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A DAUGHTER OF THE LAND


by

Gene Stratton-Porter




CONTENTS

Chapter

I. The Wings of Morning
II. An Embryo Mind Reader
III. Peregrinations
IV. A Question of Contracts
V. The Prodigal Daughter
VI. Kate's Private Pupil
VII. Helping Nancy Ellen and Robert to Establish a Home
VIII. The History of a Leghorn Hat
IX. A Sunbonnet Girl
X. John Jardine's Courtship
XI. A Business Proposition
XII. Two Letters
XIII. The Bride
XIV. Starting Married Life
XV. A New Idea
XVI. The Work of the Sun
XVII. The Banner Hand
XVIII. Kate Takes the Bit in Her Teeth
XIX. "As a Man Soweth"
XX. "For a Good Girl"
XXI. Life's Boomerang
XXII. Somewhat of Polly
XXIII. Kate's Heavenly Time
XXIV. Polly Tries Her Wings
XXV. One More for Kate
XXVI. The Winged Victory
XXVII. Blue Ribbon Corn
XXVIII. The Eleventh Hour




To Gene Stratton II




A DAUGHTER OF THE LAND



CHAPTER I

THE WINGS OF MORNING

"TAKE the wings of Morning."

Kate Bates followed the narrow footpath rounding the corner of the
small country church, as the old minister raised his voice slowly and
impressively to repeat the command he had selected for his text.
Fearing that her head would be level with the windows, she bent and
walked swiftly past the church; but the words went with her, iterating
and reiterating themselves in her brain. Once she paused to glance
back toward the church, wondering what the minister would say in
expounding that text. She had a fleeting thought of slipping in,
taking the back seat and listening to the sermon. The remembrance that
she had not dressed for church deterred her; then her face twisted
grimly as she again turned to the path, for it occurred to her that she
had nothing else to wear if she had started to attend church instead of
going to see her brother.

As usual, she had left her bed at four o'clock; for seven hours she had
cooked, washed dishes, made beds, swept, dusted, milked, churned,
following the usual routine of a big family in the country. Then she
had gone upstairs, dressed in clean gingham and confronted her mother.

"I think I have done my share for to-day," she said. "Suppose you call
on our lady school-mistress for help with dinner. I'm going to Adam's."

Mrs. Bates lifted her gaunt form to very close six feet of height,
looking narrowly at her daughter.

"Well, what the nation are you going to Adam's at this time a-Sunday
for?" she demanded.

"Oh, I have a curiosity to learn if there is one of the eighteen
members of this family who gives a cent what becomes of me!" answered
Kate, her eyes meeting and looking clearly into her mother's.

"You are not letting yourself think he would 'give a cent' to send you
to that fool normal-thing, are you?"

"I am not! But it wasn't a 'fool thing' when Mary and Nancy Ellen, and
the older girls wanted to go. You even let Mary go to college two
years."

"Mary had exceptional ability," said Mrs. Bates.

"I wonder how she convinced you of it. None of the rest of us can
discover it," said Kate.

"What you need is a good strapping, Miss."

"I know it; but considering the facts that I am larger than you, and
was eighteen in September, I shouldn't advise you to attempt it. What
is the difference whether I was born in '62 or '42? Give me the chance
you gave Mary, and I'll prove to you that I can do anything she has
done, without having 'exceptional ability!'"

"The difference is that I am past sixty now. I was stout as an ox when
Mary wanted to go to school. It is your duty and your job to stay here
and do this work."

"To pay for having been born last? Not a bit more than if I had been
born first. Any girl in the family owes you as much for life as I do;
it is up to the others to pay back in service, after they are of age,
if it is to me. I have done my share. If Father were not the richest
farmer in the county, and one of the richest men, it would be
different. He can afford to hire help for you, quite as well as he can
for himself."

"Hire help! Who would I get to do the work here?"

"You'd have to double your assistants. You could not hire two women
who would come here and do so much work as I do in a day. That is why I
decline to give up teaching, and stay here to slave at your option, for
gingham dresses and cowhide shoes, of your selection. If I were a boy,
I'd work three years more and then I would be given two hundred acres
of land, have a house and barn built for me, and a start of stock given
me, as every boy in this family has had at twenty-one."

"A man is a man! He founds a family, he runs the Government! It is a
different matter," said Mrs. Bates.

"It surely is; in this family. But I think, even with us, a man would
have rather a difficult proposition on his hands to found a family
without a woman; or to run the Government either."

"All right! Go on to Adam and see what you get."

"I'll have the satisfaction of knowing that Nancy Ellen gets dinner,
anyway," said Kate as she passed through the door and followed the long
path to the gate, from there walking beside the road in the direction
of her brother's home. There were many horses in the pasture and
single and double buggies in the barn; but it never occurred to Kate
that she might ride: it was Sunday and the horses were resting. So
she followed the path beside the fences, rounded the corner of the
church and went on her way with the text from which the pastor was
preaching, hammering in her brain. She became so absorbed in thought
that she scarcely saw the footpath she followed, while June flowered,
and perfumed, and sang all around her.

She was so intent upon the words she had heard that her feet
unconsciously followed a well-defined branch from the main path leading
into the woods, from the bridge, where she sat on a log, and for the
unnumbered time, reviewed her problem. She had worked ever since she
could remember. Never in her life had she gotten to school before noon
on Monday, because of the large washings. After the other work was
finished she had spent nights and mornings ironing, when she longed to
study, seldom finishing before Saturday. Summer brought an endless
round of harvesting, canning, drying; winter brought butchering, heaps
of sewing, and postponed summer work. School began late in the fall
and closed early in spring, with teachers often inefficient; yet
because she was a close student and kept her books where she could take
a peep and memorize and think as she washed dishes and cooked, she had
thoroughly mastered all the country school near her home could teach
her. With six weeks of a summer Normal course she would be as well
prepared to teach as any of her sisters were, with the exception of
Mary, who had been able to convince her parents that she possessed two
college years' worth of "ability."

Kate laid no claim to "ability," herself; but she knew she was as
strong as most men, had an ordinary brain that could be trained, and
while she was far from beautiful she was equally as far from being
ugly, for her skin was smooth and pink, her eyes large and blue-gray,
her teeth even and white. She missed beauty because her cheekbones
were high, her mouth large, her nose barely escaping a pug; but she had
a real "crown of glory" in her hair, which was silken fine, long and
heavy, of sunshine-gold in colour, curling naturally around her face
and neck. Given pure blood to paint such a skin with varying emotions,
enough wind to ravel out a few locks of such hair, the proportions of a
Venus and perfect health, any girl could rest very well assured of
being looked at twice, if not oftener.

Kate sat on a log, a most unusual occurrence for her, for she was
familiar only with bare, hot houses, furnished with meagre necessities;
reeking stables, barnyards and vegetable gardens. She knew less of the
woods than the average city girl; but there was a soothing wind, a
sweet perfume, a calming silence that quieted her tense mood and
enabled her to think clearly; so the review went on over years of work
and petty economies, amounting to one grand aggregate that gave to each
of seven sons house, stock, and land at twenty-one; and to each of nine
daughters a bolt of muslin and a fairly decent dress when she married,
as the seven older ones did speedily, for they were fine, large,
upstanding girls, some having real beauty, all exceptionally
well-trained economists and workers. Because her mother had the
younger daughters to help in the absence of the elder, each girl had
been allowed the time and money to prepare herself to teach a country
school; all of them had taught until they married. Nancy Ellen, the
beauty of the family, the girl next older than Kate, had taken the home
school for the second winter. Going to school to Nancy Ellen had been
the greatest trial of Kate's life, until the possibility of not going
to Normal had confronted her.

Nancy Ellen was almost as large as Kate, quite as pink, her features
assembled in a manner that made all the difference, her jet-black hair
as curly as Kate's, her eyes big and dark, her lips red. As for
looking at Kate twice, no one ever looked at her at all if Nancy Ellen
happened to be walking beside her. Kate bore that without protest; it
would have wounded her pride to rebel openly; she did Nancy Ellen's
share of the work to allow her to study and have her Normal course; she
remained at home plainly clothed to loan Nancy Ellen her best dress
when she attended Normal; but when she found that she was doomed to
finish her last year at school under Nancy Ellen, to work double so
that her sister might go to school early and remain late, coming home
tired and with lessons to prepare for the morrow, some of the
spontaneity left Kate's efforts.

She had a worse grievance when Nancy Ellen hung several new dresses and
a wrapper on her side of the closet after her first pay-day, and
furnished her end of the bureau with a white hair brush and a brass box
filled with pink powder, with a swan's-down puff for its application.
For three months Kate had waited and hoped that at least "thank you"
would be vouchsafed her; when it failed for that length of time she did
two things: she studied so diligently that her father called her into
the barn and told her that if before the school, she asked Nancy Ellen
another question she could not answer, he would use the buggy whip on
her to within an inch of her life. The buggy whip always had been a
familiar implement to Kate, so she stopped asking slippery questions,
worked harder than ever, and spent her spare time planning what she
would hang in the closet and put on her end of the bureau when she had
finished her Normal course, and was teaching her first term of school.

Now she had learned all that Nancy Ellen could teach her, and much that
Nancy Ellen never knew: it was time for Kate to be starting away to
school. Because it was so self-evident that she should have what the
others had had, she said nothing about it until the time came; then she
found her father determined that she should remain at home to do the
housework, for no compensation other than her board and such clothes as
she always had worn, her mother wholly in accord with him, and marvel
of all, Nancy Ellen quite enthusiastic on the subject.

Her father always had driven himself and his family like slaves, while
her mother had ably seconded his efforts. Money from the sale of
chickens, turkeys, butter, eggs, and garden truck that other women of
the neighbourhood used for extra clothing for themselves and their
daughters and to prettify their homes, Mrs. Bates handed to her husband
to increase the amount necessary to purchase the two hundred acres of
land for each son when he came of age. The youngest son had farmed his
land with comfortable profit and started a bank account, while his
parents and two sisters were still saving and working to finish the
last payment. Kate thought with bitterness that if this final payment
had been made possibly there would have been money to spare for her;
but with that thought came the knowledge that her father had numerous
investments on which he could have realized and made the payments had
he not preferred that they should be a burden on his family.

"Take the wings of morning," repeated Kate, with all the emphasis the
old minister had used. "Hummm! I wonder what kind of wings. Those of
a peewee would scarcely do for me; I'd need the wings of an eagle to
get me anywhere, and anyway it wasn't the wings of a bird I was to
take, it was the wings of morning. I wonder what the wings of morning
are, and how I go about taking them. God knows where my wings come in;
by the ache in my feet I seem to have walked, mostly. Oh, what ARE the
wings of morning?"

Kate stared straight before her, sitting absorbed and motionless. Close
in front of her a little white moth fluttered over the twigs and
grasses. A kingbird sailed into view and perched on a brush-heap
preparatory to darting after the moth. While the bird measured the
distance and waited for the moth to rise above the entangling grasses,
with a sweep and a snap a smaller bird, very similar in shape and
colouring, flashed down, catching the moth and flying high among the
branches of a big tree.

"Aha! You missed your opportunity!" said Kate to the kingbird.

She sat straighter suddenly. "Opportunity," she repeated. "Here is
where I am threatened with missing mine. Opportunity! I wonder now if
that might not be another name for 'the wings of morning.' Morning is
winging its way past me, the question is: do I sit still and let it
pass, or do I take its wings and fly away?"

Kate brooded on that awhile, then her thought formulated into words
again.

"It isn't as if Mother were sick or poor, she is perfectly well and
stronger than nine women out of ten of her age; Father can afford to
hire all the help she needs; there is nothing cruel or unkind in
leaving her; and as for Nancy Ellen, why does the fact that I am a few
years younger than she, make me her servant? Why do I cook for her,
and make her bed, and wash her clothes, while she earns money to spend
on herself? And she is doing everything in her power to keep me at it,
because she likes what she is doing and what it brings her, and she
doesn't give a tinker whether I like what I am doing or not; or whether
I get anything I want out of it or not; or whether I miss getting off
to Normal on time or not. She is blame selfish, that's what she is, so
she won't like the jolt she's going to get; but it will benefit her
soul, her soul that her pretty face keeps her from developing, so I
shall give her a little valuable assistance. Mother will be furious
and Father will have the buggy whip convenient; but I am going! I
don't know how, or when, but I am GOING.

"Who has a thirst for knowledge, in Helicon may slake it,
If he has still, the Roman will, to find a way, or make it."

Kate arose tall and straight and addressed the surrounding woods. "Now
you just watch me 'find a way or make it,'" she said. "I am 'taking
the wings of morning,' observe my flight! See me cut curves and
circles and sail and soar around all the other Bates girls the Lord
ever made, one named Nancy Ellen in particular. It must be far past
noon, and I've much to do to get ready. I fly!"

Kate walked back to the highway, but instead of going on she turned
toward home. When she reached the gate she saw Nancy Ellen, dressed
her prettiest, sitting beneath a cherry tree reading a book, in very
plain view from the road. As Kate came up the path: "Hello!" said
Nancy Ellen. "Wasn't Adam at home?"

"I don't know," answered Kate. "I was not there."

"You weren't? Why, where were you?" asked Nancy Ellen.

"Oh, I just took a walk!" answered Kate.

"Right at dinner time on Sunday? Well, I'll be switched!" cried Nancy
Ellen.

"Pity you weren't oftener, when you most needed it," said Kate, passing
up the walk and entering the door. Her mother asked the same questions
so Kate answered them.

"Well, I am glad you came home," said Mrs. Bates. "There was no use
tagging to Adam with a sorry story, when your father said flatly that
you couldn't go."

"But I must go!" urged Kate. "I have as good a right to my chance as
the others. If you put your foot down and say so, Mother, Father will
let me go. Why shouldn't I have the same chance as Nancy Ellen?
Please Mother, let me go!"

"You stay right where you are. There is an awful summer's work before
us," said Mrs. Bates.

"There always is," answered Kate. "But now is just my chance while you
have Nancy Ellen here to help you."

"She has some special studying to do, and you very well know that she
has to attend the County Institute, and take the summer course of
training for teachers."

"So do I," said Kate, stubbornly. "You really will not help me,
Mother?"

"I've said my say! Your place is here! Here you stay!" answered her
mother.

"All right," said Kate, "I'll cross you off the docket of my hopes, and
try Father."

"Well, I warn you, you had better not! He has been nagged until his
patience is lost," said Mrs. Bates.

Kate closed her lips and started in search of her father. She found
him leaning on the pig pen watching pigs grow into money, one of his
most favoured occupations. He scowled at her, drawing his huge frame
to full height.

"I don't want to hear a word you have to say," he said. "You are the
youngest, and your place is in the kitchen helping your mother. We
have got the last installment to pay on Hiram's land this summer.
March back to the house and busy yourself with something useful!"

Kate looked at him, from his big-boned, weather-beaten face, to his
heavy shoes, then turned without a word and went back toward the house.
She went around it to the cherry tree and with no preliminaries said to
her sister: "Nancy Ellen, I want you to lend me enough money to fix my
clothes a little and pay my way to Normal this summer. I can pay it
all back this winter. I'll pay every cent with interest, before I
spend any on anything else."

"Why, you must be crazy!" said Nancy Ellen.

"Would I be any crazier than you, when you wanted to go?" asked Kate.

"But you were here to help Mother," said Nancy Ellen.

"And you are here to help her now," persisted Kate.

"But I've got to fix up my clothes for the County Institute," said
Nancy Ellen, "I'll be gone most of the summer."

"I have just as much right to go as you had," said Kate.

"Father and Mother both say you shall not go," answered her sister.

"I suppose there is no use to remind you that I did all in my power to
help you to your chance."

"You did no more than you should have done," said Nancy Ellen.

"And this is no more than you should do for me, in the circumstances,"
said Kate.

"You very well know I can't! Father and Mother would turn me out of
the house," said Nancy Ellen.

"I'd be only too glad if they would turn me out," said Kate. "You can
let me have the money if you like. Mother wouldn't do anything but
talk; and Father would not strike you, or make you go, he always
favours you."

"He does nothing of the sort! I can't, and I won't, so there!" cried
Nancy Ellen.

"'Won't,' is the real answer, 'so there,'" said Kate.

She went into the cellar and ate some cold food from the cupboard and
drank a cup of milk. Then she went to her room and looked over all of
her scanty stock of clothing, laying in a heap the pieces that needed
mending. She took the clothes basket to the wash room, which was the
front of the woodhouse, in summer; built a fire, heated water, and
while making it appear that she was putting the clothes to soak, as
usual, she washed everything she had that was fit to use, hanging the
pieces to dry in the building.

"Watch me fly!" muttered Kate. "I don't seem to be cutting those
curves so very fast; but I'm moving. I believe now, having exhausted
all home resources, that Adam is my next objective. He is the only one
in the family who ever paid the slightest attention to me, maybe he
cares a trifle what becomes of me, but Oh, how I dread Agatha!
However, watch me take wing! If Adam fails me I have six remaining
prospects among my loving brothers, and if none of them has any feeling
for me or faith in me there yet remain my seven dear brothers-in-law,
before I appeal to the tender mercies of the neighbours; but how I
dread Agatha! Yet I fly!"



CHAPTER II

AN EMBRYO MIND READER

KATE was far from physical flight as she pounded the indignation of her
soul into the path with her substantial feet. Baffled and angry, she
kept reviewing the situation as she went swiftly on her way, regardless
of dust and heat. She could see no justice in being forced into a
position that promised to end in further humiliation and defeat of her
hopes. If she only could find Adam at the stable, as she passed, and
talk with him alone! Secretly, she well knew that the chief source of
her dread of meeting her sister-in-law was that to her Agatha was so
funny that ridiculing her had been regarded as perfectly legitimate
pastime. For Agatha WAS funny; but she had no idea of it, and could no
more avoid it than a bee could avoid being buzzy, so the manner in
which her sisters-in-law imitated her and laughed at her, none too
secretly, was far from kind. While she never guessed what was going
on, she realized the antagonism in their attitude and stoutly resented
it.

Adam was his father's favourite son, a stalwart, fine-appearing, big
man, silent, honest, and forceful; the son most after the desires of
the father's heart, yet Adam was the one son of the seven who had
ignored his father's law that all of his boys were to marry strong,
healthy young women, poor women, working women. Each of the others at
coming of age had contracted this prescribed marriage as speedily as
possible, first asking father Bates, the girl afterward. If father
Bates disapproved, the girl was never asked at all. And the reason for
this docility on the part of these big, matured men, lay wholly in the
methods of father Bates. He gave those two hundred acres of land to
each of them on coming of age, and the same sum to each for the
building of a house and barn and the purchase of stock; gave it to them
in words, and with the fullest assurance that it was theirs to improve,
to live on, to add to. Each of them had seen and handled his deed,
each had to admit he never had known his father to tell a lie or
deviate the least from fairness in a deal of any kind, each had been
compelled to go in the way indicated by his father for years; but not a
man of them held his own deed. These precious bits of paper remained
locked in the big wooden chest beside the father's bed, while the land
stood on the records in his name; the taxes they paid him each year he,
himself, carried to the county clerk; so that he was the largest
landholder in the county and one of the very richest men. It must have
been extreme unction to his soul to enter the county office and ask for
the assessment on those "little parcels of land of mine." Men treated
him very deferentially, and so did his sons. Those documents carefully
locked away had the effect of obtaining ever-ready help to harvest his
hay and wheat whenever he desired, to make his least wish quickly
deferred to, to give him authority and the power for which he lived and
worked earlier, later, and harder than any other man of his day and
locality.

Adam was like him as possible up to the time he married, yet Adam was
the only one of his sons who disobeyed him; but there was a redeeming
feature. Adam married a slender tall slip of a woman, four years his
senior, who had been teaching in the Hartley schools when he began
courting her. She was a prim, fussy woman, born of a prim father and a
fussy mother, so what was to be expected? Her face was narrow and set,
her body and her movements almost rigid, her hair, always parted,
lifted from each side and tied on the crown, fell in stiff little
curls, the back part hanging free. Her speech, as precise as her
movements, was formed into set habit through long study of the
dictionary. She was born antagonistic to whatever existed, no matter
what it was. So surely as every other woman agreed on a dress, a
recipe, a house, anything whatever, so surely Agatha thought out and



Online LibraryGene Stratton-PorterA Daughter of the Land → online text (page 1 of 28)