His wife laughed grimly. “I guess, if the truth was known, we’re too poor to get away.”
“We’re poor,” he whispered back. He added, with a weak obstinacy: “I d’know as we’re as poor as that comes to. The things would fetch something.”
“Enough to get us out there, and then we should be on Jim’s hands,” said the woman.
“We should till spring, maybe. I d’know as I want to face another winter here, and I d’know as Jackson does.”
The young man gasped back, courageously: “I guess I can get along here well enough.”
“It’s made Jim ten years younger. That’s what he said,” urged the father.
The mother smiled as grimly as she had laughed. “I don’t believe it ’ll make you ten years richer, and that’s what you want.”
“I don’t believe but what we should ha’ done something with the place by spring. Or the State would,” the father said, lifelessly.
The voice of the boy broke in upon them from behind. “Say, mother, a’n’t you never goin’ to have dinner?” He was standing in the doorway, with a startling cleanness of the hands and face, and a strange, wet sleekness of the hair. His clothes were bedrabbled down the front with soap and water.
His mother rose and went toward him; his father and brother rose like apparitions, and slanted after her at one angle.
“Say,” the boy called again to his mother, “there comes a peddler.” He pointed down the road at the figure of a man briskly ascending the lane toward the house, with a pack on his back and some strange appendages dangling from it.
The woman did not look round; neither of the men looked round; they all kept on in-doors, and she said to the boy, as she passed him: “I got no time to waste on peddlers. You tell him we don’t want anything.”
The boy waited for the figure on the lane to approach. It was the figure of a young man, who slung his burden lightly from his shoulders when he arrived, and then stood looking at the boy, with his foot planted on the lowermost tread of the steps climbing from the ground to the porch.
The boy must have permitted these advances that he might inflict the greater disappointment when he spoke. “We don’t want anything,” he said, insolently.
“Don’t you?” the stranger returned. “I do. I want dinner. Go in and tell your mother, and then show me where I can wash my hands.”
The bold ease of the stranger seemed to daunt the boy, and he stood irresolute. His dog came round the corner of the house at the first word of the parley, and, while his master was making up his mind what to do, he smelled at the stranger’s legs. “Well, you can’t have any dinner,” said the boy, tentatively. The dog raised the bristles on his neck, and showed his teeth with a snarl. The stranger promptly kicked him in the jaw, and the dog ran off howling. “Come here, sir!” the boy called to him, but the dog vanished round the house with a fading yelp.