HotFreeBooks.com
The Prairie Wife
by Arthur Stringer
Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

There are still hundreds and hundreds of acres of prairie sod to "break" for spring wheat. Dinky-Dunk declares that he's going to risk everything on wheat this year. He says that by working two outfits of horses he himself can sow forty acres a day, but that means keeping the horses on the trot part of the time. He is thinking so much about his crop that I accused him of neglecting me.

"Is the varnish starting to wear off?" I inquired with a secret gulp of womanish self-pity. He saved the day by declaring I was just as crazy and just as adorable as I ever was. Then he asked me, rather sadly, if I was bored. "Bored?" I said, "how could I be bored with all these discomforts? No one is ever bored until they are comfortable!" But the moment after I'd said it I was sorry.



Tuesday the Sixth

Spring is here, with a warm Chinook creeping in from the Rockies and a sky of robin-egg blue. The gophers have come out of their winter quarters and are chattering and racing about. We saw a phalanx of wild geese going northward, and Dinky-Dunk says he's seen any number of ducks. They go in drifting V's, and I love to watch them melt in the sky-line. The prairie floor is turning to the loveliest of greens, and it is a joy just to be alive. I have been out all afternoon. The gophers aren't going to get ahead of me!



Monday the Twelfth

What would you say if you saw Brunhild drive up to your back door? What would you do if you discovered a Norse goddess placidly surveying you from a green wagon-seat? How would you act if you beheld a big blonde Valkyr suddenly introducing herself into your little earthly affairs?

Well, can you wonder that I stared, all eyes, when Dinky-Dunk brought home a figure like this, in the shape of a Finn girl named Olga Sarristo? Olga is to work in the fields, and to help me when she has time. But I'll never get used to having a Norse Legend standing at my elbow, for Olga is the most wonderful creature I have ever clapped eyes on. I say that without doubt, and without exaggeration. And what made the picture complete, she came driving a yoke of oxen—for Dinky-Dunk will have need of every horse and hauling animal he can lay his hands on. I simply held my breath as I stared up at her, high on her wagon-seat, blocked out in silhouette against the pale sky-line, a Brunhild with cowhide boots on. She wore a pale blue petticoat and a Swedish looking black shawl with bright-colored flowers worked along the hem. She had no hat. But she had two great ropes of pale gold hair, almost as thick as my arm, and hanging almost as low as her knees. She looked colossal up on the wagon-seat, but when she got down on the ground she was not so immense. She is, however, a strapping big woman, and I don't think I ever saw such shoulders! She is Olympian, Titanic! She makes me think of the Venus de Milo; there's such a largeness and calmness and smoothness of surface about her. I suppose a Saint-Gaudens might say that her mouth was too big and a Gibson might add that her nose hadn't the narrow rectitude of a Greek statue's, but she's a beautiful, a beautiful—"woman" was the word I was going to write, but the word "animal" just bunts and shoves itself in, like a stabled cow insisting on its own stall. But if you regard her as only animal, you must at least accept her as a perfect one. Her mouth is large, but I never saw such red lips, full and red and dewy. Her forehead is low and square, but milky smooth, and I know she could crack a chicken-bone between those white teeth of hers. Even her tongue, I noticed, is a watermelon red. She must be healthy. Dinky-Dunk says she's a find, that she can drive a double-seeder as well as any man in the West, and that by taking her for the season he gets the use of the ox-team as well. He warned me not to ask her about her family, as only a few weeks ago her father and younger brother were burned to death in their shack, a hundred miles or so north of us.



Tuesday the Twentieth

Olga has been with us a week, and she still fascinates me. She is installed in the annex, and seems calmly satisfied with her surroundings. She brought everything she owns tied up in an oat-sack. I have given her a few of my things, for which she seems dumbly grateful. She seldom talks, and never laughs. But I am teaching her to say "yes" instead of "yaw." She studies me with her limpid blue eyes, and if she is silent she is never sullen. She hasn't the heavy forehead and jaw of the Galician women and she hasn't the Asiatic cast of face that belongs to the Russian peasant. And she has the finest mouthful of teeth I ever saw in a human head—and she never used a toothbrush in her life! She is only nineteen, but such a bosom, such limbs, such strength!

This is a great deal of talk about Olga, I'm afraid, but you must remember that Olga is an event. I expected Olie would be keeled over by her arrival, but they seem to regard each other with silent contempt. I suppose that is because racially and physically they are of the same type. I'm anxious to see what Percival Benson thinks of Olga when he gets back—they would be such opposites. Olga is working with her ox-team on the land. Two days ago I rode out on Paddy and watched her. There was something Homeric about it, something Sorolla would have jumped at. She seemed so like her oxen. She moved like them, and her eyes were like theirs. She has the same strength and solemnity when she walks. She's so primitive and natural and instinctive in her actions. Yesterday, after dinner, she curled up on a pile of hay at one end of the corral and fell asleep for a few minutes, flat in the strong noonday light. I saw Dinky-Dunk stop on his way to the stable and stand and look down at her. I slipped out beside him. "God, what a woman!" he said under his breath. A vague stab of jealousy went through me as I heard him say that. Then I looked at her hand, large, relaxed, roughened with all kinds of weather and calloused with heavy work. And this time it was an equally vague stab of pity that went through me.



Monday the Twenty-sixth

The rush is on, and Dinky-Dunk is always out before six. If it's true, as some one once said, that the pleasures of life depended on its anxieties, then we ought to be a hilarious household. Every one is busy, and I do what I can to help. I don't know why it is, but I find an odd comfort in the thought of having another woman near me, even Olga. She also helps me a great deal with the housework. Those huge hands of hers have a dexterity you'd never dream of. She thinks the piano a sort of miracle, and me a second miracle for being able to play it. In the evening she sits back in a corner, the darkest corner she can find, and listens. She never speaks, never moves, never expresses one iota of emotion. But in the gloom I can often catch the animal-like glow of her eyes. They seem almost phosphorescent. Dinky-Dunk had a long letter from Percival Benson to-day. It was interesting and offhandedly jolly and just the right sort. And Percy says he'll be back on the Titchborne place in a few weeks.



Wednesday the Twenty-eighth

Olga went through the boards of her wagon-box and got a bad scrape on her leg. She showed me the extent of her injuries, without the slightest hesitation, and I gave her first-aid treatment with my carbolated vaseline. And still again I had to think of the Venus de Milo, for it was a knee like a statue's, milky white and round and smooth, with a skin like a baby's, and so different to her sunburnt forearms. It was Olympian more than Fifth-Avenuey. It was a leg that made me think, not of Rubens, but of Titian, and my thoughts at once went out to the right-hand lady of the "Sacred and Profane Love," in the Borghese, there was such softness and roundness combined with its strength. And Dinky-Dunk walked in and stood staring at it, himself, with never so much as a word of apology. Olga looked up at him without a flicker of her ox-like eyes. It wasn't until I made an angry motion for her to drop her skirt that she realized any necessity for covering the Titian knee. But again I felt that odd pang of jealousy needle through me as I saw his face. At least I suppose it was jealousy, the jealousy of an artful little Mona-Lisa minx who didn't even class in with the demigods. When Olga was gone, however, I said to Dinky-Dunk: "Isn't that a limb for your life?"

He merely said: "We don't grow limbs up here, Tabby. They're legs, just plain legs!"

"Anything but plain!" I corrected him. Then he acknowledged that he'd seen those knees before. He'd stumbled on Olga and her brother knee-deep in mud and cow manure, treading a mixture to plaster their shack with, the same as the Doukhobors do. It left me less envious of those Junoesque knees.



Monday the Second

Keeping chickens is a much more complicated thing than the outsider imagines. For example, several of my best hens, quite untouched by the modern spirit of feminine unrest, have been developing "broodiness" and I have been trying to "break them up," as the poulterers put it. But they are determined to set. This mothering instinct is a fine enough thing in its way, but it's been spoiling too many good eggs. So I've been trying to emancipate these ruffled females. I lift them off the nest by the tail feathers, ten times a day. I fling cold water in their solemn maternal faces. I put little rings of barb-wire under their sentimental old bosoms. But still they set. And one, having pecked me on the wrist until the blood came, got her ears promptly boxed—in face of the fact that all poultry keepers acknowledge that kindness to a hen improves her laying qualities.



Thursday the Fifth

Casa Grande is a beehive of industry. Every one has a part to play. I am no longer expected to sit by the fire and purr. At nights I sew. Dinky-Dunk is so hard on his clothes! When it's not putting on patches it's sewing on buttons. Then we go to bed at half-past nine. At half-past nine, think of it! Little me, who more than once went humming up Fifth Avenue when morning was showing gray over the East River, and often left Sherry's (oh, those dear old dancing days!) when the milk wagons were rumbling through Forty-fourth Street, and once triumphantly announced, on coming out of Dorlon's and studying the old Oyster-Letter clock, that I'd stuck it out to Y minutes past O! But it's no hardship to get up at five, these glorious mornings. The days get longer, and the weather is perfect. And the prairie looks as though a vacuum cleaner had been at work on it overnight. Positively, there's a charwoman who does this old world over, while we sleep! By morning it's as bright as a new pin. And out here every one is thinking of the day ahead; Dinky-Dunk, of his crop; Olga, of the pair of sky-blue corsets I've written to the Winnipeg mail-order house for; Olie, of the final waterproofing of the granaries so the wheat won't get spoilt any more; Gee-Gee, herself, of—of something which she's almost afraid to think about.

Dinky-Dunk, in his deviling moods, says I'm an old married woman now, that I'm settled, that I've eaten my pie! Perhaps I have. I'm not imaginative, so I must depend on others for my joy of living. I know now that I can never create, never really express myself in any way worth while, either on paper or canvas or keyboard. And people without imagination, I suppose, simply have to drop back to racial simplicities—which means I'll have to have a family, and feed hungry mouths, and keep a home going. And I'll have to get all my art at second-hand, from magazines and gramophone records and plaster-of-Paris casts. Just a housewife! And I so wanted to be something more, once! Yet I wonder if, after all, the one is so much better than the other? I wonder? And here comes my Dinky-Dunk, and in three minutes he'll be kissing me on the tip of the chin and asking me what there's going to be good for supper! And that is better than fame! For all afternoon those twelve little lines of Dobson's have been running through my head:

Fame is a food that dead men eat— I have no stomach for such meat. In little light and narrow rooms, They eat it in the silent tombs, With no kind voice of comrade near To bid the banquet be of cheer.

But Friendship is a noble thing— Of Friendship it is good to sing, For truly when a man shall end, He lives in memory of his friend Who doth his better part recall And of his faults make funeral!

But when you put the word "love" there instead of "friendship" you make it even better.... Olga, by the way, is not so stupid as you might imagine. She's discovered something which I didn't intend her to find out.... And Olie, also by the way, has solved the problem of "breaking up" my setting hens. He has made a swinging coop with a wire netting bottom, for all the world like the hanging gardens of Babylon, and into this all the ruffled mothers-to-be have been thrust and the coop hung up on the hen-house wall. Open wire is a very uncomfortable thing to set on, and these hens have at last discovered that fact. I have been out looking at them. I never saw such a parliament of solemn indignation. But their pride has been broken, and they are beginning to show a healthier interest in their meals.



Tuesday the Tenth

I've been wondering if Dinky-Dunk is going to fall in love with Olga. Yesterday I saw him staring at her neck. She's the type of woman that would really make the right sort of wilderness wife. She seems an integral part of the prairie, broad-bosomed, fecund, opulent. And she's so placid and large and soft-spoken and easy to live with. She has none of my moods and tantrums.

Her corsets came to-day, and I showed her how to put them on. She is incontinently proud of them, but in my judgment they only make her ridiculous. It's as foolish as putting a French toque on one of her oxen. The skin of Olga's great shoulders is as smooth and creamy as a baby's. I have been watching her eyes. They are not a dark blue, but in a strong side-light they seem deep wells of light, layer on layer of azure. And she is mysterious to me, calmly and magnificently inscrutable. And I once thought her an uncouth animal. But she is a great help. She has planted rows and rows of sweet peas all about Casa Grande and is starting to make a kitchen garden, which she's going to fence off and look after with her own hands. It will be twice the size of Olie's. But I do hope she doesn't ever grow into something mysterious to my Dinky-Dunk. This morning she said I ought to work in the garden, that the more I kept on my feet the better it would be for me later on.

As for Dinky-Dunk, the poor boy is working himself gaunt. Yet tired as he is, he tries to read a few pages of something worth while every night. Sometimes we take turns in reading. Last night he handed me over his volume of Spencer with a pencil mark along one passage. This passage said: "Intellectual activity in women is liable to be diminished after marriage by that antagonism between individuation and reproduction everywhere operative throughout the organic world." I don't know why, but that passage made me as hot as a hornet. In the background of my brain I carried some vague memory of George Eliot once catching this same philosophizing Spencer fishing with a composite fly, and, remarking on his passion for generalizations, declaring that he even fished with a generalization. So I could afford to laugh. "Spencer's idea of a tragedy," I told Dinky-Dunk, "is a deduction killed by a fact!" And again I smiled my Mona-Lisa smile. "And I'm going to be one of the facts!" I proudly proclaimed.

Dinky-Dunk, after thinking this over, broke into a laugh. "You know, Gee-Gee," he solemnly announced, "there are times when you seem almost clever!" But I wasn't clever in this case, for it was hours later before I saw the trap which Dinky-Dunk had laid for me!



Monday the Sixteenth

All day Saturday Olga and Dinky-Dunk were off in the chuck-wagon, working too far away to come home for dinner. The thought of them being out there, side by side, hung over me like a cloud. I remembered how he had absently stared at the white column of her neck. And I pictured him stopping in his work and studying her faded blue cotton waist pulled tight across the line of that opulent bust. What man wouldn't be impressed by such bodily magnificence, such lavish and undulating youth and strength? And there's something so soft and diffused about those ox-like eyes of hers! You do not think, then, of her eyes being such a pale blue, any more than you could stop to accuse summer moonlight of not being ruddy. And those unruffled blue eyes never seem to see you; they rather seem to bathe you in a gaze as soft and impersonal as moonlight itself.

I simply couldn't stand it any more. I got on Paddy and galloped out for my Dinky-Dunk, as though it were my sudden and solemn duty to save him from some imminent and awful catastrophe.

I stopped on the way, to watch a couple of prairie-chickens minuetting through the turns of their vernal courtships. The pompous little beggars with puffed-out wattles and neck ruffs were positively doing cancans and two-steps along the prairie floor. Love was in the air, that perfect spring afternoon, even for the animal world. So instead of riding openly and honestly up to Dinky-Dunk and Olga, I kept under cover as much as I could and stalked them, as though I had been a timber wolf.

Then I felt thoroughly and unspeakably ashamed of myself, for I caught sight of Olga high on her wagon, like a Valkyr on a cloud, and Dinky-Dunk hard at work a good two miles away.

He was a little startled to see me come cantering up on Paddy. I don't know whether it was silly or not, but I told him straight out what had brought me. He hugged me like a bear and then sat down on the prairie and laughed. "With that cow?" he cried. And I'm sure no man could ever call the woman he loves a cow.... I believe Dinky-Dunk suspects something. He's just asked me to be more careful about riding Paddy. And he's been more solemnly kind, lately. But I'll never tell him—never—never!



Tuesday the Twenty-fourth

Percy will be back to-morrow. It will be a different looking country to what it was when he left. I've been staring up at a cobalt sky, and begin to understand why people used to think Heaven was somewhere up in the midst of such celestial blue. And on the prairie the sky is your first and last friend. Wasn't it Emerson who somewhere said that the firmament was the daily bread for one's eyes? And oh, the lovely, greening floor of the wheat country now! Such a soft yellow-green glory stretching so far in every direction, growing so much deeper day by day! And the sun and space and clear light on the sky-line and the pillars of smoke miles away and the wonderful, mysterious promise that is hanging over this teeming, steaming, shimmering, abundant broad bosom of earth! It thrills me in a way I can't explain. By night and day, before breakfast and after supper, the talk is of wheat, wheat, wheat, until I nearly go crazy. I complained to Dinky-Dunk that he was dreaming wheat, living wheat, breathing wheat, that he and all the rest of the world seemed mad about wheat.

"And there's just one other thing you must remember, Lady Bird," was his answer. "All the rest of the world is eating wheat. It can't live without wheat. And I'd rather be growing the bread that feeds the hungry than getting rich making cordite and Krupp guns!" So he's risking everything on this crop of his, and is eternally figuring and planning and getting ready for the grande debacle. He says it will be like a battle. And no general goes into a battle without being prepared for it. But when we read about the doings of the outside world, it seems like reading of happenings that have taken place on the planet Mars. We're our own little world just now, self-contained, rounded-out, complete.



Friday the Third

Two things of vast importance have happened. Dinky-Dunk has packed up and made off to Edmonton to interview some railway officials, and Percy is back. Dinky-Dunk is so mysteriously silent as to the matter of his trip that I'm afraid he is worried about money matters. And he asked me if I'd mind keeping the household expenses down as low as I could, without actual hardship, for the next few months.

As for Percy, he seemed a little constrained, but looked ever so much better. He is quite sunburned, likes California and says we ought to have a winter bungalow there (and Dinky-Dunk just warning me to save on the pantry pennies!) He's brought a fastidious little old English woman back with him as a housekeeper, a Mrs. Watson, and she looks both capable and practical. Notwithstanding the fact that she seems to have stepped right out of Dickens, and carries a huge Manx cat about with her, Percy said he thought they'd muddle along in some way. Thoughtful boy that he was, he brought me a portmanteau packed full of the newer novels and magazines, and a two-pound jar of smoking tobacco for Dinky-Dunk.



Thursday the Ninth

A Belasco couldn't have more carefully stage-managed the first meeting between Percy and Olga. I felt that she was my discovery, and I wanted to spring her on him, at the right moment, and in the right way. I wanted to get the Valkyr on a cloud effect. So I kept Percy in the house on the pretext of giving him a cup of tea, until I should hear the rumble of the wagon and know that Olga was swinging home with her team. It so happened, when I heard the first faint far thunder of that homing wagon, that Percy was sitting in my easy chair, with a cup of my thinnest china in one hand and a copy of Walter Pater's Marius the Epicurean in the other. We had been speaking of climate, and he wanted to look up the passage where Pater said, "one always dies of the cold"—which I consider a slur on the Northwest!

I couldn't help realizing, as I sat staring at Percy, at the thin, over-sensitive face, and the high-arched, over-refined nose, and the narrow, stooping, over-delicate shoulders, what a direct opposite he was to Olga, in every way. Instead of thin china and Pater in her hand at that very moment, I remembered she'd probably have a four-tined fork or a mud-stained fence stretcher.

I went to the door and looked out. At the proper moment I called Percy. Olga was standing up in the wagon-box, swinging about one corner of the corral. She stood with her shoulders well back, for her weight was already on the lines, to pull the team up. Her loose blue skirt edge was fluttering in the wind, but at the front was held tight against her legs, like the drapery of the Peace figure in the Sherman statue in the Plaza. Across that Artemis-like bosom her thin waist was stretched tight. She had no hat on, and her pale gold hair, which had been braided and twisted up into a heavy crown, had the sheen of metal on it, in the later afternoon sun. And in that clear glow of light, which so often plays mirage-like tricks with vision, she loomed up like a demi-god, or a she-Mercury who ought to have had little bicycle wheels attached to her heels.

Percy is never demonstrative. But I could see that he was more than impressed. He was amazed.

"My word!" he said very quietly.

"What does she make you think of?" I demanded.

Percy put down his teacup.

"Don't go away," I commanded, "but tell me what she makes you think of." He still stood staring at her with puckered up eyes.

"She's like band-music going by!" he proclaimed. "No, she's more than that; she's Wagner on wheels," he finally said. "No, not that! A Norse myth in dimity!"

I told him it wasn't dimity, but he was too interested in Olga to listen to me.

Half an hour later, when she met him, she was very shy. She turned an adorable pink, and then calmly rebuttoned the two top buttons of her waist, which had been hanging loose. And I noticed that Percy did precisely what I saw Dinky-Dunk once doing. He sat staring absently yet studiously at the milky white column of Olga's neck! And I had to speak to him twice, before he even woke up to the fact that he was being addressed by his hostess.



Wednesday the Fifteenth

Dinky-Dunk is back, and very busy again. During the day I scarcely get a glimpse of him, except at meal-times. I have a steadily growing sense of being neglected, but I know how a worried man hates petulance. The really important thing is that Percy is giving Olga lessons in reading and writing. For, although a Finn, she is a Canadian Finn from almost the shadow of the sub-Arctics, and has had little chance for education. But her mind is not obtuse.

Yesterday I asked Olga what she thought of Percival Benson. "Ah lak heem," she calmly admitted in her majestic, monosyllabic way. "He is a fonny leetle man." And the "fonny leetle man" who isn't really little, seems to like Olga, odd as it may sound. They are such opposites, such contradictions! Percy says she's Homeric. He says he never saw eyes that were so limpid, or such pools of peace and calm. He insists on the fact that she's essentially maternal, as maternal as the soil over which she walks, as Percy put it. I told him what Dinky-Dunk had once told me, about Olga killing a bull. The bull was a vicious brute that had attacked her father and knocked him down. He was striking at the fallen man with his fore-paws when Olga heard his cries. She promptly came for that bull with a pitchfork. And speaking of Homer, it must have been a pretty epical battle, for she killed the bull and left the fork-tines eight inches in his body while she picked up her father and carried him back to the house. And I won't even kill my own hens, but have always appointed Olie as the executioner.



Friday the Seventeenth

It is funny to see Percy teaching Olga. She watches him as though he were a miracle man. Her dewy red lips form the words slowly, and the full white throat utters them largely, laboriously, instruments on them, and in some perhaps uncouth way makes them lovely. I sit with my sewing, listening. Sometimes I open the piano and play. But I feel out of it. I seem to be on the fringe of things that are momentous only to other people. Last night, when Percy said he thought he'd sell his ranch, Dinky-Dunk looked up from his paper-littered desk and told him to hang on to that land like a leech. But he didn't explain why.



Saturday the Nineteenth

I can't even remember the date. But I know that midsummer is here, that the men folks are so busy I have to shift for myself, and that the talk is still of wheat, and how it's heading, and how the dry weather of the last few weeks will affect the length of the straw. Dinky-Dunk is making desperate efforts to get men to cut wild-hay. He's bought the hay rights of a large stretch between some sloughs about seven miles east of our place. He says men are scarcer than hen's teeth, but has the promise of a couple of cutthroats who were thrown off a freight-train near Buckhorn. Percy volunteered to help, and was convinced of the fact that he could drive a mower. Olie, who nurses a vast contempt for Percy, and, I secretly believe, rather resents his attentions to Olga, put the new team of colts on the mower. They promptly ran away with Percy, who came within an ace of being thrown in front of the mower-knife, which would have chopped him up into very unscholarly mincemeat. Olga got on a horse, bareback, and rounded up the colts. Then she cooed about poor bruised Percy and tried to coax him to come to the house. But Percy said he was going to drive that team, even if he had to be strapped to the mower-seat. And, oddly enough, he did "gat them beat," as Olga expressed it, but it tired him out and wilted his collar and the sweat was running down his face when he came in at noon. Olga is very proud of him. But she announced that she'd drive that mower herself, and sailed into Olie for giving a tenderfoot a team like that to drive. It was her first outburst. I couldn't understand a word she said, but I know that she was magnificent. She looked like a statue of Justice that had suddenly jumped off its pedestal and was doing its best to put a Daniel Webster out of business!



Friday the Twenty-eighth

The weather is still very dry. But Dinky-Dunk feels sure it will not affect his crop. He says the filaments of a wheat-plant will go almost two feet deep in search for moisture. Yesterday Percy appeared in a flannel shirt, and without his glasses. I think he is secretly practising calisthenics. He said he was going to cut out this afternoon tea, because it doesn't seem to fit in with prairie life. I fancy I see the re-barbarianizing influence of Olga at work on Percival Benson Woodhouse. Either Dinky-Dunk or Olie, I find, has hidden my saddle!



Saturday the Twenty-ninth

To-day has been one of the hottest days of the year. It may be good for the wheat, but I can't say that it seems good for me. All day long I've been fretting for far-away things, for foolish and impossible things. I tried reading Keats, but that only made me worse than ever. I've been longing for a glimpse of the Luxembourg Gardens in spring, with all the horse-chestnuts in bloom. I've been wondering how lovely it would be to drift into the Blue Grotto at Capri and see the azure sea-water drip from the trailing boat-oars. I've been burning with a hunger to see a New England orchard in the slanting afternoon sunlight of an early June afternoon. The hot white light of this open country makes my eyes ache and seems to dry my soul up. I can't help thinking of cool green shadows, and musky little valleys of gloom with a brook purling over mossy stones. I long for the solemn greenery of great elms, aisles and aisles of cathedral-like gloom and leaf-filtered sunlight. I'd love to hear an English cuckoo again, and feel the soft mild sea-air that blows up through Louis's dear little Devonshire garden. But what's the use!

I went to the piano and pounded out Kennst Du Das Land with all my soul, and I imagine it did me good. It at least bombarded the silence out of Casa Grande. The noise of life is so far away from you on the prairie! It is not utterly silent, just that dreamy and disembodied sigh of wind and grass against which a human call targets like a leaden bullet against metal. It is almost worse than silence.



Sunday the Thirtieth

My mood is over. Early, early this morning I slipped out of bed and watched day break. I saw the first faint orange rim along the limitless sky-line, and then the pearly pink above it, and all the sweet dimness and softness and mystery of God's hand pulling the curtains of morning apart. And then the rioting orchestras of color struck up, and I leaned out of the window bathed in glory as the golden disk of the sun showed over the dewy prairie-edge. Oh, the grandeur of it! And oh, the God-given freshness of that pellucid air! I love my land! I love it!



Tuesday the First

I have married a man! My Dinky-Dunk is not a softy. I had that proved to me yesterday, when I put Paddy in the buckboard and drove out to where the men were working in the hay. I was taking their dinner out to them, neatly packed in the chuck-box. One of the new men, who'd been hired for the rush, had been overworking his team. The brute had been prodding them with a pitchfork, instead of using a whip. Dinky-Dunk saw the marks, and noticed one of the horses bleeding. But he didn't interfere until he caught the man in the act of jabbing the tines into Maid Marian's flank. Then he jumped for him, just as I drove up. He cursed that man, cursed and damned him most dreadfully and pulled him down off the hay-rack. Then they fought.

They fought like two wildcats. Dinky-Dunk's nose bled and his lip was cut. But he knocked the other man flat, and when he tried to get up he knocked him again. It seemed cruel; it was revolting. But something in me rejoiced and exulted as I saw that hulk of an animal thresh and stagger about the hay-stubble. I tried to wipe the blood away from Dinky-Dunk's nose. But he pushed me back and said this was no place for a woman. I had no place in his universe, at that particular time. But Dinky-Dunk can fight, if he has to. He's sa magerful a mon! He's afraid of nothing.

But that was nearly a costly victory. Both the new men of course threw up their jobs, then and there. Dinky-Dunk paid them off, on the spot, and they started off across the open prairie, without even waiting for their meal. Dinky-Dunk, as we sat down on the dry grass and ate together, said it was a good riddance, and he was just saying I could only have the left-hand side of his mouth to kiss for the next week when he suddenly dropped his piece of custard-pie, stood up and stared toward the east. I did the same, wondering what had happened.

I could see a long thin slanting column of smoke driving across the hot noonday air. Then my heart stopped beating. It was the prairie on fire.

I had heard a great deal about fire-guards and fire-guarding, three rows about crops and ten about buildings; and I knew that Olie hadn't yet finished turning all those essential furrows. And if that column of smoke, which was swinging up through the silvery haze where the indigo vault of heaven melted into the dusty whiteness of the parched grasslands, had come from the mouth of a siege-gun which was cannonading us where we stood, it couldn't have more completely chilled my blood. For I knew that east wind would carry the line of fire crackling across the prairie floor to Dinky-Dunk's wheat, to the stables and out-buildings, to Casa Grande itself, and all our scheming and planning and toiling and moiling would go up in one yellow puff of smoke. And once under way, nothing could stop that widening river of flame.

It was Dinky-Dunk who jumped to life as though he had indeed been cannonaded. In one bound he was at the buckboard and was snatching out the horse-blanket that lay folded up under the seat. Then he unsnapped the reins from Paddy's bridle, snapping them on the blanket, one to the buckle and the other to the strap-end. In another minute he had the hobble off Paddy and had swung me up on that astonished pinto's back. The next minute he himself was on Maid Marian, poking one end of the long rein into my hand and telling me to keep up with him.

We rode like mad. I scarcely understood what it meant, at the time, but I at least kept up with him. We went floundering through one end of a slough until the blanket was wet and heavy and I could hardly hold it. But I hung on for dear life. Then we swung off across the dry grass toward that advancing semicircle of fire, as far apart as the taut reins would let us ride. Dinky-Dunk took the windward side. Then on we rushed, along that wavering frontier of flame, neck to neck, dragging the wet blanket along its orange-tinted crest, flattening it down and wiping it out as we went. We made the full circle, panting; saw where the flames had broken out again, and swung back with our dragging blanket. But when one side was conquered another side would revive, and off we'd have to go again, until my arm felt as though it were going to be pulled out of its socket.

But we won that fight, in the end. I slipped down off Paddy's back and lay full length on the sod, weak, shaking, wondering why the solid ground was rocking slowly from side to side like a boat. But Dinky-Dunk didn't even observe me. He was fighting out the last patch of fire, on foot.

When he came over to where I was waiting for him he was as sooty and black as a boiler-maker. He dropped down beside me, breathing hard. We sat there holding each other's hand, for several minutes, in utter silence. Then he said, rather thickly: "Are you all right?" And I told him that of course I was all right. Then he said, without looking at me, "I forgot!" Then he got Paddy and patched up the harness and took me home in the buckboard.

But all the rest of the day he hung about the shack, as solemn as an owl. And once in the night he got up and lighted the lamp and came over and studied my face. I blinked up at him sleepily, for I was dog-tired and had been dreaming that we were back in Paris at the Bal des Quatz Arts and were about to finish up with an early breakfast at the Madrid. He looked so funny with his rumpled up hair and his faded pajamas that I couldn't help laughing a little as he blew out the light and got back into bed.

"Dinky-Dunk," I said, as I turned over my pillow and got comfy again, "wouldn't it have been hell if all our wheat had been burned up?" I forget what Duncan said, for in two minutes I was asleep again.



Monday the Seventh

The dry spell has been broken, and broken with a vengeance. One gets pretty well used to high winds, in the West. There used to be days at a time when that unending high wind would make me think something was going to happen, filling me with a vague sense of impending calamity and making me imagine a big storm was going to blow up and wipe Casa Grande and its little coterie off the map. But we've had a real wind-storm, this time, with rain and hail. Dinky-Dunk's wheat looks sadly draggled out and beaten down, but he says there wasn't enough hail to hurt anything; that the straw will straighten up again, and that this downpour was just what he wanted. Early in the afternoon, on looking out the shack door, I saw a tangle of clouds on the sky-line. They seemed twisted up like a skein of wool a kitten had been playing with. Then they seemed to marshal themselves into one solid line and sweep up over the sky, getting blacker and blacker as they came. Olga ran in with her yellow hair flying, slamming and bolting the stable-doors, locking the chicken-coop, and calling out for me to get my clothes off the line or they'd be blown to pieces. Even then I could feel the wind. It whipped my own hair loose, and flattened my skirt against my body, and I had to lean forward to make any advance against it.

By this time the black army of the heavens had rolled up overhead and a few big frog-like drops of rain began to fall, throwing up little clouds of dust, as a rifle bullet might. I trundled out a couple of tubs, in the hope of catching a little soft water. It wasn't until later that I realized the meaning of Olga's mild stare of reproof. For the next moment the downpour came, and with it the wind. And such wind! There had been nothing to stop its sweep, of course, for hundreds and hundreds of miles, and it hit us the same as a hurricane at sea hits a liner. The shack shook with the force of it. My two wash-tubs went bounding and careening off across the landscape, the chicken-coop went over like a nine-pin, and the air was filled with bits of flying timber. Olga's wagon, with the hay-rack on top of it, moved solemnly and ponderously across the barnyard and crashed into the corral, propelled by no power but that of the wind. My sweet-pea hedges were torn from their wires, and an armful of hay came smack against the shack-window and was held there by the wind, darkening the room more than ever.

Then the storm blew itself out, though it poured for two or three hours afterward. And all the while, although I exulted in that play of elemental force, I was worrying about my Dinky-Dunk, who was away for the day, doing what he could to arrange for some harvest hands, when the time for cutting came. For the wheat, it seems, ripens all at once, and then the grand rush begins. If it isn't cut the moment it's ripe, the grain shells out, and that means loss. Olga has been saying that the wheat on the Cummins section will easily run forty bushels to the acre and over. It will also grade high, whatever that means. There are six hundred and forty acres of it in that section, and I've just figured out that this means a little over twenty-five thousand bushels of grain. Our other piece on the home ranch is a larger tract, but a little lighter in crop. That wheat is just beginning to turn from green to the palest of yellow. And it has a good show, Olga says, if frost will only keep off and no hail comes. Our one occupation, for the next few weeks, will be watching the weather.



Sunday the Thirteenth

Percy and Mrs. Watson drove over to see how we'd all weathered the storm. They found the chicken-coop once more right side up, and everything ship-shape. Percy promptly asked where Olga was. I pointed her out to him, breast-high in the growing wheat. She looked like Ceres, in her big, new, loose-fitting blue waist, with the noonday sun on her yellow-gold head and her mild ruminative eyes with their misted sky-line effect. She always seems to fit into the landscape here. I suppose it's because she's a born daughter of the soil. And a sea of wheat makes a perfect frame for that massive, benignant figure of hers.

I looked at Percy, at thin-nosed, unpractical Percy, with all his finicky sensibilities, with his high fastidious reticences, with his effete, inbred meagerness of bone and sinew, with his distinguished pride of distinguished race rather running to seed. And I stood marveling at the wisdom of old Mother Nature, who was so plainly propelling him toward this revitalizing, revivifying, reanimalizing, redeeming type which his pale austerities of spirit could never quite neutralize. Even Dinky-Dunk has noticed what is taking place. He saw them standing side by side in the grain. When he came in he pointed them out to me, and merely said, "Hermann und Dorothea!" But I remembered my Goethe well enough to understand.



Monday the Twenty-eighth

I woke Dinky-Dunk up last night crying beside him in bed. I just got to thinking about things again, how far away we were from everything, how hard it would be to get help if we needed it, and how much I'd give if I only had you, Matilda Anne, for the next few weeks.... I got up and went to the window and looked out. The moon was big and yellow, like a cheese. And the midnight prairie itself seemed so big and wide and lonely, and I seemed such a tiny speck on its face, so far away from every one, from God himself, that the courage went out of my body like the air out of a tire. Dinky-Dunk was right; it is life that is taming me.

I stood at the window praying, and then I slipped back into bed. Dinky-Dunk works so hard and gets so tired that it would take a Chinese devil-gong to waken him, once he's asleep. He did not stir when I crept back into bed. And that, as I lay there wide awake, made me feel that even my own husband had betrayed me. And I bawled. I must have shaken the bed, for Dinky-Dunk finally did wake up. I couldn't tell him what was the matter. I blubbered out that I only wanted him to hold me. He took me in his arms and kissed my wet eyelids, hugging me up close to him, until I got quieter. Then I fell asleep. But poor Dinky-Dunk was awake when I opened my eyes about four, and had been that way for hours. He was afraid of disturbing me by taking his arm from under my head. To-day he looks tired and dark around the eyes. But he was up and off early. There is so much to be done these days! He is putting up a grub-tent and a rough sleeping-shack for the harvest "hands," so that I won't be bothered with a lot of rough men about the house here. I'm afraid I'm an encumbrance, when I should be helping. But they seem to be taking everything out of my hands.



Saturday the Second

I love to watch the wheat, now that it's really turning. It waves like a sea and stretches off into the distance as far as the eye can follow it. It's as high as my waist, and sometimes it moves up and down like a slowly breathing breast. When the sun is low it turns a pure Roman gold, and makes my eyes ache. But I love it. It strikes me as being glorious, and at the same time pathetic—I scarcely know why. I can't analyze my feelings. But the prairie brings a great peace to my soul. It is so rich, so maternal, so generous. It seems to brood under a passion to give, to yield up, to surrender all that is asked of it. And it is so tranquil. It seems like a bosom breathed on by the breath of God.



Wednesday the Sixth

It is nearly a year, now, since I first came to Casa Grande. I can scarcely believe it. The nights are getting very cool again and any time now there might be a heavy frost. If it should freeze this next week or two I think my Dinky-Dunk would just curl up and die. Poor boy, he's working so hard! I pray for that crop every night. I worry about it. Last night I dreamt it was burnt up in a prairie-fire and woke up screaming for wet blankets. Dinky-Dunk had to hold me until I got quiet again. I asked him if he loved me, now that I was getting old and ugly. He said I was the most beautiful thing God ever made and that he loved me in a deeper and nobler way than he did a year ago. Then I asked him if he'd ever get married again, if I should die. He called me silly and said I was going to live to be eighty, and that a gasoline-tractor couldn't kill me. But he promised I'd be the only one, whatever happened. And I believe him. I know Dinky-Dunk would go in black for a solid year, if I should die, and he'd never, never marry again, for he's the sort of Old Sobersides who can only love one woman in one lifetime. And I'm the woman, glory be!



Tuesday the Twelfth

Harvest time is here. The stage is cleared, and the last and great act of the drama now begins. It's a drama with a stage a thousand miles wide. I can hear through the open windows the rattle of the self-binders. Olga is driving one, like a tawny Boadicea up on her chariot. She said she never saw such heads of wheat. This is the first day's cutting, but those flapping canvas belts and those tireless arms of wood and iron won't have one-tenth of Dinky-Dunk's crop tied up by midnight. It is very cold, and Olie has lugubriously announced that it's sure going to freeze. So three times I've gone out to look at the thermometer and three times I've said my solemn little prayer: "Dear God, please don't freeze poor Dinky-Dunk's wheat!" And the Lord heard that prayer, for a Chinook came about two o'clock in the morning and the mercury slowly but steadily rose.



Thursday the Fourteenth

I had a great deal to talk about to-day. But I can't write much.... I'm afraid. I dread being alone. I wish I'd been a better wife to my poor old gold-bricked Dinky-Dunk! But we are what we are, character-kinks and all. So when he understands, perhaps he'll forgive me. I'm like a cottontail in the middle of a wheat-patch with the binders going round and round and every swathe cutting away a little more of my covering. And there can't be much more hiding away with my secret. But I shall never openly speak of it. The binder can cut off my feet first, the same as Olie's did with that mother-rabbit which stood trembling over her nest of young. Why must life sometimes be so ruthlessly tragic? And why, oh, why, are women sometimes so absurd? And why should I be afraid of what every woman who would justify her womanhood must face? Still, I'm afraid!



Wednesday the Fifth

Three long weeks since those last words were written. And what shall I say, or how shall I begin?

In the first place, everything seemed gray. The bed was gray, my own arms were gray, the walls looked gray, the window-glass was gray, and even Dinky-Dunk's face was gray. I didn't want to move, for a long time. Then I got the strength to tell Mrs. Watson that I wanted to speak to my husband. She was wrapping something up in soft flannel and purring over it quite proudly and calling it a blessed little lamb. When poor pale-faced Dinky-Dunk bent over the bed I asked him if it had a receding chin, or if it had a nose like Olie's. And he said it had neither, that it was a king of a boy and could holler like a good one.

Then I told Dinky-Dunk what had been in my secret soul, for so many months. Uncle Carlton had a receding chin, a boneless, dew-lappy sort of chin I'd always hated, and I'd been afraid it might kind of skip-and-carry one and fasten itself on my innocent offspring. Then, later on, I'd been afraid of Olie's frozen nose, with the split down the center. And all the while I kept remembering what the Morleys' old colored nurse had said to me when I was a schoolgirl, a girl of only seventeen, spending that first vacation of mine in Virginia: "Lawdy, chile, yuh ain't no bigger'n a minit! Don't yuh nebber hab no baby, chile!"

Isn't it funny how those foolish old things stick in a woman's memory? For I've had my baby and I'm still alive, and although I sometimes wanted a girl, Dinky-Dunk is so ridiculously proud and happy seeing it's a boy that I don't much care. But I'm going to get well and strong in a few more days, and here against my breast I'm holding the God-love-itest little lump of pulsing manhood, the darlingest, solemnest, placidest, pinkest hope of the white race that ever made life full and perfect for a foolish mother.

The doctor who finally got here—when both Olga and Mrs. Dixon agreed that he couldn't possibly do a bit of good—announced that I had come through it all like the true Prairie Woman that I was. Then he somewhat pompously and redundantly explained that I was a highly organized individual, "a bit high-strung," as Mrs. Dixon put it. I smiled into the pillow when he turned to my anxious-eyed Dinky-Dunk and condoningly enlarged on the fact that there was nothing abnormal about a woman like me being—well, rather abnormal as to temper and nerves during the last few months. But Dinky-Dunk cut him short.

"On the contrary, sir; she's been wonderful, simply wonderful!" Dinky-Dunk stoutly declared. Then he reached for my hand under the coverlet. "She's been an angel!"

I squeezed the hand that held mine. Then I looked at the doctor, who had turned away to give some orders to Olga.

"Doctor," I quite as stoutly declared, "I've been a perfect devil, and this dear old liar knows it!" But our doctor was too busy to pay much attention to what I was saying. He merely murmured that it was all normal, quite normal, under the circumstances. So, after all, I'm just an ordinary, everyday woman! But the man of medicine has ordered me to stay in bed for twelve days—which Olga regards as unspeakably preposterous, since one day, she proudly announced, was all her mother ever asked for. Which shows the disadvantages of being too civilized!



Sunday the Ninth

I'm day by day getting stronger, though I'm a lady of luxury and lie in bed until ten every morning. To-day when I was sitting up to eat breakfast, with my hair braided in two tails and a pink and white hug-me-tight over my nightie, Dinky-Dunk came in and sat by the bed. He tried to soft-soap me by saying he'd be mighty glad when I was running things again so he could get something fit to eat. Olga, he admitted, was all right, but she hadn't the touch of his Gee-Gee. He confessed that for nearly a month now the house had been a damned gynocracy and he was getting tired of being bossed around by a couple of women. Mio piccino no longer looks like a littered whelp of the animal world, as he did at first. His wrinkled little face and his close-shut eyes used to make me think of a little old man, with all the wisdom of the ages shut up in his tiny body. And it is such a knowing little body, with all its stored-up instincts and guardian appetites! My little tenor robusto, how he can sing when he's hungry! Last night I sat up in bed, listening for my son's—Dinky-Dink's—breathing. At first I thought he might be dead, he was so quiet. Then I heard his lips move in the rhapsodic deglutition of babyland dreams. "Dinky-Dunk," I demanded, "what would we do if Babe should die?" And I shook him to make him answer. He stared up at me with a sleepy eye. "That whale?" he commented as he blinked contentedly down at his offspring and then turned over and went to sleep. But I slipped a hand in under little Dinky-Dink's body, and found it as warm as a nesting bird.



Monday the Tenth

I noticed that Dinky-Dunk had not been smoking lately, so I asked him what had become of the rest of his cigars. He admitted that he had given them to Olie. "When?" I asked. And Dinky-Dunk colored up as he answered, rather casually, "Oh, the day Buddy Boy was born!" How men merge down into the conventional in their more epochal moments!

The second day after my baby's birth Olga rather took my breath away by carrying in as neat a little wooden cradle as any prince of the royal blood would care to lie in. Olie had made it. He had worked on it during his spare hours in the evening, and even Dinky-Dunk hadn't known. I made Olga hold it up at the foot of the bed so I could see it better. It had been scroll-sawed and sand-papered and polished like any factory-made baby-bed, and my faithful old Olie had even attempted some hand-carving along the rockers and the head-board. But as I looked at it I realized that it must have taken weeks and weeks to make. And that gave me an odd little earthquaky feeling in the neighborhood of the midriff, for I knew then that my secret had been no secret at all. Dinky-Dunk, by the way, has just announced that we're to have a touring-car. He says I've earned it!



Tuesday the Eleventh

Yesterday was so warm that I sat out in the sun and took an ozone-bath. I sat there, staring down at my boy, realizing that I was a mother. My boy—bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh! It's so hard to believe! And now I am one of the mystic chain, and no longer the idle link. I am a mother. And I'd give an arm if you and Chinkie and Scheming-Jack could see my boy, at this moment. He's like a rose-leaf and he's got six dimples, not counting his hands and feet—for I've found and kissed 'em all—on different parts of his blessed little body. Dinky-Dunk came back from Buckhorn yesterday with a lot of the foolishest things you ever clapped eyes on—a big cloth elephant that grunts when you pull its tail, a musical spinning-top, a high-chair, and a projecting lantern. They're for Dinky-Dink, of course. But it will be a week or two before he can manipulate the lantern!



Wednesday the Thirteenth

Dinky-Dunk has taken Mrs. Dixon home and come back with a brand-new "hand," which, of course, is prairie-land synecdoche for a new hired man. His name is Terry Dillon, and as the name might lead you to imagine, he's about as Irish as Paddy's pig. He is blessed with a potato-lip, a buttermilk brogue, and a nose which, if he follows it faithfully, will some day lead him straight to Heaven. But Terry, Dinky-Dunk tells me, is a steady worker and a good man with horses, and that of course rounds him out as a paragon in the eyes of my slave-driving lord and master. I asked where Terry came from. Dinky-Dunk, with rather a grim smile, acknowledged that he'd been working for Percy.

Terry, it seems, has no particular love for an Englishman. And Percy had affronted his haughty Irish spirit with certain ideas of caste which can't be imported into the Canadian West, where the hired man is every whit as good as his master—as that master will tragically soon find out if he tries to make his help eat at second table! At any rate, Percy and potato-lipped Terry developed friction which ended up in every promise of a fight, only Dinky-Dunk arrived in the nick of time and took Terry off his harassed neighbor's hands. I told him he had rather the habit of catching people on the bounce. But I am reserving my opinion of Terry Dillon. We are a happy family here, and I want no trouble-makers in my neighborhood.

I have been studying some of the New York magazines, going rather hungrily through their advertisements where such lovely layettes are described. My poor little Dinky-Dink's things are so plain and rough and meager. I envy those city mothers with all those beautiful linens and laces. But my little Spartan man-child has never known a single day's sickness. And some day he'll show 'em!



Thursday the Fourteenth

When Olie came in after dinner yesterday I asked him where my husband was. Olie, after some hesitation, admitted that he was out in the stable. I asked just what Dinky-Dunk was doing there, for I'd noticed that after each meal he slipped silently away. Again Olie hesitated. Then he finally admitted that he thought maybe my lord was out there smoking. So I went out, and there I found my poor old Dinky-Dunk sitting on a grain-box puffing gloomily away at his old pipe. For a minute or two he didn't see me, so I went right over to him. "What does this mean?" I demanded.

"Why?" he rather guiltily equivocated.

"Why are you smoking out here?"

"I—er—I rather thought you might think it wouldn't be good for the Boy!" He looked pathetic as he said that, I don't know why, though I loved him for it. He made me think of a king who'd been dethroned, an outsider, a man without a home. It brought a lump into my throat.

I wormed my way up close to him on the grain-box, so that he had to hold me to keep from falling off the end. "Listen to me," I commanded. "You are my True Love and my Kaikobad and my Man-God and my Soul-Mate! And no baby is ever going to come between me and you!"

"You shouldn't say those awful things," he declared, but he did it only half-heartedly.

"But I want you to sit and smoke with me, beloved, the same as you always did," I told him. "We can leave the windows open a little and it won't hurt Dinky-Dink, for that boy gets more ozone than any city child that was ever wheeled out in the Mall! It can't possibly hurt him. What hurts me is being away from you so much. And now give me a hug, a tight one, and tell me that you still love your Lady Bird!" He gave me two, and then two more, until Tumble-Weed turned round in his stall and whinnied for us to behave.



Friday the Fifteenth

I've been keeping Terry under my eye, and I don't believe he's a trouble-maker. His first move was to lift Babe out of the cradle, hold him up and publicly announce that he was a darlin'. Then he pointed out to me what a wonderful head the child had, feeling his frontal bone and declaring he was sure to make a great scholar in his time. Dinky-Dunk, grinning at the sober way in which I was swallowing this, pointedly inquired of Terry whether it was Milton or Archimedes that Babe most resembled as to skull formation. But it isn't Terry's blarney that has made me capitulate; it's the fact that he has proved so companionable and has slipped so quietly into his place in our little lonely circle of lives on this ragged edge of nowhere.

And he's as clean as a cat, shaving every blessed morning with a little old broken-handled razor which he strops on a strip of oiled bootleg. He declares that razor to be the finest bit of steel in all the Americas, and showed off before Olie and Olga yesterday morning by shaving without a looking-glass, which trick he said he learned in the army. He also gave Olie a hair-cut, which was badly needed, and on Sunday has promised to rig up a soldering-iron and mend all my pans for me. He looks little over twenty, but is really thirty and more, and has been in India and Mexico and Alaska.

I caught him neatly darning his own woolen socks. Instead of betraying shame at being detected in that effeminate pastime he proudly explained that he'd learned to do a bit of stitching in the army. He hasn't many possessions, but he's very neat in his arrangement of them. A good soldier, he solemnly told me, always had to be a bit of an old maid. "And you were a grand soldier, Terry, I know," I frankly told him. "I've done a bit av killing in me time!" he proudly acknowledged. But as he sat there darning his sock-heel he looked as though he couldn't kill a field mouse. And in his idle hours he reads Nick Carter, a series of paper-bound detective stories, almost worn to tatters, which he is going through for the second or third time. These adventures, I find, he later recounts to Olie, who is slowly but surely succumbing to the poison of the penny-dreadful and the virus of the shilling-shocker! I even caught Dinky-Dunk sitting up over one of these blood-curdling romances the other night, though he laughed a little as I dragged him off to bed, at the absurdity of the situations. Terry's eyes lighted up when he saw my books and magazines. When I told him he could take anything he wanted, he beamed and said it would sure be a glorious winter he'd be having, with all that book-reading when the long nights came. But before those long nights are over I'm going to try to pilot Terry into the channels of respectable literature.



Saturday the Sixteenth

I love the milky smell of my Dinky-Dink better than the perfume of any flower that ever grew. He's so strong now that he can almost lift himself up by his two little hands. At least he can really and actually give a little pull. Two days ago our touring-car arrived. It is a beauty. It skims over these smooth prairie trails like a yacht. From now on we can run into Buckhorn, do our shopping, and run out again inside of two or three hours. We can also reach the larger towns without trouble and it will be so much easier to gather up what we need for Casa Grande. Dinky-Dink seems to love the car. Ten minutes after we have started out he is always fast asleep. Olga, who holds him in the back seat when I get tired, sits in rapt and silent bliss as we rock along at thirty miles an hour. And no wonder, for it's the next best thing to sailing out on the briny deep!

I can't help thinking of Terry's attitude toward Olga. He doesn't actively dislike her, but he quietly ignores her, even more so than Olie does. I've been wondering why neither of them has succumbed to such physical grandeur. Perhaps it's because they're physical themselves. And then I think her largeness oppresses Terry, for no man, whether he's been a soldier or not, likes to be overtopped by a woman.

The one exception, of course, is Percy. But Percy is a man of imagination. He can realize that Olga is more than a mere type. He agrees with me that she's a sort of miracle. To Terry she's only a mute and muscular Finnish servant-girl with an arm like a grenadier's. To Percy she is a goddess made manifest, a superhuman body of superhuman vigor and beauty and at the same time a body crowned with majesty and robed in mystery. And I still incline to Percy's opinion. Olga is always wonderful to me. Her lips are such a soft and melting red, the red of perfect animal health. The very milkiness of her skin is an advertisement of that queenly and all-conquering vitality which lifts her so above the ordinary ruck of humanity. And her great ruminative eyes are as clear and limpid as any woodland pool.

She blushes rose color sometimes when Percy comes in. I think he finds a secret joy in sensing that reaction in anything so colossal. But he defends himself behind that mask of cool impersonality which is the last attribute of the mental aristocrat, no matter what his feelings may be. His attitude toward Terry, by the way, is a remarkably companionable one in view of the fact of their earlier contentions. They can let by-gones be by-gones and talk and smoke and laugh together. It is Terry, if any one, who is just a wee bit condescending. And I imagine that it is the aura of Olga which has brought about this oddly democratizing condition of affairs. She seems to give a new relationship to things, softening a point here and illuminating a point there as quietly as moonlight itself can do.



Monday the Seventeenth

Yesterday Olga carried home a whole pailful of mushrooms, for an Indian summer seems to have brought on a second crop of them. They were lovely. But she refused to eat any. I asked her why. She heaved her huge shoulders and said she didn't know. But she does, I feel sure, and I've been wondering why she's afraid of anything that can taste so good, once they are creamed and heaped on a square of toast. As for me

I love 'em, I love 'em, and who shall dare To chide me for loving that mushroom fare?



Wednesday the Nineteenth

I found myself singing for all I was worth as I did my work this morning. Dinky-Dunk came and stood in the door and said it sounded like old times. I feel strong again and have ventured to ask my lord and master if I couldn't have the weentiest gallop on Paddy once more. But he's made me promise to wait for a week or two. The last two or three nights have been quite cold, and away off, miles and miles across the prairie, we can see the glow of fires where different ranchers are burning their straw, after the wind-stackers have blown it from the threshing machines. Sometimes it burns all night long.



Friday the Twenty-first

I have this morning found out why Olga won't eat mushrooms. It was very cold again last night, for this time of year. Percy came over, and we had a ripping fire and popped Ontario pop-corn with Ontario maple sirup poured over it. Olga and Olie and Terry all came in and sat about the stove. And being absolutely happy and contented and satisfied with life in general, we promptly fell to talking horrors, the same as a cook stirs lemon juice into her pudding-sauce, I suppose, to keep its sweetness from being too cloying. That revel in the by-paths of the Poesque began with Dinky-Dunk's casual reference to the McKinnon ranch and Percy's inquiry as to why its earlier owner had given it up. So Dinky-Dunk recounted the story of Andrew Cochrane's death. And it was noticeable that poor old Olie betrayed visible signs of distress at this tale of a young ranchman being frozen to death alone in his shack in mid-winter. So Dinky-Dunk, apparently with malice prepense, enlarged on his theme, describing how all young Cochrane's stock had starved in their stalls and how his collie dog which had been chained to a kennel-box outside the shack had first drawn attention to the tragedy. A government inspector, in riding past, had noticed the shut-up shack, had pounded on the door, and had promptly discovered the skeleton of the dog with a chain and collar still attached to the clean-picked neckbones. And inside the shack he had found the dead man himself, as life-like, because of the intense cold, as though he had fallen asleep the night before.

It was not a pleasant story, and my efforts to picture the scene gave me rather a bristly feeling along the pin-feather area of my anatomy. And again undoubted signs of distress were manifest in poor Olie. The face of that simple-souled Swede took on such a look of wondering trouble that Dinky-Dunk deliberately and at great detail told of a ghost that had been repeatedly seen in an abandoned wickyup a little farther west in the province.

And that, of course, fired the Celtic soul of Terry, who told of the sister of his Ould Counthry master who had once been taken to a hospital. And just at dusk on the third day after that his young master was walking down the dark hall. As he passed his sister's door, there she stood all in white, quietly brushing her hair, as plain as day to his eyes. And with that the master rushed down-stairs to his mother asking how Sheila had got back from the hospital. And his old mother, being slow of movement, started for Sheila's room. But before she so much as reached the foot of the stairs a neighbor woman came running in, wiping her eyes with her shawl-end and saying, "Poor Sheila died this minute over t' the hospital!" I can't tell it as Terry told it, and I don't know whether he himself believed in it or not, but the huge bulk of Olie Larson sat there bathed in a fine sweat, with his eyes fixed on the stove front. He was by no means happy, and yet he seemed unable to tear himself away, just as Gimlets and I used to sit chained to the spot while Grandfather Heppelwhite continued to intone the dolorous history of the "Babes in the Woods" until our ultimate and inevitable collapse into tears!

So Percy, who is not without his spirit of ragging, told several whoppers, which he later confessed came from the Society of Psychical Research records. And I huskily recounted Uncle Carlton's story of the neurasthenic lady patient who went into a doctor's office and there beheld a skull standing on his polished rosewood desk. Then, as she sat staring at it, this skull started to move slowly toward her. It later turned out to be only a plaster-of-Paris paper weight, and a mouse had got inside it and found a piece of cracker there—and a cracker, I had to explain to Percy, was the name under which a biscuit usually masqueraded in America. That mouse, in its efforts to get the last of that cracker, had, of course, shifted the skull along the polished wood.

This reminded Dinky-Dunk of the three medical students who had tried to frighten their landlady's daughter by smuggling an arm from the dissecting room and hiding it under the girl's pillow. Dinky-Dunk even solemnly avowed that the three men were college chums of his. They waited to hear the girl's scream, but as there was nothing but silence they finally stole into the room. And there they saw the girl sitting on the floor, holding the arm in her hands. As she sat there she was mumbling to herself and eating one end of it! Of course the poor thing had gone stark staring mad.

Olie groaned audibly at this and wiped his forehead with his coat-sleeve. But before he could get away Terry started to tell of the four-bottle Irish sea captain who was sober only when at sea and one night in port stumbled up to bed three sheets in the wind. When he had navigated into what he thought was his own room he was astounded to find a man already in bed there, and even drunker than he was himself, too drunk, in fact, to move. And even the candles had been left burning. But the old captain climbed over next to the wall, clothes and all, and would have been fast asleep in two minutes if two stout old ladies hadn't come in and started to cry and say a prayer or two at the side of the bed. Thereupon the old captain, muddled as he was, quietly but inquisitively reached over and touched the man beside him. And that man was cold as ice! The captain gave one howl and made for the door. But the old ladies went first, and they all rolled down the stairs one after the other and the three of them up and ran like the wind. "And niver wanst did they stop," declared the brogue-mouthing Terry, "till they lept flat against the sea-wall!"

Olie, who had moved away to the far end of the table, got up at this point and went to the door and looked out. He sighed lugubriously as he stared into the darkness of the night. The outer gloom, apparently, was too much for him, as he came slowly and reluctantly back to his chair at the far end of the table and it was plain to see that he was as frightened as a five-year-old child. The men, I suppose, would have badgered him until midnight, for Terry had begun a story of a negro who'd been sent to rob a grave and found the dead man not quite dead. But I declared that we'd had enough of horrors and declined to hear anything more about either ghosts or deaders. I was, in fact, getting just a wee bit creepy along the nerve-ends myself. And Babe whimpered a little in his cradle and brought us all suddenly back from the Wendigo Age to the time of the kerosene lamp. "Fra' witches and warlocks," I solemnly intoned, "fra' wurricoos and evil speerits, and fra' a' ferly things that wheep and gang bump in the nicht, Guid Lord deliver us!" And that incantation, I feel sure, cleared the air for both my own sprite-threatened offspring and for the simple-minded Olie himself, although Dinky-Dunk explained that my Scotch was rather worse than the stories.

But it was this morning after breakfast that I learned from Olga why she never cared to eat mushrooms. And all day long her story has been hanging between me and the sun, like a cloud. Not that there is anything so wonderful about the story itself, outside of its naked tragedy. But I think it was more the way that huge placid-eyed girl told it, with her broken English and her occasional pauses to grope after the right word. Or perhaps it was because it came as such a grim reality after the trifling grotesqueries of the night before. At any rate, as I heard it this morning it seemed as terrible as anything in Tolstoi's Heart of Darkness, and more than once sent my thoughts back to the sorrows of the house of OEdipus. It startled me a little, too, for I never thought to catch an echo of Greek tragedy out of the full soft lips of a Finnish girl who was helping me wash my breakfast dishes.

It began as I was deciding on my dinner menu, and looked to see if all our mushrooms had been used up. That prompted me to ask the girl why she never ate them. I could see a barricaded look come into her eyes but she merely shrugged and said that sometimes they were poison and killed people. I told her that this was absurd and that any one with ordinary intelligence soon got to know a meadow mushroom when he saw one. But sometimes, Olga insisted, they were death cups. If you ate a death cup you died, and nothing could save you. I tried to convince her that this was just a peasant superstition, but she announced that she had seen death cups, many of them, and had seen people who had been killed by them. And then brokenly, and with many heavy gestures of hesitation, she told me the story.

Nearly seventy miles northwest of us, up near her old home, so she said, a Pole named Andrei Przenikowski and his wife used to live. They had one son, whose name was Jozef. They were poor, always poor, and could never succeed. So when Jozef was fifteen years old he went to the coast to make his fortune. And the old father and mother had a hard time of it, for old Andrei found it no easy thing to get about, having had his feet frozen years before. He stumped around like a hen with frost-bitten claws, Olga said, and his wife, old as she was, had to help him in the fields. One whole winter, he told Olga's father, they had lived on turnips. But season after season dragged on, and still they existed, God knows how. Of Jozef they never heard again. But with Jozef himself it was a different story. The boy went up to Alaska, before the days of the Klondike strike. There he worked in the fisheries, and in the lumber camps, and still later he joined a mining outfit. Then he went in to the Yukon.

That was twelve years after he had first left home. He was a strong man by this time and spoke English very well. And the next year he struck luck, and washed up a great deal of gold, thousands of dollars' worth of gold. But he saved it all, for he had never forgotten the old folks on their little farm. So he gathered up his money and went down to Seattle, and then crossed to Vancouver. From there he made his way back to his old home, dressed like a man of the world and wearing a big gold watch and chain and a gold ring. And when he walked in on the old folks they failed to recognize him—and that Jozef thought the finest of jokes. He filled the little sod-covered shack with his laughter, for he was happy. He knew that for the rest of their days their troubles had all ended. So he walked about and made plans, but still he did not tell them who he was. It was so good a joke that he intended to make the most of it. But he said that he had news of their Jozef, who was not so badly off for a ne'er-do-well. Before he left the next day, he promised, they should be told about their boy. And he laughed again and slapped his pocketful of gold and the two old folks sat blinking at him in awe, until he announced that he was hungry and confided to them that his friend Jozef had once told him there were wonderful mushrooms round-about at that season of the year.

Andrei and his wife talked together in the cow-shed, before the old man hobbled out to gather the mushrooms. Poverty and suffering had made them hard and the sight of this stranger with so much gold was too much for them. So it was a plate full of death cups which Andrei's wife cooked for the brown-faced stranger with the loud laugh. And they stood about and watched him eat them. Then he died, as Andrei knew he must die. But the old woman hid in the cow-shed until it was over, for it took some time. Together then the old couple searched the dead man's bags and his pockets. They found papers and certain marks on his body. They knew then that they had murdered their own son. The old man hobbled all the way to the nearest village, where he sent a letter to Olga's father and bought a clothes-line to take home. The journey took him an entire day. With that clothes-line Andrei Przenikowski and his wife hanged themselves, from one of the rafters in the cow-shed.

Olga said that she was only five years old then, but she remembered driving over with the others, after the letter had come to her father's place. She can still remember seeing the two old bodies hanging side by side and twisting slowly about in the wind. And she saw what was left of the mushrooms. She says she can never forget it and dreams of it quite often. And Olga is not what you would call emotional. She told me, as she dried her hands and hung up the dish-pan, that she can still see her people staring down at what was left of that plate of poisoned death cups, which had turned quite black, almost as black as the dead man she saw them lift up on the dirty bed.



Monday the Twelfth

Yesterday was Sunday and Olga in her best bib and tucker sat out in the sun with Dinky-Dink. She seemed perfectly happy merely to hold him. I looked out, to make sure he was all right, for a few days before Olga had nearly given me heart failure by balancing my boy on one huge hand, as though he were a mutton-chop, so that the adoring Olie might see him kick. As I stood watching Olga crooning above Buddy Boy, Percy rode up. Then he came over and joined Olga, who carefully lifted up the veil covering Dinky-Dink's face, and showed him off to the somewhat intimidated Percy. Percy poked a finger at him, and made absurd noises, and felt his legs as Olga directed and then sat down in front of Olga.

They talked there for a long time, quite oblivious of everything about them. At least Percy talked, for Olga's replies seemed mostly monosyllabic. But she kept bathing him in that mystic moonlight stare of hers and sometimes she showed her teeth in a slow and wistful sort of smile. Percy clattered on, quite unconscious that I was standing in the doorway staring at him. They seemed to be great pals. And I've been wondering what they talked about.



Wednesday the Fourteenth

To-day after dinner Dinky-Dunk took the Boy and held him up on Paddy's back, where he looked like a bump on a log. And that started me thinking that it wouldn't be so long before my little Snoozerette had a pony of his own and would be cantering off across the prairie like a monkey on a circus horse. For I want my boy to ride, and ride well. And then a little later he would be cantering off to school. And then it wouldn't be such a great while before he'd be hitting the trail side by side with some clear-eyed prairie girl on a dappled pinto, and I'd be a silvery-haired old lady wondering if that clear-eyed girl was good enough for my son! And there I was, as usual, dreaming of the future!

All day long the fact that Dinky-Dunk is getting extravagant has been hitting me just under the fifth rib. So I asked him if we could really afford a six-cylinder car with tan slip-covers and electric lights. "Afford it?" he echoed, "of course we can afford it. We can afford anything. Hang it all, our lean days are over and we haven't had the imagination to wake up to the fact. And d'you know what I'm going to do if certain things come my way? I'm going to send you and the Babe down to New York for the winter!"

"And where will you be?" I promptly inquired. The look of mingled pride and determination went out of his face.

"Oh, I'll have to hang around the Polar regions up here to look after things. But you and the Boy have got to have your chance. And I'll come down for two weeks at Easter and bring you home with me!"

"And will you be enjoying it up here?" I inquired.

"Of course I won't," acknowledged Dinky-Dunk. "But think what it will mean to you, Gee-Gee, to have a few months in the city again! And think what you've been missing!"

"Goosey-goosey-gander!" I said as I got his foolish old head in Chancery. "I want you to listen to me. There's nothing I've been missing. And you are plum locoed, Honey Chile, if you think I could ever be happy away from you, in New York or any other city. And I wouldn't go there for the winter if you gave me the Plaza and all the Park for a back yard!"

That declaration of mine seemed to puzzle him. "But think what it would mean to the Boy!" he contended.

"Well, what?" I demanded.

"Oh, good—er—good pictures and music and all that sort of thing!" he vaguely explained. I couldn't help laughing at him.

"But, Dinky-Dunk, don't you think Babe's a month or so too young to take up Debussy and the Post-Impressionists, you big, foolish, adorable old muddle-headed captor of helpless ladies' hearts!" And I firmly announced that he could never, never get rid of me.



Thursday the Fifteenth

Now that Olga is working altogether inside with me she is losing quite a little of her sunburn. Her skin is softer and she has acquired a little more of the Leonardo di Vinci look. She almost seems to be getting spiritualized—but it may be simply because she's lengthened her skirts. She loves Babe, and, I'm afraid, is rather spoiling him. I find her a better and better companion, not only because she talks more, but because she seems in some way to be climbing up to a newer level. Between whiles, I'm teaching her to cook. She learns readily, and is proud of her progress. But the thing of which she is proudest is her corsets. And they do make a difference. Even Dinky-Dunk has noticed this. Yesterday he stood and stared after her.

"By gum," he sagely remarked, "that girl is getting a figure!" Men are so absurd. When this same Olga was going about half uncovered he never even noticed her. Now that she's mystified her nether limbs with a little drapery he stands staring after her as though she were a Venus de Milo come to life. And Olga is slowly but surely losing a little of her Arcadian simplicity. Yesterday I caught her burning up her cowhide boots. She is ashamed of them. And she is spending most of her money on clothes, asking me many strange questions as to apparel and carrying off my fashion magazines to her bedroom for secret perusal. For the first time in her life she is using cold cream. And the end seems to justify the means, for her skin is now like apple blossoms. Rodin, I feel sure, would have carried that woman across America on his back, once to have got her into his atelier!

Last week I persuaded Terry to take a try at Meredith and lent him my green cloth copy of Harry Richmond. Three days ago I found the seventh page turned down at the corner, and suspecting that this marked the final frontier of his advance, I tied a strand of green silk thread about the volume. It was still there this morning, though Terry daily and stoutly maintains that he's getting on grand with that fine green book of mine! But at noon to-day when Dinky-Dunk got back from Buckhorn he handed Terry a parcel, and I noticed the latter glanced rather uneasily about as he unwrapped it. This afternoon I discovered that it held two new books in paper covers. One was The Hidden Hand and the other was called The Terror of Tamaraska Gulch. Terry, of late, has been doing his reading in his own room. And Nick Carter, apparently, is not to be so easily displaced. But a man who can make you read his books for the third time must be a genius. If I were an author, that's the sort of man I'd envy. And I think I'll try Percival Benson with The Terror of Tamaraska Gulch when Terry is through with it!



Friday the Sixteenth

We were just finishing dinner to-day, and an uncommonly good one it seemed to me, and I was looking contentedly about my little family circle, wondering what more life could hold for a big healthy hulk of a woman like me, when the drone and purr of an approaching motor-car broke through the sound of our talk. Dinky-Dunk, in fact, was laying down the law about the farmer of the West, maintaining that he was a broader-spirited and bigger-minded man than his brother of the East, and pointing out that the westerner's wife was a queen who if she had little ease at least had great honor. And I was just thinking that one glorious thing about this same queen was that she at least escaped from all the twentieth-century strain and dislocation in the relationship between city men and women, when the hum of that car brought me back to earth and reminded me that I might have a tableful of guests to feed. The car itself drew up, with a flutter of its engine, half-way between the shack and the corral, and at that sound I imagine we all rather felt like Robinson Crusoes listening to the rattle of an anchor cable in Juan Fernandez's quietest bay. And through the open window I could make out a huge touring-car pretty well powdered with dust and with no less than six men in it.

Terry, all eyes, dove for the window, and Olie, all mouth, for the door. Olga leaned half-way across the table to look out, and I did a little staring myself. The only person who remained quiet was Dinky-Dunk. He knocked out his pipe, stuck it in his pocket, put on his hat and caught up a package of papers from his work table. Then he stalked out, with his gray fighting look about the eyes. He went out just as one of the bigger men was about to step down from the car, so that the bigger man changed his mind and climbed back in his seat, like a king reascending his throne. And they all sat there so sedate and non-committal and dignified, rather like dusty pallbearers in an undertaker's wagonette, that I promptly decided they had come to foreclose a mortgage and take my Dinky-Dunk's land away from him, at one fell swoop!

I could see my lord walk right up to the running-board, with curt little nods to his visitors, and I knew by the trim of his shoulders that there was trouble ahead. Yet they started talking quietly enough. But inside of two minutes my Dinky-Dunk was shaking his fist in the face of one of the younger and bigger men and calling him a liar and somewhat tautologically accusing him of knowing that he was a liar and that he always had been one. This altogether ungentlemanly language naturally brought forth language quite as ungentlemanly from the accused, who stood up in the car and took his turn at dancing about and shaking his own fist. And then the others seemed to take sides, and voices rose to a shout, and I saw that there was going to be another fight at Casa Grande—and I promptly decided to be in it. So off went my apron and out I went.

It was funny. For, oddly enough, the effect of my entrance on the scene was like that on a noisy class-room at the teacher's return. The tumult stopped, rather sheepishly, and that earful of men instinctively slipped on their armor plate of over-obsequious sex gallantry. They knew I wasn't a low-brow. I went right up to them, though something about their funereal discomfiture made me smile. So Dinky-Dunk, mad as a wet hen though he was, had to introduce every man-jack of them to me! One was a member of Parliament, and another belonged to some kind of railway committee, and another was a road construction official, and another was a mere capitalist who owned two or three newspapers. The man Dinky-Dunk had been calling a liar was a civil engineer, although it seemed to me that he had been acting decidedly uncivil. They ventured a platitude about the beautiful Indian summer weather and labored out a ponderous joke or two about such a bad-tempered man having such a good-looking wife—for which I despised them all. But I could see that even if my intrusion had put the soft pedal on their talk it had also left everything uncomfortably tentative and non-committal. For some reason or other this was a man's fight, one which had to be settled in a man's way. So I decided to retire with outward dignity even if with inward embarrassment. But I resented their uncouth commercial gallantry almost as much as I abominated their trying to bully my True Love. And I gave them one Parthian shot as I turned away.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse