From the master of the western comes a novel full of romance and adventure. The novel begins: Late in June the vast northwestern Desert of Wheat began to take on a tinge of gold, lending an austere beauty to that endless, rolling, smooth world of treeless hills, where miles of fallow ground and miles of waving grain sloped up to the far-separated homes of the heroic men who had conquered over sage and sand.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Late in June the vast northwestern desert of wheat began to take on a tinge of gold, lending an austere beauty to that endless, rolling, smooth world of treeless hills, where miles of fallow ground and miles of waving grain sloped up to the far-separated homes of the heroic men who had conquered over sage and sand.
These simple homes of farmers seemed lost on an immensity of soft gray and golden billows of land, insignificant dots here and there on distant hills, so far apart that nature only seemed accountable for those broad squares of alternate gold and brown, extending on and on to the waving horizon-line. A lonely, hard, heroic country, where flowers and fruit were not, nor birds and brooks, nor green pastures. Whirling strings of dust looped up over fallow ground, the short, dry wheat lay back from the wind, the haze in the distance was drab and smoky, heavy with substance.
A thousand hills lay bare to the sky, and half of every hill was wheat and half was fallow ground; and all of them, with the shallow valleys between, seemed big and strange and isolated. The beauty of them was austere, as if the hand of man had been held back from making green his home site, as if the immensity of the task had left no time for youth and freshness. Years, long years, were there in the round-hilled, many-furrowed gray old earth. And the wheat looked a century old. Here and there a straight, dusty road stretched from hill to hill, becoming a thin white line, to disappear in the distance. The sun shone hot, the wind blew hard; and over the boundless undulating expanse hovered a shadow that was neither hood of dust nor hue of gold. It was not physical, but lonely, waiting, prophetic, and weird. No wild desert of wastelands, once the home of other races of man, and now gone to decay and death, could have shown so barren an acreage. Half of this wandering patchwork of squares was earth, brown and gray, curried and disked, and rolled and combed and harrowed, with not a tiny leaf of green in all the miles. The other half had only a faint golden promise of mellow harvest; and at long distance it seemed to shimmer and retreat under the hot sun. A singularly beautiful effect of harmony lay in the long, slowly rising slopes, in the rounded hills, in the endless curving lines on all sides. The scene was heroic because of the labor of horny hands; it was sublime because not a hundred harvests, nor three generations of toiling men, could ever rob nature of its limitless space and scorching sun and sweeping dust, of its resistless age-long creep back toward the desert that it had been.
Here was grown the most bounteous, the richest and finest wheat in all the world. Strange and unfathomable that so much of the bread of man, the staff of life, the hope of civilization in this tragic year 1917, should come from a vast, treeless, waterless, dreary desert!
This wonderful place was an immense valley of considerable altitude called the Columbia Basin, surrounded by the Cascade Mountains on the west, the Coeur d'Alene and Bitter Root Mountains on the east, the Okanozan range to the north, and the Blue Mountains to the south. The valley floor was basalt, from the lava flow of volcanoes in ages past. The rainfall was slight except in the foot-hills of the mountains. The Columbia River, making a prodigious and meandering curve, bordered on three sides what was known as the Bend country. South of this vast area, across the range, began the fertile, many-watered region that extended on down into verdant Oregon. Among the desert hills of this Bend country, near the center of the Basin, where the best wheat was raised, lay widely separated little towns, the names of which gave evidence of the mixed population. It was, of course, an exceedingly prosperous country, a fact manifest in the substantial little towns, if not in the crude and unpretentious homes of the farmers. The acreage of farms ran from a section, six hundred and forty acres, up into the thousands.
Upon a morning in early July, exactly three months after the United States had declared war upon Germany, a sturdy young farmer strode with darkly troubled face from the presence of his father. At the end of a stormy scene he had promised his father that he would abandon his desire to enlist in the army.
Kurt Dorn walked away from the gray old clapboard house, out to the fence, where he leaned on the gate. He could see for miles in every direction, and to the southward, away on a long yellow slope, rose a stream of dust from a motor-car.
"Must be Anderson—coming to dun father," muttered young Dorn.
This was the day, he remembered, when the wealthy rancher of Ruxton was to look over old Chris Dorn's wheat-fields. Dorn owed thirty-thousand dollars and interest for years, mostly to Anderson. Kurt hated the debt and resented the visit, but he could not help acknowledging that the rancher had been lenient and kind. Long since Kurt had sorrowfully realized that his father was illiterate, hard, grasping, and growing worse with the burden of years.
"If we had rain now—or soon—that section of Bluestem would square father," soliloquized young Dorn, as with keen eyes he surveyed a vast field of wheat, short, smooth, yellowing in the sun. But the cloudless sky, the haze of heat rather betokened a continued drought.
There were reasons, indeed, for Dorn to wear a dark and troubled face as he watched the motor-car speed along ahead of its stream of dust, pass out of sight under the hill, and soon reappear, to turn off the main road and come toward the house. It was a big, closed car, covered with dust. The driver stopped it at the gate and got out.
"Is this Chris Dorn's farm?" he asked.
"Yes," replied Kurt.
Whereupon the door of the car opened and out stepped a short, broad man in a long linen coat.
"Come out, Lenore, an' shake off the dust," he said, and he assisted a young woman to step out. She also wore a long linen coat, and a veil besides. The man removed his coat and threw it into the car. Then he took off his sombrero to beat the dust off of that.
"Phew! The Golden Valley never seen dust like this in a million years!… I'm chokin' for water. An' listen to the car. She's boilin'!"
Then, as he stepped toward Kurt, the rancher showed himself to be a well-preserved man of perhaps fifty-five, of powerful form beginning to sag in the broad shoulders, his face bronzed by long exposure to wind and sun. He had keen gray eyes, and their look was that of a man used to dealing with his kind and well disposed toward them.
"Hello! Are you young Dorn?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," replied Kurt, stepping out.
"I'm Anderson, from Ruxton, come to see your dad. This is my girl Lenore."
Kurt acknowledged the slight bow from the veiled young woman, and then, hesitating, he added, "Won't you come in?"
"No, not yet. I'm chokin' for air an' water. Bring us a drink," replied Anderson.
Kurt hurried away to get a bucket and tin cup. As he drew water from the well he was thinking rather vaguely that it was somehow embarrassing—the fact of Mr. Anderson being accompanied by his daughter. Kurt was afraid of his father. But then, what did it matter? When he returned to the yard he found the rancher sitting in the shade of one of the few apple-trees, and the young lady was standing near, in the act of removing bonnet and veil. She had thrown the linen coat over the seat of an old wagon-bed that lay near.
"Good water is scarce here, but I'm glad we have some," said Kurt; then as he set down the bucket and offered a brimming cupful to the girl he saw her face, and his eyes met hers. He dropped the cup and stared. Then hurriedly, with flushing face, he bent over to recover and refill it.
"Ex-excuse me. I'm—clumsy," he managed to say, and as he handed the cup to her he averted his gaze. For more than a year the memory of this very girl had haunted him. He had seen her twice—the first time at the close of his one year of college at the University of California, and the second time on the street in Spokane. In a glance he had recognized the strong, lithe figure, the sunny hair, the rare golden tint of her complexion, the blue eyes, warm and direct. And he had sustained a shock which momentarily confused him.
"Good water, hey?" dissented Anderson, after drinking a second cup. "Boy that's wet, but it ain't water to drink. Come down in the foot-hills an' I'll show you. My ranch 's called 'Many Waters,' an' you can't keep your feet dry."
"I wish we had some of it here," replied Kurt, wistfully, and he waved a hand at the broad, swelling slopes. The warm breath that blew in from the wheatlands felt dry and smelled dry.
"You're in for a dry spell?" inquired Anderson, with interest that was keen, and kindly as well.
"Father says so. And I fear it, too—for he never makes a mistake in weather or crops."
"A hot, dry spell!… This summer?… Hum!… Boy, do you know that wheat is the most important thing in the world to-day?"
"You mean on account of the war," replied Kurt. "Yes, I know. But father doesn't see that. All he sees is—if we have rain we'll have bumper crops. That big field there would be a record—at war prices.… And he wouldn't be ruined!"
"Ruined?… Oh, he means I'd close on him.… Hum!… Say, what do you see in a big wheat yield—if it rains?"
"Mr. Anderson, I'd like to see our debt paid, but I'm thinking most of wheat for starving peoples. I—I've studied this wheat question. It's the biggest question in this war."
Kurt had forgotten the girl and was unaware of her eyes bent steadily upon him. Anderson had roused to the interest of wheat, and to a deeper study of the young man.
"Say, Dorn, how old are you?" he asked.
"Twenty-four. And Kurt's my first name," was the reply.
"Will this farm fall to you?"
"Yes, if my father does not lose it."
"Hum!… Old Dorn won't lose it, never fear. He raises the best wheat in this section."
"But father never owned the land. We have had three bad years. If the wheat fails this summer—we lose the land, that's all."
"Are you an—American?" queried Anderson, slowly, as if treading on dangerous ground.
"I am," snapped Kurt. "My mother was American. She's dead. Father is German. He's old. He's rabid since the President declared war. He'll never change."
"That's hell. What 're you goin' to do if your country calls you?"
"Go!" replied Kurt, with flashing eyes. "I wanted to enlist. Father and I quarreled over that until I had to give in. He's hard—he's impossible.… I'll wait for the draft and hope I'm called."
"Boy, it's that spirit Germany's roused, an' the best I can say is, God help her!… Have you a brother?"
"No. I'm all father has."
"Well, it makes a tough place for him, an' you, too. Humor him. He's old. An' when you're called—go an' fight. You'll come back."
"If I only knew that—it wouldn't be so hard."
"Hard? It sure is hard. But it'll be the makin' of a great country. It'll weed out the riffraff.… See here, Kurt, I'm goin' to give you a hunch. Have you had any dealin's with the I.W.W.?"
"Yes, last harvest we had trouble, but nothing serious. When I was in Spokane last month I heard a good deal. Strangers have approached us here, too—mostly aliens. I have no use for them, but they always get father's ear. And now!… To tell the truth, I'm worried."
"Boy, you need to be," replied Anderson, earnestly. "We're all worried. I'm goin' to let you read over the laws of that I.W.W. organization. You're to keep mum now, mind you. I belong to the Chamber of Commerce in Spokane. Somebody got hold of these by-laws of this so-called labor union. We've had copies made, an' every honest farmer in the Northwest is goin' to read them. But carryin' one around is dangerous, I reckon, these days. Here."
Anderson hesitated a moment, peered cautiously around, and then, slipping folded sheets of paper from his inside coat pocket, he evidently made ready to hand them to Kurt.
"Lenore, where's the driver?" he asked.
"He's under the car," replied the girl
Kurt thrilled at the soft sound of her voice. It was something to have been haunted by a girl's face for a year and then suddenly hear her voice.
"He's new to me—that driver—an' I ain't trustin' any new men these days," went on Anderson. "Here now, Dorn. Read that. An' if you don't get red-headed—"
Without finishing his last muttered remark, he opened the sheets of manuscript and spread them out to the young man.
Curiously, and with a little rush of excitement, Kurt began to read. The very first rule of the I.W.W. aimed to abolish capital. Kurt read on with slowly growing amaze, consternation, and anger. When he had finished, his look, without speech, was a question Anderson hastened to answer.
"It's straight goods," he declared. "Them's the sure-enough rules of that gang. We made certain before we acted. Now how do they strike you?"
"Why, that's no labor union!" replied Kurt, hotly. "They're outlaws, thieves, blackmailers, pirates. I—I don't know what!"
"Dorn, we're up against a bad outfit an' the Northwest will see hell this summer. There's trouble in Montana and Idaho. Strangers are driftin' into Washington from all over. We must organize to meet them—to prevent them gettin' a hold out here. It's a labor union, mostly aliens, with dishonest an' unscrupulous leaders, some of them Americans. They aim to take advantage of the war situation. In the newspapers they rave about shorter hours, more pay, acknowledgment of the union. But any fool would see, if he read them laws I showed you, that this I.W.W. is not straight."
"Mr. Anderson, what steps have you taken down in your country?" queried Kurt.
"So far all I've done was to hire my hands for a year, give them high wages, an' caution them when strangers come round to feed them an' be civil an' send them on."
"But we can't do that up here in the Bend," said Dorn, seriously. "We need, say, a hundred thousand men in harvest-time, and not ten thousand all the rest of the year."
"Sure you can't. But you'll have to organize somethin'. Up here in this desert you could have a heap of trouble if that outfit got here strong enough. You'd better tell every farmer you can trust about this I.W.W."
"I've only one American neighbor, and he lives six miles from here," replied Dorn. "Olsen over there is a Swede, and not a naturalized citizen, but I believe he's for the U.S. And there's—"
"Dad," interrupted the girl, "I believe our driver is listening to your very uninteresting conversation."
She spoke demurely, with laughter in her low voice. It made Dorn dare to look at her, and he met a blue blaze that was instantly averted.
Anderson growled, evidently some very hard names, under his breath; his look just then was full of characteristic Western spirit. Then he got up.
"Lenore, I reckon your talk 'll be more interesting than mine," he said, dryly. "I'll go see Dorn an' get this business over."
"I'd rather go with you," hurriedly replied Kurt; and then, as though realizing a seeming discourtesy in his words, his face flamed, and he stammered: "I—I don't mean that. But father is in bad mood. We just quarreled.—I told you—about the war. And—Mr. Anderson,—I'm—I'm a little afraid he'll—"
"Well, son, I'm not afraid," interrupted the rancher. "I'll beard the old lion in his den. You talk to Lenore."
"Please don't speak of the war," said Kurt, appealingly.
"Not a word unless he starts roarin' at Uncle Sam," declared Anderson, with a twinkle in his eyes, and turned toward the house.
"He'll roar, all right," said Kurt, almost with a groan. He knew what an ordeal awaited the rancher, and he hated the fact that it could not be avoided. Then Kurt was confused, astounded, infuriated with himself over a situation he had not brought about and could scarcely realize. He became conscious of pride and shame, and something as black and hopeless as despair.
"Haven't I seen you—before?" asked the girl.
The query surprised and thrilled Kurt out of his self-centered thought.
"I don't know. Have you? Where?" he answered, facing her. It was a relief to find that she still averted her face.
"At Berkeley, in California, the first time, and the second at Spokane, in front of the Davenport," she replied.
"First—and—second?… You—you remembered both times!" he burst out, incredulously.
"Yes. I don't see how I could have helped remembering." Her laugh was low, musical, a little hurried, yet cool.
Dorn was not familiar with girls. He had worked hard all his life, there among those desert hills, and during the few years his father had allowed him for education. He knew wheat, but nothing of the eternal feminine. So it was impossible for him to grasp that this girl was not wholly at her ease. Her words and the cool little laugh suddenly brought home to Kurt the immeasurable distance between him and a daughter of one of the richest ranchers in Washington.
"You mean I—I was impertinent," he began, struggling between shame and pride. "I—I stared at you.… Oh, I must have been rude.… But, Miss Anderson, I—I didn't mean to be. I didn't think you saw me—at all. I don't know what made me do that. It never happened before. I beg your pardon."
A subtle indefinable change, perceptible to Dorn, even in his confused state, came over the girl.
"I did not say you were impertinent," she returned. "I remembered seeing you—notice me, that is all."
Self-possessed, aloof, and kind, Miss Anderson now became an impenetrable mystery to Dorn. But that only accentuated the distance she had intimated lay between them. Her kindness stung him to recover his composure. He wished she had not been kind. What a singular chance that had brought her here to his home—the daughter of a man who came to demand a long-unpaid debt! What a dispelling of the vague thing that had been only a dream! Dorn gazed away across the yellowing hills to the dim blue of the mountains where rolled the Oregon. Despite the color, it was gray—like his future.
"I heard you tell father you had studied wheat," said the girl, presently, evidently trying to make conversation.
"Yes, all my life," replied Kurt. "My study has mostly been under my father. Look at my hands." He held out big, strong hands, scarred and knotted, with horny palms uppermost, and he laughed. "I can be proud of them, Miss Anderson.… But I had a splendid year in California at the university and I graduated from the Washington State Agricultural College."
"You love wheat—the raising of it, I mean?" she inquired.
"It must be that I do, though I never had such a thought. Wheat is so wonderful. No one can guess who does not know it!… The clean, plump grain, the sowing on fallow ground, the long wait, the first tender green, and the change day by day to the deep waving fields of gold—then the harvest, hot, noisy, smoky, full of dust and chaff, and the great combine-harvesters with thirty-four horses. Oh! I guess I do love it all.… I worked in a Spokane flour-mill, too, just to learn how flour is made. There is nothing in the world so white, so clean, so pure as flour made from the wheat of these hills!"
"Next you'll be telling me that you can bake bread," she rejoined, and her laugh was low and sweet. Her eyes shone with soft blue gleams.
"Indeed I can! I bake all the bread we use," he said, stoutly. "And I flatter myself I can beat any girl you know."
"You can beat mine, I'm sure. Before I went to college I did pretty well. But I learned too much there. Now my mother and sisters, and brother Jim, all the family except dad, make fun of my bread."
"You have a brother? How old is he?"
"One brother—Jim, we call him. He—he is just past twenty-one." She faltered the last few words.
Kurt felt on common ground with her then. The sudden break in her voice, the change in her face, the shadowing of the blue eyes—these were eloquent.
"Oh, it's horrible—this need of war!" she exclaimed.
"Yes," he replied, simply. "But maybe your brother will not be called."
"Called! Why, he refused to wait for the draft! He went and enlisted. Dad patted him on the back.… If anything happens to him it'll kill my mother. Jim is her idol. It'd break my heart.… Oh, I hate the very name of Germans!"
"My father is German," said Kurt. "He's been fifty years in America—eighteen years here on this farm. He always hated England. Now he's bitter against America.… I can see a side you can't see. But I don't blame you—for what you said."
"Forgive me. I can't conceive of meaning that against any one who's lived here so long.… Oh, it must be hard for you."
"I'll let my father think I'm forced to join the army. But I'm going to fight against his people. We are a house divided against itself."
"Oh, what a pity!" The girl sighed and her eyes were dark with brooding sorrow.
A step sounded behind them. Mr. Anderson appeared, sombrero off, mopping a very red face. His eyes gleamed, with angry glints; his mouth and chin were working. He flopped down with a great, explosive breath.
"Kurt, your old man is a—a—son of a gun!" he exclaimed, vociferously; manifestly, liberation of speech was a relief.
The young man nodded seriously and knowingly. "I hope, sir—he—he—"
"He did—you just bet your life! He called me a lot in German, but I know cuss words when I hear them. I tried to reason with him—told him I wanted my money—was here to help him get that money off the farm, some way or other. An' he swore I was a capitalist—an enemy to labor an' the Northwest—that I an' my kind had caused the war."
Kurt gazed gravely into the disturbed face of the rancher. Miss Anderson had wide-open eyes of wonder.
"Sure I could have stood all that," went on Anderson, fuming. "But he ordered me out of the house. I got mad an' wouldn't go. Then—by George! he pulled my nose an' called me a bloody Englishman!"
Kurt groaned in the disgrace of the moment. But, amazingly, Miss Anderson burst into a silvery peal of laughter.
"Oh, dad!… that's—just too—good for—anything! You met your—match at last.… You know you always—boasted of your drop of English blood.… And you're sensitive—about your big nose!"
"He must be over seventy," growled Anderson, as if seeking for some excuse to palliate his restraint. "I'm mad—but it was funny." The working of his face finally set in the huge wrinkles of a laugh.
Young Dorn struggled to repress his own mirth, but unguardedly he happened to meet the dancing blue eyes of the girl, merry, provocative, full of youth and fun, and that was too much for him. He laughed with them.
"The joke's on me," said Anderson. "An' I can take one.… Now, young man, I think I gathered from your amiable dad that if the crop of wheat was full I'd get my money. Otherwise I could take over the land. For my part, I'd never do that, but the others interested might do it, even for the little money involved. I tried to buy them out so I'd have the whole mortgage. They would not sell."
"Mr. Anderson, you're a square man, and I'll do—" declared Kurt.
"Come out an' show me the wheat," interrupted Anderson. "Lenore, do you want to go with us?"
"I do," replied the daughter, and she took up her hat to put it on.
Kurt led them through the yard, out past the old barn, to the edge of the open slope where the wheat stretched away, down and up, as far as the eye could see.
"We've got over sixteen hundred acres in fallow ground, a half-section in rye, another half in wheat—Turkey Red—and this section you see, six hundred and forty acres, in Bluestem," said Kurt.
Anderson's keen eyes swept from near at hand to far away, down the gentle, billowy slope and up the far hillside. The wheat was two feet high, beginning to be thick and heavy at the heads, as if struggling to burst. A fragrant, dry, wheaty smell, mingled with dust, came on the soft summer breeze, and a faint silken rustle. The greenish, almost blue color near at hand gradually in the distance grew lighter, and then yellow, and finally took on a tinge of gold. There was a living spirit in that vast wheat-field.
"Dorn, it's the finest wheat I've seen!" exclaimed Anderson, with the admiration of the farmer who aspired high. "In fact, it's the only fine field of wheat I've seen since we left the foot-hills. How is that?"
"Late spring and dry weather," replied Dorn. "Most of the farmers' reports are poor. If we get rain over the Bend country we'll have only an average yield this year. If we don't get rain—then flat failure."
Miss Anderson evinced an interest in the subject and she wanted to know why this particular field, identical with all the others for miles around, should have a promise of a magnificent crop when the others had no promise at all.
"This section lay fallow a long time," replied Dorn. "Snow lasted here on this north slope quite a while. My father used a method of soil cultivation intended to conserve moisture. The seed wheat was especially selected. And if we have rain during the next ten days this section of Bluestem will yield fifty bushels to the acre."
"Fifty bushels!" ejaculated Anderson.
"Bluestem? Why do you call it that when it's green and yellow?" queried the girl.
"It's a name. There are many varieties of wheat. Bluestem is best here in this desert country because it resists drought, it produces large yield, it does not break, and the flour-mills rate it very high. Bluestem is not good in wet soils."
Anderson tramped along the edge of the field, peering down, here and there pulling a shaft of wheat and examining it. The girl gazed with dreamy eyes across the undulating sea. And Dorn watched her.
"We have a ranch—thousands of acres—but not like this," she said.
"What's the difference?" asked Dorn.
She appeared pensive and in doubt.
"I hardly know. What would you call this—this scene?"
"Why, I call it the desert of wheat! But no one else does," he replied.
"I named father's ranch 'Many Waters.' I think those names tell the difference."
"Isn't my desert beautiful?"
"No. It has a sameness—a monotony that would drive me mad. It looks as if the whole world had gone to wheat. It makes me think—oppresses me. All this means that we live by wheat alone. These bare hills! They're too open to wind and sun and snow. They look like the toil of ages."
"Miss Anderson, there is such a thing as love for the earth—the bare brown earth. You know we came from dust, and to dust we return! These fields are human to my father. And they have come to speak to me—a language I don't understand yet. But I mean—w hat you see—the growing wheat here, the field of clods over there, the wind and dust and glare and heat, the eternal sameness of the open space—these are the things around which my life has centered, and when I go away from them I am not content."
Anderson came back to the young couple, carrying some heads of wheat in his hand.
"Smut!" he exclaimed, showing both diseased and healthy specimens of wheat. "Had to hunt hard to find that. Smut is the bane of all wheat-growers. I never saw so little of it as there is here. In fact, we know scarcely nothin' about smut an' its cure, if there is any. You farmers who raise only grain have got the work down to a science. This Bluestem is not bearded wheat, like Turkey Red. Has that beard anythin' to do with smut?"
"I think not. The parasite, or fungus, lives inside the wheat."
"Never heard that before. No wonder smut is the worst trouble for wheat-raisers in the Northwest. I've fields literally full of smut. An' we never are rid of it. One farmer has one idea, an' some one else another. What could be of greater importance to a farmer? We're at war. The men who claim to know say that wheat will win the war. An' we lose millions of bushels from this smut. That's to say it's a terrible fact to face. I'd like to get your ideas."
Dorn, happening to glance again at Miss Anderson, an act that seemed to be growing habitual, read curiosity and interest, and something more, in her direct blue eyes. The circumstance embarrassed him, though it tugged at the flood-gates of his knowledge. He could talk about wheat, and he did like to. Yet here was a girl who might be supposed to be bored. Still, she did not appear to be. That warm glance was not politeness.
"Yes, I'd like to hear every word you can say about wheat," she said, with an encouraging little nod.
"Sure she would," added Anderson, with an affectionate hand on her shoulder. "She's a farmer's daughter. She'll be a farmer's wife."
He laughed at this last sally. The girl blushed. Dorn smiled and shook his head doubtfully.
"I imagine that good fortune will never befall a farmer," he said.
"Well, if it should," she replied, archly, "just consider how I might surprise him with my knowledge of wheat.… Indeed, Mr. Dorn, I am interested. I've never been in the Bend before—in your desert of wheat. I never before felt the greatness of loving the soil—or caring for it—of growing things from seed. Yet the Bible teaches that, and I read my Bible. Please tell us. The more you say the more I'll like it."
Dorn was not proof against this eloquence. And he quoted two of his authorities, Heald and Woolman, of the State Agricultural Experiment Station, where he had studied for two years.
"Bunt, or stinking smut, is caused by two different species of microscopic fungi which live as parasites in the wheat plant. Both are essentially similar in their effects and their life-history. Tilletia tritici, or the rough-spored variety, is the common stinking smut of the Pacific regions, while Tilletia foetans, or the smooth-spored species, is the one generally found in the eastern United States.
"The smut 'berries,' or 'balls,' from an infected head contain millions of minute bodies, the spores or 'seeds' of the smut fungus. These reproduce the smut in somewhat the same way that a true seed develops into a new plant. A single smut ball of average size contains a sufficient number of spores to give one for each grain of wheat in five or six bushels. It takes eight smut spores to equal the diameter of a human hair. Normal wheat grains from an infected field may have so many spores lodged on their surface as to give them a dark color, but other grains which show no difference in color to the naked eye may still contain a sufficient number of spores to produce a smutty crop if seed treatment is not practised.
"When living smut spores are introduced into the soil with the seed wheat, or exist in the soil in which smut-free wheat is sown, a certain percentage of the wheat plants are likely to become infected. The smut spore germinates and produces first a stage of the smut plant in the soil. This first stage never infects a young seedling direct, but gives rise to secondary spores, or sporida, from which infection threads may arise and penetrate the shoot of a young seedling and reach the growing point. Here the fungus threads keep pace with the growth of the plant and reach maturity at or slightly before harvest-time.
"Since this disease is caused by an internal parasite, it is natural to expect certain responses to its presence. It should be noted first that the smut fungus is living at the expense of its host plant, the wheat, and its effect on the host may be summarized as follows: The consumption of food, the destruction of food in the sporulating process, and the stimulating or retarding effect on normal physiological processes.
"Badly smutted plants remain in many cases under-size and produce fewer and smaller heads. In the Fife and Bluestem varieties the infected heads previous to maturity exhibit a darker green color, and remain green longer than the normal heads. In some varieties the infected heads stand erect, when normal ones begin to droop as a result of the increasing weight of the ripening grain.
"A crop may become infected with smut in a number of different ways. Smut was originally introduced with the seed, and many farmers are still planting it every season with their seed wheat. Wheat taken from a smutty crop will have countless numbers of loose spores adhering to the grains, also a certain number of unbroken smut balls. These are always a source of danger, even when the seed is treated with fungicides before sowing.
"There are also chances for the infection of a crop if absolutely smut-free seed is employed. First, soil infection from a previous smutty crop; second, soil infection from wind-blown spores. Experiments have shown that separated spores from crushed smut balls lose their effective power in from two to three months, provided the soil is moist and loose, and in no case do they survive a winter.
"It does not seem probable that wheat smut will be controlled by any single practice, but rather by the combined use of various methods: crop rotation; the use of clean seed; seed treatment with fungicides; cultural practices and breeding; and selection of varieties.
"Failure to practise crop rotation is undoubtedly one of the main explanations for the general prevalence of smut in the wheat-fields of eastern Washington. Even with an intervening summer fallow, the smut from a previous crop may be a source of infection. Experience shows that a fall stubble crop is less liable to smut infection than a crop following summer fallow. The apparent explanation for this condition is the fact that the summer fallow becomes infected with wind-blown spores, while in a stubble crop the wind-blown spores, as well as those originating from the previous crop, are buried in plowing.
"If clean seed or properly treated seed had been used by all farmers we should never have had a smut problem. High per cents. of smut indicate either soil infection or imperfect treatment. The principle of the chemical treatment is to use a poison which will kill the superficial spores of the smut and not materially injure the germinating power of the seed. The hot-water treatment is only recommended when one of the chemical 'steeps' is not effective.
"Certain cultural practices are beneficial in reducing the amount of smut in all cases, while the value of others depends to some extent upon the source of the smut spores. The factors which always influence the amount of smut are the temperature of the soil during the germinating period, the amount of soil moisture, and the depth of seeding. Where seed-borne spores are the only sources of infection, attention to the three factors mentioned will give the only cultural practices for reducing the amount of smut.
"Early seeding has been practised by various farmers, and they report a marked reduction in smut.
"The replowing of the summer fallow after the first fall rains is generally effective in reducing the amount of smut.
"Very late planting—that is, four or five weeks after the first good fall rains—is also an effective practice. Fall tillage of summer fallow, other than plowing, seems to be beneficial.
"No smut-immune varieties of wheat are known, but the standard varieties show varying degrees of resistance. Spring wheats generally suffer less from smut than winter varieties. This is not due to any superior resistance, but rather to the fact that they escape infection. If only spring wheats were grown our smut problem would largely disappear; but a return to this practice is not suggested, since the winter wheats are much more desirable. It seems probable that the conditions which prevail during the growing season may have considerable influence on the per cent of smut in any given variety."
When Dorn finished his discourse, to receive the thanks of his listeners, they walked back through the yard toward the road. Mr. Anderson, who led the way, halted rather abruptly.
"Hum! Who're those men talkin' to my driver?" he queried.
Dorn then saw a couple of strangers standing near the motor-car, engaged in apparently close conversation with the chauffeur. Upon the moment they glanced up to see Mr. Anderson approaching, and they rather hurriedly departed. Dorn had noted a good many strangers lately—men whose garb was not that of farmers, whose faces seemed foreign, whose actions were suspicious.
"I'll bet a hundred they're I.W.W.'s," declared Anderson. "Take my hunch, Dorn."
The strangers passed on down the road without looking back.
"Wonder where they'll sleep to-night?" muttered Dorn.
Anderson rather sharply asked his driver what the two men wanted. And the reply he got was that they were inquiring about work.
"Did they speak English?" went on the rancher.
"Well enough to make themselves understood," replied the driver.
Dorn did not get a good impression from the shifty eyes and air of taciturnity of Mr. Anderson's man, and it was evident that the blunt rancher restrained himself. He helped his daughter into the car, and then put on his long coat. Next he shook hands with Dorn.
"Young man, I've enjoyed meetin' you, an' have sure profited from same," he said. "Which makes up for your dad! I'll run over here again to see you—around harvest-time. An' I'll be wishin' for that rain."
"Thank you. If it does rain I'll be happy to see you," replied Dorn, with a smile.
"Well, if it doesn't rain I won't come. I'll put it off another year, an' cuss them other fellers into holdin' off, too."
"You're very kind. I don't know how I'd—we'd ever repay you in that case."
"Don't mention it. Say, how far did you say it was to Palmer? We'll have lunch there."
"It's fifteen miles—that way," answered Dorn. "If it wasn't for—for father I'd like you to stay—and break some of my bread."
Dorn was looking at the girl as he spoke. Her steady gaze had been on him ever since she entered the car, and in the shade of her hat and the veil she was adjusting her eyes seemed very dark and sweet and thoughtful. She brightly nodded her thanks as she held the veil aside with both hands.
"I wish you luck. Good-by," she said, and closed the veil.
Still, Dorn could see her eyes through it, and now they were sweeter, more mysterious, more provocative of haunting thoughts. It flashed over him with dread certainty that he had fallen in love with her. The shock struck him mute. He had no reply for the rancher's hearty farewell. Then the car lurched away and dust rose in a cloud.
With a strange knocking of his heart, high up toward his throat, Kurt Dorn stood stock-still, watching the moving cloud of dust until it disappeared over the hill.
No doubt entered his mind. The truth, the fact, was a year old—a long-familiar and dreamy state—but its meaning had not been revealed to him until just a moment past. Everything had changed when she looked out with that sweet, steady gaze through the parted veil and then slowly closed it. She had changed. There was something intangible about her that last moment, baffling, haunting. He leaned against a crooked old gate-post that as a boy he had climbed, and the thought came to him that this spot would all his life be vivid and poignant in his memory. The first sight of a blue-eyed, sunny-haired girl, a year and more before, had struck deep into his unconscious heart; a second sight had made her an unforgettable reality: and a third had been the realization of love.
It was sad, regrettable, incomprehensible, and yet somehow his inner being swelled and throbbed. Her name was Lenore Anderson. Her father was one of the richest men in the state of Washington. She had one brother, Jim, who would not wait for the army draft. Kurt trembled and a hot rush of tears dimmed his eyes. All at once his lot seemed unbearable. An immeasurable barrier had arisen between him and his old father—a hideous thing of blood, of years, of ineradicable difference; the broad acres of wheatland so dear to him were to be taken from him; love had overcome him with headlong rush, a love that could never be returned; and cruelest of all, there was the war calling him to give up his home, his father, his future, and to go out to kill and to be killed.
It came to him while he leaned there, that, remembering the light of Lenore Anderson's eyes, he could not give up to bitterness and hatred, whatever his misfortunes and his fate. She would never be anything to him, but he and her brother Jim and many other young Americans must be incalculable all to her. That thought saved Kurt Dorn. There were other things besides his own career, his happiness; and the way he was placed, however unfortunate from a selfish point of view, must not breed a morbid self-pity.
The moment of his resolution brought a flash, a revelation of what he owed himself. The work and the thought and the feeling of his last few weeks there at home must be intensified. He must do much and live greatly in little time. This was the moment of his renunciation, and he imagined that many a young man who had decided to go to war had experienced a strange spiritual division of self. He wondered also if that moment was not for many of them a let-down, a throwing up of ideals, a helpless retrograding and surrender to the brutalizing spirit of war. But it could never be so for him. It might have been had not that girl come into his life.
The bell for the midday meal roused Kurt from his profound reverie, and he plodded back to the house. Down through the barnyard gate he saw the hired men coming, and a second glance discovered to him that two unknown men were with them. Watching for a moment, Kurt recognized the two strangers that had been talking to Mr. Anderson's driver. They seemed to be talking earnestly now. Kurt saw Jerry, a trusty and long-tried employee, rather unceremoniously break away from these strangers. But they followed him, headed him off, and with vehement nods and gesticulations appeared to be arguing with him. The other hired men pushed closer, evidently listening. Finally Jerry impatiently broke away and tramped toward the house. These strangers sent sharp words after him—words that Kurt could not distinguish, though he caught the tone of scorn. Then the two individuals addressed themselves to the other men; and in close contact the whole party passed out of sight behind the barn.
Thoughtfully Kurt went into the house. He meant to speak to Jerry about the strangers, but he wanted to consider the matter first. He had misgivings. His father was not in the sitting-room, nor in the kitchen. Dinner was ready on the table, and the one servant, an old woman who had served the Dorns for years, appeared impatient at the lack of promptness in the men. Both father and son, except on Sundays, always ate with the hired help. Kurt stepped outside to find Jerry washing at the bench.
"Jerry, what's keeping the men?" queried Kurt.
"Wal, they're palaverin' out there with two I.W.W. fellers," replied Jerry.
Kurt reached for the rope of the farm-bell, and rang it rather sharply. Then he went in to take his place at the table, and Jerry soon followed. Old man Dorn did not appear, which fact was not unusual. The other hired men did not enter until Jerry and Kurt were half done with the meal. They seemed excited and somewhat boisterous, Kurt thought, but once they settled down to eating, after the manner of hungry laborers, they had little to say. Kurt, soon finishing his dinner, went outdoors to wait for Jerry. That individual appeared to be long in coming, and loud voices in the kitchen attested to further argument. At last, however, he lounged out and began to fill a pipe.
"Jerry, I want to talk to you," said Kurt. "Let's get away from the house."
The hired man was a big, lumbering fellow, gnarled like an old oak-tree. He had a good-natured face and honest eyes.
"I reckon you want to hear about them I.W.W. fellers?" he asked, as they walked away.
"Yes," replied Kurt.
"There's been a regular procession of them fellers, the last week or so, walkin' through the country," replied Jerry. "To-day's the first time any of them got to me. But I've heerd talk. Sunday when I was in Palmer the air was full of rumors."
"Rumors of what?" queried Kurt.
"All kinds," answered Jerry, nonchalantly scratching his stubby beard. "There's an army of I.W.W.'s comin' in from eastward. Idaho an' Montana are gittin' a dose now. Short hours; double wages; join the union; sabotage, whatever thet is; capital an' labor fight; threats if you don't fall in line; an' Lord knows what all."
"What did those two fellows want of you?"
"Wanted us to join the I.W.W.," replied the laborer.
"Did they want a job?"
"Not as I heerd. Why, one of them had a wad of bills thet would choke a cow. He did most of the talkin'. The little feller with the beady eyes an' the pock-marks, he didn't say much. He's Austrian an' not long in this country. The big stiff—Glidden, he called himself—must be some shucks in thet I.W.W. He looked an' talked oily at first—very persuadin'; but when I says I wasn't goin' to join no union he got sassy an' bossy. They made me sore, so I told him to go to hell. Then he said the I.W.W. would run the whole Northwest this summer—wheat-fields, lumberin', fruit-harvestin', railroadin'—the whole kaboodle, an' thet any workman who wouldn't join would git his, all right."
"Well, Jerry, what do you think about this organization?" queried Kurt, anxiously.
"Not much. It ain't a square deal. I ain't got no belief in them. What I heerd of their threatenin' methods is like the way this Glidden talks. If I owned a farm I'd drive such fellers off with a whip. There's goin' to be bad doin's if they come driftin' strong into the Bend."
"Jerry, are you satisfied with your job?"
"Sure. I won't join the I.W.W. An' I'll talk ag'in' it. I reckon a few of us will hev to do all the harvestin'. An', considerin' thet, I'll take a dollar a day more on my wages."
"If father does not agree to that, I will," said Kurt. "Now how about the other men?"
"Wal, they all air leanin' toward promises of little work an' lots of pay," answered Jerry, with a laugh. "Morgan's on the fence about joinin'. But Andrew agreed. He's Dutch an' pig-headed. Jansen's only too glad to make trouble fer his boss. They're goin' to lay off the rest of to-day an' talk with Glidden. They all agreed to meet down by the culvert. An' thet's what they was arguin' with me fer—wanted me to come."
"Where's this man Glidden?" demanded Kurt. "I'll give him a piece of my mind."
"I reckon he's hangin' round the farm—out of sight somewhere."
"All right, Jerry. Now you go back to work. You'll never lose anything by sticking to us, I promise you that. Keep your eyes and ears open."
Kurt strode back to the house, and his entrance to the kitchen evidently interrupted a colloquy of some kind. The hired men were still at table. They looked down at their plates and said nothing. Kurt left the sitting-room door open, and, turning, he asked Martha if his father had been to dinner.
"No, an' what's more, when I called he takes to roarin' like a mad bull," replied the woman.
Kurt crossed the sitting-room to knock upon his father's door. The reply forthcoming did justify the old woman's comparison. It certainly caused the hired men to evacuate the kitchen with alacrity. Old Chris Dorn's roar at his son was a German roar, which did not soothe the young man's rising temper. Of late the father had taken altogether to speaking German. He had never spoken English well. And Kurt was rapidly approaching the point where he would not speak German. A deadlock was in sight, and Kurt grimly prepared to meet it. He pounded on the locked door.
"The men are going to lay off," he called.
"Who runs this farm?" was the thundered reply.
"The I.W.W. is going to run it if you sulk indoors as you have done lately," yelled Kurt. He thought that would fetch his father stamping out, but he had reckoned falsely. There was no further sound. Leaving the room in high dudgeon, Kurt hurried out to catch the hired men near at hand and to order them back to work. They trudged off surlily toward the barn.
Then Kurt went on to search for the I.W.W. men, and after looking up and down the road, and all around, he at length found them behind an old strawstack. They were comfortably sitting down, backs to the straw, eating a substantial lunch. Kurt was angry and did not care. His appearance, however, did not faze the strangers. One of them, an American, was a man of about thirty years, clean-shaven, square-jawed, with light, steely, secretive gray eyes, and a look of intelligence and assurance that did not harmonize with his motley garb. His companion was a foreigner, small of stature, with eyes like a ferret and deep pits in his sallow face.
"Do you know you're trespassing?" demanded Kurt.
"You grudge us a little shade, eh, even to eat a bite?" said the American. He wrapped a paper round his lunch and leisurely rose, to fasten penetrating eyes upon the young man. "That's what I heard about you rich farmers of the Bend."
"What business have you coming here?" queried Kurt, with sharp heat. "You sneak out of sight of the farmers. You trespass to get at our men and with a lot of lies and guff you make them discontented with their jobs. I'll fire these men just for listening to you."
"Mister Dorn, we want you to fire them. That's my business out here," replied the American.
"Who are you, anyway?"
"That's my business, too."
Kurt passed from hot to cold. He could not miss the antagonism of this man, a bold and menacing attitude.
"My foreman says your name's Glidden," went on Kurt, cooler this time, "and that you're talking I.W.W. as if you were one of its leaders; that you don't want a job; that you've got a wad of money; that you coax, then threaten; that you've intimidated three of our hands."
"Your Jerry's a marked man," said Glidden, shortly.
"You impudent scoundrel!" exclaimed Kurt. "Now you listen to this. You're the first I.W.W. man I've met. You look and talk like an American. But if you are American you're a traitor. We've a war to fight! War with a powerful country! Germany! And you come spreading discontent in the wheat-fields,… when wheat means life!… Get out of here before I—"
"We'll mark you, too, Mister Dorn, and your wheat-fields," snapped Glidden.
With one swift lunge Kurt knocked the man flat and then leaped to stand over him, watching for a move to draw a weapon. The little foreigner slunk back out of reach.
"I'll start a little marking myself," grimly said Kurt. "Get up!"
Slowly Glidden moved from elbow to knees, and then to his feet. His cheek was puffing out and his nose was bleeding. The light-gray eyes were lurid.
"That's for your I.W.W.!" declared Kurt. "The first rule of your I.W.W. is to abolish capital, hey?"
Kurt had not intended to say that. It slipped out in his fury. But the effect was striking. Glidden gave a violent start and his face turned white. Abruptly he hurried away. His companion shuffled after him. Kurt stared at them, thinking the while that if he had needed any proof of the crookedness of the I.W.W. he had seen it in Glidden's guilty face. The man had been suddenly frightened, and surprise, too, had been prominent in his countenance. Then Kurt remembered how Anderson had intimated that the secrets of the I.W.W. had been long hidden. Kurt, keen and quick in his sensibilities, divined that there was something powerful back of this Glidden's cunning and assurance. Could it be only the power of a new labor organization? That might well be great, but the idea did not convince Kurt. During a hurried and tremendous preparation by the government for war, any disorder such as menaced the country would be little short of a calamity. It might turn out a fatality. This so-called labor union intended to take advantage of a crisis to further its own ends. Yet even so, that fact did not wholly explain Glidden and his subtlety. Some nameless force loomed dark and sinister back of Glidden's meaning, and it was not peril to the wheatlands of the Northwest alone.
Like a huge dog Kurt shook himself and launched into action. There were sense and pleasure in muscular activity, and it lessened the habit of worry. Soon he ascertained that only Morgan had returned to work in the fields. Andrew and Jansen were nowhere to be seen. Jansen had left four horses hitched to a harrow. Kurt went out to take up the work thus abandoned.
It was a long field, and if he had earned a dollar for every time he had traversed its length, during the last ten years, he would have been a rich man. He could have walked it blindfolded. It was fallow ground, already plowed, disked, rolled, and now the last stage was to harrow it, loosening the soil, conserving the moisture.
Morgan, far to the other side of this section, had the better of the job, for his harrow was a new machine and he could ride while driving the horses. But Kurt, using an old harrow, had to walk. The four big horses plodded at a gait that made Kurt step out to keep up with them. To keep up, to drive a straight line, to hold back on the reins, was labor for a man. It spoke well for Kurt that he had followed that old harrow hundreds of miles, that he could stand the strain, that he loved both the physical sense and the spiritual meaning of the toil.
Driving west, he faced a wind laden with dust as dry as powder. At every sheeted cloud, whipping back from the hoofs of the horses and the steel spikes of the harrow, he had to bat his eyes to keep from being blinded. The smell of dust clogged his nostrils. As soon as he began to sweat under the hot sun the dust caked on his face, itching, stinging, burning. There was dust between his teeth.
Driving back east was a relief. The wind whipped the dust away from him. And he could catch the fragrance of the newly turned soil. How brown and clean and earthy it looked! Where the harrow had cut and ridged, the soil did not look thirsty and parched. But that which was unharrowed cried out for rain. No cloud in the hot sky, except the yellow clouds of dust!
On that trip east across the field, which faced the road, Dorn saw pedestrians in twos and threes passing by. Once he was hailed, but made no answer. He would not have been surprised to see a crowd, yet travelers were scarce in that region. The sight of these men, some of them carrying bags and satchels, was disturbing to the young farmer. Where were they going? All appeared outward bound toward the river. They came, of course, from the little towns, the railroads, the cities. At this season, with harvest-time near at hand, it had been in former years no unusual sight to see strings of laborers passing by. But this year they came earlier, and in greater numbers.
With the wind in his face, however, Dorn saw nothing but the horses and the brown line ahead, and half the time they were wholly obscured in yellow dust. He began thinking about Lenore Anderson, just pondering that strange, steady look of a girl's eyes; and then he did not mind the dust or heat or distance. Never could he be cheated of his thoughts. And those of her, even the painful ones, gave birth to a comfort that he knew must abide with him henceforth on lonely labors such as this, perhaps in the lonelier watches of a soldier's duty. She had been curious, aloof, then sympathetic; she had studied his face; she had been an eloquent-eyed listener to his discourse on wheat. But she had not guessed his secret. Not until her last look—strange, deep, potent—had he guessed that secret himself.
So, with mind both busy and absent, Kurt Dorn harrowed the fallow ground abandoned by his men; and when the day was done, with the sun setting hot and coppery beyond the dim, dark ranges, he guided the tired horses homeward and plodded back of them, weary and spent.
He was to learn from Morgan, at the stables, that the old man had discharged both Andrew and Jansen. And Jansen, liberating some newly assimilated poison, had threatened revenge. He would see that any hired men would learn a thing or two, so that they would not sign up with Chris Dorn. In a fury the old man had driven Jansen out into the road.
Sober and moody, Kurt put the horses away, and, washing the dust grime from sunburnt face and hands, he went to his little attic room, where he changed his damp and sweaty clothes. Then he went down to supper with mind made up to be lenient and silent with his old and sorely tried father.
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