Volume I
Chapter IX
 

Susan sat up in bed suddenly, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. It was broad day, and the birds were making a mighty clamor. She gazed round, astonished that it was not her own room. Then she remembered. But it was as a child remembers; for when we have the sense of perfect physical well-being we cannot but see our misfortunes with the child's sense of unreality--and Susan had not only health but youth, was still in the child stage of the period between childhood and womanhood. She lay down again, with the feeling that so long as she could stay in that comfortable bed, with the world shut out, just so long would all be well with her. Soon, however, the restlessness of all nature under the stimulus and heat of that brilliant day communicated itself to her vigorous young body. For repose and inaction are as foreign to healthy life as death itself, of which they are the symptoms; and if ever there was an intense and vivid life, Susan had it. She got up and dressed, and leaned from the window, watching the two-horse reaper in the wheat fields across the hollow of the pasture, and listening to its faint musical whirr. The cows which had just been milked were moving sedately through the gate into the pasture, where the bull, under a tree, was placidly awaiting them. A boy, in huge straw hat and a blue cotton shirt and linsey woolsey trousers rolled high upon his brown bare legs, was escorting the herd.

Her aunt in fresh, blue, checked calico came in. "Wouldn't you like some breakfast?" said she. And Susan read in her manner that the men were out of the way.

"No, I don't feel hungry," Susan replied.

She thought this was true; but when she was at the table she ate almost as heartily as she had the night before. As Susan ate she gazed out into the back yard of the house, where chickens of all sizes, colors and ages were peering and picking about. Through the fence of the kitchen garden she saw Lew, the farm hand, digging potatoes. There were ripening beans on tall poles, and in the farther part the forming heads of cabbages, the sprouting melon vines, the beautiful fresh green of the just springing garden corn. The window through which she was looking was framed in morning glories and hollyhocks, and over by the garden gate were on the one side a clump of elders, on the other the hardy graceful stalks of gaudily spreading sunflowers. Bees flew in and out, and one lighted upon the dish of honey in the comb that went so well with the hot biscuit.

She rose and wandered out among the chickens, to pick up little fluffy youngsters one after another, and caress them, to look in the henhouse itself, where several hens were sitting with the pensive expression that accompanies the laying of eggs. She thought of those other hens, less conventional, who ran away to lay in secret places in the weeds, to accumulate a store against the time when the setting instinct should possess them.

She thought of those cannier, less docile hens and laughed. She opened a gate into the barnyard, intending to go to the barn for a look at the horses, taking in the duck pond and perhaps the pigs on the way. Her Uncle Gorge's voice arrested her.

"Susan," he cried. "Come here."

She turned and looked wistfully at him. The same harsh, unforgiving countenance--mean with anger and petty thoughts. As she moved hesitatingly toward him he said, "You are not to go out of the yard." And he reentered the house. What a mysterious cruel world! Could it be the same world she had lived in so happily all the years until a few days ago--the same she had always found "God's beautiful world," full of gentleness and kindness?

And why had it changed? What was this sin that after a long sleep in her mother's grave had risen to poison everyone against her? And why had it risen? It was all beyond her.

She strolled wretchedly within bounds, with a foreboding of impending evil. She watched Lew in the garden; she got her aunt to let her help with the churning--drive the dasher monotonously up and down until the butter came; then she helped work the butter, helped gather the vegetables for dinner, did everything and anything to keep herself from thinking. Toward eleven o'clock her Uncle Zeke appeared in the dining-room, called his wife from the kitchen. Susan felt that at last something was to happen. After a long time her aunt returned; there were all the evidences of weeping in her face.

"You'd better go to your room and straighten it up," she said without looking at the girl. "The thing has aired long enough, I reckon. . . . And you'd better stay up there till I call you."

Susan had finished the room, was about to unpack the heavy-laden shawl strap and shake the wrinkles out of the skirts, folded away for two days now. She heard the sound of a horse's hoofs, went to the window. A young man whom she recognized as one of her Uncle Zeke's tenants was hitching to the horse block a well-set-up young mare drawing a species of broad-seated breaking sulky. He had a handsome common face, a wavy black mustache. She remembered that his name was Ferguson--Jeb Ferguson, and that he was working on shares what was known as "the creek-bottom farm," which began about a mile and a half away, straight down the pasture hollow. He glanced up at the window, raised his black slouch hat, and nodded with the self-conscious, self-assured grin of the desired of women. She tried to return this salute with a pleasant smile. He entered the gate and she heard his boots upon the front steps.

Now away across the hollow another figure appeared--a man on horseback coming through the wheat fields. He was riding toward the farther gate of the pasture at a leisurely dignified pace. She had only made out that he had abundant whiskers when the sound of a step upon the stairs caused her to turn. As that step came nearer her heart beat more and more wildly. Her wide eyes fixed upon the open door of the room. It was her Uncle George.

"Sit down," he said as he reached the threshhold{sic}. "I want to talk to you."

She seated herself, with hands folded in her lap. Her head was aching from the beat of the blood in her temples.

"Zeke and I have talked it over," said Warham. "And we've decided that the only thing to do with you is to get you settled. So in a few minutes now you're going to be married."

Her lack of expression showed that she did not understand. In fact, she could only feel--feel the cruel, contemptuous anger of that voice which all her days before had caressed her.

"We've picked out a good husband for you," Warham continued. "It's Jeb Ferguson."

Susan quivered. "I--I don't want to," she said.

"It ain't a question of what you want," retorted Warham roughly. He was twenty-four hours and a night's sleep away from his first fierce outblazing of fury--away from the influence of his wife and his daughter. If it had not been for his brother Zeke, narrow and cold, the event might have been different. But Zeke was there to keep his "sense of duty" strong. And that he might nerve himself and hide and put down any tendency to be a "soft-hearted fool"--a tendency that threatened to grow as he looked at the girl--the child--he assumed the roughest manner he could muster.

"It ain't a question of what you want," he repeated. "It's a question of what's got to be done, to save my family and you, too--from disgrace. We ain't going to have any more bastards in this family."

The word meant nothing to the girl. But the sound of it, as her uncle pronounced it, made her feel as though the blood were drying up in her veins.

"We ain't going to take any chances," pursued Warham, less roughly; for now that he had looked the situation full and frankly in the face, he had no nerve to brace himself. The necessity of what he was prepared to do and to make her do was too obvious. "Ferguson's here, and Zeke saw the preacher we sent for riding in from the main road. So I've come to tell you. If you'd like to fix up a little, why your Aunt Sallie'll be here in a minute. You want to pray God to make you a good wife. And you ought to be thankful you have sensible relations to step in and save you from yourself."

Susan tried to speak; her voice died in her throat. She made another effort. "I don't want to," she said.

"Then what do you want to do--tell me that!" exclaimed her uncle, rough again. For her manner was very moving, the more so because there was none of the usual appeal to pity and to mercy.

She was silent.

"There isn't anything else for you to do."

"I want to--to stay here."

"Do you think Zeke'd harbor you--when you're about certain to up and disgrace us as your mother did?"

"I haven't done anything wrong," said the girl dully.

"Don't you dare lie about that!"

"I've seen Ruth do the same with Artie Sinclair--and all the girls with different boys."

"You miserable girl!" cried her uncle.

"I never heard it was so dreadful to let a boy kiss you."

"Don't pretend to be innocent. You know the difference between that and what you did!"

Susan realized that when she had kissed Sam she had really loved him. Perhaps that was the fatal difference. And her mother--the sin there had been that she really loved while the man hadn't. Yes, it must be so. Ruth's explanation of these mysteries had been different; but then Ruth had also admitted that she knew little about the matter--and Susan most doubted the part that Ruth had assured her was certainly true.

"I didn't know," said Susan to her uncle. "Nobody ever told me. I thought we were engaged."

"A good woman don't need to be told," retorted Warham. "But I'm not going to argue with you. You've got to marry."

"I couldn't do that," said the girl. "No, I couldn't."

"You'll either take him or you go back to Sutherland and I'll have you locked up in the jail till you can be sent to the House of Correction. You can take your choice."

Susan sat looking at her slim brown hands and interlacing her long fingers. The jail! The House of Correction was dreadful enough, for though she had never seen it she had heard what it was for, what kind of boys and girls lived there. But the jail--she had seen the jail, back behind the courthouse, with its air of mystery and of horror. Not Hell itself seemed such a frightful thing as that jail.

"Well--which do you choose?" said her uncle in a sharp voice.

The girl shivered. "I don't care what happens to me," she said, and her voice was dull and sullen and hard.

"And it doesn't much matter," sneered Warham. Every time he looked at her his anger flamed again at the outrage to his love, his trust, his honor, and the impending danger of more illegitimacy. "Marrying Jeb will give you a chance to reform and be a good woman. He understands--so you needn't be afraid of what he'll find out."

"I don't care what happens to me," the girl repeated in the same monotonous voice.

Warham rose. "I'll send your Aunt Sallie," said he. "And when I call, she'll bring you down."

The girl's silence, her non-resistance the awful expression of her still features--made him uneasy. He went to the window instead of to the door. He glanced furtively at her; but he might have glanced openly as there wasn't the least danger of meeting her eyes. "You're marrying about as well as you could have hoped to, anyhow--better, probably," he observed, in an argumentative, defensive tone. "Zeke says Jeb's about the likeliest young fellow he knows--a likelier fellow than either Zeke or I was at his age. I've given him two thousand dollars in cash. That ought to start you off well." And he went out without venturing another look at her. Her youth and helplessness, her stony misery, were again making it harder for him to hold himself to what he and the fanatic Zeke had decided to be his duty as a Christian, as a father, as a guardian. Besides, he did not dare face his wife and his daughter until the whole business was settled respectably and finally. His sister-in-law was waiting in the next room. As soon as his descent cleared the way she hurried in. From the threshold she glanced at the girl; what she saw sent her hurrying out to recompose herself. But the instant she again saw that expression of mute and dazed despair the tears fought for release. The effort to suppress outward signs of pity made her plain fat face grotesque. She could not speak. With a corner of her apron she wiped imaginary dust from the glass bells that protected the artificial flowers. The poor child! And all for no fault of hers--and because she had been born out of wedlock. But then, the old woman reflected, was it not one of the most familiar of God's mysterious ways that people were punished most severely of all for the things that weren't their fault--for being born in shame, or in bad or low families, or sickly, or for being stupid or ugly or ignorant? She envied Zeke--his unwavering belief in religion. She believed, but her tender heart was always leading her into doubts.

She at last got some sort of control over her voice. "It'll turn out for the best," she said, with her back to Susan. "It don't make much difference nohow who a woman marries, so long as he's steady and a good provider. Jeb seems to be a nice feller. He's better looking than your Uncle George was before he went to town and married a Lenox and got sleeked up. And Jeb ain't near so close as some. That's a lot in a husband." And in a kind of hysteria, bred of fear of silence just then, she rattled on, telling how this man lay awake o' nights thinking how to skin a flea for its hide and tallow, how that one had said only a fool would pay over a quarter for a new hat for his wife----

"Will it be long?" asked the girl.

"I'll go down and see," said Mrs. Warham, glad of a real excuse for leaving the room. She began to cry as soon as she was in the hall. Two sparrows lit upon the window sill near Susan and screamed and pecked at each other in a mock fight. She watched them; but her shiver at the faint sound of her aunt's returning step far away down the stairs showed where her attention was. When Zeke's wife entered she was standing and said:

"Is it time?"

"Come on, honey. Now don't be afraid."

Susan advanced with a firm step, preceded her aunt down the stairs. The black slouch hat and the straw of dignified cut were side by side on the shiny hall table. The parlor door was open; the rarely used showroom gave forth an earthy, moldy odor like that of a disturbed grave. Its shutters, for the first time in perhaps a year, were open; the mud daubers that had built in the crevices between shutters and sills, fancying they would never be disturbed, were buzzing crossly about their ruined homes. The four men were seated, each with his legs crossed, and each wearing the funereal expression befitting a solemn occasion. Susan did not lift her eyes. The profusely whiskered man seated on the haircloth sofa smoothed his black alpaca coat, reset the black tie deep hid by his beard, rose and advanced with a clerical smile whose real kindliness took somewhat from its offensive unction. "This is the young lady, is it?" said he, reaching for Susan's rising but listless hand. "She is indeed a young lady!"

The two Warham men stood, shifting uneasily from leg to leg and rubbing their faces from time to time. Sallie Warham was standing also, her big unhealthy face twitching fantastically. Jeb alone was seated--chair tilted back, hands in trousers pockets, a bucolic grin of embarrassment giving an expression of pain to his common features. A strained silence, then Zeke Warham said:

"I reckon we might as well go ahead."

The preacher took a small black-bound book from the inside pocket of his limp and dusty coat, cleared his throat, turned over the pages. That rustling, the creaking of his collar on his overstarched shirt band, and the buzzing of the mud daubers round the windows were the only sounds. The preacher found the place, cleared his throat again.

"Mr. Ferguson----"

Jeb, tall, spare, sallow, rose awkwardly.

"--You and Miss Lenox will take your places here----" and he indicated a position before him.

Susan was already in place; Jeb shuffled up to stand at her left. Sallie Warham hid her face in her apron. The preacher cleared his throat vigorously, began--"Dearly beloved"--and so on and on. When he put the questions to Susan and Jeb he told them what answer was expected, and they obeyed him, Jeb muttering, Susan with a mere, movement of the lips. When he had finished--a matter of less than three minutes--he shook hands warmly first with Susan, then with Jeb. "Live in the fear of the Lord," he said. "That's all that's necessary."

Sallie put down her apron. Her face was haggard and gray. She kissed Susan tenderly, then led her from the room. They went upstairs to the bedroom. "Do you want to stay to dinner?" she asked in the hoarse undertone of funeral occasions. "Or would you rather go right away?"

"I'd rather go," said the girl.

"You set down and make yourself comfortable. I'll hook up your shawl strap."

Susan sat by the window, her hands in her lap. The hand with the new circlet of gold on it was uppermost. Sallie busied herself with the bundle; abruptly she threw her apron over her face, knelt by the bed and sobbed and uttered inarticulate moans. The girl made no sound, did not move, looked unseeingly at her inert hands. A few moments and Sallie set to work again. She soon had the bundle ready, brought Susan's hat, put it on.

"It's so hot, I reckon you'll carry your jacket. I ain't seen as pretty a blue dress as this--yet it's plainlike, too." She went to the top of the stairs. "She wants to go, Jeb," she called loudly. "You'd better get the sulky ready."

The answer from below was the heavy thump of Jeb's boots on the oilcloth covering of the hall floor. Susan, from the window, dully watched the young farmer unhitch the mare and lead her up in front of the gate.

"Come on, honey," said Aunt Sallie, taking up the bundle.

The girl--she seemed a child now--followed her. On the front stoop were George and his brother and the preacher. The men made room for them to pass. Sallie opened the gate; Susan went out. "You'll have to hold the bundle," said Sallie. Susan mounted to the seat, took the bundle on her knees. Jeb, who had the lines, left the mare's head and got up beside his bride.

"Good day, all," he said, nodding at the men on the stoop. "Good day, Mrs. Warham."

"Come and see us real soon," said Sallie. Her fat chin was quivering; her tired-looking, washed-out eyes gazed mournfully at the girl who was acting and looking as if she were walking in her sleep.

"Good day, all," repeated Jeb, and again he made the clucking sound.

"Good-by and God bless you," said the preacher. His nostrils were luxuriously sniffing the air which bore to them odors of cookery.

The mare set out. Susan's gaze rested immovably upon the heavy bundle in her lap. As the road was in wretched repair, Jeb's whole attention was upon his driving. At the gate between barnyard and pasture he said, "You hold the lines while I get down."

Susan's fingers closed mechanically upon the strips of leather. Jeb led the mare through the gate, closed it, resumed his seat. This time the mare went on without exacting the clucking sound. They were following the rocky road along the wester hillside of the pasture hollow. As they slowly made their way among the deep ruts and bowlders, from frequent moistenings of the lips and throats, noises, and twitchings of body and hands, it was evident that the young farmer was getting ready for conversation. The struggle at last broke surface with, "Zeke Warham don't waste no time road patchin'--does he?"

Susan did not answer.

Jeb studied her out of the corner of his eye, the first time a fairly good bit of roadway permitted. He could make nothing of her face except that it was about the prettiest he had ever seen. Plainly she was not eager to get acquainted; still, acquainted they must get. So he tried again:

"My sister Keziah--she keeps house for me--she'll be mighty surprised when I turn up with a wife. I didn't let on to her what I was about, nary a word."

He laughed and looked expectantly at the girl. Her expression was unchanged. Jeb again devoted himself to his driving.

"No, I didn't let on," he presently resumed. "Fact is, I wan't sure myself till I seed you at the winder." He smiled flirtatiously at her. "Then I decided to go ahead. I dunno, but I somehow kinder allow you and me'll hit it off purty well--don't you?"

Susan tried to speak. She found that she could not--that she had nothing to say.

"You're the kind of a girl I always had my mind set on," pursued Jeb, who was an expert love-maker. "I like a smooth skin and pouty lips that looks as if they wanted to be kissed." He took the reins in one hand, put his arm round her, clumsily found her lips with his. She shrank slightly, then submitted. But Jeb somehow felt no inclination to kiss her again. After a moment he let his arm drop away from her waist and took the reins in both hands with an elaborate pretense that the bad road compelled it.

A long silence, then he tried again: "It's cool and nice under these here trees, ain't it?"

"Yes," she said.

"I ain't saw you out here for several years now. How long has it been?"

"Three summers ago."

"You must 'a' growed some. I don't seem to recollect you. You like the country?"

"Yes."

"Sho! You're just sayin' that. You want to live in town. Well, so do I. And as soon as I get things settled a little I'm goin' to take what I've got and the two thousand from your Uncle George and open up a livery stable in town."

Susan's strange eyes turned upon him. "In Sutherland?" she asked breathlessly.

"Right in Sutherland," replied he complacently. "I think I'll buy Jake Antle's place in Jefferson Street."

Susan was blanched and trembling. "Oh, no," she cried. "You mustn't do that!"

Jeb laughed. "You see if I don't. And we'll live in style, and you can keep a gal and stay dolled up all the time. Oh, I know how to treat you."

"I want to stay in the country," cried Susan. "I hate Sutherland."

"Now, don't you be afraid," soothed Jeb. "When people see you've got a husband and money they'll not be down on you no more. They'll forget all about your maw--and they won't know nothin' about the other thing. You treat me right and I'll treat you right. I'm not one to rake up the past. There ain't arry bit of meanness about me!"

"But you'll let me stay here in the country?" pleaded Susan. Her imagination was torturing her with pictures of herself in Sutherland and the people craning and whispering and mocking.

"You go where I go," replied Jeb. "A woman's place is with her man. And I'll knock anybody down that looks cockeyed at you."

"Oh!" murmured Susan, sinking back against the support.

"Don't you fret, Susie," ordered Jeb, confident and patronizing. "You do what I say and everything'll be all right. That's the way to get along with me and get nice clothes--do what I say. With them that crosses me I'm mighty ugly. But you ain't a-goin' to cross me. . . . Now, about the house. I reckon I'd better send Keziah off right away. You kin cook?"

"A--a little," said Susan.

Jeb looked relieved. "Then she'd be in the way. Two women about always fights--and Keziah's got the Ferguson temper. She's afraid of me, but now and then she fergits and has a tantrum." Jeb looked at her with a smile and a frown. "Perk up a little," he more than half ordered. "I don't want Keziah jeerin' at me."

Susan made a pitiful effort to smile. He eyed it sourly, grunted, gave the mare a cut with the whip that caused her to leap forward in a gallop. "Whoa!" he yelled. "Whoa--damn you!" And he sawed cruelly at her mouth until she quieted down. A turning and they were before a shallow story-and-a-half frame house which squatted like an old roadside beggar behind a weather-beaten picket fence. The sagging shingle roof sloped abruptly; there were four little windows downstairs and two smaller upstairs. The door was in the center of the house; a weedy path led from its crooked step, between two patches of weedy grass, to the gate in the fence.

"Whoa!" shouted Jeb, with the double purpose of stopping the mare and informing the house of his arrival. Then to Susan: "You git down and I'll drive round to the barn yonder." He nodded toward a dilapidated clapboard structure, small and mean, set between a dirty lopsided straw heap and a manure heap. "Go right in and make yourself at home. Tell Keziah who you air. I'll be along, soon as I unhitch and feed the mare."

Susan was staring stupidly at the house--at her new home.

"Git down," he said sharply. "You don't act as if your hearin' or your manners was much to brag on."

He felt awkward and embarrassed with this delicately bred, lovely child-woman in the, to him, wonderfully fine and fashionable dress. To hide his nervousness and to brave it out, he took the only way he knew, the only way shy people usually know--the way of gruffness. It was not a ferocious gruffness for a man of his kind; but it seemed so to her who had been used to gentleness only, until these last few days. His grammar, his untrained voice, his rough clothes, the odor of stale sweat and farm labor he exhaled, made him horrible to her--though she only vaguely knew why she felt so wretched and why her body shrank from him.

She stepped down from the sulky, almost falling in her dizziness and blindness. Jeb touched the mare with the whip and she was alone before the house--a sweet forlorn figure, childish, utterly out of place in those surroundings. On the threshold, in faded and patched calico, stood a tall gaunt woman with a family likeness to Jeb. She had thin shiny black hair, a hard brown skin, high cheekbones and snapping black eyes. When her thin lips parted she showed on the left side of the mouth three large and glittering gold teeth that in the contrast made their gray, not too clean neighbors seem white.

"Howdy!" she called in a tone of hostility.

Susan tried in vain to respond. She stood gazing.

"What d'ye want?"

"He he told me to go in," faltered Susan. She had no sense of reality. It was a dream--only a dream--and she would awaken in her own clean pretty pale-gray bedroom with Ruth gayly calling her to come down to breakfast.

"Who are you?" demanded Keziah--for at a glance it was the sister.

"I'm--I'm Susan Lenox."

"Oh--Zeke Warham's niece. Come right in." And Keziah looked as if she were about to bite and claw.

Susan pushed open the latchless gate, went up the short path to the doorstep. "I think I'll wait till he comes," she said.

"No. Come in and sit down, Miss Lenox." And Keziah drew a rush-bottomed rocking chair toward the doorway. Susan was looking at the interior. The lower floor of the house was divided into three small rooms. This central room was obviously the parlor--the calico-covered sofa, the center table, the two dingy chromos, and a battered cottage organ made that certain. On the floor was a rag carpet; on the walls, torn and dirty paper, with huge weather stains marking where water had leaked from the roof down the supporting beams. Keziah scowled at Susan's frank expression of repulsion for the surroundings. Susan seated herself on the edge of the chair, put her bundle beside her.

"I allow you'll stay to dinner," said Keziah.

"Yes," replied Susan.

"Then I'll go put on some more to cook."

"Oh, no--please don't--I couldn't eat anything--really, I couldn't." The girl spoke hysterically.

Just then Jeb came round the house and appeared in the doorway. He grinned and winked at Susan, looked at his sister. "Well, Keziah," said he, "what d'ye think of her?"

"She says she's going to stay to dinner, " observed Keziah, trying to maintain the veneer of manners she had put on for company.

The young man laughed loudly. "That's a good one--that is!" he cried, nodding and winking at Susan. "So you ain't tole her? Well, Keziah, I've been and gone and got married. And there she is."

"Shut up--you fool!" said Keziah. And she looked apologetically at their guest. But the expression of Susan's face made her catch her breath. "For the Lord's sake!" she ejaculated. "She ain't married you!"

"Why not?" demanded Jeb. "Ain't this a free country? Ain't I as good as anybody?"

Keziah blew out her breath in a great gust and seated herself on the tattered calico cover of the sofa. Susan grew deathly white. Her hands trembled. Then she sat quiet upon the edge of the old rush-bottomed chair. There was a terrible silence, broken by Jeb's saying loudly and fiercely, "Keziah, you go get the dinner. Then you pack your duds and clear out for Uncle Bob's."

Keziah stared at the bride, rose and went to the rear door. "I'm goin' now," she answered. "The dinner's ready except for putting on the table."

Through the flimsy partitions they heard her mounting the uncarpeted stairs, hustling about upon an uncarpeted floor above, and presently descending. "I'll hoof it," she said, reappearing in the doorway. "I'll send for my things this afternoon."

Jeb, not caring to provoke the "Ferguson temper," said nothing.

"As for this here marryin'," continued Keziah, "I never allowed you'd fall so low as to take a baby, and a bastard at that."

She whirled away. Jeb flung his hat on the table, flung himself on the sofa. "Well--that's settled," said he. "You kin get the dinner. It's all in there." And he jerked his head toward the door in the partition to the left. Susan got up, moved toward the indicated door. Jeb laughed. "Don't you think you might take off your hat and stay awhile?" said he.

She removed her hat, put it on top of the bundle which she left on the floor beside the rocking chair. She went into the kitchen dining-room. It was a squalid room, its ceiling and walls smoke-stained from the cracked and never polished stove in the corner. The air was foul with the strong old onions stewing on the stove. In a skillet slices of pork were frying. On the back of the stove stood a pan of mashed potatoes and a tin coffeepot. On the stained flowered cloth which covered the table in the middle of the room had been laid coarse, cracked dishes and discolored steel knives and forks with black wooden handles. Susan, half fainting, dropped into a chair by one of the open windows. A multitude of fat flies from the stable were running and crawling everywhere, were buzzing about her head. She was aroused by Jeb's voice: "Why, what the--the damnation! You've fell asleep!"

She started up. "In a minute!" she muttered, nervously.

And somehow, with Jeb's eyes on her from the doorway, she got the evil-smelling messes from the stove into table dishes from the shelves and then on the table, where the flies descended upon them in troops of scores and hundreds. Jeb, in his shirt sleeves now, sat down and fell to. She sat opposite him, her hands in her lap. He used his knife in preference to his fork, leaping the blade high, packing the food firmly upon it with fork or fingers, then thrusting it into his mouth. He ate voraciously, smacking his lips, breathing hard, now and then eructing with frank energy and satisfaction.

"My stummick's gassy right smart this year," he observed after a huge gulp of coffee. "Some says the heavy rains last spring put gas into everything, but I dunno. Maybe it's Keziah's cooking. I hope you'll do better. Why, you ain't eatin' nothin'!"

"I'm not hungry," said Susan. Then, as he frowned suspiciously, "I had a late breakfast."

He laughed. "And the marrying, too," he suggested with a flirtatious nod and wink. "Women's always upset by them kind of things."

When he had filled himself he pushed his chair back. "I'll set with you while you wash up," said he. "But you'd better take off them Sunday duds. You'll find some calikers that belonged to maw in a box under the bed in our room." He laughed and winked at her.

"That's the one on t'other side of the settin'-room. Yes--that's our'n!" And he winked again.

The girl, ghastly white, her great eyes staring like a sleepwalker's, rose and stood resting one hand on the back of the chair to steady her.

Jeb drew a cigar from his waistcoat pocket and lighted it. "Usually," said he, "I take a pipe or a chaw. But this bein' a weddin' day----"

He laughed and winked again, rose, took her in his arms and kissed her. She made a feeble gesture of thrusting him away. Her head reeled, her stomach turned.

She got away as soon as he would release her, crossed the sitting-room and entered the tiny dingy bedroom. The windows were down and the bed had not yet been made. The odor was nauseating--the staleness left by a not too clean sleeper who abhors fresh air. Susan saw the box under the bed, knelt to draw it out. But instead she buried her face in her hands, burst into wild sobs. "Oh, God," she prayed, "stop punishing me. I didn't mean to do wrong--and I'm sure my mother didn't, either. Stop, for Thy Son's sake, amen." Now surely she would wake. God must answer that prayer. She dared not take her palms from her eyes. Suddenly she felt herself caught from behind. She gave a wild scream and sprang up.

Jeb was looking at her with eyes that filled her with a fear more awful than the fear of death. "Don't!" she cried. "Don't!"

"Never mind, hon," said he in a voice that was terrible just because it was soft. "It's only your husband. My, but you're purty!" And he seized her. She fought. He crushed her. He kissed her with great slobbering smacks and gnawed at the flesh of her neck with teeth that craved to bite.

"Oh, Mr. Ferguson, for pity's sake!" she wailed. Then she opened her mouth wide as one gasping for breath where there is no air; and pushing at him with all her strength she vented a series of maniac shrieks.