This installment brings to its conclusion the chronicle of Gander Stake ; of his friends, his loves and his perplexities. In these last pages we see revealed a Gander of greater stature ; a Gander who can do the noble thing, the difficult thing, the heart-breaking thing, quietly, simply, unemotionally, as he has always dealt with the problems life has presented to him in days before.
THE days went by without any word of Cal or Reed. The summer-fallowing on the Stake farm was finished, and Gander and Grit Hamilton, and Jackson Stake were now busy in the fragrant hay. Young Jackson still stayed about the farm but took little part in its labor; in spite of the conditions laid down by his father he spent most of his time fishing in the lake, shooting gophers, or roaming over the prairie. Once or twice he drove the car into Plainville and brought Minnie home for her Week-end visits on the farm. The girl seemed in need of these holidays; she was paler than Gander could remember having seen her, and her brave pretence of light-heartedness was more pathetic than frank dejection.
Then suddenly one day in mid-week she came tearing home in a hired automobile.
Gander knew nothing about it until he returned to the house at noon, when he found his father and mother in a state of unusual excitement.
Mrs. Stake’s black eyes had a hint of moisture in them, and there was a nervous spring in her step as she walked the endless treadmill between the table and the stove.
“Well, there’s word o’ Cal,” said the old farmer, who never for a moment had lost faith in his runaway hired man. “Minnie’s had a telegram.”
“An’ Reed’s sick—that’s why,” his wife added. She was caught between concern over the boy’s illness and relief that at last something definite had been learned.
“Yes, an’ Minnie’s gone to look after him;
Jackie’s took her in the car.”
By degrees it came out that Minnie had had a telegram from Cal, dated from somewhere in Saskatchewan, saying that Reed was dangerously ill and appealing to her for help. The train connections were bad, and Jackie had volunteered to drive her out.
“That ain’t like our son an’ heir,” said Gander. “There’s more in this than’ll come'off with shavin’.”
“Well, it’s one good turn he done, so let him have the credit,” his father retorted.
Maybe when Reed’s well enough to move they’ll all be back,” ventured Mrs. Stake.
“We’ll give him a room upstairs—”
“But why did they light out?” Gander wanted to know. “An’ so far? Couldn’ they get sick nearer home?”
Minnie ’ll find all that out, don’ you fear,”
Jackson Stake assured him. “The mystery is about to be eloocidated, as the Plainville Progress would say.”
In a few days came a brief note from Minnie with the news that they had found Cal and Reed, and the boy was down with typhoid fever. “It’s a case of nursing,” she said, “and I am doing the best I can.” Other notes followed from time to time, reporting Reed’s progress toward recovery, but without a word of explanation of Cal’s strange behavior.
“For a girl that’s got an eddication, Minnie can take longer to say less than anybody I know,” Gander grumbled. “This mystery is clearin’ up like the beginnin’ of a steady rain.”
But at length came a letter from Minnie; a real letter, with news. Mrs. Stake read it to her assembled family between the fried pork and the raisin-pie one day at noon while the harvest stood waiting in the fields.
“My dear Mother,” she began, then paused to wipe her glasses with her apron, in a fruitless effort to remove a mist that had gathered somewhere else. “My dear Mother—At last I have a breathing spell and fortunately note paper, which Cal has just brought from town. Now if I had my typewriter you might expect a real epistle. It is a hardship to have to write with two fingers after you
have learned to pound it with ten, but will do my best.
“Picture me, if you can, in the country home of a certain Mr. Mason, who is enjoying a holiday somewhere in the East, and who is expected back shortly. Mr. Mason’s residence is about the size of Cal’s old granary, with a low roof that lets in the heat in day-time, when you don’t want it, and lets it out at night, when it wouldn’t go amiss. Alongside of me is Reed, bundled up in an easy chair which Cal made out of the staves of an old barrel. He’s thin and white—Reed, I mean— but out of danger, thanks to a competent nurse, so Dr. Thompson says. He
has had a racket, poor little chap, but he’s worth all the fight we’ve made for him. All the time now he is wondering when we are going back to see Grandma. When he was delirious he would talk about no one but Grandma, and one night he tried to sing that verse of yours about ‘Borne on the night winds, voices of yore Come from that far-off shore.’ ” Mrs. Stake coughed and wiped her glasses again. “I’ll have to be gettin’ these glasses changed, Jackson,” she said. “They don’ seem to fit me like they did.” Then, resuming—
“When Cal came out here he fell in with this Mr. Mason, who wanted some one to take charge of his farm for a few weeks, so Cal took the job. I guess the water wTasn’t very good, and the first thing he knew Reed was down with typhoid. So then he sent that telegram. This is a sparsely settled district, and there was no chance of getting help nearer at hand. W’hen Jackie and I drove up we found Cal on the shady side of the shanty-—it’s just a shanty —doing the family washing. He was a picture! But the house was spotless—you remember how Cal used to keep his granary-—”
“Too much Cal in this,” Gander interrupted. “Cal! Cal!—”
“California,” Grit added, brilliantly.
“Well, what of it?” Jackson Stake demanded, impatiently. “Go on, Mother.”
“—used to keep his granary?—,it was just like that. Perhaps he was glad to see us. But the first thing was to look after Reed, and that is what I have been busy with, right until now.
“I suppose you are wondering when we will be back. Well, it all depends on Mr. Mason. Cal cannot leave the stock, and besides, the crop is coming in, and he’ll have to start the binder in a day or two. It will be some time, at any rate, before Reed is able to travel. And Jackie has left us. He’s a bird of passage, as you know, and one night, when Cal was in town, Jackie said to me, ‘I’m going to hit the trail again,’ and away he went. Cal followed him with the car, but Jackie beat him to the siding, where he boarded a freight train, and—•’ “Then Minn an’ Cal’s up there alone,” said Gander. “That ain’t quite the thing—”
“Shut up, Gander!” The interruption was * from an unexpected quarter; the silent Hamil-
ton had spoken. “Minn’s a nurse now, and a nurse can do—most anything, and it’s all right. I mean—”
“Wisdom from our young son,” Gander retorted. “Who told you that? Elsie Fyfe?” “Well, what else is she goin’ to do?” Jackson Stake wanted to know. “Get up an’ leave the little sick boy? If you got a nickel, Gander, for every fool remark you could pay the national debt. Go on’, Mother.”
“—he boarded a freight train, and we have not seen him since. But we’re hoping that by the time Mr. Mason is back Reed will be well enough to move, and then, home we come! I guess I’lLhave to drive the car alone, or else we’ll hitch the flivver behind.”
“I bet they’ll hitch the flivver behind,” said Grit Wilson, with subtle humor.
“Of course,” Mrs. Stake continued reading, “we have not all the accommodation here that we could use, but we get along. Cal sleeps in the old Ford, drawn up within calling distance in case he should be needed. The other night it rained a downpour, and I know he was soaked, although I offered him the hospitality of one end of the shack. In the morning I told him he was very chivalrous—”
“Shiverous? What’s that?” Grit inquired.
“From gettin’ wet. Cold rain,” Gander explained. “Go on, Mother.”
“•—and he said—well, I may as well tell you, Mother, that Cal and I have come to a complete understanding. I hope you and Dad will be pleased; it cannot be altogether a surprise to you.”
Mrs. Stake laid down the letter and took off her glasses. “Minnie-—it seems like yesterday she was just a baby in my arms.” The thin old face began to twist, and Jackson Stake got up, blustering, from the table.
“Get off to the fields, you fellows!” he commanded. “Hangin’ around like the washin’ on the line! ’S all right Mother. They’ll make as fine a pair as ever—Get off, I tell you!”
“We haven’t had our pie yet,” Hamilton protested.
“For the soul or sake o’ me, so you haven’t!” Mrs. Stake exclaimed, as she found safety from her emotions in serving fat wedges of raisin pie. “I clean forgot.”
There was a moment’s pause from conversation as the pie disappeared amazingly. Then Gander, gulping his last crumb, returned to the matter on his mind.
“But she don’ say why he went away,” he reminded them. “The mystery’s as deep as ever.”
BILL POWERS’ threshing outfit was humming in the wheat-fields when Cal and Minnie came back to Jackson Stake’s. Reed was almost himself again; a little wobbly, like a calf, as Gander said, but rapidly getting back on his feet. Cal dropped into the work of the farm as though he never had left, and Minnie returned to her typewriter in Plainville. But in the late autumn Cal made negotiations for a strip of land down by the lake, considered of little value because it would not grow wheat, and commanded only a burst of scenery and a few acres of standing trees. During the winter months he cut down and hauled logs to a spot which he had cleared close to the beach, and there, in the early spring, he built his bungalow, Jackson Stake and Gander lending a neighborly hand.
In May Cal and Minnie were married. Mrs. Stake’s table groaned under the wedding dinner, and the guests groaned around it before the feast was finished. Then Cal and Minnie, with Reed in the back seat, took their honeymoon trip in the old Ford along the rough timber trail which leads from the Stake farm down to the lake. Hamilton had slipped out of the company and gone down ahead, and when the bridal party arrived there was a blazing fire in the boulder fireplace which almost filled one end of the bungalow. But the boy had slipped away again, as quietly as before. Slowly he tramped the trail back to the farm, thinking of Elsie-Fyfe.
Gander was surprised to find how much he missed Cal, and Minnie, and Reed. He doubted the posssibility of anyone making a living by writing for magazines, as Cal proposed to do, and had every expectation that before
long he would be back working on the farm for Jackson Stake. In the meantime he found excuse, as often as seemed reasonable, to spend an hour or two down at the bungalow.
In those days Cal and Minnie puzzled him a good deal. They were admittedly fond of each other. To be admittedly fond of a member of one’s family had always been regarded by Gander Stake as a mark of weakness. True, there had been moments, back in those war-ridden days, when he had put his hand on his father’s shoulder, but never for more than a moment, and always shamefacedly. And Cal and Minnie were brazen about it! Also, although the whole country was a-rush with seeding operations, they lived in a disgracefully leisurely fashion, remaining in bed until seven in the morning, and spending hours sitting by the lake or rambling through the trees on the little estate. There were times, it is true, when he found them at work—or at what they called work—Cal dictating and Minnie pounding her typewriter, but these were rare occasions; mostly they seemed to have nothing to do. They would sit and look at the sunset on the lake with something in their eyes that puzzled Gander beyond words.
Perhaps it was some of these things, or all of them, that turned Gander’s thoughts, in spite of himself, more and more toward Josephine Claus. Jerry Chansley had become only a memory. He had not answered her letter, partly through shyness, and partly because he was ashamed of his bad writing, and she had not written to him again. But he knew now that what he had seen in her for the moment had really been Josephine Claus; always it was Jo—the sajne Jo. Jerry had been merely a brief deflection in his constancy to Jo.
He had kept track of Dick during the winter; learned that he had had rather a bad time of it. Much of the work of the farm was falling to Jo, and it was known in the Willow Green district that Dick’s father was having to help out financially. Others in the community began to feel that the responsibility lay partly on them as well. Among them Jackson Stake.
“I hear that Dick Claus is behind a bit in his seedin’,” he said one day to Gander. “In fact, ain’t gettin’ much done but what others do for him. We’re pretty well through an’ I was thinkin’ you might give him a day or two with a team an’ drill.”
Gander’s heart thumped. It was what he had been thinking of all spring and had not had the courage to mention. Gander tried to show no enthusiasm.
“Do you suppose he would like that?” he asked, remembering what Jo had told him. “Perhaps he’d think we were meddlin’—”
“Well, what if we are? He meddled for us—that’s how he got his lungs as full o’ holes as last year’s underwear.
Now you hitch up to-morrow mornin’ an’ go over an’ meddle a little for him. An’ take along a few bushels o’ seed, jus’ in case he don’ happen to have any ready.” Early next day Gander’s four-horse team, hitched to a seed-drill, with a wagon dragging behind, pulled into the yard on Dick Claus’ farm. The morning was warm and sunny, as is the habit toward the end of May, and Gander was warm and sunny inside, too, albeit his Adam’s apple was performing gymnastics within the narrow limits of his thin neck, and he had some misgivings as to how his visit would be received. Dick was proud. Well, the Stakes were proud, too, after a fashion, and this was their way of paying a debt.
As Gander was waiting in the yard, wondering how he should announce his errand, Jo herself came up from the stables. She was carrying two pails of milk; her head drooped forward, and her eyes were on the ground. She was almost beside him before she was aware of his presence.
“Oh, Gander!” she exclaimed, when she saw him. “Where did you come from? Y ou gave me quite a start.” “Oh, jus’ blew in with the weather,” said Gander, nonchalantly. “Cows seem to be doin’ pretty well, Jo?” “Not so bad, Gander. Well, they should, in May, if they’re ever going to. The cows and the hens—they’re our mainstay, Gander.”
“How about the crop? Fact is, Jo, I came over to give a little lift with the seedin’, if I can.”
SHE had set down her pails and raised her head. The lines were beginning to deepen about her mouth and eyes, and Jo was only twenty-three—not more than twenty-four! It was yesterday that, in her little calico dress, he had rescued her from prisoner’s base! Something tugged chokingly at Gander’s throat. He had liked Jo, always, but this was more than liking; this was—sympathy, he told himself. Her dress was rough and drab, with a button missing at the neck; her hair was none too tidy; her whole attire suggested haste and over-work. This was not the Jo of the days he had known; not even the Jo of the afternoon church services at Willow Green; this was the real Jo—Jo Claus, at home, at work, with the responsibilities of her sick man and her profitless farm dragging down upon her. Yet, under that white, fair skin were the same little freckle spots shining through; the hair had its same old lustre; her brave little smile was more bewitching than any coquetry.
“Jo!” Gander exclaimed, and there were worlds in his one word.
“I must see Dick,” she answered him, hastily. “He has not been so well—he is not able to do much about the farm. Father has put in most of the crop, but, what with not having Tommy any more—” She left
the sentence unfinished and hurried to the house. In a few minutes she came out again, and it was apparent that she had herself in hand. “Dick isn’t up yet,” she said, casually, “and I haven’t got the house in shape for visitors. It’ll be better at noon. But I told him what you had come for, and he asked me to say it was a real neighborly thing. There’s no ploughing ready, but he thought you might stubble-in some oats or barley at the low end of the farm. You’ll find seed in the granary ” “I brought some oats with me, jus’ in case you might be short.” “You shouldn’t have done that, Gander. But you can keep track of the bushels, and we’ll pay you—when we can.” “I don’ want no pay, Jo; I don’ want no pay from you —or Dick.” Gander noticed that the horizon had suddenly gone blurry. How wonderful she was! “You’ll be in for dinner at twelve?” she said, as he started his team. “Dick will be able to see you then.” Gander had not thought of that. “Well, yes, I guess,” he agreed. All morning he worked in a strange intoxication. He told himself he was glad to be able to do this for one who had suffered in the war. In his heart he knew he was delighted to be serving Jo. And there was so much that might be done! A glance about the farmyard had shown many spots where a man’s muscle and management were needed. It was a shame he had not come sooner. He must make up for it. There would be summer-fallowing, and haying— The forenoon was gone before he knew it. Gander brought his horses into the yard; watered, and stabled them. Then he went up to the house. The ground floor of Dick’s house consisted of a single room, which was used for kitchen, dining, and general living purposes. At one end a stairway led to the upper storey. Jo was busy preparing dinner as Gander’s shadow fell across the door, but Dick rose from his chair and welcomed him with his hand. “This is good of you, Gander, old man; just like a Stake,” he said. Gander took his hand. It was slender and soft; not like Jo’s. Dick was even more frail than he had expected. Gander shook hands gently, as though afraid of breaking something. Then Dick asked him if he wanted to wash, and Jo hurried with a basin of hot water to a bench in a corner of the room. With a deftness that was almost sleight-ofhand she whipped a soiled towel from its nail and hung a clean one in its place. The meal was rather difficult. It was so hard to find anything to talk about. Dick was interested in the progress of seeding in the neighborhood, but Gander’s mind was whirling around two different centres—Dick and Jo. He noted how she waited on him, and how he accepted her services. There was tenderness between them, somewhat as between Cal and Minnie; yet not quite the same. Gander’s intuition sensed the difference, but his mind was unable to analyze it. After dinner Dick invited Gander to smoke, and began talking about the old school days at Willow Green. He recalled many a prank of those happy times; he seemed bent on making Gander feel again that they were just schoolmates together. Meanwhile Jo worked with her dishes at the end of the room; her body bent over a table, her back toward them. As Gander glanced toward her he saw a hole in her stocking; it may have been the shape of a silver dollar, and the white skin shining through “Remember the day I blew up the ink bottle?” Dick was saying, referring to an old schoolboy prank. “I see the marks on the ceiling yet, once in awhile, when I get over to church. Say—I’ve heard a few explosions since, but never anything that made such consternation.” He laughed with the memory, then quickly drew a handkerchief and pressed it to his lips. Jo, warned by instinct, was at his side in a moment. One hand slipped around his head; the other drew the white cloth from his fingers. As she folded it over Gander noticed a slight stain of red. “Mustn’t over-do yourself, Dick,” she was saying. She was like a mother brooding over him. “Perhaps you had better lie down again. Gander will be back in the evening. Then you can talk.” “I’m all right now,” he insisted, but weakly enough. “Gets me once in awhile, Gander. Some day—Oh, I’d be all right if I could get about a little. I’m very useless, Gander. Just a load on—everybody.” “Hush, Dick!” she murmured. “You mustn’t say that.” And Gander, awkwardly remarking that by this time his horses must have finished feeding, got up and resumed his work at the lower end of the farm.
For three days Gander worked on the Claus farm, until he had finished “stubbling-in” all the land that was suit-
able to that treatment. These days gave him time to observe Dick and Jo, and to evolve in his slow mind a conclusion that seemed inescapable. Jo was mothering Dick; she was giving her life to Dick; but she liked to have Gander about the farm!
If he had doubt in the matter it was Jo herself who set 'it at rest. On the third afternoon, as he was nearing the end of his job, he saw her coming across the fields. She was waiting for him at the end of his row when his horses came swinging up, their great heads nodding, their harness straining with the drag of the heavy drill.
He went over to where she stood in the shade of a clump of willows. She seemed flushed a little, perhaps with her walk across the fields, and with the weight of a basket which she had set down at her feet. But her hair
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was drawn neatly beneath her hat; her dress, although cheap, was fresh from the ironing-board, and there was something like a smile on her wistful, troubled lips. “It’s pretty warm for May,” she said, “and I thought you might like a cool drink, and a sandwich or two.” “You shouldn’ have bothered, Jo,” he protested. “I was all right.” Her eyes looked full in his. “You’re not bothering at all, are you?” she demanded. She motioned to the grass and they sat down together. She poured him cold water from a bottle and fed him thick sandwiches of bread and ham. Gander remembered a time she had brought him water, years ago, and his face still stung with that recollection. Gander did not dally over his food. With him even such a lunch as this was to be taken seriously and with dispatch. When he had finished he stretched himself approvingly. “That’s good, Jo,” he commended. “Puts a little pep in a fellow in the middle of the afternoon. Now I’ll get along.” "You’ll finish easily to-night, won’t you?” Gander measured the unseeded distance with his eye. “Yep! Ought to make it in a couple o’ hours.” “Then what’s the hurry? I mean,” she added, confusedly, “you can stay and chat a minute?” He settled back on the grass. “Yes, if you like.” Her hand fell on his arm. “I just want to tell you, Gander, how much we—how much I—appreciate what you are doing for us. You’ve been a real friend.” “Oh, that’s nothin’. Anyway, it was Dad that sent me.” “But you weren’t hard to send, were you, Gander?” She was looking into his face, and there was no misunderstanding. Her hand had slipped down to his and he clasped it in his palm. “No, Jo,” he said. “I’m not hard to send—where you are.” They sat for a minute in silence, gazing across the green prairies into an infinite sky where puffs of white cloud floated like swans on a transparent sea. Then said Gander, swallowing hard: “I thought, Jo, you wouldn’ ever want me to come near you again, after what—after I’d been-—such a fool.”
Her fingers tightened a little on his. “We’re all fools, sometimes,” she answered. Then he took a great plunge. “Do you mean, Jo, that if you had everythin’ to do over again, you’d do it diff’rent?” She waited a minute, and when she spoke she seemed to choose her words slowly and carefully. “I’m not saying that, Gander. I don’t suppose we ever know what we really would have done if we hadn’t done what we did, if you understand. But Dick is a good boy, and I—I—” “Do you love him, Jo?” “He’s my husband, and I love him, and will serve him -—to the end.” There was a sadness in those last words which stirred all of Gander’s latent sympathy. She would serve him-—to the end. Jo would do that, because she was faithful and true. But love? Gander was not so sure. “Can’t anythin’ be done for him?” he asked. “Couldn’ we—is there nothin’ more that we can do?” She shook her head. “He could go to one of those Government hospitals,” she said, “but he won’t. Says it wouldn’t really make any difference, and he wants to stay at home and help with the farm, although this Spring—well, you can see for yourself. He worries, too, on my account.” She turned her head from Gander now, and he, with a lump in his throat, waited for her to speak again. “I don’t want you to misunderstand me, Gander,” she went on. “I said we’re sometimes all fools, but what I’ve done I’ve done. And I won’t go back on him, Gander, ever.” She turned toward him again, and Gander saw how bravely she was fighting the tremble in her lips. “I won’t go back on him,” she repeated, as though in self-defence. Then for one moment her fortitude gave way. “But, oh, Gander,” she cried, “I made a mistake!” Tears were welling in her eyes, and Gander felt his own head swimming. He would have comforted her in his arms, but she drew gently away. “No, no. Gander, I have said too much. I didn’t mean—” “You see,” she went on again, “he has done so much. He has made such a sacrifice. For you, for me, for all of us, Gander. For you, Gander—have you thought of that?” “Yes, Jo; yes, I have.” “Of course,” she continued more cheerfully, “he has a pension for partial disability. Might have had more, if he had pressed for it, but Dick has always made light of his trouble. With his allowance, and what we are able to do on the farm, and what some of our friends”-—here she glanced into Gander’s face a moment—“do for us, we get along. They sat together in silence for some minutes, each with many thoughts but without words. Then she brushed a few crumbs from her dress, took the basket in her hand, and rose to her feet. “Must be getting back, Gander,” she explained. “Good-bye.” “Good-bye, Jo.” He said it solemnly, as though they were parting for the last time, and turned to his seeder. When he had finished the field Gander drove straight home, without stopping at the house. He did not want to be embarrassed by Dick’s thanks. Besides, he was wrestling with an idea in his mind. HE TOOK the first opportunity to consult Cal about it. He found him down by the lake, thumping on Minnie’s typewriter, which he had set up in the shade of a cottonwood tree. “Hello, Gander!” Cal called cheerily. “I’m learning to ride this velocipede myself. Can you read that?” He drew a sheet from the machine, and Gander puzzled over it for a moment. “Looks a good bit like a code, I admit,” said Cal, “but Minnie is getting able to follow it in places. As a matter of fact, you may not know it, but that is a very learned article which I am writing for a magazine on The Industrial Assimilation of the Ex-Soldier. That’s a good title, Gander, and I expect to get the price of an acre of wheat out of it.” “Never could understand how you manage to get paid for—words,” Gander confessed, frankly. “But I’ve just’ come to swap a few with you myself. Somethin’ along the line of that—whatever it was you said." “Yes?” said Cal, curiously. It was not often that Gander came to consult him. “You know Dick Claus?" Gander began. “Him that got his lungs all busted up in the war?” “I’ve heard of him,” said Cal. “Trying to work a farm, under difficulties, isn't he?”
“Yep! Fact is, I’ve been helpin’ him out with a little
late seedin’ for the last day or two. He’s pretty well up
Continued on page 48
Continued from page 20
against it, Cal. Not able to carry on. I was—that is—I was wonderin’ if we couldn’ do somethin’ about it.”
Blushing for his generous thought, Gander seated himself on a stump beside Cal’s tree and got out his pocket knife to whittle. The shavings curling from a dry branch restored his confidence, and he went on:
“I’ve been helpin’ him out for a day or two, an’ kind o’ gettin’ the lie o’ the land. Went to school with Dick, an’ with his wife. Jo Burge she use’ to be.” He paused. Even the mention of her name was delicious on his tongue. “Well, he’s goin’ to snuff out one o’ these times, an’ I thought maybe we could make it as easy for him as possible.”
“You think he can’t pull through? WThy doesn’t he go to a sanitorium? There are places where he could have special attention for his trouble. I don’t know how much they could do for him, but it would be worth trying.”
“He won’t go. Thinks it’s no use, an’ besides, he won’t leave Jo.”
Cal puckered his brow. “WThat do you suggest?”
“I’m not much of a suggester, Cal, but I got the idea that maybe if he was down here by the lake, where things are pleasant an’ quiet, an’ away from the worry of the farm, it might go easier with him. I was wonderin’ if we couldn’ arrange that, Cal?”
Cal turned the idea over in his mind for a minute. “Maybe,” he said. “W’hat about his wife? Would she come, too?”
“No, I suppose she’d want to stay on the farm Pretty near have to, to keep things goin’. But she could run down here every little while—”
Cal looked at Gander quizzically, and Gander wondered how much he knew, or suspected. His answer gave no light on that question.
“It’s up to us to do what we can,” Cal continued, “and I suppose it could be managed. Minnie’s a real little nurse, let me tell you, and if we could get Dick away from his worries it might do him more good than you imagine—more good than you imagine.” Gander did not like that repetition, but Cal went on briskly, “I’ll talk it over with Minnie and see what can be done about it.”
The outcome was that Cal and Gander built a little shelter, just large enough for a bed and table and, as Cal said, “room to drop his boots,” in a grove of leafy trees close to the bungalow. They made the roof water-tight and screened the walls against mosquitoes, and Cal, out of the depths of his inventiveness, arranged a bell that would ring in the house when pulled from Dick’s bedside.
Persuading Dick to make the change was no easier than they had expected, but finally, with Jo’s urgings added to their own, and Gander’s promise to bring Jo down to see him at least three times a week, he consented. He looked a fine patient when, alter bumping down the hill in Gander’s car, he settled to rest in the clean white sheets which Minnie had provided.
“This is wonderful of you boys,” he said. “I do believe I’ll feel better here.”
“You’ll be as right as rain,” Cal assured him. “In a month or two you won’t know yourself.”
The month or two wore away. Gander, faithful to his promise, drove over to Jo’s
house three or four times a week and took her down to visit the patient at the lake.
On these drives Gander found himself peculiarly hampered for speech. There was a joy in Jo’s presence which he dared not try to explain, even to himself, and which kept his lips sealed. When she praised him, as she did on every occasion, for his generosity and his kindness, he turned it off with a nervous laugh and a declaration that it was nothing. And when, at the door of her house, she would give him her hand and say good night, Gander again had no words that could sound above the thumping of his heart.
IT WAS an evening in July, with blue thunder-clouds gathering in the west, and the air heavy with the smell of heading wheat. They had gone to the lake early, for Gander had wanted a swim, and had found Dick out of his arbor and resting in the sand down by the water. He was brighter than usual; the lake breezes or the setting sun had whipped a dash of color into his cheeks; his long, thin legs straightened under him, and, with the help of his stick, held him steady and erect when they came up beside him.
“You see, Jo, I’m on my feet; I’m on my feet again!” he cried. “I’m going to make it, Jo; I’m going to make it!”
He held out his arm, and drew his wife’s face to his. “I believe I’m going to make it after all,” he whispered. “I’m getting stronger, and I seem to be able to fill my lungs again.”
Gander would have drawn away, but Dick caught him with his eye. “Don’t go, old man,” he said. “It is you I have to thank for this, you, and Cal, and Minnie •—yes, and Reed; his little, wise, boyish talk has made me young again.”
But Gander slipped away to have his swim, and to think.
Later in the evening he sat beside Dick’s bed, his hand in Dick’s, while the little wrist watch on the table ticked the minutes busily away.
“It’s a wonderful thing to have been boys together,” Dick was saying. “To go to school, to grow up, to go through— all these things—and still to be -—together.”
“Yes,” said Gander.
“I have often thought, as I lay here in this quiet place, of all these things,” he went on. “Gander, when I came down here I didn’t expect to go back. Now I do. Gander, don’t imagine I don’t understand. I do. I’ve seen some brave things—some brave men—but nothing braver than this.”
His eyes closed, and the slightest film of moLture glistened on his lashes. Then he sank quietly into his pillow and lay so still and white that Gander found himself in the grip of a fear which suddenly deepened into panic.
“Jo! Minn!” he cried, leaping to his feet. “What is the matter, Gander?” said Dick, opening his eyes.
“No -nothin’. You’re all right, are you, Dick?”
“All right, but tired. Now I'm going to have a sleep. Good night, Gander.” Gander stretched his legs along the sand beach that skirts the lake. Around a little jutting point of land he came upon Cal, trolling in a bay.
“Our patient seems to be picking up, Gander, don’t you think?” said Cal, and he drew in his line. “Better spirits to-day
than he has shown for a long while. Seems really to have made up his mind that he may get better.”
“Yes, I was talkin’ to him,” Gander answered briefly, wondering why he could not bring more enthusiasm into his voice.
“Trouble about it,” Cal went on, “is that that may be a good sign, and it may be a bad one. It all depends.”
“How do you mean, ‘It all depends?’ ”
“You know how a lamp flickers up before it goes out? It may be that. Or it may be really settling down to a steady flame. We should know in a few days.”
The drive home that night with Jo was even more silent than usual. She sat very quiet, as though lost in thought, until they reached her door. The night was heavy and dark with the threat of rain, and Gander could sense, rather than see, her presence at his side.
When he had stopped the car she remained in her seat, and he waited for her to speak.
“Gander,” she said at length, “I believe -—I hope—he’s going to get better, after all.”
“Yes, I think so. I hope he is,” said Gander.
She arose slowly, and slowly stepped down from the car.
“Good night, Gander.”
“Good night, Jo.”
During the days that followed Gander watched that flame of which Cal had spoken with fascinated interest. Would it flicker out, or would it settle down to a steady glow? Every evening found him at the lake, and every evening seemed to see Dick a little stronger than before. Hope, most wonderful of all medicines, had returned, and was surging in his veins. Hope and gratitude. His gratitude he lavished on Gander, overwhelming him with appreciation. He talked continually of their boyhood days, and of his rich good fortune in having such a friend. Afterwards Gander would slip away in silence, lonely and ashamed.
One evening when Gander had brought Jo down to see him Dick was particularly vivacious. He was planning that he would be able to help a little in the harvest; by winter he would be as good as ever.
“That sister of yours, Gander—she’s wonderful. You’re all wonderful. You pulled me out of No Man’s Land as sure as did ever any soldier in the trenches. Only you won’t get any V.C. for it.”
Gander’s thought flew back to the day of the accident at Bill Powers’ threshing mill, when the men had jestingly suggested a V.C. for him, and Jo had come to his defence. Jo had been true to him always.
GANDER turned from Dick’s company, and from Jo’s, to stroll alone by the side of the lake. Life was pressing in upon him. Never even to himself had he admitted what he feared—or hoped?— might be the outcome of Dick’s illness. He acknowledged only one wish in that connection. And yet-—something was filling his throat; his stomach was gone; there was a vast desolation within him.
Presently he found a flat stone, and sat down. He was unaccountably tired. The desire to smoke was upon him, and he drew his pipe from his pocket, filled it with tobacco, and felt for matches. But without success. He usually could count on his right vest pocket, but not to-night. Through pocket after pocket he went in that sudden mild panic which assails every smoker under the threat of no matches. Finally his search produced, not matches, but a crumpled and badly soiled envelope. He studied it for a moment, curiously, wondering from where it had come. Then, all at once, he knew!
With something akin to a great tenderness he drew the note from its battered covering, and spelled it out again in the mauve light which flowed up from the lake in reflection to the sky overhead. Yes, Jerry had been a strange but tender incident in his life. She must have cared for him, a little, at least, or she would not have written that not:.. Perhaps, even yet—
Light footsteps sounded on the gravel, and in confusion he stuffed the letter back into his pocket. A pair of soft hands folded quickly over his eyes and held him in a friendly vice.
“You’re moody, Gander,” said Minnie’s voice. “You’re worrying.”
There was a tenderness in her tone
which told Gander his sister had sought out this hour to talk with him.
“Oh, I’m all right,” he answered. “Kind o’ tired, to-night.”
She sat down beside him, her hand on his.
“You’re making long days of it, with your work on the farm, and looking after Dick—and Jo.”
“Oh, it’s not that. I’m all right.” “Gander, are you sure? I’ve wanted for weeks to talk to you, and to-night, when I saw you go away by yourself—so unlike you—I followed. You don’t mind, doyou? I only want to help.”
“Help what?” he said, his eyes on the ground. “I’m all right.”
“I haven’t been spying, Gander,” she went on, disregarding his manner, which invited no confidence, “but I couldn’t help seeing things. They’ve been so evident. And I’m sorry for you, Gander.” “Sorry for me? Why?”
She slipped her arm about his neck and turned his face to hers, and as he looked into her deep brown eyes Gander knew what she was about to say.
“Because you are in love with Jo Claus!”
“I’m not-—I tell you I’m not!” He sprang to his feet. “Minn, I tell you that is not true! I never—” Then, as though his strength had suddenly seeped from him he sank beside her again. His head rested between his hands; his body shook with the paroxysm of a stifled sob. “Gander!”
Her arms were both about him now, steadying her brother.
“Yes, Minnie, it’s true,” he confessed, almost inaudibly. “I can’t help it. It’s been that way—always—ever since we were little children. I’ve not done anything wrong, Minnie, but I can’t help what I feel—in here!” He struck his breast with his hand. “I’ve tried to play fair. I’ve done the best I could-—for Dick.”
“Yes, you have. Every one must say you have been very noble. Dick knows. Don’t imagine he doesn’t know. But it’s turning out differently from what all of us —including Dick—expected. And now what are you going to do about it?”
“Do about it? Nothin’. What can I do about it?”
She held him close to her for a minute, weighing Gander’s disposition; his reserve, his independence, his rejection of all discipline, wondering how far she could go. Then—
“If I were you, I would get out, Gander. The world is big. If you get out you may forget—at least, you will get away from the edge of the precipice. If you stay here you will always be in danger of slipping over.”
She was not prepared for his retort. “Is that why Cal got out?” he demanded.
He felt her body stiffen, and knew he had struck a vulnerable point. Well, this was a good time to strike. She was not sparing him.
“Is that why Cal got out?” he repeated. “Nobody has ever told us yet why he beat it, like he did. Nor who that boy is. You know, Minn, and you—you don’ dare tell!”
“Don’t ask me that, Gander,” she breathed. She was on the defensive now. “It is better not. Believe me, I could explain, but it is better not.”
“Well, you don’t hesitate to dig into my affairs,” he answered. “Suppose I dig a little into yours? Who is Reed, and why did Cal sneak out at night like a coward?” “Cal is no coward!” There was fire in Minnie’s voice. “You wouldn’t call him that!”
“I didn’t say he was a coward; I just said he acted like one. Now if you can put it in a different light, go ahead. I’m listenin’.”
The girl was silent, and both of them, for long minutes, gazed with unseeing eyes over the rose-colored waters of the lake. At length she spoke.
“Gander, I had decided I never would tell, but if it will help you, in your fight, to know what another man did in his, then I will bring you that help. But it must be a secret of honor between us. Is it?”
“All right; shoot!”
Minnie settled herself to a more comfortable position. “Reed is the son of Cal’s sister, Celesta,” she began. “Celesta died when Reed was born. She never had been married.”
Gander stirred, but did not interrupt. “Cal promised he would bring the boy up as his own, with no knowledge of the shame that surrounded his birth. That is
why he let Reed call him Daddy X; x, the unknown quantity, you know—or perhaps you don’t. And all went well until they came here, and until Jackie came.” “What had Jackie to do with it?”
She paused for a moment, as though she could not trust herself with the next revelation. Then, almost inaudibly, “Gander, Jackie is Reed’s father!” “What!”
“It’s true! I didn’t know until I went West, to nurse him up in that little homestead shanty in Saskatchewan. Then—
“Then Cal told you?”
“He did not. Jackie told me. You see, he had been plotting against Cal—plotting ever since he knew. But when Reed was sick, and Jackie was there, all of a sudden he grew very fond of the boy. And one day, when Cal was away, he told me the whole story—the whole sordid story. That night he disappeared. I think he had seen things in their true light, and for Reed’s sake he disappeared. Just as, for Reed’s sake, Cal left here, that the secret might be safe.”
She stopped, and it was a long while before Gander spoke. “Then Mother is Reed’s grandmother?” he said at length. Even in such a moment it seemed to her strange that that should be Gander’s first reaction.
“Does she know?”
“No one has told her. But something —deeper than words—must have carried it to her heart. Do you remember how she took to him from the first? How she used to hold him on her knee, and sing that little hymn about ‘Voices of yore, Come from that far-off shore?’ ”
“Yes—yes. And it was for him that Cal ran away?”
“For him—yes. To save Reed, and to keep his promise to his dead sister.” Gander had risen to his feet. “I’m sorry for what I said, Minnie. Sometimes it is the brave man that runs away, isn’t it?”
Minnie’s eyes were wet, but her voice was filled with a great happiness. She had reached her brother’s heart—that strange, loyal, proud, distant heart which so few could reach.
“Yes,” she repeated, holding him again in her arms, “sometimes it is the brave man who runs away. There are some good men, Gander ... I have often thought life is like a thresher, pouring out its cloud of straw and chaff and dust, and a little grain. A little hard, yellow, golden grain, that has in it the essence of life, Gander!”
A BANK of cloud was gathering in the west, threatening rain, and presently Gander and Jo took their way homeward. Once or twice their road was lit up with a blaze of lightning, and when they reached the house a few big drops were splashing in the dust.
"Won’t you come in?” she asked him. “Until it blows over?”
“Oh, I guess I better keep on a-goin’,” he told her. But he went in.
She lighted a lamp and drew the blinds to shut out the storm. Then she motioned him to a chair.
“Make yourself at home. You have something to smoke?”
He felt mechanically in his pocket and found pipe and tobacco. His heart was pounding above the lash of the rain on the windows.
“Dick is getting along,” she said, when his pipe was going.
They sat for a long while in silence, wondering how far they might interpret each other’s thought. At length Jo got up and started a fire in the stove. She set a little supper before Gander and herself. Gander ate as one who chokes on morsels. His throat was full.
“You don’t say much,” she chided him. “No. Too busy thinkin’,” he answered. The storm, instead of blowing over, increased in intensity. The rain lashed on the windows and against the thin board walls of the house. And the little clock up on the wall ticked on, its chatter drowned in the roar of the elements.
At midnight Gander sprang to his feet. “I must be goin’, Jo,” he said, hurriedly. “No idea it was so late.”
“You can’t drive over those roads now,” she protested. “They’re running in water. It isn’t safe.”
“Oh, I’ll make it.”
“It isn't safe, Gander. You can stay
for the night as well as not. I’ll fix Dick's
Continued on page 52
Continued, from page 50
couch up for you and you’ll be comfort-
able enough. You can’t go in that.”
As though to prove her words she opened the door. The wedge of light from the lamp penetrated a few feet into a slanting storm of rain. A flash of lightning disclosed two rivulets of water flowing down the road which led through the yard. For a moment they watched it together; then she closed the door.
“You see, you can’t,” she said.
“Jo, I must. What will people say?”
“If they haven’t said already they needn’t start now. I’ll be up early and make your breakfast, and you can get away at the peep of dawn. Then you will have daylight, anyway.”
She arranged sheets and blankets on Dick’s couch in a corner of the livingroom. Gander could see her tucking them deftly into place; patting them tenderly he may have thought. But he smoked on in silence.
It took Jo a long time to arrange everything, but at last it was finished. Then she lighted another lamp, and paused for a moment beside Gander’s chair.
“Good night, Gander,” she said.
“Good night, Jo.”
Then she went up the stairs at the end of the room.
Gander waited until he could no longer hear her moving about on the thin boards which creaked with every pressure cf her foot. And even after he went to bed he lay awake for a long while, thinking, listening to the splash of the rain, to its drip and gurgle from the eaves, to its drumming on the windows, its patter on the board walls. It brought back in memory that night in the old house on the farm; that night when Fraser Fyfe came plodding across the flooded fields to see how he and Minnie were faring through the storm. With a start it came to Gander that then, too, Jo had been the centre of his imaginings. Years ago—and she was still the same Jo. But now she was Dick Claus’ wife.
Slowly and in order he recalled the incidents of that night. How he had counted himself a coward, until Minnie had praised him for his bravery. How he had crawled into his arms for comfort and protection . . .
He lay for a long while, thinking . . .
And, while his thought circled many fields, always it came back to one centre . . . As he lay there, fighting through a mist that was not of the rain, for the first time in his life he looked Gander Stake in the face.
“You haven’ made much of it, Gander, have you?” he demanded, bitterly. “Not very much of it. You wouldn’ take discipline^—I think that’s what they call it, that ‘Form fours’ stuff—and here you are . . . Here you are.” Then, with a bitter jest at himself, “and where are you?”
Minnie’s revelation about Cal and Reed came back to him. How little he had guessed! And the honor of the Stakes.
That was a point that hurt. The honor of the Stake family!
And here it was involved again, in him.
Slowly he began to see that there was only one way. Minnie was right. Upstairs Jo Claus was sleeping. Or was she? He remembered that day on the school section, and wondered if she had been sleeping then . . .
There was only one way. It came to him slowly, but when he saw, he saw.
“Gander,” he said at length, “now you will take your medicine, and you will take it from yourself. Form fours!”
He got up and drew on his clothes. It was still raining, although not so violently. There would he light as soon as the clouds lifted.
He touched a match to the lamp; found an old envelope and a pencil. Then, in his wobbly hand, he scrawled a message.
“Dear Jo,” it read, “I forgot to tell you that I have to leave on the mornin’ train for the city. I’ve got a good job in a garage. I like workin’ about machines. Hope the oats will come all right, and Dick, too.”
He was about to sign it “Gander,” but a sudden dignity was upon him. He inscribed his initials, “W.H.S.”
Then he stole silently through the door and started his car.
Jo, awake in her room upstairs, fancied she heard the sound of the motor. She ran to her window just as a flash of lightning revealed Gander’s ear lurching down the muddy road.