ROSE-BUD IN THE DUST
UNDER this rigid regime Martin's prosperity increased. Although he would not have admitted it, Rose's good cooking and the sweet, fresh cleanliness with which he was surrounded had their effect, giving him a new sense of physical well-being, making his mind more alert. Always, he had been a hard worker, but now he began for the first time to take an interest in the scientific aspects of farming. He subscribed for farm journals and put real thought into all he did, with results that were gratifying. He grew the finest crop of wheat for miles around; in the season which brought others a yield of fifteen or twenty bushels to the acre, Martin averaged thirty-three, without buying a ton of commercial fertilizer. His corn was higher than anybody's else; the ears longer, the stalks juicier, because of his careful, intelligent cultivating. In the driest season, it resisted the hot winds; this, he explained, was the result of his knowing how to prepare his seed bed and when to plant --moisture could be retained if the soil was handled scientifically. He bought the spoiled acreage of his neighbors, which he cut up for the silo--as yet the only one in the county--adding water to help fermentation. His imported hogs seemed to justify the prices he paid for them, growing faster and rounder and fatter than any in the surrounding county. The chinch bugs might bother everyone else, but Martin seemed to be able to guard against them with fair success. He took correspondence courses in soils and fertilizers, animal husbandry and every related subject; kept a steady stream of letters flowing to and from both Washington and the State Agricultural College.
Now and then it crossed his mind that with the farm developing into such an institution it would be more than desirable to pass it on to one of his own blood, and secretly he was pleased when Rose told him a baby was coming. A child, a son, might bring with him a little of what was missing in his marriage with her. She irritated him more and more, not by what she did but by what she was. Her whole temperament, in so much as he permitted himself to be aware of it, her whole nature, jarred on his.
"When is it due?"
"It's lucky harvest will be over; silo filling, too," was his only comment.
In spite of Rose's three long years with Martin his lack of enthusiasm was like a sharp stab. What had she expected, she asked herself sternly. To be taken in his arms and rejoiced over as others were at such a moment? What did he care so long as he wouldn't have to hire extra help for her in the busy season! It was incredible--his hardness.
Why couldn't she hate him? He was mean enough to her, surely. "I'm as foolish as old Rover," she thought bitterly. The faithful dog lived for his master and yet Rose could not remember ever having seen Martin give him a pat. "When I once hold my own little baby in my arms, I won't care like this. I'll have someone else to fill my heart," she consoled herself, thrilling anew with the conviction that then she would be more than recompensed for everything. The love she had missed, the house that had been stolen from her--what were they in comparison to this growing bit of life? Meanwhile, she longed as never before to feel near to Martin. She could not help recalling how gallantly her father had watched over her mother when she carried her last child and how eagerly they all had waited upon her. At times, the contrast was scarcely to be borne.
Rose was troubled with nausea, but Martin pooh-poohed, as childish, the notion of dropping some of her responsibilities. Didn't his mares work almost to the day of foaling? It was good for them, keeping them in shape. And the cows--didn't they go about placidly until within a few hours of bringing their calves? Even the sows--did they droop as they neared farrowing? Why should a woman be so different? Her child would be healthier and she able to bring it into the world with less discomfort to herself if she went about her ordinary duties in her usual way. Thus Martin, impersonally, logically.
"That would be true," Rose agreed, "if the work weren't so heavy and if I were younger."
"It's the work you're used to doing all the time, isn't it? Because you aren't young is all the more reason you need the exercise. You're not going to hire extra help, so you might just as well get any to-do out of your mind," he retorted, the dreaded note in his voice.
She considered leaving him. If she had earned her living before, she could again. More than once she had thought of doing this, but always the hope of a child had shone like a tiny bright star through the midnight of her trials. Since she had endured so much, why not endure a little longer and reap a dear reward? Then, too, she could never quite bring herself to face the pictures her imagination conjured of Martin, struggling along uncared for. Now, as her heart hardened against him, an inner voice whispered that everyone had a right to a father as well as a mother, and Martin might be greatly softened by daily contact with a little son or daughter. In fairness, she must wait.
Yet, she knew these were not her real reasons. They lay far deeper, in the very warp and woof of her nature. She did not leave Martin because she could not. She was incapable of making drastic changes, of tearing herself from anyone to whom she was tied by habit and affection--no matter how bitterly the mood of the moment might demand it. Always she would be bound by circumstances. True, however hard and adverse they might prove, she could adapt herself to them with rare patience and dignity, but never would she be able to compel them to her will, rise superbly above them, toss them aside. Her life had been, and would be, shaped largely by others. Her mother's death, the particular enterprise in which her father's little capital had been invested, Martin's peculiar temperament --these had moulded and were moulding Rose Wade. At the time she came to Martin's shack, she was potentially any one of a half dozen women. It was inevitable that the particular one into which she would evolve should be determined by the type of man she might happen to marry, inevitable that she would become, to a large degree, what he wished and expected, that her thoughts would take on the complexion of his. Lacking in strength of character? In power of resistance, certainly. Time out of mind, such malleability has been the cross of the Magdalenes. Yet in what else lies the secret of the harmony achieved by successful wives?
And as, her nausea passing, Rose began to feel a glorious sensation of vigor, she decided that perhaps, after all, Martin had been right. Child-bearing was a natural function. People probably made far too much fuss about it. Nellie came to help her cook for the threshers and, for the rest, she managed very well, even milking her usual eight cows and carrying her share of the foaming buckets.
All might have gone smoothly if only she had not overslept one morning in late September. When she reached the barn, Martin was irritable. She did not answer him but sat down quietly by her first cow, a fine-blooded animal which soon showed signs of restlessness under her tense hands.
"There! There! So Bossy," soothed Rose gently.
"You never will learn how to manage good stock," Martin criticized bitingly.
"Nor you how to treat a wife."
"Oh, shut up."
"Don't talk to me that way."
As she started to rise, a kick from the cow caught her square on the stomach with such force that it sent her staggering backward, still clutching the handle of the pail from which a snowy stream cascaded.
"Now what have you done?" demanded Martin sternly. "Haven't I warned you time and again that milk cows are sensitive, nervous? Fidgety people drive them crazy. Why can't you behave simply and directly with them! Why is it I always get more milk from mine! It's your own fault this happened--fussing around, taking out your ill temper at me on her. Shouting at me. What could you expect?"
For the first time in their life together, Rose was frankly unnerved. It seemed to her that she would go mad. "You devil!" she burst out, wildly. "That's what you are, Martin Wade! You're not human. Your child may be lost and you talk about cows letting down more milk. Oh God! I didn't know there was any one living who could be so cruel, so cold, so diabolical. You'll be punished for this some day--you will--you will. You don't love me--never did, oh, don't I know it. But some time you will love some one. Then you'll understand what it is to be treated like this when your whole soul is in need of tenderness. You'll see then what--"
"Oh, shut up," growled Martin, somewhat abashed by the violence of her broken words and gasping sobs. "You're hysterical. You're doing yourself as much harm right now as that kick did you."
"Oh, Martin, please be kind," pleaded Rose more quietly. "Please! It's your baby as much as mine. Be just half as kind as you are to these cows."
"They have more sense," he retorted angrily. And when Rose woke him, the following night, to go for the doctor, his quick exclamation was: "So now you've done it, have you?"
As the sound of his horse's hoofs died away, it seemed to her that he had taken the very heart out of her courage. She thought with anguished envy of the women whose husbands loved them, for whom the heights and depths of this ordeal were as real as for their wives. It seemed to her that even the severest of pain could be wholly bearable if, in the midst of it, one felt cherished. Well, she would go through it alone as she had gone through everything else since their marriage. She would try to forget Martin. She WOULD forget him. She must. She would keep her mind fixed on the deep joy so soon to be hers. Had she not chosen to suffer of her own free will, because the little creature that could be won only through it was worth so much more than anything else the world had to offer? She imagined the baby already arrived and visualized him as she hoped her child might be at two years. Suppose he were in a burning house, would she have the courage to rescue him? What would be the limit of her endurance in the flames? She laughed to herself at the absurdity of the question. How well she knew its answer! She wished with passionate intensity that she could look into the magic depths of some fairy mirror and see, for just the flash of one instant, exactly how her boy or girl really would look. How much easier that would make it to hold fast to the consciousness that she was not merely in pain, but was laboring to bring forth a warm flesh-and-blood child. There was the rub--in spite of her eagerness, the little one, so priceless, wasn't as yet quite definite, real. She recalled the rosy-checked, curly-haired youngster her fancy had created a moment ago. She would cling to that picture; yes, even if her pain mounted to agony, it should be of the body only; she would not let it get into her mind, not into her soul, not into the welcoming mother-heart of her.
Meanwhile, as she armored her spirit, she built a fire, put on water to heat, attended capably to innumerable details. Rose was a woman of sound experience. She had been with others at such times. It held no goblin terrors for her. Had it not been for Martin's heartlessness, she would have felt wholly equal to the occasion. As it was, she made little commotion. Dr. Bradley, gentle and direct, had been the Conroys' family physician for years. Nellie, who arrived in an hour, had been through the experience often herself, and was friendly and helpful.
She liked Rose, admired her tremendously and the thought--an odd one for Nellie--crossed her mind that tonight she was downright beautiful. When at dawn, Dr. Bradley whispered: "She has been so brave, Mrs. Mall, I can't bear to tell her the child is not alive. Wouldn't it be better for you to do so?" She shrank from the task. "I can't; I simply can't," she protested, honest tears pouring down her thin face.
"Could you, Mr. Wade?"
Martin strode into Rose's room, all his own disappointment adding bitterness to his words: "Well, I knew you'd done it and you have. It's a fine boy, but he came dead."
Out of the dreariness and the toil, out of the hope, the suffering and the high courage had come--nothing. As Rose lay, the little still form clasped against her, she was too broken for tears. Life had played her another trick. Indignation toward Martin gathered volume with her returning strength.
"You don't deserve a child," she told him bitterly. "You might treat him when he grew up as you treat me."
"I've never laid hand to you," said Martin gruffly, certain stinging words of Nellie's still smarting. When she chose, his sister's tongue could be waspish. She had tormented him with it all the way to her home. He had been goaded into flaring back and both had been thoroughly angry when they separated, yet he was conscious that he came nearer a feeling of affection for her than for any living person. Well, not affection, precisely, he corrected. It was rather that he relished, with a quizzical amusement, the completeness of their mutual comprehension. She was growing to be more like their mother, too. Decidedly, this was the type of woman he should have married, not someone soft and eager and full of silly sentiment like Rose. Why didn't she hold her own as Nellie did? Have more snap and stamina? It was exasperating--the way she frequently made him feel as if he actually were trampling on something defenseless.
He now frankly hated her. There was not dislike merely; there was acute antipathy. He took a delight in having her work harder and harder. It used to be "Rose," but now it was always "say" or "you" or "hey." Once she asked cynically if he had ever heard of a "Rose of Sharon" to which he maliciously replied: "She turned out to be a Rag-weed."
Yet such a leveller of emotions and an adjuster of disparate dispositions is Time that when they rounded their fourth year, Martin viewed his life, with a few reservations, as fairly satisfactory. He turned the matter over judicially in his mind and concluded that even though he cared not a jot for Rose, at least he could think of no other woman who could carry a larger share of the drudgery in their dusty lives, help save more and, on the whole, bother him less. He, like his rag-weed, had settled down to an apathetic jog.
Rose was convinced that Martin would make too unkind a father; he had no wish for another taste of the general confusion and disorganized routine her confinement had entailed. Besides, it would be inconvenient if she were to die, as Dr. Bradley quite solemnly had warned him she might only too probably. Without any exchange of words, it was settled there should not be another child--settled, he dismissed it. In a way, he had come to appreciate Rose, but it was absurd to compliment anyone, let alone a wife whom he saw constantly. Physically, she did not interest him; in fact, the whole business bored him. It was tiresome and got one nowhere. He decided this state of mind must be rather general among married people, and reasoned his way to the conclusion that marriage was a good thing in that it drove out passion and placed human animals on a more practicable foundation. If there had been the likelihood of children, he undoubtedly would have sought her from time to time, but with that hope out of their lives the attraction died completely.
When he was through with his work, it was late and he was sleepy. When he woke early in the morning, he had to hurry to his stock. So that which always had been less than secondary, now became completely quiescent, and he was satisfied that it should. It never occurred to him to consider what Rose might be thinking and feeling. She wondered about it, and would have liked to ask advice from someone--the older Mrs. Mall or Dr. Bradley--but habitual reserve held her back. After all, she decided finally, what did it matter? Meanwhile, financially, things were going better than ever.
Martin had the most improved farm in the neighborhood; he was looked up to by everyone as one of the most intelligent men in the county, and his earnings were swelling, going into better stock and the surplus into mortgages which he accumulated with surprising rapidity. Occasionally, he would wonder why he was working so hard, saving so assiduously and investing so consistently. His growing fortune seemed to mean little now that his affluence was thoroughly established. For whom was he working? he would ask himself. For the life of him, he could not answer. Surely not for his Rag-weed of Sharon. Nellie? She was well enough fixed and he didn't care a shot for her husband. Then why? Sometimes he pursued this chain of thought further, "I'll die and probably leave five times as much as I have now to her and who knows what she'll do with it? I'll never enjoy any of it myself. I'm not such a fool as to expect it. What difference can a few thousand dollars more or less make to me from now on? Then why do I scheme and slave? Pshaw! I've known the answer ever since I first turned the soil of this farm. The man who thinks about things knows there's nothing to life. It's all a grinding chase for the day when someone will pat my cheek with a spade."
He might have escaped this materialism through the church, but to him it offered no inducements. He could find nothing spiritual in it. In his opinion, it was a very carnal institution conducted by very hypocritical men and women. He smiled at their Hell and despised their Heaven. Their religion, to him, seemed such a crudely selfish affair. They were always expecting something from God; always praying for petty favors--begging and whining for money, or good crops, or better health. Martin would have none of this nonsense. He was as selfish as they, probably more so, he conceded, but he hoped he would never reach the point of currying favor with anyone, even God. With his own good strength he would answer his own prayers. This farm was the nearest he would ever come to a paradise and on it he would be his own God. Rose did not share these feelings. She went to church each Sunday and read her Bible daily with a simple faith that defied derision. Once, when she was gone, Martin idly hunted out the Song of Solomon. His lips curled with contempt at the passionate rhapsody. He knew a thing or two, he allowed, about these wonderful Roses of Sharon and this Song of Songs. Lies, all lies, every word of it! Yet, in spite of himself, from time to time, he liked to reread it. He fancied this was because of the sardonic pleasure its superlative phrases gave him, but the truth was it held him. He despised sentiment, tenderness, and, by the strangeness of the human mind, he went, by way of paradox, to the tenderest, most sublime spot in a book supreme in tenderness and sublimity.
At forty, he owned and, with the aid of two hired hands, worked an entire section of land. The law said it was his and he had the might to back up the law. On these six hundred and forty broad acres he could have lived without the rest of the world. Here he was King. Other farms he regarded as foreign countries, their owners with impersonal suspicion. Yet he trusted them after a fashion, because he had learned from many and devious dealings with a large assortment of people that the average human being is honest, which is to say that he does not steal his neighbor's stock nor fail to pay his just debts if given plenty of time and the conditions have the explicitness of black and white. He knew them to be as mercenary as himself, with this only difference: Where he was frankly so, they pretended otherwise. They bothered him with their dinky deals, with their scrimping and scratching, and their sneaky attempts to hide their ugliness by the observance of one set day of sanctuary. Because they seemed to him so two-faced, so trifling, so cowardly, he liked to "stick" them every time he had a fair chance and could do it within the law. It was his favorite game. They worked so blindly and went on so stupidly, talking so foolishly, that it afforded him sport to come along and take the bacon away from them.
All held him a little in awe, for he was of a forbidding bearing, tall, grave and thoughtful; accurate in his facts and sure of himself; slow to express an opinion, but positive in his conclusions; seeking no favors, and giving none; careful not to offend, indifferent whether he pleased. He would deceive, but never insult. The women were afraid of him, because he never "jollied." He had no jokes or bright remarks for them. They were such useless creatures out of their particular duties. There was nothing to take up with them. Everyone rendered him much the same respectful manner that they kept on tap for the leading citizens of the town, David Robinson, for instance. Indeed, Martin himself was somewhat of a banker, for he was a stockholder and director of the First State Bank, where he was looked up to as a shrewd man who was too big even for the operation of his magnificent farm. He understood values. When it came to loans, his judgment on land and livestock was never disputed. If he wanted to make a purchase he did not go to several stores for prices. He knew, in the first place, what he should pay, and the business men, especially the hardware and implement dealers, were afraid of his knowledge, and still more of his influence.
About Rose, too, there was a poise, an atmosphere of background which inspired respect above her station. When Mrs. Wade said anything, her statement was apt to settle the matter, for on those subjects which she discussed at all, she was an authority, and on those which she was not, her training in Martin's household had taught her to maintain a wise silence. The stern self-control had stolen something of the tenderness from her lips. There were other changes. The sunlight had faded from her hair; the once firm white neck was beginning to lose its resilience. Deep lines furrowed her cheeks from mouth to jaw, and fine wrinkles had slipped into her forehead. There were delicate webs of them about her patient eyes, under which lack of sleep and overwork had left their brown shadows. Since the birth of her baby she had become much heavier and though she was still neat, her dresses were always of dark colors and made up by herself of cheap materials. For, while she bought without consulting Martin, her privilege of discretion was confined within strict and narrow limits. He kept a meticulous eye on all her cancelled checks and knew to a penny what she spent. If he felt a respect for her thrift it was completely unacknowledged. They worked together with as little liking, as little hatred, as two oxen pulling a plow.
It had been a wise day for both, thought Fallon, when they had decided to marry--they were so well mated. What a model and enviable couple they were! To Rose it seemed the essence of irony that her life with Martin should be looked upon as a flower of matrimony. Yet, womanlike, she took an unconfessed comfort in the fact that this was so--that no one, unless it were Nellie, was sufficiently astute to fathom the truth. To be sure, the Wades were never spoken of as "happy." They were invariably alluded to as "good folks," "true blue," "solid people," "ideal husband and wife," or "salt of the earth."
Each year they gave a round sum to the church, and Martin took caustic gratification in the fact that, although his attitude toward it and religion was well known, he too was counted as one of the fold. To do its leaders justice, he admitted that this might have been partly through their hesitancy to hurt Rose who was always to be found in the thick of its sale-dinners, bazaars and sociables. How she was able to accomplish so much without neglecting her own heavy duties, which now included cooking, washing, mending and keeping in order the old shack for the hired men, was a topic upon which other women feasted with appreciative gusto, especially at missionary meetings when she was not present. It really was extraordinary how much she managed to put into a day. Early as Martin was up to feed his stock, she was up still earlier that she might lend a hand to a neighbor, harrowed by the fear that gathered fruit might perish. Late as he plowed, in the hot summer evenings, her sweaty fingers were busy still later with patching, brought home to boost along some young wife struggling with a teething baby. She seemed never too rushed to tuck in an extra baking for someone even more rushed than herself, or to make delicious broths and tasty dishes for sick folk. In her quiet way, she became a real power, always in demand, the first to be entrusted with sweet secrets, the first to be sent for in paralysing emergencies and moments of sorrow. The warmth of heart which Martin ridiculed and resented, intensified by its very repression, bubbled out to others in cheery helpfulness, and blessed her quick tears.
Of her deep yearning for love, she never spoke. Just when she would begin to feel almost self-sufficient it would quicken to a throbbing ache. Usually, at such times, she buried it determinedly under work. But one day, yielding to an impulse, she wrote to Norah asking if her little namesake could come for a month's visit.
"I know she is only seven," the letter ran, "but I am sure if she were put in care of the conductor she would come through safely, and I do so want to see her." After long hesitation, she enclosed a check to cover expenses. She was half frightened by her own daring and did not tell Martin until she had received the reply giving the date for the child's arrival.
"I earned that, Martin," she returned determinedly to his emphatic remonstrance. "And when the check comes in it's going to be honored."
"A Wade check is always honored," was his cryptic assertion. "I merely say," he added more calmly, "that if we are to board her, and I don't make any protest over that at all, it seems to me only fair that her father should have bought the ticket."
"Maybe you're right--in theory. But then she simply couldn't have come and I've never seen her. I first knew of her the very day you asked me to marry you. I've thought of her, often and often. Her mother named her after me and calls her 'Little Rose of Sharon, Illinois'."
"Another rag-weed, probably," said Martin, shortly. Yet, to his own surprise, he was not altogether sorry she was to come--this house of his had never had a child in it for more than a few hours. He was rather curious to find out how it would seem. If only her name were not Rose, and if only she were not coming from Sharon.
But little Rose, with her dark brown curls, merry expression, roguish nose and soft radiance swept all his misgivings and prejudices before her. One might as well hold grudges against a flower, he thought. He liked the confiding way she had of suddenly slipping her little hand into his great one. Her prattle amused him, and he was both flattered and worried by the fearlessness with which she followed him everywhere. She seemed to bring a veritable shower of song into this home of long silences. The very chaos made Mrs. Wade's heart beat tumultuously, and once when Martin came upon the little girl seated solemnly in the midst of a circle of corncob dolls, his throat contracted with an extraordinary tightness.
"You really are a rose--a lovely, sweet brown Rose of Sharon," he had exclaimed, forgetting his wife's presence and not stopping to think how strange the words must sound on his lips. "If you'll give me a kiss, I'll let you ride on old Jettie."
The child scrambled to her feet and, seated on his broad shoulder, granted the demand for toll. Her aunt's eyes filled. This was the first time she had ever heard Martin ask for something as sentimental as a kiss. She was thoroughly ashamed of herself for it--it was really too absurd!--but she felt jealousy, an emotion that had never bothered her since they had been married. And this bit of chattering femininity had caused it. Mrs. Wade worked faster.
The kiss was like the touch of silk against Martin's cheek. He felt inexplicably sad as he put the child down again among her playthings. There was, he realized with a shock, much that he was missing, things he was letting work supplant. He wished that boy of theirs could have lived. All might have been different. He had almost forgotten that disappointment, had never understood until this moment what a misfortune it had been, and here he was being gripped by a more poignant sense of loss than he had ever before felt, even when he had lost his mother.
Wonderful as little Rose was, she was not his own. But, he wondered suddenly, wasn't this aching sense of need perhaps something utterly different from unsatisfied paternal instinct? He turned his head toward the kitchen where his Rag-weed was working and asked himself if she were gone and some other woman were here--such as little Rose might be when she grew up, one to whom he went out spontaneously, would not his life be more complete and far more worth while? What a fool he was, to bother his head with such get-nowhere questions! He dismissed them roughly, but new processes of thought had been opened, new emotions awakened.
Meanwhile, little Rose's response to his clumsy tenderness taught him many unsuspected lessons. He never would have believed the pleasure there could be in simply watching a child's eyes light with glee over a five-cent bag of candy. It began to be a regular thing for him to bring one home from Fallon, each trip, and the gay hunts that followed as she searched for it--sometimes to find the treasure in Martin's hat, sometimes under the buggy seat, sometimes in a knobby hump under the table-cloth at her plate--more than once brought his rare smile. For years afterward, the memory of one evening lingered with him. He was resting in an old chair tipped back against the house, thinking deeply, when the little girl, tired from her play, climbed into his lap and, making a cozy nest for herself in the crook of his arm, fell asleep. He had finished planning out the work upon which he had been concentrating and had been about to take her into the house when he suddenly became aware of the child's loveliness. In the silvery moonlight all the fairy, flower-like quality of her was enhanced. Martin studied her closely, reverently. It was his first conscious worship of beauty. Leaning down to the rosy lips he listened to the almost imperceptible breathing; he touched the long, sweeping lashes resting on the smooth cheeks and lifted one of the curls the wind had been ruffling lightly against his face. With his whole soul, he marvelled at her softness and relaxation. A profound, pitying rebellion gripped him at the idea that anything so sweet, so perfect must pass slowly through the defacing furnaces of time and pain. "Little Rose of Sharon!" he thought gently, conscious of an actual tearing at his heart, even a startling stinging in his eyes. With an abruptness that almost awakened her, he carried her in to his wife.
Mrs. Wade felt an inexplicable hurt at the decidedness of little Rose's preference for Martin. She could not understand it. She took exquisite care of her, cooked the things she liked best, let her mess to her heart's content in the kitchen, made her dolls pretty frocks, cuddled her, told her stories and stopped her work to play with her on rainy days--but she could not win the same affection the little girl bestowed so lavishly on Martin. If left to herself she was always to be found with the big, silent man.
As the month's visit lengthened into three, it was astonishing what good times they had together. If he was pitching hay, her slender little figure, short dress a-flutter, was to be seen standing on the fragrant wagonload. At threshing time, she darted lightly all over the separator, Martin's watchful eye constantly upon her, and his protective hand near her. She went with him to haul the grain to mill and was fascinated by the big scales. On the way there and back he let her hold the great lines in her little fists. In the dewy mornings, she hop-skipped and jumped by his side into the pasture to bring in the cows. She flitted in and out among them during milking time.
"I think she makes them too nervous, Martin," Rose had once remarked. "Better run out, darling, until we finish and then come help auntie in the dairy."
"They might as well get used to her," he had answered tersely. "It'll hurt her feelings to be sent away."
Rose could scarcely believe her ears. Memories, bitter, intolerable, crowded upon her. Had the little girl really changed Martin so completely? Oh, if only her boy could have lived! Perhaps she had made a great mistake in being so determined not to have another. Was it too late now? She looked at her husband. Well as she knew every detail of his fine, clean cut features, his broad shoulders and rippling muscles, they gave her a sudden thrill. It was as if she were seeing him again for the first time in years. If only he could let a shadow of this new thoughtfulness and kindliness fall on her, they might even yet bring some joy into each other's lives. They had stepped off on the wrong foot. Why, they really hadn't been even acquainted. They had been led into thinking so because of the length of time they had both been familiar figures in the same community. Beyond a doubt, if they were being married today, and she understood him as she did now, she could make a success of their marriage. But, as it was, Martin was so fixed in the groove of his attitude of utter indifference toward her that she felt there was little chance of ever jogging him out of it. To Rose, the very fact that the possibility of happiness seemed so nearly within reach was what put the cruel edge to their present status.
She did not comprehend that Martin definitely did not want it changed. Conscious, at last, that he was slowly starving for a woman's love, beginning to brood because there was no beauty in his life, he was looking at her with eyes as newly appraising as her own. He remembered her as she had been that day in the bank, when he had thought her like a rose. She had been all white and gold then; now, hair, eyes, skin, and clothes seemed to him to be of one earthy color. Her clean, dull calico dress belted in by her checked apron revealed the ungraceful lines of her figure. She looked middle-aged and unshapely, when he wanted youth and an exquisite loveliness. Well, he told himself, harshly, he was not likely to get it. There was no sense in harboring such notions. They must be crushed. He would work harder, much harder, hard enough to forget them. There was but one thing worth while--his farm. He would develop it to its limits.
Accordingly, when little Rose returned to Sharon, he and his Rag-weed soon settled themselves to the old formula of endless toil, investing the profits in sound farm mortgages that were beginning to tax the capacity of his huge tin box in the vault of the First State Bank.Next