Read CHAPTER II - THE BOOK OF SHELTER of Over Paradise Ridge A Romance, free online book, by Maria Thompson Daviess, on ReadCentral.com.

Peter’s play is remarkable; it really is.  He has collected all the great and wonderful things that life in America contains and put them together in a way that reads as if Edgar Allan Poe had helped Henry James to construct it, though they had forgotten to ask Mark Twain to dinner and had never heard of John Burroughs.  I felt when I got through the first act as if I had been living for a week shut into an old Gothic cathedral aisle decorated by marble-carved inspired words, and I was both cold and hungry.  The more I read of Peter’s play the more congenial I felt with Farrington.  I had enough education to see that it was a genuine literary achievement, but I had heart enough to know that something had to be done to rescue all his characters from the arctic region.  Could I do it single-handed even for a person I cared as much for as I did for Peter?  I decided that I could not, and that the only way I could prove my loyalty and affection for Peter was to abase myself before Sam Crittenden and his cruelty to me, and get his help.  Only for Peter would I have done such a thing, which in the end I didn’t have to do at all.

Since the night Sam refused me the use of his farm and put me out of his life for ever I had not seen him until by his own intention.  Or maybe it was Tolly’s.

“See here, Betty, what you need is a good fox or tango and you had better come to it up at Sue’s to-night.”

Tolly had broken in upon my despairing meditations over the way in which Peter’s hero talks wicked business and congested charity to the poor little heroine in the very first act while she is full of a beautiful affection Peter didn’t seem to see, and ready to pour it forth to the hero before he started out on a long life mission.  Maybe it was sorrowing with her at being thus suppressed by everybody that made me write her case to Peter with such fervor.  I had just finished the letter when Tolly came to my rescue with the offer of a nice warm dance to nourish me up.

“Don’t make me kidnap you, Betty; go fluff and rose up a bit,” he commanded, as he seated himself on the front steps with a determination which was as business-like as his management of the Electric Light Company.

“I think I had better go to Sue’s to thaw out some of my loneliness over this play,” I answered him as I looked up with desperation and a smudge on my face.  Then I went to my room and left Tolly alone with Peter’s poor little heroine.  “Say, tell the poet to get the man with the dinner-pail who is eating hunk sandwiches at lunch-time on the pavement in front of any construction job in New York to tell him what he did and said to his girl at the firemen’s ball the night before, and then translate it into some of this first-class poetry.  That’ll be a great play,” said Tolly, as I came down-stairs just as he had turned page twenty-five of Peter’s manuscript.  Tolly’s coarseness doesn’t affect me as it does Edith because there is always so much point to it.

“You don’t quite understand Peter and his play, Tolly, dear,” I said, with dignity, though I felt exactly the same way about it and hadn’t known how to express it in human interest terms as well as Tolly.

“I sure don’t,” answered Tolly, cheerfully, and not at all as if I had put him in his place in regard to his criticism of our epic.  “Come on; let’s hurry.  Everybody is waiting for us.”

It was good to be in a buzz of girls and men once more for the first time in two weeks since I settled down to do my worst or best by Peter, with my Grandmother Nelson’s garden-book locked up in the preserve-closet down in the darkest corner of the cellar, and Sam lost in the fastness of The Briers.

Everybody wanted to dance with me at the same time, and the girls kissed me into a lovely, warm cheerfulness.  The girls in Hayesboro are the sustaining kind of friends, like pound-cake, sweetened and beautifully frosted.  “Has he consented to let the hero kiss the poor thing’s hand before he goes to fight the case of the miners?” Julia whispered, warmly, as she took a few tango steps with me in her arms before Billy Robertson claimed her and Tolly picked me up to juggle with me in his new Kentucky version of the fox-trot.

“I’m expecting a letter to-morrow,” I answered her as Tolly slid me away three steps, skidded two, and slid back four.  And then, having begun, I danced; all of me danced; even my heart, which had started out as heavy as lead, got into the feather class before I went around the room three times.  It is strange how even great responsibilities melt away before dance music like icicles on the southern side of the house.  It was in a perfectly melted condition that I at last dropped from Tolly’s grasp into a pair of new arms which cradled me against a broad breast with such gentleness that I might have thought it was mother come to the dance if I hadn’t caught a whiff of cedar woodsiness when I turned my nose into a miniature brier-patch of blue-berried cedar in the buttonhole of the coat against which my face was pressed as my feet caught step with a pair of smart shoes bearing a smear of moss loam on one side.

“Sam!” I gasped, with emotional indignation that had a decided trace of joy.

“Yes, I feel that way, too,” answered Sam, roughing my hair slightly with his chin as both his hands were employed holding me to him while we slid and skidded and slid again.  “I don’t forgive you; I never shall,” I said, haughtily, as I drew away from him the fraction of an inch that came very near making us collide with Sue and Billy, who were dancing wildly, but in perfect accord.

“You’ll have to when you hear the worst,” answered Sam, as he firmly pressed my shoulder into his while he manoeuvered me first past Edith and Tolly and then across right in front of Pink Herriford, who weighs all of two hundred, dancing with Julia Buford, who must tip the scales at one hundred and sixty.  It was a hairbreadth rapture of escape.

“Is anything the matter with the cows or anybody else?” I demanded, anxiously, from his shoulder.

“Worse!”

“Oh, Sam, has anything died at The Briers?”

“Worse,” he answered again, while he defied Tolly with a double cross and then took a chance with Pink and Julia as I pressed him closer with my arms and my questions.

“Dance me out on the porch through the window and tell me, Sam,” I demanded.

“Not when this music and Julia and Pink hold out like that, Bettykin.  It’ll be bad enough when you do hear it,” answered Sam, laughing down at me with the same wide-mouthed smile he had always used on me when holding something over my head and making me reach up for it.  “Besides, it has been two whole weeks since I’ve had you,” he added, and again his strong arms cradled as well as guided.  Getting back into some people’s atmosphere is like recovering the use of a lung a person had temporarily lost; breathing improves.  I’ve always breathed easily in Sam’s friendship.  That was why I could dance with him as I did even up to the last bar of the music.  Then he swung me out through one of the long windows on to the porch under the dusky spring starlight.

“I hate to tell you, Betty, though I have walked a five-mile blister on my left heel in these dancing-shoes just to break the news to you,” Sam answered my repeated demand to be told his “worse.”

“Oh, Sam, a real blister?” I exclaimed, losing sight of the threatened catastrophe at the thought of his blistered heel.  I knew how tender Sam’s feet were, for I had doctored them since infancy.  I used to pay tribute in the form of apples and tea-cakes for the privilege of binding up his ten and twelve year old wounded toes, and I suppose I hadn’t really got over my liking for thus operating.

“Oh, not all from the walk,” answered Sam, as he smiled down on me consolingly.  “I’ve got a brand-new mule and I nearly plowed him and myself to death to-day.  I don’t seem to be well heeled enough to plow and dance both.”

“What did you plow, Sam?” I came close up to his shoulder so that the bit of woods in his buttonhole grazed my cheek as my head drooped with an embarrassed hope.

“I plowed for the early potatoes on the south slope and and ”

“And what?”

“I’m thinking of growing a crop of hollyhocks, if I get time to plant ’em.”

“Where did you plow, Sam?”

“In spots all over the place.”

“Where?”

“Well, then, about a hundred feet south by southwest from my door-step, if you must have it.  Great sakes! do you think this heel is going to swell, Betty, from your deep experience?”

“I I’m so happy, Sam,” I faltered, with more emotion than I knew Sam liked, but I think all apologies ought to be met enthusiastically at the front gate, whether they intended to come in or not.

“Well, I’m not I’m blistered.”  He again plaintively referred to his sufferings which I had forgotten in my joy at having him back in the bonds of friendship, even if slightly damaged.

“Come over home with me and I’ll plaster it so it won’t break or swell.  You know I know how,” I answered, eagerly.

“Cold cream and an old handkerchief like you used to keep.  Um ­um! the thought is good, Betty,” he answered, as he stood on his left foot for a second and then lifted it as if he were a huge crane.

“Come, now, so I can get the cream before mother goes to bed,” I said, with energy; and I led him, faintly remonstrating, through the Bankhead back gate that opens opposite ours.

Mother was glad to see Sam, heel and all, and sympathetically supplied the cream and handkerchief and a needle and thread without laying down the mat she was putting in a difficult hundred-and-fifty round on.  Mother is so used to Sam that she forgets that he is not her fifth or sixth son, and she treats him accordingly.  After she had given us all the surgical necessities she retired into the living-room by the lamp to put her mind entirely on the mat, in perfect confidence that I could do the right thing by my wounded neighbor.  And I did.

First, as I had always done, I bathed Sam’s great big pink-and-white foot in hot water and then in cold, sitting on the floor with a bath-towel in my lap to get at it while Sam wriggled and squirmed at both hot and cold just as he had always done.

“Go on, boil me,” he said, as I poured the last flash of heat from the tea-kettle on the floor beside me.

“Now a frost,” he groaned, as I dashed ice-water out of a pitcher on the blister and lifted the foot into my lap on the bath-towel.

“If you touch the bottom of my foot I’ll yell ‘murder,’” he said as I began to pat all around the blister in the gentlest and most considerate manner possible.  I knew he meant what he said, so I was careful as I wound and clipped and sewed.

“I never fixed as nice a one as that for you before,” I said, with pride, as he drew on his silk sock with its huge hole over as neat a bandage as it was possible for human hands to accomplish.  “I love to tie you up, Sam.”

“Thank you, and I return the compliment,” answered Sam, both smouldering and smiling down at me as if he were saying something to tease me.  “And now as a reward for your kindness I am going to knock you down with some news.”  And as he spoke we went on out to the porch, Sam walking like a new man.

“Oh, the ‘worse’ thing!  I had forgotten about that.  Tell me, Sam,” I answered, as I leaned against one of the pillars of the porch and he seated himself on the railing beside me.

“Well,” said Sam, slowly, “this is not worse for you, just for me; that is, at the present speaking, with nothing but the hay-loft handy.  I don’t know just how I’ll manage.”

“What?”

“Pete,” answered Sam.

“What about Peter?  Oh, Sam, Peter isn’t ill, is he?” And I reached out and clutched Sam’s arm frantically.  It takes alarm to test the depths of one’s affection for a friend.  I found mine for Peter deeper than I knew.  If anything had happened, Sam would know it first.  “Don’t be cruel to me, Sam.”  And I shook his arm.

“Forgive me, Betty,” said Sam, quickly.  “Pete’s all right and he’ll be here to demonstrate it to you just as soon as I can get a stall built for him out at The Briers.”

“At The Briers?  Peter?” I gasped.

“Even at that humble abode, Betty, whose latch-string is always out to friends,” answered Sam.  And I felt his arm stiffen under my fingers in a way for which I could see no reason.

“Just as I was going to begin my garden,” I wailed.  And Sam’s stiff arm limbered again and made a motion toward my hair that I dodged.  “What does he want?”

“Direct life.  I can give it to him,” answered Sam.  “At least that is what he asked for in his letter to me.  I don’t know what he will request in the one I wager you get by the morning mail.”

“Why, I had been writing him all that he needed of that, and we are going to be so busy gardening, how can we help him live it also?  Peter does require so much affectionate attention.”  I positively wailed this to Sam, in the most ungenerous spirit.

“Betty dear,” said Sam, gently, as he puffed at a little brier which he had substituted for the adorable cob on account of the formality of Sue’s dance, which we could hear going on comfortably without us, beyond the privet hedge whose buds were just beginning to give forth a delicious tang, “Peter is a great, queer kind of sensitive plant that it may be we will have to help cultivate.  You know that for several years his poems have really got across in great style with the writing world, and I’m proud of him and I I well, I love him.  Suppose, just suppose, dear, that Keats had had a great hulking farmer like me to stand by.  Don’t you think that maybe the world would have had some grown-man stuff from him that would have counted?  I always have thought of that when I looked at old Pete and promised myself to back him up with my brawn and nerve when he needed it.  Why, in the ’13 game it was Pete’s flaming face up on the corner of the stadium that put the ginger in me to carry across as I did.  Yes, I am going to put Pete’s hand to my plow and his legs under old Buttercup at milking-time if it kills us both, if that is what he needs or you have made him think he needs.”

“Oh, Sam, I’m ashamed!  I’m ashamed of not wanting precious Peter in my garden.  He can have half of all of it.  You know I love him dearly.  I’ll work all day with him and attend to all his blisters and get everybody to give him work and help him.”

“Well, I don’t believe I’d do all that to him, Betty,” answered Sam, with a laugh.  Then his eyes glinted past mine for a second.  “And say, Betty, you know my blisters are kind of kind of old friends to you; Pete’s might not have so many many landmarks for you to work by,” he added, as he knocked the ashes carefully out of the brier and picked up his hat.  “Let’s go for one fox, and then I’ll trot on out to my patch.”

“I’ll get Tolly to run you out in Redwheels while I do my promised dances, and then I’ll be out early in the morning to help plan about Peter.  And and, Sam, do you want to to give me that garden?”

“Everything that is is yours, Bettykin,” he answered as we went down the steps out on to the springy greening grass and across to the back gate.

Some friends taste like bread and butter and peach preserves.  Sam does and he’s a peach.

When I got back to the Bankheads’ everybody was wondering where we had been, and as Sam and Tolly got right off in the car without answering any questions, I was left to explain about Sam’s foot and Peter.  I paid no attention at all to Billy Robertson when he said his foot was blistered, too; but I told them how beautiful Peter was, and how distinguished, and all about the poor young Keats that most of them hadn’t grieved over since their Junior years at school, telling it all in such an eloquent way that Julia’s great blue eyes filled with tears, and I saw I could depend on her to be nice to our friend.

“I knew most poets were kind of calves, but I didn’t know they had to milk their poetry out of a genuine cow,” said Pink, with a vulgar attempt to be funny, at which nobody laughed, not even Julia, and she is almost too tall and big to dance with anybody but Pink.  She and Edith and Sue and I forgot to save him the dances we had promised him; and he had to dance with other girls he didn’t like so much, until we all went home in time to meet the sun coming down over Paradise Ridge with his dinner-pail.

Then for five days it rained heavy, determined, soggy drops; but the next morning introduced one of those wily, flirtatious days that come along about the last week in April in Tennessee.  I awoke to the sound of sobbing wind and weeping clouds in which I had no confidence, and succeeded in convincing mother that it would be a beautiful day for me to go out to see Sam and Byrd and Mammy.  She sent Byrd half a jelly-cake and a bag of bananas, and I got a jar of jam for him when I went down in the cellar to exhume Grandmother Nelson’s garden-book.  A bottle went to Mammy, which I suspect of being a kind of liniment that mother had to learn to make on account of the number of the boys and their bruises.

Eph was a tragedy over my taking out Redwheels, and I am glad that neither he nor I could prevision the plight the shiny new runabout would be in before it was many hours older.  With a stoical reserve he loaded in the two young lilacs that were in the exact state of sappiness Grandmother Nelson had recommended for transplanting, but his calmness nearly gave way when I had him put in a dandy old rake and spade and hoe that I had found in my raid on the cellar.

“Please ma’am, Miss Betty, don’t go and leave olé mistis’s gyarden tools out in no rain,” he entreated, plaintively.

“Oh, Eph, are they really Grandmother Nelson’s?” I exclaimed, with such radiance that it reflected from Eph’s polished black face.

“Yes’m, and they is too good to be throwed away on playing gyarden or sich,” he answered, with feeling.

“Eph,” I answered, with almost a choke in my voice, “they’ll be be sacred to me.  Oh, thank you for telling me.”

“Go on, child! you shore is olé mistis herself, with your pretty words to push along your high-haided ways,” he answered me while he gave Redwheels an affectionate shove as I started down the street.

I didn’t spend much time down-town, but I stopped at the post-office and got my mail to read while I waited at the drug-store for Mr. Simmons to put up some of every kind of flower and vegetable grandmother mentioned if it was still in stock.  He offered me a book of instructions, which I declined.  I meant to garden by ancestral tendencies.  And while I waited I looked over my letters.  The volume from Peter I put aside to enjoy in a leisure hour, as I felt sure that I knew what was in it; but I opened another thin one that looked as if it might be from him, if he had written it in an unpoetic mood.  It was from Judge Vandyne, and I then understood Peter’s sudden determination to come down and live with Sam for a time, though I don’t believe Peter knew the real reason of it himself.  The judge is a great diplomat, and knows just when and to whom to be frank.  We have always understood each other from the first vacation I spent with Mabel, and I value his confidence highly.  He wrote: 

No man can get a hold on the complex problems of this day and especially the next, who doesn’t go at them with at least some sunburn on his neck and a few horny spots on his hands.  Put Pete at it, you and Sam.  Your description of Sam’s habitation and vocation in letter to Mabel made me feel twenty-five again.  I never had the real thing; but Peter shall.  Ease him along.  If he kicks over the traces let me know.  When are you coming North again?  Soon, I hope,

Your aged admirer,
Peter Vandyne, Sr.

P.S. Thought I’d better say that Dr. Herbrick doesn’t like
Peter’s weight one sixteen.  You understand.

I wonder what the paternal Keats was like.  I don’t remember, and I must look him up to see.  It’s funny how sturdy-oak fathers can have ferny-mimosa sons.  Mothers can stand producing poets, but it is hard on fathers.  I felt that I must help out Judge Vandyne, and with that resolve I headed Redwheels out along Providence Road.

As I had told mother, the sobs and tears of the April day had been wilfully misleading demonstrations, for by ten o’clock the whole face of nature wore a sun-sweetened smile that was positively entrancing.  The young April world seemed to spring dripping from a bath that glistened all over with crystal water gems.  Winter is staid and dignified and grand with its stark trees and mantle of brown earth, and summer is glowing and glorious; but very young spring is so sappy and curly and yellow and green and lavender that you take it to heart and let it nestle there to suck its pink apple-blow thumb, and curl up its young sprout toes sheltered away from the cold that sets it back and the sun that forces it to break bud.  Sometimes it stays with you a day and sometimes a week and a day, but you can’t hold it back.  You can just be thankful that you had it.  I was.

But if the five miles of Providence Road had been a delight, as Redwheels and I ran along it, the dirt lane that led to The Briers was an intoxicating joy.  The wet earth, the drenched cedars, the oak buds, the spongy moss, the reddening blackberry-bushes, and the sprouting grain, all mingled in a queer creation odor that went right through the pores of my skin into my vitals and made me feel as strong as an ox, or rather, as Sam’s new mule.  I caught a glimpse of that mule through a vista before I came out of the lane, plodding along before Sam and the plow with a great splendid lurch of a gait that threw the black dirt as high as Sam’s knees as he plunged along at the plow-handles.  I stopped the car at the cedar-pole gate of Eden and stood up and shouted at the top of my lungs, but Sam plowed on heroically, with never a glance in my direction, and I just stood and looked at him and the mule.  Seeing a man plow cuts right down to the bottom of a woman’s nature, because I suppose it looks so so fundamental.  At least that is about the way I felt though it was much more so until I remembered the blistered heel and shouted again, this time in alarm.  At my cry of distress Sam suddenly looked up and jerked the mule’s head so that he, too, stopped and regarded me.  They looked like wary jungle things that had been belled from the thicket, but for just a second; then Sam threw his line around the plow-handle, thus hitching the mule to himself, and came running across the field to me, as lightly as the blue jay skimmed from over my head into the branches of another cedar in answer to the same twit I had heard the day I first came out into the habitation of the birds.  The pleasure of seeing Sam run to me was almost as keen as the pain of seeing him run away from me, but it was mitigated by my alarm over the poor sore foot.

“Gracious sakes, Betty! is that a mud-scow you came out in?” he asked, as he started to take my hand in his, which was brown with mud, and ended by rubbing his cheek in my palm.  That seemed to be about the only member he had kept clean enough for the greeting.

“Aren’t you hurting your heel plowing like that, Sam?” I asked, anxiously.

“Heel what heel?  Oh, that’s all right.  I haven’t heard from it since you tucked it away in the cream Tuesday night.  I have cold-bucketed myself every morning, standing on one leg with it up on the wash-bench so as not to wake it up.  Come on up to the house.  I’ll walk, because I’m too muddy to get in with you in your sedan-chair.”

“No; you go back to the plowing and I’ll go and unload and begin my work,” I answered, with positive heroism.  I wanted to get out and go and be introduced to the mule, but I came to Sam to be not a clinging vine, but a competent garden-hoe to him.

“All right,” said Sam, in the nice way he has of acquiescing in all my serious moods until they pass.  “I’ll be through after about three more rounds and then I’ll come and help you.  Say, Bettykin, what do you think of that for good land?” And as he looked back at the great square of black earth he had upturned, Sam’s eyes flecked with the blue sky and snapped with enthusiasm.

“It looks good enough to eat,” I answered, with a queer dirt enthusiasm rising in me that I had never even heard of one’s having before.

“Yes, and you will eat it in about four months’ time in the form of roasting ears,” answered Sam, smacking his lips, which had a streak of the mud delicacy across them at right angles.  “But go on up and tell Mammy to put your name in her dinner-pot and buy the Byrd to get you anything you need or want to the half of our kingdom.  I’ll be there in ten shakes of the mule’s tail.”

The road that leads from the cedar-pole gate through Sam’s wilderness up to the farm-house curves in and out and around the hill past as many lovely spots as my enthusiasm could endure.  Halfway up, there is a glimpse past a gray old tree with crimson thorns, of the valley with Old Harpeth looming opposite.  Further on a rocky old road leads down around a clump of age-distorted cedar-trees to the moss-greened stone spring-house, from which the water gurgles and pours past Sam’s huge earthern crocks of milk.  Over it all broods the low white house on the plateau, from under whose wings I found one small blue chicken running and cheeping wildly for a ride up the hill.

The Byrd was, as usual, attired in miniatures of Sam’s overalls, and his red mop stood on ends all over his head, while his freckles shone forth resplendently from the excitement of my arrival.

“Say, Betty, what you think?  Old Buttercup found a calf out in the woods and it has got a white nose and two spots.  Sam wanted to name it Chubb for the doctor that saved its life ’fore it got borned, but I said ladies first, and I calls it Betty.  You can let it lick your fingers if Sam milks on ’em first.  And Dominick have hatched ’fore the white hen eleven, and one what Sam calls a half chicken, because he don’t see how it is black when the eggs was bought thoroughbreds; but Mammy says because they is Yankee eggs.  Come see all everything.”

Sam’s barn is an old tumble-down collection of sheds and the most lovely place I ever got into.  It is running over with new-born life, and you can get an armful of first one variety and then another.  I liked the collie puppies best, but the Byrd was crazy about the little fawn calf which old Buttercup is so proud of that she switches her tail in the greatest complacency.  He was just showing me how to tempt her little white nose with a wisp of hay that she was learning to eat, and I was luxuriating with one new-born wriggler in my arms and two yellow-down puff-balls in my hand, when Sam and the mule came up from the field.

“My, it’s great to have a nice family party like this to plow for!” he said, as he led the mule into his stall and poured down his oats out of a bucket the Byrd ran to bring him.  “Any news from Petie, Bettykin?”

“I’ve got a letter from Peter that I haven’t read, but one from Judge Vandyne that I have.  Here it is read it,” and I held the letter open for Sam to read over my shoulder.

“Read it to me, Betty; I’m too dirty to come that near you,” he said, as he took the cob pipe out of his pocket and prepared to light up while the Byrd scampered to the house to hurry Mammy’s dinner.

“You’re not exactly dirty, Sam,” I answered, surveying him with a satisfiedly critical eye.  “You only look and smell like the earth and the sky and the barn and and ”

“Just call it cosmic, Betty, and let it go at that,” he answered, as he reached out and roughed my hair over my eyes with the long hickory switch with which he had been merely threatening the mule all day.  “Go on, read me the judge’s document on the subject of Peter while we wait for Mammy’s dinner cluck.”

As he had asked me to do, I read it all, slowly, while my heart, that had been climbing like a squirrel to the tops of the trees, began to burrow down in the reverse manner of a chipmunk.  I could see Sam’s spirits doing likewise.

“The judge gets under Pete’s skin and peels the fat off him,” said Sam, slowly, with sadness in his deep, strong voice.  “I’ve just got to build some sort of a poet’s corner to put him in, so he can come on down from Philadelphia from the opening of the spring Academy.  He will have burned himself out by then, and he’ll be so weak we can feed him out of a bottle.”

“And it’s his play, too, Sam,” I answered, despondently.  “He’s beginning on the third act, and just reading it all and suggesting in spots is making me thin.  It is all the terrible heroic struggle of the poor hero now and he doesn’t seem to let the heroine help him a bit.  Oh, Sam, if Peter were to fail with this play after Farrington has encouraged him I don’t know what might happen!  I’m sorry you ever mentioned Keats to me.  I dream about him at night.  I adored him when I was at The Manor, and so did Mabel,” and my lips quivered so I had to turn against the harness hanging on the wall against which I drooped.

“Keats or Peter?” asked Sam as he pressed his whip across my shoulders in comforting little licks because his hand was too muddy to pat me.

“Both,” I sniffed.

“Don’t,” said Sam, with cheering command in his voice.  “We are too late to help Keats, and plenty early to pull Pete out of his divine fire.  Let’s go get some good grub from Mammy so we can plant the garden before sundown, and stake out the poet’s corner, too.  I didn’t have the money to hire the plowing done, but I am almost through for the present; and I can whirl in now and get in shape for Petie’s rescue in no time.”

“It’s popped its skin with stuffing, and Mammy says come on while the ’taters stands up stiff,” announced the Byrd, half-way up the path from the house to the barn.

“He’s talking about a duckling, but let’s hope Peter can be mentioned in the same terms in the near future,” said Sam, as he drove the fleet Byrd and me before him with the switch, in a scamper to Mammy and food.

“Yes,” said Sam, as he stood an hour later in the middle of the plot under the south window, which spread out in the sun like a great black lake, smooth from his repeated plowing and harrowing, “that is the richest bit of land at The Briers or in Benton County.  It will bring some posies for you, Bettykin.”

“I’m not going to plant just flowers in it, Sam,” I answered in a tone that admitted of no discussion, “Do you remember the part of grandmother’s book that told what she made off of the southern half-acre of hers the year everything failed?  I’ve got it right here, and I’m going to follow it,” and as I spoke I hugged the ancestral garden to my breast with one arm, while I held the old grass basket I had made for Sam in my infancy in the other hand, with all my town seeds in it.

“Oh, there’s plenty of garden-land all over the place, Betty.  Come on and sow the posies.”

“There’s not plenty of onion and beet and lettuce and okra and tomato and celery land right at the well, Sam, that Byrd and I can carry water from,” I answered, positively.  “Is this land mine or yours?”

“Yours.”

“Wait.  I forgot!” I exclaimed in sudden, embarrassed consternation.  “Are you renting this land to me, Sam?”

“Renting it to you, Betty?” For a second Sam’s eyes blazed in a way I hadn’t seen since the time I didn’t want to take all of the one fish we caught after a hot day’s fishing out at Little Harpeth at our tenth and fourteenth years.  Then, suddenly, a queer expression came up and drowned the anger in his eyes and twitched at the comers of his mouth until I recognized it as humor.

“I believe it would be better for us both to crop it on shares, as you are going to put in foodstuffs, too.  I am cropping on onions with old Charlie Wade, down the road, and with sugar-beets with Hen Bates.  In this case it would be about fair for you to furnish the seeds and I the land, all labor that each of us puts in to be charged against the gross receipts.  I’ll just enter you in my time-book now.  Let’s see it is one-fifteen,” and as he spoke Sam took out, first his watch, and then a muddy little book that had time-tables and all sorts of almanac things in it.

For a second I was as mad as I was when he handed me the two-inch fish and ordered me to take it in for the cook to have for my supper; but in a second I saw just what he had done to me and I didn’t dare remonstrate.

“How much do I get an hour?” I asked, with the greatest dignity, as I threw the seed-basket and my hat on the ground and picked up my rusty old hoe, ready for business.

“I charge myself at twelve and a half cents.  Are you worth about about fifteen?” he asked in a business-like tone of voice, but I saw a twitch at the corners of his mouth that made me boil with rage.

“Put me down at six and a quarter for the present,” I answered, haughtily.

“Down she goes,” he answered, as he thus minimized me with his pencil and put the book back in his pocket.  “Now, where do you want me to heave in the lilacs so as to get the two corners of the garden to guide the rows by?  Shall they run north and south or east and west?  It really doesn’t make much difference.”

“East and west, then,” I answered, calmly, though my hand clenched over the hollyhock seeds which I had put in an envelope in the pocket of my corduroy skirt.  It was cruelly thoughtless of him this selection of the lilacs for the corner-stones of the garden after making me so happy, not a month ago, with that lovely sentiment about wanting to plant the hollyhock seeds first in memory of the dolls of our youth.  “Peter will enjoy looking down the rows from the living-room window better than across them,” I added, quickly, for fear he would humiliate me by remembering that he had forgotten the hollyhock seeds he had stolen for me.

“Say where and I’ll dig for you,” he said; but I saw a glint of something fairly shoot from his eyes.

“Here,” I said, and stood at a nice right angle from the corner of the house and the old cedar-tree he had said he could nail the wires to to save a post, when he had to put up a fence.

He came over promptly with the spade and poised it to dig into the ground and my heart.

Then he hesitated, and looked at me quickly for a second.  Then he threw down the spade and said, quietly: 

“I’ll go get that rotted stump dirt before I break ground for the lilacs, and you can think about things while you wait.”  With that he lifted the wheelbarrow and trundled out of the situation, leaving me in the depths of a hurt uncertainty.

But if Samuel Foster Crittenden thought I was as stupid as that, he had a chance to learn better at least I thought I would give him one.  I’m not sure yet that I did.

As soon as he was out of sight I flew to the end of the garden, where I thought the row of hollyhocks would make a lovely background for all the long lines of vegetables and flowers running into it, sighted with my eye, ran a trench with the rusty old hoe, flung in my seeds, and covered it up in less time than it takes to tell it.  When Sam came back I had spaded out at least two and a half shovelfuls of dirt, that I found surprisingly heavy, from the hole for the first lilac.  I saw him start and hesitate as if about to say something, and then I think I think, but I can’t be sure his eyes rested on my hasty and surreptitious gardening.

“You are the real thing, Betty,” was all he said as he roughed my hair, first back and then down over my eyes, and took Grandmother Nelson’s spade from my hand and began to make the dirt fly out of the hole.  I wonder what I’ll say when those hollyhocks come up.

And then we all worked.  It astonished me to find what one man, one woman, and one small boy can do to a plot of earth in three hours, with a string, sharpened sticks, seed, hoes, spades, rakes, and radiant happiness.  At four o’clock we all three sank down in a heap at the end of the last row of green peas in delicious exhaustion.

“Nice little seed, I’ll dig you up to-morrow to see how you feel,” said the Byrd as he patted in a stray pea he had found with the beets.  “I can’t dig you all up, but I will as many as I can.”

“Yes, you will not,” said Sam, reaching for him as he skimmed and dipped away.  And then followed a lecture on floriculture, agriculture, and horticulture that I immensely enjoyed.

“Yes,” assented the fledgling, with the greatest intellectual enthusiasm, “baby beets folds up jest that way,” and he illustrated after Sam, with his grubby little paddies, “same as chickens in eggs and ”

“Come on, Betty, let’s go select the spot for the cedar-log temple for Peter’s muses,” Sam interrupted as he made a lightning grab for the Byrd and tumbled him back into the loamy earth.

I realized then that up to a quarter of five o’clock on that twenty-first-of-April day I had been really wretchedly uneasy about Peter in every way, that I did and did not understand since that scene at the tea-table in the Astor when I had assumed the responsibility of him.  But at that moment when Sam held back a tangle of blackberry-bushes and low-sweeping dogwood boughs, and we stepped out on a moss-covered rock-ledge that commanded a view of the Harpeth Valley, stretching away and away in an iridescent shimmer of springiness and sunshine, it completely vanished, for the time being, anyway.

“Oh,” I said, with a great sigh of relief, “let’s plant Peter here.  He he can grow his dream in this place.”

“Yes,” answered Sam, quietly, “I’ll log up and daub up a shack right here, with a stone fireplace.  It won’t cost anything, for I’ll use my own logs and pick up my own stones.  Thank God for shoulders and arms which can make shelter for anybody that needs it anywhere,” and as he spoke Sam looked across the valley into the blaze of the sun that was beginning to go down behind Paradise Ridge, with that earth-smolder I was beginning to recognize.  I knew that David and Moses and Christ had all looked down across new life from a hillside, and Sam seemed almost transfigured to me.  And I had a a vision.  I saw that Sam was to be one of a gigantic new kind of men to whom all who were ahungered and athirst would come to be cared for.  I had brought Peter to him first, and I knew I felt that others that

“Sam,” I said, as I reached out and laid a timid hand, for the first time stained with earth labor, on the blue sleeve of his overalls, “don’t ever leave Peter and me anywhere you are not, will you?”

“I’m always here for you both when you need me, Betty.  Just call,” he answered.  “And now you hustle home to Mother Hayes or she won’t let me have you at six and a quarter cents any more.”

“Make it five, Sam.  I feel smaller now.”

“No, that’ll be Pete’s rate.  Come on and take the mud-scow back to Eph.  Present my compliments to him after he has washed it.”

Some people have a way of pruning a friend’s spirit in a manner that makes it bush out more hardily than ever.  That is the way Sam does me, and I intend to worship him delightfully if I want to and he continues to deserve it.  It is so much better for a woman to worship a man than love him; it puts a strong barrier between them to keep him from hurting her, which loving him doesn’t seem to, at least not with Edith and Tolly; and I am always worried over Peter; but for long intervals I can forget Sam comfortably and find him right there when I need him.

I am glad that I had that care-free day of hard work with Sam out at The Briers to fatigue me so that I couldn’t take Peter’s letter completely to heart.  I read it, cried over it a minute, and then fell into my bed without even putting rose oil on my cheek curls to hold them in place.  My first day at farming had done me up.  Still, it’s no use to cover up your head from trouble; it’s right here by the bed the minute you peep over the top of the sheet.  I woke up, feeling that the whole world must be camping on the top of my crocheted lace counterpane; but soon I realized that it was only Peter’s play.  Peter is stuck in the mud at the beginning of the third act, and he thinks it is quicksands that are going to drown him.  The last few sentences of the letter sound like a beautiful funeral oration to himself, and they made me so miserable that I put on my clothes and fled to daddy, who was out smoking his cigar on the front porch in the crisp morning air.

“And Sam can’t possibly get ready for him to come down in less than two weeks.  He has to build the house in between the plowing and milking and other things.  Peter may die.  What shall we do?” I wound up with a wail.

“Sam paid off the note on two of the cows and cash for the mule last Monday,” answered daddy.  “Not a farmer in the Harpeth Valley has done better in less than two years, and I would leave Peter to him.  I guess he can fodder up the play, too.  Have the poet down to visit mother while he waits.”

“He can’t come for a week; he’s going to be decorated at the Academy.  He’s the youngest that ever has been; but I’ll write and ask him,” I answered, in a jumble, but very much comforted.

Peter accepted my invitation and announced his arrival as ten days later.  Then real work began among Sam’s friends and mine in Hayesboro.

I put the case to them plainly and movingly.  Here was a young and distinguished genius coming to settle down in Hayesboro to rescue his play, and it was the duty of everybody to help him in every way.  The first thing he had to have was shelter, and we ought to all help Sam as much as we could to provide it for him.  He was willing to stay with us for a few days, on mother’s invitation, which I had to hide nine crochet-needles to make her write him, but he wrote that his “spirit panted for the wilderness,” and if he felt that way about it he ought to be settled in the cabin as soon as possible.

“Why, of course,” said Julia, with large and responsive enthusiasm, “we must just all turn in and help Sam.  I never helped build a house, but if you can, Betty, so can I.”

“I can make curtains and things and cushions for chairs,” said Edith, with no less enthusiasm than Julia’s.  “I have a lovely bureau-scarf all finished and ”

“Chairs bureau!” I fairly gasped.  “Neither Sam nor I had thought of furniture.  Sam paid a big note in the bank for the cows and mule, and how can he buy more stock like chairs and bureaus and beds?”

“Why, hasn’t Sam got furniture?  The Crittenden house had the loveliest in Hayesboro,” asked Edith, plaintively.

“He’s sold it; Sam is poor,” I answered, proudly.  “He hasn’t got anything but Mammy and Byrd and the other stock, and places for all to sleep and eat and keep warm.  Now what are we going to do?”

“He wouldn’t let us buy him anything, would he?” asked Sue, thoughtfully.

“I know Sam better than that,” said Edith.

“I’ll tell you,” I exclaimed, suddenly and radiantly.  “Of course, we can’t give Sam anything, but I believe I believe that if I asked him very kindly he would let us make a kind of museum of affection of Peter’s room and take all the lovely things we can borrow from people to put in the shack to help inspire him.  Mother will let me start with Grandmother Nelson’s desk, though it is dearer than life to me; and I know she’ll crochet him a lamp-mat before he gets here maybe several, if she likes the pattern she starts on.”

“Do you remember that mahogany table in my room?” exclaimed Julia, several minutes lost in deep reflection.  “It is real Chippendale, Aunt Amanda says, and I’ll send that out.  Oh, to think of a poet laying his pen down on it!  Or does he use a pencil?”

And it is true that from very small beginnings great trees grow.  In this case it was Peter’s roof-tree, or rather what was under it.  I never saw anything like Hayesboro when it takes generosity in its teeth and runs away, as at the time when Mr. Stanton, the Methodist minister, had thirty-five pounds of sausage sent him from different hog-killings just because in prayer-meeting, when he publicly thanked the Lord for his seventh child, he mentioned that it was welcome, though one more mouth to feed.  Of course, the baby didn’t need the sausage any more than Peter really needed all the things everybody wanted to send out to make the cabin comfortable for him.  Fortunately, Sam kept his head, as the minister did when he sold the sausage and bought groceries for the whole family; he selected only five pieces out of the list of sixty that we gave him, and it took me a day and a half to go around and keep people from getting hurt because he didn’t call in his wagon for the things they had got out and rubbed and dusted.  And before the sun set on the second day of my explanations I had talked Peter into the very heart of Hayesboro, which was all down to the station to meet him and welcome him.  The mayor wanted to have the brass band, but I persuaded him not to do that, but to make Peter a little speech.  Miss Henrietta Spain asked to have her school children march down to throw jonquils in his path, and I had to give in to that.  Besides, I thought Peter would like it; so did Sam.

But that came later, after six of the longest days any of us ever lived through.  We spent them at The Briers, and every soft friend I had is now a hardened specimen.  Everybody went out to see Sam and advise him about how to care for a distinguished guest that they all felt that Hayesboro owned and was just lending to Sam for the time being, and they all remained to farm.  Most of them had never been to see him before, and they were so delighted that they lost their heads and hearts to the farm.  The Briers is like a great, big, beautiful dog that lies there begging you to come and plow it and scratch it and hoe it and rake it, while it licks out green curly vegetable tongues for more.  At first Sam seemed slightly overwhelmed by all the offers of help that came with me in Redwheels, dressed in business-like corduroys that had been made like mine, in a hurry, and with hoes and seed-baskets, or that Pink or Tolly drove out in their cars; but he finally entered everybody in the time-book at two and a half cents an hour, gave each a plot of ground that wouldn’t do for anything else, and started them off, while he kept on at real work.  I’m glad to have every healthy assurance of being in the world when Sam comes to the harvesting of his friendly crops.  It will be a great occasion.  If Edith’s five rows of okra do not net or gross I forget which is the right term for it I know she will wilt away, and I dread Sue if her fifty tomato-plants go down before the humble cutworm.  Sue won’t be humble.  Miss Editha came out with us one afternoon and sowed a row of ladies’-slippers and princess-feathers, and it was funny to see old Dr. Chubb, who had driven the ten miles just for the pleasure of seeing Sam (only, Sam said it was in hopes of seeing me), digging and raking for her, while Colonel Menefee, in true military style, commanded them both.  Father came once and took Sam away down to a field by himself, and from the look on both their faces I was afraid Sam had again refused to borrow money to buy the mate to the mule he needed so badly.  Father was so mad he took off his coat, and he and Tolly split wood enough for the big fireplace to last until midsummer.  Sam says that Pink sweat enough soap-grease to make him worth more than two and a half cents, if it could have been collected.  He didn’t mean us to hear him say it to Pink, but Edith got pale with shock, while daddy roared so that old Buttercup came up the hill to see what was the matter.  Julia laughed, and so did I when we got away from Edith.

It took six good days of such chorus work to get every odd job at The Briers nicely finished up, and daddy and the mayor and Colonel Menefee mended all the rail fences before they rested on the seventh.

Then on Monday morning came the log-raising for the poet’s lodge, and everybody assembled long before Sam had nicked the last log with his great big adz.  We all sat around on the rocks and ends of the logs and discussed how to begin before Sam got ready to tell us the right way.  The colonel and Miss Editha were standing a little to one side, and I knew that he was being sentimental by the fluttering smile that came and went on her tea-rose face; but suddenly he turned and said to daddy, with his fierce old face lighting: 

“Just look, Hayes, there’s pioneer blood in them yet and brawn, too,” he added, as Tolly and Pink and Billy Robertson stripped off their coats and came forward as Sam knocked the last crimson cedar chip from the last log.

“Steady up now, Tolly,” said Sam, as Tolly bent to one end of one of the long, rough cedar logs, that had so lately been a forest king, but that was now dethroned and shorn of its branching power with which to wrestle with the wind.  Pink and Billy got holds in between.  “Up up, boys!  Now roll!” shouted Sam again, and with a strain and a heave they landed the first log level and true on the stone underpinnings.

“Hip hip hurrah for the poet’s house!” shouted Tolly, as he rolled his shirt-sleeves up and spat on his hands to show his readiness for more logs; and we all clapped, while Edith picked up a button that had popped off his shirt with the strain of his big chest underneath.

Then for a second Sam’s kind eyes sank down deep into mine and smoldered there.  I know he was praying for Peter as the rest cheered.  Then he bent and called out: 

“Next.  Up up, boys!  Steady!”

My eyes misted for a second, and Peter’s pale face rose before them in the mist.  Peter is a man of dreams, for whom was being harnessed all this sinew and brawn of reality.  And men must plow and plant and reap and hew and lift for their vision-bringers, and women must do it also.  It is only right.  I am willing.  Where were the neighbors to the Keatses that they didn’t And I was about to be dissolved in a sea of sentiment when Sam’s voice hauled me to the surface as he shouted: 

“Hi, Betty, get out and sight this end for a right angle-drop, as I showed you.  Wait!  Back, boys!”

And after that I held the metal square and sighted until I felt as if I had eaten a right angle, while Sam’s crew heaved and raised and dropped and rolled, until all four of the low walls were fitted into the notches, log for log, and the roof-poles were laid just as the sun began to quit his job and get on toward China.

“No four of their young Virginia pioneer ancestors who came over the wilderness trail did it any quicker or better, Colonel,” said daddy, as he walked around to the back of the cabin and then again to the front.  As he spoke he laid his arm across Sam’s shoulder and I knew that the breach was healed until the next time daddy tried to help him financially.

All the log-raisers went home by twilight, and daddy and I were the last.  The Byrd had insisted on showing daddy nine little curly-tailed pigs taking their evening repast at the maternal fount, which they were shyly late in doing because the fledgling perched so near them on the fence to exhibit and direct the repast.

This left me to help Sam gather up his tools and pick up the fragrant cedar chips for Mammy’s vesper fire.

“Now, the chimney next and Pete’s housed,” said Sam, as he sat down on a log right where I was crouching, filling the basket with the chips.  “Are you happy, Bettykin?”

“Sam, when I know that Peter is tucked in that little old bed that matches yours that mother gave you out of our garret I am going to breathe so deep that maybe I’ll I’ll break my belt,” I answered, as I picked a chip from under one of his big farm shoes.  “I couldn’t stand him on my mind much longer.”

“Let him stay comfortably in your heart and don’t get him on your mind,” answered Sam, as he calmly got out the cob pipe, filled and lighted it.  “Pete’s great enough to fill both for any woman.”  And Sam’s face took on that devout young prophet-look it always does when he looks at his land or mentions Peter the look which then began to irritate as well as impress me, I don’t exactly know why.

“My mind’s not very big and my heart is smaller,” I snapped, as I upset part of the basket of chips and had to begin to pick them all up again.

“You’re young you’ll grow up to Pete,” said Sam, as he roughed my hair worse than he had ever done since I had forbidden him, picked up my basket and started to the house, leaving me to follow, squaw-fashion and perfectly furious.  Now if I don’t know whether my troth is plighted to Peter, and Peter doesn’t know, I am certain that I can’t see why Samuel Foster Crittenden should be so sure of it; and he and I parted anything but friends, a fact over which I could feel daddy chuckle as he sat wedged beside me in the car, though he didn’t dare smile.  I would wager my first mess of peas that he winked at Sam.  I had seen them act that way about me only too often in my infancy.  I felt that I hated the whole world until I had to except the fledgling, who rode down to the gate on the running-board just over my left shoulder, while Sam came along to hold him on.

“Betty, you is the prettiest lady they is if your eyes do crinkle when you laugh, and ain’t blue.  I’d let you kiss me anywhere I’m clean enough, if you bring me just one pigeon that will lay eggs for little ones,” he said, as I slowed up for him to climb down to open the gate.

“She could get one cheaper than that, Byrd,” said Sam, as he got down to open the gate, while for a second I snuggled the fledgling, whom I always hated to leave out in the woods in the dark, even with Sam’s rough hand so near his pillow.

“Thank you,” I said, pleasantly, as I drove through the gate, without stopping another ten minutes to chat, as I knew daddy wanted to.  I’m glad Samuel Foster Crittenden will never know just exactly what I was cross about, as I wasn’t sure myself.  It is strange how you can hate a person for whom you have the deep regard I have for Sam, when he has done nothing at all to offend you.

That night I fought it all out with myself about Peter.  I felt that Sam had brought the sore spot in my heart to head and I would have to operate and find out what was really there.  Accordingly, after I had safely anchored myself in the middle of my old four-poster bed I slashed myself.  This is what I found.  That I had made up my mind to marry Peter just as soon as he wanted me to, which I knew would not be until after the play was finished down in Sam’s wilderness.  I had two reasons for my intention.  Nobody in the world ever loved and depended on me as Peter has always done since he read me the winning poem that he sent in for his Junior Prize.  Peter needs me, and nobody else in the world does.  What could love be but giving and cherishing the beloved?  By the test of how I longed to do all that to Peter I found out how I loved him.  That was the reason I openly admitted, but I am afraid that I was afraid of Sam if I should fail his young David-Keats in any way.  He had already warned me what I must be to him, and I felt as I did about that heifer I let get by me the first day I went to dig Sam out of the hollow tree to which he has now had to build a new crotch in order to take in Peter.  This time I would head off his calf for him, though I didn’t mean to call Peter that, even in the heat of debate with myself.  Oh, I could take such good care of Peter and Judge Vandyne, and Mabel would be so glad!  My spirits rose at the thought of their joy, and as I felt better, I luxuriated in the thought of Sam’s approbation.  I would give Peter the answer he had begged for in every letter, help him with the play until it was finished, and then have a glorious wedding, with Edith and Sue and Julia and all the girls.  I must have fallen asleep then, for I dreamed that Julia was the bride at my wedding and that I couldn’t get there.  When I woke from that nightmare I decided to let Sam have the happiness of hearing Peter tell him of my submission to their wishes; and that time I sobbed myself to sleep.

From that fatal night until the afternoon of Peter’s arrival, I saw Sam only three times, and those when there were many others with us.  I was so sweet and submissive to him that I saw I alarmed him greatly.

Peter arrived according to schedule and was met in the manner planned by our friends.  As he stood on the train platform just behind a woman and a baby, I saw his great dark eyes, that seem fairly to glow out of his beautiful face, eagerly race over the crowd.  When they rested on me they lit with what I thought was perfect joy until I saw them find Sam a few seconds later.  That was the real thing, and I never loved Peter better than when I saw him hold Sam’s hand in his while he was greeting me in a suppressed, lover-like way and was being introduced to people.  Sam was also radiant.  Peter and Sam and I are the eternal triangle that Peter is always talking into plots for plays only Sam is the apex instead of me.  Isn’t it beautiful to have it that way?