WeirdSpace Digital Library - Culture without borders
Under the Tonto Rim
Zane Grey (1926) Country of origin: USA
Available texts by the same author here
On Mertie Denmeade's birthday several of her girl schoolmates rode up from the school with her. They were to stay overnight and go back to school next morning. Lucy could not help wondering where they were going to sleep.
Among these girls was Sadie Purdue, whom Lucy observed with attention. Sadie possessed but little charm, so far as Lucy could see. Her face and figure were commonplace, not to be compared with Mertie's, and her complexion was pitted and coarse fibred, well suited to her bold eyes and smug expression. Her shoulders were plump, her hands large, her feet clumsy. Lucy could not but wonder what Edd Denmeade saw in this girl. She reflected then that it was absurd for her to have assumptions or opinions, until she knew more of these people. Every one of these Jacks had their Jills. It seemed inconceivable for Lucy to pass critical judgment on this Sadie Purdue and not include her companions. Lucy found them colourless, civil, hardy girls, somewhat like Allie Denmeade. She was gravely astonished to find that she had an inexplicable antagonism toward Sadie. For that reason she went out of her way to engage Sadie in conversation.
The girl, as well as her companions, was exceedingly curious about Lucy's work. She asked numerous questions, the gist of which appeared to be a greedy interest in what they all were going to gain through Lucy's presence.
"We live 'way down near Cedar Ridge," she informed Lucy. "I stay with my cousin, Amy Claypool, while I'm goin' to school. This's my last term, thank goodness."
"What will you do then?" inquired Lucy. "Teach school?"
"Me teach? Laws no! couldn't teach. Reckon a girl in this country has nothin' to do but marry when she leaves school. I've had offers, but I'm in no hurry."
"Do girls up here marry so young?" asked Lucy.
"From fifteen up. I'm sixteen, same as Mertie."
Lucy encouraged the girl to talk, which seemed to be very easy to do. Sadie was impressed by Lucy's interest, and besides that manifestly had motive of her own for establishing a repute. Lucy gathered that neither Sadie nor Mertie wanted to marry one of these bee-hunting, corn-raising, wood-chopping "jacks." They aspired to homes in Winbrook, or at least Cedar Ridge. But they were not averse to being courted and taken to dances.
"Trouble is, when a fellow keeps company with you, he ain't long satisfied with just Courtin'," confided Sadie, giggling. "He wants to marry--wants a woman. Here's Edd, Mertie's brother. He took me to one dance an' spent a Sunday callin' on me. Asked me to marry him!...When he'd never even kissed me or put his arm round me!--The big boob! I told him he hadn't learned much from his honey-bee huntin'."
Lucy found that remark a difficult one to answer, and she was at some pains to conceal her own reaction. Fortunately Sadie was rushed off by her several friends for the purpose of a joint attack upon Mertie, to make her display the birthday dress. It amused Lucy to see how Mertie refused and affected modesty, when underneath she was burning to reveal herself in the new dress. At last she allowed herself to be persuaded. "All right, but only you girls can see me."
They were in the room Lucy occupied. Mertie barred the door, saying: "I don' mind you, teacher. But you mustn't tell."
Whereupon, with utter lack of modesty, and obsessed by a strange frenzy, Mertie donned the dress, to create consternation and rapture among her friends. By a lucky chance, which Lucy appreciated more than the others, the dress actually fitted the girl, and changed her wondrously. Many were the exclamations uttered, and one found lodgment in Lucy's memory. "Mertie," said Amy Claypool soberly, "you an' Sadie call Edd a big boob. But I think he's grand."
Late in the afternoon Mrs. Denmeade and Allie began to spread the porch table with a birthday dinner for Mertie and her visitors. Several young men had ridden in, foremost of whom Lucy recognised as Sam Johnson. These young people arranged themselves around the porch and began what seemed to Lucy a remarkable exhibition of banter and absurdity.
The children dragged Lucy out on the porch, where Sam Johnson performed the office of introduction that Mertie neglected or omitted by choice. Gerd Claypool was a blue-eyed young giant with tawny hair, and Hal Miller was a lean, rangy cowboy type, solemn of face, droll of speech. These new visitors manifested enough interest in Lucy to convince her that it was not pleasing to Mertie and Sadie, so Lucy made excuses and left them to their peculiar fun. She played with the children, helped Mrs. Denmeade, and then sat in her room, the door and window of which were open. Part of the time Lucy was aware of the banter going on, but she did not become acutely interested until the Denmeade boys came on the scene.
"Wal, if here ain't the ole bee hunter, home early an' all shaved nice an' clean," drawled Sam Johnson.
"Mertie's birthday, Sam," replied Edd. "How are you all?"
"Jest a-rarin' to go," said Gerd Claypool.
"Edd, I reckon we'd like a lick of that honey pot of yours," added Hal Miller.
"I gave ma the last half-gallon for Mertie's party," replied Edd. "You might get some, if you don't back on your halter too long."
"What's become of all your honey?" queried Sam with interest. "I remember you had a lot."
"Sold. An' I'm offered a dollar a gallon for all I can fetch to Winbrook."
Sam whistled. "Say, you ain't such a dog-gone fool as we thought, chasin' bees all the time."
"I'll make it a business," said Edd.
"Edd, it wouldn't be a bad idea for you to save some of your honey," interposed Sadie Purdue slyly.
"What you mean?" asked Edd bluntly.
"Girls like honey," she answered, in a tormenting tone no one could mistake.
"Reckon I savvy," returned Edd with good humour. "But honey words an' honey ways with girls don't come natural to me, like with Sam."
His reply raised a howl of laughter at Sam's expense.
"Wal, I ain't noticin' that I ever go to any dances alone," rejoined Sam sarcastically.
Lucy could see from the shadow of her room through the door most of the group of young people on the porch. Sam leaned behind Sadie, who sat by the porch rail. Gerd and Hal occupied seats on the canvas packs. The other girls sat on a bench. Dick was the only one of the Denmeade boys in sight. He appeared rather out of it, and stood in the background, silent, listening, with a rather pleasant smile on his keen face.
It was most interesting and instructive for Lucy to observe and hear these young people. What struck her most was the simple, unrestrained expression of what she divined as a primitive pleasure in tormenting. At the bottom of it was the unconscious satisfaction at another's pain. Sadie's expression was a teasing, joyful malignance. Manifestly she was revelling in the fun at the boys' expense. Mertie wore a bored look of superiority, as if she were tolerating the attentions of these young men for the moment. Amy Claypool's face, honest and comely, was wreathed in smiles. The boys near them wore lazy, bantering expressions, without selfish or unfriendly hint. But to the sensitive Lucy, used to the better educated, their talk seemed crude, almost brutal.
For a while the sole topic of conversation was the dance on Friday night. It expressed the wholesome and happy regard these youths and maidens held in the only recreation and social function that fell to their lot. Personalities and banterings were forgotten for the moment and other wonderful dances were remembered; conjectures as to attendance, music, ice cream, were indulged in. Presently, however, when they had exhausted the more wholesome reactions to this dance subject they reverted to the inevitable banter.
"Say, Dick, have you found a girl tall enough to take to the dance--one you wouldn't have to stoop 'way over to reach?" drawled Sam Johnson.
Dick's youthful face turned ruddy. The attention suddenly and unexpectedly thrown upon him caused him intense embarrassment. The prominent bone in his throat worked up and down.
"Boy, yore handy with tools," interposed Hal. "Make a pair of stilts for that fat little sister of mine yore sweet on. She's four feet eight an' weighs one fifty. Reckon you'd make Sam an' Sadie look sick."
Other sallies, just as swift and laugh-provoking, gave the poor boy no time to recover, even if he had been able to retaliate. It was his sister Allie who came to the rescue from the door of the kitchen.
"Sadie, who're you goin' with?" she inquired sweetly.
"Sam. He's the best dancer in this country," she announced.
"So it's settled then," rejoined Allie casually. "When I asked him the other day who he was goin' with I kind of got a hunch it might not be you."
Sadie flashed a surprised and resentful look up at Sam. He took it, as well as the mirth roused by Allie's covert remark, with an equanimity that showed him rather diplomatic.
"Sadie, I told Allie you hadn't accepted my invite, which you hadn't," he said.
"Reckon it wasn't necessary," she retorted, in a tone that conveyed the impression of an understanding between them.
"Wal, Sadie," drawled Edd's slow, cool voice, "I reckon you'll find it necessary to hawg-tie Sam for dances--or any other kind of shindig."
This sly speech from Edd Denmeade gave Lucy an unexpected and delightful thrill. Almost she joined in the hilarity it stirred. Even the self-conscious Mertie burst into laughter. For a moment the tables had been turned; Sam was at a loss for a retort; and Sadie gave a fleeting glimpse of her cat-like nature under her smugness and pleasant assurance.
"Edd, have you asked any girl yet?" she inquired sweetly.
"Nope. Not yet. I've been away, you know," he replied.
"'Course you're goin'?"
"Never missed a dance yet, Sadie."
"It's gettin' late in the day, Edd," she went on seriously. "You oughtn't go alone to dances, as you do sometimes. It's not fair to break in on boys who have partners. They just have to set out those dances...Edd, you ought to be findin' you a regular girl."
Sadie's voice and face were as a transparent mask for the maliciousness of her soul.
"Shore, Edd," put in Sam, "an' you ought to hawg-tie her, too."
"Funny aboot Edd, ain't it?" interposed Gerd. "The way he can see in the woods. Say, he's got eyes! He can line a bee fer half a mile. But he can't line a girl."
"Nope, you're wrong, boy," replied Edd, with evident restraint. "Never had no trouble linin' a girl. But I haven't got the soft-soap you fellows use."
"Who are you goin' to ask to the dance?" insisted Sadie.
They nagged him, then, with this query, and with advice and suggestions, and with information that no matter what girl he asked he would find she had already accepted an invitation. It must have been their way of having fun. But to Lucy it seemed brutal. Almost she felt sorry for Edd Denmeade It struck her that his friends and relatives must have some good reason for so unmercifully flaying him.
For, despite the general bantering, they had made him the centre and the butt of their peculiar way of enjoying themselves. The girl Sadie seemed the instigator of this emphasis thrown upon Edd, and Sam ably seconded her.
Amy Claypool, however, manifested a kindlier spirit, though apparently she did not realise the tirade was little short of a jealous brutality.
"Edd, I'd ask the new schoolmarm," she said, lowering her voice. "She's awful pretty an' nice. Not a bit stuck-up."
Lucy heard this suggestion, and at once became a prey to amusement and dismay. Why could not the young people, and their elders, too, leave her out of all reckoning? Her pulse quickened with an excitation that displeased her. How her very ears seemed to burn!
Sadie Purdue burst into a peal of laughter. "Amy, you're crazy!" she exclaimed. "That city girl wouldn't go dancin' with a wild-bee hunter!"
This positive assertion did not produce any mirth. No doubt Sadie had no intention now of being funny. A red spot showed in her cheek. The sudden scrape of boots and clank of spurs attested to the fact that Edd Denmeade had leaped to his feet.
"Sadie Purdue, I reckon it's no disgrace to hunt bees," he said sharply.
"Who said it was?" she retorted. "But I've been among town folks. You take my hunch an' don't ask her."
Edd stalked off the porch, coming into range of Lucy's sight when he got down into the yard. His stride seemed to be that of a man who was hurrying to get away from something unpleasant.
"Sadie, you shore don't know it all," said Amy mildly. "If this home-schoolmarm wasn't a nice an' kind sort she'd not be up heah. Fun is fun, but you had no call to insult Edd."
"Insult nothin'," snapped Sadie. "I was only tryin' to save his feelin's."
"You never liked Edd an' you don't want anyone else to," returned Amy. "I know two girls who might have liked Edd but for you."
Lucy's heart warmed to this mild-voiced Amy Claypool. She did not make the least show of spirit. Sadie turned petulantly to Sam, and there was a moment of rather strained silence.
"Come an' get it, you birthday party," called Allie from the door.
That call relieved the situation, and merriment at once reclaimed the young people. Lucy was glad to see them dive for seats at the table. She was conscious of a strength and depth of interest quite out of proportion to what should have been natural to her. Still, she had elected to undertake a serious work among these mountaineers. How could she help but be interested in anything that pertained to them? But the wild-bee hunter! Quick as a flash then Lucy had an impulse she determined to satisfy. Would Edd Denmeade give these guests of his sister's the last bit of the honey upon which he set such store? Lucy felt that he ought not to do so and would not, yet she contrarily hoped that he might. There appeared to her only one way to ascertain, and that was to walk by the table and see. Despite her determination, she hesitated. Then fortunately the problem was solved for her.
Allie, sailing out of the kitchen door, set a pan rather noisily upon the table. "There's the last of Edd's honey. Fight over it!"
The next few moments' observation afforded Lucy the satisfaction of seeing the birthday guests actually engaged according to Allie's suggestion. From that scene Lucy formed her impression of the deliciousness of wild-bee honey.
Lucy did not lay eyes upon Edd Denmeade until late the following morning, when, after the visitors and school children had ridden away, he presented himself before her where she played with the twins on the porch.
"Mornin'. Reckon I'd like a few words with you," he said.
"Why, gladly!" replied Lucy, as she sat up to gaze at him.
Edd was standing down in the yard, holding his sombrero in his hands and turning it edgewise round and round. On the moment he did not look at her. Seen now at close range, with all the stains of that terrible ride home removed from garb and face, he appeared vastly different. He was labouring with thought.
"Ma an' pa have been tellin' me about you, but I reckon I'm not satisfied."
"Yes? Is there anything I can tell you?" said Lucy, relieved. She had actually been afraid he would ask her to go to the dance.
"Shore. I want to know about this here work you're goin' to do."
Then he looked up to meet her eyes. Lucy had never met just such a glance. His eyes were so clear and grey that they seemed expressionless. Yet Lucy conceived a vivid impression of the honesty and simplicity of the soul from which they looked. Whereupon Lucy took the pains to explain quite at length the nature of the work she had undertaken among his people. He listened intently, standing motionless, watching her with a steady gaze that was disconcerting.
"Pa an' ma talked more things you were goin' to get the state to buy for us," he said reflectively. "I'm wonderin' if they don't take more to that."
"It would be only natural," responded Lucy earnestly. "I must have time to show actual good, rather than gain."
"I reckon. Pa's sendin' me to Cedar Ridge, where I'm to post your letters an' buy all that outfit you want. I'm takin' three burros to pack. Reckon I'll put the sewin' machine on Jennie."
"Oh--a little burro to carry it--all alone!" exclaimed Lucy.
"Shore. Jennie packed the kitchen stove up that trail you come on. An' she packed a hundred an' fifty pounds of honey to Winbrook."
"Well, I'll say that Jennie is a wonderful little beast of burden," replied Lucy.
"Now--you aim to stay with us awhile, an' then go to Claypool's an' Johnson's an' Miller's an' Sprall's?"
"Yes, that is my plan, but no definite time is set. I have all the time there is, as I heard your Uncle Bill say."
"Wal, it's a bad idea. It won't do," he declared.
"How? Why?" queried Lucy anxiously.
"First off, you're too young an' pretty," he said, wholly unconscious of the language of compliment.
"Oh!" returned Lucy, almost confused. "But surely, Mr. Denmeade--"
"Nobody ever called me mister," he interrupted.
"Indeed!...I--well--surely my youth--and my good looks, as you are kind to call them, need not stand in my way?"
"Shore they will. If you were an old woman, or even middle-aged, it might do. But you're a girl."
"Yes, I am," rejoined Lucy, puzzled and amused. "I can't deny that."
Manifestly he regarded his bare statement as sufficient evidence on the point, whatever this was; for he went on to say that the several families would quarrel over her, and it would all end in a a row.
"Reckon no matter what pa said I'd never let you go to Sprall's," he concluded simply.
"You...May I ask what business it would be of yours?"
"Wal, somebody has to take these here things on his shoulders, an' I reckon most of them fall on me," he replied.
"I don't understand you," said Lucy forcibly.
"Wal, somethin' wrong is always happenin' up here among us people. An' I reckon I'm the only one who sees it."
"Wrong! How could it be wrong for me to go to Sprall's?" protested Lucy. "From what I hear they need me a great deal more than any family up here."
"Miss, I reckon you'd better not believe all you hear," he returned. "If you was to ride over to Sprall's you'd say they'd ought to be washed an' dressed, an' their cabin burned. But that's all you'd see unless you stayed a day or so."
"Oh!...Suppose I'd stay?" queried Lucy.
"You'd see that was long enough."
"But don't you understand I'm here to help poor families--no matter how dirty or ignorant or--or even wicked?" cried Lucy poignantly.
"Shore I understand. An' I reckon it's your goodness of heart, an' of these people who sent you. But it won't do, maybe not for us, an' shore an' certain never for such as the Spralls."
"You must tell me why, if you expect me to pay the least attention to what you say," retorted Lucy stubbornly.
"Shore! can't talk about the Sprall women to a girl like you," he protested. "If ma won't tell you, it's no job for me. But I reckon there's no need. You're not goin' to Sprall's."
Lucy was at a loss for words. His bare assertion did not seem to stir her anger so much as a conviction that for some reason or other she would not go to Sprall's.
"I've heard, since I've been here, that there was bad blood between you and Bud Sprall. It must have been your mother who said it," replied Lucy slowly, trying to keep her temper.
"Nope. The bad blood is on Bud's side. Reckon if there'd been any on mine I'd have killed him long ago...Now, miss, you're a city girl, but you ought to have a little sense. If I told you I couldn't let Mertie stay where Bud Sprall was--you'd understand that, I reckon."
"Yes. I am not quite so stupid as you seem to think," retorted Lucy.
"Wal, for the same reason I'd not let you go, either...Now we're wastin' time talkin' about Sprall's. To come back to this here work of yours, I'm sorry I can't see it favourable like pa an' ma. But I just can't."
"I'm sorry, too," replied Lucy soberly. ". It'll be discouraging to have even one person against me. But why--why?"
"I reckon I can't figure that out so quick," he replied. ". It's the way I feel. If you was goin' to live among us always I might feel different. But you won't last up here very long. An' suppose you do teach Liz an' Lize an' Danny a lot of things. They've got to grow up an' live here. They might be happier knowin' less. It's what they don't know that don't make any difference."
"You're terribly wrong, Edd Denmeade," replied Lucy with spirit.
"Ahuh! Wal, that's for you to prove," he returned Imperturbably. "I'll be goin' now. An' I reckon I'll fetch your outfit in about midday to-morrow."
Lucy stared after the tall figure as it stalked with a flapping of chaps keeping time with a clinking of spurs. Edd Denmeade was six feet tall, slender, yet not lean like his brothers. He was built like a narrow wedge, only his body and limbs were rounded, with small waist, small hips, all giving an impression of extraordinary suppleness and strength. Lucy had seen riders of the range whose form resembled this young bee hunter's. They had been, however, awkward on their feet, showing to best advantage when mounted on horseback. This Denmeade had a long, quick, springy stride.
When he had passed out of sight down the lane Lucy let the children play alone while she pondered over his thought-provoking words. She realised that he was right in a way, and that it might be possible to do these children more harm than good. But never if she could only impress them lastingly. The facts of the case were as plain as printed words to her. These backwoods people were many generations behind city people in their development.
In a fairly intelligent and broad way Lucy had grasped at the fundamentals of the question of the evolution of the human race. Not so many thousand years back all the human family, scattered widely over the globe, had lived nomad lives in the forests, governed by conditions of food and water. Farther back, their progenitors had been barbarians, and still more remotely they had been cave men, fighting the cave bear and the sabre-toothed tiger. Lucy had seen pictures in a scientific book of the bones of these men and beasts. In ages back all the wandering tribes of men had to hunt to live, and their problems were few. Meat to eat, skins to wear, protection from beasts and ravaging bands of their own species! Yet, even so, through the long ages, these savages had progressed mentally and spiritually. Lucy saw that as a law of life.
These backwoods people were simply a little closer to the old order of primitive things than their more fortunate brethren of civilisation. Even if they so willed with implacable tenacity they could not for ever hold on to their crude and elemental lives. They could never evade the line of progress. Edd Denmeade's father was a backwoodsman; Edd himself was a bee hunter; his son would most likely be a forest ranger or lumberman, and his grandson perhaps become a farmer or a worker in the city.
Naturally this giant boy of the woods understood nothing of all this. Yet he had a quaint philosophy which Lucy felt she understood. In a sense the unthinking savage and the primitive white child were happier than any children of civilised peoples. In a way it might be a pity to rob them of their instincts, educate them out of a purely natural existence. But from the very dawn of life on the planet the advance of mind had been inevitable. Lucy was familiar with many writers who ascribed this fact to nature. Her personal conviction was that beyond and above nature was God.
If Edd Denmeade was not stupid and stubborn she believed that she could enlighten him. It might be interesting to teach him; yet, on the other hand, it might require more patience and kindliness than she possessed. Evidently he was the strongest factor among the young Denmeades, and perhaps among all these young people. Despite the unflattering hints which had fostered her first impression, she found that, after talking seriously with him, she had a better opinion of him than of any of the other young men she had met. In all fairness she was bound to admit this.
All the rest of the day and evening Lucy found the thoughts Edd had roused running in her mind, not wholly unsatisfying. Somehow he roused her combativeness, yet, viewed just as one of the Denmeades, she warmed to the problem of helping him. Moreover, the success of her venture with this family no doubt hinged mostly upon converting the elder son to her support. Perhaps she could find an avenue open to her through his love of Mertie and devotion to the children.
Next morning found Lucy more energetic and active mentally than she had been so far. She had rested; the problem she confronted had shifted to a matter of her own powers. Nevertheless, neither the children, nor helping Mrs. Denmeade, nor reading over some half-forgotten treatises relative to her work, interested her to the point of dismissing Edd Denmeade from mind. Lucy realised this, but refused to bother with any reflection upon it.
She was in her room just before the noon hour when she heard Uncle Bill stamp up on the porch and drawl out: "Say, Lee, hyar comes Edd drivin' the pack-burros."
Denmeade strode out to exclaim. "So soon! Wal, it do beat hell how that boy can rustle along with a pack-outfit."
"Heavy load, too. Jennie looks like a camel," replied Uncle Bill. "Reckon I'll lend a hand on packin'."
Lucy quite unnecessarily wanted to run out to see the burros, a desire that she stifled. She heard the tinkle of their bells and the patter of their little hoofs as they came up to the porch.
"Wal, son, you must been a-rarin' to git home," drawled Denmeade.
"Nope. I just eased them along," replied Edd. "But I packed before sunup."
"Fetch all Miss Lucy's outfit?"
"Some of it had to be ordered. Sewin' machine an' a lot of dry goods. It'll be on the stage next week, an' I'll pack it then. Reckon I had about all I could pack to-day, anyhow."
"Say, Edd," called Allie's lusty voice from the kitchen, "who'd you go an' storm for the dance?"
"Reckon I haven't asked nobody yet," replied Edd laconically.
"You goin' to stay home?" rejoined Allie, her large frame appearing in the kitchen doorway. Her round face expressed surprise and regret.
"Never stayed home yet, Allie, did I?"
"No. But Edd, you mustn't go to any more dances alone," said his sister solicitously. "It makes the boys mad, an' you've had fights enough."
"Wal, you didn't notice I got licked bad, did you?" he drawled.
Allie went back into the kitchen, where she talked volubly in the same strain to her mother.
"Edd, reckon we'd better carry this stuff in where Miss Lucy can keep the kids out of it, huh?" queried Denmeade.
"I shore say so. It cost a lot of money. I hope to goodness she makes out with it."
Lucy heard his quick step on the porch, then saw him, burdened with bundles and boxes, approaching her door. She rose to meet him.
"Howdy! I got back pronto," he said. "Pa thinks you'd better have this stuff under your eye. Where'll we stack it? Reckon it'll all make a pile."
"Just set light things on the beds, heavy ones on the floor. I'll look after them," replied Lucy. "Indeed you made splendid time. I'm very grateful. Now I shall be busy."
Some time during the afternoon, when the curious members of the household had satisfied themselves with an exhaustive scrutiny of the many articles Lucy had in her room, and had gone about their work and play, Edd Denmeade presented himself at the door.
"Reckon I'd like to ask you something," he said, rather breathlessly and low.
"Come in," replied Lucy, looking up from where she knelt among a disarray of articles she had bought.
"Will you go to the dance with me?" he asked.
Lucy hesitated. His shyness and anxiety manifestly clashed. But tremendous as must have been this issue for him, he had come out frankly with it.
"Oh, I'm sorry! Thank you, Edd, but I must decline," she replied. "You see what a mess I'm in here with all this stuff. I must straighten it out. To-morrow work begins."
He eyed her with something of a change in his expression or feeling, she could not tell what. "Reckon I savvied you'd say no. But I'm askin' if you mean that no for good. There's a dance every week, an' you can't help bein' asked. I'm givin' you a hunch. If any schoolmarm stayed away from dances, folks up here would believe she thought she was too good for us."
"Thank you. I understand," replied Lucy, impressed by his sincerity. "Most assuredly I don't think I'm too good to go to a dance here, and enjoy myself, too."
"Maybe, then--it's just me you reckon you'd not like to go with," he returned, with just a tinge of bitterness.
"Not at all," Lucy hastened to reply. "I'd go with you the same as with anyone. Why not?"
"Reckon I don't know any reason. But Sadie Purdue was pretty shore she did...You wouldn't really be ashamed of me, then?"
"Of course not," replied Lucy, at her wits' end to meet this situation. "I heard you spoken of very highly by Mrs. Lynn at Cedar Ridge. And I can see how your parents regard you. At my home in Felix it was not the custom for a girl to go to a dance upon such slight acquaintance as ours. But I do not expect city customs up here in the woods."
"Reckon I like the way you talk," he said, his face lighting. "Shore it doesn't rile me all up. But that's no matter now...Won't you please go with me?"
"No," answered Lucy, decidedly, a little nettled at his persistence, when she had been kind enough to explain.
"Shore I didn't ask any girl before you," he appealed plaintively.
"That doesn't make any difference."
"But it means an awful lot to me," he went on doggedly.
It would never do to change her mind after refusing him, so there seemed nothing left but to shake her head smilingly and say she was sorry. Then without a word he strode out and clanked off the porch. Lucy went on with the work at hand, becoming so interested that she forgot about him. Sometime later he again presented himself at her door. He was clean shaven; he had brushed his hair while wet, plastering it smooth and glossy to his fine-shaped head; he wore a light-coloured flannel shirt and a red tie; and new blue-jean trousers. Lucy could not help seeing what a great improvement this made in his appearance.
"Reckon you haven't thought it over?" he queried hopefully.
"What?" returned Lucy.
"About goin' to the dance?"
"I've been very busy with all this stuff, and haven't had time to think of anything else."
"Shore I never wanted any girl to go with me like I do you," he said. "Most because Sadie made fun of the idea."
This did not appear particularly flattering to Lucy. She wondered if the young man had really been in love with that smug-faced girl.
"Edd, it's not very nice of you to want me just to revenge yourself on Sadie," rejoined Lucy severely.
"Reckon it's not all that," he replied hurriedly. "Sadie an' Sam an' most of them rake me over. It's got to be a sore point with me. An' here you bob up, the prettiest and stylishest girl who ever came to Cedar Ridge. Think what a beat I'd have on them if I could take you. An' shore that's not sayin' a word about my own feelin's."
"Well, Edd, I must say you've made amends for your other speech," said Lucy graciously. "All the same, I said no and I meant no."
"Miss Lucy, I swear I'd never asked you again if you'd said that for good. But you said as much as you'd go some time. Shore if you're ever goin' to our dances why not this one, an' let me be the first to take you?"
He was earnest; he was pathetic; he was somehow most difficult to resist. Lucy felt that she had not been desired in this way before. To take her would be the great event in his life. For a moment she laboured with vacillation. Then she reflected that if she yielded here it would surely lead to other obligations and very likely to sentiment. Thereupon she hardened her heart, and this time gave him a less kindly refusal. Edd dropped his head and went away.
Lucy spent another hour unpacking and arranging the numerous working materials that had been brought from Cedar Ridge. She heard Mrs. Denmeade and Allie preparing an early supper, so they could ride off to the dance before sunset. Lucy had finished her task for the afternoon and was waiting to be called to supper when again Edd appeared at the door.
"Will you go to the dance with me?" he asked, precisely as he had the first time. Yet there seemed some subtle change in both tone and look.
"Well, indeed you are persevering, if not some other things," she replied, really annoyed. "Can't you understand plain English?...I said no!"
"Shore I heard you the first time," he retorted. "But I reckoned, seein' it's so little for you to do, an' means so much to me, maybe you'd--"
"Why does it mean so much to you?" she interrupted.
"'Cause if I can take you I'll show them this once, an' then I'll never go again," he replied.
It cost Lucy effort to turn away from his appealing face and again deny him, which she did curtly. He disappeared. Then Mrs. Denmeade called her to supper. Edd did not show himself during the meal.
"Edd's all het up over this dance," observed Mrs. Denmeade. "It's on account of Sadie's sharp tongue Edd doesn't care a rap for her now an' never did care much, if my reckonin' is right. But she's mean."
"Laws! I hope Edd doesn't fetch that Sally Sprall," interposed Allie. "He said he was dog-goned minded to do it."
"That hussy!" ejaculated Mrs. Denmeade. "Edd wouldn't take her."
"Ma, he's awful set on havin' a girl this dance," responded Allie.
"I'll bet some day Edd gets a better girl than Sadie Purdue or any of her clan," declared the mother.
A little while later Lucy watched Mrs. Denmeade and Allie, with the children and Uncle Bill, ride off down the lane to disappear in the woods. Edd had not returned. Lucy concluded he had ridden off as had his brothers and their father. She really regretted that she had been obdurate. Coming to think about it, she did not like the idea of being alone in the cabin all night. Still, she could bar herself in and feel perfectly safe.
She walked on the porch, listening to the murmur of the stream and the barking of the squirrels. Then she watched the sun set in golden glory over the yellow-and-black cape of wall that jutted out toward the west. The day had been pleasantly warm and was now growing cool. She drew a deep breath of the pine-laden air. This wild country was drawing her. A sense of gladness filled her at the thought that she could stay here indefinitely.
Her reflections were interrupted by the crack of iron-shod hoof on rock. Lucy gave a start. She did not want to be caught there alone. Peering through the foliage, she espied Edd striding up the lane, leading two saddled horses. She was immensely relieved, almost glad at sight of him, and then began to wonder what this meant.
"If he's not going to ask me again!" she soliloquised, and the paradox of her feeling on the moment was that she was both pleased and irritated at his persistence. "The nerve of him!"
Edd led the two horses into the yard and up to the porch. His stride was that of a man who would not easily be turned back. In spite of her control, Lucy felt a thrill.
"Reckon you thought I'd gone?" he queried as he faced her.
"No; I didn't think about you at all," returned Lucy, which speech was not literally true.
"Wal, you're goin' to the dance," he drawled, cool and easy, with a note in his voice she had never heard. "Oh--indeed! I am?" she exclaimed tartly.
"You shore are."
"I am not," flashed Lucy.
With a lunge he reached out his long arms and, wrapping them round her, he lifted her off the porch as easily as if she had been an empty sack. Lucy was so astounded that for an instant she could not move hand or foot. A knot seemed to form in her breast. She began to shake. Then, awakening to this outrage, she began to struggle.
"How dare you? Let me down I Release me!" she cried.
"Nope. You're goin' to the dance," he said, in the same drawling tone with its peculiar inflection.
"You--you ruffian!" burst out Lucy, suddenly beside herself with rage. Frantically she struggled to free herself. This fierce energy only augmented her emotions. She tore at him, wrestled and writhed, and then in desperation fraught with sudden fear she began to beat him with her fists. At that he changed his hold on her until she seemed strung in iron bands. She could not move. It was a terrible moment, in which her head reeled. What did he mean to do with her?
"Reckon I'll have to hold you till you quit fightin'," he said. "Shore it'd never do to put you up on Baldy now. He's a gentle hoss, but if you kicked around on him I reckon he might hurt you."
"Let--me--go!" gasped Lucy hoarsely. "Are--you crazy?"
"Nope. Not even riled. But shore my patience is wearin' out."
"Patience! Why, you lout--you brute--you wild-bee hunter!" raved Lucy, and again she attempted to break his hold. How utterly powerless she was! He had the strength of a giant. A sudden panic assailed her fury.
"My God! You don't mean--to hurt me--harm me?" she panted.
"You dog-gone fool!" he ejaculated, as if utterly astounded.
"Oh!...Then what--do you mean?"
"I mean nothin' 'cept you're goin' to that dance," he declared ruthlessly. "An' you're goin' if I have to hawg-tie you. Savvy?"
Whereupon he lifted her and set her in the saddle of one of the horses, and threw her left foot over so that she was astride.
"No kickin' now! Baldy is watchin' out of the corner of his eye," said this wild-bee hunter.
The indignity of her position, astride a horse with her dress caught above her knees, was the last Lucy could endure.
"Please let--me down," she whispered. "I'll--go--with you."
"Wal, I'm shore glad you're goin' to show sense," he drawled, and with action markedly in contrast to his former ones he helped her dismount.
Lucy staggered back against the porch, so weak she could hardly stand. She stared at this young backwoodsman, whose bronzed face had paled slightly.
He had bruised her arms and terrified her. Overcome by her sensations, she burst into tears.
"Aw, don't cry!" Edd expostulated. "I'm sorry I had to force you...An' you don't want to go to a dance with red eyes an' nose."
If Lucy had not been so utterly shocked she could have laughed at his solicitude. Hopeless indeed was this backwoodsman. She strove to regain control over her feelings, and presently moved her hands from her face.
"Is there any place down there--to change--where a girl can dress?" she asked huskily. "I can't ride horseback in this."
"Shore is," he said gaily.
"Very well," returned Lucy. "I'll get a dress--and go with you."
She went to her room and, opening the closet, she selected the prettiest of the several dresses she had brought. This, with slippers, comb, and brush and mirror, she packed in a small grip. She seemed stunned, locked in a kind of maze. Kidnapped! Forced by a wild-bee hunter to go to a backwoods dance! Of all adventures possible to her, this one seemed the most incredible! Yet had she not been selfish, heartless? What right had she to come among such crude people and attempt to help them? This outrage would end her ambition.
Then hurriedly slipping into her riding clothes, Lucy took the bag and returned to the porch.
"Wal, now that's fine," said Edd, as he reached for the grip. He helped her mount and shortened the stirrups without speaking. Then he put a big hand on the pommel of her saddle and looked up at her.
"Shore now, if it'd been Sadie or any girl I know, she'd have gone in an' barred the door," he said. "I just been thinkin' that over. Shore I didn't think you'd lie."
Lucy endeavoured to avert her gaze. Her horror had not faded. But again the simplicity of this young man struck her.
"Do you want to back out now an' stay home?" he went on.
"You are making me go by force," she returned. "You said you'd hawg-tie me, didn't you?"
"Wal, reckon I did," he replied. "But I was riled an' turrible set on takin' you...Your havin' a chance to lock yourself in! Now you didn't do it an' I savvied you wouldn't."
Lucy made no reply. What was going on in the mind of this half savage being? He fascinated while he repelled her. It would have been false to herself had she denied the fact that she felt him struggling with his instincts, unconsciously fighting himself, reaching out blindly. He was a living proof of the evolution of man toward higher things.
"Wal, reckon I'll let you off," he declared at length.
"Are you afraid I'll tell what a brute you were?" she flashed sarcastically.
His lean face turned a dark red and his eyes grew piercing.
"Hell, no!" he ejaculated. "Shore I don't care what you tell. But I'd hate to have you think same as Sadie an' those girls."
"It doesn't matter what I think," she replied. "You'd never understand."
"Wal, I would, if you thought like them."
"Is it possible you could expect me to think anything but hard of you--after the way you treated me?" she demanded, with returning spirit.
"Hard? Reckon I don't mind that," he returned ponderingly. "Anyway, I'll let you off, just because you wasn't tricky."
"No, you won't let me off," asserted Lucy. "I'm going to this dance...and you'll take the consequences!"