Annie did not check the horses when she saw him; she did not even look at him. But he looked at her, and in her white face, with the dreary circles of utter fatigue shadowing her eyes, his defeat was completed. He put his hand on the bit of the nearest horse and stopped the team.
Then she looked at him, as one looks at a loathsome stranger.
“What you want?” she asked coldly.
He swallowed hard. “Annie—I’ll—I’ll cut the wheat, le’me lift you down off there.” He held out his arms.
She did not budge. “You going to cut it all—and haul it down to the thresher?”
“Yes—yes, I will. Gee, you look near dead—get down, honey. You go in the house and lay down—I’m afraid you’ll kill yourself. I’m afraid you’ll hurt—him some way.”
Still she did not move. “I’d ruther be dead than live with a man that acts like you do,” she said. “Grown up, and can’t handle his temper.”
Something in her quiet, cold scorn struck through to him and cut away forever his childish satisfaction with himself. A new manhood came into his face; his twitching, sinister vein was still. Surrender choked him, but he managed to get it out:
“I know I acted like a fool. But I can’t let you do this. I’ll—I’ll try to——”
The words died on his lips and he leaped forward in time to catch her as she swayed and fell, fainting.
An hour later Annie lay on the lounge in the sitting room, still aching with terrible weariness, but divinely content. Far away she could hear the steady susurrus of the reaper, driven against the golden wheat, and the sound was a promise and a song to her ears. She looked up now and then at the pictured face of Wes’s father, frowning and passionate, and the faint smile of a conqueror curved her tired mouth. For she had found and proved the strongest thing in the world, and she would never again know fear.
By HARRY ANABLE KNIFFIN
From Brief Stories
The Little Chap reached up a chubby hand to the doorknob. A few persistent tugs and twists and it turned in his grasp. Slowly pushing the door open, he stood hesitating on the threshold of the studio.
The Big Chap looked up from his easel by the window. His gray eyes kindled into a kindly smile, its welcoming effect offset by an admonitory headshake. “Not now, Son,” he said. “I’m busy.”
“Can’t I stay a little while, Daddy?” The sturdy little legs carried their owner across the floor as he spoke. “I’ll be quiet, like—like I was asleep.”
The Big Chap hesitated, looking first at his canvas and then at the small replica of himself standing before him.
“I got on my new pants,” the youngster was saying, conversationally easing the embarrassment of a possible capitulation. “Mummy says I ought to be proud of them, and because I’m five years old.”