THE PRAIRIE WIFE
THE PRAIRIE WIFE
By ARTHUR STRINGER
With Frontispiece in Color by H. T. DUNN
A. L. BURT COMPANY PUBLISHERS—NEW YORK
PUBLISHED BY ARRANGEMENT WITH THE BOBBS, MERRILL COMPANY COPYRIGHT 1915 THE CURTIS PUBLISHING COMPANY
COPYRIGHT 1915 THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY
TO VAN WHO KNOWS AND LOVES THE WEST AS WE LOVE HIM!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Thursday the Nineteenth 1 Saturday the Twenty-first 16 Monday the Twenty-third 33 Wednesday the Twenty-fifth 41 Thursday the Twenty-sixth 48 Saturday the Twenty-eighth 57 Wednesday the First 61 Thursday the Second 64 Friday the Third 67 Saturday the Fourth 68 Monday the Sixth 73 Wednesday the Eighth 80 Saturday the Tenth 88 Sunday the Eleventh 91 Monday the Twelfth 93 Sunday the Eighteenth 101 Monday the Nineteenth 103 Tuesday the Twentieth 105 Thursday the Twenty-second 115 Saturday the Twenty-fourth 119 Tuesday the Twenty-seventh 128 Thursday the Twenty-ninth 133 Friday the Fifth 136 Sunday the Seventh 137 Tuesday the Ninth 138 Saturday the Twenty-first 142 Sunday the Twenty-ninth 150 Monday the Seventh 152 Friday the Eleventh 153 Sunday the Thirteenth 155 Wednesday the Sixteenth 156 Sunday the Twentieth 157 Sunday the Twenty-seventh 158 Wednesday the Thirtieth 159 Thursday the Thirty-first 160 Sunday the Third 167 Thursday the Seventh 171 Saturday the Ninth 172 Monday the Eleventh 175 Tuesday the Nineteenth 182 Sunday the Thirty-first 186 Tuesday the Ninth 188 Wednesday the Seventeenth 189 Thursday the Twenty-fifth 190 Tuesday the Second 191 Thursday the Fourth 193 Wednesday the Seventeenth 194 Saturday the Twenty-seventh 195 Tuesday the Sixth 198 Monday the Twelfth 199 Tuesday the Twentieth 202 Monday the Twenty-sixth 205 Wednesday the Twenty-eighth 207 Monday the Second 209 Thursday the Fifth 210 Tuesday the Tenth 214 Monday the Sixteenth 217 Tuesday the Twenty-fourth 220 Friday the Third 222 Thursday the Ninth 224 Wednesday the Fifteenth 228 Friday the Seventeenth 230 Saturday the Nineteenth 231 Friday the Twenty-eighth 233 Saturday the Twenty-ninth 234 Sunday the Thirtieth 236 Tuesday the First 237 Monday the Seventh 243 Sunday the Thirteenth 247 Monday the Twenty-eighth 249 Saturday the Second 251 Wednesday the Sixth 252 Tuesday the Twelfth 254 Thursday the Fourteenth 255 Wednesday the Fifth 256 Sunday the Ninth 260 Monday the Tenth 262 Tuesday the Eleventh 264 Wednesday the Thirteenth 265 Thursday the Fourteenth 267 Friday the Fifteenth 269 Saturday the Sixteenth 272 Monday the Seventeenth 275 Wednesday the Nineteenth 276 Friday the Twenty-first 277 Monday the Twelfth 290 Wednesday the Fourteenth 292 Thursday the Fifteenth 295 Friday the Sixteenth 298 Sunday the Eighteenth 307 Sunday the Twenty-fifth 308 Tuesday the Twenty-seventh 309 Wednesday the Twenty-eighth 310 Friday the Thirtieth 313 Sunday the First 314
THE PRAIRIE WIFE
Thursday the Nineteenth
Splash!... That's me, Matilda Anne! That's me falling plump into the pool of matrimony before I've had time to fall in love! And oh, Matilda Anne, Matilda Anne, I've got to talk to you! You may be six thousand miles away, but still you've got to be my safety-valve. I'd blow up and explode if I didn't express myself to some one. For it's so lonesome out here I could go and commune with the gophers. This isn't a twenty-part letter, my dear, and it isn't a diary. It's the coral ring I'm cutting my teeth of desolation on. For, every so long, I've simply got to sit down and talk to some one, or I'd go mad, clean, stark, staring mad, and bite the tops off the sweet-grass! It may even happen this will never be sent to you. But I like to think of you reading it, some day, page by page, when I'm fat and forty, or, what's more likely, when Duncan has me chained to a corral-post or finally shut up in a padded cell. For you were the one who was closest to me in the old days, Matilda Anne, and when I was in trouble you were always the staff on which I leaned, the calm-eyed Tillie-on-the-spot who never seemed to fail me! And I think you will understand.
But there's so much to talk about I scarcely know where to begin. The funny part of it all is, I've gone and married the Other Man. And you won't understand that a bit, unless I start at the beginning. But when I look back, there doesn't seem to be any beginning, for it's only in books that things really begin and end in a single lifetime.
Howsomever, as Chinkie used to say, when I left you and Scheming Jack in that funny little stone house of yours in Corfu, and got to Palermo, I found Lady Agatha and Chinkie there at the Hotel des Palmes and the yacht being coaled from a tramp steamer's bunkers in the harbor. So I went on with them to Monte Carlo. We had a terrible trip all the way up to the Riviera, and I was terribly sea-sick, and those lady novelists who love to get their heroines off on a private yacht never dream that in anything but duckpond weather the ordinary yacht at sea is about the meanest habitation between Heaven and earth. But it was at Monte Carlo I got the cable from Uncle Carlton telling me the Chilean revolution had wiped out our nitrate mine concessions and that your poor Tabby's last little nest-egg had been smashed. In other words, I woke up and found myself a beggar, and for a few hours I even thought I'd have to travel home on that Monte Carlo Viaticum fund which so discreetly ships away the stranded adventurer before he musses up the Mediterranean scenery by shooting himself. Then I remembered my letter of credit, and firmly but sorrowfully paid off poor Hortense, who through her tears proclaimed that she'd go with me anywhere, and without any thought of wages (imagine being hooked up by a maid to whom you were under such democratizing obligations!) But I was firm, for I knew the situation, might just as well be faced first as last.
So I counted up my letter of credit and found I had exactly six hundred and seventy-one dollars, American money, between me and beggary. Then I sent a cable to Theobald Gustav (so condensed that he thought it was code) and later on found that he'd been sending flowers and chocolates all the while to the Hotel de L'Athenee, the long boxes duly piled up in tiers, like coffins at the morgue. Then Theobald's aunt, the baroness, called on me, in state. She came in that funny, old-fashioned, shallow landau of hers, where she looked for all the world like an oyster-on-the-half-shell, and spoke so pointedly of the danger of international marriages that I felt sure she was trying to shoo me away from my handsome and kingly Theobald Gustav—which made me quite calmly and solemnly tell her that I intended to take Theobald out of under-secretaryships, which really belonged to Oppenheim romances, and put him in the shoe business in some nice New England town!
From Monte Carlo I scooted right up to Paris. Two days later, as I intended to write you but didn't, I caught the boat-train for Cherbourg. And there at the rail as I stepped on the Baltic was the Other Man, to wit, Duncan Argyll McKail, in a most awful-looking yellow plaid English mackintosh. His face went a little blank as he clapped eyes on me, for he'd dropped up to Banff last October when Chinkie and Lady Agatha and I were there for a week. He'd been very nice, that week at Banff, and I liked him a lot. But when Chinkie saw him "going it a bit too strong," as he put it, and quietly tipped Duncan Argyll off as to Theobald Gustav, the aforesaid D. A. bolted back to his ranch without as much as saying good-by to me. For Duncan Argyll McKail isn't an Irishman, as you might in time gather from that name of his. He's a Scotch-Canadian, and he's nothing but a broken-down civil engineer who's taken up farming in the Northwest. But I could see right away that he was a gentleman (I hate that word, but where'll you get another one to take its place?) and had known nice people, even before I found out he'd taught the Duchess of S. to shoot big-horn. He'd run over to England to finance a cooperative wheat-growing scheme, but had failed, because everything is so unsettled in England just now.
But you're a woman, and before I go any further you'll want to know what Duncan looks like.
Well, he's not a bit like his name. The West has shaken a good deal of the Covenanter out of him. He's tall and gaunt and wide-shouldered, and has brown eyes with hazel specks in them, and a mouth exactly like Holbein's "Astronomer's," and a skin that is almost as disgracefully brown as an Indian's. On the whole, if a Lina Cavalieri had happened to marry a Lord Kitchener, and had happened to have a thirty-year-old son, I feel quite sure he'd have been the dead spit, as the Irish say, of my own Duncan Argyll. And Duncan Argyll, alias Dinky-Dunk, is rather reserved and quiet and, I'm afraid, rather masterful, but not as Theobald Gustav might have been, for with all his force the modern German, it seems to me, is like the bagpipes in being somewhat lacking in suavity.
And all the way over Dinky-Dunk was so nice that he almost took my breath away. He was also rather audacious, gritting his teeth in the face of the German peril, and I got to like him so much I secretly decided we'd always be good friends, old-fashioned, above-board, Platonic good friends. But the trouble with Platonic love is that it's always turning out too nice to be Platonic, or too Platonic to be nice. So I had to look straight at the bosom of that awful yellow-plaid English mackintosh and tell Dinky-Dunk the truth. And Dinky-Dunk listened, with his astronomer mouth set rather grim, and otherwise not in the least put out. His sense of confidence worried me. It was like the quietness of the man who is holding back his trump. And it wasn't until the impossible little wife of an impossible big lumberman from Saginaw, Michigan, showed me the Paris Herald with the cable in it about that spidery Russian stage-dancer, L——, getting so nearly killed in Theobald's car down at Long Beach, that I realized there was a trump card and that Dinky-Dunk had been too manly to play it.
I had a lot of thinking to do, the next three days.
When Theobald came on from Washington and met the steamer my conscience troubled me and I should still have been kindness itself to him, if it hadn't been for his proprietary manner (which, by the way, had never annoyed me before), coupled with what I already knew. We had luncheon in the Della Robbia room at the Vanderbilt and I was digging the marrons out of a Nesselrode when, presto, it suddenly came over me that the baroness was right and that I could never marry a foreigner. It came like a thunderclap. But somewhere in that senate of instinct which debates over such things down deep in the secret chambers of our souls, I suppose, the whole problem had been talked over and fought out and put to the vote. And in the face of the fact that Theobald Gustav had always seemed more nearly akin to one of Ouida's demigods than any man I had ever known, the vote had gone against him. My hero was no longer a hero. I knew there had been times, of course, when that hero, being a German, had rather regarded this universe of ours as a department-store and this earth as the particular section over which the August Master had appointed him floor-walker. I had thought of him as my Eisenfresser and my big blond Saebierassler. But my eyes opened with my last marron and I suddenly sat back and stared at Theobald's handsome pink face with its Krupp-steel blue eyes and its haughtily upturned mustache-ends. He must have seen that look of appraisal on my own face, for, with all his iron-and-blood Prussianism, he clouded up like a hurt child. But he was too much of a diplomat to show his feelings. He merely became so unctuously polite that I felt like poking him in his steel-blue eye with my mint straw.
Remember, Matilda Anne, not a word was said, not one syllable about what was there in both our souls. Yet it was one of life's biggest moments, the Great Divide of a whole career—and I went on eating Nesselrode and Theobald went on pleasantly smoking his cigarette and approvingly inspecting his well-manicured nails.
It was funny, but it made me feel blue and unattached and terribly alone in the world. Now, I can see things more clearly. I know that mood of mine was not the mere child of caprice. Looking back, I can see how Theobald had been more critical, more silently combative, from the moment I stepped off the Baltic. I realized, all at once, that he had secretly been putting me to a strain. I won't say it was because my dot had gone with The Nitrate Mines, or that he had discovered that Duncan had crossed on the same steamer with me, or that he knew I'd soon hear of the L—— episode. But these prophetic bones of mine told me there was trouble ahead. And I felt so forsaken and desolate in spirit that when Duncan whirled me out to Westbury, in a hired motor-car, to see the Great Neck First defeated by the Meadow Brook Hunters, I went with the happy-go-lucky glee of a truant who doesn't give a hang what happens. Dinky-Dunk was interested in polo ponies, which, he explained to me, are not a particular breed but just come along by accident—for he'd bred and sold mounts to the Coronado and San Mateo Clubs and the Philadelphia City Cavalry boys. And he loved the game. He was so genuine and sincere and human, as we sat there side by side, that I wasn't a bit afraid of him and knew we could be chums and didn't mind his lapses into silence or his extension-sole English shoes and crazy London cravat.
And I was happy, until the school-bell rang—which took the form of Theobald's telephone message to the Ritz reminding me of our dinner engagement. It was an awful dinner, for intuitively I knew what was coming, and quite as intuitively he knew what was coming, and even the waiter knew when it came,—for I flung Theobald's ring right against his stately German chest. There'd be no good in telling you, Matilda Anne, what led up to that most unlady-like action. I don't intend to burn incense in front of myself. It may have looked wrong. But I know you'll take my word when I say he deserved it. The one thing that hurts is that he had the triumph of being the first to sever diplomatic relations. In the language of Shorty McCabe and my fellow countrymen, he threw me down! Twenty minutes later, after composing my soul and powdering my nose, I was telephoning all over the city trying to find Duncan. I got him at last, and he came to the Ritz on the run. Then we picked up a residuary old horse-hansom on Fifth Avenue and went rattling off through Central Park. There I—who once boasted of seven proposals and three times that number of nibbles—promptly and shamelessly proposed to my Dinky-Dunk, though he is too much of a gentleman not to swear it's a horrid lie and that he'd have fought through an acre of Greek fire to get me!
But whatever happened, Count Theobald Gustav Von Guntner threw me down, and Dinky-Dunk caught me on the bounce, and now instead of going to embassy balls and talking world-politics like a Mrs. Humphry Ward heroine I've married a shack-owner who grows wheat up in the Canadian Northwest. And instead of wearing a tiara in the Grand Tier at the Metropolitan I'm up here a dot on the prairie and wearing an apron made of butcher's linen! Sursum corda! For I'm still in the ring. And it's no easy thing to fall in love and land on your feet. But I've gone and done it. I've taken the high jump. I've made my bed, as Uncle Carlton had the nerve to tell me, and now I've got to lie in it. But assez d'Etrangers!
That wedding-day of mine I'll always remember as a day of smells, the smell of the pew-cushions in the empty church, the smell of the lilies-of-the-valley, that dear, sweet, scatter-brained Fanny-Rain-In-The-Face (she rushed to town an hour after getting my wire) insisted on carrying, the smell of the leather in the damp taxi, the tobaccoy smell of Dinky-Dunk's quite impossible best man, who'd been picked up at the hotel, on the fly, to act as a witness, and the smell of Dinky-Dunk's brand new gloves as he lifted my chin and kissed me in that slow, tender, tragic, end-of-the-world way big and bashful men sometimes have with women. It's all a jumble of smells.
Then Dinky-Dunk got the wire saying he might lose his chance on the Stuart Ranch, if he didn't close before the Calgary interests got hold of it. And Dinky-Dunk wanted that ranch. So we talked it over and in five minutes had given up the idea of going down to Aiken and were telephoning for the stateroom on the Montreal Express. I had just four hours for shopping, scurrying about after cook-books and golf-boots and table-linen and a chafing dish, and a lot of other absurd things I thought we'd need on the ranch. And then off we flew for the West, before poor, extravagant, ecstatic Dinky-Dunk's thirty-six wedding orchids' from Thorley's had faded and before I'd a chance to show Fanny my nighties!
Am I crazy? Is it all wrong? Do I love my Dinky-Dunk? Do I? The Good Lord only knows, Matilda Anne! O God, O God, if it should turn out that I don't, that I can't? But I'm going to! I know I'm going to! And there's one other thing that I know, and when I remember it, it sends a comfy warm wave through all my body: Dinky-Dunk loves me. He's as mad as a hatter about me. He deserves to be loved back. And I'm going to love him back. That is a vow I herewith duly register. I'm going to love my Dinky-Dunk. But, oh, isn't it wonderful to wake love in a man, in a strong man? To be able to sweep him off, that way, on a tidal wave that leaves him rather white and shaky in the voice and trembly in the fingers, and seems to light a little luminous fire at the back of his eyeballs so that you can see the pupils glow, the same as an animal's when your motor head-lights hit them! It's like taking a little match and starting a prairie-fire and watching the flames creep and spread until the heavens are roaring! I wonder if I'm selfish? I wonder? But I can't answer that now, for it's supper time, and your Tabby has the grub to rustle!
Saturday the Twenty-first
I'm alone in the shack to-night, and I'm determined not to think about my troubles. So I'm going to write you a ream, Matilda Anne, whether you like it or not. And I must begin by telling you about the shack itself, and how I got here. All the way out from Montreal Dinky-Dunk, in his kindly way, kept doing his best to key me down and make me not expect too much. But I'd hold his hand, under the magazine I was pretending to read, and whistle Home, Sweet Home! He kept saying it would be hard, for the first year or two, and there would be a terrible number of things I'd be sure to miss. Love Me and The World Is Mine! I hummed, as I leaned over against his big wide shoulder. And I lay there smiling and happy, blind to everything that was before me, and I only laughed when Dinky-Dunk asked me if I'd still say that when I found there wasn't a nutmeg-grater within seven miles of my kitchen.
"Do you love me?" I demanded, hanging on to him right in front of the car-porter.
"I love you better than anything else in all this wide world!" was his slow and solemn answer.
When we left Winnipeg, too, he tried to tell me what a plain little shack we'd have to put up with for a year or two, and how it wouldn't be much better than camping out, and how he knew I was clear grit and would help him win that first year's battle. There was nothing depressing to me in the thought of life in a prairie-shack. I never knew, of course, just what it would be like, and had no way of knowing. I remembered Chinkie's little love of a farm in Sussex, and I'd been a week at the Westbury's place out on Long Island, with its terraced lawns and gardens and greenhouses and macadamized roads. And, on the whole, I expected a cross between a shooting-box and a Swiss chalet, a little nest of a home that was so small it was sure to be lovable, with a rambler-rose draping the front and a crystal spring bubbling at the back door, a little flowery island on the prairie where we could play Swiss-Family-Robinson and sally forth to shoot prairie-chicken and ruffed grouse to our hearts' content.
Well, that shack wasn't quite what I expected! But I mustn't run ahead of my story, Matilda Anne, so I'll go back to where Dinky-Dunk and I got off the side-line "accommodation" at Buckhorn, with our traps and trunks and hand-bags and suitcases. And these had scarcely been piled on the wooden platform before the station-agent came running up to Duncan with a yellow sheet in his hand. And Duncan looked worried as he read it, and stopped talking to his man called Olie, who was there beside the platform, in a big, sweat-stained Stetson hat, with a big team hitched to a big wagon with straw in the bottom of the box.
Olie, I at once told myself, was a Swede. He was one of the ugliest men I ever clapped eyes on, but I found out afterward that his face had been frozen in a blizzard, years before, and his nose had split. This had disfigured him—and the job had been done for life. His eyes were big and pale blue, and his hair and eyebrows were a pale yellow. He was the most silent man I ever saw. But Dinky-Dunk had already told me he was a great worker, and a fine fellow at heart. And when Dinky-Dunk says he'd trust a man, through thick and thin, there must be something good in that man, no matter how bulbous his nose is or how scared-looking he gets when a woman speaks to him. Olie looked more scared than ever when Dinky-Dunk suddenly ran to where the train-conductor was standing beside his car-steps, asked him to hold that "accommodation" for half a minute, pulled his suit-case from under my pile of traps, and grabbed little me in his arms.
"Quick," he said, "good-by! I've got to go on to Calgary. There's trouble about my registrations."
I hung on to him for dear life. "You're not going to leave me here, Dinky-Dunk, in the middle of this wilderness?" I cried out, while the conductor and brakeman and station-agent all called and holloed and clamored for Duncan to hurry.
"Olie will take you home, beloved," Dinky-Dunk tried to assure me. "You'll be there by midnight, and I'll be back by Saturday evening!"
I began to bawl. "Don't go! Don't leave me!" I begged him. But the conductor simply tore him out of my arms and pushed him aboard the tail-end of the last car. I made a face at a fat man who was looking out a window at me. I stood there, as the train started to move, feeling that it was dragging my heart with it.
Then Dinky-Dunk called out to Olie, from the back platform: "Did you get my message and paint that shack?" And Olie, with my steamer-rug in his hand, only looked blank and called back "No." But I don't believe Dinky-Dunk even heard him, for he was busy throwing kisses at me. I stood there, at the edge of the platform, watching that lonely last car-end fade down into the lonely sky-line. Then I mopped my eyes, took one long quavery breath, and said out loud, as Birdalone Pebbley said Shiner did when he was lying wounded on the field of Magersfontein: "Squealer, squealer, who's a squealer?"
I found the big wagon-box filled with our things and Olie sitting there waiting, viewing me with wordless yet respectful awe. Olie, in fact, has never yet got used to me. He's a fine chap, in his rough and inarticulate way, and there's nothing he wouldn't do for me. But I'm a novelty to him. His pale blue eyes look frightened and he blushes when I speak to him. And he studies me secretly, as though I were a dromedary, or an archangel, or a mechanical toy whose inner mechanism perplexed him. But yesterday I found out through Dinky-Dunk what the probable secret of Olie's mystification was. It was my hat. "It ban so dam' foolish!" he fervently confessed.
That wagon-ride from Buckhorn out to the ranch seemed endless. I thought we were trekking clear up to the North Pole. At first there was what you might call a road, straight and worn deep, between parallel lines of barb-wire fencing. But this road soon melted into nothing more than a trail, a never-ending gently curving trail that ribboned out across the prairie-floor as far as the eye could see. It was a glorious afternoon, one of those opaline, blue-arched autumn days when it should have been a joy merely to be alive. But I was in an antagonistic mood, and the little cabin-like farmhouses that every now and then stood up against the sky-line made me feel lonesome, and the jolting of the heavy wagon made me tired, and by six o'clock I was so hungry that my ribs ached. We had been on the trail then almost five hours, and Olie calmly informed me it was only a few hours more. It got quite cool as the sun went down, and I had to undo my steamer-rug and get wrapped up in it. And still we went on. It seemed like being at sea, with a light now and then, miles and miles away. Something howled dismally in the distance, and gave me the creeps. Olie told me it was only a coyote. But we kept on, and my ribs ached worse than ever.
Then I gave a shout that nearly frightened Olie off the seat, for I remembered the box of chocolates we'd had on the train. We stopped and found my hand-bag, and lighted matches and looked through it. Then I gave a second and more dismal shout, for I remembered Dinky-Dunk had crammed it into his suit-case at the last moment. Then we went on again, with me a squaw-woman all wrapped in her blanket. I must have fallen asleep, for I woke with a start. Olie had stopped at a slough to water his team, and said we'd make home in another hour or two. How he found his way across that prairie Heaven only knows. I no longer worried. I was too tired to think. The open air and the swaying and jolting had chloroformed me into insensibility. Olie could have driven over the edge of a canyon and I should never have stopped him.
Instead of falling into a canyon, however, at exactly ten minutes to twelve we pulled up beside the shack door, which had been left unlocked, and Olie went in and lighted a lamp and touched a match to the fire already laid in the stove. I don't remember getting down from the wagon seat and I don't remember going into the shack. But when Olie came from putting in his team I was fast asleep on a luxurious divan made of a rather smelly steer-hide stretched across two slim cedar-trees on four little cedar legs, with a bag full of pine needles at the head. I lay there watching Olie, in a sort of torpor. It surprised me how quickly his big ungainly body could move, and how adept those big sunburned hands of his could be.
Then sharp as an arrow through a velvet curtain came the smell of bacon through my drowsiness. And it was a heavenly odor. I didn't even wash. I ate bacon and eggs and toasted biscuits and orange marmalade and coffee, the latter with condensed milk, which I hate. I don't know how I got to my bed, or got my clothes off, or where the worthy Olie slept, or who put out the light, or if the door had been left open or shut. I never knew that the bed was hard, or that the coyotes were howling. I only know that I slept for ten solid hours, without turning over, and that when I opened my eyes I saw a big square of golden sunlight dancing on the unpainted pine boards of the shack wall. And the funny part of it all was, Matilda Anne, I didn't have the splitting headache I'd so dolorously prophesied for myself. Instead of that I felt buoyant. I started to sing as I pulled on my stockings. And I suddenly remembered that I was terribly hungry again.
I swung open the window beside me, for it was on hinges, and poked my head out. I could see a corral, and a long low building which I took to be the ranch stables, and another and newer-looking building with a metal roof, and several stacks of hay surrounded by a fence, and a row of portable granaries. And beyond these stretched the open prairie, limitless and beautiful in the clear morning sunshine. Above it arched a sky of robin-egg blue, melting into opal and pale gold down toward the rim of the world. I breathed in lungfuls of clear, dry, ozonic air, and I really believe it made me a little light-headed, it was so exhilarating, so champagnized with the invisible bubbles of life.
I needed that etheric eye-opener, Matilda Anne, before I calmly and critically looked about our shack. Oh, that shack, that shack! What a comedown it was for your heart-sore Chaddie! In the first place, it seemed no bigger than a ship's cabin, and not one-half so orderly. It is made of lumber, and not of logs, and is about twelve feet wide and eighteen feet long. It has three windows, on hinges, and only one door. The floor is rather rough, and has a trap door leading into a small cellar, where vegetables can be stored for winter use. The end of the shack is shut off by a "tarp"—which I have just found out is short for tarpaulin. In other words, the privacy of my bedroom is assured by nothing more substantial than a canvas drop-curtain, shutting off my boudoir, where I could never very successfully bouder, from the larger living-room.
This living-room is also the kitchen, the laundry, the sewing-room, the reception-room and the library. It has a good big cookstove, which burns either wood or coal, a built-in cupboard with an array of unspeakably ugly crockery dishes, a row of shelves for holding canned goods, books and magazines, cooking utensils, gun-cartridges, tobacco-jars, carpenter's tools and a coal-oil lamp. There is also a plain pine table, a few chairs, one rocking-chair which has plainly been made by hand, and a flour-barrel. Outside the door is a wide wooden bench on which stands a big tin wash-basin and a cake of soap in a sardine can that has been punched full of holes along the bottom. Above it hung a roller towel which looked a little the worse for wear. And that was to be my home, my one and only habitation, for years and years to come! That little cat-eyed cubby-hole of a place!
I sat down on an overturned wash-tub about twenty paces from the shack, and studied it with calm and thoughtful eyes. It looked infinitely worse from the outside. The reason for this was that the board siding had first been covered with tar-paper, for the sake of warmth, and over this had been nailed pieces of tin, tin of every color and size and description. Some of it was flattened out stove-pipe, and some was obviously the sides of tomato-cans. Even tin tobacco-boxes and Dundee marmalade holders and the bottoms of old bake-pans and the sides of an old wash-boiler had been pieced together and patiently tacked over those shack-sides. It must have taken weeks and weeks to do. And it suddenly impressed me as something poignant, as something with the Vergilian touch of tears in it. It seemed so full of history, so vocal of the tragic expedients to which men on the prairie must turn. It seemed pathetic. It brought a lump into my throat. Yet that Joseph's Coat of metal was a neatly done bit of work. All it needed was a coat of paint or two, and it would look less like a crazy-quilt solidified into a homestead. And I suddenly remembered Dinky-Dunk's question called out to Olie from the car-end—and I knew he'd hurried off a message to have that telltale tinning-job painted over before I happened to clap eyes on it.
As Olie had disappeared from the scene and was nowhere to be found, I went in and got my own breakfast. It was supper over again, only I scrambled my eggs instead of frying them. And all the while I was eating that meal I studied those shack-walls and made mental note of what should be changed and what should be done. There was so much, that it rather overwhelmed me. I sat at the table, littered with its dirty dishes, wondering where to begin. And then the endless vista of it all suddenly opened up before me. I became nervously conscious of the unbroken silence about me, and I realized how different this new life must be from the old. It seemed like death itself, and it got a strangle hold on my nerves, and I knew I was going to make a fool of myself the very first morning in my new home, in my home and Dinky-Dunk's. But I refused to give in. I did something which startled me a little, something which I had not done for years. I got down on my knees beside that plain wooden chair and prayed to God. I asked Him to give me strength to keep me from being a piker and make me a wife worthy of the man who loved me, and lead me into the way of bringing happiness to the home that was to be ours. Then I rolled up my sleeves, tied a face towel over my head and went to work.
It was a royal cleaning-out, I can tell you. In the afternoon I had Olie down on all fours scrubbing the floor. When he had washed the windows I had him get a garden rake and clear away the rubbish that littered the dooryard. I draped chintz curtains over the windows, and had Olie nail two shelves in a packing-box and then carry it into my boudoir behind the drop-curtain. Over this box I tacked fresh chintz (for the shack did not possess so feminine a thing as a dresser) and on it put my folding-mirror and my Tiffany traveling-clock and all my foolish shimmery silver toilet articles. Then I tacked up photographs and magazine-prints about the bare wooden walls—and decided that before the winter came those walls would be painted and papered, or I'd know the reason why. Then I aired the bedding and mattress, and unpacked my brand-new linen sheets and the ridiculous hemstitched pillow-slips that I'd scurried so frenziedly about the city to get, and stowed my things away on the box-shelves, and had Olie pound the life out of the well-sunned pillows, and carefully remade the bed.
And then I went at the living-room. And it was no easy task, reorganizing those awful shelves and making sure I wasn't throwing away things Dinky-Dunk might want later on. But the carnage was great, and all afternoon the smoke went heavenward from my fires of destruction. And when it was over I told Olie to go out for a good long walk, for I intended to take a bath. Which I did in the wash-tub, with much joy and my last cake of Roger-and-Gallet soap. And I had to shout to poor ambulating Olie for half-an-hour before I could persuade him to come in to supper. And even then he came tardily, with countless hesitations and pauses, as though a lady temerarious enough to take a scrub were for all time taboo to the race of man. And when he finally ventured in through the door, round-eyed and blushing a deep russet, he gaped at my white middy and my little white apron with that silent but eloquent admiration which couldn't fail to warm the cockles of the most unimpressionable housewife's heart.
Monday the Twenty-third
My Dinky-Dunk is back—and oh, the difference to me! I kept telling myself that I was too busy to miss him. He came Saturday night as I was getting ready for bed. I'd been watching the trail every now and then, all day long, and by nine o'clock had given him up. When I heard him shouting for Olie, I made a rush for him, with only half my clothes on, and nearly shocked Olie and some unknown man, who'd driven Dinky-Dunk home, to death. How I hugged my husband! My husband—I love to write that word. And when I got him inside we had it all over again. He was just like a big overgrown boy. And he put the table between us, so he'd have a chance to talk. But even that didn't work. He smothered my laughing in kisses, and held me up close to him and said I was wonderful. Then we'd try to get down to earth again, and talk sensibly, and then there'd be another death-clinch. Dinky-Dunk says I'm worse than he is. "Of course it's all up with a man," he confessed, "when he sees you coming for him with that Australian crawl-stroke of yours!"
For which I did my best to break in his floating ribs. Heaven only knows how late we talked that night. And Dinky-Dunk had a bundle of surprises for me. The first was a bronze reading-lamp. The second was a soft little rug for the bedroom—only an Axminster, but very acceptable. The third was a pair of Juliets, lined with fur, and oceans too big for me. And Dinky-Dunk says by Tuesday we'll have two milk-cows, part-Jersey, at the ranch, and inside of a week a crate of hens will be ours. Thereupon I couldn't help leading Duncan to the inventory I had made of what we had, and the list, on the opposite side, of what we had to have. The second thing under the heading of "Needs" was "lamp," the fifth was "bedroom rug," the thirteenth was "hens," and the next was "cow." I think he was rather amazed at the length of that list of "needs," but he says I shall have everything in reason. And when he kind of settled down, and noticed the changes in the living-room and then went in and inspected the bedroom he grew very solemn, of a sudden. It worried me.
"Lady Bird," he said, taking me in his arms, "this is a pretty hard life I've trapped you into. It will have to be hard for a year or two, but we'll win out, in the end, and I guess it'll be worth the fight!"
Dinky-Dunk is such a dear. I told him of course we'd win out, but I wouldn't be much use to him at first. I'd have to get broken in and made bridle-wise.
"But, oh, Dinky-Dunk, whatever happens, you must always love me!"—and I imagine I swam for him with my Australian crawl-stroke again. All I remember is that we went to sleep in each other's arms. And as I started to say and forgot to finish, I'd been missing my Dinky-Dunk more than I imagined, those last few days. After that night it was no longer just a shack. It was "Home." Home—it's such a beautiful word! It must mean so much to every woman. And I fell asleep telling myself it was the loveliest word in the English language.
In the morning I slipped out of bed before Dinky-Dunk was awake, for breakfast was to be our first home meal, and I wanted it to be a respectable one. Der Mensch ist was er isst—so I must feed my lord and master on the best in the land. Accordingly I put an extra tablespoonful of cream in the scrambled eggs, and two whole eggs in the coffee, to make dead sure it was crystal-clear. Then, feeling like Van Roon when Berlin declared war on France, I rooted out Dinky-Dunk, made him wash, and sat him down in his pajamas and his ragged old dressing-gown.
"I suppose," I said as I saw his eyes wander about the table, "that you feel exactly like an oyster-man who's just chipped his Blue-Point and got his knife-edge in under the shell! And the next wrench is going to tell you exactly what sort of an oyster you've got!"
Dinky-Dunk grinned up at me as I buttered his toast, piping hot from the range. "Well, Lady Bird, you're not the kind that'll need paprika, anyway!" he announced as he fell to. And he ate like a boa-constrictor and patted his pajama-front and stentoriously announced that he'd picked a queen—only he pronounced it kaveen, after the manner of our poor old Swedish Olie!
As that was Sunday we spent the morning "pi-rooting" about the place. Dinky-Dunk took me out and showed me the stables and the hay-stacks and the granaries—which he'd just waterproofed so there'd be no more spoilt grain on that farm—and the "cool-hole" he used to use before the cellar was built, and the ruins of the sod-hut where the first homesteader that owned that land had lived. Then he showed me the new bunk-house for the men, which Olie is finishing in his spare time. It looks much better than our own shack, being of planed lumber. But Dinky-Dunk is loyal to the shack, and says it's really better built, and the warmest shack in the West—as I'll find before winter is over.
Then we stopped at the pump, and Dinky-Dunk made a confession. When he first bought that ranch there was no water at the shack, except what he could catch from the roof. Water had to be hauled for miles, and it was muddy and salty, at that. They used to call it "Gopher soup." This lack of water always worried him, he said, for women always want water, and oodles of it. It was the year before, after he had left me at Banff, that he was determined to get water. It was hard work, putting down that well, and up to almost the last moment it promised to be a dry hole. But when they struck that water, Dinky-Dunk says, he decided in his soul that he was going to have me, if I was to be had. It was water fit for a queen. And he wanted his queen. But of course even queens have to be well laved and well laundered. He said he didn't sleep all night, after they found the water was there. He was too happy; he just went meandering about the prairie, singing to himself.
"So you were pretty sure of me, Kitten-Cats, even then?" I demanded.
He looked at me with his solemn Scotch-Canadian eyes. "I'm not sure of you, even now," was his answer. But I made him take it back.
It's rather odd how Dinky-Dunk got this ranch, which used to be called the Cochrane Ranch, for even behind this peaceful little home of ours there is a touch of tragedy. Hugh Cochrane was one of Dinky-Dunk's surveyors when he first took up railroad work in British Columbia. Hugh had a younger brother Andrew, who was rather wild and had been brought out here and planted on the prairie to keep him out of mischief. One winter night he rode nearly thirty miles to a dance (they do that apparently out here, and think nothing of it) and instead of riding home at five o'clock in the morning, with the others, he visited a whisky-runner who was operating a "blind pig." There he acquired much more whisky than was good for him and got lost on the trail. That meant he was badly frozen and probably out of his mind before he got back to the shack. He wasn't able to keep up a fire, of course, or do anything for himself—and I suppose the poor boy simply froze to death. He was alone there, and it was weeks and weeks before his body was found. But the most gruesome part of it all is that his horses had been stabled, tied up in their stalls without feed. They were all found dead, poor brutes. They'd even eaten the wooden boards the mangers were built of. Hugh Cochrane couldn't get over it, and was going to sell the ranch for fourteen hundred dollars when Dinky-Dunk heard of it and stepped in and bought the whole half-section. Then he bought the McKinnon place, a half-section to the north of this, after McKinnon had lost all his buildings because he was too shiftless to make a fire-guard. And when the railway work was finished Dinky-Dunk took up wheat-growing. He is a great believer in wheat. He says wheat spells wealth, in this country. Some people call him a "land-miner," he says, but when he's given the chance to do the thing as he wants to, he'll show them who's right.
Wednesday the Twenty-fifth
Dinky-Dunk and I have been making plans. He's promised to build an annex to the shack, a wing on the north side, so I can have a store-room and a clothes-closet at one end and a guest-chamber at the other. And I'm to have a sewing-machine and a bread-mixer, and the smelly steer-hide divan is going to be banished to the bunk-house. And Dinky-Dunk says I must have a pinto, a riding-horse, as soon as he can lay hands on the right animal. Later on he says I must have help, but out here in the West women are hard to get, and harder to keep. They are snatched up by lonely bachelors like Dinky-Dunk. They can't even keep the school-teachers (mostly girls from Ontario) from marrying off. But I don't want a woman about, not for a few months yet. I want Dinky-Dunk all to myself. And the freedom of isolation like this is such a luxury! To be just one's self, in civilization, is a luxury, is the greatest luxury in the world,—and also the most expensive, I've found to my sorrow.
Out here, there's no object in being anything but one's self. Life is so simple and honest, so back to first principles! There's joy in the thought of getting rid of all the sublimated junk of city life. I'm just a woman; and Dinky-Dunk is just a man. We've got a roof and a bed and a fire. That's all. And what is there, really, after that? We have to eat, of course, but we really live well. There's all the game we want, especially wild duck and prairie chicken, to say nothing of jack-rabbit. Dinky-Dunk sallies out and pots them as we need them. We get our veal and beef by the quarter, but it will not keep well until the weather gets cooler, so I put what we don't need in brine and use it for boiling-meat. We have no fresh fruit, but even evaporated peaches can be stewed so that they're appetizing. And as I had the good sense to bring out with me no less than three cook-books, from Brentano's, I am able to attempt more and more elaborate dishes.
Olie has a wire-fenced square where he grew beets and carrots and onions and turnips, and the biggest potatoes I ever saw. These will be pitted before the heavy frosts come. We get our butter and lard by the pail, and our flour by the sack, but getting things in quantities sometimes has its drawbacks. When I examined the oatmeal box I found it had weavels in it, and promptly threw all that meal away. Dinky-Dunk, coming in from the corral, viewed the pile with round-eyed amazement. "It's got worms in it!" I cried out to him. He took up a handful of it, and stared at it with tragic sorrow. "Why, I ate weavels all last winter," he reprovingly remarked. Dinky-Dunk, with his Scotch strain, loves his porridge. So we'll have to get a hundred-weight, guaranteed strictly uninhabited, when we team into Buckhorn.
Men are funny! A woman never quite knows a man until she has lived with him and day by day unearthed his little idiosyncrasies. She may seem close to him, in those earlier days of romance, but she never really knows him, any more than a sparrow on a telegraph wire knows the Morse Code thrilling along under its toes! Men have so many little kinks and turns, even the best of them. I tacked oil-cloth on a shoe-box and draped chintz around it, and fixed a place for Dinky-Dunk to wash, in the bedroom, when he comes in at noon. At night I knew it would be impossible, for he's built a little wash-house with old binder-carrier canvas nailed to four posts, and out there Olie and he strip every evening and splash each other with horse-pails full of well-water. Dinky-Dunk is clean, whatever he may be, but I thought it would look more civilized if he'd perform his limited noonday ablutions in the bedroom. He did it for one day, in pensive silence, and then sneaked the wash-things back to the rickety old bench outside the door. He said it saved time.
Among other vital things, I've found that Dinky-Dunk hates burnt toast. Yesterday morning, Matilda Anne, I got thinking about Corfu and Ragusa and you, and it did burn a little around the edges, I suppose. So I kissed his ear and told him carbon would make his teeth white. But he got up and went out with a sort of "In-this-way-madness-lies" expression, and I felt wretched all day. So this morning I was more careful. I did that toast just to a turn. "Feast, O Kaikobad, on the blondest of toast!" I said as I salaamed and handed him the plate. He wrinkled up his forehead a little, at the sting in that speech, but he could not keep from grinning. Then, too, Dinky-Dunk always soaps the back of his hand, to wash his back, and reach high up. So do I. And on cold mornings-he says "One, two, three, the bumble bee!" before he hops out of bed—and I imagined I was the only grownup in all the wide world who still made use of that foolish rhyme. And the other day when he was hot and tired I found him drinking a dipperful of cold water fresh from the well. So I said:
"Many a man has gone to his sarcophagus Thro' pouring cold water down a warm esophagus!"
When I recited that rhyme to him he swung about as though he'd been shot. "Where did you ever hear that?" he asked. I told him that was what Lady Agatha always said to me when she caught me drinking ice-water. "I thought I was the only man in the world who knew that crazy old couplet," he confessed, and he chased me around the shack with the rest of the dipperful, to keep from chilling his tummy, he explained. Then Dinky-Dunk and I both like to give pet-names to things. He calls me "Lady Bird" and "Gee-Gee" and sometimes "Honey," and sometimes "Boca Chica" and "Tabby." And I call him Dinky-Dunk and The Dour Maun, and Kitten-Cats, though for some reason or other he hates that last name. I think he feels it's an affront to his dignity. And no man likes a trace of mockery in a woman. But Dinky-Dunk's names are born of affection, and I love him for them.
Even the ranch horses have all been tagged with names. There's "Slip-Along" and "Water Light" and "Bronk" and "Patsy Crocker" and "Pick and Shovel" and "Tumble Weed," and others that I can't remember at the moment. And I find I'm picking up certain of Dinky-Dunk's little habits, and dropping into the trick of looking at things from his standpoint. I wonder if husbands and wives really do get to be alike? There are times when Dinky-Dunk seems to know just what I'm thinking, for when he speaks he says exactly the thing I was going to ask him. And he's inexorable in his belief that one's right shoe should always be put on first. So am I!
Thursday the Twenty-sixth
Dinky-Dunk is rather pinched for ready money. He is what they call "land poor" out here. He has big plans, but not much cash. So we shall have to be frugal. I had decided on vast and sudden changes in this household, but I'll have to draw in my horns a little. Luckily I have nearly two hundred dollars of my own money left—and have never mentioned it to Dinky-Dunk. So almost every night I study the magazine advertisements, and the catalog of the mail-order house in Winnipeg. Each night I add to my list of "Needs," and then go back and cross out some of the earlier ones, as being too extravagant, for the length of my list almost gives me heart-failure. And as I sit there thinking of what I have to do without, I envy the women I've known in other days, the women with all their white linen and their cut glass and silverware and their prayer-rugs and period rooms and their white-tiled baths and their machinery for making life so comfortable and so easy. I envy them. I put away my list, and go to bed envying them. But, oh, I sleep so soundly, and I wake up so buoyant in heart, so eager to get at the next day's work, so glad to see I'm slowly getting things more ship-shape. It doesn't leave room for regret. And there is always the future, the happier to-morrow to which our thoughts go out. I get to thinking of the city again, of the hundreds of women I know going like hundreds of crazy squirrels on their crazy treadmill of amusements, and of the thousands and thousands of women who are toiling without hope, going on in the same old rut from day to day, cooped up in little flats and back rooms, with bad air and bad food and bad circulation, while I have all God's outdoors to wander about in, and can feel the singing rivers of health in my veins. And here I side-step my Song-of-Solomon voluntary, for they have one thing I do miss, and that is music. I wish I had a cottage-piano or a Baby Grand or a Welte Mignon! I wish I had any kind of an old piano! I wish I had an accordion, or a German Sweet-Potato, or even a Jew's-Harp!
But what's the use of wishing for luxuries, when we haven't even a can-opener—Dinky-Dunk says he's used a hatchet for over a year! And our only toaster is a kitchen-fork wired to the end of a lath. I even saw Dinky-Dunk spend half an hour straightening out old nails taken from one of our shipping-boxes. And the only colander we have was made out of a leaky milk-pan with holes punched in its bottom. And we haven't a double-boiler or a mixing-bowl or a doughnut-cutter. When I told Dinky-Dunk yesterday that we were running out of soap, he said he'd build a leach of wood-ashes and get beef-tallow and make soft soap. I asked him how long he'd want to kiss a downy cheek that had been washed in soft soap. He said he'd keep on kissing me if I was a mummy pickled in bitumen. But I prefer not risking too much of the pickling process.
Which reminds me of the fact that I find my hair a terrible nuisance, with no Hortense to struggle with it every morning. As you know, it's as thick as a rope and as long as my arm. I begrudge the time it takes to look after it, and such a thing as a good shampoo is an event to be approached with trepidation and prepared for with zeal. "Coises on me beauty!" I think I'll cut that wool off. But on each occasion when I have my mind about made up I experience one of "Mr. Polly's" l'il dog moments. The thing that makes me hesitate is the thought that Dinky-Dunk might hate me for the rest of his days. And now that our department-store aristocracy seems to have a corner in Counts and I seem destined to worry along with merely an American husband, I don't intend to throw away the spoons with the dish-water! But having to fuss so with that hair is a nuisance, especially at night, when I am so tired that my pillow seems to bark like a dog for me to come and pat it.
And speaking of that reminds me that I have to order arch-supports for my feet. I'm on them so much that by bedtime my ankles feel like a chocolat mousse that's been left out in the sun. Yet this isn't a whimper, Matilda Anne, for when I turn in I sleep like a child. No more counting and going to the medicine-chest for coal-tar pills. I abjure them. I, who used to have so many tricks to bring the starry-eyed goddess bending over my pillow, hereby announce myself as the noblest sleeper north of the Line! I no longer need to count the sheep as they come over the wall, or patiently try to imagine the sound of surf-waves, or laboriously re-design that perennial dinner-gown which I've kept tucked away in the cedar-chest of the imagination as long as I can remember, elaborating it over and over again down to the minutest details through the longest hour of my whitest white night until it began to merge into the velvety robes of slumber itself! Nowadays an ogre called Ten-O'Clock steals up behind my chair with a club in his hand and stuns me into insensibility. Two or three times, in fact, my dear old clumsy-fingered Dinky-Dunk has helped me get my clothes off. But he says that the nicest sound he knows is to lie in bed and hear the tinkle of my hair-pins as I toss them into the little Coalport pin-tray on my dresser—which reminds me what Chinkie once said about his idea of Heaven being eating my divinity-fudge to the sound of trumpets!
I brag about being busy, but I'm not the only busy person about this wickyup. Olie and Dinky-Dunk talk about summer-fallowing and double-discing and drag-harrowing and fire-guarding, and I'm beginning to understand what it all means. They are out with their teams all day long, working like Trojans. We have mid-day dinner, which Olie bolts in silence and with the rapidity of chain-lightning. He is the most expert of sword-swallowers, with a table-knife, and Dinky-Dunk says it keeps reminding him how Burbank could make a fortune inventing a square pea that would stay on a knife-blade. But Dinky-Dunk stopped me calling him "The Sword Swallower" and has privately tipped Olie off as to the functions of the table fork. How the males of this old earth stick together! The world of men is a secret order, and every man is a member!
Having bolted his dinner Olie always makes for outdoors. Then Dinky-Dunk comes to my side of the table. We sit side by side, with our arms around each other. Sometimes I fill his pipe for him and light it. Then we talk lazily, happily, contentedly and sometimes shockingly. Then he looks at our nickel-alarm clock, up on the book shelves which I made out of old biscuit-boxes, and invariably says: "This isn't the spirit that built Rome," and kisses me three times, once on each eyelid, tight, and once on the mouth. I don't even mind the taste of the pipe. Then he's off, and I'm alone for the afternoon.
But I'm getting things organized now so that I have a little spare time. And with time on my hands I find myself turning very restless. Yesterday I wandered off on the prairie and nearly got lost. Dinky-Dunk says I must be more careful, until I get to know the country better. He put me up on his shoulder and made me promise. Then he let me down. It made me wonder if I hadn't married a masterful man. Above all things I've always wanted freedom.
"I'm a wild woman, Duncan. You'll never tame me," I confessed to him.
He laughed a little.
"So you think you will?" I demanded.
"No, I won't, Gee-Gee, but life will!"
And again I felt some ghostly spirit of revolt stirring in me, away down deep. I think he saw some shadow of it, caught some echo of it, for his manner changed and he pushed back the hair from my forehead and kissed me, almost pityingly.
"There's one thing must not happen!" I told him as he held me in his arms.
He did not let his eyes meet mine.
"Why?" he asked.
"I'm afraid—out here!" I confessed as I clung to him and felt the need of having him close to me. He was very quiet and thoughtful all evening. Before I fell asleep he told me that on Monday the two of us would team in to Buckhorn and get a wagon-load of supplies.
Saturday the Twenty-eighth
I have got my cayuse. Dinky-Dunk meant him for a surprise, but the shyest and reddest-headed cowboy that ever sat in a saddle came cantering along the trail, and I saw him first. He was leading the shaggiest, piebaldest, pottest-tummied, craziest-looking little cayuse that ever wore a bridle. I gave one look at his tawny-colored forelock, which stood pompadour-style about his ears, and shouted out "Paderewski!" Dinky-Dunk came and stood beside me and laughed. He said that cayuse did look like Paderewski, but the youth of the fiery locks blushingly explained that his present name was "Jail-Bird," which some fool Scandinavian had used instead of "Grey-Bird," his authentic and original appellative. But I stuck to my name, though we have shortened it into "Paddy." And Paddy must indeed have been a jail-bird, or deserved to be one, for he is marked and scarred from end to end. But he is good-tempered, tough as hickory and obligingly omnivorous. Every one in the West, men and women alike, rides astride, and I have been practising on Paddy. It seems a very comfortable and sensible way to ride, but I shall have to toughen up a bit before I hit the trail for any length of time.
I've been wondering, Matilda Anne, if this all sounds pagan and foolish to you, uncultured, as Theobald Gustav would put it? I've also been wondering, since I wrote that last sentence, if people really need culture, or what we used to call culture, and if it means as much to life as so many imagine. Here we are out here without any of the refinements of civilization, and we're as much at peace with our own souls as are the birds of the air—when there are birds in the air, which isn't in our country! Culture, it seems to me as I look back on things, tends to make people more and more mere spectators of life, detaching them from it and lifting them above it. Or can it be that the mere spectators demand culture, to take the place of what they miss by not being actual builders and workers?
We are farmers, just rubes and hicks, as they say in my country. But we're tilling the soil and growing wheat. We're making a great new country out of what was once a wilderness. To me, that seems almost enough. We're laboring to feed the world, since the world must have bread, and there's something satisfying and uplifting in the mere thought that we can answer to God, in the end, for our lives, no matter how raw and rude they may have been. And there are mornings when I am Browning's "Saul" in the flesh. The great wash of air from sky-line to sky-line puts something into my blood or brain that leaves me almost dizzy. I sizzle! It makes me pulse and tingle and cry out that life is good—good! I suppose it is nothing more than altitude and ozone. But in the matter of intoxicants it stands on a par with anything that was ever poured out of bottles at Martin's or Bustanoby's. And at sunrise, when the prairie is thinly silvered with dew, when the tiny hammocks of the spider-webs swing a million sparkling webs strung with diamonds, when every blade of grass is a singing string of pearls, hymning to God on High for the birth of a golden day, I can feel my heart swell, and I'm so abundantly, so inexpressibly alive, alive to every finger-tip! Such space, such light, such distances! And being Saul is so much better than reading about him!
Wednesday the First
I was too tired to write any last night, though there seemed so much to talk about. We teamed into Buckhorn for our supplies, two leisurely, lovely, lazy days on the trail, which we turned into a sort of gipsy-holiday. We took blankets and grub and feed for the horses and a frying-pan, and camped out on the prairie. The night was pretty cool, but we made a good fire, and had hot coffee. Dinky-Dunk smoked and I sang. Then we rolled up in our blankets and as I lay there watching the stars I got thinking of the lights of the Great White Way. Then I nudged my husband and asked him if he knew what my greatest ambition in life used to be. And of course he didn't. "Well, Dinky-Dunk," I told him, "it was to be the boy who opens the door at Malliard's! For two whole years I ate my heart out with envy of that boy, who always lived in the odor of such heavenly hot chocolate and wore two rows of shining buttons down his braided coat and was never without white gloves and morning, noon and night paraded about in the duckiest little skull-cap cocked very much to one side like a Grenadier's!" And Dinky-Dunk told me to go to sleep or he'd smother me with a horse-blanket. So I squirmed back into my blanket and got "nested" and watched the fire die away while far, far off somewhere a coyote howled. That made me lonesome, so I got Dinky-Dunk's hand, and fell asleep holding it in mine.
I woke up early. Dinky-Dunk had forgotten about my hand, and it was cold. In the East there was a low bar of ethereally pale silver, which turned to amber, and then to ashes of roses, and then to gold. I saw one sublime white star go out, in the West, and then behind the bars of gold the sky grew rosy with morning until it was one Burgundian riot of bewildering color. I sat up and watched it. Then I reached over and shook Dinky-Dunk. It was too glorious a daybreak to miss. He looked at me with one eye open, like a sleepy hound.
"You must see it, Dinky-Dunk! It's so resplendent it's positively vulgar!"
He sat up, stared at the pageantry of color for one moment, and then wriggled down into his blanket again. I tickled his nose with a blade of sweet-grass. Then I washed my face in the dew, the same as we did in Christ-Church Meadow that glorious May-Day in Oxford. By the time Dinky-Dunk woke up I had the coffee boiling and the bacon sizzling in the pan. It was the most celestial smell that ever assailed human nostrils, and I blush with shame at the thought of how much I ate at that breakfast, sitting flat on an empty oat-sack and leaning against a wagon-wheel. By eight o'clock we were in the metropolis of Buckhorn and busy gathering up our things there. And they made a very respectable wagon-load.
Thursday the Second
I have been practising like mad learning to play the mouth-organ. I bought it in Buckhorn, without letting Dinky-Dunk know, and all day long, when I knew it was safe, I've been at it. So to-night, when I had my supper-table all ready, I got the ladder that leaned against one of the granaries and mounted the nearest hay-stack. There, quite out of sight, I waited until Dinky-Dunk came in with his team. I saw him go into the shack and then step outside again, staring about in a brown study. Then I struck up Traumerei.
You should have seen that boy's face! He looked up at the sky, as though my poor little harmonica were the aerial outpourings of archangels. He stood stock-still, drinking it in. Then he bolted for the stables, thinking it came from there. It took him some time to corner me up on my stack-top. Then I slid down into his arms. And I believe he loves that mouth-organ music. After supper he made me go out and sit on the oat-box and play my repertory. He says it's wonderful, from a distance. But that mouth-organ's rather brassy, and it makes my lips sore. Then, too, my mouth isn't big enough for me to "tongue" it properly. When I told Dinky-Dunk this he said:
"Of course it isn't! What d'you suppose I've been calling you Boca Chica for?"
And I've just discovered "Boca Chica" is Spanish for "Little Mouth"—and me with a trap, Matilda Anne, that you used to call the Cave of the Winds! Now Dinky-Dunk vows he'll have a Victrola before the winter is over! Ye gods and little fishes, what a luxury! There was a time, not so long ago, when I was rather inclined to sniff at the Westbury's electric player-piano and its cabinet of neatly canned classics! How life humbles us! And how blind all women are in their ideals and their search for happiness! The sea-stones that lie so bright on the shores of youth can dry so dull in the hand of experience! And yet, as Birdalone's Nannie once announced, "If you thuck 'em they thay boo-ful!" And I guess it must be a good deal the same with marriage. You can't even afford to lay down on your job of loving. The more we ask, the more we must give. I've just been thinking of those days of my fiercely careless childhood when my soul used to float out to placid happiness on one piece of plum-cake—only even then, alas, it floated out like a polar bear on its iceberg, for as that plum-cake vanished my peace of mind went with it, madly as I clung to the last crumb. But now that I'm an old married woman I don't intend to be a Hamlet in petticoats. A good man loves me, and I love him back. And I intend to keep that love alive.
Friday the Third
I have just issued an ultimatum as to pigs. There shall be no more loose porkers wandering about my dooryard. It's an advertisement of bad management. And what's more, when I was hanging out my washing this morning a shote rooted through my basket of white clothes with his dirty nose, and while I made after him his big brother actually tried to eat one of my wet table-napkins. And that meant another hour's hard work before the damage was repaired.
Saturday the Fourth
Olie is painting the shack, inside and out, and now you'd never know our poor little Joseph-coat home. I told Dinky-Dunk if we'd ever put a chameleon on that shack-wall he'd have died of brain-fag trying to make good on the color-schemes. So Dinky-Dunk made Olie take a day off and ply the brush. But the smell of paint made me think of Channel passages, so off I went with Dinky-Dunk, a la team and buckboard, to the Dixon Ranch to see about some horses, nearly seventy miles there and back. It was a glorious autumn day, and a glorious ride, with "Bronk" and "Tumble-Weed" loping along the double-trail and the air like crystal.
Dinky-Dunk and I sang most of the way. The gophers must have thought we were mad. My lord and master is incontinently proud of his voice, especially the chest-tones, but he rather tails behind me on the tune, plainly not always being sure of himself. We had dinner with the Dixons, and about three million flies. They gave me the blues, that family, and especially Mrs. Dixon. She seemed to make prairie-life so ugly and empty and hardening. Poor, dried-up, sad-eyed soul, she looked like a woman of sixty, and yet her husband said she was just thirty-seven. Their water is strong with alkali, and this and the prairie wind (combined with a something deep down in her own make-up) have made her like a vulture, lean and scrawny and dry. I stared at that hard line of jaw and cheekbone and wondered how long ago the soft curves were there, and if those overworked hands had ever been pretty, and if that flat back had ever been rounded and dimpled. Her hair was untidy. Her apron was unspeakably dirty, and she used it as both a handkerchief and a hand-towel. Her voice was as hard as nails, and her cooking was wretched. Not a door or window was screened, and, as I said before, we were nearly smothered with flies.
Dinky-Dunk did not dare to look at me, all dinner time. And on the way home Mrs. Dixon's eyes kept haunting me, they seemed so tired and vacant and accusing, as though they were secretly holding God Himself to account for cheating her out of her woman's heritage of joy. I asked Dinky-Dunk if we'd ever get like that. He said, "Not on your life!" and quoted the Latin phrase about mind controlling matter. The Dixons, he went on to explain, were of the "slum" type, only they didn't happen to live in a city. But tired and sleepy as I was that night, I got up to cold-cream my face and arms. And I'm going to write for almond-meal and glycerin from the mail-order house to-morrow. And a brassiere—for I saw what looked like the suspicion of a smile on Dinky-Dunk's unshaven lips as he watched me struggling into my corsets this morning. It took some writhing, and even then I could hardly make it. I threw my wet sponge after him when he turned back in the doorway with the mildly impersonal question: "Who's your fat friend?" Then he scooted for the corral, and I went back and studied my chin in the dresser-mirror, to make sure it wasn't getting terraced into a dew-lap like Uncle Carlton's.
But I can't help thinking of the Dixons, and feeling foolishly and helplessly sorry for them. It was dusk when we got back from that long drive to their ranch, and the stars were coming out. I could see our shack from miles off, a little lonely dot of black against the sky-line. I made Dinky-Dunk stop the team, and we sat and looked at it. It seemed so tiny there, so lonely, so strange, in the middle of such miles and miles of emptiness, with a little rift of smoke going up from its desolate little pipe-end. Then I said, out loud, "Home! My home!" And out of a clear sky, for no earthly reason, I began to cry like a baby. Women are such fools, sometimes! I told Dinky-Dunk we must get books, good books, and spend the long winter evenings reading together, to keep from going to seed.
He said, "All right, Gee-Gee," and patted my knee. Then we loped on along the trail toward the lonely little black dot ahead of us. But I hung on to Dinky-Dunk's arm, all the rest of the way, until we pulled up beside the shack, and poor old Olie, with a frying-pan in his hand, stood silhouetted against the light of the open door.
Monday the Sixth
The last few days I've been nothing but a two-footed retriever, scurrying off and carrying things back home with me. There have been rains, but the weather is still glorious. And I've discovered such heaps and heaps of mushrooms over at the old Titchborne Ranch. They're thick all around the corral and in the pasture there. I am now what your English lord and master would call "a perfect seat" on Paddy, and every morning I ride over after my basketful of Agaricus Campestris—that ought to be in the plural, but I've forgotten how! We have them creamed on toast; we have them fried in butter; and we have them in soup—and such beauties! I'm going to try and can some for winter and spring use. But the finest part of the mushroom is the finding it. To ride into a little white city that has come up overnight and looks like an encampment of fairy soldiers, to see the milky white domes against the vivid green of the prairie-grass, to catch sight of another clump of them, suddenly, like stars against an emerald sky, a hundred yards away, to inhale the clean morning air, and feel your blood tingle, and hear the prairie-chickens whir and the wild-duck scolding along the coulee-edges—I tell you, Matilda Anne, it's worth losing a little of your beauty sleep to go through it! I'm awake even before Dinky-Dunk, and I brought him out of his dreams this morning by poking his teeth with my little finger and saying:
"Twelve white horses On a red hill—"
and I asked him if he knew what it was, and he gave the right answer, and said he hadn't heard that conundrum since he was a boy.
All afternoon I've been helping Dinky-Dunk put up a barb-wire fence. Barb-wire is nearly as hard as a woman to handle. Dinky-Dunk is fencing in some of the range, for a sort of cattle-run for our two milk-cows. He says it's only a small field, but there seemed to be miles and miles of that fencing. We had no stretcher, so Dinky-Dunk made shift with me and a claw-hammer. He'd catch the wire, lever his hammer about a post, and I'd drive in the staple, with a hammer of my own. I got so I could hit the staple almost every whack, though one staple went off like shrapnel and hit Diddum's ear. So I'm some use, you see, even if I am a chekako! But a wire slipped, and tore through my skirt and stocking, scratched my leg and made the blood run. It was only the tiniest cut, really, but I made the most of it, Dinky-Dunk was so adorably nice about doctoring me up. We came home tired and happy, singing together, and Olie, as usual, must have thought we'd both gone mad.
This husband of mine is so elementary. He secretly imagines that he's one of the most complex of men. But in a good many things he's as simple as a child. And I love him for it, although I believe I do like to bedevil him a little. He is dignified, and hates flippancy. So when I greet him with "Morning, old boy!" I can see that nameless little shadow sweep over his face. Then I say, "Oh, I beg its little pardon!" He generally grins, in the end, and I think I'm slowly shaking that monitorial air out of him, though once or twice I've had to remind him about La Rochefoucauld saying gravity was a stratagem invented to conceal the poverty of the mind! But Dinky-Dunk still objects to me putting my finger on his Adam's apple when he's talking. He wears a flannel shirt, when working outside, and his neck is bare. Yesterday I buried my face down in the corner next to his shoulder-blade and made him wriggle. As he shaves only on Sunday mornings now, that is about the only soft spot, for his face is prickly, and makes my chin sore, the bearded brute! Then I bit him; not hard—but Satan said bite, and I just had to do it. He turned quite pale, swung me round so that I lay limp in his arms, and closed his mouth over mine. I got away, and he chased me. We upset things. Then I got outside the shack, ran around the horse-corral, and then around the hay-stacks, with Dinky-Dunk right after me, giving me goose-flesh at every turn. I felt like a cave-woman. He grabbed me like a stone-age man and caught me up and carried me over his shoulder to a pile of prairie sweet-grass that had been left there for Olie's mattress. My hair was down. I was screaming, half sobbing and half laughing. He dropped me in the hay, like a bag of wheat. I started to fight him again. But I couldn't beat him off. Then all my strength seemed to go. He was laughing himself, but it frightened me a little to see his pupils so big that his eyes looked black. I felt like a lamb in a lion's jaw, Dinky-Dunk is so much stronger than I am. I lay there quite still, with my eyes closed. I went flop. I knew I was conquered.
Then I came back to life. I suddenly realized that it was mid-day, in the open air between the bald prairie-floor and God's own blue sky, where Olie could stumble on us at any moment—and possibly die with his boots on! Dinky-Dunk was kissing my left eyelid. It was a cup his lips just seemed to fit into. I tried to move. But he held me there. He held me so firmly that it hurt. Yet I couldn't help hugging him. Poor, big, foolish, baby-hearted Dinky-Dunk! And poor, weak, crazy, storm-tossed me! But, oh, God, it's glorious, in some mysterious way, to stir the blood of a strong big man! It's heaven—and I don't quite know why. But I love to see Dinky-Dunk's eyes grow black. Yet it makes me a little afraid of him. I can hear his heart pound, sometimes, quite distinctly. And sometimes there seems something so pathetic about it all—we are such puny little mites of emotion played on by nature for her own immitigable ends! But every woman wants to be loved. Dinky-Dunk asked me why I shut my eyes when he kisses me. I wonder why? Sometimes, too, he says my kisses are wicked, and that he likes 'em wicked. He's a funny mixture. He's got the soul of a Scotch Calvinist tangled up in him somewhere, and after the storm he's very apt to grow pious and a bit preachy. But he has feelings, only he's ashamed of them. I think I'm taking a little of the ice-crust off his emotions. He's a stiff clay that needs to be well stirred up and turned over before it can mellow. And I must be a sandy loam that wastes all its strength in one short harvest. That sounds as though I were getting to be a real farmer's wife with a vast knowledge of soils, doesn't it? At any rate my husband, out of his vast knowledge of me, says I have the swamp-cedar trick of flaring up into sudden and explosive attractiveness. Then, he says, I shower sparks. As I've already told him, I'm a wild woman, and will be hard to tame, for as Victor Hugo somewhere says, we women are only perfected devils!
Wednesday the Eighth
I've cut off my hair, right bang off. When I got up yesterday morning with so much work ahead of me, with so much to do and so little time to do it in, I started doing my hair. I also started thinking about that Frenchman who committed suicide after counting up the number of buttons he had to button and unbutton every morning and evening of every day of every year of his life. I tried to figure up the time I was wasting on that mop of mine. Then the Great Idea occurred to me.
I got the scissors, and in six snips had it off, a big tangled pile of brownish gold, rather bleached out by the sun at the ends. And the moment I saw it there on my dresser, and saw my head in the mirror, I was sorry. I looked like a plucked crow. I could have ditched a freight-train. And I felt positively light-headed. But it was too late for tears. I trimmed off the ragged edges as well as I could, and what didn't get in my eyes got down my neck and itched so terribly that I had to change my clothes. Then I got a nail-punch out of Dinky-Dunk's tool-kit, and heated it over the lamp and gave a little more wave to that two-inch shock of stubble. It didn't look so bad then, and when I tried on Dinky-Dunk's coat in front of the glass I saw that I wouldn't make such a bad-looking boy.
But I waited until noon with my heart in my mouth, to see what Dinky-Dunk would say. What he really did say I can't write here, for there was a wicked swear-word mixed up in his ejaculation of startled wonder. Then he saw the tears in my eyes, I suppose, for he came running toward me with his arms out, and hugged me tight, and said I looked cute, and all he'd have to do would be to get used to it. But all dinner time he kept looking at me as though I were a strange woman, and later I saw him standing in front of the dresser, stooping over that tragic pile of tangled yellow-brown snakes. It reminded me of a man stooping over a grave. I slipped away without letting him see me. But this morning I woke him up early and asked him if he still loved his wife. And when he vowed he did, I tried to make him tell me how much. But that stumped him. He compromised by saying he couldn't cheapen his love by defining it in words; it was limitless. I followed him out after breakfast, with a hunger in my heart which bacon and eggs hadn't helped a bit, and told him that if he really loved me he could tell me how much.
He looked right in my eyes, a little pityingly, it seemed to me, and laughed, and grew solemn again. Then he stooped down and picked up a little blade of prairie-grass, and held it up in front of me.
"Have you any idea of how far it is from the Rockies across to the Hudson Bay and from the Line up to the Peace River Valley?"
Of course I hadn't.
"And have you any idea of how many millions of acres of land that is, and how many millions of blades of grass like this there are in each acre?" he soberly demanded.
And again of course I hadn't.
"Well, this one blade of grass is the amount of love I am able to express for you, and all those other blades in all those millions of acres is what love itself is!"
I thought it over, just as solemnly as he had said it. I think I was satisfied. For when my Dinky-Dunk was away off on the prairie, working like a nailer, and I was alone in the shack, I went to his old coat hanging there—the old coat that had some subtle aroma of Dinky-Dunkiness itself about every inch of it—and kissed it on the sleeve.
This afternoon as Paddy and I started for home with a pail of mushrooms I rode face to face with my first coyote. We stood staring at each other. My heart bounced right up into my throat, and for a moment I wondered if I was going to be eaten by a starving timber-wolf, with Dinky-Dunk finding my bones picked as clean as those animal-carcasses we see in an occasional buffalo-wallow. I kept up my end of the stare, wondering whether to advance or retreat, and it wasn't until that coyote turned tail and scooted that my courage came back. Then Paddy and I went after him, like the wind. But we had to give up. And at supper Dinky-Dunk told me coyotes were too cowardly to come near a person, and were quite harmless. He said that even when they showed their teeth, the rest of their face was apologizing for the threat. And before supper was over that coyote, at least I suppose it was the same coyote, was howling at the rising full moon. I went out with Dinky-Dunk's gun, but couldn't get near the brute. Then I came back.
"Sing, you son-of-a-gun, sing!" I called out to him from the shack door. And that shocked my lord and master so much that he scolded me, for the first time in his life. And when I poked his Adam's apple with my finger he got on his dignity. He was tired, poor boy, and I should have remembered it. And when I requested him not to stand there and stare at me in the hieratic rigidity of an Egyptian idol I could see a little flush of anger go over his face. He didn't say anything. But he took one of the lamps and a three-year-old Pall-Mall Magazine and shut himself up in the bunk-house.
Then I was sorry.
I tiptoed over to the door, and found it was locked. Then I went and got my mouth-organ and sat meekly down on the doorstep and began to play the Don't Be Cross waltz. I dragged it out plaintively, with a vox humana tremolo on the coaxing little refrain. Finally I heard a smothered snort, and the door suddenly opened and Dinky-Dunk picked me up, mouth-organ and all. He shook me and said I was a little devil, and I called him a big British brute. But he was laughing and a wee bit ashamed of his temper and was very nice to me all the rest of the evening.
I'm getting, I find, to depend a great deal on Dinky-Dunk, and it makes me afraid, sometimes, for the future. He seems able to slip a hand under my heart and lift it up, exactly as though it were the chin of a wayward child. Yet I resent his power, and keep elbowing for more breathing-space, like a rush-hour passenger in the subway crowd. Sometimes, too, I resent the over-solemn streak in his mental make-up. He abominates ragtime, and I have rather a weakness for it. So once or twice in his dour days I've found an almost Satanic delight in singing The Humming Coon. And the knowledge that he'd like to forbid me singing rag seems to give a zest to it. So I go about flashing my saber of independence:
"Ol' Ephr'm Johnson was a deacon of de church in Tennessee, An' of course it was ag'inst de rules t' sing ragtime melodee!"
But I am the one, I notice, who always makes up first. To-night as I was making cocoa before we went to bed I tried to tell my Diddums there was something positively doglike in my devotion to him. He nickered like a pony and said he was the dog in this deal. Then he pulled me over on his knee and said that men get short-tempered when they were tuckered out with worry and hard work, and that probably it would be hard for even two of the seraphim always to get along together in a two-by-four shack, where you couldn't even have, a deadline for the sake of dignity. It was mostly his fault, he knew, but he was going to try to fight against it. And I experienced the unreasonable joy of an unreasonable woman who has succeeded in putting the man she loves with all her heart and soul in the wrong. So I could afford to be humble myself, and make a foolish lot of fuss over him. But I shall always fight for my elbow-room. For there are times when my Dinky-Dunk, for all his bigness and strength, has to be taken sedately in tow, the same as a racing automobile has to be hauled through the city streets by a dinky little low-power hack-car!
Saturday the Tenth
We've had a cold spell, with heavy frosts at night, but the days are still glorious. The overcast days are so few in the West that I've been wondering if the optimism of the Westerners isn't really due to the sunshine they get. Who could be gloomy under such golden skies? Every pore of my body has a throat and is shouting out a Tarentella Sincera of its own! But it isn't the weather that has keyed me up this time. It's another wagon-load of supplies which Olie teamed out from Buckhorn yesterday. I've got wall-paper and a new iron bed for the annex, and galvanized wash-tubs and a crock-churn and storm-boots and enough ticking to make ten big pillows, and unbleached linen for two dozen slips—I love a big pillow—and I've been saving up wild-duck feathers for weeks, the downiest feathers you ever sank your ear into, Matilda Anne; and if pillows will do it I'm going to make this house look like a harem! Can you imagine a household with only three pillow-slips, which had to be jerked off in the morning, washed, dried and ironed and put back on their three lonely little pillows before bedtime? Well, there will be no more of that in this shack.
But the important news is that I've got a duck-gun, the duckiest duck-gun you ever saw, and waders, and a coon-skin coat and cap and a big leather school-bag for wearing over my shoulder on Paddy. The coat and cap are like the ones we used to laugh at when we went up to Montreal for the tobogganing, in the days when I was young and foolish and willing to sacrifice comfort on the altar of outward appearances. The coon-skins make me look like a Laplander, but they'll be mighty comfy when the cold weather comes, for Dinky-Dunk says it drops to forty and fifty below, sometimes.
I also got a lot of small stuff I'd written for from the mail-order house, little feminine things a woman simply has to have. But the big thing was the duck-gun.
I no longer get heart failure when I hear the whir of a prairie-chicken, but drop my bird before it's out of range. Poor, plump, wounded, warm-bodied little feathery things! Some of them keep on flying after they've been shot clean through the body, going straight on for a couple of hundred feet, or even more, and then dropping like a stone. How hard-hearted we soon get! It used to worry me. Now I gather 'em up as though they were so many chips and toss them into the wagon-box; or into my school-bag, if it's a private expedition of only Paddy and me. And that's the way life treats us, too.
I've been practising on the gophers with my new gun, and with Dinky-Dunk's .22 rifle. A gopher is only a little bigger than a chipmunk, and usually pokes nothing more than his head out of his hole, so when I got thirteen out of fifteen shots I began to feel that I was a sharp-shooter. But don't regard this as wanton cruelty, for the gopher is worse than a rat, and in this country the government agents supply homesteaders with an annual allowance of free strychnine to poison them off.
Sunday the Eleventh
I've made my first butter, be it recorded—but in doing so I managed to splash the ceiling and the walls and my own woolly head, for I didn't have sense enough to tie a wet cloth about the handle of the churn-dasher until the damage had been done. I was too intent on getting my butter to pay attention to details, though it took a disheartening long time and my arms were tired out before I had finished. And when I saw myself spattered from head to foot it reminded me of what you once said about me and my reading, that I had the habit of coming out of a book like a spaniel out of water, scattering ideas as I came. But there are not many new books in my life these days. It is mostly hard work, although I reminded Dinky-Dunk last night that while Omar intimated that love and bread and wine were enough for any wilderness, we mustn't forget that he also included a book of verses underneath the bough! My lord says that by next year we can line our walls with books. But I'm like Moses on Mount Nebo—I can see my promised land, but it seems a terribly long way off. But this, as Dinky-Dunk would say, is not the spirit that built Rome, and has carried me away from my butter, the making of which cold-creamed my face until I looked as though I had snow on my headlight. Yet there is real joy in finding those lovely yellow granules in the bottom of your churn and then working it over and over with a saucer in a cooking-bowl until it is one golden mass. Several times before I'd shaken up sour cream in a sealer, but this was my first real butter-making. I have just discovered, however, that I didn't "wash" it enough, so that all the buttermilk wasn't worked out of my first dairy-product. Dinky-Dunk, like the scholar and gentleman that he is, swore that it was worth its weight in Klondike gold. And next time I'll do better.