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Under the Tonto Rim

Country of origin: USA USA
Available texts by the same author here Dokument

Chapter 7

   It was midsummer. The mornings were pleasant, the days hot and still, the evenings sultry and purple, with massed clouds in the west.
   The July rains had left the ridges and open patches and the edges of the clearings colourful and fragrant with flowers. Corn and cane and beans were green and wavy in the fields. A steady line of bees flew by the cabin porch, to and fro from hives to woods. And a drowsy murmuring hum made music down by-the shady stream.
   At sunrise the home of the Denmeades seemed to be a rendezvous for the frisky chipmunk and chattering red squirrel, for squalling blue jay and whistling hawk and cawing crow, and for the few wild singing birds of the locality. At noon the woods were locked in hot, drowsy stillness; the pine needles did not quiver; heat veils rose smokily from the glades. At evening a melancholy pervaded the wilderness.
   One Saturday Lucy sat meditating in the tent that had long been her abode. It was situated out under the pines on the edge of the gully. The boys had built a platform of rough-hewn boards, and a framework of poles, over which the canvas had been stretched. The floor was high above the ground, so that Lucy had long lost the fear of snakes and tarantulas. Indeed this outdoor home had grown wonderfully dear to her. By day she heard the tiny patter of pine needles on the tent; at night the cool winds blew through, and in the moonlight shadows of swaying branches moved above her.
   Lucy had problems on her mind. As far as the Denmeades were concerned, her welfare work had been successful beyond her dreams. The time was approaching when in all fairness she must go to another family. She would keenly regret leaving this place she had learned to love, yet she wanted to do as well by others as she had done by the Denmeades. When to go--that was part of the problem.
   Another disturbing factor came in the shape of a letter from her sister Clara. It had shocked her and induced a regurgitation of almost forgotten emotions. The letter lay open in her lap. It must be reread and considered and decided upon--matters Lucy was deferring.
   The last and perhaps most perplexing question concerned Edd Denmeade. Lucy had to go back in retrospect. The trouble between Edd and her dated back to the dance in May, the one which he had forced her to attend. Lucy had gone to other dances since then, but Edd had never attended another. She might in time have forgiven him for that exhibition of his primitiveness, but shortly afterward he had precipitated something which resulted in their utter estrangement. The bee hunter was the only one of the Denmeades who had not wondrously benefited by her work. He had lost by her presence. He had gone back farther. He exhibited signs of becoming a solitary wanderer in the woods most of the time, a violent and dangerous young man when he did mingle with people. Lucy had forced upon her the undoubted fact that she was the cause of this. No one else knew yet, not even Edd's mother. Lucy could not take unadulterated pride and joy in her success. She did not see how she could have avoided such a situation, yet regret haunted her. And now with decisions to make she vacillated over the important ones, and brought to mind the scene that had turned Edd Denmeade aside from the happier influences and tasks which she had imposed upon his family.
   Shortly after that dance Edd had come up to her where she sat on the corral fence watching the boys roping and shoeing a horse.
   "I reckon I'm goin' to ask you a question," he announced. Almost his tone was the cool drawling one habitual with him; here, however, there seemed something deep, inevitable behind his words.
   "Goodness! Don't ask me to go to another dance," laughed Lucy.
   "Reckon I'll never dance again, unless--" He broke off. "An' what I'm goin' to ask you I've asked other girls. Shore this is the last time."
   "Well, what is it?" queried Lucy, suddenly perturbed. "Will you marry me?"
   Notwithstanding the fact that she was startled, Lucy burst into mirth. It must have been the opposite to what she felt, a nervousness expressing itself in laughter. But it appeared to be unfortunate.
   "I--I beg pardon, Edd," she made haste to say. "Really! didn't mean to laugh at you. But you--you surprised me so...You can't be serious."
   "Reckon I don't know just what I am," he replied grimly. "But I'm askin' you to marry me."
   "Because you want a home and a woman? I heard your father say that."
   "Shore. That's the way I've felt. Reckon this is more. I've told my folks an' relations I was askin' you. Wanted them to know."
   "Edd, I cannot marry you," she replied gravely.
   "Why not?" he demanded. "You're here. You want to work for us. An' I reckon I could help you as much as you could me."
   "That's true. You could help me a great deal. But I'm sorry I can't marry you."
   "Reckon you're too good for a backwoodsman, a wild-bee hunter who's been jilted by other girls," he asserted, with a strange, deep utterance.
   "No. You're wrong," declared Lucy, both touched and angered by his speech. "I don't think I'm too good. That dance you dragged me to cured me of my vanity."
   "Wal, then, what's the reason?" he went on. "Ma says you're goin' to stay among us people for years. If that's so you'll have to marry one of us. I'm askin' you first."
   "Edd, an honest girl could not marry a man she didn't love," replied Lucy. "Nor can a man be honest asking a girl whom he does not love."
   "Shore I am honest. I'm no liar," he retorted. "I'm just plain man. I don't know much of people or books. But I know the woods, an' reckon I can learn what you want me to."
   "I don't mean honest in that sense," rejoined Lucy. "I mean you don't love me."
   "Love you! Are you like Sadie, who told around that I'd never kissed her?"
   "No, I'm not like Sadie," answered Lucy with rising temper.
   "Wal, I'm askin' your pardon," he said. "Shore you're different from Sadie...As for this love you girls talk about I don't know--I always felt a man should keep his hands an' his lips to himself until he had a wife."
   "Edd, I respect you for that," replied Lucy earnestly. "And understand you better...But love is not kisses and all that."
   "Wal, what is it, then?"
   "It is something beautiful, spiritual as well as physical. It is a longing for the welfare, the happiness, the good of someone as well as the sweetness of desire. For a woman love means what Ruth said in the Bible, 'Whither thou goest, I will go. Thy people shall be my people, thy God my God.'...A man who loves a woman will do anything for her--sacrifice himself. The greater his sacrifice the greater his love. And last he ought to feel that he could not live without the object of his affections."
   "Wal, I reckon I don't love you," replied Edd ponderingly.
   "Of course you don't. You're only thinking of yourself," rejoined Lucy.
   "Reckon I can't help what I think. Who put all this in my head?"
   "Edd, you haven't got anything in your head," retorted Lucy, unable to restrain her pique and scorn. "That's the trouble. You need education. All your people need education more than anything else."
   "Wal, why don't you teach me same as you do Liz and Lize?" he complained.
   "You're a grown man!" ejaculated Lucy. "You want to molly me! And you talk like a child."
   "Shore I could make you marry me--same as I made you go to the dance," he said ruthlessly.
   For an instant Lucy stared at him, too stunned to reply. The simplicity of his words and conviction was as monstrous as the idea they conveyed. How strange that, though a fury suddenly flamed up in her breast, she had a doubt of herself, a fear that he could do what he wanted to do with her!
   "Make me marry you! Never!" she burst out thickly.
   "Shore I'd not care what you said," he replied.
   Lucy's amaze and wrath knew no bounds. "You--you--" She choked, almost unable to express herself. "You savage! You couldn't even love yourself. You're---" She was utterly at a loss to find words. "Why, you're a fool--that's what you are!...If you mention marriage again I'll give up my work here and leave."
   Then and then only did it seem to dawn upon him that there was something wrong with his mind. He gave Lucy a blank, dead stare, as if he saw something through her. The vitality and intensity withered out of his face. He dropped his head and left her.
   That scene had been long weeks past. For days Edd had remained out in the woods, and when he returned there was a difference in him. None of the family, however, apparently attributed it to Lucy. But she knew. At first, such was her antagonism, she did not care what he did or what became of him; but gradually, as the weeks wore on and she had such wonderful success with her work, while he grew wilder and stranger, she began to pity instead of despising him. Poor backwoods boy. How could he help himself? He had been really superior to most of his cousins and friends. Seldom did he do any work at home, except with his bees. Rumour credited him with fights and brawls, and visits to the old moonshiner who distilled the liquor called white mule. His mother worried incessantly. His father passed from concern to grief. "Dog-gone me!" he ejaculated. "Edd's headed like them Sprall boys. An' who'd ever think it!"
   Likewise, Lucy passed from pity to worry, and from that to a conscience-stricken accusation. If for no other reason she was to blame because she had come to Cedar Ridge. This fall of Edd's was taking the sweetness out of her success. Could the teaching of a few children balance the ruin of their brother? How impossible not to accuse herself of the change in him! She felt it every time she saw him.
   At last Lucy saw clearly that her duty consisted in a choice between giving up her welfare work there and winning Edd Denmeade back to what he had been before she came. Thought of abandoning that work would scarcely stay before her consciousness, yet she forced herself to think of it. She had found a congenial, uplifting vocation for herself. But it was one that she could give up, if it were right to do so. There were other things she could find to do. Coming to think of the change in the Denmeade household, the cleanliness and brightness, the elimination of unsanitary habits, the saving of labour, the development of the children's minds, she could not persuade herself that it would be otherwise than cowardice for her to quit now.
   "I must stay," soliloquised Lucy, at last seeing clearly. "If I quit now, all my life I'd be bitter because I failed of the opportunity I prayed for...Then, if I stay I must save Edd Denmeade...It would be welfare work of the noblest kind...What it costs me must not matter."
   Lucy deliberately made the choice, for good or ill to herself, with her eyes wide open and all her faculties alive to the nature of her task and the limits it might demand. Her home life had inured her to sacrifice. That thought brought her back to Clara and the letter which lay open in her lap. With a wrench of her spirit she took it up and reread:
   July 10.
   Dearest Lucy,
   I came back from Mendino to find you gone. I deserved my disappointment, because I've never written you. But, Lucy, it wasn't because I'd forgotten. I was ashamed. I eloped with Jim, as you know, because father had no use for him. Well, if I had listened to you I'd not be miserable and alone now. Jim turned out worse than anyone thought. He didn't even marry me. I'm as much to blame for the whole business as he. The most shameful thing for me, however, was to discover I didn't love him. I was just crazy.
   Father shut the door in my face. I've been staying with an old schoolmate, Mamie Blaize, who has been kind. But, Lucy, I can't stay here. Felix will be no place for me, after they find out.
   I went to the State Department who employ you. From them I got your address. The woman there was very nice. She spoke of your success, and that you had paved the way for extensive welfare work in other parts of the state. Lucy, I'm proud of you. It was always in you--to do good.
   I'm not very well or very strong. Won't you please let me come out there and stay with you? I'll get well and work my fingers to the bone for you. Let me show you I've had my bitter lesson. I need you, Lucy, dear, for sometimes I grow reckless. I have horrible spells of blues. I'm afraid. And if you fail me I don't know what in the world I'll do. But you won't fail me. I seem to feel that deep inside me. It makes me realise what I lacked.
   Send me money at once to come, and tell me what to do--how to get there. Please, Lucy, I beg you. I'm in the dust. To think after scorning your love and advice I'd come crawling on my knees to you. Judge what has happened to me by that. Hurry and write.
   This letter saddened Lucy more because of its revival of memory of the beloved little sister than the news it contained. Lucy had never expected anything but catastrophe for Clara. It had come, and speedily; Clara had been away from Felix a year and a half. She was now nearly nineteen. This frank letter revealed a different girl.
   Lucy re-read it, pondered over what she confessed, wept over the ruin of her, yet rejoiced over the apparent birth of soul. Clara had never been one to beg. She had been a sentimental, headstrong girl and she could not be restrained. Lucy forgave her now, sorrowed for the pitiful end of her infatuation for the cowboy Jim Middleton, and with a rush of the old sisterly tenderness she turned to her table to answer that letter. Her response was impulsive, loving, complete, with never a word of reproach. She was accepting Clara's changed attitude toward life as an augury of hope for the future. She would help take the burden of responsibility for that future. It was never too late, Clara must reconstruct her life among new people, and if her disgrace became public she could never return to Felix. Better perhaps that Felix become only a memory!
   Lucy concluded that letter with interesting bits of information about this wilderness country, the beauty of its forests, and the solitude of its backwoods homes. She did not include any remarks anent the stalwart young backwoodsmen or their susceptibilities to the charms of young girls. Even as she thought of this Lucy recalled Clara's piquant, pretty face, her graceful form, her saucy provocative ways. How would Edd Denmeade, and that fine quiet brother Joe, respond to the presence of the pretty sister? Lucy had to dispel misgivings. The die was cast. She would not fail the erring Clara. Enclosing a money order on her office, Lucy sealed the letter and stamped it with an air of finality and a feeling of relief and happiness. It had taken a calamity to drive Clara to her heart and protection.
   "There!" she breathed low, almost with a sob. "That's done, and I'm glad...Come to remember, that's the second decision in regard to my problem. There was a third--when should I leave the Denmeades?...I can't leave just yet. I will stay. They have begged me to stay...It cannot matter, just so long as I do my duty by these other families."
   Then Lucy assuaged her conscience and derived a strange joy out of the decisions she had made. Where might they lead her? The great forest arms of the wilderness seemed to be twining round her. She was responding to unknown influences. Her ideals were making pale and dim the dreams she had once cherished of her own personal future--a home--children--happiness. These were not for everyone. She sighed, and cast away such sentiment.
   "Edd would say I'm bogged down in welfare work," she said. "Now to go out and begin all over again!"
   It seemed significant that as she stepped out of her tent she espied Edd stalking up the lane toward the cabin. He had not been home for days and his ragged apparel showed contact with the woods. As Lucy halted by the gate to wait for him, she felt her heart beat faster. Whatever sensations this wild-bee hunter roused, not one of them was commonplace.
   "Good morning, Edd," said Lucy cheerfully, as if that greeting had always been her way with him. "You're just the person I want to see. Where have you been so long?"
   "Howdy!" he replied as he stopped before her. He gave her one of his piercing looks, but showed no surprise. He appeared thin, hard, hungry, and strained. He had not shaved for days, and his dark downy beard enhanced the strange wild atmosphere that seemed to cling round him. "I've been linin' new bees. Reckon it was high time I set to work. It's shore a fine year for bees. You see, there wasn't much rain. A rainy spring makes lots of yellow-jackets, an' them darn insects kill the wild bees an' steal their honey. This dry season keeps down the yellow-jackets. Reckon I'll have my best year findin' honey. Lined two trees to-day."
   "When will you get the honey?" inquired Lucy.
   "Not till after frost comes. October is best."
   "Will you take me some day when you line bees and also when you get the honey?" asked Lucy, plunging headlong into her chosen task. She wanted to burn her bridges behind her. If she listened to caution and selfish doubts she could never keep to her decision. She expected her deliberate request to amaze Edd and cause him to show resentment or bitterness. But he exhibited neither.
   "Shore will. Any time you say," he drawled, as he dragged his trailing rope to him and coiled it.
   "I've news for you. I'm having my sister Clara come out to live with me," she announced.
   "Shore that'll be good," he replied with interest. "How old is she an' what's she like?"
   "Clara is nearly nineteen. She's blonde, very different from me. And very pretty."
   "Wal, you're light-headed yourself, an' I reckon not so different."
   "Edd, are you paying me a compliment?" she asked archly.
   "Nope. I just mean what I say. When'll your sister come?"
   "If all goes well she'll arrive in Cedar Ridge on the stage Wednesday week. But someone must ride in to-morrow so my letter can catch Monday's stage."
   "Give it to me. I'm ridin' to Cedar Ridge this afternoon."
   "Edd, did you intend to go anyway?"
   "Wal, reckon I didn't," he declared honestly. "I've had about enough of town."
   "You've been drinking and fighting?"
   "Shore," he answered simply, as if there were no disgrace attached to that.
   "I don't want you to go to town with my letter unless you promise me you'll neither drink nor fight," she said earnestly.
   Edd laughed. "Say, you're takin' interest in me mighty late. What for?"
   "Better late than never. I refuse to discuss my reasons. But will you promise?"
   "Wal, yes, about the white mule. Sorry I can't promise about fightin'. I've too many enemies I've ticked, an' if I happened to run into one of them, drunk or no drunk, they'd be a-rarin' to get at me."
   "Then I'd rather you stayed away from Cedar Ridge."
   "Wal, so would I. Honest, Lucy, I'm sort of sick. Don't know what it is. But to-day in the woods I began to feel a little like my old self. It's bee huntin' I need. To get away from people!"
   "People will never hurt you, Edd. It's only that you will not like them...Tell me, have you had trouble with Bud Sprall?"
   "Nope. Funny, too. For Bud's been lookin' powerful hard for me. He never goes to town an' I never go to dances, so we haven't bucked into each other."
   "What's this trouble between you and Bud? Doesn't it date back to that dance you took me to?"
   "Wal, it's part because of somethin' he said about you at that dance. I'd have beat him half to death right there, only I didn't want to spoil your good time."
   He seemed apologising to her for a softness that he regretted.
   "About me!" exclaimed Lucy in surprise. "What was it?"
   "Reckon I'm not hankerin' to tell," he replied reluctantly. "Shore I always blamed myself for lettin' it happen. But that night I was plumb locoed."
   "Edd, if it is something you can tell me, do so at once," demanded Lucy.
   "Wal, I can tell it easy enough," returned Edd, with a smile breaking the hardness of his grimy face. "Bud just bragged about peepin' through the cracks of the shed back of the schoolhouse. Swore he watched you undress."
   "Oh--the sneak!" burst out Lucy, suddenly flaming.
   "Wal, don't let the idea upset you," drawled Edd. "For Bud was a liar. He never saw you. He just hatched that up after you wouldn't give him the other dance."
   "How do you know?" queried Lucy, in swift relief.
   "Reckon I didn't know that night. But shore I found out afterward. I rode down to the schoolhouse an' looked. There wasn't a crack in that shed anywheres. Not a darn one! You can bet I was careful to make shore. Bud just lied, that's all. He's always been a liar. But I reckon I hold it as much against him as if he had seen you...An' now there's more I'm sore about."
   Lucy did not delve into her mind to ascertain why she had no impulse to nullify Edd's anger against Bud Sprall. The subject seemed natural to Edd, but it was embarrassing for her.
   "How about my letter?" she asked, ignoring his last speech.
   "Gerd's ridin' in to-day an' he'll go by here. Fetch me the letter an' I'll see he gets it."
   Lucy ran back to her tent, and securing it she returned to hand it to Edd, with a word as to its importance.
   "Shore. More trouble for us backwood boys!" he ejaculated, amicably, as he grinned.
   "Trouble! What do you mean?" she asked, though she knew perfectly well.
   "Another pretty girl ridin' in," he rejoined, with a hint of pathos, "an' one that wouldn't an' couldn't care a darn for the likes of us."
   "Edd, that is unkind," protested Lucy, uncertain how to meet such speeches of his. There seemed only one course to pursue, and that called on all her courage.
   "Reckon it is. I'm not as kind feelin' as I used to be."
   "Indeed you're not," returned Lucy hastily. "And I want to talk to you about that. Not now. Some time when you're rested and cheerful...Come here. I want to show you what I have done during this last absence of yours."
   She led him across the open clearing and along a new-cut path into the woods. It ended abruptly on the edge of the gully. A board walk had been erected on poles, extending some yards out over the gully, to a point just above the spring. By means of a pulley and rope a bucket could be lowered into the spring and hauled up full of water, at very little expenditure of energy. Lucy demonstrated it with ease, showing the great saving of time and effort. Mrs. Denmeade and Allie had been compelled to make many trips a day to this spring, going down the steep trail and climbing back.
   "Now what do you say to me? I thought that out and had your father and Uncle Bill put it up," declared Lucy with pride.
   Edd appeared to be either dumbfounded or greatly impressed. He sat down rather abruptly, as if this last manifestation of Lucy's practical sense had taken something out of him.
   "Simple as A B C," he ejaculated. "Why didn't pa or me--or somebody think of that long ago? I reckon ma an' Allie are ashamed of us."
   His torn black sombrero fell to the ground, and as he wiped his moist face with a soiled scarf his head drooped. How tremendously he seemed to be struggling with a stolid mind! He resembled a man learning to think. Finally he looked up squarely at her.
   "Reckon I'm about licked," he declared. "I've been dyin' hard--Miss Lucy Watson from Felix. But thick as I am I'm shore no darned fool. This here job to make fetchin' water easy for ma an' Allie is shore enough to make me kick myself. It makes me understand what you mean. I was against you. Every time I came home ma showed me somethin' new. Shore that livin'-room, as they call it now, seemed no place for my boots an' spurs an' chaps--for me. But I couldn't help seein' a difference in ma an' Allie an' the kids. They began to look like that room, with its furniture an' curtains an' pictures an' rugs an' bright both day an' night. Reckon I can't tell you just how, but it felt so to me. Clean clothes, pretty things, must mean a lot to women an' kids...An' so I'm comin' down off my hoss an' I'm thankin' you."
   "Then you really believe I'm helping to make your people live better and happier?" asked Lucy earnestly.
   "It's hard for me to knuckle, but I do. I'm not blind. You've been a blessin' to us," he replied with emotion.
   "But--Edd," she began hurriedly, "I--I haven't helped you."
   "Me!...Wal, some fellows are beyond helpin'. I'm a savage. A big fool!...Only a wild-bee hunter!"
   As his head drooped and his bitter reply ended Lucy divined the havoc that had been wrought by those hard words of hers, uttered long weeks before, in an anger she could not brook. He had taken them to heart. Lucy yearned to retract them, but that was impossible.
   "Edd, judged by my standard for men, you were--what I called you," she said. "But I was unjust. I should have made allowance for you. I was hot-tempered. You insulted me. I should have slapped you good and hard."
   "Wal, reckon I could have stood that," he replied. "You must have heard what Sadie an' other girls called me. An' you said it, too. Shore that was too much for me."
   "If you'll promise not to--to talk the way you did then--never again, I'll forgive you," said Lucy hesitatingly.
   "Wal, don't worry, I'll shore never do it again. But I'm not askin' you to forgive me," he returned bluntly, and rising, he stalked away toward the cabin.
   Lucy realised that somehow she had been too impulsive, too hasty in her approach toward friendliness. Perhaps the old lofty superiority had unwittingly cropped out again. Nevertheless, something had been gained, if only her deeper insight into this wild-bee hunter. He was vastly ignorant of an infinite number of things Lucy knew so well. Somehow she had not accorded him a depth of emotion, a strength of individuality, the same that abided in her. Because he was a backwoodsman she had denied him an intimate personal sense of himself. She had not tried to enter into his way of looking at life or people or things. As far as he was concerned she had been a poor judge of humanity, a poor teacher. No easy task would it be to change him. Her reflection brought out the fact that the brief conversation with him had only added to her concern. His confession gratified her exceedingly. She had wanted more than she knew to have him see that she was helping his people to a better and happier life. How powerfully this motive of hers had seized hold of her heart! It had become a passion. He had called her a blessing to his family. That was sweet, moving praise for Lucy. No matter how he had been hurt in his crude sensitiveness, he surely was grateful to her. He was not wholly unapproachable. Only she must be tactful, clever, sincere. The last seemed the most important. Perhaps Edd Denmeade would see through tact and cleverness. Lucy pondered and revolved in mind the complexity of the situation. It must be made so that it was no longer complex. The solution did not dawn on her then, but she divined that she could learn more about him through his love of bees and the forest where he roamed.
   Mary Denmeade espied Lucy sitting by the path to the spring, and, as always, she ran to her. The children could not get enough of Lucy's companionship. Through her their little world had widened wonderfully. Games and books, work and play, had already made incalculable differences. These backwoods children were as keen mentally as any children Lucy had been associated with in the city and vastly easier to interest.
   "Here you are," cried Mary excitedly, her eyes wide. "Edd is scolding Mertie. She's awful mad. So's ma. But ma is mad at Mertie and Mertie's mad at Edd."
   "Oh, I'm sorry, Mary. Perhaps I had better not go in yet," returned Lucy. "What's the trouble? Isn't it very strange for Edd to scold anyone, much less Mertie?"
   "Strange? I don't know. He never scolds any of us but Mertie. Ma says it's because he loves her best...Miss Lucy, Edd's not like he used to be. He stays away more an' when he does come home he's no time for us. Mertie said he was moony about you."
   "Was that what caused the trouble?" asked Lucy quickly.
   "Oh, no. Mertie said that a long time ago...I wasn't in the kitchen, but I peeped in and heard him say: 'Mert, you've been ridin' with Bud Sprall again.' An' Mertie said: 'I've no such thing. But It'd be no business of yours if I had.' An' Edd said: 'Don't lie to me. Someone saw you.' Then Mertie had one of her bad spells. She raved an' cried. Ma took her part Edd got hold of Mertie an' said he'd choke the truth out of her. He looked awful. Ma made him let Mertie go. An' Edd said: 'Wal, you stayed last night at Claypool's. Now what time did you get there after school?' Mertie said she couldn't remember. She had the reddest spots in her cheeks an' she couldn't look at Edd."
   "Mary, did you listen to all that?" asked Lucy disapprovingly, as the child halted to catch her breath.
   "I couldn't help hearing," went on Mary. "But I did peep in the door. But they didn't see me. Edd said: 'I had a hunch before, Mert Denmeade. An' yesterday when I was told by someone who seen you I just rode down to Claypool's, an' I found out you didn't get there till near dark. Took you three hours to ride from school to Amy's home! I asked Amy when she seen you last. She looked darn queer, but I made her tell. You went off down the road with Sadie Perdue.' Then ma pitched into Mertie so mad that I run."
   Lucy soothed the excited child and importuned her not to tell anyone else about the family quarrel and that perhaps it was not so much against Mertie as it looked. Mary shook her head dubiously, and presently, finding Lucy preoccupied, she gravitated toward the other children playing in the yard.
   This was not the first time Lucy had been cognisant of an upset among the Denmeades owing to Mertie's peculiar ways of being happy. She had been the idol of the family, solely, no doubt, because of her prettiness. Lucy considered Mertie a vain little ignoramus with not enough character to be actually bad. Nevertheless, Lucy reflected, she might be as mistaken in Mertie as she had been in Edd. Of all the Denmeades, this second daughter was the easiest to influence because of her vanity. Lucy had won the girl's regard with a few compliments, a few hours of instruction in dressmaking, and perhaps that was why Lucy did not value it very highly. Still, for Edd's sake, and, more seriously considered, for the girl's sake also, Lucy was now prepared to go to any pains to bring about a happier relation between brother and sister.
   Perhaps, however, before she could be accused of meddling in personal affairs she had better wait until her kind offices were invited.
   On her way back to her tent she heard the gate chain clank violently, and upon turning she espied Edd stalking away, black as a thundercloud. Should she let him go or halt him? Inspirations were not altogether rare with Lucy, but she had one now that thrilled her. This was her opportunity. She called Edd. As he did not appear to hear, she raised her voice. Then he wheeled to approach her.
   "My, but you were tramping away fast and furiously!" said Lucy amiably.
   "Reckon I was. What you want?"
   "Are you in any great hurry?"
   "No, I can't say I am. Fact is I don't know where I'm goin'. But I'm a-rarin' to go, just the same." His voice was strained with spent passion and his lean face seemed working back to its intent, still expression.
   "Come over in the shade and talk with me," said Lucy, and led him into the pines to a nook overlooking the gully, where she often sat. Plain it was that Edd followed her under compulsion. But this rather stimulated than inhibited Lucy.
   "Don't go away angry," she began, and seating herself on the clean, brown pine mats, she clasped her knees and leaned back to look up at him.
   "Reckon it's not with you," he rejoined, drawing his breath hard.
   "Of course not. I know what's wrong. Mary heard you quarrelling with Mertie. She told me...Now, Edd, I wouldn't for worlds meddle in your affairs. But my job is as wide as your woods. It's hard for me to tell where to leave off. The question is, if I can be good for Mertie, you want me to, don't you?"
   "Wul, I shore do," he declared forcibly. "More'n once I had a hunch to ask you. But I--I just couldn't."
   "You should have. I'm sorry I've been so--so offish. It's settled, then. Now tell me what you think is wrong with Mertie."
   "Reckon I don't think. I know," he replied heavily. "Mertie is just plain no good. All she thinks of is her face an' of somethin' to deck herself in so she'll attract the boys. Any boy will do, though she sticks up her nose at most of them, just the same. She's got one beau, Bert Hall, who lives in Cedar Ridge. Bert is sweet on Mertie an' I know she likes him best of all the fellows who run after her. Bert owns a ranch an' he's got a share in his father's sawmill. Course he wants to marry Mertie an' Mertie wants to run wild. Dance an' ride! I reckon Sadie Purdue hasn't helped her none...Wal, this summer Mertie has taken on airs. She says if she's old enough to be asked to dances an' to marry, she's her own boss. Pa an' ma can't do nothin' with Mertie. I used to hold her down. But shore--I've a hunch my time is past."
   "Well?" queried Lucy, as he ended haltingly. "I understand. What about this Bud Sprall?"
   "Mertie always liked that black-faced pup!" declared Edd darkly. "She's been meetin' him on the sly. Not alone yet, but with Sadie, who's got the same kind of interest in Bud's pard, a hoss-wrangler who lives over Winbrook way. Mertie lied about it...Wal, if I can't break it up one way I can another."
   "You mean you'll go to Bud Sprall?" queried Lucy instantly.
   "I shore do," he said tersely.
   "You two will fight--perhaps spill blood," went on Lucy intensely. "That might be worse than Mertie's affair with Bud, whatever it is. Edd, surely it is just a flirtation."
   "Reckon I fooled myself with ideas like that," returned Edd bluntly "Boys an' girls up here do their flirtin' at dances. Straight out, Miss Lucy, this here sneakin' has a bad look. I know Sadie Purdue. She jilted me because I was too slow. Reckon she'd never have married me. Funny thing is she never would, even if she'd wanted to, because I found her out. Nobody but you knows that. Wal, Mertie is thick with Sadie. An' they're meetin' these boys. Reckon you know how it will end, unless we stop it. Bert's an easy-goin' boy. But Mertie could go too far...You see, Miss Lucy, you haven't guessed yet just how--how thick many of us backwoods boys an' girls get. Not me! That's one reason why I'm a big boob...An' I always hoped an' prayed I could keep Mertie different. Shore it goes kind of hard to see I'm failin'."
   "Edd, you've failed yourself," asserted Lucy ringingly. "You're on the down grade yourself. You've taken to the bottle and to fights. How can you expect to influence your sister to go straight if you're no good yourself?"
   "By God! that shore's been--eatin' into me!" he ejaculated huskily, and hid his sombre face in his grimy hands.
   "Oh, I'm glad you see it!" cried Lucy, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Edd, you must come back to your old self."
   "Yes, I reckon I have to," he agreed. "If only it's not too late--for Mertie!"
   "Let us hope and pray it is not," rejoined Lucy earnestly. "I'm shocked at what you say, but yet I feel absolutely sure Mertie is still good. She's vain, she's wild. I know her kind. And, Edd, I promise to devote myself to Mertie. I must go to Felix for a week this fall. I'll talk about that to Mertie, hold it out to her. I'll take her with me. Oh, I know how to manage her. We'll marry her to Bert before she knows it."
   "Wal, what ma said about you is shore true," he said, lifting his dark face stained with tears. "An' I'll make you a promise."
   "Yes?" queried Lucy encouragingly.
   "I'll go back to my wild-bee huntin'."
   Lucy divined the import of that strange promise and she rejoiced over it, happily proud for him and the Denmeades.

Chapter 8 >