Ida hauchawout, p.1

Ida Hauchawout, page 1


Ida Hauchawout

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Ida Hauchawout

  Ida Hauchawout


  § 1

  SHE is identified in my mind, and always will be somehow, with the country in which I first saw her, a land, as it were, of milk and honey. When I think of her and the dreary, commonplace, brown farm-house, in a doorway of which I first saw her framed, and later of the wee, but cleanly, cabin in which I saw her lying at rest, I think of smooth green hills that rise in noble billows, of valleys so wide and deep that they could hold a thousand cottage farms, of trees that were globe-like from being left unharried by the winds, of cattle red and black and white and black, great herds dotting the hills, and of barns so huge that they looked more like great hangars for flying-machines than storehouses for hay and grain. Yes, everywhere was plenty, rich fields of wheat and corn and rye and oats, with here and there specializing farmers who grew only tomatoes or corn or peas or ran dairies, men who somehow seemed to grow richer than the others.

  And then I think of "Fred" Hauchawout, her father, a man who evidently so styled himself, for the name was painted in big black letters over the huge door of his great red barn. This Hauchawout was a rude, crude, bear-like soul, stocky, high-booted, sandy-haired, gray-eyed and red-skinned, as well as inhospitable. He was clad always, on Sunday and every other day, so I heard, in worn brown overalls and jumper. In short, he was one of those dreadful, tramping, laboring grubs who gather and gather and gather, sparing no least grain for pleasure by the way; and having so done, dying and leaving it all to children who have been alienated in youth and care no least whit whether their forebear is alive or dead, nor for anything save the goods which belike he has been able to amass. But in this latter sense Hauchawout was no huge success, either. He was too limited in his ideas to do more than hide or reinvest in land or cattle or bank his moderate earnings at a low rate of interest. He was quoted locally as living up to his assertion that "no enimel gets fet py me," and he was known far and wide for having the thinnest and boniest and hardestworked horses and cows in the neighborhood, from which he extracted the last ounce of labor and the last gill of milk.

  He was the father of three sons and two daughters, so I was told, all of whom must have hated him; those I knew did, anyhow. For one of the sons, when first I wandered into the region, had already gone to the far West, after pausing to throw a pitchfork at his father and telling him to go to hell, or so the story went. Another, whom I knew quite well, being a neighbor of a relative of mine, had married after being "turned out," as he said, by "the old man" because he wouldn't work hard enough. And yet he was a good enough worker to take over and pay for a farm of forty acres of fertile land in seven years, also eventually to acquire an automobile, a contraption which his father denounced as "a loafer's buggy."

  The third son, Samuel, had also left his father because of a quarrel over his very human desire to marry and make his own way, a change which his father did not seem to sympathize with. Latterly, because he was greedy like his father and hoped to obtain an undue share of the estate at his death, or so his relatives said, he had made friends with his father, and thereafter exchanged such greetings and visits as two such peculiar souls might enjoy. They were always fighting, the second son told me (the one who had acquired forty acres and an automobile), being friendly one month or so and the next not, moods and differing interests dictating their volatile and varying approaches and understandings.

  In addition, there were two daughters, Effie, a woman of twenty-nine or thirty, who at the age of twenty-one had run away to a near-by great city and found work in a laundry never to return, since her father would not let her have a beau; and finally Ida, the subject of this sketch, whom I first saw when she was twenty-eight and already looked much of the care and disappointment with which apparently her life had been freighted. For, besides being hard on "enimels," Hauchawout was hard on human beings and seemed to look upon them as mere machines like himself. It was said that he was up at dawn or earlier, with the first crow of his roosters, and the last to go to bed at night. Henry Hauchawout, the son I knew best, once confessed to me that his father would "swear like hell" if all his children were not up within five minutes after he was. His wife, a worn and abused woman, had died at forty-three, and he had never married, but not from loyalty. Did he not have Ida? He had no religion, of course, none other than the need of minding your own business and getting as much money as possible to bury away somewhere. And yet his children seemed not so hard; rather sentimental and human, reactions, no doubt, from the grinding atmosphere from which they had managed finally to extricate themselves.

  But it is of Ida that I wish to speak -- Ida, whom I first saw when my previously mentioned relative suggested that I go with him to find out if Hauchawout had any hay to sell. "You'll meet a character well worth the skill of any portrayer of fact," he added. It was Ida who came to the door in answer to a loud "Hallo!" however, and I saw a woman prematurely old or overworked, drab and yet robust, a huge creature with small and rather nervous eyes, red, sunburned face and hands, a small nose, and faded red hair done into a careless knot at the back of her head. At the request of my "in-law" to know where her father was, she pointed to the barn. "He just went out to feed the pigs," she added. We swung through a narrow gate and followed a well fenced road to the barn, where, just outside a great pen containing perhaps thirty pigs, stood Hauchawout, a pail in each hand, his brown overalls stuck in his boots, gazing reflectively at his grunting property.

  "Nice pigs, eh, Mr. Hauchawout?" commented my relative.

  "Yes," he answered, with a marked accent, at the same time turning a quizzical and none too kindly eye upon us. "It's about time they go now. What they eat from now on makes me no money."

  I glanced amusedly at my relative, but he was gazing politely at his host.

  "Any hay for sale, Mr. Hauchawout?"

  "How much you t'ink you pay?" he asked cannily.

  "Oh, whatever the market price is. Seventeen dollars, I hear."

  "Not py me. What I got I keep at dat price. Hay vill pe vorth yussed five tollars more if dis vedder keeps up." He surveyed the dry green-blue landscape, untouched by rain for these several weeks past.

  My relative smiled.

  "Very well. You're quite right, if you think it's going to stay dry. You wouldn't take eighteen a ton, I suppose?"

  "No; nor twenty. I t'ink hay goes to twenty-two pefore July. Anyhow, vot I got I can use next vinter if I can't sell him."

  I stared at this crude, vigorous, self-protective soul. His house and barn seemed to confirm all I had heard. The house was small, yellow, porchless, inhospitable, the walks at the front and side worn and flowerless, the grass, such as it was, nearly treeless. A thin dog and some chickens were in the shade of one fair-sized tree that graced a corner. Several horses were brows-ing in the barn lot, for it was Sunday, and the sectarian atmosphere of this region rather enforced a strict observance of the day. They were as thin as even moderate health would permit. But Hauchawout, standing vigorous and ruddy before his large newly painted barn, showed where his heart was. There was no flaw in that structure. It was a fine big barn and held all the other things he so much treasured.

  But it was about his daughter that my relative chose to speak as we drove away.

  "There's a woman whose life has been ruined by that old razorback," he reflected after volunteering various other details. "She's no beauty, and her chances were never very good, but he would never let any one come near her, and now it's too late, I suppose. I often wonder why she hasn't run away, like her sister, also how she passes her time there with him. Just working all the time, I suppose. I doubt if he ever buys a newspaper. There was a story going the rounds here a few years ago about her and a farm-hand who worked for Hauchawout. Hauchawout
caught him tapping at her shutter at two in the morning and beat him up with a hoe-handle. Whether there was anything between them or not no one knows. Anyway, she's been here ever since, and I doubt if anybody ever courts her now."

  § 2

  I neither saw nor heard of this family for a period of five years, during which time I worked in other places. Then one summer-time, returning for a vacation, I learned that "the old man" had died, and the property had been divided by law, no will having been left. The lorn Ida, after a service of thirty-two or -three years in her father's behalf, cooking, sweeping, washing, ironing, feeding the chickens and pigs, and helping her father to reap and pitch hay, had secured an equal fifth with the others, no more, a total of fifteen acres of land and two thousand dollars in cash. The land had already been leased on shares to her prosperous brother, the one with the automobile, and the cash placed out at interest. To eke out an existence, which was still apparently not much improved, Ida had gone to work, first as a laundress in a South Bixley (the county seat) laundry, at a later date as a canner of tomatoes in the summer canning season, and then as housekeeper in a well-to-do canner's family. She was reported by my host's wife as still husbandless, even loverless, though there was a rumor to the effect that. now that she had property and money in the bank, she was being "set up to" by Arlo Wilkens, a garrulous ne'er-do-well barber of Shrivertown, a drunken, roystering, but now rather exploded and passé, person of fifty; and one Henry Widdle, another ne'er-do-well of a somewhat more savory character, since he was one who was credited with having neither the strength nor courage to be drunken or roystering. He was the son of a local farmer who himself owned no land and worked that of others. With no education of any description, this son had wandered off some years before, trying here and there to sell trees for a nursery and failing utterly, as he himself told me; and then going to work in a furniture factory in Chicago, which was too hard for him; and later wandering as far West as Colorado, where necessity compelled him to become a railroad hand for a time. ("I served my time on the Denver & Rio Grande," he used to say.) But finding this too hard also, he had quit, and returned to the comparative ease of his former life here, which had no doubt brightened by contrast. Once here again, he found life none too easy, but at the time I knew him he was making a living by driving for a local contractor, that being "the easiest thing he could find," as a son of the relative aforementioned most uncharitably remarked.

  While working in this region again for a summer under some trees that crowned a hill and close by a highroad which crossed one slope of it, I was often made aware of this swain by the squeak of the wheels of his wagon as he hauled his loads of stone or sand or lumber in one direction or another. And later I came to know him, he being well known, as are most country people the one to the other in a region such as this, to the two sons of my host. Occasionally, as they worked in a field of potatoes alongside the hill on which I worked, I could see them hailing this man as he passed, he for some reason appealing to them as one who offered a source of idle amusement or entertainment. Several times I ambled over and joined them, the possibility of country-side news enticing me. He proved an aimless, unpivoted, and chartless soul, drifting nowhere in particular and with no least conception of either the order or the thoroughgoing intellectual processes of life, and yet not wholly uninteresting to me. Why? I often wondered. In so far as I could see, he picked only vaguely at or fumbled unintelligently with such phases and aspects of life as he encountered. He spoke persistently and yet indefinitely of the things he had seen in his travels, -- the mountains of the West, the plains of Texas, where he had tried to sell trees, the worth of this region in which he lived, -- and yet he could only report fragmentarily of all he had seen. The mountains of Colorado were "purty high," the scenery "purty fine in some places." In Texas it had been hot and dry, "not so many trees in most places; but I couldn't sell any." The people he had met everywhere were little more than moving objects or figures in a dream. His mind seemed to blur almost everything he saw. If he registered any definite vital impression of any kind, in the past or the present, I could not come to know. And yet he was a suitor, as he once admitted to us via our jesting, for the hand of the much-buffeted Ida; and, as I learned later in the same year, he did finally succeed in marrying her, thus worsting the aged and no doubt much more skilful Wilkens.

  And still later in the same year, since I had manifested an interest in him and Ida, it was reported to me that they were building a small house or shack on her acres, and with her money, and would be in it before spring. They were working together, so the letter ran, with the carpenters, he hauling lumber and sand and brick and she working with hammer and nails. Still later I learned that they were comfortably housed, had a cow, some pigs and chickens, a horse and various implements, all furnished by her capital, and that they were both working in the fields.

  The thing that interested me was the fact that at last, after so many years, having secured a man, even of so shambling a character, the fair Ida was prone to make a god of him.

  "Gee!" one of the sons commented to me upon my return the following summer, "Widdle has a cinch now. He don't need to do any more hard work. She gets up in the morning and feeds the chickens and pigs and milks the cow and gets his breakfast while he lies in bed. He works in the field plowing sometimes, but she plows, too."

  "Yes, and I've seen her pitch hay into the barn from the wagon, just as she did for her father," added the second youth.

  "Ah, but the difference! the difference!" mine host, the father, was at pains to point out rather jocosely. "Then it was against her will and without the enabling power of love, while now --"

  "Love's not gonna make hay any lighter," sagely observed one of the boys.

  "What treachery to romance!" I chided.

  "No, nor make plowin' any easier, nuther. Aw! haw!" This from a farm-hand, a fixture about the place. "An' I've seen her doin' that, too."

  I did my best to stand up for romance, come what might.

  Be that as it may, Widdle was about these days in a cheerful and even facetious frame of mind. When I knew him as a teamster he had seemed to wear a heavy and sad look, as though the mystery of life, or perhaps better the struggle for existence, pressed on him as much as it does on any of us. But now that his fortune had improved, he was a trifle more spruce, not so much in clothes, which were the usual farmer wear, but in manner. On certain days, especially in the afternoon, when his home chores were not too onerous or his wife was taking care of them for him, he came visiting my woodland table on its hill. A great and beautiful panorama spread before us. He inquired one day, rather nibblish in manner, as to the matter and manner of writing. Could a man make a living at that now, say? Did you have to write much or little in order to get along? Did I write for these here now magazines?

  Rather ruefully I admitted that when I could I did. The way of ye humble scribe, I tried to make plain, was at times thorny. Still, I had no great reason to complain.

  We then drifted to the business of farming, and here, I confess, I felt myself to be on much firmer ground. How was he getting along? Had he made much out of his first season's crop? How was his second progressing? Did he find fifteen acres difficult to manage? Was his wife well?

  To the last question he replied that she was, doing very well indeed, but as for the second from the last:

  "Not so very. Course, now," he went on musingly, "we ain't got the best implements yet, an' my wife's health ain't as good this summer as 'twas last; but we're gettin' along all right. I got mebbe as much as a hundred barrels o' potatas comin' along, an' mebbe three hundred bushels o' corn. Fer myself, I'm more interested in this here chicken business, if I could once git it a-goin' right. Course we ain't got all the up-to-date things we need, but I'm calc'latin' that next year, if everything goes right, I'll add a new pen an' a coupla runways to the coop I got up there, an' try my hand at more chickens."

  Never his wife's, I noticed, when it came to this end of the farming in
stitution. And as an aside I could not help thinking of those breakfasts in bed and of his wife pitching hay and plowing, as well as milking the cow and feeding the chickens while he slept.

  The lorn Ida and her great love! And then one day, expressing curiosity as to this menage, I was taken there to visit. The place looked comfortable enough -- a small, unpainted, two-room affair, with a lean-to at the back for a kitchen, a porch added only the preceding spring, so that milord might have a view of the thymy valley below, with its green fields and distant hills, while he smoked and meditated. It was very clean, as I noticed even from a distance, the doorway and the paths and all. And all about it, at points equidistant from the kitchen, were built a barn, a corn-crib, a smokehouse and a chicken-coop, to say nothing of a new well-top, all unpainted as yet, but all framed by the delicious green of the lawn. And Widdle, once he came forward, commented rather shyly on his treasures, walking about with me the while and pointing them out.

  "What with all the other things I gotta do, I ain't got round to paintin' yet; but I low as how this comin' fall or spring mebbe I'll be able to do sumpin' on it, if my wife's health keeps up. These chickens are a sight o' bother at times, an' we're takin' on another cow next week, an' some pigs."

  I thought of those glum days when he was still hauling sand and stone in his squeaky wagon.

  And then came Ida, big, bony, silent, diffident, red-tanned by sun and weather, to whom this narrow fifteen-acre world was no doubt a paradise. Love had at last come to her. It being a Sunday afternoon, the only appropriate time to make a call in the farming world, when presumably the chores of the week were out of the way, still she was astir among her pots and pans, though she came forward and made us welcome in her shy way. Wouldn't we sit down? Wouldn't we have a glass of milk? The worthy Widdle, resuming his seat on the porch, went on smoking and dreaming and surveying his possessions. If ever a man looked at ease, he did, and his wife seemed to take great satisfaction in his comfort. She smiled as we talked to him or answered in monosyllables when we addressed her, having been so long repressed by her father, as I assumed, that she could not talk.

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