(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

The Westlocks had gone west to grow up with the country. They lived first on a farm near a church where the father acted as the volunteer preacher. It was a life of toil and privation on the bleak prairie. Days began early and ended soon after supper, when fatigue drove the Westlocks to bed. There were four of them, John Westlock and his wife, their son, Ned, and Mrs. Westlock’s younger brother, Jo Erring. The only real amusement Ned had was visiting a nearby miller with his young uncle. The miller, Mr. Barker, had been a sailor in early life, and he regaled the boys with stories of his travels.

When Ned was eleven years old, a minister was sent from the East to take charge of the country church where Mr. Westlock had been acting as preacher. Erring immediately fell in love with Mateel Shepherd, the daughter of the new preacher, but he found no favor in her eyes because he was uneducated and crude. With the miller’s help, he began to improve himself. The miller became so fond of Erring that he took him on as an apprentice who would some day take over the mill. This was a great opportunity for the seventeen-year-old boy. The only flaw in his happiness then was that Mateel Shepherd was being courted by a young lawyer named Clinton Bragg.

Shortly after Erring left the farm, Mr. Westlock sold his farm and bought the almost defunct paper in the town of Twin Mounds. When the Westlocks moved into town, Ned went to the office every day to learn the printing trade and to help his father in the newspaper office.

Twin Mounds was an unprepossessing village with a post office, several stores, a jail, and about six hundred people. The only pleasures in which the people seemed to indulge, so far as Ned could see, were drinking, gossiping, and fighting. Although the Westlocks lived in a large stone house, the father had Ned stay at the newspaper office in the company of one of the printers, under whom he was learning the trade.

Erring, apprenticed to the miller, made such excellent progress that after a year or so the community subscribed to a fund so that he could build a mill of his own, the growing population justifying a second mill in the district. He was also successful in his suit with Mateel Shepherd, who had promised to marry him when his mill was completed and in operation.

One day, the quiet life of the Westlock family was rudely shattered. Mr. Westlock left the deeds to all his property in the custody of Ned and his mother and ran away with another woman. Ned took over the newspaper, which became more profitable under his management than it had been under his father, for the people in the community had not liked Mr. Westlock. He had been too solitary and strange to suit their natures.

The family gradually began to grow out of the feeling of disgrace that had fastened itself upon them when the father disappeared. Their friends did what they could for them and rallied in support of Mrs. Westlock and her son. At times, it seemed as if the disappearance of Mr. Westlock was of more benefit than harm. Ned was left with some valuable property and a chance to make a name for himself at a very early age.

The following Christmas Eve, Erring married Mateel Shepherd. Just before the marriage, he and Ned had a long talk, in which he told Ned that in some way he was not as anxious for the marriage as he had been when he first met Mateel. What Erring did not realize was that he had been so zealous in...

(The entire section is 1418 words.)