John Telfer's friendship was a formative influence upon Sam McPherson. Hisfather's worthlessness and the growing realisation of the hardship of his
mother's position had given life a bitter taste in his mouth, and Telfersweetened it. He entered with zeal into Sam's thoughts and dreams, andtried valiantly to arouse in the quiet, industrious, money-making boy someof his own love of life and beauty. At night, as the two walked downcountry roads, the man would stop and, waving his arms about, quote Poe orBrowning or, in another mood, would compel Sam's attention to the raresmell of a hayfield or to a moonlit stretch of meadow.
Before people gathered on the streets he teased the boy, calling him alittle money grubber and saying, "He is like a little mole that worksunderground. As the mole goes for a worm so this boy goes for a five-centpiece. I have watched him. A travelling man goes out of town leaving astray dime or nickel here and within an hour it is in this boy's pocket. Ihave talked to banker Walker of him. He trembles lest his vaults becometoo small to hold the wealth of this young Croesus. The day will come whenhe will buy the town and put it into his vest pocket."
For all his public teasing of the boy Telfer had the genius to adopt adifferent attitude when they were alone together. Then he talked to himopenly and freely as he talked to Valmore and Freedom Smith and to othercronies of his on the streets of Caxton. Walking along the road he wouldpoint with his cane to the town and say, "You and that mother of yourshave more of the real stuff in you than the rest of the boys and mothersof the town put together."
In all Caxton Telfer was the only man who knew books and who took themseriously. Sam sometimes found his attitude toward them puzzling and wouldstand with open mouth listening as Telfer swore or laughed at a book as hedid at Valmore or Freedom Smith. He had a fine portrait of Browning whichhe kept hung in the stable and before this he would stand, his legs spreadapart, and his head tilted to one side, talking.
"A rich old sport you are, eh?" he would say, grinning. "Getting yourselfdiscussed by women and college professors in clubs, eh? You old fraud!"
Toward Mary Underwood, the school teacher who had become Sam's friend andwith whom the boy sometimes walked and talked, Telfer had no charity. MaryUnderwood was a sort of cinder in the eyes of Caxton. She was the onlychild of Silas Underwood, the town harness maker, who once had worked in ashop belonging to Windy McPherson. After the business failure of Windy hehad started independently and for a time did well, sending his daughter toa school in Massachusetts. Mary did not understand the people of Caxtonand the people misunderstood and distrusted her. Taking no part in thelife of the town and keeping to herself and to her books she awoke a kindof fear in others. Because she did not join them at church suppers, or gofrom porch to porch gossiping with other women through the long summerevenings, they thought her something abnormal. On Sundays she sat alone inher pew at church and on Saturday afternoons, come storm, come sunshine,she walked on country roads and through the woods accompanied by a colliedog. She was a small woman with a straight, slender figure and had fineblue eyes filled with changing lights, hidden by the eye-glasses shealmost constantly wore. Her lips were very full and red, and she sat withthem parted so that the edges of her fine teeth showed. Her nose waslarge, and a fine reddish-brown colour glowed in her cheeks. Thoughdifferent, she had, like Jane McPherson, a habit of silence; and under hersilence, she, like Sam's mother, possessed an unusually strong andvigorous mind.
As a child she was a sort of half invalid and had not been on friendlyfooting with other children. It was then that her habit of silence andreticence had been established. The years in the school in Massachusettsrestored her health but did not break this habit. She came home and tookthe place in the schools to earn money with which to take her back East,dreaming of a position as instructor in an eastern college. She was thatrare thing, a woman scholar, loving scholarship for its own sake.
Mary Underwood's position in the town and in the schools was insecure. Outof her silent, independent way of life had sprung a misunderstanding that,at least once, had taken definite form and had come near driving her fromthe town and schools. That she did not succumb to the storm of criticismthat for some weeks beat about her head was due to her habit of silenceand to a determination to get her own way in the face of everything.
It was a suggestion of scandal that had put the grey hairs upon her head.The scandal had blown over before the time of her friendship for Sam, buthe had known of it. In those days he knew of everything that went on inthe town--his quick ears and eyes missed nothing. More than once he hadheard the men waiting to be shaved in Sawyer's barber shop speak of her.
The tale ran that she had been involved in an affair with a real estateagent who had afterward left town. It was said that the man, a tall, finelooking fellow, had been in love with Mary and had wanted to desert hiswife and go away with her. One night he had driven to Mary's house in aclosed buggy and the two had driven into the country. They had sat forhours in the covered buggy at the side of the road and talked, and peopledriving past had seen them there talking together.
And then she had got out of the buggy and walked home alone through snowdrifts. The next day she was at school as usual. When told of it theschool superintendent, a puttering old fellow with vacant eyes, had shakenhis head in alarm and declared that it must be looked into. He called Maryinto his little narrow office in the school building, but lost couragewhen she sat before him, and said nothing. The man in the barber shop, whorepeated the tale, said that the real estate man drove on to a distantstation and took a train to the city, and that some days later he cameback to Caxton and moved his family out of town.
Sam dismissed the story from his mind. Having begun a friendship for Maryhe put the man in the barber shop into a class with Windy McPherson andthought of him as a pretender and liar who talked for the sake of talk. Heremembered with a shock the crude levity with which the loafers in theshop had greeted the repetition of the tale. Their comments had come backto his mind as he walked through the streets with his newspapers and hadgiven him a kind of jolt. He went along under the trees thinking of thesunlight falling upon the grey hair as they walked together on summerafternoons, and bit his lip and opened and closed his fist convulsively.
During Mary's second year in the Caxton schools her mother died, and atthe end of another year, her father, failing in the harness business, Marybecame a fixture in the schools. The house at the edge of the town, theproperty of her mother, had come down to her and she lived there with anold aunt. After the passing of the wind of scandal concerning the realestate man the town lost interest in her. She was thirty-six at the timeof her first friendship with Sam and lived alone among her books.
Sam had been deeply moved by her friendship. It had seemed to himsomething significant that grown people with affairs of their own shouldbe so in earnest about his future as she and Telfer were. Boylike, hecounted it a tribute to himself rather than to the winsome youth in him,and was made proud by it. Having no real feeling for books, and onlypretending to have out of a desire to please, he sometimes went from oneto the other of his two friends, passing off their opinions as his own.
At this trick Telfer invariably caught him. "That is not your notion," hewould shout, "you have it from that school teacher. It is the opinion of awoman. Their opinions, like the books they sometimes write, are founded onnothing. They are not the real things. Women know nothing. Men only carefor them because they have not had what they want from them. No woman isreally big--except maybe my woman, Eleanor."
When Sam continued to be much in the company of Mary, Telfer grew morebitter.
"I would have you observe women's minds and avoid letting them influenceyour own," he told the boy. "They live in a world of unrealities. Theylike even vulgar people in books, but shrink from the simple, earthy folkabout them. That school teacher is so. Is she like me? Does she, whileloving books, love also the very smell of human life?"
In a way Telfer's attitude toward the kindly little school teacher becameSam's attitude. Although they walked and talked together the course ofstudy she had planned for him he never took up and as he grew to know herbetter, the books she read and the ideas she advanced appealed to him lessand less. He thought that she, as Telfer held, lived in a world ofillusion and unreality and said so. When she lent him books, he put themin his pocket and did not read them. When he did read, he thought thebooks reminded him of something that hurt him. They were in some way falseand pretentious. He thought they were like his father. One day he triedreading aloud to Telfer from a book Mary Underwood had lent him.
The story was one of a poetic man with long, unclean fingernails who wentamong people preaching the doctrine of beauty. It began with a scene on ahillside in a rainstorm where the poetic man sat under a tent writing aletter to his sweetheart.
Telfer was beside himself. Jumping from his seat under a tree by theroadside he waved his arms and shouted:
"Stop! Stop it! Do not go on with it. The story lies. A man could notwrite love letters under the circumstances and he was a fool to pitch histent on a hillside. A man in a tent on a hillside in a storm would be coldand wet and getting the rheumatism. To be writing letters he would need tobe an unspeakable ass. He had better be out digging a trench to keep thewater from running through his tent."
Waving his arms, Telfer went off up the road and Sam followed thinking himaltogether right, and, if later in life he learned that there are men whocould write love letters on a piece of housetop in a flood, he did notknow it then and the least suggestion of windiness or pretence lay heavyin his stomach.
Telfer had a vast enthusiasm for Bellamy's "Looking Backward," and read italoud to his wife on Sunday afternoons, sitting under the apple trees inthe garden. They had a fund of little personal jokes and sayings that theywere forever laughing over, and she had infinite delight in his commentson the life and people of Caxton, but did not share his love of books.When she sometimes went to sleep in her chair during the Sunday afternoonreadings he poked her with his cane and laughingly told her to wake up andlisten to the dream of a great dreamer. Among Browning's verses hisfavourites were "A Light Woman" and "Fra Lippo Lippi," and he would recitethese aloud with great gusto. He declared Mark Twain the greatest man inthe world and in certain moods he would walk the road beside Sam recitingover and over one or two lines of verse, often this from Poe:
Helen, thy beauty is to me Like some Nicean bark of yore.
Then, stopping and turning upon the boy, he would demand whether or notthe writing of such lines wasn't worth living a life for.
Telfer had a pack of dogs that always went with them on their walks atnight and he had for them long Latin names that Sam could never remember.One summer be bought a trotting mare from Lem McCarthy and gave greatattention to the colt, which he named Bellamy Boy, trotting him up anddown a little driveway by the side of his house for hours at a time anddeclaring he would be a great trotting horse. He could recite the colt'spedigree with great gusto and when he had been talking to Sam of some bookhe would repay the boy's attention by saying, "You, my boy, are as farsuperior to the run of boys about town as the colt, Bellamy Boy, issuperior to the farm horses that are hitched along Main Street on Saturdayafternoons." And then, with a wave of his hand and a look of muchseriousness on his face, he would add, "And for the same reason. You havebeen, like him, under a master trainer of youth."
* * * * *
One evening Sam, now grown to man's stature and full of the awkwardnessand self-consciousness of his new growth, was sitting on a cracker barrelat the back of Wildman's grocery. It was a summer evening and a breezeblew through the open doors swaying the hanging oil lamps that burned andsputtered overhead. As usual he was listening in silence to the talk thatwent on among the men.
Standing with legs wide apart and from time to time jabbing with his caneat Sam's legs, John Telfer held forth on the subject of love.
"It is a theme that poets do well to write of," he declared. "In writingof it they avoid the necessity of embracing it. In trying for a wellturned line they forget to look at well-turned ankles. He who sings mostpassionately of love has been in love the least; he woos the goddess ofpoesy and only gets into trouble when he, like John Keats, turns to thedaughter of a villager and tries to live the lines he has written."
"Stuff and nonsense," roared Freedom Smith, who had been sitting tiltedfar back in a chair with his feet against the cold stove, smoking a short,black pipe, and who now brought his feet down upon the floor with a bang.Admiring Telfer's flow of words he pretended to be filled with scorn. "Thenight is too hot for eloquence," he bellowed. "If you must be eloquenttalk of ice cream or mint juleps or recite a verse about the old swimmingpool."
Telfer, wetting his finger, thrust it into the air.
"The wind is in the north-west; the beasts roar; we will have a storm," hesaid, winking at Valmore.
Banker Walker came into the store, followed by his daughter. She was asmall, dark-skinned girl with black, quick eyes. Seeing Sam sitting withswinging legs upon the cracker barrel she spoke to her father and went outof the store. At the sidewalk she stopped and, turning, made a quickmotion with her hand.
Sam jumped off the cracker barrel and strolled toward the street door. Aflush was on his cheeks. His mouth felt hot and dry. He went with extremedeliberateness, stopping to bow to the banker, and for a moment lingeringto read a newspaper that lay upon the cigar case, to avoid the comments hefeared his going might excite among the men by the stove. In his heart hetrembled lest the girl should have disappeared down the street, and withhis eyes, he looked guiltily at the banker, who had joined the group atthe back of the store and who now stood listening to the talk, while heread from a list held in his hand and Wildman went here and there doing uppackages and repeating aloud the names of articles called off by thebanker.
At the end of the lighted business section of Main Street, Sam found thegirl waiting for him. She began to tell of the subterfuge by which she hadescaped her father.
"I told him I would go home with my sister," she said, tossing her head.
Taking hold of the boy's hand, she led him along the shaded street. Forthe first time Sam walked in the company of one of the strange beings thathad begun to bring him uneasy nights, and overcome with the wonder of itthe blood climbed through his body and made his head reel so that hewalked in silence unable to understand his own emotions. He felt the softhand of the girl with delight; his heart pounded against the walls of hischest and a choking sensation gripped at his throat.
Walking along the street, past lighted residences where the low voices ofwomen in talk greeted his ears, Sam was inordinately proud. He thoughtthat he should like to turn and walk with this girl through the lightedMain Street. Had she not chosen him from among all the boys of the town;had she not, with a flutter of her little, white hand, called to him witha call that he wondered the men upon the cracker barrels had not heard?Her boldness and his own took his breath away. He could not talk. Histongue seemed paralysed.
Down the street went the boy and girl, loitering in the shadows, hurryingpast the dim oil lamps at street crossings, getting from each other waveafter wave of exquisite little thrills. Neither spoke. They were beyondwords. Had they not together done this daring thing?
In the shadow of a tree they stopped and stood facing each other; the girllooked at the ground and stood facing the boy. Putting out his hand helaid it upon her shoulder. In the darkness on the other side of the streeta man stumbled homeward along a board sidewalk. The lights of Main Streetglowed in the distance. Sam drew the girl toward him. She raised her head.Their lips met, and then, throwing her arms about his neck, she kissed himagain and again eagerly.
* * * * *
Sam's return to Wildman's was marked by extreme caution. Although he hadbeen absent but fifteen minutes it seemed to him that hours must havepassed and he would not have been surprised to see the stores locked anddarkness settled down on Main Street. It was inconceivable that the grocercould still be wrapping packages for banker Walker. Worlds had beenremade. Manhood had come to him. Why! the man should have wrapped theentire store, package after package, and sent it to the ends of the earth.He lingered in the shadows at the first of the store lights where agesbefore he had gone, a mere boy, to meet her, a mere girl, and looked withwonder at the lighted way before him.
Sam crossed the street and, from the front of Sawyer's barber shop, lookedinto Wildman's. He felt like a spy looking into the camp of an enemy.There before him sat the men into whose midst he had it in his power tocast a thunderbolt. He might walk to the door and say, truthfully enough,"Here before you is a boy that by the flutter of a white hand has beenmade into a man; here is one who has wrung the heart of womankind andeaten his fill at the tree of the knowledge of life."
In the grocery the talk still continued among the men upon the crackerbarrels who seemed unconscious of the boy's slinking entrance. Indeed,their talk had sunk. From talking of love and of poets they talked of cornand of steers. Banker Walker, his packages of groceries lying on thecounter, smoked a cigar.
"You can fairly hear the corn growing to-night," he said. "It wants butanother shower or two and we shall have a record crop. I plan to feed ahundred steers at my farm out Rabbit Road this winter."
The boy climbed again upon a cracker barrel and tried to look unconcernedand interested in the talk. Still his heart thumped; still a throbbingwent on in his wrists. He turned and looked at the floor hoping hisagitation would pass unnoticed.
The banker, taking up the packages, walked out at the door. Valmore andFreedom Smith went over to the livery barn for a game of pinochle. AndJohn Telfer, twirling his cane and calling to a troup of dogs thatloitered in an alley back of the store, took Sam for a walk into thecountry.
"I will continue this talk of love," said Telfer, striking at weeds alongthe road with his cane and from time to time calling sharply to the dogsthat, filled with delight at being abroad, ran growling and tumbling overeach other in the dusty road.
"That Freedom Smith is a sample of life in this town. At the word love hedrops his feet upon the floor and pretends to be filled with disgust. Hewill talk of corn or steers or of the stinking hides that he buys, but atthe mention of the word love he is like a hen that has seen a hawk in thesky. He runs about in circles making a fuss. 'Here! Here! Here!' he cries,'you are making public something that should be kept hidden. You are doingin the light of day what should only be done with a shamed face in adarkened room.' Why, boy, if I were a woman in this town I would not standit--I would go to New York, to France, to Paris--To be wooed for but apassing moment by a shame-faced yokel without art--uh--it is unthinkable."
The man and the boy walked in silence. The dogs, scenting a rabbit,disappeared across a long pasture, their master letting them go. From timeto time he threw back his head and took long breaths of the night air.
"I am not like banker Walker," he declared. "He thinks of the growing cornin terms of fat steers feeding on the Rabbit Run farm; I think of it assomething majestic. I see the long corn rows with the men and the horseshalf hidden, hot and breathless, and I think of a vast river of life. Icatch a breath of the flame that was in the mind of the man who said, 'Theland is flowing with milk and honey.' I am made happy by my thoughts notby the dollars clinking in my pocket.
"And then in the fall when the corn stands shocked I see another picture.Here and there in companies stand the armies of the corn. It puts a ringin my voice to look at them. 'These orderly armies has mankind brought outof chaos,' I say to myself. 'On a smoking black ball flung by the hand ofGod out of illimitable space has man stood up these armies to defend hishome against the grim attacking armies of want.'"
Telfer stopped and stood in the road with his legs spread apart. He tookoff his hat and throwing back his head laughed up at the stars.
"Freedom Smith should hear me now," he cried, rocking back and forth withlaughter and switching his cane at the boy's legs so that Sam had to hopmerrily about in the road to avoid it. "Flung by the hand of God out ofillimitable space--eh! not bad, eh! I should be in Congress. I am wastedhere. I am throwing priceless eloquence to dogs who prefer to chaserabbits and to a boy who is the worst little money grubber in the town."
The midsummer madness that had seized Telfer passed and for a time hewalked in silence. Suddenly, putting his arm on the boy's shoulder, hestopped and pointed to where a faint light in the sky marked the lightedtown.
"They are good people," he said, "but their ways are not my ways or yourways. You will go out of the town. You have genius. You will be a man offinance. I have watched you. You are not niggardly and you do not cheatand lie--result--you will not be a little business man. What have you? Youhave the gift of seeing dollars where the rest of the boys of the town seenothing and you are tireless after those dollars--you will be a big man ofdollars, it is plain." Into his voice came a touch of bitterness. "I alsowas marked out. Why do I carry a cane? why do I not buy a farm and raisesteers? I am the most worthless thing alive. I have the touch of geniuswithout the energy to make it count."
Sam's mind that had been inflamed by the kiss of the girl cooled in thepresence of Telfer. In the summer madness of the talking man there wassomething soothing to the fever in his blood. He followed the wordseagerly, seeing pictures, getting thrills, filled with happiness.
At the edge of town a buggy passed the walking pair. In the buggy sat ayoung farmer, his arm about the waist of a girl, her head upon hisshoulder. Far in the distance sounded the faint call of the dogs. Sam andTelfer sat down on a grassy bank under a tree while Telfer rolled andlighted a cigarette.
"As I promised, I will talk to you of love," he said, making a wide sweepwith his arm each time as he put his cigarette into his mouth.
The grassy bank on which they lay had the rich, burned smell of the hotdays. A wind rustled the standing corn that formed a kind of wall behindthem. The moon was in the sky and shone down across bank after bank ofserried clouds. The grandiloquence went out of the voice of Telfer and hisface became serious.
"My foolishness is more than half earnest," he said. "I think that a manor boy who has set for himself a task had better let women and girlsalone. If he be a man of genius, he has a purpose independent of all theworld, and should cut and slash and pound his way toward his mark,forgetting every one, particularly the woman that would come to grips withhim. She also has a mark toward which she goes. She is at war with him andhas a purpose that is not his purpose. She believes that the pursuit ofwomen is an end for a life. For all they now condemn Mike McCarthy whowent to the asylum because of them and who, while loving life, came nearto taking life, the women of Caxton do not condemn his madness forthemselves; they do not blame him for loitering away his good years or formaking an abortive mess of his good brain. While he made an art of thepursuit of women they applauded secretly. Did not twelve of them acceptthe challenge thrown out by his eyes as he loitered in the streets?"
The man, who had begun talking quietly and seriously, raised his voice andwaved the lighted cigarette in the air and the boy who had begun to thinkagain of the dark-skinned daughter of banker Walker listened attentively.The barking of the dogs grew nearer.
"If you as a boy can get from me, a grown man, an understanding of thepurpose of women you will not have lived in this town for nothing. Setyour mark at money making if you will, but drive at that. Let yourself butgo and a sweet wistful pair of eyes seen in a street crowd or a pair oflittle feet running over a dance floor will retard your growth for years.No man or boy can grow toward the purpose of a life while he thinks ofwomen. Let him try it and he will be undone. What is to him a passinghumour is to them an end. They are diabolically clever. They will run andstop and run and stop again, keeping just without his reach. He sees themhere and there about him. His mind is filled with vague, deliciousthoughts that come out of the very air; before he realises what he hasdone he has spent his years in vain pursuit and turning finds himself oldand undone."
Telfer began jabbing at the ground with his stick.
"I had my chance. In New York I had money to live on and time to have madean artist of myself. I won prize after prize. The master, walking up anddown back of us, lingered longest over my easel. There was a fellow satbeside me who had nothing. I made sport of him and called him Sleepy Jockafter a dog we used to have about our house here in Caxton. Now I am hereidly waiting for death and that Jock, where is he? Only last week I saw ina paper that he had won a place among the world's great artists by apicture he has painted. In the school I watched for a look in the eyes ofthe girl students and went about with them night after night winning, likeMike McCarthy, fruitless victories. Sleepy Jock had the best of it. He didnot look about with open eyes but kept peering instead at the face of themaster. My days were full of small successes. I could wear clothes. Icould make soft-eyed girls turn to look at me in a dance hall. I remembera night. We students gave a dance and Sleepy Jock came. He went aboutasking for dances and the girls laughed and told him they had none togive, that the dances were taken. I followed him and had my ears filledwith flattery and my card with names. In riding the wave of small successI got the habit of small success. When I could not catch the line I wantedto make a drawing live, I dropped my pencil and, taking a girl upon myarm, went for a day in the country. Once, sitting in a restaurant, Ioverheard two women talking of the beauty of my eyes and was made happyfor a week."
Telfer threw up his hands in disgust.
"My flow of words, my ready trick of talking; to what does it bring me?Let me tell you. It has brought me to this--that at fifty I, who mighthave been an artist fixing the minds of thousands upon some thing ofbeauty or of truth, have become a village cut-up, a pot-house wit, aflinger of idle words into the air of a village intent upon raising corn.
"If you ask me why, I tell you that my mind was paralysed by small successand if you ask me where I got the taste for that, I tell you that I got itwhen I saw it lurking in a woman's eyes and heard the pleasant littlesongs that lull to sleep upon a woman's lips."
The boy, sitting upon the grassy bank beside Telfer, began thinking oflife in Caxton. The man smoking the cigarette fell into one of his raresilences. The boy thought of girls that had come into his mind at night,of how he had been thrilled by a glance from the eyes of a little blueeyed school girl who had once visited at Freedom Smith's home and of howhe had gone at night to stand under her window.
In Caxton adolescent love had about it a virility befitting a land thatraised so many bushels of yellow corn and drove so many fat steers throughthe streets to be loaded upon cars. Men and women went their waysbelieving, with characteristic American what-boots-it attitude toward theneeds of childhood, that it was well for growing boys and girls to be muchalone together. To leave them alone together was a principle with them.When a young man called upon his sweetheart, her parents sat in thepresence of the two with apologetic eyes and presently disappeared leavingthem alone together. When boys' and girls' parties were given in Caxtonhouses, parents went away leaving the children to shift for themselves.
"Now have a good time and don't tear the house down," they said, going offupstairs.
Left to themselves the children played kissing games and young men andtall half-formed girls sat on the front porches in the darkness, thrilledand half frightened, getting through their instincts, crudely and withoutguidance, their first peep at the mystery of life. They kissedpassionately and the young men, walking home, lay upon their beds feveredand unnaturally aroused, thinking thoughts.
Young men went into the company of girls time and again without knowingaught of them except that they caused a stirring of their whole being, akind of riot of the senses to which they returned on other evenings as adrunkard to his cups. After such an evening they found themselves, on thenext morning, confused and filled with vague longings. They had lost theirkeenness for fun, they heard without hearing the talk of the men about thestation and in the stores, they went slinking through the streets ingroups and people seeing them nodded their heads and said, "It is theloutish age."
If Sam did not have a loutish age it was due to his tireless struggle toincrease the totals at the foot of the pages in the yellow bankbook, tothe growing ill health of his mother that had begun to frighten him, andto the society of Valmore, Wildman, Freedom Smith, and the man who now satmusing beside him. He began to think he would have nothing more to do withthe Walker girl. He remembered his sister's affair with a young farmer andshuddered at the crude vulgarity of it. He looked over the shoulder of theman sitting beside him absorbed in thought, and saw the rolling fieldsstretched away in the moonlight and into his mind came Telfer's speech. Sovivid, so moving, seemed the picture of the armies of standing corn whichmen had set up in the fields to protect themselves against the march ofpitiless Nature, and Sam, holding the picture in his mind as he followedthe sense of Telfer's talk, thought that all society had resolved itselfinto a few sturdy souls who went on and on regardless, and a hunger tomake of himself such another arose engulfing him. The desire within himseemed so compelling that he turned and haltingly tried to express whatwas in his mind.
"I will try," he stammered, "I will try to be a man. I will try to nothave anything to do with them--with women. I will work and make money-and--and----"
Speech left him. He rolled over and lying on his stomach looked at theground.
"To Hell with women and girls," he burst forth as though throwingsomething distasteful out of his throat.
In the road a clamour arose. The dogs, giving up the pursuit of rabbits,came barking and growling into sight and scampered up the grassy bank,covering the man and the boy. Shaking off the reaction upon his sensitivenature of the emotions of the boy Telfer arose. His _sang froid_ hadreturned to him. Cutting right and left with his stick at the dogs hecried joyfully, "We have had enough of eloquence from man, boy, and dog.We will be on our way. We will get this boy Sam home and tucked into bed."