At the other voice his hand trembled so that the key rattled in the lock, and he could not turn it. But finally he did turn it, and stumbled in, breathing hard. And that other voice was Dike’s.
He must just have arrived. The flurry of explanation was still in progress. Dike’s knapsack was still on his back, and his canteen at his hip, his helmet slung over his shoulder. A brown, hard, glowing Dike, strangely tall and handsome and older, too. Older.
All this he saw in less than one electric second. Then he had the boy’s two shoulders in his hands, and Dike was saying: “Hello, pop.”
Of the roomful, Dike and old Ben were the only quiet ones. The others were taking up the explanation and going over it again and again, and marvelling, and asking questions.
“He come in to—what’s that place, Dike?—Hoboken—yesterday only. An’ he sent a dispatch to the farm. Can’t you read our letters, Dike, that you didn’t know we was here now? And then he’s only got an hour more here. They got to go to Camp Grant to be, now, demobilized. He come out to Minnie’s on a chance. Ain’t he big!”
But Dike and his father were looking at each other quietly. Then Dike spoke. His speech was not phlegmatic, as of old. He had a new clipped way of uttering his words:
“Say, pop, you ought to see the way the Frenchies farm! They got about an acre each, and, say, they use every inch of it. If they’s a little dirt blows into the crotch of a tree, they plant a crop in there. I never see nothin’ like it. Say, we waste enough stuff over here to keep that whole country in food for a hundred years. Yessir. And tools! Outta the ark, believe me. If they ever saw our tractor, they’d think it was the Germans comin’ back. But they’re smart at that. I picked up a lot of new ideas over there. And you ought to see the old birds—womenfolks and men about eighty years old—runnin’ everything on the farm. They had to. I learned somethin’ off of them about farmin’.”
“Forget the farm,” said Minnie.
“Yeh,” echoed Gus, “forget the farm stuff. I can get you a job here out at the works for four a day, and six when you learn it right.”
Dike looked from one to the other, alarm and unbelief on his face. “What d’you mean, a job? Who wants a job! What you all—”
Bella laughed, jovially. “F’r Heaven’s sakes, Dike, wake up! We’re livin’ here. This is our place. We ain’t rubes no more.”
Dike turned to his father. A little stunned look crept into his face. A stricken, pitiful look. There was something about it that suddenly made old Ben think of Pearlie when she had been slapped by her quick-tempered mother.
“But I been countin’ on the farm,” he said, miserably. “I just been livin’ on the idea of comin’ back to it. Why, I—The streets here, they’re all narrow and choked up. I been countin’ on the farm. I want to go back and be a farmer. I want—”