They crawled under the wire fence and started across the rough ground through a field of purple blossoms. Clouds of yellow butterflies darted up before them. They walked jerkily, breaking through the sun-baked crust into the soft soil beneath. Mr. Royce lit a fresh cigar, and as he threw away the match let his hand drop on the young man's shoulder. "I always envied your father. You took my fancy when you were a little shaver, and I used to let you in to see the water-wheel, When I gave up water power and put in an engine, I said to myself: 'There's just one fellow in the country will be sorry to see the old wheel go, and that's Claude Wheeler.'"
"I hope you don't think I'm too young to marry," Claude said as they tramped on.
"No, it's right and proper a young man should marry. I don't say anything against marriage," Mr. Royce protested doggedly. "You may find some opposition in Enid's missionary motives. I don't know how she feels about that now. I don't enquire. I'd be pleased to see her get rid of such notions. They don't do a woman any good."
"I want to help her get rid of them. If it's all right with you, I hope I can persuade Enid to marry me this fall."
Jason Royce turned his head quickly toward his companion, studied his artless, hopeful countenance for a moment, and then looked away with a frown.
The alfalfa field sloped upward at one corner, lay like a bright green-and-purple handkerchief thrown down on the hillside. At the uppermost angle grew a slender young cottonwood, with leaves as light and agitated as the swarms of little butterflies that hovered above the clover. Mr. Royce made for this tree, took off his black coat, rolled it up, and sat down on it in the flickering shade. His shirt showed big blotches of moisture, and the sweat was rolling in clear drops along the creases in his brown neck. He sat with his hands clasped over his knees, his heels braced in the soft soil, and looked blankly off across the field. He found himself absolutely unable to touch upon the vast body of experience he wished to communicate to Claude. It lay in his chest like a physical misery, and the desire to speak struggled there. But he had no words, no way to make himself understood. He had no argument to present. What he wanted to do was to hold up life as he had found it, like a picture, to his young friend; to warn him, without explanation, against certain heart-breaking disappointments. It could not be done, he saw. The dead might as well try to speak to the living as the old to the young. The only way that Claude could ever come to share his secret, was to live. His strong yellow teeth closed tighter and tighter on the cigar, which had gone out like the first. He did not look at Claude, but while he watched the wind plough soft, flowery roads in the field, the boy's face was clearly before him, with its expression of reticent pride melting into the desire to please, and the slight stiffness of his shoulders, set in a kind of stubborn loyalty. Claude lay on the sod beside him, rather tired after his walk in the sun, a little melancholy, though he did not know why.
After a long while Mr. Royce unclasped his broad, thick-fingered miller's hands, and for a moment took out the macerated cigar. "Well, Claude," he said with determined cheerfulness, "we'll always be better friends than is common between father and son-in-law. You'll find out that pretty nearly everything you believe about life--about marriage, especially--is lies. I don't know why people prefer to live in that sort of a world, but they do."
After his interview with Mr. Royce, Claude drove directly to the mill house. As he came up the shady road, he saw with disappointment the flash of two white dresses instead of one, moving about in the sunny flower garden. The visitor was Gladys Farmer. This was her vacation time. She had walked out to the mill in the cool of the morning to spend the day with Enid. Now they were starting off to gather water-cresses, and had stopped in the garden to smell the heliotrope. On this scorching afternoon the purple sprays gave out a fragrance that hung over the flower-bed and brushed their cheeks like a warm breath. The girls looked up at the same moment and recognized Claude. They waved to him and hurried down to the gate to congratulate him on his recovery. He took their little tin pails and followed them around the old dam-head and up a sandy gorge, along a clear thread of water that trickled into Lovely Creek just above the mill. They came to the gravelly hill where the stream took its source from a spring hollowed out under the exposed roots of two elm trees. All about the spring, and in the sandy bed of the shallow creek, the cresses grew cool and green.