Free Air (Chapter 9, page 1 of 8)


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Chapter 9

When her car had crossed the Missouri River on the swing-ferry between
Bismarck and Mandan, Claire had passed from Middle West to Far West. She
came out on an upland of virgin prairie, so treeless and houseless, so
divinely dipping, so rough of grass, that she could imagine buffaloes
still roving. In a hollow a real prairie schooner was camped, and the
wandering homestead-seekers were cooking dinner beside it. From a quilt
on the hay in the wagon a baby peeped, and Claire's heart leaped.

Beyond was her first butte, its sharp-cut sides glittering yellow, and
she fancied that on it the Sioux scout still sat sentinel, erect on his
pony, the feather bonnet down his back.

Now she seemed to breathe deeper, see farther. Again she came from
unbroken prairie into wheat country and large towns.

Her impression of the new land was not merely of sun-glaring breadth.
Sometimes, on a cloudy day, the wash of wheatlands was as brown and
lowering and mysterious as an English moor in the mist. It dwarfed the
far-off houses by its giant enchantment; its brooding reaches changed
her attitude of brisk, gas-driven efficiency into a melancholy that was
full of hints of old dark beauty.

Even when the sun came out, and the land was brazenly optimistic, she
saw more than just prosperity. In a new home, house and barn and
windmill square-cornered and prosaic, plumped down in a field with wheat
coming up to the unporticoed door, a habitation unshadowed, unsheltered,
unsoftened, she found a frank cleanness, as though the inhabitants
looked squarely out at life, unafraid. She felt that the keen winds
ought to blow away from such a prairie-fronting post of civilization all
mildew and cowardice, all the mummy dust of ancient fears.

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