THE WIND BEFORE THE DAWN
THE WIND BEFORE THE DAWN
BY DELL H. MUNGER
A. L. BURT COMPANY Publishers—New York
Copyright, 1912, by Doubleday, Page & Company
All rights reserved, including that of translation into foreign languages, including the Scandinavian
I Castles in Spain 3
II Brushing up to go to Topeka 43
III Reforms not easy to Discuss 74
IV A cultured man 92
V Reaching hungry hands toward a symbol 115
VI "Didn't take 'em long" 131
VII Erasing her blackboard 150
VIII Cyclones 174
IX "Against her instincts, against her better judgment, against her will" 195
X Philosophy of Elizabeth's life voiced 210
XI "Wives, submit yourselves unto your husbands, as unto the Lord" 224
XII "Pore little woman" 266
XIII "Ennobled by the reflected story of another's goodness and love" 291
XIV Mortgages of soul 317
XV Hugh Noland 353
XVI Revivifying fires 356
XVII Adjusting domestic to social ideals 372
XVIII The child of her body 399
XIX "Her wages, food and clothing she must accept" 419
XX The cream-jars of her life 426
XXI Bound to the stake 458
XXII "There are some things we have to settle for ourselves" 467
XXIII "At any cost" 496
XXIV Facing consequences 506
XXV "The weight of a dollaree and out of debt don't forget that" 534
XXVI "Was—was my papa here then?" 540
XXVII To do over, and to do better, was the opportunity offered 548
XXVIII "Till death do you part" considered 562
THE WIND BEFORE THE DAWN
CASTLES IN SPAIN
The unclouded sun of a burning August day had driven bird and beast to shelter wherever a bit of shade could be found. The Kansas prairie afforded little refuge from sun or wind. The long stretches of low rolling hills were mostly covered with short grass, now dry from a protracted season of drought. Occasionally a group of stunted cottonwood trees surrounded an equally stunted looking hut, or dugout, but the blazing sunshine had browned all to a monotonous tone in keeping with the monotonous life it represented. The only corn to be seen was of the variety called sod-corn, which, unwashed by rain for a full month now, had failed to mature, such stalks as had tasselled at all being as barren as the rest because the tender silks had dried too rapidly and could furnish no fertilizing moisture to the pollen which sifted down from the scanty bloom above.
The sun's rays beat down upon the head of a fourteen-year-old girl who rode slowly around a herd of cattle, the members of which lay in the unavailing shade of the rosin weeds or browsed drowsily on the short grass. The day had been long and hard. The child knew that it was not later than two o'clock, having counted the hours eagerly since early morning, and having eaten her bit of cornbread and bacon full two hours before. She stopped her horse for the fortieth time, however, to get the angle of her shadow on the ground and to confirm her calculations. The sigh she gave as she again started on her round was not of relief, but of resignation. It was necessary to keep on the move or she was likely to fall asleep in her saddle, and then the cattle would escape to the nearby fields, and there would be a neighbourhood altercation over the matter, whether the fields held crops of value or not, farmers being jealous of their territorial rights, and ready to resent intrusion upon them.
Another horseback rider was moving across the prairie toward her, and the girl smiled when she saw him and stopped to watch his calico pony lope unevenly across the grass-covered slope. The pony was prone to drop into a rough trot at short intervals, and at such times was urged to renewed efforts by a dig of its rider's heels in the under regions of its stunted body. In order to get his heels in contact with his mount, the lanky boy was obliged to elevate his knees slightly, and when it was over his feet dropped languidly and his heavy plow-shoes dangled loosely, with several inches of bare ankle in evidence before the faded overalls concealed further stretches of the hairy legs.
"Howdie, Lizzie!" he said with a pleasant smile as he drew his pony up beside her. "I've got something to tell you. We've sold out, an' goin' right off. Th' other folks moved in last night. They was goin' through with a wagon an' stopped to eat. They found out that pap wanted to sell an' go back to Minnesoty, an' took th' land quick. I've come to say good-bye."
It had been so exciting that he had tumbled his news all out at once, although he was a quiet boy and slow of speech.
"Oh, Luther! Are you really going away?" The girl exclaimed in dismay.
"Yass," the boy replied, falling back unconsciously into Swedish pronunciation. He had begun his announcement with pleased animation, but now that it was out, and she was sorry, the going did not seem so pleasing. "I wisht I wasn't!" he added with quick dejection.
"I should think you'd be glad. I'd be glad, if I was going too."
The boy looked surprised and asked with some curiosity, "What do you want to go for? I thought you liked Kansas."
"Put your hand on your horse's neck," she commanded, leaning forward and setting the example.
The boy did as she told him, but drew his hand back suddenly.
"Gosh!" he exclaimed. "Don't their hair get hot in this sun!"
"Well, I'm just as hot as that all over," she replied emphatically, "and I want to go to a country where a body can get under a tree once in a while. I can't go in till five o'clock, and I forgot my jug, and I'm so thirsty I feel as if I'd crack like this ground," she said, pointing to the earth between them.
"Jimminy! I'll ride back and fetch you a drink," he said, poking his heels into his pony's ribs so suddenly that the little beast kicked spitefully.
The girl called after him to "never mind," but he was off on his errand. It was a good mile to her home, but the boy knew what it meant to forget the water-jug on a day like this.
When he returned half an hour later the sunshine had changed character and there was a peculiar dimming of its brilliancy.
"Is it going to rain?" the girl asked as she lowered the jug to her knee. She wiped her lips on the skirt of the faded sunbonnet she wore and looked up again.
"Rain!" Luther Hansen swept the horizon with the air of one who knew the signs, backing his horse about to see on all sides as he did so.
"Th' don't seem t' be any clouds," he said in surprise. "Ain't it queer! Looks's if it might be some kind of eclipse," he said. "Do you remember—no, of course you don't—but, th' was an eclipse of th' sun—total, I believe they called it—when I was only about seven year old. All th' chickens went to roost, it got so dark, an' when th' cover come off they crowed's if 'twas mornin'. We had a blue hen an' she crowed too. Pap killed 'er. He said it was bad luck t' have a hen crowin' about th' place."
"You all don't believe in luck, do you?" the child asked.
"I don't, but pap does," the boy answered apologetically. "I cried about th' blue hen; she was just like a dog; she'd let you ketch 'er, an' she'd sing, 'co-ook, co-ook, co-ook,' to 'erself, right in your arms, an' wasn't afraid. She wouldn't never set though. I guess that's why pap was so ready with his axe."
Happening to look up again, the girl gave an exclamation of surprise. "Is it snow?" she asked.
They sat with their faces turned skyward, studying the upper air intently. The sun was completely obscured now and the rapidly moving mass, not unlike snow indeed, was being driven straight toward the north. Whatever it was, it was driving fiercely ahead, as if impelled by a strong wind, though there was not a breath of air stirring below. Soon small objects began to detach themselves from the mass, so that the eye could distinguish separate particles, which looked not unlike scraps of silver driven with terrific force from the tail end of some gigantic machine. One of these scraps struck the girl on the cheek and she put her hand up quickly to feel the spot. While examining the place she received a similar blow on the forehead and another on the back of her hand. Drawing her bonnet down tight over her face for protection, she shaded her eyes and again looked up. The whole moving cloud had lowered to a distinguishable distance.
"Why, they're all grasshoppers!" she exclaimed; and indeed so true was the observation and so rapidly were the grasshoppers settling that the boy and girl were obliged to turn their backs and shield their faces from the storm.
The cattle also, annoyed by the myriads of insects settling upon them, began to move about restlessly and presently to mill slowly around, threshing with their heads from side to side while they whipped their flanks with their tails.
"I didn't know they came like this!" the girl said, as Luther's pony sidled over toward her.
"What'd you say?" the boy demanded, leaning forward to catch her reply.
"I said I didn't know they came like this," the girl shouted, raising her voice to make herself heard above the rasping noise of many wings. "Father read out of the Prairie Farmer last week that they was hatching out in the south."
The two drifted apart and circled about the herd again. The cattle were growing more restless and began to move determinedly away from the oncoming swarm. To keep them in the centre of the section, and away from the cornfields, the girl whipped her horse into a gallop.
Without paying the slightest attention to either her voice or her whip, half blinded in fact by the cutting wings of the grasshoppers, the irritated cattle began to move faster and, before either boy or girl knew what was happening, were in full trot toward the north. Seeing that the matter was becoming serious, Luther lent all the aid of which he was capable and circled about the herd, shouting with all his strength, but the cattle, contending against countless numbers of smaller things and unable to look steadily in any direction because of the little wings which cut like the blades of many saws, stumbled blindly against his horse if he got in their way, and, shifting around him, went on.
The girl was beside herself with trouble and anxiety. Lashing her horse one minute, and the nearest cow the next, she raged up and down in front of the herd, bending all her energies toward deflecting her charges from their course, but the struggle was useless.
Seeing that they could do nothing, Luther caught her horse by the bit as she passed him and shouted explanations in her ear.
"Let 'em go, Lizzie! You can't stop 'em! I'll have t' come with you! We'll just follow 'em up!"
"But they're going to get into that field right off if we don't get them turned!" the girl cried in distress, pulling down her long scoop-like bonnet and holding it together to keep the grasshoppers out of her face while they talked.
The cattle now broke into a run. There was nothing to do but follow, as Luther had advised. But the exasperated beasts were not looking for fodder and paid no attention to the corn. They were not out on a picnicking expedition; they were escaping from this tormenting swarm of insects which settled on itching back and horns and tail, settled anywhere that a sufficiently broad surface presented itself. Having started to run, they ran on and on and on. The boy and girl followed, their horses stumbling blindly over the ridges between which the corn was growing. The grayish brown sod, through which the matted white roots of the grass showed plainly, lay in fine lines down the long field, their irregular edges causing horses and cattle to go down on their knees frequently as they ran. But though the cattle sometimes fell, they were as quickly up and pushed blindly ahead, neither knowing nor caring where they were going, their only instinct being to get away.
Not a breath of air was in motion except such as was stirred by the wings of the grasshoppers or was blown from the hot nostrils of the harassed cattle. They passed through the cornfield, over a stubblefield beyond, through a slough, another stubblefield, and on to the open prairie of another section of "Railroad land." The boy and girl made no further attempt to guide them. A cow, with the tickling feet of half a dozen of these devils of torment on the end of a bare, wet nose, was in no state of mind to be argued with, and the tossing horns, threshing about to free the head from the pests, were to be taken into sober account. All they could do was to let the maddened beasts take their own course.
For an hour, helpless to prevent the stampede, desiring nothing now but to keep the cattle in sight, the weary, sunbaked children trudged along in the rear of the herd, following through fields cut and uncut, over the short grass of the hills or the long bluestem of the hollows, their horses sweating profusely, their own faces too parched to emit moisture, conscious only of the business of following the panting herd and of avoiding the pitfalls under their horses' feet.
At last the cattle came to a walk. The heat of the day and the unusual exertion had told upon them. Occasionally a tongue lolled from the mouth of some wearied beast, but it was not permitted even that respite for long; the grasshoppers respected no part of the bovine anatomy, and with an angry snort and an annoyed toss of the head the tongue would be withdrawn.
The perspiring cattle seemed so fatigued that the despairing children thought at last that they might be turned toward home, but though whips and voices were used to the utmost the nettled beasts could not be made to face the stinging devils which settled thicker and ever thicker about them. They came down to a walk, but they walked doggedly toward the north. At last the sun's rays began to peep through. The air soon cleared, and the scorched and burning children began to wish for even a cloud of grasshoppers to protect them from the heat. Wherever the light fell it disclosed moving masses of locusts which covered the entire face of the landscape. The teeming cloud of insects was a pest equal to that of the lice of Egypt. They overflowed the Kansas prairies like the lava from Mount Vesuvius, burying vegetation and causing every living thing to flee from their path.
At last the storm spent itself. The sun came out clear, and as hot as molten brass. The cattle could hold out no longer. The swarms which flew up in front of their moving feet were as unbearable as any that had come from above. The exhausted beasts gave up and permitted themselves to be headed toward home.
"I began to think they wouldn't stop till they had reached the State line," the girl said with a relieved sigh, when they were safely started down the first road they came upon after turning south again.
Luther made no reply. He had stopped the pony and was watching the inroads of numberless scissor-like mouths on a stub of corn near the roadside. The tassel was gone, the edges of the leaves were eaten away, and lines of hungry insects hung to the centre rib of each blade, gnawing and cutting at every inch of the stem.
"Th' won't be a cornstalk left standin' by night," Luther observed as the girl rode up to see what it was that attracted his attention. "Crackie! but I'm glad pap's sold out. It'd be no shoes for me this winter if we didn't get away," he added, spitefully brushing a grasshopper from the end of his nose and rubbing the injured member.
The girl's face fell at the mention of hard times. Times were always hard in the Farnshaw home, but she could never get accustomed to them, and each new phase of the trouble was a blow. The sensitive child already carried a load of financial worry which was tugging at every pleasure her young life craved.
"Won't we have any corn at all?" she cried in dismay.
"I don't know," Luther answered dubiously. "It'll be starvin' times about here. You better get your folks t' sell out and go East too," he said, without looking up.
The child's fear of financial disaster was eased by the prospect of "goin' East." The "East" was the fairyland of her dreams, the childhood's home of her father, who was a good story-teller when he was not irritated, the Mecca and Medina of all the pilgrimages of all their little world. To go East was to be a travelled person, to attain distinction, just the next best thing in fact to being made President of the United States. To go East was to live near the timber, where one could wander for hours, days, ages, in the cool freshness of its shady paths. The sunburned child, with her jug hanging by a strap from the saddle horn, had a swift, rapturous vision of alluring, mossy banks, canopied by rustling leaves, before she was called back to the stern hills of her native Kansas and the sterner necessity of forcing a hundred head of maddened cattle to keep within the confines of an illy defined road.
By the time they had ridden ahead and crowded the cattle down to the right of way again, the child's natural good sense and business instincts had combined to temporarily shatter the dream.
"Nobody 'd buy us out if there ain't nothing to feed the cattle," she said, watching the boy's face eagerly in the hope that he would reassure her.
When he did not speak, she added, with discouraged conviction, "Pa wouldn't sell out anyhow; ma's been trying to get him to for a year."
"He'll have to. You won't be able t' stay if there's nothin' t' feed," the lad said with emphasis, and then added with a giggle, "I bet th' Cranes is mad for bein' in such a hurry t' get in. They paid pap th' money last night, an' made 'im promise t' give possession 'fore t'morrow night. Three hundred dollars! Th' old woman took it out of 'er stockin'."
"Three hundred dollars!" Lizzie Farnshaw repeated, whirling her horse about suddenly at the mention of a sum of money which ran into hundreds. She looked at the boy enviously. She was but fourteen, and did not realize that more than three hundred acres of fertile land had been exchanged for the sum. Her spirits rose as they turned to follow the cattle again. Perhaps, as Luther had said, they would have to sell out also. The dream of going East absorbed her once more. As she dreamed, however, a shrewd eye was kept on the cattle. As nearly as possible she lived up to the trust reposed in her. Quick to serve, sensitive, honest, dependable as she was, these cattle constituted the point of contact between the developing girl and her developing philosophy of life. Duty pointed sternly to the undesired task, and duty was writ large on the pages of Lizzie Farnshaw's monotonous life. Her hands and face had browned thickly at its bidding, but though, as she had remarked a couple of hours before, she should crack like the sunbaked earth beneath her feet, she would not fail in her obligation to keep the cattle out of other men's fields, and her father out of the primitive courts where damages could be assessed. Poverty she had always known, but now they were threatened with a new and more dreadful form of it than any hitherto encountered, a fact of which courts took no cognizance. Hope and fear alternated in her heart as she rode along, but for the most part the young life in her clung to the idea of the Eastern trip. Hope springs eternal in the child heart. Perhaps after all they would have to leave Kansas, as Luther had said. If only——. In spite of the arguments of good sense she clung to the idea. She was glad Luther was there. In her simple way she had told her plans, her hopes, and her fears to Luther's willing ears ever since she had known him: she did so now. A Maggie Tulliver in her own family, Luther was the one compensating feature of her life. Luther not only understood but was interested. His tallow-candle face and faded hair were those of the—in that country—much despised Swede, but the child saw the gentle spirit shining out of his kindly blue eyes. Luther was her oracle, and she quoted his words so often at home that it was a family joke.
Luther Hansen was the only preacher to whom Lizzie Farnshaw ever listened. Her Sundays had been spent on the prairies from choice. Mrs. Farnshaw mourned over what she considered her daughter's unregenerate condition, but Mr. Farnshaw was quite willing that the child should herd the cattle if she preferred it to spending an hour at "meetin'." Luther, who also until this year had herded his father's cattle and who usually spent the long days with the girl, had quaint ways of looking at religious questions which was a never-ending source of delight and interest to her. Their problems at home as well as at school were subjects of common discussion. He had been the beginning and the end of her social life. Now she took him into her dream of going away, and discussed her ideas of the best way of disposing of the stock by sale or gift, the sort of home she would have with her grandparents, and pictured, with a vivid imagination, the woods and streams she had heard her father describe. If she only could go! They stopped at every field to watch the voracious insects, which were eating every green thing upon which they happened to alight. A turnip patch on the corner of the Farnshaw place which had been straggling, but green, when the cattle had passed through it that afternoon, had not a leaf to show as they returned. The ground was dotted all over the patch with small holes where the hungry swarms, not satisfied with the tops, had followed the stems down into the earth, eating out the bulbs to the very taproots.
They drove the cattle across to the usual feeding place, but the grasshoppers flew up in continuous clouds before every moving object, and it was impossible for them to eat.
"Why don't you take them in and shut them up?" Luther asked when he saw that the herd was so restless that the child could not manage them alone.
"Pa wouldn't let me," she sighed, and continued to ride around her charges.
Luther had intended going home long before this, but he knew that Lizzie could not control the restless cattle, and so he stayed with her, rather glad of the excuse to do so. Josiah Farnshaw's temper was a matter of neighbourhood knowledge. A word of explanation to his father, Luther knew, would be all that he would need to make the fact of his absence commendable. He was glad of any excuse which would leave him with Lizzie Farnshaw for an extra hour, but he was to find that hour disappointing, for the cattle were restless and kept them both in constant motion.
When at last the time came to corral the stock a new calamity was discovered. The cattle wandered into the edge of a field of flax as they neared the barn. Luther, following them, dropped from the back of his pony and stopped to examine the grain. The girl was excitedly getting the straying animals crowded on toward the pens and it was not till she had the gate shut fast on them that she could take time to join him.
"What is it?" she asked as she rode up.
The lanky boy, who was really a man, measured the field slowly with his eye, calculating the damage before he answered slowly:
"Kicked it out o' th' pods flyin' through. Must 'a' been twenty acres. What made you let it get s' ripe for? It ought t' been cut three days ago, anyhow."
The girl was out of her saddle in an instant. She walked into the body of the field somewhat, her face quivering pitifully as she examined the grain for herself. It was only too true! The beautiful brown seeds carpeted the earth around the roots of the flax, but no amount of harvesting would ever gather so much as a handful. The crop was a total loss.
"Poor ma!" she cried, when convinced beyond a doubt of the empty bolls. With the eyes of the prematurely old, she saw the extent of the ruin, and she knew what would be its effect upon the mother who seldom knew joy.
The loss of the turnips had seemed bad enough, but while watching the green things about her disappear it had not occurred to the child that the grasshoppers would eat the dry and, as Luther had said, overripe stems of the flax. Still less had it occurred to her that the insignificant wings and feet of such small things could do damage to an entire field by merely flying through it.
That flax was of paramount importance in the family calculations just now. In her considerations of the prospective move to the East, the price of this flax had figured largely. Family discussions had centred about that field for weeks. It was the one definite starting point in the bickerings about their weak and indefinite plans for the future. The loss of every other family asset could not have undone the child's faith in the ultimate good of things so overwhelmingly. She choked back a sob as she mounted her horse again.
"Poor ma!" she repeated. "Pa told her she could have the money from the flax to go and see grandma on. You know grandma's old, and they think she can't live through the winter. That's one reason why I was so glad when I thought we were going to have to go East to live. She don't hardly know her own children any more, I hope ma don't know about the flax; She'll be sure to have one of her spells, and she's just got over one. Ain't it awful?"
Luther feared she was going to cry, and, man fashion, prepared to flee.
"I've got t' go, Lizzie," he said, and awkwardly held out his hand.
All thought of the flax disappeared from the girl's mind.
"Oh, Luther!" she exclaimed in new distress, "won't I ever see you again?"
The thought was so overwhelming that her tears came now from quite a different cause, and the frank eyes threatened to overflow as she stood clasping his bony hand in hers insistently. "What will I do without you?" she sobbed.
The unexpected question and the unexpected tears had an uncomfortable effect on the boy. He grew suddenly embarrassed and drew his hand away.
Some indefinable thing about the action made her conscious that there was a change in his feelings. It checked her rising emotions and made her curious. What was he embarrassed about? The girl stole a look at him, which left him still more disturbed and uneasy. It was an intangible thing upon which she could not remark and yet could not fail to recognize. Luther had never been awkward in her presence before. Their association had been of the most offhand and informal character. As a boy of fifteen he had carried her, a girl of eleven, over many a snowbank their first winter of school in the Prairie Home school district. They had herded cattle together, waded the shallow ponds and hunted for mussel shells, and until this year they had seen each other daily. This year Luther had taken a man's place in the fields and the girl had seen him at rare intervals. She was not conscious of the change which this year of dawning adolescence had brought to them both. Luther had developed a growing need of a razor on his thin, yellow face, while she, four years younger, had also matured. The outgrown calico dress she wore was now halfway to her knees, its sleeves exposed some inches of sunburned wrists, and the scanty waist disclosed a rapidly rounding form. Young womanhood was upon her, unknown to her, and but now discovered by Luther Hansen. For the first time Luther felt the hesitancy of a youth in the presence of a maid.
"I shall miss you so!" the girl said, looking at him, puzzled by the indefinable something in his manner which was a new element in their communications.
Her frank curiosity put the boy utterly to rout. The blood surged to his pale face and pounded in the veins under his ears, half choking him; it cut short the leave-taking and left the child bewildered and half hurt.
She watched the calico pony lope away in a cloud of scurrying grasshoppers and wondered in a child-like way what could have happened. This abrupt and confused departure increased the loneliness she felt. He was her one real friend, and her tears came again as she turned toward the house.
There was little time given the child to indulge her feelings, or to speculate upon a friend's confusion or adieus, for a sharp voice summoned her to the house and fresh duties.
"When I call you I want you to step spry," was the greeting the child received from the stooped figure putting the potatoes over the fire to fry, as she entered the door.
Mrs. Farnshaw had her head tied up in a white cloth; "the spell" had arrived. It was no time to tell of the loss of the flax, and Luther's going was not mentioned, because Mrs. Farnshaw shared the public contempt for his nationality and had failed to get her daughter's confidence in that quarter.
"Here, set this table for me; I'm clear done out. Did you ever hear of such a crazy thing as all them hoppers comin' down like bees? Your pa's gone over to Hansen's t' see what he thinks. Looks 's if we'd be harder up 'n ever, an' I thought I'd done 'bout all th' savin' a woman could do a'ready. I'm goin' t' get right off t' mother's soon's ever we can sell that flax. If I don't, we'll be havin' t' use th' money for feed."
Her daughter made no reply. It was no time, when her mother was having one of her periodical sick-headaches, to let it be known that there was no flax to sell. That flax had been one long series of troublesome worries, to which the total loss was a fittingly tragic end. The restless grasshoppers outside were forgotten.
Some weeks before, Mr. Farnshaw had given a grudging consent to the use of the proceeds from the flax crop for a trip' to his wife's old home while her mother yet lived. Josiah Farnshaw's temper was an uncertain quantity. Had Mrs. Farnshaw been wise she would have dropped all reference to the flax when the promise was obtained. But Mrs. Farnshaw had to talk; it was her fate. She had hovered about the field, she had centred her faculties on the considerations of harvesting, and prices. She laboriously and obviously collected eggs, skimped the family on its supply of butter, and had counted her chickens to see how many she could sacrifice for the purchase of "a decent bit of black."
As she sewed upon the premature emblems of her coming woe, she had discussed the desirability of threshing out of the shock instead of waiting for the stack to go through the sweating process; she talked, talked, talked, with an endless clacking, till her husband fled from her presence or cut her short with an oath. He wished he had never planted flax, he wished he had never heard of it, he wished—he hardly knew what he did wish, but he was sick of flax.
Crops of all sorts were shortened by continued drought; corn would be an utter failure. He had given notes for a new harvester and other machinery while the prospects for crops were good, and the knowledge that implement dealers would collect those notes whether the yield of grain was equal to their demands or not tightened the set lines about his naturally stern mouth and irritated a temper never good at the best. Daily he became more obstinate and unapproachable.
Josiah Farnshaw was not only obstinate, he was surly. Nothing could induce him to show any interest in the flax field after he found that his wife was looking out for its advantages. If she suggested that they go to examine it, he was instantly busy. If she asked when he intended to begin the cutting, he was elaborately indifferent and replied, "When its ripe; there's plenty of time." When at last the field showed a decided tendency to brown, he helped a neighbour instead of beginning on Friday, as his wife urged. Saturday he found something wrong with the binder. By Saturday night he began to see that the grain was ripening fast. He was warned and was ready to actually start the machine early the next day. His grizzled face concealed the grin it harboured at the idea of running the harvester on Sunday; he knew Mrs. Farnshaw's scruples. The flax had ripened, almost overnight, because of the extreme heat. Torn with anxiety and the certain knowledge that haste was necessary, Mrs. Farnshaw quoted scripture and hesitated. Her husband, who had delayed in all possible ways up to this time, and had refused to listen to her advice, became suddenly anxious to do "that cuttin'." Now that his wife hesitated from principle, he was intensely anxious to move contrary to her scruples.
The knowledge that her husband was enjoying her indecision, and that he was grimly thinking that her religious scruples would not stand the test, made her even less able to decide a question than usual.
The game was getting exciting and he let her argue, urging with pretended indifference that, "That flax's dead ripe now an' if it shatters out on th' ground you kin blame yourself," adding with grim humour, "There's nothin' like th' sound of money t' bring folks t' their senses. It's good as a pinch of pepper under th' nose of a bulldog."
There was everything to point that way, but a woman and a mother must vindicate her claims to religion, and Mrs. Farnshaw refused to give her consent to the Sunday harvesting.
Torn between her desire to save every grain of the precious crop and the fear of a hell that burned with fire and brimstone, her husband's scorn did what neither had been able to do. Mrs. Farnshaw forbade the machine being taken to the field, and then cried herself into a headache.
"Do as you please; it's your lookout, but I tell you It'll be a sick lookin' field by to-morrow mornin'," was Mr. Farnshaw's final shot.
When her decision was finally reached, Mr. Farnshaw became alarmed. He knew he had let the flax go too long uncut. He had half believed in the reasons he had given for delay up to this point, but suddenly realizing that the overripe grain would suffer great loss if left another day in the hot sun, he reasoned with real earnestness that it must be cut if it were to be saved. His wife, thoroughly convinced that he was still tormenting her and that he would never let her hear the last of the matter if she gave up, closed her lips down firmly and declined to allow it to be done.
All this the child had heard argued out that morning. It was a cruel position in which to place one of her years. Part of it she had comprehended, part had escaped her, but she was sensitive to the atmosphere of suffering. The details of past elements in the tragedy she could not be expected to understand. The stunted, barren life of her mother was but half guessed. What child could know of the heartsick longing for affection and a but little understood freedom, the daily coercion, the refusal of her husband to speak kindly or to meet her eye with a smile?
The sorely puzzled and bewildered woman thought affection was withheld from her because of something done or undone, and strove blindly to achieve it by acts, not knowing that acts have little, if anything, to do with affection. She strove daily to win love, not knowing that love is a thing outside the power to win or bestow. Had she had understanding she would have spared the child with whom she worked; instead, she talked on with her dreary whine, morbidly seeking a sympathy of which she did not know how to avail herself when it was so plainly hers.
With a lump in her throat of which the mother did not even suspect, Lizzie Farnshaw set the table, cut the bread, brought the water, "put up the chairs," and, when her father came from the stable, slipped out to where he was washing for supper and whispered about the flax, asking him not to mention it while her mother was suffering with the headache.
The news was not news to Josiah Farnshaw, who had examined the field anxiously as he had returned from Hansen's. Sobered by the loss, he was less disagreeable than usual and only pushed his daughter out of his way as he reached around her for the sun-cracked bar of yellow laundry soap with which to wash his hands. Thankful to have the unpleasant but important matter, as she thought, safely attended to, the child returned to help lift the meal to the bare kitchen table.
The illy lighted room, with its one small window, was dim and dismal in the dusk of evening. In spite of the added heat it would produce, the child decided that a light was necessary.
After the kerosene lamp was lighted, she turned to see if her mother needed her help again. The crooked blaze ran up unexpectedly and blacked the cracked chimney on one side with a soot so thick that one half of the room was soon in semi-darkness. Mrs. Farnshaw took it fretfully in hand.
"Why can't you trim it when you see it runnin' up that way?" she demanded querulously, poking at the lopsided and deeply charred wick with a sliver obtained from the side of the wood-box.
Her ministrations were not very successful, however, for when the chimney was replaced it ran up on the other side, and in the end her daughter had to prosecute a search for the scissors and cut the wick properly. As they worked over the ill-smelling light, Albert, the youngest of the three children of the household, burst into the kitchen crying excitedly:
"Ma, did you know that th' flax was all whipped out of th' pods on to the ground?"
Mrs. Farnshaw, who had received the lamp from her daughter's hand, let it fall on the edge of an upturned plate in her excitement, and then, seeing what she had done, fumbled blindly in a terrified effort to right it before it should go over. The cracked chimney fell from its moorings, and, striking a teacup, spattered broken glass over the table like hailstones. The entire family scrambled to save the lamp itself from a similar fate and were plunged into darkness by the girl blowing out its flame to save an explosion.
The excitement of the moment served, temporarily, to lessen the blow of Albert's announcement, but by the time "a dip" had been constructed the full weight of the disaster had fallen upon the defeated and despairing woman, and to protect her from the taunts of the head of the house, Lizzie induced her to go to bed, where she sobbed throughout the night.
The next day was hot and windy. The grasshoppers, unable to fly in a strong wind, clung to the weeds, to the dry grass, the stripped branches of the half-grown trees, to the cattle and hogs upon which they happened to alight, and even to people themselves, unless brushed off.
Lizzie took the cattle out to the usual grazing ground, but there was no Luther to help, and the grasshoppers made the lives of the restless animals so unendurable that in real alarm, lest they run away again, she took them home, preferring her father's wrath to the experience of getting them back if they should get beyond her control. Fortune favoured her. Unable to endure the demonstrations of grief at home, her father had taken himself to a distant neighbour's to discuss the "plague of locusts."
The wind blew a gale throughout the day, sweeping remorselessly over the unobstructed hillsides. Unable to fly, the helpless insects hugged the earth while the gale tore over the Kansas prairies with a fearful velocity. With feminine instinct, every female grasshopper burrowed into the dry earth, making a hole which would receive almost her entire body back of her wings and legs. The spring sod, half rotted and loosened from the grass roots, furnished the best lodgment. In each hole, as deep down as her body could reach, her pouch of eggs was deposited.
No attempt was made to cover the hole, and by night the sod presented a honeycombed appearance never before seen by the oldest settlers. Having performed nature's functions, and provided for the propagation of their kind, the lately fecund grasshoppers were hungry when the act was over. Not a spear of anything green was left. The travel-worn horde had devoured everything in sight the day before. Evening closed in upon a restless and excited swarm of starving insects, but they were unable to fly at night or while the wind was blowing.
It was necessary to find food; hunger's pangs may not be suffered long by creatures whose active life is numbered in weeks. The high wind had cooled the air and made the locusts stupid and sleepy, but when the next morning the wind had fallen, and the sun had warmed their bodies, as fast as they were able all were on the wing, headed for the north. The air was calm, and by ten o'clock they were away in swarms, leaving ruin and desolation to show that they had sojourned in the land.
The situation was truly desperate. Cattle, horses, and hogs were without food of any sort. Many families were new to the country and had depended upon sod-corn for the winter's supply of provender for both man and beast. Mr. Farnshaw, being one of the older residents, had grown a crop of wheat, so that his bread was assured; but the herd of cattle which had been his delight was now a terrorizing burden. Cattle and horses could not live on wheat, and there was no hay because of the dry weather. What was to be done?
That night the neighbours held a consultation at the Farnshaw house, where grizzled and despairing men discussed the advisability of "goin' East," and ways and means of getting there. The verdict was strongly in favour of going.
Mrs. Farnshaw brightened. Perhaps, after all, she would get away from these wind-blown prairies, where no shade offered its protecting presence against a sun which took life and spirits out of the pluckiest of them. Even more childish than the daughter at her side, Mrs. Farnshaw clapped her hands with joy as she leaned forward expectantly to address her new neighbour.
"If I can only get t' my mother's, I won't care for nothin' after that. My heart goes out t' Mrs. Crane. Think of all that good money goin' t' them Swedes! You just better pocket your loss an' get away while you can."
"You're goin' too, then, Farnshaw?" the new neighbour asked.
All eyes turned upon Mr. Farnshaw, who had not as yet expressed himself on either side. These neighbours had asked to assemble in his house because his kitchen afforded more room than any other house in the vicinity, the kitchen being a large room with no beds in it to take up floor space.
Mrs. Farnshaw realized as soon as the question was asked that her joy had been premature.
Josiah Farnshaw sat with his chair tilted back on two legs against the wall, snapping the blade of his pocket knife back and forth as he considered what he was going to say in reply. He felt all eyes turned in his direction and quite enjoyed the suspense. Mr. Farnshaw was an artist in calculating the suspense of others. He gave them plenty of time to get their perspective before he replied. At last he shut the blade of the knife down ostentatiously, replaced it in his trousers' pocket, and announced slowly:
"Well, sir, as for me and mine, I think we'll stay right here."
Mrs. Farnshaw gave a despairing, "Oh!" and covered her face with her hands to strangle back her tears. Her one hope had been that poverty would accomplish what the flax had failed to do.
"Why—I thought you said there'd be nothin' t' feed an' you'd have t'," said a man whose shaggy whiskers had not seen a comb that year. "What'll you do? You can't see things starve!"
"I thought you was strong for goin'. What'll you do with all your stock?" another said, and all bent forward and waited for his answer as if he could find a way out of the tangle for them.
"That's just it." Again he paused, enjoying the suspense that his silence created. Mr. Farnshaw was not popular, but he had more stock than all his simple neighbours put together and was conscious that money, or its equivalent, had weight. "That's just it," he repeated to add emphasis to his opinion. "What is a man to do? You folks that have nothin' but your teams an' wagons can load th' family in an' get away. How'd I feel 'bout th' time that I got t' th' Missouri River if I knowed all them hogs an' cattle was layin' around here too weak t' get up cause they hadn't been fed?"
He dropped his argument into the midst of them and then sat back and enjoyed its effect. He had intended to go till ten minutes previous. The argument sounded good to him now, however. It put him on a higher basis with himself, in spite of the fact that it had only popped into his head while he was clicking his knife blade. He conceived a new liking for himself. "No, sir," he continued; "I'll stay by it."
"I don't see as your stayin' helps anything if you ain't got nothin' t' feed," was the reiterated objection.
"Well," Mr. Farnshaw replied, careful not to look in his wife's direction, "I was for goin' at first, but I've listened t' you folks an' I've come t' th' conclusion that you ain't goin' t' better yourselves any. If you go East, You'll have t' come back here in th' spring, or live on day's work there—an'—an' I'll take my chances right here. It's a long lane that has no turn. Grasshoppers can't stay always."
"What'll you do if all them eggs hatch out an' eat th' crops in th' spring?" the new neighbour asked, determined to look on all sides of the question before he decided to give up his recently purchased farm, and glad of this opportunity to get the opinions of his fellow sufferers on that particular phase of his unexpected calamity. "What'll you do with all that bunch of cattle, anyhow?" he added.
"I'll share what I've got with th' stuff, an' if part of it dies I'll drag it out on th' hill t' rot; th' rest I'll stay by," was the stubborn reply. "As for them eggs a-hatchin', they'll be good ones if they can stand a Kansas winter; they'll do a blamed sight better'n any eggs Mrs. Farnshaw gethers in. They'd better go south."
This raised a laugh. The grim humour of anything, that could get away, spending a winter in Kansas, appealed to these grizzly pioneers, who struggled with the question of fuel in a country where there was little natural timber, and coal must be paid for before it was burned. But all their arguments would not turn him from his course.
"Your wife's turrible set on goin', Farnshaw," one of the men said to him as they went to the stable for their horses when the meeting broke up.
"Women's always wantin' things," was the indifferent reply. "Say, you've got a stack of wheat straw. What'll you take for it?"
In the house the sympathetic daughter helped her mother prepare for bed.
"I thought sure to-night we'd get to go," the child said. "If you could get back East you might get to stay; and then you wouldn't have to cry so much," she added as she picked up the abandoned clothing her mother had left lying on the floor.
Mrs. Farnshaw, who was turning the same matter over disconsolately as she sat on the side of the bed, shook her head with the bitter certainty that her fate would pursue her, and replied hopelessly:
"It wouldn't make no difference, I guess, Lizzie. He'd be there, an' it'd be just the same."
And the girl, who was naturally reflective, carried with her to the loft overhead that night a new idea: that it was not the place, but the manner in which lives were lived, which mattered.
The preparations for the coming of that winter were the strangest ever witnessed in a farming community. Never had any man known fuel to be so scarce. Cornstalks, which were usually staple articles for fuel in that country, had been eaten almost to the very ground, but the stubs were gathered, the dirt shaken from them, and they were then carted to the house. Rosin weeds were collected and piled in heaps. The dried dung of cattle, scattered over the grazing lands, and called "buffalo chips," was stored in long ricks, also, and used sparingly, for even this simple fuel was so scarce as to necessitate care in its use.
To keep out the driving winds, the houses were banked with sods and earth halfway to the roofs. With so little material for keeping warm, and that of the lightest variety, it was necessary to make the living quarters impervious to the never-ceasing winds which tore at the thin walls of the unprotected houses that sheltered such folk as were hardy enough to remain.
It was impossible to build sheds for all the stock, so the hogs were allowed to swarm under the feet of the horses tied in the straw stable, and many and sad were the accidents to the smaller animals. It was soon clear that not many of them could be carried through till the spring. Seeing that they lost weight rapidly, as many as were full grown were killed and their flabby carcasses salted away to be eaten.
Fortunately, the grasshoppers had not arrived in Kansas till after the small grain had been nearly all cut, so that there was considerable oat and wheat straw in the country. Mr. Farnshaw bargained for every straw stack he could find, but straw was a poor substitute for the corn and hay to which the cattle were accustomed, and as the weeks lengthened into months, and winter closed in, the unprotected cattle grew thinner and ever thinner. Corn was quoted in the markets at a dollar a bushel, but in fact was not to be had at any price. Iowa had had a drought, and Illinois was the nearest base of supplies, and as it was generally known that there was no money west of the Missouri River, no grain was sent to Kansas.
Finding that the horses did not thrive on the straw alone, and knowing that wheat would very quickly kill them, Mr. Farnshaw put away a sufficient amount of oats for seed and then carefully portioned out the rest to be fed to four of his best broodmares, hoping to be able to put in the spring crops with them as well as to save the coming colts of two. The rest, he decided, must take their chances on getting through the winter alive.
The family food consisted largely of bread and the slabs of thin meat, with a sort of coffee made from browned rye. As a "company dish" there was a scanty supply of sweet corn, dried before the drought had cut the crop short. There were no eggs, because the chickens had sickened from eating grasshoppers in the fall and nearly all had died. The few hens which remained clung to the limbs of the half-grown cottonwood trees throughout the long winter nights, and found barely food enough during the day to keep life in their fuzzy bodies, which could not even furnish the oil necessary to lay their feathers smooth, much less foster the growth of eggs.
Josiah Farnshaw secretly questioned the propriety of having remained in that desolate territory when, as spring approached, the shrunken cows died one after another in giving birth to the calves which had matured in their slowly perishing bodies, but he made no sign or admission of the fact.
It was a season of gloom such as our frontier states had never known, and to add to the general depression there was a growing conviction that the hatching of the grasshoppers' eggs when warm weather came would complete the famine.
To support his action in refusing to go East, Josiah Farnshaw asserted stubbornly that the frost of their hard winter would certainly kill the larvae of the locusts. So persistent was his attitude that at short intervals throughout the entire winter rumours that "th' hopper eggs is dead 's doornails" stirred the community and set its members to making tests in a vain endeavour to establish their truth. Pieces of earth, honeycombed with the tiny nests, would be placed near the fire and kept at as regular a degree of warmth as possible, the condition of the eggs would be noted carefully, and in a short time the hopes of the anxious pioneers would be dashed to the ground by wriggling little insects climbing cheerfully out of their winter quarters and hopping about in a vain search for something green to live upon. Often, in sheer desperation, the harassed settler would sweep the hatching brood into the fire, remarking as he did so, "Burnin's too good for such pests," and always fear gripped the heart. If the crops in spring were eaten, other homes must be sought, and all knew that the weakened horses were unfit for travel. In fact, no team in that entire country was fit to travel far or fast, except the two which Mr. Farnshaw groomed and fed so carefully for the sake of the spring work and the much desired colts.
The depression and worries of the Farnshaw home increased the spirit of contention and distrust of its guardians. The husband daily grew surlier and more unpleasant and the wife more lachrymose and subject to "spells." The children learned to avoid the presence of either parent as much as possible, and to look outside the home for the joy childhood demands. The chores were heavy and difficult, but could at least be performed in the open light of God's great out-of-doors, where the imagination could people the world with pleasant features and pleasant prospects.
The cattle were driven daily to the ponds, half a mile away, for water, and if the ice was thick and the axe-handle benumbing to the mittened hands as they chopped the holes for the tottering animals to drink from, there was the prospect of a slide on the uncut portions of the ice later; and as the plucky youngsters followed the cattle home they dreamed of skates to be obtained in the dim future, and tried to run fast enough to keep warm. The blessing of childhood is that it cannot be cheated of its visions, and the blood of adolescence was coursing riotously through the veins of the daughter of the Farnshaw house. If her hands were cold when she returned to the barnyard, after watering the cattle, she beat them about her shoulders or held them against the shrunken flank of some dumb animal, or blew her breath through the fingers of her knitted mittens; but her thoughts were of other things.
It is an old saying that "God helps them who help themselves," and in the case of Lizzie Farnshaw the axiom became a living truth. While the rest of her family suffered and magnified their sufferings, she, by a vivid imagination, placed herself in the path of fortune and obtained the thing she demanded. The simple country schoolhouse that year, dreary and cheerless enough to the pert Miss who had come out from Topeka to teach there, and incidentally to collect twenty-five dollars a month from the school board, was to be the scene of the initial change in Lizzie Farnshaw's life.
Verily, God helps them who help themselves, and Lizzie Farnshaw proved the old saw by laying hold of and absorbing every new idea and mannerism of which the new teacher was arrogantly possessed—absorbed them, but transmuted them, winnowing out the coarse, the sarcastic, the unkind, and making of what was left a substance of finer fibre.
The number of children in the Prairie Home school that year was limited to five, the rest having departed for the indefinable land known as the "East." Three of these children came from the Farnshaw home and the other two from the new neighbours, the Cranes, on the Hansen place.
Sadie Crane hated the new teacher with all the might that her pinched little twelve-year-old body could bring to bear. She saw only the snippish, opinionated, young peacock, and the self-assurance which came from the empty-headed ability to tie a ribbon well. She was so occupied with resenting the young teacher's feeling of vast superiority that she failed to understand, as did the Farnshaw child, that along with all that vainglorious assumption went a real knowledge of some things with which it was valuable to become acquainted.
To the spiteful Crane child the schoolma'am was "stuck-up," while to the imaginative daughter of the Farnshaw house she was a bird of paradise, and though Lizzie was conscious that the teacher's voice was harsh, and her air affected, the child reached out like a drowning man toward this symbol of the life she coveted. To her the new teacher was a gift from heaven itself.
This young girl from Topeka brought into activity every faculty the sensitive, ambitious child possessed.
Lizzie Farnshaw laid hold, with a strong hand, upon every blessing which came in her way. She knew that the foppish young thing at the teacher's desk was "stuck-up," but Lizzie was willing that she should be whatever she chose, so long as it was possible to live near her, to study her, and to become like the best that was in her.
The teacher's matter-of-fact assumption that no self-respecting person failed to obtain a high-school education was a good thing for the country girl, however overdrawn it might be. Lizzie Farnshaw listened and built air-castles. To this one child, out of that entire community, the idea appealed alluringly. But for her castles in Spain she must have burst with her unexpressed desires. To add fuel to the fires of her fancy, Mr. Farnshaw also fell under the fascinations of the school teacher and boasted in the bosom of his family that "Lizzie's just as smart as that Topeka girl any day," and when his daughter began to talk hopefully about teaching school it appealed to the father's pride, and he encouraged her dreams. He had been the leading man in the community since coming to Kansas because of the number of cattle he had been able to accumulate. A small legacy had aided in that accumulation, and it appealed to his pride to have his daughter's intellectual ambitions adding to the general family importance. Pride is an important factor in the lives of all, but to the children of the farm it is an ambrosia, which once sipped is never forgotten and to obtain which many strange sacrifices will be made. Mr. Farnshaw usually regarded a request from his children as a thing to be denied promptly, and always as a matter for suspicion. Yet here he was, considering soberly, yea pleasurably, a move involving money, at a time when money was more than usually scarce. His assent was even of such a nature as to deceive both himself and the child into thinking that it was being done for her benefit!
The young girl received a new impetus toward improvement. The family began to regard her as a member set apart, as one from whom special things were to be expected. From being just comfortably at the head of her classes, she became more ambitious, reached over into new territory, and induced the teacher to create new classes for her benefit. The subjects required for the examination of teachers were added to those usually carried. There was a real purpose in her efforts now, and the smoky kerosene lamp burned stubbornly till late hours.
The new teacher not only listened to recitations but appealed to the artistic in the newly developing woman. She rolled her hair from neck to brow in a "French twist" and set on the top of it an "Alsatian bow," which stood like gigantic butterfly wings across her proud head. The long basque of her school dress was made after the newest pattern and had smoke-pearl buttons, in overlapping groups of three, set on each side of its vest front. The skirt of this wonderful dress was "shirred" and hung in graceful festoons between the rows of gatherings, and was of an entirely new style. Last, but not least, the teacher's feet were shod in "side laces," the first pair of a new kind of shoes, destined to become popular, which laced on the inside of the ankle instead of on the top as we have them now. Of all her stylish attractions this was the most absorbing. "Fool shoes," Sadie Crane called them, and her little black eyes twinkled with a consuming spite when she mentioned them, but the ambitious Farnshaw child, reaching out for improvement and change, coveted them, and preened her own feathers, and mimicked, and dreamed. She accepted the shoes just as she accepted the teacher's other attributes: they were better than her own.
To be better than her own—that was the measure of Lizzie Farnshaw's demand. If the shoes, the clothing, the manners, the ideas, were better than her own they were worthy of honest consideration. The teacher's tongue was sharp and her criticisms ruthless, but they had elements of truth in them, and even when they were directed against the child herself they were a splendid spur. The young girl copied her manners, her gait, and her vocabulary. She watched her own conversation to see that she did not say "have went" and "those kind"; she became observant of the state of her finger-nails; if she had to lace her shoes with twine string, she blackened the string with soot from the under side of the stove lids, and polished her shoes from the same source.
Mrs. Farnshaw, broken with the cold, the privations of the long winter, and the growing disappointments of her domestic life, saw nothing but overdressing and foolishness in her daughter's new attention to the details of personal appearance. Burdened with her inability to furnish the clothes the family needed, she complained monotonously over every evidence of the young girl's desire to beautify herself. When the mother's complaints became unendurable, the father usually growled out a stern, "Let the child alone," but for the most part the growing girl lived a life apart from her family, thought along different lines, and built about the future a wall they could never climb, and over whose rim they would rarely, if ever, catch a glimpse of the world within. No life, however hard, could ever tame that spirit, or grind its owner into an alien groove after that year of imaginative castle building.
BRUSHING UP TO GO TO TOPEKA
With the opening of spring and the coming of the young grass, the handful of cattle that had not died of starvation began to look healthier. A shipment of seed corn for planting, and even a stinted amount for feed, had been sent from the East in March. But for that donation even the work horses must have succumbed. Josiah Farnshaw had the best horses in the country and was suspected of having had far more help than he had really received. The two teams he had favoured all winter against the seeding season were the envy of all. Some of the old neighbours, after a winter spent with the wife's relatives in the East, had decided to return and take the chances of the grasshopper-ridden Middle West, and had come with horses able to drag the plow, but, worn from travel, most of them were practically useless.
There was a lull after the small grain was in the ground. The menacing eggs of the grasshoppers began to hatch as the sun warmed the earth. It was a period of intense anxiety. So many months had been spent in alternate intervals of hope and fear that now, since the test was actually and immediately to be made, the tension was terrific. Men rose as soon as the first light of day appeared and went to examine the tender grain, without which they could not remain upon the land which had cost so dear in the suffering of the winter just past.
A surprise was in store for them. The young insects matured rapidly. While they appeared in swarms, it was noticed that they disappeared immediately upon hatching.
Kansas began to get its breath.
Never was promise of crops more encouraging. There was a distinct note of reassurance and hopefulness in the air. What became of the grasshoppers nobody knew exactly, but they went almost as fast as they hatched. Some shook their heads and said, "Wait till hot weather."
Josiah Farnshaw moved steadily ahead with his planting. He announced that he had faith in Kansas—had always had—he'd stand on the burning deck! While others hesitated, he took advantage of wind and weather to get his crops in the ground. He had been right all along. He did not propose "to be run off of the land he had homesteaded and set with trees by any durned little bugs he'd ever come across." It was necessary to be up and doing if a man was going to provide for a family.
Now this assertion proved to be true, for the agent of the harvester company visited him and requested payment of the notes given the year before. The agent was gracious when the inability to pay was explained. He would renew the paper if it could be secured by the land. There was no hurry about payment, but it was necessary for the details to be finished up in a business-like manner. The thing looked simple enough. It was a just debt and Mr. Farnshaw intended to pay it. He'd as soon it was secured by the land as any other way. The details were soon arranged.
Mr. Farnshaw agreed to meet the agent in Colebyville, the nearest town, the next day, and have the papers made out. After the agent was gone Mr. Farnshaw went to the house to inform his wife that she was to go to town and attach her name to the document.
The storm of protest was expected, and when Mrs. Farnshaw broke out with:
"Now, pa, you ain't never goin' t' mortgage th' farm, are you?" he answered surlily:
"Yes, I be, an' I don't want no words about it neither," and walked determinedly out of the house, leaving his wife to cry out her fears with her children.
"We won't have where to lay our heads, soon," she announced bitterly. "I've seen somethin' of th' mortgage business an' I ain't never seen any of 'em free from payin' interest afterward." This was no mere personal quarrel. Her children distinguished that. This was real, definite trouble.
Accustomed as the child was to her mother's woes, Lizzie Farnshaw was moved to unusual demonstrations by the quality of the outburst of tears which followed the words, and said impulsively:
"Never you mind, ma, I'm going to teach school in another year, and I'll help pay the interest; and we'll get out of debt, too, somehow."
Mrs. Farnshaw brightened.
"I hadn't thought of that!" she said. "I'm glad you're willin' t' help out. I had thought maybe you'd get me one of them new nubies after you got some money of your own." She went into the other room to lay out the black dress, which death had sanctified some months before, for use on the morrow. The opportunity to wear the emblems of mourning turned her childish mind away from the object of her journey, and left her as unconscious as the young girl herself that the mortgage had extended from the land to the lives of herself and her husband, and that in that promise it had laid its withering hand on the future of her child as well.
The promise of assistance had been lightly given; unearned money is always easily spent; besides, a teacher's salary seemed rolling wealth to the girl who had never had a whole dollar in her life. The question of paying the next year's interest was for the time settled. The next morning the healthy young mind was much more largely concerned with the appearance of her mother in the new black dress than with either the mourning it represented or the mortgage which occasioned its presence. She sensed dimly that a mortgage was a calamity, but her vigorous youth refused to concern itself for long with a disaster so far removed as the next year.
But though calamity might pursue Lizzie Farnshaw on one hand, true to her innate nature she handled fate in so masterful a manner that even poverty could not cheat her youth of all its prerogatives. In order to sufficiently nourish the teams which must be used in seeding, Josiah Farnshaw had been obliged to use a part of his seed corn for feed. In despair at the thought of not being able to plant all the land under cultivation, he was overjoyed to hear that a farmer by the name of Hornby, who lived twenty miles or more to the south, had a new and desirable variety which he was trying to exchange for cows with young calves by their sides. A calf was selected from their diminished herd, its mother tied behind the wagon which held it, and Lizzie taken along to assist in driving. The journey, though begun in early morning, was a tedious one, for the cow fretted, the day was hot, and the footsore and weary child was worn out long before the Hornby place was reached. It was after nine o'clock when they did arrive, the last five miles having been made with the added burden of a horse which seemed not at all well. Mr. Farnshaw would not even go into the house to eat supper, but asked the farmer to see that Lizzie was put to bed at once, while he remained with the sick horse. The best team had been chosen for this trip, in spite of the near approach of foaling time for one of the mares, because the other horses were too reduced by lack of food to drive so far.
After eating a bowl of bread and milk the tired child was taken to her room by Mrs. Hornby, and in spite of the ruffled curtains which adorned the windows and the other evidences of taste and refinement about her, she was soon fast asleep.
The next morning at daybreak the household of Nathan Hornby was astir. The first object upon which Lizzie's eyes fell was Susan Hornby herself, who had come to call her to breakfast.
"Your father took one of our horses and started right off home this morning. The one that was sick last night died and left a little colt. He said he thought he had better get the other one home at once, so he took ours. Come right into our room to wash and comb."
Lizzie was on her feet instantly and followed her hostess into the next room, making love to the neat white bows of her hostess' apron-strings as she went. What did she care about her father's departure without her when she could wash her face in a white bowl whose pitcher stood beside the washstand, and comb her hair before a looking-glass "where you could see your head and your belt at the same time?" But the combing was destined to be a lengthy process, for before the child had pulled her comb through the first lock attacked she saw reflected beside her face in that mirror an old-fashioned, black walnut secretary full of books! Lizzie Farnshaw had never seen a dozen books in one house in her life except school books, and here were rows of books that didn't look like any she had ever seen. She took her comb and walked over to the bookcase where she could read the titles and comb at the same time, the spacious mirror, two whole feet in length, being forgotten in this much more desirable gift of fortune.
Susan Hornby's eyes twinkled with delight. In the five years she had been in Kansas she had never been able to persuade any one to read with her. Here was a kindred spirit. She looked at the fifteen-year-old girl and was anxious to know how it happened that she was interested in books at her time of life.
"Do you like to read?"
The question was repeated, and once more she asked it before the child heard her.
"I guess you do," she laughed, answering her own question. "We'll have some good times before your father comes back for you. Come on to breakfast now—the men are waiting."
Lizzie Farnshaw fell naturally into her improved surroundings. The educating processes of reforming her language that year had also tended to improve the girl in other ways and it was with her straight brown hair gathered into neat braids, clean finger-nails, and a feeling of general self-respect that she approached Susan Hornby's white-clothed table and was introduced to Mr. Hornby and the hired men who were already seated there.
"Right glad t' see you. I been feedin' th' colt. It's about as likely a specimine as you be," was Nathan Hornby's salutation, and his handclasp was as hearty as his stubby fingered, hairy hands could make it.
Lizzie slipped quietly into her chair at his side, and stole a glance up at him again. All through the meal he found her eyes turning toward him curiously, and at last he said good-naturedly:
"I'll know you next time whether you do me or not."
The remark was a random one and meant nothing at all, except that he had been conscious of her close attention, but something in the way her gaze was withdrawn showed that whatever she had been thinking she wished to conceal it, and in the end it made Nathan Hornby really uncomfortable. The fact of the matter was that Nathan's language did not fit his surroundings. Susan Hornby's house was in advance of the country in which they lived, while her husband fitted the pioneer life he had chosen. Of this fact neither husband nor wife seemed to be conscious. Nathan was ten years older than the woman he had married. In accepting him she had accepted him as he was; later she had grown, but to her he remained the same; he was just Nathan, and needed no analysis. They lived and loved, and radiated the harmony which was theirs. The incongruities of their union were evident to this child, who was supersensitive about grammatical constructions, but their harmony was to be one of the strong lessons of her life. Lizzie was accustomed to ungrammatical language at home, but the atmosphere of this house made ignorance of good form noticeable. She liked Mr. Hornby, but she wondered a little about his association with his wife and her home. She went with him to see the colt after breakfast and remarked upon his neat barnyard in a manner which lifted the cloud upon his face; he had had a feeling that he did not somehow come up to her expectations.
The little colt nosed about his hand looking for food, and Nathan laughed.
"It's just like th' human critter o' that age—wants t' try everything in its mouth," he said, trying to find a topic of conversation.
Again Nathan Hornby caught a flicker of surprise in Lizzie Farnshaw's eye, and again he was disconcerted.
"Wonder what I done t' set that child t' lookin' at me so funny?" he asked himself as he went to the field later, and being big-hearted and ignorant was unaware that a man could hamstring himself by an ungrammatical phrase.
All day Susan Hornby read with the young girl and questioned her to get into touch with her life and thought, and when night came was wildly enthusiastic about her.
"Nate, she's worth a lift," she said to her husband after Lizzie had again been tucked into bed. "Let's take her with us to Topeka this fall and put her into the high school. She's—she's just the age our Katie would have been. She says some teacher told her she was ready for the high school."
"Better wait till I'm elected, Sue," Nathan replied, and then, seeing Susan's face cloud over with disappointment, added more cheerfully:
"Of course I don't care if you have the child, but you mustn't get to countin' on this thing. That's th' trouble with these here fool politics: they get folks t' countin' on things that can't come around."
Long after his wife was asleep, however, he mused upon the prospects of going to Topeka, and for her sake he wanted to go. Nathan Hornby always spoke of his chances of being elected to the legislature of his state deprecatingly. He swaggered and pretended to be indifferent, but the worm of desire burrowed deeper every time Topeka was mentioned. The very fact that he was uneducated, and, as the Democrats had said, unfit, made him desire it the more. Criticism had aroused the spirit of contest in him. Also he wanted Susan, now that she had begun to plan for it, to have it. Nathan Hornby knew that the woman he had married was his superior, and loved her for it. Masculine jealousy he did not know. He would have been sincerely glad to have had her elected to the legislature of Kansas instead of himself.
"It's like Sue t' want t' take th' girl," he meditated, the next day in the cornfield. "She'll see Katie in every girl she sees for th' rest of 'er days, I reckon. I wouldn't 'a' had no show at Topeka, nohow, if she hadn't 'a' made Wallace feel good 'bout that crazy thing he calls 'is wife. Curious how big things hinge on little ones. Now Sue had no more idea o' gettin' a nomination t' th' legislature for me than that hen she was foolin' with this mornin'." Later, he remembered the thing that had worried him before the subject of Topeka came up. "Wonder what I done that set that youngster t' lookin' at me so funny?"
Mrs. Hornby had not set her heart on going to Topeka foolishly, but she wanted to go and it entered into all her plans. She did not tell the young girl of her plans at once, but waited for her to make her place in Nathan's heart, as she was sure she would do. On that point the girl succeeded surprisingly. Her knowledge of horses, of harness, of farm subjects in general made good soil for conversation with her host, and her love for the motherless colt called her to the barn and made special openings for communications. Nathan called the colt, which was of the feminine gender, Pat, because its upper lip was so long, and that too the girl enjoyed, and entered into the joke by softening the name to Patsie. They were good friends. Having decided to befriend her, the man's interest in her increased. She was to be theirs. The sense of possession grew with both husband and wife. Already they had cast their lot with the child, and when at last they put the question of the high school to her, the friendship was firmly welded by the extravagance of its reception.
"Think of it! Think of it! Only think of it! I didn't know how it was going to come about, but I was sure I was going to get it somehow!" the young girl cried, dancing about the room excitedly. "Whenever I was afraid something was going to keep me from it, I used to say, 'I will! I will! I will go to high school!' Oh, isn't it too lovely! Do you think my saying it made any difference?" she asked eagerly; and the quaint couple, who were born two generations in advance of the birth cry of New Thought, laughed innocently and made no reply.
When the floodgates of surprise and emotion were opened, and she began to talk of her hopes and fears, it was but natural that she should speak of her struggles for personal improvement, though this was instinctively done when Mr. Hornby was absent.
Curiously enough, some of her points of information were as helpful to Susan Hornby as they had been to her. Mrs. Hornby knew the rules of good grammar, but many little observances of table manners had changed since her youth. She read and was well informed on general topics of the day, but her life for more than fifteen years had been spent with Nathan and with the hired men who ate at her table, and she had become careless of small things, so that she listened with an amused smile, but with real profit as well, to Lizzie's confidences that "You shouldn't cross your knife and fork on your plate when you are through eating, like the hired men, but lay them side by side, neat and straight"; that "You shouldn't eat with your knife, neither," and that "To sip your coffee out of your saucer with a noise like grasshoppers' wings was just awful!" She, too, was brushing up to go to Topeka, and while much in advance of her husband or any of her associates in society matters, she had lived the life of the farm, and to the end of her existence would be conscious of the inequalities of her education. Of this she said nothing to the child, but listened and remembered. Occasionally she reminded the girl that they might not go to Topeka, but even as she warned she was quickening the subconscious mind to aid in recording any fact which might be advantageous when she herself got there, and her love for the child grew. The girl was part of the scheme. In a week she had become one of the family.
At the end of the week Mr. Farnshaw did not appear; farm matters had detained him, so that the opportunity for a closer acquaintance with his daughter was permitted. Under Mrs. Hornby the child blossomed naturally. The old-fashioned secretary was the young girl's delight. Seeing her shaking in silent glee over "David Copperfield" one night, and remembering her eager pursuit of intellectual things, Mrs. Hornby remarked to her husband, "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." The world of to-day would add to Susan Hornby's little speech, "Not only as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he," but "So shall he live, and do, and be surrounded." This simple daughter of the farm, the herds, and the homesteaded hills of bleak and barren Kansas, where the educated and intellectual of earth were as much foreigners as the inhabitants of far off Russia or Hindustan, had by her thought not only prepared herself for the life she coveted, but had compelled the opportunity to enter upon her travels therein. When Mr. Farnshaw arrived, Mrs. Hornby was fortunate in the form of her request to take his daughter with her, and it was arranged that if they went to Topeka the child should be a member of their household.
"We'll be just as good to her as if she were our own," she promised, and then added reflectively, "We're going to call her her full name too. Elizabeth was my mother's name. It's so much prettier than Lizzie."
Under any other circumstances Mr. Farnshaw would have seen symptoms of being "stuck-up" in the change of name, but Elizabeth had been his mother's name, and although he had little recollection of his mother, and had never heard her called by her given name, he had seen it writ large on her tombstone, and, his eye having become accustomed to the word, his ear fell naturally into line with its pronunciation; besides, his daughter was to be a school-teacher, and was to sign contracts like a man, and must have a proper sort of name. She was to live in the house of a member of the legislature, too, and already called him and his wife "Uncle" and "Aunt." Mr. Farnshaw tasted pride and found it a sweet morsel.
Election day came the first week in November and Nathan was successful. With the high school year in view, they moved to Topeka the next week. It was as if they were literally to educate their Katie. A slight disappointment awaited them. Though they were ready the young girl did not come immediately.
According to the dilatory methods of the Farnshaw household, Elizabeth—she had been supported by her father when the boys had shown an inclination to laugh her out of the change of name—was three weeks later yet in going. The eager girl urged at home that she would be behind her classes if she went into school so late in the term, but her parents, who knew nothing of school requirements, refused to let her go till the corn was all husked and everything snug for the winter, arguing that so much stock had been lost the winter before that every care must be taken of what was left. Tears at the prospect of such a handicap made no impression, and it was not till December that the child and her father set off in the farm wagon for Topeka, two days distant. Railroad fare was not to be considered, and two new dresses and a new pair of shoes—not side-laces—were all the additions to her wardrobe.
Susan Hornby was much annoyed at the delay, but met the young girl with open arms when she arrived.
She was less happy in accosting Mr. Farnshaw.
"Why in this world did you keep her so late? Half the year is gone!" was her luckless remark to him.
"She's doin' mighty well t' get t' come at all," Mr. Farnshaw replied, taking instant offence. "I'm th' only man in our part of th' country that's givin' 'is childern any show at th' high school at all, I can tell you. I knew I wouldn't get no thanks for it from th' beginnin'. That's th' way with things nowadays," was his reply.
"Oh, well, we all know you have needed her, and that it's hard to spare a child on the farm, but we were so anxious to have her have all that could be got out of this year," Mrs. Hornby said, divided between a desire to scold the man and a real disinclination to hurt any one. So much valuable time had been lost. She saw that she must be politic for Elizabeth's sake, however, for the child's appearance told the experienced woman that she must keep him in a good humour and inveigle him into giving her a little money for clothes.
"We'll just make the best of the time that is left, little girl," Mrs. Hornby said cheerfully, and in that only added to the impression already made, for Mr. Farnshaw remembered his daughter's tears, and the feeling grew that instead of being lauded for what he considered a great sacrifice on his part, he was coming in for a blame wholly unexpected, and that this woman was siding with the girl and going to spoil her. People of the farm, more than any other class, resent being blamed, and Josiah Farnshaw was an extreme representative of his class. He had come to Topeka delighted with himself because of the fine opportunities he was giving his daughter, and here was this woman at the first word finding fault because he had not done better; it was no wonder that children were not satisfied with anything a man could give them!
There was now no possibility of Elizabeth entering school till after Christmas, and Aunt Susan turned her attention to efforts to get the most out of the time they would have to reorganize the poorly constructed dresses. She was considerate of Mr. Farnshaw's evident sensitiveness, seeing also that he had no real comprehension of the damage done by the delay, and made him comfortable by urging him to stay on after he was really ready to go home. So successful was she that he forgot for the time he was in her presence that all was not in his favour, and she was able to induce him to give all that he was able to give toward the improvements she suggested in his daughter's wearing apparel. Elizabeth was surprised at the ready response to demands made upon his purse, but here again Mrs. Hornby left a sting, wholly unintended and at the time not recognized by Mr. Farnshaw himself, but remembered by him later and never forgotten after it was once fixed firmly in his mind. Aunt Susan, concerned for the entrance of the child into the company of those of her own age, pointed out to her father the gayly dressed girls of Elizabeth's age, and suggested that a new coat would be an absolute necessity. Mr. Farnshaw had given Mrs. Hornby all the money he had with him except four dollars, and his wife had given him a list of groceries to be purchased in the city. It rather pleased him to use the money toward his daughter's adornment and it tickled his pride as well to give his last cent toward her education. Mrs. Hornby looked at the money he placed in her hand, and hesitated visibly. Josiah Farnshaw stiffened at her manner. Aunt Susan hated to ask for more, but this would not buy the girl a coat that she could wear in Topeka!
"You are just as good as you can be about this, Mr. Farnshaw, but—but a coat like the other girls have will cost at least eight or ten dollars." She felt his attitude.
The amount named took the man's breath. He had given all he had and yet this woman, whom he had begun to like again, was not satisfied!
"A man can't do no more'n he can, an' that's th' last red cent I've got," he replied, humiliated at the necessity of the confession.
"Oh! I'm so sorry," Aunt Susan exclaimed, really so at having forced the statement. She sat with her brows knit in serious thought a moment, and a light began to break in upon her. Elizabeth had to have that wrap somehow and here was a way right before her. She remembered a long cape she had noticed going down the street that very morning.
"I guess we can make it do," she said hesitantly. She was thinking out her plan and spoke slowly. "We'll just make a cloak ourselves. We can do it."
Josiah Farnshaw left the next day for home, in a good humour with himself and his munificence, but on the way home remembered Susan Hornby's hesitancy and later decision to make the cloak herself, and the worm of suspicion began to gnaw again.
"If that woman could make something that'd do, what'd she ask for one of them expensive coats for?" he asked himself. "I guess it's only th' girl that figures in that deal! I ain't nothin' but th' oats she feeds on nohow," he reflected, and having once given the thought lodgment it grew and became the chief stone of the corner.
Our own comes to us, and Josiah Farnshaw had formed the habit of that kind of thinking. He felt that he was being robbed, and forgot that his daughter was being befriended, and out of his trip to Topeka got only a sour distaste for the woman he could clearly see was going to encourage the child in extravagance. He had never spent so much money on the entire family in a winter as he had done on that girl, and yet it wasn't enough. "He'd bet he'd never give 'er another year's schoolin'. She'd come home an' get a summer school—that's what she'd do. All folks thought about nowadays was clothes!"
To Elizabeth Farnshaw every day of that busy month was full of unconscious growth. As soon as Mr. Farnshaw was out of sight, Mrs. Hornby said to Elizabeth:
"Now, my child, I am going to take up the seams in that basque."
Elizabeth looked down at her "long basque" in dismay; she had striven hard over that waist and had thought that it would do very well, though conscious that it had faults. Her face flushed as she answered reluctantly:
"The seam in the back isn't quite straight, but—I never made one like it before—and I thought it would do."
"So it would, dear, but it can do better and we've got plenty of time to fix it. You'll feel ever so much better about it when you see how the other girls are dressed."
As Aunt Susan snipped and ripped and rebasted the refractory seam, Elizabeth brought out her little stores of finery to discuss their artistic features.
"Look," she said, opening a pasteboard box which held her few ribbons. "I coaxed a long time for that, but I got it." She held up for Aunt Susan's approval a new Alsatian bow of pink ribbon. "I wanted the wide, but they didn't have it, so I got a lot of the narrow and hid the joinings in the pleats. I think it's pretty, don't you?"
Susan Hornby looked at the bow critically, and then seeing Elizabeth's face cloud over with a suspicion that she did not regard the treasure with favour, said slowly:
"It's pretty—that is, it's a pretty colour; but I was looking to see about how many yards there was in it, for the girls aren't wearing Alsatian bows, as you call them, this year. They seem to be wearing their hair mostly in two plain braids. I'm glad of it, for you look ever so much better with your hair done that way. We can rip it up and press the ribbon. I'm awfully glad you've got such a lot; It'll make lovely bows for the braids."
While Elizabeth ripped her bow to pieces Aunt Susan's tongue ran on with the subject nearest her heart.
"To-morrow morning I'm going to have you sit by that window and watch the girls that go past about school time. You'll learn more this month doing that than you would in school, I expect. It's just as well you can't start till next term, since you didn't get here at first."
"Next term!" her new dresses with their long basques—long basques were more talked of than any other feature of dress that year, not by Elizabeth alone but all womankind—had seemed so magnificent that she could not think of it being necessary to take a whole month to make them over.
"Yes, not till after Christmas. You can't start in at the middle of a term in high school like you can in the country. We'll get you a wrap made before that time. I told your father I couldn't think of your going without a coat of some sort. He didn't feel that he could afford a coat, so I'm going to get the cloth and you and I will make you a circular this week."
"A circular? What's that?"
Aunt Susan explained the new kind of cape which came down to the bottom of the dress and had a hood lined with bright coloured silk and was puckered with rubber to make it fit the face.
It took all day to finish the basque, and the next morning Elizabeth watched the well-dressed city girls loiter past, and was glad that she could have a month to get ready to meet them in the schoolroom. She had never known anybody dressed so well for anything but a funeral, or a party, or to go to church. They actually wore gloves to school! Elizabeth looked at her brown hands and decided that she would wear her mittens to bed till her hands sweated themselves to a proper degree of whiteness, and Susan Hornby let her look on, and weigh, and exclaim. Thus was Elizabeth Farnshaw's education begun.
The afternoon was spent selecting the goods for the new cape, and wandering about the great stores and the streets; a new pair of pretty gray gloves were obtained, and for the first time Elizabeth heard the term "lisle thread" used as against the common term of cotton for all things not silk or woollen. The new cape was to have a wonderful metal fastener called a clasp, and life ran like a silver stream the next two days as they sewed on the new-fangled garment.