At the Foot of the Rainbow by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter V. When the Rainbow Set Its Arch in the Sky
"Where did Jimmy go?" asked Mary.
Jimmy had been up in time to feed the chickens and carry in the milk, but he disappeared shortly after breakfast.
Dannie almost blushed as he answered: "He went to take a peep at the river. It's going down fast. When it gets into its regular channel, spawning will be over and the fish will come back to their old places. We figure that the Black Bass will be home to-day."
"When you go digging for bait," said Mary, "I wonder if the two of you could make it convanient to spade an onion bed. If I had it spaded I could stick the sets mesilf."
"Now, that amna fair, Mary," said Dannie. "We never went fishing till the garden was made, and the crops at least wouldna suffer. We'll make the beds, of course, juist as soon as they can be spaded, and plant the seed, too."
"I want to plant the seeds mesilf," said Mary.
"And we dinna want ye should," replied Dannie. "All we want ye to do, is to boss."
"But I'm going to do the planting mesilf," Mary was emphatic. "It will be good for me to be in the sunshine, and I do enjoy working in the dirt, so that for a little while I'm happy."
"If ye want to put the onions in the highest place, I should think I could spade ane bed now, and enough fra lettuce and radishes."
Dannie went after a spade, and Mary Malone laughed softly as she saw that he also carried an old tin can. He tested the earth in several places, and then called to her: "All right, Mary! Ground in prime shape. Turns up dry and mellow. We will have the garden started in no time."
He had spaded but a minute when Mary saw him run past the window, leap the fence, and go hurrying down the path to the river. She went to the door. At the head of the lane stood Jimmy, waving his hat, and the fresh morning air carried his cry clearly: "Gee, Dannie! Come hear him splash!"
Just why that cry, and the sight of Dannie Macnoun racing toward the river, his spade lying on the upturned earth of her scarcely begun onion bed, should have made her angry, it would be hard to explain. He had no tackle or bait, and reason easily could have told her that he would return shortly, and finish anything she wanted done; but when was a lonely, disappointed woman ever reasonable?
She set the dish water on the stove, wiped her hands on her apron, and walking to the garden, picked up the spade and began turning great pieces of earth. She had never done rough farm work, such as women all about her did; she had little exercise during the long, cold winter, and the first half dozen spadefuls tired her until the tears of self-pity rolled.
"I wish there was a turtle as big as a wash tub in the river" she sobbed, "and I wish it would eat that old Black Bass to the last scale. And I'm going to take the shotgun, and go over to the embankment, and poke it into the tunnel, and blow the old Kingfisher through into the cornfield. Then maybe Dannie won't go off too and leave me. I want this onion bed spaded right away, so I do."
"Drop that! Idjit! What you doing?" yelled Jimmy.
"Mary, ye goose!" panted Dannie, as he came hurrying across the yard. "Wha' do ye mean? Ye knew I'd be back in a minute! Jimmy juist called me to hear the Bass splash. I was comin' back. Mary, this amna fair."
Dannie took the spade from her hand, and Mary fled sobbing to the house.
"What's the row?" demanded Jimmy of the suffering Dannie.
"I'd juist started spadin' this onion bed," explained Dannie. "Of course, she thought we were going to stay all day."
"With no poles, and no bait, and no grub? She didn't think any such a domn thing," said Jimmy. "You don't know women! She just got to the place where it's her time to spill brine, and raise a rumpus about something, and aisy brathin' would start her. Just let her bawl it out, and thin--we'll get something dacent for dinner."
Dannie turned a spadeful of earth and broke it open, and Jimmy squatted by the can, and began picking out the angle worms.
"I see where we dinna fish much this summer," said Dannie, as he waited. "And where we fish close home when we do, and where all the work is done before we go."
"Aha, borrow me rose-colored specks!" cried Jimmy. "I don't see anything but what I've always seen. I'll come and go as I please, and Mary can do the same. I don't throw no `jeminy fit' every time a woman acts the fool a little, and if you'd lived with one fiftane years you wouldn't either. Of course we'll make the garden. Wish to goodness it was a beer garden! Wouldn't I like to plant a lot of hop seed and see rows of little green beer bottles humpin' up the dirt. Oh, my! What all does she want done?"
Dannie turned another spadeful of earth and studied the premises, while Jimmy gathered the worms.
"Palins all on the fence?" asked Dannie.
"Yep," said Jimmy.
"Well, the yard is to be raked."
"The flooer beds spaded."
"Stones around the peonies, phlox, and hollyhocks raised and manure worked in. All the trees must be pruned, the bushes and vines trimmed, and the gooseberries, currants, and raspberries thinned. The strawberry bed must be fixed up, and the rhubarb and asparagus spaded around and manured. This whole garden must be made----"
"And the road swept, and the gate sandpapered, and the barn whitewashed! Return to grazing, Nebuchadnezzar," said Jimmy. "We do what's raisonable, and then we go fishin'. See?"
Three beds spaded, squared, and ready for seeding lay in the warm spring sunshine before noon. Jimmy raked the yard, and Dannie trimmed the gooseberries. Then he wheeled a barrel of swamp loam for a flower bed by the cabin wall, and listened intently between each shovelful he threw. He could not hear a sound. What was more, he could not bear it. He went to Jimmy.
"Say, Jimmy," he said. "Dinna ye have to gae in fra a drink?"
"House or town?" inquired Jimmy sweetly.
"The house!" exploded Dannie. "I dinna hear a sound yet. Ye gae in fra a drink, and tell Mary I want to know where she'd like the new flooer bed she's been talking about."
Jimmy leaned the rake against a tree, and started.
"And Jimmy," said Dannie. "If she's quit crying, ask her what was the matter. I want to know."
Jimmy vanished. Presently he passed Dannie where he worked.
"Come on," whispered Jimmy.
The bewildered Dannie followed. Jimmy passed the wood pile, and pig pen, and slunk around behind the barn, where he leaned against the logs and held his sides. Dannie stared at him.
"She says," wheezed Jimmy, "that she guesses she wanted to go and hear the Bass splash, too!"
Dannie's mouth fell open, and then closed with a snap.
"Us fra the fool killer!" he said. "Ye dinna let her see ye laugh?"
"Let her see me laugh!" cried Jimmy. "Let her see me laugh! I told her she wasn't to go for a few days yet, because we were sawin' the Kingfisher's stump up into a rustic sate for her, and we were goin' to carry her out to it, and she was to sit there and sew, and umpire the fishin', and whichiver bait she told the Bass to take, that one of us would be gettin' it. And she was pleased as anything, me lad, and now it's up to us to rig up some sort of a dacint sate, and tag a woman along half the time. You thick-tongued descindint of a bagpipe baboon, what did you sind me in there for?"
"Maybe a little of it will tire her," groaned Dannie.
"It will if she undertakes to follow me," Jimmy said. "I know where horse-weeds grow giraffe high."
Then they went back to work, and presently many savory odors began to steal from the cabin. Whereat Jimmy looked at Dannie, and winked an `I-told-you-so' wink. A garden grows fast under the hands of two strong men really working, and by the time the first slice of sugar-cured ham from the smoke house for that season struck the sizzling skillet, and Mary very meekly called from the back door to know if one of them wanted to dig a little horse radish, the garden was almost ready for planting. Then they went into the cabin and ate fragrant, thick slices of juicy fried ham, seasoned with horse radish; fried eggs, freckled with the ham fat in which they were cooked; fluffy mashed potatoes, with a little well of melted butter in the center of the mound overflowing the sides; raisin pie, soda biscuit, and their own maple syrup.
"Ohumahoh!" said Jimmy. "I don't know as I hanker for city life so much as I sometimes think I do. What do you suppose the adulterated stuff we read about in papers tastes like?"
"I've often wondered," answered Dannie. "Look at some of the hogs and cattle that we see shipped from here to city markets. The folks that sell them would starve before they'd eat a bit o' them, yet somebody eats them, and what do ye suppose maple syrup made from hickory bark and brown sugar tastes like?"
"And cold-storage eggs, and cotton-seed butter, and even horse radish half turnip," added Mary. "Bate up the cream a little before you put it in your coffee, or it will be in lumps. Whin the cattle are on clover it raises so thick."
Jimmy speared a piece of salt-rising bread crust soaked in ham gravy made with cream, and said: "I wish I could bring that Thrid Man home with me to one meal of the real thing nixt time he strikes town. I belave he would injoy it. May I, Mary?"
Mary's face flushed slightly. "Depends on whin he comes, she said. "Of course, if I am cleaning house, or busy with something I can't put off----"
"Sure!" cried Jimmy. "I'd ask you before I brought him, because I'd want him to have something spicial. Some of this ham, and horse radish, and maple syrup to begin with, and thin your fried spring chicken and your stewed squirrel is a drame, Mary. Nobody iver makes turtle soup half so rich as yours, and your green peas in cream, and asparagus on toast is a rivilation--don't you rimimber 'twas Father Michael that said it? I ought to be able to find mushrooms in a few weeks, and I can taste your rhubarb pie over from last year. Gee! But I wish he'd come in strawberrying! Berries from the vines, butter in the crust, crame you have to bate to make it smooth--talk about shortcake!"
"What's wrong wi' cherry cobbler?" asked Dannie.
"Or blackberry pie?"
"Or greens cooked wi' bacon?"
"Or chicken pie?"
"Or catfish, rolled in cornmeal and fried in ham fat?"
"Or guineas stewed in cream, with hard-boiled eggs in the gravy?"
"Oh, stop!" cried the delighted Mary. "It makes me dead tired thinkin' how I'll iver be cookin' all you'll want. Sure, have him come, and both of you can pick out the things you like the best, and I'll fix thim for him. Pure, fresh stuff might be a trate to a city man. When Dolan took sister Katie to New York with him, his boss sent them to a five-dollar-a-day house, and they thought they was some up. By the third day poor Katie was cryin' for a square male. She couldn't touch the butter, the eggs made her sick, and the cold-storage meat and chicken never got nearer her stomach than her nose. So she just ate fish, because they were fresh, and she ate, and she ate, till if you mintion New York to poor Katie she turns pale, and tastes fish. She vows and declares that she feeds her chickens and hogs better food twice a day than people fed her in New York."
"I'll bet my new milk pail the grub we eat ivery day would be a trate that would raise him," said Jimmy. "Provided his taste ain't so depraved with saltpeter and chalk he don't know fresh, pure food whin he tastes it. I understand some of the victims really don't."
"Your new milk pail?" questioned Mary.
"That's what!" said Jimmy." The next time I go to town I'm goin' to get you two."
"But I only need one," protested Mary. "Instead of two, get me a new dishpan. Mine leaks, and smears the stove and table."
"Be Gorry!" sighed Jimmy. "There goes me tongue, lettin' me in for it again. I'll look over the skins, and if any of thim are ripe, I'll get you a milk pail and a dishpan the nixt time I go to town. And, by gee! If that dandy big coon hide I got last fall looks good, I'm going to comb it up, and work the skin fine, and send it to the Thrid Man, with me complimints. I don't feel right about him yet. Wonder what his name railly is, and where he lives, or whether I killed him complate."
"Any dry goods man in town can tell ye," said Dannie.
"Ask the clerk in the hotel," suggested Mary.
"You've said it," cried Jimmy. "That's the stuff! And I can find out whin he will be here again."
Two hours more they faithfully worked on the garden, and then Jimmy began to grow restless.
"Ah, go on!" cried Mary. "You have done all that is needed just now, and more too. There won't any fish bite to-day, but you can have the pleasure of stringin' thim poor sufferin' worms on a hook and soaking thim in the river."
"`Sufferin' worms!' Sufferin' Job!" cried Jimmy. "What nixt? Go on, Dannie, get your pole!"
Dannie went. As he came back Jimmy was sprinkling a thin layer of earth over the bait in the can. "Why not come along, Mary?" he suggested.
"I'm not done planting my seeds," she answered. "I'll be tired when I am, and I thought that place wasn't fixed for me yet."
"We can't fix that till a little later," said Jimmy. "We can't tell where it's going to be grassy and shady yet, and the wood is too wet to fix a sate."
"Any kind of a sate will do," said Mary. "I guess you better not try to make one out of the Kingfisher stump. If you take it out it may change the pool and drive away the Bass."
"Sure!" cried Jimmy. "What a head you've got! We'll have to find some other stump for a sate."
"I don't want to go until it gets dry under foot, and warmer" said Mary. "You boys go on. I'll till you whin I am riddy to go."
"There!" said Jimmy, when well on the way to the river. "What did I tell you? Won't go if she has the chance! Jist wants to be asked."
"I dinna pretend to know women," said Dannie gravely. "But whatever Mary does is all richt with me."
"So I've obsarved," remarked Jimmy. "Now, how will we get at this fishin' to be parfectly fair?"
"Tell ye what I think," said Dannie. "I think we ought to pick out the twa best places about the Black Bass pool, and ye take ane fra yours and I'll take the ither fra mine, and then we'll each fish from his own place."
"Nothing fair about that," answered Jimmy. "You might just happen to strike the bed where he lays most, and be gettin' bites all the time, and me none; or I might strike it and you be left out. And thin there's days whin the wind has to do, and the light. We ought to change places ivery hour."
"There's nothing fair in that either," broke in Dannie. "I might have him tolled up to my place, and juist be feedin' him my bait, and here you'd come along and prove by your watch that my time was up, and take him when I had him all ready to bite."
"That's so for you!" hurried in Jimmy. "I'll be hanged if I'd leave a place by the watch whin I had a strike!"
"Me either," said Dannie. "'Tis past human nature to ask it. I'll tell ye what we'll do. We'll go to work and rig up a sort of a bridge where it's so narrow and shallow, juist above Kingfisher shoals, and then we'll toss up fra sides. Then each will keep to his side. With a decent pole either of us can throw across the pool, and both of us can fish as we please. Then each fellow can pick his bait, and cast or fish deep as he thinks best. What d'ye say to that?"
"I don't see how anything could be fairer than that," said Jimmy. "I don't want to fish for anything but the Bass. I'm goin' back and get our rubber boots, and you be rollin' logs, and we'll build that crossing right now."
"All richt," said Dannie.
So they laid aside their poles and tackle, and Dannie rolled logs and gathered material for the bridge, while Jimmy went back after their boots. Then both of them entered the water and began clearing away drift and laying the foundations. As the first log of the crossing lifted above the water Dannie paused.
"How about the Kingfisher?" he asked. "Winna this scare him away?"
"Not if he ain't a domn fool," said Jimmy; "and if he is, let him go!"
"Seems like the river would no be juist richt without him," said Dannie, breaking off a spice limb and nibbling the fragrant buds. "Let's only use what we bare need to get across. And where will we fix fra Mary?"
"Oh, git out!" said Jimmy. "I ain't goin' to fool with that."
"Well, we best fix a place. Then we can tell her we fixed it, and it's all ready."
"Sure!" cried Jimmy. "You are catchin' it from your neighbor. Till her a place is all fixed and watin', and you couldn't drag her here with a team of oxen. Till her you are going to fix it soon, and she'll come to see if you've done it, if she has to be carried on a stritcher."
So they selected a spot that they thought would be all right for Mary, and not close enough to disturb the Bass and the Kingfisher, rolled two logs, and fished a board that had been carried by a freshet from the water and laid it across them, and decided that would have to serve until they could do better.
Then they sat astride the board, Dannie drew out a coin, and they tossed it to see which was heads and tails. Dannie won heads. Then they tossed to see which bank was heads or tails, and the right, which was on Rainbow side, came heads. So Jimmy was to use the bridge. Then they went home, and began the night work. The first thing Jimmy espied was the barrel containing the milk pail. He fished out the pail, and while Dannie fed the stock, shoveled manure, and milked, Jimmy pounded out the dents, closed the bullet holes, emptied the bait into it, half filled it with mellow earth, and went to Mary for some corn meal to sprinkle on the top to feed the worms.
At four o'clock the next morning, Dannie was up feeding, milking, scraping plows, and setting bolts. After breakfast they piled their implements on a mudboat, which Dannie drove, while Jimmy rode one of his team, and led the other, and opened the gates. They began on Dannie's field, because it was closest, and for the next two weeks, unless it were too rainy to work, they plowed, harrowed, lined off, and planted the seed.
The blackbirds followed along the furrows picking up grubs, the crows cawed from high tree tops, the bluebirds twittered about hollow stumps and fence rails, the wood thrushes sang out their souls in the thickets across the river, and the King Cardinal of Rainbow Bottom whistled to split his throat from the giant sycamore. Tender greens were showing along the river and in the fields, and the purple of red-bud mingled with the white of wild plum all along the Wabash.
The sunny side of the hill that sloped down to Rainbow Bottom was a mass of spring beauties, anemones, and violets; thread-like ramps rose rank to the scent among them, and round ginger leaves were thrusting their folded heads through the mold. The Kingfisher was cleaning his house and fishing from his favorite stump in the river, while near him, at the fall of every luckless worm that missed its hold on a blossom-whitened thorn tree, came the splash of the great Black Bass. Every morning the Bass took a trip around Horseshoe Bend food hunting, and the small fry raced for life before his big, shear-like jaws. During the heat of noon he lay in the deep pool below the stump, and rested; but when evening came he set out in search of supper, and frequently he felt so good that he leaped clear of the water, and fell back with a splash that threw shining spray about him, or lashed out with his tail and sent widening circles of waves rolling from his lurking place. Then the Kingfisher rattled with all his might, and flew for the tunnel in the embankment.
Some of these days the air was still, the earth warmed in the golden sunshine, and murmured a low song of sleepy content. Some days the wind raised, whirling dead leaves before it, and covering the earth with drifts of plum, cherry, and apple bloom, like late falling snow. Then great black clouds came sweeping across the sky, and massed above Rainbow Bottom. The lightning flashed as if the heavens were being cracked open, and the rolling thunder sent terror to the hearts of man and beast. When the birds flew for shelter, Dannie and Jimmy unhitched their horses, and raced for the stables to escape the storm, and to be with Mary, whom electricity made nervous.
They would sit on the little front porch, and watch the greedy earth drink the downpour. They could almost see the grass and flowers grow. When the clouds scattered, the thunder grew fainter; and the sun shone again between light sprinkles of rain. Then a great, glittering rainbow set its arch in the sky, and it planted one of its feet in Horseshoe Bend, and the other so far away they could not even guess where.
If it rained lightly, in a little while Dannie and Jimmy could go back to their work afield. If the downpour was heavy, and made plowing impossible, they pulled weeds, and hoed in the garden. Dannie discoursed on the wholesome freshness of the earth, and Jimmy ever waited a chance to twist his words, and ring in a laugh on him. He usually found it. Sometimes, after a rain, they took their bait cans, and rods, and went down to the river to fish.
If one could not go, the other religiously refrained from casting bait into the pool where the Black Bass lay. Once, when they were fishing together, the Bass rose to a white moth, skittered over the surface by Dannie late in the evening, and twice Jimmy had strikes which he averred had taken the arm almost off him, but neither really had the Bass on his hook. They kept to their own land, and fished when they pleased, for game laws and wardens were unknown to them.
Truth to tell, neither of them really hoped to get the Bass before fall. The water was too high in the spring. Minnows were plentiful, and as Jimmy said, "It seemed as if the domn plum tree just rained caterpillars." So they bided their time, and the signs prohibiting trespass on all sides of their land were many and emphatic, and Mary had instructions to ring the dinner bell if she caught sight of any strangers.
The days grew longer, and the sun was insistent. Untold miles they trudged back and forth across their land, guiding their horses, jerked about with plows, their feet weighted with the damp, clinging earth, and their clothing pasted to their wet bodies. Jimmy was growing restless. Never in all his life had he worked so faithfully as that spring, and never had his visits to Casey's so told on him. No matter where they started, or how hard they worked, Dannie was across the middle of the field, and helping Jimmy before the finish. It was always Dannie who plowed on, while Jimmy rode to town for the missing bolt or buckle, and he generally rolled from his horse into a fence corner, and slept the remainder of the day on his return.
The work and heat were beginning to tire him, and his trips to Casey's had been much less frequent than he desired. He grew to feel that between them Dannie and Mary were driving him, and a desire to balk at slight cause, gathered in his breast. He deliberately tied his team in a fence corner, lay down, and fell asleep. The clanging of the supper bell aroused him. He opened his eyes, and as he rose, found that Dannie had been to the barn, and brought a horse blanket to cover him. Well as he knew anything, Jimmy knew that he had no business sleeping in fence corners so early in the season. With candor he would have admitted to himself that a part of his brittle temper came from aching bones and rheumatic twinges. Some way, the sight of Dannie swinging across the field, looking as fresh as in the early morning, and the fact that he had carried a blanket to cover him, and the further fact that he was wild for drink, and could think of no excuse on earth for going to town, brought him to a fighting crisis.
Dannie turned his horses at Jimmy's feet.
"Come on, Jimmy, supper bell has rung," he cried. "We mustn't keep Mary waiting. She wants us to help her plant the sweet potatoes to-nicht."
Jimmy rose, and his joints almost creaked. The pain angered him. He leaned forward and glared at Dannie.
"Is there one minute of the day whin you ain't thinkin' about my wife?" he demanded, oh, so slowly, and so ugly!
Dannie met his hateful gaze squarely. "Na a minute," he answered, "excepting when I am thinking about ye."
"The Hell you say!" exploded the astonished Jimmy.
Dannie stepped out of the furrow, and came closer. "See here, Jimmy Malone," he said. "Ye ain't forgot the nicht when I told ye I loved Mary, with all my heart, and that I'd never love another woman. I sent ye to tell her fra me, and to ask if I might come to her. And ye brought me her answer. It's na your fault that she preferred ye. Everybody did. But it is your fault that I've stayed on here. I tried to go, and ye wouldna let me. So for fifteen years, ye have lain with the woman I love, and I have lain alone in a few rods of ye. If that ain't Man-Hell, try some other on me, and see if it will touch me! I sent ye to tell her that I loved her; have I ever sent ye to tell her that I've quit? I should think you'd know, by this time, that I'm na quitter. Love her! Why, I love her till I can see her standin' plain before me, when I know she's a mile away. Love her! Why, I can smell her any place I am, sweeter than any flower I ever held to my face. Love her! Till the day I dee I'll love her. But it ain't any fault of yours, and if ye've come to the place where I worry ye, that's the place where I go, as I wanted to on the same day ye brought Mary to Rainbow Bottom."
Jimmy's gray jaws fell open. Jimmy's sullen eyes cleared. He caught Dannie by the arm.
"For the love of Hivin, what did I say, Dannie?" he panted. "I must have been half asleep. Go! You go! You leave Rainbow Bottom! Thin, by God, I go too! I won't stay here without you, not a day. If I had to take my choice between you, I'd give up Mary before I'd give up the best frind I iver had. Go! I guess not, unless I go with you! She can go to----"
"Jimmy! Jimmy!" cautioned Dannie.
"I mane ivery domn word of it," said Jimmy. "I think more of you, than I iver did of any woman."
Dannie drew a deep breath. "Then why in the name of God did ye say that thing to me? I have na betrayed your trust in me, not ever, Jimmy, and ye know it. What's the matter with ye?"
Jimmy heaved a deep sigh, and rubbed his hands across his hot, angry face. "Oh, I'm just so domn sore!" he said. "Some days I get about wild. Things haven't come out like I thought they would."
"Jimmy, if ye are in trouble, why do ye na tell me? Canna I help ye? Have'nt I always helped ye if I could?"
"Yes, you have," said Jimmy. "Always, been a thousand times too good to me. But you can't help here. I'm up agin it alone, but put this in your pipe, and smoke it good and brown, if you go, I go. I don't stay here without you."
"Then it's up to ye na to make it impossible for me to stay," said Dannie. "After this, I'll try to be carefu'. I've had no guard on my lips. I've said whatever came into my heid."
The supper bell clanged sharply a second time.
"That manes more Hivin on the Wabash," said Jimmy. "Wish I had a bracer before I face it."
"How long has it been, Jimmy?" asked Dannie.
"Etarnity!" replied Jimmy briefly.
Dannie stood thinking, and then light broke. Jimmy was always short of money in summer. When trapping was over, and before any crops were ready, he was usually out of funds. Dannie hesitated, and then he said, "Would a small loan be what ye need, Jimmy?"
Jimmy's eyes gleamed. "It would put new life into me," he cried. "Forgive me, Dannie. I am almost crazy."
Dannie handed over a coin, and after supper Jimmy went to town. Then Dannie saw his mistake. He had purchased peace for himself, but what about Mary?