Toward noon old Jotham Blue came in from a cornfield where he had been turnin_he earth between the rows. Although sixty-five and with snowy hair and bear_e looked to be vigorous, and good to live until ninety or a hundred. His eye_ere blue and keen, his color rosy. He had great broad shoulders set upon _pare waist, for he had been a handsome figure of a man in his youth.
"How do you do, Mr. Witla," he inquired with easy grace as he strolled up, th_ellow mud of the fields on his boots. He had pulled a big jackknife out o_is pocket and begun whittling a fine twig he had picked up. "I'm glad to se_ou. My daughter, Angela, has been telling me one thing and another abou_ou."
He smiled as he looked at Eugene. Angela, who was sitting beside him, rose an_trolled toward the house.
"I'm glad to see you," said Eugene. "I like your country around here. It look_rosperous."
"It is prosperous," said the old patriarch, drawing up a chair which stood a_he foot of a tree and seating himself. Eugene sank back into the hammock.
"It's a soil that's rich in lime and carbon and sodium—the things which mak_lant life grow. We need very little fertilizer here—very little. Th_rincipal thing is to keep the ground thoroughly cultivated and to keep ou_he bugs and weeds."
He cut at his stick meditatively. Eugene noted the chemical and physica_nowledge relative to farming. It pleased him to find brain coupled with cro_ultivation.
"I noticed some splendid fields of wheat as I came over," he observed.
"Yes, wheat does well here," Blue went on, "when the weather is moderatel_avorable. Corn does well. We have a splendid apple crop and grapes ar_enerally successful in this state. I have always thought that Wisconsin had _ittle the best of the other valley states, for we are blessed with a moderat_limate, plenty of streams and rivers and a fine, broken landscape. There ar_ood mines up north and lots of lumber. We are a prosperous people, w_isconsiners, decidedly prosperous. This state has a great future."
Eugene noted the wide space between his clear blue eyes as he talked. He like_he bigness of his conception of his state and of his country. No petty littl_round-harnessed ploughman this, but a farmer in the big sense of the word—_ultivator of the soil, with an understanding of it—an American who loved hi_tate and his country.
"I have always thought of the Mississippi valley as the country of th_uture," said Eugene. "We have had the Valley of the Nile and the Valley o_he Euphrates with big populations, but this is something larger. I rathe_eel as though a great wave of population were coming here in the future."
"It is the new paradise of the world," said Jotham Blue, pausing in hi_hittling and holding up his right hand for emphasis. "We haven't come t_ealize its possibilities. The fruit, the corn, the wheat, to feed the nation_f the world can be raised here. I sometimes marvel at the productivity of th_oil. It is so generous. It is like a great mother. It only asks to be treate_indly to give all that it has."
Eugene smiled. The bigness of his prospective father-in-law's feelings lure_im. He felt as though he could love this man.
They talked on about other things, the character of the surroundin_opulation, the growth of Chicago, the recent threat of a war with Venezuela, the rise of a new leader in the Democratic party, a man whom Jotham admire_ery much. As he was telling of the latter's exploits—it appeared he ha_ecently met him at Blackwood—Mrs. Blue appeared in the front door.
"Jotham!" she called.
He rose. "My wife must want a bucket of water," he said, and strolled away.
Eugene smiled. This was lovely. This was the way life should be—compounded o_ealth, strength, good nature, understanding, simplicity. He wished he were _an like Jotham, as sound, as hearty, as clean and strong. To think he ha_aised eight children. No wonder Angela was lovely. They all were, no doubt.
While he was rocking, Marietta came back smiling, her blond hair blowing abou_er face. Like her father she had blue eyes, like him a sanguine temperament, warm and ruddy. Eugene felt drawn to her. She reminded him a little of Ruby—_ittle of Margaret. She was bursting with young health.
"You're stronger than Angela," he said, looking at her.
"Oh, yes, I can always outrun Angel-face," she exclaimed. "We fight sometime_ut I can get things away from her. She has to give in. Sometimes I fee_lder—I always take the lead."
Eugene rejoiced in the sobriquet of Angel-face. It suited Angela, he thought.
She looked like pictures of Angels in the old prints and in the stained glas_indows he had seen. He wondered in a vague way, however, whether Marietta di_ot have the sweeter temperament—were not really more lovable and cosy. But h_ut the thought forcefully out of his mind. He felt he must be loyal to Angel_ere.
While they were talking the youngest boy, David, came up and sat down on th_rass. He was short and stocky for his years—sixteen—with an intelligent fac_nd an inquiring eye. Eugene noted stability and quiet force in his characte_t once. He began to see that these children had inherited character as wel_s strength from their parents. This was a home in which successful childre_ere being reared. Benjamin came up after awhile, a tall, overgrown, puritanical youth, with western modifications and then Samuel, the oldest o_he living boys and the most impressive. He was big and serene like hi_ather, of brown complexion and hickory strength. Eugene learned in th_onversation that he was a railroad man in St. Paul—home for a brief vacation, after three years of absence. He was with a road called the Great Northern, already a Second Assistant Passenger Agent and with great prospects, so th_amily thought. Eugene could see that all the boys and girls, like Angela, were ruggedly and honestly truthful. They were written all over with Christia_recept—not church dogma—but Christian precept, lightly and good naturedl_pplied. They obeyed the ten commandments in so far as possible and live_ithin the limits of what people considered sane and decent. Eugene wondere_t this. His own moral laxity was a puzzle to him. He wondered whether he wer_ot really all wrong and they all right. Yet the subtlety of the universe wa_lways with him—the mystery of its chemistry. For a given order of society n_oubt he was out of place—for life in general, well, he could not say.
At 12.30 dinner was announced from the door by Mrs. Blue and they all rose. I_as one of those simple home feasts common to any intelligent farming family.
There was a generous supply of fresh vegetables, green peas, new potatoes, ne_tring beans. A steak had been secured from the itinerant butcher who serve_hese parts and Mrs. Blue had made hot light biscuit. Eugene expressed _redilection for fresh buttermilk and they brought him a pitcherful, sayin_hat as a rule it was given to the pigs; the children did not care for it.
They talked and jested and he heard odd bits of information concerning peopl_ere and there—some farmer who had lost a horse by colic; some other farme_ho was preparing to cut his wheat. There were frequent references to th_hree oldest sisters, who lived in other Wisconsin towns. Their childre_ppeared to be numerous and fairly troublesome. They all came home frequently, it appeared, and were bound up closely with the interests of the family as _hole.
"The more you know about the Blue family," observed Samuel to Eugene, wh_xpressed surprise at the solidarity of interest, "the more you realize tha_hey're a clan not a family. They stick together like glue."
"That's a rather nice trait, I should say," laughed Eugene, who felt no suc_een interest in his relatives.
"Well, if you want to find out how the Blue family stick together just d_omething to one of them," observed Jake Doll, a neighbor who had entered.
"That's sure true, isn't it, Sis," observed Samuel, who was sitting next t_ngela, putting his hand affectionately on his sister's arm. Eugene noted th_ovement. She nodded her head affectionately.
"Yes, we Blues all hang together."
Eugene almost begrudged him his sister's apparent affection. Could such a gir_e cut out of such an atmosphere—separated from it completely, brought into _adically different world, he wondered. Would she understand him; would h_tick by her. He smiled at Jotham and Mrs. Blue and thought he ought to, bu_ife was strange. You never could tell what might happen.
During the afternoon there were more lovely impressions. He and Angela sa_lone in the cool parlor for two hours after dinner while he restated hi_mpressions of her over and over. He told her how charming he thought her hom_as, how nice her father and mother, what interesting brothers she had. H_ade a genial sketch of Jotham as he had strolled up to him at noon, whic_leased Angela and she kept it to show to her father. He made her pose in th_indow and sketched her head and her halo of hair. He thought of his doubl_age illustration of the Bowery by night and went to fetch it, looking for th_irst time at the sweet cool room at the end of the house which he was t_ccupy. One window, a west one, had hollyhocks looking in, and the door to th_orth gave out on the cool, shady grass. He moved in beauty, he thought; wa_reading on showered happiness. It hurt him to think that such joy might no_lways be, as though beauty were not everywhere and forever present.
When Angela saw the picture which _Truth_ had reproduced, she was besid_erself with joy and pride and happiness. It was such a testimony to he_over's ability. He had written almost daily of the New York art world, so sh_as familiar with that in exaggerated ideas, but these actual things, lik_eproduced pictures, were different. The whole world would see this picture.
He must be famous already, she imagined.
That evening and the next and the next as they sat in the parlor alone he dre_earer and nearer to that definite understanding which comes between a man an_oman when they love. Eugene could never stop with mere kissing and caressin_n a reserved way, if not persistently restrained. It seemed natural to hi_hat love should go on. He had not been married. He did not know what it_esponsibilities were. He had never given a thought to what his parents ha_ndured to make him worth while. There was no instinct in him to tell him. H_ad no yearnings for parenthood, that normal desire which gives visions of _ome and the proper social conditions for rearing a family. All he thought o_as the love making period—the billing and cooing and the transports o_elight which come with it. With Angela he felt that these would be super- normal precisely because she was so slow in yielding—so on the defensiv_gainst herself. He could look in her eyes at times and see a swooning vei_hich foreshadowed a storm of emotion. He would sit by her stroking her hands, touching her cheek, smoothing her hair, or at other times holding her in hi_rms. It was hard for her to resist those significant pressures he gave, t_old him at arm's length, for she herself was eager for the delights of love.
It was on the third night of his stay and in the face of his growing respec_or every member of this family, that he swept Angela to the danger line—woul_ave carried her across it had it not been for a fortuitous wave of emotion, which was not of his creation, but of hers.
They had been to the little lake, Okoonee, a little way from the house durin_he afternoon for a swim.
Afterward he and Angela and David and Marietta had taken a drive. It was on_f those lovely afternoons that come sometimes in summer and speak direct t_he heart of love and beauty. It was so fair and warm, the shadows of th_rees so comforting that they fairly made Eugene's heart ache. He was youn_ow, life was beautiful, but how would it be when he was old? A morbi_nticipation of disaster seemed to harrow his soul.
The sunset had already died away when they drew near home. Insects hummed, _ow-bell tinkled now and then; breaths of cool air, those harbingers of th_pproaching eve, swept their cheeks as they passed occasional hollows.
Approaching the house they saw the blue smoke curls rising from the kitche_himney, foretelling the preparation of the evening meal. Eugene claspe_ngela's hand in an ecstasy of emotion.
He wanted to dream—sitting in the hammock with Angela as the dusk fell, watching the pretty scene. Life was all around. Jotham and Benjamin came i_rom the fields and the sound of their voices and of the splashing water cam_rom the kitchen door where they were washing. There was an anticipator_tamping of horses' feet in the barn, the lowing of a distant cow, the hungr_runt of pigs. Eugene shook his head—it was so pastoral, so sweet.
At supper he scarcely touched what was put before him, the group at the dinin_able holding his attention as a spectacle. Afterwards he sat with the famil_n the lawn outside the door, breathing the odor of flowers, watching th_tars over the trees, listening to Jotham and Mrs. Blue, to Samuel, Benjamin, David, Marietta and occasionally Angela. Because of his mood, sad in the fac_f exquisite beauty, she also was subdued. She said little, listening t_ugene and her father, but when she did talk her voice was sweet.
Jotham arose, after a time, and went to bed, and one by one the other_ollowed. David and Marietta went into the sitting room and then Samuel an_enjamin left. They gave as an excuse hard work for the morning. Samuel wa_oing to try his hand again at thrashing. Eugene took Angela by the hand an_ed her out where some hydrangeas were blooming, white as snow by day, bu_ale and silvery in the dark. He took her face in his hands, telling her agai_f love.
"It's been such a wonderful day I'm all wrought up," he said. "Life is s_eautiful here. This place is so sweet and peaceful. And you! oh, you!" kisse_nded his words.
They stood there a little while, then went back into the parlor where sh_ighted a lamp. It cast a soft yellow glow over the room, just enough to mak_t warm, he thought. They sat first side by side on two rocking chairs an_hen later on a settee, he holding her in his arms. Before supper she ha_hanged to a loose cream colored house gown. Now Eugene persuaded her to le_er hair hang in the two braids.
Real passion is silent. It was so intense with him that he sat contemplatin_er as if in a spell. She leaned back against his shoulder stroking his hair, but finally ceased even that, for her own feeling was too intense to mak_ovement possible. She thought of him as a young god, strong, virile, beautiful—a brilliant future before him. All these years she had waited fo_omeone to truly love her and now this splendid youth had apparently cas_imself at her feet. He stroked her hands, her neck, cheeks, then slowl_athered her close and buried his head against her bosom.
Angela was strong in convention, in the precepts of her parents, in the sens_f her family and its attitude, but this situation was more than she coul_esist. She accepted first the pressure of his arm, then the slow subtlet_ith which he caressed her. Resistance seemed almost impossible now for h_eld her close—tight within the range of his magnetism. When finally she fel_he pressure of his hand upon her quivering limbs, she threw herself back in _ransport of agony and delight.
"No, no, Eugene," she begged. "No, no! Save me from myself. Save me fro_yself. Oh, Eugene!"
He paused a moment to look at her face. It was wrought in lines of intens_uffering—pale as though she were ill. Her body was quite limp. Only the hot, moist lips told the significant story. He could not stop at once. Slowly h_rew his hand away, then let his sensitive artists' fingers rest gently on he_eck—her bosom.
She struggled lamely at this point and slipped to her knees, her dres_oosened at the neck.
"Don't, Eugene," she begged, "don't. Think of my father, my mother. I, wh_ave boasted so. I of whom they feel so sure. Oh, Eugene, I beg of you!"
He stroked her hair, her cheeks, looking into her face as Abélard might hav_ooked at Héloïse.
"Oh, I know why it is," she exclaimed, convulsively. "I am no better than an_ther, but I have waited so long, so long! But I mustn't! Oh, Eugene, _ustn't! Help me!"
Vaguely Eugene understood. She had been without lovers. Why? he thought. Sh_as beautiful. He got up, half intending to carry her to his room, but h_aused, thinking. She was such a pathetic figure. Was he really as bad a_his? Could he not be fair in this one instance? Her father had been so nic_o him—her mother—He saw Jotham Blue before him, Mrs. Blue, her admirin_rothers and sisters, as they had been a little while before. He looked at he_nd still the prize lured him—almost swept him on in spite of himself, but h_tayed.
"Stand up, Angela," he said at last, pulling himself together, looking at he_ntensely. She did so. "Leave me now," he went on, "right away! I won't answe_or myself if you don't. I am really trying. Please go."
She paused, looking at him fearfully, regretfully.
"Oh, forgive me, Eugene," she pleaded.
"Forgive me," he said. "I'm the one. But you go now, sweet. You don't know ho_ard this is. Help me by going."
She moved away and he followed her with his eyes, yearningly, burningly, unti_he reached the door. When she closed it softly he went into his own room an_at down. His body was limp and weary. He ached from head to foot from th_ntensity of the mood he had passed through. He went over the recen_ncidents, almost stunned by his experience and then went outside and stoo_nder the stairs, listening. Tree toads were chirping, there were suspiciou_racklings in the grass as of bugs stirring. A duck quacked somewhere feebly.
The bell of the family cow tinkled somewhere over near the water of the littl_tream. He saw the great dipper in the sky, Sirius, Canopus, the vast galax_f the Milky Way.
"What is life anyway?" he asked himself. "What is the human body? Wha_roduces passion? Here we are for a few years surging with a fever of longin_nd then we burn out and die." He thought of some lines he might write, o_ictures he might paint. All the while, reproduced before his mind's eye lik_ cinematograph, were views of Angela as she had been tonight in his arms, o_er knees. He had seen her true form. He had held her in his arms. He ha_oluntarily resigned her charms for tonight; anyhow, no harm had come. I_ever should.