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First published in Collier's, 20 Nov 1948

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Version Date: 2019-08-14
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Colliers, 20 November 1948, with "Cry Deep, Cry Still"

AT four o'clock that morning when John Mercy rose to search out and yoke the oxen, it was a mud-black world. The scudding clouds of a southwest storm were breaking in violence against the hills and releasing a fat rain which searched through the cabin walls and became a humid sweat upon everything. Today would be only a sullen, end-of-the-world twilight, as yesterday had been, and for as many days back as Mrs. Mercy cared to remember.

Mercy returned for breakfast, the heat of the room dyeing his wind-stung cheeks to blood crimson. He said brief grace and looked about the table, to his wife Martha, to Caroline in her flannel nightgown, to young Tom still drugged with sleep. "The devil's crying at the eaves but he can't get in." The hard work of a first fall in Oregon, the laying up of the cabin and the breaking of land, had taken twenty pounds from him, but he was cheerful, his eyes as blue as old velvet. "I'll let Tom milk and fetch water. It will save me an hour. It's a slow sixty miles each way, the Yamhill and the Tualatin to ford. They'll be high."

"You can't ford the Willamette or the Columbia," Mrs. Mercy said. "What'll you do?"

"At the Willamette's mouth I'll find some Indians to canoe me to the fort."

"And leave wagon and beasts for them to steal."

"I don't contemplate it," he said. "Eight days ought to see me back here."

"How can those pawky little canoes carry you, two mill-stones and a barrel of flour? You'll sink. What would we do, left three alone out here two thousand miles from home?"

"Don't contemplate that either," he said. He rose and made slow work buttoning on his overcoat while he watched his wife. "You'll be all right?"

"Worry for yourself."

"It might be nine days instead of eight," John Mercy said.

"If you see anybody along the way that we came over the plains with—though that would be like finding a penny in the ocean—tell them hello and say we're doing well."

"So we are," he said agreeably.

"Just say it," she retorted.

He went about the table to kiss the top of his daughter's head. He said, "Magpie for sharp," and he nodded at his son. "Do the chores without being asked and cause your mother no worry. You're the man here." He took up the sack of food and moved to the door, but there he swung to give his wife a grave moment's look.

She was aware of it and suddenly fell briskly to her chores about the fireplace, ignoring him. She said, "Well, you'd better get started," and then noticed the mud he'd brought into the house with his shoes. "Dirt, dirt, I'll die of it." He looked at her but said nothing, and went into the darkness.

Wind rushed past him with its fat, stinging rain. He threw the food into the wagon and walked abreast the oxen to prod them into motion. "Hup, Dandy, Babe! Hup!" The beasts stirred the covered wagon forward, into the meadow and across it toward a valley lying blind in the night.

Fort Vancouver, toward which he was bound for millstones and flour, was sixty miles northward through a country inhabited by scarcely more than a hundred white people; this was December and the year of 1842 came to its gusty ending in rain and wind. He bent his head and trudged forward over the spongy soil...

After he was well gone, Martha Mercy opened the door to look after him, sighting nothing now. She listened to the dashing roar of the wind in the fir tops high over the cabin; the sound of it drew her mouth into a displeased line and she closed the door and walked to the fireplace, a young woman with a clear brown face rarely lighted by a smile, with restless hands and a preoccupied manner. "Tom," she said, "the cow can hook off that top rail of the gate. You take a piece of rope and tie it."

The wind's rustling was endless, and she noted the glitter of water seeping through the log spaces. She turned to frown at the room: the beds and table and chairs cramping it, the boxes piled over boxes, the extra bedding and furniture stored above the rafter crosspieces, the crowded shelves, the clothing hanging from pegs everywhere; she saw the mud near the door and it was a match exploding her discontent, She seized the broom and went vigorously around the room, under the beds and under the children's feet at the table. Caroline said, "I want to dress now."

"Light the lantern, Tom. Put on the heavy coat."

She pulled the big kettle; with its simmering water, from the crane and scalded the milk bucket. Bundled against the weather, young Tom went out into the darkness and as soon as he had gone Caroline changed from nightgown to clothes.

MARTHA MERCY got the comb, and stood back of the chair for half an hour's patient combing of the girl's hair, forming its exact part, braiding it and tying the braids. Momentarily, she was pleased. Caroline was pretty.

"Now, then, if you're sharp as a magpie, as your father says, do the dishes," Martha said.

She went to the shed and carried in the full pans of another day's milk, took off the cream and dumped the skim into a bucket for the pigs; she scalded the pans and filled them with the fresh milk young Tom brought in. Young Tom went slowly out to feed the pigs, a first light then creeping like dirty water into the morning. She thought: He's tired for some reason, and began to worry about him; he never had Caroline's bubbling health. She put on her big cloak and tied a scarf around her head. From the shed she got an armload of pitch wood and stove sticks and carried them to the outdoor fireplace. She laid the pitch wood, brought a bucket of coals from the cabin and got the fire going, the variable currents of wind throwing smoke into her face. When the fire was strong she hoisted a great iron scalding pot and lodged it on the rock ledge above the flame and took a bucket behind the cabin.

A barrel stood here on stilts, a tub beneath it. Fire ashes filled the barrel, the rain washed through the ashes, and lye water trickled into the tub; she made three trips from tub to kettle with the lye water, then got an egg from the house and dropped it in the lye water for a test. The egg floated, its end barely above surface. Out of the cabin she brought the grease saved from butchered deer, from two bears Mercy had shot, from bacon drippings. This went into the kettle with the lye water.

She fed the fire and stepped into the cabin, the lower half of her dress and her shoes sodden. The dishes were done, and Caroline stood dreaming at the fire.

"You take your book and go through your letters," said Mrs. Mercy.

"I'd rather make soap."

"You'll get to make it someday," said Mrs. Mercy, "and wish you didn't need to." She put on Mercy's extra pair of boots, her feet entirely lost within them, and returned to the kettle to find that the inslanting rain had dampened the fire. She brought more pitch kindling and chunks of dry fir bark from the shed. Tom watched her. She said, "Tom, take the milk clabber to the chickens. Count and see if they're all there—and get the eggs."

SHE fed the fire with wood standing ricked by the shelter, the sharp smoke making her cry. The morning moved on, such as it was. The plowed field beyond the foot of the hill—where winter wheat lay—was black as coal from its month long soaking; sullen clouds skimmed the earth and lodged in the timber so heavily that a fine fog sparked all about her. Young Tom returned from the chicken shed and ducked into the shelter of the cabin's doorway. "Six eggs, chickens all right." His face was solemn, his shoulders drawn up.

Trying to imitate his father, she thought, but she looked closely at him, not quite sure; this was the way he sometimes appeared just before coming down with a cold. She said, "Take the ax and go strip me some cedar bark, about this long." She spread her arms to indicate the length. "A lot of it."

"You'll kill the trees."

"We've got trees to kill," she said.

At noon the soap was half thick in the kettle, young Tom had stacked a pile of cedar bark in the back shed, and both of them were soaked. She made a meal of cold scraps and fried eggs and sassafras tea, immediately going back to the tedious chore at the fire. By four o'clock the soap was a clear, clean jelly the color of isinglass; she heard it splatter as it bubbled, and judged it right, and drew it from the fire, ladling the soap into the wooden tub. She stored the tub in the shed and returned to clean out the kettle while a premature night whirled down about the cabin.

"Time for milking, Tom."

After supper a greater wind and rain rushed against the cabin and stormed through the trees with the sound of a river cataract. She put Tom to his arithmetic and took the lantern out to look at the chickens huddled in their small house; still restless, she went to the corral to make sure Tom had tied the top rail well enough. To get anything in this country was very hard; to lose anything was a tragedy.

She went on to the store shed, playing the lantern's light along the shelves, over the salt crocks, the potatoes, cabbages and apples and pumpkins given them by their nearest neighbors, the Teals, four miles away. She brooded over the scantiness of the bacon and the half-empty salt-pork tub; it was six months before the garden came on or a hog could be killed, a close thing with four mouths to feed. When she stepped into the cabin she saw young Tom shiver and she knew that he was going to be sick.

"You go to bed."

She stood at the fire after both of them had settled for the night and gave Mercy a moment's thought, he camped somewhere in a dripping grove fifteen miles away; but he would be inside the wagon cover and he would be warm. She drew the fire together, laid her hand on young Tom's cheek, feeling no fever there yet, and snuffed out the lights. "Turn your back," she said to him and got ready for bed.

The firelight performed its golden, leaping dance on the walls. They were both young, but work was making them old too fast, all because Indiana had got too small for Mercy's notions and he wanted a mile of land in Oregon and his own grist mill. The endless rain was hard to bear, for it took her back to her home where the snow now was a shining crust on the ground and the cold wonderful air shook down the brown oak leaves, banking them in windrows against the rail-fence lines. She saw the little town with its houses spaced in their blocks, and the church bell's sound was strong in her ears. Past Pennoyer's, Gregg's and Jackson's she walked, rattling her knuckles against the fence pickets, over the packed snow to Burglon's store, whose shelves were so common then and seemed so rich now. Bob Burglon, learning the business from his father, waited on her; she stirred on the bed and closed him from her mind with effort.

Above the storm she heard a sound beginning, like the tearing of cloth. It grew suddenly to a snapping and whining, and she sat upright in terror and felt the cabin tremble—actually jump—as the tree struck close by with its roar and its dying shower of falling branches.

Caroline whimpered and young Tom woke and began to cough. She listened to her heart's pounding; wind yelled through blackness, and the blackness was heavier than lead. This was the hour when, no matter how she tried to stop it, she thought of Allen Mercy, born dead, lying inside the rail fence beyond the meadow. The blackness and the wet cold earth brought the thought to her.

EARLY on the fourth day she rose to make broth from a piece of salt meat simmered with potatoes and onions. On young Tom's waking she fed him against his will, but stopped when she saw he could hold no more down. Fever had cracked his lips, and his arms showed a first thinness, and though he was sleepy he could only catnap. She got Caroline's breakfast, took care of the milk and fed the chickens. Using two water buckets at a time, she made four trips to the creek, a hundred yards distant, to fill the water barrel in the shed; on her return from the final trip she found Caroline in the cabin's doorway, her eyes round as dollars.

"There's a dog. He went around back of the barn."

Mrs. Mercy dumped the water into the barrel. "There's no dog. There's nobody but the trapper yonder and he's got no dog. The Teals are across the river. It couldn't be their dog." Young Tom was at the moment sleeping and she hated to disturb him, but his face was so bright a red that she touched it with her hands. "There's no dog," she said.

"I saw him, right in the yard. He went back of the barn."

Mrs. Mercy looked at her daughter, shaken by a dreadful coldness. She pulled her into the cabin and closed the door and got the rifle from its pegs; she found a cap for the rifle's nipple. "Stay here till I come back and don't open the door." She let herself into the yard and stopped to look through the gray light, toward the meadow, toward the hills. She circled the house, half afraid to turn the corners, going on to the cowshed.

There was nothing to be seen between cabin and shed, and beyond the shed the trees cast a thick shadow. She swung to come straight upon the open door, to see inside the cowshed before she got too close to it; the cow stood forlornly there, disliking the rain. She drew a long breath of relief and walked toward the far side of the shed; before she got quite to its corner she caught sight of motion in the darkness of the trees, and a long, sunken- flanked wolf came silently into the clearing, saw her and stopped.

He was evilly thin, of a dirty, rusty gray, and his eyes were a strange green staring at her with an unhuman steadiness; he had a mind and he was thinking whether he should be afraid or whether he should jump at her—that she knew in the paralyzing moment of her stillness. She never thought of the gun in her hand, never realized she had it. She said, "You dirty thing—get!"

The sound of her voice startled the wolf. He made an easy turn of insolence and went shadowlike into the timber. Then she remembered she had a gun, but he was gone. She ran to the shed, seized a piece of rope and fixed it to the cow's halter, leading the cow to the cabin door and tying it there. When she opened the door, Caroline stood waiting.

"Where's the dog—why's the cow here?"

"If it was a dog, he might hurt the cow. I didn't see the dog."

She rested the gun beside the door. "Don't touch that." She went to the fire and rested her head against her hands to let the waves of weakness go through her. Maybe he wouldn't come this near to the house, but maybe he was hungry enough to dare; she had to leave the door open to watch the cow. She turned, hearing Tom threshing on the bed. He was awake but he looked at her in a strange way and she knew the fever, still strong, made him lightheaded. It was more than a cold and he was in danger. She laid her hand softly on his chest, and he rolled his head, looking up to her with fear in his eyes.

"Am I going to die?"

"It's just a little thing. It's a cold. You've had colds before."

She held him up for a drink of water, pulled the quilt over him and briskly turned to her work. She made Caroline a bite to eat, she scalded the churn, and brought the milk from the shed; seated at the doorway, the churn between her legs and her eyes on the yard, she worked the dasher up and down.

Down the meadow, a voice hailed the cabin, shocking her, and in a moment Mrs. Teal, skirts dripping from a four-mile walk through wet meadow grasses, appeared at the door; with her was the oldest Teal boy, a basket in each arm.

Mrs. Teal said, "I missed your visit Sunday and got to wonderin'."

"Mercy's away to Fort Vancouver." A great relief from loneliness came upon Mrs. Mercy, so great that for an instant she was happy. But she could not reveal to this woman her weakness; she showed Mrs. Teal a steady face, and rose to accept the baskets with proper thanks.

"Just some garden things," said Mrs. Teal. "They'll rot in our storehouse, we've got so much. It'll be the same with you when your garden's started. First year's always a hard thing—nothing to do with." Mrs. Teal saw young Tom on the bed and walked over and bent and looked at him. Her voice was quiet: "What's ailin' him?"

"A cold," said Mrs. Mercy.

"If we just had some mustard for a plaster," said Mrs. Teal. "There's never anything. I'll be happy when there's a store." She looked again at young Tom, silently and long; she was worried, Martha Mercy realized. The Teal boy stood beyond the doorway, waiting.

Mrs. Mercy looked at young Tom and Caroline and spoke to Mrs. Teal: "Maybe your son could take the gun and go look on the other side of the cowshed. There's a dog around." She added quietly: "A gray dog, Caroline thinks."

"Oh, dear," murmured Mrs. Teal. "They do bother in winter when they get hungry. Joe—" But Joe, reaching for the rifle, had already gone. "Have you got any turpentine? On a rag soaked with water, it would draw."


Mrs. Teal looked at her narrowly and lowered her voice: "You got another baby started?" When Martha Mercy shook her head, the other woman murmured, "Well, then it's weariness. You been up most of the night, I guess. That's a terrible big tree that fell. Mercy better clear more away. I'll leave Joe here to sleep in the shed tonight. And to fetch me if you have need."

"It's a trouble for him."

"Great stars!" said Mrs. Teal. "What's people for? And there's no need to stand off. Not out here. People have got to have each other. Even if they don't like each other, they got to get along. Well, it's soon dark and I'll go." She gave a last look to young Tom and went into the yard, calling to her son. Joe Teal appeared from the timber a moment, listened to his mother's words, and went back into the timber, as lean and easy and insolent as the wolf itself.

Martha Mercy sat down before the churn, lifting and lowering the dasher in steady rhythm. Covertly from time to time Mrs. Mercy threw a glance toward young Tom. The fever was growing, the breaking point hadn't been reached. She kneaded the butter and took it to the storehouse, poured buttermilk into a jug and brought young Tom a glass of it; when she lifted him upright to drink she felt the fiery heat of his body. He drank the full glass and fell back on the bed, fretful and weak. She brought up the quilts around him.

Darkness came down with a rising wind and rain. She made supper for Caroline and for Joe Teal, who, coming out of the darkness, ate as though in a haste to be back at his hunting. "I'll sleep in the cowshed," he said, and took a blanket from her and led the cow away. She ate nothing, having no appetite. She washed the dishes, combed and put up Caroline's hair and sent her to bed.

"The light's in my eyes," said Tom.

She snuffed the candles and drew a chair beside young Tom's bed, holding his hot hand. "Now, then," she said, "you'll be better in the morning. This fever's about burned out the corruption, and then it'll go and you'll eat like a pig." His breathing was fast and heavy, the labor of it exhausting him; his heart alarmed her with the violence of its pulsing against his skin.

A TERRIBLE helplessness came upon her and out of it came bitter thoughts and a moment of hatred for John Mercy. He was an ambitious man who couldn't abide the thought of being small in Indiana—believing that a mile of land, a mill and someday a store out here would make them happy and leave the children well off. But what good was that to young Tom now, half dead with fever? It wasn't a healthy country, no freezing weather to kill the putrid things in the earth and air each year, only this wetness which sickened people and kept them damp winter long.

In sleep, young Tom cried. She sat in the slowly chilling room, listening to the fever have its way, holding his hand and silently praying her will into him. She feared to let his hand go and she feared to move. Mercy, about now, would be starting back over a country without roads or bridges; she had no tenderness in her thinking of him, only a feeling that if young Tom should die, her mind would die.

Pain struck her in the back of the neck, and she seized the edges of the chair to avoid falling. She had slept a few moments and her hand had fallen away from young Tom's hand. She searched for it, and panic came upon her at the quietness that was upon him. She bent, placing her head near his face; his breath rustled against it, but the sound of hard struggle was gone; and when she touched his face the heat, too, had gone.

He was motionless; he was in the sleep of exhaustion and the fever was broken. She pulled the covers around him and, removing only her shoes, she got into bed beside Caroline and lay awake, too tired to be relieved...

On the seventh day the rain stopped; and the water-beaded trees around the house were all asparkle. A wolf hide hung in the cowshed, shot by Joe Teal, who had gone home. Young Tom sat propped around with pillows, his eye sockets deep and a waxiness on his face, too weary to complain at being in bed; but he was hungry and he was better.

She carried ten pails of freshet-yellowed water from the Cobway and set on the washtub. "You're not so sick you can't do some studying," she told him. "It's time wasted that's sinful, and I'll not have you ignorant like that trapper. Caroline, get that arithmetic book for him." She hoisted the boiling tub to a bench before the door, and, her skirts tied up, she did the washing.

Joe Teal slipped into the cabin with a bottle of berry wine sent by his mother, having covered the four miles like a hound and yet breathing softly; and he refused food and quietly disappeared.

By afternoon the washing hung from every overhead pole in the cabin, beneath which she had to duck to make a meal and tend young Tom. The closeness of this living crossed her and made her more and more irritable. This was her mood when a straight, thin and whiskered man in a dark suit so old and hard-used that it had a green cast to it stepped from a horse before her door and cheerfully announced himself.

"I am Reverend White, ridin' my circuit," he said. "Sister Teal said you were here. Boy's better? This, I guess, is Caroline, and I've struck you at washin' time and you won't like me for it."

She didn't. It offended her enormously to bring him into this room with its crowded furniture, and its damp clothes scraping the top of his gray head. But he was a minister and she was courteous to him, by nature respecting his profession. She went hastily around to make up a meal which, because of its poor showing, further depressed her. He ate and he talked and he was full of good spirit.

"Husband be back soon? It's a long ride to Vancouver. Sister Teal mentioned he was after millstones. A miller by trade?"

"He's got knowledge of it," said Mrs. Mercy.

"He'll make out, he'll do well. He's got good land, good water power—he's had the best choice before the multitude come. There's no land like it for richness." He gave her a passing glance and went back to his food. "A little rain, of course. There's the gift it's got—water to make things grow. I recall the harshness of Northern winters."

"I pine for cold weather," she said.

"That's natural, but another year here and you'll not hanker for home and friends. You'll have them here."

"Will they ever come?"

"By the thousands," said Reverend White, "and if you bend your ear, sister, you can hear the tramplin' of their feet now. It's destiny. That winter wheat planted in the field?"


"The rain that troubles you will bring that wheat on fat and heavy. The rain is your bread and butter." He looked at the wine bottle on the table; she felt shame that he should see it and wondered what his thoughts were.

"That's Sister Teal's elderberry, I recognize. No medicine like it for your son."

"Could I offer you some, Reverend?"

He said, "No," in a rather reluctant way and at once said it stronger. "No. Barely enough for him. Now then," he said rising, "it's twenty miles to the next family and I have got to ride." He laid a hand on young Tom's head, on Caroline's head, his hands blackened from the reins of the horse.

HE was a minister, but he had none of that refinement about him which, in Indiana, sets ministers apart; he was a man before a minister, more like a millwright than anything else. He thanked her for the meal and rode downgrade to the meadow and out of sight. She was disappointed because he had neither asked anything of her spiritual condition nor had knelt with them in prayer. She would have been surprised at the Reverend White. Passing around a point of the hill he came to a grove of oaks well beyond the cabin, here dismounting to kneel before a tree. He knew her story from Mrs. Teal, he knew her trials from the trials of other women before her and he knew, by her expression, the depth of her unhappiness. Knowing it, he prayed for her aloud, naming all the troubles she had undergone and all the excellences he saw within her. He listed them in a good round voice to God, stating her case as a lawyer might have done; and in the same voice he asked for a small amount of forgiveness, for a great deal of help. Then he rose, brushed his wet knees and rode into the gathering twilight toward a cabin twenty miles away...

She milked, fed the pigs, and gathered the eggs and locked in the chickens after counting them. After Caroline had gone to bed she got her basket and pulled the rocker to the fire—all the long day waiting for this restful moment—and settled there with thread and patch cloth. For a moment the redness of her hands drew her attention and she let them lie while she became aware of the scratches upon them. She remembered that her grandmother's hands had been like this, but not her mother's; for her grandmother had gone through the same drudgery while her mother, marrying the village merchant, had lived a calm life.

She might have married a merchant, too, and her days would have been as pleasant as her mother's. All day long the voices of the town would be around her, leaving no room for lonesomeness, and she would belong, she would dance, she would go to church. She had not let herself think too much of Bob Burglon—that was a kind of unfaithfulness; but now she let him come into her mind; his courtship sent its sweetness through her as she recalled it.

It was hard to know, sometimes, what put one man above another and why John Mercy, so abruptly coming into her life, had made Bob Burglon seem no longer right. It had been clear enough then. She looked closely at Bob Burglon, she looked closely at her husband—and she said silently, "No more of that," and put it out of her head. The fireplace light at last made her eyes tired and she went to bed...

She was up still earlier next morning and by daybreak had finished the never-changing chores. Now she brought in from the shed the slabs of cedar bark young Tom had cut, and began pounding the cedar fiber free, at last having a pile of it and a great mound of fluff around her. She brought out a loom, tacking on the stringy cedar twine as warp, and began the tedious hand job of running the woof through; by noon she was sorry she had begun and grew cross when young Tom became hungry. "Caroline, fix his big stomach something."

She hated to waste time, and by two o'clock, having had no meal herself, finished the cedar mat, threw it on the floor before the doorway and was done with it. But for a moment she studied it and thought: Why, it's not bad, and saw how she could do better next time. She was in haste; everything piled up on her. From the shed she got a venison joint, and put it into the deep skillet. She made a pie, and at proper time laid onions and potatoes and parsnips around the baking venison. Twilight came on, she turning rapidly from one piece of work to another.

She changed young Tom's bed, washed his face; she did Caroline's hair and was momentarily happy with her daughter's prettiness; and then at last she did her own hair and tied on a new apron. It was full dark by that time; standing at the open doorway she listened for the sound of Mercy's wagon to rise from the far deep quiet of the night. She began to worry, to see the rivers he had to cross, the Indians who went back and forth through this country in their roving bands. Young Tom said, "It's way past suppertime."

"You can wait a little longer," she said: then, in the distance beyond the meadow, she heard Mercy's call. "It will be just a little while," she said. She looked at them, adding, "We will not say we've been troubled, mind you." She looked from one to the other. "I want you to know that there's always trouble, and each one has got to stand his own, or everybody'd always be crying. Your father's got his, and bears them, and we'll bear ours."

HE circled the wagon into its place beside the cabin, seeing his wife and daughter framed in the doorway's gushing yellow light. He said, "That's a pretty sight. Everything well?"

Mrs. Mercy said, "We got along."

"I said eight days—and eight days it was."

"You can thank the Lord as much as your own guessing," she said.

He unyoked and led away the oxen and came slowly back, walking with a weary man's loose knees. He got something from the wagon and said to Caroline, still standing in the doorway, "Magpie," and saw young Tom in bed. "What's here?"

"He had a cold," said Mrs. Mercy, "but it's all right now. We'll eat when you've washed." She looked at him, knowing he had spared no strength to be back on time.

He met her glance and a sparkle got into his eyes and he said, "Well, then, I've not been missed?"

"Don't be foolish, Mercy. It's not right to beg for sentiment." She watched him reach into the package he carried, laying out a clustered chunk of transparent rock candy, and a string of Hudson Bay beads.

"Candy, from London, for the kids. Beads for you. Pretty things."

She looked at them, she didn't touch them, she didn't meet Mercy's eyes. Her manner was brisk, almost impatient. "I hope you didn't waste money on me. You know I don't year trinkets. They will do for Caroline," she added and turned to bring the roast to the table.

He sat heavily on the rocker and got out of his boots, into his slippers. He washed and combed his hair and took his place at the table. When his family had come about it, he looked at them, one by one, and dropped his head.

"For the food, for a safe return, and for the health of this family, Lord, thanks, Amen." He raised his head, a steady faintly austere benevolence coming to his face. "No trouble, then?"

"Nothing to speak of," said Martha Mercy.


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