Martin and Nellie sat down beside the red-and-white-checkered cloth spread on the ground, and Wade, after passing the still fretting baby to his wife, took his place with them.
As he intoned in even accents, Wade's eyes, so deep in their somber sockets, dwelt with a strange, wistful compassion on his faded wife.
From the day a letter had come from Peter Mall, an ex-comrade in Wade's old regiment, saying the quarter-section next his own could be bought by paying annually a dollar and twenty-five cents an acre for seven years, their hopes had risen into determination that had become unshakable.
It seemed pitifully meager to Wade at that despondent moment, exhausted as he was by the long, hard journey and the sultry heat.
Not that he was ever deliberately cruel, but there was an insensibility to the feelings of others, a capacity placidly to ignore them, that made Wade tremble for the future.
"I reckon," Wade analysed laboriously, "it's because I'm gettin' less able all the time and he's growing so fast--him limber an' quick, and me all thumbs.
It was a hard bargain, but one that Wade could afford to take up, for if the wheat were to freeze out, or if the grasshoppers should eat it, or the chinch bugs ruin it, or a hail storm beat it down into the mud, or if any of the many hatreds Stepmother Nature holds out toward those trusting souls who would squeeze a living from her hard hands--if any of these misfortunes should transpire, he would be out nothing but labor, and that was the one thing he and Martin could afford to risk.
Dawn was breaking over them when Wade, surrendering to a surge of pity, put his arms around her with awkward gentleness.
'Tatty,' said her young mistress, putting her hand up over her shoulder that the other might take it, 'Miss Wade almost frightened me when we parted, and I scarcely like to think of her just now as having been so near me without my knowing it.
Pet laughingly believed he had been thinking of Miss Wade.
"I know you, Nelly Wade; you are with the lawyers in your heart, and if you come a foot nigher, you shall have frontier punishment.
"Call her Nelly Wade at once," muttered Paul; "it is her rightful name, and I care not if she keeps it for ever!"