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Title:      The Sojourner (1953)
Author:     Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
eBook No.:  0400791.txt
Edition:    1
Language:   English
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Date first posted:          December 2004
Date most recently updated: December 2004

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Title:      The Sojourner (1953)
Author:     Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our
fathers: our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none

1 chronicles 29:15


Three crows flew low over the fresh mound in the Linden burying-
ground, dark as the thoughts of the three unmourning mourners.
These were the widow, Amelia Linden, and the two tall sons,
Benjamin and Asahel.  The funeral assembly had gone.  The clomp of
horses' feet and the rattle of wheels were faint down the frozen
lane.  There was a pure instant of silence.  Then a wind keened far
off in the west, nosed across the hills and leaped into the
clearing, snapping its fangs at the limbs of the oak trees.  The
last leaves shivered to earth and scurried like thin brown rats
across the grave.

Amelia turned the black veil back from her face, and walked to the
carriage.  She settled herself in the front seat.

"Benjamin, take the reins."

Asahel moved to the heads of the span of horses to unhitch them
from a cedar post.  He stroked the velvet muzzles and the horses
nickered.  He slid off the blankets, and placing them in the rear
of the carriage, found his elder brother sitting stiffly with
folded arms in the back of the seat.  His mother's face was gray.
He waited for her to move into the driver's seat.  The untethered
horses sidled restlessly.  When young Dan lunged and Amelia did not
stir, Asahel jumped clumsily into the carriage and jerked the
reins.  The team broke into an unseemly trot for home.

The bereavement of life rather than grief for death chilled
Asahel's bones.  There was no sorrow among the three in the
carriage for the harsh, snarling man left behind under the wings of
crows, except the sorrow all men feel face to face with death, even
that of a stranger dead on the turn-pike, which is an unassuageable
anguish for themselves, the evidence of their own destinies.  Yet
this was a moment, surely, when mother and sons should draw close
together, pile high the barricade, build up the fire, against the
outer darkness.  Instead, his mother and Benjamin were still
separated by the violent quarrel he had heard late last night from
his bedroom.  He had not heard the words, he could not guess what
they might quarrel about, but it was the first time his mother had
not found her elder pleasing in her sight.  Asahel had hovered for
his twenty years outside her adoration, like a shy and hungry dog
that skirts a lighted house, longing to be called in for a plate of
food and a few caresses.  Because he loved Benjamin too, he had no
sense of loss for himself, was warmed when his mother's eyes
lighted for his brother, and asked only to be present.  Now with
his father's death something had come between these two, life was
hurt more cruelly.  There was no longer Benjamin's bright sun with
its two satellites, Amelia powerful and near, he far and futile,
but three cold stones pendulous in space.

The November gale caught them full at the turn into the Linden
place.  The time was late afternoon, but sky and landscape were as
gray as though there had never been a sun and so there was no sun
for setting.  The house loomed large and bleak on its rise above
the road.  Its windowed eyes were blank.  The low scudding clouds
seemed to catch and tatter on the two tall brick chimneys.  Asahel
drove the carriage up the drive to the side and stopped.  Amelia
waited for Benjamin to help her down.  He did not move.  She
stepped out then and took the graveled path to the door, her
billowing black skirts flattened against her thighs.

Asahel turned the horses around and drove across the road to the
lower-lying barns.  Here Benjamin got out and rolled open a wide
sliding door.  Asahel drove up the earth ramp and over the rattling
board floor into the dusk.  The brothers took down overalls from
nails on a wall and pulled them over their good clothes.  They
unharnessed the horses together.  Asahel led young Dan to the stock
stalls on a lower level and the mare followed.  Benjamin pitched
down hay while Asahel measured out oats.  Only one cow was fresh at
the moment and Asahel milked her, stripping her carefully.
Benjamin scattered fodder in the lot for the assorted cows and
calves.  The sheep had not yet been brought in from the hill
pasture for the winter.

Nothing remained to be fed but the hogs and poultry.  The chickens,
guinea hens, geese, ducks and turkeys, always ravenous, assumed
from the color of the sky that it was evening and made a raucous
crying.  Benjamin brought them grain while Asahel took the foaming
bucket of milk to the house and returned with skimmed milk and
slops for the hogs.  The brothers worked together smoothly,
Benjamin quickly and impatiently, Asahel with deliberation.
Benjamin was finished first.  He leaned on the rail of the pig-pen,
waiting, Asahel hoped, to speak with him, to tell him of the
quarrel.  Benjamin had nothing to offer.  He was perhaps avoiding
facing his mother alone, or there might be nothing, after all, to

The two young men shared as few similar genes as was possible,
still to be blood brothers.  The differences in physique made folk
say, "Ben favors the Linden's," and "Ase isn't like any of the
family, either side."  Benjamin was hard-muscled, six feet tall,
quick-fighting, quick-dancing, moving lightly like fighter or
dancer, rocking on the balls of his feet, with panther-colored hair
and green eyes, so that all his effect was of one of the great
cats.  Asahel, twenty years to his twenty-three, reared, six-feet-
four, like a gaunt sapling, over his brother, and as though in
apology for his assumption of the greater height, carried himself
stooped and gangling.  His hair was black, with an Indian
straightness, his face was high-cheek-boned, his deep-set eyes were
gray with black striations.  He was all slowness and awkwardness,
his big feet a nuisance rather than a help.  His hands, of terrific
strength, hung like gnarled pine stumps at the ends of long bony

The disparities of the brothers' minds and spirits were profound.

Benjamin had had four years at the Academy, while Asahel, after the
simple schooling of the one-room stone schoolhouse two miles down
the road, had been kept at home to work.  Yet it was Benjamin who
remembered nothing from his textbooks, scarcely read the weekly
county paper, and Asahel who knew those books secretly by heart,
and read, as laboriously as he did everything else, any scrap of
paper with printing on it, poring hungrily over the magic of words.
It seemed to him, who was all but inarticulate, that if he could
read enough of them he would know the answers to the questions that
tormented him.  He had no way of knowing that wiser men had asked
those questions, which never had been, perhaps never would be,
answered.  It was Benjamin who was wild, who ran away periodically,
who returned with empty pockets and not even a tale to tell.  It
was Asahel, who had been no more than twenty miles from home, who
traveled in his mind so far that those who thought they knew him
would have been terrified by his consorting with the stars.

Benjamin hesitated at the kitchen door.

He turned abruptly to his younger brother.

"Listen, Ase.  You've got to back me up.  I'm leaving for good."

This, then, had been the quarrel.

Asahel's first sickness was for his mother.  In the barren ground
of her life, of her own character, Benjamin had been the bright
tropical bloom that satisfied and startled, making the desert not
impossible.  Only Benjamin had brightened those hard black eyes,
only Benjamin had brought music to that low, cold voice.  He had
seen his mother stiffen in her chair on a winter night, thinking
she heard the loved one's step on the icy road, sit back trembling
because it was not he.  He had seen her lift her arms, like a bird
taking happy wing, when at last he came, Benjamin, he came.  Then
he was sick for himself.  His heart, too, had beat so fast that he
was dizzy, when Benjamin came home.  And this was not for any
meagreness of life and thought without his brother, but because of
his own gift for love and for devotion.  It did not seem to him
this bond could be one-sided.

He washed out the empty swill buckets at the rear pump.  Now was
the moment to call on words, to find the proper ones to hold his
brother home.  The place would be desolate without him.  He could
not let him go, to roam the world in trouble.  He turned the
buckets upside down to dry.  He followed Benjamin, wordless, into
the kitchen.

Part of the ample funeral foods brought by relatives and neighbors
sat on the white-clothed table in the dining-room beyond.  Coffee
simmered on the back of the kitchen range.  A pitcher of buttermilk
was cool and fresh from the stone cellar.  The brothers washed
their hands at the cistern pump and dried them on the roller towel.
Their mother poured coffee and led the way to the table.  Benjamin
picked and chose from his favorite dishes, but ate little, his mind
and body restless.  Asahel heaped his plate at random and plodded
away, as at a job of haying.  One food was almost the same to him
as another.  He was seldom conscious of hunger, and he ate
prodigiously, filling his stomach slowly, steadily, like an ox,
until the moment came when he realized, with a mild surprise, that
he could literally hold no more.  He was the delight of fine cooks,
who took his absent-minded capacity for appreciation.

Amelia said, "Asahel, if you can bring yourself to finish eating, I
need your help.  Benjamin has something stupid to say."

"I've told him, Mother.  Ase understands.  He agrees.  Don't take
it out on him, when it's settled."

"Oh.  Settled.  He's perfectly contented, I suppose, to farm it
alone.  There isn't enough money, you know, to hire a man to
replace you.  This is a three-man farm, at the least.  Now it's to
be down to one boy.  Or am I expected to work in the fields?"

The last mouthful of pie stuck in Asahel's throat.  His mother
shocked him.  How could she bring herself to put Benjamin's leaving
on such a basis, when he knew her heart, as his, was crying, "Son
and brother, we cannot face life without you, because of love,
never because of a living!"

She said, "Asahel, do you care to speak for yourself, or will you
have another piece of pie?"

They were both looking at him, each asking in their ways, one
bitter, the other eager, for his support.

Benjamin said, "Ase, you know I've always hated farming.  I
wouldn't even be any help to you.  I'd be leaving when you needed
me most.  I can't change it.  I'll admit it now, I was afraid of
Father.  I kept coming back because I was more afraid of him away,
than here.  Ase, you're a man to plow and sow and reap.  You'll
manage without me.  I'll give you my share in the farm.  Just let
me go."

Amelia smoothed the black funereal satin over her thin breast.

"You forget that the place is mine.  Neither of you can give away a
share he doesn't own.  Your father was a difficult man, but he saw
his duty, and the farm is mine, all mine, until I say otherwise.  I
shall not release you, Benjamin, from your share.  It will be yours
as long as I live.  You can't run away from that.  Well, Asahel?"

Still, he could not speak.  Benjamin pushed away from the table and
went up to his room.  He returned to the silence with his valise,
his coat over his arm.

He said, "How much money do we have?"

Amelia went to her downstairs bedroom and came again to the table
with a tin box, and opened it.  She counted out the paper bills and
the silver.  She set aside a portion.

"This should cover the funeral expenses and a tombstone."

The remainder amounted to little over six hundred dollars.
Benjamin pocketed a third of it.  On a scrap of paper he scrawled:

"Rec. of Amelia and Asahel Linden payment in full for share in
Linden farm.  Signed, Benjamin Linden."

Amelia stared at the paper, then threw it in the door of the red
pot-bellied stove.

She turned away into her room and closed the door behind her.
Benjamin shrugged his shoulders.

"She thinks I'll be coming back again.  Maybe some day, Ase, when
I'm rich."

He took from his pocket their father's gold hunter's watch, given
him by Amelia before the funeral.

"Keep this.  No, take it."

He turned to go.

"Don't hitch up.  I'd rather walk.  I'll catch the night train west
from the village.  I'm a dog to leave you, Ase."

Asahel followed him out of the front door, across the porch, down
the steps, over the lawn, to the road.  The road ran level for a
way, rose a little, dipped down to the valley where the stream ran
under a wooden bridge, wound its way four miles to the village of
Peytonville, to the train, to the West, to the unknown and far

He wanted to say, "Don't leave me.  Take me with you."

Benjamin said, "Don't come any farther."

He held out his strong arms and drew him tight.  Asahel trembled.

"Better marry Nellie Wilson in the spring, boy.  Then you won't
miss me so much."

Asahel said at last, "I'll never be done missing you."

Sunset had come, yet there was still no sun, only livid and evil
streaks in the west, where Benjamin was going.  The bond was a
stout cord that tore him and would not release him, and he was
drawn by it to the little rise.  Benjamin was a small figure on the
wooden bridge far below.  Asahel lifted his arm and waved, but his
brother did not look back.  He turned back toward home.  There was
now no color in the sky.  The world was fast darkening.  Everything
was retreating, going away into distant places, and he was left
behind, to plow, to sow, to reap.


On a cold December morning Ase Linden paced slowly, studying them,
the acres whose crops must soon be planned for.  A dusting of
granular snow whirled across the frozen ground ahead of a biting
wind.  His father's old buffalo greatcoat hung long and loose on
his gaunt frame.  His hands were paws in fur-backed leather
mittens.  A muskrat cap with earmuffs sat low on his head.  His
deep-set eyes searched the landscape, his long nose sniffed the
scent of coming snow, his shaggy-furred shoulders were stooped.  He
looked a winter-poor bear come wandering from his den.  He crossed
the road to the south and took shelter for a moment in the lee of
the log cabin.

The Linden land was fertile for the most part.  Its three hundred
acres divided themselves naturally into woods, pastures, and fields
suitable for varying crops.  A country road bisected the farm.  The
house sat back from it to the north, the barns to the south.  The
richest soil lay south and west of the barns.  Here the money crops
were grown, the beans, the wheat, the potatoes.  The land dipped to
a willow-bordered stream that ran from east to west, and the cow
pasture began beyond the stream.  The hill that lifted again, still
to the south, was stony and was given over to the sheep.  The high
extreme southeastern corner of the land consisted of forty acres of
wood-lot, from which trees were cut selectively for fuel and for
building.  The woods ended suddenly and blackly with a hemlock-
rimmed bog, from which springs seeped down to join the brook, and
so dangerous that a cow breaking loose and wandering there would
perish within a few minutes if unnoticed and unrescued.  A crystal
lake, believed to be bottomless, fed the stream from the east, and
the western border became marsh, infested with small rattlers.

The land on the house side of the road ended to the northwest with
a smaller wood-lot and with a sugar-bush adequate to supply a
family with maple syrup and sugar.  Wheat was grown west of the
house as well, alternating in years with the southerly field.  Rye,
oats and barley, corn and buckwheat, were staple crops for home
consumption.  A small fruit and vegetable garden was near the house
to the east, where it received full sun all day.  The house itself
was large and square, white painted, eared with red chimneys, with
a fine fan-lighted doorway carved in a Greek design.  It was
distinguished, but bleak, uncompromising, needing, Ase recognized,
the softening of trees and shrubbery.  Across from the house, a few
hundred yards west down the road, still stood the original Linden
home, a log cabin chinked with white marl, and beside it an icy
spring, stone-enclosed.

The wind veered and caught Asahel full and the cabin no longer
sheltered him.  He moved on slowly, across the level field.  There
was no living thing in sight.  The stock was snug in barn and cote.
No sheep nibbled among the granite, no cows drifted across pasture,
no horses rolled in clover, no poultry pecked and clattered.  The
farm was only bare land, frozen clay and loam waiting for new
moulding at his hands.

He halted to the south where the field dipped gently to the stream.
He heard the muffled rushing of the current under the ice.  The
willows along the borders tossed scraggled branches like the
sparse, whipping hair of hags who had once been beautiful, and by
miracle would again be young and garlanded and fair.  He turned and
looked back toward the cabin, small and huddled at the distance.
This level field, he estimated, would run close to twenty acres.
In the six weeks since Benjamin's leaving he had given it special
thought.  Knowing that Ben was done with the farm, it had seemed to
him important that some sections of the Linden land be given over
to crops which, once established, would be both profitable and
requiring little care.  Sizeable fruit orchards were plainly the
answer.  He visualized here an apple orchard.  In spring a pink and
white cloud would draw the bees to hum among the blossoms.  Birds
would nest and sing in the summer greenery.  The waxen globes would
shine like lamps in autumn, yellow and green and red, windfalls
would thud to earth, to lie deep in buckwheat sown broadcast
between the rows, to be crushed, wine-scented, in dripping jowls of
swine and cattle, to be stung by wasps.  The black boughs of apple
trees in winter made, he thought, patterns like no other tree.

His father had never planted an orchard.  No growing thing was
graceless, but that scowling, snarling man, Hiram Linden, had
seemed purposely to avoid all crops that flowered in beauty.  All
were utilitarian, sown with surliness and harvested with oaths.
Ase was the first Linden of three generations to consider the earth
and its bounty with reverence and affection, to long to adorn it as
best he might during his tenure.  To the Linden men ahead of him,
it had been only a means of subsistence.  His father, his brother,
had been not even grateful that the rich loam made the tilling so
little arduous, the lush harvests so rewarding.

The apples here, then, he decided, if his mother would allow it.
He moved down the slope to the brook, crossed carefully on the icy
stepping stones, trudged up the farther slope to the sheep pasture
and halted again.  Because of the granite out-croppings, no other
use could be made of the high expanse.  Sheep were profitable in
any case and the flock might well be enlarged.  In that case, his
mother would have to permit him a dog, a sheep dog.  He had never
had one, where every farm lad had his own.  Amelia, through
distaste an indifferent housekeeper, had always forbidden it on the
excuse that she would have no dirty animal following to the kitchen
door and tracking up the woodshed.  He had accepted the verdict, as
he must, puzzled and unsatisfied.  The truth unguessed, or
unacknowledgable, was that she would admit no living thing save one
to her affection, to her tolerance or compassion.  The fire within
her was a hoarded thing, nurtured jealously, an iron box of hot
embers for the warming of the hands of one.  That one was Benjamin.
Ase had gone his boy's way in loneliness, tagging hopefully after
his brother, longing to be tagged in turn by some soft-eyed
mongrel, equally faithful and adoring.

He opened a gate into the stock lane.  Well, he thought, perhaps
soon he would have his dog.  It was not so important, now he was a
man.  The wind whipped under the buffalo coat and chilled his long
scant-fleshed legs.  There was no need to go to the end of the lane
to the hemlocks and the bog.  He had known for a year or more that
it was time to begin cutting from the wood-lot adjoining the
hemlocks, to give a rest for growth to the lot to the northwest of
the house.  There was no need, either, to pace the southeast acres
above Pip Lake.  They would be required for some time for wheat and
corn.  Eventually, he would like to try there a small peach
orchard, increasing it from year to year if it thrived.  The
rounded summit was probably too exposed to the cold, but it seemed
to him that the slope rolling toward the brook and the barns, and
the eastern, dipping to the lake, offered protection for such
delicate fruit and trees.  This soil was pebbly, with a high
admixture of clay.

He turned down the lane to the barns.  He would have a look at the
stock in passing.  The wind at his back ruffled the curls of the
buffalo pelt, it pushed him downhill, so that his big feet stumbled
over rocks, his gait more awkward even than usual.  Opening the
gate to the sheep-shed he heard familiar horse's hooves on the
road, the scrape of the runners of the light cutter on the
inadequate snow.  His mother had returned sooner than he expected
from her drive to the post office at Peytonville.  She had insisted
on making the trip with a superstition, he felt, that if she went
alone a letter from Benjamin would be waiting for her.  He joined
her at the side driveway beside the house.  She handed him the
reins.  He looked at the newspapers in her gloved hands.

"No," she said.  "Nothing from him.  Nothing at all."

He put the cutter in the light carriage shed by the driveway,
unhitched the mare, led her to the barn, stalled, fed, watered, and
curried her.  Because of his slowness, he was occupied more than
half an hour.  He went to the house and hung his coat and cap in
the woodshed attached to the kitchen.  He found his mother warming
her hands by the living-room stove, still dressed in her velvet
pelisse, bonnet and fur capelet.  She was a slight woman past
fifty, long of neck, with smooth black hair, small black eyes and a
tight, thin mouth.  She carried herself stiffly erect in well made
clothes of good material.  She was not unattractive until she
focussed her eyes on a human being, when their unblinking coldness
gave the effect of the stare of an adder.

She lifted her head and turned the jet-like glitter on her younger

She said, "I have been expecting Benjamin to return every day.
This is most unusual.  He has never been away so long without
writing me.  I begin to feel something different about this
absence.  He went with a reason and for a purpose.  It comes clear
now to my mind.  He is ambitious, if you can understand that.  He
wishes to make a much needed backlog of money to bring home.  It
will take him a little time.  He naturally prefers to have good
news before writing me.  It will come.  Meantime--"

She studied him, frowning.

"Are you listening to me?  Your expression is completely blank."

Behind the mask of his face Ase was suffering.  It seemed to him
that he must awaken her to the truth, as one shakes a sleeper in a
nightmare.  Yet for her it was not nightmare, but a sweet dream
from which she would be cruelly aroused.  It was necessary, he
thought.  How else might life begin again for her?

He said desperately, "Mother, Ben is gone."

"That's exactly what I am talking about.  It may be as late as
summer before he comes home.  Meantime, you must make plans for the
spring planting.  I have come to a decision.  I am putting
everything here in your hands.  Get advice if you need, but not
from me.  I know nothing of these things.  And care less.  It is a
hateful life.  But the farm is all we have and I expect you to make
the most of it.  Everything is up to you until Benjamin's return."

He did not speak.

She said sharply, "Do you understand?  Are you prepared to take
this responsibility?"

He nodded.  She went to her room and closed the door.

He was ready.  He had been ready a long time.  He was old in farm
lore.  He had learned it with fascination from childhood, as the
child of a musician absorbs the patterns of sound, and may astonish
its elders by climbing to the piano stool and playing accurately a
little tune at the age of five.  Benjamin had vanished for three
months the summer when Ase was sixteen, their father had been out
of his mind with fever, and the stripling, with the help of a
stupid ox of a hired hand, had brought through the crops to a
prosperous harvesting.  Because he loved the earth, its ways, its
seasons, its flowering and its fruiting, he accepted the charge of
these acres not as a burden, but as though an unrequited passion
had been suddenly returned.  His heavy spirits lifted.  Whether his
mother's gift of authority came of her necessity or of her
acknowlegment at last of his manhood, he could not tell, nor did it

He was surprised that she had given him complete freedom of
decision.  He was somehow not surprised at her refusal to admit
that Benjamin was gone perhaps forever.  He had best leave her
unmolested in her dream.

The fire in the round-bellied stove had died down.  He built it up
until the isinglass front glowed red.  He sat close, leaning
forward in his mother's Boston rocker, and was still cold.  A
bleakness lay over the room, over the house, that was of an icier
substance than the winter temperature.  The large sitting-room was
well proportioned, with bay windows on two sides to let in the sun
and the sight of trees and flying birds, the barns, the rolling
contour of the farm.  Its cherry, pine and walnut furnishings were
solid and good, as were the furnishings of all the other rooms, yet
none had sat here in content or ease.  The warmth and vitality of
the land were strong past harming.  The dwelling house was chill
with human misery and always had been.

He wondered how far back the Lindens went in time, as Lindens, and
which was the first to start the strange, interlocked, unhappy and
often violent chain.  He knew nothing of them past the first one in
America, a Hollander, whose name of Lindh'oeven, or something of
the sort, (there was an old deed in the attic with such a name) had
become simplified with pioneer usage and spelling to "Linden."
This was in the middle 1600's, and the Hollander had married a
Frenchwoman.  An English strain came in somewhere later.  Amelia
was second generation Scotch-Irish, with all the Scot dourness and
none of the Irish lilt.  He had heard that the Irish were supposed
to be a light-hearted people, but the only signs of it, certainly,
had been in Benjamin.

Perhaps the trouble had begun with his immediate grandfather, Arent
Linden.  He had moved inland from the Hudson River valley, had
taken up a large tract of land, and had two sons, Joshua the elder
and Ase's own father, Hiram.  It seemed to him that it was a
repetition of the Biblical story of Jacob and Esau, one son
beloved, the other despised, for Arent Linden and his Joshua had
made a pact with Hiram, that if he would help them clear six
hundred acres of land in this virgin place, would help them build
two houses, they in turn would help him clear three hundred for
himself, would build him a house, too, and a prosperous family
would establish itself in the wilderness.  The betrayal had been

Hiram had worked for his father and brother, unpaid, merely fed and
clothed and sheltered, until he was in his early thirties.  The
time came at last to turn to his land, to the building of his home,
and they had laughed at him.  That could make a man snarl at life.
That could make Amelia, a bride no longer young, in a log cabin,
nurse her spite, like some half-mad woman watering a poisonous weed
in a flower pot.  Yet it seemed to young Ase that the greater the
injustice that came to one, the deeper would be the desire to give
justice and warmth to one's children.

His father had fought through, after all, had cleared his land,
which proved richer than that of the other two, had sold his timber
on a high market, had built at last his house, larger if not so
fine of line and contour as the earlier, more gracious ones, and
now was dead and unlamented.  And Benjamin, who had provided,
carelessly, all this house knew of light and laughter, was gone,
taking the brightness with him.  Ase considered the spell cast by
his brother on all who knew him, for spell it was.  It was
conceivable that Ben would conquer the world, for he moved like a
whirlwind, catching up men and women breathless in the brief
gusts of his enthusiasm.  It was also unlikely.  Ase knew and
acknowledged his brother's instability.  Ben's restless impatience
took always the apparently easy way, he raced light-footed and
light-hearted, his tawny hair, his cloak of charm, streaming in the
wind he created, until the swift feet met the smallest rock, the
shallowest ravine, the slightest thickening of the forest, when he
stopped confused in his tracks, then was off again in search of a
smoother path through a more open glade.

For this, Ase felt no criticism, but only concern.  His love was so
vast a thing that he longed to clear away the rock, to bridge the
ravine, to fell the forest, ahead of Benjamin.  If he had received
in return only the most casual affection, all the more room was
left in him for the longing, some day, to be truly as one with his
brother and so end his aching loneliness.  He could not take
offense at his mother's blindness nor surely at her own adoration
of her elder.  He had a timid hope that in her loss she might turn
a little toward him.  He loved her, too, with tenderness, and
wished he might be other than he was, to please her.  He supposed
he was difficult to care for, inarticulate and brooding,
unbeautiful and awkward.

Amelia had not come from her room.  It was nearly noon.  For all
her bravado, he knew that she was in torment.  He went to the
kitchen and made a fire in the range.  He prepared a meal as best
he was able.  He went to the cellar for a bottle of elderberry
wine.  He poured a glass of it and took it to her room.

She sipped the wine and nodded her thanks.

"Come, Mother.  Dinner's ready."

His cooking was no worse than her own.  She had done no baking for
a week and the bread was hard and stale.  She was especially fond
of sweets and took a great deal of jelly with her bread and tea.
The wine and strong tea set her to talking with animation.  She
told anecdotes of early hardships.  Suddenly she frowned.

"Asahel, I want you to tear down the log cabin.  It reminds me of
too many dreadful things.  Anyway, it's an eye-sore."

To him the cabin was significant and beautiful.  When the apple
trees were grown sheltering around it, the stone chimney, the brown
walls with white marl chinking, would seem those of a little house
in a fairy tale.  For an instant he pictured himself living there
with Nellie Wilson, of whom Ben had said, "Better marry Nellie in
the spring."  But Nellie was Ben's girl.  She could not be taken
over as he had inherited Ben's discarded clothing; could not be
given away as Ben had given him their father's watch.  He set the
thought aside and wondered how he might dissuade his mother from
the cabin's destruction.  He had neither power nor words to
influence her.  She had many irrational impulses, and if he paid no
attention to this one perhaps she would forget it.  Ben of course
could have had her decking the cabin with banners if the notion
struck him.

His mind groped toward a question that had lain dormant and
festering in him all his life.  There was something more in his
mother's passion for Ben and her coldness for him than was called
for by Ben's grace and charm and his lack of it.  He had been a
toddler when she had struck him smartly because he made mild
protest that his older brother had run off with his new birthday
toy.  Blinking through tears he refused to let fall, he cried out,
"Why?" and even then the question had held the larger implication.
From his mother's expansive mood he might now draw his answer.  His
throat tightened, the words were hopeless captives.

Amelia said, "At first I was happy in the cabin."

Her face was one he had never seen.  Her eyes were half-closed, the
thin mouth was relaxed and soft, lifted at the corners in a smile.
The sallow skin glowed luminous, like an apricot in sun-light.

"Very happy.  I had waited so long.  I was past thirty.  Still
handsome, I believe."

She closed her eyes entirely.

She went on dreamily, "I could hear the spring bubbling in the
night.  There was a red rambler rose outside the window and once he
reached his hand out in the moonlight and broke a spray and laid it
on my pillow.  The thorns scratched my cheek and we laughed

She opened her eyes and leaned toward him.

"I have had two husbands, you know," she said.

He stared at her.

"Oh, they were both named Hiram Linden."

She touched her handkerchief to her lips.

"Everything else was different.  The minds, the bodies--two
different men.  I loved the first one, oh yes, I loved him.  I
lived with him a year.  He died.  He was killed, of course.  Your
grandfather and your uncle killed him.  For a year, he thought they
meant to keep their promise.  Oh, the fine house, the cleared
acres, when they came to pay back his years of servitude!  When he
knew the truth, it killed him.  And why?  Because he was a coward.
He died because he was a coward, and I told him so."

She wiped her wet forehead.

"The first man gave me my only truly begotten son, my Benjamin,
conceived in love.  The second gave me you."

She looked at Ase and the adder's eyes did not flicker.  He was
cold to his marrow.  The answer was coming, it was sharp and
fanged, he would now avoid it if he could.

"I never lived with the second Hiram Linden as a wife.  I loathed
the sight of him, I loathed his touch.  He didn't give me you, he
forced me.  He forced you on me.  Not in love, not even lust.  No,
in anger.  I hated him to the last inch of his guts.  And I hated

She sat back in her chair.  Her voice broke.

She said, "I can't help it.  I'm sorry."

His first impulse was to take himself from the house of horror at
once, free her from the very sight of him, free himself from her
eyes and the ice of her voice.  He went to the log cabin and built
a fire on the hearth and crouched before it.  He thought
desperately of fetching his friend Tim McCarthy for comfort and for
council, then knew the matter was private and shameful and he must
look it in the face alone.  He was stricken, a tangible knife in
his heart would be less painful, a kinder thing, than this sharp-
bladed knowledge.  The fire died to embers and he sweat in the cold
cabin, then felt the chill and brought in broken boughs to feed the
fire again.  The sun dropped toward its setting and the pale gold
filtered through the dusty windows.  Well, then, what had happened,
after all?  Only that where he had lived under lowering clouds the
storm had broken over him.  What had been a puzzling uncertainty,
without meaning, was become a fact.  He had guessed and wondered,
and now he knew.

He watched the fire until it was safely ashes.  He stood up and
stretched his cramped legs.  He drew a long breath in what seemed a
clearer air.  The truth was a liberation.  He could go on.  The
earth was still solid under him.  He felt a surge of pity for his
mother.  Even as she rejected him, she needed him.  Trapped in the
ruins of her life, he thought, she was also brave.  He returned to
the house to find her staring from a front window at the empty
road.  He stoked automatically the sitting-room stove.  He could
find no words of comfort, but he laid his big hand on her shoulder.

She said, not turning, "Why do you waste the wood?"


Ase Linden had three friends and a flute.  The oldest friend was an
Indian, Mink Fisher.  Their natures, their gravity, had spoken each
to each when Ase had been four years old.  The Indian had come to
trade.  He had stood in the woodshed doorway tall and straight,
blanket-wrapped, black braids of hair over his shoulders, an eagle
feather in the band across his bronze forehead.  The little boy had
thought, "It is the king of the hawks."  They had studied each
other and then Mink had held out his hand and Ase had walked to him
and laid his hand in his with a child's deep sigh of content.  They
had become as father and son.  From Mink he had learned all he knew
of the lore of nature.  Through his boyhood and early adolescence
the Indian had come to him several times a year, often from many
miles out of his way.  Now Mink had not come in five years.  Ase
grieved and longed for him.

His second oldest friend was the gypsies.  He thought of them
collectively, as he did not single out one grape from a cluster or
one marsh marigold from a field of marigolds.  The gypsies had been
coming since he was six.  They came every summer, camping by the
willow stream or near the cold flowing spring by the log cabin.
For the few days of their camp he was one of them.  He came then as
close as was possible, for him, to neglecting his chores.  As a
boy, he ran with the gypsy boys.  As a young man, he sat with the
elders, danced and sang and ate and drank at their summer nights'
festivities.  Of late, he had been closest to the matriarch of the
tribe, the Old One, the queen; to her husband and to their daughter
Elissa.  Elissa stirred his blood so that when he touched her in
the dance he trembled like a colt.  She was an unlit bonfire ready
for the spurt of his match.  The Old One looked on with approval,
and he did not understand why or how he had abruptly turned back
with Elissa from the hemlock shadows toward which he had been
leading her on a soft June evening.  The gypsies had not appeared
the summer before.  Ase was fearful that he had offended the pride
of the girl, even more, perhaps, that of her mother, the queen.

His third friend was Tim McCarthy.  No king had sired McCarthy, no
queen had borne him.  He was a drunken little old Irishman from the
bogs of Aran, a hired farm hand by necessity, a fiddler by the
grace of God and to the glory of man.  Ten years ago he had drifted
into the neighborhood with his fiddle under his arm, a bottle in
his pocket, a dirty white she dog at his heels.  He had hired out
first with Hiram Linden.  He had lasted until his first spree, when
he reeled into the house, singing and fiddling the bawdiest of
Irish ballads.  Amelia had had him off the premises before the sun
went down.  Meantime, he and the lad of eleven had become fast
cronies.  The little man, full of fables, his music and his dog
fascinated the boy in equal measure.  The Wilsons, the Lindens'
nearest neighbors, two miles to the east, had taken Tim on for a
while.  He was now reasonably settled yet another mile east, to be
near his young friend Ase, with a farm family who put up with his
instability in satisfaction over the lower wages he was willing to
work for.  The little dog was dead, replaced by a male of her
progeny as white and dirty and devoted.  When sober, there was no
better hired hand than Tim McCarthy.  At all times he was kind and
gentle, and wise, save for the drink, which had him.  He had the
Gaelic gayety and melancholy, like the streaks of fat and lean in
Irish bacon.

McCarthy had given Ase the flute, which he counted also as a
friend.  Tim's fiddle had stirred the hearts of many a man and
woman in two lands and on the sea between them, but he had never
induced so rapt an absorption as in the thin, solemn boy who had
such trouble speaking.  It seemed to McCarthy that Ase found the
music another and a richer language, one that spoke familiarly and
in which he might find tongue.  He tried to teach him the violin,
but the boy's hands, already huge, were fatally clumsy, and while
he managed the bow well enough, his already gnarled fingers could
not touch one of the delicate strings without impinging on another.

McCarthy said finally, "Me boy-o, 'tis hopeless.  'Tis like a pair
of drunken woodchucks stompin' on me fiddle."

Watching Ase piping one day on a willow whistle, McCarthy lifted a
finger and said, "Whoosh now.  I've an idea born to me."

He prowled the marsh for the proper hollow reed, and carefully, his
blue eyes intent, his cheeks rosy with excitement, ruffling his
white hair now and then in exasperation, he made with his pocket
knife a serviceable flute with half a dozen stops.  The day was
Sunday and he worked from noon to sunset.

"There now," he said.  "If it works, I'll be fitting a better
mouthpiece and trying to call back where the other stops should go.
Give a blast."

The boy had learned the crude, sweet instrument as though a young
bird learned to sing.  McCarthy deprived himself of his drink for
several months, disappeared for five days, and having walked the
twenty miles each way to and from the city of Trent, appeared again
still sober and triumphant, with the gift for Ase of as fine a
flute, ebony and silver, as money could buy.  On his next month's
wages he became magnificently drunk.  Before he collapsed, to be
driven by Ase to his place of employment and put to bed in his
loft, the old man and the boy had played fiddle and flute together
in the hemlock woods until the birds flew close to listen, and they
looked up to see the Linden sheep flocked in a semicircle before
them.  Tim had been so taken by laughter that it made an end to the
playing and he gave himself to finishing his jug.  Now Ase was
twenty-one and McCarthy was in his late sixties, and Ase was master
of his flute.  The pair was called on for their music at all the
country gatherings and dances.  It was Tim who did the trotting
back and forth between the two farms, to visit.  Two evenings
seldom passed without Ase's finding the little man and his dog
waiting for him at the barns when chores and supper were done with.

From the coldness of the Linden house Ase had walked with these
friends into strange worlds, warm and golden.  The world of Mink
Fisher had most nearly fed and satisfied him.  It was primal,
enriched by Indian myth and legend of bird and beast, of cloud and
wind and spaceless sky.  It was an amplification of the earth he
knew and there was nourishment in the stars.

The Romany world dazzled him with its freedom and its brightness.
It was spangled and embroidered, Oriental, exotic, the open road
its lamp and its god.  Its songs around the camp fire came from far
away and long ago, songs of feuds and castles, of roving minstrels,
of dark deaths and gypsy passions.  McCarthy's Celtic world was
fey, peopled with leprechauns and fairies, with red-bearded kings
and gold-haired queens who never had been and never could be.
There were fierce battles here, and a deal of bitter injustice and
the righting of it, and from behind the mist that shrouded the
green and silver landscape there came the sound of a mysterious

These glimpses into distance, these few steps into magic places,
left Ase still the onlooker, still hungering to share more deeply,
to become a part of even farther realms and stranger people.  He
had no friend of his own age.  His longing for closeness to his
brother absorbed him.  It did not occur to him to seek a brother
among his schoolmates or the neighbor lads.  Benjamin was the
spring from which he must quench his thirst if it was to be
assuaged at all.  He was stirred and touched by the generosity of
his three friends, taking their affection as a gift past his
deserving.  He did not guess that they recognized in him
imagination and spirit like their own, a bigness of mind, a rare
understanding and tenderness that warmed them, too, made them feel
valued, as they valued him.  He knew only that he was a stranger
and they took him in.  They spoke to him and he was a little able
to speak with them.  He found voice fully in his flute alone.

Of the friends and the flute Amelia disapproved with all the sting
of her acid tongue.  Mink Fisher was a slinking savage, likely to
murder them in their beds.  The gypsies were roisterers and
thieves.  McCarthy was a common Irish drunk.  It was further proof
of the stupidity of her younger son, his unfitness, that he made
bosom companions of the scum of the earth, foreigners to boot.  She
succeeded in imposing on him a certain sense of guilt when he
slipped away, as he must, to meet them.  Otherwise he was unshaken.
He cleaved to his friends with quiet stubbornness.  They were of a
noble goodness, he knew, and the core of his integrity was
impregnable to his mother's malice.

Her outright forbiddal of the flute puzzled him.  She was not a
religious woman, save in a hard, perfunctory fashion.  It seemed
only that in the dark place in which she chose to live, she was
determined no color, no warmth, no rhythm, should ever enter.  It
was impossible to yield to her on this, either, for the release of
music was too great.  To spare her, he took care to play with
McCarthy out of her hearing, in winter in the barn, warmed by the
body heat of the stock, in summer under the hemlocks by the
wintergreen bog.  When the need came on him alone, he rambled over
the hills, piping as he went.  He kept the flute hidden in a linen
handkerchief on a shelf in the haymow.


The Wilsons were plain people.  There was a large houseful of them,
good natured, hard working, earthy.  From much of the country stock
the sons went on to become lawyers, physicians, business men,
teachers, but the Wilson boys and men were unthinkable as anything
but farmers, and the girls would always marry men of the soil.
They were a solid, continuing breed.  Their red barns were
impressive, the house nondescript, but bright with white paint and
masses of old-fashioned flower beds.  The interior was divided into
many small rooms, inartistically and comfortably furnished,
cluttered with Wilsons and the paraphernalia of the men's boots and
mackinaws, the women's sewing and canning and preserving.  Their
table was famous even in a land of plenty, laden three times a day
with half a dozen meats, fruits, vegetables swimming in cream and
butter, pickles and jellies and preserves, endless pastries, heaped
together for handy self-helping like a mediaeval hunting feast.
For all the food they stowed away with such cheer and relish, the
Wilsons were runty.  Pa and Ma Wilson were a pair of wrinkled
hickory nuts, the boys were small and wiry, only the girls profited
by the family physique.  They were merry little things with dozens
of beaux, fresh and appealing until age and child bearing should
turn them gaunt and withered as locust shells.  Nellie at twenty
was the prettiest of the lot.  She was diminutive and dainty, with
plump little breasts, apple round, apple firm, an impudent short
nose, firm, pointed chin and dimpled mouth, eyes the blue of wild
chicory, and gold-chestnut hair that rippled to her shoulders in
round finger curls.  She was an incorrigible minx and a mischief.

Amelia Linden condescended to the Wilsons.  They were decent
enough, she admitted, if too much given to hilarity, undeniably
prosperous, but the men were not "gentlemen," the women were not
"ladies."  She called them "common," and so they were.  Nellie had
been Benjamin's girl since she was sixteen.  It had approached not
quite a scandal that they had not married.  Amelia had handled the
situation with a rare caution.  Her early sarcasm failing to keep
Benjamin away from the girl, she had looked uneasily to the future.
She would detest any woman who claimed him, yet she was terrified
lest by her disapproval she alienate him.  She encouraged him in
his prowlings elsewhere, slipping him money for trips to
Peytonville and Trent, yet when he returned, he would be smoothing
his hair with a wet brush like a pleased tom cat washing his fur,
and always off down the road two miles again to Nellie.  She had
decided shrewdly that if it was Nellie he must bring home as bride,
she was safer with such a little snippet than with a wife more
worthy of him.  His infatuation with the pretty face and tiny round
figure would pass, and she herself, offering no criticism save an
occasional significant lifted eyebrow, would be entrenched and
waiting, a constant contrast, so that he should inevitably turn
more and more to the superior woman, in appreciation and relief.

Ase found himself increasingly haunted by thoughts of Nellie.  He
had not seen her since his father's funeral two months ago.  He
drove his mother to Peytonville to church on Sundays, but the
Wilsons attended church in another direction.  There had been no
meeting of the Grange, and the Wilsons and Lindens, as families,
had never exchanged casual visits.  Tim McCarthy had reported that
the sweet Nellie had been moping, but the lads were crowding in
again, like yearlings trying the fence, he said, now the big bull
was gone to other pastures.

Ase had tried to put out of his mind Ben's words, "Better marry
Nellie in the spring."  He was uncertain how to take them.  Ben had
often teased him about his mute admiration of Nellie.  The words
might have been only another jest.  Again, they might have been
intended as a seal on the finality of his leaving.  Since Ben was
without subtlety, Ase came slowly over the weeks to the belief that
his brother had meant them literally, meant as well that the
miracle was possible.

The thought of Nellie Wilson began to creep in on him as
irresistibly as the sun reaching into dark crannies.  If he might
have Nellie for his wife, he would be cold no longer, no more
alone.  He dreamed of her by night and awakened with his heart
pounding.  He acknowledged now what he had ignored through loyalty
to Ben, that Nellie was his true love and always had been.  Because
of Nellie, hidden away, smothered, in his heart, he had turned back
from the hemlocks with the gypsy girl.

The time was February.  Something was supposed to happen then, what
was it?  He remembered.  Ben was to have taken Nellie to the
midwinter dance of the Grange.  He frowned at his stupidity.  He
should have asked weeks ago if he might replace his brother as her
escort.  She would have accepted another by now.  He could not
picture Nellie as waiting.  Not even waiting for Ben.  If she
refused his invitation face to face, laughed at him, he knew that
he would stumble away from her, damned and lost.  After his mother
had gone to bed he wrote laboriously by lamp light, and sent the
formal note by Tim McCarthy.

"Asahel Linden requests the pleasure of the company of Miss Nellie
Wilson at the Grange dance, if not too late in asking."

McCarthy brought the answer in her round childish writing.

"Miss Nellie Wilson thinks it's high time Mr. Asahel Linden was


Amelia said, "It is most disrespectful to your father to attend a
dance so soon after his death."

Ase finished tying his black tie before the kitchen mirror.  She
had always had some unreasonable reason against his occasional
excursions into the country festivities.  Having had no respect at
all for her husband, fiercely satisfied to be rid of him, and
having no interest in the opinions of others, her attempt now to
deter him on such grounds struck him as ridiculous.  In his new
understanding of her he decided that denying herself warmth and
communion and gaiety, she wished even more to deny it to him.  Any
excuse served her, and he thought it would be simpler if she made
none, since she could not or would not speak the truth about it.

She persisted, "You must cut a pretty figure at a dance, even
without the bad taste of dancing on your father's fresh grave.
You've outgrown that suit.  Look at your wrists and ankles,
sticking out from the cuffs and trousers."

He had looked at them in his bedroom.  The good black broadcloth
suit was three years old, and between eighteen and twenty-one he
had finished the last few inches of his gangling growth.  He
supposed he must look like a scarecrow.  Yet no one had laughed at
him, no one indeed had seemed even to notice.  He carried a dignity
past harming by the chance of ill-fitting clothes.  He had always
gone to the social gatherings, as he went to Mink Fisher and the
gypsies, under a slight cloud of depression imposed by his mother.
Now his deepset gray eyes were without embarrassment or guilt.  He
was as he was, he and his flute would be welcome.  His mother's
whip flicked over him without the old pain.

She said, "You must feel out of it when you go to these affairs.
You don't even have a girl."

He would prefer not to speak, for something would be resolved this
evening, but he said, "I'm taking Nellie tonight."

She studied him, drawing her heavy black eyebrows together.  He was
prepared for a storm of rage, or one of her familiar stalking
withdrawals to her room, as violent in their way as her words.  She
surprised him by nodding after a moment.

"Very good.  Very proper.  You are a better brother than I thought.
You must keep the others away from her until Benjamin returns."

He was not prepared for this.  The Seth Thomas clock on the lamp
shelf whirred and struck the hour.  He was due at the Wilson farm
this moment.  Nellie would be sputtering.  He had hitched Dan to
the light cutter before bathing and dressing.  He wrapped in
carpeting the brick heated red hot on the range.  He said "Good
night, Mother," and went to the carriage barn, placing the brick
under the straw for Nellie's feet.  He untethered Dan, and on the
road touched the whip to him lightly.  The young stallion's shod
hooves struck fire on the glazed snow.  He was only fifteen minutes
late but all the Wilsons save Nellie had gone on.  The front door
flew open.  He had a glimpse of her against the low-turned
lamplight, bundled in a red cape and red fur-trimmed bonnet, her
curls escaping, her party bag swinging from her mittened hand.  The
door slammed and she ran across the snow and was in the seat before
he could move to help her.  He drew the buffalo robe around her and
her small gaitered feet found the hot brick.

She said, "I almost went on with the folks.  Be just like you to
forget to come for me at all."

He wanted to say that he was as likely to forget to breathe, but
although he cleared his throat to speak, no words came.  He was
dizzy at having her close beside him, her shoulder against his arm.
He could not see her face in the dark night but he was conscious of
the round little shape of her, her warmth, a vitality so electric
that it seemed to him sparks would fly as from Dan's shoes if he
should touch her.  The sleigh bells jingled sweetly.  Nellie
chattered lightly, of neighbors, of other dances, her voice, he
thought, as silver as the bells.  There was no opening for graver
matters.  He was content in any case to absorb her nearness.

At the door of the lighted Grange, she said, "I suppose you brought
your flute.  Will you have to leave me much tonight to play?"

He read her tone as wistful and he felt light-headed.

"They expect me to play, but I won't have to.  I'd rather--"

"You'll have to play some.  I just wanted to know, how often.  I
promised Sam Turner the dances when you're busy."

He helped her out of the sleigh and to the door, then turned Dan
into the stables, to tie his halter to a hay-filled stall, to cover
him with a blanket.  He returned soberly to the hall.  He was on a
fool's errand tonight.  Or any other night.  He had allowed himself
to be tangled in a weblike dream of his own making.  He had
presumed on a meaningless remark of Ben's to build a cloud castle
where he did not belong and could never enter.

He saw Nellie at the far end of the long room, laughing with half a
dozen young people.  She had a gift for women as well as for men.
The girls of her age accepted her with little envy, were faithful
friends.  Older women respected her matter-of-factness, her common
sense in spite of her pranks, beyond all, her known domestic
talents.  Ase watched her, yearning.  She wore a flounced dress of
silk organza, the blue of her eyes, with a satin ribbon the same
color tied around her curls.  The pert bow at the top was a
butterfly on golden wheat.

Tim McCarthy joined him, brushed and combed and in his Sunday best.

He said, "You do be looking as forlorn as a rooster in the rain.
Pay no attention tonight to the Nellie's flirting.  I'll not call
on you yet for the flute.  Do you be dancing."

Ase made his way to Nellie.  She gave no greeting, but still
laughing, tucked her arm in his by way of acknowledgment and claim.

He said, "I'm not playing for the first dance, Nellie."

McCarthy went to the raised platform.  He had kept away from the
liquor, so that he might be at the disposal of the company.  He was
ready to play as long as they cared to dance.  The little man
seemed a full head taller.  He came into his own as head fiddler
and caller.  He tuned his violin with authority.  There were a
second fiddle, a guitar, a harmonica and an accordion.  Tim sensed
that the dancers were eager and yet shy.

He called out, "A good evening to all.  Now we'll be having a bit
of a warm-up."

He gestured to his orchestra, and set off on an Irish jig.  The
Mahoneys and the Shehys tittered, looked at one another, and the
two middle-aged couples took the floor for the jig.  The wild dance
shook the solid new boards.  Everyone clapped in tune, other feet
thumped and shuffled to the irresistible lilt.  The ice was broken.
When the Irish couples ended, red-faced and sweating, bowing to the
applause, all were ready for the square dance.  Old, half-forgotten
men and women took their places, standing straight as possible.
Children who knew the figures paired off without self-
consciousness, practised swinging and sashaying earnestly.  Ase
bowed before Nellie and led her out.  He was proud of her, his
heart was too big for his chest.  She was almost as pretty as he
thought her.  Aunt Jess the midwife swam onto the floor like a ship
in full sail, leading Grandpa Wilson, twice her age and half her

McCarthy lifted his bow, called, "Face your pardners!", the music
of "Turkey in the Straw" burst out, and the square dance was on.
Tim was as fine a caller as a fiddler.  He had imagination, so that
he varied the figures between the simple and the intricate, the
restful and the exhausting.  The old folks thought they felt young
again but found themselves saving their strength, those of courting
age injected a subtle lure and passion into the formal figures, the
children danced frowning and with concentration.  Aunt Jess had
been at the hard cider and was dancing with abandon, a mistake for
a woman of her bulk.  Yet Grandpa Wilson was plainly having quite
as good a time.  The big woman and the little man were sashaying
with the best of them.  Nellie was a blue-and-gold feather, and Ase
came as close to grace as he would ever come, his long legs moving
like pistons, huge gnarled hands lifting Nellie clear from the
floor when he swung her.  The rhythm of the dance was joy, its
community was release.

The ancient ones swore they had never been less tired, the lovers
wandered away to corners, the children slid and swooped and jostled
one another.  The music was insistent, the dance almost too
intense, and it ended sharply.  All the dancers were relieved to
collapse on the chairs and benches around the walls of the hall.
McCarthy mopped his forehead.

"Come now, Asahel my friend," he called.  "Let us play only a
little quiet song while the dancers rest."

Ase went to him and picked up his flute.

"That gypsy love song," Tim whispered.  "While not truly restful,
'twill give the folks back their breath."

In the beginning there was a chatter of talk, the children
scrambling, and then the gypsy song took over, and spoke to each
man, each woman.  The tremulous violin made the young uneasy.  Was
love to prove so sad as this?  The flute cried to the elders.  One
wrinkled hand groped to find another.  Had love been after all so
sweet?  So sad, so sweet, the ancient song assured them.  The last
note faded away, to be a ghost again.  The hall was hushed.  In the
silence a child wailed loud and suddenly, being frightened by the
magic.  McCarthy laid down his fiddle and Ase his flute.

McCarthy whispered, "May be we've done too good a job of it.
'Twill take us a mort of thumpety music to liven them up again."

When he judged the dancers ready and rested, he gave the lead in
"Little Brown Jug" to the guitar and encouraged the squeaking
second fiddle and the harmonica.

"Do be twanging it up, boys," he called out, "fast and lively.
Some of the gentlemen need to be working off the hard cider."

The laughter overlay the brisk tune, small boys whooped, the dance

There was a pause at midnight.  A light supper was served.  The
drinking men were sobered by the food.  The full, sleepy children
were deposited on benches, on quilts on the floor, the older women
volunteering to watch over them.  The younger women changed their
dresses, as was the custom, for the strenuous dancing had them
perspiring and disheveled.  The prettiest dresses were saved for
the last hours of the dance.  The atmosphere of courting was as
positive as lightning.  Girls arranged their flounces, tightened
their corset strings, pulled their bodices lower, slapped their
cheeks and bit their lips to redden them, used a trace of rice
powder surreptitiously, a drop of scent at their breasts.  The
dancing was less boisterous.  Waltzes and the Virginia reel
replaced the square dances.

McCarthy led off in "Good-Night, Ladies," and called out, "'Twas a
fine evening and I'm hoping you are appreciating my sacrifice,
staying sober.  Another time, I'll not be finding meself so noble."

The girls changed their slippers, bundled into warm cloaks and
bonnets and mittens, the mothers gathered the sleeping children,
the men went to the stables to hitch the sleighs.  The pre-dawn was
clear and cold.  The snowy road was a silver carpet-runner under
the stars.  Nellie snuggled under the buffalo robe close against

She said, "You'd be warmer if you weren't all bones."

They drove in silence.  It was unlike her not to chatter.  This was
the moment, if he was to speak at all.  He had taken too much for
granted, he was certain.  Surely Nellie would be waiting, like his
mother, for Ben's return.  If not, if the field was open, how could
she consider having him?  And if the impossible were possible, what
of Amelia?  He had not been prepared to have her consider him a
watchdog for Nellie, a eunuch guarding the gate against the
prince's coming.

Nellie said, "Ase--."

He turned his head.  Her face was graver than he had ever seen it.

"Ase, Ben's not coming back."

She pushed back a curl from her forehead.

He said, "I didn't think you knew."

"He told me.  Ben played fair, in his way.  Did he tell you, too?"


The horse was pacing and the sleigh bells were noisy.  Ase drew on
the reins.  Dan snorted and slowed to a walk.

Ase said, "I thought you might be waiting for him."

She shook her head.  "I was a fool to wait as long as I did."

The way was clear for his question and he could not phrase it.  She
put her arm through his.

"Well, Ase?  Ben say anything about you and me?"

His heart thumped painfully.  Ben's words seemed unfeeling,

"Did he?"

He nodded.

"Tell me."

"He said to marry you in the spring, Nellie."

"Now, Ase, you don't have to ask just because Ben said so."

Her eyes twinkled in the starlight.  He had had no words of his
own, he had used his brother's and he was trapped in them.  Surely
she must know how he had adored her, Ben's girl, from a distance.
The cords were tight in his throat.

"I want you--"

"Oh.  That's different."

He wanted to cry out, "I want you with my spirit and my loins, with
every bone and nerve of me, I want you for warmth in my house, in
my heart and my bed."

His love was suddenly stronger than his awkwardness.  He dropped
the slack reins and took her in his long arms.  His lips found the
warm hollow under her firm chin.  He felt her stir against him.
She took his face in her mittened hands and pressed her mouth to
his.  Her kiss was long and hungry.  She pushed him away, breathing
pantingly, like a cat.  His blood raced like the water over the
mill-dam, so that he thought it must spill from him as violently.

Nellie said primly, "I haven't said I'd have you."

His pulse slowed.  How could she have him?  He wanted to say, "I am
a poor stumbling thing after the glory of my brother, my feet bound
to the earth, my head lost in the clouds, but I have my love and my
faithfulness to offer."

He said, "I know.  How can you?"

She was grave again.  She laid her hand on his arm.

"You're a good man, Ase Linden.  That's how.  Ben and I--never
mind--that's over and done with.  Ben wasn't for any one woman.  I
always liked you next best.  I shouldn't have teased you.  I knew
how you felt about me."

The east was streaked with red and gold.  Light glinted on the
sleigh bells, on Nellie's curls.  Ase seemed to see her for the
first time, fair as the mythical woman all men dream of.  Her eyes
were honest, somehow anxious, somehow sad.

She said, "I'll make you a good wife, Ase."

The road turned into the Wilson farm.  Lamps were lit in house and
barn, for the men would do their chores before breakfast and then
have a few hours of sleeping.  Ase held her again, but tenderly,
with humility and gratitude.

"Nice to get it settled," she said.


The sun rose behind Ase as he drove home.  The faint warmth touched
the nape of his neck, reminding him of the feeling there of
Nellie's mittens.  The snow-piled roofs of the red barns were rosy.
The large white Linden house was snow-capped, too, the drifts were
piled to the windows.  It would be not much longer aloof and bare,

He changed his clothes to do the morning chores.  He moved quietly,
not to disturb his mother.  Since Benjamin had gone, she slept
late, making no pretense at preparing breakfast.  He built a fire
in the kitchen range and put on the coffee pot and the double
boiler of oatmeal.  The handling of the milk and cream and butter
had devolved on him.

He went to the dusky cellar and lit a lamp there.  The Jersey cream
was nearly an inch thick in the wide shallow milk pans.  He skimmed
most of it into an earthen crock, saving out a pint pitcherful for
table use.  He poured the skimmed milk into a bucket for the hogs.
In the kitchen he rinsed the pans in the zinc sink fed by a rain-
water cistern pump.  He pushed the bubbling coffee pot to the back
of the range.  He took the pig slops in one hand and the clean milk
bucket in the other and went to the barn for the milking.  He fed
the stock and returned to the house, to strain the foaming milk
into yesterday's clean pans, and carried them carefully down to the
cellar shelves.  The hanging shelves were planned for family
quantities of canned fruits and pickles and jellies, but they were
almost empty.  A jar of preserved quinces would have been palatable
for a winter morning's breakfast.

The sun poured through the east window between range and sink.  He
laid a red and white checkered cloth on the kitchen table and set
two places.  He hoped Nellie would continue to have breakfast in
the kitchen in cold weather.  The warmth of the range, the
crackling of the burning wood, were pleasant.  Amelia was still
sleeping.  He ate a dish of oatmeal with crumbled maple sugar and
spoonfuls of the thick yellow cream while the bacon fried in an
iron skillet.  He set one plate of bacon in the warmer for his
mother.  To his own he added eggs poached in the fat.  He made
himself toast.  The butter dish in the pantry was empty and he went
down-cellar again for a fresh crock.  Something was the matter with
his coffee.  Even the golden cream failed to turn it to a pleasing
color, it was gray and unsavory.

He washed his dishes and the morning's milk pans and bucket,
scalding them with boiling water from the kettle, and set the milk
things on a shelf in the woodshed.  He brushed his crumbs from the
table and left the wire toast grill handy for his mother, with eggs
ready for soft-boiling in a small saucepan.  The barn needed
cleaning, the sheep were nearly out of fodder, but these chores
could be done later.  He went upstairs to his icy bedroom,
undressed to his underwear, and got into his cold bed.  His head
was thick but he could not sleep after all.  There was too much joy
to be savored, and with it, too many plans to be made, the problem
of Amelia to be mulled over.  He had hoped she would join him for
breakfast, so that in leisure over their coffee he might give her
his news and try to answer whatever might be her inevitable
objections.  She had disparaged Nellie to him and to his father,
well out of Ben's hearing, but she had accepted her for Ben's sake.
If Nellie would do for Ben, she would be not only suitable for him,
but likely to be considered too good for him, as was his own
opinion.  Yet Amelia had approved his taking Nellie to the dance as
a means of keeping her safe for his brother.  He decided there was
nothing for it but to convince his mother that Ben would not be
claiming Nellie, ever, because he would not be coming home at all.
He drowsed, imagining Nellie close beside him, and went sound
asleep at last.

When he awakened it was two o'clock in the afternoon.  He pulled on
his clothing and went downstairs.  He found a note on the kitchen
table from Amelia.  It was her sewing circle day and one of the
members had stopped in, driving by, fortunately, as her son had
failed to appear to hitch the horse and sleigh for her.  He
wondered at her faithfulness to the circle, which sewed for foreign
missions, for she was neither sociable nor friendly with neighbors
or fellow church-goers, nor a good seamstress, nor interested in
the heathen poor.  Actually, she had joined a group composed of the
simplest of farm women, for to them she was both queen and oracle.
She returned from the luncheon meetings richly fed of belly and of

Ase made himself a light meal and ate absently.  He washed up and
swept the kitchen floor.  He brought the accumulated cream from the
cellar and turned it into the wooden butter-churn.  The faint
sourness had a clean, fresh smell.  He set the churn a few feet
from the range to warm a little.  The clock struck three.  He was
restless.  The barn work was not too pressing.  There would be time
to walk the two miles east to see Nellie before the evening chores.
He wanted to set a wedding date, he wanted to prepare her for his
mother.  He hesitated.  Half at least of the large Wilson family
would be sitting about the house on a cold winter afternoon.  There
would be jesting and no privacy at all.

He heard footsteps on the gravel path, lighter than his mother's,
and then Nellie's voice, calling to her dog.  It seemed for a
moment that he heard these sounds only in his daydream.  If not,
perhaps she was not coming here, but was passing on her way to some
other place and person.

She called, "Ase!  Wake up!" and beat with her little fists on the
paneled door.

Shep was barking with excitement, as though his mistress were
calling to a man in danger in a house on fire.  Ase was too slow to
open the door to her.  She was in the room, the dog delighted
behind her.  She wore her red hooded cape and had a basket on her
arm.  It occurred to him that she was Little Red Riding Hood, with
the wolf transposed, because of her, into this amiable sheep-dog.

He said, "Nellie.  I've been thinking about you."

She took off her cape and shook imaginary dust or snow from it and
laid it over a chair in a curiously domestic manner, as though the
chair, the room, the house, were already hers.

"You always just sit and think."

She lifted the lid from her basket and handed him a plate covered
with a napkin.

"I saw your mother go by with Mrs. Barnes, so I made you a pie."

He was deeply touched.  He took the plate, staring at it.

"Well, open it up, Ase.  Maybe you don't like pumpkin."

He removed the napkin.  The plate held only a mound of flour.

"Oh, Ase, look what I've done.  Brought you the wrong plate.  Now I
remember, I just sat and thought about making you a pie and then
forgot all about doing it.  Well.  But I guess your mother has all
kinds of good pies and you wouldn't want mine, anyway."

This was surely malice, for Amelia Linden was famous for her
distaste for cooking, for the execrable products that resulted when
she did finally turn to stove and oven.  Nellie laughed.  She
swooped into her basket and brought out the true pie, golden-brown
and redolent.

"You should see your face, Ase.  Oh my--."

Her laughter was that of a child, high-keyed and delirious.

He smiled sheepishly.  He should have known this was another of her
jokes.  Yet he wanted to turn her over his knee and spank her.  She
had raised his spirits so high, then dropped them down again.  But
after all, she had indeed brought him a pie.  He could not tell
which was honest, the jest or the gift.  Since she was Nellie,
perhaps both.

He said, "I'll eat it for supper."

She looked critically around the room.  She had not been in the
house since the home funeral service for Ase's father.  A small
couch stood near the bay window.  She sat down and patted the seat
beside her, for him to join her.  He put his arms around her.  She
gave him a quick cool kiss and pushed him away.

"Never mind that now.  I saw a chance to be alone with you to make
our plans."

He said, "I'd have come to you, but your family--"

She laughed.

"I know.  Well, don't you think the sooner the better?"

He was stirred that she was as anxious as he.

"Oh, Nellie, I do."

"I can be ready in a couple of weeks.  I'd like to be married at
home and then come straight here.  All right with you?"

He reached for her in answer but she stood up impatiently and
walked around the room, studying it.  She frowned.

"I've got to do something with this awful house.  I'd like to get
it fixed up and feel settled by April.  I want to spend most of my
time outdoors at planting time.  I want a big garden.  That little
thing you've had is a disgrace, not enough stuff for the table, let
alone canning for winter.  I want to start flowerbeds and get
things growing at the front of the house, anyway.  It looks like a
barn without any plants or shrubbery."

She sat beside him again and chuckled.

"Think I'm going to have to fight your mother to do things my way?"

He took her small capable hands in his big ones.

He said gravely, "She won't mind anything about the house or
garden.  But Nellie--."

She looked at him sharply.

"What's the matter?  You don't think she'll make a fuss about our
marrying, do you?"

He nodded in misery.

"Because of Ben, I suppose."  She was thoughtful.  "Why?  Ben
walked out on me."

"She won't believe he isn't coming back."

"Oh.  I'm supposed to turn into an old woman waiting for him, just
in case her precious takes the notion to show up and claim his
property.  Well, he won't, and I won't.  She can go to the devil."

She was adorable, he thought, in her flushed anger.  It was part of
her vitality, a warm, sputtering, healthy explosion unlike the cold
venom of his mother's rages.  He stroked her hands.

He longed to tell her of his mother, to enlist her understanding
and her pity, yet would not betray one woman to the other.  He
thought again with pain of the hurt they must inflict on her, if
she were to accept their union.

He said, "You'd better tell her what Ben told you about his going."

"I'll tell her, all right.  He said one reason he was clearing out
was to get away from her.  Said she drove him crazy."

"Nellie, no."

"It wouldn't kill her.  The old dame's tough as hickory."

"Please, Nellie."

She laughed suddenly and patted his arm.

"Don't worry.  I'll behave.  She won't raise half the hell as if it
had been Ben.  I'm getting a good farm and a good husband and I'm
going to make a good job of it."

Her matter-of-factness made love-making impossible.  She relaxed
against him with the bland ease of a kitten that has had its supper
and is ready for a warm lap, but chooses not to be caressed.  She
allowed him to hold her, but slapped away his hand when his fingers
strayed to the fascination of her curls.  She had enough of
snuggling shortly, and left the couch to prowl through the dining-
room to the kitchen.  He followed at her heels, and Shep the dog
followed, both of them watching her in anxious adoration.  She gave
her verdict on the kitchen.  A good scrubbing, fresh varnish,
ruffled red and white gingham curtains at the window, some bright
braided rag rugs on the bare floor, would make it passable.  She
touched the churn.

"Your mother's let the cream get too warm.  Her butter'll be soft."

"I did it."

She looked at him, moved the churn in front of a chair and began
plunging the wooden dasher up and down.  The butter came, too
quickly, she said, and soft, as she had predicted.  She asked for
cold well water from the outside pump, worked the butter in a bowl,
asked for a mould, but there was none.  She packed the butter in a
crock and sent him down-cellar with it.  She washed and scalded the
churn, speaking with disapproval of the kitchen furnishings.  She
poured glasses of the fresh butter-flecked buttermilk and lifted
her eyebrows when no doughnuts or cookies were to be found to serve
with it.

"No wonder you're all bones.  You don't get enough to eat."

He was enchanted with her bustling domesticity, her air of kitchen
command.  She belonged here already.  She glanced at the clock.

"I ought to be going, but I want to have it out with your mother
and get it over with."

Amelia came near sunset.  She walked through the front rooms,
removing bonnet and gloves, and stopped short in the kitchen
doorway.  Ase rose to greet her.

Nellie said, "Good evening, Mother Linden."

Amelia stared.

"What are you doing here?"


"So I see.  Since when does a young woman call on a young man?"

"When they're engaged."

Amelia said, "Asahel, suppose you give me a reasonable explanation
of all this.  I'm not in a mood for this girl's flippancy."

His throat was dry.  He swallowed.  He looked imploringly at his
mother and then at Nellie.  The most gracious and soothing of
words, even if he could find them, would not be adequate.

Nellie said, "Speak up, Ase."

He said, "Nellie and I are going to be married, Mother."

He saw the storm move in on her.  She would kill him with a shaft
of lightning if she could.  He braced himself against her eyes, her

"You traitor.  You miserable skulking oaf.  You trip over your own
feet and then plot to fill your brother's shoes.  Behind his back,
you wait until his back is turned, you sneak in and steal what's
his, like a weasel."

Nellie said mildly, "I'm hardly a chicken on a roost, Mother

Amelia turned.  Ase wished Nellie had not spoken.  He had long
borne the fury, could bear it now, he had hoped to spare her.

"Perhaps this treachery was your idea, Miss?"

"Actually, it was Ben's."

"What are you talking about?  He'll expect you to be waiting for
him when he comes home.  Don't think I want you for him, you aren't
fit to wash his feet, but he chose you, I was ready to accept you
because it's what he wanted."

Nellie's eyes were blue fire.  She walked close to the dark woman.
A small fierce hawk faced a coiled snake in deadly battle.  "Now
listen to me.  I'm going to marry Ase and you're going to accept
that, too.  Ben's gone for good.  He told me so.  He told Ase so.
The last thing he said to each of us was for us to marry.  Ben
didn't want me for keeps.  Ase does.  I'm Ben's nice little present
to Ase.  It just happens it suits me.  It suits me fine.  Ben won't
be back.  Do you understand?"

Amelia gripped the back of a chair.  Her knuckles were white.  Her
hands went limp and she sat down slowly.  "No," she said.

Nellie reached for her red cape and threw it around her shoulders.
She snatched her empty basket.  The dog Shep came from behind the
range where he had slunk uneasily.

She said to Amelia, "I don't intend to quarrel with you, either.
We're going to live pleasantly.  I'm going to have things
comfortable and nice."

Amelia said hoarsely, "You can't come here."

"Oh yes, I can."

"You can't live in my house.  If you do this thing, this betrayal
of my Benjamin, you can't live in my house.  You'll have to go to
the cabin."

"I will not."

Nellie set down the basket and spoke more patiently.

"Look here, Mother Linden, I know you're upset, but you've got to
face facts.  Now you hate to keep house and I like it.  You like
good food and you don't lift a finger to cook.  I'm going to set
the best table in the township.  It makes sense for me to take over
and run things."

Amelia dabbed with her handkerchief at dry lips.

"I'll move to the cabin myself."

"All right, move there.  A good idea.  You can eat with us and not
have any responsibility at all.  You'll find you'll like it."

She laid her hand on Shep's head.

"Come on, boy.  Be dark before we get home."

Ase said, "Wait, Nellie, I'll hitch up."

"No, thanks.  I'll walk off the rest of my mad."

She stood on tiptoe and kissed him lightly on the cheek.  She
touched Amelia's cold hand.

"It won't be so bad, Mother Linden, once you get used to it."

"When is this happy event to take place?"

"I told Ase, the sooner the better.  Two weeks.  Good night."

She was out of the house in a swirl of cape and curls.  He heard
her swift feet over the crunched snow and the joyful bark of her
dog.  He wanted to hurry after her.  He started for the door.

Amelia said, "Asahel!"

Her voice was hysterical.

"She said the sooner the better.  Don't you see?  She's carrying
Benjamin's child."

He felt a sick numbing.  He was mired in a nightmare and could not
move nor escape.  She twisted her hands together.  Her words came
in a rush.

"She tried to trap him.  He doesn't know, of course.  He wouldn't
have gone if he'd known.  She disgusted him and he went away.  She
found she'd sprung the trap, but then he was gone.  So now she's
trapped you."

He shook his head like a tortured bear.

He recognized in anguish that it was possible.

"It isn't true, Mother.  But if it was--I'd want her."

More than ever, he thought, more than ever, to protect her, to
protect his brother, even, the child.

"You'd take his leftovers?  You'd take up where he left off?"

"Yes, Mother."

The clock ticked in the silence.  The range had not been lit, nor
the sitting-room stove, and the house was chill.  He waited.

Amelia said in a low voice, "If I ever needed proof you were born a
fool, this is it.  Very well.  I wash my hands of it.  You may make
your accounting to Benjamin.  He would prefer to give his own name
to his child, even by that hussy.  You'll have a pretty time
explaining your presumption when he returns."

She gathered her wraps and went to her room.

He sat thinking.  The picture was clear and without offense.
Nellie and Benjamin, volatile alike of nature, had struck a
spontaneous fire, and Ben had certainly possessed her.  She was not
with child, Ase knew.  She was honest enough to have told him.  He
knew, too, with horror, that his mother had committed herself,
almost insanely, to the conviction of her eldest's return, and
would twist facts ruthlessly to fit that conviction.  He wished he
might have had Nellie to wife free of the dark sucking bog through
which his slow feet must move, across which his wordless thoughts
must find their way.

He was late getting to his chores.  He milked and fed the stock by
lantern light.  He strained the milk in the kitchen and put it
away.  He washed his hands and face, and then his hands again, as
though something more unclean than the good animal smell might be
washed away.  He was not hungry, but he looked about for materials
for a supper.  In his absence at the barn, Amelia had been in the
kitchen.  She had made herself a pot of tea and had eaten a large
wedge of Nellie's pumpkin pie.


The Linden house on their wedding day was as ready for Nellie as
Ase could make it.  It was at least immaculately clean.  He had
engaged a girl, Hulda Svenson, of a new-come Swedish family, for
the past two weeks.  She had given the first week to cleaning and
preparing the log cabin.  Amelia, trapped in her own angry
decision, had moved there, taking the best pieces of furniture from
the house.  She had settled down in self-imposed martyrdom, slyly
pleased with what she considered her new weapon.  Her treacherous
younger son and his scheming bride had put her out of her own home.
Benjamin would be outraged by their treatment of her when he

Ase brushed his black felt hat and looked about.  The wood-boxes
were freshly filled.  Hulda had cooked and baked generously, had
laid the dining-room table with a white linen cloth and the best
china and silver, for two.  She had brought a table bouquet of fern
and geraniums from her mother's house plants.  The windows shone,
the cleanliness emphasized the bleakness.  The sitting-room was
bare without the cherry secretary and the walnut center table.  He
dared not leave strong fires, but the dampered stove and range
would hold considerable heat for an hour or two.  He put on the
broadcloth greatcoat that had once been Ben's and was too short of
sleeve for him.  The March day was raw and he would be more
comfortable in the old buffalo coat, but its shabbiness seemed
unsuitable.  He walked to the cabin and knocked on the door.
Amelia opened it a crack.

She said, "You're wasting your time.  I haven't changed my mind.
I'm not going.  I want everyone to know exactly where I stand.  Go

She closed the door.  He turned away.  He drove in the light buggy
against a blustering wind toward his marriage.  There were no more
than half a dozen carriages hitched at the Wilson place.  The
guests were Nellie's relatives and closest friends.  Tim McCarthy
waited for him at the door.  His presence was comforting.  Ase was
unable to shake off the feeling that he was an outsider.  The
Wilsons wore an unwonted solemnity.  Nellie was their treasure and
the wrong bridegroom had come for her.  He had an instant of panic
when it seemed that he was indeed taking what did not belong to
him.  Ben should be here in his place.  He should have been the one
to go and Ben to stay.

He saw Nellie with her father by the fireplace banked with house
plants.  He had expected to see her in bridal gown and veil.  She
wore a dove-gray silk suit, the only bridal touch her flowered
toque with a wisp of veiling.  She was matronly and collected.  The
costume, he supposed, was tactful.  The preacher motioned.  The
ritual drew him into its formal pattern.

"Do you, Asahel, take this woman--"

His blood hummed in his ears.  Her hand was warm in his.

"I do."

With all his heart, oh, with all his heart.  McCarthy handed him
the ring.

"With this ring I thee wed."

It was a gift from Tim.  It had been his mother's and generations
before her had shone on the hand of an Irish chieftain's bride.  It
was wide, of hand-beaten reddish gold, massive with some mystic,
forgotten design.  Nellie eyed it with delight.  She gave him a
quick look of surprise and pleasure.  She lifted her face for the
nuptial kiss.  In the rear of the room Tim broke into a soft tune
on his fiddle.  The Wilsons crowded around.

The noon wedding breakfast was hearty.  There was hard cider for
the men and elderberry-blossom wine for the ladies.  The house was
like a bee hive with chatter, metallic with the clatter of silver
and dishes.  Nellie moved here and there, exhibiting her ring,
accepting the guarded congratulations.  The marriage had astonished
them all.  Ase ate and drank patiently, shook hands, watching for a
sign from Nellie to be away from the confusion.  She left the room
to give instructions to her brothers for her vast pile of
belongings.  They would bring these to her the following morning by
wagon.  There were chests of china and linens, trunks of clothing,
trays of ferns and flowering winter plants, boxes of preserves and
jellies and vegetables and fruits of her own canning.  The family
had given her a cherry highboy and table to replace those Amelia
had taken to the cabin.  Her dog Shep was to be brought, and her
mother cat with the last litter of kittens.  Shep leaped against
her, aware of impending change.  She beckoned to Ase.

"This crazy dog will just follow me anyway, Ase.  We might as well
take him with us."

He nodded.

She said, "Come on, let's get away."

They ran from the shower of rice and old shoes.  McCarthy stood
with the buggy at the door, holding the stallion's head.  Ase
handed Nellie in and turned to shake hands with his friend.

"You can come to the house now, Tim."

"Praise be.  The barn's no place for fiddling.  I'll wait a decent
time of days before rapping on your door."

He leaned close and drew Ase down to whisper in his ear.

"I'd not be telling the Nellie about the ring.  'Twould spoil it
for her to know it came from the McCarthys."

He winked and waved them off.  Dan reared and set out at a fast
trot for his home stable, threatening to bolt for it.  Ase needed
both hands to control him.  The March slush flew from the wheels.
Bare tree limbs lashed against a gray sky.  Nellie was silent.  He
lifted her down at the Linden door.  He was obliged to let her
enter the house alone, for Dan was plunging.  When he came through
the woodshed into the kitchen, carrying her valise, she was putting
wood in the range.  Shep had found a proper dog's corner behind the
wood box.  He beat his feathered tail on the floor in contented
acceptance.  Wherever Nellie was, Ase thought, was home for both of
them.  He took the wood from her, filled the range and opened the
damper.  He put his arms around her and laid his cheek against
hers.  The moment was too profound for passion.  She patted his arm
and drew away.

"Let me change my clothes, Ase.  I've already got some smut on this

He and Hulda had prepared Amelia's front downstairs bedroom but
Nellie would have none of it.

"I can play her game, too.  We keep her room just as it is, all
ready for her, for everybody to see.  She'll draw in her claws
after a while."

She chose the large bedroom above it that had been Ase's father's.
It had a matching open fireplace and was well furnished with hand-
made black walnut and cherry pieces, including a large four-poster
bed with a hard horsehair mattress.  Her own feather bed would
supplement.  She would need another dresser for her own belongings.
She sent him downstairs.  He built up the fire in the sitting-room
stove.  Nellie appeared shortly, pert and pretty in fresh blue and
white ruffled gingham.  Her hair was still pinned on top of her
head in the matronly fashion that had so dismayed him.  He felt for
the pins with clumsy fingers and the loosened curls fell around her
face to her shoulders.  She laughed.

"I was trying my best to be Mrs. Linden and you've spoiled it."

He wanted to explain that she was little Nellie Wilson still to
him, and ever would be.  He could only stand and drink in the sight
of her.  The clock struck five of the afternoon.

She said, "You'll have to change your clothes to do the chores."

He was unwilling to sit at their bridal supper in common shirt and
jeans.  He kept a pair of overalls at the barn and he would be
careful.  It was dangerous to leave her for a moment, he might well
only have dreamed her presence, might return to find her gone.

He said, "Wait for me."

He took the milk bucket and went to the barn.

Nellie had the milk pans ready for his return.  She had set a few
of Hulda's foods on the dining-room table.  She was frowning.

"Who set the table, Ase?  It's laid for two.  What do we do about
your mother?  Take a tray to her?"

"Hulda took her everything this morning."

"Good for Hulda.  Ready in a minute then."

She held her finger to the light, the red-gold of her ring showing

She said, "Never thought you'd have anything so handsome for me.
Where'd you find it?"

He spoke the truth proudly.

"It was a gift from Tim McCarthy.  It belonged to his mother."


As he watched, the gold seemed to turn to brass.

Nellie said, "A pity.  I thought maybe it was valuable."

She took warmed foods from the oven.  The hanging lamp shed soft
light and shadow over the white napery.  He kissed her gravely
before they sat down.  He said a silent grace of thanks for her,
presiding over their table.  The wind blew in gusts down the
chimney, a pleasant intruder, like the dog, who waited politely
from the kitchen threshold for his own plate.  Ase helped Nellie
with the supper dishes and put them away in the cupboard.  She
would need a day or so, she said, to find where things belonged,
not that she was likely to keep them as they were.  She went
upstairs ahead of him.  He turned Shep out of doors for a few
minutes, brought a piece of old carpet from the woodshed for a bed
for him by the range, filled the wood box, wound the clock, and
went with a lighted candle to the bedroom.  Nellie had put a match
to the fire laid on the hearth.  It was blazing and when he had
undressed he blew out the candle.

She drew back the bed covers for him.  There were lace and blue
ribbons at the throat of her night-dress.  Her eyes were bright in
the firelight.  Her breathing was fast.  He was trembling but there
was no uncertainty in his strong arms and limbs.  She met him
avidly.  The miracle mounted on pulsing wings, soared over
spaceless peaks and throbbed away into the distance with silver
feathers fluttering.  A hard beating recalled him, like a drum.  It
was his heart.  She was limp, her heart pounding, too, and he held
her tight, never to let her go, Nellie, his love, his own.

She said, "Well!"

The word had an odd note, as though she were agreeably surprised.
He stroked her soft hair.  Her skin was silky as her wedding suit.
Her throat under his lips was like the down of milkweed.  His power
surged again, he drew the night-dress from her shoulder and kissed
its roundness.  She did not respond.  The firelight flickered high
and he saw that her eyes were closed.  She was sound asleep.  For
an instant he felt abandoned in a lonely valley.  But she was such
a little thing--.  She looked more child than woman, her cheeks
flushed, her curls tousled on the pillow.  She was tired, he
thought, as a child is tired.  He held her carefully, his arm
cramping under her.

She roused toward midnight and came to him again.  The great wings
bore him higher than before.  Her response was that of some
famished creature finding food.  When he released her, she was

He said, "Oh Nellie--."

Her breathing slowed.  He reached for her, to draw her close.  She
moved his hand from her breast.

"I can't sleep that way."

She turned on her side, away from him.  She reached behind her and
touched his hand in reassurance.

"'Night, now."

He lay stiffly.  She was not asleep.  She gave a little sigh that
was neither of repletion nor of drowsiness.  It struck ice to him,
as though a window had blown wide in a bitter gale.  He had fed her
hunger.  He would always be able to feed it.  He knew with a sense
of desolation that the bread he offered, though it nourish her, was
without salt or leavening.


The early morning mist filled the valley.  The willow trees along
the stream lifted through it like cloaked and long-armed travelers
rising from a night of sleep beside the water.  The mist was milky,
holding a subtle nourishment for the young leaves of maples and the
pale timid buds of wild apples.  Oak and beech and elm still
brooded, leafless.  The earth in late April was expectant.  The
winter wheat pushed up green spears anxiously, long confined by
snow.  A lone phoebe spoke from the woods, not quite singing.

The team of horses snorted the damp air from their nostrils.  Ase's
feet behind the plow sank deep into the moist loam.  He was
reverent before the first spring plowing.  It was better than
anything except the harvesting.  The growing period was too
disturbing, with its threats of undue rains or untimely drought, of
unseasonable frost, sometimes of summer hail.  No, it was the
sowing time was best.  Who knew then, scattering the seed, what
fabulous crops, what strange magnificent ear or head of grain,
might not follow?  He felt so, too, about his unborn children.

The sun brushed the last of the mist from the willows.  The thin
pendulous arms showed a pale green covering.  A flight of red-
winged blackbirds circled over the marsh, late this year, Ase
thought, in their homecoming.  Turning at the end of a furrow, he
looked up at the house.  He saw Nellie come into the side yard and
begin hanging out the washing.  At this distance, she was a little
girl pinning up doll clothes.  He saw Shep race around the corner
and make off with a blue shirt from the basket, the wet arms
trailing.  He reined in the horses to watch Nellie give chase,
around and around, her curls flying, until Shep allowed her to
catch him.  Then she was bending over him, and when she released
him, the dog was wearing the blue shirt, his front legs through the
sleeves, the collar buttoned around his shaggy neck.  He heard
Shep's barking and Nellie's impish laugh.

He clucked reluctantly to the team.  His grave young face was as
softened with its smile as the square house with the morning
brightness.  The shirt would need to be washed over again anyway,
and Nellie must have her fun.  She was a constant and incredible
delight.  She had plunged into her home-making with gayety and
zest.  She was a lamp in a dark house, a fire on a cold hearth,
food on a bare table, and she had brought him in from the outerness
to light, to warm, to nourish him.  Ase was a little eased of his
fears for her content.  Yet his knowledge of their shared loss kept
his brother always in his mind.  He plowed abstractedly all the
morning until he heard the ringing of the great bell calling him to
dinner.  The massive iron bell was hung above the loft of the
carriage barn beside the house, and he smiled again, thinking how
Nellie made a game, too, of ringing it, falling clownishly flat as
she pulled each time on the heavy rope.

The noon meal was on the table when he had finished his slow
stabling, watering and feeding of the team and had washed up at the
outside pump.  Nellie was pouring coffee.  He took the pot from her
and set it back on the wood range.  He tousled her curls with his
big hands.  He kissed the back of her plump moist neck.  She was
not for the moment amorous and she squirmed away.  She pushed the
two big cups of coffee into his hands and he took them to the
dining-room.  She followed with hot biscuits.  She would indeed
seem a little girl playing house, except for her efficiency and
talent.  She moved with the quickness of a wren and had the house
immaculate within an hour each morning, except on the strenuous
weekly cleaning day.  Even his abstraction about food recognized
her genius as a cook.  The winter supplies were going fast, but she
worked miracles with ham and bacon and poultry, with puddings and
pies and tarts from her wild berry jams.  The windows had come to
life with her curtains, with ferns and potted geraniums and
fuchsias.  She pointed to the table bouquet of wilting spring

"Bring me back something fresh this evening.  Trillium's nice, the
red ones."

He had smelled arbutus under the leaf-mold in the hemlock wood by
the bog, but by the time he had finished the slow chewing of his
mouthful of food, to tell her, she was chatting about her garden

She said, "Listen!"

It was seconds before he heard the wheels on the road, the "Whoa!"
and a wagon stopping.  Nellie looked the table over quickly,
estimating the amount of food, and was at the back door at the
moment of the unmistakable peddler's rap.  It was to be hoped it
was the familiar tinker, for the Linden house pots and pans were
too meager for her needs, but it was a stranger.  He was a little
man with red cheeks and nut-brown eyes.  Shep greeted him amiably,
recognizing the good earth smell of clothes and body.  The peddler
cradled a bundle of twigs in his arms.

Ase, behind Nellie, said, "Good day, sir."

The little man bobbed his head politely.  Nellie poked his bundle.
He lifted one finger, warning of a mystery and a revelation.

"Guess!  You'll never!"

She said, "Fiddle.  It's kindling.  I want pie pans."

"They just look like kindling, child.  Oh, but the life's in them.
They're full of sap."

He nodded and pulled the sacking aside, as though he showed the
face of an infant.

"Apple trees!  And peach in the wagon, and pear and plum and
cherry.  Imagine!"

His zest was contagious.  He was as full of sap as he claimed for
his twigs.  Ase felt an excitement.  He had been inquiring where he
might buy fruit trees, and now they arrived at his door, an orchard
come to him of its own accord.  The clock struck half after noon.
Nellie bustled to china cupboard and kitchen, laid a place for the
visitor, brought coffee and poured buttermilk and water.

"Sit down and have your dinner, and talk your business with Mr.
Linden.  I've an errand," and she busied herself with a wicker
basket and was gone.

The peddler heaped his plate and sighed.  He bowed his head an
instant, more in gratitude to Nellie than to God.  Few tables this
time of year were so bountiful.

"You are kind to a traveler, Mr. Linden."

Ase cleared his throat.

"The name is--?"

"McCarthy, sir.  McCarthy."

He held a chicken leg sidewise, like a fiddle-bow, and Ase knew now
what the man would say as he was saying it.

"I have a brother in these parts somewhere.  What delicious
chicken, juicy inside as my saplings.  Heard in Ohio he was around

He lifted the drumstick.  "And who do you think told me?  If I'm
not mistaken, your brother, Ben Linden.  Unless there's other
Lindens, 'twas your brother.  But no mention of the little lady--
your sister, your wife?  This gentleman said his brother might be
interested in fruit trees.  Excuse me," and he reached for a wing,
"and my own brother Tim resided in this township."

He dispatched the wing and buttered a biscuit.

"If Tim can be said to reside."

Ase said, "Tim McCarthy works at the farm east of my wife's people,
the Wilsons.  He comes here often, when his chores are done."

"Well, now.  I thirst for the sight of him.  So my brother's here
and yours is out there.  Ohio.  Where I raise my beautiful fruit
trees.  They call me 'Apple McCarthy'."

The strawberry preserves drew one hand, the biscuits the other.

"Your brother Ben, now, he was planning to leave Ohio soon.  My,
these are wild strawberries, ain't they.  Nothing like the wild
small fruits for flavor.  But my trees are cultivated, grafted, no
runts amongst 'em.  Biggest apples you ever see, and the peaches,

Ase struggled to ask the impossible question.

"Ben--.  My brother."

"Oh yes, Ben Linden.  Didn't do as good as he expected, he said.
Had him something lined up farther out.  Heading on west, he said.
Years too late for the California gold, he said, but silver was
promising.  Fine young man.  Make his pile some day, sure.
Couldn't decide should he take his Ohio girl with him.  Don't do
that, I said, they get prettier farther on you go.  How he laughed
at that.  Right you are, he said.  Would that be gooseberry jam?
Thank you.  Now, the fruit trees.  How many can you use?  Don't let
me hurry you."

Not as well in Ohio as he expected--.

What had Ben expected?  The Ohio farm lands were said to be so rich
that by the time a man finished dropping the seed corn, the first
kernel had sprouted.  But Ben would never look to land to make his
fortune, unless to buy and sell it.  That too would seem dull to
him.  He was forced on, to the west, toward gold and silver, toward
some fabulous cave of diamonds.  Ase wondered if the Pacific Ocean
would halt his brother.  Perhaps when he reached that far watery
line, he would turn and retrace his steps.  But years from now.
Years from now.  Ben would make the continent last him a long time.

McCarthy said, "I especially recommend my Albemarle pippins."

Ase said, "I've been wanting a sizeable apple orchard across the
road.  I want mixed fruit trees for the house.  But isn't fall a
better time for setting?"

Speech was not so difficult when he talked of things he knew, of
crops and trees and stock.

"I see you know your business, young man.  Fall's much better.  But
if we get plenty of rain, you'll have a year's start.  And a young
fellow with as strong a back as yours wouldn't kill himself if he
had to water a few acres of saplings.  Come on out to the wagon."

Ase realized that he had forgotten his mother's dinner and that
Nellie had taken it to her at the cabin.

He said, "I'd like my mother and my wife to have a say.  I'll get

He turned back.

"When you give my mother news of Ben--."

The little man nodded.

"Oh, you can trust me.  I carry messages for families clear across
the country.  Every mother's son is half Midas and half saint."

He winked.

"Helps business to bring good news.  But you now, you're a man that
draws the truth."

Because Amelia was not ready to let him go, for fear that he would
carry away with him some undelivered word of Benjamin, or from him,
Mr. McCarthy was persuaded to stay the night.  The evening was the
first pleasant one with his mother since Ben had gone.  Nellie had
been bland in the face of her animus, but the air was constantly
tense.  Amelia drew from the peddler long and loving messages
direct from her son, along with Ohio incidents in which he played a
splendid part.  She swallowed them whole in her hunger.  Amelia
turned once sharply, to catch the girl unaware at the talk of
Benjamin.  Nellie's pretty face seemed as unconcerned as that of a
puss meeting last year's Tom.  When the supper table was cleared,
Nellie covered it with a red baize cloth and washed the dishes
while the men began their figuring.

Amelia said, "Mr. McCarthy, this farm is mine, but I consider that
my elder son holds a third interest.  With my third, I must express
my choices as representing two people, where I do not agree with my
younger son."

McCarthy asked politely, "Would the land where the orchard's to go
be representing any special third?"

"No, the farm has not been actually divided."

"Then would you be taking the word of a man wise in orchards, if
nothing else in the world?  This assortment I have written down
here will give the finest fruit for family uses and a large market
crop besides, to put money in the bank for all of you."

Amelia nodded.  The list was Ase's own.  Nellie smiled, putting
away the extra raspberry tarts in the cupboard.  She lifted a
finger and McCarthy half-lifted one in return.  The little lady
would have her snow-apple tree, and the old termagant none the
wiser.  The list would include Grimes Goldens, Greenings, pippins,
russets, Maiden Blush and Northern spies.  A crab apple tree would
go either side of the smokehouse, and along one line of the
enlarged fruit and vegetable garden, a row of pear trees, Bartlett
and Seckel, two peaches, a freestone and a cling, a sweet cherry
and a sour, a Green Gage plum and a Damson.  McCarthy had six grape
vines left, Concord, Niagara and Delaware, and an arbor was planned
north of the wicket gate.  He had a dozen poplar saplings.  The
Linden house had long needed tall trees before it, for softening.
Nellie's heart was set on maples, but the poplars were almost
providentially at hand.  The poplar was a sad tree, but it grew
sturdily and fast.  Ase had always liked the tapering spire, the
rustling together, like restless hands, of the leaves.  Nellie
agreed to the purchase and planting.

McCarthy said, "'Tis strange now, this place has been waiting all
these years for McCarthy to bring you the fruits of the earth.
What a sight 'twill be, all the colors in harvest time of a
patchwork quilt.  There's the total figure--."

Ase studied the column gravely.  It would take almost all his
reserve cash.  He had hoped to hire an extra hand this summer.
That would have to wait, and he would have to put in longer hours
of his own.  But all his seed was paid for, he would soon have
lambs and calves to sell.  He could spare the coming colt.  Nellie
had already brought the hens into higher egg production and had
half a dozen brood hens setting early.

McCarthy said, "Ten per cent replacement for any dead in the fall.
Ten per cent off for cash.  'Tis a good deal for me, for you'll be
taking all my stock before it dries on me."

Ase brought out the tin cash box.  Apple McCarthy looked away
tactfully while he counted out the money.  Amelia leaned forward
and swept it into three rough piles.

"There.  We'll say the orchard's owned three ways.  You can put the
three names on your receipt, Mr. McCarthy."

Ase stared at the divided cash.  The slips of engraved paper, the
disks of metal, had been last year's wheat and corn, to be
exchanged in turn for other rich and living things, if only the
willing labor of a strong man's back and hands.  The money seemed
now not the gift of fruiting vines, but an unclean medium for human

Nellie said, "That's right, Mother Linden."

She winked at McCarthy.  Their quick little minds met like the
juncture of two bright brooks.  He picked it up.

"Right indeed.  You'll be marking off the unborn orchard, so's if
it has to be watered in a dryness, it's every man for himself, and
God, I suppose, to take care of the watering of Benjamin's

Amelia's spite retreated, like a snake crawling away.

She said, "Why--I didn't mean it that way.  Only to make things

"And clear they are, to McCarthy surely.  The receipts, Ma'am, here
you be."

She said, "I'll go back to the cabin, Asahel.  No, don't come with
me.  Just light my lantern.  Good night."

McCarthy sighed after her.

"Ah, but families do be a mixed up business.  'Tis that has kept me
a bachelor man.  There's more peace amongst the apples."

The soft spring night was suddenly violated by a dog fight, a mild
one, only the token bravery of Nellie's Shep against an intruder.
The intruder proved after all a friend, for it was Tim McCarthy's
little white dog.  Tim stopped the argument and came through the
door, the two dogs wagging themselves behind him.  He looked around

"I've been lurking about 'till the old lady should be leaving," he
said.  "Pray God 'twas not some other lanthern flickering down the

He was struck by the stillness, and then he knew his brother.

"Ah--.  'Tis you--.  These many years now."

The two small men, as like as bird eggs in a nest, wrapped short
arms around each other, thumped each other's backs, and wiped away
an Irish tear or two.

Ase thought, "This is why I trusted the stranger's dry twigs
instantly.  I knew him for the same as Tim."

An almost physical pain struck him.  He longed to have himself and
Benjamin enwrapped as closely as these two other brothers.

Tim said, "To the glory of God, I brought me fiddle with me, and
Ase here would be having his flute handy, and Brother, did you not
bring along your harmonica, I'll swear I never knew you."

The music seemed to Ase the best he had ever known.  Tim's fiddle
out did itself, the harmonica filled in all the empty spaces, and
his own flute was almost as sweet as he had ever hoped for.  It was
Nellie, he thought, who made the difference, even more than the new
added instrument and the delight of the McCarthys in their meeting.
She patted her foot and laughed and tossed her curls at the lively
tunes, and when Tim twanged the first notes for a gypsy song, she
stood on tiptoe and lifted her arms like a butterfly's wings, and
danced and spun deliriously in the Linden parlor that had so long
been gloomy.

She brought cool sweet milk from the cellar, and doughnuts, and
they ate with a sleepy satisfaction.  The McCarthys separated, Tim
to call his white dog to follow him down the road, his brother to
the Lindens' downstairs company bedroom.

Nellie said, "Ase, I don't like what your mother said about owning
the farm.  Is it true?"


"Ben told me he was giving you his share.  I thought your father
left the property to you two boys."


"Oh.  Then she can--.  Has she made a will?"

"I don't know.  Nellie, it doesn't matter."

"It certainly does matter.  I tell you, I don't like it at all."

She cleared away the plates and went ahead of him to bed.  The
house was still.  Ase went to the cupboard and brought out Ben's
geography left from the Academy.  He turned the pages slowly.  The
United States of America.  Here they were now.  Here beyond and
south was Ohio.  On the broad splayed map it seemed quite clear.
Here was the West.  He pictured its spread and desolation.  The
West went farther.  Here was the end, the continent ended.  This,
now, was the Pacific Ocean.

Oh, Benjamin, my brother, he begged, stop there.  I shall tend the


Apple McCarthy seemed to be made unhappy by Nellie's breakfast.  He
eyed sorrowfully the pile of griddle cakes on his plate.  He poured
maple syrup over them until his plate ran with gold.  He took a
tentative forkful, laid down his fork, swallowed a mouthful of the
strong coffee lightened with heavy spooned cream, and reached for
the platter of savory sausages.  He chewed, staring at nothing,
then pushed his plate aside.

"'Tis punishment," he said, "nothing but punishment."

Nellie lifted her eyebrows.

"What's the complaint about my cooking, Mr. McCarthy?"

The little man beat his chest with his fists.

"'Complaint!' says she!  'Complaint!'  'Tis the cruelty of life I
complain of, to be in Heaven and then kicked out again.  Lucifer,
that's me, Lucifer McCarthy.  If I could leave me stummick here
behind me, mayhap I could bear the road."

Nellie laughed.

"That's one way of asking for more hot cakes," she said, and went
to the smoking griddle on the range.

McCarthy said, "Look now, Asahel Linden.  Would this be fair or
would it not be fair?  I to stay a bit to help you plant the fine
young trees, whilst Mistress Linden sets a place for me at your
table.  No charge on either side."

Ase said, "The work is worth good wages, but I'm short on ready

"'Tis a deal, then."

He buttered his fresh six inch stack of griddle cakes.

"Now I can eat me fill with a clear conscience."

He sighed.

"Where on the blessed earth would I be getting better board and
company?  After all, I but part with the little trees to pass the
time and make me simple living."

It was agreed that haste must be made on the planting.  The
saplings had been long on the road.  McCarthy had kept them moist
in their burlap wrappings.  They were instinct with life, the tight
buds were aware of April, and if the stirring roots did not soon
find foothold and nourishment, an orchard would die a-borning.
With time to spare, it would have been best first to plow the
entire acreage, but the loamy soil was soft with spring, grass and
weeds yet tender, and Ase began the digging of holes to receive the
beginnings of trees.  Apple McCarthy followed behind him, expert
with the setting, the tamping down of the earth.  Working back
toward the log cabin at the end of the second row, Ase looked up to
see his mother staring from the window.  She appeared at the house
for the noon dinner, but Apple had given out of inventions
concerning her Benjamin.  She queried him closely as to whether
Benjamin was certain already to have left Ohio.  She had been
thinking, she said, that she might ride there in the apple wagon.
Something had prevented her son's return, an illness that he was
hiding, or a temporary lack of funds.  Or if he was on the way to
making his fortune, he would rejoice to have her join him, at least
for a while.

"I promise, Ma'am, he was leaving for westward close behind me, and
where you'd be finding him now, no man can tell you."

She did not appear in the house again.

The planting went fast and well.  The completed field had a strange

Apple said to Nellie in private, "At the moment, 'tis as though the
old harridan in the cabin had raised a crop of witches' brooms."

The geometric pattern of stark black twigs was more of graveyard
than of nursery.  Fire might have swept an orchard, leaving this
stricken residue.  But the fire was in the mounting sun, the sun
unwrapped the sheathed buds with hot fingers, showers came daily,
the roots clutched and swelled, and one morning Ase saw under the
early mist a drift of palest green.  The young orchard was in leaf,
it had come through, it was alive.

Apple McCarthy was reluctant to move on.  Nellie complained of the
delay to her own kitchen garden and took him for helper there.  He
used his horse and Ase's Brinly plow to turn the ground.  She was
ambitious, and after the past Linden leanness the fenced plot she
planted seemed enormous.  There were carrots and beets, cabbages
and turnips and rutabagas, Irish potatoes and sweet, peas, tomatoes
and lettuces, onions and sweet corn, pole beans and simlins and
patty-pan squash and cucumbers.  Ase's commercial planting would
provide her with string beans, and pumpkins and Hubbard squash were
to be planted with his field corn.  She drove over the countryside
in the light buggy collecting seeds and slips of herbs from her
friends, mint and thyme, sage and dill, rose geranium, sweet
lavender and rosemary.

Ase plowed the apple orchard and sowed buckwheat broadcast.  Nellie
turned from the kitchen garden to flowers, and Apple McCarthy said
it must be his last bit of helping, for the potbelly her table had
given him was in the way of his stooping.  She was up with the
morning star, cooking breakfast by lamplight, and by the time the
birds were twittering sleepy fragments of song and the pale early
sun washed the polished floor and bright braided rugs with silver,
breakfast was over, Ase sent to Amelia with a special tray, and
Nellie was out of doors, digging as busily as the robins pulling
earthworms near her.  Ase lingered in his coming and going, to
watch her, round and plump, her curls damp over her intense,
flushed face.

Tim McCarthy came every evening.  The twilights lengthened.  The
yard grass grew thickly and Ase herded the sheep across the road to
crop it smooth.  Ase and Nellie and the brothers sat on the sweet
grass to play and sing.  Shep beat his plumed tail beside Nellie
and her mother cat, bulging again, came from the barn to sit
heavily in her lap and purr.  A lamp burned late in the cabin on
the brightest nights, and if Amelia heard and hated the sound of
music and of laughter, she gave no sign.  Ase went several times to
say good night to her, but as his footsteps approached her door,
the light went out and there was no answer to his rap.

June came in, the buckwheat made a tapestry for the embroidery of
the full-leaved apple saplings, Nellie's garden was up, with
satisfaction she picked the first greens and the first early
flower.  Apple McCarthy hitched his well-fattened horse to his
wagon and was at last on his way, woeful in parting.  The summer
passed in hard work, for Ase was single handed at heavy crops that
needed at least another hand.  Nellie was in a frenzy of canning
and preserving.  The mother cat littered behind the wood box in the
kitchen and Nellie moved in a welter of kittens until the most
ambitious climbed to the table and upset the cream, when the whole
batch was relegated again to the barn.

In August Nellie informed Ase that she was with child.  She had
suspected it a month ago but was only now certain.  The birth would
come sometime the following April.  He was profoundly stirred, but
she was as casual as though she announced a pleasant morning.  A
woman was wed, she tended her household, she bore her children.
She laughed at his gravity and tweaked his long nose.

"If you'd worked a little harder," she said, "it would have started
earlier.  I'd rather have my babies come in the winter and have it
out of the way by spring."

He supposed that the large size of the Wilson family made birth to
her more commonplace.  He asked her permission to give his mother
the good news.  She nodded.

"Sooner or later something will bring her around," she said.
"Maybe this will do it."

He found Amelia dipping water from the spring by the cabin.  He
laid his hand on her shoulder.  He could say only the few necessary

"Mother, Nellie's going to have a baby."

She lifted the dipper to her thin lips, then poured the remainder
of the clear icy water over her hands.

"Of course.  I told you myself.  Very soon now, too."

She leaned over the pool and in its mirror carefully arranged her
crow-black hair.


Nothing was real to him except the scent of lilacs.  He had slept a
little toward morning.  Wakening, his thoughts were as nebulous as
the April dawn.  He was suspended in a gray void, and it seemed
that he and Benjamin were dead together, and some other with them,
whom he could not place for the moment.  He had not meant to sleep.
And had he slept, and was he now awake?  When a man closed his eyes
at night he did not know whether he would open them in the morning.
And was he then dead or living?  He did not, himself, know.  Only
another, observing his breathing, could say, "The man is not dead,
but sleeping."

A breath of April wind stirred the curtains and the fragrance of
the lilacs came stronger and with it that sense of danger.  He
started up from the couch and staggered a little.  Nellie's lilacs,
that was it.  Nellie had brought the lilac bushes from her father's
home, when was it, a year ago, and they were in bloom, sickening of
odor, and Nellie was in labor with his child.  Now he heard her
cry.  He went to the pump to splash cold water on his face and
hands, for it seemed only decent to be clean as he went to her.

Aunt Jess the midwife met him at the door of the downstairs

She whispered, "The pains are coming faster.  I think she'll make
it soon.  Come in and speak to her."

He groped to the side of the great white-sheeted bed.  Nellie was
as white, but veins stood out as blue as her eyes.  Her curls were
wet on the pillow.  She turned her head toward him.

An agony seized her and her face twisted.  She moved her head from
side to side and moaned.  The midwife gripped her hands.

"Bear down harder, Nellie dear, bear down.  Aunt Jess is holding on
to you.  Ase, you'd better get out.  Call the girl.  Get my hot
water going, lots of it."

He stumbled to the kitchen.  He had kept a low fire all night in
the range, and in minutes he had it roaring, and pots and kettles
filled with pure spring water, and boiling.  The Swedish girl,
Hulda, hired for the time being, came down the back stairs rubbing
the sleep from her eyes, then seemed to shake herself, and went
into brisk action.  She trotted back and forth with hot water and
cloths warmed in the open oven.  She took a moment out to start a
pot of coffee.

"Don't leave it boil over, Mr. Linden."

He should be doing his chores, he thought, but he could not bring
himself to leave the house.  The first ray of sun reached the
garden and pointed like a finger to a few early green sprouts.
Nellie had worked in the garden for an hour after her first pains,
her chubby little fingers scarcely reaching past her great belly to
press a plant here, scatter a row of home-saved seeds there.  It
seemed to him that all planting of seed was a man's work, but she
had driven him out when he had finished cultivating, fertilizing
and laying off the rows.  Green stuff made good milk for the cow,
she had said, and winked, and she knew the way she wanted it.  The
hired girl scurried in for another kettle of water, sweating.

She panted, "Coming fine, Mr. Linden.  Don't look so mournful."

The words were like a bone thrown to a good dog by the fire.  He
felt lost, almost an outsider.  The world had turned completely
female.  He seemed to have had nothing to do with the child,
nothing with the woman.  He was only tolerated in his own house.
The she-rites of fertility possessed it.  He heard then the wail,
the strange, anguished, angry protest against human birth.  He
stood up, shivering.  Where had the creature of his making come
from, that it was so disturbed to leave?  What would be his share
in making its life not quite as intolerable as the scream said it
feared?  When the midwife at long last called him, her voice was
triumphant, that of an Amazon blowing a trumpet made for a woman's

He walked past her to the bed.  He had a moment's dread that Nellie
would turn her head away from him.  How could a woman forgive a man
for so much pain?  He had forgotten her own catlike pleasure.  He
looked down at her.  Aunt Jess had bathed her with sweet-smelling
soap, had dressed her in her bridal nightgown with lace ruching at
the throat, had brushed her shining curls and tied them with a blue
satin ribbon.  Nellie's eyes were twinkling.

"'Twasn't much fun," she said.

She arranged mysterious folds of cloth at her side, drew one away
to show the child, red, wrinkled, apparently blind, and wretched.
She puckered her own face in imitation.

"If 'twasn't a boy," she said, "I'd say, drown it.  Guess being
ugly won't matter."

He stared.  He had helped with the birthing of countless lambs and
calves and colts.  He had come on baby squirrels and foxes in their
nests.  This was his first sight of a new-born human.  All the
other animal young arrived complete, contented.  It was as though
they were born knowing--or not knowing--some fearful secret.

He said, "I suppose he'll change.  Nellie--how are you?"

She patted her stomach under the covers.

"Empty, thanks be.  Empty of everything.  I'm hungry."

The great bulk of Aunt Jess filled the doorway.  Her face shone
like a harvest moon.

"Fine boy there, Ase.  Never brought a better.  You'll have help on
the farm before you know it."

He looked with a vast surge of pity at the miserable little bundle
of flesh.  It was blood of his blood, flesh of his flesh, bone of
his bone.  It would be a fine thing to have a tall son to plow and
harvest with him, to plant seeds and crops and fruiting trees
perhaps as yet unknown of.  It was also shocking to imagine this
unhappy thing, now making sobbing sounds in its throat, as already
precipitated into the world, toiling with hard hands, its back bent
under more than weight of hoe or axe or pitchfork.  He yearned over
his son and over his beloved who had borne him.

Nellie said, "Now maybe he won't want to farm.  His Uncle Ben
didn't.  Aunt Jess, go tell Hulda to fix me a big breakfast."

He reached out for her hand and knelt and held it against his
cheek.  It was so small and warm, so strong and certain.  His fear
for her fragility left him and he put his arms around her.

She said, "Better send Hulda down the road soon to call Ma.  You
have your breakfast, then go bring your mother."

He had been astonished from the beginning by her patience with
Amelia.  The venomous barbs had fallen away from her soft skin as
though it were underlaid with rawhide.  He was touched now, and
grateful.  Nellie had refused to have her mother in the house
during her labor.  He believed that she had forbidden it to save
embarrassment at the exclusion of his own.  Actually, her animal
instinct had insisted on the presence only of the capable midwife.

Ase brought Amelia to the room before Nellie's mother had time to
arrive.  Amelia might surprise them all, he thought, by behaving
well, but he felt safer to take no chances.  She began by speaking
courteously enough.

"A boy, Ase says.  That's good.  Men are needed around here.  You
don't look as if you'd suffered."

Nellie patted the blue satin bow.  The glitter in her eyes was
surely a sign of well-being.

"Take a look at him.  Pretty as his Pa."

Amelia eyed the infant.

"What will you name him?"

Nellie said, "We sort of thought you'd like to have another

Ase was puzzled.  They had agreed on the name of Nathaniel, if the
baby was a boy.  Amelia stepped back from the bed.

"Haven't you any decency at all?"

Nellie's bright eyes widened.

"Why, Mother Linden, what do you mean?"

Amelia was trembling.

"After you and Benjamin--oh, you are a shameless thing."

"You mean it would look as if it was Ben's baby.  Guess you've
forgotten Ben's been gone a year and a half.  They don't make
babies out of old women's nasty ideas."

It seemed to Ase that he must reach out to pull his mother from
this trap Nellie had laid for her.  Yet perhaps Nellie had been
right, to force Amelia into the open, and so lay a ghost.  He laid
a hand on his mother's arm.  She shook it off.

"Forgotten how long he's been gone?  Every hour's been a drop of
blood gone out of me."

She put her handkerchief to her lips.

"I'm sorry, Nellie, for what I suggested.  I was--mistaken.  But I
must forbid the name of Benjamin.  He will want it for a son of his

"Well, then, how about 'Nathaniel,' Ase?  Call him 'Nat' for short.
You can stop a dog or a boy better with a short name, when they're
getting into mischief."

Amelia gathered her torn dignity about her and nodded.

"A very good name.  It's been in the family.  I, of course, shall
always call the child by the full name."

She turned to leave.

"But don't get the idea that the boy makes any difference about the

The battle, then, was a draw, but with blood let on both sides.
Somehow the air was clearer.  He opened a window, and past the
white ruffled curtains blowing, came the scent again of the lilacs,
not now quite so sickening.


McCarthy was playing his fiddle from the wintergreen beside the
bog.  The last of the hayers had gone home in creaking wagons,
whistling to be done so early of an August day.  Ase stood alone in
the high south opening of the hay mow.  The new-mown timothy and
clover smelled as sweet as honey.  The late afternoon sun reached
into it, as though long fingers fondled golden hair.  Ase liked the
color and texture of hay at any time, even toward the end of its
life, when brown and dry as an old woman.  It was most pleasant at
this moment of its fresh cutting, piled thick and yellow in the big
shadowy loft.  Soon the mice would breed there and squeak and
scurry, the barn cats would climb the ladder to hunt them, the hens
would leave their own house with its trim rows of troughs to steal
their nests in the fragrant softness, having at last to be helped
down ignominiously with their broods of downy biddies, to more
conventional quarters.

McCarthy's fiddle grew harsher, the sound like robins chirping.
Ase smiled.  Tim was signaling him to join him with his flute.

A week of good work was over.  His winter wheat had ripened early,
the thrashers had come, a twenty of them, the days had been filled
with the rich noise and confusion of the thrashing machine, the
talk and roars of laughter of the neighbor men come to help, and
since other wheat was not yet ready, they had stayed on to help Ase
with his haying.  He would join his help to the others, on other
farms, a little later.  Single-handed he had raised a huge stand of
heavy-headed wheat and could afford next year a hired hand of his
own.  Wheat was bringing more than two dollars a bushel, and after
saving out next year's seed and enough to take to the mill for the
grinding of his own flour, with middlings and good bran left over
for his stock, and paying the miller his tithe of the grain, he
would have several hundred bushels to sell for cash.

He took his flute from a broad beam in the hay mow.  He played a
few notes on it.  They fluttered like the cry of turtledoves,
joining the robins.  He walked slowly up the sheep-lane, up through
the high south pasture, toward the bog.

The scent of the wintergreen, crushed by Tim's sitting, met him,
along with Tim's dog.  He stooped under the low hanging hemlock
boughs and dropped down on the dark redolent carpet beside his
friend.  The spot, so close to the menacing bog, was secret and
satisfying.  From the high, shaded place he could see the entire
farm, with the great square house looking white in the sunlight,
and far away.  An odor stronger than the wintergreen came to him.
McCarthy was drinking again.

Tim said plaintively, "Fancy now, the first time we've been to play
together since the past sweet springtime."

Ase put his flute to his lips.

"No, boy, now I have you alone for the instant, I'd be talking a
bit instead of making the music.  I'm somewhat on the drink, and
feeling bold.  I'll be reading your mind and heart, a thing part
happy and a thing part sad."

Ase stroked the head of the white dog and waited.  It came to him
that he could only be at ease with those who read his mind and
heart and spoke aloud for him, where he was unable to speak for
himself.  Benjamin had sometimes done this for him.  This little
Irishman, twice his age, often did so, too.  Nellie read his heart,
for all his wordlessness, but he realized with discomfort that the
trackless chaos of his mind had for her no meaning.  He corrected
himself.  It had had no meaning for Benjamin, nor for McCarthy,
either, nor the gypsies.  The Old One, yes, and Mink the Indian.
Crushing a leaf of wintergreen between his strong fingers,
listening for what McCarthy, drunken but yet wise, might have to
say, he was swept by a wave of loneliness.

Tim said, "You're after being so young, for the things have come to
you.  You have the grand pretty wife, the right one for you, and
the baby son.  You're by way of being prosperous, and you'll be
needing the prosperity, for one reason and another, the new babes
that will be coming, and the brother.  Aye, the brother."

He reached behind him and took a long pull from his jug.

"The brother.  And the mother--.  Now well I know, to cast a slur
on a lad's mother is to have him at the throat.  I'd not be doing
that.  'Tis plain you love the woman, for all the harm she's doing
to you, and 'tis this harm of which I'd be speaking.  Say nothing,
me boy-o, but let me tell it as I see it."

McCarthy had never before gone so far.  The hostility between him
and Amelia had been quiet and tacit.  It seemed to Ase that he must
stop his friend at once, for loyalty to his mother, but as always,
he could not answer.

"So, my Ase-one, you have the mother grieving for the other son,
and she will be making trouble for you and the sweet Nellie until
the end of her life.  And what frets me, she'll be having you
feeling yourself the hired man on your own property."

Ase knew instantly and unhappily that Nellie had talked with Tim.

Tim continued, "Your mother tells it up and down, not open, but sly-
like, how you're doing the fine job for Benjamin, and it's pleased
and astonished he'll be on his return to take over, at the richness
building, the new orchard and all.  Now I'd not see your heart be
broken along with your back.  I'm full of ideas, and one is to have
it out with the old harridan--excuse me, 'twas me brother's word.
Make her sign papers if needs be, not to find your wife and babes
by the side of the road one fine day."

McCarthy took another swig.

"You'd not spend the best of your life, would you, working as you
work, on land you held but temporary?"

Tim had opened a door to the small dark room he had been avoiding.
Ase entered it with relief.  He had only half asked himself too
many questions.  For all his joy in Nellie and the child, in the
crops like miracles, the orchard taking hold of the earth with
strong roots and young exultant branches, he had suffered from his
mother's hints and secret smilings.  The first unfaced question had
been actually of her sanity.  To deny facts, to insist on fancies,
was this what made for madness?  It seemed to him that every man
and woman must do this to some degree, must refuse in the privacy
of the mind the unacceptable, taking for truth in the heart the
longed-for and desirable.  No, he decided, his mother was not truly
mad.  She had an obsessive love for her absent elder son, but why
not?  Benjamin drew such love, as he knew for himself.  And it was
not for him, the younger, quite accidentally unloved, to condemn
her vagaries.

He pulled a leaf of wintergreen and crushed and tasted it.
McCarthy and the white dog sat quiet.  Ase dismissed the next
question as he asked it.  Ben would not be ever coming home.  Here
was perhaps the greatest anguish, for in his deepest love and
yearning for his brother, he feared that Benjamin was a lost soul,
would always wander, strong and beautiful and admired, incompetent,
reckless and futile.

But suppose he was mistaken, that Ben did return, either prosperous
as he had boasted, or broken by life.  Why, then, the way was
clear.  Nothing would give him greater content than to share all he
had made, had built, with his brother.  Powerful or crushed, Ben
was so intimate a part of him that it made no difference, Ben could
receive all the enriched land or share it, it was all one, when a
man so loved his brother.

The land.  Ase stroked the little dog.  The land.  Why, any man had
only temporary rights on the earth.  His mother's talk of control,
of ownership, Tim's talk of legal rights and papers, these were
nonsense.  No man owned the land.  He wondered again how long the
earth had existed before the creation, emergence, evolution or what-
not, of humans.  He had hoped to find the answer in his copy of
"Smith's Illustrated Astronomy and Poetical Geography," but while
he still pored of nights over the volume, he was left unsatisfied.
He asked himself now what he expected of the land.  A thought
brushed him briefly as to what he expected of life itself and he
dismissed it.  But the land.  It was not what he expected of it,
but what it required of him.  He felt himself on firm ground.  The
land asked to be worked, to be taken care of properly, and in
return it would nourish all men, as long as they were indeed its

McCarthy said, "You are the most wordless man ever, but do be
saying in words, would you waste yourself working temporary?"

Ase said, "Why, yes.  I would."

He could not understand his mother, nor even his wife, but he had
such pity for his mother, such adoration for Nellie, that he would
give his best to everything, land, mother, wife, child and vanished
brother, to go on steadily.  His way was clear.  He put his flute
to his lips.

McCarthy said, "Then the saints preserve you.  I've no more to

He tuned his fiddle and lifted his bow.  He led off in an Irish
lilt.  By tacit consent the friends played the gayest of tunes.
There was no need today of the sad sweet songs that often eased
their shared melancholy.  When the sun dropped low west of the bog,
Ase went to his belated chores.  McCarthy clutched his jug in one
arm, his fiddle in the other, and staggered home behind the little
white dog.  The dog watched over his shoulder, for there were times
when his master did not make it.


Nellie was cutting dahlias at the far end of the garden.  Ase stood
motionless by the swinging gate to watch her, as though not to
disturb a hummingbird at its darting.  She moved quickly from one
flower to another, laying the blossoms in a basket on her arm.
Beyond the cultivated flowers inside the white picket fence, wild
asters were autumn-blue and he saw that Nellie's dress was the same
color.  The honey bees were working feverishly and wasps spun
drunkenly over fallen and rotting fruits.  The smell of harvest was
everywhere.  Nellie turned and came down the garden path with her
skimming trot that was like a plover on the ground.  His heart
turned over inside him.  Her simplest and most habitual movement
enchanted him.  She saw him standing, tall and dark and gaunt, his
lean young face soft with his yearning.  His moments of obvious
adoration brought out the most mischievous of the constant imp in
her.  He opened the gate and took the basket from her.

She reached up to put her arms around his neck and said, "Close
your eyes if you want something sweet."

He leaned low and self-blinded for the expected kiss.  In an
instant she slipped a ripe Seckel pear from the basket and crammed
it against his mouth.  She rescued the basket as he jerked away,

He sputtered, "Nellie!"

She said demurely, "I was going to kiss you, but look at your dirty

He wiped away the crushed fruit furiously and glared at her.  She
used her handkerchief solicitously to dab at his lips.  Then she
laughed.  He had never learned, wondered if he ever would, not to
fall into her traps.  Each time that she tricked and upset him, he
was first angry, as she intended, then foolish and fatuous, and she
intended that, too.  It did not matter.  She was Nellie.  It was
not so much that his discomfort gave her pleasure, he supposed, as
that his slowness, the very clumsiness of his devotion, challenged
her swift spirit.  He sensed that he should, this instant, spank
her as she spanked the child Nat, and then carry her upstairs and
make some pretense at assault.  She was always most fevered after
one of her pranks.  Yet violence appalled him, seemed both animal
and stupid.  He could not be otherwise than himself.  He took the
basket from her and followed her into the house.

He was aroused, too, his senses were acute.  Fragrances overwhelmed
him at the kitchen door.  They were mingled, as notes in music
mingled, as bird songs wove themselves together in the spring.
They were part of the richness of harvest time and of life itself.
Of life, he corrected himself, with Nellie.  The house, until her
coming, six years ago, had had a musty, sterile odor.  He separated
now one scent from another.  Apple rings were drying in pans at the
back of the slow-burning range.  There was the smell of molasses
cookies, of raspberry tarts, of clover and buckwheat honey, of
butternuts, hickory and black walnut nuts, the spice of rose
geranium Nellie had brought inside in fear of sudden frost.  Under
the Brussels carpet in the dining-room and the two front rooms,
fresh oat-straw had been laid down during Nellie's whirlwind fall
house cleaning, both for winter warmth and softness underfoot, and
he was aware of the scent of that too, a useable and comforting
part of the harvest.  He smelled the freshness of the clean
starched white curtains at all the windows.  He smelled the acidity
of the dahlias and marigolds in Nellie's basket, and under the
flowers the pears, the heavy panicles of grapes, purple, white and
red, cloying in their sweetness.  It was almost too rich a time.

He was obliged to admit to himself that his mother's absence was an
important part of his pleasure.  Apple McCarthy had written that
Ben had been reported somewhere in Indiana, having gone West and
planning to return there.  Amelia had a cousin in the state and had
gone to her at once.  Her plan, under the cloak of the unquestioned
relatives' long visits, was to search for her son, hither and yon,
in Indiana.  With her going, a dark storm had passed over, the
doors had swung wide, the lavishness of autumn had come inside.
There seemed more room in the house, more room in the world.  He
checked his thoughts in pity.  He would give his own contentment if
he might so better furnish the cold empty place in which his mother
dwelt.  Empty of all but Benjamin.  There seemed no question now
but that her obsession had taken her a step or two inside that
palace of black ice where men are shadows and shadows become men.
She had called tentatively down the labyrinthine corridors for her
lost son, thinking she heard his voice.  A few steps further, and
surely she would find him.

The house was comfortably warm, the sunlight streamed through the
polished windows, but Ase felt chilled.  He went to the sitting-
room stove and touched a match to the pine kindling under maple
logs.  He pulled a stool close to the blaze and held out his hands
to it, palms suppliant.  He heard Nellie's quick small feet
upstairs, and small sounds that were Nat and the younger boy Arent
rousing from their afternoon nap.  They seemed far away, another
man's wife and children.  A gust of wind shook the poplars beyond
the house and cast a handful of yellow leaves against the window,
then dropped them to the ground.  He had planted them, but they
were not his poplars.  This was not his ground.  This was not his
house.  He was a stranger.

He passed one hand over his eyes and shook his head to clear it.
He was impatient with himself, ashamed.  He had everything a man
could ask for.  He wondered in horror if his adoration of Nellie
was not love at all, but only the panic of a drowning man clinging
to his rescuer.  For she was rescue, truly.  She was the bridge
between his isolation and the warmth and safety of life itself.
But his life was good.  What was it then he wanted so and needed?
He had lost a father to death and a mother to a mania, yet it was
not a loss, for he had never possessed them.  He had lost his
brother.  He knew this for a positive pain.  And he had not
possessed him, either.  He asked himself if he wanted Benjamin here
with him, working the land against his will.  He could not ask
this.  Did a man's love consist only of the elements that brought
him comfort?  And why one human being rather than another, or was
the love a thing nameless and faceless, given out of a lonely need,
as a child clutched a china doll or a rag wrapped round a husk of
straw, murmuring endearments?  Should he have gone with Benjamin,
did he want only to be with him wherever he should go?  Or was it
his destiny to be always unfilled and lonely?  He felt himself
coming closer to a truth, and as his heart beat faster, the truth
evaded him.

Nellie said, "Ase, for goodness sake.  Brooding again.  I called
you twice.  Here, watch the boys.  And don't forget, the red
heifer's due to calve.  Better keep her in the barn tonight."

He lifted his bowed head.  She deposited Arent in his lap and
pushed young Nat toward him.  He looked at his five-year-old son
and Nat stared back at him.  From the beginning, the child had eyed
him with a certain coldness.  He had made clumsy advances, but from
his cradle the boy had rejected them.

He longed to draw Nat close against him, to say, "We have both
arrived strangely on earth and shall depart strangely, and we are
related for the moment, so let us try to speak together, alien as
we may appear one to the other."

The little boy said, "You're ugly."

Ase said gently, "I know."

He realized that his sadness offended the child.  Yet some children
were touched by adult grief, ran with small warm arms outstretched,
as though with prescience that one day they too would be grown and
even more sorrowful than sometimes happened to them, as though by
giving comfort now, they would store it safely away for their own
later need and use.  Ase was conscious of an unchildlike hardness
in Nat.  Astonishingly, Amelia had accepted him.  When her mind
wandered, she called him "Benjamin's boy."  Nat spent long hours
with her at the cabin.  Ase wondered if Amelia's tense resistance,
her distaste for himself had been passed on to the boy.  In his own
youth she had often said, "You know, Asahel, you are extremely
homely."  There was something he should tell Nat this instant, but
he could not think what it might be.  By way of a lesson in
consideration for others, perhaps he might say, "You remember when
you cut your finger?  When you tell me I am ugly, you hurt me
inside, just as the knife hurt you."  As he hesitated, Nat ran from
the room to the cookie jar, and then to find his mother.  Arent
whimpered and Ase moved to a rocker and rocked back and forth until
Nellie came again.  This child was not quite three.

He had not forgotten the red heifer.  He had a stall ready for her,
thick-bedded with clean straw.  He joined the hired man Joe at the
barns, Shep at his heels.  Nellie's aging Shep had finally decided
that following Ase was on the whole more rewarding than following
his mistress.  She spent most of the time in the house, and while
he was a dog fond of his rug near the kitchen range, beside the
wood box, and returned two or three times a day for a snooze, and
to make certain she was there, and safe, the fields and hills and
woods with Ase were irresistible.  He wagged his feathery tail, for
they were a little late in driving in the cows.

Ase said, "I know, Shep.  Come on."

The dog bounded ahead and met the cows, already gathered at the
pasture gate.  The grass was short and dry, the nights were growing
cold, and they were anxious for the extra feeding and the
protection of the barn.  Ase indicated the red heifer in the lane
and Shep cut her out, so that she might be driven to her special
stall.  Ase saw the calf change position in her belly, her bag and
teats were swollen, and he prepared the things he would need if she
had difficulty with her first birthing.  He gave her a wet mash
along with her hay.

Joe finished the milking.  The hired man was not as clean as he
wished.  A bit of trash floating on the foam of one bucket told its
tale of improperly washed teats.  Ase deliberately poured the cats'
milk into their dishes from the cleaner bucket.  When Nellie saw
the trace of dirt as she strained the other, Joe would get the
lecture he deserved, but which Ase always found it too embarrassing
to give.  Unless one of his help was harsh with animals, he offered
no criticism.  Every decently raised farm man and boy in the
section knew how work should be done, and it seemed to Ase
offensive to remind them.  In the end, the example of his own slow,
steady perfection of labor was likely to convert or shame them when
they were remiss.  Joe was leaving soon, to work through the winter
in a wagon-works.  Tim McCarthy had asked for the job, but Nellie
with surprising tartness had not allowed Ase to consider it.  He
leaned over to stroke the gentler of the barn cats, washing their
milky whiskers, and sighed.  Tim was indeed the most unreliable
hand for miles around, too old for much of the heavy work, besides,
but he was his friend.  Ase felt uneasily that the time was coming
when Tim would need actual shelter, and he would like to have
slipped him into his household while he was not yet quite
impossible.  The red heifer mooed anxiously.  He studied her and
rubbed her nose.

"Not yet, girl.  Maybe tonight."

At the door of the kitchen he stopped and smiled to himself.  Joe
was getting more than his sins warranted.  Ase shared Nellie's
immaculacy, but her passion for it went to unreasonable bounds.  An
outsider hearing her now would believe that Joe lived in a pig sty
and had added half its contents to the milk bucket.  Joe came out
shaking his head.

He said, "Guess I'll go to town tonight if I can have the wagon.
She may start in again."

Ase nodded.  He knew Joe was courting.  He said, "Take the buggy."

Joe's grin thanked him.  He started to say, "Don't drive Dan too
hard," but then could not dampen the man's pleasure.  Joe washed up
hastily at the pump and tiptoed up the back stairs to his room to
change his clothes.  Joe should have hitched up before he washed
and dressed, Ase thought.  Horse-and-leather was a good clean
smell, but a woman didn't want it all over a man's hands when he
touched her.  He decided to take another look at the heifer before
supper, and while he was at it, he could have Dan in the shafts by
the time Joe reached the stable.  The sun went to bed under a piece-
work quilt of the colors of the autumn leaves.  He was glad to be
delayed outside, to stand and watch it.  Nellie was impatient with
the fall of the year, for it meant a reduced activity when all the
harvest was in, too great a confinement in the winter house for her
liveliness.  The season stirred him deeply.  A man could see what
he had accomplished.  There was time to sit and think, when his
slowness and his thought went unnoticed.  Perhaps his mother would
return this winter with news of Benjamin after all.  Perhaps her
Indiana visit would restore her balance.

He waved Joe down the road, acceptably unodorous, and stopped
beside the poplars to look back to the south across the barns, the
fields, the softly rolling hills.  The poplars had grown fast and
tall.  The corn was in shock, and in the last of the sunset, he saw
it glinting golden, and the piled heaps of pumpkins as orange as
the late October sky.  A blue haze hung over the orchard.  The
orchard, he thought of it tenderly as Ben's orchard, had produced
its first large marketable crop.  There were still late apples to
be picked that needed the touch of frost, the Northern spies and
the russets.  These would be the tangiest of all, and would keep
all winter long in the stone cellar.  The easy summer apples had
been sweet but insipid.  He wondered, if strength and goodness
needed a touch of hardship to come to true maturity.  No, he
decided, this was not necessarily so.  His mother had been
subjected to the frosts and they had only made her acid.

He washed with special care.

Nellie said, "Did you let that dirty Joe take the buggy again?  The
wagon's good enough for him.  I don't care if he is courting.
You're too easy on the help.  I'll tell you what you can do, Ase
Linden.  Keep the buggy for your nasty hired hands.  You can buy a
new one, just for me.  I want one with red wheels and rubber

He could certainly afford a light rubber-tired buggy, just for
Nellie.  He would break the three-year-old colt to it, and she
would have her own rig.  He wished he had thought of it himself, to
have surprised her with the gift, perhaps drive it up to the side
door on Christmas morning.

He said, "Why, I'll order it this week."

Nat, staring wide-eyed, began to hop up and down.

He shrilled, "Dirty Joe!  Dirty old Joe!  Joe can't ride in my
mama's new buggy."

He clutched his mother's skirts and wailed, "Can I ride in it, Ma?
I can ride in the new buggy, can't I, Ma?"

She tousled the child's tawny hair.

"If you keep clean, the way Mama likes."

Ase's face twitched.

He said meekly, "Can I ride in it, too, if I keep clean?"

She recognized one of his rare, frail attempts at humor and
laughed.  Nat stamped his foot.

"No, you can't!  It's just for Mama and me!"

Nellie snapped, "Behave yourself, Nat.  Papa can ride in it because
he's paying for it.  It'll be his buggy and then he'll give it to

Nat shrieked, "Give it to me, give it to me!"

"Now Mama will slap you in a minute.  You grow up to be a big man
and make lots of money.  Then you can buy all the buggies you want,
just for yourself."

"I won't have to let anybody ride in them?"

"Not if you don't want to, if you buy them yourself.  They'll be
your very own."

"Oh, good!"

Ase was disturbed.  A buggy, a wagon, such things were meant to be
shared with anyone who needed them.  He had once loaned a horse and
wagon to a sick tramp, and it had been months before they were
returned to him, battered and worn, but the vagrant had reached his
home before he died.  Ase did not want his child to come to look on
property as so personal, to consider it good to exult in an
exclusive ownership when another was in need.  At the same time, it
did not seem suitable to correct the mother in the presence of the
boy.  In any case, Nat was too young to understand.  He had noticed
that children seemed innately selfish.  Nat would get over it.  The
farm was only recently prosperous, he and Nellie had worked
unspeakable hours, and she was undoubtedly trying to impress it on
Nat while young, that money represented hours of human toil.  There
was time enough, he decided, for his son to learn the other things.
Nellie gave the two children their meal in the kitchen and put them
to bed.  She and Ase sat leisurely over their supper in the dining-
room.  The table was laid as always with a fresh white linen cloth,
a bowl of late yellow roses was a central core of fragrance, the
food was savory.  The intimacy, without Amelia, without Joe,
without the youngsters, was overwhelming.  He laid his big gnarled
hand over Nellie's soft small one.  For once, she did not bustle
about, clearing the table, washing the dishes, sweeping the kitchen
floor.  He slipped away to lay a fire on their bedroom hearth.  She
joined him almost instantly.  He held her in what seemed a sweeter
closeness than ever before.  Perhaps his deepest satisfaction was
that he found himself, for her, a great and true lover.

Nellie was asleep, her back turned to him afterward, as always,
when he remembered the red heifer.  He left the bed cautiously, not
to awaken her, drew on coat and trousers, lit a lantern and went to
the barn.  The heifer was indeed in trouble.  The calf was large
and the heifer young.  He was obliged to help, to pull the wet
thing into the world.  The heifer went at once to the devouring of
the afterbirth.  He was familiar with this apparent monstrosity and
it had always puzzled him.  Yet somehow it made all of life an
endless cycle.  There was first of all the love, and he was certain
the animals felt love as well as humans, for no female of horse or
dog or kine could be forced to accept a male unwillingly.  So the
male element permeated the female, the seed lay deep, as the seeds
in the earth, there was the long gestation, the release then, and
the triumph of birth and of harvest.  Perhaps the bovine swallowing
of the afterbirth was only another step in the eternal nourishment,
beginning the great round once again.

He stepped out into the starlit autumn night.  He longed to know
the relationship of the planets, the stars, the earth, one to
another.  His book on astronomy was surely inadequate.  There must
be another book somewhere that would tell him all he must know of
the revolving of these various strange masses.  He read the Bible
constantly, for its profound study of men in trouble and in joy,
for the relation of human living to other living, for the
possibility of a man's reaching into the outer space for a comfort
the earth did not provide.  He was still dissatisfied.

He went quietly to his bed.  He lay dozing until the morning, when
it was time to visit the red heifer again, to give her, now nursing
her calf, an extra feeding, to take care of the rest of the stock,
for Joe had not appeared after his own night of pleasure.


The earth was thirsty for the snow.  The winter wheat, in peril of
its life, shrank in need to be covered with the soft white blanket.
The snow began falling at dusk from a still and milky sky.  The
flakes at first were large and loose.  They slapped against walls,
against the boughs and trunks of trees, with the wet impact of a
child's kiss.  They clung, slipped, melted, and the earth for an
hour or more drank them in like rain.  With the sudden dark, the
air turned cold, the ground stiffened, the snow gathered itself
together in compact crystals and fell hard and fast, as though the
elements had had enough of softness.  The sharp particles hissed
against the window-panes, then settled down to a steady pelting.

Ase sensed the coming of the snow in mid-afternoon.  He never
failed in his planning, but because he worked so thoroughly and so
slowly he was often somewhat behind.  He had begun but had not
finished the laying of straw in the sheep-shed, the placing of salt
pans and the cleaning of feeding troughs.  The hired man Joe had
moved on early to his winter factory work, probably to be nearer to
his sweetheart.  Ase needed him now and knew he should have
insisted that Joe help complete these preparations before leaving.
He could not hold any man against his will.  Hurry was impossible
for him, but he made a more concentrated effort, tense against the
tenseness of the sky, and finished the furnishing of the shed for
its wooly winter guests.  He filled the watering trough and set out
for the high pasture.  The dog Shep was anxious, understanding that
some routine was about to change.  He hesitated when his master did
not go in the direction of the cows, followed at his heels
uncertainly, then knew in an instant it was the sheep to be brought
in, and bounded ahead up the brown hill.  The sheep too had felt
the impending snow and had taken refuge in the hemlock woods,
dangerously near the bog.  They were not in sight and Ase was

He called, "Sheep, sheep, sheep!"

The sweet tinkle of the wether's bell answered him.  Shep heard it,
scented the flock, and was far ahead of Ase, to turn them gently,
to drive them from the dark woods, over the hill, down the lane and
into the shed, snug and welcoming.  The bleats were excited, but
hungry after the late poor feeding, the sheep began a contented
nibbling on the bean-pods waiting for them.  They ate daintily,
their velvet noses twitching.  Ase heard the first snowflakes
plashing against the safe walls, and while there was much work
still to be done, stood watching and listening.  It gave a man
almost more satisfaction to care for, feed, animals than human
beings.  He wondered if there was at once something fine and
hateful in dispensing comfort to animals, so that a man felt
himself quite a fellow in being so generous and so kind, and never
mind the return the creatures gave him in one way or another.  He
left the sheep-shed and with the dog drove in the cows, the
heifers, the calves.  As usual, he had stood stock-still too long,
and night had come, and he was obliged to light a lantern to finish
the feeding and milking.

The snow was thick underfoot and on his shoulders.  He put out the
barn lantern, hung it on its hook, and went bowed toward the house
with the two buckets of milk.  The house was lighted.  Nellie had
lamps lit in the sitting-room and the dining-room.  He knew that
she hated the dark.  He set down the milk pails to rest and stared
at the bright house.  This was a man's great joy, to come at
nightfall after his day's work to a lighted house.  The light was
orange and where it fell on the snow outside it was yellow, and his
beloved was waiting for him with food and warmth and comfort.

Nellie said, "What on earth's taken you so long?"

"The sheep."

The snow scratched on the window panes like the feet of squirrels
on a shingled roof.

He said, "The snow came in time to save the winter wheat."

"I suppose so.  Nasty winter.  Come on, supper's ready."

He ate abstractedly.  After supper Nellie fussed with her house
plants, moving them away from the cold windows.  She put a shawl
over her curls and made a dash out of doors to cut from under the
bay windows the last of her zinnias, frostbitten but still bright
and gay.

Ase was awake early the next morning.  The snow was still falling.
He was certain that all the stock was comfortable, but he wanted to
feed them early, to speak to them, to assure them that they would
be cared for during the cold time ahead.  He dressed and went down
quietly to the kitchen by the back stairs.  A rich, pungent smell
came to him.  He stood inside the kitchen, astonished.  Mink
Fisher, the Indian friend of his childhood, lay curled up under his
blanket beside the still warm kitchen range.

It was because of this dark man's teachings that Ase had moved so
silently that he had not awakened him, Mink, who was seldom
surprised by approach of bird or beast.  How long was it now since
Mink had been here, usually discovered so at daybreak, by the fire?
Ten years or more, yes, more.  Ase associated him with the log-
house, with the open hearth-fire whose embers flickered all night
long.  Mink grunted in his sleep, as though he sensed the
bystander.  His face was as Ase remembered it, thinner perhaps, the
nose more hawk-like, the cheek bones sharper.  The straight black
hair was grizzled.  There was none of the collapse of age, only a
finer mark of long facing of the elements, alone and unafraid.

A wave of memory came over Ase, he was a boy again, who had been a
boy so brief a time.  The Indian had been more of a father than his
own.  He was the last of his tribe, the Fishers, in that territory.
No one knew where they had gone, or what had wiped them out, nor
why Mink did not find and follow other Indians, but came and went,
solitary, trapping and trading for a living.  He was famous for his
mink pelts and so they called him "Mink."  The Linden place was the
only one where he had stopped overnight, and this was because of
the silent, grave-eyed little boy who trotted after him so
trustingly, a boy who, everyone said, looked and acted himself half

Here asleep lay the source of his knowledge, his voiceless love, of
wood and field and stream, of where the ginseng grew.  They had
speared fish at night on the deep Linden lake, Pip Lake, Mink
called it.  They had released from the traps, if not too badly
maimed, the female fox and mink and 'coon and otter, for the game
was getting scarcer, Mink said, and these were the seedbeds for the
precious fur.  They had cut hemlock boughs for couches, and roasted
grouse and fish and partridge and vension over ash and hickory
coals, or buried corn in the husk, potatoes in the skins, under hot
stones to bake to tender sweetness.  Amelia's food had tasted
particularly insipid after these things.  And it was Mink who had
traced the stars for him, who had taken him by the hand and led him
barefoot across the Milky Way, at home among the meteors and

Ase turned back up the stairs and made a small noise, not to arouse
his friend too near at hand, too suddenly.  Mink was on his feet
when he came down again.  The Indian's eyes filled with wonder and
with light.  He spoke a greeting in his own tongue.  Ase had known
much of it once but now it was strange to him.  He came close and
Mink laid his hands on his shoulders and looked long at him.  The
Indian nodded.

"Man now," he said.  "Boy gone."

Ase built up a fresh fire in the range.  He put on a pot of coffee
to boil and brought out cold meats and breads and pastries.  They
ate together without words.

Mink asked, "Father?"

Ase motioned to the ground.


He gestured to the south, and made a sign of three moons passed.


Ase waved toward the west.  Mink frowned.  The west was the way the
spirits went.  Ase understood, and struggled to bring back a few of
the ancient words to tell the story or his brother's journeying.
Using the pantomime of his boyhood, he began to walk slowly the
length of the room, bent and plodding, then lifted his hand to
shield his eyes against an imagined western brightness, and turned
his head from side to side in puzzling.  Mink nodded.  The brother,
then, the wild one, had gone west on foot, in search of something.
Mink had never made friends with this older one.  He eyed Ase
keenly.  He recognized the difference in the restlessness of the
two boys he had known.  The other's was of feet and body, of
something of the white man's greed, no doubt it was gold for which
he hunted.  This one like his son, this one's uneasiness was of the
mind and spirit.  He caught sight of a child's garment hung to dry
behind the range.  He touched it.

"Squaw?" he asked.  "Papoose?"

Ase nodded, held up one finger, then two.  Mink made motions,
indicating the curves of a woman's body, held up two fingers,
cradled his arms and held up one finger, asking, with his old eyes
crinkling, whether there were two squaws and one papoose.  Ase
grinned and made reverse gestures, no, no, knowing Mink was
jesting, one wife and two young children.  They laughed together
without sound, Mink shaking his lean belly.

The sun had risen without their noticing.  It streamed through the
east window beside the ruddy range, the sky-fire stronger than the
man-fire.  Nellie would be coming to the kitchen soon, the chores
were not done, but it did not matter.  Ase wondered how she would
feel about Mink, for he recalled that his mother had kept apart in
his childhood when the Indian came.  Nellie had got along famously
with his other friends, the gypsies.  Yet she had shared with them,
and with him, at those times, their blitheness, the singing and
playing and the dancing.  That was the world of the heart, and she
lived there with him always.  He recognized that the world where he
met with Mink, and it did not seem now that the Indian had been
gone any time at all, was the secret world she had never entered.
On the instant, he dreaded their coming together.  Nellie had a
devastating gift for mockery, and he could see her imitating the
gestures of his friend, and his own in answer.  Mink was watching
him closely.

"I bring gift.  I trade.  I go," he said.

He turned to the large bundle beside his blanket.  He unrolled it
swiftly.  There were mink pelts and otter, but the bulk was a
wolfskin robe, mingled gray and tawny, warm and thick, faced with
deerskin, the skins sewed beautifully together with deer-hide
lacings.  Mink pushed the robe toward Ase.

"You," he said.

This was the gift.  It was too lavish.  Ase shook his head.  Mink
pushed it closer.

"You.  For boy."

The gift was to the little boy Mink had taught and loved.  Ase
could not refuse.  He made a sign of gratitude and acceptance.  The
trading began.  Ase visualized a cape for Nellie of the mink.  Its
warm chestnut color was only a few shades darker than her hair.  He
did not see how he might use the otter, then he saw strips of it,
soft as kitten-fur, to trim the children's winter coats.  Somehow
he was sure the new baby would be a girl and next year Nellie could
make a little cap and muff and mittens for their daughter.  The
trading was business.  He made a generous offer and Mink hesitated.
He wanted to make up for the gift of the robe and he could only
wonder what it was Mink wanted.  In the old days, he remembered,
trade was in goods only, furs in exchange for knives, for guns, for
cooking pots, for dress goods.  Mink indicated coins between the
hands.  It was cash money, then, was called for.  Ase went to his
tin box, brought it to the kitchen, opened it and made a sweeping
motion.  Mink was to take from it what he thought proper for the

The Indian brushed aside the paper money and took out silver
dollars and half-dollars.  He looked up questioningly.  It was
still not nearly enough, Ase decided, and he put as much silver
again in Mink's hands.  The Indian accepted it and rose with

"Too much," he said.  "But I need."  He added bitterly, "White
man's life."

It was inconceivable to Ase that Mink should be so desperate.  The
Indian had stood to him for all freedom, all natural happiness.
Now he needed these stupid bits of metal, dug from the mother-
earth, to subsist.  It came to him with a shock how living had
changed, if not in his own lifetime, within what might be called
his memory, for the tales of a man's father and his grandfather
surely made up part of his own intimate recollection.  Mink's
people had possessed these lands when the first Linden arrived here
a hundred years ago with his wagon load of household goods, an axe
by his left hand, a muzzle-loader by his right, instruments both of
destruction.  He thought how few generations it required to make up
a century.  A hundred years were no time at all.  True, the land
now produced more bountifully, there was food for many thousands of
people in place of the dark virgin forest, the axe had only made
for a substitution.  And the Lindens had never turned their guns on
the Indians.  The first one had a gift for healing, of men and
animals, a talent as a blacksmith, and Mink's people had come to
him from the beginning in amity and friendship.  When the bloody
arguments were settled, between pioneers and Indians, the Indians
were gone, all the Fisher tribe was gone but old Mink, and the
Lindens were here, and Ase was increasing their tribe.  And now
Mink had no squaw, no tepee, no campfire to return to, as orange-
glowing and welcoming as Nellie's lamplight.  The honest exchange
of goods was done for, he must have pieces of the white man's metal
to live by.  Ase felt himself a usurper, part of a breed of men who
had brought a plague upon the country.

He touched Mink's hand.

"You stay," he said.

Mink shook his head.

"Too late," he answered.  "I go west."

His mouth twisted whimsically.

"You come."

Mink had not asked him to go away with him when he was a boy.  He
knew he would have gone then.  For a moment a longing swept him to
go with Mink into the sun, to sleep on hemlock boughs under the
stars forever.

"Too late," he echoed.

He made a parcel of meat and bread for Mink to carry with him.  He
touched the wolfskin robe in thanks.  There had not been wolves
here for many years.

"Where?" he asked, and Mink pointed again to the west, and
indicated that the robe had been traded from man to man from the
far plains until it ended here, a gift for a vanished little boy.

Well, and if this bulky thing had come so far, and Mink was going
back over the trail, a message might come and go as well.

"My brother," he said, and described Benjamin as best he could, now
he was a grown man, too, and asked of Mink that he have the western
Indians inquire of his going-by, and asked that word be sent back
of Benjamin's health, even of his existence, some token from his
own hand, or, best of all, because of the grieving mother, some
white man's words written down on a piece of paper.

He thought that Mink might trace Ben where others had failed.  It
was part of a pattern.  Mink's return was scarcely surprising, a
natural thing.  It seemed to him that friends were part of the
indestructible tapestry of one's life, that no matter if a thread
disappeared there, it would eventually reappear here, or in some
other place in the design, as long as it was a thread that

He said, "You come again?"

Mink shook his head.  He touched his forehead and that of Ase, he
touched his breast and that of the other.  They would be always
together in those inviolable secret places, and if they could not
again speak face to face, it would not too much matter.  Ase
watched his friend as far as the western rise of land.  Mink would
go cross-country, never on the traveled roads, he would go up hill
and down dale until he reached his destination and his death.  Ase
watched after him as he had watched after Benjamin.  He saw the old
Indian wrap his blanket more tightly around him and stride away
with a long loping, his head bowed a little under the falling snow.

Ase cleaned up the kitchen.  He looked for a place to hide the
wolfskin robe and the mink and otter pelts, for now he could
surprise Nellie at Christmas after all.  He concealed them at last
on the upper floor of the carriage shed beside the house, under the
pile of winter popcorn, not yet strung up under the rafters.  When
he returned to the kitchen, Nellie was there.  She had at once
discovered the amount of food missing.

She said, "You must not have had enough supper last night.  You can
hold more than any man I know.  You didn't need to wash your

He hesitated.  It would be nothing to tell her of the visit, she
would ask few questions, would never grumble about the food, for
she was generous with tramps.  Perhaps that was it, his friend, his
almost-father, would seem to her a tramp.  He was obliged to let
Mink get safely away from her.  She stood still and wrinkled her
sensitive nose.

"Now what on earth.  I smell something rank as a bear."

He smiled.

"Probably some wild creature's just passed by," he said.  "Some
wild friendly thing."


The sky at noon was metallic.  The brass sun hurt the eyes but
there was no heat in it.  The icicles hanging from pump and eaves
held their own against it.  The thick crust of the snow was smooth
and nacreous, blue-shadowed like the inside of an oyster shell.
Pip Lake was already frozen three feet deep.  The day was as cold a
one as Ase could remember.  He turned the big two-seated sleigh
from the barn into the drive at the side of the house.  Nellie and
the children were almost certain to be ready, but since the horses
were still warm from the snug stalls, he put their blankets over
them.  Even a five-minute wait might chill them.  He heard Nat
howling and decided he must be getting a last-second face washing.
Out of the sun, the cold bit like ivory fangs.  He went upstairs in
the carriage house and took out the wolfskin robe from under the
piled popcorn.  It would spoil Nellie's surprise, but after all, it
was only two days before Christmas, and she would never need the
warmth more acutely.  If his mother's train was late, it would be
night before they returned from Peytonville.

The horses stamped against the cold, their breath congealed, the
harness bells jangled.  Nellie came out of the house alone.

"I know," she said.  "You expected to take the boys.  They'd only
get tired and fretful.  Hulda'll put them to bed early."

He said, "Nat's old enough."

"He'll never know the difference."

"I heard him--"

"Oh, he yells about everything.  He doesn't like Hulda.  Tell you,
Ase, we don't know how we'll find your mother's mind.  Better to
meet her alone."

He nodded.  This was true.  He helped her into the sleigh and
lifted the robe.  He laid it across her lap.

"Merry Christmas," he said.

"You're a little early, I must say."

She stroked it and examined curiously the deerskin lining, the
intricate stitching.

"Nice.  Where'd you get it?  Where's it been?"

He stowed the blankets in the back of the sleigh and turned the
horses down the road toward the town.  Nellie sniffed at the robe.

She said, "It's got something to do with that smell in the kitchen
not long ago."

It seemed discreet enough now to tell the truth.  He explained

She said, "I don't think I'd like Indians.  They stink."

Yes, he thought, they stank, and it was the rich stink of earth, of
leaves, of burning wood, of the musky cleanness of animals.  She
snuggled down under the robe.  She was wearing the little red-
riding-hood cape and bonnet, with her curls escaping around her
face.  She looked as young as on the afternoon when she had burst
in on him with her dog and her pie and her jest about the pie, and
her making the way clear for them after Benjamin had gone away.  He
put an arm around her and she nestled against him.  He had wanted
to thank her for insisting that he write his mother to come home
for Christmas.

She had been so matter-of-fact about it, saying, "Tell your Ma Nat
would like his Grandma to see his Christmas tree."

Nat had expressed no such desire, and it seemed to him even more
delicate of Nellie to phrase it so.

She had added, "Tell her we're having a roast goose and I want to
know about the stuffing."

He was dimly aware of the female flattery involved.

The sleigh passed the Linden one-room schoolhouse, turned into the
main road to Peytonville, passed an increasing number of houses,
and then they were in the village itself.  The little town was
decked out at its best.  From side to side of the main street hung
garlands of ground pine dressed with red paper bells.  Folk from
miles around had their horses hitched there, all the stores were
bright with Christmas wares.  Ase found a hitching post, blanketed
the horses, and helped Nellie down from the sleigh, to do their
most important shopping at Mr. Peyton's General Store.

It was the first time in several months they had been to town
together.  There was a stir in the store, Will Peyton came from
behind a counter to pump their hands.  Hank Golightly and Sam Banks
rose from their checker game by the stove to greet the young
couple.  Ase felt warmed by the friendliness.  Nellie recognized
shrewdly the respect given a rising citizen of property.  She could
remember when no one would have noticed the entrance of the Linden
boy, the quiet one.  Ben, of course, had always attracted
attention, as had she.  She preened herself a little and took
advantage of Peyton to bargain sharply.

The Linden farm produced most staples except for such items as tea,
coffee, lemons, refined sugar, store cheese and crackers.  Nellie
was well-stocked on these, her Christmas baking was already done,
but for fresh layer cakes to be baked tomorrow.  She set herself at
the choosing of holiday luxuries.  She bought gifts of dress goods
for the women of her own family, mufflers for the men, and for
Amelia, decided on a pair of fine black kid gloves and a bottle of
toilet water.  It came to Ase that she had no conception of the
value of the wolf- and deer-skin robe, had accepted it casually as
scarcely a gift, only a warm useful covering that smelled like
Indians.  The choice mink and otter pelts would seem equally
trivial to her.  He made an excuse and went down the street toward
Miss Minnie's millinery and notion shop.  He was stopped along the
way by village acquaintances and by farm neighbors met ordinarily
only at harvesting or at meetings of the Grange.  He was glad to
turn into the warmth of Miss Minnie's shop.

The pot-bellied stove was rosy-red, the windowpanes were steamy,
the dry female scent of ribbons and laces, of artificial flowers
and feathers, met him.  Miss Minnie looked over her steel-rimmed
spectacles and wiped her perpetually dripping nose on the back of
her hand, which she then offered him.  On a second thought, she
worked her handkerchief from her apron pocket and blew her nose
clamorously.  Ase looked around him helplessly.

She said, "You expecting to meet your wife here, Mr. Linden?"

"No.  I want a present for her."

"Well, aren't you the clever one.  Not many husbands'd think of
coming to me for Christmas for their wives.  And nothing, I say,
tickles a lady like a new hat or bonnet or what we call in the
trade a frou-frou.  Now it's funny, two-three the drummers stops at
the Peyton House, they come to me to buy, my, the laces and frills,
but don't tell me it's for wives.  I may be an old maid, lived in
Peytonville all my life, oh, trips to the city, you know, to buy,
but I say, I know human nature.  A body'd almost think you wasn't
married to Nellie.  Now that's a thought, folks say you're daft
about her yet, and two young ones and another started, they say,
and you can't bear her out of your sight.  Let's see now, that's
nonsense, I remember when you was married, and Preacher told it he
never did see a groom look so solemn, what am I talking about, of
course you're married, but it's a sweet sad thought, the other.
And her so crazy about your brother once."

She caught her breath and snuffled.  Ase had a desperate impulse to
walk out of the shop.  Then he was suddenly amused.  The sweet sad
thought would tickle Nellie as much as a new hat.  He wondered if
he could manage to tell it so that she could see Miss Minnie as he
saw her now, manless, ferret-like and sniffly, realized it was
beyond him.

Miss Minnie said, "Now maybe, being for a wife, you'd like one of
my own hand painted cake plates.  I wouldn't boast, but I'm famous
for my hand painted roses."

He said hastily, "No, no thank you.  Something personal."

His eyes lit on something blue, the color of Nellie's eyes.  He
pointed, but the milliner was holding out to him a monstrous thing,
presumably a hat, wide-brimmed and a mass of cotton-cloth pansies.

"Now Mr. Linden, in the trade we call this a confection."

He wanted to say, "Save it for the drummers," but he could not
offend her, and he pointed again to the blue thing that he now
recognized as a sort of bonnet.  It was made of satin, smooth as
Nellie's skin.  It seemed to be, what was it, quilted, it had a
pert pink rose at one side, and wide blue satin ribbons that he
could picture tied in a bow under Nellie's firm little chin.

He asked, "Can you put that in a fancy box?"

"Why yes, Mr. Linden, why yes, you have such good taste, of course
it's expensive, but I see you don't mind that."

She hesitated.

"Twelve dollars?"

He took out his leather wallet and counted out the bills.  The
price shocked him, but he could not wait to see Nellie's face
adorably surrounded by this bit of blue.

Miss Minnie said, "Now something else, perhaps?  A little tippet?
Some lace for the throat?  Another little, let's say, extravagance?"

He thought of his mother, and bought lace for her, and a fine
shawl.  He slipped his purchases in the back seat of the sleigh and
met Nellie at the Penny Store.  They bought there toys for Nat and
Arent and Nellie's nieces and nephews, and gum drops, peppermint
and licorice sticks, barley sugar candy, and bright ornaments for
the Christmas tree.

The afternoon had turned dark and even colder.  Amelia's train was
not due until six o'clock.  Ase had saved another surprise for
Nellie, supper at the Peyton House.  He began to worry about the
horses.  He took Nellie to the hotel, left her in the red-carpeted
lobby, and returned to drive his team to the livery stable,
ordering oats and a warm mash.  It had proved an expensive day, but
he was satisfied.  When he returned to the hotel, he found Nellie
in conversation with what must be one of Miss Minnie's feather-
buying drummers.  He invited the man to join them for supper, but
the stranger refused.

The supper was a disappointment, compared with Nellie's cooking,
but there were delicacies on the menu, such as oysters.  Nellie was
animated and he felt a surge of pride, seeing that the other
diners, men for the most part, watched her.  The Peyton House clock
showed ten minutes to six and he and Nellie walked the short
distance to the railroad station to meet Amelia's train.  It was
only a little late.  Ase rejoiced when Nellie ran to embrace his
mother as she stepped down.  He seemed to remember that since the
planting of the apple orchard Nellie had changed her attitude, had
given Amelia every attention.  Perhaps after all the two women
would become friends.  He brought the sleigh, tucked them into the
front seat beside him, drew the robe over them and set out for
home.  The sleigh bells rang sweetly.

Amelia was cheerful as Ase had never known her.

She said, "I was really in despair not to find my Benjamin.  I
advertised for information of him, you know, in all the Indiana
papers.  But I got the best of news.  A young lady answered me from
near Indianapolis and I went to see her.  Benjamin had left for the
West again, a month before.  A wonderful opportunity was waiting
for him, some sort of mining partnership.  She was hoping that I
knew the exact location, as he had forgotten to give her the

She coughed delicately.

"Yes, they are engaged.  I must say, I was charmed with her.  Very
pretty, and the only child of an invalid and wealthy widower.
Ben's prospects are bright indeed.  He will return for her in the
spring.  She was delighted with my suggestion that they come here
at once.  She was certain he would agree.  He had spoken of me
tenderly, most tenderly.  He has been waiting to write me, to come
to me, as I knew, until he could come in happiness and prosperity."

She touched Nellie's mittened hand.

"I hope this doesn't come as a shock to you, my dear.  It was to be

Nellie said dryly, "The whole thing's exactly what I'd expect."

"Good.  You have only yourself to blame for losing him."

Ase felt Nellie stiffen beside him.  She started to speak and did
not.  She nudged him in the ribs and gave her little chuckle.

She said demurely, "Ase and I are very pleased for Ben."

The understanding came clearly to him from her that Ben had only
moved on into the void from another of his familiar conquests.
Well then, his mother would be contented until the spring, and into
the summer, drawing sustenance from this chimaera.

He decided not to mention the possibility of getting a message to
Ben through Mink, it was too remote.  He would wait until she began
to brood again and needed some fresh hope to cling to.  She
chattered of details of her visit.  She had an extra box with her,
gifts, she said, for the children, and how was her little Nat?

Nellie said, "There'll be another this summer, Mother Linden.  Time
for a girl.  We thought she'd be little Amelia."

They had not discussed a name, but Ase was touched.

His mother said, "That might be a handicap, if her life proves as
sad as mine," yet she seemed gratified.

The sky over their shoulders had a ruddy afterglow.  A wind had
risen, and for a hundred yards before they took the turn by the
schoolhouse, Ase thought the sound he heard was its howling through
the naked tree tops.  Only the brilliance of the snow made it
possible to see the figure at the foot of the schoolhouse steps.
He halted the team.  He knew at once this was Tim McCarthy, in
trouble again, and the howling had come from his little white dog,
invisible against the greater whiteness.  Tim had evidently used
the last of his strength to try to enter the school-house.  The dog
barked now shrilly and ran in excited circles.  Ase lifted the
huddled frail body in his arms.  Tim was unconscious, breathing in
deep rasps.  Ase laid him on the straw of the floor of the back
seat and tucked the horse blankets around him.  Tim had on the
lightest of clothing.  It was impossible to know how long he had
lain there in the bitter cold.  Ase motioned to the dog to jump in.
The animal was shivering and pressed close against his master.

Amelia said, "Tim always manages to fall drunk where you'll find

Nellie said wryly, "It's a habit he can't get out of, along with
the liquor."

The two disparate women at least had this consolidarity.  Nellie
had lost her tolerance of Tim, he could not tell how or when.

Ase was stepping into the sleigh when he recollected.  It was
seldom that Tim went out celebrating without his fiddle.  Ase went
back and searched near the steps and found it.  He laid it on the
back seat and set off.  Hulda's lamp in her bedroom was the only
light in the house.  He must remind her, no, Nellie would be sure
to, that the Lindens did not spare the oil, and always wanted lamps
lit to welcome them.  He hoped she had kept the fires going.  Hulda
was a good girl, she had helped Nellie off and on since the birth
of Nat.  He drew up at the side of the house.

Nellie said, "Not a light.  Probably not a fire in the house.  I'll
get things going, Ase, and you can bring in the stuff after you
take Tim home."

Nellie knew as well as he that Tim's employers were away for the
holidays and had left behind a young hired boy to take care of the
stock, against the certain eventuality of Tim's Christmas drunk.
She had probably forgotten.

He said, "I must bring him in."

He went ahead to light the kitchen lamp.  He heard the women
murmuring together.

Nellie said, "Now Mother Linden agrees with me, Ase, you've got to
take that nasty old man right on to his own home."

They stood united against him, against his friend.

He said, "He doesn't have a home."

Amelia said, "The people he works for are responsible for him.  Not

Ase said, "But he's sick."

Nellie snapped, "You bet he's sick.  He'll be puking all over any

It seemed to him that he could hear Tim's agonized breathing
through the very walls.  How long had Tim lain helpless in the

He said, "He's getting old.  I'll take care of him, he won't be any

Nellie said, "Spoil Christmas for your old drunk, then.  I won't go
near him.  Mother Linden, you sleep here tonight.  I don't see why
you don't move into your old downstairs bedroom here, to stay.  I
hate thinking of you alone in the log-house."

Amelia said, "My dear, how thoughtful of you.  I shall."

He lifted Tim from the sleigh and went with his burden into the
house.  He carried his friend upstairs to a bedroom over the
kitchen which always kept a certain amount of warmth.  He pulled
off Tim's heavy brogan shoes but left on his clothing for the
moment and piled quilts and a goose-down comforter over him.  Tim's
breathing was stertorous.

Ase drove the sleigh to the barn, unhitched the horses and made
them comfortable.  He still had the milking to do, the feeding of
the stock, the watering.  The animals greeted him in their various
tongues and he responded with a touch here, a word there.  When he
returned to the house he saw that his wife and his mother had had a
cozy bite of food and tea together.  Both had retired to their

The fire in the range had died to ashes.  He built it up, made
scalding tea, took it by the back stairs to Tim's room, lit a lamp,
and forced two cups down him.  Tim muttered.  Ase undressed him,
stole another comforter from the nearby bedroom and spread it over
his friend, waited until Tim broke into a promising sweat.  He
dried the old man with his own shirt, tucked the covers close
around his neck, and went downstairs again.  He had forgotten Tim's
dog.  He went out into the icy night and called.  The little dog
was crouched by the woodshed door.  Ase brought him in, fed him
generously, then led him up the back stairs.  With a moan of joy,
the dog leaped to Tim's bed.  Ase drew back the top coverlet to let
him snuggle inside.

Ase remembered that he had not unloaded the sleigh.  But none of
the Christmas contents would be harmed by the night's cold.  Only
Tim was in danger.  He went to his friend three times during the
night, to cover him again against his feverish tossing.


The kitchen on Christmas Eve morning was apparently chaos.  Ase
stood baffled in the doorway, with no place to set down the milk
buckets.  His hands were numb with cold, his nose felt frostbitten.
The center work-table seemed to have had a vast cornucopia spilled
at random across it.  The big gray goose lay ready for plucking,
apples, onions, Hubbard squash, raisins were piled around it, a pan
of crumbled bread would become stuffing, a bowl of cracked hickory-
nuts needed to have the meats extracted, cranberries would make a
ruby sauce, ears of pop-corn wanted hulling, a basket of eggs
awaited a broken sacrifice.  The kitchen sink was piled with used
bowls, the table between sink and stove was covered with buttered
cake tins, Nellie was spooning batter into a row of them with
machine precision.  The coffee-pot simmered at the back of the
range, buckwheat batter gave out its sharp yeasty winter smell, a
skillet of sausages was frying slowly.

Amelia looked in from the dining-room door.

"I thought I'd keep out of the way until you're ready for me.  You
might just bring me a little tray of breakfast to my room.  I have
my fire going."

The back-stair door opened and Nat reached for the last steps
precariously, little Arent clutched dangling from his front, like a
huge puppy.  Nellie turned in time to thump down her bowl and
gather up the younger child as Nat stumbled.  She dropped Arent in
his high-chair, opened the oven door and slid in six layer tins of
cake batter, pulled the soapstone griddle to the front of the
range, pushed more wood in the fire-box, led Nat to the wash-stand
and mopped and dried his face and hands.

"Milk pans in the woodshed, Ase," she said.  "Strainer on the
shelf.  Strain for me, then wash up for breakfast.  Go make
yourself comfortable, Mother Linden, have you a nice tray in a
jiffy.  Nat, find Arent something to play with.  Here, give him his
spoon to bang."

She dipped buckwheat batter onto the griddle, turned the sausages,
stirred the oatmeal, Arent beat his silver spoon on his wooden
tray, Nat dragged the cat from under the stove by its tail, was
scratched for his pains and howled.  Nellie was the whirlwind and
she was also its calm and cheerful center.  When Ase came from the
wash-stand, she had breakfast on the dining table and had begun to
help Arent eat his oatmeal.  She handed him the spoon and he
finished feeding the child.  Nat was helping himself busily to one
cookie after another, making a ring around his porridge plate.
Nellie whisked past to the company bedroom with a steaming tray for
Amelia.  She took a look at her cakes in the oven, sat down at the
table, brushed the curls away from her moist forehead, poured a cup
of coffee, and, it seemed to Ase, breathed for the first time.  She
was plainly as happy as a cat in a wool-skein.

He said, "This going to keep up all day?"

She nodded.

"There'll be nothing much to do tomorrow but roast the goose and
the turkey, cook the vegetables.  You can hull the popcorn or pick
out nut meats this morning if I don't find time."

"I can pluck the goose for you."

"No thanks.  I want to keep the down separate.  You'd get absent-
minded and have it half full of feathers.  I'll keep you busy,
don't fret."

He watched his chance to mix a bowl of oatmeal with cream and
sugar, to pour a cup of coffee and to slip up the back stairs to
Tim.  He hesitated at the door of the bedroom, set down the dishes,
and went to his cupboard for the bottle of medicinal whiskey.  Tim
was awake.  The old man had escaped pneumonia, but his exposure had
settled into a deep bronchial cough, and he was wretched in

He said weakly, "Ase, the trouble I am to you."

Ase fed him several spoonfuls of whiskey.  They grinned at each
other, for it was not his usual way of taking it.  He managed the
coffee and half the oatmeal.  He closed his eyes.  Ase pulled the
window shades against the bright morning light, tucked in the
bedcovers and tiptoed away.  Sleep and warmth would take over the
healing.  He was more relieved than he could have believed.  The
old man had evidently not lain too long in the cold, or he was
tough as a hickory knot, or both.

Amelia decided to be company, at least for the time being.  She
spent the day arranging her personal belongings in the pleasant
downstairs front bedroom.  Nellie took her two of her prettiest
house plants for decoration.  Ase worked steadily at whatever small
jobs Nellie assigned him.  His great slow hands hulled the popcorn
and picked out nut meats.  Nellie forgot him, until she noticed the
bowl of shelled nuts overflowing, when she stopped him.  Nat sat on
a stool and worked the wooden churn dasher faithfully up and down
until the butter came.  The family had glasses of fresh buttermilk
and doughnuts in midmorning.  Nat built a set of barns in a corner
with the corn cobs.  Arent fell asleep in his high chair.  Cakes
came and went from the oven, were turned out to cool, were filled
and frosted and sugared.  Pound cakes had been made a few days ago,
fruit cakes weeks before.  Mince pies filled a long shelf in the
stone cellar.  In the afternoon, Nellie made pies of pumpkin and
squash, brown and fragrant with spice, set bread dough to rise, and
in a sudden panic that there might not be enough to eat on
Christmas day, made up fresh batches of molasses and sugar cookies
and a dishpanful of doughnuts.  Amelia proved vague about the
stuffing for the goose, and Nellie went quietly ahead with her
usual recipe.  Ase carried the heavy goose and turkey down cellar,
dressed and trussed and ready in their roasting pans for tomorrow's

Supper was early and light, so far as Nellie could possibly set a
simple table.  Amelia joined them.  Nat whined for some of the
fresh cocoanut cake.  Nellie had foreseen the danger and produced a
tiny one for his own, baked in a small tin lid, and frosted as
thickly as the big company one.  He was delighted and made it last
a long time.  When Nellie made griddle cakes she always made
special ones for him, the size of a half dollar.  Ase looked over
the table uneasily, to choose something helpful for Tim.

Nellie said, "You don't have to sneak the old bother's food to him.
I'll fix something, if you think he's slept off his drunk."

"He caught cold," Ase said.

"Anybody else would have caught his death."

"He has a bad cough, Nellie."

She sighed and looked tired for the first time.

"All right.  I'll make him a hot onion poultice when we go to bed.
Anything to get him on out of here in a hurry."

She sent him upstairs with an invalid's supper of poached eggs and
hot milk and buttered toast.  The old man's eyes filled.

"The dear Nellie, now," he said, "taking thought for an old bastard
doesn't deserve it.  I'll be making it up to her somehow."

He seemed to relish the delicate food.  He sat up straight.

"Mother of God, me fiddle!"

"It's safe in the woodshed."

"Praise be.  No matter how the drink takes me, I do usually keep a
good grip of it."  He eyed Ase sharply.  "This time I did not, eh?
Praise to you, then, Asahel Linden my friend."

Ase said, "I wanted some Christmas music tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?  Eh, now.  Me sick on your hands for the Lord's
birthday, and no gifts in mine."

Ase ached to comfort him, to assure him that his presence was gift
enough, his very life a precious thing.  He hoped that in the
hubbub of a big family Christmas day, Nellie and Amelia would greet
the old fellow at least not too unkindly.

He said, "Nellie'll make you a poultice tonight," and returned

Arent had been put to bed, but Nat was allowed to stay up to watch
the popping of corn, its stringing, and the stringing of the
reddest cranberries, into long festoons.  Ase had a small spruce
concealed in the woodshed for a Christmas tree.  Amelia helped with
the popcorn as though she made the major contribution to the
holiday preparations, but she was cheerful and talkative.

She took Nat on her lap and said, "Now Grandmother will tell you
all about Santa Claus."

Her telling of the fable was drab and unconvincing.  Nat squirmed.
He was most interested in the idea that St. Nick meant presents for
him.  By what mystic, reindeer-driven means they arrived was not

"So tonight," Amelia finished, "while you're asleep, Santa will
bring things for a good boy, and tomorrow you can have them, and
it's called 'Christmas,' and we'll have roast goose and great big
cakes and plum pudding."

She retired to her room and Nellie put the boy to bed.  Ase brought
the little spruce and set it up in a corner of the living-room.  He
handed Nellie the strings of popcorn and cranberries, the bright
ornaments from the Penny Store.  She dusted tinsel over the boughs.
The little tree was gay and sparkling.  They arranged the gifts
under it.  Nellie made a hot onion poultice for McCarthy's chest,
turned it over to Ase to apply, and went to bed.

Tim protested the ungodly stink of the poultice, but resigned

"'Tis me punishment," he said.

Ase brought the dog in to him for the night.  He went down alone to
the kitchen, still redolent, still warm.  He fetched his Bible and
by the light of the kitchen lamp, turned the pages until he found
what he was seeking.  "The Lord's birthday," Tim had said.

"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which
is Christ the Lord."

He had been troubled as his mother told Nat of Santa Claus.  He had
wanted then to tell his first born son this older and more stirring
story.  Presents, why, they were things to give, not to receive,
the Wise Men had brought gifts, not waited avidly for them.  He was
disturbed over Nat's young greediness, and Amelia, yes, Nellie too,
seemed to encourage him in this.

He turned a page back and read, "And there were in the same country
shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by
night.  And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory
of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid."

As always, the majestic language moved him; the talk of shepherds,
abiding in the field.  It seemed to him that a man might meet God,
if ever, in the fields, for so much of creation was there.
McCarthy was a religious man, for all his sins, and an articulate.
He would ask Tim tomorrow to tell Nat of Christmas.

He closed the book and put it away.  A log of charred wood
collapsed and crashed against the quiet of the house.  The clock on
the mantel ticked noisily.  It was nearly twelve o'clock.  Nellie's
family would be arriving early the next day and there would be
confusion.  Although it was so late, he decided it would be best to
give the sick ewe her drenching tonight.  One of the Wilson men
would be glad to give him a hand tomorrow, yet a stranger would
disturb all the sheep, and the ewe would be more difficult to
handle.  He mixed the draught, lit a lantern, put on his greatcoat,
tied a muffler over his fur cap and went out into the still night
to the sheep-shed.

The sheep looked up in curiosity from their beds in the deep oat
straw.  Their smell was rankly sweet in the sheltered close.  The
sick ewe was drowsing.  Ase opened her mouth gently and had the
draught down her throat before she could become alarmed.  The sheep
took the lantern light for morning and began nibbling at their
straw.  The ram looked benevolently over his flock, then nibbled,
too.  Passing the stable, Ase stepped inside and held his light
high, more by way of greeting than for anxiety, for all the other
stock was in good health.  The red heifer who had had trouble with
her first calf rose from her knees in her stall, recognized him,
lowed softly and started at once to chew her cud.  The cows, the
horses, breathed heavily.  One of the barn cats peered from a
manger, its eyes wild and red in the lantern light.  It ducked away
and there was the squeaking of a caught mouse.  Ase left the
creatures to their sleep.

He thought he had never seen so many twinkling stars.  They were
not moving, he thought, but were bound to cosmic stakes, from which
they struggled to be free.  The earth must look so to a night-
watcher on another planet, tugging at its tethers.  He wondered
what force held each one in its appointed place.  He had read in
the astronomy book that the earth revolved around the sun, the moon
around the earth, and that these three were part of a larger
stellar system.  And how far did that system extend, and how many
other such systems were there, and was there any end to them and
any end to man?  He had read in fascination in Ben's Academy books
of what was called the force of gravity, which pinned men down to
earth so that they did not fly off into space, kept each one
dancing up and down on one spot.  If a larger eye, God, for
instance, watched them, men too might appear to be struggling
against invisible deep-set stakes.

And was God there among the stars, Himself the gravity, Himself the
great inter-revolving, or was He, as the preachers said, only an
omnipotent human, white-bearded, stern and harsh as Asahel's own
father, with an odd capacity for watching critically every man's
thoughts and actions, disapproving particularly of fornication and
of the theft of property?  The still night was so bright that Ase
blew out his lantern.  He stared upward.  Whatever the truth, he
found himself drawn to those outer spaces.  It seemed to him that
he must perish if he could not make some sort of communication,
back and forth, just as he was desolate because he had lost touch
with his brother.  He found himself denying this so-called force of
gravity.  It could not be what tied men to earth.  It was a heavy
weight, an unendurable pressure from the outer-land, and if a man
could once break through it, soar high like a bird, he would be
free, would meet, would join, something greater than he, and be
complete at last.

Walking slowly to the house, he scented the strong odor of a fox.

"Help yourself to the mice," he thought, "leave the chickens

A sound of distant chimes came sweetly to him.  The church bells of
Peytonville were ringing.  It was midnight of Christmas Eve.


Christmas day was clear and sparkling.  The sun gathered its
strength.  The icicles were struck to the heart, wept long crystal
tears, lost their grip on their week-long home under the eaves,
fell tinkling and broken to the ground.  Nellie had slipped early
and quiet from bed.  Ase, over sleeping, was late with his chores.
It was the first time the morning sun had met him returning with
the milk buckets.  He had given all the stock an extra measure of
grain, scattered more handfuls than usual of barley and wheat and
corn on the snow for the winter birds.  The sick ewe was better.
He found Nellie deep in the paring of vegetables and the good smell
of breakfast waiting.  He strained the milk, took the wide shallow
pans to the cellar shelves, and on his way up the back stairs to
Tim McCarthy, met the old man coming down.  Tim was shaky and

"The merriest of Christmases to you, my friend," he said.  "Now
I've found me health, isn't it best I be taking my own road?"

The wistfulness was naked under his bravado.  As he spoke, he
staggered and clutched at the wooden railing beside the steep
narrow stairs.  Ase steadied him.  His heart ached for the lonely

"You're family, Tim," he said.  "We want you here."

"Ah then, bless you.  I'll eat at table, not to be a burden to the
darling Nellie.  And I'll fiddle for you, come evening, if it's the
last fiddling I do this side of Heaven."

The white dog came behind him, yawning, asked to be let out, to
make an admirably large puddle in the snow.  Nellie did not look
up.  Ase cleared his throat.

"Tim's better," he said.

"Then maybe he can give me a hand," she said tartly.  "There's
still a lot to do, with Hulda gone for the holidays."

Tim said, "I'm good as any woman in the kitchen, Nellie dear."

She dropped an onion in its pot of water and stood up.

"Breakfast's ready.  Ase, get the boys out of your mother's room
and wash their faces.  Tell her to come sit down.  I can't bother
with a tray."

It seemed to Ase that she had a delayed irritation, quite
understandable, from her hard work the day before.  He was
unwilling to admit that she could be annoyed over Tim's spending
Christmas with them.  Breakfast was not out of the ordinary, but
the quantity was a menace to the coming Christmas dinner.  Tim
insisted on washing the breakfast dishes.  Amelia retired to her
room.  The midmorning sun blazed on the snow and ice.  Ase wrapped
Nat warmly over his yells to have his Christmas gifts at once, and
took him out of doors, along with a lump of suet to hang from a
poplar tree for the birds.  Nat found the fallen icicles and ate
the fragments like candy.

The sleigh bells of the Wilson family came ringing down the road.
Ase and Nat met them, the women went into the house, the men put
away the horses and lingered in the barns to talk of farm affairs.
The sun was high.  Amelia came from her room dressed in her best.
She was condescending to Nellie's people.  Nellie changed her
percale dress for a silk one and replaced the gingham apron with
one of frilled organdy.  The families gathered in the living room
where the Wilsons had added their gifts to the others under the
Christmas tree.  Ase looked at his mother.  She took charge.

"Now when I give the word, everyone looks for his own presents.
Ready?  Go."

The adults and the Wilson children went modestly to the piles of
packages to search for their own names.  Ase was pained to see Nat
plunge wildly, scrambling under the tree, and to hear him howl as
he could not identify what was to be his alone.  Tim appeared in
the doorway.

He called out, "Nat, me boy, wait a bit.  Uncle Tim'll be helping

He put an arm around the child, bent with him under the tree, and
brought out Nat's gifts.

"Look now," he said soothingly, "here's all of this, come, we'll
open them.  And who's loved the little Nat so much to have all this
for him?"

The child grabbed avidly at his presents, was shown by Tim how to
spin the beautiful shining top.  Tim drew from his pocket a silver
dollar and handed it to the boy.  Nat dropped the top.

"Money!" he screamed.

He ran to his mother.

"Look, Ma!  Is this enough to buy me a horse and buggy?"

The Wilson clan laughed.

Nellie winked and said, "With a pair of bays."

Amelia said, "Tell the child the truth.  Nathaniel dear, you'd need
a pile of silver dollars so-o-o high to buy a horse and buggy.  You
can save this one, and when you grow up, you must find a way to get
lots more of them, and then you can buy anything you want."

He scowled.

"What way?"

"Why, almost any way.  Except stealing, of course.  Lawyers and
bankers make money."

Bert Wilson offered, "Buy land cheap and sell it high's a right
good way."

Harry Wilson said, "Any business a man can build up for himself.
Long as it's his own."

Nellie's father said, "Anything but farming," and the prosperous
Wilsons laughed again.  Amelia listened with approval.  Her black
eyes were bright.  Nat began to wail.  He held out the dollar with

"It isn't enough.  It won't buy anything."

McCarthy said, "Uncle Tim's sorry, boy.  'Twas all I had."

His shining gift had become a shabby thing, to be apologized for.
Ase wanted to explain that it stood for hours of a man's hard
labor, for an old man's life running fast through the hour glass.

Amelia said severely, "Nathaniel, money always buys things.  This
will buy a hundred sticks of penny candy.  Think of that.  It's
your first dollar, too, all your very own."

The child looked at the piece of metal with fresh respect.  The
moment's awkwardness was eased.  The families compared their gifts,
thanked one another.  Nellie clapped her satin bonnet over her
curls and danced around the room for admiration.  She left it on
when she went to the kitchen to baste the goose.  The men settled
down to talk of crops and stock and prices.  The women bustled
about to help Nellie put dinner on the table.

The table was extended almost the length of the dining room and a
smaller table was laid in a corner for the overflow of children.
The platters and tureens of food scarcely left room for the plates
and silver.  The desserts were a full pastry shop, arranged on the
sideboard, as reminder to leave a little room for them in the
stomach.  The Oriental spices of the plum pudding steaming in its
linen jacket lay sharply over the pungency of the table.

Ase motioned Tim, hanging back timidly, to a seat beside him.  The
women began heaping plates to pass to the children.  Nellie's
father announced that Ase should carve the goose under his own
roof, but he was so almighty slow, and the goose happened to be in
front of his own place, and he'd have it sliced--there now, one
breast clean already--before Ase could get a hold with the carving
fork.  The Wilsons roared.  Ase sliced the turkey carefully,
remembering each one's preference.  Tim touched him on the knee.

He whispered, "May the Lord bless this fabulous bounty to the good
of body and soul."

Ase closed his eyes an instant.  He thought of Mink Fisher and
prayed that somewhere he had found a deep warm cave and sat by a
fire with venison roasting over it and was not walking through the
snow with a hard bit of meat or white man's dry crust of bread in
his gnarled cold hand.  He prayed that Benjamin might be sitting
with friends before another generous board.

With dinner eaten and praised, the tiered cakes and pies wrecked
and ruined, the plum pudding turned out of its cloth and set ablaze
with applejack, two bowls of sauce to pass, one hot and yellow-
foaming, the other a hard sauce creamed to a feather, the company
disintegrated like the mounds of food.  The men drunk with
overeating, staggered out of the house that suddenly confined them.
They drifted to barns and sheds and scuffled their feet and leaned
against stalls and picked their teeth with golden straws.  The
women sat lethargically at table a few minutes, then set Nellie at
putting away the devastated remnants while they washed and dried
the dishes, laid a fresh damask cloth and set the table for the
evening supper.  The small children fell asleep in chairs and
corners, the older nibbled on Christmas candy, knowing they should
have been allowed to eat it before dinner, when it would have
tasted better, and here and there a boy found greed or courage for
a bite or two of firm-fleshed winter apple.

It was too early for the evening chores.  Tim and Ase sat by the
fire without speaking.  The kitchen clattered with the rattle of
plate on plate, the multiplied crash of women's voices.  Nat and a
young Wilson cousin had a brief quarrel over a toy.  The little
girls hugged new dolls dreamily.  The boys lost heart for barley-
sugar candy and peppermint and licorice sticks, for tops and drums
and pocket-knives.  They collapsed flat and quiet on the Brussels

Ase looked to see if Tim were over-tiring.  The old man's chin was
on his chest.  He was sleeping soundly.  The return of the men for
supper roused him.  He played a tune on his fiddle, supper was
called, was eaten, and in a drugged group-understanding, the
Wilsons hitched up their teams to the sleighs, the women gathered
up children like armfuls of rags, dropped them deep among rugs and
straw.  The sleighs slid smoothly away under the early starlight,
the bells jangling, only the horses fresh, high-stepping.  Amelia
graciously offered to put Nat and Arent to bed.

Nellie said sleepily, "The pudding was good, if I do say so."

Ase said, "Where's Tim?"

"Oh, he went on with some of the folks.  Said the walk the rest of
the way'd do him good.  Said tell you, thanks, what was it now,
anyway, thanks."

The moment had never come to ask McCarthy for the telling of the
Christmas story.


Ase stopped the plow horse at the fence corner, for rest in the
shade of a maple.  The June morning was fresh but the direct sun
brought out the sweat.  Old Shep threw himself to the cool earth,
his red tongue dripping.  He was inclined to be a foolish old dog,
and followed Ase behind the plow for hours, when he would stop,
seem to question himself, and answer that they were evidently going
nowhere and that he was wasting his time.  Ase cooled quickly in
the shade.  He stepped into the bean field and looked to the south.
On the far slopes the cattle moved in pools of white foam that were
daisies.  The sheep beyond, clean in their new wool, were visible
only when they fed on into patches of buttercup or clover.  Nellie
had complained of a trace of wild garlic in the milk and butter.
He must have missed a few clumps in last year's hunt for it.  He
himself did not mind the faint flavor, it gave a certain richness
to the June gold of the color.  Nellie had so much butter to sell,
he had best trace and uproot the garlic in the pasture.

He walked between the bean rows.  The young plants were healthy,
but it was clear he would not have the crop of the year before,
raised southwest beyond the apple orchard.  This high field west of
the house was not fertile enough for such a rank feeder.  Wheat,
rye, or barley, buckwheat, these the land would raise, hay, of
course.  Corn was the proper crop for these acres.  He had not had
corn here since his father's death.  He examined the plants for
signs of damaging insects.  Only the bees were buried head-on in
the first of the bean blossoms, scanty, he feared.  The bushes
plowed under after the last crop was gathered would enrich the soil
at least.  Next spring he must plant corn.  It would grow taller
than he and fill the sky with the sabers of its leaves, plume-
topped and rustling.  He straightened instantly and looked across
the field, almost in panic, then eased.  The road that wound into
the west was visible.  It dipped, narrowed to cross the wooden
bridge over the willow-bordered stream, turned up the next hill and
curved in plain sight until far away.  He had been unable to plant
here any crop that would block his vision.  Back along that road
would come Benjamin or news of him, if either came at all.

He went back slowly to take again the plow handles.  He supposed
June was a fine month everywhere.  Roads all over the country would
be lined with flowering thorn and hazel.  Birds would be nesting
clear to California.  The roads would be stony in places, or made
of clay, or churn into a fine powder like flour, but they would all
feel good under a man's feet.  They would feel good to the hoofs of
a horse.  A shadow passed across the field.  An eagle was flying
westward.  Ase thought he did not want to walk west, or ride, but
to mount an eagle.  From that height he could recognize Ben
wherever he passed him far below.  He felt desperate and
earthbound.  He lifted the reins and the horse turned to the field.
The aging Dan felt the reins slack and only ambled between the
rows.  By noon, when the dinner bell rang, Ase had not finished the
cultivating as he had expected.

The family was at table as he came in from the wash bench.  Nellie
and Amelia were giving conflicting orders to the children.  The
relations of the two women were reasonably amiable.  Nat was
demanding plum preserves before he would accept more substantial
foods.  Amelia, so strangely a glutton, especially for sweets, was
backing him up.  The younger boy Arent waited patiently to be
served when the argument should be ended.  The baby girl 'Melie
beat on the tray of her high-chair.  Ase had hoped she would
resemble Nellie, but she was a tiny copy of his mother, for whom
she had been named.  Perhaps the next baby would be a girl, too,
and another Nellie.  The children ate heartily and rapidly, then
broke into a clatter of talk.  Nellie was chatty as always.  Amelia
was in a mood for talk as well, and the dining table sounded to him
like chipping-sparrows finding a ripe grain field.  Nellie passed
dishes to him and he ate automatically without consciousness of
meat or bread or fruit.

His silence at table had been troublesome when he was a boy,
especially on the days when Benjamin was missing.  Now it went
unnoticed under the cheery confusion.  He seemed also to have less
and less to say.  The baby was cooing like a turtle dove.  With a
happy winglike motion, she swept her mug of milk to the floor.
Nellie sighed.

"Hoped I was through cleaning today."

She brushed back her curls with the gesture Ase loved.  The
children were ordinarily her entire affair, but Ase rose and went
to the kitchen for a cloth.  Nellie watched his awkward mopping in
amusement and took the cloth away from him to finish.  She had the
strength and stamina of a cat, but she seemed tired today.  The new
baby was no more than on the way, Nellie was having spells of
sickness, which she had never had in pregnancy before.  He would
drive to the Svensons' tonight to see if Hulda could be spared
again this summer.  It was no time to be thinking of an out-going
road, of eagles flying westward.

He returned to his cultivating.  The bees droned.  Ase decided he
would rob part of one hive in a week or so.  He enjoyed taking each
new variety of honey to Nellie.  The combs of apple blossom honey
would be recognizable, pale as April sunlight.  The bean blossom
honey would be nearly the color of Amelia's amber beads.  Clover
honey, later, would be the color of the brook water beneath the
willows, the goldenrod again would darken, and last would come the
buckwheat honey, red black, strong and pungent, and his favorite.
He thought now of the various honeys in glass jars, joined to the
sparkling jellies on the cellar shelves, and choosing one was like
choosing a jewel.  He had a color plate of gems that had come with
his encyclopedia.  Holding his bony forefinger under each one,
memorizing the names, he had recognized not only the amber, but the
clear ruby of the currant, the amethyst of the plum, the jade of
gooseberry, the sardonyx of the buckwheat.  He had bought the
encyclopedia this spring of a road drummer and was vaguely
disappointed.  Most of the information was strange and he read with
absorption of the people and animals of other lands, of alien
fruits and vegetation.  But when he turned eagerly to learn about
the stars, the planets, the cosmos, he did not find the things he
was seeking.  He had thought a book so large and thick would have
some answers.

Old Shep lay under the maple tree with no attempt to follow the
plowing.  Ase turned down the final row.  The mid-afternoon sun was
in his eyes, but he thought he saw movement on the western horizon.
He stopped Dan and shaded his eyes.  A small rounded white cloud
seemed to be rolling slowly along the road.  Then another and
another.  A familiar joy filled his chest.  The gypsies had come
back again with summer.  He finished his row and hurried Dan to the
barn, to be ahead of his friends to greet them.

The white-topped wagons turned off the road and lurched to a stop
beyond the flowing spring at the edge of the apple orchard.  The
drivers jumped down and stretched their arms and legs luxuriously.
The back doors of the wagons flew open and wooden steps dropped to
earth.  Children spilled out like apples from an opened sack.  They
were the first to see the tall gangling young man coming toward
them.  They shrieked and pointed.  The men lifted their hands high
and shouted.

"Asah!" they called.  "Asah!"

They poured around him like the swirling waters of the brook in
flood.  It was necessary to touch him.  The women came more
quietly, their eyes bright as their gold loop earrings.  The
slanting sun flashed on the gold, on the shining dark eyes, on the
white teeth.  There were three new babies to show him.  The queen,
the Old One, took his hand and pressed it against her vast breast.
Her voice was deep and tender.

"Asah, the bes' friend," she said.

The leader suddenly shouted at the men.

"Horse die for drink while you play!  Plenty time talk to our

The men unhitched the horses and led them to the mossy watering
trough below the spring.  They scooped water in their hands and
drank, the drops crystal in the sun.  The children remembered the
dipper and would drink only from that, crowding for their turns.
The horses were hobbled and turned loose to graze.  A narrow strip
of grass grew between the road and the beginning of the buckwheat
planted in the orchard.  The buckwheat shoots were young and
tender.  Ase saw the horses munching instinctively toward them.  He
would not hurt his friends by halting the horses now.

The women brought out their great black iron cooking kettles and
smaller copper pots and pans.  Boys were sent for twigs and
branches to start the camp fire.  Young men brought the whole
carcasses of two lambs from the wagons and set about dressing them.
A calf was tethered to graze.  Ase smiled.  The lambs had certainly
come from a flock near Peytonville and just as certainly had not
been paid for.  He did not recognize the calf.  He himself was
perhaps the only farmer in these parts from whom the gypsies did
not steal.  But then, they had no need to.  The women took over the
meat for cutting.  The kettles were half filled with water from the
spring, pieces of meat and fragrant herbs were added.  Girls sat
about peeling onions and potatoes.  Spits were set up for roasting
haunches and special tidbits.  More wood was needed, to make beds
of coals, to keep the fires burning for the cooking and for the
night's lighting.

Ase said, "Send the boys up the lane past the barn.  There's
hickory wood cut there."

Speech came easily with these people.

He said now to the leader, "The feed's not too good here.  We'll
take the horses for oats and hay.  You can put them in the pasture
with mine, or in the stalls."

The leader flashed his teeth.  His name was unpronounceable and Ase
called him "Pav."

"Horse like us.  No stalls.  Everything best under sky.  Food,
sleep, love," Pav said.

Ase smiled and nodded.  The horses were led to the barns and given
oats, then led out to the fenced pasture and turned free without
hobbles.  Dan and Moll and Prince snorted, ran circling, remembered
the small pied sturdy visitors from last summer, halted to touch
noses.  The Romany animals broke into joyful racing over the
pasture hill.  Ase and Pav leaned on the pasture gate and watched

Ase said, "The roan is new.  Why, isn't he Grimstedt's four-year-

"Is so.  I trade my old Betsy for him."

"What did you give to boot?"

"Little brass ring, is all."

Ase stared at him.

He said, "The roan's worth four of Betsy."

Pav poked his friend in the ribs and chuckled.

"I tell only you.  Secret.  I buy eggs old Grim, pay two times too
much, say nothing.  I say, 'I need money so bad, I sell you my fine
Betsy ten dollar.'  Old Grim lick lips.  He know Betsy worth twenty-
five, thirty.  He make trade quick like a wasp.  I take little
brass ring off Betsy's collar, put with kiss in pocket.

"Grim ask, 'What that?'  I say, 'Reason I can sell Betsy ten
dollar.  I take money now.'  Grim go crazy."

Pav looked around as though the birds were spying and said close to
Ase's ear, "I tell him sometimes one mare, not all, sometimes
special mare, with gypsy brass ring on collar, she find gold and
treasure.  Just stop short over gold and treasure and switch tail.
I show him gold ring, old gold pieces.  'Oh yes,' I say, 'Betsy
just stop short and switch tail.  I dig a little.  Rings, gold,
always there, sometimes not much, sometimes big much, always
something.  Oh yes.'  Betsy not so young, I say, I never cheat him.
I got young mare can do same thing with brass ring on collar, so I
not lose.  Grim shake like leaf.  So, I get fine young roan for
Betsy, just give little brass ring to boot."

Ase smiled.  It was common knowledge that Grimstedt, mean and
miserly, was convinced there was buried treasure on his land.  Pav
began to shake with mirth.  He poked Ase in the ribs again.

"Now, best of joke.  Betsy terrible balker.  Old Grim gonna have
holes dug all over three hundred acres."

Pav let loose the full peals of his laughter and Ase was obliged to
laugh silently with him.  Pav sobered.

"Greedy man biggest fool in world," he said.

Ase longed to pass on the story to Nellie.  Her humor ran to
practical joking, and certainly no joke could be more practical
than this one.  Yet he was bound to respect Pav's confidence and
should do so.  The two men turned back to the barns.  Pav watched
idly and talked of other trades during the past year, rather more
honorable but equally shrewd.  Ase did his chores and started to
the house for the milk buckets.

He said, "When I'm done, I'll bring you a few things for supper."

Pav said, "You eat with us tonight.  We go tomorrow.  So long 'til
next year to talk, play."

Ase nodded.

Pav said, "Bring the flute.  We got new song."

Ase turned at the front path to the house.

He asked, "Think it'll be safe for you around here next year?  Old
Grimstedt'll be ready to trade Betsy back with a charge of buckshot
to boot."

Pav's dark eyes twinkled.

"No worry, my friend.  Betsy so old she be dead next year, way old
Grim gonna keep her hunt treasure.  So I say old Grim, 'Too bad,
too bad.'  I let him cheat me then.  Maybe one dollar."

Gathering the milk buckets and the skimmed milk for the hogs, Ase
wondered why he was not more shocked by the Rom's dishonesty,
himself with a passion for the truth.  It must be from the very
fact that each trade had been based on some man's avarice, of which
Pav had only taken advantage.  No man honest in his heart would
have been taken in.  The stealing of stock was a more serious
matter.  Yet even here, the gypsies only stole from those who drove
them off with oaths, or refused to sell them the needed foodstuffs,
such as milk and bread for the children and hay and grain for their
horses.  Where they received fair treatment, they repaid in double

Tonight he had four brimming buckets of milk.  He had to make two
trips between barn and house.  Nellie was busy in the kitchen and
he strained three of the buckets.  He approached her with some
uncertainty, to ask for the other bucketful, for the egg and butter
money was her own and gave her many small luxuries dear to her, a
pretty shawl, a new piece of china, or something special for the
children.  He cleared his throat.  She looked over her shoulder
from her work at the stove.

"I know.  You've come begging for the gypsies.  I saw them.  Heard
them.  Save your breath."

She laughed at sight of his doleful face.

"Now what do you want for them?  You know I've never refused you.
Just get it out quick before your Ma comes complaining."

He put his arms around her little plump body and nuzzled her warm
neck.  It was true, she had never refused him.  She was as
openhanded as he.  Only in the case of Tim McCarthy, something
seemed to harden in her.

"Sweet Nellie," he said.

She kissed the tip of his nose.

"You don't need to make up to me, either," she said, "to get things

She pushed a pot to the back of the stove.  She brought a large
wicker hamper and began heaping it with fresh salt-rising bread,
pats of butter, cottage cheese, jars of apple butter and preserves,
doughnuts and cookies, and balanced carefully on top, three pies.
He watched her with adoration.

She said, "See you've saved a bucket of milk.  Suppose those wild
young ones don't get it very often, but Lord knows, they look as
healthy as ours.  Hurry up now, Ase.  Don't stand there gawking at
me.  You've seen me before.  Remember?  I'm Nellie Linden.  Better
come back for the milk."

She gave him a shove.

The hamper was heavy.  He carried it in front of him with both
hands, feeling the terrain under his feet slowly, so as not to
stumble and spill off the precariously perched pies.  The hamper
stood for days of Nellie's work.  Yet that work seemed always to
sit lightly.

"You've seen me before.  I'm Nellie Linden."

Indeed, she was his Nellie Linden, his love and his delight.

The gypsy children shrieked over the hamper and were hushed by
their mothers.  Generosity was too rare a thing to permit a greedy
peeking and grabbing.

Ase said, "From my wife--."

He glowed with pride in her.  The queen, the Old One herself,
unpacked the hamper.  The sweet foods were laid to themselves on a
white cloth on the grass.  A great bowl of cottage cheese made a
focal point and the other dishes were grouped around it.  The Old
One's daughter Elissa smiled at Ase and wandered away.  She
returned with handfuls of daisies and scattered them among the
foods to make a banquet table of the earth.  The odors from the
stewing kettles and the spits were rich and heavy on the evening
air.  The meats would not be done before nightfall.  The Old One
gravely gave each now silent child one doughnut and one cookie.

She said to Ase, "We wish all your house to eat with ours."

He inclined his head in thanks.  He returned to the house for the
milk.  Nellie had evidently given away her full supply of bread,
for she was stirring up a bowl of muffin batter.

He said, "I'd like to eat with the Roms tonight.  The Old One wants
all of us."

In the earliest years of their marriage Nellie had often joined the
gypsies with him for a night of singing and dancing.  His heart had
thumped to see her twirling light-footed to their tunes.  Once a
black rage had filled him when she danced alone with Pav's
handsome, intense son.  For the last three years Nellie had no more
than made a morning call at the camp.

She said, "I'm not in the notion, Ase.  What I want under my bottom
tonight is my bed, not the hard ground."

She looked at him innocently.

"I knew we'd be asked, so I spoke to your Ma.  She'll go along with

He stared incredulously.  His spirits sank.  His mother withdrew at
the time of the gypsies as she had once done from Mink Fisher's
visits.  Her dislike of them had always a little chilled his
pleasure.  She must have gotten wind of the big hamper, had perhaps
seen him carrying it down the road, and wished only to see for
herself the amount, in order to protest the giving.  Her presence
would fall across the gaiety like a rain of sleet.  Nellie's round
little breasts began to shake.

"Ase, Ase.  Your Ma doesn't even know yet they're here."

He felt the usual mingling of irritation and relief.  This time the
relief was the greater.  His face of course had given him away,
where he would never have expressed in words his horror at the
thought of his mother among the gypsies.  He picked up the bucket
of milk.

Nellie said, "Now get home sometime tonight."

He hesitated.

"Where's Nat?  He might like to go."

She looked at him shrewdly, so that he wondered how much she knew.

"Pa stopped by when you were milking.  Nat asked to take Arent and
go on home with him to spend the night."

Ase nodded.

"I won't stay too late," he said.  "The Roms have to move on

When Nat was four, he had introduced him happily to the gypsies.
He remembered his tremulous joy when they had first begun coming in
his own boyhood.  His first evening of music and play with them had
been like a new star in his sky.  They had accepted him at once, as
had Mink Fisher.  On summer days he had watched long hours from the
westerly slope for the first glimpse of the rolling wagons.  He had
run to the bridge to meet them, to have room made for him on the
lead driver's seat, only to be overcome with shyness, until their
warmth and affection eased him.

He had watched Nat's face in anticipation of the growing light of
boy-wonder.  Nat had stared big-eyed, had circled around the gypsy
children as though they were strange animals.  The dawn-glory had
never appeared, the young imagination had never leaped with fire.
Ase had thought that Amelia must have passed on in advance her
contempt to the child.  Yet her displeasure had been for himself no
more than a chill wind on a bright spring day.  Nat had since
played an occasional desultory game with the gypsy boys, always one
of his own planning, and he the leader.  He had once eaten with
them and had made rude faces over the rabbit stew.

Last summer Nat had led the boys to the bog in a game of Indians.
If the gypsy adults knew what happened, they kept it to themselves.
What Ase saw for himself was the group of boys, without Nat, coming
in silence to the camp fires, half carrying one of their smallest,
pale and shivering and covered from head to foot with the evil muck
of the bog.  The others had wiped it from his face and eyes as best
they could.  The boy's mother took him over, to wash and dress and
comfort, scolding him at the same time for going near the bog.

Ase asked the group of silent boys, "Why did you go to the bog?"

They shrugged their shoulders.

One said, "To play.  We didn't know it was near."

He was obliged to ask, "Did Nat take you?  He knows better."

There was no answer.

He persisted, "I must whip him if he did."

The boys looked at one another and began to giggle.

One said, "We were just running.  Nobody take us."

They chorused, "Just running."

"You understand now, you must never go there again.  You see what
can happen when you go too close and step in."

Again they exchanged glances and there was no laughter.

Nat had not appeared at the house until suppertime.  He was a mass
of bruises.  One eye was swollen shut.  He had, it seemed, already
had his beating.  Ase was cold to his marrow.  He took the boy

He asked, "Why did you take the gypsy boys near the bog?  Have you
forgotten the calf this spring?"

Nat scuffled his feet.

He said sullenly, "I didn't take them.  They oughtn't have blamed

"But you were the one knew the danger.  You could have stopped
them.  Before they got close enough for one to step in."

Nat looked at his father with an odd glint in his eye.  Amelia came
into the room.

"Asahel, leave the child alone.  He's already told me what
happened.  He should never have been allowed to play with those
wild animals.  He could have been the one to fall in.  I wouldn't
put it past them for one of them to push him in."

Nat shouted, "I tell you, it wasn't my fault.  We were just

The words were the same the gypsy boys had used.  Ase turned away.

"Very well, Nat.  Never let this happen again."

He had gone back to the gypsies that evening with foreboding.  They
had greeted him gaily as always.  If the elders had done any
questioning they were evidently satisfied.  He had almost forgotten
the incident.  Now, with Nat's retreat, his fears were with him
again.  His heart was as heavy as his milk bucket.

The camp supper was ready.  The fires had died down and slow
spirals of blue smoke arose, to disappear against the setting sun.
Low shafts of golden light slanted under the apple trees.  The
birds twittered sleepily and the bees flew drowsily home to the
hives.  The Old One motioned Ase to sit beside her.  Elissa filled
his bowl from the stew kettle and brought him a dripping square of
roasted lamb.  The Old One patted his knee.

"Eat now," she said.  "Throw away the sad face.  Later, I tell you
your troubles in the palm."

The gypsy band ate leisurely in spite of their appetite, taking
time out for arguments, waving pieces of meat in the air to accent
a point, falling to the food again, the argument ending as
unexpectedly as it had begun.  The children gnawed on bones
sideways like young foxes.  The highly seasoned stew burned Ase's
throat, but he had always liked it.  He had a second bowl, refusing
Nellie's familiar dishes.  The women praised her cooking.  The
children could not get enough of the sweets and the warm creamy
milk.  The orchard was probed by a rosy light, was abandoned by it.
The twilight was the blue of the hickory smoke.  Then it too
drifted across the valley, trailed over the hilltops and was gone.
There was a time of dusk that was never darkness.  The men threw
themselves on their backs in the soft grass and stared at the night
sky.  Stars were tangled in the apple branches.  A gleam in the
east became the crescent moon.  Pav studied it.

"No rain," he decided.

The women stirred.  They stowed away the quantities of uneaten food
and washed the bowls and utensils at the flowing spring.  They
packed Nellie's hamper with her clean pans and platters.  The boys
built up the campfires.  Pav passed a jug of a fiery sweet liquor
tasting of peaches.  He brought his zither, another his guitar, one
an accordion.

Pav said, "We eat too much.  Tonight we sing and play.  No dance."

Ase leaned on one elbow to listen.  The first tunes were sad and no
voice sang.  They were laments without words from long ago and far
away.  There was a homesickness in them that broke the heart.  Ase
wondered if these people, rovers by choice, longed yet for
forgotten hearths of centuries ago.  And had some necessity other
than the one within themselves first set them to wandering on the
highways of the world?  Pav swept his strong brown fingers across
the strings of his zither.  The other instruments fell silent.  Pav
sang.  He sang love songs of such sweetness as the thrush might
envy.  They were songs of trysts, of love achieved and love
betrayed, or cold at last.

The eyes of the Old One's daughter flashed in the firelight.  Her
nursling was asleep in her arms but Ase felt the old spark leap
between them.  There had been a time when it had been a spark
bright as a star.  He had loved Nellie always, but she had been
Ben's girl.  His youth had yearned to the gypsy girl.  The Old One
had encouraged it.  The summer before Benjamin had gone away he had
danced night after night with Elissa and felt her heart beat hard
against his own.  The Old One had watched.

She had nodded and said to him, "Elissa bring great gift of love.
You have good life with us.  Some day, you be gypsy king."

The thought of the open road had stirred him and he was tempted.
The girl tempted him.  Something held him back.  He had made no
answer.  When Benjamin had left him Nellie and she had offered
herself, for it amounted to that, he forgot Elissa, he was lost in
Nellie.  Now, tonight, his flash of desire for the gypsy made him
feel for an instant disloyal.  It seemed a natural thing for Ben to
move casually from one woman to another.  It was not natural for
him, he thought, who had given his heart once and for all.  Well,
and so he had.  He recognized that the male impulse was a thing
almost apart, it responded as simply and instinctively as a singing
bird to daylight.  He smiled at Elissa with friendliness.  All she
did, he realized, was to make him feel more the man.

Pav cried, "Enough sad!  Now, Asah, the flute!"

Ase brought his flute from inside his shirt.  Pav lifted a finger.
The instruments broke into a favorite dance tune, merry and shrill
as a flock of starlings.  The rest of the night's playing was
lively, ending with a wild thing Ase had never heard before.  He
tried to follow it.  It was too fast, too intricate, and though
they played it several times for him, more slowly, he was unable to
pick it up.  Pav laughed.

"Only real gypsy can play that," he said.

The children had fallen asleep under all the tumult.  The women
threw blankets over the older and carried the younger inside the
wagons.  The men inched closer to the fires and yawned.  They would
sleep on the ground on a fine June night like this.  The Old One
took Ase's hand and turned the palm to the light.

"No.  Tomorrow.  Before we go."

The campfires were like bivouacs under the apple trees.  The sky
was a blue net filled with silver fish.  Ase found Nellie sleeping
soundly.  He longed to rouse her, but she had seemed so tired
today.  He fitted his gaunt body around the curve of her back and
rested one hand gently over her breast.  She did not stir.

The queen herself returned the hamper at sunrise.  Ase had been
restless all night and was up early to start the kitchen fire.
Curled in the bottom of a china bowl was a golden necklace of
antique design.  The Old One hushed him as he tried to speak.

"No, no, is nothing.  Now come with me."

The wagons were hitched and nearly ready to go.  Ase marveled that
the men had driven in the horses so silently that he had never
heard them.  The Old One led him up the back steps of the lead
wagon.  It was immaculate.  Copper pots hanging along the walls
caught the first glint of the sun.  The lace curtains at the
windows were snowy.  The floor was carpeted.  She motioned him to
the bunk beside her.  He held out his hand.  She waved it away.

"I tell from the heart today, not the palm.  You worry.  I know you
since little boy.  You worry, your son, the Nat one."

She watched his face.  He nodded.

"Is not quite good boy.  Is not quite bad.  Is too young be sure.
Is all think for the Nat.  Not big inside, like you.  I tell you
this.  Now stop worry."

She laid her hand with its mass of gold rings over his.

"Now this.  This, yes, worry.  Have seen your brother."

Her hand tightened as she watched him.

"Where is he?"

"Move now.  Last snow, we go far that way."  She pointed to the
southwest.  "See your brother there."

His throat was too dry for questions.  She spoke rapidly.

"Is well, is strong.  No worry there.  Women?"  She shrugged her
shoulders.  "Sure.  Tha's all right, is natural.  Drink?  Not too
bad, maybe.  Now.  Is gamble bad.  Is lose money.  Is got coat to
back, is all.  I feed him two times, then he slip away."

Ase managed to ask, "Can I write him anywhere?  Can you take him
money for me?"

"We not like ever see him again."

She put her hand inside her bright embroidered blouse and fumbled
for something.

"I find girl he knew.  She write this for me.  Place he think he be
when next snow fly."

She brought out a crumpled piece of paper.  An illiterate hand had
printed in pencil the name of a town in Nevada.  He stared at it.

"Did he--send us a message?"

She shook her head.

"Did he--ask about us?"

"Ask, yes.  I tell him, mother fine, wife, three childs, all fine."

She hesitated.

"He say, 'Ase fool stay on farm, raise crops and kids.'  He go away
laughing in ragged coat."

She sighed.

"Now have tell you all."

He turned the paper over, and back again.

"Why didn't you tell me this yesterday?"

"Give you one happy night.  Yes?  Worry not so bad in good sun."

He stumbled down the steps from the wagon.  Pav clapped him on the
shoulder.  The last children piled into the wagons, the steps were
drawn up, the doors closed.  Pav leaped to his seat and cracked his
long red-tasseled whip over the lead team.  The wagons rolled.  The
children waved from the lace-curtained windows.  He watched after
them down the easterly road as far as he could see them.  They took
with them the thing they shared with him, the knowledge of freedom.

He walked slowly to the house.  Ben was well and strong.  His
mother would rejoice in that.  Ben had asked about them all.  Ben
was on the move again.  He might be in Nevada when winter came.
All this he could tell her, could try to make much of it as best
his awkward tongue allowed.  He could not tell her that Benjamin
had gone as a hungry beggar to the gypsies.  He steadied himself
outside the kitchen door.  He opened it.  Nellie was fastening the
gold necklace around her plump white throat.  Her eyes were
dancing.  He could not tell even Nellie that Benjamin had gone away
laughing in his ragged coat.


Ase moved blindly through the morning's work.  Nellie's pleasure in
the necklace spared him her recognition of his anxiety.  He avoided
his mother.  He needed the full day to prepare himself for passing
on his news of Benjamin.  He wanted to give it in the quiet lull
after supper when the children were in bed.  He wanted to have
ready for Amelia, as well, some suggestion, some practical plan,
for reaching Ben.  Otherwise, she would burst into the hysteria
that was so close to insanity.  She had been almost normal since
her return from Indiana.  She had begun brooding only lately.
Ben's "fiancee," with whom she had been corresponding, had never
heard from him again.  In her last letter, the girl had given up
all hope.

Shoveling manure from the cow barn to the compost heap, Ase thought
that if Hulda's brother Eric would come as hired man, it was not
too late to plant an extra acreage of potatoes for a cash crop.
The apple orchard was in full heavy bearing.  The fruit should
bring a good price among the townsfolk.  If the fall harvest
brought in enough money, there was no reason why he should not set
out for Nevada in, say, November, to find Benjamin.  Planning for
the help of Eric reminded him that the coming of the gypsies had
prevented his seeing the Svensons to ask about Hulda for Nellie.
He finished cleaning out the stalls and went to the house to wash,
Nellie was not in the kitchen, although it was the time of morning
when she usually began cooking the noon dinner.  He found her lying
down in their bedroom.

She was pale.  He sat on the edge of the bed and took her hand.

"Tired, Nellie?"

He stroked her hair.

"Been sick as a stuffed pup.  Can't make it out.  I felt good when
I was carrying the others."

"Maybe we started this one too soon after 'Melie."

"Maybe so.  Fine time to think of it."

They smiled at each other.  The memory was still strong in them of
that warm and windy April day under the hemlocks on the south hill.
She had brought him fresh cake in mid-afternoon.  She was wearing a
blue gingham ruffled sunbonnet and a blue gingham dress.  She had
pushed back the sunbonnet.  She had her curls twisted and piled on
top of her head, as was suitable for a young matron.  Ase had taken
out the hairpins and shaken the curls down around her shoulders.
She looked to him like a ruffled blue gentian and her breath was
sweet with wintergreen leaves she had gathered on her way.  The
hemlock needles were a soft and fragrant bed.  The April breeze had
lifted the hemlock boughs in a rocking motion, the earth had spun
under them in one direction and the blue April sky had reeled over
them in another.  They had been almost too dizzy to stand.

He said, "I'm driving over to Svenson's to try to get Hulda and
Eric both.  Come go with me."

Ordinarily she dropped any work she was doing, from churning
through washing to baking, to ride with him on his errands.  She
shook her head.

"I couldn't sit up right now if my life depended on it.  You'd
better eat with them if they ask you."

"They always ask.  I'll take the boys along."

"That'll be good.  Get them out of my way.  Your Ma can fix herself
and 'Melie a bite for once.  Don't take the boys off dirty.  Those
Swedes are deadly clean."

Her eyes twinkled through her misery.

"Tell Hulda I promise not to scare her again.  I do need her if I'm
going to cut up like this."

Ase changed his clothes.  He found the boys playing in the hay mow
and so, comparatively unsoiled.  They needed only a face and hand
washing and hair brushing to be presentable.  The sweet hay had
even made them smell fresh, instead of like a nest of mice.  They
whooped ahead of him, excited that they were to ride in Nellie's
rubber-tired buggy behind Prince, who sometimes made life worth
while by running away.  They jostled each other and chattered and
quarreled amiably.  Ase retired again into his thoughts.  They
drove unseeing past the June hedges and fields until Nat's sharp
greedy nose caught the scent of the first wild strawberries.  Ase
waited patiently while they rushed over a stone fence into a field,
to plunder and pull and cram their young maws.  Nat was still
eating when Ase was obliged to call them in, but Arent brought his
father a handsome spray.  The boys' hands, faces and morning-clean
blue cotton shirts were a mass of stains.  Ase stopped at the next
brook and cleaned them up as far as possible with his pocket

The Svenson place on the main road north of Peytonville was small
as to house and acreage, but brought to full production with
Scandinavian genius and energy.  The family had arrived on foot not
too many years ago, owning no more than the bundles they carried on
sticks over their shoulders.  The natives had kept away from them,
complaining of the intrusion of foreigners.  Ase had been among the
first to call on them, to offer help in home building, or the loan
of horse or cow or implements.  The family had been already a large
one, the older children had hired out at once, and the Svensons had

"We were all foreigners to begin with," he thought.

Only the Indians were born Americans.  A few years of the little
red schoolhouse turned the Swedish and Norwegian boys and girls,
the German, the Irish, all of them, into children indistinguishable
from the native-born, except where a mop of straw colored hair like
a thatched roof, a round bullet head, or a pair of smoky blue eyes
revealed an older nationality.

The Svenson door was wide open to sun and air.  Dinner was being
put on the table and the Lindens were made welcome.  There was not
the variety of Nellie's table, but the food was ample and good.
Ase spoke of his business before Mrs. Svenson began with Hulda and
the other girls to clear the table, for he had found her the
dominant element in the family.

"Mrs. Linden said to tell you she won't scare you again, Hulda," he

Hulda snorted and giggled.

"That Mis' Linden!  I t'ink I die.  Hide behint garden gate when I
go at dark for lettuce and raise up cabbage head on stick.  I t'ink
it devil himself."

Ase said soberly, "She's not feeling up to her tricks these days.
She was very sick this morning."

Mrs. Svenson asked, "She expectin', then?  How long?  Two-three
month now?  Yah, Hulda, you go.  Eric, what you t'ink for you?"

The big powerful eighteen-year-old studied his rough hands.

"Yes.  If I go to training school next year I need the money."

"Crazy boy, Mr. Linden.  Wants to work wit' machine, not farm like
his Papa.  Maybe he see good money you make, change his mind.  All
settled then.  We bring Eric and Hulda tonight, bags and the

Ase walked with Svenson and the older boys around their farm for
the polite time of conversation, made his thanks for dinner and
took his leave.  At the fork in the road he stopped and had Nat
hold the reins while he counted the money in his wallet.  His
credit was good anywhere in Peytonville but he preferred to keep it
so, against a day when it might be needed.  He had enough cash and
continued on the road into town.  Will Peyton had a new brand of
seed potatoes on hand, highly recommended for quick growing, and
Ase decided on these because of the lateness of the season.  He
estimated the acreage he would plant and the sacks of potatoes were
stowed in the small open compartment behind the single buggy seat.
He had a dozen or so pennies in change in his snap-purse.  He went
to the glass candy counter for a treat for the children.

Nat said, "Let me pick my own, Pa, gimme the pennies."

Ase divided between the two.  He bought a bottle of tonic that
Peyton assured him was unfailing for settling a lady's stomach when
she was delicate.  He looked around for some delicacy for Nellie
and settled on a package of Sultana raisins, then added a bottle of
rose water.  It was mid-afternoon and he hurried Nat over his
decision as to which candies gave him the most for his money.
Nellie was up, and in the kitchen, when they reached home.  She
looked herself again, and rested.

"Nobody but you, Ase Linden, could take all this time to ask the
Svensons a simple question.  Eric and Hulda coming?"

He nodded.  It was too laborious to tell twice of his plans, of his
trip to Peytonville for seed potatoes.  He changed his clothes
without comment and went about his evening chores.  He called the
boys to feed the chickens.  The hogs were rooting in the woods now
and needed no more than the swill and the skimmed milk.  He was
anxious to finish supper early, to hold the family conference
before the Svensons appeared.  Supper was ready ahead of him.
Amelia sat daintily at table, in a fresh frilled dress of Nellie's
washing and ironing.  But perhaps she had given Nellie a little
help today when she found her ill.  The excitement of the day had
used the boys' energy and it was not difficult to persuade them to
bed when they were allowed to take their half-eaten candy with
them.  They divided reluctantly with 'Melie, who went to bed too
with her share.

Nellie asked idly, "Svensons gave them the candy?"

"I had to go to Peytonville.  They got it there."

He went to his coat and brought her the tonic and raisins and rose
water.  Amelia lifted her heavy eyebrows.  He realized he should
have brought her too at least a token.

He said, "I have news for you, Mother."

Nellie looked at him sharply.  He must have news indeed when he
volunteered to open a conversation.  They watched him expectantly.
He cleared his throat.  In spite of his rehearsals it seemed
impossible to begin.  He must not permit any trace of his own
anxiety to show through.  He saw his mother frown, saw her mind
begin to work toward various suppositions.

Nellie said, "Out with it, Ase.  Is it about Ben?"

He said gratefully, "Yes."

Amelia jumped from her chair and came to him.  She clutched his
shoulders with hard, probing claws.  She shook him angrily.

"Stupid ox!  How is he?  Where is he?  Is he coming home?"

Nellie said, "Leave him alone, Mother Linden.  Now Ase, just begin
with how you got the news and go on from there."

That was the way he had planned to do.  He seized the cue as he
would a life line.  He swallowed.  He spoke by memorized rote.

"The gypsies saw him last winter in the southwest.  The Old One
never saw him looking so well and strong.  He left ahead of them.
He has prospects in Nevada for this winter.  I have the address."

He touched his shirt pocket.

"I'm planting five acres or more of potatoes.  If I make enough on
the crops, I thought I'd try to meet him out there when the
harvest's in.  I thought I'd ask him to come back for the winter,
if he can leave his business."

He faltered.  Amelia's black gimlet eyes bored into him.

"What else about him?"

"The last the Old One saw of him, he was in fine spirits.  He went

"Is that all?"

"That's all."

"Give me the letter from my son.  How dare you hold back his
message to his mother?"

He was trapped in spite of his precautions.

"I forgot, he inquired of all of us."

"Give me the letter in your pocket."

He said gently, "There isn't any letter, Mother."

He drew the rough printed paper from his shirt and gave it to her.
She turned it over and over, as he had done.

"You swear this is all?"

"That's all."

She was a dark cedar struck by lightning.  She stood blasted.  As
though the life sap oozed from her, tears seeped from her eyes.
They collected, flowed down her face.

She dropped the paper to the floor and groped to her door, closing
it behind her.

Ase had expected her to go mad with excitement, to insist even that
he set out for Nevada at once, harvest or no.  He had not been
prepared for this.  News of Benjamin's death would have been more
welcome to her, if it might preserve the illusion of his love.

Nellie said, "Queer old girl, isn't she?  Now if I were you, I'd
write Ben to both places.  The one he left and the one where he's
going.  Tell him it won't kill him to write his Ma now and then."

She asked suspiciously, "Has he done something he's ashamed of?  Is
he making money, or down on his luck?"

He looked at her imploringly.

She said, "Well, Ben'll always come out all right.  He doesn't give
a tinker's dam if he don't."

She had given him the only comfort possible.  It was true, Ben
didn't give a tinker's dam.  He looked through the bay window.  The
sun had set but the sky was saffron and gold.  Slowly though he
wrote, with more assurance than he spoke, there was time to write
Ben before the Svensons came.

Nellie said, "I've got to get to bed.  Something's wrong with my
legs.  Put Eric in the room over the woodshed.  Hulda can have her
old room at the back corner.  Tell her to go ahead and make
breakfast if I'm not down ahead of her."

She tousled his black hair, passing him.  He caught her hand and
held it against his cheek.

"You're turning into an old man, worrying," she said.

The room was quiet.  Only the old clock ticked away with a sound of
importance, as though time would stand still without its alertness.
He brought pen and ink and paper to the round baize-covered table
near the window.  A thrush sang flutelike its evening song from the
grape arbor, flew to the garden gate, then on to its sleeping place
in the hemlocks.  A cow mooed caressingly to her calf.  The sheep
in pasture bleated to one another.  The creature world fell silent.
The scent of yellow roses on the garden fence eddied through an
open window.  The June twilight was blue.  Ase shifted his paper.
He dipped his pen and began to write.

"Dear son and brother:

I am writing you from all of us--"


Amelia kept to her room for a week.  She allowed Hulda to set trays
inside her door and come for them again.  Nat whined outside for
entrance and at last she let him in.  She appeared at the dinner
table one noon without comment.  She was haggard but her manner was
cheerful.  Insisting as always that she had no appetite, she ate
with the heartiness of Eric.

The young Swedes were good natured, with little to say, but the
family table lost its coziness for Ase with the presence of the
hired man and girl.  Fortunately, Hulda was always anxious to get
back to the kitchen to begin washing dishes, and Eric to get out of
doors to smoke his pipe.  There was left a pleasant interval when
the family could dawdle over dessert and talk of private matters.

Amelia said brightly, "You'd think I'd lost my senses.  It came to
me that I couldn't expect that dreadful gypsy woman to take care of
Benjamin's letter to me.  She lost it, of course, if she didn't
just throw it in the first pond she came to."

She helped herself to another wedge of cherry pie.

"It's a wonder she managed to hang on to his address.  I'm writing
him that he mustn't be so trusting, turning over his precious
letters to people like that.  No telling how many he's sent that
way.  All lost, all lost.  And what he must be thinking of me for
never answering.  From now on, until he comes back to his own home,
he must use the regular mails.  I intend to be quite firm with him.
Put out that address for me, Asahel, before you go to the field."

Nellie said, "Ase wrote him, Mother Linden.  A week ago.  If it
reaches him, maybe we'll be hearing by the end of July."

"I shan't wait to hear.  I want him to have a good scolding right

She was flushed and self-satisfied.  Ase's eyes met Nellie's.  He
left the table.

Hulda said, "Dinner all right, Mr. Linden?  I don't cook good like
the Missus, but I try."

"It was fine, Hulda."

He wanted to thank her for doing so much more than was expected of
her.  She had kept Nellie in bed for two days, had slipped in an
enormous washing and ironing by herself.  She insisted on doing
everything that was heavy or laborious.  Nellie was feeling quite
well again.

"It was fine," he repeated.

Eric sat in the sun with his back against the woodshed.  The smoke
from his rank tobacco came in quick puffs out of the porcelain pipe

"I think it's time to try something, Mr. Linden," he said.  "That
acreage of potatoes is too much to try to plant by hand, just the
two of us.  I made this."

He pointed to a small contraption, a wooden box with handles and a
front wheel from an old wheelbarrow.  The box had a slit in the
bottom, and a lever.

"I saw a mechanical seeder when I was in Trent.  This won't work as
good for potatoes as for seeds, the chunks are apt to jam, but if
it works at all, we'll save a week anyway.  Getting mighty late for

Ase studied the planter and marveled at the boy's ingenuity.  He
found himself marveling, too, how quickly these young aliens lost
their foreign accent and idiom.  The first generation never did.
Even Hulda, too old for school when the Svensons had arrived, would
always say "t'ank" and "t'ink" and avoid connecting participles.
Eric had had five years in the Linden schoolhouse.  Ase smiled at

"Guess you were born for machinery, all right," he said.

Eric led the way to the new acreage proudly.  It had had to be
readied from scratch, the rank pasture grasses turned under, the
field harrowed, the rows lined off.  Yesterday had been heart-and-
back-breaking, dropping the cut pieces one by one in the hilled
furrows.  As Eric predicted, the planter did not work smoothly for
long at a time.  One chunk of potato too large or uneven for the
slot jammed everything.  Yet for half a row at a time, the little
implement rolled along, the pieces dropping spaced and evenly.  It
was a one-man job.

Ase said, "You should have made me one, Eric, too.  You go ahead
with it.  I'll begin at the other end by hand."

They worked steadily.  Eric's face was bright, his pale hair gold
in the sun.  Ase was surprised that Svenson had been willing to
release the boy for the summer.  It would make a man light-hearted
to have such a son laboring beside him.

A day and a half completed the potato planting.  A good night rain
soaked the earth.  Green sprouts appeared within a week, then
crinkled leaves.  The bean blossoms dried, the young beans were
infinitesimal pointed swords.  Sun and rain alternated, the beans
matured rapidly.  The winter wheat was ripening.  Any breath of
wind made it ripple like tawny flowing hair.  The summer apples
were sweetening under their thin rosy skins.  Wild strawberries had
been eaten with thick golden cream, made into extravagant tarts and
shortcakes, preserved in the sun, and were now done with.
Huckleberries and blueberries made puddings and pies.  The hedges
were thick with blackberries and the birds quarreled with the
Lindens over their gathering.  Wild raspberries were ripening in
thick and almost inaccessible tangles.

Buttercups were gone.  The last of the daisies met the first of the
wild roses.  Wild chicory in flower was the blue of Nellie's eyes.
There was no use for Ase to gather it to take to her, for the
blooms closed tight the moment they were brought into the house.
Nellie was again not well.  Her ill health was as unnatural as the
failure of the sun to rise, and for Ase as disturbing.  The road
doctor stopped one day and Ase engaged him to stay a few days to
examine and treat her.  Her swollen legs indicated a kidney
disfunction and the doctor gave her a diuretic.  She was relieved
for a time, then relapsed, and was obliged to keep to her bed for
several days at a time.  Hulda was a tower of strength.

The last week of July was hot and dry.  The corn shot up overnight.
Its joints creaked like those of a growing boy.  The wheat was
nearly ready for cutting and thrashing.  Ase drove around the
countryside to arrange for the harvesters.  Old Grimstedt owned the
thrashing machine.  Each grower of grain paid a rental for its use.
Labor cost nothing, for when the neighborhood schedule was worked
out, every man joined the crew.  Machine and men moved from farm to
farm as agreed in advance, according to the ripening of the grain.
The wheat in particular was stout stuff and could wait a week or
two if crops overlapped.  Ase's was the earliest this year.  The
thrashing would begin with him the following Monday, move on in
midweek to the Wilsons and make a circuit, ending with Grimstedt
himself, whose wheat was latest of all.  Ase drove to Peytonville
on Saturday.  His weekly paper, "The Farm Journal," was the only
mail in his post office box.  There had been more than time to have
an answer from Ben.  As he turned away, the postmaster called him

"Just finished sorting a sack, Ase.  Here's two letters for

Ase's hand trembled.  The post office at the rear of Peyton's store
was dark.  He took the letters to the light.  They were the two he
had sent his brother, one to the Arizona town, the other to Nevada.
Both were stamped, "Unknown."  He tore them into small bits and
dropped them in the ashes of the cold stove of the store.  He would
do the same when his mother's letter was returned.  She could
endure a long time on her hopes and illusions.

Driving home, hunched over the reins, he himself took hope.  Ben
had of course not yet reached Nevada.  He was somewhere between the
two states at this moment.  It was foolish to have written him so
eagerly when his whereabouts were not known.  It seemed to him that
Ben existed not between two states, but between two worlds.  He had
a moment's panic in which he thought he would never find his
brother, that he would hang forever suspended between Arizona and
Nevada.  He straightened, slapped the reins over Dan's back.  He
would write Ben to Nevada again in October and mark his letter
"Please Hold."  Whether he had an answer or no, he would go west in

The harvesters' coming had the household in such a bustle that his
brooding went unnoticed.  Nellie and Hulda were cooking feverishly
as far ahead as possible.  Harvesters' appetites were proverbial.
Because of the heat, meats could not be cooked in advance, for even
the cool stone cellar was subject to the spoilage of August.  Pies
and breads, cookies and tarts could be baked and stored on the
cellar shelves.  Gallon crocks of baked beans would keep until
Monday.  Nellie was a fanatic about cakes and doughnuts and would
make these fresh each day.  Ten of the men lived at a distance and
must be put up of nights.  The others would have their breakfasts
and late suppers at home and return there to sleep.  There were
still two vast meals to be provided for some twenty-five men for
two or three days.  Amelia kept fastidiously away from the kitchen

On Sunday, Nellie and Hulda made dishpanfuls of potato salad,
pickled eggs, coleslaw and one batch of doughnuts, a washtub full.
Eric had no scruples against Sunday work, as had the previous hired
man.  In the afternoon he helped Ase to butcher a hog and two
spring lambs.  The dressed carcasses were hung in the smokehouse.
The family ate as sketchily as was possible for Nellie, not to save
food, for there was an abundance, but for lack of time.  Nellie
went to bed as early as the children.  Eric and Hulda, untired in
the strength of their Swedish youth, borrowed the second-best buggy
to make a Sunday evening visit home.

Ase went alone to his wheat fields in the long summer twilight.
The wheat ears were so heavy that the stalks bent toward the
ground.  He studied the sky.  A downpour of rain at this time would
beat the grain to earth.  The skies were clear.  The evening star
shone golden.  He was always anxious for his crops, not so much for
their money value, as because they were a part of him, something
like his children.  He had brought them into being, nursed and
tended them, and it seemed to him a betrayal of them, of the land,
when they did not thrive.  Their failure was his failure.  He
thought of Nat.  Somehow, he was failing with him, and he could not
put his finger on the reasons.  Arent was a mild boy, perhaps too
mild, and gave no trouble.  He followed Nat like a puppy.  'Melie
was merely a little girl, except that now and then her black eyes,
so like Amelia's, flashed with her grandmother's temper.

He cupped a bundle of wheat heads in his big hands, testing their
weight.  He should have an enormous yield.  Wheat prices had not as
yet been quoted.  For the first time, he was concerned to make as
much money as possible.  He would need a considerable sum to make
his autumn trek, not knowing what he would find at the end of it.
He stood waist deep in the wheat, tall and brooding, a gaunt lonely
figure like a scarecrow in the twilight.

He was up at three in the morning to do his chores.  The summer
world was dark and hushed.  The cows rose lumbering to their feet,
lowed softly in protest at being roused for milking.  The horses in
pasture snorted at sight of the lantern flickering so early in the
morning, galloped to the fence to investigate.  Streaks of bronze
were showing at the east when the threshers began to arrive.  There
was a commotion of greetings, of questions, for the entire
neighborhood met only a few times a year.  Teams were unhitched,
the horses turned into pasture, except for a mare who had gone lame
on the way and was rubbed down and stabled.  Grimstedt arrived with
his two surly sons and the threshing machine.  They began to tinker
with it.  A large pile of chunk wood was heaped ready for its
firing.  Eric with a helper drove an open wagon to the lake to fill
barrels for the machine's boiler.  Ase kept his own horse-drawn
reaper.  He hitched up Moll and Toby.  Moll was old, but Ase
avoided using Prince the carriage horse for heavy work except in an
emergency.  He enjoyed keeping Prince sleek and round for Nellie's

The dawn sky turned rosy, there was enough light to begin the
reaping.  Ase turned the team into the wheat field and released a
lever.  The gears ground, the knives clicked, a wide swathe opened
behind a tawny road through a golden sea.  The bundlers followed on
foot, gathering the sheaves and stacking them.  The sun was above
the horizon and Ase had made his second turn when he heard the
threshing machine make its sputtering starts.  It spit and stopped,
spit and stopped.  Jim Wilson's crew began loading the sheaves of
wheat on the hay rick.  The threshing machine caught with roar, the
steam whistled, the chugging settled down to a steady rhythm.  For
an hour Ase cut his swathes, the bundlers stacked, the loads of
sheaves were taken to the busy maw of the threshing machine, the
chaff blew far and wide, the tall funnel poured out its stream of
shining grain.

There was an irregular puffing and the machine stopped dead.  There
were cries of "Breakdown!  Breakdown!"  Men with a mechanical bent
or interest, or those always ready for a halt in work, hurried to
join the Grimstedts.  Ase remembered that he had eaten no
breakfast.  He tied the team loosely to the fence and joined the
group to ask the seriousness of the machine's failure.  It would
take half an hour or so, they agreed, to make repairs.  He started
for the house.  Tim McCarthy joined him.  In the confusion at
daybreak Ase had not seen him arrive.

Ase said, "I'm going for breakfast.  Hadn't got around to it."

Tim chuckled.

"I'd of got around to mine," he said, "but the Boss' wife isn't the
one for rising in the darkness.  I'll be ready for the Nellie's
fine dinner, and no joking."

"Come go with me, then."

"And gladly.  A belly's a poor thing for work and it empty."

The little man looked peaked and old.  Ase wished again that he had
Tim under his wing.  It was a sorry housewife who would send the
hired man off to a day's threshing without his breakfast.  Nellie
frowned at sight of Tim.

She said, "You'll have to take what I can scrape up in a hurry.
I've just got the kids fed and out of the house and now your mother
wants a tray in her room."

Hulda said from the stove, "You go on wit' the tray, Missus Linden.
It take me yiffy fix two men only."

She pulled the griddle to the front of the range and stoked the

"Kids finish op oatmeal, but I stuff you wit' panny-cakes so you
run over."

Tim said, "Ah, my beautiful Hulda.  Now if you'll be laying me a
pretty tray, too, with a posy on it, and be serving me in the front
room, whilst I watch the others stirring."

She giggled.

"Get along wit' you, Mister Tim."

Nellie plopped the teapot on Amelia's tray and trotted off with it.

Hulda said, "No dis-respect, Mr. Linden, but t'reshing day, would
t'ink dat old one could come to table."

She ladled spoonfuls of pancake batter on the smoking griddle.
Bacon sizzled in a skillet.  Strong coffee simmered to greater
strength at the back of the stove.  She poured big china cups of
it, set down a pitcher of thick yellow cream and one of maple
syrup, a fresh pat of butter, and served the first stacks of cakes.
She kept baking and turning and serving until a wheeze from the
threshing machine told of work ready to go forward again.  Ase and
Tim hurried back.

Tim said, "A man cannot live by bread alone, 'tis true, but he'd
not need much else than Nellie's pancakes and syrup."

He added, "And the Hulda not begrudging of the batter and the

Ase wondered if Tim had noticed Nellie's trace of a frown.

The threshing machine puffed steadily all morning.  Eric kept the
boiler filled, the huge pile of wood diminished, Nat, with Arent
dogging him, carried buckets of spring water to the harvesters for
drinking, machine and men sweat and thirsted and drank, and among
them poured the vast flow of wheat onto the barn floor swept and
scrubbed to receive it.  The sun was high.  The men were hot and
prickling.  The chaff filled their hair, their ears, and crept down
their backs and chests from open shirts.  The work was slowing.
The iron dinner bell above the carriage shed rang out over the
fields and barns, falteringly at first, as Hulda gripped the heavy
Manila rope, then strong and welcoming, sweeter than any church
bell.  The men whooped and dropped their various tasks.  The
threshing machine coughed and stopped.  The harvesters trooped to
the house, to the outside wash bench, laying back their shirts to
the waist to be rid of some of the chaff, taking turns at the two
water basins and the roller towel, combing wet hair.  Ase was the
last to arrive, because of stabling and watering his horses,
pitching down hay to the stalls for a noon meal for them, too.

The harvest hands were seated at the dining-room table, stretched
out to its last extension leaf.  The table was piled with foods
more thickly than at Christmas.  Nellie and Hulda bustled back and
forth with hot dishes.  Manners were of no importance, and men
reached across the table to spear pieces of crusty fried chicken,
lamb and pork chops, to scoop up helpings of baked beans and stewed
tomatoes.  They wolfed down the food without speaking.  Nellie and
Hulda replaced empty dishes with full ones, kept the biscuits
coming, made room on the table for the salads, the cucumbers and
sweet onions sliced in vinegar, the quivering jellies and the
pickles.  The famished stomachs were a little appeased, the men
insisted they did not need clean plates for the desserts, for they
had already cleaned them, they roared with laughter, but Nellie,
fastidious, ordered Hulda to remove the used plates and bring fresh
ones while she loaded the table once again with manifold sweets.

It was a time of pride in a season of abundance, and apple
dumplings and blackberry puddings and wild raspberry shortcakes
jostled the pies and the layer cakes for attention.  The block of
lake ice from the sawdust of the ice-house was chipped into more
iced tea, more coffee was poured, the greediest man of all could
hold no more, and the table was bare.

The cry went up, "Clean the table and kiss the cook!"

Ase remembered the first few years of their marriage, when Nellie
relished the ceremony.  He was pleased by her popularity with the
men, by her fast growing reputation as the best cook in the
township, but he did not enjoy the rough handling of her by a
couple of dozens of sweating, shouting harvesters.  Today, she had
made her preparations.  Before the first man could leave the table
to seize her, she rushed in a heaped platter of hot apple fritters,
Hulda tittering behind her with pitchers of maple syrup.  The men

"No fair, Nellie!  No fair!  We ate the table clean."

"Clean this up and see if you still feel like kissing."

The fritters were feather-light and delicious, but although Fatty
Edmons managed four, a dozen remained on the platter.  The
harvesters accepted their defeat.  They patted their stomachs and
groaned again.  They wandered out of doors to pick their teeth and
smoke and stretch their legs.  Hulda's strong back was wet with
sweat.  Nellie mopped her flushed face.  Ase offered to help clear
the table and was refused.  He saw his mother peer from her room,
then mince to the table.  She laid a fresh napkin at her place over
the ruined damask cloth and waited for Nellie and Hulda to bring
plates and food for the three women.

"Oh dear," she said, "those pigs have eaten all the chicken

Nellie said, "I saved some back for you, Mother Linden.  Here."

Ase joined the men at their brief rest.  They were as anxious as he
to have his threshing over and done with, if the community schedule
was to be maintained.  They went back to their work.  The threshing
machine broke down once again in the afternoon, but nearly a third
of the wheat fields lay shorn.  It was agreed that by working later
than had been planned, the threshing could be finished in two more

Ase sent Nat with word to Nellie to hold up the supper.  Toward
sunset the men stopped, hot, exhausted, and inclined to be
quarrelsome.  It had been a hard fourteen-hour day.

The spring-fed lake a quarter mile away was irresistible, for all
their fatigue.  They stumbled to its grassy bank, stripped off
their clothing, and plunged in.  The crystal water was ice cold,
the shock almost unbearable for a few moments.  The men who could
not swim splashed from a shallow rock ledge.  The others swam about
with a certain bravado, for the bodies of three men and a boy who
had once drowned there had never been found.  Hank Wilson soon
returned to shore.

He said, "They say drowning's quick and easy, but I always planned
on a real nice funeral, and that's not possible without the

Only Tim McCarthy dared not go into the reviving waters.  He busied
himself with rinsing out the men's sweaty and chaff-filled shirts.

"They're wet anyhow," he called.  "I'll be making them a clean

The harvesters pulled them on gratefully.  The heat of the evening
had them nearly dry by the time they reached the Linden house and
sat down to the supper table.  Even those who lived nearby remained
to eat, as their womenfolk would not be prepared to serve them, so
late, anything more than a snack.  Except for coffee, the supper
was of cold dishes.  These were ample and tasty, but the men were
too tired to eat with their midday appetite.

The threshing machine hit its stride and the job was finished on
the third day without interruptions.  The Wilsons were next on the
list.  In helping there, and at the Elkton farms beyond, Ase and
Eric were able to keep up with their own home chores night and
morning.  After that, the distances were too great for going back
and forth each day.  Most households had boys old enough to leave
behind to feed the stock, do the milking, and bring in wood for
cooking.  Tim McCarthy had given out completely on the second day
of Ase's threshing.  Even Nellie and Amelia were relieved to have
him stay at the place for the two weeks that Ase and Eric were
obliged to be away.  Stove wood was no problem, for the woodshed
adjoining Nellie's kitchen was stacked to the rafters.  Tim could
manage the milking and the care of the stock.  Ase drove away well
pleased.  His wheat yield was enormous.  His week's "Farm Journal"
quoted the price as two dollars a bushel.  Aside from the other
cash crops, there was already money in sight for his trip before
the snow flew.  He believed as well that gentle little McCarthy
would ingratiate himself in the meantime with Nellie and Amelia.
He could not give up his hope of having the old man with him in his
few years remaining.

Rain threatened over the first weekend and all hands worked through
Sunday, so that Ase was not able to return home.  When he reached
there the following Saturday night, he found that Nellie in her
exhaustion had come close to losing her child.  She was on her feet
again, but thin and pale, with blue circles under her eyes.  He was
disturbed that she had not sent word to him.

"Nothing you could have done," she said.  "A man can't walk out on
his neighbors' threshing just because his wife has to take to the

The code was indeed rigid, yet he knew he would have risked
community displeasure to be with her in her illness.

"I'm all right now," she said.  "Pull up that long face.  You look
as if your pants were falling down."

The most important job of the moment was to haul his wheat to
market while the price was still high.  If the crop in general had
been heavy, the market would soon drop.  He made five trips to
Trent, twenty miles away, with the loaded wagon.  Usually Nellie
enjoyed going with him on his business but she dared not risk the
jouncing of the springboard.  Several miles of the journey were
over an ancient plank road.  The wheat brought two and a quarter a
bushel because of its quality.  His strongbox was crammed with good
green bills.  He counted the money again and locked the box.  The
baby was due in late December or early January.  He decided to
leave early in November, regardless of weather, to wait if
necessary for Ben's arrival in Nevada, so that he might have plenty
of time to return home for the birthing.

The dried beans on the vines had been ready for gathering and
shelling for market some two weeks, but lack of rain had kept them
safe.  Eric copied a hand-turned shelling machine he had seen.  The
beans were gathered, shelled and sacked.  These too brought a good
price in Trent.  The vines made fine winter fodder for the cows and

August burned itself out.  A light frost in September touched the
potato blossoms.  The potatoes were not as large as a little longer
growing would have made them, but it seemed best to dig them at
once for fear of heavier frost.  A soaking rain on top of that, as
often came this time of year, would rot them almost overnight.  Ase
put down a generous supply in the root-cellar for the family and
sold the bulk easily in Peytonville.  The town folk usually had
small vegetable gardens of their own but seldom used space for
items like potatoes.

His buckwheat, barley and oats crops were not unduly large.  He and
Eric threshed these by hand on the barn floor.  He made several
trips to the miller at Burney's Dam to have wheat and buckwheat
ground into flour for the year's use, paying a tenth in grain for
the stone-ground milling.  The last trip was with three sacks of
buckwheat.  These would fit into the back of the rubber-tired
buggy, and Nellie rode with him on a crisp September day.

The sumac was red, a few maple leaves were turning, the hawthorne
berries in the hedgerow winked like bright eyes.  Nuts were
plentiful.  Not yet ripened, the squirrels were already eating them
wastefully.  Their chatter rattled over the chirping of birds.
There were no signs of migration.  Nellie drew long breaths of the
clear air.  Her eyes brightened.  She made a note of the thickest
clusters of wild grapes for later gathering.  She was herself once
more.  The good early days were with them again, when she had
ridden so often with him, often snuggled close against him.  He put
his free arm around her.  There had been little of love, between
his fatigue and her illness.

She prattled to the miller and asked for a closer grinding of the
buckwheat.  She watched the great mill wheel roll over and over,
spilling its load of water to foam away into the pool beneath.  She
dropped in leaves to see them spin.  She tasted the raw buckwheat
flour, still warm from the crushing mill stones.  She was little
Nellie Wilson, and it was as though their children had never been,
no memory of all the household toil and cares.  On the way home,
she pointed out the grapes.

She said, "Now this winter you can just get out in the woods and
kill me some game to go with wild grape jelly.  We haven't had
either for two years."

Amelia was pouting at the length of their absence.  She was fond of
Nat, but she made it plain that the care of the two younger
children for even a few hours was martyrdom.

Nellie said, "Oh hush, Mother Linden.  I'm going to make apple
cobbler just for you."

The corn matured, the shocks stood like tepees in the field, the
pumpkins were enormous around them, the Hubbard squash big and
noduled and firm.  Squash, pumpkins, turnips, beets and carrots
went to the root-cellar.  Cabbage was shredded and put down in five-
gallon crocks to make sauerkraut, made into a relish, stuffed
inside green peppers put down in herb-seasoned cider vinegar.
Popcorn was hung in bunches festooned on strings on the upper floor
of the carriage house.  Hogs were butchered, lard and sausage made,
hams and bacons hung in the brick smokehouse over slow hickory
coals.  Nuts were gathered, hickory, hazel, black walnut, beech and
butternut.  They lay in piles under the popcorn to make a delight
of winter evenings before the fire.

The apple trees were loaded.  Long keeping varieties were stored in
barrels in the cellar.  Nellie made crock after crock of spiced
apple butter, put up canned apple sauce and apples quartered in
thick sugar syrup.  Ase pressed cider for immediate drinking and
for gifts, set away a barrel to turn hard and potent for winter
entertainment.  The rest of the crop sold like hotcakes in
Peytonville.  Ase and Eric cut cord on cord of wood.  Hay mow,
grain bins, smokehouses, pantry, larder, cellar and root-cellar
were overflowing with food for all, until the earth's rotation
should bring another season of growing things.

Eric drew his summer's pay and Ase added twenty dollars extra by
way of thanks and good measure.  They shook hands gravely at
parting.  October was over and done, the more anxious birds were
winging south, ducks and geese stopped for rest and feeding in the
marshes beyond the willow-bordered stream.  The poplar trees were
last to loose their leaves.  They quivered in anguish above the
yellow piles that blew here and there in the harsh November wind.


The earth was stricken.  The out-cropping granite in the bare
pasture was the bones of the earth gnawed clean by the wolfish
winds.  Maples and oaks, hickories and willows were shivering
skeletons.  Pines and hemlocks were black and ominous against the
gray November sky.  Crows stretched evil wings on the ridgepole of
the sheep-shed, waiting for a lamb to die.  No snow had fallen to
hide the nakedness of the year's old age.  The sprouts of young
winter wheat shrank in the cold, would die if not soon covered with
the white protective blanket.  Smoke from the Linden chimneys was
torn as it lifted, scattered like ash across the low scudding

Ase was two weeks late in preparing to leave for Nevada.  Nellie,
monstrously swollen of legs, had been ill and delirious.  She
recovered, was cheerfully up and about again, insisted that he be
on his way.  Then Tim McCarthy, who was to take over the chores in
Ase's absence, had overlapped with a return of his chest ailment
and scarcely escaped pneumonia.  Tim appeared, shaken and coughing,
with his green flowered carpetbag, ready and able, he swore, to
free his friend for the journey.  Ase packed his father's old
Gladstone with the few belongings he would need, his second best
suit, extra shirts and woolen underwear, handkerchiefs, razor, comb
and toothbrush.  He now planned to spend no more than two days with
Ben, whatever the circumstances in which he found him.  Tim had
followed him to the bedroom.

"Supposing the Benjamin is not yet come when you get there?"

"I've thought of that.  I daren't leave Nellie long too close to
her time.  I'll leave a letter and money with the Sheriff, give him
something for himself to watch out for Ben.  Sometimes I think Ben
doesn't go to the post office at all."

"No answer to your last letter?"

Ase shook his head.

"Supposing the Nellie is took before you're back?"

"I've spoken for Aunt Jess.  She'll come the middle of December
anyway, ahead of time."

"That relieves me.  I've done many the strange thing in me day, but
bringing childer isn't after being one of them."

Ase smiled at his friend.

"I'll only be gone through the first week in December.  You've got
Hulda.  And my mother."

"Ah, your mother is giving no thought at all to the new life
coming.  Her mind is far away in Nevada.  She's fair daft, looking
for you to bring back her Benny under your arm like a lost lamb."

They went down the stairs together.  Hulda's voice split the air
with a scream.

"Mr. Linden!"

Hulda was clumsy and had probably managed to scald herself again.

Amelia snapped, "Hush that hysterical Swede."

Ase and Tim hurried to the kitchen.  Nellie lay on the floor.  Her
eyes were rolled back in her head.  There was evidence of dire
things occurring.  Hulda began to sob.

"It happened just that quick, Mr. Linden.  What's to do?"

Ase lifted Nellie in his arms and stumbled to the back downstairs
bedroom.  She moaned and arched herself on the bed.  Amelia peered
in wide-eyed and ran to shut herself in her own room.

Ase called, "Tim!  Hitch up Prince to the light buggy."

"Will I go then for the midwife?"

"Later.  The new doctor in Peytonville.  Bring him with you.  Use
the whip on Prince both ways."

Tim dragged on his coat and ran.

Ase fumbled to undress Nellie.  Her body was shaking and he pulled
a down coverlet over her.


The girl came, wiping her eyes with her apron.  He said, "She seems
cold.  Do you think hot cloths on her stomach?"

She recovered herself.  She shook her head.

"I'm t'inkin' hot is wrong.  Ice more likely, to stop t'ings."

Her judgment was probably better than his own.  He nodded.  She
hurried to the ice house with pan and pick.  Ase sat on the side of
the bed.  He chafed Nellie's numb hands between his own until they
lost their blueness.  He took her small feet in his lap and rubbed
them until they no longer seemed made of marble.  She roused and
cried out in pain.  Hulda's towel filled with crushed ice seemed
cruel, but he laid it across Nellie's lower abdomen and drew the
coverlet close around her neck.  He stroked her hair.  She opened
her eyes and looked at him wildly.  Her eyes were like those of a
mare he had once lost in her foaling.

He said, "The doctor's coming.  Easy now, easy."

His voice was soothing, as when he spoke to his animals.  She
twisted in a convulsion and then another.  He was wracked with her,
his intestines were adders striking.  He felt a vast nameless
guilt.  She would surely die if the doctor did not come soon,
perhaps in any case she would die, and he himself could not help
her, could only hold tight to her hands, straighten her legs when a
convulsion had passed, smooth back her damp hair.  He was a man to
whom physical pain was as natural, as accepted, as wind and snow.
His own scythe, glancing off a hidden boulder, had once sliced him
to the bone; he had lain again for hours with a crushed shoulder
under a dead-fall; the pain was severe.  These things were nothing.
He raged with a helpless fury that this strange agony should come
to Nellie because of his love.

He looked at his watch.  Tim had been gone an hour.  Prince under
the whip should have covered the road by now.  Perhaps the doctor
was miles in the country in another direction, tending some other
woman in distress, and if so, would he be able to make a choice of
duty, would Tim be able to tell him of Nellie's rareness, that
because she was Nellie, she must not die?  He heard quick hoofbeats
over the wooden bridge, the rattling of light wheels.  Tim turned
the buggy into the driveway.  Ase knew a moment's surprise and
relief that the man who jumped down with a black bag in his hand
was middle-aged.  Because the doctor in the small town was new, Ase
had assumed he would be a youngster fresh from training.

Tim spoke from the door, "I've winded Prince.  I'll change to the
mare to go for the woman."

Ase nodded to the doctor in greeting.  He led him in to the
bedroom.  He retired outside the door during the examination.

"When did this begin, Mr. Linden?  Has she had trouble with the
pregnancy from the beginning?"

Ase gave his information briefly.

"This is extremely serious, Mr. Linden.  The child will come of
itself within a day or two, but we can't wait.  Have I your
permission to take it, to save the mother?  It will probably be
impossible to bring it alive."

Ase stared.  It was a miracle that the man was here, since he did
not understand about Nellie.

The doctor said impatiently, "I can't answer for the woman's life
if you choose to wait for a normal birth.  I can't answer for it
anyway.  The kidney affection causing the convulsions has gone

"Why," Ase said, "nothing matters but my wife.  Nothing at all."

"Good.  Send me the girl from the kitchen."

The doctor gave rapid orders to Hulda.  She was stolid again,
braced to be of all possible help.  The bedroom door closed against
Ase.  He sank into the sleepy hollow chair by the bay window.  He
put his hands on his bony knees and looked unseeing over the bleak
fields.  Tim drove in with Aunt Jess.  She spoke, threw off her
coat and bonnet, whipped a large white coverall apron from her bag
and washed her hands.  She went through the ominous door and shut
it quietly behind her.

Ase heard the occasional murmur of her voice, of the doctor's.
When screams came from Nellie, so different from her stoicism in
childbirth, they tore like claws through his mind and flesh.  He
stepped outside the house, through the garden gate, wandered
blindly up and down the dead brown rows, until he was more
frightened to stay away than to listen.  There was only silence
when he entered the house again.  The door was still closed.  He
heard Aunt Jess' heavy feet scuff across the bedroom carpet.  He
heard her speak with excitement.  He heard the doctor's answer.
"Do what you can.  I've got my hands full.  This is nip and tuck."

Ase dropped into the sleepy hollow chair.  His legs would not hold
him up.  He bowed his head in his hands.

"God, help her, save her."

A gust of wind rattled the shutters, blew a whorl of smoke backward
down the chimney and into the room.  His answer was the November
wind.  He was presumptuous in his prayer.  Who knew better than he
that a man and his beloved, one man and one woman, were one mated
pair among uncounted millions of all the animal world?

There was life, the mysteriously held together molecules, turbulent
within themselves, in the very leaves of a tree, and the leaves
fell and withered and were blown away, of as much or little
consequence, as he and Nellie.  They were all too tightly bound
together, men and women, creatures wild and tame, flowers, fruits
and leaves, to ask that any one be spared.  As long as the whole
continued, the earth could go about its business.  And if the sun's
work was one day done and the earth cooled to desolation and all
its folk and foliage with it, somewhere on or in or among other
suns and earths and stars, the life pulse would continue,
indestructible, eternal, the Life to which men gave the name of
God.  Of this he was certain.  He was not comforted.  This was

He stood up and stared out of the window.  The bedroom door opened.
Aunt Jess called to Hulda for a soft blanket warmed in the oven.
An hour passed.  The midwife joined him.

She said, "Ase, the baby's alive.  Six weeks early, isn't it?  A
little girl, no bigger than a rabbit, but well formed.  I think
she'll pull through.  Soon as Dr. Holder knows what else he needs
from his office, you or Tim must go to town.  We'll want nursing
bottles and nipples."

The living baby had no reality.  His sunken eyes questioned her.

She said gently, "Don't ask me about Nellie.  We don't know.
That's a good man in there, best I ever worked with.  Something
queer about him, though."

At noon Dr. Holder left the bedroom.  He gave Ase a list of needed
items.  He ate Hulda's meal quickly and with abstraction.  Ase
could not swallow.  He longed for the activity of the drive to
Peytonville but dared not leave the house.  He sent Tim off on the
errands.  The afternoon passed and the evening.  Dr. Holder asked
for a cot to be put for him in the bedroom.

Ase said, "Can I see her?"

The doctor shook his head.

"Better not.  She wouldn't know you anyway."

Hulda returned from Amelia's room with her emptied supper tray.
His mother had not appeared all day.  He wanted to ask her to move
upstairs so that Aunt Jess might be near at hand.  He had hoped she
would make the offer herself.

Aunt Jess said, "Ase, I can use the couch in the living-room."

He was unwilling to be upstairs out of sight and call of that
closed door.

He said, "I won't be sleeping.  You go upstairs and get some rest.
I'll call you when you're needed."

The couch was as poor a fit for his length as for Aunt Jess'
breadth.  He stoked the round-bellied stove and sat all night by
the light of its red glow.  Dr. Holder called twice for Aunt Jess.
The morning came gray as ashes, the wind veered and turned to a
gale.  Tim McCarthy helped with the chores.  The doctor joined them
for a silent breakfast.  Amelia appeared.

She said brightly, "I hope I won't be in the way now.  Is
everything all over, everyone all right?"

The doctor stared at her.

Ase said, "Excuse me, Dr. Holder, this is my mother."

Amelia inclined her head.  The doctor finished his study of her and
made no answer to her question.  He lifted his coffee cup to his

She said, "Well, a boy or a girl?  Naturally, a grandmother is a
little curious."

Aunt Jess said bluntly, "A premature rag of a baby girl, still
breathing, but Nellie scarcely."

"Why, that's not like Nellie.  She usually has her children as
easily as a cat.  All prettied up in lace and ribbon an hour

The doctor slammed down his cup and went back to the bedroom.  Aunt
Jess followed.  Tim kept his eyes on his plate.  Ase watched his
mother's bland face.  He could not conceive of what thoughts lay
behind it.  Surely, if she still nourished a secret hate for
Nellie, she could not think of losing her with indifference, if for
no other reason than that she would never consider the care of
orphaned children.  Amelia ate heartily, chatting at random.

She said, "This will be quite an expense, Asahel.  How long do you
plan to have this doctor stay?"

"As long as he's needed, if he will."

"Didn't he give you any idea?"

"I'm sure he doesn't know, himself."

Tim left the table abruptly.

He said, "Ase, I'll be up in the carriage shed cleaning harness.
Call me for anything."

The day was as long as a week.  Dr. Holder appeared for snatches of
food and coffee and once went out of doors to walk around and
around the house, deep in thought.  There was indeed something
strange about him.  He was a gaunt dark man, almost as silent as
Ase.  His black hair was streaked with gray.  His eyes were deep-
sunk and haunted.  There were pouches under his eyes that seemed of
more than fatigue.  His face was seamed and of a gray-green color.
His long delicate fingers twitched constantly.  He offered no
information on his patient and Ase understood that it was of no use
to ask.  The alien physician was fighting as grimly for Nellie's
life as though he treasured her as greatly as her husband.

On the third day he had Ase send Tim to Peytonville for fresh
personal linen.

He sent as well the message, "Tell my housekeeper to turn everyone

The days went by in a slow nightmare.  There were scurryings in the
bedroom when the battle was close and fierce.  Dr. Holder permitted
Ase to go once into the bedroom.  Nellie lay in a drugged sleep.
Her small face was as sharp and bony as that of a fox.  Her opened
lips were blue.  Her faint breath came irregularly, seeming more
like sighs.  Aunt Jess drew a cover back from the cradle and showed
him the child.  It too was blue, so tiny and fragile that he dared
not touch it.  He stumbled out of the room.

On the eighth day Holder came to him.

"We've made it.  She'll come through."

Ase noticed his mother beckoning to the doctor.  They were in
conversation only a few minutes.  He heard the staccato voice like
icy hail against Amelia's low smooth speech.  She dismissed Holder
and called Ase to her.

"My dear Asahel, you are so secretive.  But I got it out of that
disagreeable man that he expects Nellie to recover, as of course I
have known all along.  However, it does seem that she will be
ailing for some time to come.  Surely, you are not still planning
to leave her to go to Nevada."

"Why, no.  I put that out of my mind the first day."

"I assumed so.  And of course your duty is here.  Mine is
otherwise.  If you will kindly give me the money you expected to
use, McCarthy can drive me to the westbound train this evening.
Benjamin will come home with his mother where he would only laugh
at you."

This, then, was behind her indifference to Nellie's living or
dying.  Nellie's danger had been for her a God-given opportunity.
His shoulders sagged under an almost intolerable burden.

He said, "Mother, it's a long difficult journey, with many waits
and changes.  We don't even know whether Ben is there, or will be."

She stamped her foot.

"How will we ever find out if someone doesn't go?  I should always
have been the one to do it.  Get me the money."

He brought the cash box and counted out for her more than he had
planned to take himself.  He made up a separate envelope.

"This is to leave with the local sheriff for Ben if he shows up

"I shall wait until he does show up.  Benjamin would never have
given anyone a definite address if he hadn't meant to go there.
But I'll take the extra money for him."

Her luggage, he saw, was packed already.  He understood that
nothing Holder said would have mattered, nothing would have stopped
her.  He marveled that she had restrained herself so many days.  He
saw her off in the buggy with a deep anxiety for her, an aging
obsessed woman going alone into a rude land.  He recognized her
necessity and admitted to himself his relief.  Nellie could
convalesce in peace.

Dr. Holder announced that it was safe to leave Nellie in the hands
of Aunt Jess.  He would call every few days in his own rig.  He
must be sent for if there was a relapse.  The man's manner was
exuberant.  Ase brought out his cash box.

He asked, "What do I owe you, Sir?"

The thought was between them that the services for so many days,
day and night, ignoring other patients, could scarcely have a price
set on them.  Holder named a figure that was high, yet under the
circumstances, entirely reasonable.

He said, "If you can afford it, Linden.  Otherwise, whatever you
wish to pay.  Or nothing at all."

Ase opened the box and counted out the bills.

"I should give you everything I have."

"It was one of my successes, yes.  It makes up to me for some of my

The man frowned.  He held out his hand.  Ase shook it warmly.

"I don't know how to thank you.  I guess you understood--Nellie--."

His voice broke.

Holder said, "I assure you I had no sentiment about it.  It
happened to be a challenge to me."

Ase watched after him in the buggy beside McCarthy.  Aunt Jess
joined him at the window.

"I should have known at the first," she said.  "It's drink.  He
began on it this morning."

Ase was startled.

"Was he drinking while he was working with Nellie?"

"By the grace of Heaven, no, or you'd have no Nellie now.  He was
nearly crazy, times, without it, but I didn't realize.  He was man
enough to stick it out until he'd finished his job."

The whole man was suddenly explained.  He had been obliged, driven
by others or by himself, to begin a new life in a small village,
far from his sources and his roots.  Ase could not guess what
tragedy Holder might have brought some other man's wife, losing her
in his cups, as he might have lost Nellie.  Ase shuddered.  He felt
at the same time a vast pity for the man, wondering what had turned
him to his desperate escape.

In spite of his promise, Holder did not call in the next week.
Nellie thrived and had no need of him.  Aunt Jess propped her up
with pillows, brushed and combed her curls, was able to give her
the first thorough bathing.  Nellie began to have a little
appetite, and Hulda, delighted, turned to the making of creamy
custards and rich egg dishes.  Ase could scarcely bear to leave the
bedside.  He sat for hours in silence, devouring the sight of her,
holding her thin hand until she tired and drew it away and fell

Aunt Jess devoted much of her time to the tiny baby.  Cow's milk
was too strong for the infant's stomach, and the nurse experimented
with water dilution, first with a trace of sugar, then of mild
clover honey, and was not satisfied with the results.  Tim McCarthy
was sent to the Svensons for goat's milk, and this, diluted, proved
the answer.  The Svensons insisted on lending the milch goat
itself, to save the long trip daily.

The first snow fell, soft and feathery.  Nellie was moved into
Amelia's front downstairs bedroom, where Ase kept a fire crackling
on the hearth the clock around.

She asked in wonder, "But Ase, where's your mother?"

"She went to Nevada in my place."


She smoothed the counterpane.  She nodded.

"It will satisfy her better, whether she finds Ben or not."

Her eyes twinkled.

She said, "Too bad I'm laid up, with the old girl out of the way.
We had our best times when she was in Indiana.  Remember the night
on the couch?"

He was horrified.

"Don't even think of such things, Nellie."

"Fiddlesticks.  Doc said a mess like this will likely never happen
again.  I'm not going to be done out of my fun."

She was ready to see the children, to let them play in her room and
sprawl on the bed, to beg mouthfuls from her special dishes.

She was able to sit in the sleepy hollow chair by the living-room
stove.  Aunt Jess stayed until she was on her feet, and Hulda had
learned the variations of the baby's care and nursing formula.  Ase
paid the midwife.  His gratitude was awkwardly spoken but she

"I take no credit for Nellie, but I will say, Ase, you owe the
child to me.  Doctor was ready to throw her away like a stillborn

He said, "Well name her for you."

"I've never liked the name of 'Jessie'.  But let me name her
anyhow.  She's such a bit of a china thing, I'd call her 'Dolly.'"

He was pleased.  The name was close to "Nellie," which had been his
private choice.  The baby showed signs of resembling her mother,
the eyes deep blue, the wisps of hair were chestnut-colored and
curly.  Aunt Jess hugged him to her big bosom and was off, for a
bit of rest, she said, before she took another case.  Nellie
approved the baby's name.

She said, "I suppose after all this, she'll be rotten spoiled."

He kept Tim on, and Nellie did not seem to mind or notice.  The old
man freed him to spend more time with her.  Christmas was spent
quietly.  Ase made a trip to Peytonville for gifts and holiday
extras.  The Wilsons came with presents but did not stay for
dinner.  Nellie had reminded him in time to mail a gift to his
mother in Nevada.  They had had only a note from her, telling of
her safe arrival.

In early February the postmaster had a thick letter for Ase from
Amelia.  She described the town, only a way-station in the desert.
She was boarding with the station master's wife and while things
were rough and crude, she was comfortable.  The days were hot and
sunny, the nights turned sharply cold.  There was much more sky
than she was used to.  The town was a gathering place for the
silver miners.  Benjamin had not yet arrived.  She would stay until
spring.  He was likely to come with or ahead of the April rush.
She was well.  She hoped all was well with the family.

In March she wrote for more money, as she had been obliged to use
the money saved for Benjamin.  She had also engaged a man to go
back to several towns between Nevada and Arizona, where Benjamin
might have stopped to work and winter.  The miners were not
striking it rich, certainly, but prospects were good, and Benjamin
had perhaps already made his pile, as they called it.  She would
need money to pay her scouting messenger.  In April she wrote for
money again.  The family cash box had shrunken from its bulging
fullness to a few hundred dollars.

At the end of May Amelia stepped unexpectedly out of a Peytonville
hired rig and stalked into the house.  Her black eyes were sunk in
their sockets.  Her hair was untidy, her black silk dress rumpled
and spotted.  She looked like a sick witch.  She jerked her head in
greeting, walked into her room and closed the door.


Ase was awakened by thunder growling in the south.  The summer dawn
was scarcely lighter than the night.  The air was still and close.
The bedroom was shadowy.  Lightning flashed, the polished highboy
leaped into focus, the thunder crashed, the room was dark again.
Nellie was up ahead of him and about her business.  He turned his
head toward the east at the next flash and caught a glimpse of her
in the garden, picking the day's fruits and vegetables ahead of the
storm.  In the rumbling he did not hear the opening of the door.
There was a soft running sound over the carpet, a leap like that of
a kitten, and Doll was on the bed, her fingers in his hair, her
warm cheek against his.

"Bear hug," she said, and he squeezed her, her own small arms tight
around his long neck.

She was four years old, and every day of her life was a miracle,
for she was fragile as a windflower.  She was a tiny replica of
Nellie, with the same blue eyes, the same white skin and wild rose
coloring, with pale curls already turning to Nellie's darker gold.
There was miracle as well in her closeness to him.  She was a
fragment of himself.  Their edges were raw with recognition, so
that they must constantly be fitted together, else in the
separation there was pain.

She brought her clothing for him to help with her dressing.
Unsteadily, her pink tongue between her lips in concentration, she
put one foot and then the other through the legs of the diminutive
ruffled drawers, was trapped by the doll's bodice and petticoat,
was rescued, sighed and turned her back in a pink frilled pinafore
to be buttoned up.  The infinitesimal pearl buttons slipped from
under Ase's big knotted fingers, slid like mercury away from the
buttonholes, he was in a sweat before the labor of love was
finished.  He marveled newly at the speed with which Nellie whisked
the children in and out of their garments.

Doll announced, "Now I'll help you."

This too made for a delicious delay, a great and serious pretense
of helping on with his socks, a reaching on tiptoe to help fasten
the buckles of his overalls, her hands like white moths against the
coarse denim.  He swung her to his shoulder and carried her
downstairs.  Hulda had breakfast nearly ready.  The amiable Swedish
girl was a family fixture now the Lindens had prospered.

She said, "Best eat before chores, Mr. Linden," but he shook his

He would not relish his breakfast with the creatures waiting,
unmilked, unwatered, unfed.  Nellie came in with her overflowing
basket, a ginghamed goddess of plenty.

She said, "Ase, I swear you've fooled around on purpose.  You'll
get soaked any minute and I think you like it."

He smiled and kissed the tip of her nose.

Doll said, "Da and I had an awful time to get dressed."

"I'll bet you did.  Probably spent half the time hugging.  Ase, for
the Lord's sake go on and milk.  No, Dolly, you can't go with him.
One of you sopping wet's enough."

The summer storm broke before he was through at the barns.  The
rain poured down, a solid deluge, as though a river dam had been
swept away.  He came into the woodshed with the foam of the milk
pitted with the rain.  The rain pipes were gurgling, the water
rushed noisily into the deep cistern.  He was soaked through as
Nellie prophesied, and as she thought, enjoyed it.  Nat and Arent
and 'Melie and Nellie laughed at the sight of him, his black hair
plastered to head and neck, water dripping from his long arms, from
nose and chin.

"Send out a man and get back a wet crow," Nellie said.

He took off his jacket, shook it and hung it in the woodshed.  Doll
watched over him as he stood by the kitchen range drying his hands,
turning himself around before the heat, Nellie remarked, like a
partridge on a spit.

Because there was a coziness in the dark rain-swept morning, the
family was breakfasting at the kitchen table.  A lamp was lit on
the warming oven over the range.  They had eaten, but helped
themselves again, for company, while Hulda piled his hot plate with
savory fried ham and eggs and fresh blueberry muffins.  The pot of
redolent strong coffee was emptied and Hulda made another.  They
dawdled over doughnuts and sugar cookies piled with slabs of apple
blossom honey.  Nellie had a notion for a raspberry tart with her
third cup of coffee and the children must then have tarts, too.
Willis, the baby, managed in an unwatched moment to cover his face
and bib with the red jam.  Ase, sitting next to his high chair,
made the domestic error of swabbing him with one of Nellie's linen
napkins instead of turning him over to Hulda for cleaning with a

Nellie's sputtering subsided and Ase smiled in reassurance at the
little boy, Willis was not quite two.  Nellie had borne him without
the complications Ase feared.  He was not fragile, like Doll, true,
but something was lacking in his spirit.  He was quiet, as even
Arent had never been, with a gentle smile that seemed detached and
lonely.  It was as though Nellie's vitality had been too much
expended on birthing Dolly, or the strength of Ase's seed had
somehow been diluted.  Ase yearned over the boy, he had room for
him in his heart along with Dolly, but the child, smiling with shy
courtesy, withdrew.  His father could not reach him.

Nellie said, "Hulda, go see if Mother Linden wants anything more."

The girl giggled.

"Has already eat breakfast like horse.  Maybe she eat two horses.
I take more muffins."

"We've all eaten like pigs this morning.  I was going to have the
tarts for dinner.  Well, I'll make cupcakes."

Among her many famous dishes, one of Nellie's most special was her
cupcakes, for she made them in great variety with the frostings in
a veritable rainbow of coloring and decoration.  For serving, she
arranged them on a huge ironstone platter in a design, then
complained that as they were taken one by one, the platter looked
untidy.  Ase had begun a private project as solution that he
thought might please her.  This was the morning for finishing the
cake tree.

The rain beat against the windowpanes.  The garden was a garden at
the bottom of the sea, the feathery carrot tops waved in the wet
grayness like seaweed.  The barns across the road were scarcely
visible.  The log cabin had been turned over to the children as a
playhouse, where they kept their treasures and played long games,
but Nat decided for them that a dash there through the rain was not
worth while.  He had a love of bodily comfort not quite natural in
a healthy boy of twelve.  It was simply that whatever happened to
Nat was important, and Nat preferred not to be wet or cold.  His
decisions were the last word, although 'Melie, losing in the end,
often battled him in a temper.  This morning, he announced, they
would play in the attic.  They would make tents of Nellie's winter
quilts and be Indians in a siege.

"Come on, Doll.  You'll be a white child we capture."

She shook her head and slipped her hand in her father's.  She would
go with him where he intended to go.  Nat scowled, then ran up the
back stairs with a war whoop, Arent and 'Melie behind him.  Nellie
sent Hulda to bed-making and sweeping and dusting and brought out
the sacred vessels for her baking.  Ase wrapped Dolly against the
weather, put his wet jacket over his head and went with her across
the driveway to the upper floor of the carriage house.  The place
was dusky, odorous with hanging harness, piled nuts and festooned
popping corn.

He liked to work with wood.  He kept blocks and boards of wild
cherry and black walnut seasoning, maple and poplar, butternut and
pine ready to his hand.  There was something of the satisfaction in
carving and joining that he had from the flute.  The intangible
came to life, beauty was seen, was heard, no longer secret under
his muteness.  The grain of wood pleased him, the shaded
laminations and the whorls.  He moved aside an unfinished cherry
table and picked up the sections of Nellie's cake tree.  The
problem had been to make it at once delicate and strong,
utilitarian but not grotesque.  He had made a previous one that
resembled the skeleton of a toy Christmas tree stripped of its
needles.  It would have served its purpose, but its ugliness
disturbed him and he broke it up for kindling.  Then in his
encyclopedia he had found his model, a picture of an ancient
candelabrum, many-branched, graceful and aspiring.  He copied it in
hard maple, modified it, struggled with the flinty wood where the
slim round arms must make their acute angle.  The base was a disc,
smooth and substantial.  The central trunk rose from the center,
two feet in height, tapering to a point at its peak.  Now he lit a
fire under his glue pot.  He fitted the branches into their proper
holes, they extended widely at the bottom, narrowing toward the
top, so that in silhouette the cake tree was a triangle.  Each
branch turned upward a few inches from the tip, the tips were
sharply pointed, ready not for candles but for Nellie's sacramental

Dolly was enchanted.  She was in on the secret, the only one of the
children who did not run tattling to Nellie.  Ase put away his
tools.  The morning had passed in his absorption.  He took Doll by
one hand, the cake tree held high in the other, as though he lifted
a light for her path.  The rain had stopped without their noticing.
They stood in the driveway and looked to the south.  The hills were
the blue of indigo.  From the valley rose drifts of white cloud
like smoke from Indian campfires.  The drifts rolled slowly, were
torn, vanished above the hemlocks into the freshening air.  A ray
of sunlight touched the indigo with a single silver finger.

Ase and Doll listened at the kitchen door.  There was only the
sound of Hulda's humming.  They looked inside and motioned to her.
Nellie was talking with the children in the dining-room.  Dinner
was ready.  Ase whispered and Hulda nodded.  She brought the great
platter of cakes to him, chuckling.

Nellie had outdone herself on the frosting of the cupcakes.  There
were chocolate icing and white, caramel and peppermint, cocoanut
and lemon.  Some of the chocolate were sprinkled with silver
pellets, the white were decorated with red cinnamon drops or stars
of citron, the caramel were indented with halves of butternuts.
Ase and Dolly set them on the smooth sharp points, the finished
pattern a bouquet of flowers.  Hulda bobbed her head from the door.

"Best hurry op, Mr. Linden, or she come, then surprise on other

They left their handiwork on the milk shelf and joined the family.
Doll was demure, her eyes shining.

Nellie said, "What have you two been up to?  I was just going to
send Nat to hunt for you," and helped Hulda cover the table with
the smoking dinner dishes.

There was fried chicken, which Nellie did not believe in saving
only for Sundays.  There were sweet corn and small new potatoes,
wax beans swimming in butter and cream, hot biscuits and sliced
tomatoes, cucumbers in vinegar with rings of onion, and the usual
assortment of relishes and jelly.  The noon of the day had turned
fresh and cool.  The white curtains blew from the open windows.
Full sun broke through and streamed across the damasked table.

Nellie said, "Save room for dessert now.  Took me all morning to
make it."

Hulda began to clear the table and winked at Ase and Doll.  Nellie
followed with a stack of plates and they left the table, slipping
behind her into the woodshed.  They heard her shriek.

"My cupcakes are gone!  Nat!  Did you kids go off with them?  Ase,
is this what you and Doll were up to?  Having a party in the barn,
I'll bet.  Ase, where are you?"

He sent Doll ahead of him with the cake tree, one hand ready to
steady it if she faltered.  Nat and Arent and 'Melie had rushed to
the kitchen commotion.  They turned and stared and Nellie stared.

"For the Lord's sake, Ase," she said.  "A pretty trick for a grown
man to play."

He felt as foolish as old Shep caught lapping the cats' milk.

Her calm restored with the cakes, Nellie was delighted with her
gift.  She set aside the flowers and placed it in the center of the
dining table beside a bowl of floating island custard.  Nat grabbed
the first cake.  Little Willis reached out his hands, but in
pleasure, not greed.

Nellie said, "Couldn't be nicer, Ase.  I like the way you waxed
it so the cakes don't stick.  First I've known you had any

He was relieved that she had no fault to find.  She made their
daily living gay and casual, but her domestic perfectionism
sometimes had him in hot water, along with the children.

Hulda had taken a heaping dinner tray to Amelia's room.

Nellie said, "Bring me the rest of the cakes, Hulda, and I'll fill
up the stand again for Mother Linden.  She likes things nice."

Ase looked at her gratefully.  His mother's madness was a quiet
thing for the most part, she had only withdrawn farther and farther
into her fantasies, keeping almost entirely to her room.  Nellie
insisted that she was only sulking, cutting off her nose to spite
her face.  Yet Nellie was all graciousness to the dark unhappy
woman, pampered her in every way.

Young 'Melie said, "I want to take the cake tree to Grandma.
Doll's had her turn carrying it."

Ase was aware of the jealousy of the other children toward Dolly.
It was difficult to account for, since Nellie made no distinction
among them, except for her long accepted preference for Nat.  If
his children cared for him, Ase thought, it would be reasonable for
them to resent his absorption in Dolly, but they were indifferent
to him.  Perhaps the jealousy was part of their general avarice,
wanting anything and everything for themselves, as Nat had seized
first choice of the decorated cakes.  Nellie had not corrected him,
she had been amused.  Ase felt he should have spoken.

The early afternoon was sparkling, tempting all the family out of
doors.  The grass was wet, sweet smelling, and Nellie allowed the
children to go barefooted.  She watched them curling their toes
over the green blades and suddenly pulled off her own shoes and
stockings.  Her hair was loose and in her frilled gingham she
seemed a child among them.  'Melie still played with dolls,
especially when she was at odds with Nat.  She disapproved of his
plan now to continue the game of Indians over the hill, for he and
Arent always ended by running away and leaving her.  When Dolly
appeared around the corner of the house with the old mother cat in
her arms, 'Melie fetched her doll clothes and doll carriage and
struggled with dressing the tabby and forcing it under the
coverlet.  The cat was passive briefly, became annoyed, yowled and
clawed her way out of the cap and dress, and escaped to the barn in

Nellie was sitting on the garden gate, swinging her bare legs.

She called, "Try the baby pig."

A small pink-and-white porker of a recent litter had wandered
across the road from the barn, snuffling the ground of its new
world.  Nat captured it and held it while Doll and 'Melie put its
forefeet through the arms of the long doll dress and tied the
strings of the doll bonnet under its snout.  Its squeals shrilled
out of murder and the mother sow came grunting on the run.  The sow
trotted along the garden fence.  It passed the gate and in an
instant Nellie had dropped astride its broad neck.  She gripped the
hairy ears and was off on a mad ride across the lawn and down the
road, her plump buttocks thumping up and down.  The sow spilled her
off beyond the bean field, where the road began to dip toward the
bridge over the stream.  She returned on muddy feet, her dress
stained and torn, pink-cheeked and laughing.  The children rolled
on the grass in hysterics and Ase was chuckling, too.  She might
easily have hurt herself, but she came unscathed from all her
pranks.  She went to the house to change.  'Melie and Dolly
undressed the piglet and turned it loose, for the mother was to be
heard coming again.  They agreed to join the boys in the hay loft
and went to the house to put away the dolls while Nat and Arent
went to the attic for the Indian gear.  Ase moved Willis inside the
garden gate and brought a hoe to weed the vegetables.  The Linden
world was quiet for a few minutes.

It was shattered by shouts and shrieks from the rear of the house.
Ase dropped his hoe and ran.  In the woodshed door stood a
suspiciously small tramp.  It was dressed in what he recognized as
a pair of boy's overalls and a ragged sweater and wide-brimmed
black hat left behind by Tim McCarthy.  The back of its neck was
white but as he came near he saw the face, well sooted with lamp
black.  The shoulders were shaking with laughter and the arms were
crossed over the head against the thwacking of a broom in Nat's
hands and a feather duster in 'Melie's.

Nellie gasped, "All right, kids, that's enough.  It's me."

Dolly ran to her mother with a cry of anxiety.  Nat and Arent and
'Melie stood gaping, then Nat frowned sullenly, and Arent at last
grinned.  They were not so amused this time.  Nat could not endure
any joke at his expense.  Ase was not amused at all.  Nellie and
his mother had taught the children a fear of tramps, who were
plentiful on the roads in summer, and his loaded gun stood in the
woodshed corner.  Nat might well have lifted it instead of the
broom.  Yet he did not want to make too much of it with his

He said, "A pretty trick, Nellie, for a grown woman to play."

She said, laughing again, wiping her sooty face with an arm of the
sweater, "I never dreamed I'd fool them so.  I thought they'd know
me in a minute."

Nat said, "The voice fooled us, Pa.  Sounded deep down just like a
man.  I'd have known her all right if I'd got the hat knocked off.
It was way down over her face."

She did indeed have an amazing talent for imitation.  She had a
talent too in her mischief, so that it was always effective, where
his own attempts at mere "surprises" fell entirely flat.  He would
never again make himself foolish with anything like the cake tree.
She took over the cooking of supper from Hulda.  She was still
restless, and he knew that he would be allowed little sleep this
night.  Her intensity built up like a volcano, she expended a
portion on her pranks, and was left still boiling.  She would be
calmer again tomorrow.  He was conscious of a slight dread
shadowing the pleasure of his anticipation.  He could never
accustom himself to the loneliness that swept over him when she
turned afterward away from him.

The family was tired from the day of play.  Even Nat went to bed
early without protest.  Dolly came to Ase to say goodnight.  She
clung to him, her lips like a butterfly on his bony face, her small
arms tight around his long neck in a passionate reluctance to leave
him.  Her caresses nourished him, it was almost as though Nellie
returned his love.


Dolly, still small and fragile, celebrated her sixth birthday.  Nat
and Arent and 'Melie were lofty from long experience with
birthdays, but with little Willis held out their plates for second
slices of the cake.  Nellie looked over her brood.

She said, "Doll, when you were born, we didn't think we'd ever
raise you."

Nat said, "I remember.  She was about as big as a barn rat and sort
of blue.  Aunt Jess said she had to breathe down her throat."

Nellie said, "Ase, isn't it funny?  Look how things change in the
years.  The time jumps like a rabbit.  Thinking we'd lose Doll, and
now she's a big girl.  You worrying about me, and Willis making no
trouble at all.  All of it in jumps.  I suppose some day it'll seem
as queer to have grown children as having new ones."

He was troubled by his feeling about time.  It seemed to him that
he had always known that he and Nellie would have children from
their love.  He had seen them from babyhood to manhood and
womanhood as a consecutive flow, like the stream that ran from Pip
Lake, under the willow trees and the wooden bridge, to join Long
Lake, to flow in turn to the Meshawk River, which, he knew, joined
other rivers and ran at last to the sea.  He stood off at a
distance and saw his remotest ancestors side by side with his
farthest descendants.

He wondered if he had an unnatural point of view.  Time for him was
not marked off in jumps, as Nellie expressed it.  It was not
clearly marked and definite, it was all one, sometimes relative but
forever whole.  All life seemed to him contained in the beginning
and the end, if there had ever been a beginning and if there would
ever be an end.  Time was, must be, timeless.  As from a great
enough height a landscape would show no detail, so from a far
enough distance all time would be seen to exist simultaneously.  He
felt this in his inner mind and spirit.

He ate Doll's birthday cake absent-mindedly.  It was six years now
since the terror of her birth and Nellie's danger, almost six years
since Amelia had returned stricken from Nevada with no word of Ben,
since his mother had retired to her room, a living dead woman.

He said, "Maybe Mother would eat a piece of the cake."

Nellie said, "You'd better take it to her.  I thought I'd treat her
yesterday with apple dumpling and she threw it on the floor."

She cut a slice of cake and laid it on one of the new Haviland
china plates, one of her best linen napkins at the side.  Ase went
to his mother's door and rapped.

"Who is it?"

"Asahel, Mother.  I have something for you."

Amelia opened the door.  He was perpetually shocked at the sight of
her.  She kept a certain tidiness, but her hair was uncombed, her
eyes vacant.

"Doll and I wanted you to have a piece of her birthday cake,
Mother.  She's six years old today."

"Who's Doll?"

"You remember Dolly, Mother.  She was born just before you went to
Nevada, looking for Benjamin."

He was deliberately specific, wanting to shock her back into

"Nevada?  Benjamin?  You refer to my son.  You and Tim McCarthy and
the gypsies, you're keeping my son Benjamin away from me.  He
writes me letters and you hide them."

Perhaps it was as well, he thought, to leave her alone with her
fantasies.  They were harmless.  In her darkness, they must be even
of some comfort.  He wondered if he dared have someone, Tim
McCarthy possibly, write a letter as though it came from Ben.  He
decided against such a deceit.  She proved astonishingly shrewd at
times.  If she sensed the forgery, her suspicions would be
confirmed.  If she accepted it, she might become uncontrollably
hysterical with hope, might demand to set out on another disastrous
search.  In any case, the truth had always seemed to him more vital
than happiness.

"Doll, eh?" she said.  "Dolly.  Yes, I remember.  What a silly
name.  You stayed behind for her birth, when your duty was to find
your brother.  And then you sent me away instead.  You hoped to
lose me, too."

It was of no use to remind her of her own insistence on that fatal
journey.  Nothing was of any use.  She eyed the cake on the fancy

She said, "I'll have my cake at the table with the family.  You
keep me shut up in my room like a prisoner.  I've scarcely seen my
youngest grandchildren.  This 'Doll' now.  I hear, oh, I hear
things, she's your pet.  She was your pet before she was born.
This 'Dolly' lost me my Benjamin."

"It was Nellie I stayed behind for.  You've forgotten how close she
came to dying."

"Nellie, Dolly, it's all the same.  Why do you dote so on the

He could not speak the truth to this woman, his mother.  Doll was
as close to him as his own skin.  She lay as deep in him as his
very seed.  With her, he felt himself complete, often actually
articulate.  He puzzled over this relationship of parent to child,
of human to human, so that one spoke to another with understanding
and in turn was understood.  It seemed to have nothing to do with
the blood relation, but only with some spark that flashed rarely,
that said, "You and I together share a bright secret flame.
Perhaps, as one, we may find the answer to all that torments us and
is hidden."  It seemed to him that no man could find it for
himself, alone.

He said, "Come, Mother.  We all want you to share in Doll's

Amelia stood starkly by the festive table.

She said, "Dolly?"

The little girl held out her hand.

"Grandmother, come have a piece of my birthday cake."

Amelia said, "Why, yes.  Yes indeed."

She studied the child.  She sat down and ate, nibbled, rather, as
though a cannibal found a certain flesh distasteful.

She said, "Nellie, your husband has been cruel enough to remind me
of the circumstances surrounding the girl's birth."

"Now, Mother Linden, be sensible.  I knew Ben better than you did.
You were foolish to go out looking for him.  He didn't want to be
found.  Ben was Ben, he wanted to be on his own.  If he wants to
show up here some day, he'll come.  Leave him alone."

Amelia rose from the table.

She said, "I will not be outraged in my own house.  Never forget
that it is mine."

Her door closed behind her.  The subdued children slipped away.
Nellie frowned.

She said, "Your mother keeps harping on her owning the farm.  She's
just crazy enough or mean enough to have done something queer about
it.  I've made the children be nice to her, so she'd feel they're
her own blood as much as her precious Ben.  Lord knows I've done my
best for her.  I've often thought what a pretty pickle she could
put us in."

Ase was unwilling to believe that her years of kindness and
patience toward his mother had been a matter of calculation.  He

"Tim McCarthy said that to me when we were first married, Nellie.
You see, nothing's happened."

"Well, she's getting crazier all the time.  You talk to Judge
Simmons.  I'm thinking of the children's future.  You want to give
them all a good start in life, don't you?  Make things easy for

A good start in life, yes, he thought, if by that was meant strong
bodies and seeking minds, and something else that only Dolly seemed
to have.  An easy start for them, no.  The two surely were not the
same.  He heard and read much these days of giving the younger
generation "advantages" and "opportunities."  Where this concerned
a better education, he agreed, with the deep yearning of his own to
know the things he had never known, to learn not only facts and
wisdom, but the truth, and beyond that, the very nature of truth.
Where it seemed to mean a blind leaving of the farms for the
cities, a seeking of less arduous labor, the going into the
businesses and industries that were making great fortunes, for the
sole purpose of making a fortune, he could see not advantage, but

Yet he would not discourage any of his children if what was called
the new "progressive" America attracted them.  Nat certainly would
never make a farmer.  In his adolescence he had a profound distaste
for all of the farm life and work that was far more than a boyish
laziness.  Nat wanted frankly to make money, for what reason he
could scarcely know.  Arent, Ase imagined, would follow where Nat
led, as he had always done.  It was too soon to know about the
girls, or about Willis.  He felt a certain panic at the thought of
more children, hoped there would be none to prove as cold and
ruthless as Nat, as blindly following as Arent, as hard and
snappish as 'Melie, as aloof as Willis, as vulnerable, yes, that
was it, as vulnerable as Doll.  Children came into the world with
characters infinitely more unpredictable than those of the
creatures, from whose breeding and blood lines much could be
prophesied.  Well, he thought, that was part of the glory of human
beings, that each was only himself.

Nellie said sharply, "Ase, I asked you a question.  You never
listen to me.  I say something or ask something and you just sit

It was impossible to explain that her question had started a long
train of thought, the thoughts futile, he must admit.  She was
right to call it dreaming.

"Are you going to talk to Judge Simmons?"

"Why yes, Nellie, I'll talk to him.  But whatever the law, we're
all right."

"The trouble with you, Ase, you don't have any ambition."

He heard that word often, too, and again, as with "advantages" and
"opportunities," "ambition" seemed to mean the avid desire to make
money for its own sake.

He said mildly, "I guess not.  But Nat does, the way you mean it."

"I'm glad you think so.  I've tried hard enough to make him
ambitious.  I must say, your mother's always backed me up there."

Nellie said, "I wonder now.  Maybe we ought to have Doc see what he
thinks about your mother."

"There's nothing wrong with her health, Nellie."

"You can bet your boots there isn't.  She eats like a horse.  Her
mind, I mean.  A crazy person's will wouldn't be worth the paper it
was written on."

He stood up from the table.  To an extent, he could understand
Nellie's concern.  He knew that never, whatever mad or spiteful act
his mother committed, could he quarrel over the disposition of the
Linden land.


The afternoon in late November was brooding, making ready for the
first snow.  The yet unfrozen earth was gray.  The winter wheat was
a brave pale green before the dark of pine trees and of hemlocks.
The snow-containing sky was gray, the copper streaks the color, Ase
thought, of Mink Fisher's skin when he had first known the Indian.
He wondered why he thought now of old Mink and then remembered.  It
had been at this season, with sky and earth so colored, that he had
once helped his friend to begin the running of the trap lines.  He
longed suddenly for Mink's presence, since the fur bearing animals,
after years of unmolested breeding, were back in numbers.  Also, he
realized, his present content was so great that it needed only Mink
to complete it.  The need of his brother was a steadier, more
constant pain.

Ase turned his rig into the barn for unhitching, marveling at his
felicity.  All his crops had prospered.  Severe cold had held off,
so that when the impending snow should fall, his increased acreage
of winter wheat would be bedded safe and soft against anything but
unforeseen catastrophe.  The new barn, called for by his expanding
crops, had been raised, with the help of the neighbors.  Nellie was
allowing him to have Tim McCarthy with him for the winter.

He fingered the check in his pocket, walking in the not entirely
cold air to the house.  He had shipped his apples, his surplus
barley and potatoes, his summer wheat, by the new freight line to a
more eastern market.  The returns seemed to him fabulous.  They
would finish paying for the new barn, they would assure Nellie of
Hulda's help for a long time, they would provide as many hired
hands as he might need for the coming spring and summer, for he saw
how he might enlarge his money-acreage by developing his wood lot
near the wintergreen bog, and turning the old northwest wood lot
into other and more profitable crops.  If and when Benjamin
returned, he would be able to hear his brother say, "Well done."

Hulda was doing the washing in the woodshed.  Her strong fair arms
moved briskly up and down on the washboard.  He wondered why she
had not married, for all her square-faced plainness, in this
country where a man needed a sturdy wife more than a handsome one.
He recognized again his good fortune in Nellie, capable and busy as
a mother wren, and still the prettiest woman in four townships.  He
wanted to say something to Hulda, to let her know that he
appreciated her, beyond her wages.  He cleared his throat, to bring
the always difficult speech.

"Hulda, what's the matter with the men around here?  Somebody's
missing a good wife."

She drew a soapy hand across her face and flushed.  He was
surprised to see tears come into her eyes.

"Oh Mr. Linden, dot's the trouble.  The one I wanted, a good-
lookin' girl she got him.  D'odders, all dey want is cook, clean,
wash, for free.  Better I save my wages."

She added bitterly, "Maybe some day I buy me a hoosband."

He was sorry he had spoken.  He had thought of Hulda as stupid and
contented.  He was appalled to think how little one human being
knew of another.  Any man or woman might live with a steady
heartache and there would be none to know or console.  His mother,
true, announced her grief as though she beat blatantly on a bronze
bell, but it was her nature to do so.  But the others were silent:
the physician Holder, driven by some tragedy unspoken; Tim
McCarthy, a sad-gay little man taken to drink and never telling who
or what had wronged him; he himself, Ase realized, keeping secret
his concern about his mother and his brother, keeping privately
above all his loneliness in the midst of love and plenty.

And Nellie?  She went about her family affairs gaily, playing her
tricks now that she was well again, her passion not so insistent as
once, yet he feared in her secret heart she still longed for
Benjamin, the wild, the glamorous, or for some remote satisfaction
beyond his understanding or capacity.  He wanted to comfort the
Swedish girl.  He could not think of anything to say.  He wanted to
put his hand on her muscled arm by way of solace.  He wanted to
give her his recognition of her value as a woman, even, her solid

He said, "You've turned into as good a cook as Mrs. Linden."

"Yah.  I know.  I help cook soon as I finish washing."

Nellie and Amelia were in the sitting room.  Ase was glad to find
them together.

He said, knowing it would please them both, "Here's the check."

He laid it before them on the table.  Nellie examined it briefly.

"A lot more than you thought, Ase.  Tell you what I want now.  A
windmill for the well, so we can have a bathtub, and not have to
pump water for the house."

Amelia fingered the slip of paper.

She said, "Asahel, I've been lenient about our division of money.
I think that from now on you should give me my share."

He could not understand why she wanted her "share," as she called
it, for she had always had access to the family cash box.  When she
had gone to Nevada in search of Ben she had nearly depleted their
joint monies.

He said, "Of course, Mother.  I thought I'd start an account in the
new bank in Peytonville, but take whatever you want."

Nellie said, "Ase, you've got bills to pay out of this."

"I know."

"Mother Linden, we've got to save for the children's future.
They'll be needing all sorts of things.  You can't hold money out
against them."

Amelia said blandly, "I am saying only that we must divide
properly.  You forget my own child, robbed of his inheritance."

Ase said, "We'll divide, Mother, any way you say."

Amelia went to her room.

Nellie said, "Ase, you're a fool.  Shell ruin you if you let her."

He was sickened.  He could not eat the good meal Nellie put on the

He asked, "Where are the children?"

"Playing in the old log house.  I gave them stuff to take with them
to eat.  If you don't have much to do right now, try to keep them
out of my way."

He went to the playhouse.  It held remnants of the early furniture,
tables and stools and rawhide chairs, and enchanting cupboards and
crannies where the children could store their treasures.  He rapped
on the heavy door with its shoestring latch, for it was part of the
fun that no one might enter without knocking.  'Melie opened for
him.  She was nearly as tall as Nellie and was wearing one of her
mother's aprons.  She was maternal and officious.

The children looked up indifferently.  He felt an intruder.  Nat,
who had a passion for knives, was throwing his pocket knife at a
target on the wall.  Arent was sorting over his collection of
birds' nests and eggs.  Nat had never been interested in birds,
except to aim at them with his slingshot.  'Melie had tiny pancakes
baking on top of the stove.  Her large assortment of dolls was
arranged on chairs around a table, waiting to be fed.  Willis sat
in a corner, holding one of the reluctant barn cats.  Only Dolly
ran to her father, clasped her thin little arms around his long
legs.  He swung her to his shoulder.

"What's my Doll doing?"

"Oh Pa, I wanted to help cook, but I'm not any good."

'Melie said, flouncing herself, "She just gets in the way.  Ma says
some girls are born cooks and some aren't.  Dolly's plain stupid."

Ase patted the child on his shoulder.  He was aware of a subtle
cruelty here and did not know how to cope with it.

He said, "Doll can do other things.  She can sing."

'Melie said, "Don't be silly, Pa.  Who wants to listen to singing
when we're busy?"

Ase tried to recall where he had heard this comment before, for it
was not 'Melie's own.  Yes, it had been a year or so ago at
threshing time, when Tim McCarthy had offered to sing and play, and
Nellie had stopped him curtly.  Dolly buried her face in his hair.

"There now, Doll, we'll sing at Christmas."

He felt the child trembling.  He wondered to what extent 'Melie
over-rode this sensitive creature.

Nat said, "Who cares about Christmas singing?  I hate Christmas.  I
never get what I want."

Arent said, "Nat, you've forgotten.  You wanted your pocket knife
and you got that."

"Yah, I wanted a gun, too, and I didn't get it.  Don't you tell me
what I want."

Arent echoed, "That's right, you didn't get a gun."

Ase had told Nat that he might not have a gun of his own until he
was fourteen, some six months hence, and not then if he did not
curb himself on random inaccurate shooting.  In practicing with his
father's gun, Nat had merely banged away, indifferent to the
wounding of game, seeming to want only to fire, with whatever

Ase said, "Nat, you'll get your gun when you shoot better."

"I've got to have my own gun, to shoot.  Nothing's any good unless
it's your own."

Ase set Dolly down gently and left the cabin.  He supposed Nat was
right, to a degree.  A boy with his own gun would surely work
harder toward accuracy.  He found McCarthy in the new barn.  He
wanted to ask the old man's advice about Nat's trait of
possessiveness but felt it would be disloyal to his son to do so.

Tim said, "It's a fine harvest you've had, Asahel my friend.
Things go well for you."

Ase touched the old man's arm.

On an impulse, he asked, "Have you heard lately from your brother?"

"Indeed, I have that.  He's selling of apple trees all over the
country.  'Tis rich he'll be if this continues.  Privately, I
think, he's no more than eating regular.  You know, Ase, he minds
me of your brother Benjamin that way, a-bragging and a-bumming over
the earth's surface.  But good lads, both of them, good lads.
A-doing of the thing they want to do, and that's important for a
man, is it not?  And I've not done it."

"What did you want to do, Tim?"

McCarthy scratched his grizzled head.

"Now, my friend, you do put up a problem.  I'm after being a man of
simple needs.  I suppose I wanted a sort of safeness, a loving wife
and childer, knowing where the next meal was coming from for all of
us, and independence on the side.  Yes, that, to be me own man
under any and all conditions.  None of that I've had."

He turned to Ase.

"So now you're questioning me so sharp, what is it you've wanted to
do and have not?  What is it you've been after needing?"

Almost, Ase thought, he knew.  He loved the land he tilled and all
its products.  He wanted to know other lands and other products, to
feel strange soil under his feet, to draw strange grasses between
his fingers.  He loved the changing seasons in this place, from the
first blood-root pushing through dank mould, to the last yellow
poplar leaf bedded beneath the snow.  He loved the March winds, the
soft gray rain of April, the summer heat that shimmered visibly
over golden wheat, the bleak gales of autumn, the winter ice that
closed like a clean crystal death over field and wood.  He wanted
to know the seasons other-where, a wetter rain, a stronger sun,
more sweeping storms and colder ice.

He loved his Nellie and his Doll, felt pity and concern for the
strangers in his family, his mother and his other children.  Yet he
was desolate without his brother, and it was with him he wished to
roam far away.  And after he had known all possible of this earth,
he longed to know still others, to walk like a god the starry sky.
The sky itself could scarcely satisfy, it was infinity for which he
yearned, to be absorbed in it, never again lonely, the cosmos
filtering through his conscious being, and he in turn returning to
the cosmos his own awareness.

It was not that he willingly veiled his mind and his heart from his
friend, but only that, mute and puzzled, he could not answer.

"Tim, I don't know."

The old man nodded.

"There's things no living soul can speak to another.  I understand.
I'd give you your heart's desire, if 'twas in my hands and not the
hands of God.  You're a good man, Asahel Linden, and I grieve for
you, for all your plenty."

Ase thought, this is a rare thing, the understanding of this old
ragged farmhand, perhaps it is he who is after all my brother.  Yet
with the brother, surely a man could speak out.  He remembered that
he had been equally mute with Benjamin.

He said recklessly, "You're not to leave here this time.  You're to

"That has been me own feeling.  I doubt I'll burden you too long."

The twilight was closing in.  They did the evening chores.  Tim was
as gentle with the stock as Ase.  The sheep had not yet been
brought into their winter quarters, the weather continuing so mild,
but Ase sent Tim to the pasture with salt and extra feed.  The
children came in from their play at the cabin, washed faces and
hands with the usual reluctance, as though imposed on.

Amelia, surprisingly, helped Nellie to serve the supper.  She gave
an extra portion of her dessert to Dolly, stroking the child's fair

Dolly said, "Grandmother, I used to be afraid of you, but you're so

"Thank you, my dear.  I have never been understood."

The evening meal was pleasant, and all went early to bed.


Snow fell softly all the winter day.  The world was an inverted
paper weight, the snow filled the round atmosphere, it was the
atmosphere itself, shredded into these cool white patterns.  Layer
on layer piled on the tree limbs, extended like arms for garments,
so that the trees were dressed and shapely.  The roofs of houses
and barns and sheds were inches deep in eiderdown.  In late
afternoon Ase heard the sleigh bells ringing, the clatter of horse
hoofs, bringing the children home from school.

Ordinarily the three of school age, Nat and Arent and 'Melie,
walked the two miles each way to the one-room Linden school-house,
but in times of heavy snowfall he sent them off in the cutter, now
that Nat was old enough to drive.  He himself had never had the use
of a rig for school, and he remembered the agony of walking,
fighting against a bitter wind, his feet slipping backward, half
crying in exasperation, the miles taking an eternity to cover.  He
had done his chores early, for there were signs of the weather's
worsening.  He waited and helped the boys unhitch and stable and
feed and rub down the horse.  The lamps were lit in the house when
he went to it.  The windows were golden.  Firelight flickered
orange and was reflected on the snow.  The house was a white-banked
haven.  The kitchen door opened into a place of warmth and comfort
and savory supper smells.  Doll ran to meet him.  She brushed the
snow from his coat sleeves.  Supper was early.  If the children
finished their homework quickly, Nellie said, they might pop corn
or make pulled taffy, or both.  They begged to do it now, to have
the solace of munching while they studied.  Nellie laughed and

"It'll get all the muss out of the way at once, anyway," she said.

'Melie boiled the molasses syrup while the boys shelled popcorn and
popped it over the fire in the living-room.  Nellie melted a dipper
of butter for it.  Ase picked out a cupful of butternut meats for a
portion of the candy.  Doll helped him until she pricked her
finger.  Her hands were so tiny, it seemed to him they should be
used for nothing but to hold a few thornless flowers.  It
frightened him to think that she might ever have to use them for
anything harsh or heavy or unclean.  The taffy was cooled and
pulled, 'Melie dictating its breaking into chunks.  Nellie warned
against soiling the school books with buttery and sticky fingers,
and the children licked faithfully before turning pages.  Doll
climbed into Ase's lap for her own lessons.

She was actually, at six, old enough for school, certainly bright
enough, but because of her frailness Ase was unwilling to toss her
into the rough and tumble of country school life, where the pupils
were sometimes as old as sixteen.  Young as Doll was, she shared
with him the wonder of books and letters, and he must be forever
reading to her from his inadequate and unsuitable volumes.  She
knew her alphabet and could already read and write a few words.
She wrote now with concentration, her little pink tongue at one
corner of her mouth.  Ase corrected her spelling and gave her three
new words to learn.  Amelia had had her supper in her room.  She
opened the door.

She said, "You've all forgotten that poor old Grandmother likes
popcorn and taffy, too."

Nat mumbled, "Got a mighty good nose, to smell it through the

Doll said, "We didn't forget.  We'd have saved you some."

Nellie brought the plate and bowl.  Amelia sat down in the Boston
rocker by the fire.  She spread her handkerchief daintily over her

Nellie said, "You know popcorn gave you a stomach ache the last
time, Mother Linden.  Better not eat so much again."

Amelia's sly greed for food was indeed a puzzling thing.  It was as
though, feeling cheated by life, she would compensate herself in
this fashion.  Surprisingly, too, she remained lean, where Aunt
Jess the midwife, who ate half as much, grew yearly vaster.  The
consuming flame in Amelia seemed to burn up the aliment as fast as
she took it.  She ate mincingly and steadily of the popcorn and

Doll spelled her new words correctly and was praised.

"Now read to me, Da," she commanded.

Ase had exhausted the Bible stories comprehensible to a child,
unless he underestimated her understanding.  His Shakespeare was of
course beyond her, but he looked forward to the time when she would
read aloud to him the rolling rhythms, where his own tongue could
only stammer.  He brought a volume of his disappointing encyclopedia
and searched through it for items of interest.  He turned to the
gems, and recalling his own comparison of them to Nellie's jewel-
like jellies, passed on his conception to the little girl.  She was

She said, "But Da, nobody can eat them like jelly, can they?"

"No, Doll."

"Then what are they good for?"

Amelia brushed a crumb of candy from her flat breast.

"They're ornaments for rich and pretty ladies, Dolly," she said.
"They dress you up and show that you have lots of money."

Ase felt a slow anger spreading through his veins.  He remembered
the taint his mother had put on old McCarthy's gift of a silver
piece to Nat.  He could not allow her to pass corruption to this
beloved child.  He struggled for words.  Doll nodded.

"Just something pretty to look at," she said.  "Like flowers.  Da,
this one, the ruby, is that right?  It's the same color as Mama's
red roses."

It came to Ase in a wave of relief that perhaps Doll was

"That's it," he said.  "Just something pretty to look at, like,

"Read me some more, Da."

He searched for something with which to feed her imagination.  All
the pages seemed dull.  After "gems" he came on "genie" and tried
to explain as best he might.  He turned pages back again and found
"Gemini," the stars, and here he was more at home.  He found
courage along with speech, and fumbling, told of Mink Fisher, only
a little, but of the Indian's taking him so long ago across the
Milky Way.  Doll's eyes were wide, as starry as the sky he
attempted to describe.

"Da, you couldn't really walk on it, could you?  You'd just have to
think about it."

He became aware of his mother.  She had risen from her chair.

"Haven't you done enough damage, Asahel, without passing on these
savage superstitions?  To this child in particular, whose birth
kept you from your brother?"

The children were gaping.  Nellie laid a hand on her arm.

"Be quiet, Mother Linden."

Amelia said in a loud voice, "Don't you try to quiet me, you sly
one.  I know you, trying to get a claim on this place."

Ase said, "Come, Mother.  You'd better go to bed."

He led her away and closed the door after her.  She had frightened

Nat said, "Say, I think Grandma's crazy."

Doll was thoughtful.

"She's very sad, isn't she, Da?"

He nodded, amazed at the child's perception.

Nellie said, "Don't any of you cross her when she's like that.
Just agree with her."

Nat asked, frowning, "What did she mean, talking about a claim?
It's our place, not hers, isn't it?"

Ase and Nellie exchanged glances.  She shook her head at him in

She said easily, "Of course it's our place.  Don't pay any
attention to Grandma's talk.  She's an old lady and not

Ase was obliged to agree tacitly on reassurance for the children.
He wondered unhappily if Nellie and McCarthy had been right, after
all, if years ago he should not have had the matter out with his
mother, have arranged at least some definite division.  Nat sat
rocking back and forth, his hands clasped over his knobby
adolescent knees.

"Pa, will you sell the place some day and divide up the money?"

Ase stared at the boy.

"Why, I hope not, Nat.  This is our home.  Wouldn't you like to
have your own children here some day?"

"Nah.  No old farm for me."

Arent echoed, "Me either."

Nellie ordered them all to bed.  Doll tugged at her father's coat.

"Da, why is Grandmother sad?"

"You've heard us talk about your Uncle Benjamin.  He's been gone
since before any of you were born.  Grandmother worries about him."

"He's lost?"

"Yes, Doll, he's lost."

He stroked her soft curls, so like Nellie's.

"But she has all of us."

He could not explain the uniqueness of love, so that out of the
largest household, one only might fill and ease the heart.

"Suppose I lost you, Doll.  The others wouldn't make up for it,
would they?"

Grief and panic struck her, as though untimely hail crushed a

She sobbed, "Don't ever lose me, Da.  You won't ever lose me?"

He took her in his arms to comfort her.

Nellie said, "That's what you get for talking to her as if she was
grown up.  Her grandmother had her scared to begin with."

She took the child away to bed.  Ase brought in extra wood to the
kitchen, for the temperature was dropping rapidly.  He supposed he
should not have attempted to answer Doll's question, yet she drew
honesty from him always.  There seemed no limit, he thought, to her
ability to understand him.  They were like two streams meeting to
make a river, so that it was impossible to tell where one flow
ended and the other began.  He lay awake a long time.  The snow had
stopped falling.  In the increasing cold, the house timbers groaned
and cracked.  Lake Pip rumbled as its ice thickened.  The bitter
air was a vacuum.  The night, he suspected, was a weather breeder.


Ase scarcely knew when morning came, for the gray of daylight did
not alter from the gray of dawn.  There was no wind.  The world was
hushed and still.  There would be snow again, he was certain.

Even Nellie overslept in the deceptive light, and there was a
bustle in the kitchen, a hurried eating of breakfast and packing of
lunch buckets, so that the children would not be late for school.
When the house had quieted, Amelia appeared to ask for breakfast on
a tray before the living-room fire.  She was bland and amiable, as
though her outbreak of the night before had never been.  She called
Dolly to her and made her a cup of cambric tea from the tray.

Nellie murmured to Ase, "Wouldn't you think the child would be
frightened to death to go near her this morning?  I suppose she's
forgotten all about it overnight."

It seemed more likely to him that Doll's gift for compassion was
endless.  He saw her straighten the lace at her grandmother's
throat, then feed her a bit of sugar cooky dipped in the cambric
tea.  They made a gracious picture together, the dark old woman and
the pale, lovely child.

He dressed warmly to go to the sheep-shed.  He turned down the ear
flaps of his fur cap and tied a woolen muffler close.  He had not
heard the wind rising, but when he stepped outside it met him from
the west, a pack of wolves springing for his throat.  Driving
particles that were more ice than snow bit at his face and hands
like teeth.  If the weather thickened, there would be a blizzard.
He wished he had kept the children out of school today.  He was
relieved to shut the door safely on the rest of his family.  The
woodshed held fuel for warmth for weeks, cellar and pantry and
attic were stocked with food for months, the winter, even.  If the
blizzard came, he would keep the children home, would put old
McCarthy at house chores, at stoking the fires, and would make his
way back and forth alone to care for the stock in the barns.  His
house was in order, ready for a siege.  He had made with his own
hands this protection for his own.  He felt the deep male
satisfaction of the provider.

A young ewe had been bred too early and showed signs of lambing.
He sought her out among the flock.  She stood gently as he felt her
belly.  Life was stirring, the lamb lay low in her womb.  It would
be born perhaps at nightfall.  The ram came nosing, spoke to him,
then returned to his munching of clover hay.  Ase brought extra
loads of bedding straw to the shed.  The sheep stood knee deep in
its warm sweetness.  He filled the feeding troughs with the best
wheat middlings, pumped bucket after bucket of water from the
barnyard well.  McCarthy was at the same business in the barn.  He
was pitching down hay from the loft.  Ase moved on to the barn

McCarthy called, "'Tis a bad storm we'll get, I'm thinking.  We can
make all snug and then keep to the house our own selves, save for
coming to the milch cows.  Would you consider now, turning the
calves in to suck, do we have a few desperate days of it?"

Ase called back, "No.  I can always get through."

McCarthy came down from the loft and chuckled.

"You're a man in a thousand, Asahel Linden.  I was hired hand to a
devil once.  'Twas in Ohio in a flood-time, and rather than wade to
his waist only, he lost a heifer beautiful as an Irish queen.  Most
others would let the calves suck and ruin the bags for the two-
great fullness."

Ase took a pitchfork and divided the hay among the stalls.  The
cows had already come into the barn from their outside lot in
animal prescience.  A sudden gust of wind shook the building.  The
snow, hard and bitter, pelted the roof.  The day was so gray that
the interior of the barn held almost the darkness of night.
McCarthy joined him to fetch oats and bran and shelled corn.  The
cattle could be trusted not to overeat, confronted with a three
days' supply of food, but the horses would not be so cautious.  He
would have to bring them water in any case.  He piled their surplus
grain in a corner, to be doled out to them when he came for the
milking of the cows.

The wind that had been coming from the west veered to the
northwest.  This gave a greater protection, especially for the
sheep-shed, which was partly open on the southern side, yet it
indicated altogether too definitely the blizzard.  The snow now
swept in thickly, it was heavy and ominous, with none of the
feather lightness proper to the season.  It seemed to Ase that snow
resembled human beings, after a fashion, with an equal capacity for
good or evil.  It was necessary for covering the winter wheat, it
was needed for winter moisture, to supplement the spring and summer
and autumn rains, for without water neither man nor stock nor
vegetation could survive.  Yet when it came, as now, it was
malevolent.  He recognized in the same instant that he was being
unjust in his conception of the snow, for it was a casual, an
indifferent, force of nature, where mankind, surely, had a choice.

He said to Tim, "We'd better finish here and not go in for dinner."

"Right you are.  The dear Nellie's food will be that more delicious
in the afternoon.  Listen now, there's sleigh bells, isn't it your
light cutter coming home from the school?"

The sleigh turned in.  The teacher had sent the children home ahead
of the storm.  Ase helped Nat and Arent with the unhitching and
sent them with 'Melie to the house.

He said, "Tell your mother please to save dinner for Tim and me
until a little later."

The children ran to the house, cupping their hands over their faces
against the cutting snow and wind.  Ase and Tim worked into mid-
afternoon, preparing comfort for the stock.  The sheep, the cows,
the horses, the poultry, the barn cats, all snugged down, content
with the amplitude of food and of warmth.

McCarthy said, "'Tis good to have things right and proper.  No
doubt the Nellie will be after rewarding us with her good ham and

They were obliged to bend low against the wind to reach the kitchen
door, scarcely visible in the murkiness.  Ase pulled it open and it
flew back, straining against the hinges.  He drew it shut after
them.  In the woodshed they brushed the snow from their clothing,
stamped their feet and came into the kitchen.  Nellie was waiting
for them, their dinner ready.  The two men ate ravenously.

Ase asked, "Where are the children?"

"They wanted to play in the log house, but I told them it was too
cold, so they're upstairs in the carriage barn, with the stove
going.  I gave them stuff to eat there.  The blizzard's like a
holiday for them."

"Where's Mother?"

"In her room.  Didn't want any dinner.  She went out for a walk in
the snow, she said.  She wasn't gone long."

The carriage barn could not be too warm at best.  He went there to
the upper story where the stove was burning bright, where the
popping corn hung festooned over the piles of hickory and
butternuts.  Nat and Arent, 'Melie and Willis were finishing the
picnic food Nellie had prepared for them.

Ase sensed rather than saw that Dolly was not among the brood.  He
checked them over, looked around the long bare room for the child.
The room was warm at the end where the stove glowed red and the
children cooked and ate and played.  The other end was cold and
empty.  Beside the open stairway hung the heavy rope for ringing
the farm bell above the roof.

He said, "Where's Doll?"

'Melie said, "That's the first thing you always ask, Pa.  'Where's
Doll?'  She didn't come with us, that's all I know."

She served more food in her officious way.  Ase had a feeling of
guilt.  It was true, Doll was his first concern.  He should not so
reveal himself, to the extent of making the other children
resentful.  Yet ordinarily they seemed scarcely conscious of his
presence, or, he was sure, his absence.

He said, "Why don't you pop some corn?"

Nat said, with his mouth full, "Have to wait for baby Doll for
anything special."

Ase turned away down the narrow steps, across the driveway through
the blinding snow, through the woodshed and into the kitchen.
Nellie had finished her work there.  McCarthy was nodding in a
rocker near the range.  She was not in the living-room nor was Doll
in sight.  He found Nellie finally in the attic, taking woolen
clothing from chests and trunks.

She said over her shoulder, "Never saw it so cold.  House doesn't
seem to warm up.  Thought we'd all better have extra flannel
underwear.  The kids getting enough to eat?"

"Nellie, Doll isn't with them."

She said, "Come to think of it, she wasn't with them when they went
out to the carriage barn.  Why pshaw, she must be with your mother
in her room.  Go get both of them and make them eat something.
They haven't had a bite of dinner.  There's plenty in the pantry."

Ase rapped on Amelia's door.  There was no answer.  He rapped

"Mother, it's Ase."

He heard her rise, pushing back her chair, heard her slow walk to
the door.  She opened it.

She said, "I was having such a nice nap.  You shouldn't have
disturbed me."

"I'm sorry, Mother.  I'm looking for Doll.  Nellie said she must be
with you."

"Doll?  Oh yes.  Dolly.  She's not here.  Why do you ask?"

"She isn't with the other children."

"She isn't?  Really, Asahel, you can't expect me to know all these
things.  She went with me on my walk in the snow.  I love the fresh
snow, I've always loved it, it's so clean.  It makes me feel young
again.  You've done such dreadful things to me, but when Dolly and
I walked in the snow together, really, I forgave you."

He took her by the shoulders.

"Mother, you say Doll went with you in the snow?  It isn't snow
now, it's a blizzard.  Where is Doll?  Where did you go?"

She smoothed the front of her black satin dress.

"Why, we went for a little walk.  I wanted to break some hemlock
boughs, to make a sweet-smelling pillow for my bed.  The needles
smell so wonderfully in the winter."

He shook her roughly.

"Mother, where is Doll?"

"My son, how should I know?  She had the idea that if she lay down,
the snow fairies would come to her.  So, I left her lying in the
snow.  A stupid child, to think that, I should say.  I told her it
was not to be expected."

"Mother, where did you and Doll go in the snow?"

"Over the hill, my dear, over the hill.  Somewhere."

He roused McCarthy by the kitchen range.

"Hurry, Tim.  Doll is lost in the blizzard."

The old man shook himself.

"Mother of God.  Where do we begin the searching for her?"

"Over the hill."

"Would that be by the wintergreen bog?"

"We'll see."

Surely no child could stand against the wind.  Through the driving
snow the barns were invisible from the road.  Ase vanished from
Tim's sight at a distance of six feet and the old man called out to
him to wait, else he should be lost, too.  They groped their way to
the lane gate.  The lane was fenced to beyond the top of the hill.
They took a moment to consult, agreed to stay within the lane, to
take with them all the rope available.  They gathered plow lines,
pulley ropes, in feverish haste, all they could lay their hands on.
Inside the barn the gale was a little muted.

McCarthy panted, "What on earth took the child away?  And no one to
see her go."

Ase did not answer.  He could not face questions, least of all his
own, not now.  He led the way up the lane, bending low against the
white, dispassionate fury that was the blizzard.  He blundered into
the fence, first on one side, then the other.  McCarthy kept hold
of his coat tail.  He tugged at it for attention.

"Why are you thinking first of the bog woods?  She never went there
except for flowers, and never alone."

It must be told sooner or later.  The wind whipped the words from
his mouth and flung them back at McCarthy.

"My mother took her over the hill somewhere to break hemlock boughs
for the needles."

"In the name of Heaven.  A day like this."

Toward the end of the lane they slowed and searched back and forth
across it.  More than two feet of snow had already fallen.  The old
snow and the new were piling in drifts waist-high.  A small body
would be hidden under them.

McCarthy shouted, "Pray God the child's kept moving.  'Tis the one
thing would save her."

But she had lain down, Amelia said.  So that the snow fairies would
come to her.  He had told her no such fantasy.  Had she then made
it for herself, or had it come from the dark arctic mind of a
madwoman?  And from madness only?  He lurched into the gate that
opened into the hill pasture.  He tied one end of a rope to a gate
post.  Shaking in the cold, he knotted rope to rope, line to line.
With luck, the lengths should reach to the hemlock wood, almost to
the near limits of the bog.  At least the bog was frozen.  There
was not that horror to be faced, more ominous than ever since the
day the gypsy boy had fallen in.  Or been pushed.  Ase felt a spasm
through his body that was of more than the cold.

It was impossible to keep a straight direction when there was no
landmark, nothing at all to be seen but a whirling chaos, like
nebulae in collision.  There were a few more yards of rope
remaining.  He crashed head on into the trunk of a tree.  He
girthed it with his arms.  It was the largest hemlock of all,
standing somewhat left of the entrance to the wood.  He felt of it
again, to make certain, stripped a few needles from a low bough
abstractedly.  The crushed wet fragrance was strong and pungent.
But there had been no such scent in his mother's room.  There had
been in her room no hemlock boughs at all.

The trees gave some protection, the ground could be seen and
searched within a radius of some forty feet.  No deep drifts were
here as yet.  The bog indeed was frozen, harmless for once.  They
fanned to the limits of the rope to the left and to the right.  No
child was here.  The trees lashed their boughs and complained.

McCarthy said, "The only other hemlocks would be the few ones by
the northwest wood lot."

So they would be, Ase agreed in his mind, if his mother had truly
gone in search of them.  And if not, where else might she have led
his Doll, to leave her lying in the snow?

"She wasn't gone long," Nellie had said.

He tried to reconstruct his mother's habits.  She did wander away
occasionally in her desperation.  Where was it he had seen her go,
from where had he sometimes found her and led her home again?  It
was most often from the willow trees along the stream.  He
remembered once finding her on the wooden bridge, stark as a

"My Benjamin left me over this bridge," she said.

McCarthy cried, "Asahel my friend, we'll freeze like the child if
we stand here.  The ropes will not be after reaching clear to the
wood lot from the west fence, but leave us be trying as far as

Amelia had surely gone to the willows.

Ase shouted, the wind and snow again overwhelming, "We'll try along
the brook."

McCarthy repeated, shouting, too, "No, no, the northwest wood lot,
the only other place of hemlocks."

Perhaps Amelia had set out to gather boughs and had then forgotten
her errand.  One place was no more hopeless for searching than
another.  He had a despairing sense of haste.  Doll might perish in
the very moments wasted in the wrong direction.  He worked his way
back down the lane, stumbling in his hurry.  Perhaps she had found
a shelter somewhere.  Why, perhaps she had even made her way to the
log cabin.  A child's sense of direction was sometimes as uncanny
as an animal's.  Hope warmed his numb body.  In the deep snow of
the road itself he managed a plunging trot, his long legs breaking
something of a trail for the little man following half-blinded
behind him.  He found the split-rail fence along the apple orchard
and kept to it, tearing hands and knees against its projecting
sharpness.  The fence ended.  He groped for the cabin in the
clearing, decided he had missed it, when he crashed into its wall.
He felt around three sides before his fingers recognized the door.
The latch was stiff and heavy.  He had to throw his shoulder
against the door to open it.

Tim, holding to him, yelled, "A child could not have entered."

Perhaps through a window, Ase thought, unable to deny himself his
hope.  The cabin was murky.  It must be already twilight of the
day, indistinguishable for the storm.  He found a candle on the
mantel over the hearth and lit it.  Their shadows moved like ghosts
against the walls.  The candlelight sought out every corner,
reached under the ancient bunks, into the cupboards, empty of all
but children's toys and knick-knacks.  A battered rag doll that was
a favorite of Dolly's blinked its shoe button eyes.  This was a
good omen, surely.  She must be in the cabin.  He opened the door
into the one small bedroom where his mother had slept as a bride.
No child was here.

The blizzard assailed the cabin.  Snow hissed down onto the bare
hearth.  The wind screamed down the chimney in a high treble wail.
McCarthy shook him.

"Man, we're losing time.  It's the wood lot next and then the
stream.  Leave us stop by and ring the bell."

The cabin door swung unlatched after them, the snow and wind
marched in, the rag doll with shoe button eyes was blown to the
wide-planked floor and was drifted over.

It was nearer night than twilight, and a cruel thing to ring in the
neighbors now for such a dangerous search.  By crossing the road
and meeting the north-side rail fence, they made their way back to
the house driveway and into the carriage barn.  It was nearly dark
inside but Ase found the bell rope and pulled, and pulled again
desperately, leaning back almost as far as Nellie had done in her
days of clowning.  The great bell reached four neighboring farms,
including the Wilsons', and except when rung at the conventional
hours for calling the hands to table, was an understood signal of
dire need, to which all within hearing responded.  Tolling the
bell, it occurred to Ase that it was fire all would be expecting,
yet they would come the quicker in country dread of that.  But the
blizzard so muted the sound of the bell that it was only the
Wilsons who heard it faintly, and agreed among themselves that it
was another illusory voice of the storm, speaking its various and
evil language.  Nellie heard and called from the woodshed door.
The two men reached her.  They huddled a moment in the welcome

She said, "Ase, I can't get a word out of your mother, but Doll
must have gone with her."

"She did."

"Better come in and have hot coffee before you go on looking.
Maybe she found a place to hide."

He thought, there is no place to hide from death when it reaches
out its cold definitive claws.

He said, "I can't come in.  Tim, go in for coffee."

McCarthy said, "I've not been much of a man, my friend, but I'm
staying with you wherever I'm needed to go."

"All right, Tim.  I want to go to the stream."

Now it was dark indeed.  The night had truly come.  Ase lit two
lanterns.  Again, the two friends followed the rail fence, down the
road, to the wooden bridge.  Ase turned off to the south.  He
dipped his hands into the snowdrifts, scuffled with his feet, in
search of the unspeakable.

McCarthy called, "'Tis a wild goose chase, Ase, you must know

The willow trees were weighted with snow.  Their slender branches
were too burdened.  Ase felt something under his foot.  He bent
down and dug feverishly in the snow.  The object was only a granite
rock.  He went on.  Now he thought that Doll was somewhere near.
His groping hand met a small hardness.  He pulled on it and pulled
again.  He did not lift his lantern, yet as he drew the stiff and
frozen thing from under the snow, he knew that it was Doll.

A knife went through him, it was a thick knife, jagged and dull,
not cleanly sharp.  It turned over and over inside his stomach, his
loins, his breast, until there was no part of him that was not
bleeding.  McCarthy heard the low groan of pain and touched him.
Ase handed him his lantern and stooped to lift the weightless body.
It had frozen in the curled and sleeping position of the embryo.
McCarthy led the way with the two lanterns lifted.  The tears froze
on his seamed old face as they fell.  There was no word of comfort
he could ever say.  He could only hold his lanterns high to light
the road for the feet of his friend.

He went first into the house to send the children away upstairs.
He spread a quilt on the couch in the living room, made a sheet
ready.  Nellie's shrill cries offended him.

He said sternly, "Hush now.  Do you not be adding to the terror for
the others."

He could not control her.  Her grief was primitive and female.  It
would heal, he knew, and was no greater and no less for the one
child than it would have been for any of the others.  Ase, he
thought, might better have lost his eyes, they were not so much a
part of him as this child.  He dreaded to speak, but it was

"Asahel, my friend, the thawing of the little limbs--.  Leave me be
doing the straightening, to spare you."

Ase shook his head.  He knelt by the couch and stroked the tiny
arms and legs until they warmed into their final coldness.  He
forced himself at last to draw the sheet over her face.  This was a
nightmare, surely she was only sleeping.  Her mouth held a faint
smile, as though in that last sweet and drowsy moment, she may have
glimpsed the snow fairies for which she waited.

McCarthy said, "I'll try to be making it to town tonight, if you'd
rather.  Or get in some of the Wilsons.  They could not have heard
the bell."

Ase looked at him blankly.

"Why, no," he said.  "There's no hurry now."

"In the morning, then, if the blizzard's lessened.  I doubt a team
could make it else."

Nellie had exhausted herself with sobbing.  McCarthy induced her to
leave, to go to bed.  He knew his friend's need to be alone, knew
when they were gone he would draw away again the sheet, to fill his
memory, quite needlessly, with the small face.  He laid his hand a
moment on Ase's head, with all he could give to it of blessing.  He
turned away, trudged with his old man's slow gait up the back
stairs to his bedroom.  He found himself coughing.  He longed for a
pot of scalding tea but was unwilling to make a commotion in the

Ase sat all night by the side of the couch.  The fire died down and
he was not aware that he was cold until suddenly his fingers were
too numb to move to touch the child's marble forehead.  He thought
in a panic, he must keep the room warm for Doll.  He built up the
fire again.  The blizzard shook the house.  It came inside,
trampled him under iced and silver hoofs.  He thought irrelevantly
of the ewe about to yean, she would perhaps not own the lamb, and
then he would bring the woolly orphan to a box behind the kitchen
stove and raise it on a bottle.  He had promised Dolly the first
orphan lamb for her own.  The knife turned in him again, the pain
rose to his throat so that he was suffocated.  Sweat stood on his
forehead.  He clenched his fists against the anguish tearing out
his vitals.

The wind cried high and thin as in the cabin.

All night it cried, "Don't ever lose me, Da!  Don't ever lose me!"


The lilacs, growing bold too long, had over-reached themselves.  In
their eighteen years since Nellie had planted them, they had grown
faster than Nat, now nearly as tall as his father.  The mass of
lavender pannicles made a hanging garden of its own, the fragrance
almost too much of a sweetness, so that Ase Linden shook his head
to free his nostrils.  Slyly, through the years, the lilacs had
sent out insidious suckers.  Ase saw with surprise that the young
shoots had not only encroached on a portion of the graveled
driveway and on the smooth lawn, but were flourishing in a
veritable thicket beyond the west fence, and into the field which
he planned to plant this spring to buckwheat.

He brought a grubbing hoe and set to work to rout them out.  They
were tough, resistant.  He felt the landsman's dislike for a
growing thing that ran wild beyond control.  A shower of morning
dew sprayed over his face from the pendulous bloom he jostled.  He
took it for reproach, for there were many things that spread as
carelessly but that delighted him; mint and water cress along the
willow stream, wild strawberries, even buttercups and daisies.  He
loved flowers as Nellie did, and with an added awareness of the
mystery of their haunts, the magic of snowdrop and blood-root and
arbutus coming to blossom on the very heels of the retreating
winter.  Yet the lilacs had always disturbed him.  He leaned on his
hoe.  Of course.  He remembered now.  He had awakened to the scent
of Nellie's lilacs so long ago, when he had been frightened for
her, giving birth to their first-born.  It was he who was
unreasonable and not the lilacs.  When he was done with his hoeing,
driveway, lawn and field clear of the suckers, he broke an armful
of the flowers in something of apology.  He divided them, took one
bouquet to Nellie in the kitchen, and rapped on the door of his
mother's room to present her with the other.

Amelia's voice called weakly, "Come in."

She lay propped against her pillows.  She seemed so old, so old.
He laid the lilacs on her knees, bony under the coverlet, and took
one of her withered, blue-veined hands in his gnarled one.

"Lilacs, Mother."

"Yes, I can smell them.  Nellie's lilacs.  I remember when she
brought them here."

So she too, he thought, had been going back into the past on this
fair April morning.  Her hands plucked at the covers, as though she
picked over the rags of memory.

"It seems just yesterday," she said.

"It was eighteen years ago."

He released her hand and sat in silence, counting.  Why, his mother
was not old at all, as age went in this sturdy country.

"Let me think now, Nellie and I are forty years of age, or
thereabouts, my mother is something past seventy, and that is

Old Grimstedt, who thought to cheat Pav the gypsy, was in his
nineties, still taking his turn at the harvesting.  The two foreign
brothers down the road, who kept to themselves and made coffee of
their barley grain, they were men near eighty, still working their
land alone and prospering, hiding their wealth, folk said, under
their mattress.

No, Ase thought, my mother is not old, not old enough to lie like
this against her pillows.  Yet what was it that aged a man or a
woman?  Nellie was often as young and blithe, as mischievous, as in
her girlhood.  As for himself, it seemed to him that he had been
born old.  He recalled all that had tormented his mother, to make
her old before her time.  She lifted the lilacs to her face.

Holder the physician had been right about her.  Ase leaned back in
his chair and revived in anguish the day of the burying of his
Doll, the child who was alone blood of his blood, flesh of his
flesh, bone of his bone.  He was back in that day, completely vivid
again, and it was a day in and of eternity.

It had been necessary to wait to bury Doll until the blizzard
ended, until the frozen ground thawed enough to dig her little
grave.  He remembered that as the tiny coffin was lowered into the
dark and final earth, he had thought that after all, Doll would
never need to use her delicate hands for anything more harsh than
the holding of thornless flowers.  He thought of the second grave,
the larger coffin.  He had lost Tim McCarthy, too, a few days after
Doll.  The exposure during the search had finished the old fellow.
Tim and Doll were laid side by side under the ambiguous earth, an
earth that gave and an earth that received.  Ase had been conscious
of Nellie's satisfaction, under her grief, that McCarthy was
proving so little trouble after all.  He recalled the vacuity of
the double funeral sermon, for there was as little the man of God
could find to say of the one as of the other, the child dead
untimely, the old man, the preacher intimated, having lived a life
as wasted.  The death of Tim had been a muted thing.  Against the
diapason of his agony, the lesser note was for the moment lost.

Doll and Tim, he could think of them now together, a linked thread
in the pattern of pain.  Yet when first the larger grave had been
covered over, and then the smaller, Tim's had been the shadow and
Doll's the substance.  Amelia's stark reality had remained as
always, but now sharply to be questioned.

He himself would not have known how to raise the question about his
mother.  Returned home from the burying, he sat numb.  Dr. Holder
and Nellie had asked him to choose between two various ways of
tearing himself to pieces.  Nellie had begun it.

She had said, "Ase, I've asked Doc what we ought to do about your

Holder had said gently, "I know this is painful for you, Linden, I
know it's difficult for you to speak, but we have to get down to
bedrock.  Nellie told me about your mother's taking the child out
into the beginning of the blizzard and leaving her there to die."

The words rang in his ears with the metal clangor of the tolling
bell no neighbor had heard or, hearing, understood and heeded.

"The first question, Linden, is whether she knew what she was
doing.  The next, in which case is she most dangerous?"

Ase had not answered.  Holder had continued with the physician's
ruthful mercilessness.

"If she meant to do it, she may be no longer dangerous, for she
seems to have hated only the one child.  Yet still, that's murder,
and my duty would be to certify her as criminally insane.  On the
other hand, if her mind was merely wandering and there was no evil
intention, she might easily, another time, lead Willis into some
similar disaster.  To your famous bog, for instance.  Have I laid
out the issues fairly?"

Ase had nodded.  He was cold to the marrow of his bones.

"Well, Linden, what's your feeling about it?"

His feeling?  Why, it was only of nameless horror, deep and black
as the bog, enveloping as the blizzard.

Nellie said wearily, "Doc, you can't ask the man to pass sentence
on his own mother.  I'm willing to leave it up to you, if he is."

Ase had stared a long time out of the window, across the gray
hideous slush the thaw had made of the snow.  It was asking too
much of the physician, too, he thought, to pass judgment on a human
soul.  That was a function of God.  Or was each soul supposed to
judge itself, was that the ladder by which it climbed toward
godhood?  And if so, where and whose was the responsibility when a
soul like Amelia's had lost, apparently, all power of judgment?
Did it then lie in the opaque and timeless hands of time?

Holder persisted, "Would you like to call in some of Nellie's
people?  Other doctors, perhaps, or your friend the Judge, a home-
made jury, shall we say, if you're unwilling to pass on your
mother's guilt?"

Tim, Ase thought, only Tim might now have helped him.

Nellie spoke sharply.

"Keep it in this house, Doc.  Gossip about it's not right for the
children.  Unless she has to be put away, then everyone'll know
anyhow.  Ase, you have to say.  Either what you know or think.  Or
will you leave it up to Doc?"

He saw his mother behind tall barred windows, the screams of
maniacs picking at her like carrion crows.  It would take but a
little of this to kill her.  And if she were better dead?  He saw
her roaming over the pasture hill, another of Nellie's children by
the hand, moving toward the bog.

As though he bowed indeed to God, he said, "Whatever you decide,
Doctor," knowing he was frightened.

Holder drew a long breath.

"Very well.  It's a risk for all of us, but let's keep her here for
the time being.  Watch her closely.  Warn the children that she's
not responsible.  If she shows any peculiarity she hasn't had
before, let me know at once and we'll make another decision.  I
think this is the way you want it, Linden.  Nellie?"

She passed her hand over her tear-swollen eyes, brushed back her
curls from her forehead.  She spoke directly to her husband.

"I can stand her around a few more years, if you can bear the sight
of her."

Ase laid his hand on hers.

He said, "You're so good."

Sitting at his mother's bedside now, Ase brought himself back from
his memories of that day.  It had seemed a long time, as time went
for one family, with the children growing fast, and Amelia only
fading away, turning to skin and bones in her bedroom.  He was
obliged to ask himself again if she had truly murdered Doll, had
been terrified, after, by her act, and so, had quieted.  He put
aside his panic at the thought.  In any case, Holder's judgment had
proved correct.  She had given no trouble of any sort, had turned
almost gentle, lying in her bed against her pillows, even smiling
sometimes at Nellie when her tray of food was brought her.
Nellie's patience had been inexhaustible.

"Shall I put the lilacs in water for you, Mother?"

"That will be nice.  On the mantel, where I can see them.  So
pretty.  Dear Nellie's lilacs."

And was this, he thought, another spurious thing, was his mother
hiding behind the lilacs?  But she had been always hidden.  He
brought a vase and arranged the flowers awkwardly.

Nellie had shortened the stems of the lilacs he had taken her and
made a low bouquet for the dining-room table.  The day was
Saturday, so that the children were home from school.

Nellie said, "Goodness knows where the boys have gone to, you'd
better ring the dinner bell."

He went to the carriage shed and tolled the bell.  He was annoyed
with himself for being reluctant to ring it, as he had been ashamed
to find that he had blamed the lilacs this morning.  Yet ever since
the twilight of the blizzard, when he and Tim McCarthy had rung the
bell, and no help had come, he had hated the bell as he hated the
lilacs.  If the bell had been heard, been recognized, the Wilsons
would have come, and the other neighbors, and Doll been found in
time to save her.  How could a man escape his self-centeredness, he
pondered, how divide the inevitable from his private destiny, from
his own failures and stupidity.  For he would never be done with
his sense of guilt at losing Doll.  He should have asked for her
earlier, he should have been constantly aware that a life as
precious as hers was always menaced, if not by Amelia, by some
other obscurity that disliked perfection.  As the last stroke of
the bell died away, he heard Nat and Arent and 'Melie and Willis
running to the house, children of his loins but not his heart, to
Nellie's bountiful table.  It came to him that the one strong
family bond was Nellie's food.

Nellie said, "Quiet down, you kids.  I won't have a racket at the

Ase thought, half smiling, "Mrs. Joshua, you might as well tell the
sun to stand still."

Nat at seventeen was half man, half boy.  He was nearly six feet
tall and was not done growing.  His shoulders were broad and he
would make a bulkier man than his father.  His coloring after all
had not resembled that of his Uncle Ben, but that of the male
Wilsons.  His smooth hair was sandy, his eyes were pale and cold.
His beard was sprouting, so that a weekly shaving came at once too
often and too seldom, which distressed him.  He was particular
about his cleanliness and his clothing, complained that he was not
well enough dressed.  Yesterday, in preparation for the Friday
night school dance at the Academy in Peytonville, he had doused
himself with Nellie's lavender toilet water, was in a rage to find
the scent, too late, unsuitable.  His adolescent surliness had
hardened, he was a crude block of stone the sculptor had not yet
finished.  Yet the chisel marks, his father was unhappily certain,
already indicated an ultimate ruthlessness of character.

Ase helped himself to the home-corned beef and passed the platter
to Arent, sitting next him.  Arent passed the platter to Nat before
helping himself.

'Melie snapped, "Hurry up, you greedy pigs.  Ladies first."

Nellie said, "Behave now, all of you."

Ase was ashamed that his lack of affection for 'Melie came so close
to actual dislike.  She was the image of his mother with the same
spare frame, the same close-set black eyes and sleek black hair.
For better or for worse he loved his mother.  He could not bring
himself to love this girl, so officious, so unduly maternal, so
sharp and cruel of tongue.  'Melie and Nat had always sided
together against the others.  They shared a common hardness, a
similar and as yet unrevealed purpose.  Ase sighed, eating steadily
without notice of what he ate.

Thank God, Ase thought, Nellie was done with childbearing.  She was
more precious than the whole raft of them, except of course for
Dolly.  The old gnawing pain assailed him.  He was aroused by
laughter all around the table.

Nat said, "Pa, we've been holding the pie in front of your nose for
ten minutes."

Nellie said, "Now you know how your father is.  He goes off into a
trance and isn't thinking at all, just dreaming about nothing."

Ase felt a slow anger.  He had an impulse to raise a great paw like
that of a bear, to brush them all aside.  Then he was ashamed.  A
father at table should join himself to the others, whatever his
private concerns.  The breaking of bread together, the sharing of
salt, the eating of meat, was a sacred thing, one small community
against the outer darkness.

He said, "I'm sorry," and cut a wedge of pie, and could not eat it.

He left the table and walked across the road.  The apple orchard
was mature.  Spring was early, the orchard was as he had dreamed of
it before its planting, as a parent dreams of an unborn child, then
finds the mien and character fulfilled.  The pink-and-white bloom
was a sea.  It spilled over the hillside in rolling waves.  The
fragrance poured over him.  He breathed of it deeply, feeling
cleansed.  This too he had helped create.  It was beautiful and


Frost came on the first morning of October.  Ase felt the clean
sharpness prick the hairs of his nostrils.  Dolly had learned to
sing in her birdlike voice, "Jackie Frost, Jackie Frost, comes in
the night--."  He hurried out of the house, as though he might
catch sight of that droll fellow Jack going away over the hill,
scattering from his paint brush the last of the white crystals.  He
would have enjoyed living in pagan times, he thought.  He had read
again and again in his encyclopedia of the ancient myths, had found
himself nodding in half agreement.  It seemed a natural thing to
personify the seasons and the elements.

He stood at the edge of the road between the house and the barns.
He looked out over the fields, the meadows, the planted crops.  The
sky was of a denim blue, the frost was melting under the golden
sun, the corn was golden, too, the pumpkins orange, and all his
land was brilliant in a great glory.

He did his chores at the barn.  He had not engaged a hired man this
summer, paying, instead, the wages to Nat and a lesser amount to
Arent.  He had also given Nat the use of one of the best fields, to
raise a bean crop for himself, to add to the available cash for his
entrance this fall to the state university.  It had been hard to
give up his hope that Nat would study agriculture, having rejected
the arts and professions, for the Linden lands were proving more
and more profitable, so that there could be a good living here for
all.  Yet Nat had insisted that he would consider nothing except a
business course.  Well, Ase thought, every man must work out his
own destiny and Nat was almost a man.

He took the milk to Nellie at the house.  Nat and Arent were
finishing their breakfast.  He sat down at the table for his own.

Nat said, "Pa, I can't get those damn beans shelled and sold in
time to get to the university.  You expect too much of a fellow."

Ase took a mouthful of sausage.  Nat should be grateful, he
thought, that the bean crop had been so heavy.  It would mean that
he need not, his first year at college, do outside chores to pay
for his living, beyond the tuition for which Ase was paying.  There
was a taint on Nat, he could not put his finger on it, but it
seemed to him that Nat asked for a great deal in return for
nothing.  Ase thought of his own long years of toil, he recalled
his own meagre schooling.  More schooling, more education, access
to more books, that must be the answer, so that a man learned all
there was to know of the world, of mankind, of ideas, of the
relation of man to the outer cosmos.  If Nat could learn the things
that had been denied to him, Nat could go on where he had been
obliged, because of his ignorance, to leave off.

Nat repeated, "You expect too much."

Ase lifted his head.  He studied his son, his first-born.  The
boy's face was clouded and surly.  No, Ase thought, it isn't that
at all, I have asked too little.  It seemed to him a crucial
moment.  Yet there had been others and each time the moment had
eluded him.  But he could not find the words with which to speak,
he had never been able to find them.  And if he had ever and always
spoken, would Nat have ever listened?  Was each individual
character implicit, fixed even before birth, so that every man went
his own tormented way and could never be guided by another, equally
tormented, toward the truth?  He could only help his son at this
moment in an entirely practical way.

"Why, Nat," he said, "I can give you a hand today.  I can spare
Arent to help you, too."

They left the breakfast table together and went to the barn for the
shelling, in Eric's homemade machine, of Nat's crop of beans.  The
beans were shelled, were put into sacks, were ready to be hauled to
market.  The crop was large indeed.  Nat's first year at college
was assured.

Nat was excited and happy at the supper table.  He talked sensibly
of his plans.  Before his eyes, Ase saw the cracking of the shell
that was the boy, saw the man inside, as the hard chrysalis splits
to release the locust.  "Seventeen-year locust," Ase thought, and
smiled to himself.  Nat was possessed of power.  Ase felt a moment
of relief for his son.  However the boy used himself, he was one
who would make his way.  The world would never swallow him as it
had swallowed Benjamin.

Nat said, "Pa, if we take the beans to Trent tomorrow, why can't I
take the train straight on from there to the college?  I'll need a
few days to buy things and get settled, find a room.  I'd like to
size things up a little ahead of time."

Ase had already been thinking over Nat's transportation.

He said, "No reason why I can't take you all the way."

Nat frowned.

"Thanks, Pa.  I'd rather sort of go in alone.  That's not so, well,

Nellie said sharply, "See here now, Nat Linden, I won't have any
boy nonsense about acting ashamed of a farm.  Or your father.  When
he's dressed up, he's a fine looking man, good as any banker I've
ever seen."

It was true, in his Sunday best Asahel Linden was distinguished.
Being unconscious of his appearance, he wore his black gabardine,
starched white shirt and black string tie, casually.  Nellie saw to
it that sleeves and trousers were long enough.

Nat said, "Oh, I know, Pa's all right, but shucks, imagine driving
up in a wagon."

He grinned at his mother.

"Don't suppose you'd let me have Queenie and the rubber-tired
buggy, would you?  And the light sleigh later?  Come on, Ma, you
won't be using them much this winter."

She hesitated.

"Tell you what I'll do, Nat.  If you make good marks and behave
yourself, maybe when you come home for Christmas."

"You know," he said.  "I don't suppose you remember, but when I was
about knee high to a grasshopper you and Grandmother told me that
when I made enough money, I could have a horse and buggy of my

"No, I don't remember."

Ase remembered.  He remembered very well indeed.

'Melie said, "Nat, you going to college to learn to make money, or
to drive girls around?"

"Maybe a little of both."

The family laughed together.  Ase was disappointed not to be taking
Nat all the way.

Nellie worked late into the night, washing and ironing and mending
odds and ends of Nat's clothing.  In the end, he left most of it
for Arent.  One portmanteau held all he considered fit for his new
life.  Ase watched the packing, feeling the need of making his son
some special gift, tangible or intangible.  There was advice he
should offer him, perhaps, but he could think of none worth giving
or that Nat would accept.  At breakfast, he drew from his pocket
his own father's heavy gold hunter's watch and laid it beside Nat's
plate.  Nat lifted it and balanced its weight on his open palm.

"Thanks, no, Pa.  Nobody carries these old-fashioned things any
more.  Lot of gold in it, though.  Maybe I could trade it in on a
new one."

Nellie reached for the watch and handed it back to Ase.  Nat
shrugged his shoulders.

She said, "Now say goodbye nicely to your grandmother.  You were
always her favorite."

"She probably won't know me."

"She knows more than she lets on.  Do as I tell you."

Ase wondered at Nellie's sharpness.  Nat was her favorite, too.  He
decided that she was only shielding herself against the pain of his
going, the first out of the nest.  Since his trip today was to be
only on business, and brief at that, in the dusty wholesale feed
and grain warehouse at Trent, Ase was dressed cleanly and decently
in his second-best.  He hitched the team to the already loaded
wagon while Nat paid his visit to Amelia.

Beside him on the seat, Nat said, "Grandmother thought I was Uncle
Ben, going away.  I guess you'll be in for it again."

The drive to Trent seemed to Ase unduly brief.  Nat watched closely
over the weighing of the dried beans and haggled for a higher
price.  He put out his hand greedily for the thick roll of bills.

"Damn," he said, "I haven't got anything but my pocket to keep it

Ase took out his new leather wallet and emptied it.  His old worn
one would do him as well.  Nat accepted the gift with satisfaction,
filled it with most of the money, stuffing a few small bills in his
trousers pockets, and patted his hand over the wallet in his inside
breast pocket.

"This is one country boy that isn't going to get his pockets
picked," he said.

The original agreement on the bean crop had been that Nat was to
have the net profits.  The cost of the seed and extra manure for
fertilizer bought from the Grimstedt's had been not inconsiderable.
Ase was unwilling to remind Nat of this.  He was glad to contribute
that much more over the crop itself, as well as the cash he had
given him.  Nat had considered it a hardship as it was, to do more
than his usual amount of summer work, even though his father had
paid him at a higher rate than for an ordinary hired man.

Ase said, "Ready to go to the station?"

"Don't bother, Pa.  You start on home.  I'll amble around town for
a while."

He held out his hand.

"Tell Ma to keep the cookies coming.  See you at Christmas."

He strolled away whistling.  From the back, he looked very like
Benjamin.  Yet in the idleness of his gait, there was purpose.  Ase
lifted the reins and slapped them lightly over the horses' backs
and turned onto the road toward home.  Perhaps some time he and
Nellie might go together to visit Nat at college.  Spring would be
a good time, when they could use the surrey, and Nellie would do
them proud in her Easter ruffles.  It was foolish to have this
yearning to see his son walk for the first time through the door of
a great institution of learning.  He had always pictured vast gates
that swung silently wide to give a glimpse of glory.  No doubt it
would be like any other door.


The Lindens sat at early supper on a sharp November evening.  The
sunset was reflected bronze and blue in the east.  Lamps were not
yet needed.  Nat's absence had changed the character of the family
for the first time since the death of Doll.  There was no
quarreling at table.  Young 'Melie's dominance over Arent and
Willis was complete.  Her orders and critical comments were
accepted so meekly that their sharpness was dissipated like smoke
up a chimney.  It had been Nat, Ase realized, who always started
the rows and trouble, 'Melie fighting him to begin with, then
veering around to his side when any of the others attacked him with
childish words or fists.

'Melie said, "Arent, for heaven's sake, sit up straight.  You're
lying down over your plate like an old sow."

He said sullenly, "I'm tired."

He was growing too fast, Ase thought.  He could remember the
fatigue of the mid-teens, when the vast quantities of food a boy
ate pushed his bones daily almost out of their sockets, drove the
rich and puzzled blood like a consuming fire through brain and
glands, leaving him exhausted.  There was something else.  Arent
missed Nat grievously.

Ase understood this, too.  He recalled the first time Ben had left
home, his own desolation.  Yet Arent, oddly, had no actual love or
even affection for his older brother.  His loss now was negative,
not positive.  It was as though his own nature were empty, and the
overflow of Nat's vitality filled and completed it.  He was a
shallow stream that had no existence without the deep spring to
feed it.  He was the shadow without the body.  Ase felt a sudden
anxiety for the boy, greater than for Nat, for up--or down--
whatever rough or devious roads Nat might choose to make his way,
Arent would be obliged to follow, a puppet moved by the strong hand
of his master, a small soul born to be a henchman.

Ase looked at the unhappy boy, embarrassed by his flash of
perception.  Arent was nondescript of coloring.  There had been no
one on the Wilson or Linden side of the family so drab.  He was
more inclined to colds than the other children, but was healthy,
and at fifty would probably look very much as he looked at fifteen,
a man who would pass unnoticed in any crowd.  Ase looked on down
the table to 'Melie, officiously cutting up meat for Willis.  She
too, now nearly fourteen, would be little different at forty.  Her
resemblance to her grandmother was more striking every year, except
that she would make a handsomer woman and if possible a harder.

Outsiders, even the Wilsons, all spoke of 'Melie as "such a little
mother."  True, she fussed and clucked over Willis, even over
Arent, like a pullet with her first brood, but she seemed to Ase to
be motivated not by any tender maternalism but by her need to
dominate.  To her own offspring, he thought, she might well seem
more the stepmother of fable.  He could not even quite imagine her
with children of her own.  Like Nat, she would always, he felt,
make her way, the same question applying to the way she chose.  For
Nat and 'Melie would do their choosing.

He turned his study to Willis with puzzled tenderness.  Young as he
was, at ten, he had an odd independence, quite different from that
of Nat and 'Melie, and with somehow a greater integrity.  Yet he
too stayed aloof from his father, with no antagonism such as Nat's,
with, indeed, a casual friendliness, but giving the impression that
he had looked to his father for something that was not there and
now would look no longer.  Ase remembered his advances to Willis,
even in the days of his absorption with Doll.  He recalled holding
Willis on his bony knees, and the child's politeness, watching his
chance to slip away and play with the endless kittens.  It seemed,
simply, that the strange flame of communication had never been
lighted between them.

Nellie was determined that Willis should not be the spoiled baby of
the family.  She handled him with the firm but dispassionate wisdom
she had given the other children.  Her discipline was occasionally
menaced by their taking her for accomplice rather than mother,
especially after one of her madcap pranks.  Ase sometimes thought
of them as children together, she the eldest and most dearly
beloved.  But she was still all woman, her fire having subsided to
a comfortable glow, rather to his relief.  There had been many
times after a hard day in the fields when Nellie had been almost
too much for him.

He looked at her dotingly.  Her added plumpness, the all but
invisible touch of gray in her gold-chestnut hair, made her in his
eyes more delightful than ever.  He realized that her expression
now was dangerously demure and that the children were giggling.
For dessert, she had, along with the stewed Damson plums, baked
cupcakes in frilled papers.  He had a cake in his hand, ready for
his mouth, paper and all.  He dropped his hand and the children
burst into laughter.

Nellie said, "Now you shouldn't have stopped him.  When your Pa
goes off into his trances, he isn't thinking about anything, and
he'd enjoy paper much as anything else."

Arent alone seemed not entirely amused.  He shuffled his feet

He said, "Pa, I don't see why I have to keep going to school.
History, geography, reading and writing, all that stuff, it won't
do me any good when I go into business with Nat."

He was parroting these words from Nat, Ase knew, yet Nat himself
had been desperately anxious to go to the State university.
Neither Nat nor Arent was a good scholar, but both managed to
master the necessary subjects, Nat in particular.  Ase had the
unhappy thought that Nat planned deliberately always to keep Arent
a few steps behind him, the better to use him later for his obscure

He wanted to say, "Life is a difficult matter, and the more a
simple man may learn of what greater men have thought, and taught,
have spoken and have written, the better can he cope with any sort
of life."

He was still pondering when Nellie said, "Ase, the boy's right.  He
doesn't like school, he doesn't like the farm, either.  He can just
as well get a job near Nat."

'Melie said, "Maybe Nat wouldn't want him tagging on to his coat
tails.  Interfering with girls.  He might be just a nuisance.  Pa,
you know it, I'm smarter than Arent, can't I go to college?"

Nellie said, "I'll give you all the college you'll need right here
in this house.  You've got to learn to bake a lighter cake if
you're not to shame your husband."

"Maybe I won't get married.  Maybe I'll be a school teacher."

This seemed plausible to Ase, though again, he would feel sorry for
her pupils.

He said, "You can go to college if you want to, 'Melie, when the
time comes."

Nellie said, "A lot can happen to a girl in four years.  You'll be
having beaux by then, if you'll stop acting so bossy.  The boys
don't like that."

"Some of them do.  You boss Pa, lots of ways, and he likes it."

Ase smiled his rare slow smile.

He said, "Child, your mother does it such a pretty way.  There's
the difference."

Arent returned doggedly to his theme.

"How about it, Pa?  Can't I quit the Academy at Christmas and get a
job near Nat?"

"No, son.  Finish your high school and then we'll see."

Undressing for bed, Nellie said, "Ase, you might as well let the
boy go.  Ben finished the Academy and what good did it do him?
Seems to me an education's no use if you don't want it."

He could not refute this.  Yet a boy of fifteen knew neither what
he wanted nor needed.  Or did he, if he burned with such a secret
flame as, for instance, had Dolly, who could never have enough of
learning?  Or as Eric Svenson, Hulda's brother.

As though she read his mind, Nellie continued, "Or take Eric on the
other hand.  He was hell-bent on college, and look what he got for
his trouble."

Her reasoning was specious, for Eric had been the victim merely of
incredibly bad luck.  Ase had encouraged the young Swede, during
his summer as hired man, in his ambition to graduate in
engineering, in his dream for designing such bridges, such
buildings, as had never been seen before.  It was an architect he
was meant to be, but neither the blond boy nor his grave mentor, so
few years older, understood the distinction.  Eric had moved on
from the Linden farm, with his summer's savings and Ase's parting
gift, to a factory job, there to make higher wages and larger
savings toward his goal.  A careless fellow worker had caught
Eric's hands in a machine, crushing the fingers, so that factory
work was as impossible as the dream of draftsmanship.  Eric had
returned of necessity to his father's farm, to till the land
quietly and bitterly with his maimed hands.  Ase had hired him
occasionally.  Eric worked for lower wages than the average, as
there were many chores, such as milking, that he was unable to do.

Ase said to Nellie, "Very well.  We'll let Arent go.  I'll hire
Eric again."

He drove Arent to the train the following Saturday.  The boy showed
more enthusiasm than his father had ever seen in him.  Nat was the
breath of life to him.  It was touching, Ase felt, and he thought
of his own vanished brother with the familiar pain.  Perhaps he had
done properly after all in letting Arent follow Nat.  Yet he was
again disturbed by the vacuity of Arent's nature, needing his
brother not for love, but because without him he was nothing.  Now
he might never stand on his own feet.  The relationship was even
more dangerous for Nat.  It seemed to Ase that he became
increasingly harder and more arrogant as he fed on Arent's paler

He lifted his hand in farewell after the train, but Arent did not
look back from platform or from window.  He was glad that he had
brought Willis at the last moment, noticing the ten-year-old
watching wistfully the preparations for departure.

He said now to him, "We'll miss the boys."

Willis said, "They won't miss us."

The comment was matter of fact, as though an old man spoke without
malice of love's unrequitals.  Ase looked down at the boy,
surprised.  Willis had always eluded him.  In a surge of affection,
he hoped it might still not be too late for communication.  He
forced himself to speak more fully than was usual for him, thinking
that this unknown son was strangely adult, and he must so address

"It's been a disappointment to me that Nat only cares about
business.  I'm sorry that Arent doesn't want to go to school."

Long-pent ideas surged in him, of a man's need to learn all
possible that may be taught, of the values of life, whereby a
preoccupation with money seemed an ignoble thing to him, of the
greater nobility of labor with the soil, of the dreams of men, to
add to the force and beauty of all human living, those dreams too
often, as with Eric Svenson, inexplicably destroyed.

"A man lives a short time, but a long time, too.  He needs--"

He faltered, and as always, could not go on.

He gathered himself and asked, "What do you want to do, Willis?  If
you like farming, you can go to the agricultural college.  You
might want to be a doctor.  A lawyer.  Have you thought about it?"

The boy leaned forward in the buggy, examining his copper-toed
shoes, retreating into his shell.

"It doesn't matter," he said.  "Anything's all right."

He should question further, Ase thought, no, he should avoid
questioning like the plague, should instead somehow stir this shy
male child to a willing revelation.

He could only say, "I'll help you with anything you want to do."

Willis repeated, "It doesn't matter."

The buggy drew up at the Svenson house.  Eric came to meet it.

Ase said, "I need you again, Eric.  Can you come?"

He was shocked by the appearance of the man.  His shoulders sagged,
his lean Norse features were haggard, his once blond shock of hair
was matted, and of the gray of dead seaweed, as though despair had
washed over him in a last battering wave.  He was five years
younger than Ase, whose hair at forty was still raven black.

He said, "Yes, sir.  Be glad to."

Ase said, "Eric, would you like to stay this time, for good?  I
think I've lost Nat and Arent."

The unhappy eyes lightened, then were again beaten and cautious.

"I might as well.  I'm not needed here, now the new crop of
Svensons is coming along."

Of the large Swedish brood, Eric and Hulda alone had never married.
There were nieces and nephews at work on the expanding farm.  Hulda
had not found "a husband to buy," but Ase wondered why Eric was
still a bachelor.  He had been a handsome young man, and no loving
and proper woman would reject him for his hands.  The reason must
be his fitful earnings, his inability to provide a roof over their
heads, necessary to marriage, where love alone needed only a hedge-
row.  As occasional hired hand at other places, Eric, he knew,
often slept in shed or barn.  At the Linden farm he had always
occupied a small room on the second story of the house, above the

Ase said, "Eric, if you come to stay, there's no reason why you
can't have the log cabin."

The man gripped his arm with a twisted hand in what seemed almost
an attack.

He said, "Do you mean that, Mr. Linden?"

He answered himself at once.

"You mean it.  You never say anything you don't mean."

He brushed a sleeve across his grimed and sweating face.

"I'd given up.  There's a girl--."

He looked away a moment, into a past desolate space.

"Of course, she isn't a girl any more.  She's a woman, she's as old
as I am.  She's turned gray, too.  She's waited for me all these
years.  She didn't care whether we ate or starved, as long as it
was together.  There wasn't any way I could manage it."

He was fierce again, his face close.

"Your cabin, what it means--.  She'll be with me."

He smiled in apology.

"But you know what it means."

Yes, he knew, but he could envy Eric the woman who would starve
with him, if it was together.  He decided to pay him full wages and
to give him some breeding stock for his own, a heifer, pigs and
chickens.  There would always be enough Linden fruits and
vegetables to share.  It would be good to have Eric in the cabin,
so long empty, so long haunted by bitterness.

Ase was surprised that evening to find Nellie snappish on the

"You'll be over there half the time, jawing and yarning," she said.
"I thought when Tim McCarthy died I was done with your chums."

He stared at her.  Then he turned away his face, to smile.  An
ancient puzzle was explained.  Nellie, astonishingly, for no female
could have disturbed her, had been jealous of Tim.  The male
community was offensive, for into it no woman could ever enter.


The only wonder, Ase thought, was that such a year had been so long
in coming.  Catastrophe after catastrophe struck the crops.  A man
working with the land might expect disaster at any time.  He had
escaped it better than many of his neighbors.  His instinct for
weather changes, strengthened by the lore of Mink Fisher the
Indian, had often led him to plant a crop earlier than was
customary, or when other landsmen said it was too late, and the
seasons had been harmonious with him and proved him right.  Now
there seemed no benignity left in nature.

The spring came early.  The apple orchard was a foam of blossom.
The wind veered one April day, the sun withdrew, a norther roared
down with sleet and bitter cold, and when it passed, the orchard
was a stricken thing, bereft of bloom and hope of harvest.  There
would be no plums, no cherries, no peaches.  The winter wheat lay
flailed to the ground and would not rise again.  Half the crop of
spring lambs perished in the sudden and unseemly cold.  Eric worked
through two nights with him, saving the remainder.  No hours were
too long, no labor too hard for him.  The man was luminous with
happiness.  His middle-aged bride had transformed the dark log
cabin into a house of bright Swedish reds and blues and yellows.
Her plain sweet face was as glowing as his.

To compensate for the loss of major cash crops, Ase doubled,
working with Eric a twenty-hour day, his plantings of beans, of
potatoes, of corn.  These were well sprouted when two weeks of rain
turned the fields to sodden mud, and the young green sprouts and
cotyledons turned yellow, then gray, and merely disappeared.  The
previous winter's store of root vegetables, of home-canned fruits
and vegetables, was eaten to the last crock of apple butter.  It
was necessary to buy almost everything from Peytonville, even feed
for the stock, at new high prices.  Ase sold everything he could
spare, lambs, calves, poultry, pigs.  He replanted the drowned-out
house garden and fought through the wet summer for every carrot,
every beet and turnip.  His cash reserves were dangerously depleted
and life was almost a matter of immediate survival.  It was
necessary to keep money aside for the next winter wheat.  With no
broad acres of crops to be worked and harvested, Nat and Arent took
summer jobs in Trent.

The price of seed wheat soared.  When it was paid for, allowing an
extra acreage this time in an attempt to recoup, Ase checked over
his balance in the Peytonville bank, the remaining currency in the
tin box, and found himself perilously short.  The family would not
starve, it would not go cold nor unclothed, but there would be no
amenities, and Nat would have to finance his second year of college
by himself.  Eric's wages would be a steady drain.  Dismissing him
was out of the question.  The log cabin was the rock on which he
was building his life.  Ase looked over his account ledger.  He had
not realized that Nat had called on him so often the past winter
for extra money.  Twenty-five dollars here, fifty there, it
amounted to several hundred dollars.  His mother and Willis had
been sickly.  Dr. Holder had come often and prescribed expensive

Aunt Jess the midwife had been ill and unable to work at her
profession.  He had taken money to her and arranged for paying a
girl to stay with her until she should recover.  There were other
items, too, a contribution to the struggling high school Academy in
Peytonville.  He had said nothing about these things to Nellie or
to Amelia.  They made a considerable amount, more than he could
afford.  He pushed the ledger away and asked himself why he had not
felt free to tell his wife and his mother that he was, actually,
robbing them of their deserved comforts.  He acknowledged to
himself his fear of his mother's sharp tongue and greediness.  Yet
Nellie had been always so generous with stray tramps, with the
gypsies, the bounty of her table was fabled, for any and for all.
And she had sent Hulda home with the first tightening of his
finances.  He looked up from his ledgers.  Eric stood in the

"Worse than you thought, isn't it, Mr. Linden?"

"We'll manage somehow, Eric."

"I shouldn't have let you pay me wages all spring.  I'd work for
nothing now, but I can't.  But I've got things figured out.  I can
have a job hauling lumber at Peytonville, if you'll spare me the
mare to ride back and forth.  That way, I can give you a hand night
and morning, and still make my wages outside, until things get
better for you."

Ase said slowly, "That would relieve me, Eric.  But I couldn't let
you give me help without pay."

Eric's blue eyes twinkled.

"Then I'd have to pay you rent on the cabin, and I can't afford to.
Elsa and I can't give it up.  We're having a baby in November."

The man's delight was almost a tangible aura.  There was something
else, Ase sensed, beyond a normal pride in paternity.  Eric had
returned to his rightful share in man's hope.  Life had failed him,
but it would surely never fail his child.

Ase rose and shook hands gravely.

He said, "Good luck," having in mind the perhaps dangerous maturity
of the mother in childbirth, the forever dangerous fact of every
new life, and Eric, understanding this, gripped tight and grateful.

"I'll begin the hauling job day after tomorrow, Mr. Linden."

July was perversely dry.  The earth hardened and cracked.  Ase and
Nellie carried bucket after bucket of well water to the garden each
evening.  'Melie and Willis doled it out around the plants with
dippers, making a game, stopping to dabble in the momentary pools,
so that Ase was usually obliged to finish the job himself before
going late to his chores.  The small garden fruits, the currants,
the gooseberries, the raspberries and strawberries, turned
shriveled and seedy.  Nellie complained of the quality of the jam.
She used honey in making it, to save the price of sugar.

There were two days of bright sun toward the end of the month.  The
fodder grasses, the rye and clover and timothy, dried enough for
mowing.  On the third morning, Ase hitched the team to the mowing
machine by lantern light, to be ready with the first nebulous gray
before the dawn.  Even the birds had not yet aroused from sleep.
He made a round of the lower pasture field before the robins began
their harsh twittering.  With the first faint glow in the east,
only a prescience of sunrise, as though someone approached from far
away with a lifted lamp, the meadow larks took to the air,
disturbed by the machine rather than the day, for which they were
not ready.  They circled but did not soar, spoke but did not sing.
The grasses were heavy with the dew and made hard mowing.  But the
sun rose clear and golden, the mown grass steamed and would soon
dry, and Ase clucked to the horses to move at a faster gait.  They
were almost too fresh from weeks of inactivity.  They broke into a
trot, the whirling blades of the mower could not keep the pace,
became clogged.  Ase was obliged to saw on the lines with all his
strength to slow down the team, to save a fatal breakdown of the

A cloud passed over the sun.  It moved away to the south in a
moment, leaving the light somehow less dazzling.  Ase felt that he
was racing the sun, an ant against an antelope.  He would not take
time for breakfast.  At eight o'clock he tied the team to the
fence, for rest, and went to the barn to do the chores.  Nellie was
there, milking.  Her curly head leaned against the flank of the
brindle cow, her hands looked to him like frail leaves fluttering
under the big udder, but her small strong fingers were pumping milk
from the teats in a steady stream.  She turned her head and

"Bet you thought I'd forgotten how to milk."

He tousled her hair.

"Go on to the house, Nellie.  I'll finish now."

"I'm almost done.  Eric did a lot before he left.  I've got the
poultry fed and watered.  Go eat your breakfast.  It's keeping hot
on the back of the stove."

He had said nothing to her of the need for hurry, but she had
understood and gone casually to do a man's work.  The love in him
for her swelled like the willow stream in flood.

"No, Nellie, let me finish."

"Look at your dirty hands.  I'll be through with the stripping
before you could get them washed.  Go on, now."

He could not leave her.  He would never again envy Eric his Elsa.
He squatted on his haunches and watched her, saw the sweat come out
on her forehead, and loved the dampening of her curls.  He forgot
for the moment his anxieties and his danger.  She stood up from the
milking stool and wrinkled her nose fastidiously at her hands,
holding them in front of her.

"I'll gather up the eggs, guess I won't get them smelly.  You take
the milk buckets to the house."

"You can come back for the eggs."

"Want your breakfast dished up in style.  I know."

It was not that he wanted his breakfast served, but that he could
not spare her out of his sight, not just now.  She darted ahead of
him, and by the time he reached the kitchen with the milk and had
washed up and combed his hair, his late breakfast was on the table.
He coaxed her into sitting with him and she sipped at a cup of

She said, "Think you can get the hay in before it rains again?
Weather still acts sort of peculiar."

He was jerked back painfully to the hay, to the weather, to the
fractious team waiting for him.  He rose from the table.  He leaned
over her and kissed her throat.

"Ase, for heaven's sake, we're getting to be old folks.  Save it
for bedtime, anyway."

"Little Nellie Wilson--" he said.

She would always be younger than he.  It would offend her to know
that what drew him to her now was not amorousness, but some deep
need of physical contact, as for a mated pair of animals huddled
together against a storm.  He went back to the mowing of the hay.
Nellie brought him food at noon, to save time, brought grain and
water for the team of horses.  The sun was strong all the
afternoon.  The swathes of grass fell in half circles behind the
blades of the machine, drew in the warmth and dryness, were ready
to be taken to barn to nourish the stock through the coming winter.
Ase kept at the mowing until the late summer twilight.  If he had
not been obliged to let Eric go, if Nat and Arent had been with him
for help, the felled and valuable fodder would have been already
raked into piles for stowing in the loft.  The sun set angrily.
Ase put away the team, the machine, did the evening chores, and
went to the house for supper.

Nellie had a finer meal than usual for their time of dearth.  She
sent the children to bed early.  She took Amelia her supper tray
and retrieved it shortly.  Ase was torn between a sigh and a smile.
He was exhausted, yet he gloried that he was still able to give her
some portion of a meagre happiness.

He was up early the next morning to go on with the mowing.  On
studying the sky, he changed his mind.  He decided to rake as far
as he had already mown.  The hay rake was a one-horse affair and he
could spell off the two horses, having overworked them the day
before.  The job took less than half as long as the mowing.  The
day was cloudy but dry.  In mid-afternoon, he called Nellie to help
him begin to load.  He needed badly a second man to pitch with him,
but she could easily take the place of the customary grown boy who
stood on the load and evened and trampled the hay.  She put on an
old pair of Arent's jeans and tied a bandana over her hair.  She
pranced up and down the load.  She could not help him when it came
to pitching the hay from the wagon up into the loft of the barn.
This was back-breaking work for a man alone, with no respite.  The
next day was Sunday, and Eric worked with him from sunup to
sundown.  Six loads were safe in the loft when night came, and with
the night, again, the rain.  Two days ruined the hay remaining on
the ground.  It turned black and soft and moldy.  The rains began
once more in August.  They opened gullies along the granite ribs of
the sheep pasture.  The brook rose high, foamed and boiled.  The
lower branches of the weeping willows were drenched and muddied,
untidy as matted hair.  The grasses grew rank.  Wild blackberries
were swollen and insipid.

The weather cleared and Ase mowed the short hay in the high pasture
without trouble but the amount would not see the stock through the
winter.  In early September he went to the marsh along the willow
stream.  The marsh grass was coarse and not too nutritious, but
Mink Fisher had told him many years ago that it made good fodder in
bad times.  The Indians had often used it for their ponies.  He
moved slowly across the marsh, swinging the big hand scythe
rhythmically, cautious against deep hidden pools of water and
against the equally hidden small rattlesnakes.  These had once
infested the marsh by the hundreds and as a boy he had sometimes
killed as many as thirty in one day.  He smiled to himself,
remembering that his father had paid him a penny a snake.  He had
been rich for weeks.  Of late years, the hogs had kept the snakes
down to a modest number.  He stepped back as a triangular head
lifted beyond his feet, then sheared it off neatly with his scythe.
He hauled the marsh hay bundle by bundle, by hand, to higher
ground, for availability in loading the wagon.  He refused to let
Nellie help this time, for a few rattlers managed to tuck
themselves inside the bundles.  These he killed with the pitchfork.
The season's hay was all of poor quality but it would see him

He went next to the sowing of the winter wheat.  Eric gave him
early and late hours of unpaid-for time.  The weather immediately
following was propitious and the grain sprouted and seemed
established.  The home harvest was better than he had expected.
There were enough potatoes, carrots, turnips, cabbage, pumpkin and
squash to make respectable piles in the root house and in the
cellar.  The fall crop of nuts was good.  He and Nellie and the
children made picnic outings on bright October days to gather the
butternuts, the hazel and black walnut, the hickory nuts.  He
butchered hogs early and hung more than usual of hams and sides in
the smokehouse.  Nellie put down half a dozen large crocks of salt
pork in brine.  When the snowy slices were dipped in flour and
fried golden brown, served with potatoes boiled in their jackets
and rich milk gravy, the meal was savored by all the family except
Amelia.  When Nellie had only such "common" food she prepared some
special delicacy for the querulous old woman.  They would all miss
the apples through the winter, but on the whole, Ase felt a new
hope that they would come through to spring not too uncomfortably.

Toward the middle of October Nat and Arent came home to get their
clothes in order.  Ase had warned Nat early that he could give him
no help toward his second year of college.  Nat had saved most of
his summer's wages.  Ase was relieved and surprised, for Nat had
always assumed that his father could produce extra money when he
really cared to.

Nat explained, "I decided I'd rather get the work out of the way
this summer.  I wouldn't like this business of waiting on tables
and stoking furnaces for the rich fellows.  They call the working
boys slavies and stuff like that."

Ase said mildly, "Mr. Lincoln split rails while he studied.  He
made a pretty good name for himself."

Nat said, "Well, there must be easier ways of getting to be

He was sullen that he dared not use any of his money for a new
winter suit.  Arent had inherited his second-best suit and now he
would have to wear his one good one every day.

Ase said, "If I get a good price for the young stock, maybe at

Nat's face lightened.

"Fine, Pa.  Even twenty-five dollars will do me."

Thinking out his words beforehand, Ase talked with Arent to
convince him that he should enter college, too.  If his lesser
amount of saved money was not enough, surely as a freshman he need
not share Nat's lofty feeling against working on the side.  The boy

"I guess you're right, Pa.  Nobody notices me anyway when Nat's

He spoke more with pride than resentment.  It was enough for him to
trail behind his brother.  Nat heard his name and joined them and
questioned them.

He said, "I tell you, Pa, it's too hard work for one thing, to make
a living and study, too.  I've got a good job for Arent in town, in
a store.  We'll live in my room together and between us we'll have
enough money to do things right.  Why, I can teach Arent at night
myself.  The first year stuff is easy."

The matter was settled.  It was impossible to urge Arent further.
The promise of continuing to live with Nat so elated him that he
became deaf and blind to other arguments.  Ase understood wryly
what would happen.  Nat would never think again of teaching Arent,
was incapable of it in any case, and he would live well, making the
show he demanded, with the help of Arent's earnings.  As ruefully,
Ase acknowledged to himself that it probably did not much matter.
Arent's cup was not only empty, it had a hole in it.  Even the
modest education of the Academy had gone in one ear and out the

Ase had not entirely given up hope for Nat's development.  The boy
had made good marks his first year, especially in history and
economics.  Perhaps he would find a professor who would stir him,
some wise man of books who would open for him, as he himself had
been incompetent to do, the world of the mind beyond its commercial

"History certainly teaches you, Pa," Nat had said, and Ase had felt
excitement mount in him, and had leaned forward eagerly to listen.

Nat had continued, "Why, you can see where business and political
leaders made their mistakes.  The depression wasn't necessary.
Cleveland proved that.  Even then, a smart man could have seen what
was happening, and bought stuff low, and held it, and then sold it
high.  I tell you, I wouldn't take anything for history."

Ase had left Nat abruptly.  What did he mean by "stuff"?  He used
the word constantly.  Yet it was gratifying to find that the boy
had a good mind, as strong and vital as his body.  He was young, he
could change, and if not a man of letters, perhaps the right wife
would tone down his stridency.  Perhaps his own children would
teach him a more basic humanity.  Ase drove his two sons to Trent
to take the train for the university city.  The time was still
clement, so that they went in the surrey.

Nat said casually, "You could just as well drive us all the way,
Pa.  See the college, too."

Some things, Ase thought, came too late.  A year ago he had yearned
to feast his eyes at least on the portals.  Nat had not asked him
and Nellie to come for a visit.  Nat had been ashamed of him then,
collecting the bean money from the old wagon.  He was not ashamed
of the surrey, as fine a carriage as anyone had.  And Nat no doubt
had in mind the saving of the two railroad fares.  No, it was too
late, something was soiled.

Ase said, "I'd better reach home tonight."

He added, ashamed of his evasion, although the fact was so, "Your
grandmother had another spell, I ought to be there."

Elsa bore her child in the log cabin in early November.  Dr. Holder
attended her with Hulda's help.  Aunt Jess was past midwifery.  It
was a difficult birth, but Elsa made as light of it as Nellie had
always done.  The baby was a girl.  Ase had wondered if Eric might
not need and have wanted a son, further to have restored himself.
He was immediately reassured.

Eric said to him, drinking a toast of hard cider in the cabin to
the new-born babe, to the mother, "I'm glad it's a girl.  A girl
can't possibly be as disappointed in life as a boy."

It seemed as though Eric had always been a part of the family.  Ase
was comforted by his quiet presence, by the hour of help he gave
night and morning, by the sight of lamplight in the old cabin, and
smoke curling from the chimney.

November was cold and dry.  There were wind storms, gales that
ripped branches from the trees, but with them, no beneficence of
rain.  December turned unseasonably warm.  Rain fell, and the
yellowing wheat shoots turned green again.  There was no snow, none
at all.  Without its protective covering, the wheat was at the
mercy of winter.  Bitter cold moved in, the temperatures near zero
continued for a week.  The wheat froze where it stood in its
nakedness.  The soft snow that fell at last was wasted on the empty

Ase and Nellie sat on the sofa before the living-room stove.  The
children were in bed.  Amelia had been troublesome all day, calling
from her room for unneeded attention, but now seemed asleep.
Nellie turned the lamp low to save the oil.  The belated snow
hissed like snakes against the window panes.

Ase said, "I'd better sell off most of the stock now."

"Won't bring as good a price as in the spring."

"I can't pay for feed through the winter, Nellie.  Not with the
wheat gone and nothing coming in.  We'll just keep the brood

"Ase, let's keep all the turkeys.  Nobody raises them much for
market.  I'll set all the eggs early.  They can feed spring and
summer over the high hay field where there's always so many

"All right, if you want to bother."

Yet the problem was one of survival in the meantime.

He said, "I hate to disappoint Nat about money for his suit."

"You shouldn't have come so close to promising him."

"I know."

He put a chunk of maplewood in the stove.  He had timber to spare
in both wood lots.  He should have thought of this before.

He began felling and cutting the next day in the snow.  He hauled
the wood by the cord to Peytonville and disposed of it easily.  He
sent the first twenty-five dollars to Nat and felt somehow free.
He made charcoal from the smaller wood.  This too had a ready
market.  All winter, when the snow was not too deep or the winds
too fierce, he hauled charcoal and cordwood to Peytonville and
peddled it from door to door.  Nat was furious when he heard of
this through Nellie's casual mention in a letter.  To Ase it seemed
as honorable a way as any for a man to make a living.  All men sold
or traded the products of their minds, their backs or hands, for
subsistence.  Wood was a clean thing, as vital as food to human
life, to warm and comfort.  He began filling his pockets with
hazelnuts to give the children on his route.  They left their
romping, their building of snowmen, to run to his wagon in welcome.

He enjoyed their shrill, friendly cry, "Here's the wood man!"


The May sun forced the wet earth to give up its moisture.  The soil
steamed.  Ase stood in the sparse shade of the new-leafed poplars
before his house and looked out across his land.  The blue mist
rising in the valleys seemed more like smoke.  It swirled and
eddied, spiraled and lifted, and almost as he watched, was absorbed
into the pale gold light.  He had finished the planting of all his
fields.  Spring had come early, as though to compensate for the
past year's harshness.  All signs had been of a continued
blandness.  He had fallen back on his long established but never
used credit with Mr. Peyton, buying seed with abandon, since he
felt certain in his bones of a fine growing season.  He had planted
summer wheat.  The bean crop was in, the potatoes, the barley and
the buckwheat.  He had even risked so early a planting of corn, the
oak leaves being the size of a squirrel's paws.

Easter vacation at the university had been late this year and Nat
and Arent had come home and given him ten days of priceless help in
turning the land, fertilizing, harrowing and laying out the rows
for the planting.  A little money was left from the hard winter and
Eric interrupted his job to give him two weeks of time.  There had
been enough rain and not too much, and any day now the rich brown
fields would sprout with the blessed green of growth.  He took a
long breath of the sweet moist air.  The Lindens had come through a
perilous time.  There was still meat in the smokehouse, the one
milch cow he had kept was fresh, Nellie's chickens and turkeys were
laying heavily.  The fruit trees were ending a riotous bloom.  The
house garden was in, nursing secretly the good vegetables and

It was midmorning and there was no special thing Ase found
necessary to do.  It was a moment of waiting.  He thought of his
mother in her closed room.  She was failing fast.  She had been
oddly difficult all the winter and early spring.  She had become
gentler in her increasing physical frailty, yet she called on him
more and more to listen to her rambling memories, where Benjamin
was sometimes confused with her husband, again, with Ase himself.
He went to her room and found her rocking in her favorite chair.

He said, "It's a beautiful warm morning, Mother.  Let me put your
chair out on the grass in the sun."

"Benjamin?  No, no, I see it's Asahel.  The sun?  Why, yes,
everyone's kept me from the sun.  Away from the sun."

"Come, Mother.  Hold on to me while I move your chair."

He settled her under the poplars in half-shade.

She asked, "What time is it, Benjamin?"

He recognized that time for her, as for him, was not of the hours
of the day.

"It's springtime, Mother," he answered.

She was satisfied.  He picked a spray of lily-of-the-valley from
the corner by the house and laid it in her translucent hand.  She
sniffed it with pleasure.

She said, "Your brother Asahel gave me a bottle of toilet water
once when he was a little boy.  It smelled like this.  Do you

He did not remember.  He did not remember her when he was young.
Perhaps she had once been tender.  He felt a sense of loss for the
mother she might have been.

She said, "Sit near me, son."

He stretched his long legs on the grass beside her chair.  A
nesting wren dropped a straw.  It fell on Amelia's head and he
lifted it away and stroked her hair.  He yearned to go back with
her the more than forty years, to begin again.  She closed her eyes
and seemed to drowse.  He drew her shawl around her shoulders and
slipped away.

It was strange to have so little to do.  Later, the days would not
be long enough to contain his labor and he would out-toil the sun.
He thought of his flute.  He had not played it since Tim McCarthy
died.  He was not sure where he had put it, it was not in the hay
mow, nor the carriage shed, he knew.  He found it at last in the
bottom drawer of his dresser, wrapped safely in clean linen, and
this was Nellie's doing.  He looked around for her.  He wanted to
take her with him to a hilltop and play for her.  He heard her
voice, high and furious, then caught sight of her in the barnyard,
flapping her apron at an equally angry setting hen.  It was no
moment to approach her for what she called, in her spells of
sternness, his moony nonsense.

He felt foolish in any case, but he polished his flute and ambled
across the adjacent field to the rise overlooking the willow stream
and the bridge.  Perhaps he had forgotten how to play, or the flute
might have lost its key, its tone, its sweetness.  He sat with his
back against a broad maple trunk.  A turtle dove mourned from the
woods nearby.  He put the flute to his lips to imitate the notes.
The tone was as sweet as ever.  He had not forgotten.  He played to
the dove and it seemed to answer.  He played at random, careless
phrases like the songs of birds.  He longed for Tim McCarthy.  On
such an idle day in May they would have played their best together.

He was absorbed in his piping.  He was not aware of the stumbling
figure until it was almost on him, as though it had no previous
existence but had materialized out of his tunes, drawn by his
flute.  He stood awkwardly.  For an instant more the figure was a
stranger.  Mink Fisher lifted a hand to him.

No, Ase thought, he had never quite given Mink up.  His reason had
told him, that winter day so long ago, that he should not see his
friend again.  It was incredible that Mink had returned, yet he was
not astonished.  The old man wavered, fell on his knees and
sprawled face down at Ase's feet.  Ase knelt beside him and turned
him over gently.  The breeze stirred the maple leaves.  Light and
shadow flickered across the seamed bronze face.

Mink muttered, "Too far."

Ase said, "Just rest."

The Indian's breath came heavily.  His eyes were closed.  Ase
loosened the ragged blanket, fanned away a fly.  Mink was old and
worn past belief.  He had seemed ancient that other year but now he
was more mummy than man.  The skin was taut over the high
cheekbones, the black hair that had then been grizzled was now all
the color of soiled snow.  Ase took Mink's wrist in his hand, to
feel for the pulse, and it was as though he lifted the straw that
had fallen on Amelia's hair.  He put his arms under the emaciated
body, rose easily with it, and carried it to the house.  Mink
seemed little heavier than Doll had been.  The breath of life was
almost the only difference.

He saw Amelia still sleeping in her chair under the poplars.
Nellie nor any of the children were in sight.  He took Mink to the
back downstairs bedroom and laid him on the bed.  The house was
cooler than the outdoors and he drew a cover over him.  Mink turned
and moaned.

He mumbled, "Brother--.  Son--."

Ase went to the kitchen stove where Nellie usually kept a kettle of
hot water boiling, to make tea or coffee.  The stove was cold.  He
went to a cupboard that held the medicinal whiskey and poured out a
quarter of a cup.  Mink's teeth were clenched, but he held open the
old man's jaws and poured down the liquor.

Mink said, "Eat."

Ase felt the hair rising on the back of his neck.  Mink was
starving.  He went again to the kitchen.  There was no food there,
but in the pantry he found bread and buttermilk.  He mixed a bowl
and fed Mink spoonful by spoonful.  Mink took it greedily.  A
memory came to Ase of a trek he had made with the Indian in bad
weather, when they were without food for two days.  On the third
day Mink had taken some small game, had cooked it for the boy Ase,
saying he was not himself hungry.  Mink had gone then without food
for three days.  How long had he been now without it?  He dared not
feed him too heavily at first.  He set the bowl aside.  He drew the
shade at the window.  He pulled a chair to the side of the bed.
Mink tried to speak.

Ase said, "Don't talk."

The old man closed his eyes again.  Ase sat watching him.  He was
torn by grief for him, with joy in the sight of him.  A few days of
rest, of nourishment, and Mink might yet recover to have a little
while to sit with him in the sun, to talk together of the old days.
He could more easily then see his friend's spirit return finally
and peacefully into his forefathers' West from which his wracked
body had made its way.

He wondered if he should undress Mink now.  Then he saw that he was
sleeping.  It was best not to disturb him.  He heard Nellie come
into the house, scolding one or another of the children.  Her sharp
moods never lasted for long.  He would tell her later of Mink's
presence.  He left the bedroom and closed the door cautiously
behind him.

Nellie said, "What are you prowling around in there for?"

He felt like a boy trapped at the cookie jar.  He could not lie to
her and simple evasion was almost as difficult for him.  He stood
sheepishly.  She spied the flute in his shirt pocket.  She laughed.

"You found it.  I thought I heard flute music on the hill.  Don't
look so silly, it sounded nice."

She had shed her crossness as suddenly as the clearing of an April
sky.  He swallowed, his Adam's-apple bobbing, to prepare to give
his news.

She said, "Go get me a side of bacon from the smokehouse.  I fooled
with that dratted hen so long, I've got to fix a mighty quick meal.
'Melie, set the table for me, put on some raspberry jam.  Hurry
now, both of you."

He was grateful for the respite.  He was shaken by Mink Fisher's
arrival and by his condition, and now he would have a little time
to think of words that might help, instead of worsen, the
situation, for Nellie was bound to object.  He brought the bacon,
washed up, and went to the front yard to help his mother into the
house.  She was cheerful and rational.

"The sun did me good," she said.  "I think I'll eat at table with

Nellie said, "You won't much like dinner, Mother Linden, but I was
late and couldn't help it.  I'll give you a piece of the cold
chicken from yesterday.  There's custard, too, and you always enjoy

Amelia seated herself and spread her napkin daintily.

"You're very sweet to me, Nellie," she said.  "I couldn't have had
a better daughter."

Nellie whispered to Ase, "Will the Heavens fall?  A compliment
instead of a complaint."

She said loudly, "All right, children, both of you clean?  Come on,
Ase, old slow-poke.  Pass the eggs before they get stone-cold.
Sorry about the dinner.  I'll fix something nice tonight."

For all the meagreness of the meal there were special touches,
"Nellie's way," Ase called it, that made it more than palatable.
She had added minced chives to the scrambled eggs, the creamed
potatoes swam in butter, and she had opened one of the last
precious jars of peaches to serve with the custard for dessert.

Amelia said, "Very tasty, my dear, very tasty indeed."

Nellie cocked an eyebrow at Ase.

"Expect the roof to cave in," she said.

Amelia asked, "What did you say, dear?"

Nellie lifted her voice.

"I said we need some new shingles or the roof will cave in."

She winked at Ase.  Sometimes she seemed to him a born liar, yet
her untruths were always either in a spirit of elfin mischief or in
the name of family peace.  Willis finished eating and asked
politely to be excused.  Amelia went with young 'Melie to her
bedroom.  Ase and Nellie sat alone at table.  He cleared his

"Mink Fisher is here," he said.

Nellie stopped her coffee cup in mid-air.

"Who's here?"

"Mink Fisher."

"Never heard of him.  Who is he?"

"My friend.  The old Indian.  He gave us the wolfskin robe.  He
brought the mink and otter skins.  You made a muff and tippet, and
trimmings for 'Melie's coat."

"Where is he?"

"In the back bedroom."

Nellie pushed back from the table.

"You have that stinking Indian in the house this minute?"

He laid a hand on her arm.

"Nellie, please.  He's sick."

She wailed, "Oh, Ase, you and your sick old men!"

She looked over the table.

"I suppose he's hungry."

"I don't believe he's eaten for several days, Nellie.  Maybe

"He picked a fine time to come here to get filled up.  I'm not
going to pitch in and cook for him, either.  Take him the rest of
the eggs, here, bread and jam, there's some custard left."

"Never mind the bread and jam.  Too much would make him sick."

"Go feed him in the kitchen.  I won't have him in the dining-room.
You should have put him out in the barn."

He thought that Mink himself would probably have preferred a bed of
clean hay, with mice and swallows for company.  Ase went to the
bedroom with the plate.  The old man was too exhausted to know or
care where he lay.  His eyes were still closed.  Ase spoke, and he
stirred.  He seemed more in coma than in sleep.  Ase wondered if
rest was more needed than food, but studying the tight skin over
the protruding bones, decided that nourishment was vital.  He
roused Mink and forced down most of the soft eggs and custard.  The
old man drowsed again, but the sleep seemed healthful, the
breathing steadier.  When he opened his eyes in mid-afternoon they
were less clouded.  They took in the room, the bed.

He muttered, "Me too dirty."

He had always been clean.  On their jaunts he had plunged morning
and night into lake or running stream, no matter how icy, or the
time of year.  His smell was of wood smoke, of animal pelts, of the
leaves and boughs on which he bedded.  Now there was another odor,
something indefinable, and Mink must have smelled it, too.

Ase said, "Let me bathe you."

Mink shook his head.

"No time.  Must talk."

He struggled to raise himself, then fell back.

"Come near."

Ase sat on the bed and leaned over him, to catch the half-mumbled

"Long time find brother, son."

Ase said, "I shouldn't have let you leave me."

"Not you.  You never lost from me.  Always here--," his skeleton
hand wavered to his chest.  "Other one.  One you sorrow."


Ase felt his heart pound.

"I find him.  Almost give up.  I find him."

He closed his eyes.

Ase said, "You spent all these years looking for Ben."

"Sure.  One place like another for Indian now.  You say maybe I see
brother.  Tell him send white man's word, Mother sorrow, you
sorrow.  Now, bring word."

His breathing was rapid.  His nostrils spread, as though to draw in
a thin air with which to continue.

"Long walk," he panted.  "Sun rise, sun set, many times."

Ase said, "You could have had someone write us the news of Ben."

Mink opened his eyes.

"Sure.  White man say to Indian, sure, I write word, I send word.
Indian pay silver.  White man write, Indian go away, white man
laugh.  No word."

He got himself up on one elbow and said fiercely, "Mink bring

"Lie quiet, Mink."

Ase could not push his friend's strength too far, however desperate
he found himself for news of Ben.  He heard a sound outside the
bedroom.  He turned.  His mother stood in the doorway.

She said, "Nellie tells me there's an Indian here."

She made her way to the foot of the bed.  Mink opened his eyes.  He
stared at the old woman holding to the footboard.  He spoke a few
words in his ancient tongue.

"It's Mink," she said.  "What is he doing here?"

"He's brought news of Benjamin, Mother."

She looked from one to the other.


She clutched at Ase.

"Benjamin!  He's here!"

Her trembling alarmed him.

"No, no, Mother.  Sit down.  Mink will try to tell us.  It's news,
only news."

She pushed him away and gripped the footboard and leaned over it.

"You've kept it from me all this time.  You and the gypsies.  Tell

Mink lifted his hand in a gesture for quiet.  He stiffened his
shoulders, gathering his strength.

He said in a firm voice, "I hunt son, brother, far west, far north.
I find him.  Big timber land."

Amelia said shrilly, "He owns big timber?  He's rich now?  He's
coming home?"

"Woman, be still.  Son, brother, him cook in lumber camp.  He say,
world go bad for him, men cheat him, much trouble."

Ase watched his mother.  Her face was gray.  Mink clenched his
fists and took a long breath.

"Son, brother, he say, tell you him have chance buy big timber
rights.  Make much gold.  Him come home two-three years now.  He

Ase caught his mother, falling.  It was like catching some small
wounded and broken bird.  He lifted her in his arms to carry her to
her bed.  Her voice was strangely thick.

"I can't wait for him--any longer."

He called Nellie to help him with her.  They saw a spasm pass over
her.  Her eyes rolled back in her head.

Nellie said, "Ase, I think she's having a stroke.  Hitch up and go
for Doc.  Never mind, listen now, hitch up the light buggy and I'll
go.  It'd give me the creeps to be alone in the house with this
pair of yours."

He stumbled to the barn, and led the fast mare to the carriage
shed, his hands all thumbs.  Nellie had changed into a silk dress
and was waiting.

She called from her seat in the buggy, "Guess I shouldn't have told
her about the Indian."

She clucked to the mare and slapped the reins and was off down the
road.  Ase went to his mother's room.  She lay immobile.  He turned
back the covers and rubbed her hands and feet as he had done for
Nellie when she lay in danger before the birth of Doll.  'Melie
looked into the room, Willis wide-eyed behind her.

Ase said, "'Melie, come rub Grandmother's hands and feet a few

"Grandmother doesn't know anything, does she, Pa?"

He shook his head and went to Mink.  For a moment he thought his
friend had already gone away from him into the mist.

He called, "Mink?"

The old man's lips moved almost without sound.  Ase put his ear
close, to hear.

"In shirt."

Ase recalled the earlier gesture.  He laid back the cover and
groped inside the soiled white man's shirt.  He found a dog-eared
envelope, stained with sweat.  He laid it against Mink's hand.

"Is this what you want?"

"For you."

He saw that the envelope was addressed to him in Ben's writing.

"Now I die."

The whisper was only a statement of fact.  Across the continent
Mink had sought Ben and found him, to bring back the wanted white
man's word on paper.  There was nothing more he could do for the
boy he had taught and loved.  He was done with life.  He rejected
it with contempt.  Ase could call loudly to him, could beg him not
to go.  Mink might hear but he would not listen nor ever answer.
Ase slipped the letter in a pocket.  He did not know whether Mink's
breath ceased to come or whether he ceased to draw it.  There was
an instant when he sensed an unheard thunder and an unseen
lightning.  Then the room was filled with a vast calm.  He drew the
spread over his friend's face and went out of the room.

He heard Nellie say, "Ase, for the Lord's sake, didn't you even
notice Doc's trap drive up, and me behind him?  Go unhitch both

It was a relief to use his hands, to rub down both lathered
animals, to feed and water them.  When he returned to the house, he
met the children huddled on the lawn.

'Melie said, "Ma made us get out.  She said children oughtn't to be
in a house with death.  Willis is scared, but I'm not.  I wanted to
see.  Can you see death?"

He laid his hand on her shoulder.  He was sorry that Nellie had
made of their grandmother's dying such a thing, as though a thief
and murderer had come through the window.  It was a quieter matter,
he thought, for one advanced in years; not that death comes, but
that life goes.  It was like the flowers in Nellie's garden in the
autumn, done with blooming; only that the long-used life sap sank
back into the earth, and so the roses, the asters, the marigolds,
being deserted, died.  He took the two children by their hands.

He said to Willis, "Come get some cookies.  There isn't anything in
the house that wasn't here before."

Dr. Holder nodded to him at Amelia's bedside.

He said, "Your mother's had a stroke, just as Nellie thought."

"Will she come through?"

"No.  She's about gone now."

Holder leaned back in his chair.  He frowned.

"Let's hope it's the end, anyway.  I never told you, Linden, but I
haven't had an easy night since I advised you to keep your mother
here.  I'd wake up in a cold sweat, wondering if she'd gone berserk

Ase stood mute.  If his mother breathed, that breath was
impalpable.  Her face was gray as the granite in the pasture.

Nellie said, "I've been telling Doc about that sick Indian you put
in my clean bed.  The time I put in with that old Tim McCarthy, and
now with your mother giving us some peace at last, I suppose I've
got to help nurse the Indian, too."

He felt a revulsion that roiled his stomach.  Yet, he remembered,
Nellie had been all kindness during Tim's illness and dying.  Her
sharp little tongue had nothing to do with the rest of her.

He said, "Mink Fisher's dead."

She said, "Well!  That's a blessing, too."

Holder said, "Nothing I can do for your mother, Linden.  Let me see
this Indian.  Nellie told me the shock it gave the old lady when he
gave his news about that fabulous brother of yours."

Ase wanted to keep Mink inviolate from the professional eyeing and

He said, "The Indians have superstitions."

Mink had talked many years ago of the spirit, which asked to be
left alone for a decent period after the death of the body.

Holder said, "Dead men don't have any superstitions.  Nellie says
he was starving.  Can't imagine an Indian starving to death."

Ase was unable to stop the intrusion.  The doctor threw back the

"I'll swear.  Skin and bones.  You know, in all my years of
practice, this is the first time I've ever seen an actual death
from starvation.  And it had to be an Indian."

He studied the sharp features.

"Handsome old fellow.  Say, Linden, you look a lot like him.  Sure
he's not your sire?"

The doctor chuckled and left the room.

Ase stood over Mink's body.  He stared at the still face.  A great
yearning filled him.  No, Mink was only the father of his mind and
spirit.  He turned away, his eyes misted.

His mother's life left her at sunset with a quiet it had never
known before.  He could only share Holder's relief.  His sadness
was for the path they had missed together.  He sat alone with her
into the night, grieving over the destruction she had received and
had inflicted.  Nellie was asleep when he went at last to their
bedroom and he was grateful.  He could not have endured her
practical chatting about the funeral arrangements.

Dr. Holder spent the night.  In the morning he made a list from
Nellie's dictation of such details as folk to be notified, the
preacher to be called for the home service, the type of coffin to
be ordered.  The words penetrated Ase's brooding.

He heard her say, "I don't know what he expects to do with his

She seemed as alien to him as some woman stepping off the train in
Peytonville.  He went to the back bedroom.  Mink, who had given and
had not received, Mink the proud, would share his contempt, would
ask never to be troublesome and unwanted, would thank him
wordlessly, as always, for the boon of a final aloofness.

Ase wrapped the ragged Indian blanket tightly around the body of
his friend.  He reached for Nellie's hand-pieced quilt for further
shroud, then dropped it as though unclean.  Let Mink Fisher go to
earth in what he had come in, as he would want it.

The long stiff body was awkward but it was feather-light.  Ase
carried it cradled in his arms out of the back door.  He circled
the house at a distance and crossed the willow stream.  He walked
with long strides up the pasture hill, into the hemlocks, toward
the dark, receptive bog.


The gathering at the living-room table seemed to Ase like a flock
of crows ringed around a mass of carrion.  He considered the
reading of Amelia's will a family matter, but Nellie had insisted
that not only Judge Simmons but Dr. Holder must be present.  Nat
drummed his fingers on the table.  Arent shifted in his chair,
watching his brother for cues.  Ase brought his mother's tin box
from her room.  They had been unable to find the key and the Judge
prized open the lock.  A thick sheaf of bank notes lay on top.

Nat said, "Ah-hah."

The Judge laid the bills aside with a slow dignity.  The next layer
was of material concerned with Benjamin, his grade school and
Academy diplomas, the few letters he had written his mother from
his periodic absences in his youth, the illiterate scrawl brought
by the gypsy queen that had proved of no use in tracing him.  The
Judge laid these too aside.  At the bottom of the box lay the will.
The Judge lifted it out, unfolded it with a crackling sound.  The
paper was yellow with age.  The Judge looked it over.

"Hm-m.  She had this drawn up in Trent.  Odd, she didn't come to
me."  He read:

"To my beloved son, Benjamin Linden, I leave all my property, real
and intangible--"

The Judge removed his spectacles and peered around the table.

"A strange arrangement, under the circumstances.  Does this come as
a surprise?"

Nellie brought her small fist down on the table.

"Not to me.  I always knew she was up to something.  Talking so
mealy-mouthed about Ben's third, Ben's share, planning all the time
to leave him everything.  Something told me I was wasting my time
being good to her."

Nat said sharply, "What's the date of the will?  Everybody knows
she was crazy as a bedbug."

The Judge replaced his glasses.

"Nearly twenty years ago.  Asahel, wasn't that about the time your
brother went away and you were married?"

He nodded.  The exact date was a week after his marriage to Nellie.

"Well, Asahel, she wasn't insane then.  Or you couldn't prove it."

Nellie nudged Dr. Holder.

The physician said, "I believe you can.  In my professional
opinion, Mrs. Linden's unhinged mental condition can be definitely
traced to the disappearance of her eldest son."

The Judge said, "Thank you, sir.  Then, Ase, shall I file a
protest, using that as the basis?  The will is obviously unfair.
You have carried the whole burden all these years."

Ase was recalling the November evening after his father's burying.
He heard again the bitter words of the quarrel.  He saw Ben
scribbling out the relinquishment of his share in the farm and his
mother at once consigning it to the bright flames in the stove.  He
shook his head.  He heard again the implacability of her voice
revealing her hate for him, her love for his brother.

"No.  Ben signed over his rights in the farm and Mother put the
paper in the fire.  Her intention is perfectly clear."

"What do you plan to do, man?  Go against the interests of your own

Nat said, "The least you can do, Pa, is keep your mouth shut and
let the Judge go ahead."

Nellie said, "Ase, sometimes I wonder if you aren't crazy, too."

Let them think he was mad, he would not scramble at law for Ben's

"We're making a living here.  Having the deed in my name wouldn't
make any difference."

Nat shouted, "It makes a difference to me.  What's going to happen
when you die?  The state'll take the place, that's what, and
nothing for me--" he corrected himself--"for the rest of us.  That
precious Uncle Ben's probably been dead for years."

Ase had not yet shown Ben's letter to his family.  An obscure
instinct of protection had kept it privately in his pocket.

He said, "Ben's alive.  Mink Fisher brought the word."

The Judge said, "Ase, I almost agree with Nellie.  You are not
acting the part of a proper paterfamilias.  I don't understand

The table fell silent.  Nat reached for the sheaf of bills and
began counting the money.

"Close to four thousand.  Anyway, this is ours.  It's what you've
been giving the old witch all this time."

Judge Simmons said, "The lad is right, Asahel.  This cash
represents your own labor.  Even, you might say, repayment for your
mother's keep.  I suppose she never paid you for bed and board?"

Holder said wryly, "Or for medical care.  We kept her out of the
asylum, or don't you remember?"

Yes, he remembered, and the sweat came in the palms of his hands.
He did not answer.

Nellie said, "Ase, you're just being stubborn.  All that stinking
Indian brought you was his own story that Ben was alive and in his
usual mess of trouble.  You said we were making a living here, but
it's been a mighty poor one lately.  Don't be an idiot about this
cash.  It's yours, it's ours."

He had once as a boy in winter seen a deer surrounded by wolves.
He had been young and unarmed and had been obliged to turn away in
sickness of heart.  Now he too was hemmed in by the enemy.  Nat did
not surprise him, nor the rest of the pack, but he had not expected
from Nellie this subtle dishonesty.  No, he thought, she was not
dishonest, she was the eternal mother, the eternal bitch, fighting
for her young and for family safety.

Nat said, "I don't see where there's an argument.  Nobody but a
dead Indian knows where Uncle Ben is."

Ase said, "I have something here from Ben."

He took from his pocket the letter Mink Fisher had brought him.  He
handed it to the Judge.  Simmons read aloud slowly.

"Dear Brother Ase:

"This pesky old Indian of yours won't give me any peace until I
write you what he calls white-man's-word-on-paper.  Can't imagine
how he happened to run across me.  Have been waiting to write you
until I made my pile.  So I'm killing two birds with one stone, as
think I have the big chance now if you or Mother can send me enough
money.  The timber out here would knock your eyes out.  Douglas
firs a hundred feet tall and six feet in diameter.  The more you
can send me the more timber rights I can buy and either re-sell at
a profit or with enough cash set up my own logging camp and really
clean up.  Will cut you in on it fifty-fifty.  Send an express
money order, checks no good out here and cash stolen before it
arrives.  Get the money out of Mother if you don't have it but by
no means give her my address.  Tell her this one is temporary, not
a lie either, which you wouldn't tell her unless you've changed, I
know you.  I'll write her when I'm on my feet.

                           Affection to all, your brother,

                                             Benjamin Linden

P.S.  Have had a little bad luck but a hell of a good time."

There was silence.

Nellie said, "Well!  This would have killed the old lady if the
Indian hadn't.  She'd have wormed it out of you somehow, Ase."

He said, "I think this settles things."

The Judge said, "Yes.  Unfortunately.  We can only hope that
Benjamin doesn't put you off the farm and have it sold.  However,
Asahel, any probate court would concede that you are entitled to a
share in the estate, for your mother's care."

"My mother didn't need to pay for her room and board.  You forget,
the farm was always hers."

"If you insist on looking at it that way, I suppose you consider
yourself fortunate that she allowed you to farm her place and live
in her house."

Ase was aware of the contempt in the voice.

Remembering his mother's greater contempt, he said, "I do."

Simmons lifted his hands to the air.

"Very well.  Cut your own throat.  I'll go ahead with the probate
and have the money sent your brother as soon as the court permits.
I shall charge a fee of three hundred dollars, since money means
nothing to you, to be taken out first, along with the costs."

He gathered up the papers and left.

Nat's eyes narrowed.

He said, "You know, Pa, I sort of like the sound of Uncle Ben's
proposition, thinking it over.  He'll be surprised to get that much
working capital handed him.  Tell him fifty-fifty is all right.
Tell him you didn't insist on a division of the cash here.  I've
been hearing about that big timber.  There's bound to be a fortune
in it."

Nellie snapped, "There's no fortune in anything in the world Ben
Linden touches.  If he does put the money where he says, there'll
be a forest fire the next day and wipe it out."

Nat said, "Well, I'm for it.  The big chance comes once to the
unluckiest man on earth.  All he has to do is recognize it.  And
don't think I won't know mine when it comes."

He frowned.

"Say, Pa, what kind of a fellow is this Uncle Ben?  Is he the kind
to put us off the farm?"

Ase was half blind with rage.  He stood up from the table.

"No.  He isn't."

"Ma, that right?"

Nellie hesitated.

"Yes, Nat," she said.  "That's right."

Ase went from the house to the barns.  They did not hold their
usual comfort.  He went to Pip Lake and stripped and plunged into
the icy water to try to relieve himself of his feeling of
uncleanliness.  At supper, he closed his ears to the chatter of his
family and did not speak.  He waited until they had gone to bed,
then sat by the lamp and wrote at length to his brother.  He dealt
briefly with business matters.  He gave the story of their mother's
life and death.  He gave the history of his children.  He reported
on the progress of the farm.  He hoped that the cash would be
enough for the desired timber purposes.  He made no reproaches for
Ben's two decades of silence.  He expressed his love as best he
could, and begged of Ben not to lose touch with him again.  As he
sealed and stamped the letter, he found himself with his mother's
ancient hope, that the family news, the affection, would bring his
brother home again.

Judge Simmons handled affairs promptly.  The money order went west.
Word was awaited by the probate court on the disposition of the
Linden farm.  Nat and Arent returned from the University.  On a
Saturday in July, Ase drove to Peytonville for supplies, and to
trade in Nellie's eggs and butter, and to the post office for his
weekly papers.  The postmaster handed him a letter from Ben.

"Judge got one from Ben, too.  Guess you'll want to see the Judge
while you're in town.  He hasn't told anybody how things came out.
Even Miss Minnie don't know."

Ase could conceive of the village curiosity over his mother's will.
He smiled.

He said, "I'll tell the Judge to make sure Miss Minnie's the first
to know."

The postmaster chuckled.

"We're all hoping Ben'll do the square thing."

"He will."

The Judge welcomed Ase in the dusty office.  He held out his hand.

"Glad you came by.  Well, Ase, you knew your brother better than I
did.  I'd have preferred a definite renouncing of claim, but this
is good enough for the time being."

He pushed Ben's paper across the desk.  It read:

"To the Peytonville Township Probate Court and to Whom it may

"It is my wish that my brother Asahel Linden have full use of the
Linden farm property as described, and any profits therefrom."

The paper had been notarized.  A note asked to have the deed

The Judge said, "My congratulations.  Benjamin has more decency
than I gave him credit for.  I heard you have a letter, too.  What
does he have to say to you?"

Ase hesitated.  It would seem ungracious, but he could not spread
whatever Ben had written him before the Judge, the town and

"If you'll excuse me, I'll read it first with my family."

"Perfectly proper.  Drop in next week if you have further news for

The letter was addressed to Asahel Linden & Family.  He did not
open it until the family was gathered together around the supper
table.  He glanced it over in search of one of Ben's typical
indiscretions.  There seemed none and he read aloud.

"Dear Bro. Ase & Nellie & All:

"Hard to imagine my kid brother with a houseful of children some
near grown.  That Nat sounds like a go-getter to me.  Tell him to
look me up if he ever comes west, it's the place to be.  Wouldn't
know what to do with a family myself but guess it's all right for
an old slow-poke like you, Ase.  Glad to hear you're still pretty,

"Had an idea Mother would live forever.  I should have written her
but didn't want her hounding me to come back.

"Well, folks, by the time you get this I'll be half way to the
Yukon.  Suppose you've had the word.  Gold.  The news that's come
back says Alaska makes chicken feed out of the California gold
rush.  Stake out your claims and then just pick the nuggets up off
the bare ground, some big as a hen's egg.  Brings a hundred dollars
an ounce and that's what I call money.  Didn't make sense to bother
with small potatoes like timber so I'm on my way tomorrow with that
good cash they sent me safe in my belt and I mean safe, I've turned
into a pretty good knock-down fighter.  Had to pay five hundred for
boat fare north, a good thing, too, it keeps out the pikers.

"Well, guess you won't hear from me again until I've made my pile.
Nat, how about Uncle Ben coming back to the farm driving one of
those new horseless carriages?

"Don't know just where I'll be, seems there's a good many rich
lodes up there, plan to pick the best before I begin raking in
those chunks of pure gold, so can't tell you where to write.  Never
fear, Brother Ase, you'll have word from me sooner or later.

"Best to all,

"Bro. Ben, bro.-in-law Ben, Uncle Ben."

Ase had a feeling of unbearable depression.  In his heart, he
recognized, he had expected Ben's return.  Well, Ben had been
generous about the farm.  Yet he recognized his despisal of it, his
eagerness to leave it behind.  He knew further that the two of them
equally despised property as property, both considering that such
things were only meant to be used toward some other end.  And if
his end and Ben's were at variance, it had nothing to do with their
tacit understanding that a precise ownership of the farm was
irrelevant.  He wondered whether Ben might not be off on another
wild goose chase, but that did not matter, either.  Nellie seemed
to be speaking for him.

"What did I tell you, Ase?  Ben's gone hog-wild again."

Nat's eyes flashed.

He said, "Now listen, Pa, you just don't know what's going on in
the world.  Uncle Ben's right.  This is a chance in a million.  I'm
heading for the Yukon, too.  Tomorrow."

Arent said, "Hey, you'll take me along, won't you?"

"Naturally.  I'll have plenty of use for you."


Ase could not put a mortgage on property he did not own.  He was
reluctant to borrow on a personal note from the Peytonville bank,
for the interest rate was ten per cent.  He could borrow ordinarily
of an individual, as he had often loaned the use of money, at the
less hazardous rate of seven per cent, but his farmer and merchant
friends had suffered as serious reverses as he.  His crops were
thriving, but hail or storm at any time could finish his ruin.  He
asked Nellie in mid-August if she could make her supplies last a
little longer.

She checked the larder and announced that she could manage.  Her
butter and egg money brought enough each week to trade for flour,
sugar, tea and coffee, and the garden was abundant.  If he killed
an occasional lamb or shoat before he harvested his wheat, they
need not go hungry.  With Nat and Arent gone, the family seemed to
eat no more than half as much.  There were no longer Amelia's
delicacies and strangely large appetite to be taken care of.  The
summer days being long, Eric insisted on helping for two hours
night and morning, as well as all of Sunday.  He was a new man,
secure with home and family.  Ase wished for the first time that
the farm was his own, only in order to give to Eric the cabin and a
few acres of land.

There had not been time to hear from the boys.  He and Nellie had
joined battle to persuade Nat to finish his college, but it had
been like trying to rein an unbroken stallion with a cobweb.
Nellie fretted constantly.  Ase was less disturbed.  His instinct
told him that Nat's toughness would see him through, danger and
hard labor would only give mettle to his steel.  Nat would take
care of Arent in turn because he needed him.

Ase walked through his wheatfield under a blazing sun.  His yield,
short of new catastrophe, would be as heavy as he had ever had.
The crops of beans, of oats and barley and potatoes, were enormous.
The apple orchard was in its prime, the heavy-laden trees grown so
large their branches almost touched.  The ten acres of peach
orchard on the southeast slope above the lake had come into
bearing.  It was said that grains and fruits were scarce over most
of the country and prices would be high.  The bank would have
loaned him any amount he asked for, but it was better this way, to
depend only on the crops themselves, on himself, on Nellie, on

He crossed the road toward the beanfield.  He heard a rumble of
wheels over the wooden bridge.  The planks kept rattling, so that
there must be half a dozen heavy wagons coming toward him, and he
knew it was the gypsies.  They had not appeared in two years and he
had missed them sorely.  He waited by the side of the road.  He
lifted his arm high in greeting to the lead wagon.  The driver was
not Pav.  The wagon came close.  The driver was Pav's son.  The
line of wagons drew into the accustomed camping ground in the
orchard near the spring.  The back steps were lowered, the doors
flew open, the gypsies hailed him as cheerfully as ever.  The
younger children had forgotten him and were shy.  He looked
anxiously for the Old One.  Pav's son turned from giving his

He said, "Our queen say you come to her first thing."

The relief was great.

Carlo said, "She go soon.  Very soon.  My father go snow before

Ase said, "I'm sorry.  I loved him."

"I know.  All love my father.  All love our queen.  All love you.
Now come."

Carlo led him to the rear of the lead wagon.  The Old One lay in
her bunk.  She was bright-eyed and Ase could not believe that she
was ill or dying.  She patted the bunk and he sat down beside her
and took her brown old heavy-ringed hand in his huge ones.

She said, "I think I not see you again.  I say, whip horses, I wish
see our friend Asah before leave you."

He could not bear this further loss, he thought, not yet.  He bowed
his head.

"Now, now!  Lift the head!  Good smile!  How long you think Old One
like wear dress of life?  Dress bright once, dance much, now old
dirty rag, throw away!  Is right."

She stroked his hands.

"Now I have wish, see you, have much tell you, you have much tell
me, I decide not die today."

She laughed her ageless, rich, deep laugh.

Her face turned grave.

"I tell you first.  Plague, smallpox, strike us like snake.  My
Elissa, her babas, all, big and little.  Others.  Old Pav."

He laid his hand on hers and she gripped it.  She closed her eyes.
They grieved together in silence.

"So.  Now you tell me your much sadness.  Or I tell you.  Some
things I know."

Her prescience, or her reading of his face, he could not know
which, had always amazed him.

He said, "My mother died.  My friend the Indian died.  My two
oldest sons have gone to Alaska to hunt for gold.  My brother went
there, too, before them."

"Something more."

He hesitated.  The fact that he had little claim, only Ben's
permission to work the land where he lived, that he was in
desperate straits for the moment, seemed trivial.

"Tell me."

He shook his head.  She shrugged her shoulders.

"Money trouble.  New for you.  Leave me now.  We talk again

He went to the house and said to Nellie, "The gypsies are here

"Yes, I saw them come."

"What do we have for them?"

"Mighty little, Ase.  I'm at the bottom of the flour and sugar
barrels.  There's plenty of vegetables in the garden, but they
don't seem to use any, except to put in their stews.  Fruit now,
they like that.  I can spare a pat of butter and some eggs."

He thought of the enormous hampers of food Nellie used to give him
for his friends.

"Do the best you can.  If you can stand it, I'll give them the
spotted calf we planned to raise."

"Oh, Ase!"

She had raised the calf on a bottle and it followed her about like
a dog.  She wiped her eyes quickly and packed a small basket.

"Tell them I'm sorry it's so little.  Take them the calf and get it
over with."

He took the inadequate food, and the calf led by a halter, to
Carlo.  He could not butcher it himself.

He said, "I'd bring you more if I had it.  The crops failed for two

Carlo looked at him with some of his father's old shrewdness.

"Is more welcome, friend Asah, because hard to spare.  We thank
you.  Now you eat with us tonight, like always?"

Ase shook his head.  Carlo laid a hand on his arm.

"I know.  Is too much changed.  No meat good when salt is sadness."

At their own frugal supper Ase told Nellie of the deaths among the
Roms, of the Old One's soon-dying.

She said, "I always wondered about you and the gypsy girl Elissa.
You were pretty sweet on her, weren't you?"

He looked at her imploringly.  There was nothing he could say, in
affirmation or denial.  He wished she had chosen a less crude way
of expressing it.  She laughed.

"Oh, I know you didn't actually do anything.  You're transparent as
a windowpane.  I'd have known."

He went to the front steps in the late twilight and sat watching
the campfires in the apple orchard.  He thought back to the days
when he had danced with the gypsy girl.  Why, she had been a
princess, the daughter of a queen.  Her black hair had brushed
across his face like the wings of butterflies.  He recalled the
firm roundness of her flesh.  He remembered the scent of her, made
up of wood smoke, of crushed wild berries, of the flowers she was
forever gathering, sharp daisies and sweet hedge roses.  And though
he had known her last as a plump matron and mother, he would think
of her forever as young and slim and lovely.  For himself, he felt
old for the first time in his life.  Too much had happened in too
short a while.  For once, he lost his sense of the all-embracing
unity of time and recognized a milestone in his life.

In the morning, Nellie considered visiting the Old One with him and
decided against it.

She said, "I haven't been near her the last ten years, better not
bother her now.  Tell her--," she hesitated, "tell her--oh, say
something nice for me."

He thought miserably that he could not even speak for himself.
Nellie's not going was a mixture of delicacy and of avoidance of
difficult situations.  He went to the lead wagon and called at the
back for admission.

"Come, my friend."

He was surprised to find Carlo and several of the older men and
women crowded in the wagon.  The Old One held out her hand to him.

She said, "Friend Asah.  Like I say, I go soon.  Maybe tomorrow.
Now I talk."

She seemed well and strong, yet if she was determined to throw off,
as she had said, the dirty cloak of living, she would surely do so,
as Mink Fisher had done.  Where better for her to lie at peace than
in the ancient Linden graveyard?

He said, "Stay here.  Now, and after."

"Pah!  Where gypsy body lie, no matter.  I go on.  I like better
some strange hill where no one ever know or see.  Now.  Listen, our
friend.  Is little something all agreed."

She looked around at the elders.  They nodded their heads.

"I, Queen.  King, my husband, die long ago.  Pav, Pav's son Carlo,
like prince, maybe, not king.  I ask you years past, be gypsy king,
marry my Elissa.  Yes?  Too late now, all too late.  Because I ask
you, you belong.  Now.  I have gold, much gold.  I divide.  I
share.  Most for tribe, little part for you."

She reached under her pillows and drew out an embroidered bag.  She
opened it.  It was heavy with gold coins.

"This small much for you.  Is my wish.  Is wish of all."

He said, "No."

The Old One continued, "I know your trouble, in a dream.  Now,
Carlo tells me more."

He said, "No, I can't let you do this for me."

She said sharply, "No?  So you make great gifts and take nothing?
Too proud to take gift, eh?  Hold head high, say, I am great man, I
give, no gift to me from friend?"

He said, "It's too much."

"Too much, eh?  What price you pay for friends?  Gift is love.  You
hate love?"

He understood that this thing could not be refused.  He inclined
his head in thanks.

"Good, then.  Little bag is for the wife.  I make it long ago.
Now, you see.  Your luck change.  All go fine now.  And so,
goodbye, my Asah.  Never grieve for me.  Only think sometime, when
summer wind blow, 'Ah, the Old One, she speaks to me!'"

He kissed her cheek and turned away.  Tears that he had not shed
for his mother clouded his eyes.  He watched the caravan move on
until the last dust down the road had settled.

He went to the house.  He turned out his inheritance on the baize-
covered table before Nellie's wide eyes.  He gave her the
embroidered purse and told the story.

Nellie said, "Ase, I'll swear, I can't figure you out.  Wouldn't
lift a finger for your own money from your mother, and then take
this from strangers."

She spread out wonderingly the pile of gold coins.

"Ase, there's close to a thousand dollars here.  Well, our necks
are saved, I must say.  Count it."

He had no interest in the amount.  He left the house and went to
the comfort of the barns.  He found no sharpness in his pain.  The
Old One's blitheness before life and death carried its own relief.
He prayed that when his time came, he would cast off the well-worn
garment with a similar courage.  He walked down the row of cattle
stalls.  They were empty except for one, where the spotted calf had
been silently returned and tethered.

Nellie had called the gypsies "strangers."  They were less of
strangers to him than his own.


Nat's letters to his mother were direct and often vivid.  Ase was
not offended that none was ever addressed to him.  He had long
accepted the bond between the two, and his own exclusion.  He
handed her the letter.  Nellie ripped open the envelope, scanned
the first lines, then thrust the letter at Ase, saying "Read it to

She rocked back and forth in the Boston rocker, her hands crossed
over her plump stomach, as he read slowly aloud.  Her satisfaction
rose to the surface like the thick golden cream on the milk pans.
At a piece of news, she lifted her eyebrows and said, "Um-hum."
When a remark of Nat's amused her, she wrinkled her nose.  She
smiled from beginning to end.  Ase thought with pain and pity of
his own mother, starved for just such nourishment from Benjamin,
driven mad, perhaps, for lack of it.  Yet her fever had been
devouring.  Ben had been saving his body and soul when he begged
his brother to keep from her his whereabouts, lest she "hound" him.
Nothing would have satisfied Amelia but complete possession of her
son, to all intents and purposes returning him to the dark slyness
of her womb.

When 'Melie and Willis trudged in from school in the November
afternoon, Nellie called them to the sitting room to hear with her
a second reading.  Today's letter from Nat was filled with news.
He and Arent were leaving Alaska at last.  They were taking the
next steamer south, ready to invest their gold in a stable

They had spent three years in the field.  The first year had been a
hard one.  There was no alternative for Nat but to freeze like
other men in the winter, fight mosquitoes and gnats in the summer,
tramp or mush great distances, to break his back with pick-axe, to
crouch, aching, over the cold streams, panning his gold.  By the
end of the year he began to use their modest hoard of dust and
nuggets for other tactics.  He bought claims outright of sick,
starving or discouraged men, bought shares from others, who,
undiscouraged in the face of a promising vein, needed an immediate
subsidy with which to continue.  He re-sold the worthless claims to
newly arrived "tenderfeet" at far higher prices than he had paid,
often, Ase knew, with misrepresentations.  Nat had once written
that a few nuggets "planted" under a boulder returned higher
dividends than the best bank stock.  He re-sold the promising
claims to the big syndicates, retaining shares for himself and
Arent.  One of these had recently proved to contain a rich lode.
Instead of lamenting that he had not kept and worked it entirely
for himself, he pointed out that he did not expect all the luck in
the world, only a generous portion of it, and a year or two of hard
labor might as easily have been spent on sterile ground.

He had found that the poor or dubious claims were more readily
sold, and at better prices, if he erected the roughest sort of
shack for shelter, with a cot, chair, crude stove and table, for by
the time the tenderfeet reached the interior they were likely to be
frightened by the vastness of the country, and a tarpaper roof over
a few boards gave the illusion of a home.  It was this that had
given Nat his present idea.  He wrote now and Ase read:

"We're coming out with better than thirty thousand.  Shares in some
of the claims will continue to pay off.  Most fellows here push
their luck too far, stay too long and lose everything.  The
Northwest is booming.  There's money pouring in from gold and
timber and ship building and fishing.  I'm going to have a look at
Seattle and Portland and some of the smaller places and go into
real estate and contracting.  The land itself is still dirt cheap,
it's houses and stores and office buildings that are wanted, and a
little later, it'll be roads and bridges and more railroad lines.
Not such quick money as one big lucky strike in the gold, but safe
and sure, and I'll expand as fast as possible.  Buy and build and
sell, buy and build and sell.  Take the real big jobs on a cost-
plus basis, and I'm just the guy to see there'll be more plus than

"Now Ma, paper money's scarcer than gold around here, but I got
hold of a hundred dollar bill, and here it is and I want you to
blow it.  There'll be more later where that came from.  Let me know
how Pa's face looks when he sees it.  He never said anything, but I
always sort of figured he thought I was a tramp, thought maybe I'd
end up like Uncle Ben, well, he'll see.  That reminds me, I've told
you I just kept missing Uncle Ben up here and yesterday I heard
he'd gone back to the States, stony broke, working his passage
back.  He did pretty well at one time, they say, then lost down to
his last nickel at cards, couldn't leave them alone.

"Now, Ma, I'll be too busy to write much for a while, it'll just be
a line or two, but don't ever worry about

                                             "Your loving Nat."

Nellie smoothed the greenback in her lap.

"I guess now, Ase, you can stop worrying about him," she said.
"He's going to get everything he ever wanted."

But the danger, Ase knew, had never been that Nat might not
succeed, but that he would.

'Melie's eyes glittered.  At eighteen, she was a handsome girl
except for the too-small black eyes and the too-thin mouth.  An
occasional beau appeared, to squire her to a hay-ride or a dance,
but the same one seldom came twice.  Her snapped orders were not

She said, "Pa, when I finish the Academy this year, I want to go to
the University for a Home Economics course."

He smiled.

"You may go.  But you won't learn more than your mother could teach

"Yes I will.  On a different scale.  Nat's going to need me.  I'm
going to run his big house for him."

Nellie laughed.

"First I've heard of Nat's big house.  Better wait 'til he has

"He'll have it.  I want to be ready."

'Melie looked at Willis speculatively.

"You'd better get ready, too.  Better begin taking all the business
courses.  You waste too much time reading."

Willis said, "Get ready for what?"

The girl frowned.

"To work into Nat's big business, silly."

"He won't want me."

"It's a sure thing you'll never amount to a thing by yourself."

"I don't expect to amount to anything.  I want to be let alone."

"We'll see about that.  Nat and I'll know what's good for you."

Nellie said, "That's right, Willis.  You can't go wrong sticking
with Nat and 'Melie."

The boy shrugged his shoulders.  He was still pale and slight.  His
eyes were red-rimmed from reading late by lamplight.  Nellie
protested, but Ase would not forbid this solace of books.  The
boys' adventure books had been replaced by Scott and Dickens and
Thackeray, past Willis' years, Ase thought, reading them himself
with pleasure.  The Peytonville library was standardized and
meager.  Ase picked up eagerly each new volume that Willis brought
home, but for all the warmth the Dickens gave him, he was still
unsatisfied.  Surely there must be other books that told of larger
worlds, books more like his Shakespeare and his Bible, to carry a
man's mind and spirit soaring, to stab him with questions, and
having drawn blood, to staunch with answerings.  It was the great
thinkers for whose words he longed, unknowing what he longed for.

It occurred to him to speak now to Willis, to stand with him
against the others.  If encouraged, the boy might have the makings
of a scholar, a man of dignity and depth.  Nellie and 'Melie
bustled together to the kitchen, and when Ase turned from his
thoughts to attempt to speak, Willis had slipped away.

He sat alone until he was late for his chores.  He was depressed.
Willis needed something from him, had perhaps always needed
something, that he was unable to give or the boy to take.  Yet
there was still time.  College was the next step, probably Willis
would find there the direction for his life.  His depression
deepened.  It was not for Nat.  His concern for the taint on his
eldest son was too old a thing to disturb him now unduly.  As he
had consoled himself so often, he hoped again that the "success"
toward which Nat was forging would of itself soften him.  He had
read that various industrialists, whose millions had been cut from
the bodies of little men, were giving vast sums for noble purposes.
Probably a certain type of man must first satiate his, he recalled
the phrase, o'er-vaulting ambition, before he was free to give
himself to a common humanity.  It was not Willis or Nat who held
him here, unable to plod on to the milking of his cows.

It was Benjamin.  Nat's casual news brought back painfully a
similar picture once painted by the gypsy Queen, of Ben going away
laughing in his ragged coat.  That was how long ago, more than
twenty years?  Ben was then still young, so that the laughter
ameliorated the rags.  In his middle age, had he laughed again,
embarking on the passage that must be worked for?  And was he gray
and worn, or was the hair yet tawny, the green eyes yet bright with
cat-fire?  The old longing, the life-long loneliness, swept Ase,
and as he sank under its sweetness and its weight, it came to him
for the first time to wonder if Benjamin needed him, if his brother
yearned for him, too.


It seemed to Ase that Nat's plans went forward over the years as
though he worked steadily at a difficult jig-saw puzzle.  Nat's
confidence in the Pacific Northwest was justified.  He poured his
earnings back into his various businesses and projects.  He found
himself occasionally over-extended, strapped for cash, stretching
his credit, but it was at these times as if a piece in the puzzle
refused to fit for the moment only.  He found its proper place
shortly, and the design took shape, having been definitive from the

He and Arent lived as bachelors.  He sent for 'Melie before she had
quite completed her course in home economics.

"I'll always handle the budget," he wrote, "and if Ma hasn't taught
you to cook by now, you're hopeless.  Anyway, it won't be long
before the big house and plenty of servants.  You might as well get
in practice."

The big house became a reality.  It was not big enough, Nat wrote,
and in a few years there would be a larger one, the finest mansion
in the Northwest.  'Melie was hostess as well as housekeeper, as
the time had come when Nat was ready to entertain, to establish a
social position in keeping with his financial one.

Nellie commented to Ase, "Don't see why he bothers about Society if
he isn't going to get married."

Yet she read with satisfaction the newspaper clippings that
reported on the affairs of "the rising young tycoon, Nat Linden."
She fretted that he stayed so long away.  At last he returned to
the farm for a brief visit, with 'Melie and Arent in tow.  Nellie
rejoiced, exhausting herself and big Elsa with cooking for Nat's
gourmand delight.

Ase found himself again shocked.  Nat and 'Melie had a hard,
depthless glitter.  They were grossly over-dressed.  Nat, not quite
thirty, was florid.  After each of Nellie's abundant meals he
patted tenderly the paunch he was too young to have developed.  He
boasted so flagrantly of his success that it seemed to Ase that Nat
must be as loathsome in his own territory as here.  Then it struck
him that his son comported himself far otherwise, no doubt, where
the opinions of men were to him important.  Ase was aware of a
subtle insolence in Nat's bragging before him.

Arent had not changed in the nearly ten years of absence, had
neither hardened nor softened.  He was still so much a nonentity
that Ase, even during the few days of the visit, often forgot that
Arent was in or about the house.  Arent was dressed expensively,
but with a drab modesty that made Ase once again unhappily certain
that Nat kept his satellite inconspicuous for his own reasons.

Ase was most disturbed by the response of Willis to this visitation
of the apparent mighty.  The boy was attending the Normal School,
studying to become a teacher.

Willis had a wry wit, and for all his aloofness, Ase remembered,
the boy had said to him, "I'm not any good, Pa.  Maybe I can teach
kids that are smarter than I am.  Just telling them nobody knows
anything, and to go on from there."

But now, Willis followed Nat as a moth to a candle.  The truth
appeared.  Nat had had business in the central part of the country,
and had, aside from his commerce, returned to the Linden farm for
the main purpose of taking Willis away with him.

Nat expounded his plan.  It was to take Willis back with him, to
send him to the new University nearby, to take his degrees toward a
professorship, to meet and mingle with men of prominence.

Nat said, "Seems to me Will is cut out for geology.  I can make him
the greatest geologist in the West."

Ase said, "I think he should stay here."

His protest sounded small and narrow even to his own ears.

Nat said impatiently, "Now, Pa, you had fits, in your funny sort of
quiet way, when I wouldn't finish college.  Here Willis has a
chance to get somewhere, be somebody, and all you can say is, 'I
don't think he should go.'  There's no future for him here.  I'm
trying to help him and you're trying to hold him back."

Nat's proposition was valid on the surface.  Ase searched his mind
for an answer and could find none.  Only an obscure instinct warned
him.  There was something behind Nat's apparent altruism.  Ase
could not put his finger on it.  He recalled with relief his own
idea that success might soften Nat.  Perhaps this was the first
sign of it.  He turned to Willis, and as he did so, Nat spoke.

"Will, you're a great guy.  Pa doesn't seem to think so.  It's up
to you, fellow.  You want to stick around here, teaching in a
country school, or following a plow, or you want to go with me?  I
believe in you, boy, by God, I need you with me."

Willis looked at his father.  His face was transfused with light.

He said, "Nat really wants me."

Ase wanted to cry out, "I want you, I believe in you, too, but
something here is wrong," and could not say it.

He said, "Well, son?"

Willis said, "I want to go with Nat."

So, it was done, his offspring were gone, strangers, all.  Eric
drove them to the Peytonville station of an afternoon.  The
carriage had no sooner disappeared over the bridge than Nellie
shrieked.  The garden tomatoes were over-ripe and must be canned at
once.  Ase trudged to the log cabin to inform big Elsa of Nellie's
need for her.

For all the kitchen bustle, the Linden house seemed empty.

Ase sat at twilight with Eric Svenson on the south steps of the log
cabin.  Eric puffed on a clay pipe.  Ase whittled out the rough
shape of an ornament for a mirror frame he was making for little
Elsa, her mother's namesake.  The child leaned against him, her
long fair hair flowing over his sleeve.

She stretched out her hand to the rosette he was carving.

"I can see the shape now.  It's going to be a hollyhock."

He had been following, as for Nellie's cake tree, a design he had
seen in his encyclopedia.

He said, "It wasn't, but I can make it a hollyhock if you'd like

"Oh, please."

The realistic flower would not satisfy him, he knew, but he would
do his best for her.  The little girl had the appreciation of his
small gifts that Doll had had.  At first he had thought she was
Doll come back to him.  The fair hair and blue eyes had snared him
in her babyhood, and her reaching out her arms to him from her
cradle.  She was dear to him now, and always would be, but as time
passed he recognized the disparity in the two child natures.  Elsa
was passive where Doll had been volatile.  Elsa's imagination went
with his so far, then stopped short behind the increasingly plain,
sweet face.  No, she was her good mother all over again, and no
Dolly.  Theirs was a friendship past the gap in years, a solid
thing he was sure, but there was no glory in it.  He began widening
the swirls of the rosette, to make a hollyhock.

Eric said, "Willis was pretty good help.  I hated to see him leave
us.  We'll be short handed."

Ase did not answer.

"The peach orchard has to be pruned this fall, Mr. Linden.  Maybe
it can wait until the crops are in, but I think it's going to make
us nice money if we take care of it properly."

From the south of the log cabin the peach orchard was remotely
visible on its hill above Pip Lake.  Eric had been as enthusiastic
as he in its planting and nurturing, the trees ready now for full
bearing, after two small crops.

Eric had said, "It will make us money, if we take care of it," and
Eric had no stake in the orchard, none at all.

Ase laid down his carving.  Eric had given more than he had
received.  True, they were raising the stock on equal shares, the
lambs, the pigs, the calves, even the colts, but Eric was still the
hired hand, owning neither land nor home.  Well, he was a tenant,
too.  He had forgotten for too long a time that he, himself, owned
neither land nor home.

Eric said, "I want to fix up the cabin.  Elsa and I hoped we'd have
more children after little Elsa, but I guess, at our age, we were
lucky to have a child at all.  We've saved money, Mr. Linden, and
I'd like to make additions to the cabin, if it's all right with
you.  We need another bedroom and a bigger kitchen and Elsa wants a
back porch.  I can do the work."

"I'll provide the materials, Eric.  I can't let you spend your own

"Mr. Linden, would you consider selling us the cabin, even with
only an acre or two of land?"

"I'm sorry, I can't."

"I know how you must feel about it, the original house and all."

"It isn't that, Eric.  I don't own it myself."

Eric's alarm was clear.

Ase repeated, "I don't own my own house or any of the land.  My
brother has allowed me the use of it."

"I'm sorry.  I never knew.  Where is your brother, Mr. Linden?"

"I don't know."

Eric twisted his crippled hands together.  It was a constant habit,
as though he might so restore the crushed bones and tendons.

Ase said, "If you want to buy somewhere, Eric, I won't hold you

Eric said slowly, "No, I've put myself into this land.  I couldn't
leave it.  It would be like leaving my two Elsas.  The use of it's
good enough.  It's home, Mr. Linden."

They stared together over the rich farm, the rolling hills, the
lush crops and orchards.

Ase felt relief from a weight he had not acknowledged.  He had
dreaded Eric's leaving for land of his own.

He said, "I should have told you when you first came, but--"

"But I was a down-and-outer.  Having the cabin, and a job, and
Elsa, it was more than I'd hoped for.  The other doesn't matter.
I guess you feel the same way."


"And it's home to you, anyway, too."

To this, Ase could not answer, nor would he.  His home was
otherwhere, unknown, unfound.

"Hard to see why your brother would leave it.  It's beautiful land,
Mr. Linden.  I guess you have to love it."

"I expect any land is beautiful if you love it."

"Or if you love it, maybe that makes it beautiful."

The two men smiled across the golden head of the child in
understanding.  Eric could not fill the place of Tim McCarthy, or
Mink Fisher, or the gypsies, as young Elsa could not fill the place
of Doll, but Ase took comfort from his presence.  Eric's content
warmed him like a hearth fire.  Night fell and the summer stars
came into bloom like that of orchards.  Big Elsa returned to the
cabin, laughing.

"Working with Mrs. Linden is as good as going to the circus," she
said.  "She has supper ready for you now, Mr. Linden.  We finished
the canning."

He put his knife and carving in his pocket, young Elsa stood on
tiptoe to be kissed goodnight, and he trudged down the road to his
lighted house.  It was filled with the acid sweetness of the
tomatoes.  The multiple jars stood upside down on the kitchen
table, to be checked for leakage.  Supper was laid on the dining
table, strangely large now for the two of them.

Nellie said, "Glad I had something to do when the kids left.  I
wouldn't want Nat sweating himself out on the farm, Lord knows, but
I feel awful empty every time he comes and goes."

He laid his cheek against hers.  She was so bustling, so self-
sufficient, it was difficult to realize that she, too, ached for a
lost loved one.  For the moment, he forgave Nat his sins, for the
love of his mother.  Nellie spoke sharply.

"Sorry supper's so late, but you wouldn't have noticed.  Off with
that Eric, gabbing away, gabbing away.  You and your cronies."

He was amused, he was enchanted by her jealousy of his male
companionship, now that he understood it.

"Now, Nellie, you know I'd rather have been with you, but you had
to can tomatoes.  You told me to get my big feet out, remember?"

He put his arms around her in his tenderness.  She pushed him away.

"For heaven's sake," she said.  "Not tonight.  I'm too tired."


Nellie laid down the letter and pushed her spectacles back on the
top of her head.  Ase smiled.  The effect was as though she wore a
humorous little crown.  He tried to remember when her hair had
turned in color to a shining silver.  It must have come
imperceptibly, for he had not been truly aware of a difference
until this moment.  Her unlined, unwrinkled face was as plump as
ever, her cheeks as pink, her eyes as blue.  He watched her

She said, "Don't you want to know the news?  Come on back to earth.
What were you thinking about?"

"About you."

"What about me?"

"You're so pretty, Nellie."

"Stuff and nonsense.  Listen, now.  'Melie wants to come home to be
married to that man Crockett.  Nat and Arent and Willis want to
come, too.  Nat's giving 'Melie the wedding."

"Why, that's fine."

"High time, too.  I was sure 'Melie was going to be an old maid.
Seemed to be born for it, so bossy.  Past thirty, too.  Bet she's
got a ring in the poor fellow's nose already."

Yes, he thought, 'Melie's husband would gee and haw as she cracked
her whip.

He said, "It's been a long time since we've had the children all

Nellie said, "Ase, I've got to have new curtains and rugs for the
wedding.  Nat offers money, 'Melie says, but I don't want to take
it.  Can you drive me to Trent tomorrow?"

Out of his wealth Nat had showered gifts on his mother.  He had had
a rural telephone installed for her, paying for two miles of line.
He had given her a furnace.  In his own modest prosperity, Ase had
planned to surprise Nellie with these himself.  He had been too
slow in getting around to them.  When Nat's gifts were expensive,
Nat mentioned the cost.  If Nellie's letters of thanks were slow in
reaching him, he wrote impatiently, "Didn't you get the watch?  I
paid two hundred for it," and "What did Pa say about that five-
hundred-dollar sealskin coat?  What did they say at the Grange when
you showed up in it?"

Ase was embarrassed by Nat's avidity for praise and public
acknowledgment.  Nellie cooperated, and repeated prices everywhere
with nave pride and pleasure.  Nat had asked what his father
wanted for himself.  Only an interesting book now and then, he
replied.  Nat had placed a standing order with a Western book shop,
and such a succession of strange books arrived, "A Girl of the
Limberlost," "Pollyanna," that Ase wrote hastily to stop them,
saying only his thanks, and that he had all the books he needed,
ashamed of himself for the untruth.  He needed ten thousand books,
but not of this ilk.  He heard of a great library in the City of
New York, and now that he could afford to indulge himself, had
written there, asking for recommendations of interesting books,
describing himself as a farmer nearing sixty.  He had received a
catalogue of farm manuals.

The October sunlight had a strange quality, he noticed now, as it
played over one of the doorknobs.  It lay thinly for a moment,
moved on to rest on Nellie's enormous potted fern on a tall stand,
and slid down the fronds like a trickle of leaf-stained golden
water, passed across the carpet and was gone.  So, it was late
afternoon and time for his chores.  He was conscious of the
stillness.  It was good, in a way, but he was glad the children
were returning once more.  He had missed them.

Nellie said, "If you'll please answer me, Ase.  Can you take me to
Trent tomorrow to get things or not?  Shouldn't think you'd want
Nat to do every blessed thing about the wedding."

"Why, yes," he said.  "We can leave as early as you say."

For three weeks the correspondence was heavy between Nellie and Nat
and 'Melie.  Nat had his way at last, for a church wedding in
Peytonville, with a reception afterward at the Linden house.  Both
Elsas helped Nellie with a prodigious amount of baking and cleaning
and planning.  The whole business seemed to Ase like some primitive
ritual, the ancient sacrifice of the bride, a tribal thing, and he
was amused.  'Melie was no longer young, and he was certain that it
was the groom who was being delivered up to her purposes, and
Nat's.  Well, he was anxious to see them all again, the offspring
he had begotten.

Two automobiles drove up the road and stopped.  Ase stared at the
strangers walking up the front path.  He would have known 'Melie
and Willis.  He would have passed without recognition the big suave
man who was Nat and the shifty-eyed thin one who was Arent.  He
went down the front steps to meet them.  Nat laid an arm
patronizingly across his father's shoulders.

"Crock," he said, "meet my old man."

Crockett shook hands indifferently.  'Melie hugged her father.

Nat shouted, "Get on out here, Ma!  Ma!"

They crowded into the living-room.  Nellie came running, wiping her
hands on her apron.

"You would catch me in the biscuit dough."

Nat lifted her from her feet and swung her.  She shrieked and
pummeled him.  The others pushed in for their share of embracing.
Even Arent grinned and rumpled her hair.

She said, "There now, that's over.  And this is 'Melie's Crockett,
eh, poor fellow."

Nat whooped.

"Take a better look at him, Ma.  I turned Sis loose on him because
he can take care of himself."

Crockett said, "Besides a little item of my knowing too much, Nat.
I'm safer inside the family than out."

His tone was light, but his eyes, Ase noticed, were as cold as
Nat's.  He was almost another Nat, nearly as bulky, almost as
smoothly over-tailored, as confident, yet Ase sensed a weakness in
the face that was not in Nat's.  'Melie was as assured as ever.  In
her full maturity she so resembled old Amelia that Ase was
startled.  It was her fashionable clothes that had made her for a
moment alien.  Willis laid a hand on his father's arm.

"Hey, Pa," he said.  "Mighty good to see you.  Been 'way too long."

Ase looked hungrily into the face of this, his youngest, the one
who had so nearly missed coming close to him, as a needed shower of
rain sometimes skirts one field.  Willis' eyes were sad, like those
of a good dog who has been betrayed.

"Welcome home, Will.  You and I'll have to get out of all this and
have a talk some day."

He thought perhaps it was not even yet too late for understanding.
Willis moved away abruptly.

Nellie said, "Now 'Melie, you take these hoodlums and pick out
their rooms.  Your Pa and I use the front downstairs bedroom, so
there's the downstairs back, and the four upstairs, and if they
don't go around, somebody can sleep at the tenant house.  You and
Crockett should have got married before you came, unless you're
ready to double up right now."

Nat said, "Why, Ma, I'm ashamed of you," and roared.

Nellie said innocently, "I hear tell it's been done," and Nat
whooped again.

She and Nat had always spoken much the same language, he had been
her white-haired boy, and the one quality in him that Ase could
approve was his adoration for his mother, a clean thing in the
center of something soiled.

Nat said, "Now Ma, if you think I'm going to bed down with the
hired help, you're mistaken.  I want that back downstairs bedroom
myself.  Never got to sleep there when I was a kid, nobody allowed
there but company, and Pa's McCarthy and that old Indian.  Think
I've spent enough on the house to be company this time."

'Melie herded the family upstairs with their luggage.  Nat sat down
and lit a cigar.

He said, "You've got things looking pretty good, Ma, for an old
farmhouse.  Listen now, these carpets are too old-fashioned.  I
want you to take 'em up, have the floors finished and polished,
they're hard maple, aren't they, Pa?  I'm going to send you some
Oriental rugs.  Nothing's too good for Nat Linden's Ma.  Look."

He drew out his wallet, making a casual show of the bills of large
denomination, and brought out a colored plate of a rug.

"How's that?  Pretty fancy?  Four hundred dollars and the small
ones to go with it a hundred each.  Like it, Ma?  Here, Pa, how's
it look to you?"

Ase studied the pattern and the colors.  They were like his
southwest field in autumn, except that the red sumac, the tawny
pasture grass, the green pines, the deep blue of twilight, were in
their reality more beautiful.  He did not answer.

Nellie said, "Let's see the picture again.  I don't know, Nat, I
like the carpets.  Got this one new, for you to come.  They're so
nice and warm underfoot in winter."

Nat frowned, irritated.

"Now, Ma, that coal furnace I gave you keeps the house hot as hell
and I know it.  I want you to fix things up, live in style."

Nellie said, "Style's all right for you, that big house you say you
have, all kinds of help, but Pa and I like it here just the way we
have it."

The rest of the family came trooping downstairs.  Crockett was
fascinated by the huge zinc bathtub encased in matchwood, by the
windmill that pumped the water for the house.

Nat said, "Will, you'd better go around with him.  A city guy can
get into all sorts of trouble on a farm.  Can't have our groom
falling in the well."

He was the benevolent brother, watching after them all.

Nellie said, "Nat, I always thought you'd marry young and have a
big family.  You used to like the girls."

Nat laughed complacently.

"Still do, Ma.  Girls.  Don't take much to the brood-hens.  Maybe
some day I'll buy me something handsome for my house."

Nellie said, "'Melie, where are you and Crock going to live when
you go back?"

"Why, in Nat's house, just the same as before.  He likes to have
Crock and me handy.  Seems to think I do a pretty good job of
running the place."

Nat said, "She certainly does.  I have a lot of, well, business and
political company, Ma, sometimes late at night, and believe me,
'Melie keeps a whip-hand over that Jap help, gets 'em out to serve
the drinks, and the food, oh man.  Not as good as yours, Ma, but
mighty fancy."

Ase cleared his throat.

"Political company, you say, son?"

"That's right."

Nat puffed on his cigar.

Ase was stirred.  It had always seemed to him that there could be
no nobler work, after that, perhaps, of the physician, the teacher,
the judge and the minister, than for a man to serve his state, his
country, in the legislative halls.  He thought that he might have
misjudged Nat after all.

He said, "I'd be proud to hear that you're running for your State
Legislature, Nat.  Maybe even for the United States Congress."

Nat guffawed.  He started to flick his cigar ash.

Nellie said sharply, "Now you just wait a minute, young man.  If
you've got to stink up my clean house, you don't have to drop that
mess on my new carpet."

She brought a kitchen saucer and thumped it down on the table
beside him.  He patted her arm.

"Ma, if a fellow was dying, you'd be afraid he'd dirty the bed."

Ase recalled Nellie's horror over Tim McCarthy and Mink Fisher.
Nat had then this sensitivity, this understanding, surely he had
been mistaken in his eldest son.

He said eagerly, "Perhaps you can't discuss it yet."

Nat blew a cloud of smoke.

"Pa, I wouldn't be caught dead in the State Legislature or
Congress, either.  In another couple of years, I'll have our whole
legislature right in my pocket, cheap, too."

"I don't understand."

"You wouldn't.  You've lived all your life like a stick in the mud,
no offense, but you're just an old-fashioned farmer.  Politics
aren't what you think they are."

Ase was suddenly angry.

"What are they, then, if they don't serve the people?"

"Now Pa, the people get served.  They get roads and bridges and
courthouses and railroads.  Schools, too, and you ought to like
that, my God, the stew you made when I wouldn't finish college.
Smartest thing I ever did was when I got out."

Nat was angry, too.  He leaned forward and waved his cigar.

"And it's Nat Linden--Nathaniel--Grandmother had fits about calling
me Nathaniel--hell, I've got to the top as Nat Linden--Nat Linden,
a poor farm boy, he's building all that stuff.  And getting his,
believe me--."

He took out his monogrammed handkerchief and mopped his face.  He
stubbed out his cigar on Nellie's saucer.  He sat back in his

"Now I don't say but that some time maybe I'd enjoy being Governor.
Not so much in it, you know, but still, 'Governor.'  Maybe about
the time I buy me my blonde."

Ase felt sick at heart.

He said, "I hate to hear that your state legislators can be bought.
I don't see why anyone would want to put them in his pocket, as you
say.  But the Congress has honest men."

"Some of 'em, sure.  Lot of them the same little cheap guys.  Live
on a dog's wages, why, they have to make something on the side."

Ase stood up, a lean old man towering over his son.

He said, "I don't believe you."

He left the house in search of Willis.  He found him at the barns,
stroking the nose of a new-born calf in the stall with its mother.


"Hello, Pa."

"Will, Nat's been telling me things I don't like.  Something's
wrong.  How does he make so much money out of his building?"

Willis said, "You know Nat, Pa.  It's more than the building.  He
has lots of irons in the fire."

"Is he making all this money honestly?"

"Why don't you ask him?"

"I can talk better to you."

"I'm just a little cog in Nat's machine, Pa.  It isn't up to me to
do any talking, even to you."

"Will, I wish you'd get out.  You don't belong with the rest of

"That's what I used to think.  I can't quit now."

"Why not?"

"It's just too late, that's all."

"You're still a young man, son."

"You get old fast when you work with Nat.  Don't worry, Pa.  I make
a good living.  I'd never have amounted to much, anyway."

Perhaps not, Ase thought.  Yet something in Willis had been waylaid
and destroyed.  He had taken the easy road instead of the hard one,
but it was the easy road that had proved dark and tortuous.

Ase put off his return to the house.  He made his chores last as
long as possible.  'Melie and young Elsa were putting Nellie's
lavish supper on the table, Nat was demanding another brand of
preserves with a jovial perversity, his henchmen were laughing at
his wit.  Ase washed up and slipped into his seat.  The family ate
hugely, they were like a school of voracious fish feeding under the
sea of chatter.  They talked of the barbecues of the West, of the
Pioneer Picnics near Peytonville, of Nellie's freezers of Sunday
ice cream in the summers of their childhood, and ended back in
Nat's establishment, describing the Japanese servants and the
fabulous parties.  Nat slapped his great paunch and said he could
not hold as much more as a caraway seed.  Nellie brought out her
cake tree, long unused.  Nat chose first among the cup cakes like
flowers on their wooden thorns, torn between the white frosting
dotted with red cinnamon drops and the chocolate sprinkled with
silver pellets, the fresh cocoanut and the raisin-thick spice, and
took one of each.

'Melie laid a chocolate cup cake on Crockett's plate.  He pushed it
aside and reached for a cocoanut.  He did not then allow the ring
in his nose to chafe him.  Ase was aware of an oddly settled
relationship between the pair.  They were scarcely bride-and-groom-
to-be, but more a long-married couple with a mutual acceptance and
no love at all.  Their intimacy was obviously of long standing.  It
must have been almost passionless, an affair, rather than a
marriage, of convenience.  Nat's tight little family empire ran

Ase was anxious for the talk to turn away from trivial matters.
His sons and their companion were at least men of the world and
would know more of tides and currents than his papers gave him.

He asked, "How does the West feel about the re-election of
President Wilson?"

Nat clipped the end from a cigar.

"Biggest fool thing the country's ever done.  What does a damn
professor know about government?"

Ase persisted, "What do they think out there about the possibility
of war?"

"Anything's possible under the guy.  He's too full of ideas.  No
common sense."

Nellie said, "Stepping on toes, Nat.  Your Pa was the only man in
the township to vote for him."

Nat held his cigar halfway to his mouth.

"For God's sake, Pa, what's the matter with you?  You must have
known you could have saved yourself the trip to Peytonville.  One
lone vote."

He said stubbornly, "But it was mine."

He must speak now, Ase thought, he must speak of the necessity for
a man to make his choice of issues and of values, to respect the
privilege of the vote itself, lone voice or no.  He tried to think
of the words that would express his meaning.

Nat said easily, "Forget all this political stuff at your age, Pa.
Time you were sitting back and taking things easy.  That goes for
you, too, Ma.  Let the hired man's wife or that pretty girl of his
do your cooking."  He winked at her.  "That is, after I leave."

He yawned.

"Been a long day.  Crock, you and Arent put the cars up the side

Nellie said, "I thought you were going to come by train."

"Did.  Had the cars sent on ahead to Trent by freight."

"I don't see why you need two."

"One for my gang and one for me and you, Ma."

He stood and stretched.

"Bed, everybody."

They went like obedient children.

Ase sat alone after the flock had broken up and gone away like
roosting birds.  'Melie, he thought, for all her hardness, deserved
better than this Crockett.  He was aware of a corruption in the man
somehow more reptilian than Nat's.  He dismissed the concept but
remained disturbed.  It would be of no use to discuss it with
Nellie.  Their daughter was being married elegantly and at last, to
a man of Nat's choice.  She would, he knew, be as horrified by his
suggestion of evil expanding in the family, as he found himself by
the fact.

The November evening turned chill.  He touched a match to the fire
laid in the stove.  Nellie would scold him for making a mess the
last thing at night, but he needed the warmth and the primitive
light of the flames.  He seemed to stand alone on a desolate shore
while the tide went out.  He was stranded there, no ship to bear
him to sea, no horse to bear him inland.  The wind keened high
overhead and then was gone, passing trackless toward the uncharted


Ase stood lost and appalled at the wedding reception.  Nat had had
so many engraved invitations sent out that Nellie had commented,
"He must have just used the tax list."  Nat had hired a caterer
from Trent to provide the feast, complete with champagne.  The good
friends, the neighbors, the relatives, were filing by the tables of
gifts.  In their esteem and affection for Ase and Nellie, the
Grange had dipped into its treasury and sent a table service of
plated silver in its own red imitation leather box.  All over the
township the women had set to and made their gifts for the Linden
girl, a lace-trimmed pincushion, three kitchen dish towels, a cross-
stitched hand towel, a set of calico pot holders, a matchholder
with two sandpaper cats, one large, one small, and the caption,
"Don't scratch me, scratch Mother," a gingham apron, an organdy
party apron, a silk sewing bag, a pair of crochet-edged pillow
slips.  Miss Minnie the milliner had hand painted one of her famous
cake plates in full-blown magenta roses, neglecting her trade to
finish it in time.  The banker and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Peyton of
the General Store, the hotel-keeper, the Academy principal and his
wife, had sent such store-bought presents as cut glass jelly dishes
and sets of teacups.  Aunt Jess was too feeble to attend any of the
ceremonies.  She had sent a note, "For the little girl I helped
bring into the world," and with it a rare old gold and garnet
brooch, her one treasure, Ase knew.  Nellie's family, the Wilsons,
had agreed that it was proper for 'Melie to have their dozen
heirloom hand-woven linen sheets.  These last two gifts stood out
proudly, the only ones remotely able to face the array from Nat's
business and political associates in the west.

The governor of Nat's state had sent a mammoth silver service tray.
There were a gold-lined silver punch bowl, pitchers, goblets and
two sets of sterling table silver that together would make place
settings for a hundred people.  There were imported linens, ornate
clocks and complete dinner services of Limoges and Wedgwood.  Ase
discovered the cheap plate from the Grange between the two sterling
services.  Nat stood nearby, faintly flushed, telling Miss Minnie
the source of each western gift.  Ase waited until Nat turned away
from her.

He said, "Nat, how did these things happen to be sent here, when
they'll have to be shipped back west again?"

Nat rocked on his heels complacently.

"At my request."

"But they shame the folks."

"That's exactly the idea."

"Why, they'd about forgotten you and 'Melie."

"I haven't forgotten them.  And they won't forget me again.
Remember when I out-grew my suit and had to go on wearing it to the
Academy anyway, and got laughed at?  And you peddled wood one
winter?  Let 'em look at Nat Linden now.  And I've just started."

So Nat had built his life on a boy's bitterness.  No, Ase thought,
this was only an excuse to build as he would have done anyway.

He noticed the Widow Bedford standing in front of the display of
silver.  Her knotted hands held her shabby black purse against her
stomach.  She had dressed up her old felt hat with a tail feather
from her red rooster and the feather, working loose, dipped toward
her shoulder.  He pushed his way to her.

She said, "My it's elegant, Ase.  If we'd of known, been better not
to of tried to give to 'Melie.  She'll think cheap of us."

"Which is your present?  I didn't notice."

She turned with a flash of brightness and pointed to another table.


He took it in his big hand.  Its fat surface was covered with an
assortment of pins, plain and color-beaded, arranged in a geometric

He said, "This is fine.  Only trouble, 'Melie'll hate to use the
pins and break up the pattern.  Isn't this real lace around the

She touched it tenderly.

"From my first baby's christening dress.  Satin's from my wedding
petticoat.  Hated to cut into it, but I said to myself, 'Don't you
be selfish, Lulu Bedford.  Get it over with and you can make
pincushions other times, weddings and Christmas and the like.'  I
do love a pretty pincushion."

He was desperate.  He gathered his courage.

He said, "All that fancy silver and china doesn't mean a thing.  It
came from men Nat does business with.  Like paying a drummer's
commission.  It's presents like this one 'Melie really needed."

She looked up at him.

"Now that's so.  She'll likely put all that other away and never
use it.  Know I would.  Guess we've given her a good start on
housekeeping, amongst us.  That embroidered set from the Sewing
Circle, I helped on that, it's nice, but not too nice to use."

She took the pincushion from him and replaced it on the table.

"Excuse me.  Never could get over the idea a man'll always get dirt
on anything white."

She looked with satisfaction over the cross-stitched towels, the
potholders, the pillow slips.

"Another thing, too, Ase, these'll remind 'Melie of home.  My, she
must get lonesome, way out there."

He said, "Maybe we seem way out here to people way out there."

She chuckled and left him, to hunt out the president of the Ladies'
Sewing Circle.  Ase went slowly past the gifts from the home
friends, memorizing as far as possible who had made or given this
or that.  He spoke awkwardly and admiringly of stitching, of
crochet, of pansy-painted velvet plaque.

He clung like a drowning man to the Widow Bedford's words,
repeating, "It's what 'Melie needed for housekeeping.  It will
remind her of home."

He reached Miss Minnie.  In a moment of panic he forgot the nature
of her gift.  It had probably been a hat.  Perhaps a fichu or a
jabot, he had heard such terms.  He remembered talk of 'Melie's
"Going-away" costume.

He said cautiously, "'Melie was pleased with her going-away present
from you."

"Mr. Linden, you haven't got the faintest idea what I gave 'Melie."

So, he had lost his hold on the floating log, the straw.

It would be politic to say, "Whatever it was, I heard 'Melie speak
especially of it."

He looked at her helplessly.  She patted her stiff gray curls and
arched her eyebrows.

"Just what I always say, a man doesn't ever notice.  Never mind, I
understand you dreadful creatures, so I'll tell you.  It was one of
my hand painted cake plates, the nicest I've ever done, if I must
say so myself."

He recalled at once the magenta roses and his life-raft.  He

"It's what 'Melie needed for housekeeping.  It will remind her of

"Why, Mr. Linden, you do notice.  Come to think of it, I remember
when you bought the bonnet for Mrs. Linden, gracious, how long ago?
You wouldn't have anything but that blue bonnet and I said to
myself then, 'Now Mr. Linden appreciates the artistic.'"

She lowered her voice.

"You're the only one I can ask, please tell me, did you think the
roses had too many petals?  I did suffer so, wondering if they were
too full.  I get going on rose petals and I can't stop."

He was rescued in his time of need by Nellie.

"Come on, everybody.  Nat's present's just been delivered.  The
photographer's here, too.  Nat wants pictures of everybody

Nat's "just delivered" gift to the bride and groom was a red
Cadillac car.  It had been waiting in the carriage shed for two

The farmhouse was still in confusion two days after the reception.
'Melie's wedding gifts were strewn everywhere, half wrapped for
shipping or mailing on to the west.  The furniture was disarranged.
The flowers drooped in baskets and vases, not quite dead enough to
be thrown away.  In the woodshed Ase helped Willis and Crockett
with the re-crating of the bulkier gifts.  Nat strolled into the

He said, "Ma and 'Melie and I have things all worked out.  Arent
and Will and I will drive back in the new car.  I've got business
on the way.  'Melie and Crock will wait a couple of weeks and then
come on out by train.  Pa, you and Ma are coming with them."

Ase laid down his hammer.

"The whole trip's on me.  Won't cost you a cent, Pa.  Winter coming
on, you ought to get away for a few months.  Time you crossed the
country and saw the world."

Ase thought of the many times he had imagined himself crossing the
country and seeing the world, the panorama of the whole United
States unfolding before his hungry eyes.  He might even find
Benjamin, where Nat's search and wide connections had failed to
find him.  Then he knew that he could not go as Nat's guest.  He
had prospered.  He could well afford to pay his own and Nellie's
way.  He knew again that it was not Nat's world he longed to see or
could bear to see.  He could not go at all.

He said, "Thank you, son, not this year.  Some other time your
mother and I will set out on a trip and drop in and surprise you."

Nat said, "Pa, you old stick-in-the-mud.  You've never been beyond
Trent in your life.  Don't you have a scrap of curiosity in you?
Don't you want to see farther than your own fields and fences?"

Why, Ase thought, his feet had itched all his life to walk on
stranger roads.  His heart had awakened him, pounding in the night,
from dreams of meeting stranger people, red, white, yellow, black
and brown.  In the dreams he sat with them beside their various
hearth fires, sharing with them the alien foods of the encyclopedia,
mysteriously communicating freely in alien tongues.  He was half
blind in his mind's eye from peering across the continent, and into
the suns of foreign lands, and beyond them, beyond the Coral Sea
and the Caribbean, to Europe and Iceland, Cape Horn and the newly
discovered North Pole, past Africa and India, the Great Wall of
China and forbidden Nepal and the steppes of Russia, into the Alps,
the Andes and the Himalayas, and high above these, up into inter-
stellar spaces, so dazzling that he might be unable to face it if
he found it, the home he yearned for, the true and final home that
was not and never had been nor could be, the old Linden farm near

Nat said, "Listen now, Ma wants to go."

"What were you saying?"

"Pa, I don't see how she puts up with you.  I was saying, Ma's got
her heart set on this trip."


Ase picked up the hammer and drove another nail in a crate.  He
thought warily that he must speak with Nellie alone, to make
certain of this.

He said, "If she really wants to go, no reason why she can't go
without me."

He was surprised when Nat pounded him on the back.

"Pa, that makes sense.  Ma wants to see the world and you don't.
One of the Elsas can take care of you.  You never know what you're
eating, anyway.  God, Ma will knock 'em dead out west.  We'll stop
in Chicago and rig her out.  Sort of old-timey stuff, bonnets and
flounces.  She'll have the Governor eating out of her hand."

Ase could only privately agree with him.  Nellie would be an asset,
with her wit and charm.  Nat had always been ashamed of his father.
Yet was it conceivable that Nat was using his mother, as he used
the others?

He said, "If it's all right with your mother, I think all of you
had better leave at the same time."

Nat puffed on his cigar.

"Guess that's a good idea.  Sure.  Two weeks in the Cadillac, six
days on the train.  'Melie'll get there ahead of me to have things

Willis looked up from his work on the packing of 'Melie's crates.

He said, "Nat, I think I'll stay behind with Pa for a while.  He'll
be pretty lonesome."

Nat said coldly, "Well.  We can get along without you fine, just

Ase sensed the hostility.

He said, "I'll be all right alone."

Willis repeated stubbornly, "I'll stay here a while."

Nat said, "Just a while?  Planning to quit?  You haven't forgotten
that business at Compton?"

"No, I haven't forgotten."

Nat shrugged his shoulders.

"Your own funeral, Will, if you have ideas, for a change."

Willis said, "I know."

It was true, Ase found, Nellie was exhilarated at the prospect of
the trip west.  Nat wanted to drive her to Trent for her necessary
shopping.  Ase insisted on taking her himself in the buggy and
paying for the new clothes and luggage.  She rejected firmly a fur-
trimmed broadcloth suit that was most becoming, because of the
price.  Ase made an excuse to leave her and slipped back to the
shop to buy it.  The family was delighted with her wardrobe.  Nat
gave a grudging approval.

"Good enough to start out with, Ma.  I'll fix you up right later."

She said tartly, "Now I've no intention of letting you rig me out
like a Christmas tree.  Seems to me we've already overdone things."

Nat laughed.

"You'll change your mind when you see the clothes at Townsend's."

The two sections of the family got on their way in a confusion of
equipment.  The Cadillac left, heavy-loaded.  Eric drove one of the
cars to the freight station, Willis the other.  Ase drove Nellie in
the light buggy.  She clutched his arm in a sudden panic.

"Ase, I don't want to go.  I can't leave you."

He reined in and held her close.  She cried against his shoulder.

He said, "Now, Nat and 'Melie want to show you off.  Just have a
good time and tell me all about it when you come home.  I'll get
along all right."

She sniffled and blew her nose and sat up.

"I know.  I'd have had to go some time.  And Lord knows, Elsa's a
better cook than your mother was, and you put up with that.  Now
Ase, your winter underwear's in the bottom drawer of the cherry
dresser.  You get it out the very first day of hard cold."

It was more painful than he had expected, to see the train puff
away, to wave after her.  Perhaps he should have gone too, if only
to have spared himself this needless loss of her.  He drove home
with Willis and Eric.  The house was naked, only the kitchen cozy.
Nellie had left so much cooked food that Elsa was not to come until
the next morning.

Willis said, "Pa, you don't know how peaceful this is, in the
kitchen.  Let's eat here and not bother with setting the dining-
room table."

Together they set out a portion of the prepared dishes.  Ase made
coffee.  Willis brought butter and cream from the pantry.  They ate
in a comfortable silence.  Willis stacked the dishes in the sink.
They lingered in the kitchen, where the wood range glowed red.

Willis said, "Pa."

"Yes, son."

"Did you wonder why I stayed behind?"

"Well, yes."

"Pa, you were right.  I've got to get away from Nat.  It's worse
than you imagined.  It's more than Nat's being crooked."

Ase shoved a stick of wood into the stove.

He said, "You'd better tell me."

Willis leaned forward.

"Pa.  Arent and Crock do the dirty work.  Nat keeps his own hands
clean, as far as anyone's been able to prove."

"I suppose Nat makes deals, as they say, to get the contracts for
those roads and bridges and buildings he talked about.  He probably
pays money to men in the legislature to pass bills for the

"That's the least of it.  Most of the time he builds with inferior
materials.  Some of his buildings are fire traps, ways that don't
show on the surface.  One of his bridges has already fallen in.  A
car full of people just made it across.  He got the blame shifted
to a sub-contractor.  The fellow's in jail right now.  One state
senator had been fighting Nat.  He had some proof--."

"Go on, son."

"They called it suicide.  Maybe it was, maybe it was."

"If it wasn't?"

"If it wasn't, it was Crock.  Nat would keep Arent out of a thing
like that."

"Will, what is your part in this?"

"Well, Pa, I'm a front for Nat on some of his new projects.
Mining, oil.  Remember, he was going to make me a famous geologist?
That's what I am, all right.  You just bet I am, Nat planned it
that way.  I got my Master's degree and my Doctor's degree, and Nat
said I didn't need to go any farther, he'd set me up in a
laboratory of my own.  I'd always thought I'd like research instead
of teaching.  Research, sure--.  Analyses, sure--.  God."

Ase said, "But Nat told me you were doing this."

"I'm doing it.  For Nat.  He has me set up in this famous
geological laboratory, and I'm not supposed to have any connection
with him, and he sends in 'samples,' samples of ore, samples of
soil where oil might be promising, and I run the tests and make the
reports, and then Nat sells this land all through the West where
there aren't minerals or oil at all, and all the little fellows
that buy his land are stuck with it, ruined."

Ase said, "But aren't your reports correct?"

"They are, but what Nat does is to bring in samples to my
laboratory that don't have anything to do with the land he's
selling, the companies he sells stock in.  Somehow, he keeps just
within the law."

"You'll have to leave him and go into some other laboratory or
company, Will."

"I signed a contract with him.  I can't work at my profession for
anyone else.  He paid for my education, remember.  I signed before
I knew."

Willis turned his face to his father in the dusk.

"Pa, you tried to keep me from going.  When you did, did you know
about Nat?"

Ase felt the sweat on his forehead.

"Because if you did, you should have told me."

Willis, the shy, the mild, was suddenly his accuser.  What could he
say now, and what was the truth of his knowledge of Nat, after all?
The ruthless greed he had always recognized.  Other men were cursed
by it and it did not lead them into devious ways.  The gypsy boy
that Nat had pushed into the bog--but he may only have jostled him
in a boy's rough play, quite without malice.  Nat's own letters
from Alaska--the desperate men who bought with their savings the
worthless claims, where a few gold nuggets under a boulder paid
high dividends--but sometimes a worthless claim had suddenly proved
out, and every man who had gone into the fevered Yukon had known he
was gambling.

"Will, can you be sure about these things?"

The fire in the wood range burned low.  The kitchen was in
darkness, no lamp lighted.

"The bribes, the rotten crookedness, yes.  The big things, no.  I
couldn't prove them.  Nat's too smart to let them be proved.  I
just know that Nat is bad, Pa.  All bad.  Did you?  Did you always
know he was bad?"

"I was afraid for him, son, but I didn't know.  We don't know now,
do we?"

"Maybe you think it's only that I'm jealous of Nat.  Maybe I am.  I
used to be.  Ma and Grandma made such a fuss over him and you had
Dolly.  I didn't seem to belong."

The man was explained, and the boy he had been.  Ase grieved for
him.  He gathered his thoughts to tell his son of his own youth,
outcast.  Willis stood and spoke briskly.

"No, Pa, it isn't jealousy.  It's just all too rank for my stomach.
I'll figure out something to do.  I'm not going back if I can help
it, but it may take a miracle."

"Will, think about the farm.  It's doing well.  I've always hoped
one of you boys would stay."

"Thanks, no.  I'm on Nat's side there.  No use slaving away on land
you don't own.  Good night, Pa."

"Good night, Willis."

Ase went to his bed, strange without Nellie, and lay long awake.


It was as though Willis' confidences had never been.  Ase prodded
his own timidity, to speak, to try to reach his son again, and
Willis evaded him.  He seemed to have regretted his revelations.
He lingered on at the farm, withdrawn and brooding.  Eric sensed
some impasse, did his best to interest Willis as a scientist in the
problem of the orchards.  New diseases were attacking the fruit.
The apple orchard was past its prime true but a sickness was on it
that was not of age.  Eric suggested experiments with sprays.

Willis said, "That's out of my line," and would not be allured.

Big Elsa mothered him and young Elsa was kind, even tender.  Their
company seemed to solace him and he spent long hours at the cabin.
Ase had a sudden hope of the sweet-faced girl born to be wife and
helpmate and mother.  He was disappointed when she came to him with
the news that she was shortly to marry a Jan Rabaski.  Willis was
unconcerned.  Elsa brought her Jan to Ase in shy pride.

"He's sensitive about his English," she said, "but he's learning

Ase was drawn at once to the young Pole.  He was as plain as Elsa,
as honest, and as dark as she was fair.  He had fought in his
country's army and later with the French, had been invalided out,
his lungs affected by gas, and now, in early 1917, had migrated to
America.  He was anxious to explain his position, lest it seem
equivocal.  He tapped his deep chest.

"I get this cured," he said earnestly, "I go back fight Boche some
more.  Maybe you have American army fight then.  I join."

Willis too found him interesting.  Jan came of farm stock, small
land owners, prosperous enough so that he had planned to become a
scientist.  The war had ended that, and now his parents were dead
and their land ravished.  His hope lay in America, and though, his
own dream over, he must make his living as a hired farm hand, it
was good that his children would be Americans, they would go on
where he had left off.  He was "lucky man," he said, to have found
his Elsa, and, a stranger here, so soon.  He was working for the
Grimstedt sons.

"Hard boss," he said, showing his white teeth, "me hard, too."

He turned to Elsa.

"Me hard?  I hard?"

"Almost right, Jan.  We would say 'I am hard, too.'"

He repeated after her, an adult and serious scholar, "I-am-hard-
too," stressing the consonants.

When they left, Ase said to Willis, "I'm uneasy about Elsa and her
young man."

"I don't see why."

"The work at Grimstedt's is too much for an invalid."

"He's not an invalid.  He's keeping up with it, isn't he?  He's
ready to fight again, if his gassed lungs get better, isn't he?"

Willis stalked away.  Ase had noticed his disappearances and did
not know to what obscure refuge he went.  He recalled his own
retreats, to Tim McCarthy, to Mink Fisher, to the gypsies, to his
flute.  He had not played his flute in years.  He had no desire to
play it now.

The weeks passed, Willis sullen, Jan Rabaski and young Elsa shy and
rosy with their love.  Jan swore his fits of coughing were
lessening.  Jan and Elsa were married in the cabin, a simple
ceremony that seemed to Ase more valid than the marriage of 'Melie
and Crockett.  A lone peach tree had blossomed early, and Elsa wore
a wreath of peach blossoms in her fair hair.  Since Jan and Elsa
could only return to the Grimstedt tenant house, Ase gave them for
wedding present a check.  Willis approached his father.  Having
abandoned Nat, he was without money, had used all his small pocket

He said humbly, "Pa, can you do something for me?  Get something
for the kids, as if it came from me?  I'll pay you back some day."

'Melie had discarded the set of plated table silver given her by
the Grange.  Better to have it used than to collect dust in the
attic.  Ase and Willis took it to the bride.

Willis said, "For when you have your own place, Elsa."

She said, "I will use it here.  I would use satin and gold if I had
it, to make a home for Jan."

The Grimstedt tenant house was shocking.  It reminded Ase of the
hovels Nat had reported erecting in Alaska, no more than four
tilting walls and a roof.  Elsa had scrubbed it inch by inch, had
hung white curtains, and Jan was making rough furniture.

Ase said, "I wish I had room for you at my place."

He thought of the space of the Linden house, empty and hollow once
Willis had gone away again.  It would be pleasant to have the young
couple living there.  He could afford to pay another hand.  In the
same instant he knew that Nellie would have none of it.  She would
drive them off like a mother bird who will accept no fledglings but
her own.

Elsa said, "Maybe some day we can come to you."

Willis was increasingly restless.  Ase wondered if he were waiting
for Nellie's return, not to leave his father entirely alone.  He
could not question him.  The wall between was as high as ever.

On a day in April, 1917, Ase's county paper gave the news that the
United States had entered the war.  Willis read the headlines over
his shoulder.  He paced the room and turned abruptly.

"Well, Pa," he said, "here's my miracle."

Ase read again, as though to change the fact.

Willis said, "Mind driving me to Trent?"

"Are you sure you don't want to think it over?"

"I'm sure.  Any objections?  You wanted me to get away from Nat.
This is it."

Ase had volunteered in his time for the Spanish-American War, had
been rejected, as family men were not needed and he was over-age.
He had offered himself for the simplest of reasons.  It was a man's
duty to fight for his country.  He thought that many men must have
many reasons.  Willis' was not ignoble.  He was risking his life to
save his soul.

"No, son.  No objections."

"I'll be ready by the time you've hitched up.  I haven't got a
thing I want or need.  It's all Nat's, he paid for it from my
overcoat to my toothbrush.  You can send it back to him.  He has
plenty of flunkeys my size."

They drove to the recruiting office in Trent in silence.  Willis
waited in line.  Ase found the new library and browsed through it
futilely, not knowing what to ask for.  He drove back to wait for
Willis.  His was almost the only horse and carriage on the streets.
Nat had wanted to give him a Ford automobile, but he preferred the
leisurely pace of wagon and buggy, the clop-clop of the horses'
hoofs, the sweet smell of harness leather and of living hide.  He
did not see how a man would have time to watch the land, time to
think, behind the wheel of a car.  Willis came down the steps.

"I'm in, Pa," he said.  "They're sending me on to camp tonight."

His chin was lifted.  His pale eyes held the look, half unbelief,
of a long-penned dog turned loose from chain and kennel.

Ase had been home an hour when the telephone jangled its two rings.
Nat's voice came harsh from across the country.  "Pa?  Get Will on
the 'phone."

"He's gone, Nat.  He enlisted."

"Christ, the damn fool.  I knew he'd try it.  I should have called
the minute the news broke.  Sure it's too late to stop him?"

"It's too late, Nat."

"God damn.  Wait a minute, here's Ma."

His heart beat fast, hearing her, a bird singing over the humming


"I'm coming right home, Ase.  Somebody'll wire you about my train."


"What did you say?"

"Nothing.  I'll be waiting."

Eric and Elsa had to laugh at him over the days.  He wandered in a
daze like a bridegroom, they told him.  He smiled, unoffended.
Elsa scrubbed the Linden house from top to bottom, beat carpets and
hung clean curtains.

"I'll only cook enough for the first meal," she said.  "Mrs. Linden
will want to get to the kitchen herself.  I know her."

It was true.  Nellie returned like a small whirlwind.  Within
twenty minutes she was out of Nat's satins and into gingham dress
and apron.  There was little fault to be found with Elsa's work,
but with immense satisfaction she found mealy-bugs on one of her
dining-room begonias.

She said, "I don't know why I stayed so long.  Nat's hard to get
away from.  I won't be talked into it again."

She bustled about, examining cupboards and supplies, rearranging
furniture.  Ase followed her from room to room.  Once, she turned
so suddenly that she tripped over his feet, on her heels behind

She said, "You don't have to dog me that close," but she allowed
him to hold her.

She was fretted about Willis, yet her concern was spotted with
Nat's anger.

"Nat said Will would never have been drafted, he could have kept
him out.  He said he never thought Will would turn out a traitor to
him.  Said he'd seen it coming, though,"

In his joy at her return, he would not take issue with her.  Later
would be time enough to talk with her, if he could manage the words
and she would listen, of the nature of loyalty.  She had never yet
listened when he fumbled at abstract discussion.  Tim McCarthy
would have been his man to probe with him this matter.  He would
bring it up with Eric, perhaps, although Eric's thinking moved
along more concrete lines.

He made a futile attempt with Nellie on one of the rare afternoons
when she sat quietly, rocking in the living-room.  His approach was
unfortunate and she snapped him short.

"I don't want to hear another word," she said.  "You're going to
say something against Nat, and I won't have it.  You've always had
it in for him and you just don't realize what a big man he's turned
out to be."

She quoted Nat constantly.  He would not be hurt, seeing her

Eric's Elsa died in December of pneumonia.  Eric was stricken,
became suddenly an old man, crippled now not only of hands, but of
mind and spirit.  He had waited so long for his love, and it was
taken from him untimely.  Ase shared his grief.

He had not dared suggest to Nellie that young Elsa and her Jan
Rabaski move to the Linden farm, to live in the many-roomed Linden
home.  Now she was the first to suggest that they move to the
cabin, Jan to replace Eric as hired hand, young Elsa to replace her
mother in casual help for Nellie.

The young couple moved into the old log cabin.  Jan had offered
himself to the American Army and had been rejected, his lungs still
hard-tissued from their gassing.  Young Elsa was already happily
pregnant.  Nellie took a maternal interest in them, found young
Elsa of her own mind as to the importance of using enough butter in
various dishes.  The Linden and Rabaski families lived together in

In July of 1918 the rural telephone rang.  There was a death
message, by wire, and since the telegram could not be delivered and
death messages were supposed to be delivered in person, would the
Lindens accept it?

Ase said, knowing the message, "Please read the telegram."

He listened to the reading of the telegram from the War Department.
He said, "Thank you."

Nellie was at his side.

She said, "Who's calling?  Was it Nat?"

"No.  It's Willis.  He was killed at Chteau Thierry."

Even as he comforted Nellie, he felt an unreasonable exaltation.

"He got away," he thought.  "Willis got away."


Nat's exhibition at the time of 'Melie's wedding had satisfied him.
Twice he returned briefly and without ostentation, only then
because of business in a not too distant city.  He preferred to
have his mother visit him each year.  Ase insisted on paying her
fare, allowing Nat to do as he chose about decking her out in made-
to-order ruffles of an earlier era.  He refused stubbornly to go
west with her.  The trip would have to be in his own way and time
and that had never seemed to come.

'Melie came home alone several times in the years after her

Nat, Arent and 'Melie arrived for a quiet celebration of Ase's and
Nellie's fiftieth wedding anniversary in February.  It was more and
more apparent that Crockett was less 'Melie's consort than the
chief of Nat's cohorts.  He had stayed behind to take care of
business.  Nellie had not been feeling well and had written Nat
that she would wring his neck if he tried to make another show of
the anniversary.  Nat had agreed, but on appearing, suggested that
the marriage ceremony be repeated.

He said, "You know, Ma, this is going to be in my newspapers, and
it would sound mighty cute."

Nellie said, "The very idea, I won't have it, rigging up an old
woman in her wedding duds.  As if we were going to bed and start
all over again."

Nat roared with laughter.

He said, "Okay, Ma, any way you want it.  I'll bet for Pa that the
spirit's willing but the flesh is weak."

For himself, Ase thought, another fifty years with Nellie would be
little enough.  Yet the afternoon on a windy hill, when sky and
earth had reeled around them, should be put away in camphor, like
her wedding dress.  It too had best be left undisturbed.

Aunt Jess was dead and gone, along with Miss Minnie, storekeeper
Peyton and Dr. Holder.  Only a score of friends and relatives
joined the Linden family for the anniversary celebration.  Nat's
gift to his mother was a diamond brooch which 'Melie had selected
with an eye to her own later use.

Nat took his father and mother aside that evening.  In his middle
age he was florid and thickened.  The perfection of his grooming
and tailoring gave a smooth covering to his coarseness.  He swelled
out his chest, as he had long had a habit of doing, before
speaking.  He clipped a cigar and lit it.  Nellie pushed an ashtray
nearer him.

He said, "Now Pa, I've had enough of this nonsense about you and Ma
sticking it out on this damn farm.  I know, you've done mighty
well, made a lot more money than most farmers.  You've got Will's
insurance money.  You're both still fairly tough, too.  But any day
one of you'll be having a stroke, or breaking a leg from trying to
do too much at your age.  You've got to expect to find yourselves

Ase frowned.  More than ten years ago Nat had harped on their age,
when he and Nellie had been in the fullness of their strength.  It
was as though Nat wanted them to be old, feeble and incompetent.

He said, "Nat, your mother and I have talked this over.  We're
satisfied here."

Nat flicked his cigar ash with his little finger.

"Listen to me, Pa.  You're so stubborn.  There's something else you
probably won't understand, but take my word for it.  We're going to
have one hell of a depression any time now.  I'm all set for it.
I've been selling most of my stocks on the high market and putting
it where it's foolproof.  Never mind where or how.  When it's over
with, I'll own about half my state."

He puffed comfortably.

"Now listen.  When the depression hits, your crops aren't going to
bring what it cost to raise them.  You wouldn't like that, would

Ase said mildly, "It's happened before.  A farmer never goes

Nat sat up impatiently.

"My God, Pa, all you've ever been interested in, your whole life,
was just getting by, 'making a living,' you call it.  On land you
don't even own."

The familiar expression irritated Ase.  Over the years Nat and
Nellie had worn it thin.

Nat went on, "Of course, you haven't noticed how close the Trent
industries are coming.  The newest plant's taken over the land
around Lancey Lake, not four miles away."

Nellie said, "We used to have the Pioneer Picnics there."

"That's just it, Ma.  You used to have Pioneer Picnics.  Now you've
got progress."

He leaned forward.  His jaw tightened, his voice deepened.  Ase had
a glimpse of the power that Nat must turn on at will, like a water

"What we'll do here is plan for a factory, with workmen's shacks
built around it.  Rent the shacks at a fairly high rate, but not so
high that you get an expensive turn-over in labor.  Give the dumb
bozos free seeds for gardens, tie 'em up.  Most of the labor around
here these days is foreigners, they'll damn near work for nothing
once they've got their own vegetable garden.  That's business
psychology, Pa."

Ase said, "We were all foreigners here once.  I don't know much
about psychology."

"Naturally not.  I don't expect you to follow me all the way.  Now,
this is just as important.  The minute the depression begins,
everybody'll be in a panic, I'll step in and buy up the farms
between you and Lancey Lake for a song.  When the up-swing begins
again, there'll be a big Linden industrial development here.
You'll be taken care of, Pa.  You'll be in clover."

Ase watched Nat's cigar smoke drift through the room.  It seemed to
him as ephemeral as Nat's sense of values.

He said, "People can put up factories and workmen's shacks
anywhere.  The land all around here is too good for anything but

Nat stubbed out the butt of his cigar and spat.

Nellie said, "All right, Nat, how do you go about putting up a
factory on somebody else's property?"

Nat rose from his chair.

He shouted, "Who's paid the taxes all these years?  Pa has!  The
law takes care of that!  I've been talking with men at the
courthouse.  One word from your stupid husband, Mrs. Linden, and
it's all arranged."

Ase stood, tall and angry, towering over his son.

"This is my brother's land.  You cannot use it for your dishonest

Nat's eyes narrowed.

"Ma, anybody in the family ever been crazy besides Grandmother

"Nobody but your Pa."

She saw his stricken face.

"Ase, you never know when I'm teasing.  We'll stay right here and
run the farm as long as we're able."

She laid her hand on his arm.

She said, "Nat, I'm not going west with you.  I know, I promised,
but your Pa needs me.  Go finish your packing.  You always wait to
the last minute so somebody else will get nervous and do it for

Nat's shadows rose as he rose.

He said to his brother and sister, "Let's get going."

He turned to his father.  He spoke quietly.

"Don't think I'm through with this for a minute."

Nellie saw them off tearfully.  Ase felt responsible and guilty.
Having supported him against Nat, now she snapped at him.

"A fine thing, to call your own son dishonest.  He only wants to do
the best thing for us."

He said, "You should have gone with him."

He was surprised at his own tartness.  It occurred to him that the
increasing patience of age was as great a myth as the unalloyed joy
of youth.  The longer he lived, the less tolerance he had for the
patently evil.  And Nat--.  He put his arms around Nellie.  Her
plumpness was gone.  Her fragility startled him.  Her passion
having spent itself, he had not held her tight for several years,
for she had seldom ever permitted him to hold her unless she
desired him.  She was so thin, so small.

He said, "I'm sorry.  Maybe you're right, maybe Nat wants to do the
best thing for us."

She cried a while against his lean old breast, then pushed him away
with her lifelong gesture, her little hands rejecting a monolith.
She pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and wiped her eyes and
blew her nose.  She sniffed the air.  She darted to door and
windows and threw them wide.  "That awful stink," she said.

It was Nat's expensive cigar smoke to which she referred, but he
too welcomed the clean inrush of cold air, wiping out for the
moment a greater stench, his own along with it, for he had
compromised once again.

Nellie sniffled and said, "Ase, take me to see my folks.  I just
can't get along without some family."

Her mother and father were long since dead, but two of her
brothers, with their wives and families, still lived prosperously
on the old Wilson farmstead two miles east along the road.  He
hitched up the remaining horse, how many generations removed from
its ancestor, old Dan, he could not recall, and drove her in the
light buggy to her kin.  He decided that he must buy an automobile,
after all.  Nellie was sociable, she needed to meet everywhere
people in whom she had no concern, for whom she felt no affection
at all.  This had always puzzled him, but he accepted it as part of

On his return he went like a homing pigeon to the cabin, to the
Rabaski's.  Young Elsa, he could only think of her so, and her Jan
had been prolific.  There were six children from the ten years of
their union, four boys and two girls.  His close friend among these
was the six-year-old, young Jan.

The boy ran to Ase as he knocked on the door of the cabin.  "I saw
you coming," he said, and reached up to take his hand.  "I felt it
in my stomach.  Do you feel it in your stomach?"

"Yes, Jan."

The child's phrase was as accurate as the Biblical yearning of the
bowels, he thought, for the warmth that surged through them when
they met.  They went together into the cabin.  Eric lifted his head
from his chimney corner.  He was not as old as Ase, but the life
had gone out of him with his Elsa, and he hugged the hearth like an

Young Elsa called from the kitchen, "Coffee and cake in a minute,
Mr. Linden.  Glad to see you."

The elder three children were at school.  The two toddlers waved
their toys cheerily at him.  Eric's sadness was only a faint shadow
on this sunny threshold.  The aroma from the kitchen was delicious,
a mixture of foreign seasonings and spices, for young Elsa had
added to her mother's Swedish dishes the Polish ones her husband
had described to her.  Young Jan led Ase to a deep chair opposite
Eric by the hearth and settled himself in his lap.

He said, "I know you had to pay attention to your company.  You
came home as soon as you could, didn't you?"

Ase said, "Yes, as soon as I could."

It was true.  Because of this boy, as grave and frail as his Dolly
had been, as adoring of him, because of the miraculous community
between them, the old cabin was more nearly home than his own.  It
was here he found meat for the teeth of his spirit.


The Seth Thomas clock whirred and struck three of the afternoon.
The notes hovered like birds in the comfortable warmth of the
living-room.  The thin sunlight streamed through the bay window and
turned the pale green of Nellie's house fern to silver.  The fronds
of the fern on its high stand touched the floor.  Ase thought it
was almost like having a young willow tree inside the house.  A
cricket, excited perhaps by the striking of the clock, began
chirping from somewhere under the fern.  It had escaped Nellie for
weeks, but sooner or later she would take it unaware and flip it
out into the snow.  Ase took her word for it that crickets were as
bad as moths for eating woolen clothing, but a hole in a jacket
elbow seemed to him a small price for the cheerful piping in the
long winter stillness.

The dog at his feet, sleeping in a patch of sunlight on the carpet,
roused and lifted his head.  Nellie in the kitchen heard the sound
from the road and came hurrying.  She pushed aside the lace
curtains at the front window and peered out.  A strange Ford
passed, its wheel chains clanking on the frozen snow.

She said, "Pshaw now, I hoped it was going to stop."

Ase said, teasing her, "No matter who was in it?"

"Near about.  Haven't laid eyes on a living soul for three days.
Seems as if the kids had been gone three months."

They had been for him three days of beauty and peace, the snow as
white as swan's feathers, the sky pale blue, the air sharp and
clean, the house cozy and silent, except for the cricket, the
clock, and Nellie's casual chatter.  Much of the time he paid no
attention to the words, only listened with delight to the sound of
her voice, as he often listened to the brook purling under the ice.

She said, "I thought maybe it was Joe Wilson and his wife, going
home.  They'd have stopped in."

She returned to the kitchen and came back with a plate of ginger
cookies hot from the oven.  He did not see how he might manage even
one, for she had made him finish the chocolate cake at noon dinner.
He made a pretense of pleasure and of hunger, taking three of the
cookies.  He ate one, and while she was hunting for the cricket
under the sweeping fern fronds, he fed the other two surreptitiously
to the also overfed but greedy dog.  It seemed that she could never
get out of the habit of cooking for a large family.  The doughnut
and cooky crocks were always full, varieties of cakes and pies
accumulated in the pantry, a few wedges cut out of each.  Whatever
friend or neighbor did stop for a visit, went away loaded with
baskets of pastries, of baked beans, of salt-rising bread.  When
callers had been too long absent, he had known her to look with
disgust at an untouched plate of jam tarts, sweep them into the
swill pail for the hogs, turn to and make a fresh batch of the
identical tarts.

He wondered whether this was truly habit, or the expression of her
longing that her children would suddenly appear, to surround the
dining table, to eat and praise her bounty, saying, "Some more,
Ma," returning to her the sense of being loved, useful and no
longer lonely.

She was all he needed of companionship, except for the inexplicable
ache in his heart that he was never done with.  Now young Jan was
easing it.  He was forced to recognize that he alone had never
completed her life.  There must always be the lover and the
beloved, and he had been the lover.  Himself still yearning for Tim
McCarthy, for Doll, for Mink Fisher, for his brother Benjamin,
none, he thought, could know the nature of another's need.  Yet
Nellie's seemed so plainly for her children, even for any passer-by
to serve her gay gregariousness.

He said, "Maybe Nat's right about our not staying here.  Do you
want to leave the farm and move to town?"

She was sitting in the Boston rocker.  She touched her foot to the
floor and set the chair in motion.  She rocked and did not answer.

He said, "Ben will turn up before we get too old.  Then we'll sell
the farm and buy a little house in town for the three of us."

"Ben had better hurry.  You're seventy-one.  How long do you expect
to live?"

He smiled.

"I hadn't thought much about it.  I suppose forever."

"If you figure on being immortal, you'll have to do it without me.
Living one life's almost killed me."

He wondered if he could explain his sense of timelessness.  He did
not think of it as another life, nor yet quite an immortality of
the same one.  It was only, he felt, that individual lives could no
more be separated from life itself than drops of water from the
mass of ocean.  He was willing to give to life the name of "God,"
since men knew no other large enough with which to speak of the
ineffable, the Word made Life.  He supposed men were not yet fit or
ready to be entrusted, desperately as they needed it, with the
secret of the Word.  No, he could not explain.

He said, "Well, Nellie, if you won't go with me, I won't go

She looked at him over her spectacles.

"I know you've always thought crazy, Ase, but talk sense when you
talk to me."

He had never talked anything but sense to her, he thought.  That
was the trouble, the sense was insufficient.

"Has it been such a bad life for you, Nellie?"

The cricket chirped from under the far side of the fern and she
decided on a frond and lifted it.  The cricket turned bright eyes
on her and waved its feelers.  She pounced.  She held it
triumphantly between two fingers.

"Got you, you little devil.  Here, Ase, kill the thing or throw it

He took it from her, careful not to crush it.  He went through the
kitchen to the woodshed.  He released the cricket at the back of
the pile of stove wood.

He said to it and to himself, "You talked too much.  Keep quiet the
rest of the winter so she won't find you again."

He closed the door behind him.  He did have crazy thoughts, he
supposed, and it was surely not sensible to talk to a cricket, even
in his mind.

He reported to Nellie, "I took care of him."

"Good.  I can't stand any kind of bugs in the house."

He thought she had forgotten both of his questions.

She said, "Ase, I don't know.  It's been kind of a mixed up life.
You'll never know what I went through with your mother.  And we
worked so hard and then found the place wasn't ever ours.  And Ben
didn't play fair."

"Does it still hurt you, Nellie?  Ben going away?"

She went to the kitchen and brought a pitcher of water for her

"Should have watered it yesterday," she said.

She replaced the pitcher on its shelf and returned with her mending

"Yes, if you want the truth, I've always missed him."

She began darning one of his socks.

She said, "I must say, Nat's made up for almost everything.  Can't
see why you won't ever visit him with me.  Why, Ase, people fall
all over him out there, you never saw anything like it.  You've
hurt Nat's feelings."

She re-threaded her darning needle.

He studied her.  Her soft curly hair was snow-white, with a silver
overtone.  The wrinkles around her mouth and eyes were laugh
wrinkles.  She was still pink and white and it seemed to him that
she had never been more beautiful.

She said, "Stop gawking at me."

"You're so pretty."

She used an expletive that shocked him.

She darned steadily.  At last she finished and laid down her

She said, "About leaving.  Maybe so.  You can't sell, as long as
you're so stubborn about getting Ben declared dead and gone.  Do
you suppose you could rent the farm?  Think you could get enough,
with what we've saved, to rent a nice place in town?"

He was frightened that she might be serious.  Yet if she was
unhappy here, chose actually to leave, he would do as she wished.

He said, "I'll see the Rabaskis.  I couldn't trust everybody."

She nodded.

"I know.  Most folks'd ruin the land.  Why don't you go over right

"You'll go with me?"

"No, thanks.  I have to make a dried-apple pie for supper."

He groaned inwardly.  She would eat one small piece and would bully
him to finish the rest.  He had given up trying to dissuade her
from this extravagant cooking and baking.  It was too deep a
satisfaction for her.

"How much rent had I better ask?"

"Oh, just let them name a figure, if they're interested.  Then we
can make up our minds."

If he was obliged to leave the farm, he could leave it in no hands
except the Rabaskis'.  Jan was in the cabin, and Eric and young
Elsa.  The babies were sleeping.  Young Jan had gone to play with
the cats in the barn.

Ase said, "I've come on business."

Eric roused from his lethargy.

He said, "You've got another tenant?"

Jan caught the old man's anxiety.

"Haven't I suited you, Mr. Linden?"

"No, no.  I mean, yes, it's the other way around."

He was shocked to see their fear leap, like a flame ready to devour
their house.  Their insecurity was greater than his own.  There was
perhaps for them not ever any haven.  Young Elsa dried her hands on
her apron and drew a chair close to the men by the hearth.  Her
blue eyes were wide.  He wanted to speak quickly, and to the point,
to ease them.

"It's this.  My wife is restless.  She's very lonely with the
family gone.  My son thinks we're too old, he thinks we should
leave the farm and move to town.  She hasn't made up her mind, but
we wondered if you would consider renting the farm?"

Jan and young Elsa looked at each other, then smiled.

She said, "Oh, Mr. Linden, you did scare us."

Jan said, "My lungs almost good now, but I thought sometimes, when
I have to cough, maybe you want stronger man."

"Jan, I couldn't ask for a better man."

He should have said it years ago.

Eric was watching him shrewdly.  Jan drew a long breath and reached
for his pipe.

"So, is good then.  I thank you.  Now, the business.  I say my

He puffed on his pipe.

"If I rent farm, I have to hire other hand, just like you hire me.
Is so much cash there.  So, then I pay rent, is so much cash there.
Maybe it cost more than crops pay.  Excuse me, I think in the out
loud, is surprise idea."

Elsa cried out, "Oh Jan!  We'd certainly break even.  If it would
help Mr. Linden--."

Her eyes were clouded with tears.  Jan rose and bowed gravely,
first to her and then to Ase.  His dark face had paled.

"Mr. Linden, I die of the shame.  I am stranger, and you take me
in.  You give me the life, you give me the bread for wife and
childs, you give me the roof for head, you give me the friend for
heart.  I turn like wolf, give you the ungrateful.  You must
forgive.  Is only, all my life before, is cat eat dog, I think
selfish, I have fear.  I am poor soldier after the all."

He bent to lay a fresh log on the hearth fire.

"My Elsa is the right," he said.  "We do fine, rent your farm.  The
rent, is what you say, what you need."

Eric spoke from his corner.

"Mr. Linden, it isn't what you want at all, leaving the farm, is

His old friend's eyes were twinkling.  He could only be honest.

He said, "No, Eric, it isn't what I want at all."

"Then you go right home and tell Mrs. Linden nobody could afford to
rent the farm.  Just tell her off."

Ase wanted to say, as he had longed to say to Dr. Holder in the
danger of Dolly's birth, "But Nellie is different."

He said, instead, "Jan, I don't think you would lose out by
renting.  But it must be as Mrs. Linden wants."

Eric said, "No man who loves the land he works on wants to be a
tenant.  I've told Jan and Elsa about your brother.  I've had the
idea that some day, when you and I and your brother are gone, they
may be able to buy the farm.  Your Nat and Arent, they won't want

Ase had not carried his confused thoughts on death down so
practical a road.  Death had shown him various of its veiled faces.
One had been a snow-swept stranger, riding away into the night with
Dolly.  One had been a rescuer in armor, reaching down to save
Willis from his abyss.  The death that had taken Mink, and Tim, and
the Old One, had neither stolen nor saved.  They had slipped easily
into other elements where they were at home, in bog, in earth, in
summer wind.  For himself, he would not know until the moment came.
But of course, the land would remain, to be disposed of.

Eric said, "All Nat will want will be to turn it into cash.  You
know that."

Yes, he knew.  He knew as well that the value of the land as a farm
would not satisfy Nat.  Once he himself was gone, nothing would
stop Nat's factory settlement schemes.  The Rabaskis could only
move on then as tenants elsewhere.  It seemed to him that he should
prepare them now.  Yet meantime, no other landowner would give them
such advantageous terms, so good a house, so generous a share of
the breeding stock.  He could not bring himself to speak of Nat's

Jan said comfortably, "Things work out okay.  I know one thing, Mr.
Linden, we going have two fine farmers pretty soon, my Carl and my
Louey.  Nine and eight years, they milk good already, love help
plant seed, everything.  Hans, I don't know, he got that mechanic
Swede in him from his grandpa here."

Eric chuckled.  He seemed like his old self today.

Jan said, "Young Jan, now, maybe you know what do with him some
day.  I think sometimes maybe is going be crazy."  He winked at
Elsa.  "From the mama side.  Or awful smart, from papa side.  Mr.
Linden, you know that boy better I do, don't he seem kind of like
old man?  He ask goddammest questions, things I never think of."

Ase said, "He's smart, Jan.  He asks me questions, too, I can't

Many of them, he thought, were ones he himself had asked of an
unanswering void.

Jan said, "Anyway, is good Rabaski kids, all.  Carl, Louey, Hans,
learn good in school.  Mr. Linden, don't you think I turn out
pretty good American?  Got citizen paper, don't I learn talk
American like anybody?"

Ase put his hand to his mouth to cover his smile.  Elsa burst into
laughter.  Jan turned to her, his eyebrows lifted.  She ran to him
and held his dark head against her breast.

"You talk wonderfully."

"Don't laugh like crazy, then.  You understand okay when all I can
say was, 'love you, Elsa.'  So what?"

"So--oh, Jan."

Eric and Ase stared into the fire, each with his memories of love.
The cabin door slammed open and young Jan ran in.

"Mr. Linden!  I just saw your tracks in the snow."

The boy climbed into his bony lap, as always, as though he merely
claimed his own.

"How long have you been here?"

"A little while.  I was talking business with your mother and

"Do you have to go back right away?"


The boy spoke passionately.

"Then tell me.  Tell me some more.  Tell me when Dolly was six
years old.  Tell me when you were six years old, like me."

Young Jan was not at the moment the wise old man, he was all child,
delighting in tales, some of them oft told.

"Tell me!"

Elsa lifted a finger.

"Don't let him wear you out, Mr. Linden.  I'll make coffee, for
when you're through."

Ase began, to the intent child, "I told you about Dolly and the
little pig.  The one she dressed in the doll's clothes."

"Tell it again."

He repeated the story.  Eric joined Elsa in the kitchen.  Big Jan
left the cabin to see to the lambs.  Ase was alone with the boy.
He had never told him of Mink Fisher.  He told him now.

He said, "When I was six years old, I had an Indian for a friend."

"A real Indian?"

"A real one."

He had told some of his tales of Mink Fisher to Dolly, but there
was a difference here, he was telling them now to a man-child, and
so he told of the hunts, the trapping, the camping.  He told young
Jan, as he had told his Doll, of the mythical trek across the Milky

Young Jan said, "But you couldn't really walk across it, could
you?" and it was the question Doll had asked, and Ase was shaken,
and said, "No, only in your mind."

"Tell me more about Mink Fisher."

"Well, Jan, I was in trouble, and my brother was in trouble.  Mink
Fisher found my brother and brought me word from him."

He found himself telling the story of so long ago, of Mink's long
search for Benjamin, of Mink's return with news, of Mink's death.
He became aware that the boy was trembling.  So, Ase thought in
misery, he had been stupid again.  Having found his tongue, his
words, he had alarmed the child.

The boy said passionately, "He was your friend.  He came all that
way because he was your friend."

Ase thought, this was not to be believed, this young understanding.

He said, "Yes.  And he was my father, too.  Not my real father, but
the one who taught me."

Elsa called, from the kitchen, "Coffee ready, Mr. Linden."

He said, "No, I must go."

Young Jan clutched his legs.

He said, "Please don't leave me.  You're my friend.  You're my

Elsa called out, "Now, Jan, let Mr. Linden go."

Ase trudged back to his house.  Nellie had supper ready and
waiting, including the pie he must finish.

He said, "The Rabaskis don't think they can afford to rent the

She said placidly, "That's all right.  I decided I couldn't bear to
have another woman's bread in my pantry, not even Elsa's."

He realized that she had made her decision long before she had sent
him on his errand.  He felt that a crisis had been safely passed.


The late April day was balmy.  Spring had come early this year and
the bees were frantic with the bounty of the apple blossoms.  The
strong scent of Nellie's lilacs absorbed the cooler perfume of the
fruit bloom.  The tulips bordering the front path opened their
gaudy cups, but the bees had little time for their meagre honey.

Nellie sat on the edge of the bed to rest before Ase finished
helping her to dress.  Since her stroke, she had been impatient
with any touch but his.  Even Elsa annoyed her.  Nellie had
recovered, but one hand was almost useless.  Ase adjusted her lace
collar.  She lifted her chin for him to fasten the collar with
Nat's diamond brooch.  His big gnarled fingers took out a hairpin
and tucked back one of her wayward curls.  He put an arm around her
and helped her to her feet.  She clung to him as she balanced.  It
was strangely sweet to him.  She had never clutched him so, so
turned to him, calling eagerly, "Ase!  Ase!", if he left her for a
moment in the hot days and nights of their youth.  It was as though
the need of him that she had not felt in her passion, filled her
completely, now that all passion was gone.

He asked anxiously, "You're sure the drive won't be too much for

"Feel the best I have in a long time.  I want to see those new
buildings in Peytonville."

He chose a coat from her cupboard, warmer than she might need,
since an April day could blow hot or cold at a moment's notice.  He
took down a hat box from a shelf.

"Ase, don't make me wear a hat."

She had always worn one as seldom as possible, perhaps for vanity
in her hair.  The only ones he could remember her wearing had been
actually not hats at all, but the hood attached to the red cape of
their early time together, and later, the blue quilted bonnet he
had given her.  From both of these her curls had stood out
charmingly around her face, as she must have known.  He opened a
dresser drawer and selected a pale blue gossamer wool scarf from
the large assortment.  He wondered why people gave old ladies
almost nothing but scarves and handkerchiefs.  Nellie liked toilet
water and candy and sherry wine.  He arranged the scarf over her
head and tied the ends loosely under her chin.  He pulled out a few
silver curls around her ears.

"Now it hides my brooch," she complained.

"If the day stays warm, you can take it off when we get into town."

"Shall I come to the front door or the side door?"

He said sternly, "You sit right here until I drive the car around
and come back for you."

"You forgot my handkerchief."

He picked one of her best ones and sprinkled it with her favorite

"Put some on me, too.  Here, give me the bottle."

She took it in her good hand and doused herself liberally.  He
reached for it and she gave the bottle a quick slap upward, so that
his sleeve was drenched with "an indefinable fragrance," according
to the label.  He tried to mop it off.

He said furiously, "Now how can I go into the bank smelling like a
confounded woman!"

She laughed like an imp.

"Ase, you should see your face."

How many years had it been that he had been falling into her traps?
Sixty years, and he was still her fool, her willing and delighted
fool.  And for sixty years she had been saying, "You should see
your face."

He said, not entirely appeased, "If you don't care what people say
about your husband, it's perfectly all right."

He leaned down and kissed her forehead.

"Never mind, anything you do is all right.  It always has been."

She said, suddenly sobered, "I know.  Oh Ase, you've been a good

He marveled that it was necessary for him to reach the age of
eighty for her to say what she had never said before.  Then he knew
that he could not have borne it earlier, as he could not have borne
this new dependence of hers in her illness.  If these things had
been present with his young passion for her, he would have
exploded, would have perished from too much joy, and so have been
unable to nurse her now in her quite different need.

He said, "Don't move until I come."

Yet when he drove the automobile to the side of the house she was
waiting.  She stood there, holding to the door so proudly, that he
could not scold her.

She said, "I couldn't wait.  I'm not used to it.  I've never been
an old woman before."

He lifted her in his arms and deposited her in the front seat of
the car.  He set out for Peytonville, driving slowly and carefully.
He had bought his first car ten years ago, when she had made the
decision not to leave the farm.  It had proved wise and helpful,
for he could deliver her to Peytonville shortly, compared with the
time of horse and buggy.  She had been able to visit her friends as
often as she wished and had been more contented.  This was his
second automobile, but he was never done with the marvel of such

Neither had he ever gotten over a certain uneasiness as the car
started.  It reminded him of the long-ago horse Prince, who gave
the same leap forward and was never to be counted on not to bolt at
once.  His own absent-mindedness was something of a menace.  He
could not safely sit hunched and abstracted with slack reins,
leaving the road to horse or team.  The ditches were a constant
peril, especially when Nellie was not along to remind him sharply.
His slow speed was his protection.  His long legs were angled and
cramped under the wheel, his bony elbows made acute angles, so that
pedestrians often smiled as he drove by.  Nellie said it was the
first time an oversized daddy long-legs had been seen driving an
automobile.  It had seemed to him that it would have been easier to
learn to fly an airplane.  If a man was going to leave his feet,
the back of his horse, or the earth-hugging wheels of buggy and of
wagon, a plane somehow seemed more logical an advance than the
horseless carriage, which was exactly that and no more.

Nellie said, "Now you're coming to the highway.  Remember, the car
won't turn itself and there'll be other cars going like the devil."

He had indeed not noticed that they were leaving the Linden country
road.  He came to a full stop and watched to his left while Nellie
watched to the right.  The traffic was heavy.  Trent had become an
enormous industrial city.  Peytonville had acquired several
prosperous minor industries with an expanded population and now
called itself "Peyton City."  The younger residents and the
newcomers were outraged when the oldtimers persisted in speaking of

Nellie said, "All clear this way."

He accelerated and the car leaped like Prince into the middle of
the highway.  He turned left toward what he and Nellie still
referred to as the village.  He remembered the day so many years
ago when he had imagined himself following Ben to the west.  He
recalled that even then he had wanted to ride the eagle.  The
airplane was man's tame eagle.  It was more, it was man's desire
for wings, no longer to be earthbound.  He thought of the story of
Icarus in the encyclopedia.  It had stirred him deeply, for he felt
himself in accord with this man's craving.  He had acquired a new
encyclopedia, being unsatisfied by the old, and here he had read in
rapture of the Wright brothers, who had adapted the principles of
bird flight to human flight.  Mechanical and clumsy though it had
proved to be, their principle seemed to him important, but why, he
could not tell.

Nellie said, "Now go real slow, Ase.  Are those the grain

"The two tallest are.  The other is the new office building."

"Look, Ase, you didn't tell me they've fixed over the Peyton House.
Like a city hotel, isn't it?"

The car crept along the altered streets.  Main Street had been
widened.  There were street lights and four traffic signals.  Among
the new buildings an old shop here and there stood as always,
narrow and shabby.  The notion store was fighting a losing battle
against a bright fronted five-and-ten.  Doc Brown the druggist had
made concessions, enlarging his show windows and carrying a line of
goods in which he had little interest.  His soda counter was almost
the same, and folk still came from miles around for his homemade
ice cream.  He had taken over the small circulating library, its
contents the modern equivalent of "The Duchess," so that Ase no
longer troubled to study the titles.  The town had no other

Some years before, he had discovered the public library in Trent.
He went once a month for a book or two, being a slow reader.  When
Nellie did not hurry him, he browsed among the open stacks, looking
into books whose titles seemed the keys he had so long searched
for.  Too often a title was misleading.  Some of the books that
provided the richest fare were hidden under unrevealing names, like
a rare soul behind a drab face.  He had begun to find his way past
the magic gates, down a long corridor and into the world he had
dreamed of.  Yet it was almost too late, as for a man who, dying of
starvation, cannot now digest the banquet that earlier would have
saved him.

Nellie said, "Nothing much changed through here."

The streets outside the business district were lined with elms and
maples.  No one of the white-painted houses was newer than fifty
years.  They varied from the neat little box of the Lilley sisters,
through modest homes unobtrusively Victorian, to an occasional
small mansion a hundred and fifty years of age, or more, columned
and serene.  The yards were green with new grass.  Many of the
housewives were working the flowers and shrubs in their perennial
beds and borders.  Nellie waved to those of her acquaintance.  Ase
stopped the car often for a particular friend to speak with her, to
ask details of her health, to urge her to come in for a visit.  It
was her first trip since her illness, she explained, and she had
best not get out.  She held her little court along the way with

Ase drove into the outskirts where mediocre bungalows were closely
clustered, and on to the section of bleak flats where shacks had
been thrown up for the industrial workers.  Nellie wrinkled her
nose in distaste.  Ase circled by the new factories and returned to
Main Street.  He had Doc Brown send out a chocolate soda to her
while he did his own business at the bank.  He had a sizeable
deposit to make from the sale of early spring lambs.

At the turn of the highway toward home, he asked, "Shall we go on
to Trent?"

"What do you want there?  Just some more books?  Another time, Ase,
I'm sort of giving out."

He looked at her anxiously.  Her exhilaration had passed.  Her face
was pale and pinched.  There were blue circles under her eyes.

"I'm afraid I've let you overdo it today, Nellie."

He drove faster, concentrating on the rutted country road the last
few miles.  He drew in by the side of the house.  He opened her car
door and held out his arms to lift her down.

"Ase, I feel so faint--."

Her head in the blue gossamer scarf jerked backward.  Her eyes
closed, opened, then rolled, unseeing.  She collapsed on the seat.
He carried her, a limp rag doll, in the house and to their bed.  He
felt for her pulse, but could not tell whether the beat was hers or
from his own heart.  He stumbled to the wall telephone.  He could
not remember the name of the young doctor in the village.  He rang.

He said to the operator, "Please send the doctor right away to the
Linden farm."

The precise voice said, "I beg your pardon.  Number, please."

He had forgotten the enlarged telephone exchange, and that the
elderly maiden lady operators who knew everyone, with whom messages
of any sort could be left, had long since been replaced by younger,
more efficient women.

He said desperately, "I want the new doctor in Peytonville."

"I will give you Information."

The doctor was out when the call reached his office.  Ase could
only ask that he be located and sent as soon as possible.  He was
asked for explicit directions.

"But everyone knows where it is."

"Sorry, sir.  Dr. Manley would not know.  Four miles out of town on
the Trent highway--a right turn onto a country road--four miles--
the first and only house on the left--.  Thank you, sir.  You are
positive this is an emergency?  The doctor is very busy--."

It seemed to Ase that it had taken no longer than this for Tim
McCarthy to hitch up, to drive horse and buggy to Peytonville, that
by now Dr. Holder would have been reining in sharply, hurrying with
his black bag.  He went to Nellie.  He must see her again before he
called across the road to Elsa.  He leaned over the bed.  Nellie's
eyes stared at the ceiling.  He understood that they would never
close of themselves again.  He dropped on the bed beside her body.
She had gone away without him.  He had not been there to brush back
her curls, to stroke her forehead, to hold her hand.  He lay a long
time, touching now and then her small warmth, her throat, her
breast, he knew he could not touch her again when she was cold, for
that would not be Nellie.  He was aroused toward evening by the
sound of a car in the drive.  He heard voices.  He went to the
door.  Elsa brought in the doctor.

"Mr. Linden, why didn't you call me?  I didn't dream she was sick

The doctor said, "Where is the patient?"

Ase stared at him.

He wanted to say, "I don't know."

Where was his little Nellie Wilson indeed?  His sense of the
oneness, the timelessness, of God, of Man, of Life, had failed him.
Nellie did not seem to fit into the pattern.  Her mischievous
vitality had no place in his theories or his philosophy.  She would
reject the outer cosmic spaces, as she had rejected all thought of
immortality of body or of spirit, the one life, she had said
jestingly, having almost killed her.  Yet surely she was not lost
entirely.  Something of her would forever breathe with the lilacs,
would give delight to other lovers on other windy springtime hills.
Elsa poked the doctor with her elbow.

"He's very much upset," she whispered.  "I've never seen a man so
crazy about his wife.  Come with me."

The doctor returned.

"Mr. Linden, your wife has been dead for hours.  You are a farmer,
certainly you must know death when you see it."

Yes, Ase thought, he knew death when he saw it.  He did not answer.
The doctor took out pad and pencil.

Elsa said, "I'll give you any information you need, Doctor."

The afternoon alone with Nellie had been a rare blessing.  He would
prefer to go now to the Linden cemetery and dig her grave with his
own hands.  He would like to carry her there, just as she was, in
his arms, as he had carried Mink Fisher to his more secret burial
place.  He would smooth the earth over her and plant in silence
living flowers from her garden, peonies and tulips.  Instead, there
were unctuous strangers to be admitted, ceremonies to be gone
through with, Nat and the others to be sent for.

He had been prepared for the loss of Nellie when Doll was born.  He
had looked then into the face of death, which, once seen closely,
may never again so shock and terrify.  Death had sat by his
hearthside, waiting for Tim McCarthy, for his mother, for Mink
Fisher.  Death, not he, had carried into his house the frozen body
of his Doll.  He had long ago drunk too deeply of his cup of
anguish to be befuddled by it now.

He said, "Sit down, Doctor.  I'll answer your questions.  Her name
was Nellie Wilson Linden.  Her age was seventy-nine--."


Ase stood under the yellowing poplars waiting for the rural mail
carrier.  He thought of the early days when he must drive to
Peytonville on Saturday for mail and newspapers.  It had been the
most satisfying day of the week, for there were always at least the
two weekly papers in his box.  Visiting in the post office had been
pleasant, too, and the trading of Nellie's eggs and butter, always
more lively when she went with him.  The rural free delivery later
had been a great convenience, of course.  Now so often the carrier
passed by, calling out cheerily, "Nothing for Linden today!" and
then the disappointment was severe.  Since Nellie's death in the
spring, the children wrote him only occasionally.

The carrier was running late.  Ase eased himself to the ground and
stretched out his long legs.  The day was warm, for October, but
under the shade of the poplar trees he became conscious of the
chill of the earth.  He got stiffly to his feet again and moved
closer to the road to stand in the sunshine.  He looked out over
his fields and orchards.  The farm crops had been abundant this
year, almost every one had been harvested profitably, but the
orchards were another matter.  In his lifetime he had made three
plantings of the short-lived peach trees.  The last planting, set
out by Jan Rabaski and his sons, would produce perhaps ten more
years, then be done for.  The apple orchard was nearly sixty years
old.  The trees were gnarled, the apples small and unmarketable,
except for making cider.  He should have replaced it years ago, but
with an unreasonable tenacity, which he now acknowledged to
himself, he had thought of it as Ben's orchard, to be preserved in
its original state against his brother's homecoming.  He had been a
stubborn man, he thought, about the wrong things.

He listened to the familiar farm sounds.  The breeding bull was
bellowing from his enclosure, the cows and heifers were answering
from their pasture.  Big Jan and Carl and Louey were anxious to
enlarge the herd, for a sizeable dairy would be most profitable.
The sheep required much attention at lambing time, but they paid
well.  Nellie had taken care of her money-making flocks of chickens
and turkeys until her first stroke a year or more ago, when he had
cut them down to the modest numbers that Elsa could handle, along
with her help in the Linden house.

The Rabaskis had thrived with him.  They were cheerfully using
their savings to send Carl and Louey to the Agricultural College.
This had meant an automobile for the boys' use as well, so that
they might live at home and work mornings, evenings and week-ends
at the farming that would soon, they promised, be entirely
scientific.  In another year Hans would be ready for the mechanical
courses.  He was inclined to think that he would stay on the farm,
too.  The acreage was large enough to warrant the use of his talent
for machinery.  A big dairy herd would require electrical milkers,
an electric pump, and so on.  The power machines, the cultivators,
reapers, binders, balers, sprayers, the silo with electric hoist,
that Ase had as yet not been talked into by the Rabaskis, would
take a full-time mechanic.

There would be no money left, Rabaski said, for college for young
Jan.  At sixteen, the boy was frail, and a dreamer.  He loved the
farm as passionately as the rest of them, kept up his end of the
chores, but was of little help, otherwise, and never would be.  He
worked at odd hydraulic experiments in the running brook, or sat
beside it and wrote poetry.  Nat was right in one respect, Ase
thought.  He himself was of no help here, either.

He heard the mail carrier's car and moved hopefully to the mail
box.  The carrier stopped.

"Plenty of mail today, Mr. Linden."

It was toward the end of the week, and there were half a dozen
assorted papers and magazines, and two letters.

Ase recognized Nat's engraved stationery as the carrier remarked,
"Know this will please you, hearing from the west."

Ase lifted his hand in thanks as the mail car drove on.  He walked
slowly up the front walk and into the house.  The constant dull
throbbing in his heart always became more acute when he entered the
house and Nellie was not there.  Sometimes, when absorbed, he
forgot that she was dead.  He found himself looking for her, in
kitchen, pantry or cellar.  Then a cold blast rocked him back on
his heels as he remembered.

He sat down in the Boston rocker in the front room.  He laid the
periodicals on the round table and opened Nat's letter.  Nellie
would have rejoiced in its thickness.  He himself had always a
vague dread when he heard from Nat.  He put on his spectacles and

"Dear Pa:

"I think you will agree that we have been patient with you long
enough.  You are an old man and you cannot continue trying to
oversee the running of the farm.  We went through all this after Ma
died.  I hoped you'd have come to your senses in these six months.

"For your protection as well as ours, I am going ahead with the
plans I outlined to you.  My lawyers are now making the preliminary
arrangements.  They have drawn up papers to have Uncle Ben declared
legally dead, having advertised for his whereabouts, with no
response.  This should have been done years ago.

"You will be given title to the property.  You will then convey
your title outright to the Linden Development Corporation, which is
made up of Arent, 'Melie, Crockett and me.  This will save us a
sizeable inheritance tax, as the place has become more valuable
than you realize, because of its proximity to Trent.  As I told you
in the spring, after Ma's funeral, your suggestion that the
Rabaskis be allowed to buy the land as mere farm land, 'when the
time came,' as you put it, could not be more ridiculous.  All they
could offer was a modest down payment and a mortgage, where there
will be a small fortune in my ball-bearing factory, with the
surrounding settlement of workers' cottages on a rental basis.
Such rentals are infinitely more profitable than outright sales.
And now is the moment for such a project.  Whether or not we are
drawn into this new European war, in case you have read anything
about it, the war will be a great money maker, even more so, I must
say, if we are fools enough to become involved.

"You said that you 'owed' a great deal to the Rabaskis.  You owe
them nothing.  They are foreign transients.  You have always been
too generous with them.  They will do just as well on some other

"Don't think for a minute that I am not considering your welfare.
We should prefer that you make your home with us, but if you still
insist on refusing, we shall arrange for a comfortable boarding
home in Peyton.  This will probably suit you best, as you seem
never to have cared to venture beyond your township.  I shall of
course provide you with a generous income.

"I am extremely busy, as I plan to run for Governor next year, but
I have taken the time to write you at such length in the hope that
you will understand the situation and will feel satisfied with what
I am doing.  I have expressed myself as simply as possible, but if
there is anything you do not understand, ask me questions.  Your
mind was definitely wandering when we came for Ma's funeral.  Dear
Ma, I'll never get over missing her.  Sometimes I worry about you,
remembering that Grandmother Linden was crazy.

"I will have everything settled in a month or so.  Give the
Rabaskis notice, and plan to leave the farm yourself by the end of

                                             Your loving son,


Ase dropped the letter on the table as though to rid himself of
something obscene.  He pulled out his handkerchief and wiped his
fingers.  The anger that filled him was a long-dammed flood.  He
began pacing the floor, stooped and trembling.  His rage was so
great that he felt that if he had Nat there before him, he would be
strong enough to shake him until the teeth chattered in the hard,
complacent face.

He was obliged to sit down again.  He mopped his forehead.  Nat's
evil had come home to him to roost.  He understood the letter
entirely too well.  He was sickened by the implied insults.  "In
case he had read anything about this new European war--."  This was
the first day in months that he had not turned first to the foreign
news in his papers.  He felt surely, but humbly, too, conscious of
his ignorance, that horror was abroad on the earth, and had asked
himself what any one man might do to stop it.  He could not be
alone, or simple-minded, in considering war too primitive an
attempt to resolve the differences among men's varying greeds,
among their differences of mind and philosophy.

He reached for one of his newspapers.  He must try to answer Nat,
if Nat could ever be answered.  He opened the newspaper on his
knees.  The second letter in his mail dropped from between the
pages.  He smiled.  It was addressed in pencil in an illiterate
hand and was stamped from the west coast.  This would be Joe again,
his hired man of years before, telling as usual a fabulous tale of
hard luck which would seem to call for a regiment of troops and a
thousand dollars to rescue Joe from his troubles, and ending with a
postscript asking for the "loan" of a five or ten.

Ase opened the letter.

"Dear Sir,

"A gentulman in my house, Mr. Benjamin Linden, has ask me to write
you to tell you he is very sick.  He says will you please come.  He
says you are his brother.

                                         Yours very truly,

                                             Mrs. Athalia Brown."


The road that had been so long twisted seemed to him to run plain
and straight before him.  He even felt no great need of hurry.
Benjamin would wait for him.  There would of course be time for
thinking on the way, but some things had best be decided now.  He
who had lived a formless life would make plans at last.  He could
not gather all the loose and tangled threads together to make a
pattern, for the last one lay, as it had always lain, in his
brother's hands.  The farm.  In his need, Ben might already have
disposed of it, the Rabaskis might well, at this moment, be

In the years that he and Nellie had had the rural telephone, "Nat's
'phone," Nellie called it, her life-saver for communication, he had
seldom used it.  Only toward noon it occurred to him that he need
not drive to Peytonville to send a telegram.  He rang, with the
sense that it was too easy for so important a matter, and dictated
the message to Athalia Brown, "Am coming."  Hanging up the
receiver, he wondered why he had not addressed the wire to Ben
himself, knew then that his first words to him must be in person.
He heard sounds from the kitchen.  That would be Elsa, come to
prepare his dinner.  He was not ready for her, neither for appetite
nor giving her his news.

"Mr. Linden?"

It was young Jan, calling from the doorway.  The familiar warmth
came over him.  It was this boy to whom he wished to speak.

"Mr. Linden, Mother sent me with your dinner on a tray.  She sends
her apologies, Greta seems to be coming down with the measles and
she didn't want to leave her.  Is it all right?"

Ase said, "Come in, Jan.  It's all right.  Are you hungry?"

"We had our dinner early."

"Then sit down, Jan.  I want to talk with you.  I have had news
from my brother.  He has sent for me."

"I'm glad, Mr. Linden.  You never gave him up, did you?"


"I think when you feel about someone as you do about him, you would
know when he died.  A radio wave would be interrupted, some sort of
static would tell you communication was broken."

"Even if the communication had always been one-way?"

"I think so.  Of course, when it's two-way, the static must be
terrible.  It would be like lightning."

"I hope it never happens to you, Jan."

"It will happen when I have to lose you."

The boy spoke simply, having made his declaration of love in his
childhood, so that it was natural now to reaffirm it so.

He added, "You mustn't let it happen any sooner than you have to."

"I'm an old man, Jan."

"Has it seemed long?"

"Why, no, Jan.  It hasn't seemed any time at all."

"You'd never be any different yourself, Mr. Linden, but would you
do things differently if you had the chance again?"

"Very differently."

"I've always thought you wanted something you never had.  It would
help to know in time, wouldn't it?"

"Yes.  Jan, have you decided what you want?"

"Not actually.  I have to know more, to be sure."

The boy leaned toward him.  He was pale.  His mind and spirit
burned with an almost visible white flame.  It seemed to Ase that
this accounted for his physical frailty.  His tall, fine-boned body
had an insufficient margin of strength, as though it could not
support at once itself and that consuming candle-power.

"It has to be something in science.  But abstract science, I'd want
to be a physicist, not an engineer.  I won't know whether I have a
good enough mind for the kind of thing I mean until I go farther
and learn more.  Father can't manage college for me, on the heels
of Carl and Louey and Hans, we had to get them through, for the
sake of the farm.  I'm going to begin working my way.  I can't
understand why I'm not tougher, there's nothing wrong with me.  If
I give out, I'll have to go as far as I can with just reading.  The
trouble is, I don't know the right books, even books on abstract
thinking.  But I can find out."

Ase said, "I never knew the right books, either.  In time.  When I
began to find them, I couldn't quite understand.  I suppose a mind
has to be used."

"It's a catalytic process."

"You see," he said, "I don't even know what that means."

The tall fair boy smiled, too.

"What you wanted to be was a philosopher," he said.  "You are one.
It's all been locked up inside you.  I'll explain catalysis some
day, when I'm sure I know what it is, myself."

"Now who is the old man?  You were born old, Jan."

The understanding flashed between them.

Jan said shyly, "And the poetry keeps messing me up.  Nobody knows
about it but you.  I don't even know whether it's poetry or only
me, trying to put in words what I see and feel."

"Perhaps it's all the same thing."

"Perhaps.  But what I mean, could anybody be a physicist and a
poet, too?  I have to KNOW more, one way or the other, or even both

Ase was certain now.  Jan would set his goal in sight.  Whatever he
became, scientist or poet, physician or professor, he would bring
to his life's work an integrity, a purity, a dedication, that were
the marks, Ase recognized belatedly, of great souls.

He said, "I probably don't need to say this to you, Jan, but it's
taken me eighty years to know it.  There is good and there is evil,
and every man has to throw his weight on one side or the other."

He paused, embarrassed, astonished to find himself articulate at

Jan said, "I've never thought of that."

"That's what is dangerous.  We don't always recognize the moments
when we have to choose."

"But a good man would never choose the evil."

"No.  He compromises, Jan.  Or he does nothing.  Sometimes he only
says nothing.  He could have put up a small barrier, but he leaves
the way clear for the evil to move in."

The boy nodded.

"I see what you mean.  It's a battle, and you can't be passive.  I
think that would have been my tendency.  I'll watch out for the

This much was done, then.

Ase said, "My brother is very ill.  I must take the train tomorrow,
if I can take care of some business today."

"What can I do to help you?"

"If you'll drive me to Peytonville now, before the bank closes.
I'm not a reliable driver even when I have nothing on my mind."

"Mr. Linden, we've let your dinner get cold.  Mother'll never trust
me again."

"Never mind.  I'll have something later."

They drove with little talk.  Their silences together were as
companionable as their speech.  The bank was open.  Judge Simmons'
lawyer-son was in his father's old office.  Ase sent Jan to buy his
ticket, and then to wait for him.

Simmons listened carefully, without interruption, tapping his
pencil in his father's habit.

"I see.  Yes, Mr. Linden, your wishes can be carried out very
simply.  The only possible dispute might come over whether a
portion of the live stock could be considered as part of the farm
property, instead of your own, since your brother allowed you only
usage.  It could certainly amount to too small a matter for Nat to
quibble over.  Your provision for him is generous, in any case,
especially since, as you say, and as I know, he could buy and sell
all of Peyton City and never miss the money.  You must be very
proud of him."

Simmons began to jot down notes.

"The sum of five thousand dollars outright to Nathaniel Linden--it
would be customary to say, 'my son, Nathaniel Linden'--"

"Just the name will do."

"Said sum representing payment of debt to Nathaniel Linden for
education of Willis Linden, deceased--"

The five thousand dollars were from Willis' war insurance policy,
which he had made out to his father.  Ase and Nellie had never
touched it, having in fact no need to.  It was blood money, Ase
thought, he would prefer to have disposed of it otherwise, but let
it return to Nat, perhaps to shame him.  It would at least be a
thrown sop to his greed, deterring him from fighting for all

"'To Jan Rabaski, senior, and/or his heirs and assigns, all live
stock on the Benjamin Linden farm, all farm machinery and
equipment'--(it might be a good idea, Mr. Linden, to say, 'bred' as
to the stock, and 'acquired' as to equipment) 'since usage'--(I'll
check the date)--'allowed me, Asahel Linden, of such stock and
equipment by owner, Benjamin Linden.'  Mr. Linden, this part of
your arrangements would be much simpler if you wait until after you
have seen your brother.  You will know then whether he has already
made some disposition of the farm."

Ase had himself wondered if he were being precipitous.  There were
answers to be had from Ben that would resolve so many puzzles.  It
was strange, he felt no hurry in reaching his brother, but he felt
a compulsion for himself.

He said, "I want to do what I can, now."

"Very well.  Now we come to the provision for Jan Rabaski, junior,
not mentioned in your will.  It is your intention to establish a
trust fund for him at once?  To relinquish your total cash holdings
toward that purpose?"

"That is my intention."

"But Mr. Linden, if you do this, you have nothing left for yourself
but the five thousand devised, on your death, to Nat.  You are of
tough pioneer stock, sir, like my father, you may live to be a
hundred.  Assuming that for one thing, and for another, that the
Linden farm may have passed to other hands, you must retain enough
to live on.  You must protect yourself."

Ase said, "I am protecting myself for the first time in my life."

"Just as you say, but it seems a risk.  So, for this young Rabaski,
the trust fund, he is to have the income to use as he chooses,
until he is of legal age, twenty-one, when he is to have the
principal, to use again as he sees fit, for study, travel, I
believe that is what you mentioned?  Are you sure of this?"

"I am sure.  I must ask you another question.  Could it be claimed
that I was of unsound mind in doing these things?"

Simmons laughed.

"Not in this township.  Mr. Linden, you don't know how we respect

Ase said, "Can we finish the business today?  I must leave
tomorrow, to go to my brother."

"Certainly.  I'll have my stenographer type up your will, and we
can have it witnessed here.  We'd better go to the bank, to finish
the matter of the trust fund for this exceptional, you say, young
man.  Then you can go west in peace."

Ase drove back to the farm with his only true though unbegotten
son, their kinship not of the blood but of the spirit.  The
physical continuity of the generations bore little or no relation,
he thought, to that kinship of mind that flashed its inexplicable
recognition, one beacon signaling another across the darkness.


The towns flashed by the train window, the farms and open fields
flashed by.  If it were not for an occasional rocking on the rails,
for acceleration now, deceleration then, Ase thought that it was
like sitting in a magic vacuum, watching the earth roll by.  An
eastbound train roared past on the next track, and then his own
westbound one seemed indeed stationary.  The other was gone with a
final swish like the crack of a bull whip.  The landscape resumed
its swift-moving panorama.  Ase had the double seats to himself and
he stretched out his long legs comfortably.

This was an astonishing way to cross the continent, in speed and
luxury.  He had always thought of the crossing in terms, if not
actually of the covered wagons, at least of plodding struggle.
True, Benjamin had gone west by railroad those sixty years ago, but
Ase recalled the ancient, dingy, sooty trains out of Peytonville,
jerking and faltering, as though the effort to reach the west would
be too much for them, as it had once been for many of the oxen, the
men and women and children.

The train altered its rhythm over a bridge, and there was a wide
river beneath.  Ase stared at the swirling waters, muddy with the
waste of topsoil.  He had never seen a river, no body of water
larger than Pip Lake and the brook that ran gently under the
weeping willows, except in time of flood.  Even in flood the brook
had been a puny thing, compared with this slow powerful stream like
a winding serpent.  The river vanished, and he saw an expanse of
forest, quite different from his own small woods.  Without slowing,
the train passed through the main street of a village.  The gates
were lowered, a bell was ringing, and ragged children waved at the
side of an old watchman.  Ase waved back to them.

It seemed the train would shear off the shabby house fronts.  The
broken porches, the bare yards with a few dusty zinnias and dahlias
reached almost to the railroad tracks.  He was astonished by such
poverty.  The farms beyond the town were poor and eroded, the
buildings were shanties, the stock was haggard.  Somehow he had
expected the land to be richer the farther west it went.  Then
great dairy farms appeared, with enormous silos and sleek cows with
udders that must hold gallons for each milking.  There were long
narrow truck farms, with the autumn vegetables laid out in green
and orange rows as handsome as Nellie's flower garden.  The train
slowed but did not stop and there were grimy suburbs and tall
office and factory buildings visible across a waste of billboards
and dump heaps, and he understood that the prosperous dairy and
truck farms fed some large city.  The train clacked across a
switch, passed rows of freight cars, then left all trace of the
city behind, and there were farms again.

The sun dropped toward its setting.  He looked through the opposite
windows at the western glow, the orange of the squash and pumpkins
of the past miles.  A man sitting across the aisle caught his eye
and spoke.

"Days getting shorter.  Soon be dark."

Ase nodded.


It gave him a warm feeling to be spoken to by a stranger.  He
cleared his throat, trying to think of a further item of

"They don't seem to have had much frost on the crops out here yet,"
he said.

"I wouldn't know about that.  Crops to me are just something that
ends up on the table, mighty high priced, too, in the city.  I
expect you're a farmer."

Ase inclined his head gravely.

"Yes, sir.  All my life."

The stranger did not reply.  Something more in the way of courtesy
seemed to be called for.  Ase noticed the man's small leather case
on the seat beside him.

He said, "I suppose you are a drummer, sir."

The man threw back his head and laughed.

"I haven't heard that word since I was a kid.  They call us
traveling salesmen now.  We don't drum up trade any more, you know.
It's a favor when we sell you something you don't want."

A call came through, "First call for dinner."  The stranger left.

Ase remembered that Nellie had told him of eating on the diners on
her trips to and from the West, but Elsa had packed a shoebox full
of food for him.  If the train would ever stop at some small place
where he might hand over the box to such children as he had seen at
the railroad crossing, his conscience would be clear, but the train
went swiftly through such places, and he was unwilling to waste the
food, not for its value in money, but because it stood for too many
hours of men's labor.  He ignored the waiter's half-question at his
side, "Diner, two cars to the rear," and opened Elsa's box.  There
were fried chicken and hard-boiled eggs, bread-and-butter and ham
sandwiches, pickles and apple tarts, all planned to be eaten neatly
out of hand.  He spread the enclosed napkin over his knees and ate
most of the food absently.

The lights came on in the train.  The world outside was shadow,
dark masses moving by, rising and falling with the terrain, as
though in the process of creation.  Here and there distant windows
shone like eyes in the night.  Once the train passed so close to a
small house that Ase looked in and met the eyes of the family
sitting at the supper table.  He saw them stare with a never-fading
wonder at the long brightly lighted box on churning wheels that
passed so swiftly each night with its cargo of strangers, hurtling
to their unknown destinations.  He wanted to stop and go into their
house and say, "I at least am not a stranger."

The porter asked, "Do you wish your berth made up now, sir?"

Ase looked up into a kind brown face.  He was relieved.

He said, "I've never traveled before."

"I'd suggest, sir, you're such a tall gentleman, if you'll undress
in the men's room, I'll make your berth ready."

"I can't walk back in my night shirt, can I?"

The porter chuckled and Ase smiled with him.

"You can slip on your overcoat, sir, if you don't have a robe."

He had a fine silk robe that Nat had sent him, that he had never
worn.  The porter led the way with his bag to the dressing room.
It was difficult to undress and wash against the motion of the
train.  He felt like a crane making its way through mud.  When he
came out with his bag some time later, he was lost.  Most of the
aisle was curtained off and he could not tell one berth from
another.  A woman in a kimono and hair curlers brushed past him and
disappeared into one of the cubicles.  The porter hurried to him,
speaking in a muted voice, not quite a whisper.

"Here you are, sir.  See, you're No. 9, if you get up in the night.
I've left the upper berth closed to give you more headroom.  Here's
your reading light, it goes on and off, so, and here's your
ventilator.  You don't open the window when there's air

Ase lowered his own voice to match, understanding that others in
this odd intimacy might be already sleeping.

"Do people really lie down and sleep in these little places?"

Of late years, Nellie had taken a compartment on her trips, but
aside from the difference in cost, he had not wanted to be isolated
from others on his first journey.

"Yes, sir.  You'll find the berth real comfortable.  Here's the
bell to call me.  You be sure and ring it if you need anything.
Even if you just get anxious."

"I'm anxious now."

They smiled together in the dim light of the precipitous long box.
It was easy to speak with this dark quiet man.

"I'll put your shade up, sir, so you can see out.  The moon comes
up right soon.  It's nice to lie and watch the moonlight while the
land rides by.  It us who's riding, but it seems the other way."

"I noticed that, but I thought it was because it was new to me."

"No, sir.  You could ride the train a hundred years and you'd
always think it was the earth moving and not you."

Ase said, "I expect we're all moving all the time, all together,
only we don't know where or which way."

It seemed natural to be murmuring such things back and forth with a
brown man out of the encyclopedia.  He had known it would be this
way, once he truly traveled.

He whispered, "Thank you for your courtesies."

He held out his hand to his new friend.  The porter grasped it with
what seemed to Ase almost a hunger.

"Good night, sir.  Sleep well."

Ase said, "Good night to you, too, sir."

He stretched out his legs as far as they would go in the berth.
There was still not room enough.  There were four soft pillows at
his head and he piled these high, so that by resting his shoulders
against them, he found the extra inches for his length.  He reached
up and switched off the small light.  For a moment he could see
nothing at all out of the window, then again, the obscure landscape
rose and fell, rose and fell, in its prehistoric convulsions.  The
moon had not yet risen, although he sensed a vague lightening of
the sky.  He was moving west, the moon would rise behind the train,
he would probably not see it directly.  The berth was indeed

He became aware of a brightness outside the small thick window.
The full moon was quieting the earth's upheaval, was smoothing the
fields, the pastures, the now dark farmhouses, the small towns
through which the train was passing with sad sweet whistle blowing.
He saw the moon itself.  The railroad tracks must have taken a
turn, so to bring the moon into view.  The steady pound of the
train was soothing.  He fell deep asleep.

He had supposed that a change of trains at the big city meant only
a change of tired engines.  He was confused to find that he must
leave the train that had been his home and go inside the huge
station, and then, two hours later, search out a new strange train
through a maze of gates.  His bag had been taken away from him and
loaded with many others on a hand truck and it seemed impossible
that he should ever find it again.  He was swept along with the
crowd hurrying from the train.  He heard running footsteps behind
him.  His brown friend spoke to him.

"I'll get you settled, sir, so you'll have no trouble.  Just let me
have your ticket."

He was grateful for the strong hand on his elbow, guiding him
through the confusion.  The ramps, the entrances and exits, were
endless.  He could have wandered helplessly for hours, he thought,
unable to stop any one of the rushing humans for directions and for
information.  They came out under a vast vaulted rotunda where
people milled back and forth like a disturbed ants' nest.  A loud-
speaker was announcing trains almost unintelligibly.  He caught
sight of the baggage truck ahead.  His friend whistled and truck
attendant turned and waited.  The two consulted, his friend pointed
back to Ase, showed his ticket, and the other, a brown man, too,
nodded.  The friend returned.

"That man there, sir, will come for you when your train is called.
All you do is follow him."

"Then I won't be anxious any more."

The jest was warm and secret between them.

"Now if you'll just sit right here, sir.  If you leave for
anything, come straight back to this seat.  Here's your ticket, and
you'll have two hours exactly to wait.  It won't seem long,
watching people the way I've noticed you watch them."

"I don't know how to thank you, sir.  Excuse me, I forgot, I should
have given you a tip, on the train."

He fumbled in his purse.  The brown man held up his hand in

"Thank you, no sir.  I couldn't take anything.  It's been fine,
meeting you.  I've got to get back."

Ase shook hands with a sense of loss.  His friend began to run,
threading his way across the crowds like a brave chip fighting its
way upstream against a strong current.  Ase saw him swallowed up at
last, returning to his unfinished work and the mystery of his life.
Ase sat down and stared around him.

The milling hordes were faceless.  In among the distracted ants,
restless masses boiled aimlessly, like maggots.  Here and there a
solitary figure stood inert a moment, perhaps lost, as he himself
would have been without his friend, then moved and was absorbed by
the human swarming.  The light from the high dirty windows had no
vitality.  There was no color here, only shades of gray, a green
coat or a red hat vanished as soon as seen, as in a whirling
spectrum.  The vaulted space was filled with a roaring cacophony of
sound.  Ase tried to separate its components.

Underground there was the puffing and chugging of the trains.  The
joined murmur of voices in the station rose to the ceiling, was
trapped and could not escape, echoed downward to meet another
swell, again hopelessly rising.  Under the mass-voice and above the
incoming trains and the outgoing, he identified an odd muffled
sibilance, and this was the shuffling of feet on the marble
flooring, back and forth, around and around, sluff, sluff, sluff.
Against the muted grays the black iron gates, entrances eventually
to the trains, opened and now closed, like the gates to Hell.  The
loud-speaker boomed out over the coagulation of sound.  The words
came clearer this time.

"Track seventeen.  Track seventeen.  All aboard for the Dixie
Special, going South, going South.  Louisville, Memphis--."

The other place names ran together, so that Ase was glad he was not
obliged to recognize his destination among them.

"Track seventeen."

The loudspeaker was like the voice of God, calling to faceless men
to prepare for nameless places.  A section of the rotating antlike
human beings resolved itself into a definitive line, rushing
blindly toward track seventeen.  Ase took out his handkerchief and
mopped his face.  This, he thought, was a sort of Purgatory.  All
here were caught, if not quite between Heaven and Hell, at least
between going and coming, in the eternal lost and homeless sojourn
on the earth.

He became aware that a shabby woman had sat down next to him, with
a nursling and two older children.  Her luggage consisted of
several pasteboard cartons.  He wondered where she was going, and
why.  The woman had a worn face, sad and sweet.  His horror left
him as he saw her give the breast to her babe.  He forgot the gray
shuffling mob.  It was only necessary to acknowledge the
individual, courageous human, to leave the terror of the mass.

The friend of his friend stood before him, saying, "Your train is
called, sir."

He had not realized that his two hours had passed.

He said, "Thank you."

The red-cap said, "Follow me through gate two, sir, I'll have your
bag on board."

Ase hurried along behind him.  His ticket was checked at the gate,
he found himself in the new train, the brown man was pushing his
bag under the seat.  Ase hesitated.  This also kind man was not
truly his friend, as the other had been.  He offered him a five-
dollar bill and was satisfied that he had done the proper thing
when the friend of his friend thanked him, bowing from the waist.

He settled himself for the remaining days of his trip.  He felt now
at home among the complications.  He gave himself to a rapt study
of the country.  He had known from his reading that it was
different in different places, but he could not believe his eyes
before the infinite variety.  The plains with their miles of wheat
and corn astonished him.  His fields, his and Ben's, would be lost
in their least corner.  The prairies seemed somehow frightening.
There was no place where a man might stand upright above his fields
to view them, he would be dwarfed among the crops of his own
raising.  Yet when he saw the mountains, he thought a man must feel
the smallest here, whether living on the peaks or in the valleys.

The conception of the Continental Divide stirred him, to know that
from this torn and towering plateau all waters flowed one way east
into the Atlantic, the others west into the Pacific.  He was
puzzled as well, for such a phenomenon should properly lie in the
very middle of a continent, instead of so far west.  Then he
remembered from the encyclopedia that these mountains were younger
than the old hills of his home, had been spewed high from the
restless earth eras later, and he was dizzy for an instant,
picturing the continent tilting, as though the whole earth mass
were slowly rotating in and out of the vaster seas.  He begrudged
his sleep at night, lay wakeful late, watching from his window,
rousing with the first light of dawn to drink in all the marvels,
having been so long athirst.

All was new yet all was familiar.  All delighted him, yet was
alien.  In the last hours across the thousands of miles of the
beautiful, the fabulous nation, he understood that he had been
watching so eagerly in the hope that he might recognize his home.
It was not here.  Neither had he left it behind him.

The porter on this train was without the tacit understanding of the
first one, but was still his friend, a grizzled man who must be
almost as old as he.  The Negro seated himself opposite.

"Train running a little late, Mr. Linden.  Anybody meeting you?"


"Big town, Mr. Linden, know how to find your way, where you're

"I have the address."

Ase took out the penciled envelope from Mrs. Athalia Brown.  The
porter looked at it, looked sharply again.

"Mr. Linden, this a rough neighborhood.  Could be there's a
mistake.  You better take a taxi and have the man wait, 'til you
make sure."

"Thank you, but I'm sure."

The porter left to speak to other passengers.  Ase had had his bag
packed for hours.  He followed the crowd.  The bridge train was
waiting.  Its bell rang with a soft clang like an old fashioned
doorbell.  It crossed a waterway as though it spun its own tracks
under it as it went, like a spider.  It passed over a cantilever
bridge and on to its thin track again and tinkled into the smaller
terminal.  From this, Ase walked out with his bag into a strange,
exciting world.

He took a deep satisfied breath after the days of closeness.  The
air was implicit with the sea.  It was a tangible air, strong and
moist and sharp as hard cider, so that he seemed to drink rather
than to breathe it.  It was the winds of the end of one world
meeting the winds of another one beginning.  If he had been lifted
by a pair of mighty fingers and deposited here like a man jumped on
a checkerboard, he would have known he had reached the end of a

He shifted his bag to his other hand and walked on a wide curving
way on which he found himself, leading toward the west.  The time
was nearly sunset, but when he came at last to an open vista, and
saw the sun, it was not a solid ball, but a series of concentric
rings like a spinning top.  As he stared, it vanished entirely.
The Pacific fog was rolling in.  Red beacon lights appeared above
the piers.  In a moment they too were obscured by a tumbling gray
mass that must, he thought, resemble ocean breakers.  He heard a
sound like the bellowing of a bull, another answered, and another,
and these, he knew, could only be the foghorns.  Thin high tootings
of tugboats sounded in a panic, like mice under the feet of the

He was aware of exotic odors, roasting coffee, spicy foreign foods,
and enveloping them all, the pungent, salty fish-and-sea-weed-laden
fragrance of the sea.  And then the fog was over him and around
him.  Ghost fingers brushed his face.  The thin grayness swirled
and passed, was followed by endless phalanx on phalanx of
insubstantial substance, and he was lost in the fog, standing alone
at the outer rim of the world, and could not see his way.  Other
sounds came to him, trolley bells ringing in a staccato rhythm with
the flatness of a cracked tea cup, auto horns crying for mercy in
the slowed traffic, feet running, and nearby, a harsh dance music.
He groped his way toward the music.  It came from a penny arcade a
few yards away.  He felt his way through the open door and set down
his bag and looked around.  A pockmarked man was picking his teeth
behind a counter.

"What you want, Gran'pa?"

Ase said, "I'd appreciate it if you would get me a taxi.  I'm a
stranger here."

"Yeah?  Too bad."

The dingy place was filled with silence.

"Where you want to go to?"

Ase drew out the envelope.

"To this address."

"Yeah?  What d'you know.  No taxi ain't goin' to take you nowhere

Ase said, "If you could direct me, I don't mind walking, but it
seems hard to see in the fog."

"No?  Imagine that.  Tell you what I'll do for you, Gran'pa, just
for a favor, send one o' my boys with you.  Hey, Louie!"

A pale little man shuffled from the rear of the room.  He reminded
Ase of Willis.

"Louie, this nice old gent'man with his nice bag is lost, and I
want you should accomp'ny him to where he's going.  Get it?"

Louie said sullenly, "I get it.  Come on, Gran'pa."

Ase stopped at the door and drew out the envelope again and

He said, "You won't be able to read the address when we get
outside.  Here, see--."

Louie glanced at the inscribed street and number.

"Sure," he said.  "I know the place."

Ase followed him out into the fog.

"Is it far?"

"Couple o' blocks."

"You're very kind to do this for me.  I hope you'll let me pay you
for your trouble."

Ase stumbled at the curb.  He clutched at his guide.

"Do you mind if I hold your arm?  I'd feel safer."

The man stiffened under his touch.

Ase said, "I wouldn't want anything to happen now.  I've come all
the way across the country to find my brother.  I haven't seen him
for sixty years."

Louie snorted, "Jeez, a guy should live so long."

"I suppose it does seem a long time to a young man.  I'm past
eighty now."

He realized that his affairs could be of no interest.

He asked courteously, "Have you always lived in the west?"

Louie grunted and seemed to hesitate at an intersection.  He set
off at a faster pace along a street lined with tall narrow houses.
Even through the fog they showed poverty-stricken and shabby.
Louie stopped and pointed up a flight of steps.  A pale light
illumined a sign, "Rooms 50 a night."

"There you are."

He shook off Ase's arm and turned away abruptly.  Ase fumbled for
his wallet.

"Wait, please, Louie, let me give you something, with my thanks."

Louie snarled.  "Put that thing away, Gran'pa, before I change my
mind.  Get your  ----ing brother and get the hell out of here

The man began to run as though in mortal peril.  Ase started up the
steps, understanding now how great had been his own.  Louie's swift
padding vanished in the fog-ridden night.  The steps were steep and
broken and he groped his way to the front door.  Through a dirty
etched glass panel he saw a corridor lit by a small hanging
electric bulb.  He found a doorbell at the side and pulled it.  The
sound clangored far back in what seemed an empty house.  A woman
came from the rear, wiping her hands on a soiled apron.  She opened
the door a crack.

"Full up tonight," she said, and slammed the door.

Ase beat on the panel.  The woman continued down the corridor, then
turned and walked back quickly, opening the door wider.  She looked
him up and down, saw his good overcoat and old, decent bag.

"Say, what's your name?"

"Asahel Linden.  You wrote me.  I came to my brother Benjamin."

"Come in."

She shut and bolted the door behind him.

"Figured that's who you might be when I took a good look.  About
gave you up.  This way."

Ase followed her mechanically up dimly lighted stairs, up one
flight, two, three, and four.  She took a key from her apron pocket
and opened a door.  She felt for a wall switch and a hanging bulb
came on, wan under a fluted paper shade.  An old man lay on a
sagging bed against the far wall.

Ase set down his bag.

The woman said, "He owes me for two weeks, but mind now, I'm not
the kind to let a man starve.  I've fed him, what I had to spare."

She eyed him sharply.

"He said you'd pay."

She brushed back her gray straggling hair.

"I hate to bring up the pay, but you don't know what I go through,
old men dying on me, still owing, and then others not wanting the
room if they hear about it.  I've got my living to make, not like a
rich gentleman like you.  You will pay, won't you?"

"Yes, I'll pay.  Thank you."

She sighed.

"Sorry I don't have no room for you tonight.  Maybe down the street
a ways, if you'd care to give me something on account before you

"I'll stay here."

The woman hesitated.

Ase said, "I won't slip away.  Here."

He drew out his wallet and gave her some bills.  The woman

"Thank you, sir.  I knew you was a gentleman.  Please don't think
me hard--."

She went down the stairs.  Ase closed the door.  He went to the
side of the bed.  How could this shrunken thing be Benjamin?  This
man was so old, so very old, so peaked of features, unshaven and
unshorn, so small and desolate.  Benjamin had been tall and lithe
and strong, with bright cat eyes and tawny hair, and laughing,
always laughing.  Ase wondered if there had been some mistake and
this was not Benjamin after all.

The gaunt face turned to him.  The unshaded light was pitiless on
the sick eyes.

A voice croaked, "Asahel?"


He took the withered hand.

"I was afraid--you wouldn't come in time."

"Have you had a doctor?"

"No use.  I'm finished."

The eyelids closed.  They were parchment thin.

"The light hurts."

Ase turned it out.  He sat on a straight chair close beside the
bed.  The hand groped for him and he held it.

"Asahel, I've always missed you."

"I never knew.  I've never been done missing you."

"I have to tell you things, Ase.  You tell first.  I'm so tired."

"What do you want to know, Ben?"

"Your family.  You've done well?"

Ben's voice was now almost familiar.

He said, "No, Ben.  I failed."

"Tell me."

He could tell it in the dark, one old face not having to see the

He began, "One child was good.  Her name was Dolly.  She died when
she was six."

Ben said, "I remember.  You wrote me.  Mother killed her."

Ase withdrew his hand, because it was trembling.

"No, Ben, I never wrote you that."

"You didn't need to.  I knew.  I knew Mother better than you did."

"Was she always mad?"


He could ask it, the unaskable, knowing the answer, he could say
it, the unsayable.

"She was evil, Ben, wasn't she?"

"Always evil.  Go on, Ase."

"There was another child, the youngest, a boy, Willis.  He would
have been good if I had helped him.  No, he was good, after all.
He died in the war in 1918."

"Go on."

"The oldest is Nathaniel.  We call him Nat.  He followed you to
Alaska.  He tried to find you."

"I know.  I dodged him.  What's wrong with him?"

Ben spoke with the ancient authority of their youth together.

"It's this.  He's evil, too.  I might have stopped him."

"How?  When?"

Ase thought back in time.  But of course, when Nat was only six,
and had despised Tim McCarthy's gift of a silver dollar because it
was not enough.  He remembered with the old anguish the matter of
the gypsy boy in the bog, he remembered the revelations of Willis,
all of it swept over him, and as though his brother were his
confessor, he told it all.  There was a long silence.

Ben said, "There were two others."

"Yes.  Arent and 'Melie."

"Tell me."

Ase told.  Of Arent's passive following of Nat, of 'Melie, so like
Amelia, not quite so evil, and certainly not mad at all.

Ben said, "Nellie?"

Ase said, "She died in the spring.  Did you love her, Ben?"

The skeleton on the dirty bed chuckled.

"No more than a hundred others."

Ase was obliged to say, "She never got over loving you, Ben."

"Nellie didn't love anybody, Ase."

He said, "It doesn't matter now.  She was a good wife.  I loved

The silence came again.

"Anybody else?"

"Yes.  A boy of sixteen."

"Tell me."

He told of Jan Rabaski.  He told his plans for him.

"Good.  He makes up for the others.  You've done right, Ase.
You've done well."

The longed-for praise was sweet.

"That's all.  What about you?"

"Never mind.  I'm too tired, Ase."

"Why didn't you ever come home, Ben?  Why didn't you ever write

"I was ashamed.  It was wrong to be, wasn't it?"

"Yes, it was wrong."

"I guess--I was always looking--for something that wasn't there.  I
thought I had to--find it first."

The voice from the ancient bones was a whisper.

"Lift me up.  It's hard to breathe."

Ase fumbled in the darkness to help his brother.

"The light, Ase."

He turned it on.  The shock was fresh.  Ben was gone under the
glare, and in his place he saw again the stranger.

"Under the pillow, Ase.  Hurry."

He groped, not knowing for what he was to search.

"The deed, Ase.  The farm."

The folded paper was grimy, dark and stained with age.

"See.  It's made over to you."

Ase put on his spectacles.  The notarized date was of many years
before.  The farm had been his own, almost since his mother's

He said, "I don't understand."

"I gambled it away, Ase, the minute I got it.  A pal staked me and
I won it back.  It frightened me.  So I had it conveyed to you.
Before I could do the same thing over again."

Ase closed the paper.

"I should have sent you the deed then.  Ase, I liked to have it in
my pocket.  I liked to show it.  I might have lice in my rags, but
I was a man of property.  I was weak, wasn't I?"

"No, you were strong."

"Only for an instant.  But I couldn't let you be put off the farm.
You knew that, didn't you?"

"Yes, I knew."

So, he had been right about Ben, always.  His decades of fidelity
had not here been wasted.

Ben said, "Did it make much difference, Ase, not knowing the farm
was yours?"

He could answer truly, as he had once answered Tim McCarthy, as he
had answered his wife and children, "It didn't make any difference
at all."

"Put the paper in your pocket.  I have nothing else."

The paper was precious.  Its simplicity made possible the last step
in his plans.  He need do only as Ben had done.  He would convey
the deed at once to Jan and Elsa Rabaski, would put it in the mail,
and not all Nat's tentacles could take it from them.  The Linden
land was safe.

"Where are you, Ase?"

"Right here, Ben."

"Take me back home, Ase.  Promise."

"I promise."

The breathing seemed easier.


"Yes, Ben."

"The woman fed me."

"The woman?"

"Athalia Brown."

"I'll pay her."

"I knew her forty years ago.  Wild--.  Pretty--."

The sound was a chuckle.  It was faint, as though it came from far
away, and in the instant it was gone, and there was not even the
breathing.  For the last time Ben had gone away laughing in his
ragged coat.

Ase pulled a battered rocking chair to the one window, then
switched off the light.  Sounds were muffled by the fog.  The cable
cars, the boat whistles, the foghorns, were far away.  The grayness
swept past the dusty window, not quite tangible, not quite visible.
He sat all night like a disembodied spirit, keeping an appointed
vigil.  Toward morning, the fog lifted.  Sunlight touched the roof
tops.  Sparrows stirred.  In the distance he saw a glimmer of
unfamiliar light and color.  He knew that he was seeing a fragment
of the bay, the beginning of the sea.  The Pacific had halted
Benjamin, as he had once prayed.

He stood up stiffly.  He felt as emptied of life as the body on the
bed.  He had come to the end of a long road.  He was without pain,
now that Ben had left him past any finding.  Nothing was different,
his brother was no more lost to him than he had ever been.  It came
to him with a sharp knowledge that in his loneliness he was not

He thought, "Every man has lost his brother."


Not the wings beat, but the motors.  The plane was a great bird
with two hearts, palpable and pulsating.  It ran across the runway
like a plover, like a plover lifted suddenly into the air.  Ase was
conscious of the straining climb.  Space was a heavy thing, it
pushed the weight of the universe on the metallic bird to hold it
down, the twin hearts throbbed against it.  More than ever Ase felt
that men were not held to earth, and by it, but were crushed there
by an imponderable vastness.  The tallest trees could grow no
taller, not that their roots chained them, or the force of gravity,
but because their strength was unequal to the greater pressure.
The earth had thrust up its mountains as high as possible, and the
mountains were collapsing not from below but from above, as though
the kind firm hand of a master pressed on a dog and a great voice
said quietly, "Down."

The plane leveled off.  The twin hearts had won their battle, the
motored bird was in its element and there was now no sense of
motion at all.  Ase had imagined that even enclosed in the belly of
the mechanical bird, he would be conscious of flight.  He wanted to
feel the effort, the winds of the world streaming past his face.
The sense of height was compensation.  He saw the earth plainly as
a battered planet.  The skin was cracked and wrinkled, gashed with
canyons, torn and split by rivers.  Mountains were jumbles of
sterile stone.  Cities were already ruins, as though he saw them a
thousand years in the future, or in the past.  Only the farms and
fields were beautiful.  Green and red and golden and violet squares
and rectangles spoke of man's sole kindness to the earth.  Ase
wished he had celestial seeds to scatter, to drift down on the
brown fresh-plowed acres, there to grow some rare unearthly crop.
He would tell young Jan of this fancy, and they would smile

It had occurred to him to telephone the farm this morning.  He had
talked with them, one by one.  They pleased him with something
deeper than their gratitude.  They would cherish the land and not
despoil it.  Young Jan was grave before his trust.  This, too,
would never be betrayed.

The boy said at last, "We miss you.  We are waiting for you.  We
are your family now."

He was welcome.  He had given away the very roof over his head, and
for the first time in his life, he was wanted under it.  He was
warmed, who had so long been cold.

The boy had said, "You'll need to rest," and he had answered "I've
had a taste of travel, Jan.  Perhaps I'll just keep on going."

He folded his bony hands over the box that held his brother's
ashes.  He should have made his flight, he thought, the other way
around.  There was no need for hurry now, returning whence he had
come.  Had he flown west, they would have had long days to talk
together.  And of what more would they have spoken?  It had all
been said.  For a lifetime they had carried the words and the love
within them, had shared all they ever could have shared, a
continent apart.

He, too, he recognized, had sought to find the unfindable.  He had
lost and sought a brother, and it was in the faces of all men he
should have peered.  He had been homeless, and knew that for such
men as he there was no home, only an endless journey.  He had
sought to know the unknowable.  He and his whole race, great, slow,
groping, God-touched children, would have to wait a long time, he
supposed, for that, learning one lesson a millennium, sometimes
forgetting it and having to begin all over.  He himself, he thought
humbly, had learned far too little.  He had done much harm.  He had
known good from evil, and he had sat miserable and mute when the
fight was called for.  He had carried his standards into battle
perhaps not quite too late.  He could not know whether his good had
been greater than his evil.  No man could balance the delicate
scales, for he himself weighted one end and could not reach across
to weight the other.  An invisible hand would add or subtract.  An
unheard voice would speak the answer.

Ase was recalled to the immediacy of the plane.  A flock of south-
bound geese slanted past him.  The plane had suddenly lifted its
nose.  It climbed so steeply that the earth ball seemed visibly to
roll toward the east.  The sky was torn by the plane, the clouds
were tattered, they fell away in streamers, massed again in a
billowing sea and hid the world below.

A group of strangers, boxed together, was rocketing toward the sun,
the stars.  Most of them were frightened.  Ase felt a surge of joy.
It was of the purity of his boyhood, when with Mink Fisher he had
imagined himself walking barefoot across the Milky Way.  The
consciousness of flight was so powerful that he lifted his hands
from his safety belt and held them stretched before him, like an
angel on the wing.

A stewardess balanced herself against the acute angle and leaned
over him.

"Are you all right, sir?"

"Of course," he said, astonished.

"We climb for another half an hour, then level off.  After that,
the flight is normal."

She turned across the aisle to speak to a white-faced woman.

But this, he thought, was normal.  Some hunger, some obscure
instinct, was assuaged by this swift reaching into space.  His
excitement mounted with the plane.  He longed to have the half hour
last for half a millennium, to keep on and on, higher and higher,
farther and farther, to the core of the cosmos.  He recalled his
years of watching after the bird migrations.

Perhaps, he thought, this was what afflicted men.  The battered
planet he had seen under him could not last forever.  Something in
man was surely eternal, if only his awareness of eternity.
Perhaps, he thought, perhaps--.  Man might be migratory, too.  In
his blood and bones there might stir the same blind avian impulse
toward unknown places.  Since man could not soar alone, he had
evolved these miraculous instruments of flight, making ready for an
ultimate home, aeons and aeons hence.

Ase felt a constriction of his heart.  There was a spasm that was
more of pressure than of pain.  The pressure increased.  He could
endure only a little more of it.  He would not cry out to alarm his
fellow passengers.  He clenched his hands.  He looked from his
window.  The land was reeling away from him.  The fields were
indistinguishable.  He wished he might recognize a winter wheat
field.  After all, the earth was pain to leave.  To know it was to
love it.  Perhaps those distant migrants of his imagining would
feel a nameless nostalgia, would think wordlessly, as he thought
now, "Dear earth, place once of my abiding."

The pressure was a flood.  He was not afraid.

It had been so brief a sojourn, not even a full century.  He had
been a guest in a mansion and he was not ungrateful.  He was at
once exhausted and refreshed.  His stay was ended.  Now he must
gather up the shabby impedimenta of his mind and body and be on his
way again.

End of this Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook
The Sojourner by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

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