While she set the children to drinking milk, Council got out his lantern and went out to the barn to help the stranger about his team, where his loud, hearty voice could be heard as it came and went between the hay-mow and the stalls.
The woman came to light as a small, timid, and discouraged-looking woman, but still pretty, in a thin and sorrowful way.
“Land sakes! An’ you’ve travelled all the way from Clear Lake’ t’day in this mud! Waal! Waal! No wonder you’re all tired out. Don’t wait f’r the men, Mis’—” She hesitated, waiting for the name.
“Mis’ Haskins, set right up to the table an’ take a good swig o’ that tea, whilst I make y’ s’m’ toast. It’s green tea, an’ it’s good. I tell Council as I git older I don’t seem to enjoy Young Hyson n’r Gunpowder. I want the reel green tea, jest as it comes off’n the vines. Seems t’ have more heart in it some way. Don’t s’pose it has. Council says it’s all in m’ eye.”
Going on in this easy way, she soon had the children filled with bread and milk and the woman thoroughly at home, eating some toast and sweet melon pickles, and sipping the tea.
“Seethe little rats!” she laughed at the children.”They’re full as they can stick now, and they want to go to bed. Now, don’t git up, Mis’ Haskins; set right where you are an’ let me look after ‘em. I know all about young ones, though I amall alone now. Jane went an’ married last fall. But, as I tell Council, it’s lucky we keep our health. Set right there,Mis’ Haskins; I won’t have you stir a finger.”
It was an unmeasured pleasure to sit there in the warm, homely kitchen, the jovial chatter of the housewife driving out and holding at bay the growl of the impotent, cheated wind.
The little woman’s eyes filled with tears which fell down upon the sleeping baby in her arms. The world was not so desolate and cold and hopeless, after all.
“Now I hope Council won’t stop out there and talk politics all night. He’s the greatest man to talk politics an’ read the Tribune. How old is it?”
She broke off and peered down at the face of the babe.
“Two months ‘n’ five days,” said the mother, with a mother’s exactness.
“Ye don’t say! I want ‘o know! The dear little pudzy-wudzy,” she went on, stirring it up in the neighborhood of the ribs with her fat forefinger.
“Pooty tough on ‘oo to go gallivant’n’ ‘cross lots this way.”
“Yes, that’s so; a man can’t lift a mountain,” said Council, entering the door.”Sarah, this is Mr. Haskins, from Kansas. He’s been eat up ‘n’ drove out by grasshoppers.”
“Glad t’ see yeh! Pa, empty that wash-basin, ‘n’ give him a chance t’ wash.”
Haskins was a tall man, with a thin, gloomy face. His hair was a reddish brown, like his coat, and seemed equally faded by the wind and sun. And his sallow face, though hard and set, was pathetic somehow. You would have felt that he had suffered much by the line of his mouth showing under his thin, yellow mustache.
“Hain’t Ike got home yet, Sairy?”
“Hain’t seen ‘im.”
“W-a-a-l, set right up, Mr. Haskins; wade right into what we’ve got; ‘taint much, but we manage to live on it—least I do; shegits fat on it,” laughed Council, pointing his thumb at his wife.
After supper, while the women put the children to bed, Haskins and Council talked on, seated near the huge cooking stove, the steam rising from their wet clothing. In the Western fashion Council told as much of his own life as he drew from his guest. He asked but few questions, but by-and-by the story of Haskins’ struggles and defeat came out. The story was a terrible one, but he told it quietly, seated with his elbows on his knees, gazing most of the time at the hearth.
“I didn’t like the looks of the country, anyhow,” Haskins said, partly rising and glancing at his wife.”I was ust t’ northern Ingyannie, where we have lots o’ timber ‘n’ lots of rain, ‘n’ I didn’t like the looks o’ that dry prairie. What galled me the worst was goin’ s’ far away acrosst so much fine land layin’ all through here vacant.