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The Desert of Wheat By Zane Grey Characters: 27031

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The remarkable happened. Scarcely had the minister left when Kurt Dorn's smiling wonder and happiness sustained a break, as sharp and cold and terrible as if nature had transformed him from man to beast.

His face became like that of a gorilla. Struggling up, he swept his right arm over and outward with singular twisting energy. A bayonet-thrust! And for him his left arm was still intact! A savage, unintelligible battle-cry, yet unmistakably German, escaped his lips.

Lenore stood one instant petrified. Her father, grinding his teeth, attempted to lead her away. But as Dorn was about to pitch off the bed, Lenore, with piercing cry, ran to catch him and force him back. There she held him, subdued his struggles, and kept calling with that intensity of power and spirit which must have penetrated even his delirium. Whatever influence she exerted, it quieted him, changed his savage face, until he relaxed and lay back passive and pale. It was possible to tell exactly when his reason returned, for it showed in the gaze he fixed upon Lenore.

"I had-one-of my fits!" he said, huskily.

"Oh-I don't know what it was," replied Lenore, with quavering voice. Her strength began to leave her now. Her arms that had held him so firmly began to slip away.

"Son, you had a bad spell," interposed Anderson, with his heavy breathing. "First one she's seen."

"Lenore, I laid out my Huns again," said Dorn, with a tragic smile. "Lately I could tell when-they were coming back."

"Did you know just now?" queried Lenore.

"I think so. I wasn't really out of my head. I've known when I did that. It's a strange feeling-thought-memory … and action drives it away. Then I seem always to want to-kill my Huns all over again."

Lenore gazed at him with mournful and passionate tenderness. "Do you remember that we were just married?" she asked.

"My wife!" he whispered.

"Husband!… I knew you were coming home to me.… I knew you would not die.… I know you will get well."

"I begin to feel that, too. Then-maybe the black spells will go away."

"They must or-or you'll lose me," faltered Lenore. "If you go on killing your Huns over and over-it'll be I who will die."

She carried with her to her room a haunting sense of Dorn's reception of her last speech. Some tremendous impression it made on him, but whether of fear of domination or resolve, or all combined, she could not tell. She had weakened in mention of the return of his phantoms. But neither Dorn nor her father ever guessed that, once in her room, she collapsed from sheer feminine horror at the prospect of seeing Dorn change from a man to a gorilla, and to repeat the savage orgy of remurdering his Huns. That was too much for Lenore. She who had been invincible in faith, who could stand any tests of endurance and pain, was not proof against a spectacle of Dorn's strange counterfeit presentment of the actual and terrible killing he had performed with a bayonet.

For days after that she was under a strain which she realized would break her if it was not relieved. It appeared to be solely her fear of Dorn's derangement. She was with him almost all the daylight hours, attending him, watching him sleep, talking a little to him now and then, seeing with joy his gradual improvement, feeling each day the slow lifting of the shadow over him, and yet every minute of every hour she waited in dread for the return of Dorn's madness. It did not come. If it recurred at night she never was told. Then after a week a more pronounced change for the better in Dorn's condition marked a lessening of the strain upon Lenore. A little later it was deemed safe to dismiss the nurse. Lenore dreaded the first night vigil. She lay upon a couch in Dorn's room and never closed her eyes. But he slept, and his slumber appeared sound at times, and then restless, given over to dreams. He talked incoherently, and moaned; and once appeared to be drifting into a nightmare, when Lenore awakened him. Next day he sat up and said he was hungry. Thereafter Lenore began to lose her dread.

* * *

"Well, son, let's talk wheat," said Anderson, cheerily, one beautiful June morning, as he entered Dorn's room.

"Wheat!" sighed Dorn, with a pathetic glance at his empty sleeve. "How can I even do a man's work again in the fields?"

Lenore smiled bravely at him. "You will sow more wheat than ever, and harvest more, too."

"I should smile," corroborated Anderson.

"But how? I've only one arm," said Dorn.

"Kurt, you hug me better with that one arm than you ever did with two arms." replied Lenore, in sublime assurance.

"Son, you lose that argument," roared Anderson. "Me an' Lenore stand pat. You'll sow more an' better wheat than ever-than any other man in the Northwest. Get my hunch?… Well, I'll tell you later.… Now see here, let me declare myself about you. I seen it worries you more an' more, now you're gettin' well. You miss that good arm, an' you feel the pain of bullets that still lodge somewhere's in you, an' you think you'll be a cripple always. Look things in the face square. Sure, compared to what you once was, you'll be a cripple. But Kurt Dorn weighin' one hundred an' ninety let loose on a bunch of Huns was some man! My Gawd!… Forget that, an' forget that you'll never chop a cord of wood again in a day. Look at facts like me an' Lenore. We gave you up. An' here you're with us, comin' along fine, an' you'll be able to do hard work some day, if you're crazy about it. Just think how good that is for Lenore, an' me, too.… Now listen to this." Anderson unfolded a newspaper and began to read:

"Continued improvement, with favorable weather conditions, in the winter-wheat states and encouraging messages from the Northwest warrant an increase of crop estimates made two weeks ago and based mainly upon the government's report. In all probability the yield from winter fields will slightly exceed 600,000,000 bushels. Increase of acreage in the spring states in unexpectedly large. For example, Minnesota's Food Administrator says the addition in his state is 40 per cent, instead of the early estimate of 20 per cent. Throughout the spring area the plants have a good start and are in excellent condition. It may be that the yield will rise to 300,000,000 bushels, making a total of about 900,000,000. From such a crop 280,000,000 could be exported in normal times, and by conservation the surplus can easily be enlarged to 350,000,000 or even 400,000,000. In Canada also estimates of acreage increase have been too low. It was said that the addition in Alberta was 20 per cent., but recent reports make it 40 per cent. Canada may harvest a crop of 300,000,000 bushels, or nearly 70,000,000 more than last year's. Our allies in Europe can safely rely upon the shipment of 500,000,000 bushels from the United States and Canada.

"After the coming harvest there will be an ample supply of wheat for the foes of Germany at ports which can easily be reached. In addition, the large surplus stocks in Australia and Argentina will be available when ships can be spared for such service. And the ships are coming from the builders. For more than a year to come there will be wheat enough for our war partners, the Belgians, and the northern European neutral countries with which we have trade agreements."

Lenore eagerly watched her husband's face in pleasurable anticipation, yet with some anxiety. Wheat had been a subject little touched upon and the war had never been mentioned.

"Great!" he exclaimed, with a glow in his cheeks. "I've been wanting to ask.… Wheat for the Allies and neutrals-for more than a year!… Anderson, the United States will feed and save the world!"

"I reckon. Son, we're sendin' thousands of soldiers a day now-ships are buildin' fast-aeroplanes comin' like a swarm of bees-money for the government to burn-an' every American gettin' mad.… Dorn, the Germans don't know they're ruined!… What do you say?"

Dorn looked very strange. "Lenore, help me stand up," he asked, with strong tremor in his voice.

"Oh, Kurt, you're not able yet," appealed Lenore.

"Help me. I want you to do it."

Lenore complied, wondering and frightened, yet fascinated, too. She helped him off the bed and steadied him on his feet. Then she felt him release himself so he stood free.

"What do I say? Anderson I say this. I killed Germans who had grown up with a training and a passion for war. I've been a farmer. I did not want to fight. Duty and hate forced me. The Germans I met fell before me. I was shell-shot, shocked, gassed, and bayoneted. I took twenty-five wounds, and then it was a shell that downed me. I saw my comrades kill and kill before they fell. That is American. Our enemies are driven, blinded, stolid, brutal, obsessed, and desperate. They are German. They lack-not strength nor efficiency nor courage-but soul."

White and spent, Dorn then leaned upon Lenore and got back upon his bed. His passion had thrilled her. Anderson responded with an excitement he plainly endeavored to conceal.

"I get your hunch," he said. "If I needed any assurance, you've given it to me. To hell with the Germans! Let's don't talk about them any more.… An' to come back to our job. Wheat! Son, I've plans that 'll raise your hair. We'll harvest a bumper crop at 'Many Waters' in July. An' we'll sow two thousand acres of winter wheat. So much for 'Many Waters.'-I got mad this summer. I blowed myself. I bought about all the farms around yours up in the Bend country. Big harvest of spring wheat comin'. You'll superintend that harvest, an' I'll look after ours here.… An' you'll sow ten thousand acres of fallow on your own rich hills-this fall. Do you get that? Ten thousand acres?"

"Anderson!" gasped Dorn.

"Yes, Anderson," mimicked the rancher. "My blood's up. But I'd never have felt so good about it if you hadn't come back. The land's not all paid for, but it's ours. We'll meet our notes. I've been up there twice this spring. You'd never know a few hills had burned over last harvest. Olsen, an' your other neighbors, or most of them, will work the land on half-shares. You'll be boss. An' sure you'll be well for fall sowin'. That'll make you the biggest sower of wheat in the Northwest."

"My sower of wheat!" murmured Lenore, seeing his rapt face through tears.

"Dreams are coming true," he said, softly. "Lenore, just after I saw you the second time-and fell so in love with you-I had vain dreams of you. But even my wildest never pictured you as the wife of a wheat farmer. I never dreamed you loved wheat."

"But, ah, I do!" replied Lenore. "Why, when I was born dad bought 'Many Waters' and sowed the slopes in wheat. I remember how he used to take me up to the fields all green or golden. I've grown up with wheat. I'd never want to live anywhere away from it. Oh, you must listen to me some day while I tell you what I know-about the history and romance of wheat."

"Begin," said Dorn, with a light of pride and love and wonder in his gaze.

"Leave that for some other time," interposed Anderson. "Son, would it surprise you if I'd tell you that I've switched a little in my ideas about the I.W.W.?"

"No," replied Dorn.

"Well, things happen. What made me think hard was the way that government man got results from the I.W.W. in the lumber country. You see, the government had to have an immense amount of timber for ships, an' spruce for aeroplanes. Had to have it quick. An' all the lumbermen an' loggers were I.W.W.-or most of them. Anyhow, all the strikin' lumbermen last summer belonged to the I.W.W. These fellows believed that under the capitalistic order of labor the workers an' their employers had nothin' in common, an' the government was hand an' glove with capital. Now this government official went up there an' convinced the I.W.W. that the best interest of the two were identical. An' he got the work out of them, an' the government got the lumber. He dealt with them fairly. Those who were on the level he paid high an' considered their wants. Those who were crooked he punished accordin' to their offense. An' the innocent didn't have to suffer with the guilty.

"That deal showed me how many of the I.W.W. could be handled. An' we've got to reckon with the I.W.W. Most all the farm-hands in the country belong to it. This summer I'll give the square harvesters what they want, an' that's a big come-down for me. But I won't stand any monkey-bizness from sore-headed disorganizers. If men want to work they shall have work at big pay. You will follow out this plan up in the Bend country. We'll meet this labor union half-way. After the war there may come trouble between labor an capital. It begins to seem plain to me that men who work hard ought to share somethin' of the profits. If that doesn't settle the trouble, then we'll know we're up against an outfit with socialist an' anarchist leaders. Time enough then to resort to measures I regret we practised last summer."

"Anderson, you're fine-you're as big as the hills!" burst out Dorn. "But you know there was bad blood here last summer. Did you ever get proof that German money backed the I.W.W. to strike and embarrass our government?"

"No. But I believe so, or else the I.W.W. leaders took advantage of a critical time. I'm bound to say that now thousands of I.W.W. laborers are loyal to the United States, and that made me switch."

"I'll deal with them the same way," responded Dorn, with fervor.

Then Lenore interrupted their discussio

n, and, pleading that Dorn was quite worn out from excitement and exertion, she got her father to leave the room.

* * *

The following several days Lenore devoted to the happy and busy task of packing what she wanted to take to Dorn's home. She had set the date, but had reserved the pleasure of telling him. Anderson had agreed to her plan and decided to accompany them.

"I'll take the girls," he said. "It'll be a fine ride for them. We'll stay in the village overnight an' come back home next day.… Lenore, it strikes me sudden-like, your leavin'.… What will become of me?"

All at once he showed the ravages of pain and loss that the last year had added to his life of struggle. Lenore embraced him and felt her heart full.

"Dad, I'm not leaving you," she protested. "He'll get well up there-find his balance sooner among those desert wheat-hills. We will divide our time between the two places. Remember, you can run up there any day. Your interests are there now. Dad, don't think of it as separation. Kurt has come into our family-and we're just going to be away some of the time."

Thus she won back a smile to the worn face.

"We've all got a weak spot," he said, musingly. "Mine is here-an' it's a fear of growin' old an' bein' left alone. That's selfish. But I've lived, an' I reckon I've no more to ask for."

Lenore could not help being sad in the midst of her increasing happiness. Joy to some brought to others only gloom! Life was sunshine and storm-youth and age.

This morning she found Kathleen entertaining Dorn. This was the second time the child had been permitted to see him, and the immense novelty had not yet worn off. Kathleen was a hero-worshiper. If she had been devoted to Dorn before his absence, she now manifested symptoms of complete idolatry. Lenore had forbidden her to question Dorn about anything in regard to the war. Kathleen never broke her promises, but it was plain that Dorn had read the mute, anguished wonder and flame in her eyes when they rested upon his empty sleeve, and evidently had told her things. Kathleen was white, wide-eyed, and beautiful then, with all a child's imagination stirred.

"I've been telling Kathie how I lost my arm," explained Dorn.

"I hate Germans! I hate war!" cried Kathleen, passionately.

"My dear, hate them always," said Dorn.

When Kathleen had gone Lenore asked Dorn if he thought it was right to tell the child always to hate Germans.

"Right!" exclaimed Dorn, with a queer laugh. Every day now he showed signs of stronger personality. "Lenore, what I went through has confused my sense of right and wrong. Some day perhaps it will all come clear. But, Lenore, all my life, if I live to be ninety, I shall hate Germans."

"Oh, Kurt, it's too soon for you to-to be less narrow, less passionate," replied Lenore, with hesitation. "I understand. The day will come when you'll not condemn a people because of a form of government-of military class."

"It will never come," asserted Dorn, positively. "Lenore, people in our country do not understand. They are too far away from realities. But I was six months in France. I've seen the ruined villages, thousands of refugees-and I've met the Huns at the front. I know I've seen the realities. In regard to this war I can only feel. You've got to go over there and see for yourself before you realize. You can understand this-that but for you and your power over me I'd be a worn-out, emotionally burnt out man. But through you I seem to be reborn. Still, I shall hate Germans all my life, and in the after-life, what ever that may be. I could give you a thousand reasons. One ought to suffice. You've read, of course, about the regiment of Frenchmen called Blue Devils. I met some of them-got friendly with them. They are great-beyond words to tell! One of them told me that when his regiment drove the Huns out of his own village he had found his mother disemboweled, his wife violated and murdered, his sister left a maimed thing to become the mother of a Hun, his daughter carried off, and his little son crippled for life! … These are cold facts. As long as I live I will never forget the face of that Frenchman when he told me. Had he cause to hate the Huns? Have I?… I saw all that in the faces of those Huns who would have killed me if they could."

Lenore covered her face with her hands. "Oh-horrible! … Is there nothing-no hope-only…?" She faltered and broke down.

"Lenore, because there's hate does not prove there's nothing left.… Listen. The last fight I had was with a boy. I didn't know it when we met. I was rushing, head down, bayonet low. I saw only his body, his blade that clashed with mine. To me his weapon felt like a toy in the hands of a child. I swept it aside-and lunged. He screamed 'Kamarad!' before the blade reached him. Too late! I ran him through. Then I looked. A boy of nineteen! He never ought to have been forced to meet me. It was murder. I saw him die on my bayonet. I saw him slide off it and stretch out.… I did not hate him then. I'd have given my life for his. I hated what he represented.… That moment was the end of me as a soldier. If I had not been in range of the exploding shell that downed me I would have dropped my rifle and have stood strengthless before the next Hun.… So you see, though I killed them, and though I hate now, there's something-something strange and inexplicable."

"That something is the divine in you. It is God!… Oh, believe it, my husband!" cried Lenore.

Dorn somberly shook his head. "God! I did not find God out there. I cannot see God's hand in this infernal war."

"But I can. What called you so resistlessly? What made you go?"

"You know. The debt I thought I ought to pay. And duty to my country."

"Then when the debt was paid, the duty fulfilled-when you stood stricken at sight of that poor boy dying on your bayonet-what happened in your soul?"

"I don't know. But I saw the wrong of war. The wrong to him-the wrong to me! I thought of no one else. Certainly not of God!"

"If you had stayed your bayonet-if you had spared that boy, as you would have done had you seen or heard him in time-what would that have been?"

"Pity, maybe, or scorn to slay a weaker foe."

"No, no, no-I can't accept that," replied Lenore, passionately. "Can you see beyond the physical?"

"I see only that men will fight and that war will come again. Out there I learned the nature of men."

"If there's divinity in you there's divinity in every man. That will oppose war-end it eventually. Men are not taught right. Education and religion will bring peace on earth, good-will to man."

"No, they will not. They never have done so. We have educated men and religious men. Yet war comes despite them. The truth is that life is a fight. Civilization is only skin-deep. Underneath man is still a savage. He is a savage still because he wants the same he had to have when he lived in primitive state. War isn't necessary to show how every man fights for food, clothing, shelter. To-day it's called competition in business. Look at your father. He has fought and beaten men like Neuman. Look at the wheat farmers in my country. Look at the I.W.W. They all fight. Look at the children. They fight even at their games. Their play is a make-believe battle or escaping or funeral or capture. It must be then that some kind of strife was implanted in the first humans and that it is necessary to life."

"Survival of the fittest!" exclaimed Lenore, in earnest bitterness. "Kurt, we have changed. You are facing realities and I am facing the infinite. You represent the physical, and I the spiritual. We must grow into harmony with each other. We can't ever hope to learn the unattainable truth of life. There is something beyond us-something infinite which I believe is God. My soul finds it in you.… The first effects of the war upon you have been trouble, sacrifice, pain, and horror. You have come out of it impaired physically and with mind still clouded. These will pass, and therefore I beg of you don't grow fixed in absolute acceptance of the facts of evolution and materialism. They cannot be denied, I grant. I see that they are realities. But also I see beyond them. There is some great purpose running through the ages. In our day the Germans have risen, and in the eyes of most of the world their brutal force tends to halt civilization and kill idealism. But that's only apparent-only temporary. We shall come out of this dark time better, finer, wiser. The history of the world is a proof of a slow growth and perfection. It will never be attained. But is not the growth a beautiful and divine thing? Does it now oppose a hopeless prospect?… Life is inscrutable. When I think-only think without faith-all seems so futile. The poet says we are here as on a darkling plain, swept by confused alarms of struggle and flight, where ignorant armies clash by night.… Trust me, my husband! There is something in woman-the instinct of creation-the mother-that feels what cannot be expressed. It is the hope of the world."

"The mother!" burst out Dorn. "I think of that-in you.… Suppose I have a son, and war comes in his day. Suppose he is killed, as I killed that poor boy!… How, then, could I reconcile that with this, this something you feel so beautifully? This strange sense of God! This faith in a great purpose of the ages!"

Lenore trembled in the exquisite pain of the faith which she prayed was beginning to illumine Dorn's dark and tragic soul.

"If we are blessed with a son-and if he must go to war-to kill and be killed-you will reconcile that with God because our son shall have been taught what you should have been taught-what must be taught to all the sons of the future."

"What will-that be?" queried Dorn.

"The meaning of life-the truth of immortality," replied Lenore. "We live on-we improve. That is enough for faith."

"How will that prevent war?"

"It will prevent it-in the years to come. Mothers will take good care that children from babyhood shall learn the consequences of fight-of war. Boys will learn that if the meaning of war to them is the wonder of charge and thunder of cannon and medals of distinction, to their mothers the meaning is loss and agony. They will learn the terrible difference between your fury and eagerness to lunge with bayonet and your horror of achievement when the disemboweled victims lie before you. The glory of a statue to the great general means countless and nameless graves of forgotten soldiers. The joy of the conquering army contrasts terribly with the pain and poverty and unquenchable hate of the conquered."

"I see what you mean," rejoined Dorn. "Such teaching of children would change the men of the future. It would mean peace for the generations to come. But as for my boy-it would make him a poor soldier. He would not be a fighter. He would fall easy victim to the son of the father who had not taught this beautiful meaning of life and terror of war. I'd want my son to be a man."

"That teaching-would make him-all the more a man," said Lenore, beginning to feel faint.

"But not in the sense of muscle, strength, courage, endurance. I'd rather there never was peace than have my son inferior to another man's."

"My hope for the future is that all men will come to teach their sons the wrong of violence."

"Lenore, never will that day come," replied Dorn.

She saw in him the inevitableness of the masculine attitude; the difference between man and woman; the preponderance of blood and energy over the higher motives. She felt a weak little woman arrayed against the whole of mankind. But she could not despair. Unquenchable as the sun was this fire within her.

"But it might come?" she insisted, gently, but with inflexible spirit.

"Yes, it might-if men change!"

"You have changed."

"Yes. I don't know myself."

"If we do have a boy, will you let me teach him what I think is right?" Lenore went on, softly.

"Lenore! As if I would not!" he exclaimed. "I try to see your way, but just because I can't I'll never oppose you. Teach me if you can!"

She kissed him and knelt beside his bed, grieved to see shadow return to his face, yet thrilling that the way seemed open for her to inspire. But she must never again choose to talk of war, of materialism, of anything calculated to make him look into darkness of his soul, to ponder over the impairment of his mind. She remembered the great specialist speaking of lesions of the organic system, of a loss of brain cells. Her inspiration must be love, charm, care-a healing and building process. She would give herself in all the unutterableness and immeasurableness of her woman's heart. She would order her life so that it would be a fulfilment of his education, of a heritage from his fathers, a passion born in him, a noble work through which surely he could be saved-the cultivation of wheat.

"Do you love me?" she whispered.

"Do I!… Nothing could ever change my love for you."

"I am your wife, you know."

The shadow left his face.

"Are you? Really? Lenore Anderson…"

"Lenore Dorn. It is a beautiful name now."

"It does sound sweet. But you-my wife? Never will I believe!"

"You will have to-very soon."

"Why?" A light, warm and glad and marveling, shone in his eyes. Indeed, Lenore felt then a break in the strange aloofness of him-in his impersonal, gentle acceptance of her relation to him.

"To-morrow I'm going to take you home to your wheat-hills."

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