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- Main-Travelled Roads - 6/56 -


It was especially grateful to Will, for he had spent nearly all his years of absence among The rocks, treeless swells, and bleak cliffs of The Southwest. The crickets rising before his dusty feet appeared to him something sweet and suggestive and The cattle feeding in The clover moved him to deep thought-they were so peaceful and slow-motioned.

As he reached a little popple tree by The roadside, he stopped, removed his broad-brimmed hat, put his elbows on The fence, and looked hungrily upon The scene. The sky was deeply blue, with only here and there a huge, heavy, slow-moving, massive, sharply outlined cloud sailing like a berg of ice in a shoreless sea of azure.

In the fields the men were harvesting the ripened oats and barley, and The sound of their machines clattering, now low, now loud, came to his ears. Flies buzzed near him, and a king bird clattered overhead. He noticed again, as he had many a time when a boy, that The softened sound of The far-off reaper was at times exactly like The hum of a bluebottle fly buzzing heedlessly about his ears.

A slender and very handsome young man was shocking grain near The fence, working so desperately he did not see Will until greeted by him. He looked up, replied to The greeting, but kept on till he had finished his last stook, then he came to the shade of the tree and took off his hat

"Nice day to sit under a tree and fish."

Will smiled. "I ought to know you, I suppose; I used to live here years ago."

"Guess not; we came in three years ago."

The young man was quick-spoken and very pleasant to look at. Will felt freer with him.

"Are The Kinneys still living over there?" He nodded at a group of large buildings.

"Tom lives there. Old man lives with Ed. Tom ousted The old man some way, nobody seems to know how, and so he lives with Ed."

Will wanted to ask after Agnes, but hardly felt able. "I s'pose John Hannan is on his old farm?"

"Yes. Got a good crop this year."

Will looked again at The fields of rustling wheat over which The clouds rippled, and said with an air of conviction: "This lays over Arizona, dead sure."

"You're from Arizona, then?"

"Yes-a good ways from it"' Will replied in a way that stopped further question. "Good luck!" he added as he walked on down The road toward The creek, musing. "And the spring-I wonder if that's there yet. I'd like a drink." The sun seemed hotter than at noon, and he walked slowly. At the bridge that spanned the meadow brook, just where it widened over a sandy ford, he paused again. He hung over the rail and looked at the minnows swimming there.

"I wonder if they're The same identical chaps that used to boil and glitter there when I was a boy-looks so. Men change from one generation to another, but The fish remain The same. The same eternal procession of types. I suppose Darwin 'ud say their environment remains The same."

He hung for a long time over The railing, thinking of a vast number of things, mostly vague, flitting things, looking into the clear depths of the brook, and listening to the delicious liquid note of a blackbird swinging on the willow. Red lilies starred the grass with fire, and goldenrod and chicory grew everywhere; purple and orange and yellow-green the prevailing tints.

Suddenly a water snake wriggled across the dark pool above the ford, and the minnows disappeared under the shadow of the bridge. Then Will sighed, lifted his head, and walked on. There seemed to be something prophetic in it, and he drew a long breath. That's the way his plans broke and faded away.

Human life does not move with the regularity of a clock. In living there are gaps and silences when the soul stands still in its flight through abysses-and then there come times of trial and times of struggle when we grow old without knowing it. Body and soul change appallingly.

Seven years of hard, busy life had made changes in Will.

His face had grown bold, resolute, and rugged, some of its delicacy and all of its boyish quality gone. His figure was stouter, erect as of old, but less graceful. He bore himself like a man accustomed to look out for himself in all kinds of places. It was only at times that there came into his deep eyes a preoccupied, almost sad look that showed kinship with his old self.

This look was on his face as he walked toward the clump of trees on the right of the road.

He reached the grove of popple trees and made his way at once to the spring. When he saw it, it gave him a shock. They had let it fill up with leaves and dirt.

Overcome by the memories of the past, he flung him-sell down on the cool and shadowy bank, and gave him-sell up to the bittersweet reveries of a man returning to his boyhood's home. He was filled somehow with a strange and powerful feeling of the passage of time; with a vague feeling of the mystery and elusiveness of human life. The leaves whispered it overhead, the birds sang it in chorus with the insects, and far above, in the measureless spaces of sky, the hawk told it in the silence and majesty of his flight from cloud to cloud.

It was a feeling hardly to be expressed in word~ one of those emotions whose springs lie far back in the brain. He lay so still, the chipmunks came curiously up to

A Branch Road

35

his very feet, only to scurry away when he stirred like a sleeper in pain.

He had cut himself off entirely from the life at The Corners. He had sent money home to John, but had concealed his own address carefully. The enormity of this folly now came back to him, racking him till he groaned.

He heard the patter of feet and the half-mumbled monologue of a running child. He roused up and faced a small boy, who started back in terror like a wild fawn. He was deeply surprised to find a man there where only boys and squirrels now came. He stuck his fist in his eye, and was backing away when Will spoke.

"Hold on, sonny! Nobody's hit you. Come, I ain't goin' to eat yeh." He took a bit of money from his pocket. "Come here and tell me your name. I want to talk with you."

The boy crept upon the dime.

Will smiled. "You ought to be a Kinney. What is your name?"

"Tomath Dickinthon Kinney. I'm thix and a half. I've got a colt," lisped the youngster breathlessly as he crept toward the money.

"Oh, you are, eh? Well, now, are you Tom's boy or Ed's?"

"Tomth's boy. Uncle Ed hith gal-"

"Ed got a boy?"

"Yeth, thir- lii baby. Aunt Agg letth me hold 'im"

"Agg! Is that her name?"

"That's what Uncle Ed callth her."

The man's head fell, and it was a long time before he asked his next question.

"How is she, anyhow?"

"Purty well," piped the boy with a prolongation of the last words into a kind of chirp. "She'th been thick, though," he added.

"Been sick? How long?"

"Oh, a long time. But she ain't thick abed; she'th awuul poor, though. Gran'pa thayth she'th poor ath a rake."

"Oh, he does, eh?"

"Yeth, thir. Uncle Ed he jawth her, then she crieth."

Will's anger and remorse broke out in a groaning curse. "O my God! I see it all. That great lunkin' houn' has made life a hell fer her." Then that letter came back to his mind; he had never been able to put it out of his mind-he never would till he saw her and asked her pardon.

"Here, my boy, I want you to tell me some more. Where does your Aunt Agnes live?"

"At gran'pa'th. You know where my gran'pa livth?"

"Well, you do. Now I want you to take this letter to her. Give it to her." He wrote a little note and folded it. "Now dust out o' here."

The boy slipped away through the trees like a rabbit; his little brown feet hardly rustled. He was like some little wood animal. Left alone, the man went back into a reverie that lasted till the shadows fell on the thick little grove around the spring. He rose ~ last and, taking his stick in hand, walked out to the wood again and stood there, gazing at the sky. He seemed loath to go farther. The sky was full of flame-colored clouds floating in a yellow-green sea, where bars of faint pink streamed broadly away.

As he stood there, feeling the wind lift his hair, listening to the crickets' ever-present crying, and facing the majesty of space, a


Main-Travelled Roads - 6/56

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