A Daughter of Martha
By Ivy Williams Stone
Gloria taught little Peter his A B C’s. With the aid of a counting frame he was soon able to cipher. He sat beside his mother whenever she cared for the babies or did work in the house. His tongue stuck out between his lips, his freckled forehead drew together in a concentrated pucker as the tousled head bent industriously over a slate, and a broken pencil scratched figures. Quotient, that was the five when you put six into thirty. The thirty was the dividend; the six was the divisor.
Truly the Lord had answered Gloria’s prayers in respect to Peter. He had a quick, clear mind, and unbounded energy. Soon he trudged off to school, carrying a little lunch box, and wearing boots because the road was covered with slush, snow and water. Gloria had Bruce drive Peter to school, and afterward Bruce often drove up Cripple Creek where Lott Gascom still made cheese, and the artful Lulu always had roasted pine nuts on hand. Gloria dared not send Nancy to school; it was too far for so young a child. So Nancy took up the slate and the broken pencil and the McGuffy’s First Reader with the illustrated alphabet. Quoted Gloria as she churned, or knitted or sewed or mixed bread, “A noun is the name of any thing, Hoop, garden, rope or swing.”
“Schooling isn’t what it used to be,” sighed Aunt Catherine. “They teach children such queer stuff these days. Now, I was educated. My mother was fifth lady in waiting to Queen Victoria — God bless her soul — and she knew what education really meant. The name of every king of England, and the important things in their lives. William the Conqueror in 1066, Harold at the battle of Hastings, Charles whom the wicked Oliver Cromwell beheaded. I could make a Courtesy and work a sampler. I knew the name of every bone in the human body — tibia, fibia, radius, ulna, femur, phalanges, scapula –”
“Our teacher says that’s no way to learn,” interrupted Peter patronizingly. “We got a book that tells about them things, too, but teacher says it’s better by far to learn how to care for the body than to know what names doctors give to the different parts. She says we need fresh air in the rooms where we sleep, and that people eat too much meat. She’s got a brush to clean her teeth.”
“There’s too much fresh air in this house all the time,” Aunt Catherine drew closer to the stove and put in another stick of wood. “A brush for the hair would be all I would ask. Fancy, an open window in a bedroom! It would cause pneumonia. If I had my way, Gloria my child, that teacher would pack her belongings and take the night train to other parts. Women weren’t made for teachers, either. Peter says she hasn’t whipped one single child!”
Gloria motioned Peter to silence and whispered, “I will get you one of those tooth brushes some day.”
A week later Peter listened cautiously at the parlor door. Aunt Catherine was launched on her favorite song:
“Happy and glorious Long to reign over us.”
He dashed up to her room, hoping to open a window. The odor of a closely shut room had been growing more offensive to his sensitive nostrils week after week. Every sash was nailed down. A few days later while he was practising with the air rifle which Bruce had given him, a bullet unaccountably went astray and crashed a window in that room where air was forbidden to enter.
“He did it on purpose!” cried Aunt Catherine in great indignation. “These new fangled notions! Cold air to poison my lungs. In my day Peter would have been severely thrashed for such presumption. Wasting money on brushes for teeth and letting air into rooms where it is not wanted!”
There was no extra pane of glass on the ranch, and Jonas seemed not even to hear Aunt Catherine’s pointed remarks about the incident. She pasted the hole over with flour and factory; she pushed her high backed, mahogany bed against the offending window, still the insidious drafts of cold poison drifted in, which she translated as omens of direful calamity.
Letters bearing a foreign post mark began coming to the county seat. The vigilance of a certain over-seas government might be slow, but it was unending. The sheriff came to the Whitman ranch, where he and Jonas remained closeted in the library, scanning law books. Together they made several trips to the cheese factory of Lott Gascom. That gentleman learned that discretion lay in flight. He learned that Lulu, American born, could hold lands in her own right. He learned that in the gold fields of California a man’s past was seldom questioned, his identity quickly lost. He laboriously scratched his name to certain deeds which transferred all his property to Lulu. Then in friendly darkness, he hastily departed for parts vaguely described as “West.”
The following summer southern Utah Indians threatened trouble again. All the northern tribes felt a sympathy. Warpainted braves, with eagle feathers and bulging quivers, passed the ranch. But they did not always pass. More and more frequently they stopped, demanding food, or oats and often clothing. Whenever she was alone Gloria gave to them. It was her only recourse. The twins, just learning to walk on unsteady weak legs, hid in her skirts at the sight of the painted horsemen. Nancy ran screaming in fright. Peter acted as water boy to the hay makers, so he was seldom at home. Jonas, coming in hot and weary one afternoon from the hayfield, encountered a solitary Indian just turning into the home lane.
“Go away, you lazy loafer!” ordered Jonas. He was weary and irritated. It was enough to have hay over dry, to have an annoying wind and a broken derrick, without these trouble making natives to feed. “Go away!” he repeated. “No sugar — no molasses — no bread — no oats. Go!” he pointed sternly to the highway, but the Indian remained.
“Heap hungry!” he pleaded.
Across Jonas’ mind flitted some poetry which he had once read. It seemed peculiarly apt and without a thought to consequences he repeated:
“Lo, the poor Indian, whose untutored mind
Sees God in the stream and eke in the wind.”
“That Eastern poet had never been West,” scoffed Jonas. “He’d never seen the lazy rascals. Better the words of the parody:
“Humph! The dirty Indian and his dirtier squaws
Who ask that the whites fill up their paws!”
“Go, I tell you — you lazy, dirty rascal!”
The Indian answered no word. He looked about, his eyes lighting upon the field where a large, well formed stack of alfalfa was being topped. It was a beautiful stack and Jonas felt a surging pride over the fodder he was storing against the winter. The eyes of the Indian lighted with vengeful lust, with no word of protest he spurred his horse and rode away.
Jonas retold the incident at supper; he laughed at the complete rout of the Indian, thinking that only his cutting tones had penetrated. He never fancied for one moment but that the Indian was well on his way toward southern Utah.
But Gloria did not share in the general laughter. She felt a queer intuition that the incident was not closed. She recalled the Indian of the plains who had determined to have the red-haired child. That night she remained up longer than usual. The four children were asleep; the dishes and milk pails were washed, the bread was mixed. Aunt Catherine with her door locked and her windows all closed was burning precious oil, while she read Dora Thorne again. Jonas slept in the spare room, in order not to be annoyed by the cries of the babies.
Obeying an intuitive urge, Gloria went out for a final inspection. She could not forget the Indian. The cows were peacefully chewing their cuds; a drowsy cackle as she opened the chicken coop proved the chickens were undisturbed; the barn doors were all closed. Nothing had disturbed the sleepy dogs. Still Gloria felt impending disaster. Suddenly a whiff of the hot wind, which had continued for a week, brought her the unmistakable odor of smoke. Instantly she knew — fire at the hay stack!
She did not stop to summon aid, but ran, as she had done in her youth, with all her fine vitality keyed to one objective. The stacks were a quarter mile from the house; a hard choking pain came in her chest, but still she ran. There was no mistaking the odor. One of those hired men had doubtless thrown a cigarette stub into the grass. Jonas was too lenient with them. Men who smoked had no business near dry hay.
She ran around the stack to the farther side where she collided with a stalwart, half naked man, whose bare shoulders glistened in the moonlight. In his hands he carried a burning brand. A look of diabolical cunning marked his bronze features.
Knowing only that the hay which would feed the cows which would, in turn, feed her children, was about to be burned, Gloria knocked the torch from his hands before she even looked at his face. Then stamping furiously upon the smouldering stick she looked into the face of a war painted Indian.
“Please stop — don’t — cows — babies!” she cried incoherently.
The Indian grunted and moved to push her aside, but Gloria persisted:
“If you burn the hay the cows starve — my babies starve!” She looked up at him supplicatingly, but with no thought of fear. The moon which had illumined his bare shoulders, also fell upon the bright, glistening curls of the woman. In all the years of her marriage no one had ever praised the curls which, in spite of neglect had clung tightly to the round head. Now the Indian looked at her intently.
“Long time gone — you fix little papoose — in a leetle house — papoose so seek?” He pointed a fore-finger at the telltale curls. The years rolled from Gloria. She stood in her mother’s one room house, bathing a suffering Indian baby; reducing his fever, preparing proper food. She was giving the grateful parents a bottle of oil. “Yes –” she answered staunchly. “I give you white man’s medicine. I save your papoose. You save mine. No burn hay?”
For answer the Indian stepped roughly upon the burning brand until every spark was gone. Then he jumped on his horse and spurred away. Gloria inspected the stacks. There was no other evidence of mischief. An Indian had remembered a fancied wrong, but he had not forgotten a real kindness.
The next morning Jonas noticed the charred stick and roundly scolded the hired men for carelessness. He did not seem to notice that two eagle feathers lay near the stick.
* * *
After Lott disappeared, Bruce asked Lulu to marry him.
They were married at the Whitman home, in the parlor where the Franklin stove and the square piano shared honors for distinction. Nancy filled the big vases with real flowers. Gloria made a wedding dress for Lulu, who knew nothing of sewing. Aunt Catherine found a magenta ribbon in her trunk, which improved the pasty color which white gave to Lulu’s dark skin. Peter pruned the moss rose bushes and cleaned the rank grass from the lily pond. Gloria made a wedding cake. A farm magazine had a recipe for pink frosting. How beautiful it looked — almost too lovely to eat. Nancy feasted her eyes upon this marvelous creation — the twins took surreptitious tastes, and Aunt Catherine had a third slice. She also played a wedding march on the big, square piano, which sounded suspiciously like “God Save the Queen!”
Gloria, as interested as though it was a family wedding, gave them one of the vases of flowers and the wax flower dome which was not cracked. “I want to make the day perfect for you,” she said. But although Bruce looked longingly toward the what-not where the twelve gourds lay in methodical arrangement, she shook her head.
Peter was now fourteen and an excellent shot with his air rifle. Nancy was twelve and even the twins, Flora and Florence, could have gone to school. But the short three month term came in the dead of winter, when the roads were treacherous. Jonas seemed not to see the need of education for girls. They would marry, and what good was education then?
Peter became a skilled trapper for so young a boy. Through the assistance of his teacher he learned the best months to set his traps, that time of the year when the furs would stay “set.” The long disused conservatory, which had so impressed the Kirkman boys, held many straw-stuffed animals. Peddlers came through the valley, buying the pelts for as little as they felt the boy would take.
One day a light wagon stopped at the front gate, attracted by Peter’s home-made sign, “Pelts for Sale.” A stout man came slowly to the house, leaving his companion in the wagon. Peter took him to the improvised warehouse. There hung two coyote skins, two common red foxes, and one peculiar skin which Peter had called the “off color” fox. The trader gave a start of surprise at sight of this skin; fine black fur, with ever so small a tip of silver on the end of each hair. His eyes narrowed covetously as he ran his hand caressingly over the fur. Then, trying not to appear too anxious he remarked casually,
“I give you ten dollar for the lot.” His eye swept the two coyote pelts, the two common foxes, and lingered on the one “off color skin.”
Gloria’s prayers about the brains of her children had been answered. Peter remembered the cold early mornings when he had trailed his traps — the distasteful task of preparing the skins, the secret hope for which he wanted money. Also the dealer’s hand had lingered just a trifle too long on that one skin.
“I’ll take ten dollars for all except this one skin,” he parried.
“I give you twelve. Two for this one, it is set good.”
“I won’t sell it for two dollars.” A strange intuition gave Peter courage.
From two to ten, from ten to twenty. Still Peter parried, refusing to set a real price. Twenty dollars! Supposing the man wouldn’t pay that! But the dealer returned to his wagon and his companion; they consulted together, together they came to inspect the skin. Four eyes now gleamed covetously, and Peter gathered fresh courage.
“I’ll take fifty dollars or nothing.” Peter hardly knew his own voice, quiet, positive, calm. The dealers argued, but Peter remained firm. Finally ten five-dollar bills were laid on the table, where the crumbling dust of a long dead flower fell upon them.
“Now, two more for the other pelts,” added Peter. With a sigh of resignation two more five-dollar bills were added to the pile. The bargain closed, the traders became suddenly joyous. Each carried two common pelts; but as if sharing a mutual distrust, they carried the silver tipped pelt between them, back to the wagon.
Peter could hardly believe his own eyes. Twelve five-dollar bills lay before him. His own! He forgot the chillblains; the risings in the dark cold house to trail the traps; the long tramp over the snow-laden hills in pursuit of a coyote that had gotten away with a trap. He, Peter Whitman, was rich!
Instinctively, his first thought was of his mother. Last night he had found her cutting a new sole from an old shoe top to tack into her own worn shoes. She could not even go to church now. Little Flora and Florence had never had coats. Peter picked up two old flower pots that were near; he opened them and dropped two bills into the lower one and replaced the upper pot.
“There,” he said happily, “whatever happens, “that is for Mother.”
He rushed out to the family to announce his news. Gloria could hardly repress tears for the look of joy which suffused his face. Nancy rushed to call her father from the library. Aunt Catherine laid down He Fell in Love with his Wife to gaze longingly toward the insignia of new combs and brushes. Peter was enjoying the sensations of a temporary hero.
A few days later Bruce went to Peter. “Could you loan me a little money?” he begged.
Peter’s face clouded. He knew exactly what loaning money to Bruce would mean.
“I’ll loan you some traps, and you can catch, too,” volunteered Peter. As he spoke he rolled up the precious bills and tucked them into his coat pocket. He hung the coat on a peg behind the kitchen door. Bruce promptly took off his coat and hung it beside Peter’s.
Suddenly Bruce’s face lightened. “Say, Peter,” he queried, “just where did you catch those pelts?”
“Up Cripple Creek Canyon to be exact; on Lott’s old place.”
“Just as I thought, on Lott’s old place. Lott’s place is Lulu’s place — Lulu’s place is my place. You caught that silver tip on my place. Therefore it is mine. You sold my pelt; I claim the money.”
Gloria was so surprised she called out sharply, “Bruce you can’t do that!” in a queer twisted tone. Aunt Catherine dropped her book. Peter tried to smile at Bruce, but seeing his set serious face, Peter’s own smile faded to blank astonishment. Perhaps Bruce was right. The twins, sensing disaster, began to cry.
“I caught them, Bruce, with my own traps.”
“On my land!” reiterated Bruce. “My wife won’t go without medicine and doctors — I won’t go without shoes — we won’t go without flour while you waste money which belongs to me.”
“We’ll put it up to father,” and Peter hurried in pursuit of Jonas. He listened to Peter impatiently, a worried expression on his face. “I was tempted to borrow the money myself,” he added, “but a look on your mother’s face withheld me. My son shall not quarrel with my foster son. I shall not make a decision between you. You must live in peace and harmony. Perhaps there are more silver-tipped foxes to be had for the trapping. Perhaps if Bruce has good, sound shoes, and warm clothing, he, too, would trap. See that the cattle are well bedded for the night, Peter. The young Jersey cow should have a feeding of mash.”
He turned again to his desk and after a respectful silence, Peter withdrew in puzzled wonderment. He returned to the kitchen. Aunt Catherine was again reading. Nancy was washing dishes, Gloria was bending over the empty wood box, which Peter in his excitement had forgotten. Bruce was gone.
“I’ll fill the box, Mother,” cried Peter, feeling that Bruce’s departure had temporarily settled the dispute. He reached for his coat and put it on. He raised his hand to pat the pocket where the precious bills lay. There was no bulge.
“Where did Bruce go?” asked Peter, in a queer, hard voice.
Nancy spoke up quickly. “He put on his coat and said he guessed he’d better go on home. He knocked your coat to the floor. He was a long time picking it up, and his face looked funny.”
Without a word Peter turned and went to the woodpile. Gloria followed Peter to confirm her suspicions. The money was gone.
“Peter,” she came directly to the point. “I’m going to your father. If he does not make Bruce return the money to you by night, I will give you the card to Judge Conrad. You shall leave and go to him. He will help you.”
“Who would cut your wood?” parried Peter. “And draw your water?”
Gloria smiled. “I have cut wood and carried water and milked cows as far back as I can remember. I am still strong. You shall go!”
Jonas paid no attention to Gloria’s pleading. Bruce had become very dear to him — had helped him when Rodney had gone — had been more than his own son.
“I told Peter to give the Jersey cow some bran mash,” he stated, shortly.
“He won’t stay — he will go away forever. There will be no one to help you, if you don’t make Bruce –” cried Gloria.
“A quart of bran and two quarts of hot water,” added Jonas, with a nod of dismissal.
Gloria made no further commend. She returned to Peter. He promptly fed the cattle, carrying out all the instructions of his father. Then he cut wood until a huge pile seemed to defy the cold. He filled all the available tubs and buckets with water. Gloria washed his clothes, mended his shirts and socks, packed his belongings in the leather suitcase which Francis Conrad had left. She put up a lunch of the best food which the house boasted. Then she went quietly to her own room and reached far back on the closet shelf where the leather folder lay which had given her Francis’ true name. Here she pulled out the card the Judge had given her. With the two five dollar bills pinned securely to an inner pocket, the precious card, the valise and his lunch, Peter left the home of his father. He walked the three miles to the railroad station and boarded a “freight” for the distant town.
When Jonas came down to supper there was no place set for Peter. Only Aunt Catherine, looking frightened, Gloria looking calmly resigned and the three little girls greeted him. “Is Peter feeding bran to the Jersey?” he queried.
Gloria waited a long moment to reply. Then her words were chiseled, as if cut from hard stone: “Peter will never feed another animal on this place.” Jonas’ face went white for a second. Gloria thought he was going to choke. Then he leaned far over the table and appropriated the dish of clotted cream Aunt Catherine had set at her own place.
Spring brought rumors of hard times. Gloria wondered how they could be harder. Butter fifteen cents a pound; eggs ten cents a dozen. A pit containing five hundred bushels of potatoes was not even opened because there was no market. The store-keeper looked like he was giving you charity when you took grain to trade for groceries. The words “Coxy’s Army” became familiar. Gloria did not know Mr. Coxy, but she was not impressed with his soldiers. They traveled the country in regiments — the unemployed. They rode box cars from town to town. They wore ill-fitting, grotesque clothes. They came begging food. Gloria gave them raw potatoes and raw wheat. When there was an over supply of butter which she could not sell, she gave of that. Due to the cows which came with Lulu and which Bruce still pastured with the Whitman cattle, Aunt Catherine now had plenty of cream. But you could not transform cream into stockings and shoes, nor into flannels which Bruce and Lulu needed badly, for this year had brought a baby — Claire — to them.
Jonas’ persistent study of law brought him appointment as a member of the Constitutional Convention. It was an honor and Gloria was glad for him. But she suffered great suspense until she knew that the convention would be held far beyond the smaller town which sheltered Peter. With calm unconcern Jonas sold two cows and purchased himself a new suit and shoes and linens. There was only an old battered satchel in which to pack his clothes, but Gloria did her best. Jonas confidently expected Peter to return. The boy could not have gone far, he had no money. He would teach him a few lessons in obedience as soon as he did return. He had been too lenient with Gloria’s boy — from now he intended to be more severe.
Men began to talk of a queer odd fellow, a Frenchman named Le Vasser who had kept tinkering around until he made what folks called a horseless carriage. Wasn’t drawn by mules either. It ran without any animal at all to pull it. The contraption ran with gasoline — that came from oil like kerosene. It made a noise like putt-aputt-aputt. What with the new lights and that talking machine and now this machine that could go ten miles an hour, the world was surely changing!
Jonas returned from the convention with new hope. Statehood was coming. There was no longer any doubt. All obstacles had been removed. Utah would be the forty-fifth state. Industries would thrive from this new impetus. He had fully expected Peter to be home. Instead, Gloria was chopping all the wood which the family burned, milking all the cows and performing all the other menial tasks. The hired man had left, because his wages were so much in arrears.
“Woman suffrage will come with statehood,” smiled Jonas, knowing full well that neither Gloria nor Aunt Catherine knew whereof he spoke. “I suppose every man who wants to run for office after this, will spend his time making up to the ladies!” He made no further explanation and Aunt Catherine showed no interest. But Gloria did not sleep until she had ransacked the library for all available information on the word suffrage. A year old paper from the East finally answered her quest. Here she learned, with a strange new thrill, that suffrage meant equal voting rights between men and women. Wyoming and Colorado had granted it — now UTAH. She, Gloria Whitman, after statehood, could vote. She could go to the polls on election day and enter a little booth and mark a ballot, and no one could stand by to tell her what to write. What an emancipation! Schools should be put where little children did not have to wade through water. Men could no longer sell their homes without the signature of their wives. Perhaps some day, women could do work which they liked — not always cutting wood, carrying water, milking cows.
Jonas sold more cows and hired more men. He again seeded fields of wheat and oats. He purchased Edison’s latest improvement on the phonograph. He had seen it at the convention. It was a disc. The music was now clearer. “Only a Bird in a Golden Cage” came from the morning glory horn with such pathos that Aunt Catherine stopped reading to wipe her eyes. “Ah,” she breathed when “After the Ball is Over” had finished its doleful tones, “If they would only use such genius to sing ‘God Save the Queen’!”
In May of the next year there was much comment and argument concerning happenings in Cuba. Was this the island which Columbus really had discovered? The natives were being cruelly treated by the Spanish nation. Starvation — massacre — exposure — outrage, became the common lot of the oppressed people. Congress voted a relief fund; there was prospect of better markets. Did the people of America remember how Lafayette came to their aid back in 1776? Old histories were dug out, people began to study more about that island, so near, so needy. Geographies were thumbed, maps traced by gnarled fingers. In August when the grain was full leafed, Nancy came running in wide eyed, her hands full of the green leaves of the wheat and oats. “Mother — Aunt Catherine,” she cried. “Hold these leaves to the light. This way, Aunt Catherine. You have to shut one eye and hold the blade against the other and look at the sun. You will see a letter. A capital letter. It’s true, Mother. WAR is coming!”
Aunt Catherine followed Nancy’s frantic directions. One plump eye was closed, while the other peered at the leaf.
“Upon my word, Gloria my child,” her voice became excited too, “the child is right. There is a capital W on this oat leaf. It means nothing short of war. War and pestilence, privation and death! Ah, that we had a Queen to settle with these heathens!”
“Long to reign over us
Wise and victorious –”
“We have a President, Auntie,” interrupted Nancy. “I think he knows what to do!”
“When I was your age,” retorted Aunt Catherine, who had been denied the privilege of finishing her song, “children were not reared to think, but to obey!”
“Remember the Maine” became a by-word. “On to Echo” had been a local slogan during the railroad days. But this was national. American soldiers and sailors had been treacherously killed. The massacre of the innocent Cubans, the burning of their homes, the confiscation of property continued. April, and the President called for more than one hundred thousand volunteers. Young men left their homes and colleges; men left their teams in the fields, to enlist. Cubans were being starved to death. Gloria thought of the potatoes that had rotted. Men hung about the telegraph stations, leaving the fields to water themselves, trusting to providence to seed the grain.
Lulu came in singing, carrying little Claire, and wearing a small flag on her bosom. It was not ribbon, or wool. A new kind of material, called celluloid. She said it burned dreadfully easy, so keep it from the fire.
“Tell Mr. Whitman,” Lulu had always held Bruce’s silent foster father in deep respect, “tell him Bruce has enlisted. He’s on his way now. Can you spare me a loaf of bread, Gloria? No need for me to bake, now there’s only the two of us.”
Jonas’ hired men had all enlisted. With such prospects of golden adventure, they did not care to work for a man who could not always pay their wages when due. The day after Bruce’s enlistment, Gloria plowed one entire field, aided by “one-arm Johnson” whose fighting days were over. Jonas had a new machine, to be paid for in the fall after harvest. It was a combination drill-seeder. You poured the seed into a funnel shaped box, from where it was dropped at proper spacings in tiny furrows. Nancy sat at the head of the field, under the shade of a cottonwood, and cared for the twins, and studied spelling. Aunt Catherine attempted to prepare dinner, but Wife in Name Only was too enticing. The potatoes were soggy, the bacon was burned, the biscuits were over done. Jonas glanced over the table and left the room in silence.
The battleship Oregon sailed from San Francisco to the West Indian ocean — fourteen thousand miles — in one month! People had thought her captured by the Spaniards. Dewey took Manilla without losing a man. We were teaching the old world what sort of people grew up over here, anyway!
“Dewy was the morning, dewy was the day
Dewey was the Captain upon that day in May.”
sang Lulu, breezing into the Whitman kitchen without little Claire. “I’m going to the station for the mail,” she announced. “I might have a letter from Bruce.”
“Where’s Claire?” asked Gloria anxiously. Lulu was not overzealous about Claire’s welfare.
“I left her asleep. Nothing can harm her.”
“Oh, you mustn’t do that!” cried Gloria in genuine alarm. “She might wake up — she might crawl outside — she might fall down that open well — that dreadful steer could kill her, if she crawled under his fence.”
“Spain might whip us, too!” scoffed Lulu. “I need money. Bruce might send me his wages!” With a little toss of her head, bound with a new scarlet ribbon, Lulu was gone. Gloria knew that a train of soldiers was due to pass through — she knew Lulu was not actuated with a wifely interest in Bruce’s possible letter.
Gloria left Nancy to bake the bread, to guard the twins, to watch the pigs from the precious garden, and set off across the fields towards Bruce’s house. Poor little Claire, to be born to the hazardous mercy of Lulu!
The house was in its usual state of disorder. All the dishes were piled in a pan, unwashed. The slop pail was full to overflowing, the water bucket empty. The stove was cold, the wood box empty. Flies buzzed happily over the remnants of a recent meal. A pat of butter threatened to overflow the shallow saucer. A torn blind flapped in the morning breeze. The unmade bed was no surprise to Gloria, but her heart gave a great bound when she found it empty. The door was open and Gloria could only call and call. Through the fence the young bull was angrily pawing the remnants of a red doll’s dress. Could Lulu never give the child anything but red, to further anger that dreadful animal?
Gloria steeled herself for anything. She hardly expected to find even Claire’s body. But there she lay, a limp little morsel of humanity, cruel bruises marking her small body. The enraged animal had transferred his anger to the gaudily dressed doll, as soon as Claire had dropped it.
Gloria did not return to the small, one-roomed house. Walking, running, stumbling, she finally reached Jonas and laid the inert little body in his arms. The iodine; that precious bottle which the doctor had given her years before. “When you have similar need –” had been his words.
Doctors were harder to get now, they were in demand for army service. Still, one came, and his solemn verdict sent a cold chill to Gloria’s heart: “She has lost an eye.” In addition a jaw bone was crushed and the cheek cruelly twisted.
Lulu’s screams carried far out into the night. Her baby, her child, maimed for life! Cruelly disfigured. What was life to a girl with a withered, distorted, sightless eye, and the other one only pale blue at that! Hers was a sudden rush of grief, untinged with self remorse. But as the days passed and Claire required nights of watching and days of patience, Lulu’s maternal love slackened. To Gloria fell the task of coaxing the child back to a semblance of health.
June and Hobson sank the Merrimac to bottle up Cevera’s fleet in Santiago Bay. “Kissing Hobson.” A man named Roosevelt and his Rough Riders came into prominence. They wore a different uniform, a brown cloth called khaki. The battle of Santiago lasted three days — exactly thirty-five years after Gettysburg. Spain was whipped — anxious to sign anything to stop the terrible rush of those Americans. The war had lasted three months — three weeks — three days.
The soldiers would be coming home soon now. Jonas bought several new discs for the phonograph. Nancy played them to Claire. “Just as the Sun Went Down” had a wonderful chorus:
“One thought of mother at home alone
Feeble and old and gray;
One of the sweetheart he’d left in town
Happy and young and gay.”
Lulu began to look frightened. Bruce would have to come home soon. He would blame her for the accident to Claire. He had loved the child. She went for the mail one morning, on the pretext that Bruce might write again before coming home. Trainloads of soldiers were going through. Laughing, carefree men; some who had been wounded. Men who had seen the world. Boys who had been changed into men overnight. The freedom of soldiers — Lulu with a bright, gay ribbon around her neck. The lure of brass buttons — the fear of Bruce. The train stopped at the station, and Lulu did not return to the Whitman ranch.
Bruce returned unharmed. He looked older, walked a little straighter, but his touch of self confidence seemed to drop from him like a cloak when he entered his foster father’s home. One look at the disfigured Claire and he turned in anger to search for Lulu. For the next two days he walked about as if dazed, unable to comprehend the disaster which had overtaken him. Deserted. Left with a crippled child.
“Yellow fever killed more of us Americans than the real fighting,” he volunteered. “That and typhoid sure laid us out. I guess I’d a had it too, but that boy that used to live here, the boy who was bit, found me, and had me turned into the hospital. He’s only a kid still, but he was there.”
“Due to my foresight, Lulu’s departure will not affect title to your land,” commented Jonas, hoping to draw Bruce from his lethargy. “In case something happened to you, I had her deed all her property to me — to keep for Claire. That was the least I could do.”
“All right,” Bruce answered apathetically.
The next month Nancy, coming home with the mail, brought Gloria a queer little note. It was a piece of wrapping paper, and the post mistress had scribbled on it in pencil:
“Pears. Eels. Turnips. Elderberries. Radishes.”
“What a queer thing for her to write!” announced Nancy.
“This is an age of queer things,” moaned Aunt Catherine. “There’s a round red thing growing in Gloria’s garden. She covers it over every night, so it won’t freeze. Its seed are yellow. I guess it’s all right, but it tastes queer to me. She calls it a tomato. Funny, they had to make its name so much like potato.”
Gloria made no comment to Aunt Catherine’s dissertation on American fruits. She put the small scrap of paper carefully in her dress. It was a cipher from Peter.