FROM her upstairs window Mrs. Wheeler could see Claude moving back and forth in the west field, drilling wheat. She felt lonely for him. He didnt come home as often as he might. She had begun to wonder whether he was one of those people who are always discontented; but whatever his disappointments were, he kept them locked in his own breast. One had to learn the lessons of life. Nevertheless, it made her a little sad to see him so settled and indifferent at twenty-three.
After watching from the window for a few moments, she turned to the telephone and called up Claudes house, asking Enid whether she would mind if he came there for dinner. Mahailey and I get lonesome with Mr. Wheeler away so much, she added.
Mrs. Wheeler left the house a little before noon and stopped at the creek to rest before she climbed the long hill. At the edge of the field she sat down against a grassy bank and waited until the horses came tramping up the long rows. Claude saw her and pulled them in.
He unhooked his team, and he and his mother started down the hill together, walking behind the horses. Though they had not been alone like this for a long while, she felt it best to talk about impersonal things.
Mrs. Wheeler looked up at him. I dont see how we can stay out of it much longer, do you? I suppose our army wouldnt be a drop in the bucket, even if we could get it over. They tell us we can be more useful in our agriculture and manufactories than we could by going into the war. I only hope it isnt campaign talk. I do distrust the Democrats.
He knew, and his mother knew, that he was not very good at that. His horses stopped at the water tank. Dont wait for me. Ill be along in a minute. Seeing her crestfallen face, he smiled. Never mind, Mother, I can always catch you when you try to give me a pill in a raisin. One of us has to be pretty smart to fool the other.
Then why dont they make their soldiers stay home, an not go breakin other peoples things, an turnin em out of their houses, she muttered indignantly. They say little babies was born out in the snow last winter, an no fires for their mudders nor nothin. Deed, Mr. Claude, it wasnt like that in our war; the soldiers didnt do nothin to the women an chillun. Many a time our house was full of Northern soldiers, an they never so much as broke a piece of my mudders chiney.
The picture papers meant a great deal to Mahailey, because she could faintly remember the Civil War. While she pored over photographs of camps and battlefields and devastated villages, things came back to her; the companies of dusty Union infantry that used to stop to drink at her mothers cold mountain spring. She had seen them take off their boots and wash their bleeding feet in the run. Her mother had given one louse-bitten boy a clean shirt, and she had never forgotten the sight of his back, as raw as beef where hed scratched it. Five of her brothers were in the Confederate army. When one was wounded in the second battle of Bulls Run, her mother had borrowed a wagon and horses, gone a three days journey to the field hospital, and brought the boy home to the mountain. Mahailey could remember how her older sisters took turns pouring cold spring water on his gangrenous leg all day and all night. There were no doctors left in the neighbourhood, and as nobody could amputate the boys leg, he died by inches. Mahailey was the only person in the Wheeler household who had ever seen war with her own eyes, and she felt that this fact gave her a definite superiority.