THE CREAMERY MAN
"Along these woods in storm and sun the busy people go."
THE tin-peddler has gone out of the West. Amiable gossip and sharp trader that he was, his visits once brought a sharp business grapple to the farmer's wife and daughters, after which, as the man of trade was repacking his unsold wares, a moment of cheerful talk often took place. It was his cue, if he chanced to be a tactful peddler, to drop all attempts at sale and become distinctly human and neighborly.
His calls were not always well received, but they were at their best pleasant breaks of a monotonous round of duties. But he is no longer a familiar spot on the landscape. He has passed into the limbo of the things no longer necessary. His red wagon may be rumbling and rattling through some newer region, but the "coulee country" knows him no more.
'The creamery man" has taken his place. Every afternoon, rain or shine, the wagons of the North Star Creamery in "Dutcher's Coulee" stop at the farmers' windmills to skim the cream from the " submerged cans." His wagon is not gay; it is generally battered and covered with mud and filled with tall cans; but the driver himself is generally young and sometimes attractive. The driver in Molasses Gap, which is a small coulee leading into Dutcher's Coulee was particularly good-looking and amusing.
He was aware of his good looks, and his dress not only showed that he was single, but that he hoped to be married soon. He wore brown trousers, which fitted him very well, and a dark-blue shirt, which had a gay lacing of red cord in front, and a pair of suspenders that were a vivid green. On his head he wore a Chinese straw helmet; which was as ugly as anything could conceivably be, but he was as proud of it as he was of his green suspenders. In summer he wore no coat at all, and even in pretty cold weather he left his vest on his wagon seat, not being able to bring himself to the point of covering up the red and green of his attire.
It was noticeable that the women of the neighborhood always came out, even on washday, to see that Claude (his name was Claude Willlams) measured the cream properly. There was much banter about this. Mrs. Kennedy always said she wouldn't trust him " fur's you can fling a yearlin' bull by the tail."
"Now that's the difference between us," he would reply. "I'd trust you anywhere. Anybody with such a daughter as your'n"
He seldom got further, for Lucindy always said (in substance), " Oh, you go 'long."
There need be no mystery in the matter. 'Cindy was the girl for whose delight he wore the green and red. He made no secret of his love, and she made no secret of her scorn. She laughed at his green 'spenders and the "red shoestring" in his shirt; but Claude considered himself very learned in women's ways, by reason of two years' driving the creamery wagon, and be merely winked at Mrs. Kennedy when the girl was looking, and kissed his hand at 'Cindy when her mother was not looking.
He looked forward every afternoon to these little exchanges of wit, and was depressed when for any reason the womenfolks were away. There were other places pleasanter than the Kennedy farm--some of "the Dutchmen" had fine big brick houses and finer and bigger barns, but their women were mostly homely and went around barefooted and barelegged, with ugly blue dresses hanging frayed and greasy round their lank ribs and big joints.
"Some way their big houses have a look like a stable when you get close to 'em," Claude said to 'Cindy once. "Their women work so much in the field they don't have any time to fix up--the way you do. I don't believe in women workin' in the fields." He said this looking 'Cindy in the face. "My wife needn't set her foot outdoors 'less she's a mind to."
"Oh, you can talk," replied the girl scornfully, "but you'd be like the rest of 'em." But she was glad that she had on a clean collar and apron--if it was ironing day.
What Claude would have said further 'Cindy could not divine, for her mother called her away, as she generally did when she saw her daughter lingering too long with the creamery man. Claude was not considered a suitable match for Lucindy Kennedy, whose father owned one of the finest farms in the coulee. Worldly considerations hold in Molasses Gap as well as in Bluff Siding and Tyre.
But Claude gave little heed to these moods in Mrs. Kennedy. If 'Cindy sputtered, he laughed; and if she smiled, he rode on whistling till he came to old man Haldeman's, who owned the whole lower half of Molasses Gap, and had one ummarried daughter, who thought Claude one of the handsomest men in the world. She was always at the gate to greet him as he drove up, and forced sections of cake and pieces of gooseberry pie upon him each day.
"She's good enough for a Dutchman," Claude said of her, "but I hate to see a woman go around looking as if her clothes would drop off if it rained on her. And on Sundays, when she dresses up, she looks like a boy rigged out in some girl's cast-off duds."
This was pretty hard on Nina. She was tall and lank and sandy, with small blue eyes, her limbs were heavy, and she did wear her Sunday clothes badly, but she was a good, generous soul and very much in love with the creamery man. She was not very clean, but then she could not help that; the dust of the field is no respecter of sex. No, she was not lovely, but she was the only daughter of old Ernest Haldeman, and the old man was not very strong.
Claude was the daily bulletin of the Gap. He knew whose cow died the night before, who was at the strawberry dance, and all about Abe Anderson's night in jail up at the Siding. If his coming was welcome to the Kennedy's, who took the Bluff Siding Gimlet and the county paper, how much the more cordial ought his greeting to be at Haldeman's, where they only took the Milwaukee Weekly Freiheit.
Nina in her poor way had longings and aspirations. She wanted to marry "a Yankee," and not one of her own kind. She had a little schooling obtained at the small brick shed under the towering cottonwood tree at the corner of her father's farm; but her life had been one of hard work and mighty little play. Her parents spoke in German about the farm, and could speak English only very brokenly. Her only brother had adventured into the foreign parts of Pine County and had been killed in a sawmill. Her life was lonely and hard.
She had suitors among the Germans, plenty of them, but she had a disgust of them--considered as possible husbands--and though she went to their beery dances occasionally, she had always in her mind the ease, lightness, and color of Claude. She knew that the Yankee girls did not work in the fields--even the Norwegian girls seldom did so now, they worked out in town--but she had been brought up to hoe and pull weeds from her childhood, and her father and mother considered it good for her, and being a gentle and obedient child, she still continued to do as she was told. Claude pitied the girl, and used to talk with her, during his short stay, in his cheeriest manner.
"Hello, Nina! How you vass, ain't it? How much cream already you got this morning? Did you hear the news, not?"
"No, vot hass happened?"
"Everything. Frank Mcvey's horse stepped through the bridge and broke his leg, and he's going to sue the county--mean Frank is, not the horse."
"Iss dot so?"
"Sure! and Bill Hetner had a fight, and Julia Dooriliager's got home."
"Vot wass Bill fightding apoudt?"
"Oh, drunk--fighting for exercise. Hain't got a fresh pie cut?"
Her face lighted up, and she turned so suddenly to go that her bare leg showed below her dress. Her unstockinged feet were thrust into coarse working shoes. Claude wrinkled his nose in disgust, but he took the piece of green currant pie on the palm of his hand and bit the acute angle from it.
"First-rate. You do make lickin' good pies," he said Out of pure kindness of heart, and Nina was radiant.
"She wouldn't be so bad-lookin' if they didn't work her in the fields like a horse," he said to himself as he drove away.
The neighbors were well aware of Nina's devotion, and Mrs. Smith, who lived two or three houses down the road, said, "Good evening, Claude. Seen Nina today?"
"Sure! and she gave me a piece of currant pie--her own make."
"Did you eat it?"
"Did I? I guess yes. I ain't refusin' pie from Nina--not while her pa has five hundred acres of the best land in Molasses Gap."
Now, it was this innocent joking on his part that started all Claude's trouble. Mrs. Smith called a couple of days later and had her joke with 'Cindy.
"'Cindy, your cake's all dough."
"Why, what's the matter now?"
"Claude come along t'other day grinnin' from ear to ear, and some currant pie in his musstache. He had jest fixed it up with Nina. He jest as much as said he was after the old man's acres."
"Well, let him have 'em. I don't know as it interests me," replied 'Cindy, waving her head like a banner. "If he wants to sell himself to that greasy Dutchwoman why, let him, that's all! I don't care."
Her heated manner betrayed her to Mrs. Smith, who laughed with huge enjoyment.
"Well, you better watch out!"
The next day was very warm, and when Claude drove up under the shade of the big maples he was ready for a chat while his horses rested, but 'Cindy was nowhere to be seen. Mrs. Kennedy came out to get the amount of the skimming and started to re-enter the house without talk.
"Where's the young folks?" asked Claude carelessly.
"If you mean Lucindy, she's in the house."
"Ain't sick or nothin', is she?"
"Not that anybody knows of. Don't expect her to be here to gass with you every time, do ye?"
"Well, I wouldn't mind"' replied Claude. He was too keen not to see his chance. "In fact, I'd like to have her with me all the time, Mrs. Kennedy," he said with engaging frankness.
"Well, you can't have her," the mother replied ungraciously.
"What's the matter with me?"
"Oh, I like you well enough, but 'Cindy'd be a big fool to marry a man without a roof to cover his head."
"That's where you take your inning, sure," Claude replied. "I'm not much better than a hired hand. Well, now, see here, I'm going to make a strike one of these days, and then--look out for me! You don't know but what I've invested in a gold mine. I may be a Dutch lord in disguise. Better not be brash."
Mrs. Kennedy's sourness could not stand against sueb sweetness and drollery. She smiled in wry fashion. "You'd better be moving, or you'll be late."
"Sure enough. If I only had you for a mother-in-law--that's why I'm so poor. Nobody to keep me moving. If I had someone to do the talking for me, I'd work." He grinned broadly and drove out.
His irritation led him to say some things to Nina which he would not have thought of saying the day before. She had been working in the field and had dropped her hoe to see him.
"Say, Nina, I wouldn't work outdoors such a day as this if I was you. I'd tell the old man to go to thunder, and I'd go in and wash up and look decent Yankee women don't do that kind of work, and your old dad's rich; no use of your sweatin' around a cornfield with a hoe in your hands. I don't like to see a woman goin' round without stockin's and her hands all chapped and calloused. It ain't accordin' to Hoyle. No, sir! I wouldn't stand it. I'd serve an injunction on the old man right now."
A dull, slow flush crept into the girl's face, and she put one hand over the other as they rested on the fence. One looked so much less monstrous than two.
Claude went on, "Yes, sir! I'd brace up and go to Yankee meeting instead of Dutch; you'd pick up a Yankee beau like as not."
He gathered his cream while she stood silently by, and when he looked at her again she was in deep thought.
"Good day," he said cheerily.
"Goodbye," she replied, and her face flushed again.
It rained that night, and the roads were very bad, and he was late the next time he arrived at Haldeman's. Nina came out in her best dress, but he said nothing about it, supposing she was going to town or something Like that, and he hurried through with his task and had mounted his seat before he realized that anything was wrong.
Then Mrs. Haldeman appeared at the kitchen door and hurled a lot of unintelligible German at him. He knew she was mad, and mad at him, and also' at Nina, for she shook her fist at them alternately.
Singular to tell, Nina paid no attention to her mother's sputter. She looked at Claude with a certain timid audacity.
"How you like me today?"
"That's better," he said as he eyed her critically. "Now you're talkin'! I'd do a little reading of the newspaper myself, if I was. you. A woman's business ain't to work out in the hot sun--it's to cook and fix up things round the house, and then put on her clean dress and set in the shade and read or sew on something. Stand up to 'em! Doggone me if I'd paddle round that hot cornfield with a mess o' Dutchmen--it ain't decent!"
He drove off with a chuckle at the old man, who was seated at the back of the house with a newspaper in his hand. He was lame, or pretended he was, and made his wife and daughter wait upon him. Claude had no conception of what was working in Nina's mind, but he could not help observing the changes for the better in her appearance. Each day he called she was neatly dressed and wore her shoes laced up to the very top hook.
She was passing through tribulation on his account, but she sald nothing about it. The old man, her father, no longer spoke to her, and the mother sputtered continually, but the girl seemed sustained by some inner power. She calmly went about doing as she pleased, and no fury of words could check her or turn her aside.
Her hands grew smooth and supple once more, and her face lost the parboiled look it once had.
Claude noticed all these gains and commented on them with the freedom of a man who had established friendly relations with a child.
"I tell you what, Nina, you're coming along, sure. Next ground hop you'll be wearin' silk stockin's and high-heeled shoes. How's the old man? Still mad?"
"He don't speak to me no more. My mudder says I am a big fool."
"She does? Well, you tell her I think you're just getting sensible."
She smiled again, and there was a subtle quality in the mixture of boldness and timidity of her manner. His praise was so sweet and stimulating.
"I sold my pigs," she said. "The old man, he wass madt, but I didn't mind. I pought me a new dress with the money."
"That's right! I like to see a woman have plenty Of new dresses," Claude replied. He was really enjoying the girl's rebellion and growing womanliness.
Meanwhile his own affairs with Lucindy were in a bad way. He seldom saw her now. Mrs. Smith was careful to convey to her that Claude stopped longer than was necessary at Haldeman's, and so Mrs. Kennedy attended to the matter of recording the cream. Kennedy hersell was always in the field, and Claude had no opportunity for a conversation with him, as he very much wished to have. Once, when he saw 'Cindy in the kitchen at work, he left his team to rest in the shade and sauntered to the door and looked in.
She was kneading out cake dough, and she looked the loveliest thing he had ever seen. Her sleeves were rolled up. Her neat brown dress was covered with a big apron, and her collar was open a liffle at the throat, for it was warm in the kitchen. She frowned when she saw him.
He began jocularly. "Oh, thank you, I can wait till it bakes. No trouble at all."
"Well, it's a good deal of trouble to me to have you standin' there gappin' at me!"
"Ain't gappin' at you. I'm waitin' for the pie."
"'Tain't pie; it's cake."
"Oh, well, cake'll do for a change. Say, 'Cindy--"
"Don't call me 'Cindy!"
"Well, Lucindy. It's mighty lonesome when I don't see you on my trips."
"Oh, I guess you can stand it with Nina to talk to."
"Aha! jealous, are you?"
"Jealous of that Dutchwoman! I don't care who you talk to, and you needn't think it."
Claude was learned in woman's ways, and this pleased him mightily.
"Well, when shall I speak to your daddy?"
"I don't know what you mean, and I don't care."
"Oh, yes, you do. I'm going to come up here next Sunday in my best bib and tucker, and I'm going to say, 'Mr. Kennedy'--'
The sound of Mrs. Kennedy's voice and footsteps approaching made Claude suddenly remember his duties.
"See ye later," he said with a grin. "I'll call for the cake next time."
"Call till you split your throat, if you want to," said 'Cindy.
Apparently this could have gone on indefinitely, but it didn't. Lucindy went to Minneapolis for a few weeks to stay with her brother, and that threw Claude deeper into despair than anything Mrs. Kennedy might do or any word Lucindy might say. It was a dreadful blow to him to have her pack up and go so suddenly and without one backward look at him, and, besides, he had planned taking her to Tyre on the Fourth of July.
Mr. Kennedy, much better-natured than the mother, told Claude where she had gone.
"By mighty! That's a knock on the nose for me. When did she go?"
"Yistady. I took her down to the Siding."
"When's she coming back?"
"Oh, after the hot weather is over; four or five weeks."
"I hope I'll be alive when she returns," said Claude gloomily.
Naturally he had a little more time to give to Nina and her remarkable doings, which had set the whole neighborhood to wondering "what had come over the girl."
She no longer worked in the field. She dressed better, and had taken to going to the most fashionable church in town. She was a woman transformed. Nothing was able to prevent her steady progression and bloom. She grew plumper and fairer and became so much more attractive that the young Germans thickened round her, and one or two Yankee boys looked her way. Through it all Claude kept up his half-humorous banter and altogether serious daily advice, without once realizing that anything sentimental connected him with it all. He knew she liked him, and sometimes he felt a little annoyed by her attempts to please him, but that she was doing all that she did and ordering her whole life to please him never entered his self-sufficient head.
There wasn't much room left in that head for anyone else except Lucindy, and his plans for wining her. Plan as he might, he saw no way of making more than the two dollars a day he was earning as a cream collector.
Things ran along thus from week to week till it was nearly time for Lucindy to return. Claude was having his top buggy repainted and was preparing for a vigorous campaign when Lucindy should be at home again. He owned his team and wagon and the buggy--nothing more.
One Saturday Mr. Kennedy said, "Lucindy's coming home. I'm going down after her tonight."
"Let me bring her up," said Claude with suspicious eagerness.
Mr. Kennedy hesitated. "No, I guess I'll go myself. I want to go to town, anyway."
Claude was in high spirits as he drove into Haldeman's yard that afternoon.
Nina was leaning over the fence singing softly to herself, but a fierce altercation was going on inside the house. The walls resounded. It was all Dutch to Claude, but he knew the old people were quarreling.
Nina smiled and colored as Claude drew up at the side gate. She seemed not to hear the eloquent discussion inside.
"What's going on?" asked Claude.
"Dey tink I am in house."
"My mudder she lock me up."
Claude stared. "Locked you up? What for?"
"She tondt like it dot I come out to see you."
"Oh, she don't?" said Claude. "What's the matter o' me? I ain't a dangerous chap. I ain't eatin' up little. girls."
Nina went on placidly. "She saidt dot you was goin' to marry me undt' get the farm."
Claude grinned, then chuckied, and at last roared and whooped with the delight of it. He took off his hat and said:
"She said that, did she? Why, bless her old cabbage head--"
The opening of the door and the sudden irruption of Frau Haldeman interrupted him. She came rushing toward him like a she grizzly bear, uttering a torrent of German expletives, and hurled herself upon him, clutching at his hair and throat. He leaped aside and struck down her hands with a sweep of his hard right arm. As she turned to come again he shouted,
"Keep off! or I'll knock you down!"
But before the blow came Nina seized the infuriated woman from behind and threw her down, and held her till the old man came hobbling to the rescue. He seemed a little dazed by it all and made no effort to assault Claude.
The old woman, who was already black in the face with rage, suddenly fell limp, and Nina, kneeling beside her, grew white with fear.
"Oh, vat is the matter! I hat kildt her!"
Claude rushed for a bucket of water and dashed it in the old woman's face. He flooded her with slashings of it, especially after he saw her open her eyes, ending by emptying the bucket in her face. He was a little malicious about that.
The mother sat up soon, wet, scared, bewildered, gasping.
"Mein Gott! Mein Gotd Ich bin ertrinken!"
"What does she say--she's been drinkin'? Well, that looks reasonable."
"No, no--she thinks she is trouned."
"Oh, drowned!" Claude roared again. "Not much she ain't. She's only just getting cooled off."
He helped the girl get her mother to the house and stretch her out on a bed. The old woman seemed to have completely exhausted herself with her effort and submitted like a child to be waited upon. Her sudden fainting had subdued her.
Claude had never penetrated so far into the house before, and was much pleased with the neatness and good order of the rooms, though they were bare of furniture and carpets.
As the girl came out with him to the gate he uttered the most serious word he had ever had with her
"Now, I want you to notice," he said, "that I did nothing to call out the old lady's rush at me. I'd 'a' hit her, sure, if she'd 'a' clinched me again. I don't believe in striking a woman, but she was after my hide for the time bein', and I can't stand two such clutches in the same place. You don't blame me, I hope."
"No. You done choost ride."
"What do you suppose the old woman went for me for?"
Nina looked down uneasily.
"She know you an' me lige one anudder, an' she is afrait you marry me, an' den ven she tie you get the farm a-ready."
Claude whistled. "Great Jehosaphat! She really thinks that, does she? Well, dog my cats! What put that idea into her head?"
"I told her," said Nina calmly.
"You told her?" Claude turned and stared at her. She looked down, and her face slowly grew to a deep red. She moved uneasily from one foot to the' other, like an awkward, embarrassed child. As he looked at her standing like a culprit before him, his first impulse was to laugh. He was not specially refined, but he was a kindly man, and it suddenly occurred to him that the girl was suffering.
"Well, you were mistaken," he said at last, gently enough. "I don't know why you should think so, but I never thought of marrying you--never thought of it."
The flush faded from her face, and she stopped swaying. She lifted her eyes to his in a tearful, appealing stare.
"I t'ought so--you made me t'ink so."
"I did? How? I never said a word to you about liking you or--marrying--or anything like that. I--" He was going to tell her he intended to marry Lucindy, but he checked himself.
Her lashes fell again, and the tears began to stream down her cheeks. She knew the worst now. His face had convinced her. She could not tell him the grounds of her belief--that every time he had said, "I don't like to see a woman do this or that," or, "I like to see a woman fix up around the house," she had considered his words in the light of courtship, believing that in such ways the Yankees made love. So she stood suffering dumbly while he loaded his cream can and stood by the wheel ready to mount his wagon.
He turned. "I'm mighty sorry about it," he said. "Mebbe I was to blame. I didn't mean nothing by it--not a thing. It was all a mistake. Let's shake hands over it and call the whole business off."
He held his hand out to her, and with a low cry she seized it and laid her cheek upon it. He started back in amazement and drew his hand away. She fell upon her knees in the path and covered her face with her apron, while he hastily mounted his seat and drove away.
Nothing so profoundly moving had come into his life since the death of his mother, and as he rode on down the road he did a great deal of thinking. First it gave him a pleasant sensation to think a woman should care so much for him. He had lived a homeless life for years and had come into intimate relations with few women, good or bad. They had always laughed with him (not at him, for Claude was able to take care of himself), and no woman before had taken him seriously, and there was a certain charm about the realization.
Then he fell to wondering what he had said or done to give the girl such a notion of his purposes. Perhaps he had been too free with his talk. He was so troubled that he hardly smiled once during the rest of his circuit, and at night he refrained from going up town, and sat under the trees back of the creamery and smoked and pondered on the astounding situation.
He came at last to the resolution that it was his duty to declare himself to Lucindy and end all uncertainty, so that no other woman would fall into Nina's error. He was as good as an engaged man, and the world should know it.
The next day, with his newly painted buggy flashing in the sun, and the extra dozen ivory rings he had purchased for his harnesses clashing together, he drove up the road as a man of leisure and a resolved lover. It was a beautiful day in August.
Lucindy was getting a light tea for some friends up from the Siding, when she saw Claude drive up.
"Well, for the land sake!" she broke out, using one of her mother's phrases, "if here isn't that creamery man!" In that phrase lay the answer to Claude's question--if he had heard it. He drove in, and Mr. Kennedy, with impartial hospitality, went out and asked him to 'light and put his team in the barn.
He did so, feeling very much exhilarated. He never before had gone courting in this direct and aboveboard fashion. He mistook the father's hospitality for compliance in his designs. He followed his host into the house and faced, with very fair composure, two girls who smiled broadly as they shook hands with him. Mrs. Kennedy gave him a lax hand and a curt how-de-do, and Lucindy fairly scowled in answer to his radiant smile.
She was much changed, he could see. She wore a dress with puffed sleeves, and her hair was dressed differently. She seemed strange and distant, but he thought she was "putting that on" for the benefit of others. At the table the three girls talked of things at the Siding and ignored him so that he was obliged to turn to Farmer Kennedy for refuge. He kept his courage up by thinking, "Wait till we are alone."
After supper, when Lucindy explained that the dishes would have to be washed, he offered to help her in his best manner.
"Thank you, I don't need any help," was Lucindy's curt reply.
Ordinarily he was a man of much facility and ease in addressing women, but be was vastly disconcerted by her manner. He sat rather silently waiting for the room to clear. When the visitors intimated that they must go, he rose with cheerful alacrity.
"I'll get your horse for you."
He helped hitch the horse into the buggy, and helped the girls in with a return of easy gallantry, and watched them drive off with joy. At last the field was clear.
They returned to the sitting room, where the old folks remained for a decent interval, and then left the young people alone. His courage returned then, and he turned toward her with resolution in his voice and eyes.
"Lucindy," he began.
"Miss Kennedy, please," interrupted Lucindy with cutting emphasis.
"I'll be darned if I do," he replied hotly. "What's the matter with you? Since going to Minneapolis you put on a lot of city airs, it seems to me."
"If you don't like my airs, you know what you can do!"
He saw his mistake.
"Now see here, Lucindy, there's no sense in our quarreling."
"I don't want to quarrel; I don't want anything to do with you. I wish I'd never seen you."
"Oh, you don't mean that! After all the good talks we've had."
She flushed red. "I never had any such talks with you."
He pursued his advantage.
"Oh, yes, you did, and you took pains that I should see you."
"I didn't; no such thing. You came poking into the kitchen where you'd no business to be."
"Say, now, stop fooling. You like me and--"
"I don't. I hate you, and if you don't clear out I'll call father. You're one o' these kind o' men that think if a girl looks at 'em that they want to marry 'em. I tell you I don't want anything more to do with you, and I'm engaged to another man, and I wish you'd attend to your own business. So there! I hope you're satisfied."
Claude sat for nearly a minute in silence, then he rose. "I guess you're right. I've made a mistake. I've made a mistake in the girl." He spoke with a curious hardness in his voice. "Good evening, Miss Kennedy."
He went out with dignity and in good order. His retreat was not ludicrous. He left the girl with the feeling that she had lost her temper and with the knowledge that she had uttered a lie.
He put his horses to the buggy with a mournful self-pity as he saw the wheels glisten. He had done all this for a scornful girl who could not treat him decently. 'As he drove slowly down the road he mused deeply. It was a knock-down blow, surely. He was a just man, so far as he knew, and as he studied the situation over he could not blame the girl. In the light of her convincing wrath he comprehended that the sharp things she had said to him in the past were not make-believe--not love taps, but real blows. She had not been coquetting with him; she had tried to keep him away. She considered herself too good for a hired man. Well, maybe she was. Anyhow, she had gone out of his reach, hopelessly.
As he came past the Haldemans' he saw Nina sitting out under the trees in the twilight. On the impulse he pulled in. His mind took another turn. Here was a woman who was open and aboveboard in her affection. Her words meant what they stood for. He remembered how she had bloomed out the last few months. She has the making of a handsome woman in her, he thought.
She saw him and came out to the gate, and while he leaned out of his carriage she rested her arms on the gate and looked up at him. She looked pale and sad, and he was touched.
"How's the old lady?" he asked.
"Oh, she's up! She is much change-ed. She is veak and quiet."
"Quiet, is she? Well, that's good."
"She t'inks God strike her fer her vickedness. Never before did she fainted like dot."
"Well, don't spoil that notion in her. It may do her a world of good."
"Der priest come. He saidt it wass a punishment. She saidt I should marry who I like."
Claude looked at her searchingly. She was certainly much improved. All she needed was a little encouragement and advice, and she would make a handsome wife. If the old lady had softened down, her son-in-law could safely throw up the creamery job and become the boss of the farm. The old man was used up, and the farm needed someone right away.
He straightened up suddenly. "Get your hat," he sald, "and we'll take a ride."
She started erect, and he could see her pale face glow with joy.
"With me. Get your best hat. We may turn up at the minister's and get married--if a Sunday marriage is legal."
As she hurried up the walk he said to himself, "I'll bet it gives Lucindy a shock!"
And the thought pleased him mightily.