But the road sometimes passes a rich meadow, where the songs o/ larks and bobolinks and blackbirds are tangled.
ROB held up his hands, from which the dough depended in ragged strings.
Biscuits, he said with an elaborate working of his jaws, intended to convey the idea that they were going to be specially delicious.
Seagraves laughed, but did not enter the shanty door. How do you like baching it?
Oh, dont mention it! entreated Rob, mauling the dough again.
Oh, Id rather be where I can see the prairie. Great weather!
How goes breaking?
Tip-top! A leette dry now; but the bulls pull the plow through two acres a day. Hows things in Boomtown?
Oh, same old grind.
Judge still lyin?
Still at it.
Major Mullens still swearin to it?
You hit it like a mallet. Railroad schemes are thickern prairie chickens. Youve got grit, Rob. I dont have anything but crackers and sardines over to my shanty, and here you are making soda biscuit.
I have t do it. Couldnt break if I didnt. You editors cn take things easy, lay around on the prairie, and watch the plovers and medderlarks; but we settlers have got to work.
Leaving Rob to sputter over his cooking, Seagraves took his slow way off down toward the oxen grazing in a little hollow. The scene was characteristically, wonderfully beautiful. It was about five oclock in a day in late June, and the level plain was green and yellow, and infinite in reach as a sea; the lowering sun was casting over its distant swells a faint impalpable mist, through which the breaking teams on the neighboring claims plowed noiselessly, as figures in a dream. The whistle of gophers, the faint, wailing, fluttering cry of the falling plover, the whir of the swift-winged prairie pigeon, or the quack of a lonely duck, came through the shimmering air. The larks infrequent whistle, piercingly sweet, broke from the longer grass in the swales nearby. No other climate, sky, plain, could produce the same unnamable weird charm. No tree to wave, no grass to rustle; scarcely a sound of domestic life; only the faint melancholy soughing of the wind in the short grass, and the voices of the wild things of the prairie.
Seagraves, an impressionable young man (junior editor of the Boomtown Spike), threw himself down on the sod, pulled his hat rim down over his eyes, and looked away over the plain. It was the second year of Boom-towns existence, and Seagraves had not yet grown restless under its monotony. Around him the gophers played saucily. Teams were moving here and there across the sod, with a peculiar noiseless, effortless motion that made them seem as calm, lazy, and unsubstantial as the mist through which they made their way; even the sound of passing wagons was a sort of low, well-fed, self-satisfied chuckle.
Seagraves, holding down a claim near Rob, had come to see his neighboring bach because of feeling the need of company; but now that he was near enough to hear him prancing about getting supper, he was content to lie alone on a slope of the green sod.
The silence of the prairie at night was well-nigh terrible. Many a night, as Seagraves lay in his bunk against the side of his cabin, he would strain his ear to hear the slightest sound, and he listening thus sometimes for minutes before the squeak of a mouse or the step of a passing fox came as a relief to the aching sense. In the daytime, however, and especially on a morning, the prairie was another thing. The pigeons, the larks; the cranes, the multitudinous voices of the ground birds and snipes and insects, made the air pulsate with sound-a chorus that died away into an infinite murmur of music.
Hello, Seagraves! yelled Rob from the door. The biscuit are most done.
Seagraves did not speak, only nodded his head and slowly rose. The faint clouds in the west were getting a superb flame color above and a misty purple below, and the sun had shot them with lances of yellow light. As the air grew denser with moisture, the sounds of neighboring life began to reach the ear. Children screamed and laughed, and afar off a woman was singing a lullaby. The rattle of wagons and voices of men speaking to their teams multiplied. Ducks in a neighboring lowland were quacking. The whole scene took hold upon Seagraves with irresistible power.
It is American, he exclaimed. No other land or time can match this mellow air, this wealth of color, much less the strange social conditions of life on this sunlit Dakota prairie.
Rob, though visibly affected by the scene also, couldnt let his biscuit spoil or go without proper attention.
Say, aint y comin t grub? he asked impatiently.
Th a minute, replied his friend, taking a last wistful look at the scene. I want one more look at the landscape.
Landscape be blessed! If youd been breakin all day-Come, take that stool an draw up.
No; Ill take the candle box.
Not much. I know what manners are, if I am a bull driver.
Seagraves took the three-legged and rather precarious-looking stool and drew up to the table, which was a flat broad box nailed up against the side of the wall, with two strips of board nailed at the outer corners for legs.
Hows that fr a layout? Rob inquired proudly.
Well, you have spread yourself! Biscuit and canned peaches and sardines and cheese. why, this is-is- prodigal.
It aint nothin else.
Rob was from one of the finest counties of Wisconsin, over toward Milwaukee. He was of German parentage, a middle-sized, cheery, wide-awake, good-looking young fellow-a typical claimholder. He was always confident, jovial, and full of plans for the future. He had dug his own well, built his own shanty, washed and mended his own clothing. He could do anything, and do it well. He had a fine field of wheat, and was finishing the plowing of his entire quarter section.
This is what I call settin under a fellers own vine an fig treeafter Seagravess complimentsan I like it. Im my own boss. No man can say come here n go there to me. I get up when Im a min to, an go t bed when Im a min t.
Some drawbacks, I spose?
Yes. Mice, fr instance, give me a devilish lot o trouble. They get into my flour barrel, eat up my cheese, an fall into my well. But it aint no use t swear.
The rats and the mlce they made such a strife
quoted Seagraves. Dont blush. Ive probed your secret thought.
Well, to tell the honest truth, said Rob a little sheepishly, leaning across the table, I aint satisfied with my style o cookin. Its good, but a little too plain, y know. Id like a change. It aint much fun to break all day and then go to work an cook yr own supper.
No, I should say not.
This fall Im going back to Wisconsin. Girls are thick as huckleberries back there, and Im goin t bring one back, now you hear me.
Good! Thats the plan, laughed Seagraves, amused at a certain timid and apprehensive look in his companions eye. Just think what a woman d do to put this shanty in shape; and think how nice it would be to take her arm and saunter out after supper, and look at the farm, and plan and lay out gardens and paths, and tend the chickens!
Robs manly and self-reliant nature had the settlers typical buoyancy and hopefulness, as well as a certain power of analysis, which enabled him now to say: The fact is, we fellers holdin down claims out here aint fools clear to the rine. We know a couple o things. Now I didnt leave Waupac County fr fun. Did y ever see Wanpac? Well, its one o the handsomest counties the sun ever shone on, full o lakes and rivers and groves of timber. I miss em all out here, and I miss the boys an girls; but they want no chance there fr a feller. Land that was good was so blamed high you couldnt touch it with a ten-foot pole from a balloon. Rent was high, if you wanted t rent, an so a feller like me had t get out, an now Im out here, Im goin f make the most of it. An other thing, he went on, after a pausewe fellers work-in out back there got more n more like hands, an less like human beings. Yknow, Waupac is a kind of a summer resort, and the people that use t come in summers looked down on us cusses in the fields an shops. I couldnt stand it. By God! he said with a sudden im pulse of rage quite unlike him, Id rather live on an ice-berg and claw crabs fr a livin than have some feller passin me on the road an callin me fellah!
Seagraves knew what he meant and listened in astonishment at this outburst.
I consider myself a sight better n any man who lives on somebody elses hard work. Ive never had a cent I didnt earn with them hands. He held them up and broke into a grin. Beauties, aint they? But they never wore gloves that some other poor cuss earned.
Seagraves thought them grand hands, worthy to grasp the hand of any man or woman living.
Well, so I come West, just like a thousand other fellers, to get a start where the cussed European aristocracy hadnt got a holt on the people. I like it herecourse Id like the lakes an meadows of Waupac betterbut Im my own boss, as I say, an Im goin to stay my own boss if I haf to live on crackers an wheat coffee to do it; thats the kind of a hairpin I am.
In the pause which followed, Seagraves, plunged deep into thought by Robs words, leaned his head on his hand. This working farmer had voiced the modem idea. It was an absolute overturn of all the ideas of nobility and special privilege born of the feudal past. Rob had spoken upon impulse, but that impulse appeared to Sea-graves to be right.
Id like to use your idea for an editorial, Rob, he said.
My ideas! exclaimed the astounded host, pausing in the act of filling his pipe. My ideas! why, I didnt know I had any.
Well, youve given me some, anyhow.
Seagraves felt that it was a wild, grand upstirring of the modem democrat against the aristocratic, against the idea of caste and the privilege of living on the labor of others. This atom of humanity (how infinitesimal this drop in the ocean of humanity!) was feeling the nameless longing of expanding personality, and had already pierced the conventions of society and declared as nil the laws of the land-laws that were survivals of hate and prejudice. He had exposed also the native spring of the emigrant by uttering the feeling that it is better to be an equal among peasants than a servant before nobles.
So I have good reasons fr liking the country, Rob resumed in a quiet way. The soil is rich, the climate good so far, an if I have a couple o decent crops youll see a neat upright goin up here, with a porch and a bay winder.
And youll still be livin here alone, frying leathery slapjacks an choppin taters and bacon.
I think I see myself, drawled Rob, goin around all summer wearin the same shirt without washin, an wipin on the same towel four straight weeks, an wearin holes in my socks, an eatin musty gingersnaps, moldy bacon, an canned Boston beans fr the rest o my endurin days! Oh, yes; I guess not! Well, see y later. Must go water my bulls.
As he went off down the slope, Seagraves smiled to hear him sing:
I wish that some kindhearted girl
The boys nearly fell off their chairs in the Western House dining room, a few days later, at seeing Rob come into supper with a collar and necktie as the finishing touch of a remarkable outfit.
Hit him, somebody!
Its a clean collar!
Hes started fr Congress!
Hes going to get married, put in Seagraves in a tone that brought conviction.
What! screamed Jack Adams, ONeill, and Wilson in one breath.
That man, replied Seagraves, amazed at Rob, who coolly took his seat, squared his elbows, pressed his collar down at the back, and called for the bacon and eggs.
The crowd stared at him in a dead silence.
Wheres he going to do it? asked Jack Adarns. wheres he going to find a girl?
Ask him, said Seagraves.
I aint tellin, put in Rob, with his mouth full of potato.
Youre afraid of our competition.
Thats right; our competition, Jack; not your competition. Come, now, Rob, tell us where you found her.
I aint found her.
What! And yet youre goin away t get married!
Im goin t bring a wife back with me ten days frm date.
I see his scheme, put in Jim Rivers. Hes goin back East somewhere, an hes goin to propose to every girl he meets.
Hold on! interrupted Rob, holding up his fork. Aint quite right.
Well, Ill be blanked! exclaimed Jack impatientiy; that simply lets me out. Any man with such a cheek ought to
Succeed, interrupted Seagraves.
Thats what I say, bawled Hank whiting, the proprietor of the house. You fellers aint got any enterprise to yeh. Why dont you go to work an help settle the country like men? Cause y aint got no sand. Girls are thickern huckleberries back East. I say its a dum shame!
Easy, Henry, said the elegant bank clerk, Wilson, looking gravely about through his spectacles. I commend the courage and the resolution of Mr. Rodemaker. I pray the lady may not
Mislike him for his complexion,
Shakespeare, said Adams at a venture.
Brother in adversity, when do you embark? Another 3ason on an untried sea~
Hay! said Rob, winking at Seagraves. Oh, I go tonightnight train.
Ten days from date.
Ill wager a wedding supper he brings a blonde, said Wilson in his clean-cut, languid speech.
Oh, come now, Wilson; thats too thin! We all know that rule about dark marryin light.
Ill wager shell be tall, continued Wilson. Ill wager you, friend
The rest roared at Robs astonishment and contusion. The absurdity of it grew, and they went into spasms of laughter. But Wilson remained impassive, not the twitching of a muscle betraying that he saw anything to laugh at in the proposition.
Mrs. Whiting and the kitchen girls came in, wondering at the merriment. Rob began to get uneasy.
What is it? What is it? said Mrs. Whiting, a jolly little matron.
Rivers put the case. Robs on his way back to Wisconsin t get married, and Wilson has offered to bet him that his wife will be a blonde and tall, and Rob dassent bet! And they roared again.
Why, the idea! The mans crazy! said Mrs. Whiting. The crowd looked at each other. This was hint enough; they sobered, nodding at each other.
Aha! I see; I understand.
Its the heat.
And the Boston beans.
Let up on him, Wilson. Dont badger a poor irresponsible fellow. I thought something was wrong when I saw the collar.
Oh, keep it up! said Rob, a little nettled by their evident intention to have fun with him.
Soothe himsoo-o-o-o-the him! said Wilson. Dont be harsh.
Rob rose from the table. Go to thunder! You make me tired.
The fit is on him again!
He rose disgustedly and went out. They followed him in singie file. The rest of the town caught on. Frank Graham heaved an apple at him and joined the procession. Rob went into the store to buy some tobacco. They followed and perched like crows on the counters till he went out; then they followed him, as before. They watched him check his trunk; they witnessed the purchase of the ticket. The town had turned out by this time.
Waupac! announced the one nearest the victim.
Waupac! said the next man, and the word was passed along the street up town.
Make a note of it, said Wilson: Waupa-a county where a mans proposal for marriage is honored upon presentation. Sight drafts.
Rivers struck up a song, while Rob stood around, patientiy bearing the jokes of the crowd:
Were lookin rather seedy now,
Yet we rather like the novelty
The train drew up at length, to the immense relief of Rob, whose stoical resiguation was beginning to weaken.
Dont y wish y had sand? he yelled to the crowd as he plunged into the car, thinking he was rid of them.
But no; their last stroke was to follow him into the car, nodding, pointing to their heads, and whispering, managing in the half-minute the train stood at the platform to set every person in the car staring at the crazy man. Rob groaned and pulled his hat down over his eyesan action which confirmed his tormentors words and made several ladies click their tongues in sympathyTick! tick! poor fellow!
All abo-o-o-a-rd! said the conductor, grinning his appreciation at the crowd, and the train was off.
Oh, wont we make him groan when he gets back! said Barney, the young lawyer who sang the shouting tenor.
Well meet him with the timbrel and the harp. Anybody want to wager? Ive got two to one on a short brunette, said Wilson.
Follow it far enough and it may pass the bend in the river where the water laughs eternally over its shallows.
A CORNFIELD in July is a hot place. The soil is hot and dry; the wind comes across the lazily murmuring leaves laden with a warm sickening smell drawn from the rapidly growing, broad-flung banners of the corn. The sun, nearly vertical, drops a flood of dazzing light and heat upon the field over which the cool shadows run, only to make the heat seem the more intense.
Julia Peterson, faint with fatigue, was tolling back and forth between the corn rows, holding the handles of the double-shovel corn plow while her little brother Otto rode the steaming horse. Her heart was full of bitterness, and her face flushed with heat, and her muscles aching with fatigue. The heat grew terrible. The corn came to her shoulders, and not a breath seemed to reach her, while the sun, nearing the noon mark, lay pitilessly upon her shoulders, protected only by a calico dress. The dust rose under her feet, and as she was wet with perspiration it soiled her till, with a womans instinctive cleanliness, she shuddered. Her head throbbed dangerously. what matter to her that the king bird pitched jovially from the maples to catch a wandering bluebottle fly, that the robin was feeding its young, that the bobolink was singing? All these things, if she saw them, only threw her bondage to labor into greater relief.
Across the field, in another patch of corn, she could see her fathera big, gruff-voiced, wide-bearded Norwegianat work also with a plow. The corn must be plowed, and so she toiled on, the tears dropping from the shadow of the ugly sunbonnet she wore. Her shoes, coarse and square-toed, chafed her feet; her hands, large and strong, were browned, or more properly burned, on the backs by the sun. The horses harness creak-cracked as he swung steadily and patientiy forward, the moisture pouring from his sides, his nostrils distended.
The field ran down to a road, and on the other side of the road ran a rivera broad, clear, shallow expanse at that point, and the eyes of the boy gazed longingly at the pond and the cool shadow each time that he turned at the fence.
Say, Jule, Im goin in! Come, cant I? Comesay! he pleaded as they stopped at the fence to let the horse breathe.
Ive let you go wade twice.
But that dont do any good. My legs is all smarty, cause ol Jack sweats so. The boy turned around on the horses back and slid back to his rump. I cant stand it! he burst out, sliding off and darting under the fence. Father cant see.
The girl put her elbows on the fence and watched her little brother as be sped away to the pool, throwing off his clothes as he ran, whooping with uncontrollable delight. Soon she could hear him splashing about in the water a short distance up the stream, and caught glimpses of his little shiny body and happy face. How cool that water looked! And the shadows there by the big basswood! How that water would cool her blistered feet! An impulse seized her, and she squeezed between the rails of the fence and stood in the road looking up and down to see that the way was clear. It was not a main-travelled road; no one was likely to come; why not?
She hurriedly took off her shoes and stockingshow delicious the cool, soft velvet of the grass!and sitting down on the bank under the great basswood, whose roots formed an abrupt bank, she slid her poor blistered, chafed feet into the water, her bare head leaned against the huge tree trunk.
And now as she rested, the beauty of the scene came to her. Over her the wind moved the leaves. A jay screamed far off, as if answering the cries of the boy. A kingfisher crossed and recrossed the stream with dipping sweep of his wings. The river sang with its lips to the pebbles. The vast clouds went by majestically, far above the treetops, and the snap and buzzing and ringing whir of July insects made a ceaseless, slumberous undertone of song solvent of all else. The tired girl forgot her work. She began to dream. This would not last always. Some one would come to release her from such drudgery. This was her constant, tenderest, and most secret dream. He would be a Yankee, not a Norwegian; the Yankees didnt ask their wives to work in the field. He would have a home. Perhaps hed live in townperhaps a merchant! And then she thought of the drug clerk in Rock River who had looked at herA voice broke in on her dream, a fresh, manly voice.
Well, by jinks! if it aint Julia! Just the one I wanted to see!
The girl turned, saw a pleasant-faced young fellow in a derby hat and a fifteen-dollar suit of diagonals.
Rod Rodemaker! How come
She remembered her situation, and flushed, looked down at the water, and remained perfectly still.
Aint ye goin to shake hands? Y dont seem very glad t see me.
She began to grow angry. If you had any eyes youd see!
Rob looked over the edge of the bank, whistled, turned away. Oh, I see! Excuse me! Dont blame yeh a bit, though. Good weather fr corn, he went on looking up at the trees. Corn seems to be pretty well for-ward, he continued in a louder voice as he walked away, still gazing into the air. Crops is looking first-class in Boomtown. Hello! This Otto? Hyare y little scamp! Get onto that horse agin. Quick, r Ill take yr skin off an, hang it on the fence. what y been doing?
Ben in swimmm. Jimminy, aint it fun! when d y get back? said the boy, grinning.
Never you mind, replied Rob, leaping the fence by laying his left hand on the top rail. Get onto that horse. He tossed the boy up on the horse, hung his coat on the fence. I spose the ol man makes her plow same as usual?
Yup, said Otto.
Dod ding a man thatll do that! I dont mind if its necessary, but it aint necessary in his case. He continued to mutter in this way as he went across to the other side of the field. As they turned to come back, Rob went up and looked at the horses mouth. Gettin purty near of age. Say, whos sparkin Julia nowanybody?
Nobody cept some ol Norwegians. She wont have them. Por wants her to, but she wont.
Good fr her. Nobody comes t see her Sunday nights, eh?
Nope, only Tias Anderson an Ole Hoover; but she goes off an leaves em.
Chk! said Rob, starting old Jack across the field.
It was almost noon, and Jack moved reluctantly. He knew the time of day as well as the boy. He made this round after distinct protest.
In the meantime Julia, putting on her shoes and stockings, went to the fence and watched the mans shining white shirt as he moved across the cornfield. There had never been any special tenderness between them, but she had always liked him. They had been at school together. She wondered why he had come back at this time of the year, and wondered how long he would stay. How long had he stood looking at her? She flushed again at the thought of it. But he wasnt to blame; it was a public road. She might have known better.
She stood under a little popple tree, whose leaves shook musically at every zephyr, and her eyes through half-shut lids roved over the sea of deep-green glossy leaves, dappled here and there by cloud-shadows, stirred here and there like water by the wind, and out of it all a longing to be free from such toil rose like a breath, filling her throat, and quickening the motion of her heart. Must this go on forever, this life of heat and dust and labor? what did it all mean?
The girl laid her chin on her strong red wrists, and looked up into the blue spaces between the vast cloudsaerial mountains dissolving in a shoreless azure sea. How cool and sweet and restful they looked! li she might only lie out on the billowy, snow-white, sunlit edge! The voices of the driver and the plowman recalled her, and she fixed her eyes again upon the slowly nodding head of the patient horse, on the boy turned half about on the horse, talking to the white-sleeved man, whose derby hat bobbed up and down quite curiously, like the horses head. Would she ask him to dinner? what would her people say?
Phew! its hot! was the greeting the young fellow gave as he came up. He smiled in a frank, boyish way as he hung his hat on the top of a stake and looked up at her. D y know, I kind o enjoy getting at it again. Fact. It aint no work for a girl, though, he added.
When d you get back? she asked, the flush not yet out of her face. Rob was looking at her thick, fine hair and full Scandinavian face, rich as a rose in color, and did not reply for a few seconds. She stood with her hideous sun bonnet pushed back on her shoulders. A kingbird was chattering overhead.
Oh a few days ago.
How long y goin t stay?
Oh, I d know. A week, mebbe.
A far-off halloo came pulsing across the shimmering air. The boy screamed Dinner! and waved his hat with an answering whoop, then flopped off the horse like a turtle off a stone into water. He had the horse unhooked in an instant, and had flung his toes up over the horses back, in act to climb on, when Rob said:
Hyare, young feller! wa!t a minute. Tired? he asked the girl with a tone that was more than kindly; it was almost tender.
Yes, she replied in a low voice. My shoes hurt me.
Well, here y go, he replied, taking his stand by the horse and holding out his hand like a step. She colored and smiled a little as she lifted her foot into his huge, hard, sunburned hand.
Oop-a-daisy! he called. She gave a spring and sat the horse like one at home there.
Rob had a deliciously unconscious, abstracted, businesslike air. He really left her nothing to do but enjoy his company, while he went ahead and did precisely as he pleased.
We dont raise much corn out there, an so I kind o like to see it once more.
I wish I didnt have to see another hill of corn as long as I live! replied the girl bitterly.
Dont know as I blame yeh a bit. But, all the same, Im glad you was working in it today, he thought to hiniseif as he walked beside her horse toward the house.
Will you stop to dinner? she inquired bluntly, almost surmy. It was evident that there were reasons why she didnt mean to press. hirn to. do so.
You bet I will, he replied; that is, if you want I should.
You know how we live, she replied evasively. I you cn stand it, why She broke off abruptly.
Yes, he remembered how they lived in that big, square, dirty, white frame house. It had been- three or four years since he had been ill it, but the smell of the cabbage and onions, the penetrating, peculiar mixture of odors, assailed his memory as something unforgettable.
I guess Ill stop, he said as she hesitated. She said no more, but tried to act as if she were not in any way responsible for what came afterward.
I guess I cn stand fr one meal what you stand all the while, he added.
As she left them at the well and went to the house, he saw her limp painfully, and the memory of her face so close to his 1ips as he helped her down from the horse gave him pleasure, at the same time that he was touched by its tired and gloomy look. Mrs. Peterson came to the door of the kitchen, looking just the same as ever. Broadfaced, unwieldly, flabby, apparently wearing the same dress he remembered to have seen her in years before a dirty drab-colored thingshe looked as shapeless as a sack of wool. Her English was limited to How de do, Rob?
He washed at the pump, while the girl, in the attempt to be hospitable, held the clean towel for him.
Youre purty well used up, eh? he said to her.
Yes; its awful hot out there.
Cant you lay off this afternoon? It aint right
No. He wont listen to that.
Well, let me take your place.
No; there aint any use o that.
Peterson, a brawny wide-bearded Norwegian, came up at this moment and spoke to Rob in a sullen, gruff way
He aint very glad to see me, said Rob, winking at Julia. He aint bilin over with enthusiasm; but I cn stand it, for your sake, he added with amazing assurance; but the girl had turned away, and it was wasted.
At the table he ate heartily of the bean swaagen, which filled a large wooden bowl in the center of the table, and which was ladled into smaller wooden bowls at each plate. Julia had tried hard to convert her mother to Yankee ways, and had at last given it up in despair. Rob kept on safe subjects, mainly asking questions about the crops of Peterson, and when addressing the girl, inquired of the schoolmates. By skillful questioning, he kept the subject of marriage uppermost, and seemingly was getting an inventory of the girls not yet married or engaged.
It was embarrassing for the girl. She was all too well aware of the difference between her home and the home of her schoolmates and friends, She. knew that it was not pleasant for her Yankee friends to come to visit her when they could not feel sure of a welcome from the tireless, silent, and grim-visaged old Norse, if, indeed, they could escape insult. Julia ate her food mechanically, and it could hardly be said that she enjoyed the brisk talk of the young man, his eyes were upon her so constantly and his smile so obviously addressed to her, She rose as soon as possible and, going outside, took a seat on a chair under the trees in the yard. She was not a coarse or dull girl. In fact, she had developed so rapidly by contact with the young people of the neighborhood that she no longer found pleasure, in her own home. She didnt believe in keeping up the old-fashioned Norwegian customs, and her life with her mother was not one to breed love or confidence. She was more like a hired hand. The love of the mother for her Yulyie was sincere though rough and inarticulate, and it was her jealousy of the young Yankees that widened the chasm between the girl and herselfan inevitable result.
Rob followed the girl out into the yard, and threw himself on the grass at her feet, perfectly unconscious of the fact that this attitude was exceedingly graceful and becoming to them both. He did it because he wanted to talk to her, and the grass was cool and easy; there wasnt any other chair, anyway.
Do they keep up the ly-ceum and the sociables same as ever?
Yes. The others go a good eal, but I dont. Were gettin such a stock round us, and father thinks he needs me s much, I dont get out often. Fm gettin sick of it.
I shd think y would, he replied, his eyes on her face,
I cd stand the churnin and housework, but when it comes it comes t workin outdoors in the dirt an hot sun, gettin all sunburned and chapped up, its another thing. An then it seems as if he gets stingier n stingier every year. I aint had a new dress inI d-know-how-long. He says its all nonsense, an Mothers just about as bad. She dont want a new dress, an so she thinks I dont. The girl was feeling the influence of a sympathetic listener and was making up for her long silence. Ive tried t go out t work, but they wont let me. Theyd have t pay a hand twenty dollars a month fr the work I do, an they like cheap help; but Im not goin t stand it much longer, I can tell you that.
Rob thought she was yery handsome as she sat there with her eyes fixed on the horizon, while these rebellious thoughts found utterance in her quivering, passionate voice.
Yulie! Kom heat! roared the old man from the well. A frown of anger and pain came into her face. She looked at Rob. That means more work.
Say! let me go out in your place. Come, now; whats the use
No; it wouldnt do no good. It aint tday s much; its every day, and
Yulie! called Peterson again with a string of impatient
Well, all right, only Id like to
Well, goodbye, she said, with a little touch of feeling. When dye go back?
I dont know. Ill see y again before I go. Goodbye. He stood watching her slow, painful pace till she reached the well, where Otto was standing with the horse. He stood watching them as they moved out into the road and turned down toward the field. He felt that she had sent him away; but still there was a look in her eyes which was not altogether
He gave it up in despair at last. He was not good at analyses of this nature; he was used to plain, blunt expressions. There was a womans subtlety here quite beyond his reach.
He sauntered slowly off up the road after his talk with Julia. His head was low on his breast; he was thinking as one who is about to take a decided and important step.
He stopped at length, and turning, watched the girl moving along in the deeps of the corn. Hardly a leaf was stirring; the untempered sunlight fell in a burning flood upon the field; the grasshoppers rose, snapped, buzzed, and fell; the locust uttered its dry, heat-intensifying cry. The man lifted his head.
Its a d--n shame! he said, beginning rapidly to retrace his steps. He stood leaning on the fence, awaiting the girls coming very much as she had waited his on the round he had made before dinner. He grew impatient at the slow gait of the horse and drummed on their rail while he whistled. Then he took off his hat and dusted it nervously. As the horse got a little nearer he wiped his face carefully, pushed his hat back on his head, and climbed over the fence, where he stood with elbows on the middle rail as the girl and boy and horse came to the end of the furrow.
Hot, aint it? he said as she looked up.
Jimminy Peters, its awful! puffed the boy. The girl did not reply trn she swung the plow about after the horse, and set it upright into the next row. Her powerful body had a superb swaying motion at the waist as she did thisa motion which affected Rob vaguely but massively.
I thought youd gone, she said gravely, pushing hack her bonnet trn he could see her face dewed with sweat and pink as a rose. She had the high cheekbones of her race, but she had also their exquisite fairess of color.
Say, Otto, asked Rob alluringiy, wan to go swimming?
You bet! replied Otto.
Well, Ill go a round if
The boy dropped off the horse, not waiting to hear any more. Rob grinned; but the girl dropped her eyes, then looked away.
Got rid o him mighty quick. Say, Julyie, I hate like thunder t see you out here; it aint right. I wish youdI wish
She could not look at him now, and her bosom rose and fell with a motion that was not due to fatigue. Her moist hair matted around her forehead gave her a boyish look.
Rob nervously tried again, tearing splinters from the fence. Say, now, Ill tell yeh what I came back here fer t git married; and if youre willin, Ill do it tonight. Come, now, whaddy y say?
What ve I got t do bout it? she finally asked, the color flooding her face and a faint smile coming to her lips. Go ahead. I aint got anything
Rob put a splinter in his mouth and faced her. Oh, looky here, now, Julyie! you know what I mean. Ive got a good claim out near Boomtowna rattlin good claim; a shanty on it fourteen by sixteenno tarred paper about it; and a suller to keep butter in; and a hundred acres wheat just about ready to turn now. I need a wife.
Here he straightened up, threw away the splinter, and took off his hat. He was a very pleasant figure as the girl stole a look at him. His black laughing eyes were especially earnest just now. His voice had a touch of pleading. The popple tree over their heads murmured applause at his eloquence, then hushed to listen. A cloud dropped a silent shadow down upon them, and it sent a little thrill of fear through Rob, as if it were an omen of failure. As the girl remained silent, looking away, he began, man-fashion, to desire her more and more as he feared to lose her. He put his hat on the post again and took out his jackknife. Her calico dress draped her supple and powerful figure simply but naturally. The stoop in her shoulders, given by labor, disappeared as she partly leaned upon the fence. The curves of her muscular arms showed through her sleeve.
Its all-fired lonesome fr me out there on that claim, and it aint no picnic fr you here. Now, if youll come out there with me, you neednt do anything but cook fr me, and after harvest we can git a good layout o furniture, an Ill lath and plaster the house, an put a little hell [ell] in the rear. He smiled, and so did she. He felt encouraged to say: An there we be, as snug as y please. Were close t Boomtown, an we can go down there to church sociables an things, and theyre a jolly lot there.
The girl was still silent, but the mans simple enthusiasm came to her charged with passion and a sort of romance such as her hard life had known little of. There was something enticing about this trip to the West.
What li my folks say? she said at last.
A virtual surrender, but Rob was not acute enough to see it. He pressed on eagerly:
I dont care. Do you? Theyll jest keep y plowin corn and milkin cows till the day of judgment. Come, Julyie, I aint got no time to fool away. Ive got t get back t that grain. Its a whoopin old crop, sures yr born, an that means sompin purty scrumptious in furniture this fall. Come, now. He approached her and laid his hand on her shoulder very much as he would have touched Albert Seagraves or any other comrade. Whady y say?
She neither started, nor shrunk, nor looked at him. She simply moved a step away. Theyd never let me ge, she replied bitterly. Im too cheap a hand. I do a mans work an get no pay at all.
Youll have half o all I cn make, he put in.
How long cn you wait? she asked, looking down at her dress.
Just two minutes, he said, pulling out his watch. It aint no use t wait. The old man li be jest as mad a week from now as he is today. why not go now?
Im of age day after tomorrow, she mused, wavering, calculating.
You cn be of age tonight if youll jest call on old Square Hatfield with me.
All right, Rob, the girl said, turning and holding out her hand.
Thats the talk! he exclaimed, seizing it. An now a kiss, to bind the bargain, as the fellah says.
I guess we cn get along without that.
No, we cant. It wont seem like an engagement without it.
It aint goin to seem much like one anyway, she answered with a sudden realization of how far from her dreams of courtship this reality was.
Say, now, Julyie, that aint fair; it aint treatin me right. You dont seem to understand that I like you, but I do.
Rob was carried quite out of himself by the time, the place, and the girl. He had said a very moving thing.
The tears sprang involuntarily to the girls eyes. Do you mean it?
She was trembling with emotion for the first time. The sincerity of the mans voice had gone deep.
He put his arm around her almost timidly and kissed her on the cheek, a great love for her springing up in his heart. That setties it, he said. Dont cry, Jalyie. Youll never be sorry for it. Dont cry. It kind o hurts me to see it.
He didnt understand her feelings. He was only aware that she was crying, and tried in a bungling way to soothe her. But now that she had given way, she sat down in the grass and wept bitterly.
Yulyie! yelled the old Norwegian, like a distant fog-horn.
The girl sprang up; the habit of obedience was strong.
No; you set right there, and Ill go round, he said. Otto!
The boy came scrambling out of the wood half dressed. Rob tossed him upon the horse, snatched Julias sun-bonnet, put his own hat on her head, and moved off down the corn rows, leaving the girl smiling throgh her tears as he whistled and chirped to the horse. Farmer Peterson, seeing the familiar sunbonnet above the corn rows, went back to his work, with a sentence of Norwegian trailing after him like the tail of a kitesomething about lazy girls who didnt earn the crust of their bread, etc.
Rob was wild with delight. Git up there Jack! Hay, you old corncrib! Say, Otto, can you keep your mouth shet if it puts money in your pocket?
Jest try me n see, said the keen-eyed little scamp. Well, you keep quiet about my being here this alter-noon, and Ill put a dollar on yr tonguehay?what?understand?
Show me yr dollar, said the boy, turning about and showing his tongue.
All right. Begin to practice now by not talkin to me.
Rob went over the whole situation on his way back, and when he got in sight of the girl his plan was made. She stood waiting for him with a new look on her face. Her sullenness had given way to a peculiar eagerness and anxiety to believe in him. She was already living that free life in a far-off wonderful country. No more would her stern father and sullen mother force her to tasks which she hated. Shed be a member of a new firm. Shed work, of course, but it would be because she wanted to, and not because she was forced to. The independence and the love promised grew more and more attractive. She laughed back with a softer light in her eyes when she saw the smiling face of Rob looking at her from her sun-bonnet.
Now you mustnt do any more o this, he said. You go back to the house an tell yr mother youre too lame to plow any more today, and its too late, anyhow. To-night! he whispered quickiy. Eleven! Here!
The girls heart leaped with fear. Im afraid.
Not of me, are yeh?
No, Im not afraid of you, Rob.
Im glad o that. II want you toto like me, Julyie; wont you?
Ill try, she answered with a smile.
Tonight, then, he said as she moved away.
He stood and watched her till her tall figure was lost among the drooping corn leaves. There was a singular choking feeling in his throat. The girls voice and face had brought up so many memories of parties and picnics and excursions on far-off holidays, and at the same time such suggestions of the future. He already felt that it was going to be an unconscionably long time before eleven oclock.
He saw her go to the house, and then he turned and walked slowly up the dusty road. Out of the May weed the grasshoppers sprang, buzzing and snapping their dull red wings. Butterflies, yellow and white, fluttered around moist places in the ditch, and slender striped water snakes glided across the stagnant pools at sound o~ footsteps.
But the mind of the man was far away on his claim, building a new house, with a womans advice and presence.
* * * * * *
It was a windless night. The katydids and an occasional cricket were the only sounds Rob could hear as he stood beside his team and strained his ear to listen. At long intervals a little breeze ran through the corn like a swift serpent, bringing to the nostrils the sappy smell of the growing corn. The horses stamped uneasily as the mosquitoes settled on their shining limbs. The sky was full of stars, but there was no moon.
What if she dont come? he thought. Or cant come? I cant stand that. Ill go to the old man an say, Looky here Sh!
He listened again. There was a rustling in the corn. It was not like the fitful movement of the wind; it was steady, slower, and approaching. It ceased. He whistled the wailing, sweet cry of the prairie chicken. Then a figure came out into the roada womanJulia!
He took her in his arms as she came panting up to him.
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