Mrs. Jardine looked at her interestedly. She had never mentioned her home or parents before. The older woman did not intend to ask a word, but if Kate was going to talk, she did not want to miss one. Kate evidently was going to talk, for she continued: “You see my father is land mad, and son crazy. He thinks a boy of all the importance in the world; a girl of none whatever. He has the biggest family of any one we know. From birth each girl is worked like a man, or a slave, from four in the morning until nine at night. Each boy is worked exactly the same way; the difference lies in the fact that the girls get plain food and plainer clothes out of it; the boys each get two hundred acres of land, buildings and stock, that the girls have been worked to the limit to help pay for; they get nothing personally, worth mentioning. I think I have two hundred acres of land on the brain, and I think this is the explanation of it. It’s a pre-natal influence at our house; while we nurse, eat, sleep, and above all, work it, afterward.”
She paused and looked toward John Jardine calmly: “I think,” she said, “that there’s not a task ever performed on a farm that I haven’t had my share in. I have plowed, hoed, seeded, driven reapers and bound wheat, pitched hay and hauled manure, chopped wood and sheared sheep, and boiled sap; if you can mention anything else, go ahead, I bet a dollar I’ve done it.”
“Well, what do you think of that?” he muttered, looking at her wonderingly.
“If you ask me, and want the answer in plain words, I think it’s a shame!” said Kate. “If it were one hundred acres of land, and the girls had as much, and were as willing to work it as the boys are, well and good. But to drive us like cattle, and turn all we earn into land for the boys, is another matter. I rebelled last summer, borrowed the money and went to Normal and taught last winter. I’m going to teach again this winter; but last summer and this are the first of my life that I haven’t been in the harvest fields, at this time. Women in the harvest fields of Land King Bates are common as men, and wagons, and horses, but not nearly so much considered. The women always walk on Sunday, to save the horses, and often on week days.”
“Mother has it hammered into me that it isn’t polite to ask questions,” said John, “but I’d like to ask one.”
“Go ahead,” said Kate. “Ask fifty! What do I care?”
“How many boys are there in your family?”
“There are seven,” said Kate, “and if you want to use them as a basis for a land estimate add two hundred and fifty for the home place. Sixteen hundred and fifty is what Father pays tax on, besides the numerous mortgages and investments. He’s the richest man in the county we live in; at least he pays the most taxes.”
Mother and son looked at each other in silence. They had been thinking her so poor that she would be bewildered by what they had to offer. But if two hundred acres of land were her desire, there was a possibility that she was a women who was not asking either ease or luxury of life, and would refuse it if it were proffered.