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Under the Tonto Rim

Country of origin: USA USA
Available texts by the same author here Dokument

Chapter 9

   "Wal, didn't you all invite yourselves to pick beans?" drawled Edd, coming out at the head of a procession of big and little Denmeades.
   "Wal, we shore did aboot that," drawled Lucy, mimicking him. "Don't you see I'm rigged out to chase beans, bears, or bees?"
   "Which reminds me you haven't gone wild-bee buntin' yet," said he reflectively.
   "Humph! I'd have to invite myself again to that, also," declared Lucy.
   "Honest, soon as the beans are picked I'll take you. An' I've lined a new tree. Must have a lot of honey."
   Mrs. Denmeade called out: "Make him stick to that, Miss Lucy. He's shore awful stingy about takin' anyone bee huntin'."
   "Come, Clara," called Lucy into the tent. "We're farmers to-day. Fetch my gloves."
   When Clara appeared the children, Liz and Lize, made a rush for her and went romping along, one on each side of her, down the trail ahead of the procession. Lucy fell in beside Edd, and she was thinking, as she watched Clara adapting herself to the light steps of the youngsters, that the improvement in her sister was almost too good to be true. Yet the time since Clara had arrived at the Denmeades', measured by the sweetness and strength of emotion it had engendered, seemed very much longer than its actual duration of a few weeks.
   "Wal, teacher, summer's about over," Edd was saying. "An' soon the fall dances will begin."
   "Indeed? What a pity you can't go!" exclaimed Lucy tantalisingly.
   "Why can't I?"
   "Because you vowed you had enough after taking me that time."
   "Wal, reckon I did. But shore I could change my mind--same as you."
   "Am I changeable?...I was only teasing, Edd. I got a hunch that you're going to ask me again."
   "Correct. You're a smart scholar. How do you feel about goin'?"
   "Shall I refuse, so you can indulge your--your wild-bee hunter proclivities and pack me down on your horse?" queried Lucy demurely.
   "Sometimes I don't savvy you," he said dubiously. "Reckon all girls have a little Sadie Perdue in them."
   "Yes, they have, Edd, I'm ashamed to confess," replied Lucy frankly. "I'd like to go with you. But of course that'll depend on Clara. To be sure, she's getting well, wonderful! It makes me happy. Still, she's far from strong enough for one of your dances."
   "Joe asked her, an' she said she'd go if you went, too. I reckon she meant with me."
   "Edd, you're learning from Sam Johnson."
   "Nope, not me. I'd choke before I'd copy that honey bee."
   "So Joe asked her?...Well!" murmured Lucy thoughtfully.
   "Reckon she likes him, Lucy."
   "Oh, I hope--I know she does. But, Edd--"
   "Wal, I get your hunch," he interrupted. "You think maybe she oughtn't go with Joe because it'll only make him worse."
   "Worse?" queried Lucy, turning to eye Edd.
   "Yes, worse. But, Lucy, I reckon it couldn't be worse. Joe thinks of Clara by day an' dreams of her by night. He's been that way since the day she came to us."
   "Edd, you're pretty sharp. I imagined no one but me had seen that. I'm sure Clara hasn't...It's a problem, Edd. But I knew it'd come."
   "Wal, you're shore good at problems. What're you goin' to do about this one?"
   "What would you do?" Lucy countered.
   "I'd let Joe take her to the dance. You can manage her. Why, your slightest wish is law to Clara. That shore makes me think heaps of her. Wal, she could dance a few, an' look on some. Then we'd come home early."
   "Would you promise that?"
   "I shore would."
   "Well, Edd, I'll think it over. You know if we go to this dance we'll be inclined to go again--perhaps often."
   "Not with Joe an' me. I reckon this one would do us for a spell."
   "Oh, that is different! And why?"
   "Wal, you forget how you drove them boys crazy. I reckon this time, with Clara, you'd break up the dance. I've a hunch once would be enough for a spell. But shore I'd like it. So would Joe."
   "Edd, this little sister of mine has broken up more than once dance--and a cowboy dance at that. Why couldn't we go and have a nice time, dance a little, and leave early, without what you hinted?--Fights!"
   "That'd be easy, if you an' Clara could behave," he drawled.
   "Edd Denmeade!" cried Lucy.
   "Wal, you know you played hob with the boys. Why can't you be honest? Shore, Lucy, I wouldn't want to go if you did that again."
   "All right. I promise to behave if I go. I'll talk to Clara."
   "Wal, suit yourself. But I reckon you know I'll never go to another dance unless I can take you."
   "Never?" echoed Lucy.
   "Yes, never," he retorted.
   "Why, Edd? That's a strong statement."
   "Reckon because every dance before that one I was made fun of, most when I took a girl. But when I had you they didn't dare. That shore was sweet."
   "Thanks, Edd. Sometimes you say nice things."
   So they talked as they walked along the cool, sandy, pine-mat bordered trail. It was quite a walk from the cabin to what the Denmeades called the High Field. This was a level piece of ground, perhaps fifty acres in area, irregular in shape, and surrounded by the green forest of cedar and pine.
   Of all the slashes cut into the woodland, this appeared to Lucy the most hideous. It was not a well-cultivated piece of ground. These Denmeades were hunters, wood-hewers, anything but farmers. Yet they were compelled to farm to raise food for themselves and grain for horses and hogs. Nevertheless, the hogs ran wild, subsisting most of the year upon roots, nuts, acorns, and what the backwoodsmen called mast.
   A hundred or more dead trees stood scattered round over this clearing, cedars and pines and oaks, all naked and bleached and rotting on their stumps. They had been girdled by an axe, to keep the sap from rising, which eventually killed them. This was done to keep the shade of foliaged trees from dwarfing the crops. Corn and beans and sorghum required the sun.
   It was the most primitive kind of farming. In fact, not many years had passed since Denmeade had used a plough hewn from the fork of an oak. High Field was fenced by poles and brush, which did not look very sure of keeping out the hogs. Right on the moment Danny and Dick were chasing hogs out of the field. Corn and weeds and yellow daisies, almost as large as sunflowers, flourished together, with the corn perhaps having a little advantage. The dogs were barking at some beast they had treed. Hawks and crows perched upon the topmost branches of the dead pines; woodpeckers hammered on the smooth white trunks; and the omnipresent jays and squirrels vied with each other in a contest calculated to destroy the peace of the morning.
   Beyond the large patch of ground that had been planted in potatoes lay the three acres of beans, thick and brown in the sunlight. Beans furnished the most important article of food for the backwoods people. Meat, potatoes, flour, honey mostly in place of sugar, were essential and appreciated, but it was as Denmeade said, "We shore live on beans."
   This triangle of three acres, then, represented something vastly important in their simple lives. They made the picking of beans a holiday, almost a gala occasion. Every one of the Denmeades was on hand, and Uncle Bill packed two big bags of lunch and a bucket of water. The only company present, considering that Lucy and Clara were not classified under this head, was Mertie's beau, young Bert Hall, a quiet boy whom all liked. Lucy regarded his presence there as a small triumph of her own. The frivolous Mertie really liked him, as anyone could plainly see. She had only been under the influence of Sadie Perdue. By a very simple expedient Lucy had counteracted and so far overcome this influence. She had devoted herself to Mertie; roused her pride through her vanity, subtly showed Bert's superiority to the other boys who ran after her, and lastly had suggested it would be nice to have Bert go with them to Felix. How important little things could become in this world of the Denmeades It caused Lucy many pangs to reflect upon how often their lives went wrong for lack of a little guidance.
   Manifestly Edd was the captain of this bean-picking regiment. He was conceded to be a great picker, and had a pride in his prowess second only to that of his lining of bees. Denmeade, the father, had two great gifts, according to repute--he could wield an axe as no other man in the country, and he was wonderful with his hunting hounds. Joe was the best one with horses, Dick with tools. Uncle Bill would plough when, according to him, all his relatives had been laid away in the fence corners. Thus they all excelled in some particular thing peculiarly important to their primitive lives.
   "Wal, all hands get ready," called out Edd cheerily. "Reckon we got to clean up this patch to-day. You girls an' the kids can pick here in the shade. We'll pack loads of beans to you....Bert, seein' you're company, I'll let you off pickin' out there in the sun. You can set with the girls. But I'm recommendin' you set between Lucy an' Clara. Haw! Haw!"
   So the work of picking beans began. The children made it a play, a game, a delight, over which they screamed and fought. Yet withal they showed proficiency and industry.
   The men fetched huge bundles of beans on the vines, and deposited them on the ground under the shady oaks at the edge of the field. Mrs. Denmeade and Allie picked with nimble and skilful hands. The girls sat in a little circle, with Bert in attendance and the children monopolising all the space and most of the beans. Bert, having deposited piles of beans in front of each member of the party, was careful to sit down between Lucy and Clara, an action that caused Mertie to pout and laugh.
   The process of stripping beans appeared a simple one to Lucy, yet she saw at once where experience counted. She could not do so well even as Mary. It piqued her a little. After all, intelligence and reason were not factors that could at once bridge the gap between inexperience and dexterity.
   As they sat there talking and laughing and working, Lucy's thought ran on in pleasant and acquiring trend. Above all, what brought her happiness in this hour was the presence of her sister. Clara had begun to mend physically, and that, with the lonely environment, the simplicity of the Denmeades, the strength of natural things had unconsciously affected her spiritually. She loved the children. She was intensely interested in their little lives. She fell to this fun of bean picking with a pleasure that augured well for the blotting of trouble from her mind. Clara had begun to be conscious of the superficiality of many sides and points of life in civilised communities. Here in the backwoods life seemed an easier, happier, simpler thing.
   From time to time Lucy stole a look out into the field at Edd as he worked. He moved forward on his knees, keeping a sack pushed in front of him, and his hands flew. He was an engine of devastation to the rows of beans. She seldom heard his voice. When he finished a row he would get up, and gathering a huge bundle of vines he would carry them to where the women were picking. Dust and sweat had begrimed his face; his shirt was wet through. There seemed something tremendously rugged, vital, raw about his physical presence. He took this task seriously. Lucy wondered what was going on in his mind. Did things she had talked of or read to him revolve as he worked? There was a suggestion of the plodding nature of his thought, strangely in contrast with the wonderful physical energy of his work. She mused over the fact that she liked him as he was, yet was striving to teach him, change him, put him on the road to being a civilised man. Yet--! Something vaguely regretful stirred deeply within her consciousness.
   These more serious thoughts, however, only recurred at intervals; for the most part she was alive to the objective task of learning to pick beans, and to the conversation around her. Allie Denmeade was as incessant a talker as Joe was a listener; she had a shrewd wit and a sharp tongue. Mertie was charming under favourable influence, and when she was receiving her meed of attention. Mrs. Denmeade had a dry geniality and a store of wilderness wisdom. Mary was the sweet dreaming one of the family.
   Lucy had no idea that the noon hour had arrived until the dusty men stalked in from the field, hungry and thirsty, bringing with them an earthy atmosphere. "Nineteen rows for me," declared Edd, "an' I'm spittin' cotton...Where's the bucket? I'll fetch fresh water from the spring."
   "Wal, ma, how'd you all git along?" queried Denmeade, wiping his sweaty face.
   "I disremember any better mawnin' for pickin'," she replied. "Bert has been fillin' the sacks. Reckon there's quite a few."
   "Even dozen," exulted Bert.
   "Good! We'll finish early. Edd shore is a cyclone for pickin' beans...An' now, ma, spread out the grub. I'm a hungry old Jasper."
   Uncle Bill carried forth the packs of food, which he had hidden from the children.
   "It was a tolerable pickin', though I've seen better," he said. "The season's been dry an' thet's good for beans an' pickin'...Wal, Lee, I'm noticin' Miss Lucy an' her sister have shore done themselves proud, fer tenderfeet." Denmeade surveyed the respective piles of beans, one before Lucy, and a smaller one in front of Clara. "Not so bad," he said genially. "An' it shore is good to see you both settin' thar."
   "Lee, tell their fortune with beans," suggested Mrs. Denmeade.
   "I reckon I wouldn't risk that," he replied.
   "Ma, you tell them. An' Bert's, too. It'll be fun. He's never been here to a bean pickin'," said Mertie. "All the same, I had mine told once, down at Sadie's. Her old aunt told it," said Bert. "An' once is enough for me."
   "A Mexican woman once told my fortune," interposed Clara with a smile that was not all mirth. "It came true. And I--I don't want to know any more what's going to happen to me."
   "Oh, I'm not afraid," called out Lucy. "Come, Mrs. Denmeade. Tell mine."
   Whereupon Mrs. Denmeade, to the infinite delight of the children, selected some differently coloured beans and pressed these into Lucy's palm. Then she intently studied Lucy's face, after which she struck the outstretched hand, causing some of the beans to roll off and others to change position and settle.
   "Wal, you're goin' to find happiness takin' someone else's troubles on your shoulders," said Mrs. Denmeade, impressively. "Your past has been among many people who didn't care for you. Your future will be among a few who love you...I see a journey--a secret--something that'll never come out--two dark years with white ones followin'. A child!...A cabin! A happy wife!"
   This conclusion was greeted with a merry shout from the children and girls. Lucy, in her amusement, wished to carry the thing as far as possible to please them all. It struck her that Clara's faint colour had vanished. How a few words could pain her! Lucy had no faith in any kind of fortune telling; she hardly took Mrs. Denmeade seriously.
   "Wonderful!" she ejaculated. "Do the beans tell what kind of a husband I get?"
   "No," rejoined Mrs. Denmeade, "but I reckon he won't be a city man."
   "How interesting! I think I'm rather glad. Clara, I'm to have a country man for a husband. These red and white beans have foretold my fate."
   She became aware then that Edd had returned and, standing behind her, evidently had heard her concluding words. Quite absurdly the fact embarrassed Lucy. The gay remarks forthcoming from all around fell upon her somewhat unfelicitously.
   "Wal, Lucy, I see ma an' Allie have worked an old trick on you," he drawled. "Shore I told you to look out for them."
   "Oh--it was only fun!" exclaimed Lucy, relieved despite her common sense.
   Mrs. Denmeade smiled enigmatically. She seemed to possess some slight touch of mysticism, crude and unconscious. Lucy dispelled any idea that there was connection between the red and white beans and Mrs. Denmeade's prophecies. For that reason she found herself fixing in mind the content of those statements regarding her past and future.
   "Come set around, folks," called Uncle Bill with gusto,
   The lunch hour of the bean-pickers was as merry as a picnic dinner. The Denmeades had rushed through the morning hours; now they had leisure to eat slowly and to talk and joke. Lucy enjoyed this pleasant interval. It had but one break, an instant toward the end, when she espied Joe Denmeade sitting as always quietly in the background, with eyes of worship fixed upon Clara's face. That troubled Lucy's conscience.
   Lucy wore out her gloves and made blisters on her fingers, acquiring along with these accidents a proficiency in the art of picking beans. Clara wearied early in the afternoon, and went to sleep under a pine tree. Mertie and Bert finished their allotment of beans, and wandering along the edge of the forest, they seemed to become absorbed in each other. Mrs. Denmeade and Allie worked like beavers, and the children drifted to playing.
   The men soon finished picking and sacking the beans. Then Edd and his brothers stalked off to fetch the pack-burros. Uncle Bill still found tasks to do, while Denmeade rested and talked to his wife. Lucy leaned comfortably against the oak, grateful for relief from work, and because of it, appreciating infinitely more the blessing of rest. She did not try very hard to resist a drowsy spell, out of which she was roused to attention by a remark of Denmeade to his wife.
   "Wal, it'd shore make bad feelin' between the Denmeades an' Johnsons if Sam homesteaded on the mesa."
   "Reckon it would, but he's goin' to do it," returned Mrs. Denmeade. "Mertie told me."
   "Sadie Perdue's back of that," said Denmeade meditatively.
   "She's never forgive Edd...It'd be too bad if Sam beat Edd out of that homestead."
   "Don't worry, wife. Sam ain't a-goin' to," returned her husband. "Edd located the mesa, found the only water. He's just been waitin' to get himself a woman."
   "But Edd oughtn't to wait no longer," protested Mrs. Denmeade.
   "Wal, I reckon," rejoined Denmeade thoughtfully, "we'll begin cuttin' logs an' get ready to run up a cabin. It's bad enough for us to be on the outs with Spralls, let alone Johnsons...I'm goin' to walk up to the mesa right now."
   Suiting action to word, Denmeade started off. Lucy sat up and impulsively called. "Please take me with you, Mr. Denmeade. I--I'd like to walk a little."
   "Come right along," he responded heartily.
   Lucy joined him and entered the woods, taking two steps to one of his long strides.
   "I'm goin' up to a place we call the mesa," he was saying. "Edd has long set his heart on homesteadin' there. It ain't far, but uphill a little. Sam Johnson has been talkin' around. Shore there ain't no law hyar to prevent him stealin' Edd's homestead. An' I reckon there's bad blood enough. So I'm goin' to begin work right off. That'll throw Sam off the trail an' then we won't have no call to hurry."
   Lucy was interested to ask questions until she became out of breath on a rather long and steep slope. Here she fell back and followed her guide, whose idea of distance, she averred, was vastly different from hers.
   At last, however, they reached a level. Lucy looked up, to be stunned by the towering, overpowering bulk of the Rim, red and gold, with its black-fringed crown, bright and beautiful in the westering sun. She gazed backward, down over a grand sweep of forest, rolling and ridging away to the far-flung peaks. Her position here was much higher than on any point she had frequented, and closer to the magnificent Rim.
   "There's two or three hundred acres of flat land hyar," said Denmeade, sweeping his hand back toward the dense forest. "Rich, red soil. Enough water for two homesteads, even in dry spells. It's blue snow water, the best kind, comin' down from the Rim. Wal, I'm hopin' Dick or Joe will homestead hyar some day. It's the best farm land I know of."
   "Why, Mr. Denmeade, it's all forest!" exclaimed Lucy.
   "Shore. It'll have to be cleared. An' that's a heap of work."
   "Goodness! It looks it. How do you go about making a farm out of a thick forest?"
   "Wal, we'll cut logs first to run up a cabin," replied Denmeade. "Then we'll clear off timber an' brush, an' set fire to it, leavin' the stumps. They'll rot out in a few years. The big trees we kill an' leave standin'...This hyar mesa is high an' dry, warm in winter an' cool in summer. It joins on to a big canyon where there's water an' grass for stock. An' it's the best place for bees in this country. I reckon Edd's pretty smart. He's shore goin' to do somethin' with his bee-huntin'."
   They entered the level forest, and Lucy was at once charmed and fascinated. This woodland differed from any she had visited. It was level, open in glades, aisles, and dense in thickets and patches. A dry, hot fragrance of pine and cedar and juniper seemed to wave up from the brown-carpeted earth. How easy and delightful the walking here! As they penetrated deep into the forest the pines grew so huge that they actually thrilled her. Then the other trees were as large in proportion. Some of the junipers were truly magnificent, six feet thick at the base, symmetrical and spreading, remarkable for their checker-board bark and lilac-hued berries. Under every one of these junipers the ground was a soft, grey-green mat of tiny needles, fragrant, inviting rest. Under the pines Lucy kicked up furrows in the dry depths of brown needles, and these places even more called her to tarry. A wonderful sweet silence pervaded this mesa forest. No birds, no squirrels, no deer or turkeys! Yet Denmeade pointed out tracks in every dusty trail. "Reckon game's all down by the water," he explained. "There's a gully runs right through this mesa, dividin' it in half. Shore is a wild place. I'll show you where an old she bear jumped on me. She had cubs, an' a mother bear is bad."
   Lucy revelled in this exploration. The farther she followed Denmeade the more delighted she was with the wilderness and beauty, the colour and fragrance of the forest.
   "Oh, but it will be a shame to cut all these trees--and burn a hideous slash in this beautiful forest!"
   "I reckon. Shore Edd says the same," replied Denmeade. "But we have to make homes. An' the forest, just like this, will surround the homesteads. We only cut an' clear land where there's water. A few acres slashed don't make much of a hole in these woods...Look hyar. See between the pines, up there where the bluffs run down--it shows a break in the woods. That's the canyon I spoke of. It looks narrow and short. Wal, it's wide an' long, an' it'll always be wild. It can't never be cut. An' there's many canyons like it, runnin' in under the Rim....Miss Lucy, I come hyar twenty years ago. There's as many bear an' deer now as then. An' I reckon it'll be the same in twenty more years."
   "I'm glad," breathed Lucy, as if in relief. How strange for her to feel that she did not want the wilderness despoiled. Indeed, she was responding fully to inherited instincts.
   Denmeade led her on under the vast pines and through glades the beauty of which swelled Lucy's heart, and finally to the edge of a gully. She looked down into a green, white, brown, golden chaos of tree trunks, foliage, boulders, and cliffs, trailing vines and patches of yellow flowers, matted thickets of fallen timber--in all an exceedingly wild hollow cut deeply into the mesa. Lucy heard the babble and tinkle of water she could not see.
   "Edd aims to have his cabin hyar," explained Denmeade "I heard him say once he'd clear an acre hyar, leaving these big trees, an' the forest all around. The crop field he wants a little ways off. He'd keep his bees down in the gully, clearin' out some...Now you rest yourself while I climb down to the water. It's shore been a dry season, an' last winter the snows was light. I reckon I can get a good line on how much water there'll be in dry seasons."
   Denmeade clambered down a steep trail, leaving Lucy above. Though she stood amid deep forest, yet she could see the Rim in two directions, and the magnificent looming tower stood right above her. It marked the bold entrance of the canyon. In the other direction Lucy looked down a slant of green, darkly divided by the depression made by the gully, to the rolling forest below, that led the eye on and on to the dim purple ranges. A cry seemed to ring out of the remote past, appealing to Lucy's heart. It stung her mind to flashing, vivid thought. Her immediate ancestors had lived a few hundred years in villages, towns, cities; the early progenitors from which her people had sprung had lived thousands of years in the forested wilderness, barbarians, nomads. She felt it all so intensely. The giant seamy-barked pines, rough and rugged, were more than trees. They had constituted a roof for her race in ages past, and wood for fire. The fragrance, the strength of them, were in her blood. Likewise of the cedars, the junipers, the grey and white sycamores down in the gully, the maples and oaks, the patches of sumach, all that spread colourful protection around her. Deeper than sentiment, stronger than education, this passion claimed her for the moment.
   "If I loved Edd Denmeade, how happy I could be in a home here!"
   It did not seem to be the Lucy Watson she knew that whispered these involuntary words. They came from beyond reason, intelligence, consideration. They just dashed up out of instinct. She did not resent them, though she stood aghast at intimations beyond her control. How impossible was fulfilment of them! Yet she pondered why they had come. In vain! The loneliness, the solitude, the grand imminence of the Rim, the silent guarding pines, the eye-soothing softness of grey and green--these physical things dominated her and would not be denied.
   "It is a fact," she whispered. "I could live here...I'd want Clara to be close...I'd want to go back to Felix now and then...I'd want books, letters, papers--to keep up with my idea of progress...I'd want to go on with my welfare work. But these are nothing. They do not induce me to want to live in a log cabin...I am amazed at myself; I don't know myself. I am not what I think I am!"
   Lucy remained alone on the shady rim of the gorge for half an hour--surely a critical and portentous time in her realisation of change. Yet, what seemed incredible to her was the fact that she would not have changed anything in the present. Perhaps she had given too much thought to herself. Vanity! Mertie Denmeade was not alone in this peculiar feminine trait. Lucy arraigned herself, and tried to persuade herself that she possessed something of worldliness. All to little purpose! She was happier than she had ever been in her life and that was all there was to it.
   Denmeade led back across the mesa by a shorter route, and down the slope by an old trail. Lucy trudged along in his tracks, vastly less curious than on the way up. It had been another full day. Her hands attested to the labour of it. And as to her mind, the shadows of the past seemed dim, fading away.
   As they again approached level forest Lucy caught glimpses of the yellow clearing. She heard the discordant bray of a burro, then the shrill peal of childish laughter. She emerged on the edge of the timber in time to see the packed burros filing away through the corn, and on top of the last two sat Liz and Lize, triumphantly riding on sacks of beans. Edd strode beside them. Mrs. Denmeade and Allie were plodding on ahead. Far down the edge of the field Mertie and Bert appeared hand in hand, sauntering away toward the trail for home. Something about them, perhaps those linked hands, stirred Lucy to a divination of how little other people mattered to them. She had been right in her surmise. Propinquity was all that had been needed.
   Denmeade cut across the cornfield, while Lucy wended her way back along the edge of the woods to the pine tree where she had left Clara. Perhaps Clara, too, had gone with the others.
   The day was over. Sunset was gilding the Rim. Crickets had begun to chirp. The air had perceptibly cooled. Crows were sailing across the clearing. Faint and sweet came the shouts of the children.
   Then Lucy espied her sister sitting with her back against the pine. Joe Denmeade stood near, gazing down upon her. If either were talking, Lucy could not hear what was said; but she inclined to the thought that on the instant there was no speech. They did not hear her footsteps on the soft earth.
   Without apparent cause Lucy experienced a thrill that closely approached shock. How utterly she, too, was at the mercy of her imagination! Clara and Joe together, in perfectly simple pose--what was there in that to stop Lucy's heart? Verily she was growing like the Denmeades. On the other hand, there seemed profound significance in Joe's gazing down upon Clara, as she sat there, with the last touch of the sun making a golden blaze of her hair. Joe had been hopelessly lost, from that first sight of Clara. It had seemed of no great moment. Lucy in her passionate devotion had thought only of her sister. But Lucy had a flash of revelation. This wilderness environment was marvellously strong. Lucy caught just a vague hint of its elemental power--the earth, its rugged beauty and vitality, its secret to unite and procreate, since the dawn of human life ages before. What little people knew! They were but moving atoms dominated by nature.
   "Oh, here you are!" called Lucy, to start the pensive couple out of their trance. "I had the dandiest walk. Climb, I should say...And what have you two been talking about all this time?"
   "Joe came just this moment to tell me they were going home," replied Clara, looking up at Lucy.
   "Teacher, I was aboot to say she was goin' to get well heah in the woods, an' that I'd heard her laugh to-day," he replied, in his slow speech.
   "How strange!" murmured Clara, as if mocking a belief. She studied Joe with doubtful eyes, as if she refused to believe the truth manifested in him. Lucy wisely saw nothing, said nothing, though she was stirred to speak.
   "It has been a lovely day," she said as she turned away. "Come, we must go."
   "Wait, Lucy," complained Clara. "I may be getting well, but I can't run."
   "Make her hurry, Joe. It's late," replied Lucy, and she crossed the devastated bean-field to enter the rustling rows of corn. She did not look back. It was twilight when she arrived at the tent, and wearied with exertion and emotion, throbbing and burning, she threw herself on the bed to rest a few moments.
   Clara came just as darkness fell. "Are you there, Lucy?" she asked, stumbling into the tent.
   "Shore I'm heah," drawled Lucy.
   "Why did you leave me alone--to walk back with that boy?" queried Clara plaintively. "He's falling in love with me--the fool!"
   "Oh, Clara he'd be a fool if he wasn't," retorted Lucy.
   "But it'll only make him wretched. And you--you must stop believing I'm worthy of love."
   "Maybe Joe is like me," said Lucy, and this reply silenced her sister.

Chapter 10 >