As Rosalie stood on the threshold, basket in hand, watching Hercule slab off the beech-wood, pieces, something said, “now,” to her, as if she were a runner starting a race. She walked straight towards the pile of hewn chips, keeping the woodpile between her and Hercule. In her basket she had “Don Quixote”, “The Tempest”, “Typee” and “Les Miserables” and “Tess” all borrowed, sine die, from the school library but to be one day faithfully returned, two fat packages of sandwiches, soap and a comb and towel, mathes, needle and thread, a pair of pyjamas, her school certificate, and a purse with fifty-three dollars in it that was all her own. She reached the hewn log and could hear the sharp whacks of Hercule’s axe as he slabbed off the beech log. She sat down on the hewn sill and quickly pulling off shoes and stockings flung them in the basket. Then barefooted, and swift as a deer, she ran up the pasture road till she melted into the screen of alder bushes. She ran a long way on the brown grass of the hillside till she was quite out of breath. Crouching behind a little spruce, she rested and then ran on eagerly, and her feet seemed to beat out a rhythm, “I leave all behind, I want to be myself, I cannot be owned by anyone, I want to be Rosalie.” Then she came to the brook, she lifted her skirt and stepped boldly in. The September hill water was cold and the sand oozed up between her toes. For three hundred yards she waded, then grasping a low hanging bow she swung herself far out on the bank. Had Rosalie known there was to be a shower that night she need not have taken such a precaution. Then after a little distance, she dried her feet on the crisp autumn grass and put on again her shoes and stockings. She took a path that she knew led to the nine-mile forest road that emerged on the highway, and avoided every soft place that might leave a footprint. When she came to the forest road that pioneers had built long ago, before the highway came, and over which ox-carts had plodded for a couple of centuries, she found the going easy for the road was smooth and grass-grown. Twilight came early in the forest. Behind in the narrow slit of sky she saw a glint of red, and she knew that she was travelling east as she had intended. Eastward toward the sunrise, that was the unknown goal she had chosen.
She had always dreaded the sinister forest but she was not afraid of its furtive inhabitants. Being a country girl, she knew that none of them would harm her; rather they would slink away or stand frozen at the sound of her footsteps. Now darkness was coming on, and she must find some hidden place to spend the night. September nights are cold after midnight, and she would hardly dare to make an open fire. Somewhere beneath a dry thick spruce with branches piled above and below her, she must cower till the first daylight came.
But Rosalie had unexpected good luck. Just as she had decided to stop and camp in the open, she saw by the trail’s side a deserted lumberman’s camp. In she darted. There was a rusty stove with a rusty stovepipe sticking crazily through the roof, a rough board table and a couple of benches. Nobody, she could tell at a glance, had been there for years. There were plenty of dried chips on the floor and chunks of dried hardwood that would burn without sparking. Rosalie gathered some chips and chunks and made a fire in the stove, after a little she closed the draughts to make a slow steady fire. She drew the table across the doorway as a kind of barricade, and moving the two benches against the wall and near the stove, she took off shoes and stockings and toasted her shapely feet. Then she got out a package of sandwiches and ate four, regretting that she had nothing to drink. She gave a pat to her beloved books. She was not in the least afraid but rather exhilarated in her newfound freedom. She was warm and dry at any rate, and here in safety she could doze and wake to throw another chunk into the stove. For some little while she sat talking to herself as if she were two persons, and she was two persons, for all of us at times have two or even three distinct personalities.
“Where are you going, Rosalie?”
“I don’t know, I haven’t the faintest notion.”
“Aren’t you ashamed that you have run away from Hercule and your father and mother and brothers and sisters?”
“Mother will grieve over the mystery of my going, but the others will have no time for long regret”
“I’m sorry, but I’m not ashamed. Hercule will be sad and the priest and Le Bon Dieu angry, but Mary, the Pure One, will intercede with her Son for me.
Rosalie here reached down and drew the battered volume of “Don Quixote” into her lap.
“He ran away.”
“But he was a man and you are only a village girl.”
“I’m Rosalie, I want to be Rosalie.”
“You stole those books from the schoolhouse, Rosalie.”
“No, I only borrowed them. I’ll return them someday. Nobody but me would bother to read them anyway, nobody but me knew they were there.”
“But if you return them they’ll know you’re alive and where you are.”
“Bother,” said Rosalie, “so they will. I’ll have to wait a long time and then send money and sign the letter, ‘A Friend’.”
“Where will you sleep tomorrow night, Rosalie?”
“Somewhere. I’ll have to sleep, so I’ll sleep wherever I am.”
“In the cold woods?”
“I’ll be on the highway tomorrow, and I have money in my purse. I think I’ll sew some in my shirt.”
“Poor Hercule! He’ll sleep alone.”
“Yes, alone. He’ll miss his white heifer. That’s what he thought I was, his white heifer. Something inside me said, ‘Go now,’ and I had to obey.”
Then the beginning of mysterious night sounds brought a little sadness and loneliness to Rosalie’s heart. In some nearby lake, two loons began their call of departure, soft and melancholy, and quite different from their rain call or their spring song of arrival and mating. “Who Wha Who,” they called, the “Wha” a halftone or almost a whole tone higher. This sad farewell, “Who Wha Who,” broke the silence of the forest. Yet it was hardly a silence, for as night fell completely all wild things began to move. The owl began his song, a harsh tune unlike anything poets have described. “Hoo hoo hoo hoo,” he shouted with a strong accent on the first “hoo” and a snarling sinister discord on the last. Then came a pattering of hurried tiny footsteps on the roof. Some squirrel or chipmunk was abroad.
These night sounds did not frighten Rosalie for she was country- bred and knew what each meant. The swift nighthawk, with its spot of white, hid shyly by day like the bat and hunted and flew by night. The woodcock was sailing southward on swift whistling wings. He, too, flew by night and would rest for a few days in the alder covers, driving his long bill into the marshy ground to draw strength for his long southern trek. The migration of the woodcock reminded her that she too was migrating, and that all the furtive wild animals in the wide world were forever moving in search of love, food or safety. Only she was fleeing food and safety, and unlike the wise woodcock flying south to warm comfort, she was migrating north and east to she knew not what. The loon with his sad departure song, “I must go, I must go,” touched something within her that made her heart beat in sympathy. The owl with his fierce arrogant call, heard chiefly in August and September, was harder to interpret. He, too, flew by night, clutching by day the topmost bough of some yellow birch, and he seemed to say to the world of men and beasts, “I am proud and wise and fierce and independent and arrogant, and I defy you all.” Certainly, the owl believed in private enterprise in the democracy of the forest.
Only that very morning Rosalie had seen a glorious sight that had perhaps brought to a head her resolve for departure; a great flight of geese winging south, a giant V, perhaps three hundred strong, with a space of a quarter of a mile between the open part of the V; a wavering V, for while she watched, some fell back and the leader who broke the air, gave place to another. High up over the grey sea, they had winged southward with a steady purpose. Great courage was theirs to dare the hurricane and seek a new home. Perhaps they were cleaner and better than man and monkey. At any rate as Rosalie had watched the V fade into southern specks and at last vanish into the infinite grey distance, some inner voice kept saying; “You must go today, you must migrate like the wild geese, you must seek some home for your spirit, you must go today, you must go today.”
She threw two big-knotted chunks into the airtight stove and pushing the benches further back, leaned against the wall. It was hot now in the camp and she soon drifted into sleep, waking only intermittently to tend the fire. Dawn began to glimmer at five-thirty, and with the first grey she was up and alert. The fire had burned down to powdery ash and the stove would soon cool and show no sign of use. She pulled the table back into its original position, upset the benches, and scattered the chips and straw on the floor so that there was no trace of her footprints. She looked around carefully to see that she had left nothing, then again set out swiftly eastward, munching two of her sandwiches as she went. At the first brook she stopped long enough to drink, wash her face and hands and run a comb through her short hair. The smooth morning water gave back Rosalie’s face and Rosalie smiled in a friendly fashion. Only a brief pause and she was off again, brisk on her feet as a hare with the yelp of hounds behind him. She knew she must move quickly for all the settlement would search far and wide for her that day.
By six-thirty she had reached the highway and turned to the left. The cement of the highway seemed hard after the grass-grown nine mile road. She had gone barely a hundred yards when an oil-truck pulled up beside her and halted. Rosalie’s heart missed a beat; perhaps they had overtaken her and would carry her back. For one swift second she thought of turning and darting into the woods, but no, the driver was quite unknown to her, a grizzled man of forty with a kindly face. Her quick eye noted that the truck’s number plate belonged to an adjoining province.
“Want a lift?”
“You’re travelling early.”
“So are you,” said Rosalie, and laughed.
“I have to if I’m goin’ to make home tonight.”
Rosalie wondered if he would ask her where she was going. It wouldn’t do to say she didn’t know, and she hated to make up a lie at the very beginning of her travels. All she truly knew was that she wanted to get as far away from home as quickly as possible. But he didn’t ask her. He was a decent man by nature, and moreover, he was much interested in his own affairs.
“I had to bring this tank of oil down yesterday in a hurry, there’s a shortage. I told my wife and kids I’d be home tonight. That’s why I’m on this road early and that’s why I’m travellin’ fast. Do you mind goin’ fast?”
“Not a bit,” said Rosalie, “it looks as if we could knock anything off the road.”
“She’s half empty now, but when she’s full, boy, doesn’t she carry way. Yes, I got to get home tonight, I got a grand wife.”
“She’s Scotch, thrifty you know. She wouldn’t exactly skin a louse for his hide and tallow, but she’s near, pretty near. But she’s not mean, she’s generous over big things and she never refuses a beggar.”
“How come you got a Scotch wife?”
“I’ll tell you,” said the driver. “It’s rather interestin’. I bin a soldier. I guess every able-bodied man bin a soldier sometime or other these days. I was in the Forestry Corps and part of the time I worked lumber mills in Scotland.”
“I’d like to see Scotland.”
“It’s wet, awful wet, wet all the time, mist and fog and rain fact is though, I met her through wetness.”
Rosalie laughed, “That’s a funny way to meet a girl.”
“Ain’t it! All through wetness. If I hadn’t been soaked, I don’t mean drunk, but really soaked in water, I’d never have met her.”
Rosalie was rather curious to know how he’d met his wife through wetness, but she didn’t ask, because she didn’t want any questions put to her. She only wanted to keep the conversation open and going. But there was no need to give any conversational push to the driver who was apparently burning to reveal his most intimate thoughts.
“It was this way,” he said. “I was on leave in Edinburgh, and it was a Sunday night and I was wandering about the streets of the lower town. There was a heavy mist with a slant of drizzle in it, what they calls a fine night in Scotland, and I was alone and not knowin’ what to do or where to go. Sunday is a dead day in Edinburgh on leave, and I was dead tired of sittin’ in a mean little hotel lobby. I don’t like drinkin’ and though I like the company of nice women, I’ve no taste for street-girls, and I didn’t want to come home with the pox.”
“He’s very outspoken,” thought Rosalie.
“Just as I was at dead low, the sky opened, and down came the rain cats and dogs, in buckets. I see a little porch with a light shining above it across the road, but before I could make it, my great coat was soaked through and I could feel the wet on the shoulders of my tunic. I stood in the porch-way as the rain pelted down and slithered along the gutters. Then I heard them singin’ within, and I see I was standin’ in the doorway of a little church. Without thinkin’, though I suppose somethin’ directed me, I opened the door, went in and set myself down in a pew. They sit down to sing over there, and they sing a whole long psalm right through, maybe that’s why they sit, leg-weary if they didn’t. There was a girl in the pew, and she pushed over friendly like and offered half her psalm-book. I’m no singer myself, but my wife, she’s good. The minister was a fierce lookin’ old guy, with black whiskers turning grey and boy he was some long winded when he got on his feet and laid hold on both sides of the brown pulpit. He didn’t have no notes nor nothin’ written down, for he stared wild-eyed at the people all the time. Boy, he could lay down the law. He knew his stuff all right. He just turned on the tap and let her go. I didn’t get the hang of the sermon rightly. It was something about predestination. He praised Mr. John Calvin up to the skies, and when he came to the Pope o’ Rome, he gave him a proper blast, a regular out and out blitz.
“My clothes was steamin’ as he preached, and I thought some of movin’ on and goin’ back to my hotel and dryin’ out, but the girl encouraged me to stay and I liked the looks of her.
“ ‘He’s past the half way mark now,’ she whispered, behind her book, and later, ‘He’s drawin’ to a close now.’
“Well, since she encouraged me, I stuck it out, and after another long, psalm, sittin’ down, I started to go. ‘Good night,’ ses I, ‘and thank you for half o’ your hymn-book.’
“ ‘Come up to the house,’ says she, ‘and I’ll brew you a cup of tea, and you can meet my folks and dry your clothes.’
“She looked a nice girl, none too young, twenty-six maybe, and I’d met her in church, so she couldn’t be pickin’ me up, so I says, ‘Good,’ and we went along together. The deluge had held up for the moment but there was a rank thick mist. ‘It’s turned out to be a braw night after all,’ ses she. I didn’t contradict her, but thinks I to myself, if she thinks this braw what would she call a warm evening where I live in a pleasant river valley?
“It wasn’t far to her house, and she opened the door and showed me in. I took off my soaking great coat, hung it on the hall rack and stepped into the parlour as she told me. There sittin’ eyeing me was the fierce man who had preached in the pulpit.”
“Like a priest,” said Rosalie. “Only priests never have wives and children.” But the driver paid no attention to Rosalie’s observation.
“So this was the minister’s house, and the girl must be his daughter, she’s too young to be his wife, thinks I. And I was right first time, she was his daughter, his only daughter and her mother dead. ‘Father,’ said the girl, ‘this is a Canadian soldier who came dripping into the kirk and sat in my pew, and I’ve brought him home to dry his coat and make him a pot of tea.’
“ ‘Ay,’ ses her father, ‘and what might your name be?’
“ ‘Johnny Allen,’ ses I, ‘And I’m pleased to meet you, Sir.’
“ ‘Then’ he ses, ‘I judge from your manner of speakin’ that you’re from the Americas.’
“ ‘I am.’ ses I. ‘I’m a Canadian.’
“ ‘There are many Scotch there,’ ses he.
“ ‘Yes’, ses I, ‘but our worst pest is rabbits.’ The minute I’d said that I knew I’d made an awful bloomer, and I’d have liked to have bit my tongue off, for there he was a Scotchman himself. I was only trying to be bright and cheerful and funny. That’s when you always get in trouble, when you try to be funny. I’d read that joke somewhere in the paper, an Australian talking to a Scotchman on a train, and it seemed pretty smart to me. He looked mad for a minute, and then he put back his head and gave a hoot of laughter. ‘They’re too smart for the English, Irish and French,’ ses he, ‘but they get on, they get on. Grand men were Mr. Carnegie and Alexander Graham Bell and Lord Strathcona. Ay, doubtless they must seem pests to them that are thriftless, lazy and incompetent. And you, yourself, have a lowland name, Allen.’
“ ‘I don’t know where the Allens come from,’ ses I. ‘There’s nigh as many Allens as MacDonalds in our valley.’
“ ‘Then’ ses he, ‘The MacDonalds are a noble and gifted people, I myself am not ashamed to say I’m a MacDonald.’
“ ‘Most of them is Catholics where I come from’, ses I.
“ ‘Yes, yes too bad,’ ses he. ‘Noble men, but alas the Reformation never reached them in the Western Isles.’
“ ‘They don’t look as if they’d missed anything’, ses I, and just then Margaret, for that was the girl’s name, came in with the tea and scones, and the old man and I set to. He was a hearty eater, and tired from preaching so long and hard. He swilled down about a pint of scalding tea, and then he turned on me again;
“ ‘Are you a member of the Kirk, Mr. Allen?’
“ ‘No’, ses I, ‘I’m a Methodist.’ ”
Rosalie had never seen a Methodist before, let alone spoken to one. Was it possible that kind simple men like this were going to frizzle in Hell forever. She supposed they must, it was too bad. She knit her brows; this big world was going to be a difficult thing to understand, but if difficult, at least interesting. She was wandering out now, like Don Quixote.
Johnny Allen, quite unconscious of what was going on in Rosalie’s mind, went on eagerly with his narrative, that had been oft repeated.
“And then he ses to me, ‘A follower of John Wesley: poor man, he meant well, though he did ill to break with an Established Church.’ I can remember everythin’ about that evenin’, and everythin’ the old man said though I didn’t get the drift of all of his remarks, and they would take too long to tell. We each had five cups of tea and ate up all the biscuits, scones they call them. Margaret didn’t eat or drink with us. The women are kept in the background in them parts, not like around here, where the women pounce on everythin’.
“ ‘I’m here on leave’ I ses to him, when we got through lappin’ up tea and got our bibs off. ‘I’m stoppin’ at MacDonald’s hotel. I’m in the Forestry Corps, and I’m boss sawyer in a lumber mill beyond the hills.’
“ ‘Then you’re a responsible man,’ ses he. ‘I am that,’ ses I. I smoke but I don’t drink, and I don’t chase the street-girls.’
“ ‘I suppose now,’ ses he, ‘you waste six pence a week on tobacco.’
“ ‘I do and more,’ ses I.
“Then ses he, ‘Smokin’s an evil and wasteful habit.’
“Margaret carried out the tea things and I could hear her washin’ up in the kitchen. I wanted to help her for l’m handy about the house, but I didn’t dare leave the minister.
“ ‘Married or single?’ he asked me.
“ ‘Single’, ses I.
“ ‘Anything saved?’ was his next question.
“ ‘I’ll say’ ses I. ‘I got a truck back home that set me back two thousand iron men.’
“ ‘Well, well,’ ses he, ‘You’ll have to be careful, laddie!’
“ ‘How come?’ ses I.
“Then he gives me a piece of advice and ses, ‘The curse of this Island, countin’ in England, is that there are two million more women than men, and even now the men are gettin’ killed off like flies. All the lassies can’t marry, even the’ braw ones, for there aren’t enough men to go around. There’s terrible competition nowadays. All the women are on the lookout for a man, and they’d wed any poor body. You’d better look out, laddie.’
“ ‘I’m only twenty-four and I ain’t had time to court yet,’ ses I.
“ ‘Court,’ ses he, with snort of laughter. ‘Court! The men are still under the impression that they do the courtin’, but some wise men have quite rightly pointed out that the men have naught to do with the game till they’re netted and gaffed.’
“ ‘But the men have to ask them,’ ses I.
“ ‘True, laddie,’ ses he, ‘but it’s all settled long before the askin’. If you’re a decent respectable man with somethin’ saved, you’ll have to be watchful and wary as a stag hunted by dogs on the Highlands!’
“I took that all in and I saw the old man was warning me off the premises, so after a little I ses good-night, and out I goes in the drizzle back to MacDonald’s frousy hotel.
“Well, to make a long story short, I knowed inside, from the minute that girl pushed over and shared her hymn-book with me, that I was goin’ to marry her, and marry her I did, though not for sometime till the war was over and she could come out to Canada. Now, you’d never believe the difficulties and the obstacles that old preacher put in my way, and the troubles she had in getting’ on boats and off boats, and the conditions the old man made for her safety among the savages. It’s too long to tell now ’cause I got to stop and fill up with gas and oil, but later I’ll tell you all about it.”
Rosalie was quite astonished at this new type of man, and she seemed to look through him as if he were a sheet of glass. He was not in the least interested in her or whence she came or whither she was going. Rosalie was glad and yet perhaps a little piqued, after all she was nineteen and very pretty. He only seemed to want to pour out this intimate story about himself and his affairs. She had been used to people who were very secretive especially about business or family matters. He seemed to have no brakes at all on his thinking. He just opened the tap of his mind and let go. Rather nice, thought Rosalie, if everyone could speak truly and openly, without guile or deceit or hope of secret gain, and perhaps a gentleman is one whose words correspond truly to his inward thought. It was the beginning of Rosalie’s education in the world.
Here the driver pulled his truck up at a roadside gas station.
“Fill her up with gas and oil and look at the water,” he said to the grimy attendant. He pulled out his expense book and laid it on his knee ready to mark down the bill.
“I’m a good business man,” said he. “I’m drivin’ for the oil company now and this is their truck, but I keep exact accounts and never knock down. Margaret would knock my head if I knocked down.”
Rosalie did not know what “knock down” meant but she was not going to ask. Instead she produced a packet of sandwiches from her basket, and offered one to the driver. It seemed an opportune moment when he had a free hand.
“Just what I needed,” said he taking one and bisecting it with a huge bite. “Tasty, ain’t they.”
“Of course they are,” laughed. Rosalie. “I made them myself!”
“Cook?” asked, the driver.
“I can cook, read and write, scrub, sew and wash, and teach school,” said Rosalie.
“Well, well,” muttered the driver, his mouth crammed with sandwich, but making no comment on her list of accomplishments.
“Bring, two cokes will you, George.” He clipped off neatly the two tin covers on some part of the dashboard and thrust one bottle into Rosalie’s hand. With his free hand he fumbled in his hip pocket and produced a stout battered bill-folder. From this, after careful scrutiny, he produced some snapshots, which he gave to Rosalie.
“My boys,” he said. “Four, nice ain’t they?”
“Yes,” said Rosalie, after a swallow of coke, “Yes, very nice.”
Rosalie did not know that it was a common practice for men to exhibit the-photographs of their children and relations after an hour’s acquaintance. Now, that there was no danger of being quizzed, she felt a burning desire to tell something about herself.
“Now guess their names,” said the driver. “Two more cokes, George and I guess I’ll have another of them sandwiches.”
“That’ll leave only three for our dinner,” said Rosalie.
“I don’t make my dinner off no three sandwiches,” said the driver. “Boy, when the sun gets straight up overhead, I’m goin’ to pull in to an eatin’ house and put some real food under my belt, and you, too, Miss. You can’t carry on on sandwiches, you’re going to have a bowl of hot chowder and beef, and apple pie to line your ribs. I’ll stand you a dinner.”
Rosalie laughed, “You’re very generous but I’ve some money. It’s enough to give me a free ride; you don’t have to feed me.”
“Suit yourself,” said the driver. “I ain’t tryin’ to get around you. I ain’t no woman chaser. You’ll have to be careful, but then if you’re too careful you won’t learn much. I just like to think of everyone with a full belly at noon-time.
“Full, George? Water, oil, battery, gas, tires all checked? Look smart. All right, here’s your loot and sign the expense chit. Here we go.”
Rosalie straightened her basket and put it under the seat as they began again to romp along the open highway.
“Now,” said the driver, “to come back to the sixty-four dollar question, what are the names of my boys?”
“I suppose one, perhaps the eldest, is named after you,” ventured Rosalie.
“Partly right,” said the driver. “They’re named Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, only in reverse order.”
“After the Saints,” said Rosalie. “Then they may turn out to be fine men. In books it is said that a good name has an effect upon the person.”
This was a little too deep for the driver’s mind, so ignoring this philosophical speculation, he carried straight on with his theme song.
“And they’re just a year and a half apart, almost to a day. Johnny, he’s eleven, and Luke’s nine and a half, and Mark’s eight, and Matthew—we call him Mat—six and a half. When we got four, we said, that’s enough, that’s all we can bring up good. So we stopped havin’ children.”
Rosalie wondered how they had managed to achieve this happy conclusion.
“They’re smart, all doin’ well in school. Me, I never got beyond the seventh grade.”
“Every child, if he can, should go through the eleventh grade,” said Rosalie, relapsing for the moment into the prim school teacher.”
“But I haven’t told you yet how I got Margaret out of Scotland. That’s a long story, but very interestin’. You know the Scotch are a very hard, suspicious race, and would you believe it, the last words the old man spoke to me were, ‘Now don’t debauch my daughter.’ ”
Rosalie got tired of the story of the adventure of Margaret after a while, for no woman can be interested too long in another woman’s career. She began to look about her, at forest or cleared land on her left and at the restless sea that forever made the beach rocks clatter, and at the people in the villages through which they passed. Now she only listened to the driver with half her mind, there was no need for a conversational fillip, a word, a nod, a smile, and he went on and on without a prompter.
“You see, as I was tellin’ you, the Scotch are a very close and very suspicious race. They seem, to think that after you subtract the very superior Scotch settlers, Canada, is filled up with savages, descendants of criminals, English crooks and remittance men. But of all the canny Scotch, Margaret’s old man seemed the most suspicious of the lot. He never got it out of his head, at least so he pretended, that I was trying to debauch his daughter. So after I’d been out a year and a lot of letters had passed to and fro, he agreed to let Margaret come out under the conditions that I was to go aboard her steamer when she docked, and we were to be married by the Captain before Margaret could set foot on shore. Well, at last the steamer got in and I was on the wharf, and after a lot of argument, I managed to get aboard …”
Here Rosalie let her mind drift off again from the adventures of Margaret MacDonald and did a little reflection on her own part. She began to compare the villages they passed through with the straggling settlement she had called home. Her own home village, not Hercule’s, on a long barren peninsula, had been treeless and windswept, the ground sprinkled everywhere with big granite boulders.
To plough a piece of land with oxen was well-nigh impossible, little gardens could only be made between the rocks with pick and shovel, only a few potatoes planted. Higher up along the coast near Hercule’s home had been a few patches of ragged pasture lands that had supported some scrawny cows, but nearly all the milk, when they had milk, was hauled by truck. Rosalie had often wondered what kind of country this milk came from. She knew the phrase, “a land flowing with milk and honey.” All the wealth of her people, and small wealth it was, was in fish and lobsters and kelp and Irish moss scraped from the rocks at low water. The families were big, desperately poor, and the houses grey and unpainted. There had been no flower gardens or flowering shrubs for the cold sea wind was a destroying blight. The houses had been set down at any angle in the midst of a whelter of buoys, dories, nets, lobster pots, bits of rope, and canvas, and over all had been a forbidding odour of fish entrails, lobster shells, and tubs of fish gurry.
As the truck at forty-five miles an hour stretched out the distance from the barren land she had known, she began to see a new type of fishing village, where white cottages were trim and neat, doors, windows and finish-boards edged with strips of shining black. Lobster pots and bright-coloured buoys were piled neatly, and the fish-houses, set on stout pilings, were not so ramshackle and higgety-piggety. Churches and schools were well painted and the children upon the street were neat and clean. The land, she noticed, was divided in narrow strips and she learned later that the early settlers had divided their holdings length-wise among their boys and that these again had subdivided until many farms were barely fifty yards wide. Still, it was a very good method, for each farmer had a woodlot, hay and pasture fields, a garden plot, and a narrow sea front, where he could keep his fishing-boat and gather kelp and rock-weed to enrich his land.
Rosalie liked cleanness, order, and gay colours, and here it seemed to her that the people had achieved more order, and a better way of living than anything she had known. Once when the driver stopped his truck to inquire a direction, she noticed that the man spoke with a lilt and intonation that was new to her ear. He shortened his A’s and softened his R’s and Rosalie listened intently to all he said, not for the content but because of the pleasantness of his speech.
As they quickened their pace again, the driver droned on with his unending tale.
“But the Captain said, ‘I can’t marry you in port, I can only marry on the High Seas. I’m not a parson, I’m a sailor-man that marries in emergencies on the High Seas.’
” ‘But this is an emergency’, ses I. ‘Her old man says she can’t land unless she’s married to me’
” ‘Didn’t I tell you, you lunk-head,’ ses he, ‘that I can only marry on the High Seas. Get a minister aboard if you want to marry the girl. No wonder her old man wanted to protect her from a fellow like you.’
” ‘High seas or low seas,’ ses I, ‘why can’t you get a tug to pull your boat away from the wharf, then you’d be out in the stream, and practically on the high seas, and you could do your job. With that, he got as red in the face as a boiled lobster, and very mad. I guess it was because I called his ship a boat. They don’t like that, she was quite a big liner all painted white. He whistled down a tube and gave some orders, and in come a sizeable chunk of a man with a pug-ugly behind him. ‘Get this man off the ship’ ses he, ‘and don’t let him come aboard again unless he’s got with him a man in black clothes with his collar on backward. That’ll be a minister of some brand to marry this loony to the Scotch girl we’ve got aboard.’
“Then the real trouble began. Off I goes ashore to get a minister. But on the way the Customs people held, me up, to find, out why this girl didn’t get off the boat and have her trunks examined. They begun to think she was a stowaway. Well, I shook them off at last and walked around tryin’ to persuade a Presbyterian minister—not Free Church, mind you, but Kirk—to go aboard and marry us. That was one of the old man’s stipulations, to make everything as difficult as possible, that she must be married by a minister of the Kirk. But when I got hold of a minister, he said, ‘Bring her ashore and we’ll marry you decently in the Kirk, a boat is no place for a holy weddin’.’ When I started the thing, I had no idea it was so hard to marry a Presbyterian minister’s daughter. Margaret now refused to leave the boat because she’d promised her father on a solemn oath that she wouldn’t leave the boat until she was married. So she had to cable home to the old man for further orders. After waitin’ a couple of days, when I’d just about decided the ship would carry her back, came a long complicated cable from the old man, saying she might go ashore if she could find lodging in a minister’s house, against the time I was ready to marry her. Well, at last I got lodgings for her in a parson’s house up-country, and carried on an argument with the Customs about how much money she had to have on her to land. I want to tell you, Miss, it’s some job getting married to a Scotchman’s daughter …”
But Rosalie was not listening. Now they were entering a new type of country, the like of which she had never seen before. They had left the sea and come into the great flat land of a broad valley bounded north and south by wooded hills, that were almost mountains. Here sandy soil lay in ridges and bars that some ancient sea had washed long ago, though Rosalie did not know this. There was no longer stunted wind-blown spruce, but lofty oaks with coppery frost-touched leaves, and spreading white pine and lofty melancholy hemlock. The hills and intervening valley were flooded with late September sunshine, and in low places a few swamp maples had turned, scarlet. Through the level green fields where hundreds of red and white cattle were grazing on the aftermath, ran a reddish brown river in a thousand cranks and turns and banked in by low dykes. This, said Rosalie to herself, is the land flowing with milk and honey. On the green sandy plain were set at intervals, far-stretching quincunxes of apple trees, marching in regular formation like soldiers, like something a methodical child might have made in an arrangement of toys on Christmas morning. On some of the trees, glistened red winter apples still unpicked. Here was indeed a brave new world, and Rosalie clapped her hands in gladness.
“You may well clap your hands,” said the driver, “for in spite of all their opposition, I got her off the boat and lodged her in the house of the Reverend Mr. Mclvor. Then there was all the weddin’ to arrange and the invitin’ of all my folks to the weddin’ party. They didn’t think much of all this fuss I’d had to make about a Scotch girl. Mr. Mclvor, the reverend holy Mclvor, was most as straight-laced as old Reverend MacDonald in Edinburgh. ‘No smokin’ or drinkin’ or gamblin’ or excessive laughter or stamping of feet in my house in the event of a weddin’,’ ses he. He didn’t even allow his kids to play Nations. I don’t see how he ever managed to bring them into the world. ‘All them that indulges in such things as cards and dancin’ shall burn in the pit o’ Hell forever,’ he’d say, and moreover…”
So the Protestants have a Hell, too, thought Rosalie. Too bad they hadn’t reformed that away, while they were about it. Then her mind drifted off again to the new and inviting landscape. Now for a little while they ran quite close to the brown river, with its reddish mud banks shining and slippery looking at half-tide. It would be fun to be ten again and toboggan down such a bank on your bare bottom, and land splash-ho in the cold river tidal water. Rosalie had a dainty mind but suddenly a few lines from a schoolbook verse popped out of her memory file:
“She starts, she moves, she seems to feel
A thrill of life along her keel.”
Then somehow the reddish-brown mud reminded her of the chocolate blanc-mange puddings her mother used to make for Sunday dinner. Had somebody, she tried to remember, named them Marsh-mud puddings. Anyway, they had the same colour and the same slippery appearance as the mud, and with that memory a little emotional river of homesickness flowed into her heart. Poor mother, she would be sad, she would be much sadder than if Rosalie lay in the churchyard. For a mystery stretches out the sadness over many years. People would come to the door and ask, “Have you heard anything of Rosalie?” Or they would tell how they had heard that a strange woman had been seen wandering the roads in some far distant part of the province, and tears would flood into mother’s eyes. Father would not grieve so much for, as he lived on the sea, he would take things as they came. He had ten mouths to feed and had to work too hard to grieve. Every morning he was up by four and away to the nets or trawls or lobster-pots. As for Hercule, she had never loved him and life with him was impossible. He had had his fill of her by day and night till she could stand no more. It had been a mistake to marry him and she was sorry about that, but he would find another girl of his own kind.
Yet what a strange girl she was, to go and leave no trace behind. Was it God’s voice, or the Devil’s voice, or merely the remembered honk of the migrating geese, that had said, “Go, Rosalie, go?” Certainly she had not reasoned out the hidden causes of her departure, nor why she felt it to be absolute, as one solves a problem in algebra.
All her bones and blood and nerves and inner being had all through that last day urged her on. “Go, Rosalie, go,” the inner voice kept repeating. Now, here she was, dashing along the highway, already far from home—they would never catch her now—with a friendly truck driver who wanted to tell her the story of his life.
In this sunny valley Rosalie noticed that the houses were spacious and had wide shady verandahs over which vines trailed and clung. Even though it was not yet noon, women were sitting on these verandahs, chatting with a neighbour or knitting, sewing or even reading. They have plenty of time on their hands, thought Rosalie. Once they passed close to a group of grown girls and boys, playing a game with racquets and balls that she knew must be tennis. Cattle were everywhere on upland pasture or level dykeland, and in the farmyards were hens, ducks and turkeys. A spacious, happy, leisurely land, it seemed. The barns were big and the churches small, and to Rosalie’s amazement they had no crosses capping their spires.
“What kind of churches are these?” asked Rosalie. The driver halted in his serial narrative with the aggrieved look of a dog from whom a bone had been taken. Then he said, “I’ve heard they’re nearly all hard-shell Baptists in these parts, though there may be a scatterin’ of United Church among them. The United Church is when the Methodists and Presbyterians joined up, but some o’ the stiff-necked ones, like the holy Mclvor, stayed out. We goes to the United when I ain’t too tired and sleepy in the mornin’, but Margaret has never dared tell her old man that.”
“Then these are not real churches,” said Rosalie, “only meeting houses.”
“They’re real enough,” said the driver. “They can damn you to Hell as good as anybody. You got to drop somethin’ in the hat or you’re plum no account.”
“Well, as I was explainin’, when we got outside the church the kids peppered us with confetti, and there was the car all tied up with ribbons and tin cans and all kinds of junk, and one tire was right down flat. Well, Tom and me we changed the tire and Margaret sets herself in the front seat, and at last…”
In this lovely valley there was something that interested Rosalie especially, something she had never seen before, tall swaying graceful trees that seemed to touch the sky. They stood in long avenues along the highway, with the lower branches drooping down along their trunks, like the dress of a modest woman. Their lateral upper branches were so long that they stretched out to meet the branches of their fellows with graceful friendly gestures and made the highway into an avenue of mottled shade.
“What are these trees along the side?” asked Rosalie.
“Them, them’s elms.”
“And what fruit do they bear?”
The driver gave a gruff laugh. “They don’t bear no fruit, and their wood’s no good for lumber nor for firewood neither, they’re just good for shade and looks. They’re like women that won’t work.”
“Now, all the time,” continued the driver, “we’d out-smarted them, for the car outside the Kirk wasn’t my car at all but Tom’s car. Mine was up around the bend. So after we got the tire shifted—that puncture was goin’ too far, that was a bit of dirt, but we found out who done it—we shifted Margaret into my clean car, and drove off. We…”
What beautiful trees in this sunny valley, thought Rosalie. People here plant trees that have no use and that bring in no money, their only value is their looks. This was a new idea for Rosalie and her happiness grew as she looked at the towering elms.
Presently they came to a wayside lunch counter, and the driver pulled in his truck to the side.
“Here’s where we eat. I’ll tell you the rest of it when we get goin’.”
Rosalie had no idea where he had left off for she had been pondering on the stately elms that had no use save looks. Perhaps beauty in itself was sufficient, she reflected.
The proprietor of the roadside restaurant was a good advertisement for his wares since he was enormously fat. He weighed at least three hundred pounds, there were great knobs of fat on his cheeks, and he was the possessor of triple chins. On his head was a tall grimy chef’s cap, and his white jacket may have been white at the beginning of the season. Nothing of him was visible from the waist down. He had a broad and amiable grin. His wife, intermittently visible through the half-open kitchen door, was short, meagre, and neatly dressed, with her hair screwed up in a tight knot. She was very thin and sad-looking, and perhaps for these reasons relegated to the kitchen. She listened through the door crack, however, and caught most of the highway news. Her husband was most affable with customers, but very cross to her. Indeed, he was the joy of the street, the terror of the home. Rosalie, of course, did not take all this in in one gasp, but her mind registered impressions that were confirmed later by her voluble driver, who had often been over the road before. As she waited she wondered why huge fat men married little skinny women, fat women lean men, and tall mated with short.
“Now, what’ll you be havin’?” said the obese proprietor, his elbows bulging on the counter and the palms of his hands supporting the triple chin. The hope of a big order and the thought of food wrought his face into a broad and amiable grin. ”I got some fine buckwheat pancakes, with maple syrup, and some well browned Brookfield sausages to lay around the edge of the plate. What would you say to that now?”
“Good by me,” said the driver. “How would you like that, Miss?”
“Good,” said Rosalie. “I’m right hungry for I had an early breakfast.”
“And coffee for two,” said the driver, “and have you got any good apple pie?”
“The very best,” replied he of the grin and triple chin. “Pie made this very morning from Gravenstein apples. They’re the best flavour this time of year.”
“Plenty sugar,” said the driver.
“Ay,” said the proprietor, “a man can’t last long without sweet, it keeps up his strength.”
Poor tired scrawny woman in the kitchen, thought Rosalie, as the proprietor bawled the order through the half open door in a voice that had something of the owl’s snarl. What a dreadful man to have to go to bed with, for he’s only a mass of blubber and he smells like bacon that’s been kept too long in the summer.
But the meagre woman made good buckwheat pancakes, and Rosalie enjoyed them floating in golden brown maple syrup, and the crisp browned sausages crunched pleasantly between her white even teeth. The driver had turned off his talk tap, for one can’t at the same time pour in and pour out of a vessel that has a single spout. Rosalie noticed that he did not chew his food very much, but washed down mouthfuls of sausage and pancakes with great gulps of coffee. That wasn’t in accordance with what the school text book in Hygiene had said. It’s strange, thought Rosalie, that men in the world do not follow what wise men have written in books.
But the driver did pause long enough to say:
“And ice cream on top of the apple pie, Alphonse.”
“Alphonse, Alphonse,” chuckled the fat one, his triple chin trembling. “We kin cook good but we ain’t got no fancy French names. My name’s Frank, as you know, and my wife’s name is Violet. Alphonse! that’s a good one. You know right well our names is Frank and Violet. He’s a great joker, Miss.”
Here the fat one cast upon Rosalie a rather lustful and cunning leer and winked at her with an eye so bounded by fat that the wink was hardly perceptible.
Rosalie did not think it necessary to make any response to the quip, about the “great joker”, and presently she had enough, her stomach felt quite full. She paid for her own food though the driver offered to pay, but did not insist or make any fuss about it. There was something essentially right about the driver. The fat one goggled, “I always pays for my girls.”
“But she ain’t my girl, and I’m not takin’ her out, I’m only givin’ her a lift,” explained the driver. Rosalie was pleased with that explanation, and she pushed back and rested comfortably in her chair satisfied and quite happy. No remorse or sorrow seemed to surge up in her, she was over two hundred miles from home and free. It was quite wonderful to be free. Perhaps, she thought, I am now feeling as the robins feel when they gather and swirl in flocks, nervous and undecided for a little before they begin to wing southward. Just now they are flying as I am flying. True she hadn’t as yet met any saintly bishops, or happy savages, or seen windmills or giants—unless this fat lunch-counter man could be called a giant—or come to a magic island, though one could hardly expect to find an island on a cement highway. She wondered how Don Quixote or Miranda would have acted at this lunch counter. Would they too have sat back well satisfied with full stomachs? Don Quixote and Miranda both seemed to have something about them that she hadn’t got, something that created a new atmosphere wherever they went. Perhaps it was native dignity they had. But then Don Quixote was a gentleman and Miranda, was a king’s daughter. Well, though she had come out of poverty she had good blood, far back, behind her. Still, she reflected, rather sadly, certainly the fat lunch-counter man would never have winked at Miranda.
The driver broke her reverie. “Let’s get goin’,” he said, and in another moment they were in the truck and rolling along the pavement. The driver had apparently concluded for the time the story of his wooing and of his family, though Rosalie, who had thought her own thoughts, was rather uncertain about the concluding chapters.
However, he had a store of reserve talk and a variety of conversational items. He had to talk as he drove, and Rosalie was to him a God-sent audience.
“Now what do you think I’m crazy about, a fellow like me? What do you think rides my mind all the time, day and night?”
“I couldn’t imagine,” said Rosalie.
“I’ll give you three guesses,” said the driver.
“Food,” said Rosalie.
“No, not food. I like food fine but I kin do without it. I kin
go on short rations.”
“Surely not liquor and gambling.”
“I never touches a drop,” said the driver, “and cards gives me a pain in the neck. Margaret wouldn’t stand for no liquor and she’s the master-mind in our family, and besides, I had a good lesson in liquor in watchin’ my old man. He was an awful boozer, a real drunk, and he brought mother and all us kids to poverty. No, I never touch liquor, not even beer. One more guess.”
“Women,” said Rosalie, who with all her native delicacy was by way of being a realist.
“No,” laughed the driver, “it ain’t women. I got one good woman and that’s enough for me. I never did chase skirts even when I was a young fellow, guess I had to work too hard. Now I’ll give you an extra guess.”
“Trucks and cars,” said Rosalie.
“No fear,” rejoined the driver. “I got a truck and what would I want to be crazy about that for. I had three trucks already. You’re never crazy about what you’ve got.”
“I give up,” said Rosalie, “it’s hard to know what people want. They all seem to want different things, and they never quite catch what they’re chasing.”
“Then I’ll have to tell you,” said the driver. “Look hard at me now.” Rosalie looked.
“Horses,” said he.
“Horses,” laughed Rosalie. “Why they’re quite out of date. There’s nothing now but cars and trucks and an odd team of oxen. They’re too slow for now.”
“But I don’t dream about slow horses,” said the driver. “I dream about fast horses, trotters, pacers, gallopers, horses with shinin’ skins and wild rollin’ eyes. I was out in Hot Springs, Arkansas, when I was a young fellow and there they used to hold races in an oval place surrounded with pine trees, and full of sunshine. There the horses would be led out on the track, and the crowd in the grand stand would cheer and the band would begin to play. Then the women, with a baby in one hand and a two dollar bill wavin’ in the other, would push and elbow to get near the bettin’ counter—wild-eyed they was too, most as much as the horses. That’s where I got sold on horses and I used to wish I was light enough to be a jockey and wear a silk cap, and sit on a runnin’ horse with my knees drawn up. I’m plumb crazy about horses. I like to see them move, and the muscles wrinkle up on their shoulders. I like to see them walk, and trot, and gallop. Someday when the family gets growed up, I’m going to have a trottin’ horse of my own or bust. Old Reverend MacDonald will be dead by that time he can look down from Heaven if he likes.
“Now what do you think I am?”
“I’m vice-president of the trotting-park association back home, and I go to every horse race when I’m not on the road. I got a free pass.”
“I’d like to see running horses,” said Rosalie, “especially wild, free running horses.”
“There ain’t many wild horses now,” said the driver, “There ain’t one in these parts.”
“But the books say there’s some still on the prairies. I’d like to see then running wild, snorting and tossing up head and mane, and blowing steam out of their nostrils.”
“Yes, runnin’, runnin’ like the wind,” said the driver eagerly, “with their legs twinkling, and lumps of muscle gleaming on hip and shoulder, and steam rising from them.”
Rosalie listened now intently and almost forbore to look at the landscape. The driver was much more interesting and showed more enthusiasm on horses than he did on family relations. Here for her was a new type of man who had a passion for something apart from labour and love making,
“Even the farmers’ races is fun,” went on the driver. “The horses can’t trot very fast, but the farmers brush them up, stuff them with oats, train them in the back pastures, and when they step out on the track they’re as smart as paint. Every kind of sulky they got and every kind of driver, old men with whiskers and light boys that ain’t shaved yet, and sometimes women. They always get a big hand from the crowd, men like a plucky woman. Talk about excitement, the Derby and the Grand National’s got nothin’ on the farmers’ race. I’d like to see one of them big races again like I did when I was soldiering. I’d like to see England just once more. But I never will, I never will, I’m lashed to the wheel of life now.”
“You never can tell, you might,” said Rosalie. “I never thought I’d get this far.”
“Where you goin’ to?” asked the driver. “I never thought to ask you.”
“I don’t know,” said Rosalie impetuously, and moved by a sudden confidence she felt in this man, “I don’t know. I’m running away but please don’t ever tell anyone. I’m just going to see the world and learn. I just had to go.”
“You done something bad?” asked the driver.
“No,” said Rosalie, “nothing bad except to run away. I think it would, have been wicked, if I’d stayed. Don’t tell anyone you’ve given me this lift or they might follow me.”
“No,” said, the driver, “I won’t tell and I won’t ask no more questions but one. Got any money?”
“I’ve got over four dollars in my purse and forty-nine sewed in my slip.”
“Not much,” said the driver, “Still it’ll carry you along till you can get work. I kin see that you’re a nice young woman. I won’t ask no more questions, and I won’t tell no one you rode on my truck, though Frank and Violet at the hash-house will remember you. They thought you was my pick-up and they spread news up and down the road, but soon they’ll be a hundred miles behind us.”
“I’ve got a good start,” said Rosalie. “I must be two hundred miles or more from home now.”
“More,” said the driver. “You’ve gone nigh three hundred with me and I don’t know where you started from.”
“Say I started from the moon.”
“All right, you started from the moon. You’re the Moon Girl and you were born in Moon-town. That all right by you?”
“All right by me,” said Rosalie.
“That’s settled then,” said the driver, “I’ll call you Miss Moon. All the girls nowadays is Miss Pasadena, or Miss Miami, or Miss America, or Miss Tatamagouche, so if anyone pins me down, the girl I give the lift to was Miss Moon.”
“It’s rather a soft loony name,” laughed Rosalie. “You see ‘luna’ means the moon.”
“What’s that,” said the driver.
“Luna, the moon, lunatic, lunacy, lunatic asylum,” explained Rosalie. “It’s all in the Superseded Speller.”
“Oh, Ay,” said the driver. “But now to get back to somethin’ important, let’s talk about horses. Trucks is dead things, you step on the gas and off she goes, always the same, but horses have got minds of their own, and they’re just as keen to win a race as the driver.”
“I’d like to talk about horses,” said Rosalie, “only sometimes give me a chance to look around. You see this is a new road to me.”
“That’s fair enough,” said the driver, “and you always ought to look back, too, when you’re travellin’ a new trail, so the Indians say. Then when you have to come back you know what the track looks like.”
“I’ll never travel back this trail,” said Rosalie.
“I must tell you about the Farmers’ race. Margaret ses I’m quite a talker when I get goin’ on horses. You hold up your hand when you need a little recess, like the kids in school.”
“I’ve been a school teacher,” said Rosalie, perhaps to establish her respectability with this man, and then added primly as if she were hearing a reading lesson in the schoolroom, “Proceed with the Farmers’ race.”
“Well, you know,” said the driver, “one year the mare out of the milk cart won the big race and the big money. Nobody knowed the mare had any speed for the people had only seen her pokin’ around and standin’ still while old Jed Crowder delivered his bottles, and startin’ up slow again just before he reached the cart. But Jed knowed she was an Israel colt. He was a sly old bird, and he took her way back on the Savannah and trained her in the evenin’s. And old Jed drove her himself on the day of the race, and what a sight that was, the old man with his feet up on the shafts, his knees bent up nigh to his chin, his hair flyin’ loose in the wind—he’d lost his cap early in the game—and the mare’s tail streamin’ back in his face. That mare wanted to win just as much as Jed did because she liked old Jed, and win she did by a handy two lengths, corning up fast along the home stretch, with the crowd hollerin’ and yellin’, and the sun shinin’ on them in a glory of sweat.”
“I can see them,” Said Rosalie. “The old man, did he have whiskers?”
“A bushel,” said the driver.
“Pushing on the reins, and clucking, with his tongue out, ‘Go on, Bess, you’ve got to win,’ and the mare’s tail switching in his face. Was her name Bess?”
“No,” said the driver, “she wasn’t called Bess. Jed called her Tamar, though nobody ever knew where he picked that name up.”
“That was a good story,” said Rosalie, “a real good story. By the way, your name’s Johnny Allen, isn’t it? At least you called yourself that to the Scotch minister.”
“Yes, Johnny Allen.”
“That was a good story about horses, Johnny Allen. Tell me another.”
“I’ll tell you a real funny story about a race,” said Johnny Allen.
Rosalie did not fancy the beginning very much, because she knew that if anyone told you a story was funny at the very beginning, it was hard to laugh at the end. Moreover, although her confidence had steadily grown in Johnny Allen, she had no great faith in him as a humourist. He was essentially an honest, serious man. You had to be surprised to get a tickle on the laughing nerve.
“Go on,” said Rosalie.
“The seventh race, that day that Jed won the big money with the mare Tamar out of the milk cart, was a free for all and about twelve horses were entered in it. Say, you ever been on or near a farm?”
“A kind of farm.”
“You know what hay-wire is?”
“Yes,” said Rosalie, “it’s wire that comes off bales of hay, and farmers and fishermen mend everything with it.”
“That’s right,” said Johnny Allen, “and the lazier and shift-lesser they are, the more they use it to tie up chains and harness and Ford engines.”
“I know,” said Rosalie. “I understand about hay-wire, go on.”
“Well,” said Johnny, “they had a lot of trouble gettin’ that seventh race started. I was one of the officials and wore a big red badge, for you see, I’m vice president of the racing association in our town. It ain’t a big town, I’ll admit, but just one jump from a village. What a time we had gettin’ that race started. The horses was all green and nervy, and there was one long, lanky guy named Pinkus from the backwoods, that had entered a horse called Lightnin’. She was pretty slow Lightnin’, she was, but even at that Pinkus always had her two or three lengths out in front before we could pull the starter’s bell. About the tenth start when the crowd was gettin’ impatient and it looked as if we were goin’ to get them off, Pinkus claimed that his harness was broke. That tore it, and the crowd began to guy Pinkus. He led his horse Lightnin’ right up in front of the grand stand, to see if he could borrow a strap or a buckle’ from someone to mend his harness. He kept fussin’ around, shiftin’ one strap and then another, and all the time pattin’ his horse and sayin’, ‘Whoa now Lightnin’, stand steady, Lightnin’,’ till some guy in the stands yells out: ‘Get some hay-wire to repair Lightnin’.’ Well, you know that remark as applied to his horse fair drove Pinkus crazy. He had paid no attention when people yelled, ‘Take that hicknag off the track,’ or ‘It’s a moose he’s trained to run in a sulky.’ He took no account of these jokes. It was ‘hay-wire’ that got him, and the idea of repairin’ Lightnin’ with hay-wire set him off. He turned on the stand at the mention of hay-wire, and cursed them up hill and down dale, men, women and children and their parents and grandfathers and grandmothers before them. He had a fine line of talk. I guess he must have spent a few years in the army or the foc’sle. Anyway, he seemed to know all the words they was, and whenever he paused to get his breath, someone piped up ‘hay-wire’, and that set him off again. Well, we tried to disqualify Pinkus on the ground of language, but the crowd yelled, ‘No, no, let hay-wire Lightnin’ run.’ So Pinkus drove Lightnin’ and came in fifth, so that wasn’t so bad.”
“Poor Pinkus,” said Rosalie.
“Now isn’t it funny,” said Johnny, “that while I’m a driver and owner of trucks I’m nuts about horses. I see them gallopin’ at night across the dark, and half awake, I can hear their hooves going click, clack on the cinder track and the quick catch of their breath.”
“You’ve got it in your blood,” said Rosalie, “just as I’ve got an itching foot.”
“My old man before me was good with horses. I remember one of the things he ses to me was, ‘Johnny, never give a horse more than fourteen swallows at a time on the road, and water him often to clear nose and mouth of dust.’ You can lean over, you know, and count the swallows as the water goes down their throats. People brought sick horses to him for miles around and the old man could take one squint at them and tell what was the matter. You know a horse’s got a lot of sense and brains, and a man that’s good with horses has got to think like a horse. There was a half silly fellow in our town who used to hang around the livery stables and race track, and all the horses liked him and liked to have him rub them down. He got to look like a horse himself, so that some people called him ‘Horse’, but his real name was Joey Cramp. One day there was a horse lost in the woods, and nobody could find him, and the owner offered a twenty-dollar reward to the finder. People said as how he’d been et by a bear. But Joey Cramp, the silly fellow, found him, and brought him out of the woods and collected the twenty-dollar reward. I guess that was the most money Joey ever had at one time in his life. And when people ses to Joey, ‘How did you find him, Joey?’ Joey used to say: ‘I just thought where I’d go if I was a horse an’ I went there, an’ there he was an’ right glad he was to see me. If you want to find a horse you got to think like a horse.’ ”
At the end of this story they had come to a crossroad and Johnny pulled up his truck. “I got to turn down to Muxos here—ain’t that a hell of a name, Muxos—to deliver a couple of hundreds of gallons of gas. You don’t want to get down no side roads; you better stick to the highway.”
“That’s right,” said Rosalie.
“Where you goin’ to stop tonight?” asked Johnny anxiously.
“I haven’t let myself think about that,” said Rosalie. “Last night I slept in an old lumber camp. I’ll have to sleep somewhere, and that’s where I’ll sleep.”
Johnny shook his head, “You’re a game one, but you ought to know where you’re goin’ to sleep. You see you’re only a slip of a girl after all.”
Rosalie by this time had dismounted from the truck, and basket in hand was standing on the road’s gravelly shoulder.
“You see,” said Johnny switching off his engine, “you’re a pretty girl and you got a figure and a friendly laugh. You’re good company and men will be chasin’ after you. Look out for truck drivers!”
“I will,” said Rosalie.
“I hate to ask you,” mumbled Johnny, “but don’t you know where you’re goin’ to?”
“Not yet,” said Rosalie. “Maybe I’ll wander all over the world. I’m not a bad one, Johnny Allen, I’d like you to know that. I just had to leave where I was.”
“I know, I kin tell,” said Johnny, fumbling in his pocket, “but don’t put off too long findin’ the place you have to sleep in because you’re goin’ to sleep in it. I’ve half a mind, to take you home with me.”
“No, no,” said Rosalie, “that would never do, that’s not my destiny, and what would Margaret think of you arriving home at midnight with a strange girl you picked up on the roadside.”
“I expect she’d quiz you up to find out who you was, where you come from and where you was goin’,” said Johnny, scratching his short grizzled hair.
“Don’t worry about me, Johnny Allen, and thanks for driving me so far. Perhaps you were my guardian driver that God sent.”
“I don’t look much like an angel,” said Johnny. “But say, miss, I don’t much like that new name you give yourself. I don’t like Miss Moon.”
“I don’t like it much myself,” said Rosalie. “You’ve been so kind to me, I’ll tell you a secret. My real name’s Rosalie.”
“That’s right pretty,” said Johnny,” and say, why not change ‘Moon’ to ‘Star’. Seems to me that would be better.” Rosalie laughed and clapped her hands—it was an instinctive gesture with her when she was pleased—”And ‘Stella’ is the Latin word for star and I’ll be Stella Star.”
“That’s it,” said Johnny, “that’s fine, though it sounds a little cold like an icicle, but it’s mighty clean and clear. It’s after four now and the sun sets soon after five, so you better step on it and find a night’s lodgin’. You travel light, you ain’t got no luggage.”
“This is it,” said Rosalie, waving her basket.
“Well, good-bye, Stella Star. I’ve helped name kids but I never helped name no grown woman before. Good luck to you. It’s not likely I’ll be seein’ you again. Say, since that race I was tellin’ you about, I always carry a bit of hay-wire in my purse for luck. I’ll give you a bit to bring you good fortune on the road.”
Johnny pushed, over the switch and made his engine roar, waved his hand, and tossed out something crumpled, that fell at Rosalie s feet as he rumbled down the side road. She stooped and picked it up and it was a ten dollar bill clipped in a bit of hay-wire. Rosalie didn’t want this money and for a moment she was a little angry at Johnny for having given it to her, with no opportunity to accept or return. But there was no sense in throwing it away, so she stuffed it and the wire into her purse and walked along. She would not accept another pick-up that day, she decided. She would be a farmer’s girl going to a neighbor’s house with a basket.
Well, she thought, he meant well when he gave me the money with no hope of return. He was kind, and he wanted me to be safe, no more than that. She thought again of Don Quixote and wondered how he would have felt about her first day’s adventure. I can’t make too much of it myself but I now know that a man can get married through wetness, that it’s a difficult job getting married to a Scotch girl, that a man loves the sound of his own voice, and that if you talk too much about yourself you’re a bore, but also that a bore can be very kind and generous. I’ve learned quite a lot about horses, I’ve met a fat man that I wouldn’t trust far, and I’ve got a new name, Stella Star, Stella Star.
“Good evening, Miss Stella Star, this is Rosalie calling. Do you remember Rosalie, the little school teacher in the smelly fishing village? Well, I’m quite a grand person now, I’ve taken your name, and I’m now walking the roads with money in my purse. I haven’t yet met any beautiful shepherd boys who make verses about their sweethearts and weep, but perhaps that will come in time. I’m quite lonesome without Johnny Allen. I hope his Scotch Margaret is as good as he thinks she is. I’ll never see him again—in that she was mistaken—but he’ll always be a pleasant memory.”
She walked along swinging her basket; she was a little tired. Presently she came to a junction where two gravel roads branched off the highway like the even boughs from a larger branch. Now, thought Rosalie, I have to choose, and I’ve learned from Johnny Allen’s marriage story that a good deal depends on luck and chance. On any of these three roads, I’ll meet different people. If I go left I may be robbed, if I follow the highway I’ll come to a town and work, if I go right I may find good fortune and a pleasant adventure. The highway is the easiest walking, but I’m tired of the highway. The road to the left is the next best, but it leads through the woods. I’ll take the right road because it looks friendly and somehow inviting, and perhaps it will lead to the sea. If I hear the surf I’ll be sad but not lonely, for the surf was my cradle song.
Sure enough the road to the right did lead, after about two miles of widely scattered houses, to a wall of beach rocks behind which the restless grey sea muttered and growled and rumbled. The sun was getting low behind her and evening was drawing in, but Rosalie felt no inclination to turn in at any of the scattered houses. She walked along briskly, swinging her basket, and, quite inappropriately, humming to the rumble and rhythm of the sea:
Il’y a longtemp que je t’aime
Jamais je ne t’oublerai
When she was quite past the scattered settlement, she saw before her on the left a half-burned little church. The roof had partly fallen in revealing charred rafters, the windows were broken but the blackened half-burnt walls were standing, and the steeple grilled and twisted, still pointed heavenward like a ghostly finger. Rosalie halted at a distance and looked closely at this half-burnt church. It must have been struck by lightning, she thought. When she reached the church, she halted again, to look up across a pasture field at a little yellow house, set far back from the road, with another pasture and wood lot behind it, and alongside a grey barn and woodshed. The little yellow house was pinched and ill-proportioned with its sharp pointed gable, but it had an inviting front porch beside which were trellises for climbing roses, now past their bloom. All along the front and apparently on a level with the floor of the second storey was a row of long narrow oblong windows that stretched from corner to corner. It was indeed a badly shaped house, but it was neat and well painted, certainly the house of an individual. Without any hesitation and without any particular thought, Rosalie unhooked the wide carriage gate at the side of the half-burnt church, and walked up the rough grassy roadway towards the little yellow house. There was a wire boundary fence on her left, and the lane followed close to the boundary.