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A Branch Road
by [?]


"Keep the main-travelled road till you come to a branch leading off–keep to the right. "

IN the windless September dawn a voice went singing, a man’s voice, singing a cheap and common air. Yet something in the elan of it all told he was young, jubilant, and a happy lover.

Above the level belt of timber to the east a vast dome of pale undazzling gold was rising, silently and swiftly. Jays called in the thickets where the maples flamed amid the green oaks, with irregular splashes of red and orange. The grass was crisp with frost under the feet, the road smooth and gray-white in color, the air was indescribably sweet, resonant, and stimulating. No wonder the man sang.

He came into view around the curve in the lane. He had a fork on his shoulder, a graceful and polished tool. His straw hat was tilted on the back of his head, his rough, faded coat was buttoned close to the chin, and he wore thin buckskin gloves on his hands. He looked muscular and intelligent, and was evidently about twenty-two or -three years of age.

As he walked on, and the sunrise came nearer to him, he stopped his song. The broadening heavens had a majesty and sweetness that made him forget the physical joy of happy youth. He grew almost sad with the great vague thoughts and emotions which rolled in his brain as the wonder of the morning grew.

He walked more slowly, mechanically following the road, his eyes on the ever-shifting streaming banners of rose and pale green, which made the east too glorious for any words to tell. The air was so still it seemed to await expectantly the coming of the sun.

Then his mind flew back to Agnes. Would she see it? She was at work, getting breakfast, but he hoped she had time to see it. He was in that mood so common to him now, when he could not fully enjoy any sight or sound unless he could share it with her. Far down the road he heard the sharp clatter of a wagon. The roosters were calling near and far, in many keys and tunes. The dogs were barking, cattle bells jangling in the wooded pastures, and as the youth passed farmhouses, lights in the kitchen windows showed that the women were astir about breakfast, and the sound of voices and curry-combs at the barn told that the men were at their daily chores.

And the east bloomed broader. The dome of gold grew brighter, the faint clouds here and there flamed with a flush of red. The frost began to glisten with a reflected color. The youth dreamed as he walked; his broad face and deep earnest eyes caught and reflected some of the beauty and majesty of the sky.

But as he passed a farm gate and a young man of about his own age joined him, his brow darkened. The other man was equipped for work like himself.

"Hello, Will!"

"Hello, Ed!"

"Going down to help Dingman thrash?"

"Yes," replied Will shortly. It was easy to see he didn’t welcome company.

"So’m I. Who’s goin’ to do your thrashin–Dave McTurg?"

"Yes. , I guess so. Haven’t spoken to anybody yet. "

They walked on side by side. Will didn’t feel like being rudely broken in on in this way. The two men were rivals, but Will, being the victor, would have been magnanimous, only he wanted to be alone with his lover’s dream.

"When do you go back to the sem’?" Ed asked after a little.

"Term begins next week. I’ll make a break about second week. "

"Le’s see: you graduate next year, don’t yeh?"

"I expect to, if I don’t slip up on it. "

They walked on side by side, both handsome fellows; Ed a little more showy in his face, which had a certain clean-cut precision of line and a peculiar clear pallor that never browned under the sun. He chewed vigorously on a quid of tobacco, one of his most noticeable bad habits.

Teams could be heard clattering along on several roads now, and jovial voices singing. One team coming along behind the two men, the driver sung out in good-natured warning, "Get out o’ the way, there. " And with a laugh and a chirp spurred his horses to pass them.