Katharine Newlin Burt
Part 2 out of 5
something else I told you?"
"I remember everything you told me."
"Well, ma'am, I remember everything you told _me_. Somebody said she
was grateful. Somebody said she'd do anything for Pap. Somebody
"I meant it, Mr. Hudson. I did mean it."
"Do you mean it now?"
"Yes. I--I owe you so much. You're always so very kind to me. And I
behave very badly. I was hateful to you this evening. And, when you came
to my door, just now, I was--I was _scared_."
Pap opened his eyes at her, held his cigar away from him and laughed.
The laugh was both bitter and amused.
"Scared of Pap Hudson? _You_ scared? But, look-a-here, girl, what've I
done to deserve that?"
He sat forward, rested his chin in his hand, supported by an elbow on his
crossed knees and fixed her with gentle and reproachful eyes.
"Honest, you kind of make me feel bad, Miss Sheila."
"I am dreadfully sorry. It was horrid of me. I only told you because I
wanted you to know that I'm not worth helping. I don't deserve you to be
so kind to me. I--I must be disgustingly suspicious."
"Well!" Sylvester sighed. "Very few folks get me. I'm kind of
mis-understood. I'm a real lonesome sort of man. But, honest, Miss
Sheila, I thought you were my friend. I don't mind telling you, you've
hurt my feelings. That shot kind of got me. It's stuck into me."
"I'm horrid!" Sheila's eyes were wounded with remorse.
"Oh, well, I'm not expecting understanding any more."
"Oh, but I do--I do understand!" she said eagerly and she put her hand
shyly on his arm. "I think I do understand you. I'm very grateful. I'm
very fond of you."
"Ah!" said Sylvester softly. "That's a good hearing!" He lifted his arm
with Sheila's hand on it and touched it with his lips. "You got me plumb
stirred up," he said with a certain huskiness. "Well!" She took away her
hand and he made a great show of returning to common sense. "I reckon we
are a pretty good pair of friends, after all. But you mustn't be scared
of me, Miss Sheila. That does hurt. Let's forget you told me that."
"Well, then--to get back to business. Do you recollect a story I
"A story? Oh, yes--about an Englishman--?"
"Yes, ma'am. That Englishman put his foot on the rail and stuck his glass
in his eye and set his tumbler down empty. And he looked round that bar
of mine, Miss Sheila. You savvy, he'd been all over the globe, that
feller, and I should say his ex-perience of bars was--some--and he said,
'Hudson, it's all but perfect. It only needs one thing.'"
This time Sheila did not ask. She waited.
"'And that's something we have in our country,' said he." Hudson cleared
his throat. He also moistened his lips. He was very apparently excited.
He leaned even farther forward, tilting on the front legs of his chair
and thrusting his face close to Sheila's "'_A pretty barmaid_!' said he."
There was a profound silence in the small room. The runners of a sleigh
scraped the icy street below, its horses' hoofs cracked noisily. The
music of a fiddle sounded in the distance. Babe's voice humming a waltz
tune rose from the second story.
"A barmaid?" asked Sheila breathlessly. She got up from her chair and
walked over to the window. The moon was already high. Over there,
beckoning, stood her mountain and her star. It was all so shining and
pure and still.
"That's what you want me to be--your barmaid?"
"Yes'm," said Sylvester humbly. "Don't make up your mind in a hurry, Miss
Sheila. Wait till I tell you more about it. It's--it's a kind of dream of
mine. I think it'd come close to breaking me up if you turned down the
proposition. The Aura's not an ordin-ar-y bar and I'm not an ordin-ar-y
man, and, say, Miss Sheila, you're not an ordin-ar-y girl."
"Is that why you want me to work in your saloon?" said Sheila, staring
at the star.
"Yes'm. That's why. Let me tell you that I've searched this continent for
a girl to fit my ideal. That's what it is, girl--my ideal. That bar of
mine has got to be perfect. It's near to perfect now. I want when that
Englishman comes back to Millings to hear him say, 'It's perfect' ... no
'all but,' you notice. Why, miss, I could 'a' got a hundred ordin-ar-y
girls, lookers too. The world's full of lookers."
"Why didn't you offer your--'job' to Babe or Girlie?"
Sylvester laughed. "Well, girl, as a matter of fact, I did."
"You did?" Sheila turned back and faced him. There was plenty of color
in her cheeks now. Her narrow eyes were widely opened. Astonishingly
large and clear they were, when she so opened them.
"Yes'm." Sylvester glanced aside for an instant.
"And what did they say?"
"They balked," Sylvester admitted calmly. "They're fine girls, Miss
Sheila. And they're lookers. But they just aren't quite fine enough.
They're not artists, like your Poppa and like you--and like me."
Sheila put a hand up to her cheek. Her eyes came back to their accustomed
narrowness and a look of doubt stole into her face.
"Yes'm." Sylvester had begun to walk about. "Artists. Why, what's an
artist but a person with a dream he wants to make real? My dream's--The
Aura, girl. For three years now"--he half-shut his eyes and moved his arm
in front of him as though he were putting in the broad first lines of a
picture--"I've seen that girl there back of my bar--shining and _good_
and fine--not the sort of a girl a man'd be lookin' for, mind you, just
_not_ that! A girl that would sort of take your breath. Say, picture it,
Sheila!" He stood by her and pointed it out as though he showed her a
view. "You're a cowboy. And you come ridin' in, bone-tired, dusty, with a
_thirst_. Well, sir, a thirst in your throat and a thirst in your heart
and a thirst in your soul. You're wantin' re-freshment. For your body
and your eyes and your mind. Well, ma'am, you tie your pony up there and
you push open those doors and you push 'em open and step plumb into
Paradise. It's cool in there--I'm picturin' a July evenin', Miss
Sheila--and it's quiet and it's shining clean. And there's a big man in
white who's servin' drinks--cold drinks with a grand smell. That's my man
Carthy. He keeps order. You bet you, he does keep it too. And beside him
stands a girl. Well, she's the kind of girl you--the cowboy--would 'a'
dreamed about, lyin' out in your blanket under the stars, if you'd 'a'
knowed enough to be able to dream about her. After you've set eyes on
her, you don't dream about any other kind of girl. And just seein' her
there so sweet and bright and dainty-like, makes a different fellow of
you. Say, goin' into that bar is like goin' into church and havin' a
jim-dandy time when you get there--which is something the churches
haven't got round to offerin' yet to my way of thinkin'. Now. I want to
ask you, Miss Sheila, if you've got red blood in your veins and a love of
adventure and a wish to see that real entertaining show we call
'life'--and mighty few females ever get a glimpse of it--and if you've
acquired a feeling of gratitude for Pap and if you've got any real
religion, or any ambition to play a part, if you're a real woman that
wants to be an in-spire-ation to men, well, ma'am, I ask you, could you
turn down a chance like that?"
He stood away a pace and put his question with a lifted forefinger.
Sheila's eyes were caught and held by his. Again her mind seemed to be
fastened to his will. And the blood ran quickly in her veins. Her heart
beat. She was excited, stirred. He had seen through her shell unerringly
as no one else in all her life had seen. He had mysteriously guessed that
she had the dangerous gift of adventure, that under the shyness and
uncertainty of inexperience there was no fear in her, that she was one of
those that would rather play with fire than warm herself before it.
Sheila stood there, discovered and betrayed. He had played upon her as
upon a flexible young reed: that stop, her ambition, this, her
romanticism, that, her vanity, the fourth, her gratitude, the fifth, her
idealism, the sixth, her recklessness. And there was this added urge--she
must stay here and drudge under the lash of "Momma's" tongue or she must
accept this strange, this unimaginable offer. Again she opened her eyes
wider and wider. The pupils swallowed up the misty gray. Her lips parted.
"I'll do it," she said, narrowed her eyes and shut her mouth tight. With
such a look she might have thrown a fateful toss of dice.
Sylvester caught her hands, pressed them up to his chest.
"It's a promise, girl?"
"God bless you!"
He let her go. He walked on air. He threw open the door.
There on the threshold--stood "Momma."
"I kind of see," she drawled, "why Sheila don't take no interest
"You're wrong," said Sheila very clearly. "I have been persuaded. I am
going to the dance."
Sylvester laughed aloud. "One for you, Momma!" he said. "Come on down,
old girl, while Miss Sheila gets into her party dress. Say, Aura, aren't
you goin' to give me a dance to-night?"
His wife looked curiously at his red, excited face. She followed him in
silence down the stairs.
Sheila stood still listening to their descending steps, then she knelt
down beside her little trunk and opened the lid. The sound of the fiddle
stole hauntingly, beseechingly, tauntingly into her consciousness. There
in the top tray of her trunk wrapped in tissue paper lay the only evening
frock she had, a filmy French dress of white tulle, a Christmas present
from her father, a breath-taking, intoxicating extravagance. She had worn
it only once.
It was with the strangest feeling that she took it out. It seemed to her
that the Sheila that had worn that dress was dead.
A SINGEING OF WINGS
All the vitality of Millings--and whatever its deficiencies the town
lacked nothing of the splendor and vigor of its youth--throbbed and
stamped and shook the walls of the Town Hall that night. To understand
that dance, it is necessary to remember that it took place on a February
night with the thermometer at zero and with the ground five feet beneath
the surface of the snow. There were men and women and children, too, who
had come on skis and in toboggans for twenty miles from distant ranches
to do honor to the wedding-anniversary of Greely and his wife.
A room near the ballroom was reserved for babies, and here, early in the
evening, lay small bundles in helpless, more or less protesting, rows,
their needs attended to between waltzes and polkas by father or mother
according to the leisure of the parent and the nature of the need. One
infant, whose home discipline was not up to the requirements of this
event, refused to accommodate himself to loneliness and so spent the
evening being dandled, first by father, then by mother, in a chair
immediately beside the big drum. Whether the spot was chosen for the
purpose of smothering his cries or enlivening his spirits nobody cared
to inquire. Infants in the Millings and Hidden Creek communities, where
certified milk and scientific feeding were unknown, were treated rather
like family parasites to be attended to only when the irritation they
caused became acute. They were not taken very seriously. That they grew
up at all was largely due to their being turned out as soon as they could
walk into an air that buoyed the entire nervous and circulatory systems
almost above the need of any other stimulant.
The dance began when the first guests arrived, which on this occasion was
at about six o'clock, and went on till the last guest left, at about ten
the next morning. In the meantime the Greelys' hospitality provided every
variety of refreshment.
When Sheila reached the Town Hall, crowded between Sylvester and joyous
Babe in her turquoise blue on the front seat of the Ford, while the back
seat was occupied by Girlie in scarlet and "Momma" in purple velveteen,
the dance was well under way. The Hudsons came in upon the tumult of a
quadrille. The directions, chanted above the din, were not very exactly
heeded; there was as much confusion as there was mirth. Sheila, standing
near Girlie's elbow, felt the exhilaration which youth does feel at the
impact of explosive noise and motion, the stamping of feet, the shouting,
the loud laughter, the music, the bounding, prancing bodies: savagery in
a good humor, childhood again, but without the painful intensity of
childhood. Sheila wondered just as any _debutante_ in a city ballroom
wonders, whether she would have partners, whether she would have "a good
time." Color came into her face. She forgot everything except the
immediate prospect of flattery and rhythmic motion.
Babe pounced upon a young man who was shouldering his way toward Girlie.
"Say, Jim, meet Miss Arundel! Gee! I've been wanting you two to get
Sheila held out her hand to Mr. James Greely, who took it with a
surprised and dazzled look.
"Pleased to meet you," he murmured, and the dimple deepened in his ruddy
He turned his blushing face to Girlie. "Gee! You look great!" he said.
She was, in fact, very beautiful--a long, firm, round body, youthful and
strong, sheathed in a skin of cream and roses, lips that looked as though
they had been used for nothing but the tranquil eating of ripe fruit,
eyes of unfathomable serenity, and hair almost as soft and creamy as her
shoulders and her finger-tips. Her beauty was not marred to Jim Greely's
eyes by the fact that she was chewing gum. Amongst animals the only
social poise, the only true self-possession and absence of shyness is
shown by the cud-chewing cow. She is diverted from fear and soothed from
self-consciousness by having her nervous attention distracted. The
smoking man has this release, the knitting woman has it. Girlie and Babe
had it from the continual labor of their jaws. Every hope and longing and
ambition in Girlie's heart centered upon this young man now complimenting
her, but as he turned to her, she just stood there and looked up at him.
Her jaws kept on moving slightly. There was in her eyes the minimum of
human intelligence and the maximum of unconscious animal invitation--a
blank, defenseless expression of--"Here I am. Take me." As Jim Greely
expressed the look: "Girlie makes everything easy. She don't give a
fellow any discomfort like some of these skittish girls do. She's kind of
home folks at once."
"We can't get into the quadrille now," said Jim, "but you'll give me the
next, won't you, Girlie?"
"Sure, Jim," said the unsmiling, rosy mouth.
Jim moved uneasily on his patent-leather feet. He shot a sidelong glance
"Say, Miss Arundel, may I have the next after ... Meet Mr. Gates," he
added spasmodically, as the hand of a gigantic friend crushed his elbow.
Sheila looked up a yard or two of youth and accepted Mr. Gates's
invitation for "the next."
The head at the top of the tower bent itself down to her with a
"Us fellows," it said, "have been aiming to give you a good time
Sheila was relieved to find him within hearing. Her smile dawned
enchantingly. It had all the inevitability of some sweet natural event.
"That's very good of--you fellows. I didn't know you knew that there was
such a person as--as me in Millings."
"You bet you, we knew. Here goes the waltz. Do you want to Castle it? I
worked in a Yellowstone Park Hotel last summer, and I'm wise on dancing."
Sheila found herself stretched ceilingwards. She must hold one arm
straight in the air, one elbow as high as she could make it go, and she
must dance on her very tip-toes. Like every girl whose life has taken her
in and out of Continental hotels, she could dance, and she had the gift
of intuitive rhythm and of yielding to her partner's intentions almost
before they were muscularly expressed. Mr. Gates felt that he was dancing
with moonlight, only the figure of speech is not his own.
Girlie in the arms of Jim spoke to him above her rigid chin. Girlie had
the haughty manner of dancing.
"She's not much of a looker, is she, Jim?" But the pain in her heart gave
the speech an audible edge.
"She's not much of anything," said Jim, who had not looked like the
young man on the magazine cover for several busy years in vain. "She's
just a scrap."
But Girlie could not be deceived. Sheila's delicate, crystalline beauty
pierced her senses like the frosty beauty of a winter star: her dress of
white mist, her slender young arms, her long, slim, romantic throat, the
finish and polish of her, every detail done lovingly as if by a master's
silver-pointed pencil, her hair so artlessly simple and shining, smooth
and rippled under the lights, the strangeness of her face! Girlie told
herself again that it was an irregular face, that the chin was not right,
that the eyes were not well-opened and lacked color, that the nose was
odd, defying classification; she knew, in spite of the rigid ignorance of
her ideals, that these things mysteriously spelled enchantment. Sheila
was as much more beautiful than anything Millings had ever seen as her
white gown was more exquisite than anything Millings had ever worn. It
was a work of art, and Sheila was, also, in some strange sense, a work of
art, something shaped and fashioned through generations, something tinted
and polished and retouched by race, something mellowed and restrained,
something bred. Girlie did not know why the white tulle frock, absolutely
plain, shamed her elaborate red satin with its exaggerated lines. But she
did know. She did not know why Sheila's subtle beauty was greater than
her obvious own. But she did know. And so great and bewildering a fear
did this knowledge give her that, for an instant, it confused her wits.
"She's going back East soon," she said sharply.
"Is she?" Jim's question was indifferent, but from that instant his
When he took the small, crushable silken partner into his arms for "the
next after," a one-step, he was troubled by a sense of hurry, by that
desire to make the most of his opportunity that torments the reader of a
"best-seller" from the circulating library.
"Say, Miss Arundel," he began, looking down at the smooth, jewel-bright
head, "you haven't given Millings a square deal."
Sheila looked at him quizzically.
"You see," went on Jim, "it's winter now."
"Yes, Mr. Greely. It _is_ winter."
"And that's not our best season. When summer comes, it's awfully pretty
and it's good fun. We have all sorts of larks--us fellows and the girls.
You'd like a motor ride, wouldn't you?"
"Not especially, thank you," said Sheila, who really at times deserved
the Western condemnation of "ornery." "I don't like motors. In fact, I
Jim swallowed a nervous lump. This girl was not "home folks." She made
him feel awkward and uncouth. He tried to remember that he was Mr. James
Greely, of the Millings National Bank, and, remembering at the same time
something that the girl from Cheyenne had said about his smile, he caught
Sheila's eye deliberately and made use of his dimple.
"What do you like?" he asked. "If you tell me what you like, I--I'll see
that you get it."
"You're very powerful, aren't you? You sound like a fairy godmother."
"You look like a fairy. That's just what you do look like."
"I like horses much better than motors," said Sheila. "I thought the West
would be full of adorable little ponies. I thought you'd ride like
wizards, bucking--you know."
"Well, I can ride. But, I guess you've been going to the movies or the
Wild West shows. This town _must_ seem kind of dead after Noo York."
"I hate the movies," said Sheila sweetly.
"Say, it would be easy to get a pony for you as soon as the snow goes. I
sold my horse when Dad bought me my Ford."
"Sold him? Sold your own special horse!"
"Well, yes, Miss Arundel. Does that make you think awfully bad of me?"
"Yes. It does. It makes me think _awfully_ 'bad' of you. If I had a
horse, I'd--I'd tie him to my bedpost at night and feed him on
rose-leaves and tie ribbons in his mane."
Jim laughed, delighted at her childishness. It brought back something of
his own assurance.
"I don't think Pap Hudson would quite stand for that, would he? Seems to
me as if--"
But here his partner stopped short, turned against his arm, and her face
shone with a sudden friendly sweetness of surprise. "There's Dickie!"
She left Jim, she slipped across the floor. Dickie limped toward her. His
face was white.
"Dickie! I'm so glad you came. Somehow I didn't expect you to be here.
But you're lame! Then you can't dance. What a shame. After Mr. Greely and
I have finished this, could you sit one out with me?"
"Yes'm," whispered Dickie.
He was not as inexpressive as it might seem however. His face, a rather
startling face here in this crowded, boisterous room, a face that seemed
to have come in out of the night bringing with it a quality of eternal
childhood, of quaint, half-forgotten dreams--his face was very
expressive. So much so, that Sheila, embarrassed, went back almost
abruptly to Jim. Her smile was left to bewilder Dickie. He began to
describe it to himself. And this was the first time a woman had stirred
that mysterious trouble in his brain.
"It's not like a smile at all," thought Dickie, the dancing crowd
invisible to him; "it's like something--it's--what is it? It's as if the
wind blew it into her face and blew it out again. It doesn't come from
anywhere, it doesn't seem to be going anywhere, at least not anywhere a
fellow knows ..." Here he was rudely joggled by a passing elbow and the
pain of his ankle brought a sharp "Damn!" out of him. He found a niche to
lean in, and he watched Sheila and Jim. He found himself not quite so
overwhelmed as usual by admiration of his friend. His mood was even very
faintly critical. But, as the dance came to an end, Dickie fell a prey to
base anxiety. How would "Poppa" take it if he, Dickie, should be seen
sitting out a dance with Miss Arundel? Dickie was profoundly afraid of
his father. It was a fear that he had never been allowed the leisure to
outgrow. Sylvester with torture of hand and foot and tongue had fostered
it. And Dickie's childhood had lingered painfully upon him. He could not
outgrow all sorts of feelings that other fellows seemed to shed with
their short trousers. He was afraid of his father, physically and
morally; his very nerves quivered under the look of the small brown eyes.
Nevertheless, as Sheila thanked Jim for her waltz, her elbow was touched
by a cold finger.
"Here I am," said Dickie. He had a demure and startled look. "Let's sit
it out in the room between the babies and the dancin'-room--two kinds of
a b-a-w-l, ain't it? But I guess we can hear ourselves speak in there.
There's a sort of a bench, kind of a hard one..."
Sheila followed and found herself presently in a half-dark place under a
row of dangling coats. An iron stove near by glowed with red sides and a
round red mouth. It gave a flush to Dickie's pale face. Sheila thought
she had never seen such a wistful and untidy lad.
Yet, poor Dickie at the moment appeared to himself rather a dashing and
heroic figure. He had certainly shown courage and had done his deed with
jauntiness. Besides, he had on his only good suit of dark-blue serge,
very thin serge. It was one that he had bought second-hand from Jim, and
he was sure, therefore, of its perfection. He thought, too, that he had
mastered, by the stern use of a wet brush, a cowlick which usually
disgraced the crown of his head. He hadn't. It had long ago risen to its
"Jim dances fine, don't he?" Dickie said. "I kind of wish I liked to
dance. Seems like athletic stunts don't appeal to me some way."
"Would you call dancing an athletic stunt?" Sheila leaned back against a
coat that smelled strongly of hay and tobacco and caught up her knees in
her two hands so that the small white slippers pointed daintily, clear of
Dickie looked at them. It seemed to him suddenly that a giant's hand had
laid itself upon his heart and turned it backwards as a pilot turns his
wheel to change the course of a ship. The contrary movement made him
catch his breath. He wanted to put the two white silken feet against his
breast, to button them inside his coat, to keep them in his care.
"Ain't it, though?" he managed to say. "Ain't it an athletic stunt?"
"I've always heard it called an accomplishment."
"God!" said Dickie gently. "I'd 'a' never thought of that. I do like
ski-ing, though. Have you tried it, Miss Arundel?"
"No. If I call you Dickie, you might call me Sheila, I think."
Dickie lifted his eyes from the feet. "Sheila," he said.
He was curiously eloquent. Again Sheila felt the confusion that had sent
her abruptly back to Jim. She smoothed out the tulle on her knee.
"I think I'd love to ski. Is it awfully hard to learn?"
"No, ma'am. It's just dandy. Especially on a moonlight night, like night
before last. And if you'd 'a' had skis on you wouldn't 'a' broke through.
You go along so quiet and easy, pushing yourself a little with your pole.
There's a kind of a swing to it--"
He stood up and threw his light, thin body gracefully into the skier's
pose. "See? You slide on one foot, then on the other. It's as easy as
dreaming, and as still."
"It's like a gondola--" suggested Sheila.
Dickie put his head on one side and Sheila explained. She also sang a
snatch of a Gondel-lied to show him the motion.
"Yes'm," said Dickie. "It's like that. It kind of has a--has a--"
"I guess that's the word. So's riding. I like to do the things that
"Well, then, you ought to like dancing."
"Yes'm. Maybe I would if it wasn't for havin' to pull a girl round about
with me. It kind of takes my mind off the pleasure."
Sheila laughed. Then, "Did you get my note?" she asked.
"Yes'm." Her laughter had embarrassed him, and he had suddenly a
"And are you going to be my friend?"
The sliding of feet on a floor none too smooth, the music, the wailing of
a baby accompanied Dickie's silence. He was very silent and sat very
still, his hands hanging between his knees, his head bent. He stared at
Sheila's feet. His face, what she could see of it, was, even beyond the
help of firelight, pale.
"Why, Dickie, I believe you're going to say No!"
"Some fellows would say Yes," Dickie answered. "But I sort of promised
not to be your friend. Poppa said I'd kind of disgust you. And I figure
that I would--"
"You mean because you--you--?"
"Can't you stop?"
He shook his head and gave her a tormented look.
"Oh, Dickie! Of course you can! At your age!"
"Seems like it means more to me than anything else."
"Yes'm. It kind of takes the awful edge off things."
"What _do_ you mean? I don't understand."
"Things are so sort of--sharp to me. I mean, I don't know if I can tell
you. I feel like I had to put something between me and--and things. Oh,
damn! I can't make you see--"
"No," said Sheila, distressed.
"It's always that-a-way," Dickie went on. "I mean, everything's kind
of--too much. I used to run miles when I was a kid. And sometimes now
when I can get out and walk or ski, the feeling goes. But other
times--well, ma'am, whiskey sort of takes the edge off and lets something
kind of slack down that gets sort of screwed up. Oh, I don't know ..."
"Did you ever go to a doctor about it?"
Dickie looked up at her and smiled. It was the sweetest smile--so patient
of this misunderstanding of hers. "No, ma'am."
"Then you don't care to be my friend enough to--to try--"
"I wouldn't be a good friend to you," said Dickie. And he spoke now
almost sullenly. "Because I wouldn't want you to have any other friends.
I hate it to see you with any other fellow."
"Maybe it is absurd. I guess it seems awful foolish to you." He moved his
cracked patent-leather pump in a sort of pattern on the floor. Again he
looked up, this time with a freakish, an almost elfin flicker of his
extravagant eyelashes. "There's something I could be real well," he said.
"Only, I guess Poppa's got there ahead of me. I could be a dandy guardian
Again Sheila laughed. But the ringing of her silver coins was not quite
true. There was a false note. She shut her eyes involuntarily. She was
remembering that instant an hour or two before when Sylvester's look had
held hers to his will. The thought of what she had promised crushed down
upon her consciousness with the smothering, sudden weight of its reality.
She could not tell Dickie. She could not--though this she did not
admit--bear that he should know.
"Very well," she said, in a hard and weary voice. "Be my guardian. That
ought to sober any one. I think I shall need as many guardians as
possible. And--here comes your father. I have this dance with him."
Dickie got hurriedly to his feet. "Oh, gosh!" said he. He was obviously
and vividly a victim of panic. Sheila's small and very expressive face
showed a little gleam of amused contempt. "My guardian!" she seemed to
mock. To shorten the embarrassment of the moment she stepped quickly into
the elder Hudson's arm. He took her hand and began to pump it up and
down, keeping time to the music and counting audibly. "One, two, three."
To Dickie he gave neither a word nor look.
Sheila lifted her chin so that she could smile at Dickie over Pap's
shoulder. It was an indulgent and forgiving smile, but, meeting Dickie's
look, it went out.
The boy's face was scarlet, his body rigid, his lips tight. The eyes with
which he had overcome her smile were the hard eyes of a man. Sheila's
contempt had fallen upon him like a flame. In a few dreadful minutes as
he stood there it burnt up a part of his childishness.
Sheila went on, dancing like a mist in Hudson's arms. She knew that she
had done something to Dickie. But she did not know what it was that she
THE BEACON LIGHT
Out of the Wyoming Bad Lands--orange, turquoise-green, and murky blue, of
outlandish ridges, of streaked rock, of sudden, twisted canons, a country
like a dream of the far side of the moon--rode Cosme Hilliard in a
choking cloud of alkali dust. He rode down Crazy Woman's Hill toward the
sagebrush flat, where, in a half-circle of cloudless, snow-streaked
mountains, lay the town of Millings on its rapid glacier river.
Hilliard's black hair was powdered with dust; his olive face was gray;
dust lay thick in the folds of his neck-handkerchief; his pony matched
the gray-white road and plodded wearily, coughing and tossing his head in
misery from the nose-flies, the horse-flies, the mosquitoes, a swarm of
small, tormenting presences. His rider seemed to be charmed into
patience, and yet his aquiline face was not the face of a patient man. It
was young in a keen, hard fashion; the mouth and eyes were those of a
Spanish-American mother, golden eyes and a mouth originally beautiful,
soft, and cruel, which had been tightened and straightened by a man's
will and experience. It had been used so often for careless, humorous
smiling that the cruelty had been almost worked out of it. Almost, not
altogether. His mother's blood kept its talons on him. He was Latin and
dangerous to look at, for all the big white Anglo-Saxon teeth, the slow,
slack, Western American carriage, the guarded and amused expression of
the golden eyes. Here was a bundle of racial contradictions, not yet
welded, not yet attuned. Perhaps the one consistent, the one solvent,
expression was that of alert restlessness. Cosme Hilliard was not happy,
was not content, but he was eternally entertained. He was not uplifted by
the hopeful illusions proper to his age, but he loved adventure. It was a
bitter face, bitter and impatient and unschooled. It seemed to laugh, to
expect the worst from life, and not to care greatly if the worst should
come. But for such minor matters of dust and thirst and weariness, he had
patience. Physically the young man was hard and well-schooled. He rode
like a cowboy and carried a cowboy's rope tied to his saddle. And the
rope looked as though it had been used.
Millings, that seemed so close below there through the clear, high
atmosphere, was far to reach. The sun had slipped down like a thin,
bright coin back of an iron rock before the traveler rode into the town.
His pony shied wearily at an automobile and tried to make up his mind to
buck, but a light pressure of the spur and a smiling word was enough to
change his mind.
"Don't be a fool, Dusty! You know it's not worth the trouble. Remember
that fifty miles you've come to-day!"
The occupants of the motor snapped a camera and hummed away. They had no
prevision of being stuck halfway up Crazy Woman's Hill with no water
within fifteen miles, or they wouldn't have exclaimed so gayly at the
beauty and picturesqueness of the tired cowboy.
"He looks like a movie hero, doesn't he?" said a girl.
"No, ma'am," protested the Western driver, who had been a chauffeur only
for a fortnight and knew considerably less about the insides of his Ford
than he did about the insides of Hilliard's cow-pony. "He ain't no show.
He's the real thing. Seems like you dudes got things kinder twisted.
Things ain't like shows. Shows is sometimes like things."
"The real thing" certainly behaved as the real thing would. He rode
straight to the nearest saloon and swung out of his saddle. He licked the
dust off his lips, looked wistfully at the swinging door, and turned back
to his pony.
"You first, Dusty--damn you!" and led the stumbling beast into the yard
of The Aura. In an hour or more he came back. He had dined at the hotel
and he had bathed. His naturally vivid coloring glowed under the
street-light. He was shaved and brushed and sleek. He pushed quickly
through the swinging doors of the bar and stepped into the saloon. It
was truly a famous bar--The Aura--and it deserved its fame. It shone
bright and cool and polished. There was a cheerful clink of glasses, a
subdued, comfortable sound of talk. Men drank at the bar, and drank and
played cards at the small tables. A giant in a white apron stood to
serve the newcomer.
Hilliard ordered his drink, sipped it leisurely, then wandered off to a
near-by table. There he stood, watching the game. Not long after, he
accepted an invitation and joined the players. From then till midnight he
was oblivious of everything but the magic squares of pasteboard, the
shifting pile of dirty silver at his elbow, the faces--vacant, clever, or
rascally--of his opponents. But at about midnight, trouble came. For some
time Hilliard had been subconsciously irritated by the divided attention
of a player opposite to him across the table. This man, with a long, thin
face, was constantly squinting past Cosme's shoulder, squinting and
leering and stretching his great full-lipped mouth into a queer
half-smile. At last, abruptly, the irritation came to consciousness and
Cosme threw an angry glance over his own shoulder.
Beside the giant who had served him his drink a girl stood: a thin,
straight girl in black and white who held herself so still that she
seemed painted there against the mirror on the wall. Her hands rested on
her slight hips, the fine, pointed, ringless fingers white against the
black stuff of her dress. Her neck, too, was white and her face, the pure
unpowdered whiteness of childhood. Her chin was lifted, her lips laid
together, her eyes, brilliant and clear, of no definite color, looked
through her surroundings. She was very young, not more than seventeen.
The mere presence of a girl was startling enough. Barmaids are unknown to
the experience of the average cowboy. But this girl was trebly startling.
For her face was rare. It was not Western, not even American. It was a
fine-drawn, finished, Old-World face, with long, arched eyebrows, large
lids, shadowed eyes, nostrils a little pinched, a sad and tender mouth.
It was a face whose lines might have followed the pencil of
Botticelli--those little hollows in the cheeks, that slight exaggeration
of the pointed chin, that silky, rippling brown hair. There was no touch
of artifice; it was an unpainted young face; hair brushed and knotted
simply; the very carriage of the body was alien; supple, unconscious,
Cosme Hilliard's look lasted for a minute. Returning to his opponent it
met an ugly grimace. He flushed and the game went on.
But the incident had roused Hilliard's antagonism. He disliked that
man with the grimacing mouth. He began to watch him. An hour or two
later Cosme's thin, dark hand shot across the table and gripped the
"Caught you that time, you tin-horn," he said quietly.
Instantly, almost before the speech was out, the giant in the apron had
hurled himself across the room and gripped the cheat, who stood, a hand
arrested on its way to his pocket, snarling helplessly. But the other
players, his fellow sheep-herders, fell away from Hilliard dangerously.
"No shootin'," said the giant harshly. "No shoot-in' in The Aura. It
"No callin' names either," growled the prisoner. "Me and my friends would
like to settle with the youthful stranger."
"Settle with him, then, but somewheres else. No fightin' in The Aura."
There was an acquiescent murmur from the other table and the sheep-herder
gave in. He exchanged a look with his friends, and Carthy, seeing them
disposed to return quietly to the game, left them and took up his usual
position behind the bar. The barmaid moved a little closer to his elbow.
Hilliard noticed that her eyes had widened in her pale face. He made a
brief, contemptuous excuse to his opponents, settled his account with
them, and strolled over to the bar. From Carthy he ordered another drink.
He saw the girl's eyes studying the hand he put out for his glass and he
smiled a little to himself. When she looked up he was ready with his
golden eyes to catch her glance. Both pairs of eyes smiled. She came a
step toward him.
"I believe I've heard of you, miss," he said.
A delicate pink stained her face and throat and he wondered if she could
possibly be shy.
"Some fellows I met over in the Big Horn country lately told me to look
you up if I came to Millings. They said something about Hudson's Queen.
It's the Hudson Hotel isn't it?--"
A puzzled, rather worried look crept into her eyes, but she avoided his
question. "You were working in the Big Horn country? I hoped you were
from Hidden Creek."
"I'm on my way there," he said. "I know that country well. You come from
"No." She smiled faintly. "But"--and here her breast lifted on a deep,
spasmodic sigh--"some day I'm going there."
"It's not like any other country," he said, turning his glass in his
supple fingers. "It's wonderful. But wild and lonesome. You wouldn't be
caring for it--not for longer than a sunny day or two, I reckon."
He used the native phrases with sure familiarity, and yet in his speaking
of them there was something unfamiliar. Evidently she was puzzled by him,
and Cosme was not sorry that he had so roused her curiosity. He was very
curious himself, so much so that he had forgotten the explosive moment of
a few short minutes back.
The occupants of the second table pushed away their chairs and came over
to the bar. For a while the barmaid was busy, making their change,
answering their jests, bidding them good-night. It was, "Well,
good-night, Miss Arundel, and thank you."
"See you next Saturday, Miss Arundel, if I'm alive--"
Hilliard drummed on the counter with his fingertips and frowned. His
puzzled eyes wove a pattern of inquiry from the men to the girl and back.
One of them, a ruddy-faced, town boy, lingered. He had had a drop too
much of The Aura's hospitality. He rested rather top-heavily against the
bar and stretched out his hand.
"Aren't you going to say me a real good-night, Miss Sheila," he besought,
and a tipsy dimple cut itself into his cheek.
"Do go home, Jim," murmured the barmaid. "You've broken your promise
again. It's two o'clock."
He made great ox-eyes at her, his hand still begging, its blunt fingers
curled upward like a thirsty cup.
His face was emptied of everything but its desire.
It was perfectly evident that "Miss Sheila" was tormented by the look, by
the eyes, by the hand, by the very presence of the boy. She pressed her
lips tight, drew her fine arched brows together, and twisted her fingers.
"I'll go home," he asserted obstinately, "when you tell me a proper
Her eyes glittered. "Shall I tell Carthy to turn you out, Jim?"
He smiled triumphantly. "Uh," said he, "your watch-dog went out.
Dickie called him to answer the telephone. Now, will you tell me
Cosme hoped that the girl would glance at him for help, he had his long
steel muscles braced; but, after a moment's thought--"And she can think.
She's as cool as she's shy," commented the observer--she put her hand on
Jim's. He grabbed it, pressed his lips upon it.
"Goo'-night," he said, "Goo'-night. I'll go now." He swaggered out as
though she had given him a rose.
The barmaid put her hand beneath her apron and rubbed it. Cosme laughed a
little at the quaint action.
"Do they give you lots of trouble, Miss Arundel?" he asked her
She looked at him. But her attitude was not so simple and friendly as it
had been. Evidently her little conflict with Jim had jarred her humor.
She looked distressed, angry. Cosme felt that, unfairly enough, she
lumped him with The Enemy. He wondered pitifully if she had given The
Enemy its name, if her experience had given her the knowledge of such
names. He had a vision of the pretty, delicate little thing standing
there night after night as though divided by the bar from prowling
beasts. And yet she was known over the whole wide, wild country as
"Hudson's Queen." Her crystal, childlike look must be one of those
extraordinary survivals, a piteous sort of accident. Cosme called himself
a sentimentalist. Spurred by this reaction against his more romantic
tendencies, he leaned forward. He too was going to ask the barmaid for a
good-night or a greeting or a good-bye. His hand was out, when he saw her
face stiffen, her lips open to an "Oh!" of warning or of fear. He wheeled
and flung up his arm against a hurricane of blows.
His late opponents had decided to take advantage of Carthy's absence, and
inflict chastisement prompt and merciless upon the "youthful stranger."
If it had not been for that small frightened "Oh" Cosme would have been
down at once.
With that moment's advantage he fought like a tiger, his golden eyes
ablaze. Swift and dangerous anger was one of his gifts. He was against
the wall, he was torn from it. One of his opponents staggered across the
room and fell, another crumpled up against the bar. Hilliard wheeled and
jabbed, plunged, was down, was up, bleeding and laughing. He was whirled
this way and that, the men from whom he had struck himself free recovered
themselves, closed in upon him. A blow between the eyes half stunned him,
another on his mouth silenced his laughter. The room was getting blurred.
He was forced back against the bar, fighting, but not effectively. The
snarling laughter was not his now, but that of the cheat.
Something gave way behind him; it was as if the bar, against which he was
bent backwards, had melted to him and hardened against his foes. For an
instant he was free from blows and tearing hands. He saw that a door in
the bar had opened and shut. There was a small pressure on his arm, a
pressure which he blindly obeyed. In front of him another door opened,
and closed. He heard the shooting of a bolt. He was in the dark. The
small pressure, cold through the torn silk sleeve of his white shirt,
continued to urge him swiftly along a passage. He was allowed to rest an
instant against a wall. A light was turned on with a little click above
his head. He found himself at the end of the open hallway. Before him lay
the brilliant velvet night.
Hilliard pressed his hands upon his eyes trying to clear his vision. He
felt sick and giddy. The little barmaid's face, all terrified and urgent
eyes, danced up and down.
"Don't waste any time!" she said. "Get out of Millings! Where's
At that he looked at her and smiled.
"I'm not leaving Millings till to-morrow," he said uncertainly with
wounded lips. "Don't look like that, girl. I'm not much hurt, If I'm not
mistaken, your watch-dog is back and very much on his job. I reckon that
our friends will leave Millings considerably before I do."
In fact, behind them at the end of the passage there was a sort of roar.
Carthy had returned to avenge The Aura.
"You're sure you're not hurt? You're sure they won't try to hurt
He shook his head. "Not they..." He stood looking at her and the mist
slowly cleared, his vision of her steadied. "Shall I see you to-morrow?"
She drew back from him a little. "No," she said. "I sleep all the
morning. And, afterwards, I don't see any one except a few old friends. I
He puckered his eyelids inquiringly. Then, with a sudden reckless fling
of his shoulders, he put out his hand boldly and caught her small pointed
chin in his palm. He bent down his head.
She stood there quite still and white, looking straight up into his face.
The exquisite smoothness of her little cool chin photographed itself upon
his memory. As he bent down closer to the grave and tender lips, he was
suddenly, unaccountably frightened and ashamed. His hand dropped, sought
for her small limp hand. His lips shifted from their course and went
lower, just brushing her fingers.
"I beg your pardon," he said confusedly. He was painfully embarrassed,
stammered, "I--I wanted to thank you. Good-bye..."
She said good-bye in the smallest sweet voice he had ever heard. It
followed his memory like some weary, pitiful little ghost.
IN THE PUBLIC EYE
No sight more familiar to the corner of Main and Resident Streets than
that of Sylvester Hudson's Ford car sliding up to the curb in front of
his hotel at two o'clock in a summer afternoon. He would slip out from
under his steering-wheel, his linen duster flapping about his long legs,
and he would stalk through the rocking, meditative observers on the
piazza and through the lobby past Dickie's frozen stare, upstairs to the
door of Miss Arundel's "suite." There he was bidden to come in. A few
minutes later they would come down together, Sheila, too, passing Dickie
wordlessly, and they would hum away from Millings leaving a veil of
golden dust to smother the comments in their wake. There were days when
Sheila's pony, a gift from Jim Greely, was led up earlier than the hour
of Hudson's arrival, on which days Sheila, in a short skirt and a boy's
shirt and a small felt Stetson, would ride away alone toward the mountain
of her dreams. Sometimes Jim rode with her. It was not always possible to
The day after Cosme Hilliard's spectacular passage was one of Hudson's
days. The pony did not appear, but Sylvester did and came down with his
prize. The lobby was crowded. Sheila threaded her way amongst the medley
of tourists, paused and deliberately drew near to the desk. At sight of
her Dickie's whiteness dyed itself scarlet. He rose and with an apparent
effort lifted his eyes to her look.
They did not smile at each other. Sheila spoke sharply, each word a
little soft lash.
"I want to speak to you. Will you come to my sitting-room when I
"Yes'm," said Dickie. It was the tone of an unwincing pride. Under the
desk, hidden from sight, his hand was a white-knuckled fist.
Sheila passed on, trailed by Hudson, who was smiling not agreeably to
himself. Over the smile he gave his son a cruel look. It was as though an
enemy had said, "Hurts you, doesn't it?" Dickie returned the look with
The rockers on the piazza stopped rocking, stopped talking, stopped
breathing, it would seem, to watch Sylvester help Sheila into his car;
not that he helped her greatly--she had an appearance of melting
through his hands and getting into her place beside his by a sort of
sleight of body. He made a series of angular movements, smiled at her,
and started the car.
"Well, little girl," said he, "where to this afternoon?"
When Sheila rode her pony she always rode toward The Hill. But in that
direction she had never allowed Sylvester to take her. She looked vaguely
through the wind-shield now and said, "Anywhere--that canon, the one we
came home by last week. It was so queer."
"It'll be dern dusty, I'm afraid."
"I don't care." Sheila wrapped her gray veil over her small hat which
fitted close about her face. "I'm getting used to the dust. Does it ever
rain around Millings? And does it ever stop blowing?"
"We don't like Millings to-day, do we?"
Sylvester was bending his head to peer through the gray mist of her veil.
She held herself stiffly beside him, showing the profile of a small
Sphinx. Suddenly it turned slightly, seemed to wince back. Girlie, at the
gate of Number 18 Cottonwood Avenue, had stopped to watch them pass.
Girlie did not speak. Her face looked smitten, the ripe fruit had turned
bitter upon her ruddy lips. The tranquil emptiness of her beauty had
filled itself stormily.
Sheila did not answer Hudson's reproachful question. She leaned back,
dropped back, rather, into a tired little heap and let the country slide
by--the strange, wide, broken country with its circling mesas, its
somber grays and browns and dusty greens, its bare purple hills, rocks
and sand and golden dirt, and now and then, in the sudden valley
bottoms, swaying groves of vivid green and ribbons of emerald meadows.
The mountains shifted and opened their canons, gave a glimpse of their
beckoning and forbidding fastnesses and closed them again as though by a
"What was the row last night?" asked Sylvester in his voice of cracked
tenderness. "Carthy says there was a bunch of toughs. Were you scared
good and plenty? I'm sorry. It don't happen often, believe _me._
"I wish you could 'a' heard Carthy talkin' about you, Sheila," went on
Sylvester, his eyes, filled with uneasiness, studying her silence and her
huddled smallness, hands in the pockets of her light coat, veiled face
turned a little away, "Say, that would 'a' set you up all right! Talk
Here she flashed round on him, as though her whole body had been
electrified. "Tell me all that again," she begged in a voice that he
could not interpret except that there was in it a sound of tears. "Tell
me again about a beacon ..."
He stammered. He was confused. But stumblingly he tried to fulfill her
demand. Here was a thirst for something, and he wanted above everything
in the world to satisfy it. Sheila listened to him with unsteady, parted
lips. He could see them through the veil.
"You still think I am that?" she asked.
He was eager to prove it to her. "Still think? Still think? Why, girl, I
don't hev to think. Don't the tillbox speak for itself? Don't Carthy
handle a crowd that's growing under his eyes? Don't we sell more booze in
a week now than we used to in a--" Suddenly he realized that he was on
the wrong tack. It was his first break. He drew in a sharp breath and
stopped, his face flushing deeply.
"Yes?" questioned Sheila, melting her syllables like slivers of ice on
her tongue. "Go on."
"Er--er, don't we draw a finer lot of fellows than we ever did before?
Don't they behave more decent and orderly? Don't they get civilization
just for looking at you, Miss Sheila?"
"And--and booze? Jim Greely, for instance, Mr. James Greely, of the
Millings National Bank--he never used to patronize The Aura. And now he's
there every night till twelve and often later, for he won't obey me any
more. I wonder whether Mr. and Mrs. Greely are glad that you are getting
a better type of customer! Mrs. Greely almost stopped me on the street
the other day--that is, she almost got up courage to speak to me. Before
now she's cut me, just as Girlie does, just as your wife does, just as
"Dickie cut you?" Sylvester threw back his head and laughed uneasily, and
with a strained note of alarm. "That's a good one, Miss Sheila. I kinder
fancied you did the cuttin' there."
"Dickie hasn't spoken to me since he came to me that day when he heard
what I was going to do and tried to talk me out of doing it."
"Yes'm. He came to me first," drawled Sylvester.
They were both silent, busy with the amazing memory of Dickie, of his
disheveled fury, of his lashing eloquence. He had burst in upon his
family at breakfast that April morning when Millings was humming with
the news, had advanced upon his father, stood above him.
"Is it true that you are going to make a barmaid of Sheila?"
Sylvester, in an effort to get to his feet, had been held back by
Dickie's thin hand that shot out at him like a sword.
"Sure it's true," Sylvester had said coolly. But he had not felt cool. He
had felt shaken and confused. The boy's entire self-forgetfulness, his
entire absence of fear, had made Hudson feel that he was talking to a
stranger, a not inconsiderable one.
"It's true, then." Dickie had drawn a big breath. "You--you"--he seemed
to swallow an epithet--"you'll let that girl go into your filthy saloon
and make money for you by her--by her prettiness and her--her
"Say, Dickie," his father had drawled, "you goin' to run for the
legislature? Such a lot of classy words!" But anger and alarm were
rising in him.
"You've fetched her away out here," went on Dickie, "and kinder got her
cornered and you've talked a lot of slush to her and you've--"
Here Girlie came to the rescue.
"Well, anyway, she's a willing victim, Dickie," Girlie had said.
Dickie had flashed her one look. "Is she? I'll see about that.
And then, there was Sheila's memory. Dickie had come upon her in a
confusion of boxes, her little trunk half-unpacked, its treasures
scattered over the chairs and floor. Sheila had lifted to him from where
she knelt a glowing and excited face. "Oh, Dickie," she had said, her
relief at the escape from Mrs. Hudson pouring music into her voice, "have
He had sat down on one of the plush chairs of "the suite" as though he
felt weak. Then he had got up and had walked to and fro while she
described her dream, the beauty of her chosen mission, the glory of the
saloon whose high priestess she had become. And Dickie had listened with
the bitter and disillusioned and tender face of a father hearing the
prattle of a beloved child.
"You honest think all that, Sheila?" he had asked her patiently.
She had started again, standing now to face him and beginning to be angry
at his look. This boy whom she had lifted up to be her friend!
"Say," Dickie had drawled, "Poppa's some guardian!" He had advanced upon
her as though he wanted to shake her. "You gotta give it right up,
Sheila," he had said sternly. "Sooner than immediately. It's not to go
through. Say, girl, you don't know much about bars." He had drawn a
picture for her, drawing partly upon experience, partly upon his
imagination, the gift of vivid metaphor descending upon him. He used
words that bit into her memory. Sheila had listened and then she had put
her hands over her ears. He pulled them down. He went on. Sheila's Irish
blood had boiled up into her brain. She stormed back at him.
"It's you, it's your use of The Aura that has been its only shame,
Dickie," was the last of all the things she had said.
At which, Dickie standing very still, had answered, "If you go there and
stand behind the bar all night with Carthy to keep hands off, I--I swear
I'll never set foot inside the place again. You ain't agoin' to be _my_
"Well, then," said Sheila, "I shall have done one good thing at least by
Dickie, going out, had passed a breathless Sylvester on his way in. The
two had looked at each other with a look that cut in two the tie between
them, and Sheila, running to Sylvester, had burst into tears.
* * * * *
The motor hummed evenly on its way. It began, with a change of tune, to
climb the graded side of one of the enormous mesas. Sheila, having lived
through again that scene with Dickie, took out a small handkerchief and
busied herself with it under her veil. She laughed shakily.
"Perhaps a beacon does more good by warning people away than by
attracting them," she said. "Dickie has certainly kept his word. I don't
believe he's touched a drop since I've been barmaid, Mr. Hudson. I
should think you'd be proud of him."
Sylvester was silent while they climbed the hill. He changed gears and
sounded his horn. They passed another motor on a dangerous curve. They
began to drop down again.
"Some day," said Sylvester in a quiet voice, "I'll break every bone in
Dickie's body." He murmured something more under his breath in too low a
tone, fortunately, for Sheila's ear. From her position behind the bar,
she had become used to swearing. She had heard a strange variety of
language. But when Sylvester drew upon his experience and his fancy, the
artist in him was at work.
"Do you suppose," asked his companion in an impersonal tone, "that it was
really a hard thing for Dickie to do--to give it up, I mean?"
"By the look of him the last few months," snarled Sylvester, "I should
say it had taken out of him what little real feller there ever was in."
Sheila considered this. She remembered Dickie, as he had risen behind the
desk half an hour before. She did not contradict Sylvester. She had
learned not to contradict him. But Dickie's face with its tight-knit look
of battle stood out very clear to refute the accusation of any loss of
manliness. He was still a quaint and ruffled Dickie. But he was vastly
aged. From twenty to twenty-seven, he seemed to have jumped in a few
weeks. A key had turned in the formerly open door of his spirit. The
indeterminate lips had shut hard, the long-lashed eyes had definitely put
a guard upon their dreams. He was shockingly thin and colorless, however.
Sheila dwelt painfully upon the sort of devastation she had wrought.
Girlie's face, and Dickie's, and Jim's. A grieving pressure squeezed her
heart; she lifted her chest with an effort on a stifled breath.
"God! Sheila," said Sylvester harshly. The car wobbled a little. "Ain't
you happy, girl?"
Sheila looked up at him. Her veil was wet against her cheeks.
"Last night," she said unevenly, "a man was going to kiss me on my
mouth and--and he changed his mind and kissed my hand instead. He left
a smear of blood on my fingers from where those--those other men had
struck his lips. I don't know why it f-frightens me so to think about
that. But it does."
She seemed to collapse before him into a little sobbing child.
"And every day when I wake up," she wailed, "I t-taste whiskey on my
tongue and I--I smell cigarette smoke in my hair. And I d-dream about men
looking at me--the way Jim looks. And I can't let myself think of Father
any more. He used to hold his chin up and walk along as if he looked
above every one and everything. I don't believe he'd ever seen a barmaid
or a drunken man--not really seen them, Mr. Hudson."
"Then he wasn't a real artist after all," Sylvester spoke slowly and
carefully. He was pale.
"He l-loved the stars," sobbed Sheila, her broken reserve had let out a
flood; "he told me to keep looking at the stars."
"Well, ma'am," Sylvester spoke again, "I never knowed the stars to turn
their backs on anything. Barmaids or drunks or kings--they all look about
alike to the stars, I reckon. Say, Sheila, maybe you haven't got the
pluck for real living. Maybe you're the kind of doll-baby girl that
craves sheltering. I reckon I made a big mistake."
Sheila moved slightly as though his speech had pricked her.
"It kind of didn't occur to me," went on Sylvester, "that you'd care a
whole lot about being ig-nored by Momma and Mr. and Mrs. Greely and
Girlie. Say, Girlie's got to take her chance same's anybody else. Why
don't you give Jim a jolt?"
Sheila at this began to laugh. She caught her breath. She laughed and
Sylvester patted her shoulder. "Poor kid! You're all in. Late hours too
much for you, I reckon. Come on now--tell Pap everything. Ease off your
heart. It's wonderful what crying does for the nervous system. I laid out
on a prairie one night when I was about your age and just naturally
bawled. You'd 'a' thought I was a baby steer, hanged if you wouldn't 'a'
thought so. It's the fight scared you plumb to pieces. Carthy told me
about it and how you let the good-looking kid out by the back. I seen him
ride off toward Hidden Creek this morning. He was a real pretty boy too.
Say, Sheila, wasn't you ever kissed?"
"No," said Sheila. "And I don't want to be." Sylvester laughed with a
little low cackle of intense pleasure and amusement. "Well, you shan't
be. No, you shan't. Nobody shall kiss Sheila!"
His method seemed to him successful. Sheila stopped crying and stopped
laughing, dried her eyes, murmured, "I'm all right now, thank you, Mr.
Hudson," and fell into an abysmal silence.
He talked smoothly, soothingly, skillfully, confident of his power to
manage "gels." Once in a while he saw her teeth gleam as though she
smiled. As they came back to Millings in the afterglow of a brief Western
twilight, she unfastened her veil and showed a quiet, thoughtful face.
She thanked him, gave him her hand. "Don't come up, please, Mr. Hudson,"
she said with that cool composure of which at times she was surprisingly
capable. "I shall have my dinner sent up and take a little rest before I
go to work."
"You feel O.K.?" he asked her doubtfully. His brown eyes had an almost
"Quite, thank you." Her easy, effortless smile passed across her face and
in and out of her eyes.
Hudson stood beside his wheel tapping his teeth and staring after her.
The rockers on the veranda stopped their rocking, stopped their talking,
stopped their breathing to see Sheila pass. When she had gone, they
fastened their attention upon Sylvester. He was not aware of them. He
stood there a full three minutes under the glare of publicity. Then he
sighed and climbed into his car.
The lobby, empty of its crowd when Sheila passed through it on her way up
to her rooms, was filled by a wheezy, bullying voice. In front of the
desk a little barrel of a man with piggish eyes was disputing his bill
with Dickie. At the sound of Sheila's entrance he turned, stopped his
complaint, watched her pass, and spat into a near-by receptacle. Sheila
remembered that he had visited the bar early in the evening before, and
had guzzled his whiskey and made some wheezy attempts at gallantry.
Dickie, flushed, his hair at wild odds with composure, was going over the
bill. In the midst of his calculations the man would interrupt him with a
plump dirty forefinger pounced upon the paper. "Wassa meanin' of this
item, f'rinstance? Highway robbery, thassa meanin' of it. My wife take
breakfast in her room? I'd like to see her try it!"
Sheila went upstairs. She took off her things, washed off the dust, and
changed into the black-and-white barmaid's costume, fastening the frilly
apron, the cuffs, the delicate fichu with mechanical care. She put on the
silk stockings and the buckled shoes and the tiny cap. Then she went into
her sitting-room, chose the most dignified chair, folded her hands in
her lap, and waited for Dickie. Waiting, she looked out through the
window and saw the glow fade from the snowy crest of The Hill. The
evening star let itself delicately down through the sweeping shadows of
the earth from some mysterious fastness of invisibility. The room was dim
when Dickie's knock made her turn her head.
He appeared, shut the door without looking at her, then came unwillingly
across the carpet and stopped at about three steps from her chair,
standing with one hand in his pocket. He had slicked down his hair with
a wet brush and changed his suit. It was the dark-blue serge he had worn
at the dance five months before. What those five months had been to
Dickie, through what abasements and exaltations, furies and despairs he
had traveled since he had looked up from Sheila's slippered feet with
his heart turned backward like a pilot's wheel, was only faintly
indicated in his face. And yet the face gave Sheila a pang. And,
unsupported by anger, he was far from formidable, a mere youth. Sheila
wondered at her long and sustained persecution of him. She smiled, her
lips, her eyes, and her heart.
"Aren't you going to sit down, Dickie? This isn't a school examination."
"If it was," said Dickie, with an uncertain attempt at ease, "I wouldn't
pass." He felt for a chair and got into it. He caught a knee in his hand
and looked about him. "You've made the room awful pretty, Sheila."
She had spent some of the rather large pay she drew upon coverings of
French blue for the plush furniture, upon a dainty yellow porcelain
tea-set, upon little oddments of decoration. The wall-paper and carpet
were inoffensive, the quietest probably in Millings, so that her efforts
had met with some success. There was a lounge with cushions, there were
some little volumes, a picture of her father, a bowl of pink wild roses,
a vase of vivid cactus flowers. Some sketches in water-color--Marcus's
most happy medium--had been tacked up. A piece of tapestry decorated the
back of the chair Sheila had chosen. In the dim light it all had an air
of quiet richness. It seemed a room transplanted to Millings from some
Dickie looked at the tapestry because it was the nearest he dared come to
looking at Sheila. His hands and knees shook with the terrible beating of
his heart. It was not right, thought Dickie resentfully, that any feeling
should take hold of a fellow and shake and terrify him so. He threw
himself back suddenly and folded his arms tight across his chest.
"You wanted to see me about something?" he asked.
"Yes. I'll give you some tea first."
Dickie's lips fell apart. He said neither yea nor nay, but watched
dazedly her preparations, her concoctions, her advance upon him with a
yellow teacup and a wafer. He did not stand up to take it and he knew too
late that this was a blunder. He tingled with shame.
Sheila went back to her chair and sipped from her own cup.
"I've been angry with you for three months now, Dickie."
"Yes'm," he said meekly.
"That's the longest I've ever been angry with any one in my life. Once I
hated a teacher for two weeks, and it almost killed me. But what I felt
about her was--was weakness to the way I've felt about you."
"Yes'm," again said Dickie. His tea was terribly hot and burnt his
tongue, so that tears stood in his eyes.
"And I suppose you've been angry with me."
Sheila was not particularly pleased with this gentle reply. "Why, Dickie,
you _know_ you have!"
"Then why haven't you spoken to me? Why have you looked that way at me?"
"I don't speak to folks that don't speak to me," said Dickie, lifting the
wafer as though its extreme lightness was faintly repulsive to him.
"Well," said Sheila bitterly, "you haven't been alone in your attitude.
Very few people have been speaking to me. My only loyal friends are Mr.
Hudson and Amelia Plecks and Carthy and Jim. Jim made no promises about
being my guardian, but--"
"But he _is_ your guardian?" Dickie drawled the question slightly. His
gift of faint irony and impersonal detachment flicked Sheila's temper as
it had always flicked his father's.
"Jim is my friend," Sheila maintained in defiance of a still, small
voice. "He has given me a pony and has taken me riding--"
"Yes'm, I've saw you--" Dickie's English was peculiarly fallible in
moments of emotion. Now he seemed determined to cut Sheila's description
short. "Say, Sheila, did you send for me to tell me about this lovely
friendship of yours with Jim?"
Sheila set her cup down on the window-sill. She did not want to lose her
temper with Dickie. She brushed a wafer crumb from her knee.
"No, Dickie, I didn't. I sent for you because, after all, though I've
been so angry with you, I've known in my heart that--that--you are a
loyal friend and that you tell the truth."
This admission was an effort. Sheila's pride suffered to the point of
bringing a dim sound of tears into her voice....
Dickie did not speak. He too put down his tea-cup and his wafer side by
side on the floor near his chair. He put his elbows on his knees and bent
his head down as though he were examining his thin, locked hands.
Sheila waited for a long minute; then she said angrily, "Aren't you glad
I think that of you?"
"Yes'm." Dickie's voice was indistinct.
"You don't seem glad."
Dickie made some sort of struggle. Sheila could not quite make out its
nature. "I'm glad. I'm so glad that it kind of--hurts," he said.
"Oh!" That at least was pleasant intelligence to a wounded pride.
Fortified, Sheila began the real business of the interview. "You are not
an artist, Dickie," she said, "and you don't understand why your father
asked me to work at The Aura nor why I wanted to work there. It was your
entire inability to understand--"
"Entire inability--" whispered Dickie as though he were taking down the
phrase with an intention of looking it up later.
This confused Sheila. "Your--your entire inability," she repeated
rapidly, "your--your entire inability--"
"Yes'm. I've got that."
"--To understand that made me so angry that day." Sheila was glad to be
rid of that obstruction. She had planned this speech rather carefully in
the watches of the wakeful, feverish morning which had been her night.
"You seemed to be trying to pull your father and me down to some lower
spiritual level of your own."
"Lower spiritual level," repeated Dickie.
"Dickie, stop that, please!"
He looked up, startled by her sharpness. "Stop what, ma'am?"
"Saying things after me. It's insufferable."
"Insufferable--oh, I suppose it is. You're usin' so many words, Sheila. I
kind of forgot there was so many words as you're makin' use of this
"Oh, Dickie, Dickie! Can't you see how miserable I am! I am so unhappy
and--and scared, and you--you are making fun of me."
At that, spoken in a changed and quavering key of helplessness, Dickie
hurried to her, knelt down beside her chair, and took her hands.
"Sheila! I'll do anything!"
His presence, his boyish, quivering touch, so withheld from anything but
boyishness, even the impulsive humility of his thin, kneeling body, were
inexpressibly soothing, inexpressibly comforting. She did not draw away
her hands. She let them cling to his.
"Dickie, will you answer me, quite truthfully and simply, without any
explaining or softening, please, if I ask you a--a dreadful question?"
"I'm not sure if it is a dreadful question, but--but I'm afraid it is."
"Don't worry. Ask me. Surely, I'll answer you the truth without
Her hands clung a little closer. She was silent, gathering courage. He
felt her slim knees quiver.
"What do they mean, Dickie," she whispered with a wan look, "when they
call me--'Hudson's Queen'?"
Dickie bent from her look as though he felt a pain. He took her hands up
close to his breast. "Who told you that they called you that?" he asked
"That's what every one calls me--the men over in the Big Horn
country--they tell men that are coming to Millings to be sure to look up
'Hudson's Queen.' Do they mean the Hotel, Dickie? They _do_ mean the
Hotel, don't they, Dickie?--that I am _The_ Hudson's Queen?"
The truth sometimes presents itself like a withering flame. Dickie got
up, put away her hands, walked up and down, then came back to her. He had
heard the epithet and he knew its meaning. He wrestled now with his
longing to keep her from such understanding, or, at least, to soften it.
She had asked for the clear truth and he had promised it to her. He stood
away because he could not trust himself to endure the wincing of her
hands and body when she heard the truth. He hoped dimly that she might
not understand it.
"They don't mean the Hotel, Sheila," he said harshly. "They mean--Father.
You know now what they mean--?" In her stricken and bewildered eyes he
saw that she did know. "I would like to kill them," sobbed Dickie
suddenly. "I would like to kill--_him_. No, no, Sheila, don't you cry.
Don't you. It's not worth cryin' for. It's jest ignorant folks's ignorant
and stupid talk. It's not worth cryin' for." He sat down on the arm of
her chair and fairly gathered her into his arms. He rocked and patted her
shoulder and kissed her gently on her hair--all with that boyishness,
that brotherliness, that vast restraint so that she could not even guess
the strange and unimaginable pangs he suffered from his self-control.
Before Dickie's resolution was burnt away by the young inner fire, Sheila
withdrew herself gently from his arms and got up from the chair. She
walked over to one of the two large windows--the sunset windows she
called them, in contradistinction to the one sunrise window--and stood
composing herself, her hands twisted together and lifted to the top of
the lower sash, her forehead rested on them.
A rattle of china, a creaking step outside the door, interrupted their
tremulous silence in which who knows what mysterious currents were
passing between their young minds.
"It's my dinner," said Sheila, and Dickie walked over mechanically and
opened the door.
Amelia Plecks came panting into the room, set the tray down on a small
table, and looked contempt at Dickie.
"There now, Miss Arundel," she said with breathless tenderness, "I've
pro-cured a dandy chop for you. You said you was kind of famished for a
lamb chop, and, of course, in a sheep country good mutton's real hard to
come by, and this ain't properly speaking--lamb, _but_--! Well, say, it's
just dandy meat."
She ignored Dickie as one might ignore the presence of some obnoxious
insect in the reception-room of a queen. Her eyes were disgustedly
fascinated by his presence, but in her conversation she would not admit
this preoccupation of disgust.
"I'll be going," said Dickie.
Amelia nodded as one who applauds the becoming move of an inferior.
"Here's a note for you, Miss Arundel," she said, coming over to Sheila's
post at the window, where she was trying to hide the traces of her tears.
"Well, say, who's been botherin' you?" Amelia's voice went down a long,
threatening octave to a sinister bass note, at the voicing of which she
turned to look at Dickie.
"Good-night, Sheila," he said diffidently; and Sheila coming quickly
toward him, put out her hand. The note Amelia had handed her fell. Dickie
and Amelia both bent to pick it up.
"No, you don't," said Amelia, snatching it and accusing him, by her tone,
of inexpressibly base intentions. "Say, Miss Arundel," in a whisper of
thrilled confidence, "_Mister Jim_! Uh?"
"Thank you, Dickie," murmured Sheila, half-embarrassed, half-amused by
her adoring follower's innuendoes. "Thank you for everything. I shall
have to think what I can do ... Good-night."
Dickie, his eyes forcibly held away from Jim's note, murmured,
"Good-night, ma'am," and went out, closing the door with exaggerated
gentleness. The quietness of his departure seemed to spare Sheila's
"Ain't he a worm, though!" exclaimed Amelia, sparing nobody's
"He's nothing of the sort," Sheila protested indignantly. "He is a dear!"
Amelia opened her prominent eyes and pursed her lips. A reassuring light
dawned on her bewilderment. "Oh, say, dearie, I wasn't speakin' of your
Mister Jim. I was makin' reference to Dickie."
Sheila thrust the note into her pocket and went over to the table to
light her lamp. "I know quite well that you meant Dickie," she said.
"Nobody in Millings would ever dream of comparing Mr. James Greely to a
worm, even if he came out from the ground just in time for the early bird
to peck him. I know that."
"You're ornery to-night, dearie," announced Amelia, and with exemplary
tact she creaked and breathed herself to the door. There she had a
relapse from tactfulness, however, and planted herself to stare. "Ain't
you goin' to read your note?"
Sheila, to be rid of her, unfolded the paper and read. It was quite
beautifully penned in green ink on violet paper. Jim had written both
wisely and too well.
"My darling--Why not permit me to call you that when it is the simple and
sincere truth?" An astonished little voice in Sheila's brain here seemed
to counter-question mechanically "Why not, indeed?"--"I cannot think of
anything but you and how I love you. These little notes I am going to
keep a-sending you are messengers of love. You will never meet with a
more tremendous lover than me.... Be _my_ Queen," Jim had written with a
great climatic splash of ink, and he had signed himself, "Your James."
Sheila's face was crimson when she put down the note. She stared straight
in front of her for an instant with very large eyes in this scarlet rose
of countenance and then she crumpled into mirth. She put her face into
her hands and rocked. It seemed as though a giant of laughter had caught
her about the ribs.
Amelia stared and felt a wound. She swallowed a lump of balked sentiment
as she went out. Her idol was faintly tarnished, her heroine's stature
preceptibly diminished. The sort of Madame du Barry atmosphere with which
Sheila's image was surrounded in Amelia's fancy lost a little of its rosy
glow. The favorite of Kings, the _amorita_ of Dukes, does not rock with
laughter over scented notes from a High Desirable.
"She ain't just quite up to it," was Amelia's comment, which she
probably could not have explained even to herself.
Sheila presently was done with laughter. She ate a nibble of dinner as
soberly as Amelia could have wished, then sat back, her eyes closed with
a resolve to think clearly, closely, to some determination of her life.
But Jim's note, which had so roused her amusement, began to force itself
in another fashion upon her. She discovered that it was an insufferable
note. It insinuated everything, it suggested--everything. It was a
boastful messenger. It swaggered male-ishly. It threw out its chest and
smacked its lips. "See what a sad dog my master is," it said; "a regular
devil of a fellow." Sheila found her thoughts confused by anger. She
found that she was too disturbed for any clear decision. She was terribly
weary and full of dread for the long night before her. And a startled
look at her clock told her it was time now to go over to the saloon.
She got up, went to her mirror, smoothed her rippled hair with two
strokes of a brush, readjusted her cap, and decided that, for once, a
little powder on the nose was a necessity. Carthy must not see that she
had been crying. As it was, her brilliant color was suspicious, and her
eyes, with their deep distended look of tears. She shut them, drew a
breath, put out her light, and went down the back stairs to a narrow
alley. It led from the hotel to the street that ran back of The Aura ...
the street to which she had taken young Hilliard the night before.
The alley seemed to Sheila, as she stepped into it from the glare of the
electric-lighted hotel, a stream of cool and silvery light. Above lay a
strip of tender sky in which already the stars shook. In this high
atmosphere they were always tremulous, dancing, beating, almost leaping,
with a fullness of quick light. They seemed very near to the edges of the
alley walls, to be especially visiting it with their detached regard,
peering down for some small divine occasion for influence. Sheila prayed
to them a desperate prayer of human helplessness.
"Hey, you girl there! Hi! Hey!"
These exclamations called in a resonant, deep-chested voice succeeded at
last in attracting Sheila's attention. She had lingered at the alley's
mouth, shirking her entrance into the saloon, and now she saw, halfway
down the short, wide street, a gesticulating figure.
At first, as she obeyed the summons, she thought the summoner a man, but
on near view it proved itself a woman, of broad, massive hips and
shoulders, dressed in a man's flannel shirt and a pair of large corduroy
trousers, their legs tucked into high cowboy boots. She wore no hat, and
her hair was cut square across her neck and forehead; hair of a dark
rusty red, it was, and matched eyes like dark panes of glass before a
fire, red-brown and very bright, ruddy eyes in a square, ruddy face,
which, with its short, straight, wide-bridged nose, well-shaped lips,
square chin, and brilliant teeth, made up a striking and not unattractive
"I've got a horse here; won't stand," said the woman. "Will you hold
his head? Can leaking back here in my wagon, leaking all over my
The horse came round the corner. He moved resolutely to meet them. He
was the boniest, small horse Sheila had ever seen--a shadow of a horse,
one-eyed, morose, embittered. The harness hung loose upon his meagerness;
the shafts stuck up like the points of a large collar on a small old man.
"He's not running away," explained the owner superfluously. "It's just
that he can't stop. You'd think, to look at him, that stopping would
be his favorite sport. But you'd be mistaken. Go he must. He's kind of
always crazy to get there--Lord knows where--probably to the end of
Sheila held the horse, and rubbed his nose with her small and gentle
hand. The creature drooped under the caress and let its lower lip, with a
few stiff white hairs, hang and quiver bitterly. It half-closed its one
useful eye, a pale eye of intense, colorless disillusionment.
When the wagon stopped, a dog who was trotting under it stopped too
and lay down in the dust, panting. Sheila bent her head a little to
see the dog. She had a child's intense interest in animals. Through
the dimness she made out a big, wolfish creature with a splendid,
clean, gray coat, his pointed nose, short, pointed ears, deep, wild
eyes, and scarlet tongue, set in a circular ruff of black. His bushy
tail curled up over his back.
"What kind of dog is that?" asked Sheila, thinking the great animal under
the wagon better fitted to pull the load than the shadowy little horse in
front of it.
"Quarter wolf," answered the woman in her casual manner of speech, her
resonant voice falling pleasantly on the light coolness of the evening
air; "Malamute. This fellow was littered on the body of a dead man."
Sheila had also the child's interest in tales. "Tell me about it," she
The woman stopped in her business of tying down a canvas cover over her
load and gave Sheila an amused and searching look. She held an iron spike
between her teeth, but spoke around it skillfully.
"Arctic exploration it was. My brother was one of the party. 'T was he
brought me home Berg. Berg's mother was one of the sledge dogs. Party was
shipwrecked, starved, most of the dogs eaten, one man dead. Berg's mother
littered on the body one night. Next morning they were rescued and the
new family was saved. Otherwise I guess they'd have had a puppy stew and
Berg and his wife and family wouldn't be earning their living with me."
"How do they earn their living?" asked Sheila, still peering at the hero
of the tale.
"They pull my sled about winters, Hidden Creek."
"Oh, you live in the Hidden Creek country?"
"Yes. Got a ranch up not far from the source. Ever been over The Hill?"
She came toward Sheila, gathered the reins into her strong, broad hands,
held them in her teeth, and began to pull on her canvas gloves. She
talked with the reins between her teeth as she had with the spike, her
enunciation triumphantly forceful and distinct.
"Some day, I'm coming over The Hill," said Sheila, less successful with a
contraction in her throat.
The woman made a few strides. Now she was looking shrewdly, close into
"You're a biscuit-shooter at the hotel?"
"No. I work in the saloon."
"In the saloon? Oh, sure. Barmaid. I've heard of you."
Here she put a square finger-tip under Sheila's chin and looked even
closer than before. "Not happy, are you?" she said. She moved away
abruptly. "Tired of town life. Been crying. Well, when you want to pull
out, come over to my ranch. I need a girl. I'm kind of lonesome winters.
It's a pretty place if you aren't looking for street-lamps and
talking-machines. You don't hear much more than coyotes and the river and
the pines and, if you're looking for high lights, you can sure see the
She climbed up to her seat, using the hub of her wheel for a foothold,
and springing with surprising agility and strength.
Sheila stepped aside and the horse started instantly. She made a few
hurried steps to keep up.
"Thank you," she said, looking up into the ruddy eyes that looked down.
"I'll remember that. What is your name?"
"Christina Blake, Miss Blake. I'll make The Hill before morning if
I'm lucky. Less dust and heat by night and the horse has loafed
since morning.... I mean that about coming to my place. Any time.
Good-bye to you."
She smiled a smile as casual in its own way as Sheila's own. Berg, under
the wagon, trotted silently. He looked neither to right nor left. His
wild, deep-set eyes were fastened on the heels of the small horse. He
looked as though he were trotting relentlessly toward some wolfish goal
of satisfied hunger. A little cloud of dust rose up from the wheels and
stood between Sheila and the wagon. She conquered an impulse to run after
it, shut her hand tight, and walked in at the back door of the saloon.
A teamster, with a lean, fatherly face, his mouth veiled by a
shaggy blond mustache, his eyes as blue as larkspur, smiled at her
across the bar.
"Hullo," said he. "How's your pony?"
Sheila had struck up one of her sudden friendships with this man, who
visited the saloon at regular intervals. This question warmed her heart.
The little pony of Jim's giving was dear. She thought of his soft eyes
and snuggling nose almost as often and as fondly as a lover thinks of the
face of his lady.
"Tuck's splendid, Mr. Thatcher," she said, leaning her elbows on the bar
and cupping her chin in her hands. Her face was bright with its tender,
Puckish look. "He's too cute. He can take sugar out of my apron pocket.
And he'll shake hands. I'd just love you to see him. Will you be here
"No, ma'am. I'm pullin' out about sunup. Round the time you tumble into
bed. Got to make The Hill."
"How's your baby?"
A shining smile rewarded her interest in the recent invalid. "Fine and
dandy. You ought to see her walk!"
"Isn't that splendid! And how's the little boy? Is he with you?"
"No, ma'am. I kind o' left him to mind the ranch. He's gettin' to be a
real rancher, that boy. He was sure sorry not to make Hidden Creek this
trip, though. Say, he was set on seein' you. I told him about you."
Sheila's face flamed and her eyes smarted. Gratitude and shame possessed
her. This man, then, did not speak of her as "Hudson's Queen"--not if he
told his boy about her. She turned away to hide the flame and smart. When
she looked back, Sylvester himself stood at Thatcher's elbow. He very
rarely came into the saloon. At sight of him Sheila's heart leaped as
though it had been struck.
"Say, Sheila," he murmured, "I'm celebratin' to-night."
She tried to dismiss from her mind its new and ugly consciousness. She
tried to smile. The result was an expression strange enough.
Sylvester, however, missed it. He was dressed in one of the brown
checked suits, a new one, freshly creased; there was a red wild-rose bud
in his buttonhole. The emerald gleamed on his well-kept, sallow hand. He
was sipping from his glass and had put a confidential hand on Thatcher's
shoulder. He grinned at Carthy.
"Well, sir," he said, "nobody has in-quired as to my celebration. But I'm
not proud. I'll tell you. I'm celebratin' to-night the winnin' of a bet."
"That's sure a deservin' cause," said Thatcher.
"Yes, sir. Had a bet with Carthy here. Look at him blush! Carthy sure-ly
hates to be wrong. And he's mostly right in his prog-nos-ti-cations. He
sure is. You bet yer. That's why I'm so festive."
"What'd he prognosticate?" asked Thatcher obligingly. He had moved his
shoulder away from Hudson's hand.
Sylvester wrinkled his upper lip into its smile and looked down into his
glass. He turned his emerald.
"Carthy prophesied that about this time a little--er--dream--of mine
would go bust," said Hudson. He lifted up his eyes pensively to Sheila,
first his eyes and then his glass. "Here's to my dream--you, girl," he
He drank with his eyes upon her face, drew a deep breath, and looked
about the room.
Thatcher glanced from him to Sheila. "Goodnight to you, ma'am," he said
with gentleness. "Next time I'll bring the boy."
"Please, please do."
Sheila put her hand in his. He looked down at it as though something had
startled him. In fact, her touch was like a flake of snow.
When Thatcher had gone, Sylvester leaned closer to her across the bar. He
moved his glass around in his hand and looked up at her humbly.
"The tables kind of turned, eh?" he said.
"What do you mean, Mr. Hudson?" Sheila, by lifting her voice, tried to
dissipate the atmosphere of confidence, of secrecy. Carthy had moved away
from them, the other occupants of the saloon were very apparently not
"Well, ma'am," Sylvester explained, "six months ago I was kind of layin'
claim to gratitude from you, and now it's the other way round."
"Yes," she said. "But I am still grateful." The words came, however, with
a certain unwillingness, a certain lack of spontaneity.
"Are you, though?" He put his head on one side so that Sheila was
reminded of Dickie. For the first time a sort of shadowy resemblance
between father and son was apparent to her. "Well, you've wiped the
reckonin' off the slate by what you've done for me. You've given me my
Aura. Say, you have been my fairy godmother, all right. Talk about wishes
Again he looked about the room, and that wistfulness of the visionary
stole into his face. His eyes came back to her with an expression that
was almost beautiful. "If only that Englishman was here," he sighed. "Yes
ma'am. I'm sure celebratin' to-night!"
It was soon very apparent that he was celebrating. For an hour he stood
every newcomer to a drink, and then he withdrew to a table in a shadowy
corner, and sitting there, tilted against the wall, he sipped from his
glass, smoked and dreamed. Hour after hour of the slow, noisy night went
by and still he sat there, watching Sheila through the smoke, seeing in
her, more and more glowingly, the body of his dream.
It was after dawn when Sheila touched Carthy's elbow. The big Irishman
looked down at her small, drawn face.
"Mr. Carthy," she whispered, "would it be all right if I went home now?
It's earlier than usual, but I'm so--awfully tired?"
There was so urgent an air of secrecy in her manner that Carthy
muttered his permission out of the corner of his mouth. Sheila melted
from his side.
The alley that had been silvery cool with dusk was now even more silvery
cool with morning twilight. Small sunrise clouds were winging over it
like golden doves. Sheila did not look at them. She ran breathless to her
door, opened it, and found herself face to face with Dickie.
THE LIGHT OF DAWN
There was a light of dawn in the room and through the open window blew in
the keen air of daybreak. Dickie was standing quite still in the middle
of the floor. He was more neat and groomed than Sheila had ever seen him.
He looked as though he had stepped from a bath; his hair was sleek and
wet so that it was dark above the pure pallor of his face; his suit was
carefully put on; his cuffs and collar were clean. He did not have the
look of a man that has been awake all night, nor did he look as though he
had ever been asleep. His face and eyes were alight, his lips firm and
delicate with feeling.
Before him Sheila felt old and stained. The smoke and fumes of the bar
hung about her. She was shamed by the fresh youthfulness of his slender,
eager carriage and of his eyes.
"Dickie," she faltered, and stood against the door, drooping wearily,
"what are you doing here at this hour?"
"What does the hour matter?" he asked impatiently. "Come over to the
window. I want you to look at this big star. I've been watching it. It's
almost gone. It's like a white bird flying straight into the sun."
He was imperative, laid his cool hand upon hers and drew her to the
window. They stood facing the sunrise.
"Why did you come here?" again asked Sheila. The beauty of the sky only
deepened her misery and shame.
"Because I couldn't wait any longer than one night. It's sure been an
awful long night for me, Sheila ... Sheila--" He drew the hand he still
held close to him with a trembling touch and laid his other hand over it.
Then she felt the terrible beating of his heart, felt that he was
shaking. "Sheila, I love you." She had hidden her face against the
curtain, had turned from him. She felt nothing but weariness and shame.
She was like a leaden weight tied coldly to his throbbing youth. Her hand
under his was hot and lifeless like a scorched rose. "I want you to come
away with me from Millings. You can't keep on a-working in that saloon.
You can't a-bear to have folks saying and thinking the fool things they
do. And I can't a-bear it even if you can. I'd go loco, and kill. Sheila,
I've been thinking all night, just sitting on the edge of my bed and
thinking. Sheila, if you will marry me, I will promise you to take care
of you. I won't let you suffer any. I will die"--his voice rocked on the
word, spoken with an awful sincerity of young love--"before I let you
suffer any. If you could love me a little bit"--he stopped as though that
leaping heart had sprung up into his throat--"only a little bit,
Sheila," he whispered, "maybe--?"
Back to Full Books