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Only Sage and More Sage

I T was April. Lena looked soberly into the serious eyes of Jim Johnson and shook her head.

"But when will you marry me, Lena, never?"

"Don't sound so doleful, Jim."

"But I must know. I can't be kept dangling like this."

Lena waved a hand to indicate the acres of sage land and said slowly, "I'll marry you, Jim, when autumn flames from bush to bush on this land, and flames so brightly as to illuminate the sky. I loved the autumn back home, with its scarlet and gold spreading like flame, but here all is desolate, only sage and more sage."

"But give us time, Lena darling. Already the few acres of winter wheat are greening, and this summer more of this sage land will yield fertile black loam which next spring will be burgeoning with grain and hay. And, Lena, over there will be the school; and there the steepled church; and there the store." Jim indicated the places as he spoke. "Can't you vision this a thriving town with broad, smooth highways? With our log cabins growing into homes adorned with the work of our hands, as our Prophet said, with beauty twining above our doors in vines and roses?"

"No, Jim, all I can see is desolation. I'm sorry, but I cannot rust out in this parasitic desert." As Jim cast her a startled loo, she added hastily, "Oh, don't worry. I'll stick it out this summer for Mother's sake, and for Dad's, then before winter comes I shall return East."

Lena did not mope but pitched in and helped with the creation of a home, with beautifying the grounds and with the garden, praying for sufficient rain for it to grow.

"To think we'd ever be planting the peelings of potatoes!" she laughingly said to Jim a month later. "You know I've decided I shall have all the fun I can in everything I do, and make this summer profitable. Why, I even carry water from the river to the flowers which are coming up by our cabin door. Come in and help eat the potatoes whose peelings I've planted, and you'll see a lovely bouquet beautifies the table. And do you know, Father said this morning that someday water will flow from the river through canals to irrigate our farms? That would be a miracle, don't you think?"

"Yes, and there will be many miracles accomplished by our faith and toil." As Jim entered her home and saw the blue bowl filled with wild sweet williams centering the table, he turned to Lena saying, "That's my girl." She blushed rosily and began putting the food on the table to cover her confusion.

S UMMER passed quickly. The two were together much of the time, but Jim never mentioned the subject of marriage again.

In July, Jim and Lena attended the first dance held in the new meetinghouse, a one-roomed structure with a cloak room in front. It would serve as dance hall and schoolhouse until these could be erected. As they entered and saw the mellow light from the coal-oil lamps hung on the walls with reflectors behind the chimneys, Lena whispered, "Oh, Jim, what a homey atmosphere! I can hardly wait to dance again."

"Good girl," he said gently as they waltzed away to the music of harmonicas played by four of the boys.

Later, as they danced the square dances to the tune of Ole Olson's violin, Lena felt that perhaps this pioneering venture had compensations. She renewed her promise to herself to enjoy each day with its work and its recreation.

Time raced quickly by and harvest was upon them. Lena felt a new excitement when Jim's father drove over one afternoon and said, "Well, Miss Lena, would you like to be a harvest hand tomorrow? Jim said I shouldn't ask you to do such work, but I think you will enjoy it. All the other young folks, girls as well as young men, are coming."

"Why I wouldn't miss it for anything. I'll be there!"

"Come at sunrise!" he called from the gate, then came back, lowered his voice and went on, "I'll give my thank-you at night--a bonfire party and a dance afterward in the open. Just thought I'd let you in on my plans." He started to leave, then came back again and said hesitatingly, "And Lena, don't worry. If you can't love my son enough to want to marry him and stay here and bear his children, why you can't, that's all there is to it, but I'd be proud to claim you for a daughter. You have spirit and intellect and common sense, and ... beauty! Now I'll go for sure."

Lena stood watching him drive away, then repeated slowly, "I'd be proud to claim you for a daughter." The words echoed in her mind like a chant off on and on all day.

S UNRISE found an eager group of young folks and a few older men at the Johnson place ready to begin threshing.

The timothy and lucern seed were threshed out first. Laying the timothy (and later the lucern) on a large canvas fastened to the ground by means of pegs at the corners, the threshers flailed it until the seeds were released. Lena was fascinated as she watched Jim's father eliminate the chaff by means of two pans and a breeze. He poured seed from one pan held high into the other one held lower and continued pouring from one pan to the other until the seed was free of chaff. She seemed attuned to the miracle she was seeing, and to the very vibrations of the air.

When they all trooped to the house for dinner, Lena was one of the first to wash in the tub of water outside for that purpose. Without hesitation, she lathered her face as well as hands with the homemade soap, rinsed it off, then rubbed them shining with the seamless sack towel.

After dinner, the crew rested for awhile on the shady side of the cabin, then resumed their threshing.

"Lay the bundles in a circle on the canvas," called Jim's father.

"With the heads in toward the center, Lena," said Jim who saw she was about to lay her bundle the wrong way.

"Now tramp, tramp, tramp the bundles!" sang out Old Jake Winters, who was caller for their square dances and had been especially invited to be there. Again and again they tramped out a new set of bundles.

In the middle of the afternoon, SisterJohnson brought lemonade and apple pie to revive them, so she said, but she found no drooping spirits. However, they hailed her with shouts of welcome.

"I never knew work could be so much fun," Lena called to her with laughter in her voice and her eyes. "And just look at your Jim, I never dreamed he could be so handsome with a smudged face."

"There's a smudge on your own face, my beauty," he retaliated.

"I don't doubt it. And to think I'd ever eat pie like this, holding it with grimy hands!"

"What matter if the heart is clean!" He was Jim's father who spoke, for he had overheard their banter. Then he called out, "Time to start again!"

That was the signal for Old Jake to begin whistling and clapping his hands to bring out the rhythm. Round and round the young folks marched, tramping out the grain, at times singing the words to the whistled melody.

W HEN the last circle of bundles was tramped, Jim said, "Now if only a good breeze will come this way."

Hold your face this way, Jim, for I feel one coming, sure as sure." Lena was all expectancy as she answered.

"Providence is with us all right," called out Jim's father as he panned out the chaff.

When the clean, amber grain was sacked, Brother Johnson thanked them all warmly then continued, "It's sunset now. Go home, do your chores, and return at dusk to gather sage."

"A bonfire party!" shouted one.

"And a dance afterward, an outdoor dance!" called another. "We'll be here, Brother Johnson, we'll be here!"

And they were, the girls looking their prettiest in their calico dresses, and the men gallant, yet shy, in their clean shirts.

What joy it was to dance in the light of the fire to the music of Ole Olson's violin interspersed with Old Jake's whistling! Everyone joined in the fun.

"Now!" called Brother Johnson, when it was nearing midnight, "Let's boom the fire, then waltz to 'Home Sweet Home' played by Jack and Peter here on their harmonicas."

Soon the rest of the sage was piled high on the glowing coals. As Lena was swinging her arm to throw on the last and biggest sage of all, Jim's hand closed over hers, and together they swung their arms twice, then released the prize limb which landed on the very top of the blazing tepee of fire. They were waltzing when the beauty of the scene bade them stop and enjoy to the full the picture portrayed.

Jim's eyes were shining as he turned to the girl and said, "See, Lena, autumn flames from sage to sage on this land, and flames so brightly as to illuminate the sky! Do you know what that means, Lena?"

Her eyes were shining, too, and her lips were smiling as she answered, "Yes Jim, I know. Why do you suppose I worked so hard to gather sage?"

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