Winter has settled down over the Divide
again; the season in which Nature recuperates,
in which she sinks to sleep between the fruitful-
ness of autumn and the passion of spring. The
birds have gone. The teeming life that goes on
down in the long grass is exterminated. The
prairie-dog keeps his hole. The rabbits run
shivering from one frozen garden patch to an-
other and are hard put to it to find frost-bitten
cabbage-stalks. At night the coyotes roam the
wintry waste, howling for food. The variegated
fields are all one color now; the pastures, the
stubble, the roads, the sky are the same leaden
gray. The hedgerows and trees are scarcely per-
ceptible against the bare earth, whose slaty hue
they have taken on. The ground is frozen so
hard that it bruises the foot to walk in the roads
or in the ploughed fields. It is like an iron
country, and the spirit is oppressed by its rigor
and melancholy. One could easily believe that in
that dead landscape the germs of life and fruit-
fulness were extinct forever.
Alexandra has settled back into her old
routine. There are weekly letters from Emil.
Lou and Oscar she has not seen since Carl
went away. To avoid awkward encounters in
the presence of curious spectators, she has
stopped going to the Norwegian Church and
drives up to the Reform Church at Hanover,
or goes with Marie Shabata to the Catholic
Church, locally known as "the French Church."
She has not told Marie about Carl, or her dif-
ferences with her brothers. She was never very
communicative about her own affairs, and
when she came to the point, an instinct told her
that about such things she and Marie would
not understand one another.
Old Mrs. Lee had been afraid that family
misunderstandings might deprive her of her
yearly visit to Alexandra. But on the first day
of December Alexandra telephoned Annie that
to-morrow she would send Ivar over for her
mother, and the next day the old lady arrived
with her bundles. For twelve years Mrs. Lee
had always entered Alexandra's sitting-room
with the same exclamation, "Now we be yust-a
like old times!" She enjoyed the liberty Alex-
andra gave her, and hearing her own language
about her all day long. Here she could wear her
nightcap and sleep with all her windows shut,
listen to Ivar reading the Bible, and here she
could run about among the stables in a pair of
Emil's old boots. Though she was bent almost
double, she was as spry as a gopher. Her face
was as brown as if it had been varnished, and as
full of wrinkles as a washerwoman's hands. She
had three jolly old teeth left in the front of her
mouth, and when she grinned she looked very
knowing, as if when you found out how to take
it, life wasn't half bad. While she and Alex-
andra patched and pieced and quilted, she
talked incessantly about stories she read in a
Swedish family paper, telling the plots in great
detail; or about her life on a dairy farm in
Gottland when she was a girl. Sometimes she
forgot which were the printed stories and which
were the real stories, it all seemed so far away.
She loved to take a little brandy, with hot
water and sugar, before she went to bed, and
Alexandra always had it ready for her. "It
sends good dreams," she would say with a
twinkle in her eye.
When Mrs. Lee had been with Alexandra for
a week, Marie Shabata telephoned one morning
to say that Frank had gone to town for the day,
and she would like them to come over for coffee
in the afternoon. Mrs. Lee hurried to wash out
and iron her new cross-stitched apron, which
she had finished only the night before; a checked
gingham apron worked with a design ten inches
broad across the bottom; a hunting scene, with
fir trees and a stag and dogs and huntsmen.
Mrs. Lee was firm with herself at dinner, and
refused a second helping of apple dumplings.
"I ta-ank I save up," she said with a giggle.
At two o'clock in the afternoon Alexandra's
cart drove up to the Shabatas' gate, and Marie
saw Mrs. Lee's red shawl come bobbing up the
path. She ran to the door and pulled the old
woman into the house with a hug, helping her
to take off her wraps while Alexandra blan-
keted the horse outside. Mrs. Lee had put on
her best black satine dress--she abominated
woolen stuffs, even in winter--and a crocheted
collar, fastened with a big pale gold pin, con-
taining faded daguerreotypes of her father and
mother. She had not worn her apron for fear of
rumpling it, and now she shook it out and tied
it round her waist with a conscious air. Marie
drew back and threw up her hands, exclaiming,
"Oh, what a beauty! I've never seen this one
before, have I, Mrs. Lee?"
The old woman giggled and ducked her head.
"No, yust las' night I ma-ake. See dis tread;
verra strong, no wa-ash out, no fade. My sis-
ter send from Sveden. I yust-a ta-ank you like
Marie ran to the door again. "Come in,
Alexandra. I have been looking at Mrs. Lee's
apron. Do stop on your way home and show it
to Mrs. Hiller. She's crazy about cross-stitch."
While Alexandra removed her hat and veil,
Mrs. Lee went out to the kitchen and settled
herself in a wooden rocking-chair by the stove,
looking with great interest at the table, set for
three, with a white cloth, and a pot of pink
geraniums in the middle. "My, a-an't you
gotta fine plants; such-a much flower. How you
keep from freeze?"
She pointed to the window-shelves, full of
blooming fuchsias and geraniums.
"I keep the fire all night, Mrs. Lee, and when
it's very cold I put them all on the table, in the
middle of the room. Other nights I only put
newspapers behind them. Frank laughs at me
for fussing, but when they don't bloom he says,
'What's the matter with the darned things?'--
What do you hear from Carl, Alexandra?"
"He got to Dawson before the river froze,
and now I suppose I won't hear any more until
spring. Before he left California he sent me a
box of orange flowers, but they didn't keep
very well. I have brought a bunch of Emil's
letters for you." Alexandra came out from the
sitting-room and pinched Marie's cheek play-
fully. "You don't look as if the weather ever
froze you up. Never have colds, do you?
That's a good girl. She had dark red cheeks like
this when she was a little girl, Mrs. Lee. She
looked like some queer foreign kind of a doll.
I've never forgot the first time I saw you in
Mieklejohn's store, Marie, the time father was
lying sick. Carl and I were talking about that
before he went away."
"I remember, and Emil had his kitten along.
When are you going to send Emil's Christmas
"It ought to have gone before this. I'll have
to send it by mail now, to get it there in time."
Marie pulled a dark purple silk necktie from
her workbasket. "I knit this for him. It's a
good color, don't you think? Will you please
put it in with your things and tell him it's from
me, to wear when he goes serenading."
Alexandra laughed. "I don't believe he goes
serenading much. He says in one letter that
the Mexican ladies are said to be very beauti-
ful, but that don't seem to me very warm
Marie tossed her head. "Emil can't fool me.
If he's bought a guitar, he goes serenading.
Who wouldn't, with all those Spanish girls
dropping flowers down from their windows!
I'd sing to them every night, wouldn't you,
The old lady chuckled. Her eyes lit up as
Marie bent down and opened the oven door.
A delicious hot fragrance blew out into the tidy
kitchen. "My, somet'ing smell good!" She
turned to Alexandra with a wink, her three yel-
low teeth making a brave show, "I ta-ank dat
stop my yaw from ache no more!" she said con-
Marie took out a pan of delicate little rolls,
stuffed with stewed apricots, and began to dust
them over with powdered sugar. "I hope you'll
like these, Mrs. Lee; Alexandra does. The
Bohemians always like them with their coffee.
But if you don't, I have a coffee-cake with nuts
and poppy seeds. Alexandra, will you get the
cream jug? I put it in the window to keep
"The Bohemians," said Alexandra, as they
drew up to the table, "certainly know how to
make more kinds of bread than any other peo-
ple in the world. Old Mrs. Hiller told me once at
the church supper that she could make seven
kinds of fancy bread, but Marie could make a
Mrs. Lee held up one of the apricot rolls
between her brown thumb and forefinger and
weighed it critically. "Yust like-a fedders,"
she pronounced with satisfaction. "My, a-an't
dis nice!" she exclaimed as she stirred her
coffee. "I yust ta-ake a liddle yelly now, too,
Alexandra and Marie laughed at her fore-
handedness, and fell to talking of their own
affairs. "I was afraid you had a cold when I
talked to you over the telephone the other
night, Marie. What was the matter, had you
"Maybe I had," Marie smiled guiltily.
"Frank was out late that night. Don't you get
lonely sometimes in the winter, when every-
body has gone away?"
"I thought it was something like that. If I
hadn't had company, I'd have run over to see
for myself. If you get down-hearted, what will
become of the rest of us?" Alexandra asked.
"I don't, very often. There's Mrs. Lee
without any coffee!"
Later, when Mrs. Lee declared that her
powers were spent, Marie and Alexandra went
upstairs to look for some crochet patterns the
old lady wanted to borrow. "Better put on
your coat, Alexandra. It's cold up there, and I
have no idea where those patterns are. I may
have to look through my old trunks." Marie
caught up a shawl and opened the stair door, run-
ning up the steps ahead of her guest. "While I
go through the bureau drawers, you might look
in those hat-boxes on the closet-shelf, over
where Frank's clothes hang. There are a lot
of odds and ends in them."
She began tossing over the contents of the
drawers, and Alexandra went into the clothes-
closet. Presently she came back, holding a
slender elastic yellow stick in her hand.
"What in the world is this, Marie? You
don't mean to tell me Frank ever carried such
Marie blinked at it with astonishment and
sat down on the floor. "Where did you find it?
I didn't know he had kept it. I haven't seen
it for years."
"It really is a cane, then?"
"Yes. One he brought from the old coun-
try. He used to carry it when I first knew him.
Isn't it foolish? Poor Frank!"
Alexandra twirled the stick in her fingers and
laughed. "He must have looked funny!"
Marie was thoughtful. "No, he didn't, really.
It didn't seem out of place. He used to be
awfully gay like that when he was a young
man. I guess people always get what's hard-
est for them, Alexandra." Marie gathered the
shawl closer about her and still looked hard at
the cane. "Frank would be all right in the right
place," she said reflectively. "He ought to
have a different kind of wife, for one thing. Do
you know, Alexandra, I could pick out exactly
the right sort of woman for Frank--now.
The trouble is you almost have to marry a man
before you can find out the sort of wife he
needs; and usually it's exactly the sort you are
not. Then what are you going to do about it?"
she asked candidly.
Alexandra confessed she didn't know.
"However," she added, "it seems to me that
you get along with Frank about as well as any
woman I've ever seen or heard of could."
Marie shook her head, pursing her lips and
blowing her warm breath softly out into the
frosty air. "No; I was spoiled at home. I like
my own way, and I have a quick tongue. When
Frank brags, I say sharp things, and he never
forgets. He goes over and over it in his mind;
I can feel him. Then I'm too giddy. Frank's
wife ought to be timid, and she ought not to
care about another living thing in the world but
just Frank! I didn't, when I married him, but
I suppose I was too young to stay like that."
Alexandra had never heard Marie speak so
frankly about her husband before, and she felt
that it was wiser not to encourage her. No
good, she reasoned, ever came from talking
about such things, and while Marie was think-
ing aloud, Alexandra had been steadily search-
ing the hat-boxes. "Aren't these the pat-
Maria sprang up from the floor. "Sure
enough, we were looking for patterns, weren't
we? I'd forgot about everything but Frank's
other wife. I'll put that away."
She poked the cane behind Frank's Sunday
clothes, and though she laughed, Alexandra saw
there were tears in her eyes.
When they went back to the kitchen, the
snow had begun to fall, and Marie's visitors
thought they must be getting home. She went
out to the cart with them, and tucked the robes
about old Mrs. Lee while Alexandra took the
blanket off her horse. As they drove away,
Marie turned and went slowly back to the
house. She took up the package of letters
Alexandra had brought, but she did not read
them. She turned them over and looked at the
foreign stamps, and then sat watching the fly-
ing snow while the dusk deepened in the kitchen
and the stove sent out a red glow.
Marie knew perfectly well that Emil's letters
were written more for her than for Alexandra.
They were not the sort of letters that a young
man writes to his sister. They were both more
personal and more painstaking; full of descrip-
tions of the gay life in the old Mexican capital
in the days when the strong hand of Porfirio
Diaz was still strong. He told about bull-fights
and cock-fights, churches and FIESTAS, the flower-
markets and the fountains, the music and dan-
cing, the people of all nations he met in the
Italian restaurants on San Francisco Street. In
short, they were the kind of letters a young man
writes to a woman when he wishes himself and
his life to seem interesting to her, when he
wishes to enlist her imagination in his behalf.
Marie, when she was alone or when she sat
sewing in the evening, often thought about
what it must be like down there where Emil
was; where there were flowers and street bands
everywhere, and carriages rattling up and
down, and where there was a little blind boot-
black in front of the cathedral who could play
any tune you asked for by dropping the lids
of blacking-boxes on the stone steps. When
everything is done and over for one at twenty-
three, it is pleasant to let the mind wander
forth and follow a young adventurer who has
life before him. "And if it had not been for
me," she thought, "Frank might still be free
like that, and having a good time making peo-
ple admire him. Poor Frank, getting married
wasn't very good for him either. I'm afraid I
do set people against him, as he says. I seem,
somehow, to give him away all the time. Per-
haps he would try to be agreeable to people
again, if I were not around. It seems as if I
always make him just as bad as he can be."
Later in the winter, Alexandra looked back
upon that afternoon as the last satisfactory
visit she had had with Marie. After that day
the younger woman seemed to shrink more and
more into herself. When she was with Alexan-
dra she was not spontaneous and frank as she
used to be. She seemed to be brooding over
something, and holding something back. The
weather had a good deal to do with their seeing
less of each other than usual. There had not been
such snowstorms in twenty years, and the path
across the fields was drifted deep from Christ-
mas until March. When the two neighbors went
to see each other, they had to go round by the
wagon-road, which was twice as far. They tele-
phoned each other almost every night, though
in January there was a stretch of three weeks
when the wires were down, and when the post-
man did not come at all.
Marie often ran in to see her nearest neigh- bor, old Mrs. Hiller, who was crippled with rheumatism and had only her son, the lame shoemaker, to take care of her; and she went to the French Church, whatever the weather. She was a sincerely devout girl. She prayed for her- self and for Frank, and for Emil, among the temptations of that gay, corrupt old city. She found more comfort in the Church that winter than ever before. It seemed to come closer to her, and to fill an emptiness that ached in her heart. She tried to be patient with her hus- band. He and his hired man usually played Cal- ifornia Jack in the evening. Marie sat sew- ing or crocheting and tried to take a friendly interest in the game, but she was always thinking about the wide fields outside, where the snow was drifting over the fences; and about the orchard, where the snow was falling and packing, crust over crust. When she went out into the dark kitchen to fix her plants for the night, she used to stand by the window and look out at the white fields, or watch the currents of snow whirling over the orchard. She seemed to feel the weight of all the snow that lay down there. The branches had be- come so hard that they wounded your hand if you but tried to break a twig. And yet, down under the frozen crusts, at the roots of the trees, the secret of life was still safe, warm as the blood in one's heart; and the spring would come again! Oh, it would come again!