Mildred Orme, seated in the snuggest corner of the big front porch of the Kraummer farmhouse, was as content as a girl need hope to be.
This was no such farm as one reads about in humorous fiction. Here were swelling acres where the undulating wheat gleamed in the sun like a golden sea. For silver there was the Meramec or, better, it was pure crystal, for here and there one might look clean through it down to where the pebbles lay like green and yellow gems. Along the river′s edge trees were growing to the very water, and in it, sweeping it when they were willows.
The house itself was big and broad, as country houses should be. The master was big and broad, too. The mistress was small and thin, and it was always she who went out at noon to pull the great clanging bell that called the farmhands in to dinner.
From her agreeable corner where she lounged with her Browning or her Ibsen, Mildred watched the woman do this every day. Yet when the clumsy farmhands all came tramping up the steps and crossed the porch in going to their meal that was served within, she never looked at them. Why should she? Farmhands are not so very nice to look at, and she was nothing of an anthropologist. But once when the half dozen men came along, a paper which she had laid carelessly upon the railing was blown across their path. One of them picked it up, and when he had mounted the steps restored it to her. He was young, and brown, of course, as the sun had made him. He had nice blue eyes. His fair hair was dishevelled. His shoulders were broad and square and his limbs strong and clean. A not unpicturesque figure in the rough attire that bared his throat to view and gave perfect freedom to his every motion.
Mildred did not make these several observations in the half second that she looked at him in courteous acknowledgment. It took her as many days to note them all. For she signaled him out each time that he passed her, meaning to give him a condescending little smile, as she knew how. But he never looked at her. To be sure, clever young women of twenty, who are handsome, besides, who have refused their half dozen offers and are settling down to the conviction that life is a tedious affair, are not going to care a straw whether farmhands look at them or not. And Mildred did not care, and the thing would not have occupied her a moment if Satan had not intervened, in offering the employment which natural conditions had failed to supply. It was summer time; she was idle; she was piqued, and that was the beginning of the shameful affair.
"Who are these men, Mrs. Kraummer, that work for you? Where do you pick them up?"
"Oh, ve picks ′em up everyvere. Some is neighbors, some is tramps, and so."
"And that broad-shouldered young fellow is he a neighbor? The one who handed me my paper the other day you remember?"
"Gott, no! You might yust as well say he vas a tramp. Aber he vorks like a steam ingine."
"Well, he′s an extremely disagreeable-looking man. I should think you′d be afraid to have him about, not knowing him."
"Vat you vant to be ′fraid for?" laughed the little woman. "He don′t talk no more un ven he vas deef und dumb. I didn′t t′ought you vas sooch a baby."
"But, Mrs. Kraummer, I don′t want you to think I′m a baby, as you say a coward, as you mean. Ask the man if he will drive me to church tomorrow. You see, I′m not so very much afraid of him," she added with a smile.
The answer which this unmannerly farmhand returned to Mildred′s request was simply a refusal. He could not drive her to church because he was going fishing.
"Aber," offered good Mrs. Kraummer, "Hans Platzfeldt will drive you to church, oder verever you vants. He vas a goot boy vat you can trust, dat Hans."
"Oh, thank him very much. But I find I have so many letters to write tomorrow, and it promises to be hot, too. I shan′t care to go to church after all."
She could have cried for vexation. Snubbed by a farmhand! a tramp, perhaps. She, Mildred Orme, who ought really to have been with the rest of the family at Narragansett who had come to seek in this retired spot the repose that would enable her to follow exalted lines of thought. She marveled at the problematic nature of farmhands.
After sending her the uncivil message already recorded, and as he passed beneath the porch where she sat, he did look at her finally, in a way to make her positively gasp at the sudden effrontery of the man.
But the inexplicable look stayed with her. She could not banish it.