X. John Jardine's Courtship
 

The following morning they breakfasted together under the branches of the big maple tree in a beautiful world. Mrs. Jardine was so happy she could only taste a bite now and then, when urged to. Kate was trying to keep her head level, and be natural. John Jardine wanted to think of everything, and succeeded fairly well. It seemed to Kate that he could invent more ways to spend money, and spend it with freer hand, than any man she ever had heard of, but she had to confess that the men she had heard about were concerned with keeping their money, not scattering it.

"Did you hear unusual sounds when John came to bid me good-night?" asked Mrs. Jardine of Kate.

"Yes," laughed Kate, "I did. And I'm sure I made a fairly accurate guess as to the cause."

"What did you think?" asked Mrs. Jardine.

"I thought Mr. Jardine had missed Susette, and you'd had to tell him," said Kate.

"You're quite right. It's a good thing she went on and lost herself in New York. I'm not at all sure that he doesn't contemplate starting out to find her yet."

"Let Susette go!" said Kate. "We're interested in forgetting her. There's a little country school-teacher here, who wants to take her place, and it will be the very thing for your mother and for her, too. She's the one serving us; notice her in particular."

"If she's a teacher, how does she come to be serving us?" he asked.

"I'm a teacher; how do I come to be dining with you?" said Kate. "This is such a queer world, when you go adventuring in it. Jennie had a small school in an out county, a widowed mother and a big family to help support; so she figured that the only way she could come here to try to prepare herself for a better school was to work for her room and board. She serves the table two hours, three times a day, and studies between times. She tells me that almost every waiter in the dining hall is a teacher. Please watch her movements and manner and see if you think her suitable. Goodness knows she isn't intended for a teacher."

"I like her very much," said John Jardine. "I'll engage her as soon as we finish."

Kate smiled, but when she saw the ease and dexterity with which he ended Jennie Weeks' work as a waiter and installed her as his mother's maid, making the least detail all right with his mother, with Jennie, with the manager, she realized that there had been nothing for her to smile about. Jennie was delighted, and began her new undertaking earnestly, with sincere desire to please. Kate helped her all she could, while Mrs. Jardine developed a fund of patience commensurate with the need of it. She would have endured more inconvenience than resulted from Jennie's inexperienced hands because of the realization that her son and the girl she had so quickly learned to admire were on the lake, rambling the woods, or hearing lectures together.

When she asked him how long he could remain, he said as long as she did. When she explained that she was enjoying herself thoroughly and had no idea how long she would want to stay, he said that was all right; he had only had one vacation in his life; it was time he was having another. When she marvelled at this he said: "Now, look here, Mother, let's get this business straight, right at the start. I told you when I came I'd seen the woman I wanted. If you want me to go back to business, the way to do it is to help me win her."

"But I don't want you 'to go back to business'; I want you to have a long vacation, and learn all you can from the educational advantages here."

"It's too late for me to learn more than I get every day by knocking around and meeting people. I've tried books two or three times, and I've given them up; I can't do it. I've waited too long, I've no way to get down to it, I can't remember to save my soul."

"But you can remember anything on earth about a business deal," she urged.

"Of course I can. I was born with a business head. It was remember, or starve, and see you starve. If I'd had the books at the time they would have helped; now it's too late, and I'll never try it again, that's settled. Much as I want to marry Miss Bates, she'll have to take me or leave me as I am. I can't make myself over for her or for you. I would if I could, but that's one of the things I can't do, and I admit it. If I'm not good enough for her as I am, she'll have the chance to tell me so the very first minute I think it's proper to ask her."

"John, you are good enough for the best woman on earth. There never was a better lad, it isn't that, and you know it. I am so anxious that I can scarcely wait; but you must wait. You must give her time and go slowly, and you must be careful, oh, so very careful! She's a teacher and a student; she came here to study."

"I'll fix that. I can rush things so that there'll be no time to study."

"You'll make a mistake if you try it. You'd far better let her go her own way and only appear when she has time for you," she advised.

"That's a fine idea!" he cried. "A lot of ice I'd cut, sitting back waiting for a signal to run after a girl, like a poodle. The way to do is the same as with any business deal. See what you want, overcome anything in your way, and get it. I'd go crazy hanging around like that. You've always told me I couldn't do the things in business I said I would; and I've always proved to you that I could, by doing them. Now watch me do this."

"You know I'll do anything to help you, John. You know how proud I am of you, how I love you! I realize now that I've talked volumes to Kate about you. I've told her everything from the time you were a little boy and I slaved for you, until now, when you slave for me."

"Including how many terms I'd gone to school?"

"Yes, I even told her that," she said.

"Well, what did she seem to think about it?" he asked.

"I don't know what she thought, she didn't say anything. There was nothing to say. It was a bare-handed fight with the wolf in those days. I'm sure I made her understand that," she said.

"Well, I'll undertake to make her understand this," he said. "Are you sure that Jennie Weeks is taking good care of you?"

"Jennie is well enough and is growing better each day, now be off to your courting, but if you love me, remember, and be careful," she said.

"Remember -- one particular thing -- you mean?" he asked.

She nodded, her lips closed.

"You bet I will!" he said. "All there is of me goes into this. Isn't she a wonder, Mother?"

Mrs. Jardine looked closely at the big man who was all the world to her, so like her in mentality, so like his father with his dark hair and eyes and big, well-rounded frame; looked at him with the eyes of love, then as he left her to seek the girl she had learned to love, she shut her eyes and frankly and earnestly asked the Lord to help her son to marry Kate Bates.

One morning as Kate helped Mrs. Jardine into her coat and gloves, preparing for one of their delightful morning drives, she said to her: "Mrs. Jardine, may I ask you a real question?"

"Of course you may," said Mrs. Jardine, "and I shall give you a 'real' answer if it lies in my power."

"You'll be shocked," warned Kate.

"Shock away," laughed Mrs. Jardine. "By now I flatter myself that I am so accustomed to you that you will have to try yourself to shock me."

"It's only this," said Kate: "If you were a perfect stranger, standing back and looking on, not acquainted with any of the parties, merely seeing things as they happen each day, would it be your honest opinion -- would you say that I am being courted?"

Mrs. Jardine laughed until she was weak. When she could talk, she said: "Yes, my dear, under the conditions, and in the circumstances you mention, I would cheerfully go on oath and testify that you are being courted more openly, more vigorously, and as tenderly as I ever have seen woman courted in all my life. I always thought that John's father was a master hand at courting, but John has him beaten in many ways. Yes, my dear, you certainly are being courted assiduously."

"Now, then, on that basis," said Kate, "just one more question and we'll proceed with our drive. From the same standpoint: would you say from your observation and experience that the mother of the man had any insurmountable objection to the proceedings?"

Mrs. Jardine laughed again. Finally she said: "No, my dear. It's my firm conviction that the mother of the man in the case would be so delighted if you should love and marry her son that she would probably have a final attack of heart trouble and pass away from sheer joy."

"Thank you," said Kate. "I wasn't perfectly sure, having had no experience whatever, and I didn't want to make a mistake."

That drive was wonderful, over beautiful country roads, through dells, and across streams and hills. They stopped where they pleased, gathering flowers and early apples, visiting with people they met, lunching wherever they happened to be.

"If it weren't for wishing to hear John A. Logan to-night," said Kate, "I'd move that we drive on all day. I certainly am having the grandest time."

She sat with her sailor hat filled with Early Harvest apples, a big bunch of Canadian anemones in her belt, a little stream at her feet, July drowsy fullness all around her, congenial companions; taking the "wings of morning" paid, after all.

"Why do you want to hear him so much?" asked John.

Kate looked up at him in wonder.

"Don't you want to see and hear him?" she asked.

He hesitated, a thoughtful expression on his face. Finally he said: "I can't say that I do. Will you tell me why I should?"

"You should because he was one of the men who did much to preserve our Union, he may tell us interesting things about the war. Where were you when it was the proper time for you to be studying the speech of Logan's ancestor in McGuffey's Fourth?"

"That must have been the year I figured out the improved coupling pin in the C. N. W. shops, wouldn't you think, Mother?"

"Somewhere near, my dear," she said.

So they drove back as happily as they had set out, made themselves fresh, and while awaiting the lecture hour, Kate again wrote to Robert and Nancy Ellen, telling plainly and simply all that had occurred. She even wrote "John Jardine's mother is of the opinion that he is courting me. I am so lacking in experience myself that I scarcely dare venture an opinion, but it has at times appealed to me that if he isn't really, he certainly must be going through the motions."

Nancy Ellen wrote: I have read over what you say about John Jardine several times. Then I had Robert write Bradstreet's and look him up. He is rated so high that if he hasn't a million right now, he soon will have. You be careful, and do your level best. Are your clothes good enough? Shall I send more of my things? You know I'll do anything to help you. Oh, yes, that George Holt from your boarding place was here the other day hunting you. He seemed determined to know where you were and when you would be back, and asked for your address. I didn't think you had any time for him and I couldn't endure him or his foolish talk about a new medical theory; so I said you'd no time for writing and were going about so much I had no idea if you'd get a letter if he sent one, and I didn't give him what he wanted. He'll probably try general delivery, but you can drop it in the lake. I want you to be sure to change your boarding place this winter, if you teach; but I haven't an idea you will. Hadn't you better bring matters to a close if you can, and let the Director know? Love from us both, NANCY ELLEN.

Kate sat very still, holding this letter in her hand, when John Jardine came up and sat beside her. She looked at him closely. He was quite as good looking as his mother thought him, in a brawny masculine way; but Kate was not seeking the last word in mental or physical refinement. She was rather brawny herself, and perfectly aware of the fact. She wanted intensely to learn all she could, she disliked the idea that any woman should have more stored in her head than she, but she had no time to study minute social graces and customs. She wanted to be kind, to be polite, but she told Mrs. Jardine flatly the "she didn't give a flip about being overly nice," which was the exact truth. That required subtleties beyond Kate's depth, for she was at times alarmingly casual. So she held her letter and thought about John Jardine. As she thought, she decided that she did not know whether she was in love with him or not; she thought she was. She liked being with him, she liked all he did for her, she would miss him if he went away, she would be proud to be his wife, but she did wish that he were interested in land, instead of inventions and stocks and bonds. Stocks and bonds were almost as evanescent as rainbows to Kate. Land was something she could understand and handle. Maybe she could interest him in land; if she could, that would be ideal. What a place his wealth would buy and fit up. She wondered as she studied John Jardine, what was in his head; if he truly intended to ask her to be his wife, and since reading Nancy Ellen's letter, when? She should let the Trustee know if she were not going to teach the school again; but someway, she rather wanted to teach the school. When she started anything she did not know how to stop until she finished. She had so much she wanted to teacher her pupils the coming winter.

Suddenly John asked: "Kate, if you could have anything you wanted, what would you have?"

"Two hundred acres of land," she said.

"How easy!" laughed John, rising to find a seat for his mother who was approaching them. "What do you think of that, Mother? A girl who wants two hundred acres of land more than anything else in the world."

"What is better?" asked Mrs. Jardine.

"I never heard you say anything about land before."

"Certainly not," said his mother, "and I'm not saying anything about it now, for myself; but I can see why it means so much to Kate, why it's her natural element.

"Well, I can't," he said. "I meet many men in business who started on land, and most of them were mighty glad to get away from it. What's the attraction?"

Kate waved her hand toward the distance.

"Oh, merely sky, and land, and water, and trees, and birds, and flowers, and fruit, and crops, and a few other things scarcely worth mentioning," she said, lightly. "I'm not in the mood to talk bushels, seed, and fertilization just now; but I understand them, they are in my blood. I think possibly the reason I want two hundred acres of land for myself is because I've been hard on the job of getting them for other people ever since I began to work, at about the age of four."

"But if you want land personally, why didn't you work to get it for yourself?" asked John Jardine.

"Because I happened to be the omega of my father's system," answered Kate.

Mrs. Jardine looked at her interestedly. She had never mentioned her home or parents before. The older woman did not intend to ask a word, but if Kate was going to talk, she did not want to miss one. Kate evidently was going to talk, for she continued: "You see my father is land mad, and son crazy. He thinks a boy of all the importance in the world; a girl of none whatever. He has the biggest family of any one we know. From birth each girl is worked like a man, or a slave, from four in the morning until nine at night. Each boy is worked exactly the same way; the difference lies in the fact that the girls get plain food and plainer clothes out of it; the boys each get two hundred acres of land, buildings and stock, that the girls have been worked to the limit to help pay for; they get nothing personally, worth mentioning. I think I have two hundred acres of land on the brain, and I think this is the explanation of it. It's a pre-natal influence at our house; while we nurse, eat, sleep, and above all, work it, afterward."

She paused and looked toward John Jardine calmly: "I think," she said, "that there's not a task ever performed on a farm that I haven't had my share in. I have plowed, hoed, seeded, driven reapers and bound wheat, pitched hay and hauled manure, chopped wood and sheared sheep, and boiled sap; if you can mention anything else, go ahead, I bet a dollar I've done it."

"Well, what do you think of that?" he muttered, looking at her wonderingly.

"If you ask me, and want the answer in plain words, I think it's a shame!" said Kate. "If it were one hundred acres of land, and the girls had as much, and were as willing to work it as the boys are, well and good. But to drive us like cattle, and turn all we earn into land for the boys, is another matter. I rebelled last summer, borrowed the money and went to Normal and taught last winter. I'm going to teach again this winter; but last summer and this are the first of my life that I haven't been in the harvest fields, at this time. Women in the harvest fields of Land King Bates are common as men, and wagons, and horses, but not nearly so much considered. The women always walk on Sunday, to save the horses, and often on week days."

"Mother has it hammered into me that it isn't polite to ask questions," said John, "but I'd like to ask one."

"Go ahead," said Kate. "Ask fifty! What do I care?"

"How many boys are there in your family?"

"There are seven," said Kate, "and if you want to use them as a basis for a land estimate add two hundred and fifty for the home place. Sixteen hundred and fifty is what Father pays tax on, besides the numerous mortgages and investments. He's the richest man in the county we live in; at least he pays the most taxes."

Mother and son looked at each other in silence. They had been thinking her so poor that she would be bewildered by what they had to offer. But if two hundred acres of land were her desire, there was a possibility that she was a women who was not asking either ease or luxury of life, and would refuse it if it were proffered.

"I hope you will take me home with you, and let me see all that land, and how it is handled," said John Jardine. "I don't own an acre. I never even have thought of it, but there is no reason why I, or any member of my family shouldn't have all the land they want. Mother, do you feel a wild desire for two hundred acres of land? Same kind of a desire that took you to come here?"

"No, I don't," said Mrs. Jardine. "All I know about land is that I know it when I see it, and I know if I think it's pretty; but I can see why Kate feels that she would like that amount for herself, after having helped earn all those farms for her brothers. If it's land she wants, I hope she speedily gets all she desires in whatever location she wants it; and then I hope she lets me come to visit her and watch her do as she likes with it."

"Surely," said Kate, "you are invited right now; as soon as I ever get the land, I'll give you another invitation. And of course you may go home with me, Mr. Jardine, and I'll show you each of what Father calls 'those little parcels of land of mine.' But the one he lives on we shall have to gaze at from afar, because I'm a Prodigal Daughter. When I would leave home in spite of him for the gay and riotous life of a school-marm, he ordered me to take all my possessions with me, which I did in one small telescope. I was not to enter his house again while he lived. I was glad to go, he was glad to have me, while I don't think either of us has changed our mind since. Teaching school isn't exactly gay, but I'll fill my tummy with quite a lot of symbolical husks before he'll kill the fatted calf for me. They'll be glad to see you at my brother Adam's, and my sister, Nancy Ellen, would greatly enjoy meeting you. Surely you may go home with me, if you'd like."

"I can think of only one thing I'd like better," he said. "We've been such good friends here and had such a good time, it would be the thing I'd like best to take you home with us, and show you where and how we live. Mother, did you ever invite Kate to visit us?"

"I have, often, and she has said that she would," replied Mrs. Jardine. "I think it would be nice for her to go from here with us; and then you can take her home whenever she fails to find us interesting. How would that suit you for a plan, my dear?"

"I think that would be a perfect ending to a perfect summer," said Kate. "I can't see an objection in any way. Thank you very much."

"Then we'll call that settled," said John Jardine.