‘PA,’ said Gideon’s youngest brat plaintively, her small wide feet squirming in the scorching soil. She was the shyest of five scrawny girls in dirty gingham whose gnawing tummies Gideon could never quite satisfy.

Far off on the desert-brown horizon were seven feeble cyclones swirling their way across the hot blue Kansas sky. Twisters, Gideon called them. They were harmless gusts of wind that never more than stirred the dust in the road and then moved on across the neighbor’s arid fields. You could see them for miles lazing along the landscape, their faint yellow funnels towering sometimes a thousand feet in the air. But they weren’t dust. Dust claimed the sky. It rolled in like a glinting brown fog and left strange dunes drifted all over the land.

‘Well, I’ll be damned,’ said Gideon. ‘First time I ever did see seven twisters! What d’ya want, child?’

Gideon was always wondering sacrilegiously about the earth or new insects or the wind. Even dust was still a phenomenon to Gideon. After thirty years of farming, he still felt dust was his responsibility. Dust was an evil part of his own nature. He had long philosophical harangues with himself on the subject of the sacredness of the soil.

Gideon himself was small and ornery, with a shrewd white face that knew every danger of the land from grasshopper plagues and scurvy to the bank’s foreclosing on one’s mortgage. They were farm routines to Gideon. He was a survivor of ten generations of pastoral failures. But, my God, how he loved farming! It was the damnedest way to make a living.

‘Pa,’confided the child at last, ‘there’s a man with Ma again in the bedroom.’

Gideon slowly considered her words; then asked, ‘What for heighth?’

The child timidly did not answer. She seemed fascinated by her father’s rage.

‘I know,’ decided Gideon at last. ‘It’s that lappus again what sells kittles. But she’s fixin’ to get kilt if I find her side and side of him.’

Gideon carefully unhitched the horse and left the plough tipped in the dry earth and started toward his shack, a quarter of a mile off in the vibrant noon heat. The child came after him, jumping from furrow to hot furrow with her frightened bare feet.

Gideon’s farm was 160 acres. It had been fenced, but he had never been able to get through a winter without burning at least some of his fence posts. Long ago he had traded the barbed wire for a broken-down saddle to get three of his kids to school in. His silo had rotted at the base and sheered over into a Leaning Tower of Pisa. After a skunk went through his chicken coop he had only five hens left and no money to buy a rooster. On occasion he could get his 1923 Model T to working half-heartedly, and then he would drive over ten miles to the county seat and argue with the agricultural agent about Conservation. But the last time he had had to abandon the car in the square and return home on foot. Someone had finally bushwhacked his hayrake. Eight sails of his windmill were gone. And the farm had no gates. But something deeper gripped Gideon than the general aspects of his land — as it does all farmers. Hence the more his domain ran down, the closer did Gideon come to the meaning of life.

At the door of the shack Gideon cautioned the child to be quiet, and after meticulously shooing the flies off the screen he entered the kitchen, where his wife’s preserves were still sweetly simmering, and then went into his own bedroom.

‘They said in town all along you was the one,’ said Gideon, belting the man across the room. ‘But I was onwilling to believe ‘em.’

When the man had picked himself up Gideon belted him again, and with him down crashed the oval mirror on the back of Gideon’s dresser.

‘Now git,’ said Gideon, coiled like a hyena, and he crowded the terrified man out of the house.

‘M’ britches!’ screamed the poor devil in the chicken yard.

A little group of Gideon’s kids stood meekly looking on.

‘Y’ didn’t need no britches half an hour ago — y’ don’t need none now.’

And Gideon flung a rusty can of red geraniums at the fellow and waited until he was a white speck far down the dusty road.

Between the porch and the bedroom again Gideon’s soul writhed in agony. He felt sick to his stomach with shame. It seemed he wanted to die. He was weak all over with ignominy.

‘You too!’ said Gideon, surprised the forces within him had come to their own cruel decision. ‘You never was nearder death,’ he said at last. ‘Now git!’

And, without complaining, Gideon’s wife followed her lover down the dusty road. Behind, her little group of children remained speechless and horrified.

‘Now make some potatoes,’ said Gideon, jarring them all to life. He couldn’t quite understand the situation himself except by doing something about the place. ‘Keep movin’' was his only motto in this world.

But all during the meal Gideon felt he wanted to go into the bedroom and cry; instead he remarked that the ‘flavior’ of the stewed apricots was none too good and he whacked Minnie for taking too much molasses. ‘Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.’ But it would be hell around the place without a woman, and he dumbly wondered if he could have maintained his ‘peerogative’ and still not kicked her out. ‘She’ll end up a chippy for fair. I’m through with her like I would be rench water,’ he swore aloud. But the children remained respectfully silent.


Toward three o’clock a great red dust cloud rolled slowly in from the southwest— a vast, eternal, fulminating curtain. It became dark as twilight about the barn, and Gideon and the children, with rags over their faces and lard in their nostrils, ran everywhere doing the last-minute chores before it was too late.

It was the confusion the wind always brought that Gideon hated. It made him forget where he was going. Often he would stand five minutes opening a door. It sucked the pride right out of him. And finally they would all give up and go into the house, where there were already ripples on the kitchen floor. And the girls would spray a sheet before the door with coal oil and paste up the windows with wrapping paper, and Gideon would remark, ‘If my handwriting was any good, I’d sure post a letter to the Chamber of Commerce this time.’

By ten o’clock the girls wore all asleep. ‘She didn’t need to do that to me and the kids,’ he said solemnly as he blew the lamp out. And then he realized he had been giving his wife the benefit of the argument all through his anger, and he tumbled into his dusty bed vindicated yet forlorn.

But early the next, morning the sun was shining in all its glory, as Gideon knew it would be. A promising piece of Gideon’s rye had been destroyed by driftings. There were dusty hummocks all over the quiet lunar landscape. High overhead a thousand chattering blackbirds fled eastward. The sand had scoured all Gideon’s windows opaque and white.

As he finished harnessing his horse Gideon heard his oldest daughter exclaim: ‘Pa, our mulberry bush is gone.’

‘It sure, looks like go-back land this morning,’ said Gideon, driving off to the potato patch he still had confidence in. ‘If it rains just a little weeny-meany bit, I’ll sow my winter wheat as usual, but the corn will take fire again if this heat keeps up. I don’t know what it is that keeps me on this farm.’ Some foolhardy force, he knew, disguised as his pride in the land.

But things got no better, and Gideon went everywhere talking with himself about the Times. Deep within him he felt a sense of guilt about the storms. Some ancient conscience — some belief that nature in her vilest modes was righteous — kept him respectful in his thoughts. His complaint seemed to bind him ever closer to his land.

Soon the underground water levels lowered beyond reach. The wells dried out. The streams dwindled and the winds stank of dead fish in the river bottoms. Drinking water could only be fetched from miles away. The sands advanced slowly, surely, pointlessly. A great curved dune constructed itself graciously around Gideon’s little shack.

‘I was under the delusion this was a flat state,’said Gideon, and he walked in to town to spend the day talking to the county agent.

In June the apples commenced to fall from the trees. The potatoes were the size of marbles. Corn turned to fodder on the stalk. And the bees, flowerless, ate their own hives. The schools closed, and sand slowly flooded in and washed away the seats. Men were blue from undernourishment and turned out their cattle to shift for themselves.

Soon the beautiful dune surrounding Gideon’s shack was twice as high as his tar-paper eaves. It moulded and remoulded itself elegantly each day. It seemed to gather the sand from Gideon’s whole farm and leave his land hard and dry.

And Gideon spent more and more time in the dusty town now, talking and disputing with friends. It seemed that destruction gave him a final insight into life on earth. And he talked and talked cynically in crude philosophical terms. ‘I don’t know the exact reason for life,’ he’d say, ‘but there’s a bug under the chip somewhere,’ he’d vow. ‘Why are we here and why do we stay here? It would take a whole compoodle of perfessors to tell us that.’ But the other farmers only shrugged their shoulders and laid it all to the wind. And Gideon trudged back home to sit and brood among his gray-skinned, crying daughters.

When Gideon had counted the one hundred and sixty-ninth storm of the summer, he realized the year was wasted. His pastures and fields were dead. It seemed the hummocked land itself cried out to Gideon for an answer to life he could not give.

‘This wind has been blowin’ on and off for fifteen thousand years. I ‘spect it’s got more right to the land than we have,’ but that truth didn’t satisfy him. He still had to shovel a path through the sand to his barn.

Every day now from habit he would go out and plough the dust. Houses everywhere around him were drifting away. Ghost farms dotted the wan white landscape. The sun was a purple ball in the noon-night sky.

‘It’s the radio that does it,’ thought Gideon, ‘or maybe there ain’t no reason.’ That thought was overwhelming — it reached so far beyond his conception of himself as a man.

He decided at last it was something ‘internal’ that kept him on the land, and he tried to say as little as possible about it in the dusty wooden town; but occasionally he would forget himself and speak of the ‘nonsense of creation,’ and other words that seemed to come to him from nowhere. But the men only laughed. Everyone got hysterical with the dust.

So Gideon went on home again, where the land took his mighty turmoil seriously. His head ached perpetually. His throat was like sandpaper. His children were sick. The clock stopped. The cow refused at last, to eat its gritty fodder. Jack rabbits sneezed and sneezed themselves to death under his very windows. And Gideon himself could only lie upon his dusty bed and think.

But behind him rose the graceful sand dune, spending itself selfishly in eerie streamers from its lofty ridge,


When spring came and the Red Cross workers broke into Gideon’s shack, they found him scarcely human. One of His daughters had died of dust pneumonia. There was barely half a sack of spuds left, and Gideon had sold his bed to a junkman for fifty cents. Sand had slowly filled his bedroom, but somehow all but Minnie had survived the winter huddled on the kitchen floor.

‘What does the Sekeetary of Agreeculture say about the weather now?’ laughed Gideon.

And even more cheerfully: ‘What are the chances of wheat this year? Or ain’t there no needcessity for wheat any more?’

But these were the jibes of hardly a man.

And Gideon again became human. Land specialists came and showed him how to plough in contours. The Red Cross gave him seed. The government bought his worthless cow. Surveys were made and contracts signed to limit acreage. Hillsides were reforested, dams built. Lazy farmers were forced to plough. All Kansas was contoured and terraced artfully.

And at last experts arrived to flatten out Gideon’s favorite sand dune. It was nice, yet hard to see it go.

Gideon was a good farmer. He averaged four bushels more per acre than any man in the county. He rented a tractor and worked all day and all night, one hundred and twenty hours on end. In five days he had terraced one hundred acres, all the government allowed.

He selected carefully the reddest, hardest wheat seed and commenced sowing in September — six pecks of seed to the acre. And immediately the grain began to germinate and throw out its green whorls of temporary roots — a hundred acres of tender wheat from Gideon’s horny hand.

And then began the long dormant period of almost half a year. Rains came and came again. Winter was a miracle of snow. April saw the spikes again push through the soil. June saw a wilderness of bearded greenness. July was a triumph of golden yellow. And God was good to Gideon, for the rusts and pests were few that year.

‘It’s sure enough unanimous this time,’ he said grimly.

Gideon cut, raked, piled, and ‘thrashed’ his wheat. Long into the summer twilight the thresher chuffed its throaty song. Gideon needed more barns, more bins than ever before. Even his house was full of wheat. Thirty bushels to the acre. Three thousand bushels of grain were his reward.

And then Gideon sat down and figured: ‘Ploughing cost, me a dollar an acre. Harrowing thirty cents. Interest and my rent seven-fifty. Harvesting three dollars.’

And while the children waited Gideon added and readded his numbers a dozen times.

‘It don’t make sense,’ said Gideon finally. ‘According to that, it’s cost me fifty-four and nine-tenths cents a bushel already,’ and he put on his blue jumper and walked in to town to see the county agent.

‘What’s wheat, pardner?’

The county agent, a calm scientific man in gold spectacles who had learned to multiply and divide life in college except when the wind blew or the rains were capricious, accommodatingly told him: ‘Sixty cents at the mill.’

‘Listen,’ screamed Gideon, ‘I spent fifty-five cents a bushel rearin’ that wheat! It’s like keeping your cow alive with her own milk. It don’t make sense. According to that I’ve earned less than fifty cents a day for a year.’

‘It’ll go up a little by Christmas,’ consoled the county agent.

‘Damn you!’ swore Gideon, and he went back home again.

All the misery of the Drought seemed to return to Gideon. He was alternately practical and depressed. He schemed and brooded constantly. The battle seemed to be between his love and his hatred of the land.

The mill now offered Gideon sixty-one cents. He laughed at that. A jobber from Kansas City offered him sixtythree, but Gideon refused. The commission, he knew, would be an extra 5 per cent.

‘That’s like guessin’ at half and multiplying by two,’ sneered Gideon. ‘Wouldn’t even pay for the gunny sacks.’

Wheat went to fifty-eight in Omaha, and Gideon became alarmed. He knew wheat kept on the farm more than a year was unmillable. Rats fattened on it, and when weevils got through with a bin only the shells were left.

He again drove in to the local elevator and waited his turn at the unloading platform.

‘How much you offering me for this load?’ he said shrewdly.

‘Can’t do no better than trade you a ton of coal this morning,’ said the weigher. Coal was four dollars a ton.

‘God,’ said Gideon, and he again drove off without closing a deal. ‘I can shovel it into the stove myself at that rate.’

Gideon was seen everywhere now about the county with the same load of wheat. Everywhere he talked fervently to anyone who would listen to him: ‘It’s going to be a race now to sell before Argenteena starts cluttering up the market.’ He knew wheat generated heat easily. And, when it did, it spoiled. ‘Or we could ship it up the St. Lawrence to Europe and beat the dagos at their own game,’ he suggested. But he received no reply.

In the fall wheat went to fifty-five cents a bushel, and Gideon’s distracted mind decided to drive a wagonload fifty miles away to Oklahoma. But he was turned back at the state line. There was an interstate tax he couldn’t pay. And, defeated again, he retired to the security of his own farm to think.

Three thousand bushels of wheat!

‘It was sand that was bothering me in my kitchen last year, and this year it’s sawdust.’ He was violent with hatred.

In September he cautiously began a new tack: ‘I don’t see nothin’ for us but a world war. It’s right at twenty years now since we had a good war.’

It began as a mere joke, — a sarcastic renunciation of all hope, — but soon Gideon’s whole mind was looking forward to the possibilities of a war.

‘I’ll tell you: Europe’s wobblejawed with their own condition. Otherwise they wouldn’t be doin’ all that negotiating in Munich and Paris. If they’d just run slap-dab into a war before Christmas, wheat would be a dollar a bushel. We got enough wheat now in our elevators to dry up the Atlantic Ocean and walk across with the rest. You watch: one word will bring on another and finally they’ll mix. We’ve just got to have a war.’

Every day now Gideon carefully loaded his wagon with wheat sacks and drove slowly in to town to spend the day talking about the war — which by some sleight of his fancy was already in progress.

Wheat was lower that fall than it had been in three hundred years. No one in all of Kansas would even make a bid. And the farmers around town took to joking Gideon as a pastime. They cruelly made him the scapegoat for the entire catastrophe.

‘Gid, what you gonna do after thishere war of yours in Europe is over?’

Gideon smiled. ‘Give me a thousand sod busters and fifty ton of seed and I’ll sprout wheat even in Berlin.’

It all became fantastic now, a travesty neither Gideon nor the men could resist enlarging. Wheat was war in everyone’s mind. And Gideon was slightly loony with his own idea.

But there was no war in Europe, and around five one evening, just as Gideon was preparing for the long drive back to the farm, some startling news was telegraphed to town. A speculator a thousand miles away in Chicago with 18,000,000 shares had gone broke, and the very wheat Gideon was sitting on dropped to forty cents a bushel.

‘G’yap,’ said Gideon when he heard that. It all came to him now as a vision or an ugly annunciation. There wasn’t any war. There wasn’t going to be any market for wheat. Nor was he slightly crazy as he had half playfully, half seriously pretended to be. He was a ruined man foolishly guarding with his life and soul two hundred thousand pounds of worthless grain. He knew all that quite suddenly and solemnly. And he knew what he was going to do.

He drove slowly through his own pasture in the pale Kansas twilight and then on into the barnyard, where a threelegged cur affectionately wagged its yellow tail.

Gideon tied the reins to the springs of the seat and then called to his children : —

‘Come out!’

Four white-faced children appeared one by one in the yard. They formed a sorry little group.

Silently they watched Gideon go into the kitchen, where he stayed only a short while. When he reappeared there was soft smoke in his wake.

‘Pa!’ said the oldest.

And Gideon went quickly now from barn to barn with his oilcan, sprinkling oil recklessly over the dry sand-scoured boards of his farm buildings.


The chicken house, the silo, the machine shed, the granaries — all were slowly and carefully ignited by Gideon’s serious hand. One by one the dry structures took fire.


But when the last outhouse added its flames to the lofty turbulence flowering in the sky — twenty miles away could be seen Gideon’s golden cyclone — a new sensation, a new horror, appeared in Gideon, one that even in his wickedness he could not resist. And in obedience he dropped to his knees before the blinding holocaust and said: —

‘O Lord, I see great plains of wheat. I see great States of barley. I see great Continents of cattle. I see great epochs of pine. I see great herds of sheep in Siberia. I see commerce with India and Africa. I see great warehouses of corn. I see harvests and harvests. ... I see men happy.’

Two hours later farmers from all over the county came to help put out the great fire. But they found nothing of Gideon or his children.