I love this story and had honestly forgotten about it until someone else linked me to it recently. It was written by Agnes Sligh Turnbull in 1926 for The American Magazine. With so many people I know worrying about Dave Ramsey and what he thinks about their bottom line, I though someone out there could use a reminder about what is truly important in a family and, especially, a home (Hint: it's not the number of decimal places- or lack thereof- in your bank account!). Enjoy 🙂

When Queens Ride

by Agnes Sligh Turnbull, 1888-1982

Jennie
Musgrave woke at the shrill rasp of the alarm clock as she always
woke—with the shuddering start and a heavy realization that the brief
respite of the night's oblivion was over. She had only time to glance
through the dull light at the cluttered, dusty room, before John's voice
was saying sleepily as he said every morning, "All right, let's go. It
doesn't seem as if we'd been in bed at all!"

Jennie dressed quickly
in the clothes, none too clean, that, exhausted, she had flung from her
the night before. She hurried down the back stairs, her coarse shoes
clattering thickly upon the bare boards. She kindled the fire in the
range and then made a hasty pretense at washing in the basin in the
sink.

John strode through the kitchen and on out to the barn. There
were six cows to be milked and the great cans of milk to be taken to the
station for the morning train.

Jennie put coffee and bacon on the
stove, and then, catching up a pail from the porch, went after John. A
golden red disk broke the misty blue of the morning above the cow
pasture. A sweet, fragrant breath blew from the orchard. But Jennie
neither saw nor felt the beauty about her.

She glanced at the sun and
thought, It's going to be a hot day. She glanced at the orchard, and
her brows knit. There it hung. All that fruit. Bushels of it going to
waste. Maybe she could get time that day to make some more apple butter.
But the tomatoes wouldn't wait. She must pick them and get them to town
today, or that would be a dead loss. After all her work, well, it would
only be in a piece with everything else if it did happen so. She and
John had bad luck, and they might as well make up their minds to it.

She
finished her part of the milking and hurried back again to the
overcooked bacon and strong coffee. The children were down, clamorous,
dirty, always underfoot. Jim, the eldest, was in his first term of
school. She glanced at his spotted waist. He should have a clean one.
But she couldn't help it. She couldn't get the washing done last week,
and when she was to get a day for it this week she didn't know, with all
the picking and the trips to town to make!

Breakfast was hurried and
unpalatable, a sort of grudging concession to the demands of the body.
Then John left in the milk wagon for the station, and Jennie packed
little Jim's lunch basket with bread and apple butter and pie, left the
two little children to their own devices in the backyard, and started
toward the barn. There was no time to do anything in the house. The
chickens and turkeys had to be attended to, and then she must get to the
tomato patch before the sun got too hot. Behind her was the orchard
with its rows and rows of laden apple tree. Maybe this afternoon—maybe
tomorrow morning. There were the potatoes, too, to be lifted. Too hard
work for a woman. But what were you going to do? Starve? John worked
till dark in the fields.
She pushed her hair back with a quick,
boyish sweep of her arm and went on scattering the grain to the fowls.
She remembered their eager plans when they were married, when they took
over the old farm—laden with its heavy mortgage—that had been John's
father's. John had been so straight of back then and so jolly. Only
seven years, yet now he was stooped a little, and his brows were always
drawn, as though to hide a look of ashamed failure. They had planned to
have a model farm someday: blooded stock, a tractor, a new barn. And
then such a home they were to make of the old stone house! Jennie's
hopes had flared higher even than John's. A rug for the parlor, an
overstuffed set like the one in the mail—order catalogue, linoleum for
the kitchen, electric lights!

They were young and, oh, so strong!
There was nothing they could not do if they only worked hard enough.

But
that great faith had dwindled as the first year passed. John worked
later and later in the evenings. Jennie took more and more of the heavy
tasks upon her own shoulders. She often thought with some pride that no
woman in the countryside ever helped her husband as she did. Even with
the haying and riding the reaper. Hard, coarsening work, but she was
glad to do it for John's sake.

The sad riddle of it all was that at
the end of each year they were no further on. The only difference from
the year before was another window shutter hanging from one hinge and
another crippled wagon in the barnyard which John never had time to
mend. They puzzled over it in a vague distress. And meanwhile life
degenerated into a straining, hopeless struggle. Sometimes lately John
had seemed a little listless, as though nothing mattered. A little
bitter when he spoke of Henry Davis.

Henry held the mortgage and had
expected a payment on the principle this year. He had come once and
looked about with something very like a sneer on his face. If he should
decide someday to foreclose—that would be the final blow. They never
would get up after that. If John couldn't hold the old farm, he could
never try to buy a new one. It would mean being renters all their lives.
Poor renters at that!

She went to the tomato field. It had been her
own idea to do some tracking along with the regular farm crops. But,
like everything else, it had failed of her expectations. As she put the
scarlet tomatoes, just a little overripe, into the basket, she glanced
with a hard tightening of her lips toward a break in the trees a half
mile away where a dark, listening bit of road caught the sun. Across its
polished surface twinkled an endless procession of shining,
swift—moving objects. The State Highway.

Jennie hated it. In the
first place, it was so tauntingly near and yet so hopelessly far from
them. If it only ran by their door, as it did past henry Davis's for
instance, it would solve the whole problem of marketing the fruits and
vegetables. Then they could set the baskets on the lawn, and people
could stop for them. But as it was, nobody all summer long had paid the
least attention to the sign John had put up at the end of the lane. And
no wonder. Why should travelers drive their cars over the stony country
byway, when a little farther along they would find the same fruit spread
temptingly for them at the very roadside?

But there was another
reason she hated that bit of sleek road showing between the trees. She
hated it because it hurt her with its suggestions of all that passed her
by in that endless procession twinkling in the sunshine. There they
kept going, day after day, those happy, carefree women, riding in
handsome limousines or in gay little roadsters. Some in plainer cars,
too, but even those were, like the others, women who could have rest,
pleasure, comfort for the asking. They were whirled along hour by hour
to new pleasures, while she was weighted to the drudgery of the farm
like one of the great rocks in the pasture field.

And—most bitter
thought of all—they had pretty homes to go back to when the happy
journey was over. That seemed to be the strange and cruel law about
homes. The finer they were, the easier it was to leave them. Now with
her—if she had the rug for the parlor and the stuffed furniture and
linoleum for the kitchen, she shouldn't mind anything so much then; she
had nothing, nothing but hard slaving and bad luck. And the highway
taunted her with it. Flung its impossible pleasures mockingly in her
face as she bent over the vines or dragged the heavy baskets along the
rows.

The sun grew hotter. Jennie put more strength into her task.
She knew, at last, by the scorching heat overhead that is was nearing
noon. She must have a bit of lunch ready for John when he came in. There
wasn't time to prepare much. Just reheat the coffee and set down some
bread and pie.

She started towards the house, giving a long yodeling
call for the children as she went. They appeared from the orchard,
tumbled and torn from experiments with the wire fence. Her heart
smothered her at the sight of them. Among the other dreams that the
years had crushed out were those of little rosy boys and girls in clean
suits and fresh ruffled dresses. As it was, the children had just grown
like farm weeds.

This was the part of all the drudgery that hurt
most. That she had not time to care for her children, sew for them,
teach them things that other children knew. Sometimes it seemed as if
she had no real love for them at all. She was too terribly tired as a
rule to have any feeling. The only times she used energy to talk to them
was when she had to reprove them for some dangerous misdeed. That was
all wrong. It seemed wicked; but how could she help it? With the work
draining the very life out of her, strong as she was.

John came in
heavily, and they ate in silence except for the children's chatter. John
hardly looked up form his plate. He gulped down great drafts of the
warmed-over coffee and then pushed his chair back hurriedly.

"I'm
goin' to try to finish the harrowin' in the south field," he said.

"I'm
at the tomatoes," Jennie answered. "I've got them' most all picked and
ready for takin'."

That was all. Work was again upon them.

It was
two o'clock by the sun, and Jennie had loaded the last heavy basket of
tomatoes on the milk wagon in which she must drive to town, when she
heard shrill voices sounding along the path. The children were flying in
excitement toward her.

"Mum! Mum! Mum!" they called as they came
panting up to her with big, surprised eyes.

"Mum, there's a lady up
there. At the kitchen door. All dressed up. A pretty lady. She wants to
see you."

Jennie gazed down at them disbelievingly. A lady, a pretty
lady at her kitchen door? All dressed up! What that could mean! Was it
possible someone had at last braved the stony lane to buy fruit? Maybe
bushels of it!

"Did she come in a car?" Jennie asked quickly.

"No,
she just walked in. She's awful pretty. She smiled at us."

Jennie's
hopes dropped. Of course. She might have known. Some agent likely,
selling books. She followed the children wearily back along the path and
in at the rear door of the kitchen. Across from it another door opened
into the side yard. Here stood the stranger.

The two women looked at
each other across the kitchen, across the table with the remains of two
meals upon it, the strewn chairs, the littered stove—across the whole
scene of unlovely disorder. They looked at each other in startled
surprise, as inhabitants of Earth and Mars might look if they were
suddenly brought face-to-face.

Jennie saw a woman in a gray tweed
coat that seemed to be part of her straight, slim body. A small gray hat
with a rose quill was drawn low over the brownish hair. Her blue eyes
were clear and smiling. She was beautiful! And yet she was not young.
She was in her forties, surely. But an aura of eager youth clung to her,
a clean and exquisite freshness.

The stranger in her turn looked
across at a young woman, haggard and weary. Her yellowish hair hung in
straggling wisps. Her eyes looked hard and hunted. Her cheeks were thin
and sallow. Her calico dress was shapeless and begrimed from her work.

So
they looked at each other for one long, appraising second. Then the
woman in gray smiled.

"How do you do? " she began. "We ran our car
into the shade of your lane to have our lunch and rest for a while. And I
walked on up to buy a few apples, if you have them."

Jennie stood
staring at the stranger. There was an unconscious hostility in her eyes.
This was one of the women from the highway. One of those envied ones
who passed twinkling through the summer sunshine from pleasure to
pleasure while Jennie slaved on.

But the pretty lady's smile was
disarming. Jennie started toward a chair and pulled off the old coat and
apron that lay on it.

"Won't you sit down?" she said politely. "I'll
go and get the apples. I'll have to pick them off the tree. Would you
prefer rambos?"

"I don't know what they are, but they sound
delicious. You must choose them for me. But mayn't I come with you? I
should love to help pick them."

Jennie considered. She felt baffled
by the friendliness of the other woman's face and utterly unable to meet
it. But she did not know how to refuse.

"Why I s'pose so. If you can
get through the dirt."

She led the way over the back porch with its
crowded baskets and pails and coal buckets, along the unkept path toward
the orchard. She had never been so acutely conscious of the disorder
about her. Now a hot shame brought a lump to her throat. In her
preoccupied haste before, she had actually not noticed that tub of
overturned milk cans and rubbish heap! She saw it all now swiftly
through the other woman's eyes. And then that new perspective was
checked by a bitter defiance. Why should she care how things looked to
this woman? She would be gone, speeding down the highway in a few
minutes as though she had never been there.

She reached the orchard
and began to drag a long ladder from the fence to the rambo tree.

The
other woman cried out in distress. "Oh, but you can't do that! You
mustn't. It's too heavy for you, or even for both of us. Please just let
me pick a few from the ground."
Jennie looked in amazement at the
stranger's concern. It was so long since she had seen anything like it.

"Heavy?"
she repeated. "This ladder? I wish I didn't ever lift anything heavier
than this. After hoistin' bushel baskets of tomatoes onto a wagon, this
feels light to me."

The stranger caught her arm. "But—but do you
think it's right? Why, that's a man's work."
Jennie's eyes blazed.
Something furious and long-pent broke out from within her. "Right! Who
are you to be askin' me whether I'm right or not?" What would have
become of us if I didn't do a man's work? It takes us both, slaving
away, an' then we get nowhere. A person like you don't know what work
is! You don't know—"

Jennie's voice was the high shrill of hysteria;
but the stranger's low tones somehow broke through. "Listen," she said
soothingly. "Please listen to me. I'm sorry I annoyed you by saying
that, but now, since we are talking, why can't we sit down here and rest
a minute? It's so cool and lovely here under the trees, and if you were
to tell me all about it—because I'm only a stranger—perhaps it would
help. It does sometimes, you know. A little rest would—"

"Rest! Me
sit down to rest, an' the wagon loaded to go to town? It'll hurry me now
to get back before dark."

And then something strange happened. The
other women put her cool, soft hand on Jennie's grimy arm. There was a
compelling tenderness in her eyes. "Just take the time you would have
spent picking apples. I would so much rather. And perhaps somehow I
could help you. I wish I could. Won't you tell me why you have to work
so hard?"

Jennie sank down on the smooth green grass. Her hunted,
unwilling eyes had yielded to some power in the clear, serene eyes of
the stranger. A sort of exhaustion came over her. A trembling reaction
from the straining effort of weeks.

"There ain't much to tell," she
said half sullenly, "only that we ain't gettin' ahead. We're clean
discouraged, both off us. Henry Davis is talking about foreclosin' on us
if we don't pay some principle. The time of the mortgage is out this
year, an' mebbe he won't renew it. He's got plenty himself, but them's
the hardest kind." She paused; then her eyes flared. "An' it ain't that I
haven't done my part. Look at me. I'm barely thirty, an' I might be
fifty. I'm so weather-beaten. That's the way I've worked!"

"And you
think that has helped your husband?"

"Helped him?" Jennie's voice was
sharp. "Why shouldn't it help him?"

The stranger was looking away
through the green stretches of orchard. She laced her slim hands
together about her knees. She spoke slowly. "Men are such queer things,
husbands especially. Sometimes we blunder when we are trying hardest to
serve them. For instance, they want us to be economical, and yet they
want us in pretty clothes. They need our work, and yet they want us to
keep our youth and our beauty. And sometimes they don't know themselves
which they really want most. So we have to choose. That's what makes it
so hard".

She paused. Jennie was watching her with dull curiosity as
though she were speaking a foreign tongue. Then the stranger went on:

I
had to choose once, long ago; just after we were married, my husband
decided to have his own business, so he started a very tiny one. He
couldn't afford a helper, and he wanted me to stay in the office while
he did the outside selling. And I refused, even though it hurt him. Oh,
it was hard! But I knew how it would be if I did as he wished. We would
both have come back each night. Tired out, to a dark, cheerless house
and a picked-up dinner. And a year if that might have taken something
away from us—something precious. I couldn't risk it, so I refused and
stuck to it.
"And then how I worked in my house—a flat it was then. I
had so little outside of our wedding gifts; but at least I could make
it a clean, shining, happy place. I tried to give our little dinners the
grace of a feast. And as the months went on, I knew I had done right.
My husband would come home dead-tired and discouraged, ready to give up
the whole thing. But after he had eaten and sat down in our bright
little living room, and I had read to him or told him all the funny
things I could invent about my day, I could see him change. By bedtime
he had his courage back, and by morning he was at last ready to go out
and fight again. And at last he won, and he won his success alone, as a
man loves to do.

Still Jennie did not speak. She only regarded her
guest with a half-resentful understanding.

The woman in gray looked
off again between the trees. Her voice was very sweet. A humorous little
smile played about her lips.

"There was a queen once," she went on,
"who reigned in troublous days. And every time the country was on the
brink of war and the people ready to fly into a panic, she would put on
her showiest dress and take her court with her and go hunting. And when
the people would see her riding by, apparently so gay and happy, they
were sure all was well with the Government. So she tided over many a
danger. And I've tried to be like her.

"Whenever a big crisis comes
in my husband's business—and we've had several—or when he's discouraged,
I put on my prettiest dress and get the best dinner I know how or give a
party! And somehow it seems to work. That's the woman's part, you know.
To play the queen—"

A faint honk-honk came from the lane. The
stranger started to her feet. "That's my husband. I must go. Please
don't bother about the apples. I'll just take these from under the tree.
We only wanted two or three, really. And give these to the children."
She slipped two coins into Jennie's hand.

Jennie had risen, too, and
was trying from a confusion of startled thoughts to select one for
speech. Instead she only answered the other woman's bright good-bye with
a stammering repetition and a broken apology about the apples.

She
watched the stranger's erect, lithe figure hurrying away across the path
that led directly to the lane. Then she turned her back to the house,
wondering dazedly if she had only dreamed that the other woman had been
there. But no, there were emotions rising hotly within her that were
new. They had had no place an hour before. They had risen at the words
of the stranger and at the sight of her smooth, soft hair, the fresh
color in her cheeks, the happy shine of her eyes.

A great wave of
longing swept over Jennie, a desire that was lost in choking despair. It
was as thought she had heard a strain of music for which she had waited
all her life and then felt it swept away into silence before she had
grasped its beauty. For a few brief minutes she, Jennie Musgrave, had
sat beside one of the women of the highway and caught a breath of her
life—that life which forever twinkled in the past in bright procession,
like the happenings of a fairy tale. Then she was gone, and Jennie was
left as she had been, bound to the soil like one of the rocks of the
field.

The bitterness that stormed her heart now was different from
the old dull disheartenment. For it was coupled with new knowledge. The
words of the stranger seemed more vivid to her than when she had sat
listening in the orchard. But they came back to her with the pain of
agony.

"All very well for her to talk so smooth to me about man's
work and woman's work! An' what she did for her husband's big success.
Easy enough for her to sit talking about queens! What would she do if
she was here on this farm like me? What would a woman like her do?"

Jennie
had reached the kitchen door and stood there looking at the hopeless
melee about her. Her words sounded strange and hollow in the silence of
the house. "Easy for her!" she burst out. She never had the work pilin'
up over her like I have. She never felt it at her throat like a wolf,
the same as John an' me does. Talk about choosin'! I haven't got no
choice. I just got to keep goin'—just keep goin', like I always have—"

She
stopped suddenly. There in the middle of the kitchen floor, where the
other woman had passed over, lay a tiny square of white. Jennie crossed
to it quickly and picked it up. A faint delicious fragrance like the
dream of a flower came from it. Jennie inhaled it eagerly. It was not
like any odor she had ever known. It made her think of sweet, strange
things. Things she had never thought about before. Of gardens in the
early summer dusk, of wide fair rooms with the moonlight shining in
them. It made her somehow think with vague wistfulness of all that.
She
looked carefully at the tiny square. The handkerchief was of fine,
fairylike smoothness. In the corner a dainty blue butterfly spread his
wings. Jennie drew in another long breath. The fragrance filled her
senses again. Her first greedy draft had not exhausted it. It would stay
for a while, at least.

She laid the bit of white down cautiously on
the edge of the table and went to the sink, where she washed her hands
carefully. The she returned and picked up the handkerchief again with
something like reverence. She sat down, still holding it, staring at it.
This bit of linen was to her an articulated voice. She understood its
language. It spoke to her of white, freshly washed clothes blowing in
the sunshine, of an iron moving smoothly, leisurely, to the
accompaniment of a song over snowy folds; it spoke to her of quiet,
orderly rooms and ticking clocks and a mending basket under the evening
lamp; it spoke to her of all the peaceful routine of a well managed
household, the kind she had once dreamed of having.

But more than
this, the exquisite daintiness of it, the sweet, alluring perfume spoke
to her of something else which her heart understood, even though her
speech could have found no words for it. She could feel gropingly the
delicacy, the grace, the beauty that made up the other woman's life in
all its relations.

She, Jennie, had none of that. Everything about
their lives, hers and John's, was coarsened, soiled somehow by the
dragging, endless labor or the days.

Jennie leaned forward, her arms
stretched tautly before her upon her knees, her hands clasped tightly
over the fragrant bit of white. Suppose she were to try doing as the
stranger had said. Suppose that she spent her time on the house and let
the outside work go. What then? What would John say? Would they be much
farther behind than they were now? Could they be? And suppose, by some
strange chance, the other woman had been right! That a man could be
helped more by doing of these other things she had neglected?

She sat
very still, distressed, uncertain. Out in the barnyard waited the wagon
of tomatoes, overripe now for market. No, she could do nothing today,
at least, but go on as usual.

Then her hands opened a little; the
perfume within them came up to her, bringing again that thrill of sweet,
indescribable things.

She started up, half-terrified at her own
resolve. "I'm goin' to try it now. Mebbe I'm crazy, but I'm goin' to do
it anyhow!"

It was a long time since Jennie had performed such a
meticulous toilet. It was years since she had brushed her hair. A hasty
combing had been its best treatment. She put on her one clean dress, the
dark voile reserved for trips to town. She even changed from her
shapeless, heavy shoes to her best ones. Then, as she looked at herself
in the dusty mirror, she saw that she was changed. Something, at least,
of the hard haggardness was gone from her face, and her hair framed it
with smooth softness. Tomorrow she would wash it. It used to be almost
yellow.

She went to the kitchen. With something of the burning zeal
of a fanatic, she attacked the confusion before her. By half past four
the room was clean: the floor swept, the stove shining, dishes and pans
washed and put in their places. From the tumbled depths of a drawer
Jennie had extracted a white tablecloth that had been bought in the
early days, for company only. With a spirit of daring recklessness she
spread it on the table. She polished the chimney of the big oil lamp and
then set the fixture, clean and shining, in the center of the white
cloth.

Now the supper! And she must hurry. She planned to have it at
six o' clock and ring the big bell for John fifteen minutes before, as
she used to just after they were married.

She decided upon fried ham
and browned potatoes and applesauce with hot biscuits. She hadn't made
them for so long, but her fingers fell into their old deftness. Why,
cooking was just play if you had time to do it right! Then she thought
of the tomatoes and gave a little shudder. She thought of the long hours
of backbreaking work she had put into them and called herself a little
fool to have been swayed by the words of a strange and the scent of a
handkerchief, to neglect her rightful work and bring more loss upon John
and herself. But she went on, making the biscuits, turning the ham,
setting the table.

It was half past five; the first pan of flaky
brown mounds had been withdrawn from the oven, the children's faces and
hands had been washed and their excited questions satisfied, when the
sound of a car came from the bend. Jennie knew that car. It belonged to
Henry Davis. He could be coming for only one thing.

The blow they had
dreaded, fending off by blind disbelief in the ultimate disaster, was
about to fall. Henry was coming to tell them he was going to foreclose.
It would almost kill John. This was his father's old farm. John had
taken it over, mortgage and all, so hopefully, so sure he could succeed
where his father had failed. If he had to leave now there would be a
double disgrace to bear. And where could they go? Farms weren't so
plentiful.

Henry had driven up to the side gate. He fumbled with some
papers in his inner pocket as he started up the walk. A wild terror
filled Jennie's heart. She wanted desperately to avoid meeting Henry
Davis's keen, hard face, to flee somewhere, anywhere before she heard
the words hat doomed them.

Then as she stood shaken, wondering how
she could live through what the next hours would bring, she saw in a
flash the beautiful stranger as she had sat in the orchard, looking off
between the trees and smiling to herself. "There was once a queen."

Jennie
heard the words again distinctly just as Henry Davis's steps sounded
sharply nearer on the walk outside. There was only a confused picture of
a queen wearing the stranger's lovely, highbred face, riding gaily to
the hunt through forests and towns while her kingdom was tottering.
Riding gallantly on, in spite of her fears.

Jennie's heart was
pounding and her hands were suddenly cold. But something unreal and yet
irresistible was sweeping her with it. "There was once a queen."

She
opened the screen door before Henry Davis had time to knock. She
extended her hand cordially. She was smiling. "Well, how d' you do, Mr.
Davis. Come right in. I'm real glad to see you. Been quite a while since
you was over."

Henry looked surprised and very much embarrassed.
"Why, no, now, I won't go in. I just stopped to see John on a little
matter of business. I'll just—"

"You'll just come right in. John will
be in from milkin' in a few minutes an' you can talk while you eat,
both of you. I've supper just ready. Now step right in, Mr. Davis!"

As
Jennie moved aside, a warm, fragrant breath of fried ham and biscuits
seemed to waft itself to Henry Davis's nostrils. There was a visible
softening of his features. "Why, no, I didn't reckon on anything like
this. I 'lowed I'd just speak to John and then be gettin' on."

"They'll
see you at home when you get there," Jennie put in quickly. "You never
tasted my hot biscuits with butter an' quince honey, or you wouldn't
take so much coachin'!"

Henry Davis came in and sat in the big,
clean, warm kitchen. His eyes took in every detail of the orderly room:
the clean cloth, the shining lamp, the neat sink, the glowing stove.
Jennie saw him relax comfortably in his chair. Then above the aromas of
the food about her, she detected the strange sweetness of the bit of
white linen she had tucked away in the bosom of her dress. It rose to
her as a haunting sense of her power as a woman.

She smiled at Henry
Davis. Smiled as she would never have thought of doing a day ago. Then
she would have spoken to him with a drawn face full of subservient fear.
Now, though the fear clutched her heart, her lips smiled sweetly, moved
by that unreality that seemed to possess her. "There was once a queen."

"An'
how are things goin' with you, Mr. Davis?" she asked with a blithe
upward reflection.

Henry Davis was very human. He had never noticed
before that Jennie's hair was so thick and pretty and that she had such
pleasant ways. Neither had he dreamed that she was such a good cook as
the sight and smell of the supper things would indicate. He was very
comfortable there in the big sweet-smelling kitchen.

He smiled back.
It was an interesting experiment on Henry's part, for his smiles were
rare. "Oh, so-so. How are they with you?"

Jennie had been taught to
speak the truth; but at this moment there dawned in her mind a vague
understanding that the high loyalties of life are, after all, relative
and not absolute.

She smiled again as she skillfully flipped a great
slice of golden brown ham over in the frying pan. "Why, just fine, Mr.
Davis. We're gettin' on just fine, John an' me. It's been hard sleddin'
but I sort of think the worst is over. I think we're goin' to come out
way ahead now. We'll just be proud to pay off that mortgage so fast,
come another year, that you'll be surprised!"

It was said. Jennie
marveled that the words had not choked her, had not somehow smitten her
dead as she spoke them. But their effect on Henry Davis was amazingly
good.

"That so?" he asked in surprise. "Well now, that's fine. I
always wanted to see John make a success of the old place, but
somehow—well, you know it didn't look as if—that is, there's been some
talk around that maybe John wasn't just gettin' along any too—you know. A
man has to sort of watch his investments. Well, now, I'm glad things
are pickin' up a little."

Jennie felt as though a tight hand at her
throat had relaxed. She spoke brightly of the fall weather and the crops
as she finished setting the dishes on the table and rang the big bell
for John. There was delicate work yet to be done when he came in.

Little
Jim had to be sent to hasten him before he finally appeared. He was a
big man, John Musgrave, big and slow moving and serious. He had known
nothing all his life but hard physical toil. Hedaviess had pitted his
great body against all the adverse forces of nature. There was a time
when he had felt that strength such as his was all any man needed to
bring him fortune. Now he was not so sure. The brightness of that faith
was dimmed by experience.

John came to the kitchen door with his
eyebrows drawn. Little Jim had told Jim that Henry Davis was there. He
came into the room as an accused man faces the jury of his peers, faces
the men who, though the same flesh and blood as he, are yet somehow
curiously in a position to save or to destroy him.

John came in, and
then he stopped, staring blankly at the scene before him. At Jennie
moving about the bright table, chatting happily with Henry Davis! At
Henry himself, his sharp features softened by an air of great
satisfaction. At the sixth plate on the white cloth. Henry staying for
supper!

But the silent deeps of John's nature served him well. He
made no comment. Merely shook hands with Henry Davis and then washed his
face at the sink.

Jennie arranged the savory dishes, and they sat
down to supper. It was an entirely new experience to John to sit at the
head of his own table and serve a generously heaped plate to Henry
Davis. It sent through him a sharp thrill of sufficiency, of equality.
He realized that before he had been cringing in his soul at the very
sight of this man.

Henry consumed eight biscuits richly covered with
quince honey, along with the heavier part of his dinner. Jennie counted
them. She recalled hearing that the Davises did not set a very bountiful
table; it was common talk that Mrs. Davis was even more "miserly" than
her husband. But, however that was, Henry now seemed to grow more and
more genial and expansive as he ate. So did John. By the time the pie
was set before them, they were laughing over a joke Henry had heard at
Grange meeting.

Jennie was bright, watchful, careful. If the talk
lagged, she made a quick remark. She moved softly between table and
stove, refilling the dishes. She saw to it that a hot biscuit was at
Henry Davis's elbow just when he was ready for it. All the while there
was rising within her a strong zest for life that she would have deemed
impossible only that morning. This meal, at least, was a perfect
success, and achievements of any sort whatever had been few.

Henry
Davis left soon after supper. He brought the conversation around
awkwardly to his errand as they rose from the table. Jennie was ready.

"I
told him, John, that the worst was over now, an' we're getting' on
fine!" She laughed." I told him we'd be swampin' him pretty soon with
our payments. Ain't that right John?"

John's mind was not analytical.
At that moment he was comfortable. He has been host at a delicious
supper with his ancient adversary, whose sharp face marvelously
softened. Jennie's eyes were shining with a new and amazing confidence.
It was a natural moment for unreasoning optimism.

"Why that's right,
Mr. Davis. I believe we can start clearin' this off now pretty soon. If
you could just see your way clear to renew the note mebbe. . . ."

It
was done. The papers were back in Davis's pocket. They had bid him a
cordial good-bye from the door.

"Next time you come, I will have
biscuits for you Mr. Davis." Jennie had called daringly after him.

"Now
you don't forget that Mrs. Musgrave! They certainly ain't hard to eat."

He
was gone. Jennie cleared the table and set the shining lamp in the
center of the oilcloth covering. She began to wash the dishes. John was
fumbling through the papers on a hanging shelf. He finally sat down with
and old tablet and pencil. He spoke meditatively. "I believe I'll do a
little figurin' since I've got time tonight. It just struck me that
mebbe if I used my head a little more I'd get on faster."

"Well now,
you might," said Jennie. It would not be John's way to comment just yet
on their sudden deliverance. She polished two big Rambo apples and
placed them on a saucer beside him.
He looked pleased. "Now that's
what I like." He grinned. Then making a clumsy clutch at her arm, he
added, "Say, you look sort of pretty tonight."

Jennie made a brisk
coquettish business of freeing herself. "Go along with you!" she
returned, smiling and started in again upon the dishes. But a hot wave
of color had swept up in her shallow cheeks.

John had looked more
grateful over her setting those two apples beside him now, than he had
the day last fall when she lifted all the potatoes herself! Men were
strange, as the woman in gray had said. Maybe even John had been needing
something else more than he needed the hard, backbreaking work she had
been doing.

She tidied up the kitchen and put the children to bed. It
seemed strange to be through now, ready to sit down. All summer they
had worked outdoors till bedtime. Last night she had been slaving over
apple butter until she stopped, exhausted, and John had been working in
the barn with the lantern. Tonight seemed so peaceful, so quiet. John
still sat at the table, figuring while he munched his apples. His brows
were not drawn now. There was a new, purposeful light upon his face.

Jennie
walked to the doorway and stood looking off through the darkness and
through the break in the trees at the end of the lane. Bright and golden
lights kept glittering across it, breaking dimly through the woods,
flashing out strongly for a moment, then disappearing behind the hill.
Those were the lights of the happy cars that never stopped in their
swift search for far and magic places. Those were the lights of the
highway which she had hated. But she did not hate it now. For today it
had come to her at last and left with her some of its mysterious
pleasure.

Jennie wished, as she stood there, that she could somehow
tell the beautiful stranger in the gray coat that her words had been
true, that she, Jennie, insofar as she was able, was to be like her and
fulfill her woman's part.

For while she was not figuring as John was
doing, yet her mind had been planning, sketching in details,
strengthening itself against the chains of old habits, resolving on new
ones; seeing with sudden clearness where they had been blundered, where
they had made mistakes that farsighted, orderly management could have
avoided. But how could John have sat down to figure in comfort before,
in the kind of kitchen she had been keeping?

Jennie bit her lip. Even
if some of the tomatoes spoiled, if all of them spoiled, there would be
a snowy washing on her line tomorrow; there would be ironing the next
day in her clean kitchen. She could sing as she worked. She used to when
she was a girl. Even if the apples rotted on the trees, there were
certain things she knew now that she must do, regardless of what John
might say. It would pay better in the end, for she had read the real
needs of his soul from his eyes that evening. Yes, wives had to choose
for their husbands sometimes.

A thin haunting breath of sweetness
rose from the bosom of her dress where the scrap of white linen lay.
Jennie smiled into the dark. And tomorrow she would take time to wash
her hair. It used to be yellow—and she wished she could see the stranger
once more, just long enough to tell her she understood.

As matter of
fact, at that very moment, many miles along the sleek highway, a woman
in a gray coat, with a soft gray hat and a rose quill, leaned suddenly
close to her husband as he shot the high-powered car through the night.
Suddenly he glanced down at her and slackened the speed.

"Tired?" he
asked. "You haven't spoken for miles. Shall we stop at this next town?"

The
woman shook her head. "I'm all right, and I love to drive at night.
It's only—you know—that poor woman at the farm. I can't get over her
wretched face and house and everything. It—it was hopeless!"

The man
smiled down at her tenderly. "Well, I'm sorry, too, if it was all as bad
as your description; but you mustn't worry. Good gracious, darling,
you're not weeping over it, I hope!""No, truly, just a few little tears.
I know it's silly, but I did so want to help her, and I know now that
what I said must have sounded perfectly insane. She wouldn't know what I
was talking about. She just looked up with that blank, tired face. And
it all seemed so impossible. No, I'm not going to cry. Of course I'm
not—but—lend me your handkerchief, will you dear? I've lost mine
somehow!"

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