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Among The Corn Rows








From: Main-travelled Roads

I

"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, don't mention it!" entreated Rob, mauling the dough again.
"Come in an' sit down. Why in thunder y' standin' out there for?"

"Oh, I'd rather be where I can see the prairie. Great weather!"

"Im-mense!"

"How goes breaking?"

"Tip-top! A leette dry now; but the bulls pull the plow through two
acres a day. How's 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 thicker'n prairie
chickens. You've got grit, Rob. I don't have anything but crackers
and sardines over to my shanty, and here you are making soda
biscuit."

"I have t' do it. Couldn't break if I didn't. You editors c'n 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
o'clock 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 lark's infrequent whistle, piercingly sweet,
broke from the longer grass m 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-town's 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, couldn't let his
biscuit spoil or go without proper attention.

"Say, ain't 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 you'd been breakin' all day-Come, take
that stool an' draw up."

"No; I'll 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.

"How's that f'r a layout?" Rob inquired proudly.

"Well, you have spread yourself! Biscuit and canned peaches and
sardines and cheese. why, this is-is- prodigal."

"It ain't 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 feller's own vine an' fig
tree"-after Seagraves's compliments-"an' I like it. I'm my own boss.
No man can say 'come here' 'n' 'go there' to me. I get up when I'm a
min' to, an' go t' bed when I'm a min' t'."

"Some drawbacks, I s'pose?"

"Yes. Mice, f'r 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
ain't no use t' swear."

"The rats and the mlce they made such a strife
He had to go to London to buy him a wife,"

quoted Seagraves. "Don't blush. I've probed your secret thought."

"Well, to tell the honest truth," said Rob a little sheepishly, leaning
across the table, "I ain't satisfied with my style o' cookin'. It's good,
but a little too plain, y' know. I'd like a change. It ain't much fun to
break all day and then go to work an' cook y'r own supper."

"No, I should say not."

"This fall I'm going back to Wisconsin. Girls are thick as
huckleberries back there, and I'm goin' t' bring one back, now you
hear me."

"Good! That's the plan," laughed Seagraves, amused at a certain
timid and apprehensive look in his companion's 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!"

Rob's manly and self-reliant nature had the settler's 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 ain't fools clear to the rine. We know a
couple o' things. Now I didn't leave Waupac County f'r fun. Did y'
ever see Wanpac? Well, it's 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 wa'n't no
chance there f'r a feller. Land that was good was so blamed high
you couldn't 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 I'm out here, I'm goin' f make the most of it. An other thing,"
he went on, after a pause-"we fellers work-in' out back there got
more 'n' more like hands, an' less like human beings. Y'know,
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 couldn't stand it. By God!" he said with a sudden im pulse
of rage quite unlike him, "I'd rather live on an ice-berg and claw
crabs f'r 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
else's hard work. I've never had a cent I didn't earn with them
hands." He held them up and broke into a grin. "Beauties, ain't
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 hadn't got a holt on the
people. I like it here-course I'd like the lakes an' meadows of
Waupac better-but I'm my own boss, as I say, an' I'm goin' to stay
my own boss if I haf to live on crackers an' wheat coffee to do it;
that's the kind of a hairpin I am."

In the pause which followed, Seagraves, plunged deep into thought
by Rob's 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.

"I'd 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 didn't know I had any."

"Well, you've 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 name-less 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 f'r 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 you'll see a neat upright goin' up here, with
a porch and a bay winder."

"And you'll 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 f'r 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
Would pity on me take,
And extricate me from the mess I'm in.
The angel-how I'd bless her,
li this her home she'd make,
In my little old sod shanty on the plain!"

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!"

"It's a clean collar!"

"He's started f'r Congress!"

"He's going to get married," put in Seagraves in a tone that brought
conviction.

"What!" screamed Jack Adams, O'Neill, and Wilson in one breath.
"That man?"

"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.

"Where's he going to do it?" asked Jack Adarns. "where's he going
to find a girl?"

"Ask him," said Seagraves.

"I ain't tellin'," put in Rob, with his mouth full of potato.

"You're afraid of our competition."

"That's right; our competition, Jack; not your competition. Come,
now, Rob, tell us where you found her."

"I ain't found her."

"What! And yet you're goin' away t' get married!"

"I'm goin' t' bring a wife back with me ten days fr'm date."

"I see his scheme," put in Jim Rivers. "He's goin' back East
somewhere, an' he's goin' to propose to every girl he meets."

"Hold on!" interrupted Rob, holding up his fork. "Ain't quite right.
Every good-lookin' girl I meet."

"Well, I'll be blanked!" exclaimed Jack impatientiy; "that simply
lets me out. Any man with such a cheek ought to-"

"Succeed," interrupted Seagraves.

"That's what I say," bawled Hank whiting, the proprietor of the
house. "You fellers ain't got any enterprise to yeh. Why don't you
go to work an' help settle the country like men? 'Cause y' ain't got
no sand. Girls are thicker'n huckleberries back East. I say it's 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,
The shadowed livery of the burning sun."

"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 tonight-night
train."

"And return?"

"Ten days from date."

"I'll wager a wedding supper he brings a blonde," said Wilson in
his clean-cut, languid speech.

"Oh, come now, Wilson; that's too thin! We all know that rule
about dark marryin' light."

"I'll wager she'll be tall," continued Wilson. "I'll wager you, friend
Rodemaker, she'll be blonde and tall."

The rest roared at Rob's 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. "Rob's 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 man's 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."

"It's the heat."

"And the Boston beans."

"Let up on him, Wilson. Don't 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 him-soo-o-o-o-the him!" said Wilson. "Don't 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 man's
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:

"We're lookin' rather seedy now,
While holdin' down our claims,
And our vittles are not always of the best,
And the mice play slyly round us
As we lay down to sleep
In our little old tarred shanties on the claim.

"Yet we rather like the novelty
Of livin' in this way,
Though the bill of fare is often rather tame;
An' we're happy as a clam
On the land of Uncle Sam
In our little old tarred shanty on the claim."

The train drew up at length, to the immense relief of Rob, whose
stoical resiguation was beginning to weaken.

"Don't 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 eyes-an action which confirmed his tormentors'
words and made several ladies click their tongues in
sympathy-"Tick! tick! poor fellow!"

"All abo-o-o-a-rd!' said the conductor, grinning his appreciation at
the crowd, and the train was off.

"Oh, won't we make him groan when he gets back!" said Barney,
the young lawyer who sang the shouting tenor.

"We'll meet him with the timbrel and the harp. Anybody want to
wager? I've got two to one on a short brunette," said Wilson.

II

"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 woman's
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
father-a big, gruff-voiced, wide-bearded Norwegian-at 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 horse's 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 river-a 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, I'm goin' in! Come, can't I? Come-say!" he pleaded as
they stopped at the fence to let the horse breathe.

"I've let you go wade twice."

"But that don't do any good. My legs is all smarty, 'cause ol' Jack
sweats so." The boy turned around on the horse's back and slid
back to his rump. "I can't stand it!" he burst out, sliding off and
darting under the fence. "Father can't 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 stockings-how 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
didn't ask their wives to work in the field. He would have a home.
Perhaps he'd live in town-perhaps a merchant! And then she
thought of the drug clerk in Rock River who had looked at her- A
voice broke in on her dream, a fresh, manly voice.

"Well, by jinks! if it ain't 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.

"Ain't ye goin' to shake hands? Y' don't seem very glad t' see me."

She began to grow angry. "If you had any eyes you'd see!"

Rob looked over the edge of the bank, whistled, turned away. "Oh,
I see! Excuse me! Don't blame yeh a bit, though. Good weather f'r
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? H'yare y' little scamp! Get onto that horse agin.
Quick, 'r I'll take y'r skin off an, hang it on the fence. what y' been
doing?"

"Ben in swimmm'. Jimminy, ain't 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 s'pose the ol' man makes
her plow same as usual?"

"Yup," said Otto.

"Dod ding a man that'll do that! I don't mind if it's necessary, but it
ain't necessary m 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 horse's mouth. "Gettin'
purty near of age. Say, who's sparkin' Julia now-anybody?"

"Nobody 'cept some ol' Norwegians. She won't have them. Por
wants her to, but she won't."

"Good f'r 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 man's 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 wasn't 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 clouds -aerial 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 horse's head. Would she ask him to dinner?
what would her people say?

"Phew! it's 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 ain't 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 horse's back, in act to climb on, when Rob said:

"H'yare, 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 don't raise much corn out there, an' so I kind o' like to see it
once more."

"I wish I didn't have to see another hill of corn as long as I live!"
replied the girl bitterly.

"Don't know as I blame yeh a bit. But, all the same, I'm 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 didn't 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 c'n 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 I'll 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 c'n 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 thing-she 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.

"You're purty well used up, eh?" he said to her.

"Yes; it's awful hot out there."

"Can't you lay off this afternoon? It ain't right"

"No. He won't listen to that."

"Well, let me take your place."

"No; there ain't 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 ain't very glad to see me," said Rob, winking at Julia. "He ain't
b'ilin' over with enthusiasm; but I c'n 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 it comes t' workin' outdoors in the dirt an' hot sun, gettin' all
sunburned and chapped up, it's another thing. An' then it seems as
if he gets stingier 'n' stingier every year. I ain't had a new dress in-I
d'-know-how-long. He says it's all nonsense, an' Mother's just about
as bad. She don't want a new dress, an' so she thinks I don't." The
girl was feeling the influence of a sympathetic listener and was
making up for her long silence. "I've tried t' go out t' work, but they
won't let me. They'd have t' pay a hand twenty dollars a month f'r
the work I do, an' they like cheap help; but I'm 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; what's the use-"

"No; it wouldn't do no good. It ain't t'day s' much; it's every day,
and-"

"Yulie!" called Peterson again with a string of impatient
Norwegian.

"Well, all right, only I'd like to"

"Well, goodbye," she said, with a little touch of feeling. "When
d'ye go back?"

"I don't know. I'll 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
woman's 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-intensifving cry. The man lifted his head.

"It's a d-n shame!" he said, beginning rapidly to retrace his steps.
He stood leaning on the fence, awaiting the girl's 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, ain't it?" he said as she looked up.

"Jimminy Peters, it's 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 this-a motion which affected Rob vaguely but
massively.

"I thought you'd 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, I'll 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 ain't right. I wish you'd -I 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, I'll tell yeh what I came back here fer -t' git married; and if
you're willin', I'll 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 ain't got
anything-"

Rob put a splinter in his mouth and faced her. "Oh, looky here,
now, Julyie! you know what I mean. I've got a good claim out near
Boomtown-a rattlin' good claim; a shanty on it fourteen by
sixteen-no 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.

"It's all-fired lonesome fr me out there on that claim, and it ain't no
picnic f'r you here. Now, if you'll come out there with me, you
needn't do anything but cook f'r me, and after harvest we can git a
good layout o' furniture, an' I'll 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. We're
close t' Boomtown, an' we can go down there to church sociables
an' things, and they're a jolly lot there."

The girl was still silent, but the man's 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 don't care. Do you? They'll jest keep y' plowin' corn and milkin'
cows till the day of judgment. Come, Julyie, I ain't got no time to
fool away. I've got t' get back t' that grain. It's a whoopin' old crop,
sure's y'r born, an' that means som'pin' 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. "They'd never let me ge," she replied bitterly.
"I'm too cheap a hand. I do a man's work an' get no pay at all."

"You'll have half o' all I c'n make," he put in.

"How long c'n you wait?" she asked, looking down at her dress.

"Just two minutes," he said, pulling out his watch. "It ain't no use t'
wait. The old man 'li be jest as mad a week from now as he is
today. why not go now?"

"I'm of age day after tomorrow," she mused, wavering, calculating.

"You c'n be of age tonight if you'll jest call on old Square Hatfield
with me."

"All right, Rob," the girl said, turning and holding out her hand.

"That's the talk!" he exclaimed, seizing it. "An' now a kiss, to bind
the bargain, as the fellah says."

"I guess we c'n get along without that."

"No, we can't. It won't seem like an engagement without it."

"It ain't 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 ain't fair; it ain't treatin' me right. You don't
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 girl's eyes. "Do you mean it?
If y' do, you may."

She was trembling with emotion for the first time. The sincerity of
the man's 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. "Don't cry, Jalyie. You'll never be sorry for it. Don't
cry. It kind o' hurts me to see it."

He didn't 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 I'll go round," he said. "Otto!"

The boy came scrambling out of the wood half dressed. Rob tossed
him upon the horse, snatched Julia's 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 kite-something about lazy girls who
didn't 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 I'll put a dollar
on y'r tongue-hay?-what? -understand?"

"Show me y'r 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. She'd be a member of a new firm. She'd 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 mustn't do any more o' this," he said. "You go back to
the house an' tell y'r mother you're too lame to plow any more
today, and it's too late, anyhow. To-night!" he whispered quickiy.
"Eleven! Here!"

The girl's heart leaped with fear. "I'm afraid."

"Not of me, are yeh?"

"No, I'm not afraid of you, Rob."

"I'm glad o' that. I-I want you to-to like me, Julyie; won't you?"

"I'll try," she answered with a smile.

"Tonight, then," he said as she moved away.

"Tonight. Goodbye."

"Goodbye."

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 girl's 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
o'clock.

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 woman's 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 don't come?" he thought. "Or can't come? I can't stand
that. I'll 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 road-a woman-
Julia!

He took her in his arms as she came panting up to him.

"Rob!"

"Julyie!"

* * * * * *

A few words, the dull tread of swift horses, the rising of a silent
train of dust, and then the wind wandered in the growing corn. The
dust fell, a dog barked down the road and the katydids sang to the
liquid contralto of the river in its shallows.





Next: The Return Of A Private

Previous: Up The Coulee



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