Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1191
Three times in her life Sayward Wheeler had felt that her life was over and done. Not that it frightened her any; she figured she could do as well in the next world as in this. Once was the day before her father told her the game was leaving Pennsylvania. The next week, Sayward and her family traipsed west. The second time was the night she married Portius. This time she was not sure the feeling was more than that she would never have any more babies. She reckoned ten was enough, though one lay in the burying ground.
Her youngest worried her the most. All the others had been hearty enough, but Chancey was so frail that folks thought it would have been easier for him to die when he was born. When he was a little fellow, his heart flopped so much when he walked that he spent most of his time sitting on a stool in his daddy’s office. He looked out of the window for hours, never opening his mouth. Chancey lived in two worlds, the earthy, boisterous one his family loved, and one in which he could float away and do wonderful things.
Sayward had fretted herself to raise him. To harden him, she always had guests sleep with him. She never knew how he shuddered lying next to most of them, but he liked the softness of the bride the time the bridesman got angry up in the loft with all of them and spent the night sitting in the kitchen.
Chancey was his father’s favorite because his mind ran as clear as water. Often he rode his father’s shoulders into town. He had an uncertain ride the day Portius took him to the hay scales. Portius had just returned from the state capitol where he had put through a bill calling for a new county for the township. With the making of the new county went four judgeships. Portius, because he was an agnostic, did not get an appointment as he had expected. It was given instead to a skinflint tax collector. Portius had come home, drunk and disheveled, minus his horse and saddle. Shortly afterward, the new judge came to deliver a load of hay which had to be weighed in town on the new scales. Portius, with Chancey on his shoulders, followed the wavering wagon tracks into town. With one eye on Portius’ unsteady gait, the new judge stayed on the wagon while it was weighed in. They clinched their bargain at the inn, the judge demanding cash which Portius produced. When the judge started to leave, Portius claimed that he had bought the judge’s person with the load of hay. Before he left the inn, the judge had given Portius the hay to avoid being hauled to court. Not many could get ahead of Portius; Sayward thought he had too much of the rascal in him himself.
Although he was not yet a judge, he was a popular lawyer, and he was the leader in the fight to have Americus named the county seat. Resolve had studied law with his father and also practiced at the courthouse. Sayward was pleased when he married a girl who was sensible, even if she did have a lot of money. Sayward felt at the time that things were going along too well and that the Lord would fetch her feet to the ground soon.
She was brought around feet first when Huldah disappeared. Sayward knew that black-eyed minx never fell in the river as some folks thought, but she was taken a little aback when she heard that Huldah had gone to a man’s house stark naked, claiming the gypsies had taken her clothing. Sayward went after her. On the way home, the ferryman, muttering a coarse remark Sayward only guessed at, made them wait for a second crossing. Sayward would not wait; she drove her horse into the river and forded it instead. Huldah listened respectfully after that.
Her set-to with the ferryman settled in Sayward’s mind. Next thing he knew, Portius was arguing for a bridge in town. When it was built, Guerdon worked on it, though he claimed all the while that it was too low for flood time. When the floods came, Chancey, running away, was caught on the bridge and washed down the river. He could not tell whether he was in a dream or not until some men rowed out after him. Guerdon came down the river later to take him home.
Guerdon married a slut and ran away after he killed her lover. Guerdon’s daughter Guerda, a sprightly and prophetic child, became Sayward’s favorite. Soon after, Guerda told Sayward that a good angel was coming for her, and the child died suddenly of a throat infection.
Of all the Wheeler children, Chancey always had the hardest row to hoe. He fell in love with Rosa, the child Mrs. Jake Tench had had by Portius. When Rosa realized that all chances were against her, she committed suicide.
After his Aunt Unity died and her Bay State furniture was sent to him, Portius persuaded Sayward that his position in town warranted a mansion on the square. Sayward was proud of the house, but comfortable only in the kitchen and the room where she kept her old cabin furniture. Oh, she never disgraced her family; she could keep up with folks, even when Resolve became state governor. Although she was the richest woman in town, her family said she was so common that she spoke to everyone she saw. The things she missed most at the townhouse were trees. She, who had sworn so often at the big butts, grew lonely for them. The first trees in town were those she planted in her yard.
She enjoyed having Portius’ sister come to visit for a month, though the Bay State woman harped mostly on things and folks back east. Sayward could not help laughing when her old bushnipple of a pappy came in to see the woman and praised the old settlers skyhigh.
Her pappy had tracked down their lost Sulie. When Sayward and Genny went out to see her, they found her a squaw woman who would not admit she remembered them.
Chancey left home to become a newspaper editor, blasting the pioneers who slaved for their livelihood and praising the men who advocated the abolition of hardship. Sayward secretly supported Chancey’s paper; she thought he had as good a right to say what he pleased as anyone. She missed him, but his newspaper pieces seemed to bring him closer. When he came back for Portius’ funeral, Sayward guessed he really came to see if his father had left him any money.
Sayward was lonely. All the folks who had known her kind of life were gone. The children thought her mind wandered a little before she died. She talked to her trees and said in her will that they could not be cut down. When she finally took to her bed, she had it turned toward the trees outside.
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