B.M. Bower.

The Lonesome Trail and Other Stories online

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"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.




PART TWO

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.

"Say, Tee-e-cher!"

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


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