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

Book Three: Sunrise on the Prairie


ONE stormy morning Claude was driving the big wagon to town to get a load of lumber. The roads were beginning to thaw out, and the country was black and dirty looking. Here and there on the dark mud, grey snow crusts lingered, perforated like honeycomb, with wet weed-stalks sticking up through them. As the wagon creaked over the high ground just above Frankfort, Claude noticed a brilliant new flag flying from the schoolhouse cupola. He had never seen the flag before when it meant anything but the Fourth of July, or a political rally. Today it was as if he saw it for the first time; no bands, no noise, no orators; a spot of restless colour against the sodden March sky.

He turned out of his way in order to pass the High School, drew up his team, and waited a few minutes until the noon bell rang. The older boys and girls came out first, with a flurry of raincoats and umbrellas. Presently he saw Gladys Farmer, in a yellow “slicker” and an oilskin hat, and waved to her. She came up to the wagon.

“I like your decoration,” he said, glancing toward the cupola.

“It’s a silk one the Senior boys bought with their athletic money. I advised them not to run it up in this rain, but the class president told me they bought that flag for storms.”

“Get in, and I’ll take you home.”

She took his extended hand, put her foot on the hub of the wheel, and climbed to the seat beside him. He clucked to his team.

“So your High School boys are feeling war-like these days?”

“Very. What do you think?”

“I think they’ll have a chance to express their feelings.”

“Do you, Claude? It seems awfully unreal.”

“Nothing else seems very real, either. I’m going to haul out a load of lumber, but I never expect to drive a nail in it. These things don’t matter now. There is only one thing we ought to do, and only one thing that matters; we all know it.”

“You feel it’s coming nearer every day?”

“Every day.”

Gladys made no reply. She only looked at him gravely with her calm, generous brown eyes. They stopped before the low house where the windows were full of flowers. She took his hand and swung herself to the ground, holding it for a moment while she said good-bye. Claude drove back to the lumber yard. In a place like Frankfort, a boy whose wife was in China could hardly go to see Gladys without making talk.