The Ripe Peach
The Ripe Peach
BY RAYMOND S. SPEARS
Illustrations (Frontispiece) by Perry Barlow
TIM O'ROURKE came to America, and a few years afterward wrote his sister that when Jim Carney, her boy, was ready to come visit him in Kansas, his face would be welcome. Accordingly, Jim Carney one day bade his mother good-by, and started. Jim landed in New York with no money, but willing hands. Somehow, he just couldn't lay his tongue to the name of the place where Tim O'Rourke lived, and for a year or two every time he wrote to his folks he forgot to ask them.
In the meanwhile he started West, with ambition, and in Western Pennsylvania he gazed down upon a stream with green water in it, the Allegheny, some called it, and they said around that this was a branch of the Mississippi River. Then, having ill regard for working on oil-wells, Jim struck another stream, which was called the Wabash, where he fished for button shells awhile; and this river, too, was a fork of the Mississippi. Then Jim headed away for the Big Woods people told him about, and amid the pines of Minnesota he gazed at another stream with green water, and, his suspicions aroused, he demanded to know if this, too, was the Mississippi? It was.
Jim didn't talk any about it. He worked all winter in the log camp, and drank the Mississippi water with a suspicious look in his eye. The winter chilled his enthusiasm, it was so cold, but he stayed till the Cutaway Camps shut down, and then with enthusiasm he spent his season's wages down the line. At St. Paul he saw the Mississippi again. Then he moved out into the West, harvesting wheat with a gang, and then joined a thresher outfit. Standing on hills that were golden with ripe wheat, he wiped the sweat as he pitched the shocks, and paused to inquire if the wide, yellow river down in the bottoms was the Mississippi, too? It was a fork of it—he learned; this, it was not green.
After the harvest, he rolled into Great Falls, and gazed again at the Mississippi, while he held a job in one of the big plants devoted to the conversion of ore concentrates into beautiful metals. Here, too, the sweep of wintry winds whistling over the sage made Jim Carney shiver. When the warm Chinook blew he loosened the big sheepskin lined corduroy jacket, and threw his job over his shoulder, to leave the roar of the Great Falls behind him at their flood. A voice within reminded him that he had yet to pay a visit to his uncle's folks; still he hesitated.
He needed clothes, and a present to take to his relatives. He went on to the Montana lumber camps, but a new feeling about trees had come into his heart. All across the prairies he had seen thousands who had planted trees, and raised them tenderly, with infinite pains. It hurt to be concerned with slashing trees where they were growing by the bounty of nature. Jim soon returned down the trail. A brook, bounding down the steeps of the Rockies, bade him pause. He learned from a cattleman that this was out of Two Ocean Pass—and on its way to the Mississippi.
Jim tried cowboying on the strength of the great stories he heard about the life. The foreman found Jim's skill with the axe useful in building fences and sledging lignite for the cook. Then one day Jim had to build a bonfire in which strange irons were heated blue. Forty-odd calves were driven up with their mothers. A calf was stretched out with ropes, and a cowman snatched one of the hot irons, and laid the claw on the end of the iron against a helpless calf's side.
Blue smoke rose odorous; the calf bawled; a certain cow came prancing angrily. Jim Carney stared with bulging eyes and loosening jaws.
"Excuse me, Boss!" he said respectfully. "I'll take me time right now!"
He roamed away southward, finding odd jobs here and there. In these wide spaces he put two and two together. The houses were twenty, thirty, or even more miles apart. In hunger, often in thirst, he gave thought to the life he was leading.
"I'm getting nowhere, always in the Mississippi Basin!" he grumbled.
All one day on a naked prairie, with only a sod house to interrupt its rolling grace and emphasize its vast beauty, he tramped along drinking sparingly of salty water in his canteen. At dusk the road remained but a pair of ruts through the sod, with little ghosts of young sagebrush standing stark in the gloom, milky white amid the curly buffalo bunch-grass.
"Jim!" he grumbled to himself, "Sure, I believe you are lonesome and a fool. 'Tis a grand butte looms there in the dark, three miles, or may be fifteen miles away! Ah—a sod house!"
In half an hour he arrived at the house. He looked at the darkness of it. Humans had lived there; perhaps they had driven their flivver to town: He hailed, but there was no answer. He unhooked the loose wire gate and walked to the building that somehow sympathized with his predicament of loneliness. He smelled something, he saw jagged holes through the old sod walls; the roof was settling crooked; above the quiet he heard a faint burring, a crisp, clattering rattle like small dry bones shaken together with great violence.
"Snakes!" Carney cried. "They're always thickest around the ruins of men's hopes—good-by, me b'ys! I'm disturbin' you no more!"
He roamed on. At dawn, when his water was all drunk, and it seemed the prairie was a Hades, with no limits, he emerged on a brink; he looked into the confusion of a thousand washes, clay banks, buttes and knolls which were pink in the first sun-rays, but soon changed to blue in the distance, and yellow, gray. The whole scene of Bad Lands was at his feet, so that he looked down on that evil world.
Hunger made him faint, while thirst tortured his throat, yet something in that scene quickened his heart beat. With wonder he tried to think what it was, till his awakened soul laughed at himself. There, four hundred feet below him, so nearly straight beneath that he had fairly missed its significance, was a stream; a grand little river to whose pretty flood he scrambled down bluffs, sand slips, and clay banks, with no regard for safety, or the ease of the roadway which curved on switchbacks at a fair grade back and forth along the wind- worn, water-washed steeps.
A stream forty feet wide reached its wet waves to fill his throat with riches of moisture. Having drunk, he looked from his knees into the rippling, running flow.
"A pale green with milky tinge," he shook his head, "like me, running along through easy times or hard, as the case may be. Green—what! Can it be? It must be, for a fact—another brook feeding into that Mississippi. 'Tis a different green, however, not the same green like a gem stone. 'Tis nothing to me, I know."
He splashed across the wagon ford, stopped at a horse range, but seeing the red scars on a colt's ham he did not stay to work, though he was asked. Needing a bit of money he worked on a railroad section; then with a gang of graders; then,happening upon a wildcat oil-drilling rig, he turned his hand to feeding a boiler with lignite coal.
"I'm variously skilful," he mused, "soon I will have tried all the labor in the world, after which I may turn back to what suits me— Ugh!"
Sitting in a clump of cottonwoods on a river bank, the name of which he did not know, he harked to his memory. He scratched the years on the sand, and found that he had been fifteen in the country, and fourteen within the basin of the Mississippi. Marking the years far apart, he made an "x," underneath, for each job that he had held. When he was through he summed it all up with a laugh that was a sigh:
"Sure! I'm an illegant worker, for orange, dark purple, not so far away, have I not had wan hundred an' sixty-eight jobs? There's work for ivery wan of Mr. Jim Carney's procrastinations and indifferences. An' you, I know by the looks, Mister River, lead straight into that same old Mississip' that I've been evading since I was sixteen years of age. Green with a tinge of red, quicksand in yer bottom, an'—an' a divil of a twinkle in yer eye. What does it mean to me, now?"
He crossed this river, resolutely turned his back on it, going West again. Yet when he circled a little to the left, at the end of six weeks spent with a man who needed a teamster, athwart his course was another river. It was the Arkansas, somebody told him; a large, useful, and interesting stream, he was willing to admit, with some strange cows in the pastures, large, black, with humps on their shoulders and remarkably bright eyes with red rims whose stare made the wanderer nervous.
"So this is Kansas?" He looked about him. "I wonder is Tim O'Rourke near here, which I must find out. Tim must be visited. Les' see—Kansas. He was in Kansas City on a farm. I'll look around a bit to find Kansas City. What, only three hundred miles? 'Tis but a step. I'll soon be thereabouts."
The following spring he arrived in Kansas City, and what, with work in the stock-yards and a greasier, but more interesting job in a garage, Jim was only six months in finding Tim. Tim drove up to the garage in a big automobile to have the knuckles of his steering-gear tightened up.
"Sure, Tim! I'm the lad to do so simple a job as that!" said the man in one-piece, greasy overalls.
"And who the divil might you be?" Tim demanded of the tall, variegatedly patched mechanic.
"Jim Carney," was the answer.
"What? The son of me own sister? What on earth! Why didn't you look me up?"
"I did—and down, and around, when I had found Kansas by luck and chance."
"I'm only forty miles from here, and ivery man knows me!"
"Oh, I know that—but my face was dirty, so you see——"
"Well, fix the old bus so she will not shake to pieces on me; then come to my place, when I've done some shopping. I need sixty tons of fertilizer, an' Mary says not to forget a camping outfit for the automobile; the children— What did they want? Oh, yes! Two motorcycles an' a side-car. And I want six twin tires for two of me big trucks, a new roof for each of two houses of the hired men——"
"Tim!" Jim inquired. "Is all that for effect on me?"
"Eh? What! Not a bit of it, for twenty-nine years ago I took up my first eighty acres, and I've seven thousand now in wheat. How long have you been in the country, Jim?"
"Not long." Jim blinked. "I've been wearing the brogue off my tongue for a while getting an illegant, general gift of conversation."
"I'll be back soon. Have the machine ready day after to-morrow. I'm busy attending a wheat-grading, and must fight for my pop-orange which they've not yet been willing to recognize for the fine flour producer it is."
The car was ready when Tim arrived at the garage. It had never run better. Jim, however, was gone.
"He was a fine workman, but I had to let him go," the garage owner said. "He had a telegram message calling him East."
"The pity of it!" Tim exclaimed. "I wished to make the young man!"
This was the suspicion in Jim's heart. Tim O'Rourke would make him. That, however, was not what had brought Jim Carney to America. Sitting on the bank of the Missouri which he had crossed thirty times or so in recent years, the wanderer harked back in his memory to the day when he had walked down off the big steamer, to tread on the land that buoys the world's hopes.
Following the setting sun he had come to the Middle West, only to go to the right, to the left, circling around and around. Now seventeen years were behind him. He felt age in his bones, stiffness in his muscles, and the weary cry in his heart that a man is old at thirty-odd.
"I've wasted me life; Uncle Tim'll waste his charity on me; it'll do me nor him any good; so 'tis a fareyewell again for me!"
For a long time he had traversed the prairies, the places where one must look twice to see the horizon; the building lots were a mile square out yonder; the very bigness of things had made Jim Carney blink with far-sightedness, as he stumbled along in his heavy-soled shoes.
He issued forth from Kansas City to be clear of the example of his Uncle Tim, whose prosperity was the evidence of his constancy. Seeing so much of the world had been the ruin of Jim, the wanderer thought. Shame overcame him, for how could he face the aunt he had never seen, and children whose lives were bound up in the one job of living according to the example of a strong parent who bought roofs, motorcycles, tires for trucks, and grew better wheat—a man whose retail affairs would have kept Jim busy all his life at better than any day wages he had ever known.
" 'Tis a fool I am, a wasted product instead of a by-product!" Jim sighed.
He wandered off down into Joplin, where the smell of zinc carried him back years to a similar smell. It was a taunt of his conscience to his memory, and he fled from it. He left the main highways; he followed rutted wagon roads; he arrived at last beside a fine, wide stream of pale-green water, but not milky at all—sharp, clear, glistening gem-like green it was!
" 'Tis that same old Mississip'!" he grumbled, sitting down. "The old boy spreads himself across my trail wherever I go. 'Tis a quiet place here. If I knew my own heart——"
He looked about, up and down. There was a little clearing across the river with a small log cabin in it. Trees grew up the slopes of many hills while squirrels ranged amid the heavy branches of the forest. Birds were chirruping. Around the cabin the trees were heavy with ripe peaches.
"I presume it would cost a man a thousand dollars or two to own a place like that." Jim shook his head, looking across the river at the twenty acres of stumpy, stony clearing. "Funny I never inquired the price of land. I'll just go hail the man, take a drink of water, pick a peach from his shade tree, and be sociable."
The man was sitting on the front steps. He was playing a fiddle. He was a whiskery, small-eyed, grinning Hill Billy. At sight of Jim a look of strong suspicion filled his eyes.
"I presume there's no land for sale in a fine country like this?" Jim asked sociably.
"No land for sale, stranger? I've a hundred acres here, or maybe two hundred, that I've owned for thirty-five years, and all it has ever done for me is give me time to learn to play my fiddle."
"I suppose 'tis worth, therefore, a million dollars?" Jim smiled.
"A man told me that in Kansas City or St. Louis a fiddler like me could earn five dollars a day," the man replied. "All I need's a hundred dollars and I'd give possession for it——"
"Of the fiddle?" Jim inquired. " 'Tis a good fiddle that's worth a hundred——"
"This fiddle is three hundred years old; I've played music on it that is five feet high from the floor, sheet music, besides all the tunes I've heard the birds sing, and—and other fiddlers play. I sell everything but my horses and wagon for a hundred dollars."
"Is—is it safe to believe a man's ears in these parts?" Jim asked. "I—I thought I heard the—the river down there saying something?"
"I'd miss the river," the fiddler said. "For ten years, since I learned at last to play, it has told me a story that some day a man would come along and turn me loose from here. Listen while I play it!"
The fiddler struck a note, held it, then struck and held another. Jim, having heard much music, French harp, talking-machine, log camp, mine town, and the like, had also an ear for river talk.
"You're right," Jim said, when the man had finished his play, and was slumped limp with the fatigue of waiting overmuch, looking down at the river, which seemed these many years to have been lying to him. "The river told you the truth. I am the promise the river made ye, man! Here's the hundred dollars!"
"You mean it!" the shaggy-headed fiddler cried. "You'll pay me a hundred dollars for my prison? Good Lord—can it be so!"
Jim stared at him as the man stood forth with a fiddle and a bow held toward the sky. Small eyes? Jim wondered whence he had had that notion. The fellow's face was alight with joy, his eyes, bright, large, and wonderful, believing the release that at last had come to him.
There was the money. The man snatched it up. He brought out the papers and scrawled a sale—a quit claim and a transfer; eagerly he gave Jim directions as to how to have the sale recorded in the county records, as though he feared the responsibility for the land would still be on his shoulders. The fiddler would not wait. He hitched up his team, brought out arms full of music-books, a pair of old blankets, and a canvas that long since he had acquired against the time when at last he should be able to migrate, as the stream had promised, when skill a-fiddling should be his, by hard work and faithful effort.
Jim Carney sat on the steps of the little log hut to watch the man who was driving away with such joy. The splash of the horses in the ford was followed by their rattling and clattering up the poor new road into the woods beyond.
" 'Tis not true," Jim shook his head. "I'm aslape, afraid to turn over for fear I'll wake up. How come it I had one hundred dollars and ninety cents in my pocket at this minute— Oh Lord! Tell me, is this thing true?"
He sat there, weak and stunned, all the afternoon. The world tells its children the most outrageous lies, to make them believe that their dreams have been realized. There were ripe peaches on the tree, and pigs eating some that had fallen from the weight of their own juices.
A log cabin with one room, a floor of half-round timbers, hewn top and sides. Shade for chickens and pigs under the house, and birds on the roof, a fence around the clearing to keep the woods and half-wild cattle out of the richness of a field long neglected for the music of the fiddler's soul.
"I have no music in me soul," Jim sighed as night fell. "But I've a great contentment, two strong arms, much experience, and a deed to the property to curb my spirits with!"
Eating peaches, he built a fire in the big stone fireplace, to bask in the red and yellow glow of it. This night he would cherish all his future life, sure that he was falsely treated somehow. Who sells a million-dollar farm in beautiful woods for a hundred dollars? It is the most impossible thing. He slept in a bunk full of sweet ferns and spice-leaves. He was in the fairy place when he awakened. There were still peaches on the trees when he awakened. It was a little late for watermelons, but he found muskmelons when he walked around.
"What manner of a place is this?" he asked himself. "Am I enchanted?"
He was a much practiced man, speaking of varieties of work. One does not recall with fluency a hundred and seventy-odd jobs without also recalling ways and means of accomplishing things. Jim Carney, who had hoed, ploughed, pitched, grubbed, built fences, and swamped roads for other men, now felt the joy of doing things for himself.
Did his bones rattle from the age? Were his muscles creaking? He felt them not, or at least he had found new oil for them. The fiddler had planted corn but not hoed it; he had a vegetable garden, badly crowded by luxurious growths of weeds; he had chickens running too wild and pigs lazying around too tame; there was much to be done.
"I need four hands and six feet for my opportunities," Jim told himself. "But I'll keep steadily at the job; I may yet have time for my wasted years!"
At the end of two weeks he had ninety cents, as at the beginning. Around his log cabin there was a great change, however. He had a garden all hoed out, and a black spot to show whither the weeds had vanished. The corn was growing tall, luxuriating in the new freedom. Chickens were making the most of excellent opportunities for domestic arrangements. Pigs were indignantly discussing the most exasperating fence in the world, to wit, a pig-tight one.
"I am fish hungry," Jim told himself. "I wonder would it be a sin to lay off work before dark to-night? Eggs are good eating, chickens, pork, and the like—but fish? May a man fish once in a while?"
He risked the effects on his soul of fishing. The fiddler, whose example was wholly bad, had left a cut cane pole, with lines and prodigious hooks. Of worms there was no lack. Jim Carney went down to the green river, and listening to the rippling music of a shoal that glided down a smooth strata of limestone, he dropped a large worm on the smallest hook, where the current swept out of the shallows into a pool on which the late afternoon sunshine cast yellow beams into emerald depths.
Jim watched the black head sinking slowly through the limpid water. He saw a fish with serrated back, a tail as wide as an oak leaf, a body like a bronze watermelon, and a certain gift of agility, come darting out of somewhere, and start away with the worm and chalk-line.
"The impudence of him!" Jim Carney exclaimed. "He's taking my bait!"
Jim set up the end of the pole, on whose tip was a wad of fish-line as large as a small fist. The curving sag of string straightened with a hiss through the water. A great agitation seized both ends of the line, with Jim exclaiming to himself, to the woods, to the stream, and to the fish whose anxieties increased as the contest waxed.
There is always some question when a great black bass is at one end of a fish-line, hanging to a bent, black piece of tempered steel, and a tall, embattled man is at the other end, giving the various lever lifts on a pole, as to what the issue will be. For minutes Jim was full of excitement, which did not end as at last the green depths of the pool yielded a tumbling, twisting, diving, pin-wheeling mass of shimmering bronze with silver, which churned the surface for a minute into white gleaming foam on which the sun fell with bright-colored hues; the next moment, still full of acrobatic confusions, the lighter of the pool flopped in mid-air, swung on the dark line inland, and struck a rock with a sound like a mighty hand-clap.
"Ah, me beauty!" Jim held up his victim, stunned and quivering. "What a fish for me! 'Tis a full meal, and fish-gravy for breakfast, too, besides."
He stuffed the fish with onions, potatoes, corn-meal, and wrapped it in a strip of home-smoked bacon rind, tied with wire. Then he daubed the pigskin with heavy clay. He put the fish into the hot coals of his fireplace. When he broke it out again, and unwrapped the bacon rind, he lifted the skeleton of the fish out of the white meat, and, smelling it, wondered what he had ever done to deserve such living as this.
Needing salt, some time later, Carney was disturbed. He felt a certain menace. Could it be that the dream was too pleasant to last? He looked about, wondering what he had to sell that any one would buy? There was a pig whose manners were too bad, for no fence would keep the brute in. This pig the man harnessed and led sixteen miles over a rough road to town.
It was a full-grown, black-and-white cane-rooter, weighing sixty-six pounds. It was middle afternoon when the landholder dragged his unwilling product along the village street to the butcher's. Hay wire, fish-line, old canvas, and the like, had made an effective harness for the squealing and indignant pig outlaw.
"Mr. Meat Market Man!" Jim greeted the butcher. "I have here the champion racing hog of the world! What am I given for it?"
"Five dollars," the butcher laughed.
"He is yours!" Jim said, and took the cash.
The butcher had the hog put into his own pen yard. Jim went around and bought supplies. He started home on foot, carrying a heavy bag. He was dead-tired, yet he would not desist from his intention of walking the round thirty-two miles that day.
In the darkness of his wooded route, passing only occasional little farms like his own, he heard something at his heels; he stepped faster, and the sound increased; he looked about and saw something near by.
" 'Tis a ghost!" he murmured, as the snuffling, snorting, grunting, pursued him. "Sure! 'Tis a great incentive not to waste any time!"
Hanging onto his precious supplies, tormented by fears, hounded by the thing at his heels, he found, on reaching home after dawn, that it was the pig which had followed him so reluctantly to town, and was now keeping him company.
"You're a fine specimen!" Jim cried. "The butcher will believe me when I say this boar's a great racer!"
The pig, too, was tired that day. Jim allowed the brute the freedom of the shade of the log cabin. Three days later he took another cane-rooter to the butcher, one as large but not so obstreperous.
"I knew you'd lost the other one," Jim explained. "He haunted me all the way home, to the discomfiture of my conscience. This one is a better, I am sure, and far more willing!"
Jim's credit was somehow established by this event, the farmer could not exactly figure out how. An honest man, forsooth, it was declared! It was a strange sensation to feel that he was known to his neighbors. In the years of his wanderings Jim had not once thought of being known to the owners of the soil or to the men of industries. Even the county clerk, to whom he took the deeds to have them transferred, shook his hand, and inquired which way he was going to vote that fall?
"For you," Jim replied promptly, and later went out around to make inquiry as to whether the man was a Republican, Democrat, or what?
It was a great day in Jim's fife when he cast his first vote. No one questioned his citizenship, till the next spring he learned his mistake. He went to the county clerk, who was perturbed in the matter, too. Between them it was figured out that owning land, and having been so many years in the country, the State laws would expedite the matter.
"I'll be doing penance, while I'm waiting," Jim said. "I knew it was too pleasant, voting, for me always to enjoy the privilege."
He carried a back load of little fruit-trees to his farm, and planted them. A neighbor, his nearest, five miles distant, came to help him find his old government survey lot lines. He owned two hundred and forty acres, bottoms, hills, and river bank. Great trees grew on all but twenty-odd acres of clearing. They grew too close together for comfort. He looked at them with sympathetic eyes.
" 'Tis a job for me," he shook his head. He was a man of wild notions. This river that flowed for nearly half a mile across his land, was a stream of moods and habits. After a hard rain, it would rise twelve feet or so overnight, run yellow instead of green, and roar instead of whisper.
Thirty miles below on the bank of the stream was a sawmill town. Jim Carney went down to it on a little flood tide, riding two logs which he had felled into the stream. He lopped their tops, and lashed them with hickory withes. The sawmill man paid him forty dollars for the timbers, and asked for more.
Thus was opened the way to the man, who had been a logger, for ready sales of the surplus growth of his forest. He worked all winter, and drove a good raft down in the spring, alternate black walnut and sycamore, the sycamores floating the heavy hardwood.
"I need a team of horses," Jim said, and to his own surprise, he now owned a team, with a mule colt to boot.
Driving home over the rough road hurt his feelings. Never had he seen worse going. Having swamped haul-roads on logging camp jobs, he used his team of horses to work on his right of way. He persuaded a neighbor to help, and they spent many spare days improving their rough going. The days were too short for Jim, having so many things to do!
Jim learned the ways of the country, modifying them by his own experience. He raised a great crop, when he had done his own planting. Having more corn than he could use, he increased the number of his pigs. He trimmed his half-wild fruit-trees, planted grapes, and added acres to his little clearing, where the adding wouldn't spoil the best of his woods. He loved his trees.
He bought cows to milk them. He made yellow butter, which was a rarity in that region, and it sold well. He would labor briskly every day, but one afternoon a week he would go to one or another of his river's deep pools to catch a black bass on a big worm for a roast, or a fry, as the mood moved him.
Pride was in his heart. His heel never scuffled the earth he walked on. He wondered what sin he had committed that for more than fifteen years he had been condemned to range the earth before coming to this, his Paradise?
Peaches, pears, blackberries, apples, raspberries, wild grapes and tame, persimmons, strawberries in a little patch, cherries coming on red and ripe—the fruits of the earth were his. For substance, he raised corn, potatoes, carrots, turnips, cabbages, tomatoes, and all the ingredients of a mulligan, every one honestly come by.
He was puzzled, as he saw his prosperity. In five years he was living on a good road, carrying wagon loads of produce to his market, driving big mules, and with a hired man to add strength and effort to the business of working to the river music. He knew, now, what the fiddler had heard. At night, when the river was straining at its banks, Jim would catch the strain of a tune, and knew it was the voice of the Mississippi, approving him. He was three hundred miles from the great river, yet he felt the influence, as he always had, of that vast flood whose tributaries had caught his fancy to bring him at last to this his happy home.
Jim Carney was a citizen now. He was one of the supervisors. He was the best neighbor in the county, people said, When all the talk was going on about local improvements, he stood up and said:
"We need a good stone road from the county court to the line, where it joins on the prosperity of our next people's prosperity!"
The road was built, and then another one was built of stone, wide and substantial. Into the clearings of the mountains struck the fact that a road gave an outlet for what they could easily raise, Jim's was the only vote against the improving of the road that led to his own farm.
"Sure, gentlemen!" he cried out. "There are others that need the road more than I do, or my neighbors!"
"You're wasting breath, like you've wasted strength hauling these many years, Jim!" he was told bluntly.
So the fourteen miles was contracted. It added ten thousand dollars to the worth of the already valuable property of the original home. It added more to the places that Jim Carney had taken over, when others would have abandoned them, Out of his land grew hundreds of tons of things to eat, and a bridge spanned the river where formerly a ford had been.
"Still, I'll run a barge down on the floods, once in a while, to keep my hand in, and not to forget the days when I must carry out my crops that way of the friendly river!" Jim said.
The new road reminded Jim of something that he had forgotten. Some years before he had worked in a garage. Now he saw the good road before his very eyes. Hardly able to look his faithful horses and mules in the eyes, telling them shamefacedly that he wasn't deserting them, he sneaked into a salesroom, looked at a most beautiful automobile, with fixings and improvements he hadn't heard of, lines that amazed his love of the graceful, and promises of mileage for tires that were utterly incredible—and wrote his check on the spot.
"In a few years times have greatly changed," Jim Carney said more than half to himself.
His hired man drove the team home; he drove the automobile. He could hardly think for things that he saw, and yet he heard, as he crossed the bridge.
"Here's your home, Jim!"
His home—could it be possible?
There was the old log cabin, beautifully preserved. But a little back, on the hill, nearer the road, stood a fine dwelling with water from a little brook in the woods, a lawn with shade trees, an orchard, fields of grain, a little sawmill to cut his own trees tenderly into good boards for fine cabinetwork.
"It's a dream!" he exclaimed. " 'Tis somebody else, not Jim Carney, that has done this thing? I know it is. I'll look at the map to see where I am wandering to-morrow."
It was a road map, one that had come to him as a man interested in good roads. He could not believe his eyes. He looked far and wide. His glance fell upon a painted trail that led away across country and stung his conscience as he saw whither it went.
" 'Tis time, now, to go pay my respects!" he thought to himself. "I can go and look him in the eye!"
He had done a man's work at last. He never had been lazy, but every day had been neglected, till he saw the peaches hanging by the door of the fiddler, who had waited ten years for him to come.
Jim Carney rode away in the fine spell of weather. He was in his new spick-span automobile. He was at his Uncle Tim O'Rourke's before he knew he was started. The big farm was wonderful, as he looked at it. Now he knew that the value was not so much, but the work that was in the place, the toil, thought, pride, effort were what counted.
Jim turned in at the wide driveway, rolled up to the porch, and stopped. A man smoking a cigar sat in the shade, wondering who the newcomer was. Jim looked. The smooth face was good-humored, firm, bearing the marks of a lifetime of toil, steadfast in purpose, and the hair grayed amid the sandy.
"Did the car run all right, Tim?" the visitor asked.
"The wan I fixed for you in Kansas City."
"What's aching you, anyhow?"
"I was afraid it wouldn't work well; I came to find out. 'Tis some years since——"
"Jim! You spalpeen! Come along. I've been wondering would you turn up. What's your job? Livery?"
"Over in the mountains and woods. Fruit, corn, vegetables, chickens, pigs, with one thing and another."
"Sit down, lad—I'm glad you came. Tell me about it?"
"Sure. Knowing you had come, when I could, I followed," Jim said. "I was fifteen years or so arriving. One day I saw a peach-tree, and bought the place. So I bring you a few baskets of them, now that the trees are trimmed and bearing proper, having been sprayed."
"Arragh!" the old man laughed. "I told the folks it'd be all right—that some day ye'd be coming right. It was in ye, when the time was ripe."
"Not the time—the peach!" Jim laughed.