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- Main-Travelled Roads - 2/56 -
age joined him, his brow darkened. The other man was equipped for work like himself.
"Going down to help Dingman thrash?"
"Yes," replied Will shortly. It was easy to see he didn't welcome company.
"So'm I. Who's goin' to do your thrashin-Dave McTurg?"
"Yes., I guess so. Haven't spoken to anybody yet."
They walked on side by side. Will didn't feel like being rudely broken in on in this way. The two men were rivals, but Will, being the victor, would have been magnanimous, only he wanted to be alone with his lover's dream.
"When do you go back to the sem'?" Ed asked after a little.
"Term begins next week. I'll make a break about second week."
"Le's see: you graduate next year, don't yeh?"
"I expect to, if I don't slip up on it."
They walked on side by side, both handsome fellows; Ed a little more showy in his face, which had a certain clean-cut precision of line and a peculiar clear pallor that never browned under the sun. He chewed vigorously on a quid of tobacco, one of his most noticeable bad habits.
Teams could be heard clattering along on several roads now, and jovial voices singing. One team coming along behind the two men, the driver sung out in good-natured warning, "Get out o' the way, there." And with a laugh and a chirp spurred his horses to pass them.
Ed, with a swift understanding of the driver's trick, flung out his left hand and caught the end-gate, threw his fork in, and leaped after it. Will walked on, disdaining attempt to catch the wagon. On all sides now the wagons of the plowmen or threshers were getting out into the fields, with a pounding, rumbling sound.
The pale red sun was shooting light through the leaves, and warming the boles of the great oaks that stood in the yard, and melting the frost off the great gaudy threshing machine that stood between the stacks. The interest, picturesqueness of it all got hold of Will Hannan, accustomed to it as he was. The homes stood about in a circle, hitched to the ends of the six sweeps, all shining with frost.
The driver was oiling the great tarry cogwheels underneath. Laughing fellows were wrestling about the yard. Ed Kinney had scaled the highest stack, and stood ready to throw the first sheaf. The sun, lighting him where he stood, made his fork handle gleam like dull gold. Cheery words, jests, and snatches of song everywhere. Dingman bustled about giving his orders and placing his men, and the voice of big Dave McTurg was heard calling to the men as they raised the long stacker into place:
"Heave-ho, there! Up she rises!"
And, best of all, Will caught a glirnpse of a smiling girl face at the kitchen window that made the blood beat m his throat.
"Hello, Will!" was the general greeting, given with some constraint by most of the young fellows, for Will had been going to Rock River to school for some years, and there was a little feeling of jealousy on the part of those who pretended to sneer at the "seminary chaps like Will Hannan and Milton Jennings."
Dingrnan came up. "Will, I guess you'd better go on the stack with Ed."
"All ready. Hurrah, there!" said David in his soft but resonant bass voice that always had a laugh in it. "Come, come, every sucker of yeh git hold o' something. All ready!" He waved his hand at the driver, who climbed upon his platform. Everybody scrambled into place.
"Chk, chk! All ready, boys! Stiddy there, Dan! Chk, chkl All ready, boys! Stiddy there, boys! All ready now!" The horses began to strain at the sweeps. The cylinder began to hum.
"Grab a root there! Where's my band cutter? Here, you, climb on here!" And David reached down and pulled Shep Watson up by the shoulder with his gigantic hand.
Boo-oo-oom, Boo-woo-woo-oom-oom-ow-owm, yarryarr! The whirling cylinder boomed, roared, and snarled as it rose in speed. At last, when its tone became a rattling yell, David nodded to the pitchers, rasped his hands together, the sheaves began to fall from the stack, the band cutter, knife in hand, slashed the bands in twain, and the feeder with easy majestic motion gathered them under his arm, rolled them out into an even belt of entering wheat, on which the cylinder tore with its frightful, ferocious snarl.
Will was very happy in Its quiet way. He enjoyed the smooth roll of his great muscles, the sense of power he felt in his hands as he lifted, turned, and swung the heavy sheaves two by two down upon the table, where the band cutter madly slashed away. His frame, sturdy rather than tall, was nevertheless lithe, and he made a fine figure to look at, so Agnes thought, as she came out a moment and bowed and smiled to both the young men.
This scene, one of the jolliest and most sociable of the western farm, had a charm quite aside from human companionship. The beautiful yellow straw entering the cylinder; the clear yellow-brown wheat pulsing out at the side; the broken straw, chaff, and dust puffing out on the great stacker; the cheery whistling and calling of the driver; the keen, crisp air, and the bright sun somehow weirdly suggestive of the passage of time.
Will and Agnes had arrived at a tacit understanding of mutual love only the night before, and Will was power-fully moved to glance often toward the house, but feared somehow the jokes of his companions. He worked on, therefore, methodically, eagerly; but his thoughts were on the future-the rustle of the oak tree nearby, the noise of whose sere leaves he could distinguish beneath the booming snarl of the machine; on the sky, where great fleets of clouds were sailing on the rising wind, like merchantmen bound to some land of love and plenty.
When the Dingmans first came in, only a couple of years before, Agnes had been at once surrounded by a swarm of suitors. Her pleasant face and her abounding good nature made her an instant favorite with all. Will, however, had disdained to become one of the crowd, and held himself aloof, as he could easily do, being away at school most of the time.
The second winter, however, Agnes also attended the seminary, and Will saw her daily and grew to love her. He had been just a bit jealous of Ed Kinney all the time, for Ed had a certain rakish grace in dancing and a dashing skill in handling a team which made him a dangerous rival.
But, as Will worked beside him all this Monday, he felt so secure in his knowledge of the caress Agnes had given him at parting the night before that he was perfectly happy-so happy that he didn't care to talk, only to work on and dream as he worked.
Shrewd David McTurg had his joke when the machine stopped for a few minutes. "Well, you fellers do better'n I expected yeh to, after bein' out so late last night. The first feller I find gappin' has got to treat to the apples."
"Keep your eye on me," said Shep.
"You?" laughed one of the others. "Anybody knows if a girl so much as looked crossways at you, you'd fall in a fit."
"Another thing," said David. "I can't have you fellers carryin' grain, going to the house too often for fried cakes or cookies."
"Now you git out," said Bill Young from the straw pile. "You ain't goin' to have all the fun to yerself."
Will's blood began to grow hot in his face. If Bill had said much more, or mentioned her name, he would have silenced him. To have this rough joking come so close upon the holiest and most exquisite evening of his life was horrible. It was not the words they said, but the tones they used, that vulgarized it all. He breathed a sigh of relief when the sound of the machine began again.
This jesting made him more wary, and when the call for dinner sounded and he knew he was going in to see her, he shrank from it. He took no part in the race of the dust-blackened, half-famished men to get at the washing place first. He took no part in the scurry to get seats at the first table.
Threshing time was always a season of great trial to - the housewife. To have a dozen men with the appetites of dragons to cook for was no small task for a couple of women, in addition to their other everyday duties. Preparations usually began the night before with a raid on a hen roost, for "biled chickun" formed the piece de resistance of the dinner. The table, enlarged by boards, filled the sitting room. Extra seats were made out of planks placed on chairs, and dishes were borrowed of neighbors who came for such aid, in their turn.
Sometimes the neighboring women came in to help; but Agnes and her mother were determined to manage the job alone this year, and so the girl, with a neat dark dress, her eyes shining, her cheeks flushed with the work, received the men as they came in dusty, coatless, with grime - behind their ears, but a jolly good smile on every face.
Most of them were farmers of the neighborhood and schoolmates. The only one she shrank from was Young, with his hard, glittering eyes and red, sordid face. She received their jokes, their noise, with a silent smile which showed her even teeth and dimpled her round cheek.- "She was good for sore eyes," as one of the fellows said to Shep. She seemed deliciously sweet and dainty to these roughly dressed fellows.
They ranged along the table with a great deal of noise, boots
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