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The wind was keen
and terrible as a saw-bladed sword, and smote incessantly. The desolate
sky was one thick, impenetrable mass of swiftly flying clouds. When they
swung out upon the long pike leading due north, Wallace drew his breath
with a gasp, and bent his head to the wind.

"Pretty strong, isn't it?" shouted Mattie.

"Oh, the farmer's life is the life for me, tra-la!" sang Herman, from
his shelter behind the seat.

Mattie turned. "What do you think of _Penelope_ this month?"

"She's a-gitten there," said Herman, pounding his shoe heels.

"She's too smart for young Corey. She ought to marry a man like
Bromfield. My! wouldn't they talk?"

"Did y' get the second bundle of magazines last Saturday?"

"Yes; and dad found something in the _Popular Science_ that made him
mad, and he burned it."

"Did 'e? Tum-la-la! Oh, the farmer's life for me!"

"Are you cold?" she asked Wallace.

He turned a purple face upon her. "No--not much."

"I guess you better slip right down under the blankets," she advised.

The wind blew gray out of the north--a wild blast which stopped the
young student's blood in his veins. He hated to give up, but he could no
longer hold the blankets up over his knees, so he slipped down into the
corner of the box, with his back to the wind, with the blankets drawn
over his head.

The powerful girl slapped the reins down on the backs of the snorting
horses, and encouraged them with shouts like a man: "Get out o' this,
Dan! Hup there, Nellie!"

The wagon boomed and rattled. The floor of the box seemed beaten with a
maul. The glimpses Wallace had of the land appalled him, it was so flat
and gray and bare. The houses seemed poor, and drain-pipe scattered
about told how wet it all was.

Herman sang at the top of his voice, and danced, and pounded his feet
against the wagon box. "This ends it! If I can't come home without
freezing to death, I don't come. I should have hired a rig, irrespective
of you----"

The girl laughed. "Oh, you're getting thin-blooded, Herman. Life in the
city has taken the starch all out of you."

"Better grow limp in a great city than freeze stiff in the country," he
replied.

An hour's ride brought them into a yard before a large gray-white frame
house.

Herman sprang out to meet a tall old man with head muffled up. "Hello,
dad! Take the team. We're just naturally froze solid--at least I am.
This is Mr. Stacey, the new teacher."

"How de do? Run in; I'll take the horses."

Herman and Wallace stumbled toward the house, stiff and bent.

Herman flung his arms about a tall woman in the kitchen door. "Hello,
muz!" he said. "This is Mr. Stacey, the new teacher."

"Draw up to the fire, sir. Herman, take his hat and coat."

Mattie came in soon with a boyish rush. She was gleeful as a happy babe.
She unwound the scarf from her head and neck, and hung up her cap and
cloak like a man, but she gave her hair a little touch of feminine care,
and came forward with both palms pressed to her burning cheeks.

"Did you suffer, child?" asked Mrs. Allen.

"No; I enjoyed it."

Herman looked at Stacey. "I believe on my life she did."

"Oh, it's fun. I don't get a chance to do anything so exciting very
often."

Herman clicked his tongue. "Exciting? Well, well!"

"You must remember things are slower here," Mattie explained.

She came to light much younger than Stacey thought her. She was not
eighteen, but her supple and splendid figure was fully matured. Her
hair hung down her back in a braid, which gave a subtle touch of
childishness to her.

"Sis, you're still a-growin'," Herman said, as he put his arm around her
waist and looked up at her.

She seemed to realize for the first time that Stacey was a young man,
and her eyes fell.

"Well, now, set up the chairs, child," said Mrs. Allen.

When the young teacher returned from his cold spare room off the parlor
the family sat waiting for him. They all drew up noisily, and Allen
said:

"Ask the blessing, sir?"

Wallace said grace.

As Allen passed the potatoes he continued:

"My son tells me you are a minister of the gospel."

"I have studied for it."

"What denomination?"

"Tut, tut!" warned Herman. "Don't start any theological rabbits
to-night, dad. With jaw swelled up you won't be able to hold your own."

"I'm a Baptist," Stacey answered.

The old man's face grew grim. It had been ludicrous before with its
swollen jaw. "Baptist?" The old man turned to his son, whose smile
angered him. "Didn't you know no more'n to bring a Baptist preacher into
this house?"

"There, there, father!" began the wife.

"Be quiet. I'm boss of this shanty."

Herman struck in: "Don't make a show of yourself, old man. Don't mind
the old gent, Stacey; he's mumpy to-day, anyhow."

Stacey rose. "I guess I--I'd better not stay--I----"

"Oh, no, no! Sit down, Stacey. It's all right. The old man's a little
acid at me. He doesn't mean it."

Stacey got his coat and hat. His heart was swollen with indignation. He
felt as if something fine were lost to him, and the cold outside was so
desolate now.

Mrs. Allen was in tears; but the old man, having taken his stand, was
going to keep it.

Herman lost his temper a little. "Well, dad, you're a little the
cussedest Christian I ever knew. Stacey, sit down. Don't you be a fool
just because he is----"

Stacey was buttoning his coat with trembling hands, when Martha went up
to him.

"Don't go," she said. "Father's sick and cross. He'll be sorry for this
to-morrow."

Wallace looked into her frank, kindly eyes and hesitated.

Herman said: "Dad, you are a lovely follower of Christ. You'll apologize
for this, or I'll never set foot on your threshold again."

Stacey still hesitated. He was hurt and angry, but being naturally a
sweet and gentle nature, he grew sad, and, yielding to the pressure of
the girl's hand on his arm, he began to unbutton his overcoat.

She helped him off with it, and hung it back on the nail. She did not
show tears, but her face was unwontedly grave.

They sat at the table again, and Herman and Mattie tried to restore
something of the brightness which had been lost. Allen sat grimly
eating, his chin pushed down like a hog's snout.

After supper, as his father was about retiring to his bedroom, Herman
fixed his bright eyes on him, and something very hard and masterful came
into his boyish face.

"Old man--you and I haven't had a settlement on this thing yet. I'll see
you later."

Allen shrank before his son's look, but shuffled sullenly off without
uttering a word.

Herman turned to Wallace. "Stacey, I want to beg your pardon for getting
you into this scrape. I didn't suppose the old gentleman would act like
that. The older he gets, the more his New Hampshire granite shows. I
hope you won't lay it up against me."

Wallace was too conscientious to say he didn't mind it, but he took
Herman's hand in a quick clasp.

"Let's have a song," proposed Herman. "Music hath charms to soothe the
savage breast, to charm a rock, and split a cabbage."

They went into the best room, where a fire was blazing, and Mattie and
Herman sang hymns and old-fashioned love songs and college glees
wonderfully intermingled. They ended by singing "Lorena," a wailing,
supersentimental love song current in war times, and when they looked
around there was a lofty look on the face of the young preacher--a look
of exaltation, of consecration and resolve.


III.

The next morning, at breakfast, Herman said, as he seized a hot biscuit,
"We'll dispense with grace this morning, and till after the war is
over." But Wallace blessed his bread in a silent prayer, and Mattie
thought it very brave of him to do so.

Herman was full of mockery. "The sun rises just the same, whether it's
'sprinkling' or 'immersion.' It's lucky Nature don't take a hand in
these theological contests--she doesn't even referee the scrap. She
never seems to care whether you are sparring for points or fighting to a
finish. What you theologic middle-weights are really fighting for I
can't see--and I don't care, till you fall over the ropes on to my
corns."

Stacey listened in a daze to Herman's tirade. He knew it was addressed
to Allen, and that it deprecated war, and that it was mocking. The fresh
face and smiling lips of the young girl seemed to put Herman's voice
very far away. It was such a beautiful thing to sit at table with a
lovely girl.

After breakfast he put on his cap and coat and went out into the clear,
cold November air. All about him the prairie extended, marked with
farmhouses and lined with leafless hedges. Artificial groves surrounded
each homestead, relieving the desolateness of the fields.

Down the road he saw the spire of a small white church, and he walked
briskly toward it, Herman's description in his mind.

As he came near he saw the ruined sheds, the rotting porch, and the
windows boarded up, and his face grew sad. He tried one of the doors,
and found it open. Some tramp had broken the lock. The inside was even
more desolate than the outside. It was littered with rotting straw and
plum stones and melon seeds. Obscene words were scrawled on the walls,
and even on the pulpit itself.

Taken altogether it was an appalling picture to the young servant of the
Man of Galilee, a blunt reminder of the ferocity and depravity of man.

As he pondered the fire burned, and there rose again the flame of his
resolution. He lifted his face and prayed that he might be the one to
bring these people into the living union of the Church of Christ.

His blood set toward his heart with tremulous action. His eyes glowed
with zeal like that of the Middle Ages. He saw the people united once
more in this desecrated hall. He heard the bells ringing, the sound of
song, the smile of peaceful old faces, and voices of love and fellowship
filling the anterooms where hate now scrawled hideous blasphemy against
woman and against God.

As he sat there Herman came in, his keen eyes seeking out every stain
and evidence of vandalism.

"Cheerful prospect--isn't it?"

Wallace looked up with the blaze of his resolution still in his eyes.
His pale face was sweet and solemn.

"Oh, how these people need Christ!"

Herman turned away.



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