Herbert Quick.

Vandemark's Folly online

. (page 20 of 28)
Online LibraryHerbert QuickVandemark's Folly → online text (page 20 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


matters all out if the Bunker boys had got that salt!"



CHAPTER XVI

THE FEWKESES IN CLOVER AT BLUE-GRASS MANOR

Iowa lived in the future in those days. It was a land of poverty and
privations and small things, but a land of dreams. We shivered in the
winter storms, and dreamed; we plowed and sowed and garnered in; but the
great things, the happy things, were our dreams and visions. We felt
that we were plowing the field of destiny and sowing for the harvest of
history; but we scarcely thought it. The power that went out of us as we
scored that wonderful prairie sod and built those puny towns was the
same power that nerved the heart of those who planted Massachusetts and
Rhode Island and Virginia, the power that has thrilled the world
whenever the white man has gone forth to put a realm under his feet.

Our harvest of that day seems pitifully small as I sit on my veranda and
look at my barns and silos, and see the straight rows of corn leaning
like the characters of God's handwriting across the broad intervale of
Vandemark's Folly flat, sloping to the loving pressure of the steady
warm west wind of Iowa, and clapping a million dark green hands in
acclamation of the full tide of life sucked up from the richest breast
that Mother Earth in all her bountiful curves turns to the lips of her
offspring. But all our children for all future generations shall help to
put the harvests of those days into the barns and silos of the future
state. God save it from the mildews of monopoly and tyranny, and the Red
rot of insurrection and from repression's explosions!

We were children, most of those of whom I have been writing. It was a
baby county, a baby state, and Vandemark Township was still struggling
up toward birth. "The thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts": but
after all they are only the stirrings of the event in the womb of life.
I would not have married Virginia on the day after the party at Governor
Wade's if she had in some way conveyed to me that she wanted me. I
should not have dared; for I was a child. I suppose that Magnus would
have taken Rowena Fewkes in a minute, for he was older; but I don't
know. It takes a Norwegian or a Swede a long time to get ripe.

The destinies of the county and state were in the hands of youth,
dreaming of the future: and when the untamed prairie turned and bit us,
as it did in frosts and blizzards and floods and locusts and tornadoes,
we said to each other, like the boy in the story when the dog bit his
father, "Grin and bear it, Dad! It'll be the makin' o' the pup!" Even
the older men like Judge Stone and Governor Wade and Elder Thorndyke and
heads of families like the Bemisdarfers, were dreamers: and as for such
ne'er-do-weels as the Fewkeses, they, with Celebrate's schemes for
making money, and Surrager's inventions, and their plans for palaces and
estates, were only a little more absurd in their visions than the rest
of us. The actual life of to-day is to the dreams of that day as the
wheat plant to the lily. It starts to be a lily, but the finger and
thumb of destiny - mainly in the form of heredity - turn it into the
wheat, and then into the prosaic flour and bran in the bins.

As I came driving into Monterey County, every day had its event,
different from that of the day before; but now comes a period when I
must count by years, not days, and a lot of time passes without much to
record. As for the awful to-do about the county's lost money, I heard
nothing of it, except when, once in a while, somebody, nosing into the
matter for one reason or another, would come prying around to ask me
about it. I began by telling them the whole story whenever they asked,
and Henderson L. Burns once took down what I said and made me swear to
it. Whenever I came to the jingle of the money in the bag as we put it
in the carriage on starting for the Wades', they cross-examined me till
I said I sort of seemed to kind of remember that it jingled, and anyhow
I recollected that Judge Stone had said "Hear it jingle, Jake!" This
proved either that the money was there and jingled, or that it wasn't
there and that the judge was, as N.V. said, "As guilty as hell."

Dick McGill didn't know which way the cat would jump, and kept pretty
still about it in his paper; but he printed a story on me that made
everybody laugh. "There was once a Swede," said the paper, "that was
running away from the minions of the law, and took refuge in a cabin
where they covered him with a gunny sack. When the Hawkshaws came they
asked for the Swede. No information forthcoming. 'What's in that bag?'
asked the minions. 'Sleighbells,' replied the accomplices. The minion
kicked the bag, and there came forth from under it the cry, 'Yingle!
Yingle!' We know a Dutchman who is addicted to the same sort of
ventriloquism." (Monterey _Journal_, September 3, 1857.)

In 1856 we cut our grain with cradles. In 1857 Magnus and I bought a
Seymour & Morgan hand-rake reaper. I drove two yoke of cows to this
machine, and Magnus raked off. I don't think we gained much over
cradling, except that we could work nights with the cows, and bind
day-times, or the other way around when the straw in the gavels got dry
and harsh so that heads would pull off as we cinched up the sheaves. At
that very moment, the Marsh brothers back in De Kalb County, Illinois,
were working on the greatest invention ever given to agriculture since
the making of the first steel plow, the Marsh Harvester.

Every year we broke some prairie, and our cultivated land increased. By
the fall of 1857, my little cottonwood trees showed up in a pretty grove
of green for a distance of two or three miles, and were ten to fifteen
feet high: so I could lie in the shade of the trees I had planted.

But if the trees flourished, the community did not. The panic of 1857
came on in the summer and fall; but we knew nothing, out in our little
cabins, of the excitement in the cities, the throngs on Wall Street and
in Philadelphia, the closing banks, the almost universal bankruptcy of
the country. It all came from land speculation. According to what they
said, there was more land then laid out in town-sites in Kansas than in
all the cities and towns of the settled parts of the country. In Iowa
there were town-sites along all the streams and scattered all over the
prairies. Everybody was in debt, in the business world, and when land
stopped growing in value, sales stopped, and then the day of reckoning
came. All financial panics come from land speculation. Show me a way to
keep land from advancing in value, and I will tell you how to prevent
financial panics[14].

[14] The author, when his attention is called to the Mississippi Bubble,
insists that it was nothing more nor less than betting on the land
development of a great new region. As to the "Tulipomania" which once
created a small panic in Holland, he insists that such a fool notion can
not often occur, and never can have wide-spread results like a genuine
financial panic. In which the editor is inclined to believe the best
economists will agree with, him. - G.v.d.M.

But, though we knew nothing about this general wreck and ruin back east,
we knew that we were miserably poor. In the winter of 1857-8 Magnus and
I were beggarly ragged and so short of fuel and bedding that he came
over and stayed with me, so that we could get along with one bed and one
fire. My buffalo robes were the things that kept us warm, those howling
nights, or when it was so still that we could hear the ice crack in the
creek eighty rods off. My wife has always said that Magnus and I holed
up in our den like wild animals, and sometimes like a certain domestic
one. But what with Magnus and the fiddle and his stories of Norway and
mine of the canal we amused ourselves pretty well and got along without
baths. My cows, and the chickens, and our vegetables and potatoes, and
our white and buckwheat flour and the corn-meal mush and johnny-cake
kept us fat, and I entirely outgrew my best suit, so that I put it on
for every day, and burst it at most of the seams in a week.



2

I was sorry for the people in the towns, and sold most of my eggs,
fowls, butter, cream and milk on credit: and though Virginia and I were
not on good terms and I never went to see her any more; and though
Grandma Thorndyke was, I felt sure, trying to get Virginia's mind fixed
on a better match, like Bob Wade or Paul Holbrook, I used to take eggs,
butter, milk or flour to the elder's family almost every time I went to
town: and when the weather was warm enough so that they would not
freeze, I took potatoes, turnips, and sometimes some cabbage for a
boiled dinner, with a piece of pork to go with it.

When the elder found out who was sending it he tried to thank me, but I
made him promise not to tell his family where these things came from, on
pain of not getting any more. I said I had as good right to contribute
to the church as any one, and just because I had no money it was tough
to have the little I could give made public. By this time I had worked
up quite a case, and was looking like a man injured in his finest
feelings and twitted of his poverty. The elder looked bewildered, and
promised that he wouldn't tell.

"But I'm sure, Jake, that the Lord won't let your goodness go
unrewarded, in the next world, anyhow, and I don't think in this."

I don't think he actually told, but I have reason to believe he hinted.
In fact, Kittie Fleming told me when I went down to their place after
some seed oats, that Grandma Thorndyke had said at the Flemings' dinner
table that I was an exemplary boy, in my way, and when I grew up I would
make some girl a husband who would be kind and a good provider.

"I was awful interested," she said.

"Why?" I asked; for I couldn't see for the life of me how it interested
her.

"I'm a girl," said she, "and I feel interested in - in - in such
things - husbands, and good providers." Here I grew hot all over, and
twisted around like a worm on a hot griddle. "I didn't think, when you
were playing the needle's eye with me, that you acted as if you would be
a very good husband!"

I peeked up at her through my eyebrows, and saw she was grinning at me,
and sort of blushing, herself. But I had only one word for her.

"Why?"

"You didn't seem to - to - kiss back very much," she giggled; and as I was
struggling to think of something to say (for it seemed a dreadful
indictment as I looked at her, so winning to a boy who hadn't seen a
girl for weeks) she ran off; and it was not till I was sitting by the
stove at home after washing up the dishes that evening that I thought
what a fine retort it would have been if I had offered to pay back then,
with interest, all I owed her in the way of response. I spent much of
the evening making up nice little speeches which I wished I had had the
sprawl to get off on the spur of the moment. I grew fiery hot at the
thought of how badly I had come off in this little exchange of
compliments with Kittie. Poor Kittie! She supped sorrow with a big spoon
before many years; and then had a long and happy life. I forgave her,
even at the time, for making fun of the Hell Slew Dutch boy. All the
girls made fun of me but Virginia, and she did sometimes - Virginia and
Rowena Fewkes.

Thinking of Rowena reminded me of the fact that I had not seen any of
the Fewkeses for nearly two years. This brought up the thought of Buck
Gowdy, who had carried them off to his great farmstead which he called
Blue-grass Manor. Whenever I was in conversation with him I was under a
kind of strain, for all the fact that he was as friendly with me as he
was with any one else. I remembered how I had smuggled Virginia away
from him; and wondered whether or not he had got intimate enough by this
time at Elder Thorndyke's so that she had given him any inkling as to my
share in that matter.

This brought me back to Virginia - and then the whole series of Virginia
dreams recurred. She sat in the chair which I had bought for her, in the
warm corner next the window. She was sewing. She was reading to me. She
was coming over to my chair to sit in my lap while we talked over our
adventures. She looked at my chapped and cracked hands and told me I
must wear my mittens every minute. She - but every boy can go on with the
series: every boy who has been in the hopeless but blissful state in
which I then was: a state which out of hopelessness generates hope as a
dynamo generates current.

This was followed by days of dark despondency. Magnus Thorkelson and I
were working together plowing for oats, for we did not work our oats on
the corn ground of last year then as we do now, and he tried to cheer me
up. I had been wishing that I had never left the canal; for there I
always had good clothes and money in my pocket. We couldn't stay in this
country, I said. Nobody had any money except a few money sharks, and
they robbed every one that borrowed of them with their two per cent, a
month. I was getting raggeder and raggeder every day. I wished I had not
bought this other eighty. I wished I had done anything rather than what
I had done. I wished I knew where I could get work at fair wages, and I
would let the farm go - I would that! I would be gosh-blasted if I
wouldn't, by Golding's bow-key[15]!

[15] "By Golding's bow-key" was a very solemn objurgation. It could be
used by professors of religion, but under great provocation only. It
harks back to the time when every man who had oxen named them Buck and
Golding, and the bow-key held the yoke on. Ah, those far-off, Arcadian
days, and the blessing of blowing those who lived in them! - G.v.d.M.

"Oh!" exclaimed Magnus, "you shouldn't talk so! Ve got plenty to eat.
Dere bane lots people in Norvay would yump at de shance to yange places
wit' us. What nice land here in Iovay! Some day you bane rich man. All
dis slew bane some day dry for plow. I see it in Norvay and Sveden. And
now dat ve got ralroad, dere bane t'ousan's an' t'ousan's people in
Norvay, and Denmark, and Sveden and Yermany come here to Iovay, an' you
an' your vife an' shildern bane big bugs. Yust vait, Yake. Maybe you see
your sons in county offices an' your girls married vit bankers, an' your
vife vare new calico dress every day. Yust vait, Yake. And to-night I
pop some corn if you furnish butter, hey?"

To hear the pop-corn going off in the skillet, like the volleys of
musketry we were so soon to hear at Shiloh; to see Magnus with his coat
off, stirring it round and round in the sizzling butter until one or two
big white kernels popped out as a warning that the whole regiment was
about to fire; to see him, with his red hair all over his freckled face,
lift the hissing skillet and shake it until the volleys died down to
sharpshooting across the lines; and then to hear him laugh when he
turned the vegetable snowdrift out into the wooden butter-bowl a little
too soon, and a last shot or two blew the fluffy kernels all over the
room - all this was the very acme of success in making a pleasant
evening. All the time I was thinking of Magnus's prediction.

"County officer!" I snorted. "Banker! Me!"

"Ay dank so," said Magnus. "Or maybe lawyers and yudges."

"Any girl I would have," I said, "wouldn't have me; and any girl that
would have me, the devil wouldn't have!"

"Anybody else say dat to me, I lick him," he stated.

"There ain't any farm girls out in this prairie," I said; "and no town
girl would come in here," and I spread my hands out to show that I
thought my house the worst place in the world, though I was really a
little proud of it - for wasn't it mine? made with my own hands, mainly?

"Girls come where dey want to come," said he, "in spite of - "

"Of hell and high water," I supplied, as he hesitated.

"So!" he answered, adopting my words, and afterward using them at a
church social with some effect. "In spite of Hell Slew and high water.
An' if dey bane too soft in de hand to come, I bring you out a fine farm
girl from Norvay."



3

This idea furnished us meat for much joking, and then it grew almost
earnest, as jokes will. We finally settled down to a cousin of his,
Christina Quale. And whenever I bought anything for the house, which I
did from time to time as I got money, we discussed the matter as to
whether or not Christina would like it. The first thing I bought was a
fine silver-plated castor, with six bottles in it, to put in the middle
of the table so that it could be turned around as the company helped
themselves to salt, mustard, vinegar, red or black pepper; and the sixth
thing I never could figure out until Grandma Thorndyke told me it was
oil. A castor was a sort of title of nobility, and this one always
lifted me in the opinions of every one that sat down at my table. Magnus
said he was sure Christina would be tickled yust plumb to death with it.
Ah! Christina was a wonderful legal fiction, as N.V. calls it. How many
times Virginia's ears must have burned as we tenderly discussed the poor
yellow-haired peasant girl far off there by the foaming fjords.

One trouble with all of us Vandemark Township settlers was that we had
no money. I had long since stopped going to church or to see anybody,
because I was so beggarly-looking. Going away from our farms to earn
wages put back the development of the farms, and made the job of getting
started so much slower. It is so to-day in the new parts of the country,
and something ought to be done about it. With us it was hard to get
work, even when we were forced to look for it. I hated to work for Buck
Gowdy, because there was that thing between us, whether he knew it or
not; but when Magnus came to me one day after we had got our oats sowed,
and said that Mr. Gowdy wanted hands, I decided that I would go over
with Magnus and work out a while.

4

I was astonished, after we had walked the nine miles between the edge of
the Gowdy tract and the headquarters, to see how much he had done. There
were square miles of land under plow, and the yards, barns, granaries
and houses looked almost as much like a town as Monterey Centre. We went
straight to Gowdy's office. His overseer was talking with us, when
Gowdy came in.

"Hello, Thorkelson," said he; "you're quite a stranger. Haven't seen you
for a week."

Magnus stole a look at me and blushed so that his face was as red as his
hair. I was taken aback by this for he had never said a word to me about
the frequent visits to the Gowdy ranch which Buck's talk seemed to show
had taken place. What had he been coming over for? I wondered, as I
heard Gowdy greeting me.

"Glad to see you, Mr. Vandemark," said he. "What can I do for you-all?"

"We heard you wanted a couple of hands," said I, "and we thought - "

"I need a couple of hundred," said he. "Put 'em to work, Mobley,"
turning to the overseer; and then he went off into a lot of questions
and orders about the work, after which he jumped into the buckboard
buggy, in which Pinck Johnson sat with the whip in his hands, and they
went off at a keen run, with Pinck urging the team to a faster pace, and
Gowdy holding to the seat as they went careering along like the wind.

We lived in a great barracks with his other men, and ate our meals in a
long room like a company of soldiers. It was a most interesting business
experiment which he was trying; and he was going behind every day. Where
land is free nobody will work for any one else for less than he can make
working for himself; and land was pretty nearly free in Monterey County
then. All a man needed was a team, and he could get tools on credit; and
I know plenty of cases of people breaking speculator's land and working
it for years without paying rent or being molested. The rent wasn't
worth quarreling about. But Gowdy couldn't get, on the average, as much
out of his hired men in the way of work as they would do for themselves.

Most of the aristocrats who came early to Iowa to build up estates, lost
everything they had, and became poor; for they did not work with their
own hands, and the work of others' hands was inefficient and cost,
anyhow, as much as it produced or more. Gowdy would have gone broke long
before the cheap land was gone, if it had not been for the money he got
from Kentucky. The poor men like me, the peasants from Europe like
Magnus - we were the ones who made good, while the gentility
went bankrupt.

After a few years the land began to take on what the economists call
"unearned increment," or community value, and the Gowdy lands began the
work which finally made him a millionaire; but it was not his work. It
was mine, and Magnus Thorkelson's, and the work of the neighbors
generally, on the farms and in the towns. It was the railroads and
school and churches. He would have made property faster to let his land
lie bare until in the 'seventies. I could see that his labor was
bringing him a loss, every day's work of it; and at breakfast I was
studying out ways to organize it better, - when a small hand pushed a cup
of coffee past my cheek, and gave my nose a little pinch as it was drawn
back. I looked up, and there was Rowena, waiting on our table!

"Hello, Jake!" said she. "I heared you was dead."

"Hello, Rowena," I answered. "I'm just breathin' my last!"

All the hands began yelling at us.

"No sparkin' here!"

"None o' them love pinches, Rowena!"

"I swan to man if that Dutchman ain't cuttin' us all out!"

"Quit courtin' an' pass them molasses, sweetness!"

"Mo' po'k an' less honey, thar!" - this from a Missourian.

"Magnus, your pardner's cuttin' you out!"

I do not need to say that all this hectoring from a lot of men who were
most of them strangers, almost put me under the table; but Rowena,
tossing her head, sent them back their change, with smiles for
everybody. She was as pretty a twenty-year-old lass as you would see in
a day's travel. No longer was she the ragged waif to whom I had given
the dress pattern back toward Dubuque. She was rosy, she was plump, her
new calico dress was as pretty as it could be, and her brown skin and
browner hair made with her dark eyes a study in brown and pink, as the
artists say.

It was two or three days before I had a chance to talk with her. She had
changed a good deal, I sensed, as she told me all about her folks. Old
Man Fewkes was working in the vegetable garden. Celebrate was running a
team. Surajah was working on the machinery. Ma Fewkes was keeping house
for the family in a little cottage in the corner of the garden. I went
over and had a talk with them. Ma Fewkes, with her shoulder-blades
almost touching, assured me that they were in clover.

"I feel sure," said she, "that Celebrate Fourth will soon git something
better to do than make a hand in the field. He has idees of makin' all
kinds of money, if he could git Mr. Gowdy to lis'en to him. But
Surrager Dowler is right where he orto be. He has got a patent
corn-planter all worked out, and I guess Mr. Gowdy'll help him make and
sell it. Mr. Gowdy is awful good to us - ain't he, Rowena."

Rowena busied herself with her work; and when Mrs. Fewkes repeated her
appeal, the girl looked out of the window and paused a long time before
she answered,

"Good enough," she finally said. "But I guess he ain't strainin' himself
any to make something of us."

There was something strange and covered up in what she said, and in the
way she said it. She shot a quick glance at me, and then looked down at
her work again.

"Well, Rowena Fewkes!" exclaimed her mother, with her hands thrown up as
if in astonishment or protest. "In all my born days, I never expected to
hear a child of mine - "

Old Man Fewkes came in just then, and cut into the talk by his surprised
exclamation at seeing me there. He had supposed that I had gone out of
his ken forever. He had thought that one winter in this climate would be
all that a young man like me, free as I was to go and come as I pleased,
would stand. As he spoke about my being free, he looked at his wife and
sighed, combing his whiskers with his skinny bird's claws, and showing
the biggest freckles on the backs of his hands that I think I ever saw.
He was still more stooped and frail-looking than when I saw him last;
and when I told him I had settled down for life on my farm, I could see
that I had lost caste with him. He was pining for the open road.

"Negosha," he said, "is the place for a young man. You can be a baron
out there with ten thousan' head of rattle. But the place for me is
Texas. Trees is in constant varder!"

"But," said Ma Fewkes, repeating her speech of three years ago, "it's so
fur, Fewkes!"

"Fur!" he scornfully shouted, just as he had before. "Fur!" this time


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 20 22 23 24 25 26 27 28

Online LibraryHerbert QuickVandemark's Folly → online text (page 20 of 28)