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ERNEST HAYCOX

CUSTOM OF THE COUNTRY

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First published in Collier's, 29 May 1948

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
Version Date: 2019-08-14
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Colliers, 29 May 1948, with "Custom of the Country"



PEOPLE who had lived so closely together during the long crossing of the plains were scarcely the kind to fear their neighbors; and therefore not one of Portland's dozen houses had a lock. Nor was it the custom to knock on a door before entering; the habits of the trail were still strong in these settlers. At the Lord cabin, Rose Ann Talbot simply called out, "Here's your milk, Mrs. Lord," lifted the latch and walked into the cabin's single room.

A fireplace blaze lightened the afternoon grayness of the room and touched Hobart Walling, that bold and strutting little farmer who was here to drive his bargain. He had driven his stock in from the Tualatin, the mud of which was still on his boots and trousers; his face was roughened and crimsoned by weather and his close-set eyes held an aggressive shrewdness.

Dislike moved through Rose Ann as his glance touched her, ran across her cheeks with its prying familiarity, and returned to Lord. "You and your woman understand the work a farmer's wife has got to do. I wouldn't want Sarah to think it was an easy life."

Lord said, "Sarah's fourteen, and work's all she's done. That's all this family knows, is work. Hell, my woman was twelve when she married me."

Mrs. Lord stood near the fire, silent, apparently agreeable. Sarah, the main party to this dickering, remained in the shadows of the room's corner. She had a plain sweet face touched with freckles, and a flat body; her silence reflected the uncertainty of any immature little girl. There was nothing about her, Rose Ann thought, to show she really understood this bargaining or to show that she had any deep feeling about it. She was still; she was intent; she watched Hobart Walling closely.

"You'll get an extra half section of land with a wife," said Lord. "That's important, Hobart."

Walling nodded and glanced at Sarah. He said, "What you think about it, Sarah?"

"Yes."

"Well," said Walling, "then it's settled. I got to get back to the farm by Sunday night."

Lord said, "We'll fix it for Sunday morning. You talk to that Congregational preacher about it, Hobart."

Walling used the back of his hand to scratch the whiskers Under his chin. He nodded at Sarah but he spoke to Mrs. Lord. "She got clothes and things? We won't get into town much this winter. I don't mind if you want to buy a few things for her on my account." He looked at Rose Ann again, and the greasy sensation renewed itself within her; then he turned out of the room.

Lord turned to his wife with sharp triumph: "That's it."

Mrs. Lord looked toward Sarah. "Sarah, you got a good practical man. You'll have a better home than I ever had."

Rose Ann tried to keep the protest out of her voice: "Sarah, do you really want to get married?"

She caught Mrs. Lord's wondering glance, and the annoyance on Lord's cheeks. Sarah's expression was one of smooth and flattered self-satisfaction. Her eyes were round and large. She was confident; she had had her own moment of triumph. "I'll be married—I won't be an old maid. I'll have a house. I'll have babies."

Rose Ann turned to leave the cabin before unwise words escaped her. Mrs. Lord called, "I'm grateful for the milk, Rose Ann," but she paid no attention. She walked along a slick pathway winding around the stumps of a future street, through the early twilight which came upon this settlement crouched between the river and the huge fir forest directly behind; she walked with her head down and her thoughts were fretful. The Lord family got a prosperous son-in-law to lean on while Walling took a hired girl without pay; for Sarah it was nothing but a dollhouse dream magnified.

Entering her own cabin, Rose Ann lighted the candles and dished the meal and waited for her father to return from the store; there was distress in her face, and her father noticed it. "We must be out of salt or flour or something," he said.

"The Lords have just horse-traded Sarah to Walling."

The news didn't disturb him. "That's been coming."

"A fourteen-year-old girl marrying a man of thirty—a child marrying an old man."

"She's old enough," he said. "It's not uncommon. As for Walling, if he's an old man at thirty, what am I?" He sat up to the table ready to enjoy his meal. She took her place across from him, astonished that such a thing made no impression on him.

She said, "Would you have wanted me to be married at fourteen?"

"That's a different thing. You've had some education. The man you marry will have some education. You'll want somebody who'll get on in the community, who'll wash his face before he comes to supper, who'll pull back your chair for you. But Sarah's not got those prospects. She's out of the Missouri backwoods. Not one of her ancestors ever learning to read or write; not one of them ever rising to a house made out of boards. This marriage will be the best ever made in her family. She'll be a thousand times better off than her people, and her children will get a chance she never had."

"She'll be a drudge," said Rose Ann—"and worn out at twenty."

Her father, usually so quick with his sympathies, sat back to give her his smiling tolerance. "We've all got to work and wear out—Sarah in one thing, you in another."

Then, still smiling, he added, "Sarah, marrying at fourteen, is the common thing. You, single at twenty, are the exception."

She wondered how much he worried about her singleness, and from that she began to think of herself, for a little while forgetting Sarah. She rose to do the dishes, and a slight fear came to her because she was growing old and no man had yet appealed to her, though men had looked upon her and would have asked if she had encouraged them. Her father went to his rocker, slowly swaying it across the squeaky board on the floor. Sarah came back to Rose Ann's mind and when she had finished the dishes she left the house and walked along the pathway toward the riverbank.


A BIG bonfire burned close by Hawley MacBride's saw pits. As she came nearer she saw him standing on a log, trimming it with a broadax into a square timber to be used in somebody's building. By day, with a hired man, he stood at one of the pits and sawed out the boards which furnished such lumber as this town had; by night, with his hired man gone, he lighted his fire and worked late on timbers. The swinging of the ax was like him, unhurried, regular and patient; he was young and quietly stubborn in his persistent laboring.

Having her thoughts on Sarah, she went by him without speaking. Children were shouting through the shadows, to remind her that Sarah, passing from the drudgery of the Lord house to the drudgery of Walling's house, missed this fun which was hers by right of childhood. No youth for her, no running through shadows, no free girlhood, no knowing ever what it was like to have the eyes of a young man come to her with a message, no dreaming, no foolishness—nothing but being old forever.

Mist came down upon the river, raw and strong, and water lapped against the muddy bluff at her feet. Hawley MacBride's ax ceased its metal ringing and in a moment she heard him whetting the edge of the blade with a stone. She turned to the fire and watched him make a few tentative strokes to test the sharpness of the ax, each light stroke rolling thin shavings from the log. He put the ax aside, lighted his pipe and sat down on the timber for a little talk, his smile coming across the fire. Black hair, with a single rolling curl to it that any woman might envy, dropped against his forehead.

"Do you know Sarah's going to marry Walling?" she asked. "It's a shameful thing." He puttered at his pipe, clearly trying to understand what she meant. By the firelight his face cast off a bronze shadowing, his lips made a long roll, his eyes flashed against the blaze. He shook his head. "Guess she doesn't think so, or her people."

He was like her father; he could not see what she saw. She stood still and for a moment wondered if she were wrong; but the distaste would not die. "She's a little girl, anxious to be a woman. This flatters her. She doesn't really know what it means. Of course her folks would like to see her married. They're poor and Walling's got land and money."

"It's their affair. Not yours and mine." She said, "It's like a Siwash Indian selling his daughter for a string of beads."

He watched her with a sobering, steady attention, slowly drawing on his pipe, his big hands idle across his knees. "Maybe," he said. "But it won't do to interfere."

"You'd interfere if you saw a man trying to kill another man, wouldn't you?"

He brushed that remark aside with instant common sense. "Not the same. No man consents to being killed. But Sarah's consented to be married."

"The kind of consent you can buy with a bag of candy. She doesn't know."

He rose from the timber and tapped out the smoke from his pipe. He put his hands behind his back and looked into the fire, challenged by what she had said. He brought up his glance, not with the expression he had worn before, but with a direct interest in her. "It troubles you, doesn't it?"

She said, "If Lord had a job, maybe he'd think better of letting her get married."

"That's just hoping," he said.

"It's got to be stopped."

"People live their own way. Maybe it's not such a good way but it's theirs and that's their business."

She was distressed that he wouldn't see, and instinct to protect Sarah grew stronger. "She's got the right to grow up and be free a while before she turns into Walling's slavey. She's got the right to have a man look at her with something nice in his eyes. I can't bear to think of this marriage. It's indecent."

"It does trouble you," he said.

"It does," she said, and turned away. Half the distance toward her cabin she looked behind, not hearing his ax resume its chopping; he stood at the fire with his hands still behind him, the firelight making his large shoulders larger. He was a high, impressive shape against the darkness; he was a block of solidness reassuring to look upon, and she looked upon him a long moment before continuing her way homeward.


MACBRIDE'S fire lost its yellow glow and became a dull redness against the earth; he had a notion to go on working, but the thought wasn't good and he turned toward Billy Ashford's but at the far end of the settlement.

Half a dozen men were in the place when he arrived, other bachelors gathered for a little talk before the day was done, and Rose Ann's father and Hobart Walling. A jug of blue ruin stood on the table with a few tin cups. MacBride poured and drank his tot, stood a moment to get the hang of the conversation and sat down in the corner, wedging his shoulders between two other men.

He let the talk roll around him, while he gave some thought to Hobart Walling. The man's short body carried considerable power in it, heavy muscles with short spans to them; he had a flushed face slightly marked by smallpox, and there were pale scars on the high edge of his forehead, no doubt from the rough-and-tumble fights in the past. He was an energetic creature; even now his vitality made him restless. He said to Billy Ashford, "How much you pay for this liquor?"

"Couple dollars a gallon."

"Well, it's not bad."

"Hell," said Ashford, "it's terrible. I'm surprised at your judgment."

"A drink's a drink," said Walling.

The talk turned to cougars in the hills behind the town. It swung from cougars to food, and from food to the coming of Christmas. MacBride hung his hands over his doubled knees and idly massaged his knuckles. The drink did him good. He dropped his head and closed his eyes, listening to Walling's voice.

Billy Ashford said, "Hear you're going to get married, Hobart."

"Sunday."

"I'll be glad when a few more women get into this country," said Ashford.

"You can pick up a good squaw any time," said Walling.

There was a small silence, which Ashford presently filled with his most casual question: "You had one a couple years ago. What happened to her?"

"Oh," said Walling, putting it aside as a thing of no consequence, "I sent her back to her people."

MacBride opened his eyes and gave Walling a closer glance. The silence went on, and Walling, feeling it, stared around the group. His eyes closed down somewhat. He said briefly, "Nothing unusual about it. A lot of men have done it." His glance stopped on MacBride and he said, with a lift to his tone, "What's wrong about it?"

"I hadn't said," replied MacBride.

"Well, then, let's not discuss it."

"I'm not," said MacBride. He got up from his crowded corner. "Billy, it was a good drink. When that jug runs out, I'll buy the next gallon." He took time to fill and light his pipe at the candle, the light dancing against his eyes, making them sparkle; and then he ducked his head beneath the low doorway and left Ashford's. He went on slowly, mouth puckered around the pipe stem, his head down and his hands behind him. At the fork of the pathway he paused a moment and then he turned toward the Lord cabin.


AFTER breakfast, with the house swept, Rose Ann took her bucket down the trail to a small meadow beyond the settlement and milked the cow. A third of the milk she poured into skim pans and set them out to cool on the covered shelf; the rest of it she divided into three small buckets, one for the Ballards, one for the Snows, one for the Lords. These were the latest arrivals in the settlement and therefore the poorest. Setting out to deliver the pails, she looked toward the river and saw MacBride already working at the saw pits. He stood above a log on one of the pits, guiding a long crosscut through the log while some man, not seen by her, stood down in the pit beneath the log at the other end of the saw. She noticed that there was a crew at the second pit this morning; he had found extra workers.

She delivered her last pail to Mrs. Lord, who was working up bread, surrounded by five of her younger children. "I don't know what I'd do without milk, Rose Ann. It's good to have neighbors. Lord's working now. Hawley MacBride hired him for the saw pit. Now then, if his health don't break down—"

"What's the matter with his health?" asked Rose Ann.

"Always been a frail man, strong as he looks. His energy just runs out."

Rose Ann walked to the doorway and looked across the clearing to Hawley MacBride on the saw-pit log. Her eyelids almost touched as she watched his body swinging up and down with the saw, and her mouth softened. She spoke over her shoulder: "Now that he's working, maybe you won't want Sarah to be married so young."

"What's that got to do with it?" asked Mrs. Lord in surprise. "She's got a fine chance."

Rose Ann turned about. "Mrs. Lord, is Sarah in love with him?"

Mrs. Lord straightened from her chore and laid a hand against her side to contain some brief twitch of pain. She was not so dull and indifferent as she seemed, Rose Ann decided; her face became strong and wideawake. "That will do for thinkin', but we got to be practical. Maybe your father can support you while you do your dreamin'. We're too poor for that. Sarah's got to do the best she can."

Rose Ann dropped her glance, embarrassed at the expression on Mrs. Lord's face. Sarah was bent over a washtub in the yard, her straw-colored hair coming down over a face freckled and pointed and plain. Rose Ann went over. Sarah's hands were red and her bones were poorly clad with flesh; she needed so much time to fill herself with things which would glow out of her and stain her features with maturity. It was hard to know much about a girl of fourteen—where the child left off and the woman began. Rose Ann tried to remember back to when she was fourteen, but she couldn't quite revive that time. She said, "Sarah—what will you call him? Hobart?"

Sarah said, "Oh, no. That would be like calling my father by his first name. I'll call him Mr. Walling."


ROSE ANN went back home to cut up a piece of beef and put it into the big iron pot. She peeled her potatoes and onions to go into the stew later; she cleaned the churn and poured into it the accumulated cream, and sat on a chair with the churn between her knees, operating the dasher up and down with a vigorous, steady stroke. She couldn't get Sarah out of her mind. It was so strange to her that she stood alone, that nobody else saw it as she saw it. Was she a queer old maid?

She thought about that and then she remembered that Hawley MacBride had hired Lord and she thought with some surprise: Why, I did make him understand a little bit.

She turned the butter and spent half an hour kneading it. She added the vegetables to the stew and finished off the butter into pretty bricks stamped with an oak leaf. She had dinner ready for her father when he came in at noon, and later washed the dishes and straightened the house again. The afternoon came, and she stood at the window, watching the people of the settlement move around at their various chores. She saw the gray clouds rolling over the sky and the dull afternoon's glitter on the wet green trees; she saw Hobart Walling come up from the river and go into Lord's—and very suddenly she hated the man with a great intensity. She got her light shawl and walked directly to Mrs. Ellenwood's.

Mrs. Ellenwood was a gentlewoman who had followed a restless husband out of a comfortable New York home to this land of mud and dust. She had made the best of it. The two rooms of her small frame house were wonderfully peaceful with their rag rugs, with the rose dishes so carefully brought over the plains, and with the snowwhite curtains and waxed maple chairs. She was a tall woman, still pretty at forty, and her charm made Rose Ann feel quite young. Mrs. Ellenwood occupied a rocker in her afternoon hour of leisure and knitting. She might have been a great lady in a mansion, for that was the air of the room at this moment. "Take a chair, Rose Ann."

"I'm out of the notion to be peaceful. It's Sarah that troubles me."

Mrs. Ellenwood considered Rose Ann. "You have got a very firm look on your face. I have been trying to think of a useful wedding gift for Sarah. She needs so much to start with."

"It's wrong," said Rose Ann. "Don't you think it is?"

"The girl seems to want to do it."

"To a man more than twice as old. She oughtn't think of any marriage yet."

"Well, many women have married that early—some to old men and some to men they couldn't rightly say they loved. I do observe most of these marriages turn out well."

"No," said Rose Ann, disappointed in this woman she so greatly admired. "I can't believe it. It's wrong."

Mrs. Ellenwood fell silent, and looked through the window, gentle regret on her face. She gave Rose Ann a faint smile. "It's because you can dream. There are so many girls who can't dream. They take a man and make the best of it. That's Sarah. Suppose you talked her out of it. It would be another man next year—maybe one not so well provided. What have you done to her then? I wouldn't risk changing her life. She's plain, she's poor, she's never known anything but work and dirt. She wouldn't even understand what you're talking about."

"She needs a chance to know," said Rose Ann. "She should go to school and grow up. Then she can choose a man."

"How will she get a chance to do this? Her parents won't do it for her."

"I will," said Rose Ann. "I'll take her in and raise her."

Mrs. Ellenwood shook her head. "You do surprise me. But, Rose Ann, you can't talk Lord or his wife out of a son-in-law with money." She paused, she had something further to say and hesitated to say it. "You know, Rose Ann, that men run the world. You're a girl and you've got no power to change men's minds."

"But," said Rose Ann, "a man might help me."

Curiosity was a clear thing on Mrs. Ellenwood's face. "I didn't know any man interested you."

"I didn't say that," answered Rose Ann swiftly.

A fugitive humor ran along Mrs. Ellenwood's mouth and was at once suppressed. She said something that was in contradiction with what she had said before.

"Well, Rose Ann, maybe we're so close to the earth we don't see the sky. Life's very hard in a new country and people get coarse sometimes. If it's in your heart to help Sarah, then you've got to do it."

"That helps me," said Rose Ann, and left the house.


SHE stood a moment outside Mrs. Ellenwood's door. The ringing of the woodchoppers' axes came from the timber, and the "swash-swash" of Hawley MacBride's saw was an unbroken rhythm. Not many men cared to work with him at the saw pits, for few of them could stand that kind of labor. Her eyes narrowed on him, watching his body grow stiff and broad-shouldered when he straightened. A group of men stood over by Kerr's store, and another man came sauntering along to join them—Hobart Walling. Presently the three went into the store.

She looked again toward MacBride, and drew a long breath, her heart beating fast. She thought: "I have got to do it," and went toward the store with dread in her. It was a hard thing to pass through the door. She stopped before it with a feeling of weakness. She looked through the door, seeing Walling and the two men lounging before the counter. Kerr was behind the counter—and all of them were laughing at some joke. She stepped inside. They quit talking, Kerr giving the others a short warning with his hand. The talk hadn't been meant for her ears, she understood. She went on to the counter.

"I should like a spool of thread—black thread."

The silence of the men was one of those amused, indifferent silences; they were waiting for her to be done with her buying and go. She felt Walling's eyes watching her and she turned her head quickly and caught the sliding, pushing quality of his glance. It didn't drop; it drove boldly at her.

She said, "What are you staring at, Mr. Walling? Is a woman strange to you?"

He straightened. "That's no way to talk to a man."

"You're very brave," she said. "That is, before women."

He showed her a deepening color. He looked at the other men and back at her.

"I've not bothered you," he said shortly. "Go home where you belong and don't try to break into men's talk."

"You," she said, "are a fat lunk of a creature. Do you ever shave or ever wash? You smell like a barn. And here you are, telling me what I ought to do. I shall stay here. You do the going."

"If I were your father," he said, "I'd teach you your place."

"You have not that intelligence, Mr. Walling."

Her remark humiliated him before an audience. His instant and unthinking prejudice flared. "By God, get back to your place before I take you for another kind of a woman."

She hit him across the face with her hand. He raised his hand and reached for her, but she stepped aside and hit him again. She turned swiftly, remembering a stack of ax handles by the door. She seized one and came back toward him. "Now, then," she said, "do you mean to lay that grimy paw on me, Mr. Walling?"

He would have done so had not the storekeeper suddenly said, "That will be all, Walling."

Walling checked himself and gave Rose Ann a killing glance. He said, "I must take this up with your father. I shall not accept it.

"If you step into our cabin," she said, "I'll shoot you."

He checked himself quite suddenly; he changed his feelings in remarkably fast time.

"Now," he said in a complaining voice, "who brought this on anyhow?" Then he gave the men around him a shake of his head, carefully circled Rose Ann and left the store.

She had not only offended Hobart Walling, she noticed; she had also offended Mr. Kerr and the other two men. All men stuck together—they said nothing but they created an air that was thick with disapproval. She picked up her thread, murmuring, "That will be all, Mr. Kerr," and left the store. Her knees were trembling and she felt mildly giddy.

She got supper, lighted the candles and turned to the doorway to wait for her father to turn the trail which came out of the lower part of town. When he swung into sight she noticed that he walked faster than usual. He saw her at the door and quickened his pace; he came on, staring at her with a tight, strict expression on his face. He went directly through the back way to wash up. She dished up and took her seat, knowing that he knew, but she said nothing when he took his place at the table. He helped himself to the meat, took one taste of it, and laid down his fork.

"Now, then," he said, "what did you say to Walling? Were you interfering in his affairs?"

"He was impolite. I slapped his face. Try the greens. I fixed them with grandmother's sauce."

"Rose Ann," said her father, "did you threaten him with a gun if he came around here?"

"Oh, yes," said Rose Ann.

"My God, that's for me to do, not for you. Now I shall have to demand an apology from him. You're certain—"

The door was still open, with somebody standing in it. Talbot lifted his glance, taking care to erase the fretfulness he had displayed. He said cheerfully, "Come in, Hawley."

Rose Ann sat quite still, startled; she didn't look around until Hawley MacBride spoke to her. "Rose Ann," he said, "did you say anything to Walling about Sarah?"

She said, "I do wonder at all this excitement. No. He was impolite and I slapped him. Now that I think of it, I wish I'd slapped him again."

"Dammit," said Talbot, "you ought not become publicly involved with a man."

"Then," said Hawley MacBride, "he looked wrong at you and was impolite when you mentioned it?"

"That's what it was," said Rose Ann. "Is there a law which stops a woman from protecting herself against a man?"

Hawley MacBride said, "Maybe there ought to be a law protecting a man from a woman," and left the cabin.

"Rose Ann," complained her father, "I've got to go do a disagreeable job directly after supper. You ought to bear that in mind when you fight a man. Some other man has got to take care of it."

"Enjoy your supper first," said Rose Ann...

Last seen, Hobart Walling bad been traveling in the direction of Billy Ashford's cabin; and that was where MacBride found him, sitting on a corner box in the little place while Ashford threw together some kind of supper. He was crouched over with his pipe, a good drink of blue ruin giving him cheer and appetite; he looked up with a lively attention when MacBride stepped into the cabin, and noted the gray sparkling in MacBride's eyes. He laid his pipe carefully aside and rose from the box. He looked around him for elbow room; he squared himself. MacBride stepped across the room, lifting both arms, nodding his warning at the other man. Walling grumbled, "The hell with you," and swung out with his fists.

"Get out of my cabin to do that!" shouted Ashford.

He ducked, put one foot in the fireplace, and clawed his way aside from the two stamping men. Hawley MacBride knocked down Walling's arms. He missed a blow and hit Walling with his chest. He threw out his hand and took Walling under the chin, snapping back the man's neck. Walling seized the table and tried to lift it, but MacBride tore it out of his hands and flung it aside, tin dishes, crockery jug and utensils and all coming down as a jangling rain on the floor. Walling laid his back against the cabin wall and punched. He lifted his booted leg and rammed it outward. MacBride shifted his narrow hips, came in and struck Walling on the chin. Walling rolled his head and slid to the floor.

"Damned long time messing around with it," said MacBride.

Ashford came back into the cabin, cursing both of them. "It's a hell of a way to treat a man."

"Certainly is," said MacBride. "But this is private, and we won't need to say much about it."

"The hell I won't."

MacBride turned a thoughtful eye on Ashford. "No, Billy—just don't."

"All right—all right," said Ashford.

Walling got up from the floor and put both hands across his face as though he were washing away the fog.

"Hobart," said MacBride, "if you talk rough to one woman, you might talk rough to another. Just begin to walk—and don't stop at the Lords' on your way. If you make another stab to marry Sarah, or if you tell anybody why you changed your mind, I'll just come find you and lick hell right out of you."

Walling said in a jaded wonder, "What started all this? My God, I never did anything."

MacBride grinned. "You just ran into opposition." He left the cabin, the grin breaking into one small chuckle as he turned homeward.


ROSE ANN did the dishes while her father left to discharge his dismal chore. He soon returned with the news, astonished by MacBride's act. He was, Rose Ann observed, relieved that he had not had to call Hobart Walling to account, yet he was also piqued that another man had taken the duty from him. "What's MacBride got to do with this?"

Rose Ann smiled, "I couldn't say."

She unpinned her apron and gave herself a glance in the mirror. She touched up her hair, she studied her face, she straightened her shoulders. As she left the house, she dropped a new notion behind her: "The Lords are very poor. They need help. I want Sarah to stay with us and go to school." She went out of the door before her father had time to answer. It was always better to let men think about things awhile.

MacBride's bonfire burned against the sooty shadows and he stood on another log, chipping it into a timber with his ax. He had his pipe in his mouth and by the yellowing light his face looked forbidding. He showed no scars from the fight She paused beside the blaze, well knowing that he was aware of her presence even though he ignored her and went on with that precise, light ax work. She spread her hands before the fire and was content; he would be thinking of what he wanted to say to her.

He reached the end of the log and straightened. He looked at her. He gave the ax a mighty swing and buried it in the log and stepped down. He filled his pipe and got a coal to light it. He stood across the fire, giving her the full fretful weight of his glance.

"Woman," he said, "you just naturally played hell to have your way. You took advantage of Walling to get into a quarrel. You got insulted deliberately and you used me to pay off the insult, and now you've got the marriage killed, as you wanted."

She said, "You told him to leave Sarah alone?"

His answer came out slowly: "I told him."

"Do you think he'll mind you, Hawley?"

"He'll mind me."

"That's nice," she said, and showed him her pleased relief.

He shook his head, shocked by the implications of her act. "It was a fine piece of scheming," he said, "and no doubt you now know you can put a man at your mercy any time you please. Great stars, if you're going to be a meddling woman you can have everybody in this settlement shootin' at one another. It won't do, Rose Ann, and I'll not have it."

"It was wicked," she agreed. "I shan't do it again, unless my spirit just boils over."

"Why," he asked, "did you pick on me to do your fighting?"

"Because," she said, pleasantly matter-of-fact with her answer, "you're the only one who can whip him."

He frowned at her. "Don't do it again." She met the frown with her agreeable expression; she folded her hands before her. He watched her and he lost his soberness. "Well," he said, "I can't say I didn't enjoy the chance to rough him. The man's a hog. But we can't be doing that all the time, Rose Ann. It's no way to get along."

"No," she said, "it isn't. We only do that when people won't take care of meanness any other way." She made a little gesture; she spoke with a quiet intensity: "What's strength for if not to use to make things right? And this just wasn't right. It's nice you hired Lord."

"Lord," he said, "is no good. He won't work. A man's entitled to a chance, but no man's entitled to loaf while others feed him. It's not charity to support a man who's able to support himself."

"Well," she said, "you gave him the chance. I'm going to take Sarah into my house. She'll come, and the Lords will be willing. Now she'll get the chance to grow, and she'll have time to find a man that looks at her in the right way."

He watched her with an attention so close that she finally lowered her glance to the fire. He said, "Maybe we get too rough around here; maybe we forget how things ought to be. It's a settlement full of men, and men do get careless in the way they live. I've thought about that."

Suddenly she put a hand to her mouth. "Lordy, I clean forgot to milk the cow tonight." She turned from the fire, but she paused a moment in seeming thought. It was a suggestive pause, which worked well. Hawley MacBride reached for a coal to relight his pipe and turned carelessly toward her.

"I'll walk over there with you."

"I wouldn't want to stop you from your work."

"I have thought about that lately, too. I work enough. It has occurred to me that solitary work is like solitary drinking. It's not good."

She said, in her nicest tone, "Well, it's something to think about, I suppose," and went with him along the trail. Somewhere in the misting night a cowbell sent out its lengthened and subdued strokes of sound.


THE END


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