A Yankee's Inheritance
A Yankee's Inheritance
John Wentworth turned his horses at the end of the field and stopped to rest them a bit. Resting his elbow on his knee, he rubbed his fingers over his stubbly chin and surveyed his goodly acres with a contemplative eye. He thought with satisfaction of the bushels of golden wheat that he would harvest next year from this rich, black earth which he was turning with his plow.
The public highway ran beside the end of the field where John had stopped, and an intermittent stream of vehicles passed along its broad, smooth track. Just now Gus Nelson drove along on a load of oats. As he came abreast of the place where John had stopped, he drew rein for a friendly chat.
“Pretty good job of plowin’ you’re doin’ there, John,” he remarked conversationally.
“Pretty good job is right,” returned John, turning on his plow seat, “but it ought to be. This is one of the best farms around here, and the ground is in prime condition.”
“Guess you must have been born lucky, John. Look how us other fellows have to work and we don’t seem to make half the money you do.”
“Well, see here. This is the way I figure it,” John replied, settling himself comfortably on the seat of his new sulky plow, and pushing his cap to the back of his head, “save on all the corners and you’ll get ahead. It’s the little things that count in the long run.”
“Take this cap of mine for instance,” taking the article off and surveying it, “I get one of these every year from the lumber yard. They give ‘em away to advertise cement. The caps are light and cool, and one will last me all summer. Saves me buying one, too.
“You know, my folks were from New England. They came from a thrifty bunch of people and so I’ve just always been savin’ naturally. Sort of a Yankee inheritance, you know. I’m not goin’ to be the one to break the family record.
“Take my grand-uncle Hiram for instance. He started out with nothin’ at all. But he just kept workin’, and after a few years he bought himself a little farm. He saved on the corners I tell you. Plowed every inch of his land and made it grow something. Didn’t even stop for Sunday if it was in a busy season. He just worked as many hours that day as any other. Why, he even made it a rule to start planting and harvesting his wheat on a Sunday. He said it brought him good luck. And it must have, for he sure raised the wheat. He was a man that got ahead, I tell you.”
“I don’t believe much in this workin’ on Sunday,” said Gus, with a dubious shake of his head. “A person’s just about sure to run into a batch of bad luck when he does that.”
“Huh! the better the day the better the deed, say I” said John, jumping from his plow, and coming up to the fence. “Some of you fellows are just poor superstitious fools. Why, I wouldn’t be afraid to do any of the work of raisin’ this crop of wheat on a Sunday.”
“Better go a little slow on that, John. Sure as you do, bad luck’ll come of it.”
“Just to show you what a poor superstitious sort of a boob you are, I’ll do it,” said John, striking his foot sharply against a fence post.
“Well, John, don’t get all het up over it, but my advice is you better not do it.” So saying, Gus lifted his reins, clucked to his team, and started on his way.
“By gum, I’ll show that miserable Swede that I’m not afraid to do just what I said,” mumbled John as he climbed on his plow and started once more through his field.
The following Sunday morning found John in the field early. His wife had protested against this breaking of the Sabbath, but as usual, when John had made up his mind, her words were of no avail.
The day was warm and cloudless. As the sun rose higher the sound of the village church bell floated out on the still air. People passing on their way to church saw John steadily plowing away.
After the morning service was over a number of men collected outside the door of the church for their weekly chat.
“Say, did you see John Wentworth plowing this morning?” inquired Sam Bigsbee.
“I should say so. Guess everybody that came past his place saw him,” replied Joe Summers. “Wonder what he’s up to?”
Gus Nelson was one of the group and he now spoke up. “Well, I was talkin’ to him this week, and you know how he always likes to tell about his folks back in New England. Somehow or other he got to tellin’ me about one of them that used to always work on Sunday. I told him I didn’t think much of the idea, but you know how he is. Right then and there he made up his mind he’d work on Sunday or bust. Said he’d do any work there was to raisin’ that wheat, on a Sunday, same as any other day.”
“Well, bad luck’ll come of it,” said old Jim Barker. “Never knew it to fail.” And shaking his head darkly, he shambled off to untie his horse.
From that time on until the fifty-acre field was ploughed and seeded to wheat, it became a common sight to see John Wentworth in the field on a Sunday.
Winter came on. There was much wind that blew the young wheat out of the ground in some places. But John Wentworth’s field was protected by low hills on the north, and he said that he had never ha d a better prospect. Then a long spell of zero weather came, freezing out the wheat in many places. But John Wentworth’s field, being protected from the wind, was covered by a blanket of snow that saved the young wheat.
John was elated. He never lost an opportunity to tell anyone about his fine prospects for a wheat crop and of how he was working “seven days in the week” to raise it.
Spring came. The young wheat flourished. It grew rank and tall. As the weather grew warmer it headed out. Rains seemed to come just when needed, and the heads grew large and full. At last as the days became hot, the wheat began to turn to a golden color, and soon the whole field was one waving sea of gold.
The first of July came on Sunday. Several days before that John had been working on his binder, getting ready for the harvest. Now all was in readiness. He had hired two men, who were going through the country working in the harvest fields, to shock the wheat for him. They cared not what day of the week they worked, so long as they received their pay. The wheat was thoroughly ripe now, and ready for the sickle, and this was the day John had set for the beginning the harvest.
Breakfast over, he reached for his “cement” cap where it was hanging on a nail by the kitchen door.
“John, surely you won’t go on with this. Don’t you know it’s wrong to break the Sabbath?” pleaded his wife, catching him by the arm.
He shook off her hand, and placed the cap on his head.
“Now see here, Mary, I’m making the living in this family. I’ve always made you a good livin’, but I’m goin’ to do it in my own way. Now, let’s hear no more about it. See that there’s plenty to eat this noon, as these men’ll be hungry.”
Mary turned to her work, wiping a furtive tear from her eye. “Well, anyway, I can send the children to Sunday School,” she told herself. And with that small grain of comfort she set about her work.
All day long the whirr of the binder could be heard on the drowsy summer ar. Swath after swath of the golden grain fell before the keen sickle. By evening a wide strip was cut all around the field, and the bundles had been made into neat shocks by the two hired men.
“I tell you, Mary, this is the best crop of wheat I’ve ever raised. It’ll make fifty-five to the acre or I’m no judge. If it does I’ll get you that new set of dishes you’ve been wantin’ for so long,” remarked John to his wife as he sat down to the supper table that night. This promise he hoped would cause Mary to stop fussing because he wanted to work a little on Sunday.
“I don’t much believe I want them now,” replied Mary, with no enthusiasm. “Maybe I’ll have enough money from selling my chickens to buy the set myself this fall.”
“Now, see here, Mary, there’s no use in you being so finicky. You might just as well make up your mind to it that I’ll work on Sunday if I wish. So cheer up.” And one glance into his steely-blue eyes told Mary that he would do just what he had said.
Heaving a sigh, she turned to attend the wants of the children. She couldn’t see what had come over John this last year. He had always liked to have his own way, but he had never been so blunt about it before.
The work of harvesting was completed in due time, and the warm July days that succeeded were excellent for drying out the shocks of wheat preparatory to stacking it.
One Saturday toward the last of July, Gus Nelson stopped at the Wentworth farm to borrow John’s post-auger. As usual, the conversation eventually turned upon crops.
“That crop of wheat is the best I’ve ever raised,” said John, as they stood looking out over the field.
“It sure looks fine, John, but I’m a little bit leary about this Sunday business, even yet,” replied Gus with a dubious shake of the head.
“Thunderation!” exclaimed John, savagely biting in two the straw he had been chewing. “You fellows around here are nothing but a bunch of superstitious ninnies. I start stacking that wheat tomorrow.”
“Well,” said Gus slowly, “It’ll be a hard job alone, and you know none of the neighbors will help you tomorrow.”
“I don’t need the help of such a pig-headed lot,” snapped out John, setting his jaw squarely. “I’ve already hired my crew. Plenty of fellows going through the country are looking for a chance to earn an honest dollar.”
“Well, I must be going,” said Gus abruptly, picking up the post-auger preparatory to leaving. “I’ve got to fix up my west pasture fence today.”
Sunday the stacking began. As John’s crew was small, the work went rather slowly. But by the next Sunday it was nearing completion.
That Sunday was very hot and sultry; in fact, it was the hottest day of the summer. As the day advanced the heat became more and more oppressive.
About the middle of the afternoon the men hauled the last load of wheat to the stacks. The heat was so intense that the men were streaming with perspiration. Their energy was sapped to such an extent that they could scarcely finish stacking that last load.
A dark roll of clouds had been hanging along the northwestern horizon for some time, and from that direction a tiny breeze now sprang up, giving some relief to the suffering men and horses. The cloud did not advance rapidly, but remained low on the horizon, lightened now and then by vivid flashes of lightning and emitting low muttering rumbles of thunder like the growls of a huge angry dog, leashed in his place.
By four-thirty the last bundle was in place, and throwing down his pitch-fork, John jumped from the stack.
“Well, boys, we’ll call it a good job,” he exclaimed in a satisfied tone. “But I guess we’d better rustle in and put up these teams. It looks like we’d get some rain pretty soon, and I’d like to get my chores done before the storm breaks.”
“Right you are, boss,” replied one of the men. And soon the two hayracks were driven into the barnyard, the teams unhitched and put in the barn and the evening chores were in progress.
Meanwhile the wind had freshened, and the blue-black cloud mass was rapidly advancing. Already the sun was obscured and the daylight was fading, although it was yet two hours until sunset.
Mrs. Wentworth and the children were trying to drive the young chicken into their coops. Two of the men were feeding the stock, while John and the other man began the milking.
The wind steadily increased, lurid flashes of lightning streaked the sky, crashes of thunder in ever-increasing volume were heard, and the sky was so overcast that only a dark eerie light remained.
John was starting to milk his third cow when huge drops of rain began to fall. Seeing that the storm would be severe, he drove his cow toward the cattle-shed, whither the other animals had already gone. As he went he yelled, to make himself heard above the roar of the wind, for the men to do likewise. Mrs. Wentworth and the children had already scurried to shelter, and the other men were following. Before John and the man, Jake, could reach the house, great sheets of blinding rain were whipping past them, so that they could scarcely see where to go.
They were hardly inside the house when a blinding flash of lightning was followed by a terrific crash that shook the house to its foundation.
“That must have struck somewhere close,” exclaimed John, thinking with fear of his newly-stacked wheat.
He rushed into the bedroom, and tore the curtain from the window that overlooked the wheat stacks. It was now so dark that it was necessary for him to wait for the next flash of lightning in order to see outside. He could tell, however, that there was no fire among the wheat stacks.
As the lightning flashed, he glanced about further and discovered that a huge cottonwood tree that stood near the line fence between his farm and the Nelson place had been struck, splitting it in twain, and sending one huge mass of severed trunk, branches, and leaves on either side of the fence. Fire played along the trunk of the tree, and little tongues of flame danced along the wires of the fence. A mighty deluge of rain soon put out the fire that was making but feeble headway on the green wood of the tree.
John drew a deep breath and turned from the window. Mary was clinging to his arm with an agonized clasp. Little Louise and Sammy clutched her skirts on either side, and cried pitifully.
“O, John,” cried Mary, lifting a white, drawn face to his, “I’ve been so afraid all along that something would happen. ‘Remember the Sabbath day’ you know, the Good Book says, and we haven’t been doing it.”
“Now, now, Mary,” said John, as though speaking to one of the children, “this little storm won’t amount to anything. I’ve seen much worse ones,” and thus speaking reassuringly, though his hands trembled and his heart quaked within him, he led Mary to a chair, and gently seated her there. The children climbed on either arm of the chair and became quiet, each with an arm around their mother’s neck, feeling safe wherever she was.
John went back to the window and with hands tightly clenched in his pockets and with bated breath, he watched the progress of the storm.
The wind shrieked past the house, carrying heavy sheets of water before it. Flash of lightning and clap of thunder followed one another with such rapidity that the air seemed filled with a continuous booming, as though some fiend were playing upon a mighty bass drum for some horrid revel of his kind.
Suddenly the heavens seemed to part asunder. A huge golden ball of living flame leapt forth, and sped with the velocity of light toward the earth. In an instant the ball had struck, and simultaneously a roar of thunder pealed out. It caused the house to rock upon its foundations. The windows rattled in their frames, and the dishes on the supper table in the adjoining room seemed to dance in their place.
“It struck my wheat,” groaned John, reeling back from the window, and putting both hands over his face to shut out the awful sight. A terrible tremor shook his body, and his very soul quivered.
“O, John, John, are you hurt?” cried Mary running to him, and trying to draw his hands from his face.
With an effort, he pulled himself together. “No, I’m not hurt, but the stacks are struck. They’ll burn to the ground, and that means several thousand dollars lost. Where in time is my cap?” he replied, rapidly planning how to meet the situation.
“John, it’s no use to go out in this awful storm. You couldn’t put out the fire, and you might be struck too,” shouted Mary to make herself heard above the frightful din outside. “Wait, let’s see,” she went on, dragging him to the window with her. The stack at the eastern end of the row had indeed been struck, but only feeble tongues of flame arose from it, for the straw was already quite saturated. Even as they watched, the heavens seemed to open and a still more terrific downpour followed, extinguishing the last spark of fire.
John’s fingers slowly relaxed. He slipped an arm around Mary, and together they watched the rapid changes that now took place outside. After the striking of the stack and the ensuing deluge of rain, the storm abated with magical rapidity. The shrieking of the wind died away to a gentle murmur. The heavy clouds swiftly rolled away to the east, taking with them the heavy cannonading of the thunder, and the glaring sheets and flashes of lightning. The rain became a gentle patter, the sky lightened remarkably, and the outer world again became visible.
Suddenly on the western horizon the clouds parted, and for a brief moment the sn shone through in all its glory of setting. A gorgeous rainbow curved across the eastern sky, and the drenched earth seemed to breath with new life.
Slowly John heaved a prodigious sigh. Slowly he turned and looked into Mary’s eyes. Then in a commonplace tone he remarked, “Well, let’s go and eat supper.”
Beulah M. Montgomery, The Freshman Scrapbook, July 1927