Fame of Age
Will E. Ingersoll
GREAT-GRANDFATHER BEAMISH had in bygone years and forgotten days been lord of the Beamish household. Eut now its members—great-grandchildren, grandchildren, and even children, the generation next to his—had not only ceased to obey him, but were utterly deaf and blind to him as he sat alone, sunk in sleep or glooming out, round-eyed like an old fowl, above his pipe.
The only break came when the crisp voice of Sadie Beamish sent across the kitchen the casual call to meals to which Great-Gran could still respond -as Lacky Beamish, thirteen, phrased it -"under his own power.”
He was called thus to meals three times a day. But no one looked around or up to view the white beauty and hoary majesty of GreatGran's presence. In his long unreckoned and mighty age, he stumped over stiltlike, still able to raise his original six feet four of height to si» feet one, and let himself down, joint by joint, into the great armchair where he mumbled and blinked and blethered as he sat at meat.
It was, in fact, an index of the natal denseness of this prosaic seventeen-souled Beamish household that they could be oblivious, even after long habit of not heeding him, to a presence so pervasive as Great-Grandfather Beamish plying knife and fork. He cocked his elbows high and wide ; he shook the whole table as he bowed and leaned toward his plate at each vastly relished bite; he crowded his neighbors—Lacky on one side and Sadie on the other—with his splayed arms and knees; he broke unceremoniously into their conversations with the roar of a hoarse old boar.
But by no means could he ever get their notice. He could not butt himself upon their consciousness. If he roared, they paused casually till the noise was past. If he crowded them, they moved indifferently and gave him room. When Sadie hustled him back to his place by the stove at the close of a meal, she did it as mechanically as she would have shooed the cat. Great-Gran, while yet quick, had joined the dead. He had lived beyond the world's recking, and he was as much out of the world as though he had been in his grave.
From his chair by the stove between meals, as well as by fits and starts during meals, the old man often roared out in the midst of his lonely ruminations—roared, not at Sadie’s ever present, prosaic housekeeping, but at some pestering creature recrudescent down his long perspective of memory, some phantom returned along the chain of the decades to badger him. If Great-Gran had been as some old
men, he might have dwelt happily in his dim dream of power. He might have lived in his own mind and made it the heaven of domination in which, with his lifelong habit of bossing, he could take delight. But to dwell utterly in his own mind when he had outlived his world had never been possible to any Beamish. No matter how long they lived—and many Beamishes before Great-Gran had lived to enormous ages, one to an authentic 108—they had kept some awareness of the world about them to the last. The patriarch knew and felt what was going on about him; and this was his main sensation now—that he, who had been lord of this household, was now a lord with nothing to lord it over. He felt, as he would have put it, that ‘‘Tha-ay young ones is growing away from in under me.” The iron of this ate into his soul as he brooded grandly above the stove pan, his eyes bleak as those of an old polar bear.
But because of the nature of the Beamish family, the
situation endured and endured. It was the Beamish way, it had been always the Beamish way, to kill off their superannuated household lords by this sort of casual ostracism. Great-Gran continued, as he had, to roar out intermittently in liis dull anguish, but his roar was to the seventeen indifferent Beamishes merely one of the current noises of the day, like the dog’s bark, the caterwauling of the farm cats, the lowing of cows and calves, the stalled stallion’s neigh, the bellow of the bull in the field.
SO THE SITUATION endured, and so it might have gone on without change until,, in due and tedious course of his amazing vitality, Great-Gran repined away what was left to him of life. But Sadie it W'as—of all the family, Sadie ! to w'hom Great-Gran had been no more than a dish to be washed, a floor to be swept, a bed to be made—who sounded unexpectedly the note that turned all the family's eyes again toward its Abraham, its ancestor yet incarnate. One Saturday night at supper, her vast freckled face and
haycock of virile hair tilted above the city newspaper, Sadie raised her eyes and announced to all and sundry: “Here's old Dad Whitefield's picture in the paper, and a long piece about him. It says he's ninety-nine years of age.” And Fulk Beamish—twenty-two, at what Lacky called the girling age, with red hair rising in marcelled tiers above his strip of forehead, wrinkled across as though in perpetual calculation—Fulk it was who struck the significant note.
“Well, if they got old Dad Whitefield's picture in the paper, we ought to get Great-Gran’s picture in, too. GreatGran’s ninety-nine easy. Ninety-nine past, I bet.”
Sadie’s eyes brightened slowly. It took long for an idea to take hold. Then she said:
“Why, yes. Why, ye-es. Great-Gran is ninety-nine past. That’s so.”
“If he’s ninety-nine past,” chipped in Lacky Beamish, “he must be a hundred. Gosh!”
“Yaa.” Fulk, who frequented the village soda fountain and had the soda fountain way of pronouncing “yes,” agreed. “Yaa, Sade, there’s no gettin’ away from that.
Great-Gran must be a hundred right now as he sets. Yaa, we got to get his picture in the paper. I’ll say we got to get his picture in the paper.”
“A hundred?” This from eighty-four-year-old Todd Beamish, who sat at the end of the table, picking his strong white teeth with a match stick and pausing now and then to belch healthily: “A hundred past, did y’say? Yes, an’ good an’ past. Yes, sir, good an’ past. Why, I’m eighty-four years of age myself—goin’ on eighty-five. Hold on, Sade, I ’ll tell ye in a minute—”
But Sadie Beamish was away in the back of the house, burrowing like a badger in an old trunk, over the side of which fell obsolete yellow papers pawed indifferently out of her way.
“You W'ait three shakes, all of yuz,” her voice came out of the tin trunk gramophonically. “I’ll tell yuz how old Great-Gran is. Here! He-ere!”
She rose, waving an ancient blue-grey paper. Halfway across the floor, she stopped to read. The family watched indifferently until, over the edge of the sheet, they saw her eyes pop. When Sadie Beamish’s eyes popped, even a Beamish could not help being thrilled.
“Le’s see !” Fulk exclaimed, taking the paper, partially tearing it in his haste.
He read. Sadie stood beside him. Triumph struggled for expression in their faces, but they fought it back. The paper was sourced officially and authentically, but the thing seemed unbelievable.
“That can’t be right,” Sadie said.
“Naa,” agreed Fulk, “but gosh! if it was right, Sade. We’d sure have the bulge on old Dad Whitefield. Or anybody else. Look a-here, Gran”—Fulk thrust the paper before Todd Beamish, who was Great-Gran’s son —“look how old that says he is.”
Todd Beamish pushed the paper away.
“I don’t need to look at no paper,” he said. “I know how old he is. I’m eighty-four years of age, past. He was twenty-six years of age when he married, and I come the year after. Lacky, you’re smart at figures. What’s twenty-seven and eighty-four come to?”
“One hundred and eleven,” Lacky chirped promptly. Then the significance of what he had said swept over him,
and he repeated it with awe. “One hundred and eleven. Jiminy ! Great-Gran’s one hundred and eleven. Wait till I get that across to the fellows at school. Why, Fulkie, that’s pretty near like livin’ for ever.”
Fulk, with a stub of pencil and youth’s disrespect for archives, did a few figures on the edge of the old paper.
“That works out to the dot,” he announced. “This says he was bom in 1820.”
But there came here a virile roar, a boarlike roar, that startled all. The roar came from the nether midst of GreatGran’s tea-stained luxuriance of beard :
“Bom eighteen-twenty, nawthun ! They got ’er down wrong. I told them an’ told them—”
There was a pause while his mind, in its realm of mighty eld, roamed a little, like a dog coursing this way and that from a trail. When the old man took up and concluded his reiteration of an ancient grievance:
“I told them, sir, time and again, for to alter that. Ha-a-agh ! I told them I wasn’t bom in no eighteen-twenty. No-o, sirree. I was born the year they had the snow in Joo-ly. That was the summerless year they called it. Nobody never forgot that year, Pap he says. Eighteennineteen!” The patriarch’s voice tailed off in a kind of crooning.
“Gosh, all Mackinaw !” Thus Fulk, giving rein to his triumph. “That gives us another year. One hundred and twelve! Will I give Kenny Whitefield the horse-laugh!” “It’s certain sure then, is it?” This from the cautious Sadie. “Because w'e don’t want to be made a fool of.”
“It’s certain sure,” said Todd Beamish with a finality that settled the matter in all minds. “I been hearing that about the summerless year and getting the paper fixed since I was knee-high.”
■\4TLLY BEAMISH, who had a third-class teacher’s -*-certificate, was called upon to draft the piece about Great-Gran for the city paper. Fulk, who was an expert with the camera, undertook to get an up-to-date likeness. GreatGran rumbled protest at first. He wanted to be Untyped, as he called it, indoors, with a book on his knee, staring fiercely into the camera’s eye. But Fulk, w'ho was modernistic and forceful, had his will of Great-Gran. He stuck a pipe into the nicotine-yellowed cave amid the whiskers, led GreatGran out among the potato hills, shoved a hoe handle into the old hands, and snapped the patriarch erect with a pointed-crowned felt hat tilted at a rakish angle on the haystack of white hair, "lookin’ you straight in the eye and darin’ you to sass him.”
The vigorous snapshot, together with the piece about Great-Gran, appeared duly in the city paper, the Star, accompanied by a photograph of the document giving Great-Gran’s birth date and, in quotation marks, GreatGran Beamish’s own comment that the entry was a year
Then came the deluge. The item was printed in the Star about the beginning of the vacation season, and the deluge was a deluge of callers. Callers of all ages and stations in life. For the Beamish house was close to the summer highway of auto travel, and it was only a few miles jog aside to “see the hundred-and-twelveyear-old man.”
The callers came from far and near. Fulk’s virile snapshot, cheek by jowl with the document of birth—that had done the trick. Burned-out city men in their fifties, when they read that within ten or twelve hours drive from the city there lived a Titan who had succeeded in arriving saucily at 112, felt that they must go and study his knack at close
range. Milly in her article had mentioned Great-Gran’s daily brandy and milk, and his pipe that never in his waking hours except at meals left his mouth. How fine, thought these seekers after long life, to live to 112 and still be able to luxuriate in tobacco and alcohol. With question upon question they plied Great-Gran when they called. His mighty mane and white whiskers hid the age in his face, hid all but his eyes. He answered perhaps every fifteenth question, but he told them enough to send them away grinning and gabbling.
None of the family interfered in these courts that Great-Gran, sitting on his cretonne throne, held with group after group of visitors. Day after day the blood mounted into his dry cheeks— blood of delight that he had come back into the limelight, into his own. Respectful notice was given him by all the family now, full deference again in his fame of age. Like the soldiers of the centurion, they came on the jump when he creaked “Come !" and were off w ith alacrity when he roared "Go!" They were his lackeys at dawn and noon and dark. And soon it came on so that they had to be his lackeys at midnight, too. For with so much blood flowing to his brain all day. Great-Gran soon lost his ability to sleep like a log at night. He would lie awake w'ith thunderous mumbling or roar out in W'ry old dreams, and the hoarse boom and creak of his insomnia’s gibberish or the loonlike screech of his waking from nightmare would rouse the house like a firebell.
The Beamishes got no sleep, but they W'ere glad. Many and many a caller, for some unknowm reason, left a dollar, or sometimes what Fulk called a five-spot, or more rarely a ten-spot even. GreatGran put all these into a pouch in the lining of his old coat and kept them there. Long ago in his pioneering he had lived through very needy days.
The hoard increased his importance in the family’s eyes. They redoubled their efforts to please him ; they began again to revolve about him—a cold but compelled solar system of which he was the sun.
There was a radio in the house, and until fame of age came to him Great-Gran Beamish had had to put up w'ith what tunes the family liked. Fulk had monopolized the radio, and Fulk liked jazz and songs of the loves and lures and leanings of the 1930’s. But Great-Gran liked “Susanna" and “Jubilo,” and plantation songs such as the sad black men sang in times that had, like liquor, become very good because they were very old. Now he had all day whatever old rhythms and jigs he roared for, and often at 3 a.m. there would come the stalk of his great feet across the floor, and the“ra-a-atch”and stink of a match on his old moleskins. Then, there would follow a prospecting of the dial, with squeakings and squawkings and salvoes of static and a long and loud discord of ill-success with jets and spurts of jazz and slicings of rejected opera. If no jig tapped out or if no old ballad answered, the radio would be left humming.
The family cheerfully yielded up the privilege of unbroken sleep. The household knuckled to Great-Gran’s needs. He seemed himself to need next to no sleep in these grand tyrannical days. He might often seem to be on the edge of sleep, but he would rouse at the lightest provocation and roar, and the house would go on marching to his moods.
ALL THE HOUSE, that is to say, but Milly, who, in these latter days, was the one self-possessed Beamish. She was the one member of the family who did not bow to Great-Gran. Milly had taught school a term, and she was used to moods of boys, and the moods of GreatGran were like—though magnified according to his great and grotesque presence—the moods of little, of very little boys.
And, strange or not, it was Milly whom Great-Gran favored -Milly who made
him wait on her convenience, Milly who scolded him, Milly who treated him with no deference, Milly who did for him brusquely and appeared to be rough, but Milly whose touch was really very tender—infinitely more tender than Sadie’s—because to Milly Great-Gran was a person; to Sadie he was merely a
It looked as though the situation might go on indefinitely and the house of Beamish continue to be thus governed. All the family were in inward rebellion, but there was nothing, nothing practicable, that they could do.
From Fulk and Lacky to Todd, they were all behaving perforce out of character; all fuming, all chafing, all of them ready, as Todd put it, to “bust out.” All but Milly. Of all the Beamishes during this period of Great-Gran’s queer comeback, Milly held on her way equably and was herself.
“Aw, Mill’,” Fulk groaned to her, one evening. “Say, I’m—I’m—I’ll tell the world I’m fed up with—with—” Here Fulk stopped, unable to express the inexpressible. In a minute he added: “We gotta do something. Look a-here, we gotta, Mill’. Whattur we goin’ to do,
“Well, don’t get sore at me, Fulkie," was all Milly could offer in the way of counsel. She had no recipe for imparting her calmness to the rest.
Meantime the visitors kept on coming. For not only by word of mouth was Great-Gran’s fame of age spreading. His picture and the article about him had been published in all the provincial dailies, and circulated through the length and breadth of the country. Day after day the stream of callers swelled.
This curiosity of the outside public reacted upon the local schoolboys and schoolgirls. They came snooping about the Beamish dooryard; they made ingenious excuses, excuses of amazing variety, to get within view of GreatGran. The first few succeeded. Then Sadie shut down on this kind of caller. She scattered them; she shooed them as one shoos chicks.
Of course the effect was to make them more and more keen. A peep at GreatGran became a primary pleasure; to stare at him for two minutes on end was luxury untold.
Lacky, whose aptness at thinking up things was conceded even by Fulk, hit upon a plan. For a nickel or its equal in boy-trove, he undertook to secure any lad or lass a peep at Great-Gran. For ten cents Lacky guaranteed a visual timeexposure, although he could not guarantee the length of time, that being governed by Sadie’s coming and going. When Sadie was away to “town” with the car to trade in her eggs and butter and fresh vegetables at the grocery store in the railway hamlet, Milly was on guard. Milly would not permit the timeexposures, but she was liberal in the matter of peeps at Great-Gran, if the peeper undertook not to disturb him or attempt to make the shaggy old white head turn. Of course, Milly did not know about the peepers paying their
It was Fulk who found out about this. Lacky, after a fortnight or so of uninterrupted prosperity, was taking off his trousers one night at bedtime, when he scattered an unintentional largess of nickels on the floor.
“Hey, hey!” cried Fulk, with whom Lacky slept. “Where y-git the nickels, kid, uh?”
There was no known way for Lacky to escape an explanation. Anyhow, Fulk, who was yet near enough in age to boyhood to be trusted with secrets, was usually in Lacky’s confidence. So Lacky, as he retrieved the nickels, told all.
Fulk listened very thoughtfully. Within fourteen hours—that is to say, next forenoon— he called Sadie to him in the summer kitchen.
Continued on page 45
Fame of Age
Continued from page 16
LOOK A-HERE,” he said, with no * preamble, sitting down knee by knee with the hardest-boiled other member of the Beamish clan and, except himself, the most rebellious over the existing situation. “Look a-here, Sade. The provincial fair. You know—them midways. Gosh, the cash that circulates in and out of them tents !”
So far, this was obvious enough—like saying it was a fine day. But Sadie waited. Fulk never wasted conversation, particularly upon a sister.
“What ya say,” Fulk, in the manner called plump and plain, burst out, “if we take Great-Gran to the city this fall, and hire a tent, and show him at the show fair?” This took even Sadie by the throat for a moment.
“Aw-w,” she made momentary faint protest, “aw-w—”
“What’s ‘aw’ about it, Sade?”
“Well, in the first place, he wouldn’t go.” “Wouldn't go! You leave that to me.” "Well, we couldn’t be rough with him, Fulkie. Everybody would be down on us. Besides, you know what he is when he gets stubborn.”
“Who’s going to be rough with him? I bet all I got to do is to mention this to him and he’ll jump at it. He likes ’em all gawkin’ at him. And look at the money there’s in it, Sade. When they’d come out here in droves, all the way out here, and bum gas, how thick wouldn’t they come if he was right in a tent by the sidewalk !”
“He’ll want the money himself, Fulkie.” “We’ll collect it outside. He’ll be inside the tent, with all the tobacco he can smoke and a pile of his photographs to sell for a dime apiece. He’ll never ask what’s goin’ on outside.”
Only a conversation like this could show how far removed Great-Gran was from the sympathies of the present generation, even those of it sprung from his own loins. To Fulk and Lacky, to the vast-faced, obtuse, practical Sadie, he was but a lever to secure a pry on advantage. Perhaps to Todd, his son, he had still a faintly humane connection, but Todd had reached the age which will only protest two things—a disturbance of its comfort or an attempt to alter its opinions.
The only one in all the household who cared for Great-Gran really as a relative was Milly. The sympathy between the self deep down in Great-Gran’s hulk—a hulk that was dry as a last fall’s chestnut husk— and the sweet sturdy self that filled Milly from her heart of maidenhood to her berriesand-cream outside, was strange and strong.
Great-Gran roused himself and reached out his polar-bear head as Fulk, that afternoon, swanked confidently to him in his chair. Fulk had chosen the auspicious moment after Great-Gran’s post-meridian brandy and milk, which he took about four o’clock, when the patriarch was feeling, in Fulk’s phrase, “his smoothest.”
The shaggy-white old head shook back its forty thousand days, and turtled out and up aggressively.
"Now don’t you tease him, Fulkie,” said Milly, who was on nurse duty at the mo-
Fulk was right. His proposal tickled Great-Gran through and through.
“Hegh, hegh!” Great-Gran chuckled, “hegh, hegh, hegh’! Ten cents f’r my tintype, eh? 'N I've bought a bushel of oats f'r ten cents—good oats, too.”
But Milly listened aghast.
“Fulkie, you're not—you wouldn’t do that really? You're just fooling?”
Fulk paused at the door to gulp a casual mouthful of water from the tin dipper that danced on the water pail.
“Sssh !” was all he said as he went out.
Milly came and stood above Great-Gran and looked down on him. There came a tear, and a tear, and a tear more, until her eyes were full. He was so babylike, so like a grotesque baby that no one wanted to nurse. And they were going to take him and make a peep-show of him; expose him in a hot tent for days under the fairtime sun !
Fulk was irresistible. He always carried his way. Milly could not just now see how she was going to stand against Fulk’s initiative. But she was as much Beamish as he. What needed doing, she would do.
GREAT-GRAN WAS all agog about going. Almost like an infant he crowed, as in his hearing the plan was broached and rebroached at sittings of a committee of Fulk, Sadie and Lacky. This committee, putting their heads together, foresaw everything, discussed every contingency. It was Lacky, however, who suggested they had better break Great-Gran to the car, if he was to ride to town in it.
“Kid. you’ve got a head on you as long as a fiddle,” said Fulk. For Lacky’s suggestion reminded them that Great-Gran had never ridden in the Beamish car, in fact, had never taken thejslightest interest in it ; had possibly never even noticed it. Such being the case, he might be a little balky.
Great-Gran was more than a little balky. He shrank from the car, peering out at it through his round jackfishy eyes.
“I don’t get into her,” he announced. “I don’t get into her. No, sir; no, sirree.”
And that was the net and ultimate answer. Breaking Great-Gran to a car had evidently been left till too late. After hours and hours of logic, rising to a crescendo of exhortation and even as much as might be dared of physical coercion, Fulk was forced to admit: “I guess a hundred and twelve is too old to learn an old dog new tricks. But wouldn't this give you a pain in the neck? I ask you, Sade.”
“I don’t get into her,” Great-Gran reiterated, as they led him back to his chair. "No, sir; no, sirree; no, sir-ree bob. I don't ride in no threshin’ macheen. I might get
a-caught in the cylinder an’ lose a leg like old Billy Munro .. .”
“And,” Todd Beamish added, as they got Great-Gran somewhat quieted down, “there ain’t any use try in’ to get him to ride on a train eyther. They were usin’ stage-coaches the last time he went traveil in’.”
This was too true, as Fulk soon found out. Himself in the age when going places is a passion, and bom in the time when traintravel was a part of life, Fulk could not visualize such a state of mind as Todd forecast. But Todd was right.
“No, sir,” said Great-Gran decisively, “trains they run off of bridges. Did yuz never hear of the Tay Bridge dizz-asster? She went off the bridge a-kitin’ right into the water, the whole shooting-match, and they was all drownded like drownded rats. No, sir, I never rode in none of them newfangled trains, never did, never would. No, sir, I don’t get into a train. No, sir, I don’t —and smoke that in your pipe.”
“He’s a stick-in-the-mud and he’s proud of it,” Lacky was moved to comment. Forced into further retreat and filled to the chin with disgust, Fulk said finally:
“Well, then, I suppose we’ll have to get the old top-buggy out of the machine shed. It’ll collect a lot of overhead to get her fixed up. We’d better get to work on her.” “Aw, Fulk.” Milly thought this a good time to enter a plea. “Forget it, give it up, making a peep-show of Great-Gran.”
“Give it up!” Fulk faced her. “Did you ever hear o’ me giving anything up, Mill’? Come on now. did you?”
Great-Gran let them get the top-buggy ready and collect the overhead. Then he
“No, sir. I never rode comfortable in them highfalutin top-buggies. No, sir. never, no time—”
“Well,” Fulk shouted undiplomatically, “you’re going to ride comfortable in this one, for into it you’re going. Get that !” “Buggies,” Great-Gran declared—and Fulk. though he ground his teeth, knew that again he faced Gibraltar—"buggies goes for your kidneys. The teeterin’ of them jiggity springs gives you the Bright’s disease. Give me the old wagon, the old perairie schooner.”
“A wagon !” Fulk moaned.
“Yessir,” Great-Gran blew through his pipe-bowl. “A wagon! Yes, sir-ree bob! And a span of muels.”
Fulk lifted his arms and clenched his hands and went outside. At the comer of the house he stopped, cast down his hat, and jumped up and down on it.
“What about that mule of old Graystone’s?” said Lacky from the doorway.
"That’s only one muel,” Todd Beamish said, coming out and sitting on the sawhorse. “You need a span of muels to pull a wagon. Besides, old Croppy Graystone is somewheres about fifty-six years of age. Croppy come in with the construction gangs when they was a-buildin’ the road through here. You’d need to take along a set of
'""PHIS, HOWEVER, was found to be just one of Todd’s jokes when, according as Great-Gran had decreed, there were procured at last two mules, one of which was Graystone’s old Croppy. Croppy had both ears slit, his tail frozen off short, and was tattooed all over both flanks with ancient brands as though someone had been practising designs on his hide. Nor were his teeth what they used to be. But he was, Graystone said, not fifty-six, and “good as the day he was foaled—pretty near.” At any rate, he was hale enough not to need props and. hitched with another mule somewhat younger and procured after considerable trouble, he ambled along at a fair pace as Fulk took Great-Gran for an experimental
Great-Gran, teetering on the spring-seat of the old Bain wagon, was tickled “clear down to his heels.”
“Gimme the lines!” he commanded Fulk. “You don’ know how to drive muels. Hi! Clang! Gid-depp!”
He snapped a rein on Croppy’s flank— smartly, sharply, with a knack of a forgotten
day. Croppy answered featly. with a curious piglike flirt of his frost-bobbed tail.
“He knows his job,” Great-Gran chuckled. “Look how he drags his whippletree back agen the wheel to throw the load on to the colt.”
“The ‘colt,’ ” said the disgusted Fulk aside to Lacky, who was standing in the wagon box behind, “is thirty-five years old and looks every day of it. We’ll have to stop this outfit outside of the city, and give it away or something. I wouldn’t be seen dead in it. Say, wouldn’t Kenny Whitefield give me the horse-laugh! Still and all, Lack’, there’s one good thing—we got Great-Gran suited at last.”
Great-Gran was suited as to the vehicle. But there was another objection to come. It came at the end of this drive, as GreatGran, ricketty but exultant, was being assisted out of the wagon by Fulk, Lacky, Sadie and Milly.
“I’m a-going my lone,” was his stupefying announcement. “I know this country. I druv all over it before any of youz was
Fulk gagged, then temporized.
“Sure you’re going your lone, Great-Gran. Sure you are. I’ll let you drive yourself all the way. I’ll just hitch and unhitch for
Great-Gran turned upon the speaker and, in the stress of the moment, straightened his spine to six feet two as he leaned on the wagon wheel.
“You wun’t be there fur to hitch and onhitch. I’m a-going my lone. I been bothered with you young ones long enough. I want some fun by myself. I’m a-going my lone.”
There was a general looking into one another’s faces, but for a second or two no one said anything. Fulk could not speak; Lacky would not, without a lead from Fulk; Sadie was stumped ; Milly was momentarily dumb with a sudden glad inspiration. Milly spoke first.
“Fuik, I know what. I’ll go along with Great-Gran.”
“Grr-a-agh!” Fulk raspingly strove to clear the temper out of his larynx. "Didn't you hear what he just said? Ask him, and see where you get off at.”
But Milly said calmly :
“I won't ask him. I’ll just get in and go.”
Thus it was that several days later a queer equipage inched and hub-knocked along the edge of the trunk highways on its way to the city. The box of the Bain wagon was roofed with tarpaulin as in the olden days. In the front sat Great-Gran, not in a spring-seat but safe in his great fireplace chair, the legs firmly cleated against slipping forward or back. The mules, whose small, unkempt, compact bodies moved beside the wagontongue, were of a piece with Great-Gran’s beard and pipe and the swaying tarpaulin top and the jolt of the springless axletrees. Croppy’s piglike tail jerked impotently as the gadflies buzzed close, but the motion was spasmodic, for Croppy was insensitive like an old man and hardly knew when the “bulldogs” bit or the buzzing bots twitched at the hair of his barrel. Croppy’s chief care was to see that Sam, the “colt,” pulled twothirds of the load, and to this he attended mechanically, while Sam, patient tracemate, took the imposition and was content.
Great-Gran sat with his heels on the cleats and had his will as to driving. His grand white head, with its burden of days, often leaned sidewise or back or down forward in his Napoleonic dozes. But, waking or dozing, the reins never left his hand.
For—this was Fulk’s final idea—the real driving reins were rove through two holes bored deep down in the front board of the wagon box and the strap-ends were in the competent hands of Milly who had. as she said, “just got in and gone.” The reins Great-Gran held were dummies, tied to the terrets of the mules’ harness.
\TILLY LET the mules make their own pace. Occasionally Great-Gran roused and snapped his dummy reins upon their flanks and jerked at the straps short-tied tb the terrets, and each time he did this, Milly’s heart pained her at the deception. Why not
let him really drive the mules? Why not? Why not? For there was little likelihood that ever again Great-Gran would be within reach of this old ecstasy. Never had he seemed to enjoy himself more than on that day when Fulk, for the short experimental trip, had let the old hands take the reins. GreatGran had come back from that drive all lighted up with happiness. But he seemed now to have little interest in driving with the dummy reins. It was as though he knew he were being in some way cheated.
There came an occasion when he muttered something at the end of an interval of this driving pantomime. Milly did not catch the words exactly, but her tender imagination made her sure he had said: “No use; no
She decided to let him drive!
While he dozed she turned off the trunk highway on to a grassy by-trail. She leaned down, pulled the true reins out of the loopholes in the wagon box and gave them into Great-Gran’s hands, taking the dummies away from him and tying them aside.
Great-Gran awoke, the pilot-straps in his hands. He gave at first a tentative jerk as usual. He roused, he brightened. His fingers took automatically the driving-grip. He drew in the slack, the straps slipping through the terrets. He felt at last the mules’ bits.
“Gid-depp, boys !”
The heads of old Croppy and old Sam turned back toward the wagon almost humanly. Then Croppy looked at his tracemate, both seemed to nod and—marvel of marvels—by common consent and commitment they lifted their poor tails and began forthwith a decrepit trot. Their hlnchknuckles cracked audibly as they struck the new gait. They winced like rheumatic old
“Why, they’re trotting, Great-Gran!”
But Great-Gran did not answer. Something wonderful had been done for him by the feel of the mules’ bits.
“Gid-depp!” he cried again. “Gid-depp! G’lang there! G'lang!”
Old ecstasies possessed him; old visions were before him.
“Ey, Jim,” he said, suddenly and uncannily. looking off toward the side opposite Milly: "She’s fine travellin’ today, Jim, on the Big Trail ...”
And in another moment he had swung around and was looking toward Milly—not at, but through her, with a strange warmth kindling in his eyes.
“We should be thaar soon, Ethel.” The voice from the old shell was fond and young, and a new humanness made Great-Gran’s eyeballs lose for a moment their membraneous stare. The “thaar” had a large landlooking cadence as of migrant wheels and horizons.
“I picked the southwest quarter”—Milly thrilled in all her veins and was elated and afraid as the droning, dreaming volume of the voice enveloped her—“good water, fair hay land, a fine stand of timber for buildin’ logs and a handy way to get out to the trail . . . There was two trees together, a little ways from the comer stakes, and, says I to Jim, ‘Them two trees.’ I says, ‘would make a greàt nat’ral gate ...”
The present Beamish farmhouse stood, not upon the southwest quarter of its section of land but upon the northeast. But Milly knew of the raspberry-overgrown cellar-hole on the southwest quarter, and everyone in the neighborhood knew the two magnificent elms between which the Beamish by-trail
“Why, look, looksee!” Suddenly GreatGran was possessed of an enormous animation. He bestirred himself in his chair. He took his heels off the cleats, and pressed his palms upon the arms of the chair, and pushed himself up till his felt hat was flattened against the tarpaulin top. “Them's the two trees—right there. We’re home, Ethel. D’ye see them two trees? This is the quarter I picked. This is our homestid. We’re on to it. . . we’re home ...”
Then, limp as a collapsing tent, GreatGran came down into his seat and settled there, staring between the mules’ heads westward.