Part 2 out of 3
there were the natural griefs of life to break the corsets of this
etiquette, although in general, the griefs seemed to be long drawn
out and conventional affairs, as if nature herself at last yielded
to the system, conquered by the invincible conventionality and
stubbornness of the ladies of Fairfield. It was the unspoken but
firm belief of each of these women, that a person of their circle
who had no more idea of respectability than to drop dead on the
public road would never go to Heaven.
Poor Miss Mattie! Small wonder she dropped her hands, sat back and
wondered, with another sigh, if it were for this she was born? She
did not rebel--there was no violence in her--but she regretted
exceedingly. In spite of her slenderness, it was a wide,
mother-lap in which her hands rested, an obvious cradle for little
children. And instinctively it would come to you as you looked at
her, that there could be no more comfortable place for a tired man
to come home to, than a household presided over by this
slow-moving, gentle woman. There was nothing old-maidish about
Miss Mattie but the tale of her years. She had had offers, such as
Fairfield and vicinity could boast, and declined them with tact,
and the utmost gratitude to the suitor for the compliment; but her
"no" though mild was firm, for there lay within her a certain quiet
valiant spirit, which would rather endure the fatigue and
loneliness of old age in her little house, than to take a larger
life from any but the man who was all. A commonplace in fiction;
in real life sometimes quite a strain.
The sun distorted himself into a Rugby football, and hurried down
as though to be through with Fairfield as soon as possible. It was
a most magnificent sun-set; flaming, gorgeous, wild--beyond the
management of the women of Fairfield--and Miss Mattie stared into
the heart of it with a longing for something to happen. Then the
thought came, "What could happen?" she sighed again, and, with eyes
blinded by Heaven-shine, glanced down the village street.
She thought she saw--she rubbed her eyes and looked again--she did
see, and surely never a stranger sight was beheld on Fairfield's
street! Had a Royal Bengal tiger come slouching through the dust
it could not have been more unusual. The spectacle was a man; a
very large and mighty shouldered man, who looked about him with a
bold, imperious, keep-the-change regard. There was something in
the swing of him that suggested the Bengal tiger. He wore
high-heeled boots outside of his trousers, a flannel shirt with a
yellow silk kerchief around his neck, and on his head sat a white
hat which seemed to Miss Mattie to be at least a yard in diameter.
Under the hat was a remarkable head of hair. It hung below the
man's shoulders in a silky mass of dark scarlet, flecked with brown
gold. Miss Mattie had seen red hair, but she remembered no such
color as this, nor could she recall ever having seen hair a
foot-and-a-half long on a man. That hair would have made a fortune
on the head of an actress, but Miss Mattie was ignorant of the
possibilities of the profession.
The face of the man was a fine tan, against which eyes, teeth, and
moustache came out in brisk relief. The moustache avoided the
tropical tint of the upper hair and was content with a modest
brown. The owner came right along, walking with a stiff, strong,
straddling gait, like a man not used to that way of travelling.
Miss Mattie eyed him in some fear. He would be by her house
directly, and it was hardly modest to sit aggressively on one's
front porch, while a strange man went by--particularly, such a very
strange man as this! Yet a thrill of curiosity held her for the
moment, and then it was too late, for the man stopped and asked
little Eddie Newell, who was playing placidly in the dust--all the
children played placidly in Fairfield--asked Eddie, in a voice
which reached Miss Mattie plainly, although the owner evidently
made no attempt to raise it, if he knew where Miss Mattie Saunders
Eddie had not noticed the large man's approach, and nearly fell
over in a fright; but seeing, with a child's intuition, that there
was no danger in this fierce-looking person, he piped up instantly.
"Y-y-yessir!--I kin tell yer where she lives--Yessir! She lives
right down there in that little house--I kin go down with you jes'
swell 's not! Why, there she is now, on the stoop!"
"Thankee sonny," said the big voice. "Here's for miggles," and
Miss Mattie caught the sparkle of a coin as it flew into the grimy
fists of Eddie.
"Much obliged!" yelled Eddie and vanished up the street.
Miss Mattie sat transfixed. Her breath came in swallows and her
heart beat irregularly. Here was novelty with a vengeance! The
big man turned and fastened his eyes upon her. There was no
retreat. She noticed with some reassurance that his eyes were
grave and kindly.
As he advanced Miss Mattie rose in agitation, unconsciously putting
her hand on her throat--what could it mean?
The gate was opened and the stranger strode up the cinder walk to
the porch. He stopped a whole minute and looked at her. At last.
"Well, Mattie!" he said, "don't you know me?"
A flood of the wildest hypotheses flashed through Miss Mattie's
mind without enlightening her. Who was this picturesque giant who
stepped out of the past with so familiar a salutation? Although
the porch was a foot high, and Miss Mattie a fairly tall woman,
their eyes were almost on a level, as she looked at him in wonder.
Then he laughed and showed his white teeth. "No use to bother and
worry you, Mattie," said he, "you couldn't call it in ten years.
Well, I'm your half-uncle Fred's boy Bill--and I hope you're a
quarter as glad to see me as I am to see you."
"What!" she cried. "Not little Willy who ran away!"
"The same little Willy," he replied in a tone that made Miss Mattie
laugh a little, nervously, "and what I want to know is, are you
glad to see me?"
"Why, of course! But, Will--I suppose I should call you Will? I
am so flustered--not expecting you--and it's been so warm to-day.
Won't you come in and take a chair?" wound up Miss Mattie in
desperation, and fury at herself for saying things so different
from what she meant to say.
There was a twinkle in the man's eye as he replied in an injured
"Why, good Lord, Mattie! I've come two thousand miles or more to
see you, and you ask me to take a chair. Just as if I'd stepped in
from across the way! Can't you give a man a little warmer welcome
"What shall I do?" asked poor Miss Mattie.
"Well, you might kiss me, for a start," said he.
Miss Mattie was all abroad--still one's half-cousin, who has come
such a distance, and been received so very oddly, is entitled to
consideration. She raised her agitated face, and for the first
time in her life realised the pleasure of wearing a moustache.
Then Red Saunders, late of the Chanta Seeche Ranch, North Dakota,
sat him down.
"I'm obliged to you, Mattie," he said in all seriousness. "To tell
you the truth, I felt in need of a little comforting--here I've
come all this distance--and, of course, I _heard_ about father and
mother--but I couldn't believe it was true. Seemed as if they
_must_ be waiting at the old place for me to come back, and when I
saw it all gone to ruin--Well, then I set out to find somebody, and
do you know, of all the family, there's only you and me left?
That's all, Mattie, just us two!--whilst I was growing up out West,
I kind of expected things to be standing still back here, and be
just the same as I left them--hum--Well, how are you anyhow?"
"I'm well, Will, and"--laying her hand upon his, "_don't_ think I'm
not glad to see you--_please_ don't. I'm so glad, Will, I can't
tell you--but I'm all confused--so little happens here."
"I shouldn't guess it was the liveliest place in the world, by the
look of it," said Red. "And as far as that's concerned, I kinder
don't know what to say myself. There's such a heap to talk about
it's hard to tell where to begin--but we've got to be friends
though, Mattie--we've just _got_ to be friends. Good Lord! We're
all there's left! Funny, I never thought of such a thing! Well,
blast it! That's enough of such talk! I've brought you a present,
Mattie." He stretched out a leg that reached beyond the limits of
the front porch, and dove into his trousers pocket, bringing out a
buck-skin sack. He fumbled at the knot a minute and then passed it
over saying, "You untie it--your fingers are soopler than mine,"
Miss Mattie's fingers were shaking, but the knots finally came
undone, and from the sack she brought forth a chain of rich, dull
yellow lumps, fashioned into a necklace. It weighed a pound. She
spread it out and looked at it astounded. "Gracious, Will! Is
that _gold_?" she asked.
"That's what," he replied. "The real article, just as it came out
of the ground: I dug it myself. That's the reason I'm here. I'd
never got money enough to go anywheres further than a horse could
carry me if I hadn't taken a fly at placer mining and hit her to
beat h--er--the very mischief."
Miss Mattie looked first at the barbaric, splendid necklace and
then at the barbaric, splendid man. Things grew confused before
her in trying to realise that it was real. What two planets so
separated in their orbits as her world and his? She had the
imagination that is usually lacking in small communities, and the
feeling of a fairy story come true, possessed her.
"And now, Mattie," said he, "I don't know what's manners in this
part of the country, but I'll make free enough on the cousin part
of it to tell you that I could look at some supper without
flinching. I've walked a heap to-day, and I ain't used to walking."
Miss Mattie sprang up, herself again at the chance to offer
"Why, you poor man!" said she. "Of course you're starved! It must
be nearly eight o'clock! I almost forget about eating, living here
alone. You shall have supper directly. Will you come in or sit a
"Reckon I'll come in," said Red. "Don't want to lose sight of you
now that I've found you."
It was some time since Miss Mattie had felt that anyone had cared
enough for her not to want to lose sight of her, and a delicate
warm bloom went over her cheeks. She hurried into the little
"Mattie!" called Red.
"What is it, Will?" she answered, coming to the door.
"Can I smoke in this little house?"
"Cer--tainly! Sit right down and make yourself comfortable. Don't
you remember what a smoker father was?"
Red tried the different chairs with his hand. They were not a
stalwart lot. Finally he spied the home-made rocker in the corner.
"There's the lad for me," he said, drawing it out. "Got to be
kinder careful how you throw two-hundred-fifty pounds around."
"Mercy!" cried Miss Mattie, pan in hand. "Do you weigh as much as
"I do," returned Red, with much satisfaction. "And there isn't
over two pounds of it fat at that."
"What a great man you have grown up to be, Will!"
Red took in a deep draught of tobacco and sent the vapor clear
across the little room.
"On the hay-scales, yes," he answered, with a sort of joking
earnestness--"but otherwise, I don't know."
The return to the old home had touched the big man deeply, and as
he leaned back in his chair there was a shade of melancholy on his
face that became it well.
Miss Mattie took in the mass of him stretched out at his ease, his
legs crossed, and the patrician cut of his face, to which the
upturned moustache gave a cavalier touch. They were good stock,
the Saunders, and the breed had not declined in the only two extant.
"He's my own cousin!" she whispered to herself, in the safety of
the kitchen. "And such a splendid looking man!" She felt a pride
of possession she had never known before. Nobody in Fairfield or
vicinity had such a cousin as that. And Miss Mattie went on
joyfully fulfilling an inherited instinct to minister to the wants
of some man. She said to herself there was some satisfaction in
cooking for somebody else. But alack-a-day, Miss Mattie's ideas of
the wants of somebody else had suffered a Fairfield change.
Nothing was done on a large scale in Fairfield. But she sat the
little cakes--lucky that she had made them yesterday--and the fried
mush, and the small pitcher of milk, and the cold ham, and the cold
biscuit on the table with a pride in the appearance of the feast.
"Supper's ready, Will," said she.
Red responded instanter. Took a look at the board and understood.
He ate the little cakes and biscuit, and said they were the durned
best he ever tasted. He also took some pot-cheese under a
misapprehension; swallowed it, and said to himself that he had been
through worse things than that. Then, when his appetite had just
begun to develop, the inroads on the provisions warned him that it
was time to stop. Meanwhile they had ranged the fields of old
times at random, and as Red took in Miss Mattie, pink with
excitement and sparkling as to eyes, he thought, "Blast the supper!
It's a square meal just to look at her. If she ain't pretty good
people, I miss my guess."
It was a merry meal. He had such a way of telling things! Miss
Mattie hadn't laughed so much for years, and she felt that there
was no one that she had known so long and so well as Cousin Will.
There was only one jarring note. Red spoke of the vigorous
celebration that had been followed by the finding of gold. It was
certainly well told, but Miss Mattie asked in soft horror when he
had finished, "You didn't get--_intoxicated_--Will?"
"DID I?" said he, lost in memory, and not noticing the tone.
"Well, I put my hand down the throat of that man's town, and turned
her inside out! It was like as if Christmas and Fourth of July had
happened on the same day."
"Oh, Will!" cried Miss Mattie, "I can't think of you like
that--rolling in the gutter." Her voice shook and broke off. Her
knowledge of the effect of stimulants was limited to Fairfield's
one drunkard--old Tommy McKee, a disreputable old Irishman--but
drunkenness was the worst vice in her world.
"Rolling in the gutter!" cried Red, in astonishment. "Why girl!
What for would I roll in the gutter? What's the fun in that?
Jiminy Christmas! I wanted to walk on the telegraph wires--there
wasn't anything in that town high enough for me--what put gutters
into your head?"
"I--I supposed people did that when they were--like that."
"I wouldn't waste my money on whisky, if that's all the inspiration
I got out of it," replied Red.
"Well, of course I don't know about those things, but I wish you'd
promise me one thing."
"Done!" cried Red. "What is it?"
"I wish you'd promise me not to touch whisky again!"
"Phew! That's a pretty big order!" He stopped and thought a
minute. "If you'll make that 'never touch it when it ain't
needed,' leaving when it's needed to what's my idea of the square
thing on a promise, I'll go you, Mattie--there's my hand."
"Oh, I shouldn't have said anything at all, Will! I have no right.
But it seemed such a pity such a splendid man--I mean--I think--.
You mustn't promise me anything, Will," stammered Miss Mattie,
shocked at her own daring.
"Here!" he cried, "I'm no little kid! When I promise I mean it!
As for your not having any right, ain't we all there is? You've
got to be mother and sister and aunt and everything to me. I ain't
as young as I have been, Mattie, and I miss she-ways terrible at
times. Now put out your fin like a good pardner, and here goes for
no more rhinecaboos for Chantay Seeche Red--time I quit drinking,
anyhow," he slipped a ring off his little finger. "Here, hold out
your hand," said he, "I'll put this on for luck, and the sake of
the promise--by the same token, I've got a noose on you now, and
you're my property."
This, of course, was only Cousin Will's joking, but Miss Mattie
noticed with a sudden hot flush, that he had chosen the engagement
finger--in all ignorance, she felt sure. The last thing she could
do would be to call his attention to the fact, or run the risk of
hurting his feelings by transferring the ring; besides, it was a
pretty ring--a rough ruby in a plain gold band--and looked very
well where it was.
Then they settled down for what Red called a good medicine talk.
Miss Mattie found herself boldly speaking of little fancies and
notions that had remained in the inner shrine of her soul for
years, shrinking from the matter-of-fact eye of Fairfield; yet this
big, ferocious looking Cousin Will seemed to find them both sane
and interesting, and as her self-respect went up in the
arithmetical, her admiration for Cousin Will went up in the
geometrical ratio. He frankly admitted weaknesses and fears that
the males of Fairfield would have rejected scornfully.
Miss Mattie spoke of sleeping upstairs, because she could not rid
herself of the fear of somebody coming in.
"I know just how you feel about that," said Red. "My hair used to
be on its feet most of the time when we were in the hay camp at the
lake beds. Gee whizz! The rattlers! We put hair ropes
around--but them rattlers liked to squirm over hair ropes for
exercise. One morning I woke up and there was a crawler on my
chest. 'For God's sake, Pete!' says I to Antelope Pete, who was
rolled up next me, 'come take my friend away!' and I didn't holler
very loud, neither. Pete was chain lightning in pants, and he
grabs Mr. Rattler by the tail and snaps his neck, but I felt
lonesome in my inside till dinner time. You bet! I know just how
you feel, exactly. I didn't have a man's sized night's rest whilst
we was in that part of the country."
It struck Miss Mattie that the cases were hardly parallel. "A
rattlesnake on your chest, Will!" she cried, with her hands clasped
"Oh! it wasn't as bad as it sounds--he was asleep--coiled up there
to get warm--sharpish nights on the prairie in August--but darn it!
Mattie!" wrinkling up his nose in disgust, "I hate the sight of the
"But you wouldn't be afraid of a man, Will!"
"Well, no," admitted he. "I've never been troubled much that way.
You see, everybody has a different fear to throw a crimp in them.
Mine's rattlesnakes and these little bugs with forty million pairs
of legs. I pass right out when I see one of them things. They
give me a feeling as if my stummick had melted."
"Weren't the Indians terrible out there, too?" asked Miss Mattie.
"I'm sure they must have been."
"Oh, they ain't bad people if you use 'em right," said Red. "Not
that I like 'em any better on the ground, than in it," he added
hastily, fearful of betraying the sentiment of his country, "but I
never had but one real argument, man to man. Black Wolf and I come
together over a matter of who owned my cayuse, and from words we
backed off and got to shooting. He raked me from knee to hip, as I
was kneeling down, doing the best I could by him, and wasting
ammunition because I was in a hurry. Still, I did bust his ankle.
In the middle of the fuss a stray shot hit the cayuse in the head
and he croaked without a remark, so there we were, a pair of fools
miles from home with nothing left to quarrel about! You could have
fried an egg on a rock that day, and it always makes you thirsty to
get shot anyways serious, thinking of which I hollered peace to old
Black Wolf and told him I'd pull straws with him to see who took my
canteen down to the creek and got some fresh water. He was
agreeable and we hunched up to each other. It ain't to my credit
to say it, but I was worse hurt than that Injun, so I worked him.
He got the short straw, and had to crawl a mile through cactus,
while I sat comfortable on the cause of the disagreement and yelled
to him that he looked like a badger, and other things that an Injun
wouldn't feel was a compliment." Red leaned back and roared. "I
can see him now putting his hands down so careful, and turning back
every once in awhile to cuss me. Turned out that it was his
cayuse, too. Feller that sold it to me had stole it from him. I
oughtn't to laugh over it, but I can't help but snicker when I
think how I did that Injun."
Generally speaking, Miss Mattie had a lively sense of humour, but
the joke of this was lost on her. Her education had been that
getting shot was far from funny.
"Why, I should have thought you would have died, Will!"
"What! For a little crack in the leg!" cried Red, with some
impatience. "You people must quit easy in this country. Die
nothin'. One of our boys came along and took us to camp, and we
was up and doing again in no time. 'Course, Black Wolf has a game
leg for good, but the worst that's stuck to me is a yank or two of
rheumatism in the rainy season. I paid Wolf for his cayuse," he
finished shamefacedly. "I had the laugh on him anyhow."
Miss Mattie told him she thought that was noble of him, which
tribute Red took as medicine, and shifted the subject with speed,
to practical affairs. He asked Miss Mattie how much money she had
and how she managed to make out. Now, it was one of the canons of
good manners in Fairfield not to speak of material matters--perhaps
because there was so little material matter in the community, but
Miss Mattie, doomed to a thousand irksome petty economies, had
often longed for a sympathetic ear, to pour into it a good honest
complaint of hating to do this and that. She could not exactly go
this far with Cousin Will, but she could say that it was pretty
hard to get along, and give some details. She felt that she knew
him so very well, in those few hours! Red heard with nods of
assent. He had scented the conditions at once.
"It ain't any fun, skidding on the thin ice," said he, when they
had concluded the talk. "I've had to count the beans I put in the
pot, and it made me hate arithmetic worse than when I went over
yonder to school. Well, them days have gone by for you, Mattie."
He reached down and pulling out a green roll, slapped it on the
centre table. "Blow that in, and limber up, and remember that
there's more behind it."
Miss Mattie's pride rose at a leap.
"Will!" she said, "I hope you don't think I've told you this to get
money from you?"
He leaned forward, put his hand on her shoulder and held her eyes
with a sudden access of sternness and authority.
"And I hope, Mattie," said he, "that you don't think that I think
anything of the kind?"
The cousins stared into each other's eyes for a full minute. Then
Miss Mattie spoke. "No, Will," said she, "I don't believe you do."
"I shouldn't think I did," retorted Red. "What in thunder would I
do with all that money? Why, good Lord, girl, I could paper your
house with ten-dollar bills--now you try to fly them green kites,
like I tell you."
Miss Mattie broke down, the not fully realised strain of fifteen
years had made itself felt when the cord snapped. "I don't know
how to thank you. I don't know what to say. Oh, William! it seems
too good to be true."
"What you crying about, Mattie?" said he in sore distress. "Now
hold on! Listen to me a minute! There's something I want you to
do for me."
"What is it?" she asked, drying her eyes. "For dinner to-morrow,"
he replied, "let's have a roast of beef about that size,"
indicating a wash-tub.
The diversion was complete.
"Why, Will! What would we ever do with it?" said she.
"Do with it? Why, eat it!"
"But we couldn't eat all that!"
"Then throw what's left to the cats. You ain't going to fall down
on me the first favour I ask?" with mock seriousness.
"You shall have the roast of beef. 'Pears to me that you're fond
of your stomach, Will," said Miss Mattie, with a recovering smile.
"I have a good stomach, that's always done the right thing by me,
when I've done the right thing by _it_," said Red. "And moreover,
just look at the constitution I have to support. But say, old
lady, look at that!" pointing to the clock. "Eleven-thirty; time
decent people were putting up for the night."
The words brought to an acute stage a wandering fear which had
passed through Miss Mattie's mind at intervals during the evening.
Where was she to look for sleeping accommodations for a man? She
revolted against the convention, that, in her own mind, as well as
the rest of Fairfield, forbade the use of her house for the
purpose. Long habit of thought had made these niceties
constitutional. It was almost as difficult for Miss Mattie to say
"I'll fix up your bed right there on the sofa" as it would have
been for Red to pick a man's pocket, yet, when she thought of his
instant and open generosity and what a dismal return therefor it
would be to thrust him out for reasons which she divined would have
no meaning for him, she heroically resolved to throw custom to the
winds, and speak.
But the difficulty was cut in another fashion.
"There's a little barn in the back-yard that caught my eye," said
Red, "and if you'll lend me a blanket I'll roll it out there."
"Sleep in the barn! You'll not do any such thing!" cried Miss
Mattie. "You'll sleep right here on the sofa, or upstairs in my
bed, just as you choose."
"If it's all the same to you, I'd rather not. So help me Bob! I'd
smother in here. Had the darnedest time coming on that ever
was--hotels. Little white rooms with the walls coming in on you.
Worse than rattlesnakes for keeping a man awake. Reminds me of the
hospital. Horse fell on me once and smashed me up so that I had to
be sent to get puttied up again, and I never struck such a month as
that since I was born. The doc. told me I mustn't move, but I told
him I'd chuck him out of the window if he tried to stop me, and up
I got. I'd have gone dead sure if they'd held me a week more. I
speak for the barn, Mattie, and I speak real loud; that is, I mean
to say I'm going to sleep in the barn, unless there's somebody a
heap larger than you on the premises. Now, there's no use for you
to talk--I'm going to do just as I say."
"Well, I think that's just dreadful!" said Miss Mattie. "I'd like
to know what folks will think of me to hear I turned my own cousin
out in the barn." Her voice trailed off a little at the end as the
gist of what they might say if he stayed in the house, occurred to
her. "Well," she continued, "if you're set, I suppose I can't
object." Miss Mattie was not a good hand at playing a part.
"I'm set," said Red. "Get me a blanket." As she came in with this,
he added, "Say, Mattie, could you let me have a loaf of bread?
I've got a habit of wanting something to eat in the middle of the
"Certainly! Don't you want some butter with it? Here, I'll fix it
for you on a plate."
"No, don't waste dish-washing--I'll show you how to fix it." He
cut the loaf of bread in half, pulled out a portion of the soft
part and filled the hole with butter. "There we are, and nothing
to bother with afterwards."
"That's a right smart notion, Will--but you'll want a knife."
In answer he drew out a leather case from his breast pocket and
opened it. Within was knife, fork, spoon and two flat boxes for
salt and pepper. "You see I'm fixed," said he.
"Isn't that a cute trick!" she cried admiringly. "You're ready for
"Sure," said Red. "Now, good night, old lady!" He bent down in so
natural a fashion that Miss Mattie had kissed him before she knew
what she was going to do.
Down to the barn, through the soft June evening, went Red,
whistling a Mexican love song most melodiously.
Miss Mattie stood in the half-opened door and listened. Without
was balm and starlight and the spirit of flowers, breathed out in
odours. The quaint and pretty tune rose and fell, quavered, lilted
along as it listed without regard for law and order. It struck
Miss Mattie to the heart. Her girlhood, with its misty dreams of
happiness, came back to her on the wings of music.
"Isn't that a sweet tune," she said, with a lump in her throat.
She went up into her room and sat down a moment in confusion,
trying to grasp the reality of all that had happened. In the
middle of the belief that these things were not so, came the regret
of a sensitive mind for errors committed. She remembered with a
sudden sinking, that she had not thanked him for the necklace--and
the money lay even now on the parlor table, where he had cast it!
This added the physical fear of thieves. Down she went and got the
money, counted out, to her unmitigated astonishment, five hundred
dollars and thrust it beneath her pillow with a shiver. She wished
she had thought to tell him to take care of it--but suppose the
thieves were to fall on him as he slept? Red's friends would have
spent their sympathy on the thieves. She rejoiced that the money
was where it was. Then she tried to remember what she had said
throughout the evening.
"Well, I suppose I must have acted like a ninny," she concluded.
"But isn't he just splendid!" and as Cousin Will's handsome face,
with its daring, kind eyes, came to her vision she felt comforted.
"I don't believe but what he'll make every allowance for how
excited I was," said she. "He seems to understand those things,
for all he's such a large man. Well, it doesn't seem as if it
could be true." With a half sigh Miss Mattie knelt and sent up her
modest petition to her Maker and got into her little white bed.
In the meantime Red's actions would have awakened suspicion. He
hunted around until he found a tin can, then lit a match and
rummaged the barn, amid terror-stricken squawks from the
inhabitants, the hens.
"One, two, three, four," he counted. "Reckon I can last out till
morning on that. Mattie, she's white people--just the nicest I
ever saw, but she ain't used to providing for a full-grown man."
He stepped to the back of the barn and looked about him. "Nobody
can see me from here," he said, in satisfaction. Then he scraped
together a pile of chips and sticks and built a fire, filled the
tin can at the brook, sat it on two stones over the fire, rolled
himself a cigarette and waited. A large, yellow tom-cat came out
of the brush and threw his green headlights on him, meaowing
"Hello, pussy!" said Red. "You hungry too? Well, just wait a
minute, and we'll help that feeling--like bread, pussy?" The cat
gobbled the morsel greedily, came closer and begged for more. The
tin can boiled over. Red popped the eggs in, puffed his cigarette
to a bright coal, and looked at his watch by the light. "Gee! Ten
minutes more, now!" said he. "Hardly seems to me as if I could
wait." He pulled the watch out several times. "What's the matter
with the damn thing? I believe it's stopped," he growled. But at
last "Time!" he shouted gleefully, kicked the can over and gathered
up its treasures in his handkerchief.
"Now, Mr. Cat, we're going to do some real eating," said he. "Just
sit right down and make yourself at home--this is kind of fun, by
Jinks!" Down went the eggs and down went the loaf of bread in
generous slices, never forgetting a fair share for the cat.
"Woosh! I feel better!" cried Red, "and now for some sleep." He
swung up into the hay-loft, spread the blanket on the still
fragrant old hay, and rolled himself up in a trice.
"I did a good turn when I came on here," he mused. "If I have got
only one relation, she's a dandy--so pretty and quiet and nice.
She's a marker for all I've got, is Mattie."
The cat came up, purring and "making bread." He sniffed feline
fashion at Red's face.
"Foo! Shoo! Go 'way, pussy! Settle yourself down and we'll pound
our ear for another forty miles. I like you first rate when you
don't walk on my face." He stretched and yawned enormously. "Yes
sir! Mattie's all right," said he. "A-a-a-ll ri-" and Chantay
Seeche Red was in the land of dreams. Here, back in God's country,
within twenty miles of the place where he was born, the wanderer
laid him down again, and in spite of raid and foray, whisky and
poker-cards, wear-and-tear, hard times, and hardest test of all,
sudden fortune, he was much the same impulsive, honest, generous,
devil-may-care boy who had left there twenty-four years ago.
The next morning when Red awoke,
arrows of gold were shooting through
the holes in the old barn, and outside, the bird
life, the twittering and chirping, the fluent
whistle and the warble, the cackle and the
pompous crow, were in full chorus.
"Where am I at, this time?" said he, as
he took in the view. "Oh, I remember!" and
his heart leapt. "I'm in my own home, by
He went down to the brook and washed,
drying hands and face on the silk neckerchief,
which is meant for use as well as for decoration.
In the meantime, Miss Mattie had
awakened, with a sense of something delightful at
hand, the meaning of which escaped her for
the time. And then she remembered, and
sprang out of bed like a girl. She went to
the window, threw open the shutters and let
the stirring morning air flow in. This had
been her habit for a long time. The window
faced away from the road, and no one could
see who was not on Miss Mattie's own premises.
But this morning Red had wandered
around. Stopping at the rose bushes he
picked a bud.
"That has the real old-time smell," he said,
as he held it to his nose. "Sweetbriars are
good, and I don't go back on 'em, but they
ain't got the fram these fellers have."
Bud in hand he walked beneath Miss
Mattie's windows, and he was the first thing her
eye fell upon.
Her startled exclamation made him look up
before she had time to withdraw.
"Hello there!" he called joyfully. "How
do you open up this day? You look pretty
well!" he added with a note of admiration.
Miss Mattie had the wavy hair which is never
in better order than when left to its own
devices. Her idea of coiffure was not the most
becoming that could have been selected, as
she felt that a "young" style of hair dressing
was foolish for a single woman of her years.
Now, with the pretty soft hair flying, her
eyes still humid with sleep, and a touch of
color in her face from the surprise, relieved
against the fleecy shawl she had thrown about
her shoulders, she was incontestably both a
discreet and pretty picture. Yet Miss Mattie
could not forget the bare feet and night-gown,
although they were hidden from masculine
eyes by wood and plaster, and she was
embarrassed. Still, with all the super-sensitive
fancies, Miss Mattie had a strong back-bone
of New England common-sense. She
answered that she felt very well indeed, and, to
cover any awkwardness, inquired what he had
in his hand.
"Good old rose," replied Red. "Old-time
smeller--better suited to you than to me--ketch!"
At the word he tossed it, and Miss Mattie
caught it dexterously. Red had an
exceedingly keen eye for some things, and he noticed
the certainty of the action. He hated
fumblers. "A person can do things right if they've
got minds that work," was one of his pet
sayings. "'Taint the muscles at all--it's in the
head, and I like the kind of head that's in use
all the time." Therefore this small affair made
an impression on him.
"Why, you could be a baseball player," said he.
"I used to play with Joe, when I was a
girl," said Miss Mattie, smiling. "I always
liked boy's play better than I did girl's. Joe
taught me how to throw a ball, too. He said
he wouldn't play with me unless I learned not
to 'scoop it,' girl fashion. I suppose you will
be wanting breakfast?" There was a hint of
sarcasm in the doubt of the inquiry.
"That's what I do!" said Red. "You
must just hustle down and get things to
boiling, or I'll throw bricks through the windows.
I've been up for the last two hours."
"Why! I don't believe it!" said Miss Mattie.
"No more do I, but it seems like it,"
replied Red. "Don't you want the fire started?
Come down and open up the house."
When Miss Mattie appeared at the door, in
he strode with an armful of wood, dropping
it man-fashion, crash! on the floor.
"Skip out of the way!" said he. "I'll show
you how to build a fire!"
The early morning had been the most
desolate time to Miss Mattie. As the day warmed
up the feeling of loneliness vanished, perhaps
to return at evening, but not then with the
same absoluteness as when she walked about
the kitchen to the echo of her own footsteps
in the morning.
Now the slamming and the banging which
accompanied Red's energetic actions rang in
her ears most cheerily. She even found a
relish in the smothered oath that heralded
the thrust of a splinter in his finger. It
was very wicked, but it was also very much
Red arose and dusted off his knees. "Now
we're off!" he said as the fire began to roar.
"If you'd grind the coffee, Will?" she suggested.
"Sure! Where's the hand organ?"
He put the mill between his knees, and
converted the beans to powder, to the tune of
"Old dog Tray" through his nose, which Miss
Mattie found very amusing.
She measured out the coffee, one spoonful
for each cup, and one for the pot. Red
watched her patiently, and when she had
finished, he threw in the rest of the contents of
the mill-drawer. "I like it fairly strong," said
he in explanation.
"Now, Will!" protested Miss Mattie.
"Look at you! That will be as bitter as boneset!"
"Thin her up with milk and she'll be all
right," replied Red.
"Well, such wasteful ways I never did see.
Nobody'd think you were a day over fifteen."
"I'm not," said Red stoutly, "and,"
catching her chin in his hand and turning her face
up toward him--"Nobody'd put your score
much higher than that neither, if they trusted
to their eyes this morning."
The compliment hit so tender a place that
Miss Mattie lacked the resolution to tear it
out, besides, it was so honest that it sounded
much less like a compliment than a plain
statement of fact. She bent hastily over the fire.
"I'm glad I look young, Will," she said softly.
"So'm I!" he assented heartily. "What's
the sense in being old, anyhow? I'm as
limber and good for myself as ever I was, in spite
of my forty years."
"You're not _forty_ years old!" exclaimed
Miss Mattie. "You're joking!"
"Nary joke--forty round trips from flying
snow to roses since I hit land, Mattie--why,
you were only a little girl when I left
here--don't you remember? You and your folks
came to see us the week before I left. I got
a thrashing for taking you and Joe to the
millpond, and helping you to get good and wet.
The thrashing was one of the things that gave
me a hankering for the West. Very liberal
man with the hickory, father. Spare the
clothes and spoil the skin was his motto. He
used to make me strip to the waist--phee-hew!
Even a light breeze rested heavy on my back
when dad got through with me--say, Mattie,
perhaps I oughtn't to say so, now that he's
gone, but I don't think that's the proper way
to use a boy, do you?"
"No, I don't," said Miss Mattie. "Your
father meant well, but his way was useless and
"I've forgiven him the whole sweep," said
Red. "But damn me! If I had a boy I
wouldn't club the life out of him--I'd try to
reason with him first, anyhow. Makes a boy
as ugly as anybody else to get the hide whaled
off his back for nothing--once in a while he
needs it. Boy that's got any life in him gets
to be too much occasionally and then a
warming is healthful and nourishing. Lord!
You'd think I was the father of my country
to hear me talk, wouldn't you? If somebody'd
write a book, 'What Red Saunders don't
know about raising children' it would be full
of valuable information--how's that breakfast
"All ready--sit right down, Will."
"Go you!" cried Red, and incautiously
flung himself upon one of the kitchen chairs,
which collapsed instantly and dropped him to
"Mercy on us! Are you hurt?" cried Miss
Mattie, rushing forward.
"Hurt?" said Red. "Try it!--Just jump
up in the air and sit on the floor where you
are now, and see if you get hurt! Oh, no!
I'm not hurt, but I'm astonished beyond
measure, like the man that tickled the mule.
I'll take my breakfast right here--shouldn't
wonder a bit if the floor went back on me and
landed me in the cellar--no sir! I won't get
up! Hand me the supplies, I know when I'm
well off. If you want to eat breakfast with
me come sit on the floor. I'm not going to
have my spine pushed through the top of my
head twice in the same day."
"Will! You are the most ridiculous
person I ever did see!" said Miss Mattie, and
she laughed till she cried in sheer
light-heartedness. "But there's a chair you can
trust--come on now."
"Well, if you'll take your solemn oath that
this one has no moustache to deceive me,"
said Red doubtfully. "It looks husky--well,
I'll try it--Hooray! She didn't give an inch.
This kind of reminds me of the time Jimmy
Hendricks came back from town and walked
off the edge of the bluff in the dark. It just
happened that Old Scotty Ferguson's cabin
was underneath him. Jim took most of the
roof off with him as he went in. He sat
awhile to figure out what was trumps, having
come a hundred and fifty feet too fast to do
much thinking. Then, 'Hello!' he yells.
Old Scotty was a sleeper from 'way back, but
this woke him up.
"'Hello!' says he. 'Was'er matter?'
"Jim saw he wasn't more than half awake
yet, so he says, 'Why, I was up on the bluff
there, Scotty, and seeing it was such a short
distance I thought I'd drop in!'
"'Aw ri',' grunted Scotty. 'Make y'self t'
home,' and with that he rolls over.
"Jim couldn't wait for morning, and though
his leg was pretty badly sprained, he made the
trip all the way round the trail and woke us
up to tell us how he'd gone through
Ferguson's roof and the old man asked him to make
himself at home. Next morning there was
Scotty out in front of his cabin, his thumbs in
his vest holes, looking up.
"'What's the matter, Scotty?' says I.
"'Well, I wisht you'd tell me what in the
name of God went through that roof!' says he.
"I swallered a laugh cross-ways and put on
a serious face. 'Must have been a rock,' says I.
"'Rock nothin'!' says he. 'If it had been
a rock 'twould have stayed in the cabin,
wouldn't it! Well, there ain't the first blasted
thing of any shape nor description in there but
the hole--you can go in and look for yourself.'
"It cost Scotty one case of rye to make us
forget those circumstances."
"I should have thought the man would be
killed, striking on the roof that way," said
"Oh, no! Roof was made of quaking-asp
saplings, just about strong enough to break
his fall. Scotty was the sleeper, though! It
wasn't hardly natural the way that man could
pound his ear through thick and thin. He
had quite a surprising time of it once. He'd
been prospecting 'round the Ruby refractory
ore district and he came out at Hank Cutter's
saw-mill, just at sun-down. Hank's place was
full of gold rushers, so Old Scotty thought
he'd sleep out-doors in peace and quiet. He
discovered some big boxes, that Hank was
making for ore bins for the new mill, and as
the ground was kind of damp from a
thunder-shower they had that day, he spreads his
blanket inside the box and goes to sleep; ore
bins have to be smooth and dust tight, so it
wasn't a bad shanty.
"Well, there came a jar and waked him up.
The box was rolling a little, and going along,
going along forty mile an hour. Scotty lit a
match and found he was in a kind of big
tunnel but the wall was flying by so fast, he
couldn't make out just what kind of a tunnel
it was. Now, he'd gone to sleep in peace and
quiet on a side hill, and to wake up and find
himself boat-riding in a tunnel was enough
to surprise anybody. First he pinched
himself to see if it was Hank's pie, or a cold fact,
found it was a fact, then he lit another match
and leaned over and looked at the black water
underneath, but this made the box tip so it
scart him and he settled down in the bottom
again. He didn't try to think--what was the
use? No man living could have figured things
out with the few facts Scotty had before him.
All of a sudden the box made a rush and shot
out into the air, and Scotty felt they were
falling. 'God sakes!' he says to himself.
'What's next, I wonder?' Then they hit the
water below with a ker-flap that nearly
telescoped Scotty and sent the spray flying. After
that they went along smooth again. 'Well,'
says Scotty, 'I don't know where I am, nor
who I am, nor what's happened, nor who's it,
nor nothing about this game. So far I ain't
been hurt, though, and I might just as well
lie down and get a little more rest.'
"It was broad daylight when he woke up
again, and a man was looking into the box.
'Hello, pardner!' he says. 'I hope you've
had a pleasant journey--do you always travel
"Scotty raised up and found his craft was
aground--high and dry--no water within a
hundred feet of it. On one side was quite a
"'Say,' says he, 'could I trouble you to tell
me where I am, friend?'
"'You're at Placerville,' answers the other.
"'Placerville!' yells Scotty, 'and I went to
sleep at Cutter's Mill, sixty-five miles from
here!--what are you giving us, man?'
"'I'm putting it to you straight,' says the
stranger. 'Take a look around you.'
"Scotty looked and there was all kinds of
wreckage, from a dead beef critter to a wheel
"'What in nation's all this?' says he.
"'Washout,' says the man. 'Cloud burst
up on the divide--worst we've ever
had--your box is about high water mark--you see
there was water enough for awhile--I reckon
you're about the only thing that came through
"'Well, wouldn't that knock you?' says Scotty.
--"Whilst the rest of the folk at the mill
was taking to the high ground for their lives,
with the water roaring and tearing through
the gulch, Scotty had peacefully gone off in
his little boat, down the creek, and instead of
going over the rapids, where he'd have been
done, for all his luck, the box ambles through
the flume they was building for the new mill.
Of course there was the jounce over the tail
race, but that hadn't hurt him much, and after,
he rocked in the cradle of the deep, until he
got beached at Placerville.
"'Come along, friend,' says Scotty to the
feller, 'you and me are going to have a little
drink on this, if it is the last act.' And I
reckon probably they made it two, for when
Scotty got back again he was in a condition
that made everybody believe that he'd only
guessed at the story he told. But they found
out afterward it was a solemn fact. Mattie,
give us some more coffee."
Thus abruptly recalled to Fairfield, Miss
Mattie started up.
"Well, Will, it does seem as if that was a
dangerous country to live in," said she.
"Oh, not so awful!" said Red. "Just as
many people die here as they do there--this
world's a dangerous place to live in, wherever
you strike it, Mattie."
"That's so," said she, thoughtfully.
"And now," said Red, pushing back his
chair, "it's time I got to work and left you to
do the housework undisturbed."
"What are you going to do, Will?"
"First place, there's fences and things to
be tinkered up, I see. I suppose a millionaire
like me ought to hire those things done, but
I'd have measles of the mind if I sat around
"I have been wanting to get the place in
good order for some time," said Miss Mattie,
"but what with the money I had to spend for
this and that, and not being able to get
Mr. Joyce to come in for a day's work when I
wanted him, it's gone on, until there is a good
deal of wrack to it."
"We'll wrack it t'other way round in no
time--got any tools here?"
"Out in the barn is what's left of father's
tools--people have borrowed 'em and forgot
to return 'em, and they've rusted or been
lost until I'm afraid there ain't many of 'em
"Well, I'll get along to-day somehow, and
later on we'll stock up--want any help around
"Thank you, no, Will."
"Then I'm off."
It was almost with a feeling of terror that
Miss Mattie beheld him root up the fence.
Her idea of repairing was to put in a picket
here and there where it was most needed;
Red's was to knock it all flat first, and set it
up in A1 condition afterward. So, in two
hours' time he straightened up and snapped
the sweat from his brow, beholding the slain
pickets prone on the grass with thorough
satisfaction. Yet he felt tired, for the day was
already hot with a moist and soaking
sea-coast heat, to which the plainsman was
unaccustomed. A three-quarter-grown boy passed
by, lounging on the seat of a farm waggon.
"Hey!" hailed Red. The boy stopped and
turned slowly around.
"Yes, sir," he answered courteously enough.
"Want a job?" said Red.
"Well, I dunno," replied the boy. He was
much astonished at the appearance of his
interrogator, and he was a cautious New
England boy to boot.
"_You_ don't know?" retorted Red. "Well,"
with some sarcasm, "d'ye suppose I could
find out at the post-office?"
The boy looked at Red with a twinkle in his
eye, and a comical drawing of his long mouth.
"I calc'late if you cud fin' out anyweres,
'twould be there," said he.
Red laughed. He had noticed the busy
post-mistress rushing out of her store to
waylay anyone likely to have information on any
subject, a stream of questions proceeding from
her through the door.
"Say, you got anything particular to do?"
"No, sir--leastways th'ain't no hurry about it."
"Can I buy stuff to make a fence with,
"Yes, sir--Mister Pettigrew's got all kinds
of buildin' material at his store--two mile over
yonder," pointing with the whip.
"You drive over there for me, and get
some--just like this here--pickets and posts
and whatever you call them long pieces, and
I'll make it right with you."
"Yes, sir--how much will I get?"
"Oh, tell him to fill the waggon up with
it, and I'll send back what I don't
want--hustle, now, like a good boy; I want to get
shut of this job; I liked it better before I begun."
When his Mercury had speeded on the
journey at a faster gait than Red would have
given him credit for, the architect strode
down to the blacksmith's shop. There was a
larger crowd than usual around the forge, as
the advent of the stranger had gotten into
the wind, and the village Vulcan was a person
who not only looked the whole world in the
face, but no one of the maiden ladies of
Fairfield could have excelled his interest in
looking the whole world as much in the inside
pocket as possible. The blacksmith was
emphatically a gossip, as well as a hardworking,
"Say, there he comes now, Mr. Tuttle!"
cried one of the loungers, and nudged the
smith to look.
"Well, let him come!" retorted the smith,
testily, jamming a shoe in the fire with
unnecessary force; as a matter of fact, he was
embarrassed. The loungers huddled together
for moral support, as the big cow-man loomed
through the doorway.
"Good morning, friends!" said he.
"Good morning, sir!" replied the
blacksmith, rubbing his hands on his apron. "Nice
"For the sake of good fellowship, I'll say
'yes' to that," responded Red. "But if you
want my honest opinion on the subject, it's
"'Tis that," assented the smith, and a
"Say, who's your crack fence-builder
around here?" asked Red. "The man that
can make two pickets grow where only one
grew before and do it so easy that it's a
pleasure to sit and look at him?"
"Hey?" inquired the smith, not precisely
getting the meaning of the address.
"Why, I've got a fence to build," exclaimed
Red. "And now I want some help--want it
so bad, I'll produce to the extent of three a
day and call it a day from now 'till six
o'clock--any takers here? Make your bets while the
little ball rolls."
The loungers understood the general drift
of this and pricked up their ears, as did the
blacksmith. "Guess one of the boys will help
you," said the latter.
"Well, who's it?" asked Red, glancing at
the circle of faces. Three dollars a day was
enormous wages in that part of the country.
Nobody knew just what to say.
"Oh, well!" cried Red, "let's everybody
run--I reckon I can find something to do for
the five of you--are you with me?"
"Yes, sir," they said promptly.
"Can I borrow a hammer or so off you, old
man?" questioned Red of the smith.
"Certainly, sir," returned the latter heartily.
"Take what you want."
"Much obliged--and the gate hinges are
out of whack--Miss Saunders' place, you
know--come over and take a squint at 'em
in the near by-and-by, will you? May as well
fix it up all at once--come on, boys!"
It was thus that the greatest enterprise that
Fairfield had seen in many a day was
undertaken. Miss Mattie was simply astounded as
the army bore down upon the house.
"Whatever in the world is Cousin Will
doing?" said she; but resting strong in the faith
that it was necessarily all right, she was
content to wait for dinner and an explanation.
Not so the post-mistress. The agonies of
unrequited curiosity the worthy woman
suffered that morning until she at last summoned
up her resolution and asked the smith plump
out and out what it all meant, would have to
be experienced to be appreciated. And the
smith kept her hanging for a while, too,
saying to himself in justification, that it wasn't
right the way that old gal had to get into
everybody's business. The smith was like
some of the rest of us; he could see through
a beam if it was in his own eye.
There was a great din of whacking and hammering that morning. Red
worked like a horse, now that he had company. A sudden thought
struck him and he went into the house.
"Mattie," said he.
"I see a use for the rest of that nice big roast of beef I smell in
the oven--let's have all these fellers stay to dinner, and give 'em
one good feed--what do you say?"
"Why, I'd like to. Will--but I don't know--where'll I set them?"
"Couple of boards outside for a table--let them sit on boxes or
something--got plates and things enough?"
"My, yes! Plenty of such things, Will."
"Then if it ain't too much trouble for you, we'll let it go."
"No trouble at all, Will--it will be a regular picnic."
"Boys, you'll eat with me this day," said Red.
They spread the board table beneath an old apple tree, and cleaned
up for the repast in the kitchen storm-shed with an apologetic,
"Sorry to trouble you, Miss Saunders," or such a matter as each
Just as Miss Mattie was withdrawing the meat from the oven, there
came a knock at the door.
"Goodness, gracious!" she exclaimed. "Who can that be now? Will,
will you see who that is? I can't go."
"Sure!" said Red, and went to the door. There stood two women of
that indefinite period between forty and sixty, very decently
dressed and with some agitation visible in the way they fussily
adjusted various parts of their attire.
They started at the sudden spectacle of the huge man who said
pleasantly, "Howderdo, ladies!"
"Why, how do you do?" replied the taller instantly, and in a voice
she had never heard before. "I hope you're well, sir?" A remark
which filled her with surprise.
"Thanks--I'm able to assume the perpendicular, as you can see,"
responded Red with a handsome smile of welcome. "How do you find
"I'm pretty well," said the flustered lady. "How do you do?"
"Durned if we ain't right back where we started from," mourned Red
to himself. "If it's one of the customs of this country saying
'howderdo' an hour at a stretch, I pass it up." Aloud, he said,
"Coming along fine--how's your father?" "Cuss me if I don't shift
the cut a little, anyhow," he added mentally.
"Why, he's very well indeed!" exclaimed the lady with fervor.
"How--" She got no further on the query, for the other woman
interrupted in a tone of scandal. "Mary Ann Demilt! How can you
talk like that! Your father's been dead this five year last
The horror of the moment was broken by the appearance of Miss
Mattie, crying hospitably on seeing the visitors, "Why, Mary and
Pauline! How do you do?"
The shorter one--Pauline--looked up and said sharply, "We're well
enough, Mattie." She was weary of the form.
"Come right in," said Miss Mattie. "You're just in time for
There was a great protest at this. They "hadn't a moment to
spare," they were "just going down to the corner, and had stopped
to say," etc., etc.
"You've got to help me," said Miss Mattie. "Will here has invited
the boys who are working for him to stay to dinner, and it won't be
any more than Christian for you to help me out."
"Ladies!" said Red. "If you don't want to starve a man who's
deserving of a better fate, take off your fixings and come out to
dinner. No," he continued to their protests, which he observed
were growing weaker. "It's no trouble at all: there's plenty for
everybody--come one, come all, this house shall fly, clean off its
base as soon as I--Now for Heaven's sake, ladies, it's all
Whereat they laughed nervously, and took off their hats.
It was a jolly dinner party. The young fellows Red had picked up
in the blacksmith's shop were not the ordinary quality of loungers.
They were boys of good country parentage, with a common school
education, who, unfortunately, could find nothing to do but the
occasional odd job. Of course it would not take long to transform
them into common n'er-do-wells, but now they were merely
The whole affair had an _al fresco_ flavor which stoppered
convention. The two women visitors pitched in and had as good a
time as anybody.
In the middle of the festivities a young man walked past the front
fence; a stranger evidently, for-his clothes wore the cut of a
city, and a cosmopolitan, up-to-date city at that. He stopped and
looked at the house, hesitated a moment and then walked in, back to
where the folk were eating.
"Excuse me," said he, as they looked up at him, "but isn't this Mr.
A momentary silence followed, as it was not clear whose turn it was
to answer. Miss Mattie glanced around and finding Red's eye on
her, replied, "No sir--Mr. Demilt's house is about a mile further
up the road."
"Dear me!" said the young man ruefully. He was a spic-and-span,
intelligent looking man, with less of the dandy about him than the
air of a man who had never worn anything but clothes of the proper
trim, and become quite used to it. Nevertheless the sweat stood
out in drops on his forehead, for Fairfield's front "street"
savoured of a less moral region than it really was, on a broiling
The young man sighed frankly and wiped his head. "Well, that's too
bad," he said. "I'm a stranger here--would you kindly tell me
where I could get some dinner?"
"What's the matter with that?" inquired Red, pointing to the roast,
which still preserved an air of fallen greatness. He had liked the
look of the other instantly.
The stranger looked first at Red and then at the roast. "The only
thing I can see the matter with that," he answered, "is that it is
a slice too thick."
"Keno!" cried Red, "you get it. Mattie, another plate and weapons
to fit. Sit down, sir, and rest your fevered feet. It you don't
like walking any better than I do, you've probably strewn fragments
of one of the commandments all the way from where the stage dropped
you to this apple tree."
"It seems to me that I did make some remarks that I never learned
at my mother's knee," returned the other laughing. "And I'm
exceedingly obliged for the invitation, as there doesn't seem to be
a hotel here, and I am but a degree south of starvation."
"Red or black?" asked the host, with a quick glance at his guest.
The other caught the allusion. "I haven't followed the deal," he
replied, "but I'll chance it on the red."
Somehow he felt instantly at home and at ease; it was a quality
that Red Saunders dispersed wherever he went.
"There you are, sir," said Red, forwarding a plate full of juicy
meat. "The ladies will supply the decorations."
"Do you like rice as a vegetable, sir?" inquired Miss Mattie.
"No--he doesn't," interrupted Red. "He likes it as an
animal--never saw anyone who looked less like a vegetable than our
friend," The young man's laugh rang out above the others.
Poor Miss Mattie was confused. "It's too bad of you, Will, to put
such a meaning on my words," she said.
"The strange part of it is," spoke the young man, seeing an
opportunity for a joke, and to deal courteously with his
entertainers at the same time. "The peculiar fact is, that my name
"Lettuce?" cried Red. "Mattie, I apologise--he is a vegetable."
At which they all laughed again.
"And now," said Red, "I'm Red Saunders, late of the Chantay Seeche
Ranch, Territory of Dakota--State of North Dakota, I mean, can't
get used to the State business; there's a Bill and a Dick on this
side of me and two Johns and a Sammy on the other. Foot of the
table is Miss Mattie Saunders, next to her--just as they run--Miss
Pauline Doolittle and Miss Mary Ann Demilt, who may be kin to the
gentleman you're seeking."
"Mr. Thomas F. Demilt?" asked the stranger.
"He's my sister," responded Miss Mary Ann. Whereat the youths
buried their faces in the plates, as Mr. Thomas F., in spite of
many excellent qualities, bore a pathetic resemblance to the title.
"I mean," continued the lady hurriedly, "that I'm his brother."
"By Jimmy, ma'am!" exclaimed Red. "But yours is a strange family!"
"What Miss Demilt wishes to say," cut in Miss Doolittle with some
asperity, "is that Mr. Thomas Faulkenstone Demilt is her brother."
She did not add, as extreme candour would have urged, "And I have
some hope--remote, alas! but there--of becoming sister to Miss
"Thank you!" said Lettis. "Shall I be able to see him this
"Oh, mercy, yes!" said Miss Mary Ann. "Tom is home all day."
"I can thank the kind fates for that," said Lettis. "I had begun
to think he was a myth," and he fell in upon the tender meat with
the vigorous appetite of youth and a good digestion.
Nathaniel Lettis was by no means a fool, and he had experience in
business, but the mainspring of the young fellow was frankness, and
in the course of the dinner he told his errand. Mr. Demilt had
written to his firm explaining the advantages of starting a
straw-board factory in Fairfield. It was too small a thing for the
firm to be interested in, but Lettis had a small capital which he
wished to invest in an enterprise of his own handling, and it had
struck him that there might be a chance for independence; therefore
he had come to find out the lay of the land.
* * * * *
Red Saunders' first-glance liking of the stranger deepened as he
told of his business. The cowman did not blame people who took
devious ways and dealt in ambiguities, for his experience in the
world, which was pretty fairly complete, had told him that craft
was a necessity for weak natures; nevertheless he cared not for
those who used it.
In his part of the West, a man would no more think of giving a
false impression of his financial standing to alter his position in
one's regard, than he would wear corsets. Money was of small
consequence; its sequelae of less. Men spoke openly of how much
they made; how they liked the job; how their claims were paying;
such matters were neutral ground of chance conversation, as the
weather is in the East. The rapid and unpredictable changes of
fortune gave a tendency to make light of one's present condition.
A man would say "I'm busted" without any more feeling than he would
say "I have a cold." Now, in Fairfield, that is not likely
lonesome in that respect, one of the principal objects in life was
to conceal the poverty which would persist in sticking its gaunt
elbows through the cloth of words spread over it. Red asked
straight-forward questions--shrewd ones, too--seeing that the other
was one of his own kind and would not resent it.
Lettis wanted nothing better than a chance to expand on the
subject. It was close to his heart. He had been a subordinate
about as long as a proud and masterful young fellow ought to be.
Now he was quivering to try his own strength, and seeing, for his
part, that his host was inspired with a genuine interest and not
curiosity, he gave him all the information in his power.
"But a plant like that is going to cost some money, ain't it?"
"Too much for me, I'm afraid," replied Lettis. "I have five
thousand to put in, and I suppose I could borrow the rest, but
that's saddling the business with too heavy charges right in the
beginning. Still, it may not be as bad as I fancy."
Red drummed on the table, thinking. "I wouldn't mind getting into
a business of some kind, as long as it was making things," he said.
"I don't hanker to keep store much--suppose I go along with you,
when you look up how much straw is raised and the rest of it?"
"Would you?" cried the young fellow, eagerly. "By George, sir, I
wish you could see your way clear to take hold of it. Could you
stand ten thousand, for instance? Excuse the question, but I'm so
anxious over this----"
"Lord! What's the harm of asking facts?" said Red. Then with a
gleam of genial pride, "Ten thousand wouldn't break me by a durn
Lettis' boyish face fairly glowed. "It was my good angel made me
stop in front of your fence," he said. "I saw you all eating in
here and you looked so jolly, that I thought I'd stop, on the
chance you might be the man I was looking for; now I'll go right on
and see Mr. Demilt and find out what he wants to do in the matter."
"Wait for the waggon and you can ride," said Red. "Boy's gone home
to see his dad about working for me this afternoon; in the
meantime, it you're not too proud to take hold and help us with
this dod-ratted fence, I'll be obliged to you."
"Bring on your fence! I'm ready," said Lettis.
"Come on, boys!" said Red, and the party rose from the table.
Later the waggon came up.
"Well, good day, Lettis," said Red. "If you can't get quarters
anywhere else, come on and help me hold the barn down."
"Do you sleep in the barn? Then I'll come back sure. Tell you how
it is, Mr. Saunders. I've been stuck up in a three-by-nine office
for four years--nose held to 'A to M, Western branch,' and if I'm
not sick of it there's no such thing as sickness; to get out and
breathe the fresh air, to see the country, to be my own master!
Well, sir, it just makes me tremble to think of it. I hope you
find the straw-board what you want to take up."
"I shouldn't wonder if it would be," answered Red. "We'll make a
corking team to do business, Lettis, I can see that--so cautious
and full of tricks, and all that."
The young man laughed and then sobered down. "Of course, I know
the whole thing would look insane to most people," he said
sturdily, "but I've been in business long enough to see sharp
gentlemen come to grief in spite of their funny work. I don't
believe a man'll come to any more harm by believing people mean
well by him than he would by working on the other tack."
"Good boy!" said Red, slapping him on the back. "You stick to that
and you'll get a satisfaction out of it that money couldn't buy
you. Another thing, you'd never get a cent out of me in this world
it you were one of these smooth young men. My eye teeth are cut,
son, for all I may seem easy. The man that does me a trick has a
chance for bad luck, and you can bet on that."
"Lord! I believe you!" replied Lettis, taking in the dimensions of
his new friend. "Well, good-bye for the present, Mr.
Saunders--thank you for the dinner and still more for the heart you
have put into me."
At six o'clock the fence was not quite finished.
"If you'll stay with me until the thing's done, I'll stand another
dollar all around," said Red. "I don't want it to stare me in the
The eldest spoke up. "We'll stay with you, Mr. Saunders, but we
don't want any money for it, do we, fellers?"
"No," they replied in chorus, well meaning what they said.
"Why, you're perfectly welcome to the cash!" said Red.
"And you're welcome to the work," retorted the boy. "We're paid
plenty as it is."
"If that's the way you look at it, I'm much obliged to you," said
Red, who would not have discouraged such a feeling for anything.
He said to himself, "This don't seem much like the kind of people
I've heard inhabited these parts. Those boys are all right.
Reckon it you use people decent they'll play up to your lead, no
matter what country it is."
At seven thirty the fence was done, gorgeous in a coat of fresh red
paint, and the hands departed, each with a slice of Miss Mattie's
chocolate cake, a thing to make the heathen gods feel contemptuous
They went straight to the blacksmith's shop, where they were
"Good Lord!" he said a little later, "it you fellers will talk one
at a time, p'r'aps I can make out what's happened. Now, Sammy,
sp'ose you do the speaking?"
Whereupon Sammy faithfully chronicled the events of the day. The
boys had behaved themselves as if there was nothing out of the
common happening while they were with Red, being held up by a sense
of pride, but naturally, the splendid physique of the cowman, his
picturesque attire, his abandoned way of scattering money around
and the air of a frolic he had managed to impart to a day's hard
work, all had effect on imagination, and the boys were very much
"I'd like to know how many Injuns that feller's killed!" piped up
the youngest. "My! he could grab hold of a man and wring his neck
like a chicken."
"Aw, tst!" remonstrated the blacksmith. But the elders stood by
the younker this time.
"Yes, he could, Mr. Farrel!" said they. "You ought to seen him
when he rolled up his sleeves! He's got an arm on him like the
hind leg of a horse, and he uses an ax like a tack-hammer. He got
mad once when he pounded his thumb, and busted the post square in
two with one crack."
"Well, he looks like a husky man," admitted the blacksmith. "But
why didn't you boys take the extry dollar when he made the offer?
He 'pears to know what he was about and looks kind of foolish to
say 'no' to it."
There was a moment's silence. "We wanted to show him we were just
as good as the folks he knew," explained the eldest, somewhat
The blacksmith straightened himself. "Quite right, too," said
he. "We _air_, when you come to that." A little pride is a
wonderful tonic. Each unit of that gathering felt himself the
better for the display of it.
* * * * *
In the meantime, Red was repairing the ravages of the day opposite
Miss Mattie at a supper table which was bountifully spread. Miss
Mattie put two and two together, and found they meant a larger sum
of eatables than she had hitherto felt sufficient, and with a
little pang at the thought of the inadequacy of her first offering
to her cousin, provided such fatness as the land of Fairfield
They discussed the events of the day with satisfaction.
"My!" said Miss Mattie. "You do things wholesale while you are
about it, Will, don't you?"
Red smiled in pleased acknowledgment. "I'm no peanut stand, old
lady," said he. "I like to see things move."
Then Miss Mattie broached the question she had been hovering around
ever since her guests had taken their leave.
"Do you think you'll really go into business with that young man
who was here to dinner?" she asked.
"Why, I think it's kinder likely," said Red.
"But you don't know anything about him, Will," she continued,
putting the weak side of her desire forward, in order to rest more
securely if that stood the test.
"No, I don't," agreed Red. "But here's the way I feel about that:
I want to be doing something according to my size; besides that, it
would be a good thing for this place if some kind of a live doings
was to start here. All right, that's my side of it. Now, as far
as not knowing that young feller's concerned, I might think I knew
him from cyclone-cellar to roof-tree, and he might do me to a
crowded house. My idea is that life's a good deal like faro--you
know how that is."
"I remember about his not letting the people go, but I'm afraid I
don't know my Bible as well as I ought to, Will," apologised Miss
Mattie, rather astonished at his allusion.
"Let the people go? Bible?" cried Red, laying down his knife and
fork, still more astonished at her allusion. "Will you kindly tell
me what that has to do with faro-bank? Girl, one of us is full of
ghost songs, and far, far off the reservation. What in the name of
Brigham Young's off-ox are you talking about?"
"Why, you spoke of Pharaoh, Will, and I can remember about his
holding the children of Israel captive, and the plagues, but I
really don't see just how it applies."
"Oh!" said Red, as a great light broke upon him. "Oh, I see what
you're thinking about. The old boy who corralled the Jews, and
made 'em work for the first and last time in their history, and
they filled him full of fleas, and darkness, and all kinds of
unpleasant experiences to break even? Well, I was not talking
about him at all. My faro is a game played with a lay-out and a
pack of cards and a little tin box that you ought to look at
carefully before you put any money on the board, to see that it
ain't arranged for dealing seconds; and there's a lookout and a
case keeper and--well, I don't believe I could tell you just how it
works, but some day I'll make a layout and we'll have some fun.
It's a bully game, but I say, it's a great deal like life--the
splits go to the dealer; that is to say, that if the king comes out
to win and lose at the same time, you lose anyhow, see?"
"No," said Miss Mattie, truthfully.
Red thrust his fingers through his hair and sighed. "I'm afraid I
know too much about it to explain it clearly," he replied. "But
what I mean is this: some people try to play system at faro, and
they last about as quick as those that don't. I always put the
limit on the card that's handiest, and the game don't owe me a
cent; as a matter of fact, some of the tin-horns used to wear a
pained expression when they saw me coming across the room. I've
split 'cm from stem to keelson more than once, and never used a
copper in my life--played 'em wide open, all the time. Now," and
he brought his fist down on the table, "I'm going to play that
young man wide open, and I'll bet you I don't lose by him neither.
He looks as honest as a mastiff pup, for all he dresses kind of
nice. I might just as well try him on the fly, as to go
lunk-heading around and get stuck anyhow, with the unsatisfactory
addition of feeling that I was a fool, as well as confiding."
Most of the argument had been ancient Aryan to Miss Mattie, but the
ring of the voice and the little she understood made the tenor
plain. A sudden moisture gathered in her eyes as she said, "You're
too good and honest and generous a man to distrust anybody: that's
what I think, Will."
"Mattie, I wish you wouldn't talk like that," said he, in an
injured voice. "It ain't hardly respectable."
After which there was a silence for a short time. Then said Miss
Mattie, "Do you think you could content yourself here, Will, after
all the things you've seen?"
Red brightened at the change of topic. "I'll tell you how that is:
if I hadn't any capital, and had to work here as a poor man, I
don't believe I'd take the trouble to try and live--I'd smother;
but having that pleasant little crop of long greens securely
planted in the bank where the wild time doesn't grow, and thusly
being able to cavort around as it sweetly pleases me, why, I like
the country. It's sport to take hold of a place like this, that's
only held together by its suspenders, and try to make a real live
man's town out of it."
Miss Mattie drew a deep breath of relief. "You came like the hero
in a fairy story, Will, and I was afraid you'd go away like one,"
He reached across the table and patted her hand. "You'd have had
to gone, too," said he. "The family'll stick together."
She thanked him in a soft little voice. "Dear me!" she murmured.
"It does seem that you've been here a year, Will."
"Never was told that I was such slow company before."
"You know perfectly well that that isn't what I mean."
"Well, you'll have to put up with me for a while, whatever I am;
insomuch as I'm to be a manufacturer and the Lord knows what. Then
some day I'm going to have an awful hankering for the land where
the breeze blows, and then we'll take a shute for open prairie.
It's cruelty to animals for me to straddle a horse now, yet there's
where I'm at home, and I'm going to buy me a cayuse of some
kind--say, I ought to get at that; if I'm going around with Lettis
I want to ride a horse--know anybody that's got a real live horse
for sale, Mattie? No? Well, I'll stop in and see the lady that
deals the mail--I'll bet you what that woman doesn't know about
what's going on in this camp will never get into history--be back
Said he to the post-mistress, "My name's Saunders, ma'am--cousin to
Miss Mattie. I just stopped in to find out if you knew anyone that
had a riding horse for sale; horse with four good legs that'll
carry me all day, and about the rest I don't care a frolicsome
The post-mistress replied at such length, and with such velocity
that Red was amazed. He gathered from her remarks that a certain
Mr. Upton had an animal, purchased of a chance horse dealer, which
it was altogether likely he would dispose of, as the first time he
had tried the brute it went up into the air all sorts of ways, and
caused the owner to perform such tricks before high Heaven as made
the angels weep.
"Where does this man live?" asked Red, with a kindling eye.
"He lives about three miles out on the Peterville road, but he's in
town to-night visitin' Miss Alders--Johnny!" to a small boy who had
been following the conversation, his wide-open eyes bent on Red,
and his mouth and wiggling bare toes expressing their delight in
vigorous contortions, "Johnny, you run tell Mr. Upton there's a
gentleman in here wants to see him about buying a horse."
"Don't disturb him if he's visiting," remonstrated Red.
"He won't call that disturbing him," replied the post-mistress,
with a shrill laugh. "He'll be here in no time."
She was a true prophet. It seemed as if the boy had barely left
the store when he returned with a stoop-shouldered, solemn-faced
man, who had a brush-heap of chin-whisker decorating the lower part
of his face. After greetings and the explanation of the errand,
Mr. Upton stroked his chin-whisker regretfully. "Young man," said
he, "I'm in a pecooliar and onpleasant position; there's mighty
feyew things I wouldn't do in a hawse trade, but I draw the line on
murder. That there hawse'll kill you, just's sure as you're fool
enough to put yerself on his back. I'll sell you a real hawse
"I'll risk him," cut in Red. "Could you lead him down here in the
"Yes, indeedy--he's a perfect lady of a horse to lead---you can
pick up airy foot--climb all over him in fac', s'long's you don't
try to ride him or hitch him up. If you do that--well, young man,
you'll get a pretty fair idee of what is meant by one of the demons
"What kind of saddle have you got?"
"One of them outlandish Western affairs that the scamp threw in
with the animal--you see, I thought I'd take up horse-back riding
for my health; I was in bed three weeks after my fust try."
"I'll go you seventy-five dollars for the outfit, just as you got
it--chaps, taps, and latigo straps, if you'll have it in front of
my house at nine o'clock to-morrow."
"All right, young man--all right sir--now don't blame me if you air
took home shoes fust."
"Nary," said Red. "Come and see the fun."
"I shorely will," replied the old gentleman.
At nine the next morning there was a crowd in front of the house.
"What have you been doing now, Will?" asked Miss Mattie with
"Only buying a horse, Mattie," returned Red soberly. "Seems to be
quite an event here."
"Is that all?"
"That's all, so help me Bob!" Red had a suspicion that there would
be objections if she knew what kind of a horse it was.
Lettis, who had roomed with Red overnight, was in the secret.
The horse arrived, leading very quietly, as Mr. Upton had said. It
was a buckskin, fat and hearty from long resting. Nothing could be
more docile than the pensive lower lip, and the meek curve of the
neck; nothing could be more contradictory than the light of its
eye; a brooding, baleful fire, quietly biding its time.
"Scatter, friends!" cried Red, as he put his foot in the stirrup.
"Don't be too proud to take to timber!"
He swung over as lightly as a trapeze performer, deftly catching
his other stirrup. The horse groaned and shivered.
"Don't let him get his head down! Gol-ding it! Don't you!"
screamed Mr. Upton in wild excitement.
Red threw the bridle over the horn of the saddle. "Go it, you
devil!" cried he. And they went. Six feet straight in the air,
first pass. The crowd scattered, as requested. They hurried at
that. Red gave the brute the benefit of his two hundred and a half
as they touched earth, and his opponent grunted when he felt the
jar of it. They rocketted and ricochetted; they were here, they
were there, they were everywhere, the buckskin squealing like a
pig, and fighting with every ounce of the strength that lay in his
steel strung legs; the dust rose in clouds; Red's hat flew in no
time; he was yelling like a maniac, and the crowd was yelling like
more maniacs. Now and then a glimpse of the rider's face could be
caught, transported with joy of the struggle; then the dust would
roll up and hide everything. No one was more pleased at the
spectacle than the blacksmith. He was capering in the middle of
the road, waving a hand-hammer and shouting "Hold him _down_! Hold
him DOWN! Why do you let him jump up like that? If _I_ was on
that horse I'd show you! Aw, there it is again--Stop him! _Stop_
At this point the buckskin made three enormous leaps for the
blacksmith, as though he had understood. The smith cast dignity to
the winds and went over the nearest fence in the style that little
boys, when coasting, call "stomach-whopper"--or words to that
effect--and took his next breath two minutes later. He might have
saved the labour, as the horse wheeled on one foot, and pulled
fairly for the picket fence opposite. Red regretted the absence of
herders as the sharp pickets loomed near. It was no time for
regrets. The horse was over with but little damage--a slight
scratch, enough to rouse his temper, however, for he whaled away
with both hind feet, and parts of the fence landed a hundred feet
off. Then a dash through an ancient grape arbor, and they were
lost to view of the road. Some reckless small boys scampered
after, but the majority preferred to trace the progress of the
conflict by the aboriginal "Yerwhoops" that came from somewhere in
behind the old houses.
"There they go!" piped up a shrill voice of the small-boy brigade.
"Right through Mis' Davisses hen coops!--you _ought_ to see them
hens FLY!" The triumphant glee is beyond the reach of words.
Simultaneous squawking verified the remark, as well as a feminine
voice, urging a violent protest, cut short by a scream of terror,
and the slam of a door. The inhabitants of "Mis' Davisses" house
instantly appeared through the front door, seeking the street.
To show the erraticalness of fate, no sooner had they reached the
road, than Red's mount cleared the parapet of the bridge in a
single leap--a beautiful leap--and came down upon them in the road.
All got out of the way but a three-year-old, forgotten in the
excitement. Upon this small lad, fallen flat in the road, bore the
powerful man and horse. Then there were frantic cries of warning.
Fifty feet between the youngster and those mangling
hoofs--twenty--five! the crowd gasped--they were blotted together!
Not so. A mighty hand had snatched the boy away in that instant of
time. He was safe and very indignant in a howling, huddled heap in
the ditch by the roadside, but alas, for horse and rider! The
buckskin was not used to such feats, and when Red's weight was
thrown to the side for the reach he missed his stride, struck his
feet together, and down they went, while the foot-deep dust sprang
into the air like an explosion.
Miss Mattie rushed to the scene of the accident, followed by
everybody. Young Lettis, equally frightened, was close beside her.