The Moccasin Maker

by Emily Pauline Johnson

The Envoy Extraordinary

    THERE had been a great deal of trouble in the Norris family, and for weeks old Bill Norris had gone about scowling as blackly as a thundercloud, speaking to no one but his wife and daughter, and oftentimes muttering inaudible things that, however, had the tone of invective; and accompanied, as these mutterings were, with a menacing shake of his burly head, old Billy finally grew to be an acquaintance few desired.
    Mrs. Norris showed equal, though not similar, signs of mental disturbance; for, womanlike, she clothed her worry in placidity and silence. Her kindly face became drawn and lined; she laughed less frequently. She never went “neighboring” or “buggy-riding” with old Bill now. But the trim farmhouse was just as spotless, just as beautifully kept, the cooking just as wholesome and homelike, the linen as white, the garden as green, the chickens as fat, the geese as noisy, as in the days when her eyes were less grave and her lips unknown to sighs. And what was it all about but the simple matter of a marriage—Sam’s marriage? Sam, the big, genial, curly-headed only [Page 144] son of the house of Norris, who saw fit to take unto himself as a life partner tiny, delicate, college-bred Della Kennedy, who taught school over on the Sixth Concession, and knew more about making muslin shirtwaists than cooking for the threshers, could quote from all the mental and moral philosophers, could wrestle with French and Latin verbs, and had memorized half the things Tennyson and Emerson had ever written, but could not milk a cow or churn up a week’s supply of butter if the executioner stood ready with his axe to chop off her pretty yellow mop of a head in case she failed. How old Billy stormed when Sam started “keeping company” with her!
    “Nice young goslin’ fer you to be a-goin’ with!” he scowled when Sam would betake himself towards the red gate every evening after chores were done. “Nice gal fer you to bring home to help yer mother; all she’ll do is to play May Queen and have the hull lot of us a-trottin’ to wait on her. You’ll marry a farmer’s gal, I say, one that’s brung up like yerself and yer mother and me, or I tell yer yer shan’t have one consarned acre of this place. I’ll leave the hull farm to yer sister Jane’s man. She married somethin’ like—decent, stiddy, hard-working man is Sid Sampson, and he’ll git what land I have to leave.”
    “I quite know that, dad,” Sam blazed forth, irritably; “so does he. That’s what he married [Page 145] Janie for—the whole township knows that. He’s never given her a kind word, or a holiday, or a new dress, since they were married—eight years. She slaves and toils, and he rich as any man need be; owns three farms already, money in the bank, cattle, horses—everything. But look at Janie; she looks as old as mother. I pity his son, if he ever has one. Thank heaven, Janie has no children!”
    “Come, come, father—Sam!” a patient voice would interrupt, and Mrs. Norris would appear at the door, vainly endeavoring to make peace. “I’ll own up to both of you I’d sooner have a farmer’s daughter for mine-in-law than Della Kennedy. But, father, he ain’t married yet, and—”
    “Ain’t married, eh?” blurted in old Bill. “But he’s a-goin’ to marry her. But I’ll tell you both right here, she’ll never set foot in my house, ner I in her’n. Sam ken keep her, but what on, I don’t know. He gits right out of this here farm the day her marries her, and he don’t come back, not while I’m a-livin’.”
    It was all this that made old Billy Norris morose, and Mrs. Norris silent and patient and laughless, for Sam married the despised “gosling” right at harvest time, when hands were so scarce that farmers wrangled and fought, day in and day out, to get one single man to go into the field. [Page 146]
    This was Sam’s golden opportunity. His father’s fields stood yellow with ripening grain to be cut on the morrow, but he deliberately hired himself out to a neighbor, where he would get good wages to start a little home with; for, farmer-like, old Billy Norris never paid his son wages. Sam was supposed to work for nothing but his clothes and board as reward, and a possible slice of the farm when the old man died, while a good harvest hand gets board and high wages, to boot. This then was the hour to strike, and the morning the grain stood ready for the reaper Sam paused at the outside kitchen door at sunrise.
    “Mother,” he said, “I’ve got to have her. I’m going to marry her to-day, and to-morrow start working for Mr. Willson, who will pay me enough to keep a wife. I’m sorry, mother, but—well, I’ve got to have her. Some day you’ll know her, and you’ll love her, I know you will; and if there’s ever any children—”
    But Mrs. Norris had clutched him by the arm. “Sammy,” she whispered, “your father will be raging mad at your going, and harvest hands so scarce. I know he’ll never let me go near you, never. But if there’s ever any children, Sammy, you just come for your mother, and I’ll go to you and her without his letting.”
    Then with one of the all too few kisses that are ever given or received in a farmhouse life, [Page 147] she let him go. The storm burst at breakfast time when Sam did not appear, and the poor mother tried to explain his absence, as only a mother will. Old Billy waxed suspicious, then jumped at facts. The marriage was bad enough, but this being left in the lurch at the eleventh hour, his son’s valuable help transferred from the home farm to Mr. Willson’s, with whom he always quarreled in church, road, and political matters, was too much.
    “But, father, you never paid him wages,” ventured the mother.
    “Wages? Wages to one’s own son, that one has raised and fed and shod from the cradle? Wages, when he knowed he’d come in fer part of the farm when I’d done with it? Who in consarnation ever gives their son wages?”
    “But, father, you told him if he married her he was never to have the farm—that you’d leave it to Sid, that he was to get right off the day he married her.”
    “An’ Sid’ll get it—bet yer life he will—fer I ain’t got no son no more. A sneakin’ hulk that leaves me with my wheat standin’ an’ goes over to help that Methodist of a Willson is no son of mine. I ain’t never had a son, and you ain’t, neither; remember that, Marthy—don’t you ever let me ketch you goin’ a-near them. We’re done with Sam an’ his missus. You jes’ make a note of that.” And old Billy flung out to his fields like a general whose forces had fled. [Page 148]
    It was but a tiny, two-room shack, away up in the back lots, that Sam was able to get for Della, but no wayfarer ever passed up the side road but they heard her clear, young voice singing like a thrush; no one ever met Sam but he ceased whistling only to greet them. He proved invaluable to Mr. Willson, for after the harvest was in and the threshing over, there was the root crop and the apple crop, and eventually Mr. Willson hired him for the entire year. Della, to the surprise of the neighborhood, kept on with her school until Christmas.
    “She’s teachin’ instid of keepin’ Sam’s house, jes’ to git money fer finery, you bet!” sneered old Billy. But he never knew that every copper for the extra term was put carefully away, and was paid out for a whole year’s rent in advance on a gray little two-room house, and paid by a very proud little yellow-haired bride. She had insisted upon this before her marriage, for she laughingly said, “No wife ever gets her way afterwards.”
    “I’m not good at butter-making, Sam,” she said, “but I can make money teaching, and for this first year I pay the rent.” And she did.
    And the sweet, brief year swung on through its seasons, until one brown September morning the faint cry of a little human lamb floated through the open window of the small gray house on the back lots. Sam did not go to Willson’s to work that day, but stayed at home, playing the part of [Page 149] a big, joyful, clumsy nurse, his roughened hands gentle and loving, his big rugged heart bursting with happiness. It was twilight, and the gray shadows were creeping into the bare little room, touching with feathery fingers a tangled mop of yellow curls that aureoled a pillowed head that was not now filled with thoughts of Tennyson and Emerson and frilly muslin shirtwaists. That pretty head held but two realities—Sammy, whistling robin-like as he made tea in the kitchen, and the little human lamb hugged up on her arm.
    But suddenly the whistling ceased, and Sammy’s voice, thrilling with joy, exclaimed:
    “Oh, mother!”
    “Mrs. Willson sent word to me. Your father’s gone to the village, and I ran away, Sammy boy,” whispered Mrs. Norris, eagerly. “I just ran away. Where’s Della and—the baby?”
    “In here, mother, and—bless you for coming!” said the big fellow, stepping softly towards the bedroom. But his mother was there before him, her arms slipping tenderly about the two small beings on the bed.
    “It wasn’t my fault, daughter,” she said, tremulously.
    “I know it,” faintly smiled Della. “Just these last few hours I know I’d stand by this baby boy of mine here until the Judgment Day, and so I now know it must have nearly broken your heart not to stand by Sammy.” [Page 150]
    “Well, grandmother!” laughed Sam, “what do you think of the new Norris?”
    “Grandmother?” gasped Mrs. Norris. “Why, Sammy, am I a grandmother? Grandmother to this little sweetheart?” And the proud old arms lifted the wee “new Norris” right up from its mother’s arms, and every tiny toe and finger was kissed and crooned over, while Sam shyly winked at Della and managed to whisper, “You’ll see, girl, that dad will come around now; but he can just keep out of our house. There are two of us that can be harsh. I’m not going to come at his first whistle.”
    Della smiled to herself, but said nothing. Much wisdom had come to her within the last year, within the last day—wisdom not acquired within the covers of books, nor yet beneath college roofs, and one truth she had mastered long ago—that

“To help and to heal a sorrow
Love and silence are always best.”

    But late that night, when Martha Norris returned home, another storm broke above her hapless head. Old Billy sat on the kitchen steps waiting for her, frowning, scowling, muttering. “Where have you been?” he demanded, glaring at her, although some inner instinct told him what her answer would be.
    “I’ve been to Sammy’s,” she said, in a peculiarly still voice, “and I’m going again to-morrow.” Then with shoulders more erect and eyes [Page 151] calmer than they had been for many months, she continued: “And I’m going again the next day, and the next. Billy, you and I’ve got a grandson—a splendid, fair, strong boy, and—”
    “What!” snapped old Billy. “A grandson! I got a grandson, an’ no person told me afore? Not even that there sneak Sam, cuss him! He always was too consarned mean to live. A grand-son? I’m a-goin’ over termorrer, sure’s I’m alive.”
    “No use for you to go, Billy,” said Mrs. Norris, with marvellous diplomacy for such a simple, unworldly farmer’s wife to suddenly acquire. “Sammy wouldn’t let you set foot on his place. He wouldn’t let you put an eye or a finger on that precious baby—not for the whole earth.”
    “What! Not me, the little chap’s grandfather?” blurted old Billy in a rage. “I’m a-goin’ to see that baby, that’s all there is to it. I tell yer, I’m a-goin’.”
    “No use, father; you’ll only make things worse,” sighed Sam’s mother, plaintively; but in her heart laughter gurgled like a spring. To the gift of diplomacy Mrs. Norris was fast adding the art of being an actress. “If you go there Sam’ll set the dog on you. I know he will, from the way he was talking,” she concluded.
    “Oh! got a dog, have they? Well, I bet they’ve got no cow,” sneered Billy. Then after a meaning pause: “I say, Marthy, have they got a cow?” [Page 152]
    “No,” replied Mrs. Norris, shortly.
    “No cow, an’ a sick woman and a baby—my grandchild—in the house? Now ain’t that jes’ like that sneak Sam? They’ll jes’ kill that baby atween them, they’re that igner’nt. Hev they got enny milk fer them two babbling kids, Della an’ the baby—my grandchild?”
    “No!” snapped Mrs. Norris, while through her mind echoed some terrifying lines she had heard as a child:

“All liars dwell with him in hell,
And many more who cursed and swore.”

    “An there’s that young Shorthorn of ours, Marthy. Couldn’t we spare her?” he asked with a pathetic eagerness. “We’ve got eight other cows to milk. Can’t we spare her? If you think Sam’ll set the dog on me, I’ll have her driv over in the mornin’. Jim’ll take her.”
    “I don’t think it’s any use, Bill; but you can try it,” remarked Mrs. Norris, her soul singing within her like a celestial choir.

*          *          *          *          *          *

    “Where are you driving that cow to?” yelled Sam from the kitchen door, at sunrise the following morning. “Take her out of there! You’re driving her into my yard, right over my cabbages.”
    But Jim, the Norris’ hired man, only grinned, and proceeding with his driving, yelled back: [Page 153]
    “Cow’s yourn, Sam. Yer old man sent it—a present to yer missus and the babby.”
    “You take and drive that cow back again!” roared Sam. “And tell my dad I won’t have hide nor hair of her on my place.”
    Back went the cow.
    “Didn’t I tell you?” mourned Mrs. Norris. “Sam’s that stubborn and contrary. It’s no use Billy; he just doesn’t care for his poor old father nor mother any more.”
    “By the jumping Jiminy Christmas! I’ll make him care!” thundered old Billy. “I’m a-goin’ ter see that grandchild of mine.” Then followed a long silence.
    “I say, Marthy, how are they fixed in the house?” he questioned, after many moments of apparently brown study.
    “Pretty poor,” answered Sam’s mother, truthfully this time.
    “Got a decent stove, an’ bed, an’ the like?” he finally asked.
    “Stove seems to cook all right, but the bed looks just like straw tick—not much good, I’d say,” responded Mrs. Norris, drearily.
    “A straw tick!” fairly yelled old Billy. “A straw tick fer my grandson ter sleep on? Jim, you fetch that there cow here, right ter the side door.”
    “What are you going to do?” asked Martha, anxiously. [Page 154]
    “I’ll show yer!” blurted old Billy. And going to his own room, he dragged off all the pretty patchwork quilts above his neatly-made bed, grabbed up the voluminous feather-bed, staggered with it in his arms down the hall, through the side door, and flung it on the back of the astonished cow.
    “Now you, Jim, drive that there cow over to Sam’s, and if you dare bring her back agin, I’ll hide yer with the flail till yer can’t stand up.”
    “Me drive that lookin’ circus over to Sam’s?” sneered Jim. “I’ll quit yer place first. Yer kin do it yerself;” and the hired man turned on his lordly heel and slouched over to the barn.
    “That’ll be the best way, Billy,” urged Sam’s mother. “Do it yourself.”
    “I’ll do it, too,” old Billy growled. “I ain’t afraid of no dog on four legs. Git on there, bossy! Git on, I say!” and the ridiculous cavalcade started forth.
    For a moment Martha Norris watched the receding figure through blinding tears. “Oh, Sammy, I’m going to have you back again! I’m going to have my boy once more!” she half sobbed. Then sitting down on the doorsill, she laughed like a schoolgirl until the cow with her extraordinary burden, and old Billy in her wake, disappeared up the road.* [Page 155]
    From the pillow, pretty Della could just see out of the low window, and her wide young eyes grew wider with amazement as the gate swung open and the “circus,” as Jim called it, entered.
    “Sammy!” she called, “Sammy! For goodness sake, what’s that coming into our yard?”
    Instantly Sam was at the door.
    “Well, if that don’t beat anything I ever saw!” he exclaimed. Then “like mother, like son,” he, too, sat down on the doorsill and laughed as only youth and health and joy can laugh, for, heading straight for the door was the fat young Shorthorn, saddled with an enormous featherbed, and plodding at her heels was old Billy Norris, grinning sheepishly.
    It took just three seconds for the hands of father and son to meet. “How’s my gal an’ my grandson?” asked the old farmer, excitedly.
    “Bully, just bully, both of them!” smiled Sam, proudly. Then more seriously, “Ah, dad, you old tornado, you! Here you fired thunder at us for a whole year, pretty near broke my mother’s heart, and made my boy’s little mother old before she ought to be. But you’ve quit storming now, dad. I know it from the look of you.”
    “Quit forever, Sam,” replied old Billy, “fer these mother-wimmen don’t never thrive where there’s rough weather, somehow. They’re all fer peace. They’re worse than King Edward an’ Teddy Roosevelt fer patchin’ up rows, an’ if they can’t do it no other way, they jes’ hike along with [Page 156] a baby, sort o’ treaty of peace like. Yes, I guess I thundered some; but, Sam, boy, there ain’t a deal of harm in thunder—but lightnin’, now that’s the worst, but I once heard a feller say that feathers was non-conductive.” Then with a sly smile, “An’ Sam, you’d better hustle an’ git the gal an’ the baby on ter this here feather-bed, or they may be in danger of gittin’ struck, fer there’s no tellin’ but I may jes’ start an’ storm thunder an’ lightnin’ this time.” [Page 157]

* This incident actually occurred on an Ontario farm within the circle of the author’s acquaintance. [back]