Western Short Story
was standing pensively by the door, debating with himself the
advisability of going boldly over and claiming the first waltz with
the schoolma'am—and taking a chance on being refused—when Cal
Emmett gave him a vicious poke in the ribs by way of securing his
"Do yuh see that bunch uh red loco over there by the organ?" he wanted to know. "That's Bert Rogers' cousin from Iowa."
Weary looked and wilted against the wall. "Oh, Mamma!" he gasped.
"Ain't she a peach? There'll be more than one pair uh hands go into the air to-night. It's a good thing Len got the drop on me first or I'd be making seven kinds of a fool uh myself, chances is. Bert says she's bad medicine—a man-killer from away back.
"Say, she's giving us the bad-eye. Don't rubber like that, Weary; it ain't good manners, and besides; the schoolma'am's getting fighty, if I'm any judge."
Weary pulled himself together and tried to look away, but a pair of long blue eyes with heavy white lids drew him hypnotically across the room. He did not want to go; he did not mean to go, but the first he knew he was standing before her and she was smiling up at him just as she used to do. And an evil spell seemed to fall upon Weary, so that he thought one set of thoughts while his lips uttered sentences quite apart from his wishes. He was telling her, for instance, that he was glad to see her; and he was not glad. He was wishing the train which brought her to Montana had jumped the track and gone over a high cut-bank, somewhere.
She continued to smile up at him, and she called him Will and held out her hand. When, squirming inward protest, he took it, she laid her left hand upon his and somehow made him feel as if he were in a trap. Her left hand was soft and plump and cool, and it was covered with rings that gave flashes and sparkles of light when she moved, and her nails were manicured to a degree not often seen in Dry Lake. She drew her fingers caressingly over his hand and spoke to him in italics, in the way that had made many a man lose his head and say things extremely foolish. Her name was Myrtle Forsyth, as Weary had cause to remember.
"How strange to see you away out here," she murmured, and glanced to where the musicians were beginning to play little preparatory strains. "Have you forgotten how to waltz, Will? You used to dance so well!"
What could a man do after a hint as broad as that one? Weary held out his arm meekly, while mentally he was gnashing his teeth, and muttered something about her giving him a trial. And she slipped her hand under his elbow with a proprietary air that was not lost upon a certain brown-eyed young woman across the hall.
Weary had said some hard things to Myrtle Forsyth when he talked with her last, away back in Iowa; he had hoped to heaven he never would see her again. Now, she observed that he had not lost his good looks in grieving over her. She decided that he was even better looking; there was an air of strength and a self poise that was very becoming to his broad shoulders and the six feet two inches of his height. She thought, before the waltz was over, that she had made a mistake when she threw him over—a mistake which she ought to rectify at once.
Weary never knew how she managed it—in truth, he was not aware that she did it at all—but he seemed to dance a great many times with her of the long eyes and the bright auburn hair. The schoolma'am seemed always to be at the farther end of the room, and she appeared to be enjoying herself very much and to dance incessantly.
Once he broke away from Miss Forsyth and went and asked Miss Satterly for the next waltz; but she opened her big eyes at him and assured him politely that she was engaged. He tried for a quadrille, a two-step, a schottische—even for a polka, which she knew he hated; but the schoolma'am was, apparently, the most engaged young woman in Dry Lake that night.
So Weary owned himself beaten and went back to Miss Forsyth, who had been watching and learning many things and making certain plans. Weary danced with her once and took a fit of sulking, when he stood over by the door and smoked cigarettes and watched moodily the whirling couples. Miss Forsyth drifted to other acquaintances, which was natural; what was not so natural, to Weary's mind, was to see her sitting out a quadrille with the schoolma'am.
That did not look good to Weary, and he came near going over and demanding to know what they were talking about. He was ready to bet that Myrt Forsyte, with that smile, was up to some deviltry—and he wished he knew what. She reminded him somewhat of Glory when Glory was cloyed with peaceful living. He even told himself viciously that Myrt Forsyth had hair the exact shade of Glory's, and it came near giving him a dislike of the horse.
The conversation in the corner, after certain conventional subjects had been exhausted, came to Miss Forsyth's desire something like this: She said how she loved to waltz,—with the right partner, that is. Apropos the right partner, she glanced slyly from the end of her long eyes and remarked:
"Will—Mr. Davidson—is an ideal partner, don't you think? Are you—but of course you must be acquainted with him, living in the same neighborhood?" Her inflection made a question of the declaration.
"Certainly I am acquainted with Mr. Davidson," said Miss Satterly with just the right shade of indifference. "He does dance very well, though there are others I like better." That, of course, was a prevarication. "You knew him before tonight?"
Miss Forsyth laughed that sort of laugh which may mean anything you like. "Knew him? Why, we were en—that is, we grew up in the same town. I was so perfectly amazed to find him here, poor fellow."
"Why poor fellow?" asked Miss Satterly, the direct. "Because you found him? or because he is here?"
long eyes regarded her curiously. "Why, don't
Hasn't—hasn't it followed him?"
"I don't know, I'm sure," said the schoolma'am, calmly facing the stare. "If you mean a dog, he doesn't own one, I believe. Cowboys don't seem to take to dogs; they're afraid they might be mistaken for sheep-herders, perhaps—and that would be a disgrace."
Miss Forsyth leaned back and her eyes, half closed as they were, saw Weary away down by the door. "No, I didn't mean a dog. I'm glad if he has gotten quite away from—he's such a dear fellow! Even if he did—but I never believed it, you know. If only he had trusted me, and stayed to face— But he went without telling me goodbye, even, and we— But he was afraid, you see—"
Miss Satterly also glanced across to where Weary stood gloomily alone, his hands thrust into his pockets. "I really can't imagine Mr. Davidson as being afraid," she remarked defensively.
"Oh, but you don't understand! Will is physically brave—and he was afraid I— but I believed in him, always—even when—" She broke off suddenly and became prettily diffident. "I wonder why I am talking to you like this. But there is something so sympathetic in your very atmosphere—and seeing him so unexpectedly brought it all back—and it seemed as if I must talk to someone, or I should shriek." (Myrtle Forsyth was often just upon the point of "shrieking") "And he was so glad to see me—and when I told him I never believed a word— But you see, leaving the way he did—"
"Well," said Miss Satterly rather unsympathetically, "and how did he leave, then?"
Miss Forsyth twisted her watch chain and hesitated. "I really ought not to say a word—if you really don't know—what he did—"
"If it's to his discredit," said the schoolma'am, looking straight at her, "I certainly don't know. It must have been something awful, judging from your tone. Did he"—she spoke solemnly—"did he _mur-r_der ten people, old men and children, and throw their bodies into—a well?"
It is saying much for Miss Forsyth that she did not look as disconcerted as she felt. She did, however, show a rather catty look in her eyes, and her voice was tinged faintly with malice. "There are other crimes—beside—murder," she reminded. "I won't tell what it was—but—but Will found it necessary to leave in the night! He did not even come to tell me goodbye, and I have—but now we have met by chance, and I could explain—and so," she smiled tremulously at the schoolma'am, "I know you can understand—and you will not mention to anyone what I have told you. I'm tooimpulsive—and I felt drawn to you, somehow. I—I would die if I thought any harm could come to Will because of my confiding in you. A woman," she added pensively, "has so much to bear—and this has been very hard—because it was not a thing I could talk over—not even with my ownmother!" Miss Forsyth had the knack of saying very little that was definite, and implying a great deal. This method saved her the unpleasantness of retraction, and had quite as deep an effect is if she came out plainly. She smiled confidingly down at the schoolma'am and went off to waltz with Bert Rogers, apparently quite satisfied with what she had accomplished.
Miss Satterly sat very still, scarce thinking consciously. She stared at Weary and tried to imagine him a fugitive from his native town, and in spite of herself wondered what it was he had done. It must be something very bad, and she shrank from the thought. Then Cal Emmett came up to ask her for a dance, and she went with him thankfully and tried to forget the things she had heard.
Weary, after dancing with every woman but the one he wanted, and finding himself beside Myrtle Forsyth with a frequency that puzzled him, felt an unutterable disgust for the whole thing. After a waltz quadrille, during which he seemed to get her out of his arms only to find her swinging into them again, and smiling up at him in a way he knew of old, he made desperately for the door; snatched up the first gray hat he came to—which happened to belong to Chip—and went out into the dewy darkness.
It was half an hour before he could draw the hostler of the Dry Lake stable away from a crap game, and it was another half hour before he succeeded in overcoming Glory's disinclination for a gallop over the prairie alone.
But it was two hours before Miss Forsythe gave over watching furtively the door, and it was daylight before Chip Emmett found a gray hat under the water bench—a hat which he finally recognized as Weary's and so appropriated to his own use.