One More Dream
H. GORDON GREEN
For Ruth the scarlet and gold caravan held a threat to love. To Mark it was the shape of romance itself
RUTH went out with Mark that night anyhow, but she went burning with indignation. Fathers were supposed to be unreasonable about romance when they had passed that age themselves. The thing which made her so unusually angry tonight was that for once in his life her father seemed to have some reason for his complaint.
“I’ve scrimped and sweated for 30 years so you and your brother could have a decent start in life!” he’d said, putting his Farmer’s Advocate behind him. “I’ve already given your brother his own farm. He’s doing all right. And I’ve always counted on helping you and the man of your choice the same way when the time came. But I want to tell you right now that I’ll never give a red cent to a man like Mark Hewton!”
Ruth asked what was wrong with Mark Hewton. He had always acted the gentleman. Did her father want her to marry a duke, perhaps?
Her father pitched his farm magazine at the wood box. “All he has to have is a good name and ambition!” the old man shouted. “And Mark Hewton has neither!”
It was fortunate that Mark had driven up in his old Ford before she had time to reply, or there might have been a first-rate rumpus with her father going to bed sick from temper and her mother running all over the place trying to pacify him.
But now, chugging along a side road that led to nowhere, she kept thinking the thing over, trying hard to believe that the old man was only unreasonable from prejudice—that the truth was not in him.
Certainly it was mean of him to condemn Mark because of his family. Could a man help it if his father had been the biggest bootlegger who ever built a still in a swamp? And so impractical and shiftless that he had once traded his horse for a pair of peacocks?
But that part about the ambition was different. She wished Mark did have a little more push to him. It was no wonder that the prosperous, hardheaded, hard-working farmers of the community all talked about him. Ever since he had come back from overseas he hadn’t held a job for more than a month. He had lasted three weeks at the mill, two at the grocery. In fact he seemed perfectly happy running a trap line or cutting a bit of wood now and then from the swamp around the old shack his father had left him. Sometimes in the summer, when he was broke, he worked in the fields, but when he thought he had money he quit, and went back to the shack and his hunting until his money ran out again.
Ruth was thinking as they bounced along the road, I’m going to talk to him about this tonight. I’m sick and tired of hearing the folks hint about Rod Harris and how well he’s doing with his Shorthorns and his red clover! And mile after mile she kept building up the right words and the right mood for the telling.
They parked where the side road ran over a little bridge; then they got out and sat on the cement edge, letting their feet dangle over the wavy stars in the
water. It was April and the woods beyond were swimming with life and wild music, and the gentle breeze came rolling in from the south, bearing the scent of new grass and hawthorn bloom. It wasn’t a night for quarrelling.
I’ll talk to him about it later, when it’s easier to get mad, she thought. And then she leaned his way so far that he couldn’t do anything else but put his arm about her.
Why must she love the man like this? What was there about him?
She looked up at him. He wasn’t handsome. His was a face that you liked only after you learned to know the man. He was dark, with curly hair that always seemed a bit too long and with shoulders too broad for his height. But she could never resist the merry way his eyes squinted when he smiled and the low quiet way he talked.
“You’re very pretty tonight,” he told her. “That red goes well with hair as blond as yours.” And then he cupped her chin in his hand and held her in a kiss that blotted out time and place and everything but the wild music of the spring night.
Then suddenly, and most unromantically, he got up and went to the car. He came back beaming a flashlight along the bank. “I haven’t seen a crayfish this year,” he said. “They should be out now. Here, hold this light while I lift a stone or two.”
She was used to this. On a spring Sunday you couldn’t expect to walk 10 yards with Mark without seeing him stop to look at something which had aroused his curiosity. Never had she seen a man who was interested in so many things. It was sometimes annoying. It was annoying now; but she held the light, and sure enough in a few moments Mark was bolding a crayfish between his fingers. Continued on page 28
Continued on page 28
One More Dream
Continued from page 20
She didn’t see anything so wonderful about it. It was a little stone-colored creature, two or three inches long, with huge claws and beady eyes and waving whiskers. She had never even known such creatures existed until he had pointed them out to her.
He found a jar in the back of the car and dropped the crayfish into it. “I’ll take him home,” he decided. And then he sat down on the bridge again, the jar in his hands, and began to talk. She loved to hear him talk, even about crayfish.
“My father always used to have a panful at home,” he said. “They’re cute. I can still remember how they used to splash around when the lights were out. And I remember how father used to take me on his knee in the evenings by the fire, and tell me of the crayfish that he had once up in Bruce County when he was a boy. From what I gather, they didn’t have much of a farm up there—mostly rock and scrub. About the only pleasant thing dad could remember about the place was the little spring with the crayfish.
“But how he used to talk about those crayfish! They weren’t the ordinary grey ones like we have around here. They were blue! As blue as the low side of a rainbow, dad used to say, with bright orange tips on their claws. And they didn’t always hang around under rocks like these commoners around here do. They built little clay castles in amongst the moss and iris, and they played tag over pink stones, and they even had a king! Dad was always going to make a trip back there someday, just to lie around for a day or two under the birches and watch those blue crayfish flashing in that spring.
AND ONE time he started to build himself a caravan for the trip. I helped him. We built it out behind the strawstack, so mother wouldn’t find out. It looked like a gypsy wagon, and we had beds in it, and we painted it red and gold. And then one morning mother found out and made dad sell the wagon and get out to the cornfield. I cried all the rest of that day, I think ... You know, I’ve always believed that mother was as much to blame as dad was for what happened to us. It was about a year afterward when he started bootlegging. It was mother who was always wanting more conveniences and security. I know my father could have given us more, yet I think we had enough. I can never recall that I went hungry, for all his lack of business. But he wanted to give mother the things she wanted . . .”
Mark held up the jar and looked silently at the crayfish. “I guess I never got over that disappointment. I wanted to make that trip to Bruce County more than anything else in the world. I still want to go. Maybe the old man was telling me a fairy tale. Maybe the blue crayfish were just as mythical as gnomes and elves. But I’ve never been able to get over the idea that someday I’ll take a trip just like the one father promised me, and I’ll spend a day or two under those birches, and I’ll see for myself.”
He put the jar down and looked at her apologetically. “Funny how a dream can haunt you sometimes, isn’t it?”
Maybe it was because his story was ended now and he still didn’t kiss her. Maybe it was because she was jealous of the blue crayfish. But suddenly she felt irritated enough to tell him the things she had been holding back all evening. “You’re a swell guy, Mark, and I love you,” she said. “But why
can’t you be a little more practical?”
“Mark, why don’t you get a job like other men do? Why don’t you try to get ahead in the world — be independent?”
“I think I’m about as independent as a man can be,” Mark observed with a quiet smile. “Since when does a job make a man independent?”
“Oh, Mark, I’m so tired of hearing my dad tell me how ambitious Rod Harris is, how he’s going to make his mark in the world and all that, and how any girl should consider herself fortunate to get a man like him. Haven’t you any plans for the future, Mark? Anything besides going to Bruce County someday to find some blue crayfish?”
“I plan to enjoy life as long as I have it,” he said quietly. “What greater ambition does a man need?”
“But you have to make a better living, Mark! Why can’t you get interested in a farm of your own? A chicken farm, for instance?”
She said it in a way that made the smile go out of his eyes. “Ruth,” he said, “I am what I am, and that’s all I ever will be, because I’m happy this way and I don’t want to be anything else.” He swept his arm in a great arc. “These farmers, Rod Harris, your father—they’re all prosperous. They have big barns. Their cattle are fat. They have money in the bank. But how many of them are happier than I am? How many of them are even alive, Ruth? They eat, they sleep, they have children. So do their animals. Their fields are full of clover. It’s only hay to them. Their lambs now are playing king of the castle on the anthills. They think only of fall mutton. They see nothing in a sunset unless it promises rain; nothing in the rain unless it promises growth; nothing in the growth that isn’t entwined with a dollar sign. ^ My world has been a slit trench for the last two years, Ruth. It’s my time to live now, and I’m going to live!”
“And what is living to you?” she asked.
“Being endlessly interested,” he said. “Being happy.”
But she was not so easily silenced. She was going to fight this thing out to a decision. “Do you love me, Mark?” she asked.
“I love you more than any man should dare to love any woman,” he said coming closer.
She held him away. “I love you too, Mark. I love you enough to marry you. But my husband must be a man I can be proud of. I want him to go places and do things in the world. I don’t think I could be proud of a Daniel Boone who is more interested in little blue crawling things than he is in a healthy bank balance. Do you understand, Mark?”
And after a long long time he said, “I am what I am, Ruth, and I don’t think you should be counting on me changing much.”
She didn’t really intend to say it that way, but it was out before she knew it, and after it was out she was too proud to take it back. She said, “Maybe we better call it quits till we see it the same way, Mark.”
And they went home then, still not saying the things they should have said to make up; and when he kissed her good-by he forgot to say when he would meet her again, and she didn’t bother to ask him.
ALL THE next week she didn’t see him. She missed him dreadfully. She sat up long into the night, thinking that surely he must relent and come back. And when she finally went to bed she couldn’t sleep for wondering
Continued on page 30
Continued from page 28
what had become of him. Then she decided one morning that her days of grieving were over. If he was so mean and inconsiderate, she didn’t want him anyhow. And so, at the dinner table that day, she casually let it he known that the business of Mark Hewton was all off. Finished.
Her father stopped in the middle of a bite and his face broke into the smile he generally wore only when he had got his way at council meeting or when he had sold a cow for more than she was worth. “You don’t know what a load you take off my mind,” he said. “I was just trying to get up nerve to talk to you again about Mark. I hoped that you’d make the break now that he’s got mixed up with this other game.”
Ruth didn’t understand. “Game? What game?”
“Haven’t you heard? It seems that Mark is starting up his father’s old still again. Buying a lot of lumber and nails and stuff. And he was asking for copper tubing at the hardware the other day. A fellow doesn’t buy tubing to sow oats with, you know.”
Oh, heavens no! she thought. It couldn’t be.
“I always said that fellow would end up wrong,” her father said as they got up from the table.
He didn't say that, Ruth thought bitterly, when Mark went over with the Regiment! Then she remembered that she had decided to forget Mark completely and forever, and she went out to the garden to plant a few seeds, thinking that might help to occupy her mind. But it wasn’t that easy. Every little weed, every little bug, every little blossom made her think of him and what he would have said about it. She got angry with herself for being so foolish, but that didn’t help, either. So about three in the afternoon she decided to ask Rod over for supper. Her mother was delighted.
Rod was tall and blond and distinguished-looking. Much more distinguished-looking than Mark. And after supper when he took her out to the Blue Dragon in his roadster, she learned that he danced divinely. (Mark danced as if he were still laced to his army boots.) She did her best to convince herself that this was the man she wanted, that she could learn to love him. And after they left the Blue Dragon and parked down the highway, she even let him kiss her. She let him kiss her twice, in fact, just to see if she might possibly have been mistaken the first time.
But no, it just wasn’t there. And when Rod announced proudly the price he got for his last shipment of hogs, she said she was tired and would he please take her home.
Rod wasn’t blind. Halfway home, when she kept saying such things as “yes” and “uh-huh” to everything, he turned to her and said, “You’re thinking about Mark, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” she answered truthfully, “I am. I can’t understand why he should change like that. A bootlegger like his father!”
“When a man is jilted he is apt to do strange things. He wants to show the girl that he doesn’t care anymore,” Rod pronounced. “Some men jump into the lake. Some go West and lose themselves. Some take to liquor. Looks like Mark is just going to make t he stuff.”
“1 didn’t think he’d ever do a thing like that,” Ruth said. “Nothing he could have done could have hurt me more.”
“That’s precisely why he’s doing it,” Rod told her. “He utants to hurt you. Kid stuff!”
Long after Rod had left her that night, the thought kept churning through her mind. And she thought,
maybe he’s wrong, maybe he’s right. But one thing sure, it was my fault! It’s my fault just as much as it was his mother’s fault the other time!
Next morning so many things suddenly seemed different, so full of new meaning. Her father scolded his wife for buying a rosebush from the nurseryman, and he noticed that the chickens didn’t have water and that the geese were out. But he didn’t notice the new curtains they had hung in the living room or the bouquet of daffodils Mrs. Dent brought over for their table. And all at once Ruth began to ask questions.
Could she ever remember a time when her mother and father had really enjoyed each other’s company? Try as she might, she could never recall a single time that they had done anything together for the pure joy of it. They had never lived, Ruth concluded, using Mark’s expression. They’ve had plenty to eat, she thought, plenty to wear, and they’ve had children. That’s all. And that’s the way it would be with Rod and me. I want Mark’s way of life. Even if I have to go without my breakfast, it’s Mark I want!
SHE WENT to bed early, hoping to lose herself in sleep, but at midnight she was still awake. She got out of bed, crept down the stairs and went outside. There was a car in the garage, but that would have made a noise; so she saddled her jumper instead and was glad that his hoofs sank softly into the grass at the edge of the drive.
The swamp was a good four miles off and it was almost an hour before she tied her horse to a clump of alders and crept up to the shack. She wasn’t surprised somehow to see that the lamp was still burning high in the kitchen, but her heart stopped in mid-beat when she heard the sound of hammering coming from the adjoining woodshed.
She went in without knocking. “Mark!” she called. “Mark! Where are you?”
The hammering stopped and Mark came to the door which led from the back of the kitchen. When he saw her he came in quickly and pulled the woodshed door shut behind him. “Ruth!” he gasped, “what in the world are you doing here at this hour of the morning?”
Then she was in his arms and sobbing into his shoulder. “I couldn’t stand it any longer, Mark! I want you no matter if you do nothing but dream and play with crayfish for the rest of your life! But, Mark, please don’t do what your father did!”
She pointed to the woodshed. “What are you hiding in there?”
The smile came back to his eyes then and he led her over to the door. He opened it. There, gleaming in the scarlet and gold of new paint, was a freshly built caravan. “Twelve feet long,” he told her. “All solid ash. As neat a little gypsy wagon as ever rolled along a sod road. It’s just like the one my father built. Come on in.” He pulled her into the woodshed and lifted her up into the back end of the wagon. “Look,” he said, “a bed that lets down from the ceiling, a stove, a cupboard—even got a hot-water heater. I made it myself from an old oilcan and some copper tubing.”
Her eyes smarted and her throat ached and she couldn’t say anything.
He put his arms about her and kissed her hair. “I had to have you, too, Ruth. I found that you meant more to me than anything—even more than my dreams. Sp I’ve decided to settle down. A chicken farm, perhaps, if you’ll help me to be practical . . . But before I did such a drastic thing
as that I just had to make that trip. I knew I couldn't do anything so foolish after I was married. I traded some logs for the loan of a team of horses yesterday. They’re in the stable now . . . Look, Ruth, I was going to look you up after I came back. You believe me, don’t you?”
She began laughing, and all at once the idea didn’t seem so foolish any more. Some men spent years and millions tracking down a painting. Some men spent thousands to secure a rare postage stamp. Some men knew of no greater thrill than to track the savage animals of far countries. Mark wanted to find a crayfish, a crayfish whose blue was the blue of the rainbow. And perhaps it was real and perhaps it was only a beautiful shadowy creature of childhood fancy. But he must find out. And he couldn’t go in a car. He had to go in a caravan like his father had built once.
Must she think him foolish because
she couldn’t understand?
After a long long while she said, “Mark, there’s one way we could make your trip very practical. You could let me go with you. It could be our honeymoon.”
They found the spring the morning of the third day. And the crayfish were there! And they ivere blue! Blue as the low side of a rainbow, with bright orange claws. And they did have clay turrets along the bank! Ruth even thought she saw the king of the crayfish once.
When they finally packed up to turn the caravan home again, she wasn’t worried in the least as to how long it would take her father to forget her waywardness, or whether she would ever get her share of his estate. The only worry she had in the whole world was whether the blue crayfish in the jar on her lap would stay alive until she could get them home to more comfortable quarters.