Infomotions, Inc.O Pioneers! / Cather, Willa Sibert, 1873-1947



Author: Cather, Willa Sibert, 1873-1947
Title: O Pioneers!
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): alexandra; emil; ivar; carl; lou; oscar; marie; frank; carl linstrum
Contributor(s): Storr, Francis, 1839-1919 [Translator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 57,602 words (short) Grade range: 6-8 (grade school) Readability score: 74 (easy)
Identifier: etext24
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Title: O Pioneers!

Author: Willa Cather

Official Release Date: Junuary, 1992 [Etext #24]
[The actual date this file first posted = 04/27/01]

Edition: 12

Language: English

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Version 12 was corrected by Martin Robb (MartinRobb@ieee.org)





O Pioneers!

by Willa Cather


PART I

The Wild Land




I


One January day, thirty years ago, the little town of Hanover,
anchored on a windy Nebraska tableland, was trying not to be blown
away.  A mist of fine snowflakes was curling and eddying about the
cluster of low drab buildings huddled on the gray prairie, under
a gray sky.  The dwelling-houses were set about haphazard on the
tough prairie sod; some of them looked as if they had been moved in
overnight, and others as if they were straying off by themselves,
headed straight for the open plain.  None of them had any appearance
of permanence, and the howling wind blew under them as well as over
them.  The main street was a deeply rutted road, now frozen hard,
which ran from the squat red railway station and the grain "elevator"
at the north end of the town to the lumber yard and the horse pond
at the south end.  On either side of this road straggled two uneven
rows of wooden buildings; the general merchandise stores, the two
banks, the drug store, the feed store, the saloon, the post-office.
The board sidewalks were gray with trampled snow, but at two o'clock
in the afternoon the shopkeepers, having come back from dinner,
were keeping well behind their frosty windows.  The children were
all in school, and there was nobody abroad in the streets but a
few rough-looking countrymen in coarse overcoats, with their long
caps pulled down to their noses.  Some of them had brought their
wives to town, and now and then a red or a plaid shawl flashed out
of one store into the shelter of another.  At the hitch-bars along
the street a few heavy work-horses, harnessed to farm wagons,
shivered under their blankets.  About the station everything was
quiet, for there would not be another train in until night.

On the sidewalk in front of one of the stores sat a little Swede
boy, crying bitterly.  He was about five years old.  His black cloth
coat was much too big for him and made him look like a little old
man.  His shrunken brown flannel dress had been washed many times
and left a long stretch of stocking between the hem of his skirt
and the tops of his clumsy, copper-toed shoes.  His cap was pulled
down over his ears; his nose and his chubby cheeks were chapped and
red with cold.  He cried quietly, and the few people who hurried
by did not notice him.  He was afraid to stop any one, afraid to
go into the store and ask for help, so he sat wringing his long
sleeves and looking up a telegraph pole beside him, whimpering, "My
kitten, oh, my kitten!  Her will fweeze!"  At the top of the pole
crouched a shivering gray kitten, mewing faintly and clinging
desperately to the wood with her claws.  The boy had been left
at the store while his sister went to the doctor's office, and in
her absence a dog had chased his kitten up the pole.  The little
creature had never been so high before, and she was too frightened
to move.  Her master was sunk in despair.  He was a little country
boy, and this village was to him a very strange and perplexing
place, where people wore fine clothes and had hard hearts.  He
always felt shy and awkward here, and wanted to hide behind things
for fear some one might laugh at him.  Just now, he was too unhappy
to care who laughed.  At last he seemed to see a ray of hope: his
sister was coming, and he got up and ran toward her in his heavy
shoes.

His sister was a tall, strong girl, and she walked rapidly and
resolutely, as if she knew exactly where she was going and what she
was going to do next.  She wore a man's long ulster (not as if it
were an affliction, but as if it were very comfortable and belonged
to her; carried it like a young soldier), and a round plush cap,
tied down with a thick veil.  She had a serious, thoughtful face,
and her clear, deep blue eyes were fixed intently on the distance,
without seeming to see anything, as if she were in trouble.  She
did not notice the little boy until he pulled her by the coat.
Then she stopped short and stooped down to wipe his wet face.

"Why, Emil!  I told you to stay in the store and not to come out.
What is the matter with you?"

"My kitten, sister, my kitten!  A man put her out, and a dog chased
her up there."  His forefinger, projecting from the sleeve of his
coat, pointed up to the wretched little creature on the pole.

"Oh, Emil!  Didn't I tell you she'd get us into trouble of some
kind, if you brought her?  What made you tease me so?  But there,
I ought to have known better myself."  She went to the foot of the
pole and held out her arms, crying, "Kitty, kitty, kitty," but the
kitten only mewed and faintly waved its tail.  Alexandra turned
away decidedly.  "No, she won't come down.  Somebody will have to
go up after her.  I saw the Linstrums' wagon in town.  I'll go and
see if I can find Carl.  Maybe he can do something.  Only you must
stop crying, or I won't go a step.  Where's your comforter?  Did
you leave it in the store?  Never mind.  Hold still, till I put
this on you."

She unwound the brown veil from her head and tied it about his
throat.  A shabby little traveling man, who was just then coming out
of the store on his way to the saloon, stopped and gazed stupidly
at the shining mass of hair she bared when she took off her veil;
two thick braids, pinned about her head in the German way, with a
fringe of reddish-yellow curls blowing out from under her cap.  He
took his cigar out of his mouth and held the wet end between the
fingers of his woolen glove.  "My God, girl, what a head of hair!"
he exclaimed, quite innocently and foolishly.  She stabbed him with
a glance of Amazonian fierceness and drew in her lower lip--most
unnecessary severity.  It gave the little clothing drummer such a
start that he actually let his cigar fall to the sidewalk and went
off weakly in the teeth of the wind to the saloon.  His hand was
still unsteady when he took his glass from the bartender.  His
feeble flirtatious instincts had been crushed before, but never
so mercilessly.  He felt cheap and ill-used, as if some one had
taken advantage of him.  When a drummer had been knocking about in
little drab towns and crawling across the wintry country in dirty
smokingcars, was he to be blamed if, when he chanced upon a fine
human creature, he suddenly wished himself more of a man?

While the little drummer was drinking to recover his nerve, Alexandra
hurried to the drug store as the most likely place to find Carl
Linstrum.  There he was, turning over a portfolio of chromo "studies"
which the druggist sold to the Hanover women who did chinapainting.
Alexandra explained her predicament, and the boy followed her to
the corner, where Emil still sat by the pole.

"I'll have to go up after her, Alexandra.  I think at the depot
they have some spikes I can strap on my feet.  Wait a minute."  Carl
thrust his hands into his pockets, lowered his head, and darted up
the street against the north wind.  He was a tall boy of fifteen,
slight and narrow-chested.  When he came back with the spikes,
Alexandra asked him what he had done with his overcoat.

"I left it in the drug store.  I couldn't climb in it, anyhow.
Catch me if I fall, Emil," he called back as he began his ascent.
Alexandra watched him anxiously; the cold was bitter enough on the
ground.  The kitten would not budge an inch.  Carl had to go to
the very top of the pole, and then had some difficulty in tearing
her from her hold.  When he reached the ground, he handed the cat
to her tearful little master.  "Now go into the store with her,
Emil, and get warm."  He opened the door for the child.  "Wait a
minute, Alexandra.  Why can't I drive for you as far as our place?
It's getting colder every minute.  Have you seen the doctor?"

"Yes.  He is coming over to-morrow.  But he says father can't
get better; can't get well."  The girl's lip trembled.  She looked
fixedly up the bleak street as if she were gathering her strength
to face something, as if she were trying with all her might to
grasp a situation which, no matter how painful, must be met and
dealt with somehow.  The wind flapped the skirts of her heavy coat
about her.

Carl did not say anything, but she felt his sympathy.  He, too, was
lonely.  He was a thin, frail boy, with brooding dark eyes, very
quiet in all his movements.  There was a delicate pallor in his thin
face, and his mouth was too sensitive for a boy's.  The lips had
already a little curl of bitterness and skepticism.  The two friends
stood for a few moments on the windy street corner, not speaking
a word, as two travelers, who have lost their way, sometimes stand
and admit their perplexity in silence.  When Carl turned away he
said, "I'll see to your team."  Alexandra went into the store to
have her purchases packed in the egg-boxes, and to get warm before
she set out on her long cold drive.

When she looked for Emil, she found him sitting on a step of the
staircase that led up to the clothing and carpet department.  He
was playing with a little Bohemian girl, Marie Tovesky, who was
tying her handkerchief over the kitten's head for a bonnet.  Marie
was a stranger in the country, having come from Omaha with her mother
to visit her uncle, Joe Tovesky.  She was a dark child, with brown
curly hair, like a brunette doll's, a coaxing little red mouth, and
round, yellow-brown eyes.  Every one noticed her eyes; the brown
iris had golden glints that made them look like gold-stone, or, in
softer lights, like that Colorado mineral called tiger-eye.

The country children thereabouts wore their dresses to their
shoe-tops, but this city child was dressed in what was then called
the "Kate Greenaway" manner, and her red cashmere frock, gathered
full from the yoke, came almost to the floor.  This, with her
poke bonnet, gave her the look of a quaint little woman.  She had
a white fur tippet about her neck and made no fussy objections when
Emil fingered it admiringly.  Alexandra had not the heart to take
him away from so pretty a playfellow, and she let them tease the
kitten together until Joe Tovesky came in noisily and picked up
his little niece, setting her on his shoulder for every one to see.
His children were all boys, and he adored this little creature.
His cronies formed a circle about him, admiring and teasing the
little girl, who took their jokes with great good nature.  They
were all delighted with her, for they seldom saw so pretty and
carefully nurtured a child.  They told her that she must choose
one of them for a sweetheart, and each began pressing his suit and
offering her bribes; candy, and little pigs, and spotted calves.
She looked archly into the big, brown, mustached faces, smelling
of spirits and tobacco, then she ran her tiny forefinger delicately
over Joe's bristly chin and said, "Here is my sweetheart."

The Bohemians roared with laughter, and Marie's uncle hugged her
until she cried, "Please don't, Uncle Joe!  You hurt me."  Each
of Joe's friends gave her a bag of candy, and she kissed them all
around, though she did not like country candy very well.  Perhaps
that was why she bethought herself of Emil.  "Let me down, Uncle
Joe," she said, "I want to give some of my candy to that nice little
boy I found."  She walked graciously over to Emil, followed by her
lusty admirers, who formed a new circle and teased the little boy
until he hid his face in his sister's skirts, and she had to scold
him for being such a baby.

The farm people were making preparations to start for home.  The
women were checking over their groceries and pinning their big red
shawls about their heads.  The men were buying tobacco and candy
with what money they had left, were showing each other new boots and
gloves and blue flannel shirts.  Three big Bohemians were drinking
raw alcohol, tinctured with oil of cinnamon.  This was said to
fortify one effectually against the cold, and they smacked their
lips after each pull at the flask.  Their volubility drowned every
other noise in the place, and the overheated store sounded of
their spirited language as it reeked of pipe smoke, damp woolens,
and kerosene.

Carl came in, wearing his overcoat and carrying a wooden box with
a brass handle.  "Come," he said, "I've fed and watered your team,
and the wagon is ready."  He carried Emil out and tucked him down
in the straw in the wagonbox.  The heat had made the little boy
sleepy, but he still clung to his kitten.

"You were awful good to climb so high and get my kitten, Carl.
When I get big I'll climb and get little boys' kittens for them,"
he murmured drowsily.  Before the horses were over the first hill,
Emil and his cat were both fast asleep.

Although it was only four o'clock, the winter day was fading.  The
road led southwest, toward the streak of pale, watery light that
glimmered in the leaden sky.  The light fell upon the two sad young
faces that were turned mutely toward it: upon the eyes of the girl,
who seemed to be looking with such anguished perplexity into the
future; upon the sombre eyes of the boy, who seemed already to be
looking into the past.  The little town behind them had vanished as
if it had never been, had fallen behind the swell of the prairie,
and the stern frozen country received them into its bosom.  The
homesteads were few and far apart; here and there a windmill gaunt
against the sky, a sod house crouching in a hollow.  But the great
fact was the land itself, which seemed to overwhelm the little
beginnings of human society that struggled in its sombre wastes.
It was from facing this vast hardness that the boy's mouth had
become so bitter; because he felt that men were too weak to make
any mark here, that the land wanted to be let alone, to preserve
its own fierce strength, its peculiar, savage kind of beauty, its
uninterrupted mournfulness.

The wagon jolted along over the frozen road.  The two friends had
less to say to each other than usual, as if the cold had somehow
penetrated to their hearts.

"Did Lou and Oscar go to the Blue to cut wood to-day?" Carl asked.

"Yes.  I'm almost sorry I let them go, it's turned so cold.  But
mother frets if the wood gets low."  She stopped and put her hand
to her forehead, brushing back her hair.  "I don't know what is to
become of us, Carl, if father has to die.  I don't dare to think
about it.  I wish we could all go with him and let the grass grow
back over everything."

Carl made no reply.  Just ahead of them was the Norwegian graveyard,
where the grass had, indeed, grown back over everything, shaggy and
red, hiding even the wire fence.  Carl realized that he was not a
very helpful companion, but there was nothing he could say.

"Of course," Alexandra went on, steadying her voice a little, "the
boys are strong and work hard, but we've always depended so on
father that I don't see how we can go ahead.  I almost feel as if
there were nothing to go ahead for."

"Does your father know?"

"Yes, I think he does.  He lies and counts on his fingers all day.
I think he is trying to count up what he is leaving for us.  It's
a comfort to him that my chickens are laying right on through the
cold weather and bringing in a little money.  I wish we could keep
his mind off such things, but I don't have much time to be with
him now."

"I wonder if he'd like to have me bring my magic lantern over some
evening?"

Alexandra turned her face toward him.  "Oh, Carl!  Have you got
it?"

"Yes.  It's back there in the straw.  Didn't you notice the box
I was carrying?  I tried it all morning in the drug-store cellar,
and it worked ever so well, makes fine big pictures."

"What are they about?"

"Oh, hunting pictures in Germany, and Robinson Crusoe and funny
pictures about cannibals.  I'm going to paint some slides for it
on glass, out of the Hans Andersen book."

Alexandra seemed actually cheered.  There is often a good deal of
the child left in people who have had to grow up too soon.  "Do
bring it over, Carl.  I can hardly wait to see it, and I'm sure it
will please father.  Are the pictures colored?  Then I know he'll
like them.  He likes the calendars I get him in town.  I wish I
could get more.  You must leave me here, mustn't you?  It's been
nice to have company."

Carl stopped the horses and looked dubiously up at the black sky.
"It's pretty dark.  Of course the horses will take you home, but
I think I'd better light your lantern, in case you should need it."

He gave her the reins and climbed back into the wagon-box, where
he crouched down and made a tent of his overcoat.  After a dozen
trials he succeeded in lighting the lantern, which he placed in
front of Alexandra, half covering it with a blanket so that the
light would not shine in her eyes.  "Now, wait until I find my box.
Yes, here it is.  Good-night, Alexandra.  Try not to worry."  Carl
sprang to the ground and ran off across the fields toward the Linstrum
homestead.  "Hoo, hoo-o-o-o!" he called back as he disappeared over
a ridge and dropped into a sand gully.  The wind answered him like
an echo, "Hoo, hoo-o-o-o-o-o!"  Alexandra drove off alone.  The
rattle of her wagon was lost in the howling of the wind, but her
lantern, held firmly between her feet, made a moving point of light
along the highway, going deeper and deeper into the dark country.



II


On one of the ridges of that wintry waste stood the low log house
in which John Bergson was dying.  The Bergson homestead was easier
to find than many another, because it overlooked Norway Creek, a
shallow, muddy stream that sometimes flowed, and sometimes stood
still, at the bottom of a winding ravine with steep, shelving sides
overgrown with brush and cottonwoods and dwarf ash.  This creek
gave a sort of identity to the farms that bordered upon it.  Of all
the bewildering things about a new country, the absence of human
landmarks is one of the most depressing and disheartening.  The
houses on the Divide were small and were usually tucked away
in low places; you did not see them until you came directly upon
them.  Most of them were built of the sod itself, and were only
the unescapable ground in another form.  The roads were but faint
tracks in the grass, and the fields were scarcely noticeable.  The
record of the plow was insignificant, like the feeble scratches on
stone left by prehistoric races, so indeterminate that they may,
after all, be only the markings of glaciers, and not a record of
human strivings.

In eleven long years John Bergson had made but little impression
upon the wild land he had come to tame.  It was still a wild thing
that had its ugly moods; and no one knew when they were likely to
come, or why.  Mischance hung over it.  Its Genius was unfriendly
to man.  The sick man was feeling this as he lay looking out of
the window, after the doctor had left him, on the day following
Alexandra's trip to town.  There it lay outside his door, the same
land, the same lead-colored miles.  He knew every ridge and draw
and gully between him and the horizon.  To the south, his plowed
fields; to the east, the sod stables, the cattle corral, the
pond,--and then the grass.

Bergson went over in his mind the things that had held him back.
One winter his cattle had perished in a blizzard.  The next summer
one of his plow horses broke its leg in a prairiedog hole and had
to be shot.  Another summer he lost his hogs from cholera, and
a valuable stallion died from a rattlesnake bite.  Time and again
his crops had failed.  He had lost two children, boys, that came
between Lou and Emil, and there had been the cost of sickness and
death.  Now, when he had at last struggled out of debt, he was
going to die himself.  He was only forty-six, and had, of course,
counted upon more time.

Bergson had spent his first five years on the Divide getting into
debt, and the last six getting out.  He had paid off his mortgages
and had ended pretty much where he began, with the land.  He owned
exactly six hundred and forty acres of what stretched outside his
door; his own original homestead and timber claim, making three
hundred and twenty acres, and the half-section adjoining, the
homestead of a younger brother who had given up the fight, gone
back to Chicago to work in a fancy bakery and distinguish himself
in a Swedish athletic club.  So far John had not attempted to
cultivate the second half-section, but used it for pasture land,
and one of his sons rode herd there in open weather.

John Bergson had the Old-World belief that land, in itself, is
desirable.  But this land was an enigma.  It was like a horse that
no one knows how to break to harness, that runs wild and kicks
things to pieces.  He had an idea that no one understood how to
farm it properly, and this he often discussed with Alexandra.  Their
neighbors, certainly, knew even less about farming than he did.
Many of them had never worked on a farm until they took up their
homesteads.  They had been HANDWERKERS at home; tailors, locksmiths,
joiners, cigar-makers, etc.  Bergson himself had worked in a
shipyard.

For weeks, John Bergson had been thinking about these things.  His
bed stood in the sitting-room, next to the kitchen.  Through the
day, while the baking and washing and ironing were going on, the
father lay and looked up at the roof beams that he himself had
hewn, or out at the cattle in the corral.  He counted the cattle
over and over.  It diverted him to speculate as to how much weight
each of the steers would probably put on by spring.  He often called
his daughter in to talk to her about this.  Before Alexandra was
twelve years old she had begun to be a help to him, and as she grew
older he had come to depend more and more upon her resourcefulness
and good judgment.  His boys were willing enough to work, but when
he talked with them they usually irritated him.  It was Alexandra
who read the papers and followed the markets, and who learned by
the mistakes of their neighbors.  It was Alexandra who could always
tell about what it had cost to fatten each steer, and who could
guess the weight of a hog before it went on the scales closer than
John Bergson himself.  Lou and Oscar were industrious, but he could
never teach them to use their heads about their work.

Alexandra, her father often said to himself, was like her
grandfather; which was his way of saying that she was intelligent.
John Bergson's father had been a shipbuilder, a man of considerable
force and of some fortune.  Late in life he married a second time,
a Stockholm woman of questionable character, much younger than he,
who goaded him into every sort of extravagance.  On the shipbuilder's
part, this marriage was an infatuation, the despairing folly of
a powerful man who cannot bear to grow old.  In a few years his
unprincipled wife warped the probity of a lifetime.  He speculated,
lost his own fortune and funds entrusted to him by poor seafaring
men, and died disgraced, leaving his children nothing.  But when all
was said, he had come up from the sea himself, had built up a proud
little business with no capital but his own skill and foresight, and
had proved himself a man.  In his daughter, John Bergson recognized
the strength of will, and the simple direct way of thinking things
out, that had characterized his father in his better days.  He
would much rather, of course, have seen this likeness in one of
his sons, but it was not a question of choice.  As he lay there
day after day he had to accept the situation as it was, and to be
thankful that there was one among his children to whom he could
entrust the future of his family and the possibilities of his
hard-won land.

The winter twilight was fading.  The sick man heard his wife strike
a match in the kitchen, and the light of a lamp glimmered through
the cracks of the door.  It seemed like a light shining far away.
He turned painfully in his bed and looked at his white hands, with
all the work gone out of them.  He was ready to give up, he felt.
He did not know how it had come about, but he was quite willing to
go deep under his fields and rest, where the plow could not find
him.  He was tired of making mistakes.  He was content to leave the
tangle to other hands; he thought of his Alexandra's strong ones.

"DOTTER," he called feebly, "DOTTER!"  He heard her quick step and
saw her tall figure appear in the doorway, with the light of the
lamp behind her.  He felt her youth and strength, how easily she
moved and stooped and lifted.  But he would not have had it again
if he could, not he!  He knew the end too well to wish to begin
again.  He knew where it all went to, what it all became.

His daughter came and lifted him up on his pillows.  She called
him by an old Swedish name that she used to call him when she was
little and took his dinner to him in the shipyard.

"Tell the boys to come here, daughter.  I want to speak to them."

"They are feeding the horses, father.  They have just come back
from the Blue.  Shall I call them?"

He sighed.  "No, no.  Wait until they come in.  Alexandra, you will
have to do the best you can for your brothers.  Everything will
come on you."

"I will do all I can, father."

"Don't let them get discouraged and go off like Uncle Otto.  I want
them to keep the land."

"We will, father.  We will never lose the land."

There was a sound of heavy feet in the kitchen.  Alexandra went
to the door and beckoned to her brothers, two strapping boys of
seventeen and nineteen.  They came in and stood at the foot of the
bed.  Their father looked at them searchingly, though it was too
dark to see their faces; they were just the same boys, he told
himself, he had not been mistaken in them.  The square head and
heavy shoulders belonged to Oscar, the elder.  The younger boy was
quicker, but vacillating.

"Boys," said the father wearily, "I want you to keep the land
together and to be guided by your sister.  I have talked to her
since I have been sick, and she knows all my wishes.  I want no
quarrels among my children, and so long as there is one house there
must be one head.  Alexandra is the oldest, and she knows my wishes.
She will do the best she can.  If she makes mistakes, she will not
make so many as I have made.  When you marry, and want a house of
your own, the land will be divided fairly, according to the courts.
But for the next few years you will have it hard, and you must all
keep together.  Alexandra will manage the best she can."

Oscar, who was usually the last to speak, replied because he
was the older, "Yes, father.  It would be so anyway, without your
speaking.  We will all work the place together."

"And you will be guided by your sister, boys, and be good brothers
to her, and good sons to your mother?  That is good.  And Alexandra
must not work in the fields any more.  There is no necessity now.
Hire a man when you need help.  She can make much more with her
eggs and butter than the wages of a man.  It was one of my mistakes
that I did not find that out sooner.  Try to break a little more
land every year; sod corn is good for fodder.  Keep turning the
land, and always put up more hay than you need.  Don't grudge your
mother a little time for plowing her garden and setting out fruit
trees, even if it comes in a busy season.  She has been a good
mother to you, and she has always missed the old country."

When they went back to the kitchen the boys sat down silently at
the table.  Throughout the meal they looked down at their plates
and did not lift their red eyes.  They did not eat much, although
they had been working in the cold all day, and there was a rabbit
stewed in gravy for supper, and prune pies.

John Bergson had married beneath him, but he had married a good
housewife.  Mrs. Bergson was a fair-skinned, corpulent woman, heavy
and placid like her son, Oscar, but there was something comfortable
about her; perhaps it was her own love of comfort.  For eleven years
she had worthily striven to maintain some semblance of household
order amid conditions that made order very difficult.  Habit
was very strong with Mrs. Bergson, and her unremitting efforts to
repeat the routine of her old life among new surroundings had done
a great deal to keep the family from disintegrating morally and
getting careless in their ways.  The Bergsons had a log house, for
instance, only because Mrs.  Bergson would not live in a sod house.
She missed the fish diet of her own country, and twice every summer
she sent the boys to the river, twenty miles to the southward, to
fish for channel cat.  When the children were little she used to
load them all into the wagon, the baby in its crib, and go fishing
herself.

Alexandra often said that if her mother were cast upon a desert
island, she would thank God for her deliverance, make a garden,
and find something to preserve.  Preserving was almost a mania with
Mrs. Bergson.  Stout as she was, she roamed the scrubby banks of
Norway Creek looking for fox grapes and goose plums, like a wild
creature in search of prey.  She made a yellow jam of the insipid
ground-cherries that grew on the prairie, flavoring it with lemon
peel; and she made a sticky dark conserve of garden tomatoes.  She
had experimented even with the rank buffalo-pea, and she could
not see a fine bronze cluster of them without shaking her head and
murmuring, "What a pity!"  When there was nothing more to preserve,
she began to pickle.  The amount of sugar she used in these processes
was sometimes a serious drain upon the family resources.  She was
a good mother, but she was glad when her children were old enough
not to be in her way in the kitchen.  She had never quite forgiven
John Bergson for bringing her to the end of the earth; but, now
that she was there, she wanted to be let alone to reconstruct her
old life in so far as that was possible.  She could still take some
comfort in the world if she had bacon in the cave, glass jars on
the shelves, and sheets in the press.  She disapproved of all her
neighbors because of their slovenly housekeeping, and the women
thought her very proud.  Once when Mrs. Bergson, on her way to
Norway Creek, stopped to see old Mrs. Lee, the old woman hid in
the haymow "for fear Mis' Bergson would catch her barefoot."



III


One Sunday afternoon in July, six months after John Bergson's death,
Carl was sitting in the doorway of the Linstrum kitchen, dreaming
over an illustrated paper, when he heard the rattle of a wagon along
the hill road.  Looking up he recognized the Bergsons' team, with
two seats in the wagon, which meant they were off for a pleasure
excursion.  Oscar and Lou, on the front seat, wore their cloth hats
and coats, never worn except on Sundays, and Emil, on the second
seat with Alexandra, sat proudly in his new trousers, made from a
pair of his father's, and a pink-striped shirt, with a wide ruffled
collar.  Oscar stopped the horses and waved to Carl, who caught up
his hat and ran through the melon patch to join them.

"Want to go with us?" Lou called.  "We're going to Crazy Ivar's to
buy a hammock."

"Sure."  Carl ran up panting, and clambering over the wheel sat
down beside Emil.  "I've always wanted to see Ivar's pond.  They
say it's the biggest in all the country.  Aren't you afraid to go
to Ivar's in that new shirt, Emil?  He might want it and take it
right off your back."

Emil grinned.  "I'd be awful scared to go," he admitted, "if you
big boys weren't along to take care of me.  Did you ever hear him
howl, Carl?  People say sometimes he runs about the country howling
at night because he is afraid the Lord will destroy him.  Mother
thinks he must have done something awful wicked."

Lou looked back and winked at Carl.  "What would you do, Emil, if
you was out on the prairie by yourself and seen him coming?"

Emil stared.  "Maybe I could hide in a badger-hole," he suggested
doubtfully.

"But suppose there wasn't any badger-hole," Lou persisted.  "Would
you run?"

"No, I'd be too scared to run," Emil admitted mournfully, twisting
his fingers.  "I guess I'd sit right down on the ground and say my
prayers."

The big boys laughed, and Oscar brandished his whip over the broad
backs of the horses.

"He wouldn't hurt you, Emil," said Carl persuasively.  "He came
to doctor our mare when she ate green corn and swelled up most as
big as the water-tank.  He petted her just like you do your cats.
I couldn't understand much he said, for he don't talk any English,
but he kept patting her and groaning as if he had the pain himself,
and saying, 'There now, sister, that's easier, that's better!'"

Lou and Oscar laughed, and Emil giggled delightedly and looked up
at his sister.

"I don't think he knows anything at all about doctoring," said
Oscar scornfully.  "They say when horses have distemper he takes
the medicine himself, and then prays over the horses."

Alexandra spoke up.  "That's what the Crows said, but he cured
their horses, all the same.  Some days his mind is cloudy, like.
But if you can get him on a clear day, you can learn a great deal
from him.  He understands animals.  Didn't I see him take the horn
off the Berquist's cow when she had torn it loose and went crazy?
She was tearing all over the place, knocking herself against things.
And at last she ran out on the roof of the old dugout and her legs
went through and there she stuck, bellowing.  Ivar came running
with his white bag, and the moment he got to her she was quiet and
let him saw her horn off and daub the place with tar."

Emil had been watching his sister, his face reflecting the sufferings
of the cow.  "And then didn't it hurt her any more?" he asked.

Alexandra patted him.  "No, not any more.  And in two days they
could use her milk again."

The road to Ivar's homestead was a very poor one.  He had settled
in the rough country across the county line, where no one lived but
some Russians,--half a dozen families who dwelt together in one long
house, divided off like barracks.  Ivar had explained his choice
by saying that the fewer neighbors he had, the fewer temptations.
Nevertheless, when one considered that his chief business was
horsedoctoring, it seemed rather short-sighted of him to live in the
most inaccessible place he could find.  The Bergson wagon lurched
along over the rough hummocks and grass banks, followed the bottom
of winding draws, or skirted the margin of wide lagoons, where the
golden coreopsis grew up out of the clear water and the wild ducks
rose with a whirr of wings.

Lou looked after them helplessly.  "I wish I'd brought my gun,
anyway, Alexandra," he said fretfully.  "I could have hidden it
under the straw in the bottom of the wagon."

"Then we'd have had to lie to Ivar.  Besides, they say he can smell
dead birds.  And if he knew, we wouldn't get anything out of him,
not even a hammock.  I want to talk to him, and he won't talk sense
if he's angry.  It makes him foolish."

Lou sniffed.  "Whoever heard of him talking sense, anyhow!  I'd
rather have ducks for supper than Crazy Ivar's tongue."

Emil was alarmed.  "Oh, but, Lou, you don't want to make him mad!
He might howl!"

They all laughed again, and Oscar urged the horses up the crumbling
side of a clay bank.  They had left the lagoons and the red grass
behind them.  In Crazy Ivar's country the grass was short and gray,
the draws deeper than they were in the Bergsons' neighborhood,
and the land was all broken up into hillocks and clay ridges.  The
wild flowers disappeared, and only in the bottom of the draws and
gullies grew a few of the very toughest and hardiest: shoestring,
and ironweed, and snow-on-the-mountain.

"Look, look, Emil, there's Ivar's big pond!"  Alexandra pointed to
a shining sheet of water that lay at the bottom of a shallow draw.
At one end of the pond was an earthen dam, planted with green willow
bushes, and above it a door and a single window were set into the
hillside.  You would not have seen them at all but for the reflection
of the sunlight upon the four panes of window-glass.  And that was
all you saw.  Not a shed, not a corral, not a well, not even a path
broken in the curly grass.  But for the piece of rusty stovepipe
sticking up through the sod, you could have walked over the roof
of Ivar's dwelling without dreaming that you were near a human
habitation.  Ivar had lived for three years in the clay bank,
without defiling the face of nature any more than the coyote that
had lived there before him had done.

When the Bergsons drove over the hill, Ivar was sitting in the
doorway of his house, reading the Norwegian Bible.  He was a queerly
shaped old man, with a thick, powerful body set on short bow-legs.
His shaggy white hair, falling in a thick mane about his ruddy
cheeks, made him look older than he was.  He was barefoot, but
he wore a clean shirt of unbleached cotton, open at the neck.  He
always put on a clean shirt when Sunday morning came round, though
he never went to church.  He had a peculiar religion of his own
and could not get on with any of the denominations.  Often he did
not see anybody from one week's end to another.  He kept a calendar,
and every morning he checked off a day, so that he was never in
any doubt as to which day of the week it was.  Ivar hired himself
out in threshing and corn-husking time, and he doctored sick animals
when he was sent for.  When he was at home, he made hammocks out
of twine and committed chapters of the Bible to memory.

Ivar found contentment in the solitude he had sought out for himself.
He disliked the litter of human dwellings: the broken food, the
bits of broken china, the old wash-boilers and tea-kettles thrown
into the sunflower patch.  He preferred the cleanness and tidiness of
the wild sod.  He always said that the badgers had cleaner houses
than people, and that when he took a housekeeper her name would
be Mrs.  Badger.  He best expressed his preference for his wild
homestead by saying that his Bible seemed truer to him there.  If
one stood in the doorway of his cave, and looked off at the rough
land, the smiling sky, the curly grass white in the hot sunlight;
if one listened to the rapturous song of the lark, the drumming of
the quail, the burr of the locust against that vast silence, one
understood what Ivar meant.

On this Sunday afternoon his face shone with happiness.  He closed
the book on his knee, keeping the place with his horny finger, and
repeated softly:--

He sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills;

They give drink to every beast of the field; the wild asses quench
their thirst.

The trees of the Lord are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon which
he hath planted;

Where the birds make their nests: as for the stork, the fir trees
are her house.

The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats; and the rocks for
the conies.

Before he opened his Bible again, Ivar heard the Bergsons' wagon
approaching, and he sprang up and ran toward it.

"No guns, no guns!" he shouted, waving his arms distractedly.

"No, Ivar, no guns," Alexandra called reassuringly.

He dropped his arms and went up to the wagon, smiling amiably and
looking at them out of his pale blue eyes.

"We want to buy a hammock, if you have one," Alexandra explained,
"and my little brother, here, wants to see your big pond, where so
many birds come."

Ivar smiled foolishly, and began rubbing the horses' noses and
feeling about their mouths behind the bits.  "Not many birds just
now.  A few ducks this morning; and some snipe come to drink.  But
there was a crane last week.  She spent one night and came back the
next evening.  I don't know why.  It is not her season, of course.
Many of them go over in the fall.  Then the pond is full of strange
voices every night."

Alexandra translated for Carl, who looked thoughtful.  "Ask him,
Alexandra, if it is true that a sea gull came here once.  I have
heard so."

She had some difficulty in making the old man understand.

He looked puzzled at first, then smote his hands together as he
remembered.  "Oh, yes, yes!  A big white bird with long wings and
pink feet.  My! what a voice she had!  She came in the afternoon
and kept flying about the pond and screaming until dark.  She was
in trouble of some sort, but I could not understand her.  She was
going over to the other ocean, maybe, and did not know how far it
was.  She was afraid of never getting there.  She was more mournful
than our birds here; she cried in the night.  She saw the light
from my window and darted up to it.  Maybe she thought my house
was a boat, she was such a wild thing.  Next morning, when the sun
rose, I went out to take her food, but she flew up into the sky
and went on her way."  Ivar ran his fingers through his thick hair.
"I have many strange birds stop with me here.  They come from very
far away and are great company.  I hope you boys never shoot wild
birds?"

Lou and Oscar grinned, and Ivar shook his bushy head.  "Yes, I know
boys are thoughtless.  But these wild things are God's birds.  He
watches over them and counts them, as we do our cattle; Christ says
so in the New Testament."

"Now, Ivar," Lou asked, "may we water our horses at your pond and
give them some feed?  It's a bad road to your place."

"Yes, yes, it is."  The old man scrambled about and began to loose
the tugs.  "A bad road, eh, girls?  And the bay with a colt at
home!"

Oscar brushed the old man aside.  "We'll take care of the horses,
Ivar.  You'll be finding some disease on them.  Alexandra wants to
see your hammocks."

Ivar led Alexandra and Emil to his little cave house.  He had but
one room, neatly plastered and whitewashed, and there was a wooden
floor.  There was a kitchen stove, a table covered with oilcloth,
two chairs, a clock, a calendar, a few books on the window-shelf;
nothing more.  But the place was as clean as a cupboard.

"But where do you sleep, Ivar?" Emil asked, looking about.

Ivar unslung a hammock from a hook on the wall; in it was rolled
a buffalo robe.  "There, my son.  A hammock is a good bed, and in
winter I wrap up in this skin.  Where I go to work, the beds are
not half so easy as this."

By this time Emil had lost all his timidity.  He thought a cave a
very superior kind of house.  There was something pleasantly unusual
about it and about Ivar.  "Do the birds know you will be kind to
them, Ivar?  Is that why so many come?" he asked.

Ivar sat down on the floor and tucked his feet under him.  "See,
little brother, they have come from a long way, and they are very
tired.  From up there where they are flying, our country looks dark
and flat.  They must have water to drink and to bathe in before
they can go on with their journey.  They look this way and that,
and far below them they see something shining, like a piece of glass
set in the dark earth.  That is my pond.  They come to it and are
not disturbed.  Maybe I sprinkle a little corn.  They tell the other
birds, and next year more come this way.  They have their roads up
there, as we have down here."

Emil rubbed his knees thoughtfully.  "And is that true, Ivar, about
the head ducks falling back when they are tired, and the hind ones
taking their place?"

"Yes.  The point of the wedge gets the worst of it; they cut the
wind.  They can only stand it there a little while--half an hour,
maybe.  Then they fall back and the wedge splits a little, while
the rear ones come up the middle to the front.  Then it closes up
and they fly on, with a new edge.  They are always changing like
that, up in the air.  Never any confusion; just like soldiers who
have been drilled."

Alexandra had selected her hammock by the time the boys came up
from the pond.  They would not come in, but sat in the shade of
the bank outside while Alexandra and Ivar talked about the birds
and about his housekeeping, and why he never ate meat, fresh or
salt.

Alexandra was sitting on one of the wooden chairs, her arms resting
on the table.  Ivar was sitting on the floor at her feet.  "Ivar,"
she said suddenly, beginning to trace the pattern on the oilcloth
with her forefinger, "I came to-day more because I wanted to talk
to you than because I wanted to buy a hammock."

"Yes?"  The old man scraped his bare feet on the plank floor.

"We have a big bunch of hogs, Ivar.  I wouldn't sell in the spring,
when everybody advised me to, and now so many people are losing
their hogs that I am frightened.  What can be done?"

Ivar's little eyes began to shine.  They lost their vagueness.

"You feed them swill and such stuff?  Of course!  And sour milk?
Oh, yes!  And keep them in a stinking pen?  I tell you, sister,
the hogs of this country are put upon!  They become unclean, like
the hogs in the Bible.  If you kept your chickens like that, what
would happen?  You have a little sorghum patch, maybe?  Put a fence
around it, and turn the hogs in.  Build a shed to give them shade,
a thatch on poles.  Let the boys haul water to them in barrels,
clean water, and plenty.  Get them off the old stinking ground, and
do not let them go back there until winter.  Give them only grain
and clean feed, such as you would give horses or cattle.  Hogs do
not like to be filthy."

The boys outside the door had been listening.  Lou nudged his
brother.  "Come, the horses are done eating.  Let's hitch up and
get out of here.  He'll fill her full of notions.  She'll be for
having the pigs sleep with us, next."

Oscar grunted and got up.  Carl, who could not understand what Ivar
said, saw that the two boys were displeased.  They did not mind
hard work, but they hated experiments and could never see the use
of taking pains.  Even Lou, who was more elastic than his older
brother, disliked to do anything different from their neighbors.
He felt that it made them conspicuous and gave people a chance to
talk about them.

Once they were on the homeward road, the boys forgot their ill-humor
and joked about Ivar and his birds.  Alexandra did not propose any
reforms in the care of the pigs, and they hoped she had forgotten
Ivar's talk.  They agreed that he was crazier than ever, and would
never be able to prove up on his land because he worked it so little.
Alexandra privately resolved that she would have a talk with Ivar
about this and stir him up.  The boys persuaded Carl to stay for
supper and go swimming in the pasture pond after dark.

That evening, after she had washed the supper dishes, Alexandra
sat down on the kitchen doorstep, while her mother was mixing the
bread.  It was a still, deep-breathing summer night, full of the
smell of the hay fields.  Sounds of laughter and splashing came
up from the pasture, and when the moon rose rapidly above the bare
rim of the prairie, the pond glittered like polished metal, and
she could see the flash of white bodies as the boys ran about the
edge, or jumped into the water.  Alexandra watched the shimmering
pool dreamily, but eventually her eyes went back to the sorghum
patch south of the barn, where she was planning to make her new
pig corral.



IV


For the first three years after John Bergson's death, the affairs
of his family prospered.  Then came the hard times that brought
every one on the Divide to the brink of despair; three years of
drouth and failure, the last struggle of a wild soil against the
encroaching plowshare.  The first of these fruitless summers the
Bergson boys bore courageously.  The failure of the corn crop made
labor cheap.  Lou and Oscar hired two men and put in bigger crops
than ever before.  They lost everything they spent.  The whole
country was discouraged.  Farmers who were already in debt had to
give up their land.  A few foreclosures demoralized the county.
The settlers sat about on the wooden sidewalks in the little town
and told each other that the country was never meant for men to live
in; the thing to do was to get back to Iowa, to Illinois, to any
place that had been proved habitable.  The Bergson boys, certainly,
would have been happier with their uncle Otto, in the bakery shop
in Chicago.  Like most of their neighbors, they were meant to follow
in paths already marked out for them, not to break trails in a new
country.  A steady job, a few holidays, nothing to think about, and
they would have been very happy.  It was no fault of theirs that
they had been dragged into the wilderness when they were little
boys.  A pioneer should have imagination, should be able to enjoy
the idea of things more than the things themselves.

The second of these barren summers was passing.  One September
afternoon Alexandra had gone over to the garden across the draw to
dig sweet potatoes--they had been thriving upon the weather that
was fatal to everything else.  But when Carl Linstrum came up the
garden rows to find her, she was not working.  She was standing
lost in thought, leaning upon her pitchfork, her sunbonnet lying
beside her on the ground.  The dry garden patch smelled of drying
vines and was strewn with yellow seed-cucumbers and pumpkins and
citrons.  At one end, next the rhubarb, grew feathery asparagus,
with red berries.  Down the middle of the garden was a row of
gooseberry and currant bushes.  A few tough zenias and marigolds
and a row of scarlet sage bore witness to the buckets of water
that Mrs. Bergson had carried there after sundown, against the
prohibition of her sons.  Carl came quietly and slowly up the garden
path, looking intently at Alexandra.  She did not hear him.  She was
standing perfectly still, with that serious ease so characteristic
of her.  Her thick, reddish braids, twisted about her head, fairly
burned in the sunlight.  The air was cool enough to make the warm
sun pleasant on one's back and shoulders, and so clear that the
eye could follow a hawk up and up, into the blazing blue depths of
the sky.  Even Carl, never a very cheerful boy, and considerably
darkened by these last two bitter years, loved the country on days
like this, felt something strong and young and wild come out of
it, that laughed at care.

"Alexandra," he said as he approached her, "I want to talk to you.
Let's sit down by the gooseberry bushes."  He picked up her sack
of potatoes and they crossed the garden.  "Boys gone to town?" he
asked as he sank down on the warm, sun-baked earth.  "Well, we have
made up our minds at last, Alexandra.  We are really going away."

She looked at him as if she were a little frightened.  "Really,
Carl?  Is it settled?"

"Yes, father has heard from St. Louis, and they will give him back
his old job in the cigar factory.  He must be there by the first
of November.  They are taking on new men then.  We will sell the
place for whatever we can get, and auction the stock.  We haven't
enough to ship.  I am going to learn engraving with a German engraver
there, and then try to get work in Chicago."

Alexandra's hands dropped in her lap.  Her eyes became dreamy and
filled with tears.

Carl's sensitive lower lip trembled.  He scratched in the soft earth
beside him with a stick.  "That's all I hate about it, Alexandra,"
he said slowly.  "You've stood by us through so much and helped
father out so many times, and now it seems as if we were running
off and leaving you to face the worst of it.  But it isn't as if
we could really ever be of any help to you.  We are only one more
drag, one more thing you look out for and feel responsible for.
Father was never meant for a farmer, you know that.  And I hate
it.  We'd only get in deeper and deeper."

"Yes, yes, Carl, I know.  You are wasting your life here.  You are
able to do much better things.  You are nearly nineteen now, and
I wouldn't have you stay.  I've always hoped you would get away.
But I can't help feeling scared when I think how I will miss 
you--more than you will ever know."  She brushed the tears from her
cheeks, not trying to hide them.

"But, Alexandra," he said sadly and wistfully, "I've never been
any real help to you, beyond sometimes trying to keep the boys in
a good humor."

Alexandra smiled and shook her head.  "Oh, it's not that.  Nothing
like that.  It's by understanding me, and the boys, and mother,
that you've helped me.  I expect that is the only way one person
ever really can help another.  I think you are about the only one
that ever helped me.  Somehow it will take more courage to bear
your going than everything that has happened before."

Carl looked at the ground.  "You see, we've all depended so on you,"
he said, "even father.  He makes me laugh.  When anything comes up
he always says, 'I wonder what the Bergsons are going to do about
that?  I guess I'll go and ask her.'  I'll never forget that time,
when we first came here, and our horse had the colic, and I ran
over to your place--your father was away, and you came home with me
and showed father how to let the wind out of the horse.  You were
only a little girl then, but you knew ever so much more about farm
work than poor father.  You remember how homesick I used to get,
and what long talks we used to have coming from school?  We've
someway always felt alike about things."

"Yes, that's it; we've liked the same things and we've liked them
together, without anybody else knowing.  And we've had good times,
hunting for Christmas trees and going for ducks and making our plum
wine together every year.  We've never either of us had any other
close friend.  And now--"  Alexandra wiped her eyes with the corner
of her apron, "and now I must remember that you are going where
you will have many friends, and will find the work you were meant
to do.  But you'll write to me, Carl?  That will mean a great deal
to me here."

"I'll write as long as I live," cried the boy impetuously.  "And
I'll be working for you as much as for myself, Alexandra.  I want
to do something you'll like and be proud of.  I'm a fool here, but
I know I can do something!"  He sat up and frowned at the red grass.

Alexandra sighed.  "How discouraged the boys will be when they
hear.  They always come home from town discouraged, anyway.  So
many people are trying to leave the country, and they talk to our
boys and make them low-spirited.  I'm afraid they are beginning to
feel hard toward me because I won't listen to any talk about going.
Sometimes I feel like I'm getting tired of standing up for this
country."

"I won't tell the boys yet, if you'd rather not."

"Oh, I'll tell them myself, to-night, when they come home.  They'll
be talking wild, anyway, and no good comes of keeping bad news.
It's all harder on them than it is on me.  Lou wants to get married,
poor boy, and he can't until times are better.  See, there goes the
sun, Carl.  I must be getting back.  Mother will want her potatoes.
It's chilly already, the moment the light goes."

Alexandra rose and looked about.  A golden afterglow throbbed in
the west, but the country already looked empty and mournful.  A dark
moving mass came over the western hill, the Lee boy was bringing in
the herd from the other half-section.  Emil ran from the windmill
to open the corral gate.  From the log house, on the little rise
across the draw, the smoke was curling.  The cattle lowed and
bellowed.  In the sky the pale half-moon was slowly silvering.
Alexandra and Carl walked together down the potato rows.  "I have
to keep telling myself what is going to happen," she said softly.
"Since you have been here, ten years now, I have never really been
lonely.  But I can remember what it was like before.  Now I shall
have nobody but Emil.  But he is my boy, and he is tender-hearted."

That night, when the boys were called to supper, they sat down
moodily.  They had worn their coats to town, but they ate in their
striped shirts and suspenders.  They were grown men now, and, as
Alexandra said, for the last few years they had been growing more
and more like themselves.  Lou was still the slighter of the two,
the quicker and more intelligent, but apt to go off at half-cock.
He had a lively blue eye, a thin, fair skin (always burned red to
the neckband of his shirt in summer), stiff, yellow hair that would
not lie down on his head, and a bristly little yellow mustache,
of which he was very proud.  Oscar could not grow a mustache; his
pale face was as bare as an egg, and his white eyebrows gave it an
empty look.  He was a man of powerful body and unusual endurance;
the sort of man you could attach to a corn-sheller as you would
an engine.  He would turn it all day, without hurrying, without
slowing down.  But he was as indolent of mind as he was unsparing
of his body.  His love of routine amounted to a vice.  He worked
like an insect, always doing the same thing over in the same way,
regardless of whether it was best or no.  He felt that there was
a sovereign virtue in mere bodily toil, and he rather liked to
do things in the hardest way.  If a field had once been in corn,
he couldn't bear to put it into wheat.  He liked to begin his
corn-planting at the same time every year, whether the season were
backward or forward.  He seemed to feel that by his own irreproachable
regularity he would clear himself of blame and reprove the weather.
When the wheat crop failed, he threshed the straw at a dead loss
to demonstrate how little grain there was, and thus prove his case
against Providence.

Lou, on the other hand, was fussy and flighty; always planned to
get through two days' work in one, and often got only the least
important things done.  He liked to keep the place up, but he never
got round to doing odd jobs until he had to neglect more pressing
work to attend to them.  In the middle of the wheat harvest, when
the grain was over-ripe and every hand was needed, he would stop
to mend fences or to patch the harness; then dash down to the
field and overwork and be laid up in bed for a week.  The two boys
balanced each other, and they pulled well together.  They had been
good friends since they were children.  One seldom went anywhere,
even to town, without the other.

To-night, after they sat down to supper, Oscar kept looking at Lou
as if he expected him to say something, and Lou blinked his eyes
and frowned at his plate.  It was Alexandra herself who at last
opened the discussion.

"The Linstrums," she said calmly, as she put another plate of hot
biscuit on the table, "are going back to St. Louis.  The old man
is going to work in the cigar factory again."

At this Lou plunged in.  "You see, Alexandra, everybody who can
crawl out is going away.  There's no use of us trying to stick it
out, just to be stubborn.  There's something in knowing when to
quit."

"Where do you want to go, Lou?"

"Any place where things will grow," said Oscar grimly.

Lou reached for a potato.  "Chris Arnson has traded his half-section
for a place down on the river."

"Who did he trade with?"

"Charley Fuller, in town."

"Fuller the real estate man?  You see, Lou, that Fuller has a head
on him.  He's buying and trading for every bit of land he can get
up here.  It'll make him a rich man, some day."

"He's rich now, that's why he can take a chance."

"Why can't we?  We'll live longer than he will.  Some day the land
itself will be worth more than all we can ever raise on it."

Lou laughed.  "It could be worth that, and still not be worth
much.  Why, Alexandra, you don't know what you're talking about.
Our place wouldn't bring now what it would six years ago.  The
fellows that settled up here just made a mistake.  Now they're
beginning to see this high land wasn't never meant to grow nothing
on, and everybody who ain't fixed to graze cattle is trying to
crawl out.  It's too high to farm up here.  All the Americans are
skinning out.  That man Percy Adams, north of town, told me that
he was going to let Fuller take his land and stuff for four hundred
dollars and a ticket to Chicago."

"There's Fuller again!" Alexandra exclaimed.  "I wish that man
would take me for a partner.  He's feathering his nest!  If only
poor people could learn a little from rich people!  But all these
fellows who are running off are bad farmers, like poor Mr. Linstrum.
They couldn't get ahead even in good years, and they all got into
debt while father was getting out.  I think we ought to hold on as
long as we can on father's account.  He was so set on keeping this
land.  He must have seen harder times than this, here.  How was it
in the early days, mother?"

Mrs. Bergson was weeping quietly.  These family discussions always
depressed her, and made her remember all that she had been torn
away from.  "I don't see why the boys are always taking on about
going away," she said, wiping her eyes.  "I don't want to move
again; out to some raw place, maybe, where we'd be worse off than
we are here, and all to do over again.  I won't move!  If the rest
of you go, I will ask some of the neighbors to take me in, and stay
and be buried by father.  I'm not going to leave him by himself
on the prairie, for cattle to run over."  She began to cry more
bitterly.

The boys looked angry.  Alexandra put a soothing hand on her mother's
shoulder.  "There's no question of that, mother.  You don't have
to go if you don't want to.  A third of the place belongs to you
by American law, and we can't sell without your consent.  We only
want you to advise us.  How did it use to be when you and father
first came?  Was it really as bad as this, or not?"

"Oh, worse!  Much worse," moaned Mrs.  Bergson.  "Drouth, chince-bugs,
hail, everything!  My garden all cut to pieces like sauerkraut.  No
grapes on the creek, no nothing.  The people all lived just like
coyotes."

Oscar got up and tramped out of the kitchen.  Lou followed him.
They felt that Alexandra had taken an unfair advantage in turning
their mother loose on them.  The next morning they were silent and
reserved.  They did not offer to take the women to church, but went
down to the barn immediately after breakfast and stayed there all
day.  When Carl Linstrum came over in the afternoon, Alexandra
winked to him and pointed toward the barn.  He understood her and
went down to play cards with the boys.  They believed that a very
wicked thing to do on Sunday, and it relieved their feelings.

Alexandra stayed in the house.  On Sunday afternoon Mrs. Bergson
always took a nap, and Alexandra read.  During the week she read
only the newspaper, but on Sunday, and in the long evenings of
winter, she read a good deal; read a few things over a great many
times.  She knew long portions of the "Frithjof Saga" by heart,
and, like most Swedes who read at all, she was fond of Longfellow's
verse,--the ballads and the "Golden Legend" and "The Spanish Student."
To-day she sat in the wooden rocking-chair with the Swedish Bible
open on her knees, but she was not reading.  She was looking
thoughtfully away at the point where the upland road disappeared
over the rim of the prairie.  Her body was in an attitude of perfect
repose, such as it was apt to take when she was thinking earnestly.
Her mind was slow, truthful, steadfast.  She had not the least
spark of cleverness.

All afternoon the sitting-room was full of quiet and sunlight.
Emil was making rabbit traps in the kitchen shed.  The hens were
clucking and scratching brown holes in the flower beds, and the
wind was teasing the prince's feather by the door.

That evening Carl came in with the boys to supper.

"Emil," said Alexandra, when they were all seated at the table,
"how would you like to go traveling?  Because I am going to take
a trip, and you can go with me if you want to."

The boys looked up in amazement; they were always afraid of
Alexandra's schemes.  Carl was interested.

"I've been thinking, boys," she went on, "that maybe I am too set
against making a change.  I'm going to take Brigham and the buckboard
to-morrow and drive down to the river country and spend a few days
looking over what they've got down there.  If I find anything good,
you boys can go down and make a trade."

"Nobody down there will trade for anything up here," said Oscar
gloomily.

"That's just what I want to find out.  Maybe they are just as
discontented down there as we are up here.  Things away from home
often look better than they are.  You know what your Hans Andersen
book says, Carl, about the Swedes liking to buy Danish bread and
the Danes liking to buy Swedish bread, because people always think
the bread of another country is better than their own.  Anyway,
I've heard so much about the river farms, I won't be satisfied till
I've seen for myself."

Lou fidgeted.  "Look out!  Don't agree to anything.  Don't let them
fool you."

Lou was apt to be fooled himself.  He had not yet learned to keep
away from the shell-game wagons that followed the circus.

After supper Lou put on a necktie and went across the fields to
court Annie Lee, and Carl and Oscar sat down to a game of checkers,
while Alexandra read "The Swiss Family Robinson" aloud to her mother
and Emil.  It was not long before the two boys at the table neglected
their game to listen.  They were all big children together, and they
found the adventures of the family in the tree house so absorbing
that they gave them their undivided attention.



V


Alexandra and Emil spent five days down among the river farms,
driving up and down the valley.  Alexandra talked to the men about
their crops and to the women about their poultry.  She spent a
whole day with one young farmer who had been away at school, and
who was experimenting with a new kind of clover hay.  She learned
a great deal.  As they drove along, she and Emil talked and planned.
At last, on the sixth day, Alexandra turned Brigham's head northward
and left the river behind.

"There's nothing in it for us down there, Emil.  There are a few
fine farms, but they are owned by the rich men in town, and couldn't
be bought.  Most of the land is rough and hilly.  They can always
scrape along down there, but they can never do anything big.  Down
there they have a little certainty, but up with us there is a big
chance.  We must have faith in the high land, Emil.  I want to hold
on harder than ever, and when you're a man you'll thank me."  She
urged Brigham forward.

When the road began to climb the first long swells of the Divide,
Alexandra hummed an old Swedish hymn, and Emil wondered why his
sister looked so happy.  Her face was so radiant that he felt shy
about asking her.  For the first time, perhaps, since that land
emerged from the waters of geologic ages, a human face was set toward
it with love and yearning.  It seemed beautiful to her, rich and
strong and glorious.  Her eyes drank in the breadth of it, until
her tears blinded her.  Then the Genius of the Divide, the great,
free spirit which breathes across it, must have bent lower than
it ever bent to a human will before.  The history of every country
begins in the heart of a man or a woman.

Alexandra reached home in the afternoon.  That evening she held
a family council and told her brothers all that she had seen and
heard.

"I want you boys to go down yourselves and look it over.  Nothing
will convince you like seeing with your own eyes.  The river land
was settled before this, and so they are a few years ahead of us,
and have learned more about farming.  The land sells for three
times as much as this, but in five years we will double it.  The
rich men down there own all the best land, and they are buying
all they can get.  The thing to do is to sell our cattle and what
little old corn we have, and buy the Linstrum place.  Then the next
thing to do is to take out two loans on our half-sections, and buy
Peter Crow's place; raise every dollar we can, and buy every acre
we can."

"Mortgage the homestead again?" Lou cried.  He sprang up and began
to wind the clock furiously.  "I won't slave to pay off another
mortgage.  I'll never do it.  You'd just as soon kill us all,
Alexandra, to carry out some scheme!"

Oscar rubbed his high, pale forehead.  "How do you propose to pay
off your mortgages?"

Alexandra looked from one to the other and bit her lip.  They had
never seen her so nervous.  "See here," she brought out at last.
"We borrow the money for six years.  Well, with the money we buy
a half-section from Linstrum and a half from Crow, and a quarter
from Struble, maybe.  That will give us upwards of fourteen hundred
acres, won't it?  You won't have to pay off your mortgages for six
years.  By that time, any of this land will be worth thirty dollars
an acre--it will be worth fifty, but we'll say thirty; then you
can sell a garden patch anywhere, and pay off a debt of sixteen
hundred dollars.  It's not the principal I'm worried about, it's
the interest and taxes.  We'll have to strain to meet the payments.
But as sure as we are sitting here to-night, we can sit down here
ten years from now independent landowners, not struggling farmers
any longer.  The chance that father was always looking for has
come."

Lou was pacing the floor.  "But how do you KNOW that land is going
to go up enough to pay the mortgages and--"

"And make us rich besides?" Alexandra put in firmly.  "I can't
explain that, Lou.  You'll have to take my word for it.  I KNOW,
that's all.  When you drive about over the country you can feel it
coming."

Oscar had been sitting with his head lowered, his hands hanging
between his knees.  "But we can't work so much land," he said
dully, as if he were talking to himself.  "We can't even try.  It
would just lie there and we'd work ourselves to death."  He sighed,
and laid his calloused fist on the table.

Alexandra's eyes filled with tears.  She put her hand on his
shoulder.  "You poor boy, you won't have to work it.  The men in
town who are buying up other people's land don't try to farm it.
They are the men to watch, in a new country.  Let's try to do
like the shrewd ones, and not like these stupid fellows.  I don't
want you boys always to have to work like this.  I want you to be
independent, and Emil to go to school."

Lou held his head as if it were splitting.  "Everybody will say we
are crazy.  It must be crazy, or everybody would be doing it."

"If they were, we wouldn't have much chance.  No, Lou, I was talking
about that with the smart young man who is raising the new kind
of clover.  He says the right thing is usually just what everybody
don't do.  Why are we better fixed than any of our neighbors?  Because
father had more brains.  Our people were better people than these
in the old country.  We OUGHT to do more than they do, and see
further ahead.  Yes, mother, I'm going to clear the table now."

Alexandra rose.  The boys went to the stable to see to the stock,
and they were gone a long while.  When they came back Lou played on
his DRAGHARMONIKA and Oscar sat figuring at his father's secretary
all evening.  They said nothing more about Alexandra's project,
but she felt sure now that they would consent to it.  Just before
bedtime Oscar went out for a pail of water.  When he did not come
back, Alexandra threw a shawl over her head and ran down the path
to the windmill.  She found him sitting there with his head in his
hands, and she sat down beside him.

"Don't do anything you don't want to do, Oscar," she whispered.
She waited a moment, but he did not stir.  "I won't say any more
about it, if you'd rather not.  What makes you so discouraged?"

"I dread signing my name to them pieces of paper," he said slowly.
"All the time I was a boy we had a mortgage hanging over us."

"Then don't sign one.  I don't want you to, if you feel that way."

Oscar shook his head.  "No, I can see there's a chance that way.
I've thought a good while there might be.  We're in so deep now, we
might as well go deeper.  But it's hard work pulling out of debt.
Like pulling a threshingmachine out of the mud; breaks your back.
Me and Lou's worked hard, and I can't see it's got us ahead much."

"Nobody knows about that as well as I do, Oscar.  That's why I want
to try an easier way.  I don't want you to have to grub for every
dollar."

"Yes, I know what you mean.  Maybe it'll come out right.  But signing
papers is signing papers.  There ain't no maybe about that."  He
took his pail and trudged up the path to the house.

Alexandra drew her shawl closer about her and stood leaning against
the frame of the mill, looking at the stars which glittered so
keenly through the frosty autumn air.  She always loved to watch
them, to think of their vastness and distance, and of their ordered
march.  It fortified her to reflect upon the great operations
of nature, and when she thought of the law that lay behind them,
she felt a sense of personal security.  That night she had a new
consciousness of the country, felt almost a new relation to it.
Even her talk with the boys had not taken away the feeling that had
overwhelmed her when she drove back to the Divide that afternoon.
She had never known before how much the country meant to her.  The
chirping of the insects down in the long grass had been like the
sweetest music.  She had felt as if her heart were hiding down
there, somewhere, with the quail and the plover and all the little
wild things that crooned or buzzed in the sun.  Under the long
shaggy ridges, she felt the future stirring.






PART II

Neighboring Fields




I


IT is sixteen years since John Bergson died.  His wife now lies
beside him, and the white shaft that marks their graves gleams
across the wheat-fields.  Could he rise from beneath it, he would
not know the country under which he has been asleep.  The shaggy coat
of the prairie, which they lifted to make him a bed, has vanished
forever.  From the Norwegian graveyard one looks out over a vast
checker-board, marked off in squares of wheat and corn; light and
dark, dark and light.  Telephone wires hum along the white roads,
which always run at right angles.  From the graveyard gate one can
count a dozen gayly painted farmhouses; the gilded weather-vanes
on the big red barns wink at each other across the green and brown
and yellow fields.  The light steel windmills tremble throughout
their frames and tug at their moorings, as they vibrate in the wind
that often blows from one week's end to another across that high,
active, resolute stretch of country.

The Divide is now thickly populated.  The rich soil yields heavy
harvests; the dry, bracing climate and the smoothness of the land
make labor easy for men and beasts.  There are few scenes more
gratifying than a spring plowing in that country, where the furrows
of a single field often lie a mile in length, and the brown earth,
with such a strong, clean smell, and such a power of growth and
fertility in it, yields itself eagerly to the plow; rolls away
from the shear, not even dimming the brightness of the metal, with
a soft, deep sigh of happiness.  The wheatcutting sometimes goes
on all night as well as all day, and in good seasons there are
scarcely men and horses enough to do the harvesting.  The grain is
so heavy that it bends toward the blade and cuts like velvet.

There is something frank and joyous and young in the open face
of the country.  It gives itself ungrudgingly to the moods of the
season, holding nothing back.  Like the plains of Lombardy, it
seems to rise a little to meet the sun.  The air and the earth are
curiously mated and intermingled, as if the one were the breath
of the other.  You feel in the atmosphere the same tonic, puissant
quality that is in the tilth, the same strength and resoluteness.

One June morning a young man stood at the gate of the Norwegian
graveyard, sharpening his scythe in strokes unconsciously timed to
the tune he was whistling.  He wore a flannel cap and duck trousers,
and the sleeves of his white flannel shirt were rolled back to
the elbow.  When he was satisfied with the edge of his blade, he
slipped the whetstone into his hip pocket and began to swing his
scythe, still whistling, but softly, out of respect to the quiet
folk about him.  Unconscious respect, probably, for he seemed
intent upon his own thoughts, and, like the Gladiator's, they were
far away.  He was a splendid figure of a boy, tall and straight
as a young pine tree, with a handsome head, and stormy gray eyes,
deeply set under a serious brow.  The space between his two front
teeth, which were unusually far apart, gave him the proficiency
in whistling for which he was distinguished at college.  (He also
played the cornet in the University band.)

When the grass required his close attention, or when he had to
stoop to cut about a head-stone, he paused in his lively air,--the
"Jewel" song,--taking it up where he had left it when his scythe
swung free again.  He was not thinking about the tired pioneers
over whom his blade glittered.  The old wild country, the struggle
in which his sister was destined to succeed while so many men broke
their hearts and died, he can scarcely remember.  That is all among
the dim things of childhood and has been forgotten in the brighter
pattern life weaves to-day, in the bright facts of being captain
of the track team, and holding the interstate record for the high
jump, in the all-suffusing brightness of being twenty-one.  Yet
sometimes, in the pauses of his work, the young man frowned and
looked at the ground with an intentness which suggested that even
twenty-one might have its problems.

When he had been mowing the better part of an hour, he heard the
rattle of a light cart on the road behind him.  Supposing that it
was his sister coming back from one of her farms, he kept on with
his work.  The cart stopped at the gate and a merry contralto voice
called, "Almost through, Emil?"  He dropped his scythe and went
toward the fence, wiping his face and neck with his handkerchief.
In the cart sat a young woman who wore driving gauntlets and a wide
shade hat, trimmed with red poppies.  Her face, too, was rather
like a poppy, round and brown, with rich color in her cheeks and
lips, and her dancing yellow-brown eyes bubbled with gayety.  The
wind was flapping her big hat and teasing a curl of her chestnut-colored
hair.  She shook her head at the tall youth.

"What time did you get over here?  That's not much of a job for
an athlete.  Here I've been to town and back.  Alexandra lets you
sleep late.  Oh, I know!  Lou's wife was telling me about the way
she spoils you.  I was going to give you a lift, if you were done."
She gathered up her reins.

"But I will be, in a minute.  Please wait for me, Marie," Emil
coaxed.  "Alexandra sent me to mow our lot, but I've done half a
dozen others, you see.  Just wait till I finish off the Kourdnas'.
By the way, they were Bohemians.  Why aren't they up in the Catholic
graveyard?"

"Free-thinkers," replied the young woman laconically.

"Lots of the Bohemian boys at the University are," said Emil, taking
up his scythe again.  "What did you ever burn John Huss for, anyway?
It's made an awful row.  They still jaw about it in history classes."

"We'd do it right over again, most of us," said the young woman
hotly.  "Don't they ever teach you in your history classes that
you'd all be heathen Turks if it hadn't been for the Bohemians?"

Emil had fallen to mowing.  "Oh, there's no denying you're a spunky
little bunch, you Czechs," he called back over his shoulder.

Marie Shabata settled herself in her seat and watched the rhythmical
movement of the young man's long arms, swinging her foot as if
in time to some air that was going through her mind.  The minutes
passed.  Emil mowed vigorously and Marie sat sunning herself and
watching the long grass fall.  She sat with the ease that belongs
to persons of an essentially happy nature, who can find a comfortable
spot almost anywhere; who are supple, and quick in adapting themselves
to circumstances.  After a final swish, Emil snapped the gate and
sprang into the cart, holding his scythe well out over the wheel.
"There," he sighed.  "I gave old man Lee a cut or so, too.  Lou's
wife needn't talk.  I never see Lou's scythe over here."

Marie clucked to her horse.  "Oh, you know Annie!"  She looked at
the young man's bare arms.  "How brown you've got since you came
home.  I wish I had an athlete to mow my orchard.  I get wet to my
knees when I go down to pick cherries."

"You can have one, any time you want him.  Better wait until after
it rains."  Emil squinted off at the horizon as if he were looking
for clouds.

"Will you?  Oh, there's a good boy!"  She turned her head to him
with a quick, bright smile.  He felt it rather than saw it.  Indeed,
he had looked away with the purpose of not seeing it.  "I've been
up looking at Angelique's wedding clothes," Marie went on, "and
I'm so excited I can hardly wait until Sunday.  Amedee will be
a handsome bridegroom.  Is anybody but you going to stand up with
him?  Well, then it will be a handsome wedding party."  She made a
droll face at Emil, who flushed.  "Frank," Marie continued, flicking
her horse, "is cranky at me because I loaned his saddle to Jan
Smirka, and I'm terribly afraid he won't take me to the dance in
the evening.  Maybe the supper will tempt him.  All Angelique's
folks are baking for it, and all Amedee's twenty cousins.  There
will be barrels of beer.  If once I get Frank to the supper, I'll
see that I stay for the dance.  And by the way, Emil, you mustn't
dance with me but once or twice.  You must dance with all the French
girls.  It hurts their feelings if you don't.  They think you're
proud because you've been away to school or something."

Emil sniffed.  "How do you know they think that?"

"Well, you didn't dance with them much at Raoul Marcel's party, and
I could tell how they took it by the way they looked at you--and
at me."

"All right," said Emil shortly, studying the glittering blade of
his scythe.

They drove westward toward Norway Creek, and toward a big white
house that stood on a hill, several miles across the fields.  There
were so many sheds and outbuildings grouped about it that the
place looked not unlike a tiny village.  A stranger, approaching
it, could not help noticing the beauty and fruitfulness of the
outlying fields.  There was something individual about the great
farm, a most unusual trimness and care for detail.  On either side
of the road, for a mile before you reached the foot of the hill,
stood tall osage orange hedges, their glossy green marking off
the yellow fields.  South of the hill, in a low, sheltered swale,
surrounded by a mulberry hedge, was the orchard, its fruit trees
knee-deep in timothy grass.  Any one thereabouts would have told
you that this was one of the richest farms on the Divide, and that
the farmer was a woman, Alexandra Bergson.

If you go up the hill and enter Alexandra's big house, you will
find that it is curiously unfinished and uneven in comfort.  One
room is papered, carpeted, over-furnished; the next is almost
bare.  The pleasantest rooms in the house are the kitchen--where
Alexandra's three young Swedish girls chatter and cook and pickle
and preserve all summer long--and the sitting-room, in which
Alexandra has brought together the old homely furniture that the
Bergsons used in their first log house, the family portraits, and
the few things her mother brought from Sweden.

When you go out of the house into the flower garden, there you feel
again the order and fine arrangement manifest all over the great
farm; in the fencing and hedging, in the windbreaks and sheds, in
the symmetrical pasture ponds, planted with scrub willows to give
shade to the cattle in fly-time.  There is even a white row of
beehives in the orchard, under the walnut trees.  You feel that,
properly, Alexandra's house is the big out-of-doors, and that it
is in the soil that she expresses herself best.



II


Emil reached home a little past noon, and when he went into the
kitchen Alexandra was already seated at the head of the long table,
having dinner with her men, as she always did unless there were
visitors.  He slipped into his empty place at his sister's right.
The three pretty young Swedish girls who did Alexandra's housework
were cutting pies, refilling coffeecups, placing platters of bread
and meat and potatoes upon the red tablecloth, and continually
getting in each other's way between the table and the stove.  To be
sure they always wasted a good deal of time getting in each other's
way and giggling at each other's mistakes.  But, as Alexandra had
pointedly told her sisters-in-law, it was to hear them giggle that
she kept three young things in her kitchen; the work she could
do herself, if it were necessary.  These girls, with their long
letters from home, their finery, and their love-affairs, afforded
her a great deal of entertainment, and they were company for her
when Emil was away at school.

Of the youngest girl, Signa, who has a pretty figure, mottled pink
cheeks, and yellow hair, Alexandra is very fond, though she keeps
a sharp eye upon her.  Signa is apt to be skittish at mealtime, when
the men are about, and to spill the coffee or upset the cream.  It
is supposed that Nelse Jensen, one of the six men at the dinner-table,
is courting Signa, though he has been so careful not to commit
himself that no one in the house, least of all Signa, can tell
just how far the matter has progressed.  Nelse watches her glumly
as she waits upon the table, and in the evening he sits on a bench
behind the stove with his DRAGHARMONIKA, playing mournful airs
and watching her as she goes about her work.  When Alexandra asked
Signa whether she thought Nelse was in earnest, the poor child hid
her hands under her apron and murmured, "I don't know, ma'm.  But
he scolds me about everything, like as if he wanted to have me!"

At Alexandra's left sat a very old man, barefoot and wearing a long
blue blouse, open at the neck.  His shaggy head is scarcely whiter
than it was sixteen years ago, but his little blue eyes have become
pale and watery, and his ruddy face is withered, like an apple that
has clung all winter to the tree.  When Ivar lost his land through
mismanagement a dozen years ago, Alexandra took him in, and he has
been a member of her household ever since.  He is too old to work
in the fields, but he hitches and unhitches the work-teams and
looks after the health of the stock.  Sometimes of a winter evening
Alexandra calls him into the sitting-room to read the Bible aloud
to her, for he still reads very well.  He dislikes human habitations,
so Alexandra has fitted him up a room in the barn, where he is very
comfortable, being near the horses and, as he says, further from
temptations.  No one has ever found out what his temptations are.
In cold weather he sits by the kitchen fire and makes hammocks
or mends harness until it is time to go to bed.  Then he says his
prayers at great length behind the stove, puts on his buffalo-skin
coat and goes out to his room in the barn.

Alexandra herself has changed very little.  Her figure is fuller,
and she has more color.  She seems sunnier and more vigorous than
she did as a young girl.  But she still has the same calmness and
deliberation of manner, the same clear eyes, and she still wears
her hair in two braids wound round her head.  It is so curly that
fiery ends escape from the braids and make her head look like one
of the big double sunflowers that fringe her vegetable garden.
Her face is always tanned in summer, for her sunbonnet is oftener
on her arm than on her head.  But where her collar falls away from
her neck, or where her sleeves are pushed back from her wrist, the
skin is of such smoothness and whiteness as none but Swedish women
ever possess; skin with the freshness of the snow itself.

Alexandra did not talk much at the table, but she encouraged her
men to talk, and she always listened attentively, even when they
seemed to be talking foolishly.

To-day Barney Flinn, the big red-headed Irishman who had been with
Alexandra for five years and who was actually her foreman, though
he had no such title, was grumbling about the new silo she had put
up that spring.  It happened to be the first silo on the Divide,
and Alexandra's neighbors and her men were skeptical about it.  "To
be sure, if the thing don't work, we'll have plenty of feed without
it, indeed," Barney conceded.

Nelse Jensen, Signa's gloomy suitor, had his word.  "Lou, he says
he wouldn't have no silo on his place if you'd give it to him.
He says the feed outen it gives the stock the bloat.  He heard of
somebody lost four head of horses, feedin' 'em that stuff."

Alexandra looked down the table from one to another.  "Well,
the only way we can find out is to try.  Lou and I have different
notions about feeding stock, and that's a good thing.  It's bad if
all the members of a family think alike.  They never get anywhere.
Lou can learn by my mistakes and I can learn by his.  Isn't that
fair, Barney?"

The Irishman laughed.  He had no love for Lou, who was always uppish
with him and who said that Alexandra paid her hands too much.  "I've
no thought but to give the thing an honest try, mum.  'T would be
only right, after puttin' so much expense into it.  Maybe Emil will
come out an' have a look at it wid me."  He pushed back his chair,
took his hat from the nail, and marched out with Emil, who, with
his university ideas, was supposed to have instigated the silo.
The other hands followed them, all except old Ivar.  He had been
depressed throughout the meal and had paid no heed to the talk of
the men, even when they mentioned cornstalk bloat, upon which he
was sure to have opinions.

"Did you want to speak to me, Ivar?" Alexandra asked as she rose
from the table.  "Come into the sitting-room."

The old man followed Alexandra, but when she motioned him to a chair
he shook his head.  She took up her workbasket and waited for him
to speak.  He stood looking at the carpet, his bushy head bowed,
his hands clasped in front of him.  Ivar's bandy legs seemed to
have grown shorter with years, and they were completely misfitted
to his broad, thick body and heavy shoulders.

"Well, Ivar, what is it?" Alexandra asked after she had waited
longer than usual.

Ivar had never learned to speak English and his Norwegian was quaint
and grave, like the speech of the more old-fashioned people.  He
always addressed Alexandra in terms of the deepest respect, hoping
to set a good example to the kitchen girls, whom he thought too
familiar in their manners.

"Mistress," he began faintly, without raising his eyes, "the folk
have been looking coldly at me of late.  You know there has been
talk."

"Talk about what, Ivar?"

"About sending me away; to the asylum."

Alexandra put down her sewing-basket.  "Nobody has come to me with
such talk," she said decidedly.  "Why need you listen?  You know
I would never consent to such a thing."

Ivar lifted his shaggy head and looked at her out of his little
eyes.  "They say that you cannot prevent it if the folk complain of
me, if your brothers complain to the authorities.  They say that
your brothers are afraid--God forbid!--that I may do you some
injury when my spells are on me.  Mistress, how can any one think
that?--that I could bite the hand that fed me!"  The tears trickled
down on the old man's beard.

Alexandra frowned.  "Ivar, I wonder at you, that you should come
bothering me with such nonsense.  I am still running my own house,
and other people have nothing to do with either you or me.  So long
as I am suited with you, there is nothing to be said."

Ivar pulled a red handkerchief out of the breast of his blouse and
wiped his eyes and beard.  "But I should not wish you to keep me
if, as they say, it is against your interests, and if it is hard
for you to get hands because I am here."

Alexandra made an impatient gesture, but the old man put out his
hand and went on earnestly:--

"Listen, mistress, it is right that you should take these things
into account.  You know that my spells come from God, and that
I would not harm any living creature.  You believe that every one
should worship God in the way revealed to him.  But that is not
the way of this country.  The way here is for all to do alike.  I
am despised because I do not wear shoes, because I do not cut my
hair, and because I have visions.  At home, in the old country,
there were many like me, who had been touched by God, or who had
seen things in the graveyard at night and were different afterward.
We thought nothing of it, and let them alone.  But here, if a man
is different in his feet or in his head, they put him in the asylum.
Look at Peter Kralik; when he was a boy, drinking out of a creek,
he swallowed a snake, and always after that he could eat only
such food as the creature liked, for when he ate anything else, it
became enraged and gnawed him.  When he felt it whipping about in
him, he drank alcohol to stupefy it and get some ease for himself.
He could work as good as any man, and his head was clear, but they
locked him up for being different in his stomach.  That is the way;
they have built the asylum for people who are different, and they
will not even let us live in the holes with the badgers.  Only
your great prosperity has protected me so far.  If you had had
ill-fortune, they would have taken me to Hastings long ago."

As Ivar talked, his gloom lifted.  Alexandra had found that she
could often break his fasts and long penances by talking to him
and letting him pour out the thoughts that troubled him.  Sympathy
always cleared his mind, and ridicule was poison to him.

"There is a great deal in what you say, Ivar.  Like as not they
will be wanting to take me to Hastings because I have built a silo;
and then I may take you with me.  But at present I need you here.
Only don't come to me again telling me what people say.  Let people
go on talking as they like, and we will go on living as we think
best.  You have been with me now for twelve years, and I have gone
to you for advice oftener than I have ever gone to any one.  That
ought to satisfy you."

Ivar bowed humbly.  "Yes, mistress, I shall not trouble you with
their talk again.  And as for my feet, I have observed your wishes
all these years, though you have never questioned me; washing them
every night, even in winter."

Alexandra laughed.  "Oh, never mind about your feet, Ivar.  We can
remember when half our neighbors went barefoot in summer.  I expect
old Mrs. Lee would love to slip her shoes off now sometimes, if
she dared.  I'm glad I'm not Lou's mother-in-law."

Ivar looked about mysteriously and lowered his voice almost to a
whisper.  "You know what they have over at Lou's house?  A great
white tub, like the stone water-troughs in the old country, to wash
themselves in.  When you sent me over with the strawberries, they
were all in town but the old woman Lee and the baby.  She took me
in and showed me the thing, and she told me it was impossible to
wash yourself clean in it, because, in so much water, you could
not make a strong suds.  So when they fill it up and send her in
there, she pretends, and makes a splashing noise.  Then, when they
are all asleep, she washes herself in a little wooden tub she keeps
under her bed."

Alexandra shook with laughter.  "Poor old Mrs. Lee!  They won't let
her wear nightcaps, either.  Never mind; when she comes to visit
me, she can do all the old things in the old way, and have as much
beer as she wants.  We'll start an asylum for old-time people,
Ivar."

Ivar folded his big handkerchief carefully and thrust it back into
his blouse.  "This is always the way, mistress.  I come to you
sorrowing, and you send me away with a light heart.  And will you
be so good as to tell the Irishman that he is not to work the brown
gelding until the sore on its shoulder is healed?"

"That I will.  Now go and put Emil's mare to the cart.  I am going
to drive up to the north quarter to meet the man from town who is
to buy my alfalfa hay."



III


Alexandra was to hear more of Ivar's case, however.  On Sunday her
married brothers came to dinner.  She had asked them for that day
because Emil, who hated family parties, would be absent, dancing
at Amedee Chevalier's wedding, up in the French country.  The table
was set for company in the dining-room, where highly varnished
wood and colored glass and useless pieces of china were conspicuous
enough to satisfy the standards of the new prosperity.  Alexandra
had put herself into the hands of the Hanover furniture dealer, and
he had conscientiously done his best to make her dining-room look
like his display window.  She said frankly that she knew nothing
about such things, and she was willing to be governed by the general
conviction that the more useless and utterly unusable objects
were, the greater their virtue as ornament.  That seemed reasonable
enough.  Since she liked plain things herself, it was all the more
necessary to have jars and punchbowls and candlesticks in the company
rooms for people who did appreciate them.  Her guests liked to see
about them these reassuring emblems of prosperity.

The family party was complete except for Emil, and Oscar's wife
who, in the country phrase, "was not going anywhere just now."
Oscar sat at the foot of the table and his four tow-headed little
boys, aged from twelve to five, were ranged at one side.  Neither
Oscar nor Lou has changed much; they have simply, as Alexandra said
of them long ago, grown to be more and more like themselves.  Lou
now looks the older of the two; his face is thin and shrewd and
wrinkled about the eyes, while Oscar's is thick and dull.  For all
his dullness, however, Oscar makes more money than his brother,
which adds to Lou's sharpness and uneasiness and tempts him to
make a show.  The trouble with Lou is that he is tricky, and his
neighbors have found out that, as Ivar says, he has not a fox's face
for nothing.  Politics being the natural field for such talents,
he neglects his farm to attend conventions and to run for county
offices.

Lou's wife, formerly Annie Lee, has grown to look curiously like
her husband.  Her face has become longer, sharper, more aggressive.
She wears her yellow hair in a high pompadour, and is bedecked with
rings and chains and "beauty pins."  Her tight, high-heeled shoes
give her an awkward walk, and she is always more or less preoccupied
with her clothes.  As she sat at the table, she kept telling her
youngest daughter to "be careful now, and not drop anything on
mother."

The conversation at the table was all in English.  Oscar's wife,
from the malaria district of Missouri, was ashamed of marrying a
foreigner, and his boys do not understand a word of Swedish.  Annie
and Lou sometimes speak Swedish at home, but Annie is almost as
much afraid of being "caught" at it as ever her mother was of being
caught barefoot.  Oscar still has a thick accent, but Lou speaks
like anybody from Iowa.

"When I was in Hastings to attend the convention," he was saying,
"I saw the superintendent of the asylum, and I was telling him about
Ivar's symptoms.  He says Ivar's case is one of the most dangerous
kind, and it's a wonder he hasn't done something violent before
this."

Alexandra laughed good-humoredly.  "Oh, nonsense, Lou!  The doctors
would have us all crazy if they could.  Ivar's queer, certainly,
but he has more sense than half the hands I hire."

Lou flew at his fried chicken.  "Oh, I guess the doctor knows his
business, Alexandra.  He was very much surprised when I told him
how you'd put up with Ivar.  He says he's likely to set fire to the
barn any night, or to take after you and the girls with an axe."

Little Signa, who was waiting on the table, giggled and fled to
the kitchen.  Alexandra's eyes twinkled.  "That was too much for
Signa, Lou.  We all know that Ivar's perfectly harmless.  The girls
would as soon expect me to chase them with an axe."

Lou flushed and signaled to his wife.  "All the same, the neighbors
will be having a say about it before long.  He may burn anybody's
barn.  It's only necessary for one property-owner in the township
to make complaint, and he'll be taken up by force.  You'd better
send him yourself and not have any hard feelings."

Alexandra helped one of her little nephews to gravy.  "Well, Lou,
if any of the neighbors try that, I'll have myself appointed Ivar's
guardian and take the case to court, that's all.  I am perfectly
satisfied with him."

"Pass the preserves, Lou," said Annie in a warning tone.  She had
reasons for not wishing her husband to cross Alexandra too openly.
"But don't you sort of hate to have people see him around here,
Alexandra?" she went on with persuasive smoothness.  "He IS a
disgraceful object, and you're fixed up so nice now.  It sort of
makes people distant with you, when they never know when they'll
hear him scratching about.  My girls are afraid as death of him,
aren't you, Milly, dear?"

Milly was fifteen, fat and jolly and pompadoured, with a creamy
complexion, square white teeth, and a short upper lip.  She
looked like her grandmother Bergson, and had her comfortable and
comfort-loving nature.  She grinned at her aunt, with whom she was
a great deal more at ease than she was with her mother.  Alexandra
winked a reply.

"Milly needn't be afraid of Ivar.  She's an especial favorite of
his.  In my opinion Ivar has just as much right to his own way of
dressing and thinking as we have.  But I'll see that he doesn't
bother other people.  I'll keep him at home, so don't trouble any
more about him, Lou.  I've been wanting to ask you about your new
bathtub.  How does it work?"

Annie came to the fore to give Lou time to recover himself.  "Oh,
it works something grand!  I can't keep him out of it.  He washes
himself all over three times a week now, and uses all the hot water.
I think it's weakening to stay in as long as he does.  You ought
to have one, Alexandra."

"I'm thinking of it.  I might have one put in the barn for Ivar,
if it will ease people's minds.  But before I get a bathtub, I'm
going to get a piano for Milly."

Oscar, at the end of the table, looked up from his plate.  "What
does Milly want of a pianny?  What's the matter with her organ?
She can make some use of that, and play in church."

Annie looked flustered.  She had begged Alexandra not to say
anything about this plan before Oscar, who was apt to be jealous
of what his sister did for Lou's children.  Alexandra did not get
on with Oscar's wife at all.  "Milly can play in church just the
same, and she'll still play on the organ.  But practising on it
so much spoils her touch.  Her teacher says so," Annie brought out
with spirit.

Oscar rolled his eyes.  "Well, Milly must have got on pretty good
if she's got past the organ.  I know plenty of grown folks that
ain't," he said bluntly.

Annie threw up her chin.  "She has got on good, and she's going to
play for her commencement when she graduates in town next year."

"Yes," said Alexandra firmly, "I think Milly deserves a piano.
All the girls around here have been taking lessons for years, but
Milly is the only one of them who can ever play anything when you
ask her.  I'll tell you when I first thought I would like to give
you a piano, Milly, and that was when you learned that book of old
Swedish songs that your grandfather used to sing.  He had a sweet
tenor voice, and when he was a young man he loved to sing.  I can
remember hearing him singing with the sailors down in the shipyard,
when I was no bigger than Stella here," pointing to Annie's younger
daughter.

Milly and Stella both looked through the door into the sitting-room,
where a crayon portrait of John Bergson hung on the wall.  Alexandra
had had it made from a little photograph, taken for his friends
just before he left Sweden; a slender man of thirty-five, with
soft hair curling about his high forehead, a drooping mustache,
and wondering, sad eyes that looked forward into the distance, as
if they already beheld the New World.

After dinner Lou and Oscar went to the orchard to pick cherries--they
had neither of them had the patience to grow an orchard of their
own--and Annie went down to gossip with Alexandra's kitchen girls
while they washed the dishes.  She could always find out more about
Alexandra's domestic economy from the prattling maids than from
Alexandra herself, and what she discovered she used to her own
advantage with Lou.  On the Divide, farmers' daughters no longer
went out into service, so Alexandra got her girls from Sweden, by
paying their fare over.  They stayed with her until they married,
and were replaced by sisters or cousins from the old country.

Alexandra took her three nieces into the flower garden.  She was
fond of the little girls, especially of Milly, who came to spend
a week with her aunt now and then, and read aloud to her from the
old books about the house, or listened to stories about the early
days on the Divide.  While they were walking among the flower beds,
a buggy drove up the hill and stopped in front of the gate.  A man
got out and stood talking to the driver.  The little girls were
delighted at the advent of a stranger, some one from very far away,
they knew by his clothes, his gloves, and the sharp, pointed cut
of his dark beard.  The girls fell behind their aunt and peeped out
at him from among the castor beans.  The stranger came up to the
gate and stood holding his hat in his hand, smiling, while Alexandra
advanced slowly to meet him.  As she approached he spoke in a low,
pleasant voice.

"Don't you know me, Alexandra?  I would have known you, anywhere."

Alexandra shaded her eyes with her hand.  Suddenly she took a quick
step forward.  "Can it be!" she exclaimed with feeling; "can it be
that it is Carl Linstrum?  Why, Carl, it is!"  She threw out both
her hands and caught his across the gate.  "Sadie, Milly, run tell
your father and Uncle Oscar that our old friend Carl Linstrum is
here.  Be quick!  Why, Carl, how did it happen?  I can't believe
this!"  Alexandra shook the tears from her eyes and laughed.

The stranger nodded to his driver, dropped his suitcase inside
the fence, and opened the gate.  "Then you are glad to see me, and
you can put me up overnight?  I couldn't go through this country
without stopping off to have a look at you.  How little you have
changed!  Do you know, I was sure it would be like that.  You
simply couldn't be different.  How fine you are!"  He stepped back
and looked at her admiringly.

Alexandra blushed and laughed again.  "But you yourself, Carl--with
that beard--how could I have known you?  You went away a little
boy."  She reached for his suitcase and when he intercepted her
she threw up her hands.  "You see, I give myself away.  I have only
women come to visit me, and I do not know how to behave.  Where is
your trunk?"

"It's in Hanover.  I can stay only a few days.  I am on my way to
the coast."

They started up the path.  "A few days?  After all these years!"
Alexandra shook her finger at him.  "See this, you have walked
into a trap.  You do not get away so easy."  She put her hand
affectionately on his shoulder.  "You owe me a visit for the sake
of old times.  Why must you go to the coast at all?"

"Oh, I must!  I am a fortune hunter.  From Seattle I go on to
Alaska."

"Alaska?"  She looked at him in astonishment.  "Are you going to
paint the Indians?"

"Paint?" the young man frowned.  "Oh!  I'm not a painter, Alexandra.
I'm an engraver.  I have nothing to do with painting."

"But on my parlor wall I have the paintings--"

He interrupted nervously.  "Oh, water-color sketches--done for
amusement.  I sent them to remind you of me, not because they were
good.  What a wonderful place you have made of this, Alexandra."
He turned and looked back at the wide, map-like prospect of field
and hedge and pasture.  "I would never have believed it could be
done.  I'm disappointed in my own eye, in my imagination."

At this moment Lou and Oscar came up the hill from the orchard.
They did not quicken their pace when they saw Carl; indeed, they
did not openly look in his direction.  They advanced distrustfully,
and as if they wished the distance were longer.

Alexandra beckoned to them.  "They think I am trying to fool them.
Come, boys, it's Carl Linstrum, our old Carl!"

Lou gave the visitor a quick, sidelong glance and thrust out his
hand.  "Glad to see you."

Oscar followed with "How d' do."  Carl could not tell whether their
offishness came from unfriendliness or from embarrassment.  He and
Alexandra led the way to the porch.

"Carl," Alexandra explained, "is on his way to Seattle.  He is
going to Alaska."

Oscar studied the visitor's yellow shoes.  "Got business there?"
he asked.

Carl laughed.  "Yes, very pressing business.  I'm going there to
get rich.  Engraving's a very interesting profession, but a man
never makes any money at it.  So I'm going to try the goldfields."

Alexandra felt that this was a tactful speech, and Lou looked up
with some interest.  "Ever done anything in that line before?"

"No, but I'm going to join a friend of mine who went out from New
York and has done well.  He has offered to break me in."

"Turrible cold winters, there, I hear," remarked Oscar.  "I thought
people went up there in the spring."

"They do.  But my friend is going to spend the winter in Seattle and
I am to stay with him there and learn something about prospecting
before we start north next year."

Lou looked skeptical.  "Let's see, how long have you been away from
here?"

"Sixteen years.  You ought to remember that, Lou, for you were
married just after we went away."

"Going to stay with us some time?" Oscar asked.

"A few days, if Alexandra can keep me."

"I expect you'll be wanting to see your old place," Lou observed
more cordially.  "You won't hardly know it.  But there's a few
chunks of your old sod house left.  Alexandra wouldn't never let
Frank Shabata plough over it."

Annie Lee, who, ever since the visitor was announced, had been
touching up her hair and settling her lace and wishing she had worn
another dress, now emerged with her three daughters and introduced
them.  She was greatly impressed by Carl's urban appearance, and
in her excitement talked very loud and threw her head about.  "And
you ain't married yet?  At your age, now!  Think of that!  You'll
have to wait for Milly.  Yes, we've got a boy, too.  The youngest.
He's at home with his grandma.  You must come over to see mother
and hear Milly play.  She's the musician of the family.  She does
pyrography, too.  That's burnt wood, you know.  You wouldn't believe
what she can do with her poker.  Yes, she goes to school in town,
and she is the youngest in her class by two years."

Milly looked uncomfortable and Carl took her hand again.  He liked
her creamy skin and happy, innocent eyes, and he could see that her
mother's way of talking distressed her.  "I'm sure she's a clever
little girl," he murmured, looking at her thoughtfully.  "Let me
see--  Ah, it's your mother that she looks like, Alexandra.  Mrs.
Bergson must have looked just like this when she was a little
girl.  Does Milly run about over the country as you and Alexandra
used to, Annie?"

Milly's mother protested.  "Oh, my, no!  Things has changed since
we was girls.  Milly has it very different.  We are going to rent
the place and move into town as soon as the girls are old enough
to go out into company.  A good many are doing that here now.  Lou
is going into business."

Lou grinned.  "That's what she says.  You better go get your things
on.  Ivar's hitching up," he added, turning to Annie.

Young farmers seldom address their wives by name.  It is always
"you," or "she."

Having got his wife out of the way, Lou sat down on the step and
began to whittle.  "Well, what do folks in New York think of William
Jennings Bryan?"  Lou began to bluster, as he always did when he
talked politics.  "We gave Wall Street a scare in ninety-six, all
right, and we're fixing another to hand them.  Silver wasn't the
only issue," he nodded mysteriously.  "There's a good many things
got to be changed.  The West is going to make itself heard."

Carl laughed.  "But, surely, it did do that, if nothing else."

Lou's thin face reddened up to the roots of his bristly hair.  "Oh,
we've only begun.  We're waking up to a sense of our responsibilities,
out here, and we ain't afraid, neither.  You fellows back there
must be a tame lot.  If you had any nerve you'd get together and
march down to Wall Street and blow it up.  Dynamite it, I mean,"
with a threatening nod.

He was so much in earnest that Carl scarcely knew how to answer
him.  "That would be a waste of powder.  The same business would
go on in another street.  The street doesn't matter.  But what have
you fellows out here got to kick about?  You have the only safe
place there is.  Morgan himself couldn't touch you.  One only has
to drive through this country to see that you're all as rich as
barons."

"We have a good deal more to say than we had when we were poor,"
said Lou threateningly.  "We're getting on to a whole lot of things."

As Ivar drove a double carriage up to the gate, Annie came out in
a hat that looked like the model of a battleship.  Carl rose and
took her down to the carriage, while Lou lingered for a word with
his sister.

"What do you suppose he's come for?" he asked, jerking his head
toward the gate.

"Why, to pay us a visit.  I've been begging him to for years."

Oscar looked at Alexandra.  "He didn't let you know he was coming?"

"No.  Why should he?  I told him to come at any time."

Lou shrugged his shoulders.  "He doesn't seem to have done much
for himself.  Wandering around this way!"

Oscar spoke solemnly, as from the depths of a cavern.  "He never
was much account."

Alexandra left them and hurried down to the gate where Annie was
rattling on to Carl about her new dining-room furniture.  "You
must bring Mr. Linstrum over real soon, only be sure to telephone
me first," she called back, as Carl helped her into the carriage.
Old Ivar, his white head bare, stood holding the horses.  Lou came
down the path and climbed into the front seat, took up the reins,
and drove off without saying anything further to any one.  Oscar
picked up his youngest boy and trudged off down the road, the other
three trotting after him.  Carl, holding the gate open for Alexandra,
began to laugh.  "Up and coming on the Divide, eh, Alexandra?" he
cried gayly.



IV


Carl had changed, Alexandra felt, much less than one might have
expected.  He had not become a trim, self-satisfied city man.  There
was still something homely and wayward and definitely personal
about him.  Even his clothes, his Norfolk coat and his very high
collars, were a little unconventional.  He seemed to shrink into
himself as he used to do; to hold himself away from things, as if
he were afraid of being hurt.  In short, he was more self-con-scious
than a man of thirty-five is expected to be.  He looked older than
his years and not very strong.  His black hair, which still hung
in a triangle over his pale forehead, was thin at the crown, and
there were fine, relentless lines about his eyes.  His back, with
its high, sharp shoulders, looked like the back of an over-worked
German professor off on his holiday.  His face was intelligent,
sensitive, unhappy.

That evening after supper, Carl and Alexandra were sitting by the
clump of castor beans in the middle of the flower garden.  The
gravel paths glittered in the moonlight, and below them the fields
lay white and still.

"Do you know, Alexandra," he was saying, "I've been thinking how
strangely things work out.  I've been away engraving other men's
pictures, and you've stayed at home and made your own."  He pointed
with his cigar toward the sleeping landscape.  "How in the world
have you done it?  How have your neighbors done it?"

"We hadn't any of us much to do with it, Carl.  The land did it.
It had its little joke.  It pretended to be poor because nobody
knew how to work it right; and then, all at once, it worked itself.
It woke up out of its sleep and stretched itself, and it was so big,
so rich, that we suddenly found we were rich, just from sitting
still.  As for me, you remember when I began to buy land.  For
years after that I was always squeezing and borrowing until I was
ashamed to show my face in the banks.  And then, all at once, men
began to come to me offering to lend me money--and I didn't need
it!  Then I went ahead and built this house.  I really built it
for Emil.  I want you to see Emil, Carl.  He is so different from
the rest of us!"

"How different?"

"Oh, you'll see!  I'm sure it was to have sons like Emil, and to
give them a chance, that father left the old country.  It's curious,
too; on the outside Emil is just like an American boy,--he graduated
from the State University in June, you know,--but underneath he is
more Swedish than any of us.  Sometimes he is so like father that
he frightens me; he is so violent in his feelings like that."

"Is he going to farm here with you?"

"He shall do whatever he wants to," Alexandra declared warmly.  "He
is going to have a chance, a whole chance; that's what I've worked
for.  Sometimes he talks about studying law, and sometimes, just
lately, he's been talking about going out into the sand hills and
taking up more land.  He has his sad times, like father.  But I
hope he won't do that.  We have land enough, at last!"  Alexandra
laughed.

"How about Lou and Oscar?  They've done well, haven't they?"

"Yes, very well; but they are different, and now that they have
farms of their own I do not see so much of them.  We divided the
land equally when Lou married.  They have their own way of doing
things, and they do not altogether like my way, I am afraid.  Perhaps
they think me too independent.  But I have had to think for myself
a good many years and am not likely to change.  On the whole,
though, we take as much comfort in each other as most brothers and
sisters do.  And I am very fond of Lou's oldest daughter."

"I think I liked the old Lou and Oscar better, and they probably
feel the same about me.  I even, if you can keep a secret,"--Carl
leaned forward and touched her arm, smiling,--"I even think I liked
the old country better.  This is all very splendid in its way,
but there was something about this country when it was a wild old
beast that has haunted me all these years.  Now, when I come back
to all this milk and honey, I feel like the old German song, 'Wo
bist du, wo bist du, mein geliebtest Land?'--  Do you ever feel like
that, I wonder?"

"Yes, sometimes, when I think about father and mother and those
who are gone; so many of our old neighbors."  Alexandra paused and
looked up thoughtfully at the stars.  "We can remember the graveyard
when it was wild prairie, Carl, and now--"

"And now the old story has begun to write itself over there," said
Carl softly.  "Isn't it queer: there are only two or three human
stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they
had never happened before; like the larks in this country, that
have been singing the same five notes over for thousands of years."

"Oh, yes!  The young people, they live so hard.  And yet I sometimes
envy them.  There is my little neighbor, now; the people who bought
your old place.  I wouldn't have sold it to any one else, but I
was always fond of that girl.  You must remember her, little Marie
Tovesky, from Omaha, who used to visit here?  When she was eighteen
she ran away from the convent school and got married, crazy child!
She came out here a bride, with her father and husband.  He had
nothing, and the old man was willing to buy them a place and set
them up.  Your farm took her fancy, and I was glad to have her so
near me.  I've never been sorry, either.  I even try to get along
with Frank on her account."

"Is Frank her husband?"

"Yes.  He's one of these wild fellows.  Most Bohemians are
good-natured, but Frank thinks we don't appreciate him here, I
guess.  He's jealous about everything, his farm and his horses and
his pretty wife.  Everybody likes her, just the same as when she
was little.  Sometimes I go up to the Catholic church with Emil,
and it's funny to see Marie standing there laughing and shaking
hands with people, looking so excited and gay, with Frank sulking
behind her as if he could eat everybody alive.  Frank's not a bad
neighbor, but to get on with him you've got to make a fuss over
him and act as if you thought he was a very important person all
the time, and different from other people.  I find it hard to keep
that up from one year's end to another."

"I shouldn't think you'd be very successful at that kind of thing,
Alexandra."  Carl seemed to find the idea amusing.

"Well," said Alexandra firmly, "I do the best I can, on Marie's
account.  She has it hard enough, anyway.  She's too young and
pretty for this sort of life.  We're all ever so much older and
slower.  But she's the kind that won't be downed easily.  She'll
work all day and go to a Bohemian wedding and dance all night, and
drive the hay wagon for a cross man next morning.  I could stay by
a job, but I never had the go in me that she has, when I was going
my best.  I'll have to take you over to see her to-morrow."

Carl dropped the end of his cigar softly among the castor beans and
sighed.  "Yes, I suppose I must see the old place.  I'm cowardly
about things that remind me of myself.  It took courage to come
at all, Alexandra.  I wouldn't have, if I hadn't wanted to see you
very, very much."

Alexandra looked at him with her calm, deliberate eyes.  "Why do
you dread things like that, Carl?" she asked earnestly.  "Why are
you dissatisfied with yourself?"

Her visitor winced.  "How direct you are, Alexandra!  Just like
you used to be.  Do I give myself away so quickly?  Well, you see,
for one thing, there's nothing to look forward to in my profession.
Wood-engraving is the only thing I care about, and that had gone out
before I began.  Everything's cheap metal work nowadays, touching
up miserable photographs, forcing up poor drawings, and spoiling good
ones.  I'm absolutely sick of it all."  Carl frowned.  "Alexandra,
all the way out from New York I've been planning how I could
deceive you and make you think me a very enviable fellow, and here
I am telling you the truth the first night.  I waste a lot of time
pretending to people, and the joke of it is, I don't think I ever
deceive any one.  There are too many of my kind; people know us on
sight."

Carl paused.  Alexandra pushed her hair back from her brow with a
puzzled, thoughtful gesture.  "You see," he went on calmly, "measured
by your standards here, I'm a failure.  I couldn't buy even one of
your cornfields.  I've enjoyed a great many things, but I've got
nothing to show for it all."

"But you show for it yourself, Carl.  I'd rather have had your
freedom than my land."

Carl shook his head mournfully.  "Freedom so often means that one
isn't needed anywhere.  Here you are an individual, you have a
background of your own, you would be missed.  But off there in the
cities there are thousands of rolling stones like me.  We are all
alike; we have no ties, we know nobody, we own nothing.  When one
of us dies, they scarcely know where to bury him.  Our landlady and
the delicatessen man are our mourners, and we leave nothing behind
us but a frock-coat and a fiddle, or an easel, or a typewriter, or
whatever tool we got our living by.  All we have ever managed to
do is to pay our rent, the exorbitant rent that one has to pay for
a few square feet of space near the heart of things.  We have no
house, no place, no people of our own.  We live in the streets,
in the parks, in the theatres.  We sit in restaurants and concert
halls and look about at the hundreds of our own kind and shudder."

Alexandra was silent.  She sat looking at the silver spot the moon
made on the surface of the pond down in the pasture.  He knew that
she understood what he meant.  At last she said slowly, "And yet I
would rather have Emil grow up like that than like his two brothers.
We pay a high rent, too, though we pay differently.  We grow hard
and heavy here.  We don't move lightly and easily as you do, and
our minds get stiff.  If the world were no wider than my cornfields,
if there were not something beside this, I wouldn't feel that it
was much worth while to work.  No, I would rather have Emil like
you than like them.  I felt that as soon as you came."

"I wonder why you feel like that?" Carl mused.

"I don't know.  Perhaps I am like Carrie Jensen, the sister of one
of my hired men.  She had never been out of the cornfields, and a
few years ago she got despondent and said life was just the same
thing over and over, and she didn't see the use of it.  After she
had tried to kill herself once or twice, her folks got worried and
sent her over to Iowa to visit some relations.  Ever since she's
come back she's been perfectly cheerful, and she says she's contented
to live and work in a world that's so big and interesting.  She
said that anything as big as the bridges over the Platte and the
Missouri reconciled her.  And it's what goes on in the world that
reconciles me."



V


Alexandra did not find time to go to her neighbor's the next day, nor
the next.  It was a busy season on the farm, with the corn-plowing
going on, and even Emil was in the field with a team and cultivator.
Carl went about over the farms with Alexandra in the morning, and
in the afternoon and evening they found a great deal to talk about.
Emil, for all his track practice, did not stand up under farmwork
very well, and by night he was too tired to talk or even to practise
on his cornet.

On Wednesday morning Carl got up before it was light, and stole
downstairs and out of the kitchen door just as old Ivar was making
his morning ablutions at the pump.  Carl nodded to him and hurried
up the draw, past the garden, and into the pasture where the milking
cows used to be kept.

The dawn in the east looked like the light from some great fire that
was burning under the edge of the world.  The color was reflected
in the globules of dew that sheathed the short gray pasture grass.
Carl walked rapidly until he came to the crest of the second hill,
where the Bergson pasture joined the one that had belonged to his
father.  There he sat down and waited for the sun to rise.  It was
just there that he and Alexandra used to do their milking together, he
on his side of the fence, she on hers.  He could remember exactly
how she looked when she came over the close-cropped grass, her
skirts pinned up, her head bare, a bright tin pail in either hand,
and the milky light of the early morning all about her.  Even as
a boy he used to feel, when he saw her coming with her free step,
her upright head and calm shoulders, that she looked as if she had
walked straight out of the morning itself.  Since then, when he had
happened to see the sun come up in the country or on the water, he
had often remembered the young Swedish girl and her milking pails.

Carl sat musing until the sun leaped above the prairie, and in the
grass about him all the small creatures of day began to tune their
tiny instruments.  Birds and insects without number began to chirp,
to twitter, to snap and whistle, to make all manner of fresh shrill
noises.  The pasture was flooded with light; every clump of ironweed
and snow-on-the-mountain threw a long shadow, and the golden light
seemed to be rippling through the curly grass like the tide racing
in.

He crossed the fence into the pasture that was now the Shabatas' and
continued his walk toward the pond.  He had not gone far, however,
when he discovered that he was not the only person abroad.  In the
draw below, his gun in his hands, was Emil, advancing cautiously,
with a young woman beside him.  They were moving softly, keeping
close together, and Carl knew that they expected to find ducks on
the pond.  At the moment when they came in sight of the bright spot
of water, he heard a whirr of wings and the ducks shot up into the
air.  There was a sharp crack from the gun, and five of the birds
fell to the ground.  Emil and his companion laughed delightedly,
and Emil ran to pick them up.  When he came back, dangling the
ducks by their feet, Marie held her apron and he dropped them into
it.  As she stood looking down at them, her face changed.  She
took up one of the birds, a rumpled ball of feathers with the blood
dripping slowly from its mouth, and looked at the live color that
still burned on its plumage.

As she let it fall, she cried in distress, "Oh, Emil, why did you?"

"I like that!" the boy exclaimed indignantly.  "Why, Marie, you
asked me to come yourself."

":Yes, yes, I know," she said tearfully, "but I didn't think.  I
hate to see them when they are first shot.  They were having such
a good time, and we've spoiled it all for them."

Emil gave a rather sore laugh.  "I should say we had!  I'm not going
hunting with you any more.  You're as bad as Ivar.  Here, let me
take them."  He snatched the ducks out of her apron.

"Don't be cross, Emil.  Only--Ivar's right about wild things.  They're
too happy to kill.  You can tell just how they felt when they flew
up.  They were scared, but they didn't really think anything could
hurt them.  No, we won't do that any more."

"All right," Emil assented.  "I'm sorry I made you feel bad."  As
he looked down into her tearful eyes, there was a curious, sharp
young bitterness in his own.

Carl watched them as they moved slowly down the draw.  They had
not seen him at all.  He had not overheard much of their dialogue,
but he felt the import of it.  It made him, somehow, unreasonably
mournful to find two young things abroad in the pasture in the
early morning.  He decided that he needed his breakfast.



VI


At dinner that day Alexandra said she thought they must really
manage to go over to the Shabatas' that afternoon.  "It's not often
I let three days go by without seeing Marie.  She will think I have
forsaken her, now that my old friend has come back."

After the men had gone back to work, Alexandra put on a white dress
and her sun-hat, and she and Carl set forth across the fields.
"You see we have kept up the old path, Carl.  It has been so nice
for me to feel that there was a friend at the other end of it
again."

Carl smiled a little ruefully.  "All the same, I hope it hasn't
been QUITE the same."

Alexandra looked at him with surprise.  "Why, no, of course not.
Not the same.  She could not very well take your place, if that's
what you mean.  I'm friendly with all my neighbors, I hope.  But
Marie is really a companion, some one I can talk to quite frankly.
You wouldn't want me to be more lonely than I have been, would
you?"

Carl laughed and pushed back the triangular lock of hair with the
edge of his hat.  "Of course I don't.  I ought to be thankful that
this path hasn't been worn by--well, by friends with more pressing
errands than your little Bohemian is likely to have."  He paused
to give Alexandra his hand as she stepped over the stile.  "Are
you the least bit disappointed in our coming together again?" he
asked abruptly.  "Is it the way you hoped it would be?"

Alexandra smiled at this.  "Only better.  When I've thought about
your coming, I've sometimes been a little afraid of it.  You have
lived where things move so fast, and everything is slow here; the
people slowest of all.  Our lives are like the years, all made up
of weather and crops and cows.  How you hated cows!"  She shook her
head and laughed to herself.

"I didn't when we milked together.  I walked up to the pasture
corners this morning.  I wonder whether I shall ever be able to
tell you all that I was thinking about up there.  It's a strange
thing, Alexandra; I find it easy to be frank with you about everything
under the sun except--yourself!"

"You are afraid of hurting my feelings, perhaps."  Alexandra looked
at him thoughtfully.

"No, I'm afraid of giving you a shock.  You've seen yourself for
so long in the dull minds of the people about you, that if I were
to tell you how you seem to me, it would startle you.  But you must
see that you astonish me.  You must feel when people admire you."

Alexandra blushed and laughed with some confusion.  "I felt that
you were pleased with me, if you mean that."

"And you've felt when other people were pleased with you?" he
insisted.

"Well, sometimes.  The men in town, at the banks and the county
offices, seem glad to see me.  I think, myself, it is more pleasant
to do business with people who are clean and healthy-looking," she
admitted blandly.

Carl gave a little chuckle as he opened the Shabatas' gate for her.
"Oh, do you?" he asked dryly.

There was no sign of life about the Shabatas' house except a big
yellow cat, sunning itself on the kitchen doorstep.

Alexandra took the path that led to the orchard.  "She often sits
there and sews.  I didn't telephone her we were coming, because I
didn't want her to go to work and bake cake and freeze ice-cream.
She'll always make a party if you give her the least excuse.  Do
you recognize the apple trees, Carl?"

Linstrum looked about him.  "I wish I had a dollar for every bucket
of water I've carried for those trees.  Poor father, he was an
easy man, but he was perfectly merciless when it came to watering
the orchard."

"That's one thing I like about Germans; they make an orchard grow
if they can't make anything else.  I'm so glad these trees belong
to some one who takes comfort in them.  When I rented this place,
the tenants never kept the orchard up, and Emil and I used to come
over and take care of it ourselves.  It needs mowing now.  There
she is, down in the corner.  Maria-a-a!" she called.

A recumbent figure started up from the grass and came running toward
them through the flickering screen of light and shade.

"Look at her!  Isn't she like a little brown rabbit?" Alexandra
laughed.

Maria ran up panting and threw her arms about Alexandra.  "Oh, I
had begun to think you were not coming at all, maybe.  I knew you
were so busy.  Yes, Emil told me about Mr.  Linstrum being here.
Won't you come up to the house?"

"Why not sit down there in your corner?  Carl wants to see the
orchard.  He kept all these trees alive for years, watering them
with his own back."

Marie turned to Carl.  "Then I'm thankful to you, Mr. Linstrum.  We'd
never have bought the place if it hadn't been for this orchard, and
then I wouldn't have had Alexandra, either."  She gave Alexandra's
arm a little squeeze as she walked beside her.  "How nice your dress
smells, Alexandra; you put rosemary leaves in your chest, like I
told you."

She led them to the northwest corner of the orchard, sheltered on
one side by a thick mulberry hedge and bordered on the other by a
wheatfield, just beginning to yellow.  In this corner the ground
dipped a little, and the blue-grass, which the weeds had driven out
in the upper part of the orchard, grew thick and luxuriant.  Wild
roses were flaming in the tufts of bunchgrass along the fence.
Under a white mulberry tree there was an old wagon-seat.  Beside
it lay a book and a workbasket.

"You must have the seat, Alexandra.  The grass would stain your
dress," the hostess insisted.  She dropped down on the ground
at Alexandra's side and tucked her feet under her.  Carl sat at
a little distance from the two women, his back to the wheatfield,
and watched them.  Alexandra took off her shade-hat and threw it on
the ground.  Marie picked it up and played with the white ribbons,
twisting them about her brown fingers as she talked.  They made a
pretty picture in the strong sunlight, the leafy pattern surrounding
them like a net; the Swedish woman so white and gold, kindly and
amused, but armored in calm, and the alert brown one, her full lips
parted, points of yellow light dancing in her eyes as she laughed
and chattered.  Carl had never forgotten little Marie Tovesky's
eyes, and he was glad to have an opportunity to study them.  The
brown iris, he found, was curiously slashed with yellow, the color
of sunflower honey, or of old amber.  In each eye one of these
streaks must have been larger than the others, for the effect was
that of two dancing points of light, two little yellow bubbles,
such as rise in a glass of champagne.  Sometimes they seemed like
the sparks from a forge.  She seemed so easily excited, to kindle
with a fierce little flame if one but breathed upon her.  "What
a waste," Carl reflected.  "She ought to be doing all that for a
sweetheart.  How awkwardly things come about!"

It was not very long before Marie sprang up out of the grass again.
"Wait a moment.  I want to show you something."  She ran away and
disappeared behind the low-growing apple trees.

"What a charming creature," Carl murmured.  "I don't wonder that
her husband is jealous.  But can't she walk? does she always run?"

Alexandra nodded.  "Always.  I don't see many people, but I don't
believe there are many like her, anywhere."

Marie came back with a branch she had broken from an apricot tree,
laden with pale yellow, pink-cheeked fruit.  She dropped it beside
Carl.  "Did you plant those, too?  They are such beautiful little
trees."

Carl fingered the blue-green leaves, porous like blotting-paper and
shaped like birch leaves, hung on waxen red stems.  "Yes, I think
I did.  Are these the circus trees, Alexandra?"

"Shall I tell her about them?" Alexandra asked.  "Sit down like
a good girl, Marie, and don't ruin my poor hat, and I'll tell you
a story.  A long time ago, when Carl and I were, say, sixteen and
twelve, a circus came to Hanover and we went to town in our wagon,
with Lou and Oscar, to see the parade.  We hadn't money enough to
go to the circus.  We followed the parade out to the circus grounds
and hung around until the show began and the crowd went inside the
tent.  Then Lou was afraid we looked foolish standing outside in
the pasture, so we went back to Hanover feeling very sad.  There
was a man in the streets selling apricots, and we had never seen
any before.  He had driven down from somewhere up in the French
country, and he was selling them twenty-five cents a peck.  We had
a little money our fathers had given us for candy, and I bought
two pecks and Carl bought one.  They cheered us a good deal, and
we saved all the seeds and planted them.  Up to the time Carl went
away, they hadn't borne at all."

"And now he's come back to eat them," cried Marie, nodding at Carl.
"That IS a good story.  I can remember you a little, Mr. Linstrum.
I used to see you in Hanover sometimes, when Uncle Joe took me to
town.  I remember you because you were always buying pencils and
tubes of paint at the drug store.  Once, when my uncle left me at
the store, you drew a lot of little birds and flowers for me on a
piece of wrapping-paper.  I kept them for a long while.  I thought
you were very romantic because you could draw and had such black
eyes."

Carl smiled.  "Yes, I remember that time.  Your uncle bought you
some kind of a mechanical toy, a Turkish lady sitting on an ottoman
and smoking a hookah, wasn't it?  And she turned her head backwards
and forwards."

"Oh, yes!  Wasn't she splendid!  I knew well enough I ought not
to tell Uncle Joe I wanted it, for he had just come back from the
saloon and was feeling good.  You remember how he laughed?  She
tickled him, too.  But when we got home, my aunt scolded him for
buying toys when she needed so many things.  We wound our lady up
every night, and when she began to move her head my aunt used to
laugh as hard as any of us.  It was a music-box, you know, and the
Turkish lady played a tune while she smoked.  That was how she made
you feel so jolly.  As I remember her, she was lovely, and had a
gold crescent on her turban."

Half an hour later, as they were leaving the house, Carl and Alexandra
were met in the path by a strapping fellow in overalls and a blue
shirt.  He was breathing hard, as if he had been running, and was
muttering to himself.

Marie ran forward, and, taking him by the arm, gave him a little
push toward her guests.  "Frank, this is Mr. Linstrum."

Frank took off his broad straw hat and nodded to Alexandra.  When
he spoke to Carl, he showed a fine set of white teeth.  He was burned
a dull red down to his neckband, and there was a heavy three-days'
stubble on his face.  Even in his agitation he was handsome, but
he looked a rash and violent man.

Barely saluting the callers, he turned at once to his wife and
began, in an outraged tone, "I have to leave my team to drive the
old woman Hiller's hogs out-a my wheat.  I go to take dat old woman
to de court if she ain't careful, I tell you!"

His wife spoke soothingly.  "But, Frank, she has only her lame boy
to help her.  She does the best she can."

Alexandra looked at the excited man and offered a suggestion.  "Why
don't you go over there some afternoon and hog-tight her fences?
You'd save time for yourself in the end."

Frank's neck stiffened.  "Not-a-much, I won't.  I keep my hogs
home.  Other peoples can do like me.  See?  If that Louis can mend
shoes, he can mend fence."

"Maybe," said Alexandra placidly; "but I've found it sometimes pays
to mend other people's fences.  Good-bye, Marie.  Come to see me
soon."

Alexandra walked firmly down the path and Carl followed her.

Frank went into the house and threw himself on the sofa, his face
to the wall, his clenched fist on his hip.  Marie, having seen her
guests off, came in and put her hand coaxingly on his shoulder.

"Poor Frank!  You've run until you've made your head ache, now
haven't you?  Let me make you some coffee."

"What else am I to do?" he cried hotly in Bohemian.  "Am I to let
any old woman's hogs root up my wheat?  Is that what I work myself
to death for?"

"Don't worry about it, Frank.  I'll speak to Mrs. Hiller again.
But, really, she almost cried last time they got out, she was so
sorry."

Frank bounced over on his other side.  "That's it; you always side
with them against me.  They all know it.  Anybody here feels free
to borrow the mower and break it, or turn their hogs in on me.
They know you won't care!"

Marie hurried away to make his coffee.  When she came back, he was
fast asleep.  She sat down and looked at him for a long while, very
thoughtfully.  When the kitchen clock struck six she went out to
get supper, closing the door gently behind her.  She was always
sorry for Frank when he worked himself into one of these rages, and
she was sorry to have him rough and quarrelsome with his neighbors.
She was perfectly aware that the neighbors had a good deal to put
up with, and that they bore with Frank for her sake.



VII


Marie's father, Albert Tovesky, was one of the more intelligent
Bohemians who came West in the early seventies.  He settled in Omaha
and became a leader and adviser among his people there.  Marie was
his youngest child, by a second wife, and was the apple of his eye.
She was barely sixteen, and was in the graduating class of the
Omaha High School, when Frank Shabata arrived from the old country
and set all the Bohemian girls in a flutter.  He was easily the
buck of the beer-gardens, and on Sunday he was a sight to see, with
his silk hat and tucked shirt and blue frock-coat, wearing gloves
and carrying a little wisp of a yellow cane.  He was tall and fair,
with splendid teeth and close-cropped yellow curls, and he wore a
slightly disdainful expression, proper for a young man with high
connections, whose mother had a big farm in the Elbe valley.  There
was often an interesting discontent in his blue eyes, and every
Bohemian girl he met imagined herself the cause of that unsatisfied
expression.  He had a way of drawing out his cambric handkerchief
slowly, by one corner, from his breast-pocket, that was melancholy
and romantic in the extreme.  He took a little flight with each
of the more eligible Bohemian girls, but it was when he was with
little Marie Tovesky that he drew his handkerchief out most slowly,
and, after he had lit a fresh cigar, dropped the match most
despairingly.  Any one could see, with half an eye, that his proud
heart was bleeding for somebody.

One Sunday, late in the summer after Marie's graduation, she met
Frank at a Bohemian picnic down the river and went rowing with him
all the afternoon.  When she got home that evening she went straight
to her father's room and told him that she was engaged to Shabata.
Old Tovesky was having a comfortable pipe before he went to bed.
When he heard his daughter's announcement, he first prudently
corked his beer bottle and then leaped to his feet and had a turn
of temper.  He characterized Frank Shabata by a Bohemian expression
which is the equivalent of stuffed shirt.

"Why don't he go to work like the rest of us did?  His farm in the
Elbe valley, indeed!  Ain't he got plenty brothers and sisters?
It's his mother's farm, and why don't he stay at home and help her?
Haven't I seen his mother out in the morning at five o'clock with
her ladle and her big bucket on wheels, putting liquid manure on
the cabbages?  Don't I know the look of old Eva Shabata's hands?
Like an old horse's hoofs they are--and this fellow wearing gloves
and rings!  Engaged, indeed!  You aren't fit to be out of school,
and that's what's the matter with you.  I will send you off to the
Sisters of the Sacred Heart in St.  Louis, and they will teach you
some sense, ~I~ guess!"

Accordingly, the very next week, Albert Tovesky took his daughter,
pale and tearful, down the river to the convent.  But the way to
make Frank want anything was to tell him he couldn't have it.  He
managed to have an interview with Marie before she went away,
and whereas he had been only half in love with her before, he now
persuaded himself that he would not stop at anything.  Marie took
with her to the convent, under the canvas lining of her trunk, the
results of a laborious and satisfying morning on Frank's part; no
less than a dozen photographs of himself, taken in a dozen different
love-lorn attitudes.  There was a little round photograph for her
watch-case, photographs for her wall and dresser, and even long
narrow ones to be used as bookmarks.  More than once the handsome
gentleman was torn to pieces before the French class by an indignant
nun.

Marie pined in the convent for a year, until her eighteenth birthday
was passed.  Then she met Frank Shabata in the Union Station in
St. Louis and ran away with him.  Old Tovesky forgave his daughter
because there was nothing else to do, and bought her a farm in
the country that she had loved so well as a child.  Since then her
story had been a part of the history of the Divide.  She and Frank
had been living there for five years when Carl Linstrum came back
to pay his long deferred visit to Alexandra.  Frank had, on the
whole, done better than one might have expected.  He had flung
himself at the soil with savage energy.  Once a year he went to
Hastings or to Omaha, on a spree.  He stayed away for a week or
two, and then came home and worked like a demon.  He did work; if
he felt sorry for himself, that was his own affair.



VIII


On the evening of the day of Alexandra's call at the Shabatas',
a heavy rain set in.  Frank sat up until a late hour reading the
Sunday newspapers.  One of the Goulds was getting a divorce, and
Frank took it as a personal affront.  In printing the story of the
young man's marital troubles, the knowing editor gave a sufficiently
colored account of his career, stating the amount of his income
and the manner in which he was supposed to spend it.  Frank read
English slowly, and the more he read about this divorce case, the
angrier he grew.  At last he threw down the page with a snort.  He
turned to his farm-hand who was reading the other half of the paper.

"By God! if I have that young feller in de hayfield once, I show
him someting.  Listen here what he do wit his money."  And Frank
began the catalogue of the young man's reputed extravagances.

Marie sighed.  She thought it hard that the Goulds, for whom she
had nothing but good will, should make her so much trouble.  She
hated to see the Sunday newspapers come into the house.  Frank was
always reading about the doings of rich people and feeling outraged.
He had an inexhaustible stock of stories about their crimes and
follies, how they bribed the courts and shot down their butlers
with impunity whenever they chose.  Frank and Lou Bergson had very
similar ideas, and they were two of the political agitators of the
county.

The next morning broke clear and brilliant, but Frank said the
ground was too wet to plough, so he took the cart and drove over to
Sainte-Agnes to spend the day at Moses Marcel's saloon.  After he
was gone, Marie went out to the back porch to begin her butter-making.
A brisk wind had come up and was driving puffy white clouds across
the sky.  The orchard was sparkling and rippling in the sun.  Marie
stood looking toward it wistfully, her hand on the lid of the
churn, when she heard a sharp ring in the air, the merry sound of
the whetstone on the scythe.  That invitation decided her.  She ran
into the house, put on a short skirt and a pair of her husband's
boots, caught up a tin pail and started for the orchard.  Emil
had already begun work and was mowing vigorously.  When he saw her
coming, he stopped and wiped his brow.  His yellow canvas leggings
and khaki trousers were splashed to the knees.

"Don't let me disturb you, Emil.  I'm going to pick cherries.
Isn't everything beautiful after the rain?  Oh, but I'm glad to get
this place mowed!  When I heard it raining in the night, I thought
maybe you would come and do it for me to-day.  The wind wakened
me.  Didn't it blow dreadfully?  Just smell the wild roses!  They
are always so spicy after a rain.  We never had so many of them
in here before.  I suppose it's the wet season.  Will you have to
cut them, too?"

"If I cut the grass, I will," Emil said teasingly.  "What's the
matter with you?  What makes you so flighty?"

"Am I flighty?  I suppose that's the wet season, too, then.  It's
exciting to see everything growing so fast,--and to get the grass
cut!  Please leave the roses till last, if you must cut them.  Oh,
I don't mean all of them, I mean that low place down by my tree, where
there are so many.  Aren't you splashed!  Look at the spider-webs
all over the grass.  Good-bye.  I'll call you if I see a snake."

She tripped away and Emil stood looking after her.  In a few moments
he heard the cherries dropping smartly into the pail, and he began
to swing his scythe with that long, even stroke that few American
boys ever learn.  Marie picked cherries and sang softly to herself,
stripping one glittering branch after another, shivering when she
caught a shower of raindrops on her neck and hair.  And Emil mowed
his way slowly down toward the cherry trees.

That summer the rains had been so many and opportune that it was
almost more than Shabata and his man could do to keep up with the
corn; the orchard was a neglected wilderness.  All sorts of weeds and
herbs and flowers had grown up there; splotches of wild larkspur,
pale green-and-white spikes of hoarhound, plantations of wild
cotton, tangles of foxtail and wild wheat.  South of the apricot
trees, cornering on the wheatfield, was Frank's alfalfa, where
myriads of white and yellow butterflies were always fluttering
above the purple blossoms.  When Emil reached the lower corner by
the hedge, Marie was sitting under her white mulberry tree, the
pailful of cherries beside her, looking off at the gentle, tireless
swelling of the wheat.

"Emil," she said suddenly--he was mowing quietly about under the
tree so as not to disturb her--"what religion did the Swedes have
away back, before they were Christians?"

Emil paused and straightened his back.  "I don't know.  About like
the Germans', wasn't it?"

Marie went on as if she had not heard him.  "The Bohemians, you
know, were tree worshipers before the missionaries came.  Father says
the people in the mountains still do queer things, sometimes,--they
believe that trees bring good or bad luck."

Emil looked superior.  "Do they?  Well, which are the lucky trees?
I'd like to know."

"I don't know all of them, but I know lindens are.  The old people
in the mountains plant lindens to purify the forest, and to do away
with the spells that come from the old trees they say have lasted
from heathen times.  I'm a good Catholic, but I think I could get
along with caring for trees, if I hadn't anything else."

"That's a poor saying," said Emil, stooping over to wipe his hands
in the wet grass.

"Why is it?  If I feel that way, I feel that way.  I like trees
because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than
other things do.  I feel as if this tree knows everything I ever
think of when I sit here.  When I come back to it, I never have to
remind it of anything; I begin just where I left off."

Emil had nothing to say to this.  He reached up among the branches
and began to pick the sweet, insipid fruit,--long ivory-colored
berries, tipped with faint pink, like white coral, that fall to
the ground unheeded all summer through.  He dropped a handful into
her lap.

"Do you like Mr. Linstrum?" Marie asked suddenly.

"Yes.  Don't you?"

"Oh, ever so much; only he seems kind of staid and school-teachery.
But, of course, he is older than Frank, even.  I'm sure I don't
want to live to be more than thirty, do you?  Do you think Alexandra
likes him very much?"

"I suppose so.  They were old friends."

"Oh, Emil, you know what I mean!"  Marie tossed her head impatiently.
"Does she really care about him?  When she used to tell me about
him, I always wondered whether she wasn't a little in love with
him."

"Who, Alexandra?"  Emil laughed and thrust his hands into his
trousers pockets.  "Alexandra's never been in love, you crazy!"  He
laughed again.  "She wouldn't know how to go about it.  The idea!"

Marie shrugged her shoulders.  "Oh, you don't know Alexandra as well
as you think you do!  If you had any eyes, you would see that she
is very fond of him.  It would serve you all right if she walked
off with Carl.  I like him because he appreciates her more than
you do."

Emil frowned.  "What are you talking about, Marie?  Alexandra's
all right.  She and I have always been good friends.  What more do
you want?  I like to talk to Carl about New York and what a fellow
can do there."

"Oh, Emil!  Surely you are not thinking of going off there?"

"Why not?  I must go somewhere, mustn't I?"  The young man took up
his scythe and leaned on it.  "Would you rather I went off in the
sand hills and lived like Ivar?"

Marie's face fell under his brooding gaze.  She looked down at his
wet leggings.  "I'm sure Alexandra hopes you will stay on here,"
she murmured.

"Then Alexandra will be disappointed," the young man said roughly.
"What do I want to hang around here for?  Alexandra can run the
farm all right, without me.  I don't want to stand around and look
on.  I want to be doing something on my own account."

"That's so," Marie sighed.  "There are so many, many things you
can do.  Almost anything you choose."

"And there are so many, many things I can't do."  Emil echoed her
tone sarcastically.  "Sometimes I don't want to do anything at
all, and sometimes I want to pull the four corners of the Divide
together,"--he threw out his arm and brought it back with a jerk,--"so,
like a table-cloth.  I get tired of seeing men and horses going up
and down, up and down."

Marie looked up at his defiant figure and her face clouded.  "I wish
you weren't so restless, and didn't get so worked up over things,"
she said sadly.

"Thank you," he returned shortly.

She sighed despondently.  "Everything I say makes you cross, don't
it?  And you never used to be cross to me."

Emil took a step nearer and stood frowning down at her bent head.
He stood in an attitude of self-defense, his feet well apart, his
hands clenched and drawn up at his sides, so that the cords stood
out on his bare arms.  "I can't play with you like a little boy
any more," he said slowly.  "That's what you miss, Marie.  You'll
have to get some other little boy to play with."  He stopped and took
a deep breath.  Then he went on in a low tone, so intense that it
was almost threatening: "Sometimes you seem to understand perfectly,
and then sometimes you pretend you don't.  You don't help things
any by pretending.  It's then that I want to pull the corners of
the Divide together.  If you WON'T understand, you know, I could
make you!"

Marie clasped her hands and started up from her seat.  She had grown
very pale and her eyes were shining with excitement and distress.
"But, Emil, if I understand, then all our good times are over, we
can never do nice things together any more.  We shall have to behave
like Mr. Linstrum.  And, anyhow, there's nothing to understand!"
She struck the ground with her little foot fiercely.  "That won't
last.  It will go away, and things will be just as they used to.
I wish you were a Catholic.  The Church helps people, indeed it
does.  I pray for you, but that's not the same as if you prayed
yourself."

She spoke rapidly and pleadingly, looked entreatingly into his
face.  Emil stood defiant, gazing down at her.

"I can't pray to have the things I want," he said slowly, "and I
won't pray not to have them, not if I'm damned for it."

Marie turned away, wringing her hands.  "Oh, Emil, you won't try!
Then all our good times are over."

"Yes; over.  I never expect to have any more."

Emil gripped the hand-holds of his scythe and began to mow.  Marie
took up her cherries and went slowly toward the house, crying
bitterly.



IX


On Sunday afternoon, a month after Carl Linstrum's arrival, he rode
with Emil up into the French country to attend a Catholic fair.  He
sat for most of the afternoon in the basement of the church, where
the fair was held, talking to Marie Shabata, or strolled about the
gravel terrace, thrown up on the hillside in front of the basement
doors, where the French boys were jumping and wrestling and throwing
the discus.  Some of the boys were in their white baseball suits;
they had just come up from a Sunday practice game down in the
ballgrounds.  Amedee, the newly married, Emil's best friend, was
their pitcher, renowned among the country towns for his dash and
skill.  Amedee was a little fellow, a year younger than Emil and
much more boyish in appearance; very lithe and active and neatly
made, with a clear brown and white skin, and flashing white teeth.
The Sainte-Agnes boys were to play the Hastings nine in a fortnight,
and Amedee's lightning balls were the hope of his team.  The little
Frenchman seemed to get every ounce there was in him behind the
ball as it left his hand.

"You'd have made the battery at the University for sure, 'Medee,"
Emil said as they were walking from the ball-grounds back to the
church on the hill.  "You're pitching better than you did in the
spring."

Amedee grinned.  "Sure!  A married man don't lose his head no more."
He slapped Emil on the back as he caught step with him.  "Oh, Emil,
you wanna get married right off quick!  It's the greatest thing
ever!"

Emil laughed.  "How am I going to get married without any girl?"

Amedee took his arm.  "Pooh!  There are plenty girls will have
you.  You wanna get some nice French girl, now.  She treat you well;
always be jolly.  See,"--he began checking off on his fingers,--"there
is Severine, and Alphosen, and Josephine, and Hectorine, and Louise,
and Malvina--why, I could love any of them girls!  Why don't you
get after them?  Are you stuck up, Emil, or is anything the matter
with you?  I never did know a boy twenty-two years old before that
didn't have no girl.  You wanna be a priest, maybe?  Not-a for me!"
Amedee swaggered.  "I bring many good Catholics into this world,
I hope, and that's a way I help the Church."

Emil looked down and patted him on the shoulder.  "Now you're windy,
'Medee.  You Frenchies like to brag."

But Amedee had the zeal of the newly married, and he was not
to be lightly shaken off.  "Honest and true, Emil, don't you want
ANY girl?  Maybe there's some young lady in Lincoln, now, very
grand,"--Amedee waved his hand languidly before his face to denote
the fan of heartless beauty,--"and you lost your heart up there.
Is that it?"

"Maybe," said Emil.

But Amedee saw no appropriate glow in his friend's face.  "Bah!"
he exclaimed in disgust.  "I tell all the French girls to keep 'way
from you.  You gotta rock in there," thumping Emil on the ribs.

When they reached the terrace at the side of the church, Amedee,
who was excited by his success on the ball-grounds, challenged
Emil to a jumping-match, though he knew he would be beaten.  They
belted themselves up, and Raoul Marcel, the choir tenor and Father
Duchesne's pet, and Jean Bordelau, held the string over which they
vaulted.  All the French boys stood round, cheering and humping
themselves up when Emil or Amedee went over the wire, as if they
were helping in the lift.  Emil stopped at five-feet-five, declaring
that he would spoil his appetite for supper if he jumped any more.

Angelique, Amedee's pretty bride, as blonde and fair as her name,
who had come out to watch the match, tossed her head at Emil and
said:--

"'Medee could jump much higher than you if he were as tall.  And
anyhow, he is much more graceful.  He goes over like a bird, and
you have to hump yourself all up."

"Oh, I do, do I?"  Emil caught her and kissed her saucy mouth squarely,
while she laughed and struggled and called, "'Medee!  'Medee!"

"There, you see your 'Medee isn't even big enough to get you away
from me.  I could run away with you right now and he could only
sit down and cry about it.  I'll show you whether I have to hump
myself!"  Laughing and panting, he picked Angelique up in his arms
and began running about the rectangle with her.  Not until he saw
Marie Shabata's tiger eyes flashing from the gloom of the basement
doorway did he hand the disheveled bride over to her husband.
"There, go to your graceful; I haven't the heart to take you away
from him."

Angelique clung to her husband and made faces at Emil over the
white shoulder of Amedee's ball-shirt.  Emil was greatly amused at
her air of proprietorship and at Amedee's shameless submission to
it.  He was delighted with his friend's good fortune.  He liked to
see and to think about Amedee's sunny, natural, happy love.

He and Amedee had ridden and wrestled and larked together since
they were lads of twelve.  On Sundays and holidays they were always
arm in arm.  It seemed strange that now he should have to hide the
thing that Amedee was so proud of, that the feeling which gave one
of them such happiness should bring the other such despair.  It
was like that when Alexandra tested her seed-corn in the spring,
he mused.  From two ears that had grown side by side, the grains
of one shot up joyfully into the light, projecting themselves into
the future, and the grains from the other lay still in the earth
and rotted; and nobody knew why.



X


While Emil and Carl were amusing themselves at the fair, Alexandra
was at home, busy with her account-books, which had been neglected
of late.  She was almost through with her figures when she heard
a cart drive up to the gate, and looking out of the window she saw
her two older brothers.  They had seemed to avoid her ever since
Carl Linstrum's arrival, four weeks ago that day, and she hurried
to the door to welcome them.  She saw at once that they had come
with some very definite purpose.  They followed her stiffly into
the sitting-room.  Oscar sat down, but Lou walked over to the window
and remained standing, his hands behind him.

"You are by yourself?" he asked, looking toward the doorway into
the parlor.

"Yes.  Carl and Emil went up to the Catholic fair."

For a few moments neither of the men spoke.

Then Lou came out sharply.  "How soon does he intend to go away
from here?"

"I don't know, Lou.  Not for some time, I hope."  Alexandra spoke
in an even, quiet tone that often exasperated her brothers.  They
felt that she was trying to be superior with them.

Oscar spoke up grimly.  "We thought we ought to tell you that people
have begun to talk," he said meaningly.

Alexandra looked at him.  "What about?"

Oscar met her eyes blankly.  "About you, keeping him here so long.
It looks bad for him to be hanging on to a woman this way.  People
think you're getting taken in."

Alexandra shut her account-book firmly.  "Boys," she said seriously,
"don't let's go on with this.  We won't come out anywhere.  I can't
take advice on such a matter.  I know you mean well, but you must
not feel responsible for me in things of this sort.  If we go on
with this talk it will only make hard feeling."

Lou whipped about from the window.  "You ought to think a little
about your family.  You're making us all ridiculous."

"How am I?"

"People are beginning to say you want to marry the fellow."

"Well, and what is ridiculous about that?"

Lou and Oscar exchanged outraged looks.  "Alexandra!  Can't you
see he's just a tramp and he's after your money?  He wants to be
taken care of, he does!"

"Well, suppose I want to take care of him?  Whose business is it
but my own?"

"Don't you know he'd get hold of your property?"

"He'd get hold of what I wished to give him, certainly."

Oscar sat up suddenly and Lou clutched at his bristly hair.

"Give him?" Lou shouted.  "Our property, our homestead?"

"I don't know about the homestead," said Alexandra quietly.  "I
know you and Oscar have always expected that it would be left to
your children, and I'm not sure but what you're right.  But I'll
do exactly as I please with the rest of my land, boys."

"The rest of your land!" cried Lou, growing more excited every
minute.  "Didn't all the land come out of the homestead?  It was
bought with money borrowed on the homestead, and Oscar and me worked
ourselves to the bone paying interest on it."

"Yes, you paid the interest.  But when you married we made a division
of the land, and you were satisfied.  I've made more on my farms
since I've been alone than when we all worked together."

"Everything you've made has come out of the original land that us
boys worked for, hasn't it?  The farms and all that comes out of
them belongs to us as a family."

Alexandra waved her hand impatiently.  "Come now, Lou.  Stick to
the facts.  You are talking nonsense.  Go to the county clerk and
ask him who owns my land, and whether my titles are good."

Lou turned to his brother.  "This is what comes of letting a woman
meddle in business," he said bitterly.  "We ought to have taken
things in our own hands years ago.  But she liked to run things,
and we humored her.  We thought you had good sense, Alexandra.  We
never thought you'd do anything foolish."

Alexandra rapped impatiently on her desk with her knuckles.
"Listen, Lou.  Don't talk wild.  You say you ought to have taken
things into your own hands years ago.  I suppose you mean before
you left home.  But how could you take hold of what wasn't there?
I've got most of what I have now since we divided the property;
I've built it up myself, and it has nothing to do with you."

Oscar spoke up solemnly.  "The property of a family really belongs
to the men of the family, no matter about the title.  If anything
goes wrong, it's the men that are held responsible."

"Yes, of course," Lou broke in.  "Everybody knows that.  Oscar and
me have always been easy-going and we've never made any fuss.  We
were willing you should hold the land and have the good of it, but
you got no right to part with any of it.  We worked in the fields
to pay for the first land you bought, and whatever's come out of
it has got to be kept in the family."

Oscar reinforced his brother, his mind fixed on the one point he
could see.  "The property of a family belongs to the men of the
family, because they are held responsible, and because they do the
work."

Alexandra looked from one to the other, her eyes full of indignation.
She had been impatient before, but now she was beginning to feel
angry.  "And what about my work?" she asked in an unsteady voice.

Lou looked at the carpet.  "Oh, now, Alexandra, you always took
it pretty easy!  Of course we wanted you to.  You liked to manage
round, and we always humored you.  We realize you were a great
deal of help to us.  There's no woman anywhere around that knows
as much about business as you do, and we've always been proud of
that, and thought you were pretty smart.  But, of course, the real
work always fell on us.  Good advice is all right, but it don't
get the weeds out of the corn."

"Maybe not, but it sometimes puts in the crop, and it sometimes
keeps the fields for corn to grow in," said Alexandra dryly.  "Why,
Lou, I can remember when you and Oscar wanted to sell this homestead
and all the improvements to old preacher Ericson for two thousand
dollars.  If I'd consented, you'd have gone down to the river and
scraped along on poor farms for the rest of your lives.  When I put
in our first field of alfalfa you both opposed me, just because I
first heard about it from a young man who had been to the University.
You said I was being taken in then, and all the neighbors said
so.  You know as well as I do that alfalfa has been the salvation
of this country.  You all laughed at me when I said our land here
was about ready for wheat, and I had to raise three big wheat crops
before the neighbors quit putting all their land in corn.  Why, I
remember you cried, Lou, when we put in the first big wheat-planting,
and said everybody was laughing at us."

Lou turned to Oscar.  "That's the woman of it; if she tells you to
put in a crop, she thinks she's put it in.  It makes women conceited
to meddle in business.  I shouldn't think you'd want to remind us
how hard you were on us, Alexandra, after the way you baby Emil."

"Hard on you?  I never meant to be hard.  Conditions were hard.
Maybe I would never have been very soft, anyhow; but I certainly
didn't choose to be the kind of girl I was.  If you take even a
vine and cut it back again and again, it grows hard, like a tree."

Lou felt that they were wandering from the point, and that
in digression Alexandra might unnerve him.  He wiped his forehead
with a jerk of his handkerchief.  "We never doubted you, Alexandra.
We never questioned anything you did.  You've always had your own
way.  But you can't expect us to sit like stumps and see you done
out of the property by any loafer who happens along, and making
yourself ridiculous into the bargain."

Oscar rose.  "Yes," he broke in, "everybody's laughing to see you
get took in; at your age, too.  Everybody knows he's nearly five
years younger than you, and is after your money.  Why, Alexandra,
you are forty years old!"

"All that doesn't concern anybody but Carl and me.  Go to town and
ask your lawyers what you can do to restrain me from disposing of
my own property.  And I advise you to do what they tell you; for
the authority you can exert by law is the only influence you will
ever have over me again."  Alexandra rose.  "I think I would rather
not have lived to find out what I have to-day," she said quietly,
closing her desk.

Lou and Oscar looked at each other questioningly.  There seemed to
be nothing to do but to go, and they walked out.

"You can't do business with women," Oscar said heavily as he
clambered into the cart.  "But anyhow, we've had our say, at last."

Lou scratched his head.  "Talk of that kind might come too high, you
know; but she's apt to be sensible.  You hadn't ought to said that
about her age, though, Oscar.  I'm afraid that hurt her feelings;
and the worst thing we can do is to make her sore at us.  She'd
marry him out of contrariness."

"I only meant," said Oscar, "that she is old enough to know better,
and she is.  If she was going to marry, she ought to done it long
ago, and not go making a fool of herself now."

Lou looked anxious, nevertheless.  "Of course," he reflected hopefully
and inconsistently, "Alexandra ain't much like other women-folks.
Maybe it won't make her sore.  Maybe she'd as soon be forty as
not!"



XI


Emil came home at about half-past seven o'clock that evening.  Old
Ivar met him at the windmill and took his horse, and the young
man went directly into the house.  He called to his sister and she
answered from her bedroom, behind the sitting-room, saying that
she was lying down.

Emil went to her door.

"Can I see you for a minute?" he asked.  "I want to talk to you
about something before Carl comes."

Alexandra rose quickly and came to the door.  "Where is Carl?"

"Lou and Oscar met us and said they wanted to talk to him, so he
rode over to Oscar's with them.  Are you coming out?" Emil asked
impatiently.

"Yes, sit down.  I'll be dressed in a moment."

Alexandra closed her door, and Emil sank down on the old slat lounge
and sat with his head in his hands.  When his sister came out, he
looked up, not knowing whether the interval had been short or long,
and he was surprised to see that the room had grown quite dark.
That was just as well; it would be easier to talk if he were not
under the gaze of those clear, deliberate eyes, that saw so far in
some directions and were so blind in others.  Alexandra, too, was
glad of the dusk.  Her face was swollen from crying.

Emil started up and then sat down again.  "Alexandra," he said
slowly, in his deep young baritone, "I don't want to go away to
law school this fall.  Let me put it off another year.  I want to
take a year off and look around.  It's awfully easy to rush into
a profession you don't really like, and awfully hard to get out of
it.  Linstrum and I have been talking about that."

"Very well, Emil.  Only don't go off looking for land."  She came
up and put her hand on his shoulder.  "I've been wishing you could
stay with me this winter."

"That's just what I don't want to do, Alexandra.  I'm restless.
I want to go to a new place.  I want to go down to the City of
Mexico to join one of the University fellows who's at the head of
an electrical plant.  He wrote me he could give me a little job,
enough to pay my way, and I could look around and see what I want
to do.  I want to go as soon as harvest is over.  I guess Lou and
Oscar will be sore about it."

"I suppose they will."  Alexandra sat down on the lounge beside
him.  "They are very angry with me, Emil.  We have had a quarrel.
They will not come here again."

Emil scarcely heard what she was saying; he did not notice the
sadness of her tone.  He was thinking about the reckless life he
meant to live in Mexico.

"What about?" he asked absently.

"About Carl Linstrum.  They are afraid I am going to marry him,
and that some of my property will get away from them."

Emil shrugged his shoulders.  "What nonsense!" he murmured.  "Just
like them."

Alexandra drew back.  "Why nonsense, Emil?"

"Why, you've never thought of such a thing, have you?  They always
have to have something to fuss about."

"Emil," said his sister slowly, "you ought not to take things for
granted.  Do you agree with them that I have no right to change my
way of living?"

Emil looked at the outline of his sister's head in the dim light.
They were sitting close together and he somehow felt that she
could hear his thoughts.  He was silent for a moment, and then said
in an embarrassed tone, "Why, no, certainly not.  You ought to do
whatever you want to.  I'll always back you."

"But it would seem a little bit ridiculous to you if I married
Carl?"

Emil fidgeted.  The issue seemed to him too far-fetched to warrant
discussion.  "Why, no.  I should be surprised if you wanted to.  I
can't see exactly why.  But that's none of my business.  You ought
to do as you please.  Certainly you ought not to pay any attention
to what the boys say."

Alexandra sighed.  "I had hoped you might understand, a little,
why I do want to.  But I suppose that's too much to expect.  I've
had a pretty lonely life, Emil.  Besides Marie, Carl is the only
friend I have ever had."

Emil was awake now; a name in her last sentence roused him.  He
put out his hand and took his sister's awkwardly.  "You ought to
do just as you wish, and I think Carl's a fine fellow.  He and I
would always get on.  I don't believe any of the things the boys
say about him, honest I don't.  They are suspicious of him because
he's intelligent.  You know their way.  They've been sore at me
ever since you let me go away to college.  They're always trying to
catch me up.  If I were you, I wouldn't pay any attention to them.
There's nothing to get upset about.  Carl's a sensible fellow.  He
won't mind them."

"I don't know.  If they talk to him the way they did to me, I think
he'll go away."

Emil grew more and more uneasy.  "Think so?  Well, Marie said it
would serve us all right if you walked off with him."

"Did she?  Bless her little heart!  SHE would."  Alexandra's voice
broke.

Emil began unlacing his leggings.  "Why don't you talk to her about
it?  There's Carl, I hear his horse.  I guess I'll go upstairs and
get my boots off.  No, I don't want any supper.  We had supper at
five o'clock, at the fair."

Emil was glad to escape and get to his own room.  He was a little
ashamed for his sister, though he had tried not to show it.  He
felt that there was something indecorous in her proposal, and she
did seem to him somewhat ridiculous.  There was trouble enough in
the world, he reflected, as he threw himself upon his bed, without
people who were forty years old imagining they wanted to get
married.  In the darkness and silence Emil was not likely to think
long about Alexandra.  Every image slipped away but one.  He had
seen Marie in the crowd that afternoon.  She sold candy at the
fair.  WHY had she ever run away with Frank Shabata, and how could
she go on laughing and working and taking an interest in things?
Why did she like so many people, and why had she seemed pleased when
all the French and Bohemian boys, and the priest himself, crowded
round her candy stand?  Why did she care about any one but him?  Why
could he never, never find the thing he looked for in her playful,
affectionate eyes?

Then he fell to imagining that he looked once more and found it
there, and what it would be like if she loved him,--she who, as
Alexandra said, could give her whole heart.  In that dream he could
lie for hours, as if in a trance.  His spirit went out of his body
and crossed the fields to Marie Shabata.

At the University dances the girls had often looked wonderingly
at the tall young Swede with the fine head, leaning against the
wall and frowning, his arms folded, his eyes fixed on the ceiling
or the floor.  All the girls were a little afraid of him.  He was
distinguished-looking, and not the jollying kind.  They felt that
he was too intense and preoccupied.  There was something queer about
him.  Emil's fraternity rather prided itself upon its dances, and
sometimes he did his duty and danced every dance.  But whether he
was on the floor or brooding in a corner, he was always thinking
about Marie Shabata.  For two years the storm had been gathering
in him.



XII


Carl came into the sitting-room while Alexandra was lighting the
lamp.  She looked up at him as she adjusted the shade.  His sharp
shoulders stooped as if he were very tired, his face was pale,
and there were bluish shadows under his dark eyes.  His anger had
burned itself out and left him sick and disgusted.

"You have seen Lou and Oscar?" Alexandra asked.

"Yes."  His eyes avoided hers.

Alexandra took a deep breath.  "And now you are going away.  I
thought so."

Carl threw himself into a chair and pushed the dark lock back
from his forehead with his white, nervous hand.  "What a hopeless
position you are in, Alexandra!" he exclaimed feverishly.  "It is
your fate to be always surrounded by little men.  And I am no better
than the rest.  I am too little to face the criticism of even such
men as Lou and Oscar.  Yes, I am going away; to-morrow.  I cannot
even ask you to give me a promise until I have something to offer
you.  I thought, perhaps, I could do that; but I find I can't."

"What good comes of offering people things they don't need?"
Alexandra asked sadly.  "I don't need money.  But I have needed
you for a great many years.  I wonder why I have been permitted to
prosper, if it is only to take my friends away from me."

"I don't deceive myself," Carl said frankly.  "I know that I am
going away on my own account.  I must make the usual effort.  I
must have something to show for myself.  To take what you would
give me, I should have to be either a very large man or a very
small one, and I am only in the middle class."

Alexandra sighed.  "I have a feeling that if you go away, you will
not come back.  Something will happen to one of us, or to both.
People have to snatch at happiness when they can, in this world.
It is always easier to lose than to find.  What I have is yours,
if you care enough about me to take it."

Carl rose and looked up at the picture of John Bergson.  "But I
can't, my dear, I can't!  I will go North at once.  Instead of idling
about in California all winter, I shall be getting my bearings up
there.  I won't waste another week.  Be patient with me, Alexandra.
Give me a year!"

"As you will," said Alexandra wearily.  "All at once, in a single
day, I lose everything; and I do not know why.  Emil, too, is going
away."  Carl was still studying John Bergson's face and Alexandra's
eyes followed his.  "Yes," she said, "if he could have seen all
that would come of the task he gave me, he would have been sorry.
I hope he does not see me now.  I hope that he is among the old
people of his blood and country, and that tidings do not reach him
from the New World."






PART III

Winter Memories




I


Winter has settled down over the Divide again; the season in
which Nature recuperates, in which she sinks to sleep between the
fruitfulness of autumn and the passion of spring.  The birds have
gone.  The teeming life that goes on down in the long grass is
exterminated.  The prairie-dog keeps his hole.  The rabbits run
shivering from one frozen garden patch to another and are hard put
to it to find frost-bitten cabbage-stalks.  At night the coyotes
roam the wintry waste, howling for food.  The variegated fields
are all one color now; the pastures, the stubble, the roads, the
sky are the same leaden gray.  The hedgerows and trees are scarcely
perceptible against the bare earth, whose slaty hue they have taken
on.  The ground is frozen so hard that it bruises the foot to walk
in the roads or in the ploughed fields.  It is like an iron country,
and the spirit is oppressed by its rigor and melancholy.  One could
easily believe that in that dead landscape the germs of life and
fruitfulness were extinct forever.

Alexandra has settled back into her old routine.  There are weekly
letters from Emil.  Lou and Oscar she has not seen since Carl
went away.  To avoid awkward encounters in the presence of curious
spectators, she has stopped going to the Norwegian Church and drives
up to the Reform Church at Hanover, or goes with Marie Shabata to
the Catholic Church, locally known as "the French Church."  She has
not told Marie about Carl, or her differences with her brothers.
She was never very communicative about her own affairs, and when
she came to the point, an instinct told her that about such things
she and Marie would not understand one another.

Old Mrs. Lee had been afraid that family misunderstandings might
deprive her of her yearly visit to Alexandra.  But on the first day
of December Alexandra telephoned Annie that to-morrow she would
send Ivar over for her mother, and the next day the old lady arrived
with her bundles.  For twelve years Mrs. Lee had always entered
Alexandra's sitting-room with the same exclamation, "Now we be yust-a
like old times!"  She enjoyed the liberty Alexandra gave her, and
hearing her own language about her all day long.  Here she could
wear her nightcap and sleep with all her windows shut, listen
to Ivar reading the Bible, and here she could run about among the
stables in a pair of Emil's old boots.  Though she was bent almost
double, she was as spry as a gopher.  Her face was as brown as if
it had been varnished, and as full of wrinkles as a washerwoman's
hands.  She had three jolly old teeth left in the front of her
mouth, and when she grinned she looked very knowing, as if when
you found out how to take it, life wasn't half bad.  While she and
Alexandra patched and pieced and quilted, she talked incessantly
about stories she read in a Swedish family paper, telling the plots
in great detail; or about her life on a dairy farm in Gottland
when she was a girl.  Sometimes she forgot which were the printed
stories and which were the real stories, it all seemed so far away.
She loved to take a little brandy, with hot water and sugar, before
she went to bed, and Alexandra always had it ready for her.  "It
sends good dreams," she would say with a twinkle in her eye.

When Mrs. Lee had been with Alexandra for a week, Marie Shabata
telephoned one morning to say that Frank had gone to town for the
day, and she would like them to come over for coffee in the afternoon.
Mrs. Lee hurried to wash out and iron her new cross-stitched apron,
which she had finished only the night before; a checked gingham
apron worked with a design ten inches broad across the bottom;
a hunting scene, with fir trees and a stag and dogs and huntsmen.
Mrs. Lee was firm with herself at dinner, and refused a second
helping of apple dumplings.  "I ta-ank I save up," she said with
a giggle.

At two o'clock in the afternoon Alexandra's cart drove up to the
Shabatas' gate, and Marie saw Mrs. Lee's red shawl come bobbing up
the path.  She ran to the door and pulled the old woman into the
house with a hug, helping her to take off her wraps while Alexandra
blanketed the horse outside.  Mrs. Lee had put on her best black
satine dress--she abominated woolen stuffs, even in winter--and
a crocheted collar, fastened with a big pale gold pin, containing
faded daguerreotypes of her father and mother.  She had not worn
her apron for fear of rumpling it, and now she shook it out and
tied it round her waist with a conscious air.  Marie drew back and
threw up her hands, exclaiming, "Oh, what a beauty!  I've never
seen this one before, have I, Mrs. Lee?"

The old woman giggled and ducked her head.  "No, yust las' night I
ma-ake.  See dis tread; verra strong, no wa-ash out, no fade.  My
sister send from Sveden.  I yust-a ta-ank you like dis."

Marie ran to the door again.  "Come in, Alexandra.  I have been
looking at Mrs. Lee's apron.  Do stop on your way home and show it
to Mrs. Hiller.  She's crazy about cross-stitch."

While Alexandra removed her hat and veil, Mrs. Lee went out to the
kitchen and settled herself in a wooden rocking-chair by the stove,
looking with great interest at the table, set for three, with a white
cloth, and a pot of pink geraniums in the middle.  "My, a-an't you
gotta fine plants; such-a much flower.  How you keep from freeze?"

She pointed to the window-shelves, full of blooming fuchsias and
geraniums.

"I keep the fire all night, Mrs. Lee, and when it's very cold I put
them all on the table, in the middle of the room.  Other nights I
only put newspapers behind them.  Frank laughs at me for fussing,
but when they don't bloom he says, 'What's the matter with the
darned things?'--  What do you hear from Carl, Alexandra?"

"He got to Dawson before the river froze, and now I suppose I won't
hear any more until spring.  Before he left California he sent me
a box of orange flowers, but they didn't keep very well.  I have
brought a bunch of Emil's letters for you."  Alexandra came out
from the sitting-room and pinched Marie's cheek playfully.  "You
don't look as if the weather ever froze you up.  Never have colds,
do you?  That's a good girl.  She had dark red cheeks like this
when she was a little girl, Mrs. Lee.  She looked like some queer
foreign kind of a doll.  I've never forgot the first time I saw
you in Mieklejohn's store, Marie, the time father was lying sick.
Carl and I were talking about that before he went away."

"I remember, and Emil had his kitten along.  When are you going to
send Emil's Christmas box?"

"It ought to have gone before this.  I'll have to send it by mail
now, to get it there in time."

Marie pulled a dark purple silk necktie from her workbasket.  "I
knit this for him.  It's a good color, don't you think?  Will you
please put it in with your things and tell him it's from me, to
wear when he goes serenading."

Alexandra laughed.  "I don't believe he goes serenading much.  He
says in one letter that the Mexican ladies are said to be very
beautiful, but that don't seem to me very warm praise."

Marie tossed her head.  "Emil can't fool me.  If he's bought a
guitar, he goes serenading.  Who wouldn't, with all those Spanish
girls dropping flowers down from their windows!  I'd sing to them
every night, wouldn't you, Mrs. Lee?"

The old lady chuckled.  Her eyes lit up as Marie bent down and
opened the oven door.  A delicious hot fragrance blew out into the
tidy kitchen.  "My, somet'ing smell good!"  She turned to Alexandra
with a wink, her three yellow teeth making a brave show, "I ta-ank
dat stop my yaw from ache no more!" she said contentedly.

Marie took out a pan of delicate little rolls, stuffed with stewed
apricots, and began to dust them over with powdered sugar.  "I hope
you'll like these, Mrs. Lee; Alexandra does.  The Bohemians always
like them with their coffee.  But if you don't, I have a coffee-cake
with nuts and poppy seeds.  Alexandra, will you get the cream jug?
I put it in the window to keep cool."

"The Bohemians," said Alexandra, as they drew up to the table,
"certainly know how to make more kinds of bread than any other
people in the world.  Old Mrs. Hiller told me once at the church
supper that she could make seven kinds of fancy bread, but Marie
could make a dozen."

Mrs. Lee held up one of the apricot rolls between her brown thumb
and forefinger and weighed it critically.  "Yust like-a fedders,"
she pronounced with satisfaction.  "My, a-an't dis nice!" she
exclaimed as she stirred her coffee.  "I yust ta-ake a liddle yelly
now, too, I ta-ank."

Alexandra and Marie laughed at her forehandedness, and fell to
talking of their own affairs.  "I was afraid you had a cold when
I talked to you over the telephone the other night, Marie.  What
was the matter, had you been crying?"

"Maybe I had," Marie smiled guiltily.  "Frank was out late that
night.  Don't you get lonely sometimes in the winter, when everybody
has gone away?"

"I thought it was something like that.  If I hadn't had company,
I'd have run over to see for myself.  If you get down-hearted, what
will become of the rest of us?" Alexandra asked.

"I don't, very often.  There's Mrs. Lee without any coffee!"

Later, when Mrs. Lee declared that her powers were spent, Marie
and Alexandra went upstairs to look for some crochet patterns the
old lady wanted to borrow.  "Better put on your coat, Alexandra.
It's cold up there, and I have no idea where those patterns are.  I
may have to look through my old trunks."  Marie caught up a shawl
and opened the stair door, running up the steps ahead of her guest.
"While I go through the bureau drawers, you might look in those
hat-boxes on the closet-shelf, over where Frank's clothes hang.
There are a lot of odds and ends in them."

She began tossing over the contents of the drawers, and Alexandra
went into the clothes-closet.  Presently she came back, holding a
slender elastic yellow stick in her hand.

"What in the world is this, Marie?  You don't mean to tell me Frank
ever carried such a thing?"

Marie blinked at it with astonishment and sat down on the floor.
"Where did you find it?  I didn't know he had kept it.  I haven't
seen it for years."

"It really is a cane, then?"

"Yes.  One he brought from the old country.  He used to carry it
when I first knew him.  Isn't it foolish?  Poor Frank!"

Alexandra twirled the stick in her fingers and laughed.  "He must
have looked funny!"

Marie was thoughtful.  "No, he didn't, really.  It didn't seem out
of place.  He used to be awfully gay like that when he was a young
man.  I guess people always get what's hardest for them, Alexandra."
Marie gathered the shawl closer about her and still looked hard at
the cane.  "Frank would be all right in the right place," she said
reflectively.  "He ought to have a different kind of wife, for one
thing.  Do you know, Alexandra, I could pick out exactly the right
sort of woman for Frank--now.  The trouble is you almost have
to marry a man before you can find out the sort of wife he needs;
and usually it's exactly the sort you are not.  Then what are you
going to do about it?" she asked candidly.

Alexandra confessed she didn't know.  "However," she added, "it
seems to me that you get along with Frank about as well as any
woman I've ever seen or heard of could."

Marie shook her head, pursing her lips and blowing her warm breath
softly out into the frosty air.  "No; I was spoiled at home.  I
like my own way, and I have a quick tongue.  When Frank brags, I
say sharp things, and he never forgets.  He goes over and over it
in his mind; I can feel him.  Then I'm too giddy.  Frank's wife
ought to be timid, and she ought not to care about another living
thing in the world but just Frank!  I didn't, when I married him,
but I suppose I was too young to stay like that."  Marie sighed.

Alexandra had never heard Marie speak so frankly about her husband
before, and she felt that it was wiser not to encourage her.  No
good, she reasoned, ever came from talking about such things, and
while Marie was thinking aloud, Alexandra had been steadily searching
the hat-boxes.  "Aren't these the patterns, Maria?"

Maria sprang up from the floor.  "Sure enough, we were looking
for patterns, weren't we?  I'd forgot about everything but Frank's
other wife.  I'll put that away."

She poked the cane behind Frank's Sunday clothes, and though she
laughed, Alexandra saw there were tears in her eyes.

When they went back to the kitchen, the snow had begun to fall,
and Marie's visitors thought they must be getting home.  She went
out to the cart with them, and tucked the robes about old Mrs.
Lee while Alexandra took the blanket off her horse.  As they drove
away, Marie turned and went slowly back to the house.  She took up
the package of letters Alexandra had brought, but she did not read
them.  She turned them over and looked at the foreign stamps, and
then sat watching the flying snow while the dusk deepened in the
kitchen and the stove sent out a red glow.

Marie knew perfectly well that Emil's letters were written more for
her than for Alexandra.  They were not the sort of letters that a
young man writes to his sister.  They were both more personal and
more painstaking; full of descriptions of the gay life in the old
Mexican capital in the days when the strong hand of Porfirio Diaz
was still strong.  He told about bull-fights and cock-fights,
churches and FIESTAS, the flower-markets and the fountains, the
music and dancing, the people of all nations he met in the Italian
restaurants on San Francisco Street.  In short, they were the kind
of letters a young man writes to a woman when he wishes himself
and his life to seem interesting to her, when he wishes to enlist
her imagination in his behalf.

Marie, when she was alone or when she sat sewing in the evening,
often thought about what it must be like down there where Emil was;
where there were flowers and street bands everywhere, and carriages
rattling up and down, and where there was a little blind boot-black
in front of the cathedral who could play any tune you asked for
by dropping the lids of blacking-boxes on the stone steps.  When
everything is done and over for one at twenty-three, it is pleasant
to let the mind wander forth and follow a young adventurer who has
life before him.  "And if it had not been for me," she thought,
"Frank might still be free like that, and having a good time making
people admire him.  Poor Frank, getting married wasn't very good
for him either.  I'm afraid I do set people against him, as he says.
I seem, somehow, to give him away all the time.  Perhaps he would
try to be agreeable to people again, if I were not around.  It
seems as if I always make him just as bad as he can be."

Later in the winter, Alexandra looked back upon that afternoon as
the last satisfactory visit she had had with Marie.  After that
day the younger woman seemed to shrink more and more into herself.
When she was with Alexandra she was not spontaneous and frank
as she used to be.  She seemed to be brooding over something, and
holding something back.  The weather had a good deal to do with
their seeing less of each other than usual.  There had not been
such snowstorms in twenty years, and the path across the fields was
drifted deep from Christmas until March.  When the two neighbors
went to see each other, they had to go round by the wagon-road,
which was twice as far.  They telephoned each other almost every
night, though in January there was a stretch of three weeks when
the wires were down, and when the postman did not come at all.

Marie often ran in to see her nearest neighbor, old Mrs. Hiller,
who was crippled with rheumatism and had only her son, the lame
shoemaker, to take care of her; and she went to the French Church,
whatever the weather.  She was a sincerely devout girl.  She prayed
for herself and for Frank, and for Emil, among the temptations of
that gay, corrupt old city.  She found more comfort in the Church
that winter than ever before.  It seemed to come closer to her,
and to fill an emptiness that ached in her heart.  She tried to
be patient with her husband.  He and his hired man usually played
California Jack in the evening.  Marie sat sewing or crocheting and
tried to take a friendly interest in the game, but she was always
thinking about the wide fields outside, where the snow was drifting
over the fences; and about the orchard, where the snow was falling
and packing, crust over crust.  When she went out into the dark
kitchen to fix her plants for the night, she used to stand by the
window and look out at the white fields, or watch the currents of
snow whirling over the orchard.  She seemed to feel the weight of
all the snow that lay down there.  The branches had become so hard
that they wounded your hand if you but tried to break a twig.  And
yet, down under the frozen crusts, at the roots of the trees, the
secret of life was still safe, warm as the blood in one's heart;
and the spring would come again!  Oh, it would come again!



II


If Alexandra had had much imagination she might have guessed what
was going on in Marie's mind, and she would have seen long before
what was going on in Emil's.  But that, as Emil himself had more
than once reflected, was Alexandra's blind side, and her life had
not been of the kind to sharpen her vision.  Her training had all
been toward the end of making her proficient in what she had undertaken
to do.  Her personal life, her own realization of herself, was
almost a subconscious existence; like an underground river that
came to the surface only here and there, at intervals months apart,
and then sank again to flow on under her own fields.  Nevertheless,
the underground stream was there, and it was because she had so much
personality to put into her enterprises and succeeded in putting
it into them so completely, that her affairs prospered better than
those of her neighbors.

There were certain days in her life, outwardly uneventful, which
Alexandra remembered as peculiarly happy; days when she was close
to the flat, fallow world about her, and felt, as it were, in her
own body the joyous germination in the soil.  There were days,
too, which she and Emil had spent together, upon which she loved
to look back.  There had been such a day when they were down on
the river in the dry year, looking over the land.  They had made
an early start one morning and had driven a long way before noon.
When Emil said he was hungry, they drew back from the road, gave
Brigham his oats among the bushes, and climbed up to the top of a
grassy bluff to eat their lunch under the shade of some little elm
trees.  The river was clear there, and shallow, since there had
been no rain, and it ran in ripples over the sparkling sand.  Under
the overhanging willows of the opposite bank there was an inlet where
the water was deeper and flowed so slowly that it seemed to sleep
in the sun.  In this little bay a single wild duck was swimming and
diving and preening her feathers, disporting herself very happily
in the flickering light and shade.  They sat for a long time,
watching the solitary bird take its pleasure.  No living thing
had ever seemed to Alexandra as beautiful as that wild duck.  Emil
must have felt about it as she did, for afterward, when they were
at home, he used sometimes to say, "Sister, you know our duck down
there--"  Alexandra remembered that day as one of the happiest in
her life.  Years afterward she thought of the duck as still there,
swimming and diving all by herself in the sunlight, a kind of
enchanted bird that did not know age or change.

Most of Alexandra's happy memories were as impersonal as this one;
yet to her they were very personal.  Her mind was a white book,
with clear writing about weather and beasts and growing things.
Not many people would have cared to read it; only a happy few.
She had never been in love, she had never indulged in sentimental
reveries.  Even as a girl she had looked upon men as work-fellows.
She had grown up in serious times.

There was one fancy indeed, which persisted through her girlhood.
It most often came to her on Sunday mornings, the one day in
the week when she lay late abed listening to the familiar morning
sounds; the windmill singing in the brisk breeze, Emil whistling
as he blacked his boots down by the kitchen door.  Sometimes, as
she lay thus luxuriously idle, her eyes closed, she used to have
an illusion of being lifted up bodily and carried lightly by some
one very strong.  It was a man, certainly, who carried her, but
he was like no man she knew; he was much larger and stronger and
swifter, and he carried her as easily as if she were a sheaf of
wheat.  She never saw him, but, with eyes closed, she could feel
that he was yellow like the sunlight, and there was the smell of
ripe cornfields about him.  She could feel him approach, bend over
her and lift her, and then she could feel herself being carried
swiftly off across the fields.  After such a reverie she would rise
hastily, angry with herself, and go down to the bath-house that
was partitioned off the kitchen shed.  There she would stand in a
tin tub and prosecute her bath with vigor, finishing it by pouring
buckets of cold well-water over her gleaming white body which no
man on the Divide could have carried very far.

As she grew older, this fancy more often came to her when she was
tired than when she was fresh and strong.  Sometimes, after she had
been in the open all day, overseeing the branding of the cattle or
the loading of the pigs, she would come in chilled, take a concoction
of spices and warm home-made wine, and go to bed with her body
actually aching with fatigue.  Then, just before she went to sleep,
she had the old sensation of being lifted and carried by a strong
being who took from her all her bodily weariness.






PART IV

The White Mulberry Tree




I


The French Church, properly the Church of Sainte-Agnes, stood
upon a hill.  The high, narrow, red-brick building, with its tall
steeple and steep roof, could be seen for miles across the wheatfields,
though the little town of Sainte-Agnes was completely hidden away
at the foot of the hill.  The church looked powerful and triumphant
there on its eminence, so high above the rest of the landscape,
with miles of warm color lying at its feet, and by its position and
setting it reminded one of some of the churches built long ago in
the wheat-lands of middle France.

Late one June afternoon Alexandra Bergson was driving along one
of the many roads that led through the rich French farming country
to the big church.  The sunlight was shining directly in her face,
and there was a blaze of light all about the red church on the
hill.  Beside Alexandra lounged a strikingly exotic figure in a
tall Mexican hat, a silk sash, and a black velvet jacket sewn with
silver buttons.  Emil had returned only the night before, and his
sister was so proud of him that she decided at once to take him up
to the church supper, and to make him wear the Mexican costume he
had brought home in his trunk.  "All the girls who have stands are
going to wear fancy costumes," she argued, "and some of the boys.
Marie is going to tell fortunes, and she sent to Omaha for a Bohemian
dress her father brought back from a visit to the old country.
If you wear those clothes, they will all be pleased.  And you must
take your guitar.  Everybody ought to do what they can to help
along, and we have never done much.  We are not a talented family."

The supper was to be at six o'clock, in the basement of the church,
and afterward there would be a fair, with charades and an auction.
Alexandra had set out from home early, leaving the house to Signa
and Nelse Jensen, who were to be married next week.  Signa had
shyly asked to have the wedding put off until Emil came home.

Alexandra was well satisfied with her brother.  As they drove
through the rolling French country toward the westering sun and the
stalwart church, she was thinking of that time long ago when she
and Emil drove back from the river valley to the still unconquered
Divide.  Yes, she told herself, it had been worth while; both Emil
and the country had become what she had hoped.  Out of her father's
children there was one who was fit to cope with the world, who had
not been tied to the plow, and who had a personality apart from the
soil.  And that, she reflected, was what she had worked for.  She
felt well satisfied with her life.

When they reached the church, a score of teams were hitched in
front of the basement doors that opened from the hillside upon the
sanded terrace, where the boys wrestled and had jumping-matches.
Amedee Chevalier, a proud father of one week, rushed out and
embraced Emil.  Amedee was an only son,--hence he was a very rich
young man,--but he meant to have twenty children himself, like
his uncle Xavier.  "Oh, Emil," he cried, hugging his old friend
rapturously, "why ain't you been up to see my boy?  You come
to-morrow, sure?  Emil, you wanna get a boy right off!  It's the
greatest thing ever!  No, no, no!  Angel not sick at all.  Everything
just fine.  That boy he come into this world laughin', and he been
laughin' ever since.  You come an' see!"  He pounded Emil's ribs
to emphasize each announcement.

Emil caught his arms.  "Stop, Amedee.  You're knocking the wind out
of me.  I brought him cups and spoons and blankets and moccasins
enough for an orphan asylum.  I'm awful glad it's a boy, sure
enough!"

The young men crowded round Emil to admire his costume and to tell
him in a breath everything that had happened since he went away.
Emil had more friends up here in the French country than down on
Norway Creek.  The French and Bohemian boys were spirited and jolly,
liked variety, and were as much predisposed to favor anything new
as the Scandinavian boys were to reject it.  The Norwegian and
Swedish lads were much more self-centred, apt to be egotistical
and jealous.  They were cautious and reserved with Emil because he
had been away to college, and were prepared to take him down if he
should try to put on airs with them.  The French boys liked a bit
of swagger, and they were always delighted to hear about anything
new: new clothes, new games, new songs, new dances.  Now they
carried Emil off to show him the club room they had just fitted up
over the post-office, down in the village.  They ran down the hill
in a drove, all laughing and chattering at once, some in French,
some in English.

Alexandra went into the cool, whitewashed basement where the women
were setting the tables.  Marie was standing on a chair, building
a little tent of shawls where she was to tell fortunes.  She sprang
down and ran toward Alexandra, stopping short and looking at her
in disappointment.  Alexandra nodded to her encouragingly.

"Oh, he will be here, Marie.  The boys have taken him off to show
him something.  You won't know him.  He is a man now, sure enough.
I have no boy left.  He smokes terrible-smelling Mexican cigarettes
and talks Spanish.  How pretty you look, child.  Where did you get
those beautiful earrings?"

"They belonged to father's mother.  He always promised them to me.
He sent them with the dress and said I could keep them."

Marie wore a short red skirt of stoutly woven cloth, a white bodice
and kirtle, a yellow silk turban wound low over her brown curls,
and long coral pendants in her ears.  Her ears had been pierced
against a piece of cork by her great-aunt when she was seven years
old.  In those germless days she had worn bits of broom-straw, plucked
from the common sweeping-broom, in the lobes until the holes were
healed and ready for little gold rings.

When Emil came back from the village, he lingered outside on the
terrace with the boys.  Marie could hear him talking and strumming
on his guitar while Raoul Marcel sang falsetto.  She was vexed
with him for staying out there.  It made her very nervous to hear
him and not to see him; for, certainly, she told herself, she was
not going out to look for him.  When the supper bell rang and the
boys came trooping in to get seats at the first table, she forgot
all about her annoyance and ran to greet the tallest of the crowd,
in his conspicuous attire.  She didn't mind showing her embarrassment
at all.  She blushed and laughed excitedly as she gave Emil her
hand, and looked delightedly at the black velvet coat that brought
out his fair skin and fine blond head.  Marie was incapable of being
lukewarm about anything that pleased her.  She simply did not know
how to give a half-hearted response.  When she was delighted, she
was as likely as not to stand on her tip-toes and clap her hands.
If people laughed at her, she laughed with them.

"Do the men wear clothes like that every day, in the street?"  She
caught Emil by his sleeve and turned him about.  "Oh, I wish I lived
where people wore things like that!  Are the buttons real silver?
Put on the hat, please.  What a heavy thing!  How do you ever wear
it?  Why don't you tell us about the bull-fights?"

She wanted to wring all his experiences from him at once, without
waiting a moment.  Emil smiled tolerantly and stood looking down at
her with his old, brooding gaze, while the French girls fluttered
about him in their white dresses and ribbons, and Alexandra watched
the scene with pride.  Several of the French girls, Marie knew, were
hoping that Emil would take them to supper, and she was relieved
when he took only his sister.  Marie caught Frank's arm and dragged
him to the same table, managing to get seats opposite the Bergsons,
so that she could hear what they were talking about.  Alexandra
made Emil tell Mrs. Xavier Chevalier, the mother of the twenty,
about how he had seen a famous matador killed in the bull-ring.
Marie listened to every word, only taking her eyes from Emil to
watch Frank's plate and keep it filled.  When Emil finished his
account,--bloody enough to satisfy Mrs. Xavier and to make her
feel thankful that she was not a matador,--Marie broke out with
a volley of questions.  How did the women dress when they went to
bull-fights?  Did they wear mantillas?  Did they never wear hats?

After supper the young people played charades for the amusement
of their elders, who sat gossiping between their guesses.  All the
shops in Sainte-Agnes were closed at eight o'clock that night, so
that the merchants and their clerks could attend the fair.  The
auction was the liveliest part of the entertainment, for the French
boys always lost their heads when they began to bid, satisfied that
their extravagance was in a good cause.  After all the pincushions
and sofa pillows and embroidered slippers were sold, Emil precipitated
a panic by taking out one of his turquoise shirt studs, which every
one had been admiring, and handing it to the auctioneer.  All the
French girls clamored for it, and their sweethearts bid against
each other recklessly.  Marie wanted it, too, and she kept making
signals to Frank, which he took a sour pleasure in disregarding.
He didn't see the use of making a fuss over a fellow just because
he was dressed like a clown.  When the turquoise went to Malvina
Sauvage, the French banker's daughter, Marie shrugged her shoulders
and betook herself to her little tent of shawls, where she began
to shuffle her cards by the light of a tallow candle, calling out,
"Fortunes, fortunes!"

The young priest, Father Duchesne, went first to have his fortune
read.  Marie took his long white hand, looked at it, and then
began to run off her cards.  "I see a long journey across water for
you, Father.  You will go to a town all cut up by water; built on
islands, it seems to be, with rivers and green fields all about.
And you will visit an old lady with a white cap and gold hoops in
her ears, and you will be very happy there."

"Mais, oui," said the priest, with a melancholy smile.  "C'est
L'Isle-Adam, chez ma mere.  Vous etes tres savante, ma fille."  He
patted her yellow turban, calling, "Venez donc, mes garcons!  Il
y a ici une veritable clairvoyante!"

Marie was clever at fortune-telling, indulging in a light irony
that amused the crowd.  She told old Brunot, the miser, that he
would lose all his money, marry a girl of sixteen, and live happily
on a crust.  Sholte, the fat Russian boy, who lived for his stomach,
was to be disappointed in love, grow thin, and shoot himself from
despondency.  Amedee was to have twenty children, and nineteen of
them were to be girls.  Amedee slapped Frank on the back and asked
him why he didn't see what the fortune-teller would promise him.
But Frank shook off his friendly hand and grunted, "She tell my
fortune long ago; bad enough!"  Then he withdrew to a corner and
sat glowering at his wife.

Frank's case was all the more painful because he had no one
in particular to fix his jealousy upon.  Sometimes he could have
thanked the man who would bring him evidence against his wife.
He had discharged a good farm-boy, Jan Smirka, because he thought
Marie was fond of him; but she had not seemed to miss Jan when
he was gone, and she had been just as kind to the next boy.  The
farm-hands would always do anything for Marie; Frank couldn't find
one so surly that he would not make an effort to please her.  At
the bottom of his heart Frank knew well enough that if he could once
give up his grudge, his wife would come back to him.  But he could
never in the world do that.  The grudge was fundamental.  Perhaps
he could not have given it up if he had tried.  Perhaps he got more
satisfaction out of feeling himself abused than he would have got
out of being loved.  If he could once have made Marie thoroughly
unhappy, he might have relented and raised her from the dust.  But
she had never humbled herself.  In the first days of their love
she had been his slave; she had admired him abandonedly.  But the
moment he began to bully her and to be unjust, she began to draw
away; at first in tearful amazement, then in quiet, unspoken disgust.
The distance between them had widened and hardened.  It no longer
contracted and brought them suddenly together.  The spark of her
life went somewhere else, and he was always watching to surprise
it.  He knew that somewhere she must get a feeling to live upon,
for she was not a woman who could live without loving.  He wanted
to prove to himself the wrong he felt.  What did she hide in her
heart?  Where did it go?  Even Frank had his churlish delicacies;
he never reminded her of how much she had once loved him.  For that
Marie was grateful to him.

While Marie was chattering to the French boys, Amedee called Emil
to the back of the room and whispered to him that they were going
to play a joke on the girls.  At eleven o'clock, Amedee was to go
up to the switchboard in the vestibule and turn off the electric
lights, and every boy would have a chance to kiss his sweetheart
before Father Duchesne could find his way up the stairs to turn the
current on again.  The only difficulty was the candle in Marie's
tent; perhaps, as Emil had no sweetheart, he would oblige the boys
by blowing out the candle.  Emil said he would undertake to do
that.

At five minutes to eleven he sauntered up to Marie's booth, and
the French boys dispersed to find their girls.  He leaned over the
card-table and gave himself up to looking at her.  "Do you think
you could tell my fortune?" he murmured.  It was the first word he
had had alone with her for almost a year.  "My luck hasn't changed
any.  It's just the same."

Marie had often wondered whether there was anyone else who could
look his thoughts to you as Emil could.  To-night, when she met his
steady, powerful eyes, it was impossible not to feel the sweetness
of the dream he was dreaming; it reached her before she could shut
it out, and hid itself in her heart.  She began to shuffle her
cards furiously.  "I'm angry with you, Emil," she broke out with
petulance.  "Why did you give them that lovely blue stone to sell?
You might have known Frank wouldn't buy it for me, and I wanted it
awfully!"

Emil laughed shortly.  "People who want such little things surely
ought to have them," he said dryly.  He thrust his hand into the
pocket of his velvet trousers and brought out a handful of uncut
turquoises, as big as marbles.  Leaning over the table he dropped
them into her lap.  "There, will those do?  Be careful, don't let
any one see them.  Now, I suppose you want me to go away and let
you play with them?"

Marie was gazing in rapture at the soft blue color of the stones.
"Oh, Emil!  Is everything down there beautiful like these?  How
could you ever come away?"

At that instant Amedee laid hands on the switchboard.  There was a
shiver and a giggle, and every one looked toward the red blur that
Marie's candle made in the dark.  Immediately that, too, was gone.
Little shrieks and currents of soft laughter ran up and down the
dark hall.  Marie started up,--directly into Emil's arms.  In the
same instant she felt his lips.  The veil that had hung uncertainly
between them for so long was dissolved.  Before she knew what she
was doing, she had committed herself to that kiss that was at once
a boy's and a man's, as timid as it was tender; so like Emil and
so unlike any one else in the world.  Not until it was over did
she realize what it meant.  And Emil, who had so often imagined
the shock of this first kiss, was surprised at its gentleness and
naturalness.  It was like a sigh which they had breathed together;
almost sorrowful, as if each were afraid of wakening something in
the other.

When the lights came on again, everybody was laughing and shouting,
and all the French girls were rosy and shining with mirth.  Only
Marie, in her little tent of shawls, was pale and quiet.  Under her
yellow turban the red coral pendants swung against white cheeks.
Frank was still staring at her, but he seemed to see nothing.  Years
ago, he himself had had the power to take the blood from her cheeks
like that.  Perhaps he did not remember--perhaps he had never
noticed!  Emil was already at the other end of the hall, walking
about with the shoulder-motion he had acquired among the Mexicans,
studying the floor with his intent, deep-set eyes.  Marie began to
take down and fold her shawls.  She did not glance up again.  The
young people drifted to the other end of the hall where the guitar
was sounding.  In a moment she heard Emil and Raoul singing:--


"Across the Rio Grand-e There lies a sunny land-e, My bright-eyed
Mexico!"


Alexandra Bergson came up to the card booth.  "Let me help you,
Marie.  You look tired."

She placed her hand on Marie's arm and felt her shiver.  Marie
stiffened under that kind, calm hand.  Alexandra drew back, perplexed
and hurt.

There was about Alexandra something of the impervious calm of the
fatalist, always disconcerting to very young people, who cannot
feel that the heart lives at all unless it is still at the mercy
of storms; unless its strings can scream to the touch of pain.



II


Signa's wedding supper was over.  The guests, and the tiresome
little Norwegian preacher who had performed the marriage ceremony,
were saying good-night.  Old Ivar was hitching the horses to the
wagon to take the wedding presents and the bride and groom up to
their new home, on Alexandra's north quarter.  When Ivar drove up
to the gate, Emil and Marie Shabata began to carry out the presents,
and Alexandra went into her bedroom to bid Signa good-bye and to
give her a few words of good counsel.  She was surprised to find
that the bride had changed her slippers for heavy shoes and was
pinning up her skirts.  At that moment Nelse appeared at the gate
with the two milk cows that Alexandra had given Signa for a wedding
present.

Alexandra began to laugh.  "Why, Signa, you and Nelse are to ride
home.  I'll send Ivar over with the cows in the morning."

Signa hesitated and looked perplexed.  When her husband called her,
she pinned her hat on resolutely.  "I ta-ank I better do yust like
he say," she murmured in confusion.

Alexandra and Marie accompanied Signa to the gate and saw the
party set off, old Ivar driving ahead in the wagon and the bride
and groom following on foot, each leading a cow.  Emil burst into
a laugh before they were out of hearing.

"Those two will get on," said Alexandra as they turned back to the
house.  "They are not going to take any chances.  They will feel
safer with those cows in their own stable.  Marie, I am going to
send for an old woman next.  As soon as I get the girls broken in,
I marry them off."

"I've no patience with Signa, marrying that grumpy fellow!" Marie
declared.  "I wanted her to marry that nice Smirka boy who worked
for us last winter.  I think she liked him, too."

"Yes, I think she did," Alexandra assented, "but I suppose she was
too much afraid of Nelse to marry any one else.  Now that I think
of it, most of my girls have married men they were afraid of.  I
believe there is a good deal of the cow in most Swedish girls.
You high-strung Bohemian can't understand us.  We're a terribly
practical people, and I guess we think a cross man makes a good
manager."

Marie shrugged her shoulders and turned to pin up a lock of hair
that had fallen on her neck.  Somehow Alexandra had irritated her
of late.  Everybody irritated her.  She was tired of everybody.  "I'm
going home alone, Emil, so you needn't get your hat," she said as
she wound her scarf quickly about her head.  "Good-night, Alexandra,"
she called back in a strained voice, running down the gravel walk.

Emil followed with long strides until he overtook her.  Then she began
to walk slowly.  It was a night of warm wind and faint starlight,
and the fireflies were glimmering over the wheat.

"Marie," said Emil after they had walked for a while, "I wonder if
you know how unhappy I am?"

Marie did not answer him.  Her head, in its white scarf, drooped
forward a little.

Emil kicked a clod from the path and went on:--

"I wonder whether you are really shallow-hearted, like you seem?
Sometimes I think one boy does just as well as another for you.
It never seems to make much difference whether it is me or Raoul
Marcel or Jan Smirka.  Are you really like that?"

"Perhaps I am.  What do you want me to do?  Sit round and cry all
day?  When I've cried until I can't cry any more, then--then I must
do something else."

"Are you sorry for me?" he persisted.

"No, I'm not.  If I were big and free like you, I wouldn't let
anything make me unhappy.  As old Napoleon Brunot said at the fair,
I wouldn't go lovering after no woman.  I'd take the first train
and go off and have all the fun there is."

"I tried that, but it didn't do any good.  Everything reminded me.
The nicer the place was, the more I wanted you."  They had come to
the stile and Emil pointed to it persuasively.  "Sit down a moment,
I want to ask you something."  Marie sat down on the top step and
Emil drew nearer.  "Would you tell me something that's none of my
business if you thought it would help me out?  Well, then, tell
me, PLEASE tell me, why you ran away with Frank Shabata!"

Marie drew back.  "Because I was in love with him," she said firmly.

"Really?" he asked incredulously.

"Yes, indeed.  Very much in love with him.  I think I was the one
who suggested our running away.  From the first it was more my
fault than his."

Emil turned away his face.

"And now," Marie went on, "I've got to remember that.  Frank is
just the same now as he was then, only then I would see him as I
wanted him to be.  I would have my own way.  And now I pay for it."

"You don't do all the paying."

"That's it.  When one makes a mistake, there's no telling where
it will stop.  But you can go away; you can leave all this behind
you."

"Not everything.  I can't leave you behind.  Will you go away with
me, Marie?"

Marie started up and stepped across the stile.  "Emil!  How wickedly
you talk!  I am not that kind of a girl, and you know it.  But what
am I going to do if you keep tormenting me like this!" she added
plaintively.

"Marie, I won't bother you any more if you will tell me just
one thing.  Stop a minute and look at me.  No, nobody can see us.
Everybody's asleep.  That was only a firefly.  Marie, STOP and tell
me!"

Emil overtook her and catching her by the shoulders shook her
gently, as if he were trying to awaken a sleepwalker.

Marie hid her face on his arm.  "Don't ask me anything more.  I
don't know anything except how miserable I am.  And I thought it
would be all right when you came back.  Oh, Emil," she clutched his
sleeve and began to cry, "what am I to do if you don't go away?  I
can't go, and one of us must.  Can't you see?"

Emil stood looking down at her, holding his shoulders stiff and
stiffening the arm to which she clung.  Her white dress looked
gray in the darkness.  She seemed like a troubled spirit, like some
shadow out of the earth, clinging to him and entreating him to give
her peace.  Behind her the fireflies were weaving in and out over
the wheat.  He put his hand on her bent head.  "On my honor, Marie,
if you will say you love me, I will go away."

She lifted her face to his.  "How could I help it?  Didn't you
know?"

Emil was the one who trembled, through all his frame.  After he
left Marie at her gate, he wandered about the fields all night,
till morning put out the fireflies and the stars.



III


One evening, a week after Signa's wedding, Emil was kneeling before
a box in the sitting-room, packing his books.  From time to time
he rose and wandered about the house, picking up stray volumes and
bringing them listlessly back to his box.  He was packing without
enthusiasm.  He was not very sanguine about his future.  Alexandra
sat sewing by the table.  She had helped him pack his trunk in
the afternoon.  As Emil came and went by her chair with his books,
he thought to himself that it had not been so hard to leave his
sister since he first went away to school.  He was going directly
to Omaha, to read law in the office of a Swedish lawyer until
October, when he would enter the law school at Ann Arbor.  They
had planned that Alexandra was to come to Michigan--a long journey
for her--at Christmas time, and spend several weeks with him.
Nevertheless, he felt that this leavetaking would be more final
than his earlier ones had been; that it meant a definite break with
his old home and the beginning of something new--he did not know
what.  His ideas about the future would not crystallize; the more
he tried to think about it, the vaguer his conception of it became.
But one thing was clear, he told himself; it was high time that he
made good to Alexandra, and that ought to be incentive enough to
begin with.

As he went about gathering up his books he felt as if he were
uprooting things.  At last he threw himself down on the old slat
lounge where he had slept when he was little, and lay looking up
at the familiar cracks in the ceiling.

"Tired, Emil?" his sister asked.

"Lazy," he murmured, turning on his side and looking at her.  He
studied Alexandra's face for a long time in the lamplight.  It had
never occurred to him that his sister was a handsome woman until
Marie Shabata had told him so.  Indeed, he had never thought of
her as being a woman at all, only a sister.  As he studied her bent
head, he looked up at the picture of John Bergson above the lamp.
"No," he thought to himself, "she didn't get it there.  I suppose
I am more like that."

"Alexandra," he said suddenly, "that old walnut secretary you use
for a desk was father's, wasn't it?"

Alexandra went on stitching.  "Yes.  It was one of the first things
he bought for the old log house.  It was a great extravagance
in those days.  But he wrote a great many letters back to the old
country.  He had many friends there, and they wrote to him up to the
time he died.  No one ever blamed him for grandfather's disgrace.
I can see him now, sitting there on Sundays, in his white shirt,
writing pages and pages, so carefully.  He wrote a fine, regular
hand, almost like engraving.  Yours is something like his, when
you take pains."

"Grandfather was really crooked, was he?"

"He married an unscrupulous woman, and then--then I'm afraid he
was really crooked.  When we first came here father used to have
dreams about making a great fortune and going back to Sweden to
pay back to the poor sailors the money grandfather had lost."

Emil stirred on the lounge.  "I say, that would have been worth
while, wouldn't it?  Father wasn't a bit like Lou or Oscar, was
he?  I can't remember much about him before he got sick."

"Oh, not at all!"  Alexandra dropped her sewing on her knee.  "He
had better opportunities; not to make money, but to make something
of himself.  He was a quiet man, but he was very intelligent.  You
would have been proud of him, Emil."

Alexandra felt that he would like to know there had been a man of
his kin whom he could admire.  She knew that Emil was ashamed of
Lou and Oscar, because they were bigoted and self-satisfied.  He
never said much about them, but she could feel his disgust.  His
brothers had shown their disapproval of him ever since he first
went away to school.  The only thing that would have satisfied them
would have been his failure at the University.  As it was, they
resented every change in his speech, in his dress, in his point of
view; though the latter they had to conjecture, for Emil avoided
talking to them about any but family matters.  All his interests
they treated as affectations.

Alexandra took up her sewing again.  "I can remember father when
he was quite a young man.  He belonged to some kind of a musical
society, a male chorus, in Stockholm.  I can remember going with
mother to hear them sing.  There must have been a hundred of them,
and they all wore long black coats and white neckties.  I was
used to seeing father in a blue coat, a sort of jacket, and when I
recognized him on the platform, I was very proud.  Do you remember
that Swedish song he taught you, about the ship boy?"

"Yes.  I used to sing it to the Mexicans.  They like anything
different."  Emil paused.  "Father had a hard fight here, didn't
he?" he added thoughtfully.

"Yes, and he died in a dark time.  Still, he had hope.  He believed
in the land."

"And in you, I guess," Emil said to himself.  There was another
period of silence; that warm, friendly silence, full of perfect
understanding, in which Emil and Alexandra had spent many of their
happiest half-hours.

At last Emil said abruptly, "Lou and Oscar would be better off if
they were poor, wouldn't they?"

Alexandra smiled.  "Maybe.  But their children wouldn't.  I have
great hopes of Milly."

Emil shivered.  "I don't know.  Seems to me it gets worse as it
goes on.  The worst of the Swedes is that they're never willing
to find out how much they don't know.  It was like that at the
University.  Always so pleased with themselves!  There's no getting
behind that conceited Swedish grin.  The Bohemians and Germans were
so different."

"Come, Emil, don't go back on your own people.  Father wasn't
conceited, Uncle Otto wasn't.  Even Lou and Oscar weren't when they
were boys."

Emil looked incredulous, but he did not dispute the point.  He
turned on his back and lay still for a long time, his hands locked
under his head, looking up at the ceiling.  Alexandra knew that he
was thinking of many things.  She felt no anxiety about Emil.  She
had always believed in him, as she had believed in the land.  He
had been more like himself since he got back from Mexico; seemed
glad to be at home, and talked to her as he used to do.  She had
no doubt that his wandering fit was over, and that he would soon
be settled in life.

"Alexandra," said Emil suddenly, "do you remember the wild duck we
saw down on the river that time?"

His sister looked up.  "I often think of her.  It always seems to
me she's there still, just like we saw her."

"I know.  It's queer what things one remembers and what things one
forgets."  Emil yawned and sat up.  "Well, it's time to turn in."
He rose, and going over to Alexandra stooped down and kissed her
lightly on the cheek.  "Good-night, sister.  I think you did pretty
well by us."

Emil took up his lamp and went upstairs.  Alexandra sat finishing
his new nightshirt, that must go in the top tray of his trunk.



IV


The next morning Angelique, Amedee's wife, was in the kitchen baking
pies, assisted by old Mrs. Chevalier.  Between the mixing-board
and the stove stood the old cradle that had been Amedee's, and in
it was his black-eyed son.  As Angelique, flushed and excited, with
flour on her hands, stopped to smile at the baby, Emil Bergson rode
up to the kitchen door on his mare and dismounted.

"'Medee is out in the field, Emil," Angelique called as she ran
across the kitchen to the oven.  "He begins to cut his wheat to-day;
the first wheat ready to cut anywhere about here.  He bought a new
header, you know, because all the wheat's so short this year.  I
hope he can rent it to the neighbors, it cost so much.  He and his
cousins bought a steam thresher on shares.  You ought to go out and
see that header work.  I watched it an hour this morning, busy as
I am with all the men to feed.  He has a lot of hands, but he's
the only one that knows how to drive the header or how to run the
engine, so he has to be everywhere at once.  He's sick, too, and
ought to be in his bed."

Emil bent over Hector Baptiste, trying to make him blink his round,
bead-like black eyes.  "Sick?  What's the matter with your daddy,
kid?  Been making him walk the floor with you?"

Angelique sniffed.  "Not much!  We don't have that kind of babies.
It was his father that kept Baptiste awake.  All night I had to be
getting up and making mustard plasters to put on his stomach.  He
had an awful colic.  He said he felt better this morning, but I
don't think he ought to be out in the field, overheating himself."

Angelique did not speak with much anxiety, not because she was
indifferent, but because she felt so secure in their good fortune.
Only good things could happen to a rich, energetic, handsome young
man like Amedee, with a new baby in the cradle and a new header in
the field.

Emil stroked the black fuzz on Baptiste's head.  "I say, Angelique,
one of 'Medee's grandmothers, 'way back, must have been a squaw.
This kid looks exactly like the Indian babies."

Angelique made a face at him, but old Mrs.  Chevalier had been
touched on a sore point, and she let out such a stream of fiery
PATOIS that Emil fled from the kitchen and mounted his mare.

Opening the pasture gate from the saddle, Emil rode across the field
to the clearing where the thresher stood, driven by a stationary
engine and fed from the header boxes.  As Amedee was not on the
engine, Emil rode on to the wheatfield, where he recognized, on
the header, the slight, wiry figure of his friend, coatless, his
white shirt puffed out by the wind, his straw hat stuck jauntily
on the side of his head.  The six big work-horses that drew, or
rather pushed, the header, went abreast at a rapid walk, and as they
were still green at the work they required a good deal of management
on Amedee's part; especially when they turned the corners, where
they divided, three and three, and then swung round into line again
with a movement that looked as complicated as a wheel of artillery.
Emil felt a new thrill of admiration for his friend, and with it
the old pang of envy at the way in which Amedee could do with his
might what his hand found to do, and feel that, whatever it was,
it was the most important thing in the world.  "I'll have to bring
Alexandra up to see this thing work," Emil thought; "it's splendid!"

When he saw Emil, Amedee waved to him and called to one of his
twenty cousins to take the reins.  Stepping off the header without
stopping it, he ran up to Emil who had dismounted.  "Come along,"
he called.  "I have to go over to the engine for a minute.  I gotta
green man running it, and I gotta to keep an eye on him."

Emil thought the lad was unnaturally flushed and more excited than
even the cares of managing a big farm at a critical time warranted.
As they passed behind a last year's stack, Amedee clutched at his
right side and sank down for a moment on the straw.

"Ouch!  I got an awful pain in me, Emil.  Something's the matter
with my insides, for sure."

Emil felt his fiery cheek.  "You ought to go straight to bed,
'Medee, and telephone for the doctor; that's what you ought to do."

Amedee staggered up with a gesture of despair.  "How can I?  I got
no time to be sick.  Three thousand dollars' worth of new machinery
to manage, and the wheat so ripe it will begin to shatter next
week.  My wheat's short, but it's gotta grand full berries.  What's
he slowing down for?  We haven't got header boxes enough to feed
the thresher, I guess."

Amedee started hot-foot across the stubble, leaning a little to the
right as he ran, and waved to the engineer not to stop the engine.

Emil saw that this was no time to talk about his own affairs.  He
mounted his mare and rode on to Sainte-Agnes, to bid his friends
there good-bye.  He went first to see Raoul Marcel, and found him
innocently practising the "Gloria" for the big confirmation service
on Sunday while he polished the mirrors of his father's saloon.

As Emil rode homewards at three o'clock in the afternoon, he saw
Amedee staggering out of the wheatfield, supported by two of his
cousins.  Emil stopped and helped them put the boy to bed.



V


When Frank Shabata came in from work at five o'clock that evening,
old Moses Marcel, Raoul's father, telephoned him that Amedee had
had a seizure in the wheatfield, and that Doctor Paradis was going
to operate on him as soon as the Hanover doctor got there to help.
Frank dropped a word of this at the table, bolted his supper, and
rode off to Sainte-Agnes, where there would be sympathetic discussion
of Amedee's case at Marcel's saloon.

As soon as Frank was gone, Marie telephoned Alexandra.  It was a
comfort to hear her friend's voice.  Yes, Alexandra knew what there
was to be known about Amedee.  Emil had been there when they carried
him out of the field, and had stayed with him until the doctors
operated for appendicitis at five o'clock.  They were afraid it
was too late to do much good; it should have been done three days
ago.  Amedee was in a very bad way.  Emil had just come home, worn
out and sick himself.  She had given him some brandy and put him
to bed.

Marie hung up the receiver.  Poor Amedee's illness had taken on a
new meaning to her, now that she knew Emil had been with him.  And
it might so easily have been the other way--Emil who was ill and
Amedee who was sad!  Marie looked about the dusky sitting-room.
She had seldom felt so utterly lonely.  If Emil was asleep, there
was not even a chance of his coming; and she could not go to
Alexandra for sympathy.  She meant to tell Alexandra everything,
as soon as Emil went away.  Then whatever was left between them
would be honest.

But she could not stay in the house this evening.  Where should she
go?  She walked slowly down through the orchard, where the evening
air was heavy with the smell of wild cotton.  The fresh, salty scent
of the wild roses had given way before this more powerful perfume
of midsummer.  Wherever those ashes-of-rose balls hung on their
milky stalks, the air about them was saturated with their breath.
The sky was still red in the west and the evening star hung
directly over the Bergsons' wind-mill.  Marie crossed the fence at
the wheatfield corner, and walked slowly along the path that led
to Alexandra's.  She could not help feeling hurt that Emil had not
come to tell her about Amedee.  It seemed to her most unnatural
that he should not have come.  If she were in trouble, certainly
he was the one person in the world she would want to see.  Perhaps
he wished her to understand that for her he was as good as gone
already.

Marie stole slowly, flutteringly, along the path, like a white
night-moth out of the fields.  The years seemed to stretch before
her like the land; spring, summer, autumn, winter, spring; always
the same patient fields, the patient little trees, the patient lives;
always the same yearning, the same pulling at the chain--until the
instinct to live had torn itself and bled and weakened for the last
time, until the chain secured a dead woman, who might cautiously
be released.  Marie walked on, her face lifted toward the remote,
inaccessible evening star.

When she reached the stile she sat down and waited.  How terrible
it was to love people when you could not really share their lives!

Yes, in so far as she was concerned, Emil was already gone.  They
couldn't meet any more.  There was nothing for them to say.  They
had spent the last penny of their small change; there was nothing
left but gold.  The day of love-tokens was past.  They had now
only their hearts to give each other.  And Emil being gone, what
was her life to be like?  In some ways, it would be easier.  She
would not, at least, live in perpetual fear.  If Emil were once
away and settled at work, she would not have the feeling that she
was spoiling his life.  With the memory he left her, she could be
as rash as she chose.  Nobody could be the worse for it but herself;
and that, surely, did not matter.  Her own case was clear.  When a
girl had loved one man, and then loved another while that man was
still alive, everybody knew what to think of her.  What happened
to her was of little consequence, so long as she did not drag other
people down with her.  Emil once away, she could let everything
else go and live a new life of perfect love.

Marie left the stile reluctantly.  She had, after all, thought he
might come.  And how glad she ought to be, she told herself, that
he was asleep.  She left the path and went across the pasture.  The
moon was almost full.  An owl was hooting somewhere in the fields.
She had scarcely thought about where she was going when the pond
glittered before her, where Emil had shot the ducks.  She stopped
and looked at it.  Yes, there would be a dirty way out of life, if
one chose to take it.  But she did not want to die.  She wanted to
live and dream--a hundred years, forever!  As long as this sweetness
welled up in her heart, as long as her breast could hold this
treasure of pain!  She felt as the pond must feel when it held the
moon like that; when it encircled and swelled with that image of
gold.

In the morning, when Emil came down-stairs, Alexandra met him
in the sitting-room and put her hands on his shoulders.  "Emil, I
went to your room as soon as it was light, but you were sleeping
so sound I hated to wake you.  There was nothing you could do, so
I let you sleep.  They telephoned from Sainte-Agnes that Amedee
died at three o'clock this morning."



VI


The Church has always held that life is for the living.  On Saturday,
while half the village of Sainte-Agnes was mourning for Amedee and
preparing the funeral black for his burial on Monday, the other
half was busy with white dresses and white veils for the great
confirmation service to-morrow, when the bishop was to confirm a
class of one hundred boys and girls.  Father Duchesne divided his
time between the living and the dead.  All day Saturday the church
was a scene of bustling activity, a little hushed by the thought
of Amedee.  The choir were busy rehearsing a mass of Rossini, which
they had studied and practised for this occasion.  The women were
trimming the altar, the boys and girls were bringing flowers.

On Sunday morning the bishop was to drive overland to Sainte-Agnes
from Hanover, and Emil Bergson had been asked to take the place of
one of Amedee's cousins in the cavalcade of forty French boys who
were to ride across country to meet the bishop's carriage.  At
six o'clock on Sunday morning the boys met at the church.  As they
stood holding their horses by the bridle, they talked in low tones
of their dead comrade.  They kept repeating that Amedee had always
been a good boy, glancing toward the red brick church which had
played so large a part in Amedee's life, had been the scene of his
most serious moments and of his happiest hours.  He had played and
wrestled and sung and courted under its shadow.  Only three weeks
ago he had proudly carried his baby there to be christened.  They
could not doubt that that invisible arm was still about Amedee; that
through the church on earth he had passed to the church triumphant,
the goal of the hopes and faith of so many hundred years.

When the word was given to mount, the young men rode at a walk out
of the village; but once out among the wheatfields in the morning
sun, their horses and their own youth got the better of them.  A
wave of zeal and fiery enthusiasm swept over them.  They longed
for a Jerusalem to deliver.  The thud of their galloping hoofs
interrupted many a country breakfast and brought many a woman and
child to the door of the farmhouses as they passed.  Five miles east
of Sainte-Agnes they met the bishop in his open carriage, attended
by two priests.  Like one man the boys swung off their hats in a
broad salute, and bowed their heads as the handsome old man lifted
his two fingers in the episcopal blessing.  The horsemen closed
about the carriage like a guard, and whenever a restless horse broke
from control and shot down the road ahead of the body, the bishop
laughed and rubbed his plump hands together.  "What fine boys!" he
said to his priests.  "The Church still has her cavalry."

As the troop swept past the graveyard half a mile east of the
town,--the first frame church of the parish had stood there,--old
Pierre Seguin was already out with his pick and spade, digging
Amedee's grave.  He knelt and uncovered as the bishop passed.  The
boys with one accord looked away from old Pierre to the red church
on the hill, with the gold cross flaming on its steeple.

Mass was at eleven.  While the church was filling, Emil Bergson waited
outside, watching the wagons and buggies drive up the hill.  After
the bell began to ring, he saw Frank Shabata ride up on horseback
and tie his horse to the hitch-bar.  Marie, then, was not coming.
Emil turned and went into the church.  Amedee's was the only empty
pew, and he sat down in it.  Some of Amedee's cousins were there,
dressed in black and weeping.  When all the pews were full, the
old men and boys packed the open space at the back of the church,
kneeling on the floor.  There was scarcely a family in town that was
not represented in the confirmation class, by a cousin, at least.
The new communicants, with their clear, reverent faces, were beautiful
to look upon as they entered in a body and took the front benches
reserved for them.  Even before the Mass began, the air was charged
with feeling.  The choir had never sung so well and Raoul Marcel,
in the "Gloria," drew even the bishop's eyes to the organ loft.
For the offertory he sang Gounod's "Ave Maria,"--always spoken of
in Sainte-Agnes as "the Ave Maria."

Emil began to torture himself with questions about Marie.  Was she
ill?  Had she quarreled with her husband?  Was she too unhappy to
find comfort even here?  Had she, perhaps, thought that he would
come to her?  Was she waiting for him?  Overtaxed by excitement
and sorrow as he was, the rapture of the service took hold upon his
body and mind.  As he listened to Raoul, he seemed to emerge from
the conflicting emotions which had been whirling him about and
sucking him under.  He felt as if a clear light broke upon his
mind, and with it a conviction that good was, after all, stronger
than evil, and that good was possible to men.  He seemed to discover
that there was a kind of rapture in which he could love forever
without faltering and without sin.  He looked across the heads of
the people at Frank Shabata with calmness.  That rapture was for those
who could feel it; for people who could not, it was non-existent.
He coveted nothing that was Frank Shabata's.  The spirit he had
met in music was his own.  Frank Shabata had never found it; would
never find it if he lived beside it a thousand years; would have
destroyed it if he had found it, as Herod slew the innocents, as
Rome slew the martyrs.

SAN--CTA MARI-I-I-A,

wailed Raoul from the organ loft;

O--RA PRO NO-O-BIS!

And it did not occur to Emil that any one had ever reasoned thus
before, that music had ever before given a man this equivocal
revelation.

The confirmation service followed the Mass.  When it was over, the
congregation thronged about the newly confirmed.  The girls, and
even the boys, were kissed and embraced and wept over.  All the
aunts and grandmothers wept with joy.  The housewives had much ado
to tear themselves away from the general rejoicing and hurry back
to their kitchens.  The country parishioners were staying in town
for dinner, and nearly every house in Sainte-Agnes entertained
visitors that day.  Father Duchesne, the bishop, and the visiting
priests dined with Fabien Sauvage, the banker.  Emil and Frank
Shabata were both guests of old Moise Marcel.  After dinner Frank
and old Moise retired to the rear room of the saloon to play
California Jack and drink their cognac, and Emil went over to the
banker's with Raoul, who had been asked to sing for the bishop.

At three o'clock, Emil felt that he could stand it no longer.  He
slipped out under cover of "The Holy City," followed by Malvina's
wistful eye, and went to the stable for his mare.  He was at that
height of excitement from which everything is foreshortened, from
which life seems short and simple, death very near, and the soul
seems to soar like an eagle.  As he rode past the graveyard he looked
at the brown hole in the earth where Amedee was to lie, and felt
no horror.  That, too, was beautiful, that simple doorway into
forgetfulness.  The heart, when it is too much alive, aches for
that brown earth, and ecstasy has no fear of death.  It is the old
and the poor and the maimed who shrink from that brown hole; its
wooers are found among the young, the passionate, the gallant-hearted.
It was not until he had passed the graveyard that Emil realized
where he was going.  It was the hour for saying good-bye.  It might
be the last time that he would see her alone, and today he could
leave her without rancor, without bitterness.

Everywhere the grain stood ripe and the hot afternoon was full of
the smell of the ripe wheat, like the smell of bread baking in an
oven.  The breath of the wheat and the sweet clover passed him like
pleasant things in a dream.  He could feel nothing but the sense of
diminishing distance.  It seemed to him that his mare was flying,
or running on wheels, like a railway train.  The sunlight, flashing
on the window-glass of the big red barns, drove him wild with joy.
He was like an arrow shot from the bow.  His life poured itself
out along the road before him as he rode to the Shabata farm.

When Emil alighted at the Shabatas' gate, his horse was in a lather.
He tied her in the stable and hurried to the house.  It was empty.
She might be at Mrs. Hiller's or with Alexandra.  But anything
that reminded him of her would be enough, the orchard, the mulberry
tree. . .  When he reached the orchard the sun was hanging low over
the wheatfield.  Long fingers of light reached through the apple
branches as through a net; the orchard was riddled and shot with
gold; light was the reality, the trees were merely interferences
that reflected and refracted light.  Emil went softly down between
the cherry trees toward the wheatfield.  When he came to the corner,
he stopped short and put his hand over his mouth.  Marie was lying
on her side under the white mulberry tree, her face half hidden in
the grass, her eyes closed, her hands lying limply where they had
happened to fall.  She had lived a day of her new life of perfect
love, and it had left her like this.  Her breast rose and fell
faintly, as if she were asleep.  Emil threw himself down beside
her and took her in his arms.  The blood came back to her cheeks,
her amber eyes opened slowly, and in them Emil saw his own face
and the orchard and the sun.  "I was dreaming this," she whispered,
hiding her face against him, "don't take my dream away!"



VII


When Frank Shabata got home that night, he found Emil's mare in
his stable.  Such an impertinence amazed him.  Like everybody else,
Frank had had an exciting day.  Since noon he had been drinking too
much, and he was in a bad temper.  He talked bitterly to himself
while he put his own horse away, and as he went up the path and
saw that the house was dark he felt an added sense of injury.  He
approached quietly and listened on the doorstep.  Hearing nothing,
he opened the kitchen door and went softly from one room to another.
Then he went through the house again, upstairs and down, with no
better result.  He sat down on the bottom step of the box stairway
and tried to get his wits together.  In that unnatural quiet there
was no sound but his own heavy breathing.  Suddenly an owl began
to hoot out in the fields.  Frank lifted his head.  An idea flashed
into his mind, and his sense of injury and outrage grew.  He went
into his bedroom and took his murderous 405 Winchester from the
closet.

When Frank took up his gun and walked out of the house, he had not
the faintest purpose of doing anything with it.  He did not believe
that he had any real grievance.  But it gratified him to feel like
a desperate man.  He had got into the habit of seeing himself always
in desperate straits.  His unhappy temperament was like a cage; he
could never get out of it; and he felt that other people, his wife
in particular, must have put him there.  It had never more than
dimly occurred to Frank that he made his own unhappiness.  Though
he took up his gun with dark projects in his mind, he would have
been paralyzed with fright had he known that there was the slightest
probability of his ever carrying any of them out.

Frank went slowly down to the orchard gate, stopped and stood for
a moment lost in thought.  He retraced his steps and looked through
the barn and the hayloft.  Then he went out to the road, where he
took the foot-path along the outside of the orchard hedge.  The
hedge was twice as tall as Frank himself, and so dense that one
could see through it only by peering closely between the leaves.
He could see the empty path a long way in the moonlight.  His mind
traveled ahead to the stile, which he always thought of as haunted
by Emil Bergson.  But why had he left his horse?

At the wheatfield corner, where the orchard hedge ended and the
path led across the pasture to the Bergsons', Frank stopped.  In
the warm, breathless night air he heard a murmuring sound, perfectly
inarticulate, as low as the sound of water coming from a spring,
where there is no fall, and where there are no stones to fret it.
Frank strained his ears.  It ceased.  He held his breath and began
to tremble.  Resting the butt of his gun on the ground, he parted
the mulberry leaves softly with his fingers and peered through
the hedge at the dark figures on the grass, in the shadow of the
mulberry tree.  It seemed to him that they must feel his eyes,
that they must hear him breathing.  But they did not.  Frank, who
had always wanted to see things blacker than they were, for once
wanted to believe less than he saw.  The woman lying in the shadow
might so easily be one of the Bergsons' farm-girls. . . .  Again
the murmur, like water welling out of the ground.  This time he
heard it more distinctly, and his blood was quicker than his brain.
He began to act, just as a man who falls into the fire begins to
act.  The gun sprang to his shoulder, he sighted mechanically and
fired three times without stopping, stopped without knowing why.
Either he shut his eyes or he had vertigo.  He did not see anything
while he was firing.  He thought he heard a cry simultaneous with
the second report, but he was not sure.  He peered again through
the hedge, at the two dark figures under the tree.  They had fallen
a little apart from each other, and were perfectly still--  No,
not quite; in a white patch of light, where the moon shone through
the branches, a man's hand was plucking spasmodically at the grass.

Suddenly the woman stirred and uttered a cry, then another, and
another.  She was living!  She was dragging herself toward the
hedge!  Frank dropped his gun and ran back along the path, shaking,
stumbling, gasping.  He had never imagined such horror.  The
cries followed him.  They grew fainter and thicker, as if she were
choking.  He dropped on his knees beside the hedge and crouched
like a rabbit, listening; fainter, fainter; a sound like a whine;
again--a moan--another--silence.  Frank scrambled to his feet and
ran on, groaning and praying.  From habit he went toward the house,
where he was used to being soothed when he had worked himself into
a frenzy, but at the sight of the black, open door, he started back.
He knew that he had murdered somebody, that a woman was bleeding
and moaning in the orchard, but he had not realized before that
it was his wife.  The gate stared him in the face.  He threw his
hands over his head.  Which way to turn?  He lifted his tormented
face and looked at the sky.  "Holy Mother of God, not to suffer!
She was a good girl--not to suffer!"

Frank had been wont to see himself in dramatic situations; but
now, when he stood by the windmill, in the bright space between the
barn and the house, facing his own black doorway, he did not see
himself at all.  He stood like the hare when the dogs are approaching
from all sides.  And he ran like a hare, back and forth about that
moonlit space, before he could make up his mind to go into the
dark stable for a horse.  The thought of going into a doorway was
terrible to him.  He caught Emil's horse by the bit and led it out.
He could not have buckled a bridle on his own.  After two or three
attempts, he lifted himself into the saddle and started for Hanover.
If he could catch the one o'clock train, he had money enough to
get as far as Omaha.

While he was thinking dully of this in some less sensitized part
of his brain, his acuter faculties were going over and over the
cries he had heard in the orchard.  Terror was the only thing that
kept him from going back to her, terror that she might still be
she, that she might still be suffering.  A woman, mutilated and
bleeding in his orchard--it was because it was a woman that he
was so afraid.  It was inconceivable that he should have hurt a
woman.  He would rather be eaten by wild beasts than see her move
on the ground as she had moved in the orchard.  Why had she been
so careless?  She knew he was like a crazy man when he was angry.
She had more than once taken that gun away from him and held it,
when he was angry with other people.  Once it had gone off while
they were struggling over it.  She was never afraid.  But, when
she knew him, why hadn't she been more careful?  Didn't she have
all summer before her to love Emil Bergson in, without taking such
chances?  Probably she had met the Smirka boy, too, down there in
the orchard.  He didn't care.  She could have met all the men on the
Divide there, and welcome, if only she hadn't brought this horror
on him.

There was a wrench in Frank's mind.  He did not honestly believe that
of her.  He knew that he was doing her wrong.  He stopped his horse
to admit this to himself the more directly, to think it out the more
clearly.  He knew that he was to blame.  For three years he had been
trying to break her spirit.  She had a way of making the best of
things that seemed to him a sentimental affectation. He wanted his
wife to resent that he was wasting his best years among these stupid
and unappreciative people; but she had seemed to find the people
quite good enough.  If he ever got rich he meant to buy her pretty
clothes and take her to California in a Pullman car, and treat her
like a lady; but in the mean time he wanted her to feel that life was
as ugly and as unjust as he felt it.  He had tried to make her life
ugly.  He had refused to share any of the little pleasures she was so
plucky about making for herself.  She could be gay about the least
thing in the world; but she must be gay!  When she first came to him,
her faith in him, her adoration--Frank struck the mare with his fist.
Why had Marie made him do this thing; why had she brought this upon
him?  He was overwhelmed by sickening misfortune.  All at once he
heard her cries again--he had forgotten for a moment.  "Maria," he
sobbed aloud, "Maria!"

When Frank was halfway to Hanover, the motion of his horse brought
on a violent attack of nausea.  After it had passed, he rode on
again, but he could think of nothing except his physical weakness
and his desire to be comforted by his wife.  He wanted to get into
his own bed.  Had his wife been at home, he would have turned and
gone back to her meekly enough.



VIII


When old Ivar climbed down from his loft at four o'clock the next
morning, he came upon Emil's mare, jaded and lather-stained, her
bridle broken, chewing the scattered tufts of hay outside the stable
door.  The old man was thrown into a fright at once.  He put the
mare in her stall, threw her a measure of oats, and then set out
as fast as his bow-legs could carry him on the path to the nearest
neighbor.

"Something is wrong with that boy.  Some misfortune has come upon
us.  He would never have used her so, in his right senses.  It is
not his way to abuse his mare," the old man kept muttering, as he
scuttled through the short, wet pasture grass on his bare feet.

While Ivar was hurrying across the fields, the first long rays of
the sun were reaching down between the orchard boughs to those two
dew-drenched figures.  The story of what had happened was written
plainly on the orchard grass, and on the white mulberries that had
fallen in the night and were covered with dark stain.  For Emil the
chapter had been short.  He was shot in the heart, and had rolled
over on his back and died.  His face was turned up to the sky and
his brows were drawn in a frown, as if he had realized that something
had befallen him.  But for Marie Shabata it had not been so easy.
One ball had torn through her right lung, another had shattered
the carotid artery.  She must have started up and gone toward the
hedge, leaving a trail of blood.  There she had fallen and bled.
From that spot there was another trail, heavier than the first,
where she must have dragged herself back to Emil's body.  Once
there, she seemed not to have struggled any more.  She had lifted
her head to her lover's breast, taken his hand in both her own,
and bled quietly to death.  She was lying on her right side in an
easy and natural position, her cheek on Emil's shoulder.  On her
face there was a look of ineffable content.  Her lips were parted
a little; her eyes were lightly closed, as if in a day-dream or a
light slumber.  After she lay down there, she seemed not to have
moved an eyelash.  The hand she held was covered with dark stains,
where she had kissed it.

But the stained, slippery grass, the darkened mulberries, told only
half the story.  Above Marie and Emil, two white butterflies from
Frank's alfalfa-field were fluttering in and out among the interlacing
shadows; diving and soaring, now close together, now far apart;
and in the long grass by the fence the last wild roses of the year
opened their pink hearts to die.

When Ivar reached the path by the hedge, he saw Shabata's rifle
lying in the way.  He turned and peered through the branches,
falling upon his knees as if his legs had been mowed from under
him.  "Merciful God!" he groaned;

Alexandra, too, had risen early that morning, because of her anxiety
about Emil.  She was in Emil's room upstairs when, from the window,
she saw Ivar coming along the path that led from the Shabatas'.
He was running like a spent man, tottering and lurching from side
to side.  Ivar never drank, and Alexandra thought at once that one
of his spells had come upon him, and that he must be in a very bad
way indeed.  She ran downstairs and hurried out to meet him, to
hide his infirmity from the eyes of her household.  The old man
fell in the road at her feet and caught her hand, over which he
bowed his shaggy head.  "Mistress, mistress," he sobbed, "it has
fallen!  Sin and death for the young ones!  God have mercy upon
us!"




PART V

Alexandra




I


Ivar was sitting at a cobbler's bench in the barn, mending harness
by the light of a lantern and repeating to himself the 101st Psalm.
It was only five o'clock of a mid-October day, but a storm had
come up in the afternoon, bringing black clouds, a cold wind and
torrents of rain.  The old man wore his buffalo-skin coat, and
occasionally stopped to warm his fingers at the lantern.  Suddenly
a woman burst into the shed, as if she had been blown in, accompanied by
a shower of rain-drops.  It was Signa, wrapped in a man's overcoat
and wearing a pair of boots over her shoes.  In time of trouble
Signa had come back to stay with her mistress, for she was the only
one of the maids from whom Alexandra would accept much personal
service.  It was three months now since the news of the terrible
thing that had happened in Frank Shabata's orchard had first run
like a fire over the Divide.  Signa and Nelse were staying on with
Alexandra until winter.

"Ivar," Signa exclaimed as she wiped the rain from her face, "do
you know where she is?"

The old man put down his cobbler's knife.  "Who, the mistress?"

"Yes.  She went away about three o'clock.  I happened to look out
of the window and saw her going across the fields in her thin dress
and sun-hat.  And now this storm has come on.  I thought she was
going to Mrs. Hiller's, and I telephoned as soon as the thunder
stopped, but she had not been there.  I'm afraid she is out somewhere
and will get her death of cold."

Ivar put on his cap and took up the lantern.  "JA, JA, we will see.
I will hitch the boy's mare to the cart and go."

Signa followed him across the wagon-shed to the horses' stable.
She was shivering with cold and excitement.  "Where do you suppose
she can be, Ivar?"

The old man lifted a set of single harness carefully from its peg.
"How should I know?"

"But you think she is at the graveyard, don't you?" Signa persisted.
"So do I.  Oh, I wish she would be more like herself!  I can't
believe it's Alexandra Bergson come to this, with no head about
anything.  I have to tell her when to eat and when to go to bed."

"Patience, patience, sister," muttered Ivar as he settled the bit
in the horse's mouth.  "When the eyes of the flesh are shut, the
eyes of the spirit are open.  She will have a message from those
who are gone, and that will bring her peace.  Until then we must
bear with her.  You and I are the only ones who have weight with
her.  She trusts us."

"How awful it's been these last three months."  Signa held the
lantern so that he could see to buckle the straps.  "It don't seem
right that we must all be so miserable.  Why do we all have to be
punished?  Seems to me like good times would never come again."

Ivar expressed himself in a deep sigh, but said nothing.  He stooped
and took a sandburr from his toe.

"Ivar," Signa asked suddenly, "will you tell me why you go barefoot?
All the time I lived here in the house I wanted to ask you.  Is it
for a penance, or what?"

"No, sister.  It is for the indulgence of the body.  From my youth
up I have had a strong, rebellious body, and have been subject to
every kind of temptation.  Even in age my temptations are prolonged.
It was necessary to make some allowances; and the feet, as I
understand it, are free members.  There is no divine prohibition
for them in the Ten Commandments.  The hands, the tongue, the eyes,
the heart, all the bodily desires we are commanded to subdue; but
the feet are free members.  I indulge them without harm to any
one, even to trampling in filth when my desires are low.  They are
quickly cleaned again."

Signa did not laugh.  She looked thoughtful as she followed Ivar out
to the wagon-shed and held the shafts up for him, while he backed
in the mare and buckled the hold-backs.  "You have been a good
friend to the mistress, Ivar," she murmured.

"And you, God be with you," replied Ivar as he clambered into the
cart and put the lantern under the oilcloth lap-cover.  "Now for
a ducking, my girl," he said to the mare, gathering up the reins.

As they emerged from the shed, a stream of water, running off the
thatch, struck the mare on the neck.  She tossed her head indignantly,
then struck out bravely on the soft ground, slipping back again and
again as she climbed the hill to the main road.  Between the rain
and the darkness Ivar could see very little, so he let Emil's mare
have the rein, keeping her head in the right direction.  When the
ground was level, he turned her out of the dirt road upon the sod,
where she was able to trot without slipping.

Before Ivar reached the graveyard, three miles from the house,
the storm had spent itself, and the downpour had died into a soft,
dripping rain.  The sky and the land were a dark smoke color, and
seemed to be coming together, like two waves.  When Ivar stopped
at the gate and swung out his lantern, a white figure rose from
beside John Bergson's white stone.

The old man sprang to the ground and shuffled toward the gate
calling, "Mistress, mistress!"

Alexandra hurried to meet him and put her hand on his shoulder.
"TYST!  Ivar.  There's nothing to be worried about.  I'm sorry if
I've scared you all.  I didn't notice the storm till it was on me,
and I couldn't walk against it.  I'm glad you've come.  I am so
tired I didn't know how I'd ever get home."

Ivar swung the lantern up so that it shone in her face.  "GUD!
You are enough to frighten us, mistress.  You look like a drowned
woman.  How could you do such a thing!"

Groaning and mumbling he led her out of the gate and helped her
into the cart, wrapping her in the dry blankets on which he had
been sitting.

Alexandra smiled at his solicitude.  "Not much use in that, Ivar.
You will only shut the wet in.  I don't feel so cold now; but I'm
heavy and numb.  I'm glad you came."

Ivar turned the mare and urged her into a sliding trot.  Her feet
sent back a continual spatter of mud.

Alexandra spoke to the old man as they jogged along through the
sullen gray twilight of the storm.  "Ivar, I think it has done me
good to get cold clear through like this, once.  I don't believe
I shall suffer so much any more.  When you get so near the dead,
they seem more real than the living.  Worldly thoughts leave one.
Ever since Emil died, I've suffered so when it rained.  Now that
I've been out in it with him, I shan't dread it.  After you once
get cold clear through, the feeling of the rain on you is sweet.
It seems to bring back feelings you had when you were a baby.  It
carries you back into the dark, before you were born; you can't
see things, but they come to you, somehow, and you know them and
aren't afraid of them.  Maybe it's like that with the dead.  If
they feel anything at all, it's the old things, before they were
born, that comfort people like the feeling of their own bed does
when they are little."

"Mistress," said Ivar reproachfully, "those are bad thoughts.  The
dead are in Paradise."

Then he hung his head, for he did not believe that Emil was in
Paradise.

When they got home, Signa had a fire burning in the sitting-room
stove.  She undressed Alexandra and gave her a hot footbath, while
Ivar made ginger tea in the kitchen.  When Alexandra was in bed,
wrapped in hot blankets, Ivar came in with his tea and saw that
she drank it.  Signa asked permission to sleep on the slat lounge
outside her door.  Alexandra endured their attentions patiently,
but she was glad when they put out the lamp and left her.  As she
lay alone in the dark, it occurred to her for the first time that
perhaps she was actually tired of life.  All the physical operations
of life seemed difficult and painful.  She longed to be free from
her own body, which ached and was so heavy.  And longing itself
was heavy: she yearned to be free of that.

As she lay with her eyes closed, she had again, more vividly than
for many years, the old illusion of her girlhood, of being lifted
and carried lightly by some one very strong.  He was with her
a long while this time, and carried her very far, and in his arms
she felt free from pain.  When he laid her down on her bed again,
she opened her eyes, and, for the first time in her life, she saw
him, saw him clearly, though the room was dark, and his face was
covered.  He was standing in the doorway of her room.  His white
cloak was thrown over his face, and his head was bent a little
forward.  His shoulders seemed as strong as the foundations of the
world.  His right arm, bared from the elbow, was dark and gleaming,
like bronze, and she knew at once that it was the arm of the
mightiest of all lovers.  She knew at last for whom it was she had
waited, and where he would carry her.  That, she told herself, was
very well.  Then she went to sleep.

Alexandra wakened in the morning with nothing worse than a hard cold
and a stiff shoulder.  She kept her bed for several days, and it
was during that time that she formed a resolution to go to Lincoln
to see Frank Shabata.  Ever since she last saw him in the courtroom,
Frank's haggard face and wild eyes had haunted her.  The trial had
lasted only three days.  Frank had given himself up to the police
in Omaha and pleaded guilty of killing without malice and without
premeditation.  The gun was, of course, against him, and the judge
had given him the full sentence,--ten years.  He had now been in
the State Penitentiary for a month.

Frank was the only one, Alexandra told herself, for whom anything
could be done.  He had been less in the wrong than any of them,
and he was paying the heaviest penalty.  She often felt that she
herself had been more to blame than poor Frank.  From the time the
Shabatas had first moved to the neighboring farm, she had omitted
no opportunity of throwing Marie and Emil together.  Because she
knew Frank was surly about doing little things to help his wife,
she was always sending Emil over to spade or plant or carpenter
for Marie.  She was glad to have Emil see as much as possible of an
intelligent, city-bred girl like their neighbor; she noticed that
it improved his manners.  She knew that Emil was fond of Marie, but
it had never occurred to her that Emil's feeling might be different
from her own.  She wondered at herself now, but she had never
thought of danger in that direction.  If Marie had been unmarried,--oh,
yes!  Then she would have kept her eyes open.  But the mere fact that
she was Shabata's wife, for Alexandra, settled everything.  That she was
beautiful, impulsive, barely two years older than Emil, these facts had
had no weight with Alexandra.  Emil was a good boy, and only bad boys
ran after married women.

Now, Alexandra could in a measure realize that Marie was, after
all, Marie; not merely a "married woman."  Sometimes, when Alexandra
thought of her, it was with an aching tenderness.  The moment she
had reached them in the orchard that morning, everything was clear
to her.  There was something about those two lying in the grass,
something in the way Marie had settled her cheek on Emil's shoulder,
that told her everything.  She wondered then how they could have
helped loving each other; how she could have helped knowing that
they must.  Emil's cold, frowning face, the girl's content--Alexandra
had felt awe of them, even in the first shock of her grief.

The idleness of those days in bed, the relaxation of body which
attended them, enabled Alexandra to think more calmly than she had
done since Emil's death.  She and Frank, she told herself, were left
out of that group of friends who had been overwhelmed by disaster.
She must certainly see Frank Shabata.  Even in the courtroom her
heart had grieved for him.  He was in a strange country, he had no
kinsmen or friends, and in a moment he had ruined his life.  Being
what he was, she felt, Frank could not have acted otherwise.  She
could understand his behavior more easily than she could understand
Marie's.  Yes, she must go to Lincoln to see Frank Shabata.

The day after Emil's funeral, Alexandra had written to Carl Linstrum;
a single page of notepaper, a bare statement of what had happened.
She was not a woman who could write much about such a thing, and
about her own feelings she could never write very freely.  She knew
that Carl was away from post-offices, prospecting somewhere in the
interior.  Before he started he had written her where he expected
to go, but her ideas about Alaska were vague.  As the weeks went
by and she heard nothing from him, it seemed to Alexandra that
her heart grew hard against Carl.  She began to wonder whether she
would not do better to finish her life alone.  What was left of
life seemed unimportant.



II


Late in the afternoon of a brilliant October day, Alexandra Bergson,
dressed in a black suit and traveling-hat, alighted at the Burlington
depot in Lincoln.  She drove to the Lindell Hotel, where she had
stayed two years ago when she came up for Emil's Commencement.  In
spite of her usual air of sureness and self-possession, Alexandra
felt ill at ease in hotels, and she was glad, when she went to the
clerk's desk to register, that there were not many people in the
lobby.  She had her supper early, wearing her hat and black jacket
down to the dining-room and carrying her handbag.  After supper
she went out for a walk.

It was growing dark when she reached the university campus.  She
did not go into the grounds, but walked slowly up and down the
stone walk outside the long iron fence, looking through at the young
men who were running from one building to another, at the lights
shining from the armory and the library.  A squad of cadets were
going through their drill behind the armory, and the commands of
their young officer rang out at regular intervals, so sharp and
quick that Alexandra could not understand them.  Two stalwart girls
came down the library steps and out through one of the iron gates.
As they passed her, Alexandra was pleased to hear them speaking
Bohemian to each other.  Every few moments a boy would come running
down the flagged walk and dash out into the street as if he were
rushing to announce some wonder to the world.  Alexandra felt a
great tenderness for them all.  She wished one of them would stop
and speak to her.  She wished she could ask them whether they had
known Emil.

As she lingered by the south gate she actually did encounter one
of the boys.  He had on his drill cap and was swinging his books
at the end of a long strap.  It was dark by this time; he did not
see her and ran against her.  He snatched off his cap and stood
bareheaded and panting.  "I'm awfully sorry," he said in a bright,
clear voice, with a rising inflection, as if he expected her to
say something.

"Oh, it was my fault!" said Alexandra eagerly.  "Are you an old
student here, may I ask?"

"No, ma'am.  I'm a Freshie, just off the farm.  Cherry County.
Were you hunting somebody?"

"No, thank you.  That is--"  Alexandra wanted to detain him.  "That
is, I would like to find some of my brother's friends.  He graduated
two years ago."

"Then you'd have to try the Seniors, wouldn't you?  Let's see; I
don't know any of them yet, but there'll be sure to be some of them
around the library.  That red building, right there," he pointed.

"Thank you, I'll try there," said Alexandra lingeringly.

"Oh, that's all right!  Good-night."  The lad clapped his cap on
his head and ran straight down Eleventh Street.  Alexandra looked
after him wistfully.

She walked back to her hotel unreasonably comforted.  "What a nice
voice that boy had, and how polite he was.  I know Emil was always
like that to women."  And again, after she had undressed and was
standing in her nightgown, brushing her long, heavy hair by the
electric light, she remembered him and said to herself, "I don't
think I ever heard a nicer voice than that boy had.  I hope he
will get on well here.  Cherry County; that's where the hay is so
fine, and the coyotes can scratch down to water."

At nine o'clock the next morning Alexandra presented herself
at the warden's office in the State Penitentiary.  The warden was
a German, a ruddy, cheerful-looking man who had formerly been a
harness-maker.  Alexandra had a letter to him from the German banker
in Hanover.  As he glanced at the letter, Mr.  Schwartz put away
his pipe.

"That big Bohemian, is it?  Sure, he's gettin' along fine," said
Mr. Schwartz cheerfully.

"I am glad to hear that.  I was afraid he might be quarrelsome and
get himself into more trouble.  Mr. Schwartz, if you have time, I
would like to tell you a little about Frank Shabata, and why I am
interested in him."

The warden listened genially while she told him briefly something
of Frank's history and character, but he did not seem to find
anything unusual in her account.

"Sure, I'll keep an eye on him.  We'll take care of him all right,"
he said, rising.  "You can talk to him here, while I go to see to
things in the kitchen.  I'll have him sent in.  He ought to be done
washing out his cell by this time.  We have to keep 'em clean, you
know."

The warden paused at the door, speaking back over his shoulder to
a pale young man in convicts' clothes who was seated at a desk in
the corner, writing in a big ledger.

"Bertie, when 1037 is brought in, you just step out and give this
lady a chance to talk."

The young man bowed his head and bent over his ledger again.

When Mr. Schwartz disappeared, Alexandra thrust her black-edged
handkerchief nervously into her handbag.  Coming out on the streetcar
she had not had the least dread of meeting Frank.  But since she
had been here the sounds and smells in the corridor, the look of the
men in convicts' clothes who passed the glass door of the warden's
office, affected her unpleasantly.

The warden's clock ticked, the young convict's pen scratched
busily in the big book, and his sharp shoulders were shaken every
few seconds by a loose cough which he tried to smother.  It was easy
to see that he was a sick man.  Alexandra looked at him timidly,
but he did not once raise his eyes.  He wore a white shirt under
his striped jacket, a high collar, and a necktie, very carefully
tied.  His hands were thin and white and well cared for, and he had
a seal ring on his little finger.  When he heard steps approaching
in the corridor, he rose, blotted his book, put his pen in the rack,
and left the room without raising his eyes.  Through the door he
opened a guard came in, bringing Frank Shabata.

"You the lady that wanted to talk to 1037?  Here he is.  Be on your
good behavior, now.  He can set down, lady," seeing that Alexandra
remained standing.  "Push that white button when you're through
with him, and I'll come."

The guard went out and Alexandra and Frank were left alone.

Alexandra tried not to see his hideous clothes.  She tried to look
straight into his face, which she could scarcely believe was his.
It was already bleached to a chalky gray.  His lips were colorless,
his fine teeth looked yellowish.  He glanced at Alexandra sullenly,
blinked as if he had come from a dark place, and one eyebrow twitched
continually.  She felt at once that this interview was a terrible
ordeal to him.  His shaved head, showing the conformation of his
skull, gave him a criminal look which he had not had during the
trial.

Alexandra held out her hand.  "Frank," she said, her eyes filling
suddenly, "I hope you'll let me be friendly with you.  I understand
how you did it.  I don't feel hard toward you.  They were more to
blame than you."

Frank jerked a dirty blue handkerchief from his trousers pocket.
He had begun to cry.  He turned away from Alexandra.  "I never
did mean to do not'ing to dat woman," he muttered.  "I never mean
to do not'ing to dat boy.  I ain't had not'ing ag'in' dat boy.  I
always like dat boy fine.  An' then I find him--"  He stopped.  The
feeling went out of his face and eyes.  He dropped into a chair
and sat looking stolidly at the floor, his hands hanging loosely
between his knees, the handkerchief lying across his striped leg.
He seemed to have stirred up in his mind a disgust that had paralyzed
his faculties.

"I haven't come up here to blame you, Frank.  I think they were
more to blame than you."  Alexandra, too, felt benumbed.

Frank looked up suddenly and stared out of the office window.  "I
guess dat place all go to hell what I work so hard on," he said
with a slow, bitter smile.  "I not care a damn."  He stopped and
rubbed the palm of his hand over the light bristles on his head
with annoyance.  "I no can t'ink without my hair," he complained.
"I forget English.  We not talk here, except swear."

Alexandra was bewildered.  Frank seemed to have undergone a change
of personality.  There was scarcely anything by which she could
recognize her handsome Bohemian neighbor.  He seemed, somehow, not
altogether human.  She did not know what to say to him.

"You do not feel hard to me, Frank?" she asked at last.

Frank clenched his fist and broke out in excitement.  "I not feel
hard at no woman.  I tell you I not that kind-a man.  I never hit
my wife.  No, never I hurt her when she devil me something awful!"
He struck his fist down on the warden's desk so hard that he
afterward stroked it absently.  A pale pink crept over his neck and
face.  "Two, t'ree years I know dat woman don' care no more 'bout
me, Alexandra Bergson.  I know she after some other man.  I know
her, oo-oo!  An' I ain't never hurt her.  I never would-a done
dat, if I ain't had dat gun along.  I don' know what in hell make
me take dat gun.  She always say I ain't no man to carry gun.  If
she been in dat house, where she ought-a been--  But das a foolish
talk."

Frank rubbed his head and stopped suddenly, as he had stopped
before.  Alexandra felt that there was something strange in the way
he chilled off, as if something came up in him that extinguished
his power of feeling or thinking.

"Yes, Frank," she said kindly.  "I know you never meant to hurt
Marie."

Frank smiled at her queerly.  His eyes filled slowly with tears.
"You know, I most forgit dat woman's name.  She ain't got no name
for me no more.  I never hate my wife, but dat woman what make me
do dat--  Honest to God, but I hate her!  I no man to fight.  I
don' want to kill no boy and no woman.  I not care how many men
she take under dat tree.  I no care for not'ing but dat fine boy
I kill, Alexandra Bergson.  I guess I go crazy sure 'nough."

Alexandra remembered the little yellow cane she had found in Frank's
clothes-closet.  She thought of how he had come to this country a
gay young fellow, so attractive that the prettiest Bohemian girl
in Omaha had run away with him.  It seemed unreasonable that life
should have landed him in such a place as this.  She blamed Marie
bitterly.  And why, with her happy, affectionate nature, should
she have brought destruction and sorrow to all who had loved her,
even to poor old Joe Tovesky, the uncle who used to carry her about
so proudly when she was a little girl?  That was the strangest thing
of all.  Was there, then, something wrong in being warm-hearted
and impulsive like that?  Alexandra hated to think so.  But there
was Emil, in the Norwegian graveyard at home, and here was Frank
Shabata.  Alexandra rose and took him by the hand.

"Frank Shabata, I am never going to stop trying until I get you
pardoned.  I'll never give the Governor any peace.  I know I can
get you out of this place."

Frank looked at her distrustfully, but he gathered confidence from
her face.  "Alexandra," he said earnestly, "if I git out-a here,
I not trouble dis country no more.  I go back where I come from;
see my mother."

Alexandra tried to withdraw her hand, but Frank held on to it
nervously.  He put out his finger and absently touched a button
on her black jacket.  "Alexandra," he said in a low tone, looking
steadily at the button, "you ain' t'ink I use dat girl awful bad
before--"

"No, Frank.  We won't talk about that," Alexandra said, pressing
his hand.  "I can't help Emil now, so I'm going to do what I can
for you.  You know I don't go away from home often, and I came up
here on purpose to tell you this."

The warden at the glass door looked in inquiringly.  Alexandra
nodded, and he came in and touched the white button on his desk.
The guard appeared, and with a sinking heart Alexandra saw Frank
led away down the corridor.  After a few words with Mr. Schwartz,
she left the prison and made her way to the street-car.  She had
refused with horror the warden's cordial invitation to "go through
the institution."  As the car lurched over its uneven roadbed, back
toward Lincoln, Alexandra thought of how she and Frank had been
wrecked by the same storm and of how, although she could come out
into the sunlight, she had not much more left in her life than
he.  She remembered some lines from a poem she had liked in her
schooldays:--

     Henceforth the world will only be 
     A wider prison-house to me,--

and sighed.  A disgust of life weighed upon her heart; some such
feeling as had twice frozen Frank Shabata's features while they
talked together.  She wished she were back on the Divide.

When Alexandra entered her hotel, the clerk held up one finger
and beckoned to her.  As she approached his desk, he handed her a
telegram.  Alexandra took the yellow envelope and looked at it in
perplexity, then stepped into the elevator without opening it.  As
she walked down the corridor toward her room, she reflected that
she was, in a manner, immune from evil tidings.  On reaching her
room she locked the door, and sitting down on a chair by the dresser,
opened the telegram.  It was from Hanover, and it read:--


     Arrived Hanover last night.  Shall wait here until you come.  
     Please hurry.  CARL LINSTRUM.

Alexandra put her head down on the dresser and burst into tears.



III


The next afternoon Carl and Alexandra were walking across the fields
from Mrs.  Hiller's.  Alexandra had left Lincoln after midnight,
and Carl had met her at the Hanover station early in the morning.
After they reached home, Alexandra had gone over to Mrs. Hiller's
to leave a little present she had bought for her in the city.  They
stayed at the old lady's door but a moment, and then came out to
spend the rest of the afternoon in the sunny fields.

Alexandra had taken off her black traveling suit and put on
a white dress; partly because she saw that her black clothes made
Carl uncomfortable and partly because she felt oppressed by them
herself.  They seemed a little like the prison where she had worn
them yesterday, and to be out of place in the open fields.  Carl
had changed very little.  His cheeks were browner and fuller.  He
looked less like a tired scholar than when he went away a year ago,
but no one, even now, would have taken him for a man of business.
His soft, lustrous black eyes, his whimsical smile, would be less
against him in the Klondike than on the Divide.  There are always
dreamers on the frontier.

Carl and Alexandra had been talking since morning.  Her letter had
never reached him.  He had first learned of her misfortune from
a San Francisco paper, four weeks old, which he had picked up in
a saloon, and which contained a brief account of Frank Shabata's
trial.  When he put down the paper, he had already made up his
mind that he could reach Alexandra as quickly as a letter could;
and ever since he had been on the way; day and night, by the fastest
boats and trains he could catch.  His steamer had been held back
two days by rough weather.

As they came out of Mrs. Hiller's garden they took up their talk
again where they had left it.

"But could you come away like that, Carl, without arranging things?
Could you just walk off and leave your business?" Alexandra asked.

Carl laughed.  "Prudent Alexandra!  You see, my dear, I happen to
have an honest partner.  I trust him with everything.  In fact,
it's been his enterprise from the beginning, you know.  I'm in it
only because he took me in.  I'll have to go back in the spring.
Perhaps you will want to go with me then.  We haven't turned up
millions yet, but we've got a start that's worth following.  But
this winter I'd like to spend with you.  You won't feel that we
ought to wait longer, on Emil's account, will you, Alexandra?"

Alexandra shook her head.  "No, Carl; I don't feel that way about
it.  And surely you needn't mind anything Lou and Oscar say now.
They are much angrier with me about Emil, now, than about you.
They say it was all my fault.  That I ruined him by sending him to
college."

"No, I don't care a button for Lou or Oscar.  The moment I knew
you were in trouble, the moment I thought you might need me, it all
looked different.  You've always been a triumphant kind of person."
Carl hesitated, looking sidewise at her strong, full figure.  "But
you do need me now, Alexandra?"

She put her hand on his arm.  "I needed you terribly when it
happened, Carl.  I cried for you at night.  Then everything seemed
to get hard inside of me, and I thought perhaps I should never care
for you again.  But when I got your telegram yesterday, then--then
it was just as it used to be.  You are all I have in the world,
you know."

Carl pressed her hand in silence.  They were passing the Shabatas'
empty house now, but they avoided the orchard path and took one
that led over by the pasture pond.

"Can you understand it, Carl?" Alexandra murmured.  "I have had
nobody but Ivar and Signa to talk to.  Do talk to me.  Can you
understand it?  Could you have believed that of Marie Tovesky?  I
would have been cut to pieces, little by little, before I would
have betrayed her trust in me!"

Carl looked at the shining spot of water before them.  "Maybe she
was cut to pieces, too, Alexandra.  I am sure she tried hard; they
both did.  That was why Emil went to Mexico, of course.  And he was
going away again, you tell me, though he had only been home three
weeks.  You remember that Sunday when I went with Emil up to
the French Church fair?  I thought that day there was some kind
of feeling, something unusual, between them.  I meant to talk to
you about it.  But on my way back I met Lou and Oscar and got so
angry that I forgot everything else.  You mustn't be hard on them,
Alexandra.  Sit down here by the pond a minute.  I want to tell
you something."

They sat down on the grass-tufted bank and Carl told her how he had
seen Emil and Marie out by the pond that morning, more than a year
ago, and how young and charming and full of grace they had seemed
to him.  "It happens like that in the world sometimes, Alexandra,"
he added earnestly.  "I've seen it before.  There are women who
spread ruin around them through no fault of theirs, just by being
too beautiful, too full of life and love.  They can't help it.
People come to them as people go to a warm fire in winter.  I used
to feel that in her when she was a little girl.  Do you remember
how all the Bohemians crowded round her in the store that day, when
she gave Emil her candy?  You remember those yellow sparks in her
eyes?"

Alexandra sighed.  "Yes.  People couldn't help loving her.  Poor
Frank does, even now, I think; though he's got himself in such
a tangle that for a long time his love has been bitterer than his
hate.  But if you saw there was anything wrong, you ought to have
told me, Carl."

Carl took her hand and smiled patiently.  "My dear, it was something
one felt in the air, as you feel the spring coming, or a storm in
summer.  I didn't SEE anything.  Simply, when I was with those two
young things, I felt my blood go quicker, I felt--how shall I say
it?--an acceleration of life.  After I got away, it was all too
delicate, too intangible, to write about."

Alexandra looked at him mournfully.  "I try to be more liberal
about such things than I used to be.  I try to realize that we are
not all made alike.  Only, why couldn't it have been Raoul Marcel,
or Jan Smirka?  Why did it have to be my boy?"

"Because he was the best there was, I suppose.  They were both the
best you had here."

The sun was dropping low in the west when the two friends rose and
took the path again.  The straw-stacks were throwing long shadows,
the owls were flying home to the prairie-dog town.  When they came
to the corner where the pastures joined, Alexandra's twelve young
colts were galloping in a drove over the brow of the hill.

"Carl," said Alexandra, "I should like to go up there with you in
the spring.  I haven't been on the water since we crossed the ocean,
when I was a little girl.  After we first came out here I used
to dream sometimes about the shipyard where father worked, and a
little sort of inlet, full of masts."  Alexandra paused.  After a
moment's thought she said, "But you would never ask me to go away
for good, would you?"

"Of course not, my dearest.  I think I know how you feel about this
country as well as you do yourself."  Carl took her hand in both
his own and pressed it tenderly.

"Yes, I still feel that way, though Emil is gone.  When I was on
the train this morning, and we got near Hanover, I felt something
like I did when I drove back with Emil from the river that time,
in the dry year.  I was glad to come back to it.  I've lived here
a long time.  There is great peace here, Carl, and freedom. . . .
I thought when I came out of that prison, where poor Frank is,
that I should never feel free again.  But I do, here."  Alexandra
took a deep breath and looked off into the red west.

"You belong to the land," Carl murmured, "as you have always said.
Now more than ever."

"Yes, now more than ever.  You remember what you once said about
the graveyard, and the old story writing itself over?  Only it is
we who write it, with the best we have."

They paused on the last ridge of the pasture, overlooking the
house and the windmill and the stables that marked the site of John
Bergson's homestead.  On every side the brown waves of the earth
rolled away to meet the sky.

"Lou and Oscar can't see those things," said Alexandra suddenly.
"Suppose I do will my land to their children, what difference will
that make?  The land belongs to the future, Carl; that's the way
it seems to me.  How many of the names on the county clerk's plat
will be there in fifty years?  I might as well try to will the
sunset over there to my brother's children.  We come and go, but
the land is always here.  And the people who love it and understand
it are the people who own it--for a little while."

Carl looked at her wonderingly.  She was still gazing into the west,
and in her face there was that exalted serenity that sometimes came
to her at moments of deep feeling.  The level rays of the sinking
sun shone in her clear eyes.

"Why are you thinking of such things now, Alexandra?"

"I had a dream before I went to Lincoln--  But I will tell you about
that afterward, after we are married.  It will never come true,
now, in the way I thought it might."  She took Carl's arm and they
walked toward the gate.  "How many times we have walked this path
together, Carl.  How many times we will walk it again!  Does it seem
to you like coming back to your own place?  Do you feel at peace
with the world here?  I think we shall be very happy.  I haven't
any fears.  I think when friends marry, they are safe.  We don't
suffer like--those young ones."  Alexandra ended with a sigh.

They had reached the gate.  Before Carl opened it, he drew Alexandra
to him and kissed her softly, on her lips and on her eyes.

She leaned heavily on his shoulder.  "I am tired," she murmured.
"I have been very lonely, Carl."

They went into the house together, leaving the Divide behind them,
under the evening star.  Fortunate country, that is one day to
receive hearts like Alexandra's into its bosom, to give them out
again in the yellow wheat, in the rustling corn, in the shining
eyes of youth!





End of The Project Gutenberg Etext of O Pioneers!  by Willa Cather

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