A Brush With Capital
The love story of a girl who wanted to play with the proletariat
THE MAID, who was serving breakfast, jumped six inches at the rattling sound in Mr. Norris’s throat. ‘‘Call Miss Betty,” he articulated finally, waving the newspaper desperately. "At once !”
Mr. Norris had reached some sort of a climax . . . Parents were supposed to have troubles, he knew, although he had wished frequently in the last few months that he'd reared a daughter back in the good old flaming-youth era, when all he’d have had on his mind was the possibility that she would take to smoking opium, or engage in an affair with a gangster. He’d been patient, long-suffering, ever since Betty had returned from college in the East; hadn’t even said anything when she formed the habit of reading him long chapters of Thorstein Veblen at the dinner table.
The time she’d strode into the drawing-room carrying a gingham dress and a pair of scissors and had dramatically, before the eyes of the startl. d dinner guests, cut the dress to ribbons, explaining that it bore the earmarks of a sweatshop product—he’d kept himself under control then, although this demonstration had cast a definite blight over his party.
But no longer. There was, after all. a limit. “Daughter of Manufacturer Would Confiscate Private Property,” gossiped a snappy black headline. Pirst page, second section, with quite a good debutante picture of the child of his bosom to embellish its position.
Blood ixnmded through his head as he read on. It developed that Miss Norris could find in her heart no trace of sympathy for the capitalistic system and the people \> ho represented it; that she believtd her father’s only possible right-thinking course would be to divide the factory among his employees; and that in her opinion the day was at hand when the workers would arise.
Miss Norris herself, looking sleepy and beautiful in a blue satin robe, entered the room. “How come?” she enquired.
Choking on the back half of his tongue, he flung the paper in front of her, then jumped up and began to dart back and forth across the room.
She looked at the picture, then her eye travelled quickly down the page, amazement gradually occupying her charming features. Her mouth opened and words sought utterance. But it was oí no use. Mr. Norris had at last reached the point of self-expression. It was as if the camel, loaded with the ultimate straw, had shaken off the entire burden and swung into a carioca. She could only listen and watch.
Five days later. Miss Betty Norris sat on a log and surveyed the situation. Her surroundings, a sylvan dell,
abounded in oak, elm, hickory, maple, sycamore and hackberry trees. Back of her. on a slight rise, was a comfortable five-room cabin, built some time ago by her father as a restful retreat at which he could go back to nature over the week-ends. Smoke rose now from the sturdy stone chimney.
There was the question of what should be done first. And. by the way. she ought to write to Meredith. Nothwithstanding the fact that he was a very pleasant sort of beau to have
and she personally considered it highly admirable for the son of a wealthy banker to be communistic in doctrine himself—it would lie better, much better, for him to postpone his imminent visit until she got—well, until she was back in the city.
Her thoughts, thus unfortunately centred on urban entertainment, turned back a week. Her flesh crawled again as she relived those horrid moments on the country-club
verandah. She had actually been pleased at meeting a newyoung man at the dance, and even more pleased, of course, at discovering someone who apparently shared her own views . . His soft, insidious questions. His air of discriminating applause . He was, it had later developed, the new feature writer for the Courier, a dashing sheet if ever there was one, and he had probably been presented with a gold medal when he came in with the story she had given him.
If her father had only let her explain! But he would hardly listen. She'd never seen him so so just kept saying, “Mighty funny way lor y»;/ to talk to anybody.“ And a lot more about disrespect, ingratitude, disloyalty
Unjust, that’s what he’d been. As if she would willingly have exjxised him to ridicule unpleasant publicity. As if she, a dependent on his support, a beneficiary of the sjxiils of his capitalistic activity, would be so low as to do anything subversive, no matter what her convictions.
He’d shouted at her; called her silly, trivial, a show-off. He’d repeated over and over that she, the champion of the working classes, had never done a lick of work herself. Had
said, with elaborate irony, that he would hate to have to de|>end on her to lxgt;il an egg, let alone hold down a job on a |X)\ver machine. Had reiterated that she was apparently not only not verybright. but conspicuously useless as well.
Did she think tinworkers would look upon her as one of them? Don't make him laugh.
So here she was Of course she'd finally lost her tenqx-r herself.
She'd dare him to set
her a task. She’d show him just exactly where he stcxxl !
“Oh. you will?" luhad said and paused. Then his facehad been illuminated by an evil gleam. “You will—well, let’s see. You’ll produce something. Add to the world something it lacked before you came along . . . All right ! Here’s your job. I want to put in a garden out at the cabin, have a little pasture, land enough to raise feed for stock, so I can keep a tenant there all the time. So what I’d like to see you do. Miss Protector of the Proletariat, is clear five acres. There’s fifty acres of timber, and I’d like you to clear just five. Do that, and maybe— I won’t say for sure—but maybe you’ll have some idea what you’re talking about the next time you receive the press.”
VTOW HER eye travelled thoughtfully over the area which was destined, under her hand, to appear as tillable soil, ultimately to blossom as the rose. It appeared to be full, not only of scratchy, bushy objects, but of large, firm trees as well. Her father had jxnnted out. with the air of one making a handsome concession, that most of it was second growth. Whatever that was.
She knew, of course, that to remove trees and bushes, they must be chopped down with an axe or sawed down with a saw. But the actual procedure Reflectively she wandered to a shed and found an axe among a selection of miscellaneous tcx>ls in one corner.
Back at her log. she grasix-d the axe with both hands halfway down the handle and struck tentatively at a s|x>t on the log. The blade fell awkwardly some eight inches to I Inleft of its selected destination. Moreover, the axe wriggled in her hands like a live thing and seemed to be trying to get away. She dropped the handle and sat down again.
The first thing to do. it was plain, was to hire somechoppers. Mrs. Kraus, from a near-by farm, whom her father had hire*! to stay with her. might be able to suggest some-one.
Mrs. Kraus ruminated. “Might ask Jim Barker.” she said finally. “Lives up the road ’lx>ut half a quarter. Be right smart trouble gettin’ a hand now, though. Pretty near everybody’s busy farming. Besides, ain't many of ’em fond of a crosscut saw, and there ain’t hardly anylxxlv wants to turn brush when it’s still so hot.”
Betty clutched at theonly optimistic note. “Jim Barker? Could I go ask him now?”
“Be all right.” Mrs. Kraus admitted. "Won’t /Io no harm. He might know somebody.”
A few minutes later Betty walked up a neat, flagged path, and stcxxl on a spreading |x>rch. Thehouse was solid, large and old, painted a clean white. It wore an air of comfort, stability, order. A handsome setter sniffed at her courteously. Away from thesmcxHh. fene-ed-in yard, rolling acres showed the dusty gold, the rich dark green and brown of early fall.
An attractive grey-haired woman came to the dlt;xgt;r in a print house-dress. “Mr. Barker should be up any moment.” she told Betty with a friendly smile. “It's nearly nt;xgt;n and he has a very reliable appetite.”
Betty thought, what a nice woman. Did Jim Barker work for her, she wondered? She sat down in the large chair her hostess had indicated and glanced around the room. The Victorian and later Grand Rapids periods mingled pleasantly with a more gracious earlier era. Betty thought, what a nice house.
She was looking at a photograph of a football team, when she heard a step.
There was a young man standing easily in the door. His face was burned a reddish brown, and his eyes looked out at her guardedly from under a bony forehead. He was medium size, and though he wore shajxless overalls and a faded blue shirt she could see that he was muscular and ruggedly probationer!. All at once she felt timid, foolish. She started to speak, but her words became confused. Then he smiled at her, a friendly smile that broke l.is hard young face across beautiful white teeth. “You wanted to see me?” he asked in a deep, definite voice.
"I’m Betty Norris. My father—Mrs. Kraus says maybe you —maybe you can tell me where I can hire someone . . .” To think that she had intended to offer this young man a job!
Ikwaited a moment, then: “What did you want done?”
SI IE CLrCARKI) her throat. “I’ve got to get rid of a bunch of trees and things,” she began, then corrected herself hastily. “1 mean, I want to clear some timber. Five acres, second growth,” she rojx-ated carefully. “Next door, you know; Robert Norris’s place.”
“Clearing timber,” he said thoughtfully, then the ghost of a grin apix-ared on his face. “Kind of a funny job for a young lady.” he remarked.
Betty (lushed uncomfortably. Evidently bethought her useless, too. "I— I would like to hire a man. or maybe two or three, to chop trees down,” sinsaid doggedly.
He said quickly, his face once more unrevealing: “1 guess the Bannion twins are your best bet; everylxxly else is busy. I’ll call them for you.” Then she could hear his voice in the hall as he talked over the telephone. “They’ll be over to see you this afternoon,” he said, coming back
you into the room.
“Thank you.” she said stiffly, still resentful. “Awfully good of you.” She started down the hall. Then behind her she heard his voice: “Sorry I can’t help you; make a fourth, as it were. But I’m shorthanded myself.”
She spoke quickly, not looking at him. “I fancy we’ll do beautifully.” Then she thought of what he had said. Make a fourth. “What do you—” she lx-gan, but he was speaking again.
“I fancy you will,” and his amused emphasis was unmistakable. “But mind, don’t drop a stitch.”
Well—of all the—he was making fun of her! This yokel, this overalled, perspiring clodhopper was making fun of her. Her chagrin flamed into rage. She tried to summon an annihilating phrase. “If you think—” she stammered.
“Never mind,” he interrupted. “Let it go. But look, no fcxiling. If they don’t work out, or if 1 can do anything—I’ll come over every day or so and look things over. Maybe, if you’re new at clearing land I could give you a few pointers.” Her chin raised itself ol its own volition. She heard her own cold voice. “That should hardly be necessary. After all, if the Bannion lx>ys can chop, that’s really all I require.” Ikwas kx)king at her quizzically, a look that fed her fury. “Just plain chopping down trees, no frills, nothing fancy.” Jim Barker, grin fading, shrugged indifferently. “Fair enough,” he conceded. “Pretend I never mentioned it . . . Like me to drive vou back?”
A GENTLE breeze fanned the back of Betty’s neck as she viewed the fruits of her efforts. Five days in the timber and things looked pretty fair. Ixxiked pretty fair in the timber, that is. Personally, she had probably struck a new all-time low. Her hands were scratched and bitten, her nose and cheeks a flaming red; the pale, ix-rsistent w/xxlland sun had proved immeasurably more disastrous than the same sun on an expensivebeach. Her eyelashes and eyebrows were singed.
Her hair, blown and harsh, felt like the listless fur of a lion raised in captivity.
Meredith looked worse, if jxxssible. Fifty-dollar jodhpurs were never intended to attire the first-lieutenant of a crosscut saw. I lis thin light hair stcxxl on end, and there was a disorderly bandage around one forearm where he had mingled with some ]x>ison ivy.
But he’d stcxxl up to it. She took off her hat to him, and to badminton, his chief avocation. Sam Smart, who had approached her early in the week, explaining that he had heard tell she wanted a gcxxl hand, had been openly pleased when Meredith had apjxared on the scene. It was obvious that Sam had anticipated the swift downfall of the effete and dressy Easterner. And as a matter of fact. Meredith had proved of sterner stuff than Sam.
Yes, she was mighty glad Meredith had come. Her father had probably been moved by a certain malice in suggesting that Meredith join her in the country for a visit, now that he had come this far already. But it had turned out rather well. $
They’d all worked. Very hard. The Bannion twins—
thirteen-year-old striplings—had proved themselves, she thought, remarkably expert and vigorous with their axes. Sam. who had at first produced a gasoline saw of the early 1900’s, had been induced to abandon it after its seventh complete breakdown—Sam would have gone on indefinitely doing what he called keeping it tinkered up—and now he was captain of the crosscut. Betty herself, after one adventurous attempt at the gasoline saw—“It’ll shake the devil out of you,” Sam had prophesied pleasantly—had resigned herself to brush-burning.
Brush-burning had seemed a childish task at first. But somebody had to do it. and it wasn't so easy after all. they all assured her. By the end of the first afternoon she was ready to agree. The dam green wood just didn't want to bum, and for some reason the blue and acrid smoke followed her, no matter what side of the fire she approached. But with plenty of coal-oil, although it was a little hard on eyelashes . . .
Meredith waved to her. “Another monarch of the forest about to fall, my dear,” he called happily. It was certainly nice to have him here, although she’d been doubtful enough at first . . . Meredith was tall, blonde and slightly concave, and he played the violin. It is doubtful if, up to now, he had known the facts of life about where fire-logs came from.
He hadn’t grasped the situation at first. “I thought from what your father said you were down here with a party,” he had exclaimed. “Shooting or something of the sort.”
“Father—” she had told him tensely, “father says I’m no good. He had trouble ...” With graphic words she sketched in the picture. “So I’m going to clear the dam place if it kills me. I pay the boys $1.75 a cord to cut it and fix it up in nice stacks. Then I’m going to sell it to the people around here because wood isn’t so plentiful any more. I can get maybe $2 a cord for it, so I’ll come out better than even, if I can just hold out. I haven't got so much of my allowance left and no more for six weeks.”
Meredith had kindled, actually kindled. “We’ll show him,” he had cried enthusiastically. “I’ll help you. The arrogance of the exploiting classes . . . "
Well—better get back to work. There was plenty of brush lying around. She got up creakily and walked back to her latest smoldering pile . . The most careful inventory would reveal not one single muscle that didn’t ache.
She flung an unwieldy branch on the fire.
“Lay the pieces along side by side, all the big ends close together,” said a voice behind her. She turned quickly. “Watch the way the wind’s going and lay the branches with the wind,” Jim Barker continued. “That way the fire travels along out to the ends and you don’t have to keep stacking again.”
SHE FROWNED. Cocky thing! Thought she couldn’t even build a brush fire. The ends together with the wind—maybe that wasn’t such a bad plan. “Oh, thanks,” she said airily. Unconsciously her hand stole to her hair, the collar of her flannel shirt. “Won’t you—er—sit down?” He laughed. “How’re you coming?” he enquired in a friendly manner.
“Grand.” she said positively. "See all that?”
He looked around him. “Boys doing all right?”
“They’re doing beautifully.”
He hesitated a minute. “Well, glad everything’s okay.” he said finally. “I just brought you some rolls; mother sent them. 1 gave them to Mrs. Kraus. I’ll be moving along.” That was nice of Mrs. Barker. “Oh, how lovely,” Betty said. “Thank her for me—and you, too.”
He waved his hand deprecatingly. “No trouble.” he assured her. He moved on up the slope. Betty stood irresolute.
“Oh, Mr. Barker," she called.
He turned. “Yes?”
“Look—how are we getting along—I mean ...” She stopped.
He took two steps back down the slope. “In what way?” he asked.
“Well, how much have we done? I don’t—how much is an acre, anyway?”
He glanced at the cleared patch. “You’ve done between a quarter and a half an acre, I should say.”
Less than half an acre! Betty was stunned. They’d be here the rest of her life. “Oh. Mr. Barker,” she wailed involuntarily. “Honestly, is that all?”
He nodded, his face expressionless.
She hesitated a moment, then plunged into a speech which decency and discretion had dictated some time since. ‘Maybe—I mean, I uas silly the other day when you said you’d—help—give me advice. Would you—why—would you overlook my being so dumb and sort of tell me what’s wrong—why we aren’t getting on any faster?” she finished desperately.
Jim regarded her calmly. “I’ll look around . . . What time do you start in the morning?”
“Why, nine or ten.”
“Hands start at—er—nine or ten, too?”
“I guess so,” she admitted.
“What time do you quit?”
“Well, we usually have tea around four-thirty.”
He glanced at her quickly, then looked down. “Is that six cords of wood out there?”
She nodded. He frowned meditatively. “I’d never have thought that stand of timber . . . Wait a minute; I’ll be right back.”
She watched his compact figure move about the patch, watched him stop to talk to Sam. Meredith came up to her. “New hand?” he enquired amiably.
“Hand?” she murmured absently. “Hardly. He farms a thousand acres of land since his father died . . . He’s a college graduate,” she finished inconsequently.
Meredith was pleasantly interested. "Odd for that sort of chap. One would hardly think he’d need—”
“It was an agricultural college. They teach them to farm. Had you heard?”
“Of course, of course,” Meredith said mildly. “I was thinking—the arts—that sort of thing.”
Jim came up to them. “Mr. Barker, Mr. Middleton,” she said. They shook hands.
“Tell you what. Miss Norris,” Jim said. “I’d start the boys at eight. Let ’em quit at six and no fooling. Now about the wood. Sam is something of a chiseller. Make him restack those cords. You’ve got half wood and half air, the way they’ve been laying those curved logs. And he’s been laying the lugs over a stump, so the centre of the cord is not cord wood at all. Understand?”
BETTY AND Meredith looked at each other ruefully. “I guess we’re not so smart,” she admitted wearily.
Jim said quickly: “You’ve done well. Really. Clearing is a tough job.” He turned to Meredith. “I thought of one more thing, Mr. Middleton,” he said. “Is Sam riding the saw?”
Meredith looked puzzled. “Riding—”
“When you saw,” Jim said, “what do you do? What motions do you use?”
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Meredith reflected. “Why, first I pull, then I push. Is that what you mean?” “That’s what I mean, all right.” Jim’s mouth curved slightly. “Hereafter merely pull. Never push.” All three laughed.
“Of course.” Meredith chuckled. “I thought he kept remarkably fresh, and I know I’m in better condition.”
They talked a few minutes longer. “Cut lower down,” Jim told them finally. “Your stumps are too high. Make Sam bend his back. Won’t hurt him a bit. Although apparently he’d rather not.”
After he left, Betty said: “I’m going to tell the boys about starting earlier and all.” Meredith opened his mouth to speak. She held her breath. Was he thinking of the thirty-hour week?
“You know,” he mused. “It’s good and light until six-thirty or seven.”
“And I’ll pay them only SI.50 from now on,” she decided. “They’ll just have to take it and like it. No, it wouldn’t be cricket to borrow from you.”
They agreed that Jim was a nice fellow. He dropped in several times after that, nearly every day after he got through work. Funny. One never thought of a
farmer—a chap who worked with his hands — thick shoes and all—being good company.
Saturday night they sat on the porch. Jim had not been over, but things seemed to be going all right. Meredith, who believed no communist should wear evening clothes, looked picturesque in the costume he invariably affected after dark—a black satin Russian blouse with conventional black broadcloth trousers. Her own flowered linen wasn’t doing much for the flaming brilliance of her nose, but she wasn’t going to think of it. Meredith was reading contentedly from The World of the Future, and occasionally favoring her with excerpts.
She got up and moved about the porch. “Meredith,” she said suddenly. “Let’s go over to the Barkers.”
He looked up absently. “The Barkers? All right. Should we?”
“I want to ask him about—about people to buy the wood,” she said.
"K/fRS. BARKER welcomed them cordially. “Nice of you to come over. Jim is going to a dance in town. Why don’t you all go with him?”
Betty declined hastily. She would probably fall apart if she tried to dance. “I just want to see him a minute,” she told Mrs. Barker. “Little advice.”
Jim appeared in the door. Betty restrained a gasp and scratched nervously at a mosquito bite on her arm. He was wearing a white linen suit of impeccable freshness and cut. His white oxfords gleamed with a restrained splendor, and in his hand he carried the softest of panamas. Loyally she stifled the wish that Meredith had worn anything but what he had. His principles. .
"It’s a shame to bother you,” she said. “But I wanted to call some people about buying my wood.”
“No bother at all,” he told her. “Come
on in the living room and I’ll write down some names for you.”
They sat at his desk and Jim made up a list. “Tell Henderson about your hickory. He likes it and he can afford to pay a little more,” he said once.
List in her hand, she got up to go. “Honestly,” she told him, “I don’t know what I’d do without you. And I bet we’re a terrible nuisance.”
Jim looked down at her a minute, a different look in his eyes. She caught her breath. “You couldn’t be a nuisance,” he said at last. “But look,” he went on. “I know it’s none of my business, but what’s the big idea? What are you and Meredith trying to do? Who—that is, what are you all after?”
He waited for her to speak, interest on his face. Suddenly she decided to tell him the story. Admit that her father considered her of no worth, and explain that she meant to prove him wrong.
At the end of the recital she looked up at him. In his eye there would be the light of admiration. She would be justified. He would recognize her spirit, her courage. She waited.
He was studying her, his face once more inscrutable. Then he spoke. “Well, of all the screwy ideas,” he said. “And if you can clear a patch of timber, so what? What’s it going to get you? Start on a career? Who cares?” He paused and glanced out on the porch. “And you’re dedicated to a Cause, eh? Well, well, it takes all kinds to make a world. Don’t know that it’s any worse a hobby than stamp collecting or painting on china.”
His words echoed through the twilight stillness of the room. He was smiling placidly, and in that moment Betty knew that never had there been a more infuriating, detestable person than Jim Barker. Never would she have the experience again of meeting an individual whom she could dislike with such wholehearted consistency —the hidebound, benighted reactionary. Her throat filled with what seemed to be lumps of cotton. Finally she managed to swallow some of them.
“Hobby!” she choked. “With the whole world in a turmoil !” She searched her mind frantically for the rounded periods with which she had floored the opposition in the debating society. She sought to recall phrases from thick and sonorous books. “You—you—” she strangled. “You laugh now ...” She couldn’t go on.
His face was puzzled. “I’m not laughing,” he assured her. “Maybe the world is in a turmoil. Some say it is. I wouldn’t know. I’m busy here.” He looked down. “I wouldn’t want you to think I’m selfish, but the way I figure it, if everybody does his own job—
She hurried from the room, hurried Meredith away from Mrs. Barker. James could go—go on to his dance. Dance with some pretty girl whose nose would be white and whose arms smooth. While she would be back, sitting on the porch, scratching mosquito bites and Meredith would be telling her for the fiftieth time how he’d picketed in a publisher’s strike.
MONDAY WAS drizzly, depressing.
Sam had suddenly evinced an overpowering desire to remove stumps. The brush wouldn’t bum, and as Meredith couldn’t chop, they sat in the house. Meredith read back numbers of the Red Front with calm enthusiasm, while she fidgeted around the living room, in a very bad humor indeed.
There was a deafening explosion. The house rocked. Echoes reverberated against their ears. She rushed to the door.
Down in the cleared patch she could see a jagged hole, surrounded with scraps of dirt and stump. Small fragments of leaves and grass fluttered to earth as they watched. At a safe distance, Sam and the Bannion twins stood in a row, mouths comically open. Betty, Meredith after her, ran down the slope.
“Sam !” she cried. “What are you doing?” He advanced sheepishly. “ ’Pears like maybe four sticks of dynamite air a leetle too much.” he suggested helpfully.
“I should think it was,” she said angrily. “I had no idea you were going to use dynamite. What you had there was certainly too much.” She stared at the hole. “What are we going to do? We’ll never get it filled.”
The hole was deep, four or five feet at a guess, and slightly more in diameter, a horrible, ragged gap.
She stood erect and glared at Sam. “We’ll have a fine time getting dirt to fill it, with your clever technique with explosives.”
Sam hung his head. “I alius hankered to do the blastin’.” he admitted sadly. “Ain’t never had no chanct before.”
Betty, slightly dazed at this disclosure, took a deep breath. “We might as well get busy,” she said finally. “It’s stopped raining. We’ll leave the stumps, Sam,” she added.
Sam and Meredith went back to a huge tree they had sawed nearly through on Saturday. She watched them a moment, then turned back to the hole. When her father saw that hole, he’d know she was a nitwit. She threw a couple of clods in. Brush! Fill the hole with brush, then they could find enough dirt to cover it over and close the chinks and all.
She gathered small pieces, selecting short branches that would lie flat, or nearly so. She jumped in the hole, arranging them neatly on the bottom.
There was a familiar rending sound. Sam and Meredith must have sawed through the near-by tree. Then wild shrieks mingled with the swishing sound of its fall. She turned to look up, filled with annoyance. What had Sam done now? Her nerves would stand just so much more.
Rushing toward her through the intolerable shimmering grey of the sky was a vast menacing wave of branches. The leaves seemed all at once very large and growing larger. She stepped back in a panic, her foot caught on the floor of brush, and she sat down, a sharp switch flicking across her face.
From above she could hear confused cries, curses, frantic shouts. Stupidly she gazed at the enormous broken end of a dead limb, embedded in the brush and dirt just a foot away from her shaking body. Then the leaves above her head to one side parted and a small opening appeared in the verdant roof of her retreat. She saw part of Meredith’s face, horror and fear twisting his mild features.
She summoned a smile. “Are—are you all right?” he asked in an agonized whisper.
She pulled herself to an erect sitting posture. She drew a hand across her face,: pulling a small twig out of her mouth. “I seem to be,” she said weakly.
The part of his face disappeared. She could hear a babble of voices. The leaves above her seemed to be beginning to dance | about. The trunk of the tree, directly across j the mouth of the hole, advanced and receded waveringly.
The lower part of Meredith’s face appeared again, to be replaced by one eye. “Sam thinks,” he began.
Betty’s voice gurgled in her throat and she waved one hand feebly. “Wait,” she brought out. “Please. I’m the one parked under this tree. I’m the one—imprisoned— enduring this living death. Would you all— all of you—be so awfully kind as to keep Sam out of it? The rescue, I mean. If I’m—”
' I 'HE SECTION of Meredith’s face disappeared again. “Rather like the Cheshire cat,” she thought lightheadedly. She twisted uncomfortably. A thousand small sticks began to penetrate her skin. Somewhere on her ankle there was a painful pressure. She shifted her foot and it hurt more . . . How long had she been down there, she wondered? What would they do? If they chopped the branches away, would the heavy ends fall on her? Her heart shrank in her breast and her mouth grew dry.
“Give me that axe, you chucklehead,” said a deep definite voice.
Betty sank back on her branches, relief engulfing her in welcome surges. Of course, i He’d get there to save her, get her out of this 1 prickly inferno. He’d always be there when she had to have him. If he wasn’t she’d go after him. Right up to his front porch. It was very hot, she’d fan herself, with—with his panama hat . . . She liked him. He was ! swell. When she got out, they’d get together, collect stamps or paint on china . . . The pressure on her foot increased slightly. It was sharp now; it was—gone.
Later she woke, lying on the ground. She stretched gingerly and remembered. Her foot—it was bandaged with something
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white. She tried to sit up. There was actually nothing wrong with her. She’d fainted, silly thing. And she hadn’t seen what they did, what Jim did ! Wasn’t that like her?
Meredith caught at her arm. “Easy,” he warned her.
“I’m all right,” she said quite calmly.
“The Barker chap—Jim. Very slick performance,” Meredith told her complacently. “You know, there’s quite an art to this woodsman business. He never wasted a stroke. Think I’ll have to go in for it some time . . . What? Oh, he went home, to telephone the doctor.”
Betty said: “I don’t need the doctor. If the boys aren’t working, get them busy.” “Now look, Betty child,” Meredith began. “This is all pretty silly. I have a new idea. A real one. I’ve been reading about the Chautauqua workers, the ones that put up the tents. We’re right in the belt where Chautauquas flourish. You know, you’ve ! heard people say, ‘the Chautauqua belt.’ ” Betty was thinking there were not more than six or eight of the big trees left. Then I Sam could soon spend all his time chopping I and maybe they could find one more hand, j She ought to be able to sell a few cords of ; wood right away . . . “What on earth are you talking about, Meredith?” she asked abstractedly.
“Well, we can organize them. Easily. The very group I’ve hoped to find. They’re absolutely at the mercy—”
Betty stared at him stupidly. “Meredith,” she asked at last. “Who do you want to organize and why?”
“The Chautauqua workers, the ones that put up the tents,” he repeated patiently. “They work one stretch of twenty-four hours, without a rest. It’s slavery, a medieval serfdom. Are we living in the twentieth century or—”
Betty got up and hobbled toward the house. For heaven’s sake ! The Chautauqua workers! Halfway to the house she turned. “Go on,” she called back. “Go right ahead. Organize the Swiss Bell Ringers if you feel like it. Or the humorous lecturers. They could strike for fewer jokes. A maximum production of maybe four hearty laughs, eight snickers and ten smiles . . . But don’t bother me. I’ve got better than four more acres of timber to clear.”
A BLUE HAZE hung over the world.
Faint blue, shot through with warm gold. The lovely, beckoning, provocative interlude of Indian Summer. Betty sat on her log. Down the slope from where she sat was a sylvan dell. A sylvan dell, abounding in oak, elm, hickory, maple, sycamore and hackberry trees. Abounding—at a distance. Immediately in front of her were five denuded acres, exhibiting only infrequent trampled spots of wild grass and the occasional pale lifted countenance of a stump.
Stacked neatly at one side, in an irregular j row, were cords of wood. In the next few j days they would be removed by neighboring ! farmers, who would recompense Miss Norris j to the tune of $2.60 a cord, $3.50 for hickory.
Miss Norris, contemplating her imminent 1 enrichment, her father’s confusion, told : herself that she had won. She was pretty hot : stuff, and she had demonstrated the fact . . . She felt extremely depressed.
Mrs. Kraus had just left. She would be leaving any minute. Jim Barker could just go climb a tree. There were forty-five acres left, to be sure. If he couldn’t even come over to say good-by, after all those evenings they’d spent together . . . That little
political argument last night—they’d had plenty worse ones, as far as that went.
Well, one thing she knew, she was not going to organize Chautauqua workers or anybody else, no matter what Meredith wrote. He sounded very enthusiastic. She wondered if he’d found any Chautauqua workers yet.
A sedan swung up the road to the house. A small truck followed it from the other direction. Looking eagerly past the sedan, Betty recognized the truck. So he had come;
¡ during working hours, too. Ha !
Maclean's Magazine, February I, 1936
The sedan stopped. Her father got out. She kissed him gravely, almost absently. “There’s your clearing,” she remarked, one eye on the truck.
Mr. Norris began jumping about in a congratulatory manner. “Great stuff, honey,” he cried. “Boy, look at that wood. You’ve made a believer out of me, baby. I take off my hat—”
“Jim advised me,” she remarked. “All the time. I probably wouldn’t have—”
Her father looked up alertly. “Who’s Jim?”
Betty was looking past him, her face aglow. “Here he is,” she said. “Dad, Mr. Barker from next door.”
Mr. Norris turned. “How are you, Jim?” he asked heartily. “What kind of a crop did you get this year, son?”
Jim was watching Betty. “Just thirtv bushels to the acre,” he answered mechanically.
The three stood still, an odd tension in the air. Mr. Norris scratched his head. Nobody spoke.
Mr. Norris coughed. Then he looked at Jim. Some years later, Jim was to recall that look and wonder if it could possibly be that Mr. Norris had winked.
Now Mr. Norris rubbed his hands together. “Betty,” he said heartily, “I’m very much pleased. You’ve done a fine job, you and your workers . . . Now let’s see. Must be seventy-five cords left. So you can give the Bannion twins each fifteen cords, Sam ought to have twenty, twenty for the other hand—”
“What are you talking about?” Betty cut in. “Give them my wood? They’ve been paid.”
“Why, daughter,” Mr. Norris said in a grieved manner. “Your principles . . . Do you actually suggest that the producers receive only an arbitrary wage? Not the economic goods themselves?”
Over her father’s shoulder Betty could see on Jim’s face the familiar ghost of a grin. She looked back at her father. He was rolling his eyes in a pious manner, but his well-preserved figure was rippling with laughter.
Well—dam—it was her wood. She didn’t want to give it to Sam and the Bannion boys and the other hand. Maybe in a factory, now . . .
She looked squarely at them. “Farmers are different,” she told her father brazenly. “Very different from the inhuman, slavedriving industrialists of the machine age.”
“Farmers?” Mr. Norris asked. “Who’s a farmer?”
“Betty’s a farmer,” Jim said. “Wait and see. Kind of a backseat farmer, maybe.” He paused a minute and looked at her, and his eyes from under his bony forehead dropped their guard for ever. A warm happiness filled her; she knew now. He’d say something like that, of course, and it would be enough. From him.
He was speaking again. “I’ve got just one thing to say,” he remarked gently. “If I ever catch her around a tree again, except maybe to sit in the shade ...”
+ + +
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