‘MY lands, Grandmaw! What are you up to now! We ain’t got no time to fool — the truck ‘s all loaded and ready to start right this minute!’
Mrs. Goodwin paid no attention to her granddaughter’s protest, but kept straight on digging into the ground, her vigorous old body crowded down against it, and her hands, broad and brown, turning up the soil like little animals burrowing into their accustomed runways.
‘ I’m agoin’ to dig me up a root er this piney to take erlong,’ she said, announcing the intention more to herself than to her granddaughter, Emmy Stuart, who stood over her.
‘Aw, Grandmaw! You know we ain’t got no place to grow nothin’ where we’s at now! ‘Cept maybe a geranum slip in a tomater can.’
The old woman stopped digging, one hand still half buried in the ground, the other relaxed and open, lying palm upward in her lap, while she crinkled her eyes to stare up at the other’s impatient face. Emmy was rouged and powdered, her bobbed hair fluffed out over her ears, and her jaws worked nervously on a wad of chewing-gum.
‘Come on, Grandmaw,’ she urged. ‘I tell you we ain’t got no place to grow nothin’.’
‘Ain’t that the truth! ‘ Grandmaw Goodwin burst out, bringing the back of her hand up to dash away the gray strands of hair over her eyes, that she might survey the statement made by her granddaughter the more clearly. ‘Ain’t that God’s truth! You-all air as runnin’ an’ shaller-rooted as sheep sorrel! You don’t stay long enough in one place to grow a mess er radishes, let crlone set er piney root, that’ll maybe take two years ‘fore it’ll come to bloomin’. You ‘ll never know what it is to take root in a place an’ grow erlong with it. I fetched this piney with me when I come here a bride fifty years back, an’ here it’s been ever since. Every spring it sticks its little fist er leaves out er the ground, an’ every fist’s got a bud in the palm of it. Yes, sir! Every spring!’
Again she struck her hair back from her brow, to look all about the little place which had been her home for so long, and from which now she was being removed. She stared at the mountains flowing up and down the valley, at the dooryard, at the small dismantled log-cabin, its windows opening now upon empty rooms, and at all her household effects that were spilled out into the road, and being loaded into the truck by Bud, Emmy’s husband, and young Hanceford Wells.
‘ It’s here I belong — my roots is here,’ she muttered, turning her head slowly, mutely, from side to side.
Emmy put one hand under her grandmother’s arm to draw her up. ‘Come on,’ she said, ‘we can’t waste no more time — that truck’s costin’ Bud three dollars a hour.’
The old woman got heavily to her feet, but still she stood in the September sunshine, gazing dumbly around her. Here were fifty years of her life, here were the snows of winter with the blue rabbit-tracks scurrying across them, and here was the sunlight of summer flowing over the fields and the gray cabin, and chasing the cloud shadows down the mountains. Here was a whole lifetime. There in the main room of that little house, shorn now of all its furnishings, her children had been born; and there one child and her old mate had died. Here was the smell of fresh growth in spring, of blooming honeysuckle, and of cut grass in the dooryard. Here were all the struggles and hopes of two lives.
Grandmaw stared at the patched old fence of the garden. ‘He allus aimed to have me a nice new fence, ‘ she whispered, ‘but someway he could n’t never make it.’ Here were all the sounds of the past, roosters crowing for dawn, the slip-slop of snow melting from the eaves, crickets in the summer grass, cattle lowing, the sound of children’s laughter, the sound of—the sound of —
‘What’s that you hear, Grandmaw? You act like you was listenin’ at somep’n.’ Emmy gave her grandmother’s arm a little twitch.
‘It’s yer Grandpaw, Emmy, He’s choppin’ up yander on the ridge.’
‘Grandmaw! You can’t hear him! He’s — he’s— ‘ Emmy faltered into silence.
‘ He’s dead! ‘ The old woman started up out of her dream. ‘He’s dead. That’s so. That’s so.’ She began to tremble, her mouth quivered, her eyes dimmed. ‘Emmy, Emmy! I can’t go! My roots is here!’
‘Grandmaw, you got to go! You know you can’t stick on here all alone!’
‘Emmy — ‘
‘You got to go, I tell you! There ain’t a soul to be with you, now that Grandpaw’s gone. Bud and me’s had that all out with you time and again. You can’t balk now, when we’ve got the truck out here an’ all loaded to go.’
The old woman’s face crumpled up; she was shaken by deep gasps; she saw the garden, the young men down by the truck, the cabin, the mountains, all wavering and distorted through a gray dazzle of tears. She turned her head away from her granddaughter, staring down at the peony.
‘Lemme — lemme jest tromp the ground back round this piney so’s the frost won’t git to its roots,’ she gasped.
‘Well, be in a hurry; we got to start most d ‘rectly,’ Emmy admonished and, leaving her, went off to see to the loading of some last bits of furniture. Balked of her intention to dig up a root, Grandmaw tramped the ground around the peony, pressing it firm with her big, square-toed boots. That done, she wiped the trickle of tears away, drawing in her breath convulsively.
‘I’m — I’m goin’ over to the spring an’ git me a last drink ‘fore I go,’ she told herself. ‘We got the best water anywheres in the valley.’
Unsteadily she crossed to the stonerimmed spring and turned its cover back on its leather hinges. The dipper was gone, packed up, so she stooped over on all fours and set her lips to the water; but it was hard to drink in that strained position, harder still to open and close her throat over the lump that was there. She ceased the effort presently and, leaning over, stared down at her dim reflection.
‘Good-bye, Grandmaw,’ she whispered, looking into her own old face. She had been ‘Grandmaw’ so long to the whole neighborhood that she had even come to think of herself like that. But now, staring into the mysterious deep water, she saw past her old face down the years to her young married self that had been wont to look out at her when she dipped her bucket in the spring. ‘Good-bye, Mis’ Goodwin,’ she murmured. Then, deeper down in the water, deeper down the years, she glimpsed another self. ‘Good-bye, Katie White,’ she said — and that had been her girl name.
‘Grandmaw! We’re waitin’ on ye!’ Emmy called.
Grandmaw shut the cover of the spring softly down over those past selves. ‘You-all stay right here; I got to go,’ she said. It was a dim comfort to her to know that the water had taken something of her into its keeping.
‘Come on, now; we’re goin’ to put you up on the front seat alongside of Hance,’ said Emmy, leading her grandmother down the path. ‘Bud an’ me’s goin’ to ride with the plunder here in the back.’
Her grandchildren pulled and pushed old Mrs. Goodwin up to the high seat of the truck beside young Hanceford Wells, who also lent a mechanical hand for her assistance, the while he whistled a tune between his teeth. She was settled at last. The engine of the truck started, sending a shudder through all the piled-up furniture, through all the old woman’s body. Grandmaw looked back; the gray cabin, the fenced garden, the little fields, slid from sight as they made the bend of the road. A terrible falling-away seized her. She was being torn asunder. Her deep roots were back yonder in the soil of her homestead, the rest of her was being snatched away to a new order of life whose servant was this great inexorable truck bearing her along the road. She clutched her hands desperately tight in her lap. If she could only speak of it! If she might just see on one other face a reflected understanding of what was happening to her!
‘Emmy! Emmy!’ she cried out.
But Emmy was in behind; the truck was making too much noise for her to hear. Grandmaw turned to young Hance. ‘I — I lived for all of fifty years right back there in that house,’ she got out.
‘ Is that so?’ the young man returned, his eyes intent upon the road, scarcely hearing what she said.
She tried again. ‘I come there a bride; all my babies was born there.’
Young Hance made no comment on that. What did he know of motherhood ?
Would nothing make him turn, make him look down at her for one flicker of warm comprehension? ‘When you’ve lived as long as that in one place, an’ you have to leave it, it’s — it’s like’ — she swallowed — ‘ like you was bein’ busted loose from yer roots,’ she said with difficulty.
‘I reckon so,’ he responded, his whole attention centred upon steering the truck over a culvert. That passed, he burst into loud song — ‘Yes, we have no bananas!’ he sang.
The inexorable truck, child of a new mechanical era, bumped and lumbered along the road, bearing Grandmaw away from all her accustomed background, off to the life of a small town, while young Hanceford bellowed out one cheap song after another. She clutched her hands tighter together. ‘O God! O my God!’ she cried out deep in herself.
In the new little town of Pickett’s Junction, which had burst forth in a mushroom growth of flimsy houses, and where the trees had all been felled to make room for the telegraph poles, people said it was right hard on a young woman like Emmy Stuart to have that old backwoods grandmother hung round her neck.
‘My lands, Emmy! I don’t see how you stand it!’ one frank young friend protested. ‘Old folks just gives me the jimjams! ‘
‘ Oh, well, I’m mighty fond of Grandmaw,’ Emmy returned loyally. She paused to survey her strand of chewinggum for a moment, and then lapped it slowly back into her mouth inch by inch with her tongue. ‘Poor old soul! She was mighty good to me when I was a kid. I used to stay with her and Grandpaw at the farm. ‘
‘Ain’t there no place else she can go to?’ the friend persisted.
‘Nope.’ Emmy shook her head. ‘Bud an’ me’s the only ones of the family left in these parts. Her sons are ‘way out West somewheres, an’ my mother an’ Aunt Susan’s living in Chicago, an’ we reckoned a big city like that’d ‘bout kill Grandmaw. She finds Pickett’s Junction hard enough.’
Yes, it was hard on Grandmaw. What was there for her to do? A new and, to her, sinister force had taken possession of the world, manifesting itself in every kind of machine, which snatched all the work imperiously away from her old hands. Long, idle days dragged by. On her little farm there had been things to attend to from early morning round the circle to dark again. But what was there to do here? Emmy and Bud —who were used to drifting from one little town to another in pursuit of Bud’s business, which was lumber — lived in a four-room apartment where not an inch of ground belonged to them. The housekeeping was nothing. It does not take long to clean four small rooms; much of the food was bought already cooked, and why bother to sew when machine-made clothes were so cheap? There were no animals to feed, no garden to work, no baby to tend. Why no babies? Grandmaw asked Emmy.
Emmy shrugged the question aside. ‘Aw, I ain’t in no hurry for that. Kids costs money, an’ Bud an’ me’s savin’ up now for a new car.’
Grandmaw’s mouth dropped open in stupefaction. ‘My God!’ she burst out. ‘You’d rather ride ‘round in a auto than have a baby nozzlin’ at yer breast!’
She surveyed her granddaughter’s made-up face, her shallow, goodnatured eyes, her ineffective hands. She took one of the hands, and laid its whiteness along her own big brown one over which the years had traced a deep pattern of life.
‘My lands!’ she muttered. ‘What kinder hand is that to go through the world with! It ain’t never seen a piece er real work in all of its life! It ain’t got nothin’ to it — no roots — nothin’! It’ll never go in the ground fer a thing! You ain’t none er you got no roots, runnin’ over the ground like sheep sorrel! Here to-day, an’ gone to-morrer! No roots! No roots!’ she complained. She felt dimly sorry for Emmy. She was fond of her. Could she not make her understand what she was missing?
‘Emmy, honey,’ she struggled, ‘you ain’t gittin’ nothin’ real outer yer life. Jest layin’ round chewin’ gum, or goin’ to the movies; that ain’t real — that, ain’t livin’. Honey, you ain’t got but the one life — I’d hate to see you miss all the best of it.’
‘Aw, Grandmaw! Nobody thinks you have to work yerself to death over a parcel of kids to be livin’ these days. Folks don’t have to work like they used to anyhow, since machinery come in — that’s made everything different!’
‘Yes, it’s made things different!’ Grandmaw flared out harshly. ‘It’s ruined everything! It’s got folks so rotten lazy that they ain’t got good sense no more! It’s — it’s — ‘
But Grandmaw had not the words to say what she thought this mechanical force was doing to the world. Here was her deep and implacable enemy. It had changed all her life and made a sturdy old woman useless. She hated it in all its aspects — in the telephone, in the scurrying motors, and in the vacuum cleaner that stunned her with its noise. ‘Dead work! Dead work!’ That was as near as she could come to expressing what she felt about the cold impersonal work performed by this sinister force that was dominating the world. All machines were her enemies, from the great truck which had torn her away from her home, to the new car which Emmy dreamed of possessing. They were her enemies, but she would not become their slave. She defied them boldly. Bud and Emmy said it was real funny to hear Grandmaw quarrel at the telephone. She would never answer it, and she delighted to have it ring when there was no one to attend to it.
‘Ah-ha! Squeal yer nasty head off! You’ll not git me to wait on ye!’ she would taunt it.
She was glad when it was out of order, and once, secretly and deliberately, she even put it out of order herself. Bud and Emmy could not think what had happened to the thing. The telephone did not know either. That was the trouble with fighting machines; they didn’t know you were doing it. You could n’t make them feel anything. An animal, now, it knew whether you hated it or were pleased with it; but what did a machine know? Dimly she felt that constant association with such dead impersonality was all wrong. She tried to warn Emmy.
‘You can’t do nothin’ fer er machine,’ she told her. ‘An animal, now, you kin give it somep’n an’ it’ll give you somep’n back, but these machines is all dead — they don’t git nothin’ from you an’ you don’t git nothin’ from them. ‘
‘I git er heap er work from them,’ Emmy retorted.
‘That ain’t what I mean.’ Grandmaw struggled to make herself clear. ‘You don’t know — how could ye, livin’ like you do? But you — you’ll all kinder dry up if you jest let dead things work for ye. Workin’ with critters is different, but like it is now youall don’t tetch life nowheres.’
Somehow, for all that she had worked so hard, she felt that she had known a richer existence than Emmy would ever know. She had touched life at more points, been more close and intimate with it. But how could she make Emmy understand this? She understood it only vaguely herself. And in the meantime what was there for her to do here where this tide of mechanical force was submerging her, engulfing her personality, ruining all the world?
Her hands lay idle in her lap, and a dimness began to settle over her face, because all her thoughts had turned inward. Always she saw pictures of her little deserted house. It pulled so at her heart that it truly seemed to her she must be rooted there. Sometimes it was its blank windows she saw staring at her. Sometimes again it would be its little gray steps, with that old Dominique rooster hopping tentatively up them, or fluttering hastily dowm them, shooed away by her broom.
‘Emmy, do you recollect that ole dominicker rooster what was allus tryin’ to git into the house?’
‘No, Grandmaw, I don’t know which one you mean.’
Grandmaw sighed. Who did know except herself? She went back again to her inward pictures. There was her old man in his blue shirt-sleeves chopping stove wood in the back yard. Every time he brought his axe down he grunted out, ‘ Huh! ‘ — chop — ‘ Huh! ‘ — chop — ‘Huh!’ Yellow chips flying, axe flashing in the sun, smell of cut logs. ‘Huh! Huh!’ Something doing when her old man chopped wood. And she herself in the kitchen getting supper. There was a plank in the floor which had a ‘ bird ‘ in it, so that it answered with a squeak and chirp whenever she trod on it. Swe-e-e-sh! Cake batter going into the hot fat! Over to the dresser for flour — chirp, chirp’, of the board. Back to the stove again, spluttering of the fat, frying of the cakes! Out in the yard, chop — ‘Huh! ‘ — chop — ‘ Huh! ‘ Old man’s axe swinging outside, old woman’s feet hurrying inside. Yes, something doing then; but what was there to do now?
‘Come on, Grandmaw, let’s us go to the movies. There’s a real good show in town to-night.’
Grandmaw went. What else was there to do? But what was it all about? The pictures flickered by so fast that they were gone before a person could hardly get a real good look at them. Emmy read the titles for her and kept up a whispered comment. ‘“Beauty fares forth to the Great White Way.” That’s New York, Grandmawu My, would n’t I like to see N’York! Now she’s in the train goin’ there. Aw-oh! She ought n’t to take up with that strange feller! That ‘ll get her into trouble later on — you see’f it don’t.’
But there was only one scene that Grandmaw understood. That was the one showing the old people left alone on the farm after the daughter’s departure for the city. There was the old man forking down hay from the loft; there was the old woman out at the henhouse, her apron blowing in the wind, while she scattered grain for the chickens. Something about the flutter of that apron, about the scurry of the fowls, made the tears pop into Grandmaw’s eyes.
‘Ain’t that natcheral! Ain’t it natcheral!’ she wept. ‘Look at that ole rooster now! Would n’t you know he’d have to be inter somep’n!’
She looked and looked, until the old woman’s apron and the rooster were winked out by women in evening dress and curls of cigarette smoke.
Grandmaw began almost to be afraid of her little deserted house, its pictures of all her past life hung so persistently there in the back of her mind. ‘It kinder ha’nts me,’ she complained. ‘I think of it day an’ night. It’s got aholt of me so tight it jest won’t turn me loose! I wisht it would — mebbe then I could settle down somewheres else. Mebbe I could strike root here an’ commence to grow. But my roots is back yonder, an’ I jest can’t git ‘em loose.’
How strange it was that she should be here, and yet there! She had only to shut her eyes in Emmy’s red-plush sitting-room to have all its walls fall away and the walls of her old home draw up close around her.
‘It won’t turn me loose! I can’t bust erway from it!’
‘What is it, Grandmaw? What’s troublin’ you?’
‘It’s my roots, Emmy,’ the old woman answered, turning her head dumbly from side to side, as though with physical gestures to bring out the emotion which was so difficult to put into words. ‘I can’t bust my roots free from the old place. It’s tuck aholt of me, an’ I ‘ve tuck aholt of it, an’ I can’t git erway an’ be satisfied anywheres else. Mebbe it’s on account of me leavin’ my Agger like that in the spring,’ she half muttered.
‘Doin’ what?’ Emmy cried.
But Grandmaw shut her old mouth up tight. How could she ever explain to Emmy that at the last moment she had entrusted her reflections to the spring, so that now not only the earth but the water of her home held her fast?
‘I can’t bust loose!’ She took up the complaint again. ‘I wisht to God I could! It’s got me so I’m skeered I can’t even die. I would n’t keer ef I was to die. I ain’t no good to nobody here, an’ my ole man’s awaitin’ fer me — I bet he’s got somep’n fer the ole woman to do! But as long as my roots is erlive I can’t die.’
‘Aw, Grandmaw! Quit talkin’ erbout dyin’,’ Emmy broke in with a little shiver. ‘You ain’t goin’ to die!’
‘ I almost wisht I was. But how kin I when my roots is still livin’?’
Emmy chewed her gum thoughtfully, looking at her grandmother and trying honestly to understand. But what was there in her restless moving-picture existence that could reach out in sympathy to the sorrows of the older, deep-rooted generation? There was nothing, but she offered the best she could think of.
‘Come on, let’s go over to the drug store an’ get a ice-cream cone,’ she said. Grandmaw went, lumbering heavily after Emmy’s slim figure. What else was there to do?
Late in the winter, however, a new thing happened. Grandmaw received a letter. It was not from any of her children. Those came in limp bluewhite envelopes, and inside were penciled scrawls. This was a long white envelope with typed address. Bud and Emmy explained it to her.
‘Why, Grandmaw, it’s from the Blue Mountain Railroad Company. They’re goin’ to run a line up the valley, an’ they want the right of way through the old place.’
The railroad at last! Grandmaw was pleased. The old man had always said it would come, and then everything would be easier. ‘When the railroad comes’ had been a gate of words opening on a golden age for them. And now it had come, and the Company wanted to pay her good money for the right to run through the place. Well! Well! Grandmaw’s old face crinkled up with pleasure.
‘You better read the paper over, Grandmaw, an’ see where they aim to lay the tracks,’ Emmy said.
So Grandmaw struggled through the confusing phraseology which meant almost nothing to her.
‘You see they say they want the right to condemn the house if they have to. Bud says that means they might run straight through it,’ Emmy warned her.
‘Aw no, honey, they’ll not do that,’ Grandmaw assured her. ‘They’ve done surveyed the track there a’ready. They aim to run it through that there bottom land that ain’t never been no account fer nothin’. That’s where they driv’ the stakes afore.’
In her mind’s eye Grandmaw saw the line of new-cut surveyor’s stakes running through that bottom land as they had run — exclamations of hope for her and the old man — ten years ago. ‘Yes, yes,’ she nodded, ‘right through that no ‘count field!’
‘Oh, Grandmaw!’ Emmy burst out, ‘there ‘s money enough now to buy a real handsome new car!’
‘A car!’ Grandmaw snorted. ‘No, sir! That money don’t go into no car! I aim to put it in the bank, an’ it’ll go to my furst great-grandchild. Ef it’s er boy it’s to be named fer his greatgranddaddy, an’ ef it’s er girl you kin call it fer me.’ She beamed on Emmy and Bud.
‘Aw, Grandmaw!’ Emmy protested. And in the end the old woman’s dream of a great-grandchild vanished in a shining new car — Emmy and Bud wanted it so much.
It was another triumph over her of that cold, mechanical force that drove upon its inexorable way. Grandmaw hated the car and rode in it as little as possible. But a new hope had come to comfort her. She had received another letter — this one was in a blue-white envelope, and came from her daughter Susan out in Chicago. Susan wrote that she and her husband wanted to come East and bring the children to see their grandmother, ‘and spend one more summer in the old home-place.’
A flame of joy leaped up in the old woman. Home! Home! To be where her roots were once more! To feel the breath of life go up all through her again! To be there when the old rosebushes flowered, and to tend all the needs of the little house — to wash its windows, to scrub its floors, to sit again on its porch at dusk, looking across at Droop Mountain soft against the evening sky. Grandmaw wept a little from pure joy. She would be away from all her enemies, free of the chattering telephone, and the confusing vacuumcleaner, back where she belonged, where she was of use, and where life clothed itself in a familiar garment.
‘I’ll be back where my roots is — I’ll be hitched up to ‘em once more,’she exulted.
Susan could not come until the first of June, but the second week of May saw the mountains surrounding the town all in green glory of spring leaves, and even the bleak little dooryards of Pickett’s Junction displayed occasional blooming shrubs. Across the way a bridal wreath was in flower. It was that which inspired Grandmaw to her great adventure. There was a bridal wreath beside the spring in her home garden, and in her mind’s eye the old woman could see its sprays foaming up in the sunshine, beckoning her to come.
‘ I got to go — I got to be there to see it,’ she told herself. Every spring she had been with it at flowering-time; it would be hurt now if she were not there to receive the tribute of its blossoms.
She must go — but how? The farm lay only ten miles away across the country. Bud and Emmy could have whisked her over there in the new car in no time. But Grandmaw would not go that way.
‘No, sir! I’ll go on my own two feet!’ she told herself. Machinery should have no part in her home-coming. Not to ride in the car would be a triumph for her over those dead enemies of hers. ‘On my own feet!’ she repeated, and could feel them pressed, step after step, against the ground, drawing new life from its returning life.
But Bud and Emmy would not let her go if they knew. So they must not know. Sunday would be the best day for it — they always slept so late that morning.
Accordingly, when the next Sunday swung into place, Grandmaw was far out on the road before daylight had fully come.
Oh, the freedom and the delight of it! It had been an adventure — the stealing out of the house, and through the town before anyone else was awake; and now how wide and silent the stretch of the open country was before dawn! The deserted road led on in front, and at its other end lay the place where her heart awaited her. Her thoughts scurried on ahead and saw the house with its gray expectant face turned toward her.
‘I’m goin’ home! I’m goin’ home!’ For a time the words slipped silently through her head to the rhythm of her footsteps. Then as she went farther out into the open stretches of the country, and the daylight came clearer, she began to repeat the refrain half aloud, and at last, when the dawn came up over the mountain ridges, over the valley with its silent fields, and all the birds were singing, an old woman sang and shouted with them, ‘I’m goin’ home! I’m goin’ home!’
The dawn came up, the mountains shouldered out of the dimness, the road lay clear in front with the rail fences zigzagging on either side. The dawn came up and the birds flooded it with melody. The sun blazed up. It melted the mists off the hills and stood them out in the blue-green of their spring color. It warmed the ditches beside the road, where the violets and dandelions stood tall in the grass, and where the frogs shouted a spring ecstasy. The sun came up and all the earth sent forth wafts of fragrance from the flowers, the grass, and the brown fields. On either side of the way, thorn bushes and crab trees, all in full flower, offered their honey to myriads of bees; while at the edges of the mud puddles in the road a fringe of yellow and blue butterflies sipped and sipped, breathing their wings delicately open and shut.
The road lay golden before Grandmaw, with her shadow stretching out so long in front that it made her laugh. ‘Em-hem! Look at that old shadder! It’s got to go runnin’ on ‘way ahead!’
The old woman marched and sang, and the miles flowed slowly back behind her. She was a stalwart figure, big-boned and weather-beaten. On her head was an old broad-brimmed hat. In one hand she clutched a long staff, and in the other she carried a package of garden seed — pease, beans, lettuce, and beets. She felt a little guilty about those seeds. It was Sunday, and it was wrong to work on Sunday; nevertheless she was planning to plant her garden that day. All too soon Bud and Emmy, guessing where she had gone, would pursue her in the new car, to bear her back captive to a machine-ordered world. But while she was still free she would serve her old gods of the soil, of springtime and planting; and if that was wrong, then God forgive her! She thought He would, considering how all her days had been enforced Sabbaths of late.
The miles gave place before her steady tramp, and now the way began to be familiar. She had turned into her own valley; one well-remembered farm after another came slowly into view. And now she began to meet people she knew — old neighbors who were glad to see her. They wanted to stop and talk, but Grandmaw would not break her stride. ‘I’m goin’ home!’ she told them, and with a wave of the hand went upon her way.
She was only a little distance from home now. Here was the old Henry place, and here, too, the new railroad came plunging through from the other side of the ridge and began to run up her valley. Well! Well! Here it was at last! Grandmother was glad to see it, but my soul! How it had torn things up! Thereafter the new roadbed kept even pace with her. No tracks had been laid as yet; it was only a graded way with ties thrown carelessly down across it like big sprawled fingers; but it was insolent and domineering. It seemed to think it owned the valley. In place after place it had torn up the old road, making it step humbly aside up the bank or out into the fields. Grandmaw did not like that. The wagon road had been here for more than a hundred years. Over it people had walked, or horses had conveyed them, on innumerable errands; lovers had gone ‘buggyriding’ over it, along it burying crowds and wedding parties had traveled, and over it, too, the doctor had come hurrying for life or for death — surely it had the right of way! But the new railroad went where it pleased and the old road had to make room for it. It went where it pleased, not only over the old road, but here it had actually run right into George Washburn’s stable-yard, straight along where his corncrib had been. Grandmaw was greatly shocked.
‘That ain’t right! That ain’t no way to do! Runnin’ into a person’s yard thataway, tearing the whole place to pieces!’
She began to dislike the new railroad as she hated the new car. It was machinery, too. She had not thought of that before, because it had approached her in the cloak of a friend, dressed in the realization of a hope which she and the old man had treasured for so long. But now, look what it had done to George Washburn’s yard! Grandmaw recognized the handiwork of her enemy. Well, thanks be! It would not come anywhere near her house! It would turn off now in just a little bit and take down into that no ‘count bottom-land. But at the next turn it was still there, and at the next as well, still taking the whole place, shouldering the old road out of the way, demolishing fences, running into dooryards. If it did not turn off presently it would be — why it would be heading straight for —
Grandmaw began to walk very fast, almost to run, stumbling along the uncertain way. At the next turn she should see the cabin, the picket-fenced garden, the white bridal wreath. A wild terror clutched her. She hurried and hurried, tripping and running along the roadbed. She gained the turn, she made the bend,and looked — she looked into empty sky. There was nothing there. The gray house, the garden, the bridal wreath, and the rosebushes were nowhere any more save in Grandmaw’s memory. All was flat, stark ground, graded up for the railroad’s imperious way. Even the spring where she had left her past selves was gone — drained and filled up. Nothing, nothing there. Over all a great steam-shovel straddled, its monstrous scoop full of dirt, a mouthful of what had once been Grandmaw’s home. Disguised as a friend, her enemies had stolen upon her. Grandmaw looked and looked, and something collapsed within her. She wavered uncertainly, overcome by a swirling sense of falling away. ‘I’m dead now!’ she whispered. ‘My roots is dead. They’ve done tore ‘em all up outer the ground.’
Nothing there? Yes, something. Over at one edge of the grading, not yet quite engulfed by the dirt, two little wooden gateposts still stood. They were the posts of her dooryard. Grandmaw tottered over and sank down between them. The staff fell from her hand; the garden seeds spilled to the ground. She put her arm around one of the posts and leaned hard upon it. ‘Yer free to die now, Grandmaw,’ she muttered. ‘There ain’t nothin’ to hold yer now — they’ve done killed yer roots.’
So Bud and Emmy found her, when they came following after in the new car.
A little group of country people returning from meeting had gathered. They stood and looked dumbly at this old neighbor, bowed between the posts of what had been her home, the steamshovel straddling over her. They were silent. What was there to say? The old order gives place to the new, and if human beings are crushed by it, what is there to say?
A child picked up the packages of seeds and tried to thrust them back into Grandmaw’s hand, but her fingers would not lay hold upon them.
‘No, no,’ she muttered, ‘I’m done now. I’ll never grow nothin’ no more.’
A neighbor laid a hand upon her arm, as brown and weatherworn as Grandmaw’s own. ‘The Lord have mercy on ye,’ she said.
Grandmaw had struggled to her feet. She looked at the other out of dimmed eyes. ‘ He ‘ll have no more mercy on me than He has on the ground,’ she said. ‘An’ many’s the time I’ve seed that crack open with the frost in winter, er burnt dry in summer.’
‘Yes, but fer all that did yer ever see the spring come that the sap did n’t rise with it?’ the other old woman returned.
‘That’s so — that’s so,’ Grandmaw mumbled. ‘Mebbe my sap’ll rise ergin, but it’ll not be here, no more. There ain’t nothin’ here to hold me now. They’ve done tore me outer the ground, and killed my roots. My ole man’s awaitin’, an’ I’m free to go to him now — nothin’ no more to hold me back — no roots, nothin’ — ‘
The words trailed away into silence, as unheedingly she let Emmy draw her down the track.
‘Come on, Grandmaw,’ Emmy said. ‘ Let’s go on home. Here’s Bud awaitin’ with the car.’
But at the sight of the new car, the price of all the desolation around her, winking there triumphant in the sun, life and rage leaped in the old woman. She stood up straight and furious, an old figure out of the past, stark against the background of a new age.
‘Home!’ she screamed out harshly. ‘There ain’t no sech a thing no more! There ain’t no homes lef! There ain’t nothin but them things, foolin’ people an’ destroyin’ the whole world! They’ve destroyed me, but they’ll never own me! You let ‘em own yer, an’ in the end they’ll ruin ye, an’ own the world theyselves! There’s not er one of yer to stand up erginst ‘em, fer yer all too rotten lazy to turn yer hand over in a lick er real work! They’ll own the world,’ she panted, ‘but they’ll never own me! An’ I’ll never set foot ergin in that there car that’s done took my home! ‘
She began to struggle violently, fighting away the hands that would draw her to the motor. ' I won’t set foot in it, I tell ye!’ she screamed. ‘It’s took my home, it’s killed my root — it’s killed me! But it’ll never own me! I’m free to go now, I’m free! An’ my ole man’s awaitin’. I’ll not be cooped up no more.’ She fought the hands aside. ‘Lemme go, I tell ye! femme die out here in the open!'
She wrenched herself away from them, and began to run, anywhere — out into the fields, into the woods, anywhere that was wide and free, anywhere away from those dead machines that had held her prisoner so long, and in the end had tricked and destroyed her. But her dim eyes failed her, she stumbled over a railroad tie, and sprawling, her arms fiung out, plunged down over another. She fell straight out, all the whole length of her, like a falling tree, and as she fell her head crashed against one of the uprights of the steamshovel. Her great body struggled up once, and then rolled over dead, her face turned up to the open sky.
Her enemies had killed her. But they could only kill her — they could not own her, bend her, or break her; and in the end she had gone, free and defiant, away to where the old man was waiting.