The Little Dark Horse
In the matrimonial sweepstakes it isn't always the well-groomed beauty who wins the solitaire
MERILLA knelt on a chair before the golden oak dresser, concentrating on the nightly rites devoted to the preservation of her pink and white charms. She wore one casual garment of artificial silk; her pretty plump feet were thrust into threadbare pink satin mules. Between grimaces, as she rubbed miraculous unguents into the places where wrinkles might reasonably be expected to appear, she addressed her roommate.
“How you can look at them million-dollar brides,” said Merilla, “slays me. Eight bridesmaids in Paris models, and the groom’s gift to the bride was a genuwine twenty-carat sapphire and diamond ring, or maybe just a simple little string of real pearls. I call it cruel, Lindy, the way life treats us girls.”
Lindy—short for the old-fashioned name Belinda— lay stretched comfortably at full length on her narrow bed, studying the weekly rotogravure section. She
assented amiably, "Uh-huh,” and Merilla went on:
“Here we are, earning our own living, and, if I do say it myself, I’m a good, reliable stenog, though the fuss that man makes about a ridiculous thing like whether an *i’ or an ‘e’ comes first in ‘receive’ would murder anyone not so pleasant-natured as me; and as I was saying, Lindy, where do we come in on these wedding bells? Just nowheres! And if you like to think of earning your own silk underwear and ham sandwiches for the rest of your days—-which I don’t believe you do—well, anyway I don’t! I want my own little love nest, Lindy, and a good true man to protect and provide, and any real girl wants the same. Specially now we’re both getting on for twenty-seven.”
"Uh-huh,” said Lindy.
“We got our future to consider,” said Merilla seriously. “And honest, Lindy, though you're the nicest roommate a girl ever had, what with the fuss some girls make about a little powder and a few hairpins on the dresser and who gets up and turns off the alarm in the morning—and I hope we’ll always be friends, Lindy, whatever fortune holds in store—still and all, if I could wake up and see a real honest-to-goodness husband snoring away in the other twin bed I wouldn’t shed no tears. Listen, Lindy, have you got a spot of hand lotion in your drawer? What becomes of mine, heaven only knows; but if old Plimsoll downstairs didn’t look like a withered toadstool on two legs, honest, I’d say she took it when she does the room.
But what’s really dislocating me is this. Whatever chance have we got of getting married, Lindy?”
“We know lots of fellows,” said Lindy mildly.
“Yes, darling,” Merilla agreed. ’’Lots of nice fellows, too. Nice young fellows working right in the office with us—and not getting so much more salary than us girls, either. Take us to the movies once a week and a soda afterward at the Honey Spot, and a kiss for goodnight on the doorstep. Listen, Lindy, maybe one of them boys will be president of the company some day, but which one? And can you imagine me pushing a pram with the twins in one end and the Saturday marketing in the other? Still and all, I’d rather kiss a nice boy on the doorstep, even in the pouring rain with the umbrella dripping down the back of my neck, than be kissed in a taxi by one of those fat old out-of-town guys who thinks if he treats a girl to tabble-dote and orchestra seats he’s entitled to be as playful as a coupla baby elephants, and him a married man anyway. Though I must say there’s not much sin in their proposals, being too scared their wife will get to know of it. And there you are, Lindy. What other kind of guys do us girls meet?
"Even when we go on vacation—and I honestly believe we’ve been to every lake and mountain within a hundred miles of this old town—it’s just the same old story over again. When I think of the swell fellow I met last summer and us engaged and everything and, ‘Don’t forget me, darling. I’ll call up the minute I’m in town
and we’ll choose the ring.’ And did he ever show up? It’s a wonder I’ve that much faith left in human nature! Not that I would have married him anyway. I detest a man who spends it all on his clothes. But listen, Lindy. I’ve heard of the swellest place for us to take our vacation this year.”
TINDY laid down her paper. “Uh-huh?”
“Out West. It’s kind of one of these dude ranches you hear about, and—”
“Too expensive,” said Lindy, picking up the paper.
“No, but listen, Lindy! It ain’t expensive really, not when you consider. It isn’t high-hat. I mean to say, no Chinese cooks and dress for dinner and so forth. Just the real simple genuwine old Western stuff; horseback riding and fried pork and thrills. And this Miss Klupp in the Statistics—you know that tall skinny glass of lemon juice—she wvnt last year with her sister and was blat-blatting away in the washroom about how swell this fellow is that runs the place, and how every woman that went was wild about him, and how, of course, she was just amused by their infatuation. I noticed, my dear, she couldn’t stop talking about how handsome he was
and how he never even looked sideways at one of these idiotic females. But I ask you, Lindy, have you ever seen the man that didn’t look sideways at me?”
Merilla asked the question with simple dignity, wiping off the cold cream with a towel that had seen better days. However, it was purely a rhetorical question, and she continued instantly:
“He sounds like a swell bet to me, Lindy. Maybe it will be a little more expensive than usual, but look— you’ve been saving for a fur coat, and surely you can do without it just one more year for the sake of such a wonderful holiday as riding on horseback through the wild romantic foothills with handsome young men in Stetson hats and I hope those long-haired pants, too. My dream of the West is always wearing long-haired pants. And Lindy, honestly, a romantic, imaginative girl like me ought to live out in God’s country unfettered by brick walls and the cruel artificial life of the city; and anyways I’ve saved some too, quite enough to make it if you lend me a little; and, I say, let’s get the use out of those elegant breeches we bought the year we camped up at Wayagamookie, or whatever the nasty place was called, nothing but black flies and other bugs—twolegged ones worse than the flying kind! And I tell you, Lindy, we got to gamble high, my girl, if we’re ever going to get us a husband before we reach the fatal thirty-year mark.” She sighed. “He’s blonde, Lindy, six feet, and name of MacCorquodale.”
“Sounds Scotch,” said Lindy.
“Yes, darling, and I know all the old Scotch jokes, too. But believe me, even a Scotsman couldn’t be no meaner than some of the mean guys I’ve met, and I’ll try anything once. What about it, Lindy?”
“Well”—Lindy looked thoughtful—“we can’t both marry him, Merilla.”
“Oh, don’t be dumb, Lindy! Ain’t it worth while to sacrifice a few dollars t© see your girl friend happy and settled in life? I’d certainly do as much for you, and, besides, likely he’s got an assistant or some young guy he might take into partnership if the place expands; and, after all, you’re not bad-looking, Lindy, though you don’t make the most of yourself and you ought to have a line. This ‘yes-no’ stuff don’t go so far with the men. Though I only speak as a dear friend may, Lindy. But gee, Lindy, I’m crazy to go. Be a sport!”
“Oh, well!” said Lindy weakly.
THE porter, smiling broadly, gathered their bags and carried them to the end of the car. The two girls were in a fever of excitement. Merilla was fixing up her face in the narrow glass between the windows, pulling at her snappy little green beret with nervous fingers.
“And honest, Lindy, hasn’t it been worth while, just for the trip? Pretty near three days in a Pullman, not a care in the world, and what swell scenery! And I must say that travelling fellow in the check suit was the perfect gentleman, paying for our dinners and so chatty and sociable. He gave me his card, but I don’t think I’ll call him up, Lindy. He certainly is generous when it all goes on the expense sheet, my dear, but you never know with
a traveller. When it comes to a wife in every terminus, as they say it often is—well, the old salary doesn’t go so far, even with commissions. And who wants to be a week-end wife and a week-day widow, Lindy? Still and all, I’ve kept his card, in case—well, in case things don’t break right. But I have a kind of fateful feeling right now, Lindy, all numb inside kind of. I bet we step right out on the platform and just one look in each other’s eyes, and boy! Fate, just like that! I feel it, Lindy, and you know I’m terribly sensitive that way. Oh, the train’s stopping! Oh, Lindy, feel my heart!”
They were on the platform, the train already pulling out behind them. In front of them, a tiny sun-baked station was the only building visible. A dusty white road led into infinity over the rolling hills. Four other passengers had disembarked besides themselves—the fat woman who had scolded her husband all the way, and her husband; two thin, spectacled, disapproving and rather elderly girls. “Schoolmarms,” said Merilla.
A venerable car was waiting at the platform with the patient, drooping air of a tired old hag, and from it descended a tow-headed, lanky youth in ancient blue overalls. His upper teeth and his Adam’s apple protruded, and he was very bashful. He looked at Merilla, and looked away and looked again. He said at last, “You for the Ranch House?” And when Merilla said “Yes!” he skipped once or twice like a spring lamb and said, “D’you ladies mind riding in front with me? It’s gonna be a kinda tight squeeze.”
The fat lady, protesting, her husband and the two elderly girls were piled into the tonneau. A wagon, it appeared, was coming directly for the baggage. As they shot up the road, after two or three startling buck jumps and backfires on the part of the car, Merilla asked in a flattened voice:
“Excuse me, but are you Mr. MacCorquodale?”
The Adam’s apple leaped and quivered. “No, ma’am. I’m just Willie. I help around the place—-here’s the boss now.”
A wagon was clattering toward them, drawn by two enormous black horses. The driver pulled up to the side of the narrow road to let the car go by, and saluted care-
lessly. He was a tall and broadly built young man, slimhipped and long in the legs. He wore faded navy trousers, and a blue shirt that billowed in the breeze. His hair was the color of ripe wheat, crispy and glittering in the sun, and under an arrogant hawk nose his smile was bold and friendly. Lindy’s heart turned over in her breast, and Merilla began to quiver. In the back seat the elderly girls rustled and murmured, “My dear, Adonis!” and the fat lady said crossly, "Why doesn’t he come to meet us himself, I’d like to know?”
The ranch buildings were clustered in a little valley barns and stables, a barracklike, neat edifice with rows of windows, one of those tall, clanking, aluminumcolored windmills, and in the background, on the slope of the hill, a comfortable small cottage painted cream and green. A. few trees shaded the patch of lawn; nasturtiums grew in beds bordered with whitewashed stones. There was a pleasant, prosperous, orderly air about the whole place. The car rattled into the yard, and half a dozen people, rocking idly on the verandah of the barracks, bestirred themselves to examine the newcomers with interest and curiosity. It is always an ordeal to arrive among strangers, and Merilla and Lindy were thankful at last to reach their room.
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"It’s no palace, certainly,” said Merilla in a carefully muted voice, surveying the austere little cubbyhole, with its unpainted walls, iron bedstead, and clean rag rugs, "but it's certainly neat as a nunnery. And listen, Lindy there ain't a thing between us and our neighbors but a few half-inch boards, so for heaven’s sake, girl, use discretion when conversing. Well, we’re hereand I hear the wagon!” She flew to the window, peeking between the spotless muslin curtains. "He’s getting out, and that fellow Willie is toting the bags. Oh, my heavens, Lindy! Ain’t he handsome?”
"Who? Willie?” Lindy asked, trying to look around Merilla’s shoulders.
"MacCorquodale, dummy! He’s going into the little house over there. I bet that’s his home. He don’t herd with the other animals. Gee, Lindy, do you think he's married since last year and all our time and money wasted? But there’s no one at the front porch, and, believe me, if I was the hero’s bride I’d be right there at the little old door waiting for my kisses, and I bet anyone would. Even them halffrozen schoolmarm fish were kind of agitated by a mere look, and I bet they are wondering right now if he isn’t .the brainy kind more attracted by pure intellect than by mere fleshly pulchritude, if that's the word -it always sounds kind of insulting to me, so I bet they'd use it if they knew' it—still and all, Lindy, I always say where’s the virtue in being pure if you never had a chance to be otherwise? Come on, Lindy, slap on a little war-paint and let’s get out on that porch in case he comes around again.”
CHE tossed aside the green beret, ruffled D up her yellow curls, and flung her suit jacket on the vffiite iron bed. Her pale green silk blouse had a soft frill around its low "vee” and no sleeves, and she looked as fresh and rosy as though she had just been taken from the tissue paper wrappings of a florist’s box. Little brown Limdy, dark-haired and dark-eyed, in her
tan shirtwaist and tweedy skirt, was a demure shadow behind her.
They emerged on the verandah. Merilla passed over the other women with one haughty, careless glance, and suddenly stood rigid in the doorway. MacCorquodale was coming up the steps toward them. He had added a coat to his attire, but his strong brown throat was still uncovered. He said gravely:
"Good afternoon, ladies. I’m right glad to welcome you to the Ranch House. I make my apologies for not greeting you all at the station, but Willie here can’t handle the horses so well, and I’m not yet rightly at home driving a car.”
Merilla made a rapid recovery. She dimpled her most enchanting smile, looked at him full with brilliant blue eyes.
"I’m real glad to meet you, Mr. McCorquodale. And my, what a thrill to see you driving along like Ben Hur in the movies! I’ve alw'ays been crazy about horses, Mr. McCorquodale, though I’ve never sat on a horse in my life; which, I guess, is my loss. But I’m anxious to make it right, and I’ll bet you’ve practically lived on horseback like one of these Censors if that’s it. I bet you can’t hardly tell you apart from your horse when you’re on; now can you, Mr. McCorquodale?”
He said quite solemnly: "When I stand beside a horse you can look us in the face and never guess which is which. We both got long noses and long legs.”
“Now, Mr. MacCorquodale, don’t beso modest. My, you’re a million times handsomer. Say, I bet you’re stringing me. But don’t worry, they say none of us girls have any humor, but I guess I’m the exception to prove the recipe. I knew right away you were joking. We're going to get along lovely together, Mr. MacCorquodale.”
"Call me Mac,” he invited her. "Everyone does, and I’m apt to shy if anyone blows my full title in my face. And if you’ll pardon me, I’m pretty busy tonight.”
He walked on, and they watched him stop and speak to the two elderly girls, who were visibly fluttered, and to the stout lady, who was already complaining about her room and asking to be moved.
They were to take their first ride the next morning. All the newcomers and some of the old hands gathered at the steps after breakfast, in great expectation and a startling diversity of habit. They were better acquainted now. Meals were served at one long table, and though supper had begun the night before in a formal "kindly-pass-the-salt” manner, it had ended with plenty of friendly talk and laughter. Most of the guests were women; but there was a young clergyman, determined to be very male and horsy, a settled husband or so, and two sophomoric youths to represent the other sex. The fat lady was Mrs. Turritt, the two elderly girls were Miss Brown and Miss Seavy. Next to Merilla sat an amiable matron with two adenoidal little daughters, named Enid and Edna Evans. On the far side of Lindy was the anaemic and adoring young wife of the clergyman. “Honeymoon!” whispered the knowing Merilla.
Mrs. Turritt, it developed surprisingly, had been brought up in the country and was quite at home on a horse. She wore a divided skirt and a red sweater, topped off with a confection in pale blue straw wreathed in roses—obviously last summer’s best hat, and was happily unconscious of any incongruity in her costume.
Miss Brown and Miss Seavy had invested ten dollars apiece in riding lessons before setting out on their adventures, and were perfectly accoutred for a morning canter in the park.
Lindy, a little-alarmed by the appalling size of the horses Willie was leading out, was very small and slim in khaki shirt and breeches, with a red bandanna tied around her head, but Merilla was literally prancing with confidence and excitement. She had seen the thing done so often in the movies, and it was all perfectly simple. She was a little annoyed when her horse, a tall black animal, persisted in sidling away from her as she endeavored to mount in the airy manner of her favorite stars. She called out, "Hey, Mac! This is a terrible nervous horse,” and Willie told her quickly, "He ain’t nervous, lady; he just expects you to git up on the near side.”
“This is the nearest side,” she snapped at him.
“No. This is the offside.”
"Offside?” she asked, bewildered. “Am I supposed to get up on one side and off the other?”
“Look,” he said. "Let me boost you.”
Merilla sighed. Just her luck to have this poor creature crimson to the ears, gulping when he touched her. However, it was her long established habit to accept all male homage, so she acquiesced graciously and then looked around to find MacCorquodale. He was helping Lindy to mount, laughing because she protested that the horse was too large.
"Why, she’s the daintiest thing in the stable,” he told her. “Just rightly made to match you. And wise as an old woman. Here, hold the reins like this”—he put his big brown hands over hers, “and let her go her own gait. She knows the trails better than I do. Now, you’re not scared, are you?”
"No,” said Lindy bravely.
HTHE cavalcade started off. Once astride, Merilla was fully restored to confidence. “This is the life!” she told herself, conscious of the picture she must make in the bright sunshine. The beret she had adjusted so carefully over her golden curls was exactly the blue of her eyes. Her white silk blouse clung alluringly to her plump bosom and shoulders. By tugging hard at the bridle and kicking with her sharp heels, she urged her steed alongside MacCorquodale and beamed at him. She said:
“Hullo there, Mac! Ain’t this wonderful? I was born for this. Oh, boy, would I shed any tears if I never saw the city again? You can’t imagine how I long for the great outdoors; chained to a typewriter the whole year, as you might say. I’ve been looking for this all my life— wide open spaces and these grand mountains!”
"Out here,” he told her, "we don’t hardly claim these to be mountains.”
Miss Seavy manoeuvred carefully into position at his other side. "Only the foothills, Mr. MacCorquodale, but think of the great Rockies a little beyond us there —behind that pale and melting sky.”
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Merilla said sharply: “Gee, Mac, you must be sick of sentimental females chasing after you day and night and spilling all this hooey about the scenery.” And Miss Seavy retired to the rear, thwarted and fuming, telling Miss Brown: “She may be pretty, if you like that obvious type, my dear, but so utterly common; no mentality at all,” and left the enemy in triumphant possession of the field.
“But oh, my gosh, Lindy!” Merilla confided that night, groaning in sea-green pyjamas. “If only I could go to bed standing up. And listen, Lindy; it won’t be easy, landing that man in one short week. Not that there’s any serious competition, if you understand me, dearie, though that pale dill pickle of a Seavy would give her eyes to make an impression in a nice, modest, highbrow sort of way. But, believe me, I’m above that sort of sly game. If there’s one thing I am it’s genuwine and sincere, just a real good pal. But a week goes so quickly.”
It does. They adjusted themselves easily to the ranch routine. Early to rise; riding every day except the second, when they made elaborate excuses; early to bed, after dancing to the casual strains of a battered gramophone.
The two sophomoric young men, in spite of a carefully cultivated cynicism, were soon victims to Merilla’s charm. Poor Willie was enamored to the point where his rudimentary intellect practically ceased to function in her gorgeous presence. Even the pale young cleric blushed when she gave him one of her more generously dimpled smiles. Merilla was the joy and darling of every masculine biped in the place—“even the rooster,” she boasted, “crows when he sees me coming” —with the exception of that impregnable fortress, MacCorquodale.
If he smiled at Merilla, he smiled five minutes later at Mrs. Turritt. If he paused to joke with the adenoidal little sisters, in five minutes again he was chatting with Lindy. He divided his attentions with meticulous fairness, ignoring adoration with the facility of long habit. But the weather at least was marvellously complaisant. The sun shone unclouded every day, and the waxing moon each night grew larger and more magnificent. So much so that for Saturday, the last full day of Lindy and Merilla’s time, an all-day picnic was planned.
“And so tonight,” said Merilla sadly, stepping into her riding breeches, “is my last chance. Lindy, is that man human?
I can’t understand how a heart-breaking tornado like him can act so indifferent. Just a life-size portrait of a girl’s ideal, and still and all, Lindy, I’ve known some of them skinny little pipsqueaks that had so much what you’d call amorous fire about them you’d scarcely dare pat their hand. And this fellow! Why, I practically fell into his arms getting off that old gee-gee yesterday and all he does is put me on my feet again like setting up a ninepin. I’d almost like to ask for my money back. I hope I never see another horse as long as I live. Still and all, Lindy, here we are taking a real romantic ride into the far hills, dearie, and home again by moonlight, and what I say is, Never despair! Considering Mac’s never seen me by moonlight, though I’ve done all a nice girl could to get him alone on that verandah every evening this week, and though you know I’m not conceited or anything, even a kind of a plain blonde looks an angel by moonlight, and—well, if he don’t kiss me, Lindy, you can fry me any time you want for a poor oyster. Shall I wear earrings, Lindy? They look kind of cute under a bandanna—”
“Uh-huh,” said Lindy in cordial agreement, regarding her roommate with the eyes of unquestioning affection; and Merilla, happily humming “Da-dee-damy lit-tle gyp-sy sweetheart—” preceded her into the yard.
rT'HE party set off in high good humor.
The day was warm and fair. The trail they followed wound up through the hills along the course of a tiny creek that made a pleasant murmuring of waters. This was the last ride for several of the guests, and everyone was determined to take their full measure of enjoyment. Even Mrs. Turritt was amiable, only scolding Mr. Turritt now and then in a half-hearted way about the flies or the heat. Miss Seavy and Miss Brown, who were staying longer, rode together and told each other how thankful poor Mr. MacCorquodale would be to escape that fountain of eternal chatter and have an opportunity of enjoying intelligent conversation. Seavy, who was slightly the younger and almost imperceptibly the more attractive, especially relished the thought of Merilla’s departure.
They had dinner on the rustic porch of a tidy little shack built on a low bluff overlooking the creek and the green valley, a shelterhouse with stored supplies which MacCorquodale used sometimes as an overnight camp when his parties wanted to rough it a little more roughly. Willie boiled the coffee and cooked steak on the little stone-built fireplace. Merilla ensconced herself by Mac, and waves of words inundated the surroundings. Mrs. Turritt was growing warmer and thought that fried steak was indigestible and that Willie smelt of horse and should eat farther away. Miss Seavy and Miss Brown murmured endlessly with Mrs. Evans, who also disapproved of Merilla, fearing lest she put ideas into her daughters’ heads, where an idea or two could have done no possible harm. And Lindy sat with a doughnut in one hand and a cup of coffee balanced on her breeched knees, silently absorbing the view, particularly the panorama that included Merilla’s animated lovely profile and the back of Mac’s blonde head.
It took time to remount the party, lazy and lethargic after food. They rode on at last, farther into the hills, their objective a crest that stood a little higher than its fellows, whence with exclamations of admiration and delight they surveyed the view, spotted landmarks on familiar trails, and were a little shocked and startled to find the windmill at the Ranch House still in sight. It was already after four o’clock, but everyone felt carefree and irresponsible; everyone wanted to linger on this enchanted summit just a moment or two longer. Mac was looking anxiously at the sky, where a few dark clouds had begun to gather. “Get the gang going, Willie,” he said aside, “or they’ll have a wetting before we reach the shack for supper.”
But the disposition to linger persisted. Even when the sky grew rapidly darker they refused to be hurried. Mrs. Turritt said, “What’s a drop or two of rain? I’m not made of sugar.” And Lindy murmured, “That’s true!” Seavy exclaimed with a delicate swagger, “How marvellous to see a storm in these hills! Oh, Mr. McCorquodale, how utterly dramatic!”
She wanted to stop and pick flowers, and Merilla wanted Mac to stop and pick flowers for her. Clouds were eating up the blue under the propulsion of a mysterious wind, while on earth the very grasses were stilled in a breathless calm. They were within twenty minutes ride of the cabin and Mac was beginning to congratulate himself on getting to shelter before the storm broke, when the squall swooped down on them. A drop or two of rain fell, then a swift spatter of drops, and then a furious downpour.
“There’s the shack!” he shouted. “Run for it, folks!”
Thunder crashed terrifically as they galloped madly down the trail, drowning out the thunder of hoofs. Trees whipped and whined in the wind and lightning flared. In a whirling confusion they poured into the grassy clearing before the shack. Mac and Willie had their hands full. The horses were nervous and difficult, milling about and resisting the
impassioned tuggings and outcries of inexperienced riders. Enid Evans almost succeeded in getting herself run away with, while her mother and sister screamed “She’ll be killed! She'll be killed!” even while Mac was leading her safely back again.
The little clergyman was in everybody’s way, determined to be helpful, his wife beseeching him loudly to remember his delicate chest. Merilla dogged Mac, shrilling advice—unneeded and unheeded—in his ear. And poor, quiet, little Miss Brown went into hysterics when a particularly vivid flash of lightning made her stolid steed rear and prance. She clung frantically, wailing and laughing together, and Willie had to haul her off by main force. Then she clung to Miss Seavy, who added her high-pitched accents to the swelling clamor, begging her frantic friend to be calm and calling for smelling salts.
And Mac, turning to help Lindy out of the saddle, exclaimed in sudden desperation: “My lord! Do you women never stop talking?”
T INDY stared at him, stunned by the injustice of the accusation. At a generous estimate it may be said that placid little Lindy achieved a state of mind that could be called losing her temper not more than once a year. Now her brown eyes grew bright with indignation and she drew herself up to her full height of five feet and a half inch.
“Is that so, Mr. MacCorquodale?” she said with scorching emphasis. “Is that so? Well, you know all about horses, Mr. MacCorquodale, so maybe you’d better go look after your old horses, and I’ll settle these women. And if you want to hear talking—”
She left him staring, feeling a little like a man who has ruffled the fur of a pet kitten only to discover that the creature was a tigress after all. She walked up to the would-be helpful group that had gathered in the pouring rain about the swaying and shrieking Miss Brown, who was apparently incapable of making a move to shelter. She seized Merilla’s arm and shook her fiercely.
“Get indoors, crazy!” she ordered. “Do you want one of your head colds tomorrow, and your nose all red and swollen? And you, Mrs. Turritt”—as Merilla, after one appalled glance, scuttled away—"there’s a stove in that shack. Go get a fire going and make us all some coffee.”
Mrs. Turritt ceased telling her husband what she thought of the whole expedition to glare, and Lindy glared back with an expression of such cold fury that the older woman withdrew in something like horror. They were all drenched, shivering in the quick chill that followed the rain, and others followed the Turritts to the shack, animated by the welcome thought of coffee and a fire, until only the faithful Seavy and Miss Brown remained. Miss Seavy turned to Lindy in despair.
“Have you no smelling salts? She must have smelling salts when she’s like this. Has no one any—”
“No!” Lindy interrupted. “Nosmelling salts at all. I’ll fix her so she won’t want smelling salts.” Still fired with the exaltation of a righteous anger, she seized the shuddering Miss Brown by the shoulders, jerking her into an approximately upright attitude. And then, with a cool impersonal deliberation that was beautiful to see, she slapped her hard, slapped her resoundingly, once on the left cheek and once on the right.
“Oh ! oh ! oh !” cried Miss Brown, recovering her senses in a second. “How dare you?”
“Oh, act your age,” Lindy recommended contemptuously. “Go on, Miss Seavy, take her inside—take her inside!”
She stood in the rain and watched them go. She was wet to the skin, her hair was plastered to her dripping head. She pushed it back impatiently from her eyes. All this fuss about a thunderstorm, one of those summer storms that come and
go in an hour. Already its first fury was abating and a watery patch of sunlight gleamed above the Western horizon. The horses were quieted and tied. MacCorquodale came up and stood beside her. He said warmly:
“Lindy, you’re a wonder!”
“Is that so?" she retorted with a fresh impulse to anger. She tightened her mouth and turned away, and he caught her arm.
“Wait a minute, Lindy, I want to talk to you.”
“You can talk inside. I’m wet.”
“Yes, but you know what it will be like in there, now they have something real to talk about. I want a chance to talk to you alone. Are you mad at me, Lindy? You’ve avoided me ever since you got here. When I talk to you you look the other way. Even when I dance with you your head is always turned. Perhaps I only know about horses, Lindy, but do you have to despise me?”
“I don’t despise you,” Lindy admitted. Her silly little heart was pounding. For one horrid moment she felt that even this slight concession was a disloyalty to Merilla, and so protested quickly: “I thought you liked Merilla best. You’re always talking to her.”
He shouted with laughter.
“Merilla! You mean she’s always talking to me. Oh, Lindy, how could I think twice of that big blonde chatterbox with you around? I can’t stand blondes—I’ve been kidded about my own yellow hair since I was knee-high. And I’ve listened to women raving about this and that, all in the way of business, till I can hardly believe my good luck to find a girl who never talks except when she’s got something to say. I’ve never rightly had you off my mind since I helped you mount that first morning in the yard. You’re so little. You're so darn sweet. I’m wild about you, Lindy. I’m wild about you even when you’re mad with me. Lindy, can’t you like me a little bit?” He stood between her and the shack, very large and very determined, still holding her arm. “Lindy, won’t you like me a little bit?” he persisted.
So Lindy said faintly: “Uh-huh.”
TN THE shack Merilla said, “Gee, don’t -*■ that kid know enough to come out of the rain?” She went to the door and looked outside. It still rained, but as she looked the sun shone out in triumph through the gaping clouds and the sky in the West went golden. And there was Lindy in Mac’s arms, standing on tiptoe to reach her own slim arms about his neck, both utterly unconscious of the weather and the world. Merilla’s eyes widened and widened. She exclaimed, “Oh, my gosh! Oh, my gosh!” and closed the door again very quickly.
“What’s wrong now?” Miss Brown enquired anxiously.
“Nothing,” said Merilla. “It kind of surprised me to see it’s clearing up. Look out the window across there, and I bet in a minute or two you see a sunset fit to knock you dumb and blind.” Already the first instinctive pang of envy was fading. She was conscious only of a stunned and ungrudging admiration for little Lindy.
“Why, the sly little puss!” she said to herself. “The little dark horse! Oh, well, things ain’t half so romantic out West here as I’ve been led to believe, with nothing to look at but hills and horses and not a neighborhood movie or a shop or a soda fountain in a hundred miles. The city is certainly the only place for a girl of spirit. Say, Mrs. Turritt, how wonderful that coffee smells! What I always says is, the way to a man’s heart is right under his belt, as the old proverb goes.”
Mrs. Turritt agreed, and Merilla sighed —a deep and heartfelt sigh. “And still and all, Mrs. Turritt, you never can tell what’s going to take a man’s fancy, now, can you?”