This is a continuation of Agnes Sligh Turnbull's short story When Queens Ride By, first published in 1932. You are reading the diary of Jennie Musgrave and her journey back to the heart of her home. Jennie is a farm wife living in the 1940's in rural Massachusetts. Her diary chronicles her account of returning to the role God made especially for her, that of help-meet to her husband and loving mother. It is my sincere wish this diary bless you. ~Suzanne

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Little Visit

This weekend was just a whirlwind of activity! I didn't have time to jot down one thought 'til now. Saturday, while John brought the milk to town, the children and I got to work. Little Jim and Bobby had instructions to start clearing the back walk of all rubbish and bringing buckets and bins to the barn door where John could decide what to do with them. I was going to get that side of the house gussied up. After the highway lady walked through there and I was so embarrassed by the mess I had that on my list of things to do.  A nice clean path and some bulbs planted for Spring blooming would look right pretty I figured. 

RuthAnn and I started the days baking. Boy did we get alot done and what a treat to have my little girl beside me in her apron just happy to help her Mama.  We made batches of apple muffins, apple cakes, apple and oatmeal cookies and four apple pies! I figure we could just about use up our whole orchard with baking if need be!

John came home just before I had set lunch out so he helped the little boys with the buckets and rubbish. Just clearing that away gave the house a whole new look, why it looked right clean, tidy and welcoming. 

After lunch and tidying the kitchen John and the boys took to throwing a baseball around the back . I had tears in my eyes as I watched him show our sons how a bat was held and how to pitch a ball. Before we married John played for the church league here and there. Little Jim had come home from school Friday with a very long face. After a bit of coaxin' we got the story that he had been made fun of by some of the boys for not being able to play ball well. I think this just crushed John's heart and he promised little Jim he would give him a few lessons on baseball. He kept his word and the boys couldn't have smiles any wider than they had while out with their Papa throwing that ball around. 

We all gathered some corn stalks so I could tie some bundles and decorate the outside of the house with a bit of our harvest. Those pictures of homes in the ladies magazines showed such beautiful decorations on porches. So, I took it into my head to do the same! John helped me tie some stalks to the porch beams and I put pumpkins and gourds around the stalks and on the steps. Oh did it look pretty when I was done! John said I had a good eye for decoratin' and I think he was pretty happy I had taken the time to do this. Both of us had a bit more pride in our home as it was shapin' up. It's not fancy and nothing is new, most is worn out , but now it is clean and tidy and lookin' like a place someone may want to stop by and visit.

 I had spread a nice checked tablecloth I found in the drawer on the table on the front porch. I thought it was such a sunny, warm day for Autumn that we could enjoy come cookies and cider on the porch. Well, no sooner had we sat down than a truck was coming up the lane. We hadn't had a visitor in so long, besides Harry Davis, that we were pretty surprised and almost forgot our manners when the family all spilled out. I say spilled cause six children kind of tumbled out when the parents opened the door. Some olders jumped out of the back of the truck.  Why they all lined up beside their Ma and Pa and you could tell were itichin' to play with my children.  They were just darlin' and then we all made introductions. It was the Pastor of the church up the road and his family.  They were visiting an elderly lady up the road apiece and saw our sign for apples and wanted to buy some.  Their names were Philip and Lila Miller. 

We all went out to the orchard and got a couple of bushels for Mrs. Miller picked. She told me she planned on canning apple butter and apple sauce. It was lovely to have a little lady chatter in my day. I had quite forgotten how enjoyable the company of another lady is. We talked about the children and cooking and canning like we was old friends!

After picking the apples we invited them to share some cookies and cider on the porch with us. They obliged and the children sat on the front grass and enjoyed the goodies too. Pastor Miller got 'round to asking if we were church goers. John kind of shuffled his feet a bit and said well we used to be, but all the work on the farm kind of took every minute of every day from us. The pastor was a nice fella and told us he understood and said anytime we wanted to stop in and visit the church we were most welcome. Of course the children came running up to me asking if they could go to Sunday school tomorrow with their new friends! It was a bit uncomfortable for a moment, but I told the children their Pa and I would talk it over and perhaps we would pay a visit. They all yippeed in glee at that!

The Millers didn't overstay their welcome and were very thankful for the apples,cider and cookies. I gave Mrs. Miller a jug of our own apple cider and a jar of my apple butter. She was a very sweet lady and said to me if the children ever did wish to come to Sunday school it started at 9am. Then they had a coffee and social 'til 10:30 and right after that service started. I told her I was much obliged by the invite and we would consider it sometime.

As they drove down the lane John looked at me and asked how long had it been since we stepped inside a church? I said I didn't know, maybe 6 or 7 years. He said well if we do show up I hope the church don't fall on our heads. We both had a good laugh over that.

I am so plum tired I have to finish this another night. I am one busy bee in my home , but this is a good tired. Things are shaping up inside and I don't know how or why but things on the outside seem to be coastin' along too!

Friday, April 23, 2010

A bit of pocket money

Another early mornin' saw me fixin' a hearty breakfast of flapjacks, bacon and eggs today! I also got the day's bread dough mixed and ready to rise. It's refreshing to get up before everyone else and start the day. Little Jim was dressed in a clean , ironed shirt and pants and sent off to school with his books and lunch tin. Where has the time gone? That little boy of mine looked like a man walkin' down the lane to school all smiles. Makes my momma's heart proud. John was just returnin' from the milkin' and gave little Jim a pat on the head and some more encouragin' words about his school studies. Jim seems to be a bit happier going out the door to school since John has been helping him with his math and spelling in the eves. My husband is really such a lovin' man and I feel blessed to have him! John was looking confident this morn as he told me he was on his way to see Percy at the store. I had a clean and ironed shirt and pants for John's trip this morn' and told him to head on up to the bedroom to change into them. He looked right perplexed and asked me what was all the fuss about. "Well, I figured since you would be discussing business you may want to be lookin' your best", I told him. "Yes, I reckon your right Jennie", he replied. John came down a few minutes later lookin' right smart and I told him so. "I'll be back around lunch time or a bit after I spose'. I think I will get to the hayin' the field and work right to suppertime", John surmised. "When you get back I will have some lunch fixed up for you, can't be working on an empty stomach all afternoon, now can you", I said. John gave me a sweet kiss goodbye and told me I was lookin' real pretty. I swear I hadn't seen John stand so tall and sure for a good long time. A quick prayer was offered up that Mr. Percy would need that hay and eggs . The extra bit of pocket money would come in mighty handy!
With all the ironin' and mendin' caught up on I set about fryin' some chicken for lunch. The old Switchel flask was still hanging in the basement and I got it and decided to make a big batch for John to take while hayin'. This would help him keep hydrated while was out in the sun. The pottery felt cool to my hands and I remembered when we were first married how I would make the drink for John when all the hayin’ needed doin’. I mixed him up a batch in my old mason jar and set it in the icebox to get nice and cold.

 With lunch ready and some time to spare I decided my bedroom needed some more attention. Those old curtains needed to be soaked in some peroxide to whiten them up and I washed the two windows so the sun could stream through. I gave the walls a quick wash. The bedroom looked cozy and so clean now. The big rocker for rocking my babes begged me to come sit a spell and I did! I just rocked for a bit and took in the orderly room. It all felt so good!

It was after 12:30 so I decided to get the children fed and put a dish aside for John.  After lunch we put the kitchen in order and we sat down and we played a game of jacks! I don't think I have played a game with my children , well, I can't remember ever playing! They were both so full of smiles. I sent them up to their rooms for a bit of a rest and I went out to check on the chickens and turkeys. More eggs!

John drove in just as I was bringin' the basket of eggs in and he was grinning from ear to ear! Yes, Percy wanted to buy hay and he wanted fresh eggs too! Thank you Lord--this will help us out tremendously! I do believe this restored John's confidence in himself as a farmer.

After I fed John his lunch and sent him off to the field I sat down in the living room and started spinning my wool I had dyed last fall.  It had been awhile since I had spun, but the old wheel felt familiar to my hands and I spun up a nice size skein for a pair of mittens. Maybe later tonight I can cast on for the first pair. 

The children and I made up a nice batch of oatmeal and apple chunk cookies. They had more flour on them than in the dough , but it was good to see them smilin' and enjoying this time with me.  The first batch came out just as little Jim came in from school. We all had a snack of cookies and cider. 

Tomorrow was Saturday and I decided I would get back in my old routine of baking quite a bit on that day. I got apple pies and apple doughnuts on the list as well as more cookies.  The children and I went out and picked us a good bushel of apples for tomorrow's baking.

Dinner was leftover potato and ham soup with fresh bread and a squash casserole. I don't like to pat myself on the back , but dinner was quite good. 
After dinner we all gathered around the radio and listened to a broadcast of Little Orphan Annie, the children love that show. I was able to cast on for the first mitten while they listened and after the children were tucked in John and I enjoyed an episode of Abbott & Costello with some pie and tea.

Our lives in the last few days have calmed down so, seem so peaceful. I wish that stranger would come by again so I could thank her personally. She must of thought I was a hopeless case .

Well now I must put this diary down and get to sleep, John is snoring away next to me. I have much to do tomorrow and I am looking forward to every task on my list!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Jennie begins anew

This morn I rose at 4:30 am, a full hour before our normal rising time. I crept silently past John and down the back hall steps and entered my clean kitchen with a smile. It had been many years since I started the day in a clean, orderly kitchen. I felt a new zest for life just bursting within me!

I started the stove and got the large pots on to boil for a bath. I took a nice soak and scrubbed my hair. A nice dash of rose water graced my bath and it clung to my skin when I got out and dried off. My hair took longer to brush than I thought, but I wanted it to lay like silk so I brushed every tangle out thoroughly. After dressing in my best dress again, I put a large pot of oatmeal on and the coffee to perk. I went out to get some fresh eggs from the hens and came in to work on making John and the children a delicious breakfast. No more hastily prepared meals was my hope. I set the table up real pretty with a little vase of my own sunflowers I had grown. The field of sunflowers I had planted, in hopes of harvesting and selling them was wasting away. But, I wouldn't dwell on that today!

After waking everyone and getting the children washed and into clothes , I dashed back to the kitchen to put the last touches on breakfast. Pipin' hot oatmeal with a generous dressing of maple syrup, bacon fried up crisp but not overdone and some fresh scrambled eggs--oh it looked all too delicious on the table! I think John was in shock as when he came down the stairs he just muttered a bit sleepily, "What's this all about"? I could tell he was pleased though. The children had smiles a mile wide as they sat down to our little breakfast feast. I wanted a cheery table to start the day.

John finished his coffee and sighed most contentedly. He said, "I am off to do the milkin' now". This was a moment I was secretly dreading as I usually go and help him. I gave him a peck on the cheek to his surprise and told him a hearty lunch would be waiting for him at noon. He looked a bit puzzled, but went on his way.

I sent little Jim off to school with his tin lunch box packed with a nice slice of ham from last nights sup and bread with apple butter and a wedge of apple pie. That spotted shirtwaist still bothered me, but no bother, I knew that wouldn't happen again after today!

The little ones were going to go off on their own adventures , but I decided that from now on they would be stayin' close to me. RuthAnn and Bobby were sent up to their rooms with instructions to take the quilts and sheets from their beds and bring them down to the kitchen. Autumn has arrived and I really needed to get the warmer bedding on. After putting the kitchen in order I stripped my bed of the summer quilts and sheets and opened the windows to air the room. I took all the warmer bedding to the clothes line to air out and was thankful I had the forethought to spread my homegrown lavender buds between the layers before packing them for the summer. Everything smelled heavenly! Then I attacked the wash which had piled up for well over a week! All ten ropes on my clothesline had fresh, clean laundry and bedding blowing in the breeze. The children and I dusted and mopped the bedrooms til they were shining. After we were done, RuthAnn wanted to play with her paper dolls and Bobby wanted to play with his blocks in their bedrooms. They never wanted to stay in their rooms before, but how could they, with such an unorganized mess! Now there was order and it all felt so good.

While the children were occupied I made a dough for a crust and wrapped that in a damp tea towel to put in the icebox. I also put a chicken on to boil and made a cup of tea. John had done some figurin' last night and now it was my turn to put some thoughts on paper. The tomatoes would be too far gone by now, but that didn't mean I couldn't make a fair amount of tomato soup,relishes and sauces for canning. I could fill my pantry shelves with the bounty of the farm. We certainly won't starve that way! The children needed some warm sweaters and mittens. I would start taking some time here and there and get to my knittin' basket. A whole basket of wool I dyed last year with the goldenrod was just waitin' to be spun and knit up. I still can't believe I am thinkin' this way, what with the tomatoes and apples going to waste! I took that little hanky from my bosom and breathed in the feminine fragrance that lingered and quickly put those thoughts from my head. I would see that as much as possible didn't go to waste--that was my job! Creative ways to use the surplus produce swirled through my brain! Some sewing needed doing too. A few new dresses for RuthAnn and I . Shirts and pants for the boys and John. I do wish I was a better seamstress, but I will do my best.

Lunch was nearing and I put the finishing touches on a tasty chicken pie. Into the cookstove it went and it was bubbling and had a golden crust when I rang the big bell for John to come in to wash up. I do believe John was still in a bit of shock with all this, but he did comment that lunch was right tastey and the braids in my hair looked pretty. I was a bit lighter on my feet this afternoon from the compliments!

Little Jim came home from school with a note from his teacher, Miss Bradford. She said he is having a bit of trouble with his math facts and spelling. A pang of quilt rose hot in my chest as I realized that if I had taken the time to help him with his homework this may not have happened. The children had a glass of milk with a slice of bread and strawberry preserves, put up last year from our strawberry patch. When they finished I told them we were going to harvest some of the potatoes. We all worked hard to fill that bushel basket and little Jim loaded it onto his radio flyer wagon and brought it to the house for me. I put a bucket of water and the scrubber on the porch with instructions for the children to wash the taters clean of dirt. While they scrubbed I set the table and started a base for a ham and potato soup. I also made some more of my light and fluffy biscuits and got a pumpkin pie into the oven. I can't say how much I was enjoyin' cookin' again---it sure felt good takin' care of my family like this! While Jim went out to finish the evenin' chores I had the children help wash the dishes then got them all bathed and scrubbed clean til they were pink! It felt so good to take care of the children. Women are the nurturers in the home my Ma used to say.

John came back in and I had hot coffee and pumpkin pie for him and he sat with little Jim and went over his math facts and spelling words with him. I had shared Miss Bradford's report out of little Jim's earshot. I didn't want him feelin' bad when it was our fault for neglectin' his education. The little one's and I went upstairs and read a bit of Winnie-The- Pooh. I tucked my children into nice warm, clean sheets and quilts that smelled faintly of lavender. When was the last time I had read to my babies?

When I came down I put more water on to boil and told John it was his turn for a nice relaxin' bath. He was so surprised I had to repeat what I said! Little Jim was sent upstairs to do some reading. As he gets a bit older I will let him keep the lamp on for a spell and read a story of his choice. Seems Treasure Island has caught his fancy. While my husband enjoyed his bath I sat down to do a bit of mending by the fire I had lit earlier. When he came down he looked like a new man! All clean shaven in his pajama's I had washed that morn. John said he tucked little Jim in with an encouragin' word about his schooling and told me he would keep an eye on his learnin'. I put my mendin' basket aside and ironed a clean shirt and pants for little Jim. I won't have him going to school all disheveled and dirty anymore. John did a bit more figurin' by the light of the oil lamp while I got him a shirt and pants ironed for tomorrow too. John told me, " On my way home tomorrow from deliverin' the milk I think I will stop by Percy's General Store and see if he needs any hay. That south field is full and we will have enough for our own animals and plenty left over." That got me to thinkin'. "John", I said, " Do you think you could inquire of Percy if he needs any eggs, the hens are laying plenty for us and then some". "Sure, it can't hurt to ask . All ol' Percy can say is no I reckon", John answered.

John and I headed up to bed and by the light of the lamp I have written my day down. It's been a good long time since I kept a diary. I think I shall like keepin' one again and it will be good to record how my days progress. Tonight I 'm fallin' into bed tired, but not the exhausted , defeatin' kind of tired I have felt for years now. No, this was the kind of day I dreamed of when I first got married. Sleep tonight will be sweet indeed!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

When Queens Ride By~The Beginning

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!"