By Mr. And Mrs. Haldeman-Julius
I. THE DUST IS STIRRED II. OUT OF THE DUST III. DUST IN HER HEART IV. A ROSE-BUD IN THE DUST V. DUST BEGETS DUST VI. DUST IN HIS EYES VII. MARTIN BATTLES WITH DUST VIII. THE DUST SMOTHERS IX. MARTIN'S SON SHAKES OFF THE DUST X. INTO THE DUST-BIN XI. THE DUST SETTLES
I. 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 cow 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 coffee-pot.
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, listlessly.
"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," suggested Wade.
"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, anxiously.
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 stomach."
"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 earned it."
"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 had 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, here, 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 give 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 shoulders.
"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 education."
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 county, millions of dollars' worth waiting to be mined."
"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 quarter-section.
II. 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 for 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 Kansas plutocrat.
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 furnishings.
"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 haunches—waiting."
"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, these heavy, manure-spotted shoes, this greasy, 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 up.
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 of 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 jackknife.
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 school-house 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 paralysis.
"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 cordial hand.
"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 awkwardly.
"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 nature."
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 married?"
"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 with someone?"
"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 happy?"
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 momentary confusion.
"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 interrupted her.
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.
III. 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, irrevocably certain.
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 final notch.
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; she sensed a lack of pity in Martin, an unwillingness even to try to understand her conflicting emotions.
"Then you're crying about something. What is it?" There was 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 wrong.
"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 a 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 come.
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 better."
"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 ultimate happiness.
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 now?"
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 of 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 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 township.
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 foolishnesses 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.
IV. 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, impersonally, logically.
"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 buckets.
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 criticized bitingly.
"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 stream cascaded.
"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 what—"
"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-checked, 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 her.
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 apathetic jog.
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? Then 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 these 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 sublimity.