Simeon may have lacked a self-starter but, gol riney, once he got into action there was no holding him
SEWELL PEASLEE WRIGHT
OLD Simeon Prebble stumped into the kitchen, waving a handful of mail to be exact, the current issue of the Daily Journal, two circulars from fertilizer firms, the little midsummer catalogue of a mail order house, a bulky letter from a school teaching taxidermy by correspondence, and a gaudy folder from a stationary-engine manufacturer.
“He didn’t stick the flag up ag’in,’’ Simeon remarked testily. "I reckon I've tol’ Ix>s more’n fifty times thet th’ flag on thet mail box won’t stay up ’less you shove it way over. An’ here my mail’s been there all day. I’m goin’ to lay for him t’morrer an’ tell him a few things.”
“I know how you’ll tell him,” said Letty Prebble, dropping a couple of sticks of split birch into the stove. “I reckon you’ll do thet just like you do everything else—take it out in talkin’.”
"You’ll see," growled Simeon ominously. He rubbed the silvery stubble on his chin with a great, brown, calloused hand. It was only Wednesday, but his weekly Sunday shave had lost all its virtue.
Letty slid the warped stove lid into place with a bang. “I been bearin’ about the new stove you're goin’ to buy me, too—the same way,” she remarked acidly. “This is the second kitchen stove we’ve had since we was married, and thet’s Ix-en thutty odd years. Just look at it! The oven dtx>r’s cracked, and they hain’t a one of the lids that hain’t all warped. You can’t make it look like anything, to save you. The linin’s all gone, and—”
“I told you I’d get you a new stove, come fall,” put in Simeon hastily. “By gol riney, Letty, don’t start up about thet stove again !”
“That’s what you said last year. I s’pose it’ll be what you’ll be savin’ next year. What you goin’ to buy it with?” "Wal. I reckon the pertaters’ll bring in enough, if the price is anything like right.’’ ventured Simeon, opening up the bulky envelope from the correspondence school that taught taxidermy. He glanced down at the bold headlines and the attractive pictures surreptitiously.
This stuffing of birds and things would be pretty easy work, and you could get oprices for your stuff, too. Les Parker’s son. who shot that moose, had paid sixty-five dollars for having the head mounted. There were still lots of moose and any number of deer were shot every year. If — “Simeon Prebble!” He almost dropped the folder he had taken from the envelope, and shuffled it hastily with the other mail. When Letty spoke like that, watch out. “Will you pay attention to what I'm sayin’ to you?”
“I’m payin’ attention,” said Simeon doggedly. “An’ I’ll get you the stove just like I said. What more do you want?” "From the money you get for the pertatoes? If you don't tend out on Nat, there won’t lx* pertaters enough fer the table and seed. Just look at him—look !"
SIMEON looked out through the window in the direction indicated by Letty’s indignant forefinger. Across the road was the brook, and across the brook, between it and the old back pasture, was the potato field.
“See him? See him siftin’ there in the shade? Well, I been watchin’ him; he’s been there twenty minutes. He rests at the end of every two. three rows. And you payin’ him g(xx! cash besides his keep!”
A frown gathered swiftly and darkly between Simeon’s bristly grey brows.
"1 been watchin’ him myself,” he growled. “I been intendin’ to tell him plenty, and tonight when he comes up. he gets it. At that rate, he won’t finish cultivatin’ them pertaters until it's time to dig ’em. I bet he does a day’s work t’morrer after I get through with him.”
“Yes, I know how you’ll talk to him. Why don’t you go say somethin’ to George Cowan about buyin’ thet back pasture, if you’re so ready to talk?”
"By gol riney, Letty, I’ll talk to him when the time comes! Only thet’s kind of a perticular business, sellin’ land like thet. You wait; I’ll put it up to him one of these days, and I’ll do it right. ‘George,’ I’ll tell him; ‘maybe you’d like to buy that back pasture of mine, eh? I ain’t milkin’ but the two cows, and don’t intend to. You been turnin’ your stock out there in my pasture, and I’ve been glad to have you, to keep it from growin’ up, but if you’d like to buy that land, why, I reckon we—’ ”
“Oh. lord!” Letty laughed as though she didn’t want to hut couldn’t help it. “You’re a do’ya’d hoss Sime; always r’arin’ and prancin’ and champin’ at the bit in the do’ya’d, and dyin’ down to a dead walk as soon as you hit the road. I never seen the beat o' you !”
“Now look here, ma,” said Simeon, coming up and patting her on her round, plump shoulders. Once you got Letty to laughing, you could get her mind off stoves and things like that. “I’m going to put it up to George just like I said. ‘George,’ I'll say to him. 'I ain’t needin’ that back pasture any more, since I'm milkin’ but the two cows, an’ if you—’ ” “You run along and read your mail.” interrupted Letty. “1 got to get supper cornin’ along. Nat eats hearty, even if he hain’t doin’ anything for his wages. Go on. now!”
Simeon let it go at that, and wandered out between the ell and the bam, where it was shady and there was a bit of a breeze.
Now and again, as he read carefully through his mail, he glanced out under his brows toward the big field of potatoes across the brook. As often as not he caught Nat resting, and Simeon’s shaggy brows drew together thunderously.
Dooryard horse, eh? Nat wouldn’t think so when he came up.
"N TAT started toward the house just about sunset, leaving the cultivator at the end of a row. Simeon waited until Nat had time to tie up the horse, and then strolled into the bam fhx>r through the woodshed and granary that connected house and barn. # Simeon's grey brows were still beetled.
“Thunderation. but it’s hot out there,” said Nat. grinning. Nat’s father and mother had died years ago, and he lived with an uncle when he wasn’t hired out to somebody. He was lanky, and burned a deep brown. Winters, he went up into the lumber camps with his uncle’s team. “I’ll bet it was a hundred and ten.”
“How much have you got done?” asked Simeon craftily. A good, trappy man could cultivate the whole piece in three days, easy.
“Oh. about a quarter; mebbe not that much. They’s a lot o’ clay in thet piece, and it’s baked hard. Old Cressy got pretty badly lathered up.” Old Cressy was the bay horse of Simeon’s team.
“Yes, there’s a lot of clay in that piece.” nodded Simeon. He’d farmed it for the last thirty odd years, and he certainly ought to know. “Drought hittin' it pretty hard, eh?” "Just middlin’. I'd say. They’re toppin’ out pretty well; I reckon they’ll come through.”
“I hope so. By gol riney, Nat, I don’t know why anybody farms it. the way things are these days. Lucky to get your phosphate bill out of a crop. Reckon you can get through across the brcx>k by the end of the week?”
“All right. Nat; you better go get up the cows and milk. I’ll swill the pigs.”
Nat went swinging off, whistling, and Simeon turned toward the granary, to find himself confronted by a grim figure with hands thrust in a rolled-up apron.
“Was you lookin’ for me, Letty?” asked Simeon hastily, an uncomfortable suspicion forming in his mind.
“No, I came out to listen to you give Nat thet talk on layin’ around instead of workin’. An’—I heard you !”
“Gol riney, Letty, it wam’t his fault. You see, they’s a lot of clay across the brook, and the drought has it baked hard. When Nat explained how it was—and old Cressy latherin’ up—mebbe we was a mite hard on Nat, eh?”
Letty unrolled her hands from the swathing apron with a sudden gesture that sent Simeon backward with a quick step.
“I said it a thousand times before, and I say it again, Simeon Prebble.” she snapped. “You’re a do’ya’d hoss, and you alius will be a do’ya’d hoss.” She turned and strode back through the granary, shaking her head. By the big oat bin she turned for a final remark: “And nothin’
else!” she said acidly.
Simeon stood in the bam floor, staring out through the big open doors.
Letty certainly was a great hand to set her mind on one thing. If she didn’t get that stove pretty soon, she wouldn’t be fit to live with.
Maybe he had better go see George Cowan about that back pasture—only George was one of those young, smart, city-educated fellows, and kind of hard. If it were old Ben Cowan, now. that he’d been neighbors with for thirty years, it would be different.
“Ben,” he’d say. “how’d you like to buy that back pasture of mine? I ain’t usin’ it, and ain’t likely to have any call to. It j’ins right up against your pasture, and—”
But young George Cowan was a hard sort of cuss to talk to. Good neighbor, but no hand at all to talk around about things.
Still. Letty was set on getting a new stove, and a good stove was all out of reason, even a mail order one. He’d better go see George tomorrow. Tomorrow—or first thing next week, anyway.
THERE comes Les,” called Letty. “You better hurry down and tell him about puttin’ up thet flag right. Simeon, out behind the ell, looked over the use-darkened frame of his handmade bucksaw.
“Jest as soon’s I get this piece sawed, ma,” he said.
“Where’s he at now?”
“He’s pretty near, but don’t mind. Go right on with your sawin’. We can use the wood, and you wouldn’t no more than get a chew of tobacco out of him, at best.” Letty moved from the doorway, and after a moment’s hesitation, Simeon went on with his sawing. Letty pretty near always saw ^
Les coming, and knew whether he stopped or not, anyway.
Besides, Les had had the mail route for so long he thought he sort of owned it, and got touchy when you tried to tell him anything.
Simeon finished the stick he was working on, loosened the tumbuckle of the saw, and started after the mail.
“Where you goin’?” Letty’s voice stopped him short just as he passed the well-curb.
“After the mail.”
“I thought mebbe you was goin’ up to see George Cowan. He’s started paintin’ the keeridge house, and now’d be a good time to see him. If you would only sell him thet back pasture, I could have a new stove, and I certainly do need one. I wish you’d just look at this one smoke, Simeon Prebble! The grates are droppin’ out of it, and it won’t bake decent, and hain’t for the last five years. They hain’t no amount of polish can make it look like anything, and—”
“By gol riney!” swore Simeon, gazing up the road toward the Cowan farm. “George is a-paintin’ his keeridge house, hain’t he? I’ll mosey right on up there and have a talk with him. Soon’s I read the mail.”
“Soon’s you read the mail,” Letty mocked him.
“I know you, Simeon Prebble. That’s just another way of puttin’ it off.”
“Is it?” growled Simeon, his eyebrows bristling.
“All right, then, I’ll go afore I read my mail.”
Might as well go and get it over with. Wouldn’t be any peace in the family until he did. George was getting the use of the back pasture, and he had plenty of money to buy it. Ben’s brother had died and left them pretty well fixed, just a couple of years before old Ben died. George had come into all of it.
Simeon trudged determinedly through the thick, yellow road dust, past his orchard, noting a brown-tail nest in the old Black Oxford tree. He’d have to get Nat to clip that off and bum it; brown-tails certainly could cause a lot of trouble.
Near the line between his farm and Cowan’s, he observed a strip of hawkweed. Have to turn that field over this fall; once the hawkweed got a good hold, there was no stopping it. There was the old Brandt place all gone to hawkweed in four years. Killed out even the spear grass.
Simeon turned off the road and up the steep, gravelly drive that led to the neatly painted set of buildings that old Ben Cowan had left for his son. Wasn’t a nicer set of buildings on the road than the Cowan place, and well kept up, too.
X-JI, MR. PREBBLE,” said George, as Simeon came up -*• *• into the yard. “Think it’ll ever rain again?” He hung his pail of paint on a wire hook fastened to a rung of the ladder, laid his brush across the pail, and came down to meet Simeon.
“By gol riney, George, I don’t know. Don’t look much like it.” He wished George didn’t call him “Mr. Prebble” all the SíS. / , time. Sounded sort of
funny. Of course, he had been brought up that way; old Ben Cowan hadn’t c ■■■' been one to let youngsters
call their elders by their first names.
“We certainly could use a little rain, Mr. Prebble. If this keeps up, it’ll beat the drought we had three years ago. And my well’s so low I’m almost afraid of the water. It s a good thing the brook through your back pasture is springfed. or I don’t know what the stock would do.”
Simeon shied hastily away from the mention of stock. No use rushing the thing. Time to talk about the stock and the back pasture later on. No. sir; if you want to sell a man something, don’t try to hurry him.
“Them springs hain’t never been dry so fur as I can remember, and that’s been thutty odd year. George. Don t you worry none about them springs. How’s Bessie these days?” George had married Bessie Turner right after he came back from the city. Old Lon Turner’s daughter, she was, down at the mills. Known her since she was a squalling youngster in her mother’s arms. Mighty nice girl, too. and good looking.
“Fine. Up to her elbows in butter today. See her there bv the window?”
Simeon nodded to the smiling face in the window, trying to think of something else to talk alxnit. George always waited for you to speak first, never bringing up anything of his own to talk about. Some more of old Ben’s training, probably. The smell of fresh paint gave Simeon a lead at the critical moment.
“See you’re doin’ some paintin’,” he commented. “Nice color, that blue.”
"Rather bright, I thought, but Bessie insisted on it. As I get around to it, I figure on painting the whole set of buildings.”
They both stood staring up at the fresh coat of paint on the gable end of the carriage house.
“Yes, sir, that’s a nice color, that blue,” said Simeon at length. “I like it. Mighty nice color. George. Wal, I reckon I’ll be moseyin’ on. You’ll be wantin’ to finish that fust co’t today.” It wouldn’t be the thing to do to try to sell a man some back pasture land when he was busy painting. Some other time when George wasn’t rushed
so......Simeon turned and started down the gravelly drive
“Not in a hurry, are you. Mr. Prebble?” called George. “There—er, there’s a little matter I’d like to talk to you about, if you aren’t heading for anywhere in particular.” “No; I was just takin’ a look at the hawkweed that’s a-comin’ up in that west field, by the road, close to the line, and I come along the rest o’ the way just to pass the time o’ day with you. What was it. George?” Simeon out his thin black plug of tobacco and offered it to George. The younger man smiled and shook his head, fishing for a pack of cigarettes.
“Well, it’s like this,” said George, devoting more time than was necessary to the lighting of his cigarette. “I don’t feel quite right about using that pasture of yours for my stock and not paying for it. You see, I—”
“Don’t think anything about it, George,” put in Simeon hastily. “That’s just bein’ neighborly, like. Your father and me was neighbors for thutty years and we never had a word. I reckon old lien Cowan’s son can have the use of a pasture I haint’ got a particle of use for.”
SIMEON clamped down hard on his chew, staring up at the bright blue paint on the gable end of the carriage
“Yes, sir, George, I sure like that blue paint, now. It's Continued on page 54
Continued on page 54
Continued from page 19
a mighty nice color. Wal, I reckon—” He turned toward the road again a bit more hurriedly. Anybody with half an eye could see that now wasn’t the time to talk about the old back pasture.
“But, listen, Mr. Prebble!” Simeon paused uncomfortably, George was flushed under his tan. and puffing hard on his cigarette. "I know how things were between you and dad. I remember what friends you always were. I—I hope you’ll take what \ I’m going to say in the right way, Mr.
“I’m figuring on keeping more stock next j year than this, and I can’t pasture what I’ve got now on my own land. I—I was just wondering if you’d consider an offer for that back pasture of yours? To—to sell it, I
“Not,” he added hastily, “because of the money or anything, but just because you aren’t using it, and probably won’t, and it’d be a real favor to me.”
Simeon’s mind was in a state of utter confusion. What was George talking about j in such a hurry? Wanted to buy the back J pasture, eh? Well—
“I’ll tell you,” he said, “I’ll think it over I some, and let you know. That’ll be all right, George. I’ll think it over.”
“Say, that’s fine! Do you suppose you could let me know by Saturday?”
“Saturday? Wal, yes, I reckon so.” “Because if you can, I’m driving to Gardiner, Saturday, and we could get the papers fixed up then. How about it?”
“Wal, I reckon Saturday’ll be all right. Sure it will. Startin’ early?”
“About nine o’clock. I’ll stop for you. Will that be okay?”
“Any time; I’ll be ready.” Simeon shifted his cud to the other cheek, and ambled down the drive toward the road. George watched him for a moment, and then headed for the house, pulling out another cigarette.
"Well, I did it, Bessie,” he exclaimed, as he came into the kitchen. "Lord, I’m glad that’s over!”
“You bought the back pasture?”
“Just the same as. It’s all settled. He’s such a cranky, touchy old devil, always getting steamed up about things, and I was
afraid he might resent my making an offer. But he took it all right when I put it up to him.”
Bessie reached into the jar for more salt, and added a judicious amount to the yellow, gleaming mass in the big wooden bowl.
“You ’most generally get what you set your mind on, George,” she said admiringly.
SIMEON stopped at the mail box and drew out a generous handful. There was the Daily Journal, a letter from a fertilizer house, a circular on electric belts that he had written about, two catalogues of nursery stock, a letter from a company that sold spectacles by mail, and a big, fine envelope from a publishing house that was offering a History of the World at reduced prices.
Letty looked around as he came into the big kitchen, still sorting over the mail, the j folded newspaper tucked under his arm. “Wal?” she said enquiringly.
“Don’t start about that stove now.” said ! Simeon. “I’m gettin’ it for you Saturday. . George and I are drivin’ to Gardiner in his I truck, and I’ll pick it up then.”
“Simeon Prebble! You sold the back pasture?”
“By gol riney, Letty!” Simeon beetled his brows impatiently. “Didn’t I say I was goin’ to do it? Sartin’ I sold the back pasture. ‘George,’ sez I, ‘I hain’t got no more use for that back pasture o’ mine, and ¡ you have. If you want it fer a fair figger, ; now, I reckon we can get together.’
“ ‘Wal,’ sez he, ‘I dunno, Mr. Prebble. Io dunno’. Sk) I let go on him then, and made 1 him see it my way. The ’mount o’ the story ! is, we’re goin’ into Gardiner, Saturday, and have the papers fixed up. That’s the kind of a do’ya’d horse I am.”
“Sime!” said Letty. She gave him a big j hug and a smacking kiss. “I’m sorry I ever j said a word about it.”
“Wal, all right,” said Simeon. “Only be a ! leetle more keerful after this, Letty. I’m kind of a bad man to git sta’ted.” And he : wandered out between the ell and the barn, ¡ where it was shady and there would be a little breeze.
The day’s mail looked mighty interesting.