"Make out y'r deed an' mor'gage, an' git off'n my land, an' don't ye never cross my line agin; if y' do, I'll kill ye."
Butler backed away from the man in wild haste, and climbing into his buggy with trembling limbs drove off down the road, leaving Haskins seated dumbly on the sunny pile of sheaves, his head sunk into his hands.
THE CREAMERY MAN
"Along these woods in storm and sun the busy people go."
THE tin-peddler has gone out of the West. Amiable gossip and sharp trader that he was, his visits once brought a sharp business grapple to the farmer's wife and daughters, after which, as the man of trade was repacking his unsold wares, a moment of cheerful talk often took place. It was his cue, if he chanced to be a tactful peddler, to drop all attempts at sale and become distinctly human and neighborly.
His calls were not always well received, but they were at their best pleasant breaks of a monotonous round of duties. But he is no longer a familiar spot on the landscape. He has passed into the limbo of the things no longer necessary. His red wagon may be rumbling and rattling through some newer region, but the "coulee country" knows him no more.
'The creamery man" has taken his place. Every afternoon, rain or shine, the wagons of the North Star Creamery in "Dutcher's Coulee" stop at the farmers' windmills to skim the cream from the "submerged cans." His wagon is not gay; it is generally battered and covered with mud and filled with tall cans; but the driver himself is generally young and sometimes attractive. The driver in Molasses Gap, which is a small coulee leading into Dutcher's Coulee was particularly good-looking and amusing.
He was aware of his good looks, and his dress not only showed that he was single, but that he hoped to be married soon. He wore brown trousers, which fitted him very well, and a dark-blue shirt, which had a gay lacing of red cord in front, and a pair of suspenders that were a vivid green. On his head he wore a Chinese straw helmet; which was as ugly as anything could conceivably be, but he was as proud of it as he was of his green suspenders. In summer he wore no coat at all, and even in pretty cold weather he left his vest on his wagon seat, not being able to bring himself to the point of covering up the red and green of his attire.
It was noticeable that the women of the neighborhood always came out, even on washday, to see that Claude (his name was Claude Willlams) measured the cream properly. There was much banter about this. Mrs. Kennedy always said she wouldn't trust him "fur's you can fling a yearlin' bull by the tail."
"Now that's the difference between us," he would reply. "I'd trust you anywhere. Anybody with such a daughter as your'n"
He seldom got further, for Lucindy always said (in substance), "Oh, you go 'long."
There need be no mystery in the matter. 'Cindy was the girl for whose delight he wore the green and red. He made no secret of his love, and she made no secret of her scorn. She laughed at his green 'spenders and the "red shoestring" in his shirt; but Claude considered himself very learned in women's ways, by reason of two years' driving the creamery wagon, and be merely winked at Mrs. Kennedy when the girl was looking, and kissed his hand at 'Cindy when her mother was not looking.
He looked forward every afternoon to these little exchanges of wit, and was depressed when for any reason the womenfolks were away. There were other places pleasanter than the Kennedy farm-some of "the Dutchmen" had fine big brick houses and finer and bigger barns, but their women were mostly homely and went around barefooted and barelegged, with ugly blue dresses hanging frayed and greasy round their lank ribs and big joints.
"Some way their big houses have a look like a stable when you get close to 'em," Claude said to 'Cindy once. "Their women work so much in the field they don't have any time to fix up-the way you do. I don't believe in women workin' in the fields." He said this looking 'Cindy in the face. "My wife needn't set her foot outdoors 'less she's a mind to."
"Oh, you can talk," replied the girl scornfully, "but you'd be like the rest of 'em." But she was glad that she had on a clean collar and apron-if it was ironing day.
What Claude would have said further 'Cindy could not divine, for her mother called her away, as she generally did when she saw her daughter lingering too long with the creamery man. Claude was not considered a suitable match for Lucindy Kennedy, whose father owned one of the finest farms in the coulee. Worldly considerations hold in Molasses Gap as well as in Bluff Siding and Tyre.
But Claude gave little heed to these moods in Mrs. Kennedy. If 'Cindy sputtered, he laughed; and if she smiled, he rode on whistling till he came to old man Haldeman's, who owned the whole lower half of Molasses Gap, and had one ummarried daughter, who thought Claude one of the handsomest men in the world. She was always at the gate to greet him as he drove up, and forced sections of cake and pieces of gooseberry pie upon him each day.
"She's good enough-for a Dutchman," Claude said of her, "but I hate to see a woman go around looking as if her clothes would drop off if it rained on her. And on Sundays, when she dresses up, she looks like a boy rigged out in some girl's cast-off duds."
This was pretty hard on Nina. She was tall and lank and sandy, with small blue eyes, her limbs were heavy, and she did wear her Sunday clothes badly, but she was a good, generous soul and very much in love with the creamery man. She was not very clean, but then she could not help that; the dust of the field is no respecter of sex. No, she was not lovely, but she was the only daughter of old Ernest Haldeman, and the old man was not very strong.
Claude was the daily bulletin of the Gap. He knew whose cow died the night before, who was at the strawberry dance, and all about Abe Anderson's night in jail up at the Siding. If his coming was welcome to the Kennedy's, who took the Bluff Siding Gimlet and the county paper, how much the more cordial ought his greeting to be at Haldeman's, where they only took the Milwaukee Weekly Freiheit.
Nina in her poor way had longings and aspirations. She wanted to marry "a Yankee," and not one of her own kind. She had a little schooling obtained at the small brick shed under the towering cottonwood tree at the corner of her father's farm; but her life had been one of hard work and mighty little play. Her parents spoke in German about the farm, and could speak English only very brokenly. Her only brother had adventured into the foreign parts of Pine County and had been killed in a sawmill. Her life was lonely and hard.
She had suitors among the Germans, plenty of them, but she had a disgust of them-considered as possible husbands-and though she went to their beery dances occasionally, she had always in her mind the ease, lightness, and color of Claude. She knew that the Yankee girls did not work in the fields-even the Norwegian girls seldom did so now, they worked out in town-but she had been brought up to hoe and pull weeds from her childhood, and her father and mother considered it good for her, and being a gentle and obedient child, she still continued to do as she was told. Claude pitied the girl, and used to talk with her, during his short stay, in his cheeriest manner.
"Hello, Nina! How you vass, ain't it? How much cream already you got this morning? Did you hear the news, not?"
"No, vot hass happened?"
"Everything. Frank Mcvey's horse stepped through the bridge and broke his leg, and he's going to sue the county-mean Frank is, not the horse."
"Iss dot so?"
"Sure! and Bill Hetner had a fight, and Julia Dooriliager's got home."
"Vot wass Bill fightding apoudt?"
"Oh, drunk-fighting for exercise. Hain't got a fresh pie cut?"
Her face lighted up, and she turned so suddenly to go that her bare leg showed below her dress. Her unstockinged feet were thrust into coarse working shoes. Claude wrinkled his nose in disgust, but he took the piece of green currant pie on the palm of his hand and bit the acute angle from it.
"First-rate. You do make lickin' good pies," he said Out of pure kindness of heart, and Nina was radiant.
"She wouldn't be so bad-lookin' if they didn't work her in the fields like a horse," he said to himself as he drove away.
The neighbors were well aware of Nina's devotion, and Mrs. Smith, who lived two or three houses down the road, said, "Good evening, Claude. Seen Nina today?"
"Sure! and she gave me a piece of currant pie-her own make."
"Did you eat it?"
"Did I? I guess yes. I ain't refusin' pie from Nina-not while her pa has five hundred acres of the best land in Molasses Gap."
Now, it was this innocent joking on his part that started all Claude's trouble. Mrs. Smith called a couple of days later and had her joke with 'Cindy.
"'Cindy, your cake's all dough."
"Why, what's the matter now?"
"Claude come along t'other day grinnin' from ear to ear, and some currant pie in his musstache. He had jest fixed it up with Nina. He jest as much as said he was after the old man's acres."
"Well, let him have 'em. I don't know as it interests me," replied 'Cindy, waving her head like a banner. "If he wants to sell himself to that greasy Dutchwoman why, let him, that's all! I don't care."
Her heated manner betrayed her to Mrs. Smith, who laughed with huge enjoyment.
"Well, you better watch out!"
The next day was very warm, and when Claude drove up under the shade of the big maples he was ready for a chat while his horses rested, but 'Cindy was nowhere to be seen. Mrs. Kennedy came out to get the amount of the skimming and started to re-enter the house without talk.
"Where's the young folks?" asked Claude carelessly.
"If you mean Lucindy, she's in the house."
"Ain't sick or nothin', is she?"
"Not that anybody knows of. Don't expect her to be here to gass with you every time, do ye?"
"Well, I wouldn't mind"' replied Claude. He was too keen not to see his chance. "In fact, I'd like to have her with me all the time, Mrs. Kennedy," he said with engaging frankness.
"Well, you can't have her," the mother replied ungraciously.
"What's the matter with me?"
"Oh, I like you well enough, but 'Cindy'd be a big fool to marry a man without a roof to cover his head."
"That's where you take your inning, sure," Claude replied. "I'm not much better than a hired hand. Well, now, see here, I'm going to make a strike one of these days, and then-look out for me! You don't know but what I've invested in a gold mine. I may be a Dutch lord in disguise. Better not be brash."
Mrs. Kennedy's sourness could not stand against sueb sweetness and drollery. She smiled in wry fashion. "You'd better be moving, or you'll be late."
"Sure enough. If I only had you for a mother-in-law-that's why I'm so poor. Nobody to keep me moving. If I had someone to do the talking for me, I'd work." He grinned broadly and drove out.
His irritation led him to say some things to Nina which he would not have thought of saying the day before. She had been working in the field and had dropped her hoe to see him.
"Say, Nina, I wouldn't work outdoors such a day as this if I was you. I'd tell the old man to go to thunder, and I'd go in and wash up and look decent Yankee women don't do that kind of work, and your old dad's rich; no use of your sweatin' around a cornfield with a hoe in your hands. I don't like to see a woman goin' round without stockin's and her hands all chapped and calloused. It ain't accordin' to Hoyle. No, sir! I wouldn't stand it. I'd serve an injunction on the old man right now."
A dull, slow flush crept into the girl's face, and she put one hand over the other as they rested on the fence. One looked so much less monstrous than two.
Claude went on, "Yes, sir! I'd brace up and go to Yankee meeting instead of Dutch; you'd pick up a Yankee beau like as not."
He gathered his cream while she stood silently by, and when he looked at her again she was in deep thought.
"Good day," he said cheerily.
"Goodbye," she replied, and her face flushed again.
It rained that night, and the roads were very bad, and he was late the next time he arrived at Haldeman's. Nina came out in her best dress, but he said nothing about it, supposing she was going to town or something Like that, and he hurried through with his task and had mounted his seat before he realized that anything was wrong.
Then Mrs. Haldeman appeared at the kitchen door and hurled a lot of unintelligible German at him. He knew she was mad, and mad at him, and also' at Nina, for she shook her fist at them alternately.
Singular to tell, Nina paid no attention to her mother's sputter. She looked at Claude with a certain timid audacity.
"How you like me today?"
"That's better," he said as he eyed her critically. "Now you're talkin'! I'd do a little reading of the newspaper myself, if I was. you. A woman's business ain't to work out in the hot sun-it's to cook and fix up things round the house, and then put on her clean dress and set in the shade and read or sew on something. Stand up to 'em! Doggone me if I'd paddle round that hot cornfield with a mess o' Dutchmen-it ain't decent!"
He drove off with a chuckle at the old man, who was seated at the back of the house with a newspaper in his hand. He was lame, or pretended he was, and made his wife and daughter wait upon him. Claude had no conception of what was working in Nina's mind, but he could not help observing the changes for the better in her appearance. Each day he called she was neatly dressed and wore her shoes laced up to the very top hook.
She was passing through tribulation on his account, but she sald nothing about it. The old man, her father, no longer spoke to her, and the mother sputtered continually, but the girl seemed sustained by some inner power. She calmly went about doing as she pleased, and no fury of words could check her or turn her aside.
Her hands grew smooth and supple once more, and her face lost the parboiled look it once had.
Claude noticed all these gains and commented on them with the freedom of a man who had established friendly relations with a child.
"I tell you what, Nina, you're coming along, sure. Next ground hop you'll be wearin' silk stockin's and high-heeled shoes. How's the old man? Still mad?"
"He don't speak to me no more. My mudder says I am a big fool."
"She does? Well, you tell her I think you're just getting sensible."
She smiled again, and there was a subtle quality in the mixture of boldness and timidity of her manner. His praise was so sweet and stimulating.
"I sold my pigs," she said. "The old man, he wass madt, but I didn't mind. I pought me a new dress with the money."
"That's right! I like to see a woman have plenty Of new dresses," Claude replied. He was really enjoying the girl's rebellion and growing womanliness.
Meanwhile his own affairs with Lucindy were in a bad way. He seldom saw her now. Mrs. Smith was careful to convey to her that Claude stopped longer than was necessary at Haldeman's, and so Mrs. Kennedy attended to the matter of recording the cream. Kennedy hersell was always in the field, and Claude had no opportunity for a conversation with him, as he very much wished to have. Once, when he saw 'Cindy in the kitchen at work, he left his team to rest in the shade and sauntered to the door and looked in.
She was kneading out cake dough, and she looked the loveliest thing he had ever seen. Her sleeves were rolled up. Her neat brown dress was covered with a big apron, and her collar was open a liffle at the throat, for it was warm in the kitchen. She frowned when she saw him.
He began jocularly. "Oh, thank you, I can wait till it bakes. No trouble at all."
"Well, it's a good deal of trouble to me to have you standin' there gappin' at me!"
"Ain't gappin' at you. I'm waitin' for the pie."
"'Tain't pie; it's cake."
"Oh, well, cake'll do for a change. Say, 'Cindy-"
"Don't call me 'Cindy!"
"Well, Lucindy. It's mighty lonesome when I don't see you on my trips."
"Oh, I guess you can stand it with Nina to talk to."
"Aha! jealous, are you?"
"Jealous of that Dutchwoman! I don't care who you talk to, and you needn't think it."
Claude was learned in woman's ways, and this pleased him mightily.
"Well, when shall I speak to your daddy?"
"I don't know what you mean, and I don't care."
"Oh, yes, you do. I'm going to come up here next Sunday in my best bib and tucker, and I'm going to say, 'Mr. Kennedy'-'~
The sound of Mrs. Kennedy's voice and footsteps approaching made Claude suddenly remember his duties.
"See ye later," he said with a grin. "I'll call for the cake next time."
"Call till you split your throat, if you want to," said 'Cindy.
Apparently this could have gone on indefinitely, but it didn't. Lucindy went to Minneapolis for a few weeks to stay with her brother, and that threw Claude deeper into despair than anything Mrs. Kennedy might do or any word Lucindy might say. It was a dreadful blow to him to have her pack up and go so suddenly and without one backward look at him, and, besides, he had planned taking her to Tyre on the Fourth of July.
Mr. Kennedy, much better-natured than the mother, told Claude where she had gone.
"By mighty! That's a knock on the nose for me. When did she go?"
"Yistady. I took her down to the Siding."
"When's she coming back?"
"Oh, after the hot weather is over; four or five weeks."
"I hope I'll be alive when she returns," said Claude gloomily.
Naturally he had a little more time to give to Nina and her remarkable doings, which had set the whole neighborhood to wondering "what had come over the girl."
She no longer worked in the field. She dressed better, and had taken to going to the most fashionable church in town. She was a woman transformed. Nothing was able to prevent her steady progression and bloom. She grew plumper and fairer and became so much more attractive that the young Germans thickened round her, and one or two Yankee boys looked her way. Through it all Claude kept up his half-humorous banter and altogether serious daily advice, without once realizing that any-thing sentimental connected him with it all. He knew she liked him, and sometimes he felt a little annoyed by her attempts to please him, but that she was doing all that she did and ordering her whole life to please him never entered his self-sufficient head.
There wasn't much room left in that head for anyone else except Lucindy, and his plans for wining her. Plan as he might, he saw no way of making more than the two dollars a day he was earning as a cream collector.
Things ran along thus from week to week till it was nearly time for Lucindy to return. Claude was having his top buggy repainted and was preparing for a vigorous campaign when Lucindy should be at home again. He owned his team and wagon and the buggy-nothing more.
One Saturday Mr. Kennedy said, "Lucindy's coming home. I'm going down after her tonight."
"Let me bring her up," said Claude with suspicious eagerness.
Mr. Kennedy hesitated. "No, I guess I'll go myself. I want to go to town, anyway."
Claude was in high spirits as he drove into Haldeman's yard that afternoon.
Nina was leaning over the fence singing softly to herself, but a fierce altercation was going on inside the house. The walls resounded. It was all Dutch to Claude, but he knew the old people were quarreling.
Nina smiled and colored as Claude drew up at the side gate. She seemed not to hear the eloquent discussion inside.
"What's going on?" asked Claude.
"Dey tink I am in house."
"My mudder she lock me up."
Claude stared. "Locked you up? What for?"
"She tondt like it dot I come out to see you."
"Oh, she don't?" said Claude. "What's the matter o' me? I ain't a dangerous chap. I ain't eatin' up little. girls."
Nina went on placidly. "She saidt dot you was goin' to marry me undt' get the farm."
Claude grinned, then chuckied, and at last roared and whooped with the delight of it. He took off his hat and said:
"She said that, did she? Why, bless her old cabbage head-"
The opening of the door and the sudden irruption of Frau Haldeman interrupted him. She came rushing toward him like a she grizzly bear, uttering a torrent of German expletives, and hurled herself upon him, clutching at his hair and throat. He leaped aside and struck down her hands with a sweep of his hard right arm. As she turned to come again he shouted,
"Keep off! or I'll knock you down!"
But before the blow came Nina seized the infuriated woman from behind and threw her down, and held her till the old man came hobbling to the rescue. He seemed a little dazed by it all and made no effort to assault Claude.
The old woman, who was already black in the face with rage, suddenly fell limp, and Nina, kneeling beside her, grew white with fear.
"Oh, vat is the matter! I hat kildt her!"
Claude rushed for a bucket of water and dashed it in the old woman's face. He flooded her with slashings of it, especially after he saw her open her eyes, ending by emptying the bucket in her face. He was a little malicious about that.
The mother sat up soon, wet, scared, bewildered, gasping.
"Mein Gott! Mein Gotd Ich bin ertrinken!"
"What does she say-she's been drinkin'? Well, that looks reasonable."
"No, no-she thinks she is trouned."
"Oh, drowned!" Claude roared again. "Not much she ain't. She's only just getting cooled off."
He helped the girl get her mother to the house and stretch her out on a bed. The old woman seemed to have completely exhausted herself with her effort and submitted like a child to be waited upon. Her sudden fainting had subdued her.
Claude had never penetrated so far into the house before, and was much pleased with the neatness and good order of the rooms, though they were bare of furniture and carpets.
As the girl came out with him to the gate he uttered the most serious word he had ever had with her
"Now, I want you to notice," he said, "that I did nothing to call out the old lady's rush at me. I'd 'a' hit her, sure, if she'd 'a' clinched me again. I don't believe in striking a woman, but she was after my hide for the time bein', and I can't stand two such clutches in the same place. You don't blame me, I hope."
"No. You done choost ride."
"What do you suppose the old woman went for me for?"
Nina looked down uneasily.
"She know you an' me lige one anudder, an' she is afrait you marry me, an' den ven she tie you get the farm a-ready."
Claude whisfied. "Great Jehosaphat! She really thinks that, does she? Well, dog my cats! What put that idea into her head?"
"I told her," said Nina calmly.
"You told her?" Claude turned and stared at her. She looked down, and her face slowly grew to a deep red. She moved uneasily from one foot to the' other, like an awkward, embarrassed child. As he looked at her standing like a culprit before him, his first impulse was to laugh. He was not specially refined, but he was a kindly man, and it suddenly occurred to 'him that the girl was suffering.
"Well, you were mistaken," he said at last, gently enough. "I don't know why you should think so, but I never thought of marrying you-never thought of it."
The flush faded from her face, and she stopped swaying. She lifted her eyes to his in a tearful, appealing stare.
"I t'ought so-you made me t'ink so."
"I did? How? I never said a word to you about-liking you or-marrying-or anything like that. I-" He was going to tell her he intended to marry Lucindy, but he checked himself.
Her lashes fell again, and the tears began to stream down her cheeks. She knew the worst now. His face had convinced her. She could not tell him the grounds of her belief-that every time he had said, "I don't like to see a woman do -this or that," or, "I like to see a woman fix up around the house," she had considered his words in the light of courtship, believing that in such ways the Yankees made love. So she stood suffering dumbly while he loaded his cream can and stood by the wheel ready to mount his wagon.
He turned. "I'm mighty sorry about it," he said. "Mebbe I was to blame. I didn't mean nothing by it-not a thing. It was all a mistake. Let's shake hands over it and call the whole business off."
He held his hand out to her, and with a low cry she seized it and laid her cheek upon it. He started back in amazement and drew his hand away. She fell upon her knees in the path and covered her face with her apron, while he hastily mounted his seat and drove away.
Nothing so profoundly moving had come into his life since the death of his mother, and as he rode on down the road he did a great deal of thinking. First it gave him a pleasant sensation to think a woman should care so much for him. He had lived a homeless life for years and had come into intimate relations with few women, good or bad. They had always laughed with him (not at him, for Claude was able to take care of himself), and no woman before had taken him seriously, and there was a certain charm about the realization.
Then he fell to wondering what he had said or done to give the girl such a notion of his purposes. Perhaps he had been too free with his talk. He was so troubled that he hardly smiled once during the rest of his circuit, and at night he refrained from going up town, and sat under the trees back of the creamery and smoked and pondered on the astounding situation.
He came at last to the resolution that it was his duty to declare himself to Lucindy and end all uncertainty, so that no other woman would fall into Nina's error. He was as good as an engaged man, and the world should know it.
The next day, with his newly painted buggy flashing in the sun, and the extra dozen ivory rings he had purchased for his harnesses clashing together, he drove up the road as a man of leisure and a resolved lover. It was a beautiful day in August.
Lucindy was getting a light tea for some friends up from the Siding, when she saw Claude drive up.
"Well, for the land sake!" she broke out, using one of her mother's phrases, "if here isn't that creamery man!" In that phrase lay the answer to Claude's question-if he had heard it. He drove in, and Mr. Kennedy, with impartial hospitality, went out and asked hiin to 'light and put his team in the barn.
He did so, feeling very much exhilarated. He never before had gone courting in this direct and aboveboard fashion. He mistook the father's hospitality for compliance in his designs. He followed his host into the house and faced, with very fair composure, two girls who smiled broadly as they shook hands with him. Mrs. Kennedy gave him a lax hand and a curt how-de-do, and Lucindy fairly scowled in answer to his radiant smile.
She was much changed, he could see. She wore a dress with puffed sleeves, and her hair was dressed differently. She seemed strange and distant, but he thought she was "putting that on" for the benefit of others. At the table the three girls talked of things at the Siding and ignored him so that he was obliged to turn to Farmer Kennedy for refuge. He kept his courage up by thinking, "Wait till we are alone."
After supper, when Lucindy explained that the dishes would have to be washed, he offered to help her in his best manner.
"Thank you, I don't need any help," was Lucindy's curt reply.
Ordinarily he was a man of much facility and ease in addressing women, but be was vastly disconcerted by her manner. He sat rather silently waiting for the room to clear. When the visitors intimated that they must go, he rose with cheerful alacrity.
"I'll get your horse for you."
He helped hitch the horse into the buggy, and helped the girls in with a return of easy gallantry, and watched them drive off with joy. At last the field was clear.
They returned to the sitting room, where the old folks remained for a decent interval, and then left the young people alone. His courage returned then, and he turned toward her with resolution in his voice and eyes.
"Lucindy," he began.
"Miss Kennedy, please," interrupted Lucindy with cutting emphasis.
"I'll be darned if I do," he replied hotly. "What's the matter with you? Since going to Minneapolis you put on a lot of city airs, it seems to me."
"If you don't like my airs, you know what you can do!"
He saw his mistake.
"Now see here, Lucindy, there's no sense in our quarreling."
"I don't want to quarrel; I don't want anything to do with you. I wish I'd never seen you."
"Oh, you don't mean that! After all the good talks we've had."
She flushed red. "I never had any such talks with you."
He pursued his advantage.
"Oh, yes, you did, and you took pains that I should see you."
"I didn't; no such thing. You came poking into the kitchen where you'd no business to be."
"Say, now, stop fooling. You like me and-"
"I don't. I hate you, and if you don't clear out I'll call father. You're one o' these kind o' men that think if a girl looks at 'em that they want to marry 'em. I tell you I don't want anything more to do with you, and I'm engaged to another man, and I wish you'd attend to your own business. So there! I hope you're satisfied."
Claude sat for nearly a minute in silence, then he rose. "I guess you're right. I've made a mistake. I've made a mistake in the girl." He spoke with a curious hardness in his voice. "Good evening, Miss Kennedy."
He went out with dignity and in good order. His retreat was not ludicrous. He left the girl with the feeling that she had lost her temper and with the knowledge that she had uttered a lie.
He put his horses to the buggy with a mournful self-pity as he saw the wheels glisten. He had done all this for a scornful girl who could not treat him decently. 'As he drove slowly down the road he mused deeply. It was a knock-down blow, surely. He was a just man, so far as he knew, and as he studied the situation over he could not blame the girl. In the light of her convincing wrath he comprehended that the sharp things she had said to him in the past were not make-believe-not love taps, but real blows. She had not been coquetting. with him; she had tried to keep him away. She considered herself too good for a hired man. Well, maybe she' was. Anyhow, she had gone out of his reach, hopelessly.
As he came past the Haldemans' he saw Nina sitting out under the trees in the twifight. On the impulse he pulled in. His mind took another turn. Here was a woman who was open and aboveboard in her affection. Her words meant what they stood for. He remembered how she had bloomed out the last few months. She has the making of a handsome woman in her, he thought.
She saw him and came out to the gate, and while he leaned out of his carriage she rested her arms on the gate and looked up at him. She looked pale and sad, and he was touched.
"How's the old lady?" he asked.
"Oh, she's up! She is much change-ed. She is veak and quiet"
"Quiet, is she? Well, that's good."
"She t'inks God strike her fer her vickedness. Never before did she fainted like dot."
"Well, don't spoil that notion in her. It may do her a world of good."
"Der priest come. He saidt it wass a punishment. She saidt I should marry who I like."
Claude looked at her searchingly. She was certainly much improved. All she needed was a little encouragement and advice, and she would make a handsome wife. If the old lady had softened down, her son-in-law could safely throw up the creamery job and become the boss of the farm. The old man was used up, and the farm needed someone right away.
He straightened up suddenly. "Get your hat," he sald, "and we'll take a ride."
She started erect, and he could see her pale face glow with joy.
"With me. Get your best hat. We may turn up at the minister's and get married-if a Sunday marriage is legal."
As she hurried up the walk he said to himself, "I'll bet it gives Lucindy a shock!"
And the thought pleased him mightily.
A DAY'S PLEASURE
"Mainly it is long and weariful, and has a home o' toil at one end and a dull little town at the other."
WHEN Markham came in from shoveling his last wagon-load of corn into the crib, he found that his wife had put the children to bed, and was kneading a batch of dough with the dogged action of a tired and sullen woman.
He slipped his soggy boots off his feet and, having laid a piece of wood on top of the stove, put his heels on it comfortably. His chair squeaked as he leaned back on its hind legs, but he paid no attention; he was used to it, exactly as he was used to his wife's lameness and ceaseless toil.
"That closes up my corn," he said after a silence. "I guess I'll go to town tomorrow to git my horses shod."
"I guess I'll git ready and go along," said his wife in a sorry attempt to be firm and confident of tone.
"What do you want to go to town fer?" he grumbled. "What does anybody want to go to town fer?" she burst out, facing him. "I ain't been out o' this house fer six months, while you go an' go!"
"Oh, it ain't six months. You went down that day I got the mower."
"When was that? The tenth of July, and you know it."
"Well, mebbe 'twas. I didn't think it was so long ago. I ain't no objection to your goin', only I'm goin' to take a load of wheat."
"Well, jest leave off a sack, an' that'll balance me an' the baby," she said spiritedly.
"All right," he replied good-naturedly, seeing she was roused. "Only that wheat ought to be put up tonight if you're goin'. You won't have any time to hold sacks for me in the morning with them young ones to get off to school."
"Well, let's go do it then," she said, sullenly resolute.
"I hate to go out agin; but I s'pose we'd better."
He yawned dismally and began pulling his boots on again, stamping his swollen feet into them with grunts of pain. She put on his coat and one of the boy's caps, and they went out to the granary. The night was cold and clear.
"Don't look so much like snow as it did last night," said Sam. "It may turn warm."
Laying out the sacks in the light of the lantern, they sorted out those which were whole, and Sam climbed into the bin with a tin pail in his hand, and the work began.
He was a sturdy fellow, and he worked desperately fast; the shining tin pail dived deep into the cold wheat and dragged heavily on the woman's tired hands as it came to the mouth of the sack, and she trembled with fatigue, but held on and dragged the sacks away when filled, and brought others, till at last Sam climbed out, puffing and wheezing, to tie them up.
"I guess I'll load 'em in the morning," he said. "You needn't wait fer me. I'll tie 'em up alone."
"Oh, I don't mind," she replied, feeling a little touched by his unexpectedly easy acquiescence to her request. When they went back to the house the moon had risen.
It had scarcely set when they were wakened by the crowing roosters. The man rolled stiffly out of bed and began rattling at the stove in the dark, cold kitchen.
His wife arose lamer and stiffer than usual and began twisting her thin hair into a knot.
Sam did not stop to wash, but went out to the barn. The woman, however, hastily soused her face into the hard limestone water at the sink and put the kettle on. Then she called the children. She knew it was early, and they would need several callings. She pushed breakfast forward, running over in her mind the things she must have: two spools of thread, six yards of cotton flannel, a can of coffee, and mittens for Kitty. These she must have-there were oceans of things she needed.
The children soon came scudding down out of the darkness of the upstairs to dress tumultuously at the kitchen stove. They humped and shivered, holding up their bare feet from the cold floor, like chickens in new fallen snow. They were irritable, and snarled and snapped and struck like cats and dogs. Mrs. Markham stood it for a while with mere commands to "hush up," but at last her patience gave out, and she charged down on the struggling mob and cuffed them right and left.
They ate their breakfast by lamplight, and when Sam went back to his work around the barnyard it was scarcely dawn. The children, left alone with their mother, began to tease her to let them go to town also.
"No, sir-nobody goes but baby. Your father's goin' to take a load of wheat."
She was weak with the worry of it all when she had sent the older children away to school, and the kitchen work was finished. She went into the cold bedroom off the little sitting room and put on her best dress. It had never been a good fit, and now she was getting so thin it hung in wrinkled folds everywhere about the shoulders and waist. She lay down on the bed a moment to ease that dull pam in her back. She had a moment's distaste for going out at all. The thought of sleep was more alluring. Then the thought of the long, long day, and the sickening sameness of her life, swept over her again, and she rose. and prepared the baby for the journey.
It was but little after sunrise when Sam drove out into the road and started for Belleplain. His wife sat perched upon the wheat sacks behind him, holding the baby in her lap, a cotton quilt under her, and a cotton horse blanket over her knees.
Sam was disposed to be very good-natured, and he talked back at her occasionally, though she could only under-stand him when he turned his face toward her. The baby stared out at the passing fence posts and wiggled his hands out of his mittens at every opportunity. He was merry, at least.
It grew warmer as they went on, and a strong south wind arose. The dust settled upon the woman's shawl and hat. Her hair loosened and blew unkemptly about her face. The road which led across the high, level prairie was quite smooth and dry, but still it jolted her, and the pam in her back increased. She had nothing to lean against, and the weight of the child grew greater, till she was forced to place him on the sacks beside her, though she could not loose her hold for a moment.
The town drew in sight-a cluster of small frame houses and stores on the dry prairie beside a railway station. There were no trees yet which could be called shade trees. The pitilessly severe light of the sun flooded everything. A few teams were hitched about, and in the lee of the stores a few men could be seen seated comfortably, their broad hat rims flopping up and down, their faces brown as leather.
Markham put his wife out at one of the grocery stores and drove off down toward the elevators to sell his wheat.
The grocer greeted Mrs. Markham in. a perfunctorily kind manner and offered her a chair, which she took gratefully. She sat for a quarter of an hour almost without moving, leaning against the back of the high chair. At last the child began to get restless and troublesome, and she spent half an hour helping him amuse himself around the nail kegs.
At length she rose and went out on the walk, carrying the baby. She went into the dry-goods store and took a seat on one of the little revolving stools. A woman was buying some woolen goods for a dress. It was worth twenty-seven cents a yard, the clerk said, but he would knock off two cents if she took ten yards. It looked warm, and Mrs. Markham wished she could afford it for Mary.
A pretty young girl came in, and laughed and chatted with the clerk, and bought a pair of gloves. She was the daughter of the grocer. Her happiness made the wife and mother sad. When Sam came back she asked him for some money.
"Want you want to do with it?" he asked.
"I want to spend it," she said.
She was not to be trifled with, so he gave her a dollar.
"I need a dollar more."
"Well, I've got to go take up that note at the bank."
"Well, the children's got to have some new underclo'es," she said.
He handed her a two-dollar bill and then went out to pay his note.
She bought her cotton flannel and mittens and thread, and then sat leaning against the counter. It was noon, and she was hungry. She went out to the wagon, got the lunch she had brought, and took it into the grocery to eat it-where she could get a drink of water.
The grocer gave the baby a stick of candy and handed the mother an apple.
"It'll kind o' go down with your doughnuts," he said. After eating her lunch she got up and went out. She felt ashamed to sit there any longer. She entered another dry-goods store, but when the clerk came toward her saying, "Anything today, Mrs.-?" she answered, "No, I guess not," and turned away with foolish face.
She walked up and down the street, desolately home-less. She did not know what to do with herself. She knew no one except the grocer. She grew bitter as she saw a couple of ladies pass, holding their demitrains in the latest city fashion. Another woman went by pushing a baby carriage, in which sat a child just about as big as her own. It was bouncing itself up and down on the long slender springs and laughing and shouting. Its clean round face glowed from its pretty fringed hood. She looked down at the dusty clothes and grimy face of her own little one and walked on savagely.
She went into the drugstore where the soda fountain was, but it made her thirsty to sit there, and she went out on the street again. She heard Sam laugh and saw him in a group of men over by the blacksmith shop. He was having a good time and had forgotten her.
Her back ached so intolerably that she concluded to go in and rest once more in the grocer's chair. The baby was growing cross and fretful. She bought five cents' worth of candy to take home to the children and gave baby a little piece to keep him quiet. She wished Sam would come. It must be getting late. The grocer said it was not much after one. Time seemed terribly long. She felt that she ought to do something while she was in town. She ran over her purchases-yes, that was all she had planned to buy. She fell to figuring on the things she needed. It was terrible. It ran away up into twenty or thirty dollars at the least. Sam, as well as she, needed underwear for the cold winter, but they would have to wear the old ones, even if they were thin and ragged. She would not need a dress, she thought bitterly, because she never went anywhere. She rose, and went out on the street once more, and wandered up and down, looking at everything in the hope of enjoying something.
A man from Boon Creek backed a load of apples up to the sidewalk, and as he stood waiting for the grocer he noticed Mrs. Markham and the baby, and gave the baby an apple. This was a pleasure. He had such a hearty way about him. He on his part saw an ordinary farmer's wife with dusty dress, unkempt hair, and tired face. He did not know exactly whey she appealed to him, but he tried to cheer her up.
The grocer was familiar with these bedraggled and weary wives. He was accustomed to see them sit for hours in his big wooden chair and nurse tired and fretful children. Their forlorn, aimless, pathetic wandering up and down the street was a daily occurrence, and had never possessed any special meaning to him.
In a cottage around the corner from the grocery store two men and a woman were finishing a dainty luncheon. The woman was dressed in cool, white garments, and she seemed to make the day one of perfect comfort.
The home of the Honorable Mr. Hall was by no means the costliest in the town, but his wife made it the most attractive. He was one of the leading lawyers of the county and a man of culture and progressive views. He was entertaining a friend who had lectured the night before in the Congregational church.
They were by no means in serious discussion. The talk was rather frivolous. Hall had the ability to caricature men with a few gestures and attitudes, and was giving to his Eastern friend some descriptions of the old-fashioned Western lawyers he had met in his practice. He was very amusing, and his guest laughed heartily for a time.
But suddenly Hall became aware that Otis was not listening. Then he perceived that he was peering out of the window at someone, and that on his face a look of bitter sadness was falling.
Hall stopped. "What do you see, Otis?"
Otis replied, "I see a forlorn, weary woman."
Mrs. Hall rose and went to the window. Mrs. Markham was walking by the house, her baby in her arms. Savage anger and weeping were in her eyes and on her lips, and there was hopeless tragedy in her shambling walk and weak back.
In the silence Otis went on: "I saw the poor, dejected creature twice this morning. I couldn't forget her."
"Who is she?" asked Mrs. Hall very softly.
"Her name is Markham; she's Sam Markham's wife," said Hall.
The young wife led the way into the sitting room, and the men took seats and lit their cigars. Hall was meditating a diversion when Otis resumed suddenly:
"That woman came to town today to get a change, to have a little play spell, and she's wandering around like a starved and weary cat. I wonder if there is a woman in this town with sympathy enough and courage enough to go out and help that woman? The saloonkeepers, the politicians, and the grocers make it pleasant for the man-so pleasant that he forgets his wife. But the wife is left without a word."
Mrs. Hall's work dropped, and on her pretty face was a look of pain. The man's harsh words had wounded her-and wakened her. She took up her hat and hurried out on the walk. The men looked at each other, and then the husband said:
"It's going to be a little sultry for the men around these diggings. Suppose we go out for a walk."
Delia felt a hand on her arm as she stood at the corner. "You look tired, Mrs. Markham; won't you come in a little while? I'm Mrs. Hall."
Mrs. Markham turned with a scowl on her face and a biting word on her tongue, but something in the sweet, round little face of the other woman silenced her, and her brow smoothed out.
"Thank you kindly, but it's most time to go home. I'm looking fer Mr. Markham now."
"Oh, come in a little while; the baby is cross and tried out; please do."
Mrs. Markham yielded to the friendly voice, and t~ gether the two women reached the gate just as two men hurriedly turned the other corner.
"Let me relieve you," said Mrs. Hall.
The mother hesitated: "He's so dusty."
"Oh, that won't matter. Oh, what a big fellow he is! I haven't any of my own," said Mrs. Hall, and a look passed like an electric spark between the two women, and Delia was her willing guest from that moment.
They went into the little sitting room, so dainty and lovely to the farmer's wife, and as she sank into an easy-chair she was faint and drowsy with the pleasure of it. She submitted to being brushed. She gave the baby into the hands of the Swedish girl, who washed its face and hands and sang it to sleep, while its mother sipped some tea. Through it all she lay back in her easychair, not speaking a word, while the ache passed out of her back, and her hot, swollen head ceased to throb.
But she saw everything-the piano, the pictures, the curtains, the wallpaper, the little tea stand. They were almost as grateful to her as the food and fragrant tea. Such housekeeping as this she had never seen. Her mother had worn her kitchen floor thin as brown paper in keeping a speckless house, and she had been in houses that were larger and costlier, but something of the charm of her hostess was in the arrangement of vases, chairs, or pictures. It was tasteful.
Mrs. Hall did not ask about her affairs. She talked to her about the sturdy little baby and about the things upon which Delia's eyes dwelt. If she seemed interested in a vase she was told what it was and where it was made. She was shown all the pictures and books. Mrs. Hall seemed to read her visitor's mind. She kept as far from the farm and her guest's affairs as possible, and at last she opened the piano and sang to her-not slow-moving hymns, but catchy love songs full of sentiment, and then played some simple melodies, knowing that Mrs. Markham's eyes were studying her hands, her rings, and the flash of her fingers on the keys-seeing more than she heard-and through it all Mrs. Hall conveyed the impression that she, too, was having a good time.
The rattle of the wagon outside roused them both. Sam was at the gate for her. Mrs. Markham rose hastily. "Oh, it's almost sundown!" she gasped in astonishment as she looked out of the window.
"Oh, that won't kill anybody," replied her hostess. "Don't hurry. Carrie, take the baby out to the wagon for Mrs. Markham while I help her with her things."
"Oh, I've had such a good time," Mrs. Markham said as they went down the little walk.
"So have I," replied Mrs. Hall. She took the baby a moment as her guest climbed in. "Oh, you big, fat fellow!" she cried as she gave him a squeeze. "You must bring your wife in oftener, Mr. Markham," she said as she handed the baby up.
Sam was staring with amazement
"Thank you, I will," he finally managed to say.
"Good night," said Mrs. Markham.
"Good night, dear," called Mrs. Hall, and the wagon began to rattle off.
The tenderness and sympathy in her voice brought the tears to Delia's eyes not hot nor bitter tears, but tears that cooled her eyes and cleared her mind.
The wind had gone down, and the red sunlight fell mistily over the world of corn and stubble. The crickets were strn chirping, and the feeding cattle were drifting toward the farmyards. The day had been made beautiful by human sympathy.
MRS. RIPLEY'S TRIP
"And in winter the winds sweep the snows across it."
Thn night was in windy November, and the blast, threatening rain, roared around the poor little shanty of "Uncle Ripley," set like a chicken trap on the vast Iowa prairie. Uncle Ethan was mending his old violin, with many York State "dums!" and "I gal darns!" totally oblivious of his tireless old wife, who, having "finished the supper dishes," sat knitting a stocking, evidently for the little grandson who lay before the stove like a cat. Neither of the old people wore glasses, and their light was a tallow candle; they couldn't afford "none o' them newfangled lamps." The room was small, the chairs wooden, and the walls bare-a home where poverty was a never-absent guest. The old lady looked pathetically little, wizened, and hopeless in her ill-fitting garments (whose original color had long since vanished), intent as she was on the stocking in her knotted, stiffened fingers, but there was a peculiar sparkle in her little black eyes, and an unusual resolution in the straight line of her withered and shapeless lips. Suddenly she paused, stuck a needle in the spare knob of hair at the back of her head, and looking at Ripley, said decisively: "Ethan Ripley, you'll haff to do your own cooking from now on to New Year's; I'm goin' back to Yaark State."
The old man's leather-brown face stiffened into a look of quizzical surprise for a moment; then he cackled in-credulously: "Ho! Ho! har! Sho! be y', now? I want to know if y' be."
"Well, you'll find out."
"Goin' to start tomorrow, Mother?"
"No, sir, I ain't; but I am on Thursday. I want to get to Sally's by Sunday, sure, an' to Silas's on Thanksgivin'."
There was a note in the old woman's voice that brought genuine stupefaction into the face of Uncle Ripley. Of course, in this case, as in all others, the money consideration was uppermost.
"Howgy 'xpect to get the money, Mother? Anybody died an' left yeh a pile?"
"Never you mind where I get the mony so 's 't tiy don't haff to bear it. The land knows, if I'd a-waited for you to pay my way-"
"You needn't twit me of bein' poor, old woman," said Ripley, flaming up after the manner of many old people. "I've done my part t' get along. I've worked day in and day out-"
"Oh! I ain't done no work, have I?" snapped she, laying down the stocking and leveling a needle at him, and putting a frightful emphasis on "I."
"I didn't say you hadn't done no work."
"Yes, you did!"
"I didn't, neither. I said
"I know what you said."
"I said I'd done my part!" roared the husband, dominating her as usual by superior lung power. "I didn't say you hadn't done your part," he added with an unfortunate touch of emphasis on "say."
"I know y' didn't say it, but y' meant it. I don't know what y' call doin' my part, Ethan Ripley; but if cookin' for a drove of harvest hands and thrashin' hands, takin' care o' the eggs and butter, 'n' diggin' taters an' milkin' ain't my part, I don't never expect to do my part, 'n' you might as well know it fust 's last. I'm sixty years old," she went on with a little break in her harsh voice, dominating him now by woman's logic, "an' I've never had a day to my-self, not even Fourth o' July. If I've went a-visitin' 'r to a picnic, I've had to come home an' milk 'n' get supper for you menfolks. I ain't been away t' stay overnight for thirteen years in this house, 'n' it was just so in Davis County for ten more. For twenty-three years, Ethan Ripley, I've stuck right to the stove an' churn without a day or a night off." Her voice choked again, but she rarned and continued impressively, "And now I'm a-goin' back to Yaark State."
Ethan was vanquished. He stared at her in speechless surprise, his jaw hanging. It was incredible.
"For twenty-three years," she went on musingly, "I've just about promised myself every year I'd go back an' see my folks." She was distinctly talking to herself now, and her voice had a touching, wistful cadence. "I've wanted to go back an' see the old folks, an' the hills where we played, an' eat apples off the old tree down by the old well. I've had them trees an' hills in my mind days and days-nights, too-an' the girls I used to know, an' my own folks-"
She fell into a silent muse, which lasted so long that the ticking of the clock grew loud as the gong in the man's ears, and the wind outside seemed to sound drearier than usual. He returned to the money problem, kindly, though.
"But how y' goin' t' raise the money? I ain't got no extra cash this time. Agin Roach is paid an' the mortgage interest paid we ain't got no hundred dollars to spare, Jane, not by a jugful."
"Waal, don't you lay awake nights studyin' on where I'm a-goin' to get the money," said the old woman, taking delight in mystifying him. She had him now, and he couldn't escape. He strove to show his indifference, however, by playing a tune or two on the violin.
"Come, Tukey, you better climb the wooden hill," Mrs. Ripley said a half hour later to the little chap on the floor, who was beginning to get drowsy under the influence of his grandpa's fiddling. "Pa, you had orta 'a put that string in the clock today-on the 'larm side the string is broke," she said upon returning from the boy's bedroom. "I orta get up extry early tomorrow to get some sewin' done. Land knows, I can't fix up much, but they is a leetle I c'n do. I want to look decent."
They were alone now, and they both sat expectantly. "You 'pear to think, Mother, that I'm agin yer goin'." "Waal, it would kinder seem as if y' hadn't hustled yerself any t' help me git off."
He was smarting under the sense of being wronged. "Waal, I'm jest as willin' you should go as I am for myself; but if I ain't got no money, I don't see how I'm goin' to send-"
"I don't want ye to send; nobody ast ye to, Ethan Ripley. I guess if I had what I've earnt since we came on this farm, I'd have enough to go to Jericho with."
"You've got as much out of it as I have. You talk about your gom' back. Ain't I been wantin' to go back myself? And ain't I kep' still 'cause I see it wa'n't no use? I guess I've worked jest as long and as hard as you, an' in storms an' mud an' heat, ef it comes t' that."
The woman was staggered, but she wouldn't give up; she must get m one more thrust.
"Waal, if you'd 'a managed as well as I have, you'd have some money to go with." And she rose, and went to mix her bread, and set it "raisin'." He sat by the fire twanging his fiddle softly. He was plainly thrown into gloomy retrospectlon, something quite unusual for him. But his fingers picking out the bars of a familiar tune set him to smiling, and, whipping his bow across the strings, he forgot all about his wife's resolutions and his own hardships. Trouble always slid off his back like "punkins off a haystack" anyway.
The old man still sat fiddling softly after his wife disappeared in the hot and stuffy little bedroom off the kitchen. His shaggy head bent lower over his violin. He heard her shoes drop-one, two. Pretty soon she called:
"Come, put up that squeakin' old fiddle and go to bed. Seems as if you orta have sense enough not to set there keepin' everybody in the house awake."
"You hush up," retorted he. "I'll come when I git ready, not till. I'll be glad when you're gone-"
"Yes, I warrant that."
With which arniable good nlght they went off to sleep, or at least she did, while he lay awake, pondering on "where under the sun she was goin' t' raise that money."
The next day she was up bright and early, working away on her own affairs, ignoring Ripley totally, the fixed look of resolutlon still on her little old wrinkled face. She killed a hen and dressed and baked it She fried up a pan of doughnuts and made a cake. She was engaged on the doughnuts when a neighbor came in, one of those women who take it as a personal affront when anyone in the neighborhood does anything without asking their advice. She was fat, and could talk a man blind in three minutes by the watch.
"What's this I hear, Mis' Ripley?"
"I dun know. I expect you hear about all they is goin' on in this neighborhood," replied Mrs. Ripley with crushing bluntness; but the gossip did not flinch.
"Well, Sett Turner told me that her husband told her that Ripley told him that you was goin' back East on a visit."
"Waal, what of it?"
"Well, air yeh?"
"The Lord willin' an' the weather permitin', I expect to be."
"Good land, I want to know! Well, well! I never was so astonished in my life. I said, says I, 'It can't be.' 'Well,' ses 'e, 'tha's what she told me,' ses 'e. 'But,' ses I, 'she is the last woman in the world to go gallivantin' off East,' ses I. An' ses he, 'But it comes from good authority,' ses he. 'Well, then, it must be so,' ses I. But, land sakes! do tell me all about it. How come you to make up y'r mind? Ail these years you've been kind a-talkin' it over, an' now y'r actshelly goin'-Waal, I never! 'I s'pose Ripley furnishes the money,' ses I to him. 'Well, no,' ses 'e. 'Ripley says he'll be blowed if he sees where the money's comin' from,' ses 'e; and ses I, 'But maybe she's jest jokin',' ses I. 'Not much,' he says. S' 'e: 'Ripley believes she's goin' fast enough. He's jest as anxious to find out as we be-'"
Here Mrs. Doudney paused for breath; she had walked so fast and had rested so little that her interminable flow of "ses I's" and "ses he's" ceased necessarily. She had reached, moreover, the point of most vital interest-the money.
"An' you'll find out jest 'bout as soon as he does," was the dry response from the figure hovering over the stove, and with all her maneuvering that was all she got.
All day Ripley went about his work exceedingly thoughtful for him. It was cold, blustering weather. The wind rustled among the cornstalks with a wild and mournful sound, the geese and ducks went sprawling down the wind, and horses' coats were ruffled and backs raised.
The old man was husking corn alone in the field, his spare form rigged out in two or three ragged coats, his hands inserted in a pair of gloves minus nearly all the fingers, his thumbs done up in "stalls," and his feet thrust into huge coarse boots. During the middle of the day the frozen ground thawed, and the mud stuck to his boots, and the "down ears" wet and chapped his hands, already worn to the quick. Toward night it grew colder and threatened snow. In spite of all these attacks he kept his cheerfulness, and though he was very tired, he was softened in temper.
Having plenty of time to think matters over, he had come to the conclusion "that the old woman needed a play spell. I ain't likely to be no richer next year than I am this one; if I wait till I'm able to send her she won't never go. I calc'late I c'n git enough out o' them shoats to send her. I'd kind a 'lotted on eat'n' them pigs done up mto sassengers, but if the ol' woman goes East, Tukey an' me'll kind a haff to pull through without 'em. We'll. have a turkey f'r Thanksgivin', an' a chicken once 'n a while. Lord! But we'll miss the gravy on the flapjacks. Amen!" (He smacked his lips over the thought of the lost dainty.) "But let 'er rip! We can stand it. Then there is my buffalo overcoat. I'd kind a calc'lated on havin' a buffalo-but that's gone up the spout along with them sassengers."
These heroic sacrifices having been determined upon, he put them into effect at once.
This he was able to do, for his corn rows ran alongside the road leading to Cedarville, and his neighbors were passing almost all hours of the day.
It would have softened Jane Ripley's heart could she have seen his bent and stiffened form amid the corn rows, the cold wind piercing to the bone through his threadbare and insufficient clothing. The rising wind sent the snow rattling among the moaning stalks at intervals. The cold made his poor dim eyes water, and he had to stop now and then to swing his arms about his chest to warm them. His voice was hoarse with shouting at the shivering team.
That night, as Mrs. Ripley was clearing the dishes away, she got to thinking about the departure of the next day, and she began to soften. She gave way to a few tears when little Tewksbury Gilchrist, her grandson, came up and stood beside her.
"Gran'ma, you ain't goin' to stay away always, are yeh?"
"Why, course not, Tukey. What made y' think that?"
"Well, y' ain't told us nawfliln' 'tall about it. An' yeb kind o' look 'sif yeh was mad."
"Well, Lain't mad; I'm jest a-thinkin', Tukey. Y'see, I come away from them hills when I was a little glrl a'most; before I married y'r grandad. And I ain't never been back. 'Most all my folks is there, souny, an' we've been s' poor all these years I couldn't seem t' never get started. Now, when I'm 'most ready t' go, I feel kind a queer-'sif I'd cry."
And cry she did, while little Tewksbury stood patting her trembling hands. Hearing Ripley's step on the porch, she rose hastily and, drying her eyes, plunged at the work again. Ripley came in with a big armful of wood, which he rolled into the woodbox with a thundering crash. Then he pulled off his mittens, slapped them together to knock off the ice and snow, and laid them side by side under the stove. He then removed cap, coat, blouse, and boots, which last he laid upon the woodbox, the soles turned toward the stovepipe.
As he sat down without speaking, he opened the front doors of the stove and held the palms of his stiffened hands to the blaze. The light brought out a thoughtful look on his large, uncouth, yet kindly visage. Life had laid hard lines on his brown skin, but it had not entirely soured a naturally kind and simple nature. It had made him penurious and dull and iron-muscled; had stifled all the slender flowers of his nature; yet there was warm soil somewhere hid in his heart.
"It's snowin' like all p'sessed," he remarked finally. "I guess we'll have a sleigh ride tomorrow. I calc'late t' drive y' daown in scrumptious style. If yeh must leave, why, we'll give yeh a whoopin' old send-off-won't we, Tukey?
"I've ben a4hinkin' things over kind o' t'day, Mother, an' I've come t' the conclusion that we have been kind a hard on yeh, without knowin' it, y' see. Y' see, I'm kind a easygoin, 'an' little Tuke he's only a child, an' we ain't c'nsidered how you felt."
She didn't appear to be listening, but she was, and he didn't appear, on his part, to be talking to her, and he kept his voice as hard and dry as he could.
"An' I was tellin' Tukey t'day that it was a dum shame our crops hadn't, turned out better. An' when I saw ol' Hatfield go by, I hailed him an' asked him what he'd gimme for two o' m' shoats. Waal, the upshot is, I sent t' town for some things I calc'lated ye'd heed. An' here's a tlcket to Georgetown, and ten dollars. Why, Ma, what's up?"
Mrs. Ripley broke down, and with her hands all wet with dishwater, as they were, covered her face and sobbed. She felt like kissing him, but she didn't. Tewksbury began to whimper, too; but the old man was astonished. His wife had not wept for years (before him). He rose and walked clumsily up to her and timidly touching her hair-
"Why, Mother! What's the matter? What 'v' I done now? I was calc'latln' to sell them pigs anyway. Hatfield jest advanced the money on' em."
She hopped up and dashed into the bedroom,and in a few minutes returned with a yarn mitten, tied around the wrist, which she laid on the table with a thump, saying:
"I don't want yer money. There's money enough to take me where I want to go."
"Whee-w! Thunder and jimson root! Wher'd ye git that? Didn't dig it out of a hole?"
"No. I jest saved it-a dime at a time-see?"
Here she turned it out on the table-some bills, but mostly silver dimes and quarters.
"Thunder and scissors! Must be two er three hundred dollars there," stared he.
"They's jest seventy-five dollars and thirty cents; jest about enough to go back on. Tickets is fifty-five dollars, goin' an' comin'. That leaves twenty dollars for other expenses, not countin' what I've already spent, which is six-fifty," said she, recovering her self-possession. "It's plenty."
"But y' ain't calc'lated on no sleepers nor hotel bills."
"I ain't goin' on no sleeper. Mis' Doudney says it's jest scandalous the way things is managed on them cars. I'm goin' on the old-fashioned cars, where they ain't no half-dressed men runain' around."
"But you needn't be afraid of them, Mother; at your age-"
"There! you needn't throw my age an' homeliness into my face, Ethan Ripley. If I hadn't waited an' tended on you so long, I'd look a little more's I did when I married yeh."
Ripley gave it up in despair. He didn't realize fully enough how the proposed trip had unsettled his wife's nerves. She didn't realize it herself.
"As for the hotel bills, they won't be none. I a-goin' to pay them pirates as much for a day's board as we'd charge for a week's, an' have nawthin' to eat but dishes. I'm goin' to take a chicken an' some hard-boiled eggs, an' I'm goin' right through to Georgetown."
"Well, all right; but here's the ticket I got."
"I don't want yer ticket."
"But you've got to take it."
"Wall, I hain't."
"Why, yes, ye have. It's bought, an' they won't take it back."
"Won't they?" She was staggered again.
"Not much they won't. I ast 'em. A ticket sold is sold."
"Waal, if they won't-"
"You bet they won't."
"I s'pose I'll haff to use it"; and that ended iti -They were a familiar sight as they rode down the road toward town next day. As usual, Mrs. Ripley sat up straight and stiff as "a half-drove wedge in a white-oak log." The day was cold and raw. There was some snow on the ground, but not enough to warrant the use of sleighs. It was "neither sleddin' nor wheelin'." The old people sat on a board laid across the box, and had an old quilt or two drawn up over their knees. Tewksbury lay in the back part of the box (which was filled with hay), where he jounced up and down, in company with a queer old trunk and a brand-new imitation-leather handbag, There is no ride quite so desolate and uncomfortable as a ride in a lumber wagon on a cold day in autumn, when the ground is frozen and the wind is strong and raw with threatening snow. The wagon wheels grind along in the snow, the cold gets in under the seat at the calves of one's legs, and the ceaseless bumping of the bottom of the box on the feet is frightful.
There was not much talk on the way down, and what little there was related mainly to certain domestic regulations to be strictly followed regarding churning, pickles, pancakes, etc. Mrs. Ripley wore a shawl over her head and carried her queer little black bonnet in her hand. Tewksbury was also wrapped in a shawl. The boy's teeth were pounding together like castanets by the time they reached Cedarville, and every muscle ached with the fatigue of shaking. After a few purchases they drove down to the railway station, a frightful little den (common in the West) which was always too hot or too cold. It happened to be hot just now-a fact which rejoiced little Tewksbury.
"Now git my trunk stamped 'r fixed, 'r whatever they call it," she said to Ripley in a commanding tone, which gave great delight to the inevitable crowd of loafers begliming to assemble. "Now remember, Tukey, have Granddad kill that biggest turkey night before Thanksgiving, an' then you run right over to Mis' Doudney's-she's got a nawful tongue, but she can bake a turkey first-rate-an' she'll fix up some squash pies for yeh. You can warm up one s' them mince pies. I wish ye could be with me, but ye can't, so do the best ye can."
Ripley returning now, she said: "Waal, now, I've fixed things up the best I could. I've baked bread enough to last a week, an' Mis' Doudney has promised to bake for yeh."
"I don't like her bakin'."
"Waal, you'll haff to stand it till I get back, 'n' you'll find a jar o' sweet pickles an' some crabapple sauce down suller, 'n' you'd better melt up brown sugar for 'lasses, 'n' for goodness' sake don't eat all them mince pies up the fust week, 'n' see that Tukey ain't froze goin' to school. An' now you'd better get out for home. Good-bye, an' remember them pies.
As they were riding home, Ripley roused up after a long silence.
"Did she-a-kiss you goodbye, Tukey?"
"No, sir," piped Tewksbury.
"Thunder! didn't she?" After a silence. "She didn't me, neither. I guess she kind of sort a forgot it, bein' so frustrated, y' know."
One cold, windy, intensely bright day, Mrs. Stacey, who lives about two miles from Cedarville, looking out of the window, saw a queer little figure struggling along the road, which was blocked here and there with drifts. It was an old woman laden with a good half-dozen parcels, any one of which was a load, which the wind seemed determined to wrench from her. She was dressed in black, with a full skirt, and her cloak being short, the wind had excellent opportunity. to inflate her garments ind sail her off occasionally into the deep snow outside the track, but she held on bravely till she reached the gate. As she turned in, Mrs. Stacey cried:
"Why! it's Gran'ma Ripley, just getting back from her trip. Why! how do you do? Come in. Why! you must be nearly frozen. Let me take off your hat and veil."
"No, thank ye kindly, but I can't stop. I must be glttin' back to Ripley. I expec' that man has jest let ev'rything go six ways f'r Sunday."
"Oh, you must sit down just a minute and warm."
"Waal, I will, but I've got to git home by sundown. Sure I don't s'pose they's a thing in the house to eat."
"Oh dear! I wish Stacey was here, so he could take you home. An' the boys at school."
"Don't need any help, if 'twa'n't for these bundles an' things. I guess I'll jest leave some of 'em here an'- Here! take one of these apples. I brought 'em from Lizy Jane's suller, back to Yaark State."
"Oh! they're delicious! You must have had a lovely time."
"Pretty good. But I kep' thinkin' o' Ripley an' Tukey all the time. I s'pose they have had a gay time of it" (she meant the opposite of gay). "Waal, as I told Lizy Jane, I've had my spree, an' now I've got to git back to work. They ain't no rest for such as we are. As I told Lizy Jane, them folks in the big houses have Thanksgivin' dinners every day uv their lives, and men an' women in splendid do's to wait on 'em, so't Thanksgivin' don't mean anything to 'em; but we poor critters, we make a great to-do if we have a good dinner oncet a year. I've saw a pile o' this world, Mrs. Stacey-a pile of it! I didn't think they was so many big houses in the world as I saw b'tween here an' Chicago. Waal, I can't set here gabbin'; I must get home to Ripley. Jest kinder stow them bags away. I'll take two an' leave them three others. Goodbye. I must be gittin' home to Ripley. He'll want his supper on time." And off up the road the indomitable little figure trudged, head held down to the cutting blast. Little snow fly, a speck on a measureless expanse, crawling along with painful breathing and slipping, sliding steps- "Gittin' home to Ripley an' the boy."
Ripley was out to the barn when she entered, but Tewksbury was building a fire in the old cookstove. He sprang up with a cry of joy and ran to her. She seized him and kissed him, and it did her so much good she hugged him close and kissed him again and again, crying hysterically.
"Oh, gran'ma, I'm so glad to see you! We've had an awful time since you've been gone."
She released him and looked around. A lot of dirty dishes were on the table, the tablecloth was a "sight to behold," and so was the stove-kettle marks all over the tablecloth, splotches of pancake batter all over the stove.
"Waal, I sh'd say as much," she dryly vouchsafed, untying her bonnet strings.
When Ripley came in she had on her regimentals, the stove was brushed, the room swept, and she was elbow-deep in the dishpan. "Hullo, Mother! Got back, hev yeh?"
"I sh'd say it was about time," she replied briefly with-out looking up or ceasing work. "Has ol' 'Cruuipy' dried up yit?" This was her greeting.
Her trip was a fact now; no chance could rob her of it. She had looked forward twenty-three years toward it, and now she could look back at it accomplished. She took up her burden again, never more thinking to lay it down.
UNCLE ETHAN RIPLEY
"Like the Main-Travelled Road of Life, it is traversed by many classes of people."
UNCLE ETHAN had a theory that a man's character could be told by the way he sat in a wagon seat.
"A mean man sets right plumb in the middle o' the seat, as much as to say, 'Walk, goldarn yeh, who cares!' But a man that sets in the corner o' the seat, much as to say, 'Jump in-cheaper t' ride 'n to walk,' you can jest tie to."
Uncle Ripley was prejudiced in favor of the stranger, therefore, before he came opposite the potato patch, where the old man was "bugging his vines." The stranger drove a jaded-looking pair of calico ponies, hitched to a clattering democrat wagon, and he sat on the extreme end of the seat, with the lines in his right hand, while his left rested on his thigh, with his little finger gracefully crooked and his elbows akimbo. He wore a blue shirt, with gay-colored armlets just above the elbows, and his vest hung unbuttoned down his lank ribs. It was plain he was well pleased with himself.
As he pulled up and threw one leg over the end of the seat, Uncle Ethan observed that the left spring was much more worn than the other, which proved that it was not accidental, but that it was the driver's habit to sit on that end of the seat.
"Good afternoon," said the stranger pleasantly.
"Good afternoon, sir."
"Bugs purty plenty?"
"Plenty enough, I gol! I don't see where they all come fum."
"Early Rose?" inquired the man, as if referring to the bugs.
"No; Peachblows an' Carter Reds. My Early Rose is over near the house. The old woman wants 'em near. See the darned things!" he pursued, rapping savagely on the edge of the pan to rattle the bugs back.
"How do yeh kill 'em-scald 'em?"
"Mostly. Sornetimcs I
"Good piece of oats," yawned the stranger listessly.
"So 'tis. Didn't notice."
Uncle Ethan was wondering who the man was. He had some pots of black paint in the wagon and two or three square boxes.
"What do yeh think o' Cleveland's chances for a second term?" continued the man, as if they had been talking politics all the while.
Uncle Ripley scratched his head. "Waal-I dunn~ bein' a Republican-I think-"
"That's so-it's a purty scaly outlook. I don't believe in second terms myself," the man hastened to say.
"Is that your new barn acrosst there?" be asked, point-ing with his whip.
"Yes, sir, it is," replied the old man proudly. After years of planning and hard work he had managed to erect a little wooden barn, costing possibly three hundred dollars. It was plain to be seen he took a childish pride in the fact of its newness.
The stranger mused. "A lovely place for a sign," he said as his eyes wandered across its shining yellow broadside.
Uncle Ethan stared, unmindful of the bugs crawling over the edge of his pan. His interest in the pots of paint deepened.
"Couldn't think o' lettin' me paint a sign on that barn?" the stranger continued, putting his locked hands around one knee and gaining away across the pigpen at the building.
"What kind of a sign? Goldarn your skins!" Uncle Ethan pounded the pan with his paddle and scraped two or three crawling abominations off his leathery wrist.
It was a beautiful day, and the man in the wagon seemed unusually loath to attend to business. The tired ponies slept in the shade of the lombardies. The plain was draped in a warm mist and shadowed by vast, vaguely defined masses of clouds-a lazy June day.
"Dodd's Family Bitters," said the man, waking out of his abstraction with a start and resuming his working manner. "The best bitter in the market." He alluded to it in the singular. "Like to look at it? No trouble to show goods, as the fellah says," he went on hastily, seeing Uncle Ethan's hesitation.
He produced a large bottle of triangular shape, like a bottle for pickled onions. It had a red seal on top and a strenuous caution in red letters on the neck, "None genuine unless 'Dodd's Family Bittem' is blown in the bottom."
"Here's what it cures," pursued the agent, pointing at the side, where; in an inverted pyramid, the names of several hundred diseases were arranged, running from "gout" to "pulmonary complaints," etc.
"I gol! She cuts a wide swath, don't she?" exclaimed Uncle Ethan, profoundly impressed with the list.
"They ain't no better bitter in the world," said the agent with a conclusive inflection.
"What's its speshy-ality? Most of 'em have some speshy-ality."
"Well-summer complaints-an'-an'-spring an' fall troubles-tones ye up, sort of."
Uncle Ethan's forgotten pan was empty of his gathered bugs. He was deeply interested in this man. There was something he liked about him.
"What does it sell fur?" he asked after a pause.
"Same price as them cheap medicines-dollar a bottle-big bottles, too. Want one?"
"Wal, mother ain't to home, an' I don't know as she'd like this kind. We ain't been sick fr years. Still, they's no tellln'," he added, seeing the answer to his objection in the agent's eyes. "Times is purty close too, with us, y' see;; we've just built that stable-"
'Say I'll tell yeh what I'll do," said the stranger, waking up and speaking in a warnily generous tone. "I'll give you ten bottles of the bitter if you'll let me paint a sign on that barn. It won't hurt the barn a bit, and if you want 'o you can paint it Out a year from date. Come, what d'ye say?"
"I guess I hadn't better."
The agent thought that Uncle Ethan was after more pay, but in reality he was thinking of what his little old wife would say.
"It simply puts a family bitter in your home that may save you fifty dollars this comin' fall. You can't tell."
Just what the man said after that Uncle Ethan didn't follow. His voice had a confidential purring sound as he stretched across the wagon seat and talked on, eyes half shut. He straightened up at last and concluded in the tone of one who has carried his point:
"So! If you didn't want to use the whole twenty five bottles y'rself, why! sell it to your neighbors. You can get twenty dollars out of it easy, and still have five bottles of the best family bitter that ever went into a bottle."
It was the thought of this opportunity to get a buffalo skin coat that consoled Uncle Ethan as he saw the hideous black letters appearing under the agent's lazy brush.
It was the hot side of the barn, and painting was no light work. The agent was forced to mop his forehead with his sleeve.
"Say, hain't got a cookie or anything, and a cup o' milk, handy?" he said at the end of the first enormous word, which ran the whole length of the barn.
Uncle Ethan got him the milk and oookie, which he ate with an exaggeratedly dainty action of his fingers, seated meanwhile on the staging which Uncle Ripley had helped him to build. This lunch infused new energy into him, and in a short time "DODD'S FAMILY BITTERS, Best in the Market," disfigured the sweet-smelling pine boards.
Ethan was eating his self-obtained supper of bread and milk when his wife came home.
"Who's been a-paintin' on that barn?" she demanded, her beadlike eyes flashing, her withered little face set in an ominous frown. "Ethan Ripley, what you been doin'?"
"Nawthin'," he replied feebly.
"Who painted that sign on there?"
"A man come along an' he wanted to paint that on there, and I let 'im; and it's my barn anyway. I guess I can do what I'm a min' to with it," he ended defiantly; but his eyes wavered.
Mrs. Ripley ignored the defiance. "What under the sun p'sessed you to do such a thing as that, Ethan Ripley? I declare I don't see! You git fooler an' fooler cv'ry day you live, I do believe."
Uncle Ethan attempted a defense.
"Wal, he paid me twenty-five dollars f'r it, anyway."
"Did 'e?" She was visibly affected by this news.
"Wal, anyhow, it amounts to that; he give me twenty-five bottles-"
Mrs. Ripley sank back in her chair. "Wal, I swan to Bungay! Ethan Ripley-wal, you beat all I ever see!" she added in despair of expression. "I thought you had some sense left; but you hain't, not one blessed scimpton. Where is the stuff?"
"Down cellar, an' you needn't take on no airs, ol' woman. I've known you to buy things you didn't need time an' time an' agin-tins an' things, an' I guess you wish you had back that ten dollars you paid for that illustrated Bible,"
"Go 'long an' bring that stuff up here. I never see such a man in my life. It's a wonder he didn't do it f'r two bottles." She glared out at the 'sign, which faced directly upon the kitchen window.
Uncle Ethan tugged the two cases up and set them down on the floor of the kitchen. Mrs. Ripley opened a bottle and smelled of it like a cautious cat.
"Ugh! Merciful sakes, what stuff! It ain't fit f'r a hog to take. What'd you think you was goin' to do with it?" she asked in poignant disgust.
"I expected to take it-if I was sick. Whaddy ye s'pose?" He defiantly stood his ground, towering above her like a leaning tower.
"The hull cartload of it?"
"No. I'm goin' to sell part of it an' git me an overcoat-"
"Sell it!" she shouted. "Nobuddy'il buy that sick'nin' stuff but an old numskull like you. Take that slop out o' the house this 'minute! Take it right down to the sinkhole an' smash every bottle on the stones."
Uncle Ethan and the cases of medicine disappeared, and the old woman addressed her concluding remarks to little Tewksbury, her grandson, who stood timidly on one leg in the doorway, like an intruding pullet.
"Everything around this place 'ud go to rack an' ruin if I didn't keep a watch on that soft-pated old dummy. I thought that lightnin'-rod man had glve him a lesson he'd remember; but no, he must go an' make a reg'lar-"
She subsided in a tumult of banging pans, which helped her out in the matter of expression and reduced her to a grim sort of quiet. Uncle Ethan went about the house like a convict on shipboard. Once she caught him looking out of the window.
"I should think you'd feel proud o' that."
Uncle Ethan had never been sick a day in his life. He was bent and bruised with never-ending toil, but he had nothing especial the matter with him.
He did not smash the medicine, as Mrs. Ripley commanded, because he had determined to sell it. The next Sunday morning, after his chores were done, he put on his best coat of faded diagonal, and was brushing his hair into a ridge across the center of his high, narrow head when Mrs. Ripley carne in from feeding the calves.
"Where you goin' now?"
"None o' your business," he replied. "It's darn funny if I can't stir without you wantin' to know all about it. Where's Tukey?"
"Feedin' the chickens. You ain't goin' to take him off this mornin' now! I don't care where you go."
"Who's a-goin' to take him off? I ain't said nothin' about takin' him off."
"Wal, take y'rseif off, an' if y' ain't here f'r dinner, I ain't goin' to get no supper."
Ripley took a water pail, and put four bottles of "the bitter mto it, and trudged away up the road with it in a pleasant glow of hope. All nature seemed to declare the day a time of rest and invited men to disassoeiate ideas of toil from the rustling green wheat, shining grass, and tossing blooms. Something of the sweetness and buoyancy of all nature permeated the old man's work-calloused body, and he whistled little snatches of the dance tunes he played on his fiddle.
But he found neighbor Johnson to be supplied with another variety of bitter, which was all he needed for the present. He qualified his refusal to buy with a cordial invitation to go out and see his shoats, in which he took infinite pride. But Uncle Ripley said: "I guess I'll haf t' be gom'; I want 'o git up to Jennings' before dimier."
He couldn't help feeling a little depressed when he found Jennings away. The next house along the pleasant lane was inhabited by a "newcomer." He was sitting on the horse trough, holding a horse's halter, while his hired man dashed cold water upon the galled spot on the animal's shoulder.
After some preliminary talk Ripley presented his medicine.
"Hell, no! What do I want of such stuff? When they's anything the matter with me, I take a lunkin' ol' swig of popple bark and bourbon! That fixes me."
Uncle Ethan moved off up the lane. He hardly felt like whistling now. At the next house he set his pail down in the weeds beside the fence and went in without it. Doudney came to the door in his bare feet, buttoning his suspenders over a clean boiled shirt. He was dressing to go out.
"Hello, Ripley. I was just goin' down your way. Jest wait a minute, an' I'll be out."
When he came out, fully dressed, Uncle Ethan grappled him.
"Say, what d' you think o' paytent med-"
"Some of 'em are boss. But y' want 'o know what y're gittin'."
"What d' ye think o, Dodd's-"
"Best in the market."
Uncle Ethan straightened up and his face lighted. Doudney went on:
"Yes, sir; best bitter that ever went into a bottle. I know, I've tried it. I don't go much on patent medicines, but when I get a good-"
"Don't want 'o buy a bottle?"
Doudney turned and faced him.
"Buy! No. I've got nineteen bottles I want 'o sell" Ripley glanced up at Doudney's new granary and there read "Dodd's Family Bitters." He was stricken dumb. Doudney saw it all and roared.
"Wal, that's a good one! We two tryin' to sell each other bitters. Ho-ho-ho-har, whoop! wal, this is rich! How many bottles did you git?"
"None o' your business," said Uncle Ethan as he turned and made off, while Doudney screamed with merriment.
On his way home Uncle Ethan grew ashamed of his burden. Doudney had canvassed the whole neighborhood, and he practically gave up the struggle. Everybody he met seemed determined to find out what he had been doing, and at last he began lying about it.
"Hello, Uncle Ripley, what y' got there in that pail?"
"Goose eggs fr settin'."
He disposed of one bottle to old Gus Peterson. Gus never paid his debts, and he would oniy promise fifty cents "on tick" for the bottle, and yet so desperate was Ripley that this questionable sale cheered him up not a little.
As he came down the road, tired, dusty, and hungry, he climbed over the fence in order to avoid seeing that sign on the barn and slunk into the house without looking back.
He couldn't have felt meaner about it if he had allowed a Democratic poster to be pasted there.
The evening passed in grim silence, and in sleep he saw that sign wriggling across the side of the barn like boa constrictors hung on rails. He tried to paint them out, but every time he tried it the man seemed to come back with a sheriff and savagely warned him to let it stay till the year was up. In some mysterious way the agent seemed to know every time he brought out the paint pot, and he was no longer the pleasant-voiced individual who drove the calico ponies.
As he stepped out into the yard next morning that abominable, sickening, scrawling advertisement was the first thing that claimed his glance-it blotted out the beauty of the morning.
Mrs. Ripley came to the window, buttoning her dress at the throat, a wisp of her hair sticking assertively from the little knob at the back of her head.
"Lovely, ain't it! An' J've got to see it all day long. I can't look out the winder, but that thing's right in my face." It seemed to make her savage. She hadn't been in such a temper since her visit to New York. "I hope you feel satisfied with it."
Ripley walked off to the barn. His pride in its clean sweet newness was gone. He slyly tried the paint to see if it couldn't be scraped off, but it was dried in thoroughly. Whereas before he had taken delight in having his neighbors turn and look at the building, now he kept out of sight whenever he saw a team coming. He hoed corn away in the back of the field, when he should have been bugging potatoes by the roadside.
Mrs. Ripley was in a frightful mood about it, but she held herself in check for several days. At last she burst forth:
"Ethan Ripley, I can't stand that thing any longer, and I ain't goin' to, that's all! You've got to go and paint that thing out, or I will. I'm just about crazy with it."
"But, Mother, I promised-"
"I don't care what you promised, it's got to be painted out. I've got the nightmare now, seein' it. I'm goin' to send for a pail o' red paint, and I'm goin' to paint that out if it takes the last breath I've got to do it."
"I'll tend to it, Mother, if you won't hurry me-"
"I can't stand it another day. It makes me boil every time I look out the winder."
Uncle Ethan hitched up his team and drove gloomily off to town, where he tried to find the agent. He lived in some other part of the county, however, and so the old man gave up and bought a pot of red paint, not daring to go back to his desperate wife without it.
"Goin' to paint y'r new barn?" inquired the merchant with friendly interest.
Uncle Ethan turned with guilty sharpness; but the merchant's face was grave and kindly.
"Yes, I thought I'd tech it up a little-don't cost much."
"It pays-always," the merchant said emphatically.
"Will it-stick jest as well put on evenings?" inquired Uncle Ethan hesitatingly.
"Yes-won't make any difference. Why? Ain't goin' to have-"
"Wal-I kind o' thought I'd do it odd times night an' mornin'-kind o' odd times—-"
He seemed oddly confused about it, and the merchant looked after him anxiously as he drove away.
After supper that night he went out to the barn, and Mrs. Ripley heard him sawing and hammering. Then the noise ceased, and he came in and sat down in his usual place.
"What y' be'n makin'?" she inquired. Tewksbury had gone to bed. She sat darning a stocking.
"I jest thought I'd git the stagin' ready f'r paintin'," he said evasively.
"Wal! I'll be glad when it's covered up." When she got ready for bed, he was still seated in his chair, and after she had dozed off two or three times she began to wonder why he didn't come When the clock struck ten, and she realized that he had not stirred, she began to get impatient. "Come, are y' goin' to sit there all night?" There was no reply. She rose up in bed and looked about the room. The broad moon flooded it with light, so that she could see he was not asleep in his chair, as she had supposed. There was something ominous in his disappearance.
"Ethan! Ethan Ripley, where are yeh?" There was no reply to her sharp call. She rose and distractedly looked about among the furniture, as if he inight somehow be a cat and be hiding in a corner somewhere. Then she went upstairs where the boy slept, her hard little heels making a curious tunking noise on the bare boards. The moon fell across the sleeping hoy like a robe of silver. He was alone.
She began to be alarmed. Her eyes widened in fear. An sorts of vague horrors sprang unbidden into her brain. She still had the mist of sleep in her brain.
She hurried down the stairs and out into the fragrant night. The katydids were singing in infinite peace under the solemn splendor of the moon. The cattle sniffed and sighed, jangling their bells now and then, and the chickens in the coop stirred uneasily as if overheated. The old woman stood there in her bare feet and long nightgown, horror-stricken. The ghastly story of a man who had hung himseif in his barn because his wife deserted him came into her mind and stayed there with frightful persistency. Her throat filled chokingly.
She felt a wild rush of loneliness. She had a sudden realization of how dear that gaunt old figure was, with its grizzled face and ready smile. Her breath came quick and quicker, and she was at the point of bursting into a wild cry to Tewksbury when she heard a strange noise. It came from the barn, a creaking noise. She looked that way and saw in the shadowed side a deeper shadow moving to and fro. A revulsion to astonishment and anger took place in her.
"Land o' Bungay! If he ain't paintin' that barn, like a perfect old idiot, in the night."
Uncle Ethan, working desperately, did not hear her feet pattering down the path, and was startled by her shrill voice.
"Well, Ethan Ripley, whaddy y' think you're doin' now?"
He made two or three slapping passes with the brush and then snapped out, "I'm a-paintin' this barn-whaddy ye s'pose? II ye had eyes y' wouldn't ask."
"Well, you come right straight to bed. What d'you mean by actin' so?"
"You go back into the house an' let me be. I know what I'm a-doin'. You've pestered me about this sign jest about enough." He dabbed his brush to and fro as he spoke. His gaunt figure towered above her in shadow. His slapping brush had a vicious sound.