MOTHER," said Peter Kronborg to his wife one morning about two weeks after Wunsch's departure, "how would you like to drive out to Copper Hole with me to-day?
Mrs. Kronborg said she thought she would enjoy the drive. She put on her gray cashmere dress and gold watch and chain, as befitted a minister's wife, and while her husband was dressing she packed a black oilcloth satchel with such clothing as she and Thor would need overnight.
Copper Hole was a settlement fifteen miles northwest of Moonstone where Mr. Kronborg preached every Friday evening. There was a big spring there and a creek and a few irrigating ditches. It was a community of discouraged agriculturists who had disastrously experimented with dry farming. Mr. Kronborg always drove out one day and back the next, spending the night with one of his parishioners. Often, when the weather was fine, his wife accompanied him. To-day they set out from home after the midday meal, leaving Tillie in charge of the house. Mrs. Kronborg's maternal feeling was always garnered up in the baby, whoever the baby happened to be. If she had the baby with her, the others could look out for themselves. Thor, of course, was not, accurately speaking, a baby any longer. In the matter of nourishment he was quite independent of his mother, though this independence had not been won without a struggle. Thor was conservative in all things, and the whole family had anguished with him when he was being weaned. Being the youngest, he was still the baby for Mrs. Kronborg, though he was nearly four years old and sat up boldly on her lap this afternoon, holding on to the ends of the lines and shouting "mup, mup, horsey." His father watched him affectionately and hummed hymn tunes in the jovial way that was sometimes such a trial to Thea.
Mrs. Kronborg was enjoying the sunshine and the brilliant sky and all the faintly marked features of the dazzling, monotonous landscape. She had a rather unusual capacity for getting the flavor of places and of people. Although she was so enmeshed in family cares most of the time, she could emerge serene when she was away from them. For a mother of seven, she had a singularly unprejudiced point of view. She was, moreover, a fatalist, and as she did not attempt to direct things beyond her control, she found a good deal of time to enjoy the ways of man and nature.
When they were well upon their road, out where the first lean pasture lands began and the sand grass made a faint showing between the sagebushes, Mr. Kronborg dropped his tune and turned to his wife. "Mother, I 've been thinking about something."
"I guessed you had. What is it?" She shifted Thor to her left knee, where he would be more out of the way.
"Well, it 's about Thea. Mr. Follansbee came to my study at the church the other day and said they would like to have their two girls take lessons of Thea. Then I sounded Miss Meyers" (Miss Meyers was the organist in Mr. Kronborg's church) "and she said there was a good deal of talk about whether Thea would n't take over Wunsch's pupils. She said if Thea stopped school she would n't wonder if she could get pretty much all Wunsch's class. People think Thea knows about all Wunsch could teach."
Mrs. Kronborg looked thoughtful. "Do you think we ought to take her out of school so young?"
"She is young, but next year would be her last year any way. She's far along for her age. And she can't learn much under the principal we 've got now, can she?"
"No, I m afraid she can't," his wife admitted. "She frets a good deal and says that man always has to look in the back of the book for the answers. She hates all that diagramming they have to do, and I think myself it 's a waste of time."
Mr. Kronborg settled himself back into the seat and slowed the mare to a walk. "You see, it occurs to me that we might raise Thea's prices, so it would be worth her while. Seventy-five cents for hour lessons, fifty cents for half-hour lessons. If she got, say two thirds of Wunsch's class, that would bring her in upwards of ten dollars a week. Better pay than teaching a country school, and there would be more work in vacation than in winter. Steady work twelve months in the year; that 's an advantage. And she 'd be living at home, with no expenses."
"There 'd be talk if you raised her prices," said Mrs. Kronborg dubiously.
"At first there would. But Thea is so much the best musician in town that they 'd all come into line after a while. A good many people in Moonstone have been making money lately, and have bought new pianos. There were ten new pianos shipped in here from Denver in the last year. People ain't going to let them stand idle; too much money invested. I believe Thea can have as many scholars as she can handle, if we set her up a little."
"How set her up, do you mean?" Mrs. Kronborg felt a certain reluctance about accepting this plan, though she had not yet had time to think out her reasons.
"Well, I 've been thinking for some time we could make good use of another room. We could n't give up the parlor to her all the time. If we built another room on the ell and put the piano in there, she could give lessons all day long and it would n't bother us. We could build a clothes-press in it, and put in a bed-lounge and a dresser and let Anna have it for her sleeping-room. She needs a place of her own, now that she 's beginning to be dressy."
"Seems like Thea ought to have the choicer of the room, herself," said Mrs. Kronborg.
"But, my dear, she don't want it. Won't have it. I sounded her coming home from church on Sunday; asked her if she would like to sleep in a new room, if we built on. She fired up like a little wild-cat and said she 'd made her own room all herself, and she did n't think anybody ought to take it away from her."
"She don't mean to be impertinent, father. She 's made decided that way, like my father." Mrs. Kronborg spoke warmly. "I never have any trouble with the child. I remember my father's ways and go at her carefully. Thea 's all right."
Mr. Kronborg laughed indulgently and pinched Thor's full cheek. "Oh, I did n't mean anything against your girl, mother! She 's all right, but she 's a little wild-cat, just the same. I think Ray Kennedy's planning to spoil a born old maid."
"Huh! She 'll get something a good sight better than Ray Kennedy, you see! Thea 's an awful smart girl. I 've seen a good many girls take music lessons in my time, but I ain't seen one that took to it so. Wunsch said so, too. She 's got the making of something in her."
"I don't deny that, and the sooner she gets at it in a businesslike way, the better. She 's the kind that takes responsibility, and it 'll be good for her."
Mrs. Kronborg was thoughtful. "In some ways it will, maybe. But there 's a good deal of strain about teaching youngsters, and she 's always worked so hard with the scholars she has. I 've often listened to her pounding it into 'em. I don't want to work her too hard. She 's so serious that she 's never had what you might call any real childhood. Seems like she ought to have the next few years sort of free and easy. She 'll be tied down with responsibilities soon enough."
Mr. Kronborg patted his wife's arm. "Don't you believe it, mother. Thea is not the marrying kind. I 've watched 'em. Anna will marry before long and make a good wife, but I don't see Thea bringing up a family. She 's got a good deal of her mother in her, but she has n't got all. She 's too peppery and too fond of having her own way. Then she 's always got to be ahead in everything. That kind make good church-workers and missionaries and school teachers, but they don't make good wives. They fret all their energy away, like colts, and get cut on the wire."
Mrs. Kronborg laughed. "Give me the graham crackers I put in your pocket for Thor. He 's hungry. You 're a funny man, Peter. A body would n't think, to hear you, you was talking about your own daughters. I guess you see through 'em. Still, even if Thea ain't apt to have children of her own, I don't know as that 's a good reason why she should wear herself out on other people's."
"That 's just the point, mother. A girl with all that energy has got to do something, same as a boy, to keep her out of mischief. If you don't want her to marry Ray, let her do something to make herself independent."
"Well, I 'm not against it. It might be the best thing for her. I wish I felt sure she would n't worry. She takes things hard. She nearly cried herself sick about Wunsch's going away. She 's the smartest child of 'em all, Peter, by a long ways."
Peter Kronborg smiled. "There you go, Anna. That 's you all over again. Now, I have no favorites; they all have their good points. But you," with a twinkle, "always did go in for brains."
Mrs. Kronborg chuckled as she wiped the cracker crumbs from Thor's chin and fists. "Well, you 're mighty conceited, Peter! But I don't know as I ever regretted it. I prefer having a family of my own to fussing with other folks' children, that 's the truth."
Before the Kronborgs reached Copper Hole, Thea's destiny was pretty well mapped out for her. Mr. Kronborg was always delighted to have an excuse for enlarging the house.
Mrs. Kronborg was quite right in her conjecture that there would be unfriendly comment in Moonstone when Thea raised her prices for music-lessons. People said she was getting too conceited for anything. Mrs. Livery Johnson put on a new bonnet and paid up all her back calls to have the pleasure of announcing in each parlor she entered that her daughters, at least, would "never pay professional prices to Thea Kronborg."
Thea raised no objection to quitting school. She was now in the "high room," as it was called, in next to the highest class, and was studying geometry and beginning Cæsar. She no longer recited her lessons to the teacher she liked, but to the Principal, a man who belonged, like Mrs. Livery Johnson, to the camp of Thea's natural enemies. He taught school because he was too lazy to work among grown-up people, and he made an easy job of it. He got out of real work by inventing useless activities for his pupils, such as the "tree-diagramming system." Thea had spent hours making trees out of "Thanatopsis," Hamlet s soliloquy, Cato on "Immortality." She agonized under this waste of time, and was only too glad to accept her father's offer of liberty.
So Thea left school the first of November. By the first of January she had eight one-hour pupils and ten half-hour pupils, and there would be more in the summer. She spent her earnings generously. She bought a new Brussels carpet for the parlor, and a rifle for Gunner and Axel, and an imitation tiger-skin coat and cap for Thor. She enjoyed being able to add to the family possessions, and thought Thor looked quite as handsome in his spots as the rich children she had seen in Denver. Thor was most complacent in his conspicuous apparel. He could walk anywhere by this time—though he always preferred to sit, or to be pulled in his cart. He was a blissfully lazy child, and had a number of long, dull plays, such as making nests for his china duck and waiting for her to lay him an egg. Thea thought him very intelligent, and she was proud that he was so big and burly. She found him restful, loved to hear him call her "sitter," and really liked his companionship, especially when she was tired. On Saturday, for instance, when she taught from nine in the morning until five in the afternoon, she liked to get off in a corner with Thor after supper, away from all the bathing and dressing and joking and talking that went on in the house, and ask him about his duck, or hear him tell one of his rambling stories.