Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/59

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From Century

I WAS fourteen years of age when Howard and Margaret Blake became our nearest neighbours. They built a house about a quarter of a mile from ours. Up to that time the nearest house had been two miles away. It seemed to me that the country was actually becoming crowded. Howard was about twenty-two years old, and Margaret, his wife, was about eighteen. It interested me to learn that they were going to try to make a living on six hundred and forty acres of ground or, as we then called such a tract in Texas, a section. My own parents had settled there in the days of no fences and had bought ten sections, probably for about twenty-five cents or less an acre. Even that much land was a farm; ranches would contain not fewer than twenty thousand acres.

Ours had always been a farming community. It was settled largely by Southern people and was as different from ranch country as though we had been people of a different race and nationality. The ranch country was uncouth, saloons flourished in the towns, and there were very few women. Our community had never permitted a saloon; we had a puritanical rigidity in our social customs that could scarcely have been excelled by any New England community. Our tiny little town of not more than eight hundred population had five or six pine church houses with the paint peeling off their clapboard steeples, blistered by a merciless summer sun on the outside and scorched by sulphur and brimstone sermons on the inside. In that time and place people took their religion with a thrill of terror. A man who said he loved God meant that his vertebræ rattled from panic fear when he contemplated the fate of the sinner.

Howard Blake was a hard-working man, as every pioneer