I didn't blame Peter at all, for that play was his "little one" and his first. I just took it out in hating and vilifying Farrington, until I got Peter much comforted, even interested in hearing about the splendid price Sam had got for the north-field rye. Then it was time for us to go to bed, and I suppose it was best that it was too late for Mabel to come into my room to tell me her version of Peter's troubles. For that one night I sympathized fully with him. The next morning I was shown another side of the question. And I felt decidedly different about Mr. Farrington when he talked to me for a little while, alone before dinner the next day, and after Judge Vandyne had also had me in solitary conversation.
"You see, my dear young lady," said Mr. Farrington, with that twin-star smile in his eyes I have mentioned, "the very wonderful nature that grows and flowers such an exquisite young first play as this of our young friend's, is the undoing of the work and the producer, unless he is a heartless old brute like the one to whom you are at present talking."
"Oh, I don't think you are that now, not at all. I—I think you are wonderful, and I trust you with the play even though you haven't told me anything about what you are doing to it," I exclaimed in great confidence and enthusiasm.
"You are a wonderful bit lass yourself, and I trust you with my poet, even if you haven't told me just what you are going to do with him," he answered, and looked at me with the real affection, tempered with amusement, that daddy and Judge Vandyne and Dr. Chubb all use toward me.
I blushed and was just going to tell him that—well, I don't know just what I was going to tell him, but I am sure I'd have opened my innermost heart to him, for that is what he invites, when in came Peter and the rest, and we all went in to dinner. I didn't see the great dean of the American stage alone any more, but he whispered to me just as Mabel and Miss Greenough and I were leaving the room:
"Keep my poet easy, and you'll see what you see."
I am glad now when I look back on it that my presence did help Peter through the ordeal of that two weeks. Also Mabel and I had schemes together to take his mind off his dying child, which was being operated on by Farrington to make it a success. The best diversion, however, was Judge Vandyne's. He asked me to make out a list of ten of Peter's Hayesboro friends, for whom he would send a private car over one of his railroads, to bring them up for the first night of the play. That was to be the 20th of September, and even then the bills were up all over New York. I could see, from the way Judge Vandyne was taking it all, that he intended to make the best of having a poet for a son, and to put it through with his usual energetic force.
Peter was perfectly delighted at having all his Hayesboro friends come. He wrote them all letters, and Mabel wrote them notes. After that Peter got uneasy and made Judge Vandyne write to everybody, and the next day he insisted that I should write, too.
"Oh, I wish Sam could come, but I know he can't," I said, with a sudden hurt place just where I was about to swallow my mushroomed cutlet.
"Sam not come?" said Peter, growing white about his mouth and throwing down his napkin.
"Oh, Peter, Sam didn't want me to say anything about it, but he doesn't think it is possible for him to get away and—and you know, Peter, Sam has to buy the sheep he wants to put in the woods; and I told you that another mule—"
"I can't, I can't stand it for Samboy not to be here," said Peter as he pushed his cutlet away from him, upset his glass, and turned over a vase that in turn knocked down the center vase of roses, besides upsetting the composure of the butler and one footman. I saw it was going to be a regular poetic outburst, such as Mammy would have called a tantrum in Sam or me, and that Mabel was positively scared and Miss Greenough much pained.
"Crittenden will be here," said Judge Vandyne in a perfectly calm and certain voice. "Don't worry, son!"
I knew he meant that he would lend Sam the money, or I thought I knew that, and I felt perfectly sure that Sam wouldn't come. Nobody knows Samuel Foster Crittenden as I do; and the reason he is so congenial with his mules is that he is so like them in "setness" of disposition. I just raged at him in my heart, for I knew from the way I felt myself how poor Peter wanted him; but I controlled myself and went right on talking about how I knew the others would come and how much they would enjoy it.
"Julia has never been to New York. Won't she be delicious?" I exclaimed as we came to her on the list. Peter had put her first.
"Delicious is the right word," said Peter, and he then launched forth in a description of Julia that I would hardly have recognized, though I had been born across the street from her and have loved her devotedly from our second years. It is such a joy to have two people whom you love appreciative of each other, and I knew that Julia fully reciprocated Peter's interested friendship for her. She had wept on my shoulder at parting from Peter, and had written him long and encouraging letters for me while I was going up to Nashville to have my clothes made for the trip to New York and trying to get a little time in my garden out at The Briers. I have to stop; I never let myself think of that parting with Sam and The Briers. Some things are too deep for words. Then to continue about Julia, I wrote her how to have her dresses made, but told her to get only one little traveling-hat and leave the rest to Mabel and me and Fifth Avenue. I also advised Edith and Sue to do likewise, but I knew Miss Editha would have Miss Sally Pride make her a new bonnet on the frame of the old one, and Peter said she would not be the "wraith of an old rose" in anything else.
It was glorious that Tolly and Pink could both come, though Billy Robertson was not sure. I did so hope that Clyde would get a real chance to open Edith's kitten eyes for her through some heroic accident of travel, and I was glad that Colonel Menefee was coming, because he would engage Miss Editha's attention away from Tolly's attentions to Edith and give them a chance to come forward out of their backwardness. The telephone scheme had failed, Tolly told me, because the wire chief had made a mistake and still left them connected at Central. "Central" is the little Pride girl, the milliner's youngest niece, and very pretty. Just as he was ready to begin firmly with Edith she sweetly said:
"Now your connection is good, Mr. Tolbot."
When I left home poor Tolly was really becoming embittered against the world and was absorbing himself in putting up a new telephone line over to Spring Hill. I told Peter how he ought to appreciate Tolly for leaving business in that state to come up for the first night of the play; and Peter said:
"Dear old chap; we must find the shibboleth that will unleash the hooded falcon of his soul." Isn't Peter wonderful?
If all the invited guests in Hayesboro were busy getting ready to do justice to the first night of "The Emergence," we were in the same state. Judge Vandyne was planning to give a dinner that night to his most distinguished lawyer friends in honor of Farrington, and daddy had promised to try to come. Of course, Peter was going to have a dinner of his own, to which he was inviting a lot of delightful friends to meet his Hayesboro friends, and they were having both dinners at the Ritz, so Peter could go in and make a speech to Judge Vandyne's party. Most of the friends had not come back from the lakes and the shore and their country homes, but were running into town for that one evening. It was all the most delicious excitement, but—oh, a place way down deep in me behind my excited breathing was so sore about Sam! I couldn't even think about his not being there, but I went on and danced and had a good time in sheer desperation. Sam had to plow and hoe and reap and sow for food, while we ate and drank it and made merry!
Then the first night came, and everybody was there looking in high feather, and some of them wearing very low dress. Judge Vandyne had taken all the boxes in the theater, and they were every one full to overflowing with loving excitement about Peter. I was in the second box on the right-hand side of the stage at the front, and Peter sat in the shadow back of me. Julia and one of Peter's classmates were just behind us. As the curtain went up Peter took a hard hold on my hand under my white chiffon scarf, and I heard him mutter under his breath:
I am not going to try to describe that play of Peter's. The newspapers used all the adjectives and things there are in the English language to express enthusiasm with, and I haven't got any left. I will simply tell about it.
When Peter had gone out and buried himself in the shack on the hillside of The Briers, that looked out over the Harpeth Valley, he had unconsciously buried that frozen hero in "The Emergence" and had gone to work and resurrected him in a kind of Samuel Foster Crittenden. Instead of being a complicated, heroic, erratic genius he was just a big, simple, strong young man who was doing his part in the corner of the world's vineyard where he had been sent to work. To help him Peter had written in a wonderful girl with a great deal of brains for one so young. Just the sort of woman that men like Sam and the hero deserve to have. She was so lovely that I caught my breath and—and suffered. But what made everybody in that theater laugh themselves happy was the essence of Hayesboro that Peter had distilled and poured into his characters. Everybody was so mixed up with everybody else that nobody could feel sensitive or fail to enjoy every character. I couldn't tell whether I was the girl that practised tango steps all the time, even when the minister (who had manners like those of Colonel Menefee and the Mayor of Hayesboro) came to supper, or the girl that always had a plate of hickory-nut candy in her hand and kept saying sharp things while giving everybody something sweet to take away the taste. Julia said she was that girl, but Peter indignantly denied anybody's being anybody, and then we all kept still. Just then the curtain went down on the second act, with the whole house in an uproar; and there was a call for Peter and Farrington.
Peter went and left me sitting there in the shadow alone, while he stepped out on the stage all by himself—the stage of his life. And, oh, I was so glad to be in the shadow all by myself, for I had been as happy as I could and it was beginning to wear off. I wanted Sam—I wanted him even if the wonderful woman in the play was going to have him in real life, too, as I knew would have to happen some day. Also Sam deserved to be there that night if anybody did, and he was way down in the Harpeth Valley working, working, working, it seemed to me, that all the rest of the world might play. I wanted him! I felt as if I couldn't stand it when Peter stepped forward, looking like the most beautiful Keats the world had ever known, and the whole house gasped at his beauty and kept still to hear what a man that looked like that would have to say. I stifled a sob and looked around to see if I could flee somewhere, when suddenly my groping hand was taken in two big, warm, horny ones, and Sam's deep voice said in the same old fish-hook tone:
"Steady, Bettykin, and watch old Pete take his first hurdle."
I took one look at a great big glorious Sam in all sorts of fine linen that was purple in the mist of my eyes, and then I was perfectly quiet, with no fish-hook at all in my arm or in my life. I heard every word of Peter's speech, and laughed and almost cried over the one Farrington made about the young American drama, with his arm across Peter's shoulder. I forgot all about Sam because he was there, and just reveled in being happier than I had been since I had adopted Peter and the play, now that it was successfully out of our systems.
And it was successfully out. Nobody who heard the thunder after the last act could have doubted that. The New Times the next day said it was "The burgeoning of the American poetic drama," and another paper said, "Bubbles fresh from the fount of American youth." We got the papers and read them coming home from Peter's supper-party over at the Astor, which his New York friends gave because they wanted to see more of his Hayesboro friends. Everybody was there and the success of the evening came when Pink Herriford told his mule story. Peter made him do it, and everybody adored it. And just as they were all laughing and exclaiming at the droll way in which he characterized those resurgent mules, I looked down the table and happened to see that Clyde Tolbot was holding Editha Morris Carruthers's hand in a way that anybody who understood these matters knew from the position of their shoulders that such was the case.
"A taxicab lost us on Broadway at ten dollars per second, and I made connection with her wires before found," he whispered to me, as we all rose to go, just as the night was also taking its departure from New York. New York in the daytime is like a huge football game in which a million or two players all fall on the ball of life at the same time and kick and squirm and fight over it; but at night it is a dragon with billions of flaming eyes that only blink out when it is time to crawl away from the rising sun and get in a hole until the dark comes again. It is the most wonderful city in the world to stay in until you are ready to go home.
Sam hadn't been at Peter's supper-party, and neither had Judge Vandyne, but I didn't worry about that. I never worry about Sam. I just like to know he is somewhere near and then forget him—if I am allowed, which I am not if Sam can think up some important work for me to do. At six o'clock in the morning I laid down the papers with Peter's triumph in them and rolled into bed, dead with sleep; and before seven Sam had sent me a note that forced me to open my eyes and stagger up and on. It said:
DEAR BETTY,—Get a maid at the hotel to come with you to the following address. I need you badly. A reliable taxi is waiting. SAM.
Horrible thoughts of somebody's having kidnapped Sam flashed across my brain as I threw on my clothes. How had he happened to come to New York, anyway, and then disappear right after the play? What kind of trouble could he be in, and how could I help? I looked in my purse and found only ten dollars, but I felt the roll that I always carry in my stocking and it still felt a respectable size. I never count money when I am spending it, because you don't enjoy it so much; and I had been away from home three weeks. Still, if I had to bribe or buy Sam out of anything, I could get more some place. I must hurry to do as he told me, and then he would direct me how to rescue him.
In less time than it would take most girls, as soggy with sleep as I was, to get dressed and down to a taxi, I was on my way to Sam. I forgot to get the maid to go with me; and, anyway, what was the use, with a nice young white man like that taxi-car driver? He said, looking at me so pleasantly that I was sure he didn't really mean anything, "It's early, isn't it, miss?"
I was so hustled and so dazed, and had such trouble in making the little new kind of hook-buttons on my gloves stay fastened, that before I knew it we drew up at a queer kind of old warehouse down in a part of New York where I had never been, with a line of the ocean or the bay or the river or the harbor, I couldn't tell which, just beyond. Then I was scared, for instead of Sam being in danger, I felt that maybe I was being kidnapped. I hesitated at the curbing as I got out of the taxi.
"Through that warehouse and to your left you'll find the gentleman. Good morning, miss," said the nice taxi-man as he touched his cap and drove off and left me to my fate. If I had had only my own fate to consider I would have taken to my good strong legs and fled, but Sam was also concerned. At the thought of his needing me my courage came back, and I went on into the long shed where queer dirty boxes and bales and barrels and things were piled. At last I came to a turn and stepped into a low room that was almost at the water's edge. It was still very early morning, and a mist from the sea made things dim, but in a crowd of queer people and bundles and voices I saw Sam standing and looking perfectly helpless, while that Commissioner of Agriculture stood over by the window, evidently perfectly furious and growling out expletives to the saddest crowd of pitiful people I had ever seen.
Sam was in his dress-suit with his overcoat off and his hair in a mop; and in a faltering jumble of several languages he was trying to tell something to a gaunt, fierce woman in a wide ragged skirt, a shapeless, torn man's coat, with a faded woolen scarf over her head. In her arms she had a baby, and a woman with a baby in her arms knelt beside her; while a dozen other women with children, ragged, pale, frightened little children in their arms, and at their skirts, hung in a sullen group back of her. A crowd of dejected, hungry, gaunt men stood to one side, and one very old man had his old woolen cap off his white head, which I could see was bowed in prayer. In a moment I knew from their Flemish patois, which I had heard so often out in the fields of beautiful Belgium during that happy month just before the war, that they were refugees, and my heart went out in a rush to them as I went in a rush to Sam and grasped his arm.
"Oh, what is it, Sam, and what do they want?" I asked.
"They are emigrants from Belgium. The Commissioner has had me appointed to settle them in the Harpeth Valley on lands near my own, for which he has options. I came on in response to his telegram to meet them to-morrow, but they were landed here on the dock at one o'clock in the night, because of a fire on the steamer. I came right down from the theater, but they are frightened and the women have lost all confidence in everything. They don't seem to want to go with me to the car that we have ready to take them to Tennessee. I can't understand them, nor they me, and I sent for you. You're a woman, Betty. See what you can do to comfort and hearten them and make them ready to go with me when the train leaves in less than two hours."
Oh, I know I am young and have been sheltered, and don't know what it is to be shot at and killed, and have my children torn from my arms and to be hungry and cold. But women do understand other suffering women, and when I stretched out my hands to the fierce woman with her starving child at her breast, I knew what to falter out in a mixture of her own patois and mine.
"Il est bon—a good, good man. Alle avec—go with him," I pleaded.
"But it is a fine gentleman! No, we come to a master, to work that we do not starve. A landowner," she said, and regarded Sam in his purple and fine broadcloth with fierce and desperate distrust that the other women also expressed with hissing breaths which brought surly growls of suspicious acquiescence from the men.
"But look, look!" I exclaimed. I turned to Sam and drew one of his big, farm-worn hands forward and held it in mine out to the fierce woman, behind whom the others cowered. There was the broad thumb, off of which the barrel of peas had smashed the nail. There were the deep plow-callouses in the palms, and the plow-ropes' hard gall around the left wrist. The fierce woman's somber eyes lighted; for the first time she looked up past Sam's velvety white shirt-front with its pearl studs, up into the calm eyes that were smoldering their gridiron look down at her and the whimpering women and children.
"And here look encore!" I exclaimed, as I drew from my breast the large silver "peasants' locket" I had bought in Belgium, perhaps in her own village, and which I always wear with my street clothes, and had put on even in the hurry of my summons. I snapped it open and let her see what it contained. Sam saw, also! It was a picture of Sam milking old Buttercup in the shed. Just as he turned to call me to bring an extra bucket to feed the calf, I had snapped it. I don't know just why I had put it in the locket, except that it is safe to have Sam around in time of trouble.
"Eh, le bon Dieu—I see, I see!" she exclaimed, looking first at Sam and then at the locket. Then suddenly she clasped my wrist and looked at the two big, hard, live callouses in my own palm, that some kind of a queer prophetic sentiment had warned me not to let a manicure work on. Also, she saw the pea-thumb that still held a trace of the blister. Intently she looked for a few seconds, first at me and then at Sam. Then with a cry of agonized joy she fell at Sam's feet, and I drew down on my knees beside her, while the other women crowded around, kneeling, too, as their leader bowed her tear-drenched eyes in Sam's big, warm hands. One woman thrust a tiny baby into my arms as she kissed my sleeve and leaned forward to clasp Sam's knees, while the old man who had been praying all the time spread out his hands in a joyful benediction. The men's sullen faces lightened, and they bent to take up their pitiful old bundles and baskets.
For a long minute there was a sobbing silence while the Commissioner blew his nose over by the window. I clasped the little starved baby close and pressed with the other women against Sam's knees, and Sam stood calm over us all. I know, I know he was praying down away from the sea, across half the world, into his own everlasting hills, over Paradise Ridge.
"Good, Bettykin!" he said as he bent and raised me and the fierce woman to our feet. The others began to bustle and hustle the children, and men, brushing tears from faces that had begun to smile uncertainly, as if they had never smiled before. A big tear fell off Sam's own cheek as he roughed my hair with his chin under the edge of my perky little hat, and took the woman's baby from my arms, as well as her bag and bundle, to carry them to the car. He led the way, and we all trailed after him.
It was a strenuous hour that we spent getting them all settled in the emigrant-car the Commissioner and Judge Vandyne had ready to take them right on from the ship to Tennessee. In the midst of packing away boxes and bundles and seating and quieting babies and women, Sam told me in snatches the reason of it all. One of the great Belgian landowners had written to Judge Vandyne, who was his friend, to find some suitable place to colonize twenty of his peasant families in America. The letter had come at about the time my copy of the government's report on Sam's farming had reached him. He hadn't said anything to Sam about it, but had got hold of the Commissioner and secured options on four hundred acres back of Sam's farm in the wilderness of the Harpeth Valley. He had fixed it all up before he offered Sam the commission of settling and farming these people on shares for ten years. It was a little fortune poured into Sam's hands, but he didn't seem to think about that at all. His mind was entirely occupied by the hungry, big-eyed babies and their sadly smiling, clinging mothers. He had a whole bunch of ripe bananas, with other fruit and food in proportion, packed in the train for the long trip to Tennessee.
"Why didn't you write me all about it, Sam?" I asked as I patted a sleeping infant over my shoulder while the mother jolted a big-eyed twin of the same variety. Sam was undoing a strap from a large bundle for the fierce woman, whose eyes now followed him like those of a great, faithful dog—or my eyes.
"It was all settled less than a week ago, Bettykin, and I—I wanted to surprise you and Pete at 'The Emergence' first night. This ship wasn't due until to-morrow, and I was to have had a frolic. I asked the judge not to tell you. I wanted to break it to you myself. And I did with a brickbat, didn't I—at daylight to boot?"
"Where are you going to—to house them all, Sam?" I asked, anxiously, thinking of the little house with the Byrd and Mammy and all the baskets and seed and things, especially the one iron pot that only held chicken enough for them and—
"Got a tent village out of the colonel's Menefee Rifles' tents over by the spring. It will be fine for them until I can divide out the land and set each man to log-rolling his shack. Dad Hayes is finishing the camp for me, and Chubb is helping to make things all shipshape, also buying a fine mule for each family. Oh, they'll have a great welcome, or would have if only you were there." Sam didn't look at me, but smiled gently at the fierce woman's thanks and turned to another strap and another bundle. Again I went dead inside, and I turned away and hid my tears in the back of the neck of the tiny Belgian in my arms.
"Just about five minutes before we put you off, Miss Hayes," said the Commissioner as he came bustling up to me, smiling with the same energy he had used in swearing so short a time ago.
Surreptitiously wiping my eyes and swallowing the sobs in my throat, I held out the baby to its mother and began to say a halting "adieu" to all of them.
Then an uproar arose. They had thought I was going with them, and they clung and wept and kissed my hand and begged in broken words for me not to leave them, though in their conduct there was not a trace of a lack of confidence in Sam. Of course, nobody that knew Samuel Foster Crittenden a whole hour, even in his dress clothes in the daytime, could fail to have confidence in him for life. But those women wanted me, too, and they wanted me badly. I had to be torn from their arms and flung off the train. Sam did the tearing and the flinging, and he did it tenderly. Just before the final shove, as I clung to his arm and sobbed, the big hand went to my hair, and he said under his breath against my ear:
"God bless and keep you, darling—and Pete!" Then he swung up on the last step of the train and left me—shoved off into a hard, cold world full of luncheons and sight-seeing and dinner-parties and plays and dances and suppers and lights and music and flowers and like miseries. At the agony of the thought I staggered into the huge waiting-room at the station and sank on one of the benches and closed my eyes to keep the tears from dripping.
At first I just sat dumb and suffering—reviewing all the wonderful and exciting and magnificent things I had been planning to do for and with Peter and all the rest of my dear friends who were then in New York having the times of their aristocratically rustic lives. I reminded myself of the shopping excursion Mabel and I were going to make with Edith and Julia on that very day. The responsibility of Julia's hats was certainly mine, for I had told her to wait to get them in New York, and she would surely need them immediately in the round of gaieties that had been planned for them all. Then, who could help being delighted at the thought of seeing Miss Editha and the colonel introduced to one of the follies at the Whiter Garden? I knew that I would be needed greatly then, and had rather dreaded it; though from Miss Editha's pink cheeks at the supper-party the night before, as she sipped her champagne I had rather hoped that she was making up her mind to a time of it. And then the joy of watching united Tolly and Edith! And Peter, how he would need me to help him to be responsible for all the wonderful things that were going to happen to him right along, now that he was the success of the hour. Even the papers had begun to speculate that first morning on his "next play."
"I'm weaving the laurel wreath rapidly now to bind your tresses, am I not, dear, dearest Betty?" he had whispered, as he told me good night at the hotel only a few short hours ago. Yes, I was needed in life, even if not down in a brier-patch in the Harpeth Valley, Tennessee, and I must bear my honors and responsibilities with as beautiful a spirit as Sam bore his burden of Belgians. I would have all I could do out in the world, and he would have his life full in the wilderness; but we would be a thousand miles apart.
And just here a very strange thing happened. From the weak, cowering, sobbing girl on the bench arose a very determined, red-cheeked, executive young woman who walked over to the nearest ticket-office and demanded of the brisk young clerk what time the different trains left for Tennessee. She found that by going at ten o'clock direct through Cincinnati she could reach Hayesboro two hours ahead of that Belgian emigrant-train that was to go around through Atlanta. Then she went into the dressing-room and got her wad of money out of her stocking, bought a ticket and a Pullman berth, six magazines, some oranges, and a little traveling powder-puff for the end of her red nose, and seated herself in the train before she woke up and found she was I.
Then I took a hand and sent Peter a telegram from Philadelphia, though to this day I can't remember what it said; and I settled down to the day and night and part of another day's journey with peace in my heart and the courage to take whatever was coming to me from Sam.
When you are doing a thing you know is wholly wrong it is best to make up your mind beforehand just what kind of a right action you are going to claim it to be. It only took me until Pittsburg to have my course with Sam mapped out. I was just going to ask him fairly what right he had to go to farming with a lot of strange and untried Belgians and refuse to take me in, when I had proved myself a good and faithful comrade and worker for him ever since I could stand on my feet.
"I just want him to answer me that," I said to myself, and went to bed in the berth at six-thirty and didn't wake up any more until I was at Louisville at eleven. I had been in New York two weeks, and I needed sleep. The interval between that time and three o'clock, which was the hour that I stood before mother and her latest rose-crocheted mat, I spent in strengthening and fortifying my position.
"Why, Betty!" said mother, keeping the place open in the magazine she was crocheting from, but kissing me so tenderly that I knew she suspected something had happened to me.
"I came home because I had to, and I'll tell you about it just as soon as I come back from out at Sam's, where I have to go as fast as I can on business," I said, as I hurried out to Eph for Redwheels and up to my room for my corduroys and middy blouse. I knew Sam would get his new family off at the station at the cross-roads. I wanted to be at The Briers all established and at work when he got there. I have heard lots of times that possession is nine points of the law, and I was determined to possess all nine.
In less time than it takes to tell it Redwheels and I were spinning away out Providence Road. I had gone out on that road in early April in search of Sam, when I thought nothing could equal the young loveliness of the valley; I had driven Peter out when it was in its May flowering, and back and forth I had gone through all its midsummering, but it had never looked to me as it did when I came down into it from a far country, in the ripeness of its mid-September. All the leaves were still on the trees and many of them still rich green, but there was frost in the air, and along the edges of the early sweet-gum and sugar-maple branches there were crimson and bronze trimmings. Most of the gorgeous, molten-gold grain was in stacks in the fields, and everywhere for miles and miles were stretched the wigwams of the shocked corn, seeming to offer homes for as many homeless as could come and ask shelter. Goldenrod stood up stiff and glorious in all the fence corners, while gnarled vines, fairly dragged down with wild grapes, festooned themselves from tree to tree, some of which were already heavily loaded with their own big, round, blackening walnuts.
Along the road there was a procession of foodstuffs going to town in heavy old farm wagons with their overalled drivers. Wheat in bales and wheat in sacks was piled on wagon after wagon, and I counted eleven teams hauling in loads of shucked ears of corn that looked almost two feet long. Oh, I was glad to think that those people who had fled from a famine-stricken land would meet that procession as soon as they got off the train, and my eyes misted so, as I thought of the joy that must well up in their hearts, that I came very near running over an old pig mother who was waddling across the road in the lead of nine of the fattest little black-and-white sucklings I have ever seen, each one with his tail curled at exactly the same angle. Giving her a wide run I swung off into Brier Lane. The old cardinal that had been so cross to me all summer, when poor Redwheels's puff had disturbed his family, was trillingly glad to see me, and flew almost across my shoulder as he darted and whirled his welcome. And what should I meet in the middle of the lane, evidently off playing hooky where she should not have been, but Mrs. Buttercup and my young spotted namesake! I immediately climbed out of the car and greeted them both so affectionately that, with my arms around Mrs. Buttercup's neck, I persuaded her to go back the way she had come, while I drove along behind her at a suitable snail's pace. I had to stop every once in a while, when she turned around, to assure her that I knew it was best for her to go home with her full udder, as Sam would soon be there to be welcomed and with company to be fed.
After I had turned her into the south meadow gate, opposite the cedar-pole entrance to The Briers, I went up the hill at a lightning pace because the nearer I got to the fledgling and my garden the more anxious I was for a reunion with them both. I met the garden first, as I rounded up in front of the old hovering, red-roofed house that looked more like home to me than any building I had ever seen in my short and eventful life.
There is no love in the world that reciprocates like that of a garden. If you work and love and plan for it, promptly it turns around and over and gives back a hundredfold more than you put into it. All summer long we had been digging out of, picking from, and cutting off of that little plot of ground, and there it was reaching out with more to return to me. Long rows of white and purple cosmos danced and fluttered round-eyed blossoms in welcome, while some bronze xenias fairly bobbed over and kissed my rough garden boots. Miss Editha's cock's-combs strutted in a gorgeous row down the east walk, and what could have been a greater surprise than that handed me by a row of jolly round squash, though I had been sure we had picked the last languishing fluted fruit from the vine the last week of August? But there lay long green vines completely resuscitated by the September rains; and nestled among their draperies of huge leaves were squash and squash, also big yellow blossoms and small green-yellow buds, I was so perfectly delighted at the recovery of my friends that I reached down and patted one of their head branches with its green tendril curls. There were a lot of gorgeous nasturtiums under the window of the living-room; but, of course, nobody expects more of nasturtiums than for them to be faithful unto death by frost. However, I did pick off a red one and proceed to chew it up with the deepest appreciation of its peppery flavor. And as I chewed with smarting tongue I cast my eyes along a row of beans that was fairly loaded with snaps, which made my thumb smart in anticipation of their gathering, until my gaze was suddenly arrested by something that sent me flying down the walk to the south end of the garden.
Now, a few weeks after I had hastily planted those hollyhock seeds Sam and I had sentimentalized over, I had found in Grandmother Nelson's book that hollyhocks never bloom their first season, but have to root and grow about twenty-four months before they blossom; and, somehow, that depressed me because everything in the world seemed slow at that time. How did I know where I would be after all that time, or that I would ever see them bloom, though they were making great leafy heads which both Sam and I strenuously ignored, while every time I went to dig around their roots somebody had done it before me! There they were, perfectly huge with their great fluted leaves, and right at the end of the row an extra-large plant had sent up a tall, green spike on the end of which a great, pink doll-blossom was shaking out her rosy skirts in the afternoon sun. I stood for a minute looking at her in utter rapture. Then I reached out my arms and gathered her in and put a kiss right in the center of her sweet heart. After that I fled to the barn in search of the fledgling.
I found him sheltering in his small jacket five little late chicks that would insist in running out from under the old hen, who was busily engaged hatching out their small brothers and sisters. He was afraid they would get fatally chilled.
"I needed you bad, Betty, if any more of these little ones was to act crazy like this," he said as I cautiously embraced him and his downy babies. "Put these three in your jacket so I can catch the next one that comes out. Old Dommie is 'most through, and then she can take them all." His faith in old Dommie, who to my certain knowledge had hatched two other families since spring, was not misplaced. In less than a half-hour all egg debris of the family advent had been removed and the babies put to bed under her breast and subjected to a sharp peck of her controlling bill.
By this time the sun had begun to drop down over toward Old Harpeth, and a lovely purple was stealing all over the place which mingled with a great veil of blue smoke from over by the spring, where, I felt sure, Dr. Chubb had lighted twenty new altar fires for the welcome of the home-comers. I wanted to go and see the camp, but someway I felt that it was time to go to the gate to meet Sam and his great big children, so down the Byrd and I went.
When we got to the gate they were not in sight, and we started up Brier Lane to meet them. In my heart there was not the least particle of doubt that they would all be glad to see me, but I never expected it to happen as it did. Just as we came to the bend in Brier Lane that skirts around the first hill I heard beautiful voices raised in a weird joy-chant, and in a moment they all came into view, all walking and singing, with their things piled high on the wagons that followed them. In the midst of the tumbling, frolicking children, the chattering, pointing, exclaiming women, and the eagerly questioning men strode Sam with a small girl pickaback across his broad shoulders and the old praying-man walking by his side in deep conversation. I stood still to wait and let them all see me. The result was glorious. I had never known anything like it before. The women all laughed and cried in their excitable foreign way, and the men's faces showed great white teeth in radiant smiles. They kissed my hands and even the sleeves of my dress, and some of the children danced around and around in a very ecstasy of welcome, for I felt sure that to them I was the keeper of mammoth banana-bags. And I laughed and sniffed and patted and hugged the women in return, and nodded and called broken Belgian-English greeting to the men—to all but Sam. Sam stood perfectly still in the middle of the lane in the exact place that he had been when he caught sight of me coming out of the sunset toward him. He let the child slip from his shoulders and never took his eyes off me during the five minutes of the reunion rejoicings. And I never looked at or spoke to Sam, but walked on back to The Briers ahead of him, with the women chattering and gesticulating around me.
When we came to the gate I waited for Sam to come forward to open it. I wanted him to lead his flock into their promised land and—and I wanted to follow at his heels with them.
Around up the hill he led us, down the old road, past the big rock spring-house with its nine crocks of milk that I could see the women eagerly point out to one another, and into the little town of tents, at whose entrance stood daddy and Dr. Chubb, with their sleeves rolled up and energetic welcome in their eyes.
Then for an hour there was sorting of bundles and bedding; locating and housing; assuring and reassuring; nursing babies by camp-fires, and feeding little mouths out of the huge chicken-dumpling pots that Mammy, with Dr. Chubb's assistance, had been brewing since morning. A big heap of coals was shoveled off a perfect mound of corn-pones; and there was plenty for all and some left over. I think I never saw anything so happy as the fledgling as he squatted on the ground and fed two toddlers from a bowl of corn-bread and gravy, strictly turnabout, the odd one to his own mouth.
Then, as the twilight came down softly like a beautiful benediction, we left them all, strangers in a strange land, fed, housed, and comforted.
We went up to the old white, hovering house, and while Mammy and I planned and in a measure mixed breakfast for the multitude down the hill, daddy and Dr. Chubb went with Sam, who had slipped on his overalls, to look at the new mules tied out behind the barn to long temporary stable poles. The Byrd I could not get from the company down by the spring. Later Mammy had to go down and extract him, fast asleep, from the midst of the largest Belgian family, where he was watched over tenderly by the fierce-eyed woman and the mother of the twins.
I had wiped the meal off my hands and taken off Mammy's apron when Sam came to the door and called me; and I felt very much as I used to when at school I went in to get my examination marks, as I followed him down to Peter's shack on the hillside. I wasn't one bit afraid of Samuel Foster Crittenden, I told myself, while I walked along behind him as he held the coral-strung buck-bushes out of my path; but my knees did tremble, and my teeth chattered so that I felt sure he would hear them.
For a long moment Sam stood in front of the shack and looked out over to Paradise Ridge. I knew that now was the time for me to marshal up my defense and demand to be put on the same footing in life with those peasant women sleeping below us beside the covered camp-fires.
"What right has any man to say that a woman shall not plow and sow and reap and dig if she wants to, and especially if it is so much in her blood that she can't keep away from it?" I was just getting ready to demand. Then suddenly Sam sobbed, choked, sobbed again, and reached out his arms to fold me in against the sobs so closely that I could feel them rising out of his very heart.
"Betty, Betty," he fairly groaned, with his face pressed close to mine. A tear wet my cheek, larger and warmer than the ones which were beginning to drip from my own eyes.
"I can't help it, Sam," I sobbed. "I will be just as good as any of the other women; but I want a—a mule and twenty acres here with you. I don't feel safe anywhere else. I might starve, away from you."
And then, very quietly, very surely, I found out what it was I had been hungry for and thirsty for, what it was I had been used to having fed me ever since I could remember—it was Sam's love. He held me close, then closer for a long second—and then he pressed his lips on mine until I knew what it was to feel—fed.
"My woman," he said, when at last I turned my face away for breath and to get room to raise my arms around his neck and hold on tight until I could get used to being certain that he was there.
"I tried to let you give me away, Sam, but I couldn't," I said, with a dive into the breast of his overalls, which had that glorious barn and field—was it cosmic he told me to call it?—smell.
"When I've loved you a little longer I'm going to shake the life out of you for this mix-up," said Sam, hollowing his long arms and breast still deeper to fold me fast.
"I—I held Peter's hand all during that long play-making, and I can't stand it any longer," I said, squirming still closer and hiding my abashed eyes under his chin.
"Just hold my heart awhile now," Sam answered, as he sank down on the door-sill of the shack and cradled me close and warm, safe from the little chill breeze that blew up from the valley.
I don't know how long we sat there with arms and breasts and cheeks close, but I do know that some of the time Sam was praying, and I prayed, too. That is, I thanked God for Sam in behalf of myself and the helpless people in the camp below us and the rest of the world, even if they don't know about him yet. Amen.
Of course, it is easy enough, if you have a little money in your stocking, to cut any kind of hard knot and go off on a railroad train, leaving the ravelings behind you. But I believe that sooner or later people always have to tie up all the strings of all the knots they ruthlessly cut. Sam made me do it the very next day, after a long talk out on the front porch under the honeysuckle that was still blowing a few late flowers.
First he made me tell mother. She said:
"Why, of course, Betty dear, I always expected you to marry Sam, and I am so glad that you are so like my mother and will be a good farmer's wife. Did I give you that gardening-book of hers that I found? It might be a help to you both."
Did she give me that gardening-book which had made all the mischief? I felt Sam laugh, for I was hanging on to his arm just as I always did when he took me in to tell mother on myself. I was glad that she finished the eighth row of the mat and began on the ninth at that exact moment, so we could go on back to the honeysuckles and the young moon.
Then Sam made me tell daddy. Daddy said:
"Now I suppose I will be allowed to purchase a mule and cow or an electric reaper for that farm when I think it necessary?" And as he spoke he looked Sam straight in the face, with belligerency making the corners of his white mustache stand straight up.
"Make it a big steam-silo, first, Dad Hayes," answered Sam, laughing and red up to the edges of his hair—and daddy got an arm around us both for a good hug.
But the letter to Peter was another thing, and I didn't wait for Sam to tell me to write it. I smudged and snubbed and scratched over it all day and flung myself weeping into Sam's arms that night with it in my hand.
"Why, I wrote to Peter that night—the night I—took you over, Bettykin. And here's the answer that came an hour ago by wire. Take your hair out of my eyes and let me read it to you."
I snuggled two inches lower against Sam, and this is what he read:
My life for your life, yours for mine, and joy to us both. PETE.
I got a letter from Peter the next day, and it said such wonderful things about Sam that I pasted it in Grandmother Nelson's book with the Commissioner's report. I had to cut out a whole page about Julia's beauty and the way New York was crazy about her. Peter is the most wonderful man in the world in some ways, and I believe that, as he deserves all kinds of happiness, he'll get it; maybe a nice, big, pink happiness in a blue chiffon and gold dress that will rock his nerves through a long career of play-writing. I told Sam my hopes.
He ruffled my hair with his big hand, and my lips with his, as he smoldered out toward Old Harpeth. In his eyes was the gridiron land look that started the flow of sap along the twigs of my heart just a few months ago. Then he said:
"A man must plow his field of life deep, Betty, but if a woman didn't trudge 'longside with her hoe and seed-basket, what would the harvest be?"