CHAPTERI.THEARRIVALOFVAL In northern Montana there lies a great, lonely stretch of prairie land, gashed
deep where flows the Missouri. Indeed, there are many such—big, impassive, impressiveintheirveryloneliness,insummergivenovertothewindsandthe meadow larks and to the shadows fleeing always over the hilltops. Wild range cattlefeedthereandgrowsleekandfatforthefallshippingofbeef.Atnightthe coyotes yap quaveringly and prowl abroad after the long-eared jack rabbits, whichbounceawayattheirhunger-drivenapproach.Inwinteritisnotgoodto bethere;eventhebeastsshrinkthenfromthebleak,levelreaches,andshunthe stillbleakerheights. Butmenwillliveanywhereifbysodoingthereismoneytobegained,andso a town snuggled up against the northern rim of the bench land, where the bleaknesswassoftenedabitbytheshelteringhills,andawillow-fringedcreek withwildrosebushesandchokecherriesmadeavividgreenbackgroundforthe meagerhuddleoflittle,unpaintedbuildings. Tothepassengersonthethroughtrainswhichwateredattheredtanknearthe creek,theplacelookedcrudelypicturesque—interesting,solongasonewasnot compelledtolivethereandcouldretainaperfectlyimpersonalviewpoint.After fiveortenminutesspenthiwatchingcuriouslytheonelittlestreet,withthelong hitchingpolesplantedfirmlyandfrequentlydownbothsides—usuallywithina very few steps of a saloon door—and the horses nodding and stamping at the flies,andtheloiteringfiguresthatappearednowandthenindesultoryfashion, manyofthemimaginedthattheyunderstoodtheWestandsympathizedwithit, andappreciateditsbignessanditsfreedomfromconventions. One slim young woman had just told the thin-faced school teacher on a vacation, with whom she had formed one of those evanescent traveling acquaintances,thatshealreadyknewtheWest,frominstinctandfromManley's letters.Shelovedit,shesaid,becauseManleylovedit,andbecauseitwastobe herhome,andbecauseitwassobigandsofree.Outhereonecouldthinkand growandreallylive,shedeclared,withenthusiasm.Manleyhadlivedherefor threeyears,andhisletters,shetoldthethin-facedteacher,wereaneducationin themselves. Theteacherhadalreadylearnedthattheslimyoungwoman,withtheyellowbrownhairandyellow-browneyestomatch,wasgoingtomarryManley—she
hadforgottenhisothername,thoughtheyoungwomanhadmentionedit—and would live on a ranch, a cattle ranch. She smiled with somewhat wistful sympathy,andhopedtheyoungwomanwouldbehappy;andtheyoungwoman wavedherhand,withthegloveonlyhalfpulledon,towardtheshadow-dappled prairieandthewillow-fringedcreek,andthehillsbeyond. “Happy!” she echoed joyously. “Could one be anything else, in such a country?Andthen—youdon'tknowManley,yousee.It'shorriblybadform,and undignified and all that, to prate of one's private affairs, but I just can't help bubblingover.I'mnotlookingforheaven,andIexpecttohaveplentyofbumpy places in the trail—trail is anything that you travel over, out here; Manley has coachedmefaithfully—but I'm going to be happy. My mind is quite madeup. Well,good-by—I'msogladyouhappenedtobeonthistrain,andIwishImight meetyouagain.Isn'titafunnylittledepot?Oh,yes—thankyou!Ialmostforgot thatumbrella,andImightneedit.Yes,I'llwritetoyou—Ishouldhatetodrop out of your mind completely. Address me Mrs. Manley Fleetwood, Hope, Montana.Good-by—Iwish—” Shetrailedoffdowntheaislewitheyesshining,inthewakeofthegrinning porter.Shehurrieddownthesteps,glancedhastilyalongtheplatform,upatthe car window where the faded little school teacher was smiling wearily down at her, waved her hand, threw a dainty little kiss, nodded a gay farewell, smiled vaguely at the conductor, who had been respectfully pleasant to her—and then shewaslookingattherearplatformoftherecedingtrainmechanically,notyet quiterealizingwhyitwasthatherheartwentheavysosuddenly.Sheturnedthen andlookedabout her in asurprised,inquiring fashion.Manley,itwouldseem, was not at hand to welcome her. She had expected his face to be the first she lookeduponinthattown,butshetriednottobegreatlyperturbedathisabsence; somanythingsmaydetainone. Atthatmomentayoungfellow,whoseclothesemphaticallyproclaimedhima cowboy,camediffidentlyuptoher,tiltedhishatbackwardaninchorso,andleft itthatway,therebyunconsciouslygivinghimselfanairofcandorwhichshould havebeenreassuring. “Fleetwood was detained. You were expecting to—you're the lady he was expecting,aren'tyou?” Shehadbeenlookingquestioninglyatherviolinboxandtwotrunksstanding on their ends farther down the platform, and she smiled vaguely without glancingathim. “Yes.Ihopeheisn'tsick,or—”
“I'lltakeyouovertothehotel,andgotellhimyou'rehere,”hevolunteered, somewhatcurtly,andpickedupherbag. “Oh, thank you.” This time her eyes grazed his face inattentively. She followedhimdowntheroughstepsofplankingandupanextremelydustyroad —one could scarcely call it a street—to an uninviting building with crooked windowsandahigh,falsefrontofunpaintedboards. Theyoungfellowopenedasaggingdoor,letherpassintoanarrowhallway, andfromthereintoastuffy,hopelesslyconventionalfifth-rateparlor,handedher the bag, and departed with another tilt of the hat which placed it at a different angle.Thesentencemeantforfarewellshedidnotcatch,forshewasstaringata wooden-faced portrait upon an easel, the portrait of a man with a drooping mustache,andporkycheeks,anddead-lookingeyes. “AndIexpectedbearskinrugs,andantlersonthewalls,andbigfireplaces!” she remarked aloud, and sighed. Then she turned and pulled aside a coarse curtain of dusty, machine-made lace, and looked after her guide. He was just disappearing into a saloon across the street, and she dropped the curtain precipitately, as if she were ashamed of spying. “Oh, well—I've heard all cowboysaremoreorlessintemperate,”sheexcused,againaloud. She sat down upon an atrocious red plush chair, and wrinkled her nose spitefully at the porky-cheeked portrait. “I suppose you're the proprietor,” she accused, “or else the proprietor's son. I wish you wouldn't squint like that. If I havetostopherelongerthantenminutes,Ishallcertainlyturnyoufacetothe wall.”Whereupon,withanothergrimace,sheturnedherbackuponitandlooked outofthewindow.Thenshestoodupimpatiently,lookedatherwatch,andsat downagainupontheredplushchair. “He didn't tell me whether Manley is sick,” she said suddenly, with some resentment.“Hewasawfullyabruptinhismanner.Oh,you—”Sherose,picked up an old newspaper from the marble-topped table with uncertain legs, and spreaditungentlyovertheportraitupontheeasel.Thenshewenttothewindow and looked out again. “I feel perfectly sure that cowboy went and got drunk immediately,”shecomplained,drummingpettishlyupontheglass.“AndIdon't supposehetoldManleyatall.” The cowboy was innocent of the charge, however, and he was doing his energeticbesttotellManley.Hehadgonestraightthroughthesaloonandinto thesmallroombehind,whereamanlaysprawleduponabedinonecorner.He wasasleep,andhisclotheswerewrinkledasifhehadlaintherelong.Hishead resteduponhisfoldedarms,andhewassnoringloudly.Theyoungfellowwent
upandtookhimroughlybytheshoulder. “Here! I thought I told you to straighten up,” he cried disgustedly. “Come alive! The train's come and gone, and your girl's waiting for you over to the hotel.D'youhear?” “Uh-huh!”Themanopenedoneeye,grunted,andcloseditagain. The other yanked him half off the bed, and swore. This brought both eyes open,glassywithwhiskyandsleep.Hesatwobblingupontheedgeofthebed, staringstupidly. “Can't you get anything through you?” his tormentor exclaimed. “You want your girl to find out you're drunk? You got the license in your pocket. You're supposedtogetsplicedthisevening—andlookatyou!”Heturnedandwentout tothebartender. “Why didn't you pour that coffee into him, like I told you?” he demanded. “We'vegottogethimsteadyonhispinssomehow!” The bartender was sprawled half over the bar, apathetically reading the sportingnewsofatornSundayeditionofanEasternpaper.Helookedupfrom underhiseyebrowsandgrunted. “How you going to pour coffee down a man that lays flat on his belly and won't open his mouth?” he inquired, in an injured tone. “Sleep's all he needs, anyway.He'llbeallrightbymorning.” Theothersnorteddissent.“He'llbeallrightbydark—orhe'llfeelawholelot worse,” he promised grimly. “Dig up some ice. And a good jolt of bromo, if you'vegotit—andatowelortwo.” Thebartenderwearilypushedthepapertooneside,reachedlanguidlyunder thebar,andlaidholdofaroundbluebottle.Yawninguninterestedly,hepoureda double portion of the white crystals into a glass, half filled another under the faucetofthewatercooler,andheldthemout. “Dumpthatintohim,then,”headvised.“It'llhelpsome,ifyougetitdown. What'sthesweattogethimmarriedoffto-day?Won'tthegirlwait?” “I never asked her. You pound up some ice and bring it in, will you?” The volunteer nurse kicked open the door into the little room and went in, hastily pouring the bromo seltzer from one glass to the other to keep it from foaming outofallbounds.Hispatientwasstillsittingupontheedgeofthebedwherehe hadlefthim,slumpedforwardwithhisheadinhishands.Helookedupstupidly, hiseyesbloodshotandswollenoflid. “'Sthetraincomeinyet?”heaskedthickly.“'Syou,isit,Kent?”
“The train's come, and your girl is waiting for you at the hotel. Here, throw thisintoyou—andforGod'ssake,braceup!Youmakemetired.Drinkherdown quick—thefoam'sgoodforyou.Here,youtakethestuffinthebottom,too.Got it? Take off your coat, so I can get at you. You don't look much like getting married,andthat'snojosh.” Fleetwoodshookhisheadwithdrunkengravity,andgroaned.“Ioughttobe killed. Drunk to-day!” He sagged forward again, and seemed disposed to shed tears.“She'llneverforgiveme;she—” Kentjerkedhimtohisfeetperemptorily.“Aw,lookhere!I'mtryingtosober youup.You'vegottodoyourpart—see?Here'ssomeiceinatowel—yougetit onyourhead.Openupyourshirt,soIcanbatheyourchest.Don'tdoanygood to blubber around about it. Your girl can't hear you, and Jim and I ain't sympathetic.Setdowninthischair,wherewecangetatyou.”Heenforcedhis commandwithsomevigor,andFleetwoodgroanedagain.Butheshednomore tears,andhegrewmomentarilymorelucid,asthetreatmenttookeffect. Thetearswerebeingshedinthestuffylittlehotelparlor.Theyoungwoman looked often at her watch, went into the hallway, and opened the outer door several times, meditating a search of the town, and drew back always with a timidflutteringofheartbecauseitwasallsocrudeandstrange,andthesaloons sonumerousandterrifyingintheirverybaldsimplicity. ShewasworriedaboutManley,andshewishedthatcowboywouldcomeout ofthesaloonandbringherlovertoher.Shehadneverdreamedofbeingtreated in this way. No one came near her—and she had secretly expected to cause somethingofaflutterinthislittletowntheycalledHope. Surely, young girls from the East, come out to get married to their sweethearts,weren'tsonumerousthattheyshouldbeignored.Iftherewereother people in the hotel, they did not manifest their presence, save by disquieting noisesmuffledbyinterveningpartitions. Shegrewthirsty,butshehesitatedtoexplorethedepthsofthisdrearyabode, in fear of worse horrors than the parlor furniture, and all the places of refreshment which she could see from the window or the door looked terribly masculineandunmoral,andasiftheydidnotknowthereexistedsuchthingsas icecream,orsoda,orsherbet. Itwasafteranhourofthisthatthetearscame,whichissayingagooddealfor hercourage.Itseemedto herthenthatManley mustbedead.Whatelsecould keep him so long away from her, after three years of impassioned longing writtentwiceaweekwithpunctiliousregularity?
He knew that she was coming. She had telegraphed from St. Paul, and had receivedajoyfulreply,lavishlyexpressedinseventeenwordsinsteadofthetenwordlimit.Andtheyweretohavebeenmarriedimmediatelyuponherarrival. That cowboy had known she was coming; he must also have known why Manleydidnotmeether,andshewishedfutilelythatshehadquestionedhim, instead of walking beside him without a word. He should have explained. He wouldhaveexplainedifhehadnotbeensoveryanxioustogetinsidethatsaloon andgetdrunk. She had always heard that cowboys were chivalrous, and brave, and fascinatingintheirpicturesquedare-deviltry,butfromthelonespecimenwhich shehadmet shecouldnotseethattheypossessedanyofthosequalities.Ifall cowboyswerelikethat,shehopedthatshewouldnotbecompelledtomeetany ofthem.Andwhydidn'tManleycome? Itwasthenthataninnerdoor—adoorwhichshehadwantedtoopen,buthad lacked courage—squeaked upon its hinges, and an ill-kept bundle of hair was thrust in, topping a weather-beaten face and a scrawny little body. Two faded, inquisitive eyes looked her over, and the woman sidled in, somewhat abashed, buttoocurioustoremainoutside. “Oh yes!” She seemed to be answering some inner question. “I didn't know you was here.” She went over and removed the newspaper from the portrait. “Thatbreedgirlofmineain'tgottheleastideaofhowtostraightenuparoom,” sheobservedcomplainingly.“Iguessshethinksthispicturewasmadetohang thingson.I'llhavetoroundherupagainandtellherafewthings.Thisismy first husband. He was in politics and got beat, and so he killed himself. He couldn'tstandtohavefolksgivehimthelaugh.”Shespokewithpride.“Hewas arealhandsomeman,don'tyouthink?Youmightatookoffthepaper;itdidn't belongthere,andhedoesbrightenuptheroom.Agoodpictureisrealcompany, seems to me. When my old man gets on the rampage till I can't stand it no longer, I come in here and set, and look at Walt. 'T ain't every man that's got nervetokillhimself—withashotgun.Itwasturrible!Hetookandtiedastring tothetrigger—” “Oh,please!” The landlady stopped short and stared at her. “What? Oh, I won't go into details—itwasawfulmessy,andthat'safact.Ididn'tgitoveritforacoupleof months.Hecouldakilledhimselfwithasix-shooter;it'salwaysbeenamystery whyhedugupthatoldshotgun,buthedid.Ialwaysthoughthewantedtoshow his nerve.” She sighed, and drew her fingers across her eyes. “I don't s'pose I
everwillgitoverit,”sheaddedcomplacently.“Itwasaturribleshock.” “Do you know,” the girl began desperately, “if Mr. Manley Fleetwood is in town?Iexpectedhimtomeetmeatthetrain.” “Oh!IkindathoughtyouwasManFleetwood'sgirl.Myname'sHawley.You goingtobemarriedto-night,ain'tyou?” “I—Ihaven'tseenMr.Fleetwoodyet,”hesitatedthegirl,andhereyesfilled againwithtears.“I'mafraidsomethingmayhavehappenedtohim.He—” Mrs. Hawley glimpsed the tears, and instantly became motherly in her manner.Sheevenwentupandpattedthegirlontheshoulder. “There,now,don'tyouworrynone.Man'sallright;Iseenhimatdinnertime. He was—” She stopped short, looked keenly at the delicate face, and at the yellow-browneyeswhichgazed backather,innocentofevil,trusting,wistful. “He spoke about your coming, and said he'd want the use of the parlor this evening,forthewedding.Ihadanideayouwascomingonthesix-twentytrain. Maybe he thought so, too. I never heard you come in—I was busy frying doughnutsinthekitchen—andIjusthappenedtocomeinhereaftersomething. You'doughtarappedonthatdoor.ThenI'd'a'knownyouwashere.I'llgoand havemyoldmanhunthimup.Hemustbearoundtownsomewheres.Likeasnot he'llmeetthesix-twenty,expectingyoutobeonit.” Shesmiledreassuringlyassheturnedtotheinnerdoor. “Youtakeoffyourhatandjacket,andprettysoonI'llshowyouuptoaroom. I'llhavetoroundupmyoldmanfirst—andthat'sliabletotaketime.”Sheturned hereyes quizzicallytotheporky-cheekedportrait.“YoujestletWaltkeepyou companytillIgetback.Hewasrealgoodcompanywhenhewaslivin'.” She smiled again and went out briskly, came back, and stood with her hand uponthecrackeddoorknob. “Icleanforgotyourname,”shehinted.“Mantoldme,atdinnertime,butI'm nogoodonearthatrememberingnamestillafterI'veseenthepersonitbelongs to.” “Valeria Peyson—Val, they call me usually, at home.” The homesickness of the girl shone in her misty eyes, haunted her voice. Mrs. Hawley read it, and spokemorebrisklythanshewouldotherwisehavedone. “Well, we're plumb strangers, but we ain't going to stay that way, because everytimeyoucometotownyou'llhavetostophere;thereain'tanyotherplace tostop.AndI'mgoingtostartrightincallingyouVal.Wedon'tusenoceremony withfolk'snames,outhere.Val'sarealnicename,shortandeasytosay.Mine's
Arline. You can call me by it if you want to. I don't let everybody—so many wantstocutitdowntoLeen,andIwon'tstandforthat;I'mleanenough,without havin'itthroweduptome.Wemightjestaswellstartinthewaywe'relikelyto keepitup,andyouwon'tfeelsomuchlikeastranger. “I'mawfulgladyou'regoingtosettlehere—thereain'tsoawfulmanywomen inthecountry;wehavetorakeandscrapetogitenoughforthreesetswhenwe have a dance—and more likely we can't make out more 'n two. D' you dance? Somebodysaidtheyseenafiddleboxdowntothedepot,withacoupleofbig trunks;d'youplaythefiddle?” “Alittle,”Valeriasmiledfaintly. “Well,that'llcomeinawfulhandyatdances.We'dhave'emrealofteninthe winter if it wasn't such a job to git music. Well, I got too much to do to be standin'heretalkin'.Ihavetokeeprightafterthatbreedgirlallthetime,orshe won't do nothing. I'll git my old man after your fellow right away. Jest make yourselftohome,andanythingyouwantaskforitinthekitchen.”Shesmiledin friendly fashion and closed the door with a little slam to make sure that it latched. Valeria stood for a moment with her hands hanging straight at her sides, staring absently at the door. Then she glanced at Walt, staring wooden-faced fromhisgiltframe uponhis gilteasel,andshivered. Shepushedtheredplush chairasfarawayfromhimaspossible,satdownwithherbacktothepicture, andimmediatelyfelthisdull,blackeyesboringintoherback. “What a fool I must be!” she said aloud, glancing reluctantly over her shoulderattheportrait.Shegotupresolutely,placedthechairwhereithadstood before, and stared deliberately at Walt, as if she would prove how little she cared.Butinamomentmoreshewascryingdismally.
CHAPTERII.WELL-MEANTADVICE Kent Burnett, bearing over his arm a coat newly pressed in the Delmonico restaurant,dodgedinatthebackdoorofthesaloon,threwthecoatdownupon thetousledbed,and pushedbackhishatwithagestureofreliefatanonerous dutywellperformed. “I had one hell of a time,” he announced plaintively, “and that Chink will likely try to poison me if I eat over there, after this—but I got her ironed, all right. Get into it, Man, and chase yourself over there to the hotel. Got a clean collar?Thatone'sall-overcoffee.” Fleetwood stifled a groan, reached into a trousers pocket, and brought up a dollar.“Getmeoneatthestore,willyou,Kent?Fifteenandahalf—andatie,if they've got any that's decent. And hurry! Such a triple-three-star fool as I am oughttobetakenoutandshot.” Hewentoncursinghimselfaudiblyandbitterly,evenafterKenthadhurried out.Hewassobernow—wasManleyFleetwood—soberandself-condemnatory and penitent. His head ached splittingly; his eyes were heavy-lidded and bloodshot,andhishandstrembledsothathecouldscarcelybuttonhiscoat.But hewassober.Hedidnotevencarrytheodorofwhiskyuponhisbreathorhis person;forKenthadbeenverythoughtfulandverythorough.Hehadcompelled hispatienttocrunchandswallowmanynauseoustabletsof“whiskykiller,”and he had sprinkled his clothes liberally with Jockey Club; Fleetwood, therefore, whileheemanatedodorsinplenty,carriedabouthimnoneofthearomaproperly belongingtointoxication. In ten minutes Kent was back, with a celluloid collar and two ties of questionabletaste.Manleyjustglancedatthem,wavedthemawaywithgloomy finality,andswore. “They're just about the limit, and that's no dream,” sympathized Kent, “but they're clean, and they don't look like they'd been slept in for a month. You've got to put 'em on—by George, I sized up the layout in both those imitation stores,andIdrewthehighestinthedeck.AndfortheLord'ssake,getamove on.Here,I'llbuttonitforyou.” BehindFleetwood'sback,whencollarandtiewereinplace,Kentgrinnedand loweredaneyelidatJim,whoputhisheadinfromthesaloontoseehowfarthe soberinghadprogressed.
“Youlookfine!”heencouragedheartily.“Thatgreen-and-bluetie'sjustwhat youneedtosetyouoff.Andthecollarsureisshinyandnice—yourgirlwillbe plumbdazzled.Shewon'tseeanythingwrong—believeme.Now,runalongand get married. Here, you better sneak out the back way; if she happened to be lookingout,she'dlikelywonderwhatyouweredoing,comingoutofasaloon. DuckoutpastthecoalshedandcutintothestreetbyBrinberg's.Tellheryou're sick—gotasickheadache.Yourlooks'llswearit'sthetruth.Hike!”Heopened thedoorandpushedFleetwoodout,watchedhimoutofsightaroundthecorner ofBrinberg'sstore,andturnedbackintotheclose-smellinglittleroom. “Do you know,” he remarked to Jim, “I never thought of it before, but I've been playing a low-down trick on that poor girl. I kinda wish now I'd put her next,andgivenherachancetodrawoutathegameifshewantedto.It'sstacking thedeckonher,ifyouaskme!”Hepushedhishatbackuponhishead,gavehis shoulders a twist of dissatisfaction, and told Jim to dig up some Eastern beer; drankitmeditatively,andsetdowntheglasswithsomeforce. “Yes,sir,”hesaiddisgustedly,“darnmyfoolsoul,Istackedthedeckonthat girl—andshelookedtoberealnice.Kindainnocentandtrusting,likeshehasn't found out yet how rotten mean men critters can be.” He took the bottle and pouredhimselfanotherglass.“She'ssureduetowiseupalot,”headdedgrimly. “You bet your sweet life!” Jim agreed, and then he reconsidered. “Still, I dunno;Manain'tsoworse.Heain'twhatyoucancallarealboozefighter.This here's what I'd call an accidental jag; got it in the exuberance of the joyful momentwhenheknewhisgirlwascoming.He'lllikelystraightenupandbeall right.He—”Jimbrokeoffthereandlookedtoseewhohadopenedthedoor. “Hello,Polly,”hegreetedcarelessly. Themancameforward,grinningskinnily.PolycarpJenkswastheoutrageous nameofhim.Hewasundertheaverageheight,andhewasleantothepointof emaciation.Hismouthwasabsolutelycurveless—astraightgashacrosshisface; a gash which simply stopped short without any tapering or any turn at the corners,whenithadreachedasfaraswasdecent.Hisnosewasalsostraightand high, and owned no perceptible slope; indeed, it seemed merely a pendant attached to his forehead, and its upper termination was indefinite, except that somewherebetweenhiseyebrowsonefeltimpelledtoconsideritforeheadrather than nose. His eyes also were rather long and narrow, like buttonholes cut to matchthemouth.Whenhegrinnedhisfaceappearedtobreakupintosplinters. He was intensely proud of his name, and his pleasure was almost pathetic whenonepronounceditwithoutcurtailmentinhispresence.Hisskinninesswas
alsoamatterofpride.Andwhenyourealizethathewasanindefatigablegossip, andseemedalwaystoberidingatlarge,gatheringorimpartingtrivialnews,you shouldknowfairlywellPolycarpJenks. “I see Man Fleetwood's might' near sober enough to git married,” Polycarp began, coming up to the two and leaning a sharp elbow upon the bar beside Kent.“Bygranny,gittingmarried'dsoberanybody!Dinnertimehewassodrunk hecouldn'tfindhismouth.Imethimupherealittlewaysjustnow,andhewas sosoberherememberedtopaymethattenIlenthimt'otherday—he-he!Open upabottleofpop,James. “Hisgirl'sbeenmight'nearcryinghereyesout,'causehedidn'tshowup.Mis' Hawleysaysshelookedlikeshewasdueatafuneral'stidofaweddin'.'Clined to be stuck up, accordin' to Mis' Hawley—shied at hearin' about Walt—he-he! I'll bet there ain't been a transient to that hotel in the last five year, man or woman,thatain'thadtohearaboutWaltandtheshotgun—Pop'sallrightona hotday,youbet! “She's got two trunks and a fiddle over to the depot—don't see how 'n the worldMan'sgoingtogit'emouttotheranch;they'remight'nearasbigasclaim shacks,bothof'em.Timeshegits'emintoMan'sshackshe'llhavetogooutside every time she wants to turn around—he-he! By granny—two trunks, to one woman!Havesomepop,Kenneth,onme. “Theboysaretalkin'aboutashivareet'-night.Onthequiet,y'know.Someof 'em'sworkin'onahorsefiddlenow,overinthelumberyard.Wantedmetoplay acoal-oilcan,butIdunno.I'mgittin'aleetleoldforsechdoings.Keepsyouup nights too much. Man had any sense, he'd marry and pull outa town. 'Bout fifteen or twenty in the bunch, and a string of cans and irons to reach clean acrossthestreet.Bygranny,I'mgoingtoplugm'earsgoodwithcottonwhenit comesoff—he-he!'Notherbottleofpop,James.” “Who'srunningtheshow,Polycarp?”Kentasked,acceptingtheglassofsoda becausehedislikedtooffend.“FunnyIdidn'thearaboutit.” Polycarptwistedhisslitofamouthknowingly,andclosedoneslitofaneyeto assistthefacialelucidation. “Ain'tfunny—not whenItellyouFred DeGarmo'shandingout the invites, andhesureaimstohaveplentyofexcitement—he-he!BetcherManleywon'tbe abletosetonthewagonseatan'holdthelinest'-morrow—notifhecomesout whenhe'scalledanddoesthethingproper—he-he!An'ifhedon'tshowup,they aimtojestaboutpulltheoldshebangdownoverhisears.Hope'llthinkit'sthe day of judgment, sure—he-he! Reckon I might's well git in on the fun—they
won'tbenosleepin'withintenmileoftheplace,nohow,andafelleralwayssees the joke better when he's lendin' a hand. Too bad you an' Fred's on the outs, Kenneth.” “Oh, I don't know—it suits me fine,” Kent declared easily, setting down his glasswithasighofrelief;hehated“pop.” “What's it all about, anyway?” quizzed Polycarp, hungering for the details which had thus far been denied him. “De Garmo sees red whenever anybody mentionsyourname,Kenneth—butIneverdidhearnoparticulars.” “No?”Kentwasturningtowardthedoor.“Well,yousee,Fredclaimshecan holler louder than I can, and I say he can't.” He opened the door and calmly departed,leavingPolycarplookingexceedinglyfoolishandabitangry. Straight to the hotel, without any pretense at disguising his destination, marched Kent. He went into the office—which was really a saloon—invited Hawleytodrinkwithhim,andthenwonderedaudiblyifhecouldbegsomepie fromMrs.Hawley. “Supper'llbereadyinafewminutes,”Hawleyinformedhim,glancingupat theround,dust-coveredclockscrewedtothewall. “Idon'twantsupper—Iwantpie,”Kentretorted,andopenedadoorwhichled into the hallway. He went down the narrow passage to another door, opened it withoutceremony,andwasassailedbytheodorofmanythings—theodorwhich spokeplainlyofsupper,orsomeotherassortmentoffood.Noonewasinsight, so he entered the dining room boldly, stepped to another door, tapped very lightly upon it, and went in. By this somewhat roundabout method he invaded theparlor. ManleyFleetwoodwaslyinguponanextremelyuncomfortablecouch,ofthe kindwhichiscalledasofa.Hehadalace-edgedhandkerchieffoldeduponhis brow, and upon his face was an expression of conscious unworthiness which struck Kent as being extremely humorous. He grinned understandingly and Manley flushed—also understandingly. Valeria hastily released Manley's hand andlookedveryprimandabithaughty,assheregardedtheintruderfromthered plushchair,pulledclosetothecouch. “Mr.Fleetwood'sheadisverybadyet,”sheinformedKentcoldly.“Ireallydo notthinkheoughttosee—anybody.” Kent tapped his hat gently against his leg and faced her unflinchingly, quite unconscious of the fact that she regarded him as a dissolute, drunken cowboy withwhomManleyoughtnottoassociate.
“That'stoobad.”Hiseyesfailedtodropguiltilybeforehers,butcontinuedto regardhercalmly.“I'monlygoingtostayaminute.Icametotellyouthatthere's a scheme to raise—to 'shivaree' you two, tonight. I thought you might want to pullout,alongaboutdark.” Manleylookedupathiminquiringlywiththeeyewhichwasnotcoveredby thelace-edgedhandkerchief.Valeriaseemedstartled,justatfirst.Thenshegave Kentalittleshockofsurprise. “Ihavereadaboutsuchthings.Acharivari,evenouthereinthisuncivilized sectionofthecountry,canhardlybedangerous.Ireallydonotthinkwecareto runaway,thankyou.”Herlipcurledunmistakably.“Mr.Fleetwoodissuffering fromasickheadache.Heneedsrest—notacowardlynightride.” NaturallyKentadmiredthespiritsheshowed,inspiteofthateloquentlip,the scornofwhichseemedaimeddirectlyathim.Buthestillfacedhersteadily. “Sure.ButifIhadaheadache—likethat—I'dcertainlyburntheearthgetting outatownto-night.Shivarees”—hestuckstubbornlytohisownwayofsayingit —“arebadforthehead.Theyaren'twhatyoucouldcallsilent—notoutherein thisuncivilizedsectionofthecountry.They'replumb—”Hehesitatedforjusta fractionofasecond,andhisresentmentofhertonemeltedintoatwinkleofthe eyes.“They'vegotfiftycoal-oilcansstrungwithironsonarope,andthere'llbe aboutninety-fivesix-shooterspopping,andeightortenhorse-fiddles,andthey'll all be yelling to beat four of a kind. They're going,” he said quite gravely, “to play the full orchestra. And I don't believe,” he added ironically, “it's going to helpMr.Fleetwood'sheadany.” Valerialookedathimdoubtinglywithsteady,amber-coloredeyesbeforeshe turned solicitously to readjust the lace-edged handkerchief. Kent seized the opportunitytostarefixedlyatFleetwoodandjerkhisheadmeaninglybackward, but when, warned by Manley's changing expression, she glanced suspiciously overhershoulder,Kentwasstandingquietlybythedoorwithhishatinhishand, gazingabsentlyatWaltinhisgilt-edgedframeuponthegilteasel,andwaiting, evidently,fortheirdecision. “IshalltellthemthatMr.Fleetwoodissick—thathehasahorribleheadache, andmustn'tbedisturbed.” Kentforgothimselfsofarastocoughslightlybehindhishand.Valeria'seyes sparkled. “Even out here,” she went on cuttingly, “there must be some men who are gentlemen!” Kentrefrainedfromlookingather,butthebloodcreptdarklyintohistanned
cheeks. Evidently she “had it in for him,” but he could not see why. He wonderedswiftlyifsheblamedhimforManley'scondition. Fleetwood suddenly sat up, spilling the handkerchief to the floor. When Valeriaessayedtopushhimbackheputherhandgentlyaway.Heroseandcame overtoKent. “Isthisstraightgoods?”hedemanded.“Whydon'tyoustopit?” “FredDeGarmo'srunningthisshow.Myinfluencewouldn'tgoasfar—” Fleetwood turned to the girl, and his manner was masterful. “I'm going out with Kent—oh, Val, this is Mr. Burnett. Kent, Miss Peyson. I forgot you two aren'tacquainted.” From Valeria's manner, they were in no danger of becoming friends. Her acknowledgmentwasbarelyperceptible.Kentbowedstiffly. “I'mgoingtoseeaboutthis,Val,”continuedFleetwood.“Oh,myhead'sbetter —alotbetter,really.Maybewe'dbetterleavetown—” “Ifyourheadisbetter,Idon'tseewhyweneedrunawayfromalotofsilly noise,” Valeria interposed, with merciless logic. “They'll think we're awful cowards.” “Well,I'lltryandfindout—Iwon'tbegoneaminute,dear.”Afterthatword, spokenbeforeanother,heappearedtobeingreathaste,andpushedKentrather unceremoniously through the door. In the dining room, Kent diplomatically includedthelandladyintheconference,byagestureofmuchmysterybringing herinfromthekitchen,whereshehadbeencuriouslypeepingoutatthem. “Gottoletherin,”hewhisperedtoManley,“tokeepherfaceclosed.” They murmured together for five minutes. Kent seemed to meet with some oppositionfromFleetwood—anaftermathofValeria'sobjectionstoflight—and becamebrutallydirect. “Go ahead—do as you please,” he said roughly. “But you know that bunch. You'll have to show up, and you'll have to set 'em up, and—aw, thunder! By morning you'll be plumb laid out. You'll be headed into one of your four-day jags,andyouknowit.Iwasthinkingofthegirl—butifyoudon'tcare,Iguess it'snoneofmyfuneral.Gotoit—butdarnedifI'dwanttostartmyhoneymoon outlikethat!” Fleetwoodweakened,butstillhehesitated.“IfIdidn'tshowup—”hebegan hopefully.ButKentwitteredhimwithalook. “Thatbunchwillbetwo-thirdsfullbeforetheystartout.Ifyoudon'tshowup, they'll go up and haul you outa bed—hell, Man! You'd likely start in to kill
somebodyoff.FredDeGarmodon'tloveyoumuchbetterthanhelovesme.You knowwhathimandhisfriendswoulddothen,Ishouldthink.”Hestopped,and seemedtoconsiderbrieflyaplan,butshookhisheadoverit.“Icouldroundupa bunchandstand'emoff,maybe—butwe'dbeshootingeachotherup,firstrattle ofthebox.It'sawholeloteasierforyoutogetoutatown.” “I'lltellsomebodyyougotthebridalchamber,”hissedArline,inaveryloud whisper.“That'snumbertwo,infront.Icankeepalightgoingandpassback'n' forthonceinawhile,tolooklikeyou'rethere.That'llfool'emgood.They'llwait tillthelight'sbeenoutquiteawhilebeforetheystartin.Yougoaheadandgit marriedatseven,jestasyouwasgoingto—andifKent'llhavetheteamready somewheres,Icaneasysneakyououtthebackway.” “I couldn't get the team out of town without giving the whole deal away,” Kentobjected.“You'llhavetogohorseback.”. “Valcan'tride,”Fleetwoodstated,asifthatsettledthematter. “Damnit,she'sgottoride!”snappedKent,losingpatience.“Unlessyouwant tostayandgoonatootthat'lllastaweek,mostlikely.” “ValbelongstotheW.C.T.U.,”shruggedFleetwood.“She'dnever—” “Well,it'sthatorhaveafightonyourhandsyoumaybecan'thandle.Idon't see any sense in haggling about going, now you know what to expect. But, of course,” he added, with some acrimony, “it's your own business. I don't know whatthedickensI'mgettingallworkedupoveritfor.Suityourself.”Heturned towardthedoor. “She could ride my Mollie—and I got a sidesaddle hanging up in the coal shed. She could use that, or a stock saddle, either one,” planned Mrs. Hawley anxiously.“Youbetterpullout,Man.” “Holdon,Kent!Don'trushoff—we'llgo,”Fleetwoodsurrendered.“Valwon't like it, but I'll explain as well as I can, without—Say! you stay and see us married,won'tyou?It'satseven,and—” Kent's fingers curled around the doorknob. “No, thanks. Weddings and funerals are two bunches of trouble I always ride 'way around. Time enough when you've got to be it. Along about nine o'clock you try and get out to the stockyards without letting the whole town see you go, and I'll have the horses there; just beyond the wings, by that pile of ties. You know the place. I'll wait there till ten, and not a minute longer. That'll give you an hour, and you won't needanymoretimethanthatifyougetdowntobusiness.Youfindoutfromher what saddle she wants, and you can tell me while I'm eating supper, Mrs. Hawley.I'll'tendtotherest.”Hedidnotwaittohearwhethertheyagreedtothe
plan, but went moodily down the narrow passage, and entered frowningly the “office.”Severalmenweregatheredthere,waitingthesuppersummons.Hawley glancedupfromwipingaglass,andgrinned. “Well,didyougitthepie?” “Naw.ShesaidI'dgottowaitformealtime.Sheplumbchasedmeout.” FredDeGarmo,sprawledinanarmchairandsmokingacigar,lazilyfanned thesmokecloudfrombeforehisfaceandlookedatKentattentively.
CHAPTERIII.ALADYINATEMPER To saddle two horses when the night has grown black and to lead them, unobserved,soshortadistanceastwohundredyardsorsoseemsasimplething; and for two healthy young people with full use of their wits and their legs to stealquietlyawaytowherethosehorsesarewaitingwouldseemquiteassimple. Atthesametime,topreventthesuccessfulaccomplishmentofthesethingsisnot difficult,ifonebutfullyunderstandsthedesignsofthefugitives. HawleyHoteldidaflourishingbusinessthatnight.Thetwolongtablesinthe diningroom,usuallynotmorethanhalffilledbythosewhohungeredandwere not over-nice concerning the food they ate, were twice filled to overflowing. Mrs.Hawleyandthe“breed”girlheldhastyconsultationsinthekitchenoverthe supply,andneverwastheresucharattlingofdisheshurriedlycleansedforthe nextcomer. Kent managed to find a chair at the first table, and eyed the landlady unobtrusively.ButFredDeGarmosatdownopposite,andhiseyeswerebright and watchful, so that there seemed no possible way of delivering a message undetected—until,indeed,Mrs.Hawleyindesperationresortedtostrategy,and urgedKentunnecessarilytotakeanothersliceofbacon. “Havesomemore—it'sside!”shehissedinhisear,andwatchedanxiouslyhis face. “Allright,”saidKent,andspearedaslicewithhisfork,althoughhisplatewas already well supplied with bacon. Then, glancing up, he detected Fred in a thoughtfulstarewhichseemedevenlydividedbetweenthelandladyandhimself. Kent was conscious of a passing, mental discomfort, which he put aside as foolish,becauseDeGarmocouldnotpossiblyknowwhatMrs.Hawleymeant. ToeasehismindstillfurtherheglaredinsolentlyatFred,andthenatPolycarp Jenkste-heeingafewchairsaway.Afterthathefinishedasquicklyaspossible withoutexcitingremark,andwenthisway. He had not, however, been two minutes in the office before De Garmo entered.FromthattimeonthroughthewholeeveningFredwasneverfardistant; whereverhewent,KentcouldnotshakehimoffthoughDeGarmoneverseemed topayanyattentiontohim,andhispresencewasalwaysapparentlyaccidental. “IreckonI'llhavetolickthatsonofagunyet,”sighedKent,whenaglanceat theroundclockinthehotelofficetoldhimthatinjusttwentyminutesitwould
strikenine;andnotamovemadetowardgettingthosehorsessaddledandoutto thestockyards. There was much talk of the wedding, which had taken place quietly in the parlor at theappointedhour,but notaman mentioned a charivari. Therewere manywhowishedopenlythatFleetwoodwouldcomeoutandbesociableabout it,butnotahintthattheyintendedtotakemeasurestobringhimamongthem. Hehadcausedaboxofcigarstobeplaceduponthebarofeverysaloonintown, wheremenmighthelp themselvesathisexpense.Evidentlyhehad considered that with the cigars his social obligations were canceled. They smoked the cigars,and,withthesamebreath,gossipedofhimandhisaffairs. At just fourteen minutes to nine Kent went out, and, without any attempt at concealment,hurriedtotheHawleystables.HalfaminutebehindhimtrailedDe Garmo,alsowithoutsubterfuge. Halfanhourlaterthebridalcouplestoleawayfromtherearofthehotel,and, keeping to the shadows, went stumbling over the uneven ground to the stockyards. “Here's the tie pile,” Fleetwood announced, in an undertone, when they reached the place. “You stay here, Val, and I'll look farther along the fence; maybethehorsesaredownthere.” Valeria did not reply, but stood very straight and dignified in the shadow of the huge pile of rotting railroad ties. He was gone but a moment, and came anxiouslybacktoher. “They'renothere,”hesaid,inalowvoice.“Don'tworry,dear.He'llcome—I knowKentBurnett.” “Are you sure?” queried Val sweetly. “From what I have seen of the gentleman, your high estimate of him seems quite unauthorized. Aside from escorting me to the hotel, he has been anything but reliable. Instead of telling you that I was here, or telling me that you were sick, he went straight into a saloonandforgotallaboutusboth.Youknowthat.Ifhewereyourfriend,why shouldheimmediatelybegincarousing,insteadof—” “Hedidn't,”Fleetwooddefendedweakly. “No?Thenperhapsyoucanexplainhisbehavior.Whydidn'thetellmeyou were sick? Why didn't he tell you I came on that train? Can you tell me that, Manley?” Manley,foraverygoodreason,couldnot;soheputhisarmsaroundherand triedtocoaxherintogoodhumor.
“Sweetheart,let'snotquarrelsosoon—why,we'reonlytwohoursmarried!I wantyoutobehappy,andifyou'llonlybebraveand—” “Brave!”Mrs.Fleetwoodlaughedrathercontemptuously,forabride.“Please tounderstand,Manley,thatI'mnotfrightenedintheleast.It'syouandthathorrid cowboy—I don't see why we need run away, like criminals. Those men don't intendtomurderus,dothey?”Hermoodsoftenedalittle,andshesqueezedhis armbetweenherhands.“Youdearoldsilly,I'mnotblamingyou.Withyourhead in such a state, you can't think things out properly, and you let that cowboy influenceyouagainstyourbetterjudgment.You'reafraidImightbeannoyed— but,really,Manley,thissillyideaofrunningawayannoysmemuchmorethan all the noise those fellows could possibly make. Indeed, I don't think I would mind—itwouldgivemeaglimpseoftherealWest;and,perhaps,iftheygrew tooboisterous,andIspoketothemandaskedthemnottobequitesorough— and,really,theyonlymeanitasasortofwelcome,intheircrudeway.Wecould invite some of the nicest in to have cake and coffee—or maybe we might get someicecreamsomewhere—anditmightturnoutaverypleasantlittleaffair.I don'tmindmeetingthem,Manley.Theworstofthemcan'tbeasbadasthat— but, of course, if he's your friend, I suppose I oughtn't to speak too freely my opinionofhim!” Fleetwood held her closely, patted her cheek absently, and tried to think of someeffectiveargument. “They'llbedrunk,sweetheart,”hetoldher,afterasilence. “Idon'tthinkso,”shereturnedfirmly.“Ihavebeenwatchingthestreetallthe evening.Isawanynumberofmenpassingbackandforth,andIdidn'tseeone who staggered. And they were all very quiet, considering their rough ways, which one must expect. Why, Manley, you always wrote about these Western menbeingsuchfinefellows,andsogenerousandbig-hearted,undertheirrough exterior.Yourletterswerefullofit—andhowchivalroustheyallaretowardnice women.” She laid her head coaxingly against his shoulder. “Let's go back, Manley. I —wanttoseeacharivari,dear.Itwillbefun.Iwanttowriteallaboutittothe girls.They'llbeperfectlywildwithenvy.”Shestruggledwithherconventional upbringing. “And even if some of them are slightly under the influence—of liquor, we needn't meet them. You needn't introduce those at all, and I'm sure theywillunderstand.” “Don'tbesilly,Val!”Fleetwooddidnotmeantoberude,butafaintglimmer ofherromanticviewpoint—aviewpointgainedchieflyfromcurrentfictionand
thestage—cametohimandcontrastedratherbrutallywiththereality.Hedidnot know how to make her understand, without incriminating himself. His letters had been rather idealistic, he admitted to himself. They had been written unthinkingly, because he wanted her to like this big land; naturally he had not been too baldly truthful in picturing the place and the people. He had passed lightlyovertheirfaultsandthrownthelimelightontheirvirtues;andsohehad aided unwittingly the stage and the fiction she had read, in giving her a false impression. Offended at his words and his tone, she drew away from him and glanced wistfullybacktowardthetown,asifshemeditatedahaughtyreturntothehotel. Sheendedbyseatingherselfuponaprojectingtie. “Oh,verywell,mylord,”sheretorted,“Ishalltryandnotbesilly,butmerely idiotic,asyouwouldhaveme.Youandyourfriend!”Shewasveryangry,but shewasperfectlywell-bred,shehoped.“IfImightventureaword,”shebegan again ironically, “it seems to me that your friend has been playing a practical jokeuponyou.Heevidentlyhasnointentionofbringinganyfleetsteedstous. Nodoubtheisatthismomentlaughingwithhisdissolutecompanions,because wearesittingouthereinthedarkliketwosillychickens!” “Ithinkhe'scomingnow,”Manleysaidratherstiffly.“Ofcourse,Idon'task youtolikehim;buthe'sputtinghimselftoagooddealoftroubleforus,and—” “Wastedeffort,sofarasIamconcerned,”Valeriaputin,withachirpyaccent whichwasexasperating,eventoabridegroomverymuchinlovewithhisbride. Inthedarknessthatmuffledtheland,savewheretheyellowflareoflampsin thelittletownmadeamistybrightness,cametheclickofshodhoofs.Another momentandaman,mounteduponawhitehorse,loomedindistinctbeforethem, seemingtotakesubstancefromthenight.Behindhimtrailedanotherhorse,and for the first time in her life Valeria heard the soft, whispering creak of saddle leather, the faint clank of spur chains, and the whir of a horse mouthing the “cricket”inhisbit.Eveninheranger,shewasconsciousofanansweringtingle ofblood,becausethiswaslifeintheraw—lifesuchasshehaddreamedofinthe tightswaddlingsofasmugcivilization,andhadlongedforintensely. Kentswungdownclosebesidethem,hisformindistinctbutpurposeful.“I'm late,Iguess,”heremarked,turningtoFleetwood.“Fredgotnext,somehow,and —Iwasdetained.” “Whereishe?”askedManley,goingupandlayingaquestioninghandupon thehorse,bythatmeansfullyrecognizingitasKent'sown. “Intheoatsbox,”saidKentlaconically.Heturnedtothegirl.“Icouldn'tget