“These Are They”
In which a valiant woman passes through the shadow and reaches the haven of good content
DOROTHY M. DOUGHTY
IT WAS morning. Mother Gunderson stood upon her back steps gazing at her lines of freshly hung clothes, and noted with a sense of pride the challenge of whiteness her handicraft flaunted to Mother Nature’s white-cloud-wash moving slowly in the blue sky above. It was great to be up a morning like this, the sunshine upon the back, and the odors of earth-growth to be inhaled.
“No, Ay don’t vish to be in any bed this morning,” she mused in her Norwegian brogue. “Vashing hass its compensations,” and she reached for the garden sprinkler preparatory to watering her sweet peas nodding a pink defiance against the shabby board fence at the back.
Passing down the gravel path of her backyard, the woman rejoiced in her straight rows of growing vegetables. July was always a blessed month to her, meaning warmth, easily dried clothes and plenty of green vegetables. Then, too, there were the pleasant summer evenings when she and her four children worked together in the garden, planning the future. God was good, and life was glorious after all, even to a washerwoman.
For five years Mother Gunderson’s apparently happy heart and camouflaged abode had been the mysteries of the population of Brockton, Saskatchewan. Hew any mother could support a large growing family and do the many charitable acts she did, besides transforming the most undesirable spot in the vicinity into such a cozy place as hers, continued to be annual topics of conversation in that prairie town. Just as her heart belied her plain, hardworked appearance, so did her artistic gentleness greet you from every nook and corner of her dwelling. Cast your eye where you would, some dejected part of her surroundings was cunningly camouflaged by an inexpensive bit of ingenuity.
That eastern windowpane, broken by some ruthless hand, had been patched together, and morning-glory vines trained to creep along the cracks.
The rockpile in the west corner of the back lot, too expensive to have moved, had been converted by means of a quantity of earth and a few packages of seeds into a delightful rockery. Meadowlarks now chirped their morning taps atop of it, half hidden in a riot of gold nasturtiums.
True, the squat, two-roomed shanty in which she lived was anything but inviting, with its coating of black tar paper and zigzag laths; but somehow one forgot that when gazing at the purple and maroon hollyhocks standing straight and tall against their contrasting background.
Then, too, there was that tepee tent of vines in the front yard, so fragrant to those passing by. It covered a deep, ugly hole that had previously served as a refuse dump for her neighbors.
That tepee tent. Few people guessed the significance of it to her. There was an ugly hole in her heart, bitter from the ruthlessness of another. She wondered now if both had been equally well concealed.
As Mother Gunderson stood looking at it in the sunlight she recalled with a shudder the first time its black depths had sprung at her. It had been the third stunning blow dealt her upon arriving in Brockton.
This was the spot to which she had fled from the pines and maples of old Quebec, attempting a third fresh start to protect her young from the stigma and influence of the drunken, thieving individual she called husband. She remembered the words of her oldest son, Oscar, upon their arrival at the station. The boy had grasped her hand in both his own, asking in hushed tones: “Are we going to stay here long, mother?”
She had not answered him. It was the question on her own lips.
Yet, she reasoned, here was a new beginning, a place to live honestly and to learn. She would rear her brood alone, teaching them the joys of a well-earned livelihood. Her plan? It was to do the only thing she could do— —fancy washing and ironing for the town’s “Four Hundred.”
A second stunning blow had come in the form of a question asked later in the day by the real estate agent, Jack Slate, with whom she had corresponded before coming.
“Oh, so you are going to wash? What with?” he asked.
“Vhy, vit vater, of course,” she had answered.
“Water, huh!” continued the man, little realizing the dumb anxiety he caused. “Water is our greatest luxury out here.” And he pointed with the stem of his pipe to a huge, red tank wagon being slowly pulled down Main Street amid a cloud of alkali dust.
“Tventy-five cents!” she mumbled, beholding the spectacle. She had expected some hindrances, but nothing so overwhelming as this. Her silence betrayed her stupefaction. Then she straightened up. Jack Slate noted the determination of the face and also the twitching hands beneath the shawl she was holding.
She rose and walked to the window, scanning the view beyond. He inwardly applauded her gameness.
Here was metal. Handicapped by an infant tribe with not so much as an even break, the very elements pitted against her, she didn’t whine, but still intended to buck the game. Such a woman should have his friendship. Somewhere from the recesses of memory there emerged an old Biblical phrase that had caught his imagination when he was a child: “These are they who came through great tribulation.”
“There’ll be a way, Mrs. Gunderson,” he cheered. “Don’t worry, there is always a way—if you deserve it.” “Yes,” she smiled, turning to him. “Maybe it vill rain a lot on Sundays. Now let’s go and look at the place vere Ay am to lif.”
Jack Slate reached for his hat as she continued.
“Ay saw some small lakes of vater near the edge of the town yust as Ay bane come in. Vould the vater be gude enough to vash vit?”
“Oh, you mean the sloughs. They are full of rain water. It would be good I'guess if you wanted to carry it a mile or so and then let it settle.”
She brightened quickly. “That vill be some fine, Ay tell you. The children and Ay vill manage it, Ay tenk.” Then that hole, deep, ugly, and sour, yawning a black warning only a few feet from her prospective door. Mr. Slate had grabbed her arm as she leaned over it trying to fathom its depths.
“Better not get too close,” he cautioned. ‘Someone tried to dig a well here but it kept filling in. Quicksand. Land around it is all right. Plenty space at the back for clothes-lines. You’ll have to fence that hole off though, with those kiddies of yours.”
Yes, that was the last blow. How was she to attend her work and watch her toddling brood at the same time? Late into the night she had compared that danger with the one she carried in her heart. When morning came she had decided that as neither could be removed, both should be securely covered.
“The vay to get rid of anyting is to make use of it,” she argued as she planted the seeds of the vines now climbing over the sides of the chasm.
BREAKFAST is ready. Are you coming, mother?” The woman’s reverie was cut short by the voice of Sygrid, her nineteen-year-old daughter standing in the doorway. Her luxurious taffy-colored hair, coiled loosely on the nape of a white neck, contrasted vividly with the level, brown eyes. Her odd beauty made one start.
Mother Gunderson’s heart rejoiced in the graceful strength of her only daughter. Sygrid was just the kind of girl she had always wanted, responsible, affectionate, beautiful.
“Yes, Ay bane coming, daughter,” she answered. “Ay smell the coffee. Vashing in the open air alvays makes me vant to eat.”
Sygrid poured her mother’s coffee and dished porridge for her younger brothers, Severn and Albert, now busily washing at the kitchen sink. Oscar, eldest of the boys, already seated at the table, waited his mother’s coming before trying the food before him.
“Gee, what time is it, sis?” he asked. “I’ve got to take the herd out earlier this morning.
Thorson has shut his south road off; means I’ll have to take ’em an extra two miles around.”
“It’s only seven, Oscar, You’ll have plenty time,” assured Sygrid.
“Seven? How does it come the boys are up?”
“We’re going to the circus today,” explained young Severn, just turned ten. “We wanted to get up so’s we would not miss nothin’.”
“Yes,” joined Albert. “We wanted to see ’em put the tent up. They say the elephants drive the stakes in the ground.
We’re goin’ to carry water for ’em. Aren’t we, Severn?”
Mother Gunderson entered in time to hear the explanation.
“Ah, that is some fine for you boys. Oscar, Ay vish so that you could go, too. You work so hard efery day. Y ou haf never seen a circus either, and you are seventeen years old, too.”
“Never mind me, mother,” smiled Oscar between bites. “I’ll go over tonight after the show and see them load up and pull on.”
“Mother,” asked Sygrid, "will you let me take the sewing machine around on the shady side of the house this afternoon. Then when Arno comes we can have coffee out there. It will be nice and cool. He said he might be over this afternoon if he could get away.”
“Shure, ve vill. And ve vill haf one gude time, too, Sygrid, finishing your vedding dress.” Here the woman dropped her eyes. Why would that trembly feeling overtake her when she thought of Sygrid’s wedding?
“Sygrid,” she said, a choking sensation in her throat, “Arno iss a fine boy, but Ay tink Ay get lonesome for you efen before you go.”
"XÆORNING passed and with its going came the ^ sultry, weakening heat of a prairie noon. Brockton’s scant population, now swe’led by families from surrounding farms, waited limp and impatient on sidewalks, stoops, and in yards for the parade of Bobell’s Great Consolidated Shows.
As usual Mother Gunderson’s front lot accommodated a number of women and their children, who flocked there knowing the spectacle wöuld turn her corner before its entrance to Main Street. Sygrid and her mother mingled with their neighbors as the hot moments passed.
“Don’t let Teddy get so near the tepee tent, Mrs. Schlater; he might push his way through the vines and fall in. Ay don’t know but Ay alvays feel so nervous ven anyvun gets near it,” explained Mother Gunderson to her German neighbor.
“Teddy, Teddy,” called the mother. “Come here or you vondt gets to no circus today.”
“Ay had vun dream last night about that veil, Mrs. Schlater. Ay dreamed Ay bane standing by the tent and a flash of lightning showed ...”
“Dreams iss like dot,” interrupted the neighbor, “I dondt likes dem mineseif, effer since my leedle Franz vas taken avay. He was mine eighth kindt. Two days before der separator takes him I dreams I see him standting in der wheat fieldt, his leedle headt shust above der veat tops and his baby handts stretched out to his mudder. It has alvays been lonesome around mine house since.”
A circus bugle sounded its ill-timed notes. A cloud of dust appeared at the end of the street.
“Here she comes,” called a small boy. “Hurrah, here she comes.”
The dust cloud grew larger as a scarlet-coated figure astride a black horse shouted in mégaphonie hoarseness the wonders to be viewed for microscopic sums at the show grounds.
“Hello, mother. Where are the boys?”
Mother Gunderson turned.
“Oh, it’s you, Arno. They boys? Ay haf not seem them since early this morning. Guess they bane down to the circus.”
“I’ve come to give them money to get tickets. I was thinking you and Sygrid might want to go. Everybody is going. I would take you, but I can’t leave the shop when things are so busy.”
“No. Ay tank you, Arno, but some of Sygrid’s friends are going to make a little surprise party on her this afternoon, and Ay must be here ven they come. Ve are going to sew on her vedding dress, and ve need all the time ve can get if she be ready in vun veek, Arno.”
The man smiled down into the face of the speaker. He placed his great strong arm about the slightly stooped shoulders, his hand brushing her straight, black hair. Here, indeed, was where his lovely Sygrid inherited the so gentle voice, dark, level eyes and sweet disposition. Sygrid’s mother. How much he owed her. How often had he tried to analyze his admiration for this plain woman. There were times when she was almost beautiful. He watched her now as, unaware of his scrutiny, she laughed in childlike glee at the passing parade.
"Look, Arno, aren’t those elephants funny? You know Ay alvays tink of dem as fat, old people, who yump about to please babies. They seem to know they are funny.”
Arno smiled. The sun, he noted, fell full upon her head, causing the glint of a few gray hairs to appear.
“Mother, you are going to be very lovely when your hair is all gray. You’ll look even more like our Sygrid, then, with light hair and dark eyes.”
“Arno, you vas alvays saying such nice tings. Imagine me looking anyting like Sygrid. Ay don’t mean to be proud but Ay tink Ay could nefer look so nice as Sygrid.”
“Well, mother, I think you do.” He placed his two hands on her shoulders, his blue eyes compelling her to return his gaze. Glancing from the angular body back to the strong, loving face one seemed to breathe in a sense of reliability and endurance that acted as an elixir to the spirit. The whole of her radiated pure, maternal strength, the kind that dares to create — then serves and lasts.
The peculiar cry of camels shambling along in the dusty road caught her attention.
“Oh, look Arno. Camels ! Ayalvays like to see their faces. They seem so soured vit the vorld. Ay alvays tink they are saying to themselves, ‘No good—vill come—of it,’ as they valk along.”
Arno could not help but smile at the accurate description of the pessimistic camels as they came masticating to the slow rhythm of their bobbing humps.
“Mother, tell me, are you glad Sygrid is going to marry me?”
“You silly boy, of course Ay bane. Arno, all Ay haf to say is, that if Ay looked the whole county ofer, Ay could not find vun man who looks better beside my Sygrid and acts nicer to her mother and liddle brothers.”
“Thanks,” he replied. “Mother, I have a surprise for you and Sygrid tonight. Something nice.”
“You are a bad boy to spend more money. Ay vunder vat it iss now. Oh, look. Here comes some clowns.”
She paused as a gaudy band wagon drawn by six gray horses slowly made its lumbersome way toward them. They listened with smiles to the tin-horn arrangement of “Blue Danube Waltz.” The parade slowed up when they ceased, allowing the leader to announce his next selection. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he began, “We will play for you—”
He was cut short by an unexpected lurch of the wagon which cast him headlong into his circle of musicians. Loud laughs accompanied the supposedly “trick” exit of the leader. Their smiles changed, however, as they caught the curses of the man driving the wagon.
“Hi, there—what the blazes is the matter with you? Get in line there, you swine!”
The voice was hard and rough as the driver rose from his seat to saw the mouths of his dusty six mercilessly. Then they pulled on as the dust and curses floated back to the spectators.
Arno turned to the stiffened form at his side.
“Why, mother, what’s the matter? Are you frightened?”
She did not answer, but stood white and rigid, clutching his arm. He pulled her tightly to his side, noting the pallor of her drawn face.
“Don’t be frightened, mother, there was no accident. See, the driver has them in line again. Listen, the funny band is playing.”
Still the woman did not answer.
“Tell someone to get Sygrid, quick,” he summoned.
Sygrid appeared, her face as white as the one he held against his breast.
“Take her into the house, Arno. I think—maybe—it’s the sun,” she said, glancing nervously in the direction of the wagon now hidden from sight by the tepee tent.
ONCE inside her sheltered windows Mother Gunderson sank into her rocker and gazed steadily at the floor. Sygrid and Arno ministered to her with cold drinks.
“Arno,” asked Sygrid, “will you find Albert and Severn and tell them to come home? Don’t let them go to the circus.” Arno departed hastily.
Alone with her daughter Mother Gunderson spoke.
“Did you see him?” she asked in undertones.
“Yes. I heard his voice first. I could never forget his swearing. Then when he stood up I was sure. I wonder if he saw us?”
“No. If he had, he vouldn’t have spoken. You know how he alvays did before. He yust came to town, robbed someone, then came and stayed vit us for a while for protection. No vun could effer accuse us, for ve haf been honest, alvays, Sygrid, alvays.”
“Yes, we have, mother.”
“And your vedding so near. Oh Sygrid !”
“Never mind that, mother. It is you I care about and the boys. I hardly think he would know Severn and Albert; they were so small when we left. Oscar, he would know at a glance. Maybe he will not find out we are here,” feebly consoled the daughter.
“Five years of vorking and building. Ay tought ve vas rid of him coming vay out here. Five years,” she repeated. “Ay vunder vat Arno vould say if he knew vat kind of a father you haf.”
“I am sure it would make no difference; in fact, I have often told him he was a no-good. It is just the idea of him shaming you that makes me worry.”
“Ay vanted so to haf liddle Albert and Severn not know anyting about him. They vere so small ven ve came avay. Ay cannot go avay again. Ay haf no money and Ay haf bought this liddle house and lot.”
“We must be brave, mother. If it comes to the worst, I’d tell the truth and hand him over.”
“Yes, and spoil your vedding. Oh, Sygrid, all my lifetime, efer since I held you ven you vas my first baby, Ay haf prayed you should be safe, and married to a good man like Arno. Oh, Ay vish the boys vould come home.”
Mother Gunderson closed her eyes and leaned back in her rocker. Suddenly she seemed old, useless. A sense of fatigue crept over her. Her limbs ached and a dull, dead throb beat a tireless rhythm at her temples.
She reached out her hand to where Sygrid’s rested upon her lap. The anxious clutch of her daughter’s hand awoke her. A smile crept over their faces and each felt a sense of staunch security in the other’s nearness. Above them on a tiny shelf the kitchen clock sounded the hour of two in its sweet, peace-patient voice, and together with its gently determined “tick-tock,” it reminded them that “the mills of God grind slowly.”
“Mother,” said Sygrid, her cheek upon the other’s breast, “nothing seems so very bad as long as you are with us.”
“Two o’clock. There is much to do. Ay must tell you now the girls are giving you a liddle surprise party this afternoon. It vould be unfair not to tell you now. Put on your nice pink dress and your pretty white shoes. Ay must make some tings nice for you girls to eat—then Ay get dressed for the party.
HURRY a little ! Hurrrrry a little ! The big show is now starrting. Come and see wonderrrs. See Nature’s Nautical Nuisances, which the Mighty Bobell Brothers have been yanking through this country for the express purpose of educating the public, edifying the masses, and errrradicating the necessity of spending, reading, studying, travelling! A practical education for microscopic sums! Suit your purse and choose your seat !”
Severn and Albert Gunderson stood wide-eyed and anxious as the glib-tongued barker rolled his r’s above the hum of a hundred different noises. Several times young Severn had tried in his ten-year-old voice to catch the attention of the man on the box, but it was useless. The experienced eye of the Barker had long since spied them in front of his wagon holding their large, shiny tin pail between them.
“Here, Albert, I know. Let me turn the pail over and stand on it. Maybe if I come up as high as the ticket window he’ll see me.”
Albert willingly relinquished his hold on the pail with which he had so laboriously earned his entrance fee. He waited a short distance for the outcome of his brother’s attempt.
“Please, Mr. Bobells, will you give—” “Hear the minstrels! Hear the minstrels! The big show is now starrting. How many, sir? One dollar, please. Will you get your reserved seats now or inside the tent?”
“Mr. Bobells,” shouted Severn in shriller key, stretching his small neck as he balanced himself tiptoe on the wobbly pail, “me and Albert carried water all the way . . .”
A crowd of ruffians shuffled against the lad, tumbling him against the ticketwagon. Severn regained his balance with a struggle, only to be pushed headlong by another hurrying lot. He fell forward, striking his head against the iron-clad wheel of the wagon. He lay there, a limp little figure, the huge pail shining ironically within the curve of his frail, boyish arm. Albert ran to him and began calling childishly for his mother when he beheld an ugly gash in Severn’s forehead.
“Here, what’s all this about?” The voice was gentle but authoritative. “Someone get some water quick.” Albert glanced up into the face of Jack Slate, the real-estate man, and told him his story.
“Who promised you the tickets?” he asked, gathering the stunned child into his arms.
“It was the man who drived the clown wagon in the parade. He told us if we carried lots of water all morning we could go inside. Then when we came back he said we had to ask the man what sold the tickets. There he is now,” and Albert pointed with a dirty forefinger to a tall Norseman in circus uniform standing a few paces away.
“Here, Jack, I’ll take the kid.” It was Arno who spoke, his arms outstretched to take the child.
Jack transferred his burden, keeping his eye on the uniformed swindler Albert had pointed to.
“I think he’s just stunned. The gash isn’t deep. Better take him to the doctor though—one can never tell. In the meantime I’ll make these roughnecks come across with the tickets these kids earned.” He took young Albert’s hand and strode toward the designated one.
“Are you the man who made the water deal with this youngster?”
The shifty-eyed driver receded a few steps, appraising the out-turned elbows of the speaker.
“Yes, he’s the guy,” affirmed Albert. “I never saw the kid before,” snarled the man.
“Oh, you did, too. You told us all the same thing. Yes, he did,” piped a chorus of young voices.
Jack Slate turned and beheld a dozen small boys, their sunburned faces stern with disappointment.
“We all carried water clear from your springs, Mr. Slate,” affirmed the eldest of the lot. “He said he didn’t want to take the animals down there, or he might have to pay for the water, and promised us all tickets if we’d carry it up here.”
“Oh, so you got the water from my springs, eh? Well, you’ll just take your choice of giving out a bunch of tickets or paying for every pailful you used.”
“Well,” weakly accented the driver, “you'll have to come along to the wagon. I’ll have to tell the boss.”
“You’re right you will. Come on, boys. How many are there?”
“There’s ten of us,” answered one of the gang, “not counting you or Severn Gunderson who got hurt.”
Jack Slate felt the arm within his clutch stiffen.
“Who was hurt?” asked the uniformed one.
“My brother, Severn,” piped small Albert. “We both carried water all morning since eight o’clock. We didn’t even get no lunch.”
“And what’s your name?” asked the man.
“ My name’s Albert—Albert Gunderson, and I carried half the pail, too, clear from the spring where Oscar waters his cows every morning.”
Jack Slate wondered at the sudden narrowing of the questioner’s eyes as he ordered tickets for the crowd.
THE fading light of a hot, July moon etched leafy patterns on the lap of Mother Gunderson as she sat by her vinecovered windows listening into the cooling depths of the night. No sounds, save those of the stillness; the croaking of frogs in a nearby slough, the tramping of some footloose animal in a neighboring yard. Far out, a belated wagon rumbled its way in the ruts of a grass-ridged trail.
A sudden breeze, cool and stirring, filled the room and sucked the curtains outward. The place seemed charged with a sense of impending crisis. The woman rose and paced noiselessly to the cot of her injured son. Her thoughts alternated constantly between him and the coming of the one she dreaded. He would come, she knew, and only wished it would happen before the boy awoke. She listened, her ear at the child’s heart, to the faint but regular breathing. A feverish hand flung against her neck told of a still high temperature. She glanced at the clock. Eleven-thirty. If Sygrid and Arno would only return with the doctor. There was no use waking tired Oscar. Sygrid would find help if anyone could.
The knotted end of a clothes-line thumped a tattoo on the side of her tarpapered dwelling. A sudden desire for light compelled her to turn up the wick of her kerosene lamp. Its brightness steadied her for a moment when a fresh gust of wind swept through and extinguished it. Her nervousness increased.
A thunderstorm was evidently brewing. She hurried to close her windows, thankful for something to occupy the moments. The flapping of her morning’s wash still upon the lines lent an inspiration. Quickly she stepped through the back door and grabbed at the dancing clothes. The wind had risen, and the jerking rope gave her quite a wrestle.
A crash of thunder, accompanied by the sound of masculine voices burst upon her ears.
“Hey, Ott, he ran that way!”
“To your left,” came the excited answer.
The woman paused in her struggle to catch sight of two men dashing past her house, their feet beating a jagged rhythm on the plank walk in front. More voices. Her arms full of clothes, Mother Gunderson hurried inside as a thump sounded on her front step. An impulse to scream was stifled by the thoughts of her sleeping boy. She started instinctively toward him as the screen door opened, and a man stood framed in the doorway. He darted quickly to one side, pressing his back against the wall.
A glimmer of yellow lightning filled the room.
“You!” gasped the woman, her arms still hugging the clothes.
“Don’t say a word,” muttered the intruder, “but go out and get that sack.” She did not move.
“Did you hear what I said? Get that sack!”
“Not—this—time,” came the slow answer.
Voices sounded at a distance. The man struck a match and glanced about. With quick fingers he lit the lamp, then removed his cap and coat, seating himself with a smile.
“If they come in here, I am your husband. I’ve come for a little visit.” He fumbled in his pockets for a cigarette. “Now, then, just to make a fellow feel at home, how about a nice piece of flatbread and a cup of coffee? It will look better, too, if they come in.”
The woman stood her ground.
“Eh? What’s the matter with you, Helga?” he queried, noting the stolidness of her features. “I'm not going to hurt you.” His tone became suave at her immobility. She had never looked quite so fearless before. A little gentleness, he reflected, used to go far in the old days.
“Helga,” he repeated, “don’t be worried. I won’t bother you long. Just get papa’s lil’ sack and he’ll be on his way—tomorrow morning—if you say so.”
“Ay sed—not—this—time,” calmly answered the woman. Her small body with its over developed shoulders stood firm and straight in the lamplight.
Another crash of thunder and the rain came pouring down, its noise magnified by the tar-paper exterior.
“Huh, guess they won’t hunt long, not in that storm!” he gloated. “My old luck seems to stick with me, even if you don’t.”
“Get out!” said the woman.
“Like blazes I will !” He sprang toward her, grasping her cruelly by the wrist. The washing slipped from her arms.
“Will you get that sack?” he repeated.
She looked at him steadily for a moment, then slowly lowered her eyes to the floor.
“Ay—Ay vill,” she whispered, making her way to the door.
Gunderson followed her closely, but drew back as she bent down in the pelting rain to grasp the heavy sack. She reentered, her eyes still concentrated on the floor.
The clock struck the hour of twelve. He glanced upward.
“Slick work, I call it. Make an entry, get the goods, and a getaway all in forty minutes. Thought I was a goner once when I ducked into your backyard. The old wash saved me that time. I just stood among ’em until I heard you come out the back door; then I made my way round the front. Your vines hid me then. There I was, standing just this side of ’em as those hicks ran right by. Gave me a giggle,” he went on, his nonchalance increasing. The rain ceased for a measure, as slow footsteps resounded heavily without.
The woman turned toward him, her eyes at last meeting his.
“Get out!” she said, pointing to the door. “It’s your last chance.”
Something in her face told him she was right. He turned to where the sack was concealed.
“Leave it be,” she commanded, “or I’ll scream.”
He reached for his coat, muttering a curse. He had not expected a trick from this honest clod. One look into the night and he was gone.
\ TOTHER GUNDERSON listened for a moment; then grabbed the sack and swung it to the step. She glanced up as Gunderson darted back into the yard. He paused for a moment before the pyramid of vines, then lunged a shoulder through them.
A woman’s shriek resounded above the storm. She sank to her knees, her hands sinking into the wet mud. A call came back in the darkness. She struggled to rise, but it was too much. The taut nerves twitched for a moment, then she lay face down.
Two men appeared. They lifted her up and carried her toward the open door as Oscar in night apparel barred them.
“Mother, mother, are you hurt?” he cried, catching her in his arms as the foremost man stumbled against something on the step.
The warm arms of her son revived her, and she looked about as Sheriff Ott and his deputy entered with the sack. They opened it and began to count. A swift glance at their faces assured her that they suspected nothing.
“Guess it’s all here,” said Ott, “looks like it anyhow. Mostly silver. Wonder how he happened to let loose of it?”
Oscar gave a quick start. “Why, those are Arno’s silver spurs! It must have been his shop they robbed.”
The woman closed her eyes. A new fear seized her. That accounted for the long absence of Sygrid and Arno. She clutched at Oscar’s arm, but her fears were soon quieted as the two, drenched and shivering, appeared in the doorway. Sygrid rushed to her mother’s side, as Arno bent down to pull a long white paper from out the loot.
“Too bad we didn’t get our man,” said Ott. “There’s sixty here in coin, fifty in bills and all your silver fixings. Do you think that’s all?”
“Guess so. This is all I care about just now, boys,” answered Arno as he unfolded the paper and placed it on Mother Gunderson’s lap. He paused as she examined it in complete bewilderment.
“Vat iss this, Oscar?” she asked, “Ay can’t make it out.”
“It’s the deed to the old Sorenson place just a half mile from town. Trees all around it, and a good well right beside the house. It’s in exchange for value received,” laughed Arno, as he placed his arm about Sygrid’s damp shoulders.
Still the woman only stared. Too much had happened this day for her to comprehend quickly.
“You aren’t going to wash any more, mother,” he continued, “you’re going to grow things—that’s what you should have been doing all these years.”
Sheriff Ott, standing in the doorway scanning the outside for a shadow, remarked: “It must have been the lightning that knocked you out, Mrs. Gunderson. I see your vine poles out here got the full force of the stroke. Lucky you didn’t get more.”
“It vas a bad storm, Ay tink,” answered the woman with a glance at Sygrid. “But ve vont bother to fix it. Next week the boys and Ay vill plant tings in our new home vhile Arno and Sygrid is avay,” and she turned with a smile to a small voice calling “mama” from the cot.