Zonia had her own ideas, but they did not fit in, and this is the story of how she shaped her surroundings to that end. An interesting picture of new people and of new reactions
A. KURYLA BUCHINSKI
OKSANA, the despotic ruler, had disposed of the two members of her household; she sent Ivan, her son, to town, and Zonia, her daughter-in-law, to the field to plow.
Shading her piercing brown eyes from the bright spring sun with her nervous hand, she stood watching the reluctant steps of the retreating girl, until a clump of trees hid her from view, when, with a gesture of impatience, she turned away.
Oksana, the widow, was never idle. Fifteen years of privation and hard toil on her homestead in Canada, had impaired her health so that she was no longer able to work on the farm, but her spirit was indefatigable. Her wonted assiduousness would suffer no relaxation.
As soon as Zonia was out of sight, Oksana lost no time in looking after numerous setting hens that she always suspected would play truant if she but turned her back; next, she busied herself with several families of pigs, hurried to overtake an incorrigible calf that incessantly took advantage of her relaxed vigilance, and thus robbed the family of their milk. Altogether Oksana’s time was so occupied that she was unaware of someone being in the yard until the screeching fowls called her attention to the fact. Climbing over a low twig fence, she hurried, panting, towards the house. There she found Zonia with the horses.
“Ain’t you a-plowing?” she asked in surprise.
“You can see that I am not,” was the brief response. Oksana looked from Zonia to the horses, from them to the plow. Her curiosity was aroused.
‘‘What’s the matter? Did something break?”
“Nothing is the matter and nothing is broken.”
A-' searching eyes marked the sullen countenance of the tall girl, eighteen years old, who stood leaning against the well that stood in the yard. She was mopping her face with, the corner of her dusty apron, leaving zigzag streaks from the roots of her light brown hair to her firm chin. From the very beginning Oksana had anticipated a struggle w i t h Zonia. For a moment she stood perplexed.
“Nothing broke! What you here for then?” she asked in a querulous tone.
“I’m here because I’m not going to plow any more!” Zonia spoke with such determination that there was no doubting the sincerity of her words.
“Not going to plow any more!” This announcement staggered the widow. For a moment she wars compelled to support her frail body against a low fence, but she soon
rallied, and coming nearer to Zonia she gesticulated as she cried :—
“Have you gone crazy, or what! Why won’t you plow any more? Why?”
Without changing her position, Zonia replied :—
“Because it’s too hard! My back is breaking and the scorching sun makes my head ache enough to split!” Zonia’s intelligent gray eyes were filling with tears, but these she quickly brushed away.
“And you weren’t ashamed to leave your work just for that!” Oksana vociferated, her chin trembling with intense resentment.
“Out upon you for your indolence! What devil has put that silly nonsense into your head? Bethink yourself! What will the neighbors say when they find out that you left off plowin’ in the middle of the day!”
“Och! neighbors be hanged!” cried Zonia defiantly, “Can’t sew up people’s mouths to stop them from talking. I guess I have a right to call my soul my own without any permission from the neighbors!”
YWKSANA was appalled. Could she believe her ears? YY Was this actually Zonia speaking in such a refractory way?
Of late there had been growing antagonism between the two women and now Oksana was convinced that Zonia was striving for supremacy, when she presumed to defy her so boldly. But Oksana would not allow herself to be conquered so easily. As long as she lived she would wield the sceptre. She would allow no daughter-in-law
to appropriate her position, for, stripped of authority, she would become an eye-sore in the house; her early departure for the next world would be yearned for. Oksana knew how it goes. Didn’t she do the same by her own parents in Ukraine? It was the natural thing to do. Children always tried to rise to the supremacy over the yet warm bodies of their parents. Well, she would strangle this desire in Zonia in its infancy. To appear more powerful, Oksana drew her slight form up until her shrunken chin protruded conspicuously above the knot tied in the black kerchief, she wore about her head.
“Enough of this!” she exclaimed. “Get yourself a drink, if you’re thirsty, and go back to your work. You can’t waste the whole of God’s day in idleness! Other
women plow and it doesn’t kill them; it won’t hurt you!”
“If other women are fools enough to do it, then let them!’ Zonia ejaculated. “I, for one, don’t intend to kill myself slaving for'wife number two to enjoy the fruit of my labor. Guess I’ve seen enough of that in my day! Besides, I’ve never had to plow at my father’s and I’m not going to plow here,” and without another word she clicked to the horses and _ they, anticipating the comforts of the big barn, bounded eagerly, dragging their jangling chains behind.
K S A N A was 'U non plused. She stood staring vacantly after the retreating delinquent, then she withdrew to a wooden bench which stood along the wall near the kitchen door, where she collapsed into a little shrivelled up heap— a mere handful of humanity. For a long time she sat
motionless, her head resting in the palm of her right hand, her sunken eyes half closed She was trying with all her might to concentrate her thoughts on the intricate problem before her. She could not fathom Zonia’s attitude. She asked herself again and again, why Zonia refused to plow. Wasn’t she a farmer’s daughter? Didn’t Oksana know her parents in Ukraine? Didn’t her mother work on the farm in the old country and help her husband here in Canada as well as any other woman? True, Zonia didn’t plow at home, but she didn’t need to—her father was well off and could afford to hire a man. Zonia should have considered her husband’s poverty. Something told Oksana that was not the reason—at least not the whole reason. There must be something else. Could it be that Zonia considered herself above hard toil? Ah! that’s it! Her parents had been indulgent; they had sent her to school until the girl had conceived a high opinion of herself! That was it! She had learned to read and write in school and—to shun honest toil! Oksana was filled with intense resentment. Knowing how to read and write makes children indolent! Why, then, was education compulsory? Of what good was an educated girl on a farm? None whatever! Oksana emphasized her conviction with an outburst of passionate tears.
Repeatedly the widow sought the services oí her tattered apron. She bemoaned the cruel fate that sent her a dronish daughter-in-law. She felt a keen remorse for having urged Ivan into an early marriage with her. She cursed herself for having persuaded Zonia’s father into refusing her hand to Basil, a young farmer of their neighborhood. Her swelling bosom was filled with harassing doubts as to the future. Zonia’s disinclination to work made her shudder. A dismal picture stood before her: her homestead, into which she had put the best years of her life, would go to ruin; the little she had been able to save would be squandered; her son bereft of the solace of a good helpmate. Fate always reserved the coldest blast for the poor. These pungent thoughts flitting across her bewildered brain did not help to assuage Oksana’s grief, for her emaciated frame continued to shake with suppressed sobs.
YYKSANA’S meditations suddenly came to a stop. In ^ spite of the great worry and poignant grief, the woman’s sedulous nature asserted itself. With a start she looked up into the sky; the sun was high; the day nearly done. There was supper to get—of course not for herself; any food eaten in her present mood would undoubtedly lodge in her throat and choke her; nor yet for Zonia— she could starve for all Oksana cared; but for Ivan,
poor boy, who would soon be coming home, so hungry.
The widow arose and went into the kitchen. There she found Zonia, who, having completed the work in the barn, had returned to the house. Glancing about the room Oksana saw that the girl had not been idle: the tumbled bed which stood in one corner of the kitchen was made up, the little dresser tidied, the floor swept.
Oksana’s heavy boots clattered over the bare floor as she walked to the oven, made of clay and plaster, after the Old Country style. A row of pots and pans was arranged on the fender; from among these she took the smallest kettle and was about to fill it from a wooden pail nearby, when Zonia interrupted her, timidly: “Mother, can I have a little cream? I’d like to bake. . .
“Bake what? Isn’t bread good enough to eat? I’d like to know where our sugar and tea is cornin’ from if you start wastin’ the cream!”
Zonia thus rebuked said no more, but continued drying the dishes that she had just washed. Oksana, having filled the kettle, looked up and saw the girl working with her new gingham dress on.
“What do you mean by dressing up so?” she began in a hectoring tone. “Is to-day a Sunday with you, or what? Or maybe that other dress wasn’t good enough to slop up with dish water? Out upon you! No decent woman would allow herself such foppery!” Turning aside she continued half audibly: “My boy is lost! Instead of a good housewife, he has taken unto himself a conceited jade!”
“But, Mother, why make such a fuss over a trifle? This is nothing but a cheap house dress and I’ve got lots of other clothes much nicer than this.”
“How long do you think it will take to go through them at this rate?” Oksana demanded. “And tell me where is the money coming from for new ones if you think yourself too dainty to soil your hands in honest toil? But for all I care you may mop the floors with your silk wedding dress, as I expect you will before long.”
IT WAS worse than useless to argue with Oksana. The widow’s thriftiness was on the verge of miserliness. Zonia, out of patience with the woman’s chiding, set down the cup she was drying with a thud that made the old woman exclaim: “Oh, yes, that’s right, break all the
dishes! It’s not enough that you’ve broke two of my saucers already. Now finish the rest of them. At least you’re not too lazy to do any damage.”
Zonia was silent. Just then Oksana perceived the cup was not put in its exact place. This neglect on Zonia’s part irritated her still more and she began in a rasping voice:
“No matter what I say you are sure to do the contrary. You know well enough that I always keep my cups on the shelf above. But no; you must always do something to aggravate me.”
Zonia quickly reached for the cup that she might set it in its right place, when the wide sleeve of her dress caught the edge of a large platter and before she could prevent it, the dish rolled off the shelf and fell on the floor with a loud crash.
“Oh, my platter! My rose platter! She’s broke my rose platter!”
In a second the old woman was bending over the broken dish, picking up each piece tenderly, and wailing: “. . . My platter that I have had for fifteen years! My rose platter that I brought all the way from the Old Country and it never .came to harm. . . . You broke my platter! Couldn’t you have broken your worthless head rather than my platter?”
'TX/'HEN she had gathered up the ' ’ last piece into her apron, Oksana thrust the whole before Zonia’s face, saying: “You’ve broken my platter, now eat the pieces! You are not worth the fraction of the loss you bring to me. Do you hear? Not a fraction! You contemptible hussy!”
“Don’t, Mother; don’t talk like that to me. It hurts so! I never meant to break that dish, never, Mother, do believe me. Besides, you shouldn’t say I’m not worth the loss I bring you. My father promised me a quarter of a section for my marriage portion and a cow and a mare. . . .”
“A cow and a mare! A cow and a mare! A fine marriage portion you are bringing your husband! Oh, all you pfeople listen to that! A cow and a mare! ha-ha-ha-ha!” and she laughed a horrible laugh, for her wrinkled face was purple with rage, while her open mouth looked like a black cavern with its one long discolored tooth standing on guard—a hideous sentinel directed by her tongue, swaying to and fro on her convulsed jaw.
“Where is that cow your precious father was to give you? And where is the butter from that cow? I’ll tell you; they are eating it themselves. They have left you to lick the fat off your fingers! Your father is a mean rascal and you are not worth a thing. Do you hear? Nothing at all!”
Zonia caught her head in her hands and with streaming eyes she ran out of the room.
Left alone, Oksana laid the broken pieces carefully in the cupboard, muttering: “Broke it! Would that she had broken her cursed neck,” and tottered off to her room; there she sank down on her bed, exhausted.
IN THE evening, Oksana heard her watch dog bark, then a rumbling of wheels and stamping of hoofs in the yard, and she knew her son had returned from town. In a few moments Ivan’s cheery voice rang out through the two-roomed house.
“Hello, Ma! where be ye?”
No answer. Oksana was still angry.
Ivan didn’t wait. He rushed into the next room and seeing his mother on the bed, cried out, amazed: “Gee whiz, Ma! Never knew you to lounge around this time of day. Getting to be quite a lady, ain’t ye?” he said as he approached the bed. “Look, Ma, I’ve brought you some oranges and a jar of that currant jam you like so much, and some hazel nuts for Zonia. But— where is Zonia?”
He looked around the room and missed the sight of Oksana’s agitated face at his mentioning his gift to Zonia in the same breath as her own. She was pushing away, slowly but surely, the treat that Ivan set before her.
“Gosh, Ma, I thought you’d be right glad to get . . . But what’s the matter with you, Ma?” Ivan became alarmed and jumped to his feet. “Has something happened to—to Zonia?”
Oksana persistently sulked and would not reply. Ivan took one close look at his mother and turned on his heel with a low whistle. A frown flitted over his handsome dark face. The boyish eagerness was fast disappearing and in its place an expression of deep concern crept in adding more years to his round twenty.
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He turned his face to the window and seemed to wait for his sulking mother to speak, when he would learn what had taken place in his absence. But Oksana remained mute; she seemed to be wrapped in a strangely mysterious atmosphere.
“Got supper ready, Ma?” Ivan broke the painful silence. “I’m hungrier than a . . .”
“If you’re hungry you’ve got to ask your wife for supper, not me!”
Ivan sighed as he said half audibly: “I see! It’s nothing serious after all; only the woman folk.” Then aloud: “But, Ma, I’ve always asked you for my supper,” he began in a conciliatory tone.
“Don’t care if you did. Anyway, I’m not going to get any more suppers! If your wife can’t work, then I’m not agoin’ to, either!” Oksana closed her lips and looked as if she would never open them again. But she did. A moment later she gave vent to her suppressed feelings and told Ivan, in exaggerated terms what had happened.
SHE complained woefully of Zonia’s conduct, and concluded by reproaching Ivan for his indifference on former occasions under similar difficulties. Oksana went further and accused Ivan of caring more for his worthless wife than for his own poor old mother. With his head hung, Ivan listened patiently until she ended with: “—and you brought this creature into my home to torment the life out of me.”
“Enough, Mother! You have said enough! You seem to have forgotten it was your suggestion in the first place and your ardent desire that I should marry Zonia, and now you run her down. Good Lord! Can’t you give the girl a chance? Anyway, women in this country don’t plow and I’d far rather see Zonia doing housework than plodding behind a plow like a man!”
“There! I knew it!” cried Oksana exasperated. ‘T knew you would take her part! You never say a word to her no matter what she does, or how insolent she is to me! I’m not allowed to breathe a word against her! Is it for this I have slaved all these long years only to have my daughter-in-law grind me under her heel? Oh God, have mercy! Take me away from this ungrateful child. To think that my own son has turned against me ... !” and tears of self-
pity poured down her wasted cheeks.
Ivan had never seen Oksana weep no matter under what distressing circumstances she found herself. For an instant he stood irresolute, looking at his griefstricken mother as she rocked herself to and fro and wrung her hands; the next moment his strong young arms were about her neck, and he was saying: “Don’t, Mother, don’t cry like that! Oh God, Mamunin, your falling tears scorch my heart. . . .”
Oksana’s old faded kerchief had slipped down from her head; her snowy white hair was rumpled. As gently as any girl Ivan smoothed back the stray locks, raised the kerchief to its wonted place, lifted her little wrinkled hand to his lips and kissed it, murmuring: “I’m a low down cur, Mother, to have brought this upon you. I wish to goodness it could be undone . . . Don’t now,
Mother, don’t cry. . . .”
OKSANA slowly dried her tears on the back of her hand, heaved a deep sigh, and whispered: “I wouldn’t cry, Ivan child, only it hurts me so. . . . It’s not for myself I would work any more for I am getting old and my days are few. Each night I go to bed thinking it will be my last; my bones ache so badly. But it’s for you I would work and have you both do the same. It would be easier for me to die knowing my children will eat a piece of bread without the bitter struggle I had to win it.”
Oksana ceased talking and a profound silence ensued. Ivan, grown melancholy, stared at the floor, all unconscious of his mother’s soul fondly caressing him through her eyes. Then: “She broke my rose platter to-day.”
Ivan started. “What! broke your rose platter?”
_ Surely Zonia had gone mad! Why, ever since he could remember, that platter had always stood in the most conspicuous place of the old cupboard. Ivan ran to the kitchen and there found the pieces of it. He was amazed. So Zonia did this!
From early childhood he had learned to regard the platter almost as a sacred relic. His mother doted upon it. To her it was a sweet reminder of Ukraine, her dear native land, where those beautiful roses grow. Ivan could not forgive Zonia her carelessness. Everything else could be overlooked, but not this! He wanted to beat her soundly and his fists itched to begin. Oksana came to him
saying: “Now you see what I have to contend with.”
In spite of himself he was compelled to suppress his anger and once more defend Zonia by pacifying his mother.
“Never mind that, Ma. I’ll buy you one that’s a big lot nicer.”
Just then Zonia came in with a pailful of foaming milk.
No one spoke. Zonia alone moved about the kitchen. She washed her hands, pulled down a clean straining cloth from a line over the stove, arranged a row of shallow pans and filled each with the evening’s milk. One by one she carried them to a shelf and proceeded to wash the cloth and the pail.
From time to time, Ivan stole a glance at his wife, but she took no notice of him whatever. Her disregard for his presence irritated him. He wanted Zonia to look at him, to say something, to apologize. Her sullen countenance discomposed him. Unconsciously, Ivan began to see his wife through his mother’s eyes. His criticism was unfavorable; he thought Zonia vindictive. Ivan felt a keen remorse for having brought her into their home. She had shattered the perfect harmony of their lives. She was out of sympathy with their humble ways. She was an enemy who had in some incomprehensible way escaped their scrupulous guard and wormed herself into their midst.
THUS gazing at Zonia, an uncontrollable desire seized Ivan to break through that solid mask that was her face, to make her speak, and to make her smart for her impudence. _
“What have you been doing all the afternoon that there is no supper and no order in the house?” There was a threatening note in Ivan’s voice like the low rumbling of an approaching storm. Zonia did not reply.
“Do you hear? What have you been up to?” Ivan’s voice rose higher.
“Here is your mother; why don’t you ask her? No doubt she will be only too ready to repeat what she ha$ already told you,” Zonia retorted without looking up from her work.
“You are but a mean husband to listen to everything against me,” Zonia said, confronting Ivan, “without giving me a chance to defend or justify myself. You are not a man, but a simpleton or you would never allow anyone to slander me—not even your own mother.”
Zonia’s taunting words had an unforeseen effect. Ivan’s blood was up and pounding in his head and over his eyes. Zonia’s last words were beating against his brain with the force of a sledgehammer. She had dared to insult his mother and ridicule him! Ivan glanced at Oksana. Her malicious eyes seemed to be saying: “There! Are you going to take that?”
With a terrible oath he leaped to Zonia’s side and with his powerful hand dealt a blow over her face.
“Now let me hear you say that I’m not a man!” he roared. “I’ll show you—” but he didn’t finish his threat. Under the fierce blow Zonia staggered. Ivan, conscience-stricken, caught her before she fell to the floor. Zonia’s weakness was but momentary. She tore herself away from his supporting arms and stood facing him—another Zonia, outraged and furious. She covered her injured face with her hand; something trickled through her fingers. The sight of blood seemed to madden the girl. She tore about the room shrieking like a maniac.
“You mean old brute, you, to strike me so! I hate you! I . . . hate . . . Oh! . . . how I hate you!”
AGREAT confusion ensued. Oksana, forgetting her old age and her grudge, hurried to Zonia, at the same time shaking her fist in Ivan’s wincing face and screeching: “You worthless
scoundrel, you! Why did you hit her so hard!”
It was all over in a few moments. Zonia seized a wrap from a peg and without waiting to put it on ran out into the black night.
All this happened so quickly that neither Oksana nor Ivan had time to detain the outraged girl. When a few minutes later they came out in search of her, she was not to be found. Disappointed, they returned to the kitchen. Realizing for the first time their uncivil treatment of Zonia, the mother and son looked at each other. Each of their
faces betrayed their resentment at the accusation reflected in the other’s eyes.
With an oath, Ivan threw himself on the bed, disgusted for having meddled with feminine intricacies. He could see that he had been prejudiced and he promised himself a thousand times_never to strike Zonia again. Her untouched pillow held a reproach in its soft downiness and altogether he was as miserable as a young husband, married three months, ought to be in such circumstances.
Once alone in her room Oksana tried to decide whether she was sorry or glad that now Zonia would know who was her master.
It was the following afternoon when Zonia left her paternal home, and instinctively her feet took the road that led to her husband’s house.
ALL night long she had tossed on her bed telling herself that she would never go back to Ivan; yet, in spite of all, she had been ever conscious of a faint misgiving. The place she had once occupied in her parents’ home seemed irretrievable.
Zonia walked along with lagging steps. She had seven miles of a rough prairie road before her, but was too distracted to pay any heed to the ruts and stubs that caught her unwary feet. Her mind always reverted to her father’s words that re-echoed painfully in her ears and each time inflicted a new wound to her crushed heart.
“Put on your wrap, Zonia,” he had said, “and hurry home to your husband. Married women can’t gad about without bringing down upon themselves the censure of the whole neighborhood.” Zonia had wept at this and protested and had threatened to apply for a divorce, at which her father flew into a rage. Even now she shuddered, for she had never seen him so angry.
“A divorce!” her father had cried. “May God help you if you ever dared to do a thing like that! Where is your fear of God before Whom you made your marriage vows? Where is your shame that you would drag a flawless name before the courts for people to sneer at? Out upon thee, thou vile one! And drive me not to anger or I’ll be tempted to make you repent for ever having thought of such a vile thing! Now then, get yourself gone! My house is no retreat for shirkers! You are wedded to Ivan and with him you will stay!” Zonia wept anew at the recollection of these painful words.
As she stumbled on, she seemed to hear her mother’s soothing voice. “Father is right, my child,” she had said. “No good can come of your remaining with us._ Soon the whole neighborhood would point their fingers at you and cry: ‘See! There goes that hussy who left her husband!’ Brace up, then, my Zonia, and don’t let melancholy thoughts dwell in your brain. You are not the first woman, nor yet the last, that a husband ever struck. Oh dear, no! When you are wedded you must learn to bear and forbear. You can’t hold a mortal grudge against your husband. You must be more forgiving.”
THE feeling of homelessness grew upon Zonia and depressed her spirits. She sauntered along until presently she came to a farm house, from which a sweet little woman basking in the spring sun greeted her with a radiant smile. Zonia returned the greeting without stopping. The contentment on the woman’s face did not escape Zonia’s susceptibility. It galled her to see another being so happy while she was so wretched. It seemed as if fate were sporting with her by making her feel more keenly her deplorable condition. She became indignant. Why should she, particularly, be the victim? The right to happiness was hers as much as another woman’s! She would not allow herself to be hoodwinked out of it!
Once this idea was firmly settled in her mind, Zonia involuntarily quickened her steps in her eagerness to reach home and put this new theory into practice.
The long road diminished rapidly until, flushed with excitement and quick walking, Zonia found herself on the threshold of her new home.
On the end of a bench sat Oksana. She was mending Ivan’s shirt, when she looked up and saw Zonia.
“Oh, look,” she cried, “so you’re back already? H’m, you should, have stayed longer. We could have done very nicely
without you. You know, we used to before.”
Without a word Zonia removed her wrap and then searched through her dresser for an apron.
“Your folk didn’t keep you very long —ha! ha! ha! You thought they would build a triumphal arch for your grand home-coming; instead they showed you the back door! ha! ha! ha!” she laughed contemptuously.
Zonia winced, but feeling hungry she deliberately took out some cheese and cream and began to eat. Oksana’s angry eyes were upon her, grudging every mouthful.
“I suppose by now the whole neighborhood knows of what took place; by now the very devil is tossing our name on his pitch fork. Oh Lord! To have lived to have my son’s wife disgrace me before the whole world. ...”
Zonia was silent.
Oksana tried again; she wanted Zonia to say something: anything would do to give her an opportunity to pour out her vehemence.
“Looks like your Pa and Ma were too stingy to give you a square meal judging from the way you gobble up that cream. No wonder they’re so rich.”
Zonia’s eyes filled with tears, but she blinked hard and dried them.
“So they chased you out, did they? H’m! Didn’t want you after they once got rid of you . . . But why did you come back? You ran away from your husband, so why didn’t you stay away for good?”
Clearly the old woman was possessed or she wouldn’t try the girl’s patience to such a degree.
Zonia clinched her teeth and tried with all her might to restrain her rising anger.
OKSANA was at her wits’ end. She had said so much and still Zonia held out in stubborn silence. That was too much! Oksana would not be defeated. She must make the girl talk! She must break down the reserve that so aggravated her. What! Did Zonia consider herself too fine to speak to her any more? She would punish such arrogance immediately.
“You’re a fine wife, you are,” began Oksana in a taunting way. “May God preserve another man from the likes of you! Where did you spend the night, anyway? You think I can’t guess, eh? You can’t fool me! I know why you dress up on week days, I do. You think I don’t know for whom you’ve cried your eyes out. My son would have done better had he tied a stone around his neck and jumped into the river. Where did you run to last night? I know—to that Basil, didn’t ye!”
Like a tigress Zonia threw herself upon the old woman and shook her with such force that it seemed every bone in her body would be shattered.
“You old fiend!” Zonia was shrieking. “How dare you cast such filth at me? How dare you!”
Oksana, gasping for breath, wailed: “Help, oh good people, help! She’s killing me! Oh Lord, she’s killing me!” “No, don’t shout! I’m not hurting you half as much as you deserve.”
As she said this, Zonia ceased shaking Oksana; instead, she picked up the little form in her arms, carried her across the room and laid her, not over gently, on the extension of the plaster oven which served for a lounge.
“Mother, I’ve borne everything from you without a word, but this last is too much! I’d have to be made of stone, not to feel such an outrage upon my charac-
Óksana groaned, and wailed¿ and cursed, and called upon all the saints in Heaven to avenge her, but Zonia’s voice rose above everything.
“You lie still there if you know when you’re well off. You have done everything to make my life bitter, but you won’t do it again. Your course is done!” said Zonia as she walked away—the full mistress of the house.
AT SUNDOWN Ivan came in from the field. His first glance over the room disclosed his wife standing near the oven. Although he tried to dissemble, yet he could not quite hide from Zoma the feeling of pleasure at having her back.
From the top of the extension came a muffled groan.
“You there, Mother?” Ivan was at her side in a moment. “What’s the matter? Anything hurting you?”
Oksana groaned again, then: “I wish you had never seen the light of day; you or your cursed wife!”
“But how? What have I done? What has happened?”
“Oui Y-oui! she nearly killed me. Every bone in my body is broken. Oh! Oh!”
“Good Lord, Ma! can’t you tell me quicker? Who hurt you?”
“That she-devil over there,” Oksana replied, pointing her finger at Zonia. “She has shaken the soul right out of me. Oui Y-oui! I’ll never again Walk over this green earth! Oh!' Oh!”
He turned upon Zonia, eyes full of anger, but something in her unflinching stare and unperturbed manner arrested him. Zonia went about her suppermaking with such nonchalance that Ivan watching her, was amazed. In every move, in every step, there was such firmness, such determination, such dauntlessness as he had never before seen in his wife. Ivan was greatly perplexed.
In due time Zonia announced that supper was ready. Ivan glanced at the tempting dishes, but hesitated to come without his mother. Zonia was calling again.
“Come, Mother, come Ivan, didn’t you hear that supper was ready?”
“Come to the table, Mother,” coaxed Ivan. “Come eat your supper.”
“Go, eat it yourself! May it be your last, you ungrateful wretch!” was Oksana’s response.
Ivan lost his temper. “Oh, well, if you have set your heart to dine on curses, I’m not going to stop you. For my part I intend to eat something more substantial than what you’ve been feeding me with this last half hour!”
ZONIA sat down and Ivan took his place beside her, but neither one ate. They arose from the table and went about their work until bed time, when Zonia took the lamp and started for the next room.
“You’re not going to sleep in Ma’s bed, are you Zonia?” asked Ivan, surprised.
“I am, and you can sleep where you please,” she replied, with a glance over her shoulder.
Ivan cast one last look in the direction of Oksana’s couch and meekly followed Zonia to bed.
“Ivan, it’s a crying shame the way you let your mother sleep on this hard bed! To-morrow I want you to go to town and get her a decent one. Do you hear?” “Yes, Zonia!” was the meek reply.
FOR the first time the true meaning of Zonia’s intentions dawned upon Oksana. With a start she raised herself upon her elbow and thought hard. Zonia had given orders for a new bed for her! Could her daughter-in-law be thinking of her comfort? Could it be possible that under Zonia’s regime her welfare would be considered and her happiness assured? Did the girl aim to treat her kindly? What else could she mean when she thought the old bed was not good enough for her? Gradually her grief gave way to a sigh of hope. She let herself down on her pillow and fell into a healthful sleep, for the future had lost its dreadful aspect.
A month or so later, when the spring work was done, Zonia’s parents surprised old Oksana as she sat in the kitchen in a huge, stuffed^ arm-rocker, dressed in a neat gray print, with a pretty flowered kerchief on her head, contentedly munching a delicious muffin that Zonia had just baked.
With a cry of delight the two women welcomed the guests, who, with appropriate smiles, announced that they could not come in that minute, for a mare, a cow, and a calf were waiting to be untied from the back of their farm wagon.
There was general excitement until old Oksana bethought herself of their hospitality and invited the guestsLinto the kitchen.
AS OKSANA, who sat at the head of the table, was about to partake of her coffee, Zonia went to the stove and came back bearing a pitcher of hot cream. The old widow’s eyes beamed as she held up her cup, and eacMwrinkle of her face turned into a smile as, looking at _ her guests, she said in a gratified voice: “See, now, how that child spoils me? She knows I love my coffee with boiled cream and never lets^me do without it.”
Zonia’s parents quickly exchanged a smile of satisfaction.
Oksana, lowering her voice, whispered: “The Lord be praised for sending me this sweet daughter-in-law. I shall live to a good old age—that’s more than I could hope for in the Old Country.”
Her face took on the expression of sweet content, as, resting her frail body against the soft cushions of her chair, she continued: “Do you know—I’m led to believe that Zonia is fixin’ to have me live to see her grandchildren.”
“God grant, Oh Mother!”
"God grant, good Oksana!” were the joyous cries of Ivan, Zonia, and her parents.