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And I
told him I wouldn't have a horse around that would kick. And when he
said I shouldn't sell it, I said a dreadful thing. I knew it would cut
him, but I said it. I said: 'The horse is mine; the farm is mine; I can
do what I please with my own, for all of you.'"

She fell silent here, and Morris was forced to ask, "What did he do
then?"

"He looked at me, a queer, long look that made me shiver, and then he
walked off, and he never spoke to me again directly for six months. And
from that day he almost never speaks to me except through the children.
He calls me names through them. He cuts me every time he can. He does
everything he can to hurt me. He never dresses up, and he wears his hat
in the house at all times, and rolls up his sleeves at the table, just
because he knows it makes me suffer. Sometimes I think he is crazy, and
yet----"

"Oh, no, he ain't crazy. He's devilish," Morris blurted out. "Great
guns! I'd like to lay my hands on him."

She seemed to feel that a complete statement was demanded. "I can't
invite anybody to the house, for there's no knowing what he'll do. He
may stay in the fields all day and never come in at all, or he may come
in and curse and swear at me or do something--I never can tell what he
is goin' to do."

"Haven't you any relatives here?" Morris asked.

"Yes, but I'm ashamed to let them know about it, because they all said
I'd repent; and then he's my husband, and he's the father of my
children."

"A mighty poor excuse of one I call him," said the young man with
decision.

"I tried to give him the farm, when I found it was going to make
trouble, but he wouldn't take it _then_. He won't listen to me at all.
He keeps throwing it up to me that he's earning his living, and if I
don't think he is he will go any minute. He works in the field, but
that's all. He won't advise with me at all. He says it's none of his
business. He won't do a thing around the house or garden. I tried to get
him to oversee the mill for me, but, after our trouble, he refused to do
anything about it. I hired a man to run it, but it didn't pay that way,
and then it was idle for a while, and at last it got afire some way and
burned up--tramps, I suppose.

"Oh, dear!" she sighed, rising, "I don't see how it's going to end; it
must end some time. Sometimes it seems as if I couldn't stand it another
day, and then I think of my duty as a mother and wife, and I think
perhaps God intended this to be my cross."

The young fellow was silent. It was a great problem. The question of
divorce had never before been borne in upon him in this personal way. It
seemed to him a clear case. The man ought to be driven off and the woman
left in peace. He thought of the pleasure it would give her to hear the
sound of the mill again.

They stood there side by side, nearly the same age, and yet the woman's
face was already lined with suffering, and her eyes were full of shadow.
There seemed no future for her, and yet she was young.

"Please don't let him know I've said anything to you, will you?"

"I'll try not to," he said, but he did not consider himself bound to any
definite concealment.

They ate dinner together without Miner, who had a fit of work on hand
which made him stubbornly unmindful of any call to eat. Moreover, he was
sure it would worry his wife.

The meal was a pleasant one on the whole, and they found many things in
common to talk about. Morris wanted to ask her a few more questions
about her life, but she begged him not to do so, and started him off on
the story of his college life. He was an enthusiastic talker and told
her his plans with boyish frankness. He forgot his fatigue, and she lost
for a time her premature cares and despairs. They were laughing together
over some of his college pranks when Miner came in at the door.

"Oh, I see!" he said, with an insulting, insinuating inflection. "Now I
understand the early dinner."

Morris sprang up and, walking over to the sneering husband, glared down
at him with a look of ferocity that sat singularly upon his round, fresh
face. "Now you _shut up_! If you open your mouth to me again I'll lick
you till your hide won't hold pumpkins!"

Miner shrank back, turned on his heel, and went off to the barn. He did
not return for his dinner.

Morris insisted on helping Mrs. Miner clear up the yard and uncover the
grapevine. He liked her very much. She appealed to the protector in him,
and she interested him besides, because of the melancholy which was
lined on her delicate face, and voiced in her low, soft utterances.

He appealed to her, because of his delicacy as well as strength. He had
something of the modern man's love for flowers, and did not attempt to
conceal his delight in thus tinkering about at woman's work. He ate
supper with her and worked on until it was quite dark, tired as he was,
and then shook hands and said "Good night."

Morris came back to his work the next day with a great deal of pleasure.
He had spent considerable thought upon the matter. He had almost
determined on a course of action. He had thought of going directly to
Miner and saying:

"Now look here, Miner, if you was _half_ a man, you'd pull out and leave
this woman in peace. How you can stand around here and occupy the
position you do, I don't see."

But when he remembered Mrs. Miner's words about the children, another
consideration came in. Suppose he should take the children with
him--that was the point; that was the uncertain part of the problem. It
did not require any thought to remember that the law took very little
consideration of the woman's feelings. He said to himself that if he
ever became judge, he would certainly give decisions that would send
such a man as Miner simply whirling out into space.

Miner was in the barn when Morris clambered up the ladder with a bunch
of shingles on his shoulder, about seven o'clock. He came out and said:

"Say, you want to fix that window up there."

"Get away from there!" shouted Morris, in uncontrollable rage, "or I'll
smash this bunch of shingles on your cursed head. Don't you open that
ugly p'tater trap at me, you bow-legged little skunk! I'm goin' to lick
you like a sock before I'm done with you."

He would have done so then had he been on the ground, but he disdained
taking the trouble to climb down. He planned to catch him when he came
up to dinner. The more he thought of it the more his indignation waxed.
As he grew to hate the man more, he began to entertain the suspicions,
which Wilber confessed to in confidence, concerning the burning of the
mill.

They had a cheerful meal together again, for Miner did not come in until
one o'clock. During the nooning Morris finished spading the flower
beds, in spite of Mrs. Miner's entreaties that he should rest. It gave
him great pleasure to work there with her and the children.

"You see, I'm lonesome here," he explained. "Just out of school, and I
miss the boys and girls. I don't know anybody except a few of the
carpenters here, and so--well, I kind of like it. I always helped around
the house at home. It's all fun for me, so don't you say a word. I've
got lots o' muscle to spare, and you're welcome to it."

He spaded away without many words. The warm sun shone down upon them
all, and they made a pretty group. Mrs. Miner, rake in hand, was
pulverizing the beds as fast as he spaded, her face flushed and almost
happy. The children were wrist-deep in the fresh earth, planting twigs
and pebbles, their babble of talk some way akin to the cry of the
woodpecker, the laugh of the robin, the twitter of the sparrow, the
smell of spring, and the merry downpour of sunshine.

Mrs. Miner was silent. She was thinking how different her life would
have been if her husband had only taken an interest in her affairs. She
did not think of any one else as her husband, but only Miner in a
different mood.

Morris went back to work. As the work neared the end, his determination
to punish the scoundrel husband grew. His inclination to charge him with
burning the mill grew stronger. He wondered if it wouldn't serve as a
club. "Now, sir," he said, meeting Miner as he came out of the barn that
night, "I'm done on the barn, but I'm not done on you. I'm goin' to
whale you till you won't know yourself. I ought 'o 'a done it that first
day at dinner." He advanced upon Miner, who backed away, scared at
something he saw in the young man's eyes and something he heard in his
inflexible tone of voice.

He thrust out his palm in a wild gesture. "Keep away from me! I'll split
your heart if you touch me!"

Morris advanced another step, his eyes looking straight into Miner's
with the level look of a tiger's. "No, y' won't! You're too much of an
infernal, sneaky little _whelp_!"

At the word whelp, he cuffed him with his hammerlike fist, and Miner
went down in a heap. He was so abject that the young man could only
strike him with his open hand.

He took him by the shirt collar with his left hand and began to cuff him
leisurely and terribly with his right. His blows punctuated his
sentences. "You're a little [whack] villain. I'll thrash you till you
won't see out of your blasted eyes for a month! I can't stand a man
[here he jounced him up and down with his left hand, apparently with
infinite satisfaction] who bullies his wife and children as you do [here
he cuffed him again], and I'll make it my business to even things
up----"

The prostrate man began to scream for help. He was livid with fear. He
fancied murder in the blaze of his assailant's eye.

"Help! help! Minnie!"

"Call her by her first name now, will yeh? will yeh? Call her out to
help yeh! Do you think she will? I want to tell you, besides, I know
something about that mill burning. It's just like your contemptible
mustard-seed of a soul to burn that mill!"

Mrs. Miner came flying out. She could not recognize her husband in the
bleeding, dirty, abject thing squirming under the young man's knee.

"Why, Mr. Morris, who--why--why, it's Tom!" she gasped, her eyes
distended with surprise and horror.

Morris looked up at her coolly.



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