Katharine Newlin Burt
Part 3 out of 5
"I can't," she said. "I can't love you that way even a little bit. I
can't marry you, Dickie. I wish I could. I am so tired."
She drew her hand away, or rather it fell from the slackening grasp of
his, and hung at her side. She looked up from the curtain to his face. It
was still alight and tender and pale.
"You're real sure, Sheila, that you _never_ could?--that you'd rather go
on with this--?"
She pressed all the curves and the color out of her lips, still looking
at him, and nodded her head.
"I can't stay in Millings," Dickie said, "and work in Poppa's hotel and
watch this, Sheila--unless, some way, I can help you."
"Then you'd better go," she said lifelessly, "because I can't see what
else there is for me to do. Oh, I shan't go on with it for very long,
He came an eager half-step nearer. "Then, anyway, you'll let me go away
and work, and when I've kind of got a start, you'll let me come back
and--and see if--if you feel any sort of--different from what you do now?
It wouldn't be so awful long. I'd work like--like Hell!" His thin hand
shot into a fist.
Sheila's lassitude was startled by his word into a faint, unwilling
"Don't laugh at me!" he cried out.
"Oh, Dickie, my dear, I'm not laughing. I'm so tired I can hardly stand.
And truly you must go now. I'm horrid to you. I always am. And yet I do
like you so much. And you are such a dear. And I feel there's something
great about you. I should be glad for you to leave Millings. There is a
much better chance for you away from Millings. I feel years old to-day. I
think I've grown up too old all at once and missed lovely things that I
ought to have had. Dickie"--she gave a dry sort of sob--"_you_ are one of
the lovely things."
His arms drew gently round her. "Let me kiss you, Sheila," he pleaded
with tremulous lips. "I want just to kiss you once for good-bye. I'll be
so careful. If you knowed how I feel, you'd let me."
She lifted up her mouth like an obedient child. Then, back of Dickie, she
saw Sylvester's face.
It was more sallow than usual; its upper lip was drawn away from the
teeth and deeply wrinkled; the eyes, half-closed, were very soft; they
looked as though there was a veil across their pensiveness. He caught
Dickie's elbow in his hand, twisted him about, thrusting a knee into his
back, and with his other long, bony hand he struck him brutally across
the face. The emerald on his finger caught the light of the rising sun
and flashed like a little stream of green fire.
Dickie, caught unawares by superior strength, was utterly defenseless. He
writhed and struggled vainly, gasping under the blows. Sylvester forced
him across the room, still inflicting punishment. His hand made a great
cracking sound at every slap.
Sheila hid her face from the dreadful sight. "Oh, don't, don't, don't!"
she wailed again and again.
Then it was over. Dickie was flung out; the door was locked against him
and Sylvester came back across the floor.
His collar stood up in a half-moon back of his ears, his hair fell across
his forehead, his face was flushed, his lip bled. He had either bitten it
himself or Dickie had struck it. But he seemed quite calm, only a little
breathless. He was neither snarling nor smiling now. He took Sheila very
gently by the wrists, drawing her hands down from her face, and he put
her arms at their full length behind her, holding them there.
"You meet Dickie here when you're through work, dream-girl," he said
gently. "You kiss Dickie when you leave my Aura, you little beacon light.
I've kept my hands off you and my lips off you and my mind off you,
because I thought you were too fine and good for anything but my ideal.
And all this while you've been sneaking up here to Dickie and Jim and
Lord knows who else besides. Now, I am agoin' to kiss you and then you
gotta get out of Millings. Do you hear? After I've kissed you, you ain't
good enough for my purpose--not for mine."
Gathering both her hands in one of his, he put the hard, long fingers of
his free hand back of her head, holding it from wincing or turning and
his mouth dropped upon hers and seemed to smother out her life. She
tasted whiskey and the blood from his cut lips.
"You won't tell _me_, anyway, that lie again," he panted, keeping his
face close, staring into her wide eyes of a horrified childishness--"that
you've never been kissed."
Again his lips fastened on her mouth. He let her go, strode to the door,
unlocked it, and went out.
She had fallen to the floor, her head against the chair. She beat the
chair with her hands, calling softly for her father and for her God. She
reproached them both. "You told me it was a good old world," she sobbed.
"You told me it was a good old world."
A hot, dry day followed on the cool dawn. In his room Dickie lay across
his bed. The sun blazed in at his single long window; the big flies that
had risen from the dirty yard buzzed and bumped against the upper pane
and made aimless, endless, mazy circles above and below one another in
the stifling, odorous atmosphere. Dickie lay there like an image of
Icarus, an eternal symbol of defeated youth; one could almost see about
his slenderness the trailing, shattered wings. He had wept out the first
shock of his anger and his shame; now he lay in a despairing stupor. His
bruised face burned and ached; his chest felt tight with the aching and
burning of his heart. Any suspicion of his father's interpretation of his
presence in Sheila's room was mercifully spared him, but the knowledge
that he had been brutally jerked back from her pure and patient lips, had
been ignominiously punished before her eyes and turned out like a whipped
boy--this knowledge was a dreadful torture to his pride. Sheila, to be
sure, did not love him even a little bit; she had said so. All the
longing and the tumult of his heart during these months had made no more
impression upon her than a frantic sea makes upon the little bird at the
top of the cliff. She had, he must think, hardly been aware of it. And
it was such a terrible and frantic actuality. He had fancied that it must
have beaten forever, day by day, night by night, at her consciousness.
Can a woman live near so turbulent a thing and not even guess at its
existence? Her hand against his heart had lain so limp and dead. He
hadn't hoped, of course, that she loved him the way he loved. Probably no
one else could feel what he felt and live--so Dickie in young love's
eternal fashion believed in his own miracle; but she might have loved him
a little, a very little, in time--if she hadn't seen him beaten and
shamed and cuffed out of her presence like a dog. Now there was no hope.
No hope at all. No hope. Dickie rocked his head against his arm. He had
told Sheila that he would take care of her, but he could not even defend
himself. He had told her that he would die to save her any suffering,
but, before her, he had writhed and gasped helplessly under the weight of
another man's hand, his open hand, not even a fist.... No after act of
his could efface from Sheila's memory that picture of his ignominy. She
had seen him twisted and bent and beaten and thrown away. His father had
triumphantly returned to reassure and comfort her for the insult of a
boy's impertinence. Would Sheila defend him? Would she understand? Or
would she not be justified in contemptuous laughter at his pretensions?
Such thoughts--less like thoughts, however, than like fiery fever
fits--twisted and scorched Dickie's mind as he lay there. They burnt into
him wounds that for years throbbed slowly into scars.
At noon the heat of his room became even more intolerable than his
thoughts. His head beat with pain. He was bathed in sweat, weak and
trembling. He dragged himself up, went to his washstand, and dipped his
wincing face into the warmish, stale water. His lips felt cracked and dry
and swollen. In the wavy mirror he saw a distorted image of his face,
with its heavy eyes, scattered hair, and the darkening marks of his
father's blows, punctuated by the scarlet scratches of the emerald. He
dried his face, loosened his collar, and, gasping for air, came out into
the narrow hall.
The hotel was very still. He hurried through it, his face bent, and went
by the back way to the saloon. At this hour Sheila was asleep. Carthy
would be alone in The Aura and there would be few, if any, customers.
Dickie found the place cool and quiet and empty, shuttered from the sun,
the air stirred by electric fans. Carthy dozed in his chair behind the
bar. He gave Dickie his order, somnambulantly. Dickie took it off to a
dim corner and drank with the thirst of a wounded beast.
Three or four hours later he staggered back to his room. A thunderstorm
was rumbling and flashing down from the mountains to the north. The
window was purple-black, and a storm wind blew the dirty curtains,
straight and steady, into the room. The cool wind tasted and smelt of hot
dust. Dickie felt his dazed way to the bed and steadied himself into a
sitting posture. With infinite difficulty he rolled and lighted a
cigarette, drew at it, took it out, tried to put it again between his
lips, and fell over on his back, his arm trailing over the edge of the
bed. The lighted cigarette slipped from his fingers to the ragged strip
of matting. Dickie lay there, breathing heavily and regularly in a
drunken and exhausted sleep.
A vivid, flickering pain in his arm woke him. He thought for an instant
that he must have died and dropped straight into Hell. The wind still
blew in upon him, but it blew fire against him. Above him there was a
heavy panoply of smoke. His bedclothes were burning, his sleeve was on
fire. The boards of his floor cracked and snapped in regiments of flame.
He got up, still in a half stupor, plunged his arm into the water
pitcher, saw, with a startled oath, that the woodwork about his door was
blazing in long tongues of fire which leaped up into the rafters of the
roof. His brain began to telegraph its messages ... the hotel was on
fire. He could not imagine what had started it. He remembered Sheila.
He ran along the passage, the roar of that wind-driven fire following
him as the draft from his window through his opened door gave a sudden
impulse to the flames, and he came to Sheila's sitting-room. He
knocked, had no answer, and burst in. He saw instantly that she had
gone. Her father's picture had been taken, her little books, her
sketches, her work-basket, her small yellow vase. Things were scattered
about. As he stood staring, a billow of black smoke rolled into the
room. He went quickly through the bedroom and the bath, calling
"Sheila" in a low, uncertain voice, returned to the sitting-room to
find the air already pungent and hot. There was a paper pinned up on
the mantel. Sheila's writing marched across it. Dickie rubbed the smoke
from his eyes and read:
"I am going away from Millings. And I am not coming back. Amelia may have
the things I have left. I don't want them."
This statement was addressed to no one.
"She has gone to New York," thought Dickie. His confused mind became
possessed with the immediate purpose of following her. There was an
Eastern train in the late afternoon. Only he must have money and it
was--most of it--in his room. He dashed back. The passage was ablaze; his
room roared like the very heart of a furnace. It was no use to think of
getting in there. Well, he had something in his pocket, enough to start
him. He plunged, choking, into Sheila's sitting-room again. For some
reason this flight of hers had brought back his hope. There was to be a
beginning, a fresh start, a chance.
He went over to the chair where Sheila had sat in the comfort, of his
arms and he touched the piece of tapestry on its back. That was his
good-bye to Millings. Then he fastened his collar, smoothed his hair,
standing close before Sheila's mirror, peering and blinking through the
smoke, and buttoned his coat painstakingly. There would be a hat
downstairs. As he turned to go he saw a little brown leather book lying
on the floor below the mantel. He picked it up. Here was something he
could take to Sheila. With an impulse of tenderness he opened it. His
eyes were caught by a stanza--
"The blessed damozel leaned out
From the gold bar of Heaven;
Her eyes were deeper than the depth
Of waters stilled at even;
She had three lilies in her hand,
And the stars in her hair were seven--"
There are people, no doubt, who will not be able to believe this truthful
bit of Dickie's history. The smoke was drifting across him, the roar of
the nearing fire was in his ears, he was at a great crisis in his
affairs, his heart was hot with wounded love, and his brain hot with
whiskey and with hope. Nevertheless, he did now, under the spell of those
printed words, which did not even remotely resemble any words that he had
ever read or heard before, forget the smoke, the roar, the love, the
hope, and, standing below Sheila's mirror, he did read "The Blessed
Damozel" from end to end. And the love of those lovers, divided by all
the space between the shaken worlds, and the beauty of her tears made a
great and mystic silence of rapture about him. "O God!" Dickie said
twice as he read. He brushed away the smoke to see the last lines,--"And
wept--I heard her tears." The ecstatic pain of beauty gripped him to the
forgetfulness of all other pain or ecstasy. "O God!"
He came to with a start, shut the book, stuck it into his pocket, and,
crooking his arm over his smarting eyes, he plunged out of the room.
Millings had become aware of its disaster. Dickie, fleeing by the back
way, leaping dangers and beating through fire, knew by the distant
commotion that the Fire Brigade, of which he was a member, was gathering
its men for the glory of their name. He saw, too, that with a wind like
this to aid the fire, there wasn't a chance for The Aura, and a queer
pang of sympathy for his father stabbed him. "It will kill Pap," thought
Dickie. Save for this pang, he ran along the road toward the station with
a light, adventurous heart. He did not know that he had started the fire
himself. The stupor of his sleep had smothered out all memory of the
cigarette he had lighted and let fall. Unwittingly Dickie had killed the
beauty of his father's dream, and now, just as unwittingly, he was about
to kill the object of his father's passion. When he looked back from the
station platform, the roof of The Aura was already in a blaze.
Thatcher spoke to his horses, now fatherly, now masterly, now with a
professorial sarcasm: "Come on, Monkey, there's a good girl! Get out of
that, you Fox! Dern you! You call that pulling? It's my notion of layin'
off for the day." Even at its most urgent, his voice was soft, hushed by
the great loneliness of this canon up which he slowly crept. Monkey and
Fox had been plodding, foot by foot, the creaking wagon at their heels,
since dawn. It was now ten o'clock and they were just beginning to climb.
The Hill, that looked so near to the mesa above Hudson's yard, still
stood aloof. It had towered there ahead of them as they jerked and toiled
across the interminable flat in their accompanying cloud of dust. The
great circle of the world had dwarfed them to a bitter insignificance: a
team of crickets, they seemed, driven by a gnome. The hushed tone of
Thatcher's voice made unconscious tribute to this immensity.
As they came to the opening of the canon, the high mountain-top
disappeared; the immediate foothills closed down and shut it out. The air
grew headily light. Even under the blazing July sun, it came cool to the
lungs, cool and intensely sweet. Thousands of wild flowers perfumed it
and the sun-drawn resin of a thousand firs. All the while the rushing of
water accompanied the creaking of Thatcher's progress. Not far from the
road, down there below in a tangle of pine branches, willows, and ferns,
the frost-white stream fled toward the valley with all the seeming terror
of escape. Here the team began their tugging and their panting and their
long pauses to get breath. Thatcher would push forward the wooden handle
that moved his brake, and at the sound and the grating of the wheel the
horses would stop automatically and stand with heaving sides. The wagon
shook slightly with their breathing. At such times the stream seemed to
shout in the stillness. Below, there began to be an extraordinary view of
the golden country with its orange mesas and its dark, purple rim of
mountains. Millings was a tiny circle of square pebbles, something built
up by children in their play. The awful impersonalities of sky and earth
swept away its small human importance. Thatcher's larkspur-colored eyes
absorbed serenity. They had drawn their color and their far-sighted
clearness from such long contemplations of distant horizon lines.
Now and again, however, Thatcher would glance back and down from his high
seat at his load. It consisted, for the most part, of boxes of canned
goods, but near the front there was a sort of nest, made from bags of
Indian meal. In the middle of the nest lay another bundle of slim,
irregular outline. It was covered with a thin blanket and a piece of
sacking protected it from the sun. A large, clumsy parcel lay beside it.
Each time Thatcher looked at this portion of his load he pulled more
anxiously at his mustache. At last, when the noon sun stood straight
above the pass and he stopped to water his horses at a trough which
caught a trickle of spring water, he bent down and softly raised the
piece of sacking, suspended like a tent from one fat sack to another
above the object of his uneasiness. There, in the complete relaxation of
exhausted sleep, lay Sheila, no child more limp and innocent of aspect;
her hair damp and ringed on her smooth forehead, her lips mournful and
sweet, sedately closed, her expression at once proud and innocent and
wistful, as is the sleeping face of a little, little girl. There was that
look of a broken flower, that look of lovely death, that stops the heart
of a mother sometimes when she bends over a crib and sees damp curls in a
halo about a strange, familiar face.
Thatcher, looking at Sheila, had some of these thoughts. A teamster is
either philosopher or clown. One cannot move, day after day, all day for
a thousand days, under a changeless, changeful sky, inch by inch, across
the surface of a changeless, changeful earth and not come very near to
some of the locked doors of the temple where clowns sleep and wise men
meditate. And Thatcher was a father, one of the wise and reasonable
fathers of the West, whose seven-year-old sons are friends and helpmates
and toward whom six-year-old daughters are moved to little acts of
The sun blazed for a minute on Sheila's face. She opened her eyes, looked
vaguely from some immense distance at Thatcher, and then sat up.
"Oh, gracious!" said Sheila, woman and sprite and adventurer again.
"Where the dickens is my hat? Did it fall out?"
"No, ma'am," Thatcher smiled in a relieved fashion. "I put it under
Sheila scrambled to a perch on one of the sacks and faced the surface of
half a world.
"Oh, Mr. Thatcher, isn't it too wonderful! How high are we? Is this the
other side? Oh, no, I can see Millings. Poor tiny, tiny Millings! It _is_
small, isn't it? How very small it is! What air!" She shut her eyes,
drawing in the perfumed tonic. The altitude had intoxicated her. Her
heart was beating fast, her blood tingling, her brain electrified. Every
sense seemed to be sharpened. She saw and smelt and heard with abnormal
"The flowers are awfully bright up here, aren't they?" she said. "What's
that coral-colored bushy one?"
"And that blue one? It _is_ blue! I don't believe I ever knew what
blueness meant before."
"Lupine. And over yonder's monkshead. That other's larkspur, that
poisons cattle in the spring. On the other side you'll see a whole lot
more--wild hollyhock and fireweed and columbine--well, say, I learned all
them names from a dude I drove over one summer."
"And such a sky!" said Sheila, lifting her head, "and such big pines!"
She lost herself for a minute in the azure immensity above. A vast mosque
of cloud, dome bubbles great and small, stood ahead of them, dwarfing
every human experience of height. "Mr. Thatcher, there isn't any air up
here. What is it we're trying to breathe, anyway?"
He smiled patiently, sympathetically, and handed her a tin mug of icy
water from the little trickling spring. The bruise of Hudson's kiss ached
at the cold touch of the water and a shadow fell over her excitement. She
thanked the driver gravely.
"What time is it now?" she asked.
"Past noon. Better eat your sandwich."
She took one from its wrapping pensively, but ate it with absent-minded
eagerness. Thatcher's blue eyes twinkled.
"Seems like I recollect a lady that didn't want no food to be put
in for her."
"I remember her, too," said Sheila, between bites, "but very, very
She stood up after a third sandwich, shook crumbs from her skirt, and
stretched her arms. "What a great sleep I've had! Since six o'clock!"
She stared down at the lower world. "I've left somebody at Millings."
"Who's that?" asked Thatcher, drawling the words a trifle as a Westerner
does when he is conscious of a double meaning.
Thatcher laughed. "You're a real funny girl, Miss Arundel," he said.
"Yes, I left one Me when I decided to go into the saloon, and now I've
left another Me. I believe people shed their skins like snakes."
"Yes'm, I've had that notion myself. But as you get older, your skin kind
of peels off easy and gradual--you don't get them shocks when you sort of
come out all new and shiny and admirin' of yourself."
Sheila blushed faintly and looked at him. His face was serene and empty
of intention. But she felt that she had been guilty of egotism, as indeed
she had. She asked rather meekly for her hat, and having put it on like a
shadow above her fairness, she climbed up to Thatcher's side on the
driver's seat. The hat was her felt Stetson, and, for the rest, she was
clad in her riding-clothes, the boy's shirt, the short corduroy skirt,
the high-laced boots. Her youthfulness, rather than her strange beauty,
was accentuated by this dress. She had the look of a super-delicate boy,
a sort of rose-leaf fairy prince.
"Are we on the road?" asked Sheila presently.
Thatcher gave way to mirth. "Don't it seem like a road to you?"
She lurched against him, then saved herself from falling out at the other
side by a frantic clutch.
"Is it a road?" She looked down a dizzy slope of which the horse's
foothold seemed to her the most precarious part.
"Yes'm--all the road there is. We call it that. We're kind of po-lite to
these little efforts of the Government--kind of want to encourage 'em.
Congressmen kind of needs coaxin' and flat'ry. They're right ornery
critters. I heard an argyment atween a feller with a hoss and a feller
with a mule onct. The mule feller was kind of uppish about hosses; said
he didn't see the advantage of the critter. A mule now was steady and
easy fed and strong. Well, ma'am, the hoss feller got kind of hot after
some of this, so he says, 'Well, sir,' he says, 'there's this about it.
When you got a hoss, you got a hoss. You know what you got. He's goin' to
act like a hoss. But when you got a mule, why, you can't never tell. All
of a sudden one of these days, he's like as not to turn into a
Congressman.' Well, ma'am, that's the way we feel about Congressmen.--Ho,
there, Monkey! Keep up! I'll just get out an' hang on the wheel while we
make this corner. That'll keep us from turnin' over, I reckon."
Sheila sat and held on with both hands. Her eyes were wide and very
bright. She held her breath till Thatcher got in again, the corner
safely made. For the next creeping, lurching mile, Sheila found that
every muscle in her body had its use in keeping her on that seat. Then
they reached the snow and matters grew definitely worse. Here, half the
road was four feet of dirty, icy drift and half of abysmal mud. They
slipped from drift to mire with awful perils and rackings of the wagon
and painful struggles of the team. Sometimes the snow softened and let
the horses in up to their necks when Thatcher plied whip and tongue with
necessary cruelty. At last there came disaster. They were making one of
those heart-stopping turns. Sheila had got out and was adding her
mosquito weight to Thatcher's on the upper side, half-walking,
half-hanging to the wagon. The outer wheels were deep in mud, the inner
wheels hung clear. The horses strained--and slipped.
"Let go!" shouted Thatcher.
Sheila fell back into the snow, and the wagon turned quietly over and
began to slide down the slope. Thatcher sprang to his horses' heads. For
an instant it seemed that they would be dragged over the edge. Then the
wagon stopped, and Thatcher, grim and pale, unhitched his team. He swore
fluently under his breath during this entire operation. Afterwards, he
turned to the scarlet and astounded passenger and gave her one of his
"Well, ma'am," he said, beginning to roll a cigarette, "what do you
think of that?"
"Whatever shall we do now?" asked Sheila. She had identified herself
utterly with this team, this load, this driver. She brushed the snow from
her skirt, climbed down from the drift to the edge of the mire by
Thatcher's elbow. The team stood with hanging heads, panting and
steaming, glad of the rest and the release.
"Well, ma'am," said Thatcher, looking down at the loyal, anxious face
with a certain tenderness, "I'm agoin' to do one of two things. I'm
agoin' to lead my team over The Hill and come back with two more horses
and a hand to help me or I'm agoin' to set here and wait for the stage."
"How long will it be before the stage comes?"
"Matter of four or five hours."
"Oh, dear! Then I can't possibly overtake my--my friend, Miss Blake!"
"No, ma'am. But you can walk on a quarter-mile; take a rest at Duff's
place top of The Hill. I can pick you up when I come by; like as not I'll
spend the night at Duff's. By the time I get my load together it'll be
along dark--Hullo!" He interrupted himself, lifting his chin. "I hear
They both listened. "No wagon," said Thatcher.
Five minutes later, a slouching horseman, cigarette in mouth, shaggy
chaps on long legs, spurred and booted and decorated with a red
neck-scarf came picturesquely into view. His pony dug sturdy feet into
the steep roadside, avoiding the mud of the road itself. The man led two
other horses, saddled, but empty of riders. He stopped and between him
and Thatcher took place one of the immensely tranquil, meditative, and
deliberate conversations of the Far West.
Sheila's quick, Celtic nerves tormented her. At last she broke in with an
inspiration. "Couldn't I hire one of your horses?" she asked, rising from
an overturned sack of which she had made a resting-place.
The man looked down at her with grave, considerate eyes.
"Why, yes, ma'am. I reckon you could," he said gently. "They're right
gentle ponies," he added.
"Are they yours?"
"One of 'em is. The other belongs to Kearney, dude-wrangler up the
valley. But, say, if you're goin' to Rusty you c'd leave my hoss at
Lander's and I c'd get him when I come along. I am stoppin' here to help
with the load. It would cost you nothin', lady. The hoss has got to go
over to Rusty and I'd be pleased to let you ride him. You're no weight."
"How good of you!" said Sheila. "I'll take the best care of him I know
how to take. Could I find my way? How far is it?"
"All downhill after a half-mile, lady. You c'd make Rusty afore dark.
It's a whole lot easier on hoofs than it is on wheels. You can't miss the
road on account of it bein' the only road there is. And Lander's is the
only one hotel in Rusty. You'd best stop the night there."
He evidently wanted to ask her her destination, but his courtesy
Sheila volunteered, "I am going to Miss Blake's ranch up Hidden Creek."
A sort of flash of surprise passed across the reserved, brown, young
face. "Yes, ma'am," he said with no expression. "Well, you better leave
the rest of your trip until to-morrow."
He slipped from his horse with an effortless ripple, untied a tawny
little pony with a thick neck, a round body, and a mild, intelligent
face, and led him to Sheila who mounted from her sack. Thatcher carefully
adjusted the stirrups, a primitive process that involved the wearisome
lacing and unlacing of leather thongs. Sheila bade him a bright and
adventurous "Good-bye." thanked the unknown owner of the horse, and
started. The pony showed some unwillingness to leave his companions,
fretted and tossed his head, and made a few attempts at a right-about
face, but Sheila dug in her small spurred heels and spoke beguilingly. At
last he settled down to sober climbing. Sheila looked back and waved her
hand. The two tall, lean men were gazing after her. They took off their
hats and waved. She felt a warmth that was almost loving for their
gracefulness and gravity and kindness. Here was another breed of man than
that produced by Millings. A few minutes later she came to the top of The
Pass and looked down into Hidden Creek.
Sheila stood and drew breath. The shadow of the high peak, in the lap of
which she stood, poured itself eastward across the warm, lush, narrow
land. This was different from the hard, dull gold and alkali dust of the
Millings country: here were silvery-green miles of range, and
purple-green miles of pine forest, and lovely lighter fringes and groves
of cottonwood and aspen trees. Here and there were little dots of
ranches, visible more by their vivid oat and alfalfa fields than by their
small log cabins. Down the valley the river flickered, lifted by its
brightness above the hollow that held it, till it seemed just hung there
like a string of jewels. Beyond it the land rose slowly in noble sweeps
to the opposite ranges, two chains that sloped across each other in a
glorious confusion of heads, round and soft as velvet against the blue
sky or blunt and broken with a thundery look of extinct craters. To the
north Sheila saw a further serenity of mountains, lying low and soft on
the horizon, of another and more wistful blue. Over it all was a sort of
magical haze, soft and brilliant as though the air were a melted
sapphire. There was still blessedness such as Sheila had never felt. She
was filled with a longing to ride on and on until her spirit should pass
into the wide, tranquil, glowing spirit of the lonely land. It seemed to
her that some forgotten medicine man sat cross-legged in a hollow of the
hills, blowing, from a great peace pipe, the blue smoke of peace down and
along the hollows and the canons and the level lengths of range. In the
mighty breast of the blower there was not even a memory of trouble, only
a noble savage serenity too deep for prayer.
She rode for a long while--no sound but her pony's hoofs--her eyes lifted
across the valley until a sudden fragrance drew her attention earthwards.
She was going through an open glade of aspens and the ground was white
with columbine, enormous flowers snowy and crisp as though freshly
starched by fairy laundresses. With a cry of delight Sheila jumped off
her horse, tied him by his reins to a tree, and began gathering flowers
with all the eager concentration of a six-year-old. And, like all the
flower-gatherers of fable from Proserpina down, she found herself the
victim of disaster. When she came back to the road with a useless,
already perishing mass of white, the pony had disappeared. Her knot had
been unfaithful. Quietly that mild-nosed, pensive-eyed, round-bodied
animal had pulled himself free and tiptoed back to join his friends.
Sheila hurried up the road toward the summit she had so recently crossed,
till the altitude forced her to stop with no breath in her body and a
pounding redness before her eyes. She stamped her feet with vexation.
She longed to cry. She remembered confusedly, but with a certain
satisfaction, some of the things Thatcher had said to his team. An entire
and sudden lenience toward the gentle art of swearing was born in her.
She threw her columbine angrily away. She had come so far on her journey
that she could never be able to get back to Thatcher nor even to Duff's
shanty before dark. And how far down still the valley lay with that
shadow widening and lengthening across it!
Her sudden loneliness descended upon her with an almost audible rush.
Dusk at this height--dusk with a keen smell of glaciers and wind-stung
pines--dusk with the world nine thousand feet below; and about her this
falling-away of mountain-side, where the trees seemed to slant and the
very flowers to be outrun by a mysterious sort of flight of rebel earth
toward space! The great and heady height was informed with a presence
which if not hostile was terrifyingly ignorant of man. There was some one
not far away, she felt, just above there behind the rocky ridge, just
back there in the confusion of purplish darkness streaked by pine-tree
columns, just below in the thicket of the stream--some one to meet whose
look meant death.
Her first instinct was to keep to the road. She walked on down toward
the valley very rapidly. But going down meant meeting darkness. She
began to be unreasonably afraid of the night. She was afflicted by an
old, old childish, immemorial dread of bears. In spite of the chill,
she was very warm, her tongue dry with rapid breathing of the thin air.
She was intolerably thirsty. The sound of water called to her in a
lisping, inhuman voice. She resisted till she was ashamed of her
cowardice, stepped furtively off the track, scrambled down a slope,
parted some branches, and found herself on a rock above a little
swirling pool. On the other side a man kneeling over the water lifted a
white and startled face.
Through the eerie green twilight up into which the pool threw a shifty
leaden brightness, the two stared at each other for a moment. Then the
man rose to his feet and smiled. Sheila noticed that he had been bathing
a bloody wrist round which he was now wrapping clumsily a handkerchief.
"Don't be frightened," he said in a rather uncertain voice; "I'm not near
so desperate as I look. Do you want a drink? Hand me down your cup if you
have one and I'll fill it for you."
"I'm not afraid now," Sheila quavered, and drew a big breath. "But I
was startled for a minute. I haven't any cup. I--I suppose, in a
way--I 'm lost."
He was peering at her now, and when she took off her hat and rubbed her
damp forehead with a weary, worried gesture, he gave a little
exclamation and swung himself across the stream by a branch, and up to
her side on the rock.
"The barmaid!" he said. "And I was coming to see you!"
Sheila laughed in the relieved surprise of recognition. "Why, you are the
cowboy--the one that fought so--so terribly. Have you been fighting
again? Your wrist is hurt. May I tie it up for you?"
He held out his arm silently and she tied the handkerchief--a large,
clean, coarse one--neatly about it. What with weariness and the shock of
her fright, her fingers were not very steady. He looked down at her
during the operation with a contented expression. It seemed that the
moment was filled for him with satisfaction to a complete forgetfulness
of past or present annoyances.
"This is a big piece of luck for me," he said. "But"--with a sudden
thundery change of countenance--"you're not going over to Hidden
Creek, are you?"
"I'm trying to go there," said Sheila; "I've been trying ever since five
o'clock this morning. But I don't seem to be getting there very fast. I
wanted to make Rusty before dark. And my pony got away from me and went
back. I know he went back because I saw the marks of his feet and he
would have gone back. Wouldn't he? Do you think I could get to Rusty on
"No, ma'am. I know you couldn't. You could make it easy on horseback,
though." He stared meditatively above her head and then said in a tone of
resignation: "I believe I better go back myself. I'll take you."
She had finished her bandage. She looked up at him. "Go back? But you
must have just started from there a few hours ago."
"Well, ma'am, I didn't come very direct. I kind of shifted round. But I
can go back straight. And I'd really rather. I think I'd better. It was
all foolishness my coming over. I can put you up back of me on my horse,
if you don't mind, and we'll get to Rusty before it's lit up. I'd rather.
You don't mind riding that way, do you? You see, if I put you up and
walked, it'd take lots more time."
"I don't mind," said Sheila, but she said it rather proudly so that
"Well, ma'am, we can try it, anyway. If you go back to the road, I'll get
He seemed to have hidden his horse in a density of trees a mile from the
road. Sheila waited till she thought she must have dreamed her meeting
with him. He came back, looking a trifle sheepish.
"You see," he said, "I didn't come by the road, ma'am."
The horse was a large, bony animal with a mean eye.
"That isn't the pony you rode when you came to Millings," said Sheila.
He bent to examine his saddle-girth. "No, ma'am," he said gently. "I've
been riding quite a variety of horse-flesh lately. I'll get on first if
you don't mind and give you a hand up. You put your foot on mine. The
horse will stand."
Sheila obeyed, pressing her lips tight, for she was afraid. However, his
long, supple fingers closed over her wrist like steel and she got quickly
and easily to her perch and clung nervously to him.
"That's right. Put your arms round tight. Are you all fixed?"
"Y--yes, I think so."
"We're off, then."
They started on a quick, steady walk down the road. Once, Cosme loosened
the six-shooter on his hip. He whistled incessantly through his teeth.
Except for this, they were both silent.
"Were you coming to Millings?" asked Sheila at last. She was of the world
where silence has a certain oppressive significance. She was getting used
to her peculiar physical position and found she did not have to cling so
desperately. But in a social sense she was embarrassed. He was quite
impersonal about the situation, which made matters easier for her. Now
and then she suppressed a frantic impulse to giggle.
"Yes, ma'am. To see you," he answered. "I never rightly thanked you." She
saw the back of his neck flush and she blushed too, remembering his
quickly diverted kiss which had left a smear of blood across her
fingers. That had happened only a few days before, but they were long
days. He too must have been well occupied. There was still a bruise on
his temple. "I--I wasn't quite right in the head after those fellows had
beat me up, and I kind of wanted to show you that I am something like a
"Have you been in Hidden Creek?"
"Yes, ma'am. I was thinking of prospecting around. I meant to homestead
over there. I like the country. But when it comes to settling down I get
kind of restless. And usually I get into a mix-up that changes my
intentions. So I'd about decided to go back down Arizona way and
work.--Where are you going to stay in Hidden Creek?" he asked. "Where's
"Mr. Thatcher has it in his wagon. I'm going to Miss Blake's ranch. She
"Miss Blake? You mean the lady that wears pants? You don't mean it! Well,
that's right amusing." He laughed.
Sheila stirred angrily. "I can't see why it's amusing."
He sobered at once. "Well, ma'am, maybe it isn't. No, I reckon it isn't.
How long will you stay?"
Sheila gave a big, sobbing sigh. "I don't know. If she likes me and if
I'm happy, I'll stay there always." She added with a queer, dazed
realization of the truth: "I've nowhere else to go."
"Haven't you any--folks?" he asked.
"Got tired of Millings?"
"I don't blame you! It's not much of a town. You'll like Hidden Creek.
And Miss Blake's ranch is a mighty pretty place, lonesome but wonderfully
pretty. Right on a bend of the creek, 'way up the valley, close under the
mountains. But can you stand loneliness, Miss--What _is_ your name?"
There were curious breaks in his manner of a Western cowboy, breaks that
startled Sheila like little echoes from her life abroad and in the East.
There was a quickness of voice and manner, an impatience, a hot and
nervous something, and his voice and accent suggested training. The
abrupt question, for instance, was not in the least characteristic of a
"My name is Sheila Arundel. I don't know yours either."
"Do you come from the East?"
"Yes. From New York." He gave an infinitesimal jerk. "But I've lived
abroad nearly all my life. I think it would be politer if you would
answer my question now."
She felt that he controlled an anxious breath. "My name is Hilliard," he
said, and he pronounced the name with a queer bitter accent as though the
taste of it was unpleasant to his tongue. "Cosme Hilliard. Don't you
think it's a--_nice_ name?"
For half a second she was silent; then she spoke with careful
unconsciousness. "Yes. Very nice and very unusual. Hilliard is an English
name, isn't it? Where did the Cosme come from?"
It was well done, so well that she felt a certain tightening of his body
relax and his voice sounded fuller. "That's Spanish. I've some Spanish
blood. Here's Buffin's ranch. We're getting down."
Sheila was remembering vividly; Sylvester had come into her compartment.
She could see the rolling Nebraskan country slipping by the window of the
train. She could see his sallow fingers folding the paper so that she
could conveniently read a paragraph. She remembered his gentle, pensive
speech. "Ain't it funny, though, those things happen in the slums and
they happen in the smart set, but they don't happen near so often to just
middling folks like you and me! Don't it sound like a Tenderloin tale,
though, South American wife and American husband and her getting jealous
and up and shooting him? Money sure makes love popular. Now, if it had
been poor folks, why, they'd have hardly missed a day's work, but just
because these Hilliards have got spondulix they'll run a paragraph about
'em in the papers for a month."--Sheila began to make comparisons: a
South American wife and an American husband, and here, this young man
with the Spanish-American name and the Spanish-Saxon physique, and a
voice that showed training and faltered over the pronouncing of the
"Hilliard" as though he expected it to be too well remembered. Had there
been some mention in the paper of a son?--a son in the West?--a son under
a cloud of some sort? But--she checked her spinning of romance--this
youth was too genuine a cowboy, the way he rode, the way he moved, held
himself, his phrases, his turn of speech! With all that wealth behind him
how had he been allowed to grow up like this? No, her notion was
unreasonable, almost impossible. Although dismissed, it hung about her
mental presentment of him, however, like a rather baleful aura, not
without fascination to a seventeen-year-old imagination. So busy was she
with her fabrications that several miles of road slipped by unnoticed.
There came a strange confusion in her thoughts. It seemed to her that she
was arguing the Hilliard case with some one. Then with a horrible start
she saw that the face of her opponent was Sylvester's and she pushed it
"Don't you go to sleep," said Hilliard softly, laughing a little. "You
might fall off."
"I--I was asleep," Sheila confessed, in confusion at discovering that her
head had dropped against him. "How dark it's getting! We're in the
valley, aren't we?"
"Yes, ma'am, we're most there." He hesitated. "Miss Arundel, I think I'd
best let you get down just before we get to Rusty."
"Get down? Why?"
He cleared his throat, half-turning to her. In the dusky twilight, that
was now very nearly darkness, his face was troubled and ashamed, like the
face of a boy who tries to make little of a scrape. "Well, ma'am,
yesterday, the folks in Rusty kind of lost their heads. They had a bad
case of Sherlock Holmes. I bought a horse up the valley from a chap who
was all-fired anxious to sell him, and before I knew it I was playing the
title part in a man-hunt. It seems that I was riding one of a string this
chap had rustled from several of the natives. They knew the horse and
that was enough for their nervous system. They had never set eyes on me
before and they wouldn't take my word for my blameless past. They told me
to keep my story for trial when they took me over to the court. Meanwhile
they gave me a free lodging in their pen. Miss Arundel--" Hilliard
dropped his ironic tone and spoke in a low, tense voice of child-like
horror. His face stiffened and paled. "That was awful. To be locked in.
Not to be able to get fresh breath in your lungs. Not to be able to go
where you please, when you please. I can't tell you what it's like ... I
can't stand it! I can't stand a minute of it! I was in that pen six
hours. I felt I'd go loco if I was there all night. I guess I am a kind
of fool. I broke jail early in the morning and caught up the sheriff's
horse. They got a shot or two at me, hit my wrist, but I made my getaway.
This horse is not much on looks, but he sure can get over the sagebrush.
I was coming over to see you."
There was that in his voice when he said this that touched Sheila's
heart, profoundly. This restless, violent young adventurer, homeless,
foot-loose, without discipline or duty, had turned to her in his trouble
as instinctively as though she had been his mother. This, because she had
once served him. Something stirred in Sheila's heart.
"And then," Hilliard went on, "I was going to get down to Arizona. But
when I heard you were coming over into Hidden Creek, it seemed like
foolishness to cut myself off from the country by running away from
nothing. Of course there are ways to prove my identity with those
fellows. It only means putting up with a few days of pen." He gave a
sigh. "But you can understand, ma'am, that this isn't just the horse that
will give you quietest entrance into Rusty and that I'm not just one of
the First Citizens."
"But," said Sheila, "if they see you riding in with me, they certainly
He laughed admiringly. "You're game!" he said. "But, Miss Arundel,
they're not likely to do any more shooting. It's not a man riding into
Rusty that they're after. It's a man riding out of Rusty. They'll know
I'm coming to give myself up."
"I'll just stay here," said Sheila firmly.
"I can't let you."
"I'm too tired to walk. I'm too sleepy. It'll be all right."
"Then I'll walk." He pulled in his horse, but at the instant stiffened in
his saddle and wheeled about on the road. A rattle of galloping hoofs
struck the ground behind them; two riders wheeled and stopped. One drew
close and held out his hand.
"Say, stranger, shake," he said. "We've been kickin' up the dust to beg
your pardon. We got the real rustler this mornin' shortly after you left.
I'm plumb disgusted and disheartened with young Tommins for losin' his
head an' shootin' off his gun. He's a dern fool, that kid, a regular
tenderfoot. Nothin' won't ever cure him short of growin' up. Come from
Chicago, anyway. One of them Eastern towns. I see he got you, too."
"Winged me," smiled Hilliard. "Well, I'm right pleased I won't have to
spend another night in your pen."
"You're entered for drinks. The sheriff stands 'em." Here he bowed to
Sheila, removing his hat.
"This lady"--Hilliard performed the introduction--"lost her horse on The
Hill. She's aiming to stop at Rusty for to-night."
The man who had spoken turned to his silent companion. "Ride ahead,
Shorty, why don't you?" he said indignantly, "and tell Mrs. Lander
there's a lady that'll want to sleep in Number Five."
The other horseman, after a swift, searching look at Sheila, said
"Sure," in a very mild, almost cooing, voice and was off. It looked to
Sheila like a runaway. But the men showed no concern.
They jogged companionably on their way. Fifteen minutes later they
crossed a bridge and pulled up before a picket fence and a gate.
They were in Rusty.
The social life of Rusty, already complicated by the necessity it was
under to atone for a mistake, was almost unbearably discomposed by the
arrival of a strange lady. This was no light matter, be it understood.
Hidden Creek was not a resort for ladies: and so signal an event as the
appearance of a lady, a young lady, a pretty young lady, demanded
considerable effort. But Rusty had five minutes for preparation. By the
time Hilliard rode up to Lander's gate a representative group of citizens
had gathered there. One contingent took charge of Hilliard--married men,
a little unwilling, and a few even more reluctant elders, and led him to
the bowl of reparation which was to wash away all memory of his wrongs.
The others, far the larger group, escorted Sheila up the twelve feet of
board walk to the porch of hospitality filled by the massive person of
Mrs. Lander. On that brief walk Sheila was fathered, brothered,
grandfathered, husbanded, and befriended and on the porch, all in the
person of Mrs. Lander, she was mothered, sistered, and grandmothered. Up
the stairs to Number Five she was "eased"--there is no other word to
express the process--and down again she was eased to supper, where in a
daze of fatigue she ate with surprising relish tough fried meat and
large wet potatoes, a bowl of raw canned tomatoes and a huge piece of
heavy-crusted preserved-peach pie. She also drank, with no effect upon
her drowsiness, an enormous thick cupful of strong coffee, slightly
tempered by canned milk. She sat at the foot of the long table, opposite
Mr. Lander, a fat, sly-looking man whose eyes twinkled with a look of
mysterious inner amusement, caused, probably, by astonishment at his own
respectability. He had behind him a career of unprecedented villainy, and
that he should end here at Rusty as the solid and well-considered keeper
of the roadhouse was, no doubt, a perpetual tickle to his consciousness.
Down either side of the table were silent and impressive figures busy
with their food. Courteous and quiet they were and beautifully
uninquiring, except in the matter of her supplies. The yellow lamplight
shone on brown bearded and brown clean-shaven faces, rugged and strong
and clean-cut. These bared throats and thickly thatched heads, these
faces, lighted by extraordinary, far-seeing brilliant, brooding eyes,
reminded Sheila of a master's painting of The Last Supper--so did their
coarse clothing melt into the gold-brown shadows of the room and so did
their hands and throats and faces pick themselves out in mellow lights
After the meal she dragged herself upstairs to Number Five, made scant
use of nicked basin, spoutless pitcher, and rough clean towel, blew out
her little shadeless lamp, and crept in under an immense, elephantine,
grateful weight of blankets and patchwork quilts, none too fresh,
probably, though the sheet blankets were evidently newly washed. Of
muslin sheeting there was none. The pillow was flat and musty. Sheila
cuddled into it as though it had been a mother's shoulder. That instant
she was asleep. Once in the night she woke. A dream waked her. It seemed
to her that a great white flower had blossomed in the window of her room
and that in the heart of it was Dickie's face, tender and as pale as a
petal. It drew near to her and bent over her wistfully. She held out her
arms with a piteous longing to comfort his wistfulness and woke. Her face
was wet with the mystery of dream tears. The flower dwindled to a small
white moon standing high in the upper pane of one of the uncurtained
windows. The room was full of eager mountain air. She could hear a
water-wheel turning with a soft splash in the stream below. There was no
other sound. The room smelt of snowy heights and brilliant stars. She
breathed deep and, quite as though she had breathed a narcotic, slept
suddenly again. This, before any memory of Hudson burned her
The next morning she found that her journey had been carefully arranged.
Thatcher had come and gone. The responsibility for her further progress
had been shifted to the shoulders of a teamster, whose bearded face,
except for the immense humor and gallantry of his gray eyes, was
startlingly like one of Albrecht Duerer's apostles. Her bundle was in his
wagon, half of his front seat was cushioned for her. After breakfast she
was again escorted down the board walk to the gate. Mrs. Lander fastened
a huge bunch of sweet peas to her coat and kissed her cheek. Sheila bade
innumerable good-byes, expressed innumerable thanks. For Hilliard's
absence Rusty offered its apologies. They said that he had been much
entertained and, after the hurt he had suffered to his wrist, late sleep
was a necessity. Sheila understood. The bowl of reparation had been
emptied to its last atoning dregs. She mounted to the side of "Saint
Mark," she bowed and smiled, made promises, gave thanks again, and waved
herself out of Rusty at last. She had never felt so flattered and so
warmed at heart.
"I'm agoin'," quoth Saint Mark, "right clost to Miss Blake's. If we don't
overtake her--and that hoss of hers sure travels wonderful fast,
somethin' wonderful, yes, ma'am, by God--excuse me, lady--it's sure
surprisin' the way that skinny little hoss of hers will travel--why, I
c'n take you acrost the ford. There ain't no way of gettin' into Miss
Blake's exceptin' by the ford. And then I c'n take my team back to the
road. From the ford it's a quarter-mile walk to Miss Blake's house. You
c'n cache your bundle and she'll likely get it for you in the mornin'.
We had ought to be there by sundown. Her trail from the ford's clear
enough. I'm a-takin' this lumber to the Gover'ment bridge forty mile up.
Yes, by God--excuse _me_, lady--it's agoin' to be jest a dandy bridge
until the river takes it out next spring, by God--you'll have to excuse
me again, lady."
He seemed rather mournfully surprised by the frequent need for these
apologies. "It was my raisin', lady," he explained. "My father was a
Methody preacher. Yes'm, he sure was, by God, yes--excuse me again, lady.
He was always a-prayin'. It kinder got me into bad habits. Yes, ma'am.
Those words you learn when you're a kid they do stick in your mind. By
God, yes, they do--excuse _me_, lady. That's why I run away. I couldn't
stand so much prayin' all the time. And bein' licked when I wasn't bein'
prayed at. He sure licked me, that dern son of a--Oh, by God, lady,
you'll just hev to excuse me, please." He wiped his forehead. "I reckon I
better keep still."
Sheila struggled, then gave way to mirth. Her companion, after a doubtful
look, relaxed into his wide, bearded smile. After that matters were on an
easy footing between them and the "excuse me, lady," was, for the most
part, left to her understanding.
They drifted like a lurching vessel through the long crystal day. Never
before this journey into Hidden Creek had time meant anything to Sheila
but a series of incidents, occupations, or emotions; now first she
understood the Greek impersonation of the dancing hours. She had watched
the varying faces the day turns to those who fold their hands and still
their minds to watch its progress. She had seen the gradual heightening
of brilliance from dawn to noon, and then the fading-out from that high,
white-hot glare, through gold and rose and salmon and purple, to the ashy
lavenders of twilight and so into gray and the metallic, glittering
coldness of the mountain night. It was the purple hour when she said
good-bye to Saint Mark on the far side of a swift and perilous ford. She
was left standing in the shadow of a near-by mountain-side while he rode
away into the still golden expanse of valley beyond the leafy course of
the stream. Hidden Creek had narrowed and deepened. It ran past Sheila
now with a loud clapping and knocking at its cobbled bed and with an
over-current of noisy murmurs. The hurrying water was purple, with flecks
of lavender and gold. The trees on its banks were topped with emerald
fire where they caught the light of the sun. The trail to Miss Blake's
ranch ran along the river on the edge of a forest of pines. At this hour
they looked like a wall into which some magic permitted the wanderer to
walk interminably. Sheila was glad that she did not have to make use of
this wizard invitation. She "cached" her bundle, as Saint Mark had
advised, in a thicket near the stream and walked resolutely forward
along the trail. Not even when her pony had left her on The Hill had she
felt so desolate or so afraid.
She could not understand why she was here on her way to the ranch of this
strange woman. She felt astonished by her loneliness, by her rashness, by
the dreadful lack in her life of all the usual protections. Was youth
meant so to venture itself? This was what young men had done since the
beginning of time. She thought of Hilliard. His life must have been just
such a series of disconnected experiments. Danger was in the very pattern
of such freedom. But she was a girl, _only_ a girl as the familiar phrase
expresses it--a seventeen-year-old girl. She was reminded of a pathetic
and familiar line, "A woman naturally born to fears ..." A wholesome
reaction to pride followed and, suddenly, an amusing memory of Miss
Blake, of her corduroy trousers stuffed into boots, of her broad, strong
body, her square face with its firm lips and masterful red-brown eyes; a
very heartening memory for such a moment. Here was a woman that had
adventured without fear and had quite evidently met with no disaster.
Sheila came to a little tumbling tributary and crossed it on a log. On
the farther side the trail broadened, grew more distinct; through an
opening in tall, gray, misty cottonwoods she saw the corner of a log
house. At the same instant a dreadful tumult broke out. The sound sent
Sheila's blood in a slapping wave back upon her heart. All of her body
turned cold. She was fastened by stone feet to the ground. It was the
laughter of a mob of damned souls, an inhuman, despairing mockery of
God. It tore the quiet evening into shreds of fear. This house was a
madhouse holding revelry. No--of course, they were wolves, a pack of
wolves. Then, with a warmth of returning circulation, Sheila remembered
Miss Blake's dogs, the descendants of the wolf-dog that had littered on
the body of a dead man. Quarter-wolf, was it? These voices had no hint
of the homely barking of a watchdog, the friend of man's loneliness! But
Sheila braced her courage. Miss Blake made good use of her pack. They
pulled her sled, winters, in Hidden Creek. They must then be partly
civilized by service. If only--she smiled a desperate smile at the
uncertainty--they didn't tear her to pieces when she came out from the
shelter of the trees. There was very great courage in Sheila's short,
lonely march through the little grove of cottonwood trees. She was as
white as the mountain columbine. She walked slowly and held her head
high. She had taken up a stone for comfort.
At the end of the trees she saw a house, a three-sided, one-storied
building of logs very pleasantly set in a circle of aspen trees,
backed by taller firs, toppling over which stood a great sharp crest
of rocky ledges, nine thousand feet high, edged with the fire of
sunset. At one side of the house eight big dogs were leaping at the
ends of their chains. They were tied to trees or to small kennels at
the foot of trees. And, God be thanked! Sheila let fall her
stone--they were _all_ tied.
The door at the end of the nearest wing of the house opened and Miss
Blake stood on the threshold and held up her hands. At sight of her the
dogs stopped their howling instantly and cringed on their bellies or sat
yawning on their bushy haunches. Miss Blake's resonant, deep voice seemed
to pounce upon Sheila above the chatter of the stream which, running
about three sides of the glade, was now, at the silence of the dogs,
"Well, if it isn't the little barmaid!" cried Miss Blake, and advanced,
wiping her hand on a white apron tied absurdly over the corduroy
trousers and cowboy boots. "Well, if you aren't as welcome as the
flowers in May! So you thought you'd leave the street-lamps and come
take a look at the stars?"
They met and Sheila took the strong, square hand. She was afflicted by a
"That's it," she faltered; "this time I thought I'd try--the stars."
With that she fell against Miss Blake and felt, just before she dropped
into blackness, that she had been saved by firm arms from falling to
The city rippled into light. It bloomed, blossom on blossom, like some
enchanted jungle under the heavy summer sky. Dickie sat on a bench in
Washington Square. He sat forward, his hands hanging between his knees,
his lips parted, and he watched the night. It seemed to him that it was
filled with the clamor of iron-throated beasts running to and fro after
their prey. The heat was a humid, solid, breathless weight--a heat
unknown to Millings. Dickie wore his threadbare blue serge suit. It felt
like a garment of lead.
There were other people on the benches--limp and sodden outlines. Dickie
had glanced at them and had glanced away. He did not want to think that
he looked like one of these--half-crushed insects,--bruised into
immobility. A bus swept round the corner and moved with a sort of
topheavy, tipsy dignity under the white arch. It was loaded with
humanity, its top black with heads. "It ain't a crowd," thought Dickie;
"it's a swarm." His eyes followed the ragged sky-line. "Why is it so
horrible?" he asked himself--"horrible and beautiful and sort of
poisonous--it plumb scares a fellow--" A diminished moon, battered and
dim like a trodden silver coin, stood up above him. By tilting his head
he could look directly at it through an opening in the dusty,
electric-brightened boughs. The stars were pin-pricks here and there in
the dense sky. The city flaunted its easy splendor triumphantly before
their pallid insignificance. Tarnished purities, forgotten ecstasies,
burned-out inspirations--so the city shouted raucously to its faded
Dickie's fingers slid into his pocket. The moon had reminded him of his
one remaining dime. He might have bought a night's lodging with it, but
after one experience of such lodgings he preferred his present quarters.
In Dickie's mind there was no association of shame or ignominy with a
night spent under the sky. But fear and ignominy tainted and clung to
his memory of that other night. He had saved his dime deliberately,
going hungry rather than admit to himself that he was absolutely at the
end of his resources. To-morrow he would not especially need that dime.
He had a job. He would begin to draw pay. In his own phrasing he would
"buy him a square meal and rent him a room somewhere." Upon these two
prospects his brain fastened with a leech-like persistency. And yet
above anything he had faced in his life he dreaded the job and the room.
The inspiration of his flight, the impulse that had sped him out of
Millings like a fire-tipped arrow, that determination to find Sheila, to
rehabilitate himself in her esteem, to serve her, to make a fresh start,
had fallen from him like a dead flame. The arrow-flight was spent. He
had not found Sheila. He had no way of finding her. She was not at her
old address. Her father's friend, the Mr. Hazeldean that had brought
Sylvester to Marcus's studio, knew nothing of her. Mrs. Halligan, her
former landlady, knew nothing of her. Dickie, having summoned Mrs.
Halligan to her doorsill, had looked past her up the narrow, steep
staircase. "Did she live away up there?" he had asked. "Yes, sorr. And
't was a climb for the poor little crayture, but there was days when
she'd come down it like a burrd to meet her Pa." Dickie had faltered,
white and empty-hearted, before the kindly Irishwoman who remembered so
vividly Sheila's downward, winged rush of welcome. For several hours
after his visit to the studio building he had wandered aimlessly about,
then his hunger had bitten at him and he had begun to look for work. It
was not difficult to find. A small restaurant displayed a need of
waiters. Dickie applied. He had often "helped out" in that capacity, as
in most others, at The Aura. He cited his experience, referred to Mr.
Hazeldean, and was engaged. The pay seemed to him sufficient to maintain
life. So much for that! Then he went to his bench and watched the day
pant itself into the night. His loneliness was a pitiful thing; his
utter lack of hope or inspiration was a terrible thing.
But as the night went slowly by, he faced this desolation with
extraordinary fortitude. It was part of that curious detachment, that
strange gift of impersonal observation. Dickie bore no grudges against
life. His spirit had a fashion of standing away, tiptoe, on wings. It
stood so now like a presence above the miserable, half-starved body that
occupied the bench and suffered the sultriness of August and the pains of
abstinence. Dickie's wide eyes, that watched the city and found it
horrible and beautiful and frightening, were entirely empty of bitterness
and of self-pity. They had a sort of wistful patience.
There came at last a cool little wind and under its ministration Dickie
let fall his head on his arms and slept. He was blessed by a dream:
shallow water clapping over a cobbled bed, the sharp rustle of wind-edged
aspen leaves, and two stars, tender and misty, that bent close and
smiled. He woke up and stared at the city. He got up and walked about. He
was faint now and felt chilled, although the asphalt was still soft
underfoot and smelled of hot tar. As he moved listlessly along the
pavement, a girl brushed against him, looked up, and murmured to him. She
was small and slight. His heart seemed to leap away from the contact and
then to leap almost irresistibly to meet it. He turned away and went back
quickly toward the Square. It seemed to him that he was followed. He
looked over his shoulder furtively. But the girl had disappeared and
there was no one in sight but a man who walked unsteadily. Dickie
suddenly knew why he had saved that dime. The energy of a definite
purpose came to him. He remembered a swinging door back there around a
corner, but when he reached the saloon, it was closed. Dickie had a
humiliating struggle with tears. He went back to his bench and sat there,
trembling and swearing softly to himself. He had not the strength to look
farther. He was no longer the Dickie of Millings, a creature possessed of
loneliness and vacancy and wandering fancies, he was no longer Sheila's
lover, he was a prey to strong desires. In truth, thought Dickie, seeking
even now with his deprecatory smile for likenesses and words, the city
was full of beasts, silent and stealthy and fanged. That spirit, aloof,
maintained its sweet detachment. Beneath its observation Dickie fought
with a grim, unreasoning panic that was very like the fear of a man
pursued by wolves.
Even in the shadow of after events, those first two months at Miss
Blake's ranch swam like a golden galleon through Sheila's memory. Never
had she felt such well-being of body, mind, and soul. Never had she known
such dawns and days, such dusks, such sapphire nights. Sleep came like a
highwayman to hold up an eager traveler, but came irresistibly. It caught
her up out of life as it catches up a healthy child. Never before had she
worked so heartily: out of doors in the vegetable garden; indoors in the
sunny kitchen, its windows and door open to the tonic air; never before
had she eaten so heartily. Nothing had tasted like the trout they caught
in Hidden Creek, like the juicy, sweet vegetables they picked from their
own laborious rows, like the berries they gathered in nervous
anticipation of that rival berryer, the brown bear. And Miss Blake's
casual treatment of her, half-bluff, half-mocking, her curt, good-humored
commands, her cordial bullying, were a rest to nerves more raveled than
Sheila knew from her experience in Millings. She grew rosy brown; her
hair seemed to sparkle along its crisp ripples; her little throat filled
itself out, round and firm; she walked with a spring and a swing; she
sang and whistled, no Mrs. Hudson near to scowl at her. Dish-washing was
not drudgery, cooking was a positive pleasure. Everything smelt so good.
She was always shutting her eyes to enjoy the smell of things, forgetting
to listen in order to taste thoroughly, forgetting to look in the delight
of listening to such musical silences, and forgetting even to breathe in
the rapture of sight ... Miss Blake and she put up preserves, and Sheila
had to invent jests to find some pretext for her laughter, so ridiculous
was the look of that broad square back, its hair short above the man's
flannel collar, and the apron-strings tied pertly above the very wide,
slightly worn corduroy breeches and the big boots. Sheila was always
thinking of a certain famous Puss of fairy-tale memory, and biting her
tongue to keep it from the epithet. After Hilliard gave her the black
horse and she began to explore the mountain game trails, her life seemed
as full of pleasantness as it could hold. And yet ... with just that gift
of Hilliard's, the overshadowing of her joy began. No, really before
that, with his first visit.
That was in late September when the nights were frosty and Miss Blake had
begun to cut and stack her wood for winter, and to use it for a crackling
hearth-fire after supper. They were sitting before such a fire when
Miss Blake sat man-fashion on the middle of her spine, her legs crossed,
a magazine in her hands, and on her blunt nose a pair of large,
black-rimmed spectacles. Her feet and hands and her cropped head, though
big for a woman's, looked absurdly small in comparison to the breadth of
her hips and shoulders. She was reading the "Popular Science Monthly."
This and the "Geographic" and "Current Events" were regularly taken by
her and most thoroughly digested. She read with keen intelligence; her
comments were as shrewd as a knife-edge. The chair she sat in was made
from elk-horns and looked like the throne of some Norse chieftain. Behind
her on the wall hung the stuffed head of a huge walrus, his tusks
gleaming, the gift of that exploring brother who seemed to be her only
living relative. There were other tokens of his wanderings, a polar-bear
skin, an ivory Eskimo spear. As a more homelike trophy Miss Blake had
hung an elk head which she herself had laid low, a very creditable shot,
though out of season. She had been short of meat. In the corner was a
pianola topped by piles of record-boxes. At her feet lay Berg, the dog,
snoring faintly and as cozy as a kitten.
The firelight made Miss Blake's face and hair ruddier than usual; her
eyes, when she raised them for a glance at Sheila, looked as though they
were full of red sparks which might at any instant break into flame.
Sheila was wearing one of her flimsy little black frocks, recovered from
the wrinkles of its journey, and she had decorated her square-cut neck
with some yellow flowers. On these Miss Blake's eyes rested every now
and then with a sardonic gleam.
Outside Hidden Creek told its interminable chattering tale, centuries
long, the little skinny horse cropped getting his difficult meal with
his few remaining teeth. They could hear the dogs move with a faint
rattle of chains. Sometimes there would be a distant rushing sound, a
snow-slide thousands of feet above their heads on the mountain. Above
these familiar sounds there came, at about eight o'clock that evening,
the rattle of horse's hoofs through the little stream and at the instant
broke out the hideous clamor of the dogs, a noise that never failed to
whiten Sheila's cheeks.
Miss Blake sat up straight and snatched off her spectacles. She looked at
Sheila with a hard look.
"Have you been sending out invitations, Sheila?" she asked.
"No, of course not," Sheila had flushed. She could guess whose horse's
hoofs were trotting across the little clearing.
A man's voice spoke to the dogs commandingly. Miss Blake's eyebrows came
down over her eyes. A man's step struck the porch. A man's knock rapped
sharply at the door.
"Come in!" said Miss Blake. She spoke it like a sentry's challenge.
The door opened and there stood Cosme Hilliard, hat in hand, his smiling
Latin mouth showing the big white Saxon teeth.
Sheila had not before quite realized his good looks. Now, all his lithe,
long gracefulness was painted for her against a square of purple night.
The clean white silk shirt fitted his broad shoulders, the wide rider's
belt clung to his supple waist, the leather chaps were shaped to his
Greek hips and thighs. No civilized man's costume could so have revealed
and enhanced his beautiful strength. And above the long body his face
glowed with its vivid coloring, the liquid golden eyes that moved easily
under their lids, the polished black hair sleekly brushed, the red-brown
cheeks, the bright lips, flexible and curved, of his Spanish mother.
"Who in God's name are you?" demanded Miss Blake in her deepest voice.
"This is Mr. Hilliard," Sheila came forward. "He is the man that brought
me over The Hill, Miss Blake--after I'd lost my horse, you know." There
was some urgency in Sheila's tone, a sort of prod to courtesy. Miss Blake
settled back on her spine and recrossed her legs.
"Well, come in," she said, "and shut the door. No use frosting us all, is
there?" She resumed her spectacles and her reading of the "Popular
Hilliard, still smiling, bowed to her, took Sheila's hand for an instant,
then moved easily across the room and settled on his heels at one corner
of the hearth. He had been riding, it would seem, in the thin silk shirt
and had found the night air crisp. He rolled a cigarette with the hands
that had first drawn Sheila's notice as they held his glass on the bar;
gentleman's hands, clever, sensitive, carefully kept. From his
occupation, he looked up at Miss Blake audaciously.
"You'd better make friends with me, ma'am," he said, "because we're going
to be neighbors."
"I'm taking up my homestead right down here below you on Hidden Creek a
ways. About six miles below your ford."
Miss Blake's face filled with dark blood. She said nothing, put up
Sheila, however, exclaimed delightedly, "Taken up a homestead?"
"Yes, ma'am." He turned his floating, glowing look to her and there it
stayed almost without deviation during the rest of his visit. "I've built
me a log house--a dandy. I had a man up from Rusty to help me. I've
bought me a cow. I'm getting my furnishings ready. That's what I've been
doing these two months."
"And never rode up to call on us?" Sheila reproached him.
"No, ma'am. I'll tell you the reason for that. I wasn't sure of myself."
She opened rather puzzled and astonished eyes at this, but for an instant
his look went beyond her and remembered troubling things. "You see, Miss
Arundel, I'm not used to settling down. That's something that I've had no
practice in. I'm impatient. I get tired quickly. Damn quickly. I change
my mind. It's the worst thing in me--a sort of devil-horse always thirsty
for new things. It's touch and go with him. He runs with me. You see,
I've always given him his head." His look had come back to her face and
dwelt there speaking for him a language headier than that of his tongue.
"I thought I'd tie the dern fool down to some good tough work and test
him out. Well, ma'am, he hasn't quit on me this time. I think he won't.
I've got a ball and chain round about that cloven foot." He drew at his
cigarette, half-veiling in smoke the ardor of his look. "I'd like to show
you my house, Miss Arundel. It's fine. I worked with a builder one season
when I was a lad. I've got it peeled inside. The logs shine and I've got
a fireplace twice the size of this in my living-room"--he made graceful
gestures with the hand that held the cigarette. "Yes, ma'am, a
living-room, and a kitchen, and," with a whimsical smile, "a butler's
pantry. And, oh, a great big bedroom that gets the morning sun." He
paused an instant and flushed from chin to brow, an Anglo-Saxon flush it
was, but the bold Latin eyes did not fall. "I've made some furnishings
already. And I've sent out an order for kitchen stuff."
Here Miss Blake changed the crossing of her legs. Sheila was angry with
herself because she was consumed with the contagion of his blush. She
wished that he would not look as if he had seen the blush and was pleased
by it. She wished that his clean young strength and beauty and the ardor
of his eyes did not speak quite so eloquently.
"I bought a little black horse about so high"--he held his hand an absurd
distance from the floor and laughed--"just the size for a little girl
and--do you know who I'm going to give him to?"
Here Miss Blake got up, strode to the pianola, adjusted it, and sat down,
broad and solid and unabashed by absence of feminine draperies, upon the
stool. She played a comic song.
"I don't like your _fam_ily--"
in some such dreadful way it expressed itself--
"They do _not_ look good to me.
I don't think your _Unc_le John
Ever _had_ a collar on ..."
She played it very loud.
Hilliard stood up and came close to Sheila.
"She's mad as a March hare," he whispered, "and she doesn't like me a
little bit. Come out while I patch up Dusty, won't you, please? It's
moonlight. I'll be going." He repeated this very loud for Miss Blake's
benefit with no apparent effect upon her enjoyment of the song. She was
rocking to its rhythm.
Hilliard was overwhelmed suddenly by the appearance of her. He put his
hand to his mouth and bolted. Sheila, following, found him around the
corner of the house rocking and gasping with mirth. He looked at her
"Puss-in-Boots," he gasped, and Sheila ran to the edge of the clearing to
be safe in a mighty self-indulgence.
There they crouched like two children till their laughter spent itself.
Hilliard was serious first.
"You're a bad, ungrateful girl," he said weakly, "to laugh at a sweet old
lady like that."
"Oh, I am!" Sheila took it almost seriously. "She's been wonderful to
"I bet she works you," he said jealously.
"Oh, no. Not a bit too hard. I love it."
"Well," he admitted, "you do look pretty fine, that's a fact. Better than
you did at Hudson's. What did you quit for?"
Sheila was sober enough now. The moonlight let some of its silver,
uncaught by the twinkling aspen leaves, splash down on her face. It
seemed to flicker and quiver like the leaves. She shook her head.
He looked a trifle sullen. "Oh, you won't tell me.... Funny idea, you
being a barmaid. Hudson's notion, wasn't it?"
Sheila lifted her clear eyes. "I thought asking questions wasn't good
manners in the West."
"Damn!" he said. "Don't you make me angry! I've got a right to ask you
She put her hand up against the smooth white trunk of the tree near
which she stood. She seemed to grow a little taller.
"Oh, have you? I don't think I quite understand how you got any such
right. And you like to be questioned yourself?"
She had him there, had him rather cruelly, though he was not aware of the
weapon of her suspicion. She felt a little ashamed when she saw him
wince. He slapped his gloves against his leather chaps, looking at her
with hot, sulky eyes.
"Oh, well... I beg your pardon.... Listen--" He flung his ill-humor aside
and was sweet and cool again like the night. "Are you going to take the
"I don't know."
His face shadowed and fell so expressively, so utterly, that she melted.
"Oh," he stammered, half-turning from her, "I was sure. I brought him
This completed the melting process. "Of course I'll take him!" she cried.
"Where is he?"
She inspected the beautiful little animal by the moonlight. She even let
Hilliard mount her on the shining glossy back and rode slowly about
clinging to his mane, ecstatic over the rippling movement under her.
"He's like a rocking-chair," said Cosme. "You can ride him all day and
not feel it." He looked about the silver meadow. "Good feed here, isn't
there? I bet he'll stay. If not, I'll get him for you."
Sheila slipped down. They left the horse to graze.
"Yes, it's first-rate feed. Do you think Miss Blake will let me
His answer was entirely lost by a sudden outbreak from the dogs.
"Good Lord!" said Cosme, making himself heard, "what a breed! Isn't that
awful! Why does she keep the brutes? Isn't she scared they'll eat her?"
Sheila shook her head. Presently the tumult quieted down. "They're afraid
of her," she said. "She has a dreadful whip. She likes to bully them. I
think she's rather cruel. But she does love Berg; she says he's the only
real dog in the pack."
"Was Berg the one on the bearskin inside?"
"He's sure a beauty. But I don't like him. He has wolf eyes. See
here--you're shivering. I've kept you out here in the cold. I'll go.
Good-night. Thank you for keeping the horse. Will you come down to see my
house? I built it"--he drawled the words--"for you"--and added after a
tingling moment--"to see, ma'am."
This experiment in words sent Sheila to the house, her hand crushed and
aching with his good-bye grasp, her heart jumping with a queer fright.
Miss Blake stood astraddle on the hearth, her hands behind her back.
"You better go to bed, Sheila," she said; "it's eleven o'clock and
Her voice was pleasant enough, but its bluffness had a new edge. Sheila
found it easy to obey. She climbed up the ladder to the little gabled
loft which was her bedroom. Halfway up she paused to assert a belated
independence of spirit. "Good-night," she said, "how do you like our
Miss Blake stared up. Her lips were set tight. She made no answer. After
an instant she sauntered across the room and out of the door. The whip
with which she beat the dogs swung in her hand. A moment later a fearful
howling and yelping showed that some culprit had been chosen for condign
Sheila set down her candle, sat on the edge of her cot, and covered her
ears with her hands. When it was over she crept into bed. She felt,
though she chided herself for the absurdity, like a naughty child who has
been forcibly reminded of the consequences of rebellion.
A HISTORY AND A LETTER
The next morning, it seemed Miss Blake's humor had completely changed. It
showed something like an apologetic softness. She patted Sheila's
shoulder when she passed the girl at work. When Hilliard next appeared, a
morning visit this time, he was bidden to share their dinner; he was even
"She's not such a bad old girl, is she?" he admitted when Sheila had been
given a half-holiday and was riding on the black horse beside Hilliard on
his Dusty across one of the mountain meadows.
"_I_ think she's a dear," said Sheila, pink with gratitude; then,
shadowing, "If only she wouldn't beat the dogs and would give up
"Why in thunder shouldn't she trap?"
"I loathe trapping. Do you remember how you felt in the pen? It's bad
enough to shoot down splendid wild things for food, but, to trap
them!--small furry things or even big furry things like bears, why, it's
cruel! It's hideously cruel! When a woman does it--"
"Come, now, don't call _her_ a woman!"
"Yes, she is. Think of the aprons! And she is so tidy."
"That's not just a woman's virtue."
"Maybe not. I'm not sure. But I've a feeling that it was Eve who first
"Very bad job if she did. Think of all the bother we've been going
through ever since."
"There!" Sheila triumphed. "To you it's just bother. You're a man. To me
it's a form of sport.... I wonder what Miss Blake's story is."
"You mean--?" He turned in his saddle to stare wonderingly at her. "You
"No." Sheila blushed confusedly. "I--I don't know anything about her--"
"Good Lord!" He whistled softly. "Sometimes those ventures turn out all
right." He looked dubious. "I'm glad I'm here!"
Sheila's smile slipped sweetly across her mouth and eyes. "So am I. But,"
she added after a thoughtful moment, "I don't know much about your story
either, do I?"
"I might say something about asking questions," began Cosme with
grimness, but changed his tone quickly with a light, apologetic touch on
her arm, "but--but I won't. I ran away from school when I was fourteen
and I've been knocking around the West ever since."
"What school?" asked Sheila.
He did not answer for several minutes. They had come to the end of the
meadow and were mounting a slope on a narrow trail where the ponies
seemed to nose their way among the trees. Now and then Sheila had to put
out her hand to push her knee away from a threatening trunk. Below were
the vivid paintbrush flowers and the blue mountain lupine and all about
the nymph-white aspens with leaves turning to restless gold against the
sky. The horses moved quietly with a slight creaking of saddles. There
was a feeling of stealth, of mystery--that tiptoe breathless expectation
of Pan pipes.... At last Cosme turned in his saddle, rested his hand on
the cantle, and looked at Sheila from a bent face with troubled eyes.
"It was an Eastern school," he said. "No doubt you've heard of it. It
The name here in these Wyoming woods brought a picture as foreign as the
artificiality of a drawing-room.
"Groton? You ran away?"
Sheila's suspicions were returning forcibly. "I'll have to ask questions,
Mr. Hilliard, because it seems so strange--what you are now, and your
running away and never having been brought back to the East by--by
whoever it was that sent you to Groton."
"I want you to ask questions," he said rather wistfully. "You have
This forced her into something of a dilemma. She ignored it and waited,
looking away from him. He would not leave her this loophole, however.
"Why don't you look at me?" he demanded crossly.
She did, and smiled again.
"You have the prettiest smile I ever saw!" he cried; then went on
quickly, "I ran away because of something that happened. I'll tell you.
My mother"--he flushed and his eyes fell--"came up to see me at school
one day. My mother was very beautiful.... I was mad about her." Curiously
enough, every trace of the Western cowboy had gone out of his voice and
manner, which were an echo of the voice and manner of the Groton
schoolboy whose experience he told. "I was proud of her--you know how a
kid is. I kind of paraded her round and showed her off to the other
fellows. No other fellow had such a beautiful mother. Then, as we were
saying good-bye, a crowd of the boys all round, I did something--trod on
her foot or something, I don't quite know what--and she lifted up her
hand and slapped me across the face." He was white at the shocking
memory. "Right there before them all, when I--I was adoring her. She had
the temper of a devil, a sudden Spanish temper--the kind I have, too--and
she never made the slightest effort to hold it down. She hit me and she
laughed as though it was funny and she got into her carriage. I cut off
to my room. I wanted to kill myself. I couldn't face any one. I wanted
never to see her again. I guess I was a queer sort of kid.... I don't
know ..." He drew a big breath, dropped back to the present and his
vivid color returned. "That's why I ran away from school, Miss Arundel."
"And they never brought you back?"
He laughed. "They never found me. I had quite a lot of money and I
lost myself pretty cleverly...a boy of fourteen can, you know. It's
a very common history. Well, I suppose they didn't break their necks
over me either, after the first panic. They were busy people--my
parents--remarkably busy going to the devil.... And they were eternally
hard-up. You see, my grandfather had the money--still has it--and he's
remarkably tight. I wrote to them after six years, when I was twenty.
They wrote back; at least their lawyer did. They tried, not very
sincerely, though, I think, to coax me East again... told me they'd
double my allowance if I did--they've sent me a pittance--" He shuddered
suddenly, a violent, primitive shiver. "I'm glad I didn't go," he said.
There was a long stillness. That dreadful climax to the special
"business" of the Hilliards was relived in both their memories. But it
was something of which neither could speak. Sheila wondered if the
beautiful mother was that instant wearing the hideous prison dress. She
wished that she had read the result of the trial. She wouldn't for the
world question this pale and silent young man. The rest of their ride was
quiet and rather mournful. They rode back at sunset and Hilliard bade her
a troubled good-bye.
She wanted to say something comforting, reassuring. She watched him
helplessly from where she stood on the porch as he walked across the
clearing to his horse. Suddenly he slapped the pocket of his chaps and
turned back. "Thunder!" he cried, "I'd forgotten the mail. A fellow left
it at the ford. A paper for Miss Blake and a letter for you."
Sheila held out her hand. "A letter for me?" She took it. It was a
strange hand, small and rather unsteady. The envelope was fat, the
postmark Millings. Her flush of surprise ebbed. She knew whose letter it
was--Sylvester Hudson's. He had found her out.
She did not even notice Cosme's departure. She went up to her loft, sat
down on her cot and read.
"MY DEAR MISS SHEILA:
"I don't rightly know how to express myself in this letter because I know
what your feelings toward Pap must be like, and they are fierce. But I
have got to try to write you a letter just the same, for there are some
things that need explaining. At first, when my hotel and my Aura were
burned down [here the writing was especially shaky] and I found that you
and Dickie had both vamoosed, I thought that you had paid me out and gone
off together. You can't blame me for that thought, Miss Sheila, for I
had found him in your room at that time of night or morning and I
couldn't help but see that he was aiming to kiss you and you were waiting
for his kiss. So I was angry and I had been drinking and I kissed you
myself, taking advantage of you in a way that no gentleman would do. But
I thought you were different from the Sheila I had brought to be my
"Well, ma'am, for a while after the fire, I was pretty near crazy. I was
about loco. Then I was sick. When I got well again, a fellow who come
over from Hidden Creek told me you had gone over to be at a ranch there
and that you had come in alone. That sort of got me to thinking about you
more and more and studying you out, and I begun to see that I had made a
bad mistake. Whatsoever reason brought that damn fool Dickie to your room
that morning, it wasn't your doings, and the way you was waiting for his
kiss was more a mother's way. I have had some hard moments with myself,
Miss Sheila, and I have come to this that I have got to write and tell
you how I feel. And ask your forgiveness. You see you were something in
my life, different from anything that had ever been there. I don't
rightly know--I likely never will know--what you meant in my life. I
handled you in my heart like a flower. Before God, I had a religion for
you. And that was just why, when I thought you was bad, that it drove me
crazy. I wonder if you will understand this. You are awful young and
awful ignorant. And I have hurt your pride. You are terrible proud for
your years, Miss Sheila. I ache all over when I think that I hurt your
pretty mouth. I hope it is smiling now. I am moving out of Millings,--Me
and Momma and Babe. But Girlie is agoing to marry Jim. He run right back
to her like a little lost lamb the second you was gone. Likely, he'll
never touch liquor again. I haven't heard from Dickie. I guess he's gone
where the saloons are bigger and where you can get oysters with your
drinks. He always was a damn fool. I would dearly like to go over to
Hidden Creek and see you, but I feel like I'd better not. It would hurt
me if I got a turn-down from you like it will hurt me if you don't
answer this letter, which is a mighty poor attempt to tell you my bad
reasons for behaving like I did. I am not sorry I thrashed Dickie. He had
ought to be thrashed good and plenty. And he has sure paid me off by
burning down my Aura. That was a saloon in a million, Miss Sheila, and
the picture of you standing there back of my bar, looking so dainty and
sweet and fine in your black dress and your frills--well, ma'am, I'll
sure try to be thinking of that when I cash in.
"Well, Miss Sheila, I wish you good fortune in whatever you do, and I
hope that if you ever need a friend you will overlook my bad break and
remember the artist that tried to put you in his big work and--failed."
This extraordinary document was signed--"Sylvester." Sheila was left
bewildered with strange tears in her throat.
There came to the restaurant where Dickie worked, a certain sallow and
irritable man, no longer in his early youth. He came daily for one of his
three meals: it might be lunch or dinner or even breakfast, Dickie was
always in haste to serve him. For some reason, the man's clever and
nervous personality intrigued his interest. And this, although his
customer never threw him a glance, scowled at a newspaper, barked out an
order, gulped his food, stuck a fair-sized tip under the edge of his
plate, and jerked himself away.
On a certain sluggish noon hour in August, Dickie, as far as the
kitchen door with a tray balanced on his palm, realized that he had
forgotten this man's order. He hesitated to go back. "Like as not,"
reasoned Dickie, "he didn't rightly know what the order was. He never
does look at his food. I'll fetch him a Spanish omelette and a salad
and a glass of iced tea. It's a whole lot better order than he'd have
thought of himself."
Nevertheless, it was with some trepidation that he set the omelette down
before that lined and averted countenance. Its owner was screwed into his
chair as usual, eyes, with a sharp cleft between their brows, bent on his
folded newspaper, and he put his right hand blindly on the fork. But as
it pricked the contents of the plate a savory fragrance rose and the
"Here, you damn fool--that's not my order," he snapped out.
Dickie tasted a homely memory--"Dickie damn fool." He stood silent a
moment looking down with one of his quaint, impersonal looks.
"Well, sir," then he said slowly, "it ain't your order, but you look a
whole lot more like a feller that would order Spanish omelette than like
a feller that would order Hamburger steak."
For the first time the man turned about, flung his arm over his
chair-back, and looked up at Dickie. In fact, he stared. His thin lips,
enclosed in an ill-tempered parenthesis of double lines, twisted
"I'll be derned!" he said. "But, look here, my man, I didn't order
Hamburger steak; I ordered chicken."
Dickie deliberately smoothed down the cowlick on his head. He wore his
look of a seven-year-old with which he was wont to face the extremity of
"I reckon I clean forgot your order, sir," he said. "I figured out that
you wouldn't be caring what was on your plate. This heat," he added,
"sure puts a blinder on a feller's memory."
The man laughed shortly. "It's all right," he said. "This'll go down."
He ate in silence. Then he glanced up again. "What are you waiting
Dickie flushed faintly. "I was sort of wishful to see how it would go
"Oh, I don't mean that kind of waiting. I mean--why are you a waiter in
Dickie meditated. "There ain't no answer to that," he said. "I don't know
why--" He added--"Why anything. It's a sort of extry word in the
dictionary--don't mean much any way you look at it."
He gathered up the dishes. The man watched him, tilting back a little in
his chair, his eyes twinkling under brows drawn together. A moment
afterwards he left the restaurant.
It was a few nights later when Dickie saw him again--or rather when
Dickie was again seen by him. This time Dickie was not in the restaurant.
He was at a table in a small Free Library near Greenwich Avenue, and he
was copying painstakingly with one hand from a fat volume which he held
down with the other. The strong, heavily-shaded light made a circle of
brilliance about him; his fair hair shone silvery bright, his face had a
sort of seraphic pallor. The orderer of chicken, striding away from the
desk with a hastily obtained book of reference, stopped short and stared
at him; then came close and touched the thin, shiny shoulder of the blue
"This the way you take your pleasure?" he asked abruptly.
Dickie looked up slowly, and his consciousness seemed to travel even more
slowly back from the fairy doings of a midsummer night. Under the
observant eyes bent upon it, his face changed extraordinarily from the
face of untroubled, almost immortal childhood to the face of struggling
and reserved manhood.
"Hullo," he said with a smile of recognition. "Well--yes--not always."
"What are you reading?" The man slipped into the chair beside Dickie, put
on his glasses, and looked at the fat book. "Poetry? Hmp! What are you
copying it for?--letter to your girl?"
Dickie had all the Westerner's prejudice against questions, but he felt
drawn to this patron of the "hash-hole," so, though he drawled his answer
slightly, it was an honest answer.
"It ain't my book," he said. "That's why I'm copying it."
"Why in thunder don't you take it out, you young idiot?"
Dickie colored. "Well, sir, I don't rightly understand the workings of
this place. I come by it on the way home and I kep' a-seein' folks goin'
in with books and comin' out with books. I figured it was a kind of
exchange proposition. I've only got one book--and that ain't rightly
mine--" the man looking at him wondered why his face flamed--"so, when I
came in, I just watched and I figured you could read here if you had the
notion to take down a book and fetch it over to the table and copy from
it and return it. So I've been doin' that."
"Why didn't you go to the desk, youngster, and ask questions?"
"Where I come from"--Dickie was drawling again--"folks don't deal so much
in questions as they do here."
"Where you came from! You came from Mars! Come along to the desk and
I'll fix you up with a card and you can take an armful of poetry home
Dickie went to the desk and signed his name. The stranger signed
his--Augustus Lorrimer. The librarian stamped a bit of cardboard and
stuck it into the fat volume. She handed it to Dickie wearily.
"Thank _you_, ma'am," he said with such respectful fervor that she looked
up at him and smiled.
"Now, where's your diggings," asked Lorrimer, who had taken no hints
about asking questions, "east or west?" He was a newspaper reporter.
"Would you be carin' to walk home with me?" asked Dickie. There was a
great deal of dignity in his tone, more in his carriage.
"Yes. I'd be caring to! Lead on, Martian!" And Lorrimer felt, after
he said that, that he was a vulgarian--a long-forgotten sensation.
"In Mars," he commented to himself, "this young man was some kind of
"What do you look over your shoulder that way for, Dick?" he asked aloud,
a few blocks on their way. "Scared the police will take away your book?"
Dickie blinked at him with a startled air. "Did I? I reckon a feller
gets into queer ways when he's alone a whole lot. I get kind of feelin'
like somebody was following me in this town--so many folks goin' to and
fro does it to me most likely."
"Yes, a fellow does get into queer ways when he's alone a whole lot,"
said Lorrimer slowly. His mind went back a dozen years to his own first
winter in New York. He looked with keenness at Dickie's face. It was a
curiously charming face, he thought, but it was tight-knit with a
harried, struggling sort of look, and this in spite of its quaint
"Know any one in this city?"
"No, sir, not rightly. I've made acquaintance with some of the waiters.
They've asked me to join a club. But I haven't got the cash."
"What pay do you draw?"
Dickie named a sum.
"Not much, eh? But you've got your tips."
"Yes, sir. I pay my board with my pay and live on the tips."
"Must be uncertain kind of living! Where do you live, anyway?
They had crossed Washington Square and were entering a tall studio
building to the south and east. Dickie climbed lightly up the stairs.
Lorrimer followed with a feeling of bewilderment. On the top landing,
dimly lighted, Dickie unlocked a door and stood aside.
"Just step in and look up," he said, "afore I light the light. You'll
Lorrimer obeyed. A swarm of golden bees glimmered before his eyes.
"Stars," said Dickie. "Down below you wouldn't hardly know you had 'em,
Lorrimer did not answer. A moment later an asthmatic gas-jet caught its
breath and he saw a bare studio room almost vacant of furniture. There
was a bed and a screen and a few chairs, one window facing an alley wall.
The stars had vanished.
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