that! I'm just a bookworm. Probably too much reading for the amount
of digestion I've got. Probably half-baked. I'm going to get in
'half-baked' first, and beat you to it, because it's dead sure to be
handed to a radical that wears jeans!"
They grinned together. She demanded:
"You say that the Jolly Seventeen is stupid. What makes you think so?"
"Oh, trust us borers into the foundation to know about your leisure
class. Fact, Mrs. Kennicott, I'll say that far as I can make out, the
only people in this man's town that do have any brains--I don't mean
ledger-keeping brains or duck-hunting brains or baby-spanking brains,
but real imaginative brains--are you and me and Guy Pollock and the
foreman at the flour-mill. He's a socialist, the foreman. (Don't tell
Lym Cass that! Lym would fire a socialist quicker than he would a
"Indeed no, I sha'n't tell him."
"This foreman and I have some great set-to's. He's a regular old-line
party-member. Too dogmatic. Expects to reform everything from
deforestration to nosebleed by saying phrases like 'surplus value.'
Like reading the prayer-book. But same time, he's a Plato J. Aristotle
compared with people like Ezry Stowbody or Professor Mott or Julius
"It's interesting to hear about him."
He dug his toe into a drift, like a schoolboy. "Rats. You mean I talk
too much. Well, I do, when I get hold of somebody like you. You probably
want to run along and keep your nose from freezing."
"Yes, I must go, I suppose. But tell me: Why did you leave Miss Sherwin,
of the high school, out of your list of the town intelligentsia?"
"I guess maybe she does belong in it. From all I can hear she's in
everything and behind everything that looks like a reform--lot more
than most folks realize. She lets Mrs. Reverend Warren, the president
of this-here Thanatopsis Club, think she's running the works, but Miss
Sherwin is the secret boss, and nags all the easy-going dames into doing
something. But way I figure it out----You see, I'm not interested in
these dinky reforms. Miss Sherwin's trying to repair the holes in this
barnacle-covered ship of a town by keeping busy bailing out the water.
And Pollock tries to repair it by reading poetry to the crew! Me, I want
to yank it up on the ways, and fire the poor bum of a shoemaker that
built it so it sails crooked, and have it rebuilt right, from the keel
"Yes--that--that would be better. But I must run home. My poor nose is
"Say, you better come in and get warm, and see what an old bach's shack
She looked doubtfully at him, at the low shanty, the yard that was
littered with cord-wood, moldy planks, a hoopless wash-tub. She was
disquieted, but Bjornstam did not give her the opportunity to be
delicate. He flung out his hand in a welcoming gesture which assumed
that she was her own counselor, that she was not a Respectable Married
Woman but fully a human being. With a shaky, "Well, just a moment, to
warm my nose," she glanced down the street to make sure that she was not
spied on, and bolted toward the shanty.
She remained for one hour, and never had she known a more considerate
host than the Red Swede.
He had but one room: bare pine floor, small work-bench, wall bunk with
amazingly neat bed, frying-pan and ash-stippled coffee-pot on the
shelf behind the pot-bellied cannon-ball stove, backwoods chairs--one
constructed from half a barrel, one from a tilted plank--and a row of
books incredibly assorted; Byron and Tennyson and Stevenson, a manual of
gas-engines, a book by Thorstein Veblen, and a spotty treatise on "The
Care, Feeding, Diseases, and Breeding of Poultry and Cattle."
There was but one picture--a magazine color-plate of a steep-roofed
village in the Harz Mountains which suggested kobolds and maidens with
Bjornstam did not fuss over her. He suggested, "Might throw open your
coat and put your feet up on the box in front of the stove." He tossed
his dogskin coat into the bunk, lowered himself into the barrel chair,
and droned on:
"Yeh, I'm probably a yahoo, but by gum I do keep my independence by
doing odd jobs, and that's more 'n these polite cusses like the clerks
in the banks do. When I'm rude to some slob, it may be partly because I
don't know better (and God knows I'm not no authority on trick forks
and what pants you wear with a Prince Albert), but mostly it's because I
mean something. I'm about the only man in Johnson County that remembers
the joker in the Declaration of Independence about Americans being
supposed to have the right to 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of
"I meet old Ezra Stowbody on the street. He looks at me like he wants me
to remember he's a highmuckamuck and worth two hundred thousand dollars,
and he says, 'Uh, Bjornquist----'
"'Bjornstam's my name, Ezra,' I says. HE knows my name, all rightee.
"'Well, whatever your name is,' he says, 'I understand you have a
gasoline saw. I want you to come around and saw up four cords of maple
for me,' he says.
"'So you like my looks, eh?' I says, kind of innocent.
"'What difference does that make? Want you to saw that wood before
Saturday,' he says, real sharp. Common workman going and getting fresh
with a fifth of a million dollars all walking around in a hand-me-down
"'Here's the difference it makes,' I says, just to devil him. 'How do
you know I like YOUR looks?' Maybe he didn't look sore! 'Nope,' I says,
thinking it all over, 'I don't like your application for a loan. Take it
to another bank, only there ain't any,' I says, and I walks off on him.
"Sure. Probably I was surly--and foolish. But I figured there had to be
ONE man in town independent enough to sass the banker!"
He hitched out of his chair, made coffee, gave Carol a cup, and talked
on, half defiant and half apologetic, half wistful for friendliness
and half amused by her surprise at the discovery that there was a
At the door, she hinted:
"Mr. Bjornstam, if you were I, would you worry when people thought you
"Huh? Kick 'em in the face! Say, if I were a sea-gull, and all over
silver, think I'd care what a pack of dirty seals thought about my
It was not the wind at her back, it was the thrust of Bjornstam's scorn