Puslapio vaizdai

guard, instinctively on the defensive against anything irrelevant or distracting. And there was Paw Hutton, as fixed and inescapable as fate.

They came on into the yard, giving Delle a glance, country-fashion, by way of greeting. They did not even notice the new swing. As they started around the house, Eddy bethought himself, and paused to ask anxiously:

"Neil get the patch plowed?" "Neil 's sick," said Delle. this morning with a chill."

"Came in

Eddy said nothing; he only set his tired face harder. But Paw Hutton paused alertly.

"You give him any vinegar?"

"I'm giving him quinine," said Delle. "Well, I reckon you 're determined to go your own way," said her father-inlaw. "You was brought up on such ruinous ways, and nothin' seems to change you. If you'd give all the children vinegar soon 's it begins to be warm weather, like I told you, you 'd 'a' been spared this. Notice Eddy never has chills, don't you? Because he was treated right while he was growin'."

Delle said nothing, and the old man continued his way to the lot. He had come to instruct his son in the care of a young cow that had fallen sick. After a moment Delle went into the house and began to "set on supper."

At the table her husband, tired and preoccupied, ate in his usual silence.

"Get through at paw's to-day?" Delle asked at last, holding the baby in the crook of her elbow while she peeled a cold boiled potato for Buster. "No," answered Eddy, grimly. grimly. "That is, I got paw's job about done, but he promised old Lady Paine to send me over to break up her garden-patch for her. And this evenin' he told me he wants to put in an extra melon-patch at the far end of the old field. I'll get through by noon to-morrow, I reckon both jobs. If it was n't for Neil's givin' down" A dispirited silence followed.

"You notice the steps?" asked Delle. "Steps? No," said her husband, dragging himself up again from inattention. "He made us a swing!" cried Willie May, aroused.

Eddy looked at his wife with halfbewildered inquiry in his eyes.

"'N, I busted my head," said Buster, proudly.

"An old man came along," said Delle, "and offered to mend the steps for a bite to eat." She had imagined herself describing the whole incident to Eddy, with a secret hope that he might get a glimpse of her through the old man's eyes. Now, with those iron pincers on her heart, she knew that she could give him only the bare facts; the hope of communicating her mood to him became the wildest of illusions. "He fixed the stove-pipe for me," she said, "and-and made a porch-swing."

"A porch-swing?" said Eddy, stupidly. "A porch-swing? What 'd he make a porch-swing for?"

"For mawther!" piped Willie May. "He told us to keep out of it when she wanted to set in it."

Delle dropped her eyes guiltily. Her husband was staring at her; his attention was caught at last.

"Come look at it," she said hastily. "You 're through."

They scraped their chairs back from the table and trooped out upon the porch. There hung the new swing, sturdy, trim, and workmanlike.

"Come and try it," said Delle, sitting in the swing with the baby in her lap, and laying her hand awkwardly on the seat beside her.

Still in a daze, Eddy sat down. An unconscious sigh of comfort escaped him as he relaxed his tired muscles against the substantial back of the swing.

"What 'd he make it out of?"

"That scrap lumber under the house. You did n't care, did you?"

"No; reckon not." Then, with a sudden anxious suspicion, "What you give him for all that work?"

"Not a thing but his dinner." "Who was he?"

"Oh, an old vagrant sort of man, going round mending umbrellas."

Her husband was silent. They swung a little, back and forth, in the dusk, the children hanging to the ropes and arms. "Ain't it easy and nice?" "Uh-huh."

A little later, while her husband was drawing off his shoes, Delle was seized by another spasm of courage.

"Come out and sit in the swing a

minute before you go to bed," she said. "Children's all asleep. It'll cool you off and rest you."

Her husband looked up at her in surprise, about to dismiss automatically so fantastic a suggestion. Then, without a word, he put down his shoes and followed her, in his stockinged feet, out to the porch. Delle knew that he was answering the plea in her eyes at the same time that he was dismissing it, wearily, as women's foolishness. Eddy tried to be indulgent; he was never unkind.

Out in the darkness they sat down side by side in the swing. The fragrances and delicacies and potencies of the spring night finally made their way dimly even through Eddy's drugged weariness. Up among the jungles of bloom in Delle's honeysuckle by the gate a mocking-bird was singing with a piercing abandon of ecstasy. Eddy put a heavy arm across his wife's shoulders. "Eddy."

He made a sound of acknowledgment. "You ought n't to be working for paw -and the neighbors when you 're behind with your own work."

Eddy laughed shortly.

"Tell me somethin' I don't know,” he said.

"Then why don't you quit it?" A weary silence followed. Then he said:

"Why don't you quit runnin' round doing things for the children they could just as well do for theirselves?"

"I'm trying to. But paw and maw and old Lady Paine ain't children. You'd ought to make them let you alone."

"Huh!" said Eddy. "Ought to make myself over, too, but I don't have much luck at it. Paw brought me up that a way, and I reckon I ain't never growed up. He'd 'a' done better by me if he 'd 'a' kicked me out when I was fourteen."

Very rarely had she wrung such admissions from him before. They raised her courage.

"Eddy, let's go away!"

"Huh!" The spell was broken. She had dared make that suggestion only a few times, but it had been enough to put him on his guard. "Let's go to bed. That's the place for us to go. I got to be stirrin' early in the mornin'."

"You go on," said Delle in a muffled voice. "I'll be along after a while."

She sat on alone in the new swing. At first, as he turned away, a black disappointment and despair engulfed her. What could she do against these human walls, stronger than adamant, that shut her in? But gradually, as the stillness closed again about her, she was surprised to find herself following the old man's parting advice. She saw the stiff, tough old figure, seated once more in his rickety cart, jogging off down the lane among the gracious evening shadows. What had his adventures been? What had he not survived, that gnarled, faded, battered, courageous old figure? Why did he choose to live so differently from other folks? Dim perceptions grew in her mind, comforting, fortifying.

All that summer Delle spent her few spare moments in her swing. She formed the habit of depending upon it, of thinking of it as a friend and ally. And as she gathered courage to face her problems, her timid soul became more convinced that she must assume the responsibility she dreaded: she must interfere, as Eddy thought, with his affairs. So at intervals she began systematically urging upon him to "get away."

"What you know about getting away, Delle?" he would answer her, patiently enough now; for he had come to see at last that he could no longer ignore or evade this fixed idea of his wife's, he must convince her of its folly. "You want me to take you and the kids off to starve among strangers? You got to hang on to what you got when there's four kids. I 'm the one that 's got to say, Delle, because I 'm the one that 's got the responsibility."

The effect of these frustrated efforts upon Delle was almost invariable, first an abyss of despair and discouragement, succeeded by a rebound to even greater hope and determination. Delle had her own submerged sort of strength.

Yet it is doubtful what the outcome might have been but for a most unwelcome ally that overtook her toward the end of September. The recurrent pain in her side, which she was in the habit of ignoring, not even taking the vinegar Paw Hutton would have prescribed for it had he known, suddenly became acute

and deadly. Eddy, in panic, summoned from the county-seat the doctor who had attended them when Neil broke his leg and Willie May had diphtheria. He was prepared to hear that it was appendicitis, but he was struck dumb by the doctor's urgency about the hospital and an operation. It paralyzed him. Of all the emergencies of which he had lived in secret dread, this was the worst.

Delle came through the ordeal scarcely more shaken and weak than Eddy himself, and in that state of panic and inner disorganization he had to take another


"Eddy," said the doctor, kindly, "you ought to move. You 're doing no good here with your paw, and you know it. You'd ought to go somewhere and take a fresh start. You 're strong and a good worker, and you could make good most anywheres. Why don't you try something besides farming? Your wife's breaking down; first thing you know you won't have any wife. You must remember she was n't raised on a farm; she was n't used to having things so hard."

"I don't know nothing but farming," said Eddy, white and stubborn, lifting miserable eyes.

"You don't? What about that time before you were married when you had that job in Houston? Sort of ran away from the old man, did n't you? And worked in the yards down there for a while?"

Eddy assented, hanging his head.

"Well, how did you like it? Made good all right, did n't you? And what brought you back?"

"Well," said Eddy, "paw bought the new place"

"Yes, paw," said the doctor. "Now, if Delle could have an entirely different sort of life for a while, she 'd get all right. She's sound now; just run down and overstrained. If you don't—”

"You said this to Delle?" interrupted Eddy, desperately.

"No, I have n't; I 'm talking to you. If I can help you any, let me know. I like you, Eddy, and I 've known Delle since she was n't any bigger than Willie May here. I guess I 've got a soft spot for Delle."

went about like a haunted man. Under his unusual gentleness and solicitude she felt something she could not fathom.

One day he came home unusually early from a trip to town. He had sold a cow and made a small payment on the doctor's bill, besides paying a pressing debt and buying some things her illness had necessitated. He sat down awkwardly on the side of the bed. His face was pale and curiously still, as it had been ever since her illness, but his eyes blazed with excitement.

So, as Delle lay through the long days, trying to recover her strength, Eddy

"When you be well enough to move?" he asked.

Delle half raised herself on her elbow; she began to tremble all over.

"What is it?" she asked, her eyes leaping like his own. "What you done?"

"I got a job-as good as got one. I met Jim Hagan to-day, home on a visit. He's workin' for the same folks I worked for when I was in Houston. They're in Dallas now. He says they 're takin' on new men right along."

"In Dallas?" whispered Delle, breathless from surprise and weakness. "You going to Dallas?" Her wildest flights had not carried her beyond the countyseat. At last she said feebly, "When?"

"You be willing to stay with maw a month or so while you get well and I look around for a place for you and the kids? If you was, I could go back with Jim to-morrow."

ABOUT a year and a half later, one spring afternoon, Delle was planting marigold seeds in the round beds on each side of the path in her front yard. Her very movements, the lines of her body as she worked, expressed a possessive pleasure. Delle's house was very much like the others in the straggling suburb of small, new houses for working-men, but it had a more homelike and cherished air. Most of the ferns and geraniums that lined the shelves along the porch railings looked sick and spindling in comparison with Delle's. No one was more clearly aware of all this than Delle herself, for her new home was the center of an alert and jealous passion. At last she had something to "do with."

Eddy had not only kept his job, but had bettered it, and the little house, which belonged wholly to Delle in spirit,

was being steadily paid for, in fact. Shy at first of her neighbors, Delle now felt herself in every sense one of them; with an inborn fastidiousness she discriminated among them, scorning especially those who were slatternly and aimlessly discontented. She was impatient of any one who could not appreciate a life so satisfying, so rich in opportunities and possibilities. Delle could stretch out her arms and almost touch with her fingertips the circumference of her soul's circle; she instinctively resented any belittling of a lot that seemed to her wholly good.

On this April afternoon she was working away with a full mind and a contented heart. The baby was asleep; the other children had not yet come from school. Part of her mind, as she worked, was occupied with plans for remodeling Willie May's best white dress for an Easter program at Sunday school. Suddenly up the sidewalk came a messenger boy on his bicycle. While Delle wondered, he stopped at her own gate and put the yellow envelop into her hand.

After she had signed for it mechanically, she took it, unopened, and sat down in the porch-swing. Transformed by two loving coats of dark-green paint from her own hands, it now hung invitingly behind the ferns. At last she opened the message. Maw Hutton was dead.

Delle was ashamed when she realized that, mingled with the very first shock of natural kindly feeling, mingled with her warm, protecting impulses of sympathy for her husband, was a premonition of fear for her own happiness and peace. She would not at first define her fear. Only, somehow, this misfortune had released Paw Hutton; her security against him was at an end.

A few days later, on the evening after the funeral, they all drew their chairs out on Paw Hutton's front porch, feeling very lost and strange. The clean, garnished air of calamity still hung over the place. The old man was doubly portentous and stately. Eddy's eyes still wore their boyish, hurt look; even Neil looked subdued and solemn. Only the younger children played about naturally. Delle herself was consumed by an inner uneasiness: the scene of those long, defeated

years filled her with secret panic. She seemed to feel those old pincers of unfriendly circumstance about to close again upon her soul. She was struggling with a passion of impatience to be safe back at home.

"Well, Eddy," said Paw Hutton at last, "don't you reckon you and Delle better come back here now and take charge of things for me?"

Delle's heart contracted. There was a long moment of silence.

"I don't hardly see how I can, Paw," said Eddy, at last. "I'm paying for my place, and I got a good chance of a raise. You better sell out and come live with us. Nothing to keep you here now."

Was it any relief, after all, Delle wondered? Unobserved in the dusk, she felt the tears rise under her lids as she waited tensely for his reply.

"But that ain't no way to do, Eddy. We 're farmin' folks; we don't belong in town. You're makin' a mistake-you and Delle. Those chilern, now-you 'll see sometime, when it 's too late, what comes of raisin' chilern in town. They'll be wantin' more an' more, and strikin' out fer bigger places, if they don't bring you worse sorrer and disgrace. Neil, there, 's old enough to make a crop this year. You 're ruinin' him—and all the rest of 'em."

Delle sat, braced and uneasy, while they argued desultorily and inconclusively. But the minute she and Eddy were alone, she said passionately:

"We ain't ever coming back here, no matter what happens."

"All right; we ain't, then," said her husband, with a hard smile. She saw that he was still sore from recent loss, from the pressure of old memories; that he was torn between two loyalties, and that her own attitude hurt him. She went to bed miserable, but unshaken.

"Well, Paw," said Eddy to his father as they drove away next morning, "remember our house is your home any time you want to come."

Delle smiled out of a small, set face. She had won her point, but that was the alternative.

Although Paw Hutton had not consented to sell the farm, she had a desolate premonition that it eventually would come to that. Already she saw him

stalking about her new home, by the blight of his disapproval withering the shy, gracious things that flowered invisibly in its sunny corners for her alone. But she forced herself not to dwell upon it. If it came, it must be her duty to make the best of it. Anything was better than moving back to the farm.

So she held herself prepared. She wrung an added drop of sweetness from the sense of undisturbed spiritual possession, from all her little household ritual, because of the impending shadow. Often and often that summer, as she rested at "odd times" in the porch-swing, she caught herself thinking of the "old vagrant man" who had made it. She saw him driving off down the lane between the sumach-bushes, gentle, indomitable.

"Well," said Eddy, coming home from work one evening, "paw 's decided to sell the place. Jim's brother 's been back home, and paw sent me word." "He coming with us?" "Says so."

Thus the blow fell; but execution was delayed. Paw, it seemed, entertained different views about the value of the place from those of available bidders. All that summer Delle moved about her house, pressing out and hoarding in her heart the last drops of her secret joy in it. "It won't ever be the same afterwards," she said, but only to herself.

Finally, one evening, Eddy announced that his father had found a new purchaser and that the place was "just about


sold." Still, action hung fire. braced to bear a hard part creditably, began almost to wish that paw would decide and get it over. Every morning she would say:

"Reckon we 'll hear from your paw to-day?"

And Eddy would answer: "Should n't wonder. If a letter comes, you can open it."

The letter came one mellow autumn afternoon as she sat in the porch-swing, frankly watching for the postman's blue uniform. With fingers a little unsteady she tore open the envelop. Then, after a quick glance or two, she dropped it weakly in her lap. Astonishment, followed by utter beatitude, overspread her small face.

"Well, of all things!" she said aloud. "Well, of all things!"

That evening, after the supper-table was set, the baby asleep, and the other children playing amicably in the back yard, Delle came out on the porch and sat down in the swing to wait for her husband. She folded her small, worn hands in her lap, her heart bathed in happiness and utter content.

At last Eddy turned the corner. "Eddy," she said at the gate "Eddy, paw 's not coming!"

"Not coming?" said Eddy, stupid with surprise. "What you mean?"

"He 's not coming at all," repeated Delle. "This letter says so. The trade's off, and-he 's married to old Lady Paine!"

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