E-text prepared by Al Haines
THE LONESOME TRAIL AND OTHER STORIES
B. M. BOWER (B. M. SINCLAIR)
Author of Chip of the Flying U, The Range Dwellers, Her Prairie Knight, The Lure of the Dim Trails, The Happy Family, The Long Shadow, etc.
New York Grosset & Dunlap Publishers
THE LONESOME TRAIL
FIRST AID TO CUPID
WHEN THE COOK FELL ILL
THE SPIRIT OF THE RANGE
THE UNHEAVENLY TWINS
THE LONESOME TRAIL
A man is very much like a horse. Once thoroughly frightened by something he meets on the road, he will invariably shy at the same place afterwards, until a wisely firm master leads him perforce to the spot and proves beyond all doubt that the danger is of his own imagining; after which he will throw up his head and deny that he ever was afraid—and be quite amusingly sincere in the denial.
It is true of every man with high-keyed nature, a decent opinion of himself and a healthy pride of power. It was true of Will Davidson, of the Flying U—commonly known among his associates, particularly the Happy Family, as "Weary." As to the cause of his shying at a certain object, that happened long ago. Many miles east of the Bear Paws, in the town where Weary had minced painfully along the streets on pink, protesting, bare soles before the frost was half out of the ground; had yelled himself hoarse and run himself lame in the redoubtable base-ball nine which was to make that town some day famous—the nine where they often played with seven "men" because the other two had to "bug" potatoes or do some other menial task and where the umpire frequently engaged in throwing lumps of dried mud at refractory players,—there had lived a Girl.
She might have lived there a century and Weary been none the worse, had he not acquired the unfortunate habit of growing up. Even then he might have escaped injury had he not persisted in growing up and up, a straight six-feet-two of lovable good looks, with the sunniest of tempers and blue eyes that reflected the warm sweetness of that nature, and a smile to tell what the eyes left unsaid.
Such being the tempting length of him, the Girl saw that he was worth an effort; she took to smoking the chimney of her bedroom lamp, heating curling irons, wearing her best hat and best ribbons on a weekday, and insisting upon crowding number four-and-a-half feet into number three-and-a-half shoes and managing to look as if she were perfectly comfortable. When a girl does all those things, and when she has a good complexion and hair vividly red and long, heavy-lidded blue eyes that have a fashion of looking side-long at a man, it were well for that man to travel—if he would keep the lightness of his heart and the sunny look in his eyes and his smile.
Weary traveled, but the trouble was that he did not go soon enough. When he did go, his eyes were somber instead of sunny, and he smiled not at all. And in his heart he carried a deep-rooted impulse to shy always at women—and so came to resemble a horse.
He shied at long, blue eyes and turned his own uncompromisingly away. He never would dance with a woman who had red hair, except in quadrilles where he could not help himself; and then his hand-clasp was brief and perfunctory when it came to "Grand right-and-left." If commanded to "Balance-swing" the red-haired woman was swung airily by the finger-tips—; which was not the way in which Weary swung the others.
And then came the schoolma'am. The schoolma'am's hair was the darkest brown and had a shine to it where the light struck at the proper angle, and her eyes were large and came near being round, and they were a velvety brown and also had a shine in them.
Still Weary shied consistently and systematically.
At the leap-year ball, given on New Year's night, when the ladies were invited to "choose your pardners for the hull dance, regardless of who brought yuh," the schoolma'am had forsaken Joe Meeker, with whose parents she boarded, and had deliberately chosen Weary. The Happy Family had, with one accord, grinned at him in a way that promised many things and, up to the coming of the Fourth of July, every promise had been conscientiously fulfilled.
They brought him many friendly messages from the schoolma'am, to which he returned unfriendly answers. When he accused them openly of trying to "load" him; they were shocked and grieved. They told him the schoolma'am said she felt drawn to him—he looked so like her darling brother who had spilled his precious blood on San Juan Hill. Cal Emmett was exceedingly proud of this invention, since it seemed to "go down" with Weary better than most of the lies they told.
It was the coming of the Fourth and the celebration of that day which provoked further effort to tease Weary.
"Who are you going to take, Weary?" Cal Emmett lowered his left eyelid very gently, for the benefit of the others, and drew a match sharply along the wall just over his head.
"Myself," answered Weary sweetly, though it was becoming a sore subject.
"You're sure going in bum company, then," retorted Cal.
"Who's going to pilot the schoolma'am?" blurted Happy Jack, who was never consciously ambiguous.
"You can search me," said Weary, in a you-make-me-tired tone. "She sure isn't going with Yours Truly."
"Ain't she asked yuh yet?" fleered Cal. "That's funny. She told me the other day she was going to take advantage of woman's privilege, this year, and choose her own escort for the dance. Then she asked me if I knew whether you were spoke for, and when I told her yuh wasn't, she wanted to know if I'd bring a note over. But I was in a dickens of a hurry, and couldn't wait for it; anyhow, I was headed the other way."
"Not toward Len Adams, were you?" asked Weary sympathetically.
"Aw, she'll give you an invite, all right," Happy Jack declared. "Little Willie ain't going to be forgot, yuh can gamble on that. He's too much like Darling Brother—"
At this point, Happy Jack ducked precipitately and a flapping, four-buckled overshoe, a relic of the winter gone, hurtled past his head and landed with considerable force upon the unsuspecting stomach of Cal, stretched luxuriously upon his bunk. Cal doubled like a threatened caterpillar and groaned, and Weary, feeling that justice had not been defeated even though he had aimed at another culprit, grinned complacently.
"What horse are you going to take?" asked Chip, to turn the subject.
"Glory. I'm thinking of putting him up against Bert Rogers' Flopper. Bert's getting altogether too nifty over that cayuse of his. He needs to be walked away from, once; Glory's the little horse that can learn 'em things about running, if—"
"Yeah—if!" This from Cal, who had recovered speech. "Have yuh got a written guarantee from Glory, that he'll run?"
"Aw," croaked Happy Jack, "if he runs at all, it'll likely be backwards—if it ain't a dancing-bear stunt on his hind feet. You can gamble it'll be what yuh don't expect and ain't got any money on; that there's Glory, from the ground up."
"Oh, I don't know," Weary drawled placidly. "I'm not setting him before the public as a twin to Mary's little lamb, but I'm willing to risk him. He's a good little horse—when he feels that way—and he can run. And darn him, he's got to run!"
Shorty quit snoring and rolled over. "Betche ten dollars, two to one, he won't run," he said, digging his fists into his eyes like a baby.
Weary, dead game, took him up, though he knew what desperate chances he was taking.
"Betche five dollars, even up, he runs backwards," grinned Happy Jack, and Weary accepted that wager also.
The rest of the afternoon was filled with Glory—so to speak—and much coin was hazarded upon his doing every unseemly thing that a horse can possibly do at a race, except the one thing which he did do; which goes to prove that Glory was not an ordinary cayuse, and that he had a reputation to maintain. To the day of his death, it may be said, he maintained it.
Dry Lake was nothing if not patriotic. Every legal holiday was observed in true Dry Lake manner, to the tune of violins and the swish-swish of slippered feet upon a more-or-less polished floor. The Glorious Fourth, however, was celebrated with more elaborate amusements. On that day men met, organized and played a matched game of ball with much shouting and great gusto, and with an umpire who aimed to please.
After that they arranged their horseraces over the bar of the saloon, and rode, ran or walked to the quarter-mile stretch of level trail beyond the stockyards to witness the running; when they would hurry back to settle their bets over the bar where they had drunk to the preliminaries.
Bert Rogers came early, riding Flopper. Men hurried from the saloon to gather round the horse that held the record of beating a "real race-horse" the summer before. They felt his legs sagely and wondered that anyone should seem anxious to question his ability to beat anything in the country in a straightaway quarter-mile dash.
When the Flying U boys clattered into town in a bunch, they were greeted enthusiastically; for old Jim Whitmore's "Happy Family" was liked to a man. The enthusiasm did not extend to Glory, however. He was eyed askance by those who knew him or who had heard of his exploits. If the Happy Family had not backed him loyally to a man, he would not have had a dollar risked upon him; and this not because he could not run.
Glory was an alien, one of a carload of horses shipped in from Arizona the summer before. He was a bright sorrel, with the silvery mane and tan and white feet which one so seldom sees—a beauty, none could deny. His temper was not so beautiful.
Sometimes for days he was lamblike in his obedience, touching in his muzzling affection till Weary was lulled into unwatchful love for the horse. Then things would happen.
Once, Weary walked with a cane for two weeks. Another time he walked ten miles in the rain. Once he did not walk at all, but sat on a rock and smoked cigarettes till his tobacco sack ran empty, waiting for Glory to quit sulking, flat on his side, and get up and carry him home.
Any man but Weary would have ruined the horse with harshness, but Weary was really proud of his deviltry and would laugh till the tears came while he told of some new and undreamed bit of cussedness in his pet.
On this day, Glory was behaving beautifully. True, he had nearly squeezed the life out of Weary that morning when he went to saddle him in the stall, and he had afterwards snatched Cal Emmet's hat off with his teeth, and had dropped it to the ground and had stood upon it; but on the whole, the Happy Family regarded those trifles as a good sign.
When Bert Rogers and Weary ambled away down the dusty trail to the starting point, accompanied by most of the Flying U boys and two or three from Bert's outfit, the crowd in the grand-stand (which was the top rail of the stockyard fence) hushed expectantly.
When a pistol cracked, far down the road, and a faint yell came shrilling through the quiet sunshine, they craned necks till their muscles ached. Like a summer sand-storm they came, and behind them clattered their friends, the dust concealing horse and rider alike. Whooping encouraging words at random, they waited till a black nose shot out from the rushing cloud. That was Flopper. Beside it a white streak, a flying, silvery mane—Glory was running! Happy Jack gave a raucous yell.
Lifting reluctantly, the dust gave hazy glimpses of a long, black body hugging jealously close to earth, its rider lying low upon the straining neck—that was Flopper and Bert.
Close beside, a sheeny glimmer of red, a tossing fringe of white, a leaning, wiry, exultant form above—that was Glory and Weary.
There were groans as well as shouting when the whirlwind had swept past and on down the hill toward town, and the reason thereof was plain. Glory had won by a good length of him.
Bert Rogers said something savage and set his weight upon the bit till Flopper, snorting and disgusted—for a horse knows when he is beaten—took shorter leaps, stiffened his front legs and stopped, digging furrows with his feet.
Glory sailed on down the trail, scattering Mrs. Jenson's chickens and jumping clean over a lumbering, protesting sow. "Come on—he's going to set up the drinks!" yelled someone, and the crowd leaped from the fence and followed.
But Glory did not stop. He whipped around the saloon, whirled past the blacksmith shop and was headed for the mouth of the lane before anyone understood. Then Chip, suddenly grasping the situation, dug deep with his spurs and yelled.
"He's broken the bit—it's a runaway!"
Thus began the second race, a free-for-all dash up the lane. At the very start they knew it was hopeless to attempt overtaking that red streak, but they galloped a mile for good manners' sake; Cal then pulled up.
"No use," he said. "Glory's headed for home and we ain't got the papers to stop him. He can't hurt Weary—and the dance opens up at six, and I've got a girl in town."
"Same here," grinned Bert. "It's after four, now."
Chip, who at that time hadn't a girl—and didn't want one—let Silver out for another long gallop, seeing it was Weary. Then he, too, gave up the chase and turned back.
Glory settled to a long lope and kept steadily on, gleefully rattling the broken bit which dangled beneath his jaws. Weary, helpless and amused and triumphant because the race was his, sat unconcernedly in the saddle and laid imaginary bets with himself on the outcome. Without doubt, Glory was headed for home. Weary figured that, barring accidents, he could catch up Blazes, in the little pasture, and ride back to Dry Lake by the time the dance was in full swing—for the dancing before dark would be desultory and without much spirit.
But the gate into the big field was closed and tied securely with a rope. Glory comprehended the fact with one roll of his knowing eyes, turned away to the left and took the trail which wound like a snake into the foothills. Clinging warily to the level where choice was given him, trotting where the way was rough, mile after mile he covered till even Weary's patience showed signs of weakening.
Just then Glory turned, where a wire gate lay flat upon the ground, crossed a pebbly creek and galloped stiffly up to the very steps of a squat, vine-covered ranch-house where, like the Discontented Pendulum in the fable, he suddenly stopped.
"Damn you, Glory—I could kill yuh for this!" gritted Weary, and slid reluctantly from the saddle. For while the place seemed deserted, it was not. There was a girl.
She lay in a hammock; sprawled would come nearer describing her position. She had some magazines scattered around upon the porch, and her hair hung down to the floor in a thick, dark braid. She was dressed in a dark skirt and what, to Weary's untrained, masculine eyes, looked like a pink gunny sack. In reality it was a kimono. She appeared to be asleep.
Weary saw a chance of leading Glory quietly to the corral before she woke. There he could borrow a bridle and ride back whence he came, and he could explain about the bridle to Joe Meeker in town. Joe was always good about lending things, anyway. He gathered the fragments of the bit in one hand and clucked under his breath, in an agony lest his spurs should jingle.
Glory turned upon him his beautiful, brown eyes, reproachfully questioning.
Weary pulled steadily. Glory stretched neck and nose obediently, but as to feet, they were down to stay.
Weary glanced anxiously toward the hammock and perspired, then stood back and whispered language it would be a sin to repeat. Glory, listening with unruffled calm, stood perfectly still, like a red statue in the sunshine.
The face of the girl was hidden under one round, loose-sleeved arm. She did not move. A faint breeze, freshening in spasmodic puffs, seized upon the hammock, and set it swaying gently.
"Oh, damn you, Glory!" whispered Weary through his teeth. But Glory, accustomed to being damned since he was a yearling, displayed absolutely no interest. Indeed, he seemed inclined to doze there in the sun.
Taking his hat—his best hat—from his head, he belabored Glory viciously over the jaws with it; silently except for the soft thud and slap of felt on flesh. And the mood of him was as near murder as Weary could come. Glory had been belabored with worse things than hats during his eventful career; he laid back his ears, shut his eyes tight and took it meekly.
There came a gasping gurgle from the hammock, and Weary's hand stopped in mid-air. The girl's head was burrowed in a pillow and her slippers tapped the floor while she laughed and laughed.
Weary delivered a parting whack, put on his hat and looked at her uncertainly; grinned sheepishly when the humor of the thing came to him slowly, and finally sat down upon the porch steps and laughed with her.
"Oh, gee! It was too funny," gasped the girl, sitting up and wiping her eyes.
Weary gasped also, though it was a small matter—a common little word of three letters. In all the messages sent him by the schoolma'am, it was the precise, school-grammar wording of them which had irritated him most and impressed him insensibly with the belief that she was too prim to be quite human. The Happy Family had felt all along that they were artists in that line, and they knew that the precise sentences ever carried conviction of their truth. Weary mopped his perspiring face upon a white silk handkerchief and meditated wonderingly.
"You aren't a train-robber or a horsethief, or—anything, are you?" she asked him presently. "You seemed quite upset at seeing the place wasn't deserted; but I'm sure, if you are a robber running away from a sheriff, I'd never dream of stopping you. Please don't mind me; just make yourself at home."
Weary turned his head and looked straight up at her. "I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint yuh, Miss Satterly," he said blandly. "I'm just an ordinary human, and my name is Davidson—better known as Weary. You don't appear to remember me. We've met before."
She eyed him attentively. "Perhaps we have—it you say so. I'm wretched about remembering strange names and faces. Was it at a dance? I meet so many fellows at dances—" She waved a brown little hand and smiled deprecatingly.
"Yes," said Weary laconically, still looking into her face. "It was."
She stared down at him, her brows puckered. "I know, now. It was at the Saint Patrick's dance in Dry Lake! How silly of me to forget."
Weary turned his gaze to the hill beyond the creek, and fanned his hot face with his hat. "It was not. It wasn't at that dance, at all." Funny she didn't remember him! He suspected her of trying to fool him, now that he was actually in her presence, and he refused absolutely to be fooled.
He could see that she threw out her hand helplessly. "Well, I may as well 'fess up. I don't remember you at all. It's horrid of me, when you rode up in that lovely, unconventional way. But you see, at dances one doesn't think of the men as individuals; they're just good or bad partners. It resolves itself, you see, into a question of feet. If I should dance with you again,—did I dance with you?"
Weary shot a quick, eloquent glance in her direction. He did not say anything.
Miss Satterly blushed. "I was going to say, if I danced with you again I should no doubt remember you perfectly."
Weary was betrayed into a smile. "If I could dance in these boots, I'd take off my spurs and try and identify myself. But I guess I'll have to ask yuh to take my word for it that we're acquainted."
"Oh, I will. I meant to, all along. Why aren't you in town, celebrating? I thought I was the only unpatriotic person in the country."
"I just came from town," Weary told her, choosing, his words carefully while yet striving to be truthful. No man likes confessing to a woman that he has been run away with. "I—er—broke my bridle-bit, back a few miles" (it was fifteen, if it were a rod) "and so I rode in here to get one of Joe's. I didn't want to bother anybody, but Glory seemed to think this was where the trail ended."
Miss Satterly laughed again. "It certainly was funny—you trying to get him away, and being so still about it. I heard you whispering swear-words, and I wanted to scream! I just couldn't keep still any longer. Is he balky?"
"I don't know what he is—now," said Weary plaintively. "He was, at that time. He's generally what happens to be the most dev—mean under the circumstances."
"Well, maybe he'll consent to being led to the stable; he looks as if he had a most unmerciful master!" (Weary, being perfectly innocent, blushed guiltily) "But I'll forgive you riding him like that, and make for you a pitcher of lemonade and give you some cake while he rests. You certainly must not ride back with him so tired."
Fresh lemonade sounded tempting, after that ride. And being lectured was not at all what he had expected from the schoolma'am—and who can fathom the mind of a man? Weary gave her one complex glance, laid his hand upon the bridle and discovered that Glory, having done what mischief he could, was disposed to be very meek. At the corral gate Weary looked back.
"At dances," he mused aloud, "one doesn't consider men as individuals—it's merely a question of feet. She took me for a train robber; and I danced with her about forty times, that night, and took her over to supper and we whacked up on our chicken salad because there was only one dish for the two of us—oh, mamma!"
He pulled off the saddle with a preoccupied air and rubbed Glory down mechanically. After that he went over and sat down on the oats' box and smoked two cigarettes while he pondered many things.
He stood up and thoughtfully surveyed himself, brushed sundry bright sorrel hairs from his coat sleeves, stooped and tried to pinch creases into the knees of his trousers, which showed symptoms of "bagging." He took off his hat and polished it with his sleeve he had just brushed so carefully, pinched four big dimples in the crown, turned it around three times for critical inspection, placed it upon his head at a studiously unstudied angle, felt anxiously at his neck-gear and slapped Glory affectionately upon the rump—and came near getting kicked into eternity. Then he swung off up the path, softly whistling "In the good, old summer-time." An old hen, hovering her chicks in the shade of the hay-rack, eyed him distrustfully and cried "k-r-r-r-r" in a shocked tone that sent her chickens burrowing deeper under her feathers.
Miss Satterly had changed her pink kimono for a white shirt-waist and had fluffed her hair into a smooth coil on the top of her head. Weary thought she looked very nice. She could make excellent lemonade, he discovered, and she proved herself altogether different from what the messages she sent him had led him to expect. Weary wondered, until he became too interested to think about it.
Presently, without quite knowing how it came about, he was telling her all about the race. Miss Satterly helped him reckon his winnings—which was not easy to do, since he had been offered all sorts of odds and had accepted them all with a recklessness that was appalling. While her dark head was bent above the piece of paper, and her pencil was setting down figures with precise little jabs, he watched her. He quite forgot the messages he had received from her through the medium of the Happy Family, and he quite forgot that women could hurt a man.
"Mr. Davidson," she announced severely, when the figures had all been dabbed upon the paper, "You ought to have lost. It would be a lesson to you. I haven't quite figured all your winnings, these six-to-ones and ten-to-ones and—and all that, take time to unravel. But you, yourself, stood to lose just three hundred and sixty-five dollars. Gee! but you cowboys are reckless."
There was more that she said, but Weary did not mind. He had discovered that he liked to look at the schoolma'am. After that, nothing else was of much importance. He began to wish he might prolong his opportunity for looking.
"Say," he said suddenly, "Come on and let's go to the dance."
The schoolma'am bit at her pencil and looked at him. "It's late—"
"Oh, there's time enough," urged Weary.
"Do yuh think we aren't well enough acquainted?"
"Well we're not exactly old friends," she laughed.
"We're going to be, so it's all the same," Weary surprised himself by declaring with much emphasis. "You'd go, wouldn't you, if I was—well, say your brother?"
Miss Satterly rested her chin in her palms and regarded him measuringly. "I don't know. I never had one—except three or four that I—er—adopted, at one time or another. I suppose one could go, though—with a brother."
Weary made a rapid, mental note for the benefit of the Happy Family—and particularly Cal Emmett. "Darling Brother" was a myth, then; he ought to have known it, all along. And if that were a myth, so probably were all those messages and things that he had hated. She didn't care anything about him—and suddenly that struck him unpleasantly, instead of being a relief, as it consistently should have been.
"I wish you'd adopt me, just for to-night, and go;" he said, and his eyes backed the wish. "You see," he added artfully, "it's a sin to waste all that good music—a real, honest-to-God stringed orchestra from Great Falls, and—"
"Meekers have taken both rigs," objected she, weakly.
"I noticed a side saddle hanging in the stable," he wheedled, "and I'll gamble I can rustle something to put it on. I—"
"I should think you'd gambled enough for one day," she quelled. "But that chunky little gray in the pasture is the horse I always ride. I expect," she sighed, "my new dancing dress would be a sight to behold when I got there—and it won't wash. But what does a mere man care—"
"Wrap it up in something, and I'll carry it for yuh," Weary advised eagerly. "You can change at the hotel. It's dead easy." He picked up his hat from the floor, rose and stood looking anxiously down at her. "About how soon," he insinuated, "can you be ready?"
The schoolma'am looked up at him irresolutely, drew a long breath and then laughed. "Oh, ten minutes will do," she surrendered. "I shall put my new dress in a box, and go just as I am. Do you always get your own way, Mr. Davidson?"
"Always," he lied convincingly over his shoulder, and jumped off the porch without bothering to use the steps.
She was waiting when he led the little gray up to the house, and she came down the steps with a large, flat, pasteboard box in her arms.
"Don't get off," she commanded. "I can mount alone—and you'll have to carry the box. It's going to be awkward, but you would have me go."
Weary took the box and prudently remained in the saddle. Glory, having the man he did for master, was unused to the flutter of women's skirts so close, and rolled his eyes till the whites showed all round. Moreover, he was not satisfied with that big, white thing in Weary's arms.
He stood quite still, however, until the schoolma'am was settled to her liking in the saddle, and had tucked her skirt down over the toe of her right foot. He watched the proceeding with much interest—as did Weary—and then walked sedately from the yard, through the pebbly creek and up the slope beyond. He heard Weary give a sigh of relief at his docility, and straightway thrust his nose between his white front feet, and proceeded to carry out certain little plans of his own. Weary, taken by surprise and encumbered by the box, could not argue the point; he could only, in range parlance, "hang and rattle."
"Oh," cried Miss Satterly, "if he's going to act like that, give me the box."
Weary would like to have done so, but already he was half way to the gate, and his coat was standing straight out behind to prove the speed of his flight. He could not even look back. He just hung tight to the box and rode.
The little gray was no racer, but his wind was good; and with urging he kept the fleeing Glory in sight for a mile or so. Then, horse and rider were briefly silhouetted against the sunset as they topped a distant hill, and after that the schoolma'am rode by faith.
At the gate which led into the big Flying U field she overtook them. Glory, placid as a sheep, was nibbling a frayed end of the rope which held the gate shut, and Weary, the big box balanced in front of him across the saddle, was smoking a cigarette.
"Well," greeted Miss Satterly breathlessly, and rather tartly, "only for you having my dress, I'd have gone straight back home. Do brothers always act like this?"
"Search me," said Weary, shaking his head. "Anyway, yuh better talk to Glory about it. He appears to be running this show. When I rode out to your place, I didn't have any bit in his mouth at all. Coming back, I've got one of Joe Meeker's teething rings, that wouldn't hold a pet turkey. But we're going to the dance, Miss Satterly. Don't you worry none about that."
Miss Satterly laughed and rode ahead of them. "I'm going," she announced firmly. "It's leap year, and I think I can rustle a partner if you decide to sit and look through that gate all night."
"You'll need your pretty dress. Glory ain't much used to escorting young ladies, but he's a gentleman; we're coming, all right."
It was strange, perhaps, that Glory should miss the chance of proving his master a liar, but he nevertheless ambled decorously to Dry Lake and did nothing more unseemly than nipping occasionally at the neck of the little gray.
That is how Weary learned that large, brown eyes do not look sidelong at a man after the manner of long, heavy-lidded blue ones; and that, also, is how he came to throw up his head and deny to himself and his world that he ever was shy of women.
Weary rode stealthily around the corner of the little, frame school-house and was not disappointed. The schoolma'am was sitting unconventionally upon the doorstep, her shoulder turned to him and her face turned to the trail by which a man naturally would be supposed to approach the place. Her hair was shining darkly in the sun and the shorter locks were blowing about her face in a downright tantalizing fashion; they made a man want to brush them back and kiss the spot they were caressing so wantonly. She was humming a tune softly to herself. Weary caught the words, sung absently, under her breath:
"Didn't make no blunder—yuh couldn't confuse him. A perfect wonder, yuh had to choose him!"
The schoolma'am was addicted to coon songs of the period.
She seemed to be very busy about something and Weary, craning his neck to see over her shoulder, wondered what. Also, he wished he knew what she was thinking about, and he hoped her thoughts were not remote from himself. Just then Glory showed unmistakable and malicious intentions of sneezing, and Weary, catching a glimpse of something in Miss Satterly's hand, hastened to make his presence known.
"I hope yuh aren't limbering up that weapon of destruction on my account, Schoolma'am," he observed mildly.
The schoolma'am jumped and slid something out of sight under her ruffled, white apron. "Weary Davidson, how long have you been standing there? I believe you'd come straight down from the sky or straight up from the ground, if you could manage it. You seem capable of doing everything except coming by the trail like a sensible man." This with severity.
Weary swung a long leg over Glory's back and came lightly to earth, immediately taking possession of the vacant half of doorstep. The schoolma'am obligingly drew skirts aside to make room for him—an inconsistent movement not at all in harmony with her eyebrows, which were disapproving.
"Yuh don't like ordinary men. Yuh said so, once when I said I was just a plain, ordinary man. I've sworn off being ordinary since yuh gave me that tip," he said cheerfully. "Let's have a look at that cannon you're hiding under your apron. Where did yuh resurrect it? Out of some old Indian grave?
"Mamma! It won't go off sudden and unexpected, will it? What kind uh shells—oh, mamma!" He pushed his hat back off his forehead with a gesture not left behind with his boyhood, held the object the length of his long arm away and regarded it gravely.
It was an old, old "bull-dog" revolver, freckled with rust until it bore a strong resemblance to certain noses which Miss Satterly looked down upon daily. The cylinder was plugged with rolls of drab cotton cloth, supposedly in imitation of real bullets. It was obviously during the plugging process that Miss Satterly had been interrupted, for a drab string hung limply from one hole. On the whole, the thing did not look particularly formidable, and Weary's lips twitched.
"A tramp stopped here the other day, and—I was frightened a little," she was explaining, pink-cheeked. "So aunt Meeker found this up in the loft and she thought it would do to—to bluff with."
Weary aimed carefully at a venturesome and highly inquisitive gopher and pulled, with some effort, the rusted trigger. The gopher stood upon his hind feet and chipped derisively.
"You see, it just insults him. Yuh could'nt scare a blind man with it— Look here! If yuh go pouting up your lips like that again, something's going to happen 'em. There's a limit to what a man can stand."
Miss Satterly hastily drew her mouth into a thin, untempting, red streak, for she had not seen Weary Davidson, on an average, twice a week for the last four months for nothing. He was not the man to bluff.
"Of course," she said resentfully, "you can make fun of it—but all the same, it's better than nothing. It answers the purpose."
Weary turned his head till he could look straight into her eyes—a thing he seemed rather fond of doing, lately. "What purpose? It sure isn't ornamental; it's a little the hardest looker I ever saw in the shape of a gun. And it won't scare anything. If you want a gun, why, take one that can make good. You can have mine; just watch what a different effect it has."
He reached backward and drew a shining thing from his pocket, flipped it downward—and the effect was unmistakably different. The gopher leaped and rolled backward and then lay still, and Miss Satterly gave a little, startled scream and jumped quite off the doorstep.
"Don't yuh see? You couldn't raise any such a dust with yours. If yuh pack a gun, you always want to pack one that's ready and willing to do business on short notice. I'll let yuh have this, if you're sure it's safe with yuh. I'd hate to have you shooting yourself accidental."
Weary raised innocent eyes to her face and polished the gun caressingly with his handkerchief. "Try it once," he urged.
The schoolma'am was fond of boasting that she never screamed at anything. She had screamed just now, over a foolish little thing, and it goes without saying she was angry with the cause. She did not sit down again beside him, and she did not take the gun he was holding up invitingly to her. She put her hands behind her and stood accusingly before him with the look upon her face which never failed to make sundry small Beckmans and Pilgreens squirm on their benches when she assumed it in school.
"Mr. Davidson"—not Weary Davidson, as she was wont to call him—"you have killed my pet gopher. All summer I have fed him, and he would eat out of my hand."
Weary cast a jealous eye upon the limp, little animal, searched his heart for remorse and found none. Ornery little brute, to get familiar with his schoolma'am!
"I did not think you could be so wantonly cruel, and I am astonished and—and deeply pained to discover that fatal flaw in your character."
Weary began to squirm, after the manner of delinquent Beckmans and Pilgreens. One thing he had learned: When the schoolma'am rose to irreproachable English, there was trouble a-brew. It was a sign he had never known to fail.
"I cannot understand the depraved instinct which prompts a man brutally to destroy a life he cannot restore, and which in no way menaces his own—or even interferes with his comfort. You may apologize to me; you may even be sincerely repentant"—the schoolma'am's tone at this point implied considerable doubt—"but you are powerless to return the life you have so heedlessly taken. You have revealed a low, brutal trait which I had hoped your nature could not harbor, and I am—am deeply shocked and—and grieved."
Just here a tiny, dry-weather whirlwind swept around the corner, caught ruffled, white apron and blue skirt in its gyrations and, pushing them wickedly aside, gave Weary a brief, delicious glimpse of two small, slippered feet and two distracting ankles. The schoolma'am blushed and retreated to the doorstep, but she did not sit down. She still stood straight and displeased beside him. Evidently she was still shocked and grieved.
Weary tipped his head to one side so that be might look up at her from under his hat-brim. "I'll get yuh another gopher; six, if yuh say so," he soothed, "The woods is full of 'em."
The angry, brown eyes of Miss Satterly swept the barren hills contemptuously. She would not even look at him. "Pray do not inconvenience yourself, Mr. Davidson. It is not the gopher that I care for so much—it is the principle."
Weary sighed and slid the gun back into his pocket. It seemed to him that Miss Satterly, adorable as she always was, was also rather unreasonable at times. "All right, I'll get yuh another principle, then."
"Mr. Davidson," she said sternly, "you are perfectly odious!"
"Is that something nice, Girlie?" Weary smiled trustfully up at her.
"Odious," explained the schoolma'am haughtily, "is not something nice. I'm sorry your education has been so neglected. Odious, Mr. Davidson, is a synonym for hateful, obnoxious, repulsive, disagreeable, despicable—"
"I never did like cinnamon, anyhow," put in Weary, cheerfully.
"I did not mention cinnamon. I said—"
"Say, yuh look out uh sight with your hair fixed that way. I wish you'd wear it like that all the time," he observed irrelevantly, looking up at her with his sunniest smile.
"I wish to goodness I were really out of sight," snapped the schoolma'am. "You make me exceedingly weary."
"Mrs. Weary," corrected he, complacently. "That's what I'm sure aiming at."
"You aim wide of the mark, then," she retorted valiantly, though confusion waved a red flag in either cheek.
"Oh, I don't know. A minute ago you were roasting me because my aim was too good," he contended mildly, glancing involuntarily toward the gopher stretched upon its little, yellow back, its four small feet turned pitifully up to the blue.
"If you had an atom of decency you'd be ashamed to mention that tribute to your diabolical marksmanship."
"Oh, mamma!" ejaculated Weary under his breath, and began to make himself a smoke. His guardian angel was exhorting him to silence, but it preached, as usual, to unsentient ears.
"I never mentioned all those things," he denied meekly. "It's you that keeps on mentioning. I wish yuh wouldn't. I like to hear you talk, all right, and flop all those big words easy as roping a calf; but I wish you'd let me choose your subject for yuh. I could easy name one where you could use words just as high and wide and handsome, and a heap more pleasant than the brand you've got corralled. Try admiration and felicitation and exhilarating, ecstatic osculation—" He stopped to run the edge of paper along his tongue, and perhaps it was as well he did; there was no need of making her any angrier. Miss Satterly hated to feel that she was worsted, and it was quite clear that Weary had all along been "guying" her.
"If you came here to make me hate you, you have accomplished your errand admirably; it would be advisable now for you to hike."
Weary, struck by that incongruous last word, did an unforgivable thing. He laughed and laughed, while the match he had just lighted flared, sent up a blue thread of brimstone smoke, licked along the white wood and scorched his fingers painfully before he remembered his cigarette.
Miss Satterly turned abruptly and went into the house, put on her hat and took up the little, tin lard-pail in which her aunt Meeker always packed her lunch. She was back, had the key turned in the lock and was slowly pulling on her gloves by the time Weary recovered from his mirth.
"Since you will not leave the place, I shall do so. I want to say first, however, that I not only think you odious, but all the synonyms I mentioned besides. You need not come for me to go to the Labor Day dance, because I will not go with you. I shall go with Joe."
Weary gave her a startled glance and almost dropped his cigarette. This seemed going rather far, he thought—but of course she didn't really mean it; the schoolma'am, he heartened himself with thinking, was an awful, little bluffer.
"Don't go off mad, Girlie. I'm sorry I killed your gopher—on the dead, I am. I just didn't think, That's a habit I've got—not thinking.
"Say! You stay, and we'll have a funeral. It isn't every common, scrub gopher that can have a real funeral with mourners and music when he goes over the Big Divide. He—he'll appreciate the honor; I would, I know, if it was me."
The schoolma'am took a few steps and stopped, evidently in some difficulty with her glove. From the look of her, no human being was within a mile of her; she certainly did not seem to hear anything Weary was saying.
"Say! I'll sing a song over him, if you'll wait a minute. I know two whole verses of 'Bill Bailey,' and the chorus to 'Good Old Summertime.' I can shuffle the two together and make a full deck. I believe they'd go fine together.
"Say, you never heard me sing, did yuh? It's worth waiting for—only yuh want to hang tight to something when I start. Come on—I'll let you be the mourner."
Since Miss Satterly had been taking steps quite regularly while Weary was speaking, she was now several rods away—and she had, more than ever, the appearance of not hearing him and of not wanting to hear.
The schoolma'am refused to stop, or to turn her head a fraction of an inch, and Weary's face sobered a little. It was the first time that inimitable "Tee-e-cher" of his had failed to bring the smile back into the eyes of Miss Satterly. He looked after her dubiously. Her shoulders were thrown well back and her feet pressed their imprint firmly into the yellow dust of the trail. In a minute she would be quite out of hearing.
Weary got up, took a step and grasped Glory's trailing bridle-rein and hurried after her much faster than Glory liked and which he reproved with stiffened knees and a general pulling back on the reins.
"Say! You wouldn't get mad at a little thing like that, would yuh?" expostulated Weary, when he overtook her. "You know I didn't mean anything, Girlie."
"I do not consider it a little thing," said the schoolma'am, icily.
Thus rebuffed, Weary walked silently beside her up the hill—silently, that is, save for the subdued jingling of his spurs. He was beginning to realize that there was an uncomfortable, heavy feeling in his chest, on the side where his heart was. Still, he was of a hopeful nature and presently tried again.
"How many times must I say I'm sorry, Schoolma'am? You don't look so pretty when you're mad; you've got dimples, remember, and yuh ought to give 'em a chance. Let's sit down on this rock while I square myself. Come on." His tone was wheedling in the extreme.
Miss Satterly, not replying a word, kept straight on up the hill; and Weary, sighing heavily, followed.
"Don't you want to ride Glory a ways? He's real good, to-day. He put in the whole of yesterday working out all the cussedness that's been accumulating in his system for a week, so he's dead gentle. I'll lead him, for yuh."
"Thank you," said Miss Satterly. "I prefer to walk."
Weary sighed again, but clung to his general hopefulness, as was his nature. It took a great deal to rouse Weary; perhaps the schoolma'am was trying to find just how much.
"Say, you'd a died laughing if you'd seen old Glory yesterday; he liked to scared Slim plumb to death. We were working in the big corral and Slim got down on one knee to fix his spur. Glory saw him kneel down, and gave a running jump and went clear over Slim's head. Slim hit for the closest fence, and he never looked back till he was clean over on the other side. Mamma! I was sure amused. I thought Glory had done about everything there was to do—but I tell yuh, that horse has got an imagination that will make him famous some day."
For the first time since the day of his spectacular introduction to her, Miss Satterly displayed absolutely no interest in the eccentricities of Glory. Slowly it began to dawn upon Weary that she did not intend to thaw that evening. He glanced at her sidelong, and his eyes had a certain gleam that was not there five minutes before. He swung along beside her till they reached the top of the hill, fell behind without a word and mounted Glory.
When he overtook Miss Satterly, he lifted his hat to her nonchalantly, touched up Glory with his spurs, and clattered away down the coulee, leaving the schoolma'am in a haze of yellow dust and bewilderment far in the rear.
The next morning Miss Satterly went very early to the school-house—for what purpose she did not say. A meadow-lark on the doorstep greeted her with his short, sweet ripple of sound and then flew to a nearby sage bush and watched her curiously. She looked about her half expectant, half disappointed.
A little, fresh mound marked the spot where the dead gopher had been, and a narrow strip of shingle stood upright at the end. Someone had scratched the words with a knife:
GONE BUT NOT FORGOT.
Probably the last word would have been given its full complement of syllables, had the shingle been wider; as it was, the "forgot" was cramped until it was barely intelligible.
Miss Satterly, observing the mark of high-heeled boots in the immediate vicinity of the grave, caught herself wondering if the remains had been laid away to the tune of "Bill Bailey," with the chorus of "Good Old Summertime" shuffled in to make a full deck. She started to laugh and found that laughter was quite impossible.
Suddenly the schoolma'am did a strange thing. She glanced about to make sure no one was in sight, knelt and patted the tiny mound very tenderly; then, stooping quickly, she pressed her lips impulsively upon the rude lettering of the shingle. When she sprang up her cheeks were very red, her eyes dewy and lovely, and the little laugh she gave at herself was all atremble. If lovers could be summoned as opportunely in real life as they are in stories, hearts would not ache so often and life would be quite monotonously serene.
Weary was at that moment twenty miles away, busily engaged in chastising Glory, that had refused point-blank to cross a certain washout. His mind being wholly absorbed in the argument, he was not susceptible to telepathic messages from the Meeker school-house—which was a pity.
Also, it was a pity he could not know that Miss Satterly lingered late at the school-house that night, doing nothing but watch the trail where it lay, brown and distinct and utterly deserted, on the top of the bill a quarter of a mile away. It is true she had artfully scattered a profusion of papers over her desk and would undoubtedly have been discovered hard at work upon them and very much astonished at beholding him—if he had come. It is probable that Weary would have found her quite unapproachable, intrenched behind a bulwark of dignity and correct English.
When the shadow of the schoolhouse stretched somberly away to the very edge of the coulee. Miss Satterly gathered up the studied confusion on her desk, bundled the papers inside, and turned the key with a snap, jabbed three hatpins viciously through her hat and her hair and went home—and perhaps it were well that Weary was not there at that time.
The next night, papers strewed the desk as before, and the schoolma'am stood by the window, her elbows planted on the unpainted sill, and watched the trail listlessly. Her eyes were big and wistful, like a hurt child's, and her cheeks were not red as usual, nor even pink. But the trail lay again brown, and silent, and lonesome, with no quick hoof-beats to send the dust swirling up in a cloud.
The shadows flowed into the coulee until it was full to the brim and threatening the golden hilltop with a brown veil of shade before Miss Satterly locked her door and went home. When she reached her aunt Meeker's she did not want any supper and she said her head ached. But that was not quite true; it was not her head that ached so much; it was her heart.
The third day, the schoolma'am fussed a long time with her hair, which she did in four different styles. The last style was the one which Weary had pronounced "out uh sight"—only she added a white chiffon bow which she had before kept sacred to dances and which Weary always admired. At noon she encouraged the children to gather wild flowers from the coulee, and she filled several tin cans with water from the spring and arranged the bouquets with much care. Weary loved flowers. Nearly every time he came he had a little bunch stuck under his hat-band. A few she put in her hair, along with the chiffon bow. She urged the children through their work and dismissed them at eleven minutes to four and told them to go straight home.
After she had swept the floor and dusted everything that could be dusted so that the school-room had the peculiar, immaculate emptiness and forlornness, like a church on a week day, and had taken a few of the brightest flowers and pinned them upon her white shirt-waist. Miss Satterly tuned her guitar in minor and went out and sat upon the shady doorstep and waited frankly, strumming plaintive little airs while she watched the trail. To-morrow was Labor Day, and so he would certainly ride over to-night to see if she had really meant it (Miss Satterly did not explain to herself what "it" was; surely, there was no need).
At half-past five—Miss Satterly had looked at her watch seventeen times during the interval—a tiny cloud of dust rose over the brow of the hill, and her heart danced in her chest until she could scarce breathe.
The cloud grew and grew and began drifting down the trail, and behind it a black something rose over the hilltop and followed it, so proclaiming itself a horseman galloping swiftly towards her. The color spread from the schoolma'am's cheeks to her brow and throat. Her fingers forgot their cunning and plucked harrowing discords from the strings, but her lips were parted and smiling tremulously. It was late—she had almost given up looking—but he was coming! She knew be would come. Coming at a breakneck pace—he must be pretty anxious, too. The schoolma'am recovered a bit of control and revolved in her mind several pert forms of greeting. She would not be too ready to forgive him—it would do him good to keep him anxious and uncertain for a while before she gave in.
Now he was near the place where he would turn off the main road and gallop straight to her. Glory always made that turn of his own accord, lately. Weary had told her, last Sunday, how he could never get Glory past that turn, any more, without a fight, no matter what might be the day or the hour.
Now he would swing into the school-house trail. Miss Satterly raised both hands with a very feminine gesture and patted her hair tentatively, tucking in a stray lock here and there.
Her hands dropped heavily to her lap, just as the blood dropped away from her cheeks and the happy glow dulled in her eyes. It was not Weary. It was the Swede who worked for Jim Adams and who rode a sorrel horse which, at a distance, resembled Glory.
Mechanically she watched him go on down the trail and out of sight; picked up her guitar which had grown suddenly heavy, crept inside and closed the door and locked it She looked around the clean, eerily silent schoolroom, walked with echoing steps to the desk and laid her head down among the cans of sweet-smelling, prairie flowers and cried softly, in a tired, heartbreaking fashion that made her throat ache, and her head.
The shadows had flowed over the coulee-rim and the hilltops were smothered in gloom when Miss Satterly went home that night, and her aunt Meeker sent her straight to bed and dosed her with horrible home remedies.
By morning she had recovered her spirit—her revengeful spirit, which she kept as the hours wore on and Weary did not come. She would teach him a lesson, she told herself often. By evening, however, her mood softened. There were many things that could have kept him away against his will; he was not his own master, and it was shipping time. Probably he had been out with the roundup, or something. She decided that petty revenge is unwomanly besides giving evidence of a narrow mind and shallow, and if Weary could show a good and sufficient reason for staying away like that when there were matters to be settled between them, she would not be petty and mean about it; she would be divine—and forgive.
Weary was standing pensively by the door, debating with himself the advisability of going boldly over and claiming the first waltz with the schoolma'am—and taking a chance on being refused—when Cal Emmett gave him a vicious poke in the ribs by way of securing his attention.
"Do yuh see that bunch uh red loco over there by the organ?" he wanted to know. "That's Bert Rogers' cousin from Iowa."
Weary looked and wilted against the wall. "Oh, Mamma!" he gasped.
"Ain't she a peach? There'll be more than one pair uh hands go into the air to-night. It's a good thing Len got the drop on me first or I'd be making seven kinds of a fool uh myself, chances is. Bert says she's bad medicine—a man-killer from away back.
"Say, she's giving us the bad-eye. Don't rubber like that, Weary; it ain't good manners, and besides; the schoolma'am's getting fighty, if I'm any judge."
Weary pulled himself together and tried to look away, but a pair of long blue eyes with heavy white lids drew him hypnotically across the room. He did not want to go; he did not mean to go, but the first he knew he was standing before her and she was smiling up at him just as she used to do. And an evil spell seemed to fall upon Weary, so that he thought one set of thoughts while his lips uttered sentences quite apart from his wishes. He was telling her, for instance, that he was glad to see her; and he was not glad. He was wishing the train which brought her to Montana had jumped the track and gone over a high cut-bank, somewhere.
She continued to smile up at him, and she called him Will and held out her hand. When, squirming inward protest, he took it, she laid her left hand upon his and somehow made him feel as if he were in a trap. Her left hand was soft and plump and cool, and it was covered with rings that gave flashes and sparkles of light when she moved, and her nails were manicured to a degree not often seen in Dry Lake. She drew her fingers caressingly over his hand and spoke to him in italics, in the way that had made many a man lose his head and say things extremely foolish. Her name was Myrtle Forsyth, as Weary had cause to remember.
"How strange to see you away out here," she murmured, and glanced to where the musicians were beginning to play little preparatory strains. "Have you forgotten how to waltz, Will? You used to dance so well!"
What could a man do after a hint as broad as that one? Weary held out his arm meekly, while mentally he was gnashing his teeth, and muttered something about her giving him a trial. And she slipped her hand under his elbow with a proprietary air that was not lost upon a certain brown-eyed young woman across the hall.
Weary had said some hard things to Myrtle Forsyth when he talked with her last, away back in Iowa; he had hoped to heaven he never would see her again. Now, she observed that he had not lost his good looks in grieving over her. She decided that he was even better looking; there was an air of strength and a self poise that was very becoming to his broad shoulders and the six feet two inches of his height. She thought, before the waltz was over, that she had made a mistake when she threw him over—a mistake which she ought to rectify at once.
Weary never knew how she managed it—in truth, he was not aware that she did it at all—but he seemed to dance a great many times with her of the long eyes and the bright auburn hair. The schoolma'am seemed always to be at the farther end of the room, and she appeared to be enjoying herself very much and to dance incessantly.
Once he broke away from Miss Forsyth and went and asked Miss Satterly for the next waltz; but she opened her big eyes at him and assured him politely that she was engaged. He tried for a quadrille, a two-step, a schottische—even for a polka, which she knew he hated; but the schoolma'am was, apparently, the most engaged young woman in Dry Lake that night.
So Weary owned himself beaten and went back to Miss Forsyth, who had been watching and learning many things and making certain plans. Weary danced with her once and took a fit of sulking, when he stood over by the door and smoked cigarettes and watched moodily the whirling couples. Miss Forsyth drifted to other acquaintances, which was natural; what was not so natural, to Weary's mind, was to see her sitting out a quadrille with the schoolma'am.
That did not look good to Weary, and he came near going over and demanding to know what they were talking about. He was ready to bet that Myrt Forsyte, with that smile, was up to some deviltry—and he wished he knew what. She reminded him somewhat of Glory when Glory was cloyed with peaceful living. He even told himself viciously that Myrt Forsyth had hair the exact shade of Glory's, and it came near giving him a dislike of the horse.
The conversation in the corner, after certain conventional subjects had been exhausted, came to Miss Forsyth's desire something like this: She said how she loved to waltz,—with the right partner, that is. Apropos the right partner, she glanced slyly from the end of her long eyes and remarked:
"Will—Mr. Davidson—is an ideal partner, don't you think? Are you—but of course you must be acquainted with him, living in the same neighborhood?" Her inflection made a question of the declaration.
"Certainly I am acquainted with Mr. Davidson," said Miss Satterly with just the right shade of indifference. "He does dance very well, though there are others I like better." That, of course, was a prevarication. "You knew him before tonight?"
Miss Forsyth laughed that sort of laugh which may mean anything you like. "Knew him? Why, we were en—that is, we grew up in the same town. I was so perfectly amazed to find him here, poor fellow."
"Why poor fellow?" asked Miss Satterly, the direct. "Because you found him? or because he is here?"
The long eyes regarded her curiously. "Why, don't you know? Hasn't—hasn't it followed him?"
"I don't know, I'm sure," said the schoolma'am, calmly facing the stare. "If you mean a dog, he doesn't own one, I believe. Cowboys don't seem to take to dogs; they're afraid they might be mistaken for sheep-herders, perhaps—and that would be a disgrace."
Miss Forsyth leaned back and her eyes, half closed as they were, saw Weary away down by the door. "No, I didn't mean a dog. I'm glad if he has gotten quite away from—he's such a dear fellow! Even if he did—but I never believed it, you know. If only he had trusted me, and stayed to face— But he went without telling me goodbye, even, and we— But he was afraid, you see—"
Miss Satterly also glanced across to where Weary stood gloomily alone, his hands thrust into his pockets. "I really can't imagine Mr. Davidson as being afraid," she remarked defensively.
"Oh, but you don't understand! Will is physically brave—and he was afraid I— but I believed in him, always—even when—" She broke off suddenly and became prettily diffident. "I wonder why I am talking to you like this. But there is something so sympathetic in your very atmosphere—and seeing him so unexpectedly brought it all back—and it seemed as if I must talk to someone, or I should shriek." (Myrtle Forsyth was often just upon the point of "shrieking") "And he was so glad to see me—and when I told him I never believed a word— But you see, leaving the way he did—"
"Well," said Miss Satterly rather unsympathetically, "and how did he leave, then?"
Miss Forsyth twisted her watch chain and hesitated. "I really ought not to say a word—if you really don't know—what he did—"
"If it's to his discredit," said the schoolma'am, looking straight at her, "I certainly don't know. It must have been something awful, judging from your tone. Did he"—she spoke solemnly—"did he mur-rder ten people, old men and children, and throw their bodies into—a well?"
It is saying much for Miss Forsyth that she did not look as disconcerted as she felt. She did, however, show a rather catty look in her eyes, and her voice was tinged faintly with malice. "There are other crimes—beside—murder," she reminded. "I won't tell what it was—but—but Will found it necessary to leave in the night! He did not even come to tell me goodbye, and I have—but now we have met by chance, and I could explain—and so," she smiled tremulously at the schoolma'am, "I know you can understand—and you will not mention to anyone what I have told you. I'm too impulsive—and I felt drawn to you, somehow. I—I would die if I thought any harm could come to Will because of my confiding in you. A woman," she added pensively, "has so much to bear—and this has been very hard—because it was not a thing I could talk over—not even with my own mother!" Miss Forsyth had the knack of saying very little that was definite, and implying a great deal. This method saved her the unpleasantness of retraction, and had quite as deep an effect is if she came out plainly. She smiled confidingly down at the schoolma'am and went off to waltz with Bert Rogers, apparently quite satisfied with what she had accomplished.
Miss Satterly sat very still, scarce thinking consciously. She stared at Weary and tried to imagine him a fugitive from his native town, and in spite of herself wondered what it was he had done. It must be something very bad, and she shrank from the thought. Then Cal Emmett came up to ask her for a dance, and she went with him thankfully and tried to forget the things she had heard.
Weary, after dancing with every woman but the one he wanted, and finding himself beside Myrtle Forsyth with a frequency that puzzled him, felt an unutterable disgust for the whole thing. After a waltz quadrille, during which he seemed to get her out of his arms only to find her swinging into them again, and smiling up at him in a way he knew of old, he made desperately for the door; snatched up the first gray hat he came to—which happened to belong to Chip—and went out into the dewy darkness.
It was half an hour before he could draw the hostler of the Dry Lake stable away from a crap game, and it was another half hour before he succeeded in overcoming Glory's disinclination for a gallop over the prairie alone.
But it was two hours before Miss Forsythe gave over watching furtively the door, and it was daylight before Chip Emmett found a gray hat under the water bench—a hat which he finally recognized as Weary's and so appropriated to his own use.
Weary clattered up to the school-house door to find it erupting divers specimens of young America—by adoption, some of them. He greeted each one cheerfully by name and waited upon his horse in the shade.
Close behind the last sun-bonnet came Miss Satterly, key in hand. Evidently she had no intention of lingering, that night; Weary smiled down upon her tentatively and made a hasty guess as to her state of mind—a very important factor in view of what he had come to say.
"It's awful hot, Schoolma'am; if I were you I'd wait a while—till the sun lets up a little."
To his unbounded surprise, Miss Satterly calmly sat down upon the doorstep. Weary promptly slid out of the saddle and sat down beside her, thankful that the step was not a wide one. "You've been unmercifully hard to locate since the dance," he complained. "I like to lost my job, chasing over this way, when I was supposed to be headed another direction. I came by here last night at five minutes after four, and you weren't in sight anywhere; was yesterday a holiday?"
"You probably didn't look in the window," said the schoolma'am. "I was writing letters here till after five."
"With the door shut and locked?"
"The wind blew so," explained Miss Satterly, lamely. "And that lock—"
"First I knew of the wind blowing yesterday. It was as hot as the hubs uh he—as blue blazes when I came by. There weren't any windows up, even—I hope you was real comfortable."
"Perfectly," she assured him.
"I'll gamble yuh were! Well, and where were yuh cached last Sunday?"
"Nowhere. I went with Bert and Miss Forsyth up in the mountains. We took our lunch and had a perfectly lovely time."
"I'm glad somebody had a good time. I got away at nine o'clock and came over to Meeker's—and you weren't there; so I rode the rim-rocks till sundown, trying to locate yuh. It's easier hunting strays in the Bad Lands."
Miss Satterly seemed about to speak, but she changed her mind and gazed at the coulee-rim.
"It's hard to get away, these days," Weary went on explaining. "I wanted to come before the dance, but we were gathering some stuff out the other way, and I couldn't. The Old Man is shipping, yuh see; we're holding a bunch right now, waiting for cars. I got Happy Jack to stand herd in my place, is how I got here."
The schoolma'am yawned apologetically into her palm. Evidently she was not greatly interested in the comings and goings of Weary Davidson.
"How did yuh like the dance?" he asked, coming to the subject that he knew was the vital point.
"Lovely," said the schoolma'am briefly, but with fervor.
"Different here," asserted Weary. "I drifted, right before supper."
"Did you?" Miss Satterly accented the first word in a way she taught her pupils indicated surprise. "I don't reckon you noticed it. You were pretty busy, about then."
Miss Satterly laughed languid assent.
"I never knew before that Bert Rogers was any relation of Myrt Forsyth," observed Weary, edging still nearer the vital point. "They sure aren't much alike."
"You used to know her?" asked Miss Satterly, politely.
"Well, I should say yes. I used to go to school with Myrt. How do you like her?"
"Lovely," said Miss Satterly, this time without fervor.
Weary began digging a trench with his spurs. He wished the schoolma'am would not limit herself so rigidly to that one adjective. It became unmeaning with much use, so that it left a fellow completely in the dark.
"Just about everybody says that about her—at first," he remarked.
"Did you?" she asked him, still politely.
"I did a heap worse than that," said Weary, grimly determined. "I had a bad case of calf-love and made a fool uh myself generally."
"What fun!" chirped the schoolma'am with an unconvincing little laugh.
"Not for me, it wasn't. Whilst I had it I used to pack a lock uh that red hair in my breast pocket and heave sighs over it that near lifted me out uh my boots. Oh, I was sure earnest! But she did me the biggest favor she could; a slick-haired piano-tuner come to town and she turned me down for him. I was plumb certain my heart was busted wide open, at the time, though." Weary laughed reminiscently.
"She said—I think you misunderstood her. She appears to—" Miss Satterly, though she felt that she was being very generous, did not quite know how to finish.
"Not on your life! It was the first time I ever did understand Myrt. When I left there I wasn't doing any guessing."
"You shouldn't have left," she told him suddenly; gripping her courage at this bold mention of his flight. How she wished she knew why he left.
"Oh, I don't know. It was about the only thing I could do, at the time—the only thing, that is, that I wanted to do. It seemed like I couldn't get away fast enough." It was brazen of him, she thought, to treat it all so coolly. "And out here," he added thoughtfully, "I could get the proper focus on Myrt—which I couldn't do back there."
"Not in this case," he interrupted. "It's when you're right with Myrt that she kinda hypnotizes yuh into thinking what she wants yuh to think." He was remembering resentfully the dance.
"But to sneak away—"
"That's a word I don't remember was ever shot at me before," said Weary, the blood showing through the skin on his cheeks. "If that damned Myrt has been telling yuh—"
"I didn't think you would speak like that about a woman, Mr. Davidson," said the schoolma'am with disapproval in her tone; and the disapproval not going very deep, there was the more of it upon the surface.
"I suppose it gives evidence of a low, brutal trait in my nature, that you hoped I couldn't harbor," acceded Weary meekly.
"It does," snapped the schoolma'am, her cheeks hot. If she had repented her flare of temper over the gopher, she certainly did not intend letting him know it too soon. She seemed inclined to discipline him a bit.
Weary smoked silently and raked up the sun-baked soil with his spurs. "How long is Myrt going to stay?" he ventured at last.
"I never asked her," she retorted. "You ought to know—you probably have seen her last." The schoolma'am blundered, there.
Weary drew a sigh of relief; if she were jealous, it must mean that she cared. "That's right. I saw her last night," he stated calmly.
Miss Satterly sat more erect, if that were possible. She had not known of this last meeting, and she had merely shot at random, anyway.
"At least," he amended, watching her from the corner of his eye, "I saw a woman and a man ride over the hill back of Denson's, last night. The man was Bert, and the woman had red hair; I took it to be Myrt."
"You surely should be a good judge," remarked Miss Satterly, irritated because she knew he was teasing.
Weary was quick to read the signs. "What did you mean, a while back, about me sneaking away from Chadville? And how did yuh happen to have your dances booked forty-in-advance, the other night? And what makes yuh so mean to me, lately? And will yuh take a jaunt over Eagle Butte way with me next Sunday—if I can get off?"
The schoolma'am, again feeling herself mistress of the situation, proceeded with her disciplining. She smiled, raised one hand and checked off the questions upon her fingers. You never would guess how oddly her heart was behaving—she looked such a self-possessed young woman.
"I'll begin at the last one and work backward," she said, calmly. "And I must hurry, for aunt Meeker hates to keep supper waiting. No, I will not go for a jaunt over Eagle Butte way next Sunday. I have other plans; if I hadn't other plans I still would not go. I hope this is quite plain to you?"
"Oh, it's good and plain," responded Weary. "But for the Lord's sake don't take up that talking in italics like Myrt does. I can't stand this bearing down hard on every other word. It sets my teeth all on edge."
The schoolma'am opened her eyes wider. Was it possible Weary was acquiring an irritable temper? "Second," she went on deliberately, "I do not consider that I have been mean to you; and if I have it is because I choose to be so."
Weary, observing a most flagrant accent, shut his lips rather tightly together.
"Third—let me see. Oh, that about the dances; I can only say that we women, as a means of self-defence, claim the privilege of effacing undesirable, would-be partners by a certain form of rejection, which eliminates the necessity of going into unpleasant details, and—er—lets the fellow down easy." The schoolma'am's emphasis and English seemed to collapse together, but Weary did not notice that.
"I'm sure grateful to be let down easy," he said softly, without looking up; his head was bent so that his hat quite concealed from the schoolma'am his face, but if she had known him longer, perhaps she would have gone carefully after that.
"As to your sneaking away from—wherever it was—surely, you ought to know about that better than I do. One must go far to outdistance dishonor, for a man's misdeeds are sure to follow him, soon or late. I will not go into details—but you understand what I mean."
"No," said Weary, still with bent head, "I'll be darned if I do. And if I did, I know about where to locate the source of all the information you've loaded up on. Things were going smooth as silk till Myrt Forsyth drifted out here—the red-headed little devil!"
"Mr. Davidson!" cried the schoolma'am, truly shocked.
"Oh, I'm revealing some more low, brutal instincts, I expect I'm liable to reveal a lot more if I hang around much longer." He stopped, as if there was more he wanted to say, and was doubtful of the wisdom of saying it.
"I came over to say something—something particular—but I've changed my mind. I guess yuh haven't much time to listen, and I don't believe it would interest yuh as much as I thought it would—a while back. You just go ahead and make a bosom friend uh Myrt Forsyth, Schoolma'am, and believe every blamed lie she tells yuh. I won't be here to argue the point. Looks to me like I'm about due to drift."
Miss Satterly, dumb with fear of what his words might mean, sat stiffly while Weary got up and mounted Glory in a business like manner that was extremely disquieting.
"I wish you could a cared, Girlie," he said with a droop of his unsmiling mouth and a gloom in his eyes when he looked at her. "I was a chump, I reckon, to ever imagine yuh could. Good-bye—and be good to—yourself." He leaned to one side, swung backward his feet and Glory, obeying the signal, wheeled and bounded away.
Miss Satterly watched him gallop up the long slope and the pluckety pluckety of Glory's fleeing feet struck heavy, numbing blows upon her heart. She wondered why she had refused to ride with him, when she did want to go—she did. And why had she been so utterly hateful, after waiting and watching, night after night, for him to come?
And just how much did he mean by being due to drift? He couldn't be really angry—and what was he going to say—the thing he changed his mind about. Was it—Well, he would come again in a few days, and then—
Weary did not go back. When the hurry of shipping was over he went to Shorty and asked for his time, much to the foreman's astonishment and disgust. The Happy Family was incensed and wasted profanity and argument trying to make him give up the crazy notion of quitting.
It seemed to Weary that he warded off their curiosity and answered their arguments very adroitly. He was sick of punching cows, he said, and he wasn't hankering for a chance to shovel hay another winter to an ungrateful bunch of bawling calves. He was going to drift, for a change—but he didn't know where. It didn't much matter, so long as he got a change uh scenery. He just merely wanted to knock around and get the alkali dust out of his lungs and see something grow besides calves and cactus. His eyes plumb ached for sight of an apple tree with real, live apples on it—that weren't wrapped up in a paper napkin.
When was he coming back? Well, now, that was a question; he hadn't got started yet, man. What he was figuring on wasn't the coming back part, but the getting started.
The schoolma'am? Oh, he guessed she could get along without him, all right. Seeing they mentioned her, would some of them tell her hello for him—and so long?
This last was at the station, where they had ridden in a body to see him off. Weary waved his hat as long as the town was in sight, and the Happy Family ran their horses to keep pace with the train when it pulled out, emptied their six-shooters into the air and yelled parting words till the Pullman windows were filled with shocked, Eastern faces, eager to see a real, wild cowboy on his native soil.
Then Weary went into the smoker, sought a place where he could stretch the long legs of him over two seats, made him a cigarette and forgot to smoke it while he watched the gray plains slide away behind him; till something went wrong with his eyes. It was just four o'clock, and school was out. The schoolma'am was looking down the trail, maybe— At any rate she was a good many miles away from him now—so many that even if he got off and had Glory right there and ran him every foot of the way, he could not possibly get to her—and the way the train was galloping over the rails, she was every minute getting farther off, and— What a damn fool a man can make of himself, rushing off like that when, maybe—
After that, a fellow who traveled for a San Francisco wine house spoke to him pleasantly and Weary thrust vain longings from him and was himself again.
For two months he wandered aimlessly and, then, not quite at the point of going back and not being rich or an idler by nature, he started out, one gloomy morning in late November, looking for work. He was in Portland and the city was strange to him, for he had dropped off a north-bound train the night before.
People hurried past without a glance in his direction, and even after two months this made him lonesome, coming as he did from a place where every man hailed him jovially by his adopted name.
There was little that he could do—or would do. He tried digging ditches for the city, along with a motley collection of the sons of all nations but his, seemingly.
The first day be blistered both hands and got a "crick" in his back.
The second day, he quit.
On the third day, he brought up at the door of a livery stable. A man with a slate-colored, silk waistcoat was standing aggressively in the doorway, one hand deep in his pocket and the other energetically punctuating the remarks he was making to a droop-shouldered hostler. Some of the remarks were interesting in the extreme and Weary, listening, drew a deep sigh of thankfulness that they were not directed at himself, because his back was still lame and his hands sore, and in Portland law-abiding citizens are not supposed to "pack" a gun.
The droop-shouldered man waited humbly for the climax—which reached so high a tension that the speaker rose upon his toes to deliver it, and drew his right hand from his pocket to aid in the punctuation—when he pulled his hat down on his head and slunk away.
It was while the orator was gazing contemptuously after him that he heard Weary cheerfully asking for work. For Weary was a straight guesser; he knew when he stood in the presence of the Great and Only. The man wheeled and measured Weary slowly with his eyes—and there being a good deal of Weary if you measured lengthwise, he consumed several seconds doing it.
"Humph!" when the survey was over. "What do you know about horses?" His tone was colored still by the oration he had just delivered, and it was not encouraging.
Weary looked down upon him and smiled indulgence of the tone. "If you aren't busy right now, I'll start in and tell yuh. Yuh better sit down on that bucket whilst I'm doing it—if I'm thorough it'll take time."
"Humph!" said the man again and carefully pared the end of a fat, black cigar. "You seem to think you know it all. What's your trade?"
"Punching cows—in Northern Montana," answered Weary, mildly.
The man took the trouble to look at him again, this time more critically—and more favorably, perhaps. "Bronco-buster?" he demanded, briefly.
"Some," grinned Weary, his thoughts whirling back to the dust and uproar in the Flying U corrals—and to Glory.
The man seemed to read what was in his eyes. "You ought to know better than to founder a three-hundred-dollar trotter, then," he remarked, with some of the growl smoothed out of his voice.
"I sure had," agreed Weary, sympathetically.
"That's why I fired that four-or-five-kinds-of idiot just now," confided the other, rising to the sympathy in Weary's tone. "I need men that know a little something about horses—the foreman can't always be at a man's elbow. You can start right in—pay's good. Go tell the foreman I've hired you; that's him back there in the office."
Then came the rain. Week after week of drab clouds and drizzle, and no sun to hearten a man for his work. Week after week of bobbing umbrellas, muddy crossings, sloppy pavements and dripping eaves—and a cold that chilled the marrow in his bones.
Weary, after a week of poking along in the rain of an evening when his work was done, threw up his hands, figuratively, and bought him an umbrella, hoping devoutly they would never get to hear of it in Dry Lake. He stood for two minutes in the deep doorway of the store before he found nerve to open the awkward thing, and when he did so he glanced sheepishly around him as if it were a weak thing to do and a disgraceful.
Fog and rain and mud and mist, day after day through long months. Feeding hungry horses their breakfast at five o'clock in the morning; brushing, currying, combing till they shone satin-smooth. Harnessing, unharnessing; washing mud from rigs that would be splashed and plastered again before night. Driving to houses that were known by the number over the door, giving the reins over to somebody and walking back in the rain. Piling mangers with hay, strewing the stalls deep with straw. Patting this horse as he passed, commanding the next to move over, stopping to whisper caressing words into the ear of a favorite. Sitting listlessly in the balcony of some theatre in the evening while a mimic world lived its joys and sorrows below and an orchestra played soft accompaniment to his vagrant thoughts. All this was Weary's life in Portland.
Not exactly hilarious, that life. Not a homelike one to a man fresh from eating, sleeping, working, reveling with fellows who would cheerfully give him the coat upon their straight backs if he needed it; fight for him, laugh at him, or laugh with him, tease him, bully him, love him like a brother—in short, fresh from Jim Whitmore's Happy Family.
No one hailed him as Weary; his fellow hostlers called him simply Bill. No one knew the life he knew or loved the things he loved. His stories of wild rides and hard drives must be explained as he went along and fell even then upon barren soil; so he gave up telling them. Even his speech, colored as it was with the West which lies East of the Cascades, sounded strange in their ears and set him apart. They referred to him as "the cowboy".
Sometimes, when the skies were leaden and the dead atmosphere pressed his very soul to the dank earth, Weary would hoist his umbrella and walk and walk and walk, till the streets grew empty around him and his footsteps sounded hollow on the pavements. One Sunday when it was not actually raining he hired a horse and rode into the country—and he came back draggled and unhappy from plodding through the mud, and he never repeated the experiment.
Sometimes he would sit all the evening in his damp-walled room and smoke cigarettes and wonder what the boys were doing, down in the bunk-house at home. He wondered if they kept Glory up—or if he was rustling on the range, his sorrel back humped to the storms and the deviltry gone out of him with the grim battle for mere life.
Perhaps there was a dance somewhere; it was a cinch they would all be there—and Happy Jack would wear the same red necktie and the same painful smile of embarrassment, and there would be a squabble over the piece of bar mirror to shave by. And the schoolma'am— But here Weary's thoughts would shy and stop abruptly, and if it were not too late he would put on his hat and go to a show; one of those ten-cent continuous-performance places, where the Swede and the Dutchman flourish and the Boneless Man ties himself in knots.
A man will grow accustomed to anything, give him time enough. When four months had passed in this fashion, Weary began insensibly to turn more to the present and less often, to the past. His work was not hard, the pay was good and he learned the ways of the town and got more in touch with his acquaintances. They came to fill his life, so that he thought less often of Chip and Cal and Happy Jack and Slim. Others were gradually taking their places.
No one had as yet come to lift Miss Satterly's brown eyes from the deep places of his heart, because he again shied at women; but he was able to draw a veil before them so that they did not haunt him so much. He began to whistle once more, as he went about his work; but he never whistled "Good Old Summertime." There were other foolish songs become popular; he rather fancied "Navajo" these days.
It was past April Fool's day, and Weary was singing "Nava, Nava, my Navajo," melodiously while he spread the straw bedding with his fork. It was a beastly day, even for that climate, but he was glad of it. He had only to fill a dozen mangers and his morning's work was done, with the prospect of an idle forenoon; for no one would want to drive, today, unless it was absolutely necessary.
"I have a love for-r you that will grow-ow; If you'll have a coon for a beau—"
trilled Weary, and snapped the wires off a bale of hay and tore it open, in a hurry to finish.
A familiar, pungent odor smote his nostrils and he straightened. For a minute he stood perfectly still; then his fingers groped tremblingly in the hay, closed upon something, and every nerve in him quivered. He held it fast in his shaking hands and sat down weakly upon the torn bale.
It was a branch off a sage bush—dry, shapeless, bruised in the press, but it carried its message bravely. Holding it close to his face, drinking in the smell of it greedily, he closed his eyes involuntarily.
Great, gray plains closed in upon him—dear, familial plains, scarred and broken with sharp-nosed hills and deep, water-worn coulees gleaming barren and yellow in the sun. The blue, blue sky was bending down to meet the hills, with feathery, white clouds trailing lazily across. His cheeks felt the cool winds which flapped his hat-brim and tingled his blood. His knees pressed the throb and life, the splendid, working muscles of a galloping horse.
Weary's head went down upon his hands, with the bit of sage pressed hard against his cheek.
Now he was racing over the springy sod which sent a sweet, grassy smell up to meet him. Wild range cattle lumbered out of his way, ran a few paces and stopped to gaze after him with big, curious eyes. Before him stood the white-tented camp of the round-up, and the rope corral was filled with circling horses half hidden by the veil of dust thrown upward by their restless, trampling hoofs. Now he was in the midst of them, a coil of rope in his left hand; his right swung the loop circling over his head. And the choking dust was in his eyes and throat, and in his nostrils the rank odor of many horses. Men were shouting to one another above the confusion. Oaths were hurled after a horse which warily dodged the rope. Saddles strewed the ground, bits clanked, spurs jingled, care-free laughs brightened the clamor.
The scene shifted. He was sitting, helpless, in the saddle while Glory carried him wantonly over the hills, shaking his head to make the broken bridle rattle. Now he was stopping in front of a vine-covered porch, where a girl lay sleeping in a hammock—a girl with soft, dark hair falling down to the floor in a heavy braid. Again, he was sitting on the school-house steps, holding a smoking gun in his hand, and the schoolma'am was standing, flushed and reproving, before him. The wind came and fluttered her skirts—
"What's the matter, Bill? Yuh sick?"
Weary raised a white, haggard face. The plains, the blue sky, the sunshine, the wind, the girl—were gone. He was sitting upon a torn bale of hay in a livery stable in Portland. Through the wide, open door he could see the muddy street. Gray water-needles darted incessantly up from the pavement where the straight lines of rain struck. On the roof the rain was drumming a monotone. In his fingers was a crumpled bit of gray sage-brush.
"Sick, Bill?" repeated the foreman, sympathetically.
"Oh, go to hell!" said Weary, ungratefully. He felt tired, and weak and old. He wanted to be left alone. He wanted—God, how he wanted the dream to come back to him, and to come back to him true! To close about him and wrap him in its sunny folds; to steep his senses in the light and the life, the sound and the smell of the plains; to hear the wind rushing over the treeless hills; to see the wild range cattle nosing the crisp, prairie grass.
He got unsteadily upon his legs and went slowly to his room; dropped wearily upon the bed, and buried his face in the pillow like a hurt child. In his fingers he clutched a pungent, gray weed.
Late that night Weary, his belongings stuffed hurriedly into the suit-case he called his "war-bag," started home; so impatient he had a childish desire to ride upon the engine so that he might arrive the sooner, and failing that he spent much of his time lurching between smoking car and tourist sleeper, unable to sit quietly in any place for longer than ten minutes or so. In his coat pocket, where his fingers touched it often, was a crumpled bit of sage-brush. Dry it was, and the gray leaves were crumbling under the touch of his homesick fingers, but the smell of it, aromatic and fresh and strong, breathed of the plains he loved.
At Kalispell he went out on the platform and filled his lungs again and again with Montana air, that was clean of fog and had a nip to it. The sun shone, the sky was blue and the clouds reminded him of a band of new-washed sheep scattered and feeding quietly. The wind blew keen in his face and set his blood a-dance, his blood, which for long months had moved sluggishly in his veins.
At Shelby, a half-dozen cowboys galloped briefly into view as the train whizzed by down the valley, and Weary raised the car window and leaned far out to gaze after them with hungry eyes. He wanted to swing his hat and give a whoop that would get the last wisps of fog and gray murk out of his system—but there were other passengers already shivering and eyeing him in unfriendly fashion because of the open window. He wanted to get out and run and run bareheaded, over the bleak, brown hills; but he closed the window and behaved as well as he could.
The stars came out and winked at him just as they used to do when he sat on Meeker's front porch and listened to the schoolma'am singing softly in the hammock, her guitar tinkling a mellow undertone. It was too early now for the hammock to be swinging in the porch. School must be started again, though, and seeing the schoolma'am lived right there with her aunt Meeker, they weren't likely to hire another teacher.
He hoped Myrt Forsyth had gone back to Chadville where she belonged. He wished now that he had written to some of the boys and kept posted on what was happening. He had never sent back so much as a picture postal, and he had consequently not heard a word. But Weary's nature was ever hopeful except when he was extremely angry, and then he did not care much about anything. So now, he took it for granted things had gone along smoothly and that nothing would be changed.
* * * * *
Miss Satterly had just finished listlessly hearing the last spelling class recite, when she glanced through the window and saw Glory, bearing a familiar figure, race down the hill and whip into the school-house path. Her heart gave a flop, so that she caught at the desk to steady her and she felt the color go out of her face. Then her presence of mind returned so that she said "School's dismissed"—without going through the form of "Attention, turn, stand, pass."
The children eyed her curiously, hesitated and then rushed noisily out, and she sank down upon a bench and covered her face with her hands. It was queer that she could not seem to get hold of herself and be calm; it was disgraceful that she should tremble so. Outside she could hear them shouting, "Hello, Weary!" in a dozen different keys, and each time her blood jumped. Her eyes had not tricked her, then—though it was not the first time she had trembled to see a sorrel horse gallop down that hill, and then turned numb when came disillusionment. Would those children never start home? By degrees their shrill voices sounded further away, and the place grew still. But the schoolma'am kept her face covered.