Roy Glashan's Library
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MAX BRAND

VIRGINIA CREEPER

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RGL e-Book Cover 2014

First published in Elk's Magagine, August 1937
This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2014
Produced by Paul Moulder and Roy Glashan

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STEVE TUCKER pitched on; old Champ, the hired man, did the loading. Tucker's back was too narrow and his legs were too long for the neat handling of sacked wheat or baled hay, but his very length gave him a greater leverage on a pitchfork. They were getting in the last of the hay crop on the land John Tucker had rented from the Mullihans. It had been planted for wheat but the crop had suffered for the lack of spring rains. The growth had been cut for hay which ran about a ton and a half to the acre. Now the sun was still high, but Steve Tucker hurried his work because there was a three-mile haul to the home barn and all the chores to do before dark. He leaned well over the shocks of hay and drove his fork straight down until the tines grated on the hard dobe soil; then he swayed back, got the end of the fork under his leg, and made a final heave. Sometimes, though he almost sat down to his work, the shock would only be staggered by the first effort; but the second one would bring it up, though his left arm shook like a wire in the wind and his knees turned sick with weakness.

The great forkful, rising high above him, crushed down on top of the wagon load where Champ walked back and forth, building the sides as straight and true as though he were constructing a stack to stand out all winter. He had a knack for doing this.

They got the last shock aboard and the tines of the fork shivered and sang as Tucker raked together the last wisps of the hay and tossed it up.

"I seen Dago Joe when he was good, and Jump Watterson, too, but all I gotta say is you sure can pitch hay," said Champ.

"Go on," protested Tucker. "Anybody with two hands and a back can pitch hay, but a stacker is born, not made. You've got three tons and a half on top of that old rack."

He looked with admiration up the straight, shimmering sides of the load; then he climbed up to the driver's seat, stepping on the tongue of the wagon, then on the croup of the near wheeler, and so to the high seat. Champ, with a pitchfork on each side of him, already had sunk down on the crest of the load. That was why Champ had not got on in the world. His brain stopped as soon as his hands had finished working.

The four horses looked absurdly inadequate for starting such a mountain of hay. The forward thrust of the load hid half the length of the wheelers.

"Hey boys. Gittup!" called Steve. "Hey, Charlie, Prince! Hey—Queen!"

He always saved her name for the last. The old bay mare on the off wheel needed a moment for digging her hoofs into the ground and stretching her long, low body. The other three already had their traces taut and their hipstraps lifting, but the wagon was not budged until Queen came into her collar. As she made her lift, the near wheeler came back a little, fairly pulled out of place by her surge; then the wagon lurched ahead.

It was a stiff pull because the wheels were cutting well down through the surface of the dobe. The horses leaned forward, stamping to get firmer foothold. Tucker could hear the breathing of the off leader, Charlie, who was a bit touched in the wind; he could hear the crinkling of the sun-whitened hay stubble under the wheels. The hay load jounced over the bumps, throwing up a sweet breath.

They passed the shack, the staggered corral, the broken-backed barn of the old Stimson place where that family had lived until the last generation, when the banks got them. The banks got everything, sooner or later. Two bad crops in a row would make the most provident farmer go borrowing and after that life was poisoned. The Stimson place, like a gloomy prophecy, was soon out of sight, but never out of mind. But now they came from the field toward the road. From the height of the field there was a big dip and a sharp rise to the top of the grade. Tucker sang out loudly, cracked the long lash of his whip, and got the team into a trot on the downslope. The wagon rolled easily almost to the crest, but there was a need for Queen's sturdy pulling to get them safely out on the top. It was always an exciting moment, that descent from the field and rise to the road, with the running gear crackling, and the load atwist and asway. Once on the broad back of the highway, the horses could rest, for though the surface was rutted and the ruts poured full of the white dust, the wheels bit through easily and found a hard undersurface. One ton in the soft of a field was as hard on a horse as two and a half tons on the road.

They were barely out on the Mariposa Road when Mildred Vincent came by on her bay mare and a fellow beside her in real riding togs. His boots shone through the layer of dobe dust with an aristocratic glimmer, it seemed to Tucker.

"Steve!" called the girl, waving. "Oh, I'm glad to see you. Jerome, it's Steve Tucker. Jerome Bartlett, Steve. Can you come over after supper?"

"Yeah. I'd like to come. Thanks," said Tucker.

He had taken off his hat and the hot sweat rolled down over his face and turned cool in the stir of the wind. He never was asked out for meals because he had to stay home to look after his bedridden father. Now the two galloped ahead, the stranger sitting well down into his saddle. He looked strong and straight and his tan had been built up on athletic fields and beaches; it was not the dark mahogany which comes out of work in hay and harvest fields. He rode not like a Californian, but holding the reins in both hands with his elbows close to his ribs.

"That feller if he had some gold lace on him would look like a general," said Champ, from amidst the rustling of the hay. "Wonder if Millie is gunna take him? Maybe he's a millionaire from San Francisco. She's come to the marryin' age, all right. There was a time when I thought you was gunna have her, Steve, but what with all that college education under her belt, I guess she'll look pretty high."

Five years ago Steve Tucker had given up his entrance into college in order to spend one year on the ranch. His father had pointed out that one good year would make everything easier and, besides, he had gone so far in higher mathematics that he could do the four-year engineering course in three, without trouble. So Tucker had remained on the ranch, while one year lengthened to five and loss matched profit with every crop. Mildred, who had been with him in the country school and who had been two years behind him at Stockton High School, would be a college senior that fall. She was the symbol and indicator of the distance he had been left behind by life which flows so softly and travels so far.

He roused himself from that thought to find that the team was picking up speed; in fact, they were nearing the home corral and the roof of the little house showed beyond the top of the fig tree. Now they swept from the crest of the road into the corral; the side of the hayload made a rushing sound against the barn and he jammed on the long, iron-handled brake when the center of the wagon was just beneath the door of the mow.

The sun was growing large in the west, now. "We'll pitch off the hay in the morning," he said to Champ. "You take care of the team and I'll get the cows milked. Put some salve on the shoulder of Queen. Dig out the padding so the collar won't press on the sore tomorrow."

"She oughta be laid up till that shoulder heals," said Champ. He was always solicitous of Queen's well-being.

"I know she should, but what can we do?"

The cows were already waiting at the pasture gate. Old Red was lowing with impatience, and Whitey was dripping milk into the dust. She must lose two or three quarts a day. Steve pulled the creaking gate open and watched the five cows, the three heifers, the four knock-kneed calves come hurrying for water. The youngsters galloped, the cows went with a long wallowing shamble.

Tucker walked to the house, scrubbed his hands with yellow soap, got the milking stool and two three-gallon buckets. They rattled together as he went back down the boardwalk to the corral.

"Stevie!" called his father's voice from the upstairs window.

"Hey, Dad," he called.

But his face did not light until he noticed the green pattern of the Virginia Creeper which was opening a beautiful green fan along the unpainted side of the shack.

"Hurry it up!" called John Tucker.

"Yeah—hurrying," said Steve, and went on in a gloom.

The weighted rope slammed the gate to the corral behind him and sent a long, mournful echo through his heart. Over at the Vincent place Millie and that neat young fellow, Jerome Bartlett, would be sitting out on the green of the lawn, laughing and talking.

It seemed to Tucker five years at least since he had laughed.

The cows had finished drinking. They stood about switching their tails at flies or streaking their sides with saliva as they reached back to lick away the itch.

"So-o-o, Boss!" called Tucker. "So-o-o, Red! Old Red! Come, girl! Come on, damn you! So-o-o, Red!"

The old cow waddled out of the mud near the watering trough and ambled towards him. She looked like the model of some fat-bellied merchant tub with a queer figurehead carved at one end and the hafts of four slender oars at work out of all time with one another. After her drifted the other cows, stopping to kick at flies and then forgetting what they had been about. But at last they were all gathered in a lower corner of the corral. He milked old Whitey first because she was losing in a steady trickle. Under the big grip of his hands, it gushed out of her. It ran as if from two faucets. He held the pail between his feet and he could feel the vibration of the tin as the heavy streams thumped against it. They made loud, chiming sounds. Even when the pail was almost full, the milk plumped through the inches of froth with a resonant pulsation. And a steaming sweetness rose into the face of Tucker.

The roan-colored two-year-old heifer was the hardest and the most fidgety to handle. She held up her milk. He had to squeeze so hard that it hurt her and she kept lifting a hind foot and kicking out behind her. Steve's hands and forearms were aching when he finished with her and carried the two brimming buckets back toward the house. The sun was a great red face over the blue of the Coast Range; in the eastern sky the twilight color was gathering before the sunset.

He strained the milk into wide-mouthed gallon tins which he placed in the cooler outside the house. It was a tall frame of shelves with burlap nailed about it and water siphoning over it day and night from a big pan on top. The evaporation kept butter fairly firm even when the temperature was a hundred degrees in the shade.

He started the fire in the kitchen stove, put on the kettle of water, and heard his father calling, "Steve! Oh, Steve!"

He went upstairs and entered the room. It was the best in the house but that was not saying a great deal. Rain seepage had stained the roses of the wallpaper and the ceiling had never been plastered. One looked through the crisscross of the laths up to the slanting rafters of the roof. The window, which faced west, was filled with the brilliance of the sunset and one little branch of a green translucence had crawled a foot or so across the screen.

"Look at this. It just came this afternoon," said John Tucker, heaving himself up in the bed. Sometimes he seemed to Steve stronger than ever above the hips but below them his legs were dead, whitened shanks with the feet like great deformities at the ends of them. He held out a letter in a hand that had grown so white that the veins across the back of it showed as blue as ink.

Steve read:


Mr. John Tucker,
R. F. D.
No. 4,
Box 188.

Dear Sir:

We beg to confirm our letter dated 18 May and regret that we have had no reply to our request.

While we beg to remit you herewith enclosed your bill up to the end of May, we again ask you the favor to remit us cheque in settlement of same, as we cannot at all, wait no longer for this payment on account of great difficulties we are crossing in trade.

Trusting to be favored and to save us further correspondence on this matter, we beg to remain

Yours obedient.
The Five Mile Store
Baccigalupi and Baccigalupi.
(Signed)
Joseph Baccigalupi.


As Steve lifted his eyes, his father growled through his beard, "There's no Dago as bad as a damned Portuguese Dago." He smoothed the sleek of his bald head with one hand and added, "They want to be saved further correspondence in this matter, eh? They can all be damned!"

"They're better to deal with than a bank," answered the son. "The interest is no higher and they don't stick a gun under your nose when the money comes due. The Baccigalupis are all right."

"Don't tell me what's right!" exclaimed John Tucker. "I can remember back when there were business people to deal with in California. I can remember when I could go into Stockton and have any bank in the damned town glad to give me five thousand dollars. Why? Because my name was good. That's why. They loaned money to men, in those days. Now they lend it to machines and dirt."

"I'll go down tomorrow and see Joe Baccigalupi, but—" said Steve. He clipped his teeth together.

"What were you going to say?"

"Nothing," said Steve.

"No, you'd rather go down in the kitchen and snarl behind my back, wouldn't you? Why don't you come out with what you've got to say?"

"I haven't anything to say," said Steve, swallowing hard.

"That's a lie," said his father. "But before you go, pull the screen open and tear the vine off. What is it, anyway?"

Steve went to the window and looked down at the tender shoot.

"It's a Virginia Creeper," he said. "I planted it the autumn before last—and look where it is already!"

"You planted a creeper? Want to fill the house with dampness and bugs? Want to give us all malaria and rheumatism? Haven't I told you that I'd never have vines growing on my house?" shouted John Tucker.

He banged his hand on the table beside his bed so that the lamp jingled and his pile of books shook over aslant.

"Yes, I've heard you say that," admitted Steve.

"Then what in hell do you mean? Do I have to drag myself out of the house and go around spying on you? Tear that damned vine off the screen now; and dig it up by the roots tomorrow."

Steve tapped his fingers against the screen. It gave back a dull chiming, a flat note without resonance.

"I'd as soon—" he murmured.

"You'd what?" barked his father.

"I'd as soon," said Steve, "tear out a handful of hair."

"What are you talking about?"

Steve walked to the door.

"Come back here and tell me what the devil you mean!" roared John Tucker.

"I'd better not talk," said Steve. "I'm worn out, like the ground. Barley and wheat, wheat and barley for sixty years. Now nothing but tar weed and wild oats—I'd better not talk."

"Speak up what you mean. You talk like you're drunk!"

"I'll go down and cook dinner."

"Dinner can wait and be damned. What are you driving at? Worn out like the ground?"

"Worn out," said Steve. "That's what I mean. Tired out like the soil. All it gives us is trouble, now. And if I talk, all I'll give you will be trouble, tonight."

"You will, will you? Let me hear what kind of trouble you can give me. But the first thing is—tear that damned vine off my window!"

Steve walked through the doorway and down the hall.

"Come back here—by God!" cried John Tucker. The bed creaked. There was a thumping and trailing sound across the floor, but it did not issue into the hallway as Steve went down the stairs.

He fried thin beefsteak and boiled potatoes with their jackets on. Some corn pone he had made that morning he broke into roughly triangular shapes and piled on a platter. There were mustard greens which he had picked in the field though the season of their tenderness had passed, and he had some clabber cheese. Part of this food he put on the table for Champ and himself; the rest he arranged on a tray and carried up the stairs as he had done every night for four years.

When he came into the room, the lamp was lighted. It was not as bright as the glare in the eyes of John Tucker. He cleared the table and put the tray on it.

"Now I'm going to hear you apologize."

"For what?" said Steve, and looked straight into the electric gray of John Tucker's eyes.

It was the first time in his life, he realized, that he had dared to face that glance; but there was a hard wall of anger in him that shielded him from fear.

"The time has come," said his father, "when there's got to be a showdown. There can't be two captains on one ship. You'll be the boss or I'll be the boss, and as long as I own this ranch, by God, I'll do the running of it."

Steve said nothing. He could not have unlocked his jaws for speech.

"If you don't like my way, get out!" shouted John Tucker.

"Aunt Sarah," said Steve, slowly, "has always wanted to come over and take care of you, and Champ will do the work on the place pretty well."

"I'd rather have vinegar poured into milk than Sarah's face poured into my days!"

"You'll have to have somebody to look out for you."

"You're going, are you?"

"I'm going," said Steve.

"Sell the place tomorrow and take your share and get out, then!"

"I own Queen and Bess and the Jackson buck," said Steve. "That's what I'll take. I don't want a share of this place. I want to forget it."

"Forget me, too, then! Get out of my sight and out of my life!"

Steve went down to the table and found Champ halfway through his meal.

"Old man kind of mad?" asked Champ.

"Kind of," said Steve.

"When he gets to raring, he sure can go," said Champ. "I ever tell you about that time up at Angel's Camp when a couple of Dutchmen jumped him in Wilson's Bar?"

"Yeah, you told me about that," said Steve.

"Aw, did I?" murmured Champ.

He became depressed and silent, while Steve finished eating and started the dishes. Steve went upstairs into his father's room and found that the supper tray had not been touched. John Tucker lay in bed with his big fists gripped, his eyes glaring at some terrible nothingness.

"Done?" asked Steve.

John Tucker said nothing, so Steve left the tray and went out again. He finished the dishes. Champ, who would have despised such woman's work, remained in the dining room smoking. It was his big time of the day.

"You stay on and take charge of things, Champ," said Steve. "Father will tell you whatever you want to know. I'm leaving in the morning."

He put some hot water into a laundry tub on the back porch, undressed, scrubbed himself down, and went up to his room. He put on a blue serge suit, a high, hard collar that hurt his throat, and a pair of seven-dollar shoes that made his feet feel light. The softness and the snugness of them comforted his soul. Then he walked up the road to the Vincent place. A great grove surrounded that big, square, white house and there was a lawn under the trees. In the distance a pair of windmills were clanking musically; and sprinklers whirred on the lawn, filling the air with a noise like a spring wind through trees.

A piano was rousing up a tune in the front room; a lot of young voices took up the air. There was always music in the Vincent house because there was always money in the Vincent bank account.

The front door jerked open.

"Left it out here. Be back in a moment!" cried the voice of Mildred Vincent.

She left the door a bit ajar and a shaft of light followed her, bobbing on the gold of her hair.

"Hello," said Steve.

"Hai—Steve! You gave me a start. Come on in—Just a minute while I find—"

"I can't come in," said Steve.

"What's the matter? Is your father ill tonight?"

"No, he's the same. But I have some things to do tonight. I'm leaving in the morning."

"Are you taking a trip? You ought to, Steve. You ought to have more fun."

"I'm going for good."

"Not leaving your father! Not that! But I've always said it was the most wonderful—I've always thought—"

"I'm taking a team and a Jackson buck down to the Islands. They always need men and teams down there in the haying. I can make enough to see me through most of a college year, between now and August."

"But your father, Steve?"

"We've agreed to it. Aunt Sarah will come over and take care of him."

"But your Aunt Sarah—"

"So I came over to say goodbye and to tell you—"

A sudden stroke of emotion stopped his voice.

"Well, goodbye," said the girl.

She held out her hand in a certain way that stopped all talk. He barely touched it and went quickly.

It was three miles across to Aunt Sarah's place but he was glad of the chance to stretch his legs and start breathing again. By leaving home, it was plain that he was leaving Mildred Vincent farther than he had thought. Since those old days when she had been his girl, he had thought that a world of difference had opened between them, but now he could see that they had been almost hand in hand compared with the cold distance that had come between them now. Did she expect that he was to lay down all the years of his life in the service of John Tucker?

He reached the old house of Aunt Sarah and talked to her in the bareness of the front hall with the gleam of the hatrack mirror beside him and the sheen of the balusters climbing dimly up the stairs into darkness. The house was as empty as Aunt Sarah's life.

He said, "Father and I have disagreed. If you'll come over to take care of him, I'll be glad."

She looked at him for a long moment before she began to nod her gray head. She had something of the look of her brother, the same grimness on a smaller scale.

"He's drove everybody else out of his life; and now he's drove you, eh?" she said. "I'll come right over."

The parting was brief, the next morning. Steve held out his hand and said goodbye.

His father looked at the hand and then at him.

"Get out of my sight!" he said.

Down on the Islands, where the alluvial soil is deeper than wells are dug, where the drinking water is yellow and has a sweetish taste, where the ground is so rich that sometimes a fire will start it burning, where twenty sack crops of wheat are known and where triennial floods wash away the profits of the farmers, Steve Tucker found it easy to get work with his Jackson buck. He got two dollars a day for his own share, two for the machine, and a dollar a head for the horses, with keep thrown in, of course. That made a monthly net profit of a hundred and eighty dollars, minus what he spent for cigarette tobacco and brown wheat-straw paper.

The hours were long and the work was hard. The dust that flew in the Islands stained the skin and hurt the eyes. The most cheerful men began to grow silent after a few days in that country, but Steve was silent by nature and he had set himself to a long and hard purpose.

The haypress which hired him was run by a big Scotchman with a bush of red hair on his head.

"You a Tucker that's any relation of John Tucker?" said this giant.

"I'm his son," said Steve, and stuck out his jaw a little. No man in the world had so many enemies as his father.

The Scotchman turned to his partner.

"This here John Tucker, the kid's father," he said, "I seen him on Main Street in Stockton, four years back, run out and snatch a kid off the tracks from in front of a streetcar. And the car ran on and smashed him against the rear end of a dray. Your father ever get well. Tucker?"

"He's still laid up," said Steve.

"He is, eh? Well, we'll hire you." Then he added to his partner, "John Tucker was as big a man as me. And he got his hips all smashed in."

When work begins at five in the morning and ends with the coming of twilight, men are too tired to think. All that Steve recalled out of the past, during a month, was the bobbing, golden head of the girl as she had run down the steps that night, and the clenched fists and the glaring gray eyes of his father. If the work of the others was hard, his task was still more bitter, because long after they were in bed, he was shaping two by fours to take the place of the long, wooden teeth which he had broken on the Jackson buck during the day. He was thin and hollow-eyed that evening at dinner in the cookhouse when a telegram was brought to him by the owner of the farm.

It said:

YOUR FATHER VERY ILL. PLEASE COME BACK. MILDRED


Steve returned the next day.

A southeast wind had darkened the sky with a continual march of clouds and he told himself that John Tucker must be about to die. When he reached the house, the windmill was whirling furiously in the storm, the wheel veering from side to side, and he could hear the rapid plumping of the stream into a half-empty tank. That was a sad music fit for death scenes, he thought.

The picture of the veteran lying with gripped fists, silent in his bed, was filling his mind as a mountain fills the sky. When he pulled open the kitchen door, it was not Aunt Sarah that he saw, but Mildred Vincent in a calico apron. He stood there with the door propped open against his rigid arm and the wind entering behind him. The room had been changed and the cookery was not stale and sour but a light fragrance through the house. He knew these things as he took in a great breath of astonishment.

"Steve!" she cried out. "You have come!"

"How is he?" asked Tucker, pushing the door shut at last.

"He's changed, and thin, and he's set his will like iron. It's going to be a shock when you see him."

"I'll go on up."

"Just a moment. Champ is up there now, getting orders about the place."

"Does the doctor say anything?"

"I can't get him to see a doctor. He wouldn't have your Aunt Sarah in the house. He won't let Champ come nearer than the door of his room. We got a nurse but he wouldn't let her come near him. He doesn't seem to mind having me around, so I come over every day."

"Why?" asked Tucker.

"You know why, Steve—because every drop of blood in every Vincent should be willing to die for John Tucker."

"They should?" he repeated, staring.

"You don't know? Do you mean to say that your father never told you the story?"

"Never."

She drew in a great breath. "He wouldn't!" she murmured. "That's how great his soul is! But when my father was alive—long ago when he was a wild-headed youngster—he and another man got into trouble with a single miner—and the miner beat them, guns and all. Nearly killed father—but then the miner spent a month nursing him back to life—it was John Tucker who did that!"

A thousand moments out of his own life came back to Steve.

"Yes," he said at last, "he could do that. And that was why you were nice to a great gawk like me?"

"No, I liked you for your own sake. Steve, is it possible he never told you—and we such close neighbors all these years?"

Steve shook his head. An ache that had begun in his heart the day before began to stifle him.

"Has he a fever?" he asked.

"Yes. Not a high one. He won't eat—hardly anything—"

A heavy, slow step on the stairs. Steve, moving into the hall, saw Champ come down. The hired man, turning his hat between his hands, glanced up once and then walked on, blinded by his thoughts.

"I haven't told your father you were coming. I didn't dare confess I'd sent the telegram."

"Has he mentioned me?"

"No, Steve, not once."

She came halfway up the stairs with him.

"God bless you for coming so quickly. He's terribly changed. Be gentle with him, please."

When Steve Tucker entered his father's room it was strangely dim as though a shade had been drawn down. Then he saw that the Virginia Creeper had grown clear across the screen, the one tendril reinforced by many. From the clouded sky, only a green gloom entered through the leaves.

"What in hell are you doing here?" asked John Tucker.

"I've come back," said Steve.

"Who asked you back?"

"Nobody," said Steve.

"Then get out of my sight."

Steve said, "I'll stay out of your sight as long as you please, but I'm keeping on the place."

"I'll be damned before I'll have you on my land!" shouted John Tucker.

"All right, then. You'll have to be damned."

The gray glare of the eyes fascinated him. He turned from them and went to the window. He opened the screen and ripped the little clinging feet of the ampelopsis away from the wire.

"Let that be!" cried John Tucker. "What you mean?"

"It shuts out the light and the air," said Steve. "Why did you let it grow?"

"Because it damn well pleased me to let it grow. What d'you mean by—by God, I'm going to—"

He had heaved himself up on his elbows. Now that more light entered the room Steve saw how great the wastage had been. The square, jowled face was covered with lank furrows.

"What did you mean by it?" demanded Steve, pointing his finger. "What did you mean by letting that vine cover the window and spoil your reading light?"

His father started to speak; his lips remained parted but made no utterance.

Steve sat down in the chair beside the bed.

"I've been mighty unhappy while I was away," he said. "It was lonely never hearing you growl."

"There can't be two captains on one ship!" declared John Tucker.

"You're the captain," said Steve.

"And what I say has got to go!"

*'It goes with me," said Steve.

"Does it?" said John Tucker. He let himself sink suddenly back into the pillows. He was breathing hard.

"I'm going to have a change of air," he said.

"All right," said Steve. "I'll take good care of the place."

"You'll come with me!"

"All right," said Steve, "I'll come with you, then."

The eyes of John Tucker opened; they were the mildest blue in the world.

"Where do we go?" asked Steve.

"Down to the Bay," said John Tucker. "Air's brisker, down there. Down to Berkeley—get a house up there in the hills—up there near the University—"

Realization poured over Steve in floods of cold happiness.

John Tucker said, "I waited five years for you to grow up. I waited so long that when you did grow up the other day, I didn't understand. But you're only a young brat still. Five years is nothing, now that you're a man. You can make up the time."

"We both can," said Steve.

When he left the room, a flash of something across the floor made him turn at the door. The tendrils of the ampelopsis, waving like ragged, green flags, framed a sky in which a changing wind had piled the clouds into white heaps that began to blow away like dust. The brightness on the floor had been one sudden pouring from the sun.

He found Mildred Vincent still halfway up the stairs, crying. She made a hushing sign and tiptoed down before him.

Only when she had closed the kitchen door behind them, and then in a stifled voice, did she dare to say, "I heard everything, and it was beautiful, Steve. I know he'll get well, now. But what did you do to the vines on the window? I tried to clear them away every day, and he never would let me."

"Well, I did it," said Steve.

"No wonder he was in a fury! Why did you do it?"

"I needed to let in some light," said Steve. "It's an odd thing. I can't explain it. But he and I understand. We both gave in."

"It makes me feel like an outsider," she told him.

"After you've brought all this about?"

He made a gesture of wonder which she seemed to understand, for she put her hand in his, and then she was in his arms, his lips on hers, his arms crushing her, never to let go.


THE END