Schulers Books Online

books - games - software - wallpaper - everything


Books Menu

Author Catalog
Title Catalog
Sectioned Catalog


- Over Prairie Trails - 1/28 -


By Frederick Philip Grove


Introductory 1 Farms and Roads 2 Fog 3 Dawn and Diamonds 4 Snow 5 Wind and Waves 6 A Call for Speed 7 Skies and Scares


A few years ago it so happened that my work--teaching school--kept me during the week in a small country town in the centre of one of the prairie provinces while my family--wife and little daughter--lived in the southern fringe of the great northern timber expanse, not very far from the western shore of a great lake. My wife--like the plucky little woman she is--in order to round off my far-from-imperial income had made up her mind to look after a rural school that boasted of something like a residence. I procured a buggy and horse and went "home" on Fridays, after school was over, to return to my town on Sunday evening--covering thus, while the season was clement and allowed straight cross-country driving, coming and going, a distance of sixty-eight miles. Beginning with the second week of January this distance was raised to ninety miles because, as my more patient readers will see, the straight cross-country roads became impassable through snow.

These drives. the fastest of which was made in somewhat over four hours and the longest of which took me nearly eleven--the rest of them averaging pretty well up between the two extremes--soon became what made my life worth living. I am naturally an outdoor creature--I have lived for several years "on the tramp"--I love Nature more than Man--I take to horses--horses take to me--so how could it have been otherwise? Add to this that for various reasons my work just then was not of the most pleasant kind--I disliked the town, the town disliked me, the school board was sluggish and unprogressive, there was friction in the staff--and who can wonder that on Fridays, at four o'clock, a real holiday started for me: two days ahead with wife and child, and going and coming--the drive.

I made thirty-six of these trips: seventy-two drives in all. I think I could still rehearse every smallest incident of every single one of them. With all their weirdness, with all their sometimes dangerous adventure--most of them were made at night, and with hardly ever any regard being paid to the weather or to the state of the roads-- they stand out in the vast array of memorable trifles that constitute the story of my life as among the most memorable ones. Seven drives seem, as it were, lifted above the mass of others as worthy to be described in some detail--as not too trivial to detain for an hour or so a patient reader's kind attention. Not that the others lack in interest for myself; but there is little in them of that mildly dramatic, stirring quality which might perhaps make their recital deserving of being heard beyond my own frugal fireside. Strange to say, only one of the seven is a return trip. I am afraid that the prospect of going back to rather uncongenial work must have dulled my senses. Or maybe, since I was returning over the same road after an interval of only two days, I had exhausted on the way north whatever there was of noticeable impressions to be garnered. Or again, since I was coming from "home," from the company of those for whom I lived and breathed, it might just be that all my thoughts flew back with such an intensity that there was no vitality left for the perception of the things immediately around me.

ONE Farms and Roads

At ten minutes past four, of an evening late in September, I sat in the buggy and swung out of the livery stable that boarded my horse. Peter, the horse, was a chunky bay, not too large, nor too small; and I had stumbled on to him through none of my sagacity. To tell the plain truth, I wanted to get home, I had to have a horse that could stand the trip, no other likely looking horse was offered, this one was--on a trial drive he looked as if he might do, and so I bought him--no, not quite--I arranged with the owner that I should make one complete trip with him and pay a fee of five dollars in case I did not keep him. As the sequence showed, I could not have found a better horse for the work in hand.

I turned on to the road leading north, crossed the bridge, and was between the fields. I looked at my watch and began to time myself. The moon was new and stood high in the western sky; the sun was sinking on the downward stretch. It was a pleasant, warm fall day, and it promised an evening such as I had wished for on my first drive out. Not a cloud showed anywhere. I did not urge the horse; he made the first mile in seven, and a half minutes, and I counted that good enough.

Then came the turn to the west; this new road was a correction line, and I had to follow it for half a mile. There was no farmhouse on this short bend. Then north for five miles. The road was as level as a table top--a good, smooth, hard-beaten, age-mellowed prairie-grade. The land to east and west was also level; binders were going and whirring their harvest song. Nobody could have felt more contented than I did. There were two clusters of buildings--substantial buildings--set far back from the road, one east, the other one west, both clusters huddled homelike and sheltered in bluffs of planted cottonwoods, straight rows of them, three, four trees deep. My horse kept trotting leisurely along, the wheels kept turning, a meadow lark called in a desultory way from a nearby fence post. I was "on the go." I had torn up my roots, as it were, I felt detached and free; and if both these prosperous looking farms had been my property--I believe, that moment a "Thank-you" would have bought them from me if parting from them had been the price of the liberty to proceed. But, of course, neither one of them ever could have been my property, for neither by temperament nor by profession had I ever been given to the accumulation of the wealth of this world.

A mile or so farther on there stood another group of farm buildings--this one close to the road. An unpainted barn, a long and low, rather ramshackle structure with sagging slidedoors that could no longer be closed, stood in the rear of the farm yard. The dwelling in front of it was a tall, boxlike two-story house, well painted in a rather loud green with white door and window frames. The door in front, one window beside it, two windows above, geometrically correct, and stiff and cold. The house was the only green thing around, however. Not a tree, not a shrub, not even a kitchen garden that I could see. I looked the place over critically, while I drove by. Somehow I was convinced that a bachelor owned it--a man who made this house--which was much too large for him --his "bunk." There it stood, slick and cold, unhospitable as ever a house was. A house has its physiognomy as well as a man, for him who can read it; and this one, notwithstanding its new and shining paint, was sullen, morose, and nearly vicious and spiteful. I turned away. I should not have cared to work for its owner.

Peter was trotting along. I do not know why on this first trip he never showed the one of his two most prominent traits--his laziness. As I found out later on, so long as I drove him single (he changed entirely in this respect when he had a mate), he would have preferred to be hitched behind, with me between the shafts pulling buggy and him. That was his weakness, but in it there also lay his strength. As soon as I started to dream or to be absorbed in the things around, he was sure to fall into the slowest of walks. When then he heard the swish of the whip, he would start with the worst of consciences, gallop away at breakneck speed, and slow down only when he was sure the whip was safe in its socket. When we met a team and pulled out on the side of the road, he would take it for granted that I desired to make conversation. He stopped instantly, drew one hindleg up, stood on three legs, and drooped his head as if he had come from the ends of the world. Oh yes, he knew how to spare himself. But on the other hand, when it came to a tight place, where only an extraordinary effort would do, I had never driven a horse on which I could more confidently rely. What any horse could do, he did.

About two miles beyond I came again to a cluster of buildings, close to the corner of the crossroads, sheltered, homelike, inviting in a large natural bluff of tall, dark-green poplars. Those first two houses had had an aristocratic aloofness--I should not have liked to turn in there for shelter or for help. But this was prosperous, open-handed, well-to-do middle class; not that conspicuous "moneyedness" that we so often find in our new west when people have made their success; but the solid, friendly, everyday liberality that for generations has not had to pinch itself and therefore has mellowed down to taking the necessities and a certain amount of give and take for granted. I was glad when on closer approach I noticed a school embedded in the shady green of the corner. I thought with pleasure of children being so close to people

Over Prairie Trails - 1/28

    Next Page

  1    2    3    4    5    6   10   20   28 

Schulers Books Home

 Games Menu

Dice Poker
Tic Tac Toe


Schulers Books Online

books - games - software - wallpaper - everything