AS GRASS AND OTHER STORIES BY EDYTHE SQUIER DRAPER
selected and edited by Thomas Fox Averill
with an introduction by Jeffrey Ann Goudie
<Page numbers in parentheses refer to pages in this hypertext. Other
numbers refer to the Center for Kansas Studies paperback.>
Voice of the Turtle
As It Began to Dawn
Quinine and Honey
The Wrong Side of the Tapestry:
Edythe Squier Draper
Jeffrey Ann Goudie
On March 16, 1961, Edythe Squier
Draper, seventy-nine years old and a doughty
newspaper reporter, hurriedly typed as part of a
letter to her daughter Lucy:
Last night I went to hear a woman history
prof of the `Adult Ed class'... and tried this
afternoon to write a report of her rapid
reading of a lecture that was cute, learned,
sophisticated but done so fast that I
couldn't get much down for listening and
enjoying. So I said it was about a woman,
vigorous, turrible strong, beautiful,
ubiquitous, one big strong creature striding
over the prairies nursing Indians and
settlers, teaching, hatcheting saloons, being
beautiful and efficient--Betcha the good
earnest souls hearing the lecture will
complain of the fool old reporter -
When almost sixty, Edythe Squier Draper had
become the Oswego correspondent for the small
but reputable Parsons Sun in Southeast Kansas.
This was in 1942, and afraid that the editor, Clyde
M. Reed, wouldn't hire a person her age, she sent
her twenty-five-year-old daughter Peg to apply for
the job. Reed was reportedly slightly baffled at
the novel arrangement of daughter applying for
mother, but Peg convinced him that her mother's
writing talent was considerable. He agreed to give
Edythe a try and the relationship proved mutually
amicable: for twenty-two years, until her death at
age eighty-two, she wrote the Oswego news
column six days a week for the Sun.
Edythe was indeed a prodigiously talented
writer. From the time she was forty-two until she
was sixty, she was a frequently published short
story writer. Her stories appeared in the Topeka-
based Household, a large circulation women's
magazine which during its fifty-four-year
existence carried such noteworthy contributors as
F. Scott Fitzgerald and Colette, and which printed
the playwright William Gibson for the first time.
In fact, readers voted Edythe's story "Counted
Out" as the best short story Household ran in
1929; Theodore Dreiser's "Fine Furniture" placed
second. Her "The Voice of the Turtle" was
reprinted in Edward J. O'Brien's The Best Short
Stories of 1930, a volume which included Dorothy
Parker and Katherine Anne Porter. "As It Began
to Dawn," "Poindexter," "As Grass," and
"Fourteen" were listed with three asterisks and
thus made the Roll of Honor, the highest rating
for the O'Brien collections of 1927, 1930, and
1931. Nine other stories by her were listed in
O'Brien indices for various years with one and
two asterisks, marking distinction. Her short-short
stories "Poindexter" and "In Washington Tonight"
were placed in the highest ranking group by the
O. Henry Memorial Volume selection committees
in 1930 and 1932. Four more of her stories were
given second and third rankings in those years.
From 1924 to 1942, she published at least twenty-
four stories in such publications as Household, the
Midland, Prairie Schooner, University Review,
Double Dealer, Clay, and Kansas Magazine.
Numerous short story manuscripts never saw
In addition, she wrote two novel-length
manuscripts (one a children's novel) and published
about sixty juveniles in such periodicals as Portal,
Target, the Classmate and Young People's Paper.
For a time, her fictional short-shorts appeared
frequently in the Chicago Daily News and the
Kansas City Times. She was published in Western
Home Monthly, Presbyterian Advance, and the
Youth's Companion as well.
And the slight Mrs. Draper, all the while
living in the rural Kansas town of Oswego, was
paid court by the literary community of her day.
The collection of her papers on deposit in the Axe
Library at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg,
Kansas, contains an array of admiring
correspondence. Clifton P. Fadiman, then head of
the editorial department at Simon and Schuster,
opened a 1928 letter with the rather florid: "Your
work interests us vividly." He promised a "special
reception" for any manuscript of hers and wrote
that Simon and Schuster would be "particularly
anxious to examine the novel that every distinctive
short story writer inevitably has in mind." In
another letter he told her he had long followed her
"admirable work" in Prairie Schooner, marking
"with satisfaction" that she'd been reprinted in
O'Brien. Another time he called a letter she had
written him "a remarkably interesting one."
Letters from Dodd, Mead and Co., from
Reynal and Hitchcock, and from Brewer and
Warren indicate interest in book-length
manuscripts. Roderick Lull, short story writer and
novelist, wrote asking for a contribution to the
first issue of his Outlander. Poet José García
Villa solicited a story for Clay. Literary agent
Jacques Chambrun, professing to have followed
her work with interest, wrote to offer his
Edythe was doubtless flattered by this
attention, but did not take it entirely seriously. On
a trip East in 1931 she wrote her son that a story
about her was to appear in the Philadelphia Daily
News. She suggested the headline might read,
"The farmer-author, mother of 3 children, gains
fame and fortune writing at odd hours." She
wrote deprecatingly, "I am supposed to be
something, I find." She also gibed, "They may
take some ugly, skinny person's picture and stick
it by the interview."
Her best work is explanation enough for
why she attracted a following. She wrote
truthfully and unselfconsciously in the vocabulary
and tone of the character through whose
consciousness the story develops. She frequently
employed a modified stream of consciousness
which put her in the literary vanguard of the time
in which she wrote. Further, three of her
published stories, appearing in University Review,
are about African-American women (she once
taught in a mission school for African-Americans
in South Carolina), an unorthodox fictional subject
for a white woman at that time. She wrote so
sensitively that Karlton Kelm, editor of the
Dubuque Dial, was moved to ask in response to
some of her manuscripts, "Are you Negro
yourself?" Her best work shows keen sensitivity
to the concerns and conflicts of the traditionally
powerless, as well as societal outsiders and those
with little money or education. Additionally,
much of her fiction faithfully represents the
character of rural Midwestern people.
* * *
The eldest of nine children, seven of whom
survived to adulthood, Edythe was born on July
25, 1882, in Hakodate, Japan, of Methodist
missionary parents. Llewellyn Squier recorded
this entry in his diary: "Last night at 10 o'ck. the
expected labor of our first born commenced.
Madge had a pretty severe though natural time of
it and while she was crying out with pains I found
relief in walking the parlor floor and praying for
her." The Rev. Squier was a talented musician,
but had entered the ministry because of family
pressure. Edythe was often the victim of his
stormy temper. Edythe's daughter Peg Varvel
recalls reading Edythe's account of how it felt to
be thrown down after being choked, "You hated
the fall, but you were so glad to get the air."
Edythe felt her father disliked her at least in part
because, with buck teeth, she was not
Edythe's mother, Elizabeth Armstrong
Squier, relished her unique status as a college
graduate. An avid reader, she would claim
headaches and steal off to her room to read,
leaving young Edythe with dishes and clothes to
wash and children to care for. Edythe told Peg
that she could never remember climbing a tree as
a child without having to pass up a baby before
When Edythe was five, the Squiers moved
from Japan to Ohio, stopping at Hong Kong,
India, the Red Sea, Palestine, North Africa, Italy,
Switzerland, France, and England on their route
home. Back in his native Ohio, the Rev. Squier,
who had viewed missionary work as a form of
cultural chauvinism, made his opinions known and
found himself transferred to a Minnesota town
bordering South Dakota, which Edythe's daughter
Peg called "Siberia." Two towns later, in 1896, a
frustrated Lee Squier announced from the pulpit
that he was leaving the Methodist ministry and, in
Peg's words, the family that had "nearly starved as
children of the preacher came even closer as
children of an insurance agent." For her
biographical sketch in The Best Short Stories of
1928, Edythe wrote: "When I was fourteen my
father--in Sinclair Lewis' old town, Sauk Centre,
Minnesota--forsook the church and all her works.
He wrote a book and we lived on--dreams; my
mother and we were seven. My father took to
insurance and we had a little food and some
shoes." By the time Edythe graduated from high
school at nineteen in Greensburg, Pennsylvania,
the family had made frequent moves: Browns
Valley, Crookston, and Sauk Centre, Minnesota;
Steubenville and Westerville, Ohio; and Asbury
Park, New Jersey.
Edythe emerged from that growing-up
period with something of an outsider's sensibility
and with a sensitivity to others that left her well-
equipped to write. In 1937 a girlhood
acquaintance from Asbury Park, Margaret
Widdemer, who went on to become a novelist and
poet, and who in 1919 shared the Poetry Society
of America Prize with Carl Sandburg, wrote
reassuring Edythe that despite the rather traumatic
childhoods of each, "loneliness and change and
emotional shock are apparently the foundation-
stone of capacity to write, especially when they
get you young."
Edythe carried out of her childhood an
awareness of the special cares and concerns of
children. She is almost never better than when
writing from a child's perspective, as is illustrated
in two of her most striking stories, the highly
autobiographical "Fourteen" (Midland, May-June
1930) and "The Fruit at Singapore" (Midland,
November-December 1928). In "Fourteen," the
central character, Lillian, and her friend Ella
arrive at a revival.
As soon as they got in where
people were Ella Martin began tossing her
head and laughing, as if Lillian said funny
things. They sat down and then Ella
turned around and looked everywhere.
Suddenly she jumped up, pulling Lillian.
. . .
They went over people's knees into
another bench. . . . Ella turned half way
around and slapped at a boy sitting behind
her now. The boy caught her hand and she
said, "Qui-ut! Qui-ut!' Lillian thought
maybe she would do that way with a boy
Further, her close acquaintance with the
hypocrisy of religion (in the form of a minister
father whose domestic behavior hardly embodied
Christian principles), gave Edythe broader notions
of good and evil than were generally held during
the time she came of age. Her exposure to the
ersatz spiritualism whipped up at revivals and
group prayer sessions made her aware of the
quieter spiritualism embodied in the conduct of
one's personal life, as well as the emotional
transcendence possible through involvement with
music and nature, and through human intimacy.
For instance, in "Fourteen," the young
Lillian is coaxed into an emotional high by a
singing, shaking, swaying, cajoling preacher, and
is "converted," sobbing and confessing sorrow for
her sins. At the story's end, after a "call" by the
preacher and his wife--done up in high comedy,
with the preacher shouted down by boisterous
children, and dumped by an unstable rocking
chair--the daughter Lillian and the usually
emotionally distant mother share a rare moment of
closeness with a good laugh over the tumultuous
"Fourteen" closes with a recognition that
emotional transcendence can be achieved in more
genuine ways, ways that do not involve planting
gratuitous feelings of guilt in young children:
And Lillian while she laughed
thought of something. She thought of
going into the front room, to the organ.
She wanted to play the organ. She wanted
to play that last piece in the Instruction
Book. You pulled out all the stops in that
piece, and you pushed the knee swells out
and you pumped fast.
Edythe did not arrive at this recognition
easily. One of her first published pieces was an
essay which tied for third prize in a 1921 contest
seeking the best criticisms of Outlook. In it she
I climbed the arid way from Calvinism to
Unitarianism a good many years ago, when
I was very young and very ardent, and I
think Lyman Abbott's wise hand often
helped me over bitterly rough places to the
wider, happier plain where reason and faith
shine together. The Outlook has meant
sanity, you see, to an extremist, a
Edythe's more autobiographical fiction, as
well as her eventual choice of fiction writing as
part of her career, show that she early developed
into a dreamer, at least in part to escape the
sometimes banal cruelty of her childhood.
"The Fruit of Singapore," like "Fourteen,"
so telling about Edythe's early adolescence, has
the same central character, Lillian, thinking to
herself about her unpredictable father: "There was
no telling about Papa. Sometimes he would choke
you. . . . Sometimes he would let you alone. You
never at any time knew what Papa was going to
Lillian's father sends her out to buy
bananas he's seen offered for twenty cents a dozen
at a local grocer's. The mention of bananas
sparks an agreeable recollection in Lillian's
mother of "the fruit at Singapore." She and her
husband Burton share a clean, clear, still moment
because of this jointly-held memory. On the way
to the grocer's, Lillian, happy at seeing her
parents' pleasure, makes a connection between
their reminiscence and one of her own: once,
while hiding under a bush during a game of Hide
and Seek, she experienced a moment of
extraordinary happiness with the sun on her back
and neck, a rooster crowing across the frozen
river, the wet grass beneath her.
At the story's end, after her father has
squeezed her neck and shoved her up the stairs for
allowing herself to be bilked by the grocer, Lillian
forgets her hurt and humiliation by losing herself
in a fantasy while looking out her bedroom
window. The April Minnesota sky becomes land,
port, water, a boat rowed by sailors, and she
conjures the buried memory of the fruit at
Singapore. She is brought out of her reverie by a
call from her mother asking her to come look after
She attempts to use her recollection to
initiate a brief communion with her Mama: "`I
remember the fruit of Singapore,' she said. `Yes,
perhaps you do,' Mama answered. They were like
two women speaking together then."
Evidently Edythe had mixed feelings about
her mother, whose judgment she trusted enough to
seek her editorial advice, sending a manuscript,
"Coolie Coat," along with the note:
I am extremely anxious for your
opinion of this. It's supposed to tell
without saying. Does it?
And in the letter to Edward J. O'Brien granting
him permission to reprint "The Voice of the
Turtle," she expressed regard for her mother's
feelings: "I wonder if I may ask you to use my
full name, with the story? That will please the
mother of the `author'." Be that as it may, the
image from the stories following the contours of
her early life is of a mother aloof and preoccupied
with her own troubles.
According to Peg, Edythe truly hated her
father. But she did not, when rendering fictional
representations of him, nor when developing male
characters who, like him, are physically violent,
make them cardboard figures. It is testimony to
her strength as a writer that, having suffered as a
child at the hands of one she was supposed to be
able to trust, she gives physical violence complex
treatment, as in "As Her Father Her Mother"
(University Review, Summer 1938), a story about
the emotional dynamics transmitted from parent to
Edythe survived her childhood admirably.
Her daughter Peg's theory is that she used her
fiction writing as her own psychotherapy. When
forty-six, Edythe herself wrote, "I have not been
`happy,' very, I suppose, and so I write." She
reportedly developed a fine sense of humor,
evident in much of her fiction, particularly the
story "Quinine and Honey." She struck others as
a poised young woman. Edythe's sister Connie
recalled in a letter written in 1974 that Edythe
would always eat some before going out to a
dinner party so she could spend her time talking.
Her sister Margaret once wrote in a letter,
"Socially she was radiant."
Shortly after her graduation from high
school, Edythe held a teaching position for a
couple of years at the Brainerd Institute in
Chester, South Carolina, where, she wrote in that
1928 personal sketch, "I fervently taught blacks"
and also where she "forsook--in my turn,
missions." The Squiers moved from Greensburg
to Philadelphia about 1904 when Edythe was
twenty-two. She joined them there and found
plenty of outlets for her cultural interests,
spending hours especially at Philadelphia
Orchestra concerts. Also there she began taking
university classes: "I went to creep, now sadly,
now ecstatically, about the bleak halls of the
University of Pennsylvania, nibbling up crumbs of
history, languages, English literature." From 1907
to 1908 she taught high school in Marietta, Ohio,
but refused a reappointment and raise to take more
classes at the University of Pennsylvania. In
1909, in a letter accepting a tentative offer of a
teaching job in Greenfield, Ohio, for which she
was ultimately turned down, she wrote of herself,
". . . I am accustomed to meeting people, and do
not find it difficult to adapt myself to new
With this assurance in her own ability to
adapt, a year later, in 1910, twenty-eight-year-old
Edythe traveled some 1,300 miles by train, from
Philadelphia to Oswego, Kansas, population 2,228,
to teach at the Oswego College for Young Ladies,
a Presbyterian school. "A small decrepit college,"
Edythe wrote of it. When her father learned she
was to teach in Oswego, he exclaimed in disbelief,
"Not that town!" Her father's amorous
adventures, Edythe was later to discover, had once
taken him to Oswego for a brief stay.
Edythe had taken "training in the
commercial branches" at the Drexel Institute in
Philadelphia and taught secretarial courses,
literature, and German at the College. She even
taught botany once when no one else would
volunteer, barely staying ahead of her class the
whole year. She was Miss Squier then, and in the
parlance of the time, "an accomplished young
lady" with a good singing voice and the ability to
do piano improvisations, though she'd had few
After two years of college teaching, she
married the son of a town doctor, James B.
Draper, whom she called in a biographical note in
the May 1929 Household, "the Man Who Lived
Across the Street." In 1913 she had a daughter
Lucy, in 1914 a son Jim, and in 1917, another
daughter, Peg. Four years after her last child, her
Outlook essay gives a glimpse of her life and
concerns at that time:
I suppose I smile always when I see
the Outlook among the papers and letters
one day in each week. I remember that I
did to-day. For what could I be thinking
about as I darn Sonny's knees or pick up
all the things three children and one man
can bestrew a house withal each hurrying
morning if I could not have a minute or
two at breakfast time to read just a little of
the Outlook? The waffles are crisp and
hot. I feel the ever-new excitement of
sensing the dawn coming up out of the
woods beyond the pasture. I prop the
Outlook against the water-pitcher and read
bits to Jim and we talk just a little--and my
day has begun.
What is apparently her first printed short
story appeared three years later in the October
1924 issue of Double Dealer, a little magazine
that also gave Ernest Hemingway, Thornton
Wilder, and Jean Toomer their literary debuts.
Edythe's dedication to her personal
development and to her writing caused inevitable
strains: Peg says that as a child she was jealous
of her mother's typewriter and had the impression
that she sat down at it as soon as she could after
the children were off to school, and didn't get up
from it until she absolutely had to. Upon arriving
home, Peg would go in to say something to her
mother, and Edythe would look up with a dazed
expression. Occasionally Edythe would try to
recruit her children as critics of her fiction, but
Peg says they disliked being asked because of the
emotional quality of their mother's voice as she
read those pieces which were more
autobiographical. Edythe would occasionally
jump this hurdle by camouflaging her fiction
As a result of having housework and child
care inflicted on her to an oppressive degree as a
child (in Northern Minnesota she would return
from school and have to break up ice and heat it
to do the previous day's dishes), Edythe did not
ask her own children to help out. She was an
efficient household manager, and in addition to
her writing, she was involved in various church
activities, including successfully conducting the
junior choir for a time. In fact Edythe spent a lot
of time in church. The Drapers went Sunday
mornings and evenings and sometimes Wednesday
nights and on a host of other occasions as well.
Peg speculates that her mother must have been
aghast at spending that much time in church
because of her traumatic childhood associations,
although the choir work must have compensated
As Peg put it, Edythe "was always doing
what she SHOULD do--as much as she could."
The roots of her accommodating nature were
surely in the relative emotional neglect of her
childhood, and in having early become a mother
substitute and protector of her brothers and sisters.
That the family moved so frequently clearly
played its part, as is illustrated in this closely
autobiographical passage from "The Fruit at
If in this town she [Lillian] said hain't and
darsn't in just the right places she might be
chosen for Run Sheep Run, and the girls
might put their arms around her and the
boys make faces at her. No, it was no
good knowing Japanese. You must not say
things, know things, the others didn't.
You must be like the girls in any town you
were in, if you wanted not to be alone all
Like Lillian, Edythe had spoken Japanese
as a young child. Having once been bilingual, she
remained adept at languages all her life, with
some ability in Greek, Latin, German, and French.
Duty and outside activities aside, Edythe's
compulsion to write was strong and write she did,
sitting in the small white house south of town
where she and her husband lived most of their
married life, in front of a typewriter set up in a
corner of the dining room, the house orderly, the
floors shining, area rugs scattered about, prints
and paintings on the walls. Many African-
Americans in Oswego, who felt a special
understanding from Edythe, and some poor
people, perhaps because they sensed she was
something of an outsider too, would drop in to
talk with her during the day. As a former college
teacher she was somewhat isolated from the
townspeople, and indeed she may have distanced
herself--that is, until she became the Oswego
correspondent for the Sun, at which time, in Peg's
words, "she became very much the possession of
Most of Edythe's stories are about
outsiders, and two of most successful--small
masterpieces, in fact--are about dark, unnoticed
people, grotesques in the fashion of some Faulkner
and Flannery O'Connor characters. Each story,
because of the integrity of the character
development, forces us to sympathize with people
very different from ourselves, thus performing one
of the most important functions of fiction. About
people whose sustenance, solace, and inspiration
come from the earth, these two stories, like most
of Edythe's, have rural and small town settings.
"As Grass" (Prairie Schooner, Summer
1930) is a powerful story about a woman, Pearl
Wentz, crazy in the way one gets from living too
long alone, who trusts only the neutral,
nonjudgmental earth. The story's evocative
beginning is representative of Edythe's style:
It was only February, but the
woman was in her garden. She was
kneeling on the ground, her small body
crouched low over it. To a casual eye she
might have seemed to be working, but she
was not pulling up the bent, black stalks of
last year's vegetation; she was not planting
anything; merely in contact with the
ground were her hands. She peered closely
at the earth beneath and about her, only
raising her face a moment now and again
to glance at the sky, at the leafless, conical
pear trees beside the garden, or up into the
maples embracing the steep roof of her
small, brown house. But always her eyes
came back to the ground, and her mouth
moved in whispered question.
"What's a-goin' on? What is it a-
"The Voice of the Turtle" (Prairie
Schooner, Summer 1929) is Edythe's finest
achievement. The story is told through the
consciousness of the boy Forrest, getting to be a
small man like his father. A circus comes to town
with its burlesqued promises of excitement.
Forrest leaves off his plowing and finds himself in
town walking beside a girl, "his first time for
walking with a girl," a girl who wants a balloon.
A short distance away "a thousand red and blue
and yellow balls were in the air above the dark
people," a luminous chimera of desire just out of
reach. The girl, whose hand on Forrest's arm had
been "hard and anxious," her eyes clouded,
abandons him for a boy able to buy her a balloon.
Forrest devises a plan: he will take the money
Poppy has saved to buy a new cow, then be able
to buy "a balloon, a sack of candy, everything."
He runs home, the circus calliope beckoning him
in the background. On the "town side of the
barn" stands Forrest's Poppy, with "brown eyes--
like a hungry dog's."
Forrest's lank Mommy stands in the
doorway of the house, "one tooth hanging down
from the purplish gum." Her eyes are filled with
"the film of desire and of dream," her eyes "not
unlike the eyes of the girl in the town wanting a
balloon, something so beautiful." Mommy takes
to one of her spells, but not so much that she does
not foil Forrest's attempt to take the money from
the coffee pot above the stove, and not so much
that she misses what is going on between her
husband and Sister Kennard, one of those Poppy
brings in to pray for her. In Edythe's most
compelling depiction of a feverish group prayer
session, the supplicants file in, "The eyes of all,
like coals awaiting an enkindling draught, dully
gleamed." And then:
The room became full of sound:
deep, steady, bellowing from Brother
Armes with his long moustache, the words
unintelligible; shouts, `Hallelujah!'
`Oh,Lord!' `Glory!' Broken sighs, screams
and sobs, long sentences with the words
jumping over each other quickly,
descending to a deep groan, climbing to a
high shriek. Tears coursed down faces.
Eyes were closed.
An ebb came at length in the tide of
implorings. Before the flood again Sister
Kennard's voice: `Co-o-o-mfert this dear
man! Pour in the oil of gladness. Co-o-o-
mfert an' sistain `im! This pore, lonely
man! Th' wife o' his buzzum layin' col'
an' dead in th' deep an lonely grave . . .'
High and low, shrill and resonant,
cries and screams and groans and shrieks.
Forrest added his voice, inaudible to
himself. But--Mommy wasn't dead. . . .
You prayed like Sister Kennard just then at
a funeral, not when some one had a spell,
was not dead yet. . . .
No. Mommy was not going to be
dead this night. Mommy's face seemed
like Mommy's face now, more. Mommy
opened one eye, the eye by Sister Kennard.
Deep lines came in her forehead. Red like
fire came to her face. Both Mommy's
eyes opened. And suddenly Mommy was
getting off the bed, pushing a way between
Poppy and Sister Kennard. And Mommy
was jumping on the floor, shouting
mightily: `Hallelujah! I'm reestored!
Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! Praise the
Lo-r-rd!! Let us ree-joice!'
In the largest sense, the story is about
disappointment and renewal, a common motif of
Edythe's: Forrest's plan for attracting the girl is
frustrated, and Poppy's illicit yearning for Sister
Kennard is found out. As in many stories, nature
is the renewing force. At the story's end, frogs
croak, and Forrest's younger brother Silas laughs,
"Frogses!" Poppy predicts no more frost, the
children thrill at the prospect of going barefoot,
Mommy makes plans to do some spring cleaning,
Poppy and Forrest both offer to work for a
neighbor to pay off the balance of whatever the
new cow will cost.
The stories "Li'l Boy" (University Review,
October 1939) and "Maybe So" (Kansas
Magazine, 1942) evidence Edythe's sensitivity to
the particular conflicts and concerns of women.
"Li'l Boy" is about an African-American woman
doomed to a lifetime of servitude to a "little boy"
husband who beats her, and to the whites she
works for, who condescend to her.
"Maybe So," though slightly too direct in
the relating of its theme, is nonetheless a
convincing story. It suggests the ambivalence of
motherhood and depicts the disappointment which
simple, hard-working Sarah Robison feels on
learning that her favorite and youngest girl Mary
is pregnant and that her favorite and youngest boy
Frank has joined the Navy and is off to war.
These two, so bright and attractive, for whom she
held hopes of different, better things:
So young, Mary, so young, not knowing.
Her four sisters had been young, not so
slim and pretty as Mary, but young; now
they spread themselves and clucked and
their eyes showed a knowingness that to
bear and dig for young ones was what
there was for females.
Edythe's vision for herself clearly included
more than bearing and digging for young ones.
She realized the vision of being published as a
short story writer, but she was never able to make
her fiction writing result in a significant addition
to the family income. She devised various other
money-making schemes, including raising
In the Depression years, letters to Edythe
as well as from her make reference to her anxiety
over finances. The Drapers' income was modest.
Edythe's husband Jim was always employed,
working for years for an investment company of
which he became an officer, although he was
never paid particularly well. Actually, Edythe
may have worried a bit compulsively about money
because of childhood deprivations.
"Dire poverty has prevented me from
reading your `Dance of the Machines,' but I
expect now to have it shortly," she wrote O'Brien
in 1930. The following year, Thomas H. Uzzell,
critic, anthologist (Short Story Hits), and teacher,
wrote Edythe: "Nothing has happened this month
yet that interests me more than the receipt of your
letter--this, for the reason that you are a writer of
promise, your difficulty is a real one, and you
have no money!" In 1937, she sent seven dollars
to a Hollywood agent to employ her to look over
some material for screen possibilities, adding that
an acceptance the day before allowed her "to make
this--gamble!" The editor of Kansas Magazine,
recommending Edythe for a Houghton Mifflin
literary fellowship, wrote in 1938, "Edythe Squier
Draper is an able writer with potential creative
ability, but lacks leisure time to develop her
Edythe sought advice on how to place her
work in the lucrative popular magazines. Uzzell
offered to examine some of her work for a fee,
writing in a cocky manner, "Of one thing I am
quite sure: I can tell you what the trouble is."
When Edythe declined for lack of money, he
responded rather cutely, "I understand only too
well, for the well-known depression has not
entirely spared me."
John T. Fredrerick, the editor of the
Midland (which H. L. Mencken once called
"probably the most important literary magazine
ever established in America"), cautioned Edythe in
a letter written in December of 1929 that "a more
or less definite choice" must be made by a writer
either to write for particular markets or to do
things for their own intrinsic worth. "I think you
could do the first successfully but I imagine you
would find it too unpleasant to be really
worthwhile." In what appears to be a response to
something Edythe had written him, he admonishes
that "`doing what editors want' is something I
should never urge upon you."
Frederick proposed that he examine
selected manuscripts on a commission basis, but
this apparently never worked out as planned,
prompting him to write in 1931 that he considered
himself "not a little responsible for the
discouragement" Edythe was feeling about her
writing. In another letter Frederick offered "cold
comfort" that Edythe had not been able to work
on her novel.
The well-paying markets, with the
exception of Household, never opened up to
Edythe. However, she usually merited
compliments and tact along with rejections. In
1930 Scribner's Magazine conceded in sending
back one manuscript that, like all Edythe's work,
it was "done with distinction," and indicated
interest in anything new she did. Alfred S.
Dashiell, the managing editor at Scribner's,
claimed in a 1932 letter: "We always read a
manuscript of yours with anticipation. We have
come so near to taking several of your things that
we always hope we shall find something just right
for us." Under Dashiell's editorship, the magazine
was publishing the likes of Sherwood Anderson,
D. H. Lawrence, and Tess Slesinger.
Edythe did employ the services of Jacques
Chambrun, the agent who offered his assistance.
She did this only to be told that a batch of her
manuscripts had a credible atmosphere, were
"done with a certain arresting artistry," but that the
characters were "drab and commonplace--and
therefore unsuitable to the general magazines."
About the manuscript "Cordelia Kleindienst's
Coat," Chambrun wrote that the writing was
"vivid" and "perceptive," that her ability in
creating atmosphere recalled some of Faulkner,
but that there wasn't a market for the story: "It is
too stark and tragic in theme and inspiration for
the popular, high-paying publications. It would go
with one of the new-type magazines who pay very
little or nothing to contributors." In this same
letter he lauded her talent, but recommended
paternalistically that she "turn to more cheerful
and normal subject matter."
Some of Edythe's work was held to be off
limits because it was written about African-
Americans, and at least one piece was evidently
considered too risque for the '30s reader.
Chambrun wrote that "Miz Briggs' Son" would be
hard to follow for "one unacquainted with the
various details of Negor [sic] life . . ." and of
another, that "here again the subject matter would
stand in its way."
The long-time editor of Household, Nelson
Antrim Crawford, rejected the manuscript
"Statesman's Wife" in 1937 because he feared "the
racial emphasis would be objectionable to a good
many of our readers." Of the manuscript "Coolie
Coat," Crawford wrote that it was "exceptionally
well done," that he liked its style "immensely," but
that he didn't think it was "the sort of story for a
popular magazine." Its subject: a woman who
long before has had a son by her half-sister's
husband and has lived with the couple until the
story's opening at the husband's death.
Certainly not all Edythe's rejections were
brought on by her being out of the mainstream in
her subject matter. Her style drew criticism as
well. Her girlhood friend Margaret Widdemer
assessed Edythe's writing with: ". . . your material
is of good literary grade, but sometimes fails in
technique. Which is easy; for work will always
improve technique, while organic badness isn't a
thing one can help." Midland editor Frederick
thought that Edythe was not always realizing the
possibilities inherent in her material.
In 1941 Margaret E. Dowst of the Saturday
Evening Post wrote Edythe that in contrast to the
work of most of the writers the Post dealt with,
which told "entirely too much," Edythe's fiction
was akin to "getting pieces of a puzzle . . . rather
than being shown a complete picture." Crawford
complained that a lot of her work was "too
elliptical for the average reader." He also found
some to be tales "a trifle thin." Chambrun once
called Edythe's talent "as yet untrained," and said
she swung "from the hard-boiled to the
sentimental and romantic."
In her weakest work, Edythe is hopelessly
sentimental and romantic. She evidently tailored
some things for her markets for an obvious if not
altogether acceptable reason: she needed the
money. The newspaper short-shorts (about which
Peg says, "She got eight dollars a story and she
needed it") are top among her potboilers.
The '30s dealt Edythe two
disappointments. For several years Fadiman at
Simon and Schuster had asked her for a book-
length work. But in 1935 the publishing house
rejected The Fruit at Singapore manuscript,
Fadiman reporting that the overall opinion of the
readers was that the book's tone was "too
unrelieved, too monotonous," though it was held
that the material had "authenticity," and that
"some of the moods of the little girl are very well
handled indeed." Fadiman said he regretted
extremely not being able to take the manuscript,
asking her to "forgive the unvarnished candor of
these criticisms. . . ." Simon and Schuster was
still "very much interested" in her work, he wrote,
and asked for "a chance to read any subsequent
Three years later, Edythe was turned down
for a Houghton Mifflin literary fellowship on the
basis of The Fruit at Singapore book project,
although she was in "the top few given special
consideration." Houghton Mifflin did ask for "the
privilege of considering" the finished book as a
regular manuscript, as it was thought the story
would be "an unusually appealing one."
* * *
Edythe had reached the pinnacle of her
success as a fiction writer, according to
conventional measures, when she was reprinted in
The Best Short Stories of 1930. She was, her
daughter Peg says, ready for "a great change"
when the Parsons Sun job came up in 1942.
Initially, Edythe wrote pretty much a straight news
column. Later, Peg says, the Sun "turned her
loose" and her column became chattier and even a
little rambling at times.
Her inaugural column, appearing
September 1, 1942, reflects her typical humility
and is written with disarming openness:
In this her first column your very
new and very, very apprehensive reporter
greets you. She used to sit out on the edge
of town beside an alfalfa field, look out
over the pleasant Kansas land and see men
and women working. She heard from the
town the sounds of work.
Now she has work. It could be
important, done right. She is not sure she
can do it right. She'll try. You'll tell her
her mistakes. Tell her, too, won't you,
items about your neighbors and your
family that will help all to a better
understanding of each other's lives? We
need each other.
Despite her reservations, Edythe handled
the job well, not only the reporting, but also the
additional responsibility of being the Oswego
circulation manager for about fifteen years.
Remembering Edythe, Parsons Sun
columnist Jim Davis wrote in a 1979 memo:
Her column for The Sun was
supposed to include news from the city
hall, the county courthouse, and other hard
news sources, but Mrs. Draper tended to
pass them over lightly. She would rather
write of a personality, the view from the
bluff at Riverside Park, the looks of
Oswego's water tower when draped with
She had a lavish vocabulary. By
newspaper standards, her style was ornate.
She seemed to have many readers. Not
nearly all of them were Oswego residents.
`Now doesn't that sound like Mrs. Draper,'
was a comment often heard about her
Friends of Mrs. Draper noted
quicksilver in her makeup. Sometimes she
spoke bitterly of her writing. She thought
she hadn't accomplished as much as she
should have. But the bitterness seemed to
be fleeting. It would quickly disappear and
she might giggle. Even in her later years,
she sometimes giggled like a schoolgirl at
As one of her sisters once observed,
Edythe never had to grow old. When nearly sixty
she landed a steady job which kept her in the
hubbub of the little town's daily life. Her son Jim
taught her to swim after fifty, and to drive after
sixty. And like the speaker she described in the
letter to Lucy, in old age Edythe was a "vigorous,
turrible strong" woman. At the age of seventy-
five, she fell on some ice, badly fracturing both
wrists. Discharged from the hospital, her forearms
in casts, she would sit in a chair intoning, "I'm
willing these bones to knit." To speed up the
mending process, she bought hard rubber balls,
which she squeezed even as she walked about
town, writing to her daughter Lucy and her son-
in-law Tom in California, "I may be going to have
the strongest hands in the U.S.!" She also wrote
them, "Do you listen and read and feel the pulse
of the world?"
The dutiful Edythe loosened up, if only a
bit, in old age. In her seventies she went to
church only to fall asleep as soon as the sermon
began, telling her amused children, "I owe it to
your father to go." She wrote to Lucy and Tom:
"If we did not always want people to conform to
our ideas of the good life! I feel it of course
when I am disapproved of for missing church
During the last few years of her life,
influenced by Arnold Bennett's How to Live on 24
Hours a Day, Edythe tackled after-hours projects.
She didn't sleep much during those years, but
napped while watching television, telling Peg,
"The marvelous thing about T.V. is its soporific
quality." At age seventy-nine, she closed a letter
to Lucy with: "I think I will set and teevee a
little. I am jangled."
At her life's end, she returned to fiction,
making revisions on her children's novel Red
Flannel Dreams after work. In 1974 Peg wrote
about her mother's last year:
It is sad to realize how interested Edythe
was at age 82 in going back to creative
writing, having proved that she could earn
the living for the family and save for old
age, which she never had to endure, for
twenty years. She was actively revising a
novel when her body refused to keep
going. When she found out she faced
surgery, she said, `I just feel like saying
DAMN about a thousand times.' Her
granddaughter said, `Well, why don't you?'
And Edythe said, `I can't. I'm a NICE
Edythe told Peg that only during those last two
years had she felt she belonged anywhere. Until
then, Peg said, "She thought that the town still
considered her a foreigner, an outlander." Many
people grieved openly when she was dying,
coming into her hospital room to cry.
The headline of the September 3, 1964,
column, written the day after Edythe had entered
the hospital for removal of a fibroid tumor read,
"Family Subs for `Mrs. D.'" The following day,
her son-in-law wrote in the column: "Here's
hoping that frail body and indomitable spirit
emerge from the Oswego Hospital `still achieving,
still pursuing'--as in Longfellow's `Psalm of
Life'--a great soul ready for any fate." Three
weeks later, on September 25, 1964, Edythe died.
In about forty years she had not had a pelvic
exam, and the tumor--nonmalignant--was the size
of a person's head. She died from post-operative
Her Asbury Park acquaintance Margaret
Widdemer had years before written Edythe one of
her father's favored adages, ". . . we weave from
the wrong side of the tapestry--we cannot see the
pattern." Edythe Squier Draper discerned that
pattern better than most.
Jeffrey Ann Goudie is a free-lance writer who publishes a weekly
column in the Topeka Metro News. Her book reviews have
appeared in the Kansas City Star, the Women's Review of Books
and the New York Times Book Review.
It was only February, but the woman was
in her garden. She was kneeling on the ground,
her small body crouched low over it. To a casual
eye she might have seemed to be working, but she
was not pulling up the bent, black stalks of last
year's vegetation; she was not planting anything;
merely in contact with the ground were her hands.
She peered closely at the earth beneath and about
her, only raising her face a moment now and
again to glance at the sky, at the leafless, conical
pear trees beside the garden, or up into the maples
embracing the steep roof of her small, brown
house. But always her eyes came back to the
ground, and her mouth moved in whispered
"What's a-goin' on? What is it a-goin'
She wore a rusty black coat and a brown
stocking-cap. Her eyes were quite blue, like the
blue of certain phlox and of sky. Her face in
summer would be brown as tree-trunks; now it
was pale, as a thing long away from the sun is. A
deep wrinkle was on each side of her mouth;
lesser wrinkles, at the corners of her eyes.
Her face did not change in color or in line,
though it lifted, when a car, the mail-man's,
dingy, caked with dried mud, made outcry before
her house and stopped. Only a slight, swift
shudder went over her body and it shrank a
moment against the earth.
"I knowed--I knowed--it'd come some
She got to her feet, brushed her hands on
each other, and with regular, long, unhasting
strides approached the disheveled bringer of
A hand stretched out from black curtains.
A man, a man wanting to hurry on, shouted:
"Letter, Miz Wentz!"
She waved the greyish rectangle as if she
fanned. Funny thing, her getting a letter; it wasn't
important--that was what the fanning was to tell.
She opened her mouth to say something, but
closed it again. The car was making too much
noise. There now, it was gone. She had planned
to say that Brother Henry had gone out to
California from Arkansas just to look around a
little, and that that was how she happened to have
a letter from California, but she had been too late
getting these words out of her mouth. Now, Herb
Bickel, would he say anything to Mrs. Cook? But
maybe--maybe Mrs. Cook was in the house
talking to some one over the telephone, not out
watching for Herb Bickel.
"No. She's a-seein'...she's a-seein'..."
She pushed the letter inside her coat,
hurrying, mussing it, her back toward Mrs. Cook's
tall, yellow house with so many windows.
It was toward the barn she went, slight,
stooped over, eyes not failing to glance at
everything in the circle of her going, as always.
In the barn she stood a moment, and one
of her small tough hands went to her throat, then
down. With both hands she took up the pitchfork
and threw out heavy forkfuls of manure, scraping,
lifting, pitching, with a certain rhythm. Quite
suddenly, definitely, she stopped. She closed the
barn door and fastened it. With the handle of the
fork under her arm she stood still. She slipped
her hand inside her coat where the letter was. The
hand came out empty. A moment she leaned
heavily on the fork, another and another. At last
she shifted the fork a little and drew from its
hiding-place the soiled thing that snickered and
She held it in the brownish light, at this
distance and that from her eyes, the thin paper
with grey pencil markings going crookedly
between dim blue lines.
After a while she had spelled out most of
She lifted her face, and her eyes were not
now the color of phlox, but dark as violets in a
wood. They were fixed on the barn window.
Three dark cows about the color of the
pasture lumbered across the square the window
made, and grey chickens walked and picked. Her
eyes moved with these, but something else filled
her eyes, pushed these from her seeing.
Into the barn with its warm dampness and
sourness of manure came noises: robins calling
sharply from fence post and dark ground; cocks
crowing far, near; hens singing the egg-song; a
horn; a man's giddap; a child's high laugh.
Sounds of life. She cowered and shrank from
At last her eyes came slowly again to the
letter in her hands: "Dear Pearl well I com to
California like you ast me to you give me enuff
mony alrite of course nobody dident know his
name wasent Jerry Jones..."
"Miz Wentz! Miz We-e-e-entz!"
The fork fell from under her arm. Her
eyes flew to the door.
No, Mrs. Cook had not been in talking to
some one over her telephone.
She crushed letter and envelope together
and pushed them inside her coat.
"But Miz Cook knows I always do clear
out th' barn 'n' water them cows this time ever'
day." She said this aloud as if arguing with some
She went from the barn out into the
pasture. She worked the handle of the pump up
and down until the tub under the spout was full.
She walked across to one of the cows standing
and chewing her cud and felt of her and looked at
her udder. Molly would be fresh soon.
"Miz We-e-entz! Miz We-e-entz! Miz
She turned and looked.
She was surprised, the quick jerk of her
body might say.
Mrs. Cook was there by the kitchen door.
Mrs. Cook had her yellow bowl. Did Mrs. Cook
want to borrow three cups of cornmeal?
She went to the fence, lifted the lowest
strand of wire, and got down under it. Her arm
pressed her left side. The letter whispered. Her
hands, as she crawled under the fence, felt the
tough, lank grass and her fingers clung among the
roots, not bearing to leave them. If you could
only stay against the ground--if you could with all
of you stay against the ground...
She opened the door for Mrs. Cook to step
up into the kitchen. It was three cups of cornmeal
Mrs. Cook wanted.
"Didn't you remember about the funeral
being this morning?" Mrs. Cook was a large
woman who never smiled, with big grey eyes that
looked and looked and looked. "Yes, at ten." She
stood and fixed her grey eyes, where they were
going to stay a while, on Pearl Wentz. She went
on again in her slow, slow way. "All the relatives
are here but Mrs. Denton's aunt in Illinoise, and
she's right old and poorly. It's going to be a
large funeral. I'll be by for you. You be ready."
"I don't know's I..."
"Oh, you'd ought to go, I think." Mrs.
Cook had been a school teacher. "You'd ought to
go to a neighbor's funeral. Folks might talk. Of
course, Mrs. Denton's not what you'd call a near
neighbor, but she's bought a sight of chickens and
eggs and butter off of you. The pallbearers will
be boys Fred run around with before he joined up
with the navy. Reverend Ditton's to have charge.
I'll be by. You be ready."
But Mrs. Cook did not pick up the yellow
"You heard from Jim lately?"
"Not right lately."
"Out in California, isn't he?"
"Where is he now?"
"I don't just--know."
"Hasn't been home in years, has he?"
"It's been quite a spell."
"Looked like Herb Bickel give you a letter
"Jest a ad."
"Where is it?"
"Musta left it out to the barn. I'll bring it
in next time I go out."
"Say, what in the world are you doing out
in the garden these days? Hasn't been a day
lately you haven't been out there. This warm
spell can't last, you know; plenty of freezing
weather yet. What you trying to do out there?"
"Jes'--I was jest workin'."
"Looks like you could find something to
do in the house, quilt-piecing or something. Don't
you expect Jim'll be getting married; need some
of his mother's quilts?"
Was that she laughing that laugh that was
like the rubbing together of two dry shingles?
Mrs. Cook seemed never to need to wink.
Her eyes, her wide, calm eyes, staid on Mrs.
Wentz's face and neck and breast and hands. At
last slowly she turned, took up the yellow bowl
from the table. Maybe she was going now.
For a minute the kitchen was very still, and
then Mrs. Cook said:
"You don't look so very well, Mrs. Wentz,
I don't think."
Pearl made a noise in her throat. It might
have been another short laugh, and it might not.
"Need a round o' calomel, I expect," she said, and
the flat voice was not different from the voice of
last week, of last month.
Mrs. Cook, at the door now, opened it,
turned her head slowly on her large body, and
looked again at Pearl. "Maybe--that's it," she
said, and stepped heavily out. "Funeral's at ten.
You be ready. I'll be by for you pretty soon."
You be ready. You be ready.
She went to the stove and looked back
over her shoulder at the door, at the window, at
the door again. She put one hand inside her coat.
The other hand she laid on the stove-lid holder
and lifted the lid. She held the paper, tried to
spread it out so, with one hand, tried to read it
again. And then she started, glanced again at the
door, shivered, dropped paper and envelope in the
stove, set the lid over it, and opened the draft in
A roar, short and swift. A blood-red, brief
She closed the draft, took her hand away
from the stove-lid holder, and stepped away from
I'll be by for you. You be ready. You be
She changed to her best dress. It was red,
one her cousin had sent. It should not have been--
"Mrs. We-e-e-entz! You ready?"
She went and opened the door and went
out to Mrs. Cook.
It did not matter about Mrs. Cook's eyes
when you walked along beside her. She almost
forgot about Mrs. Cook talking about the
Denton's, proud of knowing about the richest
family. Head down, a little ahead of her body,
eyes on the ground beside the walk, she went
along with Mrs. Cook. Oh, yes, small green
things. Small, green things that made no
difference in the look of the ground from above,
so small were they. But if you killed and cleaned
a chicken for some one, didn't you find its craw
full of small, green leaves and thick, short pieces
of grass? In February, even? She put her foot
out now and then and brushed the ground with it,
until Mrs. Cook told her to stay on the sidewalk.
But her eyes she did not keep on the
sidewalk. No. She saw the ground--small, green
But then, more houses, wider sidewalks,
less and less ground.
Mrs. Cook, big, not hurrying, turning her
large eyes upon porches and windows and people
going along in their clothes, talking in her slow,
slow way, and Pearl Wentz, small, not talking,
eyes downward bent, going side by side on the
hard, smooth, straight sidewalk toward a big,
The big, yellow house had almost no yard,
no ground. It was a fine house, the finest in
town, big and clean, with grand lace curtains at
the wide, clean windows. Now, today, long
shining cars drew gently up to the curbing and
stood, while stiff dolls of people got out and went
two by two up the very white, straight walk
between small, pointed trees that did not look like
real trees, to the fine house.
It was when they turned to go between the
pointed trees that she saw it. She saw the hearse.
It was grey. It was handsome. It was waiting.
Her voice screaming out in a loud cry that
broke into the cool blue-gold of the sky.
What would come now? What would Mrs.
Cook do? All the people?
But Mrs. Cook, walking along, did not do
anything. The man sitting on the front of the
hearse did not turn his neat head. The people
walking up in their furs and velvets did not look
at her. They went on into the house.
And so there she was beside Mrs. Cook,
walking on the hard, smooth, white walk to the
house where a funeral was going to be.
Mrs. Ella Parsons, yes, that was who it
was, in a long purple dress with loose sleeves,
face so red, so fat, letting people in the front door,
pointing, pushing, whispering close to people's
She went over the step into the Denton
house, Mrs. Cook's big body right there behind
her, Mrs. Parsons whispering to her to go on and
sit on the front row in the parlor, to save the seats
near the door for those coming later.
The chairs were green or red carpet chairs,
party, funeral, church-supper, lodge chairs. They
leaned away back and their round, yellow legs
seemed not very strong. They made you keep
very still, leaning back.
Warm and still and darkish the big, clean
house that seemed so empty for all it was full of
Flowers. Thousands of flowers, in the
winter time. Their smell pressed upon you,
Flag. So they put a flag on a boy's coffin.
No. Oh, no. A flag was for some kind of
She was close to Frederick Denton.
Smooth, black hair. A triangle of white forehead.
You'd ought to go to a neighbor's funeral.
You'd ought to go to a neighbor's funeral. You'd
ought to go...
Mrs. Cook leaned over, half whispering,
"How you feelin', Miz Wentz?"
"Fine," she whispered back.
Still, everything. Except for a chair creak-
ing. Except for a whisper, the rustle of silk, a
A cardinal--a cardinal away off there in the
sun and the west wind?
One soft, low note from a piano. Low
A thing came and took her by the neck,
closed, closed its fingers. How could she
Don't let nobody know. Don't let nobody
She put her feet down hard--on the ground.
She put her hands on the ground, as she had this
morning in the garden. She held her body, her
ears, her face, all of her, against earth, her eyes
seeing it black and brown and faintly green, her
hands knowing its cool dampness.
Her throat came out of the squeezing
Nobody's a-goin' to know.
She would go away. She would go away,
not be at the funeral. She could go away from the
singing, the reading, from Gawd's will, and the
plan of salvation. She could go away.
She went away. To other days.
She had not wanted to marry Mr. Wentz.
She had not wanted to go with him to the fair that
day. She was dressed up, waiting in the front
yard for Ed Grant. She had on the ruffled dress
she had made, white with pink rosebuds scattered
over it, and a pink sash. She was waiting for Ed
Grant. Her mother told her to step right up there
in Mr. Wentz's buggy, step right up there. She
was used to doing what her mother said. She was
fifteen and small; her mother's hand was hard. Ed
Grant wouldn't speak to her ever after that day.
Mr. Wentz had two farms; he was rich, her
mother said. He had children, old as she was.
"Girl, I'd rather see you in your grave than
married to that man," her father said. And then he
had seen himself into his own grave, and she had
married Mr. Wentz. People called Mr. Wentz a
handsome man. He was a good enough man, too,
they said, only he had a rotten disposition. He
whipped his children. He whipped his girls. He
Jim ran away when he was maybe
fourteen. The night before she had seen him
leaning on the garden fence, and she thought he
might be running away soon. The sun was
setting. It was a nice evening. He had come and
touched her, accidental-like, when he passed her
by the stove with an armful of wood nobody had
told him to bring in.
Yes, Jim had run away when he was
Oh, that was Mrs. Denton. She was taking
on. You had to hear her. She was taking on
terrible. Reverend Ditton calling her Gold Star
Gold Star Mother. Was that such a thing
to cry about?
Gold Star. Last night she had called the
cows, "Suk-cow, suk, suk, suk!" She had stood
waiting beside the barn while they came slowly in,
one black moving thing after another, through the
dusk, into the barn to be milked. She had stood
there waiting and she had seen one star over the
high black hedge beyond the pasture. The sky
was red behind the hedge. The star was clear and
golden, very golden. One clear, golden star above
a red sky and a black hedge.
Gold Star, up in a pale green sky, above
red of cloud, black of earth. Up.
Once when he was a very little boy she
had heard him calling: "Mom! Mom! Look!
She had seen his face after a while, among
white pear blossoms. He was laughing. He had
climbed up on the chicken-house roof, then to the
barn, along the ridge, and there he was, in the sun,
blue sky above him, bees humming, a meadow-
lark calling, pigeons cooing. Then Mr. Wentz had
come around the barn. Soon, no laughing among
white blossoms; screaming in the barn.
See the ground. Look now, look close.
Look. See? See that flower-petal that comes
slowly down through the air? See? It comes to
the ground, and lies there. What happens to it?
Ground takes it, works on it.
Well, and fine ripe fruit comes to the
ground in its time, and lies.
Yes, and that's all right, of course.
But sometimes young fruit gets knocked
off by something, or it falls, unripe, gnarled,
bitter, because a canker-worm has got into the
heart of the white-petalled blossom. How's that?
Eh? How's that, now, old woman?
Well, the ground 'll look out for it.
Ground 'll look out for petal, ripe fruit, cankered
"Ensign Frederick Charles Denton was
born December the tenth, nineteen hundred and
Jim Wentz was born 'long about the
middle of January...
"Frederick Charles Denton died at sea in
the performance of his duty on February the
second, nineteen hundred and thirty..."
Words of the letter: "The exacution was
early in the morning he didnt mean to..."
"Those wishing to view the remains..."
Oh, but Mrs. Denton was taking on.
If she could get to Mrs. Denton, tell her...
But the undertaker's arm in the way was
strong, and Mrs. Ella Parsons pushed and said,
"The nerve of some people."
And so she came to be out of the house,
going down the white, straight walk between the
pointed, small tress.
Mrs. Cook was not with her. Mrs. Cook
was hurrying to get in a big, shining car.
More and more ground, out from town.
Sun shining. West wind. Warm. Cool.
Robins calling from fence post and brown
grass; cocks crowing far, near; hens singing the
egg-song; a horn; a man's giddap; a child's high
She raised her head a moment, saw, heard,
and then again her eyes were downward bent.
"I've a mind to plant me some taters."
The Voice of the Turtle
The first dandelions were blooming.
Peach tree branches were red in the sun.
A boy was ploughing in a small wood-
bordered field by a river. But he stopped. When
he heard a certain sound he stopped. The sound
came from a machine going strongly to and fro in
a town a mile away from the field. The plough
handles shook in the boy's dark hands. The mule
before the plough turned his solemn countenance,
regarded that behind him, lowered his head and
began nuzzling a grass-fringed clod. Away the
boy leaped over shining black earth-billows. His
hands shut and unshut. His shoulders heaved with
his sobbing breaths. Tears rolled down his thin
cheeks, and while he wept he laughed, as nightly
he did with the other saints. One god to the boy
was as another.
He came to the river bank, rolled down,
ran beside slow black water to an embankment,
climbed and ran on a trestle, once in his life
unafraid of the water grinning and greedy between
the ties. As he ran down the track he wept; he
laughed, panting. He came to a smooth hard road.
"Get on the sidewalk, you blamed fool!"
Hands of the town marshal were upon him,
so that his bones, his eyes, ears, hands, and feet
had the sense of things shaken into them.
"Act like ye was drunk, boy! Straighten
up, or I'll run ye in!"
Trembling inside, quiet outside, he walked
on the white cement among people. He heard a
man laugh and say: "I'd ought to be home a-
workin', a-gettin' the spring work did. But
nothin' for it I should bring th' kids to the circus.
That there steam pyano don't seem to give ye no
"'Llo! If there ain't Forrest! How's th'
He was standing face to face with a boy
and two girls. They came to church some nights--
sat on a back bench. He knew them. They knew
him. One girl pushed the other over against him,
all of them laughing. And so he was walking
pretty soon with this girl, his first time for
walking with a girl. She touched his arm, his leg,
as she swung her small skirt there beside him,
looking around, laughing, chewing. She stopped
suddenly and, with her hand, which had silver
rings on slim gray fingers, caught his arm in its
thin dark sleeve.
"Say! I'm crazy 'bout them b'lloons!
Ain't they swell?"
A little farther on a thousand red and blue
and yellow balls were in the air above the dark
The girl's hand on his arm was hard and
anxious. His eyes turned away from the balloons,
and toward the girl. He saw her red, red cheeks,
her flour-white nose, her clouded brown eyes
staring at him, while now, pressing his arm, was
her breast as well as her hand. A line, as he
stared, grew deeper between the opaque eyes of
her. The white nose wrinkled; the very red, thin
The cry came into his ears and rang there,
driving out the voices of people calling, laughing,
the roar of machines, the squeal of whistles in
children's mouths, all the noises of the town. He
fell against a building's white front, at the girl's
hard push upon him. The girl ran and caught
another boy's arm.
"'Llo, Virg, ole kid!" she gaily screamed.
"Goin' to th' circus?"
Virg laughed and put his hand high up
under her arm, pulled her close, and they went
among the people toward the balloon-man, who
bellowed through a funnel: "Ten cents! Only ten
cents! One dime! Balloon for one dime. Only
one dime. Ten cents. Get your girl a balloon."
Ten cents! Forrest knew where ten cents
was--more than ten cents. Poppy had money he
was going to buy another cow with because old
Moll's udder had got half-caked. Pop kept the
money in the old coffee-pot right there in the
kitchen above the stove. He'd go home, get the
money, and come back, find the girl, and buy a
balloon, a sack of candy, everything.
He ran out of the town on roads. He
turned in at a rutted lane.
It was getting evening. The steam piano
was going up and down in the town. Voicelessly
he laughed and called back, "I'm a-comin'!"
He neared the small, sagging unporched
house there beside the river, things lying about in
the yard, a wheelbarrow without its wheel, a piece
of harness, the handle and the tooth part of a rake,
overturned coops, buckets. A man, a small man
such as Forrest was getting to be, stood on the
town side of the barn. His head was stretched
forward. His fingers moved, and his knees. His
brown eyes--like a hungry dog's--were open and
fixed. He laughed aloud, once, and then he
Two little girls with pigtails sat on a hen-
coop; an elder swung in a boardless loop of rope
hanging from a small tree. The girls were not
talking, not playing. Their mouths were open,
their eyes turned toward town.
"I'll git the money. I'll git the money, go
on back. I'll git the money." Whispering, the
boy went. But a woman was in the doorway, her
hands braced against its sides, a faded red calico
dress hanging in long limp folds from her lean
neck. She was very tall. A bit of light hair in a
high thin knob went up from the top of her high
thin head. Her mouth was open, one tooth
hanging down from the purplish gum. Her eyes,
lightish, were not clear, were not unlike the eyes
of the girl in the town wanting a balloon,
something so beautiful. The film over the
woman's eyes was the film of desire and dream.
For a passing moment she was aware of
the boy, her son. Then she threw up her hands,
and her face convulsively stiffened. Her eyes
rolled upward until only the whites were visible,
and so they remained, half-open.
"I'm took--one o' my spells," she said, in
her voice that was always strangely like a man's.
And there she was, lying stiff and long on the
floor inside the house.
The little girl in the swing left it, came and
stood beside Forrest, regarded her mother a
moment, ran away. She came back, and Poppy
was with her.
"Mommy?" the little man seemed in a high
tenor to sing to the long woman on the floor.
Mommy gave no sign.
Poppy turned to Forrest. "You take 'er
feet, me 'er head. We'll get 'er on the bed."
They got her on the bed in the corner. She
was heavy for the two small men, but not hard to
carry, being stiff like a long iron rod. On the bed
her lips moved.
"Git some on...'em...in...to...pray..."
"Yes, yes, Mommy, I will, Mommy."
Myers...Miz...Zoucha...Brother Armes an' wife..."
The little man twisted his hands, his
Adam's apple working fast in his thin yellow
throat. "Yes, Mommy. Yes, Mommy. An' I
reckon I'd best git th' Ruttgens...an'..." Poppy
wet his lips with a trembling tongue..."an' Sister
Kennard. Yes, th' Ruttgens an'...All right,
Mommy, I'll go spread the word abroad."
Little Poppy seemed taller. His voice had
deepened. He pulled at his sleeves. "You watch
whilst I go, Forrest," he said. "I'll tell Brother
Armes 'n' he c'n go to the store an' telephone th'
filling station an' they'll git th' Ruttgens an'..."
Why had Poppy, when twice the name was
on his lips, not said "Sister Kennard"?
Poppy went walking off down the lane.
The little girls sat on the step outside the door in
the evening half-light. After a while two boys,
Edward and Silas, came with something nice in a
can--worms they had been digging for all day in
the river bank. They talked, laughing a little, but
no great noise.
"You kids hesh," Forrest went and
whispered in the doorway above their heads.
The children became still.
Across through the dark woods, over the
fields, down the black, slow river the steam piano
called, called through his many throats.
Slow inch by inch Forrest turned his head
and stared back into the room. He began to tiptoe
in his hard, mud-caked shoes toward the stove.
He came to it. Slowly he raised his hand close to
the old coffee-pot on the shelf, touched its smooth
side. His fingers slid up.
"Forr'st. What you want?"
His hand stayed above his head in the grey
twilight. He could not pull it down. Then he did,
pressed its back hard against his teeth, huskily
mumbled, "Nothin', Mom."
The dark came, hiding the greyish stove,
the stained, warped floor, the streaked walls, but
not hiding the window and the bed beside it. As
if nails held his feet to the floor, he stood, the
shelf with the coffee-pot not a foot from his head,
yet far as the farthest star in the sky, far as the
The black, empty country was still now,
After a while came hoof-beats and the roll
of wheels over ruts. A sigh from the bed, and
Forrest's feet could move.
"Light th' lamp."
At the hoarse whisper he fumbled on the
shelf--beside the old coffee-pot, but it had the feel
now of anything else--found matches, and lighted
the lamp on the table among pans and dishes.
Into the room filed dark figures, some
high, some low, one, only, fat. The women's
heads were swathed in scarfs; their skirts were
long. Black beards on chin and cheek, and long
unkempt hair gave the men's foreheads an ivory
shining. The eyes of all, like coals awaiting an
enkindling draught, dully gleamed. One woman
detached herself from the group within the door
and let her scarf slip back, revealing flaccid jowls
and a pursed mouth. She lifted the lamp and held
it high over the livid face on the pillow, the
skimpy folds of faded red cotton going down over
the long still body, the shoes ragged, stiff, grey,
motionless, against the footboard.
"Thckk! Thckk!" the woman said,"Turrble
At once from the one plump woman came
a long, high-pitched wail. Wailing, she ran to the
bed, cast herself against it, began, shuddering and
weeping, to pray.
Forrest knew this woman with one eyelid
drooping, with a soft blue scarf, with soft white
cheeks, and soft yellowish hair that curled against
pink ears and round neck. This was Sister
Poppy went down beside Sister Kennard.
A tall man with a long brown moustache, then a
woman, another woman, a man and two more
women filled the side of the bed. Three women at
the foot could not see over, kneeling, and so part
of the time they stood, Forrest with them. Forrest
had been saved when he was fourteen, sanctified;
he could do no sin; he could pray.
The room became full of sound; deep,
steady bellowing from Brother Armes with his
long moustache, the words unintelligible; shouts,
"Hallelujah!" "Oh, Lord!" "Glory" Broken sighs,
screams and sobs, long sentences with the words
jumping over each other quickly, descending to a
deep groan, climbing to a high shriek. Tears
coursed down faces. Eyes were closed.
An ebb came at length in the tide of
implorings. Before the flood again Sister
Kennard's voice: "Co-o-o-mfert this dear man!
Pour in the oil of gladness. Co-o-o-mfert an'
sistain 'im! This pore, lonely man! Th' wife o'
his buzzum layin' col' an' dead in th' deep an'
High and low, shrill and resonant, cried
and screams and groans and shrieks.
Forrest added his voice, inaudible to
himself. But--Mommy wasn't dead? Brother
Kennard had been dead and there had been a great
funeral last summer--or another summer before
that. You prayed like Sister Kennard just then at
a funeral, not when some one had a spell, was not
dead yet. "Col' an' lonely grave." This time was
Mommy going to be dead? Forrest, mute though
performing the gestures of one clamorously
entreating, eyed Mommy. Dead? Mommy going
to be dead?
No. Mommy was not going to be dead
this night. Mommy's face seemed like Mommy's
face now, more. Mommy opened one eye, the eye
by Sister Kennard. Deep lines came in her
forehead. Red like fire came to her face. Both
Mommy's eyes opened. And suddenly Mommy
was getting off the bed, pushing a way between
Poppy and Sister Kennard. And Mommy was
jumping on the floor, shouting mightily:
"Hallelujah! I'm ree-stored! Hallelujah! Praise
the Lord! Praise the Lo-r-rd!! Let us ree-joice!"
The sisters and the brethren, after a brief
delay, as if they were hardly ready, encircled
Mommy. They laughed, clapped their hands, and
shouted, once and again; "Praise the Lord!"
The women presently wiped their faces,
not white now, with their aprons, and the men
with red handkerchiefs or their hands. Poppy
alone stared at the floor, shoulders adroop, cheeks
hollow, nose long, bony. Mommy, not ceasing to
smile--as was proper for her--stood near Poppy,
taller than Poppy. Sister Kennard was not tall.
She was round, soft, and low. That white lid
partly down over Sister Kennard's right eye--what
did that do? Well, you thought about Sister
Kennard being a woman, a widow-woman, yes, a
The people went out and climbed in the
wagon that had brought them. They talked little.
The horses went along in the lane. The squeaking
of the wheels sounded farther and farther away.
Mommy began to go about getting batter
stirred up for bread. Forrest put cobs in the stove,
not easy to do, because he felt as he had when
getting over chills and fever. The children were
on the bed. They watched Mommy. They were
hungry. The biggest little girl went pretty soon
and began to put cups around on the brown
oilcloth on the table. She was good to help, the
biggest girl. She said, while she reached across
the table to put a cup down, "That wasn't no long
"Long 'nough," Mommy said. She shoved
a chair out of her way.
The biggest girl wanted to talk. She was
always wanting lately to talk, like a woman.
"Sister Kennard's a good one to pray," she said
"You hesh up, ten' to your business, or I'll
learn ye!" Mommy picked up a stub of broom
and shook it. Her face was all working, and her
neck. The biggest girl screamed, her arm up over
her face. Mommy turned around to the stove and
Forrest saw a tear go down her cheek.
No. It hadn't been no long prayin'. There
had been a praying that went on till sun-up, once,
over at Brother Armes'.
Where was Poppy?
Poppy was in the barn. Forrest found him
by noises, noises of snuffing and sobbing.
"Poppy," he said, "wat ye doin', Poppy?" For a
moment he heard nothing and then a gulp and,
"Ree-joicin', Son. Ree-joicin'. Hal-hallelujah!"
Another gulp and a sort of groan in the little dark
"Reckon supper's 'bout ready," Forrest
said, and waited beside the sagging door. His
father came out and they walked along in the dark
together, keeping step with their short legs.
Corn-bread, not very much baked, made
with water and a little milk and soda, was
steaming in pieces around on the table. A pail of
syrup was there and another smaller pail with milk
The family sat down, some on a bench
along the wall, some on stools, two on chairs.
They did not talk. They were tired, all. The
children were sleepy, hungry.
The door was open. The air came in from
wood and field, soft, still, not cold. A brown,
dusty moth appeared and flew around the little
lamp, bumping the chimney now and again.
Chewing, swallowing, reaching for bread, for
syrup, for milk, they watched the moth. As they
watched, one sighed, and then another of the
family, without knowing, until they had all sighed,
After that in the quiet: "Cro-aak! Cro-
An interval of stillness, and again: "Cro-
aak! Cro-aak! Cro-aaak!"
Silas laughed and called out in his little
thin boy voice: "I know what them is! Frogses!"
"No more frost," Poppy said.
"Mom! Mom!" Edward was pulling at his
mother's dress. "Hey, Mom! C'n I go bar'foot
t'morry? Kin I, Mom?"
"That you kin, Son. That you kin!"
Mommy's deep laughter was pleasant to hear.
"Ain' got no shoes no more nohow!"
"C'n I?" thinly piped each little girl.
Their mother smiled at them, her one long
tooth showing agreeably, and she nodded at the
pale, eager faces.
They hugged themselves and shivered a
little. Oh, barefoot! You wriggling, grass
tickling, mud going up between your toes, gravel
hurting, you getting used to it.
"I aim to give this here place a good
cleanin' t'morry, I do," Mommy said deeply.
"Spring a-comin' on so."
"I'll see ter gittin' that cow t'morry, I
will," Poppy said. "Pay's much down's I've got,
work th' rest out fer Williams."
"I'll work th' rest out fer Williams, I will,"
Forrest said. "I'll be done that ploughin' t'morry
They all sighed again, and smiled, and lay
down and slept.
"She a white snake, Sam. Don' go!
Don' go, Sam!"
She had got down on the floor, lips against
his feet, and had prayed to him.
Now he was gone. And she was lying in
the dust, dust in her matted hair, ground into the
cuts, caking the swollen bruises on every inch of
her black body. He had chased her all around the
cabin, would never have enough of beating her.
He had latched the door and beat and beat.
And then he had got himself washed, scrubbed all
over his straight body, put on the white shirt with
the tall, stiff collar she had ironed, Doc Liddell's
black trousers she had brought home and darned
and washed and pressed, Postmaster Cadwallader's
coat she had ironed curtains all one day for, the
fine black shoes he had bought yesterday with the
money she had put away for the insurance. From
the corner where he had at last left her, she had
heard him splash the water, swish the towel over
him, fasten on crackling shirt and collar, snap the
laces in and out of the holes of the new shoes. He
had even sung a little of one of the ritual songs,
feeling fine and cool after exercise and bath, and
then he had unlatched the door and gone
She had done no good telling him not to
go. She was crazy.
She was crazy. Crazy fool.
She bit the back of her hand, making pain
to lessen her other pain. Her crying was all done.
She was dry of tears. Grinning faces the dark
brought and held there she had to stare and see--
faces the like of which she had seen all day.
All day the women had come, on one
errand and another, laughing, plaguing her. They
told her about the lodge goings-on, about Miss
Zodalene, Grand Exemplifier from Kansas City.
"Mummh! Dat Miss Zodalene crazy 'bout
Sam! She sho cahy on wid dat man! She mos'
plumb white, too, dat Miss Zodalene. Cain't tell
huh f'um white. Fine white laigs, silk dress--
effen yuh kin call two mites o' quilt patches a
dress--no sleeves a-tall, no back--smellin' rich--
mmmh! Sam my man, I'd pizen him foh sho',
pizen 'im, im-balm 'im, set 'im on de mantel for
a ohnamint! Dat Sam too good-lookin'..."
The women wanted to plague her. They
didn't like her. She was one of the old-timers--
not so old, but used to the ways of real white
folks. She it was, and no other, Miz Doc Liddell
and Miz Postmaster Cadwallader had for any
parties they gave at their houses. But times had
changed. Parties of new folks--new trash folks--
were out at the Country Club, everybody taking a
little something along to eat. Only a few white
folks there were still having a dinner party or a
"tea" in the old way like before the Great War,
and she the one they asked to come and help out,
washing windows and scrubbing as many as three
days before, cleaning chickens, par-boiling ham.
On the party days she helped set the tables,
polished glasses, wiped off flowered china already
clean. On the party day she had on a white cap
and apron and "served"; and washed up afterward,
sometimes with a young black girl to help, but she
getting all the gizzards and necks and pieces of
cake and bits of butter and broken rolls--all things
Sam liked to eat. And they knew she would not
pick up a grain of sugar they didn't mean her to
have. They knew she was no sticky-finger! She
still cleaned up half a day for Miz Doc Liddell,
but with these vacuum cleaners and dry mops
instead of good old soap and water, there wasn't
much to do in any house. And with electric wash-
machines folks got along without anybody rubbing
and rubbing out in a nice warm wash-house, like
in the good old days.
No, she didn't have so much to bring home
to Sam--not so much food or clothes or money,
"He don't respec' me." Without blame for
him she admitted it.
But she did get him some money, got him
money like any black trash. Summers she went
out to the Onion King's. She got Sam's breakfast,
hoed her beans and gumbo, split the day's wood,
and made it out to the patch by the time the
whistle blew for seven. She did not walk with the
other women, but apart, white-kerchiefed head up,
singing as she walked. The ground in the fields
was dry and hard, but she knew how to push her
paddle in, pull with her wire-strong fingers, tear
off dry tops, shake the onions in the sieve to get
dirt off, pour them into the basket, heave her body
up out of the red dust, carry the basket to the boss
at the stack, hide a ticket away in her dress, hurry
on back and squat down in the dirt again. She
knew how! She could pick the most baskets of
any, black or white. All day, every day, from
middle of June to middle of August, as long as
there was an onion in the ground, she picked up.
Bad work, not quality work.
And the women said, "Tee hee! Look at
Mahy Jane! Ain' no bettahn othah folks!"
Sam couldn't stand onion-picking. Bad for
Sam's back. Sam had got bit by a snake once,
got a bad back for life. Only thing saved him
from hollering with the misery was whiskey. Sam
could go fishing. He could march in the lodge
half a night, preach when the preacher was gone.
But if he would try to hoe, lift sacks of feed, dig
for a sewer, plough, or sweep a store out, he got
that bad hurt in his back. He couldn't pick up
onions, not a bit pick up onions. Sam's back
looked all right, but snake-bite is a bad thing for
the juice inside your bones. What Sam could do
was lodge-work. He could blow a little whistle,
and the women all dressed in red capes marched
to him and away, made stars and letters of the
lodge, and bowed to Sam, tall and fine in his red
cape and high red hat.
She had never minded the bowing and
marching of the women--Sam had carried on
plenty with some of them, she knew that--but this
high-up Grand Exemplifier, this near-white Miss
Zodalene, was something different; Sam was up
on a shelf in a cupboard she could not get to--she
down with the iron pots and the rat-trap.
Last night--she bit her hand till she could
taste blood--Sam did not come home till away
after sun-up...said he'd been with Brother Gillis,
But he smelled rich--silk clothes,
She? The other women had goings-on, bad
as men, but she didn't. Didn't she have a pepper-
bag always right in her pocket where she could
get it easy if anyone started to bother her? She
made it of a small piece of cloth with good hot
red-pepper Miz Postmaster Cadwallader gave her
whenever she thought she needed fresh. If
anybody followed her and bothered her coming
home late from church or work wouldn't she just
let him have that pepper-bag right in his eyes
"All my chillen's Sam's." As she often
said to Miz Postmaster Cadwallader, she said now,
in the dark corner of the floor, hurting. "All my
She thought about her children a little.
They were all dead, all, babies dead; she didn't
know how many. They got dead being born or in
a few days after. One had got quite sizable, but it
had the misery one night and cried, and Sam
picked it off the bed and shook it and whipped it
and it died. She had told no one about Sam's
Her children were all dead.
Children. When she went to the
schoolhouse exercises what did she see? Mixed-
upness she saw, a child with the name of one, the
face of another man. But,
"All my chillen's Sam's," she said.
"All my chillen's Sam's." It was like a
verse from The Book--she the preacher reading,
the answer from the scowling black pews of the
"An' he kick yoh in de breas'."
"All my chillen's Sam's."
"An' he kick yoh in de breas'."
She sat up and leaned forward and stared.
The night--something was happening to it.
The black had red in it. Red.
The moon rising was red. In the red the
cottonwood across the rocky path stretched up its
arms, the night bent down about it. This she saw.
White arms went up, blackness bent to them.
But there was redness. There was blood.
There was blood.
Neah-white. No back to huh dress.
Cackles of the women plaguing her.
"An' he kick yoh--in de breas'."
Brown and tall, beautiful, Sam--thin nose,
small mouth. Sam, eyes narrowed upon her, even
as he looked at a dog tied to be beaten. Sam.
"He kick yoh in de breas'."
A flash. Against the red into the blackness
and the white, the flash of a keen blade, of an iron
She leaned and watched.
Again the flash of a keen blade, and again.
She leaned and watched. She laughed
She laughed and clapped her hands. The
pain in her breast was no pain. It was burning
which was becoming joy. She bowed; like a
spring she uprose. She stood and walked on the
floor. Well and whole she walked, came to the
yard, to the woodpile, stooped and felt and got
into her hands what she found.
Sweet in her hands, as she carried it back,
the smooth handle of the axe. Sweet to her
fingers the sharp blade. She stepped across the
hollow of the doorway, low even for her, a low,
She could be there, just inside. When he
bowed his head to come in, she would be there.
She waited, she, black, in the blackness of
the house. She laughed with the red moon
She had no more pain.
Laughing joy was where pain had been.
She waited and she could wait any time--
short time, long time--from sun-up to sun-down to
sun-up, from one time to snow to the next. When
he came--whenever that should be--she would be
She waited. She waited for the ring of
stiff new shoes on the stones of the way twisting
down to Niggertown from White Folks' Town.
The lodge-room would be dark now, the women
in their red capes, having marched and bowed and
marched, would be gone. She would be there, and
he, only. But he would come home. He would
She waited, and the ring of hard new
leather was in her ears.
Louder, the ring of hard new leather on
She spat on her hands as when she split
stove-wood. She knew all about an axe.
Tall along the bleached carcass of the
canning-factory he passed.
Into the shadow of the cottonwood he was
gone--came out, came on.
She saw him, hat off, coat off, collar loose,
come sauntering out of the path, through the
leaning gate, along by the honeysuckle tangle. He
yawned. He looked up at the moon, and the
moon was on him, on his softly shining brown
Now, he was nearly at the step.
Now, his foot was on the step.
But then his foot was off the step. He
stood, breathing softly, deeply. He put his hand
out to the big open cabbage roses on the sprawling
bush beside the warped boarding. He pressed his
face against the dew-wet open roses, strange and
pale under the moon, murmured to them, set them
to nodding, to brushing his cheek and nose and
lips. He chuckled at their tickling. he chuckled
and talked to the roses--a little boy, a little sweet
Where hot red had been to her eyes, there
was gray. She felt a flowing and a dripping--her
sweat rolling from her. So flowed away her
burning, her strength, her desire.
Her hands came down.
Her bare flat feet made no noise. Under a
pile of rags, she pushed something--covering up
its shining surface--and crept to her pallet on the
floor beside the bed where Sam would be.
As It Began to Dawn
The old doctor rested the milk bucket on
the stile and stood to regard the west. He did this
every night after he had milked, after he had bed-
ded down Dolly the horse and Spot the cow and
was on his way to the house and supper. He liked
to see the sky the last thing and know what the
weather was to be like tomorrow. He was better
at telling the weather than the Kansas City Journ-
al, better than his neighbor, old Sanderson, who
was so positive about things. Tonight his study of
cloud and wind and the feeling in his bones was
interrupted. A man in a shabby buggy had
stopped in front of the house.
"Hey! Doc! C'm 'ere!" the man called.
The doctor snapped his jaws together.
He clambered stiffly, frowning, over the
stile and carried the milk into the kitchen. His
daughter was getting supper. She did not look at
him. She did not like him. His wife had not,
after the first years. She had been ambitious, his
wife, and he had been no good to collect from
rich or poor. Now she was dead. He strained the
milk--he always did that, though women mostly
strained--put on his cap again and went out to the
man in the buggy.
The man's face was yellow and oily. His
eyes smouldered and stared. He was dirty. He
turned his head and scowled down at the doctor
standing at the wheel. The doctor frowned up at
him. They were not friendly, these two.
"She's took," the man in the buggy said.
"You c'n come out hour 'r so."
The doctor went back into the house. The
man in the buggy rattled on into town.
The doctor sat down opposite his daughter
in the dining-room and they silently ate. It was a
good wholesome supper, and the tablecloth was
shining white. His daughter was a particular
housekeeper. She was determined to do her duty.
After supper he went to get a chunk of wood to
put in the Franklin stove in his room. Perhaps the
room would be a little warm when he got back.
When he had the chunk in his arms out in the
yard he heard the rattle of wheels. In the dim
dusk he saw the buggy with the man sitting out
forward holding the lines. Three women at least
were in the buggy behind him. The doctor's head
was bowed as he went into the house. He knew
what kind of night was before him. He put on his
sheep-skin lined coat, his fur cap, two pairs of
gloves, and his overshoes. He turned out the gas-
light in his bleak, littered room--his wife and
daughter had given up years ago trying to keep
papa's room decent--and went out through the
dining room toward the kitchen. His black
medicine case was in one hand and his bag of
instruments in the other. His daughter was
studying her Sunday School lesson at the dining-
"I'm going out to Getz's," he told her.
She did not look up, did not say anything,
and he went out.
He thought it was going to snow. Either
that or the wind would veer from southwest to
north and by morning it would be cold and clear.
This was the regular Easter storm, this spell of
weather they were having.
He hitched Dolly without talking to her.
He was getting a bit old for a thing like this. But
Getz never paid, the young doctors in town would
not relish the job, and besides he could get Minnie
Getz through better than any of the others. She
never had an easy time. Many prolific women
were like animals, had 'em easy. Minnie Getz
went through hell and nearly died every time.
After two miles the road became rocky.
He tried to see the white stones in time to avoid
them, but it was too dark and he settled down to
endure the jolts. The southwest wind at his back
found its way in through his sheepskin coat as a
southwest wind in early Spring is bound to do.
He turned up his collar, stooped over, and went
bumping on, three more miles. He knew every
turn, every tree, every rise in the land, and every
house--houses in the bare stretch here were scarce
--and he knew every telephone pole gauntly
visible against the sky. In 'sixty-nine he had
come, before the railroads, before roads even.
Thousands and thousands of miles he had
travelled, on horseback, in a spring cart, in a
buggy, all over this country in blizzards, in
drouths, in high-water time, and in cyclone
weather. Not many people called for him now.
He was--old. Old they said he was.
A high wailing, now driven back by the
wind, now surmounting it, came to his ears.
Ejaculations and shrieks in women's voices he
could distinguish presently, now and then a
raucous shout he recognized as Getz's. He ground
his teeth, flapped the lines, and jolted over the
rocks and went on, making Dolly hurry her old
He hitched Dolly to a leaning, rotting post
of the rotting fence, got out his medicine case, put
his hand on the bag of instruments, and took it
off. She might get through this time--without
that. He left the bag under the buggy seat and
picked his way through the mud beginning to
stiffen in the cold wind toward the small black
porchless house. He knocked on the back door.
Nobody came. Nobody could hear his knocking
because the wails and shrieks in women's voices
and the monstrous shouts of Getz covered any
other sound. He lifted the latch and went in. A
small kerosene lamp with a smoke-blackened
chimney sat on a rickety table covered with brown
oil-cloth and dirty dishes. On the woodbox, with
short legs dangling, sat four children, their dark
eyes staring out between wisps of long unkempt
hair. A big boy leaned against a cupboard
whittling. Beside the stove was a rocking chair
with a dirty red cushion on its back. A girl of
about thirteen sat in the chair holding against her a
child of three. A baby younger, just able to walk,
leaned against her knee. The child in the girl's
arms kept rubbing its head back and forth on her
breast. The girl rocked and patted its back. The
door was partly open into another room. The
women in there were screaming, "Have faith,
sister!" And "Glory! Glory! Glory!" The man's
words were incomprehensible.
The doctor went up to the girl in the
rocking-chair. He bent and put his lips to her ear.
"What's the matter with her?" He nodded
toward the crying child.
"Earache," he caught by watching the girl's
He moved some dishes on the table,
opened his case in the lamplight, and prepared
some drops. The child opened its mouth when he
put the medicine in her ear and doubtless
screamed, but its noise was not heard. The big
girl pressed the small agonized head against her
and began to rock again and pat. Presently the
child grew quiet, her eyes closed. The doctor
nodded and ceased to observe her. He hung his
coat on a nail, and his cap and gloves, and went to
the stove and stretched his hands out over it. It
was not very hot. He lifted the lid and signed to
the boy to put more wood in. The boy lounged
over, swept the children off the woodbox, and
yawning laid cobs and chips and an oak stick on
the coals. The children climbed back on the
woodbox and the boy returned to his whittling.
The doctor, with compressed lips and
frowning brows, went toward the door into the
other room. Three women knelt at the sides of
the bed and Getz at the foot. The eyes of two
women were closed, their mouths open. The
woman in the bed twisted her hands, her body, so
that the grimy comforter over her writhed like a
serpent. Sweat stood out on her forehead, and her
head moved from side to side continually. No,
the doctor thought, this time's going to be no
easier than the others.
He put his hand on the shoulder of the
woman nearest him and shook her. She jerked her
eyes open. Her face blanched, and she and the
woman beside her stopped shouting and stood up.
The woman across on the other side of the bed
had her eyes open, but they saw nothing until,
finding her voice unsupported, she winked three
times, smiled vacuously, at last focussed her eyes
on the doctor. This woman was nearly exhausted
and lopped over on the bed panting. Getz ceased
to shout, got slowly to his feet, his eyes averted
from the doctor and from his wife in the bed.
Now her shuddering sighs could be heard, and
presently a gurgling scream.
"All of you clear out of here but Mrs.
Mastin," the doctor said. He had been a lieutenant
in the Union Army. When he said go, men went,
and even women. "Mrs. Gow, you see there's
plenty of hot water. Keep the fire up, Getz.
Bring me that bag under the seat in my buggy."
He had taken off his coat and was rolling up his
There would be no more praying that
There was working. The old doctor
worked. Minnie Getz worked, though she was
wearied of working, had planned this time not to.
But the doctor put his will in her torn body, his
spirit in her frail soul. Tender and full of life and
power his old wrinkled gnarled hands.
At dawn a new voice cried in the world.
Minnie Getz lay alive in her bed after her worst
The doctor closed his medicine case,
snapped shut the old brown bag on his
"You keep her in bed three weeks this
time, Getz. Understand? She may die yet."
He had said three weeks so that Minnie
Getz would have a week to rest instead of three
"I'll be back this morning later," the old
doctor said and began to walk across the kitchen.
Getz was coming along behind him. A door
partly opened, leading to a cellar, was between
them and the outside door. The children had all
been put somewhere to sleep, some of them on the
floor in a corner of the kitchen. But the oldest
girl, thirteen, was in the cellar-way. She was
leaning in the dim place, her hands over her face.
She was crying, shaking with sobbing.
The doctor knew why she was crying. He
liked the oldest girl. She was good to the
children. She had hardly been a child herself
ever, having at five to take care of younger ones.
Getz pushed past the doctor and caught the girl in
his dark bony hand by the arm. He twisted the
"Bawlin', are yuh? Bawlin'? I'll learn ye
to bawl! I'll give ye somethin' to bawl about!"
The girl put her free hand over her mouth.
Her eyes were raised in a piteous agony of fear to
Getz's convulsed face and cruel fanatic's eyes.
"Don't whip me, Pop! I'll be good! I'll
be good, Pop!"
Getz gave her arm another twist and his
eyes moved to a strap hanging from a nail near
the cellar door.
"Come out here, Getz," the doctor
Out in the black yard under the sky
growing grey with the light tardily coming, the
old doctor went and stood very close to Getz. His
eyes blazed. Getz's eyes fell. The doctor opened
his mouth. And closed it.
There was no use saying anything.
The old doctor turned and moved toward
his buggy and Dolly waiting. He pushed the case
and the bag under the seat. He unhitched Dolly,
his feet a ton each in weight, his knees as unstable
as milk. He got into the buggy, took up the lines,
and clucked feebly. He kept his eyes on the lines
in his hands and on Dolly's red flanks moving
from side to side. He did not watch for the stones
in the stiff yellow clay road. He was too weak,
too weary. And so the wheel hit a stone and
shook him nearly out of the buggy. Dolly,
misinterpreting the jerk at her mouth, ambled to a
telephone pole and stood as if hitched. Wheels
and hoofs silent, he heard distantly a blue-bird's
sweet complaining. Above it the wind, the North
Wind, voice of life that flows and flows on, on
and on. His eyes opened and he saw.
He saw a cross against the sky. Against
the dawn sky a cross clear and black. On the
cross a figure with stretched arms. The face--was
the face now as he had seen it in good books; now
it was the face of Minnie Getz ten times racked;
now it was the face of the oldest girl, thirteen.
Again it bore the lineaments of his old mother
long a-dying of a terrible trouble at her liver. It
was the face of a young man he had seen, broken
by a machine, dying a little more each day, his
bride waiting beside him. It was the face of
anyone he had seen suffering without fault. And
none was sad. And none was pale. Each was
aflush as with the light of Spring dawn. Triumph
sat upon the brow of each.
For these were the Innocent Crucified, the
The old doctor nodded affirmation. Now
he heard a robin. And now the sun came up
glowing out of a black fringe of woodland. It had
cleared. The Easter storm was over.
The old doctor went on down the hill.
Sarah Robison was out watering the
newest chicks, putting fresh starter out for them,
and thinking where she would put the turkeys
beginning to hatch out today. In the coops the
mother-hens spread themselves and clucked,
putting her in mind of some of her daughters and
daughters-in-law. Several of her grandchildren
had wanted to come with her, but they might step
on the chicks, so she had slipped out of the house
while all the women and some of the children
were in the front room laughing about a fellow
named Charley, on the radio. How full the
kitchen had been all day; she wasn't used to
women talking around. The men were lying out
on the grass now, hearing the radio through the
open windows--except Reverend Cunningham,
husband of her second daughter, a big man with a
big jaw, a big chest a big voice boomed out of,
and good dark preacher clothes; and except Bud
Tilton, husband of her youngest child, Mary, and
Number One farmer if he was only twenty-two
years old. Reverend Cunningham and Bud were
talking by the fence, their backs to her.
"Now, Bud," she heard Reverend
Cunningham boom, rocking on his blacked shoes,
"we've no call to get mixed-up with people's wars
other side of the globe. Costs a lot of money and
Bud Tilton bent down and pulled a long
stem of grass. "To hell," he said, when he was up
again, "with worryin' about money. If I was like
"Like Frank, eh?" Reverend Cunningham
put in in a hurry, "Young man, we're coming to
"What's them?" Bud said.
"It's our warships full of our fine
American boys--going to fight--going to make the
world safe for democracy--again!" Reverend
Cunningham sort of laughed, like Bud didn't
know too much,--being young and a farmer.
Bud turned his face toward the house and
toward Mary in her blue dress doing something on
the back porch. After a minute he walked way.
Sarah hoped Reverend Cunningham
wouldn't be mad. Some people said the second
Robison girl had done right well, marrying a
preacher. And, yes, she had, Sarah knew. A
preacher was one to respect. Reverend
Cunningham like the rest. What had been going
on all day she hadn't rightly got the sense of.
There'd been excitement and the radio had been
on most of the time, while she worked, making
dumplings to go with the stewed chicken, mashing
potatoes, getting five kinds of pie out of the cellar,
jars of pickles and preserves, putting plenty of
sugar and vinegar on the lettuce she picked out of
the garden, seeing the children had all they wanted
to eat, and Reverend Cunningham the white meat
and the liver he liked.
She didn't know why Bud had said, "If I
was like Frank."
"Yoo-hoo, Mother Robinson!" one of her
three daughters-in-law called from the back door.
"We're about going!"
She picked up a chick that looked like
having the gaps, took in her other hand water-
bucket and starter-can and went toward the house,
a thick woman, wide-hipped, strong-legged,
bending forward to get wherever she was going as
soon as she could. She would wrap the chick in a
piece of flannel, pour coal-oil down its throat and
see whether it would get the gaps. She couldn't
ever do away with a sick chick.
She fixed the chick and laid it in the
warming-oven in the kitchen, dusted her hands
and went on into the front room full of people
talking, putting on hats, pulling at children's
clothes to make them decent for going home.
Reverend Cunningham stood with his hat in his
hand. Some of the other men had their hats on.
Bud Tilton was in overalls Mary had patched.
"You said goodbye to Frank?" one then
"Oh, let him alone!" Mary said, and they
all stood a moment and looked out at Frank
playing ball with the Cunningham boys on the
grass. Frank had his shirt off and his brown neck
and arms and good chest looked healthy. He
played ball on the county seat team and they were
always after him to dive in matches at the
swimming-pool. Frank had had more schooling
than the other Robison boys, maybe because he
was the youngest. If something happened to
Frank, Sarah thought, it would be worse than
anything except something happening to Mary.
She felt a sudden hard beating inside her and
couldn't get her breath for a minute. If she could
put Mary and Frank up in their beds tonight and
lock all the doors of the house as she used to--
Mary, slim, pink-cheeked, blue-eyed, knowing
stenography, graduated from the County High
School, not taking the good job she could have
had but marrying Bud Tilton one Saturday night
and moving to Bud's farm; Frank, cutting up,
teasing, but smart and steady in his job....
"Well, Mom," one of her daughters said
with the youngest asleep in her arms, "we've had
a grand time. You had a grand dinner for us."
"She sure did," one of her daughters-in-law
joined in, "I always say Mother Robison can't be
beat for chicken and dumplings."
"Birthdays for mothers are a great
invention," Bud Tilton said. "Gives their children
a chance at a square meal once a year."
"Now, Bud," her daughter with the baby
said, "we all brought her something. She don't
ever say much but I think she appreciates that
vase I brought for her cockscomb when it's in
Reverend Cunningham made his way
through the crowd beginning to trickle out through
the front door, and held out his big hand to her.
"I sincerely hope, Mother Robison," he said, while
all the rest listened and she felt as if she had come
to church (she hadn't had time in years), "I most
sincerely hope--and pray--that you will not be
called upon to pin a gold star to your bosom!"
He strode away after his jaw, hat in hand,
all the women that were her daughters and
daughters-in-law and the men who were her sons-
in-law, making a respectful lane for him. Mrs.
Cunningham--Etta--came and kissed her mother
and rustled out after her husband.
She stood near the door out to the kitchen
while they all said goodbye. She'd never been
one to kiss and her children weren't, so she wasn't
kissed by anybody except Etta and one or two
grandchildren pushed at her by her daughters-in-
law. As they went streaming out she moved
across to the front door and stood while the cars
got filled up and started off, one big and shiny,
several big and shabby, others small and shabby,
and Mary's and Bud's jalopy Mary laughed about
and rode in with her yellow hair flying back and
her cheeks pink.
Bud and Mary weren't in a hurry. They
stood together beside a lilac bush and watched the
others. Frank hadn't gone yet either. He would
when a neighbor, Demps Dugan, stopped by for
Now all the cars were gone but the jalopy.
Bud and Mary touched hands and then Bud was
out of sight around the house and Mary came to
her mother. "Mom," she said, "got a su'prise for
you: goin' to have a baby. Ain't that something?
Bud's tickled but scared. I'm tickled but I'm not
any more scared than Frank is!" Mary laughed,
touched her mother on the shoulder and went off
down the steps. Bud came and they went to the
jalopy. Mary got in, Bud cranked it, and they
went banging and roaring across the bright May
grass to the lane. Mary looked back and waved.
Her hair was blowing and she was laughing. So
young, Mary, so young, not knowing. Her four
sisters had been young, not so slim and pretty as
Mary, but young; now they spread themselves and
clucked and their eyes showed a knowingness that
to bear and dig for young ones was what there
was for females....Mary had said, not any more
scared than Frank is....
"Hey, Mom!" It was Frank and he had
come behind her and put his strong young arms
around her and lifted her thick body. "Mom! Got
a surprise for you!"
She held her body still, and waited.
"Mom, I'm in the Navy now! You know--
I'll be on a ship--like you heard 'em talkin' about
today. Joined up last Thursday, leavin' Tuesday.
Gosh, there's Demps coming for me." He let her
down. "Tell him I'll be ready soon as I get my
She stood in the door to tell Demps. A
ship. Reverend Cunningham had told Bud Tilton
our fine American boys are going to fight. All the
talking she hadn't rightly heard all day, the
excitement, she could make something of now.
She remembered about John Paul Jones in the
school reader: a picture there was of men with
their clothes torn half off, of men lying in the
black spots that were blood, of one with his hair
streaming back, clutching his breast with one
hand, holding up a sword with the other, and the
ship they were on with its sails tattered lay half on
its side, with waves of foaming water ready to
sweep over all. She stood in the door to tell
Demps Frank would be ready when he got his
shirt on...and saw the old picture.
Here Frank was, coming around the house,
with his shirt on but its tail out, his hat brim
between his teeth. He took his hat down with one
hand, buttoned at his shirt with the other, his eyes
shining, his white even teeth showing in his smile
at her. "Good I passed the tests, wasn't it, Mom?
Kinda proud, ain't you? Piddlin' sort of kid I
was. I remember you fixin' me up nights I useta
have the croup. Well, Mom!" He brushed her
heavy cheek with his lips, ran between the lilacs
to the lane and the car that had stopped there
while Demps Dugan passed the time of day with
Mary and Bud in their jalopy. Frank waved at
Mary, jumped in beside Demps. Mary waved at
Frank, they both turned and waved at her standing
in the front door; the caterwauling of the cars
began again and they went rocking down the lane.
She pushed open the screen, went out of
the empty house, crossed to the edge of the porch,
and stood bent forward, watching the road where
she could see bits of it between the peach trees.
One car and then the other she saw, once, twice,
and then no more. The knot of hair on the back
of her neck shook; the shaking went on down her
broad back, down the gathers of her grey skirt.
And then she was still.
She was still and her head turned and she
saw the tethered calf under the Grimes Golden
tree, the calf, the white calf, she must carry a
bucket of water to.
She went around the house to the well,
pumped the water, lifted the bucket, and went
across the yard.
George Robison, her husband, was coming
from the cow shed with a halter in his hand.
"Won't have to carry water tomorrow," he said,
"Lafe Ditzler'll be here little after sunup to take
the critter up to the yard in Parsons. Price on veal
calves 's as good as it's goin' to be."
She went on and set the bucket of water
down beside the calf, waited while it drank. It
was a good calf, pindling at first, but she had fed
it the way the county agent said to and now it was
an extra good calf. She stood beside it and her
eyes went to the lane, but quickly away, back to
the calf again, quickly away from the calf. Her
face twisted up, she swallowed twice, picked up
the bucket the calf had emptied and was nuzzling
now, and turned to go back toward the house.
She didn't see George Robison frowning at her
with the halter in his hand till he said:
Usually he called her Ma. "Sary," he said
again now. "I never knowed ye to git worked up
'bout sellin' a veal calf before. It's nachrel, that's
what 'tis. Look at that there wheat over in the
field. We worked an' ploughed an' planted it. It
growed. Come a few weeks we'll cut it down--
make feed out of it, make flour, an' it'll be some
use. Calf there'll be some use. A thing ye raise
up an' gets to be some use--that's all right, Sary."
"Maybe so," she said and went on, stooped
over, to get where she was going to work next.
Quinine and Honey
"One theng..." It was Silas piping up
now, face all puckered like a wild-cucumber pod--
"we c'n throw away th' quinine!"
"Yep! Honey--everything 'll be--" George
squeaked in one of his voices, growled in the
other, "--honey fr'm now on!"
"Whee-ee!" George and Silas, Florellen,
Demos, Phemie, Pinner, Poppy--and Mommy!--all
laughed when Silas clumped over to the cupboard
and took the paper of quinine and went and
pitched it out of the door.
But that wasn't what made something in
Demos go floppity. It wasn't Silas and the
It was Mommy looking at Poppy!
That was what made Demos have to wink
his eyes and same time laugh and yell. Mommy
was looking at Poppy and saying something to
him. It was only, "My! My!" but she was saying
it to him. She hadn't done that since--why, not
since 'way back in March, and here it was May!
Just before "Aunt Julia" had dropped in it
was, Mommy had last said anything to Poppy.
They were cleaning up after that highest water
they'd ever had when Aunt Julia did what she did.
She wasn't any aunt; she just said to call her that.
She was grown up from the girl Mommy had
looked up to most the year she had gone to town-
Aunt Julia's long ear-rings bobbed against
her red cheeks. Her pointed shoe tapped the
floor-boards while she sat on the edge of the chair
Mommy had wiped off with her dress-tail. When
Florellen came in carrying Pinner, Aunt Julia said,
"My, Effie! These some more o' your kids?
How many you got, anyway?"
Mommy had stood there in front of Aunt
Julia with her hair stringing down and her dress
was her oldest one because she had been scraping
mud off the front-room walls today. Mommy's
face got red. Aunt Julia got up and kind and
friendly and sorry, said:
"You let your man run over you, Effie! If
I was you I'd make him take that dirty old river
away somewheres else, or me away from it! Or--
I'd quit havin' kids! Well, so long, Effie. So
Supper-time Poppy came back from
milking for George Caldwell laid up with the flu.
Mommy was fixing to take up the sausage cakes
on a platter Florellen was holding. In the loudest
voice Mommy said to Florellen:
"A man hasn't any more gumption 'n to
work for folks for nothin'!"
Florellen had nearly dropped the platter.
Poppy's eyes went sticking away out.
"W'y, Mommy," he said. "You crazy? I
never wanted pay for helpin' out a sick neighbor,
an' I never will."
Mommy didn't look at him from then on.
She said to Florellen, while she slapped down a
sausage-cake on the platter:
"Florellen, if ever you're foolish 'nough to
get married, don't pick out a man with frog-
Well, of course, frog-fever did mean liking
to go fishing, and that was what Poppy liked to do
best and he didn't like to plough. But it was a
hard thing for Mommy to say.
Poppy came not to be in the house at all,
not even to sleep. He staid in the barn nights and
when it was raining. Sunny days he sat a lot on
the big cottonwood the river had laid across the
yard. At last somebody, George maybe, told
Poppy about Aunt Julia, or Poppy wouldn't ever
have had any idea why Mommy was acting this
But now all that was over. Everything was
going to be fine. Mommy had said something to
Poppy, and she'd laughed.
And no more quinine, from now on. No
more quinine. No more skeeters. No more frogs.
No more garden drowned out by high water.
None of these pesky things. And no more of
Mommy mad! Because--because they were going
to move up on the prairie. To stay f'rever. They
were all going. Everything was going. The house
The old house was going, the old house
yellow once--long time ago--and fixed for porches
that had never got nailed on. The house was
Pop had got Skeet Imrine to do the job.
Skeet had horses big as el'phunts, fast, too: four
grey, four black. Couldn't they pull!
It was Demos that had stood up there in
town and tipped back his head and watched and
listened while Skeet explained to Poppy just how
it was going to be done. Skeet said he'd jack the
house up, slip some "trucks" under her and pull
her right along.
Demos had acted it all out the way it
would be and Florellen and Phemie and Pinner--
and even George and Silas--stood and watched
and listened. George and Silas were big fellas
that ploughed and they said Demos was a runt, but
they listened with their eyes sticking out, while
Demos made motions of horses walking along,
cables stretching, and house moseying up the road.
Florellen and Phemie said:
"Do we set right in the house whilst it's a-
Demos stuck out his stomach big as Skeet
"My, my!" Mommy said, again to Poppy,
and then, "I ain't been hearin' nothin' but frogs
nigh onto 20 year--"
Poppy's eyes were so black they made his
face white as a Leghorn's first feathers. "Ye
won't hear frogs no more!" he said. "Won't be
no frogs up onto th' prairie, wind won't be
creakin' no trees nor a-swishin' of 'em around;
aint no trees up onto th' prairie!"
Front teeth every one gone, that little
Phemie yelled out:
"I thpect you kin thee fur!"
"Listen at ye!" big Silas said, "'course you
c'n see fur: clean to the aidge o' th' land, where
th' sky sets on it."
"No thkeeterth up onto th' prairie!" Phemie
began to scratch; they all did, but they'd soon stop
"Grand site fer a home!" Poppy said, and
Mommy nodded at him.
"I got to git to bed!" George was feeling
his muscle. "Skeet Imrine'll more'n likely need
me to help."
"Me too!" Demos said.
"Haw! Haw!" George went, and then Silas
and all the rest. That runt thinking he could move
Demos dug his toe around in the rag carpet
piece beside the stove and then he hurried and
went upstairs. He wasn't going to bawl. My, my!
the fine prairie place!
Aw, listen to them danged frogs! Seemed
like they knowed this was the last night for
somebody to hear all that caterwaulin'!
"Grrrrumph!" Some of them went, like a thing a
hundred times bigger than any frog. Sitting on
the floor by the upstairs window that came down
to the bare boards Florellen scrubbed even over
under the bed where George and Silas slept,
Demos let himself see the fine prairie place.
Wouldn't be a thing a fellow wouldn't just love!
S'pose George and Silas did call him the runt!
S'pose summers they didn't have any room for
him in the bed, saying it'd be cooler on the floor!
S'pose they did stick him in the middle of the bed
winters, needing him to warm their feet on! Up
on the prairie everything'd be fine! He sat and
hugged his knees, hearing the river going trickle-
trickle-trickle the way he'd heard it since the day
he was born. He heard the wind swishing at the
big hackberry Pop said he'd ought to cut down
before it cleaned every bit of the weather-boarding
off this side the house (but he never would do it!)
and he heard the rope in the square wooden box
of the well go flapping against the boards. A bird
in a whisper said something then was still, a
sheep-bell tinkled. Oh, it would be fine, fine, up
on the prairie! Oh, wouldn't it be fine!
Then it was morning--the morning--calves,
hogs, roosters, sheep, birds, and old river, all at it.
Skeet Imrine was there in the yard, big
feller, big black mus-tache, red flannel shirt
stretched across his giant shoulders and down his
tree-trunk arms, overall straps straining at their job
of harnessing, a nail or so in the button-places.
Skeet's horses! My! Well, they'd got to be big,
and there'd got to be eight of 'em, moving a
house with people in it! Oh, it would be fine up
on the prairie!
In the kitchen Mommy and Florellen flew
around. George and Silas came rubbing their eyes
and growling around because Demos had beat
them seeing Skeet Imrine and the horses. Skeet
Imrine looked at them, and then he looked at
Demos. He winked at Demos. He was friends
with Demos. Friends with a runt. Skeet was a
funny feller. Skeet was as fine as a man could be.
My! Wasn't that the grandest sight when
the old house began to go! The old house taking
that first step away from where she'd always been,
and setting out for the fine, new, open prairie
place waiting for her a mile up the road--wasn't
that something to see?
Demos took his eyes off Skeet and put
them on the house, then he put them on Skeet
again. But suddenly it was not Skeet he had his
eyes on, and not the house. It was Poppy he was
seeing. Poppy wasn't as big as Skeet. Poppy was
a little man. A runt? But wasn't Poppy laughing
hard--wasn't he running around and busy? Busy?
My! He went here, there, jingling a nail against
the penny he had left in his pocket after he'd paid
Skeet Imrine. He stood and frowned at the old
house waving up there among the trees it was
going away from forever, and he went galloping
to Skeet and told him to look out for them
plagued branches! Then he hurried and looked in
at the door and sang out to Mommy:
"Well, how are ye?"
"We're makin' out," Mommy answered in
the voice she used important times like getting
everybody and a big basket dinner ready for the
last day of school.
Poppy--Poppy didn't go near the river.
Poppy didn't look at it. Poppy was busy--and yet
he wasn't doing a thing.
Poppy was acting funny. Demos tried to
look at Skeet Imrine, horses, moving house, but
Poppy was always getting in between.
Well, they got there. A little while before
Skeet said seeing it was so near night he'd
just let the house stay jacked up; might as well
leave the trucks under her too, till Pop had got his
foundation kind of fixed up.
And so sundown Skeet and his eight horses
went jingling down the road they'd come up.
Skeet said he'd likely sleep down at the old place,
if it was all the same with Pop.
Demos watching saw Skeet stand and look
back a minute or so before he went over the lip of
the hill where the tops of the trees showed
feathery and golden in the last sun rays. There
Skeet stood with his black hat on the back of his
head and his sweaty face turned toward the house
and Poppy and Mommy and George and Silas and
Florellen and Demos and Phemie and Pinner in a
crooked row in front of it, like getting a picture
taken. The cows were in the picture too, that
George and Silas had driven up, standing huddled
as if they were trying to keep warm, though it
"Skeet frowned," Demos said to himself.
Mommy went in to get supper. She didn't
look around more than just one quick look. She
kind of put her hand up to her neck and hurried
Pinner looked around a minute and then he
began to howl, "Me yawnta go home!" and
Florellen picked him up and took him in the
"Plenty grass up here," George said and it
wasn't in his deep voice at all, it was in one like
"Plenty sky too, y'ask me!" Silas put in.
Poppy's black head went up. "Grand site
fer a home!" he said in a loud voice, and began to
Demos didn't like Poppy's singing up here.
Sounded like a kyote.
Across the grass Demos went and came to
the edge of the road down to the old place where
Skeet had stood and looked back--and frowned.
In the same place Demos stood and looked--and
frowned. My, that was a tall old house. Looked
thin, like a up-ended lath, switched if it didn't.
Supper. Mommy lighted the lamp when it
wasn't dark, and they all pulled up their chairs
with a great clattering, all except Pinner. Pinner
wouldn't get out of the cradle. (Poppy had fished
the old brown cradle out of the river one high-
water before Silas was born.) Pinner just staid in
the cradle with his head all covered up, his dirty
little feet and overalled legs sticking out, and
pretty soon maybe he went to sleep while they all
sat around the table but the supper staid in the
Silas said it was cold up here on this
mounting and invited Demos to the bed. But no,
Demos said he'd got kinda used to the floor,
maybe couldn't sleep in the bed.
He couldn't sleep on the floor. Hardest
floor ever was. What was it bothering? What
was it he couldn't get used to? Say, terrible quiet
up here. Quiet. Not a trickle of water. Not a
bird song. Not a swish of new-leaved trees
bending and nodding just because they wanted to.
Not a frog. My! Not a frog!
But it wasn't quiet that way very long.
The wind came. And what was that wind trying
to do? It swept against the flat bare side of the
house, pushed it, went back and came pushing and
sweeping again. It was like a big wide hand
slapping a poor old bare face time and again and
never going to quit.
The bed behind Demos squeaked. George
was thrashing around, and Silas.
And downstairs Pinner was hollering, "No!
Demos kept still as the boards under him.
And after a long, long time of one minute of wind
then a minute of quiet then a minute of wind
again, he heard Silas' kind of snore, and George's.
He sat up.
Steps out there in the night, the cows
walking close to the house, no trees to rub against.
Cows! A kind of plan came into his head.
Then he heard the house-door open, and
out jumped Poppy. Poppy stood there in the grass
and pulled and pulled at his hair with both hands
and shook his head and pulled his hair some more.
After a long time Poppy went slowly climbing
back into the house.
The wind came again.
In the minute of the wind's loudness
Demos got up. He stood and his hands, like
Poppy's, flew to his head and pulled. "Oh, I
gotta!" he said inside of himself.
He began to move slowly in the dark. he
came to the first step of the long steep stair. He
waited. Maybe now everybody'd be so tired
nothing for it but to sleep. Wind had nothing to
blow at but this house in miles and miles and it
was blowing at it all right. "I'll fix ye!" he said
In the house behind him--was that Pinner
crying? Pinner? No. Was--was it--Pop?
"Course not! Course not!--Say, stars!
Look at 'em! Fine stars! Plenty of 'em--Say,
down home--down home--didn't Big Dipper
behind that old white sycamore stretching up and
up shading the well and the grindstone--didn't Big
Dipper seem like some you knowed?
Got to step high not to make dry grass
swish. There she was, Francie, right on the edge
of the bunch of cows, his own Francie he'd got
from the Calf Club, and the County Agent had
said was some animal. He went and smoothed her
and whispered in her deep soft ear. She bumped
him with her horns, telling her a joke like:
"Oh, ye'll like belongin' to Skeet!"
Across the dark emptiness went boy and
cows, down into the feathery dark where trees
were, along the road scored and scraped by the
wheels and hoofs that had toiled up it in the sun.
The wind wasn't a slapper down here. It
didn't seem here, but it was. It made one tree
acquainted with another, carried sweet dust from
flower to flower, crept softly down, and livened
the dark river with wave and light and shade.
Down, down, into the old way they knew
the cows lumbered in the gray dawn. Birds, hear
'em. Oh, hear 'em. A peep, a trill, a whole song:
robin, thrush, cat-bird, dove, peewee. And the
smell of damp woodsiness.
He must hurry. Skeet Imrine might be
That was Skeet. And there the horses
were, big as el'phunts, fresh as daisies.
Mr. Imrine's eyes opened big when he saw
Demos and all the cows.
"Forget where home's at?" He laughed.
And then he stopped. Mr. Imrine knew when a
joke was not a joke. Mr. Imrine stepped around
and opened a horse's mouth and stared into it, till
Demos got fixed to tell whatever he was aiming
to. Demos winked and swallowed and stamped
his foot and made a face. He reached for Francie
and put his arm up over her neck. "Mr. Imrine,
I'm a-going to give ye..."
Mr. Imrine popped the horse's mouth shut,
and spat. And then he talked. Talked and talked.
And while he talked he turned his horses fast--up
Funny a man would do a thing like that,
man smart as Mr. Imrine! go exactly in a
contrary way from what you'd know he meant to.
Right up the hill-road those horses jingled
and clattered. They came to the house. They got
hitched to the house, same as yesterday. And the
house began to move, same as yesterday. It went
across the grass to the road, but--not the same as
yesterday--down the hill!
Demos went walking beside the house.
Skeet went walking beside the horses.
And then Demos began to sweat. He
sweat and sweat in the cool morning air. What
was Mommy going to say about this going down?
Demos sweat very much.
Sun-up there Pop was. He didn't say
anything, just stood in the door fixing his galluses,
same as usual. Same as usual, he yelled up at
George and Silas to get up and 'tend to them
chores. Same as usual he got a stick and began to
whittle. He was whittling when George and Silas
came jumping out of the house yelling, "How
come?" when Pinner stuck his tousled head out of
the quilt he had dragged from the cradle, and
toothless Phemie came, and Florellen braiding her
Mommy--didn't come. Once Demos
looked in and saw Mommy. She was frying
doughnuts. Maybe she didn't know the house was
Well, she would notice. And what would
Demos sweat a great deal.
He sweat even when he was shivering from
gladness because Skeet Imrine gave him the lines
for a minute and there he was moving the house
Well, the house got back on its old
foundation, and the hackberry began its scratching
at the weather-boarding and the other trees spread
their late afternoon shadows over it. Except that it
leaned over a little more to look into the river you
couldn't tell it had been away.
Poppy came briskly up to Skeet Imrine, his
hand in his pocket jingling penny and nail. "Well,
how much?" You'd think Poppy had some money
"Mister Imrine--" Now it seemed as if
Demos was going to get that said about Francie.
But Mr. Imrine bellered. "Me an'
Demos'll tend to th' pay. I need a feller lot o'
times when I move folks. Demos here's about the
size o' man I c'd use--"
"Demos?" A loud surprised question, loud
as a wind slapping at a house naked on a prairie.
Mr. Imrine yelled, "Giddap!" and pretty
soon you couldn't hear the harness clink-clanking
any more, couldn't hear the eight horses walking,
just the noise of a farm with night coming on.
(You couldn't hear, getting further and further off,
a great laughing like Skeet Imrine's.)
Demos didn't like to have Skeet gone.
What was Mommy going to do? Was she going
to look at Poppy? Was she going to say anything
Well, Mommy went around the garden.
Demos still sweat.
Phemie began to swing Pinner in the
barrel-stave hammock under the seedling-peach.
Florellen came out with the oldest broom-stub and
began to sweep the sandy yard the way she was
always doing. George and Silas were doing the
chores, without any grumbling.
And Mommy was walking around in the
Across the yard slowly went Poppy. Out
of the corner of his eye Demos saw him. Poppy
went and put a foot on the big old cottonwood on
the river bank. Demos went where Poppy was.
Poppy squinted up-stream. Demos squinted up-
stream. Poppy squinted down-stream. Demos
squinted down-stream. Poppy sighed. Demos
sighed. And then they were still and the shadows
reached out over the river. Demos stopped
A great bother it was when that pesky
nuisance of a Phemie yelled out, "I feel a
thkeeter!" and stopped swinging Pinner and began
scratching between her shoulders.
Demos began to sweat again. Mommy--
what was Mommy going to do?
He turned around and looked. Poppy
didn't turn around. Poppy's hand reaching for
whittling-stick was shaking. Demos saw Mommy
coming. She had something in her hand. She
came past Phemie, came across toward the
cottonwood log. Demos turned his face toward
river along with Poppy. Mommy was coming
closer. Soon they'd know.
He heard Mommy's voice. "Here. Turn
He turned around. But Mommy was not
looking at him. She was looking at Poppy. She
was holding out a spoon. "Found that quinine
Silas pitched out," she said. She said it to Poppy.
Poppy opened his mouth. He didn't make
a face. He said:
"Tas-tes like honey!"
Demos took his spoonful. He said:
"Tas-tes like honey!"
Mommy laughed. "Demos has growed a lot
here lately, ain't he, Poppy?" she said.
"Flame Unseen," Double Dealer, October 1924.
*"As It Began to Dawn," Midland, July 1927, Vol.
12, no. 7, pp. 192-98.
"The Fruit at Singapore," Midland, November-
"Saint," Household Magazine, July 1929.
"Counted Out," Household Magazine,
*"The Voice of the Turtle," Prairie Schooner,
Summer 1929; pp. 177-84. As reprinted in
The Best Short Stories of 1930 (New York:
Dodd, Mead and Company, 1930, pp. 46-
*"As Grass," Prairie Schooner, Summer 1930,
Vol. IV, no. 3, pp. 162-71.
"Fourteen," Midland, May-June 1930.
"Dad and the Desert," Household Magazine,
"Farewell and Hail," Household Magazine, March
"Earmark," Household Magazine, August 1931.
"I Was Young," Prairie Schooner, Winter 1931.
"In Washington Tonight," Household Magazine,
"February Idyl," Household Magazine, February
*"Quinine and Honey," Kansas Magazine,
February 1936, pp. 34-39. © Kansas
Magazine, Kansas Quarterly.
"Convert," Kansas Magazine, 1937.
"As Her Father Her Mother," University Review,
*"L'il Boy," University Review, October 6, 1939,
"While the Little Flags Waved," Kansas
*"Maybe So," Kansas Magazine, 1942, pp. 81-84.
© Kansas Magazine, Kansas Quarterly.
"Parnells," Clay, No. 3.
* Stories in this collection are given full citation.
Draper also published short stories for juveniles, a
great many newspaper short short stories and over
20 years of daily columns in the Parsons Sun.
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Introduction © 1994
Jeffrey Ann Goudie
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