The Harshaw Bride by Mary Hallock Foote
[Mrs. Tom Daly, of Bisuka in the Northwest, writes to her invalid sister spending the summer on the coast of Southern California.]
You know I am always ready to sacrifice truth to politeness, if the truth is of that poor, stingy upstart variety everybody is familiar with and if the occasion warrants the expense. We all know politeness is not cheap, any more than honesty is politic. But surely I mistook my occasion, one day last winter--and now behold the price!
We are to have a bride on our hands, or a bride-elect, for she isn't married yet. The happy man to be is rustling for a home out here in the wilds of Idaho while she is waiting in the old country for success to crown his efforts. How much success in her case is demanded one does not know. She is a little English girl, upper middle class, which Mrs. Percifer assures us is the class to belong to in England at the present day,--from which we infer that it's her class; and the interesting reunion is to take place at our house--the young woman never having seen us in her life before.
She sailed, poor thing, this day week and will be forwarded to us by her confiding friends in New York as soon as she arrives. Meantime she will have heard from us from the Percifers: that is something.
Really they were very nice to us in New York, last winter, the Percifers--though one must not plume one's self too much. It began as a business flirtation down town between the husbands, and then Tom confidingly mentioned that he had a wife at his hotel. We unfortunate women were dragged into it forthwith, and more or less forced to live up to it. I cannot say there was anything riotous in the way she sustained her part. She was so very impersonal in fact, when we said good-by, that my natural tendency to invite people to come and stay with us, on the spur of any moment, was strangled in my throat.
But one must say something by way of retaliation for hospitality one cannot reject. So I put it off on any friends of theirs who might have occasion to command us in the West. We should be so happy, and so forth. And, my dear, she has taken me up on it! She's not impersonal now. She is so glad--for dear Kitty's sake--that we are here, and she is sure we will be very good to her--such a sweet girl, no one could help being--which rather cuts down the margin for our goodness. The poor child--I am quoting Mrs. Percifer--knows absolutely no one in the West but the man she is coming to marry (?)and can have no conception of the journey she has before her. She will be so comforted to find us at the end of it. And if anything unforeseen should occur to delay Mr. Harshaw, the fiance, and prevent his meeting her train, it will be a vast relief to Kitty's friends to know that the dear brave little girl is in good hands--ours, if you can conceive it!
Please observe the coolness with which she treats his not meeting that train, after the girl has traversed half the globe to compass her share of their meeting.
Well, it's not the American way; but perhaps it will be when bad times have humbled us a little more, and the question is whether we can marry our daughters at all unless we can give them dowries, or professions to support their husbands on, and "feelings" are a luxury only the rich can afford.
I hope "Kitty" won't have any; but still more I hope that her young man will arrive on schedule time, and that they can trot round the corner and be married, with Tom and me for witnesses, as speedily as possible.
* * * * *
I've had such a blow! Tom, with an effort, has succeeded in remembering this Mr. Harshaw who is poor Kitty's fate. He must have been years in this country,--long enough to have citizenized himself and become a member of our first Idaho legislature (I don't believe you even know that we are a State!). Tom was on the supper committee of the ball the city gave them. They were a deplorable set of men; it was easy enough to remember the nice ones. Tom says he is a "chump," if you know what that means. I tell him that every man, married or single, is constitutionally horrid to any other man who has had the luck to be chosen of a charming girl. But I'm afraid Harshaw wasn't one of the nice ones, or I should have remembered him myself; we had them to dinner--all who were at all worth while.
Poor Kitty! There is so little here to come for but the man.
Well, my dear, here's a pretty kettle of fish! Kitty has arrived, and one Mr. Harshaw. Where the Mr. Harshaw is, quien sabe! It's awfully late. Poor Kitty has gone to bed, and has cried herself to sleep, I dare say, if sleep she can. I never have heard of a girl being treated so.
Tom and the other Mr. Harshaw are smoking in the dining-room, and Tom is talking endlessly--what about I can't imagine, unless he is giving this young record-breaker his opinion of his extraordinary conduct. But I must begin at the beginning.
Mrs. Percifer wired us from New York the day the bride-elect started, and she was to wire us from Ogden, which she did. I went to the train to meet her, and I told Tom to be on the watch for the bridegroom, who would come in from his ranch on the Snake River, by wagon or on horseback, across country from Ten Mile. To come by rail he'd have had to go round a hundred miles or so, by Mountain Home. An American would have done it, of course, and have come in with her on the train; but the Percifers plainly expected no such wild burst of enthusiasm from him.
The train was late. I walked and walked the platform; some of the people who were waiting went away, but I dared not leave my post. I fell to watching a spurt of dust away off across the river toward the mesa. It rolled up fast, and presently I saw a man on horseback; then I didn't see him; then he had crossed the bridge and was pounding down the track-side toward the depot. He pulled up and spoke to a trainman, and after that he walked his horse as if he was satisfied.
This is Harshaw, I thought, and a very pretty fellow, but not in the least like an Idaho legislator. I can't say that I care for the sort of Englishman who is so prompt to swear allegiance to our flag; they never do unless they want to go in for government land, or politics, or something that has nothing to do with any flag. But this youngster looked ridiculously young. I simply knew he was coming for that girl, and that he had no ulterior motives whatever. He was ashy-white with dust--hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, and his fair little mustache all powdered with it; his corduroys, leggings, and hat all of a color. I saw no baggage, and I wondered what he expected to be married in. He leaned on his horse dizzily a moment when he first got out of the saddle, and the poor beast stretched his fore legs, and rocked with the gusts of his panting, his sides going in and out like a pair of bellows. The young fellow handed him over to a man to take to the stables, and I saw him give him a regular bridegroom's tip. He's all right, I said to myself, and Tom was horrid to call him a "chump." He beat himself off a bit, and went in and talked to the ticket-agent. They looked at their watches.
"I don't think you'll have time to go uptown," said the ticket-man.
Harshaw came out then, and he began to walk the platform, and to stare down the track toward Nampa; so I sat down. Presently he stopped, and raised his hat, and asked if I was Mrs. Daly, a friend of Mrs. Percifer of London and New York.
Not to be boastful, I said that I knew Mrs. Percifer.
"Then," said he, "we are here on the same errand, I think."
I was there to meet Miss Kitty Comyn, I told him, and he said so was he, and might he have a little talk with me? He seemed excited and serious, very.
"Are you the Mr. Harshaw?" I asked, though I hadn't an idea, of course, that he could be anybody else.
"Not exactly," he said. "I'm his cousin, Cecil Harshaw."
"Is Mr. Harshaw ill?"
He looked foolish, and dropped his eyes. "No," said he. "He was well last night when I left him at the ranch." Last night! He had come a hundred miles between dark of one day and noon of the next!
"Your cousin takes a royal way of bringing home his bride--by proxy," I said.
"Ah, but it's partly my fault, you know"--he could not quell a sudden shamefaced laugh,--"if you'd kindly allow me to explain. I shall have to be quite brutally frank; but Mrs. Percifer said"--Here he lugged in a propitiatory compliment, which sounded no more like Mrs. Percifer than it fitted me; but mistaking my smile of irony for one of encouragement, he babbled on. I wish I could do justice to his "charmin'" accent and his perfectly unstudied manner of speech, a mixture of British and American colloquialisms, not to say slang.
"It's like this, Mrs. Daly. A man oughtn't to be a dog-in-the-manger about a girl, even if he has got her promise, you know. If he can't get a move on and marry her before her hair is gray, he ought to step out and give the other fellows a chance. I'm not speaking for myself, though I would have spoken three years ago if she hadn't been engaged to Micky--she's always been engaged to him, one may say. And I accepted the fact; and when I came over here and took a share in Micky's ranch I meant right by him, and God knows I meant more than right by her. Wasn't it right to suppose she must be tremendously fond of him, to let him keep her on the string the way he has? They've been engaged four years now. And was it any wonder I was mad with Micky, seeing how he was loafing along, fooling his money away, not looking ahead and denying himself as a man ought who's got a nice girl waiting for him? I'm quite frank, you see; but when you hear what an ass I've made of myself, you'll not begrudge me the few excuses I have to offer. All I tried to do was to give Micky a leg to help him over his natural difficulty--laziness, you know. He's not a bad sort at all, only he's slow, and it's hard to get him to look things square in the face. It was for her sake, supposing her happiness was bound up in him, that I undertook to boom the marriage a bit. But Micky won't boom worth a ----. He's back on my hands now, and what in Heaven's name I'm to say to her"--His eloquence failed him here, and he came down to the level of ordinary conversation, with the remark, "It's a facer, by Jove!"
I managed not to smile. If he'd undertaken, I said, to "boom" his cousin's marriage to a girl he liked himself, he ought at least to get credit for disinterestedness; but so few good acts were ever rewarded in this world! I seemed to have heard that it was not very comfortable, though it might be heroic, to put one's hand between the tree and the bark.
"Ah," he said feelingly, "it's fierce! I never was so rattled in my life. But before you give me too much credit for disinterestedness, you know, I must tell you that I'm thinking of--that--in short, I've a mind to speak for myself now, if Micky doesn't come up to time."
I simply looked at him, and he blushed, but went on more explicitly. "He could have married her, Mrs. Daly, any time these three years if he'd had the pluck to think so. He'd say, 'If we have a good season with the horses, I'll send for her in the fall.' We'd have our usual season, and then he'd say, 'It won't do, Cecy.' And in the spring we are always as poor as jack-rabbits, and so he'd wait till the next fall. I got so mad with his infernal coolness, and the contrast of how things were and how she must think they were! Still, I knew he'd be good to her if he had her here, and he'd save twice as much with her to provide for as he ever could alone. I used to hear all her little news, poor girl. She had lost her father, and there were tight times at home. The next word was that she was going for a governess. Then I said, 'You ought to go over and get her, or else send for her sharp. You are as ready to marry her now as ever you will be.'
"'I'm too confounded strapped,' said he. I told him I would fix all that if he would go, or write her to come. But the weeks went by, and he never made a move. And there were reasons, Mrs. Daly, why it was best that any one who cared for him should be on the ground. Then I made my kick. I don't believe in kicking, as a rule; but if you do kick, kick hard, I say. 'If you don't send for her, Micky, I'll send for her myself,' I said.
"'What for?' said he.
"'For you,' said I, 'if you'll have the manliness to step up and claim her, and treat her as you ought. If not, she can see how things are, and maybe she'll want a change. You may not think you are wronging her and deceiving her,' I said, 'but that's what you are; and if you won't make an end of this situation' (I haven't told you, and I can't tell you, the whole of it, Mrs. Daly), 'I will end it myself--for your sake and for her sake and for my own.' And I warned him that I should have a word to say to her if he didn't occupy the field of vision quite promptly after she arrived. 'One of us will meet her at the train,' said I, 'and the one who loves her will get there first.'
"Well, I'm here, and he was cooking himself a big supper when I left him at the ranch. It was a simple test, Mrs. Daly. If he scorned to abide by it, he might at least have written and put her on her guard, for he knew I was not bluffing. He pawed up the ground a bit, but he never did a thing. Then I cabled her just the question, Would she come? and she answered directly that she would. So I wired her the money. I signed myself Harshaw, and I told Micky what I'd done.
"And whether he is sulking over my interference, I can't say, but from that moment he has never opened his mouth to me on the subject. I haven't a blessed notion what he means to do; judging by what he has done, nothing, I should say. But it may be he's only waiting to give me the full strength of the situation, seeing it's one of my own contriving. There's a sort of rum justice in it; but think of his daring to insult her so, for the sake of punishing me!
"Now, what am I to say to her, Mrs. Daly? Am I to make a clean breast of it, and let her know the true and peculiar state of the case, including the fact that I'm in love with her myself? Or would you let that wait, and try to smooth things over for Micky, and get her to give him another chance? There was no sign of his moving last night; still, he may get here yet."
The young man's spirits seemed to be rising as he neared the end of his tale, perhaps because he could see that it looked pretty black for "Micky."
"If one could only know what he does mean to do, it would be simpler, wouldn't it?"
I agreed that it would. Then I made the only suggestion it occurred to me to offer in the case--that he should go to his hotel and get his luncheon or breakfast, for I doubted if he'd had any, and leave me to meet Miss Comyn, and say to her whatever a kind Providence might inspire me with. My husband would call for him and fetch him up to dinner, I said; and after dinner, if Mr. Michael Harshaw had not arrived, or sent some satisfactory message, he could cast himself into the breach.
"And I'm sorry for you," I said; "for I don't think you will have an easy time of it."
"She can't do worse than hate me, Mrs. Daly; and that's better than sending me friendly little messages in her letters to Micky."
I wish I could give you this story in his own words, or any idea of his extraordinary, joyous naturalness, and his air of preposterous good faith--as if he had done the only thing conceivable in the case. It was as convincing as a scene in comic opera.
"By the way," said he, "I didn't encumber myself with much luggage this trip. I have nothing but the clothes I stand in."
I made a reckless offer of my husband's evening things, which he as recklessly accepted, not knowing if he could get into them; but I thought he did not look so badly as he was, in his sun-faded corduroys, the whole of him from head to foot as pale as a plaster cast with dust, except his bright blue eyes, which had hard, dark circles around them.
"The train is coming," I warned him.
"She is coming! A la bonne heure!" he cried, and was off on a run, and whistled a car that was going up Main Street to the natatorium; and I knew that in ten minutes he would be reveling in the plunge, while I should be making the best of this beautiful crisis of his inventing to Miss Comyn.
* * * * *
My dear, they are the prettiest pair! Providence, no doubt, designed them for each other, if he had not made this unpardonable break. She has a spirit of her own, has Miss Kitty, and if she cried up-stairs alone with me,--tears of anger and mortification, it struck me, rather than of heart-grief,--I will venture she shed no tears before him.
As Mr. Michael Harshaw did not arrive, we gave Mr. Cecil his opportunity, as promised, of speech with his victim and judge. He talked to her in the little sitting-room after dinner--as long as she would listen to him, apparently. We heard her come flying out with a sort of passionate suddenness, as if she had literally run away from his words. But he had followed her, and for an instant I saw them together in the hall. His poor young face was literally burning; perhaps it was only sunburn, but I fancied she had been giving him a metaphorical drubbing--"ragging," as Tom would call it--worse than Lady Anne gave Richard.
She was still in a fine Shakespearean temper when I carried her off up-stairs. Reserves were impossible between us; her right to any privacy in her own affairs had been given away from the start; that was one of the pleasing features of the situation.
"Marry him! marry him!" she cried. "That impertinent, meddlesome boy! That false, dishonorable"--
"Go slow, dear," I said. "I don't think he's quite so bad as that."
"And what do I want with him! And what do you think he tells me, Mrs. Daly? And whether there's any truth in him, how do I know? He declares it was not Michael Harshaw who sent for me at all! The message, all the messages, were from him. In that case I have been decoyed over here to marry a man who not only never asked me to come, but who stood by and let me be hoaxed in this shameful way, and now leaves me to be persecuted by this one's ridiculous offers of marriage,--as if I belonged to all or any of the Harshaws, whichever one came first! Michael may not even know that I am here," she added in a lower key. "If Cecil Harshaw was capable of doing what he has done, by his own confession, it would be little more to intercept my answers to his forgeries."
That was true, I said. It was quite possible the young man lied. She would, of course, give Mr. Michael Harshaw a chance to tell his story.
"I cannot believe," said the distracted girl, "that Michael would lend himself, even passively, to such an abominable trick. Could any one believe it--of his worst enemy!"
Impossible, I agreed. She must believe nothing till she had heard from her lover.
"But if Michael did not know it," she mused, with a piteous blush, "then Cecil Harshaw must have sent me that money himself--the insolence! And after that to ask me to marry him!"
Men were fearfully primitive still, after all that we had done for them, I reminded her, especially in their notions of love-making. Their intentions were generally better than their methods. No great harm had been done, for that matter. A letter, if written that night, would reach Mr. Michael Harshaw at his ranch not later than the next night. All these troubles could wait till the real Mr. Harshaw had been heard from. My husband would see that her letter reached him promptly, and in the mean time Mr. Cecil need not be told that we were proving his little story.
I was forced to humor her own theory of her case; but I have no idea, myself, that Cecil Harshaw has not told the truth. He does not look like a liar, to begin with, and how silly to palm off an invention for to-day which to-morrow would expose!
Tom is still talking and talking. I really must interfere and give Mr. Cecil a chance to go. It is quite too late to look for the other one. If he comes at this hour, there is nothing he can do but go to bed.
... Well, the young man has gone, and Tom is shutting up the house, and I hope the bride is asleep, though I doubt it. Have I told you how charming she is? Not so discouragingly tall or so classic as the Du Maurier goddess, but "comfy," much more "comfy," to my mind. Her nose is rudimentary, rather, which doesn't prevent her having a mind of her own, though noses are said to have it all to say as to force of character. Her upper lip has the most fascinating little pout; her chin is full and emotional--but these are emotional times; and there is a beautiful finish about her throat and hands and wrists. She looks more dressed in a shirt-waist, in which she came down to dinner, her trunk not having come, than some of us do in the best we have. Her clothes are very fresh and recent, to a woman of Idaho; but she does not wear her pretty ears "cachees," I am glad to say. They are very pretty, and one--the left one--is burned pure crimson from sitting next the window of her section all the way from Omaha.
But why do I write all this nonsense at twelve o'clock at night, when all I need say by way of description is that we want her to stay with us, indefinitely if necessary, and let her countrymen and lovers go to--their ranch on the Snake River!
* * * * *
What do you suppose those wretches were arguing about in the dining-room last night, over their whisky and soda? Sentiment was "not in it," as they would say. They were talking up a scheme--a scheme that Tom has had in mind ever since he first saw the Thousand Springs six years ago, when he had the Snake River placer-mining fever. It was of no use then, because electrical transmission was in its infancy, its long-distance capacities undreamed of. But Harshaw was down there fishing last summer, and he was able to satisfy the only doubt Tom has had as to some natural feature of the scheme--I don't know what; but Harshaw has settled it, and is as wild as Tom himself about the thing. Also he wants to put into it all the money he can recover out of his cousin's ranch. (I shouldn't think the future of that partnership would be exactly happy!) And now they propose to take hold of it together, and at once.
Harshaw, who, it seems, is enough of an engineer to run a level, will go down with Tom and make the preliminary surveys. Tom will work up the plans and estimates, and prepare a report, which Harshaw will take to London, where his father has influence in the City, and the sanguine child sees himself placing it in the twinkling of an eye.
Tom made no secret with me of their scheme, and I fell upon him at once.
"You are not taking advantage of that innocent in your own house!" I said.
"Do you take him for an innocent? He has about as shrewd a business head--but he has no money, anyhow. I shall have to put up for the whole trip."
To be honest, that was just what I had feared; but it didn't sound well to say so. Tom is always putting up for things that never come to anything--for us.
He tried to propitiate me with the news that I was to go with them.
"And what do you propose to do with our guest?"
"Take her along. Why not? It's as hard a trip as any I know of, for the distance. Her troubles won't keep her awake, nor spoil her appetite, after the first day's ride."
"I don't know but you are right," I said; "but wild horses couldn't drag her if he goes. And how about the other Harshaw--the one she has promised to marry?"
"She isn't going to marry him, is she? I should think she had gone about far enough, to meet that fellow halfway."
Even if she wasn't going to marry him, I said, it might be civil to tell him so. She had listened to his accuser; she could hardly refuse to listen to him.
"I think, myself, the dear boy has skipped the country," said Tom, who is unblushingly on Cecil's side. "If he hasn't, the letter will fetch him. She will have time to settle his hash before we start."
"Before we start! And when do you propose to start?"--I shouldn't have been surprised if he had said "to-morrow," but he considerately gives me until Thursday.
The truth is, Lou, it is years and years since I have been on one of these wild-goose chases with Tom. I have no more faith in this goose than in any of the other ones, but who wants to be forever playing the part of Wisdom "that cries in the streets and no man regards her"? One might as well be merry over one's folly, to say nothing of the folly of other people. I confess I am dying to go; but of course nothing can be decided till the recreant bridegroom has been heard from.
This morning, when I went to Kitty's door for her letter, I found she hadn't written it. She made me come in while she "confessed," as she said.
"I couldn't submit to the facts last night," she faltered. "I had to pretend that I thought he didn't know; but of course he does--he must. I wrote him from home before I started, and again from New York. I can't suppose that Cecil would intercept my letters. He is not a stage villain. No; I must face the truth. But how can I ever tell it to mamma!"
"We will arrange all that by and by," I assured her (but I don't see myself how she can tell the truth about this transaction to anybody, her mother least of all, who would be simply wild if she knew how the girl has been betrayed and insulted, among utter strangers); meantime I begged her to promise me that she would not waste--
She interrupted me quickly. "I have wasted enough, I think. No; don't be afraid for me, Mrs. Daly, and for Heaven's sake don't pity me!"
I had just written the above when Tom came in and informed me that the "regular candidate had arrived," and requested to know if we were to have them both to dinner, or if the "dark horse" was to be told he needn't come.
"Of course he can't come!" I screamed; "let him keep himself as dark as possible."
"Then you needn't expect me," said Tom. "Cecy and I will dine at the Louvre." And I would give a good deal if I could dine there too, or any where but with this extraordinary pair of lovers.
I went out to meet the real Harshaw, embarrassed with the guilty consciousness of having allowed my sympathies to go astray; for though in theory I totally disapprove of Cecil Harshaw, personally I defy anybody not to like him. I will except prejudiced persons, like his cousin and the lady he is so bent on making, by hook or by crook, a Mrs. Harshaw.
Mr. Harshaw the first (and last to arrive) has shaved his mustache quite recently, I should say, and the nakedness of his upper lip is not becoming. I wonder if she ever saw him with his mouth bare? I wonder if she would have accepted him if she had? He was so funny about his cousin, the promoter; so absolutely unconscious of his own asinine position. He argued very sensibly that if, after waiting four years for him, she couldn't wait one day longer, she must have changed in her feelings very decidedly, and that was a fact it behooved him to find out. Better now than later. I think he has found out.
Possibly he was nicer four years ago. Men get terribly down at heel, mentally, morally, and mannerly, poking off by themselves in these out-of-the-way places. But she has been seeing people and steadily making growth since she gave him her promise at eighteen. The promise itself has helped to develop her. It must have been a knot of perpetual doubt and self-questioning. No one need tell me that she really loves him; if she did, if she had, she could not take his treatment of her like this. Perhaps the family circumstances constrained her. They may have thought Harshaw had a fortune in the future of his ranch, with its river boundary of placer-mines. English girls are obedient, and English mammas are practical, we read.
She is practical, and she is beginning to look her situation in the face.
"I shall want you to help me find some way to return that money," she said to me later, with an angry blush--"that money which Cecil Harshaw kindly advanced me for my journey. I shall hate every moment of my life till that debt is paid. But for the insult I never can repay him, never!
"We are a large family at home--four girls besides me, and three boys; and boys are so expensive. I cannot ask mamma to help me; indeed, I was hoping to help her. I should have gone for a governess if I had not been duped into coming over here. Would there be any one in this town, do you think, who might want a governess for her children? I have a few 'accomplishments,' and though I've not been trained for a teacher, I am used to children, and they like me, when I want them to."
I thought this a good idea for the future; it would take time to work it up. But for the present an inspiration came to me,--on the strength of something Tom had said,--that he wished I could draw or paint, because he could make an artist useful on this trip, he condescended to say, if he could lay his hand on one. All the photographs of the Springs, it seems, have the disastrous effect of dwarfing their height and magnitude. There is a lagoon and a weedy island directly beneath them, and in the camera pictures taken from in front, the reeds and willows look gigantic in the foreground, and the Springs--out of all proportion--insignificant. This would be fatal to our schemers' claims as to the volume of water they are supposed to furnish for an electrical power plant to supply the Silver City mines, one hundred miles away. Hence the demand of Science for Art, with her point of view.
"Just the thing for her," I thought. "She can draw and water-color, of course; all English girls do." And I flew and proposed it to Tom. "Pay her well for her pictures, and she'll make your Thousand Springs look like Ten Thousand." (That was only my little joke, dear; I am always afraid of your conscience.) But the main thing is settled; we have found a way of inducing Kitty to go. Tom was charmed with my intelligence, and Kitty, poor child, would go anywhere, in any conceivable company, to get even with Cecil Harshaw on that hateful money transaction. When I told her she would have to submit to his presence on the trip, she shrugged her shoulders.
"It's one of 'life's little ironies,'" she said.
"And," I added, "we shall have to pass the ranch that was to have been"--
"Oh, well, that is another. I must get used to the humorous side of my situation. One suffers most, perhaps, through thinking how other people will think one suffers. If they would only give one credit for a little common sense, to say nothing of pride!"
You see, she will wear no willows for him. We shall get on beautifully, I've no doubt, even with the "irony" of the situation rubbed in, as it inevitably will be, in the course of this journey.
Tom solemnly assures me that the other Harshaw's name is not Micky, but "Denis;" and he explains his having got into the legislature (quite unnecessarily, so far as I am concerned) on the theory that he is too lazy even to make enemies.
I shall get the governess project started, so it can be working while we are away. If you know of anybody who would be likely to want her, and could pay her decently, and would know how to treat a nursery governess who is every bit a lady, but who is not above her business (I take for granted she is not, though of course I don't know), do, pray, speak a word for her. I'll answer for it she is bright enough; better not mention that she is pretty. There must be a hundred chances for her there to one in Idaho. We are hardly up to the resident-governess idea as yet. It is thought to be wanting in public spirit for parents not to patronize the local schools. If they are not good enough for the rich families, the poor families feel injured, and want to know the reason why.
To return to these Harshaws. Does it not strike you that the English are more original, not to say queer, than we are; more indifferent to the opinions of others--certain others? They don't hesitate to do a thing because on the face of it it's perfectly insane. Witness the lengths they go, these young fellows out here, for anything on earth they happen to set their crazy hearts upon. The young fancy bloods, I mean, who have the love of sport developed through generations of tough old hard-riding, high-playing, deep-drinking ancestors; the "younger sons," who have inherited the sense of having the ball at their feet, without having inherited the ball. They are certainly great fun, but I should hate to be responsible for them.
I note what you say about my tendency to slang, and how it "seems to grow upon me." It "seems" to, alas! for the simple reason, I fear, that it does. I can remember when I used carefully to corral all my slang words in apologetic quote-marks, as if they were range-cattle to be fenced out from the home herd--our mother-tongue which we brought with us from the East, and which you have preserved in all its conscientious purity. But I give it up. I hardly know any longer, in regard to my own speech, which are my native expressions and which are the wild and woolly ones adopted off the range. It will serve all human purposes of a woman irretrievably married into the West. If the worst come to the worst, I can make a virtue of necessity and become a member of the "American Dialect Society"--a member in good standing.
* * * * *
This is the morning of our glorious start. I am snatching a few words with you while the men are packing the wagon, which stands before the door. What a sensation it would make drawn up in front of--Mrs. Percifer's, for instance, in Park Avenue! Here no one turns the head to look at it.
I told Tom he need make no concessions to the fact that he is to have two fairly well-dressed women along. We will go as they go, without any fuss, or they may leave us at home. I despise those condescending, make-believe-rough-it trips, with which men flatter women into thinking themselves genuine campaigners. Consequently our outfit is a big, bony ranch-team and a Shuttler wagon with the double-sides in; spring seats, of course, and the bottom well bedded down with tents and rolls of blankets. We don't go out of our way to be uncomfortable; that is the tenderfoot's pet weakness. The "kitchen-box" and the "grub-box" sit shoulder to shoulder in the back of the wagon. The stovepipe, tied with rope in sections, keeps up a lively clatter in concert with the jiggling of the tinware and the thumps and bumps of the camp-stove, which has swallowed its own feet, and, by the internal sounds, doesn't seem to have digested them.
I spent last evening covering the canteens with canvas. The maiden was quite cheerful, sorting her drawing-materials and packing her colors and sketch-blocks. She laughs at everything Tom says, whether she sees the point or not, and most when there is none to see. Tom will be cook, because he prefers his own messing to any of ours, and we can't spare room in the wagon for a regular camp chef. Mr. Harshaw is the "swamper," because he makes himself useful doing things my lord doesn't like to do. And Kitty is not Miss Co-myn, as we called it, but Miss "Cummin," as they call it,--"the Comin' woman," Tom calls her. Mr. Billings, the teamster, completes our party.
* * * * *
Sept.--Never mind the date. This is to-morrow morning, and we are at Walter's Ferry. It seems a week since we left Bisuka. We started yesterday on the flank of a dust-storm, and soon were with the main column, the wind pursuing us and hurling the sweepings of the road into the backs of our necks. The double-sides raised us out of the worst of the dust, else I think we should have been smothered. It was a test of our young lady's traveling manners. She kept her head down and her mouth shut; but when I shrieked at her to ask how she was standing it, she plucked her dusty veil from between her lips and smiled for answer.
We two have the back seat, Tom sits in front with Billings, and the "swamper" sits anywhere on the lumps and bumps which our baggage makes, covered by the canvas wagon-sheet. He might have ridden his horse--everybody supposed he would; but that would have separated him from the object of his existence; the object sternly ignoring him, and riding for miles with her face turned away, her hand to her hat, which the wind persistently snatched at. It was her wide-brimmed sketching-hat--rather a daring creation but monstrously becoming, and I had persuaded her to wear it, the morning being delusively clear, thinking we were to have one of our midsummer scorchers that would have burned her fair English face to a blister.
Mr. Harshaw thought she would be tired, wearing her hand continually in the air, and suggested various mechanical substitutes,--a string attached to the hat-trimming, a scarf tied over her head; but a snubbing was all the reward he got for his sympathy.
"When this hand is tired I take the other one," she said airily.
We lunched at Ten Mile, by the railroad track. Do you remember that desolate place? The Oregon Short Line used to leave us there at a little station called Kuna. There is no Kuna now; the station-house is gone; the station-keeper's little children are buried between four stakes on the bare hill--diphtheria, I think it was. Miss Kitty asked what the stakes were there for. Tom didn't like to tell her, so he said some traveler had made a "cache" there of something he couldn't carry with him, and the stakes were to mark the spot till his return.
"And will nobody disturb the cache?" asked Miss Kitty. I couldn't bear to hear them. "They are graves," I whispered. "Two little children--the station-keeper's--all they had." And she asked no more questions.
Mr. Harshaw had got possession of the canteen, and so was able to serve the maiden, both when she drank and when she held out her rosy fingers to be sprinkled, he tilting a little water on them slowly--with such provoking slowness that she chid him; then he let it come in gulps, and she chid him more, for spattering her shoes. She could play my Lady Disdain very prettily, only she is something too much in earnest at present for the game to be a pretty one to watch. I feel like calling her down from her pedestal of virgin wrath, if only for the sake of us peaceful old folk, who don't care to be made the stamping-ground for their little differences.
The horses were longer at their lunch than we, and Miss Kitty requested her traveling-bag. "And now," she said, "I will get rid of this fiend of a hat," whereas she had steadily protested for miles that she didn't mind it in the least. She took out of her bag a steamer-cap, and when she had put it on I could see that poor Harshaw dared not trust himself to look at her, her fair face exposed, and so very fair, in its tender, soft coloring, against that grim, wind-beaten waste of dust and sage.
I shall skip the scenery on the road to Walter's Ferry, partly because we couldn't see it for the dust; and if we had seen it, I would not waste it upon you, an army woman. But Walter's Ferry was a hard-looking place when we crawled in last night out of the howling, dirt-throwing wind.
The little hand-raised poplars about the ferry-house were shivering and tugging and straining their thin necks in the gale, the windows so loaded with dust that we could barely see if there were lights inside. We hooted and we howled,--the men did,--and the ferry-keeper came out and stared at us in blank amazement that we should be wanting supper and beds. As if we could have wanted anything else at that place except to cross the river, which we don't do. We go up on this side. We came down the hill merely to sleep at the ferry-house, the night being too bad for a road camp.
The one guest-room at the Ferry that could be called private was given to Kitty and me; but we used it as a sitting-room till bedtime, there being nowhere else to go but into the common room where the teamsters congregate.
We stood and looked at each other, in our common disguise of dust, and tried to find our feet and other members that came awake gradually after the long stupor of the ride. There was a heap of sage-brush on the hearth laid ready for lighting. I touched a match to it, and Kitty dropped on her knees in front of its riotous warmth and glow. Suddenly she sprang up and stared about her, sniffing and catching her breath. I had noticed it too; it fairly took one by the throat, the gruesome odor.
"What is this beastly smell?" She spoke right out, as our beloved English do. Tom came in at that moment, and she turned upon him as though he were the author of our misery.
"What has happened in this horrid room? We can't stay here, you know!" The proposition admitted of no argument. She refused to draw another breath except through her pocket-handkerchief.
By this time I had recognized the smell. "It's nothing but sage-brush," I cried; "the cleanest, sterilest thing that grows!"
"It may be clean," said Kitty, "but it smells like the bottomless pit. I must have a breath of fresh air." The only window in the room was a four-pane sash fixed solid in the top of the outside door. Tom said we should have the sweepings of the Snake River valley in there in one second if we opened that door. But we did, and the wind played havoc with our fire, and half the country blew in, as he had said, and with it came Cecil, his head bent low, his arms full of rugs and dust-cloaks.
"You angel!" I cried, "have you been shaking those things?"
"He's given himself the hay-fever," said Tom, heartlessly watching him while he sneezed and sneezed, and wept dust into his handkerchief.
"Doesn't the man do those things?" Miss Kitty whispered.
"What, our next Populist governor? Not much!" Tom replied. Kitty of course did not understand; it was hopeless to begin upon that theme--of our labor aristocracy; so we sent the men away, and made ourselves as presentable as we could for supper.
I need not dwell upon it; it was the usual Walter's Ferry supper. The little woman who cooked it--the third she had cooked that evening--served it as well, plodding back and forth from the kitchen stove to the dining-room table, a little white-headed toddler clinging to her skirts, and whining to be put to bed. Out of regard for her look of general discouragement we ate what we could of the food without yielding to the temptation to joke about it, which was a cross to Tom at least.
"Do you know how the farmers sow their seed in the Snake River valley?" he asked Miss Kitty. She raised eyes of confiding inquiry to his face.
"They prepare the land in the usual way; then they go about five miles to windward of the ploughed field and let fly their seed; the wind does the rest. It would be of no use, you see, to sow it on the spot where it's meant to lie; they would have to go into the next county to look for their crop, top-soil and all."
Now whenever Tom makes a statement Miss Kitty looks first at me to see how I am taking it.
* * * * *
It is a fair, pale morning, as still as a picture, after last night's orgy of wind and dust. The maiden is making her first sketch on American soil--of the rope-ferry, with the boat on this side. She is seated in perfect unconsciousness on an inverted pine box--empty, I trust--which bears the startling announcement, in legible lettering on its side, that it holds "500 smokeless nitro-powder cartridges." Now she looks up disgusted, to see the boat swing off and slowly warp over to the other side. The picturesque blocks and cables in the foreground have hopelessly changed position, and continue changing; but she consoles herself by making marginal notes of the passengers returning by the boat,--a six-horse freight-team from Silver City, and a band of horses driven by two realistic cow-boys from anywhere. The driver of the freight-team has a young wildcat aboard, half starved, haggard, and crazed with captivity. He stops, and pulls out his wretched pet. The cow-boys stop; everybody stops; they make a ring, while the dogs of the ferry-house are invited to step up and examine for themselves. The little cat spits and rages at the end of its blood-stained rope. It is not a pretty show, and I am provoked with our men for not turning their backs upon it.
* * * * *
Sunday, at Broadlands. From Walter's Ferry, day before yesterday, we climbed back upon the main road, which crosses the plateau of the Snake, cutting off a great bend of the river, to see it again far below in the bottom of the Grand Canon.
The alkali growth is monotonous here; but there was a world of beauty and caprice in the forms of the seed-pods dried upon their stalks. Most of these pretty little purses were empty. Their treasure went, like the savings of a maiden aunt, when the idle wind got hold of it. There is an almost humorous ingenuity in the pains Nature has taken to secure the propagation of some of the meanest of her plant-children. The most worthless little vagabond seeds have wings or fans to fly with, or self-acting bomb-receptacles that burst and empty their contents (which nobody wants) upon the liberal air, or claws or prickers to catch on with to anything that goes. And once they have caught on, they are harder to get rid of than a Canadian "quarter."
"And do you call this a desert?" cries Miss Kitty. "Why, millions of creatures live here! Look at the footprints of all the little beasties. They must eat and drink."
"That is the cheek of us humans," said Tom. "We call our forests solitudes because we have never shown up there before. Precious little we were missed. This desert subsisted its own population, and asked no favors of irrigation, till man came and overstocked it, and upset its domestic economies. When the sheep-men and the cattle-men came with their foreign mouths to fill, the wild natives had to scatter and forage for food, and trot back and forth to the river for drink. They have to travel miles now to one they went before. Hence all these desert thoroughfares."
And he showed us in the dust the track of a lizard, a kangaroo-mouse, and a horned toad. We could see for ourselves Bre'r Jack-rabbit and Sis' Gopher skipping away in the greasewood. The horses and cattle had their own broad-beaten roads converging from far away toward an occasional break in the canon wall, where the thirsty tracks went down.
We plodded along, and having with much deliberation taken the wrong road, we found ourselves about nightfall at the bottom of the canon, in a perfect cul-de-sac. The bluffs ahead of us crowded close to the river, stretching their rocky knees straight down into deep water, and making no lap at all for our wagon to go over. And now, with this sweet prospect before us, it came on steadily to rain. The men made camp in the slippery darkness, while we sat in the wagon, warm and dry, and thanked our stars there were still a few things left that men could do without our aid or competition. Presently a lantern flashed out, and spots of light shifted over them as they slaved--pounding tent-pegs, and scraping stones away from places where our blankets were to be spread, hacking and hewing among the wet willows, and grappling with stovepipes and tent-poles; and the harder they worked the better their spirits seemed to be.
"I wish some of the people who used to know Cecil Harshaw in England could see him now," said Kitty.
"What did he do in England?" I asked.
"He didn't hammer stovepipes and carry kitchen-boxes and cut fire-wood, you know."
"Don't you like to see men use their muscle?" I asked her. "Very few of them are reflective to any purpose at his age."
"Why, how old, or how young, do you take him to be?"
"I think you spoke of him as a boy, if I remember."
"If I called him a boy, it was out of charity for his behavior. He's within six months of my own age."
"And you don't call yourself a girl any longer!" I laughed.
"It's always 'girls' and 'men,'" she said. "If Cecil Harshaw is not a man now, he never will be."
I didn't know, I said, what the point at issue was between us. I thought Cecil Harshaw was very much a man, as men go, and I saw nothing, frankly, so very far amiss with his behavior.
"It's very kind of you, Mrs. Daly, to defend him, I am sure. I suppose he could do no less than propose to me, after he had brought me out to marry a man who didn't appear to be quite ready; and if it had to be done, it was best to do it quickly."
So that was what she had been threshing out between whiles? I might have tried to answer her, but now the little tent among the willows began to glow with fire and candlelight, and a dark shape loomed against it. It was Cecil Harshaw, bareheaded, with an umbrella, coming to escort us in to supper.
I never saw such a pair of roses as Kitty wore in her cheeks that night, nor the girl herself in such a gale. Tom gave me a triumphant glance across the table, as if to say, See how the medicine works! It was either the beginning of the cure, or else it was a feverish reaction.
I shall have to hurry over our little incidents: how the wagon couldn't go on by way of the shore, and had to flounder back over the rocks, and crawl out of the canon to the upper road; how Kitty and I set out vain-gloriously to walk to Broadlands by the river-trail, and Harshaw set out to walk with us; and how Kitty made it difficult for him to walk with both of us by staving on ahead, with the step of a young Atalanta. I was so provoked with her that I let her take her pace and I took mine. Fancy a woman of my age racing a girl of her build and constitution seven miles to Broadlands! Poor Harshaw was cruelly torn between us, but he manfully stuck to his duty. He would not abandon the old lady even for the pleasure of running after the young one, though I absolved him many times, and implored him to leave me to my fate. I take pride in recording his faithfulness, and I see now why I have always liked him. He wears well, particularly when things are most harassing.
It certainly was hard upon him when I gave out completely, toiling through the sand, and sat down to rest on the door-stone of a placer-miner's cabin (cabin closed and miner gone), and nowhere through the hot, morning stillness could we catch a sound or a sight of the runaway. I could almost hear his heart beat, and his eyes and ears and all his keen young senses were on a stretch after that ridiculous girl. But he kept up a show of interest in my remarks, and paid every patient attention to my feeble wants, without an idea of how long it might be my pleasure to sit there. It was not long, however it may have seemed to him, before we heard wagon-wheels booming down a little side-canon between the hills. The team had managed to drag the wagon up through a scrubby gulch that looked like no thoroughfare, but which opened into a very fair way out of our difficulties.
When we had come within sight of Broadlands Ferry, all aboard except Kitty, and still not a sign nor a sound of her, our hearts began to soften toward that willful girl.
Tom requested Harshaw to jump out and see if he couldn't round up his countrywoman. But Harshaw rather haughtily resigned--in favor of a better man, he said. Then Tom stood up in the wagon and gave the camp call, "Yee-ee-ip! yee-ip, ye-ip!" a brazen, barbarous hoot. Kitty clapped both hands to her ears when she was first introduced to it, but it did not fetch her now. Tom "yee-iped" again, and as we listened there she was, strolling toward us through the greasewood, with the face of a May morning! She wouldn't give us the satisfaction of seeing her run, but her flushed cheeks, damp temples, and quick, sighing breath betrayed her. She had been running fast enough.
"Kitty," I said severely, "there are rattlesnakes among those rocks."
"Are there?" she answered serenely. "But I wasn't looking for rattlesnakes, you know. See what lovely things I did find! I've got the 'prospecting' fever already."
She had filled her pockets with specimens of obsidian, jaspers, and chalcedonies, of colors most beautiful, with a deep-dyed opaqueness, a shell-fracture, and a satiny polish like jade. And she consulted us about them very prettily--the little fraud! Of course she was instantly forgiven.
But I notice that since our arrival at Broadlands, Harshaw has not troubled her with his attentions. They might be the most indifferent strangers, for all that his manner implies. And if she is not pleased with the change, she ought to be, for she has made her wishes plain.
Camp at the Thousand Springs. A little grass peninsula running out between the river and a narrow lagoon, a part of Decker's ranch, two miles by water below the Springs and half a mile from Decker's Ferry, set all about with a hedge of rose, willow, and wild-currant bushes, sword-grass, and tall reeds,--the grasses enormous, like Japanese decorations,--crossing the darks of the opposite shore and the lights of the river and sky. Our tents are pitched, our blankets spread in the sun, our wagon is soaking its tired feet in the river. Tom and Harshaw are up-stream somewhere, fishing for supper. Billings is bargaining with Old Man Decker for the "keep" of his team. Kitty and I are enjoying ourselves. There is a rip in one of the back seams of my jacket, Kitty tells me, but even that cannot move me.
I say we are enjoying ourselves; but my young guest has developed a new mood of late which gives poignancy to my growing tenderness for the girl. She has kept up wonderfully, with the aid of her bit of a temper, for which I like her none the less. How she will stand this idleness, monotony, and intimacy, with the accent of beauty pressing home, I cannot say. I rather fear for her.
The screws have been tightened on her lately by something that befell at the Harshaw ranch. Our road lay past the place, and Harshaw had to stop for his surveying instruments, also to pack a bag, he said,--with apologies for keeping us waiting.
I think we were all a little nervous as we neared the house. Very few women could have spelled the word "home" out of those rough masculine premises. I wondered if Kitty was not offering up a prayer of thanksgiving for the life she had been delivered from.
Harshaw jumped down, and, stooping under the wire fence, ran across the alfalfa stubble to the house as fast as he could for the welcome of a beautiful young setter dog--Maisie he called her--that came wildly out to meet him. A woman--not a nice-looking woman--stood at the door and watched him, and even at our distance from them there was something strange in their recognition.
Kitty began to talk and laugh with forced coolness. Tom turned the horses sharply, so that the wagon's shadow lay on the roadside, away from the house. "Get out, hadn't you better?" he suggested, in the tone of a command. We got out, and Kitty asked for her sketching-bag.
"Kitty," I whispered, pointing to the house, "draw that, and send it to your mother. She will never ask again why you didn't care to live there."
"That has nothing to do with it," she retorted coldly. "I would have lived there, or anywhere, with the right person."
There was no such person. I couldn't help saying it.
She is very handsome when she looks down, proud and a trifle sullen when you "touch her on the raw," as the men say.
"But there is such a person, Kitty," I ventured. I had ventured, it seemed, too far.
"You are my hostess. Your house is my only home. Don't be his accomplice!" I thought it rather well said.
Now that woman's clothes were hanging on the line (and very common-looking clothes they were), so she could not have been a casual guest. Moreover, she was pacing the hard ground in front of the house, and staring at us with a truculent yet uneasy air. Curiosity was strong, and a sort of anger possessed me against the place and everybody connected with it.
When Cecil came out, looking very hot and confused for him, who is always so fresh and gay, I inquired, rather shortly perhaps, "Who is your visitor?"
"I have no visitor," he answered me, as cool as you please. But there was a protest in his eye. I was determined not to spare him or any of the Harshaws.
"Your housekeeper, then?"
"I have no housekeeper."
"Who is the lady stopping at your house?"
"I have no house."
"Your cousin's house, then?"
"If you refer to the person I was talking to--she is my cousin's housekeeper, I suppose."
Tom gave me a look, and I thought it time to let the subject drop. This was in Kitty's presence, though apparently she neither saw nor heard. I walked on ahead of the wagon, so angry that I was almost sick. Instantly Harshaw joined me, with a much nicer, brighter look upon his face.
"Mrs. Daly," he said, "I want to beg your pardon. I could not answer your question before Miss Comyn. The lady, as you were pleased to call her, is Mrs. Harshaw, my cousin--Micky's wife, you understand."
"Day before yesterday, she tells me. They were married at Bliss."
"Well, I should say it was 'Bliss' for Kitty Comyn that she is not Mrs. Harshaw--too," I was about to add, but that would be going rather far. "And what did you want to bring that girl over here for?"
"Mrs. Daly, I have told you,--I thought she loved him."
"And what of his love for her?"
"Good heavens! you don't suppose Micky cares for that old thing he has married! That was what I was trying to save him from. He'd have had to be the deuce of a lot worse than he is to deserve that."
Had it occurred to him, I put it to Cecil Harshaw, to ask himself what the saving of his precious cousin might have cost the girl who was to have been offered up to that end?
"You leave out one small feature of the case," said Harshaw, with a sick and burning look that made me drop my eyes, old woman as I am. "I love her myself so well that, by Heaven! if she had wanted Micky or any other man, she should have had him, if that was what her heart was set upon. But I didn't believe it was. I wanted her to know the truth, and, hang it! I couldn't write it to her. I couldn't peach on Micky; but I wanted to smash things. I wanted something to happen. Maybe I didn't do the right thing, but I had to do something."
I couldn't tell him just what I thought of him at that moment, but I did say to him that he had some very simple ideas for an end-of-the-century young Englishman. At which he smiled sweetly, and said it was one of his simple ideas that Kitty need not be informed who or what her successor was, or how promptly she had been succeeded.
"But just now you said you wanted her to know the truth."
"Not the whole truth. Great Scott! she knows enough. No need to rub it in."
"She knows just enough about this to misunderstand, perhaps. In justice to yourself--she heard you beating about the bush--do you want her to misunderstand you?"
"Oh, hang me! I don't expect her to understand me, or even tolerate me, yet. Mine is a waiting race, Mrs. Daly."
"Very well; you can wait," I said. "But news like this will not wait. She will be obliged to hear it; you don't know how or where she may hear it. Better let her hear it first in as decent a way as possible."
"But there is no decent way. How can I explain to you, or you to her, such a measly affair as this? It began with a question of money he owed that woman on the ranch. He bought it of her,--and a cruel bad bargain it was,--and he never could make his last payment. She has threatened him, and played the fool with him when he'd let her, and bored him no end. His governor would have helped him out; but, you see, Micky has been a rather expensive boy, and he has given the old gentleman to understand that the place is paid for,--to account for money sent him at various times for that ostensible purpose,--and on that basis the bargain was struck, between our governors, for my interest in the ranch. My father bought me in, on a clear title, as Uncle George represented it, in perfect good faith. I've never said a word, on the old gentleman's account; and Micky has never dared undeceive his father, who is the soul of honor in business, as in everything else. I am sorry to bore you with family affairs; but it's rather rum the way Micky's fate has caught up with him, through his one weakness of laziness, and perhaps lying a little, when he was obliged to. How this affair came about so suddenly I can't say. Didn't like to ask her too many questions; and Micky, poor devil, faded from view directly he saw us coming. But at a venture: she had heard he was going to be married, and came down here to make trouble when he should arrive with his bride; but he came back alone, disgusted with life, and found her here. It was easier to marry her than--pay her, we'll say. She has been something over-generous, perhaps. She would rather have had him, any time, than her money, and now was the time. She took advantage of a weak moment."
"A weak and a spiteful moment," I kindly added. "Now if he hastens the news to England, and the Percifers hear of it in New York, how pleasant for Kitty to have all her friends hear that he is married and she is not!"
"Great Heavens!" said the young fellow, "if she would let me hasten the news--that she is married to me!"
"Why don't you appeal to her pride and her spirit now while they are in the dust? Why do you bother with sentiment now?"
I liked him so much at that moment that I would have had him have Kitty, no matter what way he got her.
"Yes," he said; "why not take advantage of her, as everybody else has done?"
"Some people's scrupulousness comes rather late," I said.
"To those who don't understand," he had the brazenness to say. "What is done is done. It's a rough beginning--awfully rough on her. The end must atone somehow. If I don't win her I shall be punished enough; but if I do, it will be because she loves me. And pray God"--He stopped, with that look. It is a number of years since a young man has looked at me in that way, but a woman does not forget.
It was rather difficult telling to Kitty the story of her old lover's marriage, as I took it on myself to do. Not that she winced perceptibly; but I fear she has taken the thing home, and is dwelling on it--certain features of it--in a way that can do no good. From a word she lets slip now and then, I gather that she is brooding over that fancy of hers that Cecil Harshaw offered himself by way of reparation, as she was falling between two stools,--her own home and her lover's,--to save her from the ground. As since that rainy night in the wagon she has never distinctly referred to this theory of his conduct, I have no excuse for bringing it up, even to attack it. In fact, I dare not; she is in too complicated a mood. And, after all, why should I want her to marry either of them? Why should the "hungry generations" tread her down? She is nice enough to stay as she is.
Another thing happened on our way here which may perversely have helped to confirm her in this pretty notion of Harshaw's disinterestedness.
At a place by the river where the current is bad (there are many such places, and, in fact, the whole of the Snake River is a perfect hoodoo) Harshaw stopped one day to drink. The wagon had struck a streak of heavy sand, and we were all walking. We stood and watched him, because he drank with such deep enjoyment, stooping bareheaded on his hands and knees, and putting his hot face to the water. Suddenly he made a clutch at his breast pocket: his Norfolk jacket was unbuttoned. He had lost something, and the river had got it. He ran along the bank, trying to recover it with a stick, and, not succeeding, he plopped in just as he was, with his boots on. We saw him drop into deep water and swim for it, a little black object, which he caught, and held in his teeth. Then he turned his face to the shore; and precious near he came to never reaching it! We women had been looking on, smiling, like idiot dolls, till we saw Tom racing down the bank, throwing off his coat as he ran. Then we took a sort of dumb fright, and tried to follow; but it was all over in a second, before we saw it, still less realized it--his struggle, swimming for dear life, and not gaining an inch; the stick held out to him in the nick of time, just as he passed a spot where the beast of a current that had him swooped inshore.
I am sorry to say that my husband's first words to the man he may be said to have saved from death were, "You young fool, what did you do that for?"
"For this," Harshaw panted, slapping his wet breast.
"For a pocket-book! Great Sign! What had you in it? I wouldn't have done that for the whole of the Snake River valley."
"Nor I," laughed Harshaw.
"Nor the Bruneau to boot."
"What did you do it for, then?"
"For this," Harshaw repeated.
"For a piece of pasteboard with a girl's face on it, or some such toy, I'll be sworn!"
Harshaw did not deny the soft impeachment.
"I didn't know you had a girl, Harshaw," Tom began seductively.
"Well, I haven't, you know," said Harshaw. "There was one I wanted badly enough, a few years ago," he added with engaging frankness.
"When was it you first began to pine for her? About the period of second dentition?"
"Oh, betimes; and betimes I was disappointed."
"Well, unless it was for the girl herself, I'd keep out of that Snake River," my husband advised.
Kitty's face wore a slightly strained expression of perfect vacancy.
"Do you know who Harshaw's 'girl' was?" I asked her the other night, as we were undressing,--without an idea that she wouldn't see where the joke came in. She was standing, with her hair down, between the canvas curtains of our tent. It looks straight out toward the Sand Springs Fall, and Kitty worships there awhile every night before she goes to bed.
"No," she said. "I was never much with Cecil Harshaw. It is the families that have always known each other." The simple child! She hadn't understood him, or would she not understand? Which was it? I can't make out whether she is really simple or not. She is too clever to be so very simple; yet the cleverness of a young girl's mind, centred on a few ideas, is mainly in spots. But now I think she has brought this incident to bear upon that precious theory of hers, that Harshaw offered himself from a sense of duty. Great good may it do her!
The Sand Springs Fall, a perfect gem, is directly opposite our camp, facing west across the lagoon. We can feast our eyes upon it at all hours of the day and night. Tom has told Kitty, in the way of business, that he has no use for that fall. She may draw it or not, as she likes. She does draw it; she draws it, and water-colors it, and chalks it in colored crayons, and India-inks it, loading on the Chinese white; and she charcoals it, in moonlight effects, on a gray-blue paper. But do it whatever way she will, she never can do it.
"Oh, you exquisite, hopeless thing! Why can't I let you alone!" she cries; "and why can't you let me alone!"
"It is rather hard, the way the thing doubles up on you," says Tom. "The real fall, right side up, is bad enough; but when it comes to the reflection of it, standing on its head in the lagoon, I should lie right down myself. I wouldn't pull another pound."
("Lay down," he said; but I thought you wouldn't stand it. Tom would never spoil a cherished bit of dialect because of shocking anybody with his grammar.)
Kitty throws herself back in the dry salt-grass with which the whole of our little peninsula is bedded. The willows and brakes are our curtains, through which the rising moon looks in at us, and the setting sun; the sun rises long before we see him, above the dark-blue mountains beyond the shore.
"Won't somebody repeat
'There is sweet music here that softlier lies?'"
Kitty asks, letting her eyelashes fall on her sun-flushed cheeks. Her face, as I saw it, sitting behind her in the grass, was so pretty--upside down like the reflection of the waterfall, its colors all the more wonderfully blended.
We did not all speak at once. Then Harshaw said, to break the silence, "I will read it to you, if you don't mind."
"Oh, have you the book?" Kitty asked in surprise.
He went to his tent and returned with a book, and sitting on the grass where she could hear but could not see him, he began. I trembled for him; but before he had got to the second stanza I was relieved: he could read aloud.
"Now there is a man one could live on a Snake River ranch with," I felt like saying to Kitty. Not that I am sure that I want her to.
When he had finished,
"O rest ye, brother mariners; we will not wander more!"
Tom remarked, after a suitable silence, that it was all well enough for Harshaw, who would be in London in six weeks, to say, "We will not wander more!" But how about the rest of us?
Kitty sat straight up at that.
"Will Mr. Harshaw be in London six weeks from now?" The question was almost a cry.
"Will you?" she demanded, turning upon him as if this was the last injury he could do her.
"I suppose so," he said.
"And you will see my mother, and all of them?"
"I think so--if you wish."
She rose up, as if she could bear no more. Harshaw waited an instant, and then followed her; but she motioned him back, and went away to have it out with herself alone.
I took up the book Harshaw had left on the grass. It was "Copp's Manual"--"For the use of Prospectors," etc.
* * * * *
After all, it is not so sure that Harshaw will go to London. There has been an engineer on the ground since last summer, when all this water was free. He has located a vast deal of it, perhaps the whole. Tom says he can hold only just as much as he can use; I hope there will be no difference of opinion on that point. There generally is a difference of opinion on points of location when the thing located is proved to have any value. The prior locator has gone East, they tell us at the ranch, on a business visit, presumably to raise capital for his scheme; which, as I understand it, is to force the water of the springs up on the dry plains above, for irrigation (the fetich of the country), by means of a pneumatic pumping arrangement. His ladders and pipes, and all his hopeful apparatus, are clinging now like cobwebs to the face of the bluff, against that flashing, creaming broadside of the springs at their greatest height and fall. I was pitying the poor man and his folly, but Tom says the plan is perfectly feasible.
The wall of the river canon is built up in stories of basalt rock, each story defined by a horizontal fissure, out of which these mysterious waters gush, white and cold, taking glorious colors in the sunlight from the rich under-painting of the rock. There is an awfulness about it, too, as if that sheer front of rock were the retaining-wall of a reservoir as deep as the bluffs are high, which had sprung a leak in a thousand places, and might the next instant burst and ingulf the lagoon, and wipe out the pretty island between itself and the river. Winter and summer the volume of water never varies, and the rate of discharge is always the same, and the water is never cold, though I have just said it is. It looks cold until the rocks warm it with their gemlike tints, like a bride's jewels gleaming through her veil. Back of the bluffs, where it might be supposed to come from, there is nothing for a hundred miles but drought and desert plains. I don't care for any of their theories concerning its source. It is better as it is--the miracle of the smitten rock.
You can fancy what wild presumption it must seem that a mere man should think to reverse those torrents and make them climb the bluff or cram them into an iron pipe and send them like paid laborers to hoist and pump and grind, and light the streets at Silver City, a hundred miles away. And how the cataracts will shout while these two pigmies compare their rival claims to ownership--in a force that with one stroke could lay them as flat as last year's leaves in the bottom of a mill-race!
The particular fall my schemer has located for his own--other claims to be discussed hereafter--is called the "Snow Bank." He says he doesn't want the earth: this one cataract is enough for him. To look at the whole frontage of the springs and listen to their roar, one would think there might be water enough for them both, poor children! Hardly what you'd call two bites of a cherry!
If the springs were the half of a broken diamond bracelet, the Snow Bank would be its brightest gem, lying separate in the case--perhaps the one that was the clasp. It is half hidden by the shoulder of a great barren bluff which, at a certain angle of the sun, throws a blue shadow over it. At other times the fall is almost too bright in its foaming whiteness for the eye to endure.
Kitty is painting it with this shadow half across it; but the light shines upon it at its source. Tom is doubtful if she is showing the fall to the best advantage for his purpose, but he is obliging enough to let the artist try it in her own way first.
"Go up there," she says, "and stand at the head of the spring, if you want to show by comparison how big it is, or how small you are."
He goes, and gets in position, and Kitty makes some pencil-marks on the margin of her sketch. Then she waves her hands to tell him, across the shouting current, that she is done with him. She has been so quick that he thinks he must have mistaken her gesture. Then Harshaw makes the train-conductor's signal for the train to move on.
"You see," she says to Harshaw and me, who are looking over her shoulder, "that would be the size of him in my sketch." She points to the marginal pencil-mark, which is not longer than the nib of a stub-pen. "I can't make a little black dot like that look like a man."
"In this particular sketch, for his purpose, he'd rather look like a dot than a man, I dare say," said Harshaw.
"Well, shall I put him in? I can make a note of it on the margin: 'This black dot is Mr. Daly, standing at the spring-head. He is six feet'"--
"But he isn't, you know," Harshaw says. "He's five feet ten--if he's that."
"Ten and a half," I hasten to amend.
Our lunch that day had been left in the boat. We went down and ate it under the mountain birches at a spot where the Snow Bank empties into the lagoon--not our lagoon, as we called it, between our camp and the lovely Sand Springs Fall, but the upper one, made by the springs themselves, before their waters reach the river. In front of us, half embraced by the lagoon and half by the river, lay a little island-ranch of about ten acres, not cut up in crops, but all over green in pasture. A small cabin, propping up a large hop-vine, showed against a mass of birch and cottonwood on the river side of the island.
"What a place for a honeymoon!" said I.
"There is material there for half of a honeymoon," said Tom--"not bad material, either."
"Oh, yes," I said; "we have seen her--that is, we have seen her sunbonnet."
"Kitty, you've got a rival," I exclaimed: for there in the sunny centre of the island, planted with obvious design right in front of the Snow Bank, our Snow Bank, was an artist's big white umbrella.
"Why should I not have, in a place like this?" she said. "If the schemers arrive by twos, why not two of my modest craft? We shall leave it as we find it; we don't intend to carry it away in our pockets." She stopped, and blushed disdainfully. "I forgot," she murmured, "my own mercenary designs."
"I have not heard of these mercenary designs of yours. What are they, may I ask?" Harshaw had turned on his side on the grass, and half rose on one elbow as he looked at her.
"That is strange," mocked Kitty, with supreme coldness. "You have always been so interested in my affairs!"
"I always shall be," he replied seriously, with supreme gentleness.
"I ought to be so grateful."
"But unfortunately you are not."
"I should be grateful--if you would move a little farther to the right, if you please. That young person in the pink sunbonnet is coming down to water her horses again."
Harshaw calmly took himself out of her way altogether, lighted his pipe, and went down close to the water, and sat there on a stone, and presently, as we could hear, entered into easy conversation with the pink sunbonnet, the face of which leaned toward him over the pony's neck as he stooped to drink. The splashed waters became still, and softly the whole picture--pink sunbonnet, clay-bank pony, pale and shivery willows, and deep blue sky--developed on the negative of the clear lagoon.
There was no use in saying how pretty it was, so we resorted to the other note, of disparagement. I remarked that I should not think a pink sunbonnet would be ravishingly becoming to the average Snake River complexion, as I had seen it.
"That sunbonnet is becoming, you bet!" Tom remarked. "Wait till you see the face inside it."
"Have you seen it?"
"Quite frequently. Do you think Harshaw would sit there talking with her, as he does by the hour, if that sunbonnet was not becoming?"
"As he does by the hour! And why have we not heard of her before?" I requested to be told.
"Business, my dear. She is a feature of the scheme--quite an important one. She represents the hitch which is sure to develop early in the history of every live enterprise."
"Indeed?" I said. And if Harshaw talked with her on business, I didn't see what his talking had to do with the face inside her bonnet.
"I don't say that it's always on business," Tom threw in significantly.
"Who is the lady in the pink sunbonnet, and what is your business with her?" I demanded.
"I question the propriety of speaking of her in just that tone," said Tom, "inasmuch as she happens to be a lady--somewhat off the conventional lines. She waters her own stock and milks her own cow, because the old Indian girl who lives with her is laid up at present with a fever. Her father was an artist--one of the great unappreciated"--
"So that was her father painting the Snow Bank?" I interrupted.
"Her father is dead, my dear, as you would have learned if you had listened to my story. But he lived here a good many years before he died. He had made a queer marriage, old man Decker tells me, and quarreled with the world on account of it. He came here with his disputed bride. She was somebody else's wife first, I believe, and there was a trifling informality about the matrimonial exchange; but it came out all right. They both died, and a sweeter, fresher little thing than the daughter! Adamant, though--bed-rock, so far as we are concerned."
"What do you want that belongs to her?" I asked. "Her island, perhaps?"
"Only right of way across it. But 'that's a detail.' She is the owner of something else we do want--this piece of ground,"--he looked about him and waved his hand,--"and all this above us, where our power-plant must stand. And our business is to persuade her to sign the lease, or, if she won't lease, to sell it when we are ready to buy. We have to make sure of that piece of ground. This place is so confoundedly cut up with scenery and nonsense, there's not a spot available for our plant but this. We'll bridge the lagoon and make a landing on that point of birches over there."
"You will! And do you suppose she will sign a lease to empower you to wipe her off the face of the earth--abolish her and her pretty island at one fell swoop?"
"She knows nothing yet about our designs upon her toy island. We haven't approached her on that. We could manage without it at a pinch."
"So good of you!" I murmured.
"But we can't manage without a place to put our power-house."
"She'll have to sign her own death-warrant, of course. If you get a footing for your power-house you'll want the island next. I never heard of such grasping profanation."
"Well, if Cecy could see his way to fall in love with her,--I wouldn't ask him to woo her in cold blood,--it would be a monstrous convenient way to settle it."
"Why do you say such things before her?" I asked Tom when we were alone. "They are not pretty things to say, in the first place."
"Have you noticed how she is always snubbing him? I thought it time somebody should try the counter-snub. He's not solely dependent for the joys of life on the crumbs of her society."
"Do you suppose she cares whom he talks to, or whom he spends his time with?"
"Perhaps she doesn't care. I should like to give her a chance to see if she cares, that's all."
Tom's location notice being plain for all eyes to read, the mistress of the island naturally inquired what he wanted with the Snow Bank; and he, thinking she would see at once the value to her ranch of such a neighboring enterprise, frankly told her of his scheme. Nothing of its scientific interest, its difficulties, its commercial value, even its benefit to herself, appealed to the little islander. To her it was simply an attempt to alter and ruin the spot she loved best on earth; to steal her beautiful waterfall and carry it away in an ugly iron pipe. Whether the thing could be done, she did not ask herself; the design was enough. Never would she lend herself, or anything that was hers, to such an impious desecration! This was her position, which any child might have taken in defense of a beloved toy; but she was holding it with all a woman's force and constancy.
I was glad of it, I said to Tom, and I hoped she would stand them off for all she was worth. But I am not really glad. What woman could love a waterfall better than her husband's success? There are hundreds of waterfalls in the world, but only this one scheme for Tom.
But anent this hitch, it teases me a little, I confess, on Kitty's account, when Cecil meanders over to the island at all hours of the day. To be sure, it relieves Kitty of his company; but is she so glad, after all, to be relieved?
It was last Friday, after one of Harshaw's entirely frank but perfectly unexplained absences, that he came into camp and inquired if there was any clam-broth left in the kitchen. I referred him to the cook. Finding there was, he returned to me and asked if he might take a tin of it to Miss Malcolm for her patient.
"Who is Miss Malcolm?" I asked. But of course who could she be but the lady of the island, where he spends the greater part of his time? He was welcome to the clam-broth, or anything else he thought would be acceptable in that quarter, I said. And how was the patient?
"Oh, she's quite bad all the time. She doesn't get about. I wonder if you'd mind, Mrs. Daly, if I asked you to look in on her some day? The old creature's in a sad way, it seems to me."
Of course I didn't mind, if Miss Malcolm did not. Harshaw seemed to feel authorized to assure me of that fact. So I went first with Tom, and then I went again alone, leaving Harshaw in the boat with Kitty.
Miss Malcolm's maid or man servant, or both--for she does the work of both, and looks in her bed (dressed in a flannel bed-sack, her head tied up in an old blue knitted "fascinator") less like a woman than anything I ever beheld--appears to have had a mild form of grippe fever, and having never been sick in her life before, she thought she was nearing her end. My simple treatment, the basis of which was quinine and whiskey, seemed to strike old Tamar favorably; and after the second visit there was no need to come again to see her. But by this time I was deep in the good books of her mistress, who knows too little of illness herself to appreciate how little has been done, by me at least, or how very little needed to be done after restoring the old woman's confidence in her power to live. (The last time I saw her she still wore the blue fascinator, but with a man's hat on top of it; she was waddling toward the cow-corral with half a haystack, it looked like, poised on a hay-fork above her head. She was certainly a credit to her doctor, if not to her corsetiere, she and the haystack being much of a figure.)
Miss Malcolm's innocent gratitude is most embarrassing, really painful, under the circumstances, and the poor child cannot let the circumstances alone. She imagines I am always thinking about Tom's scheme. It is evident that she is; and not being exactly a woman of the world, out of the fullness of her heart her mouth speaketh. That would be all right if she would speak to somebody else. I don't want to take advantage of her gratitude, as she seems determined I shall do.
"You must think me a very strained, sentimental creature," she said to me the last time, "to care so much for a few old rocks and a little piece of foamy water."
I didn't think so at all, I told her. If I had lived there all my life, I should feel about the place just as she did.
Here she began to blush and distress herself. "But think how kind you have all been to me! Mr. Harshaw was here every day, after he found how ill poor Tamar was. He did so many things: he lifted her, for one thing, and that I couldn't have done to save her life. And your two visits have simply cured her! And here I am making myself a stumbling-block and ruining your husband's plans!"
I said he was quite capable of taking care of himself.
"Does your husband want all the water?" she persisted. "Do I understand that he must have it all?"
I supposed she was talking of the Snow Bank, and since she was determined we should discuss the affair in this social way, I said he would have to have a great deal; and I told her about the distance the power would have to be sent, and about the mines and the smelters, and all the rest of it, for it was no use to belittle the scheme. I had got started unintentionally, and I saw by her face that I had made an impression. It is a small-featured, rather set, colorless face, not so pretty as Tom pretended, but very delicate and pure; but now it became suddenly the face of a fierce little bigot, and enthusiast to boot.
"It shall never go through,--not that scheme--not if"--Then she remembered to whom she was talking, and set her lips together, and two great shiny drops stood in her eyes.
"Don't, don't, you child!" I said. "Don't worry about their old scheme! If it must come it will come; but as a rule, a scheme, my dear, is the last thing that ever does go through. There's plenty of time."
"But I can't give in," she said. "No; I must try to hinder it all I can. I will be honest with you. I like you all; of all the strangers who have come here I never liked any people better. But your husband--must not--set his heart on all that water! It doesn't belong to him."
"Does it belong to you, dear?"
"The sight of it belongs to me," she said. "I will not have the place all littered up with their pipes and power-plants. Look out there! Look at that! Has any one the right to come here and spoil such a lovely thing as that?"--This is what it is to be the daughter of an artist.
"And how about the other despoiler," I asked--"the young man with the pneumatic pipe?"
"The 'pneumatic pipe'!" she repeated.
"'Pump,' I mean. Is he to be allowed all over the place to do as he pleases? His scaling-ladders are littering up the bluffs--not that they incommode the bluffs any; but if I lived here, I should want to brush them away as I would sweep the cobwebs from my walls."
"I do not own the bluffs," she said in a distant, tremulous voice.
But the true answer to my question, as I surmise, was the sudden, helpless flush which rose, wave upon wave, covering her poor little face, blotting out all expression but that of painful girlish shame. Here, if I'm not mistaken, will be found the heart of the difficulty. Miss Malcolm's sympathies are evidently with compressed air rather than with electrical transmission. I shall tell Tom he need waste no more arguments on her. Let him first compound with his rival of the pump.
* * * * *
I suppose there is just such a low, big moon as this looking in upon you where you sit, you little dot of a woman, lost in the piazza perspectives of the Coronado; and you might think small things of our present habitation--a little tent among the bushes, with wind-blown weeds against the moon, shifting their shadow-patterns over our canvas walls. But you'd not think small things of our Sand Springs Fall by night, that glimmers on the dark cliff opposite--cliff, and mist-like cataract, and the low moon throwing the shadow of the bluff across it, all repeated in the stiller, darker picture of the lagoon. I shall not inflict much of this sort of thing upon you; but the senseless beauty of it all gives one a heartache. Why should it be here, where you and I shall never see it together--where I shall leave it soon, never to see it again? Tom says we are coming back--when the great scheme is under way. Ah, the scheme, the scheme! It looks very far away to-night, and so do some other schemes that I had set my heart on unaware, foolish old woman that I am. As if there was only one way in this--world for young men and women to be happy!
Harshaw brought me your sweet letter yesterday. It was stage-day, and he went up over the bluffs to the ferry mail-box at the cross-roads, where the road to Shoshone Falls branches from the road to Bliss.
I read to Kitty what you wrote me about the Garretts and their children, and the going to New York and then to Paris. (Thank you so much, dear, for your prompt interest in my little bride that isn't to be!) She had two letters of her own which she had read by herself, and afterward I thought she had been crying; but with her it is best not to press the note of sympathy. Neither does she like me to handle her affairs with gloves on, so to speak. So I plunged into the business in a matter-of-fact tone, and she replied in the same. Her objection is to going east to New York, and then to the other side. "I had rather stay in California," she said, "or anywhere in the West." Naturally; westward lies the way of escape from social complications.
She is afraid of the Percifers, and of meeting people she knows in Paris. But an offer like this was exceptional in this part of the world, I reminded her. A nurse for the boy, a maid, and only two little girls of eight and ten on her hands; and such nice people as the Garretts, who have been all over the world!
"Well," she said, "I should certainly like to get away from here as soon as possible. From here, not from you!" she added, looking me in the face. Her eyes were full of tears. We clasped hands on that.
"What is it? Has anything else happened?" I asked; for I knew by her looks that something had.
"Oh, dear!" she sighed, "I should so like to take myself and my troubles seriously once in a while. No sooner do I try, but something perfectly farcical is sure to happen. If I tell you this, promise me you won't laugh. It's indecent for me to laugh; mamma would never forgive me. The old dear! I'm so fond of him!"
The "old dear," it seems, is Micky's father--a very superior sort of father for such a son to have, but accidents will happen in the best-regulated families. He is a gallant widower of fair estate, one of those splendid old club-men of London; a very expensive article of old gentleman, with fine old-fashioned manners and morals, and a few stray impulses left, it would seem by what follows. According to the father's code, the son has not conducted himself in his engagement to Kitty Comyn as a gentleman should. Thereupon the head of the house goes to Miss Kitty's mother and makes the amende honorable by offering his hand and heart and fortune to his son's insulted bride! The mother is touched and pleased not a little by this prompt espousal of her daughter's cause; and having wiped away all tears from her eyes, this gallant old gentleman is coming over to America, for the first time in his life, to make his proposal to the bride herself! He is not so old, to get down to particulars; sixty-three doesn't look so old to some of us as it does to Miss Kitty. He is in fine health, I doubt not, and magnificently preserved. Kitty's mother is not at all averse, as I gather, to this way of settling her child's difficulties. She rather pleadingly assures Kitty that Mr. Harshaw senior has solemnly sworn that this is no unpleasant duty he feels called on to perform; not only his honor, but his affections are profoundly enlisted in this proposal. Kitty has had for years a sacred place in his regard; and from thinking of her as a daughter absolutely after his own heart, it is but a step to think of her in a still nearer--the nearest--relation. He begs her mother to prepare her for no perfunctory offer of marriage, but one that warms with every day's delay till he can take the dear child under his lifelong protection. Not to punish or to redress does he come, but to secure for himself and posterity a treasure which his son had trampled under foot. Somehow we did not feel like laughing, after all. Kitty, I think, is a little frightened. She cannot reach her mother, even with a cable dispatch, before this second champion will arrive.
"He's an awfully grand old fellow, you know. I could never talk to him as I do to the boys. If he thinks it his duty to marry me, I don't know if I can help myself. Poor Uncle George! I've always called him 'uncle' like his own nieces, who are all my friends. I never thought that I should be 'poor-ing' Uncle George! But he can't have heard yet of Micky's marriage. Fancy his going down to the ranch to stay with Micky and that woman! And then for a girl like me to toss him aside, after such a journey and such kindness! I don't know how I shall ever have courage to do it. There are fine women in London who would jump at the chance of being Mrs. Harshaw--not Mrs. Micky, nor Mrs. Stephen, nor Mrs. Sidney, but Mrs. Harshaw, you understand?" I understood.
"And now," she said, producing the second letter, "you will laugh! And you may!"
The envelope contained a notification, in due form, of the arrival from New York, charges not paid, of some five hundred pounds of second-class freight consigned to Mrs. Harshaw, Harshaw's ranch, Glenn's Ferry (via Bisuka).
"These things belong to me," said Kitty. "They cost me the last bit of money I had that was my own. Mrs. Percifer, who is so clever at managing, persuaded me I should need them directly on the ranch--curtains and rugs and china, and heaven knows what! She nearly killed me, dragging me about those enormous New York shops. She said it would be far and away cheaper and better to buy them there. I didn't mind about anything, I was so scared and homesick; I did whatever she said. She saw to getting them off, I suppose. That must have been her idea, directing them to Mrs. Harshaw. She thought there would be no Kitty Comyn, no me, when these got here. And there isn't; this is not the Kitty Comyn who left England--six weeks, is it?--or six years ago!"
"How did the letter reach you?" I asked. We examined the envelope. It bore the postmark, not of Bisuka, but of Glenn's Ferry, which is the nearest post-office to the Harshaw ranch. Micky's wife had doubtless opened the letter, and Micky, perceiving where the error lay, had reinclosed, but some one else had directed it--the postmaster, probably, at his request--to Kitty, at our camp. That was rather a nice little touch in Micky, that last about the direction.
"Come, he is honest, at the least," I said, "whether Mrs. Micky would have scrupled or not. She could claim the things if she chose."
"She is quite welcome," said Kitty. "I don't know what in the world I shall do with them. There'll be boxes and bales and barrels--enough to bury me and all my troubles. I might build me a funeral pyre!"
We fell into each other's arms and screamed with laughter.
"Kitty, we'll have an auction," I cried. "There's nothing succeeds like an auction out here. We'll sell the things at boom prices--we'll sell everything."
"But the bride," said Kitty; "you will have to keep the bride." And without a moment's warning, from laughing till she wept, she began to weep in earnest. I haven't seen her cry so since she came to us, not even that miserable first night. She struggled with herself, and seemed dreadfully ashamed, and angry with me that I should have seen her cry. Did she suppose I thought she was crying because she wasn't going to be a bride, after all?
* * * * *
"Oh, Mrs. Daly, I feel so ill!" were Kitty's first words to me when I woke this morning. I looked her over and questioned her, and concluded that a sleepless night, with not very pleasant thoughts for company, might be held responsible for a good share of her wretchedness.
"What were you lying awake about? Your new champion, Uncle George?" I asked her.
She owned that it was. "Don't you see, Mrs. Daly, mamma doesn't leave room for the possibility of my refusing him. And if I do refuse him, he'll simply take me back to England, and then, between him and mamma, and all of them, I don't know what may happen."
"Kitty," I said, "no girl who has just escaped from one unhappy engagement is going to walk straight into another with her eyes wide open. I won't believe you could be so foolish as that."
"You don't understand," she said, "what the pressure will be at home--in all love and kindness, of course. And you don't know Uncle George. He is so sure that I need him, he'll force me to take him. He'll take me back to England in any case."
"And would you not like to go, Kitty?"
"Ah, wouldn't I! But not in that way."
She sat up in her flannel camp-gown, and began to braid up her loosened hair.
"Kitty," I commanded, "lie down. You are not to get up till luncheon."
"I have a plan," she said, "and I must see Cecil Harshaw; he must help me carry it out. There is no one else who can."
"You have all day to see him in."
"Not all day, Mrs. Daly. He must be ready to start to-morrow. Uncle George will reach Bisuka on the fifteenth, not later. Cecil must meet him there; first, to prepare him for Micky's new arrangement, and second, to persuade him that he does not owe me an offer of marriage in consequence. Cecil will know how to manage it; he must know! I will not have any more of the Harshaws offering themselves as substitutes. It will be very strange if I cannot exist without them somehow."
It struck me that the poor child's boast was a little premature, as she seemed to be making rather free use of one of the substitutes still, as a shield against the others; but it was of a piece with the rest of the comedy. I kept her in bed till she had had a cup of tea; afterward she slept a little, and about noon she dressed herself and gave Cecil his audience. But first, at her request, I had possessed him with the main facts and given him an inkling of what was expected of him. His face changed; he looked as he did after his steeplechase the day I saw him first,--except that he was cleaner,--grave, excited, and resolved. He had taken the bit in his teeth. When substitute meets substitute in a cause like this! I would have left them to have their little talk by themselves, but Kitty signified peremptorily that she wished me to stay, with a flushed, appealing look that softened the nervous tension of her manner.
"I would do anything on earth for you, Kitty," Cecil said most gently and fervently; "but don't ask me to give advice--to Uncle George of all men--on a question of this kind--unless you will allow me to be perfectly frank."
"It's a family question," said Kitty, ignoring his proviso.
"I think it would get to be a personal question very soon between Uncle George and me. No; I meddled in one family question not very long ago."
"It's very strange," said Kitty restlessly, "if you can't help me out of this in some way. I cannot be so disrespectful to him, the dear old gentleman! He ought not to be put in such a position, or I either. How would you like it if it were your father?"
Cecil reddened handsomely at this home thrust. "I'd have a deuce of a time to stop him if he took the notion, you know; it's not exactly a son's or a nephew's business. There is only one way in which I can help you, Kitty. You must know that."
He had struck a different key, and his face was all one blush to correspond with the new note in his voice. I think I never saw a manlier, more generous warmth of ardor and humility, or listened to words so simply uttered in such telling tones.
"What way is that?" asked Kitty coldly.
"Forgive me! I could tell him that you are engaged to me."
"That would be a nice way--to tell him a falsehood! I should hope I had been humiliated enough"--
She snatched her handkerchief from her belt and pressed it to her burning face. I rose again to go. "Sit still, pray!" she murmured.
"It need not be a falsehood, Kitty. Let it be anything you like. You may trust me not to take advantage. A nominal engagement, if you choose, just to meet this exigency; or"--
"That would be cheating," cried Kitty.
"The cheat would bear a little harder on me than on any one else, I think."
"You are too good!" Kitty smiled disdainfully. "First you offer yourself to me as a cure, and now as a preventive."
"Kitty, I think you ought at least to take him seriously," I remonstrated.
"By all that's sacred, you'll find it's serious with me!" Cecil ejaculated.
"Since when?" retorted Kitty. "How many weeks ago is it that I came out here by your contrivance to marry your cousin? Is that the way a man shows his seriousness? You sacrificed more to marry me to Micky than some men would to win a girl themselves."
"I did, and for that very reason," said Cecil.
"I should like to see you prove it!"
"Kitty, excuse me," I interrupted. "I should like to ask Mr. Harshaw one question, if he does not mind. Do you happen to have that picture about you, Mr. Harshaw?"
I thought I was looking at him very kindly, not at all like an inquisitor, but his face was set and stern. I doubt if he perceived or looked for my intention.
"'That picture,' Mrs. Daly?" he repeated.
"The photograph of a young lady that you jumped into the river to save--don't you remember?"
Cecil smiled slightly, and glanced at Kitty. "Did I say it was a photograph of a lady?"
"No; you did not. But do you deny that it was?"
"Certainly not, Mrs. Daly. I have the picture with me; I always have it."
"And do you think that looks like seriousness? To be making such protestations to one girl with the portrait of another in your coat pocket? We have none of us forgotten, I think, that little conversation by the river."
He saw my meaning now, and thanked me with a radiant look. "Here is the picture, Mrs. Daly. Whose portrait did you think it was? Surely you might have known, Kitty! This is the girl I wanted years ago and have wanted ever since; but she belonged to another man, and the man was my friend. I tried to save that man from insulting her and dishonoring himself, because I thought she loved him. Or, if he couldn't be saved, I wanted to expose him and save her. And I risked my own honor to do it, and a great fool I was for my pains. But this is the last time I shall make a fool of myself for your sake, Kitty."
I rose now in earnest, and I would not be stayed. In point of fact, nobody tried to stay me. Kitty was looking at her own face with eyes as dim as the little water-stained photograph she held. And Cecil was on his knees beside her, whispering, "I stole it from Micky's room at the ranch. That was no place for it, anyhow. May I not have one of my own, Kitty?"
I think he will get one--of his own Kitty.
* * * * *
Our rival schemer, Mr. Norman Fleet, has arrived, and electrical transmission has shaken hands with compressed air. The millennium must be on the way, for never did two men want so nearly the same thing, and yet agree to take each what the other does not need.
Mr. Fleet does not "want the earth," either, nor all the waters thereof; but the most astonishing thing is, he doesn't want the Snow Bank! He not only doesn't want it himself, but is perfectly willing that Tom should have it. In fact, do what we will, it seems to be impossible for us to tread on the tail of that young man's coat. But having heard a little bird whisper that he is in love, and successfully so, I am not so surprised at his amiability. Neither am I altogether unprepared, if the little bird's whisper be true, for the fact that Miss Malcolm is becoming reconciled to Tom's designs upon her beloved scenery. For the sake of consistency, and that pure devotion to the Beautiful, so rare in this sordid age, I could have wished that she had not weakened so suddenly; but for Tom's sake I am very glad. She is clay in the hands of the potter, now that she knows my husband does not want "all the water," and that his success does not mean the failure of Mr. Norman Fleet.
Harshaw will take the Snow Bank scheme when he takes Kitty back to London. If he promotes it, I tell Tom, after the fashion in which he "boomed" Kitty's marriage to his cousin, we're not likely to see either him or the Snow Bank again. But "Harshaw is all right," Tom says; and I believe that the luck is with him.