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Willa Cather (1873–1947). One of Ours. 1922.

Book Two: Enid


DURING the next few weeks Claude often ran his car down to the mill house on a pleasant evening and coaxed Enid to go into Frankfort with him and sit through a moving picture show, or to drive to a neighbouring town. The advantage of this form of companionship was that it did not put too great a strain upon one’s conversational powers. Enid could be admirably silent, and she was never embarrassed by either silence or speech. She was cool and sure of herself under any circumstances, and that was one reason why she drove a car so well,—much better than Claude, indeed.

One Sunday, when they met after church, she told Claude that she wanted to go to Hastings to do some shopping, and they arranged that he should take her on Tuesday in his father’s big car. The town was about seventy miles to the northeast and, from Frankfort, it was an inconvenient trip by rail.

On Tuesday morning Claude reached the mill house just as the sun was rising over the damp fields. Enid was on the front porch waiting for him, wearing a blanket coat over her spring suit. She ran down to the gate and slipped into the seat beside him.

“Good morning, Claude. Nobody else is up. It’s going to be a glorious day, isn’t it?”

“Splendid. A little warm for this time of year. You won’t need that coat long.”

For the first hour they found the roads empty. All the fields were grey with dew, and the early sunlight burned over everything with the transparent brightness of a fire that has just been kindled. As the machine noiselessly wound off the miles, the sky grew deeper and bluer, and the flowers along the roadside opened in the wet grass. There were men and horses abroad on every hill now. Soon they began to pass children on the way to school, who stopped and waved their bright dinner pails at the two travellers. By ten o’clock they were in Hastings.

While Enid was shopping, Claude bought some white shoes and duck trousers. He felt more interest than usual in his summer clothes. They met at the hotel for lunch, both very hungry and both satisfied with their morning’s work. Seated in the dining room, with Enid opposite him, Claude thought they did not look at all like a country boy and girl come to town, but like experienced people touring in their car.

“Will you make a call with me after dinner?” she asked while they were waiting for their dessert.

“Is it any one I know?”

“Certainly. Brother Weldon is in town. His meetings are over, and I was afraid he might be gone, but he is staying on a few days with Mrs. Gleason. I brought some of Carrie’s letters along for him to read.”

Claude made a wry face. “He won’t be delighted to see me. We never got on well at school. He’s a regular muff of a teacher, if you want to know,” he added resolutely.

Enid studied him judicially. “I’m surprised to hear that; he’s such a good speaker. You’d better come along. It’s so foolish to have a coolness with your old teachers.”

An hour later the Reverend Arthur Weldon received the two young people in Mrs. Gleason’s half-darkened parlour, where he seemed quite as much at home as that lady herself. The hostess, after chatting cordially with the visitors for a few moments, excused herself to go to a P. E. O. meeting. Every one rose at her departure, and Mr. Weldon approached Enid, took her hand, and stood looking at her with his head inclined and his oblique smile. “This is an unexpected pleasure, to see you again, Miss Enid. And you, too, Claude,” turning a little toward the latter. “You’ve come up from Frankfort together this beautiful day?” His tone seemed to say, “How lovely for you!”

He directed most of his remarks to Enid and, as always, avoided looking at Claude except when he definitely addressed him.

“You are farming this year, Claude? I presume that is a great satisfaction to your father. And Mrs. Wheeler is quite well?”

Mr. Weldon certainly bore no malice, but he always pronounced Claude’s name exactly like the word “Clod,” which annoyed him. To be sure, Enid pronounced his name in the same way, but either Claude did not notice this, or did not mind it from her. He sank into a deep, dark sofa, and sat with his driving cap on his knee while Brother Weldon drew a chair up to the one open window of the dusky room and began to read Carrie Royce’s letters. Without being asked to do so, he read them aloud, and stopped to comment from time to time. Claude observed with disappointment that Enid drank in all his platitudes just as Mrs. Wheeler did. He had never looked at Weldon so long before. The light fell full on the young man’s pear-shaped head and his thin, rippled hair. What in the world could sensible women like his mother and Enid Royce find to admire in this purring, white-necktied fellow? Enid’s dark eyes rested upon him with an expression of profound respect. She both looked at him and spoke to him with more feeling than she ever showed toward Claude.

“You see, Brother Weldon,” she said earnestly, “I am not naturally much drawn to people. I find it hard to take the proper interest in the church work at home. It seems as if I had always been holding myself in reserve for the foreign field,—by not making personal ties, I mean. If Gladys Farmer went to China, everybody would miss her. She could never be replaced in the High School. She has the kind of magnetism that draws people to her. But I have always been keeping myself free to do what Carrie is doing. There I know I could be of use.”

Claude saw it was not easy for Enid to talk like this. Her face looked troubled, and her dark eyebrows came together in a sharp angle as she tried to tell the young preacher exactly what was going on in her mind. He listened with his habitual, smiling attention, smoothing the paper of the folded letter pages and murmuring, “Yes, I understand. Indeed, Miss Enid?”

When she pressed him for advice, he said it was not always easy to know in what field one could be most useful; perhaps this very restraint was giving her some spiritual discipline that she particularly needed. He was careful not to commit himself, not to advise anything unconditionally, except prayer.

“I believe that all things are made clear to us in prayer, Miss Enid.”

Enid clasped her hands; her perplexity made her features look sharper. “But it is when I pray that I feel this call the strongest. It seems as if a finger were pointing me over there. Sometimes when I ask for guidance in little things, I get none, and only get the feeling that my work lies far away, and that for it, strength would be given me. Until I take that road, Christ withholds himself.”

Mr. Weldon answered her in a tone of relief, as if something obscure had been made clear. “If that is the case, Miss Enid, I think we need have no anxiety. If the call recurs to you in prayer, and it is your Saviour’s will, then we can be sure that the way and the means will be revealed. A passage from one of the Prophets occurs to me at this moment; ‘And behold a way shall be opened up before thy feet; walk thou in it.’ We might say that this promise was originally meant for Enid Royce! I believe God likes us to appropriate passages of His word personally.” This last remark was made playfully, as if it were a kind of Christian Endeavour jest. He rose and handed Enid back the letters. Clearly, the interview was over.

As Enid drew on her gloves she told him that it had been a great help to talk to him, and that he always seemed to give her what she needed. Claude wondered what it was. He hadn’t seen Weldon do anything but retreat before her eager questions. He, an “atheist,” could have given her stronger reinforcement.

Claude’s car stood under the maple trees in front of Mrs. Gleason’s house. Before they got into it, he called Enid’s attention to a mass of thunderheads in the west.

“That looks to me like a storm. It might be a wise thing to stay at the hotel tonight.”

“Oh, no! I don’t want to do that. I haven’t come prepared.”

He reminded her that it wouldn’t be impossible to buy whatever she might need for the night.

“I don’t like to stay in a strange place without my own things,” she said decidedly.

“I’m afraid we’ll be going straight into it. We may be in for something pretty rough,—but it’s as you say.” He still hesitated, with his hand on the door.

“I think we’d better try it,” she said with quiet determination. Claude had not yet learned that Enid always opposed the unexpected, and could not bear to have her plans changed by people or circumstances.

For an hour he drove at his best speed, watching the clouds anxiously. The table-land, from horizon to horizon, was glowing in sunlight, and the sky itself seemed only the more brilliant for the mass of purple vapours rolling in the west, with bright edges, like new-cut lead. He had made fifty odd miles when the air suddenly grew cold, and in ten minutes the whole shining sky was blotted out. He sprang to the ground and began to jack up his wheels. As soon as a wheel left the earth, Enid adjusted the chain. Claude told her he had never got the chains on so quickly before. He covered the packages in the back seat with an oilcloth and drove forward to meet the storm.

The rain swept over them in waves, seemed to rise from the sod as well as to fall from the clouds. They made another five miles, ploughing through puddles and sliding over liquefied roads. Suddenly the heavy car, chains and all, bounded up a two-foot bank, shot over the sod a dozen yards before the brake caught it, then swung a half-circle and stood still. Enid sat calm and motionless.

Claude drew a long breath. “If that had happened on a culvert, we’d be in the ditch with the car on top of us. I simply can’t control the thing. The whole top soil is loose, and there’s nothing to hold to. That’s Tommy Rice’s place over there. We’d better get him to take us in for the night.”

“But that would be worse than the hotel,” Enid objected. “They are not very clean people, and there are a lot of children.”

“Better be crowded than dead,” he murmured. “From here on, it would be a matter of luck. We might land anywhere.”

“We are only about ten miles from your place. I can stay with your mother tonight.”

“It’s too dangerous, Enid. I don’t like the responsibility. Your father would blame me for taking such a chance.”

“I know, it’s on my account you’re nervous.” Enid spoke reasonably enough. “Do you mind letting me drive for awhile? There are only three bad hills left, and I think I can slide down them sideways; I’ve often tried it.”

Claude got out and let her slip into his seat, but after she took the wheel he put his hand on her arm. “Don’t do anything so foolish,” he pleaded.

Enid smiled and shook her head. She was amiable, but inflexible.

He folded his arms. “Go on.”

He was chafed by her stubbornness, but he had to admire her resourcefulness in handling the car. At the bottom of one of the worst hills was a new cement culvert, overlaid with liquid mud, where there was nothing for the chains to grip. The car slid to the edge of the culvert and stopped on the very brink. While they were ploughing up the other side of the hill, Enid remarked; “It’s a good thing your starter works well; a little jar would have thrown us over.”

They pulled up at the Wheeler farm just before dark, and Mrs. Wheeler came running out to meet them with a rubber coat over her head.

“You poor drowned children!” she cried, taking Enid in her arms. “How did you ever get home? I so hoped you had stayed in Hastings.”

“It was Enid who got us home,” Claude told her. “She’s a dreadfully foolhardy girl, and somebody ought to shake her, but she’s a fine driver.”

Enid laughed as she brushed a wet lock back from her forehead. “You were right, of course; the sensible thing would have been to turn in at the Rice place; only I didn’t want to.”

Later in the evening Claude was glad they hadn’t. It was pleasant to be at home and to see Enid at the supper table, sitting on his father’s right and wearing one of his mother’s new grey house-dresses. They would have had a dismal time at the Rices’, with no beds to sleep in except such as were already occupied by Rice children. Enid had never slept in his mother’s guest room before, and it pleased him to think how comfortable she would be there.

At an early hour Mrs. Wheeler took a candle to light her guest to bed; Enid passed near Claude’s chair as she was leaving the room. “Have you forgiven me?” she asked teasingly.

“What made you so pig-headed? Did you want to frighten me? or to show me how well you could drive?”

“Neither. I wanted to get home. Good-night.”

Claude settled back in his chair and shaded his eyes. She did feel that this was home, then. She had not been afraid of his father’s jokes, or disconcerted by Mahailey’s knowing grin. Her ease in the household gave him unaccountable pleasure. He picked up a book, but did not read. It was lying open on his knee when his mother came back half an hour later.

“Move quietly when you go upstairs, Claude. She is so tired that she may be asleep already.”

He took off his shoes and made his ascent with the utmost caution.