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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Spoil Of Office: A Story Of The Modern West - Chapter 3. Bradley Resolves To Go To School
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A Spoil Of Office: A Story Of The Modern West - Chapter 3. Bradley Resolves To Go To School Post by :jorgemv Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :3347

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A Spoil Of Office: A Story Of The Modern West - Chapter 3. Bradley Resolves To Go To School


A farm is a good place to think in, if a man has sufficient self-sustaining force--that is, if work does not dominate him and force him to think in petty or degrading circles.

It is a lonely life. Especially lonely on a large farm in the West. The life of a hired man like Bradley Talcott is spent mainly with the horses and cattle. In the spring he works day after day with a drag or seeder, moving to and fro an animate speck across a dull brown expanse of soil. Even when he has a companion there is little talk, for there is little to say, and the extra exertion of speaking against the wind, or across distances, soon forces them both into silence.

True, there is the glory of the vast sweep of sky, the wild note of the crane, the flight of geese, the multitudinous twitter of sparrows, and the subtle exalting smell of the fresh, brown earth; but these things do not compensate for human society. Nature palls upon the normal man when he is alone with her constantly. The monotone of the wind and the monochrome of the sky oppress him. His heart remains empty.

The rustle of flashing, blade-like corn leaves, the vast clean-cut mountainous clouds of June, the shade of shimmering popple trees, the whistle of plover and the sailing hawk do not satisfy the man who follows the corn-plow with the hot sun beating down all day upon his bent head and dusty shoulders. His point of view is not that from the hammock. He is not out on a summer vacation. If he thinks, he thinks bitter things, and when he speaks his words are apt to be oaths.

Still a man has time to think and occasionally a man dominates his work and refuses to be hardened and distorted. Many farmers swear at the team or the plow and everything that bothers them. Some whistle vacantly and mechanically all day, or sing in endless succession the few gloomy songs they know. Bradley thought.

He thought all summer long. He was a powerful man physically and turned off his work with a ready knack which left him free to think. All day as he moved to and fro in the rustling corn rows, he thought, and with his thinking, his powers expanded. He had the mysterious power of self-development.

The centre of his thinking was that slender young woman and the words she had uttered. He repeated her prophetic words as nearly as he could a hundred times. He repeated them aloud as he plowed day after day, through the dreamful September mist. He began to look ahead and wonder what he should do or could do. Must he be a farmer's hired man or a renter all his life? His mind moved slowly from point to point, but it never returned to its old dumb patience. His mind, like his body, had unknown latent forces. He was one of those natures whose delicacy and strength are alike hidden.

"Brad don't know his strength," Councill was accustomed to say. "If he should ever get mad enough to fight, the other feller'd better go a-visitin'." And a person who knew his mind might have said, "If Bradley makes up his mind to do a thing he'll do it." But no one knew his mind. He did not know its resources himself.

His mind seized upon every hint, and bit by bit his resolution was formed. Milton, going by one Monday morning on his way to the seminary, stopped beside the fence where Brad was plowing and waited for him to come up. He had a real interest in Bradley.

"Hello, Brad," he called cheerily.

"Hello, Milt."

"How's business?"

"Oh, so so. Pretty cold."

The wind was blowing cold and cuttingly from the north-west. Milton, rosy with his walk, dropped down beside the hedge of weeds in the sun and Brad climbed over the fence and joined him. It was warm and cosy there, and the crickets were cheeping feebly in the russet grass where the sunlight fell. The wind whistled through the weeds with a wild, mournful sound. Bradley did not speak for some time. He listened to Milton. At last he said abruptly--

"Say, Milt, what does it cost to go to school down there?"

"Depends on who goes. Cost me 'bout forty dollars a term. Shep an' I room it and cook our own grub."

"What's the tuition?"

"Eight dollars a term."

"Feller could go to the public school for nauthin', couldn't he?"

"Yes, and that'd be all it 'ud be worth," said Milton with fine scorn at an inferior institution.

"What does a room cost?" Brad pursued after a silence.

"Well, ours cost 'bout three dollars a month, but we have two rooms: You could get one for fifty cents a week."

He looked up at Brad with a laugh in his eyes. "Don't think of starting in right off, do you?"

"Well, I don't know but I might if I had money enough to carry me through."

"What y' think o' doin', study law?"

"No, but I'd kind o' like to be able to speak in public. Seems t' me a feller ought 'o know how to speak at a school meetin' when he's called on. I couldn't say three words to save m' soul. They teach that down there, don't they?"

"Yes, we have Friday exercises and then there are two debating clubs. They're boss for practice. That's where I put in most o' my time. I'm goin' into politics," he ended with a note of exalted purpose as if going into politics were really something fine. "Are you?"

"Well, there's no tellin' what minit a feller's liable to be called on and I'd kinder like to"--He fell off into silence again.

Milton jumped up. "Well, hold on, this won't do f'r me; I must mosey along. Good-by," he said, and set off down the road.

"When does the next term begin?" called Bradley.

"November 15th," Milton replied, looking about for an instant. "Better try it."

Bradley threw the lines over his shoulder and, bending his head, fell into deep calculation. Milton's clear tenor was heard ringing across the fields, fitfully dying away. Milton made the most of everything, and besides he was on his way to see Eileen. He could afford to be gay.

Bradley thought, even while he husked the corn, one of the bitterest of all farm tasks when the cold winds of November begin to blow. Councill had a large field of corn and every morning in the cold and frosty light Ike and Bradley were out in the field, each with a team. Beautiful mornings, if one could have looked upon it from a window in a comfortable home. There were mornings when the glittering purple and orange domes of the oaks and maples swam in the mist dreamfully, so beautiful the eyes lingered upon them wistfully. Mornings when the dim lines of the woods were a royal purple, and gray-blue shadows streamed from the trees upon the yellow-green grass.

Husking was the last of the fall work and the last day of husking found Bradley desolately undecided. They had been working desperately all the week to finish the field on Saturday. It was a bitter cold morning. As they leaped into the frost-rimmed wagon-box and caught up the reins, the half-frozen team sprang away with desperate energy, making the wagon bound over the frozen ground with a thunderous clatter.

In every field the sound of similar wagons getting out to work could be heard. It was not yet light. A leaden-gray dome of cloud had closed in over the morning sky and the feeling of snow was in the air. There was only a dull flush of red in the east to show the night had been frostily clear.

Ike raised a great shout to let his neighbors know he was in the field. Councill, with a fork over his shoulder, was on his way down the lane to help a neighbor thresh. Ike jovially shook the reins above his colts and Bradley followed close behind, and the two wagons went crashing through the forest of corn. The race started the blood of the drivers as well as that of the teams. The cold wind cut the face like a knife and the crackling corn-stalks flew through the air as the wagons swept over them. Reaching the farther side they turned in and faced toward the house, the horses blowing white clouds of breath.

"Jee Whitaker!" shouted Ike, as he crouched on the leeward side of his wagon, and threshed his arms around his chest, after having finished blanketing his team to protect them against the ferocious wind. "I'm thunderin' glad this is the last day of this kind o' thing."

He looked like a grizzly bear in bad repair. He had an old fur cap on his head that concealed his ears and most of his face. He wore a ragged coat that was generally gray, but had white lines along the seams. Under this he wore another coat still more ragged, and the whole was belted at the waist with an old surcingle. Like his father, he was possessed of vast physical strength, and took pride in his powers of endurance.

"Wal, here goes," he said, stripping off his outside coat. "It's tough, but it aint no use dreadin' it."

Bradley smiled back at him in his wordless way, and caught hold of the first ear. It sent a shiver of pain through him. His fingers, worn to the quick, protruded from his stiff, ragged gloves, and the motions of clasping and stripping the ear were like the rasp of a file on a naked nerve. He shivered and swore, but his oath was like a groan.

The horses, humped and shivering, looked black and fuzzy, by reason of their erected hair. They tore at the corn-stalks hungrily. Their tails streamed sidewise with the force of the wind, which had a wild and lonesome sound, as it swept across the sear stretches of the corn. The stalks towered far above the heads of the huskers, but did little to temper the onslaught of the blast.

Occasional flocks of geese drifted by in the grasp of the inexorable gale, their necks out-thrust as if they had already caught the gleam of their warm southern lagoons. Clouds of ducks, more adventurous, were seen in irregular flight, rising and falling from the lonely fields with wild clapping of wings. Only the sparrows seemed indifferent to the cold.

There was immensity in the dome of the unbroken, seamless, gray threatening sky. There was majesty in the dim plain, across which the morning light slowly fell. The plain, with its dark blue groves, from which thin lines of smoke rose and hastened away, and majesty in the wind that came from the illimitable and desolate north. But the lonely huskers had no time to feel, much less to think, upon these things.

They bent down to their work and snatched the red and yellow ears bare of their frosty husks with marvelous dexterity. The first plunge over, Bradley found as usual that the sharpest pain was over. The wind cut his face, and an occasional driving flake of snow struck and clung to his face and stung. His coat collar chafed his chin, and the frost wet his gloves through and through. But he warmed to it and at last almost forgot it. He fell into thought again, so deep that his work became absolutely mechanical.

"Say, Brad, let's go to that dance over at Davis's," shouted Ike, after an hour of silence.

"I guess not."

"Why not?"

"Because I aint invited."

"Oh, that's all right; Ed, he told me to bring anyone I felt like."

"I aint going, all the same. I may be in Rock River by next Wednesday."

"They aint no danger o' you're going to Rock River."

Bradley fell once more into the circle of his plans and went the round again. He had saved two hundred dollars. It was enough to take him to school a year, but what then? That was the recurring question. It was the most momentous day in his life. Should he spend his money in this way? Every dollar of it represented toil, long days of lonely plowing or dragging, long days under the burning harvest sun. It was all he had, all he had to show for his life. Was it right to spend it for schooling?

"What good'll it do yeh?" Ike asked one day when Bradley was feeling out for a little helpful sympathy. "Better buy a team with it and rent a piece of land. What y' goan to do after you spent the money?"

"I don't know," Bradley had replied in his honest way.

"Wal, I'd think of it a dum long spell 'fore I'd do it," was Ike's reply, and Councill had agreed with it.

Bradley fell behind Ike, for he wanted to be alone. He had grown into the habit of accounting to _Her for his actions, and when he wished to consult with _Her_, he wanted to be alone. There was something sacred, even in the thought of _Her_, and he shrank from having his thoughts broken in upon by any careless or jesting word.

As he pondered, his hands grew slower in their action and, at last, he stopped and leaned against the wagon-box. Something came into his heart that shook him, a feeling of unknown power, a certainty of faith in himself. He shivered with an electric thrill that made his hair stir.

He lifted his face to the sky and his eyes saw a crane sailing with stately grace, in measureless circle, a mere speck against the unbroken gray of the sky. There seemed something prophetic; something mystic in its harsh, wild cry that fell, like the scream of the eagle, a defiant note against wind and storm.

"I'll do it," he said, and his hands clinched. At the sound of his voice he shivered again, as if the wind had suddenly penetrated his clothing. His dress made him grotesque. The spaces around him made him pathetic, but in his golden-brown eyes was something that made him sublime.

The thought which he dared not utter, but which lay deep under every resolution and action he made, was the hope, undefined and unacknowledged to himself, that sometime he might meet her and have her approve his action.

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