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Hidden Creek by Katharine Newlin Burt

Part 5 out of 5

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Dickie's face burned cruelly. "No," he said with shortness. "I was going
to take you to the train and then come back here. I am going to take up
this claim of Hilliard's--he's through with it. He likes the East. You
see, Sheila, he's got the whole world to play with. It's quite true." He
said this gravely, insistently. "He can give you everything--"

"And you?"

Dickie stared at her with parted lips. He seemed afraid to breathe lest
he startle away some hesitant hope. "I?" he whispered.

"I mean--_you_ don't like the East?--You will give up your work?"

"Oh--" He dropped back. The hope had flown and he was able to breathe
again, though breathing seemed to hurt. "Yes, ma'am. I'll give up
newspaper reporting. I don't like New York."

"But, Dickie--your--words? I'd like to see something you've written."

Dickie's hand went to an inner pocket.

"I wanted you to see this, Sheila," His eyes were lowered to hide a
flaming pride. "My _poems_."

Sheila felt a shock of dread. Dickie's _poems_! She was afraid to read
them. She could not help but think of his life at Millings, of that
sordid hotel lobby ... Newspaper stories--yes--that was imaginable.
But--poetry? Sheila had been brought up on verse. There was hardly a
beautiful line that had not sung itself into the fabric of her brain.

"Poems?" she repeated, just a trifle blankly; then, seeing the hurt in
his face, about the sensitive and delicate lips, she put out a quick,
penitent hand. "Let me see them--at once!"

He handed a few folded papers to her. They were damp. He put his face
down to his hands and looked at the floor as though he could not bear to
watch her face. Sheila saw that he was shaking. It meant so much to him,
then--? She unfolded the papers shrinkingly and read. As she read, the
blood rushed to her checks for shame. She ought never to have doubted
him. Never after the first look into his face, never after hearing him
speak of the "cold, white flame" of an unforgotten winter night. Dickie's
words, so greatly loved and groped for, so tirelessly pursued in the face
of his world's scorn and injury, came to him, when they did come, on
wings. In the four short poems, there was not a word outside of his inner
experience, and yet she felt that those words had blown through him
mysteriously on a wind--the wind that fans such flame--

"Oh, little song you sang to me
A hundred, hundred days ago,
Oh, little song whose melody
Walks in my heart and stumbles so;
I cannot bear the level nights,
And all the days are over-long,
And all the hours from dark to dark
Turn to a little song--"

"Like the beat of the falling rain,
Until there seems no roof at all,
And my heart is washed with pain--"

"Why is a woman's throat a bird,
White in the thicket of the years?--"

Sheila suddenly thrust back the leaves at him, hid her face and fell to
crying bitterly. Dickie let fall his poems; he hovered over her, utterly
bewildered, utterly distressed.

"Sheila--h-how could they possibly hurt you so? It was your song--your
song--Are you angry with me--? I couldn't help it. It kept singing in
me--It--it hurt."

She thrust his hand away.

"Don't be kind to me! Oh--I am ashamed! I've treated you _so_! And--and
snubbed you. And--and condescended to you, Dickie. And shamed you.
You--! And you can write such lines--and you are great--you will be very
great--a poet! Dickie, why couldn't I see? Father would have seen. Don't
touch me, please! I can't bear it. Oh, my dear, you must have been
through such long, long misery--there in Millings, behind that desk--all
stifled and cramped and shut in. And when I came, I might have helped
you. I might have understood ... But I hurt you more."

"Please don't, Sheila--it isn't true. Oh,--_damn_ my poems!"

This made her laugh a little, and she got up and dried her eyes and sat
before him like a humbled child. It was quite terrible for Dickie. His
face was drawn with the discomfort of it. He moved about the room,
miserable and restless.

Sheila recovered herself and looked up at him with a sort of wan

"And you will stay here and work the ranch and write, Dickie?"

"Yes, ma'am." He managed a smile. "If you think a fellow can push a
plough and write poetry with the same hand."

"It's been done before. And--and you will send me back to Hilliard
and--the good old world?"

Dickie's artificial smile left him. He stood, white and stiff, looking
down at her. He tried to speak and put his hand to his throat.

"And I must leave you here," Sheila went on softly, "with my stars?"

She got up and walked over to the door and stood, half-turned from him,
her fingers playing with the latch.

Dickie found part of his voice.

"What do you mean, Sheila, about your stars?"

"You told me," she said carefully, "that you would go and work and then
come back--But, I suppose--"

That was as far as she got. Dickie flung himself across the room. A chair
crashed. He had his arms about her. He was shaking. That pale and tender
light was in his face. The whiteness of a full moon, the whiteness of a
dawn seemed to fall over Sheila.

"He--he can give you everything--" Dickie said shakily.

"I've been waiting"--she said--"I didn't know it until lately. But I've
been waiting, so long now, for--for--" She closed her eyes and lifted her
soft sad mouth. It was no longer patient.

That night Dickie and Berg lay together on the hide before the fire,
wrapped in a blanket. Dickie did not sleep. He looked through the
uncurtained, horizontal window, at the stars.

"You've got everything else, Hilliard," he muttered. "You've got the
whole world to play with. After all, it was your own choice. I told you
how it was with me. I promised I'd play fair. I did play fair." He sighed
deeply and turned with his head on his arm and looked toward the door of
the inner room. "It's like sleeping just outside the gate of Heaven,
Berg," he said. "I never thought I'd get as close as that--" He listened
to the roar of Hidden Creek. "It won't be long, old fellow, before we
take her down to Rusty and bring her back." Tears stood on Dickie's
eye-lashes. "Then we'll walk straight into Heaven." He played with the
dog's rough mane. "She'll keep on looking at the stars," he murmured.
"But I'll keep on looking at her--_Sheila_."

But Sheila, having made her choice, had shut her eyes to the world and to
the stars and slept like a good and happy child.

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