One Sunday afternoon in July, six months
after John Bergson's death, Carl was sitting in
the doorway of the Linstrum kitchen, dreaming
over an illustrated paper, when he heard the
rattle of a wagon along the hill road. Looking
up he recognized the Bergsons' team, with two
seats in the wagon, which meant they were off
for a pleasure excursion. Oscar and Lou, on
the front seat, wore their cloth hats and coats,
never worn except on Sundays, and Emil, on
the second seat with Alexandra, sat proudly in
his new trousers, made from a pair of his
father's, and a pink-striped shirt, with a wide
ruffled collar. Oscar stopped the horses and
waved to Carl, who caught up his hat and ran
through the melon patch to join them.
"Want to go with us?" Lou called. "We're
going to Crazy Ivar's to buy a hammock."
"Sure." Carl ran up panting, and clamber-
ing over the wheel sat down beside Emil. "I've
always wanted to see Ivar's pond. They say
it's the biggest in all the country. Aren't you
afraid to go to Ivar's in that new shirt, Emil?
He might want it and take it right off your
Emil grinned. "I'd be awful scared to go,"
he admitted, "if you big boys weren't along to
take care of me. Did you ever hear him howl,
Carl? People say sometimes he runs about the
country howling at night because he is afraid
the Lord will destroy him. Mother thinks he
must have done something awful wicked."
Lou looked back and winked at Carl. "What
would you do, Emil, if you was out on the
prairie by yourself and seen him coming?"
Emil stared. "Maybe I could hide in a
badger-hole," he suggested doubtfully.
"But suppose there wasn't any badger-hole,"
Lou persisted. "Would you run?"
"No, I'd be too scared to run," Emil ad-
mitted mournfully, twisting his fingers. "I
guess I'd sit right down on the ground and say
The big boys laughed, and Oscar brandished
his whip over the broad backs of the horses.
"He wouldn't hurt you, Emil," said Carl
persuasively. "He came to doctor our mare
when she ate green corn and swelled up most as
big as the water-tank. He petted her just like
you do your cats. I couldn't understand much
he said, for he don't talk any English, but he
kept patting her and groaning as if he had the
pain himself, and saying, 'There now, sister,
that's easier, that's better!'"
Lou and Oscar laughed, and Emil giggled
delightedly and looked up at his sister.
"I don't think he knows anything at all
about doctoring," said Oscar scornfully. "They
say when horses have distemper he takes the
medicine himself, and then prays over the
Alexandra spoke up. "That's what the
Crows said, but he cured their horses, all the
same. Some days his mind is cloudy, like. But
if you can get him on a clear day, you can learn
a great deal from him. He understands ani-
mals. Didn't I see him take the horn off the
Berquist's cow when she had torn it loose and
went crazy? She was tearing all over the place,
knocking herself against things. And at last
she ran out on the roof of the old dugout and
her legs went through and there she stuck, bel-
lowing. Ivar came running with his white bag,
and the moment he got to her she was quiet and
let him saw her horn off and daub the place
Emil had been watching his sister, his face
reflecting the sufferings of the cow. "And then
didn't it hurt her any more?" he asked.
Alexandra patted him. "No, not any more.
And in two days they could use her milk
The road to Ivar's homestead was a very poor
one. He had settled in the rough country across
the county line, where no one lived but some
Russians,--half a dozen families who dwelt
together in one long house, divided off like
barracks. Ivar had explained his choice by
saying that the fewer neighbors he had, the
fewer temptations. Nevertheless, when one
considered that his chief business was horse-
doctoring, it seemed rather short-sighted of
him to live in the most inaccessible place he
could find. The Bergson wagon lurched along
over the rough hummocks and grass banks, fol-
lowed the bottom of winding draws, or skirted
the margin of wide lagoons, where the golden
coreopsis grew up out of the clear water and
the wild ducks rose with a whirr of wings.
Lou looked after them helplessly. "I wish
I'd brought my gun, anyway, Alexandra," he
said fretfully. "I could have hidden it under
the straw in the bottom of the wagon."
"Then we'd have had to lie to Ivar. Besides,
they say he can smell dead birds. And if he
knew, we wouldn't get anything out of him,
not even a hammock. I want to talk to him,
and he won't talk sense if he's angry. It makes
Lou sniffed. "Whoever heard of him talking
sense, anyhow! I'd rather have ducks for sup-
per than Crazy Ivar's tongue."
Emil was alarmed. "Oh, but, Lou, you don't
want to make him mad! He might howl!"
They all laughed again, and Oscar urged the
horses up the crumbling side of a clay bank.
They had left the lagoons and the red grass
behind them. In Crazy Ivar's country the
grass was short and gray, the draws deeper
than they were in the Bergsons' neighborhood,
and the land was all broken up into hillocks
and clay ridges. The wild flowers disappeared,
and only in the bottom of the draws and gullies
grew a few of the very toughest and hardiest:
shoestring, and ironweed, and snow-on-the-
"Look, look, Emil, there's Ivar's big pond!"
Alexandra pointed to a shining sheet of water
that lay at the bottom of a shallow draw.
At one end of the pond was an earthen dam,
planted with green willow bushes, and above it
a door and a single window were set into the
hillside. You would not have seen them at all
but for the reflection of the sunlight upon the
four panes of window-glass. And that was all
you saw. Not a shed, not a corral, not a well,
not even a path broken in the curly grass. But
for the piece of rusty stovepipe sticking up
through the sod, you could have walked over
the roof of Ivar's dwelling without dreaming
that you were near a human habitation. Ivar
had lived for three years in the clay bank, with-
out defiling the face of nature any more than the
coyote that had lived there before him had done.
When the Bergsons drove over the hill, Ivar
was sitting in the doorway of his house, reading
the Norwegian Bible. He was a queerly shaped
old man, with a thick, powerful body set on
short bow-legs. His shaggy white hair, falling in
a thick mane about his ruddy cheeks, made him
look older than he was. He was barefoot, but he
wore a clean shirt of unbleached cotton, open at
the neck. He always put on a clean shirt when
Sunday morning came round, though he never
went to church. He had a peculiar religion of
his own and could not get on with any of the
denominations. Often he did not see anybody
from one week's end to another. He kept a
calendar, and every morning he checked off a
day, so that he was never in any doubt as to
which day of the week it was. Ivar hired him-
self out in threshing and corn-husking time,
and he doctored sick animals when he was sent
for. When he was at home, he made ham-
mocks out of twine and committed chapters
of the Bible to memory.
Ivar found contentment in the solitude he
had sought out for himself. He disliked the
litter of human dwellings: the broken food, the
bits of broken china, the old wash-boilers and
tea-kettles thrown into the sunflower patch.
He preferred the cleanness and tidiness of the
wild sod. He always said that the badgers had
cleaner houses than people, and that when he
took a housekeeper her name would be Mrs.
Badger. He best expressed his preference for
his wild homestead by saying that his Bible
seemed truer to him there. If one stood in the
doorway of his cave, and looked off at the rough
land, the smiling sky, the curly grass white in
the hot sunlight; if one listened to the rapturous
song of the lark, the drumming of the quail, the
burr of the locust against that vast silence, one
understood what Ivar meant.
On this Sunday afternoon his face shone with
happiness. He closed the book on his knee,
keeping the place with his horny finger, and
He sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills;
They give drink to every beast of the field; the wild asses quench their thirst.
The trees of the Lord are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon which he hath planted;
Where the birds make their nests: as for the stork, the fir trees are her house.
The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats; and the rocks for the conies.
Before he opened his Bible again, Ivar heard
the Bergsons' wagon approaching, and he
sprang up and ran toward it.
"No guns, no guns!" he shouted, waving his
"No, Ivar, no guns," Alexandra called reas-
He dropped his arms and went up to the
wagon, smiling amiably and looking at them
out of his pale blue eyes.
"We want to buy a hammock, if you have
one," Alexandra explained, "and my little
brother, here, wants to see your big pond, where
so many birds come."
Ivar smiled foolishly, and began rubbing the
horses' noses and feeling about their mouths
behind the bits. "Not many birds just now.
A few ducks this morning; and some snipe
come to drink. But there was a crane last week.
She spent one night and came back the next
evening. I don't know why. It is not her sea-
son, of course. Many of them go over in the
fall. Then the pond is full of strange voices
Alexandra translated for Carl, who looked
thoughtful. "Ask him, Alexandra, if it is true
that a sea gull came here once. I have heard so."
She had some difficulty in making the old
He looked puzzled at first, then smote his
hands together as he remembered. "Oh, yes,
yes! A big white bird with long wings and pink
feet. My! what a voice she had! She came in
the afternoon and kept flying about the pond
and screaming until dark. She was in trouble
of some sort, but I could not understand her.
She was going over to the other ocean, maybe,
and did not know how far it was. She was
afraid of never getting there. She was more
mournful than our birds here; she cried in the
night. She saw the light from my window and
darted up to it. Maybe she thought my house
was a boat, she was such a wild thing. Next
morning, when the sun rose, I went out to take
her food, but she flew up into the sky and went
on her way." Ivar ran his fingers through his
thick hair. "I have many strange birds stop
with me here. They come from very far away
and are great company. I hope you boys never
shoot wild birds?"
Lou and Oscar grinned, and Ivar shook his
bushy head. "Yes, I know boys are thoughtless.
But these wild things are God's birds. He
watches over them and counts them, as we do
our cattle; Christ says so in the New Testa-
"Now, Ivar," Lou asked, "may we water
our horses at your pond and give them some
feed? It's a bad road to your place."
"Yes, yes, it is." The old man scrambled
about and began to loose the tugs. "A bad
road, eh, girls? And the bay with a colt at
Oscar brushed the old man aside. "We'll
take care of the horses, Ivar. You'll be finding
some disease on them. Alexandra wants to see
Ivar led Alexandra and Emil to his little
cave house. He had but one room, neatly plas-
tered and whitewashed, and there was a wooden
floor. There was a kitchen stove, a table cov-
ered with oilcloth, two chairs, a clock, a calen-
dar, a few books on the window-shelf; nothing
more. But the place was as clean as a cup-
"But where do you sleep, Ivar?" Emil asked,
Ivar unslung a hammock from a hook on the
wall; in it was rolled a buffalo robe. "There,
my son. A hammock is a good bed, and in
winter I wrap up in this skin. Where I go to
work, the beds are not half so easy as this."
By this time Emil had lost all his timidity.
He thought a cave a very superior kind of
house. There was something pleasantly unusual
about it and about Ivar. "Do the birds know
you will be kind to them, Ivar? Is that why so
many come?" he asked.
Ivar sat down on the floor and tucked his
feet under him. "See, little brother, they have
come from a long way, and they are very tired.
From up there where they are flying, our coun-
try looks dark and flat. They must have water
to drink and to bathe in before they can go on
with their journey. They look this way and
that, and far below them they see something
shining, like a piece of glass set in the dark
earth. That is my pond. They come to it and
are not disturbed. Maybe I sprinkle a little
corn. They tell the other birds, and next year
more come this way. They have their roads up
there, as we have down here."
Emil rubbed his knees thoughtfully. "And
is that true, Ivar, about the head ducks falling
back when they are tired, and the hind ones
taking their place?"
"Yes. The point of the wedge gets the worst
of it; they cut the wind. They can only stand
it there a little while--half an hour, maybe.
Then they fall back and the wedge splits a little,
while the rear ones come up the middle to the
front. Then it closes up and they fly on, with a
new edge. They are always changing like
that, up in the air. Never any confusion; just
like soldiers who have been drilled."
Alexandra had selected her hammock by the
time the boys came up from the pond. They
would not come in, but sat in the shade of the
bank outside while Alexandra and Ivar talked
about the birds and about his housekeeping,
and why he never ate meat, fresh or salt.
Alexandra was sitting on one of the wooden
chairs, her arms resting on the table. Ivar was
sitting on the floor at her feet. "Ivar," she said
suddenly, beginning to trace the pattern on the
oilcloth with her forefinger, "I came to-day
more because I wanted to talk to you than be-
cause I wanted to buy a hammock."
"Yes?" The old man scraped his bare feet
on the plank floor.
"We have a big bunch of hogs, Ivar. I
wouldn't sell in the spring, when everybody
advised me to, and now so many people are
losing their hogs that I am frightened. What
can be done?"
Ivar's little eyes began to shine. They lost
"You feed them swill and such stuff? Of
course! And sour milk? Oh, yes! And keep
them in a stinking pen? I tell you, sister, the
hogs of this country are put upon! They be-
come unclean, like the hogs in the Bible. If you
kept your chickens like that, what would hap-
pen? You have a little sorghum patch, maybe?
Put a fence around it, and turn the hogs in.
Build a shed to give them shade, a thatch on
poles. Let the boys haul water to them in bar-
rels, clean water, and plenty. Get them off the
old stinking ground, and do not let them go
back there until winter. Give them only grain
and clean feed, such as you would give horses
or cattle. Hogs do not like to be filthy."
The boys outside the door had been listening.
Lou nudged his brother. "Come, the horses
are done eating. Let's hitch up and get out of
here. He'll fill her full of notions. She'll be for
having the pigs sleep with us, next."
Oscar grunted and got up. Carl, who could
not understand what Ivar said, saw that the
two boys were displeased. They did not mind
hard work, but they hated experiments and
could never see the use of taking pains. Even
Lou, who was more elastic than his older bro-
ther, disliked to do anything different from
their neighbors. He felt that it made them
conspicuous and gave people a chance to talk
Once they were on the homeward road, the
boys forgot their ill-humor and joked about
Ivar and his birds. Alexandra did not propose
any reforms in the care of the pigs, and they
hoped she had forgotten Ivar's talk. They
agreed that he was crazier than ever, and would
never be able to prove up on his land because
he worked it so little. Alexandra privately
resolved that she would have a talk with Ivar
about this and stir him up. The boys persuaded
Carl to stay for supper and go swimming in the
pasture pond after dark.
That evening, after she had washed the sup- per dishes, Alexandra sat down on the kitchen doorstep, while her mother was mixing the bread. It was a still, deep-breathing summer night, full of the smell of the hay fields. Sounds of laughter and splashing came up from the pasture, and when the moon rose rapidly above the bare rim of the prairie, the pond glittered like polished metal, and she could see the flash of white bodies as the boys ran about the edge, or jumped into the water. Alexandra watched the shimmering pool dreamily, but eventually her eyes went back to the sorghum patch south of the barn, where she was planning to make her new pig corral.