grew soft in him. He wondered
whether they couldn't try again, and make things go better. Enid
was singing in the kitchen in a subdued, rather lonely voice. He
rose and went out for his milking coat and pail. As he passed his
wife by the window, he stopped and put his arm about her
She looked up. "That's right. You're feeling better about it,
aren't you? I thought you would. Gracious, what a smelly coat,
Claude! I must find another for you."
Claude knew that tone. Enid never questioned the rightness of her
own decisions. When she made up her mind, there was no turning
her. He went down the path to the barn with his hands stuffed in
his trousers pockets, his bright pail hanging on his arm. Try
again--what was there to try? Platitudes, littleness, falseness .
. . . His life was choking him, and he hadn't the courage to
break with it. Let her go! Let her go when she would! . . . What
a hideous world to be born into! Or was it hideous only for him?
Everything he touched went wrong under his hand--always had.
When they sat down at the supper table in the back parlour an
hour later, Enid looked worn, as if this time her decision had
cost her something. "I should think you might have a restful
winter at your mother's," she began cheerfully. "You won't have
nearly so much to look after as you do here. We needn't disturb
things in this house. I will take the silver down to Mother, and
we can leave everything else just as it is. Would there be room
for my car in your father's garage? You might find it a
"Oh, no! I won't need it. I'll put it up at the mill house," he
answered with an effort at carelessness.
All the familiar objects that stood about them in the lamplight
seemed stiller and more solemn than usual, as if they were
holding their breath.
"I suppose you had better take the chickens over to your
mother's," Enid continued evenly. "But I shouldn't like them to
get mixed with her Plymouth Rocks; there's not a dark feather
among them now. Do ask Mother Wheeler to use all the eggs, and
not to let my hens set in the spring."
"In the spring?" Claude looked up from his plate.
"Of course, Claude. I could hardly get back before next fall, if
I'm to be of any help to poor Carrie. I might try to be home for
harvest, if that would make it more convenient for you." She rose
to bring in the dessert.
"Oh, don't hurry on my account!" he muttered, staring after her
Enid came back with the hot pudding and the after-dinner coffee
things. "This has come on us so suddenly that we must make our
plans at once," she explained. "I should think your mother would
be glad to keep Rose for us; she is such a good cow. And then you
can have all the cream you want."
He took the little gold-rimmed cup she held out to him. "If you
are going to be gone until next fall, I shall sell Rose," he
"But why? You might look a long time before you found another
"I shall sell her, anyhow. The horses, of course, are Father's;
he paid for them. If you clear out, he may want to rent this
place. You may find a tenant in here when you get back from
China." Claude swallowed his coffee, put down the cup, and went
into the front parlour, where he lit a cigar. He walked up and
down, keeping his eyes fixed upon his wife, who still sat at the
table in the circle of light from the hanging lamp. Her head,
bent forward a little, showed the neat part of her brown hair.
When she was perplexed, her face always looked sharper, her chin
"If you've no feeling for the place," said Claude from the other
room, "you can hardly expect me to hang around and take care of
it. All the time you were campaigning, I played housekeeper
Enid's eyes narrowed, but she did not flush. Claude had never
seen a wave of colour come over his wife's pale, smooth cheeks.
"Don't be childish. You know I care for this place; it's our
home. But no feeling would be right that kept me from doing my
duty. You are well, and you have your mother's house to go to.
Carrie is ill and among strangers."
She began to gather up the dishes. Claude stepped quickly out
into the light and confronted her. "It's not only your going. You
know what's the matter with me. It's because you want to go. You
are glad of a chance to get away among all those preachers, with
their smooth talk and make-believe."
Enid took up the tray. "If I am glad, it's because you are not
willing to govern our lives by Christian ideals. There is
something in you that rebels all the time. So many important
questions have come up since our marriage, and you have been
indifferent or sarcastic about every one of them. You want to
lead a purely selfish life."
She walked resolutely out of the room and shut the door behind
her. Later, when she came back, Claude was not there. His hat and
coat were gone from the hat rack; he must have let himself out
quietly by the front door. Enid sat up until eleven and then went
In the morning, on coming out from her bedroom, she found Claude
asleep on the lounge, dressed, with his overcoat on. She had a
moment of terror and bent over him, but she could not detect any
smell of spirits. She began preparations for breakfast, moving
Having once made up her mind to go out to her sister, Enid lost
no time. She engaged passage and cabled the mission school. She
left Frankfort the week before Christmas. Claude and Ralph took
her as far as Denver and put her on a trans-continental express.
When Claude came home, he moved over to his mother's, and sold
his cow and chickens to Leonard Dawson. Except when he went to
see Mr. Royce, he seldom left the farm now, and he avoided the
neighbours. He felt that they were discussing his domestic
affairs,--as, of course, they were. The Royces and the Wheelers,
they said, couldn't behave like anybody else, and it was no use
their trying. If Claude built the best house in the
neighbourhood, he just naturally wouldn't live in it. And if he
had a wife at all, it was like him to have a wife in China!
One snowy day, when nobody was about, Claude took the big car and
went over to his own place to close the house for the winter and
bring away the canned fruit and vegetables left in the cellar.
Enid had packed her best linen in her cedar chest and had put the
kitchen and china closets in scrupulous order before she went
away. He began covering the upholstered chairs and the mattresses
with sheets, rolled up the rugs, and fastened the windows
securely. As he worked, his hands grew more and more numb and
listless, and his heart was like a lump of ice. All these things
that he had selected with care and in which he had taken such
pride, were no more to him now than the lumber piled in the shop
of any second-hand dealer.
How inherently mournful and ugly such objects were, when the
feeling that had made them precious no longer existed! The debris
of human life was more worthless and ugly than the dead and
decaying things in nature. Rubbish . . . junk . . . his mind
could not picture anything that so exposed and condemned all the
dreary, weary, ever-repeated actions by which life is continued
from day to day. Actions without meaning . . . . As he looked out
and saw the grey landscape through the gently falling snow, he
could not help thinking how much better it would be if people
could go to sleep like the fields; could be blanketed down under
the snow, to wake with their hurts healed and their defeats
forgotten. He wondered how he was to go on through the years
ahead of him, unless he could get rid of this sick feeling in his
At last he locked the door, put the key in his pocket, and went
over to the timber claim to smoke a cigar and say goodbye to the
place. There he soberly walked about for more than an hour, under
the crooked trees with empty birds' nests in their forks. Every
time he came to a break in the hedge, he could see the little
house, giving itself up so meekly to solitude. He did not believe
that he would ever live there again. Well, at any rate, the money
his father had put into the place would not be lost; he could
always get a better tenant for having a comfortable house there.
Several of the boys in the neighbourhood were planning to be
married within the year. The future of the house was safe. And
he? He stopped short in his walk; his feet had made an uncertain,
purposeless trail all over the white ground. It vexed him to see
his own footsteps. What was it--what WAS the matter with him?
Why, at least, could he not stop feeling things, and hoping? What
was there to hope for now?
He heard a sound of distress, and looking back, saw the barn cat,
that had been left behind to pick up her living. She was standing
inside the hedge, her jet black fur ruffled against the wet
flakes, one paw lifted, mewing miserably. Claude went over and
picked her up.
"What's the matter, Blackie? Mice getting scarce in the barn?
Mahailey will say you are bad luck. Maybe you are, but you can't
help it, can you?" He slipped her into his overcoat pocket.
Later, when he was getting into his car, he tried to dislodge her
and put her in a basket, but she clung to her nest in his pocket
and dug her claws into the lining. He laughed. "Well, if you are
bad luck, I guess you are going to stay right with me!"
She looked up at him with startled yellow eyes and did not even
Mrs. Wheeler was afraid that Claude might not find the old place
comfortable, after having had a house of his own. She put her
best rocking chair and a reading lamp in his bedroom. He often
sat there all evening, shading his eyes with his hand, pretending
to read. When he stayed downstairs after supper, his mother and
Mahailey were grateful. Besides collecting war pictures,
Mahailey now hunted through the old magazines in the attic for
pictures of China. She had marked on her big kitchen calendar the
day when Enid would arrive in Hong-Kong.
"Mr. Claude," she would say as she stood at the sink washing the
supper dishes, "it's broad daylight over where Miss Enid is,
ain't it? Cause the world's round, an' the old sun, he's
a-shinin' over there for the yaller people."
>From time to time, when they were working together, Mrs. Wheeler
told Mahailey what she knew about the customs of the Chinese. The
old woman had never had two impersonal interests at the same time
before, and she scarcely knew what to do with them. She would
murmur on, half to Claude and half to herself: "They ain't
fightin' over there where Miss Enid is, is they? An' she won't
have to wear their kind of clothes, cause she's a white woman.
She won't let 'em kill their girl babies nor do such awful things
like they always have, an' she won't let 'em pray to them stone
iboles, cause they can't help 'em none. I 'spect Miss Enid'll do
a heap of good, all the time."
Behind her diplomatic monologues, however, Mahailey had her own
ideas, and she was greatly scandalized at Enid's departure. She
was afraid people would say that Claude's wife had "run off an'
lef' him," and in the Virginia mountains, where her social
standards had been formed, a husband or wife thus deserted was
the object of boisterous ridicule. She once stopped Mrs. Wheeler
in a dark corner of the cellar to whisper, "Mr. Claude's wife
ain't goin' to stay off there, like her sister, is she?"
If one of the Yoeder boys or Susie Dawson happened to be at the
Wheelers' for dinner, Mahailey never failed to refer to Enid in a
loud voice. "Mr. Claude's wife, she cuts her potatoes up raw in
the pan an' fries 'em. She don't boil 'em first like I do. I know
she's an awful good cook, I know she is." She felt that easy
references to the absent wife made things look better.
Ernest Havel came to see Claude now, but not often. They both
felt it would be indelicate to renew their former intimacy.
Ernest still felt aggrieved about his beer, as if Enid had
snatched the tankard from his lips with her own corrective hand.
Like Leonard, he believed that Claude had made a bad bargain in
matrimony; but instead of feeling sorry for him, Ernest wanted to
see him convinced and punished. When he married Enid, Claude had
been false to liberal principles, and it was only right that he
should pay for his apostasy. The very first time he came to spend
an evening at the Wheelers' after Claude came home to live,
Ernest undertook to explain his objections to Prohibition. Claude
shrugged his shoulders.
"Why not drop it? It's a matter that doesn't interest me, one way
or the other."
Ernest was offended and did not come back for nearly a
month--not, indeed, until the announcement that Germany would
resume unrestricted submarine warfare made every one look
questioningly at his neighbour.
He walked into the Wheelers' kitchen the night after this news
reached the farming country, and found Claude and his mother
sitting at the table, reading the papers aloud to each other in
snatches. Ernest had scarcely taken a seat when the telephone
bell rang. Claude answered the call.
"It's the telegraph operator at Frankfort," he said, as he hung
up the receiver. "He repeated a message from Father, sent from
Wray: 'Will be home day after tomorrow. Read the papers.' What
does he mean? What does he suppose we are doing?"
"It means he considers our situation very serious. It's not like
him to telegraph except in case of illness." Mrs. Wheeler rose
and walked distractedly to the telephone box, as if it might
further disclose her husband's state of mind.
"But what a queer message! It was addressed to you, too, Mother,
not to me."
"He would know how I feel about it. Some of your father's people
were seagoing men, out of Portsmouth. He knows what it means when
our shipping is told where it can go on the ocean, and where it
cannot. It isn't possible that Washington can take such an
affront for us. To think that at this time, of all times, we
should have a Democratic administration!"
Claude laughed. "Sit down, Mother. Wait a day or two. Give them
"The war will be over before Washington can do anything, Mrs.
Wheeler," Ernest declared gloomily, "England will be starved out,
and France will be beaten to a standstill. The whole German army
will be on the Western front now. What could this country do? How
long do you suppose it takes to make an army?"
Mrs. Wheeler stopped short in her restless pacing and met his
moody glance. "I don't know anything, Ernest, but I believe the
Bible. I believe that in the twinkling of an eye we shall be
Ernest looked at the floor. He respected faith. As he said, you
must respect it or despise it, for there was nothing else to do.
Claude sat leaning his elbows on the table. "It always comes back
to the same thing, Mother. Even if a raw army could do anything,
how would we get it over there? Here's one naval authority who
says the Germans are turning out submarines at the rate of three
a day. They probably didn't spring this on us until they had
enough built to keep the ocean clear."
"I don't pretend to say what we could accomplish, son. But we
must stand somewhere, morally. They have told us all along that
we could be more helpful to the Allies out of the war than in it,
because we could send munitions and supplies. If we agree to
withdraw that aid, where are we? Helping Germany, all the time we
are pretending to mind our own business! If our only alternative
is to be at the bottom of the sea, we had better be there!"
"Mother, do sit down! We can't settle it tonight. I never saw you
so worked up."
"Your father is worked up, too, or he would never have sent that
telegram." Mrs. Wheeler reluctantly took up her workbasket, and
the boys talked with their old, easy friendliness.
When Ernest left, Claude walked as far as the Yoeders' place with
him, and came back across the snow-drifted fields, under the
frosty brilliance of the winter stars. As he looked up at them,
he felt more than ever that they must have something to do with
the fate of nations, and with the incomprehensible things that
were happening in the world. In the ordered universe there must
be some mind that read the riddle of this one unhappy planet,
that knew what was forming in the dark eclipse of this hour. A
question hung in the air; over all this quiet land about him,
over him, over his mother, even. He was afraid for his country,
as he had been that night on the State House steps in Denver,
when this war was undreamed of, hidden in the womb of time.
Claude and his mother had not long to wait. Three days later they
knew that the German ambassador had been dismissed, and the
American ambassador recalled from Berlin. To older men these
events were subjects to think and converse about; but to boys
like Claude they were life and death, predestination.
One stormy morning Claude was driving the big wagon to town to
get a load of lumber. The roads were beginning to thaw out, and
the country was black and dirty looking. Here and there on the
dark mud, grey snow crusts lingered, perforated like honeycomb,
with wet weedstalks sticking up through them. As the wagon
creaked over the high ground just above Frankfort, Claude noticed
a brilliant new flag flying from the schoolhouse cupola. He had
never seen the flag before when it meant anything but the Fourth
of July, or a political rally. Today it was as if he saw it for
the first time; no bands, no noise, no orators; a spot of
restless colour against the sodden March sky.
He turned out of his way in order to pass the High School, drew
up his team, and waited a few minutes until the noon bell rang.
The older boys and girls came out first, with a flurry of
raincoats and umbrellas. Presently he saw Gladys Farmer, in a
yellow "slicker" and an oilskin hat, and waved to her. She came
up to the wagon.
"I like your decoration," he said, glancing toward the cupola.
"It's a silk one the Senior boys bought with their athletic
money. I advised them not to run it up in this rain, but the
class president told me they bought that flag for storms."
"Get in, and I'll take you home."
She took his extended hand, put her foot on the hub of the wheel,
and climbed to the seat beside him. He clucked to his team.
"So your High School boys are feeling war-like these days?"
"Very. What do you think?"
"I think they'll have a chance to express their feelings."
"Do you, Claude? It seems awfully unreal."
"Nothing else seems very real, either. I'm going to haul out a
load of lumber, but I never expect to drive a nail in it. These
things don't matter now. There is only one thing we ought to do,
and only one thing that matters; we all know it."
"You feel it's coming nearer every day?"
Gladys made no reply. She only looked at him gravely with her
calm, generous brown eyes. They stopped before the low house
where the windows were full of flowers. She took his hand and
swung herself to the ground, holding it for a moment while she
said good-bye. Claude drove back to the lumber yard. In a place
like Frankfort, a boy whose wife was in China could hardly go to
see Gladys without causing gossip.
During the bleak month of March Mr. Wheeler went to town in his
buckboard almost every day. For the first time in his life he had
a secret anxiety. The one member of his family who had never
given him the slightest trouble, his son Bayliss, was just now
under a cloud.
Bayliss was a Pacifist, and kept telling people that if only the
United States would stay out of this war, and gather up what
Europe was wasting, she would soon be in actual possession of the
capital of the world. There was a kind of logic in Bayliss'
utterances that shook Nat Wheeler's imperturbable assumption that
one point of view was as good as another. When Bayliss fought the
dram and the cigarette, Wheeler only laughed. That a son of his
should turn out a Prohibitionist, was a joke he could appreciate.
But Bayliss' attitude in the present crisis disturbed him. Day
after day he sat about his son's place of business, interrupting
his arguments with funny stories. Bayliss did not go home at all
that month. He said to his father, "No, Mother's too violent. I'd
Claude and his mother read the papers in the evening, but they
talked so little about what they read that Mahailey inquired
anxiously whether they weren't still fighting over yonder. When
she could get Claude alone for a moment, she pulled out Sunday
supplement pictures of the devastated countries and asked him to
tell her what was to become of this family, photographed among
the ruins of their home; of this old woman, who sat by the
roadside with her bundles. "Where's she goin' to, anyways? See,
Mr. Claude, she's got her iron cook-pot, pore old thing, carryin'
it all the way!"
Pictures of soldiers in gas-masks puzzled her; gas was something
she hadn't learned about in the Civil War, so she worked it out
for herself that these masks were worn by the army cooks, to
protect their eyes when they were cutting up onions! "All them
onions they have to cut up, it would put their eyes out if they
didn't wear somethin'," she argued.
On the morning of the eighth of April Claude came downstairs
early and began to clean his boots, which were caked with dry
mud. Mahailey was squatting down beside her stove, blowing and
puffing into it. The fire was always slow to start in heavy
weather. Claude got an old knife and a brush, and putting his
foot on a chair over by the west window, began to scrape his
shoe. He had said good-morning to Mahailey, nothing more. He
hadn't slept well, and was pale.
"Mr. Claude," Mahailey grumbled, "this stove ain't never drawed
good like my old one Mr. Ralph took away from me. I can't do
nothin' with it. Maybe you'll clean it out for me next Sunday."
"I'll clean it today, if you say so. I won't be here next Sunday.
I'm going away."
Something in his tone made Mahailey get up, her eyes still
blinking with the smoke, and look at him sharply. "You ain't
goin' off there where Miss Enid is?" she asked anxiously.
"No, Mahailey." He had dropped the shoebrush and stood with one
foot on the chair, his elbow on his knee, looking out of the
window as if he had forgotten himself. "No, I'm not going to
China. I'm going over to help fight the Germans."
He was still staring out at the wet fields. Before he could stop
her, before he knew what she was doing, she had caught and kissed
his unworthy hand.
"I knowed you would," she sobbed. "I always knowed you would, you
nice boy, you! Old Mahail' knowed!"
Her upturned face was working all over; her mouth, her eyebrows,
even the wrinkles on her low forehead were working and twitching.
Claude felt a tightening in his throat as he tenderly regarded
that face; behind the pale eyes, under the low brow where there
was not room for many thoughts, an idea was struggling and
tormenting her. The same idea that had been tormenting him.
"You're all right, Mahailey," he muttered, patting her back and
turning away. "Now hurry breakfast."
"You ain't told your mudder yit?" she whispered.
"No, not yet. But she'll be all right, too." He caught up his cap
and went down to the barn to look after the horses.
When Claude returned, the family were already at the breakfast
table. He slipped into his seat and watched his mother while she
drank her first cup of coffee. Then he addressed his father.
"Father, I don't see any use of waiting for the draft. If you can
spare me, I'd like to get into a training camp somewhere. I
believe I'd stand a chance of getting a commission."
"I shouldn't wonder." Mr. Wheeler poured maple syrup on his
pancakes with a liberal hand. "How do you feel about it,
Mrs. Wheeler had quietly put down her knife and fork. She looked
at her husband in vague alarm, while her fingers moved restlessly
about over the tablecloth.
"I thought," Claude went on hastily, "that maybe I would go up to
Omaha tomorrow and find out where the training camps are to be
located, and have a talk with the men in charge of the enlistment
station. Of course," he added lightly, "they may not want me. I
haven't an idea what the requirements are."
"No, I don't understand much about it either." Mr. Wheeler rolled
his top pancake and conveyed it to his mouth. After a moment of
mastication he said, "You figure on going tomorrow?"
"I'd like to. I won't bother with baggage--some shirts and
underclothes in my suitcase. If the Government wants me, it will
Mr. Wheeler pushed back his plate. "Well, now I guess you'd
better come out with me and look at the wheat. I don't know but
I'd best plough up that south quarter and put it in corn. I don't
believe it will make anything much."
When Claude and his father went out of the door, Dan sprang up
with more alacrity than usual and plunged after them. He did not
want to be left alone with Mrs. Wheeler. She remained sitting at
the foot of the deserted breakfast table. She was not crying. Her
eyes were utterly sightless. Her back was so stooped that she
seemed to be bending under a burden. Mahailey cleared the dishes
Out in the muddy fields Claude finished his talk with his father.
He explained that he wanted to slip away without saying good-bye
to any one. "I have a way, you know," he said, flushing, "of
beginning things and not getting very far with them. I don't want
anything said about this until I'm sure. I may be rejected for
one reason or another."
Mr. Wheeler smiled. "I guess not. However, I'll tell Dan to keep
his mouth shut. Will you just go over to Leonard Dawson's and get
that wrench he borrowed? It's about noon, and he'll likely be at
home." Claude found big Leonard watering his team at the
windmill. When Leonard asked him what he thought of the
President's message, he blurted out at once that he was going to
Omaha to enlist. Leonard reached up and pulled the lever that
controlled the almost motionless wheel.
"Better wait a few weeks and I'll go with you. I'm going to try
for the Marines. They take my eye."
Claude, standing on the edge of the tank, almost fell backward.
"Why, what--what for?"
Leonard looked him over. "Good Lord, Claude, you ain't the only
fellow around here that wears pants! What for? Well, I'll tell
you what for," he held up three large red fingers threateningly;
"Belgium., the Lusitania, Edith Cavell. That dirt's got under my
skin. I'll get my corn planted, and then Father'll look after
Susie till I come back."
Claude took a long breath. "Well, Leonard, you fooled me. I
believed all this chaff you've been giving me about not caring
who chewed up who."
"And no more do I care," Leonard protested, "not a damn! But
there's a limit. I've been ready to go since the Lusitania. I
don't get any satisfaction out of my place any more. Susie feels
the same way."
Claude looked at his big neighbour. "Well, I'm off tomorrow,
Leonard. Don't mention it to my folks, but if I can't get into
the army, I'm going to enlist in the navy. They'll always take an
able-bodied man. I'm not coming back here." He held out his hand
and Leonard took it with a smack.
"Good luck, Claude. Maybe we'll meet in foreign parts. Wouldn't
that be a joke! Give my love to Enid when you write. I always did
think she was a fine girl, though I disagreed with her on
Prohibition." Claude crossed the fields mechanically, without
looking where he went. His power of vision was turned inward upon
scenes and events wholly imaginary as yet.
One bright June day Mr. Wheeler parked his car in a line of
motors before the new pressed-brick Court house in Frankfort. The
Court house stood in an open square, surrounded by a grove of
cotton-woods. The lawn was freshly cut, and the flower beds were
blooming. When Mr. Wheeler entered the courtroom upstairs, it was
already half-full of farmers and townspeople, talking in low
tones while the summer flies buzzed in and out of the open
windows. The judge, a one-armed man, with white hair and
side-whiskers, sat at his desk, writing with his left hand. He
was an old settler in Frankfort county, but from his frockcoat
and courtly manners you might have thought he had come from
Kentucky yesterday instead of thirty years ago. He was to hear
this morning a charge of disloyalty brought against two German
farmers. One of the accused was August Yoeder, the Wheelers'
nearest neighbour, and the other was Troilus Oberlies, a rich
German from the northern part of the county.
Oberlies owned a beautiful farm and lived in a big white house
set on a hill, with a fine orchard, rows of beehives, barns,
granaries, and poultry yards. He raised turkeys and
tumbler-pigeons, and many geese and ducks swam about on his
cattleponds. He used to boast that he had six sons, "like our
German Emperor." His neighbours were proud of his place, and
pointed it out to strangers. They told how Oberlies had come to
Frankfort county a poor man, and had made his fortune by his
industry and intelligence. He had twice crossed the ocean to
re-visit his fatherland, and when he returned to his home on the
prairies he brought presents for every one; his lawyer, his
banker, and the merchants with whom he dealt in Frankfort and
Vicount. Each of his neighbours had in his parlour some piece of
woodcarving or weaving, or some ingenious mechanical toy that
Oberlies had picked up in Germany. He was an older man than
Yoeder, wore a short beard that was white and curly, like his
hair, and though he was low in stature, his puffy red face and
full blue eyes, and a certain swagger about his carriage, gave
him a look of importance. He was boastful and quick-tempered, but
until the war broke out in Europe nobody had ever had any trouble
with him. Since then he had constantly found fault and
complained,--everything was better in the Old Country.
Mr. Wheeler had come to town prepared to lend Yoeder a hand if he
needed one. They had worked adjoining fields for thirty years
now. He was surprised that his neighbour had got into trouble. He
was not a blusterer, like Oberlies, but a big, quiet man, with a
serious, large-featured face, and a stern mouth that seldom
opened. His countenance might have been cut out of red sandstone,
it was so heavy and fixed. He and Oberlies sat on two wooden
chairs outside the railing of the judge's desk.
Presently the judge stopped writing and said he would hear the
charges against Troilus Oberlies. Several neighbours took the
stand in succession; their complaints were confused and almost
humorous. Oberlies had said the United States would be licked,
and that would be a good thing; America was a great country, but
it was run by fools, and to be governed by Germany was the best
thing that could happen to it. The witness went on to say that
since Oberlies had made his money in this country--
Here the judge interrupted him. "Please confine yourself to
statements which you consider disloyal, made in your presence by
the defendant." While the witness proceeded, the judge took off
his glasses and laid them on the desk and began to polish the
lenses with a silk handkerchief, trying them, and rubbing them
again, as if he desired to see clearly.
A second witness had heard Oberlies say he hoped the German
submarines would sink a few troopships; that would frighten the
Americans and teach them to stay at home and mind their own
business. A third complained that on Sunday afternoons the old
man sat on his front porch and played Die Wacht am Rhein on a
slide-trombone, to the great annoyance of his neighbours. Here
Nat Wheeler slapped his knee with a loud guffaw, and a titter ran
through the courtroom. The defendant's puffy red cheeks seemed
fashioned by his Maker to give voice to that piercing instrument.
When asked if he had anything to say to these charges, the old
man rose, threw back his shoulders, and cast a defiant glance at
the courtroom. "You may take my property and imprison me, but I
explain nothing, and I take back nothing," he declared in a loud
The judge regarded his inkwell with a smile. "You mistake the
nature of this occasion, Mr. Oberlies. You are not asked to
recant. You are merely asked to desist from further disloyal
utterances, as much for your own protection and comfort as from
consideration for the feelings of your neighbours. I will now
hear the charges against Mr. Yoeder."
Mr. Yoeder, a witness declared, had said he hoped the United
States would go to Hell, now that it had been bought over by
England. When the witness had remarked to him that if the Kaiser
were shot it would end the war, Yoeder replied that charity
begins at home, and he wished somebody would put a bullet in the
When he was called upon, Yoeder rose and stood like a rock before
the judge. "I have nothing to say. The charges are true. I
thought this was a country where a man could speak his mind."
"Yes, a man can speak his mind, but even here he must take the
consequences. Sit down, please." The judge leaned back in his
chair, and looking at the two men in front of him, began with
deliberation: "Mr. Oberlies, and Mr. Yoeder, you both know, and
your friends and neighbours know, why you are here. You have not
recognized the element of appropriateness, which must be regarded
in nearly all the transactions of life; many of our civil laws
are founded upon it. You have allowed a sentiment, noble in
itself, to carry you away and lead you to make extravagant
statements which I am confident neither of you mean. No man can
demand that you cease from loving the country of your birth; but
while you enjoy the benefits of this country, you should not
defame its government to extol another. You both admit to
utterances which I can only adjudge disloyal. I shall fine you
each three hundred dollars; a very light fine under the
circumstances. If I should have occasion to fix a penalty a
second time, it will be much more severe."
After the case was concluded, Mr. Wheeler joined his neighbour at
the door and they went downstairs together.
"Well, what do you hear from Claude"' Mr. Yoeder asked.
"He's still at Fort R--. He expects to get home on leave before
he sails. Gus, you'll have to lend me one of your boys to
cultivate my corn. The weeds are getting away from me."
"Yes, you can have any of my boys,-- till the draft gets 'em,"
said Yoeder sourly.
"I wouldn't worry about it. A little military training is good
for a boy. You fellows know that." Mr. Wheeler winked, and
Yoeder's grim mouth twitched at one corner.
That evening at supper Mr. Wheeler gave his wife a full account
of the court hearing, so that she could write it to Claude. Mrs.
Wheeler, always more a school-teacher than a housekeeper, wrote a
rapid, easy hand, and her long letters to Claude reported all the
neighbourhood doings. Mr. Wheeler furnished much of the material
for them. Like many long-married men he had fallen into the way
of withholding neighbourhood news from his wife. But since Claude
went away he reported to her everything in which he thought the
boy would be interested. As she laconically said in one of her
"Your father talks a great deal more at home than formerly, and
sometimes I think he is trying to take your place."
On the first day of July Claude Wheeler found himself in the fast
train from Omaha, going home for a week's leave. The uniform was
still an unfamiliar sight in July, 1917. The first draft was not
yet called, and the boys who had rushed off and enlisted were in
training camps far away. Therefore a redheaded young man with
long straight legs in puttees, and broad, energetic,
responsible-looking shoulders in close-fitting khaki, made a
conspicuous figure among the passengers. Little boys and young
girls peered at him over the tops of seats, men stopped in the
aisle to talk to him, old ladies put on their glasses and studied
his clothes, his bulky canvas hold-all, and even the book he kept
opening and forgetting to read.
The country that rushed by him on each side of the track was more
interesting to his trained eye than the pages of any book. He was
glad to be going through it at harvest,--the season when it is
most itself. He noted that there was more corn than usual,--much
of the winter wheat had been weather killed, and the fields were
ploughed up in the spring and replanted in maize. The pastures
were already burned brown, the alfalfa was coming green again
after its first cutting. Binders and harvesters were abroad in
the wheat and oats, gathering the soft-breathing billows of grain
into wide, subduing arms. When the train slowed down for a
trestle in a wheat field, harvesters in blue shirts and overalls
and wide straw hats stopped working to wave at the passengers.
Claude turned to the old man in the opposite seat. "When I see
those fellows, I feel as if I'd wakened up in the wrong clothes."
His neighbour looked pleased and smiled. "That the kind of
uniform you're accustomed to?"
"I surely never wore anything else in the month of July," Claude
admitted. "When I find myself riding along in a train, in the
middle of harvest, trying to learn French verbs, then I know the
world is turned upside down, for a fact!"
The old man pressed a cigar upon him and began to question him.
Like the hero of the Odyssey upon his homeward journey, Claude
had often to tell what his country was, and who were the parents
that begot him. He was constantly interrupted in his perusal of a
French phrase-book (made up of sentences chosen for their
usefulness to soldiers,--such as; "Non, jamais je ne regarde les
femmes") by the questions of curious strangers. Presently he
gathered up his luggage, shook hands with his neighbour, and put
on his hat-the same old Stetson, with a gold cord and two hard
tassels added to its conical severity. "I get off at this station
and wait for the freight that goes down to Frankfort; the
cotton-tail, we call it."
The old man wished him a pleasant visit home, and the best of
luck in days to come. Every one in the car smiled at him as he
stepped down to the platform with his suitcase in one hand and
his canvas bag in the other. His old friend, Mrs. Voigt, the
German woman, stood out in front of her restaurant, ringing her
bell to announce that dinner was ready for travellers. A crowd of
young boys stood about her on the sidewalk, laughing and shouting
in disagreeable, jeering tones. As Claude approached, one of them
snatched the bell from her hand, ran off across the tracks with
it, and plunged into a cornfield. The other boys followed, and
one of them shouted, "Don't go in there to eat, soldier. She's a
German spy, and she'll put ground glass in your dinner!"
Claude swept into the lunch room and threw his bags on the floor.
"What's the matter, Mrs. Voigt? Can I do anything for you?"
She was sitting on one of her own stools, crying piteously, her
false frizzes awry. Looking up, she gave a little screech of
recognition. "Oh, I tank Gott it was you, and no more trouble
coming! You know I ain't no spy nor nodding, like what dem boys
say. Dem young fellers is dreadful rough mit me. I sell dem candy
since dey was babies, an' now dey turn on me like dis.
Hindenburg, dey calls me, and Kaiser Bill!" She began to cry
again, twisting her stumpy little fingers as if she would tear
"Give me some dinner, ma'am, and then I'll go and settle with
that gang. I've been away for a long time, and it seemed like
getting home when I got off the train and saw your squaw vines
running over the porch like they used to."
"Ya? You remember dat?" she wiped her eyes. "I got a pot-pie
today, and green peas, chust a few, out of my own garden."
"Bring them along, please. We don't get anything but canned stuff
Some railroad men came in for lunch. Mrs. Voigt beckoned Claude
off to the end of the counter, where, after she had served her
customers, she sat down and talked to him, in whispers.
"My, you look good in dem clothes," she said patting his sleeve.
"I can remember some wars, too; when we got back dem provinces
what Napoleon took away from us, Alsace and Lorraine. Dem boys is
passed de word to come and put tar on me some night, and I am
skeered to go in my bet. I chust wrap in a quilt and sit in my
"Don't pay any attention to them. You don't have trouble with the
business people here, do you?"
"No-o, not troubles, exactly." She hesitated, then leaned
impulsively across the counter and spoke in his ear. "But it
ain't all so bad in de Old Country like what dey say. De poor
people ain't slaves, and dey ain't ground down like what dey say
here. Always de forester let de poor folks come into de wood and
carry off de limbs dat fall, and de dead trees. Und if de rich
farmer have maybe a liddle more manure dan he need, he let de
poor man come and take some for his land. De poor folks don't git
such wages like here, but dey lives chust as comfortable. Und dem
wooden shoes, what dey makes such fun of, is cleaner dan what
leather is, to go round in de mud and manure. Dey don't git so
wet and dey don't stink so."
Claude could see that her heart was bursting with homesickness,
full of tender memories of the far-away time and land of her
youth. She had never talked to him of these things before, but
now she poured out a flood of confidences about the big dairy
farm on which she had worked as a girl; how she took care of nine
cows, and how the cows, though small, were very strong,--drew a
plough all day and yet gave as much milk at night as if they had
been browsing in a pasture! The country people never had to spend
money for doctors, but cured all diseases with roots and herbs,
and when the old folks had the rheumatism they took "one of dem
liddle jenny-pigs" to bed with them, and the guinea-pig drew out
all the pain.
Claude would have liked to listen longer, but he wanted to find
the old woman's tormentors before his train came in. Leaving his
bags with her, he crossed the railroad tracks, guided by an
occasional teasing tinkle of the bell in the cornfield. Presently
he came upon the gang, a dozen or more, lying in a shallow draw
that ran from the edge of the field out into an open pasture. He
stood on the edge of the bank and looked down at them, while he
slowly cut off the end of a cigar and lit it. The boys grinned at
him, trying to appear indifferent and at ease.
"Looking for any one, soldier?" asked the one with the bell.
"Yes, I am. I'm looking for that bell. You'll have to take it
back where it belongs. You every one of you know there's no harm
in that old woman."
"She's a German, and we're fighting the Germans, ain't we?"
"I don't think you'll ever fight any. You'd last about ten
minutes in the American army. You're not our kind. There's only
one army in the world that wants men who'll bully old women. You
might get a job with them."
The boys giggled. Claude beckoned impatiently. "Come along with
that bell, kid."
The boy rose slowly and climbed the bank out of the gully. As
they tramped back through the cornfield, Claude turned to him
abruptly. "See here, aren't you ashamed of yourself?"
"Oh, I don't know about that!" the boy replied airily, tossing
the bell up like a ball and catching it.
"Well, you ought to be. I didn't expect to see anything of this
kind until I got to the front. I'll be back here in a week, and
I'll make it hot for anybody that's been bothering her." Claude's
train was pulling in, and he ran for his baggage. Once seated in
the "cotton-tail," he began going down into his own country,
where he knew every farm he passed,--knew the land even when he
did not know the owner, what sort of crops it yielded, and about
how much it was worth. He did not recognize these farms with the
pleasure he had anticipated, because he was so angry about the
indignities Mrs. Voigt had suffered. He was still burning with
the first ardour of the enlisted man. He believed that he was
going abroad with an expeditionary force that would make war
without rage, with uncompromising generosity and chivalry.
Most of his friends at camp shared his Quixotic ideas. They had
come together from farms and shops and mills and mines, boys from
college and boys from tough joints in big cities; sheepherders,
street car drivers, plumbers' assistants, billiard markers.
Claude had seen hundreds of them when they first came in; "show
men" in cheap, loud sport suits, ranch boys in knitted
waistcoats, machinists with the grease still on their fingers,
farm-hands like Dan, in their one Sunday coat. Some of them
carried paper suitcases tied up with rope, some brought all they
had in a blue handkerchief. But they all came to give and not to
ask, and what they offered was just themselves; their big red
hands, their strong backs, the steady, honest, modest look in
their eyes. Sometimes, when he had helped the medical examiner,
Claude had noticed the anxious expression in the faces of the
long lines of waiting men. They seemed to say, "If I'm good
enough, take me. I'll stay by." He found them like that to work
with; serviceable, good-natured, and eager to learn. If they
talked about the war, or the enemy they were getting ready to
fight, it was usually in a facetious tone; they were going to
"can the Kaiser," or to make the Crown Prince work for a living.
Claude, loved the men he trained with,--wouldn't choose to live
in any better company.
The freight train swung into the river valley that meant
home,--the place the mind always came back to, after its farthest
quest. Rapidly the farms passed; the haystacks, the cornfields,
the familiar red barns--then the long coal sheds and the water
tank, and the train stopped.
On the platform he saw Ralph and Mr. Royce, waiting to welcome
him. Over there, in the automobile, were his father and mother,
Mr. Wheeler in the driver's seat. A line of motors stood along
the siding. He was the first soldier who had come home, and some
of the townspeople had driven down to see him arrive in his
uniform. From one car Susie Dawson waved to him, and from another
Gladys Farmer. While he stopped and spoke to them, Ralph took his
"Come along, boys," Mr. Wheeler called, tooting his horn, and he
hurried the soldier away, leaving only a cloud of dust behind.
Mr. Royce went over to old man Dawson's car and said rather
childishly, "It can't be that Claude's grown taller? I suppose
it's the way they learn to carry themselves. He always was a
manly looking boy."
"I expect his mother's a proud woman," said Susie, very much
excited. "It's too bad Enid can't be here to see him. She would
never have gone away if she'd known all that was to happen."
Susie did not mean this as a thrust, but it took effect. Mr.
Royce turned away and lit a cigar with some difficulty. His hands
had grown very unsteady this last year, though he insisted that
his general health was as good as ever. As he grew older, he was
more depressed by the conviction that his women-folk had added
little to the warmth and comfort of the world. Women ought to do
that, whatever else they did. He felt apologetic toward the
Wheelers and toward his old friends. It seemed as if his
daughters had no heart.
Camp habits persisted. On his first morning at home Claude came
downstairs before even Mahailey was stirring, and went out to
have a look at the stock. The red sun came up just as he was
going down the hill toward the cattle corral, and he had the
pleasant feeling of being at home, on his father's land. Why was
it so gratifying to be able to say "our hill," and "our creek
down yonder"? to feel the crunch of this particular dried mud
under his boots?
When he went into the barn to see the horses, the first creatures
to meet his eye were the two big mules that had run away with
him, standing in the stalls next the door. It flashed upon Claude
that these muscular quadrupeds were the actual authors of his
fate. If they had not bolted with him and thrown him into the
wire fence that morning, Enid would not have felt sorry for him
and come to see him every day, and his life might have turned out
differently. Perhaps if older people were a little more honest,
and a boy were not taught to idealize in women the very qualities
which can make him utterly unhappy--But there, he had got away
from those regrets. But wasn't it just like him to be dragged
into matrimony by a pair of mules!
He laughed as he looked at them. "You old devils, you're strong
enough to play such tricks on green fellows for years to come.
You're chock full of meanness!"
One of the animals wagged an ear and cleared his throat
threateningly. Mules are capable of strong affections, but they
hate snobs, are the enemies of caste, and this pair had always
seemed to detect in Claude what his father used to call his
"false pride." When he was a young lad they had been a source of
humiliation to him, braying and balking in public places, trying
to show off at the lumber yard or in front of the post office.
At the end manger Claude found old Molly, the grey mare with the
stiff leg, who had grown a second hoof on her off forefoot, an
achievement not many horses could boast of. He was sure she
recognized him; she nosed his hand and arm and turned back her
upper lip, showing her worn, yellow teeth.
"Mustn't do that, Molly," he said as he stroked her. "A dog can
laugh, but it makes a horse look foolish. Seems to me Dan might
curry you about once a week!" He took a comb from its niche
behind a joist and gave her old coat a rubbing. Her white hair
was flecked all over with little rust-coloured dashes, like India
ink put on with a fine brush, and her mane and tail had turned a
greenish yellow. She must be eighteen years old, Claude reckoned,
as he polished off her round, heavy haunches. He and Ralph used
to ride her over to the Yoeders' when they were barefoot
youngsters, guiding her with a rope halter, and kicking at the
leggy colt that was always running alongside.
When he entered the kitchen and asked Mahailey for warm water to
wash his hands, she sniffed him disapprovingly.
"Why, Mr. Claude, you've been curryin' that old mare, and you've
got white hairs all over your soldier-clothes. You're jist
If his uniform stirred feeling in people of sober judgment, over
Mahailey it cast a spell. She was so dazzled by it that all the
time Claude was at home she never once managed to examine it in
detail. Before she got past his puttees, her powers of
observation were befogged by excitement, and her wits began to
jump about like monkeys in a cage. She had expected his uniform
to be blue, like those she remembered, and when he walked into
the kitchen last night she scarcely knew what to make of him.
After Mrs. Wheeler explained to her that American soldiers didn't
wear blue now, Mahailey repeated to herself that these brown
clothes didn't show the dust, and that Claude would never look
like the bedraggled men who used to stop to drink at her mother's
"Them leather leggins is to keep the briars from scratchin' you,
ain't they? I 'spect there's an awful lot of briars over there,
like them long blackberry vines in the fields in Virginia. Your
madder says the soldiers git lice now, like they done in our war.
You jist carry a little bottle of coal-oil in your pocket an' rub
it on your head at night. It keeps the nits from hatchin'."
Over the flour barrel in the corner Mahailey had tacked a Red
Cross poster; a charcoal drawing of an old woman poking with a
stick in a pile of plaster and twisted timbers that had once been
her home. Claude went over to look at it while he dried his
"Where did you get your picture?"
"She's over there where you're goin', Mr. Claude. There she is,
huntin' for somethin' to cook with; no stove nor no dishes nor
nothin'--everything all broke up. I reckon she'll be mighty glad
to see you comin'."
Heavy footsteps sounded on the stairs, and Mahailey whispered
hastily, "Don't forgit about the coal-oil, and don't you be lousy
if you can help it, honey." She considered lice in the same class
with smutty jokes,--things to be whispered about.
After breakfast Mr. Wheeler took Claude out to the fields, where
Ralph was directing the harvesters. They watched the binder for a
while, then went over to look at the haystacks and alfalfa, and
walked along the edge of the cornfield, where they examined the
young ears. Mr. Wheeler explained and exhibited the farm to
Claude as if he were a stranger; the boy had a curious feeling of
being now formally introduced to these acres on which he had
worked every summer since he was big enough to carry water to the
harvesters. His father told him how much land they owned, and how
much it was worth, and that it was unencumbered except for a
trifling mortgage he had given on one quarter when he took over
the Colorado ranch.
"When you come back," he said, "you and Ralph won't have to hunt
around to get into business. You'll both be well fixed. Now you'd
better go home by old man Dawson's and drop in to see Susie.
Everybody about here was astonished when Leonard went." He walked
with Claude to the corner where the Dawson land met his own. "By
the way," he said as he turned back, "don't forget to go in to
see the Yoeders sometime. Gus is pretty sore since they had him
up in court. Ask for the old grandmother. You remember she never
learned any English. And now they've told her it's dangerous to
talk German, she don't talk at all and hides away from everybody.
If I go by early in the morning, when she's out weeding the
garden, she runs and squats down in the gooseberry bushes till
I'm out of sight."
Claude decided he would go to the Yoeders' today, and to the
Dawsons' tomorrow. He didn't like to think there might be hard
feeling toward him in a house where he had had so many good
times, and where he had often found a refuge when things were
dull at home. The Yoeder boys had a music-box long before the
days of Victrolas, and a magic lantern, and the old grandmother
made wonderful shadow-pictures on a sheet, and told stories about
them. She used to turn the map of Europe upside down on the
kitchen table and showed the children how, in this position, it
looked like a jungfrau; and recited a long German rhyme which
told how Spain was the maiden's head, the Pyrenees her lace ruff,
Germany her heart and bosom, England and Italy were two arms, and
Russia, though it looked so big, was only a hoopskirt. This rhyme
would probably be condemned as dangerous propaganda now!
As he walked on alone, Claude was thinking how this country that
had once seemed little and dull to him, now seemed large and rich
in variety. During the months in camp he had been wholly absorbed
in new work and new friendships, and now his own neighbourhood
came to him with the freshness of things that have been forgotten
for a long while,--came together before his eyes as a harmonious
whole. He was going away, and he would carry the whole
countryside in his mind, meaning more to him than it ever had
before. There was Lovely Creek, gurgling on down there, where he
and Ernest used to sit and lament that the book of History was
finished; that the world had come to avaricious old age and noble
enterprise was dead for ever. But he was going away . . . .
That afternoon Claude spent with his mother. It was the first
time she had had him to herself. Ralph wanted terribly to stay
and hear his brother talk, but understanding how his mother felt,
he went back to the wheat field. There was no detail of Claude's
life in camp so trivial that Mrs. Wheeler did not want to hear
about it. She asked about the mess, the cooks, the laundry, as
well as about his own duties. She made him describe the bayonet
drill and explain the operation of machine guns and automatic
"I hardly see how we can bear the anxiety when our transports
begin to sail," she said thoughtfully. "If they can once get you
all over there, I am not afraid; I believe our boys are as good
as any in the world. But with submarines reported off our own
coast, I wonder how the Government can get our men across safely.
The thought of transports going down with thousands of young men
on board is something so terrible--" she put her hands quickly
over her eyes.
Claude, sitting opposite his mother, wondered what it was about
her hands that made them so different from any others he had ever
seen. He had always known they were different, but now he must
look closely and see why. They were slender, and always white,
even when the nails were stained at preserving time. Her fingers
arched back at the joints, as if they were shrinking from
contacts. They were restless, and when she talked often brushed
her hair or her dress lightly. When she was excited she sometimes
put her hand to her throat, or felt about the neck of her gown,
as if she were searching for a forgotten brooch. They were
sensitive hands, and yet they seemed to have nothing to do with
sense, to be almost like the groping fingers of a spirit.
"How do you boys feel about it?"
Claude started. "About what, Mother? Oh, the transportation! We
don't worry about that. It's the Government's job to get us
across. A soldier mustn't worry about anything except what he's
directly responsible for. If the Germans should sink a few troop
ships, it would be unfortunate, certainly, but it wouldn't cut any
figure in the long run. The British are perfecting an enormous
dirigible, built to carry passengers. If our transports are sunk,
it will only mean delay. In another year the Yankees will be
flying over. They can't stop us."
Mrs. Wheeler bent forward. "That must be boys' talk, Claude.
Surely you don't believe such a thing could be practicable?"
"Absolutely. The British are depending on their aircraft
designers to do just that, if everything else fails. Of course,
nobody knows yet how effective the submarines will be in our
Mrs. Wheeler again shaded her eyes with her hand. "When I was
young, back in Vermont, I used to wish that I had lived in the
old times when the world went ahead by leaps and bounds. And now,
I feel as if my sight couldn't bear the glory that beats upon it.
It seems as if we would have to be born with new faculties, to
comprehend what is going on in the air and under the sea."
The afternoon sun was pouring in at the back windows of Mrs.
Farmer's long, uneven parlour, making the dusky room look like a
cavern with a fire at one end of it. The furniture was all in its
cool, figured summer cretonnes. The glass flower vases that stood
about on little tables caught the sunlight and twinkled like tiny
lamps. Claude had been sitting there for a long while, and he
knew he ought to go. Through the window at his elbow he could see
rows of double hollyhocks, the flat leaves of the sprawling
catalpa, and the spires of the tangled mint bed, all transparent
in the gold-powdered light. They had talked about everything but
the thing he had come to say. As he looked out into the garden he
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