Western Short Story
that night Weary, his belongings stuffed hurriedly into the suit-case
he called his "war-bag," started home; so impatient he had
a childish desire to ride upon the engine so that he might arrive the
sooner, and failing that he spent much of his time lurching between
smoking car and tourist sleeper, unable to sit quietly in any place
for longer than ten minutes or so. In his coat pocket, where his
fingers touched it often, was a crumpled bit of sage-brush. Dry it
was, and the gray leaves were crumbling under the touch of his
homesick fingers, but the smell of it, aromatic and fresh and strong,
breathed of the plains he loved.
At Kalispell he went out on the platform and filled his lungs again and again with Montana air, that was clean of fog and had a nip to it. The sun shone, the sky was blue and the clouds reminded him of a band of new-washed sheep scattered and feeding quietly. The wind blew keen in his face and set his blood a-dance, his blood, which for long months had moved sluggishly in his veins.
At Shelby, a half-dozen cowboys galloped briefly into view as the train whizzed by down the valley, and Weary raised the car window and leaned far out to gaze after them with hungry eyes. He wanted to swing his hat and give a whoop that would get the last wisps of fog and gray murk out of his system—but there were other passengers already shivering and eyeing him in unfriendly fashion because of the open window. He wanted to get out and run and run bareheaded, over the bleak, brown hills; but he closed the window and behaved as well as he could.
The stars came out and winked at him just as they used to do when he sat on Meeker's front porch and listened to the schoolma'am singing softly in the hammock, her guitar tinkling a mellow undertone. It was too early now for the hammock to be swinging in the porch. School must be started again, though, and seeing the schoolma'am lived right there with her aunt Meeker, they weren't likely to hire another teacher.
He hoped Myrt Forsyth had gone back to Chadville where she belonged. He wished now that he had written to some of the boys and kept posted on what was happening. He had never sent back so much as a picture postal, and he had consequently not heard a word. But Weary's nature was ever hopeful except when he was extremely angry, and then he did not care much about anything. So now, he took it for granted things had gone along smoothly and that nothing would be changed.
* * * * *
Miss Satterly had just finished listlessly hearing the last spelling class recite, when she glanced through the window and saw Glory, bearing a familiar figure, race down the hill and whip into the school-house path. Her heart gave a flop, so that she caught at the desk to steady her and she felt the color go out of her face. Then her presence of mind returned so that she said "School's dismissed"—without going through the form of "Attention, turn, stand, pass."
The children eyed her curiously, hesitated and then rushed noisily out, and she sank down upon a bench and covered her face with her hands. It was queer that she could not seem to get hold of herself and be calm; it was disgraceful that she should tremble so. Outside she could hear them shouting, "Hello, Weary!" in a dozen different keys, and each time her blood jumped. Her eyes had not tricked her, then—though it was not the first time she had trembled to see a sorrel horse gallop down that hill, and then turned numb when came disillusionment. Would those children never start home? By degrees their shrill voices sounded further away, and the place grew still. But the schoolma'am kept her face covered.
Spurred heels clanked on the threshold, stopped there, and the door shut with a slam. But she did not look up; she did not dare.
Steps came down the room toward her—long, hurrying steps, determined steps. Close beside her they stopped, and for a space that seemed to her long minutes there was no sound.
"Say hello to me—won't you, Girlie?" said a wistful voice that thrilled to the tips of the schoolma'am's shaking fingers. She dropped her hands then, reluctantly. Her lips quivered as Weary had never before seen them do.
"Hello," she obeyed, faintly.
He stood for a moment, studying her face.
"Look up here, Schoolma'am," he commanded at last. "I hate to have my feet get so much attention. I've come back to fight it out—to a finish, this time. Yuh can't stampede me again—look up here. I've been plumb sick for a sight of those big eyes of yours."
Miss Satterly persisted in gazing at the boots of Weary.
"Well, are yuh going to?" There was a new, masterful note in Weary's voice, that the schoolma'am felt but did not quite understand—then. She did not, perhaps, realize how plainly her whole attitude spoke surrender.
Weary waited what seemed to him a reasonable time, but her lashes drooped lower, if anything. Then he made one of the quick, unlooked-for moves which made him a master of horses. Before she quite knew what was occurring, the schoolma'am was upon her feet and snuggled close in Weary's eager arms. More, he had a hand under her chin, her face was tilted back and he was smiling down into her wide, startled eyes.
"I didn't burn a streak a thousand miles long in the atmosphere, getting back here, to be scared out now by a little woman like you," he remarked, and tucked a stray, brown lock solicitously behind her ear. Then he bent and kissed her deliberately upon the mouth.
"Now, say you're my little schoolma'am. Quick, before I do it again." He threatened with his lips, and he looked as if he were quite anxious to carry out his threat.
"I'm your—" the schoolma'am hid her face from him. "Oh, Will! Whatever made you go off like that, and I—I nearly died wanting to see you—"
Weary laid his cheek very tenderly against hers, and held her close. No words came to either, just then.
"What if I'd kept on being a fool—and hadn't come back at all, Girlie?" he asked softly, after a while.
The schoolma'am shuddered eloquently in his arms.
"It was sure lonesome—it was hell out there alone," he observed, reminiscently.
"It was sure—h-hell back here alone, too," murmured a smothered voice which did not sound much like the clear, self-assertive tones of Miss Satterly.
"Well, it come near serving you right," Weary told her, relishfully grinning over the word she used.
"What made yuh chase me off?"
"I—don't know; I—"
"I guess yuh don't, all right," agreed Weary, giving a little squeeze by way of making quite sure he had her there. "Say, what was that yarn Myrt Forsyth told yuh about me?"
"I—I don't know. She—she hinted a lot—"
"I expect she did—that's Myrt, every rattle uh the box," Weary cut in dryly.
"And she—she said you had to leave home—in the night—"
"Oh, she did, eh? Well, Girlie, if the time-table hasn't changed, Miss Myrt Forsyth sneaked off the same way. The train west leaves—or did leave—Chadville along about midnight, so—Say, it feels good to be back, little schoolma'am. You don't know how good—"
"I guess I do," cried the schoolma'am very emphatically. "I just guess I know something about that, myself. Oh you dear, great, tall—"
Something happened just then to the schoolma'am's lips, so that she could not finish the sentence.