The Prairie Mother
by Arthur Stringer
THE PRAIRIE MOTHER
[Illustration: Swing twenty paces out from one another and circle
THE PRAIRIE WIFE, THE HOUSE OF INTRIGUE
THE MAN WHO COULDN'T SLEEP, ETC.
ARTHUR E. BECHER
THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY
The Pictorial Review Company
The Bobbs-Merrill Company
Printed in the United States of America
BROOKLYN, N. Y.
THE PRAIRIE MOTHER
The Prairie Mother
Sunday the Fifteenth
I opened my eyes and saw a pea-green world all around me. Then I
heard the doctor say: Give 'er another whiff or two. His voice
sounded far-away, as though he were speaking through the Simplon
Tunnel, and not merely through his teeth, within twelve inches of my
I took my whiff or two. I gulped at that chloroform like a thirsty
Bedouin at a wadi-spring. I went down into the pea-green emptiness
again, and forgot about the Kelly pad and the recurring waves of pain
that came bigger and bigger and tried to sweep through my racked old
body like breakers through the ribs of a stranded schooner. I forgot
about the hateful metallic clink of steel things against an
instrument-tray, and about the loganberry pimple on the nose of the
red-headed surgical nurse who'd been sent into the labor room to help.
I went wafting off into a feather-pillowy pit of infinitude. I even
forgot to preach to myself, as I'd been doing for the last month or
two. I knew that my time was upon me, as the Good Book says. There are
a lot of things in this life, I remembered, which woman is able to
squirm out of. But here, Mistress Tabbie, was one you couldn't escape.
Here was a situation that had to be faced. Here was a time I had
to knuckle down, had to grin and bear it, had to go through with it to
the bitter end. For other folks, whatever they may be able to do for
you, aren't able to have your babies for you.
Then I ebbed up out of the pea-green depths again, and was troubled
by the sound of voices, so thin and far-away I couldn't make out what
they were saying. Then came the beating of a tom-tom, so loud that it
hurt. When that died away for a minute or two I caught the sound of the
sharp and quavery squall of something, of something which had never
squalled before, a squall of protest and injured pride, of maltreated
youth resenting the ignominious way it must enter the world. Then the
tom-tom beating started up again, and I opened my eyes to make sure it
wasn't the Grenadiers' Band going by.
I saw a face bending over mine, seeming to float in space. It was
the color of a half-grown cucumber, and it made me think of a tropical
fish in an aquarium when the water needed changing.
She's coming out, Doctor, I heard a woman's voice say. It was a
voice as calm as God's and slightly nasal. For a moment I thought I'd
died and gone to Heaven. But I finally observed and identified the
loganberry pimple, and realized that the tom-tom beating was merely the
pounding of the steam-pipes in that jerry-built western hospital, and
remembered that I was still in the land of the living and that the
red-headed surgical nurse was holding my wrist. I felt infinitely hurt
and abused, and wondered why my husband wasn't there to help me with
that comforting brown gaze of his. And I wanted to cry, but didn't seem
to have the strength, and then I wanted to say something, but found
myself too weak.
It was the doctor's voice that roused me again. He was standing
beside my narrow iron bed with his sleeves still rolled up, wiping his
arms with a big white towel. He was smiling as he scrubbed at the
corners of his nails, as though to make sure they were clean. The nurse
on the other side of the bed was also smiling. So was the carrot-top
with the loganberry beauty-spot. All I could see, in fact, was smiling
But it didn't seem a laughing matter to me. I wanted to rest, to
sleep, to get another gulp or two of that God-given smelly stuff out of
the little round tin can.
How're you feeling? asked the doctor indifferently. He nodded down
at me as he proceeded to manicure those precious nails of his. They
were laughing, the whole four of them. I began to suspect that I wasn't
going to die, after all.
Everything's fine and dandy, announced the barearmed farrier as he
snapped his little pen-knife shut. But that triumphant grin of his only
made me more tired than ever, and I turned away to the tall young nurse
on the other side of my bed.
There was perspiration on her forehead, under the eaves of the pale
hair crowned with its pointed little cap. She was still smiling, but
she looked human and tired and a little fussed.
Is it a girl? I asked her. I had intended to make that query a
crushingly imperious one. I wanted it to stand as a reproof to them, as
a mark of disapproval for all such untimely merriment. But my voice, I
found, was amazingly weak and thin. And I wanted to know.
It's both, said the tired-eyed girl in the blue and white
uniform. And she, too, nodded her head in a triumphant sort of way, as
though the credit for some vast and recent victory lay entirely in her
own narrow lap.
It's both? I repeated, wondering why she too should fail to give a
simple answer to a simple question.
It's twins! she said, with a little chirrup of laughter.
Twins? I gasped, in a sort of bleat that drove the last of the
pea-green mist out of that room with the dead white walls.
Twins, proclaimed the doctor, twins! He repeated the
monosyllable, converting it into a clarion-call that made me think of a
A lovely boy and girl, cooed the third nurse with a bottle of
olive-oil in her hand. And by twisting my head a little I was able to
see the two wire bassinets, side by side, each holding a little mound
of something wrapped in a flannelette blanket.
I shut my eyes, for I seemed to have a great deal to think over.
Twins! A boy and girl! Two little new lives in the world! Two warm and
cuddling little bairns to nest close against my mother-breast.
I see your troubles cut out for you, said the doctor as he
rolled down his shirt-sleeves.
They were all laughing again. But to me it didn't seem quite such a
laughing matter. I was thinking of my layette, and trying to count over
my supply of binders and slips and shirts and nighties and wondering
how I could out-Solomon Solomon and divide the little dotted Swiss
dress edged with the French Val lace of which I'd been so proud. Then I
fell to pondering over other problems, equally prodigious, so that it
was quite a long time before my mind had a chance to meander on to
And when I did think of Dinky-Dunk I had to laugh. It seemed a joke
on him, in some way. He was the father of twins. Instead of one little
snoozer to carry on his name and perpetuate his race in the land, he
now had two. Fate, without consulting him, had flung him double
measure. No wonder, for the moment, those midnight toilers in that
white-walled house of pain were wearing the smile that refused to come
off! That's the way, I suppose, that all life ought to be welcomed into
this old world of ours. And now, I suddenly remembered, I could speak
of my childrenand that means so much more than talking about
one's child. Now I was indeed a mother, a prairie mother with three
young chicks of her own to scratch for.
I forgot my anxieties and my months of waiting. I forgot those weeks
of long mute protest, of revolt against wily old Nature, who so
cleverly tricks us into the ways she has chosen. A glow of glory went
through my tired bodyit was hysteria, I suppose, in the basic meaning
of the wordand I had to shut my eyes tight to keep the tears from
But that great wave of happiness which had washed up the shore of my
soul receded as it came. By the time I was transferred to the
rubber-wheeled stretcher they called the Wagon and trundled off to a
bed and room of my own, the reaction set in. I could think more
clearly. My Dinky-Dunk didn't love me, or he'd never have left me at
such a time, no matter what his business calls may have been. The Twins
weren't quite so humorous as they seemed. There was even something
disturbingly animal-like in the birth of more offspring than one at a
time, something almost revolting in this approach to the littering of
one's young. They all tried to unedge that animality by treating it as
a joke, by confronting it with their conspiracies of jocularity. But it
would be no joke to a nursing mother in the middle of a winter prairie
with the nearest doctor twenty long miles away.
I countermanded my telegram to Dinky-Dunk at Vancouver, and cried
myself to sleep in a nice relaxing tempest of self-pity which my
special accepted as calmly as a tulip-bed accepts a shower. But
lawdy, lawdy, how I slept! And when I woke up and sniffed warm air and
that painty smell peculiar to new buildings, and heard the radiators
sing with steam and the windows rattle in the northeast blizzard that
was blowing, I slipped into a truer realization of the intricate
machinery of protection all about me, and thanked my lucky stars that I
wasn't in a lonely prairie shack, as I'd been when my almost
three-year-old Dinkie was born. I remembered, with little tidal waves
of contentment, that my ordeal was a thing of the past, and that I was
a mother twice over, and rather hungry, and rather impatient to get a
peek at my God-given little babes.
Then I fell to thinking rather pityingly of my forsaken little
Dinkie and wondering if Mrs. Teetzel would keep his feet dry and cook
his cream-of-wheat properly, and if Iroquois Annie would have brains
enough not to overheat the furnace and burn Casa Grande down to the
ground. Then I decided to send the wire to Dinky-Dunk, after all, for
it isn't every day in the year a man can be told he's the father of
I sent the wire, in the secret hope that it would bring my lord and
master on the run. But it was eight days later, when I was up on a
back-rest and having my hair braided, that Dinky-Dunk put in an
appearance. And when he did come he chilled me. I can't just say why.
He seemed tired and preoccupied and unnecessarily self-conscious before
the nurses when I made him hold Pee-Wee on one arm and Poppsy on the
Now kiss 'em, Daddy, I commanded. And he had to kiss them both on
their red and puckered little faces. Then he handed them over with all
too apparent relief, and fell into a brown study.
What are you worrying over? I asked him.
I'm wondering how in the world you'll ever manage, he solemnly
acknowledged. I was able to laugh, though it took an effort.
For every little foot God sends a little shoe, I told him,
remembering the aphorism of my old Irish nurse. And the sooner you get
me home, Dinky-Dunk, the happier I'll be. For I'm tired of this place
and the smell of the formalin and ether and I'm nearly worried to death
about Dinkie. And in all the wide world, O Kaikobad, there's no place
like one's own home!
Dinky-Dunk didn't answer me, but I thought he looked a little wan
and limp as he sat down in one of the stiff-backed chairs. I inspected
him with a calmer and clearer eye.
Was that sleeper too hot last night? I asked, remembering what a
bad night could do to a big man.
I don't seem to sleep on a train the way I used to, he said, but
his eye evaded mine. And I suspected something.
Dinky-Dunk, I demanded, did you have a berth last night?
He flushed up rather guiltily. He even seemed to resent my
questioning him. But I insisted on an answer.
No, I sat up, he finally confessed.
Why? I demanded.
And still again his eye tried to evade mine.
We're a bit short of ready cash. He tried to say it indifferently,
but the effort was a failure.
Then why didn't you tell me that before? I asked, sitting up and
spurning the back-rest.
You had worries enough of your own, proclaimed my weary-eyed lord
and master. It gave me a squeezy feeling about the heart to see him
looking so much like an unkempt and overworked and altogether neglected
husband. And there I'd been lying in the lap of luxury, with
quick-footed ladies in uniform to answer my bell and fly at my bidding.
But I've a right, Dunkie, to know your worries, and stand my share
of 'em, I promptly told him. And that's why I want to get out of this
smelly old hole and back to my home again. I may be the mother of
twins, and only too often reminded that I'm one of the Mammalia, but
I'm still your cave-mate and life-partner, and I don't think children
ought to come between a man and wife. I don't intend to allow my
children to do anything like that.
I said it quite bravely, but there was a little cloud of doubt
drifting across the sky of my heart. Marriage is so different from what
the romance-fiddlers try to make it. Even Dinky-Dunk doesn't approve of
my mammalogical allusions. Yet milk, I find, is one of the most
important issues of motherhoodonly it's impolite to mention the fact.
What makes me so impatient of life as I see it reflected in fiction is
its trick of overlooking the important things and over-accentuating the
trifles. It primps and tries to be genteelfor Biology doth make
cowards of us all.
I was going to say, very sagely, that life isn't so mysterious after
you've been the mother of three children. But that wouldn't be quite
right. It's mysterious in an entirely different way. Even love itself
is different, I concluded, after lying there in bed day after day and
thinking the thing over. For there are so many different ways, I find,
of loving a man. You are fond of him, at first, for what you consider
his perfections, the same as you are fond of a brand-new traveling bag.
There isn't a scratch on his polish or a flaw in his make-up. Then you
live with him for a few years. You live with him and find that life is
making a few dents in his loveliness of character, that the edges are
worn away, that there's a weakness or two where you imagined only
strength to be, and that instead of standing a saint and hero all in
one, he's merely an unruly and unreliable human being with his ups and
downs of patience and temper and passion. But, bless his battered old
soul, you love him none the less for all that. You no longer fret about
him being unco guid, and you comfortably give up trying to match his
imaginary virtues with your own. You still love him, but you love him
differently. There's a touch of pity in your respect for him, a
mellowing compassion, a little of the eternal mother mixed up with the
eternal sweetheart. And if you are wise you will no longer demand the
impossible of him. Being a woman, you will still want to be loved. But
being a woman of discernment, you will remember that in some way and by
some means, if you want to be loved, you must remain lovable.
Thursday the Nineteenth
I had to stay in that smelly old hole of a hospital and in that bald
little prairie city fully a week longer than I wanted to. I tried to
rebel against being bullied, even though the hand of iron was padded
with velvet. But the powers that be were too used to handling perverse
and fretful women. They thwarted my purpose and broke my will and kept
me in bed until I began to think I'd take root there.
But once I and my bairns were back here at Casa Grande I could see
that they were right. In the first place the trip was tiring, too
tiring to rehearse in detail. Then a vague feeling of neglect and
desolation took possession of me, for I missed the cool-handed
efficiency of that ever-dependable special. I almost surrendered to
funk, in fact, when both Poppsy and Pee-Wee started up a steady duet of
crying. I sat down and began to sniffle myself, but my sense of humor,
thank the Lord, came back and saved the day. There was something so
utterly ridiculous in that briny circle, soon augmented and completed
by the addition of Dinkie, who apparently felt as lonely and overlooked
as did his spineless and sniffling mother.
So I had to tighten the girths of my soul. I took a fresh grip on
myself and said: Look here, Tabbie, this is never going to do. This is
not the way Horatius held the bridge. This is not the spirit that built
Rome. So, up, Guards, and at 'em! Excelsior! Audaces fortuna juvat!
So I mopped my eyes, and readjusted the Twins, and did what I could
to placate Dinkie, who continues to regard his little brother and
sister with a somewhat hostile eye. One of my most depressing
discoveries on getting back home, in fact, was to find that Dinkie has
grown away from me in my absence. At first he even resented my
approaches, and he still stares at me, now and then, across a gulf of
perplexity. But the ice is melting. He's beginning to understand, after
all, that I'm his really truly mother and that he can come to me with
his troubles. He's lost a good deal of his color, and I'm beginning to
suspect that his food hasn't been properly looked after during the last
few weeks. It's a patent fact, at any rate, that my house hasn't been
properly looked after. Iroquois Annie, that sullen-eyed breed servant
of ours, will never have any medals pinned on her pinny for neatness.
I'd love to ship her, but heaven only knows where we'd find any one to
take her place. And I simply must have help, during the next few
Casa Grande, by the way, looked such a little dot on the wilderness,
as we drove back to it, that a spear of terror pushed its way through
my breast as I realized that I had my babies to bring up away out here
on the edge of this half-settled no-man's land. If only our dreams had
come true! If only the plans of mice and men didn't go so aft agley! If
only the railway had come through to link us up with civilization, and
the once promised town had sprung up like a mushroom-bed about our
still sad and solitary Casa Grande! But what's the use of repining,
Tabbie McKail? You've the second-best house within thirty miles of
Buckhorn, with glass door-knobs and a laundry-chute, and a brood to
rear, and a hard-working husband to cook for. And as the kiddies get
older, I imagine, I'll not be troubled by this terrible feeling of
loneliness which has been weighing like a plumb-bob on my heart for the
last few days. I wish Dinky-Dunk didn't have to be so much away from
Old Whinstane Sandy, our hired man, has presented me with a
hand-made swing-box for Poppsy and Pee-Wee, a sort of suspended
basket-bed that can be hung up in the porch as soon as my two little
snoozers are able to sleep outdoors. Old Whinnie, by the way, was very
funny when I showed him the Twins. He solemnly acknowledged that they
were nae sae bad, conseederin'. I suppose he thought it would be
treason to Dinkie to praise the newcomers who threatened to put little
Dinkie's nose out of joint. And Whinnie, I imagine, will always be
loyal to Dinkie. He says little about it, but I know he loves that
child. He loves him in very much the same way that Bobs, our collie
dog, loves me. It was really Bobs' welcome, I think, across the cold
prairie air, that took the tragedy out of my homecoming. There were
gladness and trust in those deep-throated howls of greetings. He even
licked the snow off my overshoes and nested his head between my knees,
with his bob-tail thumping the floor like a flicker's beak. He sniffed
at the Twins rather disgustedly. But he'll learn to love them, I feel
sure, as time goes on. He's too intelligent a dog to do otherwise....
I'll be glad when spring comes, and takes the razor-edge out of this
northern air. We'll have half a month of mud first, I suppose. But
there's never anything without something, as Mrs. Teetzel very sagely
announced the other day. That sour-apple philosopher, by the way, is
taking her departure to-morrow. And I'm not half so sorry as I pretend
to be. She's made me feel like an intruder in my own home. And she's a
soured and venomous old ignoramus, for she sneered openly at my
bath-thermometer and defies Poppsy and Pee-Wee to survive the winter
without a comfort. After I'd announced my intention of putting them
outdoors to sleep, when they were four weeks old, she lugubriously
acknowledged that there were more ways than one of murderin' infant
children. Her ideal along this line, I've discovered, is slow
asphyxiation in a sort of Dutch-oven made of an eider-down comforter,
with as much air as possible shut off from their uncomfortable little
bodies. But the Oracle is going, and I intend to bring up my babies in
my own way. For I know a little more about the game now than I did when
little Dinkie made his appearance in this vale of tears. And whatever
my babies may or may not be, they are at least healthy little tikes.
Sunday the Twenty-second
I seem to be fitting into things again, here at Casa Grande. I've
got my strength back, and an appetite like a Cree pony, and the day's
work is no longer a terror to me. I'm back in the same old rut, I was
going to saybut it is not the same. There is a spirit of
unsettledness about it all which I find impossible to define, an air of
something impending, of something that should be shunned as long as
possible. Perhaps it's merely a flare-back from my own shaken nerves.
Or perhaps it's because I haven't been able to get out in the open air
as much as I used to. I am missing my riding. And Paddy, my pinto, will
give us a morning of it, when we try to get a saddle on his scarred
little back, for it's half a year now since he has had a bit between
It's Dinky-Dunk that I'm really worrying over, though I don't know
why. I heard him come in very quietly last night as I was tucking
little Dinkie up in his crib. I went to the nursery door, half hoping
to hear my lord and master sing out his old-time Hello, Lady-Bird! or
Are you there, Babushka? But instead of that he climbed the stairs,
rather heavily, and passed on down the hall to the little room he calls
his study, his sanctum-sanctorum where he keeps his desk and papers and
booksand the duck-guns, so that Dinkie can't get at them. I could
hear him open the desk-top and sit down in the squeaky Bank of England
When I was sure that Dinkie was off, for good, I tiptoed out and
shut the nursery door. Even big houses, I began to realize as I stood
there in the hall, could have their drawbacks. In the two-by-four shack
where we'd lived and worked and been happy before Casa Grande was built
there was no chance for one's husband to shut himself up in his private
boudoir and barricade himself away from his better-half. So I decided,
all of a sudden, to beard the lion in his den. There was such a thing
as too much formality in a family circle. Yet I felt a bit audacious as
I quietly pushed open that study door. I even weakened in my decision
about pouncing on Dinky-Dunk from behind, like a leopardess on a
helpless stag. Something in his pose, in fact, brought me up short.
Dinky-Dunk was sitting with his head on his hand, staring at the
wall-paper. And it wasn't especially interesting wall-paper. He was
sitting there in a trance, with a peculiar line of dejection about his
forward-fallen shoulders. I couldn't see his face, but I felt sure it
was not a happy face.
I even came to a stop, without speaking a word, and shrank rather
guiltily back through the doorway. It was a relief, in fact, to find
that I was able to close the door without making a sound.
When Dinky-Dunk came down-stairs, half an hour later, he seemed his
same old self. He talked and laughed and inquired if Nip and
Tuckthose are the names he sometimes takes from his team and pins on
Poppsy and Pee-Weehad given me a hard day of it and explained that
Francoisour man on the Harris Ranchhad sent down a robe of plaited
rabbit-skin for them.
I did my best, all the time, to keep my inquisitorial eye from
fastening itself on Dunkie's face, for I knew that he was playing up to
me, that he was acting a part which wasn't coming any too easy. But he
stuck to his rôle. When I put down my sewing, because my eyes were
tired, he even inquired if I hadn't done about enough for one day.
I've done about half what I ought to do, I told him. The trouble
is, Dinky-Dunk, I'm getting old. I'm losing my bounce!
That made him laugh a little, though it was rather a wistful laugh.
Oh, no, Gee-Gee, he announced, momentarily like his old self,
whatever you lose, you'll never lose that undying girlishness of
It was not so much what he said, as the mere fact that he could say
it, which sent a wave of happiness through my maternal old body. So I
made for him with my Australian crawl-stroke, and kissed him on both
sides of his stubbly old face, and rumpled him up, and went to bed with
a touch of silver about the edges of the thunder-cloud still hanging
away off somewhere on the sky-line.
Wednesday the Twenty-fifth
There was indeed something wrong. I knew that the moment I heard
Dinky-Dunk come into the house. I knew it by the way he let the
storm-door swing shut, by the way he crossed the hall as far as the
living-room door and then turned back, by the way he slowly mounted the
stairs and passed leaden-footed on to his study. And I knew that this
time there'd be no Are you there, Little Mother? or Where beest
thou, Boca Chica?
I'd Poppsy and Pee-Wee safe and sound asleep in the swing-box that
dour old Whinstane Sandy had manufactured out of a packing-case, with
Francois' robe of plaited rabbit-skin to keep their tootsies warm. I'd
finished my ironing and bathed little Dinkie and buttoned him up in his
sleepers and made him hold his little hands together while I said his
Now-I-lay-me and tucked him up in his crib with his broken
mouth-organ and his beloved red-topped shoes under the pillow, so that
he could find them there first thing in the morning and bestow on them
his customary matutinal kiss of adoration. And I was standing at the
nursery window, pretty tired in body but foolishly happy and serene in
spirit, staring out across the leagues of open prairie at the last of
It was one of those wonderful sunsets of the winter-end that throw
wine-stains back across this bald old earth and make you remember that
although the green hasn't yet awakened into life there's release on the
way. It was a sunset with an infinite depth to its opal and gold and
rose and a whisper of spring in its softly prolonged afterglow. It made
me glad and sad all at once, for while there was a hint of vast
re-awakenings in the riotous wine-glow that merged off into pale green
to the north, there was also a touch of loneliness in the flat and
far-flung sky-line. It seemed to recede so bewilderingly and so
oppressively into a silence and into an emptiness which the lonely
plume of smoke from one lonely shack-chimney both crowned and
accentuated with a wordless touch of poignancy.
That pennon of shack-smoke, dotting the northern horizon, seemed to
become something valorous and fine. It seemed to me to typify the
spirit of man pioneering along the fringes of desolation, adventuring
into the unknown, conquering the untamed realms of his world. And it
was a good old world, I suddenly felt, a patient and bountiful old
world with its Browningesque old bones set out in the last of the
sununtil I heard my Dinky-Dunk go lumbering up to his study and
quietly yet deliberately shut himself in, as I gave one last look at
Poppsy and Pee-Wee to make sure they were safely covered. Then I stood
stock-still in the center of the nursery, wondering whether, at such a
time, I ought to go to my husband or keep away from him.
I decided, after a minute or two of thought, to bide a wee. So I
slipped quietly down-stairs and stowed Dinkie's overturned kiddie-car
away in the cloak-room and warned Iroquois Anniethe meekest-looking
Redskin ever togged out in the cap and apron of domestic servitudenot
to burn my fricassee of frozen prairie-chicken and not to scorch the
scones so beloved by my Scotch-Canadian lord and master. Then I
inspected the supper table and lighted the lamp with the Ruskin-green
shade and supplanted Dinky-Dunk's napkin that had a coffee-stain along
its edge with a fresh one from the linen-drawer. Then, after airing the
house to rid it of the fumes from Iroquois Annie's intemperate griddle
and carrying Dinkie's muddied overshoes back to the kitchen and
lighting the Chinese hall-lamp, I went to the bottom of the stairs to
call my husband down to supper.
But still again that wordless feeling of something amiss prompted me
to hesitate. So instead of calling blithely out of him, as I had
intended, I went silently up the stairs. Then I slipped along the hall
and just as silently opened his study door.
My husband was sitting at his desk, confronted by a litter of papers
and letters, which I knew to be the mail he had just brought home and
flung there. But he wasn't looking at anything on his desk. He was
merely sitting there staring vacantly out of the window at the paling
light. His elbows were on the arms of his Bank of England swivel-chair
for which I'd made the green baize seat-pad, and as I stared in at him,
half in shadow, I had an odd impression of history repeating itself.
This puzzled me, for a moment, until I remembered having caught sight
of him in much the same attitude, only a few days before. But this time
he looked so tired and drawn and spineless that a fish-hook of sudden
pity tugged at my throat. For my Dinky-Dunk sat there without moving,
with the hope and the joy of life drawn utterly out of his bony big
body. The heavy emptiness of his face, as rugged as a relief-map in the
side-light, even made me forget the smell of the scones Iroquois Annie
was vindictively scorching down in the kitchen. He didn't know, of
course, that I was watching him, for he jumped as I signaled my
presence by slamming the door after stepping in through it. That jump,
I knew, wasn't altogether due to edgy nerves. It was also an effort at
dissimulation, for his sudden struggle to get his scattered lines of
manhood together still carried a touch of the heroic. But I'd caught a
glimpse of his soul when it wasn't on parade. And I knew what I knew.
He tried to work his poor old harried face into a smile as I crossed
over to his side. But, like Topsy's kindred, it died a-borning.
[Illustration: What's happened? I asked]
What's happened? I asked, dropping on my knees close beside him.
Instead of answering me, he swung about in the swivel-chair so that
he more directly faced the window. The movement also served to pull
away the hand which I had almost succeeded in capturing. Nothing, I've
found, can wound a real man more than pity.
What's happened? I repeated. For I knew, now, that something was
really and truly and tragically wrong, as plainly as though Dinky-Dunk
had up and told me so by word of mouth. You can't live with a man for
nearly four years without growing into a sort of clairvoyant knowledge
of those subterranean little currents that feed the wells of mood and
temper and character. He pushed the papers on the desk away from him
without looking at me.
Oh, it's nothing much, he said. But he said it so listlessly I
knew he was merely trying to lie like a gentleman.
If it's bad news, I want to know it, right slam-bang out, I told
him. And for the first time he turned and looked at me, in a meditative
and impersonal sort of way that brought the fish-hook tugging at my
thorax again. He looked at me as though some inner part of him were
still debating as to whether or not he was about to be confronted by a
woman in tears. Then a touch of cool desperation crept up into his
Our whole apple-cart's gone over, he slowly and quietly announced,
with those coldly narrowed eyes still intent on my face, as though very
little and yet a very great deal depended on just how I was going to
accept that slightly enigmatic remark. And he must have noticed the
quick frown of perplexity which probably came to my face, for that
right hand of his resting on the table opened and then closed again, as
though it were squeezing a sponge very dry. They've got me, he said.
They've got meto the last dollar!
I stood up in the uncertain light, for it takes time to digest
strong words, the same as it takes time to digest strong meat.
I remembered how, during the last half-year, Dinky-Dunk had been on
the wing, hurrying over to Calgary, and Edmonton, flying east to
Winnipeg, scurrying off to the Coast, poring over township maps and
blue-prints and official-looking letters from land associations and
banks and loan companies. I had been called in to sign papers, with
bread-dough on my arms, and asked to witness signatures, with Dinkie on
my hip, and commanded by my absent hearth-mate to send on certain
documents by the next mail. I had also gathered up scattered sheets of
paper covered with close-penciled rows of figures, and had felt that
Dinky-Dunk for a year back had been giving more time to his
speculations than to his home and his ranch. I had seen the lines
deepen a little on that lean and bony face of his and the
pepper-and-salt above his ears turning into almost pure salt. And I'd
missed, this many a day, the old boyish note in his laughter and the
old careless intimacies in his talk. And being a woman of almost
ordinary intelligencepreoccupied as I was with those three precious
babies of mineI had arrived at the not unnatural conclusion that my
spouse was surrendering more and more to that passion of his for wealth
Wealth and power, of course, are big words in the language of any
man. But I had more than an inkling that my husband had been taking a
gambler's chance to reach the end in view. And now, in that twilit
shadow-huddled cubby-hole of a room, it came over me, all of a heap,
that having taken the gambler's chance, we had met a fate not uncommon
to gamblers, and had lost.
So we're bust! I remarked, without any great show of emotion,
feeling, I suppose, that without worldly goods we might consistently be
without elegance. And in the back of my brain I was silently revising
our old Kansas pioneer couplet into
In land-booms we trusted
And in land-booms we busted.
But it wasn't a joke. You can't have the bottom knocked out of your
world, naturally, and find an invisible Nero blithely fiddling on your
heart-strings. And I hated to see Dinky-Dunk sitting there with that
dead look in his eyes. I hated to see him with his spirit broken, with
that hollow and haggard misery about the jowls, which made me think of
a hound-dog mourning for a dead master.
But I knew better than to show any pity for Dinky-Dunk at such a
time. It would have been effective as a stage-picture, I know, my
reaching out and pressing his tired head against a breast sobbing with
comprehension and shaking with compassion. But pity, with real
men-folks in real life, is perilous stuff to deal in. I was equally
afraid to feel sorry for myself, even though my body chilled with the
sudden suspicion that Casa Grande and all it held might be taken away
from me, that my bairns might be turned out of their warm and
comfortable beds, overnight, that the consoling sense of security which
those years of labor had builded up about us might vanish in a breath.
And I needed new flannelette for the Twins' nighties, and a reefer for
little Dinky-Dunk, and an aluminum double-boiler that didn't leak for
me maun's porritch. There were rafts of things I needed, rafts and
rafts of them. But here we were bust, so far as I could tell, on the
rocks, swamped, stranded and wrecked.
I held myself in, however, even if it did take an effort. I
crossed casually over to the door, and opened it to sniff at the smell
Whatever happens, Dinky-Dunk, I very calmly announced, we've got
to eat. And if that she-Indian scorches another scone I'll go down
there and scalp her.
My husband got slowly and heavily up out of the chair, which gave
out a squeak or two even when relieved of his weight. I knew by his
face in the half-light that he was going to say that he didn't care to
But, instead of saying that, he stood looking at me, with a
tragically humble sort of contriteness. Then, without quite knowing he
was doing it, he brought his hands together in a sort of clinch, with
his face twisted up in an odd little grimace of revolt, as though he
stood ashamed to let me see that his lip was quivering.
It's such a rotten deal, he almost moaned, to you and the
Oh, we'll survive it, I said with a grin that was plainly forced.
But you don't seem to understand what it means, he protested. His
impatience, I could see, was simply that of a man overtaxed. And I
could afford to make allowance for it.
I understand that it's almost an hour past supper-time, my Lord,
and that if you don't give me a chance to stoke up I'll bite the edges
off the lamp-shade!
I was rewarded by just the ghost of a smile, a smile that was much
too wan and sickly to live long.
All right, announced Dinky-Dunk, I'll be down in a minute or
There was courage in that, I saw, for all the listlessness of the
tone in which it had been uttered. So I went skipping down-stairs and
closed my baby grand and inspected the table and twisted the glass bowl
that held my nasturtium-buds about, to the end that the telltale word
of Salt embossed on its side would not betray the fact that it had
been commandeered from the kitchen-cabinet. Then I turned up the lamp
and smilingly waited until my lord and master seated himself at the
other side of the table, grateful beyond words that we had at least
that evening alone and were not compelled to act up to a part before
the eyes of strangers.
Yet it was anything but a successful meal. Dinky-Dunk's pretense at
eating was about as hollow as my pretense at light-heartedness. We each
knew that the other was playing a part, and the time came when to keep
it up was altogether too much of a mockery.
Dinky-Dunk, I said after a silence that was too abysmal to be
ignored, let's look this thing squarely in the face.
I haven't the courage.
Then we've got to get it, I insisted. I'm ready to face the
music, if you are. So let's get right down to hard-pan. Have theyhave
they really cleaned you out?
To the last dollar, he replied, without looking up.
What did it? I asked, remaining stubbornly and persistently
ox-like in my placidity.
No one thing did it, Chaddie, except that I tried to bite off too
much. And for the last two years, of course, the boom's been flattening
out. If our Associated Land Corporation hadn't gone under
Then it has gone under? I interrupted, with a catch of the
breath, for I knew just how much had been staked on that venture.
Dinky-Dunk nodded his head. And carried me with it, he grimly
announced. But even that wouldn't have meant a knock-out, if the
government had only kept its promise and taken over my Vancouver Island
That, I remembered, was to have been some sort of a shipyard. Then I
remembered something else.
When the Twins were born, I reminded Dunkie, you put the ranch
here at Casa Grande in my name. Does that mean we lose our home?
I was able to speak quietly, but I could hear the thud of my own
That's for you to decide, he none too happily acknowledged. Then
he added, with sudden decisiveness: No, they can't touch anything of
yours! Not a thing!
But won't that hold good with the Harris Ranch, as well? I further
inquired. That was actually bought in my name. It was deeded to me
from the first, and always has been in my name.
Of course it's yours, he said with a hesitation that was slightly
puzzling to me.
Then how about the cattle and things?
The cattle we've kept on it to escape the wild land tax? Aren't
those all legally mine?
It sounded rapacious, I suppose, under the circumstances. It must
have seemed like looting on a battlefield. But I wasn't thinking
entirely about myself, even though poor old Dinky-Dunk evidently
assumed so, from the look of sudden questioning that came into his
Yes, they're yours, he almost listlessly responded.
Then, as I've already said, let's look this thing fairly and
squarely in the face. We've taken a gambler's chance on a big thing,
and we've lost. We've lost our pile, as they phrase it out here, but if
what you say is true, we haven't lost our home, and what is still more
important, we haven't lost our pride.
My husband looked down at his plate.
That's gone, too, he slowly admitted.
It doesn't sound like my Dinky-Dunk, a thing like that, I promptly
admonished. But I'd spoken before I caught sight of the tragic look in
his eyes as he once more looked up at me.
If those politicians had only kept their word, we'd have had our
shipyard deal to save us, he said, more to himself than to me. Yet
that, I knew, was more an excuse than a reason.
And if the rabbit-dog hadn't stopped to scratch, he might have
caught the hare! I none too mercifully quoted. My husband's face
hardened as he sat staring across the table at me.
I'm glad you can take it lightly enough to joke over, he remarked,
as he got up from his chair. There was a ponderous sort of bitterness
in his voice, a bitterness that brought me up short. I had to fight
back the surge of pity which was threatening to strangle my voice, pity
for a man, once so proud of his power, standing stripped and naked in
Heaven knows I don't want to joke, Honey-Chile, I told him. But
we're not the first of these wild-catting westerners who've come a
cropper. And since we haven't robbed a bank, or
It's just a little worse than that, cut in Dinky-Dunk, meeting my
astonished gaze with a sort of Job-like exultation in his own misery. I
promptly asked him what he meant. He sat down again, before speaking.
I mean that I've lost Allie's money along with my own, he very
slowly and distinctly said to me. And we sat there, staring at each
other, for all the world like a couple of penguins on a sub-Arctic
Allie, I remembered, was Dinky-Dunk's English cousin, Lady Alicia
Elizabeth Newland, who'd made the Channel flight in a navy plane and
the year before had figured in a Devonshire motor-car accident.
Dinky-Dunk had a picture of her, from The Queen, up in his study
somewhere, the picture of a very debonair and slender young woman on an
Irish hunter. He had a still younger picture of her in a tweed skirt
and spats and golf-boots, on the brick steps of a Sussex country-house,
with the jaw of a bull-dog resting across her knee. It was signed and
dated and in a silver frame and every time I'd found myself polishing
that oblong of silver I'd done so with a wifely ruffle of temper.
How much was it? I finally asked, still adhering to my rôle of the
She sent out over seven thousand pounds. She wanted it invested out
Because of the new English taxes, I suppose. She said she wanted a
ranch, but she left everything to me.
Then it was a trust fund!
Dinky-Dunk bowed his head, in assent.
It practically amounted to that, he acknowledged.
And it's gone?
Every penny of it.
But, Dinky-Dunk, I began. I didn't need to continue, for he seemed
able to read my thoughts.
I was counting on two full sections for Allie in the Simmond's
Valley tract. That land is worth thirty dollars an acre, unbroken, at
any time. But the bank's swept that into the bag, of course, along with
the rest. The whole thing was like a stack of nine-pinswhen one
tumbled, it knocked the other over. I thought I could manage to save
that much for her, out of the ruin. But the bank saw the land-boom was
petering out. They shut off my credit, and foreclosed on the city
blockand that sent the whole card-house down.
I had a great deal of thinking to do, during the next minute or two.
Then isn't it up to us to knuckle down, Dinky-Dunk, and make good
on that Lady Alicia mistake? If we get a crop this year we can
But Dinky-Dunk shook his head. A thousand bushels an acre couldn't
get me out of this mess, he maintained.
Because your Lady Alicia and her English maid have already arrived
in Montreal, he quietly announced.
How do you know that?
She wrote to me from New York. She's had influenza, and it left her
with a wheezy tube and a spot on her lungs, as she put it. Her doctor
told her to go to Egypt, but she says Egypt's impossible, just now, and
if she doesn't like our West she says she'll amble on to Arizona, or
try California for the winter. He looked away, and smiled rather
wanly. She's counting on the big game shooting we can give her!
Grizzly, and buffalo, and that sort of thing?
I suppose so!
And she's on her way out here?
She's on her way out here to inspect a ranch which doesn't exist!
I sat for a full minute gaping into Dinky-Dunk's woebegone face. And
still again I had considerable thinking to do.
Then we'll make it exist, I finally announced. But
Dinky-Dunk, staring gloomily off into space, wasn't even interested.
They had stunned the spirit out of him. He wasn't himself. They'd put
him where even a well-turned Scotch scone couldn't appeal to him.
Listen, I solemnly admonished. If this Cousin Allie of yours is
coming out here for a ranch, she's got to be presented with one.
It sounds easy! he said, not without mockery.
And apparently the only way we can see that she's given her money's
worth is to hand Casa Grande over to her. Surely if she takes this, bag
and baggage, she ought to be half-satisfied.
Dinky-Dunk looked up at me as though I were assailing him with the
ravings of a mad-woman. He knew how proud I had always been of that
prairie home of ours.
Casa Grande is yoursyours and the kiddies, he reminded me.
You've at least got that, and God knows you'll need it now, more than
ever, God knows I've at least kept my hands off that!
But don't you see it can't be ours, it can't be a home, when
there's a debt of honor between us and every acre of it.
You're in no way involved in that debt, cried out my lord and
master, with a trace of the old battling light in his eyes.
I'm so involved in it that I'm going to give up the glory of a
two-story house with hardwood floors and a windmill and a laundry chute
and a real bathroom, before that English cousin of yours can find out
the difference between a spring-lamb and a jack-rabbit! I resolutely
informed him. And I'm going to do it without a whimper. Do you know
what we're going to do, O lord and master? We're going to take our
kiddies and our chattels and our precious selves over to that Harris
Ranch, and there we're going to begin over again just as we did nearly
four years ago! Dinky-Dunk tried to stop me, but I warned him aside.
Don't think I'm doing anything romantic. I'm doing something so
practical that the more I think of it the more I see it's the only
He sat looking at me as though he had forgotten what my features
were like and was, just discovering that my nose, after all, hadn't
really been put on straight. Then the old battling light grew stronger
than ever in his eyes.
It's not going to be the only thing possible, he declared.
And I'm not going to make you pay for my mistakes. Not on your
life! I could have swung the farm lands, all right, even though they
did have me with my back to the wall, if only the city stuff hadn't
gone deadso dead that to-day you couldn't even give it away. I'm not
an embezzler. Allie sent me out that money to take a chance with, and
by taking a double chance I honestly thought I could get her double
returns. As you say, it was a gambler's chance. But the cards broke
against me. The thing that hurts is that I've probably just about
cleaned the girl out.
How do you know that? I asked, wondering why I was finding it so
hard to sympathize with that denuded and deluded English cousin.
Because I know what's happened to about all of the older families
and estates over there, retorted Dinky-Dunk. The government has
pretty well picked them clean.
Could I see your Cousin Allie's letters?
What good would it do? asked the dour man across the table from
me. The fat's in the fire, and we've got to face the consequences.
And that's exactly what I've been trying to tell you, you foolish
old calvanistic autocrat! We've got to face the consequences, and the
only way to do it is to do it the way I've said.
Dinky-Dunk's face softened a little, and he seemed almost ready to
smile. But he very quickly clouded up again, just as my own heart
clouded up. For I knew, notwithstanding my willingness to deny it, that
I was once more acting on impulse, very much as I'd acted on impulse
four long years ago in that residuary old horse-hansom in Central Park
when I agreed to marry Duncan Argyll McKail before I was even in love
with him. But, like most women, I was willing to let Reason step down
off the bridge and have Intuition pilot me through the more troubled
waters of a life-crisis. For I knew that I was doing the right thing,
even though it seemed absurd, even though at first sight it seemed too
prodigious a sacrifice, just as I'd done the right thing when in the
face of tribal reasoning and logic I'd gone kiting off to a
prairie-ranch and a wickiup with a leaky roof. It was a tumble, but it
was a tumble into a pansy-bed. And I was thinking that luck would
surely be with me a second time, though thought skidded, like a tire on
a wet pavement, every time I tried to foresee what this newer change
would mean to me and mine.
You're not going to face another three years of drudgery and
shack-dirt, declared Dinky-Dunk, following, oddly enough, my own line
of thought. You went through that once, and once was enough. It's not
fair. It's not reasonable. It's not even thinkable. You weren't made
for that sort of thing, and
Listen to me, I broke in, doing my best to speak calmly and
quietly. Those three years were really the happiest three years of all
my life. I love to remember them, for they mean so much more than all
the others. There were a lot of the frills and fixin's of life that we
had to do without. But those three years brought us closer together,
Dinky-Dunk, than we have ever been since we moved into this big house
and got on bowing terms again with luxury. I don't know whether you've
given it much thought or not, husband o' mine, but during the last year
or two there's been a change taking place in us. You've been worried
and busy and forever on the wing, and there have been days when I've
felt you were almost a stranger to me, as though I'd got to be a sort
of accident in your life. Remember, Honey-Chile, I'm not blaming you;
I'm only pointing out certain obvious truths, now the time for a little
honest talk seems to have cropped up. You were up to your ears in a
fight, in a tremendously big fight, for success and money; and you were
doing it more for me and Dinkie and Poppsy and Pee-Wee than for
yourself. You couldn't help remembering that I'd been a city girl and
imagining that prairie-life was a sort of penance I was undergoing
before passing on to the joys of paradise in an apartment-hotel with a
mail-chute outside the door and the sound of the Elevated outside the
windows. And you were terribly wrong in all that, for there have been
days and days, Dinky-Dunk, when I've been homesick for that old
slabsided ranch-shack and the glory of seeing you come in ruddy and
hungry and happy for the ham and eggs and bread I'd cooked with my own
hands. It seemed to bring us so gloriously close together. It seemed so
homy and happy-go-lucky and soul-satisfying in its completeness, and we
weren't forever fretting about bank-balances and taxes and over-drafts.
I was just a rancher's wife thenand I can't help feeling that all
along there was something in that simple life we didn't value enough.
We were just rubes and hicks and clodhoppers and hay-tossers in those
days, and we weren't staying awake nights worrying about
land-speculations and water-fronts and trying to make ourselves
millionaires when we might have been making ourselves more at peace
with our own souls. And now that our card-house of high finance has
gone to smash, I realize more than ever that I've got to be at peace
with my own soul and on speaking terms with my own husband. And if this
strikes you as an exceptionally long-winded sermon, my beloved, it's
merely to make plain to you that I haven't surrendered to any sudden
wave of emotionalism when I talk about migrating over to that Harris
Ranch. It's nothing more than good old hard-headed, practical
self-preservation, for I wouldn't care to live without you, Dinky-Dunk,
any more than I imagine you'd care to live without your own
I sat back, after what I suppose was the longest speech I ever made
in my life, and studied my lord and master's face. It was not an easy
map to decipher, for man, after all, is a pretty complex animal and
even in his more elemental moments is played upon by pretty complex
forces. And if there was humility on that lean and rock-ribbed
countenance of my soul-mate there was also antagonism, and mixed up
with the antagonism was a sprinkling of startled wonder, and tangled up
with the wonder was a slightly perplexed brand of contrition, and
interwoven with that again was a suggestion of allegiance revived, as
though he had forgotten that he possessed a wife who had a heart and
mind of her own, who was even worth sticking to when the rest of the
world was threatening to give him the cold shoulder. He felt
abstractedly down in his coat pocket for his pipe, which is always a
It's big and fine of you, Chaddie, to put it that way, he began,
rather awkwardly, and with just a touch of color coming to his rather
gray-looking cheek-bones. But can't you see that now it's the children
we've got to think of?
I have thought of them, I quietly announced. As though any
mother, on prairie or in metropolis, didn't think of them first and
last and in-between-whiles! And that's what simplifies the situation.
I want them to have a fair chance. I'd rather they
It's not quite that criminal, cut in Dinky-Dunk, with almost an
angry flush creeping up toward his forehead.
I'm only taking your own word for that, I reminded him,
deliberately steeling my heart against the tides of compassion that
were trying to dissolve it. And I'm only taking what is, after all,
the easiest course out of the situation.
Dinky-Dunk's color receded, leaving his face even more than ever the
color of old cheese, for all the tan of wind and sun which customarily
tinted it, like afterglow on a stubbled hillside.
But Lady Alicia herself still has something to say about all this,
he reminded me.
Lady Alicia had better rope in her ranch when the roping is good,
I retorted, chilled a little by her repeated intrusion into the
situation. For I had no intention of speaking of Lady Alicia Newland
with bated breath, just because she had a title. I'd scratched dances
with a duke or two myself, in my time, even though I could already see
myself once more wielding a kitchen-mop and tamping a pail against a
hog-trough, over at the Harris Ranch.
You're missing the point, began Dinky-Dunk.
Listen! I suddenly commanded. A harried roebuck has nothing on a
young mother for acuteness of hearing. And thin and faint, from
above-stairs, I caught the sound of a treble wailing which was promptly
augmented into a duet.
Poppsy's got Pee-Wee awake, I announced as I rose from my chair.
It seemed something suddenly remote and small, this losing of a
fortune, before the more imminent problem of getting a pair of crying
babies safely to sleep. I realized that as I ran upstairs and started
the swing-box penduluming back and forth. I even found myself much
calmer in spirit by the time I'd crooned and soothed the Twins off
again. And I was smiling a little, I think, as I went down to my poor
old Dinky-Dunk, for he held out a hand and barred my way as I rounded
the table to resume my seat opposite him.
You don't despise me, do you? he demanded, holding me by the
sleeve and studying me with a slightly mystified eye. It was an eye as
wistful as an old hound's in winter, an eye with a hunger I'd not seen
there this many a day.
Despise you, Acushla? I echoed, with a catch in my throat, as my
arms closed about him. And as he clung to me, with a forlorn sort of
desperation, a soul-Chinook seemed to sweep up the cold fogs that had
gathered and swung between us for so many months. I'd worried, in
secret, about that fog. I'd tried to tell myself that it was the coming
of the children that had made the difference, since a big strong man,
naturally, had to take second place to those helpless little mites. But
my Dinky-Dunk had a place in my heart which no snoozerette could fill
and no infant could usurp. He was my man, my mate, my partner in this
tangled adventure called life, and so long as I had him they could take
the house with the laundry-chute and the last acre of land.
My dear, my dear, I tried to tell him, I was never hungry for
money. The one thing I've always been hungry for is love. What'd be the
good of having a millionaire husband if he looked like a man in a
hair-shirt on every occasion when you asked for a moment of his time?
And what's the good of life if you can't crowd a little affection into
it? I was just thinking we're all terribly like children in a Maypole
dance. We're so impatient to get our colored bands wound neatly about a
wooden stick, a wooden stick that can never be ours, that we make a mad
race of what really ought to be a careless and leisurely joy. We don't
remember to enjoy the dancing, and we seem to get so mixed in our ends.
So carpe diem, say I. And perhaps you remember that sentence
from Epictetus you once wrote out on a slip of paper and pinned to my
bedroom door: 'Better it is that great souls should live in small
habitations than that abject slaves should burrow in great houses!'
Dinky-Dunk, as I sat brushing back his top-knot, regarded me with a
sad and slightly acidulated smile.
You'd need all that philosophy, and a good deal more, before you'd
lived for a month in a place like the Harris shack, he warned me.
Not if I knew you loved me, O Kaikobad, I very promptly informed
But you do know that, he contended, man-like. I was glad to find,
though, that a little of the bitterness had gone out of his eyes.
Feather-headed women like me, Diddums, hunger to hear that sort of
thing, hunger to hear it all the time. On that theme they want their
husbands to be like those little Japanese wind-harps that don't even
know how to be silent.
Then why did you say, about a month ago, that marriage was like
Hogan's Alley, the deeper one got into it the tougher it was?
Why did you go off to Edmonton for three whole days without kissing
me good-by? I countered. I tried to speak lightly, but it took an
effort. For my husband's neglect, on that occasion, had seemed the
first intimation that the glory was over and done with. It had given me
about the same feeling that we used to have as flapperettes when the
circus-manager mounted the tub and began to announce the after-concert,
all for the price of ten cents, one dime!
I wanted to, Tabbie, but you impressed me as looking rather
unapproachable that day.
When the honey is scarce, my dear, even bees are said to be cross,
I reminded him. And that's the thing that disturbs me, Dinky-Dunk. It
must disturb any woman to remember that she's left her happiness in one
man's hand. And it's more than one's mere happiness, for mixed up with
that is one's sense of humor and one's sense of proportion. They all
go, when you make me miserable. And the Lord knows, my dear, that a
woman without a sense of humor is worse than a dipper without a
Dinky-Dunk sat studying me.
I guess it was my own sense of proportion that got out of kilter,
Gee-Gee, he finally said. But there's one thing I want you to
remember. If I got deeper into this game than I should have, it wasn't
for what money meant to me. I've never been able to forget what I took
you away from. I took you away from luxury and carted you out here to
the end of Nowhere and had you leave behind about everything that made
life decent. And the one thing I've always wanted to do is make good on
that over-draft on your bank-account of happiness. I've wanted to give
back to you the things you sacrificed. I knew I owed you that, all
along. And when the children came I saw that I owed it to you more than
ever. I want to give Dinky-Dink and Poppsy and Pee-Wee a fair chance in
life. I want to be able to start them right, just as much as you do.
And you can't be dumped back into a three-roomed wickiup, with three
children to bring up, and feel that you're doing the right thing by
It wasn't altogether happy talk, but deep down in my heart I was
glad we were having it. It seemed to clear the air, very much as a good
old-fashioned thunder-storm can. It left us stumbling back to the
essentials of existence. It showed us where we stood, and what we meant
to each other, what we must mean to each other. And now that the chance
had come, I intended to have my say out.
The things that make life decent, Dinky-Dunk, are the things that
we carry packed away in our own immortal soul, the homely old things
like honesty and self-respect and contentment of mind. And if we've got
to cut close to the bone before we can square up our ledger of life,
let's start the carving while we have the chance. Let's get our
conscience clear and know we're playing the game.
I was dreadfully afraid he was going to laugh at me, it sounded so
much like pulpiteering. But I was in earnest, passionately in earnest,
and my lord and master seemed to realize it.
Have you thought about the kiddies? he asked me, for the second
I'm always thinking about the kiddies, I told him, a trifle
puzzled by the wince which so simple a statement could bring to his
face. His wondering eye, staring through the open French doors of the
living-room, rested on my baby grand.
How about that? he demanded, with a grim head-nod toward
That may help to amuse Lady Alicia, I just as grimly retorted.
He stared about that comfortable home which we had builded up out of
our toil, stared about at it as I've seen emigrants stare back at the
receding shores of the land they loved. Then he sat studying my face.
How long is it since you've seen the inside of the Harris shack?
he suddenly asked me.
Last Friday when I took the bacon and oatmeal over to Soapy and
Francois and Whinstane Sandy, I told him.
And what did you think of that shack?
It impressed me as being sadly in need of soap and water, I calmly
admitted. It's like any other shack where two or three men have been
batchingno better and no worse than the wickiup I came to here on my
Dinky-Dunk looked about at me quickly, as though in search of some
touch of malice in that statement. He seemed bewildered, in fact, to
find that I was able to smile at him.
But that, Chaddie, was nearly four long years ago, he reminded me,
with a morose and meditative clouding of the brow. And I knew exactly
what he was thinking about.
I'll know better how to go about it this time, I announced with my
stubbornest Doctor Pangless grin.
But there are two things you haven't taken into consideration,
Dinky-Dunk reminded me.
What are they? I demanded.
One is the matter of ready money.
I've that six hundred dollars from my Chilean nitrate shares, I
proudly announced. And Uncle Carlton said that if the Company ever
gets reorganized it ought to be a paying concern.
Dinky-Dunk, however, didn't seem greatly impressed with either the
parade of my secret nest-egg or the promise of my solitary plunge into
finance. What's the other? I asked as he still sat frowning over his
The other is Lady Alicia herself, he finally explained.
What can she do?
She may cause complications.
What kind of complications?
I can't tell until I've seen her, was Dinky-Dunk's none too
Then we needn't cross that bridge until we come to it, I announced
as I sat watching Dinky-Dunk pack the bowl of his pipe and strike a
match. It seemed a trivial enough movement. Yet it was monumental in
its homeliness. It was poignant with a power to transport me back to
earlier and happier days, to the days when one never thought of
feathering the nest of existence with the illusions of old age. A vague
loneliness ate at my heart, the same as a rat eats at a cellar beam.
I crossed over to my husband's side and stood with one hand on his
shoulder as he sat there smoking. I waited for him to reach out for my
other hand. But the burden of his troubles seemed too heavy to let him
remember. He smoked morosely on. He sat in a sort of self-immuring
torpor, staring out over what he still regarded as the wreck of his
career. So I stooped down and helped myself to a very smoky kiss before
I went off up-stairs to bed. For the children, I knew, would have me
awake early enoughand nursing mothers needs must sleep!
Thursday the Second
I have won my point. Dinky-Dunk has succumbed. The migration is
under way. The great trek has begun. In plain English, we're moving.
I rather hate to think about it. We seem so like the Children of
Israel bundled out of a Promised Land, or old Adam and Eve turned out
of the Garden with their little Cains and Abels. We're up against it,
Gee-Gee, as Dinky-Dunk grimly observed. I could see that we were,
without his telling me. But I refused to acknowledge it, even to
myself. And it wasn't the first occasion. This time, thank heaven, I
can at least face it with fortitude, if not with relish. I don't like
poverty. And I don't intend to like it. And I'm not such a hypocrite as
to make a pretense of liking it. But I do intend to show my Dinky-Dunk
that I'm something more than a household ornament, just as I intend to
show myself that I can be something more than a breeder of children. I
have given my three hostages to fortuneand during the last few days
when we've been living, like the infant Moses, in a series of rushes, I
have awakened to the fact that they are indeed hostages. For the little
tikes, no matter how you maneuver, still demand a big share of your
time and energy. But one finally manages, in some way or another.
Dinky-Dunk threatens to expel me from the Mothers' Union when I work
over time, and Poppsy and Pee-Wee unite in letting me know when I've
been foolish enough to pass my fatigue-point. Yet I've been sloughing
off some of my old-time finicky ideas about child-raising and reverting
to the peasant-type of conduct which I once so abhorred in my Finnish
Olga. And I can't say that either I or my family seem to have suffered
much in the process. I feel almost uncannily well and strong now, and
am a wolf for work. If nothing else happened when our apple-cart went
over, it at least broke the monotony of life. I'm able to wring, in
fact, just a touch of relish out of all this migrational movement and
stir, and Casa Grande itself is already beginning to remind me of a
liner's stateroom about the time the pilot comes aboard and the
donkey-engines start to clatter up with the trunk-nets.
For three whole days I simply ached to get at the Harris Ranch
shack, just to show what I could do with it. And I realized when
Dinky-Dunk and I drove over to it in the buckboard, on a rather nippy
morning when it was a joy to go spanking along the prairie trail with
the cold air etching rosettes on your cheek-bones, that it was a foeman
well worthy of my steel. At a first inspection, indeed, it didn't look
any too promising. It didn't exactly stand up on the prairie-floor and
shout Welcome into your ears. There was an overturned windmill and a
broken-down stable that needed a new roof, and a well that had a pump
which wouldn't work without priming. There was an untidy-looking
corral, and a reel for stringing up slaughtered beeves, and an
overturned Red River cart bleached as white as a buffalo skeleton. As
for the wickiup itself, it was well-enough built, but lacking in
windows and quite unfinished as to the interior.
I told Dinky-Dunk I wanted two new window-frames, beaverboard for
inside lining, and two gallons of paint. I have also demanded a
lean-to, to serve as an extra bedroom and nursery, and a brand-new
bunk-house for the hired hands when they happen to come along. I have
also insisted on a covered veranda and sleeping porch on the south side
of the shack, and fly-screens, and repairs to the chimney to stop the
range from smoking. And since the cellar, which is merely timbered,
will have to be both my coal-hole and my storage-room, it most
assuredly will have to be cemented. I explained to Dinky-Dunk that I
wanted eave-troughs on both the shack and the stable, for the sake of
the soft-water, and proceeded to point out the need of a new
washing-machine, and a kiddie-coop for Poppsy and Pee-Wee as soon as
the weather got warm, and a fence, hog-tight and horse-high, about my
half-acre of kitchen garden.
Dinky-Dunk sat staring at me with a wry though slightly woebegone
Look here, Lady-Bird, all this sort of thing takes 'rhino,' which
means ready money. And where's it going to come from?
I'll use that six hundred, as long as it lasts, I blithely
retorted. And then we'll get credit.
But my credit is gone, Dinky-Dunk dolorously acknowledged.
Then what's the matter with mine? I demanded. I hadn't meant to
hurt him, when I said that. But I refused to be downed. And I intended
to make my ranch a success.
It's still quite unimpaired, I suppose, he said in a
thirty-below-zero sort of voice.
Goose! I said, with a brotherly pat on his drooping shoulder. But
my lord and master refused to be cheered up.
It's going to take more than optimism to carry us through this
first season, he explained to me. And the only way that I can see is
for me to get out and rustle for work.
What kind of work? I demanded.
The kind there's a famine for, at this very moment, was
You don't mean being somebody else's hired man? I said, aghast.
A hired man can get four dollars a day and board, retorted my
husband. And a man and team can get nine dollars a day. We can't keep
things going without ready money. And there's only one way, out here,
of getting it.
Dinky-Dunk was able to laugh at the look of dismay that came into my
face. I hadn't stopped to picture myself as the wife of a hired hand.
I hadn't quite realized just what we'd descended to. I hadn't imagined
just how much one needed working capital, even out here on the edge of
But never that way, Diddums! I cried out in dismay, as I pictured
my husband bunking with a sweaty-smelling plowing-gang of Swedes and
Finns and hoboing about the prairie with a thrashing outfit of the
Great Unwashed. He'd get cooties, or rheumatism, or a sunstroke, or a
knife between his ribs some fine nightand then where'd I be? I
couldn't think of it. I couldn't think of Duncan Argyll McKail, the
descendant of Scottish kings and second-cousin to a title, hiring out
to some old skinflint of a farmer who'd have him up at four in the
morning and keep him on the go until eight at night.
Then what other way? asked Dinky-Dunk.
You leave it to me, I retorted. I made a bluff of saying it
bravely enough, but I inwardly decided that instead of sixteen yards of
fresh chintz I'd have to be satisfied with five yards. Poverty, after
all, is not a picturesque thing. But I didn't intend to be poor, I
protested to my troubled soul, as I went at that Harris Ranch wickiup,
tooth and nail, while Iroquois Annie kept an eye on Dinkie and the
These same Twins, I can more than ever see, are going to be somewhat
of a brake on the wheels of industry. I have even been feeding on
slops, of late, to the end that Poppsy and Pee-Wee may thrive. And
already I see sex-differences asserting themselves. Pee-Wee is a bit of
a stoic, while his sister shows a tendency to prove a bit of a
squealer. But Poppsy is much the daintier feeder of the two. I'll
probably have to wean them both, however, before many more weeks slip
by. As soon as we get settled in our new shack and I can be sure of a
one-cow supply of milk I'll begin a bottle-feed once in every
twenty-four hours. Dinky-Dunk says I ought to take a tip from the
Indian mother, who sometimes nurses her babe until he's two and three
years old. I asked Ikkieas Dinkie calls Iroquois Annieabout this
and Ikkie says the teepee squaw has no cow's milk and has to keep on
the move, so she feeds him breast-milk until he's able to eat meat.
Ikkie informs me that she has seen a papoose turn away from its
mother's breast to take a puff or two at a pipe. From which I assume
that the noble Red Man learns to smoke quite early in life.
Ikkie has also been enlightening me on other baby-customs of her
ancestors, explaining that it was once the habit for a mother to name
her baby for the first thing seen after its birth. That, I told
Dinky-Dunk, was probably why there were so many Running Rabbits, and
White Pups and Black Calfs over on the Reservation. And that
started me maun enlarging on the names of Indians he'd known, the most
elongated of which, he acknowledged, was probably The-Man-Who-Gets-Up-In-The-Middle-Of-The-Night-To-Feed-Oats-To-His-Pony, while the most
descriptive was Slow-To-Come-Over-The-Hill, though
Shot-At-Many-Times was not without value, and Long-Time-No-See-Him,
as the appellative for a disconsolate young squaw, carried a slight
hint of the Indian's genius for nomenclature. Another thing mentioned
by Dunkie, which has stuck in my memory, was his running across a
papoose's grave in an Indian burying-ground at Pincer Creek, when he
was surveying, where the Indian baby had been buriedabove-ground, of
coursein an old Saratoga trunk. That served to remind me of
Francois' story about Old Sun, who preceded Running Rabbitnote
the nameas chief of the Alberta Blackfoot tribe, and always carried
among his souvenirs of conquest a beautiful white scalp, with hair of
the purest gold, very long and fine, but would never reveal how or
where he got it. Many a night, when I couldn't sleep, I've worried
about that white scalp, and dramatized the circumstances of its
gathering. Who was the girl with the long and lovely tresses of purest
gold? And did she die bravely? And did she meet death honorably and
decently, or after the manner of certain of the Jesuits' Relations
I have had a talk with Whinnie, otherwise Whinstane Sandy, who has
been ditching at the far end of our half-section. I explained the
situation to him quite openly, acknowledging that we were on the rocks
but not yet wrecked, and pointing out that there might be a few months
before the ghost could walk again. And Whinstane Sandy has promised to
stick. Poor old Whinnie not only promised to stick, but volunteered
that if he could get over to Seattle or 'Frisco and raise some money on
his Klondike claim our troubles would be a thing of the past. For
Whinnie, who is an old-time miner and stampeder, is, I'm afraid, a wee
bit gone in the upper story. He dreams he has a claim up North where
there's millions and millions in gold to be dug out. On his moose-hide
watch-guard he wears a nugget almost half as big as a praline, a nugget
he found himself in ninety-nine, and he'd part with his life, I
believe, before he'd part with that bangle of shiny yellow metal. In
his chest of black-oak, too, he keeps a package of greasy and dog-eared
documents, and some day, he proclaims, those papers will bring him into
millions of money.
I asked Dinky-Dunk about the nugget, and he says it's genuine gold,
without a doubt. He also says there's one chance in a hundred of
Whinnie actually having a claim up in the gold country, but doubts if
the poor old fellow will ever get up to it again. It's about on the
same footing, apparently, as Uncle Carlton's Chilean nitrate mines. For
Whinnie had a foot frozen, his third winter on the Yukon, and this, of
course, has left him lame. It means that he's not a great deal of good
when it comes to working the land, but he's a clever carpenter, and a
good cement-worker, and can chore about milking the cows and looking
after the stock and repairing the farm implements. Many a night, after
supper, he tells us about the Klondike in the old days, about the
stampedes of ninety-eight and ninety-nine, and the dance-halls and
hardships and gamblers and claim-jumpers. I have always had a weakness
for him because of his blind and unshakable love for my little Dinkie,
for whom he whittles out ships and windmills and decoy-ducks. But when
I explained things to simple-minded old Whinnie, and he offered to hand
over the last of his ready moneythe money he was hoarding dollar by
dollar to get back to his hidden El Doradoit brought a lump up
into my throat.
I couldn't accept his offer, of course, but I loved him for making
it. And whatever happens, I'm going to see that Whinnie has patches on
his panties and no holes in his socks as long as he abides beneath our
humble roof-tree. I intend to make the new bunk-house just as homy and
comfortable as I can, so that Whinnie, under that new roof, won't feel
that he's been thrust out in the cold. But I must have my own house for
myself and my babes. Soapy Stennet, by the way, has been paid off by
Dinky-Dunk and is moving on to the Knee-Hill country, where he says he
can get good wages breaking and seeding. Soapy, of course, was a good
man on the land, but I never took a shine to that hard-eyed Canuck, and
we'll get along, in some way or other, without him. For, in the
language of the noble Horatius, I'll find a way, or make it!
On the way back to Casa Grande to-night, after a hard day's work, I
asked Dinky-Dunk if we wouldn't need some sort of garage over at the
Harris Ranch, to house our automobile. He said he'd probably put doors
on the end of one of the portable granaries and use that. When I
questioned if a car of that size would ever fit into a granary he
informed me that we couldn't keep our big car.
I can get seventeen hundred dollars for that boat, he explained.
We'll have to be satisfied with a tin Lizzie, and squander less on
So once again am I reminded that the unpardonable crime of poverty
is not always picturesque. But I wrestled with my soul then and there,
and put my pride in my pocket and told Dinky-Dunk I didn't give a rip
what kind of a car I rode in so long as I had such a handsome
chauffeur. And I reached out and patted him on the knee, but he was
too deep in his worries about business matters, I suppose, to pay any
attention to that unseemly advance.
To-night after supper, when the bairns were safely in bed, I opened
up the baby grand, intent on dying game, whatever happened or was to
happen. But my concert wasn't much of a success. When you do a thing
for the last time, and know it's to be the last time, it gives you a
graveyardy sort of feeling, no matter how you may struggle against it.
And the blither the tune the heavier it seemed to make my heart. So I
swung back to the statelier things that have come down to us out of the
cool and quiet of Time. I eased my soul with the Sonata Appassionata
and lost myself in the Moonlight and pounded out the Eroica. But my fingers were stiff and my touch was woodenso it was small
wonder my poor lord and master tried to bury himself in his
four-day-old newspaper. Then I tried Schubert's Rosamonde,
though that wasn't much of a success. So I wandered on through Liszt to
Chopin. And even Chopin struck me as too soft and sugary and far-away
for a homesteader's wife, so I sang
In the dead av the night, acushla,
When the new big house is still,
to see if it would shake any sign of recognition out of my harried
As I beheld nothing more than an abstracted frown over the tip-top
edge of his paper, I defiantly swung into The Humming Coon,
which apparently had no more effect than Herman Lohr. So with malice
aforethought I slowly and deliberately pounded out the Beethoven
Funeral March. I lost myself, in fact, in that glorious and melodic
wail of sorrow, merged my own puny troubles in its god-like
immensities, and was brought down to earth by a sudden movement from
Why rub it in? he almost angrily demanded as he got up and left
But that stammering little soul-flight has done me good. It has
given me back my perspective. I refuse to be downed. I'm still the
captain of my soul. I'm still at the wheel, no matter if we are rolling
a bit. And life, in some way, is still going to be good, still well
worth the living!
Wednesday the Eighth
Dinky-Dunk has had word that Lady Alicia is on her way west. He
seems to regard that event as something very solemn, but I refuse to
take seriously either her ladyship or her arrival. To-night, I'm more
worried about Dinkie, who got at the floor-shellac with which I'd been
furbishing up the bathroom at Casa Grande. He succeeded in giving his
face and hair a very generous coat of itand I'm hoping against hope
he didn't get too much of it in his little stomach. He seems normal
enough, and in fairly good spirits, but I had to scrub his face with
coal-oil, to get it clean, and his poor little baby-skin is burnt
The winter has broken, the frost is coming out of the ground and the
mud is not adding to our joy in life. Our last load over to the Harris
shack was ferried and tooled through a batter. On the top of it (the
load, and not the batter!) I placed Olie's old banjo, for whatever
happens, we mustn't be entirely without music.
Yesterday Dinky-Dunk got Paddy saddled and bridled for me. Paddy
bucked and bit and bolted and sulked and tried to brush his rider off
against the corral posts. But Dinky-Dunk fought it out with him, and
winded him, and mastered him, and made him meek enough for me to slip
up into the saddle. My riding muscles, however, have gone flabby, and
two or three miles, for the first venture, was all I cared to stand.
But I'm glad to know that Paddy can be pressed into service again,
whenever the occasion arises. Poor old Bobs, by the way, keeps looking
at me with a troubled and questioning eye. He seems to know that some
unsettling and untoward event is on the way. When a coyote howled last
night, far off on the sky-line, Bobs poured out his soul in an
answering solo of misery. This morning, when I was pretty busy, he
poked his head between my knees. I had a dozen things calling me, but I
took the time to rub his nose and brush back his ears and tell him he
was the grandest old dog on all God's green earth. And he repaid me
with a look of adoration that put springs under my heels for the rest
of the morning, and came and licked Pee-Wee's bare heels, and later
Poppsy's, when I was giving them their bath.
Friday the Tenth
Lady Alicia has arrived. So have her trunks, eleven in numbercount
'em!trunks of queer sizes and shapes, of pigskin and patent leather
and canvas, with gigantic buckles and straps, and all gaudily initialed
and plastered with foreign labels. Her ladyship had to come, of course,
at the very worst time of year, when the mud was at its muckiest and
the prairie was at its worst. The trails were simply awful, with the
last of the frost coming out of the ground and mother earth a foot-deep
sponge of engulfing stickiness. All the world seemed turned to mud. I
couldn't go along, of course, when Dinky-Dunk started off in the
Teetzels' borrowed spring democrat to meet his English cousin at the
Buckhorn station, with Whinstane Sandy and the wagon trailing behind
for the luggage.
We expected a lady in somewhat delicate health, so I sent along
plenty of rugs and a foot-warmer, and saw that the house was well
heated, and the west room bed turned down. Even a hot-water bottle
stood ready and waiting to be filled.
But Lady Alicia, when she arrived with Dinky-Dunk just before
nightfall, didn't impress me as very much of an invalid. She struck me
more as a very vital and audacious woman, neither young nor old, with
an odd quietness of manner to give a saber-edge to her audacity. I
could hear her laughing, musically and not unpleasantly, at the
mud-coated democrat, which on its return looked a good deal like a
'dobe hut mounted on four chariot wheels. But everything, for
that matter, was covered with mud, horses and harness and robes and
even the blanket in which Lady Alicia had wrapped herself. She had done
this, I could see, to give decent protection to a Redfern coat of
plucked beaver with immense reveres, though there was mud enough on her
stout tan shoes, so unmistakably English in their common-sense
solidity, and some on her fur turban and even a splash or two on her
face. That face, by the way, has an apple-blossom skin of which I can
see she is justly proud. And she has tourmaline eyes, with reddish
hazel specks in an iris of opaque blue, and small white teeth and lips
with a telltale curve of wilfulness about them. She isn't exactly
girlish, but with all her worldly wisdom she has a touch of the
clinging-ivy type which must make her inordinately appealing to men.
Her voice is soft and full-voweled, with that habitual rising
inflection characteristic of the English, and that rather insolent
drawl which in her native land seems the final flower of unchallenged
privilege. Her hands are very white and fastidious looking, and most
carefully manicured. She is, in fact, wonderful in many ways, but I
haven't yet decided whether I'm going to like her or not. Her smile
strikes me as having more glitter than warmth, and although she is
neither tall nor full-bodied, she seems to have the power of making
point take the place of weight. Yet, oddly enough, there is an
occasional air of masculine loose-jointedness about her movements, a
half-defiant sort of slouch and swagger which would probably carry much
farther in her Old World than in our easier-moving New World, where
disdain of decorum can not be regarded as quite such a novelty.
It wasn't until she was within the protecting door of Casa Grande
that I woke up to the fact of how incongruous she stood on a northwest
ranch. She struck me, then, as distinctly an urban product, as one of
those lazy and silk-lined and limousiny sort of women who could face an
upholstery endurance-test without any apparent signs of heart-failure,
but might be apt to fall down on engine-performance. Yet I was
determined to suspend all judgment, even after I could see that she was
making no particular effort to meet me half-way, though she did
acknowledge that Dinkie, in his best bib and tucker, was a dawling
and even proclaimed that his complexiondue, of course, to the
floor-shellac and coal-oilreminded her very much of the
higher-colored English children. She also dutifully asked about Poppsy
and Pee-Wee, after announcing that she found the house uncomfortably
hot, and seemed surprised that Dinky-Dunk should descend to the
stabling and feeding and watering of his own horses.
She appeared rather constrained and ill-at-ease, in fact, until
Dinky-Dunk had washed up and joined us. Yet I saw, when we sat down to
our belated supper, that the fair Allie had the abundant and honest
appetite of a healthy boy. She also asked if she might smoke between
courseswhich same worried the unhappy Dinky-Dunk much more than it
did me. My risibilities remained untouched until she languidly remarked
that any woman who had twins on the prairie ought to get a V.C.
But she automatically became, I retorted, a K.C.B. This seemed to
puzzle the cool-eyed Lady Alicia.
That means a Knight Commander of the Bath, she said with her
Exactly, I agreed. And Dinky-Dunk had to come to her rescue and
explain the joke, like a court-interpreter translating Cree to the
circuit judge, so that by the time he got through it didn't seem a joke
at all and his eyes were flashing me a code-signal not to be too hard
on a tenderfoot. When, later on, Lady Alicia looked about Casa Grande,
which we'd toiled and moiled and slaved to make like the homestead
prints in the immigration pamphlets, she languidly acknowledged that it
was rather ducky, whatever that may mean, and asked Dinky-Dunk if
there'd be any deer-shooting this spring. I notice, by the way, that
she calls him Dooncan and sometimes Cousin Doonk, which strikes me
as being over-intimate, seeing he's really her second cousin. It seems
suggestive of some hidden joke between them. And Duncan addresses her
quite openly as Allie.
This same Allie has brought a lady's maid with her whom she
addresses, more Anglico, simply by her surname of Struthers.
Struthers is a submerged and self-obliterating and patient-eyed woman
of nearly forty, I should say, with a face that would be both
intelligent and attractive, if it weren't so subservient. But I've a
floaty sort of feeling that this same maid knows a little more than she
lets on to know, and I'm wondering what western life will do to her. In
one year's time, I'll wager a plugged nickel against an English
sovereign, she'll not be sedately and patiently dining at second-table
and murmuring Yes, me Lady in that meek and obedient manner. But it
fairly took my breath, the adroit and expeditious manner in which
Struthers had that welter of luggage unstrapped and unbuckled and
warped into place and things stowed away, even down to her ladyship's
rather ridiculous folding canvas bathtub. In little more than two
shakes she had a shimmering litter of toilet things out on the dresser
tops, and even a nickel alcohol-lamp set up for brewing the apparently
essential cup of tea. It made me wish that I had a Struthers or two of
my own on the string. And that made my thoughts go hurtling back to my
old Hortense and how we had parted at the Hotel de L'Athenee, and to
Theobald Gustav and his aunt the Baroness, and the old lost life that
seemed such years and years away....
But I promptly put the lid down on those over-disturbing
reminiscences. There should be no post-mortems in this family
circle, no jeremiads over what has gone before. This is the New World
and the new age where life is too crowded for regrets. I am a woman
twenty-seven years old, married and the mother of three children. I am
the wife of a rancher who went bust in a land-boom and is compelled to
start life over again. I must stand beside him, and start from the
bottom. I must also carry along with me all the hopes and prospects of
three small lives. This, however, is something which I refuse to accept
as a burden and a handicap. It is a weight attached to me, of course,
but it's only the stabilizing weight which the tail contributes to the
kite, allowing it, in the end, to fly higher and keep steadier. It
won't seem hard to do without things, when I think of those kiddies of
mine, and hard work should be a great and glorious gift, if it is to
give them the start in life which they deserve. We'll no longer
quarrel, Diddums and I, about whether Dinkie shall go to Harvard or
McGill. There'll be much closer problems than that, I imagine, before
Dinkie is out of his knickers. Fate has shaken us down to
realitiesand my present perplexity is to get possession of six new
milk-pans and that new barrel-churn, not to mention the flannelette I
simply must have for the Twins' new nighties!...
Saturday the Eleventh
These imperturbable English! I didn't know whether I should take off
my hat to 'em or despise 'em. They seem to come out of a different mold
to what we Americans do. Lady Alicia takes everything as a matter of
course. She seems to have accepted one of the finest ranches west of
the Peg as impassively as an old work-horse accepts a new shoe. Even
the immensity of our western prairie-land hasn't quite stumped her. She
acknowledged that Casa Grande was quaint, and is obviously much more
interested in Iroquois Annie, the latter being partly a Redskin, than
in my humble self. I went up in her estimation a little, however, when
I coolly accepted one of her cigarettes, of which she has brought
enough to asphyxiate an army. I managed it all right, though it was
nearly four long years since I'd flicked the ash off the end of onein
Chinkie's yacht going up to Monte Carlo. But I was glad enough to drop
the bigger half of it quietly into my nasturtium window-box, when the
lady wasn't looking.
The lady in question, by the way, seems rather disappointed to find
that Casa Grande has what she called central heating. About the
middle of next February, when the thermometer is flirting with the
forty-below mark, she may change her mind. I suppose the lady expected
to get a lodge and a deer-park along with her new home, to say nothing
of a picture 'allopen to the public on Fridays, admission one
shillingand a family ghost, and, of course, a terrace for the
aforesaid ghost to ambulate along on moonlight nights.
But the thing that's been troubling me, all day long, is: Now that
Lady Alicia has got her hand-made ranch, what's she going to do with
it? I scarcely expect her to take me into her confidence on the matter,
since she seems intent on regarding me as merely a bit of the
landscape. The disturbing part of it all is that her aloofness is so
unstudied, so indifferent in its lack of deliberation. It makes me feel
like a bump on a log. I shouldn't so much mind being actively and
martially snubbed, for that would give me something definite and
tangible to grow combative over. But you can't cross swords with a
With Dinky-Dunk her ladyship is quite different. I never see that
look of mild impatience in her opaque blue eyes when he is talking. She
flatters him openly, in fact, and a man takes to flattery, of course,
as a kitten takes to cream. Yet with all her outspokenness I am
conscious of a tremendous sense of reservation. Already, more than
once, she has given me a feeling which I'd find it very hard to
describe, a feeling as though we were being suspended over peril by
something very fragile. It's the feeling you have when you stand on one
of those frail little Alpine bridges that can sway so forebodingly with
your own weight and remind you that nothing but a rustic paling or two
separates you from the thousand-footed abysses below your heels.
But I mustn't paint the new mistress of Casa Grande all in dark
colors. She has her good points, and a mind of her own, and a thought
or two of her own. Dinky-Dunk was asking her about Egypt. That country,
she retorted, was too dead for her. She couldn't wipe out of her heart
the memory of what man had suffered along the banks of the Nile, during
the last four thousand years, what millions of men had suffered there
because of religion and war and caste.
I could never be happy in a country of dead races and dead creeds
and dead cities, protested Lady Alicia, with more emotion than I had
expected. And those are the things that always stare me in the face
This brought the talk around to the New World.
I rather fancy that a climate like yours up here, she coolly
observed, would make luxuries of furniture and dress, and convert what
should be the accidents of life into essentials. You will always have
to fight against nature, you know, and that makes man attach more
importance to the quest of comfort. But when he lives in the tropics,
in a surrounding that leaves him with few desires, he has time to sit
down and think about his soul. That's why you can never have a great
musician or a great poet in your land of blizzards, Cousin Dooncan. You
are all kept too busy laying up nuts for the winter. You can't afford
to turn gipsy and go off star-gazing.
You can if you join the I. W. W., I retorted. But the allusion was
lost on her.
I can't imagine a Shelley or a Theocritus up here on your prairie,
she went on, or a Marcus Aurelius in the real-estate business in
Dinky-Dunk was able to smile at this, though I wasn't.
But we have the glory of doing things, I contended, and somebody,
I believe, has summed up your Marcus Aurelius by saying he left behind
him a couple of beautiful books, an execrable son, and a decaying
nation. And we don't intend to decay! We don't live for the moment,
it's true. But we live for To-morrow. We write epics in railway lines,
and instead of working out sonnets we build new cities, and instead of
sitting down under a palm-tree and twiddling our thumbs we turn a
wilderness into a new nation, and grow grain and give bread to the
hungry world where the gipsies don't seem quite able to make both ends
I had my say out, and Lady Alicia sat looking at me with a sort of
mild and impersonal surprise. But she declined to argue about it all.
And it was just as well she didn't, I suppose, for I had my Irish up
and didn't intend to sit back and see my country maligned.
But on the way home to the Harris Ranch last night, with Dinky-Dunk
silent and thoughtful, and a cold star or two in the high-arching
heavens over us, I found that my little fire of enthusiasm had burnt
itself out and those crazy lines of John Davidson kept returning to my
After the end of all things,
After the years are spent,
After the loom is broken,
After the robe is rent,
Will there be hearts a-beating,
Will friend converse with friend,
Will men and women be lovers,
After the end?
I felt very much alone in the world, and about as cheerful as a
moonstruck coyote, after those lines had rattled in my empty brain like
a skeleton in the wind. It wasn't until I saw the light in our wickiup
window and heard Bobs' bay of welcome through the crystal-clear
twilight that the leaden weight of desolation slipped off the ledge of
my heart. But as I heard that deep-noted bark of gladness, that
friendly intimation of guardianship unrelaxed and untiring, I
remembered that I had one faithful and unexacting friend, even though
it was nothing better than a dog.
Sunday the Twelfth
Dinky-Dunk rather surprised me to-day by asking why I was so
stand-offish with his Cousin Allie. I told him that I wasn't in the
habit of curling up like a kitten on a slab of Polar ice.
But she really likes you, Tabbie, my husband protested. She wants
to know you and understand you. Only you keep intimidating her, and
placing her at a disadvantage.
This was news to me. Lady Alicia, I'd imagined, stood in awe of
nothing on the earth beneath nor the heavens above. She can speak very
sharply, I've already noticed, to Struthers, when the occasion arises.
And she's been very calm and deliberate, as I've already observed, in
her manner of taking over Casa Grande. For she has formally
taken it over, Dinky-Dunk tells me, and in a day or two we all have to
trek to town for the signing of the papers. She is, apparently, going
to run the ranch on her own hook, and in her own way. It will be well
I was rather anxious to hear the particulars of the transfer to Lady
Allie, but Dinky-Dunk seemed a little reluctant to go into details, and
I didn't intend to make a parade of my curiosity. I can bide my
time.... Yesterday I put on my old riding-suit, saddled Paddy, fed the
Twins to their last mouthful, and went galloping off through the mud to
help bring the cattle over to the Harris Ranch. I was a sight, in that
weather-stained old suit and ragged toppers, even before I got freckled
and splashed with prairie-mud. I was standing up in the stirrups
laughing at Francois, who'd had a bad slip and fallen in a puddle just
back of our old corral, when her Ladyship came out. She must have taken
me for a drunken cowboy who'd rolled into a sheep-dip, for my nose was
red and my old Stetson sombrero was crooked on the back of my head and
even my hair was caked with mud. She called to me, rather imperiously,
so I went stampeding up to her, and let Paddy indulge in that
theatrical stop-slide of his, on his haunches, so that it wasn't until
his nose was within two feet of her own that she could be quite sure
she wasn't about to be run down.
Her eyes popped a little when she saw it was a woman on Paddy,
though she'd refused to show a trace of fear when we went avalanching
down on her. Then she studied my get-up.
I should rather like to ride that way, she coolly announced.
It's the only way, I told her, making Paddy pirouette by pressing
a heel against his short-ribs. She meant, of course, riding astride,
which must have struck her as the final word in audacity.
I like your pony, next remarked Lady Alicia, with a somewhat
wistful intonation in her voice.
He's a brick, I acknowledged. Then I swung about to help Francois
head off a bunch of rampaging steers. Come and see us, I called back
over my shoulder. If Lady Alicia answered, I didn't have time to catch
what she said.
But that romp on Paddy has done me good. It shook the solemnity out
of me. I've just decided that I'm not going to surrender to this
middle-aged Alice-Sit-by-the-Fire stuff before my time. I'm going to
refuse to grow old and poky. I'm going to keep the spark alive, the
sacred spark of youth, even though folks write me down as the biggest
loon west of the Dirt Hills. So dear Lordthis is my prayerwhatever
You do to me, keep me alive. O God, don't let me, in Thy divine
mercy, be a Dead One. Don't let me be a soured woman with a
self-murdered soul. Keep the wine of youth in my body and the hope of
happiness in my heart. Yea, permit me deeply to live and love and
laugh, so that youth may abide in my bones, even as it did in that
once-renowned Duchess of Lienster,
Who lived to the age of a hundred and ten,
To die of a fall from a cherry-tree then!
My poor old Dinky-Dunk, by the way, meanders about these days so
moody and morose it's beginning to disturb me. He's at the end of his
string, and picked clean to the bone, and I'm beginning to see that
it's my duty to buoy that man up, to nurse him back into a respectable
belief in himself. His nerves are a bit raw, and he's not always
responsible for his manners. The other night he came in tired, and
tried to read, when Poppsy and Pee-Wee were both going it like the
Russian Balalaika. To tell the truth, their little tummies were a bit
upset, because the food purveyor had had too strenuous a day to be
regular in her rounds.
Can't you keep those squalling brats quiet? Dinky-Dunk called out
to me. It came like a thunder clap. It left me gasping, to think that
he could call his own flesh and blood squalling brats. And I was
shocked and hurt, but I decided not to show it.
Will somebody kindly page Lord Chesterfield? I quietly remarked as
I went to the Twins and wheeled them out to the kitchen, where I gave
them hot peppermint and rubbed their backs and quieted them down again.
I suppose there's no such thing as a perfect husband. That's a
lesson we've all got to learn, the same as all children, apparently,
have to find out that acorns and horse-chestnuts aren't edible. For the
nap wears off men the same as it does off clothes. I dread to have to
write it down, but I begin to detect thinnesses in Dinky-Dunk, and a
disturbing little run or two in the even web of his character. But he
knows when he's played Indian and attempts oblique and rather
shamefaced efforts to make amends, later on, when it won't be too
noticeable. Last night, as I sat sewing, our little Dinkie must have
had a bad dream, for he wakened from a sound sleep with a scream of
terror. Dinky-Dunk went to him first, and took him up and sang to him,
and when I glanced in I saw a rumply and tumbly and sleepy-eyed tot
with his kinky head against his father's shoulder. As I took up my
sewing again and heard Dinky-Dunk singing to his son, it seemed a proud
and happy and contented sort of voice. It rose and fell in that next
room, in a sort of droning bass, and for the life of me I can't tell
why, but as I stopped in my sewing and sat listening to that father
singing to his sleepy-eyed first-born, it brought the sudden tears to
my eyes. It has been a considerable length of time, en passant,
since I found myself sitting down and pumping the brine. I must be
getting hardened in my old age.
Tuesday the Fourteenth
Lady Allie sent over for Dinky-Dunk yesterday morning, to fix the
windmill at Casa Grande. They'd put it out of commission in the first
week, and emptied the pressure-tank, and were without water, and were
as helpless as a couple of canaries. We have a broken windmill of our
own, right here at home, but Diddums went meekly enough, although he
was in the midst of his morning workand work is about to loom big
over this ranch, for we're at last able to get on the land. And the
sooner you get on the land, in this latitude, the surer you are of your
crop. We daren't shave down any margins of chance. We need that
I am really beginning to despair of Iroquois Annie. She is the only
thing I can get in the way of hired help out here, and yet she is
hopeless. She is sullen and wasteful, and she has never yet learned to
be patient with the children. I try to soften and placate her with the
gift of trinkets, for there is enough Redskin in her to make her
inordinately proud of anything with a bit of flash and glitter to it.
But she is about as responsive to actual kindness as a diamond-back
rattler would be, and some day, if she drives me too far, I'm going off
at half-cock and blow that breed into mince-meat.
By the way, I can see myself writ small in little Dinkie, my moods
and waywardnesses and wicked impulses, and sudden chinooks of
tenderness alternating with a perverse sort of shrinking away from love
itself, even when I'm hungering for it. I can also catch signs of his
pater's masterfulness cropping out in him. Small as he is, he disturbs
me by that combative stare of his. It's almost a silent challenge I see
in his eyes as he coolly studies me, after a proclamation that he will
be spanked if he repeats a given misdeed.
I'm beginning to understand the meaning of that very old phrase
about one's chickens coming home to roost. I can even detect sudden
impulses of cruelty in little Dinkie, when, young and tender as he
appears to the casual eye, a quick and wilful passion to hurt something
takes possession of him. Yesterday I watched him catch up his one-eyed
Teddy Bear, which he loves, and beat its head against the shack-floor.
Sometimes, too, he'll take possession of a plate and fling it to the
floor with all his force, even though he knows such an act is surely
followed by punishment. It's the same with Poppsy and Pee-Wee, with
whom he is apt to be over-rough, though his offenses in that direction
may still be touched with just a coloring of childish jealousy, long
and arduously as I struggle to implant some trace of fraternal feeling
in his anarchistic little breast. There are even times, after he's been
hugging my knees or perhaps stroking my cheek with his little velvet
hands and murmuring Maaa-maa! in his small and bird-like coo, when he
will suddenly turn savage and try to bite my patella or pull my ear out
by the root.
Most of this cruelty, I think, is born of a sheer excess of animal
spirits. But not all of it. Some of it is based on downright
wilfulness. I have seen him do without things he really wanted, rather
than unbend and say the necessary Ta-ta which stands for both
please and thanks in his still limited vocabulary. The little Hun
will also fall on his picture-books, at times, and do his best to tear
the linen pages apart, flailing them about in the air with genuine
Berserker madness. But along with this, as I've already said, he has
his equally sudden impulses of affection, especially when he first
wakens in the morning and his little body seems to be singing with the
pure joy of living. He'll smooth my hair, after I've lifted him from
the crib into my bed, and bury his face in the hollow of my neck and
kiss my cheek and pat my forehead and coo over me until I squeeze him
so hard he has to grunt. Then he'll probably do his best to pick my
eyes out, if I pretend to be asleep, or experiment with the end of my
nose, to see why it doesn't lift up like a door-knocker. Then he'll
snuggle down in the crook of my arm, perfectly still except for the
wriggling of his toes against my hip, and croon there with happiness
and contentment, like a ring-neck dove.
Friday the Seventeenth
Lady Allie couldn't have been picked quite clean to the bone by the
McKails, for she's announced her intention of buying a touring-car and
a gasoline-engine and has had a conference with Dinky-Dunk on the
matter. She also sent to Montreal for the niftiest little English
sailor suit, for Dinkie, together with a sailor hat that has
Agamemnon printed in gold letters on its band.
I ought to be enthusiastic about it, but I can't. Dinkie himself,
however, who calls it his new nailor nuitnot being yet able to
manage the sibilantsstruts about in it proud as a peacock, and
refuses to sit down in his supper-chair until Ikkie has carefully wiped
off the seat of the same, to the end that the beloved nailor nuit might
remain immaculate. He'll lose his reverence for it, of course, when he
knows it better. It's a habit men have, big or little.
Lady Allie has confessed that she is succumbing to the charm of
prairie life. It ought to make her more of a woman and less of a
silk-lined idler. Dinky-Dunk still nurses the illusion that she is
delicate, and manages to get a lot of glory out of that clinging-vine
pose of hers, big oak that he is! But it is simply absurd, the way he
falls for her flattery. She's making him believe that he's a
twentieth-century St. Augustine and a Saint Christopher all rolled into
one. Poor old Dinky-Dunk, I'll have to keep an eye on him or they'll be
turning his head, for all its gray hairs. He is wax in the hand of
designing beauty, as are most of the race of man. And the fair Allie, I
must acknowledge, is dangerously appealing to the eye. It's no wonder
poor old Dinky-Dunk nearly broke his neck trying to teach her to ride
astride. But I intend to give her ladyship an inkling, before long,
that I'm not quite so stupid as I seem to be. She mustn't imagine she
can vamp my Kaikobad with impunity. It's a case of any port in a
storm, I suppose, for she has to practise on somebody. But I must say
she looks well on horseback and can lay claim to a poise that always
exacts its toll of respect. She rides hard, though I imagine she would
be unwittingly cruel to her mount. Yet she has been more offhanded and
friendly, the last two or three times she has dropped over to the
shack, and she is kind to the kiddies, especially Dinkie. She seems
genuinely and unaffectedly fond of him. As for me, she thinks I'm hard,
I feel sure, and is secretly studying metrying to decipher, I
suppose, what her sainted cousin could ever see in me to kick up a dust
Lady Allie's London togs, by the way, make me feel rather shoddy and
slattern. I intend to swing in a little stronger for personal
adornment, as soon as we get things going again. When a woman gives up,
in that respect, she's surely a goner. And I may be a hard-handed and
slabsided prairie huzzy, but there was a time when I stood beside the
big palms by the fountain in the conservatory of Prince Ernest de
Ligne's Brussels house in the Rue Montoyer and the Marquis of
What-Ever-His-Name-Was bowed and set all the orders on his chest
shaking when he kissed my hand and proclaimed that I was the most
beautiful woman in Belgium!
Yes, there was such a time. But it was a long, long time ago, and I
never thought then I'd be a rancher's wife with a barrel-churn to scald
out once a week and a wheezy old pump to prime in the morning and a
little hanging garden of Babylon full of babies to keep warm and to
keep fed and to keep from falling on their boneless little cocos! I
might even have married Theobald Gustav von Brockdorff and turned into
an embassy ball lizard and ascended into the old family landau of his
aunt the baroness, to disport along the boulevards therein very much
like an oyster on the half-shell. I might have done all that, and I
might not. But it's all for the best, as the greatest pessimist who
ever drew the breath of life once tried to teach in his Candide.
And in my career, as I have already written, there shall be no
Sunday the Nineteenth
I've been trying to keep tab on the Twins' weight, for it's
important that they should gain according to schedule. But I've only
Dinky-Dunk's bulky grain-scales, and it's impossible to figure down to
anything as fine as ounces or even quarter-pounds on such a balancer.
Yet my babies, I'm afraid, are not gaining as they ought. Poppsy is
especially fretful of late. Why can't somebody invent children without
colic, anyway? I have a feeling that I ought to run on low gear for a
while. But that's a luxury I can't quite afford.
Last night, when I was dead-tired and trying to give the last licks
to my day's work without doing a Keystone fall over the kitchen table,
Dinky-Dunk said: Why haven't you ever given a name to this new place?
They tell me you have a genius for naming thingsand here we are still
dubbing our home the Harris shack.
I suppose it ought to be an Indian name, in honor of Ikkie? I
suggested, doing my best to maintain an unruffled front. And Duncan
Argyll absently agreed that it might just as well.
Then what's the matter with calling it Alabama? I mordantly
suggested. For as I remember it, that means 'Here we rest.' And I can
imagine nothing more appropriate.
I was half-sorry I said it, for the Lord deliver me always from a
sarcastic woman. But I've a feeling that the name is going to stick,
whether we want it or not. At any rate, Alabama Ranch has rather a
musical turn to it....
I wonder if there are any really perfect children in the world? Or
do the good little boys and girls only belong to that sentimentalized
mid-Victorian fiction which tried so hard to make the world like a
cross between an old maid's herb-garden and a Sunday afternoon in a
London suburb? I have tried talking with little Dinkie, and reasoning
with him. I have striven long and patiently to blow his little spark of
conscience into the active flame of self-judgment. And averse as I am
to cruelty and hardness, much as I hate the humiliation of physical
punishment, my poor kiddie and I can't get along without the slipper. I
have to spank him, and spank him soundly, about once a week. I'm driven
to this, or there'd be no sleep nor rest nor roof about our heads at
Alabama Ranch. I don't give a rip what Barrie may have written about
the bringing up of childrenfor he never had any of his own! He never
had an imperious young autocrat to democratize. He never had a family
to de-barbarize, even though he did write very pretty books about the
subject. It's just another case, I suppose, where fiction is too
cowardly or too finicky to be truthful. I had theories about this
child-business myself, at one time, but my pipe of illusion has plumb
gone out. It wasn't so many years ago that I imagined about all a
mother had to do was to dress in clinging negligees, such as you
see in the toilet-soap advertisements, and hold a spotless little saint
on her knee, or have a miraculously docile nurse in cap and apron carry
in a little paragon all done up in dotted Swiss and rose-pink, and pose
for family groups, not unlike popular prints of the royal family in
full evening dress, on Louis Quinze settees. And later on, of
course, one could ride out with a row of sedate little princelings at
one's side, so that one could murmur, when the world marveled at their
manners, It's blood, my dears, merely blood!
But fled, and fled forever, are all such dreams. Dinkie prefers
treading on his bread-and-butter before consuming it, and does his best
to consume the workings of my sewing-machine, and pokes the spoons down
through the crack in the kitchen floor, and betrays a weakness for
yard-mud and dust in preference to the well-scrubbed boards of the
sleeping porch, which I've tried to turn into a sort of nursery by day.
Most fiction, I find, glides lightly over this eternal Waterloo between
dirt and waterfor no active and healthy child is easy to keep clean.
That is something which you never, never, really succeed at. All that
you can do is to keep up the struggle, consoling yourself with the
memory that cleanness, even surgical cleanness, is only an
approximation. The plain everyday sort of cleanness promptly resolves
itself into a sort of neck and neck race with dirt and disorder, a neck
and neck race with the soap-bar habitually running second. Sometimes it
seems hopeless. For it's incredible what can happen to an active-bodied
boy of two or three years in one brief but crowded afternoon. It's
equally amazing what can happen to a respectably furnished room after a
healthy and high-spirited young Turk has been turned loose in it for an
hour or two.
It's a battle, all right. But it has its compensations. It has
to, or the race would wither up like an unwatered cucumber-vine. Who
doesn't really love to tub a plump and dimpled little body like my
Dinkie's? I'm no petticoated Paul Peel, but I can see enough beauty in
the curves of that velvety body to lift it up and bite it on its
promptly protesting little flank. And there's unclouded glory in
occasionally togging him out in spotless white, and beholding him as
immaculate as a cherub, if only for one brief half-hour. It's the
transiency of that spotlessness, I suppose, which crowns it with glory.
If he was forever in that condition, we'd be as indifferent to it as we
are to immortelles and wax flowers. If he was always cherubic and
perfect, I suppose, we'd never appreciate that perfection or know the
joy of triumphing over the mother earth that has an affinity for the
finest of us.
But I do miss a real nursery, in more ways than one. The
absence of one gives Dinkie the range of the whole shack, and when on
the range he's a timber-wolf for trouble, and can annoy his father even
more than he can me by his depredations. Last night after supper I
heard an icy voice speaking from the end of the dining-room where
Dinky-Dunk has installed his desk.
Will you kindly come and see what your son has done? my husband
demanded, with a sort of in-this-way-madness-lies tone.
I stepped in through the kitchen door, ignoring the quite
unconscious humor of my son under the circumstances, and found
that Dinkie had provided a novel flavor for his dad by emptying the
bottle of ink into his brand-new tin of pipe-tobacco. There was nothing
to be done, of course, except to wash as much of the ink as I could off
Dinkie's face. Nor did I reveal to his father that three days before I
had carefully compiled a list of his son and heir's misdeeds, for one
round of the clock. They were, I find, as follows:
Overturning a newly opened tin of raspberries, putting bread-dough
in his ears; breaking my nail-buffer, which, however, I haven't used
for a month and more; paring the bark, with the bread-knife, off the
lonely little scrub poplar near the kitchen door, our one and only
shade; breaking a drinking-glass, which was accident; cutting holes
with the scissors in Ikkie's new service-apron; removing the covers
from two of his father's engineering books; severing the wire joint in
my sewing-machine belt (expeditiously and secretly mended by Whinnie,
however, when he came in with the milk-pails); emptying what was left
of my bottle of vanilla into the bread mixer; and last but not least,
trying to swallow and nearly choking on my silver thimble, in which he
seems to find never-ending disappointment because it will not remain
fixed on the point of his nose.
It may sound like a busy day, but it was, on the whole, merely an
average one. Yet I'll wager a bushel of number one Northern winter
wheat to a doughnut ring that if Ibsen had written an epilogue for
The Doll's House, Nora would have come crawling back to her home
and her kiddies, in the end.
Wednesday the Twenty-second
Lady Allie is either dunderheaded or designing. She has calmly
suggested that her rural phone-line be extended from Casa Grande to
Alabama Ranch so that she can get in touch with Dinky-Dunk when she
needs his help and guidance. Even as it is, he's called on about five
times a week, to run to the help of that she-remittance-man in corduroy
and dog-skin gauntlets and leggings.
She seems thunderstruck to find that she can't get the hired help
she wants, at a moment's notice. Dinky-Dunk says she's sure to be
imposed on, and that although she's as green as grass, she's really
anxious to learn. He feels that it's his duty to stand between her and
the outsiders who'd be only too ready to impose on her ignorance.
She rode over to see the Twins yesterday, who were sleeping out
under the fly-netting I'd draped over them, the pink-tinted kind they
put over fruit-baskets in the city markets and shops. Poppsy and
Pee-Wee looked exactly like two peaches, rosy and warm and round.
Lady Allie stared at them with rather an abstracted eye, and then,
idiot that she is, announced that she'd like to have twelve. But talk
is cheap. The modern woman who's had even half that number has pretty
well given up her life to her family. It's remarkable, by the way, the
silent and fathomless pity I've come to have for childless women. The
thought of a fat spinster fussing over a French poodle or a faded blond
forlornly mothering a Pekinese chow gives me a feeling that is at least
first cousin to sea-sickness.
Lady Allie, I find, has very fixed and definite theories as to the
rearing of children. They should never be rocked or patted, or be given
a comfort, and they should be in bed for the night at sundown. There
was a time I had a few theories of my own, but I've pretty well
abandoned them. I've been taught, in this respect, to travel light, as
the overland voyageurs of this country would express it, to travel
light and leave the final resort to instinct.
Friday the Twenty-fourth
I was lazy last night, so both the ink-pot and its owner had a rest.
Or perhaps it wasn't so much laziness as wilful revolt against the
monotony of work, for, after all, it's not the 'unting as 'urts the
'osses, but the 'ammer, 'ammer, 'ammer on the 'ard old road! I loafed
for a long time in a sort of sit-easy torpor, with Bobs' head between
my knees while Dinky-Dunk pored over descriptive catalogues about
farm-tractors, for by hook or by crook we've got to have a tractor for
Bobs, I said after studying my collie's eyes for a good many
minutes, you are surely one grand old dog!
Whereupon Bobs wagged his tail-stump with sleepy content. As I bent
lower and stared closer into those humid eyes of his, it seemed as
though I were staring down into a bottomless well, through a peep-hole
into Infinity, so deep and wonderful was that eye, that dusky pool of
love and trust. It was like seeing into the velvet-soft recesses of a
soul. And I could stare into them without fear, just as Bobs could
stare back without shame. That's where dogs are slightly different from
men. If I looked into a man's eye like that he'd either rudely inquire
just what the devil I was gaping at or he'd want to ask me out to
supper in one of those Pompeian places where a bald-headed waiter
serves lobsters in a chambre particulière.
But all I could see in the eye of my sedate old Bobs was love, love
infinite and inarticulate, love too big ever to be put into words.
Dinky-Dunk, I said, interrupting my lord and master at his
reading, if God is really love, as the Good Book says, I don't see why
they ever started talking about the Lamb of God.
Why shouldn't they? asked Diddums, not much interested.
Because lambs may be artless and innocent little things, but when
you've got their innocence you've got about everything. They're not the
least bit intelligent, and they're self-centered and self-immured. Now,
with dogs it's different. Dogs love you and guard you and ache to serve
you. And I couldn't help stopping to think about the dogs I'd known
and loved, the dogs who once meant so much in my life: Chinkie's Bingo,
with his big baptizing tongue and his momentary rainbow as he emerged
from the water and shook himself with my stick still in his mouth;
Timmie with his ineradicable hatred for cats; Maxie with all his tricks
and his singsong of howls when the piano played; Schnider, with his
mania for my slippers and undies, which he carried into most unexpected
quarters; and Gyp, God bless him, who was so homely of face and form
but so true blue in temper and trust.
Life, to a dog, I went on, really means devotion to man, doesn't
What are you driving at, anyway? asked Dinky-Dunk.
I was just wondering, I said as I sat staring into Bobs' eyes,
how strange it would be if, after all, God was really a dog, the
loving and faithful Watch-Dog of His universe!
Please don't be blasphemous, Dinky-Dunk coldly remarked.
But I'm not blasphemous, I tried to tell him. And I was never
more serious in my life. There's even something sacred about it, once
you look at it in the right way. Just think of the Shepherd-Dog of the
Stars, the vigilant and affectionate Watcher who keeps the wandering
worlds in their folds! That's not one bit worse than the lamb idea,
only we've got so used to the lamb it doesn't shock us into attention
any more. Why, just look at these eyes of Bobs right now. There's more
nobility and devotion and trust and love in them than was ever in all
the eyes of all the lambs that ever frisked about the fields and
sheep-folds from Dan to Beersheba!
Your theory, I believe, is entertained by the Igorrotes, remarked
Dinky-Dunk as he made a pretense of turning back to his
tractor-pamphlet. The Igorrotes and other barbarians, he repeated, so
as to be sure the screw was being turned in the proper direction.
And now I know why she said the more she knew about men the better
she liked dogs, I just as coldly remarked, remembering Madame de
Stael. And I believe you're jealous of poor old Bobs just because he
loves me more than you do.
Dinky-Dunk put down his pamphlet. Then he called Bobs over to his
side of the table. But Bobs, I noticed, didn't go until I'd nodded
approval. So Dinky-Dunk took his turn at sitting with Bobs' nose in his
hand and staring down into the fathomless orbs that stared up at him.
You'll never get a lady, me lud, to look up at you like that, I
Perhaps they have, retorted Dinky-Dunk, with his face slightly
And having done so in the past, there's the natural chance that
they'll do so in the future, I retorted, making it half a question and
half a statement. But he seemed none too pleased at that thrust, and he
didn't even answer me when I told him I supposed I was his Airedale,
because they say an Airedale is a one-man dog.
Then don't at least get distemper, observed my Kaikobad, very
quietly, over the top of his tractor-catalogue.
I made no sign that I had heard him. But Dinky-Dunk would never have
spoken to me that way, three short years ago. And I imagine he knows
it. For, after all, a change has been taking place, insubstantial and
unseen and subterranean, a settling of the foundations of life which
comes not only to a building as it grows older but also to the heart as
it grows older. And I'm worried about the future.
Monday theMonday the I-forget-what
It's Monday, blue Monday, that's all I remember, except that there's
a rift in the lute of life at Alabama Ranch. Yesterday of course was
Sunday. And out of that day of rest Dinky-Dunk spent just five hours
over at Casa Grande. When he showed up, rather silent and constrained
and an hour and a half late for dinner, I asked him what had happened.
He explained that he'd been adjusting the carbureter on Lady
Alicia's new car.
Don't you think, Duncan, I said, trying to speak calmly, though I
was by no means calm inside, that it's rather a sacrifice of dignity,
holding yourself at that woman's beck and call?
We happen to be under a slight debt of obligation to that woman, my husband retorted, clearly more upset than I imagined he could be.
But, Dinky-Dunk, you're not her hired man, I protested, wondering
how, without hurting him, I could make him see the thing from my
No, but that's about what I'm going to become, was his altogether
I can't say that I quite understand you, I told him, with a sick
feeling which I found it hard to keep under. Yet he must have noticed
something amusingly tragic in my attitude, for he laughed, though it
wasn't without a touch of bitterness. And laughter, under the
circumstances, didn't altogether add to my happiness.
I simply mean that Allie's made me an offer of a hundred and fifty
dollars a month to become her ranch-manager, Dinky-Dunk announced with
a casualness that was patently forced. And as I can't wring that much
out of this half-section, and as I'd only be four-flushing if I let
outsiders come in and take everything away from a tenderfoot, I don't
And such a lovely tenderfoot, I interrupted.
I don't see why it isn't the decent and reasonable thing,
concluded my husband, without stooping to acknowledge the interruption,
to accept that offer.
I understood, in a way, every word he was saying; yet it seemed
several minutes before the real meaning of a somewhat startling
situation seeped through to my brain.
But surely, if we get a crop, I began. It was, however, a lame
beginning. And like most lame beginnings, it didn't go far.
How are we going to get a crop when we can't even raise money
enough to get a tractor? was Dinky-Dunk's challenge. When we haven't
help, and we're short of seed-grain, and we can't even get a gang-plow
It didn't sound like my Dinky-Dunk of old, for I knew that he was
equivocating and making excuses, that he was engineering our ill luck
into an apology for worse conduct. But I was afraid of myself, even
more than I was afraid of Dinky-Dunk. And the voice of Instinct kept
whispering to me to be patient.
Why couldn't we sell off some of the steers? I valiantly
It's the wrong season for selling steers, Dinky-Dunk replied with
a ponderous sort of patience. And besides, those cattle don't belong
Then whose are they? I demanded.
They're yours, retorted Dinky-Dunk, and I found his
hair-splitting, at such a time, singularly exasperating.
I rather imagine they belonged to the family, if you intend it to
remain a family.
He winced at that, as I had proposed that he should.
It seems to be getting a dangerously divided one, he flung back,
with a quick and hostile glance in my direction.
I was ready to fly to pieces, like a barrel that's lost its hoops.
But a thin and quavery and over-disturbing sound from the swing-box out
on the sleeping-porch brought me up short. It was a pizzicato note
which I promptly recognized as the gentle Pee-Wee's advertisement of
wakefulness. So I beat a quick and involuntary retreat, knowing only
too well what I'd have ahead of me if Poppsy joined in to make that
solo a duet.
But Pee-Wee refused to be silenced, and what Dinky-Dunk had just
said felt more and more like a branding-iron against my breast. So I
carried my wailing infant back to the dinner-table where my husband
still stood beside his empty chair. The hostile eye with which he
regarded the belcantoing Pee-Wee reminded me of the time he'd spoken of
his own off-spring as squalling brats. And the memory wasn't a
tranquillizing one. It was still another spur roweling me back to the
ring of combat.
Then you've decided to take that position? I demanded as I
surveyed the cooling roast-beef and the fallen Yorkshire pudding.
As soon as they can fix up my sleeping-quarters in the bunk-house
over at Casa Grande, was Dinky-Dunk's reply. He tried to say it
casually, but didn't quite succeed, for I could see his color deepen a
little. And this, in turn, led to a second only too obvious gesture of
My monthly check, of course, will be delivered to you, he
announced, with an averted eye.
Why to me? I coldly inquired.
It wouldn't be of much use to me, he retorted. And I resented his
basking thus openly in the fires of martyrdom.
In that case, I asked, what satisfaction are you getting out of
your new position?
That sent the color ebbing from his face again, and he looked at me
as I'd never seen him look at me before. We'd both been mauled by the
paw of Destiny, and we were both nursing ragged nerves and
oversensitized spirits, facing each other as irritable as teased
rattlers, ready to thump rocks with our head. More than once I'd heard
Dinky-Dunk proclaim that the right sort of people never bickered and
quarreled. And I remembered Theobald Gustav's pet aphorism to the
effect that Hassen machts nichts. But life had its limits. And I
wasn't one of those pink-eared shivery little white mice who could be
intimidated into tears by a frown of disapproval from my imperial mate.
And married life, after all, is only a sort of guerre d'usure.
And you think you're doing the right thing? I demanded of my
husband, not without derision, confronting him with a challenge on my
face and a bawling Pee-Wee on my hip.
That child seems to have its mother's disposition, he murmured,
ignoring my question.
The prospects of its acquiring anything better from its father seem
rather remote, I retorted, striking blindly. For that over-deft adding
of insult to injury had awakened every last one of my seven sleeping
devils. It was an evidence of cruelty, cold and calculated cruelty. And
by this time little waves of liquid fire were running through my
Then I can't be of much service to this family, announced
Dinky-Dunk, with his maddening note of mockery.
I fail to see how you can be a retriever for a flabby-minded idler
and the head of this household at one and the same time, I said out of
the seething crater-fogs of my indignation.
She's never impressed me as being flabby, he ventured, with a
quietness which only a person who knew him would or could recognize as
Well, I don't share your admiration for her, I retorted, letting
the tide of vitriol carry me along in its sweep.
Dinky-Dunk's face hardened.
Then what do you intend doing about it? he demanded.
That was a poser, all right. That was a poser which, I suppose, many
a woman at some time in her life has been called on to face. What did I
intend doing about it? I didn't care much. But I at least intended to
save the bruised and broken hulk of my pride from utter annihilation.
I intend, I cried out with a quaver in my voice, since you're not
able to fill the bill, to be head of this household myself.
That sounds like an ultimatum, said Dinky-Dunk very slowly, his
face the sickly color of a meerschaum-pipe bowl.
You can take it any way you want to, I passionately proclaimed,
compelled to raise my voice to the end that it might surmount Pee-Wee's
swelling cries. And while you're being lackey for Lady Alicia Newland
I'll run this ranch. I'll run it in my own way, and I'll run it without
hanging on to a woman's skirt!
Dinky-Dunk stared at me as though he were looking at me through a
leper-squint. But he had been brutal, was being brutal. And it was a
case of fighting fire with fire.
Then you're welcome to the job, I heard him proclaiming out of his
blind white heat of rage. After that, I'm through!
It won't be much of a loss, I shot back at him, feeling that he'd
soured a bright and sunny life into eternal blight.
I'll remember that, he said with his jaw squared and his head
down. I saw him push his chair aside and wheel about and stride away
from the Yorkshire pudding with the caved-in roof, and the roast-beef
that was as cold as my own heart, and the indignantly protesting
Pee-Wee who in some vague way kept reminding me that I wasn't quite as
free-handed as I had been so airily imagining myself. For I mistily
remembered that the Twins, before the day was over, were going to find
it a very flatulent world. But I wasn't crushed. For there are times
when even wives and worms will turn. And this was one of them.
Thursday the Thirtieth
It's a busy three days I've been having, and if I'm a bit tuckered
out in body I'm still invincible in spirit. For I've already triumphed
over a tangle or two and now I'm going to see this thing through. I'm
going to see Alabama Ranch make good.
I teamed in to Buckhorn, with Dinkie and the Twins and Ikkie bedded
down in the wagon-box on fresh wheat-straw, and had a talk with Syd
Woodward, the dealer there. It took me just about ten minutes to get
down to hard-pan with him, once he was convinced that I meant business.
He's going to take over my one heavy team, Tumble-Weed and Cloud-Maker,
though it still gives my heart a wrench to think of parting with those
faithful animals. I'm also going to sell off fifteen or eighteen of the
heaviest steers and turn back the tin Lizzie, which can be done without
for a few months at least.
But, on the other hand, I'm going to have an 8-16 tractor that'll
turn over an acre of land in little more than an hour's time, and turn
it over a trifle better than the hired hand's usual cut and cover
method, and at a cost of less than fifty cents an acre. Later on, I can
use my tractor for hauling, or turn it to practically any other form of
farm-power there may be a call for. I'm also getting a special grade of
seed-wheat. There was a time when I thought that wheat was just merely
wheat. It rather opened my eyes to be told that in one season the
Shippers' Clearance Association definitely specified and duly handled
exactly four hundred and twenty-eight grades of this particular grain.
Even straight Northern wheat, without the taint of weed-seed, may be
classified in any of the different numbers up to six, and also assorted
into tough, wet, damp, musty, binburnt and half a dozen other
grades and conditions, according to the season. But since I'm to be a
wheat-grower, it's my duty to find out all I can about the subject.
I am also the possessor of three barrels of gasoline, and a new
disk-drill, together with the needed repairs for the old drill which
worked so badly last season. I've got Whinstane Sandy patching up the
heavy sets of harness, and at daybreak to-morrow I'm going to have him
out on the land, and also Francois, who has promised to stay with us
another two weeks. It may be that I'll put Ikkie in overalls and get
her out there too, for there's not a day, not an hour, to be lost. I
want my crop in. I want my seed planted, and the sooner the better.
Whinstane Sandy, on account of his lame foot, can't follow a plow.
But there's no reason he shouldn't run a tractor. If it wasn't for my
bairns, of course, I'd take that tractor in hand myself. But my two
little hostages to fortune cut off that chance. I've decided, however,
to have Whinnie build a canopy-top over the old buckboard, and fit two
strong frames, just behind the dashboard, that will hold a couple of
willow-baskets, end to end. Then I can nest Poppsy and Pee-Wee in these
two baskets, right under my nose, with little Dinkie beside me in the
seat, and drive from one end of the ranch to the other and see that the
work is being done, and done right. The Lord knows how I'll get back to
the shack in time to rustle the grubbut we'll manage, in some way.
The Twins have been doing better, the last week or two. And I rather
dread the idea of weaning them. If I had somebody to look after them I
could, I suppose, get a breast-pump and leave their mid-morning and
mid-afternoon luncheons in cold-storage for them, and so ride my
tractor without interruption. I remember a New York woman who did that,
left the drawn milk of her breast on ice, so that she might gad and
shop for a half-day at a time. But the more I think it over the more
unnatural and inhuman it seems. Yet to hunt for help, in this busy
land, is like searching for a needle in a hay-stack. Already, in the
clear morning air, one can hear the stutter and skip and cough of the
tractors along the opalescent sky-line, accosting the morning sun with
their rattle and tattle of harvests to be. And I intend to be in on the
Sunday the Second
I'm too busy to puddle in spilt milk or worry over things that are
past. I can't even take time to rhapsodize over the kitchen-cabinet to
which Whinnie put the finishing touches to-day at noon, though I know
it will save me many a step. Poor old Whinnie, I'm afraid, is more a
putterer than a plowman. He's had a good deal of trouble with the
tractor, and his lame foot seems to bother him, on account of the long
hours, but he proclaims he'll see me through.
Tractor-plowing, I'm beginning to discover, isn't the simple
operation it sounds, for your land, in the first place, has to be
staked off and marked with guidons, since you must know your
measurements and have your headlands uniform and your furrows straight
or there'll be a woeful mix-up before you come to the end of your job.
The great trouble is that a tractor can't turn in its own length, as a
team of horses can. Hence this deploying space must be wasted, or
plowed later with horses, and your headlands themselves must be wide
enough for the turning radius of your tractor. Some of the ranchers out
here, I understand, even do their tractor-plowing in the form of a
series of elongated figure-eights, beginning at one corner of their
tract, claiming this reduces the time spent with plows out of the
ground. But that looked too complex for me to tackle.
Then, too, machinery has one thing in common with man: they
occasionally get out of kilter at the very time you expect most from
them. So this morning I had to bend, if I did not actually break, the
Sabbath by working on my tractor-engine. I put on Ikkie's overallsfor
I have succeeded in coercing Ikkie into a jumper and the
riding-seat of the old gang-plowand went out and studied that
tractor. I was determined to understand just what was giving the
It was two hours before I located the same, which was caused by the
timer. But I've conquered the doggoned thing, and got her to spark
right, and I went a couple of rounds, Sunday and all, just to make sure
she was in working order. And neither my actions nor my language, I
know, are those of a perfect lady. But any one who'd lamped me in that
get-up, covered with oil and dust and dirt, would know that never again
could I be a perfect lady. I'm a wiper, a greaser, a clodhopper, and,
according to the sullen and brooding-eyed Ikkie, a bit of a
slave-driver. And the odd part of it all is that I'm wringing a
perverse sort of enjoyment out of the excitement and the novelty of the
thing. I'm being something more than a mere mollusk. I'm making my
power felt, and producing results. And self-expression, I find, is the
breath of life to my soul. But I've scarcely time to do my hair, and my
complexion is gone, and I've got cracks in my cheek-skin. I'm getting
old and ugly, and no human being will ever again love me. Even my own
babies gape at me kind of round-eyed when I take them in my arms.
But I'm wrong there, and I know I'm wrong. My little Dinkie will
always love me. I know that by the way his little brown arms cling
about my wind-roughened neck, by the way he burrows in against my
breast and hangs on to me and hollers for his Mummsy when she's out of
sight. He's not a model youngster, I know. I'm afraid I love him too
much to demand perfection from him. It's the hard and selfish women,
after all, who make the ideal mothersat least from the standpoint of
the disciplinarian. For the selfish woman refuses to be blinded by
love, just as she refuses to be imposed upon and declines to be
troubled by the thought of inflicting pain on those perverse little
toddlers who grow so slowly into the knowledge of what is right and
wrong. It hurts me like Sam-Hill, sometimes, to have to hurt my little
man-child. When the inevitable and slow-accumulating spanking does
come, I try to be cool-headed and strictly just about itfor one look
out of a child's eyes has the trick of bringing you suddenly to the
judgment-bar. Dinkie, young as he is, can already appraise and arraign
me and flash back his recognition of injustice. More than once he's
made me think of those lines of Frances Lyman's:
Just a look of swift surprise
From the depths of childish eyes,
Yet my soul to judgment came,
Cowering, as before a flame.
Not a word, a lisp of blame:
Just a look of swift surprise
In the quietly lifted eyes!
Saturday the Twenty-second
I've got my seed in, glory be! The deed is done; the mad scramble is
over. And Mother Earth, as tired as a child of being mauled, lies
sleeping in the sun.
If, as some one has said, to plow is to pray, we've been doing a
heap of mouth-worship on Alabama Ranch this last few weeks. But the
final acre has been turned over, the final long sea of furrows disked
and plank-dragged and seeded down, and after the heavy rains of
Thursday night there's just the faintest tinge of green, here and
there, along my billiard-table of a granary-to-be.
But the mud is back, and to save my kitchen floor, last night, I
trimmed down a worn-out broom, cut off most of the handle, and fastened
it upside down in a hole I'd bored at one end of the lower door-step.
All this talk of mine about wheat sounds as though I were what they
call out here a Soil Robber, or a Land Miner, a get-rich-quick squatter
who doesn't bother about mixed farming or the rotation of crops, with
no true love for the land which he impoverishes and leaves behind him
when he's made his pile. I want to make my pile, it's true, but we'll
soon have other things to think about. There's my home garden to be
made ready, and the cattle and pigs to be looked after, and a run to be
built for my chickens. The latter, for all their neglect, have been
laying like mad and I've three full crates of eggs in the cellar, all
dipped in water-glass and ready for barter at Buckhorn. If the output
keeps up I'll store away five or six crates of the treated eggs for
Christmas-season sale, for in midwinter they easily bring eighty cents
And speaking of barter reminds me that both Dinkie and the Twins are
growing out of their duds, and heaven knows when I'll find time to make
more for them. They'll probably have to promenade around like Ikkie's
ancestors. I've even run out of safety-pins. And since the enduring
necessity for the safety-pin is evidenced by the fact that it's even
found on the baby-mummies of ancient Egypt, and must be a good four
thousand years old, I've had Whinnie supply me with some home-made
ones, manufactured out of hair-pins.... My little Dinkie, I notice, is
going to love animals. He seems especially fond of horses, and is
fearless when beside them, or on them, or even under themfor he
walked calmly in under the belly of Jail-Bird, who could have brained
him with one pound of his wicked big hoof. But the beast seemed to know
that it was a friend in that forbidden quarter, and never so much as
moved until Dinkie had been rescued. It won't be long now before Dinkie
has a pinto of his own and will go bobbing off across the
prairie-floor, I suppose, like a monkey on a circus-horse. Even now he
likes nothing better than coming with his mother while she gathers her
clutch of eggs. He can scramble into a mangerwhere my unruly hens
persist in making an occasional nestlike a marmoset. The delight on
his face at the discovery of even two or three cackle-berries, as
Whinnie calls them, is worth the occasional breakage and yolk-stained
rompers. For I share in that delight myself, since egg-gathering always
gives me the feeling that I'm partaking of the bounty of Nature, that
I'm getting something for next-to-nothing. It's the same impulse,
really, which drives city women to the bargain-counter and the
auction-room, the sublimated passion to adorn the home teepee-pole with
the fruits of their cunning!
Tuesday the Twenty-fifth
Yesterday I teamed in to Buckhorn, for supplies. And as I drove down
the main street of that squalid little western town I must have looked
like something the crows had been roosting on. But just as I was
swinging out of Syd Woodward's store-yard I caught sight of Lady Allie
in her big new car, drawn up in front of the modestly denominated New
York Emporium. What made me stare, however, was the unexpected vision
of Duncan Argyll McKail, emerging from the aforesaid Emporium laden
down with parcels. These he carried out to the car and was dutifully
stowing away somewhere down in the back seat, when he happened to look
up and catch sight of me as I swung by in my wagon-box. He turned a
sort of dull brick-red, and pretended to be having a lot of trouble
with getting those parcels where they ought to be. But he looked
exactly like a groom. And he knew it. And he knew that I knew he knew
it. And if he was miserable, which I hope he was, I'm pretty sure he
wasn't one-half so miserable as I wasand as I am. Damn that
woman! I caught myself saying, out loud, after staring at my
mottled old map in my dressing-table mirror.
I've been watching the sunset to-night, for a long time, and
thinking about things. It was one of those quiet and beautiful prairie
sunsets which now and then flood you with wonder, in spite of yourself,
and give you an achey little feeling in the heart. It was a riot of
orange and Roman gold fading out into pale green, with misty opal and
pearl-dust along the nearer sky-line, then a big star or two, and then
silence, the silence of utter peace and beauty. But it didn't bring
peace to my soul. I could remember watching just such a sunset with my
lord and master beside me, and turning to say: Don't you sometimes
feel, Lover, that you were simply made for joy and rapture in moments
like this? Don't you feel as though your body were a harp that could
throb and sing with the happiness of life?
And I remembered the way my Dunkie had lifted up my chin and kissed
But that seemed a long, long time ago. And I wasn't in tune with the
Infinite. And I felt lonely and old and neglected, with callouses on my
hands and the cords showing in my neck, and my nerves not exactly what
they ought to be. For Sunday, which is reckoned as a day of rest, had
been a long and busy day for me. Dinkie had been obstreperous and had
eaten most of the paint off his Noah's Ark, and had later burnt his
fingers pulling my unbaked loaf-cake out of the oven, after eventually
tiring of breaking the teeth out of my comb, one by one. Poppsy and
Pee-Wee had been peevish and disdainful of each other's society, and
Iroquois Annie had gruntingly intimated that she was about fed up on
trekking the floor with wailing infants. But I'd had my week's mending
to do, and what was left of the ironing to get through and Whinnie's
work-pants to veneer with a generous new patch, and thirteen missing
buttons to restore to the kiddies' different garments. My back ached,
my finger-bones were tired, and there was a jumpy little nerve in my
left temple going for all the world like a telegraph-key. And then I
I sat down and stared at that neatly folded pile of baby-clothes two
feet high, a layer-cake of whites and faded blues and pinks. I stared
at it, and began to gulp tragically, wallowing in a wave of self-pity.
I felt so sorry for myself that I let my flat-iron burn a hole clean
through the ironing-sheet, without even smelling it. That, I told
myself, was all that life could be to me, just a round of washing and
ironing and meal-getting and mending, fetch and carry, work and worry,
from sun-up until sun-down, and many a time until midnight.
And what, I demanded of the frying-pan on its nail above the
stove-shelf, was I getting out of it? What was it leading to? And what
would it eventually bring me? It would eventually bring me crabbed and
crow-footed old age, and fallen arches and a slabsided figure that a
range-pinto would shy at. It would bring me empty year after year out
here on the edge of Nowhere. It would bring me drab and spiritless
drudgery, and faded eyes, and the heart under my ribs slowly but surely
growing as dead as a door-nail, and the joy of living just as slowly
but surely going out of my life, the same as the royal blue had faded
out of Dinkie's little denim jumpers.
At that very moment, I remembered, there were women listening to
symphony music in Carnegie Hall, and women sitting in willow-rockers at
Long Beach contentedly listening to the sea-waves. There were women
driving through Central Park, soft and lovely with early spring, or
motoring up to the Clairemont for supper and watching the searchlights
from the war-ships along the Hudson, and listening to the music on the
roof-gardens and dancing their feet off at that green-topped heaven of
youth which overlooks the Plaza where Sherman's bronze horse forever
treads its spray of pine. There were happy-go-lucky girls crowding the
soda-fountains and regaling themselves on fizzy water and fruit sirups,
and dropping in at first nights or motoring out for sea-food dinners
along lamp-pearled and moonlit boulevards of smooth asphalt. And here I
was planted half-way up to the North Pole, with coyotes for company,
with a husband who didn't love me, and not a jar of decent face-cream
within fifteen miles of the shack! I was lost there in a sea of flat
desolation, without companionable neighbors, without an idea, without a
chance for any exchange of thought. I had no time for reading, and what
was even worse, I had no desire for reading, but plodded on, like the
stunned ox, kindred to the range animals and sister to the cow.
Then, as I sat luxuriating before my crowded banquet-table of
misery, as I sat mopping my nosewhich was getting most unmistakably
rough with prairie-winds and alkali-waterand thinking what a fine
mess I'd made of a promising young life, I fancied I heard an
altogether too familiar C-sharp cry. So I got wearily up and went
tiptoeing in to see if either Poppsy or Pee-Wee were awake.
But they were there, safe and sound and fast asleep, curled up like
two plump little kittens, with their long lashes on their cheeks of
peach-blow pink and their dewy little lips slightly parted and four
little dimples in the back of each of the four little hands. And as I
stood looking down at them, with a shake still under my breastbone, I
couldn't keep from saying: God bless your sleepy old bones! Something
melted and fell from the dripping eaves of my heart, and I felt that it
was a sacred and God-given and joyous life, this life of being a
mother, and any old maid who wants to pirouette around the Plaza roof
with a lounge-lizard breathing winy breaths into her false hair was
welcome to her choice. I was at least in the battle of lifeand life
is a battle which scars you more when you try to keep out of it than
when you wade into it. I was a mother and a home-maker and the hope and
buttress of the future. And all I wanted was a good night's sleep and
some candid friend to tell me not to be a feather-headed idiot, but a
sensible woman with a sensible perspective on things!
Friday the Twenty-seventhOr Should It Be the Twenty-eighth
It has turned quite cold again, with frosts sharp enough at night to
freeze a half-inch of ice on the tub of soft-water I've been so
carefully saving for future shampoos. It's just as well I didn't try to
rush the season by getting too much of my truck-garden planted. We're
glad of a good fire in the shack-stove after sun-down. I've rented
thirty acres from the Land Association that owns the half-section next
to mine and am going to get them into oats. If they don't ripen up
before the autumn frosts come and blight them, I can still use the
stuff for green feed. And I've bargained for the hay-rights from the
upper end of the section, but heaven only knows how I'll ever get it
cut and stacked.
Whinnie had to kill a calf yesterday, for we'd run out of meat. As
we're in a district that's too sparsely settled for a Beef Ring, we
have to depend on ourselves for our roasts. But whatever happens, I
believe in feeding my workers. I wonder, by the way, how the fair Lady
Allie is getting along with her cuisine. Is she giving
Dinky-Dunk a Beautiful Thought for breakfast, instead of a generous
plate of ham and eggs? If she is, I imagine she's going to blight
Romance in the bud.
I've just had a circular letter from the Women Grain Growers'
Association explaining their fight for community medical service and a
system of itinerant rural nurses. They're organized, and they're in
earnest, and I'm with them to the last ditch. They're fighting for the
things that this raw new country is most in need of. It will take us
some time to catch up with the East. But the westerner's a scrambler,
once he's started.
I can't get away from the fact, since I know them both, that there's
a big gulf between the East and the West. It shouldn't be there, of
course, but that doesn't seem to affect the issue. It's the opposition
of the New to the Old, of the Want-To-Bes to the Always-Has-Beens, of
the young and unruly to the settled and sedate. We seem to want
freedom, and they seem to prefer order. We want movement, and they want
repose. We look more feverishly to the future, and they dwell more
fondly on the past. They call us rough, and we try to get even by
terming them effete. They accentuate form, and we remain
satisfied with performance. We're jealous of what they have and they're
jealous of what we intend to be. We're even secretly envious of certain
things peculiarly theirs which we openly deride. We're jealous, at
heart, of their leisure and their air of permanence, of their
accomplishments and arts and books and music, of their buildings and
parks and towns with the mellowing tone of time over them. And as soon
as we make money enough, I notice, we slip into their neighborhood for
a gulp or two at their fountains of culture. Some day, naturally, we'll
be more alike, and have more in common. The stronger colors will fade
out of the newer fabric and we'll merge into a more inoffensive
monotone of respectability. Our Navajo-blanket audacities will tone
down to wall-tapestry sedatenessbut not too, too soon, I pray the
Speaking of Navajo reminds me of Redskins, and Redskins take my
thoughts straight back to Iroquois Annie, who day by day becomes
sullener and stupider and more impossible. I can see positive dislike
for my Dinkie in her eyes, and I'm at present applying zinc ointment to
Pee-Wee's chafed and scalded little body because of her neglect. I'll
ring-welt and quarter that breed yet, mark my words! As it is, there's
a constant cloud of worry over my heart when I'm away from the shack
and my bairns are left behind. This same Ikkie, apparently, tried to
scald poor old Bobs the other day, but Bobs dodged most of that
steaming potato-water and decided to even up the ledger of ill-usage by
giving her a well-placed nip on the hip. Ikkie now sits down with
difficulty, and Bobs shows the white of his eye when she comes near
him, which isn't more often than Ikkie can helpAnd of such, in these
troublous Ides of March, and April and May, is the kingdom of Chaddie
Tuesday the Second
I may as well begin at the beginning, I suppose, so as to get the
whole thing straight. And it started with Whinstane Sandy, who broke
the wheel off the spring-wagon and the third commandment at one and the
same time. So I harnessed Slip-Along up to the buckboard, and put the
Twins in their two little crow's-nests and started out to help get my
load out of that bogged trail, leaving Dinkie behind with Iroquois
There was a chill in the air and I was glad of my old coonskin coat.
It was almost two hours before Whinnie and I got the spring-wagon out
of its mud-bath, and the load on again, and a willow fence-post lashed
under the drooping axle-end to sustain it on its journey back to
Alabama Ranch. The sun was low, by this time, so I couldn't wait for
Whinnie and the team, but drove on ahead with the Twins.
I was glad to see the smoke going up from my lonely little
shack-chimney, for I was mud-splashed and tired and hungry, and the
thought of fire and home and supper gave me a comfy feeling just under
the tip of the left ventricle. I suppose it was the long evening
shadows and the chill of the air that made the shack look so
unutterably lonely as I drove up to it. Or perhaps it was because I
stared in vain for some sign of life. At any rate, I didn't stop to
unhitch Slip-Along, but gathered up my Twins and made for the door, and
nearly stumbled on my nose over the broom-end boot-wiper which hadn't
proved such a boon as I'd expected.
I found Iroquois Annie in front of my home-made dressing-table
mirror, with my last year's summer hat on her head and a look of placid
admiration on her face. The shack seemed very quiet. It seemed so
disturbingly quiet that I even forgot about the hat.
Where's Dinkie? I demanded, as I deposited the Twins in their
He play somew'ere roun', announced Ikkie, secreting the purloined
head-gear and circling away from the forbidden dressing-table.
But where? I asked, with exceptional sharpness, for my eye had
already traversed the most of that shack and had encountered no sign of
That sloe-eyed breed didn't know just where, and apparently didn't
care. He was playing somewhere outside, with three or four old wooden
decoy-ducks. That was all she seemed to know. But I didn't stop to
question her. I ran to the door and looked out. Then my heart began
going down like an elevator, for I could see nothing of the child. So I
made the rounds of the shack again, calling Dinkie! as I went.
Then I looked through the bunk-house, and even tried the cellar.
Then I went to the rainwater tub, with my heart up in my throat. He
wasn't there, of course. So I made a flying circle of the
out-buildings. But still I got no trace of him.
I was panting when I got back to the shack, where Iroquois Annie was
fussing stolidly over the stove-fire. I caught her by the snake-like
braid of her hair, though I didn't know I was doing it, at the moment,
and swung her about so that my face confronted hers.
Where's my boy? I demanded in a sort of shout of mingled terror
and rage and dread. Where is he, you empty-eyed idiot? Where is he?
But that half-breed, of course, couldn't tell me. And a wave of sick
fear swept over me. My Dinkie was not there. He was nowhere to be
found. He was lostlost on the prairie. And I was shouting all this at
Ikkie, without being quite conscious of what I was doing.
And remember, I hissed out at her, in a voice that didn't sound
like my own as I swung her about by her suddenly parting waist, if
anything has happened to that child, I'll kill you! Do you
understand, I'll kill you as surely as you're standing in those shoes!
I went over the shack, room by room, for still the third time. Then
I went over the bunk-house and the other buildings, and every corner of
the truck-garden, calling as I went.
But still there was no answer to my calls. And I had to face the
steel-cold knowledge that my child was lost. That little toddler,
scarcely more than a baby, had wandered away on the open prairie.
For one moment of warming relief I thought of Bobs. I remembered
what a dog is sometimes able to do in such predicaments. But I also
remembered that Bobs was still out on the trail with Whinnie. So I
circled off on the undulating floor of the prairie, calling Dinkie
every minute or two and staring into the distance until my eyes ached,
hoping to see some moving dot in the midst of all that silence and
My boy is lost, I kept saying to myself, in sobbing little
whimpers, with my heart getting more and more like a ball of lead. And
there could only be an hour or two of daylight left. If he wasn't found
before night came onI shut the thought out of my heart, and started
back for the shack, in a white heat of desperation.
If you want to live, I said to the now craven and shrinking Ikkie,
you get in that buckboard and make for Casa Grande. Drive there as
fast as you can. Tell my husband that our boy, that my boy, is lost on
the prairie. Tell him to get help, and come, come quick. And stop at
the Teetzel ranch on your way. Tell them to send men on horses, and
lanterns! But move, woman, move!
Ikkie went, with Slip-Along making the buckboard skid on the uneven
trail as though he were playing a game of crack-the-whip with that
frightened Indian. And I just as promptly took up my search again,
forgetting about the Twins, forgetting about being tired, forgetting
Half-way between the fenced-in hay-stacks and the corral-gate I
found a battered decoy-duck with a string tied to its neck. It was one
of a set that Francois and Whinstane Sandy had whittled out over a year
ago. It was at least a clue. Dinkie must have dropped it there.
It sent me scuttling back among the hay-stacks, going over the
ground there, foot by foot and calling as I went, until my voice had an
eerie sound in the cold air that took on more and more of a razor-edge
as the sun and the last of its warmth went over the rim of the world.
It seemed an empty world, a plain of ugly desolation, unfriendly and
pitiless in its vastness. Even the soft green of the wheatlands took on
a look like verdigris, as though it were something malignant and
poisonous. And farther out there were muskegs, and beyond the
three-wire fence, which would stand no bar to a wandering child, there
were range-cattle, half-wild cattle that resented the approach of
anything but a man on horseback. And somewhere in those darkening
regions of peril my Dinky-Dink was lost.
I took up the search again, with the barometer of hope falling lower
and lower. But I told myself that I must be systematic, that I must not
keep covering the same ground, that I must make the most of what was
left of the daylight. So I blocked out imaginary squares and kept
running and calling until I was out of breath, then resting with my
hand against my heart, and running on again. But I could find no trace
He was such a little tot, I kept telling myself. He was not warmly
dressed, and night was coming on. It would be a cold night, with
several degrees of frost. He would be alone, on that wide and empty
prairie, with terror in his heart, chilled to the bone, wailing for his
mother, wailing until he was able to wail no more. Already the light
was going, I realized with mounting waves of desperation, and no child,
dressed as Dinkie was dressed, could live through the night. Even the
coyotes would realize his helplessness and come and pick his bones
I kept thinking of Bobs, more than of anything else, and wondering
why Whinnie was so slow in getting back with his broken wagon, and
worrying over when the men would come. I told myself to be calm, to be
brave, and the next moment was busy picturing a little dead body with a
tear-washed face. But I went on, calling as I went. Then suddenly I
thought of praying.
O God, it wouldn't be fair, to take that little mite away from me,
I kept saying aloud. O God, be good to me in this, be merciful, and
lead me to him! Bring him back before it is too late! Bring him back,
and do with me what You wish, but have pity on that poor little
toddler! What You want of me, I will do, but don't, O God, don't take
my boy away from me!
I made promises to God, foolish, desperate, infantile promises;
trying to placate Him in His might with my resolutions for better
things, trying to strike bargains, at the last moment, with the Master
of Life and Deatheven protesting that I'd forgive Dinky-Dunk for
anything and everything he might have done, and that it was the Evil
One speaking through my lips when I said I'd surely kill Iroquois
Then I heard the signal-shots of a gun, and turned back toward the
shack, which looked small and squat on the floor of the paling prairie.
I couldn't run, for running was beyond me now. I heard Bobs barking,
and the Twins crying, and I saw Whinnie. I thought for one fond and
foolish moment, as I hurried toward the house, that they'd found my
Dinkie. But it was a false hope. Whinnie had been frightened at the
empty shack and the wailing babies, and had thought something might
have happened to me. So he had taken my duck-gun and fired those
He leaned against the muddy wagon-wheel and said Guid God! Guid
God! over and over again, when I told him Dinkie was lost. Then he
flung down the gun and drew his twisted old body up, peering through
the twilight at my face.
I suppose it frightened him a little.
Dinna fear, lassie, dinna fear, he said. He said it in such a deep
and placid voice that it carried consolation to my spirit, and brought
a shadow of conviction trailing along behind it. We'll find him. I say
it before the livin' God, we'll find him!
But that little candle of hope went out in the cold air, for I could
see that night was coming closer, cold and dark and silent. I forgot
about Whinnie, and didn't even notice which direction he took when he
strode off on his lame foot. But I called Bobs to me, and tried to
quiet his whimpering, and talked to him, and told him Dinkie was lost,
the little Dinkie we all loved, and implored him to go and find my boy
But the poor dumb creature didn't seem to understand me, for he
cringed and trembled and showed a tendency to creep off to the stable
and hide there, as though the weight of this great evil which had
befallen his house lay on him and him alone. And I was trying to coax
the whimpering Bobs back to the shack-steps when Dinky-Dunk himself
came galloping up through the uncertain light, with Lady Alicia a few
hundred yards behind him.
Have you found him? my husband asked, quick and curt. But there
was a pale greenish-yellow tint to his face that made me think of
No, I told him. I tried to speak calmly, determined not to break
down and make a scene there before Lady Alicia, who'd reined up,
stock-still, and sat staring in front of her, without a spoken word.
I could see Dinky-Dunk's mouth harden.
Have you any clueany hint? he asked, and I could catch the
quaver in his voice as he spoke.
Not a thing, I told him, remembering that we were losing time. He
simply wandered off, when that Indian girl wasn't looking. He didn't
even have a cap or a coat on.
I heard Lady Alicia, who had slipped down out of the saddle, make a
little sound as I said this. It was half a gasp and half a groan of
protest. For one brief moment Dinky-Dunk stared at her, almost
accusingly, I thought. Then he swung his horse savagely about, and
called out over our heads. Other horsemen, I found, had come loping up
in the ghostly twilight where we stood. I could see the breath from
their mounts' nostrils, white in the frosty air.
You, Teetzel, and you, O'Malley, called my husband, in an oddly
authoritative and barking voice, and you on the roan there, swing
twenty paces out from one another and circle the shack. Then widen the
circle, each turn. There's no use calling, for the boy'll be down.
He'll be done out. But don't speak until you see something. And for the
love of God, watch close. He's not three yet, remember. He couldn't
have got far away!
I should have found something reassuring in those quick and
purposeful words of command, but they only served to bring the horror
of the situation closer home to me. They brought before me more
graphically than ever the thought that I'd been trying to get out of my
head, the picture of a huddled small body, with a tear-washed face,
growing colder and colder, until the solitary little flame of life went
completely out in the midst of that star-strewn darkness. Only too
willingly, I knew, I would have covered that chilling body with the
warmth of my own, though wild horses rode over me until the end of
time. I tried to picture life without Dinkie. I tried to imagine my
home without that bright and friendly little face, without the patter
of those restless little feet, without the sound of those beleaguering
little coos of child-love with which he used to burrow his head into
the hollow of my shoulder.
It was too much for me. I had to lean against the wagon-wheel and
gulp. It was Lady Alicia, emerging from the shack, who brought me back
to the world about me. I could just see her as she stood beside me, for
night had fallen by this time, night nearly as black as the blackness
of my own heart.
Look here, she said almost gruffly. Whatever happens, you've got
to have something to drink. I've got a kettle on, and I'm going back to
make tea, or a pot of coffee, or whatever I can find.
Tea? I echoed, as the engines of indignation raced in my shaken
body. Tea? It sounds pretty, doesn't it, sitting down to a pink tea,
when there's a human being dying somewhere out in that darkness!
My bitterness, however, had no visible effect on Lady Alicia.
Perhaps coffee would be better, she coolly amended. And those
babies of yours are crying their heads off in there, and I don't seem
to be able to do anything to stop them. I rather fancy they're in need
of feeding, aren't they?
It was then and then only that I remembered about my poor neglected
Twins. I groped my way in through the darkness, quite calm again, and
sat down and unbuttoned my waist and nursed Poppsy, and then took up
the indignant and wailing Pee-Wee, vaguely wondering if the milk in my
breast wouldn't prove poison to them and if all my blood hadn't turned
I was still nursing Pee-Wee when Bud Teetzel came into the shack and
asked how many lanterns we had about the place. There was a sullen look
on his face, and his eyes refused to meet mine. So I knew his search
had not succeeded.
Then young O'Malley came in and asked for matches, and I knew even
before he spoke, that he too had failed. They had all failed.
I could hear Dinky-Dunk's voice outside, a little hoarse and
throaty. I felt very tired, as I put Pee-Wee back in his cradle. It
seemed as though an invisible hand were squeezing the life out of my
body and making it hard for me to breathe. I could hear the cows
bawling, reminding the world that they had not yet been milked. I could
smell the strong coffee that Lady Alicia was pouring out into a cup.
She stepped on something as she carried it to me. She stopped to pick
it upand it was one of Dinkie's little stub-toed button shoes.
Let me see it, I commanded, as she made a foolish effort to get it
out of sight. I took it from her and turned it over in my hand. That
was the way, I remembered, mothers turned over the shoes of the
children they had lost, the children who could never, never, so long as
they worked and waited and listened in this wide world, come back to
Then I put down the shoe, for I could hear one of the men outside
say that the upper muskeg ought to be dragged.
Try that cup of coffee now, suggested Lady Alicia. I liked her
quietness. I admired her calmness, under the circumstances. And I
remembered that I ought to give some evidence of this by accepting the
hot drink she had made for me. So I took the coffee and drank it. The
bawling of my milk-cows, across the cold night air, began to annoy me.
My cows haven't been milked, I complained. It was foolish, but I
couldn't help it. Then I reached out for Dinkie's broken-toed shoe, and
studied it for a long time. Lady Alicia crossed to the shack door, and
stood staring out through it....
She was still standing there when Whinnie came in, with the stable
lantern in his hand, and brushed her aside. He came to where I was
sitting and knelt down in front of me, on the shack-floor, with his
heavy rough hand on my knee. I could smell the stable-manure that clung
to his shoes.
God has been guid to ye, ma'am! he said in a rapt voice, which was
little more than an awed whisper. But it was more his eyes, with the
uncanny light in them making them shine like a dog's, that brought me
to my feet. For I had a sudden feeling that there was Something just
outside the door which he hadn't dared to bring in to me, a little dead
body with pinched face and trailing arms.
I tried to speak, but I couldn't. I merely gulped. And Whinnie's
rough hand pushed me back into my chair.
Dinna greet, he said, with two tears creeping crookedly down his
own seamed and wind-roughened face.
But I continued to gulp.
Dinna greet, for your laddie's safe and sound! I heard the
rapt voice saying.
I could hear what he'd said, quite distinctly, yet his words seemed
without color, without meaning, without sense.
Have you found him? called out Lady Alicia sharply.
Aye, he's found, said Whinnie, with an exultant gulp of his own,
but without so much as turning to look at that other woman, who,
apparently, was of small concern to him. His eyes were on me, and he
was very intimately patting my leg, without quite knowing it.
He says that the child's been found, interpreted Lady Alicia,
obviously disturbed by the expression on my face.
He's just yon, as warm and safe as a bird in a nest, further
expounded Whinstane Sandy.
Where? demanded Lady Alicia. But Whinnie ignored her.
It was Bobs, ma'am, were the blessed words I heard the old lips
saying to me, who kept whimper-in' and grievin' about the upper stable
door, which had been swung shut. It was Bobs who led me back yon, fair
against my will. And there I found our laddie, asleep in the manger of
Slip-Along, nested deep in the hay, as safe and warm as if in his own
I didn't speak or move for what must have been a full minute. I
couldn't. I felt as though my soul had been inverted and emptied of all
feeling, like a wine-glass that's turned over. For a full minute I sat
looking straight ahead of me. Then I got up, and went to where I
remembered Dinky-Dunk kept his revolver. I took it up and started to
cross to the open door. But Lady Alicia caught me sharply by the arm.
What are you doing? she gasped, imagining, I suppose, that I'd
gone mad and was about to blow my brains out. She even took the firearm
from my hand.
It's the men, I tried to explain. They should be told. Give them
three signal-shots to bring them in. Then I turned to Whinnie. He
nodded and took me by the hand.
Now take me to my boy, I said very quietly.
I was still quite calm, I think. But deep down inside of me I could
feel a faint glow. It wasn't altogether joy, and it wasn't altogether
relief. It was something which left me just a little bewildered, a good
deal like a school-girl after her first glass of champagne at Christmas
dinner. It left me oddly self-immured, miles and miles from the figures
so close to me, remote even from the kindly old man who hobbled a
little and went with a decided list to starboard as he led me out
toward what he always spoke of as the upper stable.
[Illustration: He was warm and breathing, and safe and sound]
Yet at the back of my brain, all the while, was some shadow of
doubt, of skepticism, of reiterated self-warning that it was all too
good to be true. It wasn't until I looked over the well-gnawed top rail
of Slip-Along's broken manger and saw that blessed boy there, by the
light of Whinnie's lantern, saw that blessed boy of mine half buried in
that soft and cushioning prairie-grass, saw that he was warm and
breathing, and safe and sound, that I fully realized how he had been
saved for me.
The laddie'd been after a clutch of eggs, I'm thinkin', whispered
Whinnie to me, pointing to a yellow stain on his waist, which was
clearly caused by the yolk of a broken egg. And Whinnie stooped over to
take Dinkie up in his arms, but I pushed him aside.
No, I'll take him, I announced.
He'd be the hungry boy when he awakened, I remembered as I gathered
him up in my arms. My knees were a bit shaky, as I carried him back to
the shack, but I did my best to disguise that fact. I could have
carried him, I believe, right on to Buckhorn, he seemed such a precious
burden. And I was glad of that demand for physical expenditure. It
seemed to bring me down to earth again, to get things back into
perspective. But for the life of me I couldn't find a word to say to
Lady Allie as I walked into my home with Dinky-Dink in my arms. She
stood watching me for a moment or two as I started to undress him,
still heavy with slumber. Then she seemed to realize that she was,
after all, an outsider, and slipped out through the door. I was glad
she did, for a minute later Dinkie began to whimper and cry, as any
child would with an empty stomach and an over-draft of sleep. It
developed into a good lusty bawl, which would surely have spoilt the
picture to an outsider. But it did a good turn in keeping me too busy
to pump any more brine on my own part.
When Dinky-Dunk came in I was feeding little Dinkie a bowl of hot
tapioca well drowned in cream and sugar. My lord and master took off
his hatwhich struck me as funnyand stood regarding us from just
inside the door. He stood there by the door for quite a long while.
Hadn't I better stay here with you to-night? he finally asked, in
a voice that didn't sound a bit like his own.
I looked up at him. But he stood well back from the range of the
lamplight and I found it hard to decipher his expression. The one
feeling I was certain of was a vague feeling of disappointment. What
caused it, I could not say. But it was there.
After what's happened, I told him as quietly as I could, I think
I'd rather be alone!
He stood for another moment or two, apparently letting this sink in.
It wasn't until he'd turned and walked out of the door that I realized
the ambiguity of that retort of mine. I was almost prompted to go after
him. But I checked myself by saying: Well, if the shoe fits, put it
on! But in my heart of hearts I didn't mean it. I wanted him to come
back, I wanted him to share my happiness with me, to sit and talk the
thing over, to exploit it to the full in a sweet retrospect of relief,
as people seem to want to do after they've safely passed through great
It wasn't until half an hour later, when Dinkie was sound asleep
again and tucked away in his crib, that I remembered my frantic
promises to God to forgive Dinky-Dunk everything, if He'd only bring my
boy back to me. And there'd been other promises, equally foolish and
frantic. I've been thinking them over, in fact, and I am going
to make an effort to keep them. I'm so happy that it hurts. And when
you're happy, you want other people to be that way, too.
Wednesday the Third
Humor is the salt of life. The older I grow the more I realize that
truth. And I'm going to keep more of it, if I can, in the work-room of
my soul. Last night, when Dinky-Dunk and I were so uppish with each
other, one single clap of humor might have shaken the solemnity out of
the situation and shown us up for the poseurs we really were. But Pride
is the mother of all contention. If Dinky-Dunk, when I was so
imperially dismissing him from his own home, had only up and said:
Look here, Lady-bird, this is as much my house as it is yours, you
feather-headed little idiot, and I'll put a June-bug down your neck if
you don't let me stay here! If he'd only said that, and sat down and
been the safety-valve to my emotions which all husbands ought to be to
all wives, the igloo would have melted about my heart and left me
nothing to do but crawl over to him and tell him that I missed him more
than tongue could tell, and that getting Dinkie's daddy back was almost
as good as getting Dinkie himself back to me.
But we missed our chance. And I suppose Lady Allie sat up until all
hours of the night, over at Casa Grande, consoling my Diddums and
talking things over. It gives me a sort of bruised feeling, for I've
nobody but Whinstane Sandy to unbosom my soul to....
Iroquois Annie has flown the coop. She has gone for good. I must
have struck terror deeper into the heart of that Redskin than I
imagined, for rather than face death and torture at my hands she left
Slip-Along and the buckboard at the Teetzel Ranch and vamoosed off into
the great unknown. I have done up her valuables in an old sugar-sack,
and if they're not sent for in a week's time I'll make a bonfire of the
truck. Whinnie, by the way, is to help me with the house-work. He is
much better at washing dishes than I ever thought he could be. And he
announces he can make a fair brand of bannock, if we run out of bread.
Tuesday the Ninth
I've got a hired man. He dropped like manna, out of the skies, or,
rather, he emerged like a tadpole out of the mud. But there's something
odd about him and I've a floaty idea he's a refugee from justice and
that some day one of the Mounties will come riding up to my shack-door
and lead my farm-help away in handcuffs.
Whatever he is, I can't quite make him out. But I have my
suspicions, and I'm leaving everything in abeyance until they're
I was on Paddy the other morning, in my old shooting-jacket and
Stetson, going like the wind for the Dixon Ranch, after hearing they
had a Barnado boy they wanted to unload on anybody who'd undertake to
keep him under control. The trail was heavy from the night rain that
had swept the prairie like a new broom, but the sun was shining again
and the air was like champagne. The ozone and the exercise and Paddy's
legato stride all tended to key up my spirits, and I went along
Bake me a bannock,
And cut me a callop,
For I've stole me a grey mare
And I'm off at a gallop!
It wasn't until I saw Paddy's ear prick up like a rabbit's that I
noticed the gun-boat on the trail ahead. At least I thought it was a
gun-boat, for a minute or two, until I cantered closer and saw that it
was a huge gray touring-car half foundered in the prairie-mud. Beside
it sat a long lean man in very muddy clothes and a rather
disreputable-looking hat. He sat with a ridiculously contented look on
his face, smoking a small briar pipe, and he laughed outright as I
circled his mud-hole and came to a stop opposite the car with its nose
poked deep down in the mire, for all the world like a rooting shote.
Good morning, Diana, he said, quite coolly, as he removed his
His salutation struck me as impertinent, so I returned it in the
curtest of nods.
Are you in trouble? I asked.
None whatever, he airily replied, still eying me. But my car
seems to be, doesn't it?
What's wrong? I demanded, determined that he shouldn't elbow me
out of my matter-of-factness.
He turned to his automobile and inspected it with an indifferent
I turned this old tub into a steam-engine, racing her until the
water boiled, and she got even with me by blowing up an intake hose.
But I'm perfectly satisfied.
With what? I coldly inquired.
With being stuck here, he replied; He had rather a bright gray eye
with greenish lights in it, and he looked rational enough. But there
was something fundamentally wrong with him.
What makes you feel that way? I asked, though for a moment I'd
been prompted to inquire if they hadn't let him out a little too soon.
Because I wouldn't have seen you, who should be wearing a crescent
moon on your brow, if my good friend Hyacinthe hadn't mired herself in
this mud-hole, he had the effrontery to tell me.
Is there anything so remarkably consolatory in that vision? I
asked, deciding that I might as well convince him he wasn't confronting
an untutored she-coolie of the prairie. Whereupon he studied me more
pointedly and more impersonally than ever.
It's more than consolatory, he said with an accentuating flourish
of the little briar pipe. It's quite compensatory.
It was rather ponderously clever, I suppose; but I was tired of both
verbal quibbling and roadside gallantry.
Do you want to get out of that hole? I demanded. For it's a law of
the prairie-land, of course, never to side-step a stranger in distress.
Not if it means an ending to this interview, he told me.
It was my turn to eye him. But there wasn't much warmth in the
What are you trying to do? I calmly inquired, for prairie life
hadn't exactly left me a shy and timorous gazelle in the haunts of that
stalker known as Man.
I'm trying to figure out, he just as calmly retorted, apparently
quite unimpressed by my uppity tone, how anything as radiant and
lovely as you ever got landed up here in this heaven of chilblains and
The hare-brained idiot was actually trying to make love to me. And I
then and there decided to put a brake on his wheel of eloquence.
And I'm still trying to figure out, I told him, how what
impresses me as rather a third-class type of man is able to ride around
in what looks like a first-class car! Unless, and the thought came to
me out of a clear sky, and when they come that way they're inspirations
and are usually true, unless you stole it!
He turned a solemn eye on the dejected-looking vehicle and studied
it from end to end.
If I'm that far behind Hyacinthe, he indifferently acknowledged,
I begin to fathom the secret of my life failure. So my morning hasn't
been altogether wasted.
But you did steal the car? I persisted.
That must be a secret between us, he said, with a distinctly
guilty look about the sky-line, as though to make sure there were no
sheriffs and bloodhounds on his track.
What are you doing here? I demanded, determined to thrash the
thing out, now that it had been thrust upon me.
Talking to the most charming woman I've encountered west of the
Great Lakes, he said with an ironic and yet a singularly engaging
smile. But I didn't intend him to draw a herring across the trail.
I'd be obliged if you'd be sincere, I told him, sitting up a
little straighter on Paddy.
I am sincere, he protested, putting away his pipe.
But the things you're saying are the things the right sort of
person refrains from expressing, even when he happens to be the victim
of their operation.
Yes, that's quite true, in drawing-rooms, he airily amended. But
this is God's open and untrammeled prairie.
Where crudeness is king, I added.
Where candor is worth more than convention, he corrected, with
rather a wistful look in his eye. And where we mortals ought to be at
least as urbane as that really wonderful robin-egg sky up there with
the chinook arch across it.
He wasn't flippant any more, and I had a sense of triumph in forcing
his return to sobriety. I wanted to ask him what his name was, once we
were back to earth again. But as that seemed a little too direct, I
merely inquired where his home happened to be.
I've just come from up North! he said. And that, I promptly
realized, was an evasive way of answering an honest question,
especially as there was a California license-number on the front of his
And what's your business? I inquired, deciding to try him out with
still one more honest question.
I'm a windmill man, he told me, as he waded in toward his
dejected-looking automobile and lifted up its hood. I took him
literally, for there wasn't anything, at the time, to make me think of
Cervantes. But I'd already noticed his hands, and I felt sure they
weren't the hands of a laboring man. They were long and lean and
finicky-fingered hands, the sort that could span an octave much better
than they could hold a hayfork. And I decided to see him hoisted by his
Then you're just the man I'm looking for, I told him. He stopped
for a moment to look up from the bit of heavy rubber-hose he was
winding with a stretch of rubber that looked as though it had been cut
from an inner tube.
Words such as those are honey to my ears, he said as he went on
with his work. And I saw it was necessary to yank him down to earth
I've a broken-down windmill over on my ranch, I told him. And if
you're what you say you are, you ought to be able to put it in running
order for me.
Then you've a ranch? he observed, stopping in his work.
A ranch and a husband and three children, I told him with the
well-paraded air of a tabby-cat who's dragged her last mouse into the
drawing-room. But my announcement didn't produce the effect I'd counted
on. All I could see on the face of the windmill man was a sort of mild
That only deepens the mystery, he observed, apparently as much to
himself as to me.
What mystery? I asked.
You! he retorted.
What's wrong with me? I demanded.
You're so absurdly alive and audacious and sensitive and
youthful-hearted, dear madam! For the life of me I can't quite fit you
into the narrow little frame you mention.
Is it so narrow? I inquired, wondering why I wasn't much more
indignant at him. But instead of answering that question, he asked me
Why hasn't this husband of yours fixed the windmill? he casually
asked over his shoulder, as he resumed his tinkering on the car-engine.
My husband's work keeps him away from home, I explained, promptly
on the defensive.
I thought so, he announced, with the expression of a man who's had
a pet hypothesis unexpectedly confirmed.
Then what made you think so? I demanded, with a feeling that he
was in some way being subtler than I could quite comprehend.
Instinctif you care to call it that, he said as he stooped low
over his engine. He seemed offensively busy there for a considerable
length of time. I could see that he was not what in the old days I'd
have called a window-dresser. And I rather liked that pretense of
candor in his make-up, just as I cottoned to that melodious drawl of
his, not altogether unlike Lady Alicia's, with its untoward suggestion
of power and privilege. He was a man with a mind of his own; there was
no denying that. I was even compelled to remind myself that with all
his coolness and suavity he was still a car-thief, or perhaps something
worse. And I had no intention of sitting there and watching him pitch
What are you going to do about it? I asked, after he'd finished
his job of bailing ditch-water into his car-radiator with a little
collapsible canvas bucket.
He climbed into his driving-seat, mud to the knees, before he
I'm going to get Hyacinthe out of this hole, was what he said.
And then I'm going to fix that windmill!
On what terms? I inquired.
What's the matter with a month's board and keep? he suggested.
It rather took my breath away, but I tried not to betray the fact.
He was a refugee, after all, and only too anxious to go into
hiding for a few weeks.
Can you milk? I demanded, deciding to keep him in his place, from
the start. And he sadly acknowledged that he wasn't able to milk.
Windmill men seldom were, he casually asserted.
Then you'll have to make yourself handy, in other ways, I
proclaimed as he sat appraising me from his deep-padded car-seat.
All right, he said, as though the whole thing were settled, on the
spot. But it wasn't so simple as it seemed.
How about this car? I demanded. His eye met mine; and I made note
of the fact that he was compelled to look away.
I suppose we'll have to hide it somewhere, he finally
And how'll you hide a car of that size on the open prairie? I
Couldn't we bury it? he asked with child-like simplicity.
It's pretty well that way now, isn't it? But I saw it three miles
off, I reminded him.
Couldn't we pile a load of prairie-hay over it? he suggested next,
with the natural cunning of the criminal. Then they'd never suspect.
Suspect what? I asked.
Suspect where we got it, he explained.
Kindly do not include me in any of your activities of this nature,
I said with all the dignity that Paddy would permit of, for he was
getting restless by this time.
But you've included yourself in the secret, he tried to argue,
with a show of injured feelings. And surely, after you've wormed that
out of me, you're not going to deliver a poor devil over to
You can have perfect confidence in me, I interrupted, trying to be
stately but only succeeding, I'm afraid, in being stiff. And he nodded
and laughed in a companionable and laisser-faire sort of way as
he started his engine and took command of the wheel.
Then began a battle which I had to watch from a distance because
Paddy evinced no love for that purring and whining thing of steel as it
rumbled and roared and thrashed and churned up the mud at its flying
heels. It made the muskeg look like a gargantuan cake-batter, in which
it seemed to float as dignified and imperturbable as a schooner in a
canal-lock. But the man at the wheel kept his temper, and reversed, and
writhed forward, and reversed again. He even waved at me, in a grim
sort of gaiety, as he rested his engine and then went back to the
struggle. He kept engaging and releasing his clutch until he was able
to impart a slight rocking movement to the car. And again the big motor
roared and churned up the mud and again Paddy took to prancing and
pirouetting like a two-year-old. But this time the spinning rear wheels
appeared to get a trace of traction, flimsy as it was, for the
throbbing gray mass moved forward a little, subsided again, and once
more nosed a few inches ahead. Then the engine whined in a still higher
key, and slowly but surely that mud-covered mass emerged from the swale
that had sought to engulf and possess it, emerged slowly and awkwardly,
like a dinosauros emerging from its primeval ooze.
The man in the car stepped down from his driving-seat, once he was
sure of firm ground under his wheels again, and walked slowly and
wistfully about his resurrected devil-wagon.
The wages of sin is mud, he said as I trotted up to him. And how
much better it would have been, O Singing Pine-Tree, if I'd never taken
The poor chap was undoubtedly a little wrong in the head, but
likable withal, and not ill-favored in appearance, and a man that one
should try to make allowances for.
It would have been much better, I agreed, wondering how long it
would be before the Mounted Police would be tracking him down and
turning him to making brooms in the prison-factory at Welrina.
Now, if you'll kindly trot ahead, he announced as he relighted his
little briar pipe, and show me the trail to the ranch of the blighted
windmill, I'll idle along behind you.
I resented the placidity with which he was accepting a situation
that should have called for considerable meekness on his part. And I
sat there for a silent moment or two on Paddy, to make that resentment
quite obvious to him.
What's your name? I asked, the same as I'd ask the name of any new
help that arrived at Alabama Ranch.
Peter Ketley, he said, for once both direct and sober-eyed.
All right, Peter, I said, as condescendingly as I was able. Just
follow along, and I'll show you where the bunk-house is.
It was his grin, I suppose, that irritated me. So I started off on
Paddy and went like the wind. I don't know whether he called it idling
or not, but once or twice when I glanced back at him that touring-car
was bounding like a reindeer over some of the rougher places in the
trail, and I rather fancy it got some of the mud shaken off its
running-gear before it pulled up behind the upper stable at Alabama
You ride like a ritt-meister, he said, with an approvingly
good-natured wag of the head, as he came up as close as Paddy would
Danke-schön! I rather listlessly retorted, And if you
leave the car here, close beside this hay-stack, it'll probably not be
seen until after dinner. Then some time this afternoon, if the coast is
clear, you can get it covered up.
I was a little sorry, the next moment, that I'd harped still again
on an act which must have become painful for him to remember, since I
could see his face work and his eye betray a tendency to evade mine.
But he thanked me, and explained that he was entirely in my hands.
Such being the case, I was more excited than I'd have been willing
to admit when I led him into the shack. Frontier life had long since
taught me not to depend too much on appearances, but the right sort of
people, the people who out here are called good leather, would remain
the right sort of people in even the roughest wickiup. We may have been
merely ranchers, but I didn't want Peter, whatever his morals, to think
that we ate our food raw off the bone and made fire by rubbing sticks
Yet he must have come pretty close to believing that, unimpeachable
as his manners remained, for Whinnie had burned the roast of veal to a
charry mass, the Twins were crying like mad, and Dinkie had painted
himself and most of the dining-room table with Worcestershire sauce. I
showed Peter where he could wash up and where he could find a whisk to
remove the dried mud from his person. Then I hurriedly appeased my
complaining bairns, opened a can of beans to take the place of
Whinnie's boiled potatoes, which most unmistakably tasted of yellow
soap, and supplemented what looked dishearteningly like a Dixon dinner
with my last carefully treasured jar of raspberry preserve.
Whinstane Sandy, it is true, remained as glum and silent as a
glacier through all that meal. But my new man, Peter, talked easily and
uninterruptedly. And he talked amazingly well. He talked about mountain
goats, and the Morgan rose-jars in the Metropolitan, and why he
disliked George Moore, and the difference between English and American
slang, and why English women always wear the wrong sort of hats, and
the poetry in Indian names if we only had the brains to understand 'em,
and how the wheat I'd manufactured my home-made bread out of was made
up of cellulose and germ and endosperm, and how the alcohol and
carbonic acid gas of the fermented yeast affected the gluten, and how
the woman who could make bread like that ought to have a specially
designed decoration pinned on her apron-front. Then he played
Paddy-cake, paddy-cake, Baker's man, with Dinkie, who took to him at
once, and when I came back from getting the extra cot ready in the
bunk-house, my infant prodigy was on the new hired man's back, circling
the dinner-table and shouting Gid-dap, 'ossie, gid-dap! as he went, a
proceeding which left the seamed old face of Whinstane Sandy about as
blithe as a coffin-lid. So I coldly informed the newcomer that I'd show
him where he could put his things, if he had any, before we went out to
look over the windmill. And Peter rather astonished me by lugging back
from the motor-car so discreetly left in the rear a huge suit-case of
pliable pigskin that looked like a steamer-trunk with carrying-handles
attached to it, a laprobe lined with beaver, a llama-wool sweater made
like a Norfolk-jacket, a chamois-lined ulster, a couple of plaid woolen
rugs, and a lunch-kit in a neatly embossed leather case.
Quite a bit of loot, isn't it? he said, a little red in the face
from the effort of portaging so pretentious a load.
That word loot stuck in my craw. It was a painful reminder of
something that I'd been trying very hard to forget.
Did it come with the car? I demanded.
Yes, it came with the car, he was compelled to acknowledge. But
it would be exhausting, don't you see, to have to tunnel through a
hay-stack every time I wanted a hair-brush!
I icily agreed that it would, scenting tacit reproof in that
mildly-put observation of his. But I didn't propose to be trifled with.
I calmly led Mr. Peter Ketley out to where the overturned windmill
tower lay like a museum skeleton along its bed of weeds and asked him
just what tools he'd need. It was a simple question, predicating a
simple answer. Yet he didn't seem able to reply to it. He scratched his
close-clipped pate and said he'd have to look things over and study it
out. Windmills were tricky things, one kind demanding this sort of
treatment and another kind demanding that.
You'll have no trouble, of course, in raising the tower? I asked,
looking him square in the eye. More than once I'd seen these windmill
towers of galvanized steel girders put up on the prairie, and I had a
very good idea of how the thing was done. They were assembled lying on
the ground, and then a heavy plank was bolted to the bottom side of the
tower base. This plank was held in place by two big stakes. Then a
block and tackle was attached to the upper part of the tower, with the
running-rope looped over a tripod of poles, to act as a fulcrum, so
that when a team of horses was attached to the tackle the tower pivoted
on its base and slowly rose in the air, steadied by a couple of
guy-ropes held out at right angles to it.
Oh, no trouble at all, replied the expert quite airily. But I
noticed that his eye held an especially abstracted and preoccupied
Just how is it done? I innocently inquired.
Well, that all depends, he sapiently observed. Then, apparently
nettled by my obviously superior smile, he straightened up and said: I
want you to leave this entirely to me. It's my problem, and you've no
right to be worried over it. It'll take study, of course, and it'll
take time. Rome wasn't built in a day. But before I leave you, madam,
your tower will be up.
I hope you're not giving yourself a life sentence, I remarked as I
turned and left him.
I knew that he was looking after me as I went, but I gave no outer
sign of that inner knowledge. I was equally conscious of his movements,
through the shack window, when he possessed himself of a hay-fork and
with more than one backward look over his shoulder circled out to where
his car still stood. He tooled it still closer up beside the hay-stack,
which he mounted, and then calmly and cold-bloodedly buried under a
huge mound of sun-cured prairie-grass that relic of a past crime which
he seemed only too willing to obliterate.
But he was callous, I could see, for once that telltale car was out
of sight, he appeared much more interested in the water-blisters on his
hands than the stain on his character. I could even see him inspect his
fingers, from time to time, as he tried to round off the top of his
very badly made stack, and test the joints by opening and closing them,
as though not quite sure they were still in working order. And when the
stack-making was finished and he returned to the windmill, circling
about the fallen tower and examining its mechanism and stepping off its
dimensions, I noticed that he kept feeling the small of his back and
glancing toward the stack in what seemed an attitude of resentment.
When Whinnie came in with one of the teams, after his day a-field, I
noticed that Peter approached him blithely and attempted to draw him
into secret consultation. But Whinnie, as far as I could see, had no
palate for converse with suspicious-looking strangers. He walked
several times, in fact, about that mysterious new hay-stack, and moved
shackward more dour and silent than ever. So that evening the worthy
Peter was a bit silent and self-contained, retiring early, though I
strongly suspected, and still suspect, that he'd locked himself in the
bunk-house to remove unobserved all the labels from his underwear.
In the morning his appearance was not that of a man at peace with
his own soul. He even asked me if he might have a horse and rig to go
in to the nearest town for some new parts which he'd need for the
windmill. And he further inquired if I'd mind him bringing back a tent
to sleep in.
Did you find the bunk-house uncomfortable? I asked, noticing again
the heavy look about his eyes.
It's not the bunk-house, he admitted. It's that old Caledonian
saw-mill with the rock-ribbed face.
What's the matter with Whinnie? I demanded, with a quick touch of
resentment. And Peter looked up in astonishment.
Do you mean you've never heard himand your shack not sixty paces
Heard him what? I asked.
Heard him snore, explained Peter, with a sigh.
Are you sure? I inquired, remembering the mornings when I'd had
occasion to waken Whinnie, always to find him sleeping as silent and
placid as one of my own babies.
I had eight hours of it in which to dissipate any doubts, he
This mystified me, but to object to the tent, of course, would have
been picayune. I had just the faintest of suspicions, however, that the
fair Peter might never return from Buckhorn, though I tried to solace
myself with the thought that the motor-car and the beaver-lined
lap-robe would at least remain with me. But my fears were groundless.
Before supper-time Peter was back in high spirits, with the needed new
parts for the windmill, and an outfit of blue denim apparel for
himself, and a little red sweater for Dinkie, and an armful of
magazines for myself.
Whinnie, as he stood watching Peter's return, clearly betrayed the
disappointment which that return involved. He said nothing, but when he
saw my eye upon him he gazed dourly toward his approaching rival and
tapped a weather-beaten brow with one stubby finger. He meant, of
course, that Peter was a little locoed.
But Peter is not. He is remarkably clear-headed and quick-thoughted,
and if there's any madness about him it's a madness with a deep-laid
method. The one thing that annoys me is that he keeps me so
continuously and yet so obliquely under observation. He pretends to be
studying out my windmill, but he is really trying to study out its
owner. Whinnie, I know, won't help him much. And I refuse to rise to
his gaudiest flies. So he's still puzzling over what he regards as an
anomaly, a farmerette who knows the difference between De Bussey and a
side-delivery horse-rake, a mother of three children who can ride a
pinto and play a banjo, a clodhopper in petticoats who can talk about
Ragusa and Toarmina and the summer races at Piping Rock. But it's a
relief to converse about something besides summer-fallowing and
breaking and seed-wheat and tractor-oil and cows' teats. And it's a
stroke of luck to capture a farm-hand who can freshen you up on foreign
opera at the same time that he campaigns against the domestic weed!
Thursday the Eleventh
We are a peaceful and humdrum family, very different from the
westerners of the romantic movies. If we were the cinema kind of
ranchers Pee-Wee would be cutting his teeth on a six-shooter, little
Dinkie would be off rustling cattle, Poppsy would be away holding up
the Transcontinental Limited, and Mummsie would be wearing chaps,
toting a gun, and pretending to the sheriff that her jail-breaking
brother was not hidden in the cellar!
Whereas, we are a good deal like the easterners who till the soil
and try to make a home for themselves and their children, only we are
without a great many of their conveniences, even though we do beat them
out in the matter of soil. But breaking sod isn't so picturesque as
breaking laws, and a plow-handle isn't so thrilling to the eye as a
shooting-iron, so it's mostly the blood-and-thunder type of westerners,
from the ranch with the cow-brand name, who goes ki-yi-ing through
picture and story, advertising us as an aggregation of train-robbers
and road-agents and sheriff-rabbits. And it's a type that makes me
The open range, let it be remembered, is gone, and the cowboy is
going after it. Even the broncho, they tell me, is destined to
disappear. It seems hard to think that the mustang will be no more, the
mustang which Dinky-Dunk once told me was the descendant of the three
hundred Arab and Spanish horses which Cortez first carried across the
Atlantic to Mexico. For we, the newcomers, mesh the open range with our
barb-wire, and bring in what Mrs. Eagle-Moccasin called our
stink-wagon to turn the grass upside down and grow wheat-berries
where the buffalo once wallowed. But sometimes, even in this newfangled
work-a-day world, I find a fresh spirit of romance, quite as glamorous,
if one has only the eye to see it, as the romance of the past. In one
generation, almost, we are making a home-land out of a wilderness, we
are conjuring up cities and threading the continent with steel, we are
feeding the world on the best and cleanest wheat known to hungry man.
And on these clear and opaline mornings when I see the prairie-floor
waving with its harvest to be, and hear the clack and stutter of the
tractor breaking sod on the outer quarter and leaving behind it the
serried furrows of umber, I feel there is something primal and poetic
in the picture, something mysteriously moving and epic....
The weather has turned quite warm again, with glorious spring days
of winy and heart-tugging sunlight and cool and starry nights. In my
spare time I've been helping Whinnie get in my truck garden, and
Peter, who has reluctantly forsaken the windmill and learned to run the
tractor, is breaking sod and summer-fallowing for me. For there is
always another season to think of, and I don't want the tin-can of
failure tied to my spirit's tail. As I say, the days slip by. Morning
comes, fresh as a new-minted nickel, we mount the treadmill, and
somebody rolls the big red ball off the table and it's night again. But
open-air work leaves me healthy, my children grow a-pace, and I should
be most happy.
But I'm not.
I'm so homesick for something which I can't quite define that it
gives me a misty sort of ache just under the fifth rib. It's just three
weeks now since Dinky-Dunk has ventured over from Casa Grande. If this
aloofness continues, he'll soon need to be formally introduced to his
own offspring when he sees them.
Now that I have Peter out working on the land, I can safely give a
little more time to my household. But meals are still more or less a
scramble. Peter has ventured the opinion that he might get a Chinaman
for me, if he could have a week off to root out the right sort of
Chink. But I prefer that Peter sticks to his tractor, much as I need
help in the house.
My new hired man is still a good deal of a mystery to me, just as I
seem to remain a good deal of a mystery to him. I've been asking myself
just why it is that Peter is so easy to get along with, and why, in
some indescribable way, he has added to the color of life since coming
to Alabama Ranch. It's mostly, I think, because he's supplied me with
the one thing I had sorely missed, without being quite conscious of it.
He has been able to give me mental companionship, at a time when my
mind was starving for an idea or two beyond the daily drudgery of
farm-work. He has given a fillip to existence, loath as I am to
acknowledge it. He's served to knock the moss off my soul by more or
less indirectly reminding me that all work and no play could make
Chaddie McKail a very dull girl indeed.
I was rather afraid, at one time, that he was going to spoil it all
by making love to me, after the manner of young Bud Dyruff, from the
Cowen Ranch, who, because I waded bare-kneed into a warm little
slough-end when the horses were having their noonday meal, assumed that
I could be persuaded to wade with equal celerity into indiscriminate
affection. That rudimentary and ingenuous youth, in fact, became more
and more offensive in his approaches, until finally I turned on him.
Are you trying to make love to me? I demanded. The surest thing you
know, he said with a rather moonish smile. Then let me tell you
something, I hissed out at him, with my nose within six inches of his,
I'm a high-strung hell-cat, I am. I'm a bob-cat, and I'm not aching to
be pawed by you or any other hare-brained he-mutt. So now, right from
this minute, keep your distance! Is that clear? Keep your distance, or
I'll break your head in with this neck-yoke!
Poor Bud! That rather blighted the flower of Bud's tender young
romance, and to this day he effects a wide detour when he happens to
meet me on the trail or in the byways of Buckhorn.
But Peter Ketley is not of the Bud Dyruff type. He is more complex,
and, accordingly, more disturbing. For I can see admiration in his eye,
even though he no longer expresses it by word of mouth. And there is
something tonic to any woman in knowing that a man admires her. In my
case, in fact, it's so tonic that I've ordered some benzoin and
cucumber-cream, and think a little more about how I'm doing my hair,
and argue with myself that it's a woman's own fault if she runs to seed
before she's seen thirty. I may be the mother of three children, but I
still have a hankering after personal powerand that comes to women
through personal attractiveness, disquieting as it may be to have to
admit it. We can't be big strong men and conquer through force, but our
frivolous little bodies can house the triumphant weaknesses which make
men forget their strength.
Sunday the Fourteenth
I've had a talk with Peter. It simply had to come, for we
couldn't continue to play-act and evade realities. The time arrived for
getting down to brass tacks. And even now the brass tacks aren't as
clear-cut as I'd like them to be.
But Peter is not and never was a car-thief. That beetle-headed
suspicion has passed slowly but surely away, like a snow-man confronted
by a too affectionate sun. It slipped away from me little by little,
and began losing its lines, not so much when I found that Peter carried
a bill-fold and a well-thumbed copy of Marius The Epicurean and
walked about in undergarments that were expensive enough for a prima
donna, but more because I found myself face to face with a
Peter-Panish sort of honorableness that was not to be dissembled. So I
cornered Peter and put him through his paces.
I began by telling him that I didn't seem to know a great deal about
The closed makimono, he cryptically retorted, is the symbol of
I was ashamed to ask just what that meant, so I tried another tack.
Folks are thrown pretty intimately together, in this frontier life,
like worms in a bait-tin. So they naturally need to know what they're
tangled up with.
Peter, at that, began to look unhappy.
Would you mind telling me what brought you to this part of the
country? I asked.
Would you mind telling me what brought you to this part of
the country? countered Peter.
My husband, I curtly retorted. And that chilled him perceptibly.
But he saw that I was not to be shuttled aside.
I was interested, he explained with a shrug of finality, in the
nesting-ground of the Canada goose!
Then you came to the right point, I promptly retorted. For I
But he didn't smile, as I'd expected him to do. He seemed to feel
that something approaching seriousness was expected of that talk.
I really came because I was more interested in one of your earliest
settlers, he went on. This settler, I might add, came to your
province some three million years ago and is now being exhumed from one
of the cut-banks of the Red Deer River. He belongs to the Mesozoic
order of archisaurian gentlemen known as Dinosauria, and there's
about a car-load of him. This interest in one of your cretaceous
dinosaur skeletons would imply, of course, that I'm wedded to science.
And I am, though to nothing else. I'm as free as the wind, dear
lady, or I wouldn't be holidaying here with a tractor-plow that makes
my legs ache and a prairie Penelope, who, for some reason or other, has
the power of making my heart ache.
Verboten! I promptly interjected.
Peter saluted and then sighed.
There are things up here even more interesting than your Edmonton
formation, he remarked. But I was born a Quaker, you see, and I can't
get rid of my self-control!
I like you for that, I rather depressed him by saying. For I find
that one accepts you, Peter, as one accepts a climate. You're intimate
in your very remoteness.
Peter looked at me out of a rueful yet ruminative eye. But Whinnie
came forth and grimly announced that the Twins were going it. So I had
to turn shackward.
You really ought to get that car out, I called over my shoulder to
him, with a head-nod toward the hay-stack. And he nodded absently back
Thursday theI Can't Remember
Dinky-Dunk rode over to-day when Peter was bolting some new wire
stuts on the windmill tower and I was busy dry-picking two polygamous
old roosters which Whinnie had beheaded for me. My husband attempted an
offhand and happy-go-lucky air which, I very soon saw, was merely a
mask to hide his embarrassment. He even flushed up to the ears when
little Dinkie drew back for a moment or two, as any child might who
didn't recognize his own father, though he later solicitously tiptoed
to the sleeping-porch where the Twins were having their nap, and
remarked that they were growing prodigiously.
It was all rather absurd. But when one member of this
life-partnership business is stiff with constraint, you can't expect
the other member to fall on his neck and weep. And Dinky-Dunk, for all
his nonchalance, looked worried and hollow-eyed. He was in the saddle
again, and headed back for Casa Grande, when he caught sight of Peter
at work on the windmill. So he loped over to my hired man and had a
talk with him. What they talked about I couldn't tell, of course, but
it seemed a casual and friendly enough conversation. Peter, in his
blue-jeans, dirt-marked and oil-stained, and with a wrench in his hand,
looked like an I. W. W. agitator who'd fallen on evil days.
I felt tempted to sally forth and reprove Dinky-Dunk for wasting the
time of my hired help. But that, I remembered in time, might be
treading on rather thin ice, or, what would be even worse, might seem
like snooping. And speaking of snooping, reminds me that a few nights
ago I listened carefully at the open window of the bunk-house where
Whinstane Sandy was deep in repose. Not a sound, not a trace of a
snore, arose from Whinnie's cot.
So my suspicions were confirmed. That old sourdough had deliberately
lain awake and tried to trumpet my second man from the precincts which
Whinnie felt he'd already preempted. He had attempted to snore poor
Peter off the map and away from Alabama Ranch!
Saturday the Thirtieth
The sedatest lives, I suppose, have their occasional Big Surprises.
Life, at any rate, has just treated me to one. Lady Alicia Newland's
English maid, known as Struthers, arrived at Alabama Ranch yesterday
afternoon and asked if I'd take her in. She'd had some words, she said,
with her mistress, and didn't propose to be treated like the scum of
the earth by anybody.
So the inevitable has come about. America, the liberalizer, has
touched the worthy Struthers with her wand of democracy and transformed
her from a silent machine of service into a Vesuvian female with a mind
and a voice of her own.
I told Struthers, who was still a bit quavery and excited, to sit
down and we'd talk the matter over, for rustling maids, in a land where
they're as scarce as hen's teeth, is a much graver crime than rustling
cattle. Yet if Lady Allie had taken my husband away from me, I didn't
see why, in the name of poetic justice, I shouldn't appropriate her
And Struthers, I found, was quite definite as to her intentions. She
is an expert needle-woman, can do plain cooking, and having been a
nurse-maid in her younger days, is quite capable of looking after
children, even American children. I winced at that, naturally, and
winced still harder when she stipulated that she must have four o'clock
tea every afternoon, and every alternate Sunday morning off for the
purpose of saging her hair, which was a new one on me. But I weighed
the pros and cons, very deliberately, and discussed her predicament
very candidly, and the result is that Struthers is now duly installed
at Alabama Ranch. Already, in fact, that efficient hand of hers has
left its mark on the shack. Her muffins this morning were above
reproach and to-morrow we're to have Spotted Dog pudding. But already,
I notice, she is casting sidelong glances in the direction of poor
Peter, to whom, this evening at supper, she deliberately and
unquestionably donated the fairest and fluffiest quarter of the lemon
pie. I have no intention of pumping the lady, but I can see that there
are certain matters pertaining to Casa Grande which she is not averse
to easing her mind of. I am not quite sure, in fact, that I could find
it possible to lend an ear to the gossipings of a servant. And yetand
yet, there are a few things I'd like to find out. And dignity may still
be slaughtered on the altar of curiosity.
Sunday the Sixth
Now that I've had a breathing-spell, I've been sitting back and
mentally taking stock. The showers of last week have brought the needed
moisture for our wheat, which is looking splendid. Our oats are not
quite so promising, but everything will depend upon the season. The
season, in fact, holds our fate and our fortune in its lap. Those
ninety days that include June and July and August are the days when the
northwest farmer is forever on tiptoe watching the weather. It's his
time of trial, his period of crisis, when our triple foes of Drought
and Hail and Fire may at any moment creep upon him. It keeps one on the
qui vive, making life a gamble, giving the zest of the uncertain to
existence, and leaving no room for boredom. It's the big drama which
even dwarfs the once momentous emotions of love and hate and jealousy.
For when the Big Rush is on, I've noticed, husbands are apt to neglect
their wives, and lovers forget their sweethearts, and neighbors their
enmities. Let the world go hang, but before and above everything else,
save your crop!
Yet, as I was saying, I've been taking stock. It's clear that I
should have more cattle. And if all goes well, I want a bank-barn, the
same as they have in the East, with cement flooring and modern
stalling. And I've got to comb over my herd, and get rid of the
boarders and hatracks, and acquire a blooded bull for Alabama Ranch, to
improve the strain. Two of my milkers must go for beef, as well as
several scrub springers which it would be false economy to hold. I've
also got to do something about my hogs. They are neither easy feeders
nor good bacon types. With them, too, I want a good sire, a pure-bred
Yorkshire or Berkshire. And I must have cement troughs and some movable
fencing, so that my young shoats may have pasture-crop. For there is
money in pigs, and no undue labor, provided you have them properly
My chickens, which have been pretty well caring for themselves, have
done as well as could be expected. I've tried to get early hatchings
from my brooders, for pullets help out with winter eggs when prices are
high, laying double what a yearling does during the cold months. My
yellow-beaks and two-year-olds I shall kill off as we're able to eat
them, for an old hen is a useless and profitless possession and I begin
to understand why lordly man has appropriated that phrase as a term of
contempt for certain of my sex. I'm trading in my eggsand likewise my
butterat Buckhorn, selling the Number One grade and holding back the
Number Twos for home consumption. There is an amazing quantity of
Number Twos, because of stolen nests and the lack of proper coops and
runs. But we seem to get away with them all. Dinkie now loves them and
would eat more than one at a time if I'd let him.
The gluttony of the normal healthy three-year-old child, by the way,
is something incredible. Dinkie reminds me more and more of a robin in
cherry-time. He stuffs sometimes, until his little tummy is as tight as
a drum, and I verily believe he could eat his own weight in chocolate
blanc-mange, if I'd let him. Eating, with him, is now a serious
business, demanding no interruptions or distractions. Once he's
decently filled, however, his greediness takes the form of exterior
application. He then rejoices to plaster as much as he can in his hair
and ears and on his face, until he looks like a cross between a
hod-carrier and a Fiji-Islander. And grown men, I've concluded, are
very much the same with their appetite of love. They come to you with a
brave showing of hunger, but when you've given until no more remains to
be given, they become finicky and capricious, and lose their interest
in the homely old porridge-bowl which looked all loveliness to them
before they had made it theirs....
This afternoon, tired of scheming and conceiting for the future, I
had a longing to be frivolous and care-free. So I got out the old
rusty-rimmed banjo, tuned her up, and sat on an overturned milk-bucket,
with Dinkie and Bobs and Poppsy and Pee-Wee for an audience.
I was leaning back with my knees crossed, strumming out Turkey in
the Straw when Peter walked up and sat down between Bobs and
Dinkie. So I gave him The Whistling Coon, while the Twins lay
there positively pop-eyed with delight, and he joined in with me on
Dixie, singing in a light and somewhat throaty baritone. Then we
swung on to There's a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea, which must
always be sung to a church-tune, and still later to that dolorous
ballad, Oh, Bury Me Not on the Lone Prair-hee! Then we tried a
whistling duet with banjo accompaniment, pretty well murdering the
Tinker's Song from Robin Hood until Whinstane Sandy, who was
taking his Sabbath bath in the bunk-house, loudly opened the window and
stared out with a dourly reproving countenance, which said as plain as
words: This is nae the day for whustlin', folks!
But little Dinkie, obviously excited by the music, shouted A-more!
A-more! so we went on, disregarding Whinnie and the bunk-house window
and Struthers' acrid stare from the shack-door. I was in the middle of
Fay Templeton's lovely old Rosie, You Are My Posey, when Lady
Alicia rode up, as spick and span as though she'd just pranced off
Rotten Row. And as I'd no intention of showing the white feather to her
ladyship, I kept right on to the end. Then I looked up and waved the
banjo at her where she sat stock-still on her mount. There was an
enigmatic look on her face, but she laughed and waved back, whereupon
Peter got up, and helped her dismount as she threw her reins over the
I noticed that her eye rested very intently on Peter's face as I
introduced him, and he in turn seemed to size the stately newcomer up
in one of those lightning-flash appraisals of his. Then Lady Allie
joined our circle, and confessed that she'd been homesick for a sight
of the kiddies, especially Dinkie, whom she took on her knee and
regarded with an oddly wistful and abstracted manner.
My hired man, I noticed, was in no way intimidated by a title in our
midst, but wagered that Lady Allie's voice would be a contralto and
suggested that we all try On the Road to Mandalay together. But
Lady Allie acknowledged that she had neither a voice nor an ear, and
would prefer listening. We couldn't remember the words, however, and
the song wasn't much of a success. I think the damper came when
Struthers stepped out into full view, encased in my big bungalow-apron
of butcher's linen. Lady Alicia, after the manner of the English, saw
her without seeing her. There wasn't the flicker of an eyelash, or a
moment's loss of poise. But it seemed too much like a Banquo at the
feast to go on with our banjo-strumming, and I attempted to bridge the
hiatus by none too gracefully inquiring how things were getting along
over at Casa Grande. Lady Allie's contemplative eye, I noticed,
searched my face to see if there were any secondary significances to
that bland inquiry.
Everything seems to be going nicely, she acknowledged. Then she
rather took the wind out of my sails by adding: But I really came over
to see if you wouldn't dine with me to-morrow at seven. Bring the
children, of course. And if Mr.erKetley can come along, it will be
even more delightful.
Still again I didn't intend to be stumped by her ladyship, so I said
that I'd be charmed, without one second of hesitation, and Peter, with
an assumption of vast gravity, agreed to come along if he didn't have
to wear a stiff collar and a boiled shirt. And he continued to rag Lady
Allie in a manner which seemed to leave her a little bewildered. But
she didn't altogether dislike it, I could see, for Peter has the power
of getting away with that sort of thing.
Tuesday the Eighth
Lady Alicia's dinner is over and done with. I can't say that it was
a howling success. And I'm still very much in doubt as to its raison
d'être, as the youthful society reporters express it. At first I
thought it might possibly be to flaunt my lost grandeur in my face. And
then I argued with myself that it might possibly be to exhibit Sing Lo,
the new Chink man-servant disinterred from one of the Buckhorn
laundries. And still later I suspected that it might be a sort of
demonstration of preparedness, like those carefully timed naval parades
on the part of one of the great powers disquieted by the activities of
a restive neighbor. And then came still another suspicion that it might
possibly be a move to precipitate the impalpable, as it were, to put
certain family relationships to the touch, and make finally certain as
to how things stood.
But that, audacious as I felt Lady Alicia to be, didn't quite hold
water. It didn't seem any more reasonable than my earlier theories. And
all I'm really certain of is that the dinner was badly cooked and badly
served, rather reminding me of a chow-house meal on the occasion of a
Celestial New Year. We all wore our every-day clothes (with Peter's
most carefully pressed and sponged by the intriguing Struthers) and the
Twins were put asleep up-stairs in their old nursery and Dinkie was
given a place at the table with two sofa-cushions to prop him up in his
armchair (and acted like a little barbarian) and Peter nearly broke his
neck to make himself as pleasant as possible, chattering like a magpie
and reminding me of a circus-band trying to make the crowd forget the
bareback rider who's just been carried out on a stretcher. But
Constraint was there, all the while, first in the form of Dinky-Dunk's
unoccupied chair, which remained that way until dinner was two-thirds
through, and then in the form of Dinky-Dunk himself, whose explanation
about some tractor-work keeping him late didn't quite ring true. His
harried look, I must acknowledge, wore away with the evening, but to me
at least it was only too plain that he was there under protest.
I did my utmost to stick to the hale-fellow-well-met rôle, but it
struck me as uncommonly like dancing on a coffin. And for all his
garrulity, I know, Peter was really watching us with the eye of a hawk.
I'm too old a dog, I overheard him telling Lady Alicia, ever to
be surprised at the crumbling of an ideal or the disclosure of a
I don't know what prompted that statement, but it had the effect of
making Lady Allie go off into one of her purl-two knit-two trances.
I think you English people, I heard him telling her a little
later, have a tendency to carry moderation to excess.
I don't quite understand that, she said, lighting what must have
been about her seventeenth cigarette.
I mean you're all so abnormally normal, retorted Peterwhich
impressed me as being both clever and true. And when Lady Allie,
worrying over that epigram, became as self-immured as a Belgian
milk-dog, Peter cocked an eye at me as a robin cocks an eye at a
fish-worm, and I had the audacity to murmur across the table at him,
Lady Barbarina. Whereupon he said back, without batting an eye: Yes,
I happen to have read a bit of Henry James.
But dinner came to an end and we had coffee in what Lady Alicia had
rechristened the Lounge, and then made doleful efforts to be light and
airy over a game of bridge, whereat Dinky-Dunk lost fourteen dollars of
his hard-earned salary and twice I had to borrow six bits from Peter to
even up with Lady Allie, who was inhospitable enough to remain the
winner of the evening. And I wasn't sorry when those devastating Twins
of mine made their voices heard and thrust before me an undebatable
excuse for trekking homeward. And another theatricality presented
itself when Dinky-Dunk announced that he'd take us back in the car. But
we had White-Face and Tumble-Weed and our sea-going spring-wagon, with
plenty of rugs, and there was no way, of course, of putting a team and
rig in the tonneau. So I made my adieux and planted Peter meekly in the
back seat with little Dinkie to hold and took the reins myself.
I started home with a lump in my throat and a weight in my heart,
feeling it really wasn't a home that I was driving toward. But it was
one of those crystal-clear prairie nights when the stars were like
electric-lights shining through cut-glass and the air was like a
razor-blade wrapped in panne-velvet. It took you out of yourself. It
reminded you that you were only an infinitely small atom in the
immensity of a crowded big world, and that even your big world was
merely a microscopic little mote lost amid its uncounted millions of
sister-motes in the infinitudes of time and space.
Nitchevo! I said out loud, as I stopped on the trail to
readjust and wrap the Twins in their rug-lined laundry-basket.
In that case, Peter unexpectedly remarked, I'd like to climb into
that front seat with you.
Why? I asked, not greatly interested.
Because I want to talk to you, was Peter's answer.
But I think I'd rather not talk, I told him.
Why? it was his turn to inquire.
Isn't it a rum enough situation as it is? I demanded. For Peter,
naturally, had not used his eyes for nothing that night.
But Peter didn't wait for my permission to climb into the front
seat. He plumped himself down beside me and sat there with my
first-born in his arms and one-half of the mangy old buffalo-robe
pulled up over his knees.
I think I'm beginning to see light, he said, after a rather long
silence, as we went spanking along the prairie-trail with the cold air
fanning our faces.
I wish I did, I acknowledged.
You're not very happy, are you? he ventured, in a voice with just
the slightest trace of vibrato in it.
But I didn't see that anything was to be gained by parading my
troubles before others. And life, of late, had been teaching me to
consume my own smoke. So I kept silent.
Do you like me, Peter? I suddenly asked. For I felt absurdly safe
with Peter. He has a heart, I know, as clean as an Alpine village, and
the very sense of his remoteness, as I'd already told him, gives birth
to a sort of intimacy, like the factory girl who throws a kiss to the
brakeman on the through freight and remains Artemis-on-ice to the
delicatessen-youth from whom she buys her supper weenies.
What do you suppose I've been hanging around for? demanded Peter,
with what impressed me as an absence of finesse.
To fix the windmill, of course, I told him. Unless you have
improper designs on Struthers!
He laughed a little and looked up at the Great Bear.
If it's true, as they say, that Fate weaves in the dark, I suppose
that's why she weaves so badly, he observed, after a short silence.
She undoubtedly drops a stitch now and then, I agreed, wondering
if he was thinking of me or Struthers when he spoke. But you do like
me, don't you?
I adore you, admitted Peter quite simply.
In the face of all these? I said with a contented little laugh,
nodding toward my three children.
In the face of everything, asserted Peter.
Then I wish you'd do something for me, I told him.
Break that woman's heart, I announced, with a backward nod of my
head toward Casa Grande.
I'd much rather break yours, he coolly contended. Or I'd
prefer knowing I had the power of doing it.
I shook my head. It can't be done, Peter. And it can't even be
pretended. Imagine the mother of twins trying to flirt with a man even
as nice as you are! It would be as bad as an elephant trying to be
kittenish and about as absurd as one of your dinosauria getting up and
trying to do a two-step. And I'm getting old and prosy, Peter, and if I
pretend to be skittish now and then it's only to mask the fact that I'm
on the shelf, that I've eaten my pie and that before long I'll be
dyeing my hair every other Sunday, the same as Struthers, and
Rot! interrupted Peter. All rot!
Why rot? I demanded.
Because to me you're the embodiment of undying youth, asserted the
troubadour beside me. It was untrue, and it was improper, but for a
moment or two at least my hungry heart closed about that speech the
same as a child's hand closes about a chocolate-drop. Women are made
that way. But I had to keep to the trail.
Supposing we get back to earth, I suggested.
What's the matter with the way we were heading? countered the
It doesn't seem quite right, I argued. And he laughed a little
What difference does it make, so long as we're happy? he inquired.
And I tried to reprove him with a look, but I don't think it quite
carried in the misty starlight.
I can't say, I told him, that I approve of your reasoning.
That's just the point, he said with a slightly more reckless note
in his laughter. It doesn't pretend to be reasoning. It's more like
that abandoning of all reasoning which brings us our few earthly
Cogito, ergo sum, I announced, remembering my Descartes.
Well, I'm going to keep on just the same, protested Peter.
Keep on at what? I asked.
At thinking you're adorable, was his reply.
Well, the caterpillars have been known to stop the train, but you
must remember that it's rather hard on the caterpillars, I proclaimed
as we swung off the trail and headed in for Alabama Ranch.
Sunday the Thirteenth
On Friday night there were heavy showers again, and now Whinnie
reports that our Marquis wheat couldn't look better and ought to run
well over forty bushels to the acre. We are assured of sufficient
moisture, but our two enemies yclept Fire and Hail remain. I should
like to have taken out hail insurance, but I haven't the money on hand.
I can at least make sure of my fire-guards. Turning those essential
furrows will be good training for Peter. That individual, by the way,
has been quieter and more ruminative of late, and, if I'm not mistaken,
a little gentler in his attitude toward me. Yet there's not a trace of
pose about him, and I feel sure he wouldn't harm the morals of a
lady-bug. He's kind and considerate, and doing his best to be a good
pal. Whinnie, by the way, regards me with a mildly reproving eye, and
having apparently concluded that I am a renegade, is concentrating his
affection on Dinkie, for whom he is whittling out a new Noah's Ark in
his spare time. He is also teaching Dinkie to ride horseback, lifting
him up to the back of either Nip or Tuck when they come for water and
letting him ride as far as the stable. He looks very small up on that
At night, now that the evenings are so long, Whinnie takes my laddie
on his knee and tells him stories, stories which he can't possibly
understand, I'm sure, but Dinkie likes the drone of Whinnie's voice and
the feel of those rough old arms about his little body. We all hunger
for affection. The idiot who said that love was the bitters in the
cocktail of life wasn't either a good liver or a good philosopher. For
love is really the whole cocktail. Take that away, and nothing is
I seem to be getting moodier, as summer advances. Alternating waves
of sourness and tenderness sweep through me, and if I wasn't a busy
woman I'd possibly make a fine patient for one of those fashionable
nerve-specialists who don't flourish on the prairie.
But I can't quite succeed in making myself as miserable as I feel I
ought to be. There seems to be a great deal happening all about us, and
yet nothing ever happens. My children are hale and hearty, my ranch is
fat with its promise of harvest, and I am surrounded by people who love
and respect me. But it doesn't seem enough. Coiled in my heart is one
small disturbing viper which I can neither scotch nor kill. Yet I
decline to be the victim of anything as ugly as jealousy. For jealousy
is both poisonous and pathetic. But I'd like to choke that woman!
Yesterday Lady Alicia, who is now driving her own car, picked up
Peter from his fire-guard work and carried him off on an experimental
ride to see what was wrong with her carbureterthe same old
carbureter! She let him out at the shack, on her way home, and
Struthers witnessed the tail end of that enlèvement. It spoilt
her day for her. She fumed and fretted and made things flyfor
Struthers always works hardest, I've noticed, when in a temperand
surrendering to the corroding tides which were turning her gentle
nature into gall and wormwood, obliquely and tremulously warned the
somewhat startled Peter against ungodly and frivolous females who 'ave
no right to be corrupting simple-minded colonials and who 'ave no
scruples against playing with men the same as a cat would play with a
So be warned in time, I sternly exclaimed to Peter, when I
accidentally overheard the latter end of Struthers' exhortation.
And there are others as ought to be warned in time! was Struthers'
Parthian arrow as she flounced off to turn the omelette which she'd
left to scorch on the cook-stove.
Peter's eye met mine, but neither of us said anything. It reminded
me of cowboy honor, which prompts a rider never to touch leather, no
matter how his bronco may be bucking. And omelette, I was later
reminded, comes from the French alumelle, which means ship's
plating, a bit of etymology well authenticated by Struthers' skillet.
Wednesday the Twenty-third
Summer is here, here in earnest, and already we've had a few
scorching days. Haying will soon be upon us, and there is no slackening
in the wheels of industry about Alabama Ranch. My Little Alarm-Clocks
have me up bright and early, and the morning prairie is a joy that
never grows old to the eye. Life is good, and I intend to be happy, for
I'm going alone,
Though Hell forefend,
By a way of my own
To the bitter end!
And our miseries, after all, are mostly in our own minds. Yesterday
I came across little Dinkie lamenting audibly over a scratch on his
hand at least seven days old. He insisted that I should kiss it, and,
after witnessing that healing touch, was perfectly satisfied. And
there's no reason why grown-ups should be more childish than children
One thing that I've been missing this year, more than ever before,
is fresh fruit. During the last few days I've nursed a craving for a
tart Northern-Spy apple, or a Golden Pippin with a water-core, or a
juicy and buttery Bartlett pear fresh from the tree. Those longings
come over me occasionally, like my periodic hunger for the Great Lakes
and the Atlantic, a vague ache for just one vision of tumbling beryl
water, for the plunge of cool green waves and the race of foam. And
Peter overheard me lamenting our lack of fruit and proclaiming I could
eat my way right across the Niagara Peninsula in peach time. So when he
came back from Buckhorn this afternoon with the farm supplies, he
brought on his own hook two small boxes of California plums and a whole
crate of oranges.
It was very kind of him, and also very foolish, for the oranges will
never keep in this hot weather, and the only way that I can see to save
them is to make them up into marmalade. It was pathetic to see little
Dinkie with his first orange. It was hard to persuade him that it
wasn't a new kind of ball. But once the flavor of its interior juices
was made known to him, he took to it like a cat to cream.
It brought home to me how many things there are my kiddies have had
to do without, how much that is a commonplace to the city child must
remain beyond the reach of the prairie tot. But I'm not complaining. I
am resolved to be happy, and in my prophetic bones is a feeling that
things are about to take a turn for the better, something better than
the humble stewed prune for Dinkie's little tummy and something better
than the companionship of the hired help for his mother. Not that both
Peter and Whinnie haven't a warm place in my heart! They couldn't be
better to me. But I'm one of those neck-or-nothing women, I suppose,
who are silly enough to bank all on a single throw, who have to put all
their eggs of affection in one basket. I can't be indiscriminate, like
Dinkie, for instance, whom I found the other day kissing every picture
of a man in the Mail-Order Catalogue and murmuring Da-da! and doing
the same to every woman-picture and saying Mummy. To be lavish with
love is, I suppose, the prerogative of youth. Age teaches us to
treasure it and sustain it, to guard it as we'd guard a lonely flame
against the winds of the world. But the flame goes out, and we grope on
through the darkness wondering why there can never be another....
I wonder if Lady Alicia is as cold as she seems? For she has the
appearance of keeping her emotions in an ice-box of indifferency, the
same as city florists keep their flowers chilled for commercial
purposes. Lady Allie, I'm sure, is fond of my little Dinkie. Yet
there's a note of condescension in her affection, for even in what
seems like an impulse of adoration her exclamation nearly always is
Oh, you lovable little rabbit! or, if not that, it's likely to be
You adorable little donkey you! She says it very prettily, of course,
setting it to music almost with that melodious English drawl of hers.
She is, she must be, a very fascinating woman. But at the first tee,
friendship ends, as the golf-nuts say.
...I asked Peter the other day what he regarded as my besetting sin
and the brute replied: Topping the box. I told him I didn't quite get
the idea. A passion to produce a good impression, he explained, by
putting all your biggest mental strawberries on the top!
That sounds suspiciously like trying to be a Smart Aleck, I
It may sound that way, but it isn't. You're so mentally alive, I
mean, that you've simply got to be slightly acrobatic. And it's as
natural, of course, as a child's dancing.
But Peter is wrong. I've been out of the world so long that I've a
dread of impressing people as stupid, as being a clodhopper. And if
trying hard not to be thought that is topping the box, I suppose I'm
You are also not without vanity, Peter judicially continued. But
every naturally beautiful woman has a right to that. And I proved
Peter's contention by turning shell-pink even under my sunburn and
feeling a warm little runway of pleasure creep up through my carcass,
for the homeliest old prairie-hen that ever made a pinto shy, I
suppose, loves to be told that she's beautiful.
Peter, of course, is a conscienceless liar, but I can't help liking
him, and he'll always nest warm in the ashes of my heart....
There's one thing I must do, as soon as I have the chance, and that
is get in to a dentist and have my teeth attended to. And now that I'm
so much thinner I want a new and respectable pair of corsets. I've been
studying my face in the glass, and I can see, now, what an awful
Ananias Peter really is. Struthers, by the way, observed me in the
midst of that inspection, and, if I'm not greatly mistaken, indulged in
a sniff. To her, I suppose, I'm one of those vain creatures who fall in
love with themselves as a child and perpetuate, thereby, a life
Saturday the Twenty-sixth
Coming events do not cast their shadows before them. I was
busy in the kitchen this morning, making marmalade out of what was left
of Peter's oranges and contentedly humming Oh, Dry Those Tears
when the earthquake that shook the world from under my feet occurred.
The Twins had been bathed and powdered and fed and put out in their
sleeping-box, and Dinkie was having his morning nap, and Struthers was
busy at the sewing-machine, finishing up the little summer shirts for
Poppsy and Pee-Wee which I'd begun to make out of their daddy's
discarded B. V. D.'s. It was a glorious morning with a high-arching
pale blue sky and little baby-lamb cloudlets along the sky-line and the
milk of life running warm and rich in the bosom of the sleeping earth.
And I was bustling about in my apron of butcher's linen, after slicing
oranges on my little maple-wood carving-slab until the house was
aromatic with them, when the sound of a racing car-engine smote on my
ear. I went to the door with fire in my eye and the long-handled
preserving spoon in my hand, ready to call down destruction on the
pinhead who'd dare to wake my kiddies.
My visitor, I saw, was Lady Alicia; and I beheld my broken wash-tub
under the front axle of her motor-car.
I went out to her, with indignation still in my eye, but she paid no
attention to either that or the tub itself. She was quite pale, in
fact, as she stepped down from her driving-seat, glanced at her
buckskin gauntlets, and then looked up at me.
There's something we may as well face, and face at once, she said,
with less of a drawl than usual.
I waited, without speaking, wondering if she was referring to the
tub. But I could feel my heart contract, like a leg-muscle with a cramp
in it. And we stood there, face to face, under the flat prairie
sunlight, ridiculously like two cockerels silently estimating each
I'm in love with your husband, Lady Alicia suddenly announced,
with a bell-like note of challenge in her voice. And I'd rather like
to know what you're going to do about it.
I was able to laugh a little, though the sound of it seemed foolish
in my own startled ears.
That's rather a coincidence, isn't it? I blithely admitted. For
so am I.
I could see the Scotch-granite look that came into the thick-lashed
tourmaline eyes. And they'd be lovely eyes, I had to admit, if they
were only a little softer.
That's unfortunate, was her ladyship's curt retort.
It's more than unfortunate, I agreed, it's extremely awkward.
Why? she snapped, plainly annoyed at my lightness of tone.
Because he can't possibly have both of us, you knowunless he's
willing to migrate over to that Mormon colony at Red-Deer. And even
there, I understand, they're not doing it now.
I'm afraid this is something much too serious to joke about, Lady
Alicia informed me.
But it strikes me as essentially humorous, I told her.
I'm afraid, she countered, that it's apt to prove essentially
But he happens to be my husband, I observed.
Only in form, I fancy, if he cares for some one else, was her
ladyship's deliberate reply.
Then he has acknowledged thatthat you've captured him? I
inquired, slowly but surely awakening to the sheer audacity of the lady
in the buckskin gauntlets.
Isn't that rathererprimitive? inquired Lady Allie, paler than
If you mean coming and squabbling over another woman's husband, I'd
call it distinctly prehistoric, I said with a dangerous little red
light dancing before my eyes. It's so original that it's aboriginal.
But I'm still at a loss to know just what your motive is, or what you
I want an end to this intolerable situation, my visitor averred.
Intolerable to whom? I inquired.
To me, to Duncan, and to you, if you are the right sort of
woman, was Lady Alicia's retort. And still again I was impressed by
the colossal egoism of the woman confronting me, the woman ready to
ride rough-shod over the world, for all her sparkling veneer of
civilization, as long, as she might reach her own selfish ends.
Since you mention Duncan, I'd like to ask if you're speaking now as
his cousin, or as his mistress?
Lady Alicia's stare locked with mine. She was making a sacrificial
effort, I could see, to remain calm.
I'm speaking as some one who is slightly interested in his
happiness, and his future, was her coldly intoned reply.
And has my husband acknowledged that his happiness and his future
remain in your hands? I asked.
I should hate to see him waste his life in a hole like this, said
Lady Alicia, not quite answering my question.
Have you brought any great improvement to it? I parried. Yet even
as I spoke I stood impressed by the thought that it was, after all,
more than primitive. It was paleolithic, two prehistoric she-things in
combat for their cave-man.
That is not what I came here to discuss, she replied, with a tug
at one of her gauntlets.
I suppose it would be nearer the mark to say, since you began by
being so plain-spoken, that you came here to ask me to give you my
husband, I retorted as quietly as I could, not because I preferred the
soft pedal, but because I nursed a strong suspicion that Struthers'
attentive ear was just below the nearest window-sill.
Lady Alicia smiled forbearingly, almost pityingly.
Any such donation, I'm afraid, is no longer your prerogative, she
languidly remarked, once more mistress of herself. What I'm more
interested in is your giving your husband his liberty.
I felt like saying that this was precisely what I had been giving
him. But it left too wide an opening. So I ventured, instead: I've
never heard my husband express a desire for his liberty.
He's too honorable for that, remarked my enemy.
Then it's an odd kind of honor, I icily remarked, that allows you
to come here and bicker over a situation that is so distinctly
Pardon me, but I'm not bickering. And I'm not rising to any heights
of courage which would be impossible to your husband. It's consoling,
however, to know how matters stand. And Duncan will probably act
according to his own inclinations.
That declaration would have been more inflammatory, I think, if one
small truth hadn't gradually come home to me. In some way, and for some
reason, Lady Alicia Elizabeth Newland was not so sure of herself as she
was pretending to be. She was not so sure of her position, I began to
see, or she would never have thrown restraint to the winds and come to
me on any such mission.
Then that counts me out! I remarked, with a forlorn attempt at
being facetious. If he's going to do as he likes, I don't see that you
or I have much to say in the matter. But before he does finally place
his happiness in your hands, I rather think I'd like to have a talk
That remains with Duncan, of course, she admitted, in a strictly
qualified tone of triumph, as though she were secretly worrying over a
conquest too incredibly facile.
He knows, of course, that you came to talk this over with me? I
suggested, as though it were an after-thought.
He had nothing to do with my coming, asserted Lady Alicia.
Then it was your own idea? I asked.
Entirely, she admitted.
Then what did you hope to gain? I demanded.
I wasn't considering my own feelings, imperially acknowledged her
That was very noble of you, I admitted, especially when you bear
in mind that you weren't considering mine, either! And what's more,
Lady Newland, I may as well tell you right here, and right now, that
you can't get anything out of it. I gave up my home to you, the home
I'd helped make by the work of my own hands. And I gave up the hope of
bringing up my children as they ought to be brought up. I even gave up
my dignity and my happiness, in the hope that things could be made to
come out straight. But I'm not going to give up my husband. Remember
that, I'm not going to give him up. I don't care what he says or feels,
at this particular moment; I'm not going to give him up to make a mess
of what's left of the rest of his life. He may not know what's ahead of
him, but I do! And now that you're shown me just what you are,
and just what you're ready to do, I intend to take a hand in this. I
intend to fight you to the last ditch, and to the last drop of the hat!
And if that sounds primitive, as you've already suggested, it'll pay
you to remember that you're out here in a primitive country where we're
apt to do our fighting in a mighty primitive way!
It was a very grand speech, but it would have been more impressive,
I think, if I hadn't been suddenly startled by a glimpse of Whinstane
Sandy's rock-ribbed face peering from the bunk-house window at almost
the same moment that I distinctly saw the tip of Struthers' sage-green
coiffure above the nearest sill of the shack. And it would have been a
grander speech if I'd stood quite sure as to precisely what it meant
and what I intended to do. Yet it seemed sufficiently climactic for my
visitor, who, after a queenly and combative stare into what must have
looked like an ecstatically excited Fourth-of-July face, turned
imperially about and swung open the door of her motor-car. Then she
stepped up to the car-seat, as slowly and deliberately as a sovereign
stepping up to her throne.
It may not be so simple as it seems, she announced with great
dignity, as she proceeded to start her car. And the same dignity might
have attended her entire departure, but in the excitement she
apparently flooded her carbureter, and the starter refused to work, and
she pushed and spun and re-throttled and pushed until she was quite red
in the face. And when the car finally did get under way, the
running-gear became slightly involved with my broken wash-tub and it
was not until the latter was completely and ruthlessly demolished that
the automobile found its right-of-way undisputed and anything like
dignity returned to the situation.
I stood there, with the long-handled preserving spoon still in my
hand, staring after Lady Alicia and the dust that arose from her
car-wheels. I stood there in a sort of trance, with all the valor gone
out of my bones and that foolish declamation of mine still ringing in
I began to think of all the clever things I might have said to Lady
Alicia Elizabeth Newland. But the more I thought it over the more
desolated I became in spirit, so that by the time I meandered back to
the shack I had a face as long as a fiddle. And there I was confronted
by a bristling and voluble Struthers, who acknowledged that she'd heard
what she'd heard, and could no longer keep her lips sealed, whether it
was her place to speak or not, and that her ladyship was not all that
she ought to be, not by any manner of means, or she would never have
left England and hidden herself away in this wilderness of a colony.
I had been rather preoccupied with my own thoughts, and paying scant
attention to the clattering-tongued Struthers, up to this point. But
the intimation that Lady Allie was not in the West for the sake of her
health brought me up short. And Struthers, when I challenged that
statement, promptly announced that the lady in question was no more in
search of health than a tom-cat's in search of water and no more
interested in ranching than an ox is interested in astronomy, seeing as
she'd 'a' been co-respondent in the Allerby and Crewe-Buller divorce
case if she'd stayed where the law could have laid a hand on her, and
standing more shamed than ever when Baron Crewe-Buller shut himself up
in his shooting-lodge and blew his brains out three weeks before her
ladyship had sailed for America, and the papers that full of the
scandal it made it unpleasant for a self-respecting lady's maid to meet
her friends of a morning in Finsbury Park. And as for these newer
goings-on, Struthers had seen what was happening right under her nose,
she had, long before she had the chance to say so openly by word of
mouth, but now that the fat was in the fire she wasn't the kind to sit
by and see those she should be loyal to led about by the nose. And so
forth. And so forth! For just what else the irate Struthers had to
unload from her turbulent breast I never did know, since at that
opportune moment Dinkie awakened and proceeded to page his parent with
all the strength of his impatient young lungs.
By the time I'd attended to Dinkie and finished my sadly neglected
marmaladefor humans must eat, whatever happensI'd made an effort to
get some sort of order back into my shattered world. Yet it was about
Duncan more than any one else that my thoughts kept clustering and
centering. He seemed, at the moment, oddly beyond either pity or blame.
I thought of him as a victim of his own weakness, as the prey of a
predaceous and unscrupulous woman who had intrigued and would continue
to intrigue against his happiness, a woman away from her own world, a
self-complacent and sensual privateer who for a passing whim, for a
momentary appeasement of her exile, stood ready to sacrifice the last
of his self-respect. She was self-complacent, but she was also a woman
with an unmistakable physical appeal. She was undeniably attractive, as
far as appearances went, and added to that attractiveness was a
dangerous immediacy of attack, a touch of outlawry, which only too
often wins before resistance can be organized. And Dinky-Dunk, I kept
reminding myself, was at that dangerous mid-channel period of a man's
life where youth and age commingle, where the monotonous middle-years
slip their shackles over his shoulders and remind him that his days of
dalliance are ebbing away. He awakens to the fact that romance is being
left behind, that the amorous adventure which once meant so much to him
must soon belong to the past, that he must settle down to his jog-trot
of family life. It's the age, I suppose, when any spirited man is
tempted to kick up with a good-by convulsion or two of romantic
adventure, as blind as it is brief and passionate, sadly like the
contortions of a rooster with its head cut off.
I tried, as I sat down and struggled to think things out, to
withhold all blame and bitterness. Then I tried to think of life
without Dinky-Dunk. I attempted to picture my daily existence with
somebody else in the place that my Diddums had once filled. But I
couldn't do it. I couldn't forget the old days. I couldn't forget the
wide path of life that we'd traveled together, and that he was the
father of my childrenmy children who will always need him!and that
he and he alone had been my torch-bearer into the tangled wilderness of
Then I tried to think of life alone, of going solitary through the
rest of my daysand I knew that my Maker had left me too warm-blooded
and too dependent on the companionship of a mate ever to turn back to
single harness. I couldn't live without a man. He might be a sorry
mix-up of good and bad, but I, the Eternal Female, would crave him as a
mate. Most women, I knew, were averse to acknowledging such things; but
life has compelled me to be candid with myself. The tragic part of it
all seems that there should and could be only one man. I had been right
when I had only too carelessly called myself a neck-or-nothing woman.
It wasn't until later that any definite thought of injustice to me
at Dinky-Dunk's hands entered my head, since my attitude toward
Dinky-Dunk seemed to remain oddly maternal, the attitude of the mother
intent on extenuating her own. I even wrung a ghostly sort of
consolation out of remembering that it was not a young and dewy girl
who had imposed herself on his romantic imagination, for youth and
innocence and chivalric obligation would have brought a much more
dangerous fire to fight. But Lady Alicia, with all her carefully
achieved charm, could scarcely lay claim to either youth or the other
thing. Early in the morning, I knew, those level dissecting eyes of
hers would look hard, and before her hair was up she'd look a little
faded, and there'd be moments of stress and strain when her naively
insolent drawl would jar on the nerves, like the talk of a spoiled
child too intent on holding the attention of a visitor averse to
precocity. And her disdain of the practical would degenerate into
untidiness, and her clinging-ivyness, if it clung too much, would
probably remind a man in his reactionary moments of ennui that
there are subtler pursuits than being a wall, even though it's a
And somewhere in her make-up was a strain of cruelty or she would
never have come to me the way she did, and struck at me with an open
claw. That cruelty, quite naturally, could never have been paraded
before my poor old Dinky-Dunk's eyes. It would be, later on, after
disillusionment and boredom. Then, and then only, it would dare to show
its ugly head. So instead of feeling sorry for myself, I began to feel
sorry for my Diddums, even though he was trying to switch me off like
an electric-light. And all of a sudden I came to a decision.
I decided to write to Dinky-Dunk. That, I felt, would be safer than
trying to see him. For in a letter I could say what I wanted to without
being stopped or side-tracked. There would be no danger of accusations
and recriminations, of anger leading to extremes, of injured pride
standing in the path of honesty. It would be better than talking. And
what was more, it could be done at once, for the mysterious impression
that time was precious, that something ominous was in the air, had
taken hold of me.
So I wrote to Dinky-Dunk. I did it on two crazy-looking pages torn
out of the back of his old ranch ledger. I did it without giving much
thought to precisely what I said or exactly how I phrased it, depending
on my heart more than my brain to guide me in the way I should go. For
I knew, in the marrow of my bones, that it was my last shot, my
forlornest ultimatum, since in it went packed the last shred of my
Dear Dinky-Dunk, I wrote, I hardly know how to begin, but I
surely don't need to begin by saying we haven't been hitting it off
very well of late. We seem to have made rather a mess of things, and I
suppose it's partly my fault, and the fault of that stupid pride which
keeps us tongue-tied when we should be honest and open with each other.
But I've been feeling lately that we're both skirting a cut-bank with
our eyes blindfolded, and I've faced an incident, trivial in itself but
momentous in its possibilities, which persuades me that things can't go
on as they are. There's too much at stake to let either ruffled nerves
or false modestyor whatever you want to call itcome between you and
the very unhappy woman who still is your wife. It's time, I think, when
we both ought to look everything squarely in the face, for, after all,
we've only one life to live, and if you're happy, at this moment, if
you're completely and tranquilly happy as I write this, then I've
banked wrong, tragically wrong, on what I thought you were. For I
have banked on you, Dinky-Dunk, banked about all my life and
happinessand it's too late to change, even if I wanted to. I'm alone
in the world, and in a lonely part of the world, with three small
children to look after, and that as much as anything, I suppose, drives
me to plain speaking and compels me to clear thinking. But even as I
write these words to you, I realize that it isn't really a matter of
thought or speech. It's a matter of feeling. And the one thing I feel
is that I need you and want you; that no one, that nothing, can ever
take your place.... I thought I could write a great deal more. But I
find I can't. I seem to have said everything. It is everything,
really. For I love you, Dinky-Dunk, more than everything in life.
Perhaps I haven't shown it very much, of late, but it's there, trying
to hide its silly old ostrich-head behind a pebble of hurt pride. So
let's turn the page and start over. Let's start with a clean slate,
before we lose the chance. Come back to me. I'm very unhappy. I find it
hard to write. It's only that big ache in my heart that allows me to
write at all. And I've left a lot of things unsaid, that I ought to
have said, and intended to say, but this will have to be enough. If
there's nothing that speaks up to you, from between these lines, then
there's nothing that can hold together, I'm afraid, what's left of your
life and mine. Think this over, Dinky-Dunk, and answer the way your
heart dictates. But please don't keep me waiting too long, for until I
get that answer I'll be like a hen on a hot griddle or Mary Queen of
Scots on the morning before she lost her head, if that's more
The hardest part of all that letter, I found, was the ending of it.
It took me a long time to decide just what to sign myself, just how to
pilot my pen between the rocks of candor and dignity. So I ended up by
signing it Chaddie and nothing more, for already the fires of emotion
had cooled and a perplexed little reaction of indifferency had set in.
It was only a surface-stir, but it was those surface-stirs, I
remembered, which played such a lamentably important part in life.
When Whinstane Sandy came in at noon for his dinner, a full quarter
of an hour ahead of Peter, I had his meal all ready for him by the time
he had watered and fed his team. I cut that meal short, in fact, by
handing him my carefully sealed letter and telling him I wanted him to
take it straight over to Casa Grande.
I knew by his face as I helped him hitch Water-Light to the
buckboardfor Whinnie's foot makes it hard for him to ride
horsebackthat he nursed a pretty respectable inkling of the
situation. He offered no comments, and he even seemed averse to having
his eye meet mine, but he obviously knew what he knew.
He was off with a rattle of wheels and a drift of trail-dust even
before Peter and his cool amending eyes arrived at the shack to stoke
up as he expresses it. I tried to make Peter believe that nothing was
wrong, and cavorted about with Bobs, and was able to laugh when Dinkie
got some of the new marmalade in his hair, and explained how we'd have
to take our mower-knives over to Teetzel's to have them ground, and did
my best to direct silent reproofs at the tight-lipped and tragic-eyed
Struthers, who moved about like a head-mourner not unconscious of her
family obligations. But Peter, I suspect, sniffed something untoward in
the air, for after a long study of my facewhich made me color a
little, in spite of myselfhe became about as abstracted and
solemn-eyed as Struthers herself.
To my dying day I shall never forget that wait for Whinnie to come
back. It threatened to become an endless one. I felt like Bluebeard's
wife up in the watch towerno, it was her Sister Anne, wasn't it, who
anxiously mounted the tower to search for the first sign of
deliverance? At any rate I felt like Lucknow before the Relief, or a
prisoner waiting for the jury to file in, or a gambler standing over an
invisible roulette-table and his last throw, wondering into what groove
the little ivory ball was to run. And when Whinnie finally appeared his
seamed old face wore such a look of dour satisfaction that for a weak
flutter or two of the heart I thought he'd brought Dinky-Dunk straight
back with him.
But that hope didn't live long.
Your maun's awa', said Whinnie, with quite unnecessary curtness,
as he held my own letter out to me.
He's away? I echoed in a voice that was just a wee bit trembly, as
I took the note from Whinnie, what do you mean by away?
He left three hours ago for Chicago, Whinstane Sandy retorted,
still with that grim look of triumph in his gloomy old eyes.
But what could be taking him to Chicago? I rather weakly inquired.
'Twas to see about buyin' some blooded stock for the ranch. At
least, so her ladyship informed me. But that's nae more than one of her
lies, I'm thinkin'.
What did she say, Whinnie? I demanded, doing my best to keep cool.
Naethin', was Whinnie's grim retort. 'Twas me did the sayin'!
What did you say? I asked, disturbed by the none too gentle look
on his face.
What was needed to be said, that old sour-dough with the
lack-luster eyes quietly informed me.
What did you say? I repeated, with a quavery feeling just under my
floating ribs, alarmed at the after-light of audacity that still rested
on his face, like wine-glow on a rocky mountain-tip.
I said, Whinstane Sandy informed me with his old shoulders thrust
back and his stubby forefinger pointed to within a few inches of my
nose, I said that I kenned her and her kind well, havin' watched the
likes o' her ridden out o' Dawson City on a rail more times than once.
I said that she was naethin' but a wantononly this was not
the word Whinnie useda wanton o' Babylon and a temptress o' men and
a corrupter o' homes out o' her time and place, bein' naught but a soft
shinin' thing that was a mockery to the guid God who made her and a
blight to the face o' the open prairie that she was foulin' with her
presence. I said that she'd brought shame and sorrow to a home that had
been filled with happiness until she crept into it like the serpent o'
hell she was, and seein' she'd come into a lonely land where the people
have the trick o' tryin' their own cases after their own way and takin'
when need be justice into their own hands, she'd have one week, one
week o' seven days and no more, to gather up what belonged to her and
take herself back to the cities o' shame where she'd find more o' her
kind. And if she was not disposed to hearken a friendly and timely word
such as I was givin' her, I said, she'd see herself taken out o' her
home, and her hoorish body stripped to the skin, and then tarred and
feathered, and ridden on the cap-rail of a corral-gate out of a
settlement that had small taste for her company!
Whinnie! I gasped, sitting down out of sheer weakness, you didn't
I said it, was Whinnie's laconic retort.
But what right had you to
He cut me short with a grunt that was almost disrespectful.
I not only said it, he triumphantly affirmed, but what's more to
my likin', I made her believe it, leavin' her with the mockin' laugh
dead in her eyes and her face as white as yon table-cover, white to the
Sunday the Twenty-seventh
I've been just a little mystified, to-day, by Whinstane Sandy's
movements. As soon as breakfast was over and his chores were done he
was off on the trail. I kept my eye on him as he went, to satisfy
myself that he was not heading for Casa Grande, where no good could
possibly come of his visitations.
For I've been most emphatic to Whinstane Sandy in the matter of his
delightful little lynch-law program. There shall be no tarring and
feathering of women by any man in my employ. That may have been
possible in the Klondike in the days of the gold-rush, but it's not
possible in this country and this day of graceexcept in the movies.
And life is not so simple that you can ride its problems away on the
cap-rail from a corral. It's unfortunate that that absurd old
sour-dough, for all his good intentions, ever got in touch with Lady
Alicia. I have, in fact, strictly forbidden him to repeat his visit to
Casa Grande, under any circumstances.
But a number of things combine to persuade me that he's not being as
passive as he pretends. He's even sufficiently forgotten his earlier
hostility toward Peter to engage in long and guarded conversation with
that gentleman, as the two of them made a pretense of bolting the new
anchor-timbers to the heel of the windmill tower. So at supper to-night
I summoned up sufficient courage to ask Peter what he knew about the
He replied that he knew more than he wanted to, and more than he
relished. That reply proving eminently unsatisfactory, I further
inquired what he thought of Lady Alicia. He somewhat startled and
shocked me by retorting that according to his own personal way of
thinking she ought to be spanked until she glowed.
I was disappointed in Peter about this. I had always thought of him
as on a higher plane than poor old Whinnie. But he was equally
atavistic, once prejudice had taken possession of him, for what he
suggested must be regarded as not one whit more refined than tar and
feathers. As for myself, I'd like to choke her, only I haven't the
moral courage to admit it to anybody.
Thursday the First
Lady Alicia has announced, I learn through a Struthers quite
pop-eyed with indignation, that it's Peter and I who possibly ought to
be tarred and feathered, if our puritanical community is deciding to go
in for that sort of thing! It is to laugh.
Her ladyship, I also learn, has purchased about all the small-arms
ammunition in Buckhorn and toted the same back to Casa Grande in her
car. There, in unobstructed view of the passers-by, she has set up a
target, on which, by the hour together, she coolly and patiently
practises sharpshooting with both rifle and revolver.
I admire that woman's spunk. And whatever you may do, you can't
succeed in bullying the English. They have too much of the bull-dog
breed in their bones. They're always at their best, Peter declares,
when they're fighting. But from an Englishwoman trying to be
kittenish, he fervently added, good Lord, deliver us all!
And that started us talking about the English. Peter, of course, is
too tolerant to despise his cousins across the Pond, but he pregnantly
reminded me that Lady Allie had asked him what sort of town
Saskatchewan was and he had retorted by inquiring if she was fond of
Yonkers, whereupon she'd looked puzzled and acknowledged that she'd
never eaten one. For Peter and Lady Allie, it seems, had had a set-to
about American map-names, which her ladyship had described as both
silly and unsayable, especially the Indian ones, while Peter had grimly
proclaimed that any people who called Seven-Oaks Snooks and
Belvoir Beever and Ruthven Rivven and Wrottesley Roxly
and Marylebone Marrabun and Wrensfordsley Wrensley had no
right to kick about American pronunciations.
But Peter is stimulating, even though he does stimulate you into
opposition. So I found myself defending the English, and especially the
Englishman, for too many of them had made me happy in their lovely old
homes and too many of their sons, æons and æons ago, had tried to hold
Your Englishman, I proclaimed to Peter, always acts as though he
quite disapproves of you and yet he'll go to any amount of trouble to
do things to make you happy or comfortable. Then he conceals his
graciousness by being curt about it. Then, when he's at his crankiest,
he's apt to startle you by saying the divinest things point-blank in
your face, and as likely as not, after treating you as he would a
rather backward child of whom he rigidly disapproves, he'll make love
to you and do it with a fine old Anglo-Saxon directness. He hates
swank, of course, for he's a truffle-hound who prefers digging out his
own delicacies. And it's ten to one, if a woman simply sits tight and
listens close and says nothing, that he'll say something about her
unrivaled powers of conversation!
Sunday the Fourth
Peter, as we sat out beside the corral on an empty packing-case
to-night after supper, said that civilization was a curse. Look what
it's doing to your noble Red Man right here in your midst! There was a
time, when a brave died, they handsomely killed that dead brave's
favorite horse, feeling he would course the plains of Heaven in peace.
Now, I find, they have their doubts, and they pick out a dying old
bone-yard whose day is over, or an outlaw that nobody can break and
ride. And form without faith is a mockery. It's the same with us
whites. Here we are, us two, with
But I stopped Peter. I had no wish to slide on rubber-ice just for
the sake of seeing it bend.
Can you imagine anything lovelier, I remarked as a derailer, than
the prairie at this time of the year, and this time of day?
Peter followed my eye out over the undulating and uncounted acres of
sage-green grain with an eternity of opal light behind them.
Think of LaVérendrye, who was their Columbus, he meditated aloud.
Going on and on, day by day, week by week, wondering what was beyond
that world of plain and slough and coulée and everlasting green! And
they tell me there's four hundred million arable acres of it. I wonder
if old Vérendrye ever had an inkling of what Whittier felt later on:
'I hear the tread of pioneers,
Of cities yet to be
The first low wash of waves where soon
Shall roll a human sea.'
Then Peter went on to say that Bryant had given him an entirely
false idea of the prairie, since from the Bryant poem he'd expected to
see grass up to his armpits. And he'd been disappointed, too, by the
scarcity of birds and flowers.
But I couldn't let that complaint go by unchallenged. I told him of
our range-lilies and foxglove and buffalo-beans and yellow crowfoot and
wild sunflowers and prairie-roses and crocuses and even violets in some
sections. And the prairie-grasses, Peterdon't forget the
prairie-grasses, I concluded, perplexed for a moment by the rather
grim smile that crept up into his rather solemn old Peter-Panish face.
I'm not likely to, he remarked.
For to-morrow, I remembered, Peter is going off to cut hay. He has
been speaking of it as going into the wilderness for meditation. But
what he's really doing is taking a team and his tent and supplies and
staying with that hay until it's cut, cut and collected, to
use the word which the naive Lady Allie introduced into these parts.
I have a suspicion that it is the wagging of tongues that's sending
Peter out into his wilderness. But I've been busy getting his grub-box
ready and I can at least see that he fares well. For whatever happens,
we must have hay. And before long, since we're to go in more and more
for live stock, we must have a silo at Alabama Ranch. Now that the open
range is a thing of the past, in this part of the country at least, the
silo is the natural solution of the cattle-feed problem. It means we
can double our stock, which is rather like getting another farm for
nothing, especially as the peas and oats we can grow for ensilage
purposes give such enormous yields on this soil of ours.
Tuesday the Sixth
For the second time the unexpected has happened. Lady Alicia has
gone. She's off, bag and baggage, and has left the redoubtable Sing Lo
in charge of Casa Grande.
Her ladyship waited until one full day after the time-limit imposed
upon her by Whinstane Sandy in that barbarous armistice of his, and
then, having saved her face, joined the Broadhursts of Montreal on a
trip to Banff, where she'll be more in touch with her kind and her
countrymen. From there, I understand, she intends visiting the Marquis
of Anglesey ranch at Wallachie.
I don't know what she intends doing about her property, but it seems
to me it doesn't show any great interest in either her crop or her
cousin, to decamp at this particular time. Struthers protests that
she's a born gambler, and can't live without bridge and American poker.
Banff, accordingly, ought to give her what she's pining for....
But I'm too busy to worry about Lady Allie. The Big Drama of the
year is opening on this sun-steeped plain of plenty, for harvest-time
will soon be here and we've got to be ready for it. We're on the go
from six in the morning until sun-down. We're bringing in Peter's crop
of hay with the tractor, hauling three wagon-loads at a time. I make
the double trip, getting back just in time to feed my babies and then
hiking out again. That means we're all hitting on every cylinder. I've
no time for either worries or wishes, though Peter once remarked that
life is only as deep as its desires, and that the measure of our
existence lies in the extent of its wants. That may be true, in a way,
but I haven't time to philosophize over it. Hard work can be more than
a narcotic. It's almost an anesthetic. And soil, I've been thinking,
should be the symbol of life here, as it is with the peasants of
Poland. I feel that I'm getting thinner, but I've an appetite that I'm
ashamed of, in secret.
Dinky-Dunk, by the way, is not back yet, and there's been no word
from him. Struthers is resolute in her belief that he's in hiding
somewhere about the mountain-slopes of Banff. But I am just as resolute
in my scorn for all such suspicions. And yet, and yet,if I wasn't so
busy I'd be tempted to hold solemn days of feasting and supplication
that Lady Alicia Elizabeth Newland might wade out beyond her depth in
the pellucid waters of Lake Louise.
Friday the Sixteenth
Peter surprised me yesterday by going in to Buckhorn and bringing
out a machinist to work on the windmill tower. By mid-afternoon they
had it ready for hoisting and rebolting to its new anchor-posts. So
just before supper the team and the block-and-tackle were hitched on to
that attenuated steel skeleton, Whinnie took one guide rope and I took
the other, and our little Eiffel Tower slowly lifted itself up into the
Peter, when it was all over, and the last nut tightened up, walked
about with the triumphant smile of a Master-Builder who beholds his
work completed. So I said Hello, Halvard Solness! as I stepped
over to where he stood.
And he was bright enough to catch it on the wing, for he quoted back
to me, still staring up at the tower-head: From this day forward I
will be a free builder.
Whereupon I carelessly retorted, Oh, there's some parts of Ibsen
that I despise.
But something in Peter's tone and his preoccupation during supper
both worried and perplexed me. So as soon as I could get away from the
shack I went out to the windmill tower again. And the small platform at
the end of the sloping little iron ladder looked so tempting and high
above the world that I started up the galvanized rungs.
When I was half-way up I stopped and looked down. It made me dizzy,
for prairie life gives you few chances of getting above the flat floor
of your flat old world. But I was determined to conquer that feeling,
and by keeping my eyes turned up toward the windmill head I was able to
reach the little platform at the top and sit there with my feet hanging
over and my right arm linked through one of the steel standards.
I suppose, as windmills go, it wasn't so miraculously high, but it
was amazing how even that moderate altitude where I found myself could
alter one's view-point. I felt like a sailor in a crow's-nest, like a
sentinel on a watch-tower, like an eagle poised giddily above the
world. And such a wonderful and wide-flung world it was, spreading out
beneath me in mottled patches of grape-leaf green and yellow and gold,
with a burgundian riot of color along the western sky-line where the
last orange rind of the sun had just slipped down out of sight.
As I stared down at the roof of our shack it looked small and
pitiful, tragically meager to house the tangled human destinies it was
housing. And the fields where we'd labored and sweated took on a
foreign and ghostly coloring, as though they were oblongs on the face
of an alien world, a world with mystery and beauty and unfathomable
pathos about it.
I was sitting there, with my heels swinging out in space and an
oddly consoling sense of calmness in my heart, when Peter came out of
the shack and started to cross toward the corral. I couldn't resist the
temptation to toss my old straw hat down at him.
He stopped short as it fell within twenty paces of him, like a
meteor out of the sky. Then he turned and stared up at me. The next
minute I saw him knock out his little briar pipe, put it away in his
pocket, and cross over to the tower.
I could feel the small vibrations of the steel structure on which I
sat poised, as he mounted the ladder toward me. And it felt for all the
world like sitting on the brink of Heaven, like a blessed damozel the
second, watching a sister-soul coming up to join you in your beatitude.
I say, isn't this taking a chance? asked Peter, a little worried
and a little out of breath, as he clambered up beside me.
It's glorious! I retorted, with a nod toward the slowly paling
That far and lonely horizon looked as though a fire of molten gold
burned behind the thinnest of mauve and saffron and purple curtains, a
fire that was too subdued to be actual flame, but more an unearthly and
ethereal radiance, luring the vision on and on until it brought an odd
little sense of desolation to the heart and made me glad to remember
that Peter was swinging his lanky legs there at my side out over empty
I find, he observed, that this tower was sold to a tenderfoot, by
the foot. That's why it went over. It was too highfalutin! It was
thirty feet taller than it had any need to be.
Then he dropped back into silence.
I finally became conscious of the fact that Peter, instead of
staring at the sunset, was staring at me. And I remembered that my hair
was half down, trailing across my nose, and that three distinctly new
freckles had shown themselves that week on the bridge of that same
O God, but you're lovely! he said in a half-smothered and
shamefaced sort of whisper.
Verboten! I reminded him. And not so much the cussing,
Peter, as the useless compliments.
He said nothing to that, but once more sat staring out over the
twilight prairie for quite a long time. When he spoke again it was in a
quieter and much more serious tone.
I suppose I may as well tell you, he said without looking at me,
that I've come into a pretty clear understanding of the situation here
at Alabama Ranch.
It's kind of a mix-up, isn't it? I suggested, with an attempt at
Peter nodded his head.
I've been wondering how long you're going to wait, he observed,
apparently as much to himself as to me.
Wait for what? I inquired.
For what you call your mix-up to untangle, was his answer.
There's nothing for me to do but to wait, I reminded him.
He shook his head in dissent.
You can't waste your life, you know, doing that, he quietly
What else can I do? I asked, disturbed a little by the absence of
color from his face, apparent even in that uncertain light.
Nothing's suggested itself, I suppose? he ventured, after a
Nothing that prompts me into any immediate action, I told him.
You see, Peter, I'm rather anchored by three little hostages down in
that little shack there!
That left him silent for another long and brooding minute or two.
I suppose you've wondered, he finally said, why I've stuck around
here as long as I have?
I nodded, not caring to trust myself to words, and then, realizing I
was doing the wrong thing, I shook my head.
It's because, from the morning you found me in that mud-hole, I've
just wanted to be near you, to hear your voice when you spoke, to see
the curve of your lips and the light come and go in your eyes when you
laugh, were the words that came ever so slowly from Peter. I've
wanted that so much that I've let about everything else in life go
hang. Yet in a way, and in my own world, I'm a man of some little
importance. I've been cursed with enough money, of course, to move
about as I wish, and loaf as I like. But that sort of life isn't really
living. I'm not in the habit, though, of wanting the things I can't
have. So what strikes me as the tragic part of it all is that I
couldn't have met and known you when you were as free as I am now. In a
way, you are free, or you ought to be. You're a woman, I think,
with arrears of life to make up. You've struck me, from the very first,
as too alive, too sensitive, too responsive to things, to get the
fullest measure out of life by remaining here on the prairie, in what
are, after all, really pioneer conditions. You've known the other kind
of life, as well as I have, and it will always be calling to you. And
if that call means anything to you, and thethe change we've spoken of
is on its way, or for some unexpected reason has to come, I'mwell,
I'm going to take the bit in my teeth right here and tell you that I
love you more than you imagine and a good deal more, I suppose, than
the law allows!
He pushed my hand aside when I held it up to stop him.
I may as well say it, for this is as good a time and place as we'll
ever have, and I can't go around with my teeth shut on the truth any
longer. I know you've got your three little tots down there, and I love
'em about as much as you do. And it would seem like giving a little
meaning and purpose to life to know that I had the chance of doing what
I could to make you and to make them happy. I've
But I couldn't let him go on.
It's no use, Peter, I cried with a little choke in my voice which
I couldn't control. It's no earthly use. I've known you liked me, and
it's given me a warm little feeling down in one corner of my heart. But
I could never allow it to be more than a corner. I like you, Peter, and
I like you a lot. You're wonderful. In some ways you're the most
adorable man I've ever known in all my life. That's a dangerous thing
to say, but it's the truth and I may as well say it. It even hurts a
little to remember that I've traded on your chivalry, though that's the
one thing in life you can trade on without reproof or demand for
repayment. But as I told you before, I'm one of those neck-or-nothing
women, one of those single-track women, who can't have their tides of
traffic going two ways at once. And if I'm in a mix-up, or a maelstrom,
or whatever you want to call it, I'm in it. That's where I belong. It
would never, never do to drag an innocent outsider into that mixed-up
mess of life, simply because I imagined it could make me a little more
comfortable to have him there.
Peter sat thinking over what I'd said. There were no heroics, no
chest-pounding, no suggestion of romantically blighted lives and broken
That means, of course, that I'll have to climb out, Peter finally
and very prosaically remarked.
Why? I asked.
Because it's so apt to leave one of us sailing under false colors,
was his somewhat oblique way of explaining the situation. I might have
hung on until something happened, I suppose, if I hadn't shown my hand.
And I hadn't quite the right to show my hand, when you take everything
into consideration. But you can't always do what you intend to. And
life's a little bigger than deportment, anyway, so what's the use of
fussing over it? There's just one thing, though, I want to say, before
we pull down the shutters again. I want you to feel that if anything
does happen, if by any mischance things should take a turn for the
worse, or you're worried in any way about the outcome of all thishe
indulged in a quiet but comprehensive hand-wave which embraced the
entire ranch that lay in the gray light at our feetI want you to
feel that I'd be mighty happy to think you'd turn to me forfor help.
It was getting just a little too serious again, I felt, and I
decided in a bit of a panic to pilot things back to shallower water.
But you have helped, Peter, I protested. Look at all that
hay you cut, and the windmill here, and the orange marmalade that'll
make me think of you every morning!
He leaned a little closer and regarded me with a quiet and wistful
eye. But I refused to look at him.
That's nothing to what I'd like to do, if you gave me the chance,
he observed, settling back against the tower-standard again.
I know, Peter, I told him, And it's nice of you to say it. But
the nicest thing of all is your prodigious unselfishness, the
unselfishness that's leaving this talk of ours kind ofwell, kind of
hallowed, and something we'll not be unhappy in remembering, when it
could have so easily turned into something selfishly mean and ugly and
sordid. That's where you're big. And that's what I'll always
love you for!
Let's go down, said Peter, all of a sudden. It's getting cold.
I sat staring down at the world to which we had to return. It seemed
a long way off. And the ladder that led down to it seemed a cobwebby
and uncertain path for a lady whose heart was still slipping a beat now
and then. Peter apparently read the perplexity on my face.
Don't worry, he said. I'll go down one rung ahead of you. Even if
you did slip, then, I'll be there to hold you up. Come on.
We started down, with honest old Peter's long arms clinging to the
ladder on either side of me and my feet following his, step by step, as
we went like a newfangled sort of quadruped down the narrow steel
We were within thirty feet of the ground when I made ever so slight
a misstep and brought Peter up short. The next moment he'd caught me up
bodily in his right arm, and to steady myself I let my arms slip about
his neck. I held on there, tight, even after I knew what I was doing,
and let my cheek rest against the bristly side of his head as we went
slowly down to the bottom of the tower.
It wasn't necessary, my holding my arms about Peter's neck. It
wasn't any more necessary than it was for him to pick me up and carry
me the rest of the way down. It wasn't true-to-the-line fair play,
even, when you come to think of it in cold blood, and it wasn't by any
manner of means just what sedately married ladies should do.
But, if the terrible truth must be told, it was nice. I think
both our hearts were a little hungry for the love which didn't happen
to be coming our way, which the law of man and his Maker alike
prohibited. So we saved our dignity and our self-respect, oddly enough,
by resorting to the shallowest of subterfuges. And I don't care much if
it wasn't true-to-the-line ethics. I liked the feel of Peter's arm
around me, holding me that way, and I hope he liked that long and
semi-respectable hug I gave him, and that now and then, later on, in
the emptier days of his life, he'll remember it pleasantly, and without
a bit of bitterness in his heart.
For Alabama Ranch, of course, is going to lose Peter as soon as he
can get away.
Tuesday the Twenty-fourth
Peter is no longer with us. He went yesterday, much to the open
grief of an adoring and heart-broken Struthers. I stood in the doorway
as he drove off, pretending to mop my eyes with my hankie and then
making a show of wringing the brine out of it. He laughed at this bit
of play-acting, but it was rather a melancholy laugh. Struthers,
however, was quite snappy for the rest of the morning, having
apparently construed my innocent pantomime as a burlesque of her
tendency to sniffle a little.
I never quite knew how much we'd miss Peter until he was gone, and
gone for good. Even Dinkie was strangely moody and downcast, and showed
his depression by a waywardness of spirit which reached its crowning
misdemeanor by poking a bean into his ear.
This seemed a trivial enough incident, at first. But the heat and
moisture of that little pocket of flesh caused the bean to swell, and
soon had Dinkie crying with pain. So I renewed my efforts to get that
bean out of the child's ear, for by this time he was really suffering.
But I didn't succeed. There was no way of getting behind it, or getting
a hold on it. And poor Dinkie bawled bitterly, ignorant of why this
pain should be inflicted on him and outraged that his own mother should
add to it by probing about the already swollen side of his head.
I was, in fact, getting a bit panicky, and speculating on how long
it would take to get Dinkie in to Buckhorn and a doctor, when Struthers
remembered about a pair of toilet tweezers she'd once possessed herself
of, for pulling out an over-punctual gray-hair or two. Even then I had
to resort to heroic measures, tying the screaming child's hands tight
to his side with a bath-towel and having the tremulous Struthers hold
his poor little head flat against the kitchen table.
It was about as painful, I suppose, as extracting a tooth, but I
finally got a grip on that swollen legume and pulled it from its
inflamed pocket of flesh. I felt as relieved and triumphant as an
obstetrician after a hard case, and meekly handed over to Dinkie
anything his Royal Highness desired, even to his fifth cookie and the
entire contents of my sewing-basket, which under ordinary circumstances
is strictly taboo. But once the ear-passage was clear the pain went
away, and Dinkie, at the end of a couple of hours, was himself again.
But Peter has left a hole in our lives. I keep feeling that he's
merely out on the land and will be coming in with that quiet and remote
smile of his and talking like mad through a meal that I always had an
incentive for making a little more tempting than the ordinary
grub-rustling of a clodhopper.
The only person about Alabama Ranch who seems undisturbed by Peter's
departure is Whinstane Sandy. He reminds me of a decrepit but
robustious old rooster repossessing himself of a chicken-run after the
decapitation of an arrogant and envied rival. He has with a dour sort
of blitheness connected up the windmill pump, in his spare time, and
run a pipe in through the kitchen wall and rigged up a sink, out of a
galvanized pig-trough. It may not be lovely to the eye, but it will
save many a step about this shack of ours. And the steps count, now
that the season's work is breaking over us like a Jersey surf!
Thursday the Twenty-sixth
I've got Struthers in jumpers, and she's learning how to handle a
team. Whinnie laughed at her legs, and said they made him think
a-muckle o' a heron. But men are scarce in this section, and it looks
as though Alabama Ranch was going to have a real wheat crop. Whinnie
boasts that we're three weeks ahead of Casa Grande, which, they tell
me, is taking on a neglected look.
I've had no message from my Dinky-Dunk, and no news of him. All day
long, at the back of my brain, a nervous little mouse of anxiety keeps
nibbling and nibbling away. Last night, when she was helping me get the
Twins ready for bed, Struthers confided to me that she felt sure Lady
Alicia and my husband had been playmates together in England at one
time, for she's heard them talking, and laughing about things that had
happened long ago. But it's not the things that happened long ago that
are worrying me. It's the things that may be happening now.
I wonder what the fair Lady Alicia intends doing about getting her
crop off. Sing Lo will scarcely be the man to master that problem....
The Lord knows I'm busy enough, but I seem to be eternally waiting for
something. I wonder if every woman's life has a larval period like
this? I've my children and Bobs. Over my heart, all day long, should
flow a deep and steady current of love. But it's not the kind I've a
craving for. There's something missing. I've been wondering if
Dinky-Dunk, even though he were here at my side, would still find any
kick in my kisses. I can't understand why he never revealed to me the
fact that he and Lady Allie were playmates as children. In that case,
she must be considerably older than she looks. But old or young, I wish
she'd stayed in England with her croquet and pat-tennis and
broom-stick-cricket, instead of coming out here and majestically
announcing that nothing was to be expected of a country which had no
Wednesday the First
The departed Peter has sent back to us a Victrola and a neatly
packed box of records. Surely that was kind of him. I suppose he felt
that I needed something more than a banjo to keep my melodious soul
alive. He may be right, for sometimes during these long and hot and
tiring days I feel as though my spirit had been vitrified and
macadamized. But I haven't yet had time to unpack the music-box and get
it in working-order, though I've had a look through the records. There
are quite a number of my old favorites. I notice among them a song from
The Bohemian Girl. It bears the title of Then You'll Remember Me. Poor old Peter! For when I play it, I know I'll always be thinking of
Sunday the Fifth
Life is a club from which Cupid can never be blackballed. I notice
that Struthers, who seems intent on the capture of a soul-mate, has
taken to darning Whinstane Sandy's socks for him. And Whinnie, who is a
bit of a cobbler as well as being a bit of renegade to the ranks of the
misogynists, has put new heels and soles on the number sevens which
Struthers wears at the extremities of her heron-like limbs. Thus
romance, beginning at the metatarsus, slowly but surely ascends to the
Wednesday the Eighth
I've just had a nice little note from Peter, written from the Aldine
Club in Philadelphia, saying he'd neglected to mention something which
had been on his mind for some time. He has a slightly rundown place in
the suburbs of Pasadena, he went on to explain, and as his lazy summer
would mean he'd have to remain in the East and be an ink-coolie all
winter, the place was at my disposal if it so turned out that a winter
in California seemed desirable for me and my kiddies. It would, in
fact, be a God-sendso he protestedto have somebody dependable
lodged in that empty house, to keep the cobwebs out of the corners and
the mildew off his books and save the whole disintegrating shebang from
the general rack and ruin which usually overtakes empty mansions of
that type. He gave me the name and address of the caretaker, on Euclid
Avenue, and concluded by saying it wasn't very much of a place, but
might be endured for a winter for the sake of the climate, if I
happened to be looking for a sunnier corner of the world than Alabama
Ranch. He further announced that he'd give an arm to see little
Dinkie's face when that young outlaw stole his first ripe orange from
the big Valencia tree in the patio. And Peter, in a post-script,
averred that he could vouch for the flavor of the aforementioned
Tuesday the Fourteenth
Whinstane Sandy about the middle of last week brought home the
startling information that Sing Lo had sold Lady Allie's heavy
work-team to Bud O'Malley for the paltry sum of sixty dollars. He
further reported that Sing Lo had decamped, taking with him as rich a
haul as he could carry.
I was in doubt on what to do, for a while. But I eventually decided
to go in to Buckhorn and send a telegram to the owner of Casa Grande. I
felt sure, if Lady Allie was in Banff, that she'd be at the C. P. R.
hotel there, and that even if she had gone on to the Anglesey Ranch my
telegram would be forwarded to Wallachie. So I wired her: Chinaman
left in charge has been selling ranch property. Advise me what action
you wish taken.
A two-day wait brought no reply to this, so I then telegraphed to
the hotel-manager asking for information as to her ladyship. I was
anxious for that information, I'll confess, for more personal reasons
than those arising out of the activities of Sing Lo.
When I went in for my house supplies on Friday there was a message
there from the Banff hotel-manager stating that Lady Newland had left,
ten days before, for the Empress Hotel in Victoria. So I promptly wired
that hotel, only to learn that my titled wanderer might be found in San
Francisco, at the Hotel St. Francis. So I repeated my message; and
yesterday morning Hy Teetzel, homeward bound from Buckhorn in his tin
Lizzie, brought the long-expected reply out to me. It read:
Would advise consulting my ranch manager on the matter mentioned in
your wire, and was signed Alicia Newland.
There was a sense of satisfaction in having located the lady, but
there was a distinctly nettling note in the tenor of that little
message. I decided, accordingly, to give her the retort courteous by
wiring back to her: Kindly advise me of ranch manager's present
whereabouts, and at the bottom of that message inscribed, Mrs. Duncan
And I've been smiling a little at the telegram which has just been
sent on to me, for now that I come to review our electric intercourse
in a cooler frame of mind it looks suspiciously like back-biting over a
thousand miles of telegraph-wire. This second message from San
Francisco said: Have no knowledge whatever of the gentleman's
movements or whereabouts.
It was, I found, both a pleasant and a puzzling bit of information,
and my earlier regrets at wasting time that I could ill spare betrayed
a tendency to evaporate. It was satisfying, and yet it was not
satisfying, for morose little doubts as to the veracity of the lady in
question kept creeping back into my mind. It also left everything
pretty much up in the air, so I've decided to take things in my own
hand and go to Casa Grande and look things over.
Thursday the Sixteenth
I didn't go over to Casa Grande, after all. For this morning the
news came to me that Duncan had been back since day before yesterday.
And he is undoubtedly doing anything that needs to be done.
But the lady lied, after all. That fact now is only too apparent.
And her equerry has been hurried back to look after her harried estate.
The live stock, I hear, went without water for three whole days, and
the poultry would all have been in kingdom-come if Sing Lo, in choosing
a few choice birds for his private consumption, hadn't happened to
leave the run-door unlatched....
I was foolish enough to expect, of course, that Duncan might nurse
some slight curiosity as to his family and its welfare. This will be
his third day back, and he has neither put in an appearance nor sent a
word. He's busy, of course, with that tangle to unravelbut where
there's a will there's usually a way. And hope dies hard. Yet day by
day I find less bitterness in my heart. Those earlier hot tides of
resentment have been succeeded, not by tranquillity or even
indifference, but by a colder and more judicial attitude toward things
in general. I've got a home and a family to fight fornot to mention a
baby with prickly-heatand they must not be forgotten. I have the
consolation, too, of knowing that the fight doesn't promise to be a
losing one. I've banked on wheat, and old Mother Earth is not going to
betray me. My grain has ripened miraculously during these last few
weeks of hot dry weather. It's too hot, in fact, for my harvest
threatens to come on with a rush. But we'll scramble through it, in
Sunday the Nineteenth
It's only three days since I wrote those last lines. But it seems a
long time back to last Thursday. So many, many things have happened
Friday morning broke very hot, and without a breath of wind. By noon
it was stifling. By mid-afternoon I felt strangely tired, and even more
strangely depressed. I even attempted to shake myself together, arguing
that my condition was purely mental, for I had remembered that it was
unmistakably Friday, a day of ill-omen to the superstitious.
I was surprised, between four and five, to see Whinstane Sandy come
in from his work and busy himself about the stables. When I asked him
the reason for this premature withdrawal he pointed toward a low and
meek-looking bank of clouds just above the southwest sky-line and
announced that we were going to have a blow, as he called it.
I was inclined to doubt this, for the sun was still shining, there
was no trace of a breeze, and the sky straight over my head was a
pellucid pale azure. But, when I came to notice it, there was an
unusual, small stir among my chickens, the cattle were restless, and
one would occasionally hold its nose high in the air and then indulge
in a lowing sound. Even Bobs moved peevishly from place to place,
plainly disturbed by more than the flies and the heat. I had a feeling,
myself, of not being able to get enough air into my lungs, a depressed
and disturbed feeling which was nothing more than the barometer of my
body trying to tell me that the glass was falling, and falling
By this time I could see Whinnie's cloud-bank rising higher above
the horizon and becoming more ragged as it mushroomed into anvil-shaped
turrets. Then a sigh or two of hot air, hotter even than the air about
us, disturbed the quietness and made the level floor of my yellowing
wheat undulate a little, like a breast that has taken a quiet breath or
two. Then faint and far-off came a sound like the leisurely firing of
big guns, becoming quicker and louder as the ragged arch of the storm
crept over the sun and marched down on us with strange twistings and
writhings and up-boilings of its tawny mane.
Ye'd best be makin' things ready! Whinnie called out to me. But
even before I had my windows down little eddies of dust were circling
about the shack. Then came a long and sucking sigh of wind, followed by
a hot calm too horrible to be endured, a hot calm from the stifling
center of which your spirit cried out for whatever was destined to
happen to happen at once. The next moment brought its answer to that
foolish prayer, a whining and whistling of wind that shook our little
shell of a house on its foundations, a lurid flash or two, and then the
tumult of the storm itself.
The room where I stood with my children grew suddenly and uncannily
dark. I could hear Struthers calling thinly from the kitchen door to
Whinnie, who apparently was making a belated effort to get my
chicken-run gate open and my fowls under cover. I could hear a
scattering drive of big rain-drops on the roof, solemn and soft, like
the fall of plump frogs. But by the time Whinnie was in through the
kitchen door this had changed. It had changed into a passionate and
pulsing beat of rain, whipped and lashed by the wind that shook the
timbers about us. The air, however, was cooler by this time, and it was
easier to breathe. So I found it hard to understand why Whinnie, as he
stood in the half-light by one of the windows, should wear such a look
of protest on his morose old face which was the color of a pigskin
saddle just under the stirrup-flap.
Even when I heard one solitary thump on the roof over my head, as
distinct as the thump of a hammer, I failed to understand what was
worrying my hired man. Then, after a momentary pause in the rain, the
thumps were repeated. They were repeated in a rattle which became a
clatter and soon grew into one continuous stream of sound, like a
thousand machine-guns all going off at once.
I realized then what it meant, what it was. It was hail. And it
meant that we were being hailed out.
We were being cannonaded with shrapnel from the skies. We were being
deluged with blocks of ice almost the size of duck-eggs. So thunderous
was the noise that I had no remembrance when the window-panes on the
west side of the house were broken. It wasn't, in fact, until I beheld
the wind and water blowing in through the broken sashes that I awakened
to what had happened. But I did nothing to stop the flood. I merely sat
there with my two babes in my arms and my Dinkie pressed in close
between my knees, in a foolishly crouching and uncomfortable position,
as though I wanted to shield their tender little bodies with my own. I
remember seeing Struthers run gabbing and screaming about the room and
then try to bury herself under her mattress, like the silly old
she-ostrich she was, with her number sevens sticking out from under the
bedding. I remember seeing Whinnie picking up one of the white things
that had rolled in through the broken window. It was oblong, and about
as big as a pullet's egg, but more irregular in shape. It was clear on
the outside but milky at the center, making me think of a half-cooked
globe of tapioca. But it was a stone of solid ice. And thousands and
thousands of stones like that, millions of them, were descending on my
wheat, were thrashing down my half-ripened oats, were flailing the
world and beating the life and beauty out of my crops.
The storm ended almost as abruptly as it had begun. The hammers of
Thor that were trying to pound my lonely little prairie-house to pieces
were withdrawn, the tumult stopped, and the light grew stronger.
Whinstane Sandy even roused himself and moved toward the door, which he
opened with the hand of a sleep-walker, and stood staring out. I could
see reflected in that seamed old face the desolation which for a minute
or two I didn't have the heart to look upon. I knew, even before I got
slowly up and followed him toward the door, that our crop was gone,
that we had lost everything.
I stood in the doorway, staring out at what, only that morning, had
been a world golden with promise, rich and bountiful and beautiful to
the eye and blessed in the sight of God. And now, at one stroke, it was
all wiped out. As far as the eye could see I beheld only flattened and
shredded ruin. Every acre of my crop was gone. My year's work had been
for nothing, my blind planning, my petty scheming and contriving, my
foolish little hopes and dreams, all, all were there, beaten down into
Yet, oddly enough, it did not stir in me any quick and angry passion
of protest. It merely left me mute and stunned, staring at it with the
eyes of the ox, with a dull wonder in my heart and a duller sense of
deprivation away off at the back of my brain. I scarcely noticed when
little Dinkie toddled out and possessed himself of a number of the
larger hailstones, which he promptly proceeded to suck. When a smaller
one melted in the warmth of his hand, he stared down at the emptiness
between his little brown fingers, wondering where his pretty pebble had
vanished to, just as I wondered where my crop had gone.
But it's gone. There's no doubt of that. The hail went from
southwest to northeast, in a streak about three miles wide, like a
conquering army, licking up everything as it went. Whinnie says that
it's the will of God. Struthers, resurrected from her mattress,
proclaims that it's Fate punishing us for our sins. My head tells me
that it's barometric laws, operating along their own ineluctable lines.
But that doesn't salve the sore.
For the rest of the afternoon we stood about like Italian peasants
after an earthquake, possessed of a sort of collective mutism, doing
nothing, saying nothing, thinking nothing. Even my seven dead pullets,
which had been battered to death by the hail, were left to lie where
they had fallen. I noticed a canvas carrier for a binder which Whinnie
had been mending. It was riddled like a sieve. If this worried me, it
worried me only vaguely. It wasn't until I remembered that there would
be no wheat for that binder to cut and no sheaves for that carrier to
bear, that the extent of what had befallen Alabama Ranch once more came
fully home to me. It takes time to digest such things, just as it takes
time to reorganize your world. The McKails, for the second time, have
been cleaned to the bones. We ought to be getting used to it, for it's
the second time we've gone bust in a year!
It wasn't until yesterday morning that any kind of perspective came
back to us. I went to bed the night before wondering about Dinky-Dunk
and hoping against hope that he'd come galloping over to make sure his
family were still in the land of the living. But he didn't come. And
before noon I learned that Casa Grande had not been touched by the
hail. That at least was a relief, for it meant that Duncan was safe and
In a way, yesterday, there was nothing to do, and yet there was a
great deal to do. It reminded me of the righting up after a funeral.
But I refused to think of anything beyond the immediate tasks in hand.
I just did what had to be done, and went to bed again dog-tired. But I
had nightmare, and woke up in the middle of the night crying for all I
was worth. I seemed alone in an empty world, a world without meaning or
mercy, and there in the blackness of the night when the tides of life
run lowest, I lay with my hand pressed against my heart, with the
feeling that there was nothing whatever left in existence to make it
worth while. Then Pee-Wee stirred and whimpered, and when I lifted him
into my bed and held him against my breast, the nearness of his body
brought warmth and consolation to mine, and I remembered that I was
still a mother....
It was this morning (Sunday) that Dinky-Dunk appeared at Alabama
Ranch. I had looked for him and longed for him, in secret, and my heart
should have leapt up with gladness at the sight of him. But it didn't.
It couldn't. It was like asking a millstone to pirouette.
In the first place, everything seemed wrong. I had a cold in the
head from the sudden drop in the temperature, and I was arrayed in that
drab old gingham wrapper which Dinkie had cut holes in with Struthers'
scissors, for I hadn't cared much that morning when I dressed whether I
looked like a totem-pole or a Stoney squaw. And the dregs of what I'd
been through during the last two days were still sour in the bottom of
my heart. I was a Job in petticoats, a mutineer against man and God, a
nihilist and an I. W. W. all in one. And Dinky-Dunk appeared in Lady
Alicia's car, in her car, carefully togged out in his Sunday
best, with that strangely alien aspect which citified clothes can give
to the rural toiler when he emerges from the costume of his kind.
But it wasn't merely that he came arrayed in this outer shell of
affluence and prosperity. It was more that there was a sense of triumph
in his heart which he couldn't possibly conceal. And I wasn't slow to
realize what it meant. I was a down-and-outer now, and at his mercy. He
could have his way with me, without any promise of protest. And
whatever he might have done, or might yet do, it was ordained that I in
my meekness should bow to the yoke. All that I must remember was that
he stood my lord and master. I had made my foolish little struggle to
be mistress of my own destiny, and now that I had failed, and failed
utterly, I must bend to whatever might be given to me.
It's hard luck, Chaddie, he said, with a pretense at being
sympathetic. But there was no real sorrow in his eye as he stood there
surveying my devastated ranch.
Nix on that King Cophetua stuff! I curtly and vulgarly proclaimed.
Just what do you mean? he asked, studying my face.
Kindly can the condescension stuff! I repeated, taking a wayward
satisfaction out of shocking him with the paraded vulgarity of my
That doesn't sound like you, he said, naturally surprised, I
suppose, that I didn't melt into his arms.
Why not? I inquired, noticing that he no longer cared to meet my
It sounds hard, he said.
Well, some man has said that a hard soil makes a hard race, I
retorted, with a glance about at my ruined wheatlands. Did you have a
pleasant time in Chicago?
He looked up quickly.
I wasn't in Chicago, he promptly protested.
Then that woman lied, after all, I remarked, with a lump of Scotch
granite where my heart ought to have been. For I could see by his face
that he knew, without hesitation, the woman I meant.
Isn't that an unnecessarily harsh word? he asked, trying, of
course, to shield her to the last. And if he had not exactly winced, he
had done the next thing to it.
What would you call it? I countered. It wouldn't have taken
a microphone, I suppose, to discover the hostility in my tone. And
would it be going too far to inquire just where you were? I continued
as I saw he had no intention of answering my first question.
I was at the Coast, he said, compelling himself to meet my glance.
I'm sorry that I cut your holiday short, I told him.
It was scarcely a holiday, he remonstrated.
What would you call it then? I asked.
It was purely a business trip, he retorted.
There had, I remembered, been a great deal of that business during
the past few months. And an ice-cold hand squeezed the last hope of
hope out of my heart. She had been at the Coast.
And this belated visit to your wife and children, I presume, is
also for business purposes? I inquired. But he was able to smile at
that, for all my iciness.
Is it belated? he asked.
Wouldn't you call it that? I quietly inquired.
But I had to clear up that case of the stolen horses, he
protested, that Sing Lo thievery.
Which naturally comes before one's family, I ironically reminded
But courts are courts, Chaddie, he maintained, with a pretense of
And consideration is consideration, I rather wearily amended.
We can't always do what we want to, he next remarked, apparently
intent on being genially axiomatic.
Then to what must the humble family attribute this visit? I
inquired, despising that tone of mockery into which I had fallen yet
seeming unable to drag myself out of its muck-bottom depths.
To announce that I intend to return to them, he asserted, though
it didn't seem an easy statement to make.
It rather took my breath away, for a moment. But Reason remained on
her throne. It was too much like sticking spurs into a dead horse.
There was too much that could not be forgotten. And I calmly reminded
Dinky-Dunk that the lightest of heads can sometimes have the longest of
Then you don't want me back? he demanded, apparently embarrassed
by my lack of hospitality.
It all depends on what you mean by that word, I answered, speaking
as judicially as I was able. If by coming back you mean coming back to
this house, I suppose you have a legal right to do so. But if it means
anything more, I'm afraid it can't be done. You see, Dinky-Dunk, I've
got rather used to single harness again, and I've learned to think and
act for myself, and there's a time when continued unfairness can kill
the last little spark of friendliness in any woman's heart. It's not
merely that I'm tired of it all. But I'm tired of being tired,
if you know what that means. I don't even know what I'm going to do.
Just at present, in fact, I don't want to think about it. But I'd much
prefer being alone until I am able to straighten things out to my own
I'm sorry, said Dinky-Dunk, looking so crestfallen that for a
moment I in turn felt almost sorry for him.
Isn't it rather late for that? I reminded him.
Yes, I suppose it is, he admitted, with a disturbing new note of
humility. Then he looked up at me, almost defiantly. But you need my
It was masterful man, once more asserting himself. It was a trivial
misstep, but a fatal one. It betrayed, at a flash, his entire
misjudgment of me, of my feelings, of what I was and what I intended to
I'm afraid I've rather outlived that period of Bashi-Bazookism, I
coolly and quietly explained to my lord and master. You may have the
good luck to be confronting me when I seem to be floored. I've been
hailed out, it's true. But that has happened to other people, and they
seem to have survived. And there are worse calamities, I find, than the
loss of a crop.
Are you referring to anything that I have done? asked Dinky-Dunk,
with a slightly belligerent look in his eye.
If the shoe fits, put it on, I observed.
But there are certain things I want to explain, he tried to argue,
with the look of a man confronted by an overdraft on his patience.
Somebody has said that a friend, I reminded him, is a person to
whom one need never explain. And any necessity for explanation, you
see, removes us even from the realm of friendship.
But, hang it all, I'm your husband, protested my obtuse and
somewhat indignant interlocutor.
We all have our misfortunes, I found the heart, or rather the
absence of heart, to remark.
I'm afraid this isn't a very good beginning, said Dinky-Dunk, his
dignity more ruffled than ever.
It's not a beginning at all, I reminded him. It's more like an
That kept him silent for quite a long while.
I suppose you despise me, he finally remarked.
It's scarcely so active an emotion, I tried to punish him by
But I at least insist on explaining what took me to the Coast, he
That is scarcely necessary, I told him.
Then you know? he asked.
I imagine the whole country-side does, I observed.
He made a movement of mixed anger and protest.
I went to Vancouver because the government had agreed to take over
my Vancouver Island water-front for their new shipbuilding yards. If
you've forgotten just what that means, I'd like to remind you that
I don't happen to have forgotten, I interrupted, wondering why
news which at one time would have set me on fire could now leave me
quite cold. But what caused the government to change its mind?
Allie! he said, after a moment's hesitation, fixing a slightly
combative eye on mine.
She seems to have almost unlimited powers, I observed as coolly as
I could, making an effort to get my scattered thoughts into line again.
On the contrary, Dinky-Dunk explained with quite painful
politeness, it was merely the accident that she happened to know the
naval officer on the Imperial Board. She was at Banff the week the
board was there, and she was able to put in a good word for the
Vancouver Island site. And the Imperial verdict swung our own
government officials over.
You were lucky to have such an attractive wirepuller, I frigidly
The luck wasn't altogether on my side, Dinky-Dunk almost as
frigidly retorted, when you remember that it was giving her a chance
to get rid of a ranch she was tired of!
I did my best to hide my surprise, but it wasn't altogether a
success. The dimensions of the movement, apparently, were much greater
than my poor little brain had been able to grasp.
Do you mean it's going to let you take Casa Grande off her
ladyship's hands? I diffidently inquired.
That's already arranged for, Dinky-Dunk quite casually informed
me. We were a couple of play-actors, I felt, each deep in a rôle of his
own, each stirred much deeper than he was ready to admit, and each a
little afraid of the other.
You are to be congratulated, I told Dinky-Dunk, chilled in spite
of myself, never for a moment quite able to forget the sinister shadow
of Lady Alicia which lay across our trodden little path of everyday
It was you and the kiddies I was thinking of, said my husband, in
a slightly remote voice. And the mockery of that statement, knowing
what I knew, was too much for me.
I'm sorry you didn't think of us a little sooner, I observed. And
I had the bitter-sweet reward of seeing a stricken light creep up into
Why do you say that? he asked.
But I didn't answer that question of his. Instead, I asked him
Did you know that Lady Alicia came here and announced that she was
in love with you? I demanded, resolved to let the light in to that
tangled mess which was fermenting in the silo of my soul.
Yes, I know, he quietly affirmed, as he hung his head. She told
me about it. And it was awful. It should never have happened. It
made me ashamed eveneven to face you!
That was natural, I agreed, with my heart still steeled against
It makes a fool of a man, he protested, a situation like that.
Then the right sort of man wouldn't encourage it, I reminded him,
wouldn't even permit it. And still again I caught that quick movement
of impatience from him.
What's that sort of thing to a man of my age? he demanded. When
you get to where I am you don't find love looming so large on the
No, it clearly doesn't loom so large, I interrupted.
What you want then, went on Dinky-Dunk, ignoring me, is power,
success, the consolation of knowing you're not a failure in life.
That's the big issue, and that's the stake men play big for, and
play hard for.
It was, I remembered in my bitterness of soul, what I myself had
been playing hard forbut I had lost. And it had left my heart dry. It
had left my heart so dry that my own Dinky-Dunk, standing there before
me in the open sunlight, seemed millions of miles removed from me,
mysteriously depersonalized, as remote in spirit as a stranger from
Mars come to converse about an inter-stellar telephone-system.
Then you've really achieved your ambition, I reminded my husband,
as he stood studying a face which I tried to keep tranquil under his
Oh, no, he corrected, only a small part of it.
What's the rest? I indifferently inquired, wondering why most of
life's victories, after all, were mere Pyrrhic victories.
You, declared Dinky-Dunk, with a reckless light in his eyes, You,
and the children, now that I'm in a position to give them what they
But are you? I queried.
Well, that's what I'm coming back to demonstrate, he found the
courage to assert.
To them? I asked.
To all of you! he said with a valiant air of finality.
I told him it was useless, but he retorted that he didn't propose to
have that stop him. I explained to him that it would be embarrassing,
but he parried that claim by protesting that sacrifice was good for the
soul. I asserted that it would be a good deal of a theatricality, under
the circumstances, but he attempted to brush this aside by stating that
what he had endured for years might be repeated by patience.
So Dinky-Dunk is coming back to Alabama Ranch! It sounds momentous,
and yet, I know in my heart, that it doesn't mean so very much. He will
sleep under the same roof with me as remote as though he were reposing
a thousand miles away. He will breakfast and go forth to his work, and
my thoughts will not be able to go with him. He will return with the
day's weariness in his bones, but a weariness which I can neither
fathom nor explain in my own will keep my blood from warming at the
sound of his voice through the door. Being still his wife, I shall have
to sew and mend and cook for him. That is the penalty of prairie
life; there is no escape from propinquity.
But that life can go on in this way, indefinitely, is unthinkable.
What will happen, I don't know. But there will have to be a change,
somewhere. There will have to be a change, but I am too tired to worry
over what it will be. I'm too tired even to think of it. That's
something which lies in the lap of Time.
Saturday the Twenty-fifth
Dinky-Dunk is back. At least he sleeps and breakfasts at home, but
the rest of the time he is over at Casa Grande getting his crop cut.
He's too busy, I fancy, to pay much attention to our mutual lack of
attention. But the compact was made, and he seems willing to comply
with it. The only ones who fail to regard it are the children. I hadn't
counted on them. There are times, accordingly, when they somewhat
complicate the situation. It didn't take them long to get re-acquainted
with their daddy. I could see, from the first, that he intended to be
very considerate and kind with them, for I'm beginning to realize that
he gets a lot of fun out of the kiddies. Pee-Wee will go to him, now,
from anybody. He goes with an unmistakable expression of
Us-men-have-got-to-stick-together satisfaction on his little face.
But Dinky-Dunk's intimacies, I'm glad to say, do not extend beyond
the children. Three days ago, though, he asked me about turning his
hogs in on my land. It doesn't sound disturbingly emotional. But if
what's left of my crop, of course, is any use to Duncan, he's welcome
I looked for that letter which I wrote to Dinky-Dunk several weeks
ago, looked for it for an hour and more this morning, but haven't
succeeded in finding it. I was sure that I'd put it between the pages
of the old ranch journal. But it's not there.
Last night before I turned in I read all of Meredith's Modern
Love. It was nice to remember that once, at Box Hill, I'd felt the
living clasp of the hand which had written that wonderful series of
poems. But never before did I quite understand that elaborated essay in
love-moods. It came like a friendly voice, like an understanding
comrade who knows the world better than I do, and brought me comfort,
even though the sweetness of it was slightly acidulated, like a
lemon-drop. And as for myself, I suppose I'll continue to
And eat my pot of honey on the grave.
Sunday the Second
I have written to Uncle Carlton again, asking him about my Chilean
Nitrate shares. If the company's reorganized and the mines opened
again, surely my stock ought to be worth something.
The days are getting shorter, and the hot weather is over for good,
I hope. I usually like autumn on the prairie, but the thought of fall,
this year, doesn't fill me with any inordinate joy. I'm unsettled and
atonic, and it's just as well, I fancy, that I'm weaning the Twins.
It's not the simple operation I'd expected, but the worst is already
over. Pee-Wee is betraying unmistakable serpentine powers, and it's no
longer safe to leave him on a bed. Poppsy is a fastidious little lady,
and apparently a bit of a philosopher. She is her father's favorite.
Whinstane Sandy is loyal to little Dinkie, and, now that the evenings
are longer, regales him on stories, stories which the little tot can
only half understand. But they must always be about animals, and
Whinnie seems to run to wolves. He's told the story of the skater and
the wolves, with personal embellishments, and Little Red Riding-Hood in
a version all his own, and last night, I noticed, he recounted the tale
of the woman in the sleigh with her children when the pack of wolves
pursued her. And first, to save herself and her family, she threw her
little baby out to the brutes. And when they had gained on her once
more, she threw out her little girl, and then her little boy, and then
her biggest boy of ten. And when she reached a settlement and told of
her deliverance, the Oldest Settler took a wood-ax and clove her head
clear down to the shoulder-bladesthe same, of course, being a
punishment for saving herself at the expense of her little ones.
My Dinkie sat wriggling his toes with delight, the tale being of
that gruesome nature which appeals to him. It must have been tried on
countless other children, for, despite Whinnie's autobiographical
interjections, the yarn is an old and venerable one, a primitive
Russian folk-tale which even Browning worked over in his Ivan
Dinky-Dunk, wandering in on the tail end of it, remarked: That's a
fine story, that is, with all those coyotes singing out there!
The chief objection to it, I added, is that the lady didn't drop
her husband over first.
Dinky-Dunk looked down at me as he filled his pipe.
But the husband, as I remember the story, had been left behind to
do what a mere husband could to save their home, my spouse quietly
Monday the Tenth
There was a heavy frost last night. It makes me feel that summer is
over. Dinky-Dunk asked me yesterday why I disliked Casa Grande and
never ventured over into that neighborhood. I evaded any answer by
announcing that there were very few things I liked nowadays....
Only once, lately, have we spoken of Lady Allie. It was Dinky-Dunk,
in fact, who first brought up her name in speaking of the signing of
Is it true, I found the courage to ask, that you knew your cousin
quite intimately as a girl?
Dinky-Dunk laughed as he tamped down his pipe.
Yes, it must have been quite intimately, he acknowledged.
For when she was seven and I was nine we went all the way down
Teignmouth Hill together in an empty apple-barrelthan which nothing
that I know of could possibly be more intimate!
I couldn't join him in his mirth over that incident, for I happened
to remember the look on Lady Alicia's face when she once watched
Dinky-Dunk mount his mustang and ride away. Aren't men lawds of
creation? she had dreamily inquired. Not after you've lived with them
for a couple of years, I had been heartless enough to retort, just to
let her know that I didn't happen to have a skin like a Douglas pine.
Sunday the Sixteenth
I've just had a letter from Uncle Carlton. It's a very long and
businesslike letter, in which he goes into details as to how our
company has been incorporated in La Association de Productores de
Salitre de Chile, with headquarters at Valparaiso. It's a new and
rather unexpected arrangement, but he prophesies that with nitrate at
ten shillings per Spanish quintal the returns on the investment, under
the newer conditions, should be quite satisfactory. He goes on to
explain how nitrate is shipped in bags of one hundred kilos, and the
price includes the bags, but the weight is taken on the nitrate only,
involving a deduction from the gross weight of seven-tenths per cent.
Then he ambles off into a long discussion of how the fixation method
from the air may eventually threaten the stability of our entire
amalgamated mines, but probably not during his life-time or even my
own. And I had to read the letter over for the third time before I
winnowed from it the obscure but essential kernel that my shares from
this year forward should bring me in an annual dividend of at least two
thousand, but more probably three, and possibly even four, once the
transportation situation is normalized, but depending largely, of
course, on the labor conditions obtaining in Latin Americaand much
more along the same lines.
That news of my long-forgotten and long-neglected nest-egg should
have made me happy. But it didn't. I couldn't quite react to it. As
usual, I thought of the children first, and from their standpoint it
did bring a sort of relief. It was consoling, of course, to know that,
whatever happened, they could have woolens on their little tummies and
shoe-leather on their little piggies. But the news didn't come with
sufficient force to shock the dull gray emptiness out of existence.
I've even been wondering if there's any news that could. For the one
thing that seems always to face me is the absence of intensity from
life. Can it be, I found myself asking to-day, that it's youth, golden
youth, that is slipping away from me?
It startled me a little, to have to face that question. But I shake
my fist in the teeth of Time. I refuse to surrender. I shall not allow
myself to become antiquated. I'm on the wrong track, in some way, but
before I dry up into a winter apple I'm going to find out where the
trouble is, and correct it. I never was much of a sleep-walker. I want
life, Lifeand oodles of it....
Among other things, by the way, which I've been missing are books.
They at least are to be had for the buying, and I've decided there's no
excuse for letting the channels of my mind get moss-grown. I've had a
serious but not fatal wound, as the newspapers say, to my personal
vanity, but there's no use in letting go of things, at my time of life.
Pee-Wee, I'm sure, will never be satisfied with an empty-headed old
frump for a mother, and Dinkie is already asking questions that are
slightly disturbing. Yesterday, in his bath, he held his hand over his
heart. He held it there for quite a long time, and then he looked at me
with widening eyes. Mummy, he called out, I've got a m'sheen inside
me! And Whinnie's explorations are surely worth emulating. I too have
a machine inside me which some day I'll be compelled to rediscover. It
is a machine which, at present, is merely a pump, though the ancients,
I believe, regarded it as the seat of the emotions.
Saturday the Twenty-ninth
Dinky-Dunk is quite subtle. He is ignoring me, as a modern army of
assault ignores a fortress by simply circling about its forbidding
walls and leaving it in the rear. But I can see that he is deliberately
and patiently making love to my children. He is entrenching himself in
He is, of course, their father, and it is not for me to interfere.
Last night, in fact, when Pee-Wee cried for his dad, poor old
Dinky-Dunk's face looked almost radiumized. He has announced that on
Tuesday, when he will have to go in to Buckhorn, he intends to carry
along the three kiddies and have their photograph taken. It reminded me
that I had no picture whatever of the Twins. And that reminded me, in
turn, of what a difference there is between your first child and the
tots who come later. Little Dinkie, being a novelty, was followed by a
phosphorescent wake of diaries and snap-shots and weigh-scales and
growth-records, with his birthdays duly reckoned, not by the year, but
by the month.
It's not that I love the Twins less. It's only that the novelty has
passed. And in one way it's a good thing, for over your second and
third baby you worry less. You know what is needed, and how to do it.
You blaze your trail, as a mother, with your first-born. You build your
road, and after that you are no longer a pioneer. You know the way you
have to go, henceforth, and you follow it. It is less a Great
Adventure, perhaps, but, on the other hand, the double-pointed tooth of
Anxiety does not rowel quite so often at the core of your heart....
I've been wondering if, with the coming of the children, there is not
something which slips away from the relationship between husband and
wife. That there is a difference is not to be denied. There was a time
when I resented this and tried to fight against it. But I wasn't big
enough, I suppose, to block the course of Nature. And it was
Nature, you have to admit when you come to look it honestly in the
face, Nature in her inexorable economy working out her inexorable ends.
If I hadn't loved Dinky-Dunk, fondly, foolishly, abandonedly, there
would have been no little Dinkie and Poppsy and Pee-Wee. They would
have been left to wander like disconsolate little ghosts through that
lonely and twilit No-Man's Land of barren love and unwanted babes. And
the only thing that keeps me human, nowadays, that keeps me from being
a woman with a dead soul, a she-being of untenanted hide and bones and
dehydrated ham-strings, is my kiddies. The thought of them, at any time
of the day, can put a cedilla under my heart to soften it....
Struthers, who is to go in to Buckhorn with the children when they
have their picture taken, is already deep in elaborating preparations
for that expedition. She is improvising an English nurse's uniform and
has asked if there might be one picture of her and the children.
Tuesday the Fifteenth
The children have been away for a whole day, the first time in
family history. And oh, what a difference it makes in this lonely
little prairie home of ours! The quietness, the emptiness, the
desolation of it all was something quite beyond my imagination. I know
now that I could never live apart from them. Whatever happens, I shall
not be separated from my kiddies....
I spent my idle time in getting Peter's music-box in working order.
Dinky-Dunk, who despises it, thoughtlessly sat on the package of
records and broke three of them. I've been trying over the others. They
sound tinny and flat, and I'm beginning to suspect I haven't my
sound-box adjusted right. I've a hunger to hear good music. And without
quite knowing it, I've been craving for city life again, for at least a
taste of it, for even a chocolate cream-soda at a Huyler counter.
Dinky-Dunk yesterday said that I was a cloudy creature, and accused me
of having a mutinous mouth. Men seem to think that love should be like
an eight-day clock, with a moment or two of industrious winding-up
rewarded by a long week of undeviating devotion.
Sunday the Twenty-seventh
The thrashing outfits are over at Casa Grande, and my being a mere
spectator of the big and busy final act of the season's drama reminds
me of three years ago, just before Dinkie arrived. Struthers, however,
is at Casa Grande and in her glory, the one and only woman in a circle
of nine active-bodied men.
I begin to see that it's true what Dinky-Dunk said about business
looming bigger in men's lives than women are apt to remember. He's
working hard, and his neck's so thin that his Adam's apple sticks out
like a push-button, but he gets his reward in finding his crop running
much higher than he had figured. He's as keen as ever he was for power
and prosperity. He wants success, and night and day he's scheming for
it. Sometimes I wonder if he didn't deliberately use his cousin
Allie in this juggling back of Casa Grande into his own hands. Yet
Dinky-Dunk, with all his faults, is not, and could not be, circuitous.
I feel sure of that.
He became philosophical, the other day when I complained about the
howling of the coyotes, and protested it was these horizon-singers that
kept the prairie clean. He even argued that the flies which seem such a
pest to the cattle in summer-time are a blessing in disguise, since the
unmolested animals over-eat when feed is plentiful and get black-rot.
So out of suffering comes wisdom and out of endurance comes fortitude!
Thursday the Sixth
On Tuesday morning we had our first snow of the season, or, rather,
before the season. It wasn't much of a snow-storm, but Dinkie was
greatly worked up at the sight of it and I finally put on his little
reefer and his waders and let him go out in it. But the weather had
moderated, the snow turned to slush, and when I rescued Dinkie from
rolling in what looked to him like a world of ice-cream he was a very
On Tuesday night Dinkie, usually so sturdy and strong, woke up with
a tight little chest-cough that rather frightened me. I went over to
his crib and covered him up. But when he wakened me again, a couple of
hours later, the cough had grown tighter. It turned into a sort of
sharp bark. And this time I found Dinkie hot and feverish. So I got
busy, rubbing his chest with sweet oil and turpentine until the skin
was pink and giving him a sip or two of cherry pectoral which I still
had on the upper shelf of the cupboard.
When morning came he was no better. He seemed in a stupor, rousing
only to bark into his pillow. I called Dinky-Dunk in, before he left in
the pouring rain for Casa Grande, and he said, almost indifferently,
Yes, the boy's got a cold all right. But that was all.
When breakfast was over I tried Dinkie with hot gruel, but he
declined it. He refused to eat, in fact, and remembering what Peter had
once said about my first-born being pantophagous, I began to suspect
that I had a very sick boy on my hands.
At noon, when he seemed no better, I made a mild mustard-plaster and
put it on the upper part of his little chest. I let it burn there until
he began to cry with the discomfort of it. Then I tucked a double fold
of soft flannel above his thorax.
As night came on he was more flushed and feverish than ever, and I
wished to heaven that I'd a clinic thermometer in the house. For by
this time I was more than worried: I was panicky. Yet Duncan, when he
came in, and got out of his oil-skins, didn't seem very sympathetic. He
flatly refused to share my fears. The child, he acknowledged, had a
croupy little chest-cold, but all he wanted was keeping warm and as
much water as he could drink. Nature, he largely protested, would
attend to a case like that.
I was ready to turn on him like a she-tiger, but I held myself in,
though it took an effort. I saw Duncan go off to bed, dog-tired, of
course, but I felt that to go to sleep, under the circumstances, would
be criminal. Dinkie, in the meantime, was waking every now and then and
barking like a baby-coyote. I could have stood it, I suppose, if that
old Bobs of ours hadn't started howling outside, in long-drawn and
dreary howls of unutterable woe. I remembered about a dog always
howling that way when somebody was going to die in the house. And I
concluded, with an icy heart, that it was the death-howl. I tried to
count Dinkie's pulse, but it was so rapid and I was so nervous that I
lost track of the beats. So I decided to call Dinky-Dunk.
He came in to us kind of sleepy-eyed and with his hair rumpled up,
and asked, without thinking, what I wanted.
And I told him, with a somewhat shaky voice, what I wanted. I said I
wanted antiphlogistine, and a pneumonia-jacket, and a doctor, and a
trained nurse, and just a few of the comforts of civilization.
Dinky-Dunk, staring at me as though I were a madwoman, went over to
Dinkie's crib, and felt his forehead and the back of his neck, and held
an ear against the boy's chest, and then against his shoulder-blades.
He said it was all right, and that I myself ought to be in bed. As
though in answer to that Dinkie barked out his croupy protest, tight
and hard, barked as I'd never heard a child bark before. And I began to
fuss, for it tore my heart to think of that little body burning up with
fever and being denied its breath.
You might just as well get back to bed, repeated Dinky-Dunk,
rather impatiently. And that was the spark which set off the mine,
which pushed me clear over the edge of reason. I'd held myself in for
so long, during weeks and weeks of placid-eyed self-repression, that
when the explosion did come I went off like a Big Bertha. I turned on
my husband with a red light dancing before my face and told him he was
a beast and a heartless brute. He tried to stop me, but it was no use.
I even said that this was a hell of a country, where a white woman had
to live like a Cree squaw and a child had to die like a sick hound in a
coulée. And I said a number of other things, which must have cut to the
raw, for even in the uncertain lamplight I could see that Dinky-Dunk's
face had become a kind of lemon-color, which is the nearest to white a
sunburned man seems able to turn.
I'll get a doctor, if you want one, he said, with an
over-tried-patience look in his eyes.
I don't want a doctor, I told him, a little shrill-voiced
with indignation. It's the child who wants one.
I'll get your doctor, he repeated as he began dressing, none too
quickly. And it took him an interminable time to get off, for it was
raining cats and dogs, a cold, sleety rain from the northeast, and the
shafts had to be taken off the buckboard and a pole put in, for it
would require a team to haul anything on wheels to Buckhorn, on such a
It occurred to me, as I stood at the window and saw Dinky-Dunk's
lantern wavering about in the rain while he was getting the team and
hooking them on to the buckboard, that it would be only the decent
thing to send him off with a cup of hot coffee, now that I had the
kettle boiling. But he'd martyrize himself, I knew, by refusing it,
even though I made it. And he was already sufficiently warmed by the
fires of martyrdom.
Yet it was an awful night, I realized when I stood in the open door
and stared after him as he swung out into the muddy trail with the
stable lantern lashed to one end of his dashboard. And I felt sorry,
and a little guilty, about the neglected cup of coffee.
I went back to little Dinkie, and found him asleep. So I sat down
beside him. I sat there wrapped up in one of Dinky-Dunk's four-point
Hudson-Bays, deciding that if the child's cough grew tighter I'd rig up
a croup-tent, as I'd once seen Chinkie's doctor do with little Gimlets.
But Dinkie failed to waken. And I fell asleep myself, and didn't open
an eye until I half-tumbled out of the chair, well on toward morning.
By the time Dinky-Dunk got back with the doctor, who most
unmistakably smelt of Scotch whisky, I had breakfast over and the house
in order and the Twins fed and bathed and off for their morning nap. I
had a fresh nightie on little Dinkie, who rather upset me by announcing
that he wanted to get up and play with his Noah's Ark, for his fever
seemed to have slipped away from him and the tightness had gone from
his cough. But I said nothing as that red-faced and sweet-scented
doctor looked the child over. His stethoscope, apparently, tickled
Dinkie's ribs, for after trying to wriggle away a couple of times he
laughed out loud. The doctor also laughed. But Dinky-Dunk's eye
happened to meet mine.
It would be hard to describe his expression. All I know is that it
brought a disagreeable little sense of shame to my hypocritical old
heart, though I wouldn't have acknowledged it, for worlds.
Why, those lungs are clear, I heard the man of medicine saying to
my husband. It's been a nasty little cold, of course, but nothing to
His optimism struck me as being rather unprofessional, for if you
travel half a night to a case, it seems to me, it ought not to be
brushed aside with a laugh. And I was rather sorry that I had such a
good breakfast waiting for them. Duncan, it's true, did not eat a great
deal, but the way that red-faced doctor lapped up my coffee with
clotted cream and devoured bacon and eggs and hot muffins should have
disturbed any man with an elementary knowledge of dietetics. And by
noon Dinkie was pretty much his old self again. I half expected that
Duncan would rub it in a little. But he has remained discreetly silent.
Next time, of course, I'll have a better idea of what to do. But
I've been thinking that this exquisite and beautiful animalism known as
the maternal instinct can sometimes emerge from its exquisiteness.
Children are a joy and a glory, but you pay for that joy and glory when
you see them stretched out on a bed of pain, with the shadow of Death
hovering over them.
When I tried to express something like this to Dunkie last night,
somewhat apologetically, he looked at me with an odd light in his
somber old Scotch Canadian eye.
Wait until you see him really ill, he remarked, man-like,
stubbornly intent on justifying himself. But I was too busy saying a
little prayer, demanding of Heaven that such a day might never come, to
bother about delivering myself of the many laboriously concocted truths
which I'd assembled for my bone-headed lord and master. I was grateful
enough for things as they were, and I could afford to be generous.
Sunday the Ninth
For the first time since I came out on the prairie, I dread the
thought of winter. Yet it's really something more than the winter I
dread, since snow and cold have no terrors for me. I need only to look
back about ten short months and think of those crystal-clear winter
days of ours, with the sleigh piled up with its warm bear-robes, the
low sun on the endless sea of white, the air like champagne, the
spanking team frosted with their own breath, the caroling sleigh-bells,
and the man who still meant so much to me at my side. Then the homeward
drive at night, under violet clear skies, over drifts of diamond-dust,
to the warmth and peace and coziness of one's own hearth! It was often
razor-edge weather, away below zero, but we had furs enough to defy any
threat of frost-nip.
We still have the furs, it's true, but there's the promise of a
different kind of frost in the air now, a black frost that creeps into
the heart which no furs can keep warm....
We still have the furs, as I've already said, and I've been looking
them over. They're so plentiful in this country that I've rather lost
my respect for them. Back in the old days I used to invade those
mirrored and carpeted salons where a trained and deferential
saleswoman would slip sleazy and satin-lined moleskin coats over my
arms and adjust baby-bear and otter and ermine and Hudson-seal next to
my skin. It always gave me a very luxurious and Empressy sort of
feeling to see myself arrayed, if only experimentally, in silver-fox
and plucked beaver and fisher, to feel the soft pelts and observe how
well one's skin looked above seal-brown or shaggy bear.
But I never knew what it cost. I never even considered where they
came from, or what they grew on, and it was to me merely a vague and
unconfirmed legend that they were all torn from the carcasses of
far-away animals. Prairie life has brought me a little closer to that
legend, and now that I know what I do, it makes a difference.
For with the coming of the cold weather, last winter, Francois and
Whinstane Sandy took to trapping, to fill in the farm-work hiatus. They
made it a campaign, and prepared for it carefully, concocting
stretching-rings and cutting-boards and fashioning rabbit-snares and
overhauling wicked-looking iron traps, which were quite ugly enough
even before they became stained and clotted and rusted with blood.
They had a very successful season, but even at the first it struck
me as odd to see two men, not outwardly debased, so soberly intent on
their game of killing. And in the end I got sick of the big
blood-rusted traps and the stretching-rings and the blood-smeared
cutting-boards and the smell of pelts being cured. For every pelt, I
began to see, meant pain and death. In one trap Francois found only the
foot of a young red fox: it had gnawed its leg off to gain freedom from
those vicious iron jaws that had bitten so suddenly into its flesh and
bone and sinew. He also told me of finding a young bear which had
broken the anchor-chain of a twelve-pound trap and dragged it over one
hundred miles. All the fight, naturally, was gone out of the little
creature. It was whimpering like a woman when Francois came up with
itpoor little tortured broken-hearted thing! And some empty-headed
heiress goes mincing into the Metropolitan, on a Caruso night, very
proud and peacocky over her new ermine coat, without ever dreaming it's
a patchwork of animal sufferings that is keeping her fat body warm, and
that she's trying to make herself beautiful in a hundred tragedies of
If women only thought of these things! But we women have a very
convenient hand-made imagination all our own, and what upsets us as
perfect ladies we graciously avoid. Yet if the petticoated Vandal in
that ermine coat were compelled to behold from her box-chair in the
Metropolitan, not a musty old love-affair set to music, but the
spectacle of how each little animal whose skin she has appropriated had
been made to suffer, the hours and sometimes days of torture it had
endured, and how, if still alive when the trapper made the rounds of
his sets, it had been carefully strangled to death by that frugal
harvester, to the end that the pelt might not be bloodied and reckoned
only as a secondif the weasel-decked lady, I repeat, had to witness
all this with her own beaded eyes, our wilderness would not be growing
into quite such a lonely wilderness.
Or some day, let's put it, as one of these beaver-clad ladies
tripped through the Ramble in Central Park, supposing a steel-toothed
trap suddenly and quite unexpectedly snapped shut on her
silk-stockinged ankle and she writhed and moaned there in public, over
the week-end. Then possibly her cries of suffering might make her
sisters see a little more light. But the beaver, they tell me, is
trapped under the ice, always in running water. A mud-ball is placed a
little above the waiting trap, to leave the water opaque, and when the
angry iron jaws have snapped shut on their victim, that victim drowns,
a prisoner. Francois used to contend shruggingly that it was an easy
death. It may be easy compared with some of the other deaths imposed on
his furry captives. But it's not my idea of bliss, drowning under a
foot or two of ice with a steel trap mangling your ankle for full
We live forward, but we understand backward. I don't know who
first said it. But the older I grow the more I realize how true it is.
Sunday the Umptieth
I've written to Peter, reminding him of his promise, and asking
about the Pasadena bungalow.
It seems the one way out. I'm tired of living like an Alpine ibex,
all day long above the snow-line. I'm tired of this blind alley of
inaction. I'm tired of decisions deferred and threats evaded. I want to
get away to think things over, to step back and regain a perspective on
the over-smudged canvas of life.
To remain at Alabama Ranch during the winter can mean only a winter
of discontent and driftingand drifting closer and closer to uncharted
rocky ledges. There's no ease for the mouth where one tooth aches, as
the Chinese say.
Dinky-Dunk, I think, has an inkling of how I feel. He is very
thoughtful and kind in small things, and sometimes looks at me with the
eyes of a boy's dog which has been forbidden to follow the village gang
a-field. And it's not that I dislike him, or that he grates on me, or
that I'm not thankful enough for the thousand and one little kind
things he does. But it's rubbing on the wrong side of the glass. It
can't bring back the past. My husband of to-day is not the Dinky-Dunk I
once knew and loved and laughed with. To go back to dogs, it reminds me
of Chinkie's St. Bernard, Father Tom, whom Chinkie petted and trained
and loved almost to adoration. And when poor old Father Tom was killed
Chinkie in his madness insisted that a taxidermist should stuff and
mount that dead dog, which stood, thereafter, not a quick and living
companion but a rather gruesome monument of a vanished friendship. It
was, of course, the shape and color of the thing he had once loved; but
you can't feed a hungry heart by staring at a pair of glass eyes and a
wired tail without any wag in it.
Saturday the Ninth
Struthers and I have been busy making clothes, during the absence of
Dinky-Dunk, who has been off duck-shooting for the last three days. He
complained of being a bit tuckered out and having stood the gaff too
long and needing a change. The outing will do him good. The children
miss him, of course, but he's promised to bring Dinkie home an Indian
bow-and-arrow. I can see death and destruction hanging over the
glassware of this household.... The weather has been stormy, and
yesterday Whinnie and Struthers put up the stove in the bunk-house.
They were a long time about it, but I was reluctant to stop the
flutterings of Cupid's wings.
Tuesday the Twelfth
I had a brief message from Peter stating the Pasadena house is
entirely at my disposal.... Dinky-Dunk came back with a real
pot-hunter's harvest of wild ducks, which we'll pick and dress and
freeze for winter use. I'm taking the breast-feathers for my pillows
and Whinstane Sandy is taking what's left for a sleeping-bagfrom
which I am led to infer that he's still reconciled to a winter of
solitude. Struthers, I know, could tell him of a warmer bag than that,
lined with downier feathers from the pinions of Eros. But, as I've said
before, Fate, being blind, weaves badly.
Friday the Fifteenth
I've just told Dinky-Dunk of my decision to take the kiddies to
California for the winter months. He rather surprised me by agreeing
with everything I suggested. He feels, I think, as I do, that there's
danger in going aimlessly on and on as we have been doing. And it's
really a commonplace for the prairie rancherwhen he can afford itto
slip down to California for the winter. They go by the thousand, by the
Friday the Sixth
It's three long weeks since I've had time for either ink or
retrospect. But at last I'm settled, though I feel as though I'd died
and ascended into Heaven, or at least changed my world, as the Chinks
say, so different is Pasadena to the prairie and Alabama Ranch. For as
I sit here on the loggia of Peter's house I'm bathed in a soft
breeze that is heavy with a fragrance of flowers, the air is the air of
our balmiest midsummer, and in a pepper-tree not thirty feet away a
mocking-bird is singing for all it's worth. It seems a poignantly
beautiful world. And everything suggests peace. But it was not an easy
peace to attain.
In the first place, the trip down was rather a nightmare. It brought
home to me the fact that I had three young barbarians to break and
subjugate, three untrained young outlaws who went wild with their first
plunge into train-travel and united in defiance of Struthers and her
foolishly impressive English uniform which always makes me think of
Regent Park. I have a suspicion that Dinky-Dunk all the while knew of
the time I'd have, but sagely held his peace.
I had intended, when I left home, to take the boat at Victoria and
go down to San Pedro, for I was hungry for salt water and the feel of a
rolling deck under my feet again. But the antics of my three little
outlaws persuaded me, before we pulled into Calgary, that it would be
as well to make the trip south as short a one as possible. Dinkie
disgraced me in the dining-car by insisting on drinking his mashed
potatoes, and made daily and not always ineffectual efforts to
appropriate all the fruit on the table, and on the last day, when I'd
sagaciously handed him over to the tender mercies of Struthers, I
overheard this dialogue:
I want shooder in my soup!
But little boys don't eat sugar in their soup.
I want shooder in my soup!
But, darling, mommie doesn't eat sugar in her soup!
Shooder! Dinkie wants shooder, shooder in his soup!
Daddy never eats shooder in his soup, Sweetness.
I want shooder!
But really nice little boys don't ask for sugar in their soup,
argued the patient-eyed Struthers.
Shooder! insisted the implacable tyrant. And he got it.
There was an exceptional number of babies and small children on
board and my unfraternal little prairie-waifs did not see why every
rattle and doll and automatic toy of their little fellow travelers and
sister tourists shouldn't promptly become their own private property.
And traveling with twins not yet a year old is scarcely conducive to
And yet, for all the worry and tumult, I found a new peace creeping
into my soul. It was the first sight of the Rockies, I think, which
brought the change. I'd grown tired of living on a billiard-table,
without quite knowing it, tired of the trimly circumscribed monotony of
material life, of the isolating flat contention against hunger and
want. But the mountains took me out of myself. They were Peter's
windmill, raised to the Nth power. They loomed above me, seeming to
say: We are timeless. You, puny one, can live but a day. They stood
there as they had stood from the moment God first whispered: Let there
be lightand there was light. But no, I'm wrong there, as Peter would
very promptly have told me, for it was only in the Cambrian Period that
the cornerstone of the Rockies was laid. The geologic clock ticked out
its centuries until the swamps of the Coal Period were full of Peter's
Oldest Inhabitants in the form of Dinosaurs and then came the
Cretaceous Period and the Great Architect looked down and bade the
Rockies arise, and tooled them into beauty with His blue-green glaciers
and His singing rivers, and touched the lordliest peaks with wine-glow
and filled the azure valleys with music and peace. And we threaded
along those valley-sides on our little ribbons of steel, skirted the
shouting rivers and plunged into tiny twisted tubes of darkness,
emerging again into the light and once more hearing the timeless
giants, with their snow-white heads against the sunset, repeat their
whisper: We live and are eternal. Ye, who fret about our feet, dream
for a day, and are forgotten!
But we seemed to be stepping out into a new world, by the time we
got to Pasadena. It was a summery and flowery and holiday world, and it
impressed me as being solely and scrupulously organized for pleasure.
Yet all minor surprises were submerged in the biggest surprise of
Peter's bungalow, which is really more like a château, and
strikes me as being singularly like Peter himself, not amazingly
impressive to look at, perhaps, but hiding from the world a startingly
rich and luxurious interior. The house itself, half hidden in
shrubbery, is of weather-stained stucco, and looks at first sight a
little gloomy, with the patina of time upon it. But it is a
restful change from the spick-and-spanness of the near-by millionaire
colony, so eloquent of the paint-brush and the lawn-valet's shears, so
smug and new and strident in its paraded opulence. Peter's gardens, in
fact, are a rather careless riot of color and line, a sort of achieved
genteel roughness, like certain phases of his house, as though the wave
of refinement driven too high had broken and tumbled over on itself.
The house, which is the shape of an E without the middle stroke,
has a green-sodded patio between the two wings, with a small
fountain and a stained marble basin at the center. There are
shade-trees and date-palms and shrubs and Romanesque-looking stone
seats about narrow walks, for this is the only really formalized
portion of the entire property. This leads off into a grove and garden,
a confusion of flowers and trees where I've already been able to spot
out a number of orange trees, some of them well fruited, several lemon
and fig trees, a row of banana trees, or plants, whichever they should
be called, besides pepper and palm and acacia and a long-legged
double-file of eucalyptus at the rear. And in between is a pergola and
a mixture of mimosa and wistaria and tamarisk and poppies and trellised
roses and one woody old geranium with a stalk like a crab-apple trunk
and growth enough to cover half a dozen prairie hay-stacks.
But, as I've already implied, it was the inside of the house that
astonished me. It is much bigger than it looks and is crowded with the
most gorgeous old things in copper and brass and leather and mahogany
that I ever saw under one roof. It has three open fireplaces, a huge
one of stone in the huge living-room, and rough-beamed ceilings of
redwood, and Spanish tiled floors, and chairs upholstered with cowhide
with the ranch-brand still showing in the tanned leather, and tables of
Mexican mahogany set in redwood frames, and several convenient little
electric heaters which can be carried from room to room as they are
Pinshaw, Peter's gardener and care-taker, had before our arrival
picked several clumps of violets, with perfume like the English
violets, and the house was aired and everything waiting and ready when
we came, even to two bottles of certified milk in the icebox for the
babies and half a dozen Casaba melons for their elders. My one
disturbing thought is that it will be a hard house to live up to. But
Struthers, who is not untouched with her folie de grandeur, has
the slightly flurried satisfaction of an exile who has at last come
into her own. One of the first things I must do, however, is to teach
my kiddies to respect Peter's belongings. In one cabinet of books,
which is locked, I have noticed several which are by Peter Ketley
himself. Yet that name meant nothing to me, when I met it out on the
prairie and humiliated its owner by converting him into one of my hired
hands. Ce monde est plein de fous.
Monday the Sixteenth
This is a great climate for meditation. And I have been meditating.
Back at Alabama Ranch, I suppose, there's twenty degrees of frost and a
northwest wind like a search-warrant. Here there's a pellucid blue sky,
just enough breeze to rustle the bamboo-fronds behind me, and a tall
girl in white lawn, holding a pale green parasol over her head and
meandering slowly along the sun-steeped boulevard, which smells of hot
I've been sitting here staring down that boulevard, with the strong
light making me squint a little. I've been watching the two rows of
date-palms along the curb, with their willow-plume head-dress stirring
lazily in the morning breeze. Well back from the smooth and shining
asphalt, as polished as ebony with its oil-drip and tire-wear, is a row
of houses, some shingled and awninged, some Colonial-Spanish, and
stuccoed and bone-white in the sun, some dark-wooded and vine-draped
and rose-grown, but all immaculate and finished and opulent. The street
is very quiet, but half-way down the block I can see a Jap gardener in
brown denim sedately watering a well-barbered terrace. Still farther
away, somebody, in one of the deep-shadowed porches, is tinkling a
ukelele, and somebody that I can't see is somewhere beating a rug. I
can see a little rivulet of water that flows sparkling down the
asphalted runnel of the curb. Then the clump of bamboos back by Peter's
bedroom window rustles crisply again and is quiet and the silence is
broken by a nurse-maid calling to a child sitting in a toy motor-wagon.
Then a touring-car purrs past, with the sun flashing on its polished
metal equipment, and the toy motor child being led reluctantly homeward
by the maid cries shrilly, and in the silence that ensues I can hear
the faint hiss of a spray-nozzle that builds a transient small rainbow
just beyond the trellis of Cherokee roses from which a languid white
petal falls, from time to time.
It's a dolce-far-niente day, as all the days seem to be here,
and the best that I can do is sit and brood like a Plymouth Rock with a
full crop. But I've been thinking things over. And I've come to several
One is that I'm not so contented as I thought I was going to be. I
am oppressed by a shadowy feeling of in some way sailing under false
colors. I am also hounded by an equally shadowy impression that I'm a
convalescent. Yet I find myself vulgarly healthy, my kiddies have all
acquired a fine coat of tan, and only Struthers is slightly off her
feed, having acquired a not unmerited attack of cholera morbus from
over-indulgence in Casaba melon. But I keep wondering if Dinky-Dunk is
getting the right sort of things to eat, if he's lonely, and what he
does in his spare time.
And another conclusion I've come to is that men, much as I hate to
admit it, are built of a stronger fiber than women. They seem able to
stand shock better than the weaker sex. They are not so apt to go down
under defeat, to take the full count, as I have done. For I still have
to face the fact that I was a failure. Then I turned tail and fled from
the scene of my collapse. That flight, it is true, has brought me a
certain brand of peace, but it is not an enduring peace, for you can't
run away from what's in your own heart. And already I'm restless and
ill-at-ease. It's not so much that I'm dissatisfied; it's more that I'm
unsatisfied. There still seems to be something momentous left out of
the plan of things. I have the teasing feeling of confronting something
which is still impending, which is being withheld, which I can not
reach out for, no matter how I try, until the time is ripe.... Those
rustling bamboos so close to the room where I sleep have begun to
bother me so much that I'm migrating to a new bedroom to-night.
There's never anything without something!
Tuesday the Twenty-fourth
Little Dinky-Dunk has adventured into illicit knowledge of his first
orange from the bough. It was one of Peter's low-hanging Valencias, and
seems to have left no ill-effects, though I prefer that all inside
matter be carefully edited before consumption by that small Red. So
Struthers hereafter must stand the angel with the flaming sword and
guard the gates that open upon that tree of forbidden fruit. Her own
colic, by the way, is a thing of the past, and at present she's
extremely interested in Pinshaw, who, she tells me, was once a
cabinet-maker in England, and came out to California for his health.
Struthers, as usual, is attempting to reach the heart of her new victim
by way of the stomach, and Pinshaw, apparently, is not unappreciative,
since he appears a little more punctually at his watering and raking
and gardening and has his ears up like a rabbit for the first inkling
of his lady-love's matutinal hand-out. And poor old Whinstane Sandy,
back at Alabama Ranch, is still making sheep's eyes at the patches
which Struthers once sewed on his breeks, like as not, and staring with
a moonish smile at the atrabilious photograph which the one
camera-artist of Buckhorn made of Struthers and my three pop-eyed
These are, without exception, the friendliest people I have ever
known. The old millionaire lumberman from Bay City, who lives next door
to me, pushes through the hedge with platefuls of green figs and
tid-bits from his gardens, and delightful girls whose names I don't
even know come in big cars and ask to take little Dinkie off for one of
their lawn fêtes. It even happened that a movie-actorwho, I
later discovered, was a drug-addictinsisted on accompanying me home
and informed me on the way that I had a dream of a face for
camera-work. It quite set me up, for all its impertinence, until I
learned to my sorrow that it had flowered out of nothing more than an
extra shot in the arm.
They are a friendly and companionable folk, and they'd keep me on
the go all the time if I'd let 'em. But I've only had energy enough to
run over to Los Angeles twice, though there are a dozen or two people I
must look up in that more frolicsome suburb. But I can't get away from
the feeling, the truly rural feeling, that I'm among strangers. I can't
rid myself of the extremely parochial impression that these people are
not my people. And there's a valetudinarian aspect to the place which I
find slightly depressing. For this seems to be the one particular point
where the worn-out old money-maker comes to die, and the antique ladies
with asthma struggle for an extra year or two of the veranda
rocking-chair, and rickety old beaux sit about in Panamas and
white flannels and listen to the hardening of their arteries. And I
haven't quite finished with life yetnot if I know itnot by a long
But one has to be educated for idleness, I find, almost as much as
for industry. I knew the trick once, but I've lost the hang of it. The
one thing that impresses me, on coming straight from prairie life to a
city like this, is how much women-folk can have done for them without
quite knowing it. The machinery of life here is so intricate and yet so
adequate that it denudes them of all the normal and primitive
activities of their grandmothers, so they have to invent troubles and
contrive quite unnecessary activities to keep from being bored to
extinction. Everything seems to come to them ready-made and duly
prepared, their bread, their light and fuel and water, their meat and
milk. All that, and the daily drudgery it implies, is made ready and
performed beyond their vision, and they have no balky pumps to prime
and no fires to build, and they'd probably be quite disturbed to think
that their roasts came from a slaughter-house with bloody floors and
that their breakfast rolls, instead of coming ready-made into the
world, are mixed and molded in bake-rooms where men work sweating by
night, stripped to the waist, like stokers.
Wednesday the Second
Dinky-Dunk's letter, which reached me Monday, was very short and
almost curt. It depressed me for a day. I tried to fight against that
feeling, when it threatened to return yesterday, and was at Peter's
piano shouting to the kiddies:
Coon, Coon, Coon, I wish my color'd fade!
Coon, Coon, Coon, I'd like a different shade!
when Struthers carried in to me, with a sort of triumphant and
tight-lipped I-told-you-so air, a copy of the morning's Los Angeles
Examiner. She had it folded so that I found myself confronting a
picture of Lady Alicia Newland, Lady Alicia in the Teddy-Bear suit of
an aviator, with a fur-lined leather jacket and helmet and heavy
gauntlets and leggings and the same old audacious look out of the
quietly smiling eyes, which were squinting a little because of the
Lady Allie, I found on perusing the letter-press, had been flying
with some of the North Island officers down in San Diego Bay. And now
she and the Right Honorable Lieutenant-Colonel Brereton Ainsley-Brook,
of the British Imperial Commission to Canada, were to attempt a flight
to Kelly Field Number Two, at San Antonio, in Texas, in a De Haviland
machine. She had told the Examiner reporter who had caught her
as she stood beside a naval sea-plane, that she loved flying and
loved taking a chance and that her worst trouble was with nose-bleed,
which she'd get over in time, she felt sure. And if the Texas flight
was a success she would try to arrange for a flight down to the Canal
at the same time that the Pacific fleet comes through from Colon.
Isn't that 'er, all over? demanded Struthers, forgetting her place
and her position and even her aspirate in the excitement of the moment.
But I handed back the paper without comment. For a day, however, Lady
Allie has loomed large in my thoughts.
Sunday the Thirteenth
It will be two weeks to-morrow since I've had a line from
Dinky-Dunk. The world about me is a world of beauty, but I'm worried
and restless and Edna Millay's lines keep running through my head:
...East and West will pinch the heart
That can not keep them pushed apart;
And he whose soul is flatthe sky
Will cave in on him by and by!
Wednesday the Sixteenth
Peter has written to me saying that unless he hears from me to the
contrary he thinks he can arrange to run through to the Coast in time
for the Rose Tournament here on New Year's Day. He takes the trouble to
explain that he'll stay at the Alexandria in Los Angeles, so there'll
be no possible disturbance to me and my family routine.
That's so like Peter!
But there's been no word from Dinky-Dunk. The conviction is growing
in my mind that he's not at Alabama Ranch.
Monday the Twenty-first
A letter has just come to me this morning from Whinstane Sandy,
written in lead-pencil. It said, with an orthography all its own, that
Duncan had been in bed for two weeks with what they thought was
pneumonia, but was up again and able to eat something, and not to
worry. It seemed a confident and cheerful message at first, but the
oftener I read it the more worried I became. So one load was taken off
my heart only to make room for another. My first decision was to start
north at once, to get back to Alabama Ranch and my Dinky-Dunk as fast
as steam could take me. I was still the sharer of his joys and sorrows,
and ought to be with him when things were at their worst. But on second
thought it didn't seem quite fair to the kiddies, to dump them from
midsummer into shack-life and a sub-zero climate. And always, always,
always, there were the children to be considered. So I wired Ed
Sherman, the station-agent at Buckhorn, asking him to send out a
message to Duncan, saying I was waiting for him in Pasadena and to come
I wonder what his answer will be? It's surrender, on my part. It's
capitulation, and Dinky-Dunk, of course, will recognize that fact. Or
he ought to. But it's not this I'm worrying over. It's Duncan himself,
and his health. It gives me a guilty feeling.... I once thought that I
was made to heal hearts. But about all I can do, I find, is to bruise
Thursday the Twenty-fourth
A telegram of just one word has come from Duncan, dated at Calgary.
It said: Coming. I could feel a little tremble in my knees as I read
it. He must be better, or he'd never be able to travel. To-morrow will
be Christmas Day, but we've decided to postpone all celebration until
the kiddies' daddy is on the scene. It will never seem much like
Christmas to us Eskimos, at eighty-five in the shade. And we're
temporarily subduing that red-ink day to the eyes of the children by
carefully secreting in one of Peter's clothes-closets each and every
present that has come for them.
Sunday the Twenty-seventh
Dinky-Dunk is here. He arrived this morning, and we were all at the
station in our best bib-and-tucker and making a fine show of being
offhanded and light-hearted. But when I saw the porter helping down my
Diddums, so white-faced and weak and tired-looking, something swelled
up and burst just under my floating ribs and for a moment I thought my
heart had had a blow-out like a tire and stopped working for ever and
ever. Heaven knows I held my hands tight, and tried to be cheerful, but
in spite of everything I could do, on the way home, I couldn't stop the
tears from running slowly down my cheeks. They kept running and
running, as though I had nothing to do with it, exactly as a wound
bleeds. The poor man, of course, was done out by the long trip. He was
just blooey, and saved himself from being pitiful by shrinking
back into a shell of chalky-faced self-sufficiency. He has said very
little, and has eaten nothing, but had a sleep this afternoon for a
couple of hours, out in the patio on a chaise-longue. It
hurt him, I think, to find his own children look at him with such cold
and speculative eyes. But he has changed shockingly since they last saw
him. And they have so much to fill up their little lives. They haven't
yet reached the age when life teaches them they'd better stick to
what's given them, even though there's a bitter tang to its sweetness!
Wednesday the Thirtieth
It is incredible, what three days of rest and forced feeding at my
implacable hands, have done for Dinky-Dunk. He is still a little shaky
on his pins, if he walks far, and the noonday sun makes him dizzy, but
his eyes don't look so much like saucers and I haven't heard the trace
of a cough from him all to-day. Illness, of course, is not romantic,
but it plays its altogether too important part in life, and has to be
faced. And there is something so disturbingly immuring and
depersonalizing about it! Dinky-Dunk appears rather in a world by
himself. Only once, so far, has he seemed to step back to our every-day
old world. That was when he wandered into the Blue Room in the East
Wing where little Dinkie has been sleeping. I was seated beside his
little lordship's bed singing:
The little pigs sleep with their tails curled up,
and when that had been exhausted, rambling on to
The sailor being both tall and slim,
The lady fell in love with him,
when pater familias wandered in and inquired, Whyfore the
I explained that Dinkie, since coming south, had seemed to demand an
even-song or two before slipping off.
I see that I'll have to take our son in hand, announced
Dinky-Dunkbut there was just the shadow of a smile about his lips as
he went slowly out and closed the door after him.
To-night, when I told Dinky-Dunk that Peter would in all likelihood
be here to-morrow, he listened without batting an eyelash. But he asked
if I'd mind handing him a cigarette, and he studied my face long and
intently. I don't know what he saw there, or what he concluded, for I
did my best to keep it as noncommittal as possible. If there is any
move, it must be from him. That sour-inked Irishman called Shaw has
said that women are the wooers in this world. A lot he knows about
it!... Yet something has happened, in the last half-hour, which both
disturbs and puzzles me. When I was unpacking Dinky-Dunk's second
trunk, which had stood neglected for almost four long days, I came
across the letter which I thought I'd put away in the back of the ranch
ledger and had failed to find.... And he had it, all the time!
The redoubtable Struthers, it must be recorded, to-day handed me
another paper, and almost as triumphantly as the first one. She'd
picked it up on her way home from the druggist's, where she went for
aspirin for Dinky-Dunk. On what was labeled its Woman's Page was yet
another photographic reproduction of the fair Lady Allie in aviation
togs and a head-line which read: Insists On Tea Above The Clouds. But
I plainly disappointed the expectant Struthers by promptly handing the
paper back to her and by declining to make any comment.
Thursday the Thirty-first
Peter walked in on us to-day, a little less spick and span, I'm
compelled to admit, than I had expected of one in his position, but as
easy and unconcerned as though he had dropped in from across the way
for a cigarette and a cup of tea. And I played up to that pose by
having Struthers wheel the tea-wagon out into the patio, where
we gathered about it in a semicircle, as decorously as though we were
sitting in a curate's garden to talk over the program for the next
meeting of the Ladies' Auxiliary.
There we sat, Dinky-Dunk, my husband who was in love with another
woman; Peter, my friend, who was in love with me, and myself, who was
too busy bringing up a family to be in love with anybody. There we sat
in that beautiful garden, in that balmy and beautiful afternoon
sunlight, with the bamboos whispering and a mocking-bird singing from
its place on the pepper-tree, stirring our small cups and saying
Lemon, please, or Just one lump, thank you. It may not be often,
but life does occasionally surprise us by being theatrical. For
I could not banish from my bones an impression of tremendous
reservations, of guarded waiting and watching from every point of that
sedate and quiet-mannered little triangle. Yet for only one moment had
I seen it come to the front. That was during the moment when Dinky-Dunk
and Peter first shook hands. On both faces, for that moment, I caught
the look with which two knights measure each other. Peter, as he
lounged back in his wicker chair and produced his familiar little briar
pipe, began to remind me rather acutely of that pensive old picador
in Zuloaga's The Victim of The Fête, the placid and plaintive
and only vaguely hopeful knight on his bony old Rosinante, not quite
ignorant of the fact that he must forage on to other fields and look
for better luck in newer ventures, yet not quite forgetful that life,
after all, is rather a blithe adventure and that the man who refuses to
surrender his courage, no matter what whimsical turns the adventure may
take, is still to be reckoned the conqueror. But later on he was jolly
enough and direct enough, when he got to showing Dinky-Dunk his books
and curios. I suppose, at heart, he was about as interested in those
things as an aquarium angel-fish is in a Sunday afternoon visitor. But
if it was pretense, and nothing more, there was very actual kindliness
in it. And there was nothing left for me but to sit tight, and refill
the little lacquered gold cups when necessary, and smile
non-committally when Dinky-Dunk explained that my idea of Heaven was a
place where husbands were served en brochette, and emulate the
Priest and the Levite by passing by on the other side when Peter asked
me if I'd ever heard that the West was good for mules and men but hard
on horses and women. And it suddenly struck me as odd, the timidities
and reticences which nature imposes on our souls. It seemed so
ridiculous that the three of us couldn't sit there and unbosom our
hearts of what was hidden away in them, that we couldn't be open and
honest and aboveboard and say just what we felt and thought, that we
couldn't quietly talk things out to an end and find where each and all
of us stood. But men and women are not made that way. Otherwise, I
suppose, life would be too Edenic, and we'd part company with a very
old and venerable interest in Paradise!
[Illustration: She's not dead? I asked in a breath]
Saturday the Second
Peter had arranged to come for us with a motor-car and carry us all
off to the Rose Tournament yesterday morning, for I do want to be
sitting right next to that little tike of yours, he explained, meaning
Dinkie, when he bumps into his first brass band!
But little Dinkie didn't hear his brass band, and we didn't go to
the Rose Tournament, although it was almost at our doors and some
eighty thousand crowded automobiles foregathered here from the rest of
the state to get a glimpse of it. For Peter, who is staying at the
Greene here instead of at the Alexandria over in Los Angeles, presented
himself before I'd even sat down to breakfast and before lazy old
Dinky-Dunk was even out of bed.
Peter, I noticed, had a somewhat hollow look about the eye, but I
accepted it as nothing more than the after-effects of his long trip,
and blithely commanded him to sit down and partake of my coffee.
Peter, however, wasn't thinking about coffee.
I'm afraid, he began, that I'm bringing you ratherrather bad
We stood for a moment with our gazes locked. He seemed appraising
me, speculating on just what effect this message of his might have on
What is it? I asked, with that forlorn tug at inner reserves which
life teaches us to send over the wire as we grow older.
I've come, explained Peter, simply because this thing would have
reached you a little later in your morning paperand I hated the
thought of having it spring out at you that way. So you won't mind,
will you? You'll understand the motive behind the message?
But what is it? I repeated, a little astonished by this obliquity
in a man customarily so direct.
It's about Lady Newland, he finally said. And the solemnity of his
face rather frightened me.
She's not dead? I asked in a breath.
Peter shook his head from side to side.
She's been rather badly hurt, he said, after several moments of
silence. Her plane was winged yesterday afternoon by a navy flier over
San Diego Bay. She didn't fall, but it was a forced landing and her
machine had taken fire before they could get her out of her seat.
You mean she was burnt? I cried, chilled by the horror of it.
And, inapposite as it seemed, my thoughts flashed back to that lithe
and buoyant figure, and then to the picture of it charred and scorched
Only her face, was Peter's quiet and very deliberate reply.
Only her face, I repeated, not quite understanding him.
The men from the North Bay field had her out a minute or two after
she landed. But practically the whole plane was afire. Her heavy flying
coat and gauntlets saved her body and hands. But her face was
Do you mean she'll be disfigured? I asked, remembering the
loveliness of that face with its red and wilful lips and its
ever-changing tourmaline eyes.
I'm afraid so, was Peter's answer. But I've been wiring, and
you'll be quite safe in telling your husband that she's in no actual
danger. The Marine Hospital officials have acknowledged that no flame
was inhaled, that it's merely temporary shock, and, of course, the
But what can they do? I asked, in little more than a whisper.
They're trying the new ambersine treatment, and later on, I
suppose, they can rely on skin-grafting and facial surgery, Peter
explained to me.
Is it that bad? I asked, sitting down in one of the empty chairs,
for the mere effort to vision any such disfigurement had brought a
Channel-crossing and Calais-packet feeling to me.
It's very sad, said Peter, more ill-at-ease than I'd ever seen him
before, But there's positively no danger, remember. It won't be so bad
as your morning paper will try to make it out. They've sensationalized
it, of course. That's why I wanted to be here first, and give you the
facts. They are distressing enough, God knows, without those yellow
reporters working them over for wire consumption.
I was glad that Peter didn't offer to stay, didn't even seem to wish
to stay. I wanted quietness and time to think the thing over.
Dinky-Dunk, I realized, would have to be told, and told at once. It
would, of course, be a shock to him. And it would be something more. It
would be a sudden crowding to some final issue of all those
possibilities which lay like spring-traps beneath the under-brush of
our indifference. I had no way of knowing what it was that had
attracted him to Lady Alicia. Beauty of face, of course, must have been
a factor in it. And that beauty was now gone. But love, according to
the Prophets and the Poets, overcometh all things. And in her very
helplessness, it was only too plain to me, his Cousin Allie might
appeal to him in a more personal and more perilous way. My Diddums
himself, of late, had appealed more to me in his weakness and his
unhappiness than in his earlier strength and triumph. There was a time,
in fact, when I had almost grown to hate his successes. And yet he was
my husband. He was mine. And it was a human enough instinct to
fight for what was one's own. But that wild-bird part of man known as
his will could never be caged and chained. If somewhere far off it
beheld beauty and nobility it must be free to wing its way where it
wished. The only bond that held it was the bond of free-giving and
goodness. And if it abjured such things as that, the sooner the flight
took place and the colors were shown, the better. If on the home-bough
beside him nested neither beauty nor nobility, it was only natural that
he should wander a-field for what I had failed to give him. And now, in
this final test, I must not altogether fail him. For once in my life, I
concluded, I had to be generous.
So I waited until Dinky-Dunk emerged. I waited, deep in thought,
while he splashed like a sea-lion in his bath, and called out to
Struthers almost gaily for his glass of orange-juice, and shaved, and
opened and closed drawers, and finished dressing and came out in his
cool-looking suit of cricketer's flannel, so immaculate and
freshly-pressed that one would never dream it had been bought in
England and packed in mothballs for four long years.
I heard him asking for the kiddies while I was still out in the
patio putting the finishing touches to his breakfast-table, and his
grunt that was half a sigh when he learned that they'd been sent off
before he'd had a glimpse of them. And I could see him inhale a lungful
of the balmy morning air as he stood in the open doorway and stared,
not without approval, at me and the new-minted day.
Why the clouded brow, Lady-Bird? he demanded as he joined me at
the little wicker table.
I've had some rather disturbing news, I told him, wondering just
how to begin.
The kiddies? he asked, stopping short.
I stared at him closely as I shook my head in answer to that
question. He looked leaner and frailer and less robustious than of old.
But in my heart of hearts I liked him that way. It left him the
helpless and unprotesting victim of that run-over maternal instinct of
mine which took wayward joy in mothering what it couldn't master. It
had brought him a little closer to me. But that contact, I remembered,
was perhaps to be only something of the moment.
Dinky-Dunk, I told him as quietly as I could, I want you to go
down to San Diego and see Lady Allie.
It was a less surprised look than a barricaded one that came into
Why? he asked as he slowly seated himself across the table from
Because I think she needs you, I found the courage to tell him.
Why? he asked still again.
There has been an accident, I told him.
What sort of accident? he quickly inquired, with one hand arrested
as he went to shake out his table-napkin.
It was an air-ship accident. And Lady Allie's been hurt.
Badly? he asked, as our glances met.
Not badly, in one way, I explained to him. She's not in any
danger, I mean. But her plane caught fire, and she's been burned about
His lips parted slightly, as he sat staring at me. And slowly up
into his colorless face crept a blighted look, a look which brought a
vague yet vast unhappiness to me as I sat contemplating it.
Do you mean she's disfigured, he asked, that it's something
I'm afraid so, I said, when he did not finish his sentence.
He sat looking down at his empty plate for a long time.
And you want me to go? he finally said.
Yes, I told him.
He was silent for still another ponderable space of time.
But do you understand he began. And for the second time he
didn't finish his sentence.
I understand, I told him, doing my best to sit steady under his
inquisitorial eye. Then he looked down at the empty plate again.
All right, he said at last. He spoke in a quite flat and colorless
tone. But it masked a decision which we both must have recognized as
being momentous. And I knew, without saying anything further, that he
Sunday the Third
Dinky-Dunk left Friday night and got back early this morning before
I was up. This naturally surprised me. But what surprised me more was
the way he looked. He was white and shaken and drawn about the eyes. He
seemed so wretched that I couldn't help feeling sorry for him.
She wouldn't see me! was all he said as I stopped him on
the way to his room.
But he rather startled me, fifteen minutes later, by calling up the
Greene and asking for Peter. And before half an hour had dragged past
Peter appeared in person. He ignored the children, and apparently
avoided me, and went straight out to the pergola, where he and
Dinky-Dunk fell to pacing slowly up and down, with the shadows dappling
their white-clad shoulders like leopards as they walked up and down, up
and down, as serious and solemn as two ministers of state in a national
crisis. And something, I scarcely knew what, kept me from going out and
It was Peter himself who finally came in to me. He surprised me, in
the first place, by shaking hands. He did it with that wistful
wandering-picador smile of his on his rather Zuloagaish face.
I've got to say good-by, I found him saying to me.
Peter! I called out in startled protest, trying to draw back so I
could see him better. But he kept my hand.
I'm going east to-night, he quite casually announced. But above
all things I want you and your Dinky-Dunk to hang on here as long as
you can. He needs it. I'm stepping out. No, I don't mean that,
exactly, for I'd never stepped in. But it's a fine thing, in this
world, for men and women to be real friends. And I know, until we
shuffle off, that we're going to be that!
Peter! I cried again, trying not to choke up with the sudden sense
of deprivation that was battering my heart to pieces. And the light in
faithful old Peter's eyes didn't make it any easier.
But he dropped my hand, of a sudden, and went stumbling rather
awkwardly over the Spanish tiling as he passed out to the waiting car.
I watched him as he climbed into it, stiffly yet with a show of
careless bravado, for all the world like the lean-jowled knight of the
vanished fête mounting his bony old Rosinante.
It was nearly half an hour later that Dinky-Dunk came into the
cool-shadowed living-room where I was making a pretense of being busy
at cutting down some of Dinkie's rompers for Pee-Wee, who most
assuredly must soon bid farewell to skirts.
Will you sit down, please? he said with an abstracted sort of
formality. For he'd caught me on the wing, half-way back from the open
window, where I'd been glancing out to make sure Struthers was on guard
with the children.
My face was a question, I suppose, even when I didn't speak.
There's something I want you to be very quiet and courageous
about, was my husband's none too tranquillizing beginning. And I could
feel my pulse quicken.
What is it? I asked, wondering just what women should do to make
themselves quiet and courageous.
It's about Allie, answered my husband, speaking so slowly and
deliberately that it sounded unnatural. She shot herself last night.
Sheshe killed herself, with an army revolver she'd borrowed from a
young officer down there.
I couldn't quite understand, at first. The words seemed like
half-drowned things my mind had to work over and resuscitate and coax,
back into life.
This is terrible! I said at last, feebly, foolishly, as the
meaning of it all filtered through my none too active brain.
It's terrible for me, acknowledged Dinky-Dunk, with a self-pity
which I wasn't slow to resent.
But why aren't you there? I demanded. Why aren't you there to
keep a little decency about the thing? Why aren't you looking after
what's left of her?
Dinky-Dunk's eye evaded mine, but only for a moment.
Colonel Ainsley-Brook is coming back from Washington to take
possession of the remains, he explained with a sort of dry-lipped
patience, and take them home.
But why should an outsider like
Dinky-Dunk stopped me with a gesture.
He and Allie were married, a little over three weeks ago, my
husband quietly informed me. And for the second time I had to work life
into what seemed limp and sodden words.
Did you know about that? I asked.
Yes, Allie wrote to me about it, at the time, he replied with a
sort of coerced candor. She said it seemed about the only thing left
Why should she say that?
Dinky-Dunk stared at me with something strangely like a pleading
look in his haggard eye.
Wouldn't it be better to keep away from all that, at a time like
this? he finally asked.
No, I told him, this is the time we can't keep away from
it. She wrote you that because she was in love with you. Isn't that the
Dinky-Dunk raised his hand, as though he were attempting a movement
of protest, and then dropped it again. His eyes, I noticed, were
luminous with a sort of inward-burning misery. But I had no intention
of being merciful. I had no chance of being merciful. It was like an
operation without ether, but it had to be gone through with. It had to
be cut out, in some way, that whole cancerous growth of hate and
Isn't that the truth? I repeated.
Oh, Tabby, don't turn the knife in the wound! cried Dinky-Dunk,
with his face more than ever pinched with misery.
Then it is a wound! I proclaimed in dolorous enough
triumph. But there's still another question, Dinky-Dunk, you must
answer, I went on, speaking as slowly and precisely as I could, as
though deliberation in speech might in some way make clearer a matter
recognized as only too dark in spirit. And it must be answered
honestly, without any quibble as to the meaning of words. Were you in
love with Lady Allie?
His gesture of repugnance, of seeming self-hate, was both a prompt
and a puzzling one.
That's the hideous, the simply hideous part of it all, he cried
out in a sort of listless desperation.
Why hideous? I demanded, quite clear-headed, and quite determined
that now or never the overscored slate of suspicion should be wiped
clean. I still forlornly and foolishly felt, I suppose, that he might
yet usher before me some miraculously simple explanation that would
wipe his scutcheon clean, that would put everything back to the older
and happier order. But as I heard his deep-wrung cry of Oh, what's the
good of all this? I knew that life wasn't so romantic as we're always
trying to make it.
I've got to know, I said, as steel-cold as a surgeon.
But can't you see that it'sthat it's worse than revolting to me?
he contended, with the look of a man harried beyond endurance.
Why should it be? I exacted.
He sank down in the low chair with the ranch-brand on its leather
back. It was an oddly child-like movement of collapse. But I daren't
let myself feel sorry for him.
Because it's all so rottenly ignoble, he said, without looking at
For whom? I asked, trying to speak calmly.
For mefor you, he cried out, with his head in his hands. For
you to have been faced with, I mean. It's awful, to think that you've
had to stand it! He reached out for me, but I was too far away for him
to touch. Oh, Tabby, I've been such an awful rotter. And this thing
that's happened has just brought it home to me.
Then you cared, that much? I demanded, feeling the bottom of my
heart fall out, for all the world like the floor of a dump-cart.
No, no; that's the unforgivable part of it, he cried in quick
protest. It's not only that I did you a great wrong, Tabby, but I did
her a worse one. I coolly exploited something that I should have at
least respected. I manipulated and used a woman I should have been more
generous with. There wasn't even bigness in it, from my side of the
game. I traded on that dead woman's weakness. And my hands would be
cleaner if I could come to you with the claim that I'd really cared for
her, that I'd been swept off my feet, that passion had blinded me to
the things I should have remembered. He let his hands fall between his
knees. Knowing him as the man of reticence that he was, it seemed an
indescribably tragic gesture. And it struck me as odd, the next moment,
that he should be actually sobbing. Oh, my dear, my dear, the one
thing I was blind to was your bigness, was your goodness. The one thing
I forgot was how true blue you could be.
I sat there staring at his still heaving shoulders, turning over
what he had said, turning it over and over, like a park-squirrel with a
nut. I found a great deal to think about, but little to say.
I don't blame you for despising me, Dinky-Dunk said, out of the
silence, once more in control of himself.
I was thinking of her, I explained. And then I found the
courage to look into my husband's face. No, Dinky-Dunk, I don't
despise you, I told him, remembering that he was still a weak and
shaken man. But I pity you. I do indeed pity you. For it's
selfishness, it seems to me, which costs us so much, in the end.
He seemed to agree with me, by a slow movement of the head.
That's the only glimmer of hope I have, he surprised me by saying.
But why hope from that? I asked.
Because you're so utterly without selfishness, that deluded man
cried out to me. You were always that way, but I didn't have the
brains to see it. I never quite saw it until you sent me down toto
her. He came to a stop, and sat staring at the terra-cotta Spanish
floor-tiles. I knew it was useless, tragically useless. You
didn't. But you were brave enough to let my weakness do its worst, if
it had to. And that makes me feel that I'm not fit to touch you, that
I'm not even fit to walk on the same ground with you!
I tried my best to remain judicial.
But this, Dinky-Dunk, isn't being quite fair to either of us, I
protested, turning away to push in a hair-pin so that he wouldn't see
the tremble that I could feel in my lower lip. For an unreasonable and
illogical and absurdly big wave of compassion for my poor old
Dinky-Dunk was welling up through my tired body, threatening to leave
me and all my make-believe dignity as wobbly as a street-procession
Queen of Sheba on her circus-float. I was hearing, I knew, the words
that I'd waited for, this many a month. I was at last facing the scene
I'd again and again dramatized on the narrow stage of my woman's
imagination. But instead of bringing me release, it brought me
heart-ache; instead of spelling victory, it came involved with the thin
humiliations of compromise. For things could never be the same again.
The blot was there on the scutcheon, and could never be argued away.
The man I loved had let the grit get into the bearings of his soul, had
let that grit grind away life's delicate surfaces without even knowing
the wine of abandoned speed. He had been nothing better than the
passive agent, the fretful and neutral factor, the cheated one without
even the glory of conquest or the tang of triumph. But he had been
saved for me. He was there within arm's reach of me, battered, but with
the wine-glow of utter contrition on his face.
Take me back, Babushka, I could hear his shaken voice
imploring. I don't deserve itbut I can't go on without you. I can't!
I've had enough of hell. And I need you more than anything else in this
That, I had intended telling him, wasn't playing quite fair. But
when he reached out his hands toward me, exactly as I've seen his own
Dinky do at nightfall when a darkening room left his little spirit
hungry for companionship, something melted like an overlooked chocolate
mousse in my crazy old maternal heart, and before I was altogether
aware of it I'd let my hands slip over his shoulders as he knelt with
his bowed head in my lap. The sight of his colorless and unhappy face
with that indescribable homeless-dog look in his eyes was too much for
me. I gave up. I hugged his head to my breast-bone as though it were my
only life-buoy in an empty and endless Atlantic and only stopped when I
had to rub the end of my nose, which I couldn't keep a collection of
several big tears from tickling.
I'm a fool, Dinky-Dunk, a most awful fool, I tried to tell him,
when he gave me a chance to breathe again. And I've got a temper like
No, no, Beloved, he protested, it's not foolishnessit's
I couldn't answer him, for his arms had closed about me again. And
I love you, Tabbie, I love you with every inch of my body!
Women are weak. And there is no such thing, so far as I know, as an
altogether and utterly perfect man. So we must winnow strength out of
our weakness, make the best of a bad bargain, and over-scroll the walls
of our life-cell with the illusions which may come to mean as much as
the stone and iron that imprison us. All we can do, we who are older
and wiser, is wistfully to overlook the wobble where the meshed
perfection of youth has been bruised and abused and loosened, tighten
up the bearings, and keep as blithely as we can to the worn old road.
For life, after all, is a turn-pike of concession deep-bedded with
compromise. And our To-morrows are only our To-days over again.... So
Dinky-Dunk, who keeps saying in unexpected and intriguing ways that he
can't live without me, is trying to make love to me as he did in the
old days before he got salt-and-peppery above the ears. And I'm
blockhead enough to believe him. I'm like an old shoe, I suppose,
comfortable but not showy. Yet it's the children we really have to
think of. Our crazy old patch-work of the Past may be our own, but the
Future belongs to them. There's a heap of good, though, in my
humble-eyed old Dinky-Dunk, too much good ever to lose him, whatever
may have happened in the days that are over.
Sunday the Twenty-fourth
Dinky-Dunk, whom I actually heard singing as he took his bath this
morning, is exercising his paternal prerogative of training little
Dinkie to go to bed without a light. He has peremptorily taken the
matter out of my hands, and is, of course, prodigiously solemn about it
I'll show that young Turk who's boss around this house! he
magisterially proclaims almost every night when the youthful wails of
protest start to come from the Blue Room in the East Wing.
And off he goes, with his Holbein's Astronomer mouth set firm and
the fiercest of frowns on his face.
It had a tendency to terrify me, at first. But now I know what a
colossal old fraud and humbug this same soft-hearted and
granite-crusted specimen of humanity can be. For last night, after the
usual demonstration, I slipped out to the Blue Room and found big
Dunkie kneeling down beside little Dinkie's bed, with Dinkie's small
hand softly enclosed in his dad's big paw, and Dinkie's yellow head
nestled close against his dad's salt-and-peppery pate.
It made me gulp a little, for some reason or other. So I tiptoed
away, without letting my lord and master know I'd discovered the secret
of that stern mastery of his. And later on Dinky-Dunk himself tiptoed
into Peter's study, farther down the same wing, so that he could, with
a shadow of truth, explain that he'd been looking over some of the
Spanish manuscripts there, when I happened to ask him, on his return,
just what had kept him away so long!