The Revolt of “Mother”
“What is it?”
“What are them men diggin’ over there in the field for?”
There was a sudden dropping and enlarging of the lower part of the old man’s face, as if some heavy weight had settled therein; he shut his mouth tight, and went on harnessing the great bay mare. He hustled the collar on to her neck with a jerk.
The old man slapped the saddle upon the mare’s back.
“Look here, father, I want to know what them men are diggin’ over in the field for, an’ I’m goin’ to know.”
“I wish you’d go into the house, mother, an’ ’tend to your own affairs,” the old man said then. He ran his words together, and his speech was almost as inarticulate as a growl.
But the woman understood; it was her most native tongue. “I ain’t goin’ into the house till you tell me what them men are doin’ over there in the field,” said she.
Then she stood waiting. She was a small woman, short and straight-waisted like a child in her brown cotton gown. Her forehead was mild and benevolent between the smooth curves of gray hair; there were meek downward lines about her nose and mouth; but her eyes, fixed upon the old man, looked as if the meekness had been the result of her own will, never of the will of another.
They were in the barn, standing before the wide open doors. The spring air, full of the smell of growing grass and unseen blossoms, came in their faces. The deep yard in front was littered with farm wagons and piles of wood; on the edges, close to the fence and the house, the grass was a vivid green, and there were some dandelions.
The old man glanced doggedly at his wife as he tightened the last buckles on the harness. She looked as immovable to him as one of the rocks in his pasture-land, bound to the earth with generations of blackberry vines. He slapped the reins over the horse, and started forth from the barn.
“Father!” said she.
The old man pulled up. “What is it?”
“I want to know what them men are diggin’ over there in that field for.”
“They’re diggin’ a cellar, I s’pose, if you’ve got to know.”
“A cellar for what?”
“A barn? You ain’t goin’ to build a barn over there where we was goin’ to have a house, father?”
The old man said not another word. He hurried the horse into the farm wagon, and clattered out of the yard, jouncing as sturdily on his seat as a boy.
The woman stood a moment looking after him, then she went out of the barn across a corner of the yard to the house. The house, standing at right angles with the great barn and a long reach of sheds and out-buildings, was
infinitesimal compared with them. It was scarcely as commodious for people as the little boxes under the barn eaves were for doves.
A pretty girl’s face, pink and delicate as a flower, was looking out of one of the house windows. She was watching three men who were digging over in the field which bounded the yard near the road line. She turned quietly when the woman entered.
“What are they digging for, mother?” said she. “Did he tell you?”
“They’re diggin’ for—a cellar for a new barn.”
“Oh, mother, he ain’t going to build another barn?”
“That’s what he says.”
A boy stood before the kitchen glass combing his hair. He combed slowly and painstakingly, arranging his brown hair in a smooth hillock over his forehead. He did not seem to pay any attention to the conversation.
“Sammy, did you know father was going to build a new barn?” asked the girl.
The boy combed assiduously.
He turned, and showed a face like his father’s under his smooth crest of hair. “Yes, I s’pose I did,” he said, reluctantly.
“How long have you known it?” asked his mother.
“’Bout three months, I guess.”
“Why didn’t you tell of it?”
“Didn’t think ’twould do no good.”
“I don’t see what father wants another barn for,” said the girl, in her sweet, slow voice. She turned again to the window, and stared out at the digging men in the field. Her tender, sweet face was full of a gentle distress. Her forehead was as bald and innocent as a baby’s, with the light hair strained back from it in a row of curl-papers. She was quite large, but her soft curves did not look as if they covered muscles.
Her mother looked sternly at the boy. “Is he goin’ to buy more cows?” said she.
The boy did not reply; he was tying his shoes.
“Sammy, I want you to tell me if he’s goin’ to buy more cows.”
“I s’pose he is.”
“Four, I guess.”
His mother said nothing more. She went up into the pantry, and there was a clatter of dishes. The boy got his cap from a nail behind the door, took an old arithmetic from the shelf, and started for school. He was lightly built, but clumsy. He went out of the yard with a curious spring in his hips, that made his loose home-made jacket tilt up in the rear.
The girl went to the sink, and began to wash the dishes that were piled up there. Her mother came promptly out of the pantry, and shoved her aside. “You wipe ’em,” said she; “I’ll wash. There’s a good many this mornin’.”
The mother plunged her hands vigorously into the water, the girl wiped the plates slowly and dreamily. “Mother,” said she, “don’t you think it’s too bad father’s going to build that new barn, much as we need a decent house to live in?”
Her mother scrubbed a dish fiercely. “You ain’t found out yet we’re women-folks, Nanny Penn,” said she. “You ain’t seen enough of men-folks yet to. One
of these days you’ll find it out, an’ then you’ll know that we know only what men-folks think we do, so far as any use of it goes, an’ how we’d ought to reckon men-folks in with Providence, an’ not complain of what they do any more than we do of the weather.”
“I don’t care; I don’t believe George is anything like that, anyhow,” said Nanny. Her delicate face flushed pink, her lips pouted softly, as if she were going to cry.
“You wait an’ see. I guess George Eastman ain’t no better than other men. You hadn’t ought to judge father, though. He can’t help it, ’cause he don’t look at things jest the way we do. An’ we’ve been pretty comfortable here, after all. The roof don’t leak—ain’t never but once—that’s one thing. Father’s kept it shingled right up.”
“I do wish we had a parlor.”
“I guess it won’t hurt George Eastman any to come to see you in a nice clean kitchen. I guess a good many girls don’t have as good a place as this. Nobody’s ever heard me complain.”
“I ain’t complained either, mother.”
“Well, I don’t think you’d better, a good father an’ a good home as you’ve got. S’pose your father made you go out an’ work for your livin’? Lots of girls have to that ain’t no stronger an’ better able to than you be.”
Sarah Penn washed the frying-pan with a conclusive air. She scrubbed the outside of it as faithfully as the inside. She was a masterly keeper of her box of a house. Her one living-room never seemed to have in it any of the dust which the friction of life with inanimate matter produces. She swept, and there seemed to be no dirt to go before the broom; she cleaned, and one could see no difference. She was like an artist so perfect that he has apparently no art. To-day she got out a mixing bowl and a board, and rolled some pies, and there was no more flour upon her than upon her daughter who was doing finer work. Nanny was to be married in the fall, and she was sewing on some white cambric and embroidery. She sewed industriously while her mother cook