Farmer In The Dell
Old Ben Westerveld was taking it easy. Every muscle taut, every nerve tense, his keen
eyes vainly straining to pierce the blackness of the stuffy room--there lay Ben Westerveld
in bed, taking it easy. And it was hard. Hard. He wanted to get up. He wanted so
intensely to get up that the mere effort of lying there made him ache all over. His toes
were curled with the effort. His fingers were clenched with it. His breath came short, and
his thighs felt cramped. Nerves. But old Ben Westerveld didn't know that. What should a
retired and well-to-do farmer of fifty-eight know of nerves, especially when he has
moved to the city and is taking it easy?
If only he knew what time it was. Here in Chicago you couldn't tell whether it was four
o'clock or seven unless you looked at your watch. To do that it was necessary to turn on
the light. And to turn on the light meant that he would turn on, too, a flood of querulous
protest from his wife, Bella, who lay asleep beside him.
When for forty-five years of your life you have risen at four-thirty daily, it is difficult to
learn to loll. To do it successfully, you must be a natural- born loller to begin with and
revert. Bella Westerveld was and had. So there she lay, asleep. Old Ben wasn't and
hadn't. So there he lay, terribly wide- awake, wondering what made his heart thump so
fast when he was lying so still. If it had been light, you could have seen the lines of
strained resignation in the sagging muscles of his patient face.
They had lived in the city for almost a year, but it was the same every morning. He would
open his eyes, start up with one hand already reaching for the limp, drab work-worn
garments that used to drape the chair by his bed. Then he would remember and sink back
while a great wave of depression swept over him. Nothing to get up for. Store clothes on
the chair by the bed. He was taking it easy.
Back home on the farm in southern Illinois he had known the hour the instant his eyes
opened. Here the flat next door was so close that the bed- room was in twilight even at
midday. On the farm he could tell by the feeling--an intangible thing, but infallible. He
could gauge the very quality of the blackness that comes just before dawn. The crowing
of the cocks, the stamping of the cattle, the twittering of the birds in the old elm whose
branches were etched eerily against his window in the ghostly light --these things he had
never needed. He had known. But here in the un- sylvan section of Chicago which bears
the bosky name of Englewood, the very darkness had a strange quality.
A hundred unfamiliar noises misled him. There were no cocks, no cattle, no elm. Above
all, there was no instinctive feeling. Once, when they first came to the city, he had risen
at twelve-thirty, thinking it was morning, and had gone clumping about the flat, waking
up everyone and loosing from his wife's lips a stream of acid vituperation that seared
even his case-hardened sensibilities. The people sleeping in the bedroom of the flat next
door must have heard her.