A chicken-coop whirled crazily about with an old hen and chickens squatted precariously on top. They beat upon the Holms’ fields and pastures sending moisture down to the grateful sub-soil which had been so long without it, while Neal worked doggedly all day, tight-lipped and serious. So recently life had been such a gay and happy thing,–now so void of interest without funny flippant letters, so dull appearing in the future with no plans involving the constant presence of a merry redheaded girl. Carter and Lucile were satisfied with Neal,–liked his energy and his gay humor, his steady blue eyes that looked clean and frank.
He found to his own surprise that he was supposed to be the possessor of a very decent voice. The songs in his head which he had often told himself he could hear so plainly, suddenly proved to be quite capable of arriving in the atmosphere with no little degree of accuracy. At the occasional parties he attended his “Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes” and “Come Where My Love Lies Sleeping” joined in right nobly with those of the Lunds and the McCurdeys who attended the same church. So busy was Matthias with his store, so ambitious, that he worked early and late, living, in the few hours he was away from it, at a Mrs. Smith’s boarding-house with several others of the young business men, where came also some of the legislators in season. Winter came on and the cabin was isolated in a sea of white so that Herman broke a road to Anna Kratz’s and to the church on the knoll against which the drifts packed. There were Christmas services with the singing of “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht”and “Ein Feste Burg Ist Unser Gott,” and with little Emil big-eyed at the sight of the green Tannenbaum and the home-made Kerzen lighted among its branches.
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To-day must the words be passed by Fritz on horseback. Apparently it settled matters in Herman’s eyes, but it did not settle them in Amalia’s deep blue ones. He spoke of the boy as his, she thought, and felt vaguely that it was not true–that he was hers only. No longer was it necessary to creep away into a Room for comfort. Her solace was here before her, running about, sturdy and brave, with hard apple cheeks and eyes as blue as her own. Always the prairie loomed there before them, lonely with silence,–a sullen giant waiting to trap them with blizzard or windstorm, drouth or flood, redskins or red fire.
The strong capable hands of those who had built the cabins now built solidly and well the house of worship. Ludwig Rhodenbach built the pulpit and benches. But not until fifteen years later was the bell to arrive,–a big one that was to cause the little building to vibrate with its every chime, and whose echoes were to reach far and wide over the fertile fields. For the rest of that summer, hammers and saws were heard all up and down the river until the cabins were finished, one by one.
They beat steadily and drowsily upon the little white-painted cottage of old Amalia, piecing her Around-the-World quilt and listening to news from places of which she had never heard. They beat upon the old German country church high on the knoll and the sodden grasses of all the old Kratz and Schaffer graves, and those of the Gebhardts and Rhodenbachs who had come into the prairie together over sixty years before. “About as ambitious a move as I’ve ever made in my life.” His voice dropped to a pleading tone. He sold the house for what he could get,–moved to a Lincoln apartment when a receiver job was given him. Lucile was sobered, hurt, still incredulous over what had happened, but game. “For better or for worse” spoken that day in the Lincoln church before an elaborate wedding party of eight bridesmaids attending her, with all the leading families looking on, had meant something to Lucile.
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He saw her into her boarding-house, talked for a moment in the dim kerosene-lighted hallway with her landlady who had rushed out to chaperon the two, bade Miss Carter a formal good-night and departed to his own boarding-house. He took her arm down the church steps and through the darkness of the streets, realizing it gave him very little headiness of feeling, a fact which genuinely relieved him. In truth, it gave him such a sense of security that he was rather more courteous and gallant all the way to her boarding-house than he would have been otherwise, slipping protectingly to the inside of the walk when they passed the saloon with its swinging doors and sour yeasty smell.