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- A Daughter Of The Land - 40/71 -
room and snatched up her second best summer dress, waiting for Adam to speak as she slipped into it. But speaking seemed to be a very difficult thing for Adam. He was slow in starting and words dragged and came singly: "Yesterday -- tired -- big dinner -- awful hot -- sunstroke -- "
"He's gone?" she cried.
Adam nodded in that queer way again.
"Why did you come? Does Mother want me?" the questions leaped from Kate's lips; her eyes implored him. Adam was too stricken to heed his sister's unspoken plea.
"Course," he said. "All there -- your place -- I want you. Only one in the family -- not stark mad!"
Kate straightened tensely and looked at him again. "All right," she said. "I can throw a few things in my telescope, write the children a note to take to their father in the field, and we can stop in Walden and send Aunt Ollie out to cook for them; I can go as well as not, for as long as Mother wants me."
"Hurry!" said Adam.
In her room Kate stood still a second, her eyes narrow, her underlip sucked in, her heart almost stopped. Then she said aloud: "Father's sons have wished he would die too long for his death to strike even the most tolerant of them like that. Something dreadful has happened. I wonder to my soul -- !"
She waited until they were past Hartley and then she asked suddenly: "Adam, what is the matter?"
Then Adam spoke: "I am one of a pack of seven poor fools, and every other girl in the family has gone raving mad, so I thought I'd come after you, and see if you had sense, or reason, or justice, left in you."
"What do you want of me?" she asked dazedly.
"I want you to be fair, to be honest, to do as you'd be done by. You came to me when you were in trouble," he reminded her.
Kate could not prevent the short laugh that sprang to her lips, nor what she said: "And you would not lift a finger; young Adam MADE his MOTHER help me. Why don't you go to George for what you want?"
Adam lost all self-control and swore sulphurously.
"I thought you'd be different," he said, "but I see you are going to be just like the rest of the --!"
"Stop that!" said Kate. "You're talking about my sisters -- and yours. Stop this wild talk, and tell me exactly what is the matter."
"I'm telling nothing," said Adam. "You can find out what is the matter and go it with the rest of them, when you get there. Mother said this morning she wished you were there, because you'd be the only SANE one in the family, so I thought I'd bring you; but I wish now I hadn't done it, for it stands to reason that you will join the pack, and run as fast as the rest of the wolves."
"FROM a prairie fire, or TO a carcass?" asked Kate.
"I told you, you could find out when you got there. I'm not going to have them saying I influenced you, or bribed you," he said.
"Do you really think that they think you could, Adam?" asked Kate, wonderingly.
"I have said all I'm going to say," said Adam, and then he began driving his horse inhumanely fast, for the heat was deep, slow, and burning.
"Adam, is there any such hurry?" asked Kate. "You know you are abusing your horse dreadfully."
Adam immediately jerked the horse with all his might, and slashed the length of its body with two long stripes that rapidly raised in high welts, so Kate saw that he was past reasoning with and said no other word. She tried to think who would be at home, how they would treat her, the Prodigal, who had not been there in seven years; and suddenly it occurred to Kate that, if she had known all she now knew in her youth, and had the same decision to make again as when she knew nothing, she would have taken wing, just as she had. She had made failures, she had hurt herself, mind and body, but her honour, her self-respect were intact. Suddenly she sat straight. She was glad that she had taken a bath, worn a reasonably decent dress, and had a better one in the back of the buggy. She would cut the Gordian knot with a vengeance. She would not wait to see how they treated her, she would treat them! As for Adam's state, there was only one surmise she could make, and that seemed so incredible, she decided to wait until her mother told her all about whatever the trouble was.
As they came in sight of the house, queer feelings took possession of Kate. She struggled to think kindly of her father; she tried to feel pangs of grief over his passing. She was too forthright and had too good memory to succeed. Home had been so unbearable that she had taken desperate measures to escape it, but as the white house with its tree and shrub filled yard could be seen more plainly, Kate suddenly was filled with the strongest possessive feeling she ever had known. It was home. It was her home. Her place was there, even as Adam had said. She felt a sudden revulsion against herself that she had stayed away seven years; she should have taken her chances and at least gone to see her mother. She leaned from the buggy and watched for the first glimpse of the tall, gaunt, dark woman, who had brought their big brood into the world and stood squarely with her husband, against every one of them, in each thing he proposed.
Now he was gone. No doubt he had carried out his intentions. No doubt she was standing by him as always. Kate gathered her skirts, but Adam passed the house, driving furiously as ever, and he only slackened speed when he was forced to at the turn from the road to the lane. He stopped the buggy in the barnyard, got out, and began unharnessing the horse. Kate sat still and watched him until he led it away, then she stepped down and started across the barnyard, down the lane leading to the dooryard. As she closed the yard gate and rounded a widely spreading snowball bush, her heart was pounding wildly. What was coming? How would the other boys act, if Adam, the best balanced man of them all, was behaving as he was? How would her mother greet her? With the thought, Kate realized that she was so homesick for her mother that she would do or give anything in the world to see her. Then there was a dragging step, a short, sharp breath, and wheeling, Kate stood facing her mother. She had come from the potato patch back of the orchard, carrying a pail of potatoes in each hand. Her face was haggard, her eyes bloodshot, her hair falling in dark tags, her cheeks red with exertion. They stood facing each other. At the first glimpse Kate cried, "Oh, Mother," and sprang toward her. Then she stopped, while her heart again failed her, for from the astonishment on her mother's face, Kate saw instantly that she was surprised, and had neither sent for nor expected her. She was nauseatingly disappointed. Adam had said she was wanted, had been sent for. Kate's face was twitching, her lips quivering, but she did not hesitate more than an instant.
"I see you were not expecting me," she said. "I'm sorry. Adam came after me. I wouldn't have come if he hadn't said you sent for me."
Kate paused a minute hopefully. Her mother looked at her steadily.
"I'm sorry," Kate repeated. "I don't know why he said that."
By that time the pain in her heart was so fierce she caught her breath sharply, and pressed her hand hard against her side. Her mother stooped, set down the buckets, and taking off her sunbonnet, wiped the sweat from her lined face with the curtain.
"Well, I do," she said tersely.
"Why?" demanded Kate.
"To see if he could use you to serve his own interests, of course," answered her mother. "He lied good and hard when he said I sent for you; I didn't. I probably wouldn't a-had the sense to do it. But since you are here, I don't mind telling you that I never was so glad to see any one in all my born days."
Mrs. Bates drew herself full height, set her lips, stiffened her jaw, and again used the bonnet skirt on her face and neck. Kate picked up the potatoes, to hide the big tears that gushed from her eyes, and leading the way toward the house she said: "Come over here in the shade. Why should you be out digging potatoes?"
"Oh, they's enough here, and willing enough," said Mrs. Bates. "Slipped off to get away from them. It was the quietest and the peacefullest out there, Kate. I'd most liked to stay all day, but it's getting on to dinner time, and I'm short of potatoes."
"Never mind the potatoes," said Kate. "Let the folks serve themselves if they are hungry."
She went to the side of the smoke house, picked up a bench turned up there, and carrying it to the shady side of a widely spreading privet bush, she placed it where it would be best screened from both house and barn. Then setting the potatoes in the shade, she went to her mother, put her arm around her, and drew her to the seat. She took her handkerchief and wiped her face, smoothed back her straggled hair, and pulling out a pin, fastened the coil better.
"Now rest a bit," she said, "and then tell me why you are glad to see me, and exactly what you'd like me to do here. Mind, I've been away seven years, and Adam told me not a word, except that Father was gone."
"Humph! All missed the mark again," commented Mrs. Bates dryly. "They all said he'd gone to fill you up, and get you on his side."
"Mother, what is the trouble?" asked Kate. "Take your time and tell me what has happened, and what YOU want, not what Adam wants."
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