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6 The Return of the Artist After an absence of five months I returned to LaCrosse just in time to eat Old Settlers Dinnerwith my mother at the County Fair,quite as I used to do in the “early days” of Iowa.It was the customary annual roundup of the pioneers;a time of haunting,sweetly-sad recollections , and all the speeches were filled with allusions to the days when deer on the hills and grouse in the meadows gave zest to life upon the farms. How peaceful, how secure, how abundant my native valley appeared to me, after those gloomy toilsome months in the cold, green forests of British Columbia—and how incredible my story must have seemed to my mother as I told her of my journey eastward by boat and train, bringing my saddle horse across four thousand miles of wood and wave, in order that he might spend his final years with me in the oat-filled, sheltered valley of Neshonoc.“His courage and faithfulness made it impossible for me to leave him up there,” I explained. He had arrived on the train which preceded me,and was still in the car.At the urgent request of my Uncle Frank I unloaded him, saddled him, and rode him down to the fair-ground,wearing my travel-scarred sombrero,my faded trailer’s suit and my leggings,a mild exhibition of vanity which I trust the readerwill overlook,for in doing this I not only gave keen joy to my relatives,but furnished another “Feature” to the show. My friend,Samuel McKee,the Presbyterian minister in the village , being from Kentucky, came nearer to understanding the value of my horse than any other spectator.“I don’t wonder you brought him back,” he said, after careful study. “He is a beauty. There’s a strain of Arabian in him.” My mother’s joy over my safe return was quite as wordless as her sorrow at our parting (in April) had been.To have me close beside her, to lay her hand upon my arm, filled her with inexpress61 Garland_Daughter_to press 10/20/06 3:43 PM Page 61 ible content. She could not imagine the hundredth part of the hardships I had endured,and I made no special effort to enlighten her—I merely said,“You needn’t worry, mother, one such experience is enough.I shall never leave you for so many months again,” and I meant it. With a shy smile and a hesitant voice, she reverted to a subject which was of increasing interest to her. “What about my new daughter? When am I to see her? I hope now you’ll begin to think of a wife. First thing you know you’ll be too old.” My reply was vaguely jocular.“Be patient a little while longer.I shall seriously set to work and see what I can find for you by way of a daughter-in-law.” “Choose a nice one,” she persisted.“One that will like the old house—and me. Don’t get one who will be too stylish to live here with us.” In this enterprise I was not as confident as I appeared, for the problem was not simple.“The girl who can consent to be my wife must needs have a generous heart and a broad mind, to understand (and share) the humble conditions of my life,and to tolerate the simple, old-fashioned notions of my people. It will not be easy,” I acknowledged.“I can not afford to make a mistake—one that will bring grief and not happiness to the homestead and its mistress.” However, I decided to let that worry stand over. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,” was a saying which my father often repeated—and yet I was nearing the dead line! I was thirtyeight . That first night of my return to the valley was of such rich and tender beauty that all the suffering, the hardships of my exploration were forgotten. The moon was at its full, and while the crickets and the katydids sang in unison, the hills dreamed in the misty distance like vast, peaceful, patient,crouching animals.The wheat and corn burdened the warm wind with messages of safelygarnered harvests, and my mind, reacting to the serenity, the peace, the opulence of it all, was at rest.The dark swamps of the Bulkley, the poisonous plants of the Skeena, the endless ice-cold marshes of...


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