The corn came up beautifully, and far as the eye could reach around their home it tossed its broad green leaves with an ocean- like swelling of sibilant sound. Jim loved it with a sort of passion. Annie loved it, too. Sometimes, at night, when her fatigue was unbearable, and her irritation wearing out both body and soul, she took her little one in her arms and walked among the corn, letting its rustling soothe the baby to sleep.
The heat of the summer was terrible. The sun came up in that blue sky like a curse, and hung there till night came to comfort the blistering earth. And one morning a terrible thing happened. Annie was standing out of doors in the shade of those miserable little oaks, ironing, when suddenly a blast of air struck her in the face, which made her look up startled. For a moment she thought, perhaps, there was a fire near in the grass. But there was none. Another blast came, hotter this time, and fifteen minutes later that wind was sweep- ing straight across the plain, burning and blasting. Annie went in the house to finish her ironing, and was working there, when she heard Jim's footstep on the door-sill. He could not pale because of the tan, but there was a look of agony and of anger -- almost brutish anger -- in his eyes. Then he looked, for a moment, at Annie standing there working patiently, and rocking the little crib with one foot, and he sat down on the door-step and buried his face in his brown arms.
The wind blew for three days. At the end of that time every ear was withered in the stalk. The corn crop was ruined.
But there were the other crops which must be attended to, and Jim watched those with the alertness of a despairing man; and so harvest came again, and again the house was filled with men who talked their careless talk, and who were not ashamed to gorge while this one woman cooked for them. The baby lay on a quilt on the floor in the coolest part of the kitchen. Annie fed it irregularly. Sometimes she almost forgot it. As for its wailing, she had grown so used to it that she hardly heard it, any more than she did the ticking of the clock. And yet, tighter than anything else in life, was the hold that little thing had on her heart-strings. At night, after the intermin- able work had been finished -- though in slovenly fashion -- she would take it up and caress it with fierceness, and worn as she was, would bathe it and soothe it, and give it warm milk from the big tin pail.
"Lay the child down," Jim would say impatiently, while the men would tell how their wives always put the babies on the bed and let them cry if they wanted to. Annie said nothing, but she hushed the little one with tender songs.
One day, as usual, it lay on its quilt while Annie worked. It was a terribly busy morning. She had risen at four to get the washing out of the way before the men got on hand, and there were a dozen loaves of bread to bake, and the meals to get, and the milk to attend to, and the chickens and pigs to feed. So occupied was she that she never was able to tell how long she was gone from the baby. She only knew that the heat of her own body was so great that the blood seemed to be pounding at her ears, and she staggered as she crossed the yard. But when she went at last with a cup of milk to feed the little one, it lay with clenched fists and fixed eyes, and as she lifted it, a last convulsion laid it back breath- less, and its heart had ceased to beat.
Annie ran with it to her room, and tried such remedies as she had. But nothing could keep the chill from creeping over the wasted little form, -- not even the heat of the day, not even the mother's agonized embrace. Then, suddenly, Annie looked at the clock. It was time to get the dinner. She laid the piteous tiny shape straight on the bed, threw a sheet over it, and went back to the weltering kitchen to cook for those men, who came at noon and who must be fed -- who must be fed.
When they were all seated at the table, Jim among them, and she had served them, she said, standing at the head of the table, with her hands on her hips: --