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Under the Tonto Rim
Zane Grey (1926) Country of origin: USA
Available texts by the same author here
Lucy awakened in a half-conscious dream that she was in a place unfamiliar to her. Before she opened her eyes she smelled wood smoke. Then she saw that daylight had come, and she was looking at her open window through which blue smoke and sunlight were pouring in. Bewildered, she gazed around this strange room--bare wood and clay walls--big stone fire-place--rude ceiling of poles and shingles. Where was she?
With a start she raised on her elbow. Then the effort that cost her, the sense of sore muscles, and the rustling of the corn-husk mattress brought flashing to memory her long ride of yesterday and the backwoods home of the Denmeades.
She was surprised, and somewhat mortified, to see that the children were up and gone. On the moment Lucy heard the patter of their feet outside on the porch and the ringing strokes of an axe on hard wood. Whereupon she essayed to hop out of bed. She managed it all right, but not without awkwardness and pain.
"Oh, I'm all crippled!" she cried ruefully. "That ride!...And say, it's Greenland's icy mountains here."
The plain, substantial woollen garments that she had brought for cold weather were going to be welcome now. Lucy dressed in less time than ever before in her life. Then with soap, towel, comb, and brush she sallied out on the porch and round to the side of the cabin. The children were in the kitchen. An old man sat on a bench. He was thin, grey, with cadaverous cheeks, a pointed chin bristling with stubby beard.
"Good mawnin'," he said.
Lucy greeted him and asked where the water was.
"I jest fetched some," he said, pointing to a stand at the end of the porch. "Right pert this mawnin'. I reckon the frost won't do them peach blossoms no good."
Lucy indeed found the water pert. Her ablutions, owing to her impetuosity, turned out to be an ordeal. Evidently the old fellow had watched her with interest, for as she finished her hair and turned back he said with a huge grin, "Rosy cheeks!"
"Thanks," replied Lucy brightly. "I'm Lucy Watson. I didn't meet you last night."
"Nope. But I seen you. I'm Lee's oldest brother. Thar's four of us brothers hyar in the woods. Uncle Bill the kids call me."
Upon her way back to the room she encountered the extremely tall young Denmeade who appeared too bashful to return her greeting. Lucy hurriedly put her things away and made her bed, then presented herself at the kitchen door, to apologise for being late.
"Reckon you'd be tired, so I wouldn't let the children call you," replied Mrs. Denmeade. "Come an' eat."
They were having breakfast in the kitchen. Mary was the only one of the children to answer Lucy's greeting. Dan did not appear bashful, but his mouth was so full he could not speak. Mrs. Denmeade and Mertie were sitting at the table, while Allie stood beside the big stove. They did not seem stolid or matter-of-fact; they lacked expression of whatever they did feel. Lucy sat down to ham, eggs, biscuits, coffee. "Some of Edd's honey," indicated Mrs. Denmeade, with pride, as she placed a pan before her. Lucy was hungry. She enjoyed her breakfast, and as for the honey, she had never tasted anything so delicious, so wild and sweet of flavour.
After breakfast, Lucy was greatly interested in the brief preparations for school. Dan had to be forced away from the table. He was bareheaded and barefooted. Lucy went out to the gate with him and Mary. Dick was coming up the lane, leading two little grey lop-eared burros and a pony, all saddled. Dan climbed on one burro and Mary the other. Mertie came out carrying small tin buckets, one of which she handed to each of the children. Mary seemed reluctant to leave Lucy, but Dan rode off down the lane, mightily unconcerned. Mertie mounted the pony, and then had her brother hand up books and bucket. She smiled at Lucy. "You must get the boys to lend you a horse, so you can ride down to school with us," she said.
"That'll be fine," replied Lucy. "But the ride I had yesterday was enough for a while. I'm afraid I'm a tenderfoot."
Dick picked up a bucket and a rifle, and made ready to start.
"Do you walk to school?" queried Lucy, smiling. "Yes'm, I like walkin'," he replied.
"Look at his legs," said Mertie. "Pa says Dick can outwalk any of them, even Edd."
"He does look as if he could take long steps," returned Lucy, laughing.
"Reckon it'd be nice if you could teach us at home," said Dick shyly.
"Yes, it would, and I shall teach you a good deal," replied Lucy. "But I'm not a regular school teacher."
Lucy watched them go down the lane after Dan and was unexpectedly stirred at sight of the little procession. When she turned back up the path, Mrs. Denmeade met her.
"They're gone. It was fun to see the little burros," said Lucy. "How far do they have to ride, and why does Dick carry the gun?"
"It's five miles. Woods all the way. An' Dick doesn't pack that gun for fun. There's bears an' cats. An' hydrophobia skunks. I'm afraid of them, But when Dick's with the children I don't worry."
"What in the world are hydrophobia skunks?" queried Lucy.
"Nothin' but polecats with hydrophobia," replied the other. "Lee reckons the skunks get bitten by coyotes that have hydrophobia. It makes the skunks crazy. They come right for you. If you ever run across a pretty white-an'-black cat with a bushy tail--you run!"
"I will indeed," declared Lucy. "An ordinary skunk is bad enough. But this kind you tell of must be dreadful."
"Wal, Miss Lucy, this is wash-day for us," said Mrs. Denmeade. "An' we never seem to have time enough to do all the work. But I want to help you get started. Now if you'll tell me--"
"Mrs. Denmeade, don't you worry one minute," interrupted Lucy. "I'm here to help you. And I shall lend a hand whenever I can. As for my work, all I want is your permission to plan for what I think necessary--to buy things and make things for the house."
"Reckon I'm glad to agree on anythin' you want," replied Mrs. Denmeade. "Just call on me, an' Lee or the boys."
As they walked up the patch to the cabin Lucy was telling Mrs. Denmeade how it had been the decision of the welfare board to endeavour to teach the people living in remote districts to make things that would further easier and better living.
Denmeade, coming from the fields, apparently, met them and could not help but hear something of what Lucy said. It brought the broad grin to his weather-beaten face.
"Wife," he said, as he surveyed Lucy from head to foot, "this hyar city girl has got sense. An' she looks like she might grow into a strappin' fine young woman. 'To work with their hands,' she says. She's hit it plumb. That's all we ever done in our lives. That's why we never learned new tricks...All the same, if Miss Lucy teaches us somethin', we can do the same for her."
"I certainly expect you to," said Lucy gladly. "I'd like to learn to take care of a horse, chop wood, and line bees."
Denmeade let out a hearty laugh.
"Wal, now, listen to her," he ejaculated. "Take care, young woman, an' don't let my boy Edd hear you say you want to line bees. 'Cause if you do he'll shore take you. An' say, mebbe hangin' to that long legged boy when he's on a bee line, mebbe it ain't work!"
"All the same, I shall ask him to take Mertie and me sometime," declared Lucy.
"You couldn't hire Mertie to tramp up an' down these woods all day for anythin', let alone bees," replied Mrs. Denmeade with scorn. "Mertie sews clothes for herself or me all day, an' shore she dances all night. But she's not like the rest of the Denmeades. I reckon Dick would be the best one to go with you an' Edd."
"Wal, how'd you like to help me an' Uncle Bill plough to-day?" asked Denmeade quizzingly.
"Plough! Oh, that would be a little too much for me just yet!" laughed Lucy. "Why, that ride yesterday knocked me out! I'm stiff and sore this morning."
"Shore. That's no easy trail to anyone new to hosses," said Denmeade.
"Mr. Denmeade, I'd like to accept the loan of that tent the school-teacher offered," rejoined Lucy. "I think I could make myself very comfortable and I would not be depriving you and your wife of your room."
"Shore. Anythin' you like. Reckon the boys could make a tent tight enough to keep out bugs, snakes, dogs, wild cats, lions an' bears--an' mebbe hydrophobia skunks."
"Goodness!...Mr. Denmeade, you're teasing me," exclaimed Lucy.
"Wal, reckon I was," he replied. "Fact is, though, it ain't a bad idee. Summer is comin' an' the weather will soon get fine fer sleepin' outdoors. I seen the way Jenks had his tent fixed. Reckon me an' the boys can do it. But to-day we want to get through ploughin' before the rain...See them clouds comin' up out of the south-west? That means storm. Mebbe to-night or to-morrow or next day--but storm shore an' sartin."
"I hope Edd gets in before the rain," said Mrs. Denmeade. "Mertie would be sick if her new dress got spoiled."
"Ahuh! I reckon," returned Denmeade gruffly. Then as Lucy mounted the steps to the porch he said to her, "You have the run of the place now, Miss Lucy, an' you can call on me or the boys any time."
"Who's the best carpenter?" queried Lucy.
"Wal, I reckon Dick is shore handy with tools," replied Denmeade. "An' he has time before an' after school. But tools is all-fired scarce about hyar."
"Can we buy them at Cedar Ridge?"
"Shore. An' I reckon someone will be ridin' down after the dance."
Lucy did not need to spend much more time looking around the cabins, inside or outside. The possessions of the Denmeades were so few that a glance had sufficed to enumerate them. Manifestly also their wants were few. But the comfort and health of a home did not depend upon how little was necessary. The children of pioneers should have some of the conveniences of civilisation. Lucy did not under-estimate the problem on her hands.
She found that Mrs. Denmeade had removed from the closet whatever had been there, leaving it for Lucy's use. This enabled Lucy to unpack most of her belongings. When that was done she took pencil and pad and went outdoors to find a place to sit down and think and plan.
One of the old black hounds, a dignified and solemn dog, looked at Lucy as if he realised she should have company, and he went with her. How amused Lucy was to see the hound walk along with her, manifesting no evidence of friendliness other than his accompanying her.
Lucy crossed the strip of woods to the edge of the field, and then walked along under the pines toward the slope. Through the green and black of the forest she could see the looming red wall. At the end of the field she halted. Deep dark woodland merged upon the edge of the clearing. She sat down under a huge pine, from which position she could see out across the open.
"Oh, I'll never be able to concentrate on anything here!" murmured Lucy, thrilled with the wildness and splendour of the forest. Birds and squirrels were boisterous, as if rejoicing at the spring. The wind moaned through the tree-tops, a new sound to Lucy, stirring her blood. Most striking of all was the fragrance of pine. Lucy revelled a few moments in this sweet wild solitude, then made a valiant effort to put her mind on her work. At the very outset she made notes on her pad. The fact that expenditure of funds for the betterment of living conditions up here had been trusted to her common sense and discretion made Lucy extremely conscientious. She would purchase only what was absolutely necessary, and superintend the making of many useful things for the Denmeades. To this end she applied herself to the task of choosing the articles she must buy and those she must make.
It turned out to be a fascinating task, made easy by the course of manual training she had taken at normal school. Prominent among the articles selected to buy were tools and a sewing-machine. Tools meant the constructing of chairs, tables, closets, shelves, and many other household articles; a sewing-machine meant the making of sheets, pillows, towels, curtains, table-covers, and wearing apparel.
Lucy pictured in her mind what the inside of that cabin would look like in a couple of months. It filled her with joy for them and pride for herself. The expense would be little; the labour great. She had already convinced Denmeade that this welfare work was not charity; in the long run it must be for the good of the state.
Between such dreams and calculations Lucy mapped out the letters and orders she would write that afternoon. Then she would have to wait so long until the things arrived. Still, she reflected, a number of necessities could be obtained at the store in Cedar Ridge. She would persuade Denmeade to go or send someone at once.
At length Lucy discovered that without thinking about it she had changed her position several times to get out of the shade into the sun. The air had grown chill. Then she became aware of the moan of wind in the pines. How loud, mournful, strange! Clouds were scudding up from the south-west. They were still broken, but much heavier and darker than they had been in the early morning. They made great dark shadows sail along the rolling green crest of the forest. Gazing upward, Lucy was amazed to see that the clouds obscured the Rim at the high points. From up there drifted down a low, steady roar. Wind in the pines! It was a different sound from the sough in the near-by tree-tops. Birds and squirrels had ceased song and chatter.
Once more Lucy applied herself diligently to her task, and for a while forgot herself. The wind increased to a gale, intermittent, but steadily growing less broken. She heard it and thrilled, yet went on with her figuring. Suddenly a heavy crash somewhere in the woods close at hand thoroughly frightened her. No doubt a dead tree had blown over. Nervously Lucy gazed about her to see if there were other dead trees. She espied several and many bleached gnarled branches shaking in the wind. A great primeval forest like this seemed to be a dangerous place.
"I always imagined it would be wonderful to live like an Indian--wild in the woods," soliloquised Lucy. "But I guess it might be fearful on occasions."
She became prey then to conflicting impulses--one to run back to the cabin, the other to stay out in this roaring forest. For a moment the latter dominated her. She stepped out from under the pine into a glade and threw back her head. How the wind whipped her hair! The odour of pine was now so strong that it was not far from suffocating. Yet its sweetness seemed intoxicating. The cold air was exhilarating, in spite of its increasing chill. Against the background of blue sky and grey cloud the pine crests waved wildly and thin streams of brown pine needles flew before the gale.
Lucy's daring did not extend beyond a moment or so. Then the old black dog appeared, to eye her solemnly and trot off. She followed as fast as she could walk, sometimes breaking into a little run. Soon she was breathless and light-headed. Such little exertion to tire her! Lucy recollected that high altitudes affected some persons thus. Her heart pounded in her breast. It became absolutely imperative that she go slower, or give out completely. Even then, when she reached the cabin porch she was glad to sink upon it with a gasp.
The golden sunshine was gone. A grey mantle appeared to be creeping over the forest world. The roar of the wind now seemed behind and above the cabin. Presently Mrs. Denmeade, coming out for a pail of water, espied Lucy sitting there.
"Storm comin'," she said. "It'll blow for a while, then rain."
"Oh--I'm--so--out of--breath!" panted Lucy. "It was--wonderful, but--scared me...The children! Will they stay at school?"
"Not much. They'll come home, rain or shine. Edd is goin' to catch it good. Dave Claypool just rode by an' stopped to tell me he met Edd up on the mountain."
"Met E--your son! When?"
"This mornin'. Dave was ridin' through. He lets his hosses range up there. Said he'd run across Edd about fifteen miles back down the Winbrook trail. Shore now Edd can drive a pack-train of burros. But they're loaded heavy, an' Edd will spare the burros before himself. I reckon he'll hit the Rim just about dark. An' if the storm breaks before then he'll have somethin' tough. Rain down here will be snow up there. But he'll come in to-night shore."
Her matter-of-factness over what seemed exceedingly serious and her confidence in the return of her son through gale and darkness awakened in Lucy a first appreciation of the elemental strength of these backwoods people. Lucy respected strength to endure above all virtues. How infinitely she herself had been found wanting! She hurried to her room, conscious that again this Edd Denmeade had been forced upon her attention.
Lucy got out her writing materials and set herself to the important task of the letters she had planned. At intervals she found her mind wandering, a thing not habitual with her. Yet the circumstances here were extenuating. And all the time she was aware of the gale. It swooped down the chimney with hollow roar. She was able to think and write consistently through the hours. The Denmeades ate whenever some of them came in hungry, a bad and labour-consuming habit, Lucy thought, which she would endeavour to break. She was glad, however, that there was no midday meal except Sundays. She grew cramped and cold from sitting so long on the uncomfortable chair, writing on her lap. But she accomplished the task of a dozen letters, and an enlarging and copying of her notes.
This accomplishment afforded her great satisfaction. Putting on a heavy coat, she went outside to walk off the chill in her blood. She found Mrs. Denmeade and Allie carrying the day's wash up from the brook down in the gully. Lucy promptly lent her assistance, and when she had made four trips, carrying a heavy burden, she was both out of breath and hot from the effort.
The grey mantle overhead had darkened. Only occasional rifts showed a glimpse of blue sky. The air was perceptibly damper. And the roar of wind now had no break.
Lucy rested a little, trying the while to win Liz and Lize to talk to her. They did not sidle away from her any longer, but had not yet reached the communicative stage.
Lucy was conscious of worry, of dread, and not until she saw Mary and Dan, with Mertie behind them, coming up the lane, did she realise the significance of her feelings. They were safe. And by the time they reached the gate the tall form of Dick came stalking into sight.
Manifestly for them the journey home through the forest, under the threshing boughs of the trees, was merely an incident of school days. However, when Mertie heard from her mother that Edd had been seen back up on the Rim and would surely be caught in the storm, she gave vent to an excited concern. Not for her brother's safety and comfort, but for her birthday present of the new dress! Mrs. Denmeade petted and soothed her. "Don't worry, Mertie," she concluded. "Reckon you ought to know Edd. There's sacks of flour on them pack-burros. It ain't likely he'll see that flour spoiled, let alone your new dress."
"But, ma!" protested Mertie, miserably, "Edd's only human! An' you know how terrible storms are up there."
"Wal, it was your fault Edd packed to Winbrook," retorted her mother. "He could of got the flour at Cedar Ridge, only one day's pack. But you had to have a city dress."
Mertie subsided into sullen restless silence, and took no part in the preparations for supper. The children gravitated to Lucy, who essayed to play with them on the windy porch. The afternoon darkened. Presently the men returned from their labours, loud-voiced and cheery, smelling of horses and newly ploughed earth. At the wash-bench they made much splashing.
"Wal, ma, we got the field ploughed, an' now let her rain," announced Denmeade.
"Let her rain!" cried Mertie shrilly, as if driven. "That's all anybody cares. Storm--rain--snow! For Edd to be caught out!"
"Aw, so thet's what ails you," returned her father. "Wal, don't you worry none about him."
During supper Denmeade again silenced his unhappy daughter, and though he drawled the reprimand in cool, easy words, there was a note in them that gave Lucy an idea of the iron nature of these backwoodsmen. This was the only instance so far in which the slightest discord or evidence of authority had appeared in the Denmeade family. To Lucy they seemed so tranquil, so set in their rugged simplicity.
After supper the grey twilight deepened and a misty rain blew in Lucy's face as she stood on the porch. Above the sound of the wind she heard a patter of rain on the roof.
"Reckon she'll bust directly," said Denmeade, as he passed Lucy, his arms full of wood. "I'm buildin' a fire fer you. It's shore goin' to storm."
By turning her ear to the north and attending keenly Lucy was able to distinguish between the two main sounds of the storm--the rush and gusty violence of the wind around the cabin, and the deep mighty roar of the gale up on the Rim. She shivered with more than cold. At dark the fury of the storm burst. Torrents of rain fell, drowning all other sounds. Lucy was forced back against the wall, but the rain, driving under the porch roof in sheets, sent her indoors.
A bright log fire blazed and cracked in the open fire-place of the room she occupied. The children were sitting on the floor, talking, and such was the roar on the roof and the bellow down the chimney that Lucy could not hear a word they said. Evidently, however, something in the fire attracted them. Mary was looking at it, too, thoughtfully, even dreamily, her thin face and large eyes expressive of a childish hunger for something.
The hour seemed a restless, uncertain one for Lucy. How the storm raged and lashed! She had an almost irresistible desire to run out into it, a sensation at once overcome by abject fear. Even the porch, with its two open doors of lighted rooms, was as black as pitch. Lucy knew she could not have gone a rod from the cabin without being lost. The gale outside would howl and shriek accompaniments to the roar on the roof; now and then a gust of wind sent a volley of raindrops, thick as a stream, against the windowpanes. The red fire hissed with the water that dripped down the chimney. Lucy walked from window to window, from the fire-place to the door; she sat down to gaze with the children at the opalescent embers settling on the hearth; and she rose to pace the floor. Her thoughts were wholly dominated by the sensations of the storm. At last Lucy put on her long heavy coat and braved the porch. But this time she went to the back, where in the lee of the cabin she was out of the fury of wind and rain. There she stood against the wall, peering out into the blackness, feeling the whip of wind, the cold wet sting of flying hail.
It had grown colder. The rain was lessening in volume and some of it was freezing to sleet. While she cowered there the roar on the roof subsided, and gradually the strife of the elements around the cabin slowed and softened. Presently Lucy became aware of the terrific roar of the storm up on the Rim. It shook her heart. It seemed a continuous thunder and it roused in her unaccustomed feelings. How strange to realise that she both feared and loved the black wild roaring void out there.
She seemed thousands of miles from her home, from the desert where she had lived always, the hot glaring little city, with its sun-baked streets winter and summer, its throng of people, intent upon money-making, marrying, living. What a contrast they presented to these few hardy families of the mountains! Lucy wondered if a race of people in their gregarious instincts, their despoliation and destruction of the wilderness, could not lose something great and beautiful. She felt it vaguely. How had men lived in the long ages before there were cities or settlements?
How was it possible for this Edd Denmeade to find his way home, in this ebony blackness, under the roaring and cracking pines, down over a two-thousand foot mountain wall? The thing was incredible. Yet his father and his mother expected him as a matter of course. He had done it before. They trusted him. Even the vain Mertie, despite her fears and doubts, knew he would come. Then considering all this, what manner of Man was Edd Denmeade? Lucy no longer repudiated her interest. In her heart there was a vague longing for she knew not what, but in this case she imagined it due to her disappointment at home, with Clara and her suitors, with the type of young men that had the good will of her father. They had received scant courtesy from Lucy. No understanding of sentiment stirred in Lucy. What could a boy of the backwoods be to her? But this wild-bee hunter was surely pretty much of a man, and Lucy was curious to see him.
She remained out on the porch until she was thoroughly cold and wet, and still longer, until she had convinced herself that she had a faint realisation of what a storm was in this high timbered country. Then she went in.
All the family, including Uncle Bill, had assembled in her room. Denmeade, his brother, and Dick and Joe, were grouped near the fire-place. Denmeade knelt on one knee, in what Lucy later discovered was his characteristic resting position, his dark face in the light, his big black hat pushed back on his head. The others were sitting on the floor, backs to the wall, listening to what he was saying. The mother and Allie were seated, silent, on the children's bed. Mertie, crouched on one of the chairs, stared sombrely into the fire. Mary was bent over, so that she could catch the light on a book. The children played as before.
As Lucy went in, it was Mary who got up to offer her chair. Lucy, as she advanced to the blazing logs, was astonished to see how wet her coat had become. She held it to the fire, most gratefully conscious of the warmth. Then at the moment Joe interrupted his father's talk.
"I hear bells. Reckon some of the burros got in. Edd won't be far."
"Wal, he'll be with the pack outfit. Rustle out thar," replied his father.
While Denmeade replenished the fire the others stamped out, their spurs clanking. Mrs. Denmeade and Allie went into the kitchen. Mertie's apathy vanished and she rushed out into the darkness of the porch. Her voice pealed out, calling to Edd. Likewise the children responded to the home-coming of their brother.
Lucy felt happy for all of them. Hanging up her coat, she wiped the raindrops from her face and gave a touch here and there to her dishevelled hair. Then she stood, back to the fire, palms turned to the genial heat, and, watching the door, she waited with sustained interest, with something of amusement, yet conscious of a vague unformed emotion.
Presently clamour of childish voices, pitched high above the deeper ones of men, and the thump of heavy boots, and jingle of spurs, moved across the porch to the door of the cabin. Lucy stepped aside into the shadow. Then the light of the fire streamed out of the door.
"In thar, all of you," boomed Denmeade. "Let Edd get to the fire."
It seemed to Lucy that a tall dark form emerged from the gloom into the light, and entered the door With the children and girls. For a moment there was a hubbub. The older members of the household came in, somewhat quieting the melee.
"Mertie, here's your present," said the new-corner. His voice seemed rather drawling and deep. Disengaging himself from clinging hands, he laid a large parcel, wrapped in a wet slicker, upon a vacant chair. Mertie let out a squeal, and pouncing upon the package, dropped to her knees and began to tear it open.
"Oh, Edd!...If you got it--wet!" she panted.
"No fear. It's wrapped in paper an' oilskin, under the slicker," he said. Then he drew another package from the inside of his huge fur-collared coat. "Liz! Lize! Danny!"
"Candy!" screamed the children in unison. And straightway pandemonium broke loose.
When the young man threw his wet sombrero on the floor near the hearth, and removed his rain-soaked coat, Lucy had a better chance to see what he looked like. Certainly his face was not handsome, but she could not say how much of its dark, haggard rawness was due to exposure. He did not change expression as he gazed down upon those whom he had made happy. But Lucy's keen sight and power to read divined the fact that he worshipped Mertie and loved the children. He untied a wet scarf from his neck and threw that beside his sombrero. All the older members of the family were silently gazing down upon the fortunate one. Mary seemed to be revelling in Mertie's excitement, yet, as she gazed up at Edd, her large eyes questioned him.
"Mary, reckon I have somethin' for you in my pack," he said. "Wait till I warm my hands. I'm near froze."
With that he strode to the fire and knelt before it, one knee on the floor, in a posture Lucy had descried as characteristic of his father. Edd extended big, strong, capable-looking hands to the blaze. They were actually stiff and blue. Seen nearer, his face, with the firelight shining directly upon it, was an open one, lean, smooth, with prominent nose and large firm-lipped mouth and square chin. His eyes were larger than those of the other Denmeades, light in colour, intent in gaze. Still, Lucy could not be certain she liked his face. It looked bruised, pinched, blackened. His hands, too, were grimy. Water dripped from him and ran in little streams over the hearth to sizzle on the hot ashes. He seemed to bring with him the breath of the open, cold and damp, the smell of the pines and burros, odorous, rank.
Gasps of delight emanated from those surrounding Mertie as she held up a white beribboned dress, and many were the mingled exclamations that followed. It was the mother who first recovered from the spell. Peering into the shadow, she at last espied Lucy.
"There you are," she said. "I was wonderin' if you was seein' the circus...This is my oldest boy. Edd, meet Miss Lucy Watson from Felix. She's our home-teacher, come to live with us for a spell."
Lucy spoke from the shadow. Edd peered out of the firelight, as if locating her with difficulty. She did not see the slightest indication that he was surprised or interested. What had she expected from this much-talked-of wild-bee hunter?
"Can't see you, but hod-do just the same," he drawled.
Then Denmeade advanced to lean his tall form Against the mantel.
"Dave rode down early--said he'd seen you, an' figgered you'd hit the Rim trail before the storm busted."
"Wind held us back all afternoon," replied the son. "An' some of the packs slipped. Reckon I'd made it shore but for that. The storm hit us just back from the Rim. I'll be dog-goned if I didn't think we'd never get to where the trail starts down. Hard wind an' snow right in our faces. Shore was lucky to hit the trail down before it got plumb dark. I led my hoss an' held on to Jennie's tail. Honest I couldn't see an inch in front of my nose. I couldn't hear the bells. For a while I wasn't shore of anythin'. But when we got down out of the snow I reckoned we might get home. All the burros but Baldy made it. I didn't miss him till we got here. He mighty have slipped over the cliff on that narrow place. It shore was wet. Reckon, though, he'll come in. He was packin' my camp outfit."
"Edd, come an' eat, if you're hungry," called his mother from the kitchen.
"Nary a bite since sun-up. An' I'm a-rarin' to feed," he replied, and gathering up his smoking coat, scarf, and sombrero, he rose.
"Boy, did Blake buy yore honey?" queried his father, accompanying him toward the door.
"I reckon. Every bucket, an' I whooped it up to a dollar a gallon."
"Whew! Dog-gone me! Why, Edd, you'll make a bizness of your bee huntin'!" ejaculated Denmeade.
"Shore I will. I always meant to," asserted the son. "Pa, if I can find an' raise as much as five hundred gallons this summer, I'll sell every pint of it."
"No!" Denmeade's exclamation was one of mingled doubt, amaze, and wondering appreciation of a fortune. They crossed the porch into the kitchen, from which Lucy heard them but indistinctly. Then Mrs. Denmeade appeared at the farther door.
"Lucy, take the candy away from the children an' put it where they can't reach it," she called. "Else they'll gorge themselves an' be sick."
Lucy approached this dubious task with infinite tact, kindliness, and persuasion. Liz and Lize were presently prevailed upon, but Dan was a different proposition. He would not listen to reason. When he found Lucy was firm he attempted to compromise, and failing of that, he gave in ungraciously. Flouncing down on his sheepskin rug, he pulled the rag coverlet over him. Lucy could see his eyes glaring in the firelight.
"Danny, don't you undress when you go to bed?" asked Lucy gently.
"Naw!" he growled.
"Don't you ever?" she went on.
"Not any more. The kids do, but not me."
"Why not you?" demanded Lucy. "It's not healthy to sleep in your clothes. Tell me, Danny. I'm your home-teacher, you know."
"Nobody ever said nuthin' to me," retorted the lad. "Pa an' Joe an' Dick sleep in their clothes. An' Edd--why, I've sleeped with him up in the loft when he never took off nuthin'. Went to bed right in his boots an' spurs."
"Oh, indeed!" murmured Lucy constrainedly, somewhat taken aback. "Well, Danny, all the same it's not a healthy thing to do, and I shall teach you not to."
"Teacher, you'd make me sleep naked?" he protested. "Aw, it'd be cold in winter, an' I never have enough covers nohow."
"Danny, I shall make you night-clothes to sleep in. Nice soft warm woolly stuff."
"No long white thing like Mertie sleeps in," he asserted belligerently.
"Any way you want. Shirt and pants, if you like," said Lucy.
"Then I can wear them all day, too," he rejoined with interest, and lay down.
Lucy turned her attention to the twins, very pleased to find them growing less shy with her.
"Can we have some, too?" asked Lize timidly.
"Have what, my dear?" queried Lucy, as she drew the children to her.
"Them Danny'll have to sleep in."
"Indeed you shall! Long white nightgowns, like the little princess in the fairy story."
The twins had never heard of princesses or fairies but they manifested the most human trait of children--love of stories. Lucy held them entranced while she undressed them and put them to bed. She was quick to realise her power over them. Her victory was assured.
Then Denmeade entered, carrying some sticks of wood.
"Reckon you can put them on, if you want to keep up the fire," he said. "Wal, you've put the kids to bed. Now, Miss Lucy, shore that will please ma."
When Mrs. Denmeade came in with towel and basin she appeared astounded to find the children undressed and in bed.
"You rascals never did it all by your lonesome," she averred. "Teacher has been takin' you in hand. But she forgot your dirty faces an' hands."
"Teacher telled us stories," whispered Liz rapturously.
"Candy an' stories all at once!" exclaimed the mother as she wielded the towel. "Reckon that'll make bad dreams...Stop wigglin'. Don't you ever want a clean face?...An' your teacher is tired an' needs sleep, too."
After Mrs. Denmeade had gone Lucy closed the door, catching as she did so a glimpse into the dimly lighted kitchen with its dark faces, and she dropped the bar in place quite instinctively. The action made her wonder why she did it, for last night she had left the door unbarred. But to-night she had found the Denmeades walking in and out, as if she were not domiciled there. She did not put it beyond any one of them to burst unbidden in upon her at any hour. And she wished for the tent Mr. Jenks had offered. Yet, suppose she had been in a tent to-night, out there alone in the blackness, with a flimsy shelter overhead and a scant flooring under her feet! It actually gave her a tremor.
Lucy made no effort to hurry to bed. Drawing the chair closer to the dying fire, she toasted her hands and feet and legs that had felt like ice all evening. Outside, the wind moaned under the eaves, and from high on the Rim came that thrilling roar. Rain was pattering steadily on the roof, a most pleasant sound to desert ears. Heat Lucy knew in all its prolonged variations; but cold and rain and snow were strangers. She imagined she was going to love them.
Gradually as the fire died down to a pale red glow the room darkened. It seemed full of deep warm shadows, comforting Lucy, easing the strain under which she had unconsciously laboured.
The event that had hung over the Denmeade home ever since she reached it had been consummated--the bee hunter had returned. Lucy had no idea what she had expected, but whatever it had been, it had not been realised. An agreeable disappointment dawned upon her. Edd Denmeade had not struck her as bold, or as a bully or a backwoods lout, foolish over girls. His indifference to her presence or appearance had struck her singularly. Her relief held a hint of pique.
"I think I had a poor opinion of him because everybody talked of him," she mused. "He fooled me."
But that could not account for her sensations now. Never before in her life had Lucy welcomed the firelit shadows, the seclusion of her room, to think about any young man. During school, too, she had imagined she had been falling in love. This feeling which grew strangely upon her now was vastly dissimilar from that mawkish sentiment. She could analyse nothing clearly. Edd Denmeade had impressed her profoundly, how or why or just what moment she could not tell. Had she been repelled or attracted? She fancied it was the former. She could be repelled by his raw, uncouth, barbarian presence, yet be fascinated by the man of him. That hurried return through the storm, down over the fearful trail, in a Stygian blackness--a feat none the less heroic because it had been performed to please a shallow little peacock of a sister--that called to something deep in Lucy. She thought of her sister Clara, selfish, unloving, thoughtless of others. Lucy felt that she and Edd Denmeade had something in common--a sister going the wrong way!
She recalled his look as Mertie had frantically torn at the package. Serene, strong, somehow understanding! It flashed over Lucy, intuitively as much as from deduction, that Edd Denmeade knew his sister's weakness and loved her perhaps all the more because of it. That thrilled her, warmed her heart, as did her memory of his smile at the twins, Liz and Lize.
But all the rest was incomprehensible. Her pride, not of family, but of personal attainments and consciousness of her power to rise above her station, precluded any romantic thought of Edd Denmeade. He was a backwoodsman. She had come there to teach his people and their relatives and neighbours how to alleviate the squalor of their homes. The distance between her and them could not be bridged. So her interest and admiration must have been impersonal: it was the strange resentment which grew on her, the sense of being repelled by a hunter of the woods, that was personal and intimate.
Lucy crouched there before the fire till the red embers faded. The rain pattered steadily, the wind mourned, the wild night wore on. Forced thoughts, trying to solve riddles of her mind and heart, did not bring her tranquillity. At night her imagination and emotion were always more active. Lucy did not trust them. She fought the insidious drifting towards dreams, repelled it, and went to bed sure of herself.