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

Hayesboro took Peter into its heart of hearts and then sighed for more to give him.  This town is like the old man’s horse whose natural gait is running away when it is not asleep.  Peter woke it up and it took the bit in its mouth and bolted with him, while Peter clung to the saddle and had the time of his young poetic life.

Mother accepted Peter with her usual placidity.  She took him into her room and I suppose she examined him physically, for I saw her give him a dose of sarsaparilla tea every morning he was with us.  I bought her five spools of the finest silk thread, ranging in shade from gray to lavender, to begin on a crocheted tie and pair of socks for him.  Daddy was as good as gold to him and fell immediately into Judge Vandyne’s attitude toward him.  I knew he would.  Eph maintained the dignity of the haphazard family at meal-times, and waited on Peter worshipfully at all others.  The black beauty in the kitchen was heard to remark to the house-girl: 

“I hope that white man’s skin will stretch, for I shore am going to stuff it.  He am a insult to any respectable skillet or pot.”  She did, and at times I trembled for the poet.

He read to Miss Henrietta Spain’s school the poem on “Space” which the Literary Opinion had copied; and he was the greatest possible success.  Most of it I feel sure the school didn’t understand.  But just as he finished the last two lines those lines the magazine had called “as perfect in winged lyric quality as any lines in the English language could be” the Byrd, whom Sam had groomed carefully and brought in from the brier-patch for the occasion, rose, and, with his freckles black with the intensity of his comprehension of the poem, spread his little arms and said: 

“I fly!  I fly!”

“I fly!  I fly, too!” A little chubkin in a blue muslin dress just behind him jumped to her feet and echoed him before they could be repressed.

“That was the most perfect tribute I shall ever receive,” Peter said, that night out on the porch, after Sam had gone home, carrying the exhausted Byrd, who even in sleep held in one hand the handle of a full basket he had begged from mother, and in the other tightly grasped a sack in which were two “little ones” daddy had got for him.  These treasures happened to be young rabbits, and Sam said he would charge daddy with the damages.

“Good old Sam,” said Peter, as we stood at the gate by the old lilac, who was beginning to beplume himself more richly than any of his compatriots in Hayesboro in honor of Peter, I felt sure and watched Sam and the Byrd jog away in the wagon down Providence Road.  “He’ll make his mark on his generation yet, Betty.  This is just a temporary eclipse of the effulgence of a young planet that will shine with the warm light of humanity when the time comes.  There is no man like him.  O Samboy!”

“Oh, I love you, Peter, for feeling that way,” I exclaimed, heartily, as I grasped his arm with enthusiasm.  “You are so wonderful, Peter.”

“Dear, dearest Betty,” said Peter, as he put his arm through mine, and we both began to swing back and forth on the gate.  “It is so marvelous to have a woman respond to your every mood as you do to mine.  It is like having in one’s possession an angel incarnate in her own harp.”

“Oh, Peter you are wonderful!” I again exclaimed, because I felt that way and had no other feeling to draw another remark from.  It is so satisfactory to love a man with no variations.  I cannot see why girls like to tremble and blush and chill and glow and get angry and repentant about the men they love, as Edith does about Clyde Tolbot.  I wish I could make them all understand the great calmness of true love like mine for Peter.

The five days that Peter stayed with mother, Hayesboro did many other things to him.  The mayor got up a barbecue in his honor, and they had nine political speeches and two roast pigs and a lamb.  Peter came home pale, but we decided before we went to bed to let the hero of “The Emergence” get beaten up a little in the strike before he made his great speech to the capitalist.  I felt so happy for the play.

But the next day Peter took tea alone with Miss Editha Morris Carruthers, and he was so charmed with her that he almost decided to let the whole play end in separation.

“But it is so lonely for a woman to be a heroine of a separation, Peter,” I pleaded with him as we sauntered up and down the long porch.

“Under such stress souls grow, Betty,” he answered, gloomily.  “Together lovers feed on the material; apart, on the immaterial.  Can we say which is best for the final emergence of the superman and ” Just here Julia came across the street and into our front gate, looking like a ripe peach, in a pink muslin gown, with a huge plate of hickory-nut butter-candy in her hand, and we all three proceeded to material nourishment.  I left them for a few minutes while I went up to my room and took out Grandmother Nelson’s book.  I wanted to be sure that not a single thing would bloom before I got back to The Briers.  Peter had insisted that he should not go forth into the wilderness until he could do it dramatically to stay, so I hadn’t been out for five days or more and I was wild simply mad.  To have a garden and be separated from it at sprouting and blooming time is worse than any soul separation that ever happened to any woman.  Of that I feel sure.

Sue Bankhead was as nice and lovely to Peter as could be, and even Billy Robertson’s contentment with himself was slightly ruffled with the way she took him out horseback with her every morning, but her crowning attention was a dance for him.  Sue has the loveliest dances in Hayesboro because of her own charm and the fact that the double parlors in the old Bankhead house are sixty-two feet long and forty-six feet wide.  The girls were as lovely as a bunch of spring blossoms, and Julia looked like the most gorgeous, pink, fragrant, drooping cabbage-rose as Peter danced with her again and again.  I was so glad, because he is as tall as she is, and she is such a good dancer that it must have been as soothing to his tired nerves as a nice wide rocking-chair with billows of blue mull cushions.  It was easy to see what she thought of him from the way she looked at him, and poor Pink took me out in the moonlight and swore at me in polite language.

“Why don’t you feed your sick poet your own self, Betty, and not let him loose to eat up my girl?” he stormed.

“Oh, Pink, how can you be so ungenerous, when you know how wonderful he is and how wonderful his play will be if you and everybody are kind and good to him while he is writing it,” I chided him.

“Well, he had better not put Julia into it without me,” he answered, somewhat mollified at my reproof.

“He won’t, I know he won’t,” I hastened to assure him.  “Especially if you are nice to him, as you promised.  You know, Pink, you are an awfully interesting man in some ways, and I know it is going to do Peter a lot of good to be friends with you; you are so so substantial.”

“That’s it; slap my fat!  Everybody does,” he answered, gloomily.

“It was the mules I was talking about, not you, Pink,” I answered, hurriedly, for I know how sensitive he is.

“Well, call me a mule then,” he again said, with the deepest depression.

“Now don’t be stupid, Pink, and ”

“I am stupid, too!”

“Pink Herriford, will you please tell my friend, Peter Vandyne, about your heroism in stopping the stampede of those thousand mules you were shipping to France in time to save the lives of all of them and about ten men?  I seem to have to speak to you in words of two syllables to-night.”  I could feel my cheeks burn with temper as I spoke and Pink came immediately out of his grouch and into his own happy personality.

“Holy smoke!  Betty, but that was some stunt!  First I saw a big red mule lift his hind legs in ugly temper, and let fly right and left just as ”

“Oh, wait Pink, let me get Peter!” I exclaimed, as I heard the dance that Pink and I had been arguing out, instead of sitting or dancing out, stop to get breath.

Pink was a wonder as he stood in the center of everybody that I had gathered around him to hear in particular what they had all been talking about in general.  We were all spellbound, for it was a really exciting and tremendous recital, and even Julia came out of her daze over Peter to listen with rapt attention, though I imagine she had heard it before.

“Immense!” exclaimed Peter, with his pale, thin face in a perfect flame of excitement just as Pink threw his own body right in front of the largest mule and turned his neck and

“What?” said Pink, as he glared at Peter suspiciously.

“Perfectly great,” said Peter, laying his arm on Pink’s.  “And I don’t see ”

Just here I slipped out onto the porch and sat down on the steps in the starlight to get my breath while the tale of heroism went on from the reassured hero.

And as I stood on the front steps, just out of the noise of “Too Much Mustard” that had again begun its syncopated wail in the house, I began to worry about all my flower children in the country.  Sam had not been in for three days, and he had sent word by one of his neighbors that he couldn’t get to the dance because he had to cup up potatoes to plant.  He had explained to Byrd and me all about how you cut out each little eye with some potato around it for moisture and nourishment while it takes root in the earth, and the Byrd had been especially interested in all the potato-peels ever since.  He had almost worn the life out of Mammy begging her not to cut through any of the “little ones” with her knife until she had taken to boiling them whole.  And as I sat and pictured them all sitting on the back porch with the big lamp lighted, just cutting away, maybe Byrd still up for the emergency, the whole dance seemed to put on a mask of grinning foolishness and resolve itself, with its jiggy music, into a large bunch of nothing, with me included.  I was in a bad way for the best dancer in Hayesboro, not to sound like boastful Billy.

“Well, hello!  Can this be Betty the wall-flower?” called a voice from over the fence.  It was so out of sight that it might have come from the hollow log out on Old Harpeth if it hadn’t been so near.  “Won’t anybody dance with you, honey-bunch?”

“Nobody; unless you will,” I answered, running down toward the voice.  And as I came nearer the hedge I saw that a wagon and mule were drawn up in the shadow behind a man.  “It’s fine for you to come in, after all, Sam.  Peter will be so happy.”

“Overalls are not invited,” answered Sam, as he gave my hair the usual rough with his big horny hand while I reached up and grasped his sleeve, too glad to see him to remonstrate.  “I came in for Pete’s things, and I brought a load of new peas and ten dozen eggs at the same time, so I couldn’t dress for the dance, or have time to dance if I did.  Six seventy-five a barrel, and five barrels; how’s that for wealth, Bettykin?” As he spoke Sam reached down in his overalls pocket, brought up a big fistful of all kinds of money, and poured it into my tunic of embroidered mull that I held up for it.

“It is the most beautiful money I ever saw,” I said, and I had to swallow hard to keep out of my voice the sentiment I knew Sam would not like.  I knew how hard he had worked for every cent of it.

“I’ll give you that bright new quarter if you think it is so pretty,” he said, and of course it couldn’t have been emotion that cut his voice off so indistinctly.

“Come on, then, and let me dance for it,” I answered.  Then myself and money and mull dress, that came all the way from New York with a three-figured bill I threw into the blue-jeans arms.  And out on the smooth, hard turnpike Sam and I had one glorious fox-trot with only the surprised mule looking on.

“Bring Pete out at about eleven.  Your first pea is due to pod about noon.  No, I must go now or never,” said Sam as he shook me off when I clung and begged for another dance.  He climbed up in the wagon.  “Good night,” he called.

For a long time I stood and watched him standing bolt upright in the wagon and clattering away with his great ugly old mule in a lurching trot; then I went in to the dance.  I didn’t tell anybody that Sam had been there, because they would all have been disappointed.  The way Sam’s home town loves him and disapproves of his farming is pathetic.  Five miles is a long way for anybody that knows Sam to be separated from him, at least that is the way I felt as Peter slid and skidded and dipped me around while he told me how proud he was of my beauty and the lovely and worthy friends I possessed.  He mentioned Julia and Pink and the mules in detail.  I think Peter Vandyne has the most grateful, appreciative, sympathetic nature I ever encountered, and I told him so as we walked home across the lawn while the stars were beginning to grow pale and flicker with no more night to burn.

“My heart is full, full, dear, dearest Betty, with you and and the work.  The vision becomes clearer,” Peter said, with his great dark eyes looking up at the retreating stars.  And as we walked up the steps he told me another struggle he had thought up for the hero to have with his conscience about the poor little waiting heroine.  The mule story hadn’t done him one bit of good, and I went to bed as cross as two sticks.

“Oh, Samboy!  I’m glad you are there and that you are Peter’s next of friends or first or Good night!” I muttered, as I closed my eyes on my favorite glimpse of Old Harpeth.

The next morning at about nine-thirty occurred Peter Vandyne’s introduction into real life.  He took it gallantly with his head up and swimming for shore.

The day was one of young May’s maiden efforts offered with a soft smile of tender sunshine and in a flutter of bird wing and apple-blow.  Of course, Sam had told me not to bring Peter out to The Briers until about eleven o’clock, because he wanted to do some farm housekeeping, as I afterward found out.  But half past nine was the very limit of my endurance, and I sat and fidgeted with the wheel while mother and Eph packed us up with the inevitable basket for Byrd plus the also inevitable “little ones” that daddy somehow managed to find for him.  These young were three small kittens, attended in their blindness by a black-and-white-spotted mother cat, all safely laced into a large basket and by that time resigned to their fate.  I didn’t mean to be disrespectful to dear Peter in my thoughts, but somehow they reminded me of him as he was led to farm life; and I laughed outright as Eph gave Peter a parting pat and Redwheels and me a shove, while mother called after us not to forget the sarsaparilla.

As long as I live I shall remember that journey along old Providence Road with a lovely nature like Peter’s.  He glowed with his inward flame there at my side, until I felt that it would be bad for him.  Peter has seen all kinds of wonderful scenery all his life; but of course, there is none in the world anything like the Harpeth Valley.  All the other in the world is either grand or placid or swept and garnished and tended or brilliant or moist, but this valley under Paradise Ridge is different.  Peter expressed it so that my throat tightened and I had to hold steadier to the wheel as we passed an old farm wagon.

“It’s the hollow of God’s hand in which He has gathered His children and their homes, Betty,” he said, huskily.  “Look at that white-haired old grand dame in her frilled frock with the string of chickens following her and the two kiddies bringing up the rear.  And look at that old red-gray brick house.  England has nothing finer.”

“That is old Mrs. Georgetta Johnson,” I answered, as I waved my hand and got a stately wave in return.  “She is the fifth generation to live in that house, and the two kiddies are the eighth.  Her mother danced with Lafayette, and she is over eighty-five.  I’ll take you to see her some day.”

“Betty,” said Peter, with positive awe, “I have never seen such homes and furniture and people as I have found here.  What is it that makes it so so satisfying?”

“It must be that everything has had time to root here, people and all,” I answered as I again avoided a farm wagon and a negro driving two fine milk-cows with cow babies wobbling along at their flanks.

“Yes,” answered Peter, thoughtfully “yes, I should say that ‘rooted’ would about express the life, and I am wondering ” But just here we turned off into Brier Lane, and Peter went up in the air and began to float among the tree-tops, only being able to take in the high-lights like the gnarled old cedars that jutted out from the lichen-covered stone wall and hung over the moss-green snake-rail fences, or the old oaks which were beginning to draw young, green loveliness around them, or the feathery buckbushes and young hackberries that were harboring all varieties of mating birds who were wooing and flirting and cheeping baby talk in a delightfully confidential and unabashed manner.  Peter had become wildly absorbed in a brilliant scarlet cardinal that followed the car, scolding and swearing in the most pronounced bird language, all for no fault of ours that we could see, when we turned in the cedar-pole gate of The Briers and began to wind our way up through the potato and corn field on one side and the primeval forest on the other.  It was difficult to get Peter past the old thorn-tree view of the Harpeth Valley we had come through, and he wanted to get out and stay for ever at the milk-house; but I finally landed him in a Homeric daze up in front of the house, which stood with its hospitable old door wide open but deserted.

“Sam!  Byrd!  Mammy!” I shouted at the top of my lungs, while Peter sat paralyzed at the sight of Sam’s farm-house.  Peter had got the old Crittenden house and all the others where he had been entertained in his mind’s eye, and that Sam’s present residence was a shock to him I could see plainly.  That was the beginning.

“Hi, Betty, come here quick I need you!” came in Sam’s most business-like voice from the barn up on the hill, while I could hear wild and excited cheeps from the Byrd and disturbed clucks from Mammy.

Leaving Peter to disembark as he recovered himself, I sped around the house and up to the barn.

“Here, Betty, this blamed mule has kicked old Jude, and I must have somebody to hold the edges together while I sew it up.  Mammy’s hands aren’t steady enough.  Now press the edges together and never mind the blood on your hands.  Hold the halter, Mammy.  You get that can of lime ready to dust it, Byrd.”  Thus in dirty, blood-stained overalls, with his hair on ends and an earth smudge as usual right across his face like a Heidelberg scar, Sam was commanding his forces of nature.

“Ugh uu ow, Sam,” I shivered; but I came up under his arm and tried to push one dripping section of old-roan hide until it joined the other, though I couldn’t quite make it.  Over my shoulder Sam began to sew it across with a huge crooked needle, helping me push the edges together as best he could.  At this auspicious moment the poet appeared at the barn door in an absolutely dazed condition.

“Here you, Pete, too!” Sam commanded, without looking up.  “Get here on the other side and press the hide together as Betty is doing.  This is an awful long cut, but I can manage it, thanks to seeing Chubb sew up Bates’s mule.  Whoah, Jude, old girl!  Hold her steady, Mammy!  Now, Pete, press hard; never mind the blood!”

At Sam’s determined reiteration of the word blood, my senses reeled, and if it had been anybody but Sam sewing over my shoulder, I would have gone down in a crumpled heap.  Also I was stirred by one glance at Peter’s lovely long oval face with its Keats lock of jet-black hair tossed aloft, and I remained conscious from astonishment.

This was a new Peter.  His eyes burned in his face with determination.  He squared his legs, clad in his elegant idea of farming corduroys, at the exact angle at which Sam’s were set; then his long, white hands pulled the bloody old hide together exactly in place.

“That’s it, Pete, hold it there.  You slip out, Betty, and hold Jude while Mammy gets the hot water ready to wash it when it is finished.  Now, Pete, an inch farther along!  Whoah, Jude!” And with his long needle Sam began rapidly to draw the gaping wound together.

“Here, Byrd, you hold Jude,” I said, suddenly; and giving the halter to the dirty fledgling, who was snubbing tears in his distress over the accident to his old friend, I quit the scene of the operation and fled to the woods to faint down on a log and be as ill as I wanted to.  It was rather bad; and it lasted about a quarter of an hour.

Then, with my head turned determinedly away from the barn, I sought distraction in an interview with my garden.

Oh, it was rapturous!  Can anything in the world be as wonderful as putting queer little brown things in the earth, where it scares you to think of their getting all cold and wet and rotted, and then coming to see them sprout and curl and run out of the ground?  No, nothing can compare with it unless it is seeing whole rows of them bursting out into blooms and tassels and little pods and burrs.  I felt extravagant and wanted to kiss the whole vegetable family in a way of encouragement and greeting.  And the two lilacs were both most beautifully plumed out in their long, white blossoms to greet me.  Now, weren’t they the plucky young things to bloom that way in a perfectly strange place?  Still, everybody always did have confidence in Sam.

But then in every joy patch some weeds are bound to shoot up overnight, and I was horrified to look down the rows of purple beet fronds and see what a lot of bold pepper-grass and chickweed were doing in their trenches.  Without waiting to get my gloves from my bag in the car, I fell to and began a determined onslaught.  Furiously I charged down two rows and up a third, at whose end I sank with exhaustion.

“Say, Betty, could a cat give kitten dinner to a poor little duck that all the hens peck?” asked the Byrd, anxiously, as he came and squatted beside me with two of the new kittens and the duck orphan in question in his arms.

“No, Byrd, I don’t believe so,” I answered, from instinct rather than direct knowledge.

“Why is they so many little ones in the world without mothers, me and the duck and the cow that died ’fore Dr. Chubb came, her calf, and now that mean old dog have left her puppies to eat out of a plate?” he asked.  He let the kittens slide to the ground, where they sprawled in their blind helplessness, while he began to tenderly pry open the small yellow ball’s wide bill and insert crumbs of bread rolled into very realistic pills, but which the patient gobbled with evident appreciation.

“See, Byrd, you are just as good as a mother any day,” I said, a choke in my throat as I cuddled his thin little shoulder in the hollow between my arm and my breast, and bent over to watch the orphan’s meal.

“Like Sam,” answered Byrd, with a queer little flash of his keen eyes up at me, and a grin that was so like Sam’s that I tumbled him over onto the grass, duck and all, and began a frolic with him which delighted his heart and eased mine.  I’ve loved that “little one” since the day they let me hold him in my arms when he was only a few hours old and motherless.  Examining him from heels to head had comforted Sam in his anguish and eased my own sympathetic sorrow.  It is a tradition that Mammy Kitty rescued him just in time; but I’ve always felt that nothing would have happened to him at Sam’s sixteen-year-old hands if he had been left for hours.

In the midst of our frolic Peter and Sam came on the scene, and as far as Peter was concerned it was indeed a transformation scene.  Sam was very much washed and slick from some time at the wash-bench, and Peter was likewise, only Peter was not the Peter whom I had brought from town that very morning.  He was attired in a pair of Sam’s overalls that could have been wrapped around him twice, and he had a bit of color in his cheeks under his eyes, though the eyes were slightly dazed as to expression.

“Good work, Betty, for only two hours,” said Sam, looking at the three long ranks of slain weeds and then at his watch.  “Pete and I are going to pick peas for to-morrow’s market right after dinner.  Want to help?”

I assented from pure ignorance, and we all went in to devour one of Mammy’s chicken dinners, the like of which is not cooked by another person in the Harpeth Valley.  The way Peter ate would have made the black beauty in mother’s kitchen swell with jealousy until there were danger to her own black skin.  Immediately after the gorge Sam gave me a basket, gave Peter another, and then looked around for the Byrd, with a smaller box; but the Byrd had flown.

“I’ll have to tan him for shirking like that,” said Sam, looking off into the bushes.  “You Byrd!” But there was no response.  That ought to have roused my suspicions, but it didn’t.  I went on down to that pea-patch as innocent as a newly born lamb, with Peter walking beside me, enthusing over the landscape and swinging the light basket with elegant nonchalance.

“I see, Betty dear I see that there is a great satisfaction in the pragmatic accomplishment, and ” he was saying when we came out of the woods onto the southern slope, where lie the long rows of peas, which are making Sam’s fortune.  He got them in by working two days and all one night in a bright spell in mid-February, and nobody for twenty miles around has any, while he has more than he can gather to market at a top price; that is, more than he can gather himself with Byrd’s assistance, he explained to us, as he showed us just how to snap the pod against our thumbs.

“I ought to put five barrels into Hayesboro every day now for a week before anybody else gets any,” he said, as he squatted at the head of a row between Peter and me, and we all began to pull at the beautiful gray-green vines and snap off the full, green pods.  I looked across at poor, innocent, enthusiastic Peter and saw his finish.

About three o’clock I saw my own finish, and threw up the basket.

“You poor, dear child!” exclaimed Peter as he came stiffly across the row Sam had long since finished.  He, Sam, was four rows ahead of us, and a quarter of a mile away, more or less.  I had collapsed, with my tired legs stuck out in front of me and my thumb, swollen from snapping the pods, in my mouth.  “This is too hard work for you.”

“Yes, it is; but Sam won’t think so,” I answered, with a glance at the strong, broad back swinging so easily down the slope.  “Now, Peter, we must go right along picking the peas.  Sam must get those five barrels,” I said, as I hastily scrambled up and began to pull at the vicious vines again.

“Well, I certainly don’t intend to stop until they are filled,” answered Peter, stiffly, in more ways than one, and without any more waste of sympathy he turned his back and went doggedly at the vines.  That was my opportunity, and I took it.  I rose, looked with fear at the two men at work in front of me, and fled, basket and all.  I stopped long enough to empty my full basket in one of the barrels that were already in the wagon; and as I climbed laboriously down over the wheels, with my paralyzed legs working slowly, I caught a glimpse of a flash of blue out in the bushes, topped by a glint of red that was too large to be that of any bird inhabitant of The Briers.

“Byrd,” I called, softly.

No answer.

“Byrd, do you want to go to town with me to see Mother Hayes?” I asked in subdued tones.  That brought its response.

There were difficulties; but we surmounted them.  We were afraid to wake Mammy at her afternoon nap for the clean clothes of civilization, so we purloined a fairly clean blue jumper hanging on the porch, while I left a note for Sam pinned on my old doll seed-basket hanging by his door.  It was large enough for him to see, and it read: 

     I’m a good young mule, but I’ve broken down.  Poor Peter!  All that
     is left of
                                                               Betty.

     P.S. I’ve rescued the Byrd for overnight.  I’ll return him to
     his fate to-morrow.  Poor Peter!  Poor Peter!

I wish I could have seen Sam’s face when he found it!  The next morning mother’s black beauty found my old grass basket full of delicious little peas on the front steps with this note in it: 

     You’ll be docked a quarter of a cent every hour you are off your
     job.  Bring that brat home and both of you get to work. 
                                                               Sam.

     P.S. Something is sprouting in your garden that I don’t
     understand.

I knew those hollyhocks would rise up some day and bear witness against me.  For the life of me I couldn’t make up my mind what to say about them, so I sent the Byrd home by Tolly, who was going to take Edith out to see how her okra was progressing, and stayed in the safe shelter of my home.  On the Byrd’s rompers I pinned this note: 

Strike, if you will, my young back,
But spare, oh spare, this little brat!

Betty.

There are all kinds of poetry in the world.

That night when I was beginning to get restless and wish I had gone out to my fate, even if it included being throttled with a pea-vine, Tolly and Edith came into town and stopped at my gate in such a condition that I was positively alarmed about them.

“Five baskets of peas!” gasped Tolly, as he fell forward limp over his wheel.

“My thumb! my thumb!” moaned Edith, with the afflicted member in her mouth.

“But, say, Betty,” Tolly revived enough to say, “we are not going to tell Sue and Billy and Julia and Pink.  They are going out to-morrow to call.  Let ’em go it’s coming to ’em.”

“Oh no, I won’t say a word,” I agreed, with the intensest joy.  “Come over to-morrow, Edith, and let’s finish My Lady’s Fan.  I’m dying to know what happened to her at the court ball.  Good night!”

“No, you come over to my house; I’ll be in bed,” Edith wailed from the middle of the road as Tolly turned and made his machine buzz for home.

Then for five days glorious, warm, growing, blooming days I stayed in town in a state of relapse from gardening of which the sorenesses in the calves of my legs and my thumbs were the strongest symptoms, and listened to my martyred friends’ accounts of what Sam was doing to Peter.  I also had a bulletin from Peter every day by the rural-delivery route.  That is, they were in Peter’s handwriting, but they read more like government crop reports than a poet’s letters to the girl to whom he considered himself engaged.  I sent them on to Judge Vandyne, and I got a glorious written chuckle in return for them.

Then, one morning when I had about got over the bashfulness about the hollyhocks, and had decided to deny them absolutely and stick to it, for a time at least, I happened to pick up Grandmother Nelson’s book.  It was full time maybe past time for thinning out my sugar-beets and resetting my cosmos.  I fled out to the wilderness in greater speed than I had left it, and fairly threw myself prostrate at the feet of my neglected garden.  Peter helped me, a sun-blistered, brier-scratched, ragged Peter, whose face had lost none of its beautiful, lofty, aloof expression, but which was rendered almost ordinary by a long scratch across the top of its nose.  The scratch was inflicted, he told me, when he held one of the thoroughbred Plymouth Rock biddies to be greased by Sam for lice under her wings.

“Yes, but what about the play, Peter dear?” I asked, after we had weeded and dug and watered and pulled up for an hour or two and had then seated ourselves at the end of one of the long rows to rest.

“The play oh, Betty, it is ” And his old look of rapture shot across his face.  Then Sam yelled to him, and me, too.

“Come on and help tie up onions,” he called.  “You Byrd!”

We went and we tied up a whole white smelly mountain of them; but I didn’t care, for Sam showed me his day-book, and in just one week his balance had shot up like the beautiful pink pie-plant in my garden.  A great big entry was from my beets that he had thinned and sold without waiting for me.

“I’ll give you a check when they are all sold, Betty,” he said, in a business-like way, and something in me made me glory in him and my beets.  “And isn’t old Pete hitting the agricultural pace in fine style?” he asked, as we walked out into my garden between the rows of my blush peonies which had been grateful for the bone meal, and had bloomed, though everybody who had given me the clumps had warned me that they wouldn’t flower until the second season.

“But isn’t he going to write, too, Sam?” I asked, a trifle uneasily.  “Now, you know, Sam, if somebody had kept Keats alive as a perfectly good lawyer or bank clerk or farmer he wouldn’t have been half as much to the world as he is as a sadly dead poet.  Now, would he?”

“Well, Pete will know all about the vegetable kingdom before he makes entry into the heavenly one, and we’ll see what he reports when the time comes.  Just come over and look at the wheat in my north field.”  Sam answered my anxiety so easily that I let it slip from my shoulders as I went with him to sit on a rail fence on the edge of a gray-green ocean of future food and be perfectly happy.  “It’ll fill dinner-pails and give babies mother’s milk,” said Sam, as he sat beside me and smoldered out over his crop.  “The Commissioner of Agriculture was out here five times last week, and a complete report on the whole place goes in to the Food Commission in Washington.  Pretty good for a less-than-two-year-old farmer, eh, Bettykin?” And Sam tipped the rail enough to make me sure I was falling before he caught me.

I didn’t answer I just clung, but Sam understood and roughed my hair into my misty eyes and lifted me off the fence.

Daddy got me two copies of that Agricultural Commissioner’s report, and I sent one to Judge Vandyne and pasted the other in the front of Grandmother Nelson’s book.  Little did I know that simple action of pride in Sam would bring such results to Samuel Foster Crittenden and to Tennessee, and even to perhaps the third and fourth generation, or maybe

Daddy says that when a man owns a bottom field, a hillside, and a creek in the Harpeth Valley all he has to do is to go out and swing his hoe around his head a few times and he’ll have a living before he is ready to harvest it.  I don’t know about that, and I do know that since I came home in early April Sam has worked like two men, and maybe more.  But his harvests certainly amazed even the oldest inhabitants, who had sat around at the cross-roads grocery and spat tobacco-juice at the idea of his farming by government books, with no experience.  They came to sit on the rail fences around his fields and to spit out of the other side of their mouths before the end of July, and I never went out to marvel, myself, that I didn’t step on that Commissioner of Agriculture, who couldn’t seem to keep away more than a few hours at a time.

As things grew and bloomed and burst and flowered and seeded, Sam went calmly on his way of work with the crops from dawn to dark, and Peter did likewise.  I never saw anything like his friendly pride in every successful test of Sam’s work.  And his own fat was getting packed on him at a rate that beat the record-breaking red pig down in the long, clean pens that Sam maintained in the condition of a sanitary detention hospital.  Also Peter never mentioned the play, I never mentioned it, and Sam appeared to have completely forgotten it.

I didn’t quite like for Sam to forget Peter’s play like that, and I liked it less when I heard Julia say that she thought it was so fortunate that Sam had cured Peter of being a poet, so he could go into his father’s office to learn to take care of his great fortune.  Peter likes Julia so much that I think she ought to have appreciated the great thing in him more than she did.  When the copy of the Review, with Peter’s poem on the Ultimate, came, he read the whole poem to her while she embroidered an initial in the corner of a handkerchief for him.  The next day she told me that she couldn’t understand a word about it, and that it made Pink mad because she wouldn’t tell him what to say to Peter about it.  Pink has grown fond of Peter, but he wouldn’t try to read the poem after the third stanza.  But Peter went on back to help with the rye crop, knowing nothing of all that.

Of course, I had all the confidence that there is in the world in Sam, but I, about the first week in July, again began to feel responsible to the world for Peter’s play; and I might have made the awful blunder of remonstrating with Peter or Sam or both of them if I hadn’t got into so much trouble with Edith and Tolly.

Now, Clyde Tolbot is a very business-like young man, and he ought to be respected and considered for it, but that is just what Edith doesn’t seem to understand how to do.  She wants to go on with her head level with the moon, and Tolly wants to get married in November, and I think he is perfectly right.  He hasn’t any family, and he says Edith’s “highstrikes,” as he calls her moods and tenses, and the food at the Hayesboro Inn, are making him thin and pale, and hurting the prospects of The Electric Light Co.

“She acts as if she thought I was a cinnamon bear if I put my paw on her fair hand.  And she seems to think it is scandal because I wanted to buy that old mahogany sideboard that the Vertreeses had to sell when they inherited old Mrs. Anderson and her furniture from his mother,” he groaned, as he sat on my side porch with his head in his hands.

“Tolly,” I said, with firm conviction in my voice and manner, “you must do something heroic to shock Edith down to earth again, or into opening her eyes as those kittens daddy gave Byrd did on their ninth day.  The evening of Edith’s eighth day has about struck.”

“It most certainly has, and about eleven-thirty at that,” answered Tolly, sitting up as if about to rush forth and do what I suggested, though neither he nor I knew what it was.  “But what is your idea of a heroic deed that will pluck the child Edith?” he asked, just as if I were one of the clerks out at the power-house and he was conducting a business detail.

“Well, let me see, Tolly,” I said, slowly, while I ran over in my mind all the lover heroics I had ever heard of from runaway horses to the use of a hated blond rival.  “You couldn’t get hurt slightly out at the power-house, could you?”

“And ruin my boast that I have the most perfectly organized force and machinery in the state?  Not if I know myself,” answered Tolly, with business indignation and an utter lack of lover’s enthusiasm at the prospect of getting his lady-love by a ruse.

“Well, I don’t know what you are going to do,” I said, limply, as I saw that none of the things that had ever been acted before were within Tolly’s reach.

“I don’t know, either,” answered Tolly; and again his head dropped into his hands.

“What did she say the last time you asked her?” I questioned.  I considered it my duty to get to the bottom of the matter, as I had been called in consultation.

“Ask her?  Thunderation!  I never have asked her!  I’ve never got that near to her!” he exclaimed, in a perfect outburst of indignation.

Then I laughed.  I laughed so that Tolly had to pat me on the back to make me get my breath, and a sleeping mocking-bird scolded outright from a tree by the porch.

“Why don’t you do it by telephone?” I gasped.

“By George! that is the idea, all right, Betty!” Tolly exclaimed, with his face positively radiant.  I had flung his love troubles into a class of affairs that he could handle.  “I tell you what I am going to do.  I am going to have my wire chief cut Edith’s line and make me a direct connection with mine at about nine o’clock to-morrow morning, as that is the time he is in less of a rush with all the other things to attend to.  Then I’ll put it to her good and straight if she holds on to the receiver and hears me out.”

“But Edith might go over to Boliver to visit May Jessamine Ray for a week at nine o’clock to-morrow.  Oh, go do it to-night, Tolly!” I pleaded.

“And let that doll-faced girl at Central hear me?  Not much!” answered Tolly, indignantly.

“I didn’t mean that,” I answered.  “Go to her armed with your love, Tolly, and make make her listen to you.”

“Armed with a sand-bag to slug her would be more like it, if I expected to get anywhere with her.  No, you’ve hit it, Betty, and I’m going on down the street and see just where that Morris line goes into the trunk.  Hope Judson won’t have to run more than a mile of wire to make that connection.”  And with no more gratitude or good night than that Tolly went down the street with his head up among his telephone wires, just as Edith keeps hers in the clouds.  I hope some day they will run into each other so hard that they will crash out ignition sparks and take fire.

As I said, being so interested in Edith and Tolly, and trying to get her to postpone her visit until he could get the wires up between them both in a material and a sentimental sense, and also wanting to let Sam and Peter miss me sadly, I let quite a few days elapse without being in any of the events out at The Briers.  When I did go back I found that things had happened.

“Where’s Peter?” I asked, as Sam came to unload me and a huge bag of smoke iris that old Mrs. Johnson had given me for my garden.  There was also Byrd’s basket from mother, and a pair of small alligators that daddy had got from Florida for him, having run out of natural animal inhabitants of the Harpeth Valley.

“Pete’s off with the bit in his mouth haven’t seen him for three days,” answered Sam as he lifted me and swung me way out into the middle of my own clover-pink bed.  It was starred with sweet, white blossoms, having been treated according to Eph’s directions and those of Grandmother Nelson’s book.

“Peter off?  Where?  What’s happened, Sam?” I exclaimed, with astonished anxiety.

“The play,” answered Sam, calmly, as he lit his cob pipe and blew a ring of smoke.  “It hit him in the middle of the night before last, and he wrote me a note.  Mammy grubs him, and I haven’t seen him since.  I’ve paid the Byrd a half interest in the next young that happens to us not to go down the hill to the shack, and we’re all just going on as usual.”

“Maybe I’d better not go, either,” I said, with awe and sympathy for Peter fairly dropping from the words as I uttered them.

“Betty,” said Sam as he looked at me through a ring of smoke that the warm wind blew away over our heads, “you run just a little more sense to the cubic foot of dirt than the average, it seems to me.  Come on down and watch them begin to cut wheat.  It is one week ahead of time, so I can get all the harvesters and not a grain will be lost.  They say it’ll run sixty bushels to the acre.  Think of that, with only a thirty-six record to beat in the Valley.  It is that Canadian cross.  The Commissioner is down there, and so is your admirer, Chubb.  He wastes many hours riding over here to see you when you are in town on frivolous pursuits.”

“Frivolous!” I echoed as we went up the path back of the house; and on our way over the hill I told him about Tolly and Edith.  Sam laughed; he always does when I want him to; but his eyes were grave after a second.

“The mating season is a troublesome time, isn’t it, Betty?” he asked, as he swung me to the top rail of the fence, vaulted over it, and held up his arms to lift me down on the other side; but I sat poised in midair to argue his proposition.

“It ought not to be, Sam,” I said, with an experienced feeling rising in my mind and voice at thus discussing fundamentals with a man that could break a wheat record and be attended by the agricultural envoys of the United States government.  “People ought to sensibly pick each other from their needs, and not act unintelligent about it.”

At which perfectly sage remark a strange thing happened to Samuel Foster Crittenden.  He laid his head down on the rail beside my knee and laughed until he almost shook me from my perch.  It made me so furious that I slipped past him and ran on ahead.  I vaulted the next fence in fine style and landed among the Commissioner and Dr. Chubb and the tobacco-juice neighbors, who had come to see the output of the first book-grown acre.  I did not speak again to Sam that day until he tucked in Dr. Chubb beside me for a spin over to Spring Hill, leaving the doctor’s old roan for a week’s complimentary grazing on Sam’s east meadow of thick blue-grass, grown through a rock-lime dressing that all the neighbors had assured him would kill the land outright.

“Wheez-chekk! nice young buck for a husband,” wheezed the Butterball as I shot down the hill from under Sam’s big hand reached out for my hair.

“Sam?” I gasped.

“Women critters always back and shy, but they git the wedding-bit from a steady hand and like it,” he chuckled, still further.  I felt as if I ought not to let Sam rest under such a suspicion, and that I ought to tell him about Peter.  But just then he launched forth on a case of a spavined horse he had beyond the cross-roads, which he wanted me to take him to see, and I didn’t do it.

I don’t much like to think about the long, hot July weeks that followed.  The whole of Harpeth Valley sweltered, and everybody did likewise.  That is, I suppose Peter did, for not one glimpse did I or anybody else get of him.  Sam says Mammy set his meals down in the doorway of the shack with one of her soft, soothing, “Dah, dah, chile,” which was answered with a growl from Peter.  That ended the events of his life at The Briers.

Sam worked early and late, and got tanned to the most awful deep mahogany.  All of him held out pretty well but his heels, which he came in three times to have me fix for him; and once mother and I had to dress a blister on his back that he got from wearing a torn shirt in the potato-field.

I was wild with anxiety about Peter and the play and the poor little heroine; I didn’t know whether she was being murdered or separated for life from the hero.  Still, it was good to have Sam to myself for long, quiet, hot evenings out on the front porch under the brooding doves in the eaves above us.  Sam never talks much but he listens to me, and sometimes he tells me things from way down inside himself.  And little by little I began to understand all about the things he had been too busy doing to tell me about.

“You see, it is this way, Bettykin,” he said, one evening when the young moon was attempting to silver the dark all around us as we sat on the front steps, with mother away rounding off the second pair of socks for Peter.  “There wasn’t one cent of money for me to take Byrd and Mammy and make a start in New York.  Even with the best sort of a backing, it is always a ten-year pull for a youngster before he counts in the world.  I could have sold The Briers, but I couldn’t make up my mind to do it, and then while I hesitated I I” he paused a minute and steadied his voice, while I took his hand and held on to it tight “I got a call a land call that I had to answer.  God just picked me up and planted me here on my bit of land, and I’ve got to root and grow or or dishonor Him.”

“Oh, Sam, you have, you have honored Him,” I said as I crept closer to his arm.

“I’ve been all uprooted and pruned, Betty, and I’ve lost lost you know!  But for Him I must go on just the same and bear fruit.”  At the pain in Sam’s low voice something in me throbbed.

“Lost?  Oh, Sam, what?” I exclaimed, as I hugged his arm against my breast.  “What’s happened to you, Sam?  Tell ”

But just here we were interrupted by a clatter and a clash of hoofs, a wild shout in Peter’s voice, and a cheer in the fledgling’s high treble.  The biggest mule lurched up to the gate, and two figures took a flying leap from his back to the pavement.  With a rush they swept up the path and brought up panting at the bottom of our steps.

“Peter!” I gasped, descending to be sure that neither of them was bodily broken or demented.

“It’s across! it’s across!” shouted Peter as he reached out his arms and grabbed me in a wild embrace.

“What?” Sam and I both demanded, though, of course, in a way we knew.

“The play!” exclaimed Peter, putting his head down on my shoulder and fairly sobbing out his relief.  “Farrington is going to begin rehearsals from the first two acts I’ve sent him, and I am to go right on to New York with the third that I finished an hour before the wire came over from the cross-roads station.  You’ll go with me, won’t you, Betty?  I can’t go without you and Sam.”  And as he hugged me close Peter reached out and grasped Sam’s big hand that rested on his arm.

“Of course Betty will go, and I’ll come as soon as I get the whole crop in,” answered Sam in his deep, kind, strong voice that steadied all our nerves.  “I knew you’d make it, Pete.  I never doubted that all you needed was a bit of brawn to punch from.”

“Peter Sam!” I gasped, trying to get my balance as I felt as if I were being hurried through space without even being told where to.  “I don’t know.  I ”

“I can’t do without you, Betty,” Peter said again, as he held me close and Sam withdrew from us for the distance of about two steps.

“Betty is the real thing, Pete, and she’ll stand by when you need her.  She always does,” Sam said, in a quiet voice that sank down into the depths of my soul and made a cold spot.

“I I don’t know.  I ” I was just reiterating when daddy and Julia, with a plate of something, came through the gate and up the walk.  They had to be told, and they had to congratulate, and then mother came out to see what it was all about.  They were all happy and gloriously excited, and I was dead dead.

Then Sam took Peter home because he had to pack and get into town for the morning train.  I begged for the fledgling to be left with me, and Sam consented without even mentioning the string-beans to be picked or the weeds in the parsnips.  He said good night to everybody before he did to me, and then started to go with just the farewell word, hesitated a second, and came back and roughed my hair down over my eyes with the greatest roughness he had ever employed in that action.  It would have broken my heart if he hadn’t.

“Betty,” said the Byrd, as he crouched at my side with his thin, scantily clad little body hovered against my skirts, “you ain’t going to no New York with Pete and leave me and Sam and all the poor little ones, is you?”

“Oh, Byrd, I’m afraid I’ll have to!” I sobbed, cuddling him close.

“Well, then, damn Pete!” he exploded.