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The Old Gray Homestead   By: (1885-1970)

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To the farmers, and their mothers, wives, and daughters, who have been my nearest neighbors and my best friends for the last fifteen years, and who have taught me to love the country and the people in it, this quiet story of a farm is affectionately and gratefully dedicated.



"For Heaven's sake, Sally, don't say, 'Isn't it hot?' or, 'Did you ever know such weather for April?' or, 'Doesn't it seem as if the mud was just as bad as it used to be before we had the State Road?' again. It is hot. I never did see such weather. The mud is worse if anything. I've said all this several times, and if you can't think of anything more interesting to talk about, I wish you'd keep still."

Sally Gray pushed back the lock of crinkly brown hair that was always getting in her eyes, puckered her lips a little, and glanced at her brother Austin without replying, but with a slight ripple of concern disturbing her usual calm. She was plain and plump and placid, as sweet and wholesome as clover, and as nerveless as a cow, and she secretly envied her brother's lean, dark handsomeness; but she was conscious of a little pang of regret that the young, eager face beside her was already becoming furrowed with lines of discontent and bitterness, and that the expression of the fine mouth was rapidly growing more and more hard and sullen. Austin had been all the way from Hamstead to White Water that day, stopping on his way back at Wallacetown, to bring Sally, who taught school there, home for over Sunday; his little old horse, never either strong or swift, was tired and hot and muddy, and hung its unkempt head dejectedly, apparently having lost all willingness to drag the dilapidated top buggy and its two occupants another step. Austin's manner, Sally reflected, was not much more cheerful than that of his horse; while his clothes were certainly as dirty, as shabby, and as out of date as the rest of his equipage.

"It's a shame," she thought, "that Austin takes everything so hard. The rest of us don't mind half so much. If he could only have a little bit of encouragement and help something that would make him really happy! If he could earn some money or find out that, after all, money isn't everything or fall in love with some nice girl " She checked herself, blushing and sighing. The blush was occasioned by her own quiet happiness in that direction; but the sigh was because Austin, though he was well known to have been "rather wild," never paid any "nice girl" the slightest attention, and jeered cynically at the mere suggestion that he should do so.

"How lovely the valley is!" she said aloud at last; "I don't believe there's a prettier stretch of road in the whole world than this between Wallacetown and Hamstead, especially in the spring, when the river is so high, and everything is looking so fresh and green."

"Fortunate it is pretty; probably it's the only thing we'll have to look at as long as we live and certainly it's about all we've seen so far! If there'd been only you and I, Sally, we could have gone off to school, and maybe to college, too, but with eight of us to feed and clothe, it's no wonder that father is dead sunk in debt! Certainly I shan't travel much," he added, laughing bitterly, "when he thinks we can't have even one hired man in the future and certainly you won't either, if you're fool enough to marry Fred, and go straight from the frying pan of one poverty stricken home to the fire of another!"

"Oh, Austin, it's wrong of you to talk so! I'm going to be ever so happy!"

"Wrong! How else do you expect me to talk? if I talk at all! Doesn't it mean anything to you that the farm's mortgaged to the very last cent, and that it doesn't begin to produce what it ought to because we can't beg, borrow, or steal the money that ought to be put into it? Can you just shut your eyes to the fact that the house the finest in the county when Grandfather Gray built it is falling to pieces for want of necessary repairs? And look at our barns and sheds or don't look at them if you can help it! Doesn't it gall you to dress as you do, because you have to turn over most of what you can earn teaching to the family of course, you never can earn much, because you haven't had a good enough education yourself to get a first class position so that the younger girls can go to school at all, instead of going out as hired help? Can't you feel the injustice of being poor, and dirty, and ignorant, when thousands of other people are just rotten with money?"

"I've heard of such people, but I've never met any of them around here," returned his sister quietly... Continue reading book >>

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