Their dinner was cooling on the table. They ignored it. She pulled a chair around to his. They sat shoulder to shoulder, elbows on the cloth.
"It took me long enough to wake up, didn't it? I've got to make up for lost time. The whole thing's clear in my mind. Now get this: Jock gets a commission. Grace and the babies pack up and come to New York, and live right here, with me, in this house. Fisk goes to war. Gertie gets well and comes back to work for Featherlooms. Mr. T.A. Buck goes to Bordeaux. Old Emmer takes off her uniform and begins to serve her country—on the road."
At that he got up and began pacing the room. "I can't have you do that, dear. Why, you left all that behind when you married me."
"Yes, but our marriage certificate didn't carry a war guarantee."
"Gad, Emma, you're glorious!"
"Glorious nothing! I'm going to earn the living for three families for a few months, until things get going. And there's nothing glorious about that, old dear. I haven't any illusions about what taking a line on the road means these days. It isn't travelling. It's exploring. You never know where you're going to land, or when, unless you're travelling in a freight train. They're cock o' the walk now. I think I'll check myself through as first-class freight. Or send my pack ahead, with natives on foot, like an African explorer. But it'll be awfully good for me character. And when I'm eating that criminal corn bread they serve on dining cars on a train that's seven hours late into Duluth I'll remember when I had my picture, in uniform, in the Sunday supplements, with my hand on the steering wheel along o' the nobility and gentry."
"Listen, dear, I can't have you—"
"Too late. Got a pencil? Let's send fifty words to Jock and Grace. They'll wire back 'No!' but another fifty'll fetch 'em. After all, it takes more than one night letter to explain a move that is going to change eight lives. Now let's have dinner, dear. It'll be cold, but filling."
Perhaps in the whirlwind ten days that followed a woman of less energy, less determination, less courage and magnificent vitality might have faltered and failed in an undertaking of such magnitude. But Emma was alert and forceful enough to keep just one jump ahead of the swift-moving times. In a less cataclysmic age the changes she wrought within a period of two weeks would have seemed herculean. But in this time of stress and change, when every household in every street in every town in all the country was feeling the tremor of upheaval, the readjustment of this little family and business group was so unremarkable as to pass unnoticed. Even the members of the group itself, seeing themselves scattered to camp, to France, to New York, to the Middle West, shuffled like pawns that the Great Game might the better be won, felt strangely unconcerned and unruffled.
It was little more than two weeks after the night of Emma's awakening that she was talking fast to keep from crying hard, as she stuffed plain, practical blue serge garments (unmilitary) into a bellows suitcase ("Can't count on trunks these days," she had said. "I'm not taking any chances on a clean shirtwaist"). Buck, standing in the doorway, tried hard to keep his gaze from the contemplation of his khaki-clad self reflected in the long mirror. At intervals he said: "Can't I help, dear?" Or, "Talk about the early Pilgrim mothers, and the Revolutionary mothers, and the Civil War mothers! I'd like to know what they had on you, Emma."
And from Emma: "Yeh, ain't I noble!" Then, after a little pause: "This house is going to be so full of wimmin folks it'll look like a Home for Decayed Gentlewomen. Buddy McChesney, aged six months, is going to be the only male protector around the place. We'll make him captain of the home guard."
"Gertie was in to-day. She says I'm a shrimp in my uniform compared to Charley. You know she always was the nerviest little stenographer we ever had about the place, but she knows more about Featherlooms than any woman in the shop except you. She's down to ninety-eight pounds, poor little girl, but every ounce of it's pure pluck, and she says she'll be as good as new in a month or two, and I honestly believe she will."
Emma was counting a neat stack of folded handkerchiefs. "Seventeen—eighteen—When she comes back we'll have to pay her twice the salary she got when she left. But, then, you have to pay an errand boy what you used to pay a shipping clerk, and a stock girl demands money that an operator used to brag about—nineteen—"
Buck came over to her and put a hand on the bright hair that was rumpled, now, from much diving into bags and suitcases and clothes closets.
"All except you, Emma. You'll be working without a salary—working like a man—like three men—"
"Working for three men, T.A. Three fighting men. I've got two service buttons already," she glanced down at her blouse, "and Charley Fisk said I had the right to wear one for him. I'll look like a mosaic, but I'm going to put 'em all on."
* * * * *
The day before Emma's departure for the West Grace arrived, with bags, bundles, and babies. A wan and tired Grace, but proud, too, and with the spirit of the times in her eyes.
"Jock!" she repeated, in answer to their questions. "My dears, he doesn't know I'm alive. I visited him at camp the day before I left. He thinks he'll be transferred East, as we hoped. Wouldn't that be glorious! Well, I had all sorts of intimate and vital things to discuss with him, and he didn't hear what I was saying. He wasn't even listening. He couldn't wait until I had finished a sentence so that he could cut in with something about his work. I murmured to him in the moonlight that there was something I had long meant to tell him and he answered that dammit he forgot to report that rifle that exploded. And when I said, 'Dearest, isn't this hotel a little like the place we spent our honeymoon in—that porch, and all?' he said, 'See this feller coming, Gracie? The big guy with the moustache. Now mash him, Gracie. He's my Captain. I'm going to introduce you. He was a senior at college when I was a fresh.'"
But the peace and the pride in her eyes belied her words.
Emma's trip, already delayed, was begun ten days before her husband's date for sailing. She bore that, too, with smiling equanimity. "When I went to school," she said, "I thought I hated the Second Peloponnesian War worse than any war I'd ever heard of. But I hate this one so that I want everyone to get into it one hundred per cent., so that it'll be over sooner; and because we've won."
They said little on their way to the train. She stood on the rear platform just before the train pulled out. They had tried frantically to get a lower berth, but unsuccessfully. "Don't look so tragic about it," she laughed. "It's like old times. These last three years have been a dream—a delusion."
He looked up at her, as she stood there in her blue suit, and white blouse, and trim blue hat and crisp veil. "Gad, Emma, it's uncanny. I believe you're right. You look exactly as you did when I first saw you, when you came in off the road after father died and I had just taken hold of the business."
For answer she hummed a few plaintive bars. He grinned as he recognized "Silver Threads Among the Gold." The train moved away, gathered speed. He followed it. They were not smiling now. She was leaning over the railing, as though to be as near to him as the fast-moving train would allow. He was walking swiftly along with the train, as though hypnotized. Their eyes held. The brave figure in blue on the train platform. The brave figure in khaki outside. The blue suddenly swam in a haze before his eyes; the khaki a mist before hers. The crisp little veil was a limp little rag when finally she went in to search for Upper Eleven.
The white-coated figure that had passed up and down the aisle unnoticed and unnoticing as she sat hidden behind the kindly folds of her newspaper suddenly became a very human being as Emma regained self-control, decided on dinner as a panacea, and informed the white coat that she desired Upper Eleven made up early.
The White Coat had said, "Yas'm," and glanced up at her. Whereupon she had said:
And he, "Well, fo' de lan'! 'F 'tain't Mis' McChesney! Well, mah sakes alive, Mis' McChesney! Ah ain't seen yo' since yo' married. Ah done heah yo' married yo' boss an' got a swell brownstone house, an' ev'thing gran'—"
"I've got everything, William, but a lower berth to Chicago. They swore they couldn't give me anything but an upper."
A speculative look crept into William's rolling eye. Emma recognized it. Her hand reached toward her bag. Then it stopped. She smiled. "No. No, William. Time was. But not these days. Four years ago I'd have slipped you fifty cents right now, and you'd have produced a lower berth from somewhere. But I'm going to fool you. My boss has gone to war, William, and so has my son. And I'm going to take that fifty cents and buy thrift stamps for Miss Emma McChesney, aged three, and Mr. Buddy McChesney, aged six months. And I'll dispose my old bones in Upper Eleven."
She went in to dinner.
At eight-thirty a soft and deferential voice sounded in her ear.
"Ah got yo' made up, Mis' McChesney."
"But this is my—"
He beckoned. He padded down the aisle with that walk which is a peculiar result of flat feet and twenty years of swaying car. Emma followed. He stopped before Lower Six and drew aside the curtain. It was that lower which can always be produced, magically, though ticket sellers, Pullman agents, porters, and train conductors swear that it does not exist. The key to it is silver, but to-night Emma McChesney Buck had unlocked it with finer metal. Gold. Pure gold. For William drew aside the curtain with a gesture such as one of his slave ancestors might have used before a queen of Egypt. He carefully brushed a cinder from the sheet with one gray-black hand. Then he bowed like any courtier.
Emma sank down on the edge of the couch with a little sigh of weariness. Gratefulness was in it, too. She looked up at him—at the wrinkled, kindly, ape-like face, and he looked down at her.
"William," she said, "war is a filthy, evil, vile thing, but it bears wonderful white flowers."
"Yas'm!" agreed William, genially, and smiled all over his rubbery, gray-black countenance. "Yas'm!"
And who shall say he did not understand?
FARMER IN THE DELL
Old Ben Westerveld was taking it easy. Every muscle taut, every nerve tense, his keen eyes vainly straining to pierce the blackness of the stuffy room—there lay Ben Westerveld in bed, taking it easy. And it was hard. Hard. He wanted to get up. He wanted so intensely to get up that the mere effort of lying there made him ache all over. His toes were curled with the effort. His fingers were clenched with it. His breath came short, and his thighs felt cramped. Nerves. But old Ben Westerveld didn't know that. What should a retired and well-to-do farmer of fifty-eight know of nerves, especially when he has moved to the city and is taking it easy?
If only he knew what time it was. Here in Chicago you couldn't tell whether it was four o'clock or seven unless you looked at your watch. To do that it was necessary to turn on the light. And to turn on the light meant that he would turn on, too, a flood of querulous protest from his wife, Bella, who lay asleep beside him.
When for forty-five years of your life you have risen at four-thirty daily, it is difficult to learn to loll. To do it successfully you must be a natural-born loller to begin with, and revert. Bella Westerveld was and had. So there she lay, asleep. Old Ben wasn't and hadn't. So there he lay, terribly wide-awake, wondering what made his heart thump so fast when he was lying so still. If It had been light, you could have seen the lines of strained resignation in the sagging muscles of his patient face.
They had lived in the city for almost a year, but it was the same every morning. He would open his eyes, start up with one hand already reaching for the limp, drab, work-worn garments that used to drape the chair by his bed. Then he would remember and sink back while a great wave of depression swept over him. Nothing to get up for. Store clothes on the chair by the bed. He was taking it easy.
Back home on the farm in southern Illinois he had known the hour the instant his eyes opened. Here the flat next door was so close that the bedroom was in twilight even at midday. On the farm he could tell by the feeling—an intangible thing, but infallible. He could gauge the very quality of the blackness that comes just before dawn. The crowing of the cocks, the stamping of the cattle, the twittering of the birds in the old elm whose branches were etched eerily against his window in the ghostly light—these things he had never needed. He had known. But here, in the unsylvan section of Chicago which bears the bosky name of Englewood, the very darkness had a strange quality. A hundred unfamiliar noises misled him. There were no cocks, no cattle, no elm. Above all, there was no instinctive feeling. Once, when they first came to the city, he had risen at twelve-thirty, thinking it was morning, and had gone clumping about the flat waking up everyone and loosing from his wife's lips a stream of acid vituperation that seared even his case-hardened sensibilities. The people sleeping in the bedroom of the flat next door must have heard her.
"You big rube! Getting up in the middle of the night and stomping around like cattle. You'd better build a shed in the backyard and sleep there if you're so dumb you can't tell night from day."
Even after thirty-three years of marriage he had never ceased to be appalled at the coarseness of her mind and speech—she who had seemed so mild and fragile and exquisite when he married her. He had crept back to bed, shamefacedly. He could hear the couple in the bedroom of the flat just across the little court grumbling and then laughing a little, grudgingly, and yet with appreciation. That bedroom, too, had still the power to appall him. Its nearness, its forced intimacy, were daily shocks to him whose most immediate neighbour, back on the farm, had been a quarter of a mile away. The sound of a shoe dropped on the hardwood floor, the rush of water in the bathroom, the murmur of nocturnal confidences, the fretful cry of a child in the night, all startled and distressed him whose ear had found music in the roar of the thresher and had been soothed by the rattle of the tractor and the hoarse hoot of the steamboat whistle at the landing. His farm's edge had been marked by the Mississippi rolling grandly by.
Since they had moved into town he had found only one city sound that he really welcomed: the rattle and clink that marked the milkman's matutinal visit. The milkman came at six, and he was the good fairy who released Ben Westerveld from durance vile—or had been until the winter months made his coming later and later, so that he became worse than useless as a timepiece. But now it was late March, and mild. The milkman's coming would soon again mark old Ben's rising hour. Before he had begun to take it easy six o'clock had seen the entire mechanism of his busy little world humming smoothly and sweetly, the whole set in motion by his own big work-calloused hands. Those hands puzzled him now. He often looked at them curiously and in a detached sort of way as if they belonged to someone else. So white they were, and smooth and soft, with long, pliant nails that never broke off from rough work as they used to. Of late there were little splotches of brown on the backs of his hands and around the thumbs.
"Guess it's my liver," he decided, rubbing the spots thoughtfully. "She gets kind of sluggish from me not doing anything. Maybe a little spring tonic wouldn't go bad. Tone me up."
He got a bottle of reddish-brown mixture from the druggist on Halsted Street near Sixty-third. A genial gentleman, the druggist, white-coated and dapper, stepping affably about the fragrant-smelling store. The reddish-brown mixture had toned old Ben up surprisingly—while it lasted. He had two bottles of it. But on discontinuing it he slumped back into his old apathy.
Ben Westerveld, in his store clothes, his clean blue shirt, his incongruous hat, ambling aimlessly about Chicago's teeming, gritty streets, was a tragedy. Those big, capable hands, now dangling so limply from inert wrists, had wrested a living from the soil; those strangely unfaded blue eyes had the keenness of vision which comes from scanning great stretches of earth and sky; the stocky, square-shouldered body suggested power unutilized. All these spelled tragedy. Worse than tragedy—waste.
For almost half a century this man had combated the elements, head set, eyes wary, shoulders squared. He had fought wind and sun, rain and drought, scourge and flood. He had risen before dawn and slept before sunset. In the process he had taken on something of the colour and the rugged immutability of the fields and hills and trees among which he toiled. Something of their dignity, too, though your town dweller might fail to see it beneath the drab exterior. He had about him none of the high lights and sharp points of the city man. He seemed to blend in with the background of nature so as to be almost indistinguishable from it as were the furred and feathered creatures. This farmer differed from the city man as a hillock differs from an artificial golf bunker, though form and substance are the same.
Ben Westerveld didn't know he was a tragedy. Your farmer is not given to introspection. For that matter any one knows that a farmer in town is a comedy. Vaudeville, burlesque, the Sunday supplement, the comic papers, have marked him a fair target for ridicule. Perhaps even you should know him in his overalled, stubble-bearded days, with the rich black loam of the Mississippi bottom-lands clinging to his boots.
At twenty-five, given a tasselled cap, doublet and hose, and a long, slim pipe, Ben Westerveld would have been the prototype of one of those rollicking, lusty young mynheers that laugh out at you from a Frans Hals canvas. A roguish fellow with a merry eye; red-cheeked, vigorous. A serious mouth, though, and great sweetness of expression. As he grew older the seriousness crept up and up and almost entirely obliterated the roguishness. By the time the life of ease claimed him even the ghost of that ruddy wight of boyhood had vanished.
* * * * *
The Westerveld ancestry was as Dutch as the name. It had been hundreds of years since the first Westerveld came to America, and they had married and intermarried until the original Holland strain had almost entirely disappeared. They had drifted to southern Illinois by one of those slow processes of migration and had settled in Calhoun County, then almost a wilderness, but magnificent with its rolling hills, majestic rivers, and gold-and-purple distances. But to the practical Westerveld mind hills and rivers and purple haze existed only in their relation to crops and weather. Ben, though, had a way of turning his face up to the sky sometimes, and it was not to scan the heavens for clouds. You saw him leaning on the plow handle to watch the whirring flight of a partridge across the meadow. He liked farming. Even the drudgery of it never made him grumble. He was a natural farmer as men are natural mechanics or musicians or salesmen. Things grew for him. He seemed instinctively to know facts about the kinship of soil and seed that other men had to learn from books or experience. It grew to be a saying in that section "Ben Westerveld could grow a crop on rock."
At picnics and neighbourhood frolics Ben could throw farther and run faster and pull harder than any of the farmer boys who took part in the rough games. And he could pick up a girl with one hand and hold her at arm's length while she shrieked with pretended fear and real ecstasy. The girls all liked Ben. There was that about his primitive strength which appealed to the untamed in them as his gentleness appealed to their softer side. He liked the girls, too, and could have had his pick of them. He teased them all, took them buggy riding, beaued them about to neighbourhood parties. But by the time he was twenty-five the thing had narrowed down to the Byers girl on the farm adjoining Westerveld's. There was what the neighbours called an understanding, though perhaps he had never actually asked the Byers girl to marry him. You saw him going down the road toward the Byers place four nights out of the seven. He had a quick, light step at variance with his sturdy build, and very different from the heavy, slouching gait of the work-weary farmer. He had a habit of carrying in his hand a little twig or switch cut from a tree. This he would twirl blithely as he walked along. The switch and the twirl represented just so much energy and animal spirits. He never so much as flicked a dandelion head with it.
An inarticulate sort of thing, that courtship.
"How do, Ben."
"Thought you might like to walk a piece down the road. They got a calf at Aug Tietjens with five legs."
"I heard. I'd just as lief walk a little piece. I'm kind of beat, though. We've got the threshers day after to-morrow. We've been cooking up."
Beneath Ben's bonhomie and roguishness there was much shyness. The two would plod along the road together in a sort of blissful agony of embarrassment. The neighbours were right in their surmise that there was no definite understanding between them. But the thing was settled in the minds of both. Once Ben had said: "Pop says I can have the north eighty on easy payments if—when—"
Emma Byers had flushed up brightly, but had answered equably: "That's a fine piece. Your pop is an awful good man."
Beneath the stolid exteriors of these two there was much that was fine and forceful. Emma Byers's thoughtful forehead and intelligent eyes would have revealed that in her. Her mother was dead. She kept house for her father and brother. She was known as "that smart Byers girl." Her butter and eggs and garden stuff brought higher prices at Commercial, twelve miles away, than did any in the district. She was not a pretty girl, according to the local standards, but there was about her, even at twenty-two, a clear-headedness and a restful serenity that promised well for Ben Westerveld's future happiness.
But Ben Westerveld's future was not to lie in Emma Byers's capable hands. He knew that as soon as he saw Bella Huckins. Bella Huckins was the daughter of old Red Front Huckins, who ran the saloon of that cheerful name in Commercial. Bella had elected to teach school, not from any bent toward learning, but because teaching appealed to her as being a rather elegant occupation. The Huckins family was not elegant. In that day a year or two of teaching in a country school took the place of the present-day normal-school diploma. Bella had an eye on St. Louis, forty miles from the town of Commercial. So she used the country school as a step toward her ultimate goal, though she hated the country and dreaded her apprenticeship.
"I'll get a beau," she said, "that'll take me driving and around. And Saturdays and Sundays I can come to town."
* * * * *
The first time Ben Westerveld saw her she was coming down the road toward him in her tight-fitting black alpaca dress. The sunset was behind her. Her hair was very golden. In a day of tiny waists hers could have been spanned by Ben Westerveld's two hands. He discovered that later. Just now he thought he had never seen anything so fairylike and dainty, though he did not put it that way. Ben was not glib of thought or speech.
He knew at once that this was the new school-teacher. He had heard of her coming, though at the time the conversation had interested him not at all. Bella knew who he was, too. She had learned the name and history of every eligible young man in the district two days after her arrival. That was due partly to her own bold curiosity and partly to the fact that she was boarding with the Widow Becker, the most notorious gossip in the county. In Bella's mental list of the neighbourhood swains Ben Westerveld already occupied a two-star position, top of column.
He felt his face redden as they approached each other. To hide his embarrassment he swung his little hickory switch gayly and called to his dog Dunder that was nosing about by the roadside. Dunder bounded forward, spied the newcomer, and leaped toward her playfully and with natural canine curiosity.
Bella screamed. She screamed and ran to Ben and clung to him, clasping her hands about his arm. Ben lifted the hickory switch in his free hand and struck Dunder a sharp cut with it. It was the first time in his life that he had done such a thing. If he had had a sane moment from that time until the day he married Bella Huckins, he would never have forgotten the dumb hurt in Dunder's stricken eyes and shrinking, quivering body.
Bella screamed again. Still clinging to him, Ben was saying: "He won't hurt you. He won't hurt you," meanwhile patting her shoulder reassuringly. He looked down at her pale face. She was so slight, so childlike, so apparently different from the sturdy country girls. From—well, from the girls he knew. Her helplessness, her utter femininity, appealed to all that was masculine in him. Bella the experienced, clinging to him, felt herself swept from head to foot by a queer, electric tingling that was very pleasant but that still had in it something of the sensation of a wholesale bumping of one's crazy bone. If she had been anything but a stupid little flirt, she would have realized that here was a specimen of the virile male with which she could not trifle. She glanced up at him now, smiling faintly. "My, I was scared!" She stepped away from him a little—very little.
"Aw, he wouldn't hurt a flea."
But Bella looked over her shoulders fearfully to where Dunder stood by the roadside, regarding Ben with a look of uncertainty. He still thought that perhaps this was a new game. Not a game that he cared for, but still one to be played if his master fancied it. Ben stooped, picked up a stone, and threw it at Dunder, striking him in the flank. "Go on home!" he commanded, sternly. "Go home!" He started toward the dog with a well-feigned gesture of menace. Dunder, with a low howl, put his tail between his legs and loped off home, a disillusioned dog.
Bella stood looking up at Ben. Ben looked down at her.
"You're the new teacher, ain't you?"
"Yes. I guess you must think I'm a fool, going on like a baby about that dog."
"Most girls would be scared of him if they didn't know he wouldn't hurt nobody. He's pretty big." He paused a moment, awkwardly. "My name's Ben Westerveld."
"Pleased to meet you," said Bella, twiddling her fingers in assumed shyness.
"Which way was you going? There's a dog down at Tietjens that's enough to scare anybody. He looks like a pony, he's so big."
"I forgot something at the school this afternoon, and I was walking over to get it." Which was a lie. "I hope it won't get dark before I get there. You were going the other way, weren't you?"
"Oh, I wasn't going no place in particular. I'll be pleased to keep you company down to the school and back." He was surprised at his own sudden masterfulness.
They set off together, chatting as freely as if they had known one another for years. Ben had been on his way to the Byers farm, as usual. The Byers farm and Emma Byers passed out of his mind as completely as if they had been whisked away on a magic rug.
* * * * *
Bella Huckins had never meant to marry him. She hated farm life. She was contemptuous of farmer folk. She loathed cooking and drudgery. The Huckinses lived above the saloon in Commercial and Mrs. Huckins was always boiling ham and tongue and cooking pig's feet and shredding cabbage for slaw, all these edibles being destined for the free-lunch counter downstairs. Bella had early made up her mind that there should be no boiling and stewing and frying in her life. Whenever she could find an excuse, she loitered about the saloon. There she found life and talk and colour. Old Red Front Huckins used to chase her away, but she always turned up again, somehow, with a dish for the lunch counter or with an armful of clean towels.
Ben Westerveld never said clearly to himself: "I want to marry Bella." He never dared meet the thought. He intended honestly to marry Emma Byers. But this thing was too strong for him. As for Bella, she laughed at him, but she was scared, too. They both fought the thing, she selfishly, he unselfishly, for the Byers girl, with her clear, calm eyes and her dependable ways, was heavy on his heart. Ben's appeal for Bella was merely that of the magnetic male. She never once thought of his finer qualities. Her appeal for him was that of the frail and alluring woman. But in the end they married. The neighbourhood was rocked with surprise. In fact, the only unsurprised party to the transaction was the dame known as Nature. She has a way of playing these tricks on men and women for the furtherance of her own selfish ends.
Usually in a courtship it is the male who assumes the bright colours of pretence in order to attract a mate. But Ben Westerveld had been too honest to be anything but himself. He was so honest and fundamentally truthful that he refused at first to allow himself to believe that this slovenly shrew was the fragile and exquisite creature he had married. He had the habit of personal cleanliness, had Ben, in a day when tubbing was a ceremony and in an environment that made bodily nicety difficult. He discovered that Bella almost never washed and that her appearance of fragrant immaculateness, when dressed, was due to a natural clearness of skin and eye, and to the way her blonde hair swept away in a clean line from her forehead. For the rest, she was a slattern, with a vocabulary of invective that would have been a credit to any of the habitues of Old Red Front Huckins's bar.
They had three children, a girl and two boys. Ben Westerveld prospered in spite of his wife. As the years went on he added eighty acres here, eighty acres there, until his land swept down to the very banks of the Mississippi. There is no doubt that she hindered him greatly, but he was too expert a farmer to fail. At threshing time the crew looked forward to working for Ben, the farmer, and dreaded the meals prepared by Bella, his wife. She was notoriously the worst cook and housekeeper in the county. And all through the years, in trouble and in happiness, her plaint was the same: "If I'd thought I was going to stick down on a farm all my life, slavin' for a pack of men folks day and night, I'd rather have died. Might as well be dead as rottin' here."
Her school-teacher English had early reverted. Her speech was as slovenly as her dress. She grew stout, too, and unwieldy, and her skin coarsened from lack of care and overeating. And in her children's ears she continually dinned a hatred of farm life and farming. "You can get away from it," she counselled her daughter, Minnie. "Don't you be a rube like your pa," she cautioned John, the older boy. And they profited by her advice. Minnie went to work at Commercial when she was seventeen, an over-developed girl with an inordinate love of cheap finery. At twenty she married an artisan, a surly fellow with anarchistic tendencies. They moved from town to town. He never stuck long at one job. John, the older boy, was as much his mother's son as Minnie was her mother's daughter. Restless, dissatisfied, empty-headed, he was the despair of his father. He drove the farm horses as if they were racers, lashing them up hill and down dale. He was forever lounging off to the village or wheedling his mother for money to take him to Commercial. It was before the day of the ubiquitous automobile. Given one of those present adjuncts to farm life, John would have ended his career much earlier. As it was, they found him lying by the roadside at dawn one morning after the horses had trotted into the yard with the wreck of the buggy bumping the road behind them. He had stolen the horses out of the barn after the help was asleep, had led them stealthily down the road, and then had whirled off to a rendezvous of his own in town. The fall from the buggy might not have hurt him, but he evidently had been dragged almost a mile before his battered body became somehow disentangled from the splintered wood and the reins.
That horror might have served to bring Ben Westerveld and his wife together, but it did not. It only increased her bitterness and her hatred of the locality and the life.
"I hope you're good an' satisfied now," she repeated in endless reproach. "I hope you're good an' satisfied. You was bound you'd make a farmer out of him, an' now you finished the job. You better try your hand at Dike now for a change."
Dike was young Ben, sixteen; and old Ben had no need to try his hand at him. Young Ben was a born farmer, as was his father. He had come honestly by his nickname. In face, figure, expression, and manner he was a five-hundred-year throwback to his Holland ancestors. Apple-cheeked, stocky, merry of eye, and somewhat phlegmatic. When, at school, they had come to the story of the Dutch boy who saved his town from flood by thrusting his hand into the hole in the dike and holding it there until help came, the class, after one look at the accompanying picture in the reader, dubbed young Ben "Dike" Westerveld. And Dike he remained.
Between Dike and his father there was a strong but unspoken feeling. The boy was crop-wise, as his father had been at his age. On Sundays you might see the two walking about the farm looking at the pigs—great black fellows worth almost their weight in silver; eying the stock; speculating on the winter wheat showing dark green in April with rich patches that were almost black. Young Dike smoked a solemn and judicious pipe, spat expertly, and voiced the opinion that the winter wheat was a fine prospect. Ben Westerveld, listening tolerantly to the boy's opinions, felt a great surge of joy that he did not show. Here, at last, was compensation for all the misery and sordidness and bitter disappointment of his married life.
That married life had endured now for more than thirty years. Ben Westerveld still walked with a light, quick step—for his years. The stocky, broad-shouldered figure was a little shrunken. He was as neat and clean at fifty-five as he had been at twenty-five—a habit that requires much personal courage on a farm and that is fraught with difficulties. The community knew and respected him. He was a man of standing. When he drove into town on a bright winter morning and entered the First National Bank in his big sheepskin coat and his shaggy cap and his great boots, even Shumway, the cashier, would look up from his desk to say: "Hello, Westerveld! Hello! Well, how goes it?"
When Shumway greeted a farmer in that way you knew that there were no unpaid notes to his discredit.
All about Ben Westerveld stretched the fruit of his toil; the work of his hands. Orchards, fields, cattle, barns, silos. All these things were dependent on him for their future well-being—on him and on Dike after him. His days were full and running over. Much of the work was drudgery; most of it was back-breaking and laborious. But it was his place. It was his reason for being. And he felt that the reason was good, though he never put that thought into words, mental or spoken. He only knew that he was part of the great scheme of things and that he was functioning ably. If he had expressed himself at all, he might have said:
"Well, I got my work cut out for me, an' I do it an' do it right."
There was a tractor now, of course; a phonograph with expensive records, so that Caruso and McCormack and Elman were household words; a sturdy, middle-class automobile, in which Bella lolled red-faced in a lacy and beribboned boudoir cap when they drove into town. On a Saturday afternoon you saw more boudoir caps skimming up and down the main street in Commercial than you might see in a century of French farces.
As Ben Westerveld had prospered his shrewish wife had reaped her benefits. Ben was not the selfish type of farmer who insists on twentieth-century farm implements and medieval household equipment. He had added a bedroom here, a cool summer kitchen there, an ice house, a commodious porch, a washing machine, even a crude bathroom. But Bella remained unplacated. Her face was set toward the city. And slowly, surely, the effect of thirty-odd years of nagging was beginning to tell on Ben Westerveld. He was the finer metal, but she was the heavier, the coarser. She beat him and molded him as iron beats upon gold.
Minnie was living in Chicago now—a good-natured creature, but slack, like her mother. Her surly husband was still talking of his rights and crying down with the rich. They had two children. Minnie wrote of them, and of the delights of city life. Movies every night. Halsted Street just around the corner. The big stores. State Street. The L took you downtown in no time. Something going on all the while. Bella Westerveld, after one of those letters, was more than a chronic shrew; she became a terrible termagant.
* * * * *
When Ben Westerveld decided to concentrate on hogs and wheat he didn't dream that a world would be clamouring for hogs and wheat for four long years. When the time came he had them, and sold them fabulously. But wheat and hogs and markets became negligible things on the day that Dike with seven other farm boys from the district left for the nearest training camp that was to fit them for France and war.
Bella made the real fuss, wailing and mouthing and going into hysterics. Old Ben took it like a stoic. He drove the boy to town that day. When the train pulled out, you might have seen, if you had looked close, how the veins and cords swelled in the lean brown neck above the clean blue shirt. But that was all. As the weeks went on the quick, light step began to lag a little.
He had lost more than a son; his right-hand helper was gone. There were no farm helpers to be had. Old Ben couldn't do it all. A touch of rheumatism that winter half crippled him for eight weeks. Bella's voice seemed never to stop its plaint.
"There ain't no sense in you trying to make out alone. Next thing you'll die on me, and then I'll have the whole shebang on my hands." At that he eyed her dumbly from his chair by the stove. His resistance was wearing down. He knew it. He wasn't dying. He knew that, too. But something in him was. Something that had resisted her all these years. Something that had made him master and superior in spite of everything.
* * * * *
In those days of illness, as he sat by the stove, the memory of Emma Byers came to him often. She had left that district twenty-eight years ago, and had married, and lived in Chicago somewhere, he had heard, and was prosperous. He wasted no time in idle regrets. He had been a fool, and he paid the price of fools. Bella, slamming noisily about the room, never suspected the presence in the untidy place of a third person—a sturdy girl of twenty-two or three, very wholesome to look at, and with honest, intelligent eyes and a serene brow.
"It'll get worse an' worse all the time," Bella's whine went on. "Everybody says the war'll last prob'ly for years an' years. You can't make out alone. Everything's goin' to rack and ruin. You could rent out the farm for a year, on trial. The Burdickers'd take it and glad. They got those three strappin' louts that's all flat-footed or slab-sided or cross-eyed or somethin', and no good for the army. Let them run it on shares. Maybe they'll even buy, if things turn out. Maybe Dike'll never come b—"
But at the look on his face then, and at the low growl of unaccustomed rage that broke from him, even she ceased her clatter.
* * * * *
They moved to Chicago in the early spring. The look that had been on Ben Westerveld's face when he drove Dike to the train that carried him to camp was stamped there again—indelibly this time, it seemed. Calhoun County, in the spring, has much the beauty of California. There is a peculiar golden light about it, and the hills are a purplish haze. Ben Westerveld, walking down his path to the gate, was more poignantly dramatic than any figure in a rural play. He did not turn to look back, though, as they do in a play. He dared not.
They rented a flat in Englewood, Chicago, a block from Minnie's. Bella was almost amiable these days. She took to city life as though the past thirty years had never been. White kid shoes, delicatessen stores, the movies, the haggling with peddlers, the crowds, the crashing noise, the cramped, unnatural mode of living necessitated by a four-room flat—all these urban adjuncts seemed as natural to her as though she had been bred in the midst of them.
She and Minnie used to spend whole days in useless shopping. Theirs was a respectable neighbourhood of well-paid artisans, bookkeepers, and small shopkeepers. The women did their own housework in drab garments and soiled boudoir caps that hid a multitude of unkempt heads. They seemed to find a deal of time for amiable, empty gabbling. Any time from seven to four you might see a pair of boudoir caps leaning from opposite bedroom windows, conversing across back porches, pausing in the task of sweeping front steps, standing at a street corner, laden with grocery bundles. Minnie wasted hours in what she called "running over to ma's for a minute." The two quarrelled a great deal, being so nearly of a nature. But the very qualities that combated each other seemed, by some strange chemical process, to bring them together as well.
"I'm going downtown to-day to do a little shopping," Minnie would say. "Do you want to come along, ma?"
"What you got to get?"
"Oh, I thought I'd look at a couple of little dresses for Pearlie."
"When I was your age I made every stitch you wore."
"Yeh, I bet they looked like it, too. This ain't the farm. I got all I can do to tend to the house, without sewing."
"I did it. I did the housework and the sewin' and cookin', an' besides—"
"A swell lot of housekeepin' you did. You don't need to tell me."
The bickering grew to a quarrel. But in the end they took the downtown L together. You saw them, flushed of face, with twitching fingers, indulging in a sort of orgy of dime spending in the five-and-ten-cent store on the wrong side of State Street. They pawed over bolts of cheap lace and bins of stuff in the fetid air of the crowded place. They would buy a sack of salted peanuts from the great mound in the glass case, or a bag of the greasy pink candy piled in vile profusion on the counter, and this they would munch as they went.
They came home late, fagged and irritable, and supplemented their hurried dinner with hastily bought and so-called food from the near-by delicatessen.
Thus ran the life of ease for Ben Westerveld, retired farmer. And so we find him lying impatiently in bed, rubbing a nervous forefinger over the edge of the sheet and saying to himself that, well, here was another day. What day was it? Le'see now. Yesterday was—yesterday—a little feeling of panic came over him. He couldn't remember what yesterday had been. He counted back laboriously and decided that to-day must be Thursday. Not that it made any difference.
* * * * *
They had lived in the city almost a year now. But the city had not digested Ben. He was a leathery morsel that could not be assimilated. There he stuck in Chicago's crop, contributing nothing, gaining nothing. A rube in a comic collar ambling aimlessly about Halsted Street, or State downtown. You saw him conversing hungrily with the gritty and taciturn Swede who was janitor for the block of red-brick flats. Ben used to follow him around pathetically, engaging him in the talk of the day. Ben knew no men except the surly Gus, Minnie's husband. Gus, the firebrand, thought Ben hardly worthy of his contempt. If Ben thought, sometimes, of the respect with which he had always been greeted when he clumped down the main street of Commercial, Ill.—if he thought of how the farmers for miles around had come to him for expert advice and opinion—he said nothing.
Sometimes the janitor graciously allowed Ben to attend to the furnace of the building in which he lived. He took out ashes, shovelled coal. He tinkered and rattled and shook things. You heard him shovelling and scraping down there, and smelled the acrid odour of his pipe. It gave him something to do. He would emerge sooty and almost happy.
"You been monkeying with that furnace again!" Bella would scold. "If you want something to do, why don't you plant a garden in the backyard and grow something. You was crazy enough about it on the farm."
His face flushed a slow, dull red at that. He could not explain to her that he lost no dignity in his own eyes in fussing about an inadequate little furnace, but that self-respect would not allow him to stoop to gardening—he who had reigned over six hundred acres of bountiful soil.
On winter afternoons you saw him sometimes at the movies, whiling away one of his many idle hours in the dim, close-smelling atmosphere of the place. Tokyo and Petrograd and Gallipoli came to him. He saw beautiful tiger women twining fair, false arms about the stalwart but yielding forms of young men with cleft chins. He was only mildly interested. He talked to any one who would talk to him, though he was naturally a shy man. He talked to the barber, to the grocer, the druggist, the street-car conductor, the milkman, the iceman. But the price of wheat did not interest these gentlemen. They did not know that the price of wheat was the most vital topic of conversation in the world.
"Well, now," he would say, "you take this year's wheat crop with about 917,000,000 bushels of wheat harvested, why, that's what's going to win the war! Yes, sirree! No wheat, no winning, that's what I say."
"Ya-as, it is!" the city men would scoff. But the queer part of it is that Farmer Ben was right.
Minnie got into the habit of using him as a sort of nursemaid. It gave her many hours of unearned freedom for gadding and gossiping.
"Pa, will you look after Pearlie for a little while this morning? I got to run downtown to match something and she gets so tired and mean-acting if I take her along. Ma's goin' with me."
He loved the feel of Pearlie's, small, velvet-soft hand in his big fist. He called her "little feller," and fed her forbidden dainties. His big brown fingers were miraculously deft at buttoning and unbuttoning her tiny garments, and wiping her soft lips, and performing a hundred tender offices. I think that he was playing a sort of game with himself, and that he pretended this was Dike become a baby again. Once the pair managed to get over to Lincoln Park, where they spent a glorious day looking at the animals, eating popcorn, and riding on the miniature railway.
They returned, tired, dusty, and happy, to a double tirade.
* * * * *
Bella engaged in a great deal of what she called worrying about Dike. Ben spoke of him seldom, but the boy was always present in his thoughts. They had written him of their move, but he had not seemed to get the impression of its permanence. His letters indicated that he thought they were visiting Minnie, or taking a vacation in the city. Dike's letters were few. Ben treasured them, and read and reread them. When the armistice news came, and with it the possibility of Dike's return, Ben tried to fancy him fitting into the life of the city. And his whole being revolted at the thought.
He saw the pimply-faced, sallow youths in their one-button suits and striped shirts standing at the corner of Halsted and Sixty-Third, spitting languidly and handling their limp cigarettes with an amazing labial dexterity. Their conversation was low-voiced, sinister, and terse, and their eyes narrowed as they watched the over-dressed, scarlet-lipped girls go by. A great fear clutched at Ben Westerveld's heart.
The lack of exercise and manual labour began to tell on Ben. He did not grow fat from idleness. Instead his skin seemed to sag and hang on his frame, like a garment grown too large for him. He walked a great deal. Perhaps that had something to do with it. He tramped miles of city pavements. He was a very lonely man. And then, one day, quite by accident, he came upon South Water Street. Came upon it, stared at it as a water-crazed traveller in a desert gazes upon the spring in the oasis, and drank from it, thirstily, gratefully.
South Water Street feeds Chicago. Into that close-packed thoroughfare come daily the fruits and vegetables that will supply a million tables. Ben had heard of it, vaguely, but had never attempted to find it. Now he stumbled upon it and standing there felt at home in Chicago for the first time in more than a year. He saw ruddy men walking about in overalls and carrying whips in their hands—wagon whips, actually. He hadn't seen men like that since he left the farm. The sight of them sent a great pang of homesickness through him. His hand reached out and he ran an accustomed finger over the potatoes in a barrel on the walk. His fingers lingered and gripped them, and passed over them lovingly.
At the contact something within him that had been tight and hungry seemed to relax, satisfied. It was his nerves, feeding on those familiar things for which they had been starving.
He walked up one side and down the other. Crates of lettuce, bins of onions, barrels of apples. Such vegetables!
The radishes were scarlet globes. Each carrot was a spear of pure orange. The green and purple of fancy asparagus held his expert eye. The cauliflower was like a great bouquet, fit for a bride; the cabbages glowed like jade.
And the men! He hadn't dreamed there were men like that in this big, shiny-shod, stiffly laundered, white-collared city. Here were rufous men in overalls—worn, shabby, easy-looking overalls and old blue shirts, and mashed hats worn at a careless angle. Men jovial, good-natured, with clear blue eyes and having about them some of the revivifying freshness and wholesomeness of the products they handled.
Ben Westerveld breathed in the strong, pungent smell of onions and garlic and of the good earth that seemed to cling to the vegetables, washed clean though they were. He breathed deeply, gratefully, and felt strangely at peace.
It was a busy street. A hundred times he had to step quickly to avoid hand truck, or dray, or laden wagon. And yet the busy men found time to greet him friendlily: "H'are you!" they said, genially. "H'are you this morning!"
He was market-wise enough to know that some of these busy people were commission men, and some grocers, and some buyers, stewards, clerks. It was a womanless thoroughfare. At the busiest business corner, though, in front of the largest commission house on the street, he saw a woman. Evidently she was transacting business, too, for he saw the men bringing boxes of berries and vegetables for her inspection. A woman in a plain blue skirt and a small black hat.
He caught a glimpse of white-streaked hair beneath the hat. A funny job for a woman. What weren't they mixing into nowadays! He turned sidewise in the narrow, crowded space in order to pass her little group. And one of the men—a red-cheeked, merry-looking young fellow in white apron—laughed and said: "Well, Emma, you win. When it comes to driving a bargain with you, I quit. It can't be did!"
Even then he didn't know her. He did not dream that this straight, slim, tailored, white-haired woman, bargaining so shrewdly with these men, was the Emma Byers of the old days. But he stopped there a moment, in frank curiosity, and the woman looked up. She looked up, and he knew those intelligent eyes and that serene brow. He had carried the picture of them in his mind for more than thirty years, so it was not so surprising. And time deals kindly with women who have intelligent eyes and serene brows.
He did not hesitate. He might have if he had thought a moment, but he acted automatically. He stood before her. "You're Emma Byers, ain't you?"
She did not know him at first. Small blame to her, so completely had the roguish, vigorous boy vanished in this sallow, sad-eyed old man. Then: "Why, Ben!" she said, quietly. And there was pity in her voice, though she did not mean to have it there. She put out one hand—that capable, reassuring hand—and gripped his and held it a moment. It was queer and significant that it should be his hand that lay within hers.
"Well, what in all get-out are you doing around here, Emma?" He tried to be jovial and easy. She turned to the aproned man with whom she had been dealing and smiled.
"What am I doing here, Joe?" she said.
Joe grinned, waggishly. "Nothin'; only beatin' every man on the street at his own game, and makin' so much money that—"
But she stopped him there. "I guess I'll do my own explaining." She turned to Ben again. "And what are you doing here in Chicago?"
Ben passed a faltering hand across his chin. "Me? Well, I'm—we're livin' here, I s'pose. Livin' here."
She glanced at him, sharply. "Left the farm, Ben?"
"Wait a minute." She concluded her business with Joe; finished it briskly and to her own satisfaction. With her bright brown eyes and her alert manner and her quick little movements she made you think of a wren—a business-like little wren—a very early wren that is highly versed in the worm-catching way.
At her next utterance he was startled but game. "Have you had your lunch?"
"Why, no; I—"
"I've been down here since seven, and I'm starved. Let's go and have a bite at the little Greek restaurant around the corner. A cup of coffee and a sandwich, anyway."
Seated at the bare little table, she surveyed him with those intelligent, understanding, kindly eyes, and he felt the years slip from him. They were walking down the country road together, and she was listening quietly and advising him.
She interrogated him, gently. But something of his old masterfulness came back to him. "No, I want to know about you first. I can't get the rights of it, you being here on South Water, tradin' and all."
So she told him, briefly. She was in the commission business. Successful. She bought, too, for such hotels as the Blackstone and the Congress, and for half a dozen big restaurants. She gave him bare facts, but he was shrewd enough and sufficiently versed in business to know that here was a woman of wealth and established commercial position.
"But how does it happen you're keepin' it up, Emma, all this time? Why, you must be anyway—it ain't that you look it—but—" He floundered, stopped.
She laughed. "That's all right, Ben. I couldn't fool you on that. And I'm working because it keeps me happy. I want to work till I die. My children keep telling me to stop, but I know better than that. I'm not going to rust out. I want to wear out." Then, at an unspoken question in his eyes: "He's dead. These twenty years. It was hard at first when the children were small. But I knew garden stuff if I didn't know anything else. It came natural to me. That's all."
So then she got his story from him bit by bit. He spoke of the farm and of Dike, and there was a great pride in his voice. He spoke of Bella, and the son who had been killed, and of Minnie. And the words came falteringly. He was trying to hide something, and he was not made for deception. When he had finished:
"Now, listen, Ben. You go back to your farm."
"I can't. She—I can't."
She leaned forward, earnestly. "You go back to the farm."
He turned up his palms with a little gesture of defeat. "I can't."
"You can't stay here. It's killing you. It's poisoning you. Did you ever hear of toxins? That means poisons, and you're poisoning yourself. You'll die of it. You've got another twenty years of work in you. What's ailing you? You go back to your wheat and your apples and your hogs. There isn't a bigger job in the world than that."
For a moment his face took on a glow from the warmth of her own inspiring personality. But it died again. When they rose to go his shoulders drooped again, his muscles sagged. At the doorway he paused a moment, awkward in farewell. He blushed a little, stammered.
"Emma—I always wanted to tell you. God knows it was luck for you the way it turned out—but I always wanted to—"
She took his hand again in her firm grip at that, and her kindly, bright brown eyes were on him. "I never held it against you, Ben. I had to live a long time to understand it. But I never held a grudge. It just wasn't to be, I suppose. But listen to me, Ben. You do as I tell you. You go back to your wheat and your apples and your hogs. There isn't a bigger man-size job in the world. It's where you belong."
Unconsciously his shoulders straightened again. Again they sagged. And so they parted, the two.
* * * * *
He must have walked almost all the long way home, through miles and miles of city streets. He must have lost his way, too, for when he looked up at a corner street sign it was an unfamiliar one.
So he floundered about, asked his way, was misdirected. He took the right street car at last and got off at his own corner at seven o'clock, or later. He was in for a scolding, he knew.
But when he came to his own doorway he knew that even his tardiness could not justify the bedlam of sound that came from within. High-pitched voices. Bella's above all the rest, of course, but there was Minnie's, too, and Gus's growl, and Pearlie's treble, and the boy Ed's, and—
At the other voice his hand trembled so that the key rattled in the lock, and he could not turn it. But finally he did turn it, and stumbled in, breathing hard. And that other voice was Dike's.
He must just have arrived. The flurry of explanation was still in progress. Dike's knapsack was still on his back, and his canteen at his hip, his helmet slung over his shoulder. A brown, hard, glowing Dike, strangely tall and handsome and older, too. Older.
All this he saw in less than one electric second. Then he had the boy's two shoulders in his hands, and Dike was saying: "Hello, pop."
Of the roomful, Dike and old Ben were the only quiet ones. The others were taking up the explanation and going over it again and again, and marvelling, and asking questions.
"He come in to—what's that place, Dike?—Hoboken—yesterday only. An' he sent a dispatch to the farm. Can't you read our letters, Dike, that you didn't know we was here now? And then he's only got an hour more here. They got to go to Camp Grant to be, now, demobilized. He come out to Minnie's on a chance. Ain't he big!"
But Dike and his father were looking at each other quietly. Then Dike spoke. His speech was not phlegmatic, as of old. He had a new clipped way of uttering his words:
"Say, pop, you ought to see the way the Frenchies farm! They got about an acre each, and, say, they use every inch of it. If they's a little dirt blows into the crotch of a tree, they plant a crop in there. I never see nothin' like it. Say, we waste enough stuff over here to keep that whole country in food for a hundred years. Yessir. And tools! Outta the ark, believe me. If they ever saw our tractor, they'd think it was the Germans comin' back. But they're smart at that. I picked up a lot of new ideas over there. And you ought to see the old birds—womenfolks and men about eighty years old—runnin' everything on the farm. They had to. I learned somethin' off of them about farmin'."
"Forget the farm," said Minnie.
"Yeh," echoed Gus, "forget the farm stuff. I can get you a job here out at the works for four a day, and six when you learn it right."
Dike looked from one to the other, alarm and unbelief on his face. "What d'you mean, a job? Who wants a job! What you all—"
Bella laughed, jovially. "F'r Heaven's sakes, Dike, wake up! We're livin' here. This is our place. We ain't rubes no more."
Dike turned to his father. A little stunned look crept into his face. A stricken, pitiful look. There was something about it that suddenly made old Ben think of Pearlie when she had been slapped by her quick-tempered mother.
"But I been countin' on the farm," he said, miserably. "I just been livin' on the idea of comin' back to it. Why, I—The streets here, they're all narrow and choked up. I been countin' on the farm. I want to go back and be a farmer. I want—"
And then Ben Westerveld spoke. A new Ben Westerveld—no, not a new, but the old Ben Westerveld. Ben Westerveld, the farmer, the monarch over six hundred acres of bounteous bottomland.
"That's all right, Dike," he said. "You're going back. So'm I. I've got another twenty years of work in me. We're going back to the farm."
Bella turned on him, a wildcat. "We ain't! Not me! We ain't! I'm not agoin' back to the farm."
But Ben Westerveld was master again in his own house. "You're goin' back, Bella," he said, quietly. "An' things are goin' to be different. You're goin' to run the house the way I say, or I'll know why. If you can't do it, I'll get them in that can. An' me and Dike, we're goin' back to our wheat and our apples and our hogs. Yessir! There ain't a bigger man-size job in the world."
THE DANCING GIRLS
When, on opening a magazine, you see a picture of a young man in uniform with a background of assorted star-shells in full flower; a young man in uniform gazing into the eyes of a young lady (in uniform); a young man in uniform crouching in a trench, dugout, or shell-hole, this happens:
You skip lightly past the story of the young man in uniform; you jump hurriedly over the picture; and you plunge into the next story, noting that it is called "The Crimson Emerald" and that, judging from the pictures, all the characters in it wear evening clothes all the time.
Chug Scaritt took his dose of war with the best of them, but this is of Chug before and after taking. If, inadvertently, there should sound a faintly martial note it shall be stifled at once with a series of those stylish dots ... indicative of what the early Victorian writers conveniently called a drawn veil.
Nothing could be fairer than that.
Chug Scaritt was (and is) the proprietor and sole owner of the Elite Garage, and he pronounced it with a long i. Automobile parties, touring Wisconsin, used to mistake him for a handy man about the place and would call to him, "Heh, boy! Come here and take a look at this engine. She ain't hitting." When Chug finished with her she was hitting, all right. A medium-sized young fellow in the early twenties with a serious mouth, laughing eyes, and a muscular grace pretty well concealed by the grease-grimed grotesquerie of overalls. Out of the overalls and in his tight-fitting, belted green suit and long-visored green cap and flat russet shoes he looked too young and insouciant to be the sole owner—much less the proprietor—of anything so successful and established as the Elite Garage.
In a town like Chippewa, Wisconsin—or in any other sort of town, for that matter—a prosperous garage knows more about the scandals of the community than does a barber-shop, a dressmaker-by-the-day, or a pool-room habitue. It conceals more skeletons than the catacombs. Chug Scaritt, had he cared to open his lips and speak, might have poured forth such chronicles as to make Spoon River sound a paean of sweetness and light. He knew how much Old Man Hatton's chauffeur knocked down on gas and repairs; he knew just how much the Tillotsons had gone into debt for their twin-six, and why Emil Sauter drove to Oshkosh so often on business, and who supplied the flowers for Mrs. Gurnee's electric. Chug didn't encourage gossip in his garage. Whenever possible he put his foot down on its ugly head in a vain attempt to crush it. But there was something about the very atmosphere of the place that caused it to thrive and flourish. It was like a combination newspaper office and Pullman car smoker. Chug tried to keep the thing down but there might generally be seen lounging about the doorway or perched on the running board of an idle car a little group of slim, flat-heeled, low-voiced young men in form-fitting, high-waisted suits of that peculiarly virulent shade of green which makes its wearer look as if he had been picked before he was ripe.
They were a lean, slim-flanked crew with a feline sort of grace about them; terse of speech, quick of eye, engine-wise, and, generally, nursing a boil just above the collar of their soft shirt. Not vicious. Not even tough. Rather bored, though they didn't know it. In their boredom resorting to the only sort of solace afforded boys of their class in a town of Chippewa's size: cheap amusements, cheap girls, cheap talk. This last unless the topic chanced to be of games or of things mechanical. Baseball, or a sweet-running engine brought out the best that was in them. At their worst, perhaps, they stood well back in the dim, cool shade of the garage doorway to watch how, when the girls went by in their thin summer dresses, the strong sunlight made a transparency of their skirts. At supper time they would growl to their surprised sisters:
"Put on some petticoats, you. Way you girls run around it's enough to make a person sick."
Chug Scaritt escaped being one of these by a double margin. There was his business responsibility on one side; his very early history on the other. Once you learn the derivation of Chug's nickname you have that history from the age of five to twenty-five, inclusive.
Chug had been christened Floyd (she had got it out of a book) but it was an appendix rather then an appellation. No one ever dreamed of addressing him by that misnomer, unless you except his school teachers. Once or twice the boys had tried to use his name as a weapon, shrieking in a shrill falsetto and making two syllables of it. He put a stop to that soon enough with fists and feet. His virility could have triumphed over a name twice as puerile. For that matter, I once knew a young husky named Fayette who—but that's another story.
The Scaritts lived the other side of the tracks. If you know Chippewa, or its equivalent, you get the significance of that. Nobodys. Not only did they live the other side of the tracks; they lived so close to them that the rush and rumble of the passing trains shook the two-story frame cottage and rattled the crockery on the pantry shelves. The first intelligible sound the boy made was a chesty chug-chug-chug in imitation of a panting engine tugging its freight load up the incline toward the Junction. When Chug ran away—which was on an average of twice daily—he was invariably to be found at the switchman's shanty or roaming about the freight yards. It got so that Stumpy Gans, the one-legged switchman, would hoist a signal to let Mrs. Scaritt know that Chug was safe.
He took his first mechanical toy apart, piece by piece. "Wait till your pa comes home!" his mother had said, with terrible significance. Chug, deep in the toy's wreckage, seemed undismayed, so Mrs. Scaritt gave him a light promissory slap and went on about her housework. That night, before supper, Len Scaritt addressed his son with a sternness quite at variance with his easy-going nature.
"Come here to me! Now, then, what's this about your smashing up good toys? Huh? Whatdya mean! Christmas not two days back and here you go smashing—"
The culprit trotted over to a corner and returned with the red-painted tin thing in his hand. It was as good as new. There may even have been some barely noticeable improvement in its locomotive powers. Chug had merely taken it apart in order to put it together again, and he had been too absorbed to pause long enough to tell his mother so. After that, nothing that bore wheels, internally or externally, was safe from his investigating fingers.
It was his first velocipede that really gave him his name. As he rode up and down, his short legs working like piston-rods gone mad, pedestrians would scatter in terror. His onrush was as relentless as that of an engine on a track, and his hoarse, "Chug-chug! Da-r-r-n-ng! Da-r-r-n-ng!" as he bore down upon a passerby caused that one to sidestep precipitously into the gutter (and none too soon).
Chug earned his first real bicycle carrying a paper route for the Chippewa Eagle. It took him two years. By the time he had acquired it he knew so much about bicycles, from ball-bearings to handle-bars, that its possession roused very little thrill in him. It was as when a lover has had to wait over-long for his bride. As Chug whizzed about Chippewa's streets, ringing an unnecessarily insistent bell, you sensed that a motorcycle was already looming large in his mechanism-loving mind. By the time he was seventeen Chug's motorcycle was spitting its way venomously down Elm Street. And the sequence of the seasons was not more inevitable than that an automobile should follow the motorcycle. True, he practically built it himself, out of what appeared to be an old wash-boiler, some wire, and an engine made up of parts that embraced every known car from Ford to Fiat. He painted it an undeniable red, hooded it like a demon racer, and shifted to first. The thing went.
He was a natural mechanic. He couldn't spend a day with a piece of mechanism without having speeded it up, or in some way done something to its belt, gears, wheels, motor. He was almost never separated from a monkey-wrench or pliers, and he was always turning a nut or bolt or screw in his grease-grimed fingers.
Right here it should be understood that Chug never became a Steinmetz or a Wright. He remained just average-plus to the end, with something more than a knack at things mechanical; a good deal of grease beneath his nails; and, generally, a smudge under one eye or a swipe of black across a cheek that gave him a misleadingly sinister and piratical look. There's nothing very magnificent, surely, in being the proprietor of a garage, even if it is the best-paying garage in Chippewa, where six out of ten families own a car, and summer tourists are as locusts turned beneficent.
Some time between Chug's motorcycle and the home-made automobile Len Scaritt died. The loss to the household was social more than economic. Len had been one of those good-natured, voluble, walrus-moustached men who make such poor providers. A carpenter by trade, he had always been a spasmodic worker and a steady talker. His high, hollow voice went on endlessly above the fusillade of hammers at work and the clatter of dishes at home. Politics, unions, world events, local happenings, neighbourhood gossip, all fed the endless stream of his loquacity.
"Well, now, looka here. Take, f'rins'ance, one these here big concerns—"
After he was gone Mrs. Scaritt used to find herself listening to the silence. His ceaseless talk had often rasped her nerves to the point of hysteria, but now she missed it as we miss a dull ache to which we have grown accustomed.
Chug was in his second year at the Chippewa high school. He had always earned some money, afternoons and Saturdays. Now he quit to go to work in earnest. His mother took it hard.
"I wanted you to have an education," she said. "Not just schooling. An education." Mittie Scaritt had always had ambition and a fierce sort of pride. She had needed them to combat Len's shiftlessness and slack good nature. They had kept the two-story frame cottage painted and tidy, had her pride and ambition; they had managed a Sunday suit, always, for Chug; money for the contribution box; pork roast on Sundays; and a sitting room, chill but elegant, with its plump pyramids of pillows, embroidered with impossible daisies and carnations and violets, filling every corner.
Mrs. Scaritt had had to fight for Chug's two years of high school. "He don't need no high school," Len Scaritt had argued, in one of the rare quarrels between the two. "I never had none."
The retort to this was so obvious that his wife refrained from uttering it. Len continued: "He don't go with none of my money. His age I was working 'n' had been for three years and more. You'll be fixing to send him to college, next."
"Well, if I do? Then what?"
"Then you're crazy," said Len, without heat, as one would state a self-evident fact.
That afternoon Mrs. Scaritt went down to the office of the Eagle and inserted a neat ad.
LACE CURTAINS DONE UP LIKE NEW. 25 CENTS A PR. MRS. SCARITT, 639 OUTAGAMIE ST.
For years afterward you never passed the Scaritt place without seeing the long skeleton frames of wooden curtain stretchers propped up against the back porch in the sun. Mrs. Scaritt became famous for her curtains as an artist is known for his middle distances, his woodland green, or his flesh tones. In time even the Hattons, who had always heretofore sent their fine curtains to Milwaukee to be cleaned, trusted their lacy treasures to Mrs. Scaritt's expert hands.
Chug went to high school on those lace curtains. He used to call for and deliver them. He rigged up a shelf-like device on his bicycle handlebars. On this the freshly laundered curtains reposed in their neat paper wrappings as unwrinkled as when they had come from the stretching frame.
At seventeen he went to work in the Elite Garage. He hadn't been there a month before the owner was saying, "Say, Chug, take a look at this here bus, will you? She don't run right but I can't find out what's got into her."
Chug would put his ear to the heart of the car, and tap its vitals, and count its pulse-beats as a doctor sounds you with his stethoscope. The look on his face was that of a violinist who tries his G-string.
For the rest, he filled gas tanks, changed and pumped up tires, tested batteries, oiled tappets. But the thing that fascinated him was the engine. An oily, blue-eyed boy in spattered overalls, he was always just emerging from beneath a car, or crawling under it. When a new car came in, en route—a proud, glittering affair—he always managed to get a chance at it somehow, though the owner or chauffeur guarded it ever so jealously. The only thing on wheels that he really despised was an electric brougham. Chippewa's well-paved streets made these vehicles possible. Your true garage man's feeling for electrics is unprintable. The least that they called them was juice-boxes.
At home Chug was forever rigging up labour-saving devices for his mother. The Scaritt's window-shades always rolled; their doorbell always rang with a satisfactory zing; their suction-pump never stuck. By the time he was twenty Chug was manager of the garage and his mother was saying, "You're around that garage sixteen hours a day. When you're home you're everlastingly reading those engineering papers and things. Your pa at your age had a girl for every night in the week and two on Sundays."
"Another year or so and I can buy out old Behnke and own the place. Soon's I do I'm going to come home in the speediest boat in the barn, and I'm going to bust up those curtain frames into kindling wood, over my knee, and pile 'em in the backyard and make a bonfire out of 'em."
"They've been pretty good friends to us, Chug—those curtain frames."
"Um." He glanced at her parboiled fingers. "Just the same, it'll be nix with the lace curtains for you."
Glancing back on what has been told of Chug he sounds, somehow, so much like a modern Rollo, with a dash of Alger, that unless something is told of his social side he may be misunderstood.
Chug was a natural born dancer. There are young men who, after the music has struck up, can start out incredibly enough by saying: "What is this, anyway—waltz or fox trot?" This was inconceivable to Chug. He had never had a dancing lesson in his life, but he had a sense of rhythm that was infallible. He could no more have danced out of time than he could have started a car on high, or confused a flivver with a Twelve. He didn't look particularly swanlike as he danced, having large, sensible feet, but they were expert at not being where someone else's feet happened to be, and he could time a beat to the fraction of a second.
When you have practically spent your entire day sprawled under a balky car, with a piece of dirty mat between you and the cement floor, your view limited to crank-case, transmission, universal, fly-wheel, differential, pan, and brake-rods you can do with a bit of colour in the evening. And just here was where Chippewa failed Chug.
He had a grave problem confronting him in his search for an evening's amusement. Chippewa, Wisconsin, was proud of its paved streets, its thirty thousand population, its lighting system, and the Greek temple that was the new First National Bank. It boasted of its interurban lines, its neat houses set well back among old elms, its paper mills, its plough works, and its prosperity. If you had told Chippewa that it was criminally ignoring Chug's crying need it would have put you down as mad.
Boiled down, Chug Scaritt's crying need was girls. At twenty-two or three you must have girls in your life if you're normal. Chug was, but Chippewa wasn't. It had too many millionaires at one end and too many labourers at the other for a town of thirty thousand. Its millionaires had their golf club, their high-powered cars, their smart social functions. They were always running down to Chicago to hear Galli-Curci; and when it came to costume—diamond bracelet, daring decolletage, large feather fans, and brilliant-buckled slippers—you couldn't tell their women from the city dwellers. There is much money in paper mills and plough works.
The mill hands and their families were well-paid, thrifty, clannish Swedes, most of them, with a liberal sprinkling of Belgians and Slavs. They belonged to all sorts of societies and lodges to which they paid infinitesimal dues and swore lifelong allegiance.
Chug Scaritt and boys of his kind were left high and dry. So, then, when Chug went out with a girl it was likely to be by way of someone's kitchen; or with one of those who worked in the rag room at the paper and pulp mill. They were the very girls who switched up and down in front of the garage evenings and Saturday afternoons. Many of them had been farm girls in Michigan or northern Wisconsin or even Minnesota. In Chippewa they did housework. Big, robust girls they were, miraculously well dressed in good shoes and suits and hats. They had bad teeth, for the most part, with a scum over them; over-fond of coffee; and were rather dull company. But they were good-natured, and hearty, and generous.
The paper-mill girls were quite another type. Theirs was a grayish pallor due to lungs dust-choked from work in the rag room. That same pallor promised ill for future generations in Chippewa. But they had a rather appealing, wistful fragility. Their eyes generally looked too big for their faces. They possessed, though, a certain vivacity and diablerie that the big, slower-witted Swede girls lacked.
When Chug felt the need of a dash of red in the evening he had little choice. In the winter he often went up to Woodman's Hall. The dances at Woodman's Hall were of the kind advertised at fifty cents a couple. Extra lady, twenty-five cents. Ladies without gents, thirty-five cents. Bergstrom's two-piece orchestra. Chug usually went alone, but he escorted home one of the ladies-without-gents. It was not that he begrudged the fifty cents. Chug was free enough with his money. He went to these dances on a last-minute impulse, almost against his will, and out of sheer boredom. Once there he danced every dance and all the encores. The girls fought for him. Their manner of dancing was cheek to cheek, in wordless rhythm. His arm about the ample waist of one of the Swedish girls, or clasping close the frail form of one of the mill hands, Chug would dance on and on, indefatigably, until the music played "Home Sweet Home." The conversation, if any, varied little.
"The music's swell to-night," from the girl.
"You're some little dancer, Chug, I'll say. Honest, I could dance with you forever." This with a pressure of the girl's arm, and spoken with a little accent, whether Swedish, Belgian, or Slavic.
"They all say that."
"Crazy about yourself, ain't you!"
"Not as crazy as I am about you," with tardy gallantry.
He was very little stirred, really.
"Yeh, you are. I wish you was. It makes no never minds to you who you're dancing with, s'long's you're dancing."
This last came one evening as a variant in the usual formula. It startled Chug a little, so that he held the girl off the better to look at her. She was Wanda something-or-other, and anybody but Chug would have been alive to the fact that she had been stalking him for weeks with a stolid persistence.
"Danced with you three times to-night, haven't I?" he demanded. He was rather surprised to find that this was so.
"Wisht it was thirty."
That was Wanda. Her very eagerness foiled her. She cheapened herself. When Chug said, "Can I see you home?" he knew the answer before he put the question. Too easy to get along with, Wanda. Always there ahead of time, waiting, when you made a date with her. Too ready to forgive you when you failed to show up. Telephoned you when you were busy. Didn't give a fellow a chance to come half way, but went seven eighths of it herself. An ignorant, kindly, dangerous girl, with the physical development of a woman and the mind of a child. There were dozens like her in Chippewa.
If the girls of his own class noticed him at all it was the more to ignore him as a rather grimy mechanic passing briefly before their vision down Outagamie Street on his way to and from dinner. He was shy of them. They had a middle-class primness which forbade their making advances even had they been so inclined. Chug would no more have scraped acquaintance with them than he would have tried to flirt with Angie Hatton, Old Man Hatton's daughter, and the richest girl in Chippewa—so rich that she drove her own car with the chauffeur stuck up behind.
You didn't have to worry about Wanda and her kind. There they were, take them or leave them. They expected you to squeeze their waist when you danced with them, and so you did. You didn't have to think about what you were going to say to them.
Mrs. Scaritt suspected in a vague sort of way that Chug was "running with the hired girls." The thought distressed her. She was too smart a woman to nag him about it. She tried diplomacy.
"Why don't you bring some young folks home to eat, Chug? I like to fuss around for company." She was a wonderful cook, Mrs. Scaritt, and liked to display her skill.
"Who is there to bring?"
"The boys and girls you go around with. Who is it you're always fixing up for, evenings?"
Mrs. Scaritt tried another tack.
"I s'pose this house isn't good enough for 'em? Is that it?"
"Good enough!" Chug laughed rather grimly. "I'd like to know what's the matter with it!"
There was, as a matter of fact, nothing the matter with it. It was as spick and span as paint and polish could make it. The curtain-stretching days were long past. There had even been talk of moving out of the house by the tracks, but at the last moment Mrs. Scaritt had rebelled.
"I'll miss the sound of the trains. I'm used to 'em. It's got so I can tell just where my right hand'll be when the seven fifty-two goes by in the morning, and I've got used to putting on the potatoes when I hear the 'leven-forty. Let's stay, Chug."
So they had stayed. Gradually they had added an improvement here, a convenience there, as Chug's prosperity grew, until now the cottage by the tracks was newly painted, bathroomed, electric-lighted, with a cement walk front and back and a porch with a wicker swing and flower baskets. Chug gave his mother more housekeeping money than she needed, though she, in turn, served him meals that would have threatened the waist-line of an older and less active man. There was a banana pie, for instance (it sounds sickish, but wait!) which she baked in a deep pan, and over which she poured a golden-brown custard all flecked with crusty melted sugar. You took a bite and lo! it had vanished like a sweet dewdrop, leaving in your mouth a taste as of nectar, and clover-honey, and velvet cream.
Mrs. Scaritt learned to gauge Chug's plans for the evening by his ablutions. Elaborate enough at any time, on dance nights they amounted to a rite. In the old days Chug's father had always made a brief enough business of the process he called washing up. A hand-basin in the kitchen sink or on the back-porch bench sufficed. The noises he made were out of all proportion to the results obtained. His snufflings, and snortings, and splashings were like those of a grampus at play. When he emerged from them you were surprised to find that he had merely washed his face.
Chug had grease to fight. He had learned how in his first days at the garage. His teacher had been old Rudie, a mechanic who had tinkered around automobiles since their kerosene days, and who knew more about them than their inventor. Soap and water alone were powerless against the grease and carbon and dust that ground themselves into Chug's skin. First, he lathered himself with warm, soapy water. Then, while arms, neck, and face were still wet, he covered them with oil—preferably lubricating oil, medium. Finally he rubbed sawdust over all; great handfuls of it. The grease rolled out then, magically, leaving his skin smooth and white. Old Rudie, while advocating this process, made little use of it. He dispatched the whole grimy business by the simple method of washing in gasoline guaranteed to take the varnish off a car fender. It seemed to leave Rudie's tough hide undevastated.
At twenty-four Chug Scaritt was an upstanding, level-headed, and successful young fellow who worked hard all day and found himself restless and almost irritable toward evening. He could stay home and read, or go back to the garage, though after eight things were very quiet. For amusement there were the pool shack, the cheap dances, the street corner, the Y.M.C.A. This last had proved a boon. The swimming pool, the gym, the reading room, had given Chug many happy, healthful hours. But, after all, there was something—
Chug didn't know it was girls—girls you could talk to, and be with, and take around. But it was. After an hour in the pool, or around the reading table, or talking and smoking, he usually drifted out into the quiet street. He could go home. Or there was Wanda. If he went home he found himself snapping rather irritably at his mother, for no reason at all. Ashamed of doing it. Powerless, somehow, to stop.
He took to driving in the evening: long drives along the country roads, his cap pulled low over his eyes, the wind blowing fresh in his face. He used to cover mile on mile, sitting slumped low on his spine, his eyes on the road; the engine running sweet and true. Sometimes he took Wanda along, or one of the mill girls. But not often. They were disappointed if you didn't drive with one arm around them. He liked being alone. It soothed him.
It was thus that he first met the Weld girl. The Weld girl was the plain daughter of the Widow Weld. The Widow Weld was a musical-comedy sort of widow in French-heeled, patent-leather slippers and girlish gowns. When you met her together with her daughter Elizabeth you were supposed to say, "Not mother and daughter! Surely not! Sisters, of course." Elizabeth was twenty-four and not a success. At the golf-club dances on Saturday night she would sit, unsought, against the wall while her skittish mother tripped it with the doggish bachelors. Sometimes a man would cross the floor toward her and her heart would give a little leap, but he always asked the girl seated two chairs away. Elizabeth danced much better than her mother—much better than most girls, for that matter. But she was small, and dark, and rather shy, and wore thick glasses that disguised the fineness of her black-lashed gray eyes. Now and then her mother, flushed and laughing, would come up and say, "Is my little girl having a good time?" The Welds had no money, but they belonged to Chippewa's fashionable set. There were those who lifted significant eyebrows at mention of the Widow Weld's name, and it was common knowledge that no maid would stay with her for any length of time because of the scanty provender. The widow kowtowed shamelessly to the moneyed ones of Chippewa, flattering the women, flirting with the men. Elizabeth had no illusions about her mother, but she was stubbornly loyal to her. Her manner toward her kittenish parent was rather sternly maternal. But she was the honest sort that congenitally hates sham and pretence. She was often deliberately rude to the very people toward whom her mother was servile. Her strange friendship with Angie Hatton, the lovely and millioned, was the one thing in Elizabeth's life of which her Machiavellian mother approved.
"Betty, you practically stuck out your tongue at Mr. Oakley!" This after a dance at which Elizabeth had been paired off, as usual, with the puffy and red-eyed old widower of that name.
"I don't care. His hands are fat and he creaks when he breathes."
"Next to Hatton, he's the richest man in Chippewa. And he likes you."
"He'd better not!" She spat it out, and the gray eyes blazed behind the glasses. "I'd rather be plastered up against the wall all my life than dance with him. Fat!"
"Well, my dear, you're no beauty, you know," with cruel frankness.
"I'm not much to look at," replied Elizabeth, "but I'm beautiful inside."
"Rot!" retorted the Widow Weld, inelegantly.
Had you lived in Chippewa all this explanation would have been unnecessary. In that terrifying way small towns have, it was known that of all codfish aristocracy the Widow Weld was the piscatorial pinnacle.
When Chug Scaritt first met the Weld girl she was standing out in the middle of the country road at ten-thirty P.M., her arms outstretched and the blood running down one cheek. He had been purring along the road toward home, drowsy and lulled by the motion and the April air. His thoughts had been drowsy, too, and disconnected.
"If I can rent Bergstrom's place next door when their lease is up I'll knock down the partition and put in auto supplies. There's big money in 'em.... Guess if it keeps on warm like this we can plant the garden next week.... That was swell cake Ma had for supper.... What's that in the road! What's!—"
Jammed down the foot-brake. Jerked back the emergency. A girl standing in the road. A dark mass in the ditch by the road-side. He was out of his car. He recognized her as the Weld girl.
"In the ditch. She's hurt. Quick!"
"Whose car?" Chug was scrambling down the banks.
"Hatton's. Angie Hatton's."
Over by the fence, where she had been flung, Angie Hatton was found sitting up, dizzily, and saying, "Betty! Betty!" in what she supposed was a loud cry but which was really a whisper.
"I'm all right, dear. I'm all right. Oh, Angie, are you—"
She was cut and bruised, and her wrist had been broken. The two girls clung to each other, wordlessly. The thing was miraculous, in view of the car that lay perilously tipped on its fender.