Emil reached home a little past noon, and
when he went into the kitchen Alexandra was
already seated at the head of the long table,
having dinner with her men, as she always did
unless there were visitors. He slipped into his
empty place at his sister's right. The three
pretty young Swedish girls who did Alexandra's
housework were cutting pies, refilling coffee-
cups, placing platters of bread and meat and
potatoes upon the red tablecloth, and continu-
ally getting in each other's way between the
table and the stove. To be sure they always
wasted a good deal of time getting in each other's
way and giggling at each other's mistakes. But,
as Alexandra had pointedly told her sisters-in-
law, it was to hear them giggle that she kept
three young things in her kitchen; the work she
could do herself, if it were necessary. These
girls, with their long letters from home, their
finery, and their love-affairs, afforded her a
great deal of entertainment, and they were com-
pany for her when Emil was away at school.
Of the youngest girl, Signa, who has a pretty
figure, mottled pink cheeks, and yellow hair,
Alexandra is very fond, though she keeps a
sharp eye upon her. Signa is apt to be skittish
at mealtime, when the men are about, and to
spill the coffee or upset the cream. It is sup-
posed that Nelse Jensen, one of the six men at
the dinner-table, is courting Signa, though he
has been so careful not to commit himself that
no one in the house, least of all Signa, can tell
just how far the matter has progressed. Nelse
watches her glumly as she waits upon the table,
and in the evening he sits on a bench behind the
stove with his DRAGHARMONIKA, playing mournful
airs and watching her as she goes about her
work. When Alexandra asked Signa whether
she thought Nelse was in earnest, the poor child
hid her hands under her apron and murmured,
"I don't know, ma'm. But he scolds me about
everything, like as if he wanted to have me!"
At Alexandra's left sat a very old man, bare-
foot and wearing a long blue blouse, open at the
neck. His shaggy head is scarcely whiter than
it was sixteen years ago, but his little blue eyes
have become pale and watery, and his ruddy
face is withered, like an apple that has clung
all winter to the tree. When Ivar lost his land
through mismanagement a dozen years ago,
Alexandra took him in, and he has been a mem-
ber of her household ever since. He is too old to
work in the fields, but he hitches and unhitches
the work-teams and looks after the health
of the stock. Sometimes of a winter evening
Alexandra calls him into the sitting-room to
read the Bible aloud to her, for he still reads
very well. He dislikes human habitations, so
Alexandra has fitted him up a room in the barn,
where he is very comfortable, being near the
horses and, as he says, further from tempta-
tions. No one has ever found out what his
temptations are. In cold weather he sits by the
kitchen fire and makes hammocks or mends
harness until it is time to go to bed. Then he
says his prayers at great length behind the
stove, puts on his buffalo-skin coat and goes
out to his room in the barn.
Alexandra herself has changed very little.
Her figure is fuller, and she has more color. She
seems sunnier and more vigorous than she did as
a young girl. But she still has the same calmness
and deliberation of manner, the same clear eyes,
and she still wears her hair in two braids wound
round her head. It is so curly that fiery ends
escape from the braids and make her head look
like one of the big double sunflowers that fringe
her vegetable garden. Her face is always tanned
in summer, for her sunbonnet is oftener on her
arm than on her head. But where her collar
falls away from her neck, or where her sleeves
are pushed back from her wrist, the skin is of
such smoothness and whiteness as none but
Swedish women ever possess; skin with the
freshness of the snow itself.
Alexandra did not talk much at the table,
but she encouraged her men to talk, and she
always listened attentively, even when they
seemed to be talking foolishly.
To-day Barney Flinn, the big red-headed
Irishman who had been with Alexandra for five
years and who was actually her foreman, though
he had no such title, was grumbling about the
new silo she had put up that spring. It hap-
pened to be the first silo on the Divide, and
Alexandra's neighbors and her men were skep-
tical about it. "To be sure, if the thing don't
work, we'll have plenty of feed without it,
indeed," Barney conceded.
Nelse Jensen, Signa's gloomy suitor, had his
word. "Lou, he says he wouldn't have no silo
on his place if you'd give it to him. He says
the feed outen it gives the stock the bloat. He
heard of somebody lost four head of horses,
feedin' 'em that stuff."
Alexandra looked down the table from one
to another. "Well, the only way we can find
out is to try. Lou and I have different notions
about feeding stock, and that's a good thing.
It's bad if all the members of a family think
alike. They never get anywhere. Lou can learn
by my mistakes and I can learn by his. Isn't
that fair, Barney?"
The Irishman laughed. He had no love for
Lou, who was always uppish with him and who
said that Alexandra paid her hands too much.
"I've no thought but to give the thing an honest
try, mum. 'T would be only right, after puttin'
so much expense into it. Maybe Emil will come
out an' have a look at it wid me." He pushed
back his chair, took his hat from the nail, and
marched out with Emil, who, with his univer-
sity ideas, was supposed to have instigated the
silo. The other hands followed them, all except
old Ivar. He had been depressed throughout
the meal and had paid no heed to the talk of
the men, even when they mentioned cornstalk
bloat, upon which he was sure to have opinions.
"Did you want to speak to me, Ivar?" Alex-
andra asked as she rose from the table. "Come
into the sitting-room."
The old man followed Alexandra, but when
she motioned him to a chair he shook his
head. She took up her workbasket and waited
for him to speak. He stood looking at the car-
pet, his bushy head bowed, his hands clasped in
front of him. Ivar's bandy legs seemed to have
grown shorter with years, and they were com-
pletely misfitted to his broad, thick body and
"Well, Ivar, what is it?" Alexandra asked
after she had waited longer than usual.
Ivar had never learned to speak English and
his Norwegian was quaint and grave, like the
speech of the more old-fashioned people. He
always addressed Alexandra in terms of the
deepest respect, hoping to set a good example
to the kitchen girls, whom he thought too fam-
iliar in their manners.
"Mistress," he began faintly, without raising
his eyes, "the folk have been looking coldly at
me of late. You know there has been talk."
"Talk about what, Ivar?"
"About sending me away; to the asylum."
Alexandra put down her sewing-basket.
"Nobody has come to me with such talk," she
said decidedly. "Why need you listen? You
know I would never consent to such a thing."
Ivar lifted his shaggy head and looked at her
out of his little eyes. "They say that you can-
not prevent it if the folk complain of me, if your
brothers complain to the authorities. They say
that your brothers are afraid--God forbid!--
that I may do you some injury when my spells
are on me. Mistress, how can any one think
that?--that I could bite the hand that fed
me!" The tears trickled down on the old man's
Alexandra frowned. "Ivar, I wonder at you,
that you should come bothering me with such
nonsense. I am still running my own house,
and other people have nothing to do with
either you or me. So long as I am suited with
you, there is nothing to be said."
Ivar pulled a red handkerchief out of the
breast of his blouse and wiped his eyes and
beard. "But I should not wish you to keep me
if, as they say, it is against your interests, and
if it is hard for you to get hands because I am
Alexandra made an impatient gesture, but
the old man put out his hand and went on
"Listen, mistress, it is right that you should
take these things into account. You know that
my spells come from God, and that I would not
harm any living creature. You believe that
every one should worship God in the way
revealed to him. But that is not the way of
this country. The way here is for all to do alike.
I am despised because I do not wear shoes,
because I do not cut my hair, and because I
have visions. At home, in the old country,
there were many like me, who had been touched
by God, or who had seen things in the grave-
yard at night and were different afterward. We
thought nothing of it, and let them alone. But
here, if a man is different in his feet or in his
head, they put him in the asylum. Look at
Peter Kralik; when he was a boy, drinking out
of a creek, he swallowed a snake, and always
after that he could eat only such food as the
creature liked, for when he ate anything else, it
became enraged and gnawed him. When he
felt it whipping about in him, he drank alcohol
to stupefy it and get some ease for himself. He
could work as good as any man, and his head
was clear, but they locked him up for being
different in his stomach. That is the way; they
have built the asylum for people who are dif-
ferent, and they will not even let us live in the
holes with the badgers. Only your great pros-
perity has protected me so far. If you had had
ill-fortune, they would have taken me to Has-
tings long ago."
As Ivar talked, his gloom lifted. Alexandra
had found that she could often break his fasts
and long penances by talking to him and let-
ting him pour out the thoughts that troubled
him. Sympathy always cleared his mind, and
ridicule was poison to him.
"There is a great deal in what you say, Ivar.
Like as not they will be wanting to take me to
Hastings because I have built a silo; and then
I may take you with me. But at present I need
you here. Only don't come to me again telling
me what people say. Let people go on talking
as they like, and we will go on living as we
think best. You have been with me now for
twelve years, and I have gone to you for advice
oftener than I have ever gone to any one. That
ought to satisfy you."
Ivar bowed humbly. "Yes, mistress, I shall
not trouble you with their talk again. And as
for my feet, I have observed your wishes all
these years, though you have never questioned
me; washing them every night, even in winter."
Alexandra laughed. "Oh, never mind about
your feet, Ivar. We can remember when half
our neighbors went barefoot in summer. I ex-
pect old Mrs. Lee would love to slip her shoes
off now sometimes, if she dared. I'm glad I'm
not Lou's mother-in-law."
Ivar looked about mysteriously and lowered
his voice almost to a whisper. "You know
what they have over at Lou's house? A great
white tub, like the stone water-troughs in the
old country, to wash themselves in. When you
sent me over with the strawberries, they were
all in town but the old woman Lee and the baby.
She took me in and showed me the thing, and
she told me it was impossible to wash yourself
clean in it, because, in so much water, you could
not make a strong suds. So when they fill it up
and send her in there, she pretends, and makes a
splashing noise. Then, when they are all asleep,
she washes herself in a little wooden tub she
keeps under her bed."
Alexandra shook with laughter. "Poor old
Mrs. Lee! They won't let her wear nightcaps,
either. Never mind; when she comes to visit
me, she can do all the old things in the old
way, and have as much beer as she wants.
We'll start an asylum for old-time people,
Ivar folded his big handkerchief carefully
and thrust it back into his blouse. "This is
always the way, mistress. I come to you sor-
rowing, and you send me away with a light
heart. And will you be so good as to tell the
Irishman that he is not to work the brown
gelding until the sore on its shoulder is healed?"
"That I will. Now go and put Emil's mare to the cart. I am going to drive up to the north quarter to meet the man from town who is to buy my alfalfa hay."