BOOK II: Neighboring Fields
On the evening of the day of Alexandra's call at the Shabatas',
a heavy rain set in. Frank sat up until a late hour reading the
Sunday newspapers. One of the Goulds was getting a divorce, and
Frank took it as a personal affront. In printing the story of the
young man's marital troubles, the knowing editor gave a sufficiently
colored account of his career, stating the amount of his income
and the manner in which he was supposed to spend it. Frank read
English slowly, and the more he read about this divorce case, the
angrier he grew. At last he threw down the page with a snort. He
turned to his farm-hand who was reading the other half of the paper.
"By God! if I have that young feller in de hayfield once, I show
him someting. Listen here what he do wit his money." And Frank
began the catalogue of the young man's reputed extravagances.
Marie sighed. She thought it hard that the Goulds, for whom she
had nothing but good will, should make her so much trouble. She
hated to see the Sunday newspapers come into the house. Frank was
always reading about the doings of rich people and feeling outraged.
He had an inexhaustible stock of stories about their crimes and
follies, how they bribed the courts and shot down their butlers
with impunity whenever they chose. Frank and Lou Bergson had very
similar ideas, and they were two of the political agitators of the
The next morning broke clear and brilliant, but Frank said the
ground was too wet to plough, so he took the cart and drove over to
Sainte-Agnes to spend the day at Moses Marcel's saloon. After he
was gone, Marie went out to the back porch to begin her butter-making.
A brisk wind had come up and was driving puffy white clouds across
the sky. The orchard was sparkling and rippling in the sun. Marie
stood looking toward it wistfully, her hand on the lid of the
churn, when she heard a sharp ring in the air, the merry sound of
the whetstone on the scythe. That invitation decided her. She ran
into the house, put on a short skirt and a pair of her husband's
boots, caught up a tin pail and started for the orchard. Emil
had already begun work and was mowing vigorously. When he saw her
coming, he stopped and wiped his brow. His yellow canvas leggings
and khaki trousers were splashed to the knees.
"Don't let me disturb you, Emil. I'm going to pick cherries.
Isn't everything beautiful after the rain? Oh, but I'm glad to get
this place mowed! When I heard it raining in the night, I thought
maybe you would come and do it for me to-day. The wind wakened
me. Didn't it blow dreadfully? Just smell the wild roses! They
are always so spicy after a rain. We never had so many of them
in here before. I suppose it's the wet season. Will you have to
cut them, too?"
"If I cut the grass, I will," Emil said teasingly. "What's the
matter with you? What makes you so flighty?"
"Am I flighty? I suppose that's the wet season, too, then. It's
exciting to see everything growing so fast,--and to get the grass
cut! Please leave the roses till last, if you must cut them. Oh,
I don't mean all of them, I mean that low place down by my tree, where
there are so many. Aren't you splashed! Look at the spider-webs
all over the grass. Good-bye. I'll call you if I see a snake."
She tripped away and Emil stood looking after her. In a few moments
he heard the cherries dropping smartly into the pail, and he began
to swing his scythe with that long, even stroke that few American
boys ever learn. Marie picked cherries and sang softly to herself,
stripping one glittering branch after another, shivering when she
caught a shower of raindrops on her neck and hair. And Emil mowed
his way slowly down toward the cherry trees.
That summer the rains had been so many and opportune that it was
almost more than Shabata and his man could do to keep up with the
corn; the orchard was a neglected wilderness. All sorts of weeds and
herbs and flowers had grown up there; splotches of wild larkspur,
pale green-and-white spikes of hoarhound, plantations of wild
cotton, tangles of foxtail and wild wheat. South of the apricot
trees, cornering on the wheatfield, was Frank's alfalfa, where
myriads of white and yellow butterflies were always fluttering
above the purple blossoms. When Emil reached the lower corner by
the hedge, Marie was sitting under her white mulberry tree, the
pailful of cherries beside her, looking off at the gentle, tireless
swelling of the wheat.
"Emil," she said suddenly--he was mowing quietly about under the
tree so as not to disturb her--"what religion did the Swedes have
away back, before they were Christians?"
Emil paused and straightened his back. "I don't know. About like
the Germans', wasn't it?"
Marie went on as if she had not heard him. "The Bohemians, you
know, were tree worshipers before the missionaries came. Father says
the people in the mountains still do queer things, sometimes,--they
believe that trees bring good or bad luck."
Emil looked superior. "Do they? Well, which are the lucky trees?
I'd like to know."
"I don't know all of them, but I know lindens are. The old people
in the mountains plant lindens to purify the forest, and to do away
with the spells that come from the old trees they say have lasted
from heathen times. I'm a good Catholic, but I think I could get
along with caring for trees, if I hadn't anything else."
"That's a poor saying," said Emil, stooping over to wipe his hands
in the wet grass.
"Why is it? If I feel that way, I feel that way. I like trees
because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than
other things do. I feel as if this tree knows everything I ever
think of when I sit here. When I come back to it, I never have to
remind it of anything; I begin just where I left off."
Emil had nothing to say to this. He reached up among the branches
and began to pick the sweet, insipid fruit,--long ivory-colored
berries, tipped with faint pink, like white coral, that fall to
the ground unheeded all summer through. He dropped a handful into
"Do you like Mr. Linstrum?" Marie asked suddenly.
"Yes. Don't you?"
"Oh, ever so much; only he seems kind of staid and school-teachery.
But, of course, he is older than Frank, even. I'm sure I don't
want to live to be more than thirty, do you? Do you think Alexandra
likes him very much?"
"I suppose so. They were old friends."
"Oh, Emil, you know what I mean!" Marie tossed her head impatiently.
"Does she really care about him? When she used to tell me about
him, I always wondered whether she wasn't a little in love with
"Who, Alexandra?" Emil laughed and thrust his hands into his
trousers pockets. "Alexandra's never been in love, you crazy!" He
laughed again. "She wouldn't know how to go about it. The idea!"
Marie shrugged her shoulders. "Oh, you don't know Alexandra as well
as you think you do! If you had any eyes, you would see that she
is very fond of him. It would serve you all right if she walked
off with Carl. I like him because he appreciates her more than
Emil frowned. "What are you talking about, Marie? Alexandra's
all right. She and I have always been good friends. What more do
you want? I like to talk to Carl about New York and what a fellow
can do there."
"Oh, Emil! Surely you are not thinking of going off there?"
"Why not? I must go somewhere, mustn't I?" The young man took up
his scythe and leaned on it. "Would you rather I went off in the
sand hills and lived like Ivar?"
Marie's face fell under his brooding gaze. She looked down at his
wet leggings. "I'm sure Alexandra hopes you will stay on here,"
"Then Alexandra will be disappointed," the young man said roughly.
"What do I want to hang around here for? Alexandra can run the
farm all right, without me. I don't want to stand around and look
on. I want to be doing something on my own account."
"That's so," Marie sighed. "There are so many, many things you
can do. Almost anything you choose."
"And there are so many, many things I can't do." Emil echoed her
tone sarcastically. "Sometimes I don't want to do anything at
all, and sometimes I want to pull the four corners of the Divide
together,"--he threw out his arm and brought it back with a jerk,--"so,
like a table-cloth. I get tired of seeing men and horses going up
and down, up and down."
Marie looked up at his defiant figure and her face clouded. "I wish
you weren't so restless, and didn't get so worked up over things,"
she said sadly.
"Thank you," he returned shortly.
She sighed despondently. "Everything I say makes you cross, don't
it? And you never used to be cross to me."
Emil took a step nearer and stood frowning down at her bent head.
He stood in an attitude of self-defense, his feet well apart, his
hands clenched and drawn up at his sides, so that the cords stood
out on his bare arms. "I can't play with you like a little boy
any more," he said slowly. "That's what you miss, Marie. You'll
have to get some other little boy to play with." He stopped and took
a deep breath. Then he went on in a low tone, so intense that it
was almost threatening: "Sometimes you seem to understand perfectly,
and then sometimes you pretend you don't. You don't help things
any by pretending. It's then that I want to pull the corners of
the Divide together. If you won't understand, you know, I could
Marie clasped her hands and started up from her seat. She had grown
very pale and her eyes were shining with excitement and distress.
"But, Emil, if I understand, then all our good times are over, we
can never do nice things together any more. We shall have to behave
like Mr. Linstrum. And, anyhow, there's nothing to understand!"
She struck the ground with her little foot fiercely. "That won't
last. It will go away, and things will be just as they used to.
I wish you were a Catholic. The Church helps people, indeed it
does. I pray for you, but that's not the same as if you prayed
She spoke rapidly and pleadingly, looked entreatingly into his
face. Emil stood defiant, gazing down at her.
"I can't pray to have the things I want," he said slowly, "and I
won't pray not to have them, not if I'm damned for it."
Marie turned away, wringing her hands. "Oh, Emil, you won't try!
Then all our good times are over."
"Yes; over. I never expect to have any more."
Emil gripped the hand-holds of his scythe and began to mow. Marie
took up her cherries and went slowly toward the house, crying