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- Main-Travelled Roads - 30/56 -
was facing his future, his thoughts holding no scent of battle. Clean, clear-headed, in spite of physical weakness, Edward Smith, private, turned future-ward with a sublime courage.
His farm was mortgaged, a rascally renter had run away with his machinery, "departing between two days," his children needed clothing, the years were coming upon him, he was sick and emaciated, but his heroic soul did not quail. With the same courage with which he faced his southern march, be entered upon a still more hazardous future.
Oh, that mystic hour! The pale man with big eyes standing there by the well, with his young wife by his side. The vast moon swinging above the eastern peaks; the cattle winding down the pasture slopes with jangling bells; the crickets singing; the stars blooming out sweet and far and serene; the katydids rhythmically calling; the little turkeys crying querulously as they settled to roost in the poplar tree near the open gate. The voices at the well drop lower, the little ones nestle in their father's arms at last, and Teddy falls asleep there.
The common soldier of the American volunteer army had returned. His war with the South was over, and his fight, his daily running fight, with nature and against the injustice of his fellow men was begun again. In tlie dusk of that far-off valley his figure looms vast, his personal peculiarities fade away, he rises into a magnificent type.
He is a gray-haired man of sixty now, and on the brown hair of his wife the white is also showing. They are fighting a hopeless battle, and must fight till God gives them furlough.
UNDER THE LION'S PAW
"Along the main-travelled road trailed an endless line of prairie schooners. Coming into sight at the east, and passing out of sight over the swell to the west. We children used to wonder where they were going and why they went."
IT was the last of autumn and first day of winter coming together. All day long the ploughmen on their prairie farms had moved to and fro in their wide level fields through the falling snow, which melted as it fell, wetting them to the skin all day, notwithstanding the frequent squalls of snow, the dripping, desolate clouds, and the muck of the furrows, black and tenacious as tar.
Under their dripping harness the horses swung to and fro silently with that marvellous uncomplaining patience which marks the horse. All day the wild geese, honking wildly, as they sprawled sidewise down the wind, seemed to be fleeing from an enemy behind, and with neck outthrust and wings extended, sailed down the wind, soon lost to sight.
Yet the ploughman behind his plough, though the snow lay on his ragged great-coat, and the cold clinging mud rose on his heavy boots, fettering him like gyves, whistled in the very beard of the gale. As day passed, the snow, ceasing to melt, lay along the ploughed land, and lodged in the depth of the stubble, till on each slow round the last furrow stood out black and shining as jet between the ploughed land and the gray stubble.
When night began to fall, and the geese, flying low, began to alight invisibly in the near corn-field, Stephen Council was still at work "finishing a land." He rode on his sulky plough when going with the wind, but walked when facing it. Sitting bent and cold but cheery under his slouch hat, he talked encouragingly to his four-in-hand.
"Come round there, boys! Round agin! We got t' finish this land. Come in there, Dan! Stiddy, Kate, stiddy! None o' y'r tantrums, Kittie. It's purty tuff, but got a be did. Tchk! tchk! Step along, Pete! Don't let Kate git y'r single-tree on the wheel. Once more!"
They seemed to know what he meant, and that this was the last round, for they worked with greater vigor than before. "Once more, boys, an' then, sez I, oats an' a nice warm stall, an' sleep f'r all."
By the time the last furrow was turned on the land it was too dark to see the house, and the snow was changing to rain again. The tired and hungry man could see the light from the kitchen shining through the leafless hedge, and he lifted a great shout, "Supper f'r a half a dozen!"
It was nearly eight o'clock by the time he had finished his chores and started for supper. He was picking his way carefully through the mud, when the tall form of a man loomed up before him with a premonitory cough.
"Waddy ye want ?" was the rather startled question of the farmer.
"Well, ye see," began the stranger, in a deprecating tone, "we'd like t' git in f'r the night. We've tried every house f'r the last two miles, but they hadn't any room f'r us. My wife's jest about sick, 'n' the children are cold and hungry-- "
"Oh, y' want 'o stay all night, eh, ?"
"Yes, sir; it 'ud be a great accom-- "
"Waal, I don't make it a practice t' turn anybuddy way hungry, not on sech nights as this. Drive right in. We ain't got much, but sech as it is--"
But the stranger had disappeared. And soon his steaming, weary team, with drooping heads and swinging single-trees, moved past the well to the block beside the path. Council stood at the side of the "schooner" and helped the children out two little half- sleeping children and then a small woman with a babe in her arms.
"There ye go!" he shouted jovially, to the children. "Now we're all right! Run right along to the house there, an' tell Mam' Council you wants sumpthin' t' eat. Right this way, Mis' keep right off t' the right there. I'll go an' git a lantern. Come," he said to the dazed and silent group at his side.
"Mother'" he shouted, as he neared the fragrant and warmly lighted kitchen, "here are some wayfarers an' folks who need sumpthin' t' eat an' a place t' snoot." He ended by pushing them all in.
Mrs. Council, a large, jolly, rather coarse-looking woman, too the children in her arms. "Come right in, you little rabbits. 'Mos asleep, hey? Now here's a drink o' milk f'r each o' ye. I'll have sam tea in a minute. Take off y'r things and set up t' the fire."
While she set the children to drinking milk, Council got out his lantern and went out to the barn to help the stranger about his team, where his loud, hearty voice could be heard as it came and went between the haymow and the stalls.
The woman came to light as a small, timid, and discouraged looking woman, but still pretty, in a thin and sorrowful way.
"Land sakes! An' you've travelled all the way from Clear Lake' t'-day in this mud! Waal! Waal! No wonder you're all tired out Don't wait f'r the men, Mis'-- " She hesitated, waiting for the name.
"Mis' Haskins, set right up to the table an' take a good swig o tea whilst I make y' s'm toast. It's green tea, an' it's good. I tell Council as I git older I don't seem to enjoy Young Hyson n'r Gunpowder. I want the reel green tea, jest as it comes off'n the vines. Seems t' have more heart in it, some way. Don't s'pose it has. Council says it's all in m' eye."
Going on in this easy way, she soon had the children filled with bread and milk and the woman thoroughly at home, eating some toast and sweet-melon pickles, and sipping the tea.
"See the little rats!" she laughed at the children. "They're full as they can stick now, and they want to go to bed. Now, don't git up, Mis' Haskins; set right where you are an' let me look after 'em. I know all about young ones, though I'm all alone now. Jane went an' married last fall. But, as I tell Council, it's lucky we keep our health. Set right there, Mis' Haskins; I won't have you stir a finger."
It was an unmeasured pleasure to sit there in the warm, homely kitchen. the jovial chatter of the housewife driving out and holding at bay the growl of the impotent, cheated wind.
The little woman's eyes filled with tears which fell down upon the sleeping baby in her arms. The world was not so desolate and cold and hopeless, after all.
"Now I hope. Council won't stop out there and talk politics all night. He's the greatest man to talk politics an' read the Tribune
--How old is it?"
She broke off and peered down at the face of the babe.
"Two months 'n' five days," said the mother, with a mother's exactness.
"Ye don't say! I want 'o know! The dear little pudzy-wudzy!" she went on, stirring it up in the neighborhood of the ribs with her fat forefinger.
"Pooty tough on 'oo to go gallivant'n' 'cross lots this way--"
"Yes, that's so; a man can't lift a mountain," said Council, entering the door. "Mother, this is Mr. Haskins, from Kansas. He's been eat up 'n' drove out by grasshoppers."
"Glad t' see yeh! Pa, empty that wash-basin 'n' give him a chance t' wash." Haskins was a tall man, with a thin, gloomy face. His hair was a reddish brown, like his coat, and seemed equally faded by the wind and sun, and his sallow face, though hard and set, was pathetic somehow. You would have felt that he had suffered much by the line of his mouth showing under his thin, yellow mustache.
"Hadn't Ike got home yet, Sairy?"
"Hadn't seen 'im."
"W-a-a-l, set right up, Mr. Haskins; wade right into what we've got; 'taint much, but we manage to live on it she gits fat on it," laughed Council, pointing his thumb at his wife.
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