Her Prairie Knight by B.M. Bower
Chapter 4. Beatrice Learns a New Language.
"D'you want to see the boys work a bunch of cattle, Trix?" Dick said to her, when she came down to where he was leaning against a high board fence, waiting for her.
"'Deed I do, Dicky--only I've no idea what you mean."
"The boys are going to cut out some cattle we've contracted to the government--for the Indians, you know. They're holding the bunch over in Dry Coulee; it's only three or four miles. I've got to go over and see the foreman, and I thought maybe you'd like to go along."
"There's nothing I can think of that I would like better. Won't it be fine, Sir Redmond?"
Sir Redmond did not say whether he thought it would be fine or not. He still had the white streak around his mouth, and he went through the gate and on to the house without a word--which was undoubtedly a rude thing to do. Sir Redmond was not often rude. Dick watched him speculatively until he was beyond hearing them. Then, "What have you done to milord, Trix?" he wanted to know.
"Nothing," said Beatrice.
"Well," Dick said, with decision, "he looks to me like a man that has been turned down--hard. I can tell by the back of his neck."
This struck Beatrice, and she began to study the retreating neck of her suitor. "I can't see any difference," she announced, after a brief scrutiny.
"It's rather sunburned and thick."
"I'll gamble his mind is a jumble of good English oaths--with maybe a sprinkling of Boer maledictions. What did you do?"
"Nothing--unless, perhaps, he objects to being disciplined a bit. But I also object to being badgered into matrimony--even with Sir Redmond."
"Even with Sir Redmond!" Dick whistled. "He's 'It,' then, is he?"
Beatrice had nothing to say. She walked beside Dick and looked at the ground before her.
"He doesn't seem a bad sort, sis, and the title will be nice to have in the family, if one cares for such things. Mother does. She was disappointed, I take it, that Wiltmar was a younger son."
"Yes, she was. She used to think that Sir Redmond might get killed down there fighting the Boers, and then Wiltmar would be next in line. But he didn't, and it was Wiltmar who went first. And now oh, it's humiliating, Dick! To be thrown at a man's head--" Tears were not far from her voice just then.
"I can see she wants you to nab the title. Well, sis, if you don't care for the man--"
"I never said I didn't care for him. But I just can't treat him decently, with mama dinning that title in my ears day and night. I wish there wasn't any title. Oh, it's abominable! Things have come to that point where an American girl with money is not supposed to care for an Englishman, no matter how nice he may be, if he has a title, or the prospect of one. Every one laughs and thinks it's the title she wants; they'd think it of me, and they'd say it. They would say Beatrice Lansell took her half-million and bought her a lord. And, after a while, perhaps Sir Redmond himself would half-believe it--and I couldn't bear that! And so I am--unbearably flippant and--I should think he'd hate me!"
"So you reversed the natural order of things, and refused him on account of the title?" Dick grinned surreptitiously.
"No, I didn't--not quite. I'm afraid he's dreadfully angry with me, though. I do wish he wasn't such a dear."
"You're the same old Trix. You've got to be held back from the trail you're supposed to take, or you won't travel it; you'll bolt the other way. If everybody got together and fought the notion, you would probably elope with milord inside a week. Mother means well, but she isn't on to her job a little bit. She ought to turn up her nose at the title."
"No fear of that! I've had it before my eyes till I hate the very thought of it. I--I wish I could hate him." Beatrice sighed deeply, and gave her hand to Dorman, who scurried up to her.
"I'll have the horses saddled right away," said Dick, and left them.
"Where you going, Be'trice? You going to ride a horse? I want to, awf'lly."
"I'm afraid you can't, honey; it's too far." Beatrice pushed a yellow curl away from his eyes with tender, womanly solicitude.
"Auntie won't care, 'cause I'm a bother. Auntie says she's goin' to send for Parks. I don't want Parks; 'sides, Parks is sick. I want a pony, and some ledder towsers wis fringes down 'em, and I want some little wheels on my feet. Mr. Cam'ron says I do need some little wheels, Be'trice."
"Did he, honey?"
"Yes, he did. I like Mr. Cam'ron, Be'trice; he let me ride his big, high pony. He's a berry good pony. He shaked hands wis me, Be'trice--he truly did."
"Did he, hon?" Beatrice, I am sorry to say, was not listening. She was wondering if Sir Redmond was really angry with her--too angry, for instance, to go over where the cattle were. He really ought to go, for he had come West in the interest of the Eastern stockholders in the Northern Pool, to investigate the actual details of the work. He surely would not miss this opportunity, Beatrice thought. And she hoped he was not angry.
"Yes, he truly did. Mr. Cam'ron interduced us, Be'trice. He said, 'Redcloud, dis is Master Dorman Hayes. Shake hands wis my frien' Dorman.' And he put up his front hand, Be'trice, and nod his head, and I shaked his hand. I dess love that big, high pony, Be'trice. Can I buy him, Be'trice?"
"Can I buy him wis my six shiny pennies, Be'trice?"
"Mr. Cam'ron lives right over that hill, Be'trice. He told me."
"Did he, hon?"
"Yes, he did. He 'vited me over, Be'trice. He's my friend, and I've got to buy my big, high pony. I'll let you shake hands wis him, Be'trice. I'll interduce him to you. And I'll let you ride on his back, Be'trice. Do you want to ride on his back?"
Before Beatrice had time to commit herself they reached the house, and she let go Dorman's hand and hurried away to get into her riding-habit.
Dorman straightway went to find his six precious, shiny pennies, which Beatrice had painstakingly scoured with silver polish one day to please the little tyrant, and which increased their value many times--so many times, in fact, that he hid them every night in fear of burglars. Since he concealed them each time in a different place, he was obliged to ransack his auntie's room every morning, to the great disturbance of Martha, the maid, who was an order-loving person.
Martha appeared just when he had triumphantly pounced upon his treasure rolled up in the strings of his aunt's chiffon opera-bonnet.
"Mercy upon us, Master Dorman! Whatever have you been doing?"
"I want my shiny pennies," said the young gentleman, composedly unwinding the roll, "to buy my big, high pony."
"Naughty, naughty boy, to muss my lady's fine bonnet like that! Look at things scattered over the floor, and my lady's fine handkerchiefs and gloves " Martha stopped and meditated whether she might dare to shake him.
Dorman was laboriously counting his wealth, with much wrinkling of stubby nose and lifting of eyebrows. Having satisfied himself that they were really all there, he deigned to look around, with a fine masculine disdain of woman's finery.
"Oh, dose old things!" he sniffed. "I always fordet where I put my shiny pennies. Robbers might find them if I put them easy places. I'm going to buy my big, high pony, and you can't shake his hand a bit, Martha."
"Well, I'm sure I don't want to!" Martha snapped back at him, and went down on all fours to gather up the things he had thrown down. "Whatever Parks was thinking of, to go and get fever, when she was the only one that could manage you, I don't know! And me picking up after you till I'm fair sick!"
"I'm glad you is sick," he retorted unfeelingly, and backed to the door. "I hopes you get sicker so your stummit makes you hurt. You can't ride on my big, high pony."
"Get along with you and your high pony!" cried the exasperated Martha, threatening with a hairbrush. Dorman, his six shiny pennies held fast in his damp little fist, fled down the stairs and out into the sunlight.
Dick and Beatrice were just ready to ride away from the porch. "I want to go wis you, Uncle Dick." Dorman had followed the lead of Beatrice, his divinity; he refused to say Richard, though grandmama did object to nicknames.
"Up you go, son. You'll be a cow-puncher yourself one of these days. I'll not let him fall, and this horse is gentle." This last to satisfy Dorman's aunt, who wavered between anxiety and relief.
"You may ride to the gate, Dorman, and then you'll have to hop down and run back to your auntie and grandma. We're going too far for you to-day." Dick gave him the reins to hold, and let the horse walk to prolong the joy of it.
Dorman held to the horn with one hand, to the reins with the other, and let his small body swing forward and back with the motion of the horse, in exaggerated imitation of his friend, Mr. Cameron. At the gate he allowed himself to be set down without protest, smiled importantly through the bars, and thrust his arm through as far as it would reach, that he might wave good-by. And his divinity smiled back at him, and threw him a kiss, which pleased him mightily.
"You must have hurt milord's feelings pretty bad," Dick remarked. "I couldn't get him to come. He had to write a letter first, he said."
"I wish, Dick," Beatrice answered, a bit petulantly, "you would stop calling him milord."
"Milord's a good name," Dick contended. "It's bad enough to 'Sir' him to his face; I can't do it behind his back, Trix. We're not used to fancy titles out here, and they don't fit the country, anyhow. I'm like you--I'd think a lot more of him if he was just a plain, everyday American, so I could get acquainted enough to call him 'Red Hayes.' I'd like him a whole lot better."
Beatrice was in no mood for an argument--on that subject, at least. She let Rex out and raced over the prairie at a gait which would have greatly shocked her mother, who could not understand why Beatrice was not content to drive sedately about in the carriage with the rest of them.
When they reached the round-up Keith Cameron left the bunch and rode out to meet them, and Dick promptly shuffled responsibility for his sister's entertainment to the square shoulders of his neighbor.
"Trix wants to wise up on the cattle business, Keith. I'll just turn her over to you for a-while, and let you answer her questions; I can't, half the time. I want to look through the bunch a little."
Keith's face spoke gratitude, and spoke it plainly. The face of Beatrice was frankly inattentive. She was watching the restless, moving mass of red backs and glistening horns, with horsemen weaving in and out among them in what looked to her a perfectly aimless fashion--until one would wheel and dart out into the open, always with a fleeing animal lumbering before. Other horsemen would meet him and take up the chase, and he would turn and ride leisurely back into the haze and confusion. It was like a kaleidoscope, for the scene shifted constantly and was never quite the same.
Keith, secure in her absorption, slid sidewise in the saddle and studied her face, knowing all the while that he was simply storing up trouble for himself. But it is not given a man to flee human nature, and the fellow who could sit calmly beside Beatrice and not stare at her if the opportunity offered must certainly have the blood of a fish in his veins. I will tell you why.
Beatrice was tall, and she was slim, and round, and tempting, with the most tantalizing curves ever built to torment a man. Her hair was soft and brown, and it waved up from the nape of her neck without those short, straggling locks and thin growth at the edge which mar so many feminine heads; and the sharp contrast of shimmery brown against ivory white was simply irresistible. Had her face been less full of charm, Keith might have been content to gaze and gaze at that lovely hair line. As it was, his eyes wandered to her brows. also distinctly marked, as though outlined first with a pencil in the fingers of an artist who understood. And there were her lashes, dark and long, and curled up at the ends; and her cheek, with its changing, come-and-go coloring; her mouth, with its upper lip creased deeply in the middle--so deeply that a bit more would have been a defect--and with an odd little dimple at one corner; luckily, it was on the side toward him, so that he might look at it all he wanted to for once; for it was always there, only growing deeper and wickeder when she spoke or laughed. He could not see her eyes, for they were turned away, but he knew quite well the color; he had settled that point when he looked up from coiling his rope the day she came. They were big, baffling, blue-brown eyes, the like of which he had never seen before in his life--and he had thought he had seen every color and every shade under the sun. Thinking of them and their wonderful deeps and shadows, he got hungry for a sight of them. And suddenly she turned to ask a question, and found him staring at her, and surprised a look in his eyes he did not know was there.
For ten pulse-beats they stared, and the cheeks of Beatrice grew red as healthy young blood could paint them; Keith's were the same, only that his blood showed darkly through the tan. What question had been on her tongue she forgot to ask. Indeed, for the time, I think she forgot the whole English language, and every other--but the strange, wordless language of Keith's clear eyes.
And then it was gone, and Keith was looking away, and chewing a corner of his lip till it hurt. His horse backed restlessly from the tight-gripped rein, and Keith was guilty of kicking him with his spur, which did not better matters. Redcloud snorted and shook his outraged head, and Keith came to himself and eased the rein, and spoke remorseful, soothing words that somehow clung long in the memory of Beatrice.
Just after that Dick galloped up, his elbows flapping like the wings of a frightened hen.
"Well, I suppose you could run a cow outfit all by yourself, with the knowledge you've got from Keith," he greeted, and two people became even more embarrassed than before. If Dick noticed anything, he must have been a wise young man, for he gave no sign.
But Beatrice had not queened it in her set, three seasons, for nothing, even if she was capable of being confused by a sweet, new language in a man's eyes. She answered Dick quietly.
"I've been so busy watching it all that I haven't had time to ask many questions, as Mr. Cameron can testify. It's like a game, and it's very fascinating--and dusty. I wonder if I might ride in among them, Dick?"
"Better not, sis. It isn't as much fun as it looks, and you can see more out here. There comes milord; he must have changed his mind about the letter."
Beatrice did not look around. To see her, you would swear she had set herself the task of making an accurate count of noses in that seething mass of raw beef below her. After a minute she ventured to glance furtively at Keith, and, finding his eyes turned her way, blushed again and called herself an idiot. After that, she straightened in the saddle, and became the self-poised Miss Lansell, of New York.
Keith rode away to the far side of the herd, out of temptation; queer a man never runs from a woman until it is too late to be a particle of use. Keith simply changed his point of view, and watched his Heart's Desire from afar.