BOOK IV: The White Mulberry Tree
The next morning Angelique, Amedee's wife, was in the kitchen baking
pies, assisted by old Mrs. Chevalier. Between the mixing-board
and the stove stood the old cradle that had been Amedee's, and in
it was his black-eyed son. As Angelique, flushed and excited, with
flour on her hands, stopped to smile at the baby, Emil Bergson rode
up to the kitchen door on his mare and dismounted.
"'Medee is out in the field, Emil," Angelique called as she ran
across the kitchen to the oven. "He begins to cut his wheat to-day;
the first wheat ready to cut anywhere about here. He bought a new
header, you know, because all the wheat's so short this year. I
hope he can rent it to the neighbors, it cost so much. He and his
cousins bought a steam thresher on shares. You ought to go out and
see that header work. I watched it an hour this morning, busy as
I am with all the men to feed. He has a lot of hands, but he's
the only one that knows how to drive the header or how to run the
engine, so he has to be everywhere at once. He's sick, too, and
ought to be in his bed."
Emil bent over Hector Baptiste, trying to make him blink his round,
bead-like black eyes. "Sick? What's the matter with your daddy,
kid? Been making him walk the floor with you?"
Angelique sniffed. "Not much! We don't have that kind of babies.
It was his father that kept Baptiste awake. All night I had to be
getting up and making mustard plasters to put on his stomach. He
had an awful colic. He said he felt better this morning, but I
don't think he ought to be out in the field, overheating himself."
Angelique did not speak with much anxiety, not because she was
indifferent, but because she felt so secure in their good fortune.
Only good things could happen to a rich, energetic, handsome young
man like Amedee, with a new baby in the cradle and a new header in
Emil stroked the black fuzz on Baptiste's head. "I say, Angelique,
one of 'Medee's grandmothers, 'way back, must have been a squaw.
This kid looks exactly like the Indian babies."
Angelique made a face at him, but old Mrs. Chevalier had been
touched on a sore point, and she let out such a stream of fiery
patois that Emil fled from the kitchen and mounted his mare.
Opening the pasture gate from the saddle, Emil rode across the field
to the clearing where the thresher stood, driven by a stationary
engine and fed from the header boxes. As Amedee was not on the
engine, Emil rode on to the wheatfield, where he recognized, on
the header, the slight, wiry figure of his friend, coatless, his
white shirt puffed out by the wind, his straw hat stuck jauntily
on the side of his head. The six big work-horses that drew, or
rather pushed, the header, went abreast at a rapid walk, and as they
were still green at the work they required a good deal of management
on Amedee's part; especially when they turned the corners, where
they divided, three and three, and then swung round into line again
with a movement that looked as complicated as a wheel of artillery.
Emil felt a new thrill of admiration for his friend, and with it
the old pang of envy at the way in which Amedee could do with his
might what his hand found to do, and feel that, whatever it was,
it was the most important thing in the world. "I'll have to bring
Alexandra up to see this thing work," Emil thought; "it's splendid!"
When he saw Emil, Amedee waved to him and called to one of his
twenty cousins to take the reins. Stepping off the header without
stopping it, he ran up to Emil who had dismounted. "Come along,"
he called. "I have to go over to the engine for a minute. I gotta
green man running it, and I gotta to keep an eye on him."
Emil thought the lad was unnaturally flushed and more excited than
even the cares of managing a big farm at a critical time warranted.
As they passed behind a last year's stack, Amedee clutched at his
right side and sank down for a moment on the straw.
"Ouch! I got an awful pain in me, Emil. Something's the matter
with my insides, for sure."
Emil felt his fiery cheek. "You ought to go straight to bed,
'Medee, and telephone for the doctor; that's what you ought to do."
Amedee staggered up with a gesture of despair. "How can I? I got
no time to be sick. Three thousand dollars' worth of new machinery
to manage, and the wheat so ripe it will begin to shatter next
week. My wheat's short, but it's gotta grand full berries. What's
he slowing down for? We haven't got header boxes enough to feed
the thresher, I guess."
Amedee started hot-foot across the stubble, leaning a little to the
right as he ran, and waved to the engineer not to stop the engine.
Emil saw that this was no time to talk about his own affairs. He
mounted his mare and rode on to Sainte-Agnes, to bid his friends
there good-bye. He went first to see Raoul Marcel, and found him
innocently practising the "Gloria" for the big confirmation service
on Sunday while he polished the mirrors of his father's saloon.
As Emil rode homewards at three o'clock in the afternoon, he saw
Amedee staggering out of the wheatfield, supported by two of his
cousins. Emil stopped and helped them put the boy to bed.