For the first three years after John Bergson's
death, the affairs of his family prospered. Then
came the hard times that brought every one on
the Divide to the brink of despair; three years
of drouth and failure, the last struggle of a wild
soil against the encroaching plowshare. The
first of these fruitless summers the Bergson boys
bore courageously. The failure of the corn
crop made labor cheap. Lou and Oscar hired
two men and put in bigger crops than ever
before. They lost everything they spent. The
whole country was discouraged. Farmers who
were already in debt had to give up their
land. A few foreclosures demoralized the
county. The settlers sat about on the wooden
sidewalks in the little town and told each other
that the country was never meant for men to
live in; the thing to do was to get back to Iowa,
to Illinois, to any place that had been proved
habitable. The Bergson boys, certainly, would
have been happier with their uncle Otto, in the
bakery shop in Chicago. Like most of their
neighbors, they were meant to follow in paths
already marked out for them, not to break
trails in a new country. A steady job, a few
holidays, nothing to think about, and they
would have been very happy. It was no fault
of theirs that they had been dragged into the
wilderness when they were little boys. A
pioneer should have imagination, should be
able to enjoy the idea of things more than the
The second of these barren summers was
passing. One September afternoon Alexandra
had gone over to the garden across the draw to
dig sweet potatoes--they had been thriving
upon the weather that was fatal to everything
else. But when Carl Linstrum came up the
garden rows to find her, she was not working.
She was standing lost in thought, leaning upon
her pitchfork, her sunbonnet lying beside her
on the ground. The dry garden patch smelled
of drying vines and was strewn with yellow
seed-cucumbers and pumpkins and citrons.
At one end, next the rhubarb, grew feathery
asparagus, with red berries. Down the middle
of the garden was a row of gooseberry and cur-
rant bushes. A few tough zenias and marigolds
and a row of scarlet sage bore witness to the
buckets of water that Mrs. Bergson had carried
there after sundown, against the prohibition of
her sons. Carl came quietly and slowly up the
garden path, looking intently at Alexandra.
She did not hear him. She was standing per-
fectly still, with that serious ease so character-
istic of her. Her thick, reddish braids, twisted
about her head, fairly burned in the sunlight.
The air was cool enough to make the warm sun
pleasant on one's back and shoulders, and so
clear that the eye could follow a hawk up and
up, into the blazing blue depths of the sky.
Even Carl, never a very cheerful boy, and con-
siderably darkened by these last two bitter
years, loved the country on days like this, felt
something strong and young and wild come out
of it, that laughed at care.
"Alexandra," he said as he approached her,
"I want to talk to you. Let's sit down by the
gooseberry bushes." He picked up her sack of
potatoes and they crossed the garden. "Boys
gone to town?" he asked as he sank down on
the warm, sun-baked earth. "Well, we have
made up our minds at last, Alexandra. We are
really going away."
She looked at him as if she were a little fright-
ened. "Really, Carl? Is it settled?"
"Yes, father has heard from St. Louis, and
they will give him back his old job in the cigar
factory. He must be there by the first of
November. They are taking on new men then.
We will sell the place for whatever we can get,
and auction the stock. We haven't enough to
ship. I am going to learn engraving with a
German engraver there, and then try to get
work in Chicago."
Alexandra's hands dropped in her lap. Her
eyes became dreamy and filled with tears.
Carl's sensitive lower lip trembled. He
scratched in the soft earth beside him with a
stick. "That's all I hate about it, Alexandra,"
he said slowly. "You've stood by us through
so much and helped father out so many times,
and now it seems as if we were running off and
leaving you to face the worst of it. But it isn't
as if we could really ever be of any help to you.
We are only one more drag, one more thing you
look out for and feel responsible for. Father
was never meant for a farmer, you know that.
And I hate it. We'd only get in deeper and
"Yes, yes, Carl, I know. You are wasting
your life here. You are able to do much better
things. You are nearly nineteen now, and I
wouldn't have you stay. I've always hoped
you would get away. But I can't help feeling
scared when I think how I will miss you--
more than you will ever know." She brushed
the tears from her cheeks, not trying to hide
"But, Alexandra," he said sadly and wist-
fully, "I've never been any real help to you,
beyond sometimes trying to keep the boys in a
Alexandra smiled and shook her head. "Oh,
it's not that. Nothing like that. It's by under-
standing me, and the boys, and mother, that
you've helped me. I expect that is the only
way one person ever really can help another.
I think you are about the only one that ever
helped me. Somehow it will take more courage
to bear your going than everything that has
Carl looked at the ground. "You see, we've
all depended so on you," he said, "even father.
He makes me laugh. When anything comes up
he always says, 'I wonder what the Bergsons are
going to do about that? I guess I'll go and ask
her.' I'll never forget that time, when we first
came here, and our horse had the colic, and I ran
over to your place--your father was away,
and you came home with me and showed father
how to let the wind out of the horse. You were
only a little girl then, but you knew ever so
much more about farm work than poor father.
You remember how homesick I used to get,
and what long talks we used to have coming
from school? We've someway always felt alike
"Yes, that's it; we've liked the same things
and we've liked them together, without any-
body else knowing. And we've had good times,
hunting for Christmas trees and going for ducks
and making our plum wine together every year.
We've never either of us had any other close
friend. And now--" Alexandra wiped her
eyes with the corner of her apron, "and now I
must remember that you are going where you
will have many friends, and will find the work
you were meant to do. But you'll write to me,
Carl? That will mean a great deal to me here."
"I'll write as long as I live," cried the boy
impetuously. "And I'll be working for you as
much as for myself, Alexandra. I want to do
something you'll like and be proud of. I'm a
fool here, but I know I can do something!" He
sat up and frowned at the red grass.
Alexandra sighed. "How discouraged the
boys will be when they hear. They always
come home from town discouraged, anyway.
So many people are trying to leave the country,
and they talk to our boys and make them low-
spirited. I'm afraid they are beginning to feel
hard toward me because I won't listen to any
talk about going. Sometimes I feel like I'm
getting tired of standing up for this country."
"I won't tell the boys yet, if you'd rather
"Oh, I'll tell them myself, to-night, when
they come home. They'll be talking wild, any-
way, and no good comes of keeping bad news.
It's all harder on them than it is on me. Lou
wants to get married, poor boy, and he can't
until times are better. See, there goes the sun,
Carl. I must be getting back. Mother will want
her potatoes. It's chilly already, the moment
the light goes."
Alexandra rose and looked about. A golden
afterglow throbbed in the west, but the coun-
try already looked empty and mournful. A
dark moving mass came over the western hill,
the Lee boy was bringing in the herd from the
other half-section. Emil ran from the windmill
to open the corral gate. From the log house, on
the little rise across the draw, the smoke was
curling. The cattle lowed and bellowed. In
the sky the pale half-moon was slowly silvering.
Alexandra and Carl walked together down the
potato rows. "I have to keep telling myself
what is going to happen," she said softly.
"Since you have been here, ten years now, I
have never really been lonely. But I can
remember what it was like before. Now I shall
have nobody but Emil. But he is my boy, and
he is tender-hearted."
That night, when the boys were called to
supper, they sat down moodily. They had
worn their coats to town, but they ate in their
striped shirts and suspenders. They were grown
men now, and, as Alexandra said, for the last
few years they had been growing more and
more like themselves. Lou was still the slighter
of the two, the quicker and more intelligent, but
apt to go off at half-cock. He had a lively blue
eye, a thin, fair skin (always burned red to the
neckband of his shirt in summer), stiff, yellow
hair that would not lie down on his head, and a
bristly little yellow mustache, of which he
was very proud. Oscar could not grow a mus-
tache; his pale face was as bare as an egg, and
his white eyebrows gave it an empty look. He
was a man of powerful body and unusual endur-
ance; the sort of man you could attach to a
corn-sheller as you would an engine. He would
turn it all day, without hurrying, without slow-
ing down. But he was as indolent of mind as
he was unsparing of his body. His love of
routine amounted to a vice. He worked like an
insect, always doing the same thing over in the
same way, regardless of whether it was best or
no. He felt that there was a sovereign virtue
in mere bodily toil, and he rather liked to do
things in the hardest way. If a field had once
been in corn, he couldn't bear to put it into
wheat. He liked to begin his corn-planting at
the same time every year, whether the season
were backward or forward. He seemed to feel
that by his own irreproachable regularity he
would clear himself of blame and reprove the
weather. When the wheat crop failed, he
threshed the straw at a dead loss to demon-
strate how little grain there was, and thus
prove his case against Providence.
Lou, on the other hand, was fussy and
flighty; always planned to get through two
days' work in one, and often got only the least
important things done. He liked to keep the
place up, but he never got round to doing odd
jobs until he had to neglect more pressing work
to attend to them. In the middle of the wheat
harvest, when the grain was over-ripe and every
hand was needed, he would stop to mend fences
or to patch the harness; then dash down to the
field and overwork and be laid up in bed for a
week. The two boys balanced each other, and
they pulled well together. They had been good
friends since they were children. One seldom
went anywhere, even to town, without the other.
To-night, after they sat down to supper,
Oscar kept looking at Lou as if he expected him
to say something, and Lou blinked his eyes and
frowned at his plate. It was Alexandra herself
who at last opened the discussion.
"The Linstrums," she said calmly, as she
put another plate of hot biscuit on the table,
"are going back to St. Louis. The old man is
going to work in the cigar factory again."
At this Lou plunged in. "You see, Alex-
andra, everybody who can crawl out is going
away. There's no use of us trying to stick it
out, just to be stubborn. There's something in
knowing when to quit."
"Where do you want to go, Lou?"
"Any place where things will grow." said
Lou reached for a potato. "Chris Arnson has
traded his half-section for a place down on the
"Who did he trade with?"
"Charley Fuller, in town."
"Fuller the real estate man? You see, Lou,
that Fuller has a head on him. He's buy-
ing and trading for every bit of land he can
get up here. It'll make him a rich man, some
"He's rich now, that's why he can take a
"Why can't we? We'll live longer than he
will. Some day the land itself will be worth
more than all we can ever raise on it."
Lou laughed. "It could be worth that, and
still not be worth much. Why, Alexandra, you
don't know what you're talking about. Our
place wouldn't bring now what it would six
years ago. The fellows that settled up here just
made a mistake. Now they're beginning to see
this high land wasn't never meant to grow no-
thing on, and everybody who ain't fixed to graze
cattle is trying to crawl out. It's too high to
farm up here. All the Americans are skinning
out. That man Percy Adams, north of town,
told me that he was going to let Fuller take his
land and stuff for four hundred dollars and a
ticket to Chicago."
"There's Fuller again!" Alexandra ex-
claimed. "I wish that man would take me for a
partner. He's feathering his nest! If only poor
people could learn a little from rich people!
But all these fellows who are running off are
bad farmers, like poor Mr. Linstrum. They
couldn't get ahead even in good years, and they
all got into debt while father was getting out.
I think we ought to hold on as long as we can on
father's account. He was so set on keeping this
land. He must have seen harder times than this,
here. How was it in the early days, mother?"
Mrs. Bergson was weeping quietly. These
family discussions always depressed her, and
made her remember all that she had been torn
away from. "I don't see why the boys are
always taking on about going away," she said,
wiping her eyes. "I don't want to move again;
out to some raw place, maybe, where we'd be
worse off than we are here, and all to do over
again. I won't move! If the rest of you go, I
will ask some of the neighbors to take me in,
and stay and be buried by father. I'm not
going to leave him by himself on the prairie,
for cattle to run over." She began to cry more
The boys looked angry. Alexandra put a
soothing hand on her mother's shoulder.
"There's no question of that, mother. You
don't have to go if you don't want to. A third
of the place belongs to you by American law,
and we can't sell without your consent. We only
want you to advise us. How did it use to be
when you and father first came? Was it really
as bad as this, or not?"
"Oh, worse! Much worse," moaned Mrs.
Bergson. "Drouth, chince-bugs, hail, every-
thing! My garden all cut to pieces like sauer-
kraut. No grapes on the creek, no nothing.
The people all lived just like coyotes."
Oscar got up and tramped out of the kitchen.
Lou followed him. They felt that Alexandra
had taken an unfair advantage in turning their
mother loose on them. The next morning they
were silent and reserved. They did not offer
to take the women to church, but went down
to the barn immediately after breakfast and
stayed there all day. When Carl Linstrum came
over in the afternoon, Alexandra winked to
him and pointed toward the barn. He under-
stood her and went down to play cards with the
boys. They believed that a very wicked thing
to do on Sunday, and it relieved their feelings.
Alexandra stayed in the house. On Sunday
afternoon Mrs. Bergson always took a nap, and
Alexandra read. During the week she read only
the newspaper, but on Sunday, and in the long
evenings of winter, she read a good deal; read
a few things over a great many times. She knew
long portions of the "Frithjof Saga" by heart,
and, like most Swedes who read at all, she was
fond of Longfellow's verse,--the ballads and
the "Golden Legend" and "The Spanish Stu-
dent." To-day she sat in the wooden rocking-
chair with the Swedish Bible open on her knees,
but she was not reading. She was looking
thoughtfully away at the point where the up-
land road disappeared over the rim of the
prairie. Her body was in an attitude of perfect
repose, such as it was apt to take when she was
thinking earnestly. Her mind was slow, truth-
ful, steadfast. She had not the least spark of
All afternoon the sitting-room was full of
quiet and sunlight. Emil was making rabbit
traps in the kitchen shed. The hens were cluck-
ing and scratching brown holes in the flower
beds, and the wind was teasing the prince's
feather by the door.
That evening Carl came in with the boys to
"Emil," said Alexandra, when they were all
seated at the table, "how would you like to go
traveling? Because I am going to take a trip,
and you can go with me if you want to."
The boys looked up in amazement; they were
always afraid of Alexandra's schemes. Carl
"I've been thinking, boys," she went on,
"that maybe I am too set against making a
change. I'm going to take Brigham and the
buckboard to-morrow and drive down to
the river country and spend a few days looking
over what they've got down there. If I find
anything good, you boys can go down and make
"Nobody down there will trade for anything
up here," said Oscar gloomily.
"That's just what I want to find out. Maybe
they are just as discontented down there as we
are up here. Things away from home often look
better than they are. You know what your
Hans Andersen book says, Carl, about the
Swedes liking to buy Danish bread and the
Danes liking to buy Swedish bread, because
people always think the bread of another
country is better than their own. Anyway,
I've heard so much about the river farms, I
won't be satisfied till I've seen for myself."
Lou fidgeted. "Look out! Don't agree to
anything. Don't let them fool you."
Lou was apt to be fooled himself. He had not
yet learned to keep away from the shell-game
wagons that followed the circus.
After supper Lou put on a necktie and went across the fields to court Annie Lee, and Carl and Oscar sat down to a game of checkers, while Alexandra read "The Swiss Family Robinson" aloud to her mother and Emil. It was not long before the two boys at the table neglected their game to listen. They were all big children together, and they found the adventures of the family in the tree house so absorbing that they gave them their undivided attention.