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The Prairie Wife
by Arthur Stringer
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"The last prize-fight I saw was in a sort of souteneur's cabaret in the Avenue des Tilleuls," I sweetly explained to them. "But that was nearly three years ago. So if there is going to be a bout in my back yard, I trust you gentlemen will be so good as to call me!"

And smiling up into their somewhat puzzled faces, I turned on my heel and went into the house. One of the men laughed loud and deep, at this speech of mine, and a couple of the others seemed to sit puzzling over it. Yet two minutes after I was inside the shack that most uncivil civil engineer and Dinky-Dunk were at it again. Their language was more than I should care to repeat. The end of it was, however, that the six dusty pallbearers all stepped stiffly down out of their car and Dinky-Dunk shouted for Olie and Terry. At first I thought it was to be a duel, only I couldn't make out how it could be fought with a post-hole augur and a few lengths of jointed gaspipe, for this was what the men carried away with them.

Away across the prairie I could see them apparently engaged in the silly and quite profitless occupation of putting down a post-hole where it wasn't in the least needed, and then clustering about this hole like a bunch of professorial bigwigs about a new specimen on a microscope slide. Then they moved on and made another hole, and still another, until I got tired of watching them. It was two hours later before they came back. Their voices now seemed more facetious and there was more laughing and joking, Dinky-Dunk and the uncivil civil engineer being the only quiet ones. And then the car engine purred and hummed and they climbed heavily in and lighted cigars and waved hands and were off in a cloud of dust.

But Dinky-Dunk, when he came back to the shack with his papers, was in no mood for talking. And I knew better than to try to pump him. To-night he came in early for supper and announced that he'd have to leave for Winnipeg right away and might even have to go on to Ottawa. So I cooked his supper and packed his bag and held Babe up for him to kiss good-by. But still I didn't bother him with questions, for I was afraid of bad news. And he knew that I knew I could trust him.

He kissed me good-by in a tragically tender, or rather a tenderly tragic sort of way, which made me wonder for a moment if he was possibly never coming back again. So I made 'em all wait while I took one extra, for good measure, in case I should be a grass widow for the rest of my days.

To-night, however, I sat Terry down at the end of the table and third degreed him to the queen's taste. The fight, as far as I can learn from this circuitous young Irishman, is all about a right of way through our part of the province. Dinky-Dunk, it seems, has been working for it for over a year. And the man he called wicked names had been sent out by the officials to report on the territory. My husband claims he was bribed by the opposition party and turned in a report saying our district was without water. He also proclaimed that our land—our land, mark you!—was unvaryingly poor and inferior soil! No wonder my Dinky-Dunk had stormed! Then Terry rather disquieted me by chortlingly announcing that they had put one over on the whole bunch. For, three days before, he'd quietly put down twenty soil and water-test holes and carefully filled them in again. But he'd found what he was after. And that little army of paid knockers, he acknowledged, had been steered into the neighborhood where the soil was deepest and the water was nearest. And that soon showed who the liar was, for of course everything came out as Dinky-Dunk wanted it to come out!

But this phase of it I didn't discuss with Terry, for I had no desire to air my husband's moral obliquities before his hired man. Yet I am still disturbed by what I have heard. Oh, Dinky-Dunk, I never imagined you were one bit sly, even in business!



Sunday the Eighteenth

Olie and Terry seem convinced of the fact that Dinky-Dunk's farming has been a success. We have saved all our wheat crop, and it's a whopper. Terry, with his crazy Celtic enthusiasms, says that by next year they'll be calling Dinky-Dunk the Wheat King of the West. Olga and Percy went buggy riding this afternoon. I wish I had some sort of scales to weight my Snoozerette. I know he's doubled in the last three weeks.



Sunday the Twenty-fifth

My Dinky-Dunk is home again. He looks a little tired and hollow-eyed, but when the Boy crowed and smiled up at him his poor tired face softened so wonderfully that it brought the tears to my eyes. I finally persuaded him to stop petting Babe and pay a little attention to me. After supper he opened up his extra hand-bag and hauled out the heaps of things he'd brought Babe and me. Then I sat on his knee and held his ears and made him blow away the smoke, every shred of it, so I could kiss him in my own particular places.



Tuesday the Twenty-seventh

Dinky-Dunk has sailed off to Buckhorn to do some telegraphing he should have done Saturday night. My suspicions about his slyness, by the way, were quite unfounded. It was the guileless-eyed Terry who led those railway officials out to the spot where he'd already secretly tested for water and found signs of it. And Terry can't even understand why Dinky-Dunk is so toweringly angry about it all!



Wednesday the Twenty-eighth

When Dinky-Dunk came in last night, after his drive out from Buckhorn, there was a look on his face that rather frightened me. I backed him up against the door, after he'd had a peep at the Boy, and said, "Let me smell your breath, sir!" For with that strange light in his eyes I surely thought he'd been drinking. "Lips that touch liquor," I sang, "shall never touch mine!"

But I was mistaken. And Dinky-Dunk only laughed in a quiet inward rumbling sort of way that was new to him. "I believe I am drunk, Boca Chica," he solemnly confessed, "drunk as a lord!" Then he took both my hands in his.

"D'you know what's going to happen?" he demanded. And of course I didn't. Then he hurled it point-blank at me.

"The railway's going to come!"

"Come where?" I gasped.

"Come here, right across our land! It's settled. And there's no mistake about it this time. Inside of ten months there'll be choo-choo cars steaming past Casa Grande!"

"Skookum!" I shouted.

"And there'll be a station within a mile of where you stand! And inside of two years this seventeen or eighteen hundred acres of land will be worth forty dollars an acre, easily, and perhaps even fifty. And what that means you can figure out for yourself!"

"Whoopee!" I gasped, trying in vain to figure out how much forty times seventeen hundred was.

But that was not all. It would do away with the road haul to the elevator, which might have taken most of the profit out of his grain growing. To team wheat into Buckhorn would have been a terrible discount, no matter what luck he might have with his crops. So he'd been moving heaven and earth to get the steel to come his way. He'd pulled wires and interviewed members and guaranteed a water-tank supply and promised a right of way and made use of his old engineering friends—until his battle was won. And his last fight had been against the liar who'd sent in false reports about his district. But that was over now, and Casa Grande will no longer be the jumping-off place of civilization, the dot on the wilderness. It will be on the time-tables and the mail-routes, and I know my Dinky-Dunk will be the first mayor of the new city, if there ever is a city to be mayor of!



Friday the Thirtieth

Dinky-Dunk came in at noon to-day, tiptoed over to the crib to see if the Boy was all right, and then came and put his hands on my shoulders, looking me solemnly in the eye: "What do you suppose has happened?" he demanded.

"Another railroad," I ventured.

He shook his head. Of course it was useless for me to try to guess. I pushed my finger against Dinky-Dunk's Adam's apple and asked him what the news was.

"Percival Benson Woodhouse has just calmly announced to me that, next week, he's going to marry Olga," was my husband's answer.

And he wondered why I smiled.



Sunday the First

Little Dinky-Dink is fast asleep in his hand-carved Scandinavian cradle. The night is cool, so we have a fire going. Big Dinky-Dunk, who has been smoking his pipe, is sitting on one side of the table, and I am sitting on the other. Between us lies the bundle of house-plans which have just been mailed up to us from Philadelphia. This is the second night we've pored over them. And we've decided what we're to do at Casa Grande. We're to have a telephone, as soon as the railway gets through, and a wind-mill and running water, and a new barn with a big soft-water tank at one end, and a hot-water furnace in the new house and sleeping porches and a butler's pantry and a laundry chute—and next winter in California, if we want it. And Dinky-Dunk blames himself for never having had brains enough to plant an avenue or two of poplars or Manitoba maples about Casa Grande, for now we'll have to wait a few years for foliage and shade. And he intends to have a playground for little Dinky-Dink, for he agrees with me that our boy must be strong and manly and muscular, and must not use tobacco in any form until he is twenty at least. And Dinky-Dunk has also agreed that I shall do all the punishing—if any punishing is ever necessary! His father, by the way, has just announced that he wants Babe to go to McGill and then to Oxford. But I have been insisting on Harvard, and I shall be firm about this.

That promised to bring us to a dead-lock, so we went back to our house-plans again, and Dinky-Dunk pointed out that the new living-room would be bigger than all our present shack and the annex put together. And that caused me to stare about our poor little cat-eyed cubby-hole of a wickyup and for the first time realize that our first home was to be wiped off the map. And nothing would ever be the same again, and even the prairie over which I had stared in my joy and my sorrow would always be different! A lump came in my throat. And when Olga came in and I handed Dinky-Dink to her she could see that my lashes were wet. But she couldn't understand.

So I slipped over to the piano and began to play. Very quietly I sang through Herman Lohr's Irish song that begins:

In the dead av the night, acushla, When the new big house is still ...

But before I got to the last two verses I'm afraid my voice was rather shaky.

In the dead av the year, acushla, When me wide new fields are brown, I think av a wee ould house, At the edge av an ould gray town!

I think av the rush-lit faces, Where the room and loaf was small: But the new years seem the lean years, And the ould years, best av all!

Dinky-Dunk came and stood close beside me. "Has my Gee-Gee a big sadness in her little prairie heart?" he asked as he slipped his arms about me. But I was sniffling and couldn't answer him. And the cling of his blessed big arms about me only seemed to make everything worse. So I was bawling openly when he held up my face and helped himself to what must have been a terribly briny kiss. But I slipped away into my bedroom, for I'm not one of those apple-blossom women who can weep and still look pretty. And for two blessed hours I've been sitting here, Matilda Anne, wondering if our new life will be as happy as our old life was.... Those old days are over and gone, and the page must be turned. And on that last page I was about to write "Tamam shud." But kinglike and imperative through the quietness of Casa Grande I hear the call of my beloved little tenor robusto—and if it is the voice of hunger it is also the voice of hope!

THE END

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TRANSCRIBER'S NOTES

1. Punctuation has been normalized to contemporary standards. 2. Added Table of Contents not in original edition. 3. OE ligatures have been expanded.

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