Fragrance in Literature-The Price of the Prairie, by Margaret Hill McCarter,

The Price of the Prairie, by Margaret Hill

On the evening after the storm there was no loitering on the prairie.
While we knew there was no danger, a half-dozen boys brought the cows
home long before the daylight failed. At sunset I went down to
"Rockport," intending to whistle to Marjie. How many a summer evening
together here we had watched the sunset on the prairie! To-night, for no
reason that I could give, I parted the bushes and climbed down to the
ledge below, intending in a moment to come up again. I paused to listen
to the lowing of some cows down the river. All the sweet sounds and
odors of evening were in the air, and the rain-washed woodland of the
Neosho Valley was in its richest green.

For us that season all the world was gay and all the skies were
opal-hued, and we almost forgot sometimes that there could be sorrow and
darkness and danger. Most of all we forgot about an alien down in the
Hermit's Cave, "a good Indian" turned bad in one brief hour. Dear are
the memories of that springtide. Many a glorious April have I seen in
this land of sunshine, but none has ever seemed quite like that one to
me. Nor waving yellow wheat, nor purple alfalfa bloom, nor ramparts of
dark green corn on well-tilled land can hold for me one-half the beauty
of the windswept springtime prairie. No sweet odor of new-ploughed
ground can rival the fragrance of the wild grasses in their waving seas
of verdure.

For once the ponies seemed willing to stand quiet, and Marjie and I
looked long at the magnificent stretch of sky and earth. There were a
few white clouds overhead, deepening to a dull gray in the southwest.
All the sunny land was swathed in the midsummer yellow green, darkening
in verdure along the river and creeks, and in the deepest draws. Even as
we rested there the clouds rolled over the horizon's edge, piling higher
and higher, till they hid the afternoon sun, and the world was cool and
gray. Then down the land sped a summer shower; and the sweet damp odor
of its refreshing the south wind bore to us, who saw it all. Sheet
after sheet of glittering raindrops, wind-driven, swept across the
prairie, and the cool green and the silvery mist made a scene a master
could joy to copy.

I looked about once more and then we went outside and stood on the
broad, flat step. The late afternoon was dreamily still here, and the
odor of some flowers, faint and woodsy, came from the thicket beside the

While I rested he prepared our supper. Disappointment in love does not
always show itself in the appetite, and I was as hungry as a coyote. All
day new sights and experiences had been crowding in upon me. The
exhilaration of the wild Plains was beginning to pulse in my veins. I
had come into a strange, untried world. The past, with its broken ties
and its pain and loss, must be only a memory that at my leisure I might
call back; but here was a different life, under new skies, with new
people. The sunset lights, the gray evening shadows, and the dip and
swell of the purple distances brought their heartache; but now I was
hungry, and Morton was making johnny cakes and frying bacon; wild plums
were simmering on the fire, and coffee was filling the room with the
rarest of all good odors vouchsafed to mortal sense.

All Kansas was in its Maytime glory. From the freshly ploughed earth
came up that sweet wholesome odor that like the scent of new-mown hay
carries its own traditions of other days to each of us. The young
orchards--there were not many orchards in Kansas then--were all a blur
of pink on the hill slopes. A thousand different blossoms gemmed the
prairies, making a perfect kaleidoscope of brilliant hues, that blended
with the shifting shades of green. Along the waterways the cottonwood's
silvery branches, tipped with tender young leaves fluttering in the soft
wind, stood up proudly above the scrubby bronze and purple growths
hardly yet in bud and leaf. From every gentle swell the landscape swept
away to the vanishing line of distances in billowy seas of green and
gold, while far overhead arched the deep-blue skies of May. Fleecy
clouds, white and soft as foam, drifted about in the limitless fields of
ether. The glory of the new year, the fresh sweet air, the spirit of
budding life, set the pulses a-tingle with the very joy of being. Like a
dream of Paradise lay the Neosho Valley in its wooded beauty, with field
and farm, the meadow, and the open unending prairie rolling away from
it, wave on wave, in the Maytime grace and grandeur. Through this valley
the river itself wound in and out, glistening like molten silver in the
open spaces, and gliding still and shadowy by overhanging cliff and
wooded covert.

"Is that the lilac that is so fragrant?" I caught a faint perfume in the
"Yes," sadly, "what there is of it." And then she laughed a little.
"That miserable O'mie came up here the day after we went to Red Range
and persuaded mother to cut it all down except one straight stick of a
bush. He told her it was dying, and that it needed pruning, and I don't
know what. And you know mother. I was over at the Anderson's, and when I
came home the whole clump was gone. I dreamed the other night that
somebody was hiding in there. It was all dead in the middle. Do you
remember when we played hide-and-seek in there?"
"I never forget anything you do, Marjie," I answered; "but I'm glad the
bushes are thinned out."
She broke off some plumes of the perfumy blossoms.
"Take those to Aunt Candace. Tell her I sent them. Don't let her think
you stole them," she was herself now, and her fear was gone.

Sweeter to me than the salt sea spray, the fragrance of summer rains;
Nearer my heart than the mighty hills are the wind-swept Kansas plains.
Dearer the sight of a shy wild rose by the road-side's dusty way,
Than all the splendor of poppy-fields ablaze in the sun of May.
Gay as the bold poinsettia is, and the burden of pepper trees,
The sunflower, tawny and gold and brown, is richer to me than these;
And rising ever above the song of the hoarse, insistent sea,
The voice of the prairie calling, calling me.


In the long summer days the cows ranged wider to the west, and we
wandered farther in our evening jaunts and lingered later in the
fragrant draws where the sweet grasses were starred with many brilliant
blossoms. That is how we happened to be away out on the northwest
prairie that evening when Jean Pahusca found us, the evening when O'mie
read my secret in my tell-tale face. Even to-day a storm cloud in the
northwest with the sunset flaming against its jagged edges recalls that
scene. The cattle had all been headed homeward, and we were racing our
ponies down the long slope to the south. On the right the draw, watched
over by the big cottonwood, breaks through the height and finds its way
to the Neosho. The watershed between the river and Fingal's Creek is
here only a high swell, and straight toward the west it is level as a

Tell Mapleson and Lettie had been with Marjie and me for a time, but at
last Tell had led Lettie far away. When we reached the draw beyond the
big cottonwood where Jean Pahusca threw us into such disorder on that
August evening the year before, we found a rank profusion of spring
blossoms. Leading our ponies by the bridle rein we lingered long in the
fragrant draw, gathering flowers and playing like two children among
them. At length Marjie sat down on the sloping ground and deftly wove
into a wreath the little pink blooms of some frail wild flower.