GEORGE STALLION sat at the head of the breakfast table and glanced along the bowed heads of his progeny. The early sunlight coming past his shoulders made a haze in the fringe of his patriarchal beard and cast his broad shadow over the dishes. His hooked nose and black eyebrows and fierce black eyes proclaimed him undisputed master of his family. He sat erect, broad-shouldered as his sons and grandsons, pink-cheeked as his granddaughters. He scarcely seemed old, until you noticed the taut skin on his forehead: it was ivory-colored, like his beard.

He drained his cup slowly, letting the coffee lie for a moment about his teeth to get the full benefit of the sugar. Then he leaned back to watch his family finishing the meal. His oldest daughter, a woman of sixty-odd now, held the foot of the board, under a crocheted work cap of blue chenille. He drew in his breath and waited while she filled her husband’s cup. Just as the coffee reached the lip, he cleared his throat, a rumbling that started in his chest and brought up the heads of the family with it.

‘Where’s Belle?’ he demanded.

His voice held a deep harshness and had a trick of hovering just beyond his lips, as though it were waiting to strike one.

Judy’s fat hands jumped and the coffee slopped into the saucer; and the old man grinned under his beard.

‘My gracious, Pa!’ she said. ‘You make a person start!’

He covered his amusement with a scowl.

‘Where is she?’ he shouted. ‘Laying abed, the lazy slut. By Jeepers, she ought to be hided! I’ll do it one of these days.’

‘No, she ain’t, Pa,’ said Judy. ‘She’s minding Pearl. Poor Pearl,’ she went on, lowering her glance properly, ‘she takes it harder than most.’

‘What do you know about it?’ the old man growled.

Judy was childless. Consequently she liked to have opinions on bearing children.

‘Well, she’s young, you know, Pa. Men don’t rightly understand such things,’ she said to her sister, who discreetly avoided answering.

The old man took hold of the end of his beard and peered at her from under thinly lashed lids.

‘Don’t, eh? Well, gal, when you was born, there was n’t no doctor could get through the snow here, so me and Mrs. Dustin brung you into open air. You was just about as fat as you be now, Judy, and a dang sight redder, and you jumped and squawked like you did now, when I slapped your bottom.’

Judy flushed and became silent.

‘Cripus!’ the old man grumbled. ‘Your ma did n’t go to bed just to have a baby. She got up next morning, and the morning after she was milking again — seven cows, good milkers at that. Pearl’s a lazy.’

Pearl’s young husband glared at him angrily, then scraped back his chair and got up to leave the room.

‘John!’ roared the old man. ‘Say “Excuse me.” Just because I got to tell Judy a thing or two, you don’t need to get uppity.’

The young man stopped surlily.

‘I ain’t going to listen to your talk.’

‘All right. All right. You don’t have to. If you don’t like it, you can get out and take Pearl. But you ain’t going to do that. You have n’t got the grit. So you wait till I give you morning’s orders. You hitch up the grays and haul manure on to the south meadow. That’s good work for you now. It’ll keep your feet warm.’

John took his hat from a nail and slapped it on to his head. He slammed the door. The old man chuckled.

‘Notional squirt. You’d think the both of them was having children.’

He turned to Judy’s husband.

‘How’re you coming with the potatoes, Arnold?’

Arnold rinsed the coffee round and round in his cup and drained off the last drop.

‘Pretty good, Pa. I won’t promise, but we ought to have them in this afternoon.’

‘All right,’ said the old man. ‘You and Joe’d better keep after them. This weather ain’t going to hold a lot longer. We’ll have killing frost next week, I believe.’

‘I reckon,’ said Arnold, his Adam’s apple fluttering in his thin neck after the hot drink.

The old man turned to his oldest grandsons. ‘You and Ben better get into the east lot and commence cutting pole wood. Them maples needs clearing thin, and they’ll do for stove wood. Jim’s choring in the barn. I’ll want the boys on the buckboard, Jim, about ten o’clock.’

’All right, Gramp.’

The men trooped out and the women got up to go about their work. The old man watched them go: twelve of them; all his blood, or married to it. He believed in keeping them under his roof. They got a good home, he got cheap labor. It worked both ways. It was lucky he had them broken in, though, or they’d be fighting among themselves all day. He had them buffaloed ail right.

He swung his chair round and put his feet on another and leaned back. Judy was taking off the dishes. She did it quietly. The old man liked an after-breakfast snooze now that he was getting older. He liked to feel the warmth creeping into the sunlight on his back. Pretty soon he began to nod.

‘Why, Grampa! Ain’t you shamed? Sleepin’ to-day.’

He lifted his handsome old head and glanced over his shoulder. The hard eyes gleamed and his beard moved over his mouth.

‘Morning, Belle.’

‘Many happy returns of the day,’ she said. Her voice was fresh and fullthroated, much like her grandmother’s. She came up to him and kissed him, and he put his arm round her waist and drew her to his lap and petted her. He liked to feel her waist snug in his arm and yielding to it. The other women of the family he kissed as a matter of course; he enjoyed kissing his youngest granddaughter.

She poked his head back with the heel of her hand and smiled at him. Her face was extraordinarily like his — a little finer-featured, but with the same thick brows and black eyes. He always softened to her.

‘You old surl,’ she laughed. ‘You been teasing Judy.’

‘Won’t hurt her, Belle. She’s in too good flesh for being healthy.’

‘You talk like an old woman, Grampa. You’re getting doddery.’

He slapped her a good whack.

’I’ll leather you, Belle, if you don’t look out. There ain’t any doubt I could do it.’

He peered at her sideways, his tongue in his cheek.

‘When I get to doddering, Belle, I’ll go down to the barn and hang me. '

’Doddery old man,’ she repeated. ‘What’re you going to do to-day? Sit in the shade and sleep, probably.’

‘Maybe I will, at that. I’m turned ninety; and I’ve seen a lot and done a lot. More’n you’ll ever get in your head, Belle.’

‘I would n’t doubt it.’

’Don’t sass,’ he growled, pinching her. ‘Look at what I’ve done. You’re just a sort of incidental piece on the side. Your grandma and me come here having nothing. It was hard living, but we made a good farm. I’ve made money. I boated it. I made money on pork. I’m still making money, Belle. I could buy out half the people round here. Most of the new people hold their land just as long as I want ’em to. I’ll bet I could buy out some of the Adamses across the river, even if they are city people. The old folks round here died out or had to move. Only George Stallion hung on and made things pay. He can’t be beat.’

She patted his head and he lowered it toward her.

‘Getting bald, Grampa.’

He snorted.

‘You little chippy, you, you don’t care a hoot. I reckon I’ll go to town. I want to see Francis at the bank. Then I’ll ride out to Whister’s and see about closing the mortgage. I could use his beech lot this fall, and his north pasture’ll come in handy for us next summer.’

’Don’t be too hard on him, Grampa. He’s a man likely to get mad.’

His eyes lighted.

‘He cant bother me, Belle. I’ve handled worse’ll him. I’d like to see him act up once. If I can handle the Stallion family, I ought n’t to have no bother with a twerk like him.’

‘Well, I don’t care what you do to him. But don’t get tired. There’s the party to-night, you know.’

He grunted.

’Look here, gal. I’m ninety, but that ain’t nothing. There’s no dry rot into me.’

‘No,’ she said. ’You never gave yourself the chance to get dry inside.’

His head butted her shoulder,

‘That’s right. . . . Who’s coming to this party?’

‘Why, there’s the Melvins and Kittleses and Crystals, and George and Nancy Lane, and the minister; he’s bringing along Mrs. Bridgeman and her sister from Utica, Mrs. Kurty. She belongs to the Sisters of Grace.’

‘She better not try any fancy religion on me,’ he growled.

Belle kept hold of her fourth finger and looked down at him from the corners of her black eyes.

‘There’s all the neighbors, of course, coming to eighteen, and the Garvins, and the Salters, and Erwin Saunders.’

The old man glanced at her quickly. He had felt a tremor in her, barely noticeable; but Belle had wedged in the name neatly, and she went on to the end of her list. He said nothing. But he kept mouthing the name to himself. A rising young man in the town, Erwin Saunders was.

‘Well,’ he said when she had finished, ‘it’s quite a collection, though we could get along without the minister, and the weeds he’ll bring. By grab, Belle, a man can’t get no pleasure dancing with a woman that’s thinking about God and altar cloths.’

She caught his head against her breast, forcing his beard up against his nose until he sneezed. He shoved her away.

‘Get out. Get your breakfast and do some work, I’ve got to get in town. Where’s Jim? Where’s the bays? By Jeepers, I’ll give him a belting. It’s way after ten.’

‘Two minutes,’ said Belle.

‘Where’s my coat? Judy!’

His daughter came into the room, hung the coat over the nearest chair, went out without a word.

‘Stewing in her own grease,’ grunted the old man. ‘She’d better watch out. Some day she’ll get drowned that way.’

Belle helped him on with his coat and brought him his hat. Through the door they could hear the bays stamping in the barnyard and tossing the bits on their tongues.

The old man caught his granddaughter in one arm, where he could look straight into her eyes.

‘Belle, do you like this Erwin Saunders twerk?’


‘A lot?’


‘A great lot?’


She looked back at him frankly.

‘We’re going to get married this winter.’

She kissed him suddenly, pushing her lips through his beard. He held her a second; then stepped away and gazed down at her, smoothing his moustache, rumbling to himself.

She grinned at him with a square mouth, like a man.

‘What’re you going to do about it, Grampa?’

He went on stroking out the hairs with meticulous care.

‘I thought you’d pick a man, Belle. I never figured you’d cotton to a — a sody clerk.’

He yanked his hat over his eyes and stamped out to the waiting team. Belle walked to the door and watched him out of sight.


The team was trotting smartly, making play against the reins. The old man was sitting forward over his crossed knees, his eyes abstractedly fixed on the horses’ cars. He was brooding about Belle.

He’d seen Erwin Saunders round the farm a good deal lately, but he’d never thought he would get Belle. The boy was right enough, as far as he knew, and he was making more or less money; he’d inherit his father’s store. But for Belle to fall in love with him was hard. He was n’t of the tough old stock that Belle was. More than any of his children or grandchildren, she took after the old man. Well, she might make something of the Saunders family. Stallion knew better than to fight it out with her. He’d let it slide along. He’d take it out on Whister. He did n’t like the man, or his wife either — strait-laced Baptist, with her tight hair and pinched-in stomach. He’d given the man time once before to pay the interest; but he would n’t now. He wanted that north pasture anyway.

People would say he acted mean. Let them talk. He as good as owned a lot of them. If they talked, they’d do it quiet.

He shook out the reins a bit, and the team lengthened out. It was hot, with the still, scented heat of the Indian summer, with a faint haze on the Black River bottom. He crossed the canal and entered the shadowed cool of the woods. It felt good. Down there on the right was the Garvin place. Nice folks, the Garvins were. Mrs. Garvin was a pretty girl when they settled there; she was a pretty woman now. There was the oldest boy coming down to get the mail. Well-set-up youngster, more of a Stallion than some of his own. . . . The old man grinned and waved, and the boy waved back with the same grin.

Some might have noticed; but that was the last one, anyhow, and nobody said anything. It had n’t made any difference. Garvin knew better than to raise a fuss.

The team hold a steady pace. It was a little past eleven when he left the order for the groceries and crossed the street to the bank. There he found Mr. Francis in his office and he went in and sat down.

‘Morning, Joe.’

‘Morning, George.’

They grinned at each other. The bank president was old, but smoothshaven, plump, and dressed in a suitable dark suit, with a bunch of fobs dangling from his watch chain.

‘Many happy returns, George. Glad to see you so healthy. You and me are getting along, George, getting along.’

Stallion puffed his cheeks angrily.

‘You’re ten years younger than I be, Joe. Getting along! Why, when I look round and see all the young twittertwits hanging round this town Saturday nights, my innards twist on me. They think they’ve seen things and talk a lot; but they don’t know nothing.’ ‘Well . . . '

‘Well, hell! By dang, I could pick any one of them up and hold him over my head and set him down in a corner if I went to wrastle with him.’

‘I guess you could, George. But they’re all right. They make money. They’re a pretty steady lot.’

‘So’re stones. What of their making money? You and me went and took ours, Joe.’

‘Now I would n’t say that, George,’ said the bank president, lowering his voice and rubbing his knees. ‘I would n’t say just that.’

‘ You don’t like to let the other fellow know he’s beat,’ Stallion said. ‘That’s part of your business. When I hit a man, I let him know it.’

He stretched and grinned, his white beard jumping up from his waistcoat. The bank president winked.

‘I bet you, George.’

‘Sure, Joe, you ought to know it.’

‘Well, you don’t.’

Stallion chuckled.

‘Better not let me catch on, Joe.’

‘I won’t,’ promised the bank president.

‘What I come in here for, Joe, was to make sure the interest was overdue on the Whister mortgage. Where’s the papers?’

‘I don’t need to look. Whister did n’t pay up last May.’

Stallion grunted.

‘Aiming to close it?’


‘That man’s got a bad temper, George. You better let us handle it. We’ll smooth it out.’

‘I bet you would. But I don’t want it smoothed. I don’t like him. He’s been bothering me right along about fences. Never keeps ’em up. I killed one of his cows last July that got into the barley and sold her to the butcher. He tried to collect. Claimed my fences was down.’

‘He might bust out. He’s got a bit of mad in him, George.’

‘I know it — that’s part of it. It’s my birthday. I’m going to have fun watching him. I can look out for him.’

He gnarled his lump of a fist and looked it over.

‘Coming to my party, Joe?’


‘Just a bit of a shindy.’

‘What time?’

‘Oh, about seven.’

He got up and went over to the door and laid his hand on the knob.

‘Say, Joe, does Erwin Saunders deposit here?’

‘Yes, he does.’

‘How much is he worth?’

‘ Well, it ain’t exactly right for me — '

‘Cripus, Joe, I know that and all the rest of it. Belle wants to marry him.’

The banker looked up.

‘Well, I’ll be — '

‘Eanh, so’ll I.’

‘I can’t give you exact figures, but I’d say it was round eight thousand. Quite a lot for a young man like him. His uncle left him some, you know.’

Old George blew up against his moustache.

‘Well, that’d have been the only thing I might have raised a fuss on. It’s too bad.’

‘I would n’t have guessed it,’ said the banker.

‘See you to-night, then, Joe.’



He picked up his groceries and went down to the shed where he had left the team. On the street he met two members of the Ladies’ Aid Society, walking with a friend. They were looking for contributions for their Christmas fund and incidentally getting signatures to a resolution against liquor and noxious drugs, drawn up by the society after a speech on the same subject. George gave them a dollar, because he knew that there was no way out of it; and for them to get less out of him than they hoped for would be more bitter in their mouths than to get nothing at all. But when they handed him the resolution against liquor and tobacco, he took a chew out of his pocket and got it rolling from side to side before he answered.

‘Now why do you ladies want me to sign that-there?’ he asked.

The two Ladies’ Aiders exchanged a glance and introduced their companion, a formality which their eagerness for his contribution had led them unconsciously to avoid. She was a small woman, wrinkled about the under side of her chin, with pinched nostrils and a pinched hat, but with the holy light of battle in her eyes.

‘Mrs. Kurty, know Mr. Stallion,’ they said, and stepped aside in tacit acknowledgment of her superior gifts. Mrs. Kurty had written the resolution and delivered the address. She was that most unfortunate of human combinations, a church worker and a widow.

At the first glimpse of her, George Stallion felt the old devil climbing up in him, and his eyes became sombre.

Mrs. Kurty bustled right up to the point.

‘Everybody knows you, Mr. Stallion. You’re a leading townsman.’

‘Never lived in a town in my life,’ said George.

‘That don’t matter,’ she said. ‘The community looks up to you.’

‘Never asked ’em to, mam. Mostly they call me a dirty skunk, when me or my boys ain’t round.’

‘Your signature would mean a lot.’

‘ I never could write very good, mam. Generally I blot the S.'

Mrs. Kurty screwed a smile into one corner of her mouth, but she set her chin at the same time and shifted her attack.

‘We need your name, Mr. Stallion,’ she began.

He simulated surprise.

‘Why, I thought these ladies was married proper.'

The Ladies’ Aiders threw up their chins and turned their backs. A dull red made small spots high up in each of Mrs. Kurty’s cheeks.

‘You’re a credit to the town, ain’t you?’ Her voice was sharp. ‘You’re an evil man to say such a thing to three unprotected women.’

His mouth laughed silently under his beard, but his eyes remained speculative and sad. Mrs. Kurty pressed her elbows in tight against her sides.

‘It’s men like you spoil the nation,’ she cried shrilly. ‘You set a bad example; you drink, you smoke and chew, and practise all kinds of filthy vice.’

‘Eanh,’ he said. ’I tried gumming snuff for a year or two when I was a lad.’

‘And look at you now. A shameless reprobate! A sight for all people. Walking the town in a man’s shape.'

‘That’s right,’ he agreed. ‘Now, mam, seeing you’re the opposite — ’

‘I thank God for it,’ she broke in.

‘Why don’t you go look in a mirror?’

She stamped her foot.

‘It is n’t the face and figure God will look at— it’s the soul inside.’

‘Well, that never gave me no trouble.’

‘No, you old rascal! I’ll bet it did n’t. I can see it in your eye. Why, in all your ninety years you talk about, did you ever find the Saviour?’

‘Did n’t know he was lost, mam.’

He spat affably at a late grasshopper perched on the sidewalk, and walked off.

He felt pretty well when he got the team out of the shed and started back. The bays looked nice trotting out of town; and he nodded to people as he met them. He had n’t felt so well in a long time. He had n’t been so quick at answering. It had done him good to button up that Kurty woman. That meant something; she had studied her oats even if she had n’t eaten them. It was n’t the same as trompling on fat Judy. Well, he’d go over and up the other side of the river and drop in on Whister and tell him the mortgage was closed. He’d timed things about right. He ought to get there as Whister was coming in to dinner. He’d be feeling savage.

He touched up the horses, keeping them just under a gallop, and the fellies muttered in the sand and glanced merrily. The old man’s nostrils widened to the stinging smell of sweat. Well, it would n’t hurt them going home.

The Whister farm was a nice place, small, set back in a shallow arm of the river valley, with a brook running through the far end of the barnyard. It looked neat — the white house under the pine, the gray barns, the woodshed partly stocked and smelling of bark; but it all looked bare, too. The late zinnias and asters had a lean appearance and were too widely spaced. Still, with a human woman in the house, it would pick up fast. He had thought of it with Belle living there — before she had decided on that sody clerk.

He swung the horses neatly through the gate, drove them to the brook to let them wet their muzzles, turned them, and glanced about from under his thick brows. A few chickens were scratching round the barn doors, and a cat was taking a noon nap curled up on the gatepost.

‘Whister!’ roared the old man. ‘Hey, Whister!’

After a minute, the door on the kitchen stoop opened, and a short heavy-set man stepped out, with his shirt sleeves still rolled up, his wrists red from hot water, and a comb in his hand.

‘Hullo,’ he said. His eyes wandered over the barnyard and fastened themselves on some invisible object just above the sky line. ‘What do you want?’ he asked in a heavy voice.

Stallion chewed on his whiskers.

‘Did n’t you hear me coming in?'


‘Why did n’t you come out, then?’ he roared.

‘Did n’t see as there was any call to do that.’

The vague shape of a woman appeared inside the door. Whister handed her the comb and came out to the wagon. He walked stiffly. When he reached the shoulder of the nigh horse, he turned his gray eyes impersonally on the old man’s face.

‘What do you want?’

Stallion grunted and glanced round the place.

‘It’s a good farm, ain’t it?’

‘If that’s what you wanted to say, I’d better get in to lunch.’

He turned partly round.


The team jerked their heads. The man stopped.

‘How about that interest?’

Stallion spoke loudly, and out of the corner of his eye he saw the woman come through the door.

‘When do you want it?’

‘It’s overdue.’


‘Five months.’

‘I’ll pay you next month.'

‘No, you won’t.’

The woman drew in her breath sharply and stepped down beside her husband. She was a well-built woman, thin but strong. There was a quiet heat in her eyes.

‘Why can’t he?’

‘I’m going to foreclose.’

He let himself back on the seat and waited for an explosion, his black eyes jumping from one to the other.

‘You would n’t do that,’ said the woman. ‘We’ll pay next month.’

‘I want the money to-day.’

‘We can borrow,’ said the woman. ‘Henry could bring it round to-morrow, maybe.’

Stallion’s hard old eyes looked her over without expression.

‘I said to-day.’

‘I don’t see how Henry could get it.’

‘That ain’t my bother.’

He had n’t expected them to take it this way. He thought they’d break out at him.

‘Henry could get it round by nine in the morning, maybe.’

‘Twelve to-night, and that’s all.’

The husband’s dull gray eyes followed the peregrinations of an ant along the rail fence. It climbed the post and waved its horns at the cat, and the tip of the cat’s tail twitched twice.

‘Listen — ’ said the woman.

Suddenly he turned on her.

‘Shut up, Anne.’

His forearms hardened across his chest; and the devil danced in the old man’s eyes.

‘I ain’t never liked you, Stallion. I don’t want to talk with you. Get the hell out of here.’

Stallion got to his feet, then climbed easily down over the wheel.

‘ Ordering me off my own place, hey ? ’

‘It ain’t yourn yet. Get out.’

‘Going to put me off?’

He walked up to Whister and stared down at him. His full size became apparent then; his heavy chest muscled low from lifting, his great curved shoulders, and his mallet hands just swinging by his thighs.

Whister dropped his hands from his chest, but the woman caught his arm.

‘Don’t hit him, Henry.’ She snatched a hank of hair from her thin intense face. ‘Don’t hit him, Henry. He’s an old man.’

Stallion laughed hoarsely.

‘Come inside the house, Henry. He’s an old man. You’d kill him if you hit him.’

Her husband’s eyes wavered to hers.

‘Get out of here,’ she said. ‘Henry won’t whip you. Don’t bother us.’

Stallion threw back his head and laughed.

‘Crawl back of your woman, Whister! You hairless dry-gut.’

‘ Get inside, Henry,’ the woman said.

‘You get out of here, Stallion. I’ll give you three minutes to get off. Then I ’II put you off; by God, I will.’

He trudged into the house behind his wife and shut the door. For a minute Stallion could hear their voices talking rapidly. He pulled his heavy silver watch from his pocket and stood where he was, shifting his glance occasionally to the door. He waited five minutes, climbed deliberately into the wagon, and walked the team out of the barnyard.

He drove home slowly. Now and then he would slap the reins on the rumps of the horses and chuckle. He’d scared the man’s insides out. There were n’t any two ways about it. He’d stayed two minutes longer than he’d been allowed. Old? That was just to let Whister crawl out. Old? Why, he did n’t show’ more than fifty of his years — he did n’t feel that many. No, by Cripus! He’d have knocked the man as stiff as a peavy, and both of them knew it. Old? What did she mean anyhow? But the man had crawled, belly-washed himself. The old man laughed till the team laid back their ears, and then he spanked them with the reins till they cantered.

Belle met him at the door.

‘How’d you get along, Grampa?’

He kissed her and grinned.



After lunch the women cleared the dining room and parlor, and the men helped them set up a table of planks and sawhorses to run round two sides of the dining room, and rigged a fourby-six platform beside the front door for the fiddler to sit on.

The old man poked round and gave multitudinous orders about the cider, rum, and whiskey. Then he went upstairs and had Belle brush out his black coat and trousers while he greased his black Sunday boots. Finally, when he could think of nothing else to do, he picked up the weekly paper and sat down on the front porch.

It was a soft afternoon, with the haze heavy over the valley; the woods to the north gray and almost leafless, the balsams blue-black in the swamps; and the smell of rotting grass and leaves sweet and lazing. Down in the maple lot, the axes of his two grandsons chopped with dull, hollow-sounding strokes in the heavy air. He could see the gray team hauling manure in the south meadow, the iron wheels sinking in and pulling up clods once in a while as the team started the wagon; then the horses dozy while John tossed out the forkfuls right and left, and then drawing ahead another wagon length.

Off to the right a section of the canal showed between the trees. Every now and then a boat went by with its cargo of sand, the mules having an easy time pulling with the current, the driver cracking his snake whip out of principle. Next week Barton would bring his boat up to get the potatoes.

The old man put his feet on the rail and dozed. He had n’t felt so spry in a long time, but he might as well take it easy. What if Whister’s woman had called him old? There was n’t much meaning in years — a hook a lazy man used to hang his harness on. If it was n’t for his birthday, he’d be doing his lick of work along with the boys. Joe Francis at the bank was ten years younger than he was, but he looked older. George could remember when Joe was the only man he knew who could give him a real tussle at a wrestle. Now he could put him down with one hand. Years did n’t mean anything. Damn Whister’s woman. . . .

While he sat there, with the hot dim afternoon sun picking out the clean lights and shadows in his face and silvering his beard, Belle came out on the porch, an uneasy pucker between her brows. The old man glanced upsleepily.

‘Pearl’s worse,’ she told him.

He grunted.

‘Doctor Briggs is coming to the party, ain’t he?'

‘Eanh, Grampa.'

‘Don’t you worry, Belle. He can look her over then. She ain’t due for three days anyhow.’

‘I don’t guess there’s any point sending for him right away,’ she half agreed. Now that the old man had shown himself unworried, she felt, easier herself. ‘But I think the baby’ll come early.’

He grunted again.

‘You women all get the wrong notion. There ain’t nothing queer in dropping a child. It’s seeing yourself growing into him afterward that’s queer.’

She leaned against an upright and stared toward the canal.

‘I wonder will it be a boy,’ she said.

‘Pearl’s likely to have one. These soft, easy-crying gals is apt to have boys.’

‘I’d want a boy,’ she said.

‘Then you’ll have girls,’ he said. ’You ’re that mean you ’d fool yourself, Belle, if you could n’t find anybody else to fool.’

He chuckled and pretended to snore.

‘There’s somebody coming down the towpath,’ she said. ‘He’s turning in here. He’s got a pack on him. I’ll bet it’s Harvey Cannywhacker.’

The old man sat up, banging his feet on the floor, and craned his neck round her.

‘It is, at that. By dang, I’d wanted a good cigar! ’

A whistled rendering of ‘The Irish Washerwoman,’ high and unmusical, approached slowly, and then a small black hat drawn low over a pair of small sharp eyes appeared round the corner of the house, and a man came up the steps under a large brown pack.

‘Hullo, George. Hullo, Belle.’

He dumped the pack and wiped his forehead with a red cotton handkerchief.

‘’Lo, Harvey,’ said the old man. ‘Set down.’

Belle smiled and went into the house. ‘Got a good cigar?’

‘Got some rolled in my pocket, George. Have one?’


The little man sat down, and they lit up and blew clouds under the roof of the porch.

‘Hot,’ said the old man.

‘Kind of sweaty.’

‘Been up the canal?’

‘Forestport. Coming down now. Did n’t sell so good this time.’

’You can roll me eight dozen,’said the old man. ‘I’m having a party tonight.’

‘ Eanh ? ’

‘You’d better stay. We’ll put you up.’

‘All right. I guess I’ll commence rolling. It’s a good haul for me to make. Cigar peddling’s dropping off. Too many stores coming into the country.’ The peddler pulled up a small table, opened his bag, and began rolling. His hands worked rapidly back and forth, sifting on the filling, whipping up the leaves, and rolling the wrapping on tight with the balls of the thumbs.

‘Eanh,’ said the old man. ‘Eanh. I’m having a party to-night.’

‘What’s the celebration?’

‘ Birthday. Ninety. Ninety just.’ ‘Well, I’d never have guessed it. Why, it don’t seem ten years when I used to see you raising ructions all over the canal.’

The old man grinned under his beard.

‘ I used to raise a lot of hell. Still do, Harvey. ’

‘Go!,’ said the peddler. ‘I believe it.

. . . Ninety years,’ he went on, ‘is a long time. It’s a long time, George. You’re lucky not to feel it.’

The old man stretched.

‘Years don’t mean anything,’ he said, irritably. ‘My pa was eighty when he got jammed in the numberfour lock out of Albany. He was drunk then. He was n’t old.’

‘Well, a man goes on until he finds he’s an old man.’


‘Then he is old, and he can’t help it.’

The old man swore.

‘A man learns it all to once,’ said Harvey. ‘ He goes along till he sees him coming back at himself, like a circle, and he knows he’s old, and he can’t help it. It’s a sad thing.’

‘Cripus,’ said George. ‘Years ain’t anything.’

They shifted the conversation. They talked about the canal and the early Black River country; the great pine forests, nearly gone; only one of them left, twenty-two feet round the butt, down on the Hebner place. And they spoke of how the wolves used to come down in winter on the gray snow at night. How they found Arnon Marcy one morning up in a tree, frozen solid, his arms locked round the limb over his head, his legs scissored on the limb he sat on, and the circling tracks underneath. How he fought Dwight Wilkins above the Lansing Kill gorge for an hour and a half and whipped him. How they saw a triple rainbow once on the Hudson. How the horse cholera ravaged the canal, and how George broke oxen during that winter so that his spring ploughing would n’t have to wait. Full lives, full lives. . . .

‘ Pa said I was the first boy born on the Erie Canal.’ George said. ‘Sometimes I wished I’d stayed on to it.’

After a while he fell asleep, a great bulk of a man in the rocking-chair, with only the white hairs about his mouth stirring. And the little peddler’s hands went on rolling cigars and making stacks of them in the afternoon shadow.


By eight o’clock the parlor was full of neighbors and friends and people who were scared to say no. But everyone had a good time who went to a party at George Stallion’s. There was good food and good drink, and anybody danced that liked to, and nobody danced that did n’t. Even the family themselves had a good time. For then they realized that the old tyrant was something of a celebrity, who was liked or admired or hated; and they shared a little of his power. His sons and grandsons told proud stories of his agility and strength, and the women said laughingly that he was an old bear of a man, and managed to look as if he were just the opposite. Even Judy, who saw and heard open-mouthed admiration of her cookery all round her, softened and volunteered that he was the heartiest eater in the family. When there were other people to show his points to, they were all proud of him; and they had a right to be.

He stood in the wide door between the dining room and parlor. On one side, a vista of the table running round two walls of the room, with candles on it, red, waxy-looking ones that sputtered continually, a pie every yard to the inch, and cup cakes, coffee cakes, and fried cakes, fruit, glasses, knives, forks, plates, syrup, candies — a glittering sight. On the other side of him, the cider keg, cradled conveniently in a sawhorse, the bung driven and the spigot set. Round the walls, decorations of evergreen and viburnum berries and here and there a little early bittersweet. His sons and daughters on his left, beyond them the grandchildren, man and wife, except for unmarried Jim at the end of the line, and Belle on the old man’s right. The guests came in to him and Belle, offering congratulations, and then moved down the family, laughing, talking, exchanging gossip, receipts, prescriptions, jokes.

Old George, standing in the wide door, dominated them all. His roaring voice boomed out over their heads. He stood straight, without bending toward his guests. His black coat and trousers, his flaming red waistcoat, made a shock of color which hung in every man’s eyes as long as he remained in the room. His massive head towered above them, red-cheeked, white-bearded, the black eyes gleaming under the heavy black brows.

‘Regular old rip-hell,’ Garvin said to his wife. ‘He don’t miss a thing.’

Mrs. Garvin nodded reminiscently.

At the other side of the room John was helping Martin, the fiddler, on to the platform. An old man, too, with a smooth high forehead and white hair hanging on his ears, and a yellow skin so clear it looked like gold. He had St. Vitus’s dance in his legs, but the melody of all the world in his fingers. And he sat down, wrapping his legs round the legs of the chair to hold them still, and he fiddled with the strings. Then he looked across at old George and a smile passed between them. Martin had fiddled for the wedding of every member of the family, for every birthday party here, thirty-seven of them. He swallowed in his lean throat and whistled, a high call, like the call of killdeer on the river beaches. ‘Turkey in the Straw.’ Old Stallion led out Belle and they headed the dance. He crossed partners with Mrs. Garvin, she with Erwin Saunders. In between, as they clapped the time, he felt the blood in his heavy palms, felt it run up his arms and bring his head to life. His feet lifted of their own accord, and he stamped. Old? Old? Jeepers! When he looked at Mrs. Garvin, she blushed. Old!

At the end of the dance, some of the older couples sat down to talk or went into the downstairs bedroom to play cribbage. But Stallion footed two more. Then he climbed up beside Martin and called for a quadrille. Martin had ripped open his shirt collar, but his fingers were hungry for the strings.

The tune, quick, sweet, shrill. Old George Stallion’s booming voice in the first change.

‘First four right. . . .’

Belle was not dancing. Probably upstairs with Pearl.

‘And left. . . .’

By grab, the doctor was n’t there either. Probably upstairs, too. Pearl raising a fuss. She was n’t a Stallion. John looked sort of peaked. The young rascal was worried. Served him right for marrying such a pale-tempered girl just because she had yellow hair.

‘Ladies change. . . .’

Martin’s legs twitching, toes clawing for the rungs. Same thing as the stringhalt. Regular old war horse, though.

‘And promenade. . . .’

He liked to see the faces going by. Getting their color now. They’d be hungry. He’d raised a sweat himself. It was like old times. The best birthday he could remember in a long while. He had n’t felt so well ... he felt like a colt on grass. Old? Cripus! What was Cannywhacker talking about? Old all to once. A man coming back at himself. Buttery, fooling notion.

‘“L” a man left. . . .’

He clapped his hands for the second change. Here came Joe Francis with his business, bank look, still puffing from that first reel. Yes, eanh, he’d told Whister to pay that night or it was going to be closed. If Joe did n’t get the interest in the morning, he could go ahead with the papers. No fuss about it. Whister had bellywashed.

‘First four forward. . . .’

Kill him if he hit him, hey? He was sound as a nut. That did n’t bother him.

‘Cross over and sashay. . . .’

He was tough as a nut.

‘Cross back. . . .’

He could hear his voice filling the room, the fiddle’s high notes just squirting through it. There went Arnold grinning at him. Best man of any his girls had married. Good man, Arnold was. Worked hard. Not as hard as he had, though.

‘Balance four. . .

And the third change.

‘Twice over.’ And so to the fourth change. ‘Then side. . . .’

He could see Judy bringing the eatables into the dining room. She always did well with a party.

‘First couple lead up to the right and four hands around. . . .’

It was queer the doctor had n’t come down. John had left, too. Well, what of it? He felt good; he’d never felt better. By holy! He wished he was dancing instead of calling.

‘Lead up to the next, and right, and left. . . .’

They’d want to eat at the end of this.

‘Then balance all. . . .’

He clapped again and shouted for the winder.

‘Forward all. . . .’

His great voice bellowed. Harvey over there was smoking cigars he’d sold. Foxy twerk!

‘Ladies to the right. . . .’

The tune was picking up.

‘All jig. . . .’

‘Forward and back. . . .’

Now he’d send them out to eat. The folks were coming out of the card room. The minister looked as if he’d been losing again. That was n’t more’n right. He had you by the neck on Sundays.

He stamped his feet and roared at them, his face hot and red, his beard thrust out, his head thrown back, his thumbs caught in the armholes of his red waistcoat.

‘ Gents pass partners and then promenade to your seats.’

He laughed down at them. He liked them there, with the devil coming up in them, tasting at the hell in themselves. It made him feel good.

‘That means get along into the other room and eat and drink, and there’s plenty of both.’

He jumped to the floor and stood for an instant with them all round him.

And then he saw Harvey Cannywhacker move away from the stairs, and fat Judy’s face with a woman’s smile on it, and John behind looking queer and sort of uppish, and the doctor with the merits of profession sitting on him smooth, and Belle last, carrying a blanket.

‘Get out of the way, please, folks,’ said Judy, and came bustling to him, breathless. He was thirsty and hungry.

‘What’s all this?’ he demanded. ‘What’s all the fuss? We’re just going to eat. What’re you busting in for?’

He glanced over the others and saw Harvey’s sharp eyes watching him from the stairs. What was it all about?

‘Folks,’ cried Judy in her high voice, ‘I guess you all know Pa’s ninety to-day. Ninety! And he’s hearty as a four-year-old. We’ve wished him many happy returns. We’ve give him presents. But Pearl and John ’ve gone and got a surprise party for him.’

She beckoned to Belle, raised her voice.

‘They’ve got him a great-grandchild!'

A universal cooing broke from the women. The men found themselves strangely and suddenly outside the circle.

‘It’s a boy. One of the finest it’s been my privilege—’ said the doctor.

‘We’ve named him George,’ said John, proudly. ‘Me and Pearl had it all figured out.’

Belle undid a corner of the blanket and held it out to the old man. He glanced at it curiously — just a fleshy red ball; he’d seen the identical same thing lots of times. Belle pushed it into his arms. He held it, staring down at it, holding his beard in out of the way against his waistcoat. Nose wiggled like a pig’s. He’d seen the same thing lots of times. All this fuss . . .

‘We’ve named it George,’ repeated John. ‘Me and Pearl had it all figured out — George Stallion!’

‘Well, Grampa,’ said Belle, looking up at him saucily, ‘now I guess you are an old man.’

Suddenly Stallion’s jaw dropped and vacuous astonishment clouded his eyes like an old man’s. Old ... It was what Harvey had said. Coming back at himself. Yes, he could look at the whole circle. There he was himself, and there was Judy, and there was John, and here again was George Stallion. His voice whistled in his heard.

‘God! Am I that old?’

He handed the bundle back. He gazed round at the people. They laughed at. him, clawed at his hands, laughed. Little by little they edged toward the dining room.

‘A toast!’ cried the minister. ‘I’ll give you a toast.’

Judy hustled the baby away, the doctor following her. The others had gone into the dining room. And Martin had fallen asleep in the midst of the noise.

George Stallion was alone. He ran his finger over his teeth.


Old man. He walked to the front door. Kicked at it. Then he stepped outside. It was still, glassy still. And the moon was growing white before the frost. He could smell it.

He stepped down toward the barn. A man was coming in from the road. Whister. But he did n’t seem to recognize him.

‘Get out of my way.’

‘Anne sent me up, Stallion. . . .’

‘ Get out of my way.’

The man stepped in front of him again. Almost mechanically he pulled back his fist.


They drank the toast.

‘The grandson, George Stallion.’

They took it back a generation.

‘The mother, Pearl Stallion.’

The minister had a way of calling toasts. He was a master hand.

‘The father, John Stallion.’

John was proud.

‘George Stallion. The great-grandfather. George Stallion — God bless him!’

They drank it down, clapped their hands, shouted his name.

‘Where is he?’ Belle asked suddenly in a bit of quiet. ‘Where’s Grampa?’

A man’s shoes scraped hesitantly through the front door. He was whitemouthed. He had an ugly red patch which was growing blue on his jaw.

‘I seen him,’ he said. ‘He was going to the barn. He knocked me down.’

They stared at him. The cigar peddler came in. The light picked out his black eyes and straggly black hair.

‘Stallion’s dead. He’s hung himself.’

At their low sigh, the fiddler awoke with a start, and, seeing their white faces looking toward him, smiled apologetically and began to play ‘The Irish Washerwoman. ’

‘My God,’ Whister said. ‘I was going to pay him the interest. I was bringing it up. What’ll I do with it now ? ’

‘You ’d better give it to me,’ said the banker.

Belle burst out crying.