WeirdSpace Digital Library - Culture without borders
Under the Tonto Rim
Zane Grey (1926) Country of origin: USA
Available texts by the same author here
Denmeade's prediction was verified. Before noon of the next day the younger members of the neighbouring families began to ride in, nonchalant, casual, as if no unusual event had added significance to their visit. Then, when another string headed in from the Cedar Ridge trail, Denmeade exploded.
"Wal, you're goin' to be stormed," he said warningly to the bride and groom. "Shore it'll be a Jasper, too."
"For the land's sake!" exclaimed his good wife. "They'll eat us out of house an' home. An' us not ready!"
"Now, ma, I gave you a hunch yestiddy," replied Denmeade. "Reckon you can have dinner late. Mrs. Claypool will help you an' Allie."
"But that young outfit will drive me wild," protested Mrs. Denmeade.
"Never mind, ma. I'll take care of them," put in Edd. "Fact is I've a bee tree only half a mile from home. I've been savin' it. I'll rustle the whole caboodle up there an' make them pack honey back."
"Mertie will want to stay home, dressed all up," averred his mother.
"Wal, she can't. We'll shore pack her along, dress or no dress."
Early in the afternoon Edd presented himself before Lucy's tent and announced:
"Girls, we're packin' that spoony couple away from home for a spell. The women folks got to have elbow room to fix up a big dinner. Whole country goin' to storm Mert!"
Clara appeared at the door, eager and smiling. "Edd, this storm means a crowd coming to celebrate?"
"Shore. But a storm is an uninvited crowd. They raise hell. Between us, I'm tickled. I never thought Mertie would get a storm. She wasn't any too well liked. But Bert's the best boy in this country."
"Maybe he is," retorted Clara archly. "I know a couple of boys left...Edd, give us a hunch what to wear."
"Old clothes," he grinned. "An' some kind of veil or net to keep from gettin' stung. Wild bees don't like a crowd. An' Sam Johnson thinks he's a bee tamer. This tree I'm goin' to cut is a hummer. Full of sassy bees. An' there's goin' to be some fun."
Lucy and Clara joined the formidable group of young people waiting in the yard, all armed with buckets. Lucy sensed an amiable, happy spirit wholly devoid of the vexatious bantering common to most gatherings of these young people. Marriage was the consummation of their hopes, dreams, endeavours. Every backwoods youth looked forward to a homestead and a wife.
Mertie assuredly wore the bright silk dress, and ribbons on her hair, and white stockings, and low shoes not meant for the woods. Bert, however, had donned blue-jeans overalls.
The merry party set out with Edd in the lead, and the gay children, some dozen or more, bringing up the rear. Edd carried an axe over his shoulder and a huge assortment of different-sized buckets on his arm. He led out of the clearing, back of the cabin, into the pine woods so long a favourite haunt of Lucy's, and up the gradual slope. The necessities of travel through the forest strung the party mostly into single file.
Lucy warmed to the occasion. It was happy. How good to be alive! The golden autumn sunlight, the flame of colour in the trees, the fragrant brown aisles of the forest, the flocks of birds congregating for their annual pilgrimage south--all these seemed new and sweet to Lucy. They roused emotion that the streets and houses of the city could not reach. Bert might have been aware of the company present, but he showed no sign of it. He saw nothing except Mertie. Half the time he carried her, lifting her over patches of dust, logs, and rough ground. Only where the mats of pine needles offered clean and easy travel did he let her down, and then he still kept his arm round her. Mertie was no burden for his sturdy strength. He swung her easily up and down, as occasion suited him. Lucy was struck by his naturalness.
Mertie, however, could not forget herself. She posed. She accepted. She bestowed. She was the beginning and the end of this great day. Yet despite exercise of the ineradicable trait of her nature, the romance of her marriage, the fact of her being possessed, had changed her. She had awakened. She saw Bert now as he actually was, and she seemed reaping the heritage of a true woman's feelings.
Aside from these impressions Lucy received one that caused her to sigh. Clara reacted strangely to sight of Mertie and Bert. Lucy caught a glimpse of the mocking half-smile that Clara's face used to wear. No doubt this bride and groom procession through the woods, the open love-making, oblivious at least on Bert's part, brought back stinging memories to Clara.
Edd led the gay party out of the woods into a beautiful canyon, wide and uneven, green and gold with growths, dotted by huge grey rocks and trees. A dry stream bed wound by stony steps up the canyon. Edd followed this boulder-strewn road for a few hundred yards, then climbed to a wide bench. Maples and sycamores spread scattered patches of shade over this canyon glade. A riot of autumn colours almost stunned the eyesight. The thick grass was green, the heavy carpet of ferns brown.
"Wal, there she is," said Edd, pointing to a gnarled white-barked tree perhaps a hundred paces distant. "First sycamore I ever found bees in. It's hollow at the trunk where she goes in. I reckon she's a hummer. Now you-all hang back a ways while I look her over."
Edd strode off toward the sycamore, and his followers approached, mindful of his admonition. They got close enough, however, to see a swarm of bees passing to and fro from the dark hollow of the tree trunk. Edd's perfect sang-froid probably deceived the less experienced boys. He circled the sycamore, gazed up into the hollow, and made what appeared to be a thorough examination. Sam Johnson showed that he was holding back only through courtesy. The remarks of the boys behind him were not calculated to make him conservative. Sadie Purdue and Amy Claypool expressed diverse entreaties, the former asking him to cut down the bee tree and the latter begging him to keep away from it. Lucy had an idea that Amy knew something about bees.
Presently Edd returned from his survey and drew the "honey-bucket outfit," as he called them, back into the shade of a maple. Mertie draped herself and beautiful dress over a clean rock, as if she, instead of the bees, was the attraction. Lucy sensed one of the interesting undercurrents of backwoods life working in those young men. Edd's position was an enviable one as far as bees were concerned. This was a bee day. Sam Johnson could not possibly have kept himself out of the foreground. There were several boys from Cedar Ridge, including Bert, who ran a close second to Sam. On the other hand, the boys who inhabited this high country, especially Gerd Claypool, appeared unusually prone to let the others have the stage. Joe Denmeade wore an inscrutable expression and had nothing to say. Edd was master of ceremonies, and as he stood before the boys, his axe over his shoulder, Lucy conceived a strong suspicion that he was too bland, too drawling, too kind to be absolutely honest. Edd was up to a trick. Lucy whispered her suspicions to Clara, and that worthy whispered back: "I'm wise. Why, a child could see through that hombre! But isn't he immense?"
"Sam, I reckon you ought to be the one to chop her down," Edd was saying, after a rather elaborate preamble. "Course it ought to fall to Bert, seem' he's the reason for this here storm party. But I reckon you know more about wild bees, an' you should be boss. Shore it'd be good if you an' Bert tackled the tree together."
"I'll allow myself about three minutes' choppin' to fetch that sycamore," replied Sam. "But Bert can help if he likes."
"Somebody gimme an axe," said Bert, prowling around. Dick Denmeade had the second axe, which he gladly turned over to Bert.
"Bert, I don't want you gettin' all stung up," protested Mertie.
"No bees would sting me to-day," replied Bert grandly. "Don't you fool yourself," she retorted.
"Aw, she's tame as home bees," interposed Edd. "Besides, there's been some heavy frosts. Bees get loggy along late in the fall. Reckon nobody'll get stung. If she wakes up we can run."
"I'm a-rarin' for that honey," declared Sam, jerking the axe from Edd. "Come on, Bert. Start your honeymoon by bein' boss."
That remark made a lion out of the bridegroom, while eliciting howls and giggles from his admirers. Sam strode toward the sycamore and Bert followed.
"Reckon we all better scatter a little," said the wily Edd, and he punched Gerd Claypool in the ribs. Gerd, it appeared, was doubled up in noiseless contortions.
"Serve Sam just right," declared Sadie, "for bein' so darn smart. He never chopped down a bee tree in his life."
"Well, if I know anythin' he'll never try another," added Amy. "Oh, Edd Denmeade, you're an awful liar. Sayin' wild bees won't sting!"
"Shore Sam wanted to cut her down. He asked me back home," declared Edd.
Some of the party stood their ground, notably Mertie, who rather liked the clean, dry rock. Edd gravitated toward Lucy and Clara, presently leading them unobtrusively back toward some brush.
"Dog-gone!" he whispered chokingly when he was out of earshot of the others. "Chance of my life!...Sam's cut a few bee trees in winter, when the bees were froze...But, gee! these wild bees are mad as hornets. I got stung on the ear, just walkin' round. She's been worried by yellow-jackets...Now there's goin' to be some fun. She'll be a hummer...Girls, put on whatever you fetched along an' be ready to duck into this brush."
"Edd, you're as bad as a cowboy," said Clara, producing a veil.
"Looks like great fun for us, but how about the bees?" rejoined Lucy.
"There you go, sister. Always thinking about the under dog!...Edd, do you know, I can't see how anyone could help loving Lucy," retorted Clara mischievously.
"Shore. I reckon nobody does," drawled Edd. "Wal, Sam's begun to larrup it into my sycamore. Now watch!"
Sam had sturdily attacked the tree, while the more cautious Bert had cut several boughs, evidently to thresh off bees. Scarcely had he reached the objective spot when Sam jerked up spasmodically as if kicked from behind.
"Beat 'em off!" he yelled.
Then, as the valiant Bert dropped his axe and began to thresh with the boughs, Sam redoubled his energies at the chopping. He might not have possessed much knowledge about wild bees, but he could certainly handle an axe. Quick and hard rang his blows. The sycamore was indeed rotten, for it sounded hollow and crackling, and long dusty strips fell aside.
Lucy stole a glance at Edd. He was manifestly in the grip of a frenzied glee. Never before had Lucy seen him so. He was shaking all over; his face presented a wonderful study of features in convulsions; his big hands opened and shut. All at once he burst out in stentorian yell: "Wow There she comes!"
Lucy flashed her glance back toward the axe-man, just in time to see a small black cloud, like smoke, puff out of the hollow of the tree and disintegrate into thin air. Sam let out a frantic yell, and dropping the axe he plunged directly toward his admiring comrades.
"You darn fool!" roared Edd. "Run the other way!"
But Sam, as if pursued by the furies, sprang, leaped, wrestled, hopped, flew, flapping his hands like wings and yelling hoarsely. Bert suddenly became as if possessed of a thousand devils, and he raced like a streak, waving his two green boughs over his head, till he plunged over a bank into the brush.
Some of the Cedar Ridge boys had approached a point within a hundred feet of the sycamore. Suddenly their howls of mirth changed to excited shouts, and they broke into a run. Unfortunately, they were not on the moment chivalrously mindful of the girls.
"Run for your lives!" screamed Amy Claypool.
Lucy found herself being rushed into the bushes by Edd, who had also dragged Clara. He was laughing so hard he could not speak. He fell down and rolled over. Clara had an attack of laughter that seemed half hysterical. "Look! Look!" she cried.
Lucy was more frightened than amused, but from the shelter of the bushes she peered forth, drawing aside her veil so she could see better. She was in time to see the bright silk dress that encased Mertie soaring across the ground like a spread-winged bird. Mertie was noted for her fleetness of foot. Sadie Purdue, owing to a rather short stout figure, could not run very well. Sam, by accident or design, had fled in her direction. It did not take a keen eye to see the whirling dotted circle of bees he brought with him. Some of them sped like bullets ahead of him to attack Sadie. Shrieking, she ran away from Sam as though he were a pestilence. She was the last to flee out of sight.
Presently Edd sat up, wet-faced and spent from the energy of his emotions.
"Reckon I've played hob--but dog-gone!--it was fun," he said. "Shore Sam's a bee hunter! I'll bet he'll look like he had measles...Did you see Sadie gettin' stung? She was that smart. Haw! Haw! Haw!"
Joe came crawling to them through the bushes. For once his face was not quiet, intent. He showed his relationship to Edd.
"Say, Sam will be hoppin' mad," he said.
"He shore was hoppin' when last I seen him," replied Edd. "Wal, I reckon I'll have to finish the job. You girls stay right here, for a while, anyhow."
Whereupon Edd pulled a rude hood from his pocket and drew it over his head and tight under his chin. It was made of burlap and had two rounded pieces of window screen sewed in to serve as eyeholes. Then putting his gloves on he got up and tramped out toward the sycamore. Lucy left Clara with Bert, and slipped along under the bushes until she reached the end nearest the tree. Here she crouched to watch. She could see the bees swarm round Edd, apparently without disturbing him in the least. He picked up the axe, and with swift, powerful strokes he soon chopped through on one side of the hollow place, so that the other side broke, letting the tree down with a splitting crash. After the dust cleared away Lucy saw him knocking the trunk apart. The swarm of bees spread higher and wider over his head. Lucy could hear the angry buzz. She felt sorry for them. How ruthless men were! The hive had been destroyed; the winter's food of the bees would be stolen.
"Hey, Joe!" called Edd. "Round up that outfit to pack honey back home. There's more here than we got buckets to hold. Tell them I'll fetch it part way, so they won't get stung no more."
Lucy caught glimpses of the members of the party collecting a goodly, safe distance away, along the edge of the timber. Judging by gestures and the sound of excited voices coming faintly, Lucy concluded that the storm party was divided in its attitude toward Edd. Sadie Purdue evidently was in a tantrum, the brunt of which fell upon Sam. Amy's high, sweet laugh pealed out. Presently the girls were seen entering the forest, no doubt on their way back to the cabin; the boys showed indications of standing by Edd, at least to the extent of waiting for him to collect the honey.
Lucy saw him filling the buckets. He used a small wooden spoon or spade, with which he reamed the honey out of the hollow log. She was intensely eager to see this bee hive and Edd's work at close hand, but felt it wise to remain under cover. The screams of the girls who had been stung were a rather potent inhibition to curiosity.
The honey had a greyish-yellow cast and a deep amber colour, from which Lucy deducted that one was the comb, the other the honey. When Edd had filled four buckets he took them up and proceeded to carry them toward the waiting boys. A number of bees kept him company. How grotesque he looked with that home-made hood over his head!
"Hey! you better lay low," he called to Lucy, seeing her peeping out of her brushy covert, "unless you want your pretty little pink nose stung!"
"Edd Denmeade, my nose isn't little--or pink!" protested Lucy.
"Wal, no matter; it shore will be pink if you don't watch out. Didn't you get stung on it once?"
Half-way between the bee tree and the boys Edd set the buckets down on a rock, and cutting some brush he covered them with it. Then he shouted:
"Pack these home, you storm-party suckers!"
Upon his return to the fallen sycamore he scraped up a bundle of dead grass and sticks, and kindled a fire, then added green boughs to make a heavy smoke. Lucy saw him vigorously slap his back and his legs, from which action she surmised that he too was getting stung Next with two leafy boughs he made an onslaught on the whirling, shining mill-wheel of bees. He broke that wheel, and either killed or scattered most of the swarm. Then he proceeded to fill more buckets, which he carried away as before. Meanwhile Joe and Gerd Claypool had come for the first buckets.
Lucy crawled back through the bushes to where she had left Clara. She found her prone on the grasp, her chin propped on her hands, musingly watching the proceedings.
"Funny how we are," she said. "It's a long time since I felt so good over anything. Sam and Sadie were immense...Pride--and conceit, too--go before a fall!"
"You remember I was stung on the nose by one of these wild bees," replied Lucy. "It hurts terribly."
They remained in the shade and security of this covert until Edd had filled all his buckets.
"Hello, girls! Go back through the bushes to the bank, an' get down," he called. "Wait for us below."
Lucy and Clara scrambled away into the thicket and down into the stream bed, which they followed to the woods. Joe and Gerd and Dick came along laden with heavy buckets, and rather harassed by a few persistent bees.
"Keep away from us," cried Lucy. "I've been initiated into the wild-bee fraternity."
"But Clara hasn't," replied Joe.
"Young man, if you know when you're well off, you'll not lead any wild bees to me," warned Clara, gathering up her skirts ready to flee into the woods. She was smiling, yet earnest. How pretty she looked, her eyes flashing, her brown cheeks flushed, her blue veil flying round her golden hair! Lucy saw what Joe saw.
Next Edd came striding out of the willows, down into the gully. He carried four buckets, all manifestly laden. He had removed his hood, and his face was wet with sweat and wreathed in smiles.
"Run along ahead till she gets tired followin' me," he called to the girls.
They were not slow to act upon his advice, yet did not get so far ahead that they could not see the boys coming. The forest seemed so shady and cool after the hot sunny open.
"Why does Edd speak of bees as she?" queried Clara curiously.
"He told me once he had captured and tamed queen bees, and after that always called bees she, whether collectively or individually. It is funny."
"He'll be making you queen bee of his hive some day," said Clara tantalisingly.
"Oh, will he? It requires the consent of the queen, I imagine...As to queen-bee hives; Joe's is being built, I hear."
Clara squeezed Lucy's arm and cringed close to her, as if to hide a shamed or happy face. "Oh, what will become of us?...When I don't think, I'm full of some new kind of joy. When I remember, I'm wretched."
"Clara, we are two babes lost in the woods," declared Lucy, half sadly. "But if you must think, do it intelligently. We could be worse off."
"I love it here," answered Clara swiftly, with a flash of passion.
Then Edd's halloo halted them. Presently Lucy had opportunity to see wild honey fresh from the hive The buckets were full of the yellow combs and amber honey, all massed together, in which numbers of bees had been drowned.
"Shore it's got to be strained," explained Edd.
"What'll become of the bees--those you didn't kill?" she inquired.
"Wal, now, I wish you hadn't asked that," complained Edd. "Shore you always hit at the sufferers...Lucy, I hate to treat a bee tree like we did this one. But I can't capture an' tame the old swarms. They're too wild. I have to destroy them. Sometimes I burn them out...She'll hang round that sycamore, an' starve to death or freeze. It's too bad. I reckon I'm no better than the yellow-jackets."
That bee-tree episode had taken the younger element of the storm party away from the Denmeade home for the greater part of the afternoon, a fact for which Mrs. Denmeade was devoutly thankful. She and Allie, with the kind assistance of the Claypool women, prepared on short notice an adequate feast for this formidable array of uninvited guests.
Lucy learned this, and much more, upon her arrival at the cabin. Mertie had torn the bright silk dress and was inconsolable. She did not seem to mind so much the sundry stings she had sustained. But Sadie Purdue almost disrupted the hilarious and joyful tone of the occasion. She had been severely stung on hands and arms and face. Sam Johnson, however, was the one who had suffered most. All the members of that expedition, except Lucy and Clara, had reason to vow vengeance upon Edd.
"Oh, wait, you wild hunter of bees! Wait till you're married!" was the reiterated threat.
"Shore I'm safe," drawled Edd. "No girl would ever throw herself away on me."
Sam took his punishment like a man, and made up for the ravings of his fiancée. She had the grace, presently, to get over her fury. And by supper-time, when Mertie was won back to a happy appreciation of the honour of having the largest storm party ever known in that country, the jarring notes were as if they had never been.
All the chair, bench, and porch space was necessary to seat this merry company. It was quite impossible for Lucy to keep track of what followed. But she had never seen the like of that dinner. Uproarious, even violent, it yet gave expression to the joy and significance of marriage in that wilderness.
White mule flowed freely, but in marked contrast with its effect at the dances, it added only to the mirth and the noise. After dinner the young people nearly tore the cabin down with their onslaughts upon the bride and groom, the former of whom they hugged and kissed, and the latter mauled. Dancing was not on this programme. Then, evidently, for the young backwoodsmen present, it was a natural climax to fly from their felicitations of the bride to salutations to the possible brides-to-be in that gathering. They were like young bears.
Lucy and Clara fled to the security of their tent, and refused to come out. Certain it was that both of them were more than amused and frightened. Manifestly a storm party on a bride was regarded as an unexampled opportunity.
"Whew!" gasped Clara, with wide eyes on Lucy. "I thought cowboys were wild. But alongside these fellows they're tame."
"Deliver--me!" panted Lucy. "Almost it'd be--safer to be--in Mertie's boots!"
The celebration, however, turned out to be as short as it had been intense. Before dark the older people were riding down the lane, calling back their merry good-nights, and not long after the boys and girls followed. Soon the homestead of the Denmeades was as quiet as ever; and a little later, when Lucy peeped out, yard and cabin were shrouded in the blackness of the melancholy autumn night.