From the Relief Society Magazine, March 1947 –
The Sound of Bugles
By Olive Maiben Nicholes
Emily Grafton sagged against the kitchen sink and watched for the coming day. She had been up since three o’clock, and half awake hours before that. The long night had gnawed through her resistance and dulled the edge of her sturdy self-reliance. If the sun would shine again, she could collect her scattered wits and meet the exactions of another day.
She had been awakened at midnight with the shutters banging, and a new warmth in the air. Stars, piercing the windy tangle of branches, had reassured her; and she had crept back to bed, only to be startled, later, with the rain beating in upon her face. With a lantern in one hand and a collection of buckets and pans in the other, she had negotiated the attic stairs to find pools of water already forming on the floor. It had been worse than she had guessed; the roof was a veritable sieve! There had been repeated trips to the pantry for utensils, before she had forestalled the flood that threatened the rooms below.
Her eyes strained through the darkness. Heavy silence hung over the sleeping town. A pale moon nuzzled the clouds, breaking up before the decreasing tempo of the storm. The stars paled and faded, as a watery sun dripped through the mist, and blurred shadows sprawled across the familiar dooryard.
Stale, soot-embroidered snow was melting under the orchard trees, dripping on untidy windrows of old leaves and twigs rotting together. The lawn was a tangled snarl of sod, where a dozen venturesome crocuses bubbled in the rank grass. A welter of old magazines, in the sheltered doorway of the deserted carriage house, thumbed their tattered pages in the wind. A few bedraggled hens, tails aslant in the stiff breeze, pecked dejectedly in the ragged garden, where battalions of weeds were already piercing the depleted soil.
“Well, the backbone of the winter’s broken, and so will mine be by the time I empty all that water. It’s due for a freeze tonight, so I’d better get a move on, if I don’t want to hack it out with the axe. Wish I could hire a man to clean up all this rubbish.”
She sighed, remembering the unkept land of the past three years. No use crying for the moon! She would clean up the attic, and plan later. Maybe another trip to the employment bureau would turn up a worker with a strong back and a willing heart, though last time the agent had no one, not even a promise of one, on his hopeless list. Unless the farm began to pay, she would have to draw more money from the bank, and put it out at better interest.
Again, she remembered with bitterness the young brother who packed his palette and brushes nearly thirty years before, who, deaf, alike to her entreaties and threats, had turned his back upon the farm and gone away. The older boys had already married and settled far to the north or to the south, on farms of their own. The young sisters had departed, one by one, until she had been left alone with the aging husband who hadn’t been the asset she had thought he’d be. Ten years, now, since he had died, with no one to give a rap how soon she followed. This is what the oldest sister got, who stayed on to raise a thankless brood after the mother died! She wiped her eyes on the hem of her soggy apron, and began to climb the stairs.
And so it was, as she poured the last pan of water into the shrubbery below, that she saw the boy leaning on the gate.
He stood looking over the winter’s wreckage with an interest akin to solicitude. His eyes swept over the shrubbery and up the gray stone walls, until she looked down into his upturned face, and the full scrutiny of his searching eyes. For a brief moment, old recollections knocked at the door of bygone days, and she thought he was someone she knew from a neighboring farm. The thought was as quickly erased when he brought up his hand, in a mock salute, and she saw the glitter of a discharge button in the lapel of his leather jacket.
There was nothing to do but go down. Perhaps the agency had found a man for her, although she was reluctant to hire one so young. Nothing but fishing and hunting and girls cluttered up the minds of the young from daylight till dark!
She opened the side door and watched him hurry up the path, as though he couldn’t wait to see inside the house. He seemed larger and stronger, at closer view, and more capable than she had, at first, thought.
“Looks like you need a hand with the farm,” he ventured, stepping over the sill.
“It’s worse than it looks,” she apologized, as she motioned him into a chair. “Father named it ‘Bradford Heights.’ ‘The Depths’ would be a more fittin’ name.”
The room needed no apology. It was as clean as soap and water could make it; but she felt an increasing chagrin at her own disheveled appearance. She was angry, too, that she should feel so. Visitors usually looked away from her, but this one’s eyes were candid and fearless, and never wavered from her own. Again, that odd feeling of familiarity swept over her, and she began plying him with questions.
No, the Bureau hadn’t sent him. Yes, he was just out of the service. Spent the winter quarter studying soils at the college. Couldn’t stay cooped up, now spring was breaking. He was past twenty-seven. His name was Karl – Karl Goodman. No, he wasn’t a farmer, but he loved the land. Had a “green thumb!”He held up his hand, with a grin, and she saw it was broad and firmly textured, with long, strong fingers and a tapering thumb that sprang away from the palm, as did her own. She had inherited hers from her mother, who had boasted it “ran in her family,” and that its possessor could make two blades of grass grow where one had grown before.
He turned on his own battery of questions, much to her surprise. Of course the land was run down! What could one expect, with the war on and hired help selling themselves for baubles? No, she didn’t have children; she’d raised her mother’s family. The youngest brother had left home right after his father’s death, married a girl she didn’t know; sold his birthright for nothing! Worse than Esau, she’d say. Her tight lips expressed better than words just what she thought of men like Esau.
A tramp through the orchard and a long muddy ditch banks had not discouraged him. She would have turned away from the clay slope that had so persistently evaded cultivation, but he had been keenly interested, and had picked up a ball of earth to knead between his fingers and thumb.
In the end, he decided to stay for less than she had promised the agent. He was to have a room, and board with her, although the latter offer had surprised her more than it had him. She left him to prepare a substantial morning meal while he retrieved his luggage from the lane, and wandered about the garden. She watched covertly from behind the kitchen curtains, as he tabulated his findings in a new notebook, thrust in his hind pants’ pocket.
She made an extra effort to enhance the appearance of the table, and even brought conserves from the cellar – a tidbit she served only to conference visitors or to the bishop and his wife when they came to an occasional supper.
When all was ready, she was pleased to see how thoroughly he washed himself, running his fingernails over the soap – a trick she had learned from her doctor father. She respected tidy people. His cleanliness in small matters stimulated an interest in her toward him, bordering on actual affection, that grew stronger with the hours. He glowed with health and good nature, which warmed her thawing heart that had lain, for so long, a small, frozen clod in her breast.
The days sped on, and March blew itself out with a gusto and vehemence that almost tore the climbing rose from its moorings. She thought it had, one day when she returned from the neighbors, and found a half-dozen men on the roof, tearing off old shingles and nailing fragrant new ones in their place.
“The climbing rose!” she gasped, gathering up her skits, and dashing around the house, in spite of her seventy-five years. She stopped with relief that brought quick tears to her eyes. Karl had hung the vines from ropes tethered to the chimney top, and was pruning them with an eye cocked for summer blooming.
“I almost had a fit when I couldn’t see the vines from the street. They used to run along the ridgepole,” she gasped.
“They will yet,” he promised, “I saw them the first thing as I came up the road that morning!”
They parried back and forth in good humor, and he took her to see the new cow chewing her cud in the tightly fenced, well-bedded enclosure, where the Bradford cows had awaited their calves in homely comfort for nearly three-quarters of a century.
“How did you know the right place?” she queried.
“Well, it looked the likeliest!” he countered, and again she had the fleeting impression that he reminded her of someone she had fondly known.
When the calf was born and the cow was threatened with the fever, Karl knew exactly what to do. Just like her father! Couldn’t be beat for doctoring sick animals, as well as sick people. Worked until he was past ninety-seven, in spite of all she could say. Sewed up a colt’s leg, and set a boy’s collarbone less’n a week before he died!
“Thought a lot of your father, didn’t you?” he asked one day.
A sturdy little mare had nosed at her elbow from a newly repaired paddock, and reminded her of her father’s “Old Dick.”
“No better man ever lived,” she proudly affirmed. “He was a-going young doctor in Montreal when he heard the missionaries. He could’ve stayed and prospered, but wild horses couldn’t hold him. He had heard the ‘call,’ he would say. He sold everything out, bought ox-teams and wagons and stocked them to the bows. Hired an old Indian to show him the way to Nauvoo. He traveled for months, and got into Winter Quarters the fall of ’46. Brigham Young set him apart with his own two hands to tend the sick – man and beast, alike. So father didn’t leave till the spring of ’49. Then, he was called to settle this valley. He met mother and her brother – Lamonte – fresh from Brittany. He knew their lingo, and they trusted him. Knew a lot about growing fruit and the like. President Young was right pleased with them.”
She sat, pleating the ruffle of her fresh gingham apron, an aura of pride, almost akin to worship, transfiguring her face.
“I knew a French farmer when I was overseas,” he interrupted. “The head surgeon sent me to a village to recuperate from a serious wound. The old man had lost everything in the previous war, and was just getting things in shape again when the Nazis barged in. They didn’t have time to wreck his land in this fracas, so he had things pretty nice. I used to help him with his vineyard and tie the branches of his fruit trees flat against a stone wall, with a southern exposure. I learned a lot from him. I’d sit under his fig trees and hanker for some land of my own–a hunk of land where a man could turn around twice without barking his shins.”
“Well, you’ve got it here for as long as you want,” she chuckled. “Though you’d be hard pressed to take care of it all if you didn’t have all the men and boys eatin’ out your hand.”
He offered his arm with elaborate gallantry, and they resumed their itinerary about the farm. It had become a week-end pilgrimage. He was more than paid by her delight. She was pleased with the new coops; the rebuilt wagon; the flowering orchard trees, holding huge bouquets to kiss the sun; the checkerboard of crops; the clay slope that had defied them all, springing green with vines. It was too good to be true! It couldn’t be true! Some day she would awaken and find it all a dream!
“This is what I dreamed my brother would do, after all the others had gone!” she cried, one day when the climbing rose flamed scarlet against the gray walls, and clambered over the eaves to the ridgepole above.
“But he sold it all – all this – for a mess of pottage – a stingy, stinking mess of pottage!”
“Nourishing, soul-warming pottage for him,” he gently interrupted. “If he couldn’t find himself in the land, he could reproduce this loveliness with paint and canvas. I’ve seen this house covered with roses; I’ve walked through these fields, golden with grain and green with waving corn; I’ve climbed those orchard trees and shaken their abundance onto the grass below, ever since I was born.”
They were in the kitchen, now. The western sun shimmered through ruffled curtains, poised like great white butterflies against the sparkling window panes that framed the beauty and the wealth beyond.
“You see, Aunt Emily, I love my father, too.”
“So he sent you sneaking back into my good graces, currying for favor?”
She turned on him in fury, striking down the placating hand he extended to quell the rush of words.
“I thought you reminded me of someone. Now, I know …my father’s eyes and nose, my mother’s mouth and hands! What other blood flows in your veins is no concern of mine. You’re alien flesh, every bit of you. Get out! If my brother, or any part of him, comes back, he’ll …”
“… ‘Come crawling back on his hands and knees’!” he interrupted. “I know. I’ve heard the story of your selfishness, your ingenious schemes to tie him to you, to mark his path and set his pace. You, who have preached so righteously to me of man’s free agency.
“Get this straight!” he commanded, forcing her into a chair, “My father and mother never sent me here, though I took her name and bore it with pride. They think I’m still in school. Linnie Norris takes my letters from Merton to the city, and mails them there. I’ve wanted to come here all my life.
“I went to school, worked on a newspaper, ran a greenhouse, but all the time my heart cried for this land. When I was discharged from the army I came West like a homing pigeon. I didn’t dare come here until I’d proved in school that my ideas would work. Why, I’ve argued with that clay slope ever since I was knee-high!”
He broke off, and wiped the sweat from his forehead with the coarse sleeve of his shirt.
“You can’t make people over. The Prophet and Brigham Young knew what they were doing when they sent missionaries to the cities and factories, as well as the villages and farms. They needed them all to build a commonwealth that has astonished the world. They heard the ‘call’ and they came, leaving everything near and dear behind.
“Would you have left this comfort, peace, and security to travel an unknown trail? No, you’ve never heard the sound of bugles, calling you to something bigger than yourself, greater than your dreams, broader than the land, higher than the sky!
“They heard – my grandfathers and my grandmothers; the grandparents of all this valley, of all this State. They heard the sound calling across the mountains and the prairies, across the oceans and the rivers. They heard, and they came ‘one from a city, two from a family.’
“But you – you’re concerned only with your selfish aims, your searing hatreds, your introverted plans!”
He broke off with a sob, and gathered a sheaf of papers together.
“These are the plans I’ve made of the house,” he sighed wearily. “Plenty of room for three families – you, Linnie and me, and my folks.
“Linnie and I had planned to be married in the fall and have everything ready for next year. My father was coming to paint the ‘Sacred Grove’ on the walls of the new chapel. The mayor wants him to paint the history of Merton, from the exodus from Salt Lake City to the colonization of this valley, for the great Centennial this year. There are others asking for him, too. He took the talent God gave him, and is returning it a hundred fold.
“He and others traveled a rough road, but they never looked back. He kept the faith and brought us all up to respect had honor our heritage.”
The tramp of many feet, the creak of wagon wheels, the labored breath of weary oxen seemed to press in upon her ears. She saw, within her waking brain, a distant caravan, crawling at snail’s pace cross a trackless plain, then up and up, into the rock-ribbed heights.
She struggled to her feet. Though her knees trembled, her hand was steady on the boy’s bowed head.
“Harness up Dick, while I write that letter to the folks, Karl. When we drive into town to mail it, we’ll call by the lumber yard, too. We’ll have to begin on the house tomorrow, if we’re all goin’ to move in by harvest time.”