Five Cents for Luck
The story that won the $500 first prize in MacLean’s short story contest
LILLIAN BEYNON THOMAS
JEAN CARROLL was beginning her fifty mile trip back to the homestead. She was humming ‘Red Wing’, a song popular on the prairie that fall. She had heard some travelers singing it in the hotel in Swift Rapids, where she and Jim had spent the night. She thought the hollow rumble of the wagon over the frozen crust of the prairie made a splendid accompaniment.
From time to time she glanced at her husband who was going back a short distance with her. He was walking beside the oxen. His bowed head and sagging shoulders tugged at her heart. She called: “Jim!”
He stepped back and put his hand on the edge of the wagon-box beside her. She bent toward him from the unyielding board seat. “Cheer up, Jim!” she spoke more loudly than she intended. “We don’t have to live more than one day at a time.”
“Good thing, too!” he replied, with an evident effort to be cheerful, and he glanced toward her but not at her. “Good thing, too, with only fifteen dollars and five cents between us at the beginning of winter and you in the condition you are.”
“It might be worse,” Jean laughed. She pulled her red
toque down over her ears. “I might be ill instead of never feeling better and Harry and Bess are so healthy. I tell you Jim—”
“Whoa!” Jim’s voice rang out above the rumble of the wagon and the oxen stopped promptly. He caught the edge of the wagon-box with both hands now and met his wife’s eyes squarely. She noticed his drab, deeply-lined face, that resembled the prairie frcm which all color had been squeezed by the icy grip of winter. But the prairie had been resigned—ready. Jim’s face bore the marks of struggle, rebellion.
“I’m afraid to have you go back there, alone!” his voice was heavy with emotion. “Jean, I can’t do it! We’ll give up. Three years is enough. Hail, drouth, and this year frost! Even against that we’d have made it if we’d had the railroad. That grain would have sold for
enough to tide us over—now it will ret—all but what the chickens eat.”
“One good year will put us on easy street!” Jean voiced the call of the rich black soil beneath his feet.
“I know! There’s a new wheat, too, called Marquis, that ripens earlier and stands—but what’s the use. We can't hold out long enough. I won't let ycu stay out there—fifty miles from a doctor—alone.” He stepped back, head up, shoulders squared like a man who has made a decision that had been resting heavily on beth his conscience and heart.
Jean's laugh rippled merrily over the prairie, borne along by a cutting wind that snatched it from her lips. “Let me stay!” her voice bubbled with amusement. “Why, my dear boy, you can’t prevent me. Do you think we’re going to give up now, when another railroad, within twenty-five miles, will be in operation before spring? And next year we’ll have our patent for the best farm in the world. Nothing doing!”
“Harry needs boots right notv, and you should have supplies,” Jim continued as if he had not heard her. “You can sell the chickens and the cow. McGregor will
help you. Do you think you could drive the oxen and bring whatever you think we will need most, to Regina? Some of the fellows tell me there isn't much work in the bush this winter. I might need the oxen for odd jobs. I’ll get a house as soon—”
"You are not going to Regina to do odd jobs, Jim Carroll!" Jean’s voice had lost its merry lilt—it, too, had taken on the hard rigidity of the prairie. She drew her sturdy frame up proudly, then she laughed. "You’re just homesick, Jim. You always do hate to go away. Do you think this country can afford to have such a good farmer as you living in town doing odd jobs?”
"A good farmer!” he muttered, but some of the weight had left his voice. "Fifteen dollars and five cents and how do you know next year will be any better?”
"We don’t!” Jean’s buoyancy had returned. "That is half the fun. There isn’t anything raonotonousaboutfarming.
Then with a quick pressure of her hand on his shoulder. "I know what it is—those pancakes you had for breakfast. Pancakes in the morning never do agree with you Remember that, when you have to make decisions before noon. But—but isn't it time you were going back? Your train—”
Jim Carroll reached over and caught his wife’s tanned, work-hardened handin both his. "Jean, either you are a superb actress or else you have the courage of ten men ” He fondled the hand a minute, before he raised it to his lips—then put it in her lap. He touched his hat, wheeled quickly about and strode toward Swift Rapids.
A full minute Jean sat looking at the hand in her lap. Her eyes held something deeper than a smile as she raised it and placed her lips where her husband's hand had rested. Then with a practical shrug of her shoulders, she reached for the whip.
"Get up. Hughey!” she flicked the shoulder of the off ox. “You must do your prettiest. Your mistress is a great lady and her knight has gone to do battle for her. She must keep his colors flying.”
AND those colors were flying bravely the evening of the following day as Jean muttered "Odd jobs!” and urged the tired oxen into a faster walk. Her small home was looming up in the darkening distance. How tiny it looked! Like a parcel dropped by a careless traveler—a black speck on a horizon bound sea of savage, haughty, repellent prairie, unadorned by so much as a tree or shrub.
"I’ll do the odd jobs this winter, and we’ll win yet,” she said, as the oxen broke into a run and dashed around the shack with a flourish.
An oblong of light from the quickly opened door, a boyish eager voice,
"Mother is that you? Are you all right?”
"Sure, Harry! Everything all right here? Bess well?” Jean was stretching her numbed limbs. The oxen had stopped beside the water trough and were drinking greedily.
"Yes! I’ll get the lantern!”
"Mother—mother, may I come out?” six year old Bess’s eager baby voice.
"No. you go back and get supper for mother.” Harry, the lighted lantern in his hand, urged her back.
"Don't come out in the cold, darling! I’ll be there in a few minutes,” Jean called. She had climbed down out of the wagon and was unhitching the oxen.
"You go in the house, mother. I’ll take care of the oxen.”
“I'll hold the lantern for you.” Jean took it from his hand.
"Oh, I can manage all right.” But he did not refuse her the lantern.
"We must take good care of Hughey,” Jean said, as Harry was tying him in his stall. “I’d have been lost a dozen times if I'd had to depend on Bob. His feet got sore, too, and he wanted to lie dowm. He has no grit— that ox—Hughey is worth a dozen of him.”
"Dad says it takes grit to be a pioneer,” Harry remarked happily, as he came out of Hughey’s stall. He stopped a minute to say: “It must have been rough back east where the first settlers had to chop down the trees before they couid sow their grain.”
"Yes, my grandmother often told me about it,” Jean agreed, while her eyes rested tenderly on the red head, the freckled face, and the bright winsome smile of her son. He would have his father's splendid physique, his gray searching eyes, his shy shrinking from competition with his fellows—his unbounded joy in the conquest of the soil. No wonder the wild untamed land with its mystery,
its reticence, it niggardliness and its unbounded generosity, lured them—they felt the soul of the soil—they were farmers born.
"Odd jobs!” Jean said the words aloud. “Not for my men!”
“What did you say, mother?” Harry looked at her over Bob’s back.
"I was thinking you are going to be a farmer like your father.”
"That is what I want to be.” He was bending over the manger. "Mother, daddy told me something about you!”
Jean stiffened at the change in his voice. “Yes, dear! What was it?”
"He said I’d have to be careful of you—special like—
for him!” His was not the voice of a twelve year old boy— it was the voice of the male—the voice of the race that protects its young.
“That was thoughtful of daddy. He was worried, but I’m really very well. It’s nature you know, dear.”
There was a pause. Silence. Then Harry rustled out of the manger. “I guess I’ll give Hughey a bit more hay.”
The sound of the fork in the hay—the contented crunching of the oxen—Harry’s cheerful voice from the shadows: “It’ll be nice for Bess to have a kid to play with. I’m getting too big to play.”
Then they were approaching the house, Harry swinging the lantern. A wee face was pressed against the window. The door flew open, a shrill childish cry of delight and Bess was in her mother’s arms, smothering her with kisses, half laughing, half crying.
“What you cryin’ for Bess?” Harry asked as he hung the lantern behind the door and went to put some wood in the stove.
“I don’ know,” Bess sobbed. She climbed down out of her mother’s arms and rushed to the stove. “You’ll burn the potatoes if you don’ be more careful. “She stirred the potatoes in the frying pan.
“Harry got his feet wet!” Bess vouchsafed the information with the eagerness of a child to tell all the news.
“How?” Jean turned quickly toward her son.
“Ah, that’s nothin’. I told you to keep quiet, Bess.”
“But, what happened?” Jean demanded.
“His boot’s all cracked. It ain’t any good no more.”
“Let me see it!”
Harry hesitated—then held up his foot. His boot was cracked across the top and half the sole was loose.
“Let me see the other one?” He held it up. It was but little better. Jean walked over to the cupboard—some boards nailed to the wall. She stood a minute. When she turned around she had a dish she did not need. She put
it back and went to the table and straightened the red cotton table cloth six-year-old hands had not been able to spread smoothly. “We’ll have to send by Mr. McGregor for boots for you. Your father was afraid yours wouldn’t last—but—”
“I’ll be all right until father gets work. Do you think he will soon?”
“Sure, but you can’t wait. I’ll write out an order tonight. I don’t know when Mr. McGregor is going to town, but he said he would before long.”
“But how can—?” Harry kicked the edge of the woodbox, uncertainly.
“That’s all right!” Jean spoke quickly. “I’ve lots of money. Your father made me take ten dollars—yes and five cents. I’m going to keep that five cents—” a pause—“if I can. Get me the pen and ink.”
TT WAS four weeks before Jean received a letter from Jim. Harry, who had brought it from the post office, sprang forward as she drew the contents from the envelope. He caught a bill that had fallen out and looked eagerly at it. “One dollar!” His mother, whose eyes were traveling over the brief letter, turned quickly tcf wardhim. “What did you say?” I
“One dollar!” he extended the bill. • ! “One dollar!” she repeated. Her. han £ closed over the money and crushed it. “One dollar!”
“Is dad all right?”
“Yes—but very anxious aboutus. Work is scarce. I wish he hadn’t—” she opened her hand and looked at the bill.
“I wish I didn’t have to have boots,” Harry glanced at his feet that were covered with sacking stockings tied on with binder twine.
“You must have them!’ Jean spoke decidedly. “You have a cold now froih getting your feet wet, but if I’d known I wouldn’t have sent for the raisins and prunes and—and the candy—for Christmas. Still wee Bess . . . ” she looked at her little daughter who was tying an apron on an old rag doll. “Oh, well!” she tossed back her head and smiled, “We have four dollars now—four dollars and five cents. That would be a fortune to some people.” “Would it really?” Harry’s face brightened at the change in hers.
“Sure—in China or some such place,” Jean replied vaguely. Then she began to bustle about. “I must put on some feed to boil for those chickens, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d begin to lay soon. If they do we’ll be just flooded with eggs, there are sô many of them. Oh, if only we had a railroad!”
Harry who was standing at the window, called: “I see someone coming”; his stockinged feet left a wet imprint on the floor; “I believe it’s McGregor’s oxen.”
Jean looked over his shoulder; Bess left her doll and stood with her chin on the wdndow sill. “It is McGregor’s oxen. Oh, Harry, I am so glad!” Jean put her hand on his arm; “I’ve been so worried about your wet feet.”
“I’m all right!” he spoke gruffly, but his face was shining.
At last the oxen stopped in front of the door. “Won’t you come in Mr. McGregor?” Jean’s voice had a joyous ring like one from whom a weight has been lifted. Harry carried in the parcels. Bess shouted and laughed and got in the way.
“I’d like fine to go in for a bit, but the wife and the kids will be watchin’ fur me,” Mr. McGregor replied. Then added in an aside to Jean: “I didn’t git the candy—things were a bit dearer—and I thought ...”
“Yes, that’s all right,” Jean agreed.
Then they were alone, opening the parcels. Harry’s boots most important. Jean drew back to let him have the first glimpse.
“Gosh, ain’t they dandy! I won’t get through them for awhile.’
“Put them on,” Jean commanded, as she felt the leather and looked at the iron cap on the toe. “They should wear.” She turned to the other parcels, Bess was trying to open.
“Mother—something’s the matter!”
Jean whirled around at the stricken voice. Harry was sitting, one boot on, the other in his hand. His face was white, his eyes tragic. “They—are—both—for the same foot!”
“It—it—can’t—can’t—be!” Jean stuttered. She caught the boot out of his hand and held it from her. She turned it around, making little noises as she did so. “They—are—they are!” her voice rose shrilly. “Both —both—for—the one—foot! Both—did—you—ever—
«ver—know?” She had begun to laugh, but the tears were running down her cheeks.
“Mother, what you cryin’ about?” Harry demanded. “I’m—I’m—not—crying!” she babbled. “I’m laughing—it’s so—funny! I—can’t—stop—laughing!” She opened the door and ran across the yard toward the stable, her shrill voice floating back.
Into the stable she went and seized a fork. With desperate energy she began to clean out the manure. In a few minutes Harry followed her.
“Mother, you shouldn’t—”
“Don’t try to stop me, Harry,” she said tensely. “I’ve got to do something.”
A second he looked at her. “I feel like that, too!” and he went and got another fork and set to work beside her.
That night, after Bess was asleep, Harry whispered to his mother: “I hid her doll.”
“Why?” she looked her surprise.
“I’m going to give it to her on Christmas to make her glad, even if Santa Claus can’t come.”
Jean did not speak.
“That’s all right, isn’t it?”
“Splendid!” Jean’s voice was hearty. “I’d never have thought of it, but it’s great.”
“I wished I could make you glad, mother.”
“You have.” For a second her arm encircled the shoulders of her son. “Now I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We’ll sit down and make a list of all the things we want Santa to bring us—then on Christmas we’ll imagine we have everything we asked for. It’s kind of a game my grandmother used to play in the backwoods down east.”
“Gee, I’m glad we don’t have it as hard as they did,” Harry said cheerfully, as he went for paper and pencil.
SHORTLY after Christmas Mr. McGregor came for Jean. They had a new baby at their home and she was needed. For a week, she was home only twice and then for a short time, but everything seemed to be all right. However, the night she returned, she was wakened by Harry’s heavy breathing. Suddenly she sat straight up in bed, listening, anxious. “Harry! Harry! What’s the matter?”
“This—cold—seems—worse!” came in a hoarse whisper.
In a flash, Jean was beside him, her hand on his head. “You are feverish. Have you any pain?”
“Just a little!” The words ended in a groan.
.“Oh, Harry — .why . , didn’t you tell me?” Jean was lighting a lamp.
—be—better after—” A gasping cry was wrung from his lips.
Jean was dressing. In a moment she had a fire crackling and water on heating. But daylight crept in and all the home remedies had failed to reach the deep-seated pain in the struggling body.
Jean went to the bed where Bess was sleeping.
She shook her gently.
“Bess—Bess, dear. You must wake up. Y ou must help mother.”
Bess half opened her eyes, then closed them tightly.
“Dear, you must get up and take care of Harry. Mother has to go and get Mr. McGregor to go for a doctor. Harry is very sick.”
“Sick!’’ Bess said sharply and she sat up.
“Yes, very sick.” Her mother was dressing her as she talked. “Bess must take care of him until mother gets back. Keep the fire on and don’t go to sleep. Come now, mother will show you what to do.”
“Mother—you—can’t —go!” the protest came from the sick-bed.
“It’s all right, Harry;
I’ll manage splendidly.
Let Bess get what you want and keep as warm as you can.”
Out into the penetrating cold! Daylight was coming sulkily, as if resenting the necessity of even lighting the hard repellent earth. And what an eternity it seemed, before she had the oxen hitched and ready! Then back for another cheering word to the suffering boy and the baby nurse and she rattled away on her six-mile drive.
Urging the oxen along—sometimes running beside them—sometimes in the wagon, Jean found herself talking continually; ‘Do your best, Hughey! You can’t fail me now. Good old Hughey! We couldn’t have got along without you. Yes, you hook Bob if he doesn’t do his part.’ And Hughey, as if he understand the urgency of the case, seemed more like a trotting horse than an ox—as he speeded up to perform his unnatural task. And, slowly, the lengthening miles crawled past, until Jean was explaining the situation to Mr. McGregor.
“Indeed I’ll go for the doctor,” he said at once; “but one of my oxen has a sore shoulder. Could I take Hughey, and let you take mine back with Bob?”
So staunch old Hughey, because of his almost human understanding and sympathy, was chosen for the harder task and Jean set out with Bob and the strange ox. Snow was now beginning to fall and it took all of her power of brain and body to keep them on the trail. *
Not until she was met at her own door by incoherent mutterings, did she allow herself to think ahead of the moment. Even then she put the future resolutely out of her mind, as she ran to the wee baby nurse, who with arms outstretched on the table and head fallen forward, had gone to sleep on her feet.
Then followed hours of waiting. Nothing seemed to move—not even time. Only the disease lived and grew and tortured the moaning boy. Outside the wind whistled around the house, the snow beat on the windows and the voice of the prairie sang a wild savage dirge.
Jean refused to listen and after another eternity the doctor arrived—big—capable—kindly—and oh so cheerful! But Jean knew from his expression that there was a fight ahead, and silently, capably, she stood by his side, obeying his slightest move. One hour—two—three—five hours passed, before white and shaken, but triumphant, the doctor looked up. “Just in time! A close shave—but we’ve won!”
Jean couldn’t speak after the blessed words but she didn’t need to—not with-words. Her tightly shut lips—
her shining eyes as they rested on the sleeping boy were enough. Then with a shaky smile, she turned toward the doctor. “I’ll get you a cup of tea and something to eat. You must be nearly dead!”
“And what about you?” he asked. Their eyes met. Without a word more, they shook hands.
AFTER that, time took wings to itself. Days and ^ weeks passed in quick routine until Harry was sitting in their one rocking chair wrapped in a blanket. Jean came in with her apron bulging and opened it for him to peek at the contents. “Did you ever see anything like that at this time of year? If we only had a market for them—but—” She laughed. “I said that if you got better I’d never complain about anything again.” She went to the cupboard to put away the eggs, humming a bar of ‘Red Wing’.
“You shouldn’t be doin’ the chores,” Harry spoke impatiently, and with one thin hand he flipped the blanket from around him. “When do you think McGregor will be here with the boots?”
“He should be back, day after to-morrow. I hope he is for I’d like him to look at Hughey. He hasn’t been well since that trip for the doctor. I’m afraid I drove him too hard.”
“Just as likely it was McGregor,” Harry spoke irritably. “I hate to be lying around when—”
“Now, young man,” Jean stood over him shaking her finger playfully, “you’ll do just as I say. I have the doctor’s orders. You don’t think I’m going to pay good money for advice and not follow it?”
“We haven’t any money left, have we?”
Jean laughed. “I still have the five cents. Do you know someway I feel I’m going to keep that.”
“No, not yet—but he has a job now—in Regina. He’ll be able to send us something soon. He thinks we’d better go there to live.”
“You don’t want to?” Harry half rose from his chair as he asked the question, but quickly fell back.
“No, I don’t—but ...” She did not finish the sentence.
Next morning Jean was much longer than usual at the stable doing the chores. Several times Harry went to the
window, to look for her. When she did come in, he jumped from his chair. “Mother — mother — what is it? What has happened? Is it, Hughey?”
Jean looked toward him but not at him—her gaze seemedto go through him. “Yes—Hughey is dead!” Her voice was h a r d—flat—drained of all emotion.
“Dead! Hughey!’’ Harry looked his horror.
“Hughey dead!” Bess shrilled, and began to cry.
“What are you going to do?” the boy’s anxious eyes followed his mother who was going methodically about her ordinary tasks.
“Going to do?” she repeated. “There is nothing to do. We’re through.”
“You mean?’’ he walked to the window and looked out at the snow-covered prairie.
Jean laughed shortly. She hummed the chorus of ‘Red Wing’. She laughed again. “I’ll use that five cents to buy stamps to let your father know we will go to Regina and do odd jobs.” “But—mother—”
“It's no use, Harry,” Jean smiled, but not her old smile; something had gone out of her. “Your doctor bill is not half paid. I will have one— we would have to buy another ox—your father can’t do it all and keep us besides. Maybe it will all be for the best. I can keep boarders, perhaps your father can get—’
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Continued, from page 5
her voice trailed off. That night she wrote to Jim telling him she would sell what they had and join him in Regina.
Next afternoon Mr. McGregor returned from his second trip to Swift Rapids. He had exchanged the boots.
“I examined them myself, this time,” he explained as he watched Harry try them on. Then he dug into his bulging pocket and drew out another parcel that he handed to Jean. “I made that feller in the store give me them fur his mistake.” Jean opened the parcel with the eagerness of a child. “Oh how good!” she held up a pair of slippers for herself. “Mr. McGregor are you sure you didn’t add a little persuasion out of your own pocket?” she demanded.
“Now Mis’ Carroll don’ you be askin’ questions, that ain’t your business,” he protested, but he flushed and shuffled from one foot to the other. If I hadn’t been such a danged fool before ” “Don’t say that!” Jean spoke sharply. “You’ve been like—I haven’t words to say—what you’ve been to us this winter —and it makes me more sorry to leave— but—”
“Leave!” the little man shouted.
“Yes Hughey’s dead. We can’t Jim hasn’t had much work—and—” Jean handed him the letter and the five cents. “Will you get that posted.”
“And the new road just startin’!” McGregor lamented, as he put the letter and the money in his pocket. “I heerd the superintendent’s to be over it next Saturday-after that a train a day with alining car and everything. Dang it, that’s hard luck!”
“A dining car?” Jean leaned toward him. “Did you say a dining car?”
“Yes, so I heerd!”
“Then they’ll want eggs?”
“I s’pose so,” McGregor agreed grudgingly, as .if afraid to stir hope in the desperate eyes looking into his.
“Mr. McGregor, do you think they’d buy my eggs?” Jean was standing with tensely clasped hands, staring into his
“I—I—can’t say as to that. But, Mis’ Carroll how’d you git them there? It’s twenty-five mile to Cargill station the nearest one and Hughey being dead?” Again Jean was oblivious of her surroundings. She was looking far beyond them. With a determined set of her shoulders she reached out her hand, “Mr. McGregor, give me back that letter and the nickel. I’m going to have one more try.”
“But Mis’ Carroll,” he began, then he stopped. McGregor knew when he met inevitables, like the coming of a new day and pioneer courage.
ON SATURDAY Jean stood on the crude new platform at Cargill station. Her wind whipped skirts, betrayed her feet wrapped in sacking. She shivered uncontrollably and her teeth chattered, despite her red sweater that she pulled tightly around her throat.
In front of the platform stood the first through train—the engine puffing like a triumphant black monster, champing to bound on into its new domain. Jean was walking along, looking anxiously at the cars.
“I want to find the dining car,” she explained to a man in the trim uniform of the road.
He looked curiously at her as he pointed toward the end of the train, but his glance did not reach her. Jean was looking for a man in white. She thought chefs always wore white.
Presently she saw a car with tables and a man wearing a white smock. She beckoned to him. He bent down and looked at her. Again she beckoned, peremptorily this time. He hesitated, then he walked away.
She met him at the bottom of the car
steps. “Fresh eggs,” she said. “You need eggs, don’t you?” She wished her teeth wouldn’t chatter. It made her sound so queer.
“Why! Why!” the man’s eyes swept over her, right down to the sacking on her feet. “We use eggs, but we get our supplies in—”
“Yes—I suppose,” Jean interrupted, “but these eggs are fresh and large. I wish you’d look at them—try some if you like. Twenty dozen—big—big ones—and they’re not frozen.”
She smiled her wide smile. “That’s why I’m so cold. I came quite a piece, and I put the blankets and my coat over them. I was afraid they’d get frozen but they didn’t. They’re awful big eggs—will you look—?” she pointed back behind the platform to Bob and the jumper.
“I’ll—I’ll ask the dining car conductor”; he sprang up the steps and disappeared. Presently another man came out. He, too, looked from her red toque down to her awkwardly clad feet, but Jean was not conscious of his scrutiny.
“I have eggs,” she began again—“fine fresh eggs. I know for I gathered them myself—and they’re large. I wish you’d try them—maybe if you do, you’d take some every week. They’re not frozen— nor cracked. I upset once, but I saved them. I held them up—” She raised her arms to show him. “I fell down—but I saved the eggs.”
“We buy our supplies in—” the man began.
“Yes, but if you need eggs—maybe those other people are near a railroad. You see you’re the only chance I have and—”
“All aboard!” Away up toward the front of the train, the conductor’s voice rang out, as if he, too, enjoyed man’s conquest over distance.
The man to whom Jean was talking stepped back into the train—the great mass began to move forward.
“But I say,” Jean spoke to the passing cars; “I say I have twenty dozen eggs— fresh and large. What—What—?”
On and on the train moved. Jean turned her back to it. In her hand she held the five cent piece. “I’ll have to spend you—-spend you to send a letter to Jim. Spend you to tell him—”
“Excuse me, madam! One of the diningcar men told me you have some fresh eggs for sale.” Jean looked around at a gentleman in plain clothes, who was standing regarding her. Vaguely she noticed that the train had stopped.
“Yes,” she was too dazed to be coherent. “Did you ever have eggs for sale— nothing in the world but eggs—and nobody wanted them?” she looked hard at him, demanding an answer.
“No,” he said, “I never did. But I remember hearing my grandmother tell about living away out in the bush down east and not having anything to sell but butter and no market for it.”
“Yes, my grandmother was a pioneer down east, too,” Jean agreed, with interest. “They had it awfully hard.” Her teeth were still chattering. “I’m thankful we’ve never had to go through what they did. But,-sir, would you buy my eggs. They are fresh and large and I—”
“How far did you come?”
“Twenty-five miles straight-—but Bob —” she looked toward the ox, “Bob gets lost every few miles. I guess I traveled about fifty.”
“Yes, we’ll take your eggs.” He motioned the man in white to go for them. “How many have you?”
“Twenty dozen!” Jean’s voice was hoarse with excitement. “Perhaps you’d better count them.”
, He put his hand in his pocket and drew out a roll of bills. “Let me see—they are forty cents a dozen.” He held a ten dollar bill toward her.
Jean looked at it but did not take it.
I I can t give you the change,” she opened her hand and showed the five cent piece. “That's all I have.” She laughed unsteadily. “1 was going to spend it for a stamp to tell Jim I’d given up. Lut if you 11 take some eggs every week— 1 11 got the mail carrier to bring them here for you. If—if you could do that—I’ll not write the letter.” Her voice rose with eagerness and she plucked at his sleeve.
"God! ’ he muttered, and he turned away. When he spoke his voice sounded gruff. “Where’s Jim?”
“He’s in Regina—work is scarce in the bush—he’s been doing odd jobs.”
“What part did you come from?” “Komark is our post office. We’re ten miles from it. East.”
“Then you must be near the projected line to Markheim?”
“We’re right on it!” Jean’s eyes began to glow. “Oh if they only built that—oh, if they did—it seems too good for me to even think about.”
“Are there many others like you out there?” he asked.
“Yes, lots, and it’s the finest farming country in the world.”
“I’m the superintendent of this railroad,” he spoke simply like one of her neighbors. “I’ll give an order that your eggs are to be picked up here each week. I want you to write to Jim and tell him we need another man on the section here. That will keep him busy until spring. Then we’ll start that line right out past your place.”
Jean had lost her voice completely, but she caught his hand and held it a second in both hers. The train began to move. The superintendent shoved a biïï into her hand and stepped on board.
“It’s a great country out there—you'll never regret it,”'Jean chattered after him.
“A great country!” he muttered. “God, how could it be anything else, with such stuff going into its making.”