a novel by Marcet and Emanuel Haldeman-Julius
with an introduction by Gene DeGruson, curator of the Haldeman-Julius Collection, Pittsburg State University, PIttsburg, KS
originally published by Brentano's of New York, 1921
this edition published by the Washburn University Center for Kansas Studies, 1992
introduction begins on page 2; text begins on page 9.
We accept co-authorship of scientific studies and collaboration in the
musical theatre as traditional, but successful novels by joint authors are
an uncommon phenomenon. This novel probably could never have been written
by either of its authors alone. E. Haldeman-Julius's background was almost
antithetical to the rural Kansas society which Dust portrays. Born in
Philadelphia to Jewish immigrant parents from Odessa, Emanuel Julius joined
the Socialist Party as a teenager. Not formally educated, he nevertheless
became a successful writer for the leading Socialist newspapers of New
York, Milwaukee, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
He left these cosmopolitan centers in 1915 for Girard, Kansas, a town
of only 3,000 population, to become an editor of the Appeal to Reason, the
most widely circulated newspaper in America. There he met Marcet Haldeman,
a Republican Presbyterian who had been received by Theodore Roosevelt in
the White House. They were not youngsters: he was twenty-six; she, twenty-
eight. Both were starved for the culture left behind them in Greenwich Vil-
lage during perhaps its most flamboyant period. In six months they were
married and began their joint writing career as Mr. and Mrs. E. Haldeman-
In addition to privately printed books of poetry, essays, plays, and
humor, Emanuel had published over a thousand newspaper articles; Marcet, in
addition to her privately printed fairy tale about the Addams Homestead in
Cedarville, Illinois, had written literally hundreds of breezy, highly
emotional, and richly detailed letters to her relatives and friends.
Although Marcet had left Girard at the age of sixteen to attend
various schools and pursue a dramatic career, she knew the people of her
birthplace well. As vice president and a loan officer of the Girard State
Bank, she heard intimate details about inhabitants of the county daily, and
she had established for the foreign youth of the area the Radley Jolly
Club, an educational and recreational center based upon her aunt's concepts
of Hull House. Her background differed too much from Emanuel's for them
ever to be compatible, Jane Addams worried, but marry they did and their
collaboration signalled a successful union to the outside world. Their
jointly written fiction enjoyed both popular and critical success. Their
Haldeman-Julius Publications firm, whose Little Blue Books revolutionized
America's reading habits, was to become one of the nation's most
significant publishing houses of the first half of the twentieth century.
When published by Brentano's of New York in March 1921, Dust was
hailed as a brilliant example of the "new fiction in America." An Inde-
pendent and Weekly Review critic, agreeing that it was a "fine, gripping
novel," complained that "it grips with a cold hand." This coldness was
recognized by most reviewers as an objectivity which gave the work its
compelling strength. The New York Times, for example, in speaking of the
novel's central characters, concluded its lengthy critique: "The pitiless
skill with which the wretchedness of all their lives is set forth makes it
at times actually epic in its powerful, unsoftened realism. Painfully
gloomy as it is, 'Dust' must be classed among the 'big' novels of the
A psychological study set in the recent past, the novel explores the
psyches of those who had ventured with hope into what was then a new fron-
tier. The setting is that of the short stories which accompany this
edition: the coal district of Southeast Kansas, which until 1867 had been
the Cherokee Neutral Lands and earlier (from 1824 to 1835) the Osage
Neutral Lands. While under federal control, this 6,250 square mile tract
was a buffer zone between whites and Indians, owned by the Indians and
closed to white settlement. Nevertheless, whites gradually began to move
in. When Fort Scott was established in 1842 in adjacent Bourbon County, its
responsibilities included the overseeing of the Neutral Lands (troops being
dispatched to burn down dwellings of white squatters).
An apparent disdain of Indian rights was fostered by the territorial
and state governments of Kansas. Legislatures largely ignored federal
negotiations with the Indians and the Neutral Lands were named McGee County
and, later, Cherokee County. In 1867 it was subdivided into Cherokee and
Crawford Counties, with its northernmost portion relegated to Bourbon
The early 1870s witnessed the development of mining and processing of
rich deposits of coal, lead, and zinc, making the region a significant
industrial center, not only of the state but of the nation. By 1885, for
example, it had become second only to Belgium in the production of lead and
zinc spelter. Purchased by the James F. Joy railroad interests of Michigan,
the land was never opened for homesteading. Options for purchase, there-
fore, attracted primarily industrial speculators, immigrant laborers from
Europe (over fifty nationalities responded to a call for employment in the
mines and smelters), and Civil War veterans who had been stationed in the
area and whose vivid descriptions of the Neutral Lands enticed friends to
come to Kansas.
It was to this last category of settlers that Jacob Wade, father of
the protagonist of this novel, belonged. He and his wife Sarah came with
their three children from Illinois around 1871 at the behest of a former
comrade-in-arms. They settled in Fallon County (a prototype of Crawford
County) near the county seat of Fallon (i.e., Girard, founded in 1868).
Already on the scene was David Robinson, a local banker (a character
loosely based on Marcet Haldeman-Julius's father, Dr. Henry Winfield Hal-
deman, founder of the Girard State Bank. His widow, Sarah Alice Addams
Haldeman, like Mrs. Robinson, "lived alone after [his] death, taking his
place as president of the bank, during the years her only daughter, Janet
[i.e., Marcet], had been off at college and later travelling around the
country 'on the stage'--of all things for a daughter of Fallon"). The
novel was intended to have a dedication to the memory of Marcet's mother,
but it was omitted by the book designer. Not until the fifth printing was
this oversight corrected and "To S. A. H." discreetly added to the leaf
preceding the half title.
This, however, is neither an historical novel nor a roman à clef. Its
authors, like Theodore Dreiser, were more concerned with the "chemism"
between characters, and critics were soon favorably comparing the Haldeman-
Juliuses with Willa Cather, Sinclair Lewis, Floyd Dell, Ruth Suckow, Harold
Frederick, and other unnamed "lesser novelists" in their reporting the
"frustration, dullness, and spiritual insolvency" of the Midwest. The
work ethic, religious principles, and social mores of the new pioneer
(especially attitudes toward marriage) were explored in hitherto un-
conventional ways. The novel bears resemblances to Frank Norris's McTeague,
notes Roy W. Meyer, "chiefly in the husband-wife relationship, and it is
these resemblances that entitle the novel to whatever claim it may have to
being called a naturalistic work."
As for style, typical reviewers observed that the novel made "no
compromise with its theme--the drab, unhorizoned, soul-destroying existence
of one who harvests, not to fill his bins, but to swell his coffers. As a
picture of the drudgery of farm life on the Kansas plains, it is a
substantial performance, free from affectation and skilful in
characterization." Within four months, it had "outstripped even Main
Street as a commercial success." Its royalties were used to remodel the
spacious farm house the Haldeman-Juliuses had purchased three years earli-
er. (The dream house described by Martin Wade in his proposal to Rose
Conroy, incidentally, is virtually identical to the Haldeman-Julius home.)
The reviews were effective in enticing readers to Dust. A second
printing appeared one month later, in April 1921; a third was published in
June, a fourth in July, a fifth in September, and a sixth in March 1922.
Later that year, Andrew Melrose of London brought out the first British
edition. A Russian translation by Peter Ochremenko (also Upton Sinclair's
translator) was published in 1925 and went through five printings in as
many years. In 1928 the novel's electrotype plates were purchased from
Brentano's by Haldeman-Julius Publications and two paperback printings were
issued, the first (1928) with a cover bearing John Sloan's color il-
lustration originally used on the dust jacket of the first Brentano print-
ing. (The second Haldeman-Julius printing of 1930 utilized only the line
drawing of the Sloan illustration.) "In addition to the [second printing of
the] Russian edition just issued," states a 1928 article, "this novel has
been published in France, Germany and Sweden." The Haldeman-Juliuses had
"done something entirely new in the world in writing on Kansas with none of
the conventional Kansas trappings--the bleeding, Governor Allen, the indus-
trial code and Carrie Nation," wrote a Survey reviewer, who compared the
novel to Sherwood Anderson's Poor White in developing "a real understanding
of how the industrial Middle West grew out of the soil."
The most detailed explanation of the Haldeman-Juliuses's work habits
was given in an interview by Marcet to Mrs. Arthur Hertzler, wife of the
"Horse and Buggy Doctor," in 1922, a year after the publication of Dust.
"We never put a pencil to paper until the story in its entirety is
definitely shaped and we do all this preliminary work literally in the
midst of things--'with the hairpins and razor in hand' as my husband once
wrote a friend in answer to this same question. We plan, discuss and
clarify at the breakfast table and dinner table (lunch is the one meal the
children are with us and book-making is put aside for the nonce for that
event) and when we go for a ride or when we stroll about the garden, just
whenever we have a moment together."
"When you are ready to make the first draft, do you divide the book
into chapters and each take one?" Mrs. Hertzler asked.
"No," Marcet responded, "it is a matter of convenience which one does
the blocking out. Each begins where the other leaves off, not infrequently
in the midst of a sentence and writes as long as time and occasion permit.
Sometimes, when interruptions are too frequent, Mr. Haldeman-Julius slips
away to the Ozarks for a few days to finish the blocking out. He returned
home yesterday from a three days' stay, with the first draft of our new
story which is to be brought out this winter. After the story is blocked
out, we each take a copy [of the typescript] and sit down together with
pencil in hand and revise. Every sentence, every word that is not
positively necessary, is eliminated. When we feel pretty well satisfied
with a chapter, each one takes a copy and goes off alone for the polishing
process. When we compare our work, we find we have made many of the same
alterations and cuts. A fresh copy is made incorporating these changes; we
go out in the car by ourselves and while Manuel drives, I read aloud and
thus the final revision is made. The chapter as it stands finished is the
chapter as we both saw it before a word was really written."
Lorene Bailey Campbell Gibbs (later Mrs. George William Hubert Burge)
was Marcet's typist. As Marcet explained to Will Durant, who would later
collaborate significantly with his wife Ariel, "From eight until twelve,
and from one to five, I work with a competent stenographer, taking out,
writing in, transposing, knitting up thoughts, emotions and phrases. I may
do a page three, four or five times. In the end frequently my noun flanked
by [Emanuel's] adjective marches to his verb colored by my adverb. Even as
Alice [their daughter] has the coloring of her father's eyes, but in them
my expression, so the characters, the inherent style of the story, are
neither E. H-J's nor mine, but ours."
In addition to Dust, the Haldeman-Juliuses wrote Violence! (New York:
Simon and Schuster, 1929) and were in the midst of writing a novel with the
working title of "The Best People." But marital difficulties resulted in a
separate maintenance suit in 1934 and halted further collaboration. Their
third novel remained unfinished.
During the summer of 1935 Marcet discussed with her cousin, Weber
Linn, their collaboration on a family novel. That project was stillborn,
and Marcet began on her own "The Immortal Garland," a novel based on the
life of her grandmother, Anna Hostetter Haldeman Addams. It was never
finished. Emanuel independently completed an episodic novel a few months
before his death. Entitled "Everybody: A Fable for Voyeurs," the novel
explored an editor's relationship with characters who enjoyed virtually
every known sexual practice. It was rejected by Simon and Schuster on April
10. Like Dust, it was a novel unlike any other published by a mainstream
firm; unlike the first success, however, it lacked the narrative drama sup-
plied by Marcet, who had died of cancer ten years earlier. Together they
wrote best-selling novels with a strong psychological impact, memorable
characterization, and emotional sincerity. Singly, their fiction failed.
Curator of the Haldeman-Julius Collection
Pittsburg State University
THE DUST IS STIRRED
Dust was piled in thick, velvety folds on the weeds and
grass of the open Kansas prairie; it lay, a thin veil on the
scrawny black horses and the sharp-boned bow picketed near a
covered wagon; it showered to the ground in little clouds as Mrs.
Wade, a tall, spare woman, moved about a camp-fire, preparing
supper in a sizzling skillet, huge iron kettle and blackened
Her husband, pale and gaunt, the shadow of death in his
weary face and the droop of his body, sat leaning against one of
the wagon wheels trying to quiet a wailing, emaciated year-old baby
while little tow-headed Nellie, a vigorous child of seven,
frolicked undaunted by the August heat.
"Does beat all how she kin do it," thought Wade,
"Ma," she shouted suddenly, in her shrill, strident
treble, "I see Martin comin'."
The mother made no answer until the strapping, fourteen-
year-old boy, tall and powerful for his age, had deposited his
bucket of water at her side. As he drew the back of a tanned
muscular hand across his dripping forehead she asked shortly:
"What kept you so long?"
"The creek's near dry. I had to follow it half a mile to
find anything fit to drink. This ain't no time of year to start
farmin'," he added, glum and sullen.
"I s'pose you know more'n your father and mother,"
"I know who'll have to do all the work," the boy retorted,
bitterness and rebellion in his tone.
"Oh, quit your arguin'," commanded the mother. "We got
enough to do to move nearer that water tonight, without wastin'
time talkin'. Supper's ready."
Martin and Nellie sat down beside the red-and-white-
checkered cloth spread on the ground, and Wade, after passing the
still fretting baby to his wife, took his place with them.
"Seems like he gets thinner every day," he commented,
With a swift gesture of fierce tenderness, Mrs. Wade
gathered little Benny to her. "Oh, God!" she gasped. "I know I'm
goin' to lose him. That cow's milk don't set right on his
"It won't set any better after old Brindle fills up on
this dust," observed Martin, belligerency in his brassy voice.
"That'll do," came sharply from his father. "I don't
think this is paradise no more'n you do, but we wouldn't be the
first who've come with nothing but a team and made a living. You
mark what I tell you, Martin, land ain't always goin' to be had so
cheap and I won't be living this time another year. Before I die,
I'm goin' to see your mother and you children settled. Some day,
when you've got a fine farm here, you'll see the sense of what I'm
doin' now and thank me for it."
The boy's cold, blue eyes became the color of ice, as he
retorted: "If I ever make a farm out o' this dust, I'll sure 'ave
"I guess your mother'll be doin' her share of that, all
right. And don't you forget it."
As he intoned in even accents, Wade's eyes, so deep in
their somber sockets, dwelt with a strange, wistful compassion on
his faded wife. The rays of the setting sun brought out the
drabness of her. Already, at thirty-five, grey streaked the
scanty, dull hair, wrinkles lined the worn olive-brown face, and
the tendons of the thin neck stood out. Chaotically, he compared
her to the happy young girl--round of cheek and laughing of eye--he
had married back in Ohio, fifteen years before. It comforted him a
little to remember he hadn't done so badly by her until the war had
torn him from his rented farm and she had been forced to do a man's
work in field and barn. Exposure and a lung wound from a rebel
bullet had sent Wade home an invalid and during the five years
which had followed, he had realized only too well how little help
he had been to her.
It is not likely he would have had the iron persistency of
purpose to drag her through this new stern trial if he had not
known that in her heart, as in his, there gnawed ever an all-
devouring hunger to work land of their own, a fervent aspiration to
establish a solid basis of self-sustentation upon which their
children might build. From the day a letter had come from Peter
Mall, an ex-comrade in Wade's old regiment, saying the quarter-
section next his own could be bought by paying annually a dollar
and twenty-five cents an acre for seven years, their hopes had
risen into determination that had become unshakable. Before the
eyes of Jacob and Sarah Wade there hovered, like a promise, the
picture of the snug farm that could be evolved from this virgin
soil. Strengthened by this vision and stimulated by the fact of
Wade's increasing weakness, they had sold their few possessions,
except the simplest necessities for camping, had made a canvas
cover for their wagon, stocked up with smoked meat, corn meal and
coffee, tied old Brindle behind, fastened a coop of chickens
against the wagon-box and, without faltering, had made the long
pilgrimage. Their indomitable courage and faith, Martin's physical
strength and the pulling power of their two ring-boned horses--this
was their capital.
It seemed pitifully meager to Wade at that despondent
moment, exhausted as he was by the long, hard journey and the
sultry heat. Never had he been so taunted by a sense of failure,
so torn by the haunting knowledge that he must soon leave his
family. To die--that was nothing; but the fears of what his death
might mean to this group, gripped his heart and shook his soul.
If only Martin were more tender! There was something so
ruthless in the boy, so overbearing and heartless. Not that he was
ever deliberately cruel, but there was an insensibility to the
feelings of others, a capacity placidly to ignore them, that made
Wade tremble for the future. Martin would work, and work hard; he
was no shirk, but would he ever feel any responsibility toward his
younger brother and sister? Would he be loyal to his mother? Wade
wondered if his wife ever felt as he did--almost afraid of this son
of theirs. He had a way of making his father seem foolishly
inexperienced and ineffectual.
"I reckon," Wade analysed laboriously, "it's because I'm
gettin' less able all the time and he's growing so fast--him limber
an' quick, and me all thumbs. There ain't nothing like just plain
muscle and size to make a fellow feel as if he know'd it all."
Martin had never seemed more competent than this evening
as, supper over, he harnessed the horses and helped his mother set
the little caravan in motion. It was Martin who guided them to the
creek, Martin who decided just where to locate their camp, Martin
who, early the next morning, unloaded the wagon and made a
temporary tent from its cover, and Martin who set forth on a
saddleless horse in search of Peter Mall. When he returned, the
big, kindly man came with him, and in Martin's arms there squealed
and wriggled a shoat.
"A smart boy you've got, Jacob," chuckled Peter, jovially,
after the first heart-warming greetings. "See that critter! Blame
me if Martin, he, didn't speak right up and ask me to lend 'er to
you!" And he collapsed into gargantuan laughter.
"I promised when she'd growed up and brought pigs, we'd
give him back two for one," Martin hastily explained.
"That's what he said," nodded Peter, carefully switching
his navy plug to the opposite cheek before settling down to reply,
"and sez I, 'Why, Martin, what d'ye want 'o that there shoat? You
ain't got nothin' to keep her on!' 'If I can borrow the pig,' sez
he, 'I reckon I can borrow the feed somewheres.' God knows he'll
find that ain't so plentiful, but he's got the right idea. A new
country's a poor man's country and fellows like us have to stand
together. It's borrow and lend out here. I know where you can get
some seed wheat if you want to try puttin' it in this fall.
There's a man by the name of Perry--lives just across the Missouri
line--who has thrashed fifteen hundred bushel and he'll lend you
three hundred or so. He's willing to take a chance, but if you get
a crop he wants you should given him back an extra three hundred."
It was a hard bargain, but one that Wade could afford to
take up, for if the wheat were to freeze out, or if the
grasshoppers should eat it, or the chinch bugs ruin it, or a hail
storm beat it down into the mud, or if any of the many hatreds
Stepmother Nature holds out toward those trusting souls who would
squeeze a living from her hard hands--if any of these misfortunes
should transpire, he would be out nothing but labor, and that was
the one thing he and Martin could afford to risk.
The seed deal was arranged, and Martin made the trip six
times back and forth, for the wagon could hold only fifty bushels.
Perry lived twenty miles from the Wades and a whole day was
consumed with each load. It was evening when Martin, hungry and
tired, reached home with the last one; and, as he stopped beside
the tent, he noticed with surprise that there was no sign of
cooking. Nellie was huddled against her mother, who sat, idle,
with little Benny in her arms. The tragic yearning her whole body
expressed, as she held the baby close, arrested the boy's
attention, filled him with clamoring uneasiness. His father came
to help him unhitch.
"What's the matter with Benny?"
Wade looked at Martin queerly. "He's dead. Died this
mornin' and your ma's been holding him just like that. I want you
should ride over to Peter's and see if you can fetch his woman."
"No!" came from Mrs. Wade, brokenly, "I don't want no one.
Just let me alone."
The shattering anguish in his mother's voice startled
Martin, stirred within him tumultuous, veiled sensations. He was
unaccustomed to seeing her show suffering, and it embarrassed him.
Restless and uncomfortable, he was glad when his father called him
to help decide where to dig the grave, and fell the timber from
which to make a rough box. From time to time, through the long
night, he could not avoid observing his mother. In the white
moonlight, she and Benny looked as if they had been carved from
stone. Dawn was breaking over them when Wade, surrendering to a
surge of pity, put his arms around her with awkward gentleness.
"Ma, we got to bury 'im."
A low, half-suppressed sob broke from Mrs. Wade's tight
lips as she clasped the tiny figure and pressed her cheek against
the little head.
"I can't give him up," she moaned, "I can't! It wasn't so
hard with the others. Their sickness was the hand of God, but
Benny just ain't had enough to eat. Seems like it'll kill me."
With deepened discomfort, Martin hurried to the creek to
water the horses. It was good, he felt, to have chores to do.
This knowledge shot through him with the same thrill of discovery
that a man enjoys when he first finds what an escape from the
solidity of fact lies in liquor. If one worked hard and fast one
could forget. That was what work did. It made one forget--that
moan, that note of agony in his mother's voice, that hurt look in
her eyes, that bronze group in the moonlight. By the time he had
finished his chores, his mother was getting breakfast as usual.
With unspeakable relief, Martin noticed that though pain haunted
her face, she was not crying.
"I heard while I was over in Missouri, yesterday," he
ventured, "of a one-room house down in the Indian Territory. The
fellow who built it's give up and gone back East. Maybe we could
fix a sledge and haul it up here."
"I ain't got the strength to help," said Wade.
Martin's eyes involuntarily sought his mother's. He knew
the power in her lean, muscular arms, the strength in her narrow
"We'd better fetch it," she agreed.
The pair made the trip down on horseback and brought back
the shack that was to be home for many years. Eighteen miles off a
man had some extra hand-cut shingles which he was willing to trade
for a horse-collar. While Mrs. Wade took the long drive Martin,
under his father's guidance, chopped down enough trees to build a
little lean-to kitchen and make-shift stable. Sixteen miles south
another neighbor had some potatoes to exchange for a hatching of
chickens. Martin rode over with the hen and her downy brood. The
long rides, consuming hours, were trying, for Martin was needed
every moment on a farm where everything was still to be done.
Day by day Wade was growing weaker, and it was Mrs. Wade
who helped put in the crop, borrowing a plow, harrow, and extra
team, and repaying the loan with the use of their own horses and
wagon. Luck was with their wheat, which soon waved green. It
seemed one of life's harsh jests that now, when the tired, ill-
nourished baby had fretted his last, old Brindle, waxing fat and
sleek on the wheat pasture, should give more rich cream than the
Wades could use. "He could have lived on the skimmed milk we feed
to the pigs," thought Martin.
In the Spring he went with his father into Fallon, the
nearest trading point, to see David Robinson, the owner of the
local bank. By giving a chattel mortgage on their growing wheat,
they borrowed enough, at twenty per cent, to buy seed corn and a
plow. It was Wade's last effort. Before the corn was in tassel,
he had been laid beside Benny.
Martin, who already had been doing a man's work, now
assumed a man's responsibilities. Mrs. Wade consulted more and
more with him, relied more and more upon his judgment. She was
immensely proud of him, of his steadiness and dependability, but at
rare moments, remembering her own normal childhood, she would think
with compunction: "It ain't right. Young 'uns ought to have some
fun. Seems like it's makin' him too old for his age." She never
spoke of these feelings, however. There were no expressions of
tenderness in the Wade household. She was doing her best by her
children and they knew it. Even Nellie, child that she was,
understood the grimness of the battle before them.
They were able to thresh enough wheat to repay their debt
of six hundred bushels and keep an additional three hundred of seed
for the following year. The remaining seven hundred and fifty they
sold at twenty-five cents a bushel by hauling them to Fort Scott--
thirty miles distant. Each trip meant ten dollars, but to the
Wades, to whom this one hundred and eighty-seven dollars--the first
actual money they had seen in over a year--was a fortune, these
journeys were rides of triumph, fugitive flashes of glory in the
long, gray struggle.
That Fall they paid the first installment of two hundred
dollars on their land and Martin persuaded his mother to give and
Robinson to take a chattel on their two horses, old Brindle, her
calf and the pigs, that other much-needed implements might be
bought. Mrs. Wade toiled early and late, doing part of the chores
and double her share of the Spring plowing that Martin, as well as
Nellie, could attend school in Fallon.
"I don't care about goin'," he had protested squirmingly.
But on this matter his mother was without compromise.
"Don't say that," she had commanded, her voice shaken and her eyes
bright with the intensity of her emotion; "you're goin' to get an
And Martin, surprised and embarrassed by his mother's
unusual exhibition of feeling, had answered, roughly: "Aw, well,
all right then. Don't take on. I didn't say I wouldn't, did I?"
He was twenty-three and Nellie sixteen when, worn out and
broken down before her time, her resistance completely undermined,
Mrs. Wade died suddenly of pneumonia. Within the year Nellie
married Bert Mall, Peter's eldest son, and Martin, at once, bought
out her half interest in the farm, stock and implements, giving a
first mortgage to Robinson in order to pay cash.
"I'm making it thirty dollars an acre," he explained.
"That's fair," conceded the banker, "though the time will
come when it will be cheap at a hundred and a half. There's coal
under all this country, millions of dollars' worth waiting to be
"Maybe," assented Martin, laconically.
As he sat in the dingy, little backroom of the bank, while
Robinson's pen scratched busily drawing up the papers, he was
conscious of an odd thrill. The land--it was all his own! But
with this thrill welled a wave of resentment over what he
considered a preposterous imposition. Who had made the land into a
farm? What had Nellie ever put into it that it should be half
hers? His mother--now, that was different. She and he had toiled
side by side like real partners; her efforts had been real and
unstinted. If he were buying her out, for instance--but Nellie!
Well, that was the way, he noticed with many women--doing little
and demanding much. He didn't care for them; not he. From the day
Nellie left, Martin managed alone in the shack, "baching it," and
putting his whole heart and soul into the development of his
OUT OF THE DUST
At thirty-four, Martin was still unmarried, and though he
had not travelled far on that strange road to affluence which for
some seems a macadamized boulevard, but for so many, like himself,
a rough cow-path, he had done better than the average farmer of
Fallon County. To be sure, this was nothing over which to gloat.
A man who received forty cents a bushel of wheat was satisfied;
corn sold at twenty-eight cents, and the hogs it fattened in
proportion. But his hundred and sixty acres were clear from debt,
four thousand dollars were on deposit drawing three per cent in The
First State Bank--the old Bank of Fallon, now incorporated with
Robinson as its president. In the pasture, fourteen sows with
their seventy-five spring pigs rooted beside the sleek herd of
steers fattening for market; the granary bulged with corn; two
hundred bushels of seed wheat were ready for sowing; his machinery
was in excellent condition; his four Percheron mares brought him,
each, a fine mule colt once a year; and the well never went dry,
even in August. Martin was--if one discounted the harshness of the
life, the dirt, the endless duties and the ever-pressing chores--a
One fiery July day, David Robinson drew up before Martin's
shack. The little old box-house was still unpainted without and
unpapered within. Two chairs, a home-made table with a Kansas City
Star as a cloth, a sheetless bed, a rough cupboard, a stove and
floors carpeted with accumulations of untidiness completed the
"Chris-to-pher Columbus!" exploded Robinson, "why don't
you fix yourself up a bit, Martin? The Lord knows you're going to
be able to afford it. What you need is a wife--someone to look
after you." And as Martin, observing him calmly, made no response,
he added, "I suppose you know what I want. You've been watching
for this day, eh, Martin? All Fallon County's sitting on its
"Oh, I haven't been worrying. A fellow situated like me,
with a hundred and sixty right in the way of a coal company, can
afford to be independent."
"You understand our procedure, Martin," Robinson
continued. "We are frank and aboveboard. We set the price, and if
you can't see your way clear to take it there are no hard feelings.
We simply call it off--for good."
Wade knew how true this was. When the mining first began,
several rebels toward the East had tried profitlessly to buck this
irrefragable game and had found they had battered their unyielding
heads against an equally unyielding stone wall. These men had
demanded more and Robinson's company, true to its threat, had
urbanely gone around their farms, travelled on and left them
behind, their coal untouched and certain to so remain. Such
inelastic lessons, given time to soak in, were sobering.
"Now," said Robinson, in his amiable matter-of-fact
manner, "as I happen to know the history of this quarter, backwards
and forwards, we can do up this deal in short order. You sign this
contract, which is exactly like all the others we use, and I'll
hand over your check. We get the bottom; you keep the top; I give
you the sixteen thousand, and the thing is done."
"Well, Martin," he added, genially, as Wade signed his
name, "it's a long day since you came in with your father to make
that first loan to buy seed corn. Wouldn't he have opened his eyes
if any one had prophesied this? It's a pity your mother couldn't
have lived to enjoy your good fortune. A fine, plucky woman, your
mother. They don't make many like her."
Long after Robinson's buggy was out of sight, Martin stood
in his doorway and stared at the five handsome figures, spelled out
the even more convincing words and admired the excellent
reproduction of The First State Bank.
"This is a whole lot of money," his thoughts ran. "I'm
rich. All this land still mine--practically as much mine as ever--
all this stock and twenty thousand dollars in money--in cash. It's
a fact. I, Martin Wade, am rich."
He remembered how he had exulted, how jubilant, even
intoxicated, he had felt when he had received the ten dollars for
the first load of wheat he had hauled to Fort Scott. Now, with a
check for sixteen thousand--sixteen thousand dollars!--in his hand,
he stood dumbly, curiously unmoved.
Slowly, the first bitter months on this land, little
Benny's death from lack of nourishment, his father's desperate
efforts to establish his family, the years of his mother's slow
crucifixion, his own long struggle--all floated before him in a fog
of reverie. Years of deprivation, of bending toil and then,
suddenly, this had come--this miracle symbolized by this piece of
paper. Martin moistened his lips. Mentally, he realized all the
dramatic significance of what had happened, but it gave him none of
the elation he had expected.
This bewildered and angered him. Sixteen thousand dollars
and with it no thrill. What was lacking? As he pondered, puzzled
and disappointed, it came to him that he needed something by which
to measure his wealth, someone whose appreciation of it would make
it real to him, give him a genuine sense of its possession. What
if he were to take Robinson's advice: fix up a bit and--marry?
Nellie had often urged the advantages of this, but he had
never had much to do with women; they did not belong in his world
and he had not missed them; he had never before felt a need of
marriage. Upon the few occasions when, driven by his sister's
persistence, he had vaguely considered it, he had shrunk away
quickly from the thought of the unavoidable changes which would be
ushered in by such a step. This shack, itself--no one whom he
would want would, in this day, consent to live in it, and, if he
should marry, his wife must be a superior woman, good looking, and
with the push and energy of his mother. He thought of all she had
meant to his father; and there was Nellie, not to be spoken of in
the same breath, yet making Bert Mall a good wife. What a cook she
was! Memories of her hot, fluffy biscuits, baked chicken, apple
pies and delicious coffee, carried trailing aromas that set his
nostrils twitching. It would be pleasant to have satisfying meals
once more, to be relieved, too, of the bother of the three hundred
chickens, to have some one about in the evenings. True, there
would be expense, oh, such expense--the courting, the presents, the
wedding, the building, the furniture, and, later, innumerable new
kinds of bills. But weren't all the men around him married?
Surely, if they, not nearly as well off as himself, could afford
it, so could he.
Besides, wasn't it all different now that he held this
check in his hand? These sixteen thousand dollars were not the
same dollars which he had extorted from close-fisted Nature. Each
of those had come so lamely, was such a symbol of sweat and aching
muscles, that to spend one was like parting with a portion of
himself, but this new, almost incredible fortune, had come without
a turn of his hand, without an hour's labor. To Martin, the
distinction was sharp and actual.
He figured quickly. Five thousand dollars would do
wonders. With that amount, he would build so substantially that
his neighbors could no longer feel the disapprobation in which,
according to Nellie, he was beginning to be held, because of his
sordid, hermit-like life. That five thousand could buy many cows
and additional acreage--but just now a home and a wife would be
better investments. Yes, he would marry and a house should be his
bait. That was settled. He would drive into Fallon at once to see
the carpenter and deposit the check.
He was already out of the house when a thought struck him.
Suppose he were to meet just the woman he might want? These
soiled, once-blue overalls, shapeless straw hat, with its dozen
matches showing their red heads over the band, the good soils and
fertilizers of Kansas resting placidly in his ears and the lines of
his neck--such a Romeo might not tempt his Juliet; he must spruce
On an aged soap-box behind the house, several inches of
grey water in a battered tin-pan indicated a previous effort. He
tossed the greasy liquid to the ground and from the well, near the
large, home-built barn, refilled the make-shift basin. Martin's
ablutions were always a strenuous affair. In his cupped hands he
brought the water toward his face and, at the moment he was about
to apply it, made pointless attempts to blow it away. This blowing
and sputtering indicated the especial importance of an occasion--
the more important, the more vigorously he blew. Today, the cold
water gave a healthy glow to his face, which, after much stropping
of his razor, he shaved a week's growth of beard, tawny as his
thick, crisp hair where the sun had not yet bleached it. This, he
soaked thoroughly, in lieu of brushing, before using a crippled
piece of comb. The dividing line between washed and unwashed was
one inch above his neckband and two above his wrists. Even when
fresh from a scrubbing, his hands were not entirely clean. They
had been so long in contact with the earth that it had become
absorbed into the very pores of his skin; but they were powerful
hands, interesting, with long palms and spatulate fingers. The
black strips at the end of each nail, Martin pared off with his
He entered the house a trifle nervously, positive that his
only clean shirt, at present spread over his precious shot-gun, had
been worn once more than he could have wished, but, after all, how
much of one's shirt showed? It would pass. The coat-shirt not yet
introduced, a man had to slip the old-fashioned kind over his head,
drag it down past his shoulders and poke blindly for the sleeve
openings. Martin was thankful when he felt the collar buttons in
their holes. His salt and pepper suit was of a stiff-unyielding
material, and the first time he had worn it the creases had
vanished never to return. Before putting on his celluloid collar,
he spat on it and smeared it off with the tail of his shirt. A
recalcitrant metal shaper insisted on peeking from under his
lapels, and his ready-made tie with its two grey satin-covered
cardboard wings pushed out of sight, see-sawed, necessitating
frequent adjustments. His brown derby, the rim of which made
almost three quarters of a circle at each side, seemed to want to
get as far as possible from his ears and, at the same time, remain
perched on his head. The yellow shoes looked as though each had
half a billiard ball in the toe, and the entire tops were
perforated with many diverging lines in an attempt for the
decorative. Those were the days of sore feet and corns! Hart
Schaffner and Marx had not yet become rural America's tailor.
Sartorial magicians in Chicago had not yet won over the young men
of the great corn belt, with their snappy lines and style for the
millions. In 1890, when a suit served merely as contrast to a pair
of overalls, the Martin Wades who would clothe themselves pulled
their garments from the piles on long tables. It was for the next
generation to patronize clothiers who kept each suit on its
separate hanger. A moving-picture of the tall, broad-shouldered
fellow, as, with creaking steps, he walked from the house, might
bring a laugh from the young farmers of this more fastidious day,
but Martin was dressed no worse than any of his neighbors and far
better than many. Health, vigor, sturdiness, self-reliance shone
from him, and once his make-up had ceased to obtrude its
clumsiness, he struck one as handsome. His was a commanding
physique, hard as the grim plains from which he wrested his living.
As Martin drove into Fallon, his attention was directed
toward the architecture and the women. He observed that the
average homes were merely a little larger than his own--four, six,
or eight rooms instead of one, made a little trimmer with neat
porches and surrounded by well-cut lawns, instead of weeds. He,
with his new budget, could do better. Even Robinson's well-
constructed residence had probably cost only three thousand more
than he himself planned to spend. Its suggestion of originality
had been all but submerged by carpenters spoiled through constant
work on commonplace buildings. But to Martin it was a marvellous
mansion. He told himself that with such a place moved out to his
quarter-section, he could have stood on his door-step and chosen
whomever he wished for a wife.
It was an elemental materialism, difficult to understand,
but it was a language very clear to Martin. Marriage with the men
and women of his world was a practical business, arranged and
conducted by practical people, who lived practical lives, and died
practical deaths. The women who might pass his way could deny
their lust for concrete possessions, but their actions, however
concealed their motives, would give the lie to any ineffectual
glamour of romance they might attempt to fling over their carefully
measured adventures of the heart.
Martin smiled cynically as he let his thoughts drift along
this channel. "What a lot of bosh is talked about lovers," his
comment ran. "As if everyone didn't really know how much like
drunken men they are--saying things which in a month they'll have
forgotten. Folks pretend to approve of 'em and all the while
they're laughing at 'em up their sleeves. But how they respect a
man who's got the root they're all grubbing for! It may be the
root of all evil, but it's a fact that everything people want grows
from it. They hate a man for having it, but they'd like to be him.
Their hearts have all got strings dangling from 'em, especially the
women's. A house tied onto the other end ought to be hefty enough
to fetch the best of the lot."
Who could she be, anyway? Was she someone in Fallon? He
drove slowly, thinking over the families in the different houses--
four to each side of the block. The street, even yet, was little
more than a country road. There was no indication of the six miles
of pavement which later were to be Fallon's pride. It had rained
earlier in the week and Martin was obliged to be careful of the
chuck-holes in the sticky, heavy gumbo soon to be the bane of
pioneers venturing forth in what were to be known for a few short
years as "horseless carriages."
Bumping along he recalled to his mind the various girls
with whom he had gone to school. As if the sight of the building,
itself, would sharpen his memory, he turned north and drove past
it. Like its south, east and west counterparts, it was a solid
two-story brick affair. In time it would be demolished to make way
for what would be known as the "Emerson School," in which, to be
worthy of this high title, the huge stoves would be supplanted with
hot-water pipes, oil lamps with soft, indirect lighting, and
unsightly out-buildings with modern plumbing. The South building
would become the "Whittier School," the East, the "Longfellow," and
the West, not to be neglected by culture's invasion, the "Oliver
Wendell Holmes." But these changes were still to be effected.
Many a school board meeting was first to be split into stormy
factions of conservatives fighting to hold the old, and of
anarchists threatening civilization with their clamors for
experimentation. Many a bond election was yet to rip the town in
two, with the retired farmers, whose children were grown and
through school, satisfied with things as they were and parents of
the new generation demanding gymnasiums, tennis courts, victrolas,
domestic science laboratories, a public health nurse and individual
lockers. Yes, and the faddists were to win despite the other
side's incontrovertible evidence that Fallon was headed for
bankruptcy and that the proposed bonds and outstanding ones could
never be met.
Martin drove, meditatively, around the schoolhouse and was
still engrossed in the problem of "Who?" when he reached the
Square. The neat canvas drops of later years had not yet replaced
the wooden awnings which gave to the town such a decidedly western
appearance and which threw the sidewalks and sheltered windows into
deep pools of shadow. The old brick store-building which housed
The First State Bank was like a cool cavern. He brought out the
check quietly but with a full consciousness that with one gesture
he was shoving enough over that scratched and worn walnut counter
to buy out half the bank.
James Osborne, the youthful cashier, feigned complete
"Why don't you give a poor fellow some warning?" he beamed
good-naturedly, "or maybe you think you've strayed into Wall
Street. This is Fallon. Fallon, Kansas. So you've had your merry
little session with Robinson? Put it here!" and he extended a
"Oh, considering the wait, it isn't so wonderful. Sixteen
thousand is an awful lot when it's coming, but it just seems about
half as big when it gets here."
Martin was talking not so much for Osborne's benefit as to
impress a woman who had entered behind him and was awaiting her
turn. He wondered why, in his mental quest, he had not thought of
her. Here was the very person for whom he was looking. Rose
Conroy, the editor of the better local weekly, a year or so younger
than himself, pleasant, capable. Here was a real woman, one above
the average in character and brains.
With a quick glance he took in her well-built figure.
Everything about Rose--every line, every tone of her coloring
suggested warmth, generosity, bigness. She was as much above
medium height for a woman as Martin for a man. About her temples
the line of her bright golden-brown hair had an oddly pleasing
irregularity. The rosy color in her cheeks brought out the rich
creamy whiteness of her skin. Warm, gray-blue eyes were set far
apart beneath a kind, broad forehead and her wide, generous mouth
seemed made to smile. The impression of good temper and fun was
accented by her nose, ever so slightly up-tilted. Some might have
thought Rose too large, her hips too rounded, the soft deep bosom
too full, but Martin's eyes were approving. Even her hands, plump,
with broad palms, square fingers and well-kept nails, suggested
decision. He felt the quiet distinction of her simple white dress.
She was like a full-blown, luxuriant white and gold flower--like a
rose, a full-blown white rose, Martin realized, suddenly. One
couldn't call her pretty, but there was something about her that
gave the impression of sumptuous good looks. He liked, too, the
spirited carriage of her head. "Healthy, good-sense, sound all
through," was his final appraisement.
Pocketing his bank-book, he gave her a sharp nod, a
colorless "how-de-do, Miss Rose," and a tip of the hat that might
have been a little less stiff had he been more accustomed to
greeting the ladies. "Right well, thank you, Martin," was her
cordial response, and her friendly smile told him she had heard and
understood the remarks about the big deal. He was curious to know
how it had impressed her.
Hurrying out, he asked himself how he could begin
advances. Either he must do something quickly in time to get home
for the evening chores or he must wait until another day. He must
think out a plan, at once. Passing the bakery, half way down the
block, he dropped in, ordered a chocolate ice-cream soda, and chose
a seat near the window. As he had expected, it was not long before
he saw Rose go across the courthouse yard toward her office on the
north side of the square. He liked the swift, easy way in which
she walked. She had been walking the first time he had ever seen
her, thirteen years before, when her father had led his family
uptown from the station, the day of their arrival in Fallon.
Patrick Conroy had come from Sharon, Illinois, to perform
the thankless task of starting a weekly newspaper in a town already
undernourishing one. By sheer stubbornness he had at last
established it. Twelve hundred subscribers, their little printing
jobs, advertisers who bought liberal portions of space at ten cents
an inch--all had enabled him to give his children a living that was
a shade better than an existence. He had died less than a year
ago, and Martin, like the rest of the community, had supposed the
Fallon Independent would be sold or suspended. Instead, as quietly
and matter-of-factly as she had filled her dead mother's place in
the home while her brothers and sisters were growing up, Rose
stepped into her father's business, took over the editorship and
with a boy to do the typesetting and presswork, continued the paper
without missing an issue. It even paid a little better than
before, partly because it flattered Fallon's sense of Christian
helpfulness to throw whatever it could in Rose's way, but chiefly
because she made the Independent a livelier sheet with double the
usual number of "Personals."
Yes, decidedly, Rose had force and push. Martin's mind
was made up. He would drop into the Independent ostensibly to
extend his subscription, but really to get on more intimate terms
with the woman whom he had now firmly determined should become his
wife. He drew a deep breath of relaxation and finished the glass
of sweetness with that sense of self-conscious sheepishness which
most men feel when they surrender to the sticky charms of an ice-
cream soda. A few minutes later he stood beside Rose's worn desk.
"How-do-you-do, once more, Miss Rose of Sharon. You're
not the Bible's Rose of Sharon, are you?" he joshed a bit
"If I were a rose of anywhere, I'd soon wilt in this
stuffy little office of inky smells," she answered pleasantly. "A
rose would need petals of leather to get by here."
"A rose, by rights, belongs out of doors,"--Martin
indicated the direction of his farm--"out there where the sun
shines and there's no smells except the rich, healthy smells of
A merry twinkle appeared in Rose's eyes. "Aren't roses
out there"--and her gesture was in the same direction--"rather apt
to be crowded down by the weeds?"
"Not if there was a good strong man about--a man who
wanted to cultivate the soil and give the rose a pretty place in
which to bloom."
"Why, Martin," Rose laughed lightly, "the way you're fixed
out there with that shack, the only thing that ever blooms is a
fine crop of rag-weeds."
At this gratuitous thrust a flood of crimson surged up
Martin's magnificent, column-like throat and broke in hot waves
over his cheeks. "Well, it's not going to be that way for long,"
he announced evenly. "I'm going to plant a rose--a real rose there
soon and everything is going to be right--garden, house and all."
"Is this your way of telling me you're going to be
"Kinda. The only trouble is, I haven't got my rose yet."
"Well, if I can't have that item, at least I can print
something about the selling of your coal rights. People will be
interested because it shows the operators are coming in our
direction. Here in Fallon, we can hardly realize all that this
sudden new promotion may mean. From that conversation I heard at
the bank I guess you got the regulation hundred an acre."
"Yes, and a good part of it is going into a first-class
modern house with a heating plant and running hot and cold water in
a tiled-floor bath-room, and a concrete cellar for the woman's
preserved things and built-in cupboards, lots of closets, a big
garret, and hardwood floors and fancy paper on the walls, and the
prettiest polished golden oak furniture you can buy in Kansas City,
not to mention a big fireplace and wide, sunny porches. A rose
ought to be happy in a garden like that, don't you think? Folks'll
say I've gone crazy when they see my building spree, but I know
what I'm about. It's time I married and the woman who decides to
be my wife is going to be glad to stay with me--"
"See here, Martin Wade, what are you driving at? What
does all this talk mean anyway? Do you want me to give you a boost
"You've hit it."
"Who is she?" Rose asked, with genuine curiosity.
"You," he said bluntly.
"Well, of all the proposals!"
"There's nothing to beat around the bush about. I'm only
thirty-four, a hard worker, with a tidy sum to boot--not that I'm
boasting about it."
"But, Martin, what makes you think I could make you
Martin felt embarrassed. He was not looking for happiness
but merely for more of the physical comforts, and an escape from
loneliness. He was practical; he fancied he knew about what could
be expected from marriage, just as he knew exactly how many steers
and hogs his farm could support. This was a new idea--happiness.
It had never entered into his calculations. Life as he knew it was
hard. There was no happiness in those fields when burned by the
hot August winds, the soil breaking into cakes that left crevices
which seemed to groan for water. That sky with its clouds that
gave no rain was a hard sky. The people he knew were sometimes
contented, but he could not remember ever having known any to whom
the word "happy" could be applied. His father and mother--they had
been a good husband and wife. But happy? They had been far too
absorbed in the bitter struggle for a livelihood to have time to
think of happiness. This had been equally true of the elder Malls,
was true today of Nellie and her husband. A man and a woman needed
each other's help, could make a more successful fight, go farther
together than either could alone. To Martin that was the whole
matter in a nutshell, and Rose's gentle question threw him into
"I don't know," he answered uneasily. "We both like to
make a success of things and we'd have plenty to do with. We'd
make a pretty good pulling team."
Rose considered this thoughtfully. "Perhaps the people
who work together best are the happiest. But somehow I'd never
pictured myself on a farm."
"Of course, I don't expect you to make up your mind right
away," Martin conceded. "It's something to study over. I'll come
around to your place tomorrow evening after I get the chores done
up and we can talk some more."
So far as Martin was concerned, the matter was clinched.
He felt not the slightest doubt but that it was merely a question
of time before Rose would consent to his proposition.
After he had left, she reviewed it a little sadly. It
wasn't the kind of marriage of which she had always dreamed. She
realized that she was capable of profound devotion, of responding
with her whole being to a deep love. But was it probable that this
love would ever come? She thought over the men of Fallon and its
neighborhood. There were few as handsome as Martin--not one with
such generous plans. She knew her own domestic talents. She was a
born housekeeper and home-maker. It had been a curious destiny
that had driven her into a newspaper office, and at that very
moment, there lay on her desk, like a whisper from Fate, the
written offer from the rival paper to buy her out for fifteen
hundred dollars, giving herself a position on the consolidated
staff. She had been pondering over this proposal when Martin
It wasn't as if she were younger or likely to start
somewhere else. She would live out her life in Fallon, that she
knew. There was little chance of her meeting new men, and those
established enough to make marriage with them desirable were
already married. Candidly, she admitted that if she turned Martin
Wade down now, she might never have another such opportunity. If
only she could feel that he cared for her--loved her. But wasn't
the fact that he was asking her to be his wife proof of that? It
was very strange. She had never suspected that Martin had ever
felt drawn to her. With a sigh she pressed her large, capable
hands to her heart. Its deep piercing ache brought tears to her
eyes. She felt, bitterly, that she was being cheated of too much
that was sweet and precious--it was all wrong--she would be making
a mistake. For a moment, she was overwhelmed. Then the practical
common sense that had been instilled into her from her earliest
consciousness, even as it had been instilled into Martin,
reasserted itself. After all, perhaps he was right--the busy
people were the happy people. Many couples who began marriage
madly in love ended in the divorce courts. Martin was kind and it
would be wonderful to have the home he had described. She imagined
herself mistress of it, thrilled with the warm hospitality she
would radiate, entertained already at missionary meetings and at
club. At least, she would be less lonely. It would be a fuller
life than now. What was she getting, really getting, alone, out of
this world? She and Martin would be good partners. Poor boy!
What a long, hard, cheerless existence he had led. Tenderness
welled in her heart and stilled its pain. Perhaps his emotions
were far deeper than he could express in words. His way was to
plan for her comfort. Wasn't there something big about his simple
cards-on-the-table wooing? And he had called her his rose, his
Rose of Sharon. The new house was to be the garden in which she
should blossom. To be sure, he had said it all awkwardly, but
Rose, who was devout, knew the stately Song of Solomon and as she
recalled the magnificent outburst of passion she almost let herself
be convinced that Martin was a poet-lover in the rough.
And all the while, giving pattern to her flying thoughts,
the contents of a letter, received the day before, echoed through
her mind. Her sister, Norah, the youngest of the family, had told
of her first baby. "We have named her for you, darling," she
wrote. "Oh, Rose, she has brought me such deep happiness. I
wonder if this ecstasy can last. Her little hand against my
breast--it is so warm and soft--like a flower's curling petal, as
delicate and as beautiful as a butterfly's wing. I never knew
until now what life really meant." As Rose reread the throbbing
lines and pictured the eager-eyed young mother, her own sweet face
glowed with reflected joy and with the knowledge that this ecstasy,
this deeper understanding could come to her, too--Martin, he was
vigorous, so worthy of being the father of her children. He would
love them, of course, and provide for them better than any other
man she knew. Had not Norah married a plain farmer who was only a
tenant? The new little Rose's father was not to be compared to
Martin, and yet he had brought the supreme experience to her
sister. So Rose sat dreaming, the arid level of monotonous days
which, one short hour ago, had stretched before her, flowering into
fragrant, sun-filled fields.
Meanwhile, Martin congratulated himself upon having found
a woman as sensible, industrious and free from foolish notions, as
even he could wish.
DUST IN HER HEART
Six weeks later Martin and Rose were married. Martin had
let the contract for the new house and barn to Silas Fletcher,
Fallon's leading carpenter, who had the science of construction
reduced to utter simplicity. He had listened to Martin's
description of what he wished and, after some rough figuring, had
proceeded to draw the plans on the back of a large envelope. Both
Rose and Martin knew that those rude lines would serve unfailingly.
For three thousand dollars Fletcher would build the very house
Martin had pictured to Rose: a two-story one with four nice rooms
and a bath upstairs, four rooms and a pantry downstairs, a floored
garret, concrete cellar, an inviting fireplace and wide porches.
For two thousand dollars he would give a substantial barn capable
of holding a hundred tons of hay and of accommodating twenty cows
and four horses.
Rose had been deeply touched by the thoroughness of
Martin's plans, by his unfailing consideration for her comfort.
True, there had been moments when her warm, loving nature had been
chilled. At such times, misgivings had clamored and she had,
finally, all but made up her mind to tell him that she could not go
on--that it had all been a mistake. She would say to him, she had
decided: "Martin, you are one of the kindest and best men, and I
could be happy with you if only you loved me, but you don't really
care for me and you never will. I feel it. Oh, I do! and I could
not bear it--to live with you day in and day out and know that."
But she had reckoned without her own goodness of heart.
On the very evening on which she had quite determined to tell
Martin this decision he also had arrived at one. As soon as he had
entered Rose's little parlor he had exclaimed with an enthusiasm
unusual with him: "We broke the ground for your new garden, today,
Rose of Sharon, and Fletcher wants to see you. There are some more
little things you'll have to talk over with him. He understands
that you're the one I want suited."
Rose had felt suddenly reassured. Why, she had asked
herself contritely, couldn't she let Martin express his love in his
own way? Why was she always trying to measure his feelings for her
by set standards?
"I've been wondering," he had gone on quickly, "what you
would think of putting up with my old shack while the new house is
being built? It wouldn't be as if you were going to live there for
long and you'd be right on hand to direct things."
"Why, I could do that, of course," she had answered
pleasantly. "If you've lived there all these years, I surely ought
to be able to live there a few months, but Martin--"
"I know what you're going to say," he had interrupted
hastily. "You think we ought to wait a while longer, but if we're
going to pull together for the rest of our lives why mightn't we
just as well begin now? Why is one time any better than another?"
There had been a wistfulness, so rarely in Martin's voice,
that Rose had detected it instantly. After all, why should she
keep him waiting when he needed her so much, she had thought
tenderly, all the sweet womanliness in her astir with yearnings to
lift the cloud of loneliness from his life.
Rose had always believed love a breath of beauty that
would hold its purity even in a hovel, but she had not been
prepared for the sordidness that seemed to envelop her as she
crossed the threshold of the first home of her married life.
Martin, held in the clutch of the strained embarrassment that
invariably laid its icy fingers around his heart whenever he found
himself confronted by emotion, had suggested that Rose go in while
he put up the horse and fed the stock. "Don't be scared if you
find it pretty rough," he had warned, to which her light answer had
lilted back, "Oh, I shan't mind."
And, as she stood in the doorway a moment later, her eyes
taking in one by one, the murky windows, the dirty floor, the
unwashed dishes, the tumbled bed, the rusty, grease bespattered
stove choked with cold ashes, she told herself hotly that it was
not the dirt nor even the desperate crassness that was smothering
her joy. It was the fact that there was nowhere a touch to suggest
preparation for her home-coming. Martin had made not even the
crudest attempt to welcome her. It would have been as easy for
Rose to be cheerful in the midst of mere squalor as for a flower to
bloom white in a crowded tenement, but at the swift realization of
the lack of tenderness for her which this indifference to her first
impressions so clearly expressed, her faith in the man she had
married began to wither. He had failed her in the very quality in
which she had put her trust. Already, he had carelessly dropped
the thoughtfulness by which he had won her. She wondered how she
could have made herself believe that Martin loved her. "He has
tried so hard in every way to show me how much I would mean to
him," she justified herself. "But now he has me he just doesn't
care what I think."
As Rose forced herself to face this squarely, something
within her crumpled. Grim truth leered at her, hurling dust on her
bright wings of illusion, poking cruel jests. "This is your
wedding day," it taunted, "that tall figure out there near the
dilapidated barn feeding his hogs is your husband. Oh, first,
sweet, most precious hours! How you will always like to remember
them! Here in this dirty shanty you will enter into love's
fulfillment. How romantic! Why doesn't your heart leap and your
arms ache for your new passion?" Tears pushed against her eyelids.
Her new life was not going to be happy. Of this she was suddenly,
Rose struggled against a complete break-down. This was no
time for a scene. What was the matter with her, anyway? Of
course, Martin had not meant to disappoint her, nor deliberately
hurt her. He probably thought this first home so temporary it
didn't count. She simply would not mope. Of that she was
positive, and a brave little smile swimming up from her troubled
heart, she set about, with much energy, to achieve order, valiantly
fighting back her insistent tears as she worked.
Meanwhile, Martin, totally oblivious of any cause for
storm, was making trips to and from the barrel which contained
shorts mixed with water, skimmed milk and house slops, the
screaming, scrambling shoats gulping the pork-making mixture as
rapidly as he could fetch it. He worked unconsciously, thinking,
typically, not of Rose's reaction to this new life, but of what it
held in store for himself.
He glanced toward the shack. Already the mere fact of a
woman's presence beneath its roof seemed, to him, to give it a
different aspect. Through the open door he observed that Rose was
sweeping. How he had always hated the thought of any one handling
what was his! He dumped another bucket of slops into the home-made
trough. Why couldn't she just let things alone and get supper
quietly? Heaven only knew what he had gotten himself into! But of
one thing he was miserably certain; never again would he have that
comfortable seclusion to which he had grown so accustomed. He had
known this would be true, but the sight of Rose and her broom
brought the realization of it home to him with an all too
irritating vividness. Yes, everything was going to be different.
There would be many changes and he would never know what to expect
next. Why had he brought this upon himself; had he not lived alone
for years? He had let the habit of obtaining whatever he started
after get the better of him. Even today he could have drawn back
from this marriage. But, he had sensed that Rose was about to do
so herself, and this knowledge had pushed his determination to the
Martin shook his head ruefully, "This is `The Song of
Songs,'" he smiled, "and there is my Rose of Sharon. Guess I was
never intended for a Solomon." Now that she was so close to him,
in the very core of his life, this woman frightened him; instead of
desire, there was dread. He wished Rose had been a man that he
might go into that shack and eat ham and eggs with him while they
talked crops and politics and animals. There would be no thrills
in this opening chapter and he, if not his wife, would be shaken.
Martin was mental, an incurable individualist who found
himself sufficient unto himself. He was different from his
neighbors in that he was always thinking, asking questions and
pondering over his conclusions. He had convinced himself that each
demand of the body was useless except the food that nourished it,
the clothes that warmed it and the sleep that repaired it. He
hated soft things and the twist in his mind that was Martin proved
to him their futility. Love? It was an empty dream, a shell that
fooled. Its joys were fleeting. There was but one thing worth
while and that was work. The body was made for it--the thumb to
hold the hammer, the hand to pump the water and drive the horses,
the legs to follow the plow, herd the cattle and chase the pigs
from the cornfield, the ears to listen for strange noises from the
stock, the eyes to watch for weeds and discover the lice on the
hens, the mouth to yell the food call to the calves, the back to
carry the bran. Work meant money, and money meant--what? It was
merely a stick that measured the amount of work done. Then why did
he toil so hard and save so scrupulously? His answer was always
another question. What was there in life that could enable one to
forget it faster? That woman in there waiting for him--oh, she
would suffer before she realized the truth of this lesson he had
already learned, and Martin felt a little pity for her.
When he went in for supper, Rose was just beginning to
prepare it. With a catch of anger in his manner, he gave her a
sharp look and saw that she had been crying. He couldn't remember
ever before having had to deal with a weeping woman; even when
Benny had died and his mother had been so shaken she had not given
way to tears; so this was to be another of the new experiences
which must trot in with marriage. It annoyed him.
"What's the matter, Rose?"
"Nothing at all, Martin."
"Nothing? You don't cry about nothing, do you?"
"No." Rose felt a sudden fear; sensed a lack of pity in
Martin, an unwillingness even to try to understand her conflicting
"Then you're crying about something. What is it?" There
was a command in his question. Martin was losing patience. He
knew tears were used as weapons by women, but why in the world
should Rose need any sort of weapon on the first day of their
marriage? He hadn't done anything to her, said anything unkind.
Was she going to be unreasonable? Now he was sure it was all
"What's the matter?" he demanded, his voice rising.
"Nothing's the matter. I'm just a little nervous." Rose
began to cry afresh. If only Martin had come to her and put his
arms around her, she would have been able to throw off her newly-
born fear of him and this disheartening shattering of her faith in
his kindness. But he was going to the other extreme, growing
harder as she was becoming more panicky.
"Nervous? What's there to be nervous about?" Rose's
answer was stifled sobbing. "You're not sorry you married today, I
hope?" She shook her head. "Then what's this mean, anyway?"
"I was wondering if we are going to be happy after all--"
"Happy? You don't like this place. That's the trouble.
I was afraid of this, but I thought you knew what you were about
when you said you could stand it for a while."
"Oh, it isn't the house itself, Martin," she hastened to
correct truthfully, sure that she had gone too far. "I--I--know
we'll be happy."
Again this talk about happiness. He did not like it. He
had never hunted for happiness, and he was contented. Why should
she persist in this eternal search for this impossible condition?
He supposed that occasionally children found themselves in it but
surely grown-ups could not expect it. The nearest they could
approach it was in forgetting that there was such a state by
finding solace in constant occupation.
"Let's eat," he announced. "I'm sick of this wrangling.
Seems to me you're not starting off just right."
Rose hastened to prepare the meal, finding it more
difficult to be cheerful as she realized how indifferent Martin was
to her feelings, if only she presented a smooth surface. He had
not seemed even to notice how orderly and freshened everything was.
She thought of the new experience soon to be hers. Could it make
up for all the understanding and friendly appreciation that she saw
only too clearly would be missing in her daily life? Resolutely,
she suppressed her doubts.
Martin, bothered by an odd feeling of strangeness in the
midst of his own familiar surroundings, smoked his pipe in silence
and studied Rose soberly. Why, he asked himself, was he unmoved by
a woman who was so attractive? He liked the deftness with which
her hands worked the pie dough, the quick way she moved between
stove and table, yet mingled with this admiration was a slight but
distinct hostility. How can one like and have an aversion to a
person at the same time? he pondered. "I suppose," he concluded
grimly, "it's because I'm supposed to love and adore her--to
pretend to lot of extravagant feelings."
His mind travelled to the stock in the pasture. How
stolid they were and how matter of fact and how sensible. They
affected no high, nonsensical sentiments. Weren't they, after all,
to be envied, rooted as they were in their solid simplicity? Why
should human beings everlastingly try so hard to be different? He
and Rose would have to get down to a genuine basis, and the quicker
the better. Meanwhile he must remember that, whether he was glad
or sorry, she was there, in his shack, because he had asked her to
As he ate his second helping of the excellent meal, he
said pleasantly: "You do know how to cook, Rose."
Her soft gray-blue eyes brightened. "I love to do it,"
she answered quickly. "You must tell me the things you like best,
Martin. If I had a real stove with a good oven, I could do much
"Could you? We'll get one tomorrow."
"That'll be fine!" she smiled, eager to have all serene
between them, and as she passed him to get some coffee her hand
touched his in a swift caress. Instantly, Martin's cordiality
vanished; his hostility toward her surged. Even as a boy he had
hated to be "fussed over." Well, he had married and he would go
through with it. If only Rose would be more matter of fact; not
look at him with that expression which made him think of a
confiding child. What business had a grown woman with such trust
in her eyes, anyway?
It was quite gone, in the early dawn, as Rose sat on the
edge of the bed looking at her husband. Never had she felt so far
from him, so certain that he did not love her, as when she had lain
quivering but impassive in his arms. "I might be just any woman,"
she had told herself, astounded and stricken to find how little she
was touched by this experience which she had always believed bound
heart to heart and crowned the sweet transfusion of affection from
soul into soul. "It doesn't make any more difference to him who I
am than who cooks for him."
Not that Martin had been unkind, except negatively.
Intuitively, Rose understood that their first evening and night
foreshadowed their whole lives. Not in what Martin would do, but
in what he would not do, would lie her heartaches. Yet in her sad
reflections there was no bitterness toward him; he had disappointed
her, but perhaps it was only because she had taught herself to
expect something rare, even spiritual, from marriage. Her idealism
had played her a trick.
With the quiet relinquishment of this long-cherished
dream, eagerness for the realization of an even more precious one
took possession of her. She comforted herself with the thought
that maybe life had brought Martin merely as a door to the citadel
which looms, sparkling with dancing sunlight, in the midst of
mysterious shadows. Motherhood--she would feel as if she were in
another world. Out of all this disappointment would come her
Always struggling toward happiness, she was cheered too as
the foundation for the house progressed. Everything would be so
different, she told herself, once they were in their pretty new
home. It was true she had given up a concrete floor for her
cellar, but she had seen at once the good sense of having the
concrete in the barn instead. Martin was right. While it would
have been nice in the house, of course, it would not have begun to
be the constant blessing to herself that it would now be to him.
How much easier it would make keeping the barn clean! Why, it was
almost a duty in a dairy barn to have such a floor and really she,
herself, could manage almost as well with the dirt bottom. But
when Martin began to discuss eliminating the whole upper story of
the house, Rose protested.
"You won't use it," he had returned reasonably. "I'll
keep my word, but when a body gets to figuring and sees all that
can be built with that same money, it seems mighty foolish to put
it into something that you don't really need."
As Martin looked at her questioningly, Rose felt suddenly
unable to muster an argument for the additional sleeping-rooms. It
was true that they were not actually necessary for their comfort;
but the house as it had been decided upon was so interwoven with
memories of her courtship and all that was lovable in Martin; it
had become so real to her, that it was as if some dear possession
were being torn to pieces before her eyes.
"I don't know why, Martin," she had answered, with a choky
little laugh, "but it seems as if I just can't bear to give it up."
"I--I--like it all so well the way you planned it."
"Just liking a thing isn't always good reason for having
it. It'll make lots more for you to take care of. What would you
say if I was to prove to you that it would build a fine chicken-
house, one for the herd boar, a concrete tank down in the pasture
that'd save the cows enough trips to the barn to make 'em give a
heap sight more milk, a cooling house for it and a good tool room?"
Rose's eyes opened wide. "I can prove it to you."
That was all. But the shack filled with his disapproval
of her reluctance to free him from his promise. She remembered one
time when she had come home from school in a pelting rain that had
changed, suddenly, to hail. There had seemed no escape from the
hard, little balls and their cruel bruises. Just so, it seemed to
her, from Martin, outwardly so calm as he read his paper, the
harsh, determined thoughts beat thick and fast. Turn what way she
would, they surrounded, enveloped and pounded down upon her. Her
resolution weakened. Wasn't she paying too big a price for what
was, after all, only material? The one time she and Martin had
seemed quite close had been the moment in which she had agreed so
quickly to change the location of the concrete floor. Now she had
utterly lost him. She could scarcely endure the aloofness with
which he had withdrawn into himself.
"Martin," she said a bit huskily, two evenings later, at
supper, "I've decided that you are right. It is foolish and
extravagant of me to want a second story when there are just the
two of us. It will be better to have all those other things you
told me about."
Martin did not respond; simply continued eating without
looking up. This was a habit of his that nearly drove Rose
desperate. In her father's household meals had always been
friendly, sociable affairs. Patrick Conroy had been loquacious and
by way of a wit; sharpened on his, Rose's own had developed. They
had dealt in delicious nonsense, these two, and had her husband
been of a different temperament she might have found it a refuge in
her life with him. But, somehow, from the first, even before they
were married, when with Martin, such chatter had died unuttered on
Rose's tongue. The few remarks which she did venture, nowadays,
had the effect of a disconcerting splash before they sank into the
gloomy depths of the thick silence. Occasionally, in sheer self
defense, she carried on a light monologue, but Martin's lack of
interest gave her such an odd, lonely, stage-struck sensation that
she, too, became untalkative, keeping to herself the ideas which
chased through her ever-active mind. Innately just, she attributed
this peculiarity of his to the fact that he had lived so long
alone, and while it fretted her, she usually forgave him. But
tonight, as no answer came, it seemed to her that if Martin did not
at least raise his eyes, she must scream or throw something.
"It would be a godsend to be the sort who permits oneself
to do such things," she told herself, a suggestion of a smile
touching her lips, and mentally she sent dish after dish at him,
watching them fall shattered to the floor. Dismay at the relief
this gave her brought the dimples into her cheeks. Her voice was
pleasant as she asked: "Martin, did you hear your spouse just
Annoyance flitted across his face and crept into his tone
as he answered tersely: "Of course, I heard you." Presently he
finished his meal, pushed back his chair and went out.
Nothing further was said between them on the subject, but
when the scaffolding went up she saw that it was for only one
story. It might have comforted her a little, had she known what
uneasy moments Martin was having. In spite of himself, he could
not shake off the consciousness that he had broken his word. That
was something which, heretofore, he had never done. But,
heretofore, his promises had been of a strictly business nature.
He would deliver so many bushels of wheat at such and such a time;
he would lend such and such a piece of machinery; he would supply
so many men and so many teams at a neighbor's threshing; he would
pay so much per pound for hogs; he would guarantee so many eggs out
of a setting or so many pounds of butter in so many months from a
cow he was selling. A few such guarantees made good at a loss to
himself, a few such loads delivered in adverse weather, a few such
pledges to help kept when he was obliged actually to hire men, had
established for him an enviable reputation, which Martin was of no
mind to lose. Had Rose not released him from his promise he would
have kept it. Even now he was disturbed as to what Fletcher and
Fallon might think. But already he had lived long enough with his
wife to understand something of the quality of her pride. Once
having agreed to the change, she would carry it off with a dash.
Had Rose stood her ground on this matter, undoubtedly all
her after life might have been different, but she was of those
women whose charm and whose folly lie in their sensitiveness to the
moods and contentment of the people most closely associated with
them. They can rise above their own discomfort or depression, but
they are utterly unable to disregard that of those near them. This
gave Martin, who by temperament and habit considered only his own
feelings, an incalculable advantage. His was the old supremacy of
the selfish over the self sacrificing, the hard over the tender,
the mental over the emotional. Add to this, the fact that with all
his faults, perhaps largely because of them, perhaps chiefly
because she cooked, washed, ironed, mended, and baked for him, kept
his home and planned so continually for his pleasure, Martin was
dear to Rose, and it is not difficult to understand how unequal the
contest in which she was matched when her wishes clashed with her
husband's. It was predestined that he, invariably, should win out.
Rose told her friends she and her husband had decided that
the second story would make her too much work, and Martin noticed
with surprise how easily her convincing statement was accepted. He
decided, for his own peace of mind, that he had nothing with which
to reproach himself. He had put it up to her and she had agreed.
This principal concession obtained, other smaller ones followed
logically and rapidly. The running water and bath in the house
were given up for piping to the barn, and stanchions--then
novelties in southeastern Kansas. The money for the hardwood
floors went into lightning rods. Built-in cupboards were dismissed
as luxuries, and the saving paid for an implement shed which
delighted Martin, who had figured how much expensive machinery
would be saved from rust. When it came to papering the walls he
decided that the white plaster was attractive enough and could
serve for years. Instead, he bought a patented litter-carrier that
made the job of removing manure from the barn an easy task. The
porches purchased everything from a brace and a bit to a lathe for
the new tool-room and put the finishing touches to the dairy. The
result was a four-room house that was the old one born again, and
such well-equipped farm buildings that they were the pride of the
Rose, who had surrendered long since, let the promises go
to naught without much protest. Martin was so quietly domineering,
so stubbornly persistent--and always so plausible--oh, so
plausible!--that there was no resisting him. Only when it came to
the fireplace did she make a last stand. She felt that it would be
such a friendly spirit in the house. She pictured Martin and
herself sitting beside it in the winter evenings.
"A house without one is like a place without flowers," she
explained to him.
"It's a mighty dirty business," he answered tersely. "You
would have to track the coal through the rest of the house and
you'd have all those extra ashes to clean out."
"But you would never see any of the dirt," she argued with
more than her usual courage, "and if I wouldn't mind the ashes I
don't see why you should."
"We can't afford it."
"Martin, I've given in to you on everything else," she
asserted firmly. "I'm not going to give this up. I'll pay for it
out of my own money."
"What do you mean 'out of my own money'?" he asked
sternly. "I told Osborne we'd run one account. If what is mine is
going to be yours, what is yours is going to be mine. I'd think
your own sense of fairness would tell you that."
As a matter of fact, Martin had no intention of ever
touching Rose's little capital, but he had made up his mind to
direct the spending of its income. He would keep her from putting
it into just such foolishness as this fireplace. But Rose,
listening, saw the last of her independence going. She felt
tricked, outraged. During the years she had been at the head of
her father's household, she had regulated the family budget and, no
matter how small it had happened to be, she always had contrived to
have a surplus. This notion of Martin's that he, and he alone,
should decide upon expenditures was ridiculous. She told him so
and in spite of himself, he was impressed.
"All right," he said calmly. "You can do all the buying
for the house. Write a check with my name and sign your own
initials. Get what you think we need. But there isn't going to be
any fireplace. You can just set that down."
Voice, eyes, the line of his chin, all told Rose that he
would not yield. Nothing could be gained from a quarrel except
deeper ill feeling. With a supreme effort of will she obeyed the
dictates of common sense and ended the argument abruptly.
But, for months after she was settled in the new little
house, her eye never fell on the space where the fireplace should
have been without a bitter feeling of revolt sweeping over her.
She never carried a heavy bucket in from the pump without thinking
cynically of Martin's promises of running water. As she swept the
dust out of her front and back doors to narrow steps, she
remembered the spacious porches that were to have been; and as she
wiped the floors she had painted herself, and polished her pine
furniture, she was taunted by memories of the smooth boards and the
golden oak to which she had once looked forward so happily. This
resentment was seldom expressed, but its flame scorched her soul.
Her work increased steadily. She did not object to this;
it kept her from thinking and brooding; it helped her to forget all
that might have been, all that was. She milked half the cows,
separated the cream, took charge of the dairy house and washed all
the cans. Three times a week she churned, and her butter became
locally famous. She took over completely both the chickens and the
garden. Often, because her feet ached from being on them such long
hours, she worked barefoot in the soft dirt. According to the
season, she canned vegetables, preserved fruit, rendered lard and
put down pork. When she sat at meals now, like Martin she was too
tired for conversation. From the time she arose in the morning
until she dropped off to sleep at night, her thoughts, like his,
were chiefly of immediate duties to be performed. One concept
dominated their household, work. It seemed to offer the only way
out of life's perplexities.
A ROSE-BUD IN THE DUST
Under this rigid regime Martin's prosperity increased.
Although he would not have admitted it, Rose's good cooking and the
sweet fresh cleanliness with which he was surrounded had their
effect, giving him a new sense of physical well-being, making his
mind more alert. Always, he had been a hard worker, but now he
began for the first time to take an interest in the scientific
aspects of farming. He subscribed for farm journals and put real
thought into all he did, with results that were gratifying. He
grew the finest crop of wheat for miles around; in the season which
brought others a yield of fifteen or twenty bushels to the acre,
Martin averaged thirty-three, without buying a ton of commercial
fertilizer. His corn was higher than anybody's else; the ears
longer, the stalks juicier, because of his careful, intelligent
cultivating. In the driest season, it resisted the hot winds;
this, he explained, was the result of his knowing how to prepare
his seed bed and when to plant--moisture could be retained if the
soil was handled scientifically. He bought the spoiled acreage of
his neighbors, which he cut up for the silo--as yet the only one in
the county--adding water to help fermentation. His imported hogs
seemed to justify the prices he paid for them, growing faster and
rounder and fatter than any in the surrounding county. The chinch
bugs might bother everyone else, but Martin seemed to be able to
guard against them with fair success. He took correspondence
courses in soils and fertilizers, animal husbandry and every
related subject; kept a steady stream of letters flowing to and
from both Washington and the State Agricultural College.
Now and then it crossed his mind that with the farm
developing into such an institution it would be more than desirable
to pass it on to one of his own blood, and secretly he was pleased
when Rose told him a baby was coming. A child, a son, might bring
with him a little of what was missing in his marriage with her.
She irritated him more and more, not by what she did but by what
she was. Her whole temperament, in so much as he permitted himself
to be aware of it, her whole nature, jarred on his.
"When is it due?"
"It's lucky harvest will be over; silo filling, too," was
his only comment.
In spite of Rose's three long years with Martin his lack
of enthusiasm was like a sharp stab. What had she expected, she
asked herself sternly. To be taken in his arms and rejoiced over
as others were at such a moment? What did he care so long as he
wouldn't have to hire extra help for her in the busy season! It
was incredible--his hardness.
Why couldn't she hate him? He was mean enough to her,
surely. "I'm as foolish as old Rover," she thought bitterly. The
faithful dog lived for his master and yet Rose could not remember
ever having seen Martin give him a pat. "When I once hold my own
little baby in my arms, I won't care like this. I'll have someone
else to fill my heart," she consoled herself, thrilling anew with
the conviction that then she would be more than recompensed for
everything. The love she had missed, the house that had been
stolen from her--what were they in comparison to this growing bit
of life? Meanwhile, she longed as never before to feel near to
Martin. She could not help recalling how gallantly her father had
watched over her mother when she carried her last child and how
eagerly they all had waited upon her. At times, the contrast was
scarcely to be borne.
Rose was troubled with nausea, but Martin pooh-poohed, as
childish, the notion of dropping some of her responsibilities.
Didn't his mares work almost to the day of foaling? It was good
for them, keeping them in shape. And the cows--didn't they go
about placidly until within a few hours of bringing their calves?
Even the sows--did they droop as they neared farrowing? Why should
a woman be so different? Her child would be healthier and she able
to bring it into the world with less discomfort to herself if she
went about her ordinary duties in her usual way. Thus Martin,
"That would be true," Rose agreed, "if the work weren't so
heavy and if I were younger."
"It's the work you're used to doing all the time, isn't
it? Because you aren't young is all the more reason you need the
exercise. You're not going to hire extra help, so you might just
as well get any to-do out of your mind," he retorted, the dreaded
note in his voice.
She considered leaving him. If she had earned her living
before, she could again. More than once she had thought of doing
this, but always the hope of a child had shone like a tiny bright
star through the midnight of her trials. Since she had endured so
much, why not endure a little longer and reap a dear reward? Then,
too, she could never quite bring herself to face the pictures her
imagination conjured of Martin, struggling along uncared for. Now,
as her heart hardened against him, an inner voice whispered that
everyone had a right to a father as well as a mother, and Martin
might be greatly softened by daily contact with a little son or
daughter. In fairness, she must wait.
Yet, she knew these were not her real reasons. They lay
far deeper, in the very warp and woof of her nature. She did not
leave Martin because she could not. She was incapable of making
drastic changes, of tearing herself from anyone to whom she was
tied by habit and affection--no matter how bitterly the mood of the
moment might demand it. Always she would be bound by
circumstances. True, however hard and adverse they might prove,
she could adapt herself to them with rare patience and dignity, but
never would she be able to compel them to her will, rise superbly
above them, toss them aside. Her life had been, and would be,
shaped largely by others. Her mother's death, the particular
enterprise in which her father's little capital had been invested,
Martin's peculiar temperament--these had moulded and were moulding
Rose Wade. At the time she came to Martin's shack, she was
potentially any one of a half dozen women. It was inevitable that
the particular one into which she would evolve should be determined
by the type of man she might happen to marry, inevitable that she
would become, to a large degree, what he wished and expected, that
her thoughts would take on the complexion of his. Lacking in
strength of character? In power of resistance, certainly. Time
out of mind, such malleability has been the cross of the
Magdalenes. Yet in what else lies the secret of the harmony
achieved by successful wives?
And as, her nausea passing, Rose began to feel a glorious
sensation of vigor, she decided that perhaps, after all, Martin had
been right. Child-bearing was a natural function. People probably
made far too much fuss about it. Nellie came to help her cook for
the threshers and, for the rest, she managed very well, even
milking her usual eight cows and carrying her share of the foaming
All might have gone smoothly if only she had not overslept
one morning in late September. When she reached the barn, Martin
was irritable. She did not answer him but sat down quietly by her
first cow, a fine-blooded animal which soon showed signs of
restlessness under her tense hands.
"There! There! So Bossy," soothed Rose gently.
"You never will learn how to manage good stock," Martin
"Nor you how to treat a wife."
"Oh, shut up."
"Don't talk to me that way."
As she started to rise, a kick from the cow caught her
square on the stomach with such force that it sent her staggering
backward, still clutching the handle of the pail from which a snowy
"Now what have you done?" demanded Martin sternly.
"Haven't I warned you time and again that milk cows are sensitive,
nervous? Fidgety people drive them crazy. Why can't you behave
simply and directly with them! Why is it I always get more milk
from mine! It's your own fault this happened--fussing around,
taking out your ill temper at me on her. Shouting at me. What
could you expect?"
For the first time in their life together, Rose was
frankly unnerved. It seemed to her that she would go mad. "You
devil!" she burst out, wildly. "That's what you are, Martin Wade!
You're not human. Your child may be lost and you talk about cows
letting down more milk. Oh God! I didn't know there was any one
living who could be so cruel, so cold, so diabolical. You'll be
punished for this some day--you will--you will. You don't love me-
-never did, oh, don't I know it. But some time you will love some
one. Then you'll understand what it is to be treated like this
when your whole soul is in need of tenderness. You'll see then
"Oh, shut up," growled Martin, somewhat abashed by the
violence of her broken words and gasping sobs. "You're hysterical.
You're doing yourself as much harm right now as that kick did you."
"Oh, Martin, please be kind," pleaded Rose more quietly.
"Please! It's your baby as much as mine. Be just half as kind as
you are to these cows."
"They have more sense," he retorted angrily. And when
Rose woke him, the following night, to go for the doctor, his quick
exclamation was: "So now you've done it, have you?"
As the sound of his horse's hoofs died away, it seemed to
her that he had taken the very heart out of her courage. She
thought with anguished envy of the women whose husbands loved them,
for whom the heights and depths of this ordeal were as real as for
their wives. It seemed to her that even the severest of pain could
be wholly bearable if, in the midst of it, one felt cherished.
Well, she would go through it alone as she had gone through
everything else since their marriage. She would try to forget
Martin. She would forget him. She must. She would keep her mind
fixed on the deep joy so soon to be hers. Had she not chosen to
suffer of her own free will, because the little creature that could
be won only through it was worth so much more than anything else
the world had to offer? She imagined the baby already arrived and
visualized him as she hoped her child might be at two years.
Suppose he were in a burning house, would she have the courage to
rescue him? What would be the limit of her endurance in the
flames? She laughed to herself at the absurdity of the question.
How well she knew its answer! She wished with passionate intensity
that she could look into the magic depths of some fairy mirror and
see, for just the flash of one instant, exactly how her boy or girl
really would look. How much easier that would make it to hold fast
to the consciousness that she was not merely in pain, but was
laboring to bring forth a warm flesh-and-blood child. There was
the rub--in spite of her eagerness, the little one, so priceless,
wasn't as yet quite definite, real. She recalled the rosy-cheeked,
curly-haired youngster her fancy had created a moment ago. She
would cling to that picture; yes, even if her pain mounted to
agony, it should be of the body only; she would not let it get into
her mind, not into her soul, not into the welcoming mother-heart of
Meanwhile, as she armored her spirit, she built a fire,
put on water to heat, attended capably to innumerable details.
Rose was a woman of sound experience. She had been with others at
such times. It held no goblin terrors for her. Had it not been
for Martin's heartlessness, she would have felt wholly equal to the
occasion. As it was, she made little commotion. Dr. Bradley,
gentle and direct, had been the Conroys' family physician for
years. Nellie, who arrived in an hour, had been through the
experience often herself, and was friendly and helpful.
She liked Rose, admired her tremendously and the thought--
an odd one for Nellie--crossed her mind that tonight she was
downright beautiful. When at dawn, Dr. Bradley whispered: "She
has been so brave, Mrs. Mall, I can't bear to tell her the child is
not alive. Wouldn't it be better for you to do so?" She shrank
from the task. "I can't; I simply can't," she protested, honest
tears pouring down her thin face.
"Could you, Mr. Wade?"
Martin strode into Rose's room, all his own disappointment
adding bitterness to his words: "Well, I knew you'd done it and
you have. It's a fine boy, but he came dead."
Out of the dreariness and the toil, out of the hope, the
suffering and the high courage had come--nothing. As Rose lay, the
little still form clasped against her, she was too broken for
tears. Life had played her another trick. Indignation toward
Martin gathered volume with her returning strength.
"You don't deserve a child," she told him bitterly. "You
might treat him when he grew up as you treat me."
"I've never laid hand to you," said Martin gruffly,
certain stinging words of Nellie's still smarting. When she chose,
his sister's tongue could be waspish. She had tormented him with
it all the way to her home. He had been goaded into flaring back
and both had been thoroughly angry when they separated, yet he was
conscious that he came nearer a feeling of affection for her than
for any living person. Well, not affection, precisely, he
corrected. It was rather that he relished, with a quizzical
amusement, the completeness of their mutual comprehension. She was
growing to be more like their mother, too. Decidedly, this was the
type of woman he should have married, not someone soft and eager
and full of silly sentiment like Rose. Why didn't she hold her own
as Nellie did? Have more snap and stamina? It was exasperating--
the way she frequently made him feel as if he actually were
trampling on something defenseless.
He now frankly hated her. There was not dislike merely;
there was acute antipathy. He took a delight in having her work
harder and harder. It used to be "Rose," but now it was always
"say" or "you" or "hey." Once she asked cynically if he had ever
heard of a "Rose of Sharon" to which he maliciously replied: "She
turned out to be a Rag-weed."
Yet such a leveller of emotions and an adjuster of
disparate dispositions is Time that when they rounded their fourth
year, Martin viewed his life, with a few reservations, as fairly
satisfactory. He turned the matter over judicially in his mind and
concluded that even though he cared not a jot for Rose, at least he
could think of no other woman who could carry a larger share of the
drudgery in their dusty lives, help save more and, on the whole,
bother him less. He, like his rag-weed, had settled down to an
Rose was convinced that Martin would make too unkind a
father; he had no wish for another taste of the general confusion
and disorganized routine her confinement had entailed. Besides, it
would be inconvenient if she were to die, as Dr. Bradley quite
solemnly had warned him she might only too probably. Without any
exchange of words, it was settled there should not be another
child--settled, he dismissed it. In a way, he had come to
appreciate Rose, but it was absurd to compliment anyone, let alone
a wife whom he saw constantly. Physically, she did not interest
him; in fact, the whole business bored him. It was tiresome and
got one nowhere. He decided this state of mind must be rather
general among married people, and reasoned his way to the
conclusion that marriage was a good thing in that it drove out
passion and placed human animals on a more practicable foundation.
If there had been the likelihood of children, he undoubtedly would
have sought her from time to time, but with that hope out of their
lives the attraction died completely.
When he was through with his work, it was late and he was
sleepy. When he woke early in the morning, he had to hurry to his
stock. So that which always had been less than secondary, now
became completely quiescent, and he was satisfied that it should.
It never occurred to him to consider what Rose might be thinking
and feeling. She wondered about it, and would have liked to ask
advice from someone--the older Mrs. Mall or Dr. Bradley--but
habitual reserve held her back. After all, she decided finally,
what did it matter? Meanwhile, financially, things were going
better than ever.
Martin had the most improved farm in the neighborhood; he
was looked up to by everyone as one of the most intelligent men in
the county, and his earnings were swelling, going into better stock
and the surplus into mortgages which he accumulated with surprising
rapidity. Occasionally, he would wonder why he was working so
hard, saving so assiduously and investing so consistently. His
growing fortune seemed to mean little now that his affluence was
thoroughly established. For whom was he working? he would ask
himself. For the life of him, he could not answer. Surely not for
his Rag-weed of Sharon. Nellie? She was well enough fixed and he
didn't care a shot for her husband. Then why? Sometimes he
pursued this chain of thought further, "I'll die and probably leave
five times as much as I have now to her and who knows what she'll
do with it? I'll never enjoy any of it myself. I'm not such a
fool as to expect it. What difference can a few thousand dollars
more or less make to me from now on? They why do I scheme and
slave? Pshaw! I've known the answer ever since I first turned the
soil of this farm. The man who thinks about things knows there's
nothing to life. It's all a grinding chase for the day when
someone will pat my cheek with a spade."
He might have escaped this materialism through the church,
but to him it offered no inducements. He could find nothing
spiritual in it. In his opinion, it was a very carnal institution
conducted by very hypocritical men and women. He smiled at their
Hell and despised their Heaven. Their religion, to him, seemed
such a crudely selfish affair. They were always expecting
something from God; always praying for petty favors--begging and
whining for money, or good crops, or better health. Martin would
have none of this nonsense. He was as selfish as they, probably
more so, he conceded, but he hoped he would never reach the point
of currying favor with anyone, even God. With his own good
strength he would answer his own prayers. This farm was the
nearest he would ever come to a paradise and on it he would be his
own God. Rose did not share his feelings. She went to church each
Sunday and read her Bible daily with a simple faith that defied
derision. Once, when she was gone, Martin idly hunted out the Song
of Solomon. His lips curled with contempt at the passionate
rhapsody. He knew a thing or two, he allowed, about these
wonderful Roses of Sharon and this Song of Songs. Lies, all lies,
every word of it! Yet, in spite of himself, from time to time, he
liked to reread it. He fancied this was because of the sardonic
pleasure its superlative phrases gave him, but the truth was it
held him. He despised sentiment, tenderness, and, by the
strangeness of the human mind, he went, by way of paradox, to the
tenderest, most sublime spot in a book supreme in tenderness and
At forty, he owned and, with the aid of two hired hands,
worked an entire section of land. The law said it was his and he
had the might to back up the law. On these six hundred and forty
broad acres he could have lived without the rest of the world.
Here he was King. Other farms he regarded as foreign countries,
their owners with impersonal suspicion. Yet he trusted them after
a fashion, because he had learned from many and devious dealings
with a large assortment of people that the average human being is
honest, which is to say that he does not steal his neighbor's stock
nor fail to pay his just debts if given plenty of time and the
conditions have the explicitness of black and white. He knew them
to be as mercenary as himself, with this only difference: Where he
was frankly so, they pretended otherwise. They bothered him with
their dinky deals, with their scrimping and scratching, and their
sneaky attempts to hide their ugliness by the observance of one set
day of sanctuary. Because they seemed to him so two-faced, so
trifling, so cowardly, he liked to "stick" them every time he had a
fair chance and could do it within the law. It was his favorite
game. They worked so blindly and went on so stupidly, talking so
foolishly, that it afforded him sport to come along and take the
bacon away from them.
All held him a little in awe, for he was of a forbidding
bearing, tall, grave and thoughtful; accurate in his facts and sure
of himself; slow to express an opinion, but positive in his
conclusions; seeking no favors, and giving none; careful not to
offend, indifferent whether he pleased. He would deceive, but
never insult. The women were afraid of him, because he never
"jollied." He had no jokes or bright remarks for them. They were
such useless creatures out of their particular duties. There was
nothing to take up with them. Everyone rendered him much the same
respectful manner that they kept on tap for the leading citizens of
the town, David Robinson, for instance. Indeed, Martin himself was
somewhat of a banker, for he was a stockholder and director of the
First State Bank, where he was looked up to as a shrewd man who was
too big even for the operation of his magnificent farm. He
understood values. When it came to loans, his judgment on land and
livestock was never disputed. If he wanted to make a purchase he
did not go to several stores for prices. He knew, in the first
place, what he should pay, and the business men, especially the
hardware and implement dealers, were afraid of his knowledge, and
still more of his influence.
About Rose, too, there was a poise, an atmosphere of
background which inspired respect above her station. When Mrs.
Wade said anything, her statement was apt to settle the matter, for
on those subjects which she discussed at all, she was an authority,
and on those which she was not, her training in Martin's household
had taught her to maintain a wise silence. The stern self-control
had stolen something of the tenderness from her lips. There were
other changes. The sunlight had faded from her hair; the once firm
white neck was beginning to lose it resilience. Deep lines
furrowed her cheeks from mouth to jaw, and fine wrinkles had
slipped into her forehead. There were delicate webs of them about
her patient eyes, under which lack of sleep and overwork had left
their brown shadows. Since the birth of her baby she had become
much heavier and though she was still neat, her dresses were always
of dark colors and made up by herself of cheap materials. For,
while she bought without consulting Martin, her privilege of
discretion was confined within strict and narrow limits. He kept a
meticulous eye on all her cancelled checks and knew to a penny what
she spent. If he felt a respect for her thrift it was completely
unacknowledged. They worked together with as little liking, as
little hatred, as two oxen pulling a plow.
It had been a wise day for both, thought Fallon, when they
had decided to marry--they were so well mated. What a model and
enviable couple they were! To Rose it seemed the essence of irony
that her life with Martin should be looked upon as a flower of
matrimony. Yet, womanlike, she took an unconfessed comfort in the
fact that this was so--that no one, unless it were Nellie, was
sufficiently astute to fathom the truth. To be sure, the Wades
were never spoken of as "happy." They were invariably alluded to
as "good folks," "true blue," "solid people," "ideal husband and
wife," or "salt of the earth."
Each year they gave a round sum to the church, and Martin
took caustic gratification in the fact that, although his attitude
toward it and religion was well known, he too was counted as one of
the fold. To do its leaders justice, he admitted that he might
have been partly through their hesitancy to hurt Rose who was
always to be found in the thick of its sale-dinners, bazaars and
sociables. How she was able to accomplish so much without
neglecting her own heavy duties, which now included cooking,
washing, mending and keeping in order the old shack for the hired
men, was a topic upon which other women feasted with appreciative
gusto, especially at missionary meetings when she was not present.
It really was extraordinary how much she managed to put into a day.
Early as Martin was up to feed his stock, she was up still earlier
that she might lend a hand to a neighbor, harrowed by the fear that
gathered fruit might perish. Late as he plowed, in the hot summer
evenings, her sweaty fingers were busy still later with patching,
brought home to boost along some young wife struggling with a
teething baby. She seemed never too rushed to tuck in an extra
baking for someone even more rushed than herself, or to make
delicious broths and tasty dishes for sick folk. In her quiet way,
she became a real power, always in demand, the first to be
entrusted with sweet secrets, the first to be sent for in
paralysing emergencies and moments of sorrow. The warmth of heart
which Martin ridiculed and resented, intensified by its very
repression, bubbled out to others in cheery helpfulness, and
blessed her quick tears.
Of her deep yearning for love, she never spoke. Just when
she would begin to feel almost self-sufficient it would quicken to
a throbbing ache. Usually, at such times, she buried it
determindedly under work. But one day, yielding to an impulse, she
wrote to Norah asking if her little namesake could come for a
"I know she is only seven," the letter ran, "but I am sure
if she were put in care of the conductor she would come through
safely, and I do so want to see her." After long hesitation, she
enclosed a check to cover expenses. She was half frightened by her
own daring and did not tell Martin until she had received the reply
giving the date for the child's arrival.
"I earned that, Martin," she returned determinedly to his
emphatic remonstrance. "And when the check comes in it's going to
"A Wade check is always honored," was his cryptic
assertion. "I merely say," he added more calmly, "that if we are
to board her, and I don't make any protest over that at all, it
seems to me only fair that her father should have bought the
"Maybe you're right--in theory. But then she simply
couldn't have come and I've never seen her. I first knew of her
the very day you asked me to marry you. I've thought of her, often
and often. Her mother named her after me and calls her 'Little
Rose of Sharon, Illinois'."
"Another rag-weed, probably," said Martin, shortly. Yet,
to his own surprise, he was not altogether sorry she was to come--
this house of his had never had a child in it for more than a few
hours. He was rather curious to find out how it would seem. If
only her name were not Rose, and if only she were not coming from
But little Rose, with her dark brown curls, merry
expression, roguish nose and soft radiance swept all his misgivings
and prejudices before her. One might as well hold grudges against
a flower, he thought. He liked the confiding way she had of
suddenly slipping her little hand into his great one. Her prattle
amused him, and he was both flattered and worried by the
fearlessness with which she followed him everywhere. She seemed to
bring a veritable shower of song into this home of long silences.
The very chaos made Mrs. Wade's heart beat tumultuously, and once
when Martin came upon the little girl seated solemnly in the midst
of a circle of corncob dolls, his throat contracted with an
"You really are a rose--a lovely, sweet brown Rose of
Sharon," he had exclaimed, forgetting his wife's presence and not
stopping to think how strange the words must sound on his lips.
"If you'll give me a kiss, I'll let you ride on old Jettie."
The child scrambled to her feet and, seated on his broad
shoulder, granted the demand for toll. Her aunt's eyes filled.
This was the first time she had ever heard Martin ask for something
as sentimental as a kiss. She was thoroughly ashamed of herself
for it--it was really too absurd! --but she felt jealousy, an
emotion that had never bothered her since they had been married.
And this bit of chattering femininity had caused it. Mrs. Wade
The kiss was like the touch of silk against Martin's
cheek. He felt inexplicably sad as he put the child down again
among her playthings. There was, he realized with a shock, much
that he was missing, things he was letting work supplant. He
wished that boy of theirs could have lived. All might have been
different. He had almost forgotten that disappointment, had never
understood until this moment what a misfortune it had been, and
here he was being gripped by a more poignant sense of loss than he
had ever before felt, even when he had lost his mother.
Wonderful as little Rose was, she was not his own. But,
he wondered suddenly, wasn't this aching sense of need perhaps
something utterly different from unsatisfied paternal instinct? He
turned his head toward the kitchen where his Rag-weed was working
and asked himself if she were gone and some other woman were here--
such as little Rose might be when she grew up, one to whom he went
out spontaneously, would not his life be more complete and far more
worth while? What a fool he was, to bother his head with such get-
nowhere questions! He dismissed them roughly, but new processes of
thought had been opened, new emotions awakened.
Meanwhile, little Rose's response to his clumsy tenderness
taught him many unsuspected lessons. He never would have believed
the pleasure there could be in simply watching a child's eyes light
with glee over a five-cent bag of candy. It began to be a regular
thing for him to bring one home from Fallon, each trip, and the gay
hunts that followed as she searched for it--sometimes to find the
treasure in Martin's hat, sometimes under the buggy seat, sometimes
in a knobby hump under the table-cloth at her plate--more than once
brought his rare smile. For years afterward, the memory of one
evening lingered with him. He was resting in an old chair tipped
back against the house, thinking deeply, when the little girl,
tired from her play, climbed into his lap and, making a cozy nest
for herself in the crook of his arm, fell asleep. He had finished
planning out the work upon which he had been concentrating and had
been about to take her into the house when he suddenly became aware
of the child's loveliness. In the silvery moonlight all the fairy,
flower-like quality of her was enhanced. Martin studied her
closely, reverently. It was his first conscious worship of beauty.
Leaning down to the rosy lips he listened to the almost
imperceptible breathing; he touched the long, sweeping lashes
resting on the smooth cheeks and lifted one of the curls the wind
had been ruffling lightly against his face. With his whole soul,
he marvelled at her softness and relaxation. A profound, pitying
rebellion gripped him at the idea that anything so sweet, so
perfect must pass slowly through the defacing furnaces of time and
pain. "Little Rose of Sharon!" he thought gently, conscious of an
actual tearing at his heart, even a startling stinging in his eyes.
With an abruptness that almost awakened her, he carried her in to
Mrs. Wade felt an inexplicable hurt at the decidedness of
little Rose's preference for Martin. She could not understand it.
She took exquisite care of her, cooked the things she liked best,
let her mess to her heart's content in the kitchen, made her dolls
pretty frocks, cuddled her, told her stories and stopped her work
to play with her on rainy days--but she could not win the same
affection the little girl bestowed so lavishly on Martin. If left
to herself she was always to be found with the big, silent man.
As the month's visit lengthened into three, it was
astonishing what good times they had together. If he was pitching
hay, her slender little figure, short dress a-flutter, was to be
seen standing on the fragrant wagonload. At threshing time, she
darted lightly all over the separator, Martin's watchful eye
constantly upon her, and his protective hand near her. She went
with him to haul the grain to mill and was fascinated by the big
scales. On the way there and back he let her hold the great lines
in her little fists. In the dewy mornings, she hop-skipped and
jumped by his side into the pasture to bring in the cows. She
flitted in and out among them during milking time.
"I think she makes them too nervous, Martin," Rose had
once remarked. "Better run out, darling, until we finish and then
come help auntie in the dairy."
"They might as well get used to her," he had answered
tersely. "It'll hurt her feelings to be sent away."
Rose could scarcely believe her ears. Memories, bitter,
intolerable, crowded upon her. Had the little girl really changed
Martin so completely? Oh, if only her boy could have lived!
Perhaps she had made a great mistake in being so determined not to
have another. Was it too late now? She looked at her husband.
Well as she knew every detail of his fine, clean cut features, his
broad shoulders and rippling muscles, they gave her a sudden
thrill. It was as if she were seeing him again for the first time
in years. If only he could let a shadow of this new thoughtfulness
and kindliness fall on her, they might even yet bring some joy into
each other's lives. They had stepped off on the wrong foot. Why,
they really hadn't been even acquainted. They had been led into
thinking so because of the length of time they had both been
familiar figures in the same community. Beyond a doubt, if they
were being married today, and she understood him as she did now,
she could make a success of their marriage. But, as it was, Martin
was so fixed in the groove of his attitude of utter indifference
toward her that she felt there was little change of ever jogging
him out of it. To Rose, the very fact that the possibility of
happiness seemed so nearly within reach was what put the cruel edge
to their present status.
She did not comprehend that Martin definitely did not want
it changed. Conscious, at last, that he was slowly starving for a
woman's love, beginning to brood because there was no beauty in his
life, he was looking at her with eyes as newly appraising as her
own. He remembered her as she had been that day in the bank, when
he had thought her like a rose. She had been all white and gold
then; now, hair, eyes, skin, and clothes seemed to him to be of one
earthy color. Her clean, dull calico dress belted in by her
checked apron revealed the ungraceful lines of her figure. She
looked middle-aged and unshapely, when he wanted youth and an
exquisite loveliness. Well, he told himself, harshly, he was not
likely to get it. There was no sense in harboring such notions.
They must be crushed. He would work harder, much harder, hard
enough to forget them. There was but one thing worth while--his
farm. He would develop it to its limits.
Accordingly, when little Rose returned to Sharon, he and
his Rag-weed soon settled themselves to the old formula of endless
toil, investing the profits in sound farm mortgages that were
beginning to tax the capacity of his huge tin box in the vault of
the First State Bank.
DUST BEGETS DUST
Yet, through the Wades' busy days the echo of little
Rose's visit lingered persistently. Each now anxiously wanted
another child, but both were careful to keep this longing locked in
their separate bosoms. Their constraint with each other was of far
too long a standing to permit of any sudden exchange of
confidences. It was with this hope half-acknowledged, however, and
in her mind the recent memories of a more approachable Martin, that
Rose began to make a greater effort with her appearance. By dint
of the most skillful maneuvering, she contrived to purchase herself
a silk dress--the first since her marriage. It was of dark blue
crepe-de-chine, simply but becomingly made, the very richness of
its folds shedding a new luster over her quiet graciousness and
large proportions. Even her kind, capable hands seemed subtly
ennobled as they emerged from the luscious, well-fitting sleeves,
and the high collar, with its narrow edge of lace, stressed the
nobility of her fine head. When she came home from church, she did
not, as she would have heretofore, change at once into calico, but
protected by a spick and span white apron, kept on the best frock
through dinner and, frequently, until chore time in the afternoon.
In the winter, too, she was exposed less to sun and wind and her
skin lost much of its weathered look. She took better care of it
and was more careful with the arrangement of her hair. Gradually a
new series of impressions began to register on Martin's brain.
One Sunday she came in fresh and ruddy from the drive home
in the cold, crisp air. Martin found it rather pleasant to watch
her brisk movements as she prepared the delayed meal. He observed,
with something of a mental start, that today, at least, she still
had more than a little of the old sumptuous, full-blown quality.
It reminded him, together with the deft way in which she hurried,
without haste, without flurry, of their first evening in the shack,
nearly seven years ago. How tense they both had been, how afraid
of each other, how she had irritated him! Well, he had grown
accustomed to her at last, thanks be. Was he, perhaps, foolish not
to get more out of their life--it was not improbable that a child
might come. Why had he been taking it so for granted that this was
out of the question? When one got right down to it, just what was
the imaginary obstacle that was blocking the realization of this
deep wish? Her chance of not pulling through? He'd get her a
hired girl this time and let her have her own head about things.
She'd made it all right once, why not again? The settledness of
their habitual neutrality? What of it? He would ignore that. It
wasn't as if he had to court her, make explanations. She was his
wife. He didn't love her, never had, never would, but life was too
short to be overly fastidious. It was flying, flying--in a few
more years he would be fifty. Fifty! And what had it all been
about, anyway? He did have this farm to show for his work--he had
not made a bad job of that, he and his Rag-weed. In her own
fashion she was a good sort, and better looking than most women
Rose felt the closeness of his scrutiny, sensed the
unusual cordiality of his mood, but from the depths of her hardly
won wisdom took no apparent notice of it. She knew well enough how
not to annoy him. If only she had not learned too late! What was
it about Martin, she wondered afresh, that had held her through all
these deadening years? Her love for him was like a stream that,
disappearing for long periods underground, seemed utterly lost,
only to emerge again unexpectedly, cleared of all past murkiness,
tranquil and deep.
This unspoken converging of minds, equivocal though it was
on Martin's past, resulted gradually in a more friendly period.
Rose always liked to remember that winter, with its peace that
quenched her thirsty heart and helped to blur the recollection of
old unkindnesses long since forgiven, but still too vividly
recalled. When, a year later, Billy was born, she was swept up to
that dizzy crest of rapture which, to finely attuned souls, is the
recompense and justification of all their valleys.
Martin watched her deep, almost painful delight, with a
profound envy. He had looked forward, with more anticipation than
even he himself had realized, to the thrill which he had supposed
fatherhood would bring, taking it entirely for granted that he
would feel a bond with this small reincarnation of his own being,
but after the first week of attempting to get interested in the
unresponsive bundle that was his son, he decided the idea of a baby
had certainly signified in his mind emotions which this tiny,
troublesome creature, with a voice like a small-sized foghorn, did
not cause to materialize. No doubt when it grew into a child he
would feel very differently toward it--more as he did toward little
Rose, but that was a long time to wait, and meanwhile he could not
shake off a feeling of acute disappointment, of defeated hopes.
By the end of the second month, he was sure he must have
been out of his senses to bring such a nuisance upon himself and
into his well-ordered house. Not only was his rest disturbed with
trying regularity by night, and his meals served with an equally
trying irregularity by day, but he was obliged to deal with an
altogether changed wife. For, yielding as Rose was in all other
matters, where Billy was concerned she was simply imperturbable.
At times, as she held the chubby little fellow to her breast or
caught and kissed a waving pink foot, she would feel a sense of
physical weakness come over her--it seemed as if her breath would
leave her. Martin could be what he might; life, at last, was worth
its price. With the courage of her mother-love she could resist
anything and everyone.
To her, the relative importance of the farm to Billy was
as simple as a problem in addition. She had lost none of her old
knack for turning off large amounts of work quickly, but she firmly
stopped just short of the point where her milk might be impaired by
her exertions. Martin had insisted that the requirement for hired
help was over; however, in despair over his wife's determined
sabotage, it was Martin himself who commanded that the girl be
reinstated for another two months.
Rose was a methodical mother and not overly fussy. As
soon as Billy could sit in a highchair or an ordinary packing box
on the floor, she kept him with her while she went about her
different tasks, cooing and laughing with him as she worked, but
when he needed attention she could disregard calling dishes,
chickens, half-churned butter, unfinished ironing, unmilked cows or
an irate husband with a placidity that was worthy of the old Greek
gods. Martin was dumbfounded to the point of stupefaction. He was
too thoroughly self-centered, however, to let other than his own
preferences long dominate his Rag-weed's actions. Her first duty
was clearly to administer to his comfort, and that was precisely
what she would do. It was ridiculous, the amount of time she gave
to that baby--out of all rhyme and reason. If she wasn't feeding
him, she was changing him; if she wasn't bathing him she was
rocking him to sleep. And there, at last, Martin found a tangible
point of resistance, for he discovered from Nellie that not only
was it not necessary to rock a baby, but that it was contrary to
the new ideas currently endorsed. Reinforced, he argued the
matter, adding that he could remember distinctly his own mother had
never rocked Benny.
"Yes, and Benny died."
"It wasn't her fault if he did," he retorted, a trifle
"I don't know about that. She took chances I would never
take with Billy. She sacrificed him, with her eyes open, for you
and Nellie--gave him up so that you could have this farm."
Martin did not care for this new version. "What has that
to do with the question?" he demanded coldly.
"Just this--your mother had her ideas and I have mine. I
am going to raise Billy in my own way." But, for weeks thereafter
she managed with an almost miraculous adroitness to have him asleep
at meal times.
At seven months, Billy was the most adorable smiling,
cuddly baby imaginable, with dimples, four teeth and a tantalizing
hint of curl in his soft, surprisingly thick, fawn-colored hair.
Already, it was quite evident that he had his mother's sensitive,
affectionate nature. If only his father had picked him up,
occasionally, had talked to him now and then, he scarcely could
have resisted the little fellow's crowing, sweet-tempered,
responsive charm, but resentment at the annoyance of his presence
was now excessive. For the present, Martin's only concern in his
son consisted in seeing to it that his effacement was as nearly
complete as possible.
The long-impending clash came one evening after a sultry,
dusty day when Rose, occupied with a large washing in the morning
and heavy work in the dairy in the afternoon, realized with
compunction that never had she come so near to neglecting her boy.
Tired and hot from fretting, he had been slow about going to sleep,
and was just dozing off, when Martin came in, worn out and hungry.
"Isn't supper ready yet?"
"All but frying the sausage," Rose answered, achieving a
pleasant tone in spite of her jadedness. "He's almost turning the
corner--hear his little sleepy song? Sit down and cool off. I'll
have it ready by the time you and the boys are washed."
Under its thick coat of tan, Martin's face went white.
"I've had enough of this," he announced levelly. "You'll put him
down and fry that meat."
"Wait just a minute," she coaxed; "he'll be off for the
night and if you wake him, he'll cry and get all worked up."
"You heard what I said." His tone was vibrant with
determination. "How am I going to keep hired men if you treat them
like this? When they come in to eat, they want to find their food
on the table."
"This doesn't often happen any more and they know, good
and well, I make it up to them in other ways," returned Rose
For answer, he crossed over to her quickly, reached down
and took the baby from her.
"What are you going to do with him?" she demanded, a-
tremble with rage and a sense of impotent helplessness, as,
avoiding her quick movement, Martin went into the bedroom.
"Let him go to sleep as other children do, while you
finish getting supper. Do you want to make a sissy of him?"
"A lot you care what he becomes!" she flashed, conflicting
impulses contending for mastery, as Billy, now thoroughly awake and
seeing his mother, began to cry, pleading to her with big blue eyes
and out-stretched arms to take him. She started forward, but
Martin stepped between herself and the crib.
"Martin Wade, let me pass. He's mine."
"It isn't going to hurt him to cry. He does it often
"If you had a really cross baby around you'd know how good
and reasonable Billy is," she flamed, torn by the little sobs.
"You get out to that kitchen," he ordered, more openly
angry than Rose had ever seen him. "I've had enough of this talk,
do you hear, and enough of this way of doing. Don't you set foot
in here again till supper's over. I've had quite enough, too, of
jumping up and down to wait on myself."
Confusedly, Rose thought of her countless hours of lost
sleep, her even yet unrecovered strength, the enormous readjustment
of her own life in her sincere efforts to do her best by the whole
household, her joyous acceptance of all the perpetual self-denial
her new duties to Billy necessitated. In comparison, the
inconveniences to which Martin had been put seemed trifling. The
occasional delays, and the unusual bother of stepping to the stove,
now and then, to pour himself and the men a hot cup of coffee--this
was their sum total. And how injured he really felt! The
injustice of it left her speechless. Nails biting into her hands
in her struggle for self-control, she left the room. With a slam
of the door behind him, Martin followed her.
Blindly she strove for reason. Billy would simply cry
himself to sleep--it was bad for his whole nervous system, but it
would not actually make him sick. What a chaos must be in that
little heart! His mother had failed him for the first time in his
life. It was cruel, the way Martin had forced her to this, and as
she listened, for the next half hour, to the muffled sound of
Billy's crying and saw how impervious to it Martin was, she knew
that never again could things be the same between her husband and
But when, supper over, she found the corners of the
rosebud mouth still pathetically down and Billy's breath still
quivering in long gasps, she gathered the snuggly body to her and
vowed in little broken love-words that from now on his father
should have no further opportunities for discipline. Knowing him
as she did, she should have trained the baby in the first place to
go to sleep alone, should have denied herself those added sweet
moments. After this she would be on her guard, forestall Martin,
do tenderly what he would do harshly. Never again should her boy
be made to suffer through any such mistaken selfishness of hers.
And though, after a while, the importance of this episode
shrank to its true proportions, she never forgot or broke this
promise. It would have been literally impossible for her to touch
Billy, even when he was naughtiest and most exasperating, with
other than infinite love, but she had an even firmness of her own.
As sensitive as herself, adoring her to the point of worship, he
was easily punished by her displeasure or five minutes of enforced
quiet on a chair. The note of dread in her voice as she pleaded:
"Hush, oh, hush, Billy, be good; quick, darling, papa's coming,"
was always effective. By ceaseless vigilance and indefatigable
patience, she evaded further open rupture until the boy was three
His shrieks had brought both his father and herself flying
to the hog barn to find him dancing up and down as, frightened and
aghast, he vainly attempted to beat off old Dorcas, a mammoth sow,
from one of her day-old litter on which, having crushed it by
accident, she was now quite deliberately feasting.
"God Almighty!" stormed Martin, hastily putting the little
pigs back into the next pen. "Who let them in to her? That's her
"I opened the door," confessed Billy, troubled, frank eyes
looking straight into his father's. "They were hungry; that one
wanted her most." And, at the thought of the tragedy he had
witnessed, he flung himself heartbroken into his mother's
"I'll whip you for this," said Martin sternly.
"Oh, please!" protested Rose, gathering the child closer.
"Can't you see he's had a bitter enough lesson? His little heart
"He's got to learn, once and for all, not to meddle with
the stock. Come here."
"No! I won't have it. I'll see to it that he never does
a thing like this again. He's too young to understand. He's never
been struck in his life. You shan't."
Martin's cold blue eyes looked icily into his wife's
blazing gray ones. "Don't act like a fool. Suppose he had gotten
in there himself, and had fallen down--do you think she'd have
waited to kill him? Where'd he be now--like that?" and he pointed
to the half-eaten carcass.
Rose shuddered. There it was again--the same, familiar,
disarming plausibility of Martin's, the old trick of making her
seem to be the one in the wrong.
"I wish I had an acre for every good thrashing I got when
I was a boy," he commented drily. "But in those days a father who
demanded obedience wasn't considered a monster."
"If you only loved him, I wouldn't care," sobbed Rose. "I
could stand it better to have you hit him in anger, but you're so
hard, so cruel. You plan it all out so--how can you?"
Nevertheless, with a last convulsive hug and a broken
"Mother can't help it, darling," she put Billy on his feet, her
tormented heart wrung with bitterness as Martin took the clinging
child from her and carried him away, hysterical and resisting.
"What else could I do?" she asked herself miserably,
stabbed by the added fear that Billy might not forgive her. Could
he understand how powerless she had been?
When once more the child was cuddled against her, she
realized that in some mystical way there was a new bond between
them, and as the days passed, she discovered it was not so much the
whipping, but the unnatural perfidy of Dorcas that had scarred his
mind. With his own eyes he had seen a mother devour her baby. He
woke from dreams of it at night. Even the sight of her in the
pasture contentedly suckling the remaining nine did not reassure
him. The modern methods of psychology were then, to such women as
Rose, a sealed book, but love and intuition taught her to apply
"You see, Billy," she explained, "hogs are meant to eat
meat like dogs or bears or tigers. But they can live on just grain
and grass, and that is what most farmers make them do because there
is so much more of it and it costs so much less. Some of them feed
what is called tankage. If old Dorcas could have had some of that
she probably would not have eaten the little pig. You mustn't
blame her too much, for she was just famishing for flesh, the way
you are, sometimes, for a drink of water, when you've been playing
hard." Thus rationalized, the old sow's conduct lost some of its
grewsomeness, and in time, of course, the shock of the whole
experience was submerged under other and newer impressions, but
always the remembrance of it floated near the surface of his
consciousness, his first outstanding memory of his father and the
Inheriting a splendid physique from both parents, at six
little Bill was as tall as the average child of eight, well set up
and sturdy, afraid of nothing on the place except Martin, who,
resenting his attitude, not unreasonably put the blame for it on
his wife. "It's not what I do to him," he told her, "it's what you
teach him to think I might do that makes him dislike me." To which
Rose looked volumes, but made no reply.
Whatever the reason for the child's distrust, and honestly
as he tried not to let it affect his feeling for his son, Martin
found himself as much repelled by it as he had once been drawn to
little Rose by her sweet faith and affection. Yet, in spite of the
only too slightly veiled enmity between them, he was rather proud
of the handsome lad and determined to give him a thorough
stockman's and agriculturist's training. Some day he would run
this farm, and Martin had put too much of his very blood into it
not to make sure that the hands into which it would fall became
competent. With almost impersonal approval he noticed the perfect
co-ordination of the boy's muscles, his insatiable curiosity about
machinery and his fondness for animals; all of which only made his
pronounced distaste for work just that much more aggravating. He
was, his father decided contemptuously, a dreamer.
Martin reached this conclusion early in his son's life--
Bill was nine--and he determined to grind the objectionable
tendency out of him. The youngster had a way of stopping for no
reason whatever and just standing there. For all his iron self-
control, it nearly drove the energetic man to violence. He would
leave Bill in the barn to shovel the manure into the litter-
carrier--a good fifteen-minute job; he would return in half an hour
to find him sitting in the alleyway, staring down into his idle
"God Almighty!" Martin would explode. "How many times
must I tell you to do a thing?"
The boy would look up slowly, like a frightened colt,
expecting a blow, his non-resistance as angering as his indolence.
Gazing at the enormous, imposing person who was his father, he
would simply wait with wide open eyes--eyes that reminded Martin of
a calf begging for a bucket of milk.
"I'm asking you! Answer when I speak. Have you lost the
use of your tongue? What are you, anyway--a lump of jelly? Didn't
I tell you to clean this barn? It's fly time and no wonder the
cows suffer and slack up on their milk when there is a lazy bones
like you around who won't even help haul away the manure."
"I was just a-goin' to."
"You should have been through long ago. What are you good
for, is what I'd like to find out. You eat a big bellyful and what
do you give in return? Do you expect to go through the world like
this--having other people do your work for you? If this job isn't
finished in fifteen minutes, I'll whip you."
Bill would work swiftly and painfully, for the carrier was
high and hard for him to manipulate. But he would do his best,
desperate over the threat, his whole nature rebelling, not so much
at the task, as at the interruption of the pleasant stream of
pictures which had been flowing so excitingly through his mind.
Always it was like this--just when he was most blissfully happy, he
was jerked back to some mean, dirty job by the stern, driving
demands of his tireless father.
Without regard to the fact that harness is heavy, and a
horse's back high, Martin would order him to hitch up. He was
perfectly aware that it was too much for the child, but lack of
affection, and a vague, extenuating belief that especially trying
jobs developed one, made him merciless. The boy frequently boiled
with rage, but he was so weaponless, so completely in his father's
power--there was no escape from this tyranny. He knew he could not
live without him; even his mother could not do that. His mother!
What a sense of rest would come over him when he sat in her
capacious lap, his head on her soft shoulder. With her cheek
against his and her kind hand gently patting the back of his still
chubby one, something hard in him always melted away.
"Why do I love you so, mama," he asked once, "and hate
Mrs. Wade realized what was in his sore heart and hers
ached for him, but she answered quietly: "You mustn't hate
anybody, dear. You shouldn't."
"I don't hate anybody but him. I hate him and I'm afraid
of him--just like you are."
"Oh, Billy," cried Rose, shocked to the quick. "You must
never, never say I hate your father--when you're older you'll
understand. He is a wonderful man."
"He's mean," said Billy succinctly. "When I get big I'm
going to run away."
"From me? Oh, darling, don't think such thoughts. Papa
doesn't intend to be mean. He just doesn't know what fun it is to
play. You see, dear, when he was a boy like you, he had to work,
oh, ever and ever so much more than you do--yes, he did," she
nodded solemnly at Bill's incredulous stare. "And his mother never
talked with him or held him close as I do you. She didn't have
time. Aunt Nellie has told me all about it. He just worked and
worked and worked--they all did. That's all there was in their
life--just work. Why, when he was your age, his father was at war
and papa and Grandmother Wade had to do everything. He did a man's
share at fourteen and by the time he was fifteen, he ran this whole
farm. Work has gotten to be a habit with him and it's made him
different from a great many people. But he thinks that is why he's
gone ahead and so he's trying to raise you the same way. If he
really didn't care about you, Billy, it wouldn't bother him what
In the silence that fell they could hear old Molly
bellowing with pathetic monotony for her calf that had been taken
from her. Yesterday she had been so proud, so happy. She had had
such a hard time bringing it into the world, too. Martin had been
obliged to tie a rope to its protruding legs and pull with all his
strength. It didn't seem fair to think that the trusting-eyed
little fellow had been snatched from her so soon, as if her pain
had been an entirely negligible incident. Already, after six short
weeks, he was hanging, drawn and quartered, in one of Fallon's
"I hate this place!" burst out the boy passionately. "I
"All farms are cruel," agreed his mother quickly. "But I
suppose they have to be. People must have milk and they must have
At nine, though his fingers would become cramped and his
wrists would pain him, Bill had three cows to account for twice a
day. At five in the morning, he would be shaken by Martin and told
to hurry up. It would be dark when he stepped out into the chill
air, and he would draw back with a shiver. Somewhere on these six
hundred acres was the herd and it was his chore to find it and
bring it in. He would go struggling through the pasture, unable to
see twenty-five feet ahead of him, the cold dew or snow soaking
through his overalls, his shoes becoming wet. Often he would go a
mile north only to have to wander to another end of the farm before
he located them. Other times, when he was lucky, they would be
waiting within a hundred yards of the barn. Oh, how precious the
warm bed was, and how his growing body craved a few more hours of
sleep! He had trick of pulling the sheet up over his head, as if
thus he could shut out the world, but always his father was there
to rout him out from this nest and set him none too gently on his
feet; always there was a herd to be brought in and udders to be
emptied. It made no difference to Martin that the daily walk to
and from the district school was long, and left no spare time; it
made no difference that the long hours at his lessons left the boy
longing for play--always there was the herd, twice a day, cows and
cows without end.
At twelve, Bill was plowing behind four heavy horses. He
could run a mower, and clean a pasture of weeds in a day. He could
cultivate and handle the manure spreader. In the hot, blazing sun,
he could shock wheat behind Martin, who sat on the binder and cut
the beautiful swaying gold. There wasn't a thing he could not do,
but there was not one that he did with a willing heart. His dreams
were all of escape from this grinding, harsh farm. It seemed to
him that it was as ruthless as his father; that everything it
demanded of him was, at best, just a little beyond his strength.
If there was a lever to be pulled on the disk, very likely it was
rusted and refused to give unless he yanked until he was short of
breath and his heart beat fast; four horses were so unruly and hard
to keep in place; the gates were all so heavy--they were not easy
to lift and then drag open. It was such a bitter struggle every
step of the way. It was so hard to plow as deeply as he was
commanded. It was so wearing to make the seed bed smooth enough to
measure up to his father's standard. Never was there a person who
saw less to love about a farm than this son of Martin's. He even
ceased to take any interest in the little colts.
"You used to be foolish about them," Martin taunted,
"cried whenever I broke one."
"If I don't get to liking 'em, I don't care what happens
to 'em," Bill answered with his father's own laconicism.
This chicken-heartedness, as he dubbed it, disgusted
Martin, who consequently took a satisfaction in compelling the boy
to assist him actively whenever there were cattle to be dehorned,
wire rings to be pushed through bunches of pigs' snouts, calves to
be delivered by force, young stuff to be castrated or butchering to
be done. Often the sensitive lad's nerves were strained to the
breaking point by the inhuman torture he was constantly forced to
inflict upon creatures that had learned to trust him. There was a
period when it seemed to him every hour brought new horrors; with
each one, his determination strengthened to free himself as soon as
possible from this life that was one round of toil and brutality.
Rose gave him all the sympathy and help her great heart
knew. His rebellion had been her own, but she had allowed it to be
ground out of her, with her soul now in complete surrender. And
here was her boy going through it all over again, for himself,
learning the dull religion of toil from one of its most fanatical
priests. What if Bill, too, should finally have acquiescence to
Martin rubbed into his very marrow, should absorb his father's
point of view, grow up and run, with mechanical obedience, the farm
he abhorred? The very possibility made her shudder. If only she
could rescue him in some manner, help him to break free from this
bondage. College--that would be the open avenue. Martin would
insist upon an agricultural course, but she would use all her tact
and rally all her powers that Billy might be given the opportunity
to fit himself for some congenial occupation. Martin might even
die, and if she were to have the farm to sell and the interest from
the investments to live on, how happy she could be with this son of
hers, so like her in temperament. She caught herself up sharply.
Well, it was Martin himself who was driving her to such thoughts.
"You are like old Dorcas," she once told her husband,
driven desperate by the exhausted, harrowed look that was becoming
habitual in Bill's face. "You're trampling down your own flesh and
blood, that's what you're doing--eating the heart out of your own
"Go right on," retorted Martin, all his loneliness finding
vent in his bitter sneer, "tell that to Bill. You've turned him
against me from the day he was born. A fine chance I've ever had
with my son!"
DUST IN HIS EYES
Such was the relationship of the Wades when one morning
the mail brought them a letter from Sharon, Illinois. Rose wrote
that she was miserably unhappy with her step-mother. Could she
live with them until she found a job? She had been to business
college and was a dandy stenographer. Maybe Uncle Martin could
help her get located in Fallon.
"Of course I will, if she's got her head set on working,"
was his comment. "I'll telegraph her to come right along. Might
as well wire the fare, too, while I'm about it and tell her to let
us know exactly when she can get here."
Mrs. Wade looked up quickly at this unusual generosity,
yet she was, she realized, more startled than surprised. For had
not little Rose been the one creature Martin had loved and to whom
he had enjoyed giving pleasure? It had been charming--the response
of the big, aloof man to the merry child of seven, but that child
was now a woman, and, in all probability, a beautiful one. Wasn't
there danger of far more complicated emotions which might prove
even uprooting in their consequences? Mrs. Wade blushed. Really,
she chided herself sternly, she wouldn't have believed she could be
such an old goose--going out of her way to borrow trouble. If her
husband was moved to be hospitable, she ought to be wholly glad,
not petty enough to resent it. She would put such thoughts out of
her mind, indeed she would, and welcome Rose as she would have
wanted Norah to have welcomed Bill, had the circumstances been
reversed. It would be lovely to have the girl about--she would be
so much company, and the atmosphere of light-hearted youth which
she would bring with her would be just what Billy needed. By the
time Rose's answer came, saying she would arrive in two weeks, her
aunt was genuinely enthusiastic.
"I wonder," said Martin, "if we could build on an extra
room by then. If she's going to make this her home, she can't be
crowded as if she was just here for a short visit. I'll hunt up
Fletcher this afternoon."
Mrs. Wade's lips shut tight, as she grappled with an
altogether new kind of jealousy. To think that Martin should
delight in giving to an outsider a pleasure he had persistently
denied his own son. How often had she pleaded: "It's a shame to
make Billy sleep in the parlor! A boy ought to have one spot to
himself where he can keep his own little treasures." But always
she had been met with a plausible excuse or a direct refusal. "I
suppose I ought to be thankful someone can strike an unselfish
chord in him," she thought, wearily.
"You'll have to get some furniture," Martin continued
placidly. "Mahogany's the thing nowadays."
"It's fearfully expensive," she murmured.
"Oh, I don't know. Might as well get something good while
we're buying. And while you're at it, pick out some of those
curtains that have flowers and birds on 'em and a pretty rug or
two. I'll have Fletcher put down hard oak flooring; and I guess it
won't make much more of a mess if we go ahead and connect up the
house with the rest of the Delco system."
"It's about time," put in Bill, who had been listening
round-eyed, until now actually more than half believing his father
to be in cynical jest. "We're known all over the county as the
place that has electric lights in the barns and lamps in the
"It hasn't been convenient to do it before," was the crisp
Bill and his mother exchanged expressive glances. When
was anything ever convenient for Martin Wade unless he were to
derive a direct, personal satisfaction from it! Then it became a
horse of quite another color. He could even become lavish;
everything must be of the best; nothing else would do; no expense,
as long as full value was received, was too great. Mrs. Wade found
herself searching her memory. She was positive that not since
those occasions upon which he had brought home the sacks of candy
for the sheer sunshine of watching little Rose's glee had anyone's
pleasure been of enough importance to him to become his own. All
this present concern for her comfort talked far more plainly than
This time, Mrs. Wade admitted bravely to herself that her
jealousy was not for Billy. It would have been far easier for her
if she had known that Martin was thinking of their coming guest as
he had last seen her thirteen years before. He realized,
thoroughly, that she must have grown up, but before his mental eyes
there still danced the roguish little girl he had held so tenderly
in his arms and had so longed to protect and cherish.
He experienced a distinct sense of shock, therefore, when,
tall, slender and smartly dressed, Rose stepped off the train and,
throwing her arms impulsively around his neck, gave him an
affectionate kiss. The feel of those soft, warm lips lingered
strangely, setting his heart to pounding as he guided her down the
"Uncle Martin, you haven't changed a bit!" she exclaimed
joyously. "I was wondering if I'd recognize you--imagine!
Somehow, I thought thirteen years would make a lot of difference,
but you don't look a day older."
"You little blarney," he smiled, pleased nevertheless.
"Well, here we are," and he stopped before his fine Cadillac.
"Oh, Uncle Martin," gasped Rose ecstatically. "What a
perfectly gorgeous car! I thought all farmers were supposed to
They laughed happily together.
"It's the best in these parts," he admitted complacently.
"It's too wonderful to think that it is really yours. Oh,
Uncle Martin, do you suppose you could ever teach me to drive it?"
"It takes a good deal of strength to shift the gears, but
you can have a try at it anyway, tomorrow."
"Oh-h-h!" she exulted, slipping naturally into their old
Martin took her elbow as he helped her into the car. The
firm young flesh felt good--it was hard to let go. His thumb and
under finger had pressed the muscles slightly and they had moved
under his touch. His hand trembled a bit. The grace with which
she stepped up gave him another thrill. He was struck with her
trim pump, and the several inches of silk stocking that flashed
before his eyes, so unaccustomed to noticing dainty details, gave
him a mingled sensation of delight and embarrassment. It had been
many a day, many a year, since he had consciously observed his
wife. She was too useful for him to permit himself to be
influenced by questions of beauty into underrating her value, and
he was a respectable husband, if not a kind one. They had jogged
on so long together that he would have said he had ceased to be
conscious of her appearance. But suddenly he felt that he could
not continue to endure, for another day, the sight of the
spreading, flat house-slippers which, because of her two hundred
and forty pounds and frequently rheumatic feet, she wore about her
work. Moreover, it was forcibly borne in upon him just what a
source of irritation they had been. And they were only as a drop
in the bucket! Well, such thoughts did no one any good. Thank
heaven, from now on he would have Rose to look at.
They settled down beside each other in the front seat and
he was aware that her lovely eyes, so violet-blue and ivory-white,
were studying him admiringly. Here was a man, she was deciding,
who for his age was the physical superior of any she had ever met.
He was clearly one of those whom toil did not bend, and while, she
concluded further, he might be taken for all of his fifty-four
years it would be simply because of his austere manner.
Martin sustained her scrutiny until they were well out of
Fallon and speeding along on a good level road. Then with a
teasing "turn about's fair play," he, too, took a frank look, oddly
stirred by the sophisticated touches which added so subtly to her
natural beauty. From her soft, thick brown hair done up cleverly
in the latest mode and her narrow eyebrows arched, oh, so
carefully, and penciled with such skill, to that same trim
provocative pump and disconcerting flash of silk-clad ankle, Rose
had dash. Hers was that gift of style which is as unmistakable as
the gift of song and which, like it, is sometimes to be found
unexpectedly in any village or small town.
Martin drank in every detail wonderingly, with a kind of
awe. All his life, it seemed to him, for the last thirteen years
positively, he had known that somewhere there must be just a woman
whose radiance would set his heart beating with the rapture of this
moment and whose moods would blend so easily with his own that she
would seem like a very part of himself. And here she was, come
true, sitting right beside him in his own car. For the first time
in his whole life, Martin understood the meaning of the word
happiness. It gripped and shook him and made his heart ache with a
"It's hard to believe," he murmured, "such a very small
girl went away and such a very grown up little woman has come back.
Let's see--twenty is it? My, you make me feel old--but you say I
haven't changed much."
"You haven't. A little bit of gray, a number of tiny
wrinkles about your eyes"--the tips of two dainty fingers touched
them lightly--"and you're a bit thinner--that's all. Why you look
so good to me, Uncle Martin, I could fall in love with you myself,
if you weren't auntie's husband."
It was an innocent remark, and he understood it as such,
but its effect on him was dynamic.
"You always were as pretty as a picture," he said slowly,
his nerves tingling, "if a farmer's opinion is worth anything in
This was twaddle, of course, and Martin knew it. Rather
it was the city person's point of view he was inclined to belittle.
He had the confidence in his superiority that comes from complete
economic security and his pride of place was even more deeply
rooted. Men of Martin's class who are able to gaze, in at least
one direction, as far as eye can see over their own land, are
shrewd, sharp, intelligent, and far better informed on current
events and phases of thought than the people of commercial centers
even imagine. There is nothing of the peasant about them. Martin
knew quite well that dressed in his best clothes and put among a
crowd of strange business men he would be taken for one of their
own--so easy was his bearing, so naturally correct his speech.
Something of all this had already registered in Rose's
mind. "Come on, Uncle Martin," she laughed, "flatter me. I just
"Very well, then, I'll say that you've come back as pretty
a little woman as ever I've laid eyes on."
"Is that all? Oh, Uncle Martin, just pretty? The boys
usually say I'm beautiful."
"You are beautiful--as beautiful as a rose. That's what
you are, a red, red rose of Sharon--with your dove's eyes, your
little white teeth like a flock of even sheep and your sweet,
pretty lips like a thread of scarlet."
"Why, Uncle Martin!" exclaimed the girl, a trifle puzzled
by the intensity of his quiet tone, and stressing their
relationship ever so lightly. "You're almost a poet."
"You mean old King Solomon was," he retrieved himself
quickly. "Don't you ever read the Bible?"
"I didn't know you did!"
"Oh, your old Uncle reads a little of everything," he
returned with a reassuring commonplaceness of manner. He was
thunderstruck at his outburst. Never had he had occasion to talk
in that vein. He remembered how blunt he had been with the older
Rose twenty years before--how he had jumped to the point at the
start and landed safely; clinched his wooing, as he had since
realized, by calling her his Rose of Sharon, and now he was saying
the same thing over again, but, oh, how differently. If only he
were thirty-four today, and unmarried!
"You always were the most wonderful person," beamed Rose,
completely at her ease once more, "I used to simply adore you, and
I'm beginning to adore you again."
"That's because you don't know what a glum old grouch I
"You--a grouch? Oh, Uncle Martin!" Her merry, infectious
laugh left no doubt of how ridiculous such a notion seemed.
"Oh, yes; I am."
"Nonsense. You'll have to prove it to me."
"Ask your aunt or Bill; they'll tell you." The acrimony
in his tone did not escape her.
"Then they'll have to prove it to me," she corrected, her
gaiety now a trifle forced. Aunt Rose never had appreciated him,
was her quick thought. Even as a child she had sensed that.
"How are they?" she added quickly. "Bill must be a great
boy by this time."
"Only a few inches shorter than I am," Martin answered
indifferently. "He's one of the kind who get their growth early--
by the time he's fifteen he'll be six feet."
"I'm crazy to see them."
"Well, there's your aunt now," he returned drily as they
drew up before the little house that contrasted so conspicuously
with the fine brick silos and imposing barns. Gleaming with
windows, they loomed out of the twilight, reminding one, in their
slate-colored paint, of magnificent battleships.
The bright glare of the auto picked Mrs. Wade out for them
as mercilessly as a searchlight. Where she had been stout thirteen
years before, she was now frankly fat. Four keen eyes noted the
soft, cushiony double chin, the heavy breasts, ample stomach,
spreading hips, and thick shoulders, rounded from many years of
bending over the kitchen table. Kansas wind, Kansas well-water and
Kansas sun had played their usual havoc, giving her skin the dull
sand color so common in the Sunflower State. She had come from her
cooking and she was hot, beads of sweat trickling from the deep
folds of her neck. Withal, there was something so comfortable and
motherly about her, the kind, wise eyes behind the gold-rimmed
glasses were so misty with welcome and unspoken thoughts of the
dear mother Rose had lost, that the girl went out to her sincerely
even as she marvelled that the same years on the same farm which
had given one person added polish and had made him even more good
looking than ever, could have changed another so completely and
turned her into such a toil-scarred, frumpy, oldish woman. Why,
when she had been talking with Uncle Martin he had seemed no older
than herself--well, not quite that, of course, but she had just
forgotten about his age altogether--until she saw Aunt Rose. No
wonder whenever he spoke of his wife every intonation told how
little he loved her. How could he care any more--that way?
Rose's first look of astonishment and her darting glance
in his own direction were not lost on Martin. With an
imperceptible smile, he accepted the unintended compliment, but he
felt a pang when he noticed that to her Aunt went the same
affectionate, impetuous embrace that she had given to him at the
"You're losing your head," he told himself sternly,
driving into the garage, where, stopping his engine, he continued
to sit motionless at the wheel. "That ought to be a lesson to you;
she's just naturally warm-hearted and loving. Always was. You're
no more to her than anybody else. Well, there's no fool like an
old fool." Yet, deeper than his admitted thought was the positive
conviction that already something was up between them. If not, why
this excitement and wild happiness? To be sure, nothing had been
said--really. It had all been so light. Rose was just a bit of
born flirt. But he, having laughed at love all his life, loved her
deeply, desperately. Well, so much the worse for himself--it
couldn't lead anywhere. Yet in spite of all his logic he knew that
something was going to happen. Hang it all--just what? He was
afraid to answer his own question; not because of any dread of what
his wife might do--he was conscious only of a new, cold, impersonal
hatred toward her because she stood between him and his Rose; nor
was it qualms about his ability to win the girl's heart. Already,
despite his inexperience with love technique, he was, in some
mysterious manner, making progress. The community--his position in
it? This was food for thought certainly, but it was not what
worried him. Then why this feeling of dismay when he wanted to be
The question was still unanswered when he finally left the
garage. With all his powers of introspection, he had not yet
fathomed the fact that it was a fear of his own, until now utterly
unsuspected, capacity for recklessness. Heretofore, he had been
able to count on the certainty that his best judgment would govern
all his actions. Now, he felt himself clutching, almost
frantically, at the hard sense of proportion that never before had
so much as threatened to desert him. He went about his chores in a
grave, automatic way, absorbed in anything but agriculture. Hardly
ever did he pass through his barn without paying homage to his own
progressiveness and oozing approval of the mechanical milker,
driven by his own electrical dynamo, the James Way stanchions with
electric lights above, the individual drinking fountains at the
head of each cow, the corkbrick floors, the scrupulously white-
washed walls, and the absence of odor, with the one exception of
sweet, fermented silage. But, tonight, he was not seeing these
symbols of material superiority. Instead he was thinking of a girl
with eyes as soft as a dove's, lips like a thread of scarlet and
small white teeth as even as a flock of his own Shropshire sheep.
What else did that old King Solomon say? God Almighty, he thought,
there was a man who understood! He'd try to get a chance to reread
that Song of Songs that was breaking his own heart with its joy and
His reverie was broken abruptly by the jangling supper-
bell. When he reached the back door Bill was already at the table
and Rose, in a simple gown that brought out the appealing lines of
her slim young body, was deftly helping his wife in the final
dishing up. As Martin stood a moment, looking in at the bright
scene and listening to the happy chatter, he heard her ask if he
had got her a job. At sight of him she cried excitedly: "Oh,
Uncle Martin! You can't think how I adore my beautiful room! And
Bill says it was you who first thought of building it for me. You
old darling! You and Aunt Rose are the best people in the whole
wide world. How can I ever thank you?"
"I'll tell you," he smiled, "forget all about that job and
just stay around here and make us all young. Time enough to work
when you have to."
Mrs. Wade noticed how Bill's eyes widened at these words,
so unlike his father, and soon she was acutely aware of her
husband's marked agreeableness whenever he directed his
conversation toward Rose. He even tried to include his son and
herself in this new atmosphere, but with each remark in their
direction his manner changed subtly. Toward herself, in
particular, his feelings were too deep for him to succeed in
As the meal progressed, she realized that her dim
forebodings were fast materializing into a certain danger. Unless
she acted promptly this slip of a girl was going to affect,
fundamentally, all their lives. Already, it seemed as though she
had been amongst them a long time and had colored the future of
them all. Mrs. Wade understood far better than her husband would
have supposed that, in his own way, his married life had been as
starved as her own; oh, far more so, for she had her boy. And
while it was not at all likely, it was not wholly impossible that
he might seek a readjustment. It seemed far-fetched for her to sit
thus and feel that drama was entering their hard lives when nothing
had really happened, but nevertheless--she knew. As, outwardly so
calm, she speculated with tumbled thoughts on how it might end, she
tried to analyze why it was that the prospect of a shake-up filled
her with such a sense of disaster. Surely, it was not because of
any reluctance to separate from Martin. Her life would be far
easier if they went their own ways. With Bill, she could made a
home anywhere, one that was far more real, in a house from which
broken promises did not sound as from a trumpet. Ashes of
resentment still smouldered against Martin because of that failure
of his to play fair. She recalled the years during which she had
helped him to earn with never an unexpected pleasure; reflected
with bitterness that never, since they had cast their lives
together, had he urged her to indulge in any sweet little
extravagance, though he had denied himself nothing that he really
wished. It was no riddle to her, as it had been to her niece
earlier in the evening, why the same hard work had dealt so
benignly with Martin and so uncharitably with herself. She
comprehended only too well that it was not that alone which had
crushed her. It was his ceaseless domination over her, the utter
subjugation of her will, her complete lack of freedom. She glanced
across the table at him, astounded by his hearty laugh in response
to one of Rose's sallies. It seemed incredible that it could be
really Martin's. It had such a ring and came out so easily as if
he were more inclined to merriment than to silence. Usually, he
seemed made of long strips of thin steel, but under the inspiration
of Rose's presence he had become animated, brisk, interesting. No
wonder she was being drawn to him.
It was as if he had withheld from his wife a secret
alchemy that had kept him handsome and attractive, as compelling as
when he had come in search of herself so long ago. And now that
the last vestige of her own bloom was gone, he was laughing at her,
inwardly, as a cunning person does who plays a malicious trick on a
simpler, more trusting, soul. Only it had taken twenty years to
spring the point of this one. Hatred welled in her heart; a sad,
weary hatred that knew no tears. She wished that she might hurt
him as he had hurt her. Yet, with her usual honesty, she presently
admitted how easy it would be for this malevolence to melt away--a
word, a look, a gesture from Martin and the heart in her would
flood with forgiveness; but the look did not come, the word was
He was squandering, she continued to observe, sufficient
evidence of his interest at the feet of this child who never would
have missed it, while she, herself, who could have lifted mountains
from her breast with one tenth of this appreciation, was left, as
she always had been left, without the love her being craved, the
love of a mate, rising full and strong to meet her own. It was a
yearning that the most cherished of children could never satisfy
and as she watched Martin and Rose her position seemed to her to be
that of a hungry pauper, brought to the table of a rich gourmand,
there to look on helplessly while the other toyed carelessly with
the precious morsels of which she was in such extreme need. And
what rankled was that these thoughts were futile, that too much
water had run under the bridge, that it was her lot in Martin's
life merely to accept what was offered her. She knew that the
marks of her many hours of suppressed anguish, thousands of days of
toil and long series of disappointments were thick upon her. She
realized, too, how ironical it was that with all her work she
should have grown to be so ungainly although Martin retained the
old magnetism of his gorgeous physique. There was no doubt that if
he chose, he could still hold a woman's devotion. Yes, for him
there was an open road from this gray monotony, if he had the will
and the courage to escape.
Suddenly, she found herself wondering what effect all this
would have on Bill. She stole a surreptitious glance at him, but
he, too, seemed to have been caught up by Rose's gay, good humor.
Mrs. Wade sighed as she remembered how everyone had flocked around
Norah. Rose had inherited her mother's charm. Such women were a
race apart. They could no more be held responsible for trying to
please than a flower for exhaling its fragrance. At what a lovely
moment of life she was! Small wonder that Martin was captivated,
but not even the shadow of harm must fall on that fresh young
spirit while she was under their roof. If things went much further
she would have it out with him. And this decision reached, Mrs.
Wade felt her usual composure gradually return, nor did it again
desert her during the long evening through which it seemed to her
as if her husband must be some stranger.
MARTIN BATTLES WITH DUST
The human animal is a strange spectacle to behold, let
alone comprehend. Not infrequently he goes along for years
developing a state of mind, a consistent attitude, and then having
got it thoroughly established does something in distinct
contradiction to it. Martin had never cared for music, but when
one evening, a little more than a week after Rose's arrival, she
suggested, with a laughing lilt, her fondness for it, he agreed
that he had missed it in his home and, to Bill's and Mrs. Wade's
unbelieving surprise, dwelt at length upon his enjoyment of
Fallon's band and his longing to blow a cornet. A little later,
finding an excuse to leave, he drove into town on a mission so
foreign to his iron-clad character that it seemed to cry against
his every instinct, but which, for all that, he did with such
simplicity as to indicate that it was the most natural step
imaginable. He actually bought a two-hundred-dollar mahogany
Victrola and an assortment of records, bringing both home with him
in his car and, assisted eagerly by Bill, carrying them into the
front room with an air that said it was a purchase he had been
intending to make for a long time. Rose rewarded him with her
bubbling delight and her aunt noticed with an odd constriction
about her heart how Bill revelled at last in the new treasure,
until now so hopelessly coveted. Martin had never shone to better
advantage than this evening as he helped select and put on
different pieces, lending himself to the mood of each. It was
while a foot-stirring dance was on that Rose asked suddenly:
"Oh, Uncle Martin, do you know how?"
He shook his head. "You'll have to teach me to square up
for learning to drive the car."
"That's a bargain; and I'll teach Bill too," she added
with native tact. But Mrs. Wade, ill at ease in her own parlor,
caught the afterthought quality of Rose's tone. There was no
question but that it was for Martin she sparkled, sweet and
spontaneous as she was. Decidedly, the time had come when definite
action should not be delayed.
It was nearly twelve o'clock when they finally broke up
and husband and wife found themselves alone in their own room. As
they undressed, Mrs. Wade acted nervously, confused as to how to
begin, while Martin whistled lightly and kept time by a slight
bobbing of his head. She shot a meaning look in his direction.
"You seem happy, don't you?"
He stopped whistling instantly and assumed his more normal
look of set sternness. This was the man she knew and she preferred
him that way, rather than buoyant because of some other woman, even
though that other was as lovable and innocent of any deliberate
mischief as her niece. Not that she was jealous so much as she was
hurt. When a woman has fortified herself, after years of the
existence to which Mrs. Wade had submitted, with the final
conviction that undoubtedly her husband's is a nature that cannot
be other than it is, and then learns there are emotional
potentialities not yet plumbed, not to mention a capacity for
pleasant comradeship of which he has never vouchsafed her an
inkling, she finds herself being ground between the millstones of
an aching admission of her own deficiencies and a tattered, but
Martin, when her remark concerning his apparent happiness
had registered, let his answer be a sober inspection of the garment
he had just removed.
"I don't suppose you can talk to me now after such a
strenuous evening," she went on more emphatically. And as he
maintained his silence, she continued with: "Oh, don't think I'm
blind, Martin Wade. I know exactly how far this has gone and I
know how far it can go."
"What are you driving at?"
"You know perfectly well what I mean--the way you are
behaving toward Rose."
"Are you trying to imply that I'm carrying on with her?"
"I certainly am. I'm not angry, Martin. I never was
calmer than I am right now, and I don't intend to say things just
for the sake of saying them. I only want you to know that I have
eyes, and that I don't want to be made a fool of."
To her surprise, Martin came over to her and, looking at
her steadily, returned with amazing candidness: "I'm not going to
lie to you. You're perfectly welcome to know what's in my mind. I
love her with every beat of my heart--she has brought something new
into my life, something sacred--you've always thought I cared for
nothing but work, that all I lived for was to plan and scheme how
to make money. Haven't you? I don't blame you. It's what I've
always believed, but tonight I've learned something." Mrs. Wade
could see his blood quicken. "She has been in this house only a
few days and already I am alive with a new fire. It seems as if
these hours are the only ones in which I have ever really lived--
nothing else matters. Nothing! If there could be the slightest
chance of my winning her love, of making her feel as I am feeling
now, I'd build my world over again even if I had to tear all of the
old one down." Martin was now talking to himself, oblivious to his
wife's presence, indifferent to her. "Happiness is waiting for me
with her, with my little flower."
"Your Rose of Sharon?" Her tone was biting.
"If only I could say that! My Rose of Sharon!" It seemed
to Mrs. Wade that the very room quivered with his low cry that was
almost a groan. "I know what you're thinking," he went on, "but
you know I have never loved you. You knew it when I married you,
you must have." The twisting agony of it--that he could make
capital out of the very crux of all her suffering. "I have never
deceived you and I never intend to. My life with you hasn't been a
Song of Solomon, but I'm not complaining."
"You're not complaining! I hope I won't start
"Well, now you know how I feel. I'll go on with the
present arrangement between us, but I'm playing square with you--
it's because there's no hope for me. If I thought she cared for
me, I would go to her, right now, tonight, and pour out my heart to
her, wife or no wife. Oh, Rose, have pity! It can't do you any
harm if I drink a little joy--don't spoil her faith in me! Don't
frighten her away. I can't bear the thought of her going out into
the world to work. She's like a gentle little doe feeding on
lilies--she doesn't dream of the pitfalls ahead of her. And she
will never know--she doesn't even suspect how I feel towards her.
She will meet some young fellow in town and marry. I'm too old for
her--but Rose, you don't understand what it means to me to have her
in the same house, to know that she is sleeping so near, so
beautiful, so ready for love; that when I wake up tomorrow she will
still be here."
Disarmed and partly appeased by the frankness of his
confession, Mrs. Wade sat silently taking in each word, studying
him with wet eyes, her lips almost blue, her breath a little short.
The fire in his voice, the reality of his strange, terrible love,
the eyes that gazed so sadly and so unexpectantly into space, the
hands that seemed to have shed their weight of toil and clutched,
too late, for the bright flowers of happiness--all filled her with
compassion. Never had he looked so splendid. He seemed, in
casting off his thongs, to have taken on some of the Herculean
quality of his own magnificent gesture. It was as if their
barnyard well had burst into a mighty, high-shooting geyser. To
her dying day would she remember that surge of passion. To have
met it with anger would have been of as little avail as the stamp
of a protesting foot before the tremors of an earthquake.
She offered him the comforting directness which she might
have given Bill. "I didn't know you felt so deeply, Martin. Life
plays us all tricks; it's played many with me, and it's playing one
of its meanest with you, for whatever happens you are going to
suffer--far more than I am. You can believe it or not, but I'm
Martin felt oddly grateful to her; he had not expected
this sense of understanding. She might have burst into wild tears.
Instead, she was pitying him. More possessed of his usual
immobility, he remarked:
"I must be a fool, a great, pathetic fool. I look into a
girl's eyes and immediately see visions. I say a few words to her
and she is kind enough to say a few to me and I see pictures of new
happiness. I should have more sense. I don't know what is the
matter with me."
Although countless answers leaped to his wife's tongue she
made none but the cryptic: "Well, it's no use to discuss it any
more tonight. We both need rest." But all the while that she was
undressing with her usual sure, swift movements, and after she had
finally slipped between the sheets, her mind was racing.
She was soon borne so completely out on the current of her
own thoughts that she forgot Martin's actual presence. She
remembered as if it were yesterday, the afternoon he came to the
office and asked her to marry him. She wondered anew, as she had
wondered a thousand times, if anything other than a wish for a
housekeeper had prompted him. She remembered her misgivings--how
she had read into him qualities which she had believed all these
years were not there. But hadn't her intuition been justified,
after all, by the very man she had seen tonight? Yes, her first
feeling, that he was something finer, still in the rough, had been
correct. She had thought it was his shyness, his unaccustomedness
to women that had made him such a failure as a lover--and all the
while it had been simply that she was not the right woman. When
love touched him, he became a veritable white light.
All these years when he had been so cold, so hard toward
her, it simply was because he disliked her. She remembered the day
she was hurt, and the night her first baby came. Martin's
brutality even now kindled in her a dull blazing anger, and as she
realized what depths of feeling were in him, his callousness seemed
intensified an hundred-fold. Well, she was having her revenge.
All his life he had thwarted her, stolen from her, used her as one
could not use even a hired hand, worked her more as a slave-driver
hurries his underlings that profits may mount; now, by her mere
existence, she was thwarting him. She saw him again as he had
flashed before her when he had talked of Rose and she admitted
bitterly to herself, what in her heart she had known all along--
that if Martin could have loved her, she could have worshipped him.
Instead, he had slowly smothered her, but she had at least a
dignity in the community. He should not harm that. If they were
unhappy, at least no one knew it. Her pride was her refuge. If
that were violated she felt life would hold no sanctuary, that her
soul would be stripped naked before the world.
But why was she afraid? Didn't Martin have his own
position to think of? What if he had said nothing was to be
compared to his new-found love for Rose. What stupidity on his
part not to realize that it was his very position, power and money
that commanded her respect. Did he command anything else from her?
Mrs. Wade reviewed the evening. Yes, response had been in Rose's
laugh, in every movement. Hadn't she always adored Martin, even as
a tiny girl? Hadn't there always been some mystic bond between
them? How she had envied them then. But if Martin were to go to
her with only his love? From the depths of her observations of
people she took comfort. He might stir his lovely Rose of Sharon
to the uttermost, had he been free he might have won her for his
wife--but would it be possible for fifty-four to hold the attention
of twenty for long if he had nothing but his love to offer?
Such thoughts were hurrying through her heated mind as
Martin slowly laid himself beside her. He said nothing, but lost
himself in a flood of ceaseless ponderings. After stretching some
of the tiredness out of his throbbing muscles, he relaxed and lay
quietly, trying to recall exactly what he had said. Did his wife
suspect that there might be no truth in the remark that Rose would
never know how he felt toward her? At moments he felt that the
girl already divined it, again he was not so sure. It was hard to
be certain, but the more he thought about it the more hope he began
to feel that she would yet be wholly his. Her admiration and trust
belonged to him now, but there might be moral scruples which he
would have to overcome. There would be the difficulty of
convincing her that she would be doing her aunt no wrong. She
would gain courage, however, from his own heedlessness. That same
daring which he had just shown with the older Rose and which had
impressed her into silence would eventually move his flower to him.
He had thrown down the bars. Secrecy was now out of the question
and it was well that he was moving thus in the open. Rose might
shrink at first from the plain-spokenness of the situation, but
this phase would soon pass and then the fact that she knew he was
not hiding his love for her even from his wife would make it far
easier to press his suit and possibly to bring it to a swift
He must win her! He must. He had been mad to admit to
himself, much less to his Rag-weed, that there was any doubt of
this outcome. It might take a few more days, a week, not longer
than that. But what should he do when Rose gave the message to
him? Could he go away with her? This bothered him for a while.
Of course, he would have to. He could not send his wife away. The
community would not tolerate this. Martin knew his neighbors. He
did not care a snap for their good opinion, but he realized exactly
how much they could hurt him if he violated their prejudices beyond
a certain point. Fortunately, there are millions of communities in
the world. This one would rise against him and denounce, another
would accept them as pleasant strangers. He might be taken for
Rose's father! He would fight this with tireless care. Yes, he
would have to go away. But his business interests--what about his
farm, his cattle, his machinery, his bank stock, his mortgages, his
municipal bonds? How wonderful it would be if he could go with her
to the station--his securities in grip, his other possessions
turned into a bank draft! But this woman lying at his side--the
law gave her such a large share.
Cataclysmic changes were taking place in the soul of
Martin Wade. The very thing which, without being able to name, he
had dreaded a short week ago in the garage, was hovering over him,
casting its foreboding shadow of material destruction. His whole
system of values was being upset. He felt an actual revulsion
against property. What was it all compared to his Rose? He would
throw it at his wife's feet--his wife's feet and Bill's. Let them
take every penny of it--no, not every penny. He would need a
little--just a thousand or two to start with and then the rest
would come easily, for he knew how to make money. And how liberal
that would be.
He could see himself as he would go forth with Rose,
leaving behind the woman he had never loved and all that he had
toiled so many years to amass. It seemed fair--the property for
which he had lusted so mercilessly left for the woman with whom he
had lived so dully, left as the ransom to be paid for his liberty.
So he and his Rose of Sharon would walk away--walk, because even
the car would be surrendered--and he would be free with the only
woman for whom he had ever yearned.
Would she be happy for long? His pride answered "yes,"
but against his will he pictured himself being dumped ruthlessly
into the pitiless sixties while Rose still lingered in the glorious
twenties. This was a most unpleasant reflection and Martin
preferred to dismiss it. That belonged to tomorrow. He would wait
until then to fight tomorrow's battles. His mind came back to the
property again. Wasn't it rather impetuous to surrender all?
Wouldn't it be unfair to Rose to be so generous to his wife? She
had Bill. In a few years he would be old enough to run the farm.
Until then, with his help and good hired hands, she could do it
herself. Why not leave it and the goods on it to her and take the
mortgages and bonds with him? Rose was joy. He could hold her
more securely with comforts added to his great love. Her happiness
had to be thought of, had to be protected.
He could tell that his wife was still awake. He might
begin to talk and maybe they could arrange a settlement. But he
was getting too tired for a discussion that might invite tears and
even a fit of hysterics, like the one she had gone through before
their first child came dead. He could see her still as she looked
that morning in the barn crying: "You'll be punished for this some
day--you will--you will. You don't love me, but some time you will
love some one. Then you'll understand what it is to be treated
like this--" It gave him the creeps now to remember it. It was
like one of those old incantations; almost like a curse. What if
some day his Rose should grow to be as indifferent, feel as little
tenderness toward him as he had felt toward his wife at that
moment. The pain of it made him break out into a fine sweat. But
he hadn't understood. What had he understood until this love had
come into his life! He would never do a thing as cruel as that
now. Come to think of it, the older Rose wasn't acting like a bad
sort. But then, when it came to a show-down she might not be so
magnanimous as she had appeared tonight.
Mrs. Wade was still thinking. She also was measuring
possibilities and clairvoyantly sensing what was going on in her
husband's mind. She, too, was sure that Rose would capitulate to
him. She felt a deep sympathy for the girl. Martin had said it
himself--he was too old for her. Her happiness lay with youth.
And yet, how could one be so certain? Love was so illusive, so
capricious! Did it really bow to the accident of years? Had she,
Rose Wade, the right to snatch from anyone's hands the most
precious gift of life? Wouldn't she have sold her very soul, at
one time, to have had Martin care for her like this? Oh, if the
child were wise she would not hesitate! She would drink her cup of
joy while it was held out to her brimming full. A strange
conclusion for a staid churchwoman like Mrs. Wade, but her rich
humanity transcended all her training. She wondered if there could
be anything in the belief that there was waiting somewhere for each
soul just one other. There were people, she knew, who thought
that. Rose had drawn out all that was finest in Martin--she had
transformed him into a lover, and if she wanted the man, himself,
she could have him. But, decided his wife, he could not take with
him the things which her sweat and blood had helped to create. She
would give him a divorce, but her terms would be as brutal as the
Martin with whom she had lived these twenty years, and who now took
it for granted that she would let him do whatever he chose. She
was to be made to step aside, was she, with no weapon with which to
strike back and no armor with which to protect herself? Well,
there was one way she might hit him--one. She would strike him in
his weakest point--his belongings. Yes, Martin Wade might leave
her but all his property must be left behind--every cent of it.
There should be a contract to that effect; otherwise, she would
fight as only a frenzied woman can fight.
The two of them, lying there side by side as quietly as if
in death, each considered the issue settled. She would let him go
without his property; Martin would leave with half of it. And
through all the long wordless controversy, their little Rose of
Sharon, a few yards away, slept as only a tired child can sleep.
THE DUST SMOTHERS
When Martin opened his eyes, next morning, he realized
with a start that he had overslept, which was a new experience for
one whose life had been devoted so consistently to hard toil; and
he saw with a sharper start, that his wife, who always got up about
a half hour earlier than himself, was not even yet awake. He
wondered what had come over him that he should have committed such
a sin, and as his tired mind opened one of its doors and let the
confused impressions flutter out, he countenanced a luxury as
unusual as the impulse that had sent him townward the evening
before to bring home the Victrola. Instead of jumping out hastily
so that he might attend to his hungry, bellowing stock, he lay
quietly marshalling the new incidents of his life into a parade
which he ordered to march across the low ceiling.
He could not comprehend what the tornado had been about.
There had been so little on which to base the excitement--so little
that he was puzzled as to what had caused the scene with his wife.
And as he reflected, it seemed highly unlikely to him that he would
ever permit himself to do anything that might jeopardize his whole
life, topple over the structure that decades of work had built.
Why, it was scarcely less than suicidal to let a stranger come into
his heart and maybe weaken his position. He remembered his last
thought before falling asleep. It appeared unutterably rash,
though when hit upon, it had been a decision that moderated a more
extreme action. Now he realized that it was the very acme of
foolishness deliberately to sacrifice half his fortune, especially
the farm itself, to which he had given so many years of complete
concentration. Certainly, if Rose were ready to be his, he might
not hesitate even a second; but this flower was still to be won by
him, and this morning, aware of what scant grounds he had upon
which to venture any forecasts, he felt as full of doubt as he had
been of confidence last night. It had been a saddening experience,
but fortunate, for all that, inasmuch as nothing serious had come
of it, except that he was greatly sobered. Martin could not
understand that mysterious something which had risen up in his
nature and threatened to wreck a carefully-built life. It was his
first meeting with the little demon that rebels in a man after he
thinks his character and his reactions thoroughly established, and
he shuddered as he realized how close the strange imp had pulled
him to the precipice. Yesterday, that precipice had seemed a new
paradise; now it was a yawning chasm--and he drew back, frightened.
Cows, horses, sheep, pigs, chickens, turkeys, dogs, barn
cats--all do not remain patient while the man who owns them lies in
bed dreaming dreams. They wait a while and then get nervous. The
many messages for food which they sent to Martin forced him to
spring out of bed and hurry to them, for nothing is as unbearably
insistent as a barn and yard full of living things clamoring their
determination to have something to eat. As Martin ran to stop the
bedlam, he saw the world as an enormous, empty stomach, at the
opening of which he stood, hurling in the feed as fast as his
muscles would permit. It was all there was to farming--raising
crops and then shovelling the hay and the grain into these
stomachs. Martin stood back a few feet and with loving eyes
watched his animals enjoy their food. Here were the creatures he
loved. The fine herd of Holstein cows--their big eyes looked at
him with such trust! And their black and white markings--so spick
and span with shininess because he threw salt on them that each cow
might lick the other clean--their heavy milk veins, great udders,
and backs as straight as a die--all appealed to his sense of the
beautiful. "God Almighty!" he thought, "but they're wonders!
There's none like them west of Chicago." The mule colts, so huge
and handsome, and oh, so knowing! made him chuckle his pride and
satisfaction in a muttered: "Man's creation, are you, you fine
young devils? Well, you're a credit, the lot of you, to whoever
deserves it." His eyes wandered over the rest of his stock, swept
his wide realm. It was all a very part of himself. Yes, here was
his life--here was his world. It would be the height of folly to
At breakfast, his wife ate sullenly, refusing to be drawn
into the conversation, but by a wise compression of her lips and a
flicker of amusement in her eyes, which seemed to say: "Oh, if
only you could see how absurd you appear," she contrived very
cleverly to render Martin miserably self-conscious. Hampered by
this new and unexpected feeling, his attempts to be pleasant fell
flat and he lapsed into his old grimness, while Rose, eating
quickly, confined her remarks to her determination to go to town in
search of a job. Had Martin not talked as he had to his wife he
would have been able, undoubtedly, to disregard her and to continue
the line of chatter which he had hit upon so happily and which he
had never suspected was in him. But the fact, not so much that she
knew, but that from this vantage point of knowledge she was
ridiculing him, was too much for even his self-possession. It made
the light banter impossible. Especially, as there was no doubt
that Rose did not seem anxious for it.
For Martin had not been the only member of that household
who had held early communion with himself. The girl had sat long
and dreamily at her dressing table--the dainty one of rich, dark
mahogany that Uncle Martin's thoughtfulness had provided. It
seemed unbelievable, but there was no use pretending she was
mistaken--Uncle Martin, Aunt Rose's husband, was falling in love
with her. She felt a little heady with the excitement of it. He
was so different from the callow youths and dapper fellows who had
heretofore worshipped at her shrine. There was something so
imposing, so important about him. She was conscious that a man so
much older might not appeal to many girls of her age, but it so
happened that he did appeal to her. She would be able to have
everything she wished, too--didn't she know how good, how kind, how
tender he could be. And her heart yearned toward him--he was so
clearly misunderstood, unhappy. But what about Aunt Rose? Well,
then, why had she let herself get to be so ugly? She looked as if
the greases of her own kitchen stove had cooked into her skin,
thought the girl, mercilessly. Didn't she know there was such a
thing as a powder puff? Women like that brought their own troubles
upon themselves, that's what they did. And she was an old prude,
too. Anyone could see with half an eye that she didn't like the
idea of Uncle Martin learning to dance--why, she didn't even like
his getting the Victrola--when it was just what both he and Bill
had been wanting. But for all that she was her aunt, her own
mother's sister and, poor dear, she was a good soul. It would
probably upset her awfully and besides, oh well, it just wasn't
Before her mirror Rose blushed furiously, quite ashamed of
the light way in which she had been leading Uncle Martin on. "But
I haven't said one solitary thing auntie couldn't have heard," she
justified herself. Oh, well, no harm had been done. But she
mustn't stay here, that was certain. She wouldn't say so, or hurt
their feelings, for she wanted to be on the best of terms with them
always, but she would stop flirting with Uncle Martin and just turn
him back into a dear good friend. She hoped she was clever enough
to do that much. And the dark-brown curls received a brushing that
left no doubt of the vigor of her decisions.
She insisted that she go to Fallon that morning. "I've
been here eight whole days, Uncle Martin," she announced firmly,
"eight whole days and haven't tried to get a thing. It's terrible,
isn't it, Aunt Rose, how lazy I am. I'm going to have Bill take me
in right straight after breakfast."
"If you're so set on it, I'll see about your position this
afternoon," conceded Martin reluctantly. "We'll drive in in the
"Oh, Uncle Martin," she coaxed innocently, "let me try my
luck alone first. Bill can tell me who the different men are and
if I know he's waiting for me outside in the buggy, it will keep me
from being scared." And her young cousin, only too pleased with
the proposed arrangement, chimed in with: "That's the stuff, Rose.
Folks have got to go it on their own, to get anywhere."
By evening she had a position in an insurance agent's
office with wages upon which she could live with fair decency. As
it had rained all day and her employer wanted her to begin the next
morning, she had the best possible excuse for renting a room in
Fallon and asking Bill to ride in horseback with some things which
she would ask Aunt Rose, over the telephone, to pack. It rained
all the next day, too, and Sunday, when she met Mrs. Wade and Bill
at church, she told them she had some extra typing she had promised
to do by Monday. "No, auntie, this week it is really and truly
just impossible, but next week--honest and true!" she insisted as
the older woman seconded rather impersonally her son's urgent
invitation to chicken and noodles.
Soon winter was upon them in good earnest, and Rose's
visits "home," as she always called it, were naturally infrequent.
By Christmas time, she was receiving attentions from Frank Mall,
Nellie's second son, a young farmer of twenty-five.
To Mrs. Wade's everlasting credit, she never twitted
Martin with this, although she knew it from Rose's own lips, a
month before he heard of it through Bill. She was too grateful for
their narrow escape to feel vindictive and might have convinced
herself they had merely endured a bad nightmare if it had not been
for the shiny Victrola; the sight of it underscored the whole
experience and she wished there were some way to get rid of the
thing, a wish that was echoed even more fervently by Martin. In
the evenings they would sit around the cleared supper table, she
doing odd jobs of mending, Martin reading, checking up the interest
dates on his mortgages or making entries in his account book, while
Bill at his books, would study to the accompaniment of record after
record, blissfully unconscious of what a thorn in the flesh he and
his music were to both his parents.
It was all so unpleasant. To Mrs. Wade it brought up
pictures. And it made Martin feel sheepish--the way he had felt
that afternoon, decades ago, as he sat in the bakery eating a
chocolate ice-cream soda and watching her walk across the Square.
He would have told Bill to quit playing it--more than once the
sharp words were on his tongue--but memories of the enthusiasm he
had evinced the night he brought it home kept him silent. He was
afraid of what the boy might say, afraid he might put two and two
together, so he let it stay, although with his usual caution he had
arranged for a trial and would have felt justified in packing it
back as soon as the roads had permitted. Illogically, he felt it
was all Bill's fault that he must endure this annoyance.
That fall, the boy started to high school in Fallon,
making the long daily ride to and from town on horseback. He was a
good pupil and the hours he spent with his lessons were precious;
they made the farm drift away. To his mind, which was opening like
a bud, it seemed that history was the recorded romance of men who
were everything but farmers. School books told fascinating stories
of conquerors, soldiers, inventors, writers, engineers, kings,
statesmen and orators. He would sit and dream of the doers of
great deeds. When he read of Alexander the Great, Bill was he. He
was Caesar and Napoleon, Washington and Lincoln, Grant and Edison
and Shakespeare. When railroads were built in the pages of his
American History, it was Bill, himself, no less, who was the
presiding genius. His imagination constructed and levelled, and
rebuilt and remade.
One beautiful November afternoon, in his Junior year, at
the sound of the last bell, which usually found him cantering out
of town, he went instead to the school reading-room, and, sitting
down calmly, opened his book and slowly read. The clock ticked off
the seconds he was stealing from his father; counted the minutes
that had never belonged to Bill before, but which now tasted like
old wine on the palate. He cuddled down, lost to the world until
five o'clock, when the building was closed. He left it only to
march down a few blocks to the town's meager library, where another
hour flew past. Gradually an empty feeling in his middle region
became increasingly insistent, and briefly exploring his pockets,
Bill decided upon a restaurant where he bought a stew and rolls for
fifteen cents. Never had a supper tasted so satisfying. After it,
he strolled around the town, feeling a pleasant warmth in his
veins, a springiness to his legs, a new song in his heart. It was
so good to be free to go where he pleased, to be his own master, if
only for a stolen hour, to keep out of sight of a cow or a plow.
He wondered why he had never done this before.
It was youth daring Fate, without show or bravado or fear;
rolling the honey under his tongue and drawing in its sweetness;
youth, that lives for the moment, that can be blind to the
threatening future, that can forget the mean past; youth slipping
along with some chewing-gum between his teeth and a warm sensation
in his stew-crammed stomach, whistling, dreaming, happy; youth,
that can, without premeditation, remain away from home and leave
udders untapped and pigs unfed; sublime enigma; angering bit of
irresponsibility to the Martins of a fiercely practical world.
Bill was that rare kind of boy who could pull away from the traces
just when he seemed most thoroughly broken to the harness.
It was ten o'clock before he got his pony out of the
livery barn and started for home. Even on the way, he refused to
imagine what would happen. He entered the house quietly, as though
to tell his father that it was his next move, and setting his
bundle of books on a chair, he glanced at his mother. She was at
the stove, where an armful of kindling had been set off to take the
chill out of the house. She looked at him mysteriously, as though
he were a ghost of some lost one who had strayed in from a
graveyard, but she said nothing. Bill did not even nod to her. He
fumbled with his books, as though to keep them from slipping to the
floor when, quite obviously, they were not even inclined to leave
the chair. Rose let her eyes fall and then slide, under half-
closed lids, until they had Martin in her view. She looked at him
appealingly, but he was staring at a paper which he was not
reading. He had been in this chair for two hours, without a word,
pretending to be studying printed words which his mind refused to
register. Martin had done Bill's share of the chores, with
unbelief in his heart. He had never imagined such a thing. Who
would have thought it could happen--a son of his!
His wife broke the silence with:
"What happened, Billy? Were you sick?"
"No, mother, I wasn't sick."
Martin was still looking at his paper, which his fists
"Then you just couldn't get home sooner, could you?
Something you couldn't help kept you away, didn't it?"
Bill shook his head slowly. "No," he answered easily. "I
could have come home much sooner."
"Billy, dear, what did happen?" She was beginning to feel
panicky; he was courting distress.
"Nothing, mother. I just felt like staying in the
reading-room and reading--"
"Oh, you had to do some lessons, didn't you! Miss Roberts
should have known better--"
"I didn't have to stay in--I wanted to."
Martin still kept silent, his eyes looking over the
newspaper wide open, staring, the muscles of his jaw relaxed. The
boy was quick to sense that he was winning--the simple, non-
resistance of the lamb was confounding his father.
"I wanted to stay. I read a book, and then I took a walk,
and then I dropped in at the restaurant for a bite, and then I
walked around some more, and then I went to a movie."
"Billy, what are you saying?"
Martin, slowly putting down his paper, remarked without
stressing a syllable:
"You had better go to bed, Bill; at once, without
Bill moved towards the parlor, as though to obey. At the
door he stopped a moment and said: "I wasn't arguing; I was just
answering mother. She wanted to know."
"She does not want to know."
"Then I wanted her to know that I don't intend to work
after school any more. I'll do my chores in the morning, but
that's all. From now on nobody can make me do anything."
"I am not asking you to do anything but go to bed."
"I don't intend to come home tomorrow afternoon until I'm
ready. Or any afternoon. And if you don't like it--"
"Billy!" his mother cried; "Billy! go to bed!"
The boy obeyed.
Bill was fifteen when this took place. The impossible had
happened. He had challenged the master and had won. Even after he
had turned in, his father remained silent, feeling a secret respect
for him; mysteriously he had grown suddenly to manhood. Martin was
too mental to let anger express itself in violence and, besides,
strangely enough, he felt no desire to punish; there was still the
dislike he had always felt for him--his son who was the son of this
woman, but though he would never have confessed aloud the
satisfaction it gave him, he began to see there was in the boy more
than a little of himself.
"Poor Billy," his mother apologized; "he's tired."
"He didn't say he was tired--"
"Then he did say he was tired of working evenings."
"Yes, it's different, Martin; but can you make him work?"
"No, I don't intend to try. He isn't my slave."
With overwhelming pride in her eyes, pride that shook her
voice, she exclaimed: "Not anybody's slave, and afraid to declare
it. Billy is a different kind of a boy. He doesn't like the farm-
-he hates it--"
"He loathes everything about it. Only the other day he
told me he wished he could take it and tear it board from board,
and leave it just a piece of bleak prairie, as it was when your
father brought you here, Martin."
"You actually mean he said he would tear down what took so
many years of work to build? This farm that gives him a home and
clothes and feeds him?"
"He did, Martin. And he meant it--there was hatred
burning in his eyes. There's that in his heart which can tear and
rend; and there's that which can build. Oh, my unhappy Billy, my
"Don't get hysterical. What do you want me to do? Have I
said he must work?"
"No, but you have tried to rub it into his soul and it
just can't be done. You're not to be blamed for being what you
are, nor is Billy--I'll milk his cows."
"I'm not asking that."
"But I will, Martin."
"And let him stand by and watch you?"
"Put it that way if you will. Billy must get away from
here. I see that now."
"I haven't suggested it."
"But I do. I want him to be happy. We'll let him board
in Fallon the rest of the year. The butter and egg money will be
enough to carry him through. It won't cost much. If we don't send
him, he'll run away. I know him. He's my boy, and your son,
Martin. I won't see him suffer in a strange world, learning his
lessons from bitter experiences. I want him to be taken care of."
"Very well, have it as you say. I'm not putting anything
in the way. I thought this was his home, but I see it isn't. It
isn't a prison. He can go, and good luck go with him." And after
a long silence: "He would tear down this farm--the best in the
country! Tear it down--board from board!"
MARTIN'S SON SHAKES OFF THE DUST
The very next day, Mrs. Wade rented a room for Bill in the
same home in which Rose boarded, and for the rest of the winter she
and Martin went on as before--working as hard as ever and making
money even faster, while peace settled over their household, a
peace so profound that, in her more intuitive moments, Bill's
mother felt in it an ominous quality.
The storm broke with the summer vacation and the boy's
point-blank refusal to return to farm work. His father laid down
an ultimatum: until he came home he should not have a cent even
from his mother, and home he should not come, at all, until he was
willing to carry his share of the farm work willingly, and without
further argument. "You see," he pointed out to his wife, "that's
the thanks I get for managing along without him this winter. The
ungrateful young rascal! If he doesn't come to his senses shortly-
"Oh, Martin, don't do anything rash," implored Mrs. Wade.
"Nearly all boys go through this period. Just be patient with
But even she was shaken when his Aunt Nellie, over
ostensibly for an afternoon of sociable carpet-rag sewing, began
abruptly: "Do you know what Bill is doing, Rose?"
"Working in the mines," returned his mother easily.
"Isn't it strange, Nellie, that he should be digging coal right
under this farm, the very coal that gave Martin his start?"
"Well, I'm not going to beat about the bush," continued
her sister-in-law abruptly. "He's working in the mines all right,
but he isn't digging coal at all, though that would be bad enough.
I wouldn't say a word about it, but I think you ought to know the
truth and put a stop to such a risky business--he's firing shots."
Rose's heart jumped, but she continued to wind up her
large ball with the same uninterrupted motion.
"Are you sure?"
"I made Frank find out for certain. It's an extra
dangerous mine because gas forms in it unusually often, and he gets
fifteen dollars a day for the one hour he works. There's a
contract, but he's told them he's twenty-one, and when you prove
he's under age they'll make him stop."
Rose still wound and wound, her clear eyes, looking over
her glasses, fixed on Nellie.
"It's bad enough, I'll say," rapped out the spare, angular
woman, "to have everybody talking about the way Martin has ditched
his son, without having the boy scattered to bits, or burned to a
cinder. Already he's been blown twenty feet by one windy shot, and
more than once he's had to lie flat while those horrible gases
burned themselves out right over his head. His `buddie,' the
Italian who fires in the other part of the mine at the same time,
told Harry Brown, the nightman, and he told Frank, himself. Why,
they say if he'd have moved the least bit it would have fanned the
fire downward and he'd have been in a fine mess. Sooner or later
all shot-firers meet a tragic end. You want to put your foot down,
Rose, and put it down hard--for once in your life--if you can," she
added, half under her breath.
"It isn't altogether Martin's fault," began Rose, but
Nellie cut her off with a short: "Now, don't you tell me a word
about that precious brother of mine! It's as plain to me as the
nose on your face that between his bull-headed hardness and your
wishy-washy softness you're fixing to ruin one of the best boys God
ever put on this earth."
"I'll talk to Billy," Rose promised.
It was the first time she ever had found herself
definitely in opposition to her boy, but she felt serene in the
confidence of her own power to dissuade him from anything so
perilous. She understood the general routine of mining, and had
been daily picturing him going down in the cage to the bottom,
travelling through a long entry until he was under his home farm
and located in one of the low, three-foot rooms where a Kansas
miner must stoop all day. Oh, how it had hurt--that thought of
those fine young shoulders bending, bending! She had visualized
him filling his car, and mentally had followed his coal as it was
carried up to the surface to be dumped into the hopper, weighed and
dropped down the chute into the flat cars. Of course, there was
always the danger of a loosened rock falling on him, but wasn't
there always the possibility of accidents on a farm, too? Didn't
the company's man always go down, first, into the mine to test the
air and make certain it was all right? Rose had convinced herself
that the risk was not so great, after all, though she could not
help sharing a little of her husband's wonder that the boy could
prefer to work underground instead of in the sweet, fresh sunshine.
But she had thought it was because in the desperation of his
complete revolt from Martin's domination anything else seemed to
him preferable. Now, in a lightning flash, she understood. This
reaction from a life whose duties had begun before sun-up and ended
long after sundown, made danger seem as nothing in comparison with
the marvelous chance to earn a comfortable living with only one
hour's work a day.
Her conversation with Bill proved that she had been only
too right. The boy was intoxicated with his own liberty. "I know
I ought to have told you, mother," he confessed. "I wanted to.
Honest, I did, but I was afraid you'd worry, though you needn't.
The man who taught me how to fire has been doing it over twenty
years. A lot of it's up to a fellow, himself. You can pretty near
tell if the air is all right by the way it blows--the less the
better it is. And if you're right careful to see that the tool-
boxes the boys leave are all locked--so's no powder can catch, you
know--and always start lighting against the air, so that if there's
gas and it catches the fire'll blow away from you instead of
following you up--and if you examine the fuses to see they're long
enough and the powder is tamped in just right--each miner does that
before he leaves and lots of firers just give 'em a hasty once-over
instead of a real look--and then shake your heels good and fast
after you do fire--"
"Billy!" Rose was white. "I can't bear it--to hear you
go on so lightly, when it's your life, your life, you're playing
with. For my sake, son, give it up."
With an odd sinking of the heart, she observed the
expression in his face which she had seen so often in his father's-
-the one that said as plainly as words that nothing could shake his
determination. "A fellow's got a right to some good times in this
world," he said very low, "and I'm getting mine now. I'm not going
to grind away and grind away all my life like father and you've
done. If anything did happen I'd have had a chance to dream and
think and read instead of getting to be old without ever having any
fun out of it all. Maybe you won't believe it, but some days for
hours I just lie in the sun like a darky boy, not even thinking.
Gee! it feels great! And sometimes I read all day until I have to
go to the mine. There's one thing I'm going to tell you square,"
he went on, a firm ring in his voice, boyish for all its deep, bass
note, "I'm never going back to the farm, never! Mother," he cried,
suddenly, coming over to take her hand in both his. "Will you
leave father? We could rent a little house and you'd have hardly
anything to do. I'm making more than lots of men with families.
And I'd give you my envelope without opening it every pay-day."
"Oh, Billy, you don't know what you're saying! I couldn't
leave your father. I couldn't think of it."
What I don't see is how you can stand it to stay with him.
He's always been a brute to you. He's never cared a red cent for
either of us."
Rose was abashed before the harsh logic of youth. "Oh,
son," she murmured brokenly, "there are things one can't explain.
I suppose it may seem strange to you--but his life has been so
empty. He has missed so much! Everything, Billy."
"Then it's his own fault," judged the boy. "If ever
anybody's always had his own way and done just as he darn pleased
it's father. I wish he'd die, that's what I wish."
"Bill!" His mother's tone was stern.
"There you are!" he marvelled. "You must have wished it
lots of times yourself. I know you have. Yet you always talk as
if you loved him."
In Rose's eyes, the habitual look of patience and
understanding deepened. How could Bill, as yet scarcely tried by
life, comprehend the purging flames through which she had passed or
realize time's power to reveal unsuspected truths.
"When you've been married to a man nearly twenty-two years
and have built up a place together, there's bound to be a bond
between you," she eluded. "He just lives for this farm. It's
almost as dear to him as you are to me, son, and it's a wonderful
heritage, Bill, a magnificent heritage. Just think! Two
generations have labored to build it out of the dust. Your
father's whole life is in it. Your father's and mine. And your
grandmother's. If only you could ever come to care for it!"
Bill fidgeted uneasily. "You mean you want me to go on
with it?" he demanded. "You want me to come back to it, settle
down to be a farmer--like father?"
The tone in which he asked this question made Rose choose
her words carefully.
"What are your plans, son? What do you want to be--not
just now, but finally?"
"I can't see what difference it makes what a fellow is--
except that in one business a man makes more than in another. And
I can't see either that it does a person a bit of good to have
money. I'm having more fun right now than father or you ever had--
more fun than anybody I know. Mother," and his face was solemn as
if with a great discovery. "I've figured it out that it's silly to
do as most people--just live to work. I'm going to work just
enough to live comfortably. Not one scrap more, either. You can't
think how I hate the very thought of it."
Rose sighed. Couldn't she, indeed! She understood only
too well how deeply this rebellion was rooted. The hours when he
had been dragged up from the far shores of a dreamful slumber to
shiver forth in the chill darkness to milk and chore, still
rankled. Those tangy frosty afternoons, when he had been forced to
clean barns and plow while the other boys went rabbit and possum
hunting or nutting, were afternoons whose loss he still mourned.
Nothing had yet atoned for the evenings when he had been torn from
his reading and sent sternly to bed because he must get up so
early. Always work had stolen from him these treasures--dreams,
recreation and knowledge. He had been obliged to fight the farm
and his father for even a modicum of them--the things that made
life worth living. And the irony of it--that eventually it would
be this farm and Martin's driving methods which, if he became
reconciled to his father, would make it possible for him to drink
all the fullness of leisure.
It was too tragic that the very thing which should have
stood for opportunity to the boy had been used to embitter him and
drive him into danger. But he must not lose his birthright. An
almost passionate desire welled in Rose's heart to hold on to it
for him. True, she too had been a slave to the farm. Yet not so
much a slave to it, she distinguished, as to Martin's absorption in
its development. And of late years there had been for her, running
through all the humdrum days, a satisfaction in perfecting it. In
her mind now floated clearly the ideal toward which her husband was
striving. She had not guessed how much it had become her own until
she felt herself being drawn relentlessly by Bill's quiet, but
implacable determination to have her leave it all behind. If only
he would try again, she felt sure all would be so different! His
father had learned a lesson, of that she was positive, and though
he would not promise it, would not be so hard on the boy. And with
this new independence of Bill's to strengthen her, they could
resist Martin more successfully as different issues came up. She
could manage to help her boy get what he wanted out of life without
his having to pay such a terrible price as, the mine on one hand,
and his father's displeasure on the other, might exact, for she
knew that if he persisted too long, the break with Martin could
never be bridged and that in the end his father would evoke the
full powers of the law to disinherit him and tie her own hands as
completely as possible in that direction.
But she was far too wise to press such arguments in her
son's present mood. They would have to drift for a while, she saw
that clearly, until she could gradually impress upon him how
different farming would be if he were his own master. In time, he
might even come to understand how much Martin needed her.
"Say you will," Bill, pleading, insistent, broke in on her
train of reflections, "I've always dreamed of this day, when we'd
go away, and now it's come. I can take care of you."
As he stood there, a glorious figure in his youthful self-
confidence, a turn of his head reminded her a second time of
Martin, recalling sharply the way her husband had looked the night
he told her of his love for the other Rose. He had been bothered
by no fine qualms about abandoning herself. She thought of his
final surrender of love to wisdom. It was only youth that dared
pursue happiness--to purchase delicious idleness by gambling with
death. Billy was her boy. His dreams and hopes should be hers;
her way of life, the one that gave him the most joy. She would
follow him, if need be, to the end of the earth.
"Very well, son," she said simply, her voice breaking over
the few words. "If a year from now you still feel like this, I'll
do as you wish."
"You don't know how I hate him," muttered the boy. "It's
only when I'm tramping in the woods, or in the middle of some book
I like that I can forgive him for living. No, mother, I don't mean
all that," he laughed, giving her a bear-like hug.
It was in this more reasonable side, this ability to
change his point of view quickly when he became convinced he was
wrong, that Mrs. Wade now put her faith. She would give him plenty
of rope, she decided, not try to drive him. It would all come
right, if she only waited, and she prayed, nightly, with an
increasing tranquillity, that he might be kept safe from harm,
taking deep comfort in the new light of contentment that was
gradually stealing into his face. After all, each one had to work
out his destiny in his own way, she supposed.
It was less than a month later that her telephone rang,
and Rose, calmly laying aside her sewing and getting up rather
stiffly because of her rheumatism, answered, thinking it probably a
call from Martin, who had left earlier in the evening, to wind up a
little matter of a chattel on some growing wheat. It had just
begun to rain and she feared he might be stuck in the road
somewhere, calling to tell her to come for him. But it was not
Martin's voice that answered.
"Why"--there was a forbidding break that made her shudder.
A second later she convinced herself that it seemed a natural halt-
-people do such things without any apparent cause; but she could
not help shaking a little.
"Is it about Mr. Wade?" and as she asked this question she
wondered why she had spoken her husband's name when it was Bill's
that really had rushed through her mind.
"No, ma'am, it ain't about Martin Wade I'm callin' you up,
it ain't him at all--"
"I see." She said this calmly and quietly, as though to
impress her informant and reassure him. "What is it?" It was
almost unnecessary to ask, for she knew already what had happened,
knew that the boy had flung his dice and lost.
"It's your son, Mrs. Wade; it's him I'm a-callin' about.
We're about to bring him home to you--an'--and I thought it'd be
better to call you up first so's you might expect us an' not take
on with the suddenness of it all. This is Brown--Harry Brown--the
nightman at the mine down here. We've got the ambulance here and
we're about ready to start." There was an evenness about the
strange voice that she understood better than its words. If Bill
had been hurt the man would have been quick and jerky in his
speaking as though he were feeling the boy's pain with him; but he
was so even about it all--as even as Death.
"Then I'll phone for Dr. Bradley so he'll be here by the
time you come," said Rose, wondering how she could think of so
practical a thing. Her mind had wrapped itself in a protecting
armor, forbidding the shock of it all to strike with a single blow.
She couldn't understand why she was not screaming.
"You can--if you want to, but Bill don't need him, Mrs.
Slowly she hung up the receiver, the wall still around her
brain, holding it tight and keeping her nerves taut, afraid to
release them for fear they might snap. She stood there looking at
the receiver as her hands came together.
As though she were talking to a person instead of the
telephone before her, she gasped: "So--so this is what it has all
been for--this. Into the world, into Martin's world--and this way
out of it. Burned to death--Billy."
The rain had lessened a little and now the wind began the
shake the house, rattle the windows and scream as it tore its way
over the plains. The sky flared white and the world lighted up
suddenly, as though the sun had been turned on from an electric
switch. At the same instant she saw a bolt of lightning strike a
young tree by the roadside, heard the sharp click as it hit and
then watched the flash dance about, now on the road, now along the
barbed wire fencing. Then the world went black again. And a
rumble quickly grew to an earth-shaking blast of thunder. It was
as though that tree were Billy--struck by a gush of flying fire.
The next bolt broke above the house, and the light it threw showed
her the stripling split and lying on the ground. In the
impenetrable darkness she realized that the house fuse of their
Delco system must have been blown out, and she groped blindly for a
match. She could hear the rain coming down again, now in rivers.
There was unchained wrath in the downpour, viciousness. It was a
madman rushing in to rend and tear. It frothed, and writhed, and
spat hatred. Rose shook as though gripped by a strong hand. She
was afraid--of the rain, the lightning, the thunder, the darkness;
alone there, waiting for them to bring her Billy. She was too
terrified to add her weeping to the wail of the wind--it would have
been too ghastly. Would she never find a match! As she lit the
lamp, like the stab of a needle in the midst of agony, came the
thought of how long it had been after Martin had put in his
electrical system and connected up his barns before she had been
permitted to have this convenience in the house. What would he
think now? She wished he were home. Anyone would be better than
this awful waiting alone. She could only stand there, away from
the window, looking out at the sheets of water running down the
panes and shivering with the frightfulness and savageness of it
Her ears caught a rumble, fainter than thunder, and the
splash of horses' hoofs--"it's too muddy for the motor ambulance,"
she thought, mechanically. "They're using the old one," and her
heart contracting, twisting, a queer dryness in her throat, she
opened the door as they stopped, her hand shading the lamp against
the sudden inrush of wind and rain. "In there, through the
parlor," she said dully, indicating the new room and thinking,
bitterly, as she followed them, that now, when it could mean
nothing to Billy, Martin would offer no objections to its being
given over to him.
The scuffling of feet, the low, matter-of-fact orders of a
directing voice: "Easy now, boys--all together, lift. Watch out;
pull that sheet back up over him," and a brawny, work-stooped man
saying to her awkwardly: "I wouldn't look at him if I was you,
Mrs. Wade, till the undertaker fixes him up," and she was once more
As if transfixed, she continued to stand, looking beyond
the lamp, beyond the bed on which her son's large figure was
outlined by the sheet, beyond the front door which faced her,
beyond--into the night, looking for Martin, waiting for him to come
home to his boy. She asked herself again and again how she had
been so restrained when her Billy had been carried in. After what
seemed interminable ages, she heard heavy steps on the back porch
and knew that her husband had returned at last. He brought in with
him a gust of wind that caused the lamp to smoke. She held it with
both hands, afraid that she might drop it, and carrying it to the
dining-room table set it down slowly, looking at him. He seemed
huger than ever with his hulk sinking into the gray darkness behind
him. There was something elephantine about him as he stood there,
soaked to the skin, bending forward a little, breathing slowly and
deeply, his fine nostrils distending with perfect regularity, his
face in the dim light, yellow, with the large lines almost black.
He was hatless and his tawny-gray hair was flat with wetness,
coming down almost to his eyes, so clear and far-seeing.
"What's the matter with the lights? Fuse blown out?" he
asked, spitting imaginary rain out of his mouth.
Rose did not answer.
"Awful night for visiting," Martin announced roughly, as
he took off his coat. "But it was lucky I went, or all would have
been pretty bad for me. Do you know, that rascal was delivering
the wheat to the elevator--wheat on which I held a chattel--and I
got to Tom Mayer just as he was figuring up the weights. You
should have seen Johnson's face when I came in. He knew I had him
cornered. `Here,' I said, `what's up?' And that lying rascal
turned as white as death and said something about getting ready to
bring me a check. I told him I was much obliged, but I would take
it along with me--and I did. Here it is--fourteen hundred dollars,
plus interest. And I got it by the skin of my teeth. I didn't
stop to argue with him for I saw the storm coming on. I went
racing, but a half mile north I skidded into the ditch. I really
feel like leaving the car there all night, but it would do a lot of
damage. I'll have to get a team and drag it in. I call it a good
day's work. What do you say?" He looked at her closely, for the
first time noticing her drawn face and far-away look.
"What's the matter? You look goopy--"
Rose settled herself heavily in the rocker close to the
"You're not sick, are you?"
She shook her head a few times and answered: "He's in
"Who?" Martin straightened up ready for anything.
"Oh!" A light flashed into Martin's face. "So he has
come back, has he? Back home? What made him change toward this
place? Is he here to stay?"
"Then if he hasn't come to his senses, what is he doing
here--here in my house, the home he hates--"
"He doesn't hate it now," Rose replied, struggling for
words that she might express herself and end this cruel
conversation, but all she could do was to point nervously toward
the spare room.
"What is he doing in there? It's the one spot that Rose
can call her own, poor child."
"He's on the bed, Martin--"
"What's the matter with the davenport he's always slept
on? Is he sick? What in heaven's name is going on in this house?"
As Martin started toward the bedroom, his wife opened her
lips to tell him the truth but the words refused to come; at the
same instant it struck her that not to speak was brutal, yet just.
She would let Martin go to this bed with words of anger on his
lips, with feelings of unkindness in his heart. She would do this.
Savage? Yes, but why not? There seemed to be something fair about
it. Then her heart-strings pulled more strongly than ever. No; it
was too hard. She must stop him, tell him, prepare him. But
before the words came, he was out of the room and when she spoke he
did not hear her because of the rain.
He saw the vague lines of the boy's body, hidden by the
sheet, and thought quickly, "Bill's old ostrich-like trick," and
while at the same instant something told him that a terrible thing
had happened, the idea did not register completely until he had his
hand on the linen. Then, with a short yank, he pulled away the
cover and saw the boy's head. Dark as it was, it was enough to
show him the truth. With a quick move he covered him again. There
was a smeary wetness on his fingers, which he wiped away on the
side of his trousers. They were drenched with rain, but he
distinguished the sticky feel of blood leaving his hand as he
rubbed it nervously.
His first emotion was one of anger with Rose. He was sure
she had played this sinister jest deliberately to torture him and
he had fallen into the trap. He wanted to rush back into the other
room and strike her down. He would show her! But he dismissed
this impulse, for he did not want her to see him like this, no hold
on himself and his mind without direction. Sitting there, she
would have the advantage. Without so much as a sound except for
the slight noise he made in walking, Martin went through the parlor
towards the front door and out to the steps, where he leaned for a
moment against the weather-boarding, letting the rain fall on him
as he stared dully down at the ground. It felt good to stand
there. No eyes were on him, and the rain was refreshing. This had
been too much for him. Never had he known himself to be so near to
bewilderment. How fortunate that he had escaped by this simple
trick of leaving the house. Then he thought of the car--a half-
mile north--and the horses in the stable. He must do something.
He would bring the car into the garage. It was relieving to hurry
across the dripping grass toward the barn. How wonderful it was to
keep the body doing something when the breath in him was short, his
heart battering like an engine with burned-out bearings, his brain
in insane chaos. As he applied a match to the lantern he thought
of his wife again, and his face regained its scowl.
Only when he had his great heavy team in the yard, his
lantern hanging from his arm, the reins in his hands, and was
pulling back with all his strength as he followed the horses--only
then did he permit himself to think about the tragedy that had
"He's dead--killed," he groaned. "It had to come. Shot-
firers don't last long. Whoa, there, Lottie; not so fast, Jet
whoa!" His protesting team in control again, he trudged heavily
behind. "It's terrible to die that way--not a chance in a
thousand. And a kid of sixteen didn't have the judgment--couldn't
have. But Bill knew what he was facing every evening. He didn't
go in blindly. They'll blame me, as though it was my fault. I
didn't want him to go there. I wanted him to take a hand here, to
run the place by himself in good time. It was his mother who sent
him away first." He went on like that, justifying himself more
positively as excuse after excuse suggested itself.
Not until he had convinced himself that he was in no way
responsible, did he allow his heart to beat a little for this boy
of his. "Poor Bill," he thought on, "it has been a tough game for
him. Lost in the shuffle. Born into something he didn't like and
trying to escape, only to get caught. What did he expect out of
life, anyway? Why didn't he learn that it's only a lot of
senseless pain? Every moment of it pain--from coming into the
world to going out. Oh, Bill, why didn't you learn what I know?
You had brains, boy, but it would have been better if you had never
used them. I've brains, too, but I've always managed to keep them
tied down--buckled to the farm, to investments, and work--thinking
about things that make us forget life. It's all dust and dust,
with rain once in a while, only the rain steams off and it's dust
Martin began to review the course of his own past, and
smiled bitterly. Others were able to live the same kind of an
existence, but, unlike himself, took it as a preparation for
another day, another existence which, it seemed to him, was
measured and cut to order by professionals who understood how to
fix up the meaning of life so that it would soothe and satisfy. He
thought how much better it was to be a dumb, unquestioning beast,
or a human being conscious of his soul, than to be as he was--
alone, a materialist, who saw the meaninglessness of matter and
whose mind, in some manner which he did not understand, had
developed a slant that made him doubt what others accepted so
easily as facts. Martin knew he was bound to things of substance
but he followed the lure of property and accumulation as he might
have followed some other game had he learned it, knowing all along
that it was a delusion and at the same time acknowledging that for
him there was nothing else as sufficing.
How simple, if Bill's future could be a settled thing in
his mind as it was to the boy's mother. Or his own future! If
only he could believe--then how different it would be for him. He
could go on placidly and die with a smile. But he could not
believe. His atheism was both mental and instinctive. It was
something he could not understand, and which he knew he could never
change, try as he might. Take this very evening. Here was death
in his home. And he was escaping a lot of anguish, not by praying
for Bill's soul or his own forgiveness, but by the simple process
of harnessing a team and dragging a car through the mud. It was a
great game, work was--the one weapon with which to meet life. This
was not a cut and dried philosophy with him, but a glimmer that,
though always suggesting itself but dimly, never failed when put to
the test. Martin felt better. He began to probe a little farther,
albeit with an aimlessness about his questions that almost
frightened him. He asked himself whether he loved Bill, now that
he was dead, and he had to admit that he did not. The boy had
always been something other than he had expected--a disappointment.
Did he love anyone? No. Not a person; not even any longer that
lovely Rose of Sharon who had flowered in his dust for a brief
hour. His wife? God Almighty, no. Then who? Himself? No, his
very selfishness had other springs than that. He was one of those
men, not so uncommon either, he surmised, who loved no one on the
whole wide earth.
When he re-entered the house, he found his wife still
seated in the rocker, softly weeping, the tears flowing down her
cheeks and dropping unheeded into her lap. He pitied her.
"I feel as though he didn't die tonight," she mourned,
looking at Martin through full eyes. "He died when he was born,
like the first one."
"I know how you feel," said Martin, sympathy in his voice.
"I made him so many promises before he came, but I wasn't
able to keep a single one of them."
"I'm sorry; I wish I could help you in some way."
"Oh, Martin, I know you're not a praying man--but if you
could only learn."
Martin looked at her respectfully but with profound
"There must be an answer to all this," Rose went on
brokenly. "There must! Billy is lying in the arms of Jesus now--
no pain, only sweet rest. I believe that."
"I'm glad you have the faith that can put such meaning
into it all."
"Martin, I want to pray for strength to bear it."
"You'll pray with me, won't you?"
"You just said I wasn't a praying man."
"Yes, but I can't pray alone, with him in there alone,
too, and you here with me, scoffing."
"I can't be other than I am, Rose; but you pray, and as
you pray I'll bow my head."
INTO THE DUST-BIN
With the loss of her boy, time ceased to exist for Rose.
The days came and went, lengthening into years, full of duties,
leaving her as they found her, outwardly little changed and
habitually calm and kind, but inwardly sunk in apathy. She moved
as if in a dream, seeming to live in a strange world that would
never again seem real--this world without Billy. Occasionally, she
would forget and think he was out in the field or down in the mine;
more rarely still, she would slip even further backward and wonder
what he was about in his play. During these moments she would feel
normal, but some object catching her eye would jerk her back to the
present and the cruel truth. She and Martin had less than ever to
say to each other, though in his own grim way he was more
thoughtful, giving her to understand that there were no longer any
restrictions laid upon her purchasing, and even suggesting that
they remodel the house; as if, she thought impassively, at this
late day, it would matter what she bought or in what she lived.
His one interest in making money, just as if they had some one to
leave it to, puzzled her. Always investing, then reinvesting the
interest, and spending comparatively little of his income, his
fortune had now reached the point where it was growing rapidly of
its own momentum and, as there was nothing to which he looked
forward, nothing he particularly wanted to do, he set himself the
task of making it cross the half million mark, much as a man plays
solitaire, to occupy his mind, betting against himself, to give
point to his efforts.
Yet, it gave him a most disconcerting, uncanny start, when
one bright winter day, he faced the fact that he, too, was about to
be shovelled into the great dust-bin. Death was actually at his
side, his long, bony finger on his shoulder and whispering
impersonally, "You're next." "Very much," thought Martin, "like a
barber on a busy Saturday." How odd that here was something that
had never entered into his schemes, his carefully worked out plans!
It seemed so unfair--why, he had been feeling so well, his business
had been going on so profitably, there was something so substantial
to the jog of his life, there seemed to be something of the eternal
about it. He had taken ten-year mortgages but a few days ago, and
had bought two thousand dollars' worth of twenty-year Oklahoma
municipals when he could have taken an earlier issue which he had
rejected as maturing too soon. He had forgotten that there was a
stranger who comes but once, and now that he was here, Martin felt
that a mean trick had been played on him. He cogitated on the
journey he was to take, and it made him not afraid, but angry. It
was a shabby deal--that's what it was--when he was so healthy and
contented, only sixty-one and ready to go on for decades--two or
three at least--forced, instead, to prepare to lay himself in a
padded box and be hurriedly packed away. It had always seemed so
vague, this business of dying, and now it was so personal--he,
Martin Wade, himself, not somebody else, would suffer a little
while longer and then grow still forever.
He would never know how sure a breeder was his new bull--
the son of that fine creature he had imported; two cows he had
spotted as not paying their board could go on for months eating
good alfalfa and bran before a new herdsman might become convinced
of their unreadiness to turn the expensive feed into white gold; he
had not written down the dates when the sows were to farrow, and
they might have litters somewhere around the strawstack and crush
half the little pigs. His one hundred and seventy-five acres of
wheat had had north and south dead furrows, but he had learned that
this was a mistake in probably half the acreage, where they should
be east and west. It would make a great difference in the
drainage, but a new plowman might think this finickiness and just
go ahead and plow all of it north and south, or all of it east and
west and this would result in a lower yield--some parts of the
field would get soggy and the wheat might get a rust, and other
parts drain too readily, letting the ground become parched and
break into cakes, all of which might be prevented. And there was
all that manure, maker of big crops. He knew only too well how
other farmers let it pile up in the barnyard to be robbed by the
sun of probably twenty per cent of its strength. He figured
quickly how it would hurt the crops that he had made traditional on
Wade land. He considered these things, and they worried him, made
him realize what a serious thing was death, far more serious than
the average person let himself believe.
Martin had gone to the barn a week before to help a cow
which was aborting. It had enraged him when he thought what an
alarming thing this was--abortion among his cows--in Martin Wade's
beautiful herd! "God Almighty!" he had exclaimed, deciding as he
took the calf from the mother to begin doctoring her at once. He
would fight this disease before it could establish a hold. Locking
the cow's head in an iron stanchion, he had shed his coat, rolled
up his right sleeve almost to the shoulder, washed his hand and arm
in a solution of carbolic and hot water, carefully examining them
to make sure there was no abrasion of any kind. But despite his
caution, a tiny cut so small that it had escaped his searching, had
come in contact with the infected mucous membrane and blood
poisoning had set in. And here he was, lying in bed, given up by
Doctor Bradley and the younger men the older physician had called
into consultation and who had tried in vain to stem the spread of
poison through his system. Martin was going to die, and no power
could save him. The irony of it! This farm to which he had
devoted his life was taking it from him by a member of its herd.
Martin made a wry little grimace of amusement as he
realized suddenly that even at the very gate of death it was still
on life, his life, that his thoughts dwelt. In these last moments,
it was the tedious, but stimulating, battle of existence that
really occupied his full attention. He would cling to it until the
last snap of the thin string. This cavern of oblivion that was
awaiting him, that he must enter--it was black and now more than
ever his deep, simple irreligion refused to let fairy tales pacify
him with the belief that beyond it was everlasting daylight.
Skepticism was not only in his conscious thought but in the very
tissues of his mind.
He remembered how his own father had died on this farm--he
had had no possessions to think about; only his loved ones, his
wife and his children; but he had brought them here that they might
amass property out of Martin's sweat and the dust of the prairie.
Now he, the son, dying, had in his mind no thought of people, but
of this land and of stock and of things. And how strangely his
mind was reacting to it. His concern was not who should own them
all, but what would actually be the fate of each individual
property child of his. Why, he had not even written a will. It
would all go to his wife, of course, and how little he cared to
whom she left it. He would have liked, perhaps, to have given Rose
Mall twenty-five thousand or so--so she could always be independent
of that young husband of hers--snap her fingers at him if he got to
driving her too hard, and crushing out the flower-like quality of
her--but his wife wouldn't have understood, and he had hurt her
enough, in all conscience. The one thing he might have enjoyed
doing, he couldn't. Outside of that he didn't care who got it.
She could leave it to whomever she liked when her turn came. Not
to whom it went, but what would happen to it--that was what
By his side, Rose, sitting so motionless that he was
scarcely conscious of her presence, was dying with him. With that
peculiar gift of profoundly sympathetic natures she was thinking
and feeling much of what he was experiencing. It seemed to her
heart-breaking that Martin must be forced to abandon the only
things for which he cared. He had even sacrificed his lovely Rose
of Sharon for them--she had never been in any doubt as to the
reason for that sudden emotional retreat of his seven years before.
And she knew his one thought now must be for their successful
He had worked so hard always and yet had had so little
happiness, so little real brightness out of life. She felt,
generously, with a clutching ache, that with all the
disappointments she had suffered through him--from his first broken
promises about the house to his lack of understanding of their boy
which had resulted in Billy's death--with even that, she had
salvaged so much more out of living than he. A great compassion
swelled within her; all the black moments, all the long, gray hours
of their years together, seemed suddenly insignificant. She saw
him again as he had been the day he had proposed marriage to her
and for the first time she was sure that she could interpret the
puzzling look that had come into his eyes when she had asked him
why he thought she could make him happy. What had he understood
about happiness? With a noiseless sob, she remembered that he had
answered her in terms of the only thing he had understood--work.
And she saw him again, too, as he had been the night he had so
bluntly told her of his passion for Rose. It seemed to her now,
free of all rancor, unutterably tragic that the only person Martin
had loved should have come into his life too late.
He was not to be blamed because he had never been able to
care for herself. He should never have asked her to marry him--and
yet, they had not been such bad partners. It would have been so
easy for her to love him. She had loved him until he had killed
her boy; since then, all her old affection had withered. But if it
really had done so why was she so racked now? She felt,
desperately, that she could not let him go until he had had some
real joy. To think that she used to plan, cold-bloodedly, when
Billy was little, all she would do if only Martin should happen to
die! The memory of it smote her as with a blow. She looked down
at the powerful hand lying so passively, almost, she would have
said, contentedly, in her own. How she had yearned for the comfort
of it when her children were born. She wondered if Martin realized
her touch, if it helped a little. If it had annoyed him, he would
have said so. It came to her oddly that in all the twenty-seven
years she and her husband had been married this was the very first
time he had let her be tender to him. Oh, his life had been bleak.
Bleak! And she with such tenderness in her heart. It hadn't been
right. From the depths of her rebellion and forgiveness, slow
tears rose. Feeling too intensely, too mentally, to be conscious
of them she sat unmoving as they rolled one by one down her cheeks
and dropped unheeded.
"Rose," he called with a soft hoarseness, "I want to talk
"Yes, Martin," and she gave his fingers a slight squeeze
as though to convince him that she was there at his side. He felt
relieved. It was good to feel her hand and be sure that if his
body were to give its final sign that life had slipped away someone
would be there to know the very second it had happened. It was a
satisfactory way to die; it took a little of the loneliness away
from the experience.
"Rose," he repeated. It sounded so new, the yearning tone
in which he said it--"Rose!" It hurt. "Isn't it funny, Rose, to
go like this--not sick, no accident--just dying without any real
reason except that I absorbed the poison through a cut so small my
eyes couldn't see it."
"It's a mystery, dear," the little word limped out
awkwardly, "but God's ways are not ours."
"Not a mystery," he corrected, "just a heap of tricks;
funny ones, sad ones, sensible ones, and crazy ones--and of all the
crazy ones this is the worst. But, what's the use? If there's a
God, as you believe, it doesn't do any good to argue with Him, and
if it's as I think and there's no God, there's no one to argue
with. But never mind about that now--it's no matter. You'll
listen carefully, won't you, Rose?"
"This abortion in the herd. You know what a terrible
thing it is."
"I certainly do; it's the cause of your leaving me."
"Rose, I know you'll be busy during the next few days--my
dying, the things that have to be arranged, the funeral and all
that. But when it's all over, you'll let that be the first thing,
"Yes, the very first thing, if you wish it."
"I do. Get Dr. Hurton on the job at once, and have him
fight it. He knows his business. Let him come twice a day until
he's sure it's out of the herd. Keep that new bull out of the
pasture. And if Hurton can't clean it up, you'd better get rid of
the herd before it gets known around the country. You know how
news of that kind travels. Don't try to handle the sale yourself.
If you do, it'll be a mistake. The prices will be low if you get
only a county crowd.
"Neighbors usually bid low," she agreed.
"Run up to Topeka and see Baker--he's the sales manager of
the Holstein Breeders' Association. Let him take charge of it all-
-he's a straight fellow. He'll charge you enough--fifteen per cent
of the gross receipts, but then he'll see to it that the people who
want good stuff will be there. He knows how and where to
advertise. He's got a big list of names, and can send out letters
to the people that count. He'll bring buyers from Iowa down to
Texas. Remember his name--Baker."
"I think you ought to sell the herd anyway," he went on.
"I know you, Rose; you'll be careless about the papers--no woman
ever realizes how important it is to have the facts for the
certificates of registry and transfer just right. I'm afraid
you'll fall down there and get the records mixed. You won't get
the dates exact and the name and number of each dam and sire.
Women are all alike there--they never seem to realize that a
purebred without papers is just a good grade."
Rose made no comment, while Martin changed his position
slowly and lost himself in thought.
"Yes, I guess it's the only thing to do--to get rid of the
purebred stuff. God Almighty! It's taken me long enough to build
up that herd, but a few weeks from now they'll be scattered to the
four winds. Well, it can't be helped. Try to sell them to men who
understand something of their value. And that reminds me, Rose.
You always speak of them as thoroughbreds. It always did get on my
nerves. That's right for horses, but try to remember that cows are
purebreds. You'll make that mistake before men who know. Those
little things are important. Remember it, won't you?"
"Thoroughbred for a horse, and purebred for a cow," Rose
"When you get your money for the stock put it into
mortgages--first mortgages, not seconds. Let that be a principle
with you. Many a holder of a second mortgage has been left to hold
the sack. You must remember that the first mortgage comes in for
the first claim after taxes, and if the foreclosure doesn't bring
enough to satisfy more than that, the second mortgage is sleeping
on its rights."
"First mortgages, not seconds," said Rose.
"And while I'm on that, let me warn you about Alex Tracy,
four miles north and a half mile east, on the west side of the
road. He's a slippery cuss and you'll have to watch him."
"Alex Tracy, four miles north--"
"You'll find my mortgage for thirty-seven hundred in my
box at the bank. He's two coupons behind in his interest. I made
him give me a chattel on his growing corn. Watch him--he's
treacherous. He may think he can sneak around because you're a
woman and stall you. He's just likely to turn his hogs into that
corn. Your chattel is for growing corn, not for corn in a hog's
belly. If he tries any dirty business get the sheriff after him."
"It's on the growing corn," said Rose.
"And here's another important point--taxes. Don't pay any
taxes on mortgages. What's the use of giving the politicians more
money to waste? Hold on to your bank stock and arrange to have all
mortgages in the name of the bank, not in you own. They pay taxes
on their capital and surplus, not on their loans. But be sure to
get a written acknowledgment on each mortgage from Osborne. He's
square, but you can't ever tell what changes might take place and
then there might be some question about mortgages in the bank's
"Keep them in the bank's name," said Rose.
"And a written acknowledgment," Martin stressed.
"A written acknowledgment," she echoed.
For probably fifteen minutes he lay without further talk;
then, a little more weariness in his voice than she had ever known
before, he began to speak again.
"I've been thinking a great deal, Rose." There was still
that new tenderness in the manner in which he pronounced her name,
that new tone she had never heard before and which caused her to
feel a little nervous. "I've been thinking, Rose, about the years
we've lived together here on a Kansas prairie farm--"
"It lacks just a few months of being twenty-eight years,"
"Yes, it sounds like a long time when you put it that way,
but it doesn't seem any longer than a short sigh to me lying here.
I've been thinking, Rose, how you've always got it over to me that
you loved me or could love me--"
"I've always loved you, Martin--deeply."
"Yes, that's what's always made me so hard with you. It
would have been far better for you if you hadn't cared for me at
all. I've never loved anybody, not even my own mother, nor Bill,
nor myself for that matter." Their eyes shifted away from each
other quickly as both thought of one other whom he did not mention.
"I wasn't made that way, Rose. Now you could love anything--lots
of women are like that, and men, too. But I wasn't. Life to me
has always been a strange world that I never got over thinking
about and trying to understand, and at the same time hustling to
get through with every day of it as fast as I could by keeping at
the only thing I knew which would make it all more bearable.
There's a lot of pain in work, but it's only of the muscles and my
pain has always been in the things I've thought about. The awful
waste and futility of it all! Take this farm--I came here when
this was hardly more than a desert. You ought to have seen how
thick the dust was the first day we got down here. And I've built
up this place. You've helped me. Bill didn't care for it--even if
he had lived, he'd never have stayed here. But you do, in spite of
all that's happened."
"Yes, Martin, I do," she returned fervently. "It's a
wonderful monument to leave behind you--this farm is."
His eyes grew somber. "That's what I've always thought it
would be," he answered, very low. "I've felt as if I was building
something that would last. Even the barns--they're ready to stand
for generations. But this minute, when the end is sitting at the
foot of this bed, I seem to see it all crumbling before me. You
won't stay here. Why should you--even if you do for a few years
you'll have to leave it sometime, and there's nothing that goes to
rack and ruin as quickly as a farm--even one like this."
"Oh, Martin, don't think such thoughts," she begged.
"Your fever is coming up; I can see it."
"What has it all been about, that's what I want to know,"
he went on with quiet cynicism. "What have I been sweating about--
nothing. What is anyone's life? No more than mine. We're all
like a lot of hens in a backyard, scratching so many hours a day.
Some scratch a little deeper than those who aren't so skilled or so
strong. And when I stand off a little, it's all alike. The end is
as blind and senseless as the beginning on this farm--drought and
Martin closed his eyes wearily and gave a deep sigh. To
his wife's quickened ears, it was charged with lingering regret for
frustrated plans and palpitant with his consciousness of life's
evanescence and of the futility of his own success.
She waited patiently for him to continue his instructions,
but the opiates had begun to take effect and Martin lapsed into
sleep. Although he lived until the next morning, he never again
regained full consciousness.
THE DUST SETTLES
Rose's grief was a surprise to herself; there was no
blinking the fact that her life was going to be far more disrupted
by Martin's death than it had been by Bill's. There were other
differences. Where that loss had struck her numb, this quickened
every sensibility, drove her into action; more than that, as she
realized how much less there was to regret in the boy's life than
in his father's, how much more he had got out of his few short
years, the edge of the older, more precious sorrow, dulled. During
quite long periods she would be so absorbed in her thoughts of
Martin that Bill would not enter her mind. Was it possible, that
this husband who with his own lips had confessed he had never loved
her, had been a more integral part of herself than the son who had
adored her? What was this bond that had roots deeper than love?
Was it merely because they had grown so used to each other that she
felt as if half of her had been torn away and buried, leaving her
crippled and helpless? Probably it would have been different if
Bill had been living. Was it because when he had died, she still
had had Martin, demanding, vital, to goad her on and give the
semblance of a point to her life, and now she was left alone,
adrift? She pondered over these questions, broodingly.
"I suppose you'll want to sell out, Rose," Nellie's
husband, Bert Mall, big and cordial as Peter had been before him,
suggested a day or two after the funeral. "I'll try to get you a
buyer or would you rather rent?"
"I haven't any plans yet, Bert," Mrs. Wade had evaded
adroitly, "it's all happened so quickly. I have plenty of time and
there are lots of things to be seen to." There had been that in
her voice which had forbidden discussion, and it was a tone to
which she was forced to have recourse more than once during the
following days when it seemed to her that all her friends were in a
conspiracy to persuade her to a hasty, ill-advised upheaval.
Nothing, she resolved, should push her from this farm or
into final decisions until a year had passed. She must have
something to which she could cling if it were nothing more than a
familiar routine. Without that to sustain and support her, she
felt she could never meet the responsibilities which had suddenly
descended, with such a terrific impact, upon her shoulders.
In an inexplicable way, these new burdens, her black
dress--the first silk one since the winter before Billy came--and
the softening folds of her veil, all invested her with a new and
touching majesty that seemed to set her a little apart from her
Nellie had been frankly scandalized at the idea of
mourning. "Nobody does that out here--exceptin' during the
services," she had said sharply to her daughter-in-law when Rose
had told her of the hasty trip she and her aunt had made to the
largest town in the county. "Folks'll think it's funny and kind o'
silly. You oughtn't to have encouraged it."
"Oh, Mother Mall, I didn't especially," the younger woman
had protested. "She just said in that quiet, settled way she has,
that she was going to--she thought it would be easier for her. And
I believe it will, too," she added, feeling how pathetic it was
that Aunt Rose had never looked half so well during Uncle Martin's
life as she had since his death.
"Oh, well," Mall commented, "Rose always was sort of
sentimental, but there's not many like her. She's right to take
her time, too. It'll be six or eight months, anyway, before she
can get things lined up. She's got a longer head than a body'd
think for. Look at the way she run that newspaper office when old
"That was nearly thirty years ago," commented his wife
crisply, "and Rose's got so used to being bossed around by Martin
that she'll find it ain't so easy to go ahead on her own."
With her usual shrewdness, Nellie had surmised the chief
difficulty, but it dwindled in real importance because of the fact
that Rose so frequently had the feeling that Martin merely had gone
on a journey and would come home some day, expecting an exact
accounting of her stewardship. His instructions were to her living
instructions which must be carried out to the letter.
She had attended with conscientious promptness to checking
the trouble that had brought about his death. "I promised Mr. Wade
it should be the first thing," she had explained to Dr. Hurton.
`You'll let it be the first thing, won't you?' Those were his very
words. He depended on us, Doctor."
When the time came to plan definitely for the disposal of
the purebred herd, she went herself to Topeka to arrange details
with Baker. She was constantly thinking: "Now, what would Martin
say to this?" or "Would he approve of that?" And her conclusions
were reached accordingly. The sale itself was an event that was
discussed in Fallon County for years afterwards. The hotel was
crowded with out-of-town buyers. Enthused by the music from two
bands, even the local people bid high, and through it all, Rose,
vigilant, remembered everything Martin would have wanted
remembered. She felt that even he would have been satisfied with
the manner in which the whole transaction was handled, and with the
She began to take a new pleasure in everything, the
nervous pleasure one takes when going through an experience for
what may be the last time. The threshing--how often she had toiled
and sweated over those three days of dinners and suppers for
twenty-two men. Now she recalled, with an aching tightness about
her heart, how delicious had been her relaxation, when, the dinner
dishes washed, the table reset and the kitchen in scrupulous order
with the last fly vanquished, she and Nellie had luxuriated in that
exquisite sense of leisure that only women know who have passed
triumphantly through a heavy morning's work and have everything
ready for the evening. Later there had been the stroll down to the
field in the shade of the waning afternoon, to find out what time
the men would be in for supper; and the sheer delight of breathing
in the pungent smell of the straw as it came flying from the
funnel, looking, with the sinking sun shining through it, like a
million bees swarming from a hive, while the red-brown grain
gushed, a lush stream, into the waiting wagon.
"It always makes me think of a ship sailing into port,
Nellie," Rose had once exclaimed, "the crop coming in. It gives me
a queer kind of giddiness, makes me feel like laughing and crying
all at once," to which her sister-in-law had returned with more
than her usual responsiveness: "Yes, it's the most excitin' time
of the year, unless it's Christmas."
More nebulous were the memories of those early mornings
when she had paused in the midst of getting breakfast to sniff in
the clover-laden air and think how wonderful it would be if only
she needn't stay in the hot, stuffy kitchen but could be free to
call Bill and go picnicking or loaf deliciously under one of the
big elms. Most precious of all--the evenings she and her boy had
sat in the yard, with the cool south breeze blowing up from the
pasture, the cows looking on placidly, the frogs fluting
rhythmically in the pond, the birds chirping their goodnight calls,
and the dip and swell of the farm land pulling at them like a
haunting tune, almost too lovely to be endured. Oh, there had been
moments all the sweeter and more poignant because they had been so
As she passed successfully through one whole round of
planting, harvesting and garnering of grain, she began to realize
her own ability and to be tempted more and more seriously to remain
on the farm. She understood it, and Martin would have liked her to
run it. If it had not been for the problem of keeping dependable
hired hands and the sight of the mine-tipple, which, towering on
the adjoining farm, reminded her more and more constantly of Bill,
she would not even have considered the offer of Gordon Hamilton,
one of Fallon's leading business men, to buy her whole section.
"There's a bunch going into this deal, together, Rose,"
Bert Mall explained. "They want to run a new branch of their
street car line straight through here and they're going to plat
this quarter into streets and lots. The rest they'll split up into
several farms and rent for the present. It's a speculation, of
course, but the way the mines are moving north and west it's likely
this'll be a thickly settled camp in another two or three years."
"But they only offer seventy-five an acre," Rose
expostulated, "and it's worth more than that as farm land. There's
none around here as fertile as Martin made this--and then, all the
"They'll have to dispose of them second-hand. It's a pity
they're in exactly the wrong spot. Well, of course, I'm not
advising you, Rose," he added, "but forty-five thousand ain't to be
sneezed at, is it, when it comes in a lump and you own only the
surface? You may wait a long while before you get another such
bid. Seems to me you've worked hard enough. I'd think you'd want
In the end, Mrs. Wade capitulated to what, as Martin had
foreseen so clearly, was sooner or later inevitable. She was a
little stunned by the vast amount of available money now in her
possession and at her disposal. "But it's all dust in my hands,"
she thought sadly. "What do I want of so much? It's going to be a
terrible worry. I don't even know who to leave it to," and she
sighed deeply, pressing her hands, with her old, characteristic
gesture, to her heart. Everybody would approve, she supposed, if
she left it to Rose and Frank--her niece and Martin's nephew--but
she couldn't quite bring herself to welcome that idea--not yet.
And anyway it might be better to divide it among more people, so
that it would bring more happiness.
Her own needs were simple. The modest five-room house
which she purchased was set on a pleasant paved street in Fallon
and was obviously ample for her. She hoped that during part of
each year she could rent the extra bed-room to some one, preferably
a boy, like Bill, who was attending high school. There was a barn
for her horse and the one cow she would keep, a neat little
chicken-house for the twenty-five hens that would more than supply
her with eggs and summer fries, and a small garage for Martin's
car. It would seem very strange, she thought, to have so few
things to care for and she wondered how she would fill her time,
she whose one problem always had been how to achieve snatches of
leisure. She saw herself jogging on and on, gradually getting to
be less able on her feet, a little more helpless, until she was one
of those feeble old ladies who seem at the very antipodes of the
busy mothers they have been in their prime. How could it be that
she who had always been in such demand, so needed, so driven by
real duties, should have become suddenly such a supernumerary, so
footloose, and unattached?
But when it came to that, wasn't Fallon full of others in
the same circumstances? It was not an uncommon lot. There was
Mrs. McMurray. Rose remembered over what a jolly household she had
reigned before she, too, had lost her husband and three children
instead of just one, like Billy. Two of them had been grown and
married. Now she was living in a little cottage, all alone, doing
sewing and nursing, yet always so brave and cheerful; not only
that, but interested, really interested in living. And Mrs.
Nelson. Her children were living and married and happy, but she
had given up her home, sold it--the pretty place with the
hospitable yard that used to seem to be fairly spilling over with
wholesome, boisterous boys and chatty, beribboned little girls.
She was rooming with a family, taking her meals at a restaurant,
keeping up her zest in tomorrow by running a shop. She thought of
how her friend, Mrs. Robinson, gracious, democratic woman of wide
sympathies that she was, had lived alone after David Robinson's
death, taking his place as president of the bank, during the years
her only daughter, Janet, had been off at college and later
travelling around the country "on the stage"--of all things for a
daughter of Fallon. When hadn't the town been full of these
widowed, elderly women made childless alike by life and by death?
What others had met successfully, she could also, she told herself
sternly, and still the old Rose, still struggling toward happiness,
she tried to think with a little enthusiasm of her new life, of the
things she would do for others. One recreation she would be able
to enjoy to her heart's content when she moved into town--the
movies. They would tide her over, she felt gratefully. When she
was too lonely, she would go to them and shed her own troubles and
problems by absorption in those of others. She who had been
married for years and had borne two children without ever having
had the joy of one overwhelming kiss, would find romance at last,
for an hour, as she identified herself with the charming heroines
of the films.
She was to surrender the farm and the crops as they stood
in June, but as there was to be no new immediate tenant in her old
house it was easily arranged that she could continue in it until
the cottage in Fallon would be empty in September.
Meanwhile, preparations were begun for the new car line
which would pass where the big dairy barn was standing. As the
latter went down, board by board, it seemed to Mrs. Wade that this
structure which, in the building, had been the sign and symbol of
her surrender and heartbreak, now in its destruction, typified
Martin's life. It was as if Martin, himself, were being torn limb
from limb. All that he had built would soon be dust. The sound of
the cement breaking under the heavy sledges, was almost more than
she could bear. It was a relief to have the smaller buildings
dragged bodily to other parts of the farm.
Only once before in her memory had there been such a
summer and such a drought. The corn leaves burned to a crisp
brown, the ground cracked and broke into cakes and dust piled high
in thick, velvety folds on weeds and grass. It seemed too strange
for words to see others harvest the wheat and to know that the
usual crop could not be put in.
Rose was thankful when her last evening came. Most of her
furniture had been moved in the morning, her boxes had left in the
afternoon, and the last little accessories were now piled in the
car. As, hand on the wheel, she paused a moment before starting,
she was conscious of a choking sensation. It was over, finished--
she, the last of Martin, was leaving it, for good. Before her
rolled the quarter section, except for the little box-house, as
bare of fences and buildings as when the Wades had first camped on
it in their prairie schooner. With what strange prophetic vision
had Martin foreseen so clearly that all the construction of his
life would crumble. Would Jacob and Sarah Wade have had the
courage to make all their sacrifices, she wondered, if they had
known that she and she alone, daughter of a Patrick and Norah
Conroy, whom they had never seen, would some day stand there
profiting by it all? She thought of the mortgages in the bank and
the bonds, of the easier life she seemed to be entering. How
strange that she whom Grandfather and Grandmother Wade had not
even known, she whom Martin had never loved, should be the one to
reap the real benefits from their planning, and that the farm
itself, for which her husband had been willing to sacrifice Billy
and herself, should be utterly destroyed. A sudden breeze caught
up some of the dust and whirling it around let it fall. "Martin's
life," thought Rose, "it was like a handful of dust thrown into
God's face and blown back again by the wind to the ground."
The fiction of Marcet and Emanuel Haldeman-Julius is deeply rooted in
autobiography, a trait not uncommon to other authors. The names, places,
and events in these collected works often parallel those in the
Haldeman-Juliuses' lives. Fallon, for example, is clearly a fictitious name
for Girard, Kansas, and the county in which it was situated. Its name,
however, was taken from Fallon, Nevada, a World War I Socialist commune
supported by Fred D. Warren, E. N. Richardson, Charles Lincoln Phifer, and
others formerly associated with the influential Appeal to Reason of Girard.
The Haldeman-Juliuses themselves had been investors in this co-operative
enterprise--offering, among other things, joint subscriptions to Fallon's
Co-Operative Colonist and the Appeal to Reason, with which they had been
associated since 1915 and which they had purchased outright in 1919, the
year the Nevada Colony Corporation went into receivership. Thus, the use of
Fallon's name not only served as a cloak to protect them from any possible
repercussions in using the name of Girard in fiction, but also served as a
subtle memorial for the utopian Nevada community which had intrigued such
well-known authors as Aldous Huxley and Carey McWilliams.
It is not surprising that the details about the town are accurate.
Marcet was born in Girard on June 18, 1887, the daughter of Dr. Henry
Winfield and Sarah Alice Addams Haldeman. Her father, for reasons of health
left Mitchellville, Iowa, in 1884 and established the Bank of Girard. His
wife became president of that bank upon his death on March 13, 1905, thus
becoming the first female bank president in Kansas and vying with Kathrine
R. Williams of Indiana for the distinction of being the first such in
Marcet's story is most succinctly told by Alexander Woollcott in his
New Yorker profile of June 20, 1925: Marcet, he states, "had rebelled at
the confines of Girard and come on to New York to go on the stage. She was
the daughter of Girard's foremost and wealthiest citizen, but she did not
like Kansas. The elder Haldeman--physician, banker, musician, philosopher,
autocrat of the little Kansas town and holder of formidable mortgages on
the farmlands roundabout--had died and Marcet, under the stage name of
Jeanne Marcet, was braving it out alone at the Three Arts Club. . . .
"Then came news from Girard that Mrs. Haldeman had died. A wise and
gracious lady was Mrs. Haldeman, less celebrated in the outside world than
her sister, Jane Addams of Hull House, but not less highly regarded in
Girard. It is possible that she had small confidence in her daughter's
career as an actress: it is certain she had great patience with it. To
Marcet she willed the Haldeman fortune, with no stipulations dictated by
the inordinate vanity of the dead. She left it all to her daughter with a
single condition. Marcet was to enter into her inheritance only after she
had dwelt for a whole year in Girard. If, thereafter, she preferred New
York and the hard benches of the managers' waiting rooms, it would at least
not be because she did not really know how pleasant life could be in
Girard, especially if one lived in its finest house and in the Spring
twilight could motor out along the new roads and look at all the newly
planted fields on which one held the mortgage." Earlier Marcet had
attended Bryn Mawr College for three years, where her group of best friends
included a number of future writers: poet Marianne Moore, novelist Bryher
(then Winifred Ellerman), and children's author Elsie Singmaster. She was
graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1910, after which
she signed a contract with pre-Hollywood Cecil B. DeMille. Mrs. Haldeman's
death on March 19, 1915, brought her back to Girard and her destiny:
meeting and falling in love with Emanuel Julius, a young Jewish Socialist
journalist who was hired by the Appeal in September 1915. Born on July
30, 1889, in Philadelphia to a bookbinder, David Julius, and his wife
Elizabeth, Emanuel had left school at the age of thirteen. Despite a lack
of formal education, he became a reporter for the New York Call, the
Milwaukee Leader, the Chicago World, and the Los Angeles Citizen and
Social-Democrat, before returning to New York to become Sunday editor of
the Call. A co-worker on the Leader and World had been Carl Sandburg; back
in New York he had become the familiar of many names now famous in American
literature, including the Algonquin Club members, centering around those
associated with the New Yorker, co-founded by Harold Ross and Jane Grant,
the latter from Girard. Lured by the prestige of the Appeal and a
ten-dollar weekly raise in salary, he left New York for Girard as an
Marcet Haldeman and Emanuel Julius were introduced by Mrs. Walter
Wayland. Soon after arriving in Girard, Julius made the observation that
the area had only two interesting women: one an art teacher in Fort Scott,
the other the vice president of a Girard bank. He pursued the banker, and
within six months, on June 1, 1916, they were wedded at the Addams
homestead in Cedarville, Illinois. Six months after the wedding, their name
was legally changed to the now familiar "Haldeman-Julius." They were soon
starting a family, raising registered cattle, and writing fiction together.
Their third year of marriage was one of an astounding series of
successes. The couple purchased major interests of the Appeal to Reason.
Being approached by Marian Wharton, head of the English department of the
socialist People's College of Fort Scott (and the mother of Meridel
LeSueur), Emanuel started printing pocket-sized paperbacks containing the
full texts of quotations Mrs. Wharton had used in her 1917 textbook, Plain
English. Advertising the books in the Appeal at five dollars for fifty
titles, he was delighted with reader response. The titles went into third
and fourth editions before he finally decided it was economically feasible
to have stereotype plates cast of the best-selling titles. Called the
People's Pocket Series and the Appeal's Pocket Series, they evolved within
a few years' time into the Little Blue Books, printed at the rate of 40,000
a day and purchased all over the English- speaking world.
Also during this period the fruits of Marcet and Emanuel's literary
collaboration began meeting with success. "Dreams and Compound Interest"
appeared in the April 1919 issue of the Atlantic. Ellery Sedgwick, the
monthly's editor, sent high praise and a hundred dollars for the
unsolicited story, finding it "accurate, human, and novel." Even more
encouraging was his request for another story in the Fallon series. Six
months later "Caught" appeared in the November Atlantic, followed by "The
Unworthy Coopers" in May 1921. Further, their joint novel, Dust, had been
published by Brentano's to enthusiastic reviews in March, and by September
had gone into its fifth large printing. Their earlier works, a book of
fairy tales by Marcet and sketches, short stories, and plays by Emanuel,
had been self-printed. Now the professional press was paying them for their
efforts, and their own publishing venture was to enter the annals of
American cultural history: Haldeman-Julius "turned from the socialist
transforming of society to the more acceptable, yet equally nonconformist,
task of enlarging the American public's cultural horizons through cheap
paperback books. The 1920s and 1930s saw the wide expansion of popular
culture; by the mass production of books Haldeman-Julius joined that
process, but by introducing the classics and heterodox ideas--sex
education, for example--into the process, he gave to it his own stamp"
(American Reformers, ed. Alden Whitman [New York: H. W. Wilson Co., 1985],
There is evidence that Marcet started a Montessori school for her
children as stated in these stories; Emanuel did write a play rejected by
the Provincetown Players in which George Bernard Shaw and G. K. Chesterton
are characters; a vegetable oil butter substitute and cereal coffee were
indeed produced by the Girard Manufacturing Company, a subsidiary of the
Appeal; etc., etc., etc. No matter how farfetched some of these details may
appear, research will usually show that they are based upon fact.
Marcet died of cancer on February 13, 1941; Emanuel accidentally
drowned in his swimming pool on July 31, 1951; their publishing house was
burned to the ground on July 4, 1978, just months before being declared a
National Historic Landmark.
Like their stories, their lives reflect the title of a 1922 Kansas
City Journal-Post article: "Kansas Triumphs over Bohemia."
Special Collections Librarian
Pittsburg State University
Return to the Center for Kansas Studies