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Title:      Spring Came on Forever (1935)
Author:     Bess Streeter Aldrich
eBook No.:  0500651.txt
Edition:    1
Language:   English
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Date first posted:          June 2005
Date most recently updated: June 2005

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Title:      Spring Came on Forever (1935)
Author:     Bess Streeter Aldrich






"Years on years I but half-remember . . .
Man is a torch, then ashes soon,
May and June, then dead December,
Dead December, then again June.
Who shall end my dream's confusion?
Life is a loom, weaving illusion . . .

One thing, I remember:
Spring came on forever,
Spring came on forever,"
Said the Chinese nightingale.

VACHEL LINDSAY




CHAPTER I


In the telling of a story the narrator takes a bit from life as
definitely and completely as one would cut out a paper doll,
trimming away all of the flimsy sheet excepting the figure.  A
section of real life is not so detached and finished, for the
causes and consequences of it reach backward and forward and across
the world.  For that reason no mere story can ever be complete, no
family history contain a beginning or an end.

This is the story of two midwestern families and the strange way in
which their paths crossed.  It begins in Illinois in the year 1866,
and ends in Nebraska in the present one, severed from all that went
before and all that will continue beyond--a thing of incompleteness.


Matthias Meier was twenty-one in that year of 1866, tall and
stalwart of form, with only a healed red furrow across his upper
left arm to show for the last day's fighting of his Illinois
regiment.

We find him, now, sitting on a high stool before a sloping desk in
the office of his uncle.  Office, it may have been called, but the
word was something of a misnomer, for it was no separate room,
merely the end of a dingy salesroom in connection with the foundry
of which his relative was sole owner.

The whole place gave an impression of scowling blackness.  Iron
coffee-pots, flat-irons, long-legged frying-pans and short-handled
spiders occupied several shelves; and the larger utensils, huge
kettles and boilers, stood on the floor in disarray, with
plowshares shouldering them, as well as rough kegs containing nails
of various sizes.  At the opposite side of the long room, through
an opening, one could see into the blacksmith shop with its anvil
and multitudinous horseshoes hanging about on spikes as though this
were the luckiest place in all Illinois.  Iron was everywhere.
Iron was king.  One felt there was no other metal or substance in
the world.

Matthias, now, was going over an old ledger in which accounts had
been kept for a dozen years, and not very accurately either, he was
deciding.  A master-hand at the molding, his uncle was less
punctilious about records of purchases and sales than his more
mathematical-minded nephew.

Late morning sunshine filtering through a spattered and cobwebby
window fell across the yellow pages of the book.

It was March, and apparently it was going to be an advanced one.
The maples were feeling the push of the sap against the dark of
their bodies.  The hickory and oaks of the virgin timber-land not
far away were vaguely responding to the stir of life.  In the
pulpiness of the bog the trailing arbutus would soon be showing its
mauve-colored face,--on the hillside a thousand lavender crocuses
spring forth to the call of the sun.

If Matthias Meier, too, vaguely felt the call and the push of the
springtime, he was quite unaware of it, and merely checked and
figured in the thumb-blackened and well-worn pages of the yellow
book.

Up to this time, the room had been quiet save for the bumbling of a
single advance guard of bottle-green flies and the sound of some
one cutting timber far away.  But into the stillness now came the
creaking sound of wheels in the yard, the pull of horses' feet from
the stickiness of mud and the lusty "whoa" of an unseen driver.

Matthias uncoiled his long legs from their crowded posture under
the high table and swung himself off the stool.  He even walked
over to the opened door, although it went through his mind at the
time that it was rather an undignified procedure to hurry out as
though customers were so few and far between that they needed a
committee of welcome.

A large and sandy-bearded man was swinging himself over the lumber-
wagon's wheel preparatory to entering.  But it was not at the man
Matthias looked.  For who, indeed, would look elsewhere with such a
flower-like face before one as that of the girl in the green silk
bonnet?  Her full lips were rosy pink, and in their velvet blueness
her wide eyes were like cornflowers.  The braid of her soft hair,
wound round her head and showing just at the edge of the bonnet,
was the color of cornsilk before the summer sun has seared it.

Not that Matthias had time or inclination for any poetic
rhapsodies.  He merely took in the composite whole with a sensing
of the girl's dainty perfection, and the fleeting thought that here
was a little Dresden shepherdess.

The girl, in turn, may have been not unpleased at the appearance of
the young foundryman, for Matthias was strong-featured and very
good to look upon.  But so intent was he just now upon the
loveliness of the girl that he found himself staring a little
stupidly at the man coming toward him.

"Good-morning to you, sir."

"Guten Morgen."

When he heard the German tongue, Matthias, too, turned to the
language of his ancestors for, although English schooled, he could
speak it readily.  So in the German he asked politely:  "What can I
do for you?"

"I'm Wilhelm Stoltz," the man answered much more loudly than the
short distance between the two demanded.  "I want to look at the
large kettles."

"Certainly.  I'll be glad to show you."  Matthias hesitated, and
looked toward the pretty occupant of the wagon sitting rather like
a little queen on her high and homely throne.  "Perhaps the young
lady would like to come and see them, too."

She smiled.  "I can give help, Father,"--this, too, in the German
tongue,--and began gathering her voluminous skirts in a little
mittened hand.

"Nein," the father said brusquely.  "It does not take two."

Matthias winced at the domineering tone and felt an embarrassment
for the girl who in spite of her youth was apparently no child.  So
it was with relief and perhaps something more which he had not then
analyzed that he heard the man call back over a huge shoulder:
"Come, then, if you must."  But even so, the father stomped his way
on down a path toward the first of the pits, leaving the girl to
climb over the high wheel as best she might.

At once Matthias sprang to the wagon and gave her his hand.  So
daintily small was she that a heady feeling of the strength of his
masculinity surged over him as he assisted her to alight in a
billowing of skirts.

"It is a nice day," he said a bit inanely in the German.

She nodded gayly:  "Meadow larks are singing, and I smell spring."

Quite true.  He noticed it for the first time.  Meadow-larks WERE
singing.  You COULD smell spring.

He walked behind her into the dingy room, noting the pretty way she
carried her shoulders and held her head.  A patrician-looking
little thing, not solid and big-boned like so many of the German
girls thereabout.

Inside, the two customers moved among the pots and kettles, the
nails and plowshares, the man stomping about noisily as though he
would tell the business world that no one could pull wool over his
eyes, the girl daintily holding back the dark cloth of her skirts
and the wide fringe of her flowing shawl.

Each time the man asked the prices in the German tongue and was
answered in kind by Matthias, he blustered:  "Too much," or "The
price . . . it is crazy," until Matthias heartily disliked him, so
that if it had not been for the girl he would no doubt have lost a
sale by some ill-advised retort.

He could read in the girl's heightened color her embarrassment, and
so did his best to make her feel at ease.  Once while the
blustering parent was squeaking in his cowhide boots at the end of
the long room, Matthias pointed out to her a special kettle.  "This
one I made myself," he said to her very low.  "Mostly my uncle does
the kettle molding."

The kettle was huge and faultless in its rounded symmetry.
Matthias had been painstaking to make the wooden pattern absolutely
right,--the inside mold called the core and the outside one called
the jacket,--had poured molten metal carefully between them and
covered the whole thoroughly with sand to keep every particle of
air from it while it cooled.

"It is perfect."  She glanced up shyly.

Vollkommen, was it?  Matthias, looking down on her daintiness,
thought she, too, was perfect.  "I wish then, that this should be
the one you choose.  A perfect kettle for . . ."  He wanted to say
"a perfect little lady," but that would have been too bold, so he
finished "for you."  But, after all, he knew the words were
synonymous.

She looked up again through long lashes.  But this time a little
twinkle invaded the blueness that lay behind them and a smile just
faintly curled at the edge of her lips:  "Do not, then, say to him
that this is the one to buy," she suggested demurely.

And Matthias, sharing her little secret of filial disloyalty,
grinned sympathetically and said:  "That I will not."

"How much is this one? . . . and this? . . . and this?" Wilhelm
Stoltz was asking.

And then Matthias Meier did a foolish and unaccountable thing.  He
priced the kettle which was of his own molding at a lower figure
than his uncle had put upon it.

Stoltz looked them all over again, craftily, suspiciously, thumping
their sides for the answering sound of the metal, and then said
suddenly and loudly, as though Matthias might discover his mistake:
"This one I take."

Matthias looked quickly at the girl and she gave him the ghost of a
swiftly mischievous and understanding smile, so that he felt the
same headiness of spirit and body which he had experienced before.
For with no words she was saying:  "I am glad it is your kettle."
And Matthias was saying:  "I made it for you before I had ever seen
you."  The messages were as plain as spoken language.  No one knows
how it can be transmitted,--this Esperanto of Youth.  It just is
so.

Wilhelm Stoltz took out a leather pouch, counted out the money into
the palm of Matthias' hand, lifted the huge iron kettle as though
he must get away with his bargain before any attempt to rectify a
possible mistake had been made, and said loudly:  "Come now,
Amalia, we must go."  He pronounced it A-moll-ea in the German way.

Coughing and wheezing and blustering, he stalked ahead of the two
young people out to the wagon.  And Matthias, heady and bold, was
saying:  "Your name, then, is Amalia?"  He, too, pronounced it
Amollea, letting his voice linger over the liquid syllables.

"Yes."

"It's . . . like . . . like a bit of music."

And when she smiled up at that, he asked quickly while there was
time:  "Where do you live?"

"Over the Plum Creek road way . . . on the far side of the Big
Woods.  But . . ."

_But what, Amalia?  Say it now before you have taken away with you
that which you should not accept.  Or have left behind you that
which you should not give._

But Amalia did not say it.  And when Matthias turned back into the
dullness of the room magic gifts had been exchanged.

And so--such is life--had Wilhelm Stoltz driven up to Peter
McClure's hardware store, or sent to Chicago, or even to
Springfield for an iron kettle, or, for that matter, had Amalia but
finished her sentence, the history of future lives and of a state
might have been different.  Some call it Providence, others Fate.
But, Providence or Fate, "life is a loom weaving illusion."

As it was, Matthias stood looking a little bewildered now at the
remaining kettles and the plowshares and the spiders, as ugly as
ever, but somehow different.  How queer that into so gloomy a place
should have come something so shining-winged!  He set himself again
to the task of the book-work and, although the same sand-colored
pages of a half-hour before confronted him, they were now strangely
illustrated with shadowy half-pictures of blue eyes and rosy lips
and hair the color of cornsilks before the summer sun has seared
it.

After a time his uncle came in, a quick-moving little man with a
bushy graying beard.  "Any one here?"

"The Stoltzes . . . a man and daughter."  Matthias realized that he
was making the simple statement with a certain degree of
consciousness.

"Hm!  Wilhelm Stoltz, that would be!  Up the Plum Creek way . . .
one of the several Lutheran families scattered about."

Even now "up Plum Creek way," Amalia and her father in the high
wagon were lumbering along toward their farm which was the first
one just out of the Big Woods on the timber road.

The journey had taken much of the afternoon, for it lay over
prairie and creek-beds, through muddy roads and timber-land, and
the horses which they drove were heavy brood mares, their legs
large and clumsy and shaggy with hair.

The two said little as they rode.  Sometimes the father made a
gruff comment on the stickiness of the mud, the amount of the last
rainfall, or the slowness of the horses.  Always it pertained to
the material world and especially that part of it which lay close
at hand.  And always when he spoke Amalia agreed with him.  For
adverse opinions from his daughter or any other human were not
welcomed.  So, riding beside the bulky form of her father, Amalia
lived in her own world, not always the material one and most
definitely not that part of it which was close at hand.

Once she volunteered:  "The young man . . . he was pleasant."

Her father grunted and said gruffly:  "You will do well not to let
your thoughts linger on strange young men."  Immediately after
which he turned toward her so abruptly that she jumped from the
sheer fright that, having done this very thing, her thoughts were
betraying her.

"You are not doing so?"

"Nein," Amalia said demurely.

But thoughts are acrobats, agile and quite often untrustworthy.  So
now, with impish disregard of the command, they hopped about quite
easily.  They asked Amalia innocently why the nice young man wanted
to know where she lived.  They suggested with subtle art the
possibility that he would try to find out.  And then when the gruff
person at her side questioned their activities they urged her
quickly to answer "Nein."

It was only in the late afternoon when the heavy horses turned into
the barnyard of the Stoltz farm, that the exigency of a quick
change of dress, the gathering of the eggs, and the planning of the
supper brought all the vagrant thoughts into subjection and made
them subservient to matters more practical, that Amalia ceased
dwelling on the day's experience.

The Stoltz farm-house was modest but as neat and shining as white
paint and green blinds could make it.  There were no pigs or
chickens boldly running about as there were at many of the
neighbors'.  Pigs were in their pens and chickens in their yards,
both conditions of which were made possible by fences formed of
small hickory posts for the pigs and of tall willow saplings set
close together for the chickens.  That the fence of the chicken
yard was now putting forth faint green shoots did not detract from
its utility.  On a sloping cellar door, scrubbed like a bake-board,
sat the milk crocks sweetening in the sunshine.  Currant bushes and
gooseberry bushes nearby, looking ready to burst their tightly
closed buds, held countless freshly washed dish-towels.  Lilac
bushes which were beginning to feel the stir of sap were near the
front door, and a rose vine, brown yet from the winter's sleep,
trailed over the doorway.

Amalia coming into the kitchen door now, sighed that there were to
be changes so soon.  Inside the house, thinking of those changes,
she looked about her as with the eye of a stranger.  She saw the
shining blackness of the cook-stove (the neighbor Kratzes still
cooked on an open fire), the scrubbed table with its checkered
cloth, the tin brush-and-comb holder on the wall with the mirror
above, the clean wooden pail of water with its gourd dipper on the
shelf, the rag rugs--Oh, it was a pleasant house.  The cellar still
held many Schinken from the butchering, stone jars of Äpfelbutter
and Pflaumenbutter.  No old housewife--not even Mrs. Kratz or Mrs.
Rhodenbach--had put by more food last fall than she.

There was soon supper.  She and her father and her brother Fritz,
fifteen years old, sat down together to the Metwurst and the
Kartoffel Pfannkuchen.  They were Fritz's favorites,--those pork-
sausages and potato-pancakes.

Wilhelm Stoltz spoke very little while attending to the primary
object of eating.  When he did it was about the stock, the shoeing
of a horse, and the assignment of Fritz's work for the morrow.  The
purchase of the iron kettle, too, came in for some explanation to
Fritz,--the bargain he had made and the fact that the young man
must have made a mistake in the price.

This set all the little acrobatic thoughts somersaulting again in
Amalia's pretty head.  And, later, if they mischievously put on
their tumbling act several times during the ensuing week, who was
there to say the performance in that year of 1866 could not be
transmitted through Youth's own particular short waves down through
the damp, dark timber road and across the prairie?

For on Sunday, Matthias Meier, with clean-shaven face and in his
best suit, mounted his uncle's saddle-horse, Trixie, and turned her
head toward Plum Creek and the Big Woods.



CHAPTER II


To Matthias Meier the ride to the Stoltz farm that Sunday was a
long one, but pleasant.  The road lay through the straggling town,
over the river bridge under which the dark waters of the recently
melted snows foamed and charged in wrath at the sturdiness of the
timbers, on across the level lands where mud and matted grasses
clutched but could not hold Trixie's flying hoofs, and then into
the darkness of the Big Woods where it wound sinuously among the
maples and oaks and hazelnut underbrush, a leaf-soaked and twig-
covered track just wide enough for a single wagon, so that one must
turn into the spaces between stumps when meeting another.

As he rode, Matthias tried to analyze what peculiar force in his
nature had summoned him on this unbidden call,--what emotional
upheaval had urged him to plan this trip all week.  He was not
accustomed to follow up all his uncle's customers, he admitted, and
grinned to himself at the thought.

For the first half of the trip through river bottoms, creek-beds,
and on open trails, he rode enthusiastically toward his
destination.  About the third quarter, on more distant meadow land,
he grew a bit apprehensive over his impulsive journey.  In the last
quarter through the Big Woods, his fervor collapsed so perceptibly
that he called himself all kinds of a fool for coming.  But it was
noticeable that he held doggedly to his way.

At a weather-beaten cabin in a clearing he inquired of a young boy
how far it was to the Stoltz farm and was told he was nearly there,
that he would find it lying just beyond the third bend of the road
and that he would know it from the red barn standing where the
timber began to thin for the open land.  He thanked the voluble
informer and rode on slowly, entirely apprehensive now because of
the bold thing he was doing.

The woods were thinning,--the maples and the oaks and the walnuts
were not quite so close together,--not quite so thick now, the bare
hazel-brush and the sumac.  He rounded a clump of undergrowth that
tangled with a thicket of wild plum trees, and there in a clearing
not twenty feet away was the girl herself.  Evidently she had heard
the sound of Trixie's padding hoofs for she stood facing the trail,
her hand at her throat in an attitude of startled expectancy.  To-
day she was bareheaded, and the sun shining into the clearing
turned the braided coronet of her light yellow hair into a pale
golden wreath.

She came forward hesitatingly when Matthias slipped off his horse.

"Guten nach Mittag," she said shyly,--and then by way of explaining
her presence added, as always, in the German:  "I was searching for
signs of the first blue-bells."

Bridle-rein over his arm and hat off, Matthias approached and held
out his hand.

Even while she put her own little hard hand into it, she flushed
and said:  "You should not be here."

"Why?"  Now that he was here and safely over breaking the ice of
the meeting, he felt no fear, but a heady boldness instead.

She raised her eyes to his slowly, and Matthias' heart beat quickly
at seeing again the deep blueness of them.  "Because . . . I should
have told you when you asked where I lived . . . but, of course, I
could not know by the asking you meant to come."

_Then why were you down in the timber road, watching, Amalia?_

Her hand still held in his, Matthias asked:  "What is it you meant
to have told me . . . Amalia?"

She dropped her eyes away from Matthias' searching ones.

"That I am betrothed."  And with that Amalia had completed the
unfinished sentence.

"You are betrothed?" . . . he repeated slowly.  "I . . . I had not
thought of that.  I have thought of many things . . . but never
that.  All week I thought only of you . . . and that I would come
to-day."

"I, too, shall be truthful now.  Something . . . also . . . some
queer thing," she spoke shyly in spite of her honesty, "made me
wonder if you might."

"If you are . . . as you say, betrothed, . . . who . . . who is
he?"

"An old friend of my father's.  Oh, not old . . ." she added
apologetically, "at least not as old as my father.  He is a good
man.  My father and my brother Fritz are very fond of him.  My
mother is not living."

"I'm sorry . . . perhaps if your mother . . ."

"I should not be here talking to you," she said, when he seemed not
intending to finish his thought.  "I don't know why I came.  It is
not right.  I have been promised since I was sixteen.  I shall be
eighteen soon."

But the hand of Amalia which had been promised for nearly two years
still lay trembling in the hand of Matthias Meier.  As though just
now discovering that member's perfidy, she withdrew it suddenly.

"Where is he now?" Matthias asked quietly.

"Gone with the men to the Nebraska Territory to find suitable
holdings for some of our church people.  We are to move as soon as
they return for us.  It is said that sometime before many years it
may be a state, too, even as Illinois."

"Yes, I suppose so."  He felt definitely disappointed, vaguely sad
that this lovely girl of whom he had thought all week was
betrothed.  A door that had so recently opened a bit seemed
suddenly shut in his face.

"You have come a long way.  Perhaps you would like to sit down
awhile . . ." she smiled, "beside your kettle."

And almost for the first time Matthias gave heed to the fact that
the kettle which he had fashioned with such meticulous care hung on
three hickory stakes in the clearing with a mound of ashes
underneath.

"Already you have used it?"

"Yes . . . we made the soap, using all of our grease from the
butchering so we will have a plentiful supply for the long journey
and a whole year after."

But the words recalled this disquieting thing he had heard of her
betrothal and going away, and he frowned as he seated himself
beside her on a log near the kettle.

"But this man . . . you do not love him?"  It was as much a
statement as a question.  She was a mere child and Matthias felt
very old.

Amalia pondered.  "I respect him . . . and my father says that is
the same thing."

"I don't agree with him," Matthias contended boldly, and in the
impulsiveness of youth stood up.  "Where is your father?  I would
like to see him."

But Amalia, alarmed, was saying:  "Do not go to the house to see
him, I beg of you.  I am sorry not to be more hospitable.  You saw
how domineering he was."  Herrscht was the word she used.  "He
should not know you are here.  He would only anger and hurt you.
Always after Sunday dinner he sleeps.  Indeed . . ." and the gay
little smile which had so captivated Matthias was there again for a
flashing moment; "he begins it in the church service."

Matthias laughed at that and sat down again beside her.  "What
causes you to think of going to that troubled territory?"

"It is no longer troubled.  The Pawnees have long been quieted, and
my father thinks all is well now to settle there.  We are of the
Lutheran faith and here our farms are scattered.  My father says
that by moving there and keeping together we can retain our customs
and our language and our church relations."

"But why . . . ?" Matthias wanted to know.  "What advantage is
there in the people of one church being so close?  I can see how
the Pilgrims of England--persecuted as they were--But you're not."

"My father says none but the followers of Luther are right, and it
is not well to mingle so much with others.  Already two of the
young people have married out of the church."

If Matthias held his own opinion on the iniquitous depths of that
sin, he did not say so.  Indeed, when she was speaking so earnestly
he found himself far more interested in watching her long lashes
sweep a soft cheek.

"Our farm is already sold to the English Dunbar family.  All things
are as near ready to go as is possible . . . the wagons are kept
always in repair--and the harnesses.  Already many barrels are
packed.  When the men arrive, all the families need is a short time
for the last of the baking and the loading of the wagons, and the
colony can start.  My father says it is like the German army, each
knowing his part and obeying orders instantly."

For some time sitting there on the sunken log in the clearing the
girl told of the plans for the coming journey.  Matthias, listening
and commenting, was disturbed at his own disturbance over the
moving.  Once he ventured again:  "This man . . . if you do not
love him . . . ?"

She glanced away.  "I am promised," she said simply.

Very soon, in spite of nature's heralding of the spring, it grew
too cool, and when the sun dipped behind the top of the timber, the
chilliness of the air made the girl suddenly shiver.

"You must go in," Matthias was all solicitude, but found himself
hinting broadly:  "You do not wish me to go?"

"Nein.  It would be too hard to explain to my father.  He could not
understand that you were--" she put out her hand, "a new friend."

At that, Matthias forgot the coming journey and the faith of Martin
Luther, the domineering father and the affianced who was far off
beyond the Big Muddy.

"Meet me here again next Sunday afternoon, Amalia.  You'll come?
It couldn't be otherwise."

When she hesitated, he said, to test her:  "Or I shall come boldly
to the house to call on my new friend."

"I'll come," she turned away, anxious and hurried now that she had
been here such a long time.  "But it will be wrong," she called
over her shoulder.

"And beautiful," Matthias grinned back at her impudently so that
she, too, was smiling a bit mischievously when she went away.



CHAPTER III


All week Amalia went about her housework.  She cooked and cleaned
and scrubbed in her energetic and immaculate way.  Everything was
as it had been,--save one.  And all week Matthias sold his uncle's
iron wares, kept the books, and occasionally shod a horse at the
blacksmith end of the shop.  And everything was as it had been,--
save one.

Sunday was milder.  The Big Woods gave forth the pungent odor of
bursting buds and warming leaf-mold.  At the creek-bed fuzzy
pussies scratched insistently inside the branches of the willows.
Wild gray geese flew honking across the timber-land and disappeared
in the distant north.  Swallows darted high in their nuptial flight
and a meadow-lark sat on a stake-and-rider fence and sang the
prairie's love song to the spring.

Amalia had been in the clearing only a short time when Matthias
came riding through the damp dark timber road and into the open.
At the sight of the gallant figure that had scarce been out of her
mind all week, she stopped, frightened at the import of the moment,
her hand at her throat as though she must stifle the call of her
heart to him.

With no word Matthias dismounted, threw Trixie's bridle-reins over
a scrub oak and with open arms walked toward the girl.

With no word Amalia, trembling, waited for him to come.  It was not
until his arms closed around her and he had kissed her--and even
for a long moment afterward--that a word was spoken.

"I have thought of you every moment."  His voice shook with
emotion.

"And I of you."

"You must break your betrothal, Amalia."

"At this moment it is broken, Matthias."

"This . . ." said Matthias after a time, "is what love is."

"Yes," said Amalia, "I know now.  All week I have known."

"And when the homesteaders go you will stay with me?  My uncle is
old.  In time I shall be able to buy the foundry from him.  It is
not my choice of businesses.  I have been restless in it, but with
you to be there with me, I shall settle down and like it better."

"I will stay, Matthias.  I fear for the trouble it will make, but I
will stay."

"And you do not think it wicked, then, to marry outside the
church?" he teased her.  "Do I seem now such a heathen . . . such a
monster?"  But when he saw how troubled it made her, he drew her to
him again with comforting words, calling her his kleine Taube,--
"little dove" in the English.

The afternoon slipped away as they talked of this new-old thing
that had come to them.

"Spring!  It seems that this spring belongs just to us, and to no
other," Amalia said once.

"But they will keep coming, little dove.  Think of it.  They
will ALL be ours.  All our lives we'll live them over and over
together . . . this same feel in the air . . . the odors of the
woods . . . the wild geese honking . . ."

"Even when we grow very old . . ."

Matthias laughed at that.  How could youth grow old?  "I shall hold
you close then, just as I do now, and say:  'It's spring again,
Amalia!  They keep coming.'"

"And I shall say:  'They will go on . . . forever . . . even though
we grow old . . . and after.'"

But there were other things besides these sentimental generalities
to discuss, so that they must put an end to their first rapturous
moments, sit down on the log and speak of the seriousness of the
future.  Matthias would have gone immediately to the house but
Amalia would not hear of it.  "Not to-day--" she begged him.  "It
is so beautiful.  For when that time comes, we shall have anger and
harsh words.  No, Matthias, give me my perfect day."

And because she would have it so, he did not go in to confront her
father, but left her there in the clearing until he should come
again.

On the next Sunday there came a dash of warm rain as he rode into
the clearing, and at once he saw her in the doorway of the sheep-
shelter, a hooded gossamer about her shoulders.

He had brought her a gift,--a little work-box covered with shells,--
angel-wings and moon shells, Roman snails, and other fragile fan-
like shells of a sea they had never seen.  On the under side of the
cover a mirror fitted into the blue silk lining and in the various
compartments were a needle-ball and a pin-cushion and a tiny silver
thimble.

Amalia, to whom gifts were rare, was quite beside herself with joy
at the daintiness of the treasure.  Almost were the strange queer
shells symbolic to her of things to come,--unknown journeys with
Matthias to far-off seas, hearing the sound of wind in whipping
sails and the call of the gulls on the sand.

But when Matthias would have gone in to see her father, she put him
off again.  She had meant to break the news, she told him, but
always when she was about to speak, her courage had failed her.  If
he would give her but another week, she would prepare him for the
announcement which would so anger him.  Of one thing she was
certain, it must come first from her own lips.

But on the following Sunday when he arrived there was no question
about Matthias interviewing the father this time, for Wilhelm
Stoltz was away,--gone to one of the church friend's home many
miles up the river.  It gave Amalia a delicious sense of freedom so
that she was as gay as a child.

She had a wonderful piece of news for him,--she had used the
thimble and one of the needles.  Already she had started a quilt,--
the Tree of Life pattern,--Baum des Lebens.  Even now two finished
blocks were in the shell box.

"Ever since I was a tiny girl I have sewed," she said to him.  "It
comes very easy to me.  Many times I have made things for my hope
chest"--hoffnung Kiste, she called it--"knowing I must some day wed
but not knowing who the man would be.  When I knew it was but my
father's friend Herman . . ."

She sighed, so that Matthias' arms went around her again and he
drew her close.  "But it will be no Herman now . . ." (kleine
Taube) . . . "little dove."

"No . . . never.  And this is so different . . . to think of you as
I sew."

But even while she clung to him she told him this:  "I wake in the
night and think of this which I am doing contrary to my father's
wishes.  I feel then that I am wicked . . . but when morning comes
I know that it is not wicked at all . . . just happiness and
right."

And when Matthias said nothing could come between them now, she
confessed:  "Of that I am sure . . . and yet I am sad to part from
my young brother Fritz.  That is my greatest sorrow.  As for
leaving our good people . . . they will all be angry and hurt . . ."

But Matthias turned that away with lover-like speed.  "When they
know how much we love each, other . . . they will see that it could
not be otherwise."  Of such are the simple rules of youth.

"But my father has so often said only woe comes to those who marry
outside the church."

"Love . . . our kind of love . . . is greater than the teachings of
a single church."

And now that the afternoon was waning she was anxious and alert
about her father's return.

"What was that, Matthias?" she would say, startled.

"Nothing . . . some little wild thing . . . a chipmunk or a
squirrel."

And because of her constant watchfulness on this Sunday, Matthias
was firm.  "You shall cease your worries," calling her liebes Kind.
"It is not good to fear so.  It shall not go on longer.  Next
Sunday I shall tell him, and we will face the consequences.  If he
is too angry, I shall take you home with me on Trixie with no
baggage.  My aunt will take you in and we shall be married at
once."

He kissed her again and again, held her close to him, could
scarcely bear to leave her.  Even when he had mounted Trixie and
was riding into the timber road he turned back for the last sight
of her.

She stood just in front of an alder thicket, and as he looked, she
raised her hand high in farewell.

He carried that picture with him all the way home: Amalia, a little
blue and pink and golden figure against the green of the new
leaves, as though Spring herself had just stepped out of the alder
thicket.  His kleine Taube,--little dove!



CHAPTER IV


The week dragged for Matthias,--seven days that were weighted down
with the iron of horseshoes and kettles, plowshares and skillets.
The first part of it was all sunshine and mild showers, but on
Thursday night a storm broke.  The rains came in torrents.  All day
Friday they lashed and tore at the woods and the prairies.  All
night and all day Saturday and all that night they beat in a fierce
onslaught.  A part of the mill-dam went out and a weakened span of
the river bridge could not stand the pounding of the flood waters.
On Sunday morning the water was roaring and lashing through all the
creek-beds and then spreading less turbulently over the valley,
inundating all that which had been pasture lands.

Matthias made every attempt to make the trip to Amalia.  All day he
worked, hoping to find some means whereby he could get through.
Many times he rode back and forth seeking some more narrow place
where Trixie could make the crossing.  But always it was too wide
or too turbulent.  He tried getting her into a flat boat but she
reared and kicked and was completely beside herself with fear.  He
knew that even if he had been able to manage a boat through the
roaring waters for himself the distance for walking was so great
that it would have taken into the night to get there.

When he gave up the attempt, he stood for a long time on the bank
as the water swept by.  In a mental rage he watched a pigeon fly
straight for the Big Woods community.  How impotent was man.  Only
the birds could lift wings and soar high over the flood waters.
Amalia was waiting for him over there but he was helpless in the
face of nature.  A winged thing could fly to its mate.  Only man
and the beasts must cling to the earth and crawl.

But on the next Sunday he could get through.  The river was still
high and the creek-beds running full, but man's ingenuity had made
the river passable with a temporarily trussed-up bridge span.

He took a lantern with him for he knew he might be well into the
night getting back.  This was the day he was to confront Amalia's
father, possibly the day he was to bring her home with him.  He had
a feeling that there would be a scene, ending, no doubt, in his
taking Amalia away without baggage.  If it came to that, he was
prepared to do so.

Two weeks not to have seen her!  The time had been interminable.
But he was on his way at last even though the going was formidable.
Sometimes Trixie sank in mud so deep she nearly floundered.
Sometimes he had to dismount to clear fallen branches away from the
wet timber road.  Then he would mount and ride on with the air of a
conqueror glorying in this journey which was to end by his claiming
that which was his own,--the girl who had been his from the moment
he first saw her.  Occasionally he felt a bit of the winner's
sympathy for his fallen adversary.  But to have pledged a little
sixteen-year-old girl to a mere family friend was unthinkable.
Yes, if there was to be a scene, let it come to-day.

These terse thoughts went through his mind like so many pigeons
going over, homing always to Amalia.  He tied his horse in the
dripping woods.  This was the end of secretiveness,--on that he was
determined.

She was not in the clearing.  That would be on account of the
dampness.  He strode over to the sheep-shed.  She might be there
hiding mischievously from him.  But she was not at that trysting
place either.  Might she be ill?

With that disquieting thought he started walking over toward the
road that led to the house.  Suddenly he stopped short.  There was
no kettle hanging there in the clearing,--only the tipped-over
tripod of hickory sticks and the sodden black ashes of the last
fire.  Something seized him,--a premonition of impending disaster,
so that he started on a lope toward the home buildings.  A tow-
headed young boy, the same who had directed him on his first visit,
was coming toward him also with some haste.  They met almost at the
edge of the timber where the plowed land began.

"You didn't come last Sunday," the boy said in English.  "I about
give you up to-day, too . . . was just comin' to the clearin' once
more.  She said to give you this."

And he thrust into Matthias' hands a note directed in the precise
and shaded letters of the German script.

As Matthias took the letter and tore hastily into it, the boy
stepped away and began pulling bits of bark from the shaggy coat of
a soft maple.

Even before he had read a word, Matthias knew it contained nothing
but disaster.  For a few moments, then, he stood looking at the
neat script, frozen to immobility, too fearful of the contents to
read.

To speak the language was easy enough,--he had heard it on all
sides from boyhood.  But the reading was more difficult for he had
been to English schools, even to the Princeville Academy for a
short time, and the writing of the language had been confined to
early copy-book work.  So it seemed that he must translate into
English as he read.

In his agitation some peculiar instinctive knowledge of what had
happened helped him to make the translation.  By a labored reading,
skipping some of the phrases, he got the gist of it:


This is news . . . convey to you . . . wagons of church people
ready now . . . make long journey . . . new land.  Men did not
return . . . sent word by letter . . . meet them Nebraska City,
Nebraska Territory.  There they await us . . . show way to new
lands.  It is there in Nebraska City I marry.


And something more at the last pertaining to God and forgiveness
for which Matthias at that moment was neither interested nor
caring.

The words were all swimming together and the earth was falling away
from his feet.  He felt giddily ill.  The boy who had been watching
him covertly came up importantly then and Matthias saw him as
through a haze.  "She said she wanted I should get this one to you,
too."

The second note was neither precise nor neat.  It was ink-blurred,
hurriedly folded, almost it might have been tear stained.  In a
fever of anxiety to release himself from the shock of the stunning
news of the first letter he tried to read it quickly.

In his haste the translation seemed to be:


Matthias, my cruel note under command my father was written.  This
one I send after.  The wishes of my father . . . can no longer hold
out.  Many times myself I ask why we met when nothing could be.  I
better could have gone on not knowing you,--indeed, I had not been
too unhappy.


One sentence stood out with grim sardonic insistence--"One must not
marry outside the church."

Near the last there was a sentence over which he labored to get
just what she meant:  "Manchmal sage Ich mir vielleicht ist es
besser unsre Liebe zu gedenken als es war im Frühyahr."  And when
he got it, he knew it was:  "Sometimes I tell myself perhaps it is
better to remember our love as it was in the springtime."

There was something, too, about the quilt blocks:  "Unless I can be
with you again, I shall never finish.  The pieces will lie in my
box.  I think my heart lies there too."

Matthias looked up through the wavering tree trunks.  Dimly he saw
the boy walking away.  He called to him and gave him a small coin.
"Thanks for coming.  What day . . ." his throat was so dry the
words seemed to crackle ". . . did they go?"

"Two weeks come next Wednesday."

The Wednesday after the Sunday in which he had left her standing so
lovely there, in the clearing.  Involuntarily he turned his eyes
toward the alder thicket not far distant.  For a moment he could
see her as plainly as though she were there in reality.  Then the
picture grew dim, and nothing remained but the green dripping
boughs of the alders.

Mechanically he turned toward Trixie, stumbling blindly into the
protruding roots of a tree stump.  When he reached the mare he did
not mount her but walked along with the bridle over his arm, taking
the right trail only because Trixie led him into it.  Occasionally
she touched his shoulder with her cold soft nose.

The pungent odor of the loosened moist leaves under them came up to
him with every step.  A meadow-lark sang its liquid notes at the
edge of the clearing.  Gone.  Amalia was gone,--into the great
unsettled west,--to be married there.  It was a nightmare from
which he would soon waken.  No, it was true,--the reality after a
short sweet dream.

Shaken to the depths, his thoughts tumbled about uncertainly in a
whirling world.  One emotion after another went flooding through
him as the creek waters had flooded the lowlands.  A sickening
sense of loss and disappointment.  Astonishment,--he had never
dreamed of any other turn of events than that the seekers for land
would first return home as Amalia had said.  Self-remorse that he
had been so slow.  Self-chastisement that he had not forced some
means of crossing the river.  And then violent anger at man's
feeble efficiencies,--at a God who had sent the water to overflow,
at the tyranny of the father, at the narrowness of the church, at
the weakness of the girl.

His body seemed drained of blood so there was no strength left in
him, and he threw himself down on a wet and matted bed of oak
leaves where they had turned to brown pulp.

Over and over in his mind he relived the circumstances of their
meeting: the love that seemed to spring between them from that very
first day, the trysts in the woods, the softness of her lips and
the feel of her body in his arms.  His kleine Taube, little dove.

All these weeks.  And now he would not hold her in his arms in
another week, nor in another month, nor a year, nor a decade, nor
EVER.  Never!  It rang in his mind like the brassy sound of a
jangling bell.  There was hollowness in the spring, mockery in the
song of the meadow-lark.  Life was empty, drained of its reason for
being.  He threw an arm across his eyes and turning his face down
to the sodden earth, shed wild and angry tears.

For a long time he lay there in the midst of the fallen world in
which disappointment and disillusion were the only factors.  What
matter now that the meadow-lark trilled the prairie's love song to
the spring?  Of what portent that the sun shone?  That the sweet
odors of the waxy white May flowers near by were heavy on the air?
These were not of his man's mind.  Over and over he lived the
imaginary scenes of the journey upon which Amalia was being taken,--
saw the covered wagons pulled through the stickiness of the mud
with the father loudly chiding the lovely girl by his side,--
visioned the arriving at the territorial town, the Herman of her
betrothal meeting her, the marriage against which she was
revolting.  At that, in his sick imaginings, he felt himself
snatching her away bodily from the outstretched arms of this
strange man--

Suddenly a thought struck him with lightning-like effect.
Immediately he sat up and brushed a hand across his eyes, a dozen
things crowding his mind at once.  The colonists were to meet the
men in that far-off Nebraska City.  Amalia couldn't be married
until the wagons reached there.  How long would it take them to
make the trip?  Four weeks, perhaps, if there were no delays.  They
had been gone twelve days.

The town lay hundreds of miles across the Illinois and Iowa plains
on the Missouri River, a long, long journey.  It had become a sort
of gateway to the new country, the hub of the overland trails which
stretched from it and on to the west beyond.  It was the beginning
of the young man's country, the young man's hope of wealth.
Hundreds of them were seeking their fortune out there.  Why not do
so, too?  What matter that his uncle expected him to stay and take
over the business eventually?  The Unknown Land was calling.  This
accounted for his restlessness, his vague irritation at everything
about the little foundry.  He, too, must answer the call.

If he could but get to this Nebraska City in some way before the
wagons!

He read the note for the dozenth time.  Amalia had told him the
father's plans for her.  Was it a veiled suggestion that he try to
follow?  To have said "Unless I can be with you again . . ."  Did
she hope?  Did she have it in mind even as she wrote?  Well, then,
he would not fail her.  He did not know just how or by what way,
but he, too, would go.  Perhaps by taking the river route he could
arrive there ahead of the caravan.  Then there would be no marriage
to a member of the colony.  He would snatch her from them, carry
her away.

A wild exuberance seized him.  His grief passed into a sense of
exaltation, as though the thing were already accomplished.  He
jumped to his feet, shook the soggy leaves and twigs from his
clothes, mounted Trixie and was off, crashing through the narrow
dark timber road.



CHAPTER V


To the Lutheran homesteaders the journey out of Illinois and into
the plains of Iowa had been a tedious and apparently endless trip.
For weeks now they had lurched over trails which took them through
prairie grass and sunflowers, down creek-beds and across gulleys,
into tangled clumps of wild growth and past an occasional
settlement.  It had rained much of the time and the crude wagons
drawn by stolid oxen and heavy-footed plow-horses jerked through
thick black mud or jounced over the uneven dry ground until some of
the women were ill from the torture of the constant shaking.

Day after day the prairie-schooners had crept on to the west,--a
winding procession like so many tiny, gray-colored bugs following a
twisting line on the wide expanse of a school-room map.  The
cracking of the blacksnakes, the stentorian calls of the drivers,
the creaking of the wagons, were all the sounds heard as the
caravan made slow and tortuous progress toward the ever-receding
rim of the world.

Night after night they had formed in a wide circle around the
fires, their cattle and horses corralled by this human perimeter,
more safe from any potential marauder than if left outside of it.
There was no danger from the redskins in Iowa, they felt,--but of
Nebraska they were not certain.  It had been only a few years since
the alarm had been spread in the town of Omaha concerning the
report of Indian outrages, and the militia had gone out to subdue
the Pawnees at Battle Creek.  No more Indian troubles had been
known in the eastern third of the territory for a half-dozen years,
but the men said no one could ever tell when it might break out
again.  On beyond there were tribes of them always ready to steal
cattle and to commit various offenses, but it was scarcely to be
supposed that they would attack so large a group.

Today, Amalia, riding beside her brother in one of their two
wagons, was shaken almost to the point of illness, for never had
the trail seemed so rough.  Although the household things had been
packed together as solidly as possible, sometimes when the horses
forded a creek-bed or lumbered down a rough incline the chairs and
walnut bureau knocked together, and the new soap-kettle with its
perfect rounded bottom took to rocking back and forth perilously.

The menfolks had said they thought they must be getting near the
Nishnabotna River region which lay only a few days' journey this
side of the Missouri.  All indications seemed to point that way.
They were rather excited about a possible sight of the Big Muddy in
a few days now.

But Amalia took no great interest in this news.  She made no
inquiry, commented on nothing,--merely clung to the seat of the
lurching wagon and lived over again the days of her leaving,--days
whose happenings would be forever burned in her memory.

She had been working on her Baum des Lebens--Tree of Life--quilt-
block in her bedroom, had hidden it quickly as her father came to
the door.  She could still see him standing there, big and
bustling, filling the doorway, dominating the scene, his sandy
beard and thick mustaches almost bristling with importance.

"Well, Amalia, I have news."

"News?" she had said, her body going suddenly cold.

"Yah, the men do not wait to return.  Instead they have sent word
to us.  They have found suitable lands many miles to the west of
the town of Nebraska City.  We are to go as soon as possible and
meet them there in that territorial town."

Sitting here beside her brother now, on this endless, lurching
journey, she could feel again the faintness stealing over her at
his "We go now."

He had shouted it, excited because of the coming important event.
"Fritz brings me the letter just now.  You I tell first."  He
laughed at his joke:  "You are the favored,--the one of all honored
by me to know first."

"We go?"  She had repeated it in a whisper.

"Yah!  Fritz at once rides to the homes of our people.  It is like
the Paulus Rewere Fritz told us from school.  To-day I give the
command.  Each knows his part.  There shall be no delay.  It is, as
I have said, like an army under orders,--the army of the Lord.
You know your part well.  At once the extra baking and roasting of
the meat.  Then, even as these cool, the last of the packing.  The
sacks of oats and the seed corn at once Fritz loads in the second
wagon.  Myself I oversee all.  Come Wednesday morning we start . . .
Thursday at the latest.  That day come the Dunbars to take over the
house."

Riding silently by Fritz she was living it all over again,
trembling a little now even as she had trembled then.  She had
tried to tell him.

"Father, I must tell you at once.  I do not go."

"Do not go?"  The syllables had been lightning bolts.

"No . . . for I cannot now marry Herman Holmsdorfer."

"Have you lost your reason?"

"Nein."  At the dear thought of Matthias she had gained a bit of
courage.  "It is only that the young man at the foundry . . . you
recall where we bought the kettle . . . ?  Do not be angry,
Father . . . he has been here several times since."

"Has he . . . ?  He has . . . molested you?"

Amalia flinched again with pain at the memory of the evil thing her
father had suggested.  How could he have so translated a beautiful
thing?  How could there ever be evil when two people loved the way
she and Matthias did?

"Father!  He loves me . . . and I . . ."

"Go on . . . lest in my anger I strike you."

". . . I love him, too, Father . . . so much."

"Du Narr!" he had flung at her, calling his Amalia a fool for
loving.

Lurching through the sodden wild grass of the Iowa prairie, she
closed her eyes now as though she might forever shut out the period
that followed, a time as of a great storm which lashed and beat
with words, which closed over her in its fury of commands and
threats, so that rather than drown in the beating stress of it she
had promised obedience.

If only she had acquiesced for once and all at that time, but she
must do something which merely made matters much worse.  On the
evening before they were to leave she had rolled a few things into
a little bundle, slipped out and started down the timber road
toward Matthias so many miles away.  At the sound of a horse's
hoofs thudding behind her she had slipped into the underbrush at
the side.  But she had not been quick enough, for the lantern's
light had focused itself upon her like an evil eye, and her
father's cold voice had ordered her to come forth.  Well, her
spirit was crushed then.  There was nothing more to do.

In two things only had she been deceitful,--in writing a second
letter to Matthias after the dictated one, and in bringing the
shell box with her.  She had written her heart out to her lover in
a note dictated by no one, and, when ordered to leave the dear gift
behind for Mrs. Dunbar, she had pretended to do so.  But even now
it was in the wagon wrapped in many layers of unbleached muslin
sheeting.

"What have you there?" her father had asked as she brought out the
yellow-white bundle.

It was then that she had openly lied.  "The freshest of the bread,"
she had answered.  And if God would not forgive her, she did not
even care.

For the first time after all the tragic days, riding now with
Fritz, they spoke of the unhappy situation.  The fifteen-year-old
brother had something on his mind which had worried him for weeks.
He could scarcely speak for the closing of his throat against the
words.  "I . . . myself I hate, Mollia.  This you do not know
before.  It was I who told Father I saw you go down the timber
road.  I did not then know the reason.  I would not . . . would
not . . . have harmed you."

"Do not worry.  Nothing was your fault."

"Are you then so unhappy?"

"I can never know happiness again, Fritz."

The youth shook his head.  "It is bad.  You should not be unhappy.
You are so pretty.  We could have managed . . . Father and I.  I am
a man now."

It broke something in Amalia, some tight-bound band around her
heart and throat which had not been loosed for days.  She, who had
been like a dead woman for all this time, wept wildly.  Her young
brother needing her,--her lover wanting her.  The church pulling
her one way,--Matthias another.  Obedience asking one thing,--love
another.  Why did God bring such agony into the world?  They taught
you God was good.  Was it true?

The wagon lurched on through the miles of sodden grass and
sunflowers, thickets of sumac, wild plum and Indian currant.

After a while she calmed.  "Fritz, I confide in you.  You will
never tell on Amalia?"

"Nein, sister."

"I am praying that I shall see him again," and did not notice that
she was turning to the God about whom she had so recently
questioned.  "Is it too much to ask?"

"How can that be?  So far away?"

"Always in the back of my mind, Fritz, I have it that he might come
too, that getting my letter on Sunday after the Wednesday we left
he would try to overtake us even though so far away and seek me
out."

"It is a big thing to hope for."

"He was like that."  She spoke proudly.  "And his love was like
that."

"I wish for you it could be."  He glanced shyly side-wise at his
sister.

"Perhaps I wish it so much that I make myself think it could be.
Do you think it could come true, brother?"

"It could come true," he answered simply.  And if he kept to
himself the thought that it was not likely, that no one could ever
overtake another in this vast ocean of prairie country, it was out
of boyish sympathy for Mollia.

Ahead of them lumbered slowly as always through the sodden grass
the other wagon belonging to their father and the two of the
Schaffers.

Amalia turned now and glanced back across the wide spaces of the
prairie.  Behind them on the trail came the three wagons of the
Kratzes, the two of the Rhodenbachs, the two of the Gebhardts,--
four of them oxen-drawn, three with teams of horses.  She knew the
outfits, every horse and ox as well as their own.  As always there
were only these same plodding creatures,--no other.



CHAPTER VI


Matthias Meier was standing on the dock at St. Louis, surveying the
scene before him with both impatience and satisfaction.

A wilderness of steamboats confronted his vision.  Some were just
leaving dock, the hoarse coughing of their exhaust-pipes making
discordant notes.  Others were coming in, the screeching of their
whistles adding to the already deafening din.  Small boats slipped
in and out and between the larger freighters like busy waterbugs,
twisting and turning with insect abandon.  The air was charged with
the electric-like energy of movement.

As he surveyed the vessel Missouri Queen, in which he was to make
the rest of his trip up the Big Muddy, he had the complacent
feeling of already having accomplished his objective.

He had arrived in St. Louis without mishap and the overland
travelers would be moving much more slowly than he,--of that he was
sure.  The stolid oxen and heavy-footed horses pulling their clumsy
prairie-schooners would do scarcely more than sixteen miles per
day.  There would be the long halts to make camp.  Added to that
would be the perverseness of the cattle the settlers were driving,
their stubborn stops and futile meanderings off the trail.  The
rains, too, were delaying the caravan, no doubt.  Black Illinois
and Iowa mud would be an obstacle with which to reckon.  Even at
this date he would wager anything they had not gone one-third of
the way across Iowa.

Rains would not delay the steamboat, he thought exultingly.  She
would slip up the Big Muddy and land him in Nebraska City before
the colonists had arrived.  To see Amalia face to face,--to
confront her father,--nothing could then keep her from him.  He
thought rather shamefacedly of his agony there in the woods when
all the time the remedy of it was possible.

He surveyed the vessel now with a boyish sense of proprietorship.
Never having been on a Missouri River steamer before he eagerly
took in the details of this one that was to house him for his long
journey.

She was an attractive-looking craft, one deck above the other, the
pilot-house and texas still above those.  The whiteness of her
newly applied coat of paint made her look very aristocratic riding
there majestically on the slow rise and dip of the river, a little
like the birthday cakes his aunt had made,--the main deck one
layer, the boiler deck another, then the texas, containing the
suite of rooms for the vessel's officer, topped by the pilot-house
high over the river so that the height of the pilot might stress
the clarity of his vision in seeing down into the sandy channels.
High above all these towered the two lofty smokestacks carrying
their sparks away from the roof and giving a strong draft to the
furnace,--the candles on the cake, he thought, and grinned to
himself at his whimsy.

Two cannon faced bankward in both directions, probably used now
only for the purpose of firing salutes, but carrying withal that
gesture of authority for any loitering miscreants.

She was about two hundred feet long and perhaps thirty-five wide,
he decided.  The bottom looked flat.  His curiosity keen, he asked
a Negro crew-hand near how much water she drew and was told with
much grotesque flapping of large hands that she was "drawin' thirty
inches now, boss," but would be down to fifty when the five hundred
tons of cargo were all aboard.

That cargo was now being loaded,--great hogsheads of molasses,
household goods, horses, wagons, mules, bales of hay and oats for
the stock aboard, these latter supplies to be replenished in St.
Joseph.

The vessel was propelled by a steam wheel,--two engines on the
respective sides connecting directly with the wheel shaft.  The
last word in river craft, she had steam capstans in the forecastle
and two huge spars for that possible occasion when she would have
to be pushed over the tricky shifting sands of the river.

"Dis old ribber . . ." the deck-hand contributed, "she done be
onreli'ble as a gal."

It set Matthias' mind to working again, momentarily drawn away by
the reference to woman and her caprices.  Where was Amalia now?
Where the ox-train creeping over the plains?  What if it were
farther along than his judgment had told him?  He grew anxious at
the thought.

"There must be no delay," he said.  "It's necessary that I get to
Nebraska City as soon as possible."

At which the dark boy gave a white, flashing smile and threw out
those expressive brown flappers.  "Yas sah!  Ah'll tell old Missie
Ribber about dat."

And then they were leaving,--with the hoarse sound of whistles,
bells, chugging of wheels, Negroes' songs, laughter, sobbing,
farewells.  It gave Matthias a momentary pang in remembering his
recent parting from the good uncle and aunt whose disappointment at
his going had been so keen, the latter of whom had given him a
needle-book, admonitions, a New Testament, mittens, advice and
packages of quinine, calomel and catnip.

Leaning on the railing now, Matthias' blood beat warm within him.
This was the real part of the journey.  On to a new country,--a new
start in life!  On to Nebraska City in the raw new territory to be
there when the Lutheran settlers came in!  His enthusiasm over the
future knew no bounds.  Some of it was an impassioned emotion over
the fact that he would still have Amalia, some the natural
reactions after his grief and disappointment, some his forward-
looking plans for a new business in a new country, and some of it
was merely Hope of Youth.

The gang-plank was up now.  They were really under way.  Crowds
thronged the rails.  Almost all were calling out their last
farewells.  It seemed that Matthias was the only one without
friends left behind.  No, there was one other,--a sun-burned,
leathery-looking sort of young fellow apparently about his own age.
They were not far apart, and through some interchange of thought,
perhaps, just now their eyes met in a quick appraising look.  So
friendly did each seem to find the other's expression that almost
simultaneously they drew together at the rail.

"First trip?" the young chap asked Matthias.

"Yes.  Yours?"

"Nope.  First one was ten years ago when I was nine.  Mother was a
widder woman.  Took us up the Muddy to find a home.  Landed at
Plattsmouth.  Just three or four houses there then,--Mother knowed
one of the families.  Had to sleep on the floor with several other
newcomers.  Toward mornin' door opened and three old Injun bucks
come in and stepped around all over us lookin' down in our faces.
Had the hardest time gettin' Ma to stay and settle.  She was all
for leggin' it back to the steamer still tied up to the post and
vamoosin' in favor of returnin' to civilization."  And the young
fellow laughed long and hilariously.

They told each other their names and destinations.

"Charlie Briggs."

"Matthias Meier."

"Plattsmouth in the main, but stoppin' in Nebraska City, claimin'
my team I left there and pushin' on to Plattsmouth 'cross the
prairie."

"Nebraska City is where I'm stopping for a time."

There was other information Matthias gleaned from his new-found
friend that first afternoon of their acquaintance.  Charlie Briggs
had learned surveying.  He had a homestead not far from Plattsmouth
but mostly his younger brothers looked after it while he was off on
all sorts of surveying, freighting and scouting missions.

"Volunteered a year ago last October to help put down the Sioux
Injuns.  Saw the Plum Creek massacre in Phelps County,--got home
the very day last April year, the life o' the best president of
these here United States got snuffed out."

Both were silent for a few moments,--that wordless reverence of all
Union men for the fallen leader.

But not for long could Charlie Briggs remain silent.

He knew--and talked of--the great Platte Valley, had been up the
Elkhorn, taken one trip to the Republican Valley.  The Platte, he
said, was flat and by nature treeless.  It had shallow, muddy
water, swarms of mosquitoes and greenhead flies, prairie-dog towns
and rattlesnakes,--the country of the Elkhorn was rich and fine
with quite a bit of natural timber along the creeks and rivers.  He
explained the trails, north and south of the Platte River,--the one
on the south with its converging trails like the tines of a fork
starting from Independence, Missouri, St. Joseph, Leavenworth, and
Nebraska City.

He had all the information of the new country at his tongue's end,--
the difference of the soil in the Platte, the Elkhorn, the
Republican, and the Loup Valleys.  He knew where the native trees
thrived--the cottonwood, and the oak, the elm and the ash.  He knew
the Indian tribes, their locale and their habits,--told Matthias
about the old Pawnees that had once lived in the Valley of the
Republican, the Kitkehahki tribe, and the chief who at the
instigation of the young Lieutenant Pike had ordered down the
Spanish flag flying in front of the lodge and raised the Stars and
Stripes; related the story of the attack on the Arikara Indians by
the soldiers from Fort Atkinson who were joined by the Sioux
enemies of the Arikaras, how they overpowered them and feasted on
the Indians' roasted corn while the peace treaty was being
negotiated.

He had at his tongue's end the history of much of the territory
since the days of Coronado and his Spanish horsemen who had once
set out to discover the mythical land of Quivira with its silver
and precious stones and its king who slept under a great tree with
golden bells on its branches, and found instead a vast plain with
wild grass and Indians and queer cows with humped backs.

He enjoyed the telling of these tales and not in all the afternoon
did he cease from imparting them.  "Follow the prairie-dogs and
Mormons and you'll find good land," was one of his sage pieces of
wisdom.

It rather fascinated Matthias, the young man's ready knowledge of
the territory since an earlier day,--and his own more recent
adventures.

"Killed buffaloes?  Lord, by the dozens.  Pick on your animal,
shoot, skin the carcass, let it freeze, chop off a hunk with your
ax, throw it in a Dutch oven and a couple hours later get busy."

With no recess for his monologue, he went on:

"Buffalo used to be swimmin' along here where we are most any time.
They tell a yarn about a greenhorn seein' 'em once for the first
time when he was off in a yawl with a passel o' old timers.  This
fellow could handle a rope right smart, so they got him to set in
the bow with a lasso and the first one they should wound could be
roped.  Some of the crew fired and wounded one but the greenie
threw the rope over the head of one that wasn't hit.  The crew
shouted and backed oars to get old man Buffalo in deeper waters,
but his feet touched bottom and he went up the bank with the boat
tied to him and would have took it on a cruise all over the prairie
if the stem of it hadn't been wrenched off and carried away by the
mad animal.  Fellows was left shipwrecked far away from their
steamboat."

Matthias grinned his skepticism.  "Funny how the fellow couldn't
have let go of the rope."

Charlie Briggs spat over the railing:  "Never spile a good
story . . . and besides rope wa'n't so plentiful they wanted to
give any away."

"Any hostility along here now from Indians?"  Matthias had carried
the question in his mind for some time.

"Naw.  Only a few years ago they was barricadin' decks and state-
rooms,--keepin' up day and night vigilance.  Mostly now any
hostilities is above the Niobrara from the Sioux tribes on farther
west.  Pawnees is friendly."

By dusk the boat tied up for the night,--navigation through the
treacherous sand-bars was too precarious.  If Matthias chafed at
the lost hours, he had only to remember that the overland travelers
were making camp too.

He and Charlie Briggs sat out on the deck talking until the
mosquitoes drove them in, when they joined the other passengers in
the too-crowded parlor-like cabin,--for the most part a motley
crowd of fussy old ladies with poodle-dogs, anxious mothers with
sleeping children, planters, giddy young girls, whole families
moving to the new country, many unattached men.  Immigration to the
territories of Kansas and Nebraska was heavy.

There was some attempt at music that evening in the stuffy cabin,--
a group of young fellows volunteering the tear-jerking "Thou Hast
Learned to Love Another" and "Meet Me By Moonlight Alone" and the
rendition of "Marching Through Georgia" with an aftermath of sullen
remarks and a miniature reproduction of the late war on an after-
deck.

Matthias' eyes swept the clusters of young girls coldly in spite of
the evident admiration for his stalwart figure some of them plainly
showed.  Not one was little, dainty, fair-haired and blue-eyed.
How could a man care for any other type?

In the days that followed, the boat proceeded very slowly on its up-
river journey, gliding along smoothly enough over the turbid water.
On the seventh day it put in at Weston for repairs.  Matthias
chafed over the delay until Charlie Briggs hinted broadly:  "Ye'd
think the' was some REASON why ye GOT to git there."

Matthias, however, was non-committal.  He would never wear his
heart on his sleeve, particularly to one he had known no longer
than young Briggs.  But unlike as the two young men were, there
were qualities which drew them together on the whole trip,--a
common love of adventure and progress, sincerity of purpose, and
some unnamed characteristic which each felt in the other,--a sort
of gallant attitude toward humanity.

It was the morning of the ninth day out before they could proceed.
The weather turned cold and disagreeable.  There was no more
promenading on the wind-swept deck by the giggling girls.  There
were various rumbles of dissatisfaction from the passengers, too,
for eatables were getting low and fare was very poor.

They were in Kansas now.  One side of the river bank was sheer
steep bluffs, the other vast stretches of prairie, dotted with
patches of timber.  It all looked very wild.

On the eleventh day they docked at St. Joe.  A child died and was
taken ashore by a hysterical family.  A doctor was called hurriedly
from the passengers to attend a woman in childbirth in one of the
stuffy state-rooms.  A young bride came aboard on her way to
California, happy and blithesome, thinking that all California was
a paradise.  Life is a loom, weaving gay colors indiscriminately
with those of somber hue.

And now the long journey was nearing its end.  They would get to
Brownville on the twelfth day,--the seat of the United States land
office in which Daniel Freeman only a little over three years
before had obtained the first homestead in the whole territory just
after the midnight hour of the day in which the law went into
effect,--the place from which the first territorial telegram had
been sent six years before.  From there to Nebraska City was but a
short journey.

Charlie Briggs in his loquacious way was recounting much of this to
Matthias now, recalling some of the anecdotes concerning slaves
that had been brought through this section by way of the
underground railroad.

The two young men were sitting on deck on the Nebraska side looking
shoreward, Charlie Briggs pointing out some distant upstream spot.

"Along nigh about a dozen miles over there is the way John Brown
brung slaves many's the time from Missouri by way of Falls City,
Little Omaha, Camp Creek and Nebraska City to Tabor, Iowa.  Can
pint out the barn to ye in Falls City they hid in whenever . . ."
His high-pitched voice broke off.

There had been a grinding noise, a quivering of the boat's frame.
With a sickening shiver, as a huge animal might shake in the steely
mouth of a bear trap, the Missouri Queen stopped.

"Sufferin' snakes!"  Charlie Briggs jumped up.  "We're on a sand-
bar."



CHAPTER VII


When the Missouri Queen settled grumblingly into the treacherous
sand which had shifted since the steamer's last trip, Matthias was
a picture of surprise and irritation.  "How long will it be?" he
wanted to know at once.

Charlie Briggs who had known the river since his childhood days
shrugged lean muscular shoulders.  "Can't tell.  She may be settin'
pretty."

And settin' pretty she was.

Now came the work of the two huge spars which like the legs of some
gigantic insect swung into position as though the white bug of a
steamer intended to walk over the water and be at once on its way.
But the bug stupidly lay thrashing impotent legs and could not
move.

With every available means the crew and some of the passengers,
including Matthias and Charlie Briggs, attempted to get her off.
Men in small boats put out to shore and drove stakes into the bank,
around which they would wrap the rope attached to the vessel, and
pulling this with mighty tugs attempt to entice the vessel from her
sandy bed.  And every day she seemed lazily to settle farther into
the shifting silt of the treacherous river.

Four full days went by filled with exertion on the part of the
workers and with irritation over the delay by all hands.

Matthias was beside himself with anger and worry.  Under normal
conditions he would have chafed at the delay.  Now he was tormented
with the thought that after all these days the ox train might have
arrived at Nebraska City.  Sometimes he tried to comfort himself
with the thought that there would be much more delay for the horses
and oxen than this unlooked-for delay of the steamer.  He reminded
himself of all the minute and trying things which would come up to
delay their progress.  There would be the shoeing of the oxen,
tires to be set on more than one wagon, a broken spoke perhaps, the
constant delays for rounding up the driven cattle, early twilight
stops in order to make camp, none-too-early starts after a cooked
breakfast and repacking of the camp utensils and bedding, and
always the black Iowa mud after a rain.  But once the steamer was
off and on its way again nothing would stop it excepting nightfall.

On the fifth day they pulled off.  The next day they were caught
again by another sand-bar throwing its treacherous arms across a
channel which had been traversed easily on the boat's last trip.

This time Matthias slumped into the depths of despair.  This time
he was moved to confide in Charlie Briggs concerning his love for
Amalia, his friendship for the young chap having progressed to this
point.  Once he even wildly suggested the possible purchase of a
horse from some passenger, swim it to shore, there to take to land.
Charlie Briggs dissuaded him from this, pointing out his lack of
knowledge of his surroundings, called to his distracted mind that
when they pulled off, which might be any time now, their progress
would be better than Matthias' blind ride through an unknown
country.  It took all the weight of his argument to make Matthias
realize the folly of the plan.  Movement was what Matthias wanted,--
to feel his legs moving, the motion of a galloping horse under
him,--wings.

Charlie Briggs tried to cheer him.  "I know that there Iowa gumbo,"
he would say:  "Haint no mud like it anywheres.  As bad any day as
a little sand for holdin' you aback.  They'll be slowed up fit fer
goin' crazy, any the time there comes a rain."

It drew the two young men together,--Matthias' confidences and
worry, and Charlie Briggs' sympathy and encouragement because he
had nothing more practical to offer.  Although they were unaware of
it at the time, it was, in truth, the beginning of a long
friendship interrupted only by death,--a friendship which was
rather unexplainable to the casual observer in the later years of
their lives when they appeared to have so little in common.

Charlie Briggs was right.  The delay was not so long this time, and
the second day they were out of the treacherous sucking sands and
into deep water, passing a large Indian encampment on the Nebraska
side almost at once.

No more heart-breaking delays!  No more anxieties and nervous
questioning.  The next day--Brownville.  A few hours after that--
Nebraska City, there to wait for Amalia.



CHAPTER VIII


And now near the Iowa bluffs the overland travelers had broken camp
for the last time before they were to sight the Missouri River.

Slowly the eleven wagons had crawled up and down the last of the
unending Iowa trail.  Ploddingly men had walked beside the oxen and
cracked the long bull whips which circled over the stolid beasts'
backs but never touched them.  Patiently the women had sat in the
covered wagons for all these weeks waiting this day of entering the
new territory in which they were to make homes for their men.  Most
of them had come on the long trek against the desires of their
hearts, for always the woman clings longer to the old hearth.

Young Mrs. Henry Gebhardt had given birth to a child on the way.
Anna Rhodenbach had become betrothed to Adolph Kratz.  Old Grandpa
Schaffer, taken with summer complaint, had died and been buried in
eastern Iowa.

But now the endless journey lay behind them,--with the worried
forebodings of young Mrs. Henry Gebhardt, with the childhood of
Anna Rhodenbach and Adolph Kratz, with the unbroken sleep of old
Grandpa Schaffer beside the trail in eastern Iowa.

They were soon to see the Big Muddy.  And although several days'
journey lay beyond it, still it was the gateway to the new home.

Fritz was continually straining his eyes toward the west hoping to
catch the first sight of the river.  But Amalia turned often to
look back along the trail where the other wagons of the train
stretched out like the long lash of a whip.

"Always, Fritz, I foolishly look for the strange wagon or the lone
rider.  Sometimes I think I see it so plainly that I wonder if I am
a little mad."

"There's the river way, too, Mollia.  Some one of the men had a
paper printed in the big town of Omaha many miles to the north.
There it said river crafts come up from the towns to the south and
unload their goods."

He unwittingly gave her renewed hope, against which she strove to
turn, fearful that it might buoy her up too much and make her
suffering more keen when it should come to naught.

And then suddenly from the top of a rise they saw it,--the River!
Almost simultaneously some one ahead had shouted back the news.
And soon others behind were shouting, too.  There it was ahead of
them,--the Big Muddy, its waters tawny with the clay of its high
banks,--rolling on to its union with the Father of Waters.  On the
far side,--the Nebraska Territory.

They could see cabins across the wide expanse of water.  Nebraska
City that was,--cabins and shacks in a sheltering cluster of trees,
and a ferry-boat which must be summoned from the far side.

Wilhelm Stoltz, as master, was to go across first with his wagon
and the heavy mares whose shaggy legs were like pillars.

There was the long wait, and then:  "Come, Amalia," he called
loudly.  "We go now.  You are the first woman of our people to
cross.  It is good luck for you.  Good luck to meet Herman there,
too, huh?"  He repeated "Gutes Glück" many times.  He was jovial,
excited that the Nebraska Territory was in sight,--had almost
forgotten his daughter's foolish idea that she had liked the young
foundryman.  Verrückt, she had been.

The ferry came over, so very slowly.  But it did not come too
slowly for Amalia.  Rather she would have waited here on the Iowa
side, prolonged the time before she must meet Herman who might even
now be among those people over there on the levee.

They were down on the platform-like boat now, Amalia and her father
and the one covered wagon with the shaggy-haired team.  So many
trips it would take to get all the colony across the river.  Fritz
must stay on the Iowa side with the other wagon, awaiting his turn.

They were crossing the muddy water now with that feeling of being
too close to the dark turbulent waves.  Amalia looked down at the
turbid waters.  They were thick, impenetrable.  One could not see
one inch beyond the muddy surface.  Nor one hour into the future of
one's life.

The coming of the ferry-boat had brought a scattering group of
people down to the dock.  From shore came a confused noise of
laughter, braying stock, rumbling wagons, and the pounding of
hammers far up on the hill.  The wind was blowing hard on the river
and Amalia with one hand held to her sunbonnet which rattled
starchily in the breeze,--with the other she clutched a hard bundle
of unbleached muslin.

The ferry-boat docked with a rattle of chains and the crowd idling
about the wharf, pressed forward.

"Prettiest gal I've seen yet.  She can have me, Pete," Amalia
plainly heard an uncouth tobacco-stained individual say.

"Sst!  Careful!" his companion idler whispered.  "This here fellow
comin' is lookin' for her."



CHAPTER IX


The Missouri Queen had passed Brownville.  Charlie Briggs in his
self-appointed duty of handing out data to any and all who would
listen had been regaling several passengers during the afternoon
with all the information he possessed concerning Nebraska City, the
destination of many.  He was still going strong when the town
itself was sighted from the steamer's deck.

"The old Nuckolls House burned six years ago.  You should a' seen
it."  As a matter of fact Charlie Briggs had never set foot in its
interior, but that did not deter him from his description.

"The night o' the dedicatin' made river history, I guess.  All the
toniest of the folks on the river from Brownville, Omaha, St. Joe,
even as fur away as St. Louis come.  They say champagne flowed
upstream agin the current from St. Louis,--that many a sedate and
long-faced citizen was cuttin' capers agin mornin' come."

"Did you say it burned?"

"To the ground in the big fire that destroyed most all the early
buildin's of the town.  Raged for hours, but volunteer fire boys
couldn't save 'em."

It was sunset when the Missouri Queen docked at Nebraska City,
greeted with artillery and a self-elected welcoming committee of
countless men and boys on the levee.  Most of the passengers who
were going on to Plattsmouth, Omaha and Sioux City came on shore to
bid good-by to these acquaintances of several weeks.  Young girls
who had not known each other at the beginning of the journey clung
together in tearful farewell.  Men promised to send for others if
ventures proved successful.  Women parted with promises of undying
friendship and favorite recipes.  Two engagements were announced
between fellow passengers.  Life acquaintances had been formed.

But Matthias had little time for all this display of emotion.  He
was anxious to get located, to see the town, most of all to
ascertain whether the caravan of Lutheran settlers had come in.

The founders of Nebraska City had displayed a good deal of optimism
in its baptismal name he decided.  It was not much of a city, he
could see, although the town proper looked to be on the bluffs back
from the river while crude shacks and cabins clustered around the
lower village.  Twelve years old now, it had a courthouse, several
stores and churches, a school and hotels, so Charlie Briggs had
told him.  But if Matthias' youthful interest in the little city
was keen, it was superseded by the important fact that his rival
for Amalia was probably somewhere here in the town at this very
moment.  He might even be one of these many men down at the wharf.

Just where to go for information concerning the Illinois
homesteaders he was not sure, so the immediate call for action was
to take his valise and seek out the hotel.  He said good-by to
Charlie Briggs who was to stay with a cousin in a log-cabin in the
lower town which he now pointed out to Matthias.

"If you hear any news of these people I'm looking for, you would
let me know?" Matthias questioned.

"I'd do that very thing."  Charlie Briggs' little blue eyes
twinkled under the tumbled forelock of his red hair.

"As for me, I'll clean up and eat and then start out.  Maybe I can
hear something."  And then Matthias was on his way to the hotel.

At the hotel,--a two-story structure with a porch across the front,--
Matthias washed and ate his supper alone under the kerosene lamps'
glow.  The dining-room was well filled.  These were the more
comfortably fixed travelers eating here he knew,--most of the
incoming settlers would be camping just outside the town.

Apparently that was a bride and groom nearby,--he in broadcloth,
white-collared and beaming, she in her bridal suit with pale-blue
plumed hat,--and the conversation too low for Matthias to catch
excepting the fact that they were hiring some one to take them over
the Cut-off trail to Otoe County.  Matthias wondered how the brave
blue plume would face the prairie winds just now so vigorous.

At the other nearby table a group of men discussed the construction
of the new Union Pacific Railroad.  The names of Durant and General
Grenville Dodge were being used freely, but whether they were two
of the men present or were merely being discussed he did not know.
The conversation included references to General Dodge having come
on to Omaha to take charge of the entire construction of the road,
and a protracted discussion as to the respective merits of building
it out the north Fork Platte toward Fort Laramie, out the south
Fork Platte, or due west where the Platte divides at Lodge Pole
creek.

He soon knew that General Dodge was not present in the group but
rather under discussion.

"He knows more of the possibilities of the country from the
Missouri River to Salt Lake than any other American engineer," he
heard, and several references to Dodge's former experiences as an
engineer among the Indians who had given him the name "Long Eye"
after seeing him use his surveying instruments.

The men seemed elated over the fact that the first sixty miles as
far as North Bend had been completed, damned the redskins superbly
for giving constant trouble, discussed the possibility of the Union
Pacific beating the Pacific Central being pushed eastward in
California, referred to "The Moving Town," calling it "Hell on
wheels," and laughed long and hilariously at the reply some Jack
Casement had given General Dodge when he asked if the gamblers were
now quiet and behaving,--"You bet they are, General, they're out in
the graveyard."

All this overheard talk of large spaces and big projects filled
Matthias with a renewed interest in this raw country to which he
had come.  What his own part in its upbuilding would be he did not
even know yet.  He must get into something right away,--something
important so that his life work would be started early.  He was not
without a substantial sum of money,--for that he was thankful.
Amalia, first,--to see and take Amalia from her people,--that was
of primary importance just now.  Then to get into the work of this
big opportunity-filled territory and make a place in it worthy of
them both.

"You're Mr. Meier?"

Matthias looked up to see a waiter addressing him.

"Yes, sir."

"A gentleman outside to see you, sir."

He pushed back his chair and went immediately to the door which
opened on the hotel veranda.  It gave him an excited feeling of
anticipation as though even now he knew there was to be news of
Amalia.

He stepped outside where June bugs thumped about clumsily and the
sound of voices and a banjo came harshly from one of the saloons
across the street.

Charlie Briggs stood there in the pale light which the hotel's lamp
cast across the wooden platform.  He came up soberly, turned his
lean and freckled face away.

"Reckon' I got bad news for ye, Matt."

Even then Matthias knew he would always remember the expression of
unspoken sympathy on the young fellow's homely weather-beaten
countenance.  Twisted, his face looked, as though he might be in
physical pain.

With no word Matthias stood tense and expectant.

"The Lutherans got in day afore yistiddy."  Charlie Briggs dropped
his usual high-pitched voice to a hissing whisper.  "Yistiddy they
went on west to their land.  The girl was married here . . . just
afore they pulled out."

Matthias stood with no word, staring at the burned and leathery
face of his informant, just as he had stood in the Illinois woods
weeks before and stared unseeing at a younger boy, so that it
seemed he was living some portion of his life all over again.  But
it went through him swiftly that this time there was no way out,--
no recourse now from a decision which was beyond his changing.  He
had a distinct sense of finality, as though life were ending here
on the porch where Charlie Briggs' weather-beaten face screwed
itself into pain and the June bugs thumped on the wooden porch
floor.

There was, then, to be no full fruition of any hope for him,--ever.

With a last grasping effort, as a drowning man clutches for
something solid, he asked:  "You're sure?  There's no . . . no
mistake?"

"There's no mistake.  My cousin's woman's sister saw the ceremony
from her cabin.  Two couples was married.  'Twas out by the wagons
by the side o' the new Nebraska City Cut-off trail . . . Luther'n
preacher . . . 'n all kneelin' near the wheel ruts fer the prayin'
afterward.  One of the brides' faces was whiter'n limestone, my
cousin's woman's sister said, and a Luther'n woman standin' by told
her it was account o' a team o' horses sudden rarin' nearby . . .
but my cousin's woman's sister said it had looked thataway long
'fore ever the horses acted up."

For a time the two men stood with no more words between them.
Through Matthias' mind went a kaleidoscopic turning and twisting of
parts of pictures, never forming any whole, merely grotesque and
fragmentary shapes,--swollen streams--crumpled letters--rushing
waters--dripping timber--covered wagons--driven cattle--Amalia's
white face, whiter than limestone,--high cliffs--muddy waves--and
always a nightmare of clutching hands pulling his body down into a
maelstrom of smothering quicksands.

Sand!  Sucking sand!  It always held you back from your heart's
desire.

Sand!  Moving sand!  It ran forever through an hour glass.

Queer he had never realized that about sand before.  Some sands
held you in their slimy grasp and would not let you go.  And while
they clutched you tightly, horribly, other sands slipped down, down
through the hours, pushing time on until everything was too late.

Too late!  Too late . . . too late . . .

"Sorry, Matt.  If I can ever do anything more fer you . . ."  Pain
in Charlie Briggs' leathery red face.

"Thanks, Charlie."  Mustn't let Charlie see that no one can ever do
anything more.

They were shaking hands.  The tight grip of Charlie Briggs' two
iron hands couldn't help.

Matthias turned and went back into the hotel and up to his room.
For a long time he stood in the middle of the floor looking at the
wash-bowl and pitcher and the grayish-white towels on the rack and
tried to think just what had happened.  He had come too late.  On
account of sand!  Sand!  Sand that held you back like the tight
grip of two iron hands.  So that other sand could run through the
hour glass and make you too late . . .

Too late . . .

He dropped on his knees, by the side of the bed, burying his face
in his arms.

Oh, kleine Taube, little dove . . .



CHAPTER X


Amalia rode quietly at the side of her new husband, Herman
Holmsdorfer.  She had no spoken reproach for her father, uttered no
word of rebellion toward the man who had acquired her body.

Herman possessed her now,--he had a woman to keep his house and
cook his food and lie by his side at night.  He was secretly proud
of her prettiness, too, but it would not have done to tell her so.
Far more than the prettiness was the fact that she could cook and
sew and scrub, tend chickens and help plant when he needed her.
Also she would bear him many sons.  Seven,--ach in the Fatherland
one would get something for that.  Here they would give bounty only
for coyote skins.

Riding along the Cut-off trail he was fully satisfied with life as
he knew it.  One-hundred-sixty acres of good rich Nebraska
Territorial soil for his portion at the end of the journey, a team,
a woman of his own,--one of only two children, too, so that when
Wilhelm Stoltz died Amalia would get half of her father's
homestead.  And Amalia being his, the land would be his.  Must
discourage any sign of remarrying in Wilhelm,--that would not do.

One-hundred-sixty acres, a good team and a woman,--thus did Herman
Holmsdorfer gloat on his good luck and although he did not analyze
the statement, thus did he grade them in point of value.

Loudly jovial he was on the trip.  Amalia had gone to his head like
a drink of Roggen Branntwein.

"The best cabin of all for you I build.  Not a house of sod as the
people far out on the prairies away from a stream, nor yet dugouts
from the earth with only boards and branches and strips of sod over
them.  What think you?  Of good logs from the natural timber along
the river and creek-bed where is the fine land we have chosen.  Say
something, woman."  He dug a heavy forefinger playfully into
Amalia's pink cheek.  "Is it not good?"

"It is good," Amalia said quietly.

Very quiet she had been ever since the day by the Cut-off trail
near Nebraska City.  Tractable, too, she was, and carefully polite
to Herman.  But something had frozen in Amalia's being that day, as
the roots of the lilac bushes back home freeze in the winter.
Outwardly pleasant and obedient, her heart had crept into an inner
room, hurt and bleeding, to hide forever from the people about her.
The kleine Taube, little dove, had been wounded,--but only wounded,
so she could not die.

Thereafter she lived in two worlds,--the practical one in which all
these others moved and had their being, working hard when the
wagons stopped, taking her turn at the cooking, washing out the
necessary clothing in the streams for her father and Fritz, and now
Herman,--and another world in which she existed apart from them,
entirely aloof in her thoughts and with nothing in common in her
emotions.  With characteristic docility she submitted to the rough
caresses of the heavy-jowled man beside her, but by some cool
withdrawal of the spirit found it possible to remain forever away
from him.

For several days the ox train headed west on the trail, turned from
it at the point designated by Herman and rode miles again across
the wild treeless prairie, the long grass dotted with the white of
daisies and the blue of prairie gentians.

Twice they sighted small bands of Indians and were frightened, and
twice the scare went into nothing.

For a way beyond the Big Muddy the country had been undulating, a
succession of rolling hills and prairie land.  They rode through
hills and valleys, uplands and lowlands, dark sandy loam and black
bottom lands, blue joint verdure, and course slough spikes.  And
the feet of the oxen crushed a thousand wild blossoms in the
prairie grass.

Sometimes the way was as level as a floor,--sometimes they went up
and down through gullies and creek-beds.  Sometimes the skies
opened and the wagons stuck fast for hours in the black mire.
Sometimes the sun shone and the drying winds blew, and they made
fourteen miles a day.  Sometimes they passed greenish sloughs, and
occasionally near the streams, a virgin timber,--boxelder, elm and
willow, burr oak, hackberry and ash, and the tangled vines of
undergrowth.  A few times they passed cabins, two or three were
occupied, some were abandoned claim shanties.  Once they halted by
a pond of muddy water, warm and brackish, and once by the clear
sparkling water of a spring-fed stream.  All this where one day
there would be villages and towns, churches, schools, countless
farms, paved highways, concrete bridges and searchlights sweeping
the night skies for the guidance of the mail planes.

Herman rode proudly all this way at the head of the caravan for it
was he who knew the way to the new homesteads.  On the sixth day he
made a sudden halt, got out of the wagon and waved wildly to those
few in his vision.  One by one the wagons reached those already
assembled, the drivers wondering what had caused the mid-afternoon
stop.

"It is here that the lands begin," Herman had been saying to
Amalia, ". . . here you shall keep my house for me."

"Yes, Herman," Amalia had said,--little Amalia who was to live in
the same house with Herman, but always in Another Room.

It was then that three strange young men on horseback rode out to
meet them.  And now ensued a protracted argument.  The young men
had arrived during the absence of the Lutheran scouts, broken sod
in a sizable area of prairie, built a shack, and what was to be
done about it?

It was nightfall before the Lutheran men had come to the conclusion
to buy the squatters off.  Loath was a hard-working thrifty German
to part with good money to English-speaking squatters, but after an
assembled meeting of the heads of the Stoltz, Schaffer, Rhodenbach,
Kratz, Gebhardt and Holmsdorfer families, they decided to offer the
men one hundred dollars to leave.  The young men wanted three
hundred.  The answer to that mathematical problem was as plain as
the nose on every German's face,--two hundred.

So the deal went over and the young men settled on land adjoining
that of the colonists,--a small enough business deal at the time,
but one to be fraught with far-reaching consequences, for it came
to be in time that they and their descendants mixed the English
language and customs, English schools, and church services, social
events and marriages with those of the Germans,--until no longer
could one pick out the descendants of those Lutherans from the
children of the English.

The business finished, all the new German settlers gathered around
the huge central fire which had been built.  Wilhelm Stoltz raised
his great hand and a hush fell on them.  When the least child had
grown quiet he thanked God for leading them into the land which
would nourish them and their children after them and their
children's children,--told Him that He was closer here to his
followers than He had seemed in the land from which they came.

Amalia, looking up at the low-hanging stars shining like so many
yellow buttercups in a forest clearing, wondered why He seemed so
much farther away.



CHAPTER XI


Immediately the settlers went to work to lay out the farms.  That
all might border the river, they figured out a system whereby they
narrowed each holding and allowed it to extend farther back so that
every homestead might have its full one-hundred-sixty acres.  Thus
each family could have access to water, and because of the narrower
measurements, be slightly closer to each other for protection from
the Indians in case there was trouble.  They realized that this
homesteading out farther than the Omaha area might bring on Indian
depredations any time.

For many days Wilhelm Stoltz and Herman Holmsdorfer, Rudolph Kratz
and August Schaffer on horseback, with small pocket compasses and
the lines from their horses' harness, laid out the acreage into the
eleven farms, for there were that many men in the group over twenty-
one.  Wilhelm Stoltz nearly shed angry tears that Fritz was only
fifteen.  It seemed such a waste of years to be but fifteen with
all this fine land everywhere.

All camped by the wagons near the river while the farms were being
surveyed, with every one anxious for the day to come when that
particular phase of the work should be finished so that the
building might begin.  The women cooked and washed at the river's
brink, and gathered for the fires the dead branches of trees along
its banks and the dried buffalo chips out on the prairie.

This camp was made in more permanent fashion than those of one-
night duration on the way.  Now several stoves were set up with
quilts hung behind them to lessen the onslaught of the wild winds
from across the open country.

Many times the two who had come to pick out the land, Herman
Holmsdorfer and Rudolph Kratz, were congratulated for their choice.
How terrible, the various members of the company said, not to have
had this river with its native timber.  Several times they had
passed settlers on the way who had chosen land far from trees,
claiming it was richer or lay more level.  It was because they had
not scouted about as Rudolph and Herman had done.  There was wide,
open prairie land here for the good crops which soon would grow,
but there was timber, too, even though not large like the Illinois
trees.

On a hot day in July with the wind stilled before the sullen
approach of a storm, the work of the surveying was finished.  It
was a momentous occasion, for now came the choosing of the farms.
They gathered about in a close circle.  Herman Holmsdorfer placed
all the numbers of the tracts on pieces of paper.  Young Henry
Gebhardt wrote all the names of the families on similar pieces.
The numbers were placed in one hat,--the names in another.

"Who shall draw?" they asked.

"The two brides," some one said.  "Anna Kratz and Amalia
Holmsdorfer."

"The two brides," others chorused.  "It is good luck for us all."

"Gutes Glück!" was heard on all sides.

"Hush!" said Wilhelm Stoltz, Amalia's father.  "You talk of good
luck.  Ask instead the good God for His help and protection."

He raised his great hand high above his head and his loud voice
rumbled forth, addressing Gott im Himmel.  A similar scene had
taken place on a far New England shore over two hundred years
before.  "Thou hast led these Thy chosen people . . ."

Amalia bowed her head.  Why were the Lutherans chosen before all
others?  Was it true?  How were they sure?

Love,--a very human love for one not of her church,--made Amalia
Holmsdorfer all the years of her life liberal and kind to those who
chose to think differently from her own people.  Protestant,
Catholic, Jew, and Gentile, those of Mormon faith and those of no
faith at all found succor at her door until the day of her death.

And now the drawing.  Anna Kratz drew a number.  "Eleven . . ." she
said in a clear, ringing voice.

Amalia drew a name to match with it.  "Herman Holmsdorfer," she
said quietly.

They all shouted and laughed at the joke.  "Amalia is so anxious to
get started she draws her own name first."

She looked down at the paper in her hand stupidly.  It was true.
Holmsdorfer was her own name.  She had not remembered for a moment.

In the midst of the laughing and chattering Wilhelm Stoltz raised
his hand high again.  "Stille!"  And there was immediate silence,
for Wilhelm Stoltz, by some forcefulness of character even more
pronounced than the other men also of domineering ways, was their
acknowledged leader.

"Of one thing we have not thought.  The years will pass.  Our
children and our children's children will live here on these
farmlands.  Better they should live side by side those of the same
blood.  Look you,--if ought happens to any of us,--to be taken in
sickness or by death, it should be better that my Fritz and I dwell
beside Herman and Amalia that the land may lie together."

"That is good," Herman shouted, and added to himself,--"Three-
hundred-twenty acres of land I own instead of one-hundred-sixty
should old Wilhelm and Fritz die before me."  Almost he was licking
his lips at the thought.

It was better so, the men agreed.  The women were mere onlookers,
consenting readily to whatever satisfied their men.

But one more question came from the lips of young Adolph Kratz.  "I
am now husband to Anna Rhodenbach.  Shall the homestead I own lie
then next to my father or her father?"

It was a weighty subject to be settled as the far distant lightning
forked in the western sky.  Wilhelm decided, this Lutheran Solomon,
as he set himself up to be.

"Woman is frailer.  It is thought she will die first.  It is even
so in the English laws.  The homesteads of the younger men who have
wives of our families shall lie next to the homesteads of the
wife's parents.  Thus at the deaths of the elderly women the
daughter lives next to her father to care for him in his old age."

It was agreeable to all,--this settling so glibly by a domineering
man the entire future of the lives of a dozen families.  But this
fluent and smooth forecast was by way of being something of a joke,--
perhaps the Almighty may have thought so, too,--for it was to be,
that years after Herren Kratz, Rhodenbach, Gebhardt, and Schaffer
had been gathered to their fathers, hardy old Grossmütter Kratz,
Rhodenbach, Gebhardt and Schaffer met summer afternoons on the
porches of their fine farm homes, ate their Kaffeekuchen, drank
their Kümmel, and jabbered endlessly in the old tongue, rather to
the annoyance of a younger and very American generation.

They now rearranged the drawing, grouping them in clusters as
agreed upon, three-hundred and twenty acres to the Rhodenbachs,
they to settle between the two families which homestead each should
have, three-hundred and twenty to the Stoltz-Holmsdorfers, and
finishing the others in the same fashion.

The sky was darker now.  The low thunderheads were piling up like a
flexible mountain range that constantly changed in depth and height
and shadows.

They finished the drawing.  Wilhelm and Fritz were to be at one far
end of the long line of homesteads, Amalia and Herman next, young
Adolph Kratz and his bride, Anna, next, and the others in order.

No roads between these homesteads now.  Later, along the side of
the vast acreage, a rutty road running as wildly as a vagrant
gypsy, dusty or muddy in summer, hard frozen or piled with
countless drifts in the winter,--then after a time surveyed and
"worked,"--still later straightened and graveled,--then leveled and
paved so that cars doing sixty or seventy need not slow down and
lose time where the oxen and the shaggy-legged horses of the Kratz,
the Schaffer and the Gebhardt, the Stoltz, the Holmsdorfer and the
Rhodenbach families once came to a lumbering stop in the midst of
the prairie grass at the creek's bend.



CHAPTER XII


If Matthias Meier drank the bitter dregs of disappointment during
those first days in the raw territorial town of Nebraska City on
the Big Muddy, there was too much activity going on about him for
any continued quaffing at the cup.

It was a time of action, of great physical deeds.  Men hewed and
dug, sawed and hammered, broke sod and planted.  The little town
was filled with the sound of pounding, of the crack of the
blacksnake, the call to the ferryman, the bawling of tired stock,
the creak of wagon wheels.

Scores of wagons, hundreds of horses, mules and oxen still hauled
freight from here across the barren plains to Denver.  The hot
summer winds carried through the town's straggling streets the
odors of the river, of alkali dust, of sweating mules and humans,
of upturned grass and loam and subsoil.  There was the feel in the
air of unseen forces,--the push and pull of strange appeals.  There
was strength and vigor.  It was a masculine world, and all men were
young.

Matthias, at twenty-one, was stunned and disappointed that his
plans for marrying Amalia had gone awry, but found shortly that he
was not destroyed.  A frustrated life was not necessarily a
defeated one.  He was too busy to be utterly vanquished by the
blow.  Whom the gods would destroy they sometimes first make idle
rather than mad.

And Matthias Meier was not idle.  There was too much to do.  It was
too good to be a part of the great new country.  Out here in all
this vast newness one might in time become wealthy, influential,
important.  Free as the prairie wind itself, he could go anywhere
with any of these home-seekers or adventurers.  He had only to
choose.  Or so it seemed to youth.

Strangely enough, then, after those first days of crushing
disappointment followed by idealistic dreams of great success, it
was something of a deflation of his ego, to find himself again at
the humble task of shoeing horses.  Even then it was the energetic
little Charlie Briggs who suggested it.

Plowshares must be pounded out and edged to turn the virgin
prairies.  Horseshoes must be forged and shaped.  Nails must be
made by hand.  Much of this was to be done with the thousands of
people coming through the Nebraska City gateway to settle westward
to the Rocky slope.  So blacksmith shops sprang up over night.  And
Matthias Meier started one.

Charlie Briggs pushed on soon across the prairie to Plattsmouth.
Matthias had been sorry to see him leave.  Out of the milling
throngs he was the one new friend.

"Well, good-by, Matt."  He had stood by his wagon loaded with
supplies for the homestead which lay between Nebraska City and
Plattsmouth.

"Good-by, Charlie."

Neither referred to the intimacy of that hour in which the one had
glimpsed the heart of the other and given unspoken sympathy, and
yet each knew the other was thinking of it.

"Good luck, Matt."

"Same to you, Charlie."

"'F ever I can help ye out . . ."

"Thanks, Charlie . . ."

All that year and part of another Matthias Meier worked at his
blacksmith shop, shoeing his share of the countless hoofs that came
treading through this important gateway to the great plains.

He lived in a man's world, journeying between his boarding-house
and the little shop, contacting only the masculine portion of the
groups of emigrants stopping there, although many a feminine eye
lingered longer than necessary on the young man's stalwart body and
fine head set so gallantly on his wide shoulders.  But not yet
could Matthias see girlish attraction in any one but the shadowy
memory of a fair-haired girl standing in front of green alder
bushes and waving a farewell that was to last forever.

And now it was 1867 and suddenly Nebraska was no longer a
territory.  The territorial legislature which had met as usual in
Omaha, having drawn up a constitution containing a clause that only
white men could vote, found it returned speedily from congress with
the rebuke that no one should be kept from voting because of color.
Meeting again, it rectified the mistake, and on March 1, 1867,
President Andrew Johnson issued his proclamation.  Nebraska was a
state.

Came now immigration in earnest.  Matthias found that he and the
settlers of the previous summer had merely come in like the first
ripples in the run of the tide.

The great plains of which the newly born state was a part had been
dotted by the foot-prints of thousands of people crossing it to the
far west.  For years settlers had been thinking of it as a great
hallway through which they must travel in order to get to those
other and more distant rooms where dwelt the Californians or the
members of the new Zion in the Great Salt Lake Valley or the Oregon
settlements.

Although the soil over which they trod was black and rich and
fertile as any beyond, few had lingered.  The very vastness of the
prairie regions had staggered the mind.  So from the days of the
earliest fur traders to the year 1867, the great fertile plains
beyond the Big Muddy had numbered only a comparative few.

But now they came.  Came by the thousands,--especially young
soldiers, who having known adventure and having rebelled against
the idea of settling down to their old lives in the villages or on
the farms of placid New England, turned eyes to the west and let
them linger long on thought of the newly formed state with its
rolling hills and vast prairies.  Many minds decided that the
possibilities there were as vast as the green-grown prairie itself.

So the trek began.  In they came by boat and by covered wagon,--
these strong young men from the northern and eastern states,--
American, German, Bohemian, Danish, some of the sturdiest youth of
the nation.  Some turned to the founding of the villages,--some to
the carving of farms out of the raw prairie land, but all to do
their part in the building of a great state.

Matthias Meier by instinct clung to the town.  Nor did he intend to
shoe horses forever.  Already he was thinking that he who would
bring in merchandise to sell to these newcomers would make a good
profit, or who would loan money out to them for good interest, or
set up a lumber business for their homes,--oh, there were many ways
to make a good living if one but chose carefully.

Again it was Charlie Briggs who inadvertently helped him decide his
course.

The lean-visaged young chap was in Nebraska City en route to
Brownville.  He sought out Matthias at his shop.  It was July and
the hot sun beat down on the river town with its dusty streets
through which came the never-ceasing procession of ox teams and
wagons, with its ferry-boat and its crowded hotels, its steamer in
dock from down the river, its bawling cattle in the stockade on the
hillside, its unending movement, as though a gigantic gate swung
back and forth to let these enthusiastic newcomers through.

Charlie Briggs had news.  A committee from the new state's
legislature had finally picked the site for the capitol.  The news
of the decision had just come in.  Had Matthias heard?

"No."

"A place on the open prairie out between Salt and Antelope Creeks.
Sufferin' snakes, Matt!  Open prairie with only three or four log
cabins now.  Capital of the state!  Be a big town some day.  'F I
was town-broke . . .  But none o' that fer me.  I'll take
homesteadin' 'n a surveyin' gang 'n a chance to git a gun sighted
on a dam' Injun."

Charlie Briggs was right about locating in the newly chosen
capital!  Three or four log-cabins on the prairie, was it?  How
long would that be true,--with a capitol building going up, and the
legislature meeting there?  Why, in no time at all there would be
more houses, a hotel for the legislators, stores, a school, maybe a
railroad.  No capital city ever stayed a village.  Three or four
log houses, indeed!



CHAPTER XIII


Matthias Meier started April first, 1868, for the village of
Lincoln, the new Nebraska capitol site, driving his team with a
wagon carrying merchandise of the most staple variety,--unbleached
muslin, sugar, salt, boots, flour.  The wind was strong and cold,
and the trail faintly marked over the prairie was deep mud through
which the horses struggled with the loaded wagon.  By night he had
made nine miles.

He had been told he would find a cabin en route and when he sighted
it in the late afternoon, a black dot on the bleak prairie, he
urged on the team.  There he stayed all night with bachelor
brothers, graduates of Dartmouth, who had come west to make their
fortunes.

The next morning he started out in the rain which soon turned to
sleet.  All day his team plodded toward the next settler's, never
passing a building or traveler.  Now and then at the top of a
rolling hill he would glimpse another team ahead, always a little
fearful that its occupant was making for the same shelter as he
was, and from his experience he knew that any house he might reach
would be small.

It was after sundown when he drove up to the door of the soddie.  A
big bearded man stood in the doorway and called out:  "Unhitch 'n
put the hosses under shelter, friend.  Then come in.  Always room
for one more at Akins'."

Matthias unhitched, led the team to the rude shelter, fed and
watered them and then entered the house.

He found it contained two rooms, both of which were filled with
people, all the men in the front room around a box-stove in which
simmered green cottonwood, the women in the back room urging a
small and apparently stubborn cook-stove to put forth its best
effort in the way of boiling water for coffee.

He went back to his stock of groceries and brought in a sack of
cornmeal to add to the gastronomical part of the evening's
festivities.  After what seemed endless waiting, and during which
time the feeble efforts of the little cook-stove almost died on the
altar of all vain attempts, there was supper after a fashion.

Later for the simple reason that it made economy of space, the
women and children lay down crosswise of the two beds, while the
men disported themselves on the floor after the manner of the
spokes of a wheel, with the box-stove and its sputtering green wood
contents as the lukewarm hub.  In the middle of the night, with the
wind increasing to the proportions of a gale and rocking the little
house, Matthias, almost frozen, picked himself out of the wheel-
like effect rather like a spoke which can no longer hold out, and
went out into the icy night to run up and down a somewhat limited
space of the open prairie and beat his arms.

With the coming of the sun, as though the two could not work well
hand in hand, the wind went down.  Soon the sparkling ice had gone
and all started on their way, with loud and hearty admonitions from
the Akins to be sure and come again.  Hospitality on the prairie in
an early day may have been only figuratively warm, but never did it
fail its fellow man.

At Balls Crossing on Stevens Creek, Matthias made a short stop at
noon, and then rode into the prairie wind, which was rising again,
facing its rough onslaught, his strong young shoulders meeting its
buffeting much as a swimmer breasts the current.  But its very
robustness gave him a feeling of exuberance, that he could meet the
obstacles which would confront him in the new town in the same way
that he met the wild strength of the prairie.

In the west, clouds were piling on the far horizon, gray and pink-
tinged and gold-bordered by the sun slipping now over the rim of
the world, forming castles no airier than his own.  For as he rode
he had dreams as wild as the wind: that plows would one day go up
and down all these hills and valleys, leaving behind them broad new
furrows; that endless fields of yellow grain would shimmer in the
sunlight; that villages and towns would cut the horizon which
circled him now in one unbroken ring.

Fantastic as it was, it persisted,--the mirage of the fields and
farms, roadways and villages,--and the picture gave him
companionship and comfort in the loneliness of his ride.

If he thought of Amalia, it was neither with the sharp pain with
which he had first lost her nor the dull heartache which lingered
long afterward.  Rather it was with a touch of sadness that he was
beginning to forget.  His memory of the depths of agony to which he
had been cast at the time bade him wonder now how it had been
possible to live and enter so whole-heartedly into this new
venture.

At that, his mind went forward again in its flight to the new town
which was to rise there on the prairie and in whose building he was
to have a hand.  There were those who said the capitol, even if
built, would never remain there,--that the absurdity of locating it
on the raw prairie with only a few log-cabins about, was so
apparent that a short time would see its removal.

Suddenly he found himself defending its retention, thinking of the
newly formed town with a distinct air of proprietorship.  It made
him laugh aloud,--his air of ownership when he had not even
arrived.

He admitted to himself that he had developed a distinct pride in
the whole raw uncouth state.  This new Nebraska with its few
straggling frontier towns, its widely scattered soddies and cabins,
its countless acres of prairie grass, its undulating hills and vast
open spaces was far more something of his own than ever his native
state had been.  Into the latter he had been born with no volition
of his own.  Into this he had come of his own determination and
here chosen to stay.  It belonged to him.

For a long time he had been sighting black dots on the far horizon
and then he knew them for the cabins constituting the town.

The sun had almost slipped away.  Nothing remained but a last
reflection of its gold on the tip of a cloud and in little yellow
pools of light on the prairie.

It was almost dark when he drove to the first cabin.  It stood
isolated and aloof from any other of the small cabins and the
blacksmith shop.  The burned walls of what had been a school-house
constituted the only other building in the vicinity.

Wide prairie land as far as the eye could see, three or four
scattered log houses, a blacksmith shop and the forlorn walls of a
little stone seminary!  This, then, was the beginning of a
midwestern city in which one day there would be countless fine
residences and stores, a great University, paved streets and golf
courses, parks and libraries, school buildings and churches, and
the most beautiful capitol of them all from whose towering top the
statue of The Sower overlooks that which Matthias Meier and his
kind accomplished for the state,--as though the seed of their early
sowing had come to full fruition.



CHAPTER XIV


In such manner did Matthias Meier and Amalia, the girl he would
have married, begin the years of their living in the same new
state,--the young man in the village that was to become a city, the
girl on a homestead among her church people,--their lives as far
apart as the vastness of the wild prairie which separated them.

Amalia now put away her love for Matthias, if indeed one can be
said to put away anything which lies always in the next room into
whose silences one may slip at any time for surcease from trouble.

Always it lay there before her,--the way of escape.  She told no
one, could not have pierced the dull stolidity of Lena Schaffer nor
the childish cheerfulness of Anna Kratz if she had made the attempt
to tell them of The Room which held song and laughter and
fragrance.  But many times when the body grew weary of the hard
work which was the portion of all the women, or when the heart
turned sensitively away from the rough ways of the man who claimed
them both, she would slip into this Room from whose windows one
looked into a dim cool clearing in the woods, and in whose shadowy
confines there was love and understanding.

Happily these little journeys into another realm could be performed
by some magic means simultaneously with practical work, for
otherwise they never could have been taken.  Work was indeed the
portion of every man, woman and child.

After the homesteads had been drawn, each family drove to its
allotted acreage of one-hundred-sixty acres, living thereafter in
the wagons until a house could be built.  Eleven units of humanity,
dotted up and down the river's bank for several miles, a team and
wagon for each, a cow and chickens, a plow and a few household
goods,--energy, courage, and hope.

Amalia's house went up in record time, for her father and Fritz
turned in at once to help Herman build,--to live in it, too, until
one for themselves could be finished on the next homestead.  Many
times as they worked, they boasted of the fact that they could use
logs for the houses, and expressed their contempt for the sod
houses of many of the settlers who were away from streams and
timberlands, not knowing that the soddies were warmer in winter and
cooler in summer than any log house could ever be.

Amalia had something of a fine cabin, rather more elegant than that
of Anna Kratz,--for it boasted a partition through it.

In truth, from the moment the initial log was laid for the first of
the eleven cabins, there never ceased to be a concealed rivalry in
the community over houses and hogs, children and chickens, wagons
and windmills.  From log houses in 1866 on through frame to the
present days of brick and stone and stucco,--from lumber-wagons on
through rubber-tired surreys to many-cylindered cars, there lay
always under the jovial neighborliness of each family a desire to
get ahead of the others.  Let a Kratz buy a parlor lamp with a fat
round globe and purple pansies on its side, the Gebhardt, Schaffer,
and Rhodenbach women could not rest until fat round globes with
magenta roses or cerise lilies decked their own parlors.  Through
all the years, human nature being as it is, two rooms in a log
house instead of one, or eight cylinders in a car instead of four
was a cause for rivalry.

In Amalia's house, they built the partition of small split logs,
not rising to the ceiling but at least above one's head, which
would make a good place for hanging washing in bad weather or seed-
corn when the big crops should be harvested.  When the cabin was
finished, Amalia laid her rag rugs over the roughness of the floor,
set her walnut bureau against the chinking of the logs and hung her
pots and pans on wooden pegs protruding from it.  A few household
goods, a gun over the door, a willow fish-pole beside it, the plow
and team, the cow and chickens,--these only with which to conquer
the wilderness!

Moving from the wagons into the newness of the little two-roomed
house did something for Amalia.  It eased the pain which lay always
in her heart by giving her a floor to sweep and a hearth to keep
clean.  An immaculate little Hausfrau to her finger tips, she swept
and cleaned and scrubbed her new cabin until even the other women,
excellent housekeepers all, began to hold up Amalia Holmsdorfer to
their feminine offspring as a shining example of all that a
Hausfrau should be, not knowing that her work was an antidote for
pain.

For the rest of that summer, hammers and saws were heard all up and
down the river until the cabins were finished, one by one.  Fritz
and his father moved into their own by fall.  All broke sod so that
a beginning should be made on the land.

If Amalia was known as one of the best of the housekeepers, Herman
might have carried the honors of being most adept at breaking the
new sod.  He seemed to have a knack for it and the others were
always calling for him to come and help.

Sometimes when Herman was away at the plowing, Indians came through
the prairie grass, in their straggling, single-file way of
traveling, and frightened Amalia beyond measure, and often she
could see their signal-fires at night on the distant uplands.
Sometimes a long loathsome rattlesnake would coil itself in her
path when she went to draw water at the spring, and always after
sundown she could hear the howl of the coyotes in the timber near
the river.

Church services were held at first around the wagons, then in
houses.  By fall when the last of the cabins had been finished, all
turned to the building of a little log church, which would also be
the school-house.  They chose a site high on a knoll on the Rudolph
Kratz place, centrally located, where it would stand like the eye
of God overseeing all the valley.

Rock and sand for the foundation were quarried on the land of Henry
Gebhardt.  The strong capable hands of those who had built the
cabins now built solidly and well the house of worship.  Ludwig
Rhodenbach built the pulpit and benches.  But not until fifteen
years later was the bell to arrive,--a big one that was to cause
the little building to vibrate with its every chime, and whose
echoes were to reach far and wide over the fertile fields.

"There will one day be a pastor's house beside the church"--a
Pfarrhaus,--"and when there shall be a grave some day, we shall
then build a fence," Wilhelm said solemnly.

And Amalia, hearing him, looked about fearsomely at the assembled
group and shuddered.  Death,--it could find its way everywhere,
even out here on the prairie.  Who would it be?

It was young Mrs. Gebhardt's baby.  Never strong from the day of
its birth on the journey, it sickened and died so suddenly that not
even the older women who might have helped with their advice,
Flieder Tee, and Pfeffermünz Tee had time to arrive.

Emma Gebhardt was wild with grief.  She rocked the little still
form and would not let them take it from her.  Even when they made
a box for it and lined it with a quilt, she clung to the cold
little thing and would not let them take it.  Verrückt, they said
she was.  And crazy she seemed, until suddenly she broke into
sobbing and let them take it away, and they said the crying had
saved her.

It was a summer and fall of strange new experiences to Amalia,--of
the constant sight of the bend and the dip of the prairie grass, of
the loneliness of the cabin, of the fear of marauding Indians and
the lurking rattlesnake.  And always the hard work and the attempt
to please Herman in every way so there would be no loud
faultfinding.

Winter came on.  The snows came and made of each cabin an isolated
island in the vast sea of a snowy prairie.  And life became a mere
thing of obtaining food.  Squirrels, prairie chickens, deer,
rabbits, wild pigeons, all fell before the guns of the settlers.

The bearded Herman in his great boots and heavy clothes came and
went, caring for his stock, oiling his harness, hunting, tramping
in with the snow falling from him and the wild winds rushing in
with him.  Sometimes he called loudly and impatiently to Amalia to
hurry and do some task for him,--sometimes he tweaked her ear
jovially or dug his heavy finger into the pinkness of her cheek.
And through both moods Amalia was docile and very quiet.  Had it
not been for the stupidity of his understanding, Herman must have
seen that having won her, he had forever lost her.

She put all her mind to the doing of her share of the work.  Always
she went at it vigorously and with deep responsibility, for it was
a fight for their very existence.  Nothing was thrown away,--
nothing wasted.  Every piece of dried Kornbrot had its use, every
bone its value to the last moist drop of its marrow.  Yes, a good
Hausfrau was Amalia.

Sometimes when she was alone she took out the shell box from its
wrappings of unbleached muslin.  All the time that her father had
lived with them while his cabin was being built she had kept the
box hidden in the bottom drawer of her walnut bureau lest he know
of her deception in bringing it.  But even when she was alone in
the house and might have done so without detection, she did not
open the box, merely dusted carefully between the moon shells and
the Roman snails, the angel-wings and the other fragile fan-like
shells of a sea she had never seen.  It was as though, if she
opened it, she might see her heart lying there, red and bleeding,
or a little dead Amalia.

And then suddenly the strangest of all the experiences was neither
Indians nor coyotes, nor yet the long dip and wave of the prairie
grass, but the fact that she was to have a child.  It gave a new
thought to living, a queer concern and responsibility for a life
that was not her own and yet a vital part of it.

That second summer was hot and trying and a period of such hard
work for all that the tasks were never finished.  Everything was to
be done at once.  Herman worked early and late breaking out raw
prairie and planting it and harvesting but a meager crop, lending
his huge strength to the neighbors in exchange for help from them
at other times.  Amalia tried to make garden in a spot near the
cabin, but the results were painfully disappointing.  She cooked
and scrubbed, washed and ironed and bent her pretty yellow-crowned
head over tiny stitches for the child's simple wardrobe, making the
little garments from a voluminous white petticoat of her own.

News of Indian trouble kept percolating into the settlement.  A man
by the name of Charlie Briggs camped all night with Adolph Kratz
and August Schaffer when they went far to the north to buy two
cows.  He was on some scouting trip in behalf of the Union Pacific
Railroad, told the men that Captain North with four companies of
fifty friendly Pawnee Indians in each company was protecting the
workmen during the building of the road since so many had been
killed by the Sioux and new stations burned.

On a late summer afternoon when Herman was away with Fritz and her
father cutting wild hay for winter's storage, Amalia, sitting in
the cabin doorway to get any breeze that might come through the
blinding heat of the prairie and bending to the tiny stitches of
the garment in her hand, looked up to see three Indian bucks
appearing before her, so noiselessly had they slipped around the
cabin from the other side.

She might have fainted,--indeed, she felt the darkness slipping
between her and the red of their ugly faces,--but for the thought
of the coming child.  It gave her an added bravery, the thought of
the unborn child to be protected.  Fascinated, she could not take
her eyes from the paint and the black plaited hair and the muscles
of their brown bodies that glistened in the sunshine.  A little
bird staring hypnotized at a snake was Amalia that summer
afternoon.

They spoke among themselves in their low, guttural tongue, seeming
amused at her fright.  They stepped inside and filled the space so
that Amalia could only shrink against the wall petrified with fear,
awaiting the end of the torture.

From that time they began a systematic search of the cabin,
handling a dish or pan, uncovering articles at will, drinking from
the jug of precious molasses which was the only sweetening Amalia
possessed.

From the bedroom one emerged with a pillow which they handed back
and forth to examine, tearing a long slit in it to see the inside.
Apparently they were highly amused at finding feathers which now
floated forth into the room in a fine snowstorm of goose-down.  As
molasses still lingered on their fingers and lips, they could not
rid themselves of the feathers which clung tenaciously to both.

For a long time they entertained themselves childishly with the
combination, paying not the slightest attention to Amalia still
staring in a frightened mesmerism at the spectacle.  Then,
evidently tiring of the whole affair, they appropriated the jug of
molasses and without a backward glance departed as suddenly as they
had come,--riding their ponies in single file across the prairie,
until they were merely outlines against the shimmering summer sky.

When Herman came, he looked sober, but tried to make light of it,
explaining the difference between these Pawnees and the Cheyennes
who were well worth being feared.

But to Amalia an Indian was an Indian, painted, fearsome, dreadful.
And although she tried to comprehend the difference, she knew in
her heart that had the friendly battalion of Pawnees appeared at
her doorstep even under the command of the white Major North she
would have dropped in her tracks.  The sight of a painted face
framed in two tightly bound braids of coarse black hair always gave
her an ill feeling, so much so that when she was middle-aged and
attending a wild west show she turned her head away and would not
look when the Indians under Buffalo Bill's leadership rode in.

The second fall was upon them.  The mad winds blew and the tumble-
weeds came charging across the prairie like so many brown Indian
bucks riding wild ponies.

It was a cold, windy night in November when Amalia knew her time
had come.  Herman saddled a horse to go for old Augusta Schaffer
across the prairie.

When she heard the sound of the horse's hoofs grow fainter on the
frozen ground she grew frantic with pain and fear of the strange
new thing which was happening.

And then a new fear came upon her, for with the sound of the wind
came far-off howls of coyotes on a distant hill.  Her blood chilled
when she remembered the saying that there were two occasions which
brought them near,--times of birth and of death.  Each time the
little cabin rocked in the onslaught of wind she looked fearfully
toward the rattling door to see whether or not it held.

The two of them filled her ears with their howlings,--the coyotes
and the wind.  When the wind came and threw itself upon the cabin
with its wild shrieking, the sounds of the wolves grew fainter.
But when the wind ceased for a moment she knew by their blood-
curdling calls that the wolves were creeping closer.  Once she
cried aloud for she thought they were at the window, but it was
only tumble-weeds scratching at the glass.

All the time Herman was gone they alternated their eerie calls,--
the wind and the wolves,--until Amalia's own voice drowned them
both.  And when she heard the howl of the coyotes again, the cries
of the new-born child mingled with them, and Herman and old Augusta
had come.

And then, lying there comfortably after her ordeal, a sturdy man-
child by her side, Amalia knew the age-old experience of young
mothers,--that nothing in the world mattered but the welfare of
that tiny bit of humanity which was flesh of her flesh.

The child, Emil, throve and grew, and sitting in the rocker by the
cabin's window with him in her arms, Amalia knew happiness and
peace.  She told herself that she would never again think of the
love for Matthias she had once known, making a sort of childish
bargain with God that if He would watch over her baby and protect
it she would promise Him this.

But later, when Herman would call her angrily to drop the potatoes
faster, or when he would punish little Emil for failing in his baby
fashion to mind immediately and unquestioningly in the German way,
she would forget her promise and slip away into The Room in which
she kept her memories.  There she would think of Matthias and all
that he might have been to her, and in some queer way which she
herself could not fathom, would find a certain surcease from the
trials.



CHAPTER XV


All the days were filled with hard work for every member of the
colony.  They were not long enough to accomplish all that the men
wanted to do.

To Wilhelm Stoltz, Amalia's father, and to Herman Holmsdorfer, her
husband,--to the other heads of all the families, Rudolph Kratz and
his son Adolph, to the Gebhardt men, the Schaffers and the
Rhodenbachs, the wilderness was a giant with which to wrestle.  It
must be fought,--more, it must be overcome or it in turn would
conquer them.

There were a thousand things to do to make it subservient to their
lives, to bring food for the body and safety of living.  Daybreak
found them at work, darkness only bade them cease from it.  New
prairie sod was turned, clean-cut with the sharp knife of the
plowshare, the planting done slowly and painstakingly by hand.
Crops were pitifully meager for all the hard work.  Rains held off.
In spite of the great snows of the winter, the skies gave only
sparingly of moisture.  Wood from the river's bank must be cut for
fuel.  New trees must be planted to replace the inroads being made
upon the timber-land along the stream.  Cottonwood slips were
brought to the cabins and planted in long rows to the north for
windbreaks.  Elm and ash were set near the cabins for potential
shade.  A shipment of apple and cherry trees was sent out from
Illinois and arriving at Omaha was brought on the Union Pacific,
completed in 1869.  Adolph Kratz and Ludwig Rhodenbach drove an ox
team the long miles to a junction to get the saplings for the
eleven orchards.

Each man helped the others.  Yet this was no communistic colony,--
each family fought its own battles, assisted always by the others
when occasion arose.

There was eternal vigilance on account of Indians.  Sometimes
wandering bands came through, begged food and if it were not
forthcoming quickly, took it without leave.

There was eternal warfare with the elements,--great snows isolated
the cabins so that roads must be broken in order to get through.
Cold brought disaster to domestic animals and fowl, so that sheds
and barns must be packed tightly with timbers and sod.  Heat
brought death to priceless horses and spring rains brought floods
to the lowlands.  It took great physical strength and a knack for
careful planning to conquer this Nebraska into which these eleven
families of settlers had come.  But the German Gebhardts and
Kratzes and Schaffers and all the others had them both.

The Annas and the Lenas and the Amalias must do their part,--wash
and iron, cook and bake, leach the lye and make the soap, pick the
wild fruit,--gooseberry, plum and currant,--patch and sew, work in
the gardens, drop the corn, pick up potatoes, and yet bring forth
the children who were to carry on the work when these mothers would
be gone.

Always the prairie loomed there before them, lonely with silence,--
a sullen giant waiting to trap them with blizzard or windstorm,
drouth or flood, redskins or red fire.

It was five years now since the wagons, hub-deep in the prairie
grass, had stopped at the bend of the river.

Little Emil was nearly four, sturdy and round of face, his hard
cheeks apple-red and his hands square and harsh-skinned in the
palms as though even now they were fitting themselves for the plow.
All Amalia's love was for him.

The world would move from season to season that she and Herman
might wrest a living from the soil for this child.  The sun would
come up each day that little Emil might grow strong in its rays.
The night would descend that sleep could restore energy to the
tired muscles.

Already Amalia's plans were laid that he was to be a pastor.
School, confirmation, more schooling, ordination,--she pictured him
grown and well known all over this part of the new state.  He
should be fine and large,--clean and well dressed,--learned and
respected.

She pictured him in black suit and snowy white collar going about
his pastoral duties,--in fine robe in the high pulpit delivering
his sermons robustly after the manner of her church.  Long before
that time there would be a pastoral house--a Pfarrhaus,--by the
side of the church on the knoll in the Kratzes' pasture.  Perhaps
Emil would come there for his pastorate.  He would marry.  But
whom?  Not Anna Kratz's Elsa nor Lena Schaffer's sturdy little
Christine.  Some beautiful girl from the cities where he would
attend school.

"Lena, I want you should meet Emil's wife."  Or:  "Little dove"
(Emil would call her "kleine Taube"), "this is my mother's old
friend, Mrs. Anna Kratz."

Oh, it was a pleasant picture,--with Emil handsome and finely
dressed and so learned, saying:  "I am all of this because of my
mother."

It was her life now.  No longer was it necessary to creep away into
a Room for comfort.  Her solace was here before her, running about,
sturdy and brave, with hard apple cheeks and eyes as blue as her
own.

Once she ventured to speak of her dreams to Herman.

He looked at her with but dull understanding.  "There are no
pastors among the Holmsdorfers.  We are all for the land."

Apparently it settled matters in Herman's eyes, but it did not
settle them in Amalia's deep blue ones.  He spoke of the boy as
his, she thought, and felt vaguely that it was not true--that he
was hers only.

It was the sixth fall for the settlers,--a mild September afternoon
with the air hazy in the distance and a wind from the south.

Herman was over at the Stoltz place helping Wilhelm and Fritz who
was twenty now and would soon want to be pushing on to find a
suitable homestead of his own.

Amalia was ironing,--hot and ready to drop from fatigue and the
heat of the wood-stove into which her irons were set.  Always she
was sniffing this afternoon, she told herself,--somewhere about her
stove there was a faint odor of burning as though a bit of the ash
wood was on a griddle.  She went all over the top of it with her
stove-cloth once more in order to dislodge the piece, but the odor
did not stop.

She went to the cabin door, then, with a double purpose,--to keep
an ever watchful eye on little Emil and to see if the faint odor of
burning could be located outside.

Once there, she raised her head and drew in a breath from the hot
prairie.  The smell was outside, somewhere, of that she was sure.
The air seemed more hazy, and there was without doubt, now, a far-
off telltale odor of smoke.

She had not even time to come to any conclusion concerning it until
she could see Herman driving rapidly toward home, the lumber-wagon
rattling loudly because of careening about over the rough ground.

Frightened at the combination of the smoke smell and Herman driving
home so rapidly, she ran out and called Emil.

There was no answer.

Once he had done so mischievously to frighten her,--made no answer
and was hiding behind the oat straw.  It had given her such a scare
that she had paddled him soundly for his lark.  The river,
rattlesnakes, Indians,--for these must Emil never leave the
immediate ground around the cabin.

But now he was not at the straw stack nor by the log stable nor
under the young orchard trees.

Something frightening possessed her,--the smoke odor, the haste of
the rattling lumber-wagon, Emil not answering.  She was running
wildly now, calling here, there, everywhere.  On two sides lay the
wide open prairie, on one side the dried cornstalks rustling in the
hot stiff wind, on the other the timber-land and the river.

Herman was here now, his horses lathering with the heat of their
coming.

"Get gunny-sacks," he called.  "A prairie-fire."

So there was a prairie-fire coming and little Emil not here.

It took all her strength to say the words and when they came, they
seemed not effective:  "The baby . . . he is gone."

"Gone?"

"Lost from me."

"Well, then, find him."  Herman yelled at her:  "Find him before he
burns in the prairie-fire."

Fritz was speeding past now across the prairie to the Kratzes'.
Years later there would be a bell at the church tower to ring for
emergencies, but not yet.  To-day must the words be passed by Fritz
on horseback.

It did not seem possible that Gott would let two catastrophes
happen at once,--so did Amalia childishly reason.  And so did she
call on Him constantly to help her as she ran like a wild woman
first toward the cornfield, "Emil . . . baby.  Answer mother."

But there was no sound.

Back she sped for another look near the cabin, then down toward the
timber and the river:  "Emil . . . Liebling!  Ach, Gott."

Up and down the river bank she ran, calling frantically, then back
to the house, her hair down from its neat braid and flying, her
skirt catching on the corner of a wagon-box and tearing its full
length.

She could see the low black roll of the smoke now and the air was
putrid with the distant burning.  Herman was plowing and so was her
father.  Down in the other direction she could see the Kratz men
out too, plowing the strip so that the upturned loam would give the
fire nothing upon which to feed and it would die out of hunger for
something to consume.

What if the baby were out as far as the plowed strip?  Perhaps he
had walked even beyond that point and already was between it and
the fire.  When the blaze rolled in it would bring coyotes running
ahead of it and rattlesnakes hissing before it.

And now, calling and running, she had no plan for looking,--was too
distracted to hold sane ideas.  Fritz was back.  The low-running
black smoke showed its scarlet flame now like a great black dog,
mad and frothing at the mouth, snapping and licking the ground with
its slavering scarlet tongue.

She ran toward Fritz and the Kratzes and Herman, calling and
shrieking and ready to go out beyond the plowed strip and meet the
oncoming red thing if her baby were there too.

Fritz and Herman left the plowing to the Kratzes and came to help
hunt.  The women were coming up now with wet gunny-sacks ready for
beating out any firebrands that might leap the plowed strip when
the red menace came near.  The thing would not leap the river but
it might take all their cabins before reaching the water that was
on the north.

Women were hunting now, too,--Lena Schaffer and Anna Kratz, their
faces as white as Amalia's chalky one.

"His wagon," Fritz asked, "where is that?"

The wagon was not there.  Fritz had made it from timber with round
disks cut from a young cottonwood for wheels.

"Where is the wagon, there is the baby," Fritz said and Amalia
agreed more sanely.

And it was Fritz who found him.  Riding into the cornfield,
systematically up and down, so no portion would be missed, he came
upon him sleeping by his wagon,--three stubby ears of corn in the
little box of it.  When Fritz lifted him up, he said sturdily
between yawns:  "All the corn for winter I husk."

Not even Herman's cross:  "See to it you look after him again,"
could hurt Amalia.  She was beyond being hurt when her baby was
back in her arms.  There was no fear anywhere now but the low
sweeping red flame licking closer to the farm land,--as horrible as
it was, the finding of Emil had minimized it.

All the rest of the afternoon they worked with plow and wet gunny-
sacks.  As the firebrands lighted in the dry grass, Amalia beat
them like a strong man, for her relief and thankfulness gave her
strength.

When the last of the flames died down, the land to the south was a
desolate waste, leaving a fear forever branded on the minds of the
settlers as marked as the blackness of the scar on the prairie.

Fall came on and the land was mellow with the haze of Indian
summer.  Amalia cared for little Emil, washed and ironed, baked her
frisches Kornbrot and her Kaffeekuchen, cleaned and scrubbed, took
care of the meat from the hog that Herman butchered, made Metwurst
and smoked the Schinken and rendered her lard.

Winter came on and the cabin was isolated in a sea of white so that
Herman broke a road to Anna Kratz's and to the church on the knoll
against which the drifts packed.  There were Christmas services
with the singing of "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht" and "Ein Feste
Burg Ist Unser Gott," and with little Emil big-eyed at the sight of
the green Tannenbaum and the home-made Kerzen lighted among its
branches.

All winter Amalia hoarded every bit of grease from every rind for
the making of her soap.  She made her own lye for it, too, leaching
the alkali from the wood ashes which she saved all winter long.

When the first spring days came over the prairie bringing the scent
of wild things growing and the sound of wild things calling to
their mates, she would get out the big iron kettle which Matthias
had molded so carefully, and prepare for the soap making.

The odor of the grease and lye was not distasteful to her.  It
smelled good and clean like the wild free winds that blew over the
prairie.  And though to herself she seemed like another Amalia than
the young girl in Illinois, an Amalia who knew nothing but work and
responsibility,--and though it was rather like a song that is half
remembered,--yet springtime and soap-time and the lilt of the first
meadow-lark brought back to her always the poignant memory of lost
love.



CHAPTER XVI


Matthias Meier was now, in 1872, part and parcel of the new capital
town of Lincoln which like a growing youngster gained in size and
importance a little every day.  There had been a vast change since
that April day four years before when he had driven into the
settlement of a few log-cabins.  In truth, the village was no
longer isolated and aloof from the older towns.  The Burlington
Railroad had arrived in 1870 from Plattsmouth and the Midland
Pacific a year later from Nebraska City.  Stage coaches were passé.
And no longer did Charlie Briggs, through blizzard and scorching
heat, freight goods by team from Council Bluffs and Pacific
Junction, Iowa.  In fact, Charlie had nearly lost his life a few
years before,--1869,--with a bunch of frontiersmen and scouts in
the Republican Valley.  He had been one of fifty-one men standing
off the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Sioux Indians for nine days from a
sand-bank in the river.  It made Matthias' blood run cold when
Charlie came to the store one day and told him some of the bloody
details.

There were a dozen or more stores dotted here and there on the
straggling streets.  Several doctors' shingles swung in the prairie
winds and, while lawyers had not descended upon the town in hordes
quite equal to the grasshopper scourge, at least a score of them
had arrived.

There were a lunatic asylum and a penitentiary and a cemetery, all
appropriated by the state legislature,--the cemetery called
suitably enough Wyuka which is the Indian word for "a place to lie
down and sleep."  The appropriation of this last showed tremendous
optimism on the part of the legislature for it contained no less
than one hundred acres, and how can enough people to fill one
hundred acres ever lie down and sleep there unless they have first
been awake nearby?

The capitol itself had been hastily constructed previous to this
with lumber brought in from Iowa and stone hauled from Nebraska
City and Plattsmouth, by the tedious team or ox-cart method.  It
was built on high ground to the east of the village, a cumbersome-
looking affair, top-heavy with dome.  Paths cut diagonally across
the meadow toward it where it stood in solitary grandeur, a
miniature Rome with all roads leading to it.  The grounds
surrounding it were treeless virgin prairie on which the cows of
the neighborhood munched the early spring grasses.

But there was no doubt about the growth of the village.  Almost
could one see the added poundage each month which the growing
youngster took on.

Meier's and Collins' Emporium was selling high boots and nearly-as-
high shoes, New Orleans molasses and sugar, red flannel and cotton
batting, coffee berries, pepper, one or two sizes of rope, two or
three kinds of nails, shot and powder, tobacco, goods by the yard
running largely to calico, eggs and butter, sometimes slightly the
worse for their long jolting trips across the prairie,--but who was
there to find fault when there were not any better anywhere?

There were two banks now, the State National and the First
National.  Ten church organizations had been formed, sometimes with
but a mere handful of people in one, but as always, the differences
of close and open communion, of dipping and sprinkling, of formal
ritual or personal testimony, of conversion in one lightning-like
stroke or by the slow process of character building, of
foreordination or local option, as it were, drove each citizen of
the village to seek his own mode of religious expression, however
small the group.

There was a University,--a single building,--classrooms on the
first floor and a dormitory above, which like the capitol stood in
solitary grandeur on the prairie, and toward which the cows also
gravitated as though the grass there might benefit from its
proximity to an atmosphere of higher education.

Matthias was energetic, purposeful, one with the neighborly spirit
of the little town.  He wore a beard,--it gave him added dignity
and apparently a few extra years.  Twenty-seven he was now,--his
partner, James Collins, was twenty-five.  Young men were the order
of the day.

So busy was Matthias with his store, so ambitious, that he worked
early and late, living, in the few hours he was away from it, at a
Mrs. Smith's boarding-house with several others of the young
business men, where came also some of the legislators in season.

He attended church every Sunday morning in a frame and somewhat
flimsy building, and if he had two reasons for going,--one to
benefit his soul and the other his business, it has been done
before.

His association with young women had been as businesslike as he
could keep it, for since his love for Amalia had received its blow,
he felt no great desire to form another attachment.  Already he was
being spoken of by the young women in town as an old bachelor, but
an eligible one for all that.  Nor was he any martyr to a lost
love.  He merely put his heart and energies into Meier's and
Collin's Emporium.  Business was his mistress, getting ahead his
whole desire.  If he no longer thought about Amalia, at least he
looked upon no other girl with longings.

He found to his own surprise that he was supposed to be the
possessor of a very decent voice.  The songs in his head which he
had often told himself he could hear so plainly, suddenly proved to
be quite capable of arriving in the atmosphere with no little
degree of accuracy.  At the occasional parties he attended his
"Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes" and "Come Where My Love Lies
Sleeping" joined in right nobly with those of the Lunds and the
McCurdeys who attended the same church.

It did not take long until Mrs. William McCurdey had inveigled
Matthias into the choir of which she was both voluntary soprano and
self-appointed leader.  The rest of the personnel of the choir
included Mr. William McCurdey whose "Rocked in the Cradle of the
Deep" reached such utter basso profundo depths after its prolonged
descension that half the audience, when hearing it at a home-talent
concert, inadvertently put hands to their throats in a sort of
mesmerized sympathy of aching muscles.

The tenor was Mr. Anton Lund whose tossing head, rapidly winking
eyes and mouth gymnastics supplied entertainment for any
deficiencies which his voice might lack, and whose whole facial
effect was such that little boys and girls otherwise bored with the
services looked forward each Sunday to this particular amusement.

Mrs. Anton Lund was a member of the choir merely because she was
Mrs. Anton Lund,--it being apparent to all that she neither added
to nor took away from the musical output, her faint little voice
never attaining to greater volume than that made by a rabbit
nibbling grass.  The alto was Miss Dolly Thomas, a good,
substantial robust alto, who made up for Mrs. Anton Lund's lack of
volume by a full, unshaded, monotonously accurate second part as
resonant as a bell.

In this fall of 1872, now, Mrs. McCurdey became filled with zeal to
add Matthias, some other as yet undiscovered tenor, and another
soprano to the choir.  Almost in answer to her prayers, a Miss Ida
Carter arrived to open a private school, bringing with her a sweet
soprano voice which Mrs. McCurdey immediately requisitioned.  After
some sleuthing she found one Peter Longshore, a drug clerk, fairly
capable of following Mr. McCurdey part way down into the cradle of
the deep.  These then became the double quartette of the church to
which they went long and often for practice, the meetings taking
upon themselves more and more of the social side as time went on.

Sometimes the Lunds took Ida Carter, the new teacher, home.
Sometimes the McCurdeys took her.  Sometimes Peter Longshore and
Miss Dolly Thomas.  And then one night when the Lunds and the
McCurdeys were invited to eat oysters at the Atwood House right
after choir practice, and Miss Dolly Thomas and Mr. Peter Longshore
frankly disappeared while Matthias was gathering up his music, it
devolved upon him to take Miss Carter home himself.

Miss Carter was not pretty.  She was merely clean and neat with
rather nice frank gray eyes, and having only a level head and a
sense of humor instead of any of the feminine appeal which Matthias
knew every man required.

He took her arm down the church steps and through the darkness of
the streets, realizing it gave him very little headiness of
feeling, a fact which genuinely relieved him.  In truth, it gave
him such a sense of security that he was rather more courteous and
gallant all the way to her boarding-house than he would have been
otherwise, slipping protectingly to the inside of the walk when
they passed the saloon with its swinging doors and sour yeasty
smell.

He saw her into her boarding-house, talked for a moment in the dim
kerosene-lighted hallway with her landlady who had rushed out to
chaperon the two, bade Miss Carter a formal good-night and departed
to his own boarding-house.

Upon arriving at his room, for some reason which he could not
analyze, he went to the calfskin brass-bound box in which he kept
his papers and took out the leather wallet containing the note from
Amalia.  He had not thought about her for a long time.  She was no
longer his,--could never be his.  But even so, the sight of the
note, the precise and shaded script it contained, gave him more
genuine stirring of the emotions than the warm human touch of the
young woman he had just left.

He read the letter through twice.  It stirred him unaccountably.  A
sudden wave of longing for her and regret swept over him.  He had
not felt its like for years, and wondered vaguely why he was
experiencing it to-night.  Dear, lovely little Amalia!  And this
was all he had of her,--a fragile note.  Not a lock of hair nor a
picture, not a flower.  Just a note and memories.

Almost as though in answer to the wish, for a moment, then, she
stepped out of the letter as plainly as anything short of reality
could have done.

Vividly he saw the pansy-blueness of her eyes and the pinkness of
her mouth, felt again the warm softness of her lips and supple
body.

Where was she now?  Did she ever think of him?  How had the German
husband . . . and the years . . . treated her?  For the hundredth
time he asked himself why he had been late.  Other steamers made
the trip in regulation time.  Not once in two dozen trips, perhaps,
was one delayed so long.  But the one he chose had been caught and
held grimly by the sands.  They had proved to be the sands of time.
Why had it happened so?  Why?  For what reason?  What right had
Fate to intervene between him and his heart's deepest desire?

He looked again at the note, as though from its six years of lying
there in the darkness it might speak.  And in speaking, answer the
unanswered question.

_. . . it is better to remember our love as it was in the
springtime._



CHAPTER XVII


But even though Matthias looked upon Ida Carter only as a nice,
intelligent young woman with whom he had been thrown in social and
vocal contact, at the end of the next choir practice evening,
because she very frankly made plans to go home with the McCurdeys
to the utter disregard of the previous week's procedure, he found
himself really wanting to take her.  There was something mentally
stimulating about her even though she was so different from Amalia.
And she had a sense of humor such as he had never known in any
feminine acquaintance,--the humor that could laugh gaily at her own
foibles and at his also, but without barbed shafts.

So he took her "home" to the dimly-lighted but resolutely
chaperoned boarding-house that night,--and many others.

By Christmas time the walk home with her had grown to be the
regular program.  By mid-winter he was calling upon her steadily in
the late Sunday afternoon and accompanying her to evening church.
By February it came to be a rather settled thing in the intimate
little social affairs of the growing town,--house warmings, oyster
suppers, the McCurdeys' tin wedding,--that Matthias Meier was
assigned by the hostess to Miss Ida Carter.

He grew to look forward to their talks.  She had such a grasp of
human understanding, could turn a subject over in her mind so
deftly with such reasonable decisions that she satisfied something
in him.  He found himself reserving opinions until he had learned
her reaction, planning to tell her about problems which came up in
his business, even to ask advice outright occasionally.  Sometimes
he questioned himself closely, tried to analyze just what this type
of friendship meant to him,--told himself if this was love, it was
a queer kind.  There was none of that thunder of blood in his ears
he had once felt.  He must wait now and see how permanent was the
feeling, remembering that when he had loved Amalia there was no
question, and no thought of waiting.

So it was that on this Easter Sunday of 1873, a fine one with every
one dressed in his best and out on the high wooden sidewalks of the
main streets, with many buggies and two-seated carriages tied at
the hitching posts in front of the churches, with Mr. Anton Lund's
tenor soaring high and Mr. McCurdey's basso profundo rumbling in
the opposite direction, that some chemical change took place in
Matthias' heart and he warmed toward the young woman sitting in
front of him in the choir.  He looked at the pretty plum-colored
straw hat with its plume hanging over the brim and mingling with
her dark hair, at the neat folds of her high collar, and almost
before he could question its reason he told himself he was going to
marry her.

From that moment on he was lost in a maze of planning.  He would
build a new house not far from the capitol.  He would branch out in
other lines of business investments as soon as possible.  The town
would be twice this size some day.  He would never care to live
anywhere else.  He would always be proud of Ida.  His decision sent
his mind skyrocketing on an hour of planning far afield from the
minister's message.

When the long sermon was over and the congregation poured out on
the wooden sidewalks, Matthias slipped his arm through that of Miss
Ida Carter, rather to her startled consternation, that gesture
being usually reserved for the period following sundown.

With chattering people all about, with buggies pulling up to the
edge of the walk near them, and children with Sunday School papers
brushing hurriedly past, he said it, as though the saying could not
wait, now that he had decided.

"Ida, I want you to be my wife."  Now that he had taken the step he
found there should never have been any question about it.

No moonlight, no music, no chance for romance.  Ida merely saying:
"Why, Matt, I am so surprised at . . . How do you do, Mrs. Jamison.
Of course I . . . Good morning, Alice.  Yes, isn't it nice? . . .
If you think you really want me, Matt . . . Hello, Mose."

In such a way did Matthias make his second proposal to a young
woman.  And in such a way did she accept.

By night there had descended the Easter blizzard of 1873 which
still lives on the pages of midwestern diaries and in the annals of
its histories.  It caught the people of Lincoln unaware as indeed
it caught those of the whole state.  It caught Matthias Meier at
Mrs. Smith's boarding-house sitting on the horse-hair sofa under
the unseeing eye of Mrs. Smith's deceased and framed husband but
still within the range of Mrs. Smith's own alert, far-sighted one,
also framed, but by the crack of the door.

The blizzard gave Matthias a pleasant background for the thought
that soon he and this nice girl with her good sense and humor would
have a home of their own shut away from all the blizzards of all
time.  So pleasing were his thoughts that he was almost unaware of
what Ida was saying.  But now he heard it.

"Matt, I have something I must ask you.  I hate myself for thinking
about it, but it seems that if I'll face facts and tell you,--get
your honest answer I can conquer the feeling I've been working
myself into this afternoon.  Has there ever been any other girl,
Matt, or am I the first and only girl you have loved?"

He sparred for time.  "How can I answer?  The way you put your
question, Ida, calls for both yes, and no."  He laughed a bit as
though the whole thing were a joke.

Ida laughed, too,--at herself.  "I knew it, of course.  There has
been.  It seems that I can almost sense what you're thinking at
times, I have learned to know you so well.  Well, I brought it on
myself and I've nobody but myself to blame.  I wonder why I had to
torture myself by knowing?  I suppose I'd be far happier if I
didn't know all the details to mull over in my mind, but tell me,
anyway, Matt.  I imagine things like a youngster in the dark.
Maybe if you'd light the lamp . . . the bogies would turn out to be
shadows."

"There's not much to tell, Ida dear."  And because seven years is a
long time to a young man, he said:  "It was years ago.  I was only
twenty-one and she was not quite eighteen.  It was in Illinois that
I knew her.  Something . . . parted us.  I never saw her again.  I
don't even know just where she lives, although it's somewhere out
here in this state . . . away out farther on the prairie.  She's
married . . . and come to think about it, I don't even know her
married name."  He was smiling at the nice girl sitting by him on
the boarding-house sofa, slipping his arm about her now.  "Pretty
dangerous rival, isn't she?"

Ida smiled at that, too.  It HAD been silly to punch sleeping dogs.
But it was a newly engaged girl's prerogative.

Matthias and Ida did not go to church.  No one went to church or
anywhere else.  The storm raged like an infuriated madman.  The
room grew cold so that Matthias kept feeding chunks of wood into
the sheet-iron stove, not knowing that Mrs. Smith was counting
every one.

He stayed all evening as the storm continued its fury.  Indeed, so
terrible was its raging that he stayed all night, a fact that
caused Mrs. Smith so much perturbation that after giving him her
own room, she made a bed for herself on a couch in the hall in
sight of Miss Carter's door.



CHAPTER XVIII


Easter had come to the valley, too.

In spite of the fact that hitherto the winters had been severe, the
seventh one for the settlers, that of 1872 and '73 was unusually
fine,--practically an open one with little or no snow.  Not once
had Amalia missed church, nor had she been forced to stay away from
Anna Kratz's for two months at a time as in some of those past
seasons.

Almost every other week she had taken Emil to Anna's and spent the
afternoon piecing her quilt,--Anna returning the visit the next
week.  Sometimes she had to walk when Herman was busy or angry
about something that had gone wrong with the stock or his tools or
the feed.  Then he would storm and rage and Amalia would go quietly
about her work until he had slammed his way out of the cabin and
down to the stable, when she would slip out and trudge the long way
over to Anna's.

It would soon be seven years since she and Anna had been married
the same day by the side of the Cut-off trail near Nebraska City.
Anna had her fourth child this week,--three boys and a girl now.

Only this Easter morning on the way home from Confirmation services
in the log church on the knoll Herman had thrown it up to her,
saying that Adolph would have help a plenty in a few years and how
could one expect to get ahead and have more land with just one son
to work it with him.

Amalia, feeling bold, had said:  "Emil will not be working the land
when a pastor he is to be."

It had set Herman off.  Even though it was Easter Sunday and he had
sung lustily with the others "O Du Fröliche, O Du Selige," already
on the way home he was talking of land,--always talking more land
and that Emil should hurry and grow up to help work it, and was now
in a rage that she was suggesting otherwise.

"The Holmsdorfers have always been for the land."

"My mother was from a pastor's family," Amalia said.  "Her father
and her grandfather in Germany were well educated and were
pastors."

"Let others do the preaching," Herman struck at the horses in his
anger so the wagon bounced over the rutty prairie trail.  "MY son
works."

At home Amalia changed her dress to her everyday one, built up her
fire and prepared her dinner.  Wilhelm and Fritz came as always to
have the Sunday meal with them.  Sometimes several families took
dinner together,--once in a while all eleven of them.

The door of the cabin stood open for the day was almost hot with a
strong wind from the south.  Amalia had worn her straw bonnet--of
the fashion of many years ago--to church, so summer-like had it
been.  For several weeks men had been working in the fields.  Only
Saturday Herman had plowed all day in his shirt sleeves.  Every
indication of winter had vanished.

"Everything is getting green," Herman said to the men when he had
finished the Tischgebet.

Herman made the table prayer no matter what his mood.  Sometimes
when scolding loudly, he would stop suddenly, make the Tischgebet:


"Komm Herr Yesu, sei unser Gast und segne was Du uns bescheret
hast."


And even though he had said this:  "Come, Lord Jesus, be our Guest
and bless what Thou hast prepared for us," at the "Amen" he would
be raising his head and continuing the loud fault-finding as though
nothing had intervened, as though he had never prayed the table
prayer.

"Yes.  Green and pretty," Amalia added.  She was glad he was so
safely over his anger of the morning.

"Of the pretty we do not care," he snapped.  "It is the green for
crops we need."

Amalia looked at her plate and said nothing.  To Herman there was
no need to speak ever of the prettiness of things.  Why did she
ever do it when she knew he did not care?  But to little Emil--that
was different.  Always she called his attention to the red at the
edge of the sunset clouds and the light on the prairie like lakes
of gold.  He was to be a pastor and he must see the beautiful along
with the ugly burdens.  He must sense the presence of God in every
leaf and wild flower.  It would help him in his work.

The meal went on, a mere consuming of food and talk of the land and
the mares they were buying.

Herman and Wilhelm were leaving right after dinner for one of the
Englishmen's homesteads, that of Mr. Lawrence, about seven miles
away.  "Together we can manage the mares we are to bring," they
decided.

"Fritz does not go?"

"Nein.  If we are late he does the chores for both."

By two o'clock, with the men gone, shifting clouds scudded low
across the blue of the spring sky.  A little later when
surprisingly a slow drizzling sprinkle began, Amalia tied a shawl
over her head, put a jacket on Emil and together they went out for
eggs.

"So early it is for the eggs," she explained to him, "but later it
will rain harder."

Emil was five now, sturdy and strong, his round apple-cheeked face
a miniature Herman's.  He grasped the basket interwoven with its
carpet rags and swung along ahead of Amalia on big stocky legs,
calling back German sentences.  "I can myself the eggs hunt," and
fiercely:  "The old hens will I scare."

They gathered the eggs at the straw-stack, Amalia calling out
warnings not to go so high, or not go so close to the cow; with
Emil, proudly brave, doing the very things of which Mutter was
fearful.

While they were hunting around the stack down toward the creek-bed
where an old hen often stole her nest, the skies grew darker and a
chill wind blew in from the northwest.  By the time they were in
the house rain was falling almost sleet-like in its harshness.

In the midst of the chilling rain, Fritz arrived to do the chores,
explaining that he was doing Herman's first and their own later.
He wished his father and Herman would get in.  "Almost I would say
we would have a blizzard if the season was not so late."

When he had finished and gone back home, the clouds grew very black
and hung low with a menacing appearance.  Amalia watched them from
the cabin's small window.  The rain turned in truth then to sleet,--
then to snow so fine and thick that Amalia could no longer see out
of the window.  She kept up the fire with the wood from the creek-
bed, put Emil to bed very early and sat down close to the stove to
wait.

It was a blizzard by now.

She could hear the wild winds of it shrieking about the cabin, feel
its blasts shaking the little structure as though the great breath
of some insane giant were trying to blow it over.  The men folks
would not have left the homestead of the Lawrences', of that she
was certain.  The rain had turned to sleet so early in the
afternoon that they would not have started on the long trek across
the open prairie.

She crawled into bed beside the sleeping Emil, his rosy face close
to hers, and though she said her prayers to the good Gott for
safety, she shivered with fright whenever the roaring wind shook
the cabin.  Toward morning she slept,--and because she had been
awake so long in the early part of the night, overslept, realizing
it when she came to herself with a start.

Sitting up quickly, she had the sensation of a peculiar whiteness
about her, as of a strange fantastic light.  Everything was white,--
the bed blankets were covered with a white powdered snow,--the
small window of the cabin was packed solid with it.

Hastily she dressed and leaving Emil sleeping, went out into the
coldness of the other room.  With freezing fingers she made a fire
in the little stove and as its flame tore madly with the wind into
the chimney, fearful of setting the cabin on fire, wished she had
not done so.

With Herman caught away from home at the Lawrences', she must feed
the stock.  So she bundled herself in an old coat of his, tied a
scarf tightly over her hair and prepared to plunge into the storm.

As she opened the door the fury of the thing was overwhelming.  It
rushed into the room like a white mad animal.  The air itself
appeared to be one huge mass of moist and moving snow.  The wind
howled like so many hungry coyotes.

She stepped out into the welter, scarcely able to pull the door
against the fury of the thing, and sank to her hips in a moist and
smothering snowbank.  Some instinct made her keep one hand tightly
clasped to the cabin door-latch.  She held the other mittened one
up now to her face and could not see its outline.

For a time she stood there, buffeted, hip deep in the drift, not
knowing what to do.  But Fritz could not get through this welter
from his place she was sure.  The stock in the barn needed her,--
there were two cows to be milked . . . and the chickens to be fed.

A blast of wind, wilder than the preceding ones, tore the shawl
from her head and, unthinking, she let go of the doorlatch to grab
for the flying headgear.  Immediately she was down in the snowbank
gasping for breath like a drowning thing.  Frantically she reached
back for the door and met only the emptiness of the snow-packed
air.



CHAPTER XIX


"I am not four feet from the house," Amalia said to herself,
frantic at feeling nothing but the snow-filled air.  "It must be
here . . . or here . . . or there. . . ."

But it was not there.  It was as though the house had vanished,
leaving her in a welter of flying, whirling clouds of snow.  Arms
out, she staggered frantically, her eyes and mouth and nostrils
filled with the smothering thing.  One thought only possessed her,
as it has possessed good mothers always,--her child.  She must get
to little Emil, alone in the cabin, sleeping there in his bed.

She wallowed, fell, picked herself from the great drifts and
staggered about.  Frantic, she lunged first in one direction and
then another.  And then . . . the wall!  The good solid wall
hitting her suddenly from out a sea of emptiness.  Gott sei dank.
And God be thanked for trees and logs and shelter from the wild
elements.

She clung with mittened freezing fingers to the chinks between the
logs until she might regain her breath.  This way lay the stoop and
door.  She moved cautiously along, never taking her hands from the
wall.  When she felt snow piled shoulder-high against the solid
thing, she would not remove her hold, but fought the white moist
mass with her other hand and shoulders.  And it seemed that she
would never be able to work herself through the dense mountain.  It
was so smothering . . . so . . .

She was through.  But strangely, here was a corner of the house.
How could there be a corner?  She must have hit the cabin on the
narrow side that first time she had found it in a sea of snow,--
shuddered to think she might have missed it entirely.

And now there was this other side to be traversed.  It seemed hours
that she fought her way through, clinging always to the logs lest
for one instant she lose their feel.

And then she stumbled, and the thing that had caused her to stumble
was the stoop.  With numb hands she clung, worked them slowly up
through the hard-packed mass, not seeing, doing all by sense of
touch.  The latch!  With one last exertion of her body she flung
herself onto the latch,--into the room,--pushed the door back
against the mad white giant, drunk with the power of his strength,
trying to follow her into the house.

She must have fainted, for when she knew what was next happening,
Emil in his flannel nightgown was bending over her, pulling at her
eyelids, calling "Mutter"--and she was down on the floor in a
slushy bed of snow that had dropped from her garments.

All day and all night the storm raged.  Wild white fingers plucked
at the little cabin standing lonely on the prairie, a continent
away from the other cabins on the adjoining homesteads, as far away
from Fritz in his log house on the next acreage as though a sea
separated them.  Indeed, it was an ocean that parted them, with
snowdrifts for water and Death riding the waves.

All day and all night with the snow blowing under the door and
seeping in through every crack, Amalia tried to make her supply of
wood last.  In the afternoon of the second day she went to bed with
Emil clasped in her arms, both fully dressed, and with the quilts
wrapped about them.  If only they could have foreseen how bad it
was to be, Fritz would have stayed here with them for safety and
for company.  Many times she thought of her father and Herman,
thankful that the blizzard must have come on before they started
home.

On the third day the storm abated, and the sun came out upon a
world devoid of color.  White everywhere,--nothing but a sparkling
white world and a blue sky, as though an inverted blue china bowl
met the rim of a white plate.

Fritz, after nearly a half-day's work through the drifts, managed
to get to Amalia.  He told her tales she could scarcely believe,--
his horses had stamped so much snow under their hoofs that their
backs were near the shed roof.  Frozen prairie chickens were
everywhere and a deer lay dead between the house and the barn.  The
trees along the river banks were not visible,--only a great solid
white wall traced the way of the stream.

Out at the stable he found a horse nearly embedded in snow, frozen
chickens, a calf almost lifeless so that he brought it into the
house, much to Emil's excited delight.

He agreed verbally with Amalia that the storm would have struck
before the menfolks started home, but each knew the other in his
heart was not entirely confident.

All day and part of the next Amalia waited to hear from the two
men.

And then Ludwick Rhodenbach and August Schaffer found Wilhelm
Stoltz lying against the wagon-box which he had turned on its side
to protect himself from the onslaught of the storm.  He was
unconscious, his feet frozen stiff.

They took him home.  When he gained consciousness and could talk,
he said he did not know where Herman was,--that he had set out
across the prairie for Rudolph Kratz's house.  Later a doctor came
on horseback across the prairie from the far-away new town of
Westville, and amputated Wilhelm's feet,--the feet that had walked
with unceasing energy beside the ox-cart all the way from Illinois.

The snows began to melt under the April sun and the river rose.
Every hollow and ravine that ran in an easterly or westerly
direction was filled with snow from rim to rim.  Shacks had been
unroofed and people in them frozen.  Travelers caught out in the
wild onslaught were found when the drifts melted weeks afterward.

The Kratzes out hunting for their horses came across the dead body
of Herman.  It was at the head of a small canyon pocket, his gun by
his side.  Evidently he had died on his knees having crawled into
the narrow place to get such slight protection from the cold as its
walls would afford.

They brought him home to Amalia.

Mrs. Rudolph Kratz and Anna came ahead to tell her.  They wanted to
break it gently.  As though Death is ever gentle.

But when Anna saw Amalia standing at the stove cooking Suppe for
her sick father and thought how the two couples were married the
same day so romantically outdoors by the side of the trail, and how
she would feel if it were Adolph, she threw her apron over her
head, burst into wild weeping, and could not tell.

So the older Mrs. Rudolph Kratz said it bluntly:  "Amalia, you have
lost your Herman.  They find him dead."

Amalia stood as one paralyzed and yet wondering sanely how one can
lose something one has never had.

In the days that followed she could not sense what was happening.
It was too strange.  She moved in and out of the cabin and went
over to her father's bedside while Mrs. Rudolph Kratz and old
Augusta Schaffer bathed that which had been Herman and dressed it
in its black suit.

She shed no tears, and for that they whispered among themselves
that she would go crazy if she did not cry.

The neighbors brought Metwurst and Kuchen and all their children,
set the table and ate a great deal and talked of Herman,--how good
he was at turning the new sod and breaking colts and how mad he
would have been to know the two mares he had already paid good
money for, froze to death on the way home.

Amalia let Mrs. Kratz and Augusta Schaffer swathe a great black
veil around her head that made her feel suffocated and from which
she asked frantically to be let out at once, for behind its
thickness it seemed that she was in blinding black snow and could
not breathe nor find little Emil.

Herman was buried while Wilhelm still lay hurling his huge bulk
against the wall in the throes of death.

With the prairie soggy from the melting snows and the teams of the
settlers hitched all around the log church on the hill, Amalia sat
through the long services for Herman, and saw him lowered under the
sod that he had known so deftly how to break.  And now some one
else had broken a little patch of prairie sod for Herman.  Who was
Herman?  A man whose house she had kept and whose bread she had
baked and by whose side . . .

And then she thought of little Emil, whose hand she held so
tightly, and suddenly burst into wild sobbing.

At that all the women in their black funeral clothes pursed their
lips and nodded solemnly to each other across the soggy pile of
dirt.  She was now all right, having passed the tearless stage.
Now she would not go crazy.  She had cared so much for her man she
had been on the way to going insane.  Verrückt.

But Amalia was not crying for having thought so much of her man.
For herself she was like a stone,--she had no feeling.  She was
crying because every little boy ought to have a father, and now her
little boy had none.

Three days after Herman was buried, Amalia's father died, too.

It was a hard death that old Wilhelm Stoltz had to meet, far harder
than Herman's painless sleeping in the snow,--gangrene from the
frozen feet, amputation, and after that a lingering and terrible
passing.

Never sick a day in his life, always his own master and dictator of
those about him, when he realized that he was not to get well,--
that, like Herman, he too could never again crack the blacksnake,
never break the new sod or plant or reap, never face the wild winds
of the prairie or buffet the storms,--he grew hard and bitter and
turned on the God whom he had addressed so fervently and for whose
worship he had come into the new land.  But at the last, with the
fever consuming him, when he was worn and spent with his ravings
and knew that he must obey the absolute Dictator, he grew meek and
muttered humble supplications.

But even then he could not leave his authoritative position without
a last strangle-hold upon the lives of his children.  He called
Fritz to the bedside, bade him bring the big Bible.

"Put . . . your hand on it.  A promise make me."

Fritz obeyed.  He had always obeyed.

"You will never marry.  To look after Amalia and little Emil you
will stay single."

Fritz swallowed hard.  His bronze face paled.  Twenty-two he was,
warm-blooded and ready for a wife.  Already in the church services
he had cast longing eyes toward Minnie Rhodenbach, a young widow
with a small child.  He could not speak out his mind that it was
cruel to expect such a promise.  He could scarcely have done so if
his father were well.  How could he, then, when Death hovered over
him?

"Before God . . . you promise?"

Fritz's tall lanky body shook as though he, too, felt the coldness
of the grave, and saw its darkness.  This looking on at a passing,
it was a fearsome thing, at this Death that laid low the two huge
frames of his father and brother-in-law.  He wet his dry lips.
"But if Amalia marries and has protection?" he ventured.

"It releases you.  But you will not tell her of your oath.
Promise."

Fritz turned frightened eyes toward the log church in the distance
as though he might there see the soft round face of Minnie
Rhodenbach with dimples at the mouth's corners.

"Promise."  Wilhelm heaved himself fearfully on his elbow, his deep-
set eyes, glassy in death, piercing those of his son.  "Gleich!"

"I promise."

They buried old Wilhelm, too,--not old,--but seeming so because of
the weather-beaten countenance and the huge gnarled frame and his
long years of hard work beginning in the German mines when he was
twelve.

There were four graves now on the high knoll of the church acreage.
Sometimes the fierce sun blazed down on them and the hot southwest
winds blew.  Sometimes the tumble-weeds rolled over them and the
crows circled low.  And sometimes the great prairie snows piled
high between the mounds.

But wind or sun or snows, it was very quiet out there where Herman
and old Wilhelm lay.



CHAPTER XX


In the strange days that followed Herman's death and that of her
father, also, in the Easter blizzard, Amalia could not seem to
adjust herself to the new way of living.  She appreciated the
kindness of all the families, knowing how little they had to give
from their meager supplies and seeing how generous they were in
their giving.  For all of them came now bearing gifts to show their
sorrow to one who was never anything but kind to them and gentle.

The women brought home-made Käse and wild Pflaumenbutter.  The men
drove in to see about the stock and corn-planting.

She thanked them all, but told them Fritz was going to move over
here with her, and bring their father's stock and equipment.  She
and Fritz would get along fine.  She even laughed at a little joke
she made that Fritz had always been her favorite brother, when they
knew she had only Fritz.  Anna Kratz was ashamed for Amalia that
she had joked that way before the men, and Herman so recently
taken.

"But maybe Fritz wants a wife now and farm his father's place for
himself," Elsa Rhodenbach suggested, having been sent as a sort of
official spy by her sister Minnie.

But Amalia only laughed aloud at her,--twice to-day she had
laughed.  "Fritz isn't looking around any yet."

She had a queer feeling of deception; that she was pretending to be
something she was not,--that she was two women, the real Amalia and
one who must act a part.

She had shed tears over the passing of Herman and her father, and
neither death had touched that which was away down inside her
being.

She had been shaken by the shock of both tragedies and the
awfulness of the presence of death in the house; but a few days
later something inside her had soared as at a release.  She would
have been ashamed to have any of the women know it.  From Anna
Kratz who mourned over her constantly because of the double
marriage and the closeness of their friendship, she must always
keep the knowledge.  But it was true.  She felt free without
Herman's loud orders and his clutching hands upon her, without her
father's constant commands and the fear of his opinions.  Only for
little Emil was she sad.  But she and Fritz would teach him to mind
them without fear.  She and Fritz would be all that Herman had been
and more.

In the late summer she unwrapped the shell box which Matthias had
given her and left it openly for a few weeks on her walnut bureau,
so that all the feminine contingent of the Kratz and Schaffer, the
Gebhardt and Rhodenbach women might see and admire and envy, but
never know from whence it came.

Fritz, seeing it there with its shining Roman snails and angel-
wings, moon shells and fragile fan-shaped ones, said suddenly:

"Amalia . . . you are a young widow.  You are . . ." he was
embarrassed, ". . . are free."

She had thought of it too.  She had known how wicked it was, but
how could she help it,--who had loved Matthias so?

"You would write . . . a letter, Amalia?"  If poor Fritz was
thinking of Minnie Rhodenbach more than of Amalia,--no one knew it,
so who was there to chide?

Amalia shook her head.  "Don't speak of it, Fritz.  It is not
right . . . and seven years is too long.  I would only hurt myself
to hear of his marriage."

So it came about that Fritz, his mind working a little slowly
perhaps, but with stubborn persistence, one day wrote the letter
himself, painstakingly, in the German, telling no one, and mailed
it to the iron foundry in Illinois.



CHAPTER XXI


Back in the growing town of Lincoln Ida Carter gave up her private
school in June.  She and Matthias were to be married on September
20th, the wedding to be at the McCurdeys', for the trip back to her
home in Massachusetts would have been long and expensive.  The two
had now definitely come to another decision, rather a queer one and
with Matthias a long time in coming to see it as Ida did,--she was
going in the store with him.  At first he had thought it all wrong,
later came to agree with her that a woman's taste and intuitions
might be a good thing in the business.

"When we make our first fifty thousand dollars, I'll stop," she had
said laughingly, so that Matthias laughed too at the huge sum.

They were going to live at the boarding-house.  "When we get to
making money and I stop the store work, we'll have a fine home,"
she told him.

All summer she was having her new dresses made, the making of a
dress taking far longer than the recent making of the new state
constitution, the latter not having pleats, panniers, and panels.

The town to a man was interested in the coming event.  Plans were
secretly under way for a charivari.  Matthias had a new horse and
high buggy, and the sight of the two fine-looking young people,--
Ida with her gray dress and cape and small straw bonnet, Matthias
in his dark suit and high hat and with his black beard trimmed in
its neat square-cut style,--driving around the dusty streets or
through the splashing mud was a sign for much attention from the
sidewalk portion of the population.

Mrs. McCurdey was rather beside herself with importance, many cakes
to be baked, an elderberry drink to be made and saying often:  "Oh,
if only there could be such a thing as plenty of ice in the
summer."

The invitations were to be mailed out the sixth of September.

On the fifth Matthias received a letter from Fritz Stoltz sent on
to him by his uncle in Illinois.

He cut into it at the desk in the back part of the store, not
knowing whose stilted German-looking script was before him.  When
he saw it was from Amalia's brother, he was as surprised as amazed.

It was formally written, the penmanship painstakingly done as by a
small boy, although Matthias knew Fritz must be a young man by now.

He read it slowly, carefully, his pulse beating rapidly at this
first word in all the seven years concerning the girl he had so
loved.

Amalia was a widow, the letter said,--the man she had married
because of her father's wishes had been frozen to death in the
Easter blizzard of last spring, and their father, too.  Matthias
shuddered as he read it, remembering the fury of the storm the
night he had stayed at Ida's.  He had read of many deaths out on
the prairie at that time.  One of them, then, was Amalia's husband
and one her father, and he had not dreamed there was any one frozen
to death of whom he had ever heard.

Amalia was free now, Fritz said, but did not know he was writing,
would never know that he had done so.  He could say that he knew
Amalia still loved Matthias although she had never said it in so
many words.  When he had spoken to her about him, she had said he
was no doubt married by this time.  If this was true, or if
Matthias had forgotten Amalia, he need never take the trouble to
answer.  But it seemed only right and truthful to let him know that
Amalia was free.

Concluding the missive Matthias felt a combination of emotions,--
sadness for the cruelty of the girl's mismanaged life, an
irritation that the letter had come in just as the invitations for
his marriage were to go out, an annoyance that the brother had
written at all, but in spite of all this, a revival of love for the
little Amalia which would not down.  The affair had been as a book
that was closed, or a song that was sung,--and now the pages were
fluttering open, a strain of the old music was in the air.

All day he went about his business with the letter on his mind and
a mixed group of emotions within him.  He listened to the merry
quips of friends who made bold to speak of the coming event and was
provoked that they had taken upon themselves the freedom to do so.
He was angry at Fritz for writing and angry that he had not done so
sooner.

It weighed so upon him that when he went to Ida's in the evening,
he was preoccupied, not himself.  Ida, with her quick intuition,
caught the mood, asked him about it.

"If there's anything troubling you, Matt,--don't you think it's a
better way to begin our married life by talking it over?  If I'm
wrong for asking, forgive me.  It's only . . . that I care . . .
and want to help."

How good she was and capable and understanding.  Suddenly he wanted
to tell her, to go to her as a boy would to his mother, and let her
know this upsetting thing which had happened.

He showed her, then, the letter, translating it from the German,
for she could not read it.  It eased his mind.  Already he felt the
weight of the burden lifting that she was knowing about the matter.

"I'm glad you have done this, Matt."  Ida was cool and poised,
keeping from him how it had shaken her to the depths.  "I
appreciate it.  It makes me know how frank you are, and how honest
you would have been with me."

"'WOULD HAVE BEEN,' Ida!  You can't . . .  This doesn't mean
anything to me . . . not ANYTHING now, excepting a bit of sorrow
for . . . for her.  You must know it.  I shouldn't have shown you
the letter . . . I was . . ."

"Listen, Matt."  She was firm of voice, still poised, but he did
not see how her hands were holding each other tightly, each trying
to keep the other from its trembling.

"There is something I must know . . . to-night . . . just now . . .
before the invitations go out to-morrow.  You owe it to me . . . to
yourself . . . to her.  Answer me this, Matt.  Everything depends
upon what you say.  I can't go on until I know.  If we two--this
other young woman and I--were side by side in this room. . . .  If
she . . . just as you knew her . . . and I . . . just as I am . . .
were here together. . . .  If you walked in here and we were
waiting, which one would you choose?"

She was looking bravely at him, her gray eyes steady and
unflinching, watching to ascertain how the question affected him,
and yet not wanting to see.

Matthias did not hesitate.  He looked back steadily into the honest
depths of her eyes.  "All right," he could even smile now.  "You
are here . . . and she is here.  I am to choose between you.  But
you have omitted something.  What you have forgotten to say is that
two Matthias Meiers would walk in here, a twenty-one-year-old one
and I.  You and I don't care much which one the young cub would
choose, now do we?  What concerns us is that I . . . the man
standing here beside you, would choose YOU."

"Unqualifiedly, Matt?"  She searched his face.

"Unqualifiedly.  Does it satisfy you?"

"It satisfies me.  You're good to put it that way.  I think you
believe it.  I'll never mention her again."

He kissed her,--more tenderly than he had ever done.  She cried
hard for a few moments so that he comforted her but could not
understand the tears.  They were the last she shed for any hurt
from Matthias, for she was not the crying kind.

In his boarding-house, he went over the queer quality of the
question . . . Ida's intensity, the unusualness of her suppressed
emotion, his satisfied feeling that the answer he made had been the
right one.

But he could not get to sleep.  For a long time he lay listening to
the early morning sounds of the small town,--a milk wagon going
through the street, its cans rattling together, a night watchman's
tramp of feet on the high wooden sidewalk.

Just as he was dropping off, dimly between him and the window he
saw Amalia, pink and white, infinitely sweet and alluring, heard
vaguely for a moment the sound of a meadow-lark and the honk of
wild geese flying.

He called to her, his arms seeking her, but she was gone.  He woke
and lay very still, breathing hard, shaken by the queer thing he
had dreamed.

The next day the duties of the store, the meeting with people who
spoke of the coming wedding and congratulated him on the young
woman he was choosing, Ida's natural talk about her preparation for
the wedding, drove into the realm of the unreal the momentary pangs
he had felt concerning the girl he once loved so deeply.

In the evening he wrote an answer to Fritz,--several of them.  "I
am going to be married" was the theme of one,--"I am married," of
another.  "Remember me kindly to Amalia" and "Give my love to your
sister."

Then he wrote one to Amalia herself, trying several ways to express
that which he wished to say, realizing his written German was
atrocious, and disliking them all; for how could he put into it the
delicate touch that would convey to her all that she had once been
to him, tell her that he, too, was living in Nebraska now because
of her,--that he had tried to get to her but had been caught by
sucking sands,--and yet hold her aloof?

He destroyed them all,--and wrote no other.



CHAPTER XXII


Life among the German neighbors in the valley went on in much the
same way that it had gone on before the deaths of Wilhelm Stoltz
and Herman Holmsdorfer in the Easter blizzard.

Wilhelm and Herman both would have said in their arrogant way that
the settlers could not get along without their help and advice,--
that Fritz and Amalia would not know what to do with no daily
commands to guide them in their work, that they would lose the
stock and bungle the crops and nothing would be recht.

But life closes over the vacancies and goes on.  The settlers
managed very well without the two, through some of the most trying
years of the state.  Fritz and Amalia did as well as the others,
which is not saying a great deal, for the first few years following
the Easter blizzard were lean years.

There were prairie fires and blizzards, grasshoppers and drouths,
Indian raids too close for comfort.  Prices for farm products were
so low that it did not pay to haul the scanty crop to market.  So
Fritz and Amalia along with the neighbors began burning corn for
fuel.  In the little shiningly polished four-holed stove of
Amalia's neat cabin it would snap and crackle and hold its heat as
well as any coal would have done.  They burned hard twisted prairie
hay, too, at times.

Amalia made the garden, in the good German way, but she would not
go into the field with Fritz as Lena Schaffer and young Mrs. Henry
Gebhardt and some of the others did for their menfolks.

In spite of the hardships that confronted them always, the entire
colony stayed just a little out of the reach of starvation and
failure.  The unceasing labors and good management of the
homesteads by the men,--the thriftiness of the women,--these
brought the settlers safely through a half-dozen years which drove
those of less thrift and stamina from the scene.

To Amalia it was pleasant to have Fritz around.  Even-tempered, a
little jolly at times now that he was his own master, Fritz was a
comfortable companion.  He took a great deal of pride in Emil too,
teaching him masculine chores,--taking him down to the creek for
muskrat trapping, allowing him to drive the big team when by his
side on the high wagon-seat, letting him husk corn so that his hard
little palms grew more calloused.  It caused Amalia to say one day
to Fritz:  "A good father you will be some day, Fritz,--kind and
understanding."

But Fritz did not answer, and walked off to the stable hurriedly as
though cross at her saying so.

The day that Minnie Rhodenbach was married to Karl Schaffer, Fritz
went away to Westville with corn for the grinding, so that Amalia
was ashamed he had gone and made excuses why he was not at the
wedding festivities which lasted all day, and neither would he
later go to the christening of Minnie's baby, little Christina, so
stubborn about it he was.

The fall Emil was seven, Amalia got him ready for the Parochial
school held now in the log church.  She made him a suit out of an
old one of her father's, every stitch in it tiny and neat, each one
a thought or a wish or a prayer for the sturdy little son.

"You will now learn all there is to know in books," she said to
him.  "Then you will be a fine pastor."

"Yes . . . a pastor I will like to be . . . I can shout and the
pulpit I can pound harder than any."

Amalia laughed at that.  "Oh, but there is more to do than shout
and pound.  You must know books and all that is in the Bible.  You
much preach wise sermons.  You must be kind, and know when to give
advice.  You must live right and have every act a good one.  You
must not sing loudly and pray loudly and then after that say and do
unkind things.  That is not Christianity."

Amalia would not have said:  "You must not do this way as your
father and your grandfather did."  But in her heart she knew she
was drawing pictures of them both.

The morning Emil was to start, Fritz brought the team and wagon up
to the cabin to take him part of the way.  Amalia had his lunch put
up in the smallest egg-basket.  One would have thought from the
contents she expected her small son to stay a week rather than a
day.  From a larder more meager than usual since the grasshopper
siege, she had managed to furnish Speck and Kornbrot and
Äpfelschnitz, which the English neighbors would have called side
meat, corn-bread and dried apples.

Emil was excited, loud and noisy.  He ran in and out of the cabin
with the slate that had belonged to Fritz under his arm.

Amalia thought she could not stand it, could not bear to see Emil
go away from her to the school.  But she must be brave, must not
let this trouble her, for after his fourteenth year and
Confirmation, he must then go on farther away for his learning.
Then would it be time to be troubled at his leaving.

But now that the day had come for schooling and he was sturdily
climbing high over the big wheel of the wagon, she called to Fritz
to wait, ran and got her shawl and her bonnet, set her Kornmehl
maus back on the stove, and went with them.

At the last half-mile, Emil did not want them to go with him
farther, told them to stop here, so he could get out and walk the
rest of the distance, that the other children might not know he had
been brought in a wagon.

"He is a real boy," Fritz said, watching him trudge through the
rank prairie grass, brandishing a stick toward a host of imaginary
enemies.

But Amalia, sitting in the wagon and gazing after him, could not
see what Emil was doing; so blurred a little figure did he look
that he seemed swimming in the liquid prairie grass.

Always, these years, Fritz worked constantly.  Even when others,
far from lazy, were through their work and would congregate in
groups to talk over the drouth and the 'hopper damage, the war with
the Sioux, the rush into the Black Hills for gold, Fritz must be on
the go.  The first one in the morning at work and the last one at
night must Fritz always be.  Often Amalia, looking at him, wondered
what was driving him so.  Every one worked hard, but he hardest of
all.

Sometimes she would say to him:  "Fritz, are you never going to get
yourself a wife?"

He would laugh at that.  "For the girls I do not care," he usually
answered, but once when she said it playfully, he turned on her
fiercely:  "YOU should ask that."  And went out to the field,
although he had just come in, so that for a long time Amalia tried
to think why he said that peculiar thing.

By 1878, times began to be better.  When the colonists came
together now, there was not so much head shaking, not so much talk
of drouth and poor crops and hardships,--more talk of railroads
being built,--of the Republican Valley being settled, of the
Pawnees all removed to Oklahoma, of the north part of the state
being opened to settlers.  Crops were better.  Fritz was raising
enough to eat and even selling a little corn.

There were noticeable changes in the twelve years.  A few fences
were here and there around door-yards and gardens.  Old wagon
trails over the prairie had the appearance of real roads.  The
trees had made unbelievable growth, especially the cottonwoods with
their merry leaves, never gloomy, never silent, always dancing in
any kind of weather.  There was a whole flock of children who had
not come in with the wagons,--native-born little Schaffers and
Kratzes, Rhodenbachs and Gebhardts.  And there were six graves
there where the tumble-weeds rolled in the autumn and the sun
blazed down in summer and the snows piled in winter.

And Amalia was changed too.  Although she still braided her once-
golden hair neatly and wound it around her head, it was now rather
like sun-burned straw.  And the rose-petal of her skin was gone,
too, and in its place a redness seared into the delicate flesh by
the prairie winds.

So now with times looking up, and Fritz and Amalia such good
managers, they built a new house to take the place of the cabin,
twelve years old and grown too small and shabby.

Fritz told Amalia to pick out the exact spot of ground she wanted
for it, and while she was making her selection she had a swift
thought that Herman would not have been so considerate,--that like
her father he would have dictated both place and the plans as he
wanted them.  Amalia was rather happy these days with her brother
Fritz and husky Emil, now eleven years old.

Fritz built sturdily and well, even though it took him all through
the year, for he must do his regular work first.  Amalia drove the
team to Westville several times, a day's trip, bringing lumber
home.

There was a little cellar this time into which they could put the
potatoes and pumpkins, turnips and onions for winter's use and into
which they could go if a storm threatened.  Amalia was more proud
of her cellar than any other part of the house.  Fritz built a
slanting outside cellar door upon which she could sun her milk
crocks, and Amalia set out wild gooseberry and currant bushes close
by.  Almost was it going to seem like the farm-house in Illinois
where she was born.  There were four rooms,--a sitting room, a
kitchen and two bedrooms.  Oh, it was rather grand.  Amalia could
scarce keep the pride from showing when Anna Kratz and Lena
Schaffer and the Gebhardts and the Rhodenbachs all came to see the
skeleton of it going up there on the prairie.

On a day in November, an Indian summer day with the sun shining
hazily on the wide brown prairie and the trees over by the river's
brink yellow and bronze, and the sumac flaming red, Amalia moved
into the shining new four-roomed house.

The wooden floors were scrubbed until one almost saw one's face in
them and the new rag rug which she had woven was placed exactly in
the center of the sitting-room until such time as they might have
carpeting.  The walnut table held the Bible and a conch shell, and
on the wall were hung the two pictures from the old home,--the Gute
Nacht and Guten Morgen, two chunky semi-nude little girls with
daisies in their hair.  There was a motto too, which Amalia's
mother had worked in the old country in dainty stitches, Gott Segne
Unser Heim, as though God seeing it there constantly would not fail
to bless their home.  Two rocking-chairs and a book-shelf that
Fritz had made from ends of the lumber for the few German books
completed the furnishings.

The kitchen held the table and the cook-stove with the iron hearth,
the pots and pans and four straight chairs.  Fritz put wooden pegs
on the walls for the coats and hats, made a fresh new wood-box, and
for Amalia's birthday bought a gay blue mirror with tin comb-box
underneath.  In Amalia's bedroom was the heavy walnut bureau from
her mother, and sometimes she was greatly torn between leaving it
there or having it back in the sitting-room where strangers
stopping on their trips across the prairie could see it.

It started a perfect disease of unrest among the neighbor women;
followed by an orgy of building.  "If Amalia Holmsdorfer can have a
new home of boughten lumber, so can I," became almost a slogan up
and down the river.

Anna Kratz had a new house with five rooms, whereupon Lena Schaffer
could not rest until she had six.  Oh, but the German colony took
upon itself the appearance of more comfortable circumstances.

All of these years Amalia had been very close to her boy.  Always
she was talking to him of lovely things, of the beauty in nature,
of the way God manifested Himself,--showing him the gentler side of
life and the more tender.  She walked with him in the timber along
the river and talked of the trees as though they were humans,--the
ash and the willow, the cottonwood and the wild sumac.  She taught
him many things for which Fritz had no time or inclination.
Together they picked the violets and the ground-plums, the black-
eyed Susans and the trillium, bellwort and bloodroot and wild
columbine, although Amalia's names for them were not always as
these.  Together they found the meadow-lark's nest in the prairie
grass and the place where the owls hooted the night away.  She
stood with him on the church knoll which looked over the valley and
had him repeat with her the Psalm of walking through the valley of
the shadow of death and yet fearing no evil.

She had him climb and put back a woodpecker's young one that had
fallen from a nest, called him each night to stop work for a moment
and see the sunset's after-glow, and bade him note that all things
happening now were still like miracles of old.

Sometimes Fritz grew cross at these teachings.  "Du wirst ihm ganz
verzärteln," he would say disparagingly.

But Amalia knew she would not make him a softie, that it did not
make a softie of any one to love beauty in nature.  And a pastor,--
how could a pastor better understand humans than to see God in
everything?

So time went on and spring came and turned into hot summer with the
meadow-larks' songs stilled in the heat.  Summer turned into fall
with the corn ripe in the shock and the dried tumble-weeds rolling
across the prairie like so many brown waves of the sea.  And almost
before Fritz and Amalia could realize it, Emil was nearly fourteen,--
nearly to his Confirmation.  After that would come going away to
more schooling in preparation for his work.

On this spring day Amalia was thinking how it would seem next fall
without him.  But to sustain her in the loneliness it would mean
she had only to vision him in the pulpit in his black robe, and she
knew she must make no outcry about his going.  When the other boys
of his age were at their farm work, he would be studying away at
the Lutheran college, and the thought filled her with an ecstasy of
pleasure.  She would work her fingers to the bone for Emil's
schooling, and Fritz would help her.

Even as Amalia was cherishing these pleasant thoughts, Emil was
sitting near the opened window in the little school-house looking
out at spring coming over the prairie country, as though it were a
person and he could see its tangible form.  It was in the call of
the crows, in the warmth of the sun, in the odors of the loam.

He fumbled the dog-eared reader, looked at a paragraph which
contained no meaning:  "In-zwischen hatte Johann Hus die Schriften
von Wycliffe gellesen."

As though he cared that in the meantime Johann Hus had the writings
of Wycliffe read.

Back to the window he turned his lack-luster eyes.  Over by Willow
Creek there was a faint tinge of green against the gray of the
branches.  The rolling prairie stretched as far as the eye could
see.  On the top of a knoll far off, a man and team and plow were
silhouetted against the horizon.  Maybe it was Uncle Fritz.  For a
moment they were all poised there as though drawn with pencil,--
then they passed out of sight.

Something broke in Emil.  Some queer condition arose in his whole
being over which he seemed to have no control.  He took the two
other thumbed old books out of his desk and a cracked slate with
red flannel binding, tied them to the reader with a frayed piece of
rope, and stood up.

The master rapped sharply on the desk:  "What are you doing, Emil?"

"I go home."

"What do you mean?  Sit down."

Emil, already on his way to the door, turned and shook his head
stolidly.

The teacher advanced toward him, ruler in hand, but he broke into a
clumping run, passed the bucket of water and was at once out on the
moist prairie grass, from which vantage point he turned and gave a
delicate thumb-to-nose gesture of farewell.

He could not have told just what happened,--did not fully sense
that he was happily freed from the intricacies of arithmetic and
the geography of unknown and undesirable countries, of memorizing
hymns and Catechism and verses.  All he knew was that the school-
house had caged him, that spring called,--and the Land.

As he walked over the spongy ground just released from its frost,
he felt rather than thought about the world around him.  There was
the first warm sunshine, and the odors of the prairie ground from
which the new grass would soon shoot.  As he looked a long V-shaped
line of wild geese went over.  He watched them until they dropped
into the north swampland, then turned on his heel and broke into a
run toward home.

It was nearly noon when he arrived with his lunch still untouched.

Amalia, seeing him coming across the open field, ran out to meet
him.  "What is it?" she called.  Nothing but illness or trouble
with the teacher would bring him home.

Now that he was here he did not know quite so well how to handle
it.

Fritz came up from the stable.  Emil had not thought of this
contingency.  Twice Uncle Fritz had licked him when his mother told
him to.  He could feel the last thrashing yet.  Uncle Fritz didn't
dare now.  If Uncle Fritz touched him he would light in and thrash
too.

"I come home," he said stolidly.

"I see," said Fritz.  "But why?"

"I'm through school," he swallowed hard.

Amalia was pale to the lips,--it took schooling and much of it for
the pastor's work.

"But why?" Fritz shouted.

Emil turned his head from them.  "Never going again," he muttered.
"Going into the field.  Going to be a farmer."

Fritz's face relaxed.  The shadow of a grin rested on it.

"There goes your pastor, Mollia," he said gruffly, and to Emil:
"The ground is ready to-day . . . get the plow."

But Amalia went into the house and shed bitter tears.



CHAPTER XXIII


So Emil decided for himself he was to be a farmer like Uncle Fritz,
and Amalia with many a secret sighing over the disappointment put
away her dreams of his schooling and a pastor's robe and a
beautiful girl from some city whom he would one day marry.

But Emil did no sighing,--he was happy and content, and threw his
young strength energetically into the work.

To a certain point he was Herman all over again, energetic, loud of
speech, noisy with laughter.  But at that place where Herman would
have been ruthless toward another's feelings, commanding
arrogantly, or scolding loudly,--Emil's manner would break into
something less formidable as the ice breaks in the springtime, turn
gentle with Amalia and end the scene in mere joking.  So to
Herman's gifts of physical strength and ceaseless energy had been
added something of Amalia's own,--a bit of her thoughtfulness and
tenderness, a little appreciation of the red tinge on the prairie
clouds.

By 1885 the land was largely fenced.  Crops were good.  Some of the
out-buildings were new,--corncribs and a hay barn.  Trees were much
larger,--the cottonwoods and the elms.  Orchards were bearing,--
Amalia could make Äpfelbutter and Pflaumenbutter every year.  There
were elderberries, choke-cherries and wild grapes in the woods, and
gooseberries and currants in the yard.  All the land was taken.
Homesteads were now farms.  The whole community took on an
appearance of prosperity.  In addition to Amalia's and Fritz's
farm,--up and down the river valley stretched the neat places of
all the Gebhardts and the Schaffers, the Rhodenbachs and the
Kratzes.  If there had been keen rivalry over houses and barns,
children and crops, it had made for progress.

There was a road to Westville, clogged with snow in the winter and
muddy or dusty in summer, but at that, something better than the
unbroken trail of prairie grass over which they had first come.

Trains passed daily through Westville, the western portion of the
state was being settled.  Every day people going west stopped in
their wagons at some one of the farm-houses on the river for water
or directions or to stay all night.  Some were bound for the
Republican Valley, some to the Black Hills of the Dakotas, some to
the grassy plateau in the sand-hills.

The German families had grown more friendly with the English ones,--
the Kirbys and the Blacks and the Lawrences.  The women came
sometimes to see Amalia, and every so often she and Anna Kratz
would hitch up the spring-wagon, drive to their homes and return
the calls.

Amalia had a hard time understanding them, and with some
embarrassment and laughter tried to make them know what she was
saying.  But after all, a sick child or a new design for a quilt or
a jar of Gurken or Kraut is a common denominator in all feminine
language, and they got along very well.

"I bring you apple-jelly," Mrs. Kirby would say.

And Amalia, like a devoted parrot would repeat:  "I brin' you äpfel-
chelly."

All the weeks she would try to remember this, and when she would
arrive at the Kirbys' next time, she would be gay with laughter,
jelly, and the surprise of her English for Mrs. Kirby.  "I brin'
you plom-chelly."

But she could not muster a "w" nor a "th,"--ever, all her life,--
nor some of the English words.

"They are water-melon," Mrs. Kirby would say patiently.

"Dey are vater-mel-ON-en."  And so far as Amalia was concerned vater-
mel-ON-en they stayed.

For several years the old log church on the hillside had been gone
and in its place a substantial frame, white-painted, with a spire
pointing its long finger to the way all the settlers must look for
guidance.

Ludwig Rhodenbach had made the pews and a high pulpit, and all the
men had turned in and helped build the Pharrhaus for the pastor.

There was a great bell, too, in the tower of the church, that shook
the building and reverberated up and down the valley.

At a passing, it tolled the number of years the dead one had spent
on earth, so that when old Rudolph Kratz died it echoed up and down
the valley for a long time with its eighty-two strokes, but when
Lena Schaffer's little boy died, it gave only a single tap that was
heard by scarcely any one but the caretaker who rang it and the
prairie-larks and Lena Schaffer many miles away.

Emil worked side by side with Fritz all through his 'teens, strong
as a young ox, for he had never known anything but hard work.
Amalia was glad the two got along so well.  If there was an
occasional disagreement, it soon passed.  Fritz was always quiet.
But Emil, noisy and loud, might rant for a time, start to say ugly
unnecessary things as his father before him, and then, looking at
the gentle face of his mother--suddenly something would break and
his ranting go into nothing.  Amalia did not know how this could
be.  It just was so.

In 1887 Emil was twenty.  The two men had cut a great deal of wild
hay and stored it and there was to be plenty of corn in the cribs.
The combined three hundred and twenty acres were yielding well.  No
one gave a thought to the ownership,--that there might have been
some legal question whose land it was after the death of the two
original owners.  Fritz and Amalia and Emil thought of it only as
"the place," all working long and hard to feed and clothe
themselves and "put something by."

And now this year, the biggest change, since Herman's and Wilhelm's
deaths, was upon the family.  In the late fall or early winter when
he would have passed his twenty-first birthday, Emil was going to
be married.  To Anna Marie Rhodenbach!  That was Minnie
Rhodenbach's daughter, the child of the Minnie Rhodenbach upon whom
Fritz had cast such longing eyes when she was a young widow with
this little girl.  And curiously enough Anna Marie at eighteen was
almost the exact replica of Minnie at the time Fritz had given his
solemn oath never to marry.

Fritz and Emil were building the new house in the very yard with
Amalia's house, although over on the next rise of ground beyond the
slow-growing lilac bushes.

When they started to plan it, Emil had brought Anna Marie over to
talk with Fritz and Amalia about it.

Anna Marie was chubby, her soft round face had dimples at the
corners of her mouth, and when she laughed, which she did very
often, she looked exactly as her mother had looked at eighteen.

Looking at her sitting there so pretty and soft and demure, Uncle
Fritz said suddenly:  "Emil, why don't we build this one very
grand?  The place will all be yours some day.  This house, it
should be of stone . . . finer than any one's in the valley.  You
will have a family . . . they will grow up in it.  Who knows maybe
THEIR children too, would live in it.  It should be solid and big.
I would like to build one so that all the settlers come to see it.
I would like the best one in the whole county for you.  It would
take the year but we could do it fine.  What say you, Emil?"

Amalia warmed so to Fritz's kindness.  What a good boy he was.  And
why would he want to put so much labor on something for Emil?

He was thirty-seven now, thin and hard and gnarled, and never had
he looked at a girl.

"You should for yourself be making one."  Amalia chided him.

But Fritz laughed at that.  "What girl would look at a gnarled old
bachelor, nearing forty?"

"Oh, there's a plenty," Amalia told him.  "I could name as many as
fingers on my hand.  Shall I name them?"

But Fritz would not stop planning to listen to the naming of them.
"The good ones are all married already," he said laconically, so
that Amalia pondered it quite awhile.

Fritz and Emil hauled stone from a quarry down the river.  It took
a day to come and go.  Before he was even fifteen, Fritz had
learned something of the stone mason's craft from his father so now
he built carefully and well.

All the summer and fall of 1887 the two worked on the house every
moment between the necessary crop work.  The big thing rose slowly
on its sturdy foundation, every stone solidly placed, every
studding nailed securely.

"It's so sturdy Anna Marie and I will have our golden wedding in
it," Emil told them.

"I shall then be ninety years old," Amalia laughed.

"Yah," Fritz said.  "You will live, Millia, to see children and
grandchildren and (vielleicht) great-grandchildren living in it."

But Amalia could not believe that--it seemed so very far in the
future.  Yet it happened to be true,--Amalia was to live to see
Emil and his son and his son's son living in the honestly built
stone house.

It was large for the time and for the young state no older than
Emil himself.  There were a parlor and a sitting-room, a dining-
room, a bedroom and a kitchen downstairs, and three more bedrooms
upstairs.  If not overly artistic it was strong and sturdy and as
honest as Fritz Stoltz.  People came from miles around to see it.
Not in all the days of the settling up of the river valley had
there been put up so big and so good a dwelling.  It sent Anna
Kratz home with a sick headache that her Frederich was to live for
awhile in her own discarded cabin.

Amalia could scarcely get used to the idea that Emil was to be gone
from home.  But the two houses were only a short distance apart,
something like a town block over at Westville.  She thought with a
warm little feeling of pleasure how nice it would be to have
another woman so close.  She and Anna Marie could exchange
Kaffeekuchen and Spatzen.  Her twenty-two years here had been only
with menfolks about.

She had a dozen quilts ready for the young couple and now every day
she sewed carpet rags, great balls of them ready for the loom.  If
all the carpet rags she sewed that summer had been laid end to
end . . . but luckily they never were, but were made instead into
much hit-and-miss striped carpeting for the rooms of the big stone
house.

Anna Marie made quilts, too, and bleached quantities of tan-colored
muslin, sewed petticoats with a great deal of tucking in them and
yards of rick-rack and made many pillow-cases with crocheted ends.

Emil bought new things,--the most stylish of all, a walnut bedroom
set with marble top to the bureau and a looking-glass built solidly
on the back of it.  This was called a dresser in English, and for
all the world as though the dresser had a child, there was a small
one just like it called a commode.  There was a wash-bowl too, and
a pitcher, with three fat red roses on the side of each one.  It
seemed that company washed right there in the very room in which
they slept instead of in the kitchen or wash-house.  Amalia preened
a good deal when she showed these to Anna Kratz.  And she bragged
sometimes about her brother Fritz.  "Nothing is good enough for
Emil in Fritz's eyes.  The shirt off his back he would take for
Emil.  Wanting Emil always to have the nicest things in the house."
Or so it seemed to Amalia.

Christmas time passed with the church services and the Tannenbaum
set up so prettily at the pulpit and the tallow Kerzen lighted and
twinkling among its branches, with the "Stille Nacht, Heilige
Nacht" heard everywhere,--at church, in the houses, at the stables,
on the prairie road from sleighs.

The wedding was set for January twelfth.

The house was finished.  Fritz Stoltz surveyed his handiwork.  Emil
had worked day and night with him, but he had been the builder.  He
felt an indescribable pride in the great solid structure.  It would
stand until long after he was up there on the hill with his father
and Herman.  He had, after all, something to leave behind him.  It
wasn't a son, but it was a sort of monument,--for Emil . . . and
Minnie's little girl.

The wedding was a big event.  It took place in the church on the
hill in the morning at ten,--Anna Marie in white India linen and
hand-crocheted lace with a veil.  When the ceremony was over, all
went by buggy and lumber-wagon, spring-wagon and carriage to the
new stone house for the wedding feast.

Anna Kratz and Lena Schaffer, young Mrs. Henry Gebhardt, young no
longer but going by that name for twenty-five years, and Amalia
took charge of the great wedding dinner set out on the boards
placed on saw-horses down the length of the combined two new
parlors.

There were Schinken and gebratene Hühner, which the English
neighbors called ham and fried chicken, and Hühner pressed into
loaves.  There was Metwurst and Käse.  And there were Bohnen and
Pastete, which Mrs. Kirby told Amalia were called in the English,
beans and pie.  There was Kümmel in which the toasts were openly
drunk by all, and there was the strong Roggen Branntwein slipping
about surreptitiously among the men who kept their eyes peeled for
any approaching and potentially protesting wife.

It was the finest kind of a day.  On all sides one heard remarks
about it,--January the twelfth and like spring.  Yes, it was as
soft and mild as Anna Marie's dimpled face.

"It is a sign of your married life," Lena Schaffer said, ". . . the
way the day is.  Ours was stormy, having thunder and lightning."
And she cackled loudly and poked a fat forefinger into August
Schaffer's lean ribs.

Through the feasting the doors were all open.  The sun shone almost
warmly, so that men removed their coats and went out into it that
they might boast of it in years to come,--"I remember like
yesterday at Emil Holmsdorfer's wedding,--January twelfth and I was
out o'doors in my shirt sleeves."

There was moisture on the sides of the elms and the cottonwoods.
Hens scratched in the damp steaming ground of manure piles and on
the south side of the straw stacks.

The crowd from the gorging of much food grew less noisy,
settled for a time into an after-dinner lethargy.  The women
washed countless dishes.  Babies bawled and were put to sleep
upstairs on the new beds high with feather ticks and Amalia's
intricately-pieced quilts.  The men drank more Kümmel openly for
old friendship's sake and a little of the Roggen Brantwein
surreptitiously for any fragile reason that presented itself.
Then Elsa Rhodenbach came in and started the dancing.  "Come!
Don't be old.  This is a wedding, folks; not a funeral."

It revived the faltering food-stuffed company.  August Schaffer and
Adolph Kratz got out their Violinen which the Kirbys called
fiddles, tuned them up and activities began.

In the midst of the dancing some of the men came in to say it
looked stormy in the north,--maybe they must go and do chores if
they were to come back for the evening.  Several of the women went
out to look, too.

The north sky was the color of burned-out camp-fire ashes.  There
was a hushed quiet over the whole countryside,--that portentous
quiet which is more ominous than noise.  Several of the older men
began hitching up, but the young folks danced on.  Fritz slipped
away to his barns for early chores.  Amalia called something after
him about her chickens.  Even as she did so, a single icy blast
snarled down from the low-swinging clouds, the wind whipped her new
silk dress as though it were a rattling garment of paper.

The storm that followed the initial blast went down into history as
the blizzard of '88.

The snow in great packed masses threw itself at the countryside,
drove its fury all over a snow-bound land.  It lashed at the
wedding party, held captive, like a wild thing mad with the
knowledge that it could not hurt the great stone house which Fritz
and Emil had built so well.

Those who had started home, remembering the fate of two of their
original company of settlers so many years before, sought shelter
at the nearest farms, some greatly in danger of losing their lives
before they could fight their way to houses and barns.

It threw a pall over the gaiety,--the worry about those who had
gone home for the chores.  Even Fritz did not come back, could not
make it through the storm from so short a distance.

In the big stone house, the dancing took the minds from the mad
fury of the elements, the food luckily prepared in such quantities,
held out, the Kümmel sustained the thirsty.  Only the drinking of
the Roggen Brantwein came to a sudden termination for the simple
reason that with Adolph Kratz, it, too, had gone home to do the
chores.



So now Amalia was thirty-nine, her son a married man, and never any
more did she think of romance for herself or crave it.

Twice during the years had she been asked in marriage.  Several
times young Fred Gebhardt had come to spend Sunday evening when
Emil was small, but Amalia, pretending that she did not know the
reason, kept Fritz from leaving and allowed Emil to sit up long
beyond his bedtime so they could all make merry together with
popping Korn and making molasses candy, until Fred asked her and
she refused him under the noise of the popping Korn.

And once from beyond the valley Otto Weis had driven in rapidly,
explained his matrimonial intentions, given her gratuitously an
inventory of his cows, pigs and chickens, and explained a little
breathlessly that if she were so minded to take them all on as well
as himself, he would appreciate it if she could come before
threshing.

Amalia had laughed in his face and told him to go to the fourth
homestead down the valley and hire Lizzie Gebhardt for two dollars
a week.

No, Amalia craved no more romance for herself.  But sometimes when
the sun was gone and there was a moment to spare after the supper
dishes were done, she sat on the porch of the small frame farm-
house and looked across the darkening fields and pastures.  From
there she would watch the first stars come out, a night hawk dip
low and the new moon get caught in the branches of the plum
thickets,--would listen to the breeze stirring the leaves of the
cottonwoods and to the cicadas and the good-night call of the
robins that had come of late years,--would catch the scent of the
hay fields and the petunias that bordered the path to her gate.
Then she would open the rusty-hinged door and go into The Room.

She could not have explained it to any one,--certainly not to Emil
or Fritz, and not even to her daughter-in-law, Anna Marie, or to
Anna Kratz or Lena Schaffer.  But it was always there,--a little
chapel more beautiful than any church, built in a clearing in the
woods.



CHAPTER XXIV


For Seven years after Ida Carter's marriage to Matthias she worked
side by side with him in the store, never missing a day nor a
chance to help her husband earn a penny.  On hot summer mornings
she rose with the sun and was ready to go with him through the
dusty streets when he left for work.  On winter mornings she was up
long before daylight, breaking the ice in the pitcher for washing,
dressing in her flannels and woolen dress, and was off with him in
the dark and the cold.

There were hard times for town people as well as the country folks
in those years after the Meier marriage.  Every grasshopper cast
its tiny reflection into Matthias' store, until the whole became a
dark shadow over the counters.  Drouth took its toll of the
customers and so of Matthias himself.  The little town had seen its
citizens go out to fight a prairie fire which came rolling in with
no apparent regard for the capital's importance.  It had seen an
uprising among the convicts in the penitentiary several miles away
so that Matthias shouldered a gun with other citizens and went out
to help quell the riot.  It had seen the burning of the Atwood
House with its big twenty-thousand-dollar loss.

All these seven years Ida Carter lived in her small suite of rooms
in the boarding-house looking forward to the day when she would
have a nice home.  But the boarding-house was good enough, she
insisted, until she could stop work and devote herself to a home.

And then in 1880 her child was coming, so that she must stop her
work at the store.  They named the boy Carter and he throve and
grew even as did the little town into which he had arrived with
such welcome.

Even before the baby's coming, the new state had begun to pull out
of the hard times, and with these general conditions bettered
Matthias' business took on noticeable gains.

Life was very pleasant to Matthias these days.  Ida was comrade and
friend as well as wife and mother.  Any word of hers concerning the
business was worth heeding.  And then came word of the death of
Matthias' uncle, and wholly unlooked for, a fair-sized legacy.
Rather suddenly then he sold his share of the store to his partner,
bought stock in one of the banks and became an officer of that
growing institution.

The town had thirteen thousand inhabitants now,--the University had
graduated several small classes.  Eight daring young men on the
flying trapeze of their enthusiasm had organized the Sigma Chi
fraternity and were nearly expelled for their pains.  The huge west
wing for a new capitol building had gone up.

There were more convicts in the pen, more inmates in the asylum,--
and many people had been taken out to the acreage in which to lie
down and sleep.

So now Matthias and Ida were to have their new home.  It was of red
brick and sat far back from the wooden sidewalk of a popular
residential street, where it seemed to draw its red skirts away
from the splashing of mud all spring and the clouds of fine dust
rolling in through the hot midwestern corn-curing weather.  It was
rather awe-inspiring in its massiveness, dwarfing as it did the
modest homes on both sides of it.  There were ornate trimmings over
the long, narrow windows, and a tower high above the second floor
could have served as an excellent Indian lookout if there were
need, for from its lofty interior one might gaze over the
undulating prairie as far as man's vision could function.

It was one of the town's most showy residences, but scarcely had
its final oak balustrade been placed, its last piece of ornate
grill-work set in the archway between parlor and library until
plans were laid by the William McCurdeys for a new house with more
oak grill-work and two towers.

They followed each other like mushrooms after rain,--the huge frame
house of a merchant, the red brick one of a banker, the gray stone
of an attorney, all dignified and elegant at the time.  It was only
in the light of after years that they looked fussy, like old ladies
bewigged and rouged and loaded with jewelry.

Other town-shaking events were happening.  Whereas one had hallooed
lustily heretofore from his porch to the neighbor for whom a
message was intended, or sent the swiftest-legged member of the
family, one might now talk to him through the huge box fastened on
the wall.  A half-hundred business houses went up, many times that
number of homes.

When the Meier house was finished Matthias and Ida gave a
housewarming.  While scarcely true that half the town came, the
impression was there.  Young swains and their ladies danced the
Virginia reel and the mazurka on the intricately inlaid pattern of
the newly polished floors,--a few tackled the schottische.  Young
Carter, a big healthy boy, was allowed to stay up until nine.  Ida
had succeeded in making him look almost as effeminate as she
desired in his velvet suit with lace collar and cuffs, his hair in
curls to his shoulders.  Ida herself had a new striped heavy silk
dress trimmed with bead passementerie over a huge bustle.

Oyster stew was served in the basement, moist yet from its fresh
mortar, the ladies squealing a little and holding up their trailing
skirts when descending the long, narrow stairway.  Some of the
guests had driven to the party in their fringed canopy-topped
carriages, those close by had walked, tip-toeing across the puddles
on the wooden sidewalks, carrying their party shoes in bags, but a
few souls out for adventure and feeling particularly devilish had
taken the new street-car to the nearest corner.

Charlie Briggs came, looking a bit incongruous among the other
guests with his baggy clothes, his oiled red hair, and his voice
rolling out in the same tones he had employed when he snapped the
bull-whip at the side of the oxen.  But Matthias would have him,
and Ida was good-natured about it, laughing heartily with Charlie
when they showed him around the new house and he said he'd swum in
all sorts o' rivers 'n lakes 'n buffalo wallers, but never swum yet
in a big soup-bowl like that there one in the bathroom.

Aside from a faux pas or two on the part of Charlie, the whole
affair was a huge success.

The newspaper said it was one of the most pleasant occasions ever
known to Lincoln society, that youth and beauty were rampant, that
the Meier residence was a model of elegance, its proud owners
unexcelled in hospitality and the collation the most appetizing of
which ye scribe had ever partaken.

Matthias and Ida were exceedingly pleased over the write-up, felt a
curiosity tinged with impatience to see the one which would follow
the McCurdeys' housewarming in a few months.  When it came out, it
said that the party was one of the most pleasant occasions ever
known to Lincoln society, that youth and beauty were rampant, that
the McCurdey residence was a model of elegance, its proud owners
unexcelled in hospitality and the collation the most appetizing of
which ye scribe had ever partaken.

Life now to the Meiers took on no small degree of prosperity which
in turn gave them their place in the social sun of the little city.

They went to hear Oscar Wilde lecture and Bill Nye,--to the Funk
Opera House to see Edwin Booth and Modjeska, Lily Langtry and
Fannie Davenport tread the boards.  They joined a whist club and
kept up their choir work even if somewhat under fire by visiting
evangelists for combining the two.

Ida joined with a group of her women friends in receiving calls on
New Year's Day to which the gallants of the town in Prince Alberts
made yearly pilgrimages by way of a livery hack.

At the turn of the decade came one of the outstanding social
events,--the opening of the Lansing Theatre.  Matthias was forty-
six now, a little pompous looking with his shovel-cut beard and a
gray patch above each ear,--quite the picture of a bank vice-
president.  Ida was forty-three, heavy too, deep bosomed and molded
into her stays, wholly the picture of a bank vice-president's wife.
Her heavy brown hair was piled high on her head in doughnut
formation.  In the privacy of her room she pinched her cheeks to
bring color to them.

Carter at eleven was to be allowed to go to the great opening.  "He
can't begin too young to hear and see the best things," Matthias
had said, to which Ida assented with reservations that he mustn't
expect to go often.

The great building towering all of four stories high was a blaze of
light.  The boxes were filled with notables.  The Governor was
there in the dress circle, and the new young congressman, William
Jennings Bryan, and his wife.  The proscenium was a dazzle of
splendor and the audience beautiful and manly if one may take
wholeheartedly the newspaper accounts of the day.  A painted scenic
representation of Thalia, the muse of comedy and bucolic poetry, in
an undieted condition, largely covered the sounding board with a
languid pose of nonchalant snootiness surrounded by corpulent
cupids.

Lillian Lewis and her company played.  The orchestra rendered
exquisite strains between acts.  One would have said it was like a
Chicago event.  Culture had come to the prairie.

On the way home Matthias and Ida in their carriage, with the man
driving who doubled in yard work for them, asked each other what
more one could wish for.

Ida said it didn't seem possible all this could have come to pass
in the raw village to which she had come nineteen years before.

Matthias responded with a rather uninspired:  "No, it doesn't," . . .
thinking, and yet not being able to tell even Ida, of his long
journey alone over the cold, windswept prairie twenty-three years
before, and of his dreaming that one day a city would stand there
on the horizon where stood four or five log houses.  He felt a
little awestruck to-night,--it seemed too much like sorcery,--as
though the magic of his thinking had turned the dreaming into fact.



CHAPTER XXV


There were changes again in the German neighborhood in which Amalia
Holmsdorfer lived with her brother Fritz.  Changes in the farms,
certainly, but more among the people.  Deaths, births, marriages,--
they roll in on a community like the tides of the sea.  Most of the
marriages had been among the various families which had come into
the state together.

But another element was entering in.  Lena Schaffer's boy married a
Kirby girl who was what they called a Congregationalist.  Tsk!
Tsk!  Probably not a Catechism in the house and calling a pastor a
minister.  Young Henry Gebhardt's girl got into trouble with one of
the English Brown boys,--the trouble not being so bad as the mixed
blood.

And the biggest change of all to Amalia,--she was now fifty years
old and a grandmother.  Emil and Anna Marie had a little son, Joe,
aged ten now.  Three times since Joe's birth, Anna Marie had
expected a child, but after a few months could not carry it.  Anna
Marie had now lost her chubbiness to something more substantial.
Fat, in no uncertain terms was what she had come to be,--a mound of
quivering fat which seemed in no way to detract from her lightness
of foot.  Looking at her sometimes Amalia wondered how a fat woman
could walk so springily.  She had all the qualities of a rubber-
ball, and even though she had to walk sideways down the porch steps
of the big stone house, she seemed to bounce down from step to
step.

Emil was a good husband to Anna Marie.  Often Amalia talked about
it to Fritz, wondering in her mind if he remembered their father's
and Herman's harsh ways, but saying nothing about it.  When Joe was
born and those other times of her illnesses, Emil brought home
neighbors' girls to work.  He bought a two-seated carriage for her,
too, and though Fritz and Amalia rode yet in the spring wagon, Anna
Marie never went anywhere excepting in the carriage where she sat
alone in her grandeur in the back seat because of her bulk.

Sometimes Amalia would hear Emil telling his wife not to put so
much labor on the house, to let up a little in the work, that since
the new eighty was all paid for, they would be getting ahead.  Four
hundred acres in the family now,--that was good.  Amalia knew
Herman and her father would have been elated at that news.

Only this spring Amalia had seen an example of Emil's
thoughtfulness of his wife.

Anna Marie had just pulled the old soap-kettle from the back porch
out to the yard, walking sideways up and down the steps in that
balloon-like way of hers, when Emil came up from the barn.

"What are you going to do?" he had asked in the German, for
although they both could speak some in English they chose the
easier way.

"Make soap," Anna Marie had said, "and I'd rather take a licking
than stand and stir."

"Why do you then?"

Anna Marie laughed good naturedly, her dimples making large holes
in her cheeks.  "I think because my mother did before me and her
mother before her, and for no other reason, for it is one of the
things I do not like to do."

"Don't do it then."

"But, Emil,--I have all the grease saved and the lye is leached."

"Throw it away.  You do not have to do it any more.  A bushel of
corn or two will pay for the soap you would make to-day . . . maybe
make yourself sick too!"

So to Amalia's amazement, she saw her daughter-in-law take the pans
and waddle lightly down to the edge of the orchard, bury the grease
in the ground, throw the cracklings to the chickens, and sit down
on the big porch to rock comfortably all the rest of the afternoon.
Tsk!  Tsk!  Such a waste.

At night Emil took the iron kettle down to the hog-lot and cooked
mash in it for the little pigs.

So, even though large families were the order of the day, because
of Anna Marie's inability to bear more children, Joe was to be
Emil's only son and Amalia's only grandchild.

It may be for this very reason Amalia centered all her love in him.
So devoted was she to little Joe that he seemed her own, that she
had borne him herself in some distant year with the pain and the
worry now all forgot.

He was less noisy than Emil had been, quiet and uncommunicative.
One had to guess what was on his mind, withdrawing it by
questioning.

"What is the matter, Joey?  What have you on your mind that
troubles you?"

"Nothing."

"Is it that you cannot go to town with father?"

"No."

"Is it that the little calf died?"

A long silence,--and Amalia knew it was that the little calf died.

Although he was boyish, full of energy for the farm activities,
never a day passed that he did not come down the path between the
petunias, to the frame house where Amalia and Fritz lived.  She
kept cookies in a big stone crock always for Joey.  She kept a bed
made for him so that when Emil and Anna Marie would want to go
somewhere without him, he could stay.  She kept a flannel nightgown
there for him and a pencil and paper and slate should he want to do
his school work.

And that was another change in the community.  Joey went to English
school and did the German work up on the hill with the pastor only
for a time in the summer vacation.  There was a country school-
house on a corner of the Lawrence land called the Evergreen School.
It was under a county superintendent, and all the children, both
German and English, must attend.

Joey could talk the English just like the Kirbys and the Lawrences,
but he could talk the German, too, and usually did with Amalia.
But sometimes, in proud boyish way, he wanted to give her an
English lesson and although it was tedious and tiring to Amalia,
she was patient for the little boy's sake.

"It is a nice day."

"It iss a schön day."

"No, Grandma.  NICE."

"It iss a nitze day."

"This is soup."

"Dis iss Suppe."

"No, Grandma.  Soup."

"Sss . . . oop."

And the lesson would go only into laughter and the eating of more
cookies.

But in one way, Amalia's association with Joe was identical with
that of her own little boy, Emil,--the talking to him of all the
lovely things about the farm, of the beauty in nature and the way
God manifested Himself.  She walked with him in the timber along
the river,--a little less buoyantly now because of her fifty years,--
and talked of the trees as though they were humans,--the ash, the
willow and the cottonwood, and the wild sumac.  Together they
picked violets and black-eyed Susans and trillium, bellwort and
bloodroot and wild columbine, and although Amalia's names for them
were not always as these, Joey knew these very words in the English
and taught them to her.

Together they found the meadow-lark's nest in the grass and the
place where the owls had hooted away the nights in the woods for
thirty years.  She stood with him on the church knoll which looked
over the valley and had him repeat with her in German the Psalm of
walking through the valley of the shadow of death and yet fearing
no evil.

Fritz did not reprove her as he had done when Emil was small, did
not tell her she would make of him a softie.  Fritz was nearly
fifty now, himself, and someway in the years, he had learned that
it is not always softness to be tender.

Sometimes she asked Joey if he would not like to go away to school
and study to be a pastor.  But Joey's answer was always the same,
that he would farm all the land and buy more and be the biggest
land owner in the county.

So the farm work went on,--a thing of plowing, harrowing, planting,
cultivating, laying by the corn, picking it to toss into the
wagons, husking it in the big barns,--of wheat planting and
harvesting,--of butchering, smoking Speck, making Mettwurst and
smoked Schinken, of discouragement over low prices, chuckling
pleasure over high ones, of occasional seasons of drouth and short
crops, and others of too much moisture followed by rust, of the
eternal vigilance over the management of the place which is known
only to natural-born farmers.  And always one eye on the weather.
Rain, dew, sleet, hail, drouth, snow, frost, ice, sunshine,
cloudiness, wind,--every morning Emil and Fritz and Joe stepped out
of the house with the question on their lips,--which, from the long
list of his cohorts had the weather man marshaled for the day?  By
the small margin of difference in the various combinations would
there be success or disaster.

Most amazingly Joe soon went to High School over at Westville.
When he had read all the readers and studied all that the country
school-teacher had for him, Emil sent him over to the town school.

"Parochial school was good enough for me," Emil said, "but I want
Joe to have better."

So with his books tied on the saddle and his lunch in a tin box, he
rode his pony every day to school over the road no longer grass-
grown but worn hard and black now from the travel of the thirty-
five years.  Sometimes he even stayed after school awhile to play
baseball and, though Emil needed him badly, he did not swear at him
and scold as many of the fathers did, but said:  "Get around home a
little quicker to-morrow and help with the corn."

It was a great night for the Holmsdorfers when Joe graduated.  It
was called "the Class of 1907" and four of the graduates were from
the families of the old friends in the valley,--Joe, Rose Schaffer,
Henry Gebhardt, the third, and Nora Kratz, Anna Kratz's grand-
daughter.

Amalia was so proud of Joe one would have thought she was the
mother instead of the grandmother.  She was fifty-nine now, with
not a semblance of the lovely girl she had once been, but an old
woman, wrinkled and worn from much hard labor.  Fritz was fifty-six
and he, too, looked older than his years, gnarled and thin and
weather-beaten from his long seasons of battling with the elements.

Joe had something of a time getting ready, what with carrying a
wash-tub up to his room for a bath and when almost dressed having
to run over to Amalia's for the tie stick-pin he had left there.

But they were all ready in time, although they went in three
different rigs.  Fritz and Amalia had owned a buggy for several
years and they went in that.  Joe, excited and not knowing just
when he would leave "the bunch" after the exercises, took his own
rubber-tired buggy.

Emil and Anna Marie went in the two-seated carriage.  From the
window Amalia saw them leave a little before she did,--Emil driving
up close to the porch and Anna Marie coming sideways down the
steps, but lightly like a balloon, and then sitting alone in the
grandeur of the back seat as they drove away.

The exercises were very fine, Amalia thought, and although neither
she nor Fritz could read a word of the programs, they studied them
diligently between speeches.

Rose Schaffer looked as pretty as her namesake, the prairie roses.
They called her by a frightfully long name and although Amalia
whispered to Fritz to ask if he knew what the word printed there
meant . . . that one,--V-a-l-e-d-i-c-t-o-r-i-a-n, Fritz shook his
head.

But although there were seventeen in the class, Amalia had eyes
only for Joey with his fine shoulders thrown back so proudly, and
his nice suit Emil had let him pick from the catalogue.  They spoke
and sang and received their papers rolled up and tied with ribbons,
and last of all they gathered in a group and yelled something which
sounded louder and worse than the time the Indians yelled around
the molasses jug and the feather pillow.

When Amalia and Fritz went out of the "opera house" to leave for
home a fog had fallen over everything.  It enveloped the night like
a ghostly presence so that Fritz had to let the horses walk and
feel their own way.  Never had the road seemed so long.  They knew
when the horses turned the corner on the valley road, and later
hearing the grate of the iron tires, knew they were crossing the
railroad track, at the curve.  Other than that, they scarcely knew
their bearings until the faithful team turned in at the farmyard.

Several times Amalia peered out to see whether there was a light in
the big house but never seeing one for the fog, she went on to bed.

It was an hour later when the voices sounded outside the door,
lanterns flashed, and some one was calling Fritz.

Something terrible seized Amalia, a premonition of impending
disaster.  As she pulled a dress over her muslin nightgown and
lighted a lamp, her hands shook, so that the matches went out
twice.  She was trembling so she could scarcely get to the door,
asking "What's wrong?" in the German.

Fritz was ahead of her, and together they stood, lamp high, in the
doorway peering out at Karl Schaffer and young Adolph Kratz and his
wife and Anna Kratz, Henry Gebhardt, and back of these old friends
two Westville men standing apart, and at Joey coming from beyond
them, running, pushing through the fog, pushing through the men and
the women, elbowing them aside, white, wild, crying and calling:

"Grandma,--Father and Mother are dead."

"Was ist, Joey?" Amalia was confused and the English words only
added to it.

"Vater und Mutter sind todt."

And then Amalia understood.

Emil and Anna Marie, alive and well and proud of their fine boy two
hours ago, were not now alive and well, and were quite incapable of
further pride in their fine boy.

At the railroad crossing by the curve in the dark of the fog it had
happened when the night passenger came through.  The men thought
Emil must have mistaken a headlight for a light in the Lawrence
farm-house.  Or so it might have been.

There were details which they were keeping from Joe and Amalia, one
gathered.  But Amalia was strong.  No one knew where or how she
could obtain all that reserve strength, nearly sixty as she was,
little, too, and almost frail.  She went from the small house to
the big one and back in the days that followed.  She saw the pastor
and gave directions for the services.  She picked out the things
for them to put on her boy and his wife, and comforted Minnie
Rhodenbach Schaffer, Anna Marie's mother, who came with her other
sons and daughters.

She sent Fritz, broken up as he was, out to the horses, knowing
that he always found comfort in their sleek hides and their gentle
nosing of him.  But most of all she helped Joe pull himself
together.

"It is happy for them, Joey," she said steadily, although it took
effort to say the words.  "Always from the time your father was
seventeen, there was no one but your mother for him.  He loved her,
and she loved him and no other.  That is a very happy thing.  So
few people are of that way.  They loved each other.  They were
fine people.  They gave you life.  It is your gift from them.
And now they go where there is nothing but more happiness . . .
for them . . . and they go together.  That is the nicest way of
all . . . no long sickness, no worries about leaving their
boy . . . just suddenly . . . and together."

And Joe threw up his head and went bravely through the long ordeal
because of what his grandmother had said.

He could do all this because she had put her own strength into him,
and because he did not know that in her own bedroom after she had
watched him fall asleep these nights, she dropped on her knees and
cried aloud in her anguish, finding it hard to walk through the
valley of the shadow of death and yet fear no evil.



CHAPTER XXVI


Only Amalia, Fritz and Joe were left now of the family.  It was
crushing.  One could not sense the thing that had happened so
suddenly in the midst of their ordinary everyday life.

"Im mitte des Leben sind wir in Tode," the pastor had said that
June day when all the countryside came, so that the road winding up
to the old white church was packed with carriages.  _In the midst
of life we are in death._

There had been wild roses that day, tangled everywhere in the
prairie grass on the hill and a pair of thrashers had flown
scolding over the heads of the people for disturbing their young.
The bell had tolled forty long slow strokes for Emil whom every one
respected,--thirty-eight for Anna Marie whom every one loved,--and
then because this was so strange a service, the caretaker had added
nineteen full, resonant strokes for the years of their married life
together.  All over the valley were the solemn notes heard, so all
should remember that in the midst of life they were also in death.

The fields that had called to Emil were calling yet.  But now it
was Joe who answered, who plowed and planted and harvested.

Fritz and Amalia moved to the big stone house and left the small
one standing vacant and a little forlorn.  "Some day when Joey
brings a wife home to the stone house, we shall come back," Amalia
said to Fritz as she moved her things, carrying in her hands her
shell box carefully wrapped in its unbleached muslin.

So in the next few years Amalia and Fritz were mother and father to
Joe just as they had been to Emil, his father, before him.  But
things were quite different now.  Emil had stayed so closely on the
place, going only to services and to see Anna Marie and sometimes
on the wolf hunt or taking part in some other mannish activity.
But Joe had his rubber-tired buggy and a pair of slim, fast-
stepping horses.  He seemed restless.  No one worked harder, but
always after the work he was cleaning up and leaving.  Sometimes he
told where he was going,--more often not.  Amalia worried about it
a little.  Such a close-mouthed boy and so hard to understand.

There was new machinery on the place.  The old cradle and reaper
were falling to pieces in the weeds behind the barn.  There was a
binder.  One might ride now at the plowing.  Tsk!  Tsk!  Like going
to town.

Joe was all English now in his talk, would seldom offer to put
anything into the German for Amalia and because he did not do so of
his own accord, Amalia felt a certain pride in not asking him and
would try so very hard both to understand and to express herself.
In truth, the whole colony was changing in that respect.  A Kratz
had married a Lawrence.  A Gebhardt had married a Black.  Two of
the Schaffers were at this moment keeping company with two Kirby
sisters.  All was changing.

The old white church on the hill was gone this last year and in its
place a solid red brick and the Pfarrhaus for the pastor matched
it.  Only the old bell was not worn out although it had called to
worship and tolled and caroled for thirty years.  More than these
material changes, the services were part English,--there had been
almost a rumpus over it, and again over whether to have a short
sermon in German and another in English immediately following, or
the German every other Sunday.  They said they must do it to hold
the young folks.  Hold them, thought Amalia.  How queer!  No one
could have made her miss church when she was young.  What would her
father . . . what would Wilhelm Stoltz have said to that,--getting
the colony to come out here so they could keep together and retain
their customs?

And then rather suddenly Amalia found out where Joe was going this
summer of 1910.  It was to see Rose Schaffer who had graduated in
his class three years before.

It relieved her immensely and pleased her too.  Rose Schaffer was
everything that Amalia would have wanted for Joey.  Pretty, neat
and clean, so pleasant to every one.  Oh, but that would be schön,--
no, nice.  She could hardly wait to tell Fritz when he came in
from the field.  They were cutting the new alfalfa which Joe had
insisted on sowing.  Fritz was all for the old things he
understood,--Joe for the new.  Fritz was sixty-one, not so young
any more, but hardy as a hickory tree.  He had given up readily
enough about the alfalfa.  He was easy-going and, anyway, it would
all be Joey's place,--four hundred of the best acres in Nebraska.

"If he wants to plant pepper-nuts," Fritz had said, "nothing will
I say."

Amalia had laughed heartily at that, for Pfeffernüsse were
Christmas cookies.

So Amalia was full of excitement over the news that she had just
heard from Anna Kratz whose daughter had told her that HER daughter
had told HER that Joe was keeping steady company with Rose
Schaffer.

"Maybe we shall soon move back to the little house, Fritz.  See to
it that you keep it well painted and repaired and that it always
stands ready."

Fritz laughed at that, teasing her whether he should start to pack.

And then others told it about and every one seemed to know it.

Amalia surreptitiously began making a quilt for Joey,--the Jacob's
Ladder design.  Joe, himself, said nothing.  Such a boy,--one never
knew what he was thinking.  Always doing his work so silently and
well.  Perhaps she couldn't expect him to confide in his
grandmother.  But sometimes she wanted so badly to know how things
were with him that she hinted, not quite subtly:  "What's come of
all your old class, Joey,--what's come of Rose Schaffer?  Do you
never see her any more?"

She would be asking in the German, he replying now in the English.

"Sure I do, Grandma.  I saw her last night.  We went over to
Westville to the band concert."

"And how was she?" as unconcerned as though it were mere
conversation, and not the vital thing it was.

"Oh, she's always up and coming."

Amalia was satisfied,--entirely pleased with his choice.  If Joe
had sent her out on a shopping trip for a wife she believed she
would have returned with Rose Schaffer.

Life took on a new interest now.  It would be like living over
Emil's young days to have Joe bring Rose to the big stone house.
She planned every day for it, expected any time now that Joey would
tell her the news.  She could even anticipate the conversation, so
well did she know her Joey.

He would approach it like this:

"Grandma, what would you think if I should bring some one else here
to live with us?"

"Oh, Joey,--do you mean it?"  She must be surprised.

"Yes . . . I've been thinking of it."

"You mean a wife, Joey?"

"Yes.  What would you say to my bringing Rose Schaffer?"

Oh, she would like it,--like it very much indeed.  Kind,
substantial Rose with a pleasant word for every one,--a girl who
would be like a daughter.  And it would be nice to live in the
little house again and have only the work there to do.  Let's see,
how old was she now?  Almost sixty-two.  Time to take it easier.
Yes, she would welcome the change,--with Rose nearby for company.

And then the corn was in and the butchering done.  The fall winds
blew cold across the country bringing a flake of snow or two as
though messengers had been sent ahead to remind the countryside of
what would soon follow.

Amalia, standing at the kitchen window of the big stone house on a
Saturday morning, rubbed away the steam to see out.  Across the
dark fields and the bare brown stubble she could see the big
comfortable white farm-houses and the red barns of two of the
neighbors,--the Adolph Kratz place and the Gus Rhodenbachs'.
Everywhere the fields were precisely laid out and fenced, square-
shaped or long like Joey's dominoes,--not much like the old days of
patches of crops here and there with no fences.  On the main
highway some county commissioner had tried a new-fangled idea of
having little stones and gravel hauled for people to drive over.
Joe was all for it, Fritz against it.  Joey always for the new,
Fritz for the old.

What had been wide sweeping prairie was as cut up now as roads and
fences could make it,--so much for wheat, so much for corn, this
square for pasture and that one for the new alfalfa hay.  People
scarcely used the word prairie itself any more, so subdued and
tamed was the wild thing of an earlier day.

As Amalia looked she saw two men with guns crossing the Kratzes'
cornfield.  That was a part of the wolf hunt to which Joey had
gone.



Joe, out on the wolf hunt, swung along over the frozen cornlands,
his gun pointing as his father had taught him.  He had sighted a
coyote once and heard the wild call of others not long before.  Far
across the field he could see a couple of the hunters, probably
young Jim Rhodenbach and his dad taking their cut across the field.
Outside the fences down the road, teams were tied and the Kirbys'
new automobile was nosed up to the pasture.  Noisy things--these
automobiles--scare all the horses to death.

The cold bit like a steel trap.  Had almost forgotten what it felt
like after the hot summer harvesting and the mild fall corn-
picking.

The finish of the hunt would be somewhere near the Schaffers'.  He
was glad of that,--could drop in and get a cup of hot coffee and
see Rose a few minutes.  Pretty fine girl,--Rose.  Queer how he had
never thought very much about her in High School,--merely given her
a lift to town occasionally or talked over some lesson a few
minutes.  But it was different now.

He grinned cheerfully to himself,--she was his girl now all right.
Ever since the High School Alumni banquet in June.  Something had
happened,--he didn't know just what, but things had been different
since.  He had gone alone, stagging it as usual.  She had come with
a couple of the other girls from the old class of 1907.  Out three
years now.  Gosh, you couldn't realize it.  Seemed as though the
class had drifted apart,--Chick Adams and Ray Hostrop and Fat
Leaman all going away to college that way.  Fraternity fellows now,--
with college yarns to spring.  Two or three of the girls, too,
were back from college or girls' schools.  Couldn't blame them for
hobnobbing together with a lot of things in common.  He'd like to
have gone too, but father and mother . . . just then. . . .  Not
much use in it either, would have just come back to farm anyway and
you didn't have to go away to school to learn that.  You knew all
about that from the time you were a kid.

They had sat side by side at the banquet,--he and Rose.  That was
when it had happened and for the life of him he didn't yet know
WHAT.  All he knew was that before he went he hadn't thought any
more of her than of any other neighbor girl.  When it was over and
he had taken her home in his new yellow-wheeled rubber-tired buggy
he knew she was his girl.  And Rose knew it too.  He hadn't asked
her to marry him yet.  Seemed silly to have to put it into words
when each one understood, but he supposed he'd have to.  Christmas
Eve,--that would be the time.  Christmas exercises at the church,--
ask Rose after those--have the diamond ring in his pocket,--a
pretty nice one too,--could use some corn money--seventy-five, or
eighty dollars, maybe.

They were closing in now.  Men were shouting.  The guns opened up.
By an almost miraculous watchfulness on the part of a kind
providence no human's life was sacrificed, although practically all
were in jeopardy, for in the last stages of a coyote round-up shots
were as wild as the wolves themselves.

There were seven gray gaunt forms thrown on the pile.  There were
some drinks and much smoking and whacking of cold hands together to
take away their numbness,--then Joe was off through a creek-bed and
up a ravine, across a pasture to the Schaffers' house.

He tapped on the kitchen door with a simultaneous opening of it and
stepped in.  Odors of newly baked cinnamon-rolls and fresh coffee
assailed his nostrils as the spices of Araby might have assailed a
traveler.  Rose was flushed from the baking, but pretty enough to
kiss.  His heart warmed to her and he was crossing the room,
suddenly inspired to carry out the suggestion when he stopped
short, for a young girl came from the Schaffer dining-room and
stood in the doorway,--a dainty little thing in a blue kimono held
tightly around her cute form.  Her eyes swept Joe with a soft
pleading expression.

"This is Miss Bates, Joe, the new teacher to take Miss Ray's place.
She's going to stay here.  Miss Bates, my friend, Joe Holmsdorfer."

The new teacher's name was Myrtie,--Myrtie Bates.  She had a
delicate flower-shaped face, coming to a sensitive little pointed
chin.  Her big blue eyes were as soft and innocent as a baby's.
She smiled on Joe so gently, with something so vaguely sad in the
smile that he felt suddenly sorry for her, but just why he could
not have told.



CHAPTER XXVII


November slipped into December.  The Christmas exercises this year
were partly in English.  It disappointed Amalia.  The older she got
the more she clung to the old ways.  Perhaps she should not do so,
but it was hard to change.  When the young folks sang:  "Silent
Night . . . Holy Night," Amalia hummed it too under her breath,
"Stille Nacht . . . Heilige Nacht."  It sounded sweeter the old
way, and more tender.

Joe was there with Rose and another girl who, Fritz told her, was
the new teacher of the Evergreen School.  She lived at Schaffers'.
Joe had been over to Schaffers' so much lately,--Anna Kratz told
her she always watched from behind the curtains to see when he went
by in his buggy.  Anna said sometimes she could see he had two
girls with him.  That Anna!  Alte Klatsch!  Old gossip, Joe called
it in English.

The exercises over, she and Fritz drove home.  There was no snow,
but the moonlight was so bright it gave the appearance of white
everywhere.

When Fritz put the team away and came in, something depressing
seized Amalia.  It was Christmas Eve and no time for feelings of
this sort, but getting home this way from the exercises with Fritz
brought it all back, that other night three and a half years ago
when they had come home through the fog.  And even though she put
her packages for Fritz and Joey under the tree and tried to make it
seem a happy occasion, she could not do so.  Something made her
wish constantly that Joe would come, made her listen for the thud
of the horses' hoofs on the hard frozen ground.

She could not sleep.  Joe had been late before,--dances and candy
pulls,--but never like this.  She got up.  Three o'clock.  The
weirdness of the moonlight worried her as much as darkness ever had
done.  She went back to bed.  She thought how queer it was that
Joey was her grandchild and yet he was her son.  It was as though
she had borne two sons,--Emil and Joey.  You never outgrew that
maternal feeling for a child for whom you had cared.  That was why
people could adopt children and feel the same toward them as toward
their own flesh and blood.

Four o'clock and he had not come.

By five the roosters were crowing.  She got up and dressed.
Something had happened and she could not stand the strain.  The
agony of all the things that had ever troubled her seemed to return
in a great nightmare of foreboding.  Always she was losing the
people for whom she cared: Fritz and Joe were all that were left,
and if anything happened to Joey, there would be no least reason
for living.

Six o'clock.  The stock was bawling.  Fritz was up.  Amalia walked
the floor, peered from the windows into the gray of the dawn which
was coming.  Then she heard the team come in.  She slipped back
into her bedroom and closed the door, sat on the edge of the bed
trying to think what could have happened.  Some of the thoughts she
put from her as unworthy.  Whatever it was, she must be kind,--be
motherly and patient.

She got breakfast, made a cheerful remark or two and busied herself
at another task while Joey ate.  They opened their presents, but
there was no Christmas feeling among them.  Joe went silently about
his work during the forenoon.  There was Christmas dinner, but
though she lighted Kerzen and put them on the table, the meal was
not Christmaslike.  After supper Joe hitched the team, came in and
dressed up, said shortly as he left:  "Don't leave a lamp for me."

Amalia lay in her bed and looked at the black walls of her room.
Of all the crosses that she had borne,--of all the hardships that
life had brought her,--there was something about this that was the
most frightening.  She could not have told why she was so shaken.
It was as though a strange person had taken the place of her boy,--
as though the air about her that was recently so clear was now
smoky with gases,--poisonous and stifling.

In the morning she heard the team come in and looked out to see
Joey helping a girl out of the buggy.  Amalia could have laughed
and cried with relief.  She saw it all now.  He was bringing Rose
home just as she had known he would do.  That would be Joey's quick
way--no fuss, no plans, no talk,--just bring her home when the time
came.

Amalia started out to meet them.  But when they came up on the
porch, she saw it was not Rose.  It was a strange girl,--a pretty
little girl with a flower-like face and big eyes like a baby's.

"Grandma, this is my wife," Joe said.  "Her name is Myrtie."

"How do you do?" the girl said coolly.

Amalia thought she would faint.  "Vy . . . vy. . . ."  Always she
talked more brokenly when under stress.  She wiped her hands on her
apron and held one out to the girl.  "Velcome to unser Heim . . .
our home."

But Rose!  Rose!  What about Rose?  Her mind was asking it so
loudly that she was afraid it could be heard.

All morning Amalia was confused,--so upset that she had to stop in
the kitchen every little while when doing her work and think it all
over.  Joey had married a girl and brought her home.  A strange
girl, NOT ROSE, not even German.  Every time Fritz came into the
kitchen with milk pails or to warm the chicken feed, she would look
at him with questioning eyes and whisper in German:  "Why is it
so?"

But poor old Fritz did not know why it was so,--could have no way
of knowing that a girl with wide baby blue eyes and cuddling ways
and no deep sense of loyalty would deliberately take a man away
from her friend,--even though it was a good-looking young man with
four hundred acres of the best land in Nebraska.  How could Fritz
know this,--who had the kind of ethics that would always keep a
promise?

Amalia got dinner.  She had roast chicken and mashed potatoes and
gravy, cole slaw and a pie from her Greening apples in the cellar.
And she got out the good pink-flowered dishes and set the table in
the dining-room, turning the plates over carefully and putting her
stiff new napkins upright in the drinking glasses.  She could think
only of the queer thing that had happened, but so often had she
roasted Hühner and baked Pastete that she did it all mechanically.

Myrtie sat in the big sitting-room and looked at the album and the
few English books in the corner bookcase while Amalia prepared the
dinner.  She ate heartily for such a little delicate-looking thing.
Joe could scarcely take his eyes from her at the table.  He helped
her to the white of the chicken and wanted to know if she would
rather have peach-sauce than her pie.

After dinner when Joe went to the barn to look after his team and
Amalia washed the good pink-flowered dishes, Myrtie went into the
cold parlor, wrapped herself in the crocheted afghan and took a
nice long nap on the red plush couch.

For a week Amalia did all the work in the big stone house, and
always a little worried, kept wondering what was best to do.  Then
she broached the subject.  "Joe, vielleicht maybe Fritz and I
besser over in de old house geh . . . go.  We can fits it up."
Amalia must always talk the English now as best she can for Myrtie
does not know the German at all,--not a word.  Fritz, too, should
speak it always.  Amalia must remind him of it.  She felt a little
cross with Fritz now, sitting and looking at his plate so timidly,
as though this new girl could make Fritz feel not at home in the
house he himself had built over twenty years before.

Myrtie spoke up immediately and answered for Joe that it would be a
good plan to move.

"I vould before go," Amalia said, "but I t'nk maybe I should de
vork do."  She spoke slowly and carefully, thinking it out.

"Oh, no, no."  Myrtie said pleasantly.  "You can go.  We won't need
you.  I'm going to keep a maid,--can't I, Joe?"

"Vass ist . . . a mait, Joey?" Amalia questioned.

"Myrtie means a hired girl, Grandma.  Yes, I guess we can manage
that . . . all right."

Myrtie turned soft baby blue eyes on Joe and said:  "Another thing,
we're going to have this house all made over, aren't we, Joe?"

"Sure," Joe said, "any way you want it, Myrtie."

So Amalia moved back to the old house.  Myrtie acted gracious and
bubbling with good nature the day they left, told Amalia to take
anything she wanted; for she and Joe were going to have all new
things.

It worried Amalia.  Of course everything they had was Joey's and
always would be, but farmers were not rich people.  And all those
things new when Anna Marie and Emil were married,--the red plush
parlor set and the dresser, and its child, the commode, and the
wash-pitcher and bowl!  Tsk!  Tsk!

But Myrtie gave them all as graciously to Amalia as though she had
owned them the twenty years instead of a week, told her to take all
the rag carpet and the sale carpet too, for she was going to have
Wilton and Axminster rugs.  So Amalia took the walnut corner
cupboard and the high-backed bedstead, the dresser and commode, the
album and the pictures of the fat semi-nude little girls with
daisies in their hair.  Fritz backed the wagon up to the side porch
and he and Joe put the furniture into it and some of the small
things, but Amalia walked down the path, grass choked these last
four years, and carried her shell box wrapped in unbleached muslin.

It seemed quite like old times to be settled with Fritz in the
little home.  Anna Kratz came over and spent whole days, so
exciting was it to see all that was going on at the big house.

For, all winter and all spring, repairs and rebuilding went on.
There were workmen there for weeks.  Myrtie had them put wire all
over the fine old gray stones and cover them with little pink sand
that glistened in the sunlight.  Delivery wagons from Westville
came into the driveway nearly every day with furniture which
Amalia, pretending that she had always known so, told Anna Kratz
was called Mission furniture.

Myrtie had the walls of the two big rooms decorated in large-
figured paper that gave the appearance of gilt bamboo-poles
slanting across the Aurora Borealis.  She had the floors varnished
a shining dark red over which Amalia must walk charily on the few
occasions of her going over to the big house.  She used some of
Amalia's beautifully pieced quilts for pads under the mattresses
and her hand-woven rugs for wiping feet.

She had Joe paint their own bedroom blue, and because Joe was no
artist, either by natural instinct or acquired knowledge, he got
too much ultramarine in the mixture so that results gave one a
rather nightmarish impression of a storm at sea.  But because
Myrtie liked it, Joe liked it too.  Amalia scarcely knew what she
thought about it, excepting to experience a stifled feeling of
wanting to get outdoors away from it under the soft blue of the sky
and the new green of the elms and maples.

All this change about the house took so much of Joe's time he could
scarcely get into the field.

As Myrtie had done none of the work herself, only the planning, she
was not especially tired these evenings so she coaxed Joe to clean
up to go to dances or band concerts in town every few nights.

When the home was all finished Myrtie would not let Joe come into
the main rooms, or for that matter, any farther than the kitchen,
explaining to him in her cunning babyish way that it must be kept
nice for their friends out from town to see.

Rose Schaffer was holding her head very high these days, going into
town with her father and brothers as though nothing had happened.
Sometimes she even drove the sleek carriage team herself, their
black manes tossing, and the lines pulled taut over their shining
dark bodies.  People began hearing that Rose had gone to help at a
neighbor's where there was sickness,--that she had stayed by old
man Rhodenbach all three days that the death noise in his throat
sounded louder than a child's rattle,--had nursed a Kirby child
through lung fever, saved it too, the doctor said, with the steam
from a teakettle and pine resin dropped into the water,--queerest
of all, had helped a strange girl through childbirth in the school-
house on a stormy Saturday night.

Anna Kratz came waddling up the path between Amalia's petunias one
day, out of breath from her efforts, to tell the news.  Rose
Schaffer had gone to Omaha to learn to be a nurse, although Anna
was dubious over what one can learn about it.

"You are a nurse or you are not," she said in German to Amalia.
"Augusta Schaffer, Rose's grandmother, was a natural nurse.  What
can a young upstart like Rose learn that God does not give you?"

"Augusta lost babies sometimes when she helped," Amalia said, also
in German.

But Anna Kratz settled that question easily:  "It was God's will."

By this time Amalia could see that Myrtie's fragility and her
ethereal beauty were misleading, for she began guiding all the
destinies of the farm.  Whenever the occasion demanded, she could
wind Joe around her little finger by any one of the simple
processes of wheedling baby-talk or big childish tears or an
imitation of hysteria.

One afternoon in the summer when she and Joe had returned from
town, she came over to the little house.  Amalia saw her picking
her way daintily through the bluegrass path under the apple trees
past the big lilac bushes, then the petunia-bordered path.

"I've got a big piece of news for you, Grandma."  She was excited,
sparkling, clapping her hands like a child.  Already Amalia had
learned that Myrtie was always gracious for a little while after
things had gone her way.

Amalia stood in the center of the little sitting-room, a broom-
straw and pot holder poised in her hand from testing her Kuchen,
awaiting the news.

"What do you think?  Your name isn't Holmsdorfer any more.  You'll
never have to be saddled with that old German name again.  It's
just Holms.  You're Mrs. Amalia Holms.  We had it changed . . . in
the courts.  Joe and I.  We're Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Rhoden . . . not
Rhodenbach but Rhoden. . . .  Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Rhoden Holms."

Amalia looked dazed.  She called to Fritz to come in and help her
interpret this astounding thing.  Fritz stood timidly in the
background, looking at the floor, as he always did before Myrtie.
Amalia asked about it again, as though she could not understand the
calamitous thing that had happened.  You couldn't change your name
like your dress.

When Myrtie explained some more that she had always been ashamed of
the big long name and had Joe change it, and that Amalia was Mrs.
Holms too, Amalia only stood and shook her head, so that Myrtie
lost her graciousness and stamped her foot because of Grandma's
stubbornness, and said:  "You wouldn't be so dumb as that I hope."

But Amalia was firm.  "You . . . vielleicht . . . maybe . . .
Myrtie, you and Joe.  But not me."



CHAPTER XXVIII


The gay nineties had their good points in the growing city of
Lincoln where Matthias Meier lived with Ida and his son Carter.
For one thing, the bank in which he was vice-president had
blossomed forth in electric lighting.  The old horses on the street-
cars were turned out to pasture and some of Mr. Edison's discovery
took their place.  There was a very grand new hotel built called
The Lincoln.  Matthias helped organize a Board of Trade and Ida a
Woman's Club.  University registration almost reached the
unbelievable figure of two thousand.  The first automobile honked
its noisy way down "O" Street, a large portion of its innards
immodestly exposed to view.

Matthias, Ida and Carter went to the World's Fair in Chicago,
returning with souvenir spoons, much Mexican drawn work, and
pictures of Mrs. Potter Palmer and the Ferris wheel.

Upon her return Ida found the salt water pool in the new hospital
opened to the public, and having been brought up on the Atlantic
shore she took a great deal of pleasure in joining society around
the huge affair.  She had an entirely new outfit for the occasion,--
a navy blue flannel suit gathered becomingly just below the knees
with wide ruffles, the waist even cut a bit away from the neck, and
the prettiest sort of gathered cap over her large head of hair,
also finished in a wide rubber ruffle.  With this, naturally, she
wore her thigh-high lisle stockings into the water.  One in her
position had an example to set for the young ladies of the social
set who were sometimes in these modern times threatening to leave
off their hose when they swam.

At the beginning of the nineties there was drouth, and because
nearly all crops were failures, the effect threw its shadow over
all business.  Settlers out on the prairie lived on what they had
saved the year before, and Matthias Meier's bank drew on its
reserve,--both rather like camels living on their humps.

There was a panic in 1893 and Matthias and his fellow officers
figuratively bailed water night and day to keep the bank afloat.
As though that were not enough to bear, the next year a hot
seething wind blew across the midwest and again ruined crops.

By 1896 the state was represented for the first time in a race for
the presidency.  The platforms created a general upheaval in the
country.  Gold democrats were bolting and rallying around William
McKinley,--silver republicans were bolting and rallying around
Matthias' friend, William Jennings Bryan.  It gave Nebraska its
first but not last political attention.  Matthias himself had
dipped into politics as far as the state legislature where he was
responsible for one or two of the most important bills of the
times.  Sometimes he cast a speculative eye toward Washington, but
"I better stay here and saw wood," he said to Ida,--and then
laughed with her that he might not have had any other choice.

Between the years of 1898 and 1902 Carter was in the University,--
one of the rather popular young bloods; when he graduated, he
stepped immediately into the bank of which his father was a vice-
president and told every one that fellows who said it was hard to
find jobs had bats in their belfry.

At twenty-seven he was married to Miss Lucile Bondurant, daughter
of one of the other vice-presidents, at an elaborate church
wedding.  They went to Atlantic City on their honeymoon, and upon
their return moved at once to their new home in Cedar City, a nice
growing town in another county.

All this was by way of being something of a cataclysm to Matthias
and Ida.  But Carter, having evinced a great desire to run a bank
himself and "run it right," had argued long and volubly before his
marriage that he could never have matters his own way in this
present job with a group of middle-aged men ahead of him to say
nothing of several of their sons.

It had its points, Matthias agreed with him,--helped him purchase
the controlling stock in the State Bank of Cedar City, sent him on
his way with trepidation successfully concealed, remembering the
days of his own ventures in a country that was raw and unsettled.



CHAPTER XXIX


Everything seemed different to Amalia at the farm since the coming
of Myrtie.  Sometimes she had a feeling that she and Fritz were
visiting here or perhaps living on charity,--a queer enough
feeling, too, when you stopped to think that the first two
homesteads had belonged to Wilhelm, her father, and to Herman, her
husband, and that only the newest eighty had been purchased by
Joe's father from the Kratzes.

Life at the big house was so different now that she and Fritz did
not go over very often.  Myrtie was expecting a child and was so
changeable in her moods.  Sometimes she grew restless and had Joe
take her to town every day.  Sometimes she said she was nervous and
would shut herself in her bedroom, not answering when Joe tapped on
the door to ask what he could do for her.  She did no work at all,
having May Gebhardt there to keep house.

Amalia tried to smooth it over with Joe.  He dropped in at the
little house every day now and Amalia would laugh at his worries.
Myrtie was all right.  That was the way they always acted.  But
Amalia knew she was fibbing in order to bring oil to troubled
waters,--knew that was not the way she had acted long ago, being so
busy making garden and cooking and baking, washing and ironing and
cleaning.  It was not the way Anna Marie had acted, cheerful and
laughing good-naturedly at her own shapelessness, pleased that she
was bringing life into the world, heart-broken those times she
could not carry her babies.

But she would soothe Joe, and feed him cookies from the old stone
jar, so that he would leave whistling.

She could see that he was patience itself.  Looking at him so eager
to please and so willing to do everything Myrtie asked, Amalia
wondered sometimes if he would ever tire of that babyish petulance,
ever break over the traces and throw patience to the winds.  When
the time drew near, he paid the trained nurse to come much sooner
than necessary so Myrtie would not worry.  When she constantly
wanted the doctor, too, and the nurse said there was no need, she
cried hysterically and would not eat.  Joe was quite beside himself
with alarm.  And Amalia comforted him, but even while she did so,
she was remembering the wind and the shaking cabin, the loneliness
at the birth of her child, and the sound of the coyotes howling.

The baby was born in September,--a boy, normal and husky, his
sturdy little limbs a joy to see.  They named him Neal, and Joe was
as proud of him as a turkey-cock.  Amalia could not comprehend that
she was a great-grandmother.  Because she and her son and her
grandson had all been married at early ages, she was a great-
grandmother at sixty-three.

And now, soon, life took on something of its old interest, for by
the time Neal was three, Amalia was having much of the care of him.
Joe took the little fellow with him on short journeys to the timber
or barn or cornfield, and Fritz did likewise, so that it relieved
Myrtie of a great deal of responsibility.  She had many interests
outside her home by that time, belonging as she did to so many
organizations in town for the betterment of her mind, and one or
two for her soul.  It necessitated having a woman for housework and
a second girl occasionally, even though Amalia took so much care of
Neal.  But it was a little hard to run the house as it had always
been done, for there were guests out from town so often that the
girls seemed never able to accomplish anything excepting to prepare
for entertaining.  As a consequence, the birds took the cherries,
plums rotted on the ground, and apples turned to sour mash.  But
Myrtie said it didn't matter, now that one could conveniently get
canned fruit and jellies in the stores.

She had a discontented droop to her pretty mouth much of the time
now.  Joe bought an automobile for her,--a fine red four-cylinder
affair with top and lamps and windshield included, which materially
increased her trips to town, but inasmuch as she never learned to
drive it, Joe had to come in from the field almost every day to
take her and once more to get her.  As she insisted on his clothes
being changed each time, this had its disadvantage from the
standpoint of the farm work, so that he was obliged to take on
another hired man.

When Neal was six, Myrtie was made secretary of a lodge in
Westville so she bought a man-sized desk for her clerical work and
turned Joe's and her bedroom into a semi-office.  The desk just
fitted into the corner where Joe's share of the twin beds stood so
she retained only her own and put Joe and Neal upstairs.  As Myrtie
said, it was a very satisfactory arrangement for sometimes she
liked to work late at her desk and then sleep late in the morning.

To Amalia, seventy now, fell even more of the care of Neal.  But
Amalia loved it.  Even though she was old and tired, she loved it.
What would life have been to her without this lively little boy?
It was now as though she had her third son.  Emil . . . Joey . . .
Neal.  Sometimes when he trudged by her side chattering so gaily,
she caught herself thinking that which was not right and which she
straightway corrected in her mind,--that of all three she loved him
most.

Never had she seen so happy a child.  Remembering Myrtie's pouting
and her nervousness, old Amalia wondered how this had come to pass.
One would have expected him to be cross, selfish, discontented.  He
was none of these.  Everything tickled him, the dog running after a
jack-rabbit, the martins frightening the sparrows, old Fritz
dropping his upper teeth when he was in the corncrib.  Neal's smile
was always sunny.  His laughter rang out at the slightest
provocation.  How could this be?

Myrtie's love for him took on a queer expression for a mother.
Apparently it consisted for the most part in wanting him to be
talented and courteous and to show off before her friends.  Amalia
could not put her finger on the queer quality of it, excepting that
whatever he was doing openly and however he was appearing seemed to
be of more importance to her than that which lay behind these
external qualities.

Sensing this, Amalia bent all the time of her contacts with him to
these very things which Myrtie passed over so casually.  She made
him go all the way back to old Anna Kratz's to return a small and
unimportant wheel he had brought from there without asking about
it.  She labored a half day with him to get him to tell that he had
taken fruit Kuchen from her pantry, caring not in the least for the
Kuchen but only that he should be honest.

Together they walked in the timberland even as she had walked with
the little boy's father and his grandfather,--not buoyantly now,
but slowly for her seventy years.  She talked to him of the trees,
old now like Amalia herself,--the hoary old cottonwoods and willow
and ash and the great thickly knotted clumps of wild sumac.
Because it was too hard for her to stoop, Neal picked and brought
to her the violets and black-eyed Susans and trillium, the bellwort
and bloodroot and wild columbine.  But it was only the English
names of these that Neal knew, for not one word of German could he
say but "Ich liebe dich" which Amalia had taught him was "I love
you."

Together they found the meadow-lark's nest in the grass and the
place where the owls had hooted away the nights in the woods these
fifty years.  She stood with him on the church knoll with its fine
brick buildings and well-kept cemetery behind iron gates looking
over the valley, and had him repeat with her,--she in German and he
in the English,--the psalm of walking through the valley of the
shadow of death and yet fearing no evil.

And this time Fritz was not here to make any comment, either to
tell her that she would make a softie of the little boy as he had
when she instructed Emil so, or to admit that it is not softness to
be tender as he had with Joey.  For old Fritz, himself, was lying
back there now behind the wrought-iron gates.  Old Fritz, himself,
the year before, had walked through the valley of the shadow of
death, fearing evil for a time, until Amalia by his bedside,
holding his gnarled old hand and thanking him for having been such
a good brother to her, made him fear no more.

It was lonely these days without Fritz, but much of the time it
seemed to Amalia he had not gone away at all.  When she was baking
she often forgot and let a pan of Kuchen get browner because he
liked it so, and very often, unthinking, she set the table for two.

But Neal, dashing in then, full of life and laughter and staying to
use the other place, would drive the loneliness away and fill her
heart with happiness.



CHAPTER XXX


It was this year of 1917 that strange things came to pass.

The country was at war.  Amalia remembered the news of the Civil
War when she was twelve, the drafting of several of the men in the
neighborhood, the great pride the Illinois people had taken that
old Abe was in the presidential chair, the company coming home when
she was sixteen.

It had seemed unbelievable that war could touch her again.  Even
the Spanish-American War of which she had heard had been unreal,
for no one from the immediate neighborhood had gone.  There were
three brave Nebraska regiments, they had told her,--one had gone to
the Philippine Islands, wherever they were,--one to Tennessee, and
one had crossed to Havana.

But this war was so different.  It was coming into the
neighborhood.  It was asking for the young men.  It was making
trouble,--was causing bad feelings right here between old
neighbors.

There could be no more German in the church on the hill.  It must
all be English,--not a song, not a sermon, not a psalm could be in
the old tongue.  Tsk!  Tsk!  How could one sit through and
understand it all?  How could it harm the country to say the Psalms
in the German?

The pastor had been told to leave, had been given a few days to get
out of the neighborhood for making wrong statements.  Anna Kratz
came over every day now to talk.  Almost in a whisper Anna talked
to her in the German, looking about furtively as though the walls
might have ears.  Adolph had been in town, he and Karl Schaffer and
Henry Gebhardt had been talking on the corner about the war; some
men had come up to them and said to cut it out, meaning, so Adolph
said, to speak no more in the German tongue.

Worst of all Myrtie made more trouble.  She talked constantly to
Joe about the relatives, put strange notions into Neal's little
head so that he said:  "Grandma, you shall say no more German words
to me ever.  I am ashamed of them."

"Not even 'Ich liebe dich'?"

"No, it is not nice."

When the Christmas exercises were held in the church and they sang
"Silent Night, Holy Night," Amalia hummed the song below her breath
but with no words at all, for the English were too difficult and
with the German she did not dare.

Oh, it was a trying time.  Sometimes Amalia was wishing with all
her might that Fritz were here to talk the queer situation over
with her.  Then, remembering Fritz's hard time with the English and
the things some of the neighbors were saying, she was glad he was
not here to be hurt.

Joe was irritable.  Not even the high price he was getting for
wheat--so much money--could pay him for the mean way he felt, torn
by his loyalty to the oldest of the Kratz and Gebhardt and
Rhodenbach people and by the harsh things Myrtie and her friends
were saying.

And then he was drafted and Amalia and Myrtie were drawn together
for a time by their common fright.  But the scare went into nothing
when the lawyer filled out the answers to the questions that Joe
was sole manager of four hundred acres of farm land and must stay
home to attend to raising the wheat.

Rose Schaffer was one of the first to go over-seas.

One of Karl Schaffer's boys died of pneumonia in camp.  A Gebhardt
boy was killed in France.  Elsa Rhodenbach, who was a widow living
in town now, had two sons leave the same morning together.  Elsa
got breakfast for them, said good-by, walked out of the house when
they did, and never went back.  All summer children used to stand
on their tiptoes and peek through the woodbine covering the
windows, seeing the dishes there on the table, the unmade beds with
the boys' shoes under them and their ties and night-clothes thrown
across the backs of chairs.

It was over at last,--the war.  The whistles blew in town that it
was over, and the train coming through, shrieked its way all across
the countryside, through the villages and past the fields which had
raised so much of the wheat for the armies.  The bell in the tower
of the big brick church on the knoll, rang, too, for in what
language does a bell worship or toll or carol?

It was over for the neighborhood,--all but the scars left by the
things that had been said, and for the fact that the Gebhardt boy
and Karl Schaffer's boy did not come back, and neither did Elsa
Rhodenbach's sanity.  Over, excepting for all of these things and a
wild aftermath of economic and moral breakdown that swept into
every village and farm.

Joe was making a good deal of money these days.  His car was big
and new, six cylinders now.  The land brought in such good returns
that he was anxious to get more.  Myrtie was having a great many
very nice things; clothes and company and a trip to Chicago with
friends.  She was back home now but so busy with several social
affairs that Neal was still at Amalia's.

To-night while his parents were away, he was making a crude little
boat in Amalia's kitchen . . . pound . . . pound . . . with Amalia
sitting near looking over reis for to-morrow and watching him.
Seventy-one she was.  Did a woman never outgrow her motherliness?
Neal was her little boy just as Emil and Joey had been.  Emil . . .
Joey . . . Neal!  Son . . . grandson . . . great-grandson.  The
years had all run together so that they seemed three brothers with
no great difference in their ages.  Three little brothers, and she
the mother of them all.  How could it be like that?

Neal dropped his hammer now and leaned back against the wall for a
time, eyes drooping and hands listless.  Even as she was peering
questioningly at him, he came languidly over to her.  "I don't feel
so good, Grandma."

She had him in her lap, was feeling his hot face, his rapid pulse.

"I'll say, 'Ich liebe dich' Grandma, if you want me to.  It is not
bad.  It is just as good as 'I love you.'"

"Oh, Neal-liebling."  She pulled him to her, frightened at the
premonition of a sickness for him.  And he did not even rebel at
the endearing word she had said to a big boy of eight.

Old Amalia kept clean night-clothes here in her house for Neal
because she had him here so much,--a queer word they called them,
pajamas.  She never could remember to say it,--"night panties" she
called them instead.  She got out his night panties now and got him
into them, her fingers stiff and slow but tender as always.
Already he was dozing, shivering a little, too, and rousing to
whimper.  She covered him, got drinks for him, sat by the bed,
comforting him.

It was late when she heard the automobile come into the yard.  Joe
would be down in a few minutes.  He never failed to come down to
see if everything was all right, whether to leave the little boy or
carry him up home.  Joe was a good father.  Sometimes she thought
he was father and mother both.  In bearing Neal, Myrtie had
apparently paid off most of her obligations to motherhood.

When she told him about Neal, he was at the bed in a second bending
over his little son.  Then out again for the doctor the moment he
had seen his flushed face and how he was thrashing about.

Spanish influenza they called it, and it went through the country
like the prairie-fires of the old days.  People dropped over at
their work,--young Mrs. Henry Kratz was frying chicken, fainted,
was buried the third day with no one allowed to attend the funeral.
A sixteen-year-old boy died, a sixty-year-old woman, a baby,--the
whole countryside was panicky.

Myrtie's hired girl took it, then Myrtie.

Joe was beside himself with worry and sleeplessness.  He phoned to
Westville for a trained nurse, to Lincoln, to Omaha.  None was
available.  They said they would put him on the list but gave no
hope for immediate relief.  He plodded between the two houses,
staggered almost with loss of sleep.

Old Amalia did everything for Neal the doctor said to do, but with
her intuition she sensed he was not confident about his own orders.
She carried out his orders fully, adding a few old-fashioned cures
of her own, Flieder-tee and Pfefferminz-tee.  She had waged a fight
like this many times for Emil and Joey,--now it was for Neal, her
third little boy.

It was toward evening of the fourth day when Joe, haggard, unkempt
looking, just back to the cottage from caring for Myrtie, was
standing by Neal's bed, that the door of Amalia's sitting-room
opened.  Startled, they both turned to it.  Rose Schaffer stood
there in a white dress and over-seas cape, a little black satchel
in her hand.

"Rose!"  Something jumped so plainly from Joe that Amalia, relieved
as she was at Rose's coming, turned away from him in embarrassment.
As long as she lived Amalia knew she would carry with her the
memory of Joe's face when he turned and saw Rose in the doorway.
And now Amalia had this secret she must never divulge, must never
even remember.  And who but old Amalia knew what it meant to have
married the wrong person?

"I came to help, Joe."  Rose took off her hat.  Her clear gray
eyes, her serene mouth, her strong capable hands,--how good she
looked!

"You're . . . so good, Rose."  It was all he said.

Rose went at her work with no other explanation.  Joe went out to
do his chores.

For two more days and nights Neal was not out of danger and Rose
scarcely took her eyes off the child.  Then the fever broke and the
great sweating sapped his strength.

Joe coming in found Rose crying by the bedside and was almost too
frightened to speak:  "He's . . . he's worse, Rose?"

"No . . . he's better.  He'll get well if you're careful."

"Then why . . . are you crying?"

Amalia saw him start to put his arm around her and then drop it
quickly.

"Just . . . a sort of reaction.  Silly . . . isn't it?"

But old Amalia, who had lived seventy-one years, knew why Rose
Schaffer was crying over Joe's little boy.



CHAPTER XXXI


Carter Meier and his wife Lucile had adjusted themselves ably to
conditions in the smaller town of Cedar City.

"The smaller the town the more often they tack on the word 'City,'"
Lucile had said.

But Carter had called her attention to the fact that when a town
gets its baptismal name its sponsors in fancy see it stretched out
over half the county.

"Like babies, I suppose," Lucile said with sarcasm, "with the
mother always thinking her youngster is to be president or the
first lady."

In 1913 Lucile herself had no sarcasm for the situation, but very
frankly admitted that her baby was an eligible candidate for the
first lady's place.  The child had dark red ringlets, creamy
petaled skin and hazel eyes.  They named her Hazel, but Matthias
sometimes facetiously called his only grandchild "Reddie."

He and Ida took their honors solemnly.  Because Carter had not been
born until they were thirty-five and thirty-two,--and because the
child Hazel did not arrive until Carter and Lucile had been married
for six years,--it followed that Matthias and Ida were well along
in years,--sixty-eight and sixty-five,--before they experienced
this ownership of a grandchild.  It was almost overwhelming.

They drove out to Cedar City at the least possible excuse, taking
advantage of every national holiday, every birthday, and even, so
Ida said, April Fool and Columbus Day.

Matthias was out of active business now.  He looked after his
property, advised Carter on any and all matters that came up in the
Cedar City bank of which he owned some stock.  Once he and Ida had
been abroad, several times to Florida and California.

Ida, at sixty-five, looked the part of an amiable duchess,--snow-
white hair in a becoming coiffure, solid pink cheeks, her heavy
figure straight and trim in its hard stays.  Her word had weight in
the Woman's Club,--church organizations asked her to make
decisions, every charity included her name.

Matthias, too, was straight as an Indian, his shovel-shaped black
beard of the old days white-washed by the years and trimmed down to
Scotch-like closeness.

They belonged to the Country Club, ten years old now.  Matthias
swung a mean club in the newly introduced game of golf, and Ida
could hold her own at the card table.  Sometimes they laughed at
the old days.  "Imagine how I used to play croquet in a long
trailing skirt!" or "How I ever had the nerve to sing in a
choir . . . !"  And then quite often the statements would be
followed by "Just the same they were the good old days," spoken
together like the chorus of a song which they both knew.

The child Hazel could not, if she were able, have chosen more
satisfactory grandparents.

Carter's business was good.  The State Bank of Cedar City was
paying ample dividends spring and fall.  Matthias admitted his son
had used his head when he went into the smaller bank on his own.
His success made Carter Meier rather unsympathetic with failure of
any sort.  One did with life as one wished.  Or so he thought.

Lucile had everything to make life comfortable for her,--sufficient
clothes for the exigencies of the small town and for the times when
she would go to Lincoln to be entertained by her own people or
Father and Mother Meier,--a nice home, plenty of help, her own car,
a healthy and attractive little daughter.

Carter worked day and night during the World War,--his own business
in the daytime, war work at night,--questionnaires and applications
for release from the draft for the farm boys.  He was a part and
parcel of the smaller town as his father had been of the small
Lincoln, grown by this time to fifty thousand people.

To the west twenty million acres of sandy soil held fast to the
earth's breast by coarse, tough grasses since the glacial period
were being loosened by plows to feed a fighting Europe.

It was easy planting.  No forests to fell, few stones to remove.
Peel open the top soil with a plow, seed it, scratch it with a
harrow, and Mother Nature did the rest.  As the crops went in, the
soil grew finer, became more powder-like.

A few shook their heads at the unthinking procedure.  Once when old
Charlie Briggs dropped into Cedar City to see Carter, his old
friend's son, and a bit of fine dust was coming through the air on
the wings of the west wind, old Charlie lifted his head like a fire-
horse and sniffed.

"Dirt from the Panhandle," he said.  "Powder, that's what the
ground is being pulverized into.  It might turn into gunpowder one
of these days.  A body can't tell.  Wheat may get to be scarce.
Bread might be a luxury right here in the heart of our own country.
Ain't I heard somepin' about a French Revolution startin' over a
bread riot?"

Carter Meier laughed a lot about old Charlie Briggs and his ideas.

In 1919 with Spanish influenza sweeping the country, Ida Meier died
suddenly in her Lincoln home.  Only four days of sickness, and with
Matthias employing every means at his command,--doctors,
specialists, nurses, oxygen,--she slipped away.

He was too stunned to comprehend.  Why, Ida was a part of him.  She
was one of his hands, one of his feet, one side of his mind, half
of his heart.  If Ida was dead, that meant half of him was dead.

But he pulled himself together, lived on, imposed his feelings of
loss on no one.  He sold the old home to the Pi Beta Chis,--when
some of the "actives" came in to look it over, closed his ears to
their merry quips about the ornate grill-work through which they
could hang their neckties, and how they would play checkers on the
inlaid woods of the entrance hall.  Still, Ida would have laughed
merrily if she could hear their humorous sallies.  All right, he
would laugh too, then.

He moved over to Cedar City to be near Carter and Lucile.  They
built a larger house so he could have his own suite of rooms.  He
went down to Carter's bank every day.  Carter depended a great deal
on his judgment.

Hazel was Matthias' comfort.  He watched her grow,--eight--ten--
twelve--fourteen.  How the years rolled on.  She was not quite so
pretty now,--her hair was lovely, but she was at the gangling age,--
a brace on her teeth, freckles on her nose.  The former would come
off in time,--it was questionable about the other.

She was athletic,--always on roller skates, ice skates, a bicycle.
A tennis racket was her insignia,--"I can beat you" her life's
motto.  She went hither and yon with the wind.  Sometimes he tried
to take a hand and tame her down,--tell her that she would soon be
a young lady, that ladies should be more demure, that the young men
cared more for that kind, and how could she expect to have any
young man ever care for her?

"But I don't WANT any young man to care for me," she would respond.
"It would just drive me NUTS.  I'm going to be the champion swimmer--
or a circus woman--or maybe fly in a plane."

Whatever could you do with a young girl like that?  Such times as
these were.  No modesty, no womanly graces.

Fairly often old Charlie Briggs came to see Matthias.  Lucile and
Carter laughed a little at the old codger.

"Whatever Father can see in him, with his long-drawn tales of the
'airly days,'" Lucile would say.

"Search me," Carter would respond indifferently.  "With all
Father's travel and culture, I believe he hangs more on every word
that old fellow says than any one I know."

But Hazel always stood up stoutly for him.  "I like him.  He's a
nice old man.  He shot an Injun once right in the belly when the
Injun was trying to slip up on him."

"Hazel . . . how terrible!  Why do you listen to all that gore?
Anyway, it's Indian, not Injun.  And do, for pity's sake, say he
hit him in the stomach if you HAVE to say it at all."

"Charlie Briggs says it's Injun.  And your stomach ISN'T your
belly.  Your belly . . ."

"Hazel.  That will do."

". . . is below your stomach."

"Hazel.  Do you hear me?"

"Anyway he knows more about our own history than anybody.  He knows
all about the Vigilantes hanging the horse thieves in summer 'til
the crows pecked their eyes out . . . and about sticking them down
through ice holes in the winter."

"Oh, Hazel, you have such a delicate sense of the æsthetic."

"And I'm going some day to see where old Charlie Briggs and Grandpa
got off the boat at Nebraska City . . . and John Brown's cave where
he hid the runaway slaves.  And Charlie Briggs can show me yet, he
says, where the overland trails all began.  He bets he can find
ruts some places yet where the wheels of the prairie schooners cut.
I can go, can't I, Dad?"

"Sure.  Anybody as history-conscious as that ought to be allowed to
poke around a bit."



CHAPTER XXXII


Times had changed again slowly.  The highway was hard packed with
gravel.  The Evergreen School was closed and a bus came by daily to
take Neal and the other pupils into town.  When Amalia got out
Joe's tin bucket that she had saved carefully and offered to put up
Neal's lunch for him every day, thinking how much pleasure it would
give her, he rolled on the floor in his mirth.

"Grandma, you are so behind the times.  Don't you know I buy a hot
lunch in the cafeteria?"

"In de calf . . ."

"Cafeteria . . . where you can buy the food you choose to eat,--
soup and hot meat and potatoes and salads,--a balanced meal to keep
you healthy."

Tsk!  Tsk!  And the cold Mettwurst and the Sckinken and the
Kornbrot and Apfelbutter she had put up so many times!  And who had
been more healthy than Emil and Joe?

There were other things about which Neal laughed hilariously.

Once she asked him hesitatingly,--for perhaps, already she knew his
answer,--"Neal, vould you . . . vouldn't you like to be a pastor?"

Giving it, as she did, the emphasis on the second syllable in the
German way, Neal was not sure of her word.

"Pas-TOR?  You mean a preacher?"

"So.  A preacher."

Neal rolled then on the floor in mirth and shouted.  "A preacher!
All I would like about that is being invited to all the big dinners
in the country."

No, there was no use.  No one of her three boys a pastor would be.

Myrtie's latest argument with Joe these days was that he should get
out of the hog business altogether and depend only on selling his
crops.

Joe groaned when she began, for never since their marriage had
Myrtie dropped a subject upon which she had once set her mind.

The grain from four hundred acres would bring ample income, she
said, and pigs were such dirty things,--you could hear their
grunting and squealing away up at the house, too, company or no
company.

At first Joe only made joking answers, that he'd have some one in
to instruct them at their eating, that the day Mrs. Meredith, the
banker's wife, and the lodge ladies came out from town, he would
speak to the old porkers himself.

But Myrtie would not joke.  She ran instead the full gamut of her
little tricks,--teasing, baby-talk, wheedling, tears, hysteria.  It
was not often that she had to go so far, but Joe set a good deal of
store by his Berkshires, and it required her entire bag of tricks
before he capitulated.

After the hogs went, she began on Joe about the chickens.  She said
eggs were so cheap it was foolish to look after those chickens and
cackling hens every day, and when they wanted one to eat, Grandma
would let them have one of hers.

So they, too, went,--and the farm was exactly like a town home with
its nice sloping lawn, no pigs or chickens on the place, and Joe,
dressed up, driving the car up to the side porch whenever Myrtie
called.

As there were no pigs or chickens to be fed, there was no mash to
be cooked.  So Myrtie told one of the hired men to scrub up the old
soap-kettle, paint it copper-colored, fill it with dirt and bring
it onto the front lawn.  There she had him cross three stout
hickory sticks in camp-fire style and hang the kettle on them by a
gilded chain.  Then she had the hired girl plant white snow-on-the-
mountain in it, and red geraniums under it.  And people coming out
from town said it looked cute, just as though there were fire under
it and steam coming out of it.

Only old Amalia, standing in the doorway of her small house,
shading her watery eyes from the sunlight to see the finished
article, failed to think it looked cute.  She thought the old
kettle looked out of place and a little silly.

By the time Neal was through the grammar grades and ready for High
School in the fall of 1926, Myrtie's desires took on more radical
form.  Specifically,--she wanted Joe to retire.

"Retire?"  Joe laughed heartily at that one.  That one should be in
the funny column, he said,--maybe in the department called "Slips
That Pass in the Night."

When Myrtie would not laugh, but persisted day after day in
referring to a potential retirement, Joe grew irritated.  It was
too foolish to waste one's breath on it.

"Retire?  Say, what do you take me for?"

"Yes . . . retire."  Myrtie's little rosebud mouth set in a
straight and stubborn line.

"Can you beat it for a cracked idea?  Retire when you're thirty-
eight."

"Age hasn't anything to do with it,--if you're able financially to
retire at thirty-eight."

"But I'm not."

"Oh, you just think you're not.  Just that old Holms-DORFER idea
that you have to hoard."  The accent on the dorfer which had been
dropped and the slur which it implied angered Joe more than Myrtie
had ever seen him angry.

"See here, a Holms-DORFER was good enough for you to want to marry.
And you leave the old folks out of this.  If you and I are ever
half as good as . . ."  He caught himself, said more evenly:  "I
don't call it hoarding to earn your living by hard work so you can
have something to depend on in your old age."

"You'll have plenty, never fear."

"Not if I quit while I'm still a young man, I won't.  And don't
forget that last eighty from the Gebhardts,--costing twenty
thousand dollars because the improvements were extra good,--five
thousand only paid, only two really which was cash, the bank
holding a seven thousand note of mine, Henry Gebhardt an eleven
thousand mortgage.  That sounds like retirement in a pig's left
eye.  Oh, excuse me for mentioning pigs."

And when Myrtie's little mouth trembled and she looked misty-eyed,
he asked querulously:  "Retire . . . WHERE?"

"Over to Westville of course, or even to Lincoln."

"In TOWN?"  Joe was really disturbed.

"Of course."

"But I wouldn't LIKE it, Myrtie.  I'm a farmer.  My father . . .
and my father's father and HIS father . . . maybe back to Adam for
all I know were LAND people.  It's my WORK . . . my LIFE."

"There's a lot more to life than a farm."

"I know it.  I want to get things running here smoothly so we can
take a good trip every year.  Canada . . . I'd like to see those
real wheat farms, . . . California, maybe, . . . the old Spanish
ranchos I've heard about. . . ."

"Farms . . . ranchos."  Myrtie said it in the same tone one would
speak of tarantulas and scorpions.

"Then there's Neal," he went on.  "He's to be thought of."

"How do you mean . . . 'thought of'?"

"Why, that everything shall be in tip-top shape for him."

"Where?"

"'Where?'  Why, HERE."

"Neal will have something to say about that."

"Of course, and he'll say the right thing, too.  Natural-born
farmer . . . look at his 4-H Club work . . . his calf prizes."

At that Myrtie would walk into her own room and close the door.

But a mere walking off by no means closed the argument.

It went on many times after that.  Sometimes Myrtie was quietly
insistent about it, sometimes she was tearful, and always she kept
it over Joe's head.  Sometimes she said Joe ought to be generous
enough to do it for her after all she'd been through, at which Joe
could scarcely restrain himself against asking just what that had
been.  Sometimes she remarked that he was blind not to see it was
for his own good.  Often she said it was too bad that he couldn't
do that much for his only son.

At that Joe would explode:  "My only son's a spoiled kid with
everything in the world from his first little velocipede on through
town school,--a boy's camp,--asking for his own car at fifteen now,--
the promise of one on his sixteenth birthday.  At his age I was up
at five with my dad, doing my share of chores. . . ."

That would be about the point where Myrtie would cry and take a
headache tablet.

Joe, dropping down sometimes on the steps of the old home and
looking across the long sloping lawn to the paved highway and his
fields beyond, lush with purple alfalfa, to the corn lands and the
pastures, and his sleek cattle, tried to think how any one would
want to live anywhere else.

He worked hard, of course, but who didn't?  Lots of discouraging
things,--bad crops, hail, prices slumping, one battle after another
with chinch bugs or blight or cut-worms.  If it wasn't one thing it
was another.  But wherever you were or whatever you did there was
always something.  He bet even the banker had his troubles.  He'd
rather battle his enemies out here in the open.

Sometimes he thought of Rose Schaffer.  At first he had put her
from his thoughts as disloyal to Myrtie about whom he had once gone
off his head.  Then, he didn't care whether it was disloyal or not.
He liked to think about her.  How contented Rose would have been on
a fine farm and how efficiently she would have managed.  Oh well,
she was probably doing just what she was cut out for,--head nurse
or some such title in one of the Omaha hospitals.



And now Amalia was seventy-nine, tiny and weather-beaten, her hair
in a hard little knob like a walnut, her skin a network of
wrinkles, deep rivers on the map of Time.

This was the spring that with Joe, Myrtie, and Neal she took the
long drive one Sunday to Nebraska City to visit Arbor Lodge, the
beautiful old estate of J. Sterling Morton, now a state park.

All the buds were unfolding under the soft warmth of the sun.
There was a smell of burning leaves.  Tulips were pushing up
through the warm ground.  Odors from recently turned earth still
lingered in the air.  The old grounds were lovely in their new
spring growth.

Not once had Amalia ever returned to Nebraska City since the day
she stepped from the ferry and found Herman waiting.  Sixty-one
years.

They were to eat their lunch here under the trees so Myrtie said.
Joe said they would drive down toward the town afterward so Grandma
could try and find the place where she stood by the overland trail
when she was married to Grandpa.

It was the first time Neal had ever been told about it.  He thought
that was just about the darnedest thing he'd ever heard.  "What do
you know about that, Grandma?  Married outdoors!  And standing by
the wagons on an overland trail!  Well . . . I'll be . . . Say, you
could have sung 'It's a Long, Long Trail A-Winding,' couldn't you?"
And he rolled on the pine needles in one of his moments of mirth.

They spread their lunch on a cloth under the pine trees growing on
a portion of the grounds.  The mansion was visible through the
trees, the snowy white pillars of one of its three great rounded
porches glistening in the spring sunshine.  Here, somewhere,
perhaps even where the lunch cloth lay, was held the ceremony in
which the Indians made the treaty with the whites, signing away all
their rights to Nebraska Territory.  Joe said there was a large oil
painting of the ceremony in the house, on the landing of the great
stairway,--that they could see it when they would go in later.

There were several other groups in the grove.  Myrtie was hoping
that it was no one she knew, for she was always a little fearful of
meeting some of her friends when she was with Grandma who looked so
queer these days.

Joe knew who one of the men was in the group nearest,--it was
Carter Meier, the banker over at Cedar City.  He had seen him the
time he went there with Orval Black on that note.  That must be his
wife and young daughter with him.  Myrtie was all interest,--they
certainly looked well groomed and as though they WERE some one.

"And I suppose the gentleman with the white beard is old Mr.
Matthias Meier, his father," Joe explained.

Amalia trembled a little with the sudden shock of the queer thing
Joey had said.

"What did you say his name was, Joey?"

"Matthias Meier.  He lived in Lincoln until a few years ago.  Now
he lives in Cedar City at his son's home."

"Joey, . . . I knew . . . I knew a man in Illinois vonce by de name
of Meier."

"Sure you did . . . and you'd known one if you'd lived in Indiana
or Michigan or Ohio.  Pretty common, Grandma."

When the lunch was finished, Amalia walked over to a bench under
the trees and sat down.  She wanted to think.  Matthias Meier!  So
often she had wondered about him.  Old Amalia Holmsdorfer in her
rusty black dress and her little black bonnet with the jet buckle
sat and wondered if it could really be the same.  After a lifetime!

And then it happened.  The tall white-haired and white-bearded old
gentleman of the group came walking down the path.  Old Amalia who
could not see to read could yet see him coming.  He was straight
and tall and he swung a cane rather pompously.  Amalia knew him,--
by his walk and the set of his shoulders and the way he held his
head,--by her heart and by remembrance.

The years turned back and he was swinging off his horse . . .
coming toward her. . . .  Yes, old Amalia knew him.

She was suddenly agitated, frightened.  Her heart,--it pounded
loudly.  Should she call to him to stop?  Get up and walk toward
him?  Should she let him know?  Should she say something?  Or
nothing?  She sat still and blinked up at him with faded eyes.

If Amalia saw a fine-looking, well-preserved old gentleman, highly
groomed and prosperous appearing, Matthias Meier, sauntering down
the path, saw a queer little old woman sitting on one of the park
benches,--a brown gnome of a woman peering up at him with pale,
watery eyes.  She looked like one of the peasants of Bavaria he had
seen abroad, he was thinking,--or a Breton painting, perhaps.  She
looked so tiny and ancient, so picturesque in her funny old
clothes, so detached from the civilization of to-day, that he
nodded courteously to her.  Yes, she belonged there under the trees
with the squirrels.

"Spring again," he said pleasantly to her.

Amalia twisted her knotted fingers together.  "Yes," she said.  She
tried to wet her shrunken, dry lips over her toothless gums.  It
all sounded queer and strange,--but familiar, too, like a thing one
has learned long ago and never forgotten.  "Dey keep comin'."

"Even though we grow old," he added humorously, placing himself
humbly in her class.

She clung tightly to the seat, pressing her hands against the wood,--
trying to fit it all in,--the puzzle,--nodding acquiescence to the
strange thing he had said.

He passed on, leaving the queer-looking little old lady sitting
there nodding--nodding agreement that spring was here even though
they were old.

For how could young Matthias Meier once have known he was to keep
his rendezvous in such a way?  And how could old Matthias Meier
know that he had not broken his promise,--that he and Amalia had
kept their tryst?



CHAPTER XXXIII


In the fall of Neal's junior High School year, Joe and Myrtie moved
to Westville.

Myrtie chose a house on the corner of Fifteenth and Oakland
Streets,--a big brown brick and stucco.  Joe tried to get her to be
satisfied with a smaller one for he reminded her many times that
Neal would be away at school in two years' time.

"High School was good enough for me, but Neal is to have college.
Even if he goes back to the farm as I hope he will, he'll always
have something you can't take away from him.  Can't say I ever
missed it, but I'd like Neal to go."

Prices were high and the house cost a pretty sum of money.  Joe had
to do a certain amount of juggling to arrange for its financing, as
his lawful limit had been reached at the Westville bank.

He got a personal loan from Henry Kratz for a cash payment and gave
a mortgage on the new house to the original owner.  When he was
going to put a mortgage on the home four hundred, he found it tied
up yet in the original owners' names, his grandfather's and his
great grandfather's homestead titles, as there had been no
settlement of the estate.  Not many direct descendants could boast
of that, they told him at the courthouse,--there had been so much
changing,--but the county recorder said he would bet his last
year's hat and the one from the year before, which was the same
one, that there were more families on farms which their ancestors
homesteaded right there in that valley than in any other section of
the state.

It was fairly complicated but not hard to straighten,--Wilhelm
Stoltz's one-hundred-sixty acres by the laws of the state were
divided equally between Amalia and Fritz.  Fritz's half at his
death became Amalia's, one-half of Herman's homestead went to
Amalia and one-half to Emil, the latter having gone in toto to Joe
as did also the eighty Emil had purchased later.  To sum it all up
to Myrtie, Joe told her that after all, out of the land in the
farm, Grandma still owned two hundred and forty acres of it and
maybe she would have something to say about a mortgage,--all of
which seemed especially foolish to Myrtie when Grandma was so old
and didn't even care.

"She'd care if she'd lose it," he said grimly.

The town house was eventually financed and Myrtie furnished it
newly from top to bottom for she was leaving the furniture in the
stone house to the renters.

Whenever Joe grew blue about his finances, knowing that he was
going against all the teaching of his people,--all the traditions
of the thrifty midwestern pioneers,--reminding himself and Myrtie
that Indebtedness was an animal which ate houses for breakfast,
farms for dinner, and lunched between times on stock sandwiched
between chattel mortgages,--Myrtie would laugh it off and call his
attention to the fact that four hundred and eighty acres of the
best Nebraska farm land was worth three hundred dollars an acre any
day, which according HER arithmetic was one hundred and forty-four
thousand dollars.

"We THINK it is," Joe would say, "but do we KNOW it?"

Another change in Joe's life came now.

At a little bridge party one evening at Banker Meredith's, Myrtie,
who was sitting on the davenport with Mr. Meredith before the games
started, said in her pretty pouting way that she wished Joe could
get in the banking business,--"Oh, maybe not WORK at it but own
stock and meet with the directors and feel that he was one of the
BUSINESS men of the town."

Mr. Meredith looked at her a moment rather oddly, said she was a
bright little woman and he thought maybe it could be arranged.  So
it came to be that Joe was allowed to buy fifty shares of stock at
the bargain price of one-hundred-sixty dollars per share and was
made fourth vice-president, which was really the very nicest thing
that could have happened to the Holms family.

Myrtie said that it took a woman's ambitions and intuitions
together to help a plodder like Joe get anywhere,--and it was not,
in fact, until the moratorium of 1933 several years later, when the
bank failed to reopen and Joe was assessed for twice the amount of
his stock, that Myrtie's intuitions and ambitions appeared not to
be puncture-proof.

But that situation had not yet arrived and these years were
prosperous ones.  Joe's crops brought good prices.  They bought a
larger car.  Neal was to turn his old one in and get a new one the
day he would graduate.

So now Mrs. Joseph Rhoden Holms could launch out on what she termed
"real living."  Neal went in for football and a general good time.

And Joe--?

Joe in his early forties, miserable and uncertain just what life
was doing to him, would drive out to the farm nearly every day and
look around, "overseeing the tenants," as Myrtie wanted.

But something was happening to the old home place.  Spring rains
had washed out part of the corn and the renter apologetically said
he had thought there wasn't any use to replant when it was so late.
Fences were broken here and there.  The stucco was dropping off the
house in large South-American-shaped chunks.  Dandelions and
burdock had taken over part of the lawn.  A barn door hung by a
roller.  The old soap-kettle in the yard at the side of the drive
hung dejectedly by one chain over the frozen geranium roots and
with rotted snow-on-the-mountain spilling out of it.

Sometimes Joe worked all day at these defects, eating his noon meal
with old Amalia.  Nearly eighty she was, but fairly spry about her
house-work and as neat as ever.  Her kitchen shone like a child's
scrubbed face.  No one could make Kaffeekuchen so well or fry
chicken like Grandma.

It always made him feel better to talk to her.  He told her many of
the things that worried him, but he never complained about Myrtie.
It did not seem square to Myrtie to discuss her even with Grandma.
Once when he was there Amalia told him Rose Schaffer had been to
see her.  "In her own car . . . such a fine-looking voman . . .
wit' a fur coat."

He started to say something, thought better of it evidently and did
not finish.

Together they sat silent and embarrassed.

Sometimes he talked to Grandma about Neal.  "Four hundred and
eighty acres of the finest Nebraska farmland there is," he said
sardonically, ". . . that's what he'll have some day and Myrtie
wants him to be a lawyer."

"Vell," old Amalia said cheerfully, "any lawyer can alvays use a
goot farm," and laughed at her own joke.  Always she was wanting
Joe and Myrtie to get along well.

"If there's anything left," Joe said grimly.  "I don't like the way
my debits and credits look in black and red figures."

Neal graduated from the Westville High School in 1929.  One could
scarcely contend that it was scholarship which sent him through
with more or less flying colors.  Foot-ball prowess plus a
reputation for squareness and a personality that was most likable,--
these rather were his assets.  Amalia looking at him, sometimes
wondered what he had of Myrtie's excepting the cleft in his chin
and the gracious manner all the time which she showed only when
things went her way.  He had something of the noisiness of Emil,
his grandfather,--the physical prowess of Herman, his great-
grandfather,--perhaps even a little of the arrogance of Wilhelm
Stoltz, his great-great-grandfather.  From Amalia herself he had
several of those traits she had given him when under her care, but
that she did not see.

The night of the graduating exercises in the new auditorium Joe
drove out to the farm to get Amalia, eighty-one now.  She was
dressed and waiting for him, and if they were both remembering that
other graduating night, neither spoke of it.

She had on her black dress gathered full at the waistline.  Her
hair was knotted in its tight little wad on the nape of her neck.
She was as shrunken as a tiny brown mummy.  There was not a tooth
in her head.

Seeing her so, as with newly opened eyes, Joe said suddenly:
"Grandma, I'm afraid you're getting along in years.  Don't you
think you better come to town and live with us?"

"Tsk!  Tsk!  Nein.  Besser you come live wid me."

"That's no joke."  Joe was solemn.

Myrtie had a new lavender crepe outfit for the occasion, and she
loved people telling her it was unbelievable that she was the
mother of that strapping big foot-ball player.

Amalia could plainly see that Neal was the finest looking boy in
the class of thirty-four young people.  And at that, even
discounting for prejudice, Amalia was not far wrong, for Neal was
big and well-knit and the happy-go-lucky glint in his eyes added
something to his charm.

In truth it helped get him into the Pi Beta Chi fraternity at the
University that fall, along with the excellent facts that he was a
foot-ball player, had a high-powered roadster of his own and a dad
well enough off to be retired.  That no one inquired into his
scholastic standing is not too astounding.

A fraternity bid being, as it is in most midwestern colleges, a
ticket to Paradise, a fraternity pin, the receipt of the ticket's
purchase, there was no question in Neal's mind but that he would
"go frat."

Several of the fraternities looked upon Neal Holms of Westville
with covetous eyes, so that there was rather a concerted and noisy
fight over him on rush week.  And rush week being largely a
survival of the fightest, it was hard at one time to tell which of
the steam-rolling methods would capture him.

Those methods were varied and telling.  Although he did not see it
himself, he was told of the fellow taken up in a plane by three Phi
Psis, hearing that he was to be wearing a Phi Psi pin en route down
or he wouldn't get down, deciding during the third loop to pin it
on,--of the fellow who thought his dinner invitation was a bid and
arrived with his baggage,--of the mortgage-holding uncle who
threatened to foreclose on the house if his nephew didn't qualify.

As for himself and the methods employed to get him--there was the
way the Alpha Sigs flashed the magic of Sam Towle in his eyes,--
(gosh, THE Sam Towle who was the All-American half-back).  There
was the way the Betas dazzled him with the luxury of their palatial
house which they spoke of casually as "the dump."  There were the
Delts trailing across his vision, like a red flag of distress, the
plea that he alone could bring back to them the pristine glory that
had been theirs when the great Pat Smithson had bled and died for
them on the gridiron.  (Imagine THAT,--thinking HE could take Pat
Smithson's place.)  With fine disregard of laws concerning "sweat
shops," the Sig Alphs tried to wear him down in the shower room.
The Pi Beta Chis trotted out a Phi Beta Kappa alum as nonchalantly
as though he were not the only one of the species that had ever
been coralled behind its wrought-iron doors, and who, they said,
would be tickled to death to help Neal in any way he could.

"Might be handy to be in a frat with a few walking encyclopedias
dashing in every night or so--what, old boy?"

He attended smokers and dinners at the Cornhusker, was taken for
shows and for walks and rides, was called "Pal" and "Buddy" and
"Old Chap" and "Kingfish," was slapped on the back, shoulders,
knees and in the pit of his stomach, was told he could room with
the president of each frat, with every fraternity member of the
football team that had licked Pittsburgh, and with every hit in the
masculine dramatic Kosmet Klub.  He was promised the absolute run
of the Theta, Kappa, Delta Gamma and Pi Phi houses, dates with the
Junior Prom girl, the Mortar Board president and Nebraska U's
Sweetheart.

Small wonder that Neal Holms in tailored suit and high-powered
roadster and collegiate spotlight seemed far removed from Herman
Holmsdorfer in blue jeans cracking his blacksnake over the backs of
oxen on the lonely prairie.

All this time each fraternity house was a womanless Eden,--your
college men fight this thing out alone without feminine
interference to complicate matters.

Suffice to say, Neal found himself at the end of the battle with
five pledge buttons, which under existing conditions were several
too many, so that he was compelled to think up four air-tight
excuses.

He went Pi Beta Chi,--and sometimes after that the fellows in other
fraternities who had nearly wept on his shoulder and tapped him
lovingly in the stomach, took time out to speak to him on the
campus, but more often they did not.

And life became a geographical thing bounded by a few city blocks
and a campus,--a mental affair of no small effort,--a physical one
of hard freshman foot-ball practice,--and an emotional one of
rather formidable dimensions caused by the sight of more
pulchritude running around at large than he had been accustomed to
see.



CHAPTER XXXIV


In the last ten years Cedar City had grown accustomed to seeing old
Matthias Meier walk up and down the streets of their elm-shaded
town, swinging his cane pompously.  From his son's home down
Washington Street to the corner of Main, turning down Main to the
bank, speaking to every one along the way:  "Good morning, Miss
Smith," "How are you, Boze?", nodding to those whose names he could
not recall or did not know.

At the bank he would walk through the lobby into Carter's office.
There they would discuss for a time the problems of the day,--to
buy the Waterville bonds or not,--whether John Seliger's note could
be renewed,--could Tessie Porter, the dressmaker, have a hundred-
dollar loan on nothing much but an honest character.  Back home
toward noon, there to rest and read until about three when he would
go down again for the last hour "to see how the day had gone."

Sometimes he went to Lincoln, grown to eighty thousand from the
four log-cabins, visiting with old friends here and there for a few
moments, always taking one stroll past the Pi Beta Chi house to see
how it looked now,--"just as good as ever,--THERE was a house for
you, built for the years,"--and always to the new capitol which
rose like something of his own he had dreamed.

Uncompleted, but giving promise of perfection, it satisfied his
very soul.  American, that's what it was,--the broad sweeping base
was the fertile prairie,--the tower to rise from this great white
spread of stone was to symbolize all the aspirations and dreams and
ideals the old builders of the state had held in their hearts but
could not express.

No one knew it, but he would rather have been on the capitol
commission than anything he could choose.  Too old, of course.
Lots of grief connected with it.  Younger men must serve on that.
But he liked to talk with those who had its building on their
hearts,--men who were giving it all the loyalty they bore the
state.  Stop in and see them when he could catch them,--talk over
the old days with the State Historian who knew every phase of its
beginning and growth.

Once he and Charlie Briggs went up to the capitol together.
Matthias, tall and well-tailored, snow-white hair and beard,--
Charlie Briggs, little and gnarled, shaggy-whiskered, his navy blue
suit hanging sack-like on his thin body,--both in their eighties.
Together they walked through the main corridor and rotunda, looking
at the tiles and the mosaics.  More than one person turned to
glance at the two old men, so different in appearance, apparently
so engrossed in their own conversation.

"Seems a thousand years ago you advised me to come over here and
locate in the prairie grass, Charlie."

"More like yistiddy to me, Matt."

"It's a great old state.  Founded by substantial folks.  Given the
world something, too, besides grain and hogs.  Given it artists and
writers, singers and actors, big men in educational and business
lines, dean of the Harvard law school, a general of all the armies.
Something of the strength of the prairie may have been built into
her children."

"She was kind of a harsh old mother, Matt,--the prairie,--but
sufferin' snakes, I liked her."

There was a long pause, and then:

"I want to live to see it completed, Charlie."

"Me, too, Matt."

But now the trips to Lincoln were all over.  Over, too, were the
trips down Washington to Main,--down Main to the bank.

Old Matthias was nearly done for.  Every day this spring when it
was sunshiny enough he sat in the yard for a few hours,--waiting.
They didn't need to try to cover it.  He knew.  Ever since that
sudden sick spell.  Lucile and Carter in cheerful voices called
this convalescing.  All right, call it anything they wanted.

Sitting here to-day in the sunshine old Matthias' mind was delving
into the past.  Until lately he had never been guilty of doing much
of that.  "Too busy with the crowded hour to fear to live or die,"--
Emerson he thought that was.  No, he had not succumbed to the
habit of retrospection to any great extent as did many men of his
age.  It was a vicious habit, belonging only to those old people
whose mentality could not keep pace with the times.

He had always disliked those who did it too much, making bores of
themselves with their ancient reminiscences.  Charlie Briggs lived
almost entirely in the past with his "'Long about 1872," or "I
recol'ect the winter of '89."  But for some reason he had been
doing some of it himself lately--going over old memories, suddenly
finding how easy it was to recall happenings of years before.

This afternoon with the sun making flickering leaf shadows on the
new grass at his feet, he tried to understand this tendency to
return to the scenes of youth.  Did one go halfway through life, as
though to a hilltop, and then start this looking back?  No, there
was no definite time in which it happened.  One seemed always to be
looking hopefully and enthusiastically forward,--and then without
realizing it, found one's self in these moods of looking back.

On a trip to California, he and Ida, in the Hancock Park section of
Los Angeles, had once seen the old La Brea pits where the tar of a
score of thousand years bubbles up to the surface of the ground.
There had been found the skeleton remains of prehistoric animals,--
the saber-tooth tiger and the lion and the sloth,--a bone at a
time, the animal skeletons had been found and fitted together for
museums.

This afternoon he dug in the past of his life as the workers had
dug for bones in the La Brea pits.  He took out single scenes,
fitting them together with others as the bones were fitted,--a bit
of this and a bit of that,--seeing now from his hilltop how events
might have been.  Some things could have been bettered,--some
should have stayed the same.  No matter, for good or ill, they had
been fitted together, and it was too late now to figure out how
productive of good any change would have been.  Queer, how things
he used to think important, seemed less so now.  Little things of
minute value at the time, now loomed large in retrospection.
Wherein should life have been different?  How much of it was Fate?
How much his own decision?

Suddenly, with almost no warning thought, he remembered his first
sweetheart.  She stepped into view out of the past as clear as a
picture.  He had not thought of her for years, but she came now,
white and pink and blue-eyed and lovely.  She had been Romance.
Ida had never been Romance.  She had been steady undying Love.  She
had been wife, comrade, friend,--but never Romance.  That belonged
with Amalia.  And though desire had long died within him, yet for a
moment his blood stirred to the memory of the touch of the pink
lips of Amalia and the supple warm body of her.

Yes, some of the things in life we decide for ourselves.  In others
it is Providence, Luck, or the Spinning Fates.  He thought of his
youthful hot-headed race to Nebraska City, smiled at the thought of
those days on the sandbar,--of the way such a situation could be
handled now.  Cars, motor-boats, planes.  What the outcome would
have been if he had arrived in time, of course he could not know.
But to have seen her and to have talked with her, she would no
doubt have gone with him.  Her father could scarcely have held her
against her will.

How different girls were these days.  One couldn't imagine a modern
girl displaying the weakness with which Amalia must have succumbed
to her father's authority and gone obediently with him.  She would
have been as ready to go with her lover if he could have appeared
in time to influence her.  But by the hair's breadth of a few hours
the thing had been decided.  When he arrived, the marriage had been
consummated.  Now they wouldn't even stop at the marriage vow but
would hurdle that too.  In those days it constituted a formidable
barrier.  Well, it was a good thing, perhaps, that some of these
decisions did fall into the hands of Providence or Lady Luck or the
Spinning Fates.  Once he would have chosen Amalia.  Probably Ida
had made him a better wife,--but even without that in her favor, he
could not imagine any one else in her place for the half-century.

Hazel was coming down the terrace toward him with her long athletic
stride and her air of freedom from all restraints.  She was nearly
ready for the University, some of the rough edges toned down, her
brace off for several years, the freckles miraculously disappearing
into her creamy complexion.

Could one imagine two more opposite young women than Hazel and this
little Amalia of whom he had just been thinking?  He smiled at the
thought, and when she had thrown herself in a chair opposite him,
he said suddenly:  "Hazel, did you ever stop to think how a person
imagines he is carrying out his own decision, doing the thing he
planned?  But is he?  How much is predestined?  Except for our
higher order of minds we are like the little moles under the earth
carrying out blindly the work of digging, thinking our own dark
passage-ways constitute all there is to the world. . . ."

Hazel was frankly bored.  Restless, energetic, it seemed rather a
waste of time to sit here and listen to grandfather's vague
generalities.  They sounded too much like his pal, the old Indian
scout.  No longer was old Charlie Briggs a hero to Miss Meier.  She
twisted about a bit in her chair, as though seeking a more
comfortable position, giving him credit in her mind, though, for
one thing,--he seldom emitted a lot of junk like this.

"A half-dozen people . . ." he went on, "out of all the hundreds
we've contacted stand out in the end as really and recognizably
influencing our lives.  A few whom we have loved or hated or
emulated.  Why, I've even been thinking of my first sweetheart," he
laughed deprecatingly.

Hazel sat up alertly.  Here was no generality, nothing boresome.
Here was interest, concrete and definite.  No longer was she the
little girl who had said she would have none of Romance.

"Oh, I say, Grandad, that IS something.  You mean a girl . . . NOT
Grandmother?"

"Not your grandmother."

"Why, you old flirt . . . tell me about it.  She didn't die?"

"No, . . . much worse."  He smiled across at her.  "She married
some one else."

"Yes . . . yes . . . go on.  Am _I_ all EARS?  Tell me.  Tell me
everything."

"There's not much to tell.  I suppose spring had something to do
with it . . . spring and youth and propinquity.  I was working in a
foundry in Illinois.  She came stepping out of the sunlight one day
into the dark foundry like a little blue and white and pink figure
stepping out of a miniature,--or a little Dresden china figure."

"Not REALLY, Grandpa!  Why, you old poet."

"You're the only person in the world I've ever told this to.  She
moved out here from Illinois . . . and married.  I came out here,
too, to what was then called the new west . . . following her in a
blind sort of way, a young blade thinking I could pick her up and
carry her off, even though good sense told me how foolish it was.
But . . . you follow your wild enthusiastic fancies when you're
young."

"And you never saw her again?"

"I never saw her."

"Nor heard of her?"

"Nor heard of her specifically . . . but once.  I knew in a general
way . . . the farming section . . . where her group of people
located, but I never saw her again."

"Grandpa . . . tell me this."  Hazel leaned forward with wide, dark
eyes.  "Did you EVER get over it?"

He laughed aloud.  "Oh, yes . . . yes, indeed.  The long journey on
the boat, the docking at strange towns, the excitement of arriving
in the new country, all had their place in the scheme of things.  I
was young and ambitious.  I rather think I was beginning to recover
very soon.  After awhile there were other young people too . . .
your grandmother.  Life was very full.  And yet. . . ."

"Yet what, Grandfather?"

"Oh, I think one never entirely forgets an emotional experience
like that.  But after awhile the thing was only half remembered . . .
and then almost forgotten . . . then entirely . . . until now."

"Why NOW, Grandpa?"

"You'd laugh."

"No, I won't, Grandpa . . . honestly, I won't laugh."

"I heard a meadow-lark sing."

"It reminded you of her?"

"Yes."

"Oh, how ROMANTIC."

"And perhaps because I've had time recently to sit and think . . .
and remember times of emotion.  In business you have no emotion,--
you have only a hard-boiled mental life."

"I think it's a lot sadder that you got over it, Grandpa, than if
you hadn't."

"Perhaps it was."

"What was her name?"

"I haven't said it aloud for nearly sixty years.  It was . . .
Amalia."  His voice lingered over it, drawing it out liquidly.

"Amalia.  It's kind of musical, isn't it?"

"That's what I used to think."



Old Matthias Meier did not live to see the capitol finished.  He
died in a few months as he had felt he would.  Toward the last he
knew it was not going to be so hard to leave as he had always
thought.  Sometimes during that last month, in his exhaustion and
weakness, when the nights were troubled and unnatural and the days
no better, he looked forward longingly to that place in Lincoln
called Wyuka, which is Indian for "a place to lie down and sleep."

Charlie Briggs came as soon as he heard, trudging up the sidewalk
to Carter Meier's house, his blue suit hanging baggily on his thin
little frame.  "Matt knowed I wouldn't fail him."

When it was over,--Matthias' things put away out of sight, and much
of the necessary business attended to, Carter Meier settled down to
life without his father.

On a rainy evening when Lucile and Hazel were both there, he
brought out and opened his father's small, old-fashioned trunk,--a
queer little calf-skin chest bound in brass.  He had never seen one
just like it anywhere else, with its few red hairs worn by the
original animal owner still plainly visible along the sides.

"I wonder if the Historical Society wouldn't like it?" he said to
Lucile and to Hazel sitting near.

Lucile had a book and merely said pleasantly but vaguely:  "Maybe
it would."

Hazel, intent on the opening of the trunk, made no comment for a
moment.  When she did it was to say:  "Do you know, there's
something sort of heathenish and unkind about it, Dad.  After a
death, delving into a dead person's things that way when they can't
help it.  Don't you feel as though you were trespassing?"

"Oh . . . I might with some people's things.  But not Father's.
I've had charge of his affairs so much this last year and his life
was such an open book."

For a half-hour or more Carter Meier took out and examined the
neatly folded papers and account books, a set of income and expense
books,--all of ancient vintage and worthless.  Anything important
was in the lock-box at the bank.  There were two or three pictures
of his mother,--one in a tight silk dress with panels and enough
buttons up and down its length and breadth to start a retail button
shop.

There were pictures of himself, too, as a scared-looking baby in a
dress cascading to the floor, and as a little boy.  At one he
laughed long and loudly and called his family's attention to it.
In a velvet suit and lace collar he stood heavily on one foot with
the other leg neatly crossed over it, in his hand the end of a long
ivy vine wandering down from a flower-pot above him.

"To this day I remember how I was pinching that vine, taking out of
my murderous heart all the venom I felt for the photographer and
putting it into the death of that innocent plant."

And after his laughter came something more serious,--it seemed such
a very short time ago he was that little Fauntleroy-looking boy
with an Apache heart,--and now he was fifty-six.

Everything was out now but a dingy, brown wallet.  He had not seen
it for nearly a half-century, but he could remember his father
carrying it in that long gone time.  There proved to be nothing in
the old thing but a yellowed piece of paper which fell at his touch
into six slim oblong sections.  It was written in German and almost
illegible at that.

"Hazel, how much German do you know?"

"Oh, I can habe and heil a little.  Let me have a try."

She went to the library table and laid the six parts carefully
together, bending her fresh loveliness over the musty broken pieces
of the yellowed paper.

". . . 'ist es besser.'  That's duck's soup for a starter," she
said aloud.  "It is better."

Her father and mother were both listening, more impressed by their
gay young daughter's smartness than with anything the old letter
might say.

"'Zu gedenken' . . . let's see . . . 'zu gedenken,'" her voice
slipped into a low murmur as she tried to think of it.  "I
know . . . to remember.  How'm I doin', folks?"

They nodded approval.  These modern girls!

"'im Frühyahr' . . . that's 'in springtime.'  Now . . . all
together . . . pull!  'It is better to remember in springtime.'"

Suddenly she saw for the first time the word Amalia.  Something
came into her mind,--stole in subtly,--something bringing a faint
far-off breath of a long-gone year and the lilt of a meadow-lark
singing.  This was a note from Grandpa's first sweetheart.

"You're the only person I've ever told . . ." he had said.

She read the remainder of the legible sentence to herself.  It was
Grandpa's secret and because he was not here to guard the little
message as he had evidently done all the years, she would do it for
him,--would not drag it out into the open even for Dad and Mother.

Unsre Liebe,--our love.  Something about the forlorn little note
touched her unaccountably.  A swift mist came to her eyes and she
had to clear her throat to say lightly, "Oh, that's all I can get
out of it, folks."

All the rest of the evening it filled her with a vague sadness.
She was glad he had married Grandmother, couldn't bear to think of
it otherwise.  But there was something pathetic about that one
legible sentence,--the way life moved on and changed and love went
with it, too.

_. . . it is better to remember our love as it was in the
springtime._



CHAPTER XXXV


In the fall of 1930 Hazel Meier went up to the University too.
Lucile had taken her to Omaha to outfit her,--she had purchased
sports clothes and silk pajamas, dinner gowns, dresses for
afternoon wear, and accessories for everything.  Lucile had no
trouble in pleasing Hazel with the sports clothes,--it took some
effort to get her into long, slinky gowns in which she declared to
all and sundry salesladies that she felt like kicking something
with every step.  But Lucile was firm.  Hazel was a young lady now,--
no more of this living in tennis outfits all day long.  Everything
ran to browns and tans and oranges for her,--cream or white or
eggshell for evening with that hair and complexion.

When Carter saw the bills he whistled long and loudly.  Bonds these
days were anæmic,--he was worried.  There were more griefs in the
banking business now than in all his other years put together.  He
missed his father every day.

There was no exciting fight over Hazel by the sororities.  Lucile
had been a Theta.  The Delta Gams gave her a half-hearted rush,
knowing she had too much Theta blood in her to inoculate with any
other virus.  The Kappas told her Theta was so badly run down since
her mother's time that of course she would put aside that old
mother-daughter sentiment, to which she might have given ear if she
had not heard a Theta hand out the same line to a Kappa daughter
with a mere reversal of Greek letters.

After the usual three days of breakfasts, luncheons, teas, and
dinners, with time out to look up her courses, she went Theta.  No
one was surprised,--it was in the cards.  Followed registration,--
consternation,--concentration,--amalgamation,--sophistication,--the
metamorphosis of a Greek letter girl can be traced as readily as
the growth of a tree, by rings of different fibers.

At first she was timid, afraid of the upper classmen, prone to say
"Yes, indeed" to any comment from them, deferred to the house
mother as to an oracle.

Gradually she began dating.  She whose masculine attentions in
Cedar City had consisted heretofore largely of neighbor boys
draping themselves at intervals over the front steps and calling to
her to get a move on, now learned what collegiate dates were, both
of the open-eyed and blind varieties.

By her sophomore year, what with her good clothes and her
reputation of being a snappy little number, she was credited at the
House with one-hundred per cent dating ability.  In her junior year
she was sophisticated, svelte, unruffled under any situation, told
the house mother in velvet-concealed words where to get off,
removed the velvet shield on occasion when some good sister crossed
her path in social territory.

It was getting toward spring of that year when she went into the
old library, took a casual survey of empty chairs and with apparent
superb indifference to her surroundings carefully chose one across
from a junior law,--an awfully good-looking Pi Chi by the name of
Neal Holms.  She gave him a slanting glance several times, but
evidently he was occupied with some ponderous volume.  All right,--
he didn't have to deign to look her way,--suit himself.  In a few
moments he was pushing a card toward her.  It contained his name
engraved thereon, with a penciled caption under it,--so that it now
read:

     Neal Holms

     Pass the tomes.

She frowned,--shoved the two voluminous books near her his way,
scribbled underneath:

     Hazel Meier

     Don't rouse my ire.

Unsmiling, he found his reference, then turned the card over, wrote
on it, pushed it back.  It questioned:

     Why don't I dare?

And was sent back with the laconic answer:

     Red hair.

A little later he handed it back.  It said:

     Date you?

Hazel wrote promptly:

     Hate to.

This time he drew a picture,--two toothpick-looking creatures hand
in hand, and wrote underneath:

     Aw, give in.

Hazel scribbled:

     You win.



Neal Holms dated Hazel Meier for a fraternity formal.

From the first he liked her,--liked her tip-tilted nose on which,
if the light were right, you could see a freckle or two,--liked her
independence and her creamy complexion,--her hazel eyes and her
snappy come-backs,--the cocky way she wore a beret on the side of
her head.

Two more care-free young people financially and otherwise in the
University it would have been hard to find.

He dated her again for another formal, other times for no reason
but "a date,"--then for the Junior-Senior prom which ended the
winter social season.  And for that matter it almost ended
everything else for them, too.  There was an inauguration of a new
president in Washington,--followed by a peculiar phenomenon in
banking circles called a moratorium.  Carter Meier's bank closed.

Even before this the echoes from the eastern coast financial marts
had reverberated to the outskirts of the last little village, to
every farm home in every state.  But for a time in the small places
of the midwestern states, they had been only voices heard afar off.
Contrary to geometric equations, the shortest distance between the
two given points of Wall Street and Carter Meier's bank was by no
means a straight line.  It took a multitude of directions, and
arrived through various channels,--South American bonds being one
of its routes of travel.

Carter Meier had seen the value of his various bonds slipping under
par,--skidding, sliding with sickening pace.  It was a condition
shared in fraternal worry by his colleagues.

All were frightened, bewildered.  Not one could share the anxiety
with another for fear of giving away his own secret worry.

No, the ocean of catastrophe known as the Wall Street debacle did
not sweep at once with full tide into some of the sections of the
country.  Where its waves crashed with devastating force in many
places, in others the back-wash rippled in later.  Cedar City
seemed secure.  It was bounded by agriculture,--its soil rich, its
banks secure, its farmers honest.  Even though prices were far too
low, crops were almost always good these years.  A poor wheat year
usually found a good corn crop,--when the corn failed, the wheat
crop had recompensed for the failure.

But now the back-wash came in,--bonds that had been purchased for
one hundred went to eighty, sixty, forty,--defaulted.  Two of
Carter Meier's corresponding banks stayed closed.  Farmers could
not pay because they had nothing with which to pay.  More, a
strange and unbelievable attitude seized a portion of the
population, a slipping of morale.  "Try and get it" became the
manner of some.  Carter Meier in noting this insidious change
thought often of his father, of old Charlie Briggs, of those others
of the old school whose word had been all the legality one needed.

He worked, planned, collected, figured, fought.  Sometimes he grew
bitter with the injustice of it.  Others no smarter or better than
he were getting through.  The difference of a bond purchase or two,--
of a few less notes that had to be charged off,--and they were
weathering the storm.

Time,--if he only could have time for things to stage a come-back,
he would be all right.  Time!  That was what a man who was to be
hung wanted.  He had days of feeling he had won,--followed by days
of realizing he had lost,--high moments of hope,--black ones of
despair.  The depression won.  The bank stayed closed.  You could
not do with life as you wished.

He paid twice the amount of his stock.  It took the last of what
his father had left him.  The estate, too, had shrunk when
Depression, that rough laundryman, had finished with it.  Some of
the investments had been left as a trust fund for Hazel,--that, of
course, could not and should not be touched.

He sold the house for what he could get,--moved to a Lincoln
apartment when a receiver job was given him.  Lucile was sobered,
hurt, still incredulous over what had happened, but game.  "For
better or for worse" spoken that day in the Lincoln church before
an elaborate wedding party of eight bridesmaids attending her, with
all the leading families looking on, had meant something to Lucile.
The situation was a reversal of her own parents' experiences and
that of Father and Mother Meier.  The "worse," so far as hard work
and getting established, had been their earlier portion, their easy
life at the last.  Her own was the other way around,--harder, too,--
for she and Carter had none of the buoyant hope they had possessed
a quarter of a century before.



Farther out in the state Joe Holms wondered every hour of the day
and during sleepless nights how any one could get so heavily
involved when much of the land had been given him.

Over and over in his mind he pondered the turn of his fortunes.  He
knew there were great economic forces at work over which he had no
control.  If things had been as Myrtie always said,--if the land
had stayed worth the price they had so blithely put upon it,--if
they had not bought so lavishly, had not gone so deeply into debt,
had stayed on the first good old half-section without purchasing
any more acres,--above all, had WORKED it themselves, earning their
living there, content with what it would bring, as his father and
grandfather had worked before him for their daily bread, this great
indebtedness would not be looming always before him like some
fearsome giant.

He went back often in his mind to the first of Myrtie's pleadings
to change things.  Pasting a cheap stucco over the good old stones
of the house had been almost prophetic in its covering up the real
issues of life, the things that were vital.  Work?  Why should he
have lessened his activities because there had seemed enough to
live on?  Work was good.  Work was every man's portion in life.  He
had grown soft,--under fifty yet, and he was flabby.  Old Charlie
Briggs in his eighties who came visiting through the neighborhood
sometimes, wouldn't ride anywhere, wouldn't accept a lift on the
highway for fear he'd grow soft.

Yes, that which he had labeled a kindness to Myrtie and which
Myrtie had labeled a kindness to Neal had been no kindness at all.
But he wouldn't hide behind Myrtie's skirts.  He was the head of
the house, or should have been.  Now he could see he had been no
better than the loafers sitting on the sidewalks spitting their
contempt at a world which they thought owed them a living.

Other farmers were getting through.  All had been under the same
general outside forces,--all under the same weather conditions.
But not all had been caught as he was.  Young Carl Schaffer was
working out,--the Lawrences.  But they had used better sense.  They
had lived on their own butter and eggs, chickens, and small
produce.  When they sold a crop, it had gone to pay off their
principal.  He and Myrtie, with their hands in the sack as though
there were no end to the income,--they had been caught.

He sat now on the stone-house steps at the farm looking out at the
old soap-kettle there in the yard with the dead stems of ancient
flowers left in it.  There was something symbolic about it, he
suddenly decided.  His grandmother had made soap in it every spring
and fall,--enough to last for a half-year.  His mother with her
lessening activities had dispensed with it, letting the men take it
for hog-feed and chicken-mash.  His wife had planted flowers in it,--
typical of the way they had grown to look at life,--flowers, no
work, but plenty of income.  Flowers over all the harsh facts of
life.  Flowers in the soap-kettle,--and a complacent feeling that
the soap would arrive some way.

Well, the flowers in the soap-kettle were dead and rotted now.  So
were all the fancy notions of life.

He called Neal home from school that week-end for an interview.

He was a long time getting at what he wanted to say, so long that
Neal with his more direct way of looking at life said:  "What's the
racket, Dad?  Let's have it out."

"I mean . . . the way things are . . . the town house here is going
back to the owner,--the eighty I bought, too,--the eighty my father
bought goes to the bank for notes . . . I have to pay my double
indemnity on the Meredith bank. . . ."

"You mean we're sunk?"

"Something like that.  Grandma's two hundred and forty is left
unencumbered out of the wreckage."

"Here's where I stop school."

"No.  Let's figure it out together.  I've just one son and he has
just one year more.  We'll make it some way.  You'd disappoint me
now not to go that much longer.  But for God's sake, don't spend
any more than you have to."

"I promise you that."

"And don't tell Mother just yet.  It would worry her."

"If you ask me, Dad, there's been an awful lot of that not-telling-
mother stuff.  I'm going out and tell her."

Joe followed Neal anxiously, protesting, out to the sun-room where
Myrtie sat with a book, to hear him tell his mother the bold and
bald facts.

Myrtie put her hand over her heart.  "Oh . . . oh!  I can stand
anything but that."

Joe tried to stroke her hair, but she pushed his hand away.

"We'll go back to the stone house, Myrtie.  We'll fix it up nice.
I'll go into the field again.  We'll get some comfort out of life
now, not owing any one."

"Oh, Joe . . . how could you . . . how COULD you?"

"He's not done anything disgraceful, Mom.  He's just caught like a
thousand others.  He'll go back and work out, and I'll help."

"Oh . . . oh . . . just the same old thing . . . just corn and dirt
and pigs and chickens."  She was gasping, her hand at her throat.

Joe would have called a doctor, but Neal was unmoved.  "That's just
high-steericks, Mom."  He laughed at her.  "Tears and wailings and
beating your head against the old wall aren't going to do any
good."  He touseled her hair as though she were a youngster.
"You're going to move back to the farm AND LIKE IT.  And thank your
lucky stars you've got one to go to."

Joe stood looking at him in astonishment, deep respect, and with no
small degree of envy.

Joe and Myrtie went back to the big stone house where Myrtie said
she just gave up, there was so little to live for.



CHAPTER XXXVI


Moisture was below normal all summer even where the lands like
Joe's were rich and loamy.  But farther west where the season was
one of drouth, the powdered top soil was lifted into the air with
every high prairie wind.  It was as though Mother Nature in
disturbed mood was beginning to clean her house, to set to right
her disarranged plans.  With a giant broom she whisked the dirt
from those rooms in which she had intended only grazing lands to
be.

But unheeding, the wheat farmers scratched again the pulverized
soil and dropped their seed in the looseness of its powder.

Neal and Hazel both went back to school.  Life had taken on a more
serious aspect, but Youth is hard to keep down.  Unless it is cold,
hungry, ill, and discouraged, it can find an outlet in its own
bubbling vitality,--and they were none of these.  To be sure,
Hazel, who had walked into the shops and chosen her apparel with
little thought to expense, now planned every move with an eye to
economy.

"Take a look-see at the dress," she said to Neal who had come for
her on a date.  "That which used to be the front is now the back,
the inside is the outside, the top side is now the bottom side,--
proving that all which goes up must come down."

"Huh--that's nothing.  I've got a big-time job,--currying Doc
Sanders' car.  I went over to Prof.  Morrison's to see if I could
get his yard to mow,--would have gotten it, too, but Bud Merrill,
the squirt, took the lawn-mower right out of my mouth, so to
speak."

Neal drove home often.  "Seems as though my dad has sort of lost
his nerve or something.  Goes over and over the same old hashing of
what he did or didn't do.  It isn't that he doesn't work.  It isn't
physical.  He acts bewildered all the time about what's best to do,--
all this corn-hog stuff,--anything with a decision to make.  And
I'll be darned if I know whether he'll ever make any money again or
not--what with plowing under the piglets and not letting the big
cornstalks have any little cornstalks.  He knows a lot more about
the whole thing than I do but is always cornering me and asking my
opinion.  Makes me feel chesty."

"My poor Dad, too.  Says he never wants to be responsible for
anything again, content to work for some one else the rest of his
life.  Queer, isn't it, what a year can bring you?"

And it WAS queer what a year could bring you, for when school ended
Neal and Hazel were engaged.

What matter when it was or where it was, or the words that were
said.  Youth is Youth and the words remain similar.  As a matter of
fact, perhaps it was at no special time or place.  Perhaps too
often Neal had said in the jaunty modern unromantic way:  "I like
your aristo-snooty-looking nose" or "You're some little trick, Red
Head," or sung boldly at her in an atrociously frog-like voice:
"Stay As Sweet As You Are," to make any proposal necessary.

Suffice to say Neal sent the candy to the Theta house, and broke
the news to his Pi Beta Chis in the old Meier house where the
neckties hung untidily through the grill-work of which Ida had once
been so proud, and their owners tried with tragic success to
imitate Fred Astaire's dancing on the inlaid mosaic of the great
entrance hall.

Mr. and Mrs. Carter Meier announced the engagement of their
daughter Hazel to Neal Holms by way of the Sunday papers.  Ivy Day
arrived.  Examinations.  Commencement,--in the setting of countless
huge buildings with many thousand students swarming over the campus
where once the cows snatched at the prairie grass.  Hazel had her
diploma from the Teachers College of the U,--Neal his law degree,
and if "superior scholarship" and "cum laude" were strangely
missing from these, the two young people were in the good company
of many others of average intelligence.

Hazel was to teach one year at Irving, a small town in the
Republican Valley,--Neal was to stay at home with his father for
the same length of time, lending his young strength and his
unflagging spirits to Joe's discouragement before hanging out his
law shingle.

It was a bad summer.  Drouth came on like a malignant sore on the
breast of nature.  Hot belching winds blew in from the southwest.
Thin clouds, dry as feathers, slipped across the blue.  The grass
in the pastures burned as with a prairie-fire.  Weeds, devoid of
sap, rattled in the hot winds.  Leaves, too lifeless to cling,
dropped from the dry elms.

"Like in de old days," Amalia said often and shook her head
dubiously.  Tsk!  Tsk!

There was a great deal of talk about legislation and regimentation.
Joe snorted:  "Legislate the hot winds and regimentate the clouds
and we farmers'll get along all right by ourselves."

Neal took Hazel to Irving in September, stayed to cast his eye over
her school and her boarding-house, got back to the farm in time to
see the rain come.  Leaves on the elms dripped clammily.  Puddles
stood on the graveled highways.  Water ran off a hillside that was
baked too hard to hold it.  And it was not raining anything so
sentimental or ornamental as daffodils.  It was raining wheat for
bread.  It was raining forage crops,--sudan grass and rye and sweet
clover.  It was raining pasturage and wild hay and alfalfa,--next
year's apple-buds and cherry-buds and vegetables in gardens.  It
was raining hope and courage and a renewed morale.

"Stars fell on Alabama," he said jubilantly when he went into the
house, "and that's all right with me, but showers fell on Nebraska
and that's much more to the point."

Joe worried a good deal now about Grandma down there alone at her
little house, but old Amalia was cheerful.  "I am goot company for
myself," she said.  "I vork ven I vish; I sleep ven I vish; I sew
my qvilts ven I vish; I do not'ing ven I vish."

Joe and Neal were both good to her,--Myrtie not unkind, merely
wrapped in her own troubles.

Toward spring she seemed much more feeble.  So little did she walk
out now that Neal decided to put in a radio for her.  For a while
she stood out against it.  "For vat should I vant to have de
singin' here at all times of de night, Neal?"

When he assured her that no quartette or jazz orchestra had any
intention of presuming on her hospitality at times when they were
not welcome, she let him put in one.

Her first manipulation of it was under his instruction.

"You snap this first.  Then turn this until you find what you want,
and then this one to get the sound just as you want it.  Now try."

Old Amalia snapped the brass knob.  Then she turned THIS.  Columbus
sailing westward, a Wright brother going up in the air,--and old
Amalia turning the knob on a radio!

". . . headin' for the last round-up" it blared forth like semi-
musical thunder.

"Now tune it down softer."

"Loud I like it," said old Amalia.  And loud she kept it.

To the family's surprise it proved to be news that she liked the
best.  Old Amalia who had lived most of her long years on her
Nebraska farm liked best the happenings from far places.  She knew
when every news period came on, settled herself with her latest
quilt, rather appropriately doing the Around-the-World pattern, and
listened to the latest happenings in places she had never been, and
of whose existence she scarcely knew.  Through the waves of the
air, across the brown prairie, every day now the mountain came to
Mahomet.



CHAPTER XXXVII


Spring came to the midwest in a cloud of dust.  To Carter and
Lucile in their modest apartment in Lincoln it was a hazy,
disagreeable one, the sunlight sifting through the yellow, dust-
laden air from the black blizzard farther to the west.

They had never grown used to Hazel being away,--often in the
evening they found themselves sitting idly, listening for the
footsteps of a gay young crowd which no longer came.  Once in one
of these idle moods Lucile caught Carter's eye.  "That way lies
madness," she laughed, but not quite whole-heartedly.  "Let's throw
a wild party and go to a movie."

To Hazel in the little town of Irving in the Republican Valley the
dust was more severe for she was nearer the source of the storms.
It came in clouds, a scourge rolling eastward like reddish-yellow
gas across no man's land.  Too long in the country farther west had
men torn at the earth's vitals,--too many times had the edge of the
plow gone into the lands which were meant for grazing.  There were
sections out beyond Irving and in the neighboring states where
schools were closed, traffic paralyzed, business suspended, street
lights shining all day through the murky atmosphere.

To Neal and his father on the farm it was a season of worry and
discouragement.  To what extent were the dust storms affecting
them?  Were they bringing in enough sandy soil to damage the rich
loamy Holms' lands?  Was soil erosion to be serious?

Day after day the clouds of dust rolled in from the Panhandle
district, northwestern Oklahoma, southeastern Colorado, part of
Kansas.

To old Amalia there was no great discouragement,--no deep worry.
Too many years had she lived with a Nature that was changeable, as
coquettish as a girl.

Too often had she seen rains after drouth, green after the brown of
burning, buds after dried stalks, stillness after the strife of
storm, life after apparent death.  "It vill come all right," she
nodded with calm conviction.  "It alvays comes right again."

And it came right again.  The winds ceased.  Snow fell like a white
benediction over the wind-torn land.  Rains followed,--prolonged
soaking rains.  The grass grew lush in the pastures.  Cattle stood
knee-deep in moisture-covered forage.  Buds burst forth from the
elms, the fruit trees and the lilac hedge.  Crocuses bloomed in
sheltered spots.  The timber-land gave forth the rich, pungent
smell of water-soaked undergrowth.  Nature's face had the look of a
freshly scrubbed child.  It was the eighty-sixth miracle Amalia had
witnessed.

Neal spent a certain Saturday and part of one Sunday with Hazel at
her home in Lincoln, taking her back to her school at Irving in the
afternoon.

Carter and Lucile were satisfied with Neal,--liked his energy and
his gay humor, his steady blue eyes that looked clean and frank.
Of the boys that had ever squired Hazel about, they liked him by
far the best they agreed when the two had gone.

It was not until they were well out on the paved highway toward the
valley that Neal broached the subject with which he was to confront
Hazel to-day, for which he had chosen this very time.

He approached it with a bit of trepidation for he had no idea how
she would take it, and because he felt that uncertainty, he was
blunt in the telling.  Now that his year of helping his father was
nearly at an end he had decided to forget law and stay on to manage
the farm.

Hazel, assuming for a time that he was joking, was later filled
with sudden alarm to discover that he was in deadly earnest.

"I've kidded myself into thinking I was there for just the year.
I'm staying.  I like the independence of it.  I've grown interested
in our plans.  Besides, I'd have had a heck of a time getting on in
the other, what with the thousands of us turned loose and lining
the sidewalks waiting for cases."

Because Hazel sat quietly, looking coldly down the highway, he went
rambling on rather indefinitely:  "You'll like it there . . . not
a half bad old place . . . with a little care the lawn looks
quite like a park . . . a lot of grand old trees my grandfather
planted . . . the house is sturdy and big even if it's old . . .
Father and Mother will turn it over to us and live in the small
house with Grandma."

He glanced at her but she was stony-faced, so that he went on
nervously with his explanations:  "This is a business all ready and
waiting for me,--not a dub job of looking up references for some
older man or starving to death behind my own shingle.  And if you
don't think it calls for as much of a business head as any other,
it's just because you don't know your onions or any of the other
crops."

Hazel spoke for the first time.  "I just can't SEE myself.  That's
all there is to it.  Just don't speak about it again and kindly
drop the whole idea."

"But I AM speaking about it.  And I'm not dropping the whole idea,
kindly, benevolently, or otherwise."

"You can't mean that you're in earnest about this crazy notion?"

"I'm in earnest . . . and the notion is so sensible it should take
the Pulitzer prize for wisdom.  Three hundred and twenty acres of
the best and richest land in Nebraska with my Dad ready and willing
to turn the management of it to me.  To be sure, one of the
eighties has a big plaster on it, but we can soak that off.  We
lost two other eighties in the late lamented depression.  I'd be a
nut to stick out a shingle in some little burg or run errands for a
law firm in a bigger town just as agriculture is going to pull
out."

"I don't see it."

"And _I_ DO."

They were speaking with suppressed heat, firecrackers sputtering
under ice.

"And you call this an ambitious idea?"

"About as ambitious a move as I've ever made in my life."  His
voice dropped to a pleading tone.  "I'm terribly in earnest, Hazel.
Give me credit for growing up and making my own decisions.  You
know every one who has any stamina . . .  There's another word but
not so pretty . . .  Drop around some day and I'll tell you what it
is . . .  Any fellow who hasn't lard in his veins has to map out
his own life and his own work.  Well, mine's running that big farm
and running it RIGHT.  I know it now for sure.  I feel energetic
about it, enthusiastic, with a hundred plans of things to do.  It's
my best bet because I WANT to do it.  There was a time when I
wouldn't have said that I ever would.  I know my own mind now."

"And apparently that broad mind of yours doesn't comprehend that
I'd have anything to say about it,--that I should be the one to
make the decision."

"You can put it that way, of course, to make me feel quite the
villain.  But I'll have to be more honest than gallant and admit
that in this particular thing . . . you shouldn't."

"One could imagine . . . the casual observer maybe . . . that I
WOULD have the deciding vote."

"I've seen how that works out, Hazel.  You don't need to get me
wrong,--I think the world of my mother.  But she just had her way
with my dad in a lot of things he should have decided for them
both.  Well, it nearly got them."

"I'd make a SCALDING-hot farmer's wife, wouldn't I?"

"Sure you would.  You'd . . ."

"I don't know a silo from a centipede . . ."

"A centipede has more legs than a silo, dearie.  You can always
tell them that way."  Now that she was talking he felt easier.

". . . or oats from wheat."

"Wheat has a beard, honey,--whiskers like old man Briggs."

But Hazel would not meet his flippant conversation.  "I tell you,
I don't know ANYTHING about it.  I don't know a plow from a
harron . . . harrall . . . harrow . . . whatever it is."

"For that matter, would you have known a rejoinder or a summons or
a brief if I'd have gone into law?"

"I could learn."

"You can learn this other."

There were icicles in the air now.  Hazel stared straight ahead
into the diminishing point of the paved highway.  Neal, face solemn
and jaw set, leaned over and turned on the radio.

"Ah'll call you back in a few minutes, Kingfish.  Amos 'n I has got
a big business man in here . . ."  He snapped it off petulantly.

For a mile they rode in frosty silence.

Hazel broke it with sarcasm.  "So you really think I'd move on a
farm . . . that I would give in to you about this wild thing?"

"Do I get it that you've not at any time cared for me, myself,--
that you've merely liked the smug little idea of marrying a man
who sat in a mahogany-furnished office in a downtown business
block . . ."

"Maybe I have.  Maybe I think that's the sort of environment I'd
like to have my husband in."

". . . so that you could have a nice plate-glass window to sit in
and see the Shriner's parade go by?"

The car had accelerated in speed with Neal's rising temper.  They
were passing through Niles Center, such a small village that the
general store, the post office, and the filling-station flashed by
like bits of colored posters.  They were both silent, agitated and
uncomfortable.  It did not add anything, therefore, to the gayety
of the nations when the Niles Center constable overtook them.  When
they stopped, he came over to the car, a big, red-faced man with a
curiously small button-like nose set in the full moon of his face.

"Where you think you are--Indianapolis speedway or Ormond Beach or
some place?"

"I didn't even see your sissy town," Neal retorted.  And for the
pleasure he derived from the saying donated unwillingly a five-
dollar bill toward the erecting of a new village bandstand.

For the rest of the trip they were silent, excepting for an
occasional remark that had neither interest nor entertainment for
either one.

The long paved highway passed through fields and orchards of the
peaceful Republican River Valley.  Acres of green wheat on every
side lay shrouded in the soft cool evening.  From the alfalfa
fields came the fragrance of the budding blossoms,--from the
pastures the faint odor of meadow-grass lush with moisture.  Only a
few weeks before the great billows of dust had enveloped the
valley.  Wind had blown eerily out of the west.  Dirty gray clouds
had scudded across yellow skies.  Then as though the Caretaker had
said:  "Thus far shalt thou go and no farther," the winds had
ceased and like a benign benediction had come the rains.  The
Republican Valley was as peaceful now as a lovely lady with emerald
pastures and wheatfields for jewels.

They drove into the town of Irving and turned to the street upon
which Hazel's boarding-house stood.  Neither one knew how the
strained interview was to terminate,--both were uncomfortable.

Neal slid up to the curb where a low barberry hedge scraped across
the running board.  Because they were serious and angry and
uncertain what the next move was to be, in the embarrassment of the
moment they did nothing,--merely sat, each waiting for the other to
speak.

At once three of Hazel's little girl pupils, arm in arm, passed
along the street and giggled at the sight of their teacher sitting
with a strange young man.

"Hello, Miss Meier."

"Hello, Miss Meier."

"Hello, Miss Meier."

"People all speak the same dialect here."  Neal tried to assume his
old light way.  But because Hazel would not smile, he dropped it
immediately.  "Well, I guess there's nothing more to say, excepting
where do we go from here?"

"I guess that's not going to be hard to interpret."

"You mean . . . ?"

"I most certainly do . . . under the circumstances . . . if they
still exist . . . we're through."

"They exist all right.  I'll say just one thing more.  You've
probably had a fond and kiddish notion you were about to marry a
member of the United States Supreme Court.  Well, you weren't.  You
were about to marry a young fellow who was going to have a long,
slippery climb,--and if you won't do this with him now which is a
wise move, you wouldn't have liked the monotony of the other,
either,--so it's a good thing for us both you found it out in time.
But you can rest assured he will get somewhere a darned sight
faster doing the thing he wants to do.

"Become Secretary of Agriculture, maybe."  Hazel hated her own
sarcasm, even while she gave vent to it.

"Maybe . . . who knows?  Stranger things have happened."

"Well . . ." he said again after a strained silence, ". . . let's
don't prolong the death pangs."

At that, Hazel was out before he could get around to the door.  But
he walked along stubbornly by her side to the porch, carrying her
small bag, and because he was bursting with hurt and disappointment,
he said:  "This is the way Emily Post says all engagements should be
terminated,--politely and with subtle grace."

But at the door, he broke:  "Hazel . . . we're just talking to hear
ourselves say words.  We're both that way . . . we just enjoy the
ragging.  Neither one of us meant anything but to bark our heads
off.  There's no one I could ever love but you,--no one in the
world for me but YOU."  And would have put his arms around her, but
that she said with infinite sarcasm:  "Oh, yes, there is.  There's
YOU."  And was gone into the house, shutting the door with infinite
pains.



CHAPTER XXXVIII


Spring rains, heavy, drenching, filling the creek-beds and flooding
the lowlands!

They beat upon the Holms' fields and pastures sending moisture down
to the grateful sub-soil which had been so long without it, while
Neal worked doggedly all day, tight-lipped and serious.  So
recently life had been such a gay and happy thing,--now so void of
interest without funny flippant letters, so dull appearing in the
future with no plans involving the constant presence of a merry
redheaded girl.

They beat steadily and drowsily upon the little white-painted
cottage of old Amalia, piecing her Around-the-World quilt and
listening to news from places of which she had never heard.  They
beat upon the old German country church high on the knoll and the
sodden grasses of all the old Kratz and Schaffer graves, and those
of the Gebhardts and Rhodenbachs who had come into the prairie
together over sixty years before.

They beat upon the apartment building in Lincoln, where Carter and
Lucile Meier lived, trying to get along on an absurdly small amount
so that they could begin saving again in their fifties for old age.
And they beat upon the stone mausoleum covering Matthias Meier and
his wife Ida in Wyuka which is the Indian word for a place to lie
down and sleep.

Out in the Republican Valley in the little town of Irving the rains
beat on Hazel Meier going back and forth in her tan-colored
raincoat and cap to school, trying to keep her mind on lesson
plans, on hard work, on an interview with the superintendent in
which she was to tell him she had changed her mind and was
withdrawing her resignation if they would still consider her for
next year.

Life was a strange thing now,--all the loveliness of it had
vanished, leaving nothing but school work.  Beyond the moment she
would not look, merely putting her energies and thoughts into the
day's teaching.

This morning she took time at recess to scribble a few lines to her
parents, making them as gay as though life were still a pleasant
thing.  They had experienced enough trouble,--she would carry this
break with Neal through with head high.  She mailed her letter at
noon and changed her dress to a fresher one, for she was going out
to the Johnson's with Marie, one of her pupils, for supper.  They
lived out of town, so she was going to have the experience of
riding in the school bus.  Marie and Katie were both in her room,--
Katie had been out sick, was convalescing and wanted "Teacher" to
come out for supper.  Mr. Johnson would bring her back in the Ford,
or if it should rain too hard, she was to stay all night.

As a matter of fact, "Teacher" was going to be distinctly bored and
would have preferred going to her own rooming-house where at least
she knew what to expect.  A pupil's home was always and distinctly
X, the unknown quantity.  But as she told Miss Evans of the fourth
grade, "hers not to question why, hers but to do or die."

When evening came, the school bus occupants were thrilled to death
that Miss Meier was entering their chariot for the time being,
seven girls wanting to sit by her, and virtually all the boys
taking part in voluntary exercises of standing on their heads, cat-
calls, and baboon-like climbings up the side of the windows in
order to display masculine prowess in front of feminine charm.

Arrived at her destination she found the Johnson's abode was just
about what she would have expected from personal appearances made
all year by Katie and Marie.  The sitting-room had a cheap rug with
eye-puncturing red roses which Mrs. Johnson told her Mr. Johnson
surprised her with at Christmas, picking it from the catalogue,
"hisself," to which the convalescing Katie added the information
that to-day in honor of Teacher they took off the newspapers and
rag rugs they always kept over it.

While Mrs. Johnson prepared her supper, the intervening time for
Hazel was occupied by a protracted sitting on the couch with a girl
on either side and the little brother in a state of doubtful
stickiness leaning on her knees, all enjoying a never-ending
entertainment of stereoscopic views of such titles as "Niagara by
Moonlight," "Lake Erie in a Storm" and a side-splitting one of "We
Three Donkeys," the big joke being that whoever looked at the
picture was ONE of them.  "That caught you, didn't it, Teacher?"

Supper was ready.  Mrs. Johnson was hot and flurried, forgetting to
bring on her biscuits for a time.  Mr. Johnson was there, just in
from the milking, scrubbed and combed.  The hired man was there, a
queer crooked-nosed individual with one eye slightly turned.

"Mr. Nils Jensen, Miss Meier."

"Pleased to meetcha."

There was some delay caused by the little boy's insistent demand
that he sit by Teacher, too, but the girls were adamant over their
personal ownership, and Nils with rare diplomacy put a quietus on
the disturbance by reaching for a hot sparerib and bestowing it
upon the trouble-maker.

It rained most of the evening.  Hazel stayed all night, for which
Katie and Marie gave evidence they would eventually lord it over
the other girls in their room, for not once had Teacher stayed all
night at any of their homes.

Mrs. Johnson loaned Hazel her wedding nightgown,--a high-necked
lace-yoked affair with blue ribbons pulled through the holes.
Teacher was to have the spare room downstairs,--all the others were
to sleep on the second floor.  The bed had starched pillow-cases
with brown cat-tails and yellow water-lilies embroidered on the
ends.  Some of the mercury behind the mirror on the dresser was off
so one could see the wall-paper through it.  The last thing Mrs.
Johnson said was:  "I do hope you sleep good, Miss Meier.  They
ain't nobody slep' in here since Grandpa died in this bed."

Hazel got into the erstwhile deathbed, in the ruffled wedding
nightgown, laughed a little, thinking of all the funny things she
would tell Neal when she saw him,--remembered, and watered the
starched cat-tails with a few tears.  It did not seem possible that
Life could be so miserable and so uninteresting.

She must have been asleep a long time for it seemed near daylight
when she heard noises.

"Miss Meier."  It resolved itself into her name and some one
pounding on her door.

"Yes?"  She was sitting up, alarmed: not so much at the disturbance
itself as at what it might portend.

"Get up and dress quick."  It was Mr. Johnson.  "There's water
comin' in through the kitchen door,--the whole yard looks under
water."

She sprang out of bed in a daze of sleepiness and uncertainty.

Water!  Well, what of it?  The first of the spring had been dry and
dusty.  Every one had wanted water.  And now they had it.  Never
satisfied.  What was the big commotion about?  Water never hurt
you,--when you were in a house, it didn't.

She realized her mind was not quite lucid, that her very fear of
this unknown thing which had given Mr. Johnson's voice its anxious
tone was making her a bit panicky.

She got out of the beribboned wedding nightgown and dressed in a
fumbling sort of way, as though in one of those dreams where you
couldn't get your clothes on.  Her step-ins were wrong side out,--
well, no matter.  What a ghastly time of morning to get up,--
scarcely light.

She could hear a queer swish, swish, a liquid gurgling sound that
was not quite right.  Some way it just did not seem to belong in a
house.  There were voices,--Mr. Johnson's,--Mrs. Johnson's.
Children crying,--Marie and Katie and the little boy.  The hired
man was calling,--the hired man with the crossed eye and the
crooked nose.  A door was banging, too.  And through all the other
noises that constant swish--swish--swish!

Hose next, never mind the seams.  What was the matter with every
one?  Pumps next.  Her brown one-piece dress over her head.  Did
Mr. Johnson mean they were going away,--going to get out of the
house on account of some water?  Then she had better put on her
beret and jacket, for it was chilly.

She pulled her gay orange beret over her hair, and with scarcely
any volition of her own looked at her dim image in the dresser
glass from which part of the mercury was missing, gave the beret a
pert slant, and reached for her jacket.

Swish, swish--

No!  No!  Water couldn't do that,--couldn't come slithering under
your bedroom door in long creeping lines.

Voices again.  Mr. Johnson's.  Mrs. Johnson's, this time, calling
excitedly:  "Miss Meier, are you dressed?"  They were anxious for
her to come.  The children were crying again.

She stared at the long creeping lines under the door--coming--
coming--

"Yes, I'm dressed."

Something fearful which ought not to be happening--was happening
anyway.  Water slipping that way, snake-like, over your bedroom
floor.

She tiptoed over the long ribbon-like lines and opened the door.
Mr. Johnson had the convalescing Katie in his arms.  Mrs. Johnson
had Marie and the little boy by the hands.  The water snaked and
slipped all over the sitting-room, over the fat red and green
Axminster roses and under the cheap upright piano.  It oozed around
the basket of stereopticon views under the center table, and Mrs.
Johnson tiptoed through it and set them up on the stand.

The stair door stood open.  Mr. Johnson was pushing his wife ahead
of him toward it and telling the children to hurry along.

The water ran everywhere now,--bolder and more of it.  Tiptoeing
didn't do much good,--the red roses were almost obliterated.  Some
one was pounding or sawing upstairs.

"Shan't we get in the car?"  She didn't know whether she whispered
or shouted it.  "And drive away from this?"

"There's no way," Mr. Johnson said shortly.  "It's a regular
river . . . everywhere."

"Down the highway?"

"Can't see the highway."

They went up the narrow stairs, the children thumping loudly in
their heavy, unlaced shoes.

It seemed good to be up here where everything was dry.  It was
queer, though, to be in these strange upstairs rooms with a Mr. and
Mrs. Johnson whom you did not know well,--the beds not made,--
clothes scattered about,--a teddy-bear hanging over the side of a
crib.

She knew now what had been making the noise up here.  The hired man
was cutting a hole in the ceiling of the smallest bedroom.  For
heaven's sake . . . he didn't think . . . ?

"I'm so sorry . . ." Mrs. Johnson said through her tightly closed
teeth.  There was a frozen sort of attitude about her, trying to be
polite as on the evening before, but frightened to death.  "So
sorry . . . for this . . . when you come, Miss Meier.  So good to
see about Katie . . .  You could be . . . in the dry . . . there in
Irving."

Yes, why had she picked to-day . . . no, yesterday, to come out
here?  Why do people do queer things . . . on certain dates?
Grandpa used to say no one knew whether it was Providence or Lady
Luck or the Spinning Fates.

Any other previous night on which she might have chosen to come out
here to see her pupil, this water-in-the-house accident never would
have occurred.

But that was always the way,--no matter what happened, people never
knew it was GOING to happen, and so they were always caught doing
just the ordinary things of life.  That was why they had found the
people of the Pompeiian ruins in front of ovens and at the bath and
asleep.  Heavens, that was a cheerful thought to drag in just now,--
the ruins of Pompeii.  Lots of catastrophes in the world.  You
read about them in the papers.  People trapped in queer ways.  It
always seemed so senseless and stupid when you were reading it.
"What were they DOING there?" you always said.  Perhaps they
couldn't help it.  Perhaps they were sometimes caught.  But nothing
could happen here a mile out of Irving, Nebraska, in the peaceful
Republican Valley, in this day and age, with electricity and radios
and telephones and automobiles and . . .

Mr. Johnson came back from the stairway.  His eyes looked
frightened and his face above the sandy mustache was ashy white.
"It's a lot higher," he said quietly.

Hazel slipped back to look down the well of the stairway and felt a
definite illness at the sight.  The dark water lapped and slapped
against the third or fourth stair,--a chair floated, lightly
hitting the door jamb back and forth with little insistent taps,
and a fat red pin-cushion bobbed about like a bright-colored
floater on an invisible fish-line.

She went back to the Johnsons and the hired man with the cross-eyes
and the crooked nose.

"Don't stand, Miss Meier.  Sit down."  Even yet Mrs. Johnson's
hospitality had not forsaken her.

It was queer how quiet every one was.  Even the children, sensing
something beyond them, stopped crying and only clung to their
parents.  The little boy wanted his teddy, and Hazel slipped into
the tumbled bedroom and brought it to him.  She pulled Marie onto
her lap, keeping her arms around her.  She felt close to these
strange Johnsons, closer to them than to most of her friends.  When
we get out of here, I'll always be their friend, she thought,--I'll
come out often to see them.

It was gray daylight now.  One could see out of the small bedroom
windows,--if one had the temerity to look.

Water!  Water rushing through the barnyard.  She could tell it was
the barnyard for the big barn still stood there, even though a
hayrack and a lumber-wagon floated with the current.

The high foundation was stone or cement and the upper part was
frame, probably painted the usual barn red.  In the gray dawn only
a little of the white stone was still showing so that it looked
like a fat old lady holding up her skirts from the wet.  As she
looked, a horse floundered through the water, head up, swimming,
thrashing about for solid ground.  A chicken-coop whirled crazily
about with an old hen and chickens squatted precariously on top.

And now the water seemed rushing harder.  There was more of a
current.  Mr. Johnson went back to the stairway.  "My God!"  They
all heard him.  "On the roof!" he called as he ran back.

He helped his wife up on a chair which he placed on the flat-topped
bureau.  She looked funny trying to squeeze her heavy bulk through
the hole that Nils had sawed out.  That is, she WOULD have looked
so if the world hadn't suddenly lost all its fun.

When she was through, Mr. Johnson helped the sick Katie up the same
way.  Then the little boy.  Then Marie.  "Hang to Mamma tight," he
said each time.

"Now, you . . . Miss Meier."  Mr. Johnson took hold of her, and the
cross-eyed Nils steadied the chair on the bureau.  No one said
anything.  One couldn't believe that people would stay so quiet
under stress.

Hazel pulled herself through the hole and worked her way close to
Mrs. Johnson and the children.  The roof was wet and sloping and
she had to be very careful to keep her footing.

It was frightening out here,--much more so than in the house.  The
height of the roof, the great puffy clouds billowing so close
overhead, the dark rushing water below!  It made her feel a
distinct nausea, and very chilly.  She was shaking uncontrollably.
It was noisier here, too.  One couldn't know that water would make
so much noise,--whirling, sucking, rushing.

Much of the time she felt dazed, as though she were an onlooker at
something of which she was not a part.  It was a movie on the
screen and the suspense would soon be over.  Or a bad dream and
after awhile she would awaken.  But the nightmare persisted.  The
movie went on, reel after reel.

Mr. Johnson came up through the hole and then Nils, his cross-eyes
appearing grotesquely above the aperture, then his crooked nose.

"If it once on its foundation stays yet a'ready," he volunteered.

IF IT STAYS . . . !  The house?  Whatever put that silly notion in
his head?  Houses always stayed where they were built.  Of course
it would stay.

Pigs went by, tumbling along right side up or upside down,--anyway.
Chicken-coops.  A wagon-box with a dog standing shiveringly in it.
A hayrack still partly loaded.  And then . . .  "Oh, don't look,
Mrs. Johnson"--a woman on a house roof, clinging, crying, calling
out to them.  A woman on a house THAT HAD NOT STAYED ON ITS
FOUNDATION.

Helpless, they watched her whirled on through the flood waters.

And now Hazel knew.  They, too, might be whirled away with the
current.

"Daddy, I'm cold," little Marie was saying.  Without a word Mr.
Johnson slipped off his coat to put around her.

"How about you, Katie?" Nils wanted to know.  "Mebbe you have Nils'
coat, huh?"  And that came off, too.

Hazel was thinking about people,--homely, uninteresting people,
people to whom she had never given a second thought.  How different
they seemed when you knew them,--when you were on a wet roof with
them and the whole world had turned to water.

And now rain fell.  The water below whirled by with that peculiar
rushing, sucking noise.  Water from the skies beat upon them.  They
cowered under its pommeling force.  Mrs. Johnson, clinging to the
wetness of the roof, bent her body low over Katie who had been
sick, shielding her as best she could from the onslaught.  Mr.
Johnson held Marie in his arms.

"Don't let go of Jimmie a minute, Nils."

"I won't."

They clung to the roof over which the water ran, while water from
the sky pounded them, and water below rushed darkly past.  There
was no solidity in anything.  The world had gone mad, for
everything in it was liquid.  There was no world at all,--nothing
but water.

Then the rain ceased.  They could move their stiffened bodies
slightly, pull the soaked clothing away from cold beaten flesh,
push sodden hair from their eyes, change the position of aching
bones.

Mr. Johnson broke the long silence.

"You all right, Mama?" cheerfully.

"Yes, I'm all right?" quietly.

"You all right, Miss Meier?"

"Yes, thank you."

"Too bad . . . by golly . . . when you come to see us so good."

"I want to go back in our house" from the little boy.  The girls
were crying.

Nils cracked a joke for them.  "Don't make more water wid tears,
girls.  We got enough water already yet,--huh?"

And now there was some conversation,--all with one import.  Some
one would get them.  There would be people out in boats.  Not for
long would the neighbors let them stay here.

Neighbors!  Mr. Johnson looked up and down the valley.  The waters
ran darkly as far as he could see.  A wagon-box went by,--a horse
swimming with the current.  Small objects bobbed up and down here
and there,--a chicken-coop, boxes, boards.

And then it happened,--the sickening thing which made of Hazel a
mad young woman whose eyes would not believe their seeing, nor her
ears their hearing, nor any sense function sanely.  It all came
quickly with crashing, horrible sounds and wrenching movements of
the only solid thing in the world.  Under them somewhere, solidity
moved and dipped and whirled in circular fashion.  Mrs. Johnson
screamed and clutched the air.  Katie was thrown into the gray
space.  Then Mr. Johnson holding to Marie and grabbing for Katie.
Bodies hurtled off the turning building.  Staring, uncomprehending,
she saw Marie's pink dress for a moment before it sank.  Mr.
Johnson, his face in the water a dead white mask, came up, swam a
way,--and she looked no more.

The roof to which she clung was moving down the current.  Nils,
too, was clinging near her, his arm still around the little boy who
was crying loudly.

"Where did Daddy and Mamma go?  I want to go in my house."

"Sh, darling.  You're all right.  Nils and I will take care of
you."

And now the roof under the three went on down the stream, sometimes
dipping a little, sometimes whirling in a cross-current.  Hazel
knew there was no further fear to which she could be subjected than
this.  She had reached the depths of terror.  This was the end of
fear, for it was the end of life itself.

But there was one more dread.  Nils told her about it,--cautioned
her about what to do.  The house was making for the top of a grove
of trees, or apparently so,--one couldn't tell, for it was subject
to so many cross-currents.  If it caught in the trees, it might be
their salvation.  On the other hand, if it struck with force, tree
branches could sweep them off into the water.  If the house
approached it, she was to use all her wits about avoiding that,--
was to lie flat, face downward.  He would hold Jimmie tightly down
by him.

Now, all of life consisted of knowing whether this was to happen or
not.  They moved, dipped fearfully, swayed, whirled sickeningly.
The grove was to the right, no, straight ahead of them,--to the
right again.  Now it loomed up in front of them.  Green dripping
foliage and gnarled brown branches were there straight ahead.  She
pulled her beret down tightly over her ears and lay flat down, face
concealed in an arm, clung tightly with one hand, and crooked the
other elbow over the roof ridge.  The branches swept her, tore at
her skirt and jacket and hose.  Heavy rain-drops shaken from them
pelted her.

When all motion had ceased, she raised her head into the twigs and
leaves of a tree top.  Protecting her face, she peered through.
Nils and Jimmie had withstood the impact, too.  Jimmie was beyond
the crying stage now, lay supinely on the wet roof, tired out, his
teddy-bear in his arms.

"If once it holds together and don't go to crackin' up already
yet," Nils volunteered.

Sometimes he climbed carefully from branch to branch trying to see
out better, sighting their location.  Sometimes he crawled
stealthily about the roof top looking over into the dark waters.
Often he shouted, his voice, used to hog-calling, echoing across
the waters.

She marveled at his patience with Jimmie.  There was a place where
a stout branch had wedged itself across the roof.  Against this he
placed the child who slept now on his hard, wet bed.

Time wore on and she did not know whether it was minutes or hours
that went by.  Whatever it was it had no end.  It was eternity.
There was no sight but green branches and water,--no human sounds
but their own.

Jimmie woke and cried with hunger.

Perhaps it was early afternoon,--they could not tell for the sun
was hidden in the gray of the clouds,--that Nils came to his
decision to swim,--he would go downstream with the current working
gradually toward the right.  He knew the gamble of it, but he was
assuming it stoically.

"If I get there, I bring help.  If I don't, we ain't no worse off
anyway, huh?"

"Oh, Nils . . . are you going to?  I don't think I can look after
Jimmie and hang on, too."

"Yah . . . you can all right.  You're a strong girl.  Betcha you
play that there tennis."

He stripped to underwear, felt his way carefully from branch to
branch, looked back:  "If . . . I don't make it . . . and you're
found all right . . . would you get word to my ma on the Missouri
mud flats just below Omaha . . . Mrs. Christine Jensen?"

"I would, Nils . . . oh, I WOULD.  But you'll get there."

"Yah . . . I'll get there . . . maybe."

"Good luck, Nils."

Nils was gone into the dark waters.  She could hear the steady
splash of his strokes and then the sound ceased.

And now there was no such thing as time,--nothing but pain in one's
wrists and fingers, and a wet numb body that would soon fail to
function.

Now there was nothing but a clinging to the wet roof wedged in the
branches that still swayed sickeningly with the current,--watching
the orphaned child sleeping there against the heavy limb, ready to
grab for him if, as Nils had suggested, the roof might break up
with the pounding.  Nothing to do but cling and pray,--watch and
think.



CHAPTER XXXIX


Neal was having the experience of a puncture a half-mile from home
with the exasperating knowledge that he had taken the jack out to
use for his father's car and failed to put it back.  With a few
choice epithets directed exclusively toward himself, he started
down the highway toward home,--a paved highway now.  And although
he gave no thought to that fact, so used was he to it, if he had
done so, he could have called the roll of the various periods
through which that highway had progressed.  Pathless prairie grass.
Grassy road.  Dirt road from which all sign of green had vanished.
Graveled highway.  Pavement.  In the valley, the evolution of that
road was the history of the people who lived beside it.

He had not gone but a few paces until a roadster drew up and a
woman called to him.  "Hello, hitch-hiker."

"Oh, hello, Miss Schaffer."  The trained nurse from Omaha who came
sometimes to the valley to visit her brother.

He rode to the gate with her.  She was immaculate, well groomed,
exuded freshness.

"So you're going to marry a University girl, Neal?"

"'So you WERE going to' is a little more appropriate now."

"Oh, Neal . . . I'm sorry I bungled."

"That's all right.  You can't keep news like that in cold storage,--
not in this neck of the woods anyway."

It took such a moment for a half-mile's drive.  Rose Schaffer
wished that it might have been longer.  "Believe me, Neal, I
hope . . . with all my heart whatever happens to you, it will be
for the best."

"Thanks--for the interest."

He might have shown his surprise at her words more than he
intended, for she laughed, then said quickly:  "You know how old
maids are, incorrigibly romantic.  And besides, they say I helped
save your life once when you were a small codger, so I've a right
to be interested in your welfare."

As he turned into the graveled driveway, old Amalia came to the
door of her little house and peered out.

"Evidently laying for me," Neal said to himself.

She looked so tiny standing there just at the stoop's edge, her
hands holding to the door jamb to steady herself.

"Joey!"  She was calling to him and motioning.

Neal walked up the path toward her cottage to see what she wanted.
It made no difference which name she used,--Joe or Neal,--whichever
one was nearer to her responded.  Sometimes she called them "Emil"
or "Fritz," too.  No one ever corrected her.

"Der iss news," she called.

She was at it again.  Well, he would have to humor her.

Ships in trouble far out at sea and Omaha shoe sales, talk of
foreign wars, and the local grain elevator's receipts, deaths of
people of whom she had never heard, and the five babies all at one
time in Canada,--they were all exciting to her, one of as much
consequence as another.  It gave her a sense of importance to tell
it and have them listen as though interested.

Always when a news period was ended she came to her door to see if
there was some one to whom she could call out what she had just
heard.  Two or three items out of the whole list were all she could
remember.  Sometimes she garbled those until they were no news at
all.  Usually she was a bit of a nuisance with any of it.  But they
tried to be patient,--she was so palpably pleased at the telling.

Neal had to laugh to himself now as he walked toward her.  The
little news-hound, he thought, her own radio certainly had given
her a new lease on life.

"Well, did a man bite a dog, Grandma?"

"No. . . .   So long as I am living, Joey, a man biting a dog I
never knew.  But do not get me off . . . or already I forget.
Neal, dere iss trouble by de big rains.  Rivers go over.  Towns iss
swept away.  People iss in trees hanging.  Railroads iss gone.  All
iss water where vas de farms."

"Where, Grandma?  In Hong-Kong, Czechoslovakia, or Tasmania?"

"No.  Close by . . . I remember.  It was in de Valley of de
Republican River.  Some folks ve know in pioneer days by name
Weitzal stayed at our house and vent on to de Valley of de
Republican.  Dey had to sleep on de floor.  I remember, dey had
dere own bedding . . ."

Neal was not laughing at Grandma now, nor listening to her prattle
of a family by the name of Weitzal in pioneer days who had to sleep
on the floor on their own bedding.

He was standing in the path and scowling at her.  "What towns,
Grandma?  What towns are swept away?"

"I forget vich, Joey.  Alvays I forget . . ."

"Was Irving one?  Try hard to remember."

"It sounds so, Neal.  Irwing? . . .  Yes . . . I tink . . ."

Neal turned and went into the big house, still scowling.  He felt a
curious fright that he could not shake off.  It was silly, too, for
Grandma was so unreliable.  Probably the catastrophe was in Oregon
instead of Nebraska,--maybe it was fire instead of water,--and a
few other points of misinformation.  Maybe she had heard part of a
play.  Several times she had mistaken one for a real happening.
One morning she had come all the way over to the house in her slow
way to tell them about a group of people being lost in the desert
and it proved to have been one of the Death Valley plays.

But he went to the 'phone and called for information.  Yes, it was
true.  There was a flood of gigantic proportions over a large area
of the Republican Valley . . . probably several hundred lives
lost . . . millions of property damage.

"How about the town . . ." his throat was dry, ". . . the town of
Irving?"

News was meager, but that was one of the places reported in a bad
way.

He hung up the receiver, ran to the garage for the jack, went back
to fix his car, drove home, had a hurried bath and change of
clothes, and came down to tell his mother he was driving to Lincoln
and possibly would go on to the flood district.

Myrtie was worried and fearful for him, but he paid no attention to
her complaints, went out to see his father for a minute, and was
gone down the gravel driveway in his roadster.

In Lincoln he went directly to the Meier apartment.  Carter was
home with Lucile,--both worried to distraction.  All morning they
had been trying to get in communication with Irving or some point
near there.  The town was as isolated as a foreign planet.

A plane carrying a newspaper man had gone over and was not back
yet, Carter told Neal.

"A plane,--that's the idea," Neal said.  "I'll see if I can go over
that way."

Lucile told Neal about a letter from Hazel that had come in that
morning.  It had been scribbled at the morning recess the day
before, mailed at noon, had arrived on the evening train and been
delivered that morning.  In it she had mentioned going out to one
of her pupils in the country.

"That probably took her farther away from the river," Neal said
cheerfully.  "Or closer," he was thinking.

In the midst of the conversation Hazel's mother suddenly said:
"I've just remembered, Neal . . . I thought you and Hazel . . . ?
She wrote me . . ."

For the first time during these anxious moments Neal gave his old
boyish grin.  "I guess I'd forgotten it, too.  Officially our
engagement wasn't just what it had been previously.  This interest
on my part is off the record."

It relieved them both immensely to laugh.  It seemed to assure each
one that Hazel could not help but be all right now.

But they came back to the letter several times.  Neal had Hazel's
mother read the part again carefully in which she told of her
movements--a careless little note written with no thought that a
few hours later her family would hang on every word.


Am going out to a Johnson family's home this afternoon in the
school bus with my little Marie.  (I always think of Booth
Tarkington's Little Marie of Kansas City.)  Katie Johnson, also my
professional property, has been sick for several days,--nothing
catching, so don't worry,--and now she's sitting up and Dear
Teacher is invited out to supper,--not dinner,--supper, for which I
have been informed we are having SPARE-ribs.  Papa Johnson will
bring me home afterward, or pending another hard rain of which we
are having no end, I can stay all night in the SPARE bedroom.
Woodman, SPARE that tree.


It was so like her, gay and flippant, that it brought her clearly
before them all.  The three who had been so worried about her,
stood there together, each thinking:  "She's all right.  Nothing
could have happened to her.  To other people out there, maybe, but
not to Hazel."

When he left them, Neal said:  "I'll get to her some way.  And I'll
get in touch with you as soon as I can.  If you don't hear, don't
worry.  I'll be driving, walking, flying, or swimming."

They followed him out to the lobby door,--anxious, wanting to go
with him, sending their hearts along.

"Oh, she's all right."

"Yes, as safe as she can be."

"Of course.  But I rather think I'll go see for myself.  Good-by."

"Good-by, Neal."  It was just a little spat they had, Lucile was
thinking.

"Good-by, Neal."  Twenty-four, thought Carter, what wouldn't I give
to be twenty-four again.



CHAPTER XL


Clinging--watching--thinking,--life had resolved itself into these
three functions for Hazel.  Sometimes it seemed the easiest thing
in the world just to relax and let go.  There would be a few
moments of dread, a few moments of swimming with the current, then
oblivion, for she could see nothing within her own swimming
distances to which to go.  Clumps of trees, emerging from the
rushing water, another marooned building far in the distance,--
nothing better than the roof to which she must still cling.

And there was the child, thrown so strangely in her care, sleeping
his troubled, sighing sleep against the wet branch.  No matter how
painful the clinging nor how dulled her mind she must not forsake
him.

There was no sound nor sight of help.  Nils, then, had failed.
Poor Nils,--so nervy about it all.

In the stillness and the vastness of the flood, then, she grew
deathly frightened, panic-stricken.

Up to now something had sustained her in all the horrible
experience,--that it would soon be over, that some one would come.
But now hope was giving away,--maybe her sanity with it.  She cried
out, and the little boy cried too at the sound, so that she forgot
her own fright and comforted him.

His helplessness steadied her, and under her soothing words he fell
again into his troubled slumber.

It seemed late afternoon.  Night would soon be coming on.  That
would mean death, for she could not cling through the night.  Her
thoughts centered on life as she had known it, as though the
thinking could give it back to her.  What a glorious thing it was
at its very poorest!  The hours she had most disliked,--how she
would welcome them now!  The simplest things would give her
pleasure,--the gifts of life we accepted so casually, how beautiful
they were.

Three people centered her life,--Mother, Dad, Neal.  She saw them
all as through a long vista.  They were standing there at the end
of it waiting for her to come,--were holding out their arms to her,
but she couldn't go because she had to cling to this wet roof.
They held her,--the wet rotting shingles and the green branches
over them, and would not allow her to go where Dad and Mother and
Neal were waiting.

Suddenly she remembered a queer thing her grandfather had said the
last week of his life.  He had been asleep, and half waking, had
called out sharply:  "Sands!  The sucking sands!  They hold you
back and will not let you go."

She, too, knew the agony of being held back and not allowed to go.

And now she felt only an unselfish sympathy for the three she loved
most.  She pictured their sorrow until in the torture of it her
mind could no longer stand the thought and turned in anguish from
it.

She and Neal had quarreled about something, so trivial now she
scarcely gave it space in her mind.  Dad.  Mother.  Neal.  She said
the names over as a nun says her beads.

She had but those three thoughts, and the thoughts were prayers.
Dad.  Mother.  Neal.  Those, and "God, but give me back my everyday
living and I will use it to the full."

All the extraneous matters of life were swept away with the flood
waters.  All the foolish unnecessary things which surrounded it
were vanished from her mind as the fields were vanished from the
landscape.  Life was a simple thing of love and work and courage.
Nothing else mattered.  To have those, one had everything.

She dropped her head into her arm, tried to still the throbbing and
the aching of it with a cramped numb hand.  But the pain was
sharper,--the throbbing grew loud and louder until it filled--

She jerked her head from her stiff arm, sat up suddenly.

The throbbing was a plane flying low, circling over the flood
waters,--a great wide-winged bird throbbing its message of hope.
She pulled the now wakened Jimmie to her.  She waved, called, cried
out.  Jimmie added his three-year-old voice to it.  They must have
seen her for they went around her in one complete circumference of
flight, then disappeared rapidly in the distance.

She could not tell how long the time,--it only seemed interminable,--
until she saw the two boats.  They bobbed about sickeningly at
times in the cross-currents.  Once it appeared that one would be
swamped.  Those who were managing them certainly knew their
business.

"See, Jimmie, the boats are coming for us."

"I know, it's my Daddy."

Hazel hugged him tightly.  "No, Jimmie, it isn't Daddy.  Jimmie,
have you . . . have you anybody besides Daddy and Mother?  Have you
any grandma or aunties?"

"I've got my Grandma Johnson and my Grandma Snell and my Aunt
Callie and my Aunt . . ."

Wet-eyed, she kissed him.

"I'm glad, Jimmie,--more glad than you can ever know."

The first boat came up, bumping against the trees and the submerged
part of a house that had once been a home with a rug of red roses
and stereopticon views and a wedding nightgown.

"Oh, Nils, you did make it . . . and you got some dry clothes on
and came back.  How good you are."

Very soon she was to learn of a hundred incidents like that one, of
the reactions of various types of humans under pressure, of the
resourcefulness of the rescued and the rescuers, of evidences
everywhere of the Nebraska pioneer spirit which had not died out in
the third and fourth generations.

She was to know of the rescue of the men marooned for twenty-four
hours on a light plant, and of the big gravel-pumping raft floating
down the river to them as though Providence had taken a hand in the
situation, of the groups clinging to the roofs of houses and trees
saved by heroic deeds, and of others which vanished into the
boiling current.  She was to hear of men rescued from their
perilous positions of sixteen hours changing into dry clothing that
they in turn might help, of doctors braving the torrents to get to
isolated districts to bring new babies into the harassed territory,
and of tired women serving coffee until too worn out to go on.

She was to see the shambles of town homes and farms, the washed-out
paved highway and the twisted railroad tracks with ties standing as
upright as so many fence posts.

It was only later that she was to see the valley peaceful again and
new farm homes go up, villages rebuilt and Nature begin to cover
her ugly scars with verdure.

It took planning and care to get Jimmie safely down into the first
boat.  Nils and the man with him pulled away.  The second boat came
up then.

"NEAL."

"Hello, Pink-Hair."

"NEAL . . . where did you come from?  Was it you in the plane?"

"Yes.  What do you mean, Woman, by getting stranded on a desert
isle with a cross-eyed man and appearing later with a child?"

And now Hazel was down, too, in a swaying boat which a strange man
was helping Neal handle.  And absurdly enough, Hazel was crying,--
sobbing and crying in the reaction of their coming.

Neal comforted her as best he could with the boat unsteady in the
current.  She clung to him, a little girl who had looked upon Death
and found it awful.

"Neal,--Katie said she hoped I'd finish reading 'Black Beauty' when
she got back . . ." and she burst again into loud sobbing.

Hazel snapping come-backs at him as with a rubber sling-shot was
nothing new.  Hazel a little emotional under a full moon or the
spell of an orchestra,--Hazel matter of fact and managerial, giving
decided opinions on any subject, ancient or modern,--Hazel as a
peppy little tongue-lasher or a gracious social partner,--any and
all of these moods were familiar to him.  But not this sobbing
reaction to a vital experience, nor the anguished tears.  It made
of her a girl he had never known.  She seemed closer to him,
tender, more human.  He loved her for it.

The two boats navigated the rushing stream back,--in one Neal who
had handled oars ever since he could remember, and in the other the
cross-eyed Nils Jensen who had spent his boyhood years on the
bottoms of the Missouri.  It was well for them that they had been
water-bugs or they might have been swamped more than once where the
ugly water poured heavily around a submerged building or a clump of
trees.

As they were coming into the land where people were waiting with
blankets and coffee, Hazel said:  "Neal, there's one thing I wish
you'd promise me,--that if he wants to come, we'll hire this Nils
Jensen."

"WE'LL . . . ?"  He grinned.  "You mean as a law partner?"

And now, life given back to her, Hazel was her old self.

"No,--Muscle-neck,--on our farm."



CHAPTER XLI


In the early summer Neal took Hazel to his home to meet his people
and to see the place where she was to live.  She saw the long
graveled driveway, the wide sweep of yard under the big trees, the
solid old house which Fritz and Emil had built so many years before
and which had been modernized with sun-room and furnace and lights
in Myrtie's time, and felt a distinct surprise at the lovely old
place set so far back from the paved highway.

"In England they'd call it an ancestral home," she admitted when
they were circling up the driveway.

A rabbit, bounding across the grass at that moment, Neal said in
his light way to cover the emotion he felt:  "Ah, the hare!
Higgins,--the hounds.  We ride at once."

She met Neal's father and mother, warming immediately to his father
with his natural dignity and quiet manner.  She was not so sure
about the mother,--a fluttery little woman whose conversation ran
largely to speaking of things she wished she could have or do.  She
was glad the two were to live over in the small house beyond the
lilac hedge.

In the late afternoon Neal took her over to the cottage to meet his
great-grandmother.

Hand in hand they sauntered down the old path which led through the
bluegrass and the white clover, thick and luxurious again since the
great rains.

Neal was a little perturbed as they approached the old house.  He
wanted in some way to prepare Hazel,--to explain old Amalia to this
girl he loved, wished boyishly that he knew how to put her in the
best light to this lovely, modern Hazel whose own grandmother had
been so different.

"Hazel, you know Grannie is awfully old--eighty-something--I've
even lost track of her exact age," he began diffidently.  "I guess
she's pretty funny looking to strangers,--sort of weather-beaten
and toothless and wrinkled as an old walnut.  But gosh, she's been
awfully good to me . . . you know, cookies in jars, and kiss the
bumps and taking care of me when Mother was nervous or away.  My
dad feels the same way about her.  I suppose I can't ever see her
the way she must seem to others."

Hazel slipped her arm through Neal's in a sudden tender gesture.
For the first time she thought of him as a little boy, felt for a
moment much, much older than he.  It is eternal Motherhood forever
compassionate toward eternal boyhood.  "I'll like her, Neal."

To the boy it brought a swift renewed rush of love for her,--he
could not have told why.  It made him stop in the pathway, suddenly
kiss her forehead and her cheek tenderly,--not the kiss of
passionate young manhood but a tribute to her friendship and
sympathy,--engendered at that moment by a feeling which would be
deeper and more lasting than the other.

They went on up the curving path between the petunias toward the
little house in which old Amalia had lived for so many years.

They passed the sloping cellar door with the stone crocks in a row,
the clump of gooseberries over which the dish-towels dried, and the
thick bushes on each side of the steps with their fat cabbage-roses
in blossom now.

Old Amalia was just inside the screen door in the sitting-room in
which there was all the accumulation of the years,--old blue plates
on a shelf and gilded milkweed pods, a little mirror with blue
brush and comb in a tin tray underneath, the sale carpet with its
scroll figures tacked tautly over thick oat straw.

Hazel had a feeling that the whole thing was a stage setting or a
movie scene,--on the wall the Guten Morgen and Gute Nacht pictures
of the chunky half-nude child with the daisies on her head, the
couch with its bright pieced quilt cover, the oval walnut stand on
which there were the Bible and some star fish and a blue plush
album.  There were odors, too, peculiarly fitting to the place,--
old clean odors,--soap-suds and mothballs and cinnamon.  Whether
the latter came from the roses beside the door or the kitchen
beyond, she could not tell.

Old Amalia was patching, putting a neat little square in the corner
of a table-cloth with small, even stitches.  Hazel saw that Neal
had described her quite definitely.  Her hair, plastered down
tightly over the pink spots of her head, was wound in a little hard
knob at the nape of her neck.  In the big chair she looked as tiny
and wrinkled as a little brown gnome.

As the screen door opened she looked at the young people from pale
old eyes that had to adjust themselves slowly to the new focus.

"Hello, Grandma.  Do you know me to-day?"

"Yes.  It's Joey," she said with apparent delight at her quickness.

"No . . . guess again.  It's Neal . . ."

"Tsk . . . tsk . . . Neal!  So big a boy you're gettin' to be."

"No . . . you're fooling, Grannie.  I'm only six-feet-one, and one
hundred and ninety is all that I weigh."

"And who iss dis?"  Old Amalia wanted to know.

"Now this," said Neal, and he slipped an arm around Hazel, and drew
her forward, ". . . this needs explaining.  THIS . . . is Hazel."

"Hachel?"

"Yes . . . like the other nuts, you know."  He grinned, but when he
saw old Amalia was not appreciating his little joke, he explained:
"She's MY GIRL, Grannie.  You know I told you about her.  We're
going to be married."

Old Amalia put out a brown little hand as shrunken as a mummy's.
"Excoose me," she said to Hazel with a toothless smile.  "Alvays I
forget."  She spoke apologetically.  "Of de long ago I remember . . .
but of only yesterday already I forget."

Hazel felt a sudden tenderness toward the little, brown doll of a
woman, so shy and so gentle in her broken speech.  "Neal has told
me about you."

"Neal iss a goot boy.  You vill be a goot vife, I hope?" she
questioned.

"I hope I'll be."

Old Amalia scanned her closely.  "You vill be," she nodded.  "A
schön . . . nice face you have.  And your name it is Hachel?"

Neal answered for her.  "Yes, Grannie.  Hazel Meier,--but not for
long."

"Meier?" old Amalia repeated.

"Hazel Meier," he said it louder and more plainly.  "Her father,
Carter Meier, was a banker at Cedar City.  And the old gentleman,
Matthias Meier, was Hazel's grandfather."

"MATTHIAS MEIER?"  Amalia was confused,--was grasping for
something,--some queer puzzle which she could not piece together.
"Has he come, too?  To Nebraska City has he come?"

"He's dead, Grandma.  Why, you wanted to go to the services for him
yourself.  Don't you remember?  When we read it in the paper?  You
wanted to go but Dad thought it was too hot and too far."

"Yes . . . I remember.  Alvays I am forgetting . . . and
remembering."

"What, Grandma?" Hazel asked.  "What are you remembering?"

"Just that . . . immer . . . alvays . . . spring . . . comes
on . . ."

"That's like a poem I know:


     "'One thing, I remember:
     Spring came on forever,
     Spring came on forever,'
     Said the Chinese nightingale."


"It is so."  Old Amalia nodded as though she knew all things, as
though her life had embraced all wisdom.

"Perhaps it makes you remember when you were young."

"Vielleicht . . . perhaps . . . it does."

But Neal was impatient now.

"Well, how do you like her, Grannie?"

The old woman's eyes still peered up at Hazel's.  She reached out a
tiny brown hand and stroked the firm white one of the girl.
"Kleine Taube," she murmured.

"Talk United States, Grandma.  What's that?"

"Little dove."

"Little dove . . . my eye!  Snapping-turtle you mean."

"Hachel Meier," the old woman nodded as though she understood a
very wise and very ancient thing.  "So it vill be."

"Can't you get up a little more enthusiasm, Grandma?  Say something
a little more exciting and strong.  You surely like her."

"In German I say it, to her, Neal.  'Ich liebe dich.'"

"That's better.  Well, we'll go now, Hazel,--now that Grannie has
leeby-dicked you."

They said good-by to the old lady sitting there in her big rocking-
chair like a little brown Buddha, and went happily down the path
between the fat cabbage roses and the petunias.

Amalia watched them go,--tall, strong, young.  For a time she sat
there quietly, saying something over to herself as one learns a
lesson by rote.

She must think this thing out very carefully and be sure she had it
right.  She knew she was apt to imagine things that were not true
and forget those that were real.  It was very hard to know always
which ones had happened and which were but dreams.

This was different.  This must never get mixed with the fancies.
It belonged here and now among the things that were true.  She must
not allow it to slip away from her into the shadows,--must hold it
as steadily in her mind as she was holding to the chair.

There was something she wanted to do,--something she would do at
once while she remembered.

She pulled herself out of her rocker and picking her way carefully
from table to chair, went into her bedroom.  All the time she held
steadily to this queer new thing so that she would not forget any
part of it.  Sometimes that happened, too,--recalling only a
portion of a thing, so that the half-memories worried and
distressed her.  But this one was still wholly clear.

She opened the bottom drawer of her dresser and removed an
unwieldly-looking bundle wrapped in very old muslin, yellowed and
worn.  This she unwound layer by layer until she had uncovered a
long box.  It was ornamented with sea shells, angel-wings and moon
shells, Roman snails and other fragile, fan-like shells of a sea
she had never seen.  They were broken and nicked and unglued in
places so that ugly brown patches of the wooden frame showed
through.  Almost were they symbolic of things that had never been,--
journeys to far-off seas, hearing the sound of wind in whipping
sails and the call of the gulls on the sand.

With hands that trembled with their eighty-six years, she lifted a
tray and took out two quilt blocks.  Strangely enough in the dark
of its shelter, the pink had not faded,--only the white was
yellowed.  A needle in one of the blocks was brown with rust so
that it crumbled to the touch.  This she removed and replaced with
a bright one from the cushion on her bureau.  Then from the box she
took a darkly tarnished thimble and fitted it to her tiny finger.

Still holding carefully to the thought in her mind as one might
hold lovely fragile china lest it drop, she made her way cautiously
back to her rocker and sat down to finish the Baum des Lebens--Tree
of Life--quilt.



CHAPTER XLII


Neal and Hazel were married in August with the wheat harvested and
the corn maturing for its October husking,--a simple wedding in the
rented apartment of the Meiers.

Joe and Myrtie with old Amalia drove down to Lincoln in the big
car,--Neal in his own roadster.  Myrtie had not been any too
gracious about taking Grandma, but when Joe said definitely:
"Grandma is going if she is able to take the long ride," Myrtie
made no further excuses, but merely went about with a martyred air
of having more responsibility on her shoulders than any human could
quite bear.

She had a new outfit, too, one of the first of the fall suits with
a matching hat of beige and her fox furs: "for no telling what
elaborate sort of thing Mrs. Meier will wear" she had said to Joe.
So she was somewhat astounded now to be met at the door by Hazel's
mother in a simple printed silk.

There were only a few present at the ceremony, three of Hazel's
sorority sisters, an old family friend, two of Neal's fraternity
brothers, the minister and his wife, Carter and Lucile, Joe and
Myrtie, and old Grandma Holmsdorfer who stubbornly would not change
her name to Holms.

Carter Meier, looking at Hazel in the traveling dress in which she
was to be married, wondered how she felt about this simple affair,
whether she was missing the pomp of a big church wedding such as
her mother had,--as she might have had if things were different.
If she were doing so, she was game about it, giving no intimation
of her thoughts.

They were all there now, and some one was whispering that it was
time.  Neal and Hazel were walking over to the mantel with its
garden flowers as informally as though they were playing charades
and the members of the little group were to guess what they were
portraying.  The minister took his place.  No ushers, no pipe-
organ, no "Promise Me," no bridal-veil,--not a hot-house flower,
excepting the bridal bouquet.  Hazel, in her soft brown going-away
suit with egg-shell blouse, golden-yellow roses in her arms,--Neal,
well-tailored, a fine-looking, upstanding figure of a chap with
keen, honest eyes.  University graduates.  And there were people in
the world who thought all farmers were bewhiskered gents forever
chewing on a succession of straws, and their wives drab creatures
always standing forlornly at the doorways of shanties.

The minister was speaking:  "Dearly beloved . . ." his voice a mere
accompaniment to Carter Meier's thoughts.  His little girl was
being married.  What a short while ago they had watched her first
baby step,--she had made one little tottering forward movement, and
overcome by her own accomplishment let forth a jubilant crow of
delight that lost her the equilibrium she had so recently gained.

And now something was getting in Carter Meier's way so he could not
see the bride at all: a little girl skipping up and down the lawn
of the Cedar City house in the early morning, arms outstretched
like a bird's wings,--on a single roller-skate propelling herself
wildly up and down the sidewalk,--riding her Shetland pony around
the streets, her dark red mop of curls blowing in the wind . . .
his active, happy little daughter!  What would her life be?  Hard?
He would save her from all the blows it would deal her, if he only
could,--from all the hard work of it, if it were possible.  But who
knew, at that, she might be happier than young women to whom work
was a foreign thing.  In what direction lay happiness anyway?

Joe Holms was thinking:  "That's my boy taking the big step.  You
won't make mistakes all the time, Neal . . . you're different . . .
you'll always be different . . ."

Lucile was thinking:  "I mustn't cry . . . if I start I couldn't
stop.  I left my mother without thinking much about it.  I must
look straight at Hazel and smile so that when she looks at me she
can see how happy I am.  I AM happy . . . I AM. . . .  Oh, no, I'm
not, I'm miserable and I want to be young again and have my little
girl back."

Myrtie was thinking:  "He won't care for me any more.  He'll take
her places and bring gifts to her and give her all the attention."

Old Amalia Holmsdorfer was not thinking about either Hazel or Neal.
She was peering with pale watery eyes across the room at Carter
Meier, her thoughts in queer confusion:  "So that's your boy,
Matthias.  He isn't as tall as you, and of course he's gray, and
you're not.  But he holds his shoulders like you, and you would
have looked like that if you had lived to be over twenty-one."



CHAPTER XLIII


There are those who would call it the end of the story when Hazel
Meier married Neal Holms.  To say the story is finished is not
true, for no mere story can ever be complete, no family history
contain a beginning or an end.  One may only cut out a bit from
life, trimming away all that went before and all that will come
after.

It was early September when Hazel returned from her Wedding-trip
with Neal and went to live in the old house set in the elms and the
maples far back from the paved highway.

Strangely enough, then, she was beginning her married life on the
same land where old Amalia had homesteaded so many years before but
with two great differences--all the wonderful modern surroundings
in contrast to the primitive ones of the pioneer days,--and the
fact that where Hazel carried the flame of love burning deep in her
heart for her young husband, Amalia had known only gray ashes.

Peculiarly, in spite of the difference in the generations, Hazel
approached her task much as the young Amalia had once done,
vigorously and with responsibility.  With her resourcefulness and
her power of accomplishment she put her young shoulder to the
wheel, mapping out her day's work just as she had planned her
University schedule.  She allowed no waste about her.  Nothing was
thrown away.  Every potato peeling had its use, every bone its
nutritive value.  "So don't try to get up any debate with ME," she
would laugh, "that higher education unfits woman for the home."

It was characteristic of her that one of the first things she did
was to ask Neal's parents if the half-hearted pink stucco could be
pulled off the honest old gray stones underneath.

"I'm sure I don't care what you do, Hazel," Myrtie said with tired
resignation.  "There's so little money to do anything with.  I
wonder how you have the heart to plan a single change."

Joe and Myrtie were living in the small house with Grandma.  But on
a morning of that September Myrtie came over, stepping daintily
through the bluegrass.

Hazel, finishing the last of her dishes, said:  "Come on in the
living-room, Mother Holms, where you will be more comfortable."
Every one always saw to it that Neal's mother was comfortable.

She washed her hands, followed Myrtie into the living-room where
she picked up the braided rug she was making.  It was apple green
and egg-shell.  "How do you like it?" she asked.  "I'm using all
the old green drapes that were worn out.  Grandma showed me how and
I'm perfectly fascinated with it.  I think it tickled her pink to
show me.  Isn't it funny--this returning to all the old ways?  Ever
since I knit my dress I'm crazy about the old hand-craft.  I've
even gone so far as to think I'd like a loom set up in the vacant
bedroom.  Maybe I'll weave Neal's clothes yet."  And she laughed
gaily.

Myrtie did not laugh.  "I don't see how you can do such homely
things cheerfully, Hazel.  Well . . ." she broke off abruptly, "I
came over to see you about something rather important.  Hazel, you
know me well enough by this time to realize that I never beat
around bushes.  I go straight to the point with sincerity and
honesty.  You know that, don't you, Hazel?"

"Why . . . yes . . . Mother Holms."  She was not sure whether it
was complimentary to agree or otherwise.

"Hazel . . . my life has been very difficult."  Myrtie pressed her
little white hands together, as though she must keep herself well
under control before this inexperienced girl.  Hazel watched their
delicate softness, the narrow gold circlet and the flashing of the
big diamond solitaire.  As always they fascinated her in their
fluttering.  Katharine Cornell hands they were, she told herself,--
they ran the gamut of all her emotions.

"What I have been through . . . no one of your youth, of
course, can realize.  Childbirth . . . loss of property . . .
disappointments . . . nervousness.  Oh, well," she sighed, "we
won't go into all that.  It would only worry you and needlessly
torture myself.  When one gets cornered in life--in a trap
as it were--all one's ambitions frustrated . . . life all
inhibitions . . ."

Hazel could have laughed aloud if this had not been Neal's mother.
How little like her he was.  She was really very sweet and
attractive, too, excepting when she mourned and whined.

"But what can one do . . . or say?"  Tears came to Myrtie's eyes,
but she threw Hazel a brave little smile.  "My husband doesn't
understand a woman's aspirations . . . her scope of mental
vision . . . her emotional reactions.  With all your youth
and inexperience, Hazel, you are a woman . . . and you can
understand . . . this constant beating of your wings against
life . . ."

"Oh, I don't know, Mother Holms."  Hazel had a swift memory of
black water rushing, of bodies hurled into gray space, of the
whirling and dipping of wet, rotten shingles.  "I guess I'm just
too fond of life as it is to do much beating."

"All my life, Hazel, I've been doing things for people . . . and
now . . . that I'm in my middle forties . . ."

"Well, life begins at . . ."

"Hazel," Myrtie leaned forward.  There were tears on her lashes.
"You spoke just now of the vacant bedroom.  What I came to see you
about is this:  Will you take Grandma back here to live with you?"

"You mean for all the time?"  It did not seem right.  She and Neal
were so young . . . so filled with life and energy.  Grandma was so
old . . . so very old and childish.

"Yes . . . if you will, Hazel, without Neal or his father knowing
anything about my speaking to you.  Men can misunderstand motives
so easily."  Her sensitive lip quivered.  "I have spoken to Grandma
about it . . . sounding her out before I said anything to you."

"What did Grandma say?"

"She said in her broken dialect:  'When you're as old as I am,
Myrtie, it won't make much difference what happens.'  So you see,--
it's immaterial to her."

All noontime and for several hours later Hazel thought about this
new thing, how cleverly Neal's mother was manipulating it, pondered
on a half-dozen other times in which she had seemed to attain her
ends.  Sweet, pleasant, babyish,--how she must have wound Neal's
father around her finger all these years.  Now she was manipulating
this about Grandma as sweetly, as adroitly.  "And when Grandma dies
before long," thought Hazel, "it will be Mother Holms we all must
comfort."

By afternoon Hazel was ready to give her answer.  The little
Grandmother was not to be hurt or made uncomfortable by it, that
was sure.  So she went down through the grassy path to the small
house.  "Wouldn't you like to move over to the big house with us
for awhile, Grannie?"

Old Amalia looked up, her faded blue eyes filling.  "It's not so
goot, Hachel, to live too long."

"YOU haven't lived too long, Grannie.  Neal and I want you to come.
We've been asking Mother Holms for you.  We don't like the vacant
bedroom shut up.  It just needs a little old German grandma and all
her things in there to make it look home-like."

The old woman nodded.  "I see.  To old German grandmas second sight
sometimes Gott gives.  You're a goot girl, Hachel."

So old Amalia, always shuttled back and forth, went again to the
stone house,--a little old lady who had lived too long, clinging to
the flotsam left by the tides of life,--old quilts and scrap-books,
albums and tintypes, and a work-box from which the shells were
broken.



There is one other thing you will want to know,--did Hazel ever
discover that the old grandmother over whom she watched for the
short time remaining was the girl of her grandfather's youth?  And
the answer is yes, she and Neal found it out.  Else how could they
have pieced together the broken fragments of this story and the
strange crossing of paths by their two families?

A certain morning dawned with velvet-pink and lace-lavender and
satin-yellow lights in the eastern sky, like so many gay
bridesmaids stretching gauzy ribbons for the sun down the aisle of
the world.  Hazel had been up in time to see this bridal procession
of the dawn for there was much work to do.

There was the first feeling of fall in the air.  The elms, tawny as
lions, lazily dropped a leaf or two.  The maples held high their
ruby-crowned heads.  Over by the creek-bed scarlet-flamed sumac
shouldered the silver-green of the willows, and orange-colored
bittersweet crept through the tangle of wild plums.  Winter wheat
was faintly green against the brown of newly plowed earth and the
tan of the cornfields.  Over all was that haze which clings to the
midwest landscape in the autumn,--the soft blue far-away haze which
dissipates as one rides into it.  It seems always to lie softly
over the low rolling hills and the valleys in the fall of the year,
this faint ghostly smoke from the Indian camp-fires of long ago.

Hazel, on her way out to the mailbox at the roadside, stopped to
look at the picture which lay before her,--the low rolling hills
swelled and dipped, black with newly turned earth from the fall
plowing, tawny brown with their cornfields, green with the faint
shoots of winter wheat.

There was something about the new crispness of the air that was
energy-creating.  She felt a capacity for turning off work this
morning that made her think of a dozen tasks she wanted to do,--
clean house, bake, sew.  However did some people enjoy being idle?
She placed her letters in the box and returned to the house,
regretting the fact that she could not stay out here in the open in
the crisp early fall air.

Mother Holms was out on the porch of the other house sitting in the
morning sun, a knitted lavender jacket around her shoulders.  Hazel
waved to her and called out some little foolish greeting.  At that
moment she passed the iron kettle hanging on its two chains and
stopped abruptly.  Why not try her hand at soap?  She had promised
herself to experiment with it sometime and what better day than the
present one which was so enticing in its call to the out-of-doors?

In anticipation of tackling the job before her, she went into the
house and put on an old green turtle-necked sweater, a short brown
skirt, and a brown beret which with feminine concern she arranged
over her dark red hair as jauntily as though she were to be in the
pep chorus on the bleachers.  Then she was back in the yard bending
over the old iron soap-kettle hanging tipsily on two of its three
chains with dirt spilling out from its slanting side, unloosing the
snaps, and scraping out the hard clods.

Grandma came to the dining-room door and peered out under a gnarled
hand,--old Amalia, short and shrunken and toothless, her little
knot of colorless hair twisted as hard as a walnut.

"What be doin', Hachel?" she called in her high, cracked voice.

"I'm going to make soap, Grandma," Hazel said loudly, and when
first the old woman did not understand, repeated it patiently.

"Soap?" old Amalia called back tremulously.  "Iss spring comin'?"

"No, Grandma, it's fall."

The old woman came out on the porch then, stepping cautiously,
taking careful hold of the pillar to assist herself.  For a few
moments she stood blinking, adjusting her old eyes to the
brightness of the day, the pools of light on the meadow, and the
hills beyond.  Then her face became all wrinkled eagerness.  "I
smell spring," she said in her high-pitched voice.

"Do you, Grandma?"

Old Amalia standing there with her head thrown back looked at that
moment like a painting by an old master,--as though the girl in
Breton's Song of The Lark had grown wrinkled and feeble after
eighty-six years of listening.

"Iss meadow-larks singin'?" she quavered.

"No, Grandma.  It's too late for meadow-larks."

Old Amalia cupped her ear with knotted, trembling fingers, then
broke into a toothless smile.  "I HEAR meadow-larks singin'."

"Oh, all right, have it your own way," Hazel said to herself.  But
she knew that old Amalia was hearing only the songs of long-
silenced meadow-larks.

At that moment Neal came bounding up from the lower lots, chasing a
hog that had worked its grunting way through a broken fence.  The
young man's strong legs, encased in their puttees, covered the
ground with such twinkling speed that Hazel's laughter rang out.
"Still after the pig-skin?" she called gaily.

Neal tossed her a grin over his shoulder and shouted back:  "Score
at the end of the hind quarter is nothing to nothing in favor of
the pig."  And they both laughed at the foolishness, young
untroubled laughter.

"What's he say?" Amalia quavered.

"He says he'll get it all right," Hazel called up to the old woman.
It took so little to make her cheerful, such small effort to bring
childish joy to her.

The hard clods with their decayed flower roots loosened from the
kettle's sides now, Hazel went into the kitchen, emerging in a
moment with hot water and a short mop-stick.  As she passed
Grandma, the old woman piped:  "No soap iss made here for many's de
long year."

Hazel, who was saying to herself:  "I can believe THAT," smiled
back at Grandma when she questioned:  "Hachel, iss you knowin' the
soap-kettle come across country from Illinois wid me?"

"Yes, I know."

As a matter of fact, she knew nothing about it, for it was the
first time the old kettle had ever been mentioned since her
marriage, but the answer would keep Grandma from prattling on
indefinitely.  In that hope Hazel was mistaken, however, for old
Amalia was not to be squelched with such ease.  "Dere's more about
de kettle dan you know," she called childishly, nodding her head.

Unheeding, Hazel went on with her preparations.  Never having made
any soap in her life she went into the venture with gay energy.

And so there was to be soap again in old Amalia's kettle that so
many years before had rocked tipsily on its rounded bottom in the
covered wagon crossing the creek-beds and the hummocky prairie
lands.  But how could Hazel know this about the old iron kettle?
How could she comprehend the fact that in its varied uses . . .
soap . . . hog mash . . . geraniums . . . and soap again . . . it
had gone through the whole cycle of the changing economic problems
of the midwest?  And how could she understand that the fate of
both,--the humans in two families and the ugly inanimate black
thing at her feet,--had been so inextricably bound together for
several generations?  That the story, perforce, of the old iron
kettle was the story of the people themselves?

So she only scrubbed away at the blackness of the old thing with
its dangling chain, knowing that she could make good use of the
grease from past butcherings.  And old Amalia stood on the porch
shading her watery eyes from the hazy fall sunshine, and because
she was confused in her mind, kept calling out odd, inconsequential
things.

Neal, having performed the difficult task of getting his animated
pig-skin across the goal line of the hog-lot, came around the
corner of the house then, a hammer in his hand from the task of
mending the fence.

A little hammer began to tap in Hazel's heart, too,--a happy little
trip-hammer as she watched him come up the path in the morning
sunshine.  She and Neal, together . . . night and day . . . day and
night!  A bridal procession across the sky in the morning dawn,--
and a bridal procession in Hazel's heart!

"What're you doing, Red-top?"  He came up to the scene of
activities.

"Making soap, Pig-chaser."

"Well, s'ope springs eternal in the human breast," was his cheerful
rejoinder.

And then, suddenly, old Amalia, who lately could never recall a
thing that occurred the day before, but who would clutch at and
grasp the happenings of long ago, like small bits of floatage from
the past, said loudly:  "Matthias Meier!  Matthias Meier was his
name."

Hazel raised her head.  "What was that you said, Grandma?"

"Matthias Meier.  My kettle for me in Illinois he made."  And now
Amalia was not old and toothless and wrinkled but young and pink-
cheeked with hair the color of cornsilk before the summer sun has
seared it.  "Come here, Hachel.  You want I should tell you
somet'ing?  Sunday afternoons I slip out and by de soap-kettle in
de voods I meet him."  She chuckled slyly.  "Vile my fader sleeps."

Hazel, standing motionless, stared at the ancient woman.  "Neal,"
she said in so queer a tone of voice that startled, he, too, turned
and gazed questioningly at the old woman.  "Do you hear what she's
saying?"

"Yes . . . but don't pay any attention . . . she's like that a lot
lately."

"Neal . . . my grandfather came from Illinois.  He worked there in
a foundry.  He made kettles.  And he told me once . . ." her voice
was low, tense, every statement crisp with fact, ". . . that he
came west because of a broken romance . . . that his first
sweetheart married some one else.  He said that she was a beautiful
girl . . ." she finished in a whisper, ". . . named AMALIA."

She reached out her hand gropingly to Neal so that he took it
quickly.  Without moving, the two stared across at the little old
woman, brown as a mummy, clutching the porch pillar and shading her
eyes with a bird-claw hand.

Then, although Neal had not the slightest idea what his young wife
meant when she said brokenly:  "It is better to remember our love
as it was in the springtime," he saw the mist of tears in her eyes,--
something vaguely sad, too, and infinitely tender in her sensitive
face,--so that he slipped his arm about her and drew her close, as
though by so doing he could forever keep Love from growing old and
shrunken and bleary-eyed.

For a time they were all poised there motionless in one of those
unusual moments when ordinary life is brushed by the wings of
drama,--the young lovers, an old, old woman and a rusted iron
kettle whose history was the history of them all.

But already old Amalia was moving and speaking,--already she had
forgotten that which so recently she had remembered.

"Meadow-larks iss singin'," she called out in her high cracked
voice, "and I smell spring."



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