Western Short Story
clattered up to the school-house door to find it erupting divers
specimens of young America—by adoption, some of them. He greeted
each one cheerfully by name and waited upon his horse in the shade.
Close behind the last sun-bonnet came Miss Satterly, key in hand. Evidently she had no intention of lingering, that night; Weary smiled down upon her tentatively and made a hasty guess as to her state of mind—a very important factor in view of what he had come to say.
"It's awful hot, Schoolma'am; if I were you I'd wait a while—till the sun lets up a little."
To his unbounded surprise, Miss Satterly calmly sat down upon the doorstep. Weary promptly slid out of the saddle and sat down beside her, thankful that the step was not a wide one. "You've been unmercifully hard to locate since the dance," he complained. "I like to lost my job, chasing over this way, when I was supposed to be headed another direction. I came by here last night at five minutes after four, and you weren't in sight anywhere; was yesterday a holiday?"
"You probably didn't look in the window," said the schoolma'am. "I was writing letters here till after five."
"With the door shut and locked?"
"The wind blew so," explained Miss Satterly, lamely. "And that lock—"
"First I knew of the wind blowing yesterday. It was as hot as the hubs uh he—as blue blazes when I came by. There weren't any windows up, even—I hope you was real comfortable."
"Perfectly," she assured him.
"I'll gamble yuh were! Well, and where were yuh cached last Sunday?"
"Nowhere. I went with Bert and Miss Forsyth up in the mountains. We took our lunch and had a perfectly lovely time."
"I'm glad somebody had a good time. I got away at nine o'clock and came over to Meeker's—and you weren't there; so I rode the rim-rocks till sundown, trying to locate yuh. It's easier hunting strays in the Bad Lands."
Miss Satterly seemed about to speak, but she changed her mind and gazed at the coulee-rim.
"It's hard to get away, these days," Weary went on explaining. "I wanted to come before the dance, but we were gathering some stuff out the other way, and I couldn't. The Old Man is shipping, yuh see; we're holding a bunch right now, waiting for cars. I got Happy Jack to stand herd in my place, is how I got here."
The schoolma'am yawned apologetically into her palm. Evidently she was not greatly interested in the comings and goings of Weary Davidson.
"How did yuh like the dance?" he asked, coming to the subject that he knew was the vital point.
"Lovely," said the schoolma'am briefly, but with fervor.
"Different here," asserted Weary. "I drifted, right before supper."
"Did you?" Miss Satterly accented the first word in a way she taught her pupils indicated surprise. "I don't reckon you noticed it. You were pretty busy, about then."
Miss Satterly laughed languid assent.
"I never knew before that Bert Rogers was any relation of Myrt Forsyth," observed Weary, edging still nearer the vital point. "They sure aren't much alike."
"You used to know her?" asked Miss Satterly, politely.
"Well, I should say yes. I used to go to school with Myrt. How do you like her?"
"Lovely," said Miss Satterly, this time without fervor.
Weary began digging a trench with his spurs. He wished the schoolma'am would not limit herself so rigidly to that one adjective. It became unmeaning with much use, so that it left a fellow completely in the dark.
"Just about everybody says that about her—at first," he remarked.
"Did you?" she asked him, still politely.
"I did a heap worse than that," said Weary, grimly determined. "I had a bad case of calf-love and made a fool uh myself generally."
"What fun!" chirped the schoolma'am with an unconvincing little laugh.
"Not for me, it wasn't. Whilst I had it I used to pack a lock uh that red hair in my breast pocket and heave sighs over it that near lifted me out uh my boots. Oh, I was sure earnest! But she did me the biggest favor she could; a slick-haired piano-tuner come to town and she turned me down for him. I was plumb certain my heart was busted wide open, at the time, though." Weary laughed reminiscently.
"She said—I think you misunderstood her. She appears to—" Miss Satterly, though she felt that she was being very generous, did not quite know how to finish.
on your life! It was the first time I ever did understand Myrt.
When I left there I wasn't doing any guessing."
"You shouldn't have left," she told him suddenly; gripping her courage at this bold mention of his flight. How she wished she knew why he left.
"Oh, I don't know. It was about the only thing I could do, at the time—the only thing, that is, that I wanted to do. It seemed like I couldn't get away fast enough." It was brazen of him, she thought, to treat it all so coolly. "And out here," he added thoughtfully, "I could get the proper focus on Myrt—which I couldn't do back there."
"Not in this case," he interrupted. "It's when you're right with Myrt that she kinda hypnotizes yuh into thinking what she wants yuh to think." He was remembering resentfully the dance.
"But to sneak away—"
"That's a word I don't remember was ever shot at me before," said Weary, the blood showing through the skin on his cheeks. "If that damned Myrt has been telling yuh—"
"I didn't think you would speak like that about a woman, Mr. Davidson," said the schoolma'am with disapproval in her tone; and the disapproval not going very deep, there was the more of it upon the surface.
"I suppose it gives evidence of a low, brutal trait in my nature, that you hoped I couldn't harbor," acceded Weary meekly.
"It does," snapped the schoolma'am, her cheeks hot. If she had repented her flare of temper over the gopher, she certainly did not intend letting him know it too soon. She seemed inclined to discipline him a bit.
smoked silently and raked up the sun-baked soil with his spurs.
"How long is Myrt going to stay?" he ventured at last.
"I never asked her," she retorted. "You ought to know—you probably have seen her last." The schoolma'am blundered, there.
Weary drew a sigh of relief; if she were jealous, it must mean that she cared. "That's right. I saw her last night," he stated calmly.
Miss Satterly sat more erect, if that were possible. She had not known of this last meeting, and she had merely shot at random, anyway.
"At least," he amended, watching her from the corner of his eye, "I saw a woman and a man ride over the hill back of Denson's, last night. The man was Bert, and the woman had red hair; I took it to be Myrt."
"You surely should be a good judge," remarked Miss Satterly, irritated because she knew he was teasing.
Weary was quick to read the signs. "What did you mean, a while back, about me sneaking away from Chadville? And how did yuh happen to have your dances booked forty-in-advance, the other night? And what makes yuh so mean to me, lately? And will yuh take a jaunt over Eagle Butte way with me next Sunday—if I can get off?"
The schoolma'am, again feeling herself mistress of the situation, proceeded with her disciplining. She smiled, raised one hand and checked off the questions upon her fingers. You never would guess how oddly her heart was behaving—she looked such a self-possessed young woman.
"I'll begin at the last one and work backward," she said, calmly. "And I must hurry, for aunt Meeker hates to keep supper waiting. No, I will not go for a jaunt over Eagle Butte way next Sunday. I have other plans; if I hadn't other plans I still would not go. I hope this is quite plain to you?"
"Oh, it's good and plain," responded Weary. "But for the Lord's sake don't take up that talking in italics like Myrt does. I can't stand this bearing down hard on every other word. It sets my teeth all on edge."
The schoolma'am opened her eyes wider. Was it possible Weary was acquiring an irritable temper? "Second," she went on deliberately, "I do not consider that I have been mean to you; and if I have it is because I choose to be so."
Weary, observing a most flagrant accent, shut his lips rather tightly together.
"Third—let me see. Oh, that about the dances; I can only say that we women, as a means of self-defence, claim the privilege of effacing undesirable, would-be partners by a certain form of rejection, which eliminates the necessity of going into unpleasant details, and—er—lets the fellow down easy." The schoolma'am's emphasis and English seemed to collapse together, but Weary did not notice that.
"I'm sure grateful to be let down easy," he said softly, without looking up; his head was bent so that his hat quite concealed from the schoolma'am his face, but if she had known him longer, perhaps she would have gone carefully after that.
"As to your sneaking away from—wherever it was—surely, you ought to know about that better than I do. One must go far to outdistance dishonor, for a man's misdeeds are sure to follow him, soon or late. I will not go into details—but you understand what I mean."
"No," said Weary, still with bent head, "I'll be darned if I do. And if I did, I know about where to locate the source of all the information you've loaded up on. Things were going smooth as silk till Myrt Forsyth drifted out here—the red-headed little devil!"
"Mr. Davidson!" cried the schoolma'am, truly shocked.
"Oh, I'm revealing some more low, brutal instincts, I expect I'm liable to reveal a lot more if I hang around much longer." He stopped, as if there was more he wanted to say, and was doubtful of the wisdom of saying it.
"I came over to say something—something particular—but I've changed my mind. I guess yuh haven't much time to listen, and I don't believe it would interest yuh as much as I thought it would—a while back. You just go ahead and make a bosom friend uh Myrt Forsyth, Schoolma'am, and believe every blamed lie she tells yuh. I won't be here to argue the point. Looks to me like I'm about due to drift."
Miss Satterly, dumb with fear of what his words might mean, sat stiffly while Weary got up and mounted Glory in a business like manner that was extremely disquieting.
"I wish you could a cared, Girlie," he said with a droop of his unsmiling mouth and a gloom in his eyes when he looked at her. "I was a chump, I reckon, to ever imagine yuh could. Good-bye—and be good to—yourself." He leaned to one side, swung backward his feet and Glory, obeying the signal, wheeled and bounded away.
Miss Satterly watched him gallop up the long slope and the pluckety pluckety of Glory's fleeing feet struck heavy, numbing blows upon her heart. She wondered why she had refused to ride with him, when she did want to go—she did. And why had she been so utterly hateful, after waiting and watching, night after night, for him to come?
And just how much did he mean by being due to drift? He couldn't be really angry—and what was he going to say—the thing he changed his mind about. Was it—Well, he would come again in a few days, and then—