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Bill Pippinger was counted to be as good a neighbor, as bountiful a provider and as kind a husband and father as was to be found in the whole of Scott County, Kentucky, according to local standards of goodness, kindness and bountifulness. He had never been known to refuse a neighbor the loan of anything that he owned, from his pocket knife to his team of mules. He was prompt with neighborly assistance whenever there was any big job to be done, such as a smokehouse to move or a hog to butcher. If he saw his neighbor's ox or his ass fallen down by the way, he heeded the Bible injunction, of which he had never heard, not to hide himself from them, but surely to help his brother to lift them up again. And if he saw his brother's ox or his sheep go astray, he brought them again unto his brother; for he was one of the few strictly honest farmers in Scott County. Unlike most of his neighbors, too, he was a man of peace. He never sought a quarrel and always avoided one if possible. He had never in his life pulled a gun on a man, an unusual record for a native of rural Kentucky, brought up from boyhood in the time-honored tradition that the pulling of guns is a manly sport.
His wife had little cause for complaint against him, for he hardly ever got drunk oftener than once a month at the Georgetown Court Day. He saw to it that there was always, or at least nearly always, at least one fat hog in the pen waiting to be butchered at Thanksgiving or Christmas. He aimed every spring to raise enough corn so that there would be plenty to
feed the hens, to fatten his hog or hogs and to furnish material for the daily cornmeal cakes until next season's crop came on. If Bill did not always succeed in this laudable endeavor, the blame was not laid at his door by his neighbors and certainly not by himself. If there came a dry spell that withered up the corn just as it was filling out in the ear, it wasn't Bill's fault. And if a rainy season set in and kept the ground so wet that he couldn't get into the patch with a cultivator, it was none of his doing if the weeds grew so fast that they soon overtopped the corn. Bill was not the inventor of weeds nor of their nefarious habit of growing faster than corn. Under such circumstances reflections like this gave him much peace of mind and spiritual comfort. There was considerable satisfaction in being able to shift the blame onto the Almighty; and there was still further repose of spirit in the thought that no effort of his own weak, human frame could undo the damage done by the will of that all-powerful being. If the corn crop was light, it was light, and that was all there was to it; and there would be that much less corn to shuck out and that much less fodder to haul in.
There were of course other matters pertaining to the farm over which Bill could exercise more control than he did over the rain supply. On these latter his mind could not repose with the same peaceful abandon; hence he did not concentrate upon them. The fences that needed mending, the manure that ought to be hauled out, the brush that should be cut out of his pasture to give the grass a chance to grow: these things preyed more or less upon Bill's mind, but he did not allow them to annoy him too constantly. After all, he told himself, there was just so much that one man could do on a place. A man couldn't be hauling out manure and cutting brush and mending fence all at the same time; and there was no use in worrying because everything was not kept up to the top notch. Besides, a fellow had to have a little rest now and then and a chance to visit with his neighbors, or what use to be alive at all?
Bill dearly loved to rest and visit. They were his favorite
pastimes and indeed about the only ones that the circumstances of his life offered to him. To sit on a rail fence or a hitching post with a chew of tobacco in his cheek, a bit of wood in his left hand and a jack-knife in his right, and pass the time of day with all and sundry who happened by, was as much as Bill asked of life. Whether the place was his own barnyard or Jim Townsend's blacksmith shop or Peter Akers' general merchandise store in Clayton made no particular difference to Bill so long as he could sit and chew and whittle and talk. He was built long and rickety, nondescript of feature, but with a bright twinkle of humor and kindliness in his gray eyes; and his tall, narrow-chested figure was a frequent sight about the lounging places of Clayton.
The main trouble with Bill was that along with nine-tenths of the rest of humanity, he had missed his calling. He was by nature a villager, not a farmer, and the great regret of his life was that he had not been a blacksmith. He had mastered the trade through sheer love of it and had become the best of non-professional blacksmiths. He shod his own horses and the horses of all his neighbors, asking them nothing in return but the pleasure of their company while he worked. To have a little shop of his own in the village whither the farmers would come from six or seven miles around, bringing their horses and all the news and gossip of the neighborhood, that had always been Bill's unrealized dream. Chance, however, that wayward arbiter of the fates of all of us, by making Bill the son of a farmer and the husband of a woman who had inherited a farm, had spoiled a good blacksmith to make a poor farmer. It did not occur to him to repine or cry out against his lot or consider himself in any way a blighted being on this account. He merely cast a momentarily envious eye upon Jim Townsend, the blacksmith, whenever he happened to see him, and went on farming—after a fashion. He was a gentle, kindly and sociable soul, and the good will of his neighbors meant more to him than anything else on earth except his family.
His family consisted of his wife and five children. Aunt
Annie Pippinger, a small, inconsequential woman in the early forties, was all one color, like an old faded daguerreotype. She may have had some claims to prettiness in the days when Bill courted her; but they had long since gone, leaving her a bit of drab insignificance. Crawford, the eldest boy, was surprisingly handsome and quite as surprisingly indolent of mind and body. The twins, Luella and Lizzie May, were thin, sickly-looking little girls. Lizzie May was pretty in a pale, blond, small-featured way. Luella had a long, pale face, drab hair and dull gray eyes; and her mouth hung open as though she had adenoids. Judith was the third girl, born two years after the twins. After her there was an interval of four years marked for Aunt Annie Pippinger by two miscarriages and a stillborn infant. At the end of this interval a child was born who grew into a chubby, round-eyed, stupid-looking little boy named Elmer.
These children played and quarreled and made discordant, schoolyard noises in the dooryard of a little, three-room shanty standing upon forty-seven acres of heavy clay land which Aunt Annie Pippinger had inherited from her father. The front yard had been plowed up at some time or other but never planted to anything; and the result was a plentiful crop of ragweed, yarrow and pink-blooming soapwort. Two or three rose bushes clung to the broken picket fence and made it gay in June; and by the front door there was a large bush that bore beautiful creamy roses, tinged in the bud ever so slightly with delicate pink. By the back porch a lilac bush as tall as a small tree made April fragrant for the Pippingers.
The back dooryard was beaten bare and hard by the playing feet of children and the dumping of endless tubs of soapsuds and pans of dishwater. A discarded cookstove lying on its side against the back wall of the kitchen, formed the nucleus for a pile of rust-eaten pots and pans. Beyond the bare spot, a fringe of mustard, ragweed, and burdock reached to the picket fence. Along this fence a dozen or so stalks of hollyhock bloomed in summer gorgeously pink and scarlet against a blue sky. The smoke house and the back house occupied
opposite corners of this yard, a well worn path through the weeds leading the way to each.
A stone's throw beyond the picket fence stood the barn, a structure that had been in need of repairs these many years, and part of the roof and sides of an old wagon shed. Here, too, was the horsepond, overhung by a big weeping willow, and a small corral that Bill had built for the milking of the cows. Beyond rose a grassy slope dotted with locust trees. A few straggly apple and peach trees, mostly sprung from seed, grew here and there in odd corners.
The Pippinger farm, like all the rest of the land immediately about it, consisted of hills sloping more or less gently into each other, so that there was no level ground to be found anywhere. This was characteristic of the whole of Scott County. Everywhere there were hills: steep hills and gentle hills, high hills and low hills, plowed hills, and grassy hills and weed-covered hills, but always hills. These hills sometimes ran in long ridges across the land with hollows on each side and other hills sloping up from the hollows. The only level land was the narrow strips at the bottoms of these hollows made by the washing down of soil from the hills.
A great deal of otherwise good land was spoiled in this way. If the hills were kept in bluegrass or sweet clover, they "stayed put." But when they were plowed for corn or tobacco and afterward left to grow up in weeds, the heavy rains cut deep gullies in their sides and washed the good soil to the bottom. This was the case with most of the Pippinger acres. There was only a small amount of land left that was smooth enough to be plowed for corn. Ever since the family had moved onto the place, which was when Crawford was a baby, Bill had talked about how he was going to "stop up them gullies an' put in sweet clover." But each year the gullies wore deeper and each year Bill talked less about reclaiming them. There was still enough pasture, however, for two cows, Roanie and Reddie and a team of gray mules that answered, though sometimes reluctantly, to the names of Tom and Bob. Scratching and cackling hens made the barnyard lively; there were geese
on the horsepond; and a few turkeys ranged in the surrounding fields and grew fat on the corn and alfalfa for miles around.
This was the center of the universe for the Pippinger children. Here they played the games that they had learned in the schoolyard: "Blind Man's Buff," "Tag," "Tom, Tom, pull away," and "Little Sally Waters." They made playhouses in fence corners where they treasured up bits of colored glass and stones glittering with mica. They hunted for the eggs of hens that had stolen their nests. They stalked the turkeys to find out where they were laying the precious turkey eggs. They stood around their mother as she churned and with greedy little fingers scraped off the spattered blobs of butter as they appeared on the dasher stick and the churn top. When house-cleaning time was come and their mother had the front room carpet out on the line, they crept in between its dusty folds and crawled gleefully up and down making the mild April evening vibrant with their shouts and laughter. They gathered wild raspberries and blackberries in summer and in autumn hickory nuts and black walnuts. They brought up the cows for the milking and exemplified the phrase, "Straight from producer to consumer," by milking into their own mouths. They made dandelion chains in spring and burr baskets in autumn and scattered the silky fluff of ripe milkweed pods into the sunny autumn air. They held buttercups under each other's chins to see if they liked butter. They quarreled over the possession of playthings and other subjects of childish dispute. Sometimes they fought savagely and kicked each other's shins and made vigorous attempts to scratch and bite, then ran crying and complaining to their mother.
A radius of some eight or ten miles about the farm formed their entire world. Within this circle was Clayton, the source of groceries, candy and Christmas toys, as were also the homes of the various grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins with whom they visited. Almost every Sunday, and sometimes on a week day, Bill would hitch up Tom and Bob to the spring wagon as soon as the morning chores were done, and the whole family, dressed in clean denim and starched calico, would jog
away over the winding dirt road to the home of one or other of their kin for an all-day visit. The parent Pippingers sat on the seat in front, which was padded with a couple of old patchwork quilts; and the children made themselves comfortable seats in the thick straw of the wagon body.
So they would drive out into the sunshine, up hill and down hill, across rickety wooden bridges, around gentle bends and sharp turns, past corn patches and tobacco fields and long stretches of land grown up in weeds and brush; through little groves of second growth maple and hickory, past old log houses and weathered frame shanties and big tobacco barns and occasional large, more or less pretentious dwellings surrounded by lawns, till they came to grandad's or Aunt Abigail's or Cousin Rubena's, and there halted for the day.
It was not considered necessary to warn relatives that on such and such a day they were to receive seven all-day visitors. Such an idea had never occurred to Bill or his wife or any of their connections. The Pippingers themselves received many such guests, and were quite as glad to be visited as to visit. There was no sin greater than the sin of being stingy with your time, your food, or your work. To intimate by word, deed, or look that visitors were not welcome was unthinkable in the social circle in which Bill's family and their kin moved.
When the visiting Pippingers reached their destination, whether it was grandad's or Aunt Abigail's or Cousin Rubena's, the procedure was always the same. Everybody, men, women, and children, came out to the wagon to welcome the visitors. There would follow a few moments of general kissing, handshaking, comments on the weather, and mutual inquiries concerning health. Then the men unhitched, put up the mules, and retired to the barnyard to chew, whittle, and exchange silence-punctuated views on the three main topics of common interest, the weather, the crops, and the neighbors. The children straggled after them or ran to the wagon shed to see the new litter of puppies or started a game of "Hide and Seek" in the dooryard. Aunt Annie Pippinger went with the womenfolk back into the house, where, having laid aside her sun-bonnet
and jacket, she immediately started to scrape potatoes, cut string beans, peel apples, or otherwise help with the preparations for dinner.
The whole day was spent in this way. The men loafed in the barnyard; the children played or hung in semi-boredom about their elders; the women cooked and washed dishes in the house. And when these tasks were done and the kitchen floor swept, they sat down stiffly on straight-backed chairs, smoothed their aprons and talked about the price of calico, the raising of chickens, the recent sudden death of Uncle James Cruikshanks, the stroke that Aunt Jenny Boone had had last week, and other such topics.
The only break in what would seem to an outsider an interminable stretch of tedium was the dinner. This usually consisted of salt hog meat, fried or boiled, potatoes and some other vegetable, followed by a heavy-crusted apple pie or a soggy boiled pudding. If it were summer or autumn there would likely be a big platter of "roastin' ears," sliced ripe tomatoes, or sliced cucumbers and onions in vinegar. Everybody ate plentifully and silently, and as soon as the meal was over the men slouched back to the barnyard.
When the sun began to slant low in the western sky, Bill would at last bring the wagon around. Aunt Annie Pippinger would put on her sunbonnet and jacket, and the children, seeing the mules hitched up, would straggle up one by one from their play. There would be a long family gathering about the wagon before the visitors drove off; for nothing having to do with social intercourse is ever done in a hurry in rural Kentucky. They had had all day to talk to each other, and they had repeated the same things many, many times over. It was getting late, too, and there was a long drive ahead of them and all the chores were waiting to be done. But still there could be no hurried leave-taking; there was no precedent for such a thing. So they all stood about the wagon and exchanged some more prophecies about the weather and some more comments on Aunt Jenny Boone's stroke and Uncle James Cruikshank's sudden death. And then there would be a long
silence. And at last, in the midst of the silence, Bill would gather up the lines. Then, having allowed a decent interval to elapse, he would give the lines a gentle shake and clear his throat.
"Waal, I guess we'd better be a-hittin' the high places. It'll be dark agin we git home an' the chores'll be to do by lantern light. Is all them young uns in there back, or are we a-leavin' some of 'em behind? Waal, anyway a couple or three more ner less don't make no p'tic'ler odds. Come over all."
"You come agin," the visitees would chant in chorus; and followed by this never failing invitation to return the Pippinger coach and pair would trundle out of the barnyard.
The remaining important factor in the life of the Pippinger children was school. Bill himself like many of his neighbors could neither read nor write, and hence was very firmly convinced of the benefits to be derived from an education and determined that his children should have the best that was to be had. Nothing, therefore, except bad weather, was allowed to interfere with their regular attendance at school. The school was two miles from the Pippinger farm. It was a small, whitewashed, oblong box standing close to the road in the midst of a circle of bare, beaten ground. A grove of stately maples and beeches, fringing the bare spot, made a fine place for "Hide and Seek."
Inside a small pine kitchen table formed the teacher's desk, which stood on a slightly raised platform. There were the usual jackknife-carved double wooden benches and the inevitable lithographs of Washington and Lincoln. Some admirer had contributed a large, impressive print of Roosevelt, which had been given the place of honor immediately over the teacher's desk. A large map of the United States, printed many years previously and much yellowed by age, hung between the windows on one side. These, with the blackboard, were the only mural decorations.
Here Lena Moss, an anemic little girl of eighteen, still a child herself in mind and body, who had been educated for a year and a half at the Georgetown High School, did what she
could to drill the three R's into the somewhat blockish heads of about twenty children ranging in years from five to the still tender age of the teacher herself.
Fortunately Lena did not have much trouble with discipline. Her pupils were not, like little city hoodlums, vulgar and boisterous with the life of the streets. Nor were they like the children in smaller towns, who are quite as vulgar and boisterous and are held less in control because their school "system" is perforce less ironly rigid than that in the big cities. Lena's pupils were mostly inbred and undernourished children, brought up from infancy on skim milk, sowbelly, and cornmeal cakes, and living on lonely farms where they had no chance to develop infantile mob spirit. They were pallid, long-faced, adenoidal little creatures, who were too tired after the long walk to school to give the teacher much trouble. The slang, rag, and jazz, which standardize vulgarity in the towns and cities, penetrated to this out-of-the-way corner only as faint, scarcely-heard echoes. The phonograph and the colored "funny sheet" were unknown. Hence, Lena, though she did not know it, had much to be thankful for. The loud munching of apples, the shuffling of feet, the occasional throwing of spit-balls, or exchanging of scribbled notes were the main breaches of a discipline which was never at any time at all rigid. There was one pupil, however, who often gave the teacher a good deal of trouble; and that, strange to say, was a girl. She was Bill Pippinger's youngest daughter, Judith.
Judith was a lithe, active, slim little creature, monkey-like in the agility with which she could climb trees and shin up poles and vault over fences. Her bare, brown toes took hold like fingers. There was something wild and evasive about her swift, sinuous little body, alive with quick, unexpected movements, like those of a young animal. She was like a naughty little goblin that springs up mockingly in your path and before you can reach for it has run up a tree or vanished into the thicket. These characteristics of her body were somewhat contradicted by her face, vivid and bold in color and outline and habitually serious. Her eyebrows were black and straight
and rather too heavy; and beneath them her gray eyes were dark, clear, and steady. She had a way of seeming to look through and through you when she fixed you with even a passing glance. These qualities of elusiveness and boldness seemed bafflingly interwoven in her character and made her a hard pupil to deal with. Lena never knew what to expect from her.
Without doubt the troublesomeness of Judith was partly due to the fact that she was better fed than most of the other children. Bill was one who never stinted his children in their food if he could possibly help it. When there was a shortage he let it affect his own plate. The Pippingers were not so saving as most of their neighbors; they did not take every ounce of butter to the village store to sell at fifteen cents a pound. Eggs, too, were not entire strangers to their table. The fact of comparatively good nourishment did not, however, explain away all of Judith's bad conduct; for the other Pippinger children, fed on the same fare, were model pupils in the school. There was something then in the girl's own inherited nature that made her different from her brothers and sisters and from the docile, mouse-like little girls and boys who sat beside her on the school benches.
In backwoods corners of America, where the people have been poor and benighted for several generations and where for as many generations no new blood has entered, where everybody is cousin, first, second, or third, to everybody else for miles around, the children are mostly dull of mind and scrawny of body. Not infrequently, however, there will be born a child of clear features and strong, straight body, as a reminder of earlier pioneer days when clear features and strong, straight bodies were the rule rather than the exception. Bill Pippinger had two such children, Crawford and Judith. Crawford was, like many of the good-looking children of the neighborhood, merely an empty shell. He had inherited the appearance of some pioneer ancestor without any of the qualities of initiative and energy that had made him a pioneer. Judith, however, was quite different. Sometimes when she was bringing up Roanie and Reddie from the pasture at a fast trot or driving
the mules out of the cornfield with much whooping, arm-waving, and bad language, Bill, watching her dynamic, long-legged little figure, would say with a sort of restrained admiration: "Land, that little gal's got life enough for a dozen sech—too much life, too much life for a gal!"
this early feminist novel, about the restricted life of the wife of a tobacco farmer, was originally published in 1923.