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self, and began climbing zealously back up the steps. A lovely ridge of sawdust on the grass had inflamed his imagination; if rompers led to it, he would concentrate on rompers.
The blithe spring sun climbed up in the fleckless heavens; Delle's temples began to throb. The pain in her side, which had been troubling her for months, began to grow worse. In a moment Buster reappeared, tugging violently at his half-donned rompers. She buttoned him hastily, admonishing him:
"Don't get in my way, now. You'll get hurt. I can't watch you and work, too."
Buster settled down happily between her feet to investigate the wonder of the sawdust. Suddenly she was aware of a weak, distressed, rather shamed voice behind her.
Neil's leather-brown bare feet had brought him up unheard, and his mother started violently at the sight of his gray, drawn face.
"Mawther, I 've got a chill, I reckon. My head 's about to split. Paw told me to plow till he come back, but I cain't."
Delle dropped her work, and sat down weakly on the one solid step. Neil was only nine, and small and slight like herself; she had begged his father not to put him at the plowing for another year.
"Go in and lay down, Neil," she said after a moment. "The plowing 'll have to go. Take a dose of quinine first; the bottle 's on the top shelf, and there 's some coffee on the stove. Cover up if you feel cold, and try to go to sleep."
Neil, weakly stoical, disappeared within the house. His mother shut her lips to a thin, blue line and resumed her work.
Straightening up after a while to wipe her steaming face on her apron, she saw an old man driving toward her down the lane. He was part of what she mentally described as "a queer turn-out." His vehicle was an old two-wheeled cart, his beast a little gray mule, his harness an intricate affair of strings, ropes, and wire, with only an occasional reminiscence of leather. He drew up before Eddy Hutton's gate and alighted from his cart.
Just at that moment Buster gave a nerve-shattering roar. The end of a board on which Delle was working had sprung up and struck him on the head.
She sat down on the bottom step, and took him, kicking and screaming, into her arms.
"Bring a pan of water," she called over her shoulder to Willie May, who, attracted by the uproar, had appeared in the doorway. While she waited for the water, she wiped off the streaming blood with the corner of her apron. Slow, despairing tears at last rose in her eyes, and began to mingle with the little boy's.
The old man came stumping up the walk toward her. He was a respectablelooking old fellow despite the marks of the vagrant upon him, with observant, blue eyes lighting up a ruddy, stubbly face. He wore an old cloth cap, which marked him as not belonging to that country-side, and clothes which showed that they were accustomed to being washed in casual streams and dried on roadside bushes.
"The little geezer much hurt?" he inquired solicitously, standing before her with his cap in his hand.
"I don't know," answered Delle, mechanically. She was washing the wound with cold water and a soft rag; but she had reached the end of her tether, and the tears still rolled, slow and unashamed, down her face.
"Take him in out of the sun," said the old man. "Here, Sissy, move the pan for your mammy. I'll work on your step a bit. That's no woman's job."
Blindly Delle rose, and lugged her great wounded nursling into the house. Soon she heard the old man sawing away with a brisk, professional noise at her abandoned carpentering.
Presently Buster's crying stopped, and he fell asleep in her arms. When she returned to the porch, she found the baby sitting, placid and round-eyed, contemplating the stranger, while Willie May, with unaccustomed amiability, was engaging him in friendly talk. Delle picked up the baby and, seating herself in the broken rocking-chair on the shady corner of the porch, opened the bosom of her dress and began to nurse him. Soon his contented eyelids drooped.
Quiet, like the brushing of a soft wing, touched the mother's bruised, exhausted mind. She watched a humming-bird dart from trumpet to trumpet of the honeysuckle that covered the old dead
tree by the gate. Through all of one hot summer she had carried water in a bucket to help that gasping little honeysuckle to take root in the baked, sandy soil. That was the summer before Buster was born. How hot and dry it had been that summer, and how Willie May and Neil had dragged at her skirts and stumbled about under her feet as she tried to keep the honeysuckle alive! But now it draped the old snag from root to tip, and was a match for drought or frost. It was one of the few things she had planted that had managed to live; it was one of the few things she had tried to do or have that she had not had to give up. Sometimes it gave her courage, sometimes it reminded her of unnumbered other attempts, equally desperate, that had failed utterly.
"Thar!" said the old man, straightening up stiffly, with his finger-tips meeting over the small of his back. "Now you got some good, substantial steps." The kind, keen look in his old, blue eyes made something in her leap, somehow, to meet it. It reminded her of the way her grandfather had sometimes looked at her.
"You ain't got any umbrellers to mend, I reckon?" he asked, after a moment. "That 's my business; but I 'm right smart of a carpenter, too. Got any more jobs your husband ain't had time to do? I don't want no money," he added, with another of those direct, paternal looks that touched her so strangely. "A bite to eat at dinnertime, maybe, if you got it to spare. If you ain't, I got bacon and bread and coffee in my rig there."
"My cook-stove won't draw," Delle answered, the color rising a little in her pale cheeks. "I been trying to fix it for two weeks. You guess you could help it any?"
"Sure I can," he answered cheerfully. "Is it around this a way?"
She went through the house and put the sleeping baby on the bed; then she met him on the kitchen doorstep and took him in to see the offending stove. In a moment he had the pipe down and had discovered the trouble.
While he worked, Delle attacked the breakfast pans and dishes. Conversation sprang up between them.
With a horny thumb and finger he fished in the pocket of his shirt and drew out a newspaper clipping, which he proffered her with a chuckle. Delle did not offer to take it.
"I don't want to see it," she said. "I wish she 'd tend to her own business instead of writing poetry to hand around to folks that are tending to theirs."
"Sort o'nuisance?" asked the old man. "I kind o' 'lowed as much."
"She 'd borrow the straw out of your hen' nests," said Delle, with a kind of gentle ferocity. "And there ain't a week passes she don't send for Eddy, my husband, to come and do something for her. He dassent pass her house. When he ain't working for his paw, he 's working for old Lady Paine. His paw kind o' favors her. She nearly always gives him some of her poetry to bring home. She's been sending it to the 'Weekly Herald' ever since she was born, I think. I used to think it was real pretty-when I was first married."
The old man shook with low chuckles of intense enjoyment.
"Fine old leddy!" he said, "fine old leddy! Been a widow-woman, she told me, for twenty years. Husband the biggest man ever seen in these parts. Common folks could n't hardly see his head, she seemed to think, on a cloudy day! Fine old leddy!"
Delle smiled despite herself. A certain inborn, ineradicable delicacy the refinement which aroused Paw Hutton's resentment-kept her from voicing further her opinions of Mrs. Paine.
At last the job was finished.
"Now your stove 'll draw," said the old man. "Want I should build your dinner-fire and show you?"
Without waiting for her answer, he went about it, and soon had a roaring fire in the mended stove.
"I'll just split you up a batch of kindling," he said, looking in at the kitchen door, "and then I 'll be moving on."
"No," said Delle, hurriedly, "you eat dinner with us. My husband won't be home; he 'll eat at his maw's. I always cook at noon," she added hastily, his look reminding her that the fire had been built at her suggestion, "so 's not to have to stand over the stove in the evening."
The meal nearly over, Delle stooped for the sixth time to pick up the baby's spoon.
"You won't never know how obliged I am," she said. She had been trying to say it for an hour; she spoke with an almost painful sincerity.
"I've had an idea while I was eatin' these here spring onions," the old man answered hastily. "I see considerable scrap lumber laying around. Your husband planning to use it for anything particular?"
"No," answered Delle, wonderingly. "Then nobody 'd miss it if I fixed up something for you and these here tumblebugs? I could do it this afternoon and be off by sundown." His old eyes sparkled mysteriously.
Delle hurried through with the dishes, so that she might go out and see what he was making. After one look, she hurried back into the house with something nearer a run than her tired feet had remembered for many a day.
"A porch-swing!" she cried. "O Neil, you can use your rope you been saving! He's making us a porch-swing."
Neil, his eyes burning with fever, lifted himself on his elbow to look out.
"I'll come out and get it by the time he 's ready for it," he said in a thin, shaky voice. "I'm through chillin', and I think my fever 's goin' down."
All that afternoon the treasure grew into shape. About five o'clock the old man called from the work-bench under the mulberry-tree:
"All done now but the rope. Where 'll we hang it?"
Neil, as rickety as a new-born calf, made his way out to the woodshed and produced his hoarded rope from a high shelf. Then they all trailed around to the front porch, where the long, welcome shadows were beginning to fall across the new steps. On the end that was partly shaded by the big sycamore, a gaunt, but companionable, tree which Maw Hutton had always insisted to Delle should be cut down because it kept the yard littered, the swing was installed.
"Git out now, and let your mammy set in it," ordered the old man to the swarming youngsters. "I made it for her to set and rest in. You brats can have it when she don't want it."
Delle seated herself awkwardly in the swing. Her eyes rewarded him.
"I'll be going now," he said, glancing down the lane, where the tall sumachs were beginning to be tipped with gold. "Whenever you 're beat out, you set here in the shade awhile and pretend you 're me, jogging along day in and day out, stoppin' where you please and startin' when you please, without a string to you in the world. Long 's I was held to my place by rights, I stayed. But there's some strings that ought to tie a man, and some that ought to be busted. Them spring onions sure was fine, ma'am. Good evenin' to you." Embarrassment and formality suddenly overtook him as he started to the gate; but by the time he had disentangled himself from the children, who pursued him despite their mother's calls, he was again chuckling and twinkling. Delle, with the baby on her hip, stood on the new steps and watched him out of sight.
“Well, now, a regular old tramp they'd say he was!" she said, with softly shining eyes. Somehow everything seemed to look different. The atmosphere of her mind, like the late afternoon light, seemed to soften and beautify the poor, weather-beaten, sagging house set in the bare, sandy yard. Something fluttered feebly in Delle that was almost dead. She went back and sat down in the new swing, her mind like a longclosed room into which a fresh, sunny breeze has suddenly stolen.
Perhaps it was all her own fault that things had gone so badly. Perhaps if she had not lost heart-Delle had long had a deep, hidden, almost fierce consciousness that she was too soft, too tender a creature, too helpless in the hands of fate. Yet, fiercely, too, she realized that life had not given her scope for the sort of strength she had. "I can do," she told herself, despairingly, “if only I had anything to do with." She had been in love with Eddy when, in his appealing, dumb way, he had come courting her; but for her love meant, most of all, nest-building. To have a home of her own to plan and keep, to arrange and embellish, to live in and for-Delle could not bear to remember the thoughts with which she had begun her married life.
But this evening, as she sat relaxed in her new swing, she found herself lifting her defeated eyes once more to those lost radiances. She had long ago come to telling herself that they were all wrong, girlish notions and fancies, all foolishness. There was only one thing to do in this world, hang on as long as you could until you dropped. And when you dropped, what became of the children? You did n't think of that; you could n't. You just shut your eyes and hung.
But now, perhaps, perhaps there was a way out a way in which things could be improved. With overmastering force the longing which continually underlay all her thoughts rose up and engulfed her. If only they could get away!
As she sat swinging gently, the children playing in unwonted peace about her feet, she felt a great welling up of hope, courage, and a sort of healing shame. How foolish and wrong she had been to lose heart! She and Eddy together must find some way to do better for themselves and the children. Perhaps, if she could find enough courage and patience, she could get him to move, to try a fresh start, somewhere. Her heart quailed at the thought of taking such a responsibility; yet, so irresistible was the goal-At that moment she saw Eddy and his father coming.
Paw Hutton was a patriarchal-looking old man with a straight, white beard that reached nearly to his waist. A farmer in all other details, he kept his beard with unfarmerlike neatness and care. His son walked a step behind him, leading his tired horse. Eddy was a large, powerful man, like his father, but already he was more stooped and blurred by heavy work. He had nothing of his father's magisterial, self-important air. Though so large and strong, he had a look not unlike Delle's own, of being near to irremediable defeat.
As Delle watched the two men approaching, all her sudden, new-found courage seemed to ooze out of her. The familiar, desperate reality seemed to close upon her mind like a pair of iron pincers. How could she ever communicate anything so intangible as a mood of hope and enthusiasm to Eddy? His whole being was concentrated upon the immediate problem. He was on his