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CHAPTER 30

    in the boxcar camp the water stood in puddles, and the rain splashed in the mud. gradually the little stream crept up the bank toward the low flat where the boxcars stood.

    on the second day of the rain al took the tarpaulin down from the middle of the car. he carried it out and spread it on the nose of the truck, and he came back into the car and sat down on his mattress. now, without the separation, the two families in the car were one. the men sat together, and their spirits were damp. ma kept a little fire going in the stove, kept a few twigs burning, and she conserved her wood. the rain poured down on the nearly flat roof of the boxcar.

    on the third day the wainwrights grew restless. "maybe we better go 'long," mrs. wainwright said.

    and ma tried to keep them. "where'd you go an' be sure of a tight roof?"

    "i dunno, but i got a feelin' we oughta go along." they argued together, and ma watched al.

    ruthie and winfield tried to play for a while, and then they too relapsed into sullen inactivity, and the rain drummed down on the roof.

    on the third day the sound of the stream could be heard above the drumming rain. pa and uncle john stood in the open door and looked out on the rising stream. at both ends of the camp the water ran near to the highway, but at the camp it looped away so that the highway embankment surrounded the camp at the back and the stream closed it in on the front. and pa said, "how's it look to you, john? seems to me if that crick comes up, she'll flood us."

    uncle john opened his mouth and rubbed his bristling chin. "yeah," he said. "might at that."

    rose of sharon was down with a heavy cold, her face flushed and her eyes shining with fever. ma sat beside her with a cup of hot milk. "here," she said. "take this here. got bacon grease in it for strength. here, drink it!"

    rose of sharon shook her head weakly. "i ain't hungry."

    pa drew a curved line in the air with his finger. "if we was all to get our shovels an' throw up a bank, i bet we could keep her out. on'y have to go from up there down to there." "yeah," uncle john agreed. "might. dunno if them other fellas'd wanta. they maybe ruther move somewheres else."

    "but these here cars is dry," pa insisted. "couldn' find no dry place as good as this. you wait." from the pile of brush in the car he picked a twig. he ran down the cat-walk, splashed through the mud to the stream and he set his twig upright on the edge of the swirling water. in a moment he was back in the car. "jesus, ya get wet through," he said.

    both men kept their eyes on the little twig on the water's edge. they saw the water move slowly up around it and creep up the bank. pa squatted down in the doorway. "comin' up fast," he said. "i think we oughta go talk to the other fellas. see if they'll help ditch up. got to git outa here if they won't." pa looked down the long car to the wainwright end. al was with them, sitting beside aggie. pa walked into their precinct. "water's risin'," he said. "how about if we throwed up a bank? we could do her if ever'body helped."

    wainwright said, "we was jes' talkin'. seems like we oughta be gettin' outa here."

    pa said, "you been aroun'. you know what chancet we got a gettin' a dry place to stay."

    "i know. but jes' the same--"

    al said, "pa, if they go, i'm a-goin' too."

    pa looked startled. "you can't, al. the truck--we ain't fit to drive that truck."

    "i don' care. me an' aggie got to stick together."

    "now you wait," pa said. "come on over here." wainwright and al got to their feet and approached the door. "see?" pa said, pointing. "jus' a bank from there an' down to there." he looked at his stick. the water swirled about it now, and crept up the bank.

    "be a lot a work, an' then she might come over anyways," wainwright protested.

    "well, we ain't doin' nothin', might's well be workin'. we ain't gonna find us no nice place to live like this. come on, now. le's go talk to the other fellas. we can do her if ever'body helps."

    al said, "if aggie goes, i'm a-goin' too."

    pa said, "look, al, if them fellas won't dig, then we'll all hafta go. come on, le's go talk to 'em." they hunched their shoulders and ran down the cat-walk to the next car and up the walk into its open door.

    ma was at the stove, feeding a few sticks to the feeble flame. ruthie crowded close beside her. "i'm hungry," ruthie whined.

    "no, you ain't," ma said. "you had good mush."

    "wisht i had a box a cracker jack. there ain't nothin' to do. ain't no fun."

    "they'll be fun," ma said. "you jus' wait. be fun purty soon. git a house an' a place, purty soon."

    "wisht we had a dog," ruthie said.

    "we'll have a dog; have a cat, too."

    "yella cat?"

    "don't bother me," ma begged. "don't go plaguin' me now, ruthie. rosasharn's sick. jus' you be a good girl a little while. they'll be fun." ruthie wandered, complaining, away.

    from the mattress where rose of sharon lay covered up there came a quick sharp cry, cut off in the middle. ma whirled and went to her. rose of sharon was holding her breath and her eyes were filled with terror.

    "what is it?" ma cried. the girl expelled her breath and caught it again. suddenly ma put her hand under the covers. then she stood up. "mis' wainwright," she called. "oh, mis' wainwright!"

    the fat little woman came down the car. "want me?"

    "look!" ma pointed at rose of sharon's face. her teeth were clamped on her lower lip and her forehead was wet with perspiration, and the shining terror was in her eyes.

    "i think it's come," ma said. "it's early."

    the girl heaved a great sigh and relaxed. she released her lip and closed her eyes.

    mrs. wainwright bent over her.

    "did it kinda grab you all over--quick? open up an' answer me." rose of sharon nodded weakly. mrs. wainwright turned to ma. "yep," she said. "it's come. early, ya say?"

    "maybe the fever brang it."

    "well, she oughta be up on her feet. oughta be walkin' aroun'."

    "she can't," ma said. "she ain't got the strength."

    "well, she oughta." mrs. wainwright grew quiet and stern with efficiency. "i he'ped with lots," she said. "come on, le's close that door, nearly. keep out the draf'." the two women pushed on the heavy sliding door, boosted it along until only a foot was open. "i'll git our lamp, too," mrs. wainwright said. her face was purple with excitement. "aggie," she called. "you take care of these here little fellas."

    ma nodded, "tha's right. ruthie! you an' winfiel' go down with aggie. go on now."

    "why?" they demanded.

    "'cause you got to. rosasharn gonna have her baby."

    "i wanta watch, ma. please let me."

    "ruthie! you git now. you git quick." there was no argument against such a tone. ruthie and winfield went reluctantly down the car. ma lighted the lantern. mrs. wainwright brought her rochester lamp down and set it on the floor, and its big circular flame lighted the boxcar brightly.

    ruthie and winfield stood behind the brush pile and peered over. "gonna have a baby, an' we're a-gonna see," ruthie said softly. "don't you make no noise now. ma won't let us watch. if she looks this-a-way, you scrunch down behin' the brush. then we'll see."

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