In her anxiety to get John's attention Elizabeth went forward and put her hand on his arm, forgetting in her earnestness the slight he had just shown toward her in ignoring her claims to a voice in the matter.
John Hunter shook off the detaining hand impatiently.
"If you're going to run this business you may as well do it without my help and I'll quit," he said, his body braced away from her with the plain intimation that he preferred that she should not touch him.
Elizabeth hesitated. Her impulse was to turn and leave him without further words, but the farm, their future comfort, the whole scheme of family peace and harmony depended upon obtaining a hearing.
"I don't want to run things—really, I do not. I've never tried to, but I've lived on a farm, and I know how impossible it is ever to raise a mortgage if you get it on a place. I—let's sell enough to raise the one we have on this eighty while we can, instead. I'm willing to live on a little; but, oh, John, I do so want to have one place that is our own."
"There's money in those cattle," John answered sullenly. "A woman don't know anything about such things. You'll go and get mother started on it too, I suppose. I'm going to do as I see fit about it, anyhow. I know there's money to be made there."
With a great sob in her throat, Elizabeth turned to the house.
"Look here, Elizabeth," John called after her peremptorily.
Elizabeth stopped respectfully to listen, but she did not return to his side. John waited, thinking she would come to him.
"Cattle ain't like ordinary farming," he argued with a flush of anger. "A man simply has to take time to let steers grow into money. We haven't been at it a long enough time. Those big steers will be ready to feed this fall, and corn's going to be cheap. We'd be cutting off our noses to spite our own faces to sell now."
"Perhaps," the girl replied bitterly, and went on to the house.
She knew that John had argued with the hope of getting her to admit herself in the wrong, not to hear her side of the case.
John Hunter gazed after his retreating wife in vexed petulance for a moment and then, with a sigh of relief, turned toward the waiting cattle.
"She'll be ready when I want to go to town all the same," he reflected.
MORTGAGES OF SOUL
The mortgage was signed. The fine weather had brought many people to Colebyville. Elizabeth had not been in town for a year, and the sight of pleasant, happy folk greeting each other cordially and wandering from store to store bartering eggs and butter for groceries and family necessities, and exchanging ideas and small talk about their purchases, had accentuated her isolation. Those people who knew her spoke to her also, but with an air of suspicion and reserve. A puzzling feature of the day had been that John had received a more cordial reception than she had. The main suspicion had been directed against her. There seemed to be a certain acceptance of John's "stuck-upness." He had some reason for his attitude toward them which they were inclined to accept, but Elizabeth saw that to this community she was a "beggar on horseback." Instead of seeing that the man who had thrust her into this false relation was utterly inadequate to realize it, or that if he realized it he was utterly indifferent to her sufferings in it, she inquired into her own failure to get his attention, and felt that he was after all a better husband than any she had ever known, with few exceptions. John had managed to add to her confusion where he was concerned that day by being floridly insistent upon her spending a generous sum upon her purchases and taking as much interest in what she bought as a woman. There had been so much to buy that Elizabeth's economical soul had been torn by the desire to cut down the expense. The baby was ready for short clothes and there had been materials for little dresses, stockings, little shoes, a hood and cloak, to get for him alone, and Elizabeth saw in every dollar spent a dollar lost at interest-paying time. John had been happy and genial on the way home and had altogether treated her so much better than her mood had permitted her to treat him that there was a bit of self-accusation in her meditations. Everything had gone wrong. The waters of human affection ran everywhere in the wrong direction. She desired understanding between herself and her husband; her attitude toward the community in which they lived had been one of friendliness, her attitude toward Aunt Susan and Luther one of whole-hearted love, her attitude toward this family of which she found herself a part that of a devoted slave, yet nowhere had she been able to make proper alliances. Some curious defeating element had crept into every relation life offered her. While the rest ate supper that night, Elizabeth, who had no appetite and was too sick with a sense of failure to eat, nursed her baby and meditated upon the indications of the day's occurrences. Forgetting her surroundings, she drew in a fluttering, sobbing breath. Jake Ransom, across the corner of the table, caught the sound of that sob and flashed a quick glance in her direction. His eyes were as quickly withdrawn, but Elizabeth knew without looking up that he had heard. With a desire to escape observation, she made an excuse of putting the baby away and went to the bedroom with the child. Slipping him into his little nightdress she made him comfortable for the night, after which she went back to the dining room to keep Jake from thinking she had anything to cry about. There was an added hum of voices, and she went in with some curiosity.
Silas Chamberlain stood beside the stove with his old cap and his home-knit mittens under his arm, while he leaned over the welcome fire. The blues were gone instantly. There was such a glad light in her eyes as she advanced to meet him that Jake Ransom wondered if he had been mistaken in the quivering breath, and there was such genuine pleasure in her surprised greeting that Silas Chamberlain was warmed and fed by it.
"Where's that baby?" he demanded. "You ain't gone an' tucked him into bed this time o' night, have you? I come special t' see 'im."
For months Elizabeth had wanted to see Silas and the baby in a "free for all tumble" and her eyes danced with delight at the idea. She had not had such a thrill in many weeks; the young mother spoke in every line of her young face. As if by magic her troubles fell away from her. Crooking her finger beckoningly at the old man, she crept on tiptoe to the bedroom door. She had left a lamp lighted in the room and it was possible to observe the baby without him being aware of their presence. Silas had crept behind her like an Indian stalking a deer, and she caught his suppressed breath as she turned with her finger on her lips at the door. The rest of the group trailed behind with anticipatory grins.
Master John Hunter lay on the bed, very wide awake, making sputtering efforts to devour his thumb, while he kicked his little feet as vigorously as the confines of the pinning-blanket would allow.
Silas chuckled. Hearing a noise at the door, the heir of the house rolled his head on his pillow till his mother's face came within the range of his vision. Her absence that day had made the child more than usually eager for her presence. The little feet kicked more wildly than ever, and forgetting the generous slice of thumb still to be devoured, he grinned such a vast and expansive grin that the hand to which the thumb was attached, being free, joined the other in waving salutations of such joyful pantomime that the object of his industrious beckonings, completely carried into the current, rushed at him and, sweeping him up in her arms, tossed him on high as gleefully as if she had not been weighed down by care but a moment before the old man's advent into the room.
"There, Mr. Chamberlain, was there ever another like him?" she cried.
Baby, who had come down from a point as high as his mother's arms could reach, doubled his fat little body together with a smothered, squeezed off little gurgle of delight. Silas was aquiver with sympathetic glee. Those were not the days when babies were raised by scientific rules, and Silas caught the child from its mother's arms and repeated the tossing process, while the baby shouted and struggled. At last the three, followed by the family, retired to convenient chairs about the sitting-room fire.
"Now, Jack Horner, you can pare that thumb down a leetle more if you want t'. You've swallowed enough wind to give you the colic for a day or two," Silas said when the child began to hiccough.
Elizabeth clapped her hands delightedly.
"You have named the baby!" she exclaimed.
"How's that?" Silas asked.
"Oh, John can't bear to have him called Johnnie, and John is too awfully old for him now. Little Jack Horner—no, Little Jack Hunter. I'm so glad! I just do love it; and we had called him Baby till I was afraid we'd never quit it," Elizabeth said.
They kept the old man as long as they could induce him to stay, and when he did go home it was with the settled conviction that he had been wanted. He described the visit enthusiastically to Liza Ann and tried to induce her to go over to see Elizabeth the next Sunday. Silas craved the privilege of that baby's presence.
"I know, Si," his wife replied, "but she could come here if she wanted to. It's her fool notions. John was th' greatest hand t' go you ever saw till he married her, an' now he don't go nowhere, an' when I asked him about it, he said she wasn't well! She's as well as any woman that's nursin', an' she's got his mother t' help 'er too."
"Well, I don't pretend t' know th' why's an' th' wherefores of it, but I do know there ain't a stuck-up bone in 'er body—I don't care what nobody says," loyal Silas Chamberlain replied.
The new mood stayed with Elizabeth Hunter and called for much perplexed introspection. It had been a perplexing day. There was no reason that she could assign for her contradictory actions. She found herself even softened toward John and able to enter into his attempt to be sociable after Silas's departure. He seemed to be anxious to set himself before her in a kindlier light and she was able to meet the attempt as he wished. Elizabeth lost faith in herself as she saw her apparent whimsicalness and began to lash herself into line as John and his mother wished. She asked no more to be taken places.
In May, Luther came to help John with his team, and for the first time in months Elizabeth saw a neighbour woman. Luther lifted Sadie down from the high seat with as much care as if she had been a child.
"Sadie's lonesome at the house alone all day, an' it was good of you, Lizzie, t' ask 'er," he said as he climbed back into the wagon.
Elizabeth wanted a visit with Luther, himself, but was less fearful of a day with Sadie than she had been. She took her guest into the house and at the sitting-room door paused to point to Master Jack, who sat on an old quilt with a pillow at his back, digging his little heels into the floor and holding out dimpled hands imploringly.
"You darling child!" Sadie cried, going down on her knees at his side and hugging him till he sent up an indignant howl. "Isn't he cunnin'? Isn't he?" she cried, releasing him and subsiding into a doubled figure by his side. "Honestly, Lizzie, why don't you bring him over?"
She looked so insistent, that she had to be answered.
"I don't go any place, Sadie," Elizabeth answered truthfully.
"Is it so, that Mr. Hunter won't take you?" Sadie asked, and then at sight of the anger in Elizabeth's face rose to her knees and laid her hand on her arm hastily. "I didn't say that to hurt; honestly, Lizzie, I didn't. I'm trying not to do that this time."
Elizabeth's indignation was cooled slightly by the genuineness of the speech, but she did not understand the last sentence till her eye happened to fall on Sadie's form. In a flash she saw what was meant. Forgetting her hurt, she was silent from pure delight. She knew what a child would mean in that home. The other misunderstood her silence and hastened on with her apologies:
"Honest, Lizzie, I didn't want to hurt, but they do say such mean things about it that I want you t' know. Why don't you ever take Mrs. Hunter and th' baby and go t' meetin'?"
Elizabeth's face went white as she realized that she must continue to answer since she had begun.
"I don't care in the least what they say, Sadie, and I don't want you ever to mention this to me again," she said sternly.
Sadie's face worked in silent misery till she could control her voice.
"You won't be mad at me, Lizzie? I told Luther I wouldn't be mean t' nobody till it was born," she said with quivering lip.
Elizabeth took some seconds to consider the thing that had been told to her. It was of far more importance than the gossip Sadie had just hinted at, but the gossip must be answered first.
"I won't be mad at you at all," she said after a moment. "That is, I won't if I never have to listen to such things again. I don't care in the least, if I don't have to hear it. Don't ever come to me again with anything that anybody says. Now, then, tell me about yourself. I half believe you're glad of it."
"Glad?" Sadie told her secret, which could be a secret no more. Luther had wanted the child, and she had come to the point of wanting it for his sake, and the sight of chubby Jack Hunter had aroused the latent mother love in her till, as she talked, her eyes shone with the brightness of imaginative maternity. She implored Elizabeth to come to her aid when the day of her labour arrived in September, and rambled along telling of their preparations for its coming, and little home incidents, disclosing a home life of so sweet a character that if Elizabeth Hunter had not been sincere and utterly without jealousy she would have drawn the discussion to a close.
The incident had a peculiar effect upon Elizabeth. She began really to like Sadie, and all her old desire for harmony in the home welled up in her anew. The old attitude of self-blame was assumed also. Here was Sadie Crane, the most spiteful girl that had ever been raised on these prairies, able to command the love and respect of the man she had married, to do things because her husband desired them, even so difficult a thing as the bearing of children, and she, Elizabeth, had failed to accomplish any of these things. There was a renewed resolve to be more patient. Elizabeth hated sulking, and the remembrance of the day when she had gone to sign the mortgage and had been unable to respond to John's good-humoured willingness to get abundant supplies because she saw the money going out so fast was fixed in her mind with new significance. Here was Sadie doing the things that her husband wished of her and obtaining not only his love but her own self-respect, while she, Elizabeth, was able to command neither. Instead of reasoning upon the differences between the two husbands, Elizabeth reasoned on the differences between her own actions and those of Sadie, and from the results of that reasoning entered upon a period of self-denial and abject devotion to the man of her choice. John Hunter accepted this new devotion with satisfied serenity, and, not being obstructed in any of his little exactions, became more cheerful and agreeable to live with. This added to Elizabeth's conviction that the difficulty had been somewhat within herself. She ceased to ask for the things which caused friction, and there was a season of comparative peace.
In July, however, a new phase of the old difficulty arose. Nathan and Susan Hornby were driving past the Hunter house one Sunday afternoon. Elizabeth saw them and with a glad little shout ran to the road to greet them.
Susan Hornby's delight was fully equal to her own. The two persuaded Nathan to wait till Aunt Susan should have time to go into the house and see the baby. Nathan would not go in, but sat waiting in offended aloofness in the wagon.
"Why don't you come to see me, Elizabeth?" Aunt Susan whispered as they went back to the wagon. "He's always loved you so, but he thinks—well, he's always been so good to me about everything else, but his feelings are awfully hurt about you. Can't you come soon?" She looked into the girl's face with such a wealth of pent-up love that Elizabeth answered positively:
"I will come next Sunday, Aunt Susan. You may look for us, for we'll be there."
The glad look in Susan Hornby's eyes was a sad reproach to the younger woman, and though Elizabeth wondered how she would get her husband's consent, she made up her mind to force him by every means in her power to comply. All through the week she had it upon her mind, but Elizabeth had learned not to open a discussion till the necessity of action was upon her, and it was not till Sunday morning that she mentioned the visit to John.
Nothing but the pleading in Susan Hornby's face could have induced Elizabeth to ask to be taken to see her at this time, but the troubled whispering of Aunt Susan about this visit had awakened Elizabeth to the tragedy of her neglect. Susan Hornby had never before whispered where Nathan was concerned before. Elizabeth at last saw the loneliness of the old couple. It would never do to continue such treatment of those who had befriended her when she was in need.
Jack was fretful that Sunday morning and John walked the floor with him while Elizabeth finished her breakfast dishes. The breakfast had been late and it was time to get ready if they were to go. Her heart sank as she approached the subject. Jack had not slept well of late. He was not ill, but teething. Always a light sleeper, Elizabeth had kept the fact of his indisposition to herself, hoping that John, who slept soundly, might not be aware of it, but the baby had fretted in the daytime and was now tossing restlessly in his father's arms. Elizabeth was worn out from the loss of sleep and was half afraid to trust herself to make the request, because it would require politic treatment to get John in the mood. If she became vexed or upset by his opposition she would lose her opportunity. Elizabeth was weaker than John when her feelings were ruffled. She had planned and waited till the last moment, afraid of herself and afraid of her husband. She looked at him as he paced back and forth, back and forth, with a torrent of longing swelling up in her and threatening to bring her tears. She must find a way to get his ear.
"Let me take Jack," she said, hoping that something in the conversation would give her a natural opening for what must come.
"Poor little chap," John replied, releasing the child.
Elizabeth was bathed in perspiration from the hurry of having late breakfast and the fact that she would never dare to ask to be taken before all the work was done and the kitchen ready for close inspection, and she thought indignantly of the scrubbed floors of yesterday and wondered how the child could be expected to be well when he was fed on overheated milk day after day. Instantly she put the thought away from her. She must be cool and careful if she were to get to Aunt Susan's to-day.
"I'll sponge him off with soda in his bath and he'll be all right. I told Aunt Susan we'd take dinner with them to-day, and it's nearly half-past ten now. They have dinner at noon on Sunday as well as other days; so run and hitch up, and I'll be ready with baby. I'll have your things laid out so you can jump right into them when you come in."
She looked down at the baby so as not to meet his eye, but the offhand assumption of his readiness to go seemed to her to be encouraging.
"With that child?" was the astonished exclamation.
"It won't hurt him as much as for me to stand over the stove and cook a dinner at home," Elizabeth answered firmly, "and, besides, John, I promised Aunt Susan we'd come. Now don't be cross. I've got to go, and that's all there is about it."
John Hunter was actually astonished now. He had started out with his usual pretenses, but this was something new. Elizabeth had promised without consulting him! What was happening?
"You may be willing to take that child out in his condition—I'm not," he said severely. "I don't understand what you're thinking about."
"I'm thinking there'd be less harm to him in a day of rest for his mother than anything else," she said bitterly, "and I am not allowed to get a minute of it in this house. You'd let me heat his milk to the boiling point to get dinner and think it was what we both deserved!"
She was instantly dismayed at what she had done. She had spit out all the actuality of her convictions in spite of every effort not to reply unkindly when he was unfair to her. She could not afford to retort sharply to-day. She must resort to other tactics if she were to win to-day. Besides, the truth was only a half-truth. John did not in his heart wish either of them harm; he was just a blind sort of bossing creature who had somehow got into command of her and enjoyed bullying her and setting tasks to keep her occupied. He owned her, however, and she must court his consent to this visit.
"Please, dear. I told Aunt Susan we'd come. I'd—I'd have told you before—only—only I was afraid you'd not be willing—and then I'd get to crying and give up—and I've got to go. Now don't be cross. Go this once good-naturedly."
To get close to him she put her hand on his arm and put up her face coaxingly for a kiss.
John Hunter ignored his wife's signal for tender relations and shook off her hand impatiently without looking at her.
"Even if Jack were well I wouldn't go away and leave mother alone all day." John moved restlessly away from her.
Elizabeth would not give up.
"I'll manage mother. She'll go if I insist." John was edging toward the door. "Anyhow I told Aunt Susan I'd come." John was going through the door. "Please hurry. We must be on our way pretty soon," she called after his receding back.
Elizabeth's lips tightened with vexation at the contempt shown by his refusal to answer, and then loosened and spread into an amused smile.
"He can be just as mad as he wants to. I stuck to it and am going to get to go. It's better than to give up to him all the time."
She turned into the sitting room and putting the baby on the floor emptied the clothespin bag in his lap to keep him occupied, and flew up the stairs to Mrs. Hunter's room.
"Mother, we're going to Aunt Susan's to-day and you are to go with us. Now don't say you aren't, for it is settled," she said, slipping her hand over the older woman's mouth to prevent the objection she saw coming, but nothing she would do or say would persuade the older woman to go.
"I'll settle that with John when he comes in," Mrs. Hunter said, slipping away from the restraining hand. "There's no reason why you should stay at home on my account and I will not have it done," was all that she could get out of her.
"But John will not go without you!" Elizabeth cried in dismay.
The girl was tempted to tell her of the gossip she had heard, but it suddenly seemed small and not worth while. She had already told her that Aunt Susan had her promise to come in time for dinner; it occurred to her to tell her of Nathan's attitude toward them for their unfriendly neglect, but that too seemed unnecessary and trivial since they were going. On that point Elizabeth did not intend to give in an inch: she was going, even if John was cross about it.
"Yes, he will go without me, for I'll see that he does," Mrs. Hunter assured her, and with that Elizabeth was content.
Taking the baby to her own room, she undressed and bathed him and then arrayed him in the daintiest white dress she had for him, determined that Aunt Susan should see him at his best. As she nursed him so that he would drop off to sleep till they were ready to go, she looked long and earnestly at the soft skin and dark lashes of his baby face and realized as she had never done before the loneliness of the old couple whom they were going to visit. The little Katie of that house had been taken from them at about this age. A sob arose in Elizabeth's throat when she considered how they had besought her for an opportunity to pour the dammed-up stream of their love at the feet of this child, and how slighted their efforts had been.
Jack was wide-eyed and would not sleep, and after losing much valuable time his mother set him in the middle of the bed and began her own preparations. As she looked about for something suitable to wear, she saw a simple white percale with red dots scattered over it, which she had worn the summer she had lived in Aunt Susan's house. So little had she gone out and so free from personal vanity was she that it was still eligible to best wear. Besides, it had associations that were pleasant.
"Why, I made it in Aunt Susan's own house," she said aloud.
She looked down at it wistfully; those had been happy days.
A sudden impulse made her drop her heavy hair from its coil high on her head and, picking up her comb, divide it with deft movement. Brushing it into shape, she braided it as of old, in two braids, and then fished with rapturous fingers in her ribbon box for the bows she had always worn with that dress. When the bows were tied she put the braids back with a characteristic toss of the head and stood looking at herself in the glass.
"There now, he can't be cross after that," she said, feeling more as if she were her real self than she had done for many months.
Jack was restless and cried. Elizabeth turned to him with a start.
"You blessed baby! Your mother was way off and had forgotten that there was such a small person as you."
She sat down and nursed him again to fill in the time till his father should come and dress. This time he seemed sleepy, and Elizabeth sang happily to him, kissing his pink palm and satisfying the maternal instinct in her by softly stroking his plump body. He had never looked so fair to her in all the months that she had had him. John was long in coming and she fell into a dreamy state of maternal comfort as she rocked, and forgot the hour and the place and the dinner that would soon be waiting at Aunt Susan's, till the baby went to sleep in her arms.
When Jack was at last soundly asleep she placed him on the bed, covering him with a piece of white mosquito netting to keep the flies from disturbing him, and, rearranging dress and ribbons, went into the sitting room to see what time it was. An exclamation of dismay escaped her. It was but ten minutes to twelve o'clock! She had dreamed much longer than she had been aware. In a fever of hurry she ran back to the bedroom and laid out John's best suit. That had pleasant associations also. But what could be keeping him so long when it was time to go? As soon as everything was in order she ran to the barn to see what the trouble was. John came out as she neared the barn door, talking to Jake, who followed leisurely.
"Are you ready to dress?" she asked hastily, vexed at the signs of loitering.
"Dress? Why—what? Oh, I forgot. I told you I didn't want to go," he said impatiently.
"Well, you're going to take me if it is late," she said firmly. "Aunt Susan was told that we'd come, and she has dinner waiting this minute. Jake, put the horses in the wagon while Mr. Hunter dresses, and be as quick about it as you can."
"The horses—th' horses are in th' pasture, Lizzie," Jake said hesitantly. "I didn't know an'—an'—I—an' we turned 'em out an hour ago."
Jake Ransom saw the colour die out of the young face and understood exactly what had happened. He saw her turn without a look at her husband and start to the house, bowed and broken and without hope. Jake understood that a trick had been played on her, for he had been slow about turning the horses out and John had untied and led the team used for driving to the pasture gate himself.
"I don't know whether I kin ketch 'em 'r not, but I'll try," he called after her.
Elizabeth turned back hopefully, but John said
"Now look here, Elizabeth, those horses have been playing like mad for half an hour, and you could no more catch them than you could fly." Turning to Jake, "I'll take Mrs. Hunter next Sunday if she's just got to go. A man wants to rest when Sunday comes," he added under his breath.
Jake Ransom watched Elizabeth drag her listless feet up the steps and shot a look of disdain at the back of John Hunter as he followed her.
"You dirty cuss!" he exclaimed under his breath. "Lizzie's as good a woman as th' is in this country, an' she don't git nothin' she wants. I bet I see t' gittin' them horses ready next Sunday myself."
Going into her bedroom, Elizabeth Hunter laid off the finery of girlhood, and with it her girlhood also.
"I'll never ask him again," she told herself, and put her hair back into its woman's knot and went to the kitchen and began dinner.
* * * * *
Susan Hornby shaded her eyes with her hand, and looked up the road for the fortieth time.
"The baby must be worse, Nate," she said to her husband when at last there had to be a discussion of the matter.
Nathan Hornby followed her into the kitchen and helped to take up the dinner which had been waiting over an hour. His head burned with indignation, but there was something in Susan's defeat which brooked no discussion on his side. They had come as near quarrelling over this invitation as they had ever done about anything in their married life.
As they sat at the table eating their belated dinner, a lonely horseman appeared coming down the road from the west.
"It's Jake! I wonder if he's going for the doctor?" Susan exclaimed. "You never can tell what anybody has to contend with." And the meal was left to cool unfinished as the old couple left the house and hailed the rider.
"I didn't hear nothin' about th' baby bein' worse," Jake was obliged to answer when put under question.
He was so conscious that Elizabeth would not approve of the truth being told that he stammered and made his listeners feel that something was left untold. In fact, Jake's reticence was of the exact quality to add to the distrust already aroused. He edged away at last and left Susan Hornby looking at her husband in such a state that Nathan was moved to say:
"Never mind, Sue, I'll take you over after dinner and you can see for yourself."
Susan Hornby turned and started to the house. Nathan followed her aquiver with the slight that his common sense told him had been put upon her by those whom she had so faithfully and fully served.
Susan stumbled and put her hands to her head with a harsh laugh. Nathan hurried forward a step and looked searchingly into her face. With a great sob, he put his arms about her. Susan paid not the slightest attention to him, but let herself be guided along the path without actual resistance. Her face was flushed and her eyes did not see. She went docilely to her room and permitted the stricken husband to place her on the bed, where he loosened her collar and, removing her clothing, dressed her for bed as if she had been a little child. When nothing more could be done, he knelt by her and fondling her unresponsive hand let the tears he could no longer control pour over his ashen cheeks.
"Don't you know me, Sue? Don't you know your old Nate at all?" he quavered, but there was no reply except the puffing breath which was every moment growing more and more laboured. Nathan knew what it meant—she had been so once before.
As the Hunter family sat about the dinner table on Tuesday, Silas Chamberlain drove up to the side gate, and after tying his team came to the door. He entered when bidden, but would not sit down, and looked about him with an effort to adjust his impressions with what he saw before him.
"Ain't you goin' t' th' funeral?" he asked when he saw that there seemed to be no air of mourning in the house.
"Funeral?" John Hunter exclaimed. "Who's dead?"
"I told Nate Hornby you didn't know nothin' about it."
"Hornby? We haven't heard of any one being dead. Who is it?" John Hunter asked, puzzled at the reticence of the old man, who stood with his straw hat in his hand and slid his fingers about its greasy brim uneasily.
"Is—is it possible you all didn't know Mrs. Hornby was sick?" he asked, unable to lift his eyes.
There was a low cry from Elizabeth Hunter, the noise of her escape to the privacy of her own room, the sound of moans and cries after the door was shut, and Silas Chamberlain paid bitter toll for delivering his message. The family sat stunned and silent in the presence of those sounds of grief. The bowed head of the old man told his comprehension of the news and left Jake Ransom with an understanding of him which words could never have given.
As soon as Elizabeth could get control of her feelings and command her scattered senses, she snatched her bonnet from the chair beside the bed where she had dropped it before dinner and flew to the dining room again, her one impulse to get to the side of the friend whose spirit had gone from her. Going to Silas, she clutched him by the arm with fingers that sank into the flesh like a vise.
"Take me to her!—take me now!" she cried, pushing him toward the door.
"I'll take you, Elizabeth," John Hunter said, rising, and Jake Ransom saw the look of nameless horror she took on at thought of her husband's presence.
"Take me to her at once, Mr. Chamberlain. Do, for God's sake, take me to her!" she cried, and pulled the old man through the door with nervous hands, and then ran down the path before him and began to pull at the straps with which the horses were tied.
John followed them out, still protesting that he would take her himself if she would wait, but without a look in his direction she urged Silas on.
"Hurry! Hurry! Do!" she implored, and Silas gave the horses such a sharp slap with the lines that they started on a swift trot almost before they were seated, leaving John Hunter in the midst of his expostulations.
"I'll bring her back safe," Silas called over his shoulder.
Now that no further action was possible, Elizabeth sat with her hands clasped, her teeth set, and her eyes looking into vacancy, numbed beyond words, asking no questions and making no complaints. Silas's heart beat with an anguish of sympathy. He stopped at his own house a moment to tell Liza Ann that he would come back for her within the hour, and still Elizabeth gave no sign of realizing what was going on about her.
At last a terrible thought took hold of Silas, and he pulled up his team, which was sweating heavily.
"You ain't fit t' go, Lizzie. You ain't fit t' go, child. I'm goin' t' take you back home." He began to turn the horses' heads toward home, and then stopped for her wandering wits to gather.
"Why, oh, why don't you hurry?" Elizabeth exclaimed when she realized that they were standing still.
The old man's heart was torn with pity, and it was in the voice of a mother that he addressed her.
"You ain't fit t' go," he repeated. "I'm going t' take you back home." There was a white look about her mouth that frightened him.
The girl grasped his arm with fingers that closed with a grip like a drowning person.
"I couldn't see her when she was living—surely I can see her dead." Then with a wail, "Oh, no—no, not dead! Oh, my God!"
She sobbed in a dry sort of way that contracted Silas's throat to witness, and left the old man almost as undone as herself, and without further argument he drove on to Nathan Hornby's desolated home, where he lifted her tenderly down from the high seat, with a mist before his eyes that blurred her image till it was unrecognizable, and stood watching her go up the path.
A woman met her at the door, but she did not know who, and brushed past her hurriedly and ran into the kitchen, where she could see Nathan Hornby sitting with his head on his arms beside the kitchen table.
Going down on her knees with a swift movement, Elizabeth threw her arm across his shoulder, and laid her head beside his, sobbing convulsively. Nathan raised his head in dull surprise, and seeing who it was, shook her arm off resentfully and rose to his feet. Elizabeth crawled after him on her knees and clasped his own with both arms, turning her stricken face up to his and crying:
"Oh, I know! I know how you feel, but truly, truly, Uncle Nate, I am not to blame. For God's sake—for God's sake, forgive!"
He looked down on her coldly and was tempted to spurn her from him with his foot, but there was such anguish in voice and eye as he himself had hardly felt, and his wife's words, her last words, flashed through his bewildered brain: "We can't tell what anybody has to contend with." He stood irresolute while she rose to her feet. When he did not answer her, Elizabeth threw herself down in the chair from which he had just risen and bowing her head on the table moaned in such bitterness of spirit that Nathan was moved to pity, and would have comforted her if he could.
Silas, having tied his team, came to the kitchen door, but on seeing its occupants turned hastily and went out to his wagon again, where he stood choking and swallowing in helpless misery.
Presently, Nathan Hornby, at a loss to check her grief, laid a hand on her shoulder and said:
"Come and see her, Elizabeth."
Elizabeth Hunter arose like one walking in her sleep and followed Nathan to the sitting room. The black casket resting on two chairs in the middle of the room was a worse shock than any she had yet had, and with a horror-stricken cry of fright she fled to the kitchen again, and when Nathan reached her side, her teeth were chattering and great beads of sweat covered her quivering face; she sank into Nathan's chair unable to support herself.
When at last she was assisted tenderly to her feet, she begged feebly to be taken home.
"But you can't ride that far," Silas protested, pityingly. "You just naturally can't ride that far in th' big wagon, child."
For answer she dragged herself forward and staggered to the chair where they had put her bonnet. Nathan saw that her strength was returning and gave Silas a little nod. They each took an arm to steady her, and so Elizabeth passed from the presence of her one dear friend into a life as colourless as the form she left behind.
* * * * *
"He's an awful sick child, Mrs. Hunter, but we may—I believe we will pull him through."
It was Thursday, and Doctor Morgan sat opposite Elizabeth, holding the hand of the shadow of the baby of three days ago.
"You see that milk has not agreed with him. Mr. Hunter says you took a drive over to Hornby's the day of the funeral. The heat and excitement has been too much for you. You nursed him immediately on getting home?"
"Yes," she replied lifelessly.
"Well, we'll have to wean him now," the old doctor said, looking the unresponsive mother over sharply. "It won't do to try any experiments with him. Your milk may be all right now, but he wouldn't stand a relapse."
Elizabeth made no reply and listened patiently to his directions for preparing the new food. After he was gone, she laid the shrunken little body on the bed and went to the kitchen to prepare the milk. She took up the new bottle with the rubber on the end and looked at it in stupefied, aimless disgust. Her impulse was to fling it out of the open door, but remembering that she would but poison him by putting his lips to her own breast, she turned to the table and placing the bottle in a pan covered it with cold water and set it on the stove to come to a slow boil.
Going back to the bedroom she picked up the pillow—the child was so limp that they had to handle him on a pillow—and sat down, holding it close to her heart.
John came in. She did not look up. He came over to her and stooped to look at the half-conscious child, who lay with half-open eyes and under jaw dropped down. There were deep greenish rings under those eyes, and a great sob broke from John Hunter's throat.
Elizabeth stirred dully and looked up, but did not speak. There was that about her which made her unapproachable. She showed no resentment, no anger, no emotion of any sort. She had come home from Nathan's house as she was now. She had refused to go to the funeral, but she had had supper ready when John and his mother had returned from the graveyard, and it had been as orderly and as well cooked as usual, but she had not talked at the meal, nor seemed to hear when she was spoken to, but there was evidently no pouting. John had tried to explain, and she had given silent opportunity, and when it had been finished had said, "Yes," in a hollow voice, and had moved on about her work without looking up, but there had been no apparent resentment.
Before bedtime that night the baby (who had gone to sleep while she had nursed him when she had come home), awoke crying. She had taken him up and had offered her breast, but it had turned away as if sickened, and had continued to cry till, presently, it had doubled its little body together with a sharp scream and vomited till its breath was nearly gone. There had been a sour odour to the contents of its stomach that had struck terror to their hearts, and before morning Doctor Morgan was at its side. He had noted the leaden movements of the mother and calling John outside had questioned him regarding her. John, troubled at her indifference to him and the lifelessness of her attitude even toward the babe, had told him all he knew—as he understood it.
"Of course she boarded with them two years ago," he had said in concluding, "but I don't see that that needs to cut such a figure."
"Were your wife and Mrs. Hornby great friends?" Doctor Morgan asked, studying John Hunter and puzzling over the evident mystery of the situation.
"Ye-e-s-s!" with perplexed deliberation; "that is, she liked her better than any of the rest of the neighbours around here. She wanted to go there last Sunday and I thought the baby wasn't fit to take out. It looks now as if I was right."
"Well, she's had a shock of some kind, and if you don't look out She'll be down on our hands too. You'd better get a girl or let your mother do the work for a couple of weeks," Doctor Morgan advised.
And John Hunter had looked faithfully for some one to take his wife's place in the kitchen and had found what she had told him when Hepsie left to be true. In many places where there was no excuse given and girls were at home he had met with a sort of refusal which stung him to the quick.
Elizabeth rocked the baby with a mechanical dead sort of care. John was emotional enough to be badly broken up by the child's looks, but Elizabeth's unresponsiveness at such a time made of it a tragedy which he could not understand; he wanted greetings and discussion, and attentions showered upon him as usual, and they were not forthcoming. He could not understand what had brought this state of things to pass, but no more could he question one who was so evidently removed from present conditions. With a sense of forlornness he had never known, he fell on his knees by her side and laid his head against her arm, seeking comfort, and when she still did not speak, the fullness of his misery became apparent, and he got up unsteadily and left the house.
Slowly life and returning interest awakened in the child; still more slowly did the mother take up her threads in the web of living. The old routine was established, with a few exceptions. Elizabeth arose early and prepared breakfast before sunrise as before, the washing and ironing were as well done, but when she prepared to clean the kitchen floor the first washday after Aunt Susan's death, she took the mop down from its nail on the back porch and used it as she had done that first winter.
John and his mother came in with the clothes basket as she started to wring out the mop to wipe the first corner finished.
"Hadn't I better get down and scrub it for you with the brush?" John asked.
"There will be no more of that in my kitchen," replied Elizabeth, and she had quietly continued her work without looking up.
"Why not?" had been the astonished query.
"We will not argue it," she had said in the same spiritless tone in which she always spoke those days, and had been so quietly determined that she got her way. John could not argue with a woman who was so unresistant of manner: to him, manner constituted argument. Elizabeth went her own quiet way and took no part in the things that went on about her unless her services were required, then she served faithfully and uncomplainingly, but she held converse with no one in the happy way of old.
Thus summer passed, and autumn also. Little Jack walked now and was beginning to lisp an occasional word, making of himself a veritable fairy in the household. With the close of the warm weather he grew less and less fretful, and when the first snow fell he became as happy and active as a kitten. The mother had kept him with her every minute, and when her work had been done, which was seldom, was satisfied to rock him and listen to his baby chatter.
Elizabeth had not been angry in the whole six months, neither had she been glad. She never vexed John by asking to be taken places. Gladly would he have taken her, if by so doing he could have brought back her old enthusiasm and girlish glee, for Elizabeth had been the life of the household, and things had settled into a dead monotony that made of their home but a house since Susan Hornby's death. Sometimes, vexed by her passive acceptation of whatever came, John would throw out stinging observations about women who made their husbands turn to others for their society, and then be left in an uncomfortable situation by the fact that he had aroused neither anger nor annoyance, for Elizabeth would inquire in her lifeless tones what he wished her to do which was left undone. Puzzled by her real meekness of spirit, the man was compelled to admit that she made no vexatious demands upon him and that she laboured unceasingly to keep the soulless home in order. One of the strange and contradictory things in the situation was that John Hunter did not turn to the mother whom he had ever been ready to exalt for consolation in this time of trouble; the demand his feelings made was for the companionship which while it was his he had not desired. The revelation of the months showed him what he had lost. Mrs. Hunter was as much in the dark about the real cause of Elizabeth's changed condition as was John.
"The ride to Mr. Hornby's had something to do with it," she said dubiously when talking the matter over with her son after the baby began to get well and Elizabeth showed no improvement in a mental way.
"It comes from that ride in the hot sun. You see it made the baby sick too; but it ain't any use to say so to her," John replied, but in spite of the firmness of his tone there was a puzzled look on his face and the last word dragged with indecision.
"She was very fond of Mrs. Hornby, too, and that may have had something to do with it," Mrs. Hunter observed.
"Ye-e-s-s-s!" John replied. "But she couldn't care for that kind of people enough to make herself sick about them," he said more firmly.
Mrs. Hunter considered slowly for some moments.
"I guess you're right," she said at last. "She seemed to be attached to them, but she don't ask to go to see him since his wife's death; and I should think now's when her love for them would show out."
"I wish to God she would ask to go anywhere. I'm tired of the kind of life we're leading," John said in a manner which supported his words.
The weariness of life was modified, or at least shifted from one shoulder to the other for John Hunter by the increasing burden of financial worries. In this also he was denied any comfort or assistance from Elizabeth; she asked no questions, and if he talked of notes which were falling due, or of interest soon to be paid, she listened without remark, and moved about her endless round of cleaning, cooking, or sewing apparently absorbed in the work in hand. If he complained about expenses, the only reply he received was for the food on the table to be of a plainer quality and a lessened grocery bill the next time he went to town. This he would not permit, being sensitive about the opinions of the men who worked for him. Elizabeth never remarked upon the matter of keeping three men through the winter as she would have done a year ago when there was little to do which counted in farm affairs. She left her husband free to do as he chose on all those matters. She did not sulk; she had lost hope, she was temporarily beaten. In that first hour after her return from Aunt Susan's death chamber she had meditated flight. She longed to get away, to go anywhere where she would never see her husband's face again, but there was Jack. Jack belonged to his father as much as to her, and Elizabeth was fair. Besides, she was helpless about the support of the child. Her health was quite seriously interfered with by the ache in her back which was always present since the baby's coming. She had told her mother but two short years before that she would not live with a man who would treat her as her father treated his wife, and here she found herself in those few months as enmeshed as her mother had ever been. Aye! even more so. Hers was a position even more to be feared, because it was more subtle, more intangible, more refined, and John's rule as determined and unyielding as that of Josiah Farnshaw.
Having failed to act in that first hour of her trouble, Elizabeth drifted into inaction. Even her thoughts moved slowly as she pondered on her situation; her thoughts moved slowly, but they moved constantly. Under all that quiet of manner was a slow fire of reasoning which was working things out. Gradually Elizabeth was getting a view of the real trouble. Two things absorbed her attention: one was the domination of men, and the other was the need of money adjustment. To live under the continual interference of a man who refused to listen to the story of one's needs was bad enough, but to live without an income while one had a small child was worse. She would leave this phase of her difficulties at times and wander back to the character of the treatment she received and compare it to that accorded to her mother. It occasioned great surprise to find herself admiring her father's manner more than that of her husband. Mr. Farnshaw had the virtue of frankness in his mastery, John used subterfuges; Mr. Farnshaw was openly brutal, John secretly heartless; her father was a domineering man, her husband even more determined, more inflexible. While considering the possibility of escape by running away, many things were clarified in Elizabeth's mind regarding her position as a wife, and the position of all wives. She, for the first time, began to see the many whips which a determined husband had at his command, chief of which was the crippling processes of motherhood. She could not teach school—Jack was too young; neither could she take any other work and keep the child with her. As she meditated upon the impossibility of the various kinds of work a woman could do, another phase of her situation arose before her: even if the baby were older, and a school easily obtained, the gossip that would follow a separation would be unendurable. Having accumulated a reputation for snobbishness and aristocratic seclusion, people would not neglect so rare an opportunity to even old scores. She would be a grass widow, a subject for all the vulgar jest and loathsome wit of the community. Country people know how to sting and annoy in a thousand ways. However, the possibility of this sort of retribution was put entirely away by the baby's illness. By the time Jack had recovered, the young mother was worn to a lifeless machine, compelled to accept what came to her. Her youth, her health, her strength were gone; worse than all that, her interest in things, in her own affairs even, had almost gone.
John wandered about the house disconsolate and dissatisfied, and made amends in curious little ways, and from John's standpoint. He opened relations with Elizabeth's family and insisted upon taking her home for a visit. Elizabeth went with him, and accepted the more than half-willing recognition of her father, who wanted to get into communication with the baby. He was offering for sale a young team and John, thinking to do a magnanimous thing, bought Patsie. Elizabeth accepted the visit and the horse without emotions of any sort, and left her husband annoyed and her family floundering in perplexity at her passive attitude toward life. At home that night he said to her sneeringly:
"No matter what a man does for you, you pout, and act as if you didn't like it. If I don't offer to take you you're mad, and if I do you set around and act as if you were bored to death by having to go. What th' devil's a man to do?"
"I was perfectly willing to go," was the reply, and she went on dressing Jack for bed without looking up.
John cast a baffled look at her as she carried the child out of the room, and returned to his uncomfortable thoughts without trying to talk of anything else when she returned and sat down to sew. The sitting room in which they spent their evenings was in perfect order; the whole house was never so orderly, nor their table better served, but John pined for companionship. The work he had worn her out in doing was never better performed, but there was no love in the doing, and when he addressed her, though her answer was always ready and kind, there was no love in it, and he was learning that our equity in the life of another has fixed and unalterable lines of demarkation.
Thus matters progressed till February, when Jake was called home to Iowa by the death of his mother. Jake had lived such a careless, happy-go-lucky sort of life that he was obliged to borrow a large part of his railroad fare from John Hunter, who was himself so badly in debt that he was wondering how he was to meet the interest which would fall due in May. John gave him the money with the understanding that Jake would come back in time for the early seeding, and prepared to take him into town. Jake was the only man left on the farm, and there was consternation in John's heart at the prospect of having all the chores thrown upon his own shoulders in cold weather. Jake had been the only reliable man he had ever been able to hire. The more independent sort of hired men resented John Hunter's interference in the farm work, which they understood far better than he, and seldom stayed long, but Jake Ransom liked Elizabeth, was close friends with Luther Hansen, and since he saw the mistress of the house drooping and discouraged, doubly appreciated the home into which he had fallen. Jake had been devoted to Elizabeth with a dog-like devotion since his first meeting with her in the little schoolhouse six years before. He was more than glad that he could secure his return to the Hunter home by the simple method of borrowing money. More nearly than any one else in her whole circle of acquaintances, Jake Ransom had Elizabeth's situation figured out. He wanted to come back to her service, and it was with a satisfied security that he helped prepare the bobsled for the trip to town. They went early and took Mrs. Hunter with them to do some shopping for herself and Elizabeth. John hoped to find a man who could come back with them that afternoon and help with the work of watering and feeding the hundred and fifty head of cattle that made of their farm life a busy round of daily toil.
Doctor Morgan folded his stethoscope and thrust it into his inner pocket.
"Your heart's been pounding like that for seven years, you say?" he asked of the man sitting before him.
"Seven years in May," was the brief answer.
The patient got up from the office chair and adjusted his waistcoat. The waistcoat was ample and covered a broad chest. The face also was broad, with a square chin, and eyes set well apart. The man was twenty-eight or thirty years old and nearly six feet in height.
"I know all you've got to tell me," he said, going to the mirror to brush his tumbled hair. "They sent me out to find a place on a farm because medicine wouldn't do anything for me. I'm tolerably comfortable if I don't overdo—that is, if I stay out of doors while I'm doing. I don't expect you to make a new man out of me; I only thought I'd have you look me over the first thing, because I might need you suddenly, and it's better for you to know what sort of patient you've got beforehand." He paused for an inspection of his well-groomed hands.
"You may not need me for years," Doctor Morgan interrupted hastily. "That kind of a heart outlasts the other organs sometimes. The doctor twisted the heavy-linked watch chain which dangled from his vest pocket as if calling upon it for words. Of course an out-of-doors life is best. What have you been doing of late?" he asked.
"Teaching in the old university since I got my degree, but they've sent me out like a broken-down fire horse. I'll get used to it," the young man said indifferently. He was accustomed to signs of hopelessness when his case was discussed, and was unmoved by them.
"Have you family ties?" the doctor asked. He liked the grit this man's manner indicated.
"None that need to be counted," was the brief reply.
The doctor noticed that his patient wasted no extra words in self-pity. "That's good! It lessens a man's worries. And—where are you staying, Mr. Noland?"
"At the hotel, till I get a place on a farm. Before I invest I'm going to get my bearings about farms, by working around till I get on to things. You don't know of a place where a man could work for his board for a month till the spring seeding and things come on do you?"
He was pushing the cuticle back from his finger-nails as they talked, and Doctor Morgan smiled.
"Those hands don't look much like farm work," he said.
The man laughed easily. "Oh, that's habit. I'll get over it after a while."
"You will if you work for these yahoos around here much. Why don't you invest in land and have your own home right from the start? A man like you can't live in the kind of houses and do the kind of work You'll find in this country."
"I wouldn't work for myself—I've nothing to work for. When you take away a man's chances to marry and live the normal life, you make a sluggard of him. I've got to have a partner, and have his interests to serve as well as my own, or I won't work, and in the meantime I want to look about a bit before I pick up some one to go into business with. I won't be long finding some one."
"No whine in him," was the doctor's mental comment, but what he said was: "Well, You'll find life about here a bit dull. Come in, and make yourself at home in this office while you're in town, and I'll see what I can do about finding a place for you."
After he had watched his patient swing off up the street he considered the case seriously.
"College athletics do just about that sort of thing for a boy," he said aloud. "Now I believe Silas Chamberlain would take him for his board, and there ain't any children there. Children's the devil in a farmhouse: no manners, and they set right on top of you, and if you say anything the folks are hurt. He's a nice fellow, and I intend to hold on to him. It was like old times to talk for a while to a man that knows chemistry and things. I'll see more of him. I'm gettin' old altogether too fast in this blamed hole. I need some one to talk to that's more like a man ought to be."
It was butchering day at Silas Chamberlain's and Liza Ann had the household astir early. Luther Hansen was master of ceremonies in the backyard, and relieved Silas of the heavy lifting. It was a day for visiting and neighbourly activity as well as hard work. Hugh Noland had been sent to Silas the week before by Doctor Morgan, and assisted in rolling the pork barrel from the cellar door to a convenient post near the out-of-door fire, where they sunk the bottom of it into the frozen earth and carefully tilted it to the proper angle for scalding purposes.
"It's fifteen years since I've been at 'a killing,' and I feel as if I were ten years old again," Noland said as he watched the hard earth give way under the mattock Luther wielded.
"Go hunt a straw in that case, and I'll see that you get the bladder. Shall I save you the pig's tail?" Luther said as he settled the barrel into the cavity.
They swung the great iron kettle over the pile of kindling and corncobs laid ready for lighting, and then carried water to fill it.
As the last bucket was emptied into the kettle, Luther turned and swung his cap at John Hunter and Jake, who were passing in the bobsled.
"Hunters," he explained. "Have you met them yet?"
"No," replied Noland. "Who are they? He drives a good team."
"Nearest neighbours on th' west over there," Luther said, pointing to the roofs of the Hunter place, plainly to be seen over the rise of land between. "They're th' folks for you t' know—th' only ones with book-learnin' around here. Goin' t' stay with th' Chamberlains long?"
"No," replied the other, with a look of reticence; "that is, only for a time. He don't hire much, he tells me. I'm just helping him till he gets his fencing tightened up and this work done. Why?"
"Well, I was just a thinkin' that that's th' place for you. Hunter hires a lot of work done, and—and you'd like each other. You're th' same kind of folks. I wonder how he come t' be takin' 'is man along t' town with 'im? Th' was a trunk in th' back of the sled too, but that may 'a' been for Mrs. Hunter. That was 'is mother with 'im."
There was not much time to speculate about future work, there was much to be done in the present, and before noon five limp bodies had been dragged from the pens to the scalding barrel, plunged into the steaming water, turned, twisted, turned again, and after being churned back and forth till every inch of the black hides was ready to shed its coat of hair and scarf-skin, were drawn out upon the wheelbarrow. Then a gambol-stick was thrust through the tendons of the hind legs and the hogs were suspended from a cross pole about six feet from the ground, where they hung while the great corn-knives scraped and scratched and scrubbed and scoured till the black bodies gradually lost their coating and became pink and tender looking and perfectly clean. They were then drawn and left to cool and stiffen.
The sloppy, misty weather made the work hard because of the frozen earth under the melting snow, and the steaming, half foggy atmosphere was too warm for comfort of men working over an open fire and a steaming barrel of hot water, but by noon the butchering was finished. To the new man it was a journey back to childhood. How well he remembered the various features of preparation: the neighbours asked in to assist, the odours pleasant and unpleasant, the bustling about of his mother as she baked and boiled and stewed for the company, the magic circle about the pens from which he was excluded when the men went forth with the rifle, and the squeal which followed the rifle's crack, and the fear which gripped him when he thought the poor pig was hurt, but which was explained away by his father, who, proud of his marksmanship, assured him that "that pig never knew what hit it."
In addition to the fact that the man had spent his childhood on a farm, he had the happy faculty of entering into the life of the people among whom he found himself. He entertained the little group at the dinner table that day with a description of his mother's soap-making, and discussed the best ways of preparing sausage for summer use as if he himself were a cook; and as Luther listened he was convinced that the Hunter home was the proper place for him to settle down.
At two o'clock Luther started home with some spareribs, wrapped in one of Liza Ann's clean towels, under his arm. It was early, but nothing more could be done at Silas's house till the carcasses were cold enough to cut and trim, and, besides, there was an ominous looking bank of dull gray cloud in the northwest. Luther swung along the road toward the west energetically.
The wind gave a little twisting flurry, and dropped completely when he was about halfway between Chamberlain's and the Hunter place. A few minutes later there was a puff of wind from the opposite direction, succeeded by a feeling of chill. Luther scanned the horizon and stepped faster. When the advance guard of fine snow began to sift down from the leaden sky above, he started to run. He had lived in the north, and knew the meaning of the rapidly darkening sky. The signs were unmistakable. Presently the fine flakes began to rush along toward the south with greater force. The wind came on steadily now. Luther looked about anxiously, making a note of the location of things. It was still a quarter of a mile to Hunter's. As he peered ahead, wishing himself nearer protection, with a roar the blizzard fell upon him, blotting out the landscape before him as completely as if a curtain had fallen between.
With all his might Luther struggled forward. The wind came from the right side and almost carried him from his feet. He had been standing over a steaming kettle and scalding barrel most of the day, and the icy blast went through him, chilling his blood instantly. Luther knew his danger. This was not a cyclone where men were carried away by the winds of summer; this was a winter's storm where men could freeze to death, and men froze quickly in blizzards. The driving particles of snow and ice made it impossible to look ahead. He shielded his face with his right arm, and tried, as he hurried forward, to keep in mind the exact direction of the Hunter house. If he could only reach that he would be safe. The road was a new one, recently opened, and not well defined. It was almost at once obliterated. Little needles of ice thrust themselves at him with stinging force, and he could not see; the blinding snow whirled and whistled about his feet, and in five minutes Luther Hansen realized that he had got out of the road. He stopped in alarm and, turning his back to the storm, tried to see about him. The gray wall of snow completely obscured every object from his sight. He had a sense of being the only thing alive in the universe; all else seemed to have been destroyed. His every nerve ached with the cold, but peer about as he would he could not possibly tell where he was. He remembered that there had been a cornfield on his right, and thought that he must have gone too far south, for he was certainly in the meadow now. The pressure of the wind, he reflected, would naturally carry him in that direction, so he faced around and started on, bearing stubbornly toward the north. Every fibre in him shook; no cold he had ever felt in Minnesota was equal to this; there was a quality in the pressure of this cold that was deadly. The wind pierced in spite of every kind of covering. Real fear began to lay hold upon him. He stumbled easily; the action of his limbs began to give him alarm. The package of spareribs fell from under his arm, and he stooped to pick it up. As he bent over the wind caught him like a tumble-weed and threw him in a shivering heap on the ground. He had worn no mittens in the morning, and his hands stung as if tortured by the lashes of many whips. To ease their hurt he remained huddled together with his back to the wind while he breathed on his freezing fingers, but remembered that that was the surest way to add to the nip of the cold in a blast which condensed the breath from his mouth into icicles before it had time to get away from his moustache. Staggering to his feet, he stumbled on toward the Hunter house, trying as hard as his fast benumbing senses would permit to bear toward the wind and the cornfield at the right. He had not picked up the package—had forgotten it in fact—and now he tried to beat his freezing hands across his shoulders as he ran. The bitter wind could not be endured, and he crossed his hands, thrusting them into his sleeves, hoping to warm them somehow on his wrists; but with eyes uncovered he could not gauge his steps, and stumbled and fell. Unable to get his hands out of his sleeves in time to protect himself, he tripped forward awkwardly and scratched his face on the cut stubs of the meadow-grass. Evidently he had not reached the road as yet. He knew the road so well that he could have kept it with a bandage over his eyes but for the wind which thrust him uncertainly from his course. It was that which was defeating him. Try as he would, he could not keep his attention fixed upon the necessity of staying near that cornfield. Determined to find it before he proceeded farther toward the west, he faced the wind squarely, and, bracing his body firmly, hurried as fast as he could toward the stalkfield.
After a time he seemed to wake up; he was not facing the wind, and he was aching miserably. Luther Hansen knew what that meant: he was freezing. Already the lethargy of sleep weighted each dragging foot. He thought of the nest an old sow had been building in the pen next to the one where the killing had been done that day. With the instincts of her kind, the mother-pig had prepared for the storm by making a bed where it would be sheltered. Luther's mind dwelt lingeringly upon its cozy arrangement; every atom of his body craved shelter. Death by freezing faced him already, though he had been in the grip of the storm but one short quarter of an hour. He had lost consciousness of time: he only knew that he was freezing within sight of home. Nothing but action could save him. Nerving himself for another trial, the bewildered man turned toward the north and walked into the very teeth of the storm, searching for the lost trail. Sometimes he thought his foot had found it; then it would be lost again. He wandered on hours, days, weeks—he wandered shivering over the meadow, the road, the state of Kansas—over the whole globe and through all space, till at last a great wall shut off the offending wind, the roar of the planets lessened, and the numb and frozen man fell forward insensible, striking his head against a dark obstruction thrusting its shoulder through a bank of dirty gray snow.
The sound of a heavy body falling on her doorstep brought Elizabeth Hunter to the door. She opened it cautiously. The snow swirled in as it was drawn back and the heated air of the sitting room rushed out, forming a cloud of steam which almost prevented her from seeing the helpless figure at her feet. She could not distinguish the features, but it was a man, and the significance of his presence was plain. Seizing him about the body, Elizabeth dragged him into the house, and shut the door behind him to keep out the blast.
"Luther Hansen!" she exclaimed.
Finding that she could not arouse him, she pulled the relaxed and nerveless form to the lounge, but when she attempted to lift the limp figure to the couch she found it almost more than all her woman's strength could accomplish. Luther stirred and muttered, but could not be awakened sufficiently to help himself, and it was only after some minutes and the putting forth of every ounce of strength that the girl had that he was at last stretched upon the lounge. Elizabeth brought blankets to cover the shivering, muttering, delirious man, and having heard that the frost must be drawn gradually from frozen extremities, and being unable to get his hands and feet into cold water, she brought and wrapped wet towels about them, and chafed his frozen face.
It was a long time before the white nose and cheeks began to show colour; then the ears became scarlet, and pain began to sting the man into consciousness. The chafing hurt, and Luther fought off the hands that rubbed so tenderly.
Gradually Luther Hansen awoke to his surroundings. Delirium and reality mixed helplessly for some moments. He remembered his struggles to reach the Hunter house, but the gap in the train of his affairs made him suspect that this was a phase of delirium and that he was in reality freezing. He was stinging all over. He wanted to find out where he was, and tried to get upon his feet.
"You are right here in my house, Luther," Elizabeth said, holding him on his pillow.
Luther relaxed and lay looking at her for some time before he asked:
"How did I get here, Lizzie?"
"I don't know, Luther," she replied. "I heard you fall on the doorstep. I never was so surprised. How did you come to be out—and without mittens too?"
She removed the wet towel from one of his hands, and he drew it away with a groan.
"I expect, Lizzie, it's frozen. You better rub it with snow."
The question of how he reached her house puzzled Luther throughout the long afternoon and evening, while they listened to the roar of the wind and talked of the unsheltered cattle in the many Kansas stalkfields.
"The only thing that kept our cattle from being out of doors was the fact that Jake had to go to Iowa and John had to take him to town," Elizabeth had said at one point.
"Has Jake left for good?" Luther asked hesitatingly. He knew John's unpopularity with the men who worked for him and was a little afraid to ask Elizabeth, who might be sensitive about it.
"No. Jake has lost his mother, but he'll come back for the spring seeding. Jake's a good man; he and John seem to get along pretty well." It was Elizabeth's turn to speak hesitatingly. She did not know how much Luther knew of John's affairs with his men, nor what opinion Jake might have expressed to Luther.
"Jake's a curious cub! He's been your dog, Lizzie, ever since that school business. I've heard 'im tell it over twenty times."
"I wish we could find another like him," Elizabeth said wistfully. "John isn't able to take care of all this stock unless he gets a man in Colebyville to-day, and—and if he did, the man, as likely as not, wouldn't stay more than a week or two."
Luther Hansen looked up eagerly.
"Lizzie, I've found th' very man for you folks. He'll stay too. He's a fellow by th' name of Noland—workin' for Chamberlain, an' wants a job right soon—got a lot of book-learnin'—just your kind."
"I'll have John see him when he gets home," Elizabeth answered indifferently. "My! I wonder when they will be able to get back?" she added.
"They wasn't through tradin' when this thing come on," Luther replied. "Anyhow, houses was too thick t' get lost th' first half of th' way. Listen to that wind, though! I'm glad t' be here if I do look like a turkey gobbler with these ears," he laughed.
It was so cold that Elizabeth had built a roaring fire, and to keep the snow, which penetrated every crack, from sifting under the door, she laid old coats and carpets across the sill. She brought coal and cobs from the shed, stopping each trip to get warm, for even to go the twenty steps required to get to the cobhouse was to experience more cold than she had ever encountered in all the days when she had plowed through the snows of Kansas winters while teaching; in fact, had the fuel been much farther from her door she would hardly have ventured out for it at all in a wind which drove one out of his course at every fresh step and so confused and blinded him that the points of the compass were a blank, and paths could not be located for the drifts, which ran in every direction the swirling wind chose to build them. She had gone around the shed to the back door, knowing that the front door being on the windward side could not be shut again if once opened, and the few extra steps necessary to creep around the building froze her to the bone, for the eddying wind had carried the snow deep at that point and, being enough sheltered to prevent packing, had left it a soft pile into which she sank almost to her waist. She was obliged to hunt for a shovel and clear the snow out of the doorway when she was through, and her hands were completely numbed when she reached the house after it was over. With the feeling that she might not be able to reach the shed at all in the morning, or that the doors might be drifted shut altogether, Elizabeth had taken enough cobs and coal into the kitchen to half fill the room and was ready to withstand a siege of days, but she paid toll with aching hands and feet that frightened Luther into a new realization of the nature of the storm.
When at last the one fire Elizabeth thought it wise to keep up was rebuilt and dry shoes had replaced the wet ones, she settled down beside the lounge, with her feet in another chair to keep them off the cold floor, and turned to Luther expectantly.
"This storm's awful, as you say," she said in reply to his observation that it might hold for days, "but I'm just so glad of a real chance for a visit with you that I'm quite willing to bring cobs and keep fires."
"If that's true, why don't you come t' see us as you ought t', Lizzie?" Luther said, looking her searchingly in the eye. "I never meddle in other people's business, but you ain't th' stuck-up thing folks says you are. Honest now, why don't you do as a neighbour should?"
Elizabeth Hunter's face flushed crimson and she leaned forward to tuck the old coat, in which she had wrapped her feet, more closely about them while she took time to get herself ready to answer the paralyzing question. The longer she waited the harder it became to meet the kindly questioning eyes bent upon her, and the more embarrassing it became to answer at all. She fumbled and tucked and was almost at the point of tears when Jack, who was asleep on a bed made on two chairs, began to fret. Seizing the welcome means of escape, she got up and took the child, sitting down a little farther away from Luther and hugging the baby as if he were a refuge from threatened harm.
Luther felt the distance between them, but decided to force the issue. He came about it from another quarter, but with inflexible determination.
"I hope Sadie got her kindling in before the storm began. It'll be awful cold in th' mornin', and—I do wish I could 'a' got home. Sadie's fires always go out."
"Your cobs are closer to the house than mine; Sadie 'll get along all right."
"How do you know where our cobhouse is now, Lizzie? You ain't seen it for over a year," Luther observed quietly. And when Elizabeth did not reply, said with his eyes fastened on Jack's half-asleep face: "I wonder how Janie is?"
Glad to talk of anything but herself and her own affairs, Elizabeth answered with feverish readiness the last half of Luther's observation.
"You never told me what the baby's name was before. Isn't it sweet?"
"Do you know, Lizzie, that Sadie 'd most made 'er mind up t' call it after you, if it was a girl, if you'd 'a' come t' be with 'er when it was born, as you said you would?" Luther looked at her almost tenderly, and with a yearning beyond words.
"After me? She didn't send for me when she was sick, Luther."
"No, but she would 'a', if you'd 'a' come as you ought t' 'a' done them months when she wasn't goin' out." He looked at her penetratingly.
"I haven't been anywhere since Aunt Susan's death," Elizabeth evaded, determined not to recognize his trend.
"You could 'a' come before her death, there was plenty of time. Now look here, I ain't goin' t' beat about th' bush. I'm talkin' square. You can't git away from me. You've had th' best chance a woman ever had t' help another woman, an' you didn't take it. Sadie was that took by what you said about bein' glad for th' chance t' have your baby, an' th' idea of helpin' him t' have th' best disposition you could give 'im, that she didn't talk of nothin' else for weeks, an' she looked for you till she was sick, an' you never come. I want t' know why?"
Elizabeth Hunter had come to the judgment-bar; she could not escape these cross-questions, neither could she answer. Her face grew white as Luther Hansen looked searchingly into it, and her breath came hard and harder as he looked and waited. This chance to talk to Luther was like wine to her hungry soul, but John Hunter was her husband and she refused to accuse him even after the long months of despair she had suffered at his hands. Luther let her gather herself for her reply, not adding a word to the demand for truth and friendship. How he trusted her in spite of it all! He watched her indecision change to indignation at his insistence, and he saw her head grow clear as she decided upon her course.
"I will not discuss the past with you, Luther," she said slowly, as one who comes to a conclusion as he proceeds. "I cannot tell you all the things which have led up to it. I am going to ask you not to mention it to me again, but I will try to do it better next time. I had no idea that Sadie cared whether I came to see her or not; she had always seemed to dislike me." Elizabeth added the last hesitatingly lest she hurt Luther's feelings.
"Lizzie, I won't be put off. If you don't want t' tell me why you've done as you have, I won't ask you t', but you've got t' let me talk t' you about it all th' same. I ain't a man t' let myself mix up in my neighbours' affairs, but, Lizzie, you ought t' live up t' th' things God's put int' your power t' do. Now, then, you let folks get a wrong idea of you. You've got more education 'n anybody else's got in this country, an' you've got more money, an' you've got more everything 'n th' rest of us, an' what's it been give t' you for if it ain't goin' t' come t' nothin'? Here you've had th' best chance t' do somethin' for a neighbour woman a woman ever had: Sadie's been that took with th' things you said about children that she was ready t' listen t' you on anything, an' you won't let 'er have a chance t' get at you at all—an' ain't she come out? You'd have t' live with 'er, Lizzie, t' know what that little woman's done fur herself this last year—an' it was you that helped t' do it. Honest, now, don't you see yourself that if you've had things give t' you that th' rest ain't had that you owe somethin' t' th' rest of us?"
In all the weary discordant time when she had struggled for better conditions Elizabeth Hunter had never thought of anything in the situation but the bettering of her own surroundings. It had been the suffering of blind stupidity, of youth, of the human being too deeply submerged to think of aught but personal affairs. Luther drew her attention to the main facts of her life, drawing her away from self. It was a simple occurrence, a simple subject, a simple question: it was in itself the reason for the perpetuation of their friendship. The winds blew, the snow found its way under door and sash and heaped itself in ridges across the floor, and in spite of the roaring fire they were not always warm, but throughout the night Elizabeth sat beside her lifelong friend and drew in a revivifying fire which was to remould and make over a life which had almost flickered to a smouldering resentment and inactivity.
ADJUSTING DOMESTIC TO SOCIAL IDEALS
The next morning the wind blew the fine snow in one vast driving cloud; it was impossible to see a hundred feet. Elizabeth knew that the stock was suffering, but was almost certain that she could not reach them. It would not be hard to reach the barn, since the wind would be with her, but to return would be a different matter. To feel that she had done all that she could, she went as far as the gate, and when she could not see the house from that point was sufficiently warned and struggled back to safety. No sound but that of the storm came to her even at the gate, but she was certain that the famishing cattle were calling for food. Her day was consumed in the care of Luther's inflamed hands and feet. The only remedy she knew was wet cloths and she worked anxiously to reduce the swelling and congestion.
About four o'clock the wind dropped. Though the air was still full of fine snow, Elizabeth wrapped herself in John's old overcoat and muffler, and putting a pair of Jake's heavy mittens on her hands, and taking the milkpails on her arm to save a trip back for them, she went to the barn.
The barn door stuck, with the snow which had collected in the runway, and she had to fumble for some time before it would come open. A perfect babel of voices greeted her. Jake had left the south door of the barn ajar when he left that morning, and the eddying snow had banked itself along the entire centre of the building. Patsie stood in the stall nearest the door, humped up with the cold, and with a layer of snow on her hips and spreading black tail. She turned sidewise and pawed furiously, giving shrill little whinnies as Elizabeth seized a half-bushel measure and waded through the snow to the oats bin.
"No, corn's better this cold weather," the girl said aloud, and hurried to the other bin. Soon the horses were making noise enough to inflame the appetites of the other animals, who redoubled their cries.
She investigated the pens and found the hogs in good condition, but the drifts so high as to make it possible for them to make neighbourly visits from pen to pen, and even into the cattle yard. It was a struggle to carry the heavy ear corn from the crib to the pens, but it was done, and then Elizabeth turned her attention to the excited cattle.
Taking time to rest and get her breath, Elizabeth noticed that a few of the hogs had not come to get their feed, and went to investigate the cause. They seemed to be fighting over some choice morsel on the far side of the cattle yard. At first she thought that it was one of their number that they were fighting about, but as she approached the knot, one of them ran off to one side dragging something, its head held high to avoid stepping on the grewsome thing it carried. One of the young cows had lost her calf in the freezing storm, and the hogs were fighting over its torn and mangled body. Elizabeth sought out the little mother, and segregating her from the herd, drove her into the straw cow-stable, where she would be sheltered. The other milch cows had been left in their stalls by the men the day before, and snorted and tugged at their ropes as the newcomer appeared. Elizabeth tied the heifer, and then shut the door after her and returned to the unprotected herd outside.
The fodder was so full of snow that it was impossible for the girl to handle it at all, so she dug the ladder out of the snow and placed it against the long hayrick beside the fence and forked the hay over into the racks below. It required every ounce of strength she had to throw the hay clear of the stack and in line with the racks where the cattle could reach it, but the girl worked with a will, while the cattle fought for best places, or any place at all, and reached hungry tongues for the sweet hay.
Elizabeth worked with joy and energy. The mood of the storm was upon the girl. Not before in all the months she had been married had she ever moved in perfect freedom in her native out-of-doors element. It was a gift of the gods and not to be despised or neglected, for to-morrow would come John—and prison bars. Before she had begun, she faced the wind, and with bounding joy looked over the drifted fields toward the north and northeast. The air was clearing. The world looked different from this lofty position. She was Elizabeth again, Elizabeth transformed and made new. The lethargy of recent months had slipped away; something about the rush and motion of things in the last twenty-four hours inspired her; the fierce winds of yesterday and to-day stirred her spirit to do, to be in motion herself. They had communicated their energy, their life, their free and ungoverned humour. Elizabeth's thoughts ran on as fast as her blood. She thought of Luther, and of all he had said to her, of her neglected opportunities which he had pointed out to her, and wondered modestly if he were right, and then knew that he was. She thought of how she, the out-of-door prisoner of her father's home, had become the indoor prisoner of her husband's home. She had thought that to marry and escape her father's grasp was to possess herself; but Elizabeth Hunter saw that as a wife she was really much less free. She thought of the sacrifices she had made in the hope of securing harmony, and she thought of the futility of it all. She decided that if a woman were enslaved it was because she herself permitted it, that to yield where she should stand fast did not secure a man's love, it only secured his contempt and increased his demands. In the three years she had been married she had not been permitted an hour of real companionship until the accident of this storm had brought an old friend to her door and kept him there till she had had a chance to realize the mental depths to which she had fallen in her isolation. In all the time she had been married she had not thought of anything but the bare details of their daily life. A woman had to have the association of congenial people to keep her from falling into housekeeping dry-rot. For thirty-six hours she had possessed herself, and in that time she had renewed her youth and acquired a new outlook. As she stood looking across the fields, her eyes fell on Nathan Hornby's chimney. The wind had dropped so completely that the air had cleared of snow, and the curling smoke from a freshly built fire arose in the frosty air, sending a thrill of homesickness through her as she pictured the orderly kitchen in which that fire was built. Was it orderly now that its guardian angel was gone? The hideous cruelty of a neglect which kept her from knowing whether it was well kept swept over her. Once she would have spent herself in emotionalism and tears at remembrance of it, but Elizabeth had advanced.
"I'll go and see him to-morrow, or as soon as the roads are fit," was her resolve. "Luther's right; he usually is."
The cattle calling from below brought her back to the necessities of the hour. Laying hold of the frosty pitchfork she renewed her attack upon the hay and continued till the racks were filled. By the time the ladder was put away again her hands were stinging till it was impossible to work, and she ran to the barn where she could put them against Patsie's flank while she blew her warm breath upon them. Patsie was ticklish, and twitched her loose hide nervously and gnawed at her feed-box with little squeals of excitement. The feed-box was of two-inch lumber instead of the usual sort. It was like all John did: so much attention put in one place there was no time for the rest; well done, but much left undone. Everything about John's barn was orderly and well built. There had been a time when she had rejoiced at what seemed to be thrift, but to-day she saw it from a new angle; Mr. Farnshaw had wastefully let his machinery rot and his stock perish from cold, but here was wastefulness of another sort; Elizabeth speculated on the cost of this barn and thought of the interest to be paid.
On her way to the cow-stable where the little mother whose calf had fallen a victim to the cold awaited her, she thought of the toolroom where she had gone for her feed. A forty-dollar set of harness hung there: Carter's harness had chains instead of leather tugs, and would outwear them several times over. It was an orderly toolroom: the bridles occupied a row over the collars, hames and back-bands came next, and on the other side of the room, on six-inch spikes, hung extra clevises, buckles, straps, and such materials as accidents to farm machinery required. John's mending was well provided for and well done. Elizabeth would have loved just this sort of order if it had not been so costly.
The little cow was so hungry that she hardly knew that she was giving her milk into a foreign receptacle till a voice at the stable door made her jump so violently that the pail was knocked over and Elizabeth had to scramble hastily to avoid a similar fate.
"Well, now, there you be! Gosh-a-livin's!——"
Silas Chamberlain never finished that speech. The milk from the rolling pail spattered over his feet as he sprang to Elizabeth's rescue. The little cow tore at the rope that held her, and every mate she had in the stable joined her in snorting and threatening to bolt over the mangers. The old man, "So-bossied," and vented all the soothing cattle talk he could command while he looked on in embarrassed confusion.
"Now ain't that jes' like me?" he queried in dismay. "Look what I've gone an' done!" He picked up the empty pail and handed it to the man that was with him to keep it from being trampled upon by the plunging cows, while he tried to establish confidential relations with them.
"Never mind, Mr. Chamberlain. She's only a heifer and never milked before. She wouldn't have let me get that far without trouble, anyhow, if she hadn't been so hungry. The hogs killed her calf last night or this morning and I thought I'd milk her before I began on the rest. I don't suppose John can get home before to-morrow night, and the chores had to be done. Here, there's an extra bucket or two. Do you want to help milk? they'll quit fussing in a minute."
"Course I do. That's what Noland an' I come for. This is Mrs. Hunter, Noland," Silas said, remembering formalities at the last moment. "We thought John wouldn't 'a' got back 'fore th' storm come on. Now let's get this milkin' done 'fore dark or we'll be havin' t' ask for a lantern."
"Oh! Mr. Chamberlain, I forgot to tell you that Luther Hansen got caught in the storm and nearly froze," Elizabeth said when they had settled themselves to the work. "He's at our house now; his feet and hands are awful. I think they're all right, but I wish we could get at Doctor Morgan."
The old man nearly upset the milk a second time in his astonishment, and the milking was cut as short as could decently be done so as to get to the house. The early winter night had settled down and the sting of the cold was paralyzing as they hastened in. Silas went straight to Luther, and Elizabeth and the new man brought a fresh supply of coal and cobs before they went in. They met Silas coming out as they carried the last basketful from the shed.
"I'm goin' right over t' tell Sadie," he announced. "I brought Noland over to help, but Luther says you're goin' t' need 'im right along, an' I'll jes' leave 'im for good. You'll like each other an' he'll want t' stay as bad as You'll want 'im."
Silas had poured the whole arrangement out, and as it was about what was necessary it was accepted.
The presence of a stranger necessitated more formal housekeeping, and when the new man came back from helping Silas saddle Patsie he found the kitchen in order and the savoury smell of fresh biscuits and ham. A small table was placed beside Luther, and the ham and hot things had a seasoning of brilliant, intellectual conversation, for the man from college was adept at entertaining his fellow men and showed his best powers.
Elizabeth was too tired to stay awake long and she left him and Luther chatting, after she had shown Mr. Noland where he was to sleep and had filled the cold bed with hot flatirons to take the chill from the icy sheets. However happy she may have been while feeding the stock, she had to acknowledge that the loss of sleep the night before and the unaccustomed use of the pitchfork had made of her bed a desirable place. She awoke when the stranger went up the stairs, but was asleep before his footsteps had reached the room above her. A tantalizing remembrance of his face disturbed her for a moment, but only for a moment, and then tired nature carried her back to the land of dreams. She had seen him somewhere, but where, she was too sleepy to think out.
The next morning Silas came with his bobsled and they helped Luther into a chair and carried him in it to the sled and so to his home. John and his mother came a little after noon, and the girl watched to see how her husband would like the new man, half afraid that because she had secured him in John's absence that he would not like him, and she wished it might be possible to keep him with them. She need not have worried, for Hugh Noland had looked about the place and decided to make himself so necessary to its proprietor that his presence would be desired, and he had gifts which favoured him in that respect. Besides, John had been unsuccessful in obtaining help and was overjoyed to come home and find the cattle fed and everything at the barn in good order. Patsie and her mate were hitched to the lumber wagon and stood waiting in the lane when John came and Jack was being wrapped in his warmest cloak.