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III 


DUST IN HER HEART

SIX weeks later Martin and Rose were married. Martin had let the contract for the new house and barn to Silas Fletcher, Fallon's leading carpenter, who had the science of construction reduced to utter simplicity. He had listened to Martin's description of what he wished and, after some rough figuring, had proceeded to draw the plans on the back of a large envelope. Both Rose and Martin knew that those rude lines would serve unfailingly. For three thousand dollars Fletcher would build the very house Martin had pictured to Rose: a two-story one with four nice rooms and a bath upstairs, four rooms and a pantry downstairs, a floored garret, concrete cellar, an inviting fireplace and wide porches. For two thousand dollars he would give a substantial barn capable of holding a hundred tons of hay and of accommodating twenty cows and four horses.

Rose had been deeply touched by the thoroughness of Martin's plans, by his unfailing consideration for her comfort. True, there had been moments when her warm, loving nature had been chilled. At such times, misgivings had clamored and she had, finally, all but made up her mind to tell him that she could not go on--that it had all been a mistake. She would say to him, she had decided: "Martin, you are one of the kindest and best men, and I could be happy with you if only you loved me, but you don't really care for me and you never will. I feel it. Oh, I do! and I could not bear it--to live with you day in and day out and know that."

But she had reckoned without her own goodness of heart. On the very evening on which she had quite determined to tell Martin this decision he also had arrived at one. As soon as he had entered Rose's little parlor he had exclaimed with an enthusiasm unusual with him: "We broke the ground for your new garden, today, Rose of Sharon, and Fletcher wants to see you. There are some more little things you'll have to talk over with him. He understands that you're the one I want suited."

Rose had felt suddenly reassured. Why, she had asked herself contritely, couldn't she let Martin express his love in his own way? Why was she always trying to measure his feelings for her by set standards?

"I've been wondering," he had gone on quickly, "what you would think of putting up with my old shack while the new house is being built? It wouldn't be as if you were going to live there for long and you'd be right on hand to direct things."

"Why, I could do that, of course," she had answered pleasantly. "If you've lived there all these years, I surely ought to be able to live there a few months, but Martin--"

"I know what you're going to say," he had interrupted hastily. "You think we ought to wait a while longer, but if we're going to pull together for the rest of our lives why mightn't we just as well begin now? Why is one time any better than another?"

There had been a wistfulness, so rarely in Martin's voice, that Rose had detected it instantly. After all, why should she keep him waiting when he needed her so much, she had thought tenderly, all the sweet womanliness in her astir with yearnings to lift the cloud of loneliness from his life.

Rose had always believed love a breath of beauty that would hold its purity even in a hovel, but she had not been prepared for the sordidness that seemed to envelop her as she crossed the threshold of the first home of her married life. Martin, held in the clutch of the strained embarrassment that invariably laid its icy fingers around his heart whenever he found himself confronted by emotion, had suggested that Rose go in while he put up the horse and fed the stock. "Don't be scared if you find it pretty rough," he had warned, to which her light answer had lilted back, "Oh, I shan't mind."

And, as she stood in the doorway a moment later, her eyes taking in one by one, the murky windows, the dirty floor, the unwashed dishes, the tumbled bed, the rusty, grease bespattered stove choked with cold ashes, she told herself hotly that it was not the dirt nor even the desperate crassness that was smothering her joy. It was the fact that there was nowhere a touch to suggest preparation for her home-coming. Martin had made not even the crudest attempt to welcome her. It would have been as easy for Rose to be cheerful in the midst of mere squalor as for a flower to bloom white in a crowded tenement, but at the swift realization of the lack of tenderness for her which this indifference to her first impressions so clearly expressed, her faith in the man she had married began to wither. He had failed her in the very quality in which she had put her trust. Already, he had carelessly dropped the thoughtfulness by which he had won her. She wondered how she could have made herself believe that Martin loved her. "He has tried so hard in every way to show me how much I would mean to him," she justified herself. "But now he has me he just doesn't care what I think."

As Rose forced herself to face this squarely, something within her crumpled. Grim truth leered at her, hurling dust on her bright wings of illusion, poking cruel jests. "This is your wedding day," it taunted, "that tall figure out there near the dilapidated barn feeding his hogs is your husband. Oh, first, sweet, most precious hours! How you will always like to remember them! Here in this dirty shanty you will enter into love's fulfillment. How romantic! Why doesn't your heart leap and your arms ache for your new passion?" Tears pushed against her eyelids. Her new life was not going to be happy. Of this she was suddenly, irrevocably certain.

Rose struggled against a complete break-down. This was no time for a scene. What was the matter with her, anyway? Of course, Martin had not meant to disappoint her, nor deliberately hurt her. He probably thought this first home so temporary it didn't count. She simply would not mope. Of that she was positive, and a brave little smile swimming up from her troubled heart, she set about, with much energy, to achieve order, valiantly fighting back her insistent tears as she worked.

Meanwhile, Martin, totally oblivious of any cause for storm, was making trips to and from the barrel which contained shorts mixed with water' skimmed milk and house slops, the screaming, scrambling shoats gulping the pork-making mixture as rapidly as he could fetch it. He worked unconsciously, thinking, typically, not of Rose's reaction to this new life, but of what it held in store for himself.

He glanced toward the shack. Already the mere fact of a woman's presence beneath its roof seemed, to him, to give it a different aspect. Through the open door he observed that Rose was sweeping. How he had always hated the thought of any one handling what was his! He dumped another bucket of slops into the home-made trough. Why couldn't she just let things alone and get supper quietly? Heaven only knew what he had gotten himself into! But of one thing he was miserably certain; never again would he have that comfortable seclusion to which he had grown so accustomed. He had known this would be true, but the sight of Rose and her broom brought the realization of it home to him with an all too irritating vividness. Yes, everything was going to be different. There would be many changes and he would never know what to expect next. Why had he brought this upon himself; had he not lived alone for years? He had let the habit of obtaining whatever he started after get the better of him. Even today he could have drawn back from this marriage. But, he had sensed that Rose was about to do so herself, and this knowledge had pushed his determination to the final notch.

Martin shook his head ruefully. "This is 'The Song of Songs," he smiled, "and there is my Rose of Sharon. Guess I was never intended for a Solomon." Now that she was so close to him, in the very core of his life, this woman frightened him; instead of desire, there was dread. He wished Rose had been a man that he might go into that shack and eat ham and eggs with him while they talked crops and politics and animals. There would be no thrills in this opening chapter and he, if not his wife, would be shaken.

Martin was mental, an incurable individualist who found himself sufficient unto himself. He was different from his neighbors in that he was always thinking, asking questions and pondering over his conclusions. He had convinced himself that each demand of the body was useless except the food that nourished it, the clothes that warmed it and the sleep that repaired it. He hated soft things and the twist in his mind that was Martin proved to him their futility. Love? It was an empty dream, a shell that fooled. Its joys were fleeting. There was but one thing worth while and that was work. The body was made for it--the thumb to hold the hammer, the hand to pump the water and drive the horses, the legs to follow the plow, herd the cattle and chase the pigs from the cornfield, the ears to listen for strange noises from the stock, the eyes to watch for weeds and discover the lice on the hens, the mouth to yell the food call to the calves, the back to carry the bran. Work meant money, and money meant--what? It was merely a stick that measured the amount of work done. Then why did he toil so hard and save so scrupulously? His answer was always another question. What was there in life that could enable one to forget it faster? That woman in there waiting for him--oh, she would suffer before she realized the truth of this lesson he had already learned, and Martin felt a little pity for her.

When he went in for supper, Rose was just beginning to prepare it. With a catch of anger in his manner, he gave her a sharp look and saw that she had been crying. He couldn't remember ever before having had to deal with a weeping woman; even when Benny had died and his mother had been so shaken she had not given way to tears; so this was to be another of the new experiences which must trot in with marriage. It annoyed him.

"What's the matter, Rose?"

"Nothing at all, Martin."

"Nothing? You don't cry about nothing, do you?"

"No." Rose felt a sudden fear; she sensed a lack of pity in Martin, an unwillingness even to try to understand her conflicting emotions.

"Then you're crying about something. What is it?" There was command in his question. Martin was losing patience. He knew tears were used as weapons by women, but why in the world should Rose need any sort of weapon on the first day of their marriage? He hadn't done anything to her, said anything unkind. Was she going to be unreasonable? Now he was sure it was all wrong.

"What's the matter?" he demanded, his voice rising.

"Nothing's the matter. I'm just a little nervous." Rose began to cry afresh. If only Martin had come to her and put his arms around her, she would have been able to throw off her newly-born fear of him and this disheartening shattering of her faith in his kindness. But he was going to the other extreme, growing harder as she was becoming more panicky.

"Nervous? What's there to be nervous about?" Rose's answer was stifled sobbing. "You're not sorry you married today, I hope?" She shook her head. "Then what's this mean, anyway?"

"I was wondering if we are going to be happy after all--"

"Happy? You don't like this place. That's the trouble. I was afraid of this, but I thought you knew what you were about when you said you could stand it for a while."

"Oh, it isn't the house itself, Martin," she hastened to correct truthfully, sure that she had gone too far. "I--I--know we'll be happy."

Again this talk about happiness. He did not like it. He had never hunted for happiness, and he was contented. Why should she persist in this eternal search for this impossible condition? He supposed that occasionally children found themselves in it, but surely grown-ups could not expect it. The nearest they could approach it was in forgetting that there was such a state by finding solace in constant occupation.

"Let's eat," he announced. "I'm sick of this wrangling. Seems to me you're not starting off just right."

Rose hastened to prepare the meal, finding it more difficult to be cheerful as she realized how indifferent Martin was to her feelings, if only she presented a smooth surface. He had not seemed even to notice how orderly and freshened everything was. She thought of the new experience soon to be hers. Could it make up for all the understanding and friendly appreciation that she saw only too clearly would be missing in her daily life? Resolutely, she suppressed her doubts.

Martin, bothered by an odd feeling of strangeness in the midst of his own familiar surroundings, smoked his pipe in silence and studied Rose soberly. Why, he asked himself, was he unmoved by a woman who was so attractive? He liked the deftness with which her hands worked the pie dough, the quick way she moved between stove and table, yet mingled with this admiration was a slight but distinct hostility. How can one like and have an aversion to a person at the same time? he pondered. "I suppose," he concluded grimly, "it's because I'm supposed to love and adore her--to pretend a lot of extravagant feelings."

His mind travelled to the stock in the pasture. How stolid they were and how matter of fact and how sensible. They affected no high, nonsensical sentiments. Weren't they, after all, to be envied, rooted as they were in their solid simplicity? Why should human beings everlastingly try so hard to be different? He and Rose would have to get down to a genuine basis, and the quicker the better. Meanwhile he must remember that, whether he was glad or sorry, she was there, in his shack, because he had asked her to come.

As he ate his second helping of the excellent meal, he said pleasantly: "You do know how to cook, Rose."

Her soft gray-blue eyes brightened. "I love to do it," she answered quickly. "You must tell me the things you like best, Martin. If I had a real stove with a good oven, I could do much better."

"Could you? We'll get one tomorrow."

"That'll be fine!" she smiled, eager to have all serene between them, and as she passed him to get some coffee her hand touched his in a swift caress. Instantly, Martin's cordiality vanished; his hostility toward her surged. Even as a boy he had hated to be "fussed over." Well, he had married and he would go through with it. If only Rose would be more matter of fact; not look at him with that expression which made him think of a confiding child. What business had a grown woman with such trust in her eyes, anyway?

It was quite gone, in the early dawn, as Rose sat on the edge of the bed looking at her husband. Never had she felt so far from him, so certain that he did not love her, as when she had lain quivering but impassive in his arms. "I might be just any woman," she had told herself, astounded and stricken to find how little she was touched by this experience which she had always believed bound heart to heart and crowned the sweet transfusion of affection from soul into soul. "It doesn't make any more difference to him who I am than who cooks for him."

Not that Martin had been unkind, except negatively. Intuitively, Rose understood that their first evening and night foreshadowed their whole lives. Not in what Martin would do, but in what he would not do, would lie her heartaches. Yet in her sad reflections there was no bitterness toward him; he had disappointed her, but perhaps it was only because she had taught herself to expect something rare, even spiritual, from marriage. Her idealism had played her a trick.

With the quiet relinquishment of this long-cherished dream, eagerness for the realization of an even more precious one took possession of her. She comforted herself with the thought that maybe life had brought Martin merely as a door to the citadel which looms, sparkling with dancing sunlight, in the midst of mysterious shadows. Motherhood--she would feel as if she were in another world. Out of all this disappointment would come her ultimate happiness.

Always struggling toward happiness, she was cheered too as the foundation for the house progressed. Everything would be so different, she told herself, once they were in their pretty new home. It was true she had given up a concrete floor for her cellar, but she had seen at once the good sense of having the concrete in the barn instead. Martin was right. While it would have been nice in the house, of course, it would not have begun to be the constant blessing to herself that it would now be to him. How much easier it would make keeping the barn clean! Why, it was almost a duty in a dairy barn to have such a floor and really she, herself, could manage almost as well with the dirt bottom. But when Martin began to discuss eliminating the whole upper story of the house, Rose protested.

"You won't use it," he had returned reasonably. "I'll keep my word, but when a body gets to figuring and sees all that can be built with that same money, it seems mighty foolish to put it into something that you don't really need."

As Martin looked at her questioningly, Rose felt suddenly unable to muster an argument for the additional sleeping-rooms. It was true that they were not actually necessary for their comfort; but the house as it had been decided upon was so interwoven with memories of her courtship and all that was lovable in Martin; it had become so real to her, that it was as if some dear possession were being torn to pieces before her eyes.

"I don't know why, Martin," she had answered, with a choky little laugh, "but it seems as if I just can't bear to give it up."

"Why?"

"I--I--like it all so well the way you planned it."

"Just liking a thing isn't always good reason for having it. It'll make lots more for you to take care of. What would you say if I was to prove to you that it would build a fine chicken-house, one for the herd boar, a concrete tank down in the pasture that'd save the cows enough trips to the barn to make 'em give a heap sight more milk, a cooling house for it and a good tool room?" Rose's eyes opened wide. "I can prove it to you."

That was all. But the shack filled with his disapproval of her reluctance to free him from his promise. She remembered one time when she had come home from school in a pelting rain that had changed, suddenly, to hail. There had seemed no escape from the hard, little balls and their cruel bruises. Just so, it seemed to her, from Martin, outwardly so calm as he read his paper, the harsh, determined thoughts beat thick and fast. Turn what way she would, they surrounded, enveloped and pounded down upon her. Her resolution weakened. Wasn't she paying too big a price for what was, after all, only material? The one time she and Martin had seemed quite close had been the moment in which she had agreed so quickly to change the location of the concrete floor. Now she had utterly lost him. She could scarcely endure the aloofness with which he had withdrawn into himself.

"Martin," she said a bit huskily, two evenings later, at supper, "I've decided that you are right. It is foolish and extravagant of me to want a second story when there are just the two of us. It will be better to have all those other things you told me about."

Martin did not respond; simply continued eating without looking up. This was a habit of his that nearly drove Rose desperate. In her father's household meals had always been friendly, sociable affairs. Patrick Conroy had been loquacious and by way of a wit; sharpened on his, Rose's own had developed. They had dealt in delicious nonsense, these two, and had her husband been of a different temperament she might have found it a refuge in her life with him. But, somehow, from the first, even before they were married, when with Martin, such chatter had died unuttered on Rose's tongue. The few remarks which she did venture, nowadays, had the effect of a disconcerting splash before they sank into the gloomy depths of the thick silence. Occasionally, in sheer self defense, she carried on a light monologue, but Martin's lack of interest gave her such an odd, lonely, stage-struck sensation that she, too, became untalkative, keeping to herself the ideas which chased through her ever-active mind. Innately just, she attributed this peculiarity of his to the fact that he had lived so long alone, and while it fretted her, she usually forgave him. But tonight, as no answer came, it seemed to her that if Martin did not at least raise his eyes, she must scream or throw something.

"It would be a godsend to be the sort who permits oneself to do such things," she told herself, a suggestion of a smile touching her lips, and mentally she sent dish after dish at him, watching them fall shattered to the floor. Dismay at the relief this gave her brought the dimples into her cheeks. Her voice was pleasant as she asked: "Martin, did you hear your spouse just now?"

Annoyance flitted across his face and crept into his tone as he answered tersely: "Of course, I heard you." Presently he finished his meal, pushed back his chair and went out.

Nothing further was said between them on the subject, but when the scaffolding went up she saw that it was for only one story. It might have comforted her a little, had she known what uneasy moments Martin was having. In spite of himself, he could not shake off the consciousness that he had broken his word. That was something which, heretofore, he had never done. But, heretofore, his promises had been of a strictly business nature. He would deliver so many bushels of wheat at such and such a time; he would lend such and such a piece of machinery; he would supply so many men and so many teams at a neighbor's threshing; he would pay so much per pound for hogs; he would guarantee so many eggs out of a setting or so many pounds of butter in so many months from a cow he was selling. A few such guarantees made good at a loss to himself, a few such loads delivered in adverse weather, a few such pledges of help kept when he was obliged actually to hire men, had established for him an enviable reputation, which Martin was of no mind to lose. Had Rose not released him from his promise he would have kept it. Even now he was disturbed as to what Fletcher and Fallon might think. But already he had lived long enough with his wife to understand something of the quality of her pride. Once having agreed to the change, she would carry it off with a dash.

Had Rose stood her ground on this matter, undoubtedly all her after life might have been different, but she was of those women whose charm and whose folly lie in their sensitiveness to the moods and contentment of the people most closely associated with them. They can rise above their own discomfort or depression, but they are utterly unable to disregard that of those near them. This gave Martin, who by temperament and habit considered only his own feelings, an incalculable advantage. His was the old supremacy of the selfish over the self sacrificing, the hard over the tender, the mental over the emotional. Add to this, the fact that with all his faults, perhaps largely because of them, perhaps chiefly because she cooked, washed, ironed, mended, and baked for him, kept his home and planned so continually for his pleasure, Martin was dear to Rose, and it is not difficult to understand how unequal the contest in which she was matched when her wishes clashed with her husband's. It was predestined that he, invariably, should win out.

Rose told her friends she and her husband had decided that the second story would make her too much work, and Martin noticed with surprise how easily her convincing statement was accepted. He decided, for his own peace of mind, that he had nothing with which to reproach himself. He had put it up to her and she had agreed. This principal concession obtained, other smaller ones followed logically and rapidly. The running water and bath in the house were given up for piping to the barn, and stanchions--then novelties in southeastern Kansas. The money for the hardwood floors went into lightning rods. Built-in cupboards were dismissed as luxuries, and the saving paid for an implement shed which delighted Martin, who had figured how much expensive machinery would be saved from rust. When it came to papering the walls he decided that the white plaster was attractive enough and could serve for years. Instead, he bought a patented litter-carrier that made the job of removing manure from the barn an easy task. The porches purchased everything from a brace and bit to a lathe for the new tool-room and put the finishing touches to the dairy. The result was a four-room house that was the old one born again, and such well-equipped farm buildings that they were the pride of the township.

Rose, who had surrendered long since, let the promises go to naught without much protest. Martin was so quietly domineering, so stubbornly persistent--and always so plausible--oh, so plausible! --that there was no resisting him. Only when it came to the fireplace did she make a last stand. She felt that it would be such a friendly spirit in the house. She pictured Martin and herself sitting beside it in the winter evenings.

"A house without one is like a place without flowers," she explained to him.

"It's a mighty dirty business," he answered tersely. "You would have to track the coal through the rest of the house and you'd have all those extra ashes to clean out."

"But you would never see any of the dirt," she argued with more than her usual courage, "and if I wouldn't mind the ashes I don't see why you should."

"We can't afford it."

"Martin, I've given in to you on everything else," she asserted firmly. "I'm not going to give this up. I'll pay for it out of my own money."

"What do you mean 'out of my own money'?" he asked sternly. "I told Osborne we'd run one account. If what is mine is going to be yours, what is yours is going to be mine. I'd think your own sense of fairness would tell you that."

As a matter of fact, Martin had no intention of ever touching Rose's little capital, but he had made up his mind to direct the spending of its income. He would keep her from putting it into just such foolishnesses as this fireplace. But Rose, listening, saw the last of her independence going. She felt tricked, outraged. During the years she had been at the head of her father's household, she had regulated the family budget and, no matter how small it had happened to be, she always had contrived to have a surplus. This notion of Martin's that he, and he alone, should decide upon expenditures was ridiculous. She told him so and in spite of himself, he was impressed.

"All right," he said calmly. "You can do all the buying for the house. Write a check with my name and sign your own initials. Get what you think we need. But there isn't going to be any fireplace. You can just set that down."

Voice, eyes, the line of his chin, all told Rose that he would not yield. Nothing could be gained from a quarrel except deeper ill feeling. With a supreme effort of will she obeyed the dictates of common sense and ended the argument abruptly.

But, for months after she was settled in the new little house, her eye never fell on the space where the fireplace should have been without a bitter feeling of revolt sweeping over her. She never carried a heavy bucket in from the pump without thinking cynically of Martin's promises of running water. As she swept the dust out of her front and back doors to narrow steps, she remembered the spacious porches that were to have been; and as she wiped the floors she had painted herself, and polished her pine furniture, she was taunted by memories of the smooth boards and the golden oak to which she had once looked forward so happily. This resentment was seldom expressed, but its flame scorched her soul.

Her work increased steadily. She did not object to this; it kept her from thinking and brooding; it helped her to forget all that might have been, all that was. She milked half the cows, separated the cream, took charge of the dairy house and washed all the cans. Three times a week she churned, and her butter became locally famous. She took over completely both the chickens and the garden. Often, because her feet ached from being on them such long hours, she worked barefoot in the soft dirt. According to the season, she canned vegetables, preserved fruit, rendered lard and put down pork. When she sat at meals now, like Martin she was too tired for conversation. From the time she arose in the morning until she dropped off to sleep at night, her thoughts, like his, were chiefly of immediate duties to be performed. One concept dominated their household--work. It seemed to offer the only way out of life's perplexities.

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