FICTION

THE HASTY WOOING

Everyone in Alvsborg knew that Matt Johnson was going to marry the teacher . . . Everyone, that is, but Matt

WILL HAGEN August 15 1946
FICTION

THE HASTY WOOING

Everyone in Alvsborg knew that Matt Johnson was going to marry the teacher . . . Everyone, that is, but Matt

WILL HAGEN August 15 1946

THE HASTY WOOING

WILL HAGEN

EARLY MORNING sun glinted from the snow that rolled to the far horizon. It was dazzlingly white. It was quiet as an empty cathedral and frosty as the Bering Sea. Matt Johnson not iced none of these things as he stopped on his way to Alvsborg, Man., to see his good friends and next door neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Lars Swenson. He was on an important errand. He wanted advice from the closest friends he had.

Matt clucked to the horses and turned into Swenson’s yard. He got out in front of the house and threw blankets over the big bay team. “You vait here,” he told them, easing the frosty bridles. “I won’t be long, maybe.”

“Gut mornin’!” Lars Swenson yelled from the steamy doorway. “Kom in an’ have cup coffee.” “Yah, good morning,” Matt waved. “It’s kinda cold, though.”

“Hello, Matt.” The red-cheeked woman in the kitchen brushed floury hands on her apron. “I got flat brod fresh in just a minute.”

“I can’t stay long. Not very long, anyway.” Matt hung his buffalo coat on a hook behind the

door. In his jacket his shoulders were only three feet wide. He was handsome, after the fashion of a big, blond, gentle bull.

“You go to town purty much lately.” Ma Swenson fussed with the table.

“Huh?” Matt opened his mouth, closed it and scratched at his curly head. He sat down. Not a man to rush into things, he knew when his mind was made up. And when his mind was made up he moved toward his goal—like a glacier.

“I been thinkin’,” he began slowly. “I been thinkin’ ’bout doing something.”

“That’s good.” Lars seated himself, beaming. “What you gonna do?”

“I’m going to take out the teacher.” Matt blushed. “I mean, the lady teacher down to Alvsborg.”

“Hooray!” Lars smacked the table. “That’s a vonderful idea, Matt! That sure is fine. When you gonna git married?”

“Married? My goodness!” Matt calmed down. “You shouldn’t oughta talk like that, Lars.”

“Me? I thought you was talkin’ about it.”

“I didn’t mean—” he swallowed. “I jus’ thought maybe I could start seein’ her sometimes—once in a while.”

“Oh.” Lars chuckled hugely. “You jus’ wanna look at her.”

“Hush, pa,” said Mrs. Swenson.

“I only been thinkin’ ’bout her—in a friendly way, of course.” Matt looked reproachful. “An’ I decided, fin’ly, to ask her to go out ridin’—or something. That is—I could ask her to think about it.” He coughed. “An’ then maybe this month—or the month after—this spring, anyway—why we might go for a drive.”

“My, my!” Lars shook his head. “You don’t wanna scare the livin’ daylights outa her.”

“Pa, will you keep still?” Ma Swenson smiled gently and patted Matt’s shoulder. “I think it’s a fine idea. You go right ahead an’ take her out driving. I’m sure she’d like to git out in the country. You could bring her here any time you want, too. More coffee?”

“No, thanks.” Matt stood up. “I better be going now—purty soon. You see—jus’ wanted to say to my bes’ friends—well, that I decided to start—”

“You bet your life.” Lars got up too. “And you’re right, Matt. If you don’t git started, you always stay in the same place.” He helped Matt on with his coat and followed him out to the sleigh.

And when Matt was ready to go, Lars gave a glance at the house, leaned over and lowered his voice.

“I think I ought to tell you something.”

“You should?” Matt sat still, blinking his mild blue eyes.

“Somebody ought to. An’ we been good friends for a long time. I’m gonna talk straight to the shoulder, Matt.”

“All right.”

“Here it is, man to man. That schoolteacher’s sweet on you, Matt, an’ alius has been. I watched her myself, half a dozen times—at Tolstad’s barn dance, at the basket socials, at the Ladies Aid. It’s open an’ shut, an’ all the cows is tied. All you got to do is stan’ on your hind legs an’ pop the question.” Matt smiled and slowly shook his head. “I’m afraid you don’t hardly know her, Lars. She’s a fine lady—a real one. She’s awful delicate too. I mean—she’s so small and so young.”

“Ya,” said Lars. “She can’t be a day over 25— or 6. How long you been knowin’ the teacher now?”

“Oh—six months. Six months an’ 11 days.” “You figuring the days too?”

“Sure.” Matt nodded gravely. “I know her ever since Shep died—almost.”

“Oh—ya, I remember. Well, six months is long enough. You leave a thing like that too long, Matt, an’ there ain’t anything left.”

Matt’s smile was gentle. “You’re not a bad fellow, Lars—in a way. But you don’t understan’ ladies.”

“An’ you’re a good farmer,” reported Lars, “but you’re also a chump. Now you better git goin’. That schoolteacher ain’t gonna wait forever.”

Matt drove along to Alvsborg, speculating pleasantly on his momentous decision. Nobody but the Swenson’s, of course, must know about it. They were his friends. He could trust them not to talk. At least he could trust Mrs. Swenson, and she would keep Lars’ mouth shut.

HE HAD a peculiar delicacy about letting the neighborhood in on the secret. In fact the rest of the neighborhood—particularly the women— were in the nature of a thorn in Matt’s side. He was by nature shy, in a sort of a way. And despite the fact that he was one of the most respected farmers, Matt was a butt for gossip over the whole district.

He took the side road across the tracks and came into town the back way. Matt hitched the team to the rail in front of the machine shop. He put blankets on Tony and Doc and cinched them tight. Then he got some ¿hay out of the bobsled and bunched it up in front of them.

“You be all right?” he queried fondly. “I might be gone a long time.” The horses began to eat contentedly, so Matt started up the street. He went through the business section and continued up the road to the schoolhouse. Now that his mind was made up he was not the man to dillydally. He meant to go straight to the teacher—look her in the eyes—and tell her exactly where he stood.

“Sometimes a man has got to take the bull by the horns—or anyway the tail.” Matt assured himself. Then he shivered. “She’s going to be awful surprised to see me, though.”

The school was a one-room affair south of the scattered residential district. It had wiqdows on two sides and an anteroom on one end. Matt stamped his feet on the little platform in front of the

"You're not building a House!" Wilma cried.

anteroom and then knocked softly on the door.

“Talk turkey now,” he reminded himself sternly. “Just ask her—yes or no.”

There was a sort of silence about the schoolhouse. Matt coughed to reveal his presence and knocked again. Then it occurred to him that kids usually made some noise, even in school. He glanced about at t he empty yard, stepped down from the platform and peered in through a side window. The schoolroom was empty.

Matt thought it over a minute. It was certainly unusual. It was a blow too. He had figured it all out , and now he was up against a blank wall. He would have to make some changes in his plan.

Matt was not easily discouraged, and his mind was right on the job. He reasoned that the teacher lived at the hotel, and that there was only one hotel in Alvsborg. With Matt, to think was to act. He walked back to t he village, passed through the main —and only—street and came finally to the hotel.

There was a toothless old man on duty in the lobby. Matt didn’t know the old man and he was grateful for that. It made it easier to come right to the point. He stepped up quite boldly and enquired for t he teacher.

“Miss Winter?” queried the old man. “You mean Miss Wilma Winter?”

Matt nodded. “I got, some business to ask her— in private.”

“She vent outside.”

“Outside?”

“She vent outside the door.”

“You mean she’s just outkjde? Here?”

“Naw, naw. She jus’ go out by the door. Slfe vent away by 11 o’clock.”

The old man picked up a broom and began to sweep the lobby. »

Matt stood in front of the hotel and took a gootf look around. He was frankly puzzled, and: his problem was growing. Miss Winter wasn’t at thé school where she worked, and she wasn^-,£¿’ the hotel where she lived. Being methodical, Matt didn’t rush off half-cocked or follow some crazy impulse. He stood there, thinking the thing through. The most likely placq the teacher would have gone was to a store, perhaps to buy something. And there were only two stores that Miss Wilma Winter would be liable to find anything suitable in.

Matt set out at a fairly good clip, but presently he moved more slowly. And when he reached the door of Edvard Skram’s grocery and general merchandise store he was barely making headway. Matt had practically grown up with the businessmen of Alvsborg. They knew him and liked him. They were also interested in his affairs—particularly his affair with the lady schoolteacher. They could make it difficult for a sensitive fellow like Matt.

He hoped there wasn’t anybody in £he store— that is, besides the proprietor, and teacher, of course. He wondered how it would look if he rushed in, took a good look around and then rushed right out again. It probably would look pretty ftfnny.

“What do you know, Matt?” greeted Edvard from behind the grocery counter.

“Hullo,” said Matt. He walked part way into the store, stopped and looked around.

“You lookin’ for something?” Edvard was waiting on Mrs. Eskerson. f ^

“Oh, no.”

“You, Matt Johnson.” Mrs. Eskerson peered through her thick

Everyone in Alvsborg knew that Matt Johnson was going to marry the teacher . . . Everyone, that is, but Matt

Continued on page 32

Continued from page 11

glasses. “I thought it was you—cornin’ in as big as a house. Haven’t seen you since my girl Ida was married.”

“She was married?” queried Matt politely.

“Didn’t you hear? But then I guess you’re too busy. I hear you got a girl now too.” She smirked. “You look out for them teeny weeny women. Especially a big lummox like you.”

“I—gotta go,” said Matt.

“Wait,” yelled Edvard. “We was jus’ talking about you.”

“Excuse me.” Matt made it to the door. He wiped the sweat from his forehead and moved more slowly up the street. That Mrs. Eskerson, he thought bitterly. Imagine her talking like that —in front of the whole world. What if it got back to the schoolteacher—and it probably would. It made him weak just to think about it.

Matt peered through the window into the next store. He could see Anton Lindstrom pouring sugar into paper bags, and there was a cat inthewindow. There didn’t seem to be any customers, but he had to make sure.

“Hullo, Matt,” cried Anton cheerfully. “Ain’t seen you since my dog

had pups. Come in an’ spit on the floor.”

Matt grinned feebly. “You ain’t got nobody buying?”

“Business is sure slow.”

Matt took a cautious look around. “I was just in town,” he explained. “I thought I’d just come in.”

“Why, sure. There’s a chair over there, Matt.”

The door blew open and Mrs. Bengard flew into the store. “Whoops!” she cried lustily. “Anybody seen my old man?”

“I’ll be seein’ you, Anton.” Matt backed up and started around the display counter. This was one woman he didn’t want to meet. She had the loudest voice in the district.

But Mrs. Bengard saw him and changed her course. “Whoops!” She harged right into him. “Glad to see you, Matt. Ain’t it a fine day?”

“It’s—cold, sort of.”

“It ain’t colder’n a new grave.” She grabbed Matt’s arm. “How’re the Swenson’s makin’ out? My—you’re lookin’ peaked. Musta lost a couple o’ ounces. Winter’s harder on the men, I alius say.”

“I think that teacher’s got him going,” called Anton, grinning.

“Going!” cried Mrs. Bengard. “He’ll be gone if she gits her hooks onto him. She’ll put a ring in his nose.”

“I got to go,” blurted Matt desperately. “So long, Anton.”

“Can’t you take a joke? Whoops!” Mrs. Bengard roared with laughter. “It ain’t no use runnin’ away from ’em, Matt. That teacher’ll git you if she has to go to the North Pole.”

ATT DIDN’T stop running till he was 20 feet down the sidewalk. If he had been a swearing man, he would have sworn. If he had been a drinking man he would have needed a drink. He took a cautious look around and was thankful the street was deserted. But that didn’t mean much. You could hear Mrs. Bengard ’way into the next county. What in the world would Miss Winter think if she could hear that kind of coarse gossip?

Matt needed a rest, and the hardware store was right ahead. He figured there would probably be no women there, so he ducked in quickly and closed the door. He took out his handkerchief.

“Didn’t know it was so hot,” offered Ole Olsen. He was sitting in his little railed-in office, his feet up on the rail. He took his pipe out of his mouth and spat expertly at the potbellied stove.

“Hullo, Ole.” Matt walked slowly toward him.

“You got any pigs?” asked Ole.

» “Pigs?”

“Sure—pigs. Little pigs. For sale.” “I got some little pigs cornin’ next month.”

“That’s what they all say.” Ole spat contemptuously. “I got me a good idea to eat some fresh pork, an’ Torp ain’t got any. Torp ain’t got any, you ain’t got any, nobody’s got any. Fine farmer you are.”

“I jus’ raise pigs for my own use— mostly.”

“How’d it be if I kept this hardware store for my own use?”

“Well—” Matt grinned, “a farm

ain’t like a hardware store—exactly.” “You bet your sweet life it ain’t. You can’t eat nails, can you?”

“No—I guess you couldn’t.”

“There you are.” Ole smacked his leg and levelled an accusing finger. “You put your foot in it that time, Matt. It boils up to this—the farmer’s the only independent man left in the whole world.”

Matt sat down, nodding agreeably. He was feeling more comfortable. Ole, he thought, is a pretty good fellow. He spread his hands to the stove. “You

ain’t—” he hesitated, “seen anybody from the hotel around, have you?” “Huh? No—they don’t use much hardware.”

“I didn’t mean'—the people that owned it.”

“I wish I had a pig,” said Ole.

“I was jus’ wonderin’,” Matt said doggedly, “why the school ain’t runnin’ today.”

“The school?”

“I jus’ noticed the flag wasn’t up.” ’Cause it’s a holday, that’s why. It’s a national holiday—on a big scale. I’m surprised at you, Matt.”

“Oh—I see.” Matt looked at the ceiling. “I s’pose—with no school— the teacher jus’ wanders around without anything to do.”

“I still wish I had a pig,” said Ole. “You—ain’t seen her around, have you?”

“Who?”

“The—schoolteacher. ’ ’

“So that’s it!” Ole smote his leg again. “You lookin’ for her now. I heard she does the lookin’ for you. What’s the matter? Can’t you two git together?”

“Oh—I wasn’t really lookin’.” Matt got to his feet.

“Then what are you askin’ for?” “Nuthin?”

“If I see her,” grinned Ole, “I’ll tell her you was askin’ all over for her.” “Gosh, no!” Matt started for the door. “I wouldn’t want—jus’ forget all about it, Ole. Good-by.”

In the stréet Matt wandered aimlessly for a few minutes. He was confused. Everything seemed to be going wrong. Instead of making progress, he was making himself ridiculous. He was afraid the whole town knew what he was doing—and if they knew, they would be talking about it. Miss Winter would think he had suddenly gone crazy.

And yet there was something of the bulldog in Matt Johnson. He hadn’t given up hope, he was still on the job. As he moved listlessly down the street he kept his eyes open. It wasn’t likely that Miss Winter was in the livery stable, or even the pool hall, but Matt inspected both places. He checked the lumberyard, the machine shop and the butcher shop. He went over the whole town twice without finding a trace of the teacher. Then a brilliant idea came to him.

The teacher would come back to the hotel for supper. Even a dainty little lady like her had to eat sometime. If Matt was at the hotel for supper, he’d be bound to see her. Matt looked at his watch. It was one o’clock. If he waited until suppertime he would have four or five hours to spend. He decided to take care of the horses first. He had feed and nose bags in the sleigh and he could water them back of the livery stable.

Matt crossed the street and walked slowly to the machine shop. The horses were tied between the machine shop and the town hall. As he came around the sleigh, lost in his own thoughts, he was startled by the sound of a surprised and delighted voice.

“Mr. Johnson!”

Matt stopped dead in his tracks. He blinked. He could scarcely believe his eyes. The teacher was standing beside his team. She was stroking Tony’s mane, and she was smiling at Matt.

“I was just coming from the hall,” she explained. “The Ladies Aid. And I’m so fond of horses I couldn’t help— Oh! is this your team? I didn’t notice— but, of course, I wouldn’t know your team anyway.”

“Ya.” Mattcame forward, chuckling. “This is Tony, an’ this one’s Doc.” “How nice! You don’t mind if I pet them, do you?”

“Why, I should say not! An’ aon’t

be afraid, Miss Winter. They wouldn’t hurt a fly—or anything.”

“That’s because you’re such a good master, Mr. Johnson.”

“Well—I raise ’em like that—on purpose. Everything I got on the farm is gentle just like a cat.”

“Really? I’d love to see your farm.” “You would?”

“J love farms, Mr. Johnson.”

“You do?”

“I’ve always wanted to live on a farm.”

Matt could hardly believe his ears, but it was too good an opportunity to miss. “It’s kinda fun, all right,” he said. “You got lots of fresh air too. An’ it’s healthy besides. It’s better in the summer, I guess—but it’s ail right in the winter too.”

“Oh, I’d love it in the winter because you can go sleigh riding.” The teacher drew a deep breath, a sort of um-um one. “Gliding over the white »now, with sleigh bells.”

“I got a couple of bells,” blurted Matt. “But I guess they’re jus’ cow bells.”

“You have?”

“An’—I got a nice cutter too. You know—a small sleigh—for riding.” “Really?” The teacher looked at him starry-eyed. “And you’ve got the nicest horses I’ve ever seen.”

“Well—they’re kind of big,” admitted Matt. “They don’t go so awful fast.”

“But I wouldn’t care about driving fast, Mr. Johnson.”

“You wouldn’t?”

“Oh, no. I’d just like to go sleigh riding.” She sighed. “I don’t suppose I’ll ever have a chance, though.”

“Why not?”

“Well—nobody’s ever asked me to go sleigh riding.”

Matt took the plunge. “I bet you wouldn’t come, even if I was to ask you.”

“Why, Mr. Johnson! I’d love to.” The excitement of the moment—the exhilaration—was just about all a fellow could stand. Matt shivered. “Then I ask you,” he said hoarsely. “When?” cried the teacher.

“Oh—any ol’ time.”

Miss Winter laughed. “But you can’t get out of it that way. We’ll have to make a date, Mr. Johnson.” Matt shrugged his shoulders recklessly. “You name the day,” he said. “I can be here any time.”

“I tell you—” she came closer, “let’s make it some evening when the sewing circle meets at the hotel. They are so tiresome and the women are such gossips.”

“All right.” Matt could see that she was having a hard time making up her mind, and after all it was probably up to the man to settle these things. “We make it the first time the sewing circle meets at the hotel, Miss Winter.”

“Oh—but they’re coming tonight.” She blushed. “You wouldn’t want to drive all the way home, and then come back again this evening.”

“Why not?” Matt heard himself saying. “It’s only two milesor a leetle bit over.”

“How wonderful. I could be ready at seven.”

“I will be here—on the dot.”

“Then I’d better run, Mr. Johnson. “I’ve got some papers to correct.” She put out her hand and Matt felt a quick little squeeze. “I’ll be waiting for you.”

MATT DROVE home slowly in a glow of personal achievement. It sure built up a man’s confidence to do a difficult job like that. Of course the teacher really did help him, a little bit. At least she didn’t run when she saw him coming. Lots of young girls might not feel exactly comfortable when a man came right out and asked them to

go for a sleigh ride with him like that.

The important thing was that he had made a start. Now that they were— well, going together, in a way, he could slip in something serious every once in a while too. It would sort of prepare her for what was coming. For Matt had definitely made up his mind to ask Miss Winter to marry him—sometime. She’d have to get used to the idea first, of course. She had to kind of get used to seeing him around. And in the spring she would be older—it was another two weeks, or three, till the breakup. And it would take him a couple of months to get a good start on the house.

The house. That was his ace in the hole. For Matt was going to build himself a house. He had a house, of course, but it had only one room. There was no use even thinking about getting married until he had more than one room. Matt nodded his big blond head. He’d start on his house just as soon as the frost came out of the ground.

Matt thought about the house all the way home. He thought about it while he was doing the chores. And instead of cooking supper, when he reached the house, he got out pencil and paper and sat down at the table. He started to sketch the plans for a new house. He was so absorbed that when he looked at his watch he jumped up with an exclamation. There was barely time for him to dress and drive into Alvsborg to meet the teacher.

Miss Wilma Winter was all ready when Matt brought the cutter around to the hotel. He had a foot warmer in front of the seat, a robe over the seat, and an enormous sheepskin blanket to throw over their laps. With the teacher installed, Matt walked around the cutter three times, tucking in a bit of robe here, smoothing it out there.

“Where are we going?” The teacher’s

dark eyes sparkled with excitement.

“I jus’ thought we could go out north —or some place like that.” Matt got himself wrapped up beside her. “We could stop—maybe—an’ see the Swenson’s too.”

“Could we go by your farm?”

“Well—”

“Oh, that would be fun, Mr. Johnson. It’s moonlight, and I could see some of it.”

“I guess we could go by there.” Matt decided they could take the long way round, passing by his farm before they came to Swenson’s. It was really quite a good idea. He could point out the boundary and show her how far it ran. She could even see the big red barn from the road. The more he thought of it the better it sounded.

Next spring, of course, after the builders had started, he could bring her out and really show her around. By that time she would be feeling perfectly natural with him, because Matt had decided to try and take her outregularly —maybe once a week even. He wanted it to be a sort of permanent arrangement.

“Could I hold the lines?” asked the teacher.

“Why, sure.”

“And, Mr. Johnson—” she turned her bright, friendly smile on him— “would you mind if I called you by your first name?”

“Huh?” Matt’s heart gave a big thump. He was speechless for a moment. “I should say not, I wouldn’t,” he finally blurted.

“Thank you. I want to call you Matthew. I think it’s such a fine name for a man.”

There wasn’t anything -slow about Matt. “It sure sounds good when you say it,” he said.

“And you’ll have to call me Wilma.”

Matt nodded. His heart was too ¡ full for words. The wonderful progress he was making was better even than his dreams. It was heaven, just to be driving along out here to the comforting clop of Tony’s hoofs—and beside him the beautiful lady teacher. Matt pinched himself and grinned.

“Look at the sky, Matthew,” said Wilma. “There isn’t room for the stars tonight.”

“It’s—a swell night,” agreed Matt. “The light from the moon is blue,” mused Wilma, “and the snow is white. Blue-white, Matthew. Somebody must have planted diamonds in Manitoba.” “It sure sparkles,” he said. The moon, the stars, the snow—and Wilma, must have gone to his head. “I could drive straight on like this—forever.” “Why, Matthew!” exclaimed Wilma. “What a lovely thing to say!”

“Huh? Hey, there’s my farm. That’s the corner of it there. It runs this way and that way.” Matt could be eloquent when he was talking about his farm. He told her how good the soil was, he told her about his struggles and his successful years.

“Is that your house?” interrupted Wilma.

“Why—yes.” He hadn’t meant to call her attention to the house. “And there’s the barn—see, the big red building. I got a fine machine shop, too, an’ a tool shed. Can you see the shed from there?”

“It’s a cute little house,” said the teacher. She laid her hand on his arm. “I’d love to see it—inside, I mean. Couldn’t we stop for just a minute?” “Oh, well—you see—”

“Please, Matthew. I want to see where you live. Look—Tony wants to turn in here too.”

Matt swallowed. He couldn’t think of a good excuse right off.

“Oh, I’m thrilled,” exclaimed the teacher. “I’ve always wanted to see where you live.”

“We better stay only a minute,” Matt said uneasily. “They might be expecting us over at the Swenson’s.” He wasn’t at all sure whether it was quite the proper thing to do—especially when she was so young.

The teacher wasn’t conscious of his sudden depression, apparently. She was out of the sleigh, and while Matt covered Tony with a blanket and his own fur coat she danced in front of the storm shanty door. When he opened the door she ran in. Matt turned up the lamp he had left burning.

“Oh—how nice,” said Wilma. “And so neat and clean.”

The one room was neat, though it served as bedroom, living room and kitchen. The couch was made up and covered with an army blanket. The small table was covered with redcheckered oilcloth.

“And how handy everything is.” Wilma inspected the tiny alcove that Matt used for a kitchenette, she exclaimed over the old-fashioned range with its warming oven and reservoir. “You even have curtains on the windows.”

“Mrs. Swenson helped me with them,” mumbled Matt. He knew that the teeny one-room house must create a bad impression, not only of him, but of his farm as well. “I guess, maybe, we better be going.”

“But I’d like to make you a cup of coffee,” said Wilma.

“What?”

“I just want to show you I can do it,” she insisted. “Please, Matthew.” “Well—I s’pose—”

“Then you sit down over here.” She pushed him into the easy chair. “I want to find everything myself, and do all the work.”

Matt was more than a little upset, but watching her made him feel better.

She was so cute, it just wasn’t the same place with a lady around.

“What’s this?” Wilma was putting out cups and saucers. And she was staring at a sheet of paper on the table. “It looks like a drawing of a house.” “Well—” Matt was startled. “Ya, I guess it is—kind of.”

“You’re not building a house?” she cried.

“WellI’m making plans. That is, sure I am.”

“How exciting!” Wilma stopped setting the table. “Tell me about it.” “Oh— 1 expect it’ll be something like the paper says there—at least, a little bit.”

Wilma took the paper and moved it closer to the light. “This is the living room? And the hall? But what’s that?” Matt lumbered to the table. “It’s supposed to be the upstairs—but it ain’t drawn so good. Anyway—you got two rooms up here— bedrooms.”

“Two of them?”

“An’ this is the kitchen—on the plan. It’s got a sink with runnin’ water—” “My, it’s big.”

“The livin’ room is 18 feet long,” explained Matt, “the way I drawed it.” “And two rooms upstairs?” Wilma stared at him. “But, Matt—you’ll have to spend all your time in the house. Cleaning, I mean.”

“It is— pretty big, I guess.”

“You simply couldn’t,” persisted the teacher. “Not with your farm work.” Matt hesitated. “Well—the whole house don’t need to be open all the time—every day, I mean.”

“Then why build such a big one?” Wilma poured the coffee. She seemed to be puzzled. When they were seated at the table she shook her head. “You’re not telling me everything, Matthew.” “Well—” his mouth opened and closed, “a man’s got to look into the—” “Yes?” prompted Wilma. “And what do you see?”

“Huh? Why—” Matt tried to loosen his collar, “good gracious—maybe a man wouldn’t want to oe out here completely by himself—not all his life, anyway.”

“So you’re planning on getting married?”

“Well—good gosh—sometime—yes.” “And you didn’t tell me.” The teacher smiled a little sadly, then she patted his hand. “Anyway I think it’s a sensible thing to do.”

“You do?”

“Of course. Every fine man should get married.” The dark eyes fell. “It sort of hurts me, though, Matthew. I mean, that you didn’t tell me. I thought we were such good friends.” “But we are!”

“And I’ll miss going out driving with you.” Wilma smiled her tender smile.

“But—good gosh—you can still go driving with me,” exploded Matt.

“Oh, my!” Wilma shook her head. “I’m afraid your girl wouldn’t appreciate it.”

“My girl?”

“Yes. The one you’re going to marry.”

Matt swallowed. His face grew pale and his voice was hoarse. “You don’t understand — Miss — Wilma. There ain’t—any girl. I mean—no other girl.”

“No other girl?” The teacher looked blank.

“I haven’t got no other girl—except you.”

There was growing wonder in Wilma’s eyes. “But you’re not building the house for me?”

It was mighty hard for a man to come right out with it, like that. “Yes,” said Matt hoarsely, “I am.”

Wilma got up and came around the table. She looked as though she expected something, so Matt pushed his chair back and the teacher climbed

into his lap. “You were saving it for a surprise all the time?” she asked softly.

“I been thinkin’ about it—a long time.” Matt nodded shakily. He didn’t have to lie about that. He really had had the idea in the back of his head all along. He began to feel proud of himself. Holding Wilma in his lap like that, he even began to think about kissing her—sometime. Of course he’d have to lead up to it gradually.

“You’re so big and strong—and comfortable,” sighed Wilma.

Matt clucked softly. Maybe, he thought, women were quite a bit like horses. He understood horses, and apparently he was doing all right with Wilma too. A man just had to be gentle and firm with them. His lips brushed her hair—accidentally—and the fragrance made him dizzy.

Wilma sat up, suddenly, holding him away so that she could look into his eyes. “I’m the happiest girl in the world, Matthew. I’ll marry you any time you say. I’d marry you tomorrow,

if you wanted me to. Just like that!” Matt chuckled. He was tickled at her fancies.

“We could take the train to Karsvall and get the license,” cried the teacher. “And Reverend Jacobson could marry us at his house. We could get married tomorrow, Matthew!”

“You mean—tomorrow?”

“Of course!” She hugged him.

“Wouldn’t it be fun?”

“Well—” he gulped, “it sure would surprise a lot of people.”

“Oh—darling!” Wilma kissed him. “I’m so excited I can hardly bear to think about it. Tomorrow!” She

shivered. “Hold me close, Matthew! I’m—I’m just a little bit frightened.” “There, there,” clucked Matt. He gently stroked her hair. A vast feeling of possession stole over him—and with it a desire to protect her against the world. She was so little, and kind of soft. It was about time that somebody started taking care of her.