The Fourth Norway
Another "honorable mention" story from MacLean's Second Canadian Short Story Contest
MARY QUAYLE INNIS
YOU better get out now, Harry,” said Roger Norway, stopping the car. “Stick to the edge of the field, will you?”
“Aw right, Mr. Norway,” the boy answered meekly. His thin figure trotted away into the darkness.
“Poor Harry,” Jean Norway said gently, as she and her husband entered the house together. “He didn’t want to come home so early. Neither did Jim. To tell the truth, Roger, neither did I.”
“Why didn’t you say so then?” he asked, in the firm, reasonable tone which only his wife ever had the temerity to oppose.
“Garden parties are such fun,” she mourned. “And you not only dragged me away, but our hired man and the Shillinglaw’s hired man, too.”
“Shillinglaw asked me to bring Harry with us. Their car was full.”
“Of course. Well, let’s burn brush. That’s what you said you were coming home for.”
He took a handful of matches from the box in the kitchen and they went out into the warm darkness, rich with the fragrance of lilacs from the great bush beside the door. In the farmyard they passed Jim, the hired man, who had put the car away and was sulkily banging the doors of the drive shed.
“We’ll burn the brush pile, Jim,” Roger Norway said. “You can go-to bed.” .
Jim grunted and went toward the house.
EVEN at night Roger could feel the beauty and majesty of his farm—that famous farm which had been owned and worked by four generations of Norways. The first Roger Norway had received the land as a grant from the Crown; in each generation there had been a son of the same name. No other family in the countryside had such a record of continuity. The Norways were locally celebrated, as well, for their thrift and prosperity; the Norway men were rather ruefully admired for their business acumen.
“They’re hard but they’re fair,”, people would say respectfully, after they had suffered in a ruthless bargain.
Jean took her husband’s arm and they walked slowly up through the perfumed orchard. In the pale moonlight the trees shone clear and white like great loose bouquets. These were the fruitful trees, scrupulously pruned and sprayed, carefully checked for productivity. Farther on they entered the old orchard, as it was called, a cluster of half a dozen gnarled ancient trees, long past bearing. They were bowed and rheumatic, shaped as fantastically as ogres in a dream, with dry small leaves on their palsied boughs and a few pallid blossoms like white moths. This old orchard Roger cherished, for in the centre of it lay the remnant of the log cabin the first Roger Norway had built to shelter his family a hundred years ago.
There had been three houses on that beloved soil. Here between the aged trees could be traced the faint depression which marked the floor of the old cabin, with a pile of stones where the chimney had stood. Of the logs not a vestige remained. The second Roger Norway had built a box-like frame house for his growing children, and of it, too, only a hollow in the earth and a few calcined bricks—for it had been burned— were now visible.
The third of the name had built the handsome brick house at the top of the rise which his son had inherited. The signs of these two dead houses were precious to Roger—rare sights in a nearly legendless country, and valuable as the figured history of a pioneer line.
The brush had been piled at the extreme end of the orchard not far from the buildings of the adjoining Shillinglaw farm. Roger kicked one of the piles together and set a match to it.
“Wet,” he grunted. “Guess it won’t burn tonight.”
The green branches hissed like a spitted joint, sending out silver threads of smoke. Roger found some old envelopes and crumpled sale bills in his pockets and thrust them under the pile. Slowly, the heavier branches at the bottom began to burn and to fan out a dancing glare of heat which dried and kindled the wood at the top. Jean had seated herself on the grass to watch the fire and Roger dropped down beside her.
“Guess this’ll be enough for tonight,” he said. “We can do the rest when it’s drier.”
“You didn’t really come home to burn brush, did you?” Jean suggested mildly.
“I had to say something.”
“You leave every place early, Roger.”
“I like to. Father always did. He said it was fitting. I don’t know why, but I feel the same way.”
“The Shillinglaw children will be so tired,” Jean murmured half to herself. “It’s too late for them.” Roger frowned and glanced involuntarily at the Shillinglaw barn which loomed up in the dimness before him. It was newly built and very large—larger than his own.
“Elsie Shillinglaw’s the best neighbor I ever had,” Jean went on in the dreamy voice which the darkness and the heat of the fire invoked. “I think a lot of her. She gets along so well with all those children. And how they’ve come up in the world in the time they’ve been there!”
“When they first moved in you used to take them bread and bacon to keep them from starving,” Roger said acidly.
“Oh no, not that bad. I just took her a few plants for the garden and a little of my baking sometimes. But they’ve got everything now.”
“They’ll strike a snag yet. He’s spreading himself too much.”
His tone was bitter with resentment and she said quickly, “Don’t talk like that, Roger. They are our closest neighbors. You ought not to hold a grudge against them.”
Roger did not answer. He disliked to worry Jean, but the angular thought of the Shillinglaws was never out of his mind. To him they were intruders. Twenty years ago in a time of severe financial stringency, Roger’s
father had sold a large section of his farm. It was a part which had not been much cultivated or greatly regarded, but it had been a portion of the original grant and it was Norway soil. The elder Norway had later bitterly regretted that he had parted with it but he had not in his lifetime been able to buy it back. Two successive owners had brought the separated farm under.the plow and made it as trim and flourishing as the Norway place itself. For the last two or three years Marvin Shillinglaw had owned the property and he had thrived there. His barn overtopped the Norway barn, he had extended the house, built new chicken runs and a concrete silo. Roger watched these improvements made as if in defiance under his eyes and longed with increasing intensity to have back agaki this alienated portion of his heritage. But his money was closely invested; moreover, the value of the farm had risen enormously, so much so that even with his resources freed he could not have bought it without heavy sacrifice. He did not doubt, though, that some day the farm would be his again. Justice demanded it. In the meantime he must content himself with the thin satisfaction of holding the first mortgage on the place.
“That was the only mistake in judgment father ever made,” he said suddenly aloud.
Jean bit her lip. She had heard the old argument so often.
“He couldn’t help himself,” she said gently. “Your mother had to be kept in hospital in Toronto and you were in the University and things went wrong with him here. He was very hard pressed.”
“I know, but why didn’t I get out and work? That’s what hurts me now—to think it was partly my fault that land went. I was a lazy fool. I never realized what it meant till I settled down here. If I’d only known how I’d feel now, I’d have worked myself to rags before I’d have let an acre be sold.”
“We’ve got plenty. The place was too large before. It killed your father.”
“What killed him was being sorry that he’d sold part of it. He never got over it. He never said so in so many words, but I know he wanted me to buy it back again.”
“Some day you will.”
“Some day! I can’t wait! But the fire’s ’most out. Let’s go in, the wind’s coming up.”
They had been staring at the black pyre in its dancing wreath of flames without seeing it; their faces were hot and dry and their eyes burning. Roger pulled Jean to her feet and they walked slowly back to the house. Young Roger, their only child, had remained with the other young people at the garden party. Jean set out a glass of milk for him and they went upstairs to their big front bedroom.
A rising wind blew out the match as Roger lifted it to the lamp wick.
“It’s a good night to sleep,” Jean said, yawning. “Don’t bother with a light, Roger. It isn’t very dark.” He took off his shoes and walked across the carpeted floor to the side window which overlooked the orchard. Under the wind the white trees swayed gently like folds of lace stirred by the wearer’s breathing. The moon in its decline threw a pale, uncertain light over the fields and the silver trees and the dark bulk of the Shillinglaw farm buildings.
Roger started. Low down against the black shape of the new barn a flicker of light showed itself and was gone. Imagination, he thought. It came again. Harry with his lantern. The flash was a little more sustained this time. Imagination certainly. It could not be that the light was too strong for Harry’s or any other lantern. Roger glanced away and could not avoid looking back at the mysterious flicker, as the prodding finger cannot desert a wound. It was still there.
“What is it, Roger?” Jean said. He turned and looked at her. She sat on the edge of the bed braiding her hair, a placid figure in her long white gown.
“Nothing,” he said. He stood still, staring at her. Dared he glance out of the window again to see whether that ominous gleam still leered at him? He felt sure that it was there and yet he walked slowly away from the window without turning his head. Harry’s lantern, he told himself. Silly to be disturbed about a light that was none of his business. He was very tired. He got into bed, tense with an inexplicable excitement. Now he would lie awake for hours—nervous old maid that he was. He turned restlessly. Was the light still there? Of course not. Harry had gone to bed. The Shillinglaws would soon be at home now. Perhaps they were there already. Forget it. His weary body sagged graduallly to the familiar curves of the mattress. He was asleep.
A SCREAM brought him upright in bed. Jean stood in the middle of the floor, her arms raised, her face distorted with terror. Over her white gown and over the walls and ceiling shone a lurid scarlet light, displaying in a fearful brilliance the pictures on the wall, the articles on the dresser.
“Fire!” Jean screamed. “The Shillinglaw’s barn’s on fire!”
He sprang out of bed and caught her arm.
“How did you know?”
“The light woke me. The light on the wall. Oh look!” He turned his eyes toward the window and instantly away. The sight thrilled and sickened him. The entire west end of the great barn was an unbroken wall of flame. The gray honest wood had vanished and scarlet sheets of fire held up a roof that was one livid, heavenpiercing flame. The trees of the intervening orchard bore exotic crimson blossoms in that light from the pit.
“Come quick!” Jean cried. “I’ll wake the boys, you telephone.”
He ran downstairs barefoot and groped for the phone on the dining room wall. Central was long in answering. Her sleepy voice maddened him.
“Shillinglaw’s barn’s on fire! First concession road. Next to Norway’s! On fire!”
The girl’s voice leaped back hard and alive.
“Yes. Are they there?”
“I don’t know. Better ring them. Then ring everybody along the road—Coopers, McGregors, Petersons, Meyers, Wilsons, Halls—tell them all. I’m going now.”
He clanked up the receiver and the hail of calls began. Two long, one short, that was Shillinglaw’s. Were they there? The wind blew upon him through the open door as he raced upstairs. West wind. Toward the house. Oh God, were they asleep there? Two long, one short, over and over. Long, decisive peals that would have roused the dead out of their graves. Then two long, three short; two long, four short; three long—all down the road—every peal stabbing through Roger’s head like a knife. The glow on the wall deepened. He found and pulled on his shoes. At the back of the house he heard Jean’s excited voice,
“Wake up, Jim! Fire! Shillinglaw’s barn ! Come on.”
She ran down the hall to their son’s room. “Roger! Oh, I’m glad you’re back. Yes, it’s central ringing everybody on the road. Dress quick, dear. I’ll get a coat on.”
She hurried into the bedroom and jerked on her slippers. Her strained, frantic eyes stared into his.
“Could it be,” she whispered, “could it be our brush fire that caught the barn?”
He answered with suspicious certainty.
“Couldn’t possibly! Our fire was out. I never leave a fire that isn’t out. Don’t think that for a minute. I’m going.”
“Be careful, Roger!”
He sprang down the stairs and was gone. Jim with his nightshirt thrust into his overalls, Roger rubbing his eyes, in a raincoat and slippers, trailed after him and Jean came last, thrusting pins into her hair as she ran.
Harry was in the Shillinglaw’s yard, his hair half singed from his head, his face black. He had managed to get a cow out of the barn and stood clinging to the horns of the frantic creature with a helpless, desperate air.
“Are they here?” Roger called.
“Not yet,” the boy gasped. “What’ll I do? Listen!”
The fire was licking down toward the animal’s quarters at the front of the barn. The screams of the horses chilled Roger’s blood.
“I’ll see if I can get one out anyway,” he cried. Roger pulled off his coat and ran toward the open barn door.
“Don’t go!” Harry wailed. “The roof’ll fall in.”
A cloud of smoke met Roger in the doorway; through
its gray wreaths in the vivid glare inside he could see the horses rearing and panting out their terrible human cries. He held his head down and plunged forward. The nearest horse quieted a little when he had muffled its head in his coat and submitted while his fingers groped for the knot in the rope that held it to the manger. The fastening gave at last and he stumbled blindly into cool evening air.
“Ain’t you hurt?” asked Harry. “I’ll try it, too.”
“Better not. Why doesn’t somebody come?” Roger groaned.
His son and Jim panted up.
“The house, dad,” young Roger was saying. “The barn’s done for, but the house might catch.”
“The stock!” Jim objected. “Lord, listen!”
“The roof’ll fall any minute. It’s ready to go now. Get pails and a ladder quick. Thank God, here comes help.”
Half-dressed men came running up the lane and across the fields. They scurñéd about for ropes and pails, set up ladders, uncovered the cistern, raised the frantic squeak and clatter of the hand pump. A crash like the shock of doom arrested every man’s hand at its task. The roof of the barn had fallen. From the scarlet shell poured an eruption of flame and of flaring brands which sent the watchers cowering to shelter. The shingles of the house, peppered with burning fragments in a dozen places, burst into wreaths of flame.
“Quick, it’ll go now in this wind if we don’t hurry! Make a line and pass the buckets. That’s right, soak it good.”
Years of intense physical exertion were crowded into the next half hour. The men fell back at last, wet and exhausted, and looked at the house they had saved and at the black, smoke-shrouded skeleton of the barn. While they stood, too weary to speak, a car drove up the lane. Marvin Shillinglaw stopped beside the house and got out.
“We seem to be the last to come to our own party,” he said.
“You knew, then?”
“We heard in town. Come on in and get some coffee. Thanks to you all we’ve got a house to go into.”
Roger Norway came stiffly down to breakfast at nine
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o’clock next morning. He felt that the night had aged him by twenty years. Jean came in to pour his coffee, fresh and composed.
' “I’ve been over to see Elsie,” she said.
"‘Oh yes, I’ve been up hours. I didn’t work last night the way you did. I was proud of you, Roger.” She went on more slowly. “They say there’s nothing we can do. They haven’t anything to do themselves with the stock gone. That’s the horrible part—the stock.” She shuddered and looked away. “I’ll never forget that awful sight when I first looked out of the window,” she murmured. “As if the whole world were in flames.”
Roger bent his head and fumbled a slice of bread.
More clearly than the terror of the fire at its climax he seemed to see that small flickering light which had startled him on his way to bed the night before. That had been a good hour before Jean had given the alarm. If he had spoken then— if he had gone to see what light it was that winked at him there! For the thought of fire had entered his mind as he stood at the window and he had pushed it summarily away. He was not even sure, now, that a spark from his own brush pile might not have caused the disaster. He looked at Jean, sullenly, almost resentfully. She had fired the brush with him—that responsibility was equally hers.
“Do they know,” he ventured huskily, “do they know how it started?”
“Yes,” she answered quickly. “Thank goodness our brush fire had nothing to do with it. It was all poor Harry’s fault. He went into the henhouse on this side of the barn to look at a setting hen for Elsie and left the lantern there. It must have fallen over. He said he went to the shed for something and forgot to go back. Harry’s always careless, but the poor boy’s heartbroken now. His eyes are swelled nearly shut with crying.”
“That’ll do a lot of good,” Roger said brusquely. “They were fools to keep a kid like that.”
He felt remarkably relieved. Jean brought in cakes and sausages and he ate heartily. After all, he had committed no crime. He had failed to give an alarm when in his heart he knew there was need, but that difficulty was easily got over. If he had not come home so early he would not have seen that warning light.
“If I hadn’t come home early,” he said to himself, “I wouldn’t have seen it. And then it would all have happened just the same and I’d have had nothing to blame myself with. So I needn’t worry. I needn’t have been here, I needn’t have seen it.”
The power of those words was amazing. When he had said them to himself two or three times he was a different man. An hour ago he had risen shuddering from his sleepless bed, sick with horror at his own depravity. Now he was himself again. Guilt had fallen from him like a loosened cloak. “I needn’t have been here at all.” He went out to the barn with a firm step and began his day’s work.
A WEEK passed before time could be found to burn the rest of the brush. Roger and the other neighbors had helped to put up a temporary shelter for Shillinglaw’s one horse and cow, and had seen work started on the wrecking of the barn. The weather had been dry and the remaining brush was ready to burn. Roger went out alone to kindle the fire while his son and Jim were milking. The declining sun glowed behind bars of violet cloud; the naked bulk of the ruined barn on the next farm stood out sharply in a clear golden light. There was the crooning twitter of a bird above Roger’s head and a breeze whispered through the
leaves, ruffling his hair. He walked quickly through the close grass, looking away at the farthest fields overhung by a haze of darkness which waited for its cue to gather down and fold them from his sight.
Jim had built up a new brush pile and Roger set to windward of it a small fire of dry sticks and paper. The flames mounted heroically, piercing with their dizzy scarlet sword-play right through the whole mass. A twig of thin yellow leaves flared into delicate white ash which drifted like petals into the grass. The brushwood tower raised its splendid torch high over the man’s head, flaunting its orange banner above the very treetops.
Roger shivered with a strong, breathless sense of excitement. He had nursed in secret all through the past week a thought which seemed to rise exulting with the exultation of the flames. The same thought had come to Jean—he had read it in her anxious, questioning look. People in town were discussing it between themselves, he knew. They were guessing, wondering, but he had said nothing. Let them wait.
His time had come. Day after tomorrow Marvin Shillinglaw’s interest payment was due. That was the thought in his mind and in everyone else’s. For Shillinglaw’s financial state was no secret to any of his neighbors. He had gone very heavily into debt for the improvements which had given him so much pleasure. He carried very small insurance. He had been, as the phrase is, “on the make,” earning much but spending more, building, extending, expanding at every point, with the intention of making his position secure at a later time. The whole ambitious structure tottered at this unspeakable blow.
Roger’s lip curled a little as he piled a few loose branches upon his fire. Shillinglaw was a plunger; he expected too much too quickly. Served him right— a stroke like this. It would sober him, steady his feet on common earth. The idea of his own guilt in the matter had faded from Roger’s mind. “I needn’t have come home early. I might not have seen anything.” The words sufficed; they had robbed the memory of its sting. He was saying to himself that Shillinglaw with this lesson in conservatism would make a success yet—but not on Norway soil. Roger’s time had come.
He started as Marvin Shillinglaw came into the circle of light. The dark curtain had received its cue and slid down softly across the fields. The fire was falling. The bold, black branches sank into a tumbled heap, white ash sifted slowly through the glowing network. Boughs snapped, candescent twigs fluttered down, the crackling pyre settled. A deep carmine glow displaced the lively orange and gold. Both men stared into the scarlet heart of the fire.
“You’ve got me,” Marvin said. Roger did not reply.
“It’s over,” Marvin went on in a dead voice. “It was too good to last. I’ve got a sick cow and a nineteen-year-old horse— the only one I had that wasn’t fit to work.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t have time to look at its teeth before I saved it,” Roger said caustically.
“Gosh, I beg your pardon, Norway. You were grand to me. I don’t mean to grouse. God knows I’m thankful nobody was hurt. It cuts, that’s all. You understand—but you don’t. You’ve always lived on your own land.”
“Four generations we’ve had it,” Roger said firmly. He meant to emphasize the gulf between his own impregnable position and the unrooted opportunism of the Shillinglaws. But curiously he was thinking of a remark Elsie had once made.
“All our children were born on rented farms except the baby. That’s why he’s so fat and peaceful.”
Rented farms! Roger shuddered with distaste at the idea. But it would be rented farms again for the Shillinglaws.
“I’ve got plenty of creditors,” Marvin was saying slowly, “but you’re by far the biggest. There’s no use my trying to bluff you. I can’t pay a penny day after tomorrow or any other time for a spell. I’m down. I must have stock. I’d put everything into the dairy end. I was in deep, but I could have made it if this hadn’t happened.” He took a step forward and kicked the pile of settling embers.
“It’s for Elsie I hate it,” he went on. “It’s such a darned hard break for her. She doesn’t say a word, but it’s hit her. It’s no joke to be flat when you’ve got five kids.” He stopped abruptly and turned away.
“I didn’t come over here to whine,” he said over his shoulder. “Just to tell you I can’t pay any interest and your chance is good to get my farm.”
“To get my farm back,” Roger corrected. “My father always regretted that he’d sold it. He died hoping I would get it back.”
“I’ve heard about your father. He was very—very fair, they say.”
Roger nodded gravely. “People called him hard, but he was only fair. Fairness is uncommon. It’s likely to seem hard.” “Yes,” Marvin agreed, not without sarcasm. He walked quickly away into the night.
Roger carefully tramped out the last sparks and went home. He was uplifted with a sweet, hot rush of happiness. Marvin himself consented to his own loss. The goal of Roger’s life and of his father’s life was near now. His action might to a casual onlooker appear hard. Life was like that. Every man gained by someone’s ill luck.
As he drew near the house, his son drove into the farmyard and jumped out of the car. He had come from a set of tennis at the community court. Roger went toward him.
“Oh dad,” the boy said, impulsively, “Say, when we get the other house can’t we have a tennis court over there? There’s the dandiest level lawn on the far side. I wouldn’t have to hike downtown every night.”
“What other house?” asked Roger coldly, raising his eyebrows.
“Why the one the Shillinglaws are in now, of course.”
“What makes you think they won’t
stay in it?”
The boy laughed, sure now that his father was indulging in one of his infrequent jokes.
“Why, you’re going to foreclose ’em, aren’t you? When the time comes, that is. Everybody says so. They were all talkin’ about it downtown. They asked me if it wasn’t so.”
“What did you say?”
“I just laughed an’ said ‘you know the Norways’.”
“What did they think about it?”
“Oh, they thought it was fair enough, I guess. Hard on the Shillinglaws, but there’s no room for this sympathy stuff in farming.”
“Well, put the car in, Roger. And you’d better look at the tires, before you go out again. You let them get down too much.” He went into the house. Jean was waiting for him. She was pale, with bluish shadows under her eyes, and her lips were drawn in an anxious line. He knew what she wanted to say to him and he was resolved not to hear. This was not Jean’s affair. He picked up the Toronto paper which Jim had brought up from the box and read it through, holding it up to hide Jean’s disturbed face and rustling the pages defiantly.
“You know Marvin Shillinglaw’s trying every place to borrow money,” she said at last.
“He would be.”
“He’s in desperate straits.”
“I don’t doubt it.” Roger was proud of the coolness of his tone; it had the emotionless quality his father would have approved.
“Roger, you’re not going to make it harder for him. You won’t take his farm.”
“Not now. Such things take time. You don’t understand, Jean.”
“I do understand that you want that farm. Roger, you shan’t do it. It’s cruel.”
“It’s business, Jean. People must bear misfortune.”
“We’ve got so much and they will lose everything. You are grasping, Roger!” She was standing before him, her pale face set with anger.
“It’s simply business,” he answered composedly. “It’s what my father would have done.”
“You are not your father!”
She left the room and he knew that she was crying. Her distress unnerved him. He had infinite respect for Jean’s judgment, it was second only to his father’s. He knew that he was right, that Jean was allowing her emotions to guide her, yet he could not bear her disapproval calmly.
XJE WENT outside and walked restlessly back through the orchard again, where the falling petals floated softly against his face. His course was made easy for him by the solid reputation of his forefathers. Public opinion, so important in a case like this, was already satisfied. He remembered the confident laughter of young Roger, the fifth Norway, inheritor of what he too must add to the high tradition of his line. Nevertheless, in the fragrant silence of the summer night, he felt agitated and dissatisfied. Jean thought him cruel and she did not know the extent of his complicity—the fact that he had seen the fire at its treacherous beginning and could have stopped it if he had wished. No living soul knew that except himself. Strange that now when all was clear before him these doubts should rise to tarnish his hour of victory.
“I needn’t have been there. I needn’t have seen.” Suddenly the words meant nothing. He repeated them as he had done for a week and they had lost their virtue. The well-guarded tower of his peace had crumbled into dust.
“You are not your father.” Something within him answered—a strong voice that he had not before suffered to speak, “I am not my father. I might not have seen the light, but I did see it!” He was surprised to hear that he had spoken the words aloud. T am not my father. I am alone in this matter. And I saw the fire and did nothing!”
He had walked blindly to the brink of the depression which marked the site of the log cabin. The pain of his shattered pride was so intense, so unaccustomed and bitter to bear, that for a moment he wished that no Roger Norway had ever cut his clearing in the wilderness and set his plow to the soil of Upper Canada. He could not live with this devastating knowledge of his own soul. The worn, bleached stones which had once formed the hearth of that primeval cabin were just visible in the faint light that fell between the old, fruitless trees. Those dead men, his fathers, with their steady and unyielding courage had chopped the very floor-space for the house out of virgin forest, hewed down tall trees one by one, in pitiless, heartbreaking toil, to this indubitable end. The success of their ' labors his broad, sprouting fields attested. Their strength was in his body; he must find their hard integrity in his soul. Perhaps in extenuation he had colored their honor with his own covetous ambition. Suddenly it seemed to him that there was a price too high to pay even for Norway land.
Roger jumped over the depression and
ran toward the Shillinglaw farm. He passed unseeingly the black pile of charred wood and rubble which had been the barn, but then he stopped, for Marvin had just come out of the house. The man walked with stooped shoulders across the starlit meadow. Roger moved closer to the lighted kitchen window. Elsie Shillinglaw stood in the centre of the room as her husband had left her, smiling, her head high, her whole body braced erect and unafraid. Before Roger’s eyes her head bent a little to one side, her figure drooped shivering, her face twisted with pain. She walked to the table slowly, with the dragging step of an old woman. Sinking into a chair, she buried her head in her arms. The lamplight gleamed on her pale gold hair and the
blue calico that covered her shoulders.
There was no sign of Marvin. Roger ran across the field after him. The young man was leaning against the rail fence, shaken with the abysmal wretchedness which he had concealed from his wife and to which his absence had released her also.
Marvin looked up, amazed and half resentful.
“Everything’s all right with you,” Roger exclaimed, the words stumbling out in his eagerness. “I’ll build your barn again and stock it. I saw the light and I did nothing. You’re all right. I’ll back you with all I’ve got.” He stopped, breathless, and saw the young man’s face, startled and incredulous, break at last into a fearful, ecstatic smile.