B.M. Bower.

The Lonesome Trail and Other Stories online

. (page 3 of 12)
Online LibraryB.M. BowerThe Lonesome Trail and Other Stories → online text (page 3 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


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.




PART THREE

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-r_der 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.




PART FOUR

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."

"Distance lends - "

"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


1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Online LibraryB.M. BowerThe Lonesome Trail and Other Stories → online text (page 3 of 12)